Friday, September 23, 2016

68. Review: I LIKE IT LIKE THAT (seen September 18, 2016)

"You'll Like it Like That, Too"
Stars range from 5-1.

For my review of You'll Like it Like That please click on THEATER PIZZAZZ.
Shadia Fairuz, Ana Isabelle, Gilberto Velazquez, Tito Nieves.Photo: Marisol Diaz.

Josef 'Quique' Gonzalez, Chachi del Valle. Photo: Marisol Diaz.

Company of I Like it Like That. Photo: Marisol Diaz.

Company of I Like it Like That. Photo: Marisol Diaz.

Rear: Chachi del Valle, Rossmery Almonte, Shadia Fairuz. Front: Ana Isabelle. Photo: Marisol Diaz.
Company of I Like it Like That. Photo: Marison Diaz.

Company of I Like it Like That. Photo: Marisol Diaz.

Shadia Fairuz, Tito Nieves, Angel Lopez, Rossmery Almonte. Photo: Marisol Diaz.
Company of I Like it Like That. Photo: Marisol Diaz. 


I Like it Like That
Puerto Rican Traveling Theater
W. 47th St., NYC
Through December 30

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Monday, September 19, 2016

Thursday, September 15, 2016

64. Review: BEARS IN SPACE (seen September 14, 2016)

“Grin and Bear It”
Stars range from 5-1.

It was a slow theatergoing summer so I used much of my newfound time to binge watch all 60 episodes of the astonishing HBO series Game of Thrones, which I’d never seen before. I was thus revved up to see one of its principal players, Jack Gleeson, the interesting young actor who plays the deliciously evil King Joffrey Baratheon (killed off in season 4), in Irish writer Eoghan Quinn’s silly piece of ursine juvenilia, Bears in Space. The show is now at 59E59 Theaters after sold-out runs in Dublin, Edinburgh, and London that have given it a cult-like status. 

Aaron Heffernan, Eoghan Quinn. Photo: Idil Sukan.
Although he gets to do the wicked ruler thing again, among his other roles in this 80-minute nonsensical farrago produced by the Irish company Collapsing Horse, Gleeson turns out to have considerable comedic talent. Unfortunately, the play he’s in, while prompting many gusts of laughter, only rarely cracked my stone face (or those of certain others I was able to observe.)
Aaron Heffernan, Jack Gleeson. Photo: Idil Sukan.
It’s not advertised as such, but Bears in Space, produced as part of the annual 1st Irish Festival, resembles the kind of collaborative work usually labeled “devised theatre,” which director Dan Colley’s bio cites as one of his strengths. There’s a “found” quality to everything, from the makeshift scenic units and shabby costumes to the tattered rod puppets (designed by Aaron Heffernan) the actors use to play most of the characters. The bizarre situations and jokey dialogue (with comic accents, puns, unexpected metaphors, and the like) seem the kind of thing a band of freewheeling young actors might have created during a series of improv-based workshops (the script actually has places where actors are asked to “riff”); it’s a bit like the mayhem of the early Marx Brothers but absent anyone having anything like those guys’ distinctive personalities.
Aaron Heffernan. Photo: Idil Sukan.
The premise is that a Story Keeper (Cameron Macauley), whose favorite author is Jane Austen, has chosen (from his “infinitely large library”) to tell us the story of the SS Quickfast, an interstellar spaceship whose crew of three, all bears, have been in cryogenic hibernation for 700 years (“That’s a long nap,” one notes). Using crude puppets, the story is enacted by the Story Keeper’s three moronic sons, Bertram, Darcey, and Lady Susan Vernon, each named for an Austen character. (The sons are Gleeson, Aaron Heffernan, and the playwright, Eoghan Quinn; the program doesn’t list which roles they play in the story.)

Two crew members, Officer Volyova, a Scot, and Officer Bhourghash, a Russian rescued in space by the Quickfast, wake up one day in 300,000. The other, Captain Lazara, remains frozen because she’s got a fatal disease that has spread through the Seven Sectors and is in need of a cure; to unfreeze her now would risk further spreading the disease. Volyova is desperately in love with her. Meanwhile, a lonely, bumbling Hal-like computer (Gleeson, if you want to know) reports that the ship is running low on energy.

The captainless crew is invited to a party at the Social Club of the city-planet Metrotopia by its wicked, communistic mayor, Premier Nico (Gleeson, of course); Bhourghash goes, pretending to be the captain so he can get energy for the ship, but is in danger because Nico seeks to imprison undesirables on “The Jungle Planet of Jungolia.” This takes us further and further into the muddy whirlpool of a childish fantasy, with nutty, off-the-wall characters, that snatches every opportunity to make fun of itself, but fails to make any meaningful commentary on the equally crazy world we live in. Fun for fun's sake, you might call it.
Cameron Macauley. Photo: Idil Sukan.
It’s all well done, the actors are expert comedians and puppeteers, and there are effective shadow projections and Macauley’s amusing music, so, if you’re up for this kind of prankish theatre, Bears in Space may prove a pleasant enough diversion. Moreover, surprisingly for this kind of show, it doesn’t depend on smut for its laughs. I generally love nutty stuff like this but Bears in Space hit my funnybone so infrequently all I could do was grin and bear it.


