Saturday, February 6, 2016

Applause! Applause! Review of A Chorus Line at The Secret Theatre by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of A Chorus Line at The Secret Theatre was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 6 (2016) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

A Chorus Line
Originally Directed & Choreographed by Michael Bennett
Originally Co-Choreographed by Bob Avian
Book by James Kirkwood & Nicholas Dante
Music by Marvin Hamlisch
Lyrics by Edward Kleban
Produced by Richard Mazda
Directed by Tom Rowan
Choreographed by Geena Quintos
Music Director: Evan Zavada
The Secret Theatre
44-02 23rd Street
Long Island City, New York 11101
Reviewed 2/4/16  

The book for this musical was derived from several taped workshop sessions with Broadway dancers, known as "gypsies," including eight who appeared in the original cast. A Chorus Line opened Off-Broadway at The Public Theater on April 15, 1975. Producer Joseph Papp moved the show to Broadway, and on July 25, 1975, it opened at the Shubert Theatre, where it ran for 6,137 performances, closing on April 28, 1990. The production was nominated for 12 Tony Awards, winning nine: Best Musical, Best Musical Book, Best Score, Best Director, Best Choreography, Best Actress (Donna McKechnie), Best Featured Actor (Sammy Williams), Best Featured Actress (Kelly Bishop), and Best Lighting Design. The show also won the 1976 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award for Best Play. When it closed, A Chorus Line was the longest running show in Broadway history. The 2006 Broadway revival of A Chorus Line opened at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theater on October 5, 2006, closing August 17, 2008, after 759 performances and 18 previews. That production was directed by Bob Avian, with the choreography reconstructed by Baayork Lee, who had played Connie Wong in the original Broadway production. The revival was nominated for two Tony Awards: Best Revival of a Musical and Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical (Charlotte d'Amboise).

Celebrating the 40th Anniversary of A Chorus Line winning the Tony Award for Best Musical in 1976, Richard Mazda has produced this most excellent tribute to the popular, moving and memorable musical. Tom Rowan, the author of the book A Chorus Line FAQ, directs the production and an extremely talented cast has been assembled to give modern audiences a glimpse into the life of chorus line dancers struggling to get their first break or fighting for one last job before they are considered too old to dance. Along the way, we are introduced to the individual journeys many of these dancers took to get here. A number of the stories are quite moving while others are very funny ("Imagine me a kindergarten teacher!"). Seventeen dancers in all are competing for 8 slots: four boys and four girls.

If you own and have listened to a CD of the musical numbers in A Chorus Line, you don't need me to refresh your recollection. You are probably already singing some of the songs in your head. But just in case the decades have taken a toll on you, let me remind you that some of the numbers include: "I Hope I Get It" (Company), "I Can Do That" (Mike), "At The Ballet" (Sheila, Bebe, Maggie), "Sing!" (Kristine, Al), "Hello Twelve, Hello Thirteen, Hello Love" ("If Troy Donahue can be a movie star, then I can be a movie star"; "Robert Goulet out, Steve McQueen in"), 'Nothing" (Diana), "Dance: Ten; Looks: Three" (Val) ("Orchestra & Balcony"), "The Music & The Mirror" (Cassie), "One" (Company) ("One, singular sensation, every little step she takes"), and "What I Did For Love" (Diana, Company). The exceptional musicians performing in the hidden live orchestra include Evan Zavada (Keyboard 1/Conductor), Dan Garmon (Keyboard 2/programming), Mike Livingston (Reeds), Matthew Feick (Drums), and Oliver Sohngen (Bass).

There are no weak links in the ensemble cast, and I regret I cannot mention everyone for the unique contribution they made to the success of this show. Particularly outstanding, however, was Jennifer Knox, who was the beloved Cassie (when she didn't make the cut in the 1970s, test audiences left depressed with a negative opinion of the musical) and Jonny Stein, who was Mike (extraordinarily talented although his flailing his arms about aimlessly during the ballet combinations in the early audition numbers needs to be seriously curtailed - no professional dancer would have acted in that manner). Kelly Barberito, brought in at the last moment to play Maggie, excelled in the part, as did the very charismatic Kevin Lagasse playing Al. Often forgotten are the two actors who provide the glue that holds the show together: Zach, the Director, and Larry, the Assistant Choreographer. This production of A Chorus Line had strong and believable actors in both roles: Matthew LaBanca as Zach, and Matthew V. Ranaudo as Larry. Two parts of the show dragged on just a little too long, eliciting audible comments from some audience members. The first was Paul's long dialogue, without music, regarding his participation in the Jewel Box Revue, and the second was the casts' extensive discussion about what they would all do if they weren't able to dance anymore. Note to Director: These segments need to be tightened up.
  
