Sam is still Dancing: The Actual Dances returns to the Assoc. of Performing Arts Professionals Conference

the actual dance

APPEARING THIS WEEKEND AT
THE ASSOCIATION OF PERFORMING ARTS PRESENTERS
for the second year
THE ACTUAL DANCE

NEW YORK HILTON MIDTOWN

Showcase Title: The Actual Dance — A Preview Performance
Artist: Samuel A Simon; Eli Zoller
The Actual Dance is a joyful and enchanting experience of healing, love and inspiration. An award winning play about the transforming power of a husband’s love through his wife’s illness, written and performed by Samuel A. Simon. The Actual Dance is “proof that life is indeed beautiful.” (Manhattan Digest) It has been compared to “Love Story” and “WIT,” except it has a surprise happy ending.
Booth: Americas Hall I – 521
Performances:
1/15/2016 8:40 PM (20 mins)
1/17/2016 5:30 PM (15 mins)
1/17/2016 7:50 PM (15 mins)

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The Actual Dance was first performed in January of 2013 and has since enjoyed over 80 engagements. Sam and The Actual Dance have appeared venues as diverse as an off-Broadway theater run, the Johns Hopkins Department of Spirituality and Chaplaincy in Baltimore, the 92nd Street Y in New York as part of the Gratitude and Trust Summit, on Wall Street at EmblemHealth Corporate Headquarters, 1st Stage in Tysons Virginia as the summer featured program, as well as at the Association of Performing Arts Presenters, ArtsMidwest and ArtsMarket conferences.

A Hot Ticket Just Got Hotter!

Samuel A. Simon announced that his inspiring play The Actual Dance is now represented by Producers, Inc., a full service entertainment booking agency started in 1980 specializing in Popular, Big Band, and Nostalgia. A special division of the agency specializes in “Theater for Intimate Spaces,”representing noted artists and shows such as Mark Russell, The Capitol Steps, now includes Sam and The Actual Dance

The Actual Story

It was about 15 years ago when Sam and Susan’s lives were turned upside-down, yet just 3 years since Sam began to share this incredible love story with the world. “The words were always inside of me, and it took the encouragement of my artistic community to begin writing and then the words just poured out of me as if they were always meant to be on paper,” is how Simon puts it. He has become a clarion voice for the universal journey of the “caregiver.” Standing-up and telling what it is like to walk with a loved one through the cycles of a devastating disease. Susan and Sam are still fighting the good fight many years later, but The Actual Dance has made a difference in the lives of so many who were lucky enough to see the play that the couple agreed the story should continue to be told. The Actual Dance is now taking its place in the annals of theatrical works like WIT and Love Story. The Actual Dance: A Rare Male Voice in the World of Breast Cancer.

The Poughkeepsie Journal put it best:
“The man on stage seems to be speaking to each of us individually.”
Patrick Hickey interviews Sam

REALITY SHOW

REVIEW BY LUCIAN MCMAHON
PART OF THE MIDTOWN INTERNATIONAL THEATRE FESTIVAL: FALL 2015

virtualAfter the first few minutes of Alan Arkin’s “Virtual Reality”, one could be forgiven for thinking that the playwright had awoken one night in a fevered fit of inspiration and began to scribble down a tale of two men whose time was fruitlessly spent waiting for the arrival of someone who may or may not ever appear, all the while bantering and bickering about this and that, a dialogue of tedium broken only by the insipidity of such anodyne observations as how can we even know ourselves, and then perhaps Arkin thought that maybe he should name the two hapless souls Vladimir and Estragon – until he snapped out of his reverie and realized that, alas, that particular play had already been written.

Luckily for the audience, Arkin apparently came-to early enough in his literary efforts to salvage what remained of “Virtual Reality”. It begins with a rather protracted verbal repartee over whether or not one man, Lefty (Aman Soni), will show another, DeRecha (Josh Hartung), some form of ID to prove that he is, in fact, who he says he is. But once that’s all perfunctorily taken care of for some reason or another, Arkin shakes off the importunate ghost of Beckett and begins the play in earnest, which involves DeRecha and Lefty, strangers to one another, meeting for the stated purpose of accomplishing some undefined “job”. The two men await the delivery of equipment needed for the job’s accomplishment, during which wait they cast themselves into a downward-plunging spiral of absurdity and unreality.

