Saturday, November 18, 2017

Applause! Applause! Review of Susan Gross' Ruby at The Bridge Theatre (Shelter Studios) by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Ruby at The Bridge Theatre (Shelter Studios) was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Written & Performed by Susan Gross
Directed by Jake Lipman
Stage Managed by Angeline Nortz
Featuring Song "Hudson Ferry" by Clayton Colwell
The Bridge Theatre (Shelter Studios)
244 West 54th Street
New York, New York 10019
Reviewed 10/22/17

Susan Gross is amazing in Ruby, a solo show which explores the emotional and intellectual reactions a woman may have after losing a baby. Many people have miscarriages but nobody talks about it. This show explores the topic from the perspective of the would-be mother. Ruby opens with Susan Gross sitting alone in an upscale restaurant eating a $15.00 salad. She is being annoyed by a baby who won't stop crying and eventually asks the mother to take the baby outside. When the mother resists and tells her she will understand when she has a baby, Susan loses it and calls the mother an "asshole" acknowledging to the audience her recognition that she is a bitch. But the problem, we learn, is that Susan has just had a miscarriage, losing a baby at 10-weeks she intended to call Ruby. This was an emotionally traumatic experience for her and she is hypersensitive to things her friends and strangers say to her. For example, it drives her nuts when someone tells her that her unborn baby is now "in a better place." Statements, actions, and situations that never bothered her before now get on her nerves. She finds it difficult to sleep and recognizes she is having thoughts and feelings she never anticipated having, such as her reaction to that crying baby.

Susan's character has a very petite frame. If she eats a big breakfast, she may show in a way others may perceive as evidencing her being pregnant. People have commented on this so many times, she is thinking of having a tee shirt made that reads, "Not pregnant but I shouldn't have had that everything bagel with cream cheese." Some people are even more aggressive placing the palm of their hand on her stomach and saying, "Are we pregnant?" What she wants to say in such instances is, "Take your fucking hands off me!" reflecting the rage she feels within. Instead, she just says no but warns the audience they should never, under any circumstances, "comment on a woman's stomach." Another thing that really bothers her is when a friend may ask her, "Susan, why don't you have kids? You'd make a great mother." What is she supposed to say besides thanks? Is she supposed to go into detail and tell everyone how hard she has tried? Perhaps she should reveal that she has never tried to avoid a pregnancy using Plan A or Plan B but has always been forced into using Plan D & C (Dilation & Curettage).

Women who have babies now annoy her. As she said, "My neighbor just had a baby so I hate her!" At night, when she hears that baby cry, she fantasizes she might be able to hold and comfort that baby better than her neighbor but at the same time, is concerned that if Ruby had been born, she may have inherited whatever genetic disorders she suffers from - such as celiac disease. She also hates women who appear to "push one out after every episode of Law & Order" and gets especially angry when a friend tells her, "You just have to wait and see what God has in store for you." Instead of waiting, she sometimes has thoughts of snatching someone else's baby after which she will say, "Yes, Jesus, I'm blessed. He's now mine!" Intellectually, she realizes she is not the only woman to have had a miscarriage but she shares with the audience that recognition hasn't helped her adjust to the reality of her situation. As she reflects on the future, she believes she may try again. For now, she has locked the door but hasn't put a deadlock on it. 

Susan Gross reflects that "we all struggle but we live and move along - we keep going" so for now, she is going to have "a glass of wine and look at the city" through her apartment window. I was extremely fortunate to have had the opportunity to see the very talented Susan Gross perform this show - and I did so while having a glass of wine myself. For more information about Ruby and Susan Gross, go to 

Friday, November 17, 2017

Applause! Applause! Review of Valerie David's The Pink Hulk at The Bridge Theatre (Shelter Studios) by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Valerie David's The Pink Hulk at The Bridge Theatre (Shelter Studios) was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

The Pink Hulk
One Woman's Journey To Find The Superhero Within
Written & Performed by Valerie David
Directed by Padraic Lillis
Stage Managed by Angeline Nortz
The Bridge Theatre (Shelter Studios)
244 West 54th Street
New York, New York 10019
Reviewed 10/22/17

The Pink Hulk is Valerie David's autobiographical story about her journey to become a two-time cancer survivor. A serious, depressing topic, no doubt, but Valerie David retrospectively finds humor in the situation relaying her desperate struggle to get laid before she "loses the girls." In 1999, she beat back Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. Cancer free for 15 years, the experience gave her a "lust for life," which contributed to her ignoring a 3-month old lump she felt in her breast. Encouraged by her friends, she went for a mammogram and biopsy in 2014 only to learn she had breast cancer and would require a lumpectomy, chemotherapy, and radiation. She faces friends who distance themselves from her, extreme loneliness (especially since she no longer had a boyfriend), and eventually comes to a point where she made a commitment to herself to go through this latest challenge stronger than she did the last time and on her own terms.

The funniest part of this one-woman show is when she describes the many men she contacted trying to get them to sleep with her prior to her going in for surgery. Her blunt honesty turned off a number of men and others she was attracted to, unfortunately, played for the other team. Valerie David finally found solace performing improv for the Cronuts at the Peoples Improv Theater, which allowed her to transform herself into anyone but her. Still, the horrible and painful consequences of the chemotherapy and radiation could not be ignored even though the lumpectomy was a complete success. She lost all her hair, prematurely went into menopause, and gained 30 pounds. She decided not to harvest her eggs so she had to additionally deal with the fact she was never going to have children. She describes how breast cancer was a direct attack on her status as a woman. As Valerie David put it, "The results of the cancer treatment damaged my self-confidence as a woman and destroyed my ability to feel attractive."