I highly recommend you see this production of A Chorus Line at The Secret Theatre. It contains an explosive finale that will leave you cheering. If you've seen A Chorus Line before, you will be pleased with this production. It deserves an extended run. If you haven't seen this show before, you now have the opportunity to experience it in the intimacy of a small black box theater, which brings you close to the action, draws you in emotionally, and engages you on every level. For the bargain price of $18.00 a ticket, you can't go wrong! A Chorus Line plays at The Secret Theatre through February 14, 2016. For more information, visit www.SecretTheatre.com

Monday, February 1, 2016

Applause! Applause! Review of Rich Orloff's Chatting With The Tea Party at The Robert Moss Theater by Dr. Philip Ernest Schoenberg

This review of Rich Orloff's Chatting With The Tea Party at The Robert Moss Theater was written by Dr. Philip Ernest Schoenberg and published in Volume X, Issue 6 (2016) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Chatting With The Tea Party
Written by Rich Orloff
Directed by Lynnette Barkley
The Robert Moss Theater
440 Lafayette Street
New York, New York 10003
Reviewed 1/30/16  

Chatting With The Tea Party is based on interviews Rich Orloff, the playwright, conducted with leaders of Tea Party groups around the country. Driven by a desire to figure out, "Who are these people?", Rich Orloff ventured where no New York liberal playwright and journalist had gone before. Over a period of two years, he attended more than 20 Tea Party events and collected over 60 hours of interviews with local leaders, constantly surprised (and at times stunned) by what he experienced. Orloff's journalistic experience in writing for national newspapers and magazines is evident because he knows what questions to ask to solicit comments and responses. His sense of humor and wit abounds throughout the play sometimes at his good-humored expense when his pre-conceptions about the Tea Party do not pan out. Woody Allen-like, he comments on his progress, his comprehension, his research, and his encounters. The playwright discovered he had no idea what he was getting into. He also shows the willingness to change his opinions about members of the Tea Party. The play is well-crafted because it went through 16 staged readings.

Lynnette Barkley, the director, managed to bring out the best in the actors and had them interact with one another as they portrayed a variety of liberals, historical figures, and Tea Party members. A simple change of gesture or the addition of an item of clothing transformed them into different people. Featured in the cast are John E. Brady (Newsies: The Musical  and The Lion King on Broadway), Maribeth Graham (two-time Carbonell Award winner), and Richard Kent Green (the title role in Einstein Off-Broadway). Jeffrey C. Wolf, who portrays the playwright is part of the ensemble rather than dominating the play thanks to the skillful direction of Lynnette Barkley. After all, the play is about the Tea Party, not the playwright-journalist. Just as Norman Jewison chose Chaim Topol, instead of Zero Mostel,  to play Tevye in the film version of Fiddler On The Roof, due to his concern Mostel would ham it up and dominate the film, Lynnette Barkley has done the same thing with Rich Orloff. Thus, we don't have four actors but dozens of characters that come alive that might be your next door neighbor or your friend.

The play concerns liberal Rich Orloff's interactions with Tea Party people and his willingness to admit that much of what he thought about the Tea Party was incorrect. Liberals within the Democratic Party establishment and conservatives within the Republican Party establishment treated Tea Party members as a common enemy dominated by ignorant yahoos instead of treating them as an independent group of citizens who were tired of being lied to by the professional politicians, news journalists, apparatchiks, and their hangers-on. Both looked the other way as the IRS attacked the tax-exempt status of some of the Tea Party organizations.

This failure to understand the Tea Party and to destroy it as an independent third force in American politics has given us Bernie Sanders, the Socialist running with the Democratic Party, and Donald Trump, the ever-shifting political chameleon running with the Republican Party. The American people have reached the point where they no longer trust that the political professionals and office holders will do right by them. I remember liberal and conservative friends attacking the Tea Party through ignorant supposition and mythology instead of learned knowledge.

Rich Orloff discovers the Tea Party patriots to be an amorphous group of moderates who seek to reconcile liberty with security. While they view Social Security, Medicare, and Unemployment Insurance as being unconstitutional and undermining the independence of the American people, they are willing to take advantage of those programs as citizens entitled to those benefits and for their practical usefulness. They are not hypocrites who say one thing and do another but seek to harmonize the everyday contradictions of life in the United States. Again and again, Orloff scorches his fellow liberals for their mythologies about the Tea Party and their failure to understand what the Tea Party people actually believe in. The conservatives need their own version of Rich Orloff to set them right. 

Rich Orloff has a gift for transforming philosophy into interesting dialogue. Chatting With The Tea Party reminds me of Theodore White's The Making Of The President. White's book was also turned into a documentary. Both works are practical guides for understanding the politics of the times they were written in. In both cases, you will be enlightened by journalists who were able to discern the political and philosophical currents around them.

The sets and lights were designed by Nick Francone, with costumes by Orli Nativ, and the projections designed by Paul Girolamo enhance the individual characters portrayed by each actor as well as the different geographical locations depicted, whether it be Idaho or Georgia. 

The Robert Moss Theater is a comfortable, well-lit, well-heated theater located at 440 Lafayette Street in Manhattan. Refreshments were sold from vending machines at reasonable prices between $1.00 and $2.00. The bathrooms were comfortable and convenient to use. The schedule for Chatting With The Tea Party is the following: Saturday, January 30 at 8 p.m.; Sunday, January 31st at 3 p.m.; Monday, February 1 at 7 p.m. (Opening Night); and then Thursdays at 7 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., and Sundays at 3 p.m. through Sunday, February 21st. Tickets cost $18.00 and can be purchased at www.ChattingWithTheTeaParty.com 

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Applause! Applause! Review of Rich Orloff's Chatting With The Tea Party at The Robert Moss Theater by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Rich Orloff's Chatting With The Tea Party at The Robert Moss Theater was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 6 (2016) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Chatting With The Tea Party
Written by Rich Orloff
Directed by Lynnette Barkley
The Robert Moss Theater
440 Lafayette Street
New York, New York 10003
Reviewed 1/30/16  

Chatting With The Tea Party is described as "a documentary-style play based on interviews with Tea Party leaders around the country." The play is set from Thanksgiving 2010 through Election Day 2012, by which time one-third of the Tea Party groups, playwright Rich Orloff had been in contact with, were no longer in existence. Chatting With The Tea Party was developed through readings at 16 theaters and is based on more than 63 hours of interviews conducted by Rich Orloff with leaders of over twenty Tea Party groups around the country. Every word the interviewees in the play say comes from those interviews, except for minor changes in grammar and syntax. John E. Brady, Maribeth Graham, and Richard Kent Green play numerous Tea Party members, historical figures, and Rich's liberal friends. Jeffrey C. Wolf appears as a New York playwright named Rich, who speaks in the first person as if he were the author of this play.

