These kids made me think. This play made me think.

glow-stageConor D. Mullen reports
Walking into the El Barrio Artspace’s darkened black box space I could really feel the atmosphere change. And not just because I was stepping out of the frozen rain into the warm underground theater, but because the room itself begged warmth and inclusion. Five chairs, basked in the gentle glow of lights crossing the visual spectrum (a subtle rainbow) set a tone of contemplation and reflection that would be reinforced by the performance I was about to see.
 
How We G.L.O.W. is a piece of Interview Theater created by Jamila Humphrie and Emily Schorr Lesnick. The text of the piece was constructed from interviews with 21 different openly LGBTQ middle and high school students. The actors on stage play multiple characters, speaking directly to the audience and in dialogue with one another, but always speaking words that were said in these interviews. The question I had nagging at me going in was this: will these verbatim interviews be able to say anything compelling or relevant about the lives of LGBTQ youth or the queer community as a whole? As it turns out, yes.
 
Full Disclosure: I consider myself a member of the LGBTQ community. Without wasting precious review space dwelling on the details I’ll say that much of what is said in this play about being openly LGBTQ in middle and high school certainly hit home for me. But I’ll also say that although queerness is still a big part of my life my high school days are far behind me. I bring this up because I want you to fully appreciate what I’m about to say about this play and these interviews:
 
dsc_0270These kids made me think. This play made me think. The text of How We G.L.O.W. is comprised of brilliant observations by children about their own experiences, from bisexual teens trying to find their place in the queer community to gay young men trying to explore the possibilities of being queer without being branded a “stereotype” by those around them. The text of this play alone is moving. The intelligence with which these young people express themselves is compelling. And seeing this play helped me make discoveries about my own experiences as a member of the LGBTQ community, both when I was in school and even now as an adult.
 
dsc_0218But all these endorsements of the show’s text are nothing if not backed up by a solid presentation, and you will definitely find that here. The stage is in a constant state of change, from static images and tableaus featuring multiple cast members to moments of frenzied movements and overlapping text, the next move is always a surprise. However, as with the organization of the text itself, the visual movement always guided me to the right points of interest before the next piece of text landed. It’s a play constructed of collage. It’s well acted too. The ensemble nature of the play make picking out individuals for acknowledgement unnecessary, not to mention I would have trouble picking out a weak link in the group of these five passionate performers.
 
dsc_0244I was truly moved by my experience with How We G.L.O.W. and I recommend it. It helped me connect to the modern experience of LGBTQ youth. I think if you see this show there’s something for you to gain from it too, no matter who you are.
 
This piece is perfect for performances at schools, LGBTQ centers, and other places seeking to open a dialogue about the experiences of queer youth. If you are interested in having How We G.L.O.W. at your school, community space, or theater, email howweglow@gmail.com.

Opening Tonight: A Crisis in New York… yeah I know … but this one’s on stage and brilliant!

stepEvery One Dreams of coming to New York… you know the place where you take a endless, precarious commute to your minuscule apartment for an astronomical rent, then you try to de-stress over crime and bills at the local bar or coffee house where you fear every pair of eyes on you. Then with your last dollar … you can take an uber! You’re in New York… always on the verge of crisis. Cutting-edge wordsmith, Alisha Espinosa shares her thoughts in a collection of five, intimate ten-minute plays, maybe we can figure out the city that never sleeps… or maybe not.

Emerging Latina playwright, Alisha Espinosa, brings A Crisis Called New York, via Step 1 Theatre Project, to the FRIGID Festival. Benjamin Abraham directs Brent Shultz, Danielle Patlingrao, Hannah Karpenko, Jordan Schroeder, Kat Moreno, Kristi Stout, Michael Mena, and Tony Curtis. The production, produced by Jazmyn Arroyo and Janelle Zapata, includes Amanda Brennan (Costume Design), Anthony Tornambene (Lighting Design), Gabe Valle (Composer), Olivia Rubano (Choreographer). Step1 Theatre Project @ FRIGID Fest. Performance Dates / Location: Kraine Theater, 85 E 54th Street, NYC – Feb 15 @ 5:30 pm; Feb 19 @ 3:30 pm; Feb 22 @ 7:10 pm; Feb 27 @ 8:50 pm; Mar 3 @ 6:50 pm.

We went backstage on this, their opening night, to hear from the actors about what inspires them and why they love indie art!  