The one, DeRecha, aptly cast as a two-bit, pinstripe-suited gangster of the distinctly dipsomaniacal, avuncular type, thinks it best that the duo treat the equipment to a “test run”. Lefty, cast as a less experienced henchman with an air of youthful bravado – and not a little bit of the malnourishment and desperation that comes with overzealous, impecunious youth – wonders what, exactly, a “test run” of unpacking, inventorying, and assembling as-yet-undelivered equipment, the nature of which is still an utter mystery to our two friends, entails. There is, as he tirelessly reminds DeRecha, no equipment yet.

And so begins the spiral of absurdity, with DeRecha commanding a reluctant and skeptical Lefty to open and unpack imaginary crates filled with imaginary equipment, which he, DeRecha, then catalogues in an imaginary receipt. The more non-existent equipment Lefty unpacks, however, the more terribly real it all becomes, until the two would-be accomplices find themselves in another reality wholly of their own creation.

DeRecha and Lefty were, for the most part, played convincingly enough, even if at times it felt as though it was Hartung who was best able to keep the production afloat when it threatened to founder. Whether this is due to his superior abilities or to Soni’s unfortunately garbled elocution and stiff, awkward demeanor is difficult to say. But I would go so far as to argue that the road bumps in the production had more to do with the shortcomings of the play itself than they did with the actors’ enthusiastic treatment thereof. For example, the inexplicably prolonged scene in which DeRecha pesters an increasingly indignant Lefty for his ID would have tried the skills of veteran actors for the simple reason that it is not a particularly engaging or entertaining scene, despite its pretensions. Then there’s the scene of DeRecha badgering Lefty to keep unpacking the damn crates that don’t exist. That’s fine as far as that goes – but it does make for a rather humdrum affair when DeRecha yet again demands that Lefty unpack yet another item. We got the point.

That the play itself is at fault is perhaps proven by the fact that when the play succeeded, the actors shone in kind. As the urgency of their madness grew and their delusions overpowered their respective realities, Hartung and Soni began to harmonize on the stage, the dialogue hitherto forced and stilted melting into fluidity and naturalness, until I found myself, too, suspending disbelief as I watched two men gone mad cavort about the stage with imaginary weapons and camping gear atop a fantastical Himalayan mountain.

But overall, I believe that Arkin’s play has a fatal flaw that no amount of quality production and enthusiastic acting could ameliorate: it is, when all’s said and done, a gimmick – and a long one, at that. How often can one chuckle appreciatively at two men pretending to unpack an imaginary crate? Not often, if at all. Even as reality and unreality blended together, I got the distinct impression of being led around by the nose: We all of us knew where this was going and what the point was.

In the end, I couldn’t help but feel that I was watching Arkin engage in a self-gratifying mental exercise for its own sake, the conclusion of which is entirely predictable and the way there unnecessarily long, circuitous, and well-trodden.

That being said, Soni and Hartung, under the tasteful direction of Emily Edwards, did what they could be expected to do and more: By the end of the play the two actors had succeeded in creating a more or less convincing relationship between characters that is at once controlled by forces outside of their control and defined by their own delusions – even when the dialogue tried its best to frustrate the actors in that pursuit. It is worth seeing for that reason alone.

VICKIE PHILLIPS SOUNDS THE BATTLE-CRY FOR BREL

VICKIE PHILLIPS SOUNDS THE BATTLE-CRY FOR BREL
vickie davenport cropped

Review by Robert Gulack

In the same way that two great storms, intersecting on the ocean, can create a single storm front of unparalleled destructiveness, two negative influences have intersected in the contemporary musical theater, creating a unified destructive front that has virtually obliterated the Broadway musical as an art form.

The first destructive influence is the arrival of the jukebox musical as one of the basic models for a Broadway show. Songs that were never meant to do anything more than sell, over and over, the same simplistic message for two and a half minutes of radio time (“My girlfriend’s really great/She’s really boss/I dig her so”) now have to be staged as though they were musical numbers intended for actors.

The second destructive influence is the arrival of the other current basic model for a Broadway show — the musical for which new songs have been created based on the assumption that the job of a musical number is to say something terribly obvious over and over again, with increasing volume, until (it is assumed) the audience is on its feet, screaming with delight. Thus we have musicals in which the chorus chants the exactly the same message for five or six minutes (“We’re really angry men!/We’ll say it again and again!/We’re really angry and we’ve not much more to say!/That’s us, the really angry guys!”).

