Sunday, May 1, 2016

Applause! Applause! Review of Psycho Beach Party at Studio Theatre Long Island by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Psycho Beach Party at Studio Theatre Long Island was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 6 (2016) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Psycho Beach Party
Written by Charles Busch
Directed by Scott Hofer
Studio Theatre Long Island
141 South Wellwood Avenue
Lindenhurst, New York 11757
Reviewed 4/30/16 

Charles Busch wrote Psycho Beach Party, which opened at the Players Theater in New York City in 1987. In it, he played Chicklet, a flat-chested, sixteen-year-old, virgin girl hanging out on Malibu Beach in 1962 whose major ambition was to learn to surf. The play is a spoof that pokes fun at Beach Blanket Bingo style movies as well as Psycho, Mommie Dearest and Hitchcock's Marnie all at the same time. Chicklet suffers from a multiple personality disorder and at the mention of anything "red," she turns into Ann Bowman, a Dominatrix (Mistress Ann) who is committed to conquering and ruling planet Earth. Chicklet also becomes Ann whenever faced with any potential sexual situation. She is suspected of knocking teens unconscious and then shaving off all their hair, both in the pubic and scalp regions (to maintain their pre-pubescent innocence, I suspect). Her splintered personality can be traced back to when she was 7 1/2 years old and the direct cause of her twin brother's death. Her mother, who was a former prostitute (named Ann Bowman) blamed herself, moved to a new town and changed her name. Perhaps the mention of the color red or items colored red that trigger Chicklet's personality changes have to do with the blood she saw on her dead brother. (In the movie Marnie, the color red triggers Marnie's personality change. In that film, her mother was also a prostitute and the red represents the blood from the abusive john she murdered as a child to protect her mom.)

Mrs. Forrest (Chicklet's Joan Crawford-style mother) has continued to traumatize her daughter by warning her of the evils of sex. Holding a jockstrap in her hand (which may have belonged to a foreign exchange student who stayed in their home), Mrs. Forrest, in her famed puritanical speech to her daughter warning her about engaging in sexual intercourse, says, "I know how they paint it so beautifully in the movies. A man and a woman locked in an embrace, soft lighting, a pitcher of Manhattans, Rachmaninoff in the background. Well, my girl, let me tell you that is not how it is. You don't know how repugnant it is having a sweaty man's thing poking at you. (She jabs her finger multiple times into Chicklet's body). Do you like that?" 

Besides Chicklet becoming Ann Bowman (who The Great Kanaka is attracted to since he gets sexually turned on by being her slave), she also has a number of other personalities she is harboring, including a couple of singers, a reformed Rabbi, a politician, and Steve, a male model who represents the athletic part of Chicklet. With Kanaka willing to teach her how to surf, Chicklet gets $25.00 from her best friend Berdine so she can buy a surfboard. Chicklet (who has still not turned into "a full-grown chick" like the other girls on the beach), turns out to be a great surfer and is accepted by the other male surfers who include Kanaka, Star Cat (a psychiatry student who has dropped out of college), Provoloney (who hosts the Provoloney Pacific Follies at the annual Luau/BBQ), and Yo-Yo (who is good with hanging plants and does wonderful things with hibiscus). Marvel Anne is the beach slut who hooks up with Star Cat, and Yo-Yo and Provoloney are shacking up together as friends who are not yet fully aware of their sexual attraction to one another, which reveals itself when they are rehearsing "a heterosexual seduction scene" for a treatment they are writing together. Berdine gets jealous of Chicklet's new popularity, and Chicklet's mother, fearful of the bad influence these beach bums are having on her daughter, threaten to have them arrested for having inappropriate relations with her. To make sure they know she is serious, her parting line to them is, "Don't fuck with me fellers!" (A reference to a line in the movie Mommie Dearest). The final cast member is Bettina Barnes, a starlet who runs aways from the movie studio in hopes of breaking her contract and studying under Lee Strasberg. Berdine is not the brightest star in the sky. When asked, "Are you incognito?", she responds, "No. I'm German-Irish."

Psycho Beach Party is a hilarious spoof of beach party movies of the early 1960s. It will keep you entertained from start to finish. There is a cleverly done surfing montage in the play that is absolutely fabulous. The entire ensemble cast consists of top-notch talent. Aunt Barbara (the alter-ego of Robert Suchan) dominates the stage as Mrs. Forrest, the strict, overly dramatic mother who complains how "the veal scallopini she was preparing for dinner exploded in the pressure cooker" and insists her daughter Florence "is as normal as I am." Mark T. Cahill was so good portraying Chicklet I had to ask a friend during intermission if the actor playing Florence was really a man despite my having seen his flat chest when he was changing into a bathing suit. The third extraordinary cross-dressing performance was by Eric Clavell, who played the sexually promiscuous Marvel Anne. Dressed in extremely short, tight dresses leaving not an inch of material to spare, I wondered where she packed any unwanted protuberance. There was none to be seen. Nikki Schettino did a fine job as the nerdy, but loyal, Berdine, Chicklet's best friend forever, and Davina Roberts, who played Bettina Barnes in the show I saw, successfully captured the attitude required of a famous Hollywood starlet. The only problem with Ms. Robert's performance was that she failed to properly project her voice, making it difficult for the audience to hear a number of her lines.

