There’s something happening in the New York theatre right now. Something so deliciously indulgent, so wonderfully hysterical, so ridiculous, so sexy, so generous to its audiences, such a joy on every visceral level, that I won’t even attempt to break it down in any meaningful manner.Read More
An immersive theatrical experience KPop not only touches on the pervasive topics of “What does it mean to be Korean” and “Why American’s will never accept Asians” but also takes you on a journey into the dark side of the music industry.
One might argue that KPop portrays the music industry in a satirical light, and unless you’ve actually been part of that scene you’d never believe how abusive and backstabbing it is. However, watching this show was enough to give me a PTSD flashback from my time spent in the pop group Dream.Read More
As we are reaching the end of Pride Month, it’s important to reflect as a community, looking at the theatre we have produced revolving around queer stories. This last season saw many complex LGBTQ+ stories being told on New York stages. While we still have a long way to go, these productions have opened the door to conversations about gay relationships, queer history, and sexual/gender identity.Read More
OnStage New York Columnist
As I sit here in the audition waiting room for an ECC (that’s equity chorus call for you nonactors), I am saddened and pissed off by what I see. Three black girls and me the one “Asian”. Where the hell are my ladies of color at? Where are my fellow Hapas (multiracial people), Asian singers, and dancers? Instead, there is just a bunch of white chicks, and let me be perfectly clear, there is nothing wrong with being a white chick. This post is not about hate of white folk. Cause that’s just stupid. I’m half white and some of my dearest friends are white. This post is about representation or lack thereof.
We are so underrepresented in the theatre world. We are rarely seen, if at all, for a role outside of the standard “Asian” show, yet we don’t show up to auditions that don’t specifically specify seeking Asians.
I get it. I hate an ECC as much as then next person. Of course, I’d rather have an appointment from my agent, but that doesn’t always happen. Sometimes we have to shove our faces in front of casting/directors/producers again and again. Sometimes we have to work harder than the typical “white” girl/boy to get seen. Sometimes we have to work harder than other people of color (POC) because so often the world is seen only in two colors. Black and white. And so many times we get in our heads about an audition. We start to think we aren’t the right “look” or “type”. I have often heard myself and many others say “casting won’t want me, I’m too ethnic”, or “I’m not the right ethnicity” or to be perfectly blunt “casting is only going to hire a Black person, not an Asian”. In fact all of these sentiments may be true, but nothing will change if you don’t take matters into your own hands.
I don’t know about you but I want to play roles that aren’t usually portrayed by a POC. I want to tell stories from the great American musical comedies, and I don’t give a shit if the role is typically performed by a white person. I want to be Millie, Dorothy, Ado Annie, Eliza, Sally, Eva. I am sick of getting in my own way of roles I want, because at the end of the day I just want to tell stories. I want to have a chance to have my voice heard amongst the thousands of actors living in New York City.
I am tired my friends. I am tired of hearing from everyone how we are underrepresented yet we don’t show up. You want to change the Great White Way? Then put your money where your mouth is and show up. Together we are stronger and a louder voice. Together we can change the status quo. Showing up to an audition that is typically “white” is a form of protest. It sends the message that we, the Asian American community is here. We will be seen, our voices will be heard. I can play something else besides “Tuptim”. Because diversity works, but ya gotta show up and do the work.
- OnStage New York Columnist
- Twitter: @timmingto
I'd barely begun reading the playwright's note when I wondered how the show would end. Would it be the classic boy meets girl, falls in love and summer romance and la la la Judy Blume or would playwright Gregory Moss subvert it, tipping what we've come to expect from stories such as these on their sides? Ultimately, the resolution he gives us is exactly right. We get a sweet, thoughtful, relatable play about four people looking for home.
"All love is unrequited love," says George, the narrator and only non-teenage character in this play. We meet George immediately, as he directly addresses the audience--a device I thought I'd hate, but quickly came to love because I quickly came to love George. A widower with naked, gnarled feet, ratty clothes and carrying a coffee mug he inspects the ocean at sunrise just inches away from the front row of the tiny theatre at Playwright's Horizons. With this action he invites us into the world of the play in what could be a cliched way, but here is anything but.
