Monday, January 16, 2017

Applause! Applause! Review of Peter And The Starcatcher at the Smithtown Center For The Performing Arts by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Peter And The Starcatcher at the Smithtown Center For The Performing Arts was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Peter And The Starcatcher
Based on the Novel by Dave Barry & Ridley Pearson
Adapted for the Stage by Rick Elice
Music by Wayne Barker
Directed by Kenneth J. Washington
Smithtown Center For The Performing Arts
2 East Main Street
Smithtown, New York 11787
Reviewed 1/14/17

Peter And The Starcatcher is an outrageous, fantastical, anachronistic play based on a novel of the same name written by Dave Barry & Ridley Pearson, which provides a slightly altered version of the back story of Peter Pan than is set forth in J.M. Barrie's Peter & Wendy and The Little White Bird. The book was adapted for the stage by Rick Elice and what little music there is was written by Wayne Barker. The show premiered on February 13, 2009 at the La Jolla Playhouse (a not-for-profit, professional theater on the campus of the University of California, San Diego) and ran through March 8, 2009. The play opened Off-Broadway at New York Theatre Workshop beginning performances on February 18, 2011 and closing on April 24, 2011. Peter And The Starcatcher officially opened on Broadway at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre on April 15, 2012, closing on January 20, 2013 after 18 previews and 319 regular performances. It then re-opened Off-Broadway at New World Stages beginning on March 18, 2013 and closing on January 12, 2014. The Broadway production won five Tony Awards  for Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Play (Christian Borle), Best Sound Design of a Play (Darron L. West), Best Lighting Design of a Play (Jeff Croiter), Best Costume Design of a Play (Paloma Young), and Best Scenic Design of a Play (Donyale Werle).


Although the play is set in 1885, there are references to the composer Philip Glass ("as elusive as a melody in a Philip Glass opera") and to Ayn Rand, the Founder of Objectivism ("people intent on world domination, like Ayn Rand"). Both Glass and Rand had not yet been born in 1885 and the characterization of Ayn Rand's philosophy has absolutely no basis in reality. But then again, neither do many of the other things portrayed in this show such as fish turning into mermaids when exposed to starstuff that falls to Earth from the stars in the sky, amulets that act like walkie-talkies, or superstitions such as the belief that the presence of a cat on a ship is "a lucky sign." Apparently, starstuff changes people in different ways depending on their aspirations and ambitions. Starcatchers, such as Lord Leonard Aster (there are only 6 1/2 Starcatchers on the planet), are responsible for keeping starstuff out of the hands of people who will use it for no good. Lord Aster is on a secret mission for Queen Victoria to destroy a trunk full of starstuff (traveling aboard the WASP) by throwing it into Mount Jalapeno, the largest active volcano on Earth located on Mollusk Island in the Kingdom of Rundoon. For security reasons, Lord Aster speaks to his daughter Molly in Dodo (they also speak porpoise) and Norse Code (an ancient Viking signalizing system). 

Molly Aster is the only female character in the cast. She is played by Emma Geer, a talented and charismatic actor who is a shining star in this production. Molly twice repeats the famous line that "to have faith is to have wings." As an Apprentice Starcatcher, it is her obligation to save the world but at one point she ignores her father's orders and chooses instead to save Peter's life. Reflecting on the choice she would make again, Molly says, "Saving the world is so abstract. Putting a human face on it helps." When Alf, a salty and flatulent sailor, says he tries to keep in shape, Molly responds by saying, "Round is a shape." And finally, referring to Queen Victoria, she tells the orphan boys, "Victoria doesn't need starstuff to rule the world - she's British!" (Molly means "Squid Poo" in the native language of Rundoon).

For no apparent reason other than for shits and giggles, Mrs. Betty Bumbrake, Molly's widowed Nanny, is played by Eugene Dailey in drag (with a few barnacles on his bottom). She is romantically pursued by Alf and uses her large, red bloomers as a sail. My favorite Betty Bumbrake line was when she said, "Moo Shu goes through me like the winter wind in Wessex." Eugene Dailey also appears as the Mermaid Teacher in the Grotto. Ryan Nolin plays Black Stash, the lead villain, as an extremely effeminate, gay-acting Pirate Captain nicknamed "Nancy" by his crew. Black Stash, soon to become Captain Hook, was an orphan himself having been left by his mother at a tattoo parlor. Stash is in search of a worthy rival, a genuine hero, to oppose so he can become a great villain. He eventually finds that rival in Peter Pan. Black Stash is famous for misspeaking (saying "splitting rabbits" instead of "splitting hairs"; saying "no man is an archipelago" instead of "no man is an island"; and saying "merge a forger" instead of "forge a merger"). Dismissing Molly's feminine charms in the style of Frank N. Furter in The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Black Stash said, "I bet your milkshakes brings all the boys to the yard, but I'm not interested" (He was far more interested in a partnership with 13-year old Peter). He also demanded his crew get things "as clean as the sheets in a convent" and tried to get the show moving faster by saying, " We don't have time for that. People have paid for nannies and parking!" Both Eugene Dailey and Ryan Nolin were audience favorites commanding their attention and taking them on a journey of the absurd. 