In the autumn of 2008, major financial institutions were failing, the stock market plummeted, the real estate bubble burst, millions lost their jobs, and the country elected its first visibly non-white President. Obama proposed a trillion dollar bailout, the country was in debt, and people were scared and angry at crony capitalism and politicians who seemed to represent no one's interests except their own. Tea Party groups formed to shake up the "business as usual" attitude in Washington, D.C. and to better represent the people who were upset about the direction the country was moving in. One could say the Occupy Wall Street movement and other "Occupy" groups reflected the same anger on the left as the Tea Party movement did on the right. In fact, the two groups had much in common.

Rich Orloff's liberal friends viewed Tea Party members as being ignorant, racist rednecks. Believing there must be something more substantive there beyond these caricatures, he set off on a journey to interview Tea Party leaders to find out who these people were. In general, Tea Party members tended to be older, 2/3 male, and nearly 100% white. He learned they didn't only hold different opinions than he did but "lived in different realities." In general, he found most Tea Party groups sprouted from the grassroots; were organized by local activists; were well-intentioned; not racist; friendly and courteous; and that they held varying opinions on a number of issues. The need for people to take more personal responsibility for their decisions, smaller government, lower taxes, adherence to constitutional principles, and an end to corruption, fraud, and crony capitalism were common themes. There were many patriotic symbols and a call to "Take Back America" and, to many, the "T.E.A." in Tea Party was an acronym meaning "Taxed Enough Already." Even though they disagreed, most people he met with were friendly and respectful. The playwright wondered whether his liberal friends would treat him the same if he disagreed with them on important issues.

What Rich Orloff, the playwright, does not understand is that all people of all ideological perspectives develop their opinions on the issues based on their own individual principles, values, and priorities, whether or not they have thought them through. Some people may prioritize life and oppose legal abortions but a man may not disown his daughter who had an abortion because he values his relationship with his daughter more and respects her decision even though he disagrees with it. Even if justifiable homicides go up in a state with a Stand Your Ground law, a citizen concerned about increasing government regulation of the ownership of guns, may not care if more people die. The principle of the private ownership of guns trumps the few extra deaths that might take place. Plus that person may also be concerned about the need for all citizens to be armed to protect themselves from what they view to be a growing, intrusive, totalitarian government. Same thing with public school funding. If you oppose increased funding for public schools, it does not necessarily follow that you oppose quality education. You may believe the problem is more about the eagerness of students to learn than whether there are five more students in any particular classroom. My point is that Rich, the playwright, brought his extreme liberal bias into all the interviews. He would point out a "fact" or an inconsistency and use that "fact" as evidence in his mind that the Tea Party leaders choose to ignore reality. Well, in my opinion, everyone is hypocritical to some extent, and just because one Founding Father may have said something about religion or had a child out of wedlock does not undermine an opinion held regarding that person. One action or statement does not reflect the whole of a person's life and principles. Rich holds different opinions because he applies different core values when evaluating an issue. If we knew enough about everyone holding opinions, we could figure out exactly why and how they came to hold them. It doesn't make a person right or wrong, nor does it make one open-minded or close-minded. 

Tea Party groups, in general, tend to be optimistic because they believe their activism can still make a difference. If they were pessimistic, they would feel all is already lost and they had better prepare to survive in a country where chaos reigns, the currency is worthless, and groups roam and riot after the government collapses. Throughout all his travels, it didn't surprise me that Rich, the playwright, hadn't changed any of his own opinions on any issue, just as one of his Tea Party group interviewees said, "and nothing is going to change my mind. Nothing!" He and they are not all that different. It is very hard for people to change their perspectives, principles, and viewpoints. It would require a paradigm shift in their thinking, and that doesn't happen often. Rich did say that now he not only thinks about whether he likes a government program, but also whether someone else's tax money should be spent on that program. The problem is that the government acts like your money belongs to them to spend as it sees fit. It is like a neighbor who always comes by to borrow a cup of sugar but never returns it. 

The disenchantment with government spending, bailouts and corruption may no longer be evident in the existence of Tea Party and Occupy groups but the sentiment is still there bubbling just under the surface. This, in my opinion, explains why the anti-establishment Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have been doing so well in the polls. Whether they win the nominations of their respective political parties or not, they represent the anger and frustration that fueled the original Tea Party and Occupy movements. While the playwright's smug, leftist, superior attitude may annoy you throughout the play, the actual interviews will provide you with a variety of perspectives held by Tea Party leaders. Chatting With The Tea Party is informative and insightful! 

