Off-Broadway Review: “Original Sound” at Cherry Lane Studio Theatre

Off-Broadway Review: “Original Sound” at Cherry Lane Studio Theatre

What a pleasant surprise to walk into the Studio space at Cherry Lane Theatre and see a fresh, new look developed for the exciting new production “Original Sound” by Adam Seidel. Scenic designer, Justin Townsend has transformed the space into a multi-purpose set used for several different locations but always having the lingering aura of a contemporary, professional recording studio. Lighting by Kate McGee supports specific locations and has created a multi-colored neon tube installation as a focal point that pulsates during scene changes adding to the highly charged production and sleek design.

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Review: 'Crashlight' at Cherry Lane Theatre

Spencer Lau

  • OnStage New Jersey Critic

I had the pleasure of attending a new Off Broadway musical, “Crashlight” in their premiere weekend at the historic Cherry Lane Theatre’s Studio Theater in New York City’s Greenwich Village. For those of you who are not familiar with the Cherry Lane Theatre, the building dates back to 1836, its theatrical roots began in 1924, when it was converted from a box factory to theater. Within the walls of this historic building, some of Broadway’s greatest playwrights and legendary actors have begun their careers here. Why did I tell you about the theatre’s rich history? It is because I believe that Celeste Makoff has the potential to be recognized as part of that history in the near future and “Crashlight” has a lot of potential to be a recognized piece that was born in the Cherry Lane Theatre.

“Crashlight” tells the story of an Orwellian world where sunlight is controlled by its narassitic dictator, Marcus Pressi, through propaganda, censorship and violence. The musical’s heroine is Rian, a woman struggling to protect her family, while trying to find the author of the music that inspires her to believe that a better life is possible. Along this journey she is challenged to make personal sacrifices but will she sacrifice her beliefs to help her family and change the world?  The show is written and directed by Celeste Makoff, musical arrangements/orchestration by Trevor Bumgarner, choreography by Kaitlyn Moise and costume design by Shirlee Idzakovich. The show is produced by PeachPie Productions, whose mission “is to give new artists a professional framework to exercise their talents in order to gain the experience they need to take on a career in the arts.” This production certainly has young upcoming talent within its cast led by Lindsay Danielle Gitter (Rian), Andy Dispensa (Marcus), Caleb Schaaf (Anthony), and Rylee Doiron (Jade). 

Lindsay Gitter as "Rian" and Caleb Schaaf as "Anthony"  - Photo by Taylor Wobbler

Lindsay Gitter as "Rian" and Caleb Schaaf as "Anthony"  - Photo by Taylor Wobbler

There are many highlights about “Crashlight” that I really enjoyed. There is a lot of potential in the quality story written by Celeste Makoff. It provides a lot of conflict and character development along with layers to each character and subplot points that make it a compelling story to watch. The story also takes chances and separates itself from productions that deal with an Orwellian world that has been recently popularized by “The Hunger Games” Trilogy. There is budding genius in the music written by Makoff and arranged by Bumgarner. His songs had variety and different genres that showed the range of abilities Trevor wrote for the characters. I particularly enjoyed hearing vocal strengths of the two female leads Lindsay Gitter and Rylee Diorion. Their work individually and in mixed ensemble pieces with Caleb Schaaf and Andy Dispensa compliment each other quite well.

The music has beautiful harmonies but don’t give off the jukebox music sound that modern shows have. Kaitlyn Moise also has moments of fine choreography woven into the story. The ensemble demonstrated that they are talented. Each one of them gave quality performances with tremendous heart that affirmed their commitment and love of production and each other. It appears that there is a wonderful aura of family in this production and there is joy amongst this cast, when they perform with each other. The minimalist set, lighting and sound effects provide a great amount of support for the show. There is a brilliant use of technology as well to modernize the show so that it can be related to as one of the handful of communist dictatorships that still exist. Costume designer Shirlee Idzakovich helps bring Celeste Makoff’s vision of two separate classes of people together with her conceptualization of a nobility style (black and white uniformity) vs. the peasantry (earth tones) that also enhance the world that the characters are living in. The costuming choices again help provide a realistic and modern feel to the show.

Cherry Lane Theatre has provided many artists an opportunity for writers and directors to develop their show. Their founders understood that theatre is a living and breathing organism that is constantly evolving and maturing. I believe that “Crashlight” is a perfect example of that. It will grow and mature as Celeste Makoff makes adjustments in the story, staging and choreography. The show has many highlights that the entire cast and crew should be very proud of but I would like to see them explore more of the pivotal moments in the story. There were times I felt those moments were rushed, where silence and having the eye contact would have given the dialogue and actions more meaning. The production left me wanting to know more about these characters and their connections with each other because they are compelling, well written and acted.