As for the boys, Steve Incarnato was very believable as The Great Kanaka, both in his portrayal of a confident surfer (and leader of the pack) and as a sexually dominated slave (Ann Bowman once said to him, "I thought you were the man with the Big Cigar but you must be packing a Tiparillo," which only turned him on more). Charles Jacker excelled as Star Cat, the college dropout who took three semesters of psychology and was able to reunite Chicklet's fractured personalities during a five-minute psychoanalysis session. When at first he was having difficulty communicating directly with Chicklet, he chalked it up to "a bad connection." Sal Canepa, who very convincingly played Yo-Yo, suggested, "maybe you should try FM." Matt Stashin was perfect as Provoloney. He and Yo-Yo had a great rapport on stage and were very believable as guys in a close friendship that turned into something more. What might otherwise have been considered unnecessary roles in the play were turned into an essential part of the action by these two fine actors. Political incorrectness and bullying were not absent from Charles Busch's 1962 Malibu Beach. The virginal Berdine and Chicklet were told, "You two Queer Bait should get a license and marry one another" and while they were playing Siamese Twins during the Provoloney Pacific Follies and Chicklet turned into Ann Bowman, she objected to Berdine touching her by saying, "Get your hands off me you blithering bull dike." 

If you are a broadminded theater-goer who enjoys an adult comedy with wacky characters, cross-dressing, and unexpected plot twists and turns, Psycho Beach Party is the play for you! I loved it and I strongly urge you to see it while you can. It runs through May 15, 2016. Tickets cost $25.00 and can be purchased at Studio Theatre Long Island's website located at https://www.studiotheatreli.com/get-tickets/ For more information, call 631-226-8400.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Applause! Applause! Review of All Over The Map at The Lion Theatre by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of All Over The Map at The Lion Theatre was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 6 (2016) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

All Over The Map
Written & Performed by Bill Bowers
Developed with & Directed by Martha Banta
The Lion Theatre
410 West 42nd Street
New York, New York 10036
Reviewed 4/26/16 

Bill Bowers, who was born in Montana and currently lives in New York City, will tell anyone who will listen that he is "a gay mime." I am not certain what that means because when he exhibited his "mime talents" in this show, I didn't see anything particularly "gay" in his technique or movements. Perhaps he meant to say he is a mime "who happens to be gay" and who broadcasts that fact as part of his own personal crusade to promote tolerance and acceptance of gays throughout the world. As a mime, he won the "Best Performance Award" at the Fresh Fruit Festival a few years back. This is his second "talking" solo performance, his first having been It Goes Without Saying. In this show, All Over The Map, Bill Bowers shares with his audience some of the varied experiences he has had on the road performing as a mime and giving "mime" workshops. He did not appear in white face (which according to tradition would have required him not to speak) and dressed very casually appearing on stage with only six chairs. Three video screens reminded the audience of the year and location he was speaking about at any particular time.

The show promises it is about "50 states, 25 countries, 2 Hookers, 1 Bunny, And A Mime." Not quite! The Mime is obviously Bill Bowers himself. The Bunny is the 15-year-old pet of a crazy lady he met in Billings, Montana who appeared at his workshop explaining that her pet rabbit, Rocky, was also a mime and wanted to take the class. Rocky, the rabbit, later e-mailed him and when he tried to ban him from a future class, he was accused of "Bunny Bigotry." One of the hookers was someone who approached his car when he was stuck on a slippery highway in Atlanta, Georgia for 21 hours during a rare snow storm in 2014, and the second was Xaviera Hollander ("The Happy Hooker"), who didn't give him his 50% cut of the door when he did two shows for her in Amsterdam. In the funniest line of the show, Bill wondered out loud whether "the Dutch version of going Dutch was the same as the American version." His takeaway was that he is now "amongst the many who have been screwed by The Happy Hooker." All Over The Map doesn't come close to telling stories from 50 states and 25 countries but he does speak of his experiences at a Nudist Camp in Worley, Idaho, an Amish Schoolhouse in St. Ignatius, Montana, and of experiencing the ice cold chill of anti-gay discrimination in Macedonia and Poland. He even adds in a segment that compares "Toilets Throughout The World."

