Saturday, June 17, 2017

Applause! Applause! Review of Jennifer Haley's The Nether at Studio Theatre Long Island by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Jennifer Haley's The Nether 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!

The Nether
Written by Jennifer Haley
Directed by Joe Rubino
Studio Theatre Long Island
141 South Wellwood Avenue
Lindenhurst, New York 11757
Reviewed 5/19/17

This play takes you into a dystopian future where there are very few beautiful things left to experience in the "real world." However, the sights, sounds, and smells of the Old Victorian Era, or any era, can be experienced through The Nether, an enhanced virtual reality, that, for a price, can enable you to visit, or live, in this alternative universe. Some people have chosen to "cross over" placing their bodies on life support and living full-time in an alternate reality of their choice. These individuals are called "Shades." They live out their lives as characters created in the virtual reality universe. The settings can be elaborate or as simple as an arm-chair set near a fireplace making for a cozy atmosphere to be able to read books or poems uninterrupted by other human beings or by the darkness that has befallen the earth where a real garden has become a prized possession and where all students now get their degrees by studying online.


Only adults can consent to enter certain parts of The Nether, where there is no limit to the choice of characters they can embody. Are you a grossly overweight elderly man? In The Nether, you can be a twenty-one-year-old super stud or an 18-year old female model. Perhaps you would like to be a 12-year-old girl or a successful businessman. Would you like to be in a simulation where you are fighting for your life and are in a kill-or-be-killed situation? That option is available and if your character gets killed - fear not - it will regenerate in a few seconds and you're back in business. In The Nether, no one knows your true identity so others will interact with your chosen character without questioning who is the man or woman behind the character that day. In fact, in certain games, a number of individuals may play the same character at different times. It's all up to you and the game designer. In addition, what may be illegal in the real world is permissible in The Nether. Fantasies and fetishes of all sorts can be experienced by those who have chosen to become engaged in said situations. Adult consent is required in all circumstances and those who play a character who is sexually assaulted or raped has specifically made the decision to see what it feels like to be the subject of such an encounter. No Harm. No Foul.

But herein enters the morality police who believe "there should be a line - even in our own imagination." A new online congress of participating game-players has organized to start targeting and shutting down simulations they find offensive. It's the age-old argument all over again. Should rational adults be permitted to do as they please so long as they do not directly harm others, or does the state have an interest in punishing deviant behavior and guiding you to live and think in a manner that will promote good manners, strong families, and a productive workforce? In The Nether, a real-life pedophile has created a virtual reality called The Hideaway where other pedophiles, who might have otherwise assaulted real children, can act out their fantasies without harm or consequence. The investigating detective, intent on finding the location of Papa's server, visits the netherworld and finds herself curiously addicted to the point where she admits she never wanted to leave. That doesn't stop her from threatening the participants, shutting down the simulation, and freeing the pedophiles to find real prey in the real world, "even though given children's addiction to the internet, very few girls and boys play on the street anymore." Yes, that was one of Papa's jokes. But it's not a joke that an ever expanding bureaucracy would find its way to regulating every aspect of the internet pushing a puritanical agenda bent on controlling one's thoughts and fantasies.

The shame and self-loathing expressed by the pedophiles in this play reminded me of the self-hatred homosexuals had for their own deviant behavior in decades past. If I like men instead of women, God must have made a mistake. Perhaps I was intended to have been born a woman. Gay pride was unthinkable and the only people "out" were those too flamboyant to remain hidden in a closet. It might be pushing it to call pedophilia a "sexual orientation" but it is certainly learned behavior that has become a fetish. A psychologist might say the man or woman has not fully matured or advanced to leaving childhood fantasies behind, but for some people that isn't easy. During puberty, teenage boys and girls find sexual pleasure fantasizing and thinking about others boys and girls their age that they would like to be with. Those thoughts are reinforced through masturbation and for many of these boys and girls, they never lose that attraction to teenagers when they become adults. That is why older men like younger women and some cougars prefer younger men. These individuals are not sick or depraved, except in the eyes of current societal norms. There may even be a genetic component involved when older men are attracted to younger women who can bear them healthier offspring. You may also want to take into consideration that for tens of thousands of years, our ancestors tended not to live past 30 and that the onset of puberty was a signal that a young man or young woman was ready to reproduce. 

In my opinion, the playwright got it wrong when she combined the fantasy of a pedophile to bond and perhaps sleep with younger people with their alleged desire to murder them. What the playwright doesn't understand is that pedophiles only kill their prey because they can never trust that they won't talk and turn them into the police when confronted by their parents or a caregiver. If there was no chance of being caught, there would be no need to murder them. The worst that would happen over time is that the pedophile would lose interest as the child gets older. Another point that should be made is that if the relationship is consensual, in that it doesn't involve physical force, the bulk of the psychological trauma takes place after the relationship is exposed. When two consenting adults are role-playing in a virtual reality universe, even if force is used, the possibility of psychological trauma is almost non-existent since the participant, if he doesn't like the experience, can simply choose not to return to that game. The victim never loses control in The Hideaway.     