I was particularly impressed with the performances of Matt Paredi as Prentiss (an exceptional actor who asserted that "the oldest must be the leader" and that "the leader must be a boy"), Louis Brady as Ted (a talented actor who spent most of Act II figuring out how to open a pineapple), David Gow (the quiet boy without a name neglected to the point of having never seen the sun, who emerged into Peter Pan, a fearless and selfless leader), David Reyes (quite distinguished and believable as Captain Robert Falcon Scott), Jordan Hue as King Zarboff/Fighting Prawn (the hilarious, island leader/former kitchen slave who hated the English, killed his former Master with poison pasta, and spoke with an Italian accent) and Michael Newman as Lord Leonard Aster (a dutiful and devoted father on a mission for Queen Victoria - "God Save The Queen!"). Each of these actors and others portrayed multiple characters and all deserve credit for maximizing the potential of each of their respective roles. 

Rick Grossman appeared as Smee, Black Stash's "right-hand man" and, in light of the trunk accident, he will need him. Smee dressed as a female, native island siren in an image you will not soon forget. Bob Kaplan played Alf as a well-weathered Seaman, and Andrew Murano was perfectly unlikeable as Captain Bill Slank, who was delivering the three orphans to King Zarboff of Rundoon to be used as snake food. Molly and Peter had an instant attraction to each other. When facing possible death after being thrown into the cage of Mr. Grin, the man-eating crocodile, Molly kissed Peter on the lips but when he asked her about it later, she brushed him off saying she had no time for "sentimentality." Peter got his first name due to a recommendation made by Black Stash and Pan, his "family" name, from the Mermaid Teacher he met in the Grotto. The Teacher explained that one meaning of the word "Pan" is "Fun, Frolic, Anarchy & Mystery" - all things a boy likes! Molly explained to him that the second meaning of the word "Pan" meant "all" as in that all the birds, the Pirates, and the boys on the island (which Peter considered renaming Neverland after the ship he arrived on) were his family and constituted his "home." Peter often stated how much he hated grown-ups and just wanted to be a boy for a while since he now experienced "Space, Light & Air" and was finally free. Due to the exposure to starstuff, Lord Leonard Aster said "a while" might be quite some time so he took the remaining starstuff in his amulet to turn an island bird into a protector to keep him company and to advise him (the origins of Tinker Bell). Even though he knew he would remain a teenager, he asked Molly to stay on the island as his friend but she refused by saying that in one year, their friendship would be "hard," in five years it would be "silly," and that in twenty years, it would be "sad." In penance for abandoning Peter, Molly allows Peter to take her daughter Wendy to the island to keep him company and suspects that Wendy will allow Peter to do the same with her daughter. 

Peter And The Starcatcher evoke highly diverse reactions from audience members. You may find the play to be confusing and uninteresting. In the alternative, you may find it charming and a complete delight. However, If you come in expecting a musical, you will be disappointed. If you arrive expecting an intelligently written play with elaborate sets, you will find the show lacking. If you are looking for a children's show, the gay, cross-dressing and downright evil characters in this play who beat the orphans, throw men overboard, and feed "the pigs" live worms, you will leave confused and possibly angry you were not warned in advance that this show may not be appropriate for young children. A bad sailor is viciously tortured, hazed, and branded. Mr. Grin, now an enormous man-eating crocodile, is on the loose, and King Zarboff is threatening to kill all the English who have come to his island. On the other hand, there is a story to be told and with the expert direction of Ken Washington, it is relayed in an interesting and imaginative manner. Many people love this play. Others don't. I would say it is a mediocre play with an excellent cast staged at the Smithtown Center For The Performing Arts in the best possible light. In that regard, this production is a success and I recommend you see it while you can. It plays through February 25, 2017. Tickets are $35.00 for adults; $32.00 for seniors; and $20.00 for students with a valid identification. You can purchase tickets by visiting the Smithtown Center For The Performing Arts website at www.smithtownpac.org. For more information, call 631-724-3700. 