Chatting With The Tea Party plays Thursdays, February 4, 11, 18 at 7:00 p.m.; Fridays, February 5,12, 19 at 8:00 p.m.; Saturdays, February 6, 13, 20 at 8:00 p.m.; and Sundays, February 7, 14, 21 at 3:00 p.m.. Tickets are $18.00 and can be purchased at www.ChattingWithTheTeaParty.com 

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Applause! Applause! Review of Ed Asner's A Man & His Prostate at The Metropolitan Room by Kathy Towson

This review of Ed Asner's A Man & His Prostate at The Metropolitan Room was written by Kathy Towson and published in Volume X, Issue 6 (2016) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

A Man & His Prostate
Performed by Ed Asner
Written by Ed. Weinberger
The Metropolitan Room
34 West 22nd Street
New York, New York 10010
Reviewed 1/16/16  

He enters the room accompanied by his cane and dressed in cruise-wear (i.e. Hawaiian shirt & shorts), climbs onto the stage, sits down, does not utter a word and looks around the room in brilliantly funny, audience criticizing stares. One knows exactly his less-than-favorable opinion of what he sees, in recognizable, curmudgeon Ed Asner fashion. The audience is immediately pulled into the old nostalgic recognition of his previous characters and spontaneously erupts into laughter. This sets up the permission for us to laugh at what is to be a rather serious journey into an uncomfortable subject, especially for this female viewer - a man's prostate.

My opinion and appreciation of this show is colored by the fact that I have had all too much experience, and my own challenging encounters with the American medical profession, in the course of my elder-care, and therefore identified with this man's frustrations and fears as he faced this illness, far away from home. It may also explain why some of the stories told, while eliciting laughter from the majority of the audience, left me feeling seriously moved.

The show served its purpose of shining a light on a subject of men's health, often overlooked in favor of the focus on female health problems, due, I'm guessing, to the stoic nature men still feel they must uphold or the discomfort they feel regarding the subject of men's "private parts" in general. Therefore, writing-wise, this candid conversation was a breath of fresh air and I give the playwright, Ed. Weinberger, props for the courage to bring this to the stage with poignancy and humor, always good tools to get a lasting message across versus hitting the audience over the head with dictates that makes one want to run for the door. 

Ed Asner was perfectly chosen for this part. He is such a gifted storyteller and paints such clear images of all of the events that I found the slide show totally unnecessary and even distracting. They continued to jarringly yank me out of the world Asner pulled us into. Also, directorially, one has to be practical and consider the physical environment of the room - many audience members were positioned in such a way that they couldn't see the slides and even Ed Asner himself had trouble improvising the script to cover the fact that one of the slides was never even shown. Asner's presentation and our imaginations are much more interesting than seeing actual pictures.

I would also recommend that the usage of the "Baboom, Baboom" dialogue be cut to one instance. It was not clear if this was actually part of the script or if the actor kept using it as a filler when he lost his place in the text. (After the first few minutes, I barely noticed he was reading from the script, so engaging was his storytelling.)

Additionally, the in-depth explanation of every function of the prostate and bladder and catheterization process became too graphic when accompanied by the slides - it lost its theatricality and became like an uncomfortable High School Health Class shown drawings of male and female anatomy. Other humor that fell short and was borderline insulting was when he took the pointer and said, "for those of you unable to recognize the penis" - a line not up to the high standard of the rest of the script.

The playwright has such a gift with analogies and imagery, such as describing the bladder stones as "fireflies in a glass jar" or that they are like "the rocks on the bottom of a fish tank." I applaud the very clever way he described the operation as being "no gondola ride" and how the language barrier made him have to talk with his hands like 'Marcel Marceau'. The playwright need not stoop to questionable black humor such as "sirens sounding like they were coming for Anne Frank." Another historical tragedy was much better handled in referencing Jesus on the Crucifix hanging on the wall of his hospital room, "on the worst day of his life", conveying the unspoken message to the patient of "and you think you have problems." Another serious moment in the piece was coupled with the problems of modern technology resulting in the then very funny line, "...the phone was dying and so was I."

The educational aspects of this show had merit such as the listing of the side effects of Flomax and presenting information regarding the in-depth tests and examinations that were so expertly performed by the doctor in Florence (necessary for early detection) vs. the life-threatening practices of the American doctor, who never performed said tests and examinations. And this to me was where the true importance and message of this show came across making it a piece of  theatre everyone should see. It was also very powerful to hear the list of very famous people in our history who died of prostate cancer, and that there are 35,000 cases of it annually - one every 16 minutes.

Ed Asner ends a very impressive 90-minute performance (a feat for any actor of any age, let alone such a veteran) with a heart touching depiction of a man's most vulnerable time with his wife, making us cheer him on (while also making us realize how we might face the health challenges of our own family members), all culminating with the audience erupting in near unanimous applause at the final positive outcome.

I left the performance with admiration for the playwright and actor, sharing their artistic gifts, in such a harmonious and heart-warming fashion. It left me pondering this very serious subject with new enlightenment and, with the hope this piece reaches and informs the American medical profession, who could take a lesson from its message. I expect A Man & His Prostate will touch many audiences and armed with new knowledge, I hope there will be a dialogue among people in general that will result in possibly saving many future lives. Whenever theatre can serve such a powerful purpose, one can only say "Bravo."

Monday, January 18, 2016

Applause! Applause! Review of Anna Moench's In Quietness at Walkerspace by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Anna Moench's In Quietness at Walkerspace was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 6 (2016) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

In Quietness
Written by Anna Moench
Directed by Danya Taymor
Walkerspace
46 Walker Street
New York, New York 10013
Reviewed 1/14/16  

Paul (Blake DeLong) and Max (Kate MacCluggage) have been married for 5 years. She is a highly paid executive who helps Health Insurance Companies maximize profit and minimize waste. She supports her husband financially allowing him to write while she is away during the week, but, without fail, she returns every weekend so they can spend quality time together. Paul hasn't been very productive as a writer and a year ago, he started attending a Bible Study meeting led by a Southern Baptist. He grew up Lutheran (Missouri Synod) but started to read the Bible more intensely. His wife was "spiritual" at best and wasn't very good in the kitchen or with household chores. Paul confesses to Max he has been having an affair with a woman he met at Bible Study. His mistress was hit by a taxi and she is now in a coma and unresponsive. Max is more understanding than most would be realizing it could not have been easy for Paul to be alone on all those days she was out of town. She suggests they just forget about it ("Clean slate. New Day & All That Shit!") but Paul says he can't just start over since he loves the woman. With the state of their marriage in limbo, Max continues to work and Paul continues to sit by the side of his unresponsive mistress who lies in quietness.