Bill Bowers can make the most mundane experience, such as a 17-year old boy in Macedonia waving good-bye, sound interesting, even if the intentions of the boy and meaning of the story are never fully explained. From his descriptions of his travels throughout the world, it appears he never got out much or strayed too far from the safety of his motel room or the loving arms of his respective hosts. I have personally experienced more interesting things in a single night in New Orleans than he appears to have experienced in 30 years of traveling abroad. As a result, many of the stories he relays end with some cute, insightful or humorous statement someone said to him. For example, in Camden, New Jersey, he asked students, "Do you know why I'm not wearing white face today." One student's answer, "Because it's after Labor Day?" At the Amish Schoolhouse after performing Montana Moon in mime, he asks, "Does anyone know why I put the moon back in the sky?" A six-year-old girl answers, "Because that is where it belongs!" Similarly, while attending a meeting of the Gay-Straight Alliance at a school in Rome, Georgia, he met Jason, an extremely effeminate male student wearing a pocketbook who, unbelievably, told him while sashaying away, "One thing I am not looking for is unwanted attention." At the nudist colony, after comparing "coming out" as a nudist with "coming out" as a homosexual, one woman reflected, "We are all of us in the closet about something."

All Over The Map is a crowd-pleaser! Bill Bowers is a compelling storyteller who captivates the attention of his audiences transporting them in space and time to circumstances and situations outside of their current reality. While in retrospect, you may realize the stories Bill Bowers has told are not very substantive, you will nevertheless be entertained and will leave the theater feeling your money was well-spent. All Over The Map was developed while Bill Bowers was an Artist in Residence at All For One Theater, a company committed to the art of Solo Performance. All Over The Map runs through May 8, 2016 at The Lion Theatre. Tickets cost $36.25 and can be purchased at 212-239-6200 or at www.Telecharge.com. For more information on Bill Bowers, visit www.Bill-Bowers.com 

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Applause! Applause! Review of Thao's Library at The Lion Theatre by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Thao's Library at The Lion Theatre was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 6 (2016) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Thao's Library
Written & Performed by Elizabeth Van Meter
Directed by Joe Ricci
The Lion Theatre
410 West 42nd Street
New York, New York 10036
Reviewed 4/26/16 

In 1993, at the age of 11, Vicki Van Meter flew her Cessna 172 across the country, becoming the youngest female to do so. The following year, she flew a Cessna 210 across the Atlantic Ocean. On both flights, she was accompanied by an instructor, but she reported to the world she was "alone behind the controls." Vicki wrote a book ("Taking Flight"), became a minor celebrity, and was an inspiration for young women everywhere. In 2008, Vicki, at the age of 26, committed suicide. Elizabeth Van Meter, Vicki's older sister, falls into a crippling depression convinced she "could have done more" to save her. I am told "Thao's Library," the 2015 documentary, explores the causes of Vicki's suicide. Not so here in Elizabeth Van Meter's one-woman show also entitled Thao's Library (which includes video clips from the documentary). 

In this multi-media play, the focus is on Elizabeth and how she eventually overcomes her despair and anguish by helping others; in particular Thanh Thao Huynh, a 25-year-old young Vietnamese woman whose body is shrunken and twisted allegedly due to genetic defects caused by Agent Orange, the toxic defoliant used by the United States during the Vietnam War. Stephen Katz, a photojournalist who originally showed Thao's photograph to Elizabeth, is also supposedly suffering from the lingering effects of Agent Orange his father was exposed to during the war. When asked by Stephen what Thao would like most in the world, she responded she would like $300.00 so she could purchase more books for her library, which she established for the children of her village in one corner of her family's storage facility. Elizabeth Van Meter adopted this particular cause as her own, asked for book donations, and was off to Vietnam to deliver them personally to Thao.

During the play, Elizabeth recalls her upbringing and happier times with her family. As a little girl, she always said the Lord's Prayer and then asked God to bless people before going to sleep. At some point, she stopped praying because she "didn't know who she was praying to or who she was praying for." Five days before her sister's suicide, she "felt an urge to pray," probably because she perceived her sister was in crisis. In Vietnam, while staying at an Old Folk's Home down the road from Thao's house, she again found herself on her knees praying to a statue of Maya, Buddha's mother. A dog also seemed to be following her around and a very confused and distraught Elizabeth later reminded herself that Maya was also the name of her deceased sister's dog. What we have here is a woman trying to make sense of the world and of circumstances beyond her control. During her monologues, Elizabeth often expresses her insecurities and fears. She wonders whether she has over promised and taken on too many responsibilities. She recognizes the possibility she might be trying to be an older sister to Thao in a way she can no longer be for Vicki. 