Two months after the last cancer treatment, she decided to train for and enter a bike marathon, which she viewed as an opportunity to show she had prevailed over this latest attack on her body. She summoned her strength and focused all the rage and anger she felt within (just like The Hulk) to finish the race, after which she proclaimed, "I beat you cancer! I won." Of course, there still remained her insecurity regarding her attractiveness but that was resolved by a campsite encounter with a younger man who told her her breasts were beautiful. Confidence restored, Valerie David, who has the talent of a Broadway star, decided to write this show to share her experiences with others and to help people understand and empathize with what their friends diagnosed with cancer may be going through. 

The Pink Hulk began touring the country in 2016 and Valerie David began accumulating awards for this extraordinarily moving, candid, and insightful show. She was awarded the Queen's Medal For Valour by the Sara-Solo Festival, and the Best Survivor Award in the Pittsburgh Fringe. I highly recommend you see this show when it comes to your city. The Pink Hulk is a 60-minute experience you will not soon forget. For more information, go to 

Applause! Applause! Review of Lizzie Sider & Friends at The Triad Theatre by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Lizzie Sider & Friends at The Triad Theatre was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Lizzie Sider & Friends
Starring Lizzie Sider
Musical Director: Joe Vulpis
Keys & Vocals: Joe Vulpis
Acoustic Guitar: Jim Gateley
Cajon: Tyler Killer 
The Triad Theatre
158 West 72nd Street
New York, New York 10023
Reviewed 11/4/17

Lizzie Sider, a native Floridian who was born and raised in Boca Raton, was originally scheduled to perform at The Metropolitan Room but due to its closure in anticipation of re-opening at a new location, her show, Lizzy Sider & Friends, was hosted at The Triad Theatre. There was no cover charge and all monies collected or donated went to benefit Lizzie's Anti-Bullying Non-Profit Organization called Nobody Has The Power To Ruin Your Day, something said to her by her father when she was a young girl being bullied herself. Those who were lucky enough to be in attendance got the opportunity to see this wholesome, talented, charming, charismatic, 19-year-old rising star who is becoming increasingly well-known and already has a huge following worldwide. She sang an eclectic mix of songs including her debut single, "Butterfly" (written by Lizzie along with renowned artist and songwriter Jamie O'Neal, lyricist Lisa Drew, and Jimmy Murphy), which has received over one million views on YouTube. She was also named an "Artist To Watch" by Country Music Association's Close-Up Magazine and a "Top 5 Female Country Newcomer." She has appeared on Entertainment Tonight, Access HollywoodFox News, Crook & Chase, The Better Show, the Queen Latifah Show and Hallmark's Home & Family. Lizzie finished off the day performing at the 111th Annual Beaux Arts Ball held at Terrace On The Park, where she sang "Butterfly" and performed a duet with Charlie Romo, a local rising star out of Staten Island, who was recently named a Distinguished Artist of the Beaux Arts Society, a non-profit arts organization founded in1857.

Lizzie has personally taken her Bully Prevention School Assembly Tour to more than 500 schools throughout the country reaching over 250,000 students. Her latest project is an on-screen video adaptation of her live assembly that is offered to schools for free and stresses the importance of everyone standing up to stop bullying. To date, more than 5,000 schools, representing over 3,500,000 children from all fifty states and beyond, have requested the video package. Lizzie is committed to being a positive role model for kids and is proud to be a spokesperson for organizations such as PACER Teens Against Bullying, GWEN (Global Women's Empowerment Network) and from whom she has received the "Peter Yarrow Hatebreaker Award" for her work in bully prevention. In her spare time, she has performed over 20 National Anthems at Major League sporting events (including for the Nashville Predators, Miami Marlins, Florida Panthers, Baltimore Orioles, Los Angeles Dodgers & Boston Red Sox), and her second single release and music video, "I Love You That Much" (music and lyrics by Joe Vulpis), charted in the Top 40 on Nashville's Music Row Chart. Because of the immense connection she feels towards young children, Lizzie has performed at Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital, the Ronald McDonald House, and the Children's Hospital Los Angeles. In Nashville, she has performed at the famous Bluebird Cafe, Hard Rock Cafe, Bridgestone Arena, and City Winery.

Original songs and covers were featured during her extremely entertaining show. Joe Vulpis, her musical director, provided backup vocals and even performed himself during a costume change break. Lizzie Sider can sing in a variety of different styles and carried each off without a hitch. If you catch one of her shows, you will hear everything from Ain't No Sunshine to Walking After Midnight. She even added a medley of Carole King songs. Her love of country-western music came from spending her summers in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Besides being a singer/songwriter, Lizzie Sider is also an actress and dancer. During the 2015 Summer Season at the Jackson Hole Playhouse, she played Martha in Seven Brides For Seven Brothers, and most recently, she closed out the 2016 Summer Season as Cat Ballou in the original musical adaptation of The Ballad Of Cat Ballou. Also in 2016, her original song, "Summer Love Song," also performed in this show, was featured as the opening track of the Hallmark Original Movie, A Time To Dance, starring Jennie Garth and Corbin Bernsen.