One day, Paul comes to the conclusion that God is punishing him for having an affair by hurting someone he loves (namely, his mistress). The only way to make things right (in his irrational mind) is to train to become a Southern Baptist minister. By serving God, he hopes God will stop his suffering by saving the life of his mistress. He doesn't seek forgiveness for cheating on his wife nor does he seek to save his marriage. Paul enrolls at the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and unbelievably, Max gives up her job as a highly paid executive and goes with him, signing up to be a Hostess at Homemaking House, where she is expected to be an inspiration to the other girls who are coming to learn how to be supportive wives and homemakers. The other Hostess position is held by Beth (Lucy DeVito), who completely buys into the Southern Baptist view on the proper subservient role of women within the marriage relationship. ("A woman should learn in quietness and full submission." - 1 Timothy 2:11; "Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church." 5 Ephesians 22-23) Beth's fiance is Dusty (Rory Kulz), who we don't meet until the end of the play and is nothing like anything we expected. The head of Homemaking House is Terri (Alley Scott), who once ran a Finishing School and is still, as of yet, unmarried.

There are many twists and turns in this brilliantly written script that raises many questions about gender roles in modern marriage. Beth criticizes Paul for not taking responsibility as the head of his household and for giving his wife "mistrust and doubt" despite her best efforts to save their marriage. But Beth also comes down hard on Max for denying her husband sex when he climbed in through an open window, and in a drunken state, almost raped her before she could push him off her. As Beth believes, "If your husband wants you, you can't say no." Beth is a natural-born preacher but that role is reserved for men according to the Bible so she is content to be supportive of her husband in his ministry. Testing their marriage further is the fact that Paul gets off on having a subservient wife who cooks his meals and launders his shirts, but he went one step too far when he suggested he likes his dress shirts hung and not folded, in order to avoid their having wrinkles. Paul starts to believe he has already been saved and starts to adopt the Southern Baptist philosophy that he is obligated to be "the head of the household." This role is reinforced by Terri, who treats him special and explains to him that Max was only hired, not because of her resume, but because Paul can't succeed as a minister without his wife's help. When Max questions how an adulterer can make a good preacher, Terri explains that some of the best ministers needed to go to the depths of Hell before being able to identify with the frailties and weaknesses in each of the members of the congregation.

Lucy DeVito (the daughter of Danny Devito and Rhea Perlman) who plays Beth is by far the standout performer in this very talented ensemble cast. She has the most complex role and many layers to her character to portray, each which she handles brilliantly. Alley Scott is charismatic and consistent as Terri, the head of Homemaking House. She comes across fully dedicated to her goal of helping young women prove they are ready to take on the duties of wife and homemaker in a Christian home. Blake DeLong as Paul accurately depicts a man in emotional and psychological crisis, who is more in need of a psychiatrist than he is in need of a seminary. Max is far too committed to keeping her marriage together under the most extreme circumstances. It makes me wonder how insecure she really is and whether she cheated on Paul when she was on the road. Kate MacCluggage is very powerful as Max but the motivation behind her character's decisions are extremely unclear. Why is she still hanging around Paul when all he seems to care about is bargaining with God to save the life of his mistress? He takes no responsibility for his actions and still blames her for not giving him the emotional support he says he needed. Max even buys into this to some extent by taking some responsibility for not being around enough. I won't spoil the end of the play for you or tell you whether Beth and Dusty, and Max and Paul, end up together. You will just have to go see the play in order to find out. 

I was extremely impressed with the script written Anna Moench. It doesn't bash religious beliefs but instead, simply represents them leaving it up to the audience to draw their own judgments and conclusions. Various gender roles in marriage are also explored. Danya Taymor, the niece of Julie Taymor, did a fine job of directing this complex piece of theater. The acting, writing and directing nicely came together in a cohesive whole. The play was interesting and the issues it raised were relevant, important, and timely.

In Quietness runs for 1 hour, 45 minutes without intermission. Tickets are only $18.00. The play runs through Saturday, January 30, 2016. For more information, visit http://dutchkillstheater.com/  

Applause! Applause! Review of Ed Asner's A Man & His Prostate at The Metropolitan Room by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Ed Asner's A Man & His Prostate at The Metropolitan Room was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 6 (2016) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

A Man & His Prostate
Performed by Ed Asner
Written by Ed. Weinberger
The Metropolitan Room
34 West 22nd Street
New York, New York 10010
Reviewed 1/16/16  

Even though Ed Asner tells the story of falling ill in Florence suffering from an enlarged prostate and bladder stones (with slides to prove it), the basis of the tale lies in the experiences of Emmy & Peabody Award-winning Ed. Weinberger, the writer responsible for this 90-minute theater piece. There was a reading of the play A Man & His Prostate on May 15, 2015 at the Falcon Theatre in Burbank before family and friends, which was followed by its debut at The Malibu Playhouse ($75.00 General Admission) on July 11, 2015. It's now in New York City at The Metropolitan Room for an exclusive two-night try-out before plans to share it with audiences worldwide. While that may happen because many Ed Asner fans will gladly pay good money to see him, the play contains too many crude lines and fart jokes. In addition, since the debut in Malibu six months ago, Ed Asner has been unable or unwilling to memorize the script. He sat in front of a music stand reading his lines as if this, the play's New York debut, was just another reading. I also found it uncomfortable to hear him scream at and verbally abuse the people in his life whenever he was angry or in need. Noboby should have to put up with that. Finally, The Metropolitan Room was not the best venue for this play; a piano blocked the view of 20-30 attendees who could not even see him, and another 10-15 people were unable to view the slides, myself included. There isn't even a mirror on the back wall where those people could see him by reflection.

