Off-Broadway Review: “The Hello Girls” at 59E59 Theaters

Off-Broadway Review: “The Hello Girls” at 59E59 Theaters

There is no doubt that the so called “Hello Girls,” the bilingual operators that were sent to the front line to operate secured switchboards, were invaluable to the Signal Corps units in World War I. It is unfortunate that they needed to fight for sixty years to be recognized as veterans of that war in order to receive appropriate benefits. It was just one more example of the historic and ongoing women’s crusade for equal rights. So, it is fitting that there be an acknowledgement of their service in any form, including the documentary and the current stage musical by the same name now running at 59E59 Theaters. This recent tribute is produced by Prospect Theater Company and features a remarkable cast of performers who do triple duty as actors, vocalists and musicians playing multiple instruments.

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Off-Broadway Review: “Charolais”

David Roberts

  • Chief New York Theatre Critic

“I hate that . . . cow. I hate her soft face and her solid head and her dirty yellow tag against your sweaty neck like cheap gold earrings.” – Siobhan

There has been a fracas in farmer Jimmy’s shed that brings together three females in an unexpected display of power, principle, and panache. A battle ensues that leaves Siobhan’s apron spattered in blood and her toting a large blood-stained kitchen knife crusted with bits of hay. This is the image the audience sees at the beginning of “Charolais.” Siobhan carefully discloses the series of startling events and personal beefs that led up to the blood-letting, peeling layer after layer from the core of the matrix of memories marked by the shadows created by Tara Doolan’s subtle lighting.

Noni Stapleton’s “Charolais,” currently running at 59E59 Theaters, is the tale of these three mothers (two human, one bovine) and how far they are willing to go to protect and save the ones they love – either someone they know they love or someone they have recently come to love. Siobhan, who narrates the tale, is pregnant with Jimmy’s baby (more about Jimmy later) and will do anything to protect her unborn child; Breda, Jimmy’s “bitch” of a mother, is overprotective of her son; and the French heifer Charolais, also expecting, is ready to protect her calf come what may. All three are portrayed by playwright Noni Stapleton with just the right blend of pathos and ethos.

Siobhan needs to feel special and she strives to please Jimmy to garner that kind of support from him. Blocking Jimmy’s ability to deliver what Siobhan needs is overbearing Breda and the heifer Charolais who seems to get more attention from Jimmy than does his soon-to-be partner in parenting. How to remove the culprits who stand in the way of Siobhan’s happiness with Jimmy? Homicide or slaughter cross Siobhan’s mind and Ms. Stapleton’s engaging narrative establishes means, motive, and opportunity for the crime. The question is, whose blood is drying on Siobhan’s apron and coagulating on her kitchen knife? Charolais’s? Breda’s? Jimmy’s perhaps?

Tucked away somewhere between house and shed and field are pockets of loneliness, anger, resentment, jealously, rage – all uncovered by Siobhan as she traverses the landscape of her emotional terrain. Ms. Stapleton’s script has meat on its bones and serves up enough twists and turns, hints, and surprises to sate the appetite of the sophisticated theatre-goer. There are prurient interests that delicately counterpoint the human and the bovine condition. Under director Bairbre Ní Chaoimh’s steady hand, “Charolais” is a welcomed battle of wisdom and wits tempered by whimsy delivered with empathic grace throughout Noni Stapleton’s authentic and believable performance.

 

CHAROLAIS

The design team for “Charolais” includes Miriam Duffy (costume design), Tara Doolan (lighting design), and Jack Cawley (sound design). The dramaturg is Gavin Kostick.  The production stage manager is Becca Pickett. 

Produced by Fishable: The New Play Company, “Charolais” runs for a limited engagement through Sunday, September 24. The performance schedule is Tuesday - Thursday at 7:30 PM; Friday at 8:30 PM; Saturday at 2:30 PM and 8:30 PM; and Sunday at 3:30 PM and 7:30 PM. Performances are at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues). Single tickets are $25.00 ($20.00 for 59E59 Members). To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or visit www.59e59.org. Running time is 65 minutes without intermission.

Photo: Noni Stapleton in “Charolais” at 59E59 Theaters. Credit: Hunter Canning.

Review: “Confusions” at 59E59 Theaters

David Roberts

  • OnStage Chief New York Theatre Critic

Alan Ayckbourn is unquestionably a prolific and popular playwright whose seventy-nine plays have delighted and challenged audiences for almost sixty years. He has explored the vicissitudes of the human condition with pith and panache and often focuses on the relationships between women and men and, most often, on the misdeeds of the latter gender. The Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough England has chosen to revive the playwright’s “Confusions” at 59E59 Theaters as part of the Brits Off Broadway Series.

A series of five interconnected plays, “Confusions” flips a character from the first play into the next play until the themes of the first four pieces collide on a park bench in “A Talk in the Park.”

Photo by Tony Bartholomew

Photo by Tony Bartholomew

In “Mother Figure,” Lucy (Elizabeth Boag) a frazzled young mother struggles to balance sanity with caring for her children without any assistance from her mostly absent gad-about husband. Her neighbor Rosemary, concerned she has not seen Lucy recently, makes a visit and experiences an abundance of uber-nurturing unlike the care she receives from her sexist hubby Terry (Stephen Billington). In the second play “Drinking Companion” Lucy’s absentee hubby Harry (Richard Stacey) is found trying to pick up two women in a hotel lounge. Terry is the ultimate sexist cad who does not manage to fool Paula (Charlotte Harwood) or her friend Bernice (Elizabeth Boag) but manages inadvertently to garner the attention of the gay waiter (Stephen Billington) who appears in the third play “Between Mouthfuls” the ultimate in cuckolding comedy. Mr. and Mrs. Pearce (Russell Dixon and Elizabeth Boag) dine unaware of Mr. Pearce’s employee Martin (Richard Stacey) who is in the same restaurant with his wife Polly (Charlotte Harwood) who has had a bit of a tryst with her hubby’s boss.

In the second act, Mrs. Pearce is the honored guest at “Gosforth’s Fete” a celebration of all that can possibly go wrong at a civic event. Gosforth (Russell Dixon) has managed to have a tryst with Stewart’s (Stephen Billington) fiancé Milly (Charlotte Harwood). The Vicar (Richard Stacey) serves as the moral trope amidst the amoral mayhem. At the performance I attended, the audience went wild over this piece guffawing loudly accompanied by knee-slapping and double-overs. This critic was quite frankly quite bored.

What was undoubtedly unique in 1974 – and what most audiences still find hilarious on both sides of the Pond - I find sad for some reason. It all seems just too dated and irrelevant. Watching “Confusions” is akin to watching a piece of history while laughing at important issues we have yet to resolve. And while it is therapeutic to laugh at ourselves and our foibles, there needs to be some other payoff to two hours and fifteen minutes of tom foolery.

Under Mr. Ayckbourn’s direction, the ensemble cast is brilliant and does its individual and collective best to breathe new life into these five plays. It is the vintage of the plays and not the craft of these fine actors that weigh down the effort. Michael Holt’s design and Jason Taylor’s lighting are appropriate and complement the action of each play with style.

Sexism, adultery, and abuse – these three remain today in abundance -  but reviving a 1970’s look at these horrific and persistent problems does little to massage the conscience or quicken the spirit of compassion. Mr. Ayckbourn’s impressive body of work is to be celebrated but not worshipped and something beyond “Confusions” is needed to sort out the sexual turbulence of the twenty-first century.

“Confusions” plays in repertory with Mr. Ayckbourn’s new play “Hero’s Welcome” through July 3, 2016.

CONFUSIONS

The cast for “Confusions” features Stephen Billington, Elizabeth Boag, Russell Dixon, Charlotte
Harwood, and Richard Stacey. The design team for both plays is Jason Taylor (lighting designer) and Michael Holt (production designer). The production stage manager is Veronica Aglow. Production photos by Tony Bartholomew.

