Every year 59E59 Theaters hosts a number of plays on their way to The Edinburgh Fringe Festival, giving the small productions an opportunity to breathe on their feet with an objective audience and the theater-going public an opportunity to see interesting, alternative theater. Here are two on the current roster:
Screw Your Courage (Or The Bloody Crown)
Written and Performed by Khlar Thorsen
Directed by Eileen Vorbach
Thrice to thine and thrice to mine/ And thrice again, to make up nine./ Peace! the charm’s wound up. Shakespeare’s Macbeth– a witch
Screw Your Courage is an episodic play, each portion cleverly prefaced by witchy rhyme, part Shakespeare, part Thorsen. It tells the first person story of Claire who becomes obsessed with playing Lady Macbeth for the attention, the dress, and the party when she’s a girl “maybe even mommy will come to see me and even she will think I’m great”(mommy is angry, neglectful; mentally ill), and for the challenge as a working actress. Beneath these reasons lies the belief that she too is cursed and inhabiting the role may save her.
We see Claire in class, in hospital with mom (a bit more madness might help explain), at a quirky workshop, and disastrously trying to produce The Scottish Play herself when unable to secure the role. Finally, as an International Acting Fellow at Shakespeare’s Globe Theater in London, she gets her wish. Kind of.
Author/actress Khlar Thorsen was, in fact, a Fellow in the program she illuminates rather well. She plays all the characters in what is, presumably, her own story. Some are cliché (an acting partner who sounds like a stupid Brando); others exhibit freshness (the domineering leader of a theater workshop.) Accents are well executed. The piece flows with Shakespearean-like speeches adding color and glue.
Thorsen has the perfect exit line as originally intoned by her director at The Globe, but alas goes beyond it nine or ten sentences. ‘A case of not seeing the forest for the trees, perhaps. An interesting and entertaining concept that could be better.
Director Eileen Vorbach manages the switch from theatrically witchy to “real” life. Visually, only the poetry is engaging.
Costume design is hugely unflattering.
Uncredited Sound and Light Design are excellent.
Photograph of Keenan Hurley by Avery Bart
The Man Who Built His House To Heaven
Written and Performed by Keenan Hurley
Directed by Patrick Swailes Caldwell and Emily Mendelsohn
Bob was born in a bad neighborhood, but has lofty aspirations. Pursuing someone ostensibly ‘above him,’ he promises a new car, home, and lifestyle. They marry. As everyone likes him, he gets on…well enough to buy a nice little house which the couple floods with kids. “We’re too many,” he tells his wife. “I’m tired of all these bunk beds. Bob (as in Bob the Builder) builds another storey on his home.
Meeting our protagonist in short shorts, a tee shirt, and laced shoes does not fit the image of a conservative, working class schlub with dreams. Only when he covers these with a shirt, pants and utility belt does the author/actor appear to be Bob. Use of a microphone when playing the protagonist while turning away to voice other characters is also, at first, disconcerting. Like the outfit, however, this evolves.
Sound is imaginatively and skillfully employed. Manipulating a couple of onstage sequencer pedals, Hurley records and plays back his own layered sounds and voice to create both percussive rhythms and a cacophony of invisible players.
Finishing the next level, Bob is still unsatisfied. The house, he says, has potential. Each child must have his/her own room. Another storey is needed. We hear frenzied direction to construction workers in tandem with his kids’ friends’ comments their parents think Bob is crazy.
The structure becomes a tower, replete with games, rides, restaurants, athletic fields…others move in. Bob keeps building. His wife and children don’t see much of him. Shades of The Twilight Zone. Eventually he breaks through to Heaven and we hear the echoing voice of God questioning the enterprise. The end features Bob’s musings on legacy.
This is a well written piece with spiffy details. Dramatic notes: A flashback to promises made his wife is unnecessary and disruptive, we have no idea it’s God, when the Lord first speaks, Keenan Hurley doesn’t come into his own until he ‘changes into Bob. Once that occurs, however, he’s quirkily appealing, holding our attention throughout.
Directors Patrick Swailes Caldwell and Emily Mendelsohn utilize only an orange ladder and a tool box to terrific advantage as various props and structural ‘sets’ as well as occasional metaphors. Performance is smoothly executed even when the sequencer is needed.
Opening Photograph Khlar Thorsen by Karen Santos Photography
59E59 Theaters presents East To Edinburgh
New York’s Annual Edinburgh Festival
Through July 31, 2016
59 East 59th Street
Click to view Venue Calendar for other plays