Wednesday, June 26, 2019


“Laugh, Clown, Cry”****

By Aron Canter

From time to time Theatre's Leiter Side will be posting reviews of Off-Off Broadway shows my schedule prevents me from seeing. If you are interested in reviewing Off-Off Broadway, please contact me so we can discuss. I hope you find the expanded coverage useful. Sam Leiter 

The Comedian’s Tragedy, written by Matthew Amendt and directed by Bill McCallum, is a love letter to the theatre, a tribute to all things Greek, and a successful and entertaining evening. A highly imaginative and interesting script is enlivened by strong performances. While the production I attended did not induce much laughter, the evening is undoubtedly fun and the work notably thoughtful.
Anna Sundberg, Sarah Baskin, Ron Menzel, Matthew Amendt, Stephen D'Ambrose, Asma Thabet, Truett Felt and Gary Lowery. Photo: Heidi Bohnenkamp. 
An amalgamation of more Greek things than I could count, the play is a motley crew of references from the Greek theatre, from Greek mythology, and from Greek history formed into a story about a young comedian—a writer of Greek comedies—named Aris. Aris is, in fact, Aristophanes, the famous Greek comic playwright more of whose plays survive than any of his classical contemporaries, and who is known for speaking directly to the issues of his time. Interestingly, he also recently appeared in Socrates, at the Public Theater.
Matthew Amendt, Julian Remulla. Photo: Heidi Bohnenkamp.
Aris (Amendt, the playwright), is a sweet and sharp boy who, when the play opens, hates the theatre and mocks its value as an aspect of civic life. We quickly learn that Aris had written a comedy that was poorly received. However, under the inspiration of his cousin Philippus (Julian Remulla), his uncle Themon (Stephen D. Ambrose), and a local Persian woman named Xerxica (Sarah Baskin), Aris takes up the charge to write a tragedy, the highest of the arts.
Ron Menzel, Matthew Amendt. Photo: Heidi Bohnenkamp.
Amendt performs with charm and energy. He has written for himself, and his company, a great deal of lovely dialogue and monologues with strong imagery. Ron Mendel performs as the Chorus Leader—both as a one-man Greek Chorus and with his own hidden role in the play. He also is the conniving, professorial drama teacher of most of the Athenian youths. As Themon, Ambrose performs with intelligent conviction and clear speech. 
Matthew Amendt. Photo: Heidi Bohnenkamp.
The Access Theater’s long, relatively shallow performance space is mostly empty, with half-Greek, half-comic book-style posters plastered across the walls. Rather than dressing the actors in togas, set and costume designer Izzy Fields has created a quasi-Appalachian look that creates the sense of a Mediterranean, distant time. Fields adds effective touches to many of the costumes, such as having the war veteran, Themon, wear old medals that keep falling off his chest, with a dirty blindfold covering his eyes.
Matthew Amendt with Asma Thabet, Truett Felt and Anna Sundberg. Photo: Heidi Bohnenkamp.
The entire production is filled with such small yet clever touches. Because all the performers communicate with energy and clarity, the images speak volumes. Near the end of Act One, Amendt provides a wonderful monologue in verse filled with floral and mythic themes. He navigates the verse with impressive dexterity. The dialogue is firm, well-shaped, and keeps things moving.

The play, as noted earlier, is in many ways a love letter to the theatre. Aris falls back in love with tragedy, and as he does, he performs monologues on why the medium matters. The Chorus Leader is given a number of speeches that essentially elucidate the power of live performance. Cleon, the antagonist, effectively played by Anna Sundberg, and Baskin, as Xerxica, each expresses the importance of the theatre to civic life, Xerxica through affirmation, Cleon through denial. The play itself is sneakily metatheatrical but you’ll have to see it to learn how.

As a novice fan of Greek history, I had fun living in this fictional Greek world. Those better acquainted with the background will be even more delighted.

Access Theater
380 Broadway, 4th Floor
Through July 6

Aron Canter studied theatre theory and alternative performance at The New School and is working toward an Art History masters at Hunter College. He has been a theatre and art critic, a supernumerary at The Metropolitan Opera, and currently works as a medical professional.