Alan Ayckbourn’s “Hero’s Welcome” and “Confusions” run in rep for their New York City premieres at Brits Off Broadway at 59E59 Theaters with a general performance schedule of Tuesday – Thursday at 7:00 p.m.; Friday at 8:00 p.m.; Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.; Sunday at 3:00 p.m. and 7:00p.m. Please see the performance calendar for the individual show schedules. Single tickets for “Hero’s Welcome” and “Confusions” are $70.00 ($49.00 for 59E59 Members). To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or go to www.59e59.org. Running time for “Confusions” is 2 hours and 15 minutes with one twenty-minute intermission.

Review: 'Toast' at 59E59 Theaters

Asya Danilova

  • OnStage New York Critic

~~~~~~

Produced by Snapdragon Productions in association with Jagged Fence Theater, Toast is brought to New Yorkers as a part of Brits Off Broadway festival. One truly feels as though they are traveling in space and time as an all-male cast brings us to a bread factory in Hull, England in 1975. 

The only set of the play is meticulously build and painfully realistic. It features a break room of a factory where workers of the Sunday shift hang out, drink tea, play cards, smoke cigarettes, complain about life and play pranks on each other. They are all fed up with the work and everybody hates Sunday shifts the most. But everybody seems to have some kind of respite – a young wife waiting at home, joking around with old friends. Everybody seems to be hanging there despite the hard thankless toil, long hours and challenging life conditions; everybody except for Nellie (Matthew Kelly).

When Nellie shows up in the brake room, his face, his arms and his clothes are coated with flour, which seems like it’s at least several days old. Nellie seems like a person who got completely devoured by his work and became a man of few words, half man and half bread loaf. Peter, the only worker at the factory who wears his everyday clothes (which is the only obvious indicator of the time period) loses himself when left alone with Nellie while trying to have a small talk.  He gets angry at Nellie when the old man doesn’t talk much and seems uninterested in everything around him.    

Production photography by Oliver King

Production photography by Oliver King

When Peter leaves back to the bread plant and Nellie stays alone, we see him throwing bread from his sandwich towards the trash can buried in teabags while slowly eating a piece of cheese and staring into the void of the audience. The scene gets a laugh, the man is so tired of bread he can’t even eat it. But in fact he looks really sad as he slowly eats the lonely piece of cheese, not because he is enjoying it, but because he doesn’t have much to do. He would like to smoke but his wife gives him only one pack of cigarettes a week. He takes one out, glances at the clock and puts the cigarette back in disappointment. 

During the first act I found myself looking at the clock above the door often too, I swear it goes slower than my watch. Sometimes you hear it ticking; sometimes the distant hum of working machines fills up the silence. Sound design by Max Pappenhime is as subtle as it is scrupulous. 

The set design by James Turner has the same attributes. During the long scene in the beginning when Blakey (Steve Nicolson) walks the room, we have a chance to “walk” with him. Blakey unpacks his lunch, pours himself some water from the boiler and then takes aim at the overflowing trashcan with the teabag. You can see that some of the throwers weren’t very precise and a few bags landed on the floor, on the sink or stuck to the wall.  The set, very simple and dull on the first glance, is filled with the small details like this, which makes it look utterly realistic and oddly familiar. 

The balance between personal and unifying is shown cleverly through these little traces of the human existence: identical jars for milk, some of them empty on the sink, some of them full or half full on the tables; flour prints of different hands on the furniture; identical teabags dried out in different spots. 

These delicate details mirror and enhance the text of the play in which six factory workers are living their own lives, but because of the work at the bread plant, which takes so much out of them, they are at risk of becoming mechanical attachments to the stoves. As the flour dust is covering every surface in the break room, their lives are slowly getting covered with it too. Perhaps that’s why Peter was so angry at Nellie because he felt the threat of becoming like him.  

Talking and goofing around goes on until the student Lance (John Wark) joins the company. His awkwardness, naïve enthusiasm and bright clothes distinguish him from the others. And we see what the true reason for it is when he confesses to Nellie that he is the messenger who was sent to the factory to tell Nellie that he is destined to die that evening. The dimmed light of the scene suggests that Lance is not kidding. 

I spend the intermission on the edge of my seat excited for a realistic play to take a metaphysical turn. The second act opens with the news that the stove is broken and someone needs to go inside in order to stop the baking, which will leave just enough time to make a new batch of bread before the morning comes. 

The quickly unfolding events make you think that this is where the catastrophe will happen. But the good play that it certainly is, Toast is often unpredictable. The playwright Richard Bean switches genre gears in a heartbeat mainly through the character of Lance. 

A brilliant cast directed by Eleanor Rhode delivers some warm and gentle comedy, which is not always easy to follow because of the mumbling of thick British accents. The comedy is not the genre tag I would attach to the play though. A comedic element here is more like a necessary measure of survival in harsh work conditions of the factory then it is a tool of entertaining the audience. I wouldn’t call Toast a workplace drama too even though the factory problems are discussed all the time and it is the malfunction of the equipment that pushes the events forward. 

You can look at Toast as a tapestry of charismatic bread factory workers dealing with the crisis and enjoy it this way. But to me the most interesting experience was being caught when I wanted plot “candy”, that metaphysical twist, and didn’t quite get it. Instead of that I got more “bread”, the everyday peoples’ collisions. The bread is more nutritious than candy though. When it’s made just right it’s the greatest food you can have.

Review: “Pondling” at 59E59 Theaters

David Roberts

“Miss Madeleine, be free, courageous, be beautiful and be the best swan in the pond. And Johnno Boyle O'Connor will be entirely yours.” (The swan on the pond to Madeline)

If the world we are born into and expected to flourish in fails us, we sometimes need an alternate place to inhabit where we can find nurture and acceptance, and surcease from our emotional and spiritual pain. Madeleine’s world in Froam fails her miserably and she creates an alternative universe and a persona that rescue her from the dreariness and falsehood of her mundane life. She dons new raven black shoes to woo her intended beau Johnno Boyle O’Connor and fantasizes killing his “long armed girlfriend.” Madeleine fuels her imagination with frequent visits to “Mrs. Green’s second hand shop [where she] collects all sorts, teacups and matching saucers, small figurines of animals getting in and out of little shoes or maybe a framed display of rare and exotic moths.” It is at Mrs. Green’s that she also finds the workout video that assists Madeleine in her quest to be “proud, brave, and beautiful.”              

Genevieve Hulme-Beaman in PONDLING, produced by Gúna Nua Theatre Company and Ramblinman for Origin Theatre Co’s 1st Irish Theatre Festival at 59E59 Theaters. Photos by Paul McCarthy

Genevieve Hulme-Beaman in PONDLING, produced by Gúna Nua Theatre Company and Ramblinman for Origin Theatre Co’s 1st Irish Theatre Festival at 59E59 Theaters. Photos by Paul McCarthy

Fantasy and reality clash with splendid results in Genevieve Hulme-Beaman’s extraordinary “Pondling” currently running at 59E59 Theaters as part of the 2015 1st Irish Theatre Festival. The audience enters the dark and often disturbing fantasy world of Madeleine the young girl routinely excluded from the nightly “long conversations about poetry and killing animals” by her cattle farmer grandfather and her brother who gave her busy work to “distract her from her uselessness.” The men “couldn’t kill anything, they just liked to ‘talk the talk.’” Madeleine, on the other hand, can “capture and kill the stray cat that scared the chickens at night” and “pull the head off a chicken” so her friend Katie can be assured the chicken’s body “could still run around afterwards.” Madeleine also learns the magical powers of tansy ragwort (will not spoil that scene!). This is one brave young woman.