Lizzie Sider was impeccably dressed and fed off the positive energy of the audience in this sold-out show. She utilized the small stage to great effect moving around on it and off it when appropriate. She played the guitar and the piano and sang solo and duets with Joe Vulpis, her supportive long-time musical director. Lizzie brought positive energy and an optimistic attitude into the room leaving everyone with a smile on their face and the belief that even you may be able to spread your little butterfly wings to achieve your own dreams. She reminded everyone that "we are all so beautiful and confident at our core." Never give anyone the power to ruin your day! To see where Lizzie Sider is performing next, visit her website at For more information or to donate to her Anti-Bulling Charity, visit

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The Schoenberg Spotlight Review of Murder On The Orient Express by Dr. Philip Ernest Schoenberg

This review of Murder On The Orient Express was written by Dr. Philip Ernest Schoenberg and published in the online edition of The Schoenberg Spotlight.

Murder On The Orient Express
Directed by Kenneth Branagh
Screenplay by Michael Green
Music by Patrick Doyle
Cinematography by Haris Zambarloukos
Edited by Mick Audsley
Release Date - 11/10/17 (United States)
Reviewed 11/10/17

On opening day, I watched the latest cinematic version of Murder On The Orient Express. I viewed the movie only to discover I liked the movie trailers better than the film itself. The only part of the picture I liked was the cinematic portrayal of the train in all its glory leaving Istanbul and speeding through the countryside. I asked myself why I was disappointed with the current motion picture. 

First, I ruled out that occupations and nationalities of some of the characters had been changed to reflect the more multicultural nature of the audience. Leslie Odom's logical connection to the Armstrong family was well-explained although he is an African doctor who was not original to the novel.

Rather, there was a major change of the interplay between the characters. Hercule Poirot lacked the doctor and director of the Orient Express railroad company at his side where he had interplay with them as he investigated the case and explained some of his findings. As a result, there was no tension as he interrogated his suspects.

The 2017 celluloid had as almost a distinguished cast as the 1974 film but alas their performances were not as convincing as their counterparts a generation earlier. The 2017 crew gave wooden performances in which you did not quite believe who they were in contrast to the 1974 actors who really gave smashing performances. Although Kenneth Branagh's version of the Belgian detective spoke a more understandable English and had a better mustache in the 2017 picture. Albert Finney gave the more credible performance in 1974. I felt that the 1974 cast of well-known international actors such as Ingrid Bergman and Sean Connery were far more believable than the 2017 roster of superstars headed by Johnny Depp and Judi Dench. I also felt that Sidney Lumet in 1974 had a better version of how to do the novel as a movie than Kenneth Branagh did in 2017. 

I am not going to give away the ending but the 2017 resolution was different than that in the 1974 movie and Agatha Christie's novel. The 2017 ending simply does not work. You don't feel justice has been served or that the moral sensibility of Hercule Poirot has been satisfied. Although Roslyn Sulcus in her New York Times review praised the epic, she did write that English critics felt quite different from their counterparts in America. "Despite its credentials - and impeccable styling -  this Orient Express never gets up a head of steam," Robbie Collin wrote in The Telegraph, adding, "a shade more playfulness would have gone a long way."

In short, you believed you were traveling on the Orient Express in the 1974 movie but not in the 2017 film. You simply aren't able to suspend your disbelief that you were on a train in the current version. In the end, I felt the 2017 Murder On The Orient Express was not worth watching.

Applause! Applause! Review of Valerie David's The Pink Hulk at The Bridge Theatre (Shelter Studios) by Christopher M. Struck

This review of Valerie David's The Pink Hulk at The Bridge Theatre (Shelter Studios) was written by Christopher M. Struck and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

The Pink Hulk
Written & Performed by Valerie David
The Bridge Theatre (Shelter Studios)
244 West 54th Street
New York, New York 10019
Reviewed 10/24/17

Valerie David performed her frank, direct, and vibrant one-woman show excellently. As she discussed her path to beating a second bout of cancer, we are reminded of the major milestones of life and the importance of forging strong personal relationships. Unfortunately, in Valerie David's case, some of those relationships dissolved while others were strengthened as she transformed from a frightened, though defiant woman struck by cancer, into a strong, determined fighter who feeds off her anger like a "Pink Hulk."

Through a loose connection to Mark Ruffalo, the current Marvel green man, David gained strength to fight with her anger at having been struck with this deadly affliction a second time. She talks about the disruption that cancer caused, the damage it did to her physically and how it altered her life. When she once had a promising career as an actress and friends she thought were there for her, things changed drastically after the onset of cancer. Her career and friendships took an entirely different route. The physical parts were stark and real. The pain and loneliness were understandably striking and uncomfortable. Her story will move and inspire you.

What resonated the most was her intense drive and desire to participate in a bike marathon even though her body was still suffering from the effect of her "cure." She made the decision to race as an "FU" to the pain and weight gain that came with the disease for her. She was determined to handle things better the second time around, and she definitely did. That moment when she crossed the finish line was a victory for her and for cancer patients everywhere. The courage it took was a testament to the strength of an individual.