All of these issues and many others are addressed in The Nether. The cast, which includes Chris Cardona (Sims/Papa), Frank Danko (Cedric Doyle), Jesse Lyons (Woodnut), Elizabetta Malagon (Iris), and Nikki Silva (Morris) is very strong. John Dzienius deserves special credit for the set design. Whatever your opinions may be on the topics raised, I guarantee The Nether will give you something to talk about and will make a strong impression on you. As you contemplate the future, you may wish to keep this quotation in mind, "Just because it's virtual, doesn't mean it's not real."

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Applause! Applause! Review of Frans Bloem's Beyond Borders at The Metropolitan Room by Christopher M. Struck

This review of Frans Bloem's Beyond Borders at The Metropolitan Room was written by Christopher M. Struck and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Beyond Borders
Starring Frans Bloem
Musical Director: Steve Sandberg
The Metropolitan Room
34 West 22nd Street
New York, New York 10010
Reviewed 5/26/17

We drank. Frans sang. Only a handful of us may have been able to stop clapping to take another drink. He went to find a missing guest performer. We chatted briefly. She appeared. Raucous fun and laughter ensued. We looked away. Frans was back and as in form as ever. Who was she? Who did the wildly entertaining Frans sneak in and out with barely a word from his own mouth? An alternate persona by the name of Maxine who turned an already good show great and left an indelible impression on the crowd. Trotting in on 7-inch pumps, affectionately nicknamed stripper stilettos, Frans really strutted his stuff whilst thanking his "mommy" and "poppy" for giving him great legs even if he didn't have their help along the way to achieving his goals.


But my oh my has Frans Bloem come a long way since starting as a street performer in Paris at 17. He may have traded washing dishes in the City of Lights for washing dishes in the City That Never Sleeps, but he certainly doesn't have to wash anyone else's dishes today. Frans has made a career of overcoming adversity by showing a myriad of crowds, in a variety of languages, that he can put on a show. Since that first move from The Netherlands to Paris, he has now become a worldwide boulevardier even donning an expertly tailored white jacket that he was gifted for performing in Hong Kong.

Few people can ever dream of having such a successful career. Few people can afford to finance a life in New York City as a singer. Frans has shown he can do a little bit of everything. He created a certain level of mystique even before donning the white gown and Maxine personality. A large part of this was due to his song choice which featured a heavy dose of foreign songs especially from France sung in French, German and Dutch. The majority of the songs were in English and some of them were age-old classics such as "Brother Can You Spare A Dime." Although no longer contemporary, the majority of the audience recognized them immediately. Certainly, these songs were particular crowd favorites and I especially liked his song about an avocado tree), which was part of the climax of the show. Frans seamlessly transitioned from language to language helping to relate to us how he became the man he is today. This idea took a special resonance when dressed as a woman, Frans sang, "What Makes A Man A Man." Apparently, the first time he sang that song dressed as Maxine for an American crowd, he received enthusiastic applause from a predominantly female crowd.

Regardless of song choice, Frans also maintained, combined with his certain sense for the exotic, a flair for the dramatic. He certainly used his skill with languages, but admittedly his accent may have also helped increase that foreign feeling. This feeling of stepping into another world was added to by Frans's uncanny ability to sense the mood of the crowd and grow with them as the show progressed. As we grew more excited, Frans became more and more animated playing off of our emotions. He moved along the stage, called out members of the audience, and threw his hands out in gestures at powerful moments. He was helped in this by the excellent pianist, Steve Sandberg. Steve helped create this sense of a building as well by dancing up and down the scales on the piano. As the choruses ended, Steve gave a little twist of his own that helped create a sense of harmony between piano and performer. These got more daring as the performance went on and gave the sense that the pair had been working together for a long time.

I greatly enjoyed Frans' show, and it seemed like everyone who attended was brought to life by Frans' smooth voice. His confidence fell off of him like feathers from an angel's wings. I do hope Frans stays home in New York and performs for us a few more times, but I would completely understand if he took a gig in Amsterdam. If you have a chance to see his new show, Beyond Borders, see it. Even if you are expecting the surprises that he has in store, you will be impressed. Thank you, Frans, for living a true New York Story and showing us that the mantra "all are welcome" means something to someone somewhere. For more information about Frans Bloem, you can visit his website at www.FransBloem.com

Monday, June 5, 2017

Applause! Applause! Review of Judi Mark's I Feel A Song Coming On at Don't Tell Mama by Christopher M. Struck

This review of Judi Mark's I Feel A Song Coming On at Don't Tell Mama was written by Christopher M. Struck and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

I Feel A Song Coming On
Starring Judi Mark
Musical Director: Phil Hinton
Don't Tell Mama
343 West 46th Street
New York, New York 10036
Reviewed 5/24/17

Dressed in an enchanting evening gown, Judi Mark held us in awe on Wednesday at Don' t Tell Mama with her story, told through music, I Feel A Song Coming On. Fortunately, for a few sailors in for Fleet Week, they came at the right time. Judi Mark put on a superb show bringing a bit of all her different skills to the stage to pay tribute to Old Broadway and Hollywood. By her own admission, Judi Mark has worn a lot of hats during her years in New York City and most of these have related in some way to the performing arts. We had the fortunate privilege of enjoying the skills that brought and kept her in New York as well as her delightful presence and charm.


