Lucian McMahon reviews A PREGNANT PAUSE

A Frenchman once wrote that we are condemned to be free. Which is to say, perpetually condemned at all times to choose among the innumerable array of possibilities before us – and to deny or to refuse this human condition is itself a choice, albeit a foolish one.

The equivocally-titled “A Pregnant Pause”, a new play written by Meny Beriro and directed by Laurie Rae Waugh at the American Theatre of Actors, is a well-rendered exploration of our human agency and of our bad faith, our failed rejections of our own freedom – and our selfishness that seeks to subsume the freedom of others into our own happiness.

13064467_1142223085809230_5638820169886864904_oThe play is set in a Forest Hills apartment and revolves around the domestic discord of a young couple, Bob Pitchik (Calvin Knie) and Susan Gold (Carla Duval).

Bob is a mercurial twenty-something resolutely dedicated to protracting his arrested development for as long as possible, suffering from both a delusional overestimation of his own abilities and a constitutional failure to bring whatever abilities he does have to any sort of fruition. His undergraduate studies, such as they were, took eight years to complete. Distracted by his similarly childish friends, Bob now struggles to focus on his law studies, which he naively believes will springboard him into a plush position at a Wall Street law firm.

Susan, the sweet, tragic, long-suffering girlfriend, wants nothing so much as Bob’s love and affection. She wants him to be as dedicated to her as she is to him.

And she is pregnant with their child.

She hopes the child will bind Bob to her, jolt him out of the inanity of his own pretensions, awake in him a sense of duty – will, in effect, change who he is.

They argue about their future together, Bob steadfast in his puerile commitment to inconstancy, Susan unable (or unwilling) to accept that her love for Bob can only end badly. She wants him to marry her. He wants to go out and buy a pack of cigarettes.

We all know how that story ends.

Much to the chagrin of Susan, Bob invites his friend Scott (Patrick Robert Kelly) over to the apartment to avoid having to discuss the matter any further. Scott proves a particularly amenable foil for this, being as dissolute in his habits and ambivalent in his emotions as Bob himself is.

Thereupon sounds a knock at the door. But it isn’t Scott. An old man enters, introducing himself as Fred Hallar (Alan Charney). Fred says that he is looking for a Mrs. Ketchener, a former tenant of Bob’s apartment.

Fred insinuates himself into the apartment to the delight of Bob, who sees in Fred’s conversation another opportunity to evade Susan’s remonstrances. Bob is further delighted to hear that Fred once left the love of his life: said Mrs. Ketchener.

Fred, by his telling, has lived a long life and, in having lived, has made choices among an ever-winnowing assortment of possibilities. He brings a foreboding sense of time’s ineluctable passing, of life’s eventual ossification into senescence and resignation. He serves as a warning to the youthful Susan and Bob – namely that to choose is to be human and that the field of possibility is constricted with each subsequent choice. So choose wisely.

But most importantly, Fred is also a hopeful harbinger, proof that even the regretted choice to act is better than the denial of one’s freedom. Stasis, Fred suggests, is death.

Bob, of course, learns the wrong lessons from Fred’s example.

Scott eventually turns up at the apartment, three sheets to the wind. He and Bob abscond to what we can only presume is a bar – but not before Bob insouciantly assures Susan that he will grant her his hand in marriage and a bevy of fat, cherubic children once he is a successful lawyer. Bob and Scott choose to be the bad faith ministers of their own dissipation.

Susan chooses instead to confront her freedom. Fred induces her to choose life. She chooses to leave Bob.

“A Pregnant Pause” is a well-scripted, well-played, and evocative production. Though Knie struggled at times to properly deliver both in timing and in elocution, overall the cast was sincere and earnest in its respective roles. Duval adequately balanced the hysteria of the unrequited lover with a latent independence that set the stage for the play’s satisfying conclusion. Kelly’s rather brief appearance as the inebriated Scott was convincingly played. No small feat that, since those playing a drunk typically seem hell-bent on acting as though they have never seen an actual drunk outside of campy slapstick comedies.