What the two models share is their reliance upon exactly the same thing being communicated over and over. This is (not to mince words) exactly the opposite of what a musical number must be in order to do its work. The basic commonsense of the subject is that a musical number, in a musical, is a theatrical scene; and, like any other theatrical scene, depicts how human understanding and human emotional responses change over a carefully selected period of time, in response to what’s happening in the plot, and in the service of what is being communicated as the theme. The job of theater language, whether spoken or sung, whether rhymed or not, is to bring home to us, in a way that seems real, how people are first one thing, and then (often, a split second later) a completely different thing. Likewise, the job of theater melody and harmony is to show how people vary over time, not to present people as perfectly repetitive machines. Indeed, if we were to meet an actual person who spoke to us in a manner anything like the typical song in a modern musical, we would shortly form the impression that he was an incredible bore; and then, a few minutes later, reach the conclusion that he was suffering from a severe mental illness. Anyone who really has only one thought on his mind desperately needs medication.

Weill and Brel: Neglected Masters

In this terribly impoverished period for musical theater, in which (leaving artists such as Sondheim and Finn to one side) the most obvious requirements of the art form are consistently overlooked, the works of Kurt Weill and Jacques Brel shine as a burning beacon in the night and sound like a trumpet calling us on to victory, teaching all who will lend an ear the right way to do this stuff. That’s why it was so important to hear Vickie Phillips bring her presentation of Weill and Brel material (A CAROUSEL OF COLORS WITH BREL, WEILL AND AZNAVOUR) to the Midtown International Theatre Festival on November 8. Phillips, who studied with Elly Stone (one of the key artists involved in introducing Brel to American audiences), understands that every Brel song is a one-act play, in which the character singing undergoes continual development, and in which any given sentence may work its way through three specific and completely different emotions. The fictional characters who sing Brel’s songs are as fully realized as the characters in a fine novel. Brel, as Phillips insightfully reminded her audience, consciously sought to stay in rapport with the most frustrating aspects of our world. For this reason, Brel’s people live, just as the rest of us must, in a world in which the unexpected good and the unexpected bad creep up on you, and force you to respond to them, moment by moment.

At any given instant, a Brel character is singing to us of the very latest thing that happens to have crossed his mind. The audience senses and appreciates the person behind these various moments. We get to know each of Brel’s people over time, as we would get to know a friend. Yes, this kind of songwriting requires more talent than simply stating, over and over again, that you’re angry or in love. Furthermore, very few of us, no matter how hard we try, will ever be able to create this kind of musical theater magic at anywhere near Brel’s level. But it can’t hurt us to aspire to this kind of artistic excellence.

An Evening of Masterpieces

Certainly, in her Nov. 8 presentation, Phillips chose some of Brel’s most original and moving work to showcase Phillip’s pleasing soprano and boundless energy. “My Childhood”, for example, was featured in the middle of the program. Brel’s favorite of his own songs, it combines an elegiac melody with a varied flow of scenes from the life of a growing child, and creates the overpowering impression that we have shared a decade of someone’s life in a few minutes. Phillips was similarly moving in such wonderful Brel ballads as “I Loved” and “Marieke”. She was accompanied by Gerry Dieffenbach at the piano, and some of the most memorable musical moments were when Dieffenbach, who has a handsome and gentle voice, sang either harmonies or counterpoints with Phillips, in numbers such as Brel’s “Carousel” and, in the tear-jerking finale of this program, Brel’s “If We Only Have Love”. One of the most powerful songs ever created, “If We Only Have Love” stands as a universal anthem for global hope, a sermon that, we can only pray, will someday be listened to by the entire human race.

The first half of the program featured a Kurt Weill medley, focussing primarily on Weill’s work for the American theater. It was an effective reminder of Weill’s brilliant and original use of harmony and melody as a way of conveying the manner in which emotions were evolving over time in the character singing each song. Phillips and Deiffenbach also presented three numbers by Charles Aznavour, which, though lovely, could not be compared to the quality of Brel and Weill numbers.