Ed Asner appeared on stage 20 minutes late wearing a Los Angeles Dodgers cap, a Hawaiian shirt, blue shorts, and black athletic shoes. He then sat there for another five minutes in silence blowing his nose, placing his cane on a bench, turning his cap backward and adjusting himself as needed. I think he thought it was funny to just sit there, but since he started the show late, I just found it annoying. He finally started off with a joke about a German, an Irishman, and a Jew. The German says, "I'm tired. I'm thirsty. I must have beer." The Irishman says, "I'm tired. I'm thirsty. I must have whiskey." Finally, the Jew says, "I'm tired. I'm thirsty. I must have diabetes." The humor in that joke relies on the stereotype that older Jews are hypochondriacs. He explains this is "a play about life and death" but that "the death part is just rhetorical...(then looking at his watch)...at least for now!" Apparently, his character (whose name we never learn) was on a cruise ship docked in Florence. He collapsed alone (his wife remained on board due to the fact it was Margarita Monday and she had taken ill herself by eating too many fish tacos) and was admitted to an Italian hospital. He said he was taken there in an ambulance with sirens that "sounded like they were coming for Anne Frank" (Wrong country, of course, but why let that stop a potentially offensive joke). He arrived at the hospital and, in the best skit of the night, he hilariously explained to the doctor using pantomime how he was getting up to pee 9 times a night but that today, he was unable to pee at all. After that, he was directed to a hospital room where he looked up and saw "a crucifix of Jesus 'on his worst day' with his head hanging to one side as if to say 'and you think you have problems'."

It turns out he had seven bladder stones and an enlarged prostate but no cancer. He railed against his American doctors "who never once stuck a finger up my ass" even though he was peeing forty times a day. (He urinated so frequently, he even "stopped pulling his zipper back up"). He speculated that doctors have stopped doing rectal exams because of the "yuck" factor or because they are embarrassed. As he said, "that's the medical profession for you. It took them 500 fucking years for them to learn they should wash their fucking hands before treating a patient." On the up side, A Man & His Prostate does come with the educational message that men should get their prostate checked more often, and one slide even listed many well-known men who have died of prostate cancer. 

His biggest concern about having the operation to remove the bladder stones and trim his prostate was the effect it would have on his future ability to have intercourse with his wife. His Italian doctors explained he should be able to maintain erections after one week, but that there would be no visible ejaculations. His sperm will travel backward instead of out. He was worried about how he "would know when sex was over" and always thought of his ejaculations as constituting his "big finish." Concerned that "the difference between an erect and semi-erect penis is the difference between eating a cheeseburger and licking one," he tried watching pornography but it only depressed him further because the camera "added six inches" to all the male performers. His wife finally caught up with him and slipped into his bed (hoping she had the right room). By morning, he said, "the sun was coming up and so, my God was I!". He explained to his wife about how he would no longer be able to ejaculate and she said, "to be honest, that was always my least favorite part." And that was that!

The seven-time Emmy Award-winning television icon Ed Asner last appeared on the New York stage starring in the Broadway comedy Grace in 2013. Asner is one of the most honored actors in television history with 16 Emmy nominations, five Golden Globe Awards, and a 2002 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Screen Actors Guild, which he served as national president of for two terms. He is best-known for voicing Carl Fredericksen in the Pixar box office smash Up! (Best Animated Feature Oscar) and for his many widely praised television roles on The Mary Tyler Moore Show; Lou Grant; Roots; Rich Man, Poor Man; and more recently The Good Wife; Criminal Minds; Mom; The Crazy Ones; Chasing Life; and Men At Work. He starred in the telefilms Buddy The Elf and All My Heart. For the stage, he toured the country in Franklin Delano Roosevelt for five years. 

Often playing a character who is an angry, irascible old codger, Ed Asner was a good choice for this part. When he describes his immediate catheterization as being "no gondola ride down The Grand Canal," you identify with his pain. If you see this show, you will have a good time and be glad you went. Born just after the Stock Market Crash Of 1929 during the administration of President Herbert Hoover, Ed Asner is a well-respected, hard-working, award-winning actor. When you have a chance to see him perform in person, you don't want to miss that opportunity. At 86 years of age, that watch is ticking! But be forewarned, the show is very explicit and graphic. Therefore, it is definitely not for grandmas, children, or the easily offended.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Applause! Applause! Review of the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene's production of The Golden Bride at the Museum Of Jewish Heritage by Dr. Philip Ernest Schoenberg

This review of the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene's production of The Golden Bride (Di Goldene Kale) at the Museum Of Jewish Heritage was written by Dr. Philip Ernest Schoenberg and published in Volume X, Issue 5 (2015) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

