Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Applause! Applause! Review of In A Little Room at The Wild Project by Christopher M. Struck

This review of In A Little Room at The Wild Project was written by Christopher M. Struck and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

In A Little Room
Written by Pete McElligott
Directed by Patrick Vassel
Stage Managed by Emma C. Olson
Set & Graphic Design by Zachary Zirlin
Costume Design by Evan Prizant
Lighting Design by Katy Atwell
Technical Director: Thomas Romme
The Wild Project
195 East 3rd Street
New York, New York 10009
Reviewed 9/9/17

A phenomenal script by Pete McElligott was brought to life by the talented acting trio of Jeb Kreager, Luis-Daniel Morales, and David Triacca. Not since watching a performance of 'Night Mother have I felt a script had a better hold of character development and dialogue. Set in a hospital waiting room, the pair of Jeb Kreager and Luis-Daniel Morales weaved their way through the complexity of human relationships with dynamism and dark humor. They shined together in the roles of the seemingly hapless Manning (Jeb Kreager) and the suited-up and serious Charlie (Luis-Daniel Morales) as they meet due to an unlikely conversation starter amidst mysterious circumstances.

Manning walks in, peruses the magazines, crosses the entire room to take a seat, clears his throat and asks, "Would you like this coffee?"  As innocent a question as it may seem, it tips the dominoes leading us towards an intense conversation between two strangers about life, death, and the uncomfortable questions that may arise when we begin to talk about them. Charlie accepts the coffee, and as Manning, dressed in classic dad outfit (loved the costume design) goes to deliver it, he trips spilling the coffee on a sleeping guy (David Triacca). Manning and Charlie get to work deciding what to do about the spilled coffee and, of course, promptly do nothing about it. Thankfully, it was cold already. When the guy leaves to clean himself off, the two wonder if he will come back. Eventually, Triacca does return to the little room playing a doctor, the second of three characters - the third is an arsonist.

This is when the play begins to get darker and darker (or in other words - really good). Sometimes the audience is consumed with laughter while at other times, the material is serious enough to suspend the room in silence. Charlie just lost his wife, who, at 27 years of age, died after suffering two consecutive strokes. He pines for all the years that they might have spent together. He wonders about the triviality of her instant death. Manning attempts to comfort him by saying, "It could have been worse" and after a moment, Charlie whips around accusingly, "What do you mean it could have been worse?" Demanding an explanation, Manning eventually shares that his 5-year old daughter just died of a brain tumor after suffering months of agony. The two dive deep into what's worse, instant or prolonged death, and the question of whether they would warn someone who was potentially going to die. They are instead interrupted by hospital fires that are quickly consuming everything around them.

At one point, Manning describes how he views life - "Billions of people doggy-paddling in the middle of the ocean...Billions of folks. Surrounded by endless water. Doggy-paddling in place. Trying desperately to ignore the fact that eventually - they'll get tired, they'll get old, and they'll go under. All of them." This view is perhaps reflective of Manning's depression and is a foreshadowing of a decision he will make later in the play. 

Triacca returns as Keagan, who looks as if he has walked through the fire. He warns Charlie and Manning that they probably should leave the hospital and get out before the fire consumes the place. Manning and Charlie get into an argument again, but it's short. They are both faced with the decision of whether to leave or stay as the walls burn down around them. Charlie, the younger of the two and the one who has been talking about all the things he has to do, heads towards a stairwell Keagen pointed out. He tells Manning he'll be waiting for him with a car, but Manning waves him off. Manning can't bring himself to move, and then the lights go out.

Great job all around. The actors, especially Kreager and Morales were fantastic. The play was funny, deep, and disturbing. What more can you ask from a dark comedy? Nothing, I think. There is more to the play than what was referenced here, and I do hope that this taste convinces you to give In A Little Room a shot. It's filled with perceptive commentary. The play runs through September 24, 2017. Performances are Tuesdays through Fridays at 7:30 p.m.; Saturdays at 2:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.; and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. Tickets are $15.00 and can be purchased at www.tenbones.org or by calling 866-811-4111.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Applause! Applause! Review of Loveless Texas at The Sheen Center by Christopher M. Struck

This review of Loveless Texas at The Sheen Center was written by Christopher M. Struck and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Loveless Texas
Music & Lyrics by Henry Aronson
Libretto & Direction by Cailin Heffernan
Scenic Design by Evan Hill
Costume Design by Cheryl McCarron
Lighting Design by Michael O'Connor
Sound Design by Ian Wehrle
Stage Managed by Marci Skolnick
The Sheen Center
18 Bleecker Street
New York, New York 10012
Reviewed 9/7/17

Loveless Texas took an interesting twist on Shakespeare's Love's Labour's Lost and made for a generally entertaining musical. For most of the first half of the play, the tension built and the songs, written and composed by Henry Aronson, were fun and often catchy. A few missteps in the script, however, kept this uplifting tale from reaching the level of a virtuoso.

The biggest issues with this modern restructuring of Shakespeare's classic were that it didn't take a big enough step away from the original in the over-arching plot. It became too predictable while creating too many subplots which became mired in unnecessary detail. Almost every character in the cast of twelve actors had their own arch. This not only limited the pace of the first act, but it bogged down the second act as well with corny serendipity. Long story short, all the characters fell in love with a counterpart from a competing ranch in 1930s Texas. One of the largest issues with this was the fact that almost every actor had a song to sing. While the lyrics, were in my opinion, clever, they were mostly songs about death and devils and love. Potentially quality subjects for a comedy, but even the cast members who could execute their material better than others heard only a little bit of laughter and appreciation from the audience. There are two possible reasons for this. The first being that it didn't seem like Loveless Texas focused on the comedy. It seemed to be much more focused on a tense relationship between the mature, "King Navarre," and his immature, younger brother, Berowne Navarre, and how the relationship between the two characters developed. The second was that the audience had to strain to hear many of the songs over a live band that performed in the corner. The live band was a welcome presence but it was a little too loud at times for the actors to overcome.

