Saturday, August 16, 2014

Applause! Applause! Review of The Boston Tea Party Opera at The Loretto (Sheen Center) by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of The Boston Tea Party Opera at The Loretto (Sheen Center) was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 4 (2014) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

The Boston Tea Party Opera
The Loretto (Sheen Center)
(18 Bleecker Street, NYC)
Reviewed 8/13/14

Matthew Zachary Johnson composed and produced The Boston Tea Party Opera, which is a part of this year's New York International Fringe Festival. It is a very well researched piece of theater featuring an extremely talented cast. It is also a cautionary tale that the same governmental abuses of excessive taxation, illegal search and seizures, and the lack of respect for the liberty and individual rights of the colonists exhibited by the British Crown may have parallels in some of the same challenges we are facing as a society today. 

I am not certain which version of The Boston Tea Party Opera I saw. It was entered into The New York International Fringe Festival as a three and one half hour production. By opening night, it shrank to two hours and twenty minutes and by the time I saw the show, it had been cut to under two hours. Clearly, songs were being added and dropped right up to the last minute and it appeared more changes were being made every day. There were no sets to speak of and only half the cast members were in colonial outfits. The latter may have been intentional in order to drive the point home that there were analogies you were being invited to draw between then and now. In case you were completely dense, the British officials were outfitted in modern S.W.A.T. gear colored black, red and white. 

The Boston Tea Party Opera covers the period of time from when King George III of England in 1763 sought to tax the American colonies as a way of recouping the war costs of obtaining victory in the French & Indian War through to the Boston Massacre in 1770 and eventually the Boston Tea Party in 1773. Well-known historical figures appearing in the opera include Sam Adams, John Hancock, Governor Thomas Hutchinson, James Otis, Richard Clarke, Crispus Attucks and Paul Revere. The libretto covers the tragedies, victories, acts of defiance, acts of patriotism, and even the romances that might have taken place during this period. The best description of the events contained in The Boston Tea Party Opera is in the Synopsis, printed in the program, which I will quote here in full: In the sweep of events leading up to the America Revolutionary war, loyalist Boston Governor Thomas Hutchinson seeks to clamp down on the increasingly rebellious Sons of Liberty. He seizes tea smuggler John Hancock's ship, the "Liberty." Orator James Otis gives a passionate courtroom speech against such arbitrary exercise of power, only to be attacked by British soldiers. Sam Adams leads the colonists in a boycott of British goods -- which the town's women support with their own efforts. Mrs. Adams is forced to house a threatening group of soldiers. In an incendiary outbreak of violence, colonists are fired upon by the soldiers in a horrific massacre. A great debate, with the leading agitator Sam Adams fervently defending the Rights of the Colonists, leads to an impasse. And finally in the inevitable climax of open rebellion, Paul Revere leads the epochal event that initiated the American Revolution -- the act which preferred the destruction of the tea cargo to the principle of colonial subjugation -- the act that no longer bore, but instead began to cast off the mounting injustice. 

The entire cast was inspiring in light of the talent each possessed. My favorites were Kerry Gotschall, who was particularly strong as Elizabeth Adams, a role intended to encompass the two wives named Elizabeth that Sam Adams married. Colette Boudreaux tenderly played Molly Pitcher, who may not have been a real person but instead a composite image inspired by the actions of a number of women who carried water to men on the battlefield and who, occasionally, may have picked up a musket themselves. In this opera, Molly Pitcher is smitten with Captain James Scott, a smuggler charismatically portrayed by Scott Joiner. Ms. Boudreaux and Mr. Joiner sing a memorable duet together entitled Smuggling Men Can Be So Fine. Finally, Charles Armstrong did an amazingly good job portraying the very pressured Richard Clarke, consignee of the tea that was thrown into Boston Harbor. I am told his background lies in musical theater instead of opera but his presence on stage caught my eye because he gave complexity and depth to the historical character he played.

