The play Andy and the Orphans, currently
onstage at Sol Theatre courtesy of Primal
Forces Productions, was originally titled Amy
and the Orphans. This version of the play was gender-flipped to accommodate
the casting of Edward Barbanell, a Coral Springs resident who actually understudied
the role on Broadway last year and shares his character’s diagnosis of Down’s
Barbanell’s casting is a
huge win for authentic representation, and the actor gave a nuanced and moving
performance as the movie-obsessed Andy, a character who was
heavily based on the playwright Lindsay Ferrentino’s real-life aunt Amy. Like
the title character of the play, the real Amy had Down’s Syndrome and spent
most of her life institutionalized. Amy and The Orphans was thus
Ferrentino’s way of grappling with the more unpleasant aspects of her aunt’s life.
The inciting incident of
the play is the death of Andy’s father Bobby, which prompts his newly
“orphaned” siblings Maggie (Patti Gardner) and Jacob (Jeffrey Bruce) to make a
rare visit to their brother Andy in order to tell him what has happened and
take him on a road trip to the funeral. What they didn’t count on was
Jacqueline Laggy as Andy’s caregiver Kathy being required to join them or being
confronted with a devastating revelation about their brother’s past.
Though some criticism of the show focuses on the
fact that Ferrentino seemed to put Maggie and Jacob at her story’s center rather
than Andy himself, I did not get the impression that the playwright focused on
them unduly. After all, the character of Andy has a somewhat inherently limited
perspective, and the experience of the loved ones with disabilities can
certainly be as complex, interesting, and stage-worthy as the stories of those
who are disabled themselves.
I definitely think this play explored both sides
of the story and presented Andy’s siblings as relatively sympathetic characters,
since the most horrific events of the play happened when they were children and
couldn’t conceivably intervene. I also viewed their efforts to reconnect and
make amends with Andy as sincere ones, and may too have been skewed by Bruce
and Gardner’s wonderful performances. Their humorous road trip antics and
laughably pedestrian concerns (like Jacob’s obsession with juicing and Maggie’s
skittle-related health scare) did much to balance out the story’s darker
aspects, as did Laggy’s Kathy’s no-nonsense exasperation with the two.
The parents of these three “orphans,” on the
other hand, portrayed in flashback by Joey De La Rua and Amber Lynn Benson, came
across as somewhat less likable, and I’m not sure how much of that to
put down to the writing and how much to the performance. Though Benson showed
some considerable comedic chops as Sarah during the couples’ lighter moments,
she definitely came off as a little too casual and self-assured when making the
wrenching decision to institutionalize Andy (especially in comparison to the
character of Tami in Falling
earlier this season, who wholeheartedly resists making a similar decision about
her own son).
De la Rua as Bobby seemed somewhat more genuinely affected
by the gravity of the situation than his wife did, but it is implied that both
are complicit in surrendering Andy to what we would eventually learn was a horrifically
abusive environment—it cost him his teeth and a chunk
of his leg! It’s also, unfathomably, implied that Bobby and Sarah knew exactly
how horrific that this environment was.
Fortunately, Andy seems to have found some happiness in a
more caring institutional environment by the play’s present, and found even a
job and a girlfriend, and I was glad to see him assert his desire to stay there
even after his guilt-ridden siblings presented him with an alternative.
Still, Andy’s woundedness is expressed in a surprisingly
moving closing monologue in which he uses movie quotes to express his complex
feelings about his family and his past. The incredible work of Barbanell in the
role lent credence to play’s conviction that his character, too, may have been able
to live a more productive and fulfilling life—if only anyone had ever given him a real
chance, Andy “couldda been a contender” indeed.
I got a chance to see Jeff Baron’sVisiting
Mr. Green this past weekend at Bob Carter’s Actor’s Repertory Company in West Palm
Beach, and found the script so old-fashioned that I was initially surprised to
find out it was written only in 1996—a little over twenty years ago!
Speaking of old-fashioned, it was pretty refreshing to see
an elderly actor playing an elderly character instead of a younger actor made
up to look old: Allan Myles Heyman as Mr. Green walked with a noticeable hunch
and otherwise looked to be within a decade or so of his character’s 86 years.
He gave a superb performance, nailing both the comedic bickering that defined
the first half of the play and the more serious moments that arose in the
His acting partner in the two-character play, Nani Edry, was
also earnest and likeable as young businessman Ross Gardinier, if maybe a
little too likable and light-hearted; his initial irritation with Mr.
Green could’ve been played more strongly to give the character more room for
transformation, and the inner conflict about his sexuality he describes during
the play’s second half could’ve used a slightly darker tint.
The two’s strange relationship begins when Ross accidentally
runs over Mr. Green with his car and is then, in a pretty unrealistic turn of
events, sentenced by a judge to make weekly visits to the old man as his form
of community service. Neither Ross nor Mr. Green are very happy about this
arrangement, and the ensuing conflict between them offered quite a few laughs—though
it was also plagued by some overlong scene changes. The bond that begins to
develop between the two after Ross finds out more about Mr. Green’s past and
Mr. Green softens a bit was also genuinely moving.
However, things take a turn for the heavy-handed after Ross
reveals his homosexuality to Mr. Green at the end of the Act One. When Mr.
Green vehemently states his distate for Ross’s orientation, repeatedly calls
him by the Yiddish slur “fagela,” then reveals that he disowned his daughter
for marrying a non-Jew, I stopped seeing the character as a crochety but
sympathetic old man and began to grow frustrated with him.
Additionally, the script dragged even more once the drama began
to overtake the humor, so I was more than ready for the play to conclude when
it arrived at its ending. Still, I couldn’t help feeling that Mr. Green’s long-held
prejudices against non-Jews and against homosexuals were too-quickly and too-neatly
resolved. Before final bows, Ross successfully convinces Mr. Green to
reinitiate contact with his previously estranged daughter, and it looks as if
some happiness is finally in store for the senior. However, after 80some years
of bigotry, I’m not sure if Mr. Green quite deserves it.
The “story” of West
Side Story is a timeless one. In
fact, the story is so timeless that Shakespeare told it a good few centuries
before Arthur Laurents (book), Leonard Bernstein (music), and Stephen Sondheim
(music) did when the show premiered in 1957.