Tony Curtis, Actor—A Crisis Called New York 

tony_curtis“Upon first glance at this question, I instantly heard ‘…to do art’ in my head, which is not necessarily the question. Although, making art and expressing myself through theatre and film is probably the result of what inspires me, I think the real answer to that question is: people that I disagree with… because if it wasn’t for things like making an argument, conflict, debate, critical thinking, and the desire to sway opinions, my art would have no soul. And in times of great divide and partisanship, art is essential. It thrives. And I am inspired when it does.” I’ve always admired the small-scale and intimacy indie theatre tends to provide. As an audience member: I feel more involved; I feel the closeness; and I feel a sense of community – a kind of ‘we’re all in this together’ sort of feeling. As an actor in indie theatre: I feel fulfilled; I feel boundless; I feel like it’s ok to break rules, shatter walls, and break conventions. Anything is possible! I’ve said that I feel the art community is on the verge of a significant shift to a new era of storytelling. I’m not sure what it is yet, but I want to be there for it. I want to be in a place that will encourage that movement. It should come from a place of open-mindedness, great collaboration, and trust. I think indie theatre is a great place to start, where the possibilities truly are limitless.”

Danielle Patlingrao, Actor—A Crisis Called New York

View More: http://haolegirlphotography.pass.us/danielles-headshots-2016“Seeing hard work and dedication come to life through the passion in a performer’s eyes. The fact that you can pull a million different heartstrings by simply sharing your passion truly inspires and motivates me to reach a level where I, too, can inspire others with my art. I feel that any theatre, big or small, indoor or outdoor, popular or in development, are all equally important because every theatre had to start somewhere. I believe indie theatres provide excellent opportunities for up-and-coming performers to practice their art and have a space to explore and collaborate and spark imagination/ideas through play. As a community, we should all be supporting each other and encourage each other to let our creative minds soar, rather than comparing and judging ourselves about who’s “made it” or not. Creating should be fun and exciting, and indie theatres are perfect places to play pretend outside of your living room.”

Jordan Schroeder, Actor—A Crisis Called New York

jordan-schroeder“The thing that inspires me above all else is seeing other work, especially live theater. Watching others bring characters to life fills me with sense of awe, and reminds me that I want to do that too, to create that same sense of wonder and joy for others. I think Indie theater especially is a wonderful space to play in. There’s a sense of openness, of being willing to push the boundaries of what we know and are used to seeing in order to find new truths. It’s a space that is more willing and eager, I think, to explore outside comfort zones, which I think is an essential urge. Plus, the people are always a blast to work with!” 

– Jazmyn Arroyo, Co-Producer and Co-Founder of Step 1

02965d25-344f-4d9d-8420-f383336eebd1 “What inspires me is the collective inspiration felt by a group of people when they really connect to the work. I think this has been our driving force so far—when you pick pieces that sincerely move you and surround yourself with an equally-inspired team, that’s when the magic really happens! To me, indie theatre is where artists are more willing to be adventurous, experiment, and take risks. As enjoyable and scintillating as Broadway is, I have found that the boldest work can often be found on off-off Broadway stages. I have seen more diversity, social consciousness, intimacy, and innovation, all at extremely reasonably-priced tickets. Because of this, indie theatre is much more accessible to the general public, which is so important at a time when artists, particularly those of underrepresented groups, are using the outlet of indie theatre to make themselves heard. The unifying power of indie theatre is more important now than ever, and I hope to see the community thrive!”

 

Crooks and Conscience: Two Quality Crafford Works … one from Jersey

Robert I. Gottlieb reports.

I grew up in New Jersey – a town called South Orange – and so I’m intimately familiar with the combination of grime, pride, swamp smell and small town that contributes to our…stately reputation. It’s both a wonderful place to grow up and an awful place to get stuck. It is against this New Jersey backdrop that the first of James Crafford’s delicately crafted one-act plays for the American Theatre of Actors takes place. Dead Old Lady from New Jersey draws more than just its title from the garden state. The leads at the center of the play, two crooks trying to pick up the pieces following a botched heist, use aliases based on Jersey towns. Lodi (Anthony J. Gallo) and Hoboken (Eugene Kopman) exist like tertiary characters in a Jersey mob movie – guys who know somebody who knows somebody who knows Tony Soprano. Lodi was set on retirement following one last job, but when the eponymous old Lady from New Jersey winds up a casualty to the crime, his plans go up in smoke. Nicole Schalmo’s Hackensack shows up in the plays second half and, gun in hand, she conveys the plays central tension: to escape the heat, the crooks need to leave New Jersey.

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Anthony J. Gallo (sitting with hat)

Anthony’s performance is remarkable in its simplicity. He is so genuinely Jersey, you can almost see his name carved into a turnpike exit sign. Schalmo brings with her a brilliant energy. Her electric voice, as much as the pistol she’s toting, coaxes her male counterparts to shut up and listen. When Hackensack mentions Idaho and Iowa they sound as foreign to our brutish leads as the moons of Saturn – it’s very New Jersey and very hilarious. The story’s proximity to Reservoir Dogs means Crafford is treading well-worn territory, but the cast’s wonderful performances, along with the simple direction of Laurie Rae Waugh, prevents this story from feeling generic. Dead Old Lady is well grounded, funny and leaves us with a powerful insight straight from those smelly Jersey hometowns just off the turnpike: even if Jersey is ‘purgatory,’ as Hackensack claims, it’s still home.