We're starting to really invest in George with his idiosyncratic, charming opening monologue whenDaniel interrupts. Daniel has been onstage this entire time, in fact, Daniel first appears as the house lights go down and the stage lights, up--a device I love. He exists in silence a while until he plops down and moves through a comical bit taking off his Converse sneakers and emptying boatloads of sand in the standard 1-2-3 punch format.
Daniel is staying with George, his mother's stepfather, while his mother is off "finishing some things up" a topic we revisit occasionally but never really learn more about. Daniel is summer people, as Izzy will soon remind him. Izzy barrels on stage strutting and commanding and with an absolutely magnetic presence. Her energy and insane talent spark the play into action.
Izzy encounters Daniel in a battle of wits stemming from an argument over a broken sand bucket. The two spar back and forth with an energy that only extraordinarily talented, young actors playing well-written characters can do. There's an immediate investment in Izzy, Daniel and the relationship that's bound to develop, though I often felt that Daniel's character was underwritten in comparison. Izzy is such a strong, dominant force that we needed Daniel's character to meet her, or at least contrast her, which unfortunately never came to fruition throughout the course of this otherwise impeccable play.
In fact, Daniel's character is the least developed of all four characters. Jeremy, our resident villain and comically ridiculous foil, is as richly developed and dimensional as Izzy. George roots in our hearts from the beginning and slays us by the end--his final scenes and monologues brought me to tears. It's Daniel, the Romeo to our Juliet that fell flat for me. I always wondered what else there was to him besides being the outsider, because he was literally and figuratively the outsider against this tremendous cast of characters.
That said, these young actors were superb. I had an immediate reaction to each and every one and as an ensemble they couldn't have worked better together, especially under the brilliant direction of Carolyn Cantor. I recognized Daniel as one of the many boys I loved in my youth--skinny, nerdy, gawky and awkward with the slightest hint of "is he gay?" Izzy hit me like a ton of bricks with her posturing and peacock-ing. I instantly loved and hated her as she appeared in a crop top and super cutoffs with an enviable figure and impressive diaphragmatic breathing. I recognized her as one of the girls in my youth that I would have been both jealous and terrified of. Jeremy was as bro as bros' get but revealed over the course of the play to be a gentle, funny almost pathetic character that had you halfway rooting for him to get the girl.
Indian Summer is the type of play I was desperate to be cast in during my undergraduate years of theatre training. It's the type of play that touches the truth and awkwardness of adolescence and breathes life into rich characters. It's a play suited to young, hungry actors eager to dive into rich characters. Izzy's monologue at the very end, as she connects with George, brings her character arc to a height I wasn't sure she'd reach, but she did. George grounds a teenage love story with an eccentric profundity that comes with age, experience and loss. Jeremy is funny as hell and Daniel, well Daniel is a boy that many of us can remember loving at one point in our young lives.
I predict Indian Summer will become a staple in college theatre departments. Izzy's monologue will be the hottest pick for young actresses eager to show range, chops and talent in two minutes. And Gregory Moss will find his rightful place amongst the best new playwrights' of our time.
Moss says in the playwright's note that Indian Summer is a love letter to Rhode Island. But it's much more than that. It's a love letter to the fleeting moments in life that we want desperately to hold on to but can't. It's a love letter to the part of ourselves that we know we're not brave enough to touch in this lifetime.
It's a love letter to the romances we've all had that have ended long before we stopped loving. And while Indian Summer itself takes up just a moment of time in the lives of its audience, the impact it will have can best be described with some of George's last lines:
--that margin of sun-lit warmth after the end of August that always feels exceptional, like a pocket of unexpected time, a little reprieve between seasons, in which things people lives and stories are given the chance to collect themselves to reconfigure and, possibly, to CHANGE where one finds oneself invited, by God, or Nature or the whims of climate, to merely enjoy the surprise of it...
It will be no surprise when this play finds a place on college campuses, in the hands of passionate, young actors and finally in the hearts of the lucky audiences who get to experience the beautiful, fleeting moments of Indian Summer.
These productions encompass my favorite types of plays and musicals-historicals set in the American Revolution and fantasies. I have a huge soft spot for fantasies set in Oz and Dragonlance and are very close to its source material.