Despite these limitations, I still enjoyed this musical. I felt like Darren Ritchie as King and Joe Joseph as Berowne did a fabulous job. Their solid performances helped to create palpable tension as the two butted heads on life philosophy. King Navarre owned a ranch in Texas at the onset of the Great Depression and had promised to sell an oil-strike to a rancher in Louisiana named Leroy Beausoleil. Leroy had apparently come upon the information that the strike was about to hit pay-dirt while King Navarre believed it was about to run dry. Before the land was officially sold, the oil reserve boons and King Navarre refuses to sell. After tracking down his younger brother, Berowne, who had been gallivanting with his two buddies, Duke (Colin Barkell) and Bubba (Brett Benowitz), causing trouble all over the continent and parts of Europe, King coerces them to sign an agreement to work on his property under three conditions: no drinking, gambling, or womanizing. Berowne reluctantly agrees (since King threatened to cut off payments from his trust fund), but then suddenly takes the high road on the property issue arguing basically that all the moral authority in the world doesn't matter if King is not a man of his word. King points out that Berowne doesn't understand taking responsibility, and frankly, as a viewer, I was hooked.

King Navarre's plans are complicated when Leroy's daughter, LaReine Beausoleil (Trisha Jeffrey) arrives in Texas to attempt to claim her land accompanied by three women, friends of hers, who have some history with Berowne and his companions. Admittedly, things move a little too fast here as love is in the air. The characters on King's ranch are all men, and they quite quickly find counterparts on the Louisiana side to fall in love with including the stodgy, woman-scorned King Navarre, who falls for LaReine after barely a word passing between them. King (Darren Ritchie) sings an intriguing solo number about choosing between business and his heart, and as the first act closes, he makes his choice - business - by interrupting the other lovebirds during the most comedic sequence of the play, a local dance that Berowne and his companions sneaked off to in bad disguises so that they could check in on their women. As this confrontation comes to a close, LaReine learns her father has died. King attempts an apology, but LaReine and her party leave for Louisiana immediately.

The build-up went for naught as the remainder of the play becomes song after song wrapping up the subplots. The main important part of this second act comes when Berowne and King argue, in song, about a compromise Berowne suggests. It is unclear what King will choose, but later, at a wedding between Duke Dumaine (one of Berowne's companions, Colin Barkell) and Kathy Bridge (one of LaReine's, Annette Navarro), King surprises everyone by offering the full deal to Berowne. At the wedding, everyone finds their love except for Berowne and Rosaline. For some reason, Rosaline is miffed after not receiving a formal response to a letter she wrote pleading for Berowne to stand up to his brother. He stood up to his brother, but apparently, she needed it in writing. A year later, she holds up his poker game disguised as a seldom mentioned minor character who goes by the name of the Cowgirl Bandit. When she reveals her identity, the two sing to each other about their love in a lovely duet. Amanda Lea Lavergne as Rosaline was one of the brightest spots of the cast along with Bligh Voth as Maria Broussard.

Ultimately, the happy ending and the positive messages in the songs made for an enjoyable show. The expectations seemed to be very high based on the subject matter, and the high quality of the set design and costumes. Not to mention the inclusion of a live band. However, even from the third row, the difficulty in making out all the lines in each song became a serious concern. I'd suggest focusing the plot on the four main characters and cutting solo numbers by side characters that didn't greatly affect the dynamic of the play. Regardless, the show remained a pleasure to watch. For tickets ($30 for September 6-10 and $40 for September 12-24), go to https://sheencenter.org/shows/loveless/ or call 212-925-2812. 

Applause! Applause! Review of Stand Up & Take Your Clothes Off! at The Kraine Theater by Christopher M. Struck

This review of Stand Up & Take Your Clothes Off! at The Kraine Theater was written by Christopher M. Struck and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Stand Up & Take Your Clothes Off!
Various Performers
Produced by Jillaine Gill & Kerryn Feehan
Music by DJ Stevie C
Stage Kitten was Flora Carnivora
The Kraine Theater
85 East 4th Street
New York, New York 10003
Reviewed 9/3/17

Jillaine Gill and Divina Gransparkle (filling in for Kerryn Feehan) co-hosted and curated an excellent lineup of comedy and burlesque at the historic Kraine Theater in the East Village. Their comedy accentuated a night of laughs and sexy strip teases that kept viewers engaged and left them wanting more. Typically, this monthly variety show is co-hosted by Jillaine Gill and Kerryn Feehan, who will be back next month, but the chemistry between Jillaine and Divina was a pleasure to watch. For example, Divina dropped that she was coaching Jillaine to win the "Miss Coney Island" title this year and there happened to be a challenger in the crowd. It was a fun sequence which Divina followed up later by prompting Jillaine to read a prepared monologue. She read the part of the Judge's wife in Thinner. Jillaine got deep into character for the read with some campy retorts followed by a thrilling and conclusive shouting match. The audience responded enthusiastically. The duo also introduced the acts which included the female comics, Joyelle Nicole Johnson, Jen Mutascio, and Amber Rollo, as well as the burlesque performances of Sweet Lorraine, Miss Frankie Eleanor, and Clara Coquette.

Joyelle Nicole Johnson did a clever bit that combined political angst and sexual shock appeal revolving around a date with a white Trump supporter. He told her, "Black Lives Matter was a terrorist organization," and she decided that she has to do the deed as her part to help bring the nation back together. I'm loosely paraphrasing that because she also joked that the only reason she brought him home was "because he had weed." The funniest part, however, was her take on white privilege which culminated in, "he's mad because he didn't do anything with his whiteness." It had me laughing the next day too as I reflected on the performance. She also reminded us "you're about to see some titties, loosen up."