Hints of Madeleine's age permeate Ms. Hulme-Beaman’s brilliantly written short play (listen for comments about her hair and her preferred mode of transportation) for which she won the Best Actress Award at the 2013 Dublin Fringe. But whatever Madeleine’s chronological age, it is light years away from the age of her vivid and irrepressible imagination and her obsessive and sometimes delusional longing for Johnno Boyle O’Connor.

It is not just the creation of fantasy that sustains Madeleine. She lives in a world of magical realism where swans engage her in conversation and ponds become tropes for alternate and parallel universes where “inside her little round head is something else, something very beautiful. A beautiful French swan girl by the name of Madeleine Humble Butter Cup.” Magical realism is a fragile genre of writing and playwrights often shy away from its charms and the danger of “destroying the lines of demarcation that separates what seems real from what seems fantastic" (Gabriel Garcia Marquez). Ms. Hulme-Beaman understands those lines completely and navigates the realm of magical realism with impressive skill.

Madeleine’s visit to Anne Marie Coleman’s majestic home (with an en suite bathroom) in search of a surrogate mother and her singing “If You Love Me” (Edith Piaf’s “Hymne à l'amour”) are two of many scenes in “Pondling” that exemplify Madeleine’s deep sadness and longing for acceptance. In these scenes – as well as in others – Ms. Hulme-Beaman displays her craft at writing with rich imagery and refreshing figurative language as well as her treasure trove of sparkling tropes.

What makes “Pondling” so delightful – in addition to its thoughtful and intelligent appeal – is the remarkable writing and performance craft of Genevieve Hulme-Beaman. From the first sentence the audience hears and the first movement the audience sees, one is fully aware that something spectacular is about to happen on stage. Under Paul Meade’s exquisite and detailed direction, Ms. Hulme-Beaman has the ability to transform the space she inhabits on stage to a world of fantasy and imagination that draws the audience in Madeleine’s world of longing and deep and abiding sadness, sadness that might only have one opportunity for resolution. See this remarkable play and decide what that choice might or might not have been.

PONDLING

"Pondling” is presented by Guna Nua Theatre Company and Ramblinman and runs through Sunday October 4 at 59E59 Theaters at 59 East 59th Street (between Madison and Park) on the following schedule: Tuesday – Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday at 8:30 p.m., Saturday at 2:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m., and Sunday at 3:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $25.00 ($17.50 for 59E59 Members). To purchase tickets call 212-279-4200 or visit www.59e59.org.  Production photos by Paul McCarthy. Running time is 70 minutes with no intermission

Review: “Desire” at 59E59 Theaters

David Roberts

“No, there was another world that Tennessee Williams knew about, a universe filled with special people who didn’t want to be a part of this dreary conformist life that I was told I had to join.” (John Waters, “The Kindness of a Stranger,” New York Times, November 19, 2006)

59E59 Theater's critically acclaimed 5A Series begins the 2015-2015 Season with “Desire” described as “an evening of new plays based on stories by Tennessee Williams.” Divided into two Acts, the short plays are adaptations by six contemporary American playwrights. The “special people” celebrated by John Waters inhabit these six new plays with traits that are – as they were for Waters – salvific and often non-conformist and all of which tackle the fascinating dynamics of human desire.

L-R: Mickey Theis and Juliet Brett in Beth Henley’s The Resemblance Between a Violin Case and a Coffin, in DESIRE, produced by The Acting Company for the 5A Season at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by Carol Rosegg

It is difficult to “take on” Tennessee Williams and attempt to create adaptations of his dense text and rich writing filled with figurative language and imagery. It is especially difficult to appreciate these six adaptations when the obvious autobiographical nature of the original stories has all but been drained out of the adaptations. The audience is left to identify the connections between characters in the short stories and Williams’ iconic plays and often these connections are indeed revelatory and engaging. When the adaptations have more of a “period” flavor the results of the adaptations seem more successful. When the short stories are given a contemporary setting – as they are in “Tent Worms” and “The Field of Blue Children” the adaptations seem a bit flat.

The first, “The Resemblance between a Violin Case and a Coffin,” is an adaptation by Beth Henley of the 1950 short story of the same title. The violin case is an obvious allusion to Tom’s outburst to his mother in “The Glass Menagerie” when she continues to suspect his whereabouts after work. In Ms. Henley’s adaptation, Tom’s (Mickey Theis) homoerotic fascination with violinist Richard Miles is completely absent and Richard Miles’ (Brian Cross) premature death seems to leave Tom unaffected and merely provides an opportunity to again play with his sister Roe (Juliet Brett). These changes obfuscate the autobiographical nature of the original story and the autobiographical nature of the 1950 short story gets sidetracked. Young Tom Williams, his sister Rose, his mother (Megan Bartle) and grandmother (Liv Rooth) and the young man who not only broke hearts by lived with the family are ephemeral ghosts in Ms. Hanley’s adaptation.

Three of the short plays stand out in “Desire.” John Guare’s “You Lied to Me about Centralia” is an adaptation of “Portrait of a Girl in Glass” the story which evolved into “The Glass Menagerie” and is a wonderful character study of Laura’s gentleman caller Jim (Mickey Theis) and his girlfriend Betty (Megan Bartle). David Grimm maintains the setting of Williams’ 1974 "Oriflamme" which Williams wrote for his mother Edwina and Mr. Grimm’s play closely follows the short story giving it a sense of authenticity. Actors Derek Smith (Rodney) and Liv Rooth (Anna) deliver compelling performances. The third short plays deserves more attention.

The most powerful adaptation of the six is Marcus Gardley’s “Desire Quenched by Touch” an adaptation of Mr. Williams’ 1948 “Desire and the Black Masseur.” Questioned by Bacon (Derek Smith) about a missing person Burns (John Skelley), Grand (Yaegel T. Welch) defends his professionalism as a masseur and his personal honor by claiming (falsely) he has not seen the missing person since he last visited his studio. The official’s questioning is (as it was in the original short story) loaded with racism and homophobia – Grand is black, his client white and the interrogator’s prejudice leans toward the likelihood that the masseur might be homosexual. Mr. Skelley, Mr. Welch. And Mr. Smith shine in this piece and deliver the outstanding performances of the collection. They create authentic and believable characters that exude the mystery and magic and existential angst of Tennessee Williams. It would not be fair to reveal what happens between masseur and client except to affirm it is chilling and laden with important symbolism and relevant connections to contemporary issues.

Overall, these six plays by distinguished American playwrights lack the intense passion of Tennessee Williams’ writing though the three highlighted come very close and are outstanding contributions. The grittiness and the overwhelming despair found in the original short stories has for some reason been sanitized and the psychological trauma that accompanies being human succumbs to a sometimes uncomfortable blandness. Tennessee Williams aficionados will appreciate the allusions to plays in the Williams canon and will certainly appreciate the caliber of acting by the ensemble cast that easily takes on different characters with ease. Direction by Michael Wilson is overall proficient and serviceable but not always consistent from short play to short play.

DESIRE

The cast features Kristen Adele, Megan Bartle, Juliet Brett, Brian Cross, Liv Rooth, John Skelley, Derek Smith, Mickey Theis, and Yaegel T. Welch. The design team includes Jeff Cowie (scenic design); David C. Woolard (costume design); Russell H. Champa (lighting design); and John Gromada (original music and sound design). The musical director and pianist is Jono Mainelli. Choreography is by Peter Pucci. The Production Stage Manager is Jereme Kyle Lewis. Production photos by Carol Rosegg.