Despite her disabilities, Thao considers herself lucky. As she says, "I have a family, my mind, and my library." She volunteers at the local orphanage and brought Elizabeth there "to plant a seed of love inside your heart." Thao taught herself to read and write. She now tutors other village children and sells cigarettes and cell phone sim cards to locals in order to raise extra cash. Thao is clearly an inspiration and the documentary clips presented during the play are very emotionally moving. Elizabeth Van Meter wrote Thao's Library, which is now having its world premiere at The Lion Theatre. Coincidentally, Thao also performed in a play she wrote about her experience meeting Elizabeth. Thao once told Elizabeth, "The good leaves will cover the torn leaves, and the torn leaves will cover the shredded leaves." Elizabeth's take on that is that "we are all shredded; we are all torn." She now believes her sister Vicki "has expanded and is now everywhere" and that somehow "together we are whole (good leaves) covering one another." 

Elizabeth recognizes that had her sister "not made the choice she did," she wouldn't have taken a second look at Thao's photograph. The subtitle of the play says it all - "A sister lost. A purpose found." Elizabeth Van Meter raised funds and went back to Vietnam to build Thao a larger and more modern library. In doing so, she also founded The Purpose Project, an organization that searches for dynamic individuals with a driving sense of purpose who are being of service to their community, helping these individuals achieve a dream and sharing their stories with a wider audience. (www.The-Purpose-Project.orgAll For One Theater is the producer of Thao's Library and is dedicated to the art of Solo Performance. 

Thao's Library leaves you with a number of thoughts and reflections. No matter how bad things get, they could always be worse. If you have someone in your life you really care about who needs your help, do what you can now so you don't regret not having done enough later. Seek out people doing amazing things and help them if you can. Finally, you don't need to find hidden meaning in stray dogs who follow you down dirt paths in Vietnam or pray on your knees before a statue of Maya looking down on you while a dog who may hold the spirit of another living dog named Maya looks up at you. Just get up and do something worthwhile with your life that helps others! Thao's Library is inspirational and a tribute to all who have made it past depression to lead productive lives! It runs through May 7, 2016. Catch it while you can! Tickets cost $36.25 and can be purchased at 212-239-6200 or at www.Telecharge.com 

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Applause! Applause! Review of Paige Turner: Confessions Of An Un-Natural Blonde at The Laurie Beechman Theatre by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Paige Turner: Confessions Of An Un-Natural Blonde at The Laurie Beechman Theatre was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 6 (2016) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Paige Turner: Confessions Of An Un-Natural Blonde
Written & Performed by Paige Turner (Daniel Kelley)
The Laurie Beechman Theatre
407 West 42nd Street
New York, New York 10036
Reviewed 4/22/16  

If you are easily offended by politically incorrect humor involving drugging potential sex partners, incest, and scout leaders having sex with boys under their direction, I strongly encourage you to stop reading this review and to never see the perky and perverted Paige Turner perform her monologues, song parodies, and video clips presented in Confessions Of An Un-Natural Blonde. If you read on and get upset, it's all on you!

Immaculately dressed Showbiz Spitfire Paige Turner appeared on stage wearing a tall blonde wig, a pink bow, and a piece of jewelry around her neck spelling out her name "PAIGE" just in case you forgot whose show you were at. Just as Pinky (in Pinky & The Brain) shouted out "SNARF" without notice, Paige's Tourette Syndrome's Tic was vocalizing the word "SLURP!" without explanation. An audience member explained to me later he believes slurp has the double-meaning of Paige wanting to slurp up all the good-looking men around her as well as having the secondary meaning of wanting to slurp up cum that may come her way. Paige Turner's Match.com online name is allegedly PussyLips69 and she warns you that if someone says in their profile "anything goes," they are not talking about the musical!

She told an elaborate story about how earlier in the day, she found herself in Jersey City trying to help her friend Darlene pick out a wedding dress when her car broke down near a Waffle House. Some guys offered her a ride back to New York City in their "Tour Bus" which turned out to be a "Bait Bus." Still, she made it back in time for her show. Of course, you would expect a show about a blonde to contain a number of jokes about how stupid blondes can be. There was no exception to that rule here. She confessed her "lifetime goal is to become a veterinarian - because she loves children." She also asked if we knew "why the blonde went up on the roof." The answer is "because someone told her drinks were on the house." 

Paige told us she was brought up in Indiana in a town outside Gary and once sold Mary Kay products. She reported that her dad is in heaven and her mom is in hell. But her fondest memories as a young girl were sharing sexual intimacies with her uncle, which are explained in the song parody "My Uncle's Mushroom Head." Unfortunately, her uncle "went to prison." She doesn't know the exact details but believes it had something to do with "a weird misunderstanding involving the Boy Scouts." We saw a video of Paige Turner, while at a Frozen convention in New Jersey, using "a love potion" (as the bartender said, "it worked for Bill Cosby, didn't it") to seduce two hot young men into having Double Penetration sex with her. Before slipping roofies into their drinks, she tried stalking them in a more traditional manner but it turned out she was barking up the wrong tree. The hotel room she had identified as theirs actually was the heterosexual lair of James V. Allerdyce (a Board of Director Member of the Beaux Arts Society, Inc.) who was occupying the room with a young woman who appeared to be his girlfriend.