The Golden Bride (Di Goldene Kale)
Music by Joseph Rumshinsky
Lyrics by Louis Gilrod
Libretto by Freida Freiman
Co-Directors: Bryna Wasserman & Motl Didner
Scenic Design by John Dinning
Costume Design by Izzy Fields
Conductor & Musical Staging: Zalmen Mlotek
Choreographer & Musical Staging: Merete Muenter
Museum Of Jewish Heritage
Edmund J. Safra Hall
36 Battery Place
New York, New York 10280
Reviewed 12/23/15  

On December 23, 2015, it was a melancholy experience for me to have watched The Golden Bride, a Yiddish operetta performed by the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene, the world's oldest Yiddish theatrical organization, at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in Battery Park. This was the second time I had seen a performance by this company. This was a much better experience than the first time when I saw a Yiddish play performed at the Central Synagogue in mid-Manhattan about two decades either. Then I heard an English translation through a headphone. Now, I was able to read supertitles above the stage as they do at the Metropolitan Opera for their foreign language productions. The downside was that a generation earlier, I heard Yiddish actors perform. Now I heard many actors who had learned Yiddish in transliteration emoting in a language they could not understand. To give them credit, no one could tell the difference. 

The Yiddish audience in Europe was murdered by Adolf Hitler; the Yiddish playwrights were murdered by Joseph Stalin. Stalin's daughter Sevetlana, in her memoirs, recalled her murderous father making a telephone call to arrange an automobile accident for Solomon Mikhoels, the Yiddish playwright, whose funeral he then attended. In the U.S.A., it was the force of assimilation that did in Yiddish theater. An Irish student completed his Ph.D. comparing the fate of Gaelic in Ireland and Yiddish in America. He noted sadly that English was the language of fate and fortune that would dim the prospects of these languages surviving. The Zionist pioneers of Israel promoted Hebrew that once more became a living language while Yiddish was marginalized. Half the population of Israel are descendants of Sephardic Jews who never spoke Yiddish. Yiddish had no champion like Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, who was instrumental in the revival of Hebrew as a modern, living language. I remember doing research on the Bund, a socialist Jewish group who championed a federation of languages in Europe in which Yiddish would be an equal, at the Bundist Archives and YIVO Archives in Manhattan. I was fascinated by the stories I uncovered, but unfortunately, I found no evidence for the future of Yiddish as a spoken language. 

My parents had belonged to The Workmen's Circle/Arbeter Ring, a fraternal organization, for its benefits, not for its promotion of the Yiddish language. Workmen's Circle and several other fraternal organizations had attempted to continue Yiddish by sponsoring summer camps and schools in which activities took place in Yiddish but they were not successful in the long run. I helped my father keep the minutes of a fraternal group or landsmanschaft whose minutes shifted from Yiddish to English. When he died in 1987, I gave the records of the organization to YIVO that maintains an archive to preserve the papers of such groups. In 2014, KlezKamp, the Yiddish folk arts gathering that took place in the Catskills every winter for the last 30 years, had its last gathering. Yiddish New York took place during the Christmas week in 2015 but whether this will continue remains to be seen.

Edward G. Robinson, Paul Muni, and James Cagney got their start in the Yiddish theater but moved onto Broadway and then Hollywood. James Cagney (whose mother was Jewish) was completely fluent in Yiddish. I remember him casually mentioning in one of his interviews with David Hartman to promote Ragtime that he had just finished reading a book of Yiddish poetry he had received in the mail. Jose Ferrer got his start in the Spanish theater before moving on to the Broadway stage and then Hollywood. When I saw The Golden Bride at the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene on December 23, 2015, it was a centennial of its founding.  Back in 1915, when it got started, the Yiddish theater was at its apogee: the three million Jews of America supported twelve Yiddish theaters in the "Jewish Rialto" and four in Brooklyn plus a few more in other major American cities. In that year, the native-born Molly Picon got her start by first learning in transliteration her lines in Yiddish before becoming fluent in the language. In the golden years from the 1920s to the 1950s, Yiddish theatrical companies would first put on a performance in New York, travel throughout the United States, and then spend winter in Argentina performing before the large Yiddish-speaking population there.

Inevitably, the forces of assimilation, the end of mass migration from Europe following American restrictions on immigration, and the Holocaust doomed the survival of Yiddish in America. The few enclaves where Yiddish is spoken as a first language tend to be Chassidic Jews who despise secular Jewish culture. The Forward, once the world's largest daily Yiddish newspaper at a quarter million readers, is now a weekly printed in English, Hebrew, Russian, and Yiddish editions. There were once over sixty Yiddish radio stations from the 1930s to the 1950s; but, alas, they are no more. I remember Art Raymond hosting a show of Jewish music on WEVD, "the station that spoke your language." The once 24-hour a day Yiddish radio station, launched in 1927, stop broadcasting in 1981. The last commercial Yiddish theater, The Yiddish Art Theater, winked out in 1962 on Second Avenue. It has been landmarked as the East Village Cinema at 12th Street where you can see its Star of David candelabra. Other remaining Yiddish theater buildings still standing are the Anderson Yiddish Theater at East 4th Street (which was abandoned), the Orpheum (at St. Mark's Place), and the former Sunshine Theater building (at 147 East Houston Street), which was built circa 1910 as the Sunshine there. The American Jewish Repertory Theater in the 1970s did not make it.