For those who don’t know, West Side Story was based
on the Bard’s equally timeless Romeo and Juliet, which, incidentally, is
one of the Shakespeare plays that it’s become trendiest to hate, mostly because
of the apparent boneheadedness of the teenage leads. West Side Story is
also playing at the Lauderhill Performing Arts
Center (hosting their first Broadway At The LPAC production) until
this December 1st, and I was lucky enough to catch it on its opening
West Side Story also reminds me a little of South
Pacific in that it’s one of those shows that’s become such an integral part
of our theatrical canon that we can often forget how revolutionary it was when
it first came out. Now that musicals routinely explore everything from teenage
suicide to the AIDS epidemic, it can be hard to remember that topics as dark
and political as West Side Story explores were once revolutionary.
Today, parts of West Side Story, set in the 1950s,
come off as positively quaint, particularly the censoring of curse words to
phonetically similar bastardizations. One might also reflect on how many of the
characters’ misunderstandings could have been avoided if only they’d had access
to cell phones. Yet the core of the story, which pits love against the
formidable forces of racism and gang warfare, is still all too relevant in an era
that may be even more saturated with violence than was the era in which it came
Perhaps West Side Story’s biggest flaw is the same
flaw that afflicts its centuries prior predecessor: the fact that it represents
the whirlwind star-crossed courtship between Maria, a young recent Spanish
immigrant whose brother Bernardo is a ringleader of a gang called the “Sharks,”
and Tony, who is a Caucasian member of their rival group the “Jets,” as “true
love.” It certainly stretches believability that any two people could go from
“strangers” to “willing to run away with each other” within only a day, and
that this affection persists even after Bernardo’s demise at Tony’s hands.
Yet once you accept that the two characters are genuinely in love, the rest of the story makes perfect emotional sense. After all, who, when properly infatuated, isn’t as earnestly eager to murmur the name of their beloved as Tony is when he sings “Maria”? Who wouldn’t, under the influence of enough raw passion, forgive their loved one even unfathomable crimes?
Besides a few questionable wig choices for the Jets’
girlfriends, the set and costume design of Lauderhill’s production was pretty
on-point. One highlight was the balcony scene, in which the stage was memorably
lit by a backdrop of stars, and Ron Hutchins’ choreography also shined
throughout the production.
I also found few flaws with the performances. Alexa Lopez,
an American Heritage high school senior making her professional debut, brought
a nice balance of innocence and sensuality to the part of Maria. Her singing
voice, an absolutely stunning soprano, also had me trying not to count down the
minutes until her next song. It’s not hard to see how she ended up in callbacks
for the part on Broadway (as per the show’s press
release), and I’m certain her theatrical future will be an exceedingly
Jacob Tarconish was also quite good as her counterpart Tony,
if maybe not quite so awe-inspiring — I could occasionally hear him struggling
vocally over some particularly difficult notes— and the leads’ chemistry
was especially apparent in moments like their playful dress shop “wedding”
scene. Peter Librach made a big impression with relatively little stage time as
Doc, especially during the scene late in Act Two when he is tasked with
delivering some unpleasant news to Tony.
This could be nothing more than me being bored by the
mechanics of a story that I already knew the plot and beats of, having seen the
play before, seen the movie at least once, and heard most of the music more
times than I can count, but I do think the hour-and-a-half Act One eventually
got a little tedious; without the incredible, soaring songs, many of which are
now bona-fide classics, I don’t think the dialogue alone would have made this
show one for the ages.
Act Two, though, was a lot more engaging and contained most
of the show’s highlights: The Jets hilariously hamming it up in “Gee Officer
Krupke,” Bernardo’s girlfriend Anita’s heartfelt “A Boy Like That,” the earnest
sentiment of “Somewhere,” and the lyrical dance that accompanied it. The
production was more of a well-done rendition then a particularly new or
striking interpretation, but I doubt any fan of the play would be disappointed
by the talent and dedication on display.
West Side Story has a happy ending only in comparison
to the ending of the play it’s based on, and I won’t spoil it for the
uninitiated besides to say that the final image was a striking one. While I
doubt the tentative peace shared by the dueling factions will last, the play’s
concluding monologue will certainly be haunting my thoughts for a while.
I knew from my first glimpse of the set of The Wolves, the Pulitzer Prize finalist of a play by Sarah Delappe playing through the end of this weekend at Zoetic Stage, that I was in for something a little different. Instead of your typical raised stage, I found myself looking down on a huge curved platform covered in Astroturf!
A group of young actresses playing a high school soccer team then emerged, identified throughout the play only by their jersey numbers rather than given names. They then immediately launched into some of the most naturalistic dialogue I’ve ever seen onstage, spoken with near-perfect chemistry and at lightning speed. Characters frequently talked over each other and non-sequiturs abounded, and the result sounded remarkably like life.
This fast paced style led to a lot of comedic moments throughout the play, and it was also refreshing to see young women immediately start talking frankly about traditionally unlady-like subjects like periods, abortions, nervous vomiting, and who took that huge dump in the port-a-potty.
Every scene took place on the girls’ soccer field, but the scope of The Wolves stretched far beyond it; the girls’ dialogue touches on issues as weighty as the immigration debate, the Cambodian genocide, and sexual harassment by coaches. However, I use the phrase “touched on” for a reason; as interesting as the play’s conversational style was, it also fostered a leaping from issue to issue too quickly to explore any of them in much depth.
I also wonder if the 90 minute and 9-person show would have been better served by fewer characters who were more developed rather than a whole team given only surface characteristics. For example, we get glimpses of #2’s eating disorder and #25’s exploring her sexuality without really diving into the psychological complexity of either.
Nor do I think the play had a particularly suspenseful or technically well-crafted plot, with tension mostly coming from the subtly shifting relationships between the characters and the minor drama of whether the team will win and who will get scouted. I can see how it might’ve been off-putting to those who came to the theatre in search of more conventional narratives, but in my mind the story’s awkwardness and aimlessness was part of the point.
This was most evident near the end of the play, when an emotionally harrowing twist seems to come completely out of nowhere. Yet sometimes, that’s just what tragedy’s like. Not forecasted or foreshadowed, and not necessarily congruent with what came before; just sudden and devastating and so regrettably real.
Much as I hate naming standouts in such an ensemble-driven piece, especially one featuring an absolutely fierce cast made up entirely of women, I did take note of Katherine Burns’ vivacious energy and consistently brilliant comedic timing as #8. I also noticed the dramatic abilities of Tuesline Jean-Baptiste as #00 In a heartrending scene showcasing the characters’ visceral reaction to grief. Elena Maria Garcia as an unnamed soccer mom also absolutely nailed her intense singular scene near the end of the play.