After all these random sexual encounters, Paige Turner finally realized she needed therapy but under Obamacare, it turned out her assigned therapist was also her dentist. She decided instead to confess to a priest at a Roman Catholic Church that had a Gift Shop. She figured if it didn't work out with the priest, she could go shopping - perhaps even buy a "do-it-yourself crucifixion kit." Paige confessed to the priest she was stalking a boy at Chipotle - Jorge the Latin Boy. The priest actually gave her the confidence to introduce herself to Jorge and it turned out the feelings of attraction were mutual. Unfortunately, in the end, Paige had to break up with Jorge because he had an extreme case of flatulence brought on by his eating the beans in the meals of Chipotle three times a day. It almost asphyxiated her!

During this show about confessions, Paige Turner revealed that, at times, she has lowered herself to handing out flyers for her own show in Times Square. Her initial observation was that she was probably the only character there who was a professional actor, but in retrospect, she realizes she was the only person there who wasn't an illegal alien. Paige discusses her concern about her F.U.P.A. (Fat Upper Pussy Area) before diving into a song parody entitled, "My Pussy - Just A Friendly Little Cat," wherein she speaks about her "wet, hot, bald, sore & free pussy" before warning the audience that "pussy will get you into trouble every time!"  

At one point during the evening, Paige Turner says she has locked the doors to the room and that what happens from that point on will be between "you, me and Facebook." She proceeds to identify Unicorns & Ponies (tops and bottoms) in the room and hands out "lollipops" some of which have black bottoms. Those lucky enough to get a black bottom received a special gift. I got Claude The Crab and was told I can say "I got crabs at the Paige Turner show." 

Paige Turner: Confessions Of An Un-Natural Blonde is a high-energy, madcap variety show filled with intelligent song parodies, interesting videos, and rapid fire comedy skits. Paige even has a magic wand she will wield to place you under her spell. When you see a Paige Turner show, hold on to your Joy Stick and be prepared for the ride of your life! 

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Applause! Applause! Review of Carol Shedlin's Romance In The Dark at Don't Tell Mama by Kathy Towson

This review of Carol Shedlin's Romance In The Dark at Don't Tell Mama was written by Kathy Towson and published in Volume X, Issue 6 (2016) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Romance In The Dark

Performed by Carol Shedlin
Musical Direction (& Piano) by Jon Delfin
Bass Accompaniment by Boots Maleson
Don't Tell Mama (The Brick Room) 
343 West 46th Street
New York, New York 10036
Reviewed 4/7/16 

The evening began with Ms. Shedlin jumping right into "When Lights Are Low" (by Benny Carter & Spencer Williams) and she cleverly used lyrics about the band to introduce her band of Jon Deflin (the musical director) on piano, and Boots Maleson on bass, who would prove flawless and perfect accompaniment throughout the evening. Her years seemed to slip away as we were transported back in time when she recaptures the persona of a young (and sometimes "naughty" girl) inviting us to take a drive in the convertible, as she sings into the night air, or dances across the floor with some handsome beau under the pink lights, through renditions of "Sweet & Low Down" (by George & Ira Gershwin from Tip Toes), "Doin' The Low Down" (Jimmy McHugh & Dorothy Fields from Lew Leslie's Blackbirds), and "Out Of My Dreams" (by Rogers & Hammerstein from Oklahoma). She could even teach the young ladies of today a thing or two about how to truly capture being sexy, with nuanced subtle gestures that match the essence of the lyrics in "Close Your Eyes" (Bernice Petkere).

She painted a memorable picture of her early years and made me wish I was back in the day where young ladies did dress in crinoline petticoats, were taken to Fifth Avenue Tea Dances, and danced at The Plaza and to music on the phonograph - she shared in these stories a beautiful, elegant and simpler time, leading into "My Favorite Song" (by Mosse Charlap & Jack Gold) and "The Music Stopped" (by Jimmy McHugh & Harold Adamson from Higher & Higher), with a very smooth musical segway into "It Only Happens When I Dance With You" (by Irving Berlin from Easter Parade). 

Her comedic abilities were very evident when she talked about dating an "older fella - all of 26" and that, although she was an astronomy student, she doubted whether it was truly the contemplation of the stars that were his priority when they went to the "park," leading into "No Moon At All" (by Redd Evans & Dave Mann). She then followed this in sequence with "But In The Morning, NO!" with some of her own new lyrics (very funny indeed) to this Cole Porter song. She also gave a very sultry rendition of "Street Of Dream" (by Victor Young & Sam Lewis) and took the entire audience down a beautiful, picturesque memory of dancing at the Glen Island Casino in a beautiful ballroom as the girl who never left the prom, leading into the timeless "Moonlight Serenade" (by Glenn Miller & Mitchell Parish). Given the length of the program, I would have cut the other numbers from the show. 