A CAROUSEL OF COLORS WITH BREL, WEILL and AZNAVOUR, with Vickie Phillips; Musical Director, Gerry Dieffenbach; presented as part of the Midtown International Theatre Festival.

ROBERT GULACK holds an MFA in Playwriting from the Yale School of Drama, where he studied with Mamet and Kopit. He is the author of numerous plays seen in NYC, including CHURCHILL IN ATHENS, SIX HUSBANDS OF ELIZABETH THE QUEEN, and the award-winning ONE THOUSAND AND ONE.

Leigh Curran rises in WHY WATER FALLS

Review by Amy M. Frateo

Leigh Curran’s WHY WATER FALLS is one of those rare moments on stage where you feel as if the performer is talking right to you. That’s the level of honesty and power she gave to every one of the 90 minutes she stood on stage all alone. Well, not really alone.

l The play opens with the barefoot androgynous author grumbling over a quick writing assignment on a personal topic she has agreed to undertake as a favor to a friend. In short order, this frustration of Leigh’s opens the door to a series of self-discoveries laid before a very appreciative audience (many talked back to her, even answering her rhetorical questions).

At the play’s foundation is the question Leigh seems plagued with… children … to have or have not. Leigh chose to have not.

The play then whisks us into a world of twos. Two husbands – each with a pregnancy and subsequent abortion; two characters – both girls – created for Leigh’s novel but quickly we see they are there as the personification of her aborted children; her dual career as an actress and writer happens on two coasts; even Leigh’s sexuality is in twos – as she matter-of-factly discusses her bi-sexuality.

images Leigh Curran – simply put – is a powerhouse on the authentic off-off Broadway stage at the 13th Street Playhouse. The wordiness of her play is never a problem with Leigh’s great talent at weaving back and forth between playing herself and playing her two characters. She weaves her resume pictures and even anecdotes about her career as a teaching artist in deftly. In the hands of a lesser talent the second half might sound like a commercial but in the hands and voice of this master storyteller, it is an exciting plot development – and even twist – with an amusing story of a nasty student who saves the day.

Couple this really enthralling piece with the surroundings – the authenticity of the venerable 13th Street Playhouse – you walk out on to the street feeling like you attended a powerful passionate sermon about life and how to live it.

The press materials indicate a high in standards at the 13th Street Playhouse. Plays like WHY WATER FALLS and players like Leigh Curran prove that a true statement.

Why Water Falls runs through November 12 – a worthy trip – then stay for one the late night programs.

There is a rose in Spanish Harlem and it’s A SPANISH HARLEM STORY

A SPANISH HARLEM STORY
Written by Steve Silver
Directed by Laurie Rae Waugh
Review by Stephanie Schwartz

A SPANISH HARLEM STORY, presented by American Theatre of Actors in the Beckman Theatre, 2nd floor, 314 West 54th St. Sept. 30 – Oct. 11 @8pm.

Steve Silver has written a tight drama that seems an authentic look at a life in Spanish Harlem. The English language is enhanced with Spanish and Italian expressions sprinkled throughout, reflecting the vernacular of the multi-ethnic community. Ken Coughlin (lighting and sound design) gave a particularly nice touch using salsa, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and other Latin styles of music.

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A husband and wife, beautifully played by Rookie Tiwari and Larry Fleishman, mourn the 9-11 death of their daughter and consequently are raising their granddaughter. The husband, Manuel is a recovering drug addict, alcoholic, and ex-con. His wife, Rosario is very supportive of his rehab but also is very concerned that Manuel will slip back into his old life of crime when Mikey, an old family friend and accomplice returns.

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Mikey is effectively played by Steve Silver. Ken Coughlin is convincing as mob boss Tony, who wants Mikey and Manny to do one more job, which involves drugs and Cuban gangsters. The conflict escalates when Manny reconsiders returning to his old life and the consequences it would bring to his future and that of his family.

CAM02348 Mercedes Vega made a nice appearance as the deceased daughter in Rosario’s dream.

This ATA production was directed with a deft hand by Laurie Rae Waugh. As the play proceeded, her direction increased the emotional tension while using the small playing area effectively, moving the actors well, particularly in a fight scene. Rachel Ladany, stage manager did a good job running lights and sound. The set and props were minimal and created the apartment and social club convincingly. All in all, this was a very satisfying and enjoyable evening of theater. I highly recommend it.