Finally, I have to once again commend the whole cast for mastering the physical demands of the play, which included keeping control of a soccer ball onstage and multiple high-knee and butt-kick runs across the stage. Though the show’s writing is probably a little too spotty for it to warrant a spot in my all-time favorites, it’s probably worth seeing for the remarkable performances alone, and I’m definitely glad I got the chance to behold something as theatrically weird and wonderful as The Wolves.
I never harbored a particular fear of clowns, but after spending a theatrical Evening With John Wayne GacyJr., my predilections just might have changed. The show was produced by Infinite Abyss and staged at the Wilton Theater Factory, and Ronnie Larsen both wrote the play and stars as Gacy.
The character makes his first appearance on the circus-like
set in clown garb and full face make-up, introducing himself as “Pogo The Clown.”
That Gacy himself often donned similar clothing to entertain children at a
local hospital is one of the many chilling biographical details expertly folded
into the script.
It’s thanks to these startling particulars that I have now become inordinately curious about the life of this John Wayne Gacy Jr., the notorious serial killer who famously raped and murdered at least 33 young men and buried most of them in the crawlspace beneath his house. (A few others ended up in the river.)
My preliminary research indicates that the play doesn’t seem
to have deviated too far from actual events, and turned up enough other
morbidly fascinating information about Gacy that I’d actually be curious to see
how the 75 minute show would fare if it were expanded into a longer, more developed
piece that incorporated more of it. Then again, maybe one act of this harrowing
examination is all most people can take.
In terms of structure, the show reminded me a little of “columbinus,”
which also used unconventional theatrical devices to explore the whys of a seemingly
unfathomable crime. The show is framed by Gacy’s impending execution, but takes
place less in his cell than in his head, alternating between flashback scenes
of Gacy’s life and monologues by him and other characters who were affected by
his crimes. Absurdly, Gacy claims he is the “34th victim” of his
actions and almost completely denies that he has done anything wrong.
In Gacy’s mind, the boys he raped all wanted it, even if
they didn’t say so, and the boys he killed were all degenerates with no futures.
Gacy also “didn’t” brutally choke one of his victims with his own underwear;
the victim just wouldn’t shut up, and somehow the underwear just ended up
stuffed down his throat.
Rather than take responsibility for his crimes, Gacy attempts to divert attention to the copious amount of volunteer work he did, or to trivialities intended to attest to his character, like the fact that he was once photographed with First Lady Rosalynn Carter and once named the Springfield Junior Chamber of Commerce’s Man of the Year.
While these details don’t win Gacy much sympathy, they
do enhance the pathos of his situation by painting him as someone who at least had
the potential for goodness. Perhaps his thirst for approval could have been channeled
into something positive had he not been brought up in such an intolerant and
punishing environment, one that we learn through flashbacks was dominated by an
abusive and homophobic father.
As Gacy, Larsen utterly mastered his character’s bizarre psychology,
which was so foreign to me that I couldn’t help but find it darkly compelling. His
frantic, fast-paced dialogue betrays his disturbed and unstable thought processes
along with his deep desperation to justify and deny what he has done. Larsen also occasionally allows Gacy’s vulnerability
and guilt to shine through his almost air-tight defenses, particularly when the
character finally must face his execution head-on.
Most of the non-Gacy characters in the play (from what I
recall, Larsen doubled just once, as Gacy’s father) were played by the actress Bridgett
Haberecht and, on the night I attended, the actor Khail Duggan, who is
alternating with actor Richie Stone in the role.
Both performers had a strong presence and broad emotional
range, though they perhaps could have made more effort to differentiate the multiple
roles they played. Then again, Gacy’s personality is so overwhelming and so
alien that maybe the supporting players had to stay a little flatter and more
conventional by necessity.
The two nonetheless played a part in some of the play’s most
affecting moments, such as when Haberecht, playing Gacy’s ex-wife, realizes that
the boys Gacy hired to dig mysterious holes on their property were “literally
digging their own graves.” Another particularly harrowing sequence occurs when
Duggan recounts and, with help from Larsen, partially reenacts an incident in
which Gacy raped and brutally tortured his character before improbably setting
The play’s double casting also lead to an interesting moment
during a mournful monologue by Haberecht about the loss of her son, a son who
had been such a good kid and had had so much potential. I initially assumed she
was speaking as the mother of one of Gacy’s victims, but it later became clear
that Haberecht was speaking as Gacy’s mother, there to remind us of the almost
unfathomable fact that the demonic creature we had just witnessed tormenting Duggan’s
character was, too, somebody’s son.
The play ends with Gacy’s execution, and though there’s absolutely
no circumstance under which Gacy should have been let out of prison once his
crimes were discovered, I’m not quite sure that he actually deserved to lose
his life. To put a human face on the issue of capital punishment, even such an
undeniably awful face, brings out the sheer barbarism of the practice. Given
the atrocities human beings are capable of, should we really, ever, trust them
to play God?
An Evening With John Wayne Gacy Jr. plays only for rest of this weekend, so feel free to check it out if you think you can handle it! Along with offering great performances, a well-crafted script, and some noteworthy theatrical innovation, it’s guaranteed to make you think, if perhaps about things you’d rather not consider!
In other news, I have finally decided I was important enough to take the “WordPress” out of this blog’s URL, and will be telling a story about something or other (theatre, probably) at the New City Players‘ City Speaks event this Thursday. Hope everyone had a good Halloween and enjoys their remaining Day Of The Dead festivities!
For the period of slightly over a month that this blog has as
of yet been in existence, I have not had the chance to report on a theatrical
event that I was actively involved in. However, since the first night of the Delray
Beach Playhouse’s inaugural Playwrights’
Festival was far too interesting to leave unexamined, I suppose there’s
a first time for everything!
The event presented staged readings of a selection of unpublished
and unproduced new short plays by local playwrights. Marianne
Regan had the massive responsibility of helming the festival and directing nearly
30 actors in staged readings of eight different short plays staged across two
performances. Though we convened for only a few rehearsals, I very much enjoyed
getting to work with her and with the many other experienced and talented performers
involved in the production.