But Charney particularly deserves commendation. He lifted what could otherwise have been a rather dilettantish exercise to a more elevated plane of artistry and poignancy. After all, the trope of the inattentive man and the unfulfilled woman is as old as the world’s first couple. The character of Fred shone a light on the more sordid, impactful aspects of the psychology of the whole affair, and Charney played an excellent Fred. Eccentric, but not exaggeratingly so. Doddering, but in an endearing way that makes his performance all the more melancholy. Charney was, in effect, the glue that held it all together.

One could only wish that the play were slightly longer than the roughly 40 minutes running time, if only to better allow the full flowering of the characters and their relationships to each other. Fred is a nuanced character and the audience is only afforded a fleeting glimpse of the fact.

But perhaps that is what makes the production eminently worth seeing: It leaves you wondering. It evokes all the contradictory emotions a good play should evoke – empathy and alienation; sorrow and joy; reflection and anticipation.

You leave the theater feeling the substantial burden of your own humanity, the burden of your own freedom – and its ultimate levity.

Enjoy the Show… No Pressure!

Reviewed by Inola McGuire

PRESSURE-NOT ME @ The Producers Club

358 West 44th Street, New York, NY

Friday, April 8, 2016

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The performance that I saw is “Pressure-Not Me!, Love Knots” written by Phil Paradis, directed by Laurie Rae Waugh; starring Carly Fawcett, Jason Kirk, Joseph Calderone, Ty Gailloux, Venus Dana, Jestina Weems, Jordan Zolan and Joanna Whiley.

The audience sees four different couples on stage, and their issues are almost identical in nature.  The sight of children sparks the desire for a discussion of parenting and pregnancy among the couples.  For the first couple, a biracial one, the male discusses the possibility of his girlfriend having a baby or his dream of her becoming a mother.  He thinks of her becoming a great mother!  The lady holds back on pertinent details of her life, and she tells the guy about her operation at the age of twenty one.  Her tubes are tied!  The male wants to know why she didn’t tell him sooner.

Next, the audience observes a lesbian couple in conversation.  Having a baby by means of the old-fashion method is out of the question for the women; but the cheapest way to conceive a baby is through an insemination.  The prospective mother to be makes arrangement for both women to meet the sperm donor, the freelance daddy, in person.  Both ladies discuss the prospective daddy’s genetic, and how many children he has fathered through his donor insemination practice.  This man wants his off springs to know about him.

The traditional couple discusses the miscarriage the wife suffered, and she reminds her husband of her mother’s miscarriage and the aftermath of her misfortune.  Her husband assures his wife about her carrying of her unborn child to full term.  The audience recognizes the plight of the couple.

The last of the couples is a gay one, and one of the partners wants to become a daddy.  He pitches the idea to the other guy, Matt, but he’s not ready to take on the responsibility of being a father or being a co-parent.  Matt wants to enjoy his time with his partner as a couple, but his partner wants to be able to share their life with an adopted child.

The audience witnesses how the first couple deals with her inability to have a child or children without an operation to reverse the first operation.  The male comes clean and he tells the woman about his financial obligation of paying child support for his two children.  In this couple’s case, his two children are enough for him financially because it takes more than love to care for a child or children.  A second operation may not be necessary in the long run for this loving couple, for there is no guarantee it is going to be successful.

The second couple settles for conversation about what could be and how it would be implemented without the act of a sexual penetration by a man.  The audience takes in every word from the couple, and it wonders about the legitimacy of the prospective donor who is a 37 year old virgin with five kids.  The prospective donor like to help women who want to become pregnant, for he wants to keep his gene pool out there without the financial attachment.