I’m going to get straight to the point, since time is running out. SEE THIS PRODUCTION. It will be well worth your time and is worth every penny of the admission price.

Review by Ramona Pula

michael-mack_conversations_timo070_eraser_6x10_300dpi_credit-Timothy-Hanson

“Conversations With My Molester”

Written and performed by Michael Mack
Directed by Daniel Gidron
Technical Direction and Stage Management by Peter Lewis

The Bridge Theatre, 244 W. 54th Street
(between Broadway and 8th Avenue), 12th Floor
Running Time: 90 minutes without intermission

Remaining show dates/times:
Sat 10/3 at 8pm; Sun 10/4 at 3pm
Thurs 10/8 at 8pm; Fri 10/9 at 8pm; Sat 10/10 at 8pm; Sun 10/11 at 3pm

Get tickets here http://conversationsplay.brownpapertickets.com/

I’m going to get straight to the point, since time is running out. SEE THIS PRODUCTION. It will be well worth your time and is worth every penny of the admission price.
“Conversations With My Molester” is an absorbing, moving story of not only the abuse of an innocent child, but also of his healing, and of redemption. It’s expertly directed by Daniel Gidron and masterfully performed by consummate artist and poet Michael Mack. The lighting design is terrific, and technically everything works flawlessly.

As my friend Onyi and I entered the space, Gregorian chants played over the sound system, setting the tone so effectively that she and I whispered to each other as we talked before the show. Suddenly I realized, and said, “I feel like I’m in Church.” And Onyi agreed. We laughed because neither of us had ever been so quiet while chatting before a show.

michael-mack_conversations_timo129_mouth-memory_6x10_300dpi_credit-Timothy-Hanson The set is simple and effective, including a piano stage right and a greenboard center stage with “HEART & SOUL” written on it in chalk. Each section of the play is written out on this board, including (but not limited to) “ONE QUESTION” and near the end of the show “PORTRAIT OF A BOY.” A small table with chair stage left and a leather briefcase under the table completes the scenery.

Michael Mack enters and starts out in a somewhat presentational, poetic style, proclaiming in a strong, resonant voice that before he started learning anything in school, he saw priests as superheroes and wanted to be one himself. Praying to him was “sweet breathing” and “A priest was the nearest I got to God’s proscenium stage.” Michael wanted to be center stage, “where the action is.”

He, of course, became an altar boy.

michael-mack_conversations_timo085_under-table_6x10_300dpi_credit-Timothy-Hanson In speech and movement, the performer here struck me as ritualistic, like a… priest actually – and in a way, strangely disconnected. However, that was not to last. This show builds in a slow burn to a powder keg of emotion.

At age 10, Michael still wanted to be a priest, and also a fighter pilot. At this time, when their mother became ill with schizophrenia, he, his brother and sister moved from near Washington D.C. to North Carolina to live with their Aunt May. Their father would visit them from up north on alternate weekends so they could have Saturday supper together every two weeks.
Aunt May was an Episcopalian, while Michael and his siblings went to the Catholic Church in town, Sacred Heart. He became an altar boy there.
The priest at Sacred Heart, who is not named until later in the play (all names have been changed for the show), took Michael to his first baseball game and was generally kind to him. With his father living in D.C., this priest became like the boy’s second dad. When father and Father met, they shook hands. Trust was established, to be betrayed.
For the sake of brevity and to avoid spoilers I’ll refrain from summarizing any more of the story. Suffice it to say that this show is full of surprises and twists, poetry, discomfort, laughs, and a spectrum of emotion that encapsulates a particular human experience that is not restricted to the Catholic Church. As Pope Francis recently pointed out, and as most people in our society already know, children are also violated by relatives, teachers, and other adults entrusted with their care. It’s truly an epidemic that has existed probably for millennia that we are only now in our evolution as a species truly addressing in any real way.

“Conversations With My Molester” explores questions of self-blame, keeping secrets, obsession with talking to one’s abuser(s) in one’s own head, the confusion of some abuse victims in the cases when they feel a combination of attraction and revulsion to the memory of molestation, confrontation and forgiveness, and so much more.

To cover all this in 90 minutes in such a pithy and engrossing way is an artistic achievement of the highest order.