4. Ben Franklin in Paris (1964) by Sidney Michaels (book and lyrics), Mark Sandrich, Jr (music) and Jerry Herman (2 songs)
With the hubbub on about Alexander Hamilton, perhaps this semi-fictional musical based on Benjamin Franklin’s life in Paris during the revolution, should be revived. I originally discovered the Original Broadway Cast Soundtrack in a secondhand music shop in the $5 bin. Unfortunately it had a short run on Broadway and there is little to nothing on the interwebs except for a few short songs, and a few bad video recordings. But from what I have heard, I would love to see this show presented.
3. The Woodsman (2012) by James Ortiz, and Edward W. Hardy (music)
A one act play based on “The Tin Woodsman of Oz” by L. Frank Baum. The play uses a Japanese style of puppetry called bunraku-same style that was performed for the C-3P0 puppet in Star Wars Episode 1:The Phantom Menace. It also has very minimal dialogue, which is mainly limited to the opening monologue, so for rest of the play actors utilize pantomime.
2. The Marvelous Land of Oz (1981) by Thomas W. Olson (book), Gary Briggle (lyrics), and Richard Dworsky (music)
Based on the L. Frank Baum novel of the same name, and second book in the Oz series. I love the Judy Garland/MGM version as much as the next person. (Although if you ask my brother, probably more-I watched it multiple times a day, every day, as a kid). This adaptation follows the novel very closely, and is one of the few adaptations that have had a male as (Spoilers!) both Ozma and Tip. I like this musical a bit better than “The Wizard of Oz” since it’s not as overly done as its predecessor, and who doesn’t love Jack Pumpkinhead?
1. The Last Trial (aka The Last Test, or The Raistlin Musical) (2014) by Anton Kruglov (composer) and Elena Khanpira (lyricist)
This is a Russian musical created by Anton Kruglov and his wife, Elena Khanpira, based on the Dragonlance “Legends” Trilogy (aka The “Twins” series) by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman. While following Raistlin’s major arcs, it drops Tasslehoff as a character and several of Tasslehoff and Caramon’s arcs. With the growing number of fantasy TV shows and movies-here’s looking at you Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones-it would be a great thing to see an English version here state side. You can watch (with English Subtitles here):
Photo: (L-R) Puppeteer Will Gallacher with James Ortiz and Eliza Martin Simpson in 'The Woodsman' Matthew Murphy
Chief New York Theatre Critic
“Neither need you tell me,” said Candide, “that we must take care of our garden.” “You are in the right,” said Pangloss; “for when man was put into the garden of Eden, it was with an intent to dress it: and this proves that man was not born to be idle.” “Work then without disputing,” said Martin; “it is the only way to render life supportable.” (Jean Jacques Voltaire, “Candide” 1759)
No one can excel at magical realism as well as the genre’s founder Gabriel García Márquez whose short stories and novels use magical elements and events in otherwise ordinary and realistic situations and typically explore the theme of solitude. However, Noah Haidle has written a splendid play in which magical realism counterpoints a family drama with considerable success. There is even a bit of manic vaudeville thrown into the literary mix. After two productions in Chicago at the Goodman (2013 and 2014) “Smokefall” is being produced in New York by MCC Theater at the Lucille Lortel Theatre.
The setting is a fictional “Father Knows Best” house in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The inhabitants are anything but Father-Knows-Best-fare. The head of the household is the Colonel (played with a shattered sternness by Tom Bloom) whose accelerating dementia has required the return home of his daughter Violet (beautifully played by the remarkable Robin Tunney), her husband Daniel (played with deep disquietude by Brian Hutchison), and their daughter Beauty (played with a hopeful vacancy by Taylor Richardson). Violet is pregnant (due any day) with twins. Daniel has had enough of both marriage and Violet and is on his way out the door – for good. Hoping somehow to break the cycle of dysfunction, Beauty has sacrificed speaking and a normal diet, hoping eating dirt and drinking paint might distract her parents from bickering. Beauty’s disturbing behavior is ignored and the dissolution of the family system progresses.
However, the audience cannot and must not ignore the disturbing themes of Noah Haidle’s accomplished foray into magical realism. Those themes are best understood in a scene which unfortunately cannot be described here without a spoiler alert. In fact, much of the action in the play is so surprising it cannot be described in great detail without detracting from its visual and emotional impact. Time is of no importance in “Smokefall” and the four generations of fractured family collide on one another and meet one another in remarkable ways. The play’s narrator Footnote (played with a flawless intensity by Zachary Quinto) guides the audience through the manic matrix of Violet’s past, present, and future and the time-warped hesternal narratives of her forebears and offspring.