The husband of the traditional couple tries to boost his wife’s self-esteem with positive support.  The audience witnesses his asking of his wife, “Do you want to be a mom?”  He takes his persuasive approach a little further, and he comments, “You look great!  Have faith for yourself!”  He then looks at his wife’s belly and he talks to her belly.  He says, “hello little one, looking forward for your birthday.”

The last couple decides how to wrestle with the prospect of an adoption for a gay couple.  Matt suggests to his partner that the prospective adopted child has to be house broken.  The audience wonders what the criteria are for a house-broken child.  The jury is still out on this one.

The writer gets his message across on the issues of parenting and pregnancy.  Both of them work hand in hand because there has to be a pregnancy, childbirth and parenting.  You cannot expect one without the other, and some people have a yearning to become parents.  However, there have been complications in all aspects of life to prevent some mothers from realizing their dreams of motherhood.  This is a great show for theatre goers to see.  It is going to bring some prospective to the continuation of humanity.

(2)

The performance that I saw is “Pressure-Not Me!, Philena, The Lover of Mankind” written by George Cameron Grant, directed by Beth Newbery; starring Lily Telford, Erika Dianovsky, and Robert DiDomenico.

The audience sees and hears a loud-mouth mother as she tells her daughter about her sex life.  Philena wants to know from her daughter if at 52 is too old for a blow job.  The daughter whose name is Katelyn reminds her mother that she will be celebrating her 25th birthday in two weeks.  Philena chastises her daughter about her failed marriage, and she informs her daughter that her husband’s first name, Morte, means death in Italian.  Katelyn expects to go out on a date with Cliff and Philena talks about her attire.  Philena gets dress herself in a provocative manner as she schools her daughter on the art of capturing a man, and she reminds her daughter to avoid the Morte and Cliff of the world.

Katelyn asks her mother about the origin and meaning of her name, Philena.  She lets her know that it is Greek, and men adored her.  Philena informs Katelyn that when she met her father, she settled on him.  She called him Huge!  Philena explains further to her daughter that he wasn’t that huge, but he made up for it.  Now, Katelyn wants to know the meaning of her name, and Philena lets her know it is Welsh.  There are variants of the name Katelyn in the Welsh language.  It could be spelled Caitlin, Kaitlyn or even Katelynn among other spelling of the name.  Katelyn tells her mother that she doesn’t want to be called by her given name any longer; she wants to be called Theresa.  She was not referring to Mother Theresa who was born in Skopje, Macedonia!  Katelyn wants to be called the Brooklyn Slut.  Oh, what a night flashes through the audience’s mind!

Cliff comes in with a rose in his hand.  He looks like a book worm, and Katelyn refuses to answer to her name.  She tells him that she wants to be called Theresa.  Now, Cliff wants to take a leap off of this cliff of confusion, and he leaves immediately.  Philena gives her daughter some very important advice about men.  She reminds her daughter that she only need to have one good man in her life time.  Being an assembly line for men is not the answer for her.  Katelyn’s father was that man for her.  As a mother should do for her child or children, Philena tells Katelyn that her name means the Pure!  Without sugar coating the truth about life, Philena shares with her daughter that she must be ready and waiting for the man who will recognize her for who she really is, not a loose woman type.

Katelyn gets the advice of a lifetime and she tells her mom to get herself ready for her date.  Philena comes clean on her pretense to her daughter.  She confesses to Katelyn!  It was easy to live a great life when her daughter was not living with her under the same roof.  Now, they are living together, Philena creates a fictitious date.  The cat is out of the bag!  Philena and Katelyn go out on the town.  Watch out world, here come Philena and Katelyn.

The writer gets his message across to the audience.  It is a safer bet when pretense is taken out of real life situations.  Keeping up appearances have deadly consequences for both men and women.  This is a must see performance.

(3)

12718042_945944575527288_1150737945493847315_nThe performance that I saw is “Pressure-Not Me!  Stella” written by Jillian Hite, directed by Laurie Rae Waugh; starring Beth Newbery and Kate Dogileva.