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Applause! Applause! Review of Jackie Beat: The Ghost Of Christmas Trash at The Laurie Beechman Theatre by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Jackie Beat: The Ghost Of Christmas Trash  at The Laurie Beechman Theatre was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 6 (2016) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Jackie Beat: The Ghost Of Christmas Trash
Written & Performed by Kent Fuher
The Laurie Beechman Theatre
407 West 42nd Street
New York, New York 10036
Reviewed 12/16/16  

Jackie Beat has been coming to town with her outrageous Christmas shows for the past 19 years. A self-described "bitter clown" who is "self-centered" and "full of herself," Jackie welcomes all the "sodomites, fag hags, and carpet munchers" who came to see her show. She even welcomed Middle Eastern "friends" who were in the audience, defining "friends" as "people who are faking it until they blow something up." She acknowledged the "people of color" who were present but bitched that if you "switch the words and call them 'colored people' - you'll never hear the end of it." Jackie asked if there were any Jews in the audience and upon hearing a minor audible response, she told them, "We're in a basement, not an attic; you can make some noise!" She also recognized that "not everyone celebrates Christmas & Jesus" acknowledging that "there were people who killed him; maybe they celebrate that." After hearing some boos, she reminded everyone that the theater should be "a safe place" for artistic expression. However, she did apologize saying she "forgot how seriously people take Jesus Christ - a fictional character - like Jackie Beat."

Jackie Beat: The Ghost Of Christmas Trash was almost named Jackie Beat: Green Legs & Ham because she wore green leotards and looked like a Christmas Ham all wrapped up in a Christmas Tree Dress. With increasing competition from newly minted Drag Queens (coming to us courtesy of Ru Paul's Drag Race), Jackie needs to work harder to maintain her edge. She needs to change her gown halfway through the show and get off-book. Her comments and parody songs about Trump and Melania weren't smart, witty, or entertaining. She also identified people in the audience who voted for Trump and called them "stupid" to their face. She appeared nasty, angry and insulting as if she were suffering from Trump Derangement Syndrome. There are many ways to make fun of someone so everyone laughs. In Paige Turner's Holiday Show, she and the girls were taking Trump World Airlines for the holidays only to find out that all flights to tropical and gay-friendly destinations had been indefinitely suspended. That is intelligent entertainment! Calling Melania a tramp and a whore is not funny! She did a little better blasting Vice-President-elect Mike Pence by saying he once believed in Gay Conversion Therapy. Jackie brought a gay audience member on stage and placed an Electric Shock Therapy contraption on his head telling him, "We're going to shock you off that cock tonight." When it didn't work and his favorite movie remained Mame, she told him "sometimes it takes more than one session." 

Jackie described a number of sexual acts in one of her parody songs and then told the audience, "No matter who you voted for, I'll do any of those things for money. I'm a whore at Christmas. You can cum on me. Turning tricks on Christmas so I can pay the bills and get a few cheap thrills. I'll lick your balls for just one dollar in a wig and a dog collar. I'll even let you put that thing in my ass. But wash it first. I've got class." Jackie Beat described her Holiday Treat as a Broadway show without any talented people in it. Her "rules of entertainment" are "1) get the money up front; and 2) if something goes wrong, always blame the audience." She also expressed her belief that "drugs and alcohol work: you're no fun if you're not drinking." 

Many of Jackie's parody Christmas songs were performed all to the delight of the appreciative, sold-out audience, who will no doubt be back next year to catch her 20th Anniversary Holiday Show. Politically incorrect to the max, she told her audience that "without stereotypes, there's no fucking show!" Jackie Beat performed "Bossa Nova Christmas In Outer Space" which contained the following lyrics: "Loosen your Van Allen belt and shove some fruitcake in your face. The food on Jupiter blows. That's why everyone knows the best place for a party is Uranus. Shoot your rocket in my crater. Let's cut to the chase. Put it in my asteroid and then blast off on my face. Cause it's a Bossa Nova Christmas here in Outer Space." With the information I have provided, you now know whether you are committed to never seeing Jackie Beat perform live or whether you intend to visit her website www.MissJackieBeat.com to buy her CDs and make reservations for her next show.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Applause! Applause! Review of Jinkx Monsoon & Major Scales: Christmas Mourning at The Laurie Beechman Theatre by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Jinkx Monsoon & Major Scales: Christmas Mourning at The Laurie Beechman Theatre was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 6 (2016) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Jinkx Monsoon & Major Scales: Christmas Mourning
Starring Jinkx Monsoon (Jerick Hoffer) 
& Major Scales (Richard Andriessen)
Musical Director: Major Scales
The Laurie Beechman Theatre
407 West 42nd Street
New York, New York 10036
Reviewed 12/16/16  

Jinkx Monsoon made it very clear she doesn't like Christmas, Santa Claus, Christmas songs, or Christmas presents. Hence the name of her holiday show with Major Scales entitled Christmas Mourning. Part of the reason is because she's Jewish and the Christians have claimed Santa Claus as theirs even though Santa has as much to do with Jesus as does Scooby Doo. She believes there should be a Jewish alternative version of Santa maintaining "naughty" and "nice" lists. She believes if she could talk to Jesus, he would say, "Give the Jewish children toys. After all, they're used to being on lists (e.g. Schindler)." Another problem was that due to Jinkx's Gender Fluidity, she always received gender neutral gifts such as having a star named after her or a tree planted in her honor in Nicaragua (which she can't even visit). Caitlyn Jenner's potential new lipstick line called Manslaughter sounds promising. Jinkx said the bottom