Matthew Zachary Johnson has said The Boston Tea Party Opera straddles the line between opera and musical theater. He has said he feels future productions will more likely be staged in an off-Broadway setting than in Opera Houses throughout the world. That may very well happen since this show should be able to obtain pro-liberty investors and has a core group of potential patriotic audience members eager to be supportive of the underlying message of the show. For me, however, The Boston Tea Party Opera doesn't work well in its current form as either opera or musical theater. The audience members I spoke to during intermission and after the show were not at all pleased with the production and shared with me criticisms and opinions with which I was in agreement. Having actors playing dual roles was confusing. The sets don't need to be elaborate but the show certainly needs more than a British flag, a desk, two milk cartons and some blue and red ribbons. The costumes need to be all colonial or all modern. I would favor all colonial but I would keep the British authority figures in their S.W.A.T. gear to make the point that the challenges faced by our colonial ancestors are universal in all times and countries.

I think the show needs to be re-imagined as Boston Tea Party: The Musical, a non-operatic piece of musical theater produced with a book or distinct vignettes. The opera singers need to go and the show needs a director to pull things together more tightly. The length of the production is not the issue. It can be two hours or three and a half hours as long as its good. Only in this new format can the quality of the writing and composing be best evaluated. The underlying story is worth telling and I commend Matthew Zachary Johnson for attempting to tell it. The show portrays a part of history with relevance to the citizens of our country and suggests we need to be on guard against a government not fully respectful of our individual rights and liberties. That's a message everyone needs to hear. 

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Nick Di Iorio, Republican Party Nominee for Congress (CD12-NY), Speaks On Rising Action Radio About His Background & His Positions On Foreign & Domestic Policy Issues

Nick Di Iorio, the Republican Party nominee for Congress in the 12th Congressional District (New York) who is running against incumbent Democrat Representative Carolyn Maloney, was interviewed by Dr. Tom Stevens on two 30-minute shows on Rising Action Radio regarding his background and his positions on foreign and domestic policy issues. Many substantive and complex issues were discussed and I encourage you to listen to both broadcasts. A brief and incomplete summary of what was discussed follows.

During the first show, Mr. Di Iorio revealed he grew up in Providence, Rhode Island and from 2004-2010 studied to be a Catholic priest in a Jesuit Seminary in Boston, leaving and moving to New York in 2010 because of a continuing attraction he had to being married and having a family. When in New York, he lived in the Bronx and attended Fordham University (Rose Hill Campus) where after two years he obtained a Master's Degree in Philosophy. He considers himself to be a practicing Roman Catholic but personally disagrees with the positions of the Catholic Church on contraception and homosexual acts. He agrees with the Catholic Church that the Devil is real and not just a mythological personification of evil and that women should not be ordained as priests. On the issue of miracles, he said, "There are undeniable moments where things have happened in the created and natural order which cannot be explained by nature, which cannot be explained by science. I do believe in miracles." Regarding prayer, Mr. Di Iorio does believe God answers prayers, but "in His time, not in our time."

Regarding foreign policy, Mr. Di Iorio said he is a strong supporter of Israel and he believes "its survival and stability is crucial for the development of Western Democracy." He does believe our current level of financial support for Israel is probably too high and said, "Israel has done a great job of maintaining economic stability. We should really question how much we give to Israel based on its own economic stability." He opposes Israel trading "land for peace". Regarding that issue, he said, "The Palestinians and Hamas are really concerned with Killing Jews and no matter how much land Israel gives back will not change that mindset." He would be open to Jerusalem and all other Holy Sites "being governed or being at least secured and maintained by a third party, an independent entity that would secure Jerusalem and allow the followers of all three major religions a legitimate opportunity to worship at their Holy Sites." With respect to Russia, Mr. Di Iorio would not use military force to defend the sovereignty of the rest of Ukraine should Russia take it over but he would use military force, even if it meant going to war with Russia, to defend the sovereignty of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. To hear the full recording of this first segment, go to http://tobtr.com/s/6752765       

During the second show covering domestic policy issues, Mr. Di Iorio said he would oppose efforts to make Washington, D.C. a state and would like to see Roe v. Wade overturned so each state could decide whether to make abortion legal or not within its borders. He would also oppose any federal definition of marriage and would want each state to decide whether or not to recognize same-sex marriages. Ideally, he would like the government to get out of the marriage licensing business and would end all tax advantages granted to married couples to the disadvantage of single individuals. He would decriminalize marijuana but legalize it for medicinal purposes. He also believes the Federal Government "should not be making decisions about what you can or cannot use in the privacy of your own lives" and "shouldn't be telling people what is and is not good." 