I found “Crashlight” to be an exciting evening of theater. It is the voice of a group of young and talented artists lead by Celeste Makoff. She and Trevor Bumgarner are  both emerging stars in musical theater. I would not be surprised to see “Crashlight” developed more and brought back for another set of performances, hopefully in a venerable theater like Cherry Lane Theatre.

Crashlight
PeachPie Productions’
The Cherry Lane Theatre
www.crashlightnyc.com
Three out of Four Stars
August 25th- September 11th, 2016

“Nora” at the Cherry Lane Theatre

David Roberts

“If I ever hope to learn anything about myself and the things around me, I’ve got to stand completely on my own. That’s why I can’t stay here with you any longer.”  (Nora to Torvald)

Ingmar Berman’s “Nora,” the retelling (a reduction really) of Henrik Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House,” is enjoying its English-language New York debut Off-Broadway at the iconic Cherry Lane Theatre in Manhattan’s West Village. Directed by Austin Pendleton, this “Nora” is the stunning and highly successful distillation of one of the theatre’s timeless classics featuring a capable cast and a creative team that knows how to utilize every inch of the Cherry Lane’s Studio space’s rather diminutive stage.

 Production Photos by Carol Rosegg

Jean Lichty is the protagonist Nora who is held hostage physically, emotionally, and spiritually by the expectations of a matrix of male dominance and laws crystallized in the character of her husband Torvald (Todd Gearhart). Nora stays with Torvald as dutiful wife and mother and keeper of the house because she feels she has no choice, having borrowed money illegally from interloper Nils Krogstad (Larry Bull) years before to fund the trip from Norway to Italy that saved her husband’s life.

When Torvald is made manager of the Cooperative Bank, Nora sees her opportunity to receive more “spending money” from her husband to pay off the loan and receive the promissory note she fraudulently signed. Her hopes are destroyed when Krogstad threatens to expose the fraud unless Nora can talk Torvald into giving him a position at the Bank – something Torvald refuses to do. Nora’s precarious position is heightened by a visit from childhood friend Christine Linde (Andrea Cirie) and an unexpected profession of affection from family friend Dr. Rank (George Morfogen).

Under Mr. Pendleton’s taut direction, each member of the ensemble cast portrays his or her character with a sense of honesty and authenticity. Both Ms. Lichty’s Nora and Mr. Gearhart’s Torvald could be stronger. Each has moments that shine; however, the required strength of their characters wavers too often. Some of this might be attributed to the choices made by the director. Although, for example, the script calls for Torvald to lie in bed naked during the final scene, to require an actor to disrobe just three feet away from the on-stage audience is a questionable choice that leaves the competent actor overly self-conscious and hesitant during an important scene. Ms. Cirie delivers a strong and multi-layered Christine who champions her friend Nora to find herself and create a new life. Mr. Bull is an appropriately unpleasant Krogstad who has latent redemptive qualities. And Mr. Morfogen delivers a charming and complex Dr. Rank whose pending death creates opportunities for endearing honesty.

“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. 

NORA

“Nora” is presented by the Cherry Lane Theatre (Angelina Fiordellisi, Founding Artistic Director) and La Femme Theatre Productions. Harry Feiner is set and lighting designer; Theresa Squire is costume designer; Ryan Rumery is sound designer; wig design is by Paul Huntley. Production photos are by Carol Rosegg.

The production will perform through December 12:  Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays at 7:00 p.m.; Saturdays at 2:00 and 7:00 p.m. and Sundays at 3:00 p.m.  There will be an added performance on November 25 at 2:00 p.m.; there will be no performances on November 26 or December 7.

General admission tickets to “Nora” are $46.00; reserved premium tickets are $66.00.  Seats can be purchased online at www.cherrylanetheatre.org, by phone at 866-811-4111 or in person at the Cherry Lane Theatre box office at 38 Commerce Street in Manhattan. Running time is 100 minutes without intermission.

WITH: Larry Bull, Andrea Cirie, Todd Gearhart, Jean Lichty, and George Morfogen.  

Review: “Laugh It Up, Stare It Down” at the Cherry Lane Theater

David Roberts

Life throws a lot at its participants during their time from birth to death. Some of the experience is pleasant, some of it unpleasant, some of it tolerable, and some of it intolerable. And some of what humankind “suffers” is just odd. One can either choose to take what comes lightly and laugh it up, or be more proactive and stare down the vicissitudes of life until they have to look away. The delightful characters Joe and Cleo in Alan Hruska’s new play “Laugh It Up, Stare It Down” spend a lifetime together trying to decide which approach might work better.