On one end of the spectrum, there are cabaret performers whose careers are just beginning. They might be trying out new material and looking for the right mix of patter to put together a coherent show with an interesting storyline. On the other end of that spectrum are performers who are in the later years of their careers whose vocal abilities have changed but who still do shows because they love to perform before family and close friends who provide them with unlimited and uncritical love and support. Although I was impressed with the solid and believable connection Ms. Shedlin had to all her songs and wonderful stories, this sentiment was completely overshadowed by her vocal range, being unable to meet the challenges of her difficult selections, with the exception of her final song (and the title of the show), "Romance In The Dark" (by Lil Green), which suited her perfectly in tone and pitch. Although I felt the musical selections did not suit her voice, her enthusiastic friends and colleagues gave this "Grande Dame" a standing ovation.

Given the current state of her vocal abilities, I found myself hoping that, at some point in the future, Ms. Shedlin would create an entire non-musical evening of a more in-depth recalling of her full and fascinating life, since she is obviously the consummate story-teller, thereby playing more to her strengths as an actress than as a singer. Carol Shedlin shared the advice she received from the late Julie Wilson "over burgers at Joe Allen's." Ms. Wilson told her, "Do it for the passion and just have fun!", which is exactly what Carol Shedlin is doing with this show. There will be three more performances of Carol Shedlin's Romance In The Dark on Tuesday, April 12th, Monday, April 18th, and Thursday, April 21st, all at 7:00 p.m. Call 212-757-0788 for reservations 4-9 p.m. There is a $12.00 cover and two drink minimum. No credit cards accepted. 

Friday, April 8, 2016

Applause! Applause! Review of Robert Penn Warren's All The King's Men at The Heights Players' John Bourne Theater by Dr. Philip Ernest Schoenberg

This review of Robert Penn Warren's All The King's Men at The Heights Players' John Bourne Theater was written by Dr. Philip Ernest Schoenberg and published in Volume X, Issue 6 (2016) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

All The King's Men
Written by Robert Penn Warren
Directed by Ed Healy
The Heights Players' John Bourne Theater
26 Willow Place
Brooklyn, New York 11201
Reviewed 4/3/16

I recently had the opportunity to see All The King's Men performed by The Heights Players in Brooklyn Heights, New York. It is a political fable that has enduring relevance since this version was first performed in 1959 written by the author based upon his 1946 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. The book (rated the 36th greatest novel of the 20th century by Modern Library), was adapted for film in 1949 and 2006. It's title All The King's Men has been suspected by many to have been drawn from the nursery rhyme Humpty Dumpty. The novel was inspired by the career of Louisiana Governor Huey Long, who posed a great threat to Franklin D. Roosevelt's re-election in 1936 (that is, until Long's assassination). With his untimely passing, no one could step into his shoes and regain the power he had as state-wide political boss. For decades, politics in Louisiana was divided by whether you were for or against Huey Long. Earl Long, Huey's brother, served as Governor from 1939-1940, 1948 to 1952, and 1956 to 1960. The colorful "Uncle Earl" (so-named because of his relatives, including nephew and United States Senator Russell Long) once joked that "one day the people of Louisiana would elect 'good government' and they won't like it!" 

Notably absent from the staging of the play was the flag of the state of Louisiana. I believe that was a good decision. Huey Long was too big for any one state to hold him and he and his quandary is a universal one: Do the ends justify the means? He may have been a crook but he was a crook in the service of the people. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (another "crook" similar to Willie Stark who tried to pack the Supreme Court and use the power of his office to hurt and punish his enemies) not only kept Governor Huey Long out of the implementation of his "New Deal" programs but also sicked the IRS on him. Their investigation into Long came up empty-handed; remarkable given Huey Long's alleged reputation for being corrupt. 

The issue discussed between the two most notable characters, Willie Stark, ably played by Bill Barry, as the aspiring politician, and Jack Burden, who becomes a political operative in Willie Stark's service, equally well-acted by Terry Ellison, debate whether one can really be "an honest politician" or whether you have to get yourself dirty in order to do good in the long-run. Both pay a deep price. Stark is killed through the machinations of a jealous mistress and Burden finds it hard to face himself because he caused Judge Irwin, effectively portrayed by Raymond O. Wagner, to commit suicide. Judge Irwin, noted and respected for his honesty, accepted a bribe when he was Attorney General, and when Governor Stanton backed him up and refused to investigate the corruption, a man committed suicide. Judge Irwin buried the dirty deed deeply in his memory in the hope that doing good over a number of years would make up for his past indiscretions. When Jack Burden discovers the Judge's secret, it only reinforces in his mind Stark's view that no matter how good a person may appear on the outside, if you dig deep enough, you will find an evil or immoral deed he committed. Jack Burden not only now realizes this is true but the revelation results in personal collateral damage he finds difficult to bear along with another hidden indiscretion he learns from his mother after the Judge's death.