Her vulnerability and ability to share and communicate clearly the worries of love and life associated with her struggles made this one-woman show a worthwhile venture. I would recommend it to anyone but especially to women. A large part of the show does seem to be more relevant to the opposite gender, but the struggle to become a cancer survivor is something all people can relate to. If you want to see how someone successfully transforms tragedy into metamorphosis, this is the perfect opportunity.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Applause! Applause! Review of Arden/Everywhere: The "As You Like It" Project at Baruch Performing Arts Center by Christopher M. Struck

This review of Arden/Everywhere: The "As You Like It" Project at Baruch Performing Arts Center was written by Christopher M. Struck and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Arden/Everywhere: The "As You Like It" Project
Written by William Shakespeare (As You Like It)
Conceived, Adapted & Directed by Jessica Bauman
Produced by Lico Whitfield
Stage Manager: Kristine Schlachter
Set Design: Gabriel Hainer Evansohn
Lighting Design: Christina Watanabe
Sound Design: Matt Otto
Costume Design: Nicole Slaven
Props Design: Zach Serafin
Movement Director: Brandon Powers
Fighting Scenes Director: Carmen Lacavita
Casting Director: Judy Bowman
Baruch Performing Arts Center (BPAC)
55 Lexington Avenue
New York, New York 10010
Reviewed 10/20/17

Arden/Everywhere: The "As You Like It" Project appeared at first glance to be an original production about immigration, but it is, in fact, Shakespeare's As You Like It with some additional scenes involving refugees also living in the Forest of Arden. The classic comedy about people who find themselves exiled and living in the forest is expanded to take a broader look at the world of dislocation to discover resilience, reconciliation, and love. The immigrant experience is portrayed in sidebars taking place during scene changes. The eventual climax is a Tower of Babel "happening" at which time multiple immigrants tell their individual story in different languages at the same time. The ensemble cast of immigrant actors who play the refugees who live in the Forest of Arden, include Ali Arkane (Lebanese-American), Murodilla Fatkhullaev (Uzbekistan), Ale Mesa (Cuban-American), Denisse Jimenez (Columbia), Anton Kurdakov (Russia), Jorge Pluas (Ecuador), and George Tarr (Liberia). They bring to Arden a unique world that includes their own individual cultures (dress/music) as well as the international language of soccer. Their days are spent filling jugs at a water pump and checking a Bulletin Board in the hope that some country has decided to allow them entry. 

For the most part, this was a straightforward production of Shakespeare with little deviation, except at the end, when only the nobility gets visas to return to Court. This being my first viewing of this particular Shakespeare Comedy, I was interested given the fact that this is the play that features the soliloquy which includes the famous "All the world's a stage" line. This was delivered effectively and enthusiastically by Tommy Schrider, whose character otherwise didn't seem to play a significant role in the play. Unfortunately, his lamentations as one of the "parade" of interesting characters living in the forest are undercut to some extent by the influx of refugees that interrupted the natural fluidity to that particular aspect of the play. Fortunately, this cast included a number of talented actors, even though some of the performances were lackluster.

The acting duo of Helen Cespedes as Rosalind and Liba Vaynberg as Celia was fun to observe. The two of them made this play worth watching as they laughed with each other and interacted wonderfully. Basically, the play is about Helen's Rosalind (the daughter of a banished Duke) running off to the Forest of Arden dressed as a man with her childhood friend Celia after being banished by Celia's father, the "New Duke." Similar to Candide, the play makes fun of the way leadership changes often took place without the death of the rival leader leaving opportunity for rebellion. 

Complicating things is the character and parallel story of Orlando (Anthony Cason Jr.) who defeats the New Duke's champion fighter and coincidentally follows them into the forest when he must escape his brother's wrath. I wasn't as enthused by Cason's performance as Orlando, but he enunciated clearly and performed adequately. Part of it was that beside the fantastic Cespedes, he just didn't shine. Having fallen in love with Orlando, Rosalind, dressed as a man, convinces the infatuated Orlando to act like he is winning her hand while believing she is a "he." The whole "love affair" captured the audience, because Cespedes did a fantastic job lamenting on the travails and trials of love. Even more so during her cross-gender portion, Cespedes raised the level of this production. However, Cespedes and Vaynberg weren't the only actors giving impressive performances. Dennis Kozee played the role of Touchstone, the fool, very well, and Kenneth De Abrew made a convincing impression as Corin, a merchant in the forest. The combination of these two balanced out the cast which otherwise seemed overshadowed by the strengths of Cespedes and Vaynberg. Additionally, Dikran Tulaine made a fun combination of New and Old Duke. 

From my perspective, Arden/Everywhere: The "As You Like It" Project was worth the time to see. The set and lighting were of the highest quality and the revised play made important points regarding refugees and their collective experiences. Jessica Bauman has been developing Arden/Everywhere: The "As You Like It" Project for almost three years. For more information about The "As You Like It" Project, visit  

Applause! Applause! Review of The Elephant Man at The Gallery Players by Christopher M. Struck

This review of The Elephant Man at The Gallery Players was written by Christopher M. Struck and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

The Elephant Man
Written by Bernard Pomerance
Directed by Mark Gallagher
Executive Producer: Mark Harborth
Director of Production: Scott Cally
Production Stage Manager: Katelyn Kocher
Lighting & Video Designer: Heather Crocker
Costume Designer: Joey Haws
Scenic Designer: Matthew S. Crane
Props Designer: Roxanne Goodby
Original Music Composition: Jacob Subotnick
The Gallery Players
199 14th Street
Brooklyn, New York 11215
Reviewed 11/5/17

The Gallery Players strikes the right note with this production of the recently successful Broadway revival. The Elephant Man originally premiered at the Hampstead Theatre in London on November 7, 1977. It opened on Broadway at the Booth Theatre in 1979 where it ran for 916 performances and won the Tony Award for Best Play. A Broadway revival at the Royale Theatre in April 2002 ran for 57 performances. A 13-week run of The Elephant Man starring Bradley Cooper opened at the Booth Theatre on December 7, 2014, earning Cooper, who appeared as John Merrick, a Tony nomination for Best Actor. The story is based on the life of Joseph Merrick, referred to in the script as John Merrick, who lived in the Victorian Era and was known for the extreme deformity of his body. The role of John Merrick in the play is a challenging and emotional one as the actor is tasked with contorting his body, throwing his voice, and delving into a character whose deformities have left him devoid of meaningful human contact. M. Rowan Meyer excels in the role, shining amongst an impressive cast.

