Photo by Jonathan Slaff
It’s not your mother’s “Sesame Street.” Jamaal Kendall and Nicole Patullo in “My Boyfreind is a Zombie.”
Downtown Theater Roundup
June’s busting out all over — with scary shows
BY TRAV S.D.
About last Month….
Having heard so much over the years about the Chuck Mee-Anne Bogart collaboration “bobrauchenbergamerica,” I was disappointed to find its revival at Dance Theatre Workshop to be a rather limp, lifeless and not very penetrating collage depicting some place called “America” — but recognizable to this reviewer only though the presence of a giant Stars and Stripes at the back of the stage. But, then it wasn’t supposed to be MY “America,” was it? It was “bobrauchenbergamerica” as filtered through the imaginations of Mee and Bogart — whose points of view are rather hard to pin down. The tone of the production seems to promise satire, but delivers only smug line readings of quotidian interactions.
Likewise, “Gin and It” (at PS122) turned out to be little more than a stunt — an elaborate, difficult-to-execute one, no doubt, but a stunt nevertheless. Essentially, the production consisted of a screening of the Alfred Hitchcock single-shot thriller “Rope,” projected piecemeal onto a bunch of very small canvases being moved around the space by a bunch of stagehands. Not much of a show, but a tour de force of scenery shifting!
Much more enjoyable was Cynthia Hopkins’ “The Truth: A Tragedy” — a quilt of original songs, monologues, and movement grappling with the real and/or fictional descent of her father into Parkinson’s Disease. Hopkins is stunningly talented both as a writer and as a performer. She sings like an angel, plays several instruments, is a terrific character actress and even does some pratfalls and magic tricks. Each of these individual units of performance was amazing, but somehow failed to cohere into a single, powerful work. The right director ought to help her forge this vehicle into more than the sum of its parts.
Lastly, Avery Pearson’s acting in Daniel MacIvor’s “Monster” (in the SOLONova Arts Festival) was by turns chilling and hilarious — just as he was meant to be. With careful direction by Steve Cook, Pearson shifts back and forth between 16 different characters: young, old, male, female, educated, inarticulate, drink, sober, innocent, murderous. Assisted by little more than simple light changes, Pearson takes us further into the next door neighbor’s basement than we may care to go. Shake hands with a real live limbless torso!
Coming Your Way in June…
Speaking of monsters, I’m especially looking forward to a couple of spooky shows opening in June (isn’t that usually considered a bright, cheerful month?). From June 3rd through 27th, Theater for the New City will be the platform for “My Boyfriend is a Zombie” — a new musical by one William Electric Black. If that name sounds a little too good to be true, your instinct is correct. Black’s alter ego, Ian Ellis James, is a 7-time Emmy award-winning writer for “Sesame Street” — which is probably why his new show is promoted as being “family friendly” (though as its plot about a high school girl’s romance with a member of the walking undead has about it a whiff of necrophilia). For more info, consult (what else?) boyfriendzombieonstage.com.
Meanwhile, Nosedive Productions is unveiling an undead spectacle of their own. Entitled “The Little One,” it concerns the mentorship of a young vampiress by an older, more experienced one. How hot is that? If this show is anything like their many past editions of “Blood Brothers Presents,” it will deliver buckets of blood and gore to augment is psychological chills. Judging from their press photos, the fang budget alone must have threatened to blow the lid off the casket. “The Little One” will be on the boards at the Kraine Theater June 17th through July 10th. For tickets and information: nosediveproductions.com.
Vampires first flew into the American public’s imagination in 1931, the year “Dracula” was released, and (not coincidentally) one of the direst years of the Great Depression. A lesser-known theatrical product of that bleak year was “Can You Hear Their Voices” — a tale of hunger and drought in rural Arkansas penned by the Federal Theatre Project’s Hallie Flanagan and Margaret Ellen Clifford, and based on a short story by Whittaker Chambers (yes, THAT Whittaker Chambers, Nixon buffs). This socially conscious work is being revived by Catherine Porter, Ralph Lewis, and Barry Rowell, the Mod Squad that makes up the Peculiar Works Project. I’ve known these guys since the New York RAT Conference of 1997 (remember that?). The company’s modus operandi is to ‘wake up” neutral spaces and put on site-specific productions in them (a memorable example was their tribute to early Off-Off-Broadway a couple of years ago, which took place in the streets of Greenwich Village). Accordingly, they’ll mount the current production in an abandoned storefront on Great Jones Street — a testament to our own current Great Depression. “Can You Hear Their Voices?” will be up June 3rd through 27th. Find more information at peculiarworks.org.
Also open June 3rd through 27th: a socially-conscious theatrical event of an even more expansive nature. Now entering its second year, the “Planet Connections Theatre Festivity” will include over 50 productions — all of which will donate all or a portion of their box office proceeds to worthy charities, and “implement a green theatre sensibility.” There seems to be some wide latitude about what that may mean. While some shows (“Manhattan Project” and “War Crimes”) evince clear political intentions in the content of their productions, plenty, such as Duncan Pflaster’s “Thyme of the Season” (a sequel to “Midsummer Night’s Dream”) and “Dig and Be Dug: The Gospel of Lord Buckley” appear to have entertainment as their main objective. Beneficiaries range from Citymeals-on-Wheels to Amnesty International. I am especially looking forward to seeing “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” adapted from the Wilde novel and directed by the festival’s executive director Glory Bowen. Glory’s production of “An Evening with the Family” was in the Vaclav Havel Festival a couple of years back. Her show was strange enough to entice me back to the well! I’ll be at that well for “Dorian Gray” and report my findings in next month’s column. For more information on the festival, visit planetconnectionsfestivity.com.
Another festival to watch is Clubbed Thumb’s Summerworks, now in its 15th year. Open at the Ohio Theatre June 6th through the 26th — the small-scale festival puts the premium on TLC rather than scale by presenting three different productions for a week each (with the possiblility of further development). If the names Kate W. Ryan, Samuel D. Hunter, and Anne Washburn (this year’s playwrights) mean little to you now, downtown theatre watchers will certainly know names like Charles Mee, Kristin Marting, David Herskovits and Lisa D’Amour, some of the past participants. If you want to be ahead of the curve, check it out! Clubbedthumb.org for more information.