Judi displayed a great deal of charisma that engaged the crowd. Through various subtle efforts such as greeting us upon entering and starting her show from the back of the room, we were part of the show early and often. It gave me an implicit sense of genial familiarity which extended further for some patrons who Judi seemed to genuinely recognize. These clever touches focused our attention on Judi easily and with sensual hand gestures and stunning hip movements, she helped keep our attention riveted on her as we wondered which hat she would wear next.

Judi glided from song to song with her sense of comedic timing. While she told most of her tributes to greats through song, she did also give a little background in between in a typically self-deprecating manner. She started with the story of a Frank Sinatra bodyguard whom she knew when she first moved to New York City. He told her she needed to pick one path (singing, acting, or dancing) and stick with it, but she said she didn't want to choose just one. She wanted to do it "My Way" (referencing a particularly famous Frank Sinatra song). From this, she asked us to sing along to "Welcome To My World" by Ray Winkler/John Hathcock enticing us to join her in the chorus. She went from this into a pair of medleys where she showed off her exceptional dancing skill.

Before the second of these two medleys, Judi did admit she may have worn too many hats while listing the various roles she has played since moving to New York City. Too many to keep track of, but then she took out a "Fruit Hat" for Carmen Miranda's "Chiquita Banana" song. Potentially most accurately described as a combination of salsa and samba, Judi shimmered like a brilliant butterfly during the medley which started with a series of excellent dance numbers proving her skill as a dancer. I was ready to sign up for one of her classes thoroughly convinced she could teach even me. She may have only received the "Neck Of The Chicken" (Jimmy McHugh/Frank Loesser) growing up, but she definitely proved she deserves more now. The dance number on that was only topped by an even better one on the song "The Pits" by Howard Danzinger.

The performance flowed well as Judi expertly transitioned between songs and chuckle-worthy stories including a monologue called "Friendly Skies" by Bobby Holder. The combination of the various artistic forms allowed her to portray a classy and sincere atmosphere along with her well-timed coy gestures and good use of the stage. Additionally, she did a great job of allowing her band to work off her smooth melodies by maintaining her confident pace. She took to the stage surrounded by an elegant accompaniment of a pianist, bassist, and jazz drummer. The pianist, Phil Hinton, and son on the drums, John Hinton, were stupendous, while Jennifer Vincent, with the Double Bass, provided a delectably steady and passionate tone. She was a truly sophisticated choice by Phil (Judi's musical director) and Judi.

The ultimate medley about loving music really brought the whole performance together. I felt entranced by Judi's majestic moves combined with her self-assured vocals. She had a knack for catching the eyes of the men in the room, and her final number may have stolen a few hearts in the crowd. Hopefully, those sailors in the back corner didn't leave theirs behind, although I wouldn't blame them. New York has that way about it. Judi did a great job with the acting, singing, and dancing. She also handled the balance among description, story, and song well. I very much enjoyed this show. If you are interested in a stylish cabaret that is more chic than posh, and more glitz than flash, then Judi is your gal. Her tribute to Old Broadway and Hollywood will delight. For more information about this show and the performer, visit her website at www.judimark.com 

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Applause! Applause! Review of George Tabori's Jubilee at Theater For The New City by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of George Tabori's Jubilee at Theater For The New City was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Jubilee
Written by George Tabori
Directed by Manfred Bormann
Theater For The New City
155 First Avenue
New York, New York 10003
Reviewed 5/11/17

Can decomposing dead Jews find peace in a Jewish cemetery on the Rhein, today, in 1983, fifty years after the President of Germany, Paul von Hindenburg, appointed Adolf Hitler Chancellor of Germany? Jubilee! Perhaps they are doomed to remember what they'd rather forget. But if they'd rather forget the past, why are they trapped here as ghosts in this "8th circle of hell" still able to see acts of vandalism and hear vile anti-Semitic jokes told mostly by Juergen, the nephew of Helmut, a homosexual resident of the cemetery who got himself circumcised to show solidarity with the many Jewish victims of Juergen's pranks. Juergen (David Knowle), inspired by stories told to him by his father, who served in the SS, climbs over the wall of the cemetery, urinates on graves, and defaces them with slogans and swastikas. Arnold (G.W. Reed) seems particularly engaged and says to Juergen, "Jew-dog with a hyphen, boy," and "The cross is also wrong. Hook's missing on the top left side." Arnold tells Helmut (Derrick Peterson) his nephew's Neo-Nazi activism is  "kidstuff," performed by "a poor prankster," "a lone wolf, who can't hurt you anymore." But when Helmut asks Arnold, "Are you sure?" he responds, "No."