The first act of “Smokefall” is the stronger of the two. Playwright Noah Haidle establishes the essential themes of his play carefully and strongly. It is in the second act when the playwright tells and retells the same stories over and over again – and adds the seasoning of hopefulness – that the power of the first act diminishes. Overall, under Anne Kauffman’s direction, the cast portrays the host of characters with honesty and believability and leads the audience into the womb of wonder that is the autumnal smokefall of life.
The specter of T. S. Eliot pervades Mr. Haidle’s work and deepens the playwright’s exploration of humanity’s despair of residing in perpetuity just East of Eden. “Smokefall” begins to wobble when Mr. Haidle attempts to sugar-coat that interminable residency. The power of this interesting play is in its perception of the disquietude of humanity and its fear of never quite breaking the cycles of despair. Both Noah Haidle and Gabriel García Márquez understood this dilemma. In “Love in the Time of Cholera,” Gabriel García Márquez writes, “He allowed himself to be swayed by his conviction that human beings are not born once and for all on the day their mothers give birth to them, but that life obliges them over and over again to give birth to themselves.” “Smokefall” is at its best when its richly developed characters discover that they have and will continue to give birth to themselves forever.
It is all right for Violet’s grandson Samuel (also played by Mr. Quinto) to choose to “take care of his garden” as long as he understands that he is ambushed in yet “Another variation on the theme of a love that can’t cease transforming.”
“Smokefall” by Noah Haidle, directed by Anne Kauffman, stars Tom Bloom, Brian Hutchison, Zachary Quinto, Taylor Richardson, and Robin Tunney. The creative team includes Mimi Lien (scenic design), Asta Bennie Hostetter (costume design), David Weiner (lighting design), Lindsay Jones (sound design). Amber Mathis is production manager and Vanessa Coakley is production stage manager. Casting is by Telsey + Company. Production photos are by Joan Marcus.
“Smokefall” performs at MCC Theater at the Lucille Lortel Theatre (121 Christopher Street in Manhattan’s West Village) on the following schedule: Tuesday – Wednesday at 7:00 p.m.; Thursday – Friday at 8:00 p.m.; Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.; Sunday at 3:00 p.m. Tickets are $49.00 - $99.00 and can be purchased at http://www.mcctheater.org/tickets.html or by calling 866-811-4111. Running time is 1 hour and 40 minutes with one intermission.
No matter how diligently humankind attempts to “reap angels,” the presumed effects of “The Fall” not only carry forward into the present but subvert any attempt fora successful journey “on to perfection” (John Wesley). “Angel Reapers” – currently running at the Pershing Square Signature Center - is a theological and psychological tour de force that exposes the underbelly of humankind's search for meaning, stability, and salvation.
In Martha Clarke’s and Alfred Uhry’s“Angel Reapers” a cross section of the fallen find their way into the care of a “family unit” of The United Society of Believers in Christ's Second Appearing known as the Shakers at an undisclosed location in an undisclosed time. After splitting off from the Quakers, the Shakers developed a matrix of ecstatic behavior that both connected them to their Savior and protected them from the carnal desires of the world around them.
The welcomed revival of “Angel Reapers” on the stage of the Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre is an important and engrossing study of the dynamics of the theological matrices of the Shakers and other faith systems, including those receiving a high profile in the current presidential election and those playing out on the international political stage (terrorist organizations supporting their gruesome activities with their faith). The play is a powerful trope for humanity’s struggle to “win” the battle between “good” and “evil.” Brother William Lee (Nicholas Bruder) explains to his sister Mother Ann Lee (Sally Murphy), “My soul is an angel. My body is a man. They are at war- man and angel.”
The outstanding ensemble cast of actors, dancers, and singers, under Martha Clarke’s inventive and assiduous direction, rehearse with chilling authenticity just how – in this repressive Shaker “family” - sublimation fails to keep at bay the repressed id and the fear and unresolved anger garnered from their livesbefore joining Shaker Eldress Mother Ann Lee. There is brief nudity in “Angel Reapers.” The only difficulty with the nudity here is that it is oddly and unacceptably heteronormative and sexist. In the scenes depicting human affection and intimacy, only one female actor is required to be nude and none of the men involved in these scenes is required to do so. This is unconscionable and needs to be addressed by the creative team.
