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 Sin Fronteras 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