Arnold seems compelled to answer Juergen's prank telephone calls. His wife Lotte (Cordis Heard) tells him to ignore them but he doesn't. He allows himself to hear Juergen tell him, "Store up on Jews, it's going to be a long winter."; "The skin of a kike: a lampshade we like.";  and "Fight cancer, smoke Jews." Eventually, Arnold is shot at close range, which is how he ends up in the cemetery. What really hurt, however, is Juergen reminding him of Mitzi's suicide. Mitzi (Andrea Lynn Green) was Arnold's wife Lotte's late sister's only daughter. She has a spastic tick ("she twitches a lot") that could not be cured at the Rehabilitation Center For The Hopelessly Handicapped, burnt to the ground, as "a matter of euthanastic taste." Mitzi sings and loves children so much she gets a hysterical pregnancy once a year. While in school, Mitzi fell in love with a Neo-Nazi who wrote her a letter in which he said, "How come they forgot to gas you?" Feeling "one must not leave letters unanswered," Spastic Mitzi "Finishes her yogurt. Washes the spoon and dries it. Lights the oven. Puts her head in. Dies." Wumpf (Robert Eigen), a gravedigger who considers himself to be a landscape artist, never digs a hole unless he knows for whom the hole is being dug. He observes "the goddamn Jews aren't finicky (regarding who gets buried in the consecrated ground of a Jewish cemetery) - "suicide, cripples, abortions, terrorists, junkies, whores, pimps, all kinds of sinners are herewith welcome, provided the mother wasn't a shikse." Helmut, the new, converted, circumcised Jew, who could not cure himself of his homosexual deviance, gets into the cemetery by hanging himself, and Otto (Jeff Burchfield), his lover, also commits suicide by taking some sleeping pills before drowning himself in the tub. In fact, many of those residing in this Jewish cemetery died in ways similar to how other Jews died during Hitler's reign - by direct violence, by being shoved in an oven, drowned or by being encouraged to take their own lives - all without any help from their neighbors and friends.

When we ignore an anti-Semitic joke, are we opening the door to a new Holocaust? George Tabori, the playwright seems to think so. If you ignore small evils or dismiss them as the acts of a prankster or lone wolf, you fail to address the origins of the hate and allow it to continue unaddressed. One could argue you are contributing to evil if you laugh at jokes making fun of an ethnic, cultural or religious group. I don't necessarily agree but this seems to be Tabori's viewpoint. In Jubilee, Lotte asks Otto to tell her a few jokes. He says, "Got a Jew for a friend, you don't need an enemy."; "Difference between Turk and Jew? Both would sell their sister, but the Turk at least delivers."; and "How do you get twenty Jews into a VW? 3 in front, 3 in back, the rest in the ashtrays." When Lotte questions whether the jokes are funny, Otto responds, "No, that's not funny, Frau Stern, that's an invitation to the gas chambers." 

The worst scene in this play is a melodramatic homage to the deaths of a number of children who were killed to cover up some experiments the Nazis were conducting on them. Tabori tries to tug on our heart strings to make us care just a little too much about each of these children. I personally couldn't bite especially since thousands of children die every day, especially in Syria, and each of their little lives is never going to be memorialized in a similar manner. Worse yet, people still don't care today just as they didn't care then when atrocities were happening during World War II. The most impressive scene in Jubilee involves Lotte as a woman who is slowly drowning in a telephone booth smack-dab in the middle of a parade. The door is stuck but no one marching in the parade notices her or hears her cries for help. She calls friends but no one believes the situation is as grave as she is describing while others just refuse to become involved. While the entire cast does a fine job in all their respective roles, Cordis Heard is the star of this production for her extremely believable portrayal of The Woman In The Booth. This is a metaphor for the rise of German nationalism in the late 1980s just prior to the reunification of East and West Germany. Stuck in that telephone booth at the dome, unable to get anyone to help her or even to believe her, Lotte finally tells her friend Ana, "I am dying. - No, it got to be, it's getting too difficult, the door is stuck, the crowd comes and goes...Too difficult...I would have liked to say adieu to you, but as you know, the water is rising, it is starting all over again."

If the slogan, "Never Again!" is to mean something, then Jews must stop viewing themselves as helpless victims crying out to others for assistance. Such pitiful behavior is more likely to cause more bullies to beat down on them than to inspire crusaders to come to their aid. You know the old joke about how no one is frightened if they are being followed by a group of young Jews on the street. While that reflects the positive stereotype of Jews not being dangerous or criminal in nature, it also suggests that Jews are passive and may not fight back if attacked. That must change. Armed Jews with knowledge of self-defense techniques must protect Jewish landmarks, cemeteries, and communities. When you say "Never Again!", you must be prepared to defend Jewish communities in Muslim countries and in Western Democracies as well. The funniest line in Jubilee is in the scene that ends the play. Arnold's father died at Auschwitz and Arnold reports that only last week, he read in the papers that, "in Auschwitz, they baked bread, not fathers." Arnold prays every night for this story to have been true. Eventually, the Ghost of Arnold's father (Robert Eigen) appears, engages in small talk and finally says, "Okay, that's enough. Here is a gift for you." He gives Arnold a loaf of bread and walks off while Arnold breaks a piece off the bread for everyone to eat. Someone says it "tastes funny," to which Arnold responds, "Well, we are a funny people."