First in the evening’s lineup was Todd Caster’s courtroom
thriller Burden Of Proof, in which a young woman named Rhonda Knox is on
trial for the cold-blooded murder for her boss. I played key witness Trish
Aikens, whose secret relationship with the defendant throws one of many wrenches
into the investigation.
I will not, of course offer any opinions on my own performance,
but I will say that my castmates certainly held their own as attorneys, a judge,
the defendant, and the rest of the eccentric array of witnesses called on for
testimony, all of whom were Rhonda’s coworkers at futuristic startup ARTPAT.
There was plenty of humor in the engaging script as well as
plenty of suspense. In Caster’s masterful set-up, at least two of the witnesses
questioned have plausible motives for the crime themselves, and the slow
accumulation of facts and evidence definitely seemed to keep the audience on
However, I wasn’t entirely sure whether the play’s ending comes
across as a genuinely foreshadowed twist or a gimmick chosen mostly for shock
value. I also doubt it was entirely realistic, but it certainly drew some big
laughs from the audience!
Since I was off-duty as a performer after this first play of
the night, I was allowed to retreat to the back of the house for the other
three shows of the evening, which was the first time I was able to watch all
three in full.
Next up was A Good Night, which was written by Bob
Lind and starred John Zambito and Laurie Tanner as a “man” and a “woman” who
are revealed to be Santa Claus and his wife. She wants him to retire from his yearly
gift-giving duties in order to spend more time with her, and he just wants to
keep doing the work he loves. This play contained a few zingers in its dialogue
and explored an interesting concept, but the pair’s debate occasionally got a
little repetitive and both characters seemed relatively flat.
The work may have been more dimensional if the “Santa Claus”
character had been given much of a personality besides his passion for his job
or the shrewish Mrs. Claus character had been a little more fleshed out and motivated
by something besides her blinding selfishness. As it is, it’s hard to fathom how
or why Santa put up with her for their many years of marriage!
After a brief intermission, director extraordinaire
Marianne Regan briefly returned to the stage to share some somber news: that Lisa
Bruna, one of the playwrights whose work was to be featured that evening, had
passed away only the previous weekend. Thus, it was both fitting and a bit heartbreaking
that her play, Godwise was probably the highlight of the night.
The play was set in the early 1960s and portrayed the story of
a housewife named Connie, well-played by Jill Brown, who gets the shock of her
life when her garden-variety dissatisfaction with her adulterous scumbag of a husband
is much enlivened by some divine intervention.
Clad in a striking and shimmering black blouse, Victoria Goulet materializes
as the Greek goddess Hera after Connie unthinkingly wishes for some heavenly
help, and from the moment that she appeared, the charismatic actress sparkled
both literally and figuratively.
Hera is uniquely equipped to advise Connie given her own experiences
with her famously philandering husband Zeus. She also brings
along actor Don Squire as the famous blind seer Tieresias as her sidekick. It’s
he who concludes the encounter by predicting the upcoming feminist revolution and
letting Connie know about the upcoming advent of no-fault divorce, which will
allow her to leave her marriage without her husband’s consent and spare her many
of the financial consequences of leaving the union.
The play’s dialogue was both funny and quite insightful;
in only a twenty-minute play, Bruna managed to build an affecting arc for
Connie and a touching relationship between her and Hera. Especially given such
lamentable offstage events, I was more than happy to spend some time in a well-built
world where we could count on benevolent celestial forces to have our backs.
Then, in one of those peculiar “acts of god,” the
presentation of a short play colored by a real-life tragedy was followed by the
performance of a play where death was front and center. Some might have called
such a juxtaposition poor taste, especially considering that some of Bruna’s family
members were in the audience, but there’s no way anyone involved in the
production could’ve foreseen such unusual circumstances. We can’t all be as
intuitive as Tiresias!
Miranda Schumes’ Pulling A Carlos takes place at a “funeral”
for Rose, whose granddaughter Jesse decided to plan the ceremony in advance after
hearing from her grandmother’s hospice workers that Rose would be dead in a
week. Everything would have worked out perfectly, if Rose hadn’t failed to kick
Schumes aspires to be a television writer, and the zany
slapstick of her script definitely wouldn’t have been out of place on many a mainstream
sitcom, though it’s hard to tell how it will fare theatrically without seeing its
physical comedy enacted in a full production.
Luckily, cast members Dawn Mason and Graham Brown brought
more than enough energy and verve to carry the somewhat superficial and
occasionally trite script as protagonist Jesse and her best friend Chris, who
got some of the biggest laughs of the night when he imitated a Rabbi to conduct
this “funeral” at Jesse’s behest.
However, I’d say that the true stars of the show were Joyce
Rasmussen as the “deceased” Rose, who makes a splash when she crashes the
ceremony, and Victoria Goulet making her second appearance of the night as Rose’s
arch-nemesis Betty. The pair’s well-orchestrated bickering was outright
Anyhow, it was nice that the evening ended on
such an amusing and high-energy note despite the somewhat unfortunate timing. After
all, I suppose, when faced with such weighty matters as mortality, sometimes all
we can do is joke.
The performance was followed by a short talkback with the writers of Burden of Truth, A Good Night, and Pulling A Carlos; Lisa Bruna’s son also made an appearance to answer questions about Godwise. Feel free to swing by for the second and last show of the festival this afternoon, which will feature four completely different short plays by four other promising area playwrights, though I and quite a few of the other versatile actors featured in Day 1 of the festival will return as cast members. Catch ya after the show, comrades!
When we go to theatre, we’re used to seeing plays in their final, perfected form, so it’s somewhat easy to forget all the hard work and revisions a play goes through while its making its way towards that hallowed state.
Fortunately, we sometimes get a rare glimpse of what happens behind the scenes thanks to programs like the Theatre Lab’s 5th annual Playwright’s Forum, which provides nationally recognized playwrights with the opportunity to develop their works-in-progress via staged readings starring experienced actors. Tickets to these readings are available for purchase to the general public, who then get the chance to offer their feedback on the work in a post-show talkback.
Each featured playwright also offers a 90 minute masterclass on the craft of playwriting. I was lucky enough to be able to attend the first two of this year’s reading-and-seminar pairs, the first of which highlighted the work of award-winning playwright Jaqueline Goldfinger.
Goldfinger spoke about how she strategically works to illuminate a grand-scale theme or issue by first creating developed and compelling characters. Each of these characters must be motivated by a desire, however small, and a fleshed-out and cohesive set of interior and exterior traits. However, finding our way towards such well-constructed figures ought to be an enjoyable journey rather than an arduous one.
