Legacy Stage Gives Us a New Shade of Gray

Reviewed by Bob Greene

Legacy Stage should be commended for taking a topic, usually sub-plotted at best, and putting it in the forefront – and playwright Allan Provost should be commended for writing it.

The Gray List deals with that dirty three letter word – age. It’s the story of John Brooks, a talented – and from what the props and wall decorations imply – celebrated screenwriter, whose dry spell is starting to look like a plot. Screenwriter Brooks’ supposition is made painfully true when his agent of many years informs him that his star is starting to fade thanks to the fact that he’s acting his age in a world where the young and “hip” rule. Brooks devises a plan to hoist these whipper-snapper-wannabes by their own petard by employing the nephew of an old friend to masquerade as a young “hip” writer, but hawking John’s screenplays all the while. Sort of like Cyrano de Bergerac finding a Christian to woo the Roxane called Hollywood.

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Allan Provost’s caustic, nostalgic, and at times uproarious wit, combined with Laurie Rae Waugh’s naturalistic staging weaves a parable that was both entertaining and enlightening. Mr. Provost’s subtlety created numerous delayed-but-nonetheless-belly-laughs (“he worked with Felix what’s-his-name…” “Tony Randall!”) and Ms. Waugh’s astute use of dimensions created cool breezes on the patio and starry nights filled with sports cars in and out of driveways.

The characters created to utter these prose were indeed pros. A majority of mature characters gave the story that much more punch. Thomas J. Kane as John Brooks gave a charismatic showing as the author losing his touch and his hair; Kitty Hendrix gave a fine performance as Brook’s long suffering wife whose own problems regarding her marketability as an actress are dwarfed by her husband’s writers roadblock. She also served as a Greek chorus watching the action and letting the audience feel the tension through her eyes; Vincent Iannuzzi made the Hollywood or bust nephew both menacing and moronic – allowing us to alternate between hating him and pitying him; Alan Charney played the not-so-secretly gay agent with great subtlety allowing his feelings to come across only in a silent turn or a breath of a pause giving us classic closeted behavior – see, hear, say nothing.

IMG_0745.JPGBut the finest of the evening was Marilyn Duryea as the faded Hollywood starlet who is just happy to be remembered. Ms. Duryea could have fallen back on stereotypical gestures and delivery but managed to bring a fresh take to this character, allowing us to see the heart of an actress of the bygone days supplying moments of genuine depth and unique thought. Mr. Provost should be commended again for giving her such lilting dialogue.

Gray 1.JPGThe play and the production do have flaws. The play – in formula – bears more than a passing similarity to Ira Levin’s murder play of the same era – down to the sometimes a comedy, sometimes not motif. The subject matter – ageism and homophobia – should have been hit harder in places. Maybe deeper money woes for the Brooks family, more exposition regarding the agent’s AIDS-ailing lover, or more menacing moments for Iannuzzi could have raised the stakes. The costumes and set, while serviceable, could have had more touches of the era for which the play takes place, the mood music sometimes fit and sometimes did not, scene changes were challenging logistically, AND all the characters seemed to drink too much. But these issues did not prohibit the audience from enjoying the night. That’s what runs like this are for, to hone promising works so that they might become larger productions or …

… maybe a movie?

The Gray List runs till Sunday at the American Theatre of Actors. http://www.legacystageensemble.org

Photos provided by A.G. Liebowitz and WrightGroupNY Communications. 

Bob Greene is a former playwright and retired history professor. He’s had works presented in New York and regionally since 1978. After a short and unhappy stint at Newsday, he is delighted to write for several online services. He and his partner of 27 years call New York home – even though they live in New Jersey. 

 

 

 

Theatre has its Goddesses: Women making a difference off-off Broadway

Astrologers and philosophers like Tom Lescher have pointed out that – as of 2012 – the prevailing energy around the world veers from male to female. Statistics in everything from education to business to – yes – the theatre verify this. It’s no secret that audience demographics are governed by the wives’ opinion of what’s good on Broadway. Now we see a major upswing in off-Broadway with regard to the female playwright and entrepreneur. Women are taking their theatre careers in their hands more than ever and producing their own work in companies started by themselves and other female colleagues and discussing issues that before were sub-plotted at best.