Regarding taxation, Mr. Di Iorio would establish a 25% corporate tax rate, end loopholes and lower but broaden the base of those paying taxes so everyone has some "skin in the game." He is very much a proponent of free trade and believes it allows our values of human dignity and democracy to be spread throughout the world. He opposes the Federal Reserve printing money out of thin air and said, "Every time the Federal Reserve prints a dollar, the value of a dollar in New York State goes down. You cannot print money you don't have." He would fast-track naturalization for law-abiding immigrant families and would consider supporting the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (D.R.E.A.M.) Act but not until we have fully secured our border. To hear a full recording of the second segment, go to http://www.blogtalkradio.com/risingaction/2014/08/04/nick-di-iorio--congressional-candidate-cd12-ny-on-domestic-issues.   

To learn more about Nick Di Iorio's campaign, visit his website at http://www.nickfornewyork.com/ 

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Applause! Applause! Review of Kevin Scott Hall's A Quarter Inch From My Heart: A Memoir by Andrew Clunn

This review of Kevin Scott Hall's book A Quarter Inch From My Heart: A Memoir was written by Andrew Clunn and published in Volume X, Issue 4 (2014) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

A Quarter Inch From My Heart: A Memoir
Author: Kevin Scott Hall
Publisher: Wisdom Moon Publishing
ISBN-13: 978-1938459245

A Quarter Inch From My Heart: A Memoir is Kevin Scott Hall's second book, and first non-fiction title, a memoir about his tumultuous relationship with his on-and-off roommate Maurice. The chapters often alternate, with sections chronicling Kevin's life before meeting Maurice, and others covering the progression of their relationship. Maurice is a troubled man, losing everything in hurricane Katrina, and Kevin intends to put things right. Of course Kevin is also troubled, and his drive to mend Maurice's life clearly has some roots in his own need for validation and direction. While the events of Kevin's memoir are tragic (drug addiction, AIDS, the loss of friends, and unprovoked violence), the real draw is in his reactions to them, presented in naked introspection.

There's a lack of pretense at internal continuity that makes this such an honest memoir. Many people pretend at being rational, claiming that the views they hold now have always been a part of them, hiding the conflict and uncertainty of their resolve behind retroactively constructed narrative. Kevin makes no attempts at this. He embraces his emotional fickle nature and lays it bare on the page. There's a passage where Kevin has had it with Maurice, when he was left to move apartments on his own while Maurice disappeared for a half week bender. He is done. He's tired of being used. Of being lied to. Of being expected to carry the weight of another human being unwilling to change and seemingly ungrateful for everything he's done for him. Then, within the same page, he reverses himself, knowing full well that his friends won't understand, but that he just is not going to give up on Maurice.

This honesty, about Kevin's failures, his personal tragedies, and the raw emotions that guide his choices make him a deeply sympathetic narrator of his own life. I found myself instinctively judging and scoffing at his decisions, but consistently disarmed by his frankness. "Going to New York to try to pursue a career as a performer." How naive, I thought. Then as he openly discussed the things he learned through his attempts at such a career, failures up front, I was left grateful for the lessons rather than condemning his choice. "Oh, you have a therapist for your depression. So now you're going to talk about how damaged and fragile you are, right?" Then he shared his story of being stabbed by a stranger on the street.

Granted, this infectious sympathy doesn't mean that I'd take life coaching advice from Kevin. The fact that the memoir so effectively made me empathize with him only heightened my frustration with his choices because I cared about the outcome. In some ways this allowed me to further relate to his relationship with Maurice. Here he was, knowing the plight of his friend, knowing he has it within him to be more than a victim of his failures, and yet helpless to change him or make better decisions for him. Less is expected of the reader by Kevin than of Kevin by Maurice of course, but there's a similar lesson. Another person's story is theirs to write, and your only choice is whether to keep participating by reading along. 