“I don’t want to say you’re doing something ‘wrong,’ but if you’re not having fun, you’re doing something fucking wrong,” Goldfinger suggested about first drafts, which she also believes could include “everything but the kitchen sink” and be whittled down to something more refined later during the writing process.
Her play, Babel, which is set for a rolling world premiere in 2020, delved into the “big topic” of eugenics by zoning in on the experience of two couples who struggle with weighty ethical dilemmas in a near-future world where genetic testing can tell prospective parents a staggering amount of information about their impending offspring before they are even born. This has led to the creation of a class system reminiscent of the one found in Brave New World, in which only those who are genetically pure can get “PRE certified” and access to basic societal privileges and opportunities.
Niki Fridh and Betsy Graver star as Dani and Renee, a lesbian couple who have had trouble conceiving (with the help of a newly invented egg-melding process along with some donor sperm) but are finally expecting their first child. The play kicks into gear is Renee discovers that the child she is carrying has a genetic makeup that predisposes him or her to sociopathy.
As Renee and Dani grapple with how to proceed, we also get to know their best friends, a seemingly perfect heterosexual couple consisting of Jeanine Gangloff Levy as Ann and Alex Alvarez as Jamie, a wonderfully conflicted character with some genetic secrets of his own.
The futuristic intellectual thriller that then ensues was both hilarious and harrowing. The play’s title refers to the Biblical tower of Babel and the human propensity to screw things up once we have acquired the kind of power formerly reserved for Gods, and the script adeptly delved into the psychological and philosophical complexity of an absurd world that, as per the play’s talkback, actually might be closer to conceivable possibility than we’d like to think.
The plot was replete with twists that were surprising but not incongruous, such as when what at first seems to be a surrealist touch is revealed to be futuristic technology and a shocking scene that suggests just where Renee and Dani’s baby may have gotten her psychotic genes. Aside from perhaps a fresh-off-the-press ending that felt a tad too conclusive, it’s hard to imagine that this superb script actually needs much rewriting.
A week later commenced masterclass 2, which was led by accomplished Miami playwright Christopher Demos Brown, whose American Son recently appeared on Broadway. Brown’s lesson focused on dialogue, which, we would learn, is an entirely different animal than conventional “speech.” Though dialogue must sound naturalistic, it should also contain “heightened language, cadence, and poetry,” and ensure that the play as a whole moves with the correct pacing and rhythm. His play, Coral Gables, is both a prequel and sequel to his “Captiva,” which appeared at Zoetic Stage in 2011, and the prequel to a TBA new play that will join the pair to form a trilogy.
Few better examples of “heightened language” could be imagined than the gorgeous metaphysical monologues given throughout Act One of Coral Gables by the character Emily Cestar. Though she outwardly appears to be suffering from dementia, her inner world as revealed in these soliloquies is shown to be more illuminated than ever. The abstract, cosmic quality of these asides reminded me a bit of Harper’s eerie rambles in Angels in America, and actress Lourelene Snedecker dazzled both during her character’s delirious moments and her lucid ones.
Meanwhile, the dialogue of Emily’s middle-aged children, who gradually make their way towards their childhood home when they discover how much their mother’s condition has deteriorated, was sharp, fast-paced, and frequently hilarious. The act actually had a fairly light and humorous tone despite the pathos of Emily’s descent into delirium, at least in comparison to a much more dramatic second act, which, fascinatingly, took place 30 years earlier.
Whereas Act One had taken place in present day, Act Two took us back to the 70s, when Emily was pregnant with youngest child Val and Val’s two older brothers were toddlers. This act had a higher emotional pitch as a family secret that had been cleverly hinted at during Act One was gradually and painfully revealed. Perhaps because this half of the show seemed more plot-driven, I enjoyed it a tad less than Act One, where there had been more room for the play’s complex characters to bicker and connect and Brown’s ingenuity to shine.
I’m incredibly excited to see where Coral Gables’ revisions take it, as well as relieved that I will presumably get to spend even more time with these rich, interesting characters and learn more about their tormented history in “Captiva” and an eventual play 3.It’s only because I have theatre business elsewhere that I won’t be attending the last reading of this year’s series, which will take place this Sunday and feature the Theatre Lab’s first commissioned play, titled After All I Did For You and written by Patricia Cotter. Especially considering that Babel director Matt Stabile is returning to take charge and that Jeni Hacker, whose performance I found so amusing in Grindr Mom, is among the cast, I’m sure it won’t be one that any curious theatre-goer would want to miss!
I got approximately 2 hours of sleep last night and
I am categorically incapable of being at all objective,
given that The Glass Menagerie is the play I usually name as my favorite
of all time.
Additionally, the fact that I’ve also performed in a
production of The Glass Menagerie (as Amanda, undergrad theatre troupe,
lonnnng story…) made the experience of revisiting it somewhat surreal. Fittingly
enough for a play that is referred to by its narrator Tom as a “memory play” in
its opening monologue, the phenomenal set by Rebecca Loveless of Tradition Tattoo
instantly sent me into a tailspin of nostalgic recollections the moment I
walked into the theatre.
The blue roses that framed the stage, a reference to a memorable nickname of Laura’s that gives the play one of its most touching moments, gave a nod to the play’s impressionistic nature, and to the fact that what we are seeing is not intended to be lived experience but Tom’s overly poetic recollection of that experience, an offering from his dreamy, interior world where “everything seems to happen to music.”
Because of my familiarity with the show, there were some bizarre
moments where I laughed before the punchlines of some of the play’s
jokes because I knew they were coming or perceived the fact that some dialogue
was just a little bit off from what I remembered, though there were also a few
line stumbles that were noticeable enough that even Glass Menagerie
novices probably could have picked them up.
Yet there was also plenty to appreciate in this charming production of an old standard, ably directed by first-timer Alex Lohman. For those of you who don’t know (well, if any of you don’t know), The Glass Menagerie takes place in Depression-era Saint Louis. Because his telephone man father “fell in love with long distance” and left the family, 20-year-old protagonist and narrator Tom has taken on an unsatisfying job at a warehouse in order to provide for his mother Amanda and his sister Laura.
Amanda is a magnetic but fading “southern belle” who regrets marrying beneath her and who tends to be irritatingly domineering towards her children, largely due to her concerns about their uncertain futures. Meanwhile, Laura is a young woman whose insecurity about her slight limp has led her to become painfully shy and to retreat into her own private reality.