Sweet Lorraine, the founder of Shades of Burlesque, followed her and was easily my favorite act of the night. She strutted in wearing a wire mesh dress with a black corset to the song, "I Will Take That Ride" by Bette Davis. She had a classy, vintage hairstyle which hung just above her eyes which were painted to look like little almonds. As the song sensually chanted, "Lord have mercy...I'm mighty thirsty," Lorraine pulled off her opera gloves and shimmied out of her layers revealing her voluptuous figure. At one point she leaned over one of the audience members and began pulling off a glove with her teeth. She teased both guys and girls with sensual and sexual hand gestures.

Jen Mutascio came next and earned a lot of laughs. She made a number of self-deprecating jokes such as "I did grow up in Jersey. That is why I am so feminine" as well as one involving the guy in the front row who was sitting alone. She addressed him saying, "Hey, I'm a female comic. I'm not picky." Another highlight of her set was a joke about her mom finding her brother's gay porn in her closet. Her mom was appalled and Jen responded that is indeed what got her hot "because you can't get pregnant taking it in the back."

Miss Frankie Eleanor strutted on stage next in a beautiful golden dress with flowing, long, black hair. She moved smoothly to the Latino beat of Desatre by Pilon. She showed a lot of leg as she sensually removed various shimmering gold garments to reveal sheer underwear. She had incredible confidence and didn't even bat an eyelash when her bra caught as she removed it. In one deft swoop of her wrists, she snapped it off and tossed it aside to laughs, claps, and whoops from the women in the crowd.

Amber Rollo rounded out the comedy for the evening. She was a little in-between the other two comics with a mix of self-deprecating jokes that had some clever build ups as well. For example, she reported that as a stripper, she made money by providing a "Girl Friend Experience." She listened, made eye contact, and didn't touch their dick." She also joked that she trades nanny service for a haircut and that the three-year-old was asking to be exclusive. She's "still got it," she laughed, and then dropped that improv (something she also does) was the lowest of the low as a performer because she could still be "booked as a stripper."

Clara Coquette upped the tension in the room coming out in full latex to the hard rock song "Feed My Frankenstein" by Alice Cooper. After pulling off her flowing cape, she caressed her curves and then turned up the intensity of her act. She made aggressive strikes into the air as she violently threw zippers and straps aside. Where only her eyes and lips had been revealed, she showed hand, arm, and leg until she went down to her bare chest. When she finally let her mask fall to the floor, the only thing remaining was her panties and high-heeled boots. Electric performance!

Ultimately, all the performers did a good job. The comedy was entertaining and included some very funny jokes. Props again need to go to Jillaine for delivering a solid monologue. The October show next month will be the show's six-year anniversary. Additionally, Divina will be back to her burlesque routine, which if it includes as much sass and attitude as her stand up, promises to be fun. Tickets can be found on The Kraine Theater's website for $10 (or $15 at the door). See link here: http://www.horsetrade.info/event/4e8273d0c379530633751cbc53de0221   

Monday, September 4, 2017

The Schoenberg Spotlight Review of Wonder Woman: Rise Of The Warrior (2017) by Dr. Philip Ernest Schoenberg

This review of the movie Wonder Woman: Rise Of The Warrior (2017) was written by Dr. Philip Ernest Schoenberg and published in the online edition of The Schoenberg Spotlight.

Wonder Woman: Rise Of The Warrior (2017)
Directed by Patty Jenkins
Screenplay by Allan Heinberg
Story by Allan Heinberg, Zack Snyder & Jason Fuchs
Based on Wonder Woman by William Moulton Marston
Gal Gadot as Diana
Chris Pine as Steve Trevor
Reviewed 6/18/17

I enjoyed watching Wonder Woman. Patty Jenkins directed the stars in such a way that they worked as a team to give an ensemble to give performances of outstanding quality. The screenplay by Allan Heinberg based upon the story for this film written by Allan Heinberg, Zach Snyder, and Jason Fuchs reminded me of the Indiana Jones movies in which there is some type of non-stop action every few minutes that draws the attention of the audience and advances the story line in a meaningful fashion. The origin story was well-done and prepared us for her launch into the world of men to rescue them from war and violence.

Gal Gadot, as Diana the Wonder Woman, demonstrated agility, wit, intelligence, and wisdom that showed she was a quick learner. She was also capable of exercising caution and taking decisive action. Chris Pine successfully played a macho, but sensitive man, who instructed Diana in the ways of the world while not taking advantage of her. There is good chemistry between them with increasing sexual tension. They are partners and each takes charge at different times to lead an expedition to stop General Erich Ludendorff's plan to use a new poison weapon to win World War I. Diana shows her courage, fortitude, gentility, and ability in fighting the enemy. The movie is set during World War I. The atmosphere of the era is successfully recreated. Some liberties with history are taken but they are used to advance the plot. All in all, it is a very entertaining movie.

Despite this, the illiberal lefties, political correctness zealots, the reactionary progressives, the over-the-top liberals, and feministas could not leave well-enough alone. Somehow, they felt Wonder Woman should have done even more (and the men can go to hell) instead of seeing how both sexes can work together for the benefit of humanity. They have even debated whether Diana should have had her armpit hair shaved. And more than a few objected to Gal Gadot, an Israeli Beauty Contest Winner, being cast as Diana. In real life, besides being a beauty contest winner, Gal Gadot proudly served two years in the Israeli military, is an Israeli patriot proud of her country, and is a happily married mother of two, which goes against the leftist and feminist grain that women are exploited by Western culture. Fortunately, the producers have not listed to the bad advice of these loony lefties whose influence has damaged the Star Wars franchise.