Were I a religious person, I'd likely have found this to be an inspirational work. Faith certainly plays a prominent role in the choices and outlook that Kevin has during his time with Maurice. For me though, I see it as a character study, an honest look at events through the thoughts and perspectives of the man who lived them, providing insight into a novel way of thinking. This is a book that made me feel as though I knew a person. It didn't try to make me like them, or agree with them, but just honestly let me know them. And I came away realizing that is exactly what I think a memoir ought to be. Worth reading to the end.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Applause! Applause! Review of StageLight Entertainment's Bat Boy: The Musical at The BACCA Arts Center by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of StageLight Entertainment's production of Bat Boy: The Musical at The BACCA Arts Center was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 4 (2014) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Bat Boy: The Musical
StageLight Entertainment Production
The BACCA Arts Center (149 Wellwood Avenue, Lindenhurst, NY)
Reviewed 7/11/14

Bat Boy: The Musical, with book written by Keythe Farley & Brian Flemming and music and lyrics written by Laurence O'Keefe, is based on a June 23, 1992 Weekly World News story about a half-boy, half-bat dubbed "Bat Boy" who grew up living in a cave. It was first developed at The Directors Company and had its world premiere at Tim Robbins' Actors Gang Theatre on October 31, 1997 in Los Angeles. The musical opened off-Broadway at the Union Square Theatre on March 21, 2001 closing on December 2, 2001. It played at the West Yorkshire Playhouse and then opened in the West End at the Shaftesbury Theatre in London on September 8, 2004 running through January 15, 2005. Bat Boy: The Musical won awards for best Off-Broadway musical including the Lucille Lortel Award, two Richard Rodgers Awards from the American Academy of Arts & Letters and the Outer Critics Circle Award in 2001.

The story is intentionally ridiculous. Dr. Thomas Parker, a young veterinarian developing a prototype pheromone for cows accidentally spills it on Meredith, his assistant, causing him to rape her in a fit of sexual desire. While on her way home, Meredith is sexually violated again by a colony of bats and nine months later, she gives birth to a girl, who they name Shelley, and to a half-bat baby boy who Dr. Parker eventually leaves at the mouth of a cave, where the baby is adopted and brought up by bats. Years later, three spelunkers, Ron, Rick & Ruthie Taylor discover Bat Boy, who bites Ruthie in the neck. They bring him back alive and Sheriff Reynolds places him in the custody of Dr. Parker and his now wife Meredith, who names him Edgar and educates him to the point where he is able to obtain his High School Equivalency Diploma. The citizens of the fictitious town of Hope Falls, West Virginia fear Edgar and want him killed blaming many incidents taking place in the town on him but they correctly assume he needs animal blood to sustain his life. This is all as you might expect it to be but then in the second act of this musical, things really start to get crazy: Pan shows up with woodland creatures, Shelley sleeps with her brother/step-brother, Dr. Parker turns into a mass murderer and many of the main characters eventually end up dead.

This production of Bat Boy: The Musical, directed by Christopher Rosselli, is worth going to if for no other reason than to have the opportunity to see Philip Martinez play Bat Boy (Edgar). He is a very talented actor with a commanding stage presence and a great voice. Whether singing "Show You A Thing Or Two", "Let Me Walk Among You" or "Inside Your Heart" (a duet beautifully sung with Kelsey Gronda, who played Shelley), audience members sat up in their seats whenever he appeared on stage. His performance alone is worth the price of admission. Two musical numbers I liked which involved the townsfolk were "Another Dead Cow" and "A Joyful Noise". Skyler Rudolfsky put his heart into performing the dual role of Rick Taylor and Rev. Hightower. I was particularly impressed with the performance of Austin Koenigstein, who played both Bud and Pan. Also worthy of note are Anthony Morano and Jarrett Dichter, two talented young actors who appeared in this production and have a great future in the theater. Anthony Morano, who played Ned, has a wholesome, charismatic look about him while Jarrett Dichter, who primarily had the role of Ron Taylor, played the part as a somewhat nerdy, awkward kid and succeeded in bring that minor character to life.

I won't lie. This production has problems some of which were no doubt the result of having too little time to rehearse and there being so many actors on stage at the same time. The opening number saw some cast members singing off key and out of harmony resulting in an assault on my ears that caused me to cringe in pain. The pace of the first act was somewhat slow but things did move at a faster pace once we got to the second act. With respect to the actors in this production I have not mentioned, I personally would have made different casting decisions for a number of the roles. All in all, everyone performed well enough to carry their own weight. However, different actors may have been able to develop each role to present a more distinct personality for some of the characters.