When the actors portraying Sister Grace Darrow (Gabrielle Malone), former orphan Sister Mary Chase (Ingrid Kapteyn), French immigrant Sister Agnes Renard (Sophie Bortolussi), abused wife Sister Susannah Farrington (Lindsey Dietz-Marchant), former convict Sister Hannah Cogswell (AsliBulbul) join the refrain “I fear your sweat/I curse your fingers/I hate your hot breath/I damn your manhood /And yet I feed your lust,” the audience understands just how infantilized, victimized, and indeed abused these women have become under Mother Ann Lee’s tutelage.
This is a “family” where unconditional love and forgiveness have been transplanted by shaming and shunning; where a miscarriage is seen as punishment for carnality, and where the love and affection between two men or two women is seen as sinful. A “family” where ritualized movements and dances mask the internal conflicts between superego, ego, and id. A “family” where deep-seated regret morphs into insurmountable guilt. The former farmer Brother David Darrow (Andrew Robinson) gave away his wife and his farm to God and now prays secretly, “And when I come to live with you in Paradise/Please dear lord/Give them back to me.” And a “family” where runaway slave Brother Moses (yon tande) experiences the cacophonous counterpoint of his memories of slavery with his new servitude to a different Master.
Will Brother William Lee and his sister Mother Ann Lee together be able to find the strength to “recapture heaven” when God’s only surcease is to admonish them to continue to “struggle?” If there are answers, they will be addressed in the remarkable and must see “Angel Reapers.” If there are answers indeed.
The cast includes Sophie Bortolussias Agnes Renard, Nicholas Bruderas William Lee, Asli Bulbulas Hannah Cogswell, Lindsey Dietz Marchantas Susannah Farrington, Ingrid Kapteynas Mary Chase, Rico Lebronas Valentine Rathburn, Gabrielle Maloneas Grace Darrow, Sally Murphyas Ann Lee, MattyOaksas Jabez Stone, Andrew Robinsonas David Darrow and yon tandeas Moses.
The design team includes Marsha Ginsberg(Scenic Design), Donna Zakowska(Costume Design), Christopher Akerlind(Lighting Design), Samuel Crawford & Arthur Solari(Sound Design), and Arthur Solari(Music Direction). B. Bales Karlinis the Production Stage Manager. Casting by Telsey + Company, Tiffany Little Canfield, CSA. Production photos by Joan Marcus.
To purchase tickets for all Signature productions, call Ticket Services at 212-244-7529 (Tues. – Sun., 11am – 6pm) or visit http://www.signaturetheatre.org. Running time 70 minutes without intermission.
Was it just us or was this a banner year when it comes to the quality of Off-Broadway shows? It seemed like with every opening, the bar was being raised ever so slightly. While Broadway was dominated by just a few titles, there were several that made a lasting impression on our writers. Here are, in no particular order, the 10 best according the reviews and comments of our writers.
Daddy Long Legs
"With its heretofore quiet success, this musical shows some wiser paths that can be taken for the creation of musicals. In an age where producers are insisting that musicals be based on films, this adaptation shows that novels often have more depth and substance. It also shows, like Jason Robert Brown’s The Last Five Years, that a musical need not be of blockbuster proportions". - Charlies Lupia
Once Upon a Mattress
"Just when the engaging characters start to become “too real,” Sandra Goldmark’s cartoonish set with scenic illustrations and live drawings by Ken Fallin (how much more interactive can a musical get?) transports the audience back into the land of fairy tales and make believe and wishes that sometimes come true. “Once Upon a Mattress gives the audience renewed hope for the future and the possibility for a positive outcome to the struggles of the present – a happily ever after for the global community." - David Roberts
"Songbird” is successful in two ways. Thanks to Michael Kimmel’s rich text, it is a remarkably rich retelling of Chekhov’s classic, following the characters, their conflicts, and their tortured stories in exacting parallel progression. And it is a stand-alone play which highlights the universality of individuals and families confronting and demystifying the challenges of discontented lives and the failed hopes that challenge humankind and its discontents. Chekhov’s seagull becomes a bluebird here with the same rich connections and metaphorical vectors extant in Chekhov’s masterpiece." - David Roberts
Hamlet in Bed