The question of free will is explored, when the choice between doing evil or walking away is presented. This particular segment of the show reminded me of the Rolling Stones song “Paint It Black” when Jagger sings:

I see the girls walk by dressed in their summer clothes
I have to turn my head until my darkness goes

Just because you think something, it doesn’t mean you’re compelled to do it. “Forgive yourself for what you never did.”

After most performances, Mack goes backstage to take a short break and then there is a “Talk Back” with him and any members of the audience who wish to stay, moderated by a leader in the healing professions.

The night I went, Norris Chumley, Ph.D, was the moderator. Many audience members chose to stay for the talk, and had their own stories to tell either about themselves or about people they knew and loved.

TANGENT ALERT: At a couple of points during the discussion, Mack said “raises the question” and I want to THANK him for that, since the misuse of the phrase “begs the question” is a pet peeve of mine. (Really, it drives me crazy.)

michael-mack_conversations_timo217_prayer_6x10_300dpi_credit-Timothy-Hanson

When an audience member expressed amazement at what Michael Mack has achieved not just personally but artistically, he responded, “Art is taking the materials of our lives and creating something with it.”

Between Pretty Places: Pretty When It Speaks

Review by Bart Greenberg

BPP_0007_22 Between Pretty Places, now playing at The 13th Street Repertory Company, is an intriguing “musical ghost story” that details the frustrated lives of a family stranded in the parched ranch country of central California. Lyle (Philip Callen) and Diane (Ellen Parker) are a long married couple who are struggling financially and spiritually, dealing with a daughter (Julie Fitzpatrick) who committed suicide by hanging herself from a tree on the property. The daughter, Cherlynn, may be dead, but her spirit insists on remaining to continue her emotional battle with her parents and her sometimes loving, sometimes threatening relationship with her young daughter (Jemma Kosanke) who has been dumped on her grandparents by an absent father. Complicating matters, the local librarian and good time gal, Marge (Heather Lupton Rashe) is entertaining a job offer from a library in a distant town, and would love to take a souvenir along with her: Lyle.

BPP_0023_6 The cast is outstanding, with each of the performers finding compassion for their flawed characters without shying away from their flaws.Parker, a veteran of Broadway and off-Broadway, plus an Emmy winner for her long run on daytime’s Guiding Light, suggests a Mother Courage suffering from a nervous breakdown over her responsibility in the death of her daughter. Callen, brings a powerful masculinity that has been hollowed out by frustration and disappointment, still in love with his wife but needing far more than she can now offer. Fitzpatrick embodies the tricky role of the strung out dead daughter, and offers the strongest female voice on the stage. Lupton Rasche finds a lot of colors in a role that could easily turn into cliche and young Kosanke neatly handles the shifting moods of an emotionally battered child.

BPP_0010_19 However, there is a somewhat schizophrenic nature about the piece that is troubling. The program interestingly lists: “Play by Susan Merson” rather than book. The production does indeed feel like a straight play where songs have been dropped in. The effect is furthered by the score by Shellen Lubin (with additional music by Matthew Gandolfo) which is much stronger lyrically than melodically. The lyrics are definitely compatible with the dialogue, admirably carrying the same personalities forward. But, except for an insistent dark nursery tune and a pastiche country-western ballad, the music is rather characterless and lacks dramatic thrust. Of course, the music is not well served by the orchestral accompaniment being limited to a keyboard, no matter how admirably played by Gandolfo. These songs feel like dramatic monologues that might be better spoken than sung.

BPP_0012_17 The brief running time of the show (75 minutes) makes it feel dense and tough, as dry as the world it takes place in. There is nothing pretty here, but there is courage and resolution, and it is a place worth visiting.

DEEP “CONVERSATION”

Amy M. Frateo, reviewer

Michael Mack is very brave. He is also very talented. He is also very brave… was that mentioned?

Mack-Voices_Chair1_6x7_300dpi_350kb_q6 On stage at The Bridge Theatre, Mack stands alone in a black shirt and pants – like a relaxing priest – and tells a story that is compelling, shocking, painful and hopeful all at the same time. The story is CONVERSATIONS WITH MY MOLESTER and it relates to his awful experience as an 11 year old boy lured into the rectory of a pedophile priest. Yes, just the description alone tightens the shoulders.

michael-mack_conversations_timo085_under-table_6x10_300dpi_credit-Timothy-HansonThis powerful drama, touching on a topic that dares not say its name was part of last year’s Midtown international theatre Festival then ran abroad and now settles here for a limited off-Broadway run. With Pope Francis in town, liberals will stand tall with this piece; conservatives fear its arrival.