The Elephant Man, John Merrick, a horribly disfigured man, was found by Frederick Treves, a promising young doctor, at a freak show. Adam Unze was simply awesome as this internally torn individual who finds himself both Merrick's only champion and protector but also put into a morally compromising position by the fame Merrick later gains (for both Treves and himself). After enduring being cast out and savagely beaten, Merrick is eventually reunited with Treves and after a successful fundraising campaign is allowed to live a life of comparable peace in the London Hospital with Treves as caretaker.

Dr. Treves has difficulty finding someone who will assist in helping him take care of Merrick who despite being cleaned up, even scares off a nurse who has worked with plague victims across the world. It is up to the wonderful, loving actress, Mrs. Kendal, brought to life by the equally talented real-life actress, Elisabeth Preston, to bond with Merrick. This is really where the emotional toll of the earlier sequences of the play develop further as Preston, Merrick, and Kendal pontificate on the construction of identity, the search for meaning in life, and the stark reality of Merrick's impossible search for normalcy. Perhaps most moving is Merrick's discussion of selflessness and love as he contemplates his own loneliness compared to the vanity of youth in Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet. Eventually, the story comes full circle with the unavoidable death of Merrick in 1890, only four years after his return to the hospital. The afflictions he has borne since birth eventually kill him through suffocation as his head collapses his neck.

The three actors already mentioned were supported by the talented group of Daniel Damiano, Alfred Gingold, Christopher Romero Wilson, Brooke DeAnna Robinson, and Jesi Mullens. Most memorable of these characters is, in my opinion, Gingold's representation of Francis Carr-Gomm, Treves' employer, the chairman of the London Hospital. Carr-Gomm is such a key character at every moment that he joins the stage because he appears at key turning points and simultaneously creates a perspective of respect for life and contriteness about death. Despite these positive attributes (including his having led the fundraising campaign that allowed John Merrick to live out his days in the safe environment of the London Hospital), the cast, during the after show talk-back, gave him (the character) a hard time for his efficient (though not emotional) letter written on behalf of Merrick after his death. I am not certain I understood their perspective, but Gingold plays the role well. 

If you get a chance to see this or any play put on by The Gallery Players, I am sure you will enjoy it. Tickets, $30.00 for adults, and $20.00 for seniors/students can be purchased online at or by calling 212-352-3101. 

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Applause! Applause! Review of The Mecca Tales at The Sheen Center For Thought & Culture by Christopher M. Struck

This review of The Mecca Tales at The Sheen Center For Thought & Culture was written by Christopher M. Struck and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

The Mecca Tales
Written by Rohina Malik
Directed by Kareem Fahmy
Set Design by David Esler
Costume Design by Teresa Snider-Stein
Lighting Design by Devorah Kengmana
Sound Design by Fan Zhang
Technical Direction by Anthony Ross
Stage Managed by Keri Landeiro
Choreography by Theara J. Ward
The Sheen Center For Thought & Culture
18 Bleecker Street
New York, New York 10012
Reviewed 10/29/17

The Mecca Tales shares the five very divergent, diverse, and humanizing perspectives of unique, but representative Muslim women participating in a Hajj Pilgrimage. While the tensions among them rise and each woman came to this holy journey for a significant and particular purpose, nothing was beyond normality. These were five very normal stories of five very normal women from around the world who just happened to be Muslim. I think that was largely the point of the entire project: to show people that Muslims are just people too. What was nicer about the play was that it was relatable and entertaining to watch. Yes, there were some moments when the actors were limited by the boundaries of unrealistic or uncreative dialogue. Regardless, they were thoroughly convincing to the point that I believed all the actors must be doing this play out of a religious desire to absolve the religion of the misconceptions of secular evil. It turns out only one of the cast members was actually Muslim or of Islamic origin. Kudos to everyone for being a serious actor and acting the part.

The five women included Grace (Kimberly S. Fairbanks), the group's New York-based organizer and guide; Maya (Mariam Habib), a refugee from an undisclosed Middle Eastern country; Malika (Jade Radford), a medical student from a single-parent household; Alma (Cynthia Bastidas), a woman from Argentina whose husband is British; and Bina (Gulshan Mia), a well-off Pakistani housewife married to a successful neurosurgeon. Each of these women has their own reasons for having decided to join this travel group, which the audience learns about through flashbacks. They all hope to return "purified" from this "pilgrimage" and while they are no doubt devout Muslims making the journey for religious reasons, it doesn't prevent them from sporting "2017 Pilgrimage Tote Bags." From being turned away from their pre-paid tents by Saudi Arabian authorities to the final gesture of having a believer cut a lock of their hair and burying it in the sand, The Mecca Tales projects an air of authenticity as the group struggles with emotional issues of grave concern to them.