Produced by the Acting Company, “Desire” runs for a limited engagement through Sunday, October 11. The performance schedule is Tuesday – Thursday at 7:00 PM; Friday at 8:00 PM; Saturday at 2:00 PM & 8:00 PM; Sunday at 3:00 PM. Single tickets are $70.00 ($49.00 for 59E59 Members). To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or visit www.59e59.org. Running time 2 hours and 20 minutes including one intermission

Review: “Sense of an Ending” at 59E59 Theaters

David Roberts

“Charles, we must speak directly. I know that your career is not what it was because of the scandal. You were the young star and now all that is changing thanks to this problem. I will not let these nuns go free.” (Paul)

Theatre-goers in New York City have the opportunity to see Ken Urban's haunting "Sense of an Ending” at 59E59 Theaters through Sunday September 6, 2015. This is a short run of Mr. Urban’s successful play (Theatre503 in London in May-June 2015) and it is playing in the smallest of 59E59 Theater’s performance spaces. As of this writing, three of the performances are sold out and the remaining performances will fill quickly. Therefore, it is imperative you secure tickets to see this remarkable play that raises the enduring and rich questions that challenge not just the broad issues of guilt and innocence but also challenge the larger issues of right and wrong and the ambiguity of morality. 

L-R: Heather Alicia Simms, Danyon Davis and Joshua David Robinson in SENSE OF AN ENDING at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by Carol Rosegg

L-R: Heather Alicia Simms, Danyon Davis and Joshua David Robinson in SENSE OF AN ENDING at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by Carol Rosegg

At the core of these questions lies the alleged complicity of two Hutu nuns of the Benedictine Order in the ethnic Hutu extremist mass murder of hundreds Tutsi citizens who sought refuge in the church they served in Kigali Rwanda during the 100 days of Genocide from April 7 to mid-July in 1994.  In an attempt to redeem himself and his position at the “New York Times,” Charles (Joshua David Robinson) travels to Kigali and arranges to interview the nuns five years after the murders in the church. They have been imprisoned by the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) as they await trial in Belgium. 

The play’s the thing here to uncover the conscience of the audience (apologies to Shakespeare) and just as the play within the “Tragedy of Hamlet” uncovers the conscience of Claudius and Gertrude, the audience is “hooked” here into examining its own complicity in the inexorable “crimes against humanity” that occur locally and globally daily. The trial takes place on stage first prior to the transfer of the nuns to Belgium. Ken Urban has skillfully involved the audience in the trial. Audience members become jury and ultimately judge. Charles is unwittingly the defense attorney. Paul (Hubert Point-Du Jour) the RPF corporal assigned to guard the nuns is the prosecutor who calls Dusabi (Danyon Davis) - the only survivor of the church massacre - as the witness for the State. Dusabi purports to know the truth and he hopes his testimony (his private meeting with Charles) will generate justice.

Mr. Urban peels away layer after layer of ecclesiastical “privilege” as Sister Justina (sarcasm reigns!) played with a sinister motherly protection by Heather Alicia Simms and Sister Alice (played with a mix of naiveté and cunning by Dana Marie Ingraham) slowly lose their battle with truth. Sister Justina believes “The truth is what will set us free” but as the “trial” progress it might be the same truth that sets Dusabi’s grieving spirit free (his wife Elizabeth was dismembered by the Hutu and later “passed in her sleep”) and sanctifies Charles’ commitment to journalism and his mentor Dan.

Director Adam Fitzgerald mines every ounce of sheer genius out of his resplendent cast. His staging counterpoints so meticulously with Mr. Urban’s script that “Sense of an Ending” becomes a symphony for the senses. Hubert Point-Du Jour is unimaginably powerful in his role as Paul whose mission to unbridle the truth surpasses understanding. Danyon Davis gives Dusati the perfect balance between his unfathomable rage and grief and his tender love for his country and its people. And Joshua David Robinson manages to free the shackles of shame that have plagued his character Charles’ journalistic career and exposes him to “the blinding light of annihilation and hope of past and future of death and life of pain and the drug that banishes all grief of a truth that burns and burns the darkness forever.”

Ken Urban never disappoints in drawing the audience into important conversations. The frightening possibility that humans kill out of habit just as Paul killed a dog in front of the Kigali church looms large over the audience at the play’s end. There are no easy answers in this play, only difficult questions. No one is fully guilty or fully innocent and as the introductory paragraph of this review indicates even guilt and innocence are called to the witness stand. Moral ambiguity perseveres as it must if humankind is to experience the same catharsis Charles undergoes. In Paul’s words, “You will never forget this.”

SENSE OF AN ENDING

Ken Urban’s “Sense of an Ending” is presented by kef theatrical productions at 59E59 Theaters and is directed by Adam Fitzgerald.

The cast of “Sense of an Ending” features Danyon Davis, Dana Marie Ingraham, Hubert Point-Du Jour, Joshua David Robinson, and Heather Alicia Simms.
 
The design team includes David L. Arsenault (scenic design); Hunter Kaczorowski (costume design); Travis McHale (lighting design); and Christian Frederickson (sound design). Samantha N. Spellman is stage manager. Production photos by Carol Rosegg.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      
“Sense of an Ending” begins performances on Thursday, August 20 for a limited engagement through Sunday, September 6. The performance schedule is Tuesday – Thursday at 7:30 PM; Friday - Saturday at 8:30 PM; and Sunday at 3:30 PM. Performances are at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues). Tickets are $18 ($12.60 for 59E59 Members). To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or go to www.59e59.org. Running time is 90 minutes with no intermission

Review: “Summer Shorts” – Series A at 59E59 Theaters

David Roberts

“10K” Written and directed by Neil LaBute

In “10 K” a Man (played with a delicious passive coyness by J.J. Kandel) and a Woman (played with an equally delicious aggressive coyness by Clea Alsip) meet at a suburban (“Whispering Pines”) park and decide (after a good stretch) to jog together. Immediately, both disclose the less-than-satisfying natures of their married-with-children statuses. The Woman’s two-year-old is always “underfoot” and she leaves the child at home unattended and her husband “doesn’t listen.” As the pair work up a considerable sweat, the marital ennui becomes playful seduction, the Woman more aggressive than the Man. Their banter includes some odd racist agenda on the part of the Woman which seems to do nothing to advance the plot driven by these characters’ otherwise believable conflicts. Predictably, the heat of the run fires up the possibility of a tryst but both decide to forego that diversion from reality.

L-R: J.J. Kandel and Clea Alsip in 10K written and directed by Neil LaBute, part of Summer Shorts 2015 at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by Carol Rosegg 

L-R: J.J. Kandel and Clea Alsip in 10K written and directed by Neil LaBute, part of Summer Shorts 2015 at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by Carol Rosegg 

There a many double entendres like the Man’s, “Right, but...I mean...people need relief.” And Mr. LaBute’s text skillfully reveals the real motivations of the pair and their impressive reserve of frustration and disappointment. They each desire a new life, a different life, but lack the conviction and the “plan” to achieve that level of freedom. Director LaBute keeps the pace up in this delightful extended metaphor for all the 10Ks humankind runs every day, mostly coping, often compromising, and – for better or worse – “getting back” to their realities with the promise of “meeting again” at the same place and time.

“Glenburn 12 WP” Written by Vickie Ramirez and Directed by Kel Haney