Jubilee is not written in a chronological manner and many of the characters play multiple roles. It is hard to follow and Tabori repeats the Volkswagen ashtray joke too many times for it not to get annoying. Perhaps the victims are in hell and still conscious because they should have done more while they were alive to combat the evil that was rising around them. But then again, Tabori belittles the Neo-Nazis of the 1980s as being nothing but imitations of the real thing. Thugs who just enjoy violence as opposed to principled ideologues. The whole situation is very complicated and Jubilee will give you much to think about for days and weeks after you have seen it.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Applause! Applause! Review of George Tabori's Jubilee at Theater For The New City by Christopher M. Struck

This review of George Tabori's Jubilee at Theater For The New City was written by Christopher M. Struck and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Jubilee
Written by George Tabori
Directed by Manfred Bormann
Theater For The New City
155 First Avenue
New York, New York 10003
Reviewed 5/11/17

George Tabori's Jubilee is a scathing rebuke directed toward any resurgence or sympathy in the types of behavior that Tabori witnessed first-hand in the lead up to World War II. Written originally in German in 1983, three years after Tabori returned, the playwright may have either seen familiar behavior or meant to describe what World War II was like. Within the 70s and 80s, German nationalism suffered from "a feeling of hopelessness" which later resulted in the 1989-91 social movement, "Die Winde," that reunited Germany under a democratic parliamentary system. It's hard to tell whether, in 1983, Tabori was responding to a social trend, calling out outliers, or providing critical satire on the century's darkest hours. While Tabori relies on mixed metaphors and stylized dialogue similar to Tabori's other reproduction, Mein Kampf, he also lays out his intentions in this dramatic tale of death and woe much clearer. There is no wondering whether we are to understand evil or contemplate the profundity of a satirical jab at the meaninglessness of wishing to prevent that which already occurred. No, it is clear that evil must be stopped immediately. This is shown expertly rather than told. We, as the audience, must relive the deaths of five innocents, each of which is related to the actions of the hateful, young skinhead, Juergen played terrifically by David Knowle whose villainous posturing and venomous tone captured the essence of hate.


Jubilee revolves around Juergen's visits to the graveyard where the victims of his hate lie buried. It may be said that he attempts to reconcile with some measure of guilt for their deaths, and yet he simultaneously tortures these dead ghosts further. In one scene he quite literally punches them in the face. While sometimes it seems like Juergen does, in fact, regret causing so many deaths, he spends most of the play rubbing into these ghosts that they are, in fact, dead. Each scene from the opening in which all of the ghosts and Juergen appear together develops in further detail how it is that these characters met their fates and ended up buried together in this particular spot. The first of these is an old man named Arnold, played by G.W. Reed. His performance is more than adequate to the role and starts the play off on a somber but patient tone. The young Juergen prank calls old Arnold and he tells his wife, Lotte, played exceptionally well by Cordis Heard, that it is just the "poor freak." He keeps up an uplifting reminiscence of when they first met until Juergen reminds him of the death of Mitzi, Lotte's late sister's only child. Lotte attempts to keep Arnold happy, but Juergen apparently doesn't think he has harassed the old man enough, however, and he shows up on the doorstep to put a bullet in Arnold's chest. From there, we dive into the interrelated events (and deaths) that have led to this moment.

The first three deaths are the suicides of Mitzi (Andrea Lynn Green), Otto (Jeff Burchfield), and Helmut (Derrick Peterson). While it doesn't seem to directly state which death came first chronologically, the play's timeline continues with Helmut, who is the gay spouse of Otto and Juergen's uncle. Helmut is upset at his nephew's constant hate and unpunished crimes against the Jewish, so he gets himself circumcised. Helmut begins to mentally self-destruct when he can't reach Juergen and eventually ends up in a hospital to receive treatment for his sexual preference as the source of his melancholy. He "succumbs" to the treatment and is left in a room with a belt just as a Nazi once left a prisoner in a room with a belt. Helmut uses it to hang himself in the same manner that the prisoner once was forced to in World War II. Upon receiving the news, Otto does the same, slipping into the water after taking sleeping pills. While it may seem that these deaths do not have much to do with the evil of Juergen, Mitzi's death is more clearly related begging us to ask the question, "When do we act?" Mitzi moved to this new school and fell ill-fated in love with a young boy in a long, black coat. While she never specifically says Juergen, he happens to always be wearing a long, black, coat. Seemingly as a joke or possibly out of some interest (shown in the form of hate?), Juergen sends Mitzi a letter. She is excited to read it, but upon opening it, she reads aloud, "How come they (the Nazis) missed you?" She promptly responds by putting her head in an oven. Are these instigator-less crimes? Is there no one to blame? Do we wait to stop the hatred until an outright act of violence has been committed such as the execution-style shooting of old Arnold?

David Knowle performs an excellent soliloquy suggesting that we, deep down as people, relish the chance to be evil and dismiss the small evils, better described as warning signs. Maybe this is true. each of these four deaths seems to be modeled after the deaths of Jewish prisoners during World War II. So how does Lotte end up in the cemetery with the other four? As it turned out, she is slowly drowned in a telephone booth amidst a parade. If the other death's metaphors don't draw enough clear allusions to World War II, Cordis Heard's passionate and desperate plea must ring true. At first, she is calm, letting every one of her safe friends know that she will be going away for a while when suddenly she realizes that water is leaking into her phone booth. She begins to ask calmly for help, but her friends think she is pranking them and start hanging up on her. The door is stuck shut, and the parade goers are too busy partying to notice her plight. Her friends continue to ignore her desperation, and she begins to bid them goodbye until finally, the water has drowned her. It was a beautiful performance by Cordis to tie the deaths together. Before World War II, many people likely knew that something was happening. Some left, but most either couldn't or by the time they realized they needed to, they were no longer able to leave the country. They asked for help, but people didn't listen. Many were too excited about the good things to care (the "parades"). Those stuck in Central Europe before the fighting broke out were drowned in front of everyone who never even lifted a finger in their defense.