The Hajj Pilgrimage is one of the five pillars of Islam and is meant to be performed once in the life of every Muslim. Every year, millions make the annual trek to see Mecca, which can be physically and financially demanding. Obscurity about the event and the required religious elements exists only because the specifics of the significant aspects of the trip are rarely highlighted in a brief summary of Islam. The Mecca Tales does a good job of describing or at least highlighting the various religious traditions that are meant to be completed while undertaking the Hajj. The actresses also emphasized that there should be both a purpose for undertaking the Hajj as well as a focus on the purity of one's intentions and faith for it to be "accepted."

The main dramatic arch of the play focuses on the acceptance of the ladies' Hajj. Their guide on the trip, Grace (Kimberly S. Fairbanks) is tasked with helping the women find their way while undertaking her own Hajj for the 10th time. While the women work through their various challenges, it becomes clear that Grace has some unfinished business on the Hajj. Her own business is probably the most "painful" given that it is the main one that dwells on death. Still, while most of the women's experiences are not excruciatingly painful, they are still important life challenges. Things such as never kissing a truly significant loved one or whether life will go on if one accepts her husband's divorce proposal are for some characters as serious as losing one's lover after the end of a three-hour armistice.

Grace, on the other hand, never finished her first Hajj, because she lost her son on the trip. He died giving her a message to carry on, and it took the other women on this particular trip to make her realize that she could set aside those demons of the past by completing the pilgrimage. If nothing else, it was a touching moment. The cast had me convinced that they were serious and devout Muslims, but the definitive best performance was put in by Gulshan Mia as Bina. She played a tough character very well and brought a lot of needed energy to the early scenes.

In the end, I would hope that this play continues to be performed. I think even as a piece of contemporary women's fiction, it provides a platform for engaging conversations as exemplified by the discussion panel afterward.  Otherwise, it is a very easy way to learn just that little bit more about Islam. The Sheen Center is great at consistently bringing together solid performance pieces. The set and costume designs for this play were phenomenal. Keep on the lookout for more information about The Mecca Tales.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Applause! Applause! Review of Carole Demas & Sarah Rice in Thank You For Your Love: Our Celebration Of Tom Jones & Harvey Schmidt at The Laurie Beechman Theatre by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Carole Demas & Sarah Rice in Thank You For Your Love: Our Celebration Of Tom Jones & Harvey Schmidt at The Laurie Beechman Theatre was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Thank You For Your Love
Our Celebration Of Tom Jones & Harvey Schmidt
Starring Carole Demas & Sarah Rice
With Special Guest Hal Robinson
Directed by Charles Repole
Piano/Vocals: Joe Goodrich
Harp: Maria Banks
Arrangements: Sarah Rice, Carole Demas & Joe Goodrich
Sound & Visual Design: Stuart J. Allyn
Logo Design: Harvey Schmidt
The Laurie Beechman Theatre
407 West 42nd Street
New York, New York 10036
Reviewed 10/7/17

Carole Demas is a Broadway and TV Legend having originated the role of Sandy in Broadway's original production of Grease and her having starred for 12 years hosting The Magic Garden with Paula Janis. One of her thousands of leading role performances On and Off-Broadway included playing The Girl (Luisa) in The Fantasticks, a show with music by Harvey Schmidt and lyrics by Tom Jones. Carole Demas received many honors including having been designated a Distinguished Artist by the Beaux Arts Society, which was founded in 1857. Sarah Rice's resume is no less impressive. Stephen Sondheim and Harold Prince chose her to become part of musical theatre history when she was cast as the original Johanna in Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street for which she won a Theatre World Award. She originated the role of Marianne in a musical adaptation of The Miser, called Hang On To Your Ribbons, which led to her also being cast as The Girl in The Fantasticks. Sarah Rice won the 2011 MAC Award for Best Female Vocalist for her critically acclaimed solo cabaret debut show entitled Sarah Rice Sings Screen Gems. She was also designated a Distinguished Artist of the Beaux Arts Society and at the 109th annual Beaux Arts Ball held in 2015, she was coronated Princess and now serves as a member of the Royal Family of the internationally recognized Beaux Arts Society, a non-profit, charitable arts organization with members worldwide.

You may have heard of Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt, the songwriters of The Fantasticks and now you know that Carole Demas and Sarah Rice both played Luisa in that play but did you know both men are still alive and that Harvey Schmidt, who is also a Graphic Artist designed the logo for this tribute to their work.  (In this case, he didn't need to urinate on it to make it perfect.) Special Guest Hal Robinson, Sarah Rice's first El Gallo, recited the "Glen Speech" ("You wonder how these things begin...") with Sarah Rice accompanying him singing "Soon It's Gonna Rain" from The Fantasticks. This cabaret show's musical repertoire began with Musical Director Joe Goodrich and Harpist Maria Banks playing an overture of their work. Goodrich, who also provided vocals, often joined with Demas and Rice, to present "Everything Beautiful Happens At Night" (110 In The Shade), "Not My Problem" (Celebration), "Try To Remember" (The Fantasticks), "Celebration" (Celebration), and Feed 'Em Grits" (Time Staggers On). 