Although Ms. Ramirez’s script requires the reader/audience to confront the important issues of racism, colonialism, and privilege, her characters seem not to be as full developed as they might be to deal with such significant conflicts. Troy Davis a twenty-something African-American man (played with just the right amount of millennial hipster bravado by W. Tre Davis) enters a small Irish pub near Grand Central Terminal. The bartender is not to be found and after assuring the missing barkeep he “is not stealing anything,” Troy settles in to wait to order a beer and is soon joined by Roberta Laforme (played with seductive aggressiveness by Tanis Parenteau) a thirty-something woman who is a member of the Mohawk Nation and an attorney. 

Tanis Parenteau and W. Tre Davis in GLENBURN 12 WP by Vickie Ramirez, directed by Kel Haney, part of Summer Shorts 2015 at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by Carol Rosegg 

Tanis Parenteau and W. Tre Davis in GLENBURN 12 WP by Vickie Ramirez, directed by Kel Haney, part of Summer Shorts 2015 at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by Carol Rosegg 

Troy flirts with Roberta, and after getting rebuffed, the two engage in a convoluted discussion about race, gender, sex, white privilege, the discontent of the marginalized, and the missing bartender Kieran. Although their conversation raises important and rich questions about the topics raised, it is so clearly intended to set the stage for Robert’s unexpected revelation about her two visits to the bar and the reason for Kieran’s absence that it becomes forced and uninteresting.

Why Troy is not participating in the “protests” and why Roberta has returned to the bar and why Kieran is missing is all answered in Ms. Ramirez’s “Glenburn 12 WP.” The question to be answered is whether the 30 minute discourse (although it is key to the mystery) is enough of a reason to wait for the shocking solutions or why Roberta askes Troy to call the police.

“The Sentinels” Written by Matthew Lopez and Directed by Stephen Brackett

Matthew Lopez's short is the best of the three in Series A and deals with the important process of grieving and bereavement. As the thanatologist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross affirmed in her ground-breaking writings on the stages of grief, different people grieve differently: some go from denial to acceptance in a year, some stay stuck on bargaining for years. Alice (Meg Gibson), Kelly (Michelle Beck), and Christa (Kellie Overbey) have met on the same day (September 11) at the same place to remember the day the Twin Towers were destroyed by a terrorist attack and their husbands were killed in that attack.

Meg Gibson and Kellie Overbey in THE SENTINELS by Matthew Lopez, directed by Stephen Brackett, part of Summer Shorts 2015 at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by Carol Rosegg 

Meg Gibson and Kellie Overbey in THE SENTINELS by Matthew Lopez, directed by Stephen Brackett, part of Summer Shorts 2015 at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by Carol Rosegg 

These three women are the self-appointed sentinels who guard the collective memory of those who lost loved ones in the 911 terrorist attack and who preserve memory of the horrific event itself. Matthew Lopez’s remarkable script shows how three disparate women have dealt with grief and bereavement over the ten years after the attack (including the year they choose not to meet). Even more remarkable is how Mr. Lopez chooses to tell this story from 2011 back to the year before the fall of the twin towers when the three women meet their husbands at the Windows on the World restaurant atop the north tower of the World Trade Center.

Meg Gibson’s Alice is the glue that holds the trio together and assures the continuity of the memorial meetings. She never remarries. Ms. Gibson’s performance is authentic and believable and deeply rooted in her craft. Michele Beck’s Kelly does remarry but remains faithful to the group and its commitment to remember. Kellie Overbey’s Christa needs to get on with her life – move on – and eventually loses interest in the group. Under Stephen Brackett’s meticulous direction, this ensemble cast captures the distinct personalities of three women to deal with grief in unique and authentic ways. Zuzanna Szadkowski shines as the waitress at the restaurant where the women meet.

SUMMER SHORTS – SERIES A

SUMMER SHORTS runs through Saturday, August 29. The general performance schedule is Tuesday - Thursday at 7:15 PM, Friday at 8:15 PM; Saturday at 2:15 PM and 8:15 PM; and Sunday at 3:15 PM & 7:15 PM.  For individual performance dates for Series A and Series B, download the calendar at https://www.dropbox.com/s/9h1p0vf8khgweb8/SummerShorts2015_Calendar.pdf?dl=0. Single tickets are $25 ($17.50 for 59E59 Members). A Pair of Shorts (a ticket to both Series A & B) is $40 (available until August 12). To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or go to www.59e59.org.

Review: “Threesome” at 59E59 Theaters

David Roberts

“After great pain a formal feeling comes--/The nerves sit ceremonious like tombs;/ This is the hour of lead/Remembered if outlived,/As freezing persons recollect the snow--/First chill, then stupor, then the letting go.” (Emily Dickinson, 372)

On a visit to Cairo, Egyptian-American Leila (played with a passionate intensity by Alia Attallah) suffered great pain on two occasions. The assault in a crowd and the additional assault at the police station left her first chilled, then in a stupor, unable to let go what had happened to her. Her decision to write a book about her experience initiated a sequence of events that would change her life forever. Alia’s journey to “letting go” is the gritty mix that makes up “Threesome,” currently running at 59E59 Theaters as part of their 5A Season.

After returning home to the United States with her photographer boyfriend Rashid (played with the right mix of reserve and bravado by Karan Oberoi), Alia meets Doug (played with a coy and deceptive persona by Quinn Franzen) at a publisher’s gathering and decides to invite him for a threesome with her and Rashid. The motivation for the invitation is complex and indicative of the equally complex nature of playwright Yussef El Guindi’s dense rich script. Doug’s entry into the bedroom from the bathroom, unwashed from a bout of diarrhea and failing to flush the toilet signals this threesome is not destined for success. There is also rich symbolism in Doug’s entry completely naked while Alia and Rashid have difficulty baring all.

Alia had hoped the threesome would address some of the emotional distance she was experiencing with Rashid after their return from Cairo. Instead, the experience exacerbates the tension between the couple, stirring up deep-seated gender/sex role stereotypes, unresolved sexist attitudes, fractured self-images, and endemic racism. In the midst of the failed groping (physical and emotional), Alia argues, “And I made the point that it always seems the woman had the wrong end of the contract. The obligations always seemed to be on her. Whereas the freedoms belonged to the guy.”

Doug understands he has become more catalyst than sex toy: “I was not anticipating this. It’s like a seminar. Without and clothes on. But that’s cool, I’m easy.” Doug is easy with the dynamic because he comes to the threesome with a hidden agenda and a secret that will explode in Act II. That secret is embedded in his comment to Alia, “I did it once with an Arab before. When I was an embedded photographer.”

Act I ends with the revelation that Doug read Alia’s book and will be doing the book design – not Rashid who assumed Alia had put his name in for the job. This news opens a Pandora’s Box of secrecy, revenge, jealousy, and a matrix of motivations that will keep the plot moving forward with lightning speed. During Act II, the important themes of sexism, racism, and sexual violence are developed in the conversations between Alia and Rashid and Alia and Doug. This is a powerful Act and each character is provoked to expose his or her motivations and deeply held prejudices. 

Under Chris Coleman’s exacting direction, this ensemble cast brilliantly showcases Mr. Guindi’s dense text, exposing its layers and its challenging deep questions about the relationship between men and women, the exploitation of women, how sexual violence affects women, and how issues of race and culture interact in the development of significant human relationships.

The ability of each character to be transparent about her or his true feelings, motivations, and agendas has a direct correlation to the character’s ability to “bare all.” This is a sophisticated convention not an exercise in gratuitous nudity. In the final scene, Alia is able to “let go” of those things that have shackled her and imprisoned her in cultural and sexual stereotypes and the worst kind of contemporary colonialism.

THREESOME