Fate was no less kind to other live foreign-language theaters in America. The Chinese 3,000 strong in 1900 in New York City supported one theater; today, it still supports it even though its population has increased to almost 500,000. There are three Chinese radio and three Chinese language television stations in New York City. The Italian theater is down to one theater supported by almost 700,000 Italians. There are three radio stations in the suburbs that offer a few, and I mean a few, hours of Italian music and language programming. The almost 2,300,000 Latinos support a mere three theaters including the Thalia, which is bilingual. There are four Spanish-language radio and five Spanish-language television stations including one that has the largest radio audience of any in New York City. Of course, how many are fluent in Chinese, Italian or Spanish is another story. There is the Irish Repertory Theater that flourishes because the Irish made the English language their own. WFUV at Fordham University spins an hour of Irish musical favorites every Sunday. PBS has a program of Irish singers and dancers from Ireland, but not from America, on television. A century ago, one in three New Yorkers spoke German. Unfortunately, German-American culture did not survive the nativist attacks of Woodrow Wilson, Theodore Roosevelt, and their supporters during World War I. Liberalized immigration laws since 1965 have enabled Chinese and Spanish media to flourish but they face constant erosion of their audiences as they assimilate into the American way of life. Erik Estrada, a Puerto Rican, the star of "C.H.I.P.S.," learned Spanish to star in a Spanish telenovela on one of the Spanish-language networks. This is in contrast to Jacob Adler, who scored two Broadway triumphs doing Shakespeare in which he spoke his lines in Yiddish while the rest of the cast did it in English. 

The Hebrew Actors' Union (HAU) was a craft union for actors in Yiddish theater in the United States (primarily in New York City), affiliated with the Associated Actors and Artistes of America (AFL-CIO). Founded in 1899 by Joseph Barondess, it was the first actors' union in  the United States. At another point, it also included actors that spoke Hebrew. You can still see giant letters stating "Hebrew Actors' Union, Inc." on the building at 31 Seventh Street between Second and Third Avenues. H.A.U. merged with AFTRA in 2007.

The Second Avenue Deli, formally located at 156 Second Avenue in the heart of the former Yiddish Theater District, was founded in 1954 by Abe Lebewohl. In 1980, he inaugurated his own version of the Grauman Chinese Theater plaques in Hollywood with his Second Avenue Hall Of Fame: Molly Picon and her husband/manager Jacob Kalish, Ben Bonus, the Barry Sisters, Adler parents and Adler children, Zvi Schooler, Menashe Skulnic, Rose Boyzic, Boris & Bessie Thomashevsky, Maurice Schwartz, and Paul Muni (Muni Weisenfeld) are honored. Joseph Goldfaden was the founder of the Yiddish Theater. He established the first Yiddish Theater in Bucharest, Romania in 1876. When the Russian Empire banned Yiddish theater, he came to America to establish one in New York. Fyvush Finkle was the last name added in 1995. Although the deli moved uptown and has been replaced by a Chase bank branch, the names are still there.

I had no idea New York City once had a flourishing Yiddish theater scene except for incidental mentions by my parents when I was a young person. once been a flourishing center My mother, in recounting her youth, mentioned she used to date Yiddish actors in the 1930s. My mother's nickname for my younger brother Elliot was "Tomashevsky," an actor that she greatly admired. My father mentioned that Menusha Skulnick had been a star in the Yiddish theater when he took me to the Tarrytown Playhouse when I was about eight years old to see a comedy in English. In 1995, I started a Jewish Walking Tour for business entitled "Jewish Maven" during which I would talk about one or two of the former Yiddish theaters you could see on my tour route. In 2004, the conductor Michael Tilson Thomas led my theatrical tour as he recounted his childhood memories to his buddies on the tour. This was the closest I had been to the Yiddish theater before I saw the two productions at the National Yiddish Theater Folksbiene. The Golden Bride, as a Yiddish opera, was last staged in 1948. In 1984, musicologist Michael Ochs became interested and eventually spent a few years in research to restore and recreate the opera, partially in 2014, and as a fully restored operetta a year later. I needed the supertitles to understand the script. Once upon a time, I did know the Yiddish language but, of course, if you don't use it, you lose it. Here and there, I could understand some of what was sung and I was then especially moved by what I understood. The romantic comedy itself is divided into two parts: in the first act, a wealthy woman in the old country (in an idealized upper scale version of Fiddler On The Roof) wants to find her mother; in the second act, she is now an assimilated American of the upper class akin to The Philadelphia Story, who is shown the same day three women and one man as her missing mother! Even though the opera premiered nearly 90 years ago, I still found the plot humorous and the songs amusing. Here and there some of the jokes creaked due to their age. Notes in the Playbill promise future revivals but no new Yiddish productions.

I can only compare The Golden Bride in Yiddish to the buzz that Z in French got in 1969, Hester Street, partially in Yiddish, received in 1975, and Das Boot in German got in 1981. Z and Das Boot were widely shown in the original language with English subtitles before new versions were distributed with English voices replacing the French and German voices. In Z, you were appalled at the overthrowHester Street won acclaim as the film to see  for the 1976 bicentennial year as the celebration of the American melting pot. In Das Boot, you were ready to cheer when the German submariners escaped from almost certain death caught between Allied airplanes and the ocean bottom until you realized that they were the bad guys.

The Yiddish theater survives as transformed into the Jewish experience presented in such on plays on Broadway as Brighton Beach Memoirs, Funny Girl, I Can Get It For You Wholesale, Sundays With My Father, Soul Doctor, Yentl, and of course, Fiddler On The Roof. They have entered American Mainstream Culture, admired by Jews and Gentiles alike. Unfortunately, Yiddish theater has no commercial future, but the Jewish life, culture, heritage and experience does.

Let me conclude with a Jewish proverb: Words should be weighed, not counted.