The audience sees a young woman doing drugs in her room, and another lady enters and accuses her of drug use.  She denies the lady’s accusation of her reckless behavior.  However, after the lady mentions to her the leaving of Harrison from the band after the current tour, the young woman changes her disposition for a brief moment.  She makes it clear that personal and professional lives don’t mix.  It is known that the mixing of business and pleasure amounts to an unhealthy relationship for all parties involved.  The lady tells her that she is worried about her welfare.  The young lady is unable to handle the pressure of fame.

The writer gets her message across to the audience.  Becoming famous has it pitfalls if the recipients of success are not careful with the ways in which they conduct their lives.  In the entertainment business, no one is an island; so it is essential for performers to stay grounded at all times without the use of drugs.

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The performance that I saw is “Pressure-Not Me! Whistle Stop Romance” written by Phil Paradis, directed by Beth Newbery; starring Simone Stadler and Aron Canter.

The audience hears the song, “As Time Goes By” before it sees the woman who enters the stage.  Bert comes out moments later!  They know each other!  She wants to know why he’s there!  He tells her that someone at the bank tells him that someone was there to see him.  The woman tells him that he didn’t respond to her letters.  There were eight months of silence between them.  She sent his ring back to him.  He states that their separation has been for three years.  She says it has been for five years.  The woman tries to get to the bottom of her former fiancé lack of letter writing to her.  Bert makes excuses about his inability to spell, but he explains to her that he likes to speak instead of writing.

The man talks about his success as a sales person in the hardware store selling tractors.  He tries to find out the purpose of her visit.  She tells him all about her impending marriage to her fiancé, Edward Thompson in Chicago.  Bert wants to know more about the lucky Bum.  She informs him about their plans for their future.  She informs him that Edward is not a sales man in a hardware store, and Bert begs her to stay and have dinner with him.  She declines his offer!

The writer gets his message across to the audience, and it shows that the lack of communication between lovers can destroyed their relationship.  It pays to keep all channel of communication open.  This is a performance with a purpose, and it is a must see act.

(5)

The performance that I saw is “Pressure-Not Me!, Push” written by George Cameron Grant, directed by Beth Newbery; starring Sammi Price, Robert Di Domenico, Frankie Li, Jody Doo, Betty Kubovy, and Jason Kirk.

The audience sees the sign of a MTA train station stop on the D train line.  It reads:  Fort Hamilton Parkway with the letter D in tangerine color.  A young woman, Izzie, sits in the train station, and she gets up and she speaks out aloud.  She sees another person lurking on the platform, and she calls out to the individual.  Next, she speaks with her brother Billy.  He tells her that love is a risk.  He reminds her that all he knows about love is from her and their parents.  Billy hugs his sister!  She asks him about a few girls.  She names them to him.  She mentions the names of Jessica, Deborah, Juanita, and others!  Izzie still wants to know the name of her brother’s girlfriend.  Billy responds, Javier!

She talks to the audience again about her brother, Billy.  She gives a hint about the times when he spoke about his dates, but something was missing from his conversation.  Her mother calls and she answers her cell phone.  She is reluctant to speak with her mother.  Mary, the mother, reaches out to her daughter because she is worried about her.  The newspaper article adds more to their pain.  It reads:  Troubled honor student jumped to his death.  Izzie shouts, “He was pushed.”

The audience sees Billy being harassed by two young girls about his sexual preference.  Billy goes home and he reveals his secret to his parents on Thanksgiving Day.  He tells them that he is in love with a man.  His father refuses to accept his lifestyle, and he tells Billy to leave the only home he has known all his life.  Billy’s mother tries to calm her husband down without avail.  Billy talks to his boyfriend Javier about his predicament.  Billy is on his own for Javier tells him that he is leaving America.   Javier lets Billy know that they can’t be together.  It’s a mistake!  Javier ends his relationship with Billy.  He can’t take Billy to his homeland with him.  Javier knows that he wouldn’t be able to live a gay lifestyle with Billy.  Billy is at the end of his rope!  Billy looks outside of himself for his identity, and he experiences rejection from his father and his so-called lover, Javier.  He commit suicide!