The design team includes David McCrum, Seth Chandler and Erinn McGrew (scenic design); Alison Heryer (costume designer); Peter Maradudin (lighting designer); and Casi Pacilio (sound designer). The Production Stage Manager is Emily N. Wells. Production photos by Hunter Canning.

“Threesome” runs for a limited engagement at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street) through Sunday, August 23. The performance schedule is Tuesday – Thursday at 7 PM; Friday at 8 PM; Saturday at 2 PM & 8 PM; Sunday at 3 PM. There are added 7 PM performances on Sunday August 2, 9, and 16. Single tickets are $70 ($49 for 59E59 Members). To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or visit www.59e59.org. The running time is 2 hours.

WITH: Alia Attallah, Quinn Franzen, and Karan Oberoi.

“My Perfect Mind” at 59E59 Theaters

David Roberts

Who we are, who we were, who we think we are, who we think we were, who others think we are, and who others think we were is the stuff of the process of examining one’s practice – even the stuff of metacognition. Such thinking can be restorative or contemplative; however, often it results in a kind of restlessness that skews one’s perception of the world or even one’s perception of one’s self. "Restless Mind Syndrome” sufferers lie awake for hours, deprived of sleep, thoughts and images racing through their minds in a seemingly unstoppable barrage of data demanding attention and/or resolution. “My Perfect Mind” splays the contents of Edward Petherbridge’s post-stroke mind in kaleidoscopic wonder across the stage at 59E59 as part of the Brits Off Broadway Festival.

Edward Petherbridge suffered a stroke just before starting rehearsals of “King Lear” at one point in his long career and, despite having a long recovery from the effects of the stroke, the whole lot of “Lear” remained in his mind. Mr. Petherbridge enacts scenes from "Lear" throughout “My Perfect Mind” (including the scene from which the title originates) and each enactment is a tribute to the actor’s enormous talent. Paul Hunter (as a host of interesting characters drawn from theatre, film, and television) plays various roles from “Lear” and the pair are at the same time profoundly touching and oddly hilarious.

On Michael Vale’s dramatically raked stage (complete with trapdoor) and a set stuffed full of theatrical accoutrements (thunder, rain, wind machines), the pair use the stuff of “Lear” to celebrate survival and longevity of spirit and resilience of mind. Directed with care by co-writer Kathryn Hunter, “My Perfect Mind” becomes Everyman’s opportunity to examine the often thin line between sanity and that which is not sanity and traverse that line with dignity and hope.

Whether it is advice from professional colleagues (Sir Laurence Olivier, for example) or from our post-stroke memories or from things we learn about our Dads long after they are gone, it is all part of the “telling of who we are” and the sorting out of what is real and what is not, what makes sense and what does not. And this is the gritty stuff of “My Perfect Mind” currently running at 59E59 Theaters. See it before June 28.

MY PERFECT MIND

Produced by Told by an Idiot, Young Vic, and Theatre Royal Plymouth, MY PERFECT MIND is part of Brits Off Broadway at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues). The creative team for “My Perfect Mind” includes Michael Vale (designer), Alex Wardle for Charcoalbue (lighting designer), Gregory Clarke (sound designer), Andy Beardmore (production manager), and Devin Day (AEA stage manager). Production photos by Manuel Harlan.          

MY PERFECT MIND begins performances on Wednesday, June 10 for a limited engagement through Sunday, June 28. The performance schedule is Tuesday – Thursday at 7 PM; Friday at 8 PM; Saturday at 2 PM & 8 PM; and Sunday at 3 PM. Please note, there is an additional performance on Sunday, June 21 at 7 PM. Tickets are $70 ($49 for 59E59 Members). To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or go to www.59e59.org. Running time is 90 minutes with no intermission.

WITH: Paul Hunter and Edward Petherbridge.

Review : “Cuddles” at 59E59 Theaters

David Roberts

“Freedom's just another word for nothin' left to lose, And nothin' ain't worth nothin' but it's free.” Kris Kristofferson, “Me and Bobby Mcgee”

Under the guise of a grippingly gory vampire story, Joseph Wilde’s “Cuddles” exposes more than throbbing veins. His sharp and witty (actually, it is) tale of two sisters living a symbiotic life in the elder’s home exposes the throbbing and broken hearts of two women whose co-existence has bordered more on mutual control than mutual love and just might be no longer necessary for survival. How can the younger exist without the supply of the elder’s blood? Therein lies the wonderful conflict between two well developed and – oddly - easily accessible characters. “Cuddles” is part of the very smart Brtis Off Broadway Festival currently running at 59E59 Theaters.

What happens when Tabby (the witch?) meets Eve (the mother of all humankind?) is not unlike when any two humans conspire to stay together after history or chance or necessity tosses them together. And that is the brilliance and the challenge of Mr. Wilde’s well-crafted play. For reasons which are disclosed ever so subtly throughout the play, Tabby (Rendah Heywood) has sacrificed much of her life to “care for” her younger sister Eve (Carla Langley). This caregiving includes sometimes chaining Eve to her attic bed and – when jam sandwiches seem not to sate Eve – allowing Eve to satisfy her vampire hunger for blood with a fix of blood from Tabby’s veins. When this relationship becomes too stressful, one or the other of the sisters utters “cuddles” and a hug (of varying degrees) follows.

But hugs are not enough for this star-crossed pair and one (Eve) fears the other will one day not return home from work and the other (Tabby) is beginning to feel more trapped than her sister. She meets someone and would like to develop a relationship that does not include the loss of blood (sometimes more than she bargains for). Eventually Tabby needs to disclose the secret she has kept since Eve’s untimely birth, the secret that cannot be disclosed here.

Carla Langley is absolutely brilliant at the vampire sister Eve. Ms. Langley gives Eve the cunning charm of the First Woman who, though tempted, knows how to seduce others into her Fall. And Rendah Heywood counterpoints Ms. Langley’s performance with explosive witch-full antics. Her Tabby is at the same time wounded and warrior. Rebecca Atkinson-Lord’s meticulous direction moves the performance in brilliant twists and turns that expose layer after delicious layer of Joseph Wilde’s stunning script.

Tabby vows never to leave Eve but Eve keeps a few things under her bed just in case Tabby gets a case of wanderlust. Prepare to be surprised. There is no vampire tale quite like “Cuddles” and all lovers of the Gothic should see it before it dissembles on June 28.

CUDDLES

Presented by Arch 468 and Ovalhouse at part of the Brits Off Broadway Festival at 59E59 Theaters. The design team includes James Turner (production design); Pablo Baz (lighting design); Edward Lewis (sound design). The fight director is Mathew McKay. The production stage manager is Cressa Amundsen. Production photos are by Alex Beckett.

CUDDLES runs for a limited engagement through Sunday, June 28. The performance schedule is Tuesday – Thursday at 7:30 PM; Friday at 8:30 PM; Saturday at 2:30 PM & 8:30 PM; and Sunday at 3:30 & 7:30 PM. (Please note there is no 7:30 performance on Sunday, June 28.) Performances are at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues). Tickets are $25 ($17.50 for 59E59 Members). To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or go to www.59e59.org. Running time is 75 minutes with no intermission.


Review : Anthony Burgess’ “One Hand Clapping” at 59E59 Theaters

David Roberts

The world is going to hell in a handbasket and Howard Shirley (Oliver Devoti) knows that perhaps better than anyone. Not only does he have a photographic memory, but he is clairvoyant so Howard – if anyone would - knows the center is not holding and it might be time for him and his wife to check out. In an impassioned plea, Howard tells his wife Janet (Eve Burley), “It’s a rotten world, love. We gave it a chance. We fed money into it like it was a big machine and it paid out nothing. And it’s all collapsing all around us, decaying with rottenness. It won’t last much longer if it goes on as it is going on. It’ll be finished soon.” 