59E59 Theaters/Theater B
59 E. 59th St., NYC
Through October 2

63. Review: DEAD SHOT MARY (seen September 13, 2016)

“That’s Why the Lady Was a Cop”

Stars range from 5-1.

Biographical solo plays are often great ways to learn about the lives of fascinating people, not only famous ones like Charles Dickens, Louis Armstrong, Mark Twain, Leonard Bernstein, etc., but less well-known ones, like Mary Shanley, a.k.a. Dead Shot Mary, an exceptionally successful New York City policewoman with a great story to tell. Born in Ireland in 1896, Mary joined the NYPD in 1931 and, over the next two decades (she retired in 1957), working undercover, eventually racked up over 1,000 arrests of illegal fortune-tellers, pickpockets, shoplifters, purse-snatchers, and the like. She was the fourth woman to be promoted to Detective First-Grade, the New York Times wrote 11 stories about her, and in 2006, a documentary called Sleuthing Mary Shanley was released.

In Robert K. Benson’s Dead Shot Mary, presented under Stephen Kaliski’s brisk direction at the Bridge Theatre @ Shetler Studios in a tiny venue seating around 25 people, actress Rachel McPthee does a fine job of channeling Mary, whose slightly faded photos (including one with Mayor LaGuardia) hang on a simple background of picture frame-like latticework; the set, designed by Kyu Shin, contains artifacts from Mary’s life, as well as a tailor’s dummy dressed in a policewoman’s jacket and badge. McPhee--costumed by designer Peri Grabin Leong in replicas of the matronly yet fashionable white dress and round, straw bonnet she wears in most of those pictures--offers a rather accurate image of the hefty, courageous, red-haired lady cop.
Rachel McPhee. Photo: Isaiah Tanenbaum.
The piece, presumably being told at the time of Mary's retirement to Florida, is framed with scenes of Mary on a bus that morph into Mary at home, talking to her unseen dog, Jigs. With period jazz occasionally heard in the background (sound design: Adam Salberg), Mary recounts why she joined the force (the good pay and excitement), which only began hiring women during World War I; speaks of her shooting skills (her pistol gets valuable stage time); reveals her disappointment at being assigned to undercover; discusses her policing methods and selected arrests; informs us of the importance to a lady cop of being fashion conscious; recalls being commended by LaGuardia; and lets us know that, while no "women's libber" (an anachronistic usage here), she resents what she does being modified by references to her sex.
Rachel McPhee. Photo: Isaiah Tanenbaum.
But the play is equally focused on expressing Mary’s inner life, and her difficulty in finding her true face within her public and private ones, as reflected in a lengthy radio broadcast (unconvincingly rendered) of a boxing match, intended to express her resilience; passages recounting her Irish Catholic upbringing and her subsequent problems with confession; her fondness for Billie Holliday; and, inevitably, her battle with the bottle, which leads to a scandalous barroom incident that nearly costs Mary her job.
Rachel McPhee. Photo: Isaiah Tanenbaum.
These latter scenes are the least interesting because, well-intentioned as they are, what many of us want to know about this unusual individual are not speculations about her unsurprising inner life but what the daily life of someone in her position was like; what her relations were with other cops; what impact she had on the lives of others (including her family), and similar things related to her remarkable career. Perhaps her more personal issues could have been better integrated with her professional ones; at present, they seem a slight distraction.
Rachel McPhee. Photo: Isaiah Tanenbaum.
That said, McPhee’s robust performance works best when she portrays Mary’s emotional and psychological vulnerabilities and talks to us, not at us; she’s certainly got the stuff to embody Mary’s iron handedness, but she works too hard at it, pushing the toughness and affecting the kind of stagey Nu Yawk accent you learn from dialect books, sprinkling her lines with a blizzard of “youses,” “poils,” “goils,” and “poises.” Occasionally, Mary seems less an organic creation than a costume McPhee’s put on, allowing technique to dominate honesty; as the show continues I'm sure she's going to improve. I certainly wouldn’t want to be caught in this pistol-packing momma's crossfire.

The Bridge Theatre @ Shetler Studios/12th Floor
244 W. 54th St., NYC
Through October 15

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

62. Review: AUBERGINE (seen September 11, 2016)

"An Eggplant by Any Other Name"
Stars range from 5-1.

For my review of Aubergine please click on the BROADWAY BLOG.