StageLight Entertainment went all out to create an appropriate atmosphere to set the stage for Bat Boy: The Musical. The crew wore "Bite Me" t-shirts and "bat cupcakes" were sold at concessions. The program reported that "Three or four animals were harmed in the making of this production. Sorry." Speaking of the program, it contained the names of the actors and the parts they played and it had all the cast member photos on a separate page but it didn't put the two together with a short bio of each actor, which is the very least I feel every actor deserves for devoting their time to the production. A final note of warning. I was surprised to learn upon my arrival that seats were not being assigned on a first come, first serve basis and that if you want to sit where you prefer, you must reserve your seat on line and early to get the seats you want.

If you haven't seen Bat Boy: The Musical, this is a good opportunity to find out what it is all about. You can buy tickets by visiting the StageLight Entertainment website at http://www.StageLightEnt.com or by calling 631-592-8563. 

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Applause! Applause! Review of Theatre Time's Twelve Angry Men at the Colonial Church of Bayside by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Theatre Time's production of the play Twelve Angry Men at the Colonial Church of Bayside was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 4 (2014) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Twelve Angry Men
Theatre Time Production
Colonial Church of Bayside (54-02 217th Street, Bayside, NY)
Reviewed 6/21/14

Twelve Angry Men is a drama written by Reginald Rose concerning the jury deliberations of twelve men in a homicide trial of a 16-year old inner-city, troubled youth accused of killing his father with a switch-blade knife. It was made for the Studio One anthology television series and aired as a CBS live production on September 20, 1954. In 1955, it was adapted for the stage and in 1957, it was made into a movie directed by Sidney Lumet and starring Henry Fonda as Juror #8. The film received three Academy Award nominations for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay. In 2004, the Roundabout Theatre Company staged a Broadway production of the play and in November, 2013, a London West End production opened at the Garrick Theatre. This Theatre Time production of Twelve Angry Men is as good as any I have seen. I highly recommend you go to see it.

The play is not about whether the accused is guilty or innocent. The fact is no one knows for sure. The play is more about what constitutes reasonable doubt and the struggle to achieve a just jury verdict. The men deliberating on that verdict bring to the table prejudices, anger, indifference, unreliable judgments, different perspectives, fears and diverse personalities that threaten to taint their rational decision-making abilities. This production is set in a New York County Criminal Court Jury Room (overlooking the Woolworth Building) circa 1957 and successfully evokes the cultural sensitivities of that time. Although we never find out the race or ethic background of  the 16-year old indigent, minority, slum-dwelling defendant, we do learn his mother died when he was nine years old, that he lived as an orphan for one and a half years while his father spent time in jail for forgery, and that he has a criminal record. 

Just as Juror #10, who has strong racist tendencies, is more than eager to assume the boy is guilty, Juror #8 is inclined to give the boy the benefit of the doubt, concerned that his Court-appointed attorney may not have done the best he could in putting up a defense and cross-examining the prosecution's witnesses. The play remains interesting to the end as a diverse group of twelve jurors (all male, mostly middle-aged, white, and generally middle class status) deliberate after hearing the "facts" in a seemingly open-and-shut case and later, as each piece of evidence is further examined, become less and less certain of those "facts" as jury deliberations continue.

Kevin C. Vincent directed the production and was Juror #8 (the first juror to vote Not Guilty). The play was presented "in the round", which was an excellent choice that allowed audience members to see the actors from all angles as jury deliberations progressed. Kevin C. Vincent played Juror #8 as a soft-spoken, calm, cool-headed, rational truth-seeking architect who simply had doubts about whether the defendant was guilty as charged. Bernard Bosio played the hot-headed, combative Juror #3 (owner of a messenger service called the "Beck & Call" Company), the last hold-out voting Guilty after everyone else had admitted to having some "reasonable doubt". Bosio's final speech was intense and memorable as he recounts feeling as if the defendant had thrust the knife into his own heart, just as his son had figuratively done to him. You could hear a pin drop during Mr. Bosio's final scene when it became increasingly clear that his anger at his estranged son was blinding his judgment. Eric Leeb did a great job portraying Juror #4, the well-educated, well-dressed stockbroker who was cool-headed and rational and the main voice of reason for those arguing in favor of a Guilty verdict. Jim Haines was garage-owner Juror #10, who was more than willing to send the defendant to the electric chair simply because of the racial stereotypes he believed gave him insight into the kind of boy this particular kid was. Mr. Haines did a top-notch job in the role but his shirt was somehow unable to remain tucked-in causing a wardrobe malfunction that was distracting.