Now here’s the twist … it is also beautifully executed. Mack is a true poet, creating soaring and stunning imagery for hellish circumstances. His brilliant use of words transforms trauma into opera; his use of metaphor and description makes you forget the topic – until it reminds you of it – hard. Mack is able to take us on an emotional roller coaster – even a really tepid rendition of Heart & Soul on a rickety piano becomes heartbreaking in context.

Daniel Gidron staged this piece well, cleverly keeping Mack moving throughout to always illicit a high energy – almost production number – feel. This helped in slower parts and heavy exposition toward the later half. Gidron and Mack managed to find moments where just the right delivery created laughter – sometimes nervous and even the rare belly laugh. It’s rare that you forget you’re in a theatre and actually feel that you are “in” the play. With CONVERSATIONS, you feel as if you are there with Michael in the dark rectory feeling his fear … and his pain.

Now here’s the last twist… what you also feel is hope. Mack does not play this drama with anger or vengeance. He provides a smile of understanding – even forgiveness – on his face throughout. This allows us to listen and react and interact (talkbacks are scheduled after each showing).

michael-mack_conversations_timo217_prayer_6x10_300dpi_credit-Timothy-Hanson Pope Francis’ stance on this matter is encouraging, but that doesn’t negate what these children went through or the lesson to be learned. Mack shows us a dark time and how he climbed up from it. He tells us why he was in pain and teaches us how to forgive. Isn’t that what the REAL message of faith?

DON’T SAY THE NAME … JUST SEE THE PRODUCTION.

Review by Bart Greenberg

I6 William Shakespeare’s Macbeth is a notoriously difficult work despite being the playwright’s shortest tragedy, a mix of blood, sex and witchcraft. Too often it comes off stodgy and over-directed (and often, over-acted). The play also comes with the extra baggage of being a “cursed” piece, thought to bring bad luck by simply being mentioned backstage by name, and quoting a line from this very quotable work can lead to terrible consequences – or so it is believed.

The American Theatre of Actors’ current production avoids some of these pitfalls. A youthful, athletic cast keeps both action and story going, even in the second half when the play becomes problematic as it leaps around locations, characters and countries, before returning to its central characters. However, the cast is a mixed bag as far as comfort with the language and the brutal aspect of the characters.

Co-directors James Jennings and Jane Culley keep the action moving with the performers scaling the structural set and sprinting through the audience to make entrances and exits. IH There is a strong emphasis on sexuality, with most of the male actors shirtless at some point, and far more emphasis on crotches and masculine endowments than necessary.

A1 Thomas Leverton makes a fine if idiosyncratic MacBeth. If he seems a bit slight in build to be the triumphant warrior in the early scenes, he seems to grow in power and passion as the play progresses as his King suffers a emotional break after Banquo’s death, including a truly harrowing seizure, from which he emerges more cold-blooded and single-minded. E As his lady, Jessica Jennings is hampered by her girl-next-door beauty and her soprano speaking voice that would seem more suitable for any of the Rodgers and Hammerstein heroines than the ambitious ruthless consort.

I3 Outstanding is supporting roles are Zen as a brutal and coldly passionate Macduff and Al Perez (making a very impressive stage debut) as a too trusting Banquo. Shayna Lawson makes something special out of her one scene role as Lady Macduff, while David Remple shows fine growth as Prince Malcolm from frightened prince to worthy King.

While flawed, this is unquestionably a Macbeth worth viewing for its strong points.

Macbeth plays through September 19th at The Chernuchin Theater at 314 West 54th St.

A Stellar Goose!