Willie Stark, in his first run for governor, is mugged by reality. He undergoes a metamorphosis from an aspiring, honest, idealistic lawyer who wants to serve the people, into "the Boss" - a charismatic politico who uses the power of his oratory to gain traction. Having learned from his political enemies, he outdoes them in political dirty tricks to become governor of the state. Just as Evita sang that "everything will be justified by my foundation," Stark declares that everything will be justified by the hospital he intends to build for the people that will offer the very best medical care for free. Both die before their time without realizing their dreams but leave behind the masses that adore them and await their next savior. In my opinion, the rest of the cast was equally well-chosen and their acting helped transform the novel into a lively, morality play. 

The set design (Gary VanderPutten), the lighting design (Leo J. Contrino), and the costume design (Mykel Frank & James Martinelli) were all professionally done. Ed Healy's marvelous direction was able to bring the novel to life with a cast of only fifteen people. Where the original movie needed hundreds of extras for the political rallies, Ed Healy was able to accomplish the same task with only two or three people playing the crowd. The set design brought us from a humble farm kitchen to a local bar to a country mansion and more. You had no problem visualizing you were in a southern state sometime in the 1930s. All this was done with economy and a minimum of set pieces. 

In this crazy election year, The Heights Player's production of All The King's Men is a most appropriate offering enabling the audience to think about what they want to see in their political leaders. Without delay, make arrangements to go see it. For more information and to purchase tickets, call 718-237-2752 or visit http://www.heightsplayers.org/ 

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Applause! Applause! Review of Robert Penn Warren's All The King's Men at The Heights Players' John Bourne Theater by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Robert Penn Warren's All The King's Men at The Heights Players' John Bourne Theater was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 6 (2016) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

All The King's Men
Written by Robert Penn Warren
Directed by Ed Healy
The Heights Players' John Bourne Theater
26 Willow Place
Brooklyn, New York 11201
Reviewed 4/3/16

All The King's Men was a novel written by Robert Penn Warren in 1946. The book won the Pulitzer Prize in 1947 and a movie was made and released in 1949. That film won the Academy Award for Best Picture. Robert Penn Warren adapted the book for the stage in 1959 and the play, All The King's Men, enjoyed a five-week Off-Broadway run at the Seventy-Fourth Street Theater. There was also a 9-performance run of the show Off-Off-Broadway at the Equity Library Theater during the 1966-67 season. 

The central character in the play is Willie Stark (often referred to simply as "The Boss"), an idealistic lawyer who is fired as County Treasurer for not signing off on a corrupt contract to build a school that eventually causes the death of eight children because of the use of "rotten bricks." Apparently rewarded for being a "good government guy," Stark is nominated for Governor but later realizes he is simply being used as a pawn in a larger political game. He learns quickly and transforms himself into a charismatic candidate and powerful governor by embracing various forms of corruption, using patronage, making back-door deals, and intimidating/blackmailing his enemies into compliance. He is a realist and when accused by Judge Irwin of packing the Louisiana Supreme Court to get it to uphold the constitutionality of his legislation, he responds by saying, "All Courts are packed from the start. It just came my turn to pack it." Stark's view is that people would like to think they are pure and innocent, but that, in reality, there is always something that can be found in a person's past. Quoting from Calvinist theology regarding original sin, Stark says, "Man is conceived in sin and born in corruption, and he passeth from the stink of the didie to the stench of the shroud." In his view, "no one is pure and unblemished" and "no man is invulnerable to sin under the right circumstances." When his methods are criticized, he defends his ways by giving the example that "people love steak but they don't want to visit the slaughterhouse because there are men there who are mean to animals." This cynical viewpoint turns into a moral imperative for Willie Stark who believes "if you want something, you should be willing to pay the price necessary to get it." Otherwise, you are just a coward.

Willie Stark's character is often thought to have been inspired by the life of Huey P. Long, former governor of Louisiana and that state's United States Senator in the mid-1930s. Huey Long was at the zenith of his career when he was assassinated in 1935, just a month after declaring his intention to run against President Franklin Delano Roosevelt for the Democratic Presidential Nomination in 1936. Just a year earlier, Robert Penn Warren had begun teaching at Louisiana State University. Stark, like Long, was shot to death in the state capitol building by a physician, and the title of the book possibly came from Long's motto, "Every Man A King." In his introduction to the Modern Library edition, Warren did not deny that Long served as an influence or inspiration for Stark but clearly stated that "Willie Stark was not Huey Long. Willie [Stark] was only himself." Explaining further, Robert Penn Warren wrote, "The difference between the person Huey P. Long and the fictional Willie Stark, may be indicated by the fact that in the verse play [Proud Flesh] the name of the politician was Talos [Talus] - the name of the brutal, blank-eyed 'iron groom' of Edmund Spenser's late 16th century work The Fairie Queene, the pitiless servant of the knight of justice. My conception grew wider, but that element always remained, and Willie Stark remained, in one way, Willie Talos. In other words, Talos is the kind of doom that democracy may invite upon itself. The book, however, was never intended to be a book about politics. Politics merely provided the framework story in which the deeper concerns, whatever their final significance, might work themselves out."