Tim Reifschneider was Juror #1, who successfully portrayed the high-school assistant head-coach who didn't want the responsibility of Jury Foreman but who did the best he could to keep the discussions on track. Michael Pichardo convincingly played the relatively simple-minded, meek Juror #2 who was obviously not on the same intellectual level as his fellow jurors but who did have a better memory than Juror #4 in recalling a film title. Paul Robilotto was Juror #5, who grew up in a slum himself, had knowledge about the proper use of switch-blades and who was nick-named Milwaukee by Juror #7 because he liked the Brewers. Mr. Robilotto was so excited to be appearing in this production that he broke out into a hora step during the curtain call, perhaps reflecting the fact that his character may have grown up in a Jewish slum on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Ray Bendana was perfectly cast as Juror #6, a typical "working man" (probably a manual laborer or a painter) who was respectful and protective of older Juror #9 and was willing to back that up with his fists, if necessary. Juror #9 was brought to life by Johnny Dee Damato. Jef. Lawrence was effective as Juror #7, the baseball obsessed, marmalade salesman, who just wanted to leave as soon as possible so he could attend an evening Yankees game he had tickets to. Marty Edelman was very believable as Juror #11, the watchmaking, refuge from Central Europe with a heavy accent (implied to be Jewish), who expresses reverence and respect for American democracy and its system of justice. Finally, Jim Percival held his own as Juror #12, the business ad man, who was easily swayed and used advertising talk when expressing his ideas.

This Theatre Time production of Twelve Angry Men is a winner in every way. It received an enthusiastic, standing ovation by every member of the audience in a packed house on opening night. I was very pleased to have had the opportunity to catch this production and I suggest you not miss it. General Admission is $17.00 (Seniors $15.00). Purchase your tickets at http://www.theatretime.org 

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Applause! Applause! Review of StageLight Entertainment's Die, Mommie, Die! at The BACCA Arts Center by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of StageLight Entertainment's production of the play Die, Mommie, Die! at The BACCA Arts Center was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 4 (2014) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Die, Mommie, Die!
StageLight Entertainment Production
The BACCA Arts Center (149 Wellwood Avenue, Lindenhurst, NY)
Reviewed 5/31/14

Die, Mommie, Die! was written by Charles Busch. The play was first produced at the Coast Playhouse in Los Angeles, California in 1999 where it won an Ovation Award. A film was made in 2003 and in 2007, it was produced in New York for the first time at New World Stages starring Charles Busch in the lead role of Angela/Barbara Arden. The production won a Lucille Lortel Award and was nominated for Drama Desk, American Theatre Wing and Outer Critics Circle Awards. 

This comic, over-the-top, campy melodrama is meant to evoke faded images of long gone movie divas like Joan Crawford, Barbara Stanwyck, Lana Turner and Bette Davis. The main character in the play is Angela Arden, a former singer and actress from northwest Saskatchewan, Canada who was forced to retire after the death of her twin sister Barbara, when critics and audiences alike concluded she seemed to have lost all her talent. Given her horrible marriage to film producer Sol Sussman, who owes 20 million dollars to the mob, Ms. Arden has taken a young lover, Tony Parker, an out-of-work actor who is also sleeping with her daughter Edie and her son Lance. Sol finds out about the affair but refuses to divorce her keeping her in a living hell with him as the prison warden. What's a girl to do when her husband cuts up her credit cards? Kill him, of course! Angela believes she has accomplished the task by poisoning his suppository. Suddenly Angela goes on an LSD trip, their maid Bootsie Karp appears to have accidentally poisoned herself, scissors get thrown, Edie's hymen breaks, Lance gets a tongue bath, someone tries to kill Angela, FBI agents show up, Jews promise to become Christians and raise money for Richard Nixon, and, incredibly, although all is forgiven, Barbara, who everyone expected was alive from the first minutes of the play, walks off in grande dame style to accept responsibility for her actions.