The illiberal lefties, political correctness zealots, the reactionary progressives, the over-the-top liberals, and feministas have a canned narrative that minorities and women need extra help and set-asides to get ahead. In New York State, a legislator has proposed that the next State budget provides for $50,000.00 grants be offered to worthy minorities and women to encourage their participation in movie making. The government does not have a very good record in the creativity department. All this is an exercise in pork to reward ideologues who cannot find an audience for their stuff. Patty Jenkins and Gal Gadot have a bright future because they are competent in what they do, bring joy to people, and make profits for movie producers. They prove if you are good, you will get ahead. You don't need to demonize any group, employ affirmative action, or have government bureaucrats on your side to advance your career. The success of this movie is a rebuke to the opponents of capitalism and the democratic principle of equal opportunity for all.

Applause! Applause! Review of Nick Robideau's Inanimate at The Flea by Christopher M. Struck

This review of Nick Robideau's Inanimate at The Flea Theater was written by Christopher M. Struck and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Written by Nick Robideau
Directed by Courtney Ulrich
Scene Design by Yu-Hsuan Chen
Costume Design by Sarah Lawrence
Lighting Design by Becky Heisler McCarthy
Sound Design by Megan Culley
Production Stage Managed by Gina Solebello
The Flea Theater
20 Thomas Street
New York, New York 10007
Reviewed 8/27/17

This play aimed true in almost every facet. The dialogue was crisp; the set (scene, costume, lighting, and sound) design was on point; and the acting, phenomenal. Beyond that, Inanimate intrigued me with its oddities and left me wondering about the intricacies of the human mind. The main character, Erica, demonstrated a range of emotions including love and lust for inanimate objects. Lacy Allen shined in the lead role. Her eyes filled with sadness and desperation when confronted with the possible loss of these things she had become infatuated with. Yes, things! To us, we might view feelings toward material things as something akin to sentimental attachment, but apparently, this obsession with objects truly does exist.

It has been shown through psychological study that attachment to objects occurs normally at a very young age. Children prefer specific objects that have been given to them and are "theirs" over identical copies or replacements. While this can be considered a form of ownership, it does take on potentially new perspectives when viewed through the lens of this play. For example, Lacy's character, Erica, hears the voices of objects around her. While most of the lines are merely what the object is such as a fluffy bunny (Nancy Tatiana Quintana) calling herself "soft" or a lamp (Artem Kreimer) saying he "flickers and shines brighter," we could wonder that perhaps this object obsession is due to an actual "spirit of the object" such as an essence talking subliminally to us. Or perhaps her thoughts are merely constructions and hallucinations of normal emotional attachment to objects. Are the objects important because they have an actual voice, or because the objects are important for another reason - does a voice develop? So, in other words, does our sense of ownership come from an internal form of attachment unrelated metaphysically to the object in question or does the object itself also form an attachment to us?

Forming a conclusion on the reality or even the morality of those possibilities aside, I thought this made for an engaging story idea that kept me interested throughout. While the main conflict didn't have a lot of complex depth, it did subtly appear early. Erica has fallen in love with a Dairy Queen sign named "Dee," an artful character constructed by Philip Feldman. After allowing herself to awaken (in a sexual way) to the Dairy Queen sign, Erica begins to allow other objects to talk to her including a can opener who appears as BDSM gear-laden Michael Oloyede whispering "cold, metal, black." When she puts the can opener against her skin, someone complains and Erica loses her job at a supermarket. Her sister, Trish (Tressa Preston), a political activist promoting a referendum involving a downtown revitalization for small businesses is embarrassed by a caller to the show. So at first, it seems the main problem is Erica regaining a sense of normalcy so she doesn't hurt her sister's political ambitions. However, an astute viewer could pick up that the Dairy Queen is called old (it's on the edge of the downtown business district) and while Trish's bill is meant to help small businesses, it is conceivable she may use it to destroy Dee, which she does, causing a final rift between the sisters.

Mixed up in this, is an interesting human relationship that develops between Kevin, a manager at the DQ, and Erica. For six months, Erica has been coming to the DQ to get ice cream while Kevin just happens to have been working. Kevin has nursed a crush on her since high school. The two intermittently talk at night when Erica is trying to flirt with the DQ sign (yes, at times, this play is very funny). Erica even reveals her feelings for objects to Kevin at some point. At first, he is taken aback, but he eventually becomes extremely supportive. Erica suggests they could even get along harmoniously with her allowing him to have his way with her as well as other people if he is okay with her enjoying the occasional object. Too good to be true? Possibly. Maki Borden did a stellar job in the role, and he helped create many comedic moments.

Perhaps the infatuation with Dee was all just feelings for Kevin that couldn't be expressed another way? Or maybe Dee actually did exist and his climactic death will someday mean as much to us as the moment Jack floats away in Titanic. Regardless of what conclusions you may draw from your viewing of Inanimate, you will be entertained and have an interesting experience. Tickets are available for $35.00 online at www.theflea.org or via the Box Office extension at 212.353.3101. 

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Applause! Applause! Review of Larry Rinkel's A Kreutzer Sonata at The Secret Theatre by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Larry Rinkel's A Kreutzer Sonata at The Secret Theatre was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

A Kreutzer Sonata
Written by Larry Rinkel
Directed by Christopher Erlendson
Dramaturg by Devorah Merkin
Produced by Hindi Kornbluth & Leah Felner
The Secret Theatre
44-02 23rd Street
Long Island City, Queens 11101
Reviewed 8/24/17

Beethoven's Kreutzer Sonata, Opus 47 in A Major for Piano and Violin was performed, in part, by Freshman David Lindenbaum (Timothy Oriani) and Sophomore Elena Guerriero (Chelsea Davis) as a duet after being paired together by their Music Instructor, Professor Tomansky (Amanda Boekelheide). David is an Orthodox Jew attending a secular college for the first time in his life. He is a bit of a music prodigy and accepted the offer of a full scholarship, which action was supported by his emotionally and physically absent father, Avram Lindenbaum (Joe Rubino), and opposed by his fearful non-supportive mother, Rebekah Lindenbaum (Lauren Snyder), who also played Avram's girlfriend Carolyn. The Kreutzer Sonata, written by Leo Tolstoy and published in 1889, was an argument for the ideal of sexual abstinence and an in-depth first-person description of jealous rage. 
Larry Rinkel's A Kreutzer Sonata is a play about religious hypocrisy (which could be viewed as justifying anti-Semitism) and the brutal rape of David Lindenbaum, a virgin, by Elena Guerriero, his music partner who is clearly a sexual predator. David's college roommate is Terry Michaels (Jack Turell), a Lutheran/Atheist, who is a sex addict. He is so horny, he brings pornographic magazines to David's home over winter break. Christopher Erlendson directs Elena and Terry to often present themselves to the audience with legs spread eagle in a "come hither" fashion.