PHOTO: LAUGH IT UP, STARE IT DOWN BY ALAN HRUSKA; DIRECTED BY CHRIS EIGEMAN. CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: JAYCE BARTOK; KATYA CAMPBELL; MAURY GINSBERG & AMY HARGREAVES; CHERRY LANE THEATRE, 38 COMMERCE ST, NEW YORK, NY. PHOTO CREDIT – RICHARD TERMINE

PHOTO: LAUGH IT UP, STARE IT DOWN BY ALAN HRUSKA; DIRECTED BY CHRIS EIGEMAN. CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: JAYCE BARTOK; KATYA CAMPBELL; MAURY GINSBERG & AMY HARGREAVES; CHERRY LANE THEATRE, 38 COMMERCE ST, NEW YORK, NY. PHOTO CREDIT – RICHARD TERMINE

Playwright Alan Hruska has concocted an engaging and zany fable-like play that chronicles the relationship between Joe (Jayce Bartok) and Cleo (Katya Campbell) who spend twenty five years together determining whether or not Joe’s hypothesis is workable: “There’s really no need to settle on anything less than ecstatic love.” Joe – Joseph P. Allworthy – trades in currencies and Cleo is an anthropologist who teaches at the university. Joe’s optimism as a successful (and worthy) currency trader is often tempered by Cleo’s comprehensive knowledge of the human condition. What Joe experiences as “the natural order of things” Cleo identifies as the challenges of entropy. The pair bumble and bicker their way through dating, marriage, childbirth, and aging with enough aplomb to endear any audience looking for an alternative way to understand the “meaning” of life and love.

Under Chris Eigeman’s careful and intelligent direction, Mr. Bartok and Ms. Campbell navigate the terrain of fable and absurdity without becoming cartoons. They deliver engaging and authentic performances that give the audience enough room to “laugh it up” and yet - with these two characters - maintain the needed distance to stare down their own roadblocks on the journey to find meaningful relationships founded on indelible intimacy – intimacy that accompanies Joe and Cleo through real and imagined affairs, unexpected pregnancy, a stolen baby boy, whacky friends Stephen (Maury Ginsberg) and Dorothy (Amy Hargreaves), the would be burglar Chalmers (Mr. Ginsberg), the disingenuous Italian tour guide Arturo (also Mr. Grimes), and the terminally ill neighbor in Rhode Island Alberta (Ms. Hargreaves).

Mr. Bartok and Ms. Campbell are fortunate to have Maury Ginsberg and Amy Hargreaves as ensemble cast members. Each brings remarkable performances to their various characters giving each a unique and believable personality which counterpoint brilliantly the dynamic characters created by Jayce Bartok and Katya Campbell whose transformation from stock characters to well-rounded characters rooted in reality is remarkable.

Kevin Judge’s set is marvelously multipurpose and were it not for the extensive set change between Acts Two and Three, the piece could easily have fit into 80 action-driven minutes. Jennifer Caprio’s costumes are always appropriate and Matthew J. Fick’s lighting sparkles with energy and clarity. And the oversized chandelier that slowly inches down between scenes to mark the passing of time (brilliant, Kevin Judge!) eventually becomes the buoy that (perhaps) rescues Joe and Cleo from the storm (literal and figurative storms). 

Perhaps “Laugh It Up, Stare It Down” does not fully answer the question of the attainability of ecstatic love but I am not sure that was the point of Mr. Hruska’s script. Cleo says it best at the play’s end as she and Joe cling for life to a buoy and wonder if the boat approaching is real or an illusion (wonderful tropes for the vicissitudes of life). As Joe waffles between hope and despair, Cleo admonishes him to: “Just do, Joe! Just do!” That is perhaps the very best humankind can do in the face of unspeakable joy and equally unspeakable sorry. “Laugh It Up, Stare It Down” is engaging, entertaining, and existentially satisfying and well worth the visit to the iconic Cherry Lane Theatre. Just, do, kind reader. Just do!

LAUGH IT UP, STARE IT DOWN

“Laugh It Up, Stare It Down” features scenic design by Kevin Judge, costume design by Jennifer Caprio, lighting design by Matthew J. Fick, and original music and sound design by Peter Salett. Casting is by Barden / Schnee Casting. Production photos by Richard Termine.
 
“Laugh It Up, Stare It Down” is presented by Red Horse Productions and RME Theatrical Group. Performances are Tuesdays at 7PM, Wednesdays at 7PM, Thursdays at 7PM, Fridays at 8PM, Saturdays at 2PM and 8PM and Sundays at 3PM and 7PM. Tickets are $59-$79 with premium reserved seating available. Tickets are available through OvationTix at 212-352-3101 / 866-811-4111 or by visiting www.LaughItUpPlay.com. Running time is 95 minutes including a 15 minute intermission.