While maybe this, for some people, was enough, the final act demonstrates the true darkness of ignoring those deaths that were evident. Andrea Lynn Green puts on an outright virtuoso performance as Mitzi with a conclusive plea. She portrays this through "what she learned about Hitler" for a school paper. She shifts characters and voices to showcase her range and ability, describing the needless hanging by the Nazis of a number of children aged 5 to 12 who were ordered to their deaths to conceal an experiment using the children to test an "anti-tuberculosis serum." It was a privilege to watch her work with such passion. The deaths were needless and horrible, but had action been taken, could the evil have been stopped even before Mitzi and the oven? While the inherent thesis does not stand on any single, specific story, it does display, in my opinion, exactly what Tabori had intended. This collection of snippets, comparable to a slide show or a series of dreams, provides a look into what it was like to watch the evil unfold as a member of the minority communities in Nazi Germany. There is very, little classic plot to speak of, but I would say that Tabori understood this. Instead of seeing the play develop in a classical way toward a climax, each scene becomes a clearer and clearer depiction of what the Nazi evil developed into to the point that researchers viewed children as "guinea pigs." The question must be asked even though we might hear the cries for help, "does Juergen listen?" See at Theater For The New City on May 20th or May 21st at 3:00 p.m. Tickets are $18.00 for adults and $15.00 for students/seniors. They are available on the website, http://www.theaterforthenewcity.net. Enjoy!  

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Applause! Applause! Review of George Tabori's Mein Kampf at Theater For The New City by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of George Tabori's Mein Kampf at Theater For The New City was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Mein Kampf
Written by George Tabori
Directed by Manfred Bormann
Theater For The New City
155 First Avenue
New York, New York 10003
Reviewed 5/4/17

Hitler arrives at Frau Merschmeyer's home for the homeless in Vienna-on-the-Danube after having traveled all night in a crowded third-class carriage from Braunau-on-the Inn, that bucolic little town of his birth, "bordering two Germanic states, whose reunion by all available means is the towering task of all true patriots." He has an interview with the Academy Of Fine Arts and is hoping to achieve his fortune as an artist, "a vocation predestined by my considerable graphic talent." One of his roommates in the flophouse is an old, ugly, Jewish man named Shlomo Herzl, who sells Lutheran Bibles, has visitations with Fraulein Gretchen Maria Globuschek-Bornemissza-Eszterfalvy (the last virgin over fourteen in Vienna), and who helps Hitler prepare for his interview by trimming his mustache and helping him shine his shoes. Hitler is very grateful and tells Shlomo, "Jew, I appreciate your assistance. When my time has come I shall reward you suitably. I'll buy you an oven, so you'll be warm, and when you get old I'll find you a solution..." Shlomo later suggests Hitler go into politics and mentions he is writing an autobiography he might call Mein Kampf (i.e. My Struggle), a name Hitler likes. His other roommate is "Lobkowitz the Loon, a kookie kosher cook, defrocked some years ago by his boss Moskowitz for mixing cream cheese with boiled beef, an insult to Mosaic law." After being fired, he fell into a coma and when he came out of it ten days later, he was under the impression he was God. In our first introduction to him, he says, "I called out in the dark, from behind the burning bush, where art thou, Shlomo Herzl, to receive the glad tidings that I reduced the Ten Commandments to three, but adultery is still in; plus the good old evergreens: (A) One God Is Enough and That's Me. B) If You Cannot Honor Your Parents, Call Them At Least Once A Week. (C) Before You Covet Your Neighbor's Wife, Make Sure He's Smaller Than You."


The young Hitler is depicted as needy, unloved, and paranoid. He has no talent as an artist and is rejected from the Academy of Fine Arts. Baron von Kropf, with his "undulating hairdo, perfumed handkerchief in his breast pocket, a pearl stuck into a silk bow tie, dove-grey spats, this baronial rector-rectum, exuding decadence, dared to suggest that I become a house-painter." With Shlomo's help, Hitler does sell some watercolors on the street to get by. He jerked off like other boys but has had no sexual experiences, cannot laugh, and was never hugged or kissed by his mother. Hitler refers to sexual relations as "intercoursing" and Shlomo makes fun of him saying, "Oh my God, policemen, and horses I can somewhat abide but get me out of the clutches of this Tyrolean faggola." Just to make sure you have the worst possible opinion of the future Fuehrer (in case his being responsible for the deaths of millions was not enough for you to have a negative opinion of him), playwright George Tabori has Lobkowitz (God) gratuitously comment on Hitler in a manner intended to defame him. Lobkowitz says of Hitler, "He sleeps all day, his mouth open. He either snores, a terrible buzz saw snore or talks in his dreams, snorting shreds of maledictions. Also, he is a champion snot flinger: a snort, a scrabbling excavation, producing a caterpillar-sized piece of desiccated slime, contemplates upon it with the curiosity of an archeologist, rolls it into a neat ball, flicks it across space. One lands, bang, on the windowpane, another, in a wide arc, splash, between my eyes." In case you didn't get the playwright's point, Shlomo mentions that Hitler walks around with a smelly backside because his mother never taught him to properly clean himself. He also gratuitously writes the young Hitler as having chronic constipation and makes him a hypochondriac. Shlomo taunts Hitler by suggesting his surname is Jewish and that they are probably cousins. Hitler resists the suggestion telling Shlomo, "You must have water on the brain. My blood is pure as driven snow, issue of a stock that is hard as flint, fast as a whippet." Hitler reserves to himself the right to be the sole judge of what and who he considers to be foreign and that includes Shlomo - "your accent, for example, your entire demeanor, and especially your nose, not to mention your twisted tongue, which turns into a question what you obviously intend as a statement." Shlomo eventually becomes a slave/father figure to the young Hitler, who confesses he never really wished to be a painter. He explains that was just "a tactical device to fool the fools." What he really wants is "The world!" including New Zealand. Especially New Zealand!    