In preachy little expositions, David explains what it means to be a Jew. He says, "Being Jewish is more than just caring about money, wearing a skull cap, and saying 'Oy Vey!' all day. It's about obeying God's commandments." He explains to his roommate he does not believe in having sexual intercourse until marriage and that he wears his yamuka at all times (except when in the shower) as "a reminder that God is always above me." He explains what he can and cannot do on Shabbos and makes a big deal about not eating non-Kosher food. Terry, his roommate, even asks David, "Can you lighten up and be a little less Jewish." You would think that such pious, devout, God-fearing Orthodox Jews would be, as my Jewish friend once told me, "a moral example to others." That is not the case in Larry Rinkel's A Kreutzer Sonata. Here, we have a son who lies to his mother; a father who has abandoned his faith, bribes a professor to alter a grade, and has a girlfriend on the side; and a mother who invites a piano instructor over when she is alone so he can "sample her sweets," insults guests to their face in her home, and harbors negative feelings towards non-Jews. The word "hypocritical" comes to mind and it is hard to respect people who make such a big deal of their faith only to abandon its moral prescriptions in their everyday life. Add to that the fact Jews view themselves as God's Chosen People and you will start to see that this play lays the groundwork for explaining the existence of anti-Semitism, making it, in my opinion, an anti-Semitic play.

Elena Guerriero, David's music partner who is attracted to him, is a woman who won't take no for an answer and calls men who won't sleep with her "fags." She disrespects all religion, calls David "Yamuka Boy," makes fun of the fact he is circumcised and gets angry at him when he doesn't accept her "invitation" to go back to her place to have sex. In fact, she takes it as a personal insult since she considers herself to be "a pretty girl." David may be attracted to Elena but he makes it explicitly clear that "there can't be anything between us." Refusing to accept that no means no, Elena sexually assaults David, mounts him, forcibly kisses and gropes him, all the while telling him to "give in" because "no one's around" and "it will be nice." The actual rape (sexual intercourse) is implied but David exhibits all the emotional trauma of a rape victim. He starts missing class, tells his professor he can no longer work with Elena and says he is considering dropping out of school. By not reporting the sexual assault, David is re-traumatized when Professor Tomansky pressures him to continue to work with Elena and when his father invites his rapist, without David's knowledge, to their home for Passover. Elena Guerriero should have been arrested, convicted, and registered as a Sex Offender to warn others of her "charms."

Comic relief is provided by Jack Turell, who plays David's roommate, Terry Michaels. When David explains to him that sex is permitted on Shabbos, Terry makes him uncomfortable by physically entering his personal space with his crotch near David's face, jokingly suggesting they might be able to find something to do especially if David is not permitted by Jewish law to turn on the lights. I have no idea whatever happened to internet porn at that college, but Terry is seen ripping out pages from the Sports Illustrated Summer Swimsuit edition and shoving them in his pocket for future use. His character directly interacts with the audience pouring beer on audience members while supposedly interrupting a concert featuring David and Elena. Finally, Terry regifts a Hindu elephant to David's mother and eventually hooks up with Elena. On the surface, at least, they make a perfect pair. Both are constantly ready for action!

In the end, David finds a Jewish girlfriend, Amy Goldstein, and pronounces, "I am, above all else, a Jew." His mom opens a bakery adding Indian spices to old Jewish recipes. It appears the Hindu elephant was good luck after all. His father gets a divorce, leaves the faith, and moves in with Carolyn, his non-Jewish girlfriend. All the actors were excellent in their respective roles. The point of the play, however, escapes my comprehension. On the surface, it appears to be a simple "slice of life" play - the experiences of an Orthodox Jewish Freshman during his first six months at a secular college. However, the immorality of the characters and the explicit hyper-sexuality viewed while comparing this story with that told in Tolstoy's The Kreutzer Sonata, which also involved rage over infidelity and the suggestion that sexual abstinence should be the ideal instead of people giving into "animal excesses," leaves me wondering whether Larry Rinkel's intention was to make a larger point.

A Kreutzer Sonata is entertaining and provides audiences with a few good laughs. It definitely will leave you with a lot to think about. The play was presented as a part of the UNFringed Festival 2017 at The Secret Theatre. For more information, you can call 718-392-0722 or visit www.secrettheatre.com 

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Applause! Applause! Review of Larry Rinkel's A Kreutzer Sonata at The Secret Theatre by Dr. Philip Ernest Schoenberg

This review of Larry Rinkel's A Kreutzer Sonata at The Secret Theatre was written by Dr. Philip Ernest Schoenberg and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

A Kreutzer Sonata
Written by Larry Rinkel
Directed by Christopher Erlendson
Dramaturg by Devorah Merkin
Produced by Hindi Kornbluth & Leah Felner
The Secret Theatre
44-02 23rd Street
Long Island City, Queens 11101
Reviewed 8/24/17

To paraphrase Israel Zangwill's heroic playwright in The Melting Pot, A Kreutzer Sonata is "a mediocre play performed well by the actors." David Lindenbaum recounts his past year experience of being a freshman at a secular university away from his sheltered Orthodox Jewish home. He finds himself attracted to a gentile girl, majors in music and deals with the divorce of his parents. 