"The conceit is brilliant and the execution by the actors under Lisa Peterson’s direction is equally brilliant and equally engaging. Both actors move – glide actually – in and out of narration, monologues, and engaging scenes in and out of “Hamlet’s bed.” This is a complicated and deeply rich script that lingers with the audience long after the curtain call providing many “Aha” and “Wait, now I think I get it” moments. Rachel Hauck’s scenic design is sparse leaving much to the imagination of the audience to determine the setting. Jessica Pabst’s costumes are simple, appropriate, and complimented exquisitely by Scott Zielinski’s mood-driven lighting which – like the set – teases the audience into star-studded wonderment." - David Roberts
"This is political theatre at it’s finest. In fact, political theatre is almost a misnomer. This play isn’t forcing any agenda on its audience. It’s not leftist or rightist. It is, principally, a staunch plea for humanity, a warning against apathy and a reminder of just how recent history is. And how poorly we learn from it. It is current, and important, and the execution is faultless. It’s not a show that will make you happy, but it will make you ask yourself some serious questions. I’ll say it again: everyone should see this." - Thomas Burns Scully
Afghanistan, Zimbabwe, America, Kuwait
"Daniel Talbott has written one of the best surreal, kaleidoscopic fables about not just the horrific legacy of combat on “foreign” soil but perhaps more importantly about the specter of all human conflict – physical, psychological, and spiritual. The unnamed military outpost that serves as the setting for Daniel Talbott’s “Afghanistan, Zimbabwe, America, Kuwait” serves as a trope for all of the “mental wards in the middle of the desert” where feelings become numb and connections to moral centers become unhinged." - David Roberts
"What makes the play so large in its intense specificity is Karam’s suggestion that this state of affairs is not just one family’s idiosyncrasy, but rather our species’, as we scratch our way forward at what for everyone living is always the end of time. Richard, the outsider, gets nearest the point (and incidentally explains the play’s title) in a description of a comic book series he likes. It is about a race of monsters who, naturally, do not fear monsters as we do; instead, they fear the humans. We are quite enough to stock a horror show." - Jesse Green - Vulture
John & Jen
"Under the careful direction of Keen Company Artistic Director Jonathan Silverstein, Kate Baldwin and Conor Ryan demonstrate successfully what musical theatre ought to be. Their performances are never caricatures: nor do these performances ever become cartoonish. The audience is always aware of the age difference in the characters they portray. Their onstage chemistry is remarkable and believable. Steven C. Kemps’s scenic design and Josh Bradford’s lighting design cleverly dramatize the rough edges and shadowy corners of the human mind as it attempts to navigate the obstacle course called life.
It is a joy to see all that a Broadway performance ought to be played out on the Off-Broadway stage at the Clurman Theatre on Theatre Row. Thanks to a brilliant cast and an inventive creative team, the Keen Company has scored a hit worth seeing". - David Roberts
"Jesse Eisenberg's "The Spoils," currently running at the New Group, is the “This Is Our Youth” for the twenty-first century millennial generation and captures the angst of this generation with gripping honesty and often disturbing realism. The complicated dynamics between the protagonist Ben (Jesse Eisenberg), his Nepalese roommate Kalyan (played with a charming innocence by Kunal Nayyar), Kalyan’s girlfriend Reshma (played with a steely veneer by Annapurna Sriram), Ben’s high school mate Ted (played with the right mix of naiveté and revenge by Michael Zegen) and his fiancé Sarah (played with splendid resolute dignity by Erin Darke) enliven the iconic Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) and splay the stage at the Pershing Square Signature Center with identification, projection, delusional behavior, magical thinking (to name but a few) and near ego strength meltdown. Mr. Eisenberg’s script is the best on or off Broadway at the present time and for quite some time before." - David Roberts
“Nora” is “A Doll’s House” on steroids with fast-paced action provided by the ensemble cast that rarely leaves the stage each (except Nora) retreating into the shadows in Harry Feiner’s brooding light and each reappearing when engaged with the other actors. Harry Feiner’s set design and Theresa Squire’s costume design further complement Bergman’s taut and tantalizing script with authenticity and grace.