A current example is Legacy Stage Ensemble and its creators, Laurie Rae Waugh and Kitty Hendrix. Journeymen both, Ms. Waugh has been a member of the theatrical community for 25 years having stood on legendary stages at seminal moments in time. She stage managed the famed Broadway Cares July 4, 1987 performance benefiting STAMP OUT AIDS dedicated to Michael Bennett. Her colleague, Kitty Hendrix, has created more than 30 roles on stage, in film, and on television. She took time to raise a child and run a successful business, but all the while she was growing great art for the stage and in herself. Today, she has credits that include the stage as well as ABC and CBS. They’ve come together to create Legacy Stage Ensemble – a world-conscious company that examples socially relevant – and slightly envelope pushing issues – on stage. Opening this month is The Gray List. A play that unapologetically deals with ageism, racism, and homophobia. We’ve seen plays about homophobia but when that becomes the spice in a play about what it means to grow old in the unforgiving Hollywood, you have a powerful evening. Joining them is Jessica Jennings. Ms. Jennings carries on the family name and business started by her father, entrepreneur and founder of the American Theatre of Actors, James Jennings. A fitting parable… like father … like daughter. She is also president of the board and director of development for Ripple Effect Artist. Artistic director, Jessie Fahay, and Ms. Jennings have formed this company dedicated to creating a connected, loving, communicative, and compassionate world through staged theatre works that offer an inquiry into the human condition. REA partners with international organizations that make a difference in human rights. They are currently in pre-production for Twelfth Night.

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The Gray List runs through April 28 at the American Theatre of Actorshttps://www.smarttix.com/show.aspx?showcode=GRA29

 

Improvisational Repertory Theatre Ensemble’s Artistic director, Nannette Deasy managed to sneak the same message into her latest improv show, The Groovy Gang Adventures. A Scooby Doo send-up that has a message about what it means to grow old today. IRTE is a cutting edge improv group now living comfortably at Gotham City Improv’s stage.

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IRTE’s season continues through the summer. http://irteinfo.wix.com/irte

 

Last season another team of women brought Witnessed by the World to the stage. This dark piece, written by Ronnie Cohen and Jane Beale contributed another chapter in the Kennedy conspiracy. At last discussion, the play was negotiating further runs with “asks” out to A list actors for the female leading role. Another example is Suzanne Sitleman, a young filmmaker who’s first major film; Norman Normal broke all predictions and premiered at Cannes. Norman Normal was the surreal tale of what happens when you allow your day-job to take over your soul. Sort of Kafka meets Office Space.

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http://www.normannormalthefilm.com/

 

 

Oral tradition has historically been the male of the tribe’s job but today we see more and more women penning what needs to be remembered. Sibyl Renae, has giving all she has to tell the story of her brother’s mental illness and how it tore apart her family in “THIS IS WHY I WHISPER,”

Timing her latest revival to come just after National Mental Illness Month, Ms. Renae’s heart wrenching drama has been performed in New York and nationally since 2010. She secured the funding to present a revival at Symphony Space’s Peter Jay Sharp theatre in June. Ms. Renae wrote this play in a wheel chair, grieving over the death of her husband due to an accident that crippled her for nearly a decade. Her stage work was birthed because of her mother’s impassioned plea to not allow her brother to be put in an institution when she passed on. Ms Renae has kept her word.

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“Whisper” returns to Symphony Space, June 29. (Contact Wrightgroupny@gmail.com)

But like every cause there were those that carried the torch before the cause was a cause. Two fine examples of this are Joanne de Simone and April James – to old friends who remember the good and not-so-good old days.

April James started out as an actress. She was executive producer of Actor’s Voyage East, an off-off Broadway theater company established in the 1970s right around the corner from Ellen Stewart’s celebrated La Mama. Actor’s Voyage East obtained permission to produce the American premier of Hugh Leonard’s The Poker Session at the historical Lamb’s Club; this was a very momentous time in the theatrical community. The Lamb’s Club was in Chapter 11 and through the ticket sales of THE POKER SESSION, we were able to keep the famous actor’s club alive for a little while longer until it had to finally close its doors and reopen in a different venue.

Her most recent corporate incarnation, The Viking Theater Company, is an outgrowth of Actor’s Voyage East. In the last eight years, they’ve produced both original and classical plays and short films.  They’re very excited about our upcoming staged reading of AWAKE AND SING!  by Clifford Odets and continue to look for new and thought-provoking material to produce both for stage and screen.

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 Awake and Sings is revived at the Actors Temple Theatre. (Contact Wrightgroupny@gmail.com)

 Her friend and colleague, Joanne de Simone, can sing Sinatra’s “That’s Life” and mean it. Have been in and out the industry for decades. Ms. de Simone’s theatre stories are legion. Today, she is on the upswing with recent successes on stage, Linoleum’s Hard, Earthmen, and Norma Jeanne, Enlightened, as well as Judy’s Dead (Winner, First Prize, Writer’s Digest Stage Play competition, 2010), The Suicide Angel  (in feature film pre-production with Goodale Productions) and Earthmen currently in pre-production with Genesis pictures. Her book Metro Cats is also in process of becoming an animated feature. The Blessing House, a short story, is in development for TV movie. Her short stories have seen publication in South Bay Magazine, Bright Lights Film Journal and Southampton Press, Pif Magazine, and weekly film reviews in Fire Island News.