The actors were all very professional and believable in their respective roles. Timothy Oriani is the conflicted Orthodox Jewish freshman caught between the secular and Jewish worlds during his first year away from home. He looks every bit the virginal freshman and exudes youthful charm. Joe Rubino is excellent as his emotionally distant father, Avram Lindenbaum, who is quite physically and emotionally distant from his son - the stereotypical absentee patriarch of the family. Lauren Snyder was David's cold, dogmatic mother, Rebekah Lindenbaum, the exact opposite of a loving "Yiddisher mama." She also played Carolyn, her husband's new love interest and potential life partner, so convincingly that I thought another actress was portraying the role. Chelsea Davis was the "talented violinist" who was Elena Guerriero, David's duet partner. Elena thought her being "pretty" was "a fact" but I did not really see Chelsea Davis, who played an aggressive, snarky, and outspoken young woman, as being the kind of woman who could "turn on" David and his gentile roommate Terry Michaels. In addition, she was "far too long in the tooth" to play a 19-year old Sophomore. Perhaps someone else should have been cast in the role. David and Elena exhibited no romantic chemistry. Jack Turell was successful in playing David's well-intentioned Lutheran/Atheist roommate. Amanda Boekelheide was his strict music teacher, who turned out having ethical standards she would readily compromise if the bribe was large enough. Christopher Erlendson did a fine job directing. As for the costuming, I did feel there could have been some more changes of clothes to better suit some of the scenes.

A play like any other story is supposed to be a journey of self-discovery and growth. I really didn't see this taking place with the characters in this play. I am not convinced David Lindenbaum was changed by his experiences. My personal experience as an American and a Jew is that people, whatever their religious background and whatever part of the country they are from, seek to be accommodating to their fellow believers and non-believers. Although we privately think we are God's Chosen People and have the exclusive key to heaven because of our religious beliefs, we generally find it to be good manners to get along with our non-Jewish neighbors and fellow citizens. I was personally taught there was no advantage to being Jewish but that one should be a good moral example to others. I found Terry Michaels' negative reaction to his roommate's "religious observances" to be a straw man that failed to advance the plot, especially when the main reason he gave for keeping David as a roommate was that he kept himself clean. 

There were three incidents I felt distracted from the story instead of enhancing it. One was the rape of David Lindenbaum by Elena Guerriero. Although David narrates he has developed romantic/sexual feelings for her, I don't see this convincingly demonstrated by either of the two characters. Terry Michaels, his roommate, acts as a drunken lout and galoot during a key duet performance by Elena Guerriero and David Lindenbaum. Yes, I can believe Terry is capable of being a drunken lout but not during his roommate's recital. In real life, he would have been suspended or expelled from the college and his roommate would not have been so accommodating and forgiving. Then Elena Guerriero goes bonkers that David Lindenbaum is circumcised? This is a most surprising reaction given her prolific sexual experiences and the fact that male circumcision is a commonly performed operation in the United States. More than a million American babies have their foreskins removed every year. In 2011, 79% of all American male babies were circumcised. 

I don't have any issues with the basic plot: the conflict between the religious and secular realm, the people of two different faiths "falling in love," or the estrangement between child and parent. This has been the plot of many a fine drama or play. The problem is the failure to advance the plot in a systematic series of actions. Instead, we have periods of exposition about Orthodox Judaism which slows down the play. Instead of being shown, we get didactics. I can take Judaism 101 at a college at any time. I felt that some of Professor Tomansky's lines could have been better written. She mentions Felix Mendelssohn, the music composer, who was the grandson of German Jewish philosopher Moses Mendelssohn but in light of Felix having become a Christian, I have no idea what point she was making.

We are introduced to some of the religious practices and beliefs of Modern Orthodox Judaism without being given a reason why they believe or practice in that manner. Why do Jews keep kosher? Why do Jews observe Shabbes? These mysteries are not explained to us. We need action, not exposition; dramatics, not didactics.

Although I have been hard on Larry Rinkel, the playwright, he does show great promise. There were elements of greatness at times within the play. There were even some witty lines and actions that were deservedly rewarded by audience laughter. Thanks to the able use of these lines by the actors, the show was rescued from failure. Here and there the language came to life and the actors directly interacted with audience members dropping beer on many of them. 

The most scintillating parts of the play were the monologues of the father, which formed a subplot by itself. The most moving one was when he explained his loss of faith but continued to practice the rituals of Orthodox Judaism, which were meaningless to him but kept his family happy. That felt authentic and made for good theater. Almost as compelling was the scene between father and son when they get together for a meal. The son challenges the father regarding his gentile girlfriend. His father then reveals the empty shell his marriage has been as well as his decision to leave the faith. 

In the end, we do care about David and the rest of his life. Larry Rinkel does have a future as a playwright and I look forward to the growth of his writing and its performance on the stage. You can catch A Kreutzer Sonata as part of The Secret Theatre's UNFringed 2017 Festival. Tickets cost $18.00 and can be purchased at http://unfringed2017.bpt.me. For more information, call 718-392-0722. 

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Applause! Applause! Review of Coni Ciongoli Koepfinger's AfterLife at The Secret Theatre by Christopher M. Struck

This review of Coni Ciongoli Koepfinger's AfterLife at The Secret Theatre was written by Christopher M. Struck and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Written by Coni Ciongoli Koepfinger
Directed by Joan Kane
Costume Designs by Lani Cerveris Cataldi
The Secret Theatre
44-02 23rd Street
Long Island City, Queens 11101
Reviewed 8/17/17

AfterLife opened on a ragged set full of animal skins and scattered trash giving way immediately to a distinct dystopian vibe. To a soundtrack that provoked the feeling of an electronic Dances With Wolves, a woman ran along a barbed wire fence in search of trash. A "Tag" she calls herself when confronted by a strange man who she accuses of being a "Talker." More is revealed about whom Talkers and Tags are and how they relate as the play goes on, but now, we have the key back drop of the show. Two people meet just outside a fence patrolled by guards that protect some unseen compound that holds among other things an apple tree. One is a man and the other a woman.