The play asks the philosophical question whether the end justifies the means. If Willie Stark enabled The Tom Stark Memorial Hospital to be built (named after his son, an All-American who died due to brain trauma and paralysis suffered during a football game), is the hospital a "good" in and of itself if it provides free health care ("not as charity, but as a right") to all the citizens of the state? Does it matter what political deals had to be made to make the idea of the hospital into a reality? Do the people care what Willie Stark had to do to get new roads built or to raise taxes for improved public services? Should we take into account Governor Stark's motives? Does it matter if he is seeking political power for himself or is truly trying to improve the lives of his constituents? If those around him need to be shown the moral impurity within themselves and their family members in order to help Stark achieve his worthy goals, is it wrong for him to have shown them the darkness in order to get them to join him in building the hospital and to help him fight an impeachment attempt? These and other questions are addressed in the play.

This adaptation of All The King's Men shows us the rise and fall of a powerful political leader through multiple short vignettes presented over three acts. Bill Barry plays Willie Stark. The King's Men include three men and one woman. Terry Ellison is Jack Burden, an investigative reporter who does a lot of the Governor's dirty work as his personal aide (and believes the Boss means well and is trying to accomplish good results for the people); Steven Lerner, who is Sugar-Boy, a stutterer, and the Governor's personal bodyguard (who admires the way the Boss speaks); Joe Pacifico, who was extremely believable and excellent in the role of Lt. Governor Tiny Duffy; and Emily Mathis, who played Sadie Burke, the Governor's political advisor and mistress, who when thrown over after the Governor decides to return to a monogamous relationship with his wife Lucy, plots with Lt. Governor Duffy to spread a vicious rumor that directly leads to the Governor's assassination at the hands of Dr. Adam Stanton, played by Marc A. Hermann. Other actors included Raymond O. Wagner as Judge Irwin; Kerry Wolf as the Professor; Jesse Pimentel as Tom Stark; David Moseder as Frey/William Larsen; Dena Rysdam Miller as Anne Stanton; Natali De Assis as Jack Burden's mother; Chelsea Marie Logan as the Woman & Slade; and Geovanni Cedeno as the Man. All of the actors in this ensemble cast worked very well together and succeeded in putting on a production of All The King's Men that is engrossing and entertaining. The play, just under three hours, will hold your attention from the beginning to the end.

The 1930s was a decade that saw the rise of a number of strong leaders (e.g. Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, Francisco Franco, Franklin Delano Roosevelt), each that promised to serve the people. The fictional Willie Stark was one such man; a populist in the style of George Wallace and Donald Trump. Robert Penn Warren wrote the character as a man who was simply using the system as it was to do good for the people of Louisiana. He wrote with what I thought was admiration for the man who is willing to pay the price to achieve his goals. As Willie Stark said, "There's a lot that you'll never get if you wait until you're asked." The world will step aside for the man who knows where he is going. According to how this play is written, it is also evident that women like strong men of action who know what they want and have a plan to get it. Even though she loved Jack Burden, she rejected him for being too complacent and for not being out there in the world with "goals and purposes." So instead, Anne sleeps with Willie Stark and when he dumps her to return to his wife after his son died, she views this as a sign of weakness revealing that she "loved him for what he might have been." 

With the perspective that "truth is the last ambition," Stark directly confronts the legislature regarding Larsen (a corrupt general contractor), kick-backs, and pay-offs influencing its votes and decisions. Lt. Governor Duffy can smell the blood in the water recognizing that "the Governor isn't what he used to be - he no longer has the juice." That is why he agreed with Sadie's plan to spread the false rumor that Dr. Adam Stanton only got the appointment as Chief of Operations at The Tom Stark Memorial Hospital because his sister Anne was sleeping with the Governor, and in addition, that since the Governor blames him for not saving his son, he dumped his sister and plans to fire him from his position at the hospital. They leaked that story to the press resulting in Dr. Stanton killing Willie Stark, and Suger-Boy, in return, killing Dr. Stanton. After being blackmailed by Jack, Judge Irwin committed suicide instead of choosing to face his own past indiscretions, which apparantly included fathering Jack and then agreeing with his mother to keep it a secret from him. So much deception! So many people living and perishing in flame! 

All The King's Men is not a comedy but it is a very interesting play that will leave you with a lot to think about. I highly recommend you see it. Tickets cost $20.00 for adults; $18.00 for seniors and children under 18 years of age. It plays Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m. and on Sundays at 2:00 p.m. through April 17, 2016. For more information, call 718-237-2752 for reservations or visit http://www.heightsplayers.org/