The second play of the evening, The Killing of The Snow Fox could be in any wooded town in America. I left convinced that this was another Jersey story. The power of Crafford’s writing is such that others in the audience were reminded as much of their childhood in, say Illinois, as I was transported to mine in New Jersey. It centers on Adam Pine’s Bobby, a high-school senior more interested in his pets and plants than he is in more ‘masculine’ pursuits like hunting and woman. His father, John, thinks the boy ought to be left alone, while his mother, Margie, encourages Bobby to chase more ‘normal’ things. His friend, Gerry, lurks in the corner with a hunting rifle, further threatening to derail Bobby’s peace of mind. Crafford’s beautiful writing reminds us all how difficult it is to live with the expectations of friends and parents, particularly in high school. Through the eyes of tranquil Bobby (Adam Pine) we are reminded how the best intentions of our friends and family can destroy an otherwise good kid.

The real star here is the father-son relationship between Bobby and Ken Coughlin’s John. John’s simple love and guidance towards his confused son give the audience something to root for. Coughlin is stellar and at the play’s climax it is John my heart broke for.

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Ken Coughlin and Amy Losi

Other performances are mostly excellent. I particularly liked Nicole Arcieri as the precocious Mary Joy. The cast, however, stumbles in its handling of everyday, suburban homophobia. When Gerry calls Bobby a ‘fag’ its proceeded by an almost comically long dramatic pause. Crafford is trying to address the menace of everyday homophobia – how best friends calling each other hurtful words in jest can have lasting consequences – but its handled too menacingly. Characters like Gerry and Margie risk becoming one-dimensional homophobes instead of real, layered people, who sometimes use disgusting language. Still, everything registers in Pine’s subtle eyes and Bobby’s final monologue resonates powerfully. Waugh’s direction here is first-rate and the play never strains too hard to show us this slice of suburbia.

Both Snow Fox and Dear Old Lady succeed in giving us an intimate picture of death and disaster in familiar environments. Crafford and Waugh have accomplished something unique here. It’s a transporting evening – even for those of us who aren’t from New Jersey.

Nu•ance’s HAMLET gives all the world their stage

HAMLET
Nu•ance Theatre Company
John DeSotelle Studios
http://www.desotellestudio.com/

Opening Night Review by Mike Pirozzi

Most people agree that in order to be the best or at least get better, we must challenge ourselves… not stay complacent. A pitcher in baseball may try adding a pitch to his repertoire, a gymnast or figure skater may look to include a more difficult move to their routine… All in the name of getting better… to becoming the best you can be.

 

Actors are certainly no different. The best ones never rest on their laurels. They constantly hone their craft through classes, scene studies and seeking roles that will test the limits and versatility of their chosen profession. What better way to do so, than wrapping your arms around a little Shakespeare. This is surely the gold standard of acting; the best way to test your mettle and dedication to your craft. As true as that is, consider if you will, the Director. Not only does has he or she have to challenge themselves, but also find a way to challenge the actors in his cast and the audience as well.

That brings me to John DeSotelle and his Studio at 300 W43rd Street. Doing local theater is not easy, especially off-off Broadway. The challenges are immense. So what does John do? He takes on Shakespeare. Not only that, but Hamlet. And not only Hamlet, but the full 3 1⁄2 hour production. Oh, and did I mention that the lead is played by an actor in his first major role?

Talk about challenges. That being said, Mr. DeSotelle brings to life a wonderful production of the classic story. As most off off Broadway productions, constraints are many. Funding for set designs, costumes, marketing… are all a concern. But somehow John and his team were able to put on a wonderfully staged and visually beautiful show. Special kudos to Matthew Imhoff (scenic design) and Sarah Marie Dixey (costume design). Judith Feingold (AD), Lauren Fischetti (producing manager) Mel Ryan (stage manager) and Allison Newcombe (asst. stage manager) round out the production team.

The 3 1⁄2 hour production (with 2 intermissions) is long, but it never felt tedious. The stage direction was brisk, and the cast moved through with quickness and ease. As in all Shakespeare, the real challenge is bringing the dialogue to life, and doing it in a way that seems more natural than rehearsed. For the most part the cast was able to do this. The Meisner trained ensemble knew their way around the story and glided effortlessly from scene to scene.

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Particularly adept was Jack Wink as Hamlet. His debut lead role will, I am sure, lead to many others down the road. Also impressive were Ethan Russell as Laertes, Julia Boyles as Ophelia, Justin Briodo as Rosencrantz, and Mickey Pantano as Gertrude. The cast guided us through the many different sides of the characters, some melting into madness, others into treason and still more wanting revenge. In the end, it is time well spent. I would encourage you to see the show, and see how well the challenge of bringing this incredible story to life is met.

Through Feb. 25th. Tickets/info: http://www.desotellestudio.com/index.html

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