This may spark some recognition of the tale of Adam and Eve and that would be on point. This story is a post-apocalyptic rendition of the classic tale of human creation inspired by a painting from the Voire Dire Project of a tree alongside a fence. The darkness of the painting in question could certainly have inspired the dark tone of the play, but there isn't anything particularly creation story oriented within the painting. The Invasion, painted by Cindi Cericola, instead looks like a plain picket fence with a barren tree so I would posit that the lone tree served as an opportune catalyst for a pre-conceived idea of a post-apocalyptic Adam and Eve. The play's content also focuses most heavily on the evil of "them" which typically insinuates greedy corporations who among other things "intoxicated" the world with plastic. The commentary is neither obtuse nor demonstrably insightful, but regardless, a few lines may provoke discussion such as a sequence when Stark Wilz as the Talker begins his attempt to lure the curvaceous Lani Cerveris Cataldi as the Tag into helping him to get two apples from a nearby tree by saying, "Are you hungry? I am starving...There is no garbage, and we shouldn't eat garbage. We could work together [to get the apples on the tree]."

The two actors were convincing in their roles, and they delivered the long stretches of dialogue fluidly and easily. However, they weren't required to do a whole lot other than stand across from each other and play off each other. When the Talker goes off to chase the apples that have fallen from the tree, the Tag sings, "Be with me, color the light...Be set free, be with me." When the Talker returns, he watches her sing. When she notices he is back, she states, "They can't stop the music," to which the Talker responds, "Teach me to sing. I want to be in tune with life." She coaxes the music out of him by talking him through a path of enlightenment similar to Buddhism's eight-fold path and lo and behold, he can sing! Both actors have beautiful voices. I'd be curious to see what they are capable of in potentially more demanding roles because I felt they handled this performance well.

Other highlights of the play include the costume design which was done by Lani too. Her makeup work made the two characters look like rugged adventurers who had been tested by years of violence and strife. The atmosphere, lighting, and stage design truly fit with the intended idea of the play. The play itself felt a little long-winded at times, but it provided a platform for discussion afterward, which was fun. People interpreted aspects of the play differently which allowed for the story to take on new life after the show. Additional performances of AfterLife at The Secret Theatre are on August 22nd at 7:30 p.m., August 27th at 3:00 p.m., and September 1st at 7:30 p.m. To get tickets, call the box office at 718-392-0722 or go online to www.secrettheatre.com. Enjoy!  

Monday, August 21, 2017

Applause! Applause! Review of Narrows Community Theater's Summer Youth Production of Disney's The Little Mermaid at Fort Hamilton Army Base Theater by Dr. Philip Ernest Schoenberg

This review of Narrows Community Theater's Summer Youth Production of Disney's The Little Mermaid at Fort Hamilton Army Base Theater was written by Dr. Philip Ernest Schoenberg and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Disney's The Little Mermaid
Original Book by Doug Wright
Modified Book by Glenn Casale
Music by Alan Menken
Lyrics by Howard Ashman
Additional Lyrics by Glenn Slater
Directed by Stearns Matthews
Musical Direction by Greg Matteson
Choreography by Katie Rose McLaughlin
Assistant Choreography by Emily Missud
Stage Managed by Eric Braunstein
Fort Hamilton Army Base Theater
403 General Robert E. Lee Avenue
Brooklyn, New York 11209
Reviewed 8/19/17

The Little Mermaid is an enchanting musical that transports one to a land and sea of make-believe. Good as the cartoon feature was, the stage musical puts legs (or fins) on the original concept. Narrows Community Theater's Summer Youth Production of Disney's The Little Mermaid was magical. The chorus and backup dancers, consisting of children of all ages, were well choreographed. They were wonderful, whether performing as a school of fish, backup cooks, or party guests at a feast. Katie Rose McLaughlin and Emily Missud are brilliant choreographers. Rita Donohue and Marla Gotay, assisted by many parents, outdid themselves in creating brilliant costumes for over 50 actors! 

Caitlyn Schmidt stole the show as Ursula, the evil, wicked Sea Witch. Ariel, played by Abigail Summa, was amazing whether acting, singing, dancing, or pantomiming. Andrew Gonzalez acted well in the role of Prince Eric but unfortunately, he could not carry a tune. Flounder, performed by Amanda Summa had a good voice and a strong stage presence. Liam Sprecht's character Sebastian acted so gay I suspect he may have been directed by Ru Paul instead of Stearns Matthews. At times, I was afraid he was going to fly right off the stage. Brian Mansell as King Triton successfully came across as a caring father. Steven Fazzolari did more with the part of Scuttle than the actor who played the part on Broadway. Many of the remaining cast members are very talented. You will be impressed.

The people behind the stage also deserve credit. I was impressed with the Lighting Design by Duane Pagano, helped by Osvaldo Gratereaux, Michael Fasano, Jerry Lam, and Robert Faicco. The Sound Design by Steve Jacobs, helped by Kendi King, Kirsa Danis, and Elaine Pollock was of professional quality. I was really impressed by the Set Design by Patrick Nash and Tara Perry, and the Props by Margaret McMahon and Maryjo Tipaldo. The scenes and set furniture were quickly and effortlessly changed. The projections suggesting various scenes were a nice addition and skillfully handled by Adam Olkin. Greg Matteson, the Musical Director, ably conducted the orchestra, which played well.

The Fort Hamilton Army Base Theater is one of the most comfortable I have been to. Refreshments were sold at a reasonable price. The bathrooms are also conveniently located nearby. Marla Gotay, the Producer, and Stearns Matthews, the Director, are to be congratulated for giving us a stage production worthy of Broadway. Remaining performances are on Saturday, August 26th at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., and on Sunday, August 27th at 2:00 p.m. Tickets cost $25.00 for adults, $20.00 for seniors and students, and $15.00 for children 12 years of age and under. For ticket reservations and information, call NCT at 718-482-3173, or e-mail NCT@NCTheaterNY.com 

Don't miss a wonderful opportunity to enjoy a Broadway-quality show!