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Another Broadway journeyman is Mary Elizabeth MiCari. Ms. MiCari is a veteran designer and staff member of more than a half dozen Broadway shows and innumerable off- and off-off Broadway productions. She founded her first theatre company at age 19 (the None of the Above theatre) and is co-founder and current artistic director of Genesis Repertory, a classical stage and film company. Recently she returned to her first love, singing. She is in the process of recording her first album due out in June. Ms. MiCari – like Ms. De Simone has worked all facets for many years. A celebrated actress and director are two other medals she has pinned to her resume. A student of her, Erica Vasaturo, is the lead singer and the driving force of the Mick Wately Band, whose first album and concert tour are on the schedule for the summer.

36313_4394473892833_1255607828_nwww.maryemicari.com/

Finally, no list would be complete with Glory Kadigan. The founder of the prolific Glory’s List, networking thread that services the entertainment industry, Ms. Kadigan has served as the Planet Connections Theatre Festivity’s producing artistic director for four seasons. Prior to founding Planet Connections, she worked as the artistic director of various other theater festivals.

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She is a freelance stage director and an alum of the Lincoln Center Directors Lab, La Mama Directors Symposium and of The Labyrinth Theater Company’s Master Class. Ms. Kadigan is an associate member of the Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers and has been the recipient of the Meritorious Achievement Award in Direction from the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival. www.glorykadigan.com/

This list is but a small sample of what’s out there. Imagine how vast the constellation of females artists really is. How can we find them?

Let’s check Glory’s List.

IRTE 2: A Scooby Snack that eats like a meal!

The Improvisational Repertory Theatre Ensemble is back. This group of stage and film artists has come together for another season of quick-wit hi-jinks.

Hi-Jinks??? Who uses such a word in the 21st century? They sure do. This series of long-form fun is brought to you by their childhood.

The Groovy Gang Adventures is a very thinly veiled tribute to Scooby Doo and the mystery solving teens of the 70s and early 80s, complete with the stock guest characters: the talking animal (in this case a gator); the old millionaire, the eerie mystic who everyone thinks will be the villain in the end, but is actually a red herring; the actual villain; and so many others in this retro repertory.

The agile ensemble of Robert Baumgardner, Nannette Deasy, Alex Decaneas, Curt Dixon, Jamie Maloney, Danielle Montezinos, Jeff O’Leary, and Isabelle Owens set the stage brilliantly with mood music (if you can call the Archies mood), and homage to the famed Scooby Doo chase montage, the “mysterious” locale they blunder into, and the famed vaudeville style double takes all on Gotham City Improv’s really lovely stage. They deftly add a lot of topical humor (Curt Dixon’s hysterical character, Talcum, was a consistent laugh inducer), mondo-sexual innuendo (morphing into downright pornographic from time to time ) and – undoubtedly thanks to their own stage training – excellent comic timing. The humor, no matter how silly and seemingly childish, possessed a wit and private-joke delivery. The best example is a thread that starts innocently discussing how a gator ages and turns into a social commentary on the youth culture and how the previous generation feels the need to takes steps back in order to belong – at least that’s how it seemed. Robert Baumgardner should get special mention for his spot-on bayou style accent and the group’s founder, Nannette Deasy, possess a laudable amount of stage presence and the delicacy needed to not be  a scene stealer. One doesn’t realize how funny her walk and talk really is until she drops it to say good night to the audience.

In the middle of all the improv, another retro trick was employed – the musical guest. The clever and sardonic, Jessica Delfino arrives to strum out songs with some truly envelope-pushing topics – like a folk song about suicide. It would be easy for some to miss the mark and insult the crowd but Delfino’s manipulation of the topic plus a Bob Newhart wit (a more modern comparison wouldn’t work with all the retro going on) made each number more hilarious than the next.

IRTEIRTE is still innocent however, as you can see the microscopic reactions they all made when a joke fell flat or got an abundant laugh when not expected – but this only made the intelligent crowd more apt to be on their side.

The razor sharp IRTE is humor for the thinking man – and woman. Come for the laughs – there’s a test on it afterward.

Their season goes through the summer with a veritable Night Gallery of sketches (a more modern comparison wouldn’t work with all the retro going on). Check then out at http://irteinfo.wix.com/irte.

Amy M. Frateo is an actress and blogger. She usually writes on cabaret and jazz and blues groups. Her theater reviewing began in the old TheatreWeek and continue in online pubs like Drama-Queens.