Carole Demas and Sarah Rice both have strong, beautiful voices that are still Broadway-quality. They sang a number of charming duets, which included "Wanderin' Child" (theme from Bad Company), "A Man & A Woman" (110 In The Shade), and "I Can See It" (The Fantasticks). Both these Broadway Stars also sang a few solo numbers. Carole Demas was impressive singing "Joy" (Collette) and "I Love His Face" (Philemon) while Sarah Rice impressed with "Old Maid" (110 In The Shade) and "Autumn At The Automat" (A Seasonal Sonata). When Tom Jones was a special guest on an earlier show, we learned he said he can still be sincere but "the older I get, the more I need to memorize my spontaneous remarks." When confronted with a compliment, we learned that Harvey Schmidt often says, "You lie. But you lie nice!" We also discovered that Sarah Rice worked on the original website for The Fantasticks and that she won an arts scholarship in Arizona but they wouldn't give it to her until she left town. Carole Demas, who appeared cold at one point, told the audience, "It's the diamonds. They get a little chilly in the winter." The climax of the show was Carole Demas, Sarah Rice, and John Goodrich singing "Thank You For Your Love" (Music by Harvey Schmidt, Lyrics by Tom Jones - 1960) and "My Cup Runneth Over" (Music by Harvey Schmidt, Lyrics by Tom Jones - 1966). The show was expertly directed by Charles Repole.

Carole Demas and Sarah Rice should be very proud of this show which introduces new generations to the brilliance and talent of Harvey Schmidt and Tom Jones. The show is also a hit because Carole Demas and Sarah Rice still have the right stuff to please audiences worldwide. To quote a line from Celebration, "I want to stay alive until the day I die." I strongly urge you to catch this entertaining and informative show. The day I went, Thank You For Your Love was sold out. In recognition of that fact, Sarah Rice thanked the audience telling them, "It's so much better when you're here!"

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Applause! Applause! Review of Don't Drink The Water at Studio Theatre Long Island by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Don't Drink The Water at Studio Theatre Long Island was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Don't Drink The Water
A Play by Woody Allen
Directed by Marian Waller
Set Design by Joe Rubino
Studio Theatre Long Island
141 South Wellwood Avenue
Lindenhurst, New York 11757
Reviewed 10/27/17

Don't Drink The Water premiered on Broadway at the Morosco Theatre on November 17, 1966. It moved to the Ethel Barrymore Theatre on January 22, 1968, and finally to the Belasco Theatre on March 25, 1968, eventually closing on April 20, 1968, after 598 performances. While Woody Allen contributed material for the 1960 Broadway musical revue From A To Z, this was his first professionally produced play. In this comedic farce, a crude caterer, Walter Hollander, from Newark, New Jersey travels with his wife Marion and daughter Susan to an unnamed Eastern European country behind the Iron Curtain. While there, Walter attempts to take photographs of missile silos and rockets in a restricted area, is thought to be a spy, and is chased by the Communist Police and Krojack to the American Embassy, where he and his family take refuge. Chaos ensues, riots erupt, bombs are thrown, and the Hollanders are forced to attempt a daring escape in order to save their lives. They are aided in this effort by Father Drobney, a Priest who fancies himself a magician, and by Axel Magee, an incompetent diplomat who has been left in charge by his father, James F. Magee, the United States Ambassador. Axel likes the artist Jackson Pollock because "his paintings best express my mental state."  

Woody Allen's trademark style of humor is present in the writing throughout the play. It remains surprisingly fresh and entertaining. Walter, for example, is a caterer who was "the first to make bride grooms out of potato salad." His wife, Marion "is a professional Mahjong hustler who carries her own tiles." After they make out in the dark, Marion confronts Walter saying "you haven't hugged and kissed me like that in 25 years." He responds, "That was you?". While trapped in the American Embassy, Walter has mistaken a Pot Belly Stove for a mailbox, driven the Embassy Chef to the brink of insanity, insulted a Sultan, made fun of the Priest ("you know how it is with those guys; the one who suffers the most gets the promotion"), warned his son in a letter "when you get married, you give up happiness," and is concerned that if the Communists look at his wife's varicose veins during their attempted escape, they will think he is smuggling roadmaps. Mr. Kilroy, who is eventually put in charge, is hit in the head with a brick, gets a concussion, and thinks he is the Wright Brothers - both of them. Walter's response when Axel suggests they may need to bring him to the hospital is to say, "are you going to get him twin beds?" Finally, when Walter's catering partner served discounted meat at an affair causing four guests to get food poisoning, Marion suggests it could have been worse and that he should "be thankful nobody died," Walter hesitates for dramatic effect and then says, "Be Thankful Nobody Died! Yes, we're thinking of making that our slogan!"

A subplot involves Susan, the Hollander's 23-year-old daughter, who has just ended her engagement to Donald, a lawyer who her father liked but who was too boring for her taste. She seeks excitement and is sexually turned on by danger and peril. Given all the picketing and rioting outside the American Embassy, Axel Magee, a 30-year-old Yale graduate, becomes the beneficiary of the situation and finds himself with a girlfriend he never initially sought. Walter is upset his daughter "is kissing the failure" and even preferred a past boyfriend who was a draft dodger because "at least he was a success - he beat the draft." Axel Magee has the worst of luck. His mother is in Court trying to disown him, he defuses a bomb only to later see it go off, he clumsily comes on to Susan causing her to flee the room, is demoted by his own father, and is eventually reassigned to a post in South America - not to mention that Africa has banned him from holding any diplomatic post in any country on the continent. The good news is that, in the end, he saves Susan's life with the help of Father Drobney, although I doubt Susan will be content for long living with Axel in Bolivia.       