Gretchen, convincingly portrayed by Andrea Lynn Green, represents "innocence" in the play. Shlomo, the old, ugly Jew, is perceived by Hitler as being "a debaucher of innocence." Gretchen promises to stay with Shlomo and randomly gives him Mitzi, a chicken, to keep him company until she is of age. In the meantime, she picks specks off his forehead, hugs him, clips his toenails, and allow him to pet her hymen, which became dislodged during a shower accident. Shlomo Herzl, played to perfection by Jon Freda, unwittingly gives Hitler the confidence he needs to enter politics. Fearing there may be some embarrassing details about him in Shlomo's Mein Kampf, Hitler and his friends confront him demanding to see what he has written. Wielding a large knife, Hitler's friend Himmlisch (Jeff Burchfield) impliedly threatens Shlomo's physical well-being and foreshadows the future violence of the Third Reich by killing and dismembering the chicken in the process of making "a Mitzi Schnitzel in a delicious blood sauce." Cordis Heard makes an appearance as Frau Death. She plays the part in a laid back, low-key manner that makes her presence all the more chilling. For example, she explains to Shlomo, "I'm not interested in your friend as a corpse. As a corpse, as a victim, he is absolutely mediocre. But as a criminal, as a mass murderer, as an exterminating angel - a natural talent." Looking forward to the beginning of a wonderful friendship with Frau Death, Hitler says, "Madam, I shall not disappoint you!" As they are leaving, Hitler asks Frau Death if he can go get his toothbrush. She responds, "Yes, of course. There are plenty of teeth, hair, and gold fillings in the place we're going." Frau Death even has some final words for Shlomo telling him, "My poor Shlomo. If you knew what is to come! Fire will be set onto you. It will eat up every green and dry tree. Every face, from south to north, will be singed." Finally, G.W. Reed, who does a great job as Lobkowitz returns to the stage. Shlomo says, "Some God. Where have you been?" to which he responds, "I was here. I'm always here. Only you forgot to look (he sniffs at the pan that contained Mitzi). Smells good. Eat my son, not in hunger, but in the hope to ingest the martyr's strength you will need in all the years to come. You will need it."

The star of this production of Mein Kampf is Omri Kadim, a talented, charismatic actor who plays Hitler. His representation of the inexperienced young future Fuhrer raises possibilities left unaddressed in the script. Sure, there is some clever writing and some interesting monologues and dialogues, but in the end, other than the unconcealed hatred George Tabori exhibits towards Hitler, he really doesn't offer up a consistent premise or a thesis as to why and how Hitler turned out as he did. Were the elements of his dictatorial spirit and the potential for evil present in this young man from the beginning or might his exposure to different experiences have changed the course of his life. The presence of Lobkowitz and Shlomo in his room in the flophouse only reinforced his stereotypical and racial views towards Jews. But what if he, instead, was accepted into the Academy of Fine Arts or fell under the influence of a rich, masculine acting gay man who provided Hitler with his first sexual experiences and some fun "intercoursing?" I can't help but think things might have turned out different. Omri Kadim's magnificent performance gave me a lot to think about in what was, otherwise, a relatively mediocre play.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Applause! Applause! Review of George Tabori's Mein Kampf at Theater For The New City by Christopher M. Struck

This review of George Tabori's Mein Kampf at Theater For The New City was written by Christopher M. Struck and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Mein Kampf
Written by George Tabori
Directed by Manfred Bormann
Theater For The New City
155 First Avenue
New York, New York 10003
Reviewed 5/4/17

George Tabori's Mein Kampf represents the playwright's "darkly satirical" side. The irony of this poignant play about Hitler's youth in Vienna draws on Tabori's cleverly crafted circumstances to entice laughs despite the reality of how long past events once unfolded. The play paints Hitler as an incapable louse assisted in a flophouse (a residence for the poor) by an old and ugly Jewish man, Shlomo Herzl, who inadvertently allows the creation of the future monster. While it is a little unsettling to recall how Tabori seems to portray Hitler as imminently damnable, reflecting on the play may be the only reason I find it discomforting. The themes are portrayed in a well-contrasted manner presenting the futility of one's attempts to be a good person. Despite the fact that it may be light on realism, how can one not pause to ponder? The seriousness of the subject of Hitler causes lingering fear and a bitter taste in hopefully everyone. Regardless, Jewish himself, George Tabori's comical version of Hitler's youth may have been an effective way of framing events in an effort to make it easier to cope with the reality of World War II's atrocities. Tabori presents the starkness of evil alongside humor possibly partially as a means of reconciliation and also as a forewarning even if the humor is mixed with unconcealed hate.