Using his extraordinary powers, Howard amasses enough money to buy Janet the things he feels she deserves and to travel to the United States with her before returning home and disclosing his plan to execute a suicide pact to remove the couple from the “one big disappointment” of life. “The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft a-gley” (Robert Burns) and Howard’s well thought out scheme fails in the end (but not to his end) as “One Hand Clapping” concludes. This failure is the result of Janet’s tryst with Redvers Glass (Adam Urey) and her fear of “eternal fire and torment” after “doing away” with oneself.

Eve Burley and Oliver Devoti in "Anthony Burgess' One Hand Clapping" - Photo by Emma Phillipson

Eve Burley and Oliver Devoti in "Anthony Burgess' One Hand Clapping" - Photo by Emma Phillipson

Under Lucia Cox’s careful direction, the ensemble cast successfully brings Ms. Cox’s adaptation of the Anthony Burgess novel to the stage and challenges the audience to examine its culpability in the alleged downturn in the affairs of humankind. Like the “very, very strong” American sleeping pills Howard plans to use to end his life, every culture creates ways to induce insomnia in its citizens and, with Janet” to see “it’s not too bad of a world when you come to look at it.” Oliver Devoti is perfectly stoic and armed with reason in his role as Howard. Eve Burley brings a blend of innocence and devilishness to her portrayal of Janet. And Adam Urey balances naiveté with cunning debauchery in his dual roles as Red and the game show host Laddie O’Neill.

It is easy to mistake “One Hand Clapping” for a diatribe against global consumerism; however, its polemic is more far-reaching and nihilistic. Anthony Burgess is questioning the ability of society to survive. The consumerism evident on the television screens on Meriel Pym’s (appropriately) claustrophobic set is only one of many symptoms of the decay and rottenness Howard senses. And placing the fireplace poker and the hammer in reach of the audience is a brilliant trope for “everyman’s” culpability in all that’s rotten in Denmark and beyond.

ANTHONY BURGESS’ ONE HAND CLAPPING

Written by Anthony Burgess and adapted and directed by Lucia Cox. The design team includes Meriel Pym (sets, props and costume design) and Owen Rafferty (sound and video design). The production stage manager is Cressa Amundsen. Production photos by Emma Phillipson. Anthony Burgess’ “One Hand Clapping” is presented by House of Orphans (Manchester UK) and runs for a limited engagement through Sunday May 31, 2015. The performance schedule is Tuesday – Thursday at 7:30 PM; Friday at 8:30 PM; Saturday at 2:30 PM & 8:30 PM; and Sunday at 3:30 PM & 7:30 PM. Performances are at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues). Tickets are $25.00 ($17.50 for 59E59 Members). To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or go to www.59e59.org. Running time is 75 minutes without interval.

Anthony Burgess' “One Hand Clapping” features Eve Burley, Oliver Devoti, and Adam Urey.

“Cool Hand Luke” at 59E59 Theaters

David Roberts

"No more my Lord/No more my Lord/Lord, I’ll never turn back/No more my Lord” (Traditional American Spiritual, Composed for Choir by R. Nathaniel Dett)

What matters about “Cool Hand Luke” is the corpus of enduring questions Donn Pearce’s rich text raises and what matters about Emma Reeves’ stage adaptation of the 1965 novel is whether or not those enduring questions transfer from Pearce’s rich word to the engaging adaptation of the novel currently running at 59E59 Theaters. On the surface, "Cool Hand Luke” is about the troubled Luke Jackson (played with the perfect balance of grit and vulnerability by Lawrence Jansen), the war veteran who takes the tops off parking meters to make ends meet and it might appear this is the story of a specific man against the broken and unjust system he encounters. However, when one strips away issues of sexual status, age, and race, “Cool Hand Luke” is ultimately an extended metaphor (an allegory) for every person’s struggle with systems that violate rather than free the human spirit. The play effectively raises rich and deep questions through this extended metaphor.

Jason Bragg (l to r) Stanley, Julia Torres, Lawrence Jansen and Nick Paglino in ‘Cool Hand Luke’. Photo Jason Woodruff

Jason Bragg (l to r) Stanley, Julia Torres, Lawrence Jansen and Nick Paglino in ‘Cool Hand Luke’. Photo Jason Woodruff

“Cool Hand Luke” raises important questions that transcend the text. How well does America care for its war veterans? How effective is the justice system at rehabilitating convicted criminals? The engaging play raises even more rich and deep questions like: “What is forgiveness?” Is faith in a superior being necessary? Do political, economic, and education systems “enslave” participants? Are systems more interested in conformity (“getting the mind right”) or creativity? Is it possible to escape oppression? Is there no other world but the world we experience in the present? Does that world define us? When Luke is captured and returned to prison after a successful escape, his mates ask him to tell them “the way it was supposed to be.” Luke replies, “Cain’t help ya fellas. Guess there is no other world but this.”

When is enough oppression enough? This is perhaps the most compelling rich question raised by “Cool Hand Luke” and the question continues to be raised by those living on the fringes of “mainstream” and privileged society. This question often explodes with moral ambiguity, the kind of ambiguity expressed by Luke, “Anything I do, no matter how I do it, it’s all wrong. An’ you know what? By now, I don’t even know myself what’s wrong and what ain’t.”

Under Joe Tantalo’s direction, Mr. Jansen and the ensemble cast of "Cool Hand Luke" effectively portray characters locked in systems of oppression - as the oppressed and as the oppressors – with authenticity and exuberant believability.  The members of the chain gang, Luke’s fellow inmates, attempt to “play a cool hand” in the game with the prison bosses and those bosses deal hard blows to keep the inmates from getting the upper hand. 

The Godlight Theatre Company's commitment to creating original adaptations of modern classical literature is to be commended and should be supported by the theatergoing audience. “Cool Hand Luke” at 59E59 Theaters is clear evidence of the success of this company’s brave mission.

COOL HAND LUKE

“Cool Hand Luke” is written by Donn Pearce and adapted for the stage by Emma Reeves and directed by Joe Tantalo. The design team is Maruti Evans (set and lighting); Ien DeNio (sound); and Orli Nativ (costumes). Rick Sordelet is the fight choreographer. Original music by Bryce Hodgson and Danny Blackburn. The production stage manager and dramaturge is Christina Hurtado-Pierson. The stage manager is Cris Knutson. The production photos are by Jason Woodruff.

“Cool Hand Luke” runs for a limited engagement through Sunday, May 31. The performance schedule is Tuesday – Thursday at 7:15 PM; Friday at 8:15 PM; Saturday at 2:15 PM & 8:15 PM; and Sunday at 3:15 PM. Tickets are $30.00 ($21.00 for 59E59 Members). To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or go to www.59e59.org. The running time is 80 minutes without an intermission.

The cast features Kristina Doelling, Lars Drew, Lawrence Jansen, Mike Jansen, Ken King, Nick Paglino, Jason Stanley, Julia Torres, Brett Warnke, and Jarrod Zayas.

Simon Callow in “Tuesday’s at Tesco’s” at 59E59 Theaters

David Roberts

"Tuesdays that’s that. I spend the day there doing this and that dusting and all sorts. I shake out the tablecloth. I change the sheets. I empty the bin.” Pauline in “Tuesdays at Tesco’s”

Simon Callow in "Tuesdays at Tesco's"

Simon Callow in "Tuesdays at Tesco's"

The only thing that interrupts the samsara of Pauline's (Simon Callow) hum-drum life is the string of dream ballets that spontaneously burst forth from the piano in her cramped apartment, or from inside the cramped interior of her expansive mind when she is out an about. These brief balletic romps remind Pauline of the life that could have been if only she were loved unconditionally and nonjudgmentally by her father for whom she cares and shops on Tuesdays. 

Pauline’s father wants his son Paul back, the Paul who from childhood knew he was a girl - not a son, a daughter. But her father will not, cannot accept his transgender adult daughter though she caters to his every need. He seems able to tell a friend he has a daughter but that “confession” is not enough to redeem his insolence and his rabid intolerance of Pauline.

Robin Don’s set clearly defines the repetitive nature of Pauline’s life from which she attains liberation and sanctity not through practice but through an unexpected and unwelcomed incident on the night before the Tuesday she determined not to submit to her father’s abusive ranting. Conor Mitchell is splendid as the onstage musician whose “unfinished symphony” counterpoints Pauline’s unfinished journey from self-acceptance to freedom from external judgement. 