Izzie complains to the audience as to why her brother Billy didn’t come to her first before he jumped to his death.  She says that her brother made her smile, and she wonders who is going to be her go-to person when she’s in pain.  The audience and Izzie hear the cries of a baby on the platform, and she investigates and picks up the baby.  Her cell phone rings!  She talks to her father.  He apologizes to his daughter.  She listens to him intensely, and she asks him a question; “Do you really mean what you say?”  She speaks to the baby about her impending trip back to her parents’ home.  Izzie takes the baby home.

The writer’s message makes a resounding noise to the audience.  There are a few realities within the performance for the audience to comprehend in good faith.  Most parents do not want to hear or know about their children’s alternative lifestyle.  What some people can get away with in the United States of America, it is not that slipshod in other countries.  Javier has to live a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde lifestyle.  If he lives like Dr. Jekyll in New York City, he has to be Mr. Hyde in his homeland.  In addition, Izzie wanted her brother to confide in her; but he didn’t want to burden her with his pain.  Billy did not dig deep enough within himself to find himself in time of crisis, for his pretense of being a ladies’ man had taken him over for too long.  I will surely recommend this show to theatre goers, for it has a lot to offer humanity.

 

 

 

Big, Rich and TALENTED people.

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Big, Rich and Powerful was a soap-opera style comedy by The Improvisational Repertory Theatre Ensemble and directed by Robert Baumgardner that was truly worth watching.

When the rep of talented and resourceful artists – four females and three males – entered the stage, the games immediately began. From their first look you knew what was happening. They captured the idea of the late night drama beautifully and pulled you right in with humor and ingenuity.

Good old fashioned audience participation was added to the mix. After giving them ammunition, we sat back and watched the plot develop.

The difference between watching a show and being IN it was astonishing. Choosing things like “type of wealth” and “dark secret” let the audience dance on two floors: we strolled down memory lane thinking about the days of “Who Shot J.R.” (though the recent season finale of The Walking Dead gave us the same kind of jolt so I guess those days are not gone); and we felt invested in the show as our ideas came to the fore. The appreciative crowd walked away quite thrilled with being part of the action.

The show was filled with great one-liners as well. Guffaws were elicited with lines like “… drain the lake in the backyard and fill it with Perrier water” made even funnier by the fact that the character had the seafaring name of Arthur Treacher.

Like any good Variety Show of days gone by, there came a musical guest. Another highlight. Guest Craig Greenberg, jammed on his piano keeping us all singing.

I can’t say I watched a show though … I CAN say I was part of it.

It was a worthy night with these big, rich and TALENTED people.

Thank you, IRTE.

 

 

Small, Cheap & Weak

 

BART GREENBERG on the Improvisational Repertory Theater Ensemble’s

Big, Rich & Powerful

Small, Cheap & Weak

When your “musical guest” who has nothing to do with the show is the sole highlight of the evening, something has gone terribly wrong. IRTE: The Improvisational Repertory Theatre Ensemble is celebrating its fifth season of improvised comedy. Unlike other improv evenings, the company present one full-length play as opposed to a series of sketches. It’s an admirable goal, but the ensemble seems incapable of shaping a full story on its feet.

Big, Rich & Powerful, conceived and directed by Robert Baumgardner, is an intended “homage” to former prime time soaps, such as Dynasty, Dallas, Falcon Crest, et al. This seems a puzzling choice to begin with, since the heyday of these shows is long, long past (recent attempts to revive the style with a renewed Dallas fizzled badly). On top of that, the acting company seem to base their interpretations of the style based on dim memories or glances at a couple of episodes. Marathon viewing of some of the classics would be needed to capture the dramatic style which involved complete commitment to the melodramatic plotlines, a carefully controlled over-the-top delivery, and a true comfort in the extravagant settings and clothing of the 80s (and for every actor under 40, comfort being unclothed at least once an episode).