Despite her mother’s prodding her towards independence, she is
unable to conquer her social anxiety long enough to make it through a course at
business college or secure any other form of employment. Instead, she spends
her days playing old records and polishing her glass collection.
Meanwhile, the chronically dissatisfied Tom escapes his unadventurous reality by “going to the movies” nightly; it’s implied that he is actually out drinking himself stupid. Naturally, this is a continual source of tension between him and his mother. Seeing the show in such a small theatre made the claustrophobia of Tom’s confinement in his family’s tiny, disheveled apartment newly visceral to me, and thus his overpowering desire for freedom more relatable.
Given that The Glass Menagerie is understood to be strongly autobiographical, one popular subtextual interpretation of Tom’s emotional desperation and unexplained escapades is that the character may, like Tennessee Williams himself, have been a closeted homosexual and out having secret liasons with other men. Um, in case anyone non-obsessives are actually curious about such details.
Having seen the show before, I’ve gathered that the first act usually seems to pass a tad slowly, but this may in fact be part of Tennessee William’s strategy in illuminating the Wingfields’ plight. The plot doesn’t really kick off towards until towards the end of Act One, when Amanda tells Tom that he is free to strike out on his own once he ensures that his sister is provided for by finding her a nice young man with whom she can settle down.
Since so much time and energy is spent establishing the idiosyncratic
characters and their strained family dynamics before we really establish a
narrative center, by the time Amanda offers Tom this escape route, we are near
as desperate for something to change as the characters are.
Susan Burke Giganti, who played Amanda, well conveyed her
character’s elegant southern charm and motherly obtrusiveness, but I ultimately
found her performance slightly too subdued, perhaps lacking in the outsize charisma
and emotional range that can really make the role shine. She did, however, have
great parental chemistry with Harry Richards as Tom.
The two’s fraught relationship is painfully realistic and
painfully relatable, and their constant bickering is the source of both much of
the play’s pathos and much of its humor. Despite these amusing moments, though,
both actors seemed to stop just short of truly inhabiting their roles. Though Richards
brought an appropriate intensity to the play’s most dramatic moments, it occasionally
felt more like he was going through the motions line by line than portraying a
On the other hand, I was quite impressed by Hannah Rosenberg’s
portrayal of Laura. She maintained an impressive stage presence and energy
despite the introversion of her character, and she wasn’t afraid to make her
Laura as truly peculiar as the script indicates rather than merely demure.
It may also be worth noting that Laura, like A
Streetcar Named Desire’s legendary Blanche Dubois, is a character who we
know to be partially based on Tennessee’s Williams sister Rose, who was lobotomized
in 1943 after being diagnosed with schizophrenia and who haunted her brother’s
work from then on. This real-life subtext brings a whole new resonance to the
use of blue roses as a key motif in Act Two, as well as to a moment
where Laura imagines that a unicorn without a horn may have “had an operation” so
that he would feel less “freakish” and fit in better with all the hornless
It may also be worth
noting that some scholars believe that Tennessee Williams’ sister Rose probably
wasn’t actually schizophrenic at all, and likely would have been instead labeled
autistic if she had lived during more enlightened times. Or maybe absolutely
none of this is worth noting, and I simply know far too much about The Glass
Menagerie and the life of Tennessee Williams. I wrote this term paper once…
Ok, back to reviewing. The show really came alive
when gentleman caller and “emissary from the world of reality” Jim O’Connor appeared
on the scene early in Act 2, which may owe as much to actor Chris Cimorelli’s
performance as anything else.
He ably balanced both the comedically buffoonish aspects of Jim’s character and the genuine kindness and charm that allows us to invest in him and Laura’s courtship. The two’s implausible moment of connection was by far the most engaging and enjoyable scene in the play.
I’m going to avoid directly revealing any spoilers in case
there is anyone out there who’s never seen The Glass Menagerie, but I
was also struck by how sincerely Cimorellli’s Jim seemed to regret not being
able to do more for the Wingfields. In fact, the impossibility of the position that
Tom has put Jim in seemed so burdensome that I briefly felt almost sorrier for him
than for the main characters!
Though I’ve come across plenty of Jim O’Connor haters in my
day, I would argue that his one major mistake with Laura doesn’t make him a villain,
much as Amanda’s nagging doesn’t make her a villain, Laura’s withdrawal doesn’t
make her a villain, and, I would even argue, Tom’s questionable choice
at the end of play doesn’t make him one either.
I’m going to go ahead and unrepentantly steal an insight
from the director of my production here, but what makes The Glass Menagerie so
heartbreaking is that it’s story without any villains. It’s only a story
about people, people doing what they feel they should or what they feel they
must, and somehow shattering each other in the process. The play’s lyrical and
devastating concluding monologue never fails to strike me right in the heart,
and the rendition I saw yesterday evening was no exception.
It may also be worth noting that I have tattoo of a blue
rose on my right shoulder.
If you’ve seen The Glass Menagerie but never read it,
it might be worth picking up the script sometime for the stage directions
alone, which are full of impossibly poetic flourishes. However, you’d probably
be far more entertained and far more moved by Maplewood’s
version, which plays only until this Sunday the 27th.
If you’re interested in another 25 pages or so of me rambling on about The Glass Menagerie, I probably still have that old term paper somewhere. Meanwhile, I’m off to finish editing a post about the Theatre Lab’sPlaywright’s Forum, which I have quite predictably managed to avoid completing until the latest acceptable minute, then to try and remain semi-functional enough to appease my family for a few hours, then hopefully take some semblance of a nap before I have to be conscious enough to perform at night 1 of The Delray Beach Playhouse’sPlaywright’s Festival. Happy weekend and happy theatre-going, everyone!
Like the Alice who inspired my blog’s name, I can sometimes get very, very, curious, which is why I recently ventured quite a ways off my beaten path to Wilton Manors, a city which has been officially named the “second gayest city in America,” to see a play called “Grindr Mom” by acclaimed gay playwright Ronnie Larsen.
On a Tuesday.
It was practically a foreign land; even the Starbucks I stopped into for a pre-show coffee was decked out in flamboyant Halloween decorations and pride flags. Furthermore, while I am at this point used to occasionally being the youngest person in the audience at the productions I attend, I was less used to not only being the only female in attendance, but, from what I could tell, the only one who was even occasionally heterosexual.