"Nora" is a definite must see for those endeared to the classic and for all of those looking for rich theatre that asks enduring questions about gender, self-discovery, and empowerment." - David Roberts
I recently had the opportunity to interview the cast of Jean-Luc Lagarce’s “MusicHall” currently running at 59E59 Theaters in Manhattan. “Music Hall” is a remarkable and important play with rich themes and a brilliant cast. The responses from each cast member follow the questions.
• Theatre Reviews Limited: Jean-Luc Lagarce’s script is often challenging and demanding for the audience. Do you depend in any way on the audience to fuel your performance and is your performance in any way different because of the audience?
Jeffrey Binder's Answers (The Artiste): The audience in this show is almost literally another character on stage. I'm constantly speaking to them individually, as individuals, so I'd say yes - they absolutely influence the rhythm and tenor of the show, but they don't dominate it. Many are engaged, some wary, some warm, some downright hostile (I didn't come here for you to look at me and talk to me as if I'm really here, and what is going on, anyway, where is the story and why sir are you in a dress etc etc) and I'm constantly speaking to them and listening to them. That said, the journey is set and the artiste has things that she needs to say, so we may walk the the path in a different way, a different mood in spots or enjoying different things along the way every performance, but we still walk the path.
Michael Doonan (First Boy): Absolutely, the audience is the fourth character (well besides the stool maybe). Like any good scene partner they demand honesty and responsiveness from us. It's a different show every night, truly. And I can't say that about a lot of show's I've been in. I think it's a testament to the writing. It's just so flexible. I think of the text a poem sometimes because it's continually subjected to the collective feeling in the room. It's fun to perform because of that. However, that subjectivity makes people uncomfortable sometimes. The show is very much like looking at an abstract piece of art: every response to it becomes the correct one-because it's personal. I try to remember and honor that when people share their responses, which have been very positive and insightful. And change from audience to audience, and individual to individual. We're very happy about that.
Darren Hill (Second Boy): Do I depend on the audience to fuel my performance? No. Is my performance in any way different? Yes, every time, that’s the beauty and challenge of this piece. To me the audience is the fourth character (or fifth if you count the stool!). In a way they do fuel depending on their reaction to the piece, there have been a couple of times where we have had a room full of smirkers and that makes it very ironic to play.
• Theatre Reviews Limited: Was there any specific preparation for your roles in “Music Hall?”
Jeffrey: Spending four weeks constantly going over the lines - sounds silly but this text is dense and rhythmic but also needs to have an ease and flow... An effortlessness needed to be achieved, so the script had to be in my body and almost instinctual or the character wouldn't work. Plus the constant challenge of keeping an open mind and readiness for anything when working with someone like Zeljko - a willingness to explore different avenues of thought, action, and theme knowing we'd toss most of it out in service to making the play tighter, more relevant, and faceted.
Michael: We all took a good look at the text when we first started, trying to decrypt it and shape it. Not in any definitive way, as I said the text is very malleable-the meaning and logic of the ideas are a small part of performing the text. Zejlko early on encouraged us to play with the rate and rhythm of the words. While the text is king in this play-there are musical and movement elements that are written into the script that demanded their own specific preparations. For me, I worked with Wain to craft a version of a Josephine Baker standard for Harmonica-which I play in the show. I also did my own movement and dance investigations for both my character and for certain sections of the show.
Darren: We spent at least the first five days of rehearsal sitting around a table mining the script. On the page Lagarce leaves a lot to the actor and director to decipher. He is so ambiguous, that there were even discussions as to who am I talking to at this moment? But that’s the joy and depth of his writing. I couldn’t have done this without the table work.
• Theatre Reviews Limited: Does the reaction of the audience vary much from performance? If so, how?
Jeffrey: No doubt - it speaks to some people profoundly and some people... It's just not their thing. It's a different kind of theatre than most of what's out there and people have varying tastes and different expectations when they go to see a show. So some folks connect to the material and the journey profoundly and are ecstatic about it and some people get angry and hate everything about it. It's awesome either way - I love it if the play challenges you in some way and causes a reaction, even if you ultimately decide that you're offended by the way it challenges you. I mean really the show is on a fundamental level three guys talking to the audience about a life in the arts. Very little else - if that moves you to joy or tears or fury well wow, that's fantastic! That's a beautiful moment in the theatre. And something only live performance can do I think, because it's alive and in front of you and in this case interacting with you directly, it tends to get very personal one way or another.