ROCK N’ROLL MOTHER GOOSE“Rock n’ Roll Mother Goose” – Friday, 7-31-15, MITF 16
Writer: Judi Lewis Ockler
Costumes: Alisha Engle
Contributing Director/Props: David Engel
Technical Director/Props: Chris Ockler
Starring: Judi Lewis Ockler, various audience members
Davenport Theatre, Black Box, 354 W. 45th Street (between 8th & 9th Avenues)
16th Annual Midtown International Theatre Festival
Running Time: 45 minutes
Review by Ramona Pula

Judi Lewis Ockler, as Mother Goose, entered from stage right. Wearing a black pointy hat and green cape, she walked slowly while hunched over, leaning on a quad cane in one hand and holding a huge storybook in the other. “Are you there, children? You out there?” she asked as she peered into the audience of adults, which made us laugh.
Describing to us her love of stories that take her to a different time and place, I thought to myself about this Mother Goose “She’s delightful! She deserves an audience FULL of children.”
At that moment, latecomers including 5 children came in! Mother Goose adlibbed a joke about it along the lines of, “oh thank goodness” which made us laugh again.
Taking her reversible cape and black pointy hat off to reveal what I can only describe as a cool-ass costume (Heelys retractable roller skate sneakers, black & white striped tights, whimsical A-line skirt, print apron, blue blouse with white frills, and a rhinestone-studded collar) and a punk rock old lady hair-do, Ms. Ockler became suddenly physical, as the music of an old timey rock and roll original song by Brad Rymer “Rock n’ Roll Mother Goose” played.

Once she started rocking, Mother Goose stayed on a roll for the rest of the show. I especially loved when she occasionally zipped around the stage on her Heelys.
This show is interactive, and Ms. Ockler improvises funny bits with audience members, adults and children alike. At one point after they’d done a bit together, she got a dad who’d been onstage to slap her five and responded as if he’d tapped her in the butt – subtly and comically, of course.
Then she rocked out some air guitar with ‘80s metal licks!

Mother Goose called on the audience to use their imagination as we got closer to choosing a tale from the big storybook. At this point, kids started calling out spontaneously, wanting a story to start – there were few children, however they were excited and rowdy, which was perfect for this show.
After getting the audience to send our collective mojo to the stage, Mother Goose opened the magical storybook, and we found out that day’s story would be based on Jane Yolen’s “Ballad of the Pirate Queens”. She asked for volunteers from the audience to help her. There was one girl in particular at house left who raised her hand right away, however Ms. Ockler kept scanning past her. It got to the point where several adults next to the girl were pointing at her, including John Chatterton, the founder and artistic director of MITF.

Ms. Ockler chose a different girl from house right to play pirate queen Anne Bonney. She asked for another volunteer to play pirate queen Mary Reade. More adults started pointing at the girl who first raised her hand, which was now down. Ms. Ockler chose her sister instead. The sister was too shy to go onstage, so then she picked the child who first shot her hand up, much to everyone’s relief. We were all quite invested at that point.

With her two young pirate queens at her side, Mother Goose then lead us all on a storytelling adventure, excellently executed.

“Rock n’ Roll Mother Goose” is stellar in every way. Costumes by Alisha Engle are stupendous. Props by David Engle and Chris Ockler are fabulous, as are contributing direction and technical direction, respectively.

Judi Lewis Ockler is a consummate performer, possessing professional skill in acting, clowning, fight direction and stunt performing. Her background as a mother and a teacher also make her wonderful with children.

That said, she might want to consider tweaking a few things. First, after curtain Ms. Ockler came out as herself to plug the next two MITF performances of her show, which took place that same weekend. I personally am all for this sort of thing in general, since I understand how important publicity is, and this show deserves to be seen. However, I wish she’d stayed in character as Mother Goose. She’d woven such a convincing spell for the children that it was almost violent when she broke that. It dissipated the magic of pretend for them. Or at least it did for me. Yes, I’m a big kid.

Also, once the shy girl in the audience at house left saw how much fun her sister had had onstage as Mary Reade, she then wanted a turn onstage, however, there was no chance of that. She wept her little heart out. I know Ms. Ockler can’t possibly have every child onstage who might wish to be, especially when she has an audience full of them. She might want to prepare herself for such instances, however, and be willing to take a few minutes after a show to kneel in front of a crying child (or group of children, as the case may be), and give them a little pep talk. As a teacher and a mother, I’m sure she has experience doing this.

You see, the crying child had not just fallen in love with books in general, which is a stated goal of “Rock n’ Roll Mother Goose” – she had also fallen in love with Theatre. Assuring her that she has a lifetime ahead to explore that newfound love would be a wonderful addition to a great gift already bestowed.