The best black box productions take advantage of their small playing area to create an intimacy with their audience, and Grindr Mom was of the breed that ran with this strategy by annihilating the fourth wall altogether. The unnamed protagonist of this one-woman show, expertly played by veteran South Florida actress Jenni Hacker, greeted us directly as she entered through the same door we had, then proceeded to welcome us to her living room and politely request that we turn off our cell phones. At one point, she also passed us around a Tupperware container of actual cookies (I didn’t try one; I was pretending to be on my diet that week.)
The premise of the show followed quite naturally from the title. An unnamed mormon woman in her mid 50s, struggling to come to terms with having one gay, Democrat, atheist son rather than the large and devout family she’d dreamed of, also became quite curious after hearing that this son had met his current significant other on Grindr and decided to make her own account. I somewhat wish she had better explained her motivations for doing this, but the show was an entertaining ride despite the slightly far-fetched premise.
Though this “Grindr Mom” speaks to us directly and mentions that we are strangers to her, the script also lacked much of a frame story to explain why she was telling a bunch of strangers some of her deepest darkest secrets; perhaps the character might have been more logically placed at a support group of some kind, or a therapist’s office, or maybe the show could have more obviously taken place inside her head.
Or maybe I can sometimes get a little too left-brained for my own good.
Somehow, Mrs. Grindr Mom remained an understandable and even occasionally sympathetic character throughout the play despite her many unlikable qualities: Republicanism, homophobia, and religious intolerance, to name a few. Actually, now that I’m away from the play and from Jenni Hacker’s remarkable comedic timing, it’s hard to remember how I tolerated this character for 90 minutes, much less enjoyed her company.
Yet enjoy I did; I remember laughing out loud quite a lot. There were a few particularly amusing interludes from Siri, and as gimmicky as I found the protagonist’s habit of referring to websites as “the Facebook” and “the Grindr,” I chuckled nearly every time she did. I suppose there also may have been an element of schaudenfreude in the audience’s amusement at Grindr Mom’s dismay at the sheer number of homosexuals out there, or her distressed discovery to find that her church’s married choir director was secretly a “versatile bottom” looking to score.
However, the big twist that comes near the end of the play came across as the mere fulfillment of a cliche; if the play was going to go there, I wish it would have gone there earlier so we could see more of our “Grindr Mom’s” reaction to such an earth shattering revelation. (Nope, I’m not going to spoil it.) I also would have appreciated some more direct foreshadowing, though it’s possible that is Grindr Mom is so deeply in denial about the inner workings of her family members that any hints would have failed to register.
All in all, despite the ambiguity of the show’s conclusion: if you happen to be free on one of the next few Tuesdays on which Grindr Mom is playing, until this Nov 12, her amusing and thought-provoking tale is worth listening to.
Later that weekend, I stumbled into a another little rabbit hole of a black box, this one belonging to the Lake Worth Playhouse’s smaller Stonzek Theatre. I was catching the second performance of a two week run of “Lungs”, which was honestly much more my speed than the musical I’d attended the previous week at the mainstage next door.
Like Actually, another recent favorite of mine, Lungsrequired practically nothing in the way of set or special effects; the magic all came from the witty, incredible script by Duncan Macmillan and the magnetic performances of the two lead actors.
While Grindr Mom had been forced against her will to reckon with the existence of homosexual kind, Lungs’ dual protagonists faced the very heterosexual dilemma of whether they should perpetuate humankind; in other words, whether or not they should have a child. They contemplated their dilemma so compellingly that it wasn’t until I looked at my playbill after the show that I realized that they were never named in the script.
When “M” first suggests to “W” that the two of them should consider having a baby, she cannot help but go into a panic, despite the fact that motherhood is something she has always thought she wanted. The two amazingly authentic millennial characters are both intelligent, “woke,” and hyper self-aware; before they can commit to having a child, they have to assure themselves that they are good people whose genes really ought to be passed on and who won’t fuck up their kids as much as their parents fucked up them. W is also very worried about the carbon footprint having a kid will leave, but it also clearly comes across that her concerns are at least in part an emotional deflection from her more personal anxieties.
This throughline is the source of some of the play’s most memorable humor, as the two decide they will make up for their child’s carbon footprint by planting trees and W suggests that “If we really cared about the planet, we would kill ourselves.” However, this environmental babble becomes devastating when W, tearful after a miscarriage, tries to console herself with thoughts of all the humungous carbon footprint that their lost child will now not leave. Though the tragedy briefly drives them apart, an impulsive moment ends up compelling them to stay together for good.
If I had to, I would single out Catalina De Ruiz de Gamboa as “W” as the more engaging performer, but she also had a lot more to work with given her neurotic whirlwind of a character and W’s plentiful mile a minute monologues. Russell Kerr’s M was a somewhat simpler creature, the proverbial “straight man” to her tornado. In many ways, M is also a typical man; one whose primary flaws included failing to pick up on his girlfriend’s unspoken desires and being a little too motivated by his prick; however, his willing to make sacrifices for W when push comes to shove makes him a likable character in the end.
The concluding fast-forward montage happened a little too quickly for me to register its full emotional impact, despite the poignancy of what was portrayed, but I still left the theatre spellbound, and surprised that the performance didn’t get a standing ovation. You have until this October 27th to judge for yourself.
I’d certainly been looking forward to Falling after attending many
of the New City Players’ lead up events, and it certainly didn’t
disappoint. The fast-paced 75-minute show never dragged or faltered, and, as
promised, it offered us a rare window into the seldom represented day-to-day
life of a family dealing with a severely autistic child. Timothy Mark Davis
nailed the pivotal role of Josh, the 18-year old boy with severe autism around
whom the play (and the characters’ lives) revolved. The endearingly childlike
enthusiasm of his portrayal gave life and soul to a type of person many
consider less than human.
Davis also mastered many of the unique behaviors and
emotional traits common to those on the “lower-functioning” end of the autism
spectrum. These included his frequent sensory “stimming” by rocking and
flapping his hands, his peculiarly blinkered speech, and his blindingly
singular focus. I wasn’t surprised to learn how extensively Davis had
researched his role during that night’s talkback, where he also described his
performance as very intuitive and the role as a chance to follow certain
impulses he might naturally suppress; a scene in which Josh unabashedly sticks
his hands down his pants in front of his grandmother comes to mind.