Michael: It does, but difficult to name what those differences are. Partly because although there is a collective feeling/reaction to what you're giving and receiving from them, there are still individual energies that become prevalent, and at times distracting-BUT those same individuals add fuel to the our fire so to speak. That we illicit a reaction period, is for us very exciting and fulfilling.
Darren: Hugely! Some audiences are expecting a typical theatre experience. You sit down and expect to be entertained for the duration, you feel happy/ great you get up and go home. People are not expecting to be looked at, spoken to, challenged and asked questions, whether those are literal or metaphorically. When they experience this for the first time they seem to go into shock and freeze. This play does not ease up on such audiences and can leave them asking “That was amazing but what was it all about?”
• Theatre Reviews Limited: Is there a climax in the story and where would each of you place that “moment?”
Jeffrey: I think the place where it gets the most personal for the artiste is when she talks about her 'husband' and reveals the most about her past and her past with him... If she's to be believed anyway. I don't know if that's a climax but I think the play really turns there in a way that there's no going back to the way things were before.
Michael: 'What story?!' as Jeff's character proclaims in the show. In fact I think that might be the moment that could serve as our climax; emotionally at least. It's a very nuanced and evocative moment for us. It's a scene where inhibitions are cast aside and things come undone.
Darren: To me the climax is what we would call “The Drunken Scene”. It is a moment in the play were all three characters let go, we really see the struggle from within, the bare bones. When The Artiste breaks down from looking at herself in the mirror and says “When you’ve been through hell…” she is at her wits end and the care and beauty of the boys bringing her back with song “By the time I get to Phoenix…” is a beautiful moment to me.
• Theatre Reviews Limited: Would you consider “Music Hall” to be a tragedy of sorts and do you think there is a traditional catharsis for the audience at the end of the play?
Jeffrey: Oh wow - I don't think I want to answer that. I think it's up to you as an audience member to decide. I don't want to influence you with my own mundane thoughts about it - your own conclusions will probably be far more interesting anyway, and more relevant to you and your experience watching it.
Michael: It's maybe not tragic but there's a deep sense of dramatic irony that after all they've been through (which we present to the audience later on through a series of vignettes that hop through time and space and circumstance)they still choose to endure this lifestyle despite it's many drawbacks. I think in some ways people become lucky when they discover their passion, but misfortunes and difficulties always arise we feel trapped in a way because you begin to wonder what else you could do to be happy. But of course, as many actors feel I think, we are driven by our passion-we are unwilling and unable to do anything else. And so what is ironic is that-that passion which frees us also limits us. And to me that's actually pretty funny.
Darren: Great question! And tough to answer. Yes I would agree it is a tragedy. A tragedy that’s no one’s fault. It is just the way life is on the road, in the theatre world.
• Theatre Reviews Limited: Is there anything you feel is important about the performance or the script not covered in the above questions?
Jeffrey: Such interesting questions! I hope the play is something that stimulates your mind and heart and gets you talking after it finishes. That's my sincere hope.
Michael: I just want to say it's been an absolute honor to share the stage with Darren and Jeff. They continue to surprise me with their generosity both on and off the stage.
Darren: I hope not! I hope it leaves the audience with more questions, a glimpse into our world. A lot of friends of mine who are in the business who have seen the production love it because for them they can relate so for them I think there is a catharsis, an agreement. There is a definite rhythm and structure to the script that defines Lagarce. I am so grateful to Zeljko for wanting to bring Jean-Luc’s words to life and introducing me to what I honestly regard as one of the greatest writers of our time. There is a rawness and honesty in the writing that you very rarely find. Lagarce gives you so much but tells you so little about how to say it, there is even a stage direction “The Artiste looks at them, I think”, I love that. It tells me so much about the humility and brilliance of this man. The fact that Music Hall was the first play he wrote after discovering he had contracted AIDS impacts me as a performer to the meaning of some of the frustration and desperation we find in the piece. I am grateful to be a small part of his amazing work.
• Theatre Reviews Limited: Again, thank you for your responses. The run of “Music Hall” ends this Sunday May 12, 2015. I hope audiences will continue to allow you to challenge them throughout the run. I hope to see more of “Music Hall” in Manhattan in the not too distant future.
My Review of “Music Hall” can be found at http://theatrereviews.com/reviews/offbdwy-MusicHall.htm