Chris Rosselli takes on the tough task of playing Angela/Barbara Arden. Chris is a man playing a woman just as Charles Busch played the original role but it is very important he be more than a drag queen. He must transcend all humor potentially obtained solely from the drag element and must play the role "straight". Although Chris Rosselli is far more low key, laid back and less frenetic than Charles Busch in the role, he pulls it off well, gathering sympathy for the character earlier in the play rather than later. I was pleased with his performance even though he didn't milk the diva element as much as he could have. Salvatore Casto was perfectly cast as Lance Sussman, Sol's homosexual son who was thrown out of college for being a bad influence on the faculty. He was allegedly discovered with the eight male professors of the Math Department being spun around nude on a Lazy Susan. Lance is hated by his father, loved by his mother and teased by his sister, all resulting in some undefined "emotional problems" for which he sees a psychiatrist. Salvatore Casto is a very talented actor with great potential and he gave the role of Lance his all, even though it appears he was denied the opportunity to play the part to the fullest effect possible. 

Michael H. Carlin directed the production and did a good job with the exception of two fatal flaws. The first is the excruciatingly slow pace of this show. Most productions of Die, Mommie, Die! run 90 minutes usually without an intermission. This production ran almost three hours. Even given the intermission, it was a full hour longer than it should have been. The dialogue and scenes seemed to drag at times (no pun intended). This is an easily correctable problem but it should have been addressed prior to opening night. The second flaw is that all the passionate, gay intimacy present in the second act between Lance and Tony somehow never made it onto the stage. Whatever hangups the director might have about presenting gay intimacy on stage or regarding the difference in ages between Lance and Tony, he should not deny the audience the opportunity to see the play as Charles Busch intended. I am very certain Salvatore Casto could have handled the situation well. I am not that confident that Mike McKasty could have done the same as Tony Parker. I have no idea what the Casting Directors were thinking putting Mike McKasty in this role. Tony Parker is a character that must exude sexuality and it must be believable he would be able to seduce Angela Arden, as well as her two children. Mr. McKasty doesn't have those qualities and is far too old for the part, which is a major problem since he is such a central character in the story. Beyond that, Mr. McKasty was very uncertain delivering his lines, often hesitating and correcting himself when he started to misspeak. Even the sock he stuffed down his pants to make him appear well-endowed was off-center and disturbingly distracting.

Jessie Maldonado was well-suited to play Edie Sussman, an unlikeable, self-absorbed daddy's girl, as was Guy DeMatties, who was Sol Sussman, the egotistic, homophobic film producer husband of Angela Arden. I don't know whether it was the actors or the director who made the very bad decision to encourage the two of them to intimately and passionately embrace in a manner that suggested they were on the verge of sleeping together (if they hadn't already crossed that line), which was buttressed by the presence of their maid Bootsie Karp, competently portrayed by Kerry Quirke, who clearly acted as if she wanted to be part of a threesome with them when she sat next to them on the coach trying to intertwine her arms and legs with theirs. I understand there may be some Freudian interpretation that would support Edie's hidden, subconscious desire to sleep with her father, but it shouldn't have been made so explicitly manifest resulting in some extremely uncomfortable scenes. Bootsie had the funniest line in the show when she turned to Lance, after he was supposed to have handled Tony Parker's eleven inch tool, and said, innocently, "Sometimes you have to face things that are hard to swallow."

I had never been to a StageLight Entertainment production at The BACCA (Babylon Citizens Council on the Arts) Arts Center and I am pleased to report it is a cozy little theater with a friendly staff, reasonably priced concessions and a good, general admission seating policy. Great attention to detail was paid in putting up the set and the company deserves credit for tackling such a challenging production. I had a very enjoyable evening and I highly recommend you see StageLight Entertainment's production of Die, Mommie, Die! while you have the chance. You can obtain more information about StageLight Entertainment productions by visiting their website at http://www.StageLightEnt.com

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Applause! Applause! Review of The Compleat Wrks Of Wllm Shkspr (Abridged) at Parkside Players by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of the play The Compleat Wrks Of Wllm Shkspr (Abridged)  at Parkside Players was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 4 (2014) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

The Compleat Wrks Of Wllm Shkspr (Abridged)
Parkside Players
Grace Lutheran Church (103-05 Union Turnpike, Forest Hills, NY)
Reviewed 5/24/14