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Applause! Applause! Review of Narrows Community Theater's Summer Youth Production of Disney's The Little Mermaid at Fort Hamilton Army Base Theater by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Narrows Community Theater's Summer Youth Production of Disney's The Little Mermaid at Fort Hamilton Army Base Theater was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Disney's The Little Mermaid
Original Book by Doug Wright
Modified Book by Glenn Casale
Music by Alan Menken
Lyrics by Howard Ashman
Additional Lyrics by Glenn Slater
Directed by Stearns Matthews
Musical Direction by Greg Matteson
Choreography by Katie Rose McLaughlin
Assistant Choreography by Emily Missud
Stage Managed by Eric Braunstein
Fort Hamilton Army Base Theater
403 General Robert E. Lee Avenue
Brooklyn, New York 11209
Reviewed 8/19/17

The Little Mermaid is a stage musical about Ariel, a mermaid who trades her beautiful voice for the opportunity to become human for three days during which she must win the love of Prince Eric, that must be evidenced by his kissing her by sunset of the third day. If she gets the kiss, she will remain human. If she fails, her eternal soul will belong to her Aunt Ursula, who is in a struggle with her brother King Triton for control of the seas. The Little Mermaid is based on the 1989 Disney film, which in turn was based on the classic story by Hans Christian Andersen. The musical began previews on November 3, 2007, at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, officially opening on January 10, 2008, and closing on August 30, 2009, after 685 performances and 50 previews. A modified version of the musical with a new book and direction by Glenn Casale was developed in 2012, and this version has been the basis for subsequent productions. 

This presentation of Disney's The Little Mermaid is great fun! It features over fifty outstanding young actors many of whom definitely have a future in the theater. Nine talented musicians, led by Greg Matteson, provided the score. There were five standout performers - Abigail Summa, Steven Fazzolari, Amanda Summa, Anthony Berini, and Caitlyn Schmidt. Abigail Summa, who played Ariel, captivated the attention of the audience with her singing. Even though she gives up her voice, she continues to sing to the audience outside the earshot of her fellow actors on stage. Unfortunately, many of those songs were duets with Andrew Gonzalez, who played Prince Eric. Although he looked the part of a Prince, his singing voice was pitch-imperfect and cringe-worthy as reflected by the poor response of the audience. Steven Fazzolari was absolutely hilarious as Scuttle, the Seagull, who is supposed to have knowledge of human ways. The script has him making up words and stories. You'll never forget his rendition of "Positoovity." When he suggests Ariel must learn to "perambulate" if she wants to win the Prince's attention. Sebastian, the crab, misunderstands the meaning of the word "perambulate" and says Ariel "would never do that to win Prince Eric's love." In a very questionable decision by Stearns Matthews, the Director, Liam Specht performs Sebastian with the hand-gestures and voice inflections of a flamboyant gay man and ghetto-raised black woman. Amanda Summa was amazing as Flounder. She has a very strong stage presence and an excellent voice. Anthony Berini brought the house down as Chef Louis singing and acting during the song "Les Poissons." He nailed it! Finally, Caitlyn Schmidt was delightfully evil as the Sea Witch, Aunt Ursula. Even though she was wronged by her brother, it was hard to feel sympathy for her in light of the fact she is a mass murderer. Still, she was far more believable than was Brian Mansell, who played King Triton. His voice was far too high to come across as an authoritative King. The two big production numbers were "Under The Sea" and "Kiss The Girl." They were both brilliant and entertaining!  

Ariel is a young girl who dreams "the grass is greener on the other side of the fence." She collects items from the human world and places them in her grotto ("look at this trove, treasures untold"). She saves Prince Eric, who falls overboard, and quickly falls in love with him. As Ursula ("ugly as a slug, hideous to hug") says, "The only thing more powerful than my magic is teenage hormones." Sebastian warns Ariel "to get your head out of the clouds and into the water where it belongs" and tells her "you're swimming in dangerous waters," but she is committed to giving up her family and friends to live in a foreign environment where humans eat the very fish who were once her friends. For dinner, Chef Louis was serving Lobster Bisque and Tuna Tartar. Without her voice, Ariel only has her attractive body and feminine mannerisms to get Prince Eric to love her. She succeeds and the Prince eventually chooses Ariel even over "the mysterious young woman with the beautiful voice" he has been searching for. As Prince Eric says, "We have much in common. You are a quiet girl in a noisy world and I am a Prince who would rather be a sailor." Even though her father thinks all humans are barbarians, Ariel "doesn't get cold fins" and defends them by saying, "You can't blame all humans for a few wicked ones." Eventually, Ursula is defeated and King Triton grants Ariel's wish (with the help of the audience waving lit Tridents they bought for $7.00 during intermission) to become a human permanently. Prince Eric asks King Triton for Ariel's hand in marriage but the King says "Ariel can speak for herself." She consents and supposedly lives "happily ever after" remaining "a bright light in a dark world." Two other bad directorial decisions included how Prince Eric was depicted as having fallen overboard (he basically ran off the stage) and the manner in which Ariel destroyed Ursula's "magic nautilus shell" and took back her father's Trident (all of which took place off-stage). 

This production of Disney's The Little Mermaid is a great success. Despite the minor problems mentioned, I guarantee you will have a good time and be inspired by all the young talent who will be entertaining audiences for decades to come. Remaining performances are on Saturday, August 26th at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., and on Sunday, August 27th at 2:00 p.m. Tickets cost $25.00 for adults, $20.00 for seniors and students, and $15.00 for children 12 years of age and under. For ticket reservations and information, call NCT at 718-482-3173, or e-mail NCT@NCTheaterNY.com