Don't Drink The Water at Studio Theatre Long Island features an amazingly talented cast. Gary Milenko, a professional actor and an audience favorite who has appeared in over 50 productions on Long Island, stole the show in the lead role of Walter Hollander. He incorporated a number of hilarious Jackie Gleason-style gestures into his performance (Jackie Gleason played Walter Hollander in the 1969 film of the same name). Evan Donnellan was extremely impressive as Axel Magee. He is an ever-youthful and charismatic actor, who can be relied upon to excel in a variety of roles. Also making his particular presence known in this production was Kevin Hansen, who played the Chef. His affectations were perfect for the role. Be forewarned - stay out of his kitchen and don't touch his spice rack! Eric Clavell was Mr. Kilroy, Scott McIntyre played Father Drobney, and Angelo DiBiase excelled as Krojack. All these actors, including W. Gordon Innes, who played the United States Ambassador, are regulars in the pool of high-quality actors populating the Long Island Theater scene. This play featured many such luminaries, causing one audience member to loudly comment during intermission, "There's a lot of ham on that stage!" Remaining cast members included Linda Rameizl as Marion, Jes Almeida as Susan, and Bill Quaresimo as Mr. Burns. Their substantial contribution to the success of the play cannot be understated.

Woody Allen's Don't Drink The Water will run at Studio Theatre Long Island through November 12, 2017. I strongly urge you to catch this production of this funny farce, whether you have seen the play before or not, and to appreciate anew the brilliance of the playwright's intelligent and insightful writing style. Everyone can expect to be insulted including "psychotic liberals and militant fascists." As for the name of the play, everyone is already familiar with Montezuma's revenge but I guess tap water differences in other countries can have a similar effect on American tourists. Walter Hollander laments he traveled "3,500 miles for three weeks of uninterrupted diarrhea!" Tickets are $25.00. For more information, call 631-226-8400 or visit 

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Applause! Applause! Review of Guilty Pleasures Cabaret at The Duplex by Christopher M. Struck

This review of Guilty Pleasures Cabaret at The Duplex was written by Christopher M. Struck and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Guilty Pleasures Cabaret
Directed & Produced by Bridget Bose & Andrea Palesh
M.C. - Katie Sasse
The Duplex
61 Christopher Street
New York, New York 10014
Reviewed 10/13/17

Fortunately for my friends and I on a spooky Friday, the 13th, in October, we got the good end of the luck spectrum in attending a phenomenal show performed by the Guilty Pleasures Cabaret crew in tribute to the 1990s and Y2K. Not only were they a well-choreographed dance group, but they included clever raps, songs, and jabs that stoked the audience's excitement. Frankly, it would be too easy to discount the talent level of these dancers given that Burlesque has lost some of its traditionally sophisticated airs lending more to stylish stripteases, but if you did that, you'd be missing out on the biggest in-secret dying to break beyond the borders of Manhattan's West Village. These girls are the newest innovative dance troupe to hit New York continuing the traditions of the first Rockettes and even the Ziegfeld dancers by combining multiple musical and dance styles to create a stunning effect.

One of the clear advantages of their performance is that it is sexy, but it's way too classy to not give it more than a couple of hashtags on social media. Each dance and each dancer brought a unique twist to the evening. I'll share with you some of the best-executed performances in order to give you some insight into what you can expect if you decide to experience Guilty Pleasures Cabaret in the flesh.

In the first of their 1990s mashups, which led off the night, Megan Stricker shined as the lead in a trio: schoolgirl uniform dance to Britney Spears' classic pop hit, "Oops!...I Did It Again." Throughout the mashup, the performers executed without hesitation, and the costume changes were so efficient that what must have been less than 60-second song clips were enough to go from sports bras to glittering leotards. The majority of the songs in the Guilty Girls' set were some variation of this style with well-done, themed costumes and acrobatic dance moves set to 90s music such as a raunchy "Come As You Are" that Kurt Cobain couldn't have imagined.

There were a couple of other dance numbers that broke the mold. One of them being "Ray Of Light" led by the exceptional Andrea Palesh. This song demonstrated the girls' ability to work together with incredible timing and coordination. Basically a flashlight dance with colored lights, the girls were able to mime a story in a movement that evoked deeper emotion when performed in near complete darkness. When set between songs featuring glitz and glamour, it had a strong effect.

The third song I felt was best executed and conceived was the rap to "Shoop" by Bridget Bose. If you ever imagined a white girl rapping, you probably didn't imagine the show Bose put on as her fellow performers danced synchronously to her left. There were plenty of the girls' trademark hair flips and high kicks too, but Bose's ability to drop heavy lead with more than just her legs was fantastic.

Ultimately, dancers owned the spotlight, but it was stolen temporarily by an incredibly talented supporting cast including M.C. Katie Sasse and vocalists Melissa Becker, Julia Goretsky, and Shayna Blass. If you haven't seen these simmering singers perform, they are worth a look. It was exciting to see the budding star, Shayna Blass, perform again. She crushed it on the song "Criminal" and brought the whole 90s spoof night home with a killer graduation speech which played off many of the misconceptions of the 1990s such as using old cell phones and the early opinion of the internet.

Fantastic stuff all around. I can't say enough about these performers. Their shows are more than fun. Check them out for the upcoming Halloween events from the 27th through the 29th at The Duplex. Get tickets or find out more information at