In performance, only Brianna Lee as the matriarch of the family captured the mix of entitlement and slumming that fading stars like Jane Wyman and Barbara Stanwyck brought to their roles. The rest of the cast played in scattered styles ranging from burlesque to Saturday Night Live sketch comedy with a surprising lack of consistency considering they are a regular company. Ugly costuming and wigs didn’t help either, nor did a table of props evidently bought from a nearby 99 Cents Store used by the cast in mostly unimaginative ways.

More surprisingly, the improv elements of the show were very disappointing and badly handled. Despite claims that the “audience will create the lusty tale”, only three times were the audience asked for suggestions, and two of those suggestions were quickly forgotten. The cast were no better at listening to each other: a scene in a car involving two of the women and an invisible policeman became confused as one actress insisted on keeping driving while the other continued a conversation with the cop. Scenes in general were started by one actor without a clear direction or motivation; others wandered in to contribute some chat, and then the scene dwindled to no ending, just fading out as a new scene started.

As to the musical guest, Craig Greenberg is a troubadour piano man who made the piano swing as he shared three original songs. His style and material was fresh, personal and original and he got the audience far more involved in the performance (guiding a singalong on his third number) than the cast did during the rest of the evening.

Big, Rich & Powerful
IRTE: The Improvisational Repretory Theatre Ensemble
March 18, 19, 25 & 26
The Producers Club
358 W. 44th St., New York, NY

MITF-SPRING into action

MITF-Spring

STEPHANIE SCHWARTZ @ the Midtown International Theater Festival

Review: GOD SPELLED BACKWARDS

Written and performed by Marjorie Conn

GOD SPELLED BACKWARDS is a delightful entertainment.  Conn tells stories with the help of her (live) dog, Dreidel, two dog puppets and a paper mache greyhound hat.  She talks, sings and recites haiku.

Some of the stories and poems are sad, most are adorable and uplifting; all are autobiographical.  She rescues handicapped and special needs dogs.

Conn is a skilled storyteller, ventriloquist and charming performer.  The animals are cute and she integrates all of them, live and otherwise, into the narrative.  They do not upstage her.

 

Review: OVERLOOKING THE SHADOWS

Written and Directed by Renee McNeil

Performed at the Spring Midtown International Theatre Festival

OVERLOOKING THE THE SHADOWS is a well-written and suspenseful play on the order of a Hitchcock thriller.  The program notes state: “a writer gets a visit from a stranger who has secrets of himself and her deceased husband.”  And so it is.

The casting was excellent.  The actors, Justine H. Hall and Sean Kane worked beautifully together and the mystery held my attention throughout the performance.  Just as I thought I had a new insight into the play, there was a new sound which made me reconsider.

In all, the writing, directing and acting provided good, enjoyable theater.

 

Review: YOU BELONG WITH ME BECAUSE YOU’RE SO VAIN

Written by Heider Tunarosa

Directed by Emily Dalton

At the beginning of the play we learn that Camillo Cortes Baxter, played by Mr. Tunarosa (with a heavy Spanish accent) has composed a hit song with his lyricist and roommate Leny, played by Enrique Hull.  He is trying to compose his next hit, seeking inspiration from Taylor Swift and Lady Gaga, nicely played by Sonya Higgins and Ty Baumann.  They are “imaginary” characters, as is Alfred, his former lover, played nicely by James Clement, although I found his silent presence on the stage at the beginning of the play to be distracting.

The plot evolves when Sam, played by Fecundo Rodriguez, comes to have sex with Leny and later becomes Baxter’s lover and partner.  Sam’s opening lines were muffled by the scarf he was wearing at his entrance.

Some of the actors seemed tentative with their lines and actions.