Under Simon Stokes’ direction, Mr. Callow wrestles Emmanuel Darley’s sparse story and manages to kick it to the curb, finding within the few morsels of transcendence that make his performance authentic and memorable. But it is not an easy match. The script – as translated and adapted by Matthew Hurt and Sarah Vermande – is full of repetition and leaves the actor the daunting task of creating a believable character. Mr. Callow is successful in this effort and his Pauline emerges as a transgender woman who has all her life struggled to simply be what she has “always been as I am now me myself a woman.”

"Tuesdays at Tesco's" is - because of Mr. Callow - a rich examination of the interior-scape of a transgender woman and invites the audience to examine its collective trove of misconceptions and prejudices about all who simply want to, in Pauline’s words, affirm “I am as I am. Myself me and that’s that.”

SIMON CALLOW IN TUESDAYS AT TESCO’S

Produced by Richard Darbourne Ltd. in association with Assembly & Riverside Studios, “Tuesdays at Tesco’s” is part of Brits Off Broadway at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues). The creative team includes Robin Don (set and costume design), Chahine Yavroyan (lighting design), Quinny Sacks (movement director), Tara Llewellyn (wardrobe), and Jess Johnston (production stage manager). Production photos by Carol Rosegg. 

“Tuesdays at Tesco’s” runs at 59E59 Theaters through Sunday, June 7. The performance schedule is Tuesday – Thursday at 7:00 PM; Friday at 8:00 PM; Saturday at 2:00 PM & 8:00 PM; and Sunday at 3:00 PM & 7:00 PM. Performances are at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues). Tickets are $70.00 ($49.00 for 59E59 Members). To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or go to www.59e59.org. Running time is 80 minutes without interval.

In addition to Simon Callow, the cast includes Conor Mitchell

“The Tailor of Inverness” at 59E59 Theaters

David Roberts

“The Tailor of Inverness” is the compelling and often haunting story of playwright Matthew Zajac’s inexhaustible search for the truth about his father Mateusz’s past after discovering new information about him after his father’s death in 1992. This information is provided through a powerful and engaging performance by Matthew Zajac in this first offering of 59E59 Theaters’ “Brits Off Broadway” Festival.

Photo by Tim Morozzo

Photo by Tim Morozzo

Mr. Zajac plays the role of his father and himself in seventy-five minutes of monologues, projections, illustrated maps, correspondence, visits, and breaks in the sacred fourth wall in dramatic interactions with the audience. Using only brief costume changes and removing his glasses (as Matthew) and wearing glasses (as Mateusz), Mr. Zajac relates the attempts to reconstruct the authentic memory of a family torn apart by the horrors of the Second World War and the atrocities of the Third Reich. He uses the extended metaphor of circling and ultimately trapping a fox to describe his search for the truth about his father.

Matthew circles the patchwork of his father’s life and eventually “catches” the complicated matrix of the life of his tailor father in all its honor, strength, and secretive spaces, including the existence of his half-sister whose small dress (made for her by Mateusz) adorns the set throughout the performance and challenges and teases the perceptions of the audience. 

There are times the repetition in Mr. Zajac’s story (telling and retelling the same events often in the same way) threatens to distract from the power of his intriguing story of redemption and reconciliation but the repetition serves to express the often circuitous and repetitive path to the discovery of the truth and the often reverberant consequences of that discovery.

All remaining performance are either sold out or not available for purchase; however, it would be important to call Ticket Central to see if there are cancellations or wait-lists for any of the performances.

THE TAILOR OF INVERNESS 

Written by Matthew Zajac and directed by Ben Harrison. The creative team includes Ali Maclaurin (set and costume designer), Jonny Hardie and Gavin Marwick (musical direction and original music), Tim Reid (video designer), Timothy Brinkhurst (sound designer), Kai Fischer (lighting designer), and Sholto Bruce (production stage manager). Production photos by Tim Morozzo. Presented by the Dogstar Theatre Company at 59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street. All performances are sold out. Tickets are $25.00 and can be purchased at 59e59.org or by calling Ticket Central at 212-279-4200. The running time is 75 minutes without an intermission.

WITH: Matthew Zajac; Aidan O’Rourke, and the voice of Magdalena Kaleta.

“Underland” at 59E59 Theaters

David Roberts

“Danger! Danger! Warning! Warning!”  - Robot in “Lost in Space”

Lost in space, the Robinson family knew they had landed in a dangerous place. But danger is not found only in outer space: indeed, Earth itself is a dangerous place. The danger is sometimes closer than one thinks, lurking in the shadows, rustling in the closet at night, waiting under the bed, or even in the quarry just beyond the chain-link fence in a small dusty town in the middle of Australia – down under as it were. Ruth (Kiley Lotz) and Violet (Angeliea Stark) two high school students know this only too well as they navigate through the danger inherent in their small-minded town in Alexandra Collier’s “Underland” currently running at 59E59 Theaters. 

There are alligators in the quarry – among other dangers – ready to consume humans, spit out their teeth and move on to the next victim. No one knows this better than Mrs. Butterfat who lost the Mister to these creatures years back. All of this is an extended metaphor (perhaps even a mixed metaphor) highlighting the need to find oneself and separate and individuate and become a separate and complete adult human being. It is not a new theme and “Underland” adds nothing new to the discussion. Getting out of a rut from one boring job in Tokyo lands Taka (Daniel K. Isaac) in the same – or perhaps even worse – confinement just beyond the quarry. Violet and Ruth want to escape their bland adolescence and find something new but are aware of the dangers of redemption and release.

The talented ensemble cast struggles to bring some life to Ms. Collier’s text but the attempt just does not result in a satisfying experience for the audience. Annie Golden commands the stage when her Mrs. Butterfat enters but even this brilliant actor cannot save the ship from slowly sinking. Mia Rovegno does her best to stage the piece but again with mixed results. The characters are flat and their conflicts not all that engaging. The plot driven from these conflicts is not focused and even less engaging. The whole one hour forty-five minutes – which seemed interminable – could have been summed up nicely in Ruth’s final conversation to Violet as they decide to escape – fall into a rabbit hole – and disappear in the tunnel:

“We have to. C’mon it’s light down there and far away. There’s no use crying. They’ll all disappear. The whole town’ll disappear. And we’ll be in like bright lights Tokyo. C’mon Vi. There’s bigger fish.”

"Underland" is overwrought, overlong and not worth the effort to get to that kernel of truth. Fables are tough to create and sometimes end up being more pretentious than portentous. Unfortunately, such is the case with “Underland.” Depending on one’s taste (and age), one might be better off with a re-read of “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” or “To Kill A Mockingbird,” or “The Catcher in the Rye,” or an episode or two of “Divergent.” It might take a bit longer but the reward will be far greater and far more enduring.

UNDERLAND

Written by Alexandra Collier and directed by Mia Rovegno. The creative team for “Underland” includes Gabriel Hainer Evansohn (scenic design), Burke Brown (lighting design), Moria Sine Clinton (costume design), Elisheba Ittoop (sound design), Becca Pickett (production stage manager). Production photos by Hunter Canning. Presented by terraNOVA Collective at 59E59 Theaters, 58 East 59th Street in NYC. The performance schedule is Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday at 7:15 p.m.; Friday and Saturday at 8:15 p.m.; and Sunday at 3:15 p.m. Tickets are $25.00 (59E59 Members $17.50) and can be purchased at https://www.ticketcentral.com/ Running time is 105 minutes without and intermission.

WITH: Georgia Cohen, Annie Golden, Daniel K. Isaac, Kiley Lotz, Jens Rasmussen, and Angeliea Stark.