WITH: Jayce Bartok, Katya Campbell, Maury Ginsberg, and Amy Hargreaves

“Everything You Touch” at Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre

David Roberts / Critic Everything you touch turns to gold. Everything you touch turns to dust. “Everything you touch surely dies.” (From the song “Let Her Go” by Passenger)

“Everything You Touch” is a time warp and space warp marathon, pushing and pulling at the audience as it takes audience members on a roller-coaster ride through events in real time, through events in the past, and ultimately to that place where all events initiate and resolve: the human mind. Sheila Callaghan’s play, currently running at the Cherry Lane Theatre, explores the important themes of love, longing, and loss in the context of indifference, suffering, and objectification. Her play is at the same time complex and compelling and worth every bit of the effort it takes to connect with the enduring questions it addresses, including the question of how we truly affect those whom we know and those we might not know.

Typically one wonders whether interacting with others results in something positive or constructive (‘gold’) or something negative and destructive (‘dust’). In “Everything You Touch,” 1970s fashion designer Victor has the knack of having everything he touches wither and/or die. But this is really not Victor’s (played with an eerie realism by Christian Coulson) story but the story of protagonist Jess (played with brilliant dreamlike realism by Miriam Silverman) whose memories and fantasies and needs spin the fascinating and intriguing story of the need to belong in an environment of nihilism and neglect.

Jess’s story in the present is intimately connected to past events, events in the 1970s involving Victor, his two muses Esme (Tonya Glanz) and Louella (Lisa Kitchens), her wannabe boyfriend and co-worker Lewis (Robbie Tann) and three Models (Allegra Rose Edwards, Chelsea Nicolle Fryer, and Nina Ordman) who strut the runway for Victor and who appear as delicious props phones, Chipotle servers, bubble gum machines) in scenes with Jess.

“Everything You Touch” at Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre at the Cherry Lane Theatre (through Sunday March 29, 2015)It is difficult to review “Everything You Touch” without giving too much away. The relationships between real time characters and characters from the past and the relationships that never were developed in real time are so intricately intertwined that to reveal one “secret” would interfere with the audience experiencing the strength of this brilliantly written script. What can be reviewed are the remarkable performances, the script itself, and the efforts of the creative team.

Under Jessica Kubzansky’s precise and expansive direction, the ensemble cast delivers authentic and deeply honest performances that invite, even cajole the audience to consider several questions. These questions are answered (well, mostly) throughout the course of the play and will leave the audience members engaged in the lives of Ms. Callaghan’s characters for some time after the performance. Who is Jess and how is she related – if she is – to Victor and Esme? Is she related to Louella; if so, how? Why are models serving as props in Jesse’s scenes? Francoise-Pierre Couture’s sets, Jenny Foldenauer’s brilliant costumes, and Jeremy Pivnick’s phantasmal lighting add to the overall charm and mystery of this must-see performance.

Pixels are the key to understanding the dramatic matrix of “Everything You Touch.” Pixels are the key to perception and perception is the key to all of the events that occur in Jesse’s adventures in the looking glass and down the rabbit hole. Perhaps Jesse’s tumultuous journey is a journey to inner peace. At one point Victor says about his new clothing line inspired by his new muse,” Um, well we've been through quite a bit of tumult the past few years as a nation, with the war, and the recession, and et cetera, and I believe it's time to be innocent again and turn our attention to our most basic needs. Comfort. Stability. Simplicity.” Coming to terms with one past, one’s fantasies, one’s present can provide that kind of comfort, stability, and simplicity in the present “bit of tumult” of the first quarter of the twenty-first century. In one of what might be a fantasy/dream sequence, Victor also affirms to Jess, “Death will get in, though.” The enduring question: can comfort, stability, simplicity, innocence, and honesty get in first and circle the wagons? EVERYTHING YOU TOUCH

By Sheila Callaghan. Directed by Jessica Kubzansky. The set design for “Everything You Touch” is by Francois-Pierre Couture; costume design is by Jenny Foldenauer; lighting design is by Jeremy Pivnick; property design is by John Burton; video design is by Adam Flemming; sound design is by John Zalewski. Production photos are by Joan Marcus. “Everything You Touch” was commissioned by True Love Productions. Presented by Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre, True Love Productions, and the Theatre @ Boston Court. “Everything You Touch” plays Tuesday–Friday at 8:00 p.m.; Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.; and Sunday at 3:00 p.m. at the Cherry Lane Theatre, 38 Commerce Street. Tickets are $55.00; student tickets are $15.00; and theater artist and under-30 tickets are $20.00. Tickets may be purchased at www.rattlestick.org or by phoning OvationTix at 866.811.4111. Please note that prices and performance schedule are subject to change; please visit www.rattlestick.org for the most up-to-date information. Running Time is 2 hours with a 15 minute intermission.

WITH: Christian Coulson, Allegra Rose Edwards, Chelsea Fryer, Tonya Glanz, Lisa Kitchens, Nina Ordman, Miriam Silverman, and Robbie Tann.

This piece also appears on www.theatrereviews.com/reviews/offbdwy-EverythingYouTouch.htm