As someone on the “higher-functioning” end of the autism
spectrum and thus subject to rather different sets of problems (for one thing,
being so “smart” and functional at some things that no one suspects the fact
that I’m hopeless I am at others), I didn’t relate much too much to Josh. However, I will admit to recognizing a bit of my
mother’s almost superhuman steadfastness when it comes to dealing with my own
spectrum-related issues in the character of Tami, whose motherly devotion to
Josh came through so strongly that I’d be surprised if actress Arlette Del Toro
wasn’t a parent herself.
This devotion was all the more impressive given her son
Josh’s truly frightening capacity for violence when he is upset or
overstimulated. Davis’s performance makes it clear that Josh is lashing out due
to his panic, overwhelm and inability to fully understand his surroundings
rather than any innate malevolence, but when a fully grown adult male
physically attacks a woman less than half his size, the potential for harm is
As the person most intimately involved in Josh’s care, his
mother Tami also bears the brunt of his violent tendencies, and the play
features a few terrifying scenes in which she is under direct attack. Though
much of Josh’s worldview and behavior is totally alien to us, Tami’s love and
concern for her son’s future grabs us by the heartstrings and keeps us
emotionally invested in the Martin’s plight. Her description of an institution
or group home for Josh as “somewhere he that he won’t be loved” hit hard.
Elizabeth Price also excelled in the less showy role of the
the bible-thumping Granny Sue, whose visit is the catalyst that brings the
Martin’s latent worries about Josh’s future to the surface. Todd Bruno likewise
shined in the role of Josh’s devoted father Bill. Though Josh’s issues have
understandably taken their toll on Bill’s relationship with Tami, the father’s steadiness and his own evident
love for Josh show how the two have survived as couple for all these years.
Abby Nigro is occasionally a little mannered as Lisa, maybe
too focused on being adequately “teenagery” or standoffish than on being
naturalistic or the gravity of her character’s emotional reality, but she does
rise to the occasion in one of the play’s most intense moments; when Lisa
confronts her mother about her fears that Josh could easily kill either one of
them in an out of control moment.
“it only takes once,” she says poignantly.
However, the biggest problems I found with Falling lay not with the adept cast but
with the script itself. The tail end of the play is somewhat marred by a
bizarre twist in which something seems to have occurred that would drastically
alter the Martin’s lives, but the event is later revealed to have been a dream
of Tami’s. I’m not saying that her anxious imaginings didn’t present an
interesting scenario to explore; just that there may have been better, less
melodramatic and “more earned” ways to explore it. A more obviously surrealist sequence,
for instance, might have made it clearer that we were inside Tami’s head.
The play’s ending is really more of a non-ending; the
Martins have now become a little more open about their dissatisfaction and the
need for something to change, but that’s about it. This absence of any real
resolution to the family’s story is a decent strategy given the playwright’s
goal was to leave the audience thinking about the social problem of our
society’s lack of accommodations for autistic adults, but it was a little less
narratively effective than I suspect a clearer conclusion would have been.
Luckily, the show was followed by a talkback, which gave the
evening more of a sense of cohesion than the weighty loose ends left onstage.
There were no straight answers there either, but there was thoughtful consideration of and conversation on a variety of
spectrum-related issues. In a way, just seeing that a whole room of people,
actors and audience, both personally connected to the spectrum and not,
genuinely cared about the future of autistic people of all sorts was enough to
offer a smidgen of hope.
Some might think that a newly written play about autism
couldn’t have less in common with the 1947 Tennessee Williams piece “A Streetcar
Named Desire, ” playing until this November 3rd at
esteemed company Palm Beach Dramaworks’ Don & Ann Brown theatre. Yet both plays
revolve, in very different ways, around the idea of loving someone who is “hard
to love”, as Falling director Jessica
Schulte puts it, and around the trials and tribulations of a sensitive soul
turned toxic by the harsh realities of everyday life.
Mental illness isn’t at the forefront of most discussions
about A Streetcar Named Desire, but
its protagonist Blanche Dubois clearly appears to be suffering from
post-traumatic stress disorder as well as some sort of mood and/or personality
disorder. Playwright Tennessee Williams and actress Vivian Leigh, who memorably
immortalized the part on film, both suffered from bipolar disorder, and that
diagnosis would well explain Blanche’s bouts of frenetic activity interspersed
with her periods of anxiety and withdrawal, as well as her apparent
hypersexuality and eventual loss of contact with reality during the play’s
The gorgeously dilapidated set and evocative period costumes
were perfect for bringing us into the dreary and strangely beautiful world of
the play. As is often the case in our
darkest tragedies, the bleak nature of the show is made bearable by the poetry
of the dialogue, especially Blanche’s dialogue, and the skill and charisma of
As well as Davis captured Josh’s simplicity in Falling, Kathy McCafferty did an equally marvelous job at embodying one of the most complex and interesting characters in modern theatre in Blanche Dubois. Blanche is thought to have been partially based on Williams’ sister Rose, whose forced lobotomy in her early adulthood colored much of her brother’s subsequent artistic work. I suspect she may have also been partially based on Williams himself, who also often wrote of feeling out of place in in ordinary human life and using his writing as a refuge. Blanche and Williams also share a tendency to self-medicate with alcohol, another fairly classic bipolar trait.
Streetcar Named Desire was once explained to me as being about the “masks
behind which we conceal our sexual selves,” and that element was also central to
this production. McCafferty’s Blanche exuded sexual desire and energy even when
the character was doing her damnedest to put forth an “innocent” persona, and
even in her most fragile moments, her vulnerability itself seemed to be a
seductive force. Courtesy of the phenomenal performance of Annie Grier, it was
also clear that Stella’s tranquilizing “sexual addiction” to Stanley was her
defining principle, and the animal charisma of Danny Gavigan’s Stanley didn’t
Like Falling, the
3-hour performance of A Streetcar Named
Desire (which included 2 ten-minute intermissions) never dragged, but
anyone who’s seen it knows that the devastating ending it comes to is a far
more conclusive one. In a way, Josh’s loved ones did a better job at accepting
his eccentricities than the people who surrounded Blanche did hers, given their
abject disapproval and heart-breaking betrayal of her.
Whether it’s in someone as obviously neurodivergent as Josh
or someone who, like Blanche, is secretly cracking behind a civilized façade,
let’s hope these stories can teach us to look upon those suffering with a