The Complete Works Of William Shakespeare (Abridged) (also known as The Compleat Wrks Of Wllm Shkspr (Abridged)) was written by Adam Long, Daniel Singer, and Jess Winfield, founding members of the Reduced Shakespeare Company (a three-man comedy troupe that takes long, serious subjects and reduces them to short, sharp comedies). The play was first performed at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 1987 and later played at the Criterion Theatre in Piccadilly Circus, London, where it ran for nine years. It has become one of the world's most popular shows and is notable for holding the (self-proclaimed) world record for the shortest-ever performance of Hamlet, clocking in at 43 seconds, as well as the fastest performance of Hamlet backwards, at 42 seconds.

The play is a frenetic, fast-paced comedy in which three actors present abridged versions of all of the works of William Shakespeare in one gigantic and entertaining parody with modern cultural and local references, improvisation and audience participation thrown in.  The book does not fully commit to presenting abridged versions of all of William Shakespeare's works but it does give a broad overview of those works dwelling on plays, scenes and characters ripe for parody and satire. All the parts in the production are performed by Kevin Schwab (The Scholar), Nili Resnick (The Aesthete) and Johnny Young (The Third One), who refer to each other by their real names. The play opens with The Third One giving a brief biography of The Bard he took off Wikipedia (not an authoritative reference source, for those who don't know it), which conflates William Shakespeare's life with that of Adolf Hitler. 

The first act starts with an abridged version of Romeo & Juliet. Sometimes the actors perform as if they were Bill & Ted, the 1980s time traveling slackers from Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure. Other times, they alter a line for comic effect, such as saying "a nose by any other name would still smell" instead of "a rose by any other name would smell as sweet". When Romeo swears "by yonder virgin", he looks at an audience member and says "No, I don't think so!" and when Juliet takes Romeo's dagger to kill herself, it is only one-inch long, to which she says, "that's Romeo!". Afterwards, Titus Andronicus is performed as a cooking show, Othello is performed as a Rap Song once The Third One is made aware that Shakespeare's "Moor" refers to a Black Man and not to the mooring of ships, and finally, The Histories are performed as a football game with the Crown replacing the football. The sixteen Comedies are blended together and performed as one play. The Tragedies and Apocrypha are also handled in brief form with emphasis on Macbeth, The Scottish Play.

The second act focused primarily on Hamlet ending with the 43 second version and the 42 second backwards version. The play within a play in Hamlet was performed by The Cherry Danish Puppet Theatre. I don't want to ruin the ending for you, but in the 3 second version of Hamlet, everyone just dies all at once.

I was very impressed with the performance of Kevin Schwab, who wore many hats and is an impressive, talented and charismatic actor. I particularly enjoyed his impersonation of Paul Lyndius (i.e. Paul Lynde). He also had a few other good lines. When The Third One said "He comes before me!", Kevin Schwab responded, "I am sorry to hear that!". When, as Romeo, he kissed a reluctant Third One as Juliet in drag on the lips, he responded, jokingly, "that was totally worth it". Finally, when he couldn't find "a big strapping man" in the audience to play Ego on stage, he said, "that explains a lot!". Mr. Schwab even pulled out his "Little Willie" and showed it to the audience. Nili Resnick and Johnny Young more than held their own throughout the production. Their funniest interaction was when Mr. Young referred to a line in one of Shakespeare's plays where money was borrowed from "an old Jew". Ms. Reznick objected and Mr. Young changed the line to "a young Jew", which apparently satisfied her.

I highly recommend this fun, entertaining show. It can equally please those who love Shakespeare who will appreciate all the erudite references as well as those who have never read Shakespeare and hate serious theatre. My only criticism is that this production seems to have been intentionally cleansed to make it a PG version of the play instead of the R rating presentation this show deserves. Had three men performed the various roles instead of two men and a woman, there would have been more opportunities for cross-dressing and homoerotically charged exchanges between characters in "hetereosexual" relationships, which would have been more faithful to the all-male casts of original Shakespeare productions in which young men played most of the female roles due to the fact that women were forbidden to act on stage. That is simply not possible in a PG version with Ms. Reznick and Mr. Young in the cast. Nevertheless, no audience member will leave without feeling they got their money's worth, which is good since it is made very clear in the beginning of the play that there would be "no refunds".