The play is split into two acts that explore the fragile thread we walk as humans in different ways by following the life of the old, ugly Jewish man, Shlomo Herzl (Jon Freda); more often called "Shlomo." Shlomo opens with an intense discussion about fulfilling God's purpose with Lobkowitz (G.W. Reed), a man who believes himself to be God (after an accident involving head trauma). This exchange presents Shlomo, a man who sells Bibles, as a person who spreads the word of God regardless of denomination. Shlomo also questions the exercise, pitches a story about his life as a pathological liar who doomed his father as "Mein Kampf." Here we meet the embodiment of evil, young Hitler (Omri Kadim), who steps in and says "that's it" to the name and surprising the other two who thought the conversation was private. At first, Hitler doesn't seem much more than a little arrogant. He and Shlomo argue about proper manners, and he concedes to re-enter the room after knocking. As the two characters grow closer together, however, Hitler grows more despotic as Shlomo assumes a fatherly role to the young would-be artist who likes painting the twilight. For example, before Hitler's interview for attending the Academy of Fine Arts, Shlomo shines Hitler's shoes for him because Hitler is despondent about being unable to fix the mistake of having used brown instead of black polish. Only Shlomo can't fix everything because when Hitler runs out of the house, he forgets his pants. If only it had been as simple as putting on pants!

Hitler seems every bit as corruptible, impressionable, and paranoid as he needs to be from the start of his time in Vienna. In contrast to this representation of budding evil, Shlomo interacts with another character in the first act who shirks the pursuit of wealth: the excellent Andrea Lynn Green's Gretchen. While Hitler appears flamboyant and filled with ambition, Gretchen lacks greed or desire. When Shlomo questions why it is that she entreats an ugly, old man like him to devote his life to her, she responds simply. Her wealthy parents committed suicide because their life was just too perfect, they were too beautiful and rich. As a result, she intends to be with him, because he is both ugly and poor. As a metaphor for goodness, it makes sense, but during the play, it does come off as more than a bit awkward and slightly fantastical especially when Gretchen cuts Shlomo's toenails. In addition, it does make me wonder if all beautiful people that are interested in money are evil. That being said, the scene closed the first act on a high note. The four main actors that appeared were all very good. Jon Freda and Omri Kadim had tremendous rapport, working well together as Shlomo and Hitler respectively. All four had to contend with numerous distractions such as sirens and dogs barking but never once flinched.

Unfortunately, act two disappointed because not only did it add new layers to the plot rather than closing threads, the acting didn't match the intensity of the piece. Cordis Heard as Frau Death had some difficulty with lines and timing which seemed to throw off Freda as Shlomo as well. In addition, Jeff Burchfield as Himmlisch, had slight difficulty maintaining composure while violently pulling apart a chicken. He contained his shaking as he wielded a sharp knife with what seemed like an actual, raw chicken, but it had me worried. It may have been a better decision to mime the chopping, but luckily no one was hurt and he completed his soliloquy. These factors contributed to distract from the momentum that the first act developed. The major threads did tie rather neatly when Shlomo continued his luckless dooming of the innocent such as when his lies as a child doomed his father. In act two, in an effort to be a good person, Shlomo diverts Frau Death's attention in an effort to stave off Hitler's death. Is Shlomo, therefore, the one responsible for the death of everyone in World War II or are we, the audience, at fault for not stepping in? Tabori seems to challenge the audience directly and subtly during act two by asking us why we didn't do anything to stop evil in its tracks. After saving Hitler from death, Shlomo remarks to Death that perhaps the purpose of poetry is to "chat up death and stall" which could stand as a metaphor for the human condition diverting its attention as time slips away. It's the second time that Shlomo makes reference to the purpose of poetry during the play, but he changes the meaning a third time after Hitler "goes into politics." With Hitler demonstrating to Shlomo the man that he will become, Shlomo states that the purpose of poetry may, therefore, be "the entertainment of the wicked."

Considering the first iterations of Greek plays were considered forms of poems, have we the wicked, who only spectate as events unfold, been entertained? Yes. Overall, the cast and crew did a great job marred only slightly by some rough spots that made it difficult to fully appreciate the play's depth in the immediate aftermath of viewing it. I really liked the set design and for the most part, the acting was solid. The play contains a multitude of complex themes. While it doesn't seem to be concerned with discovering how it is that people become evil, it does present effective questioning of life and death and the meaning of life. If you come to understand how evil seeps in on men with even the purest and innocent of intentions, then you will be completely out of luck. If you're looking to be entertained by the hapless efforts of two strangers in Vienna with comedy that leans toward slapstick and the bonus of a resonantly original take on human existence, then Mein Kampf is definitely for you. See at Theater for the New City on May 14th, 3 p.m. or May 16-19th at 8:00 p.m. Tickets are $18.00 for adults and $15.00 for students/seniors. They are available for purchase on the website, http://www.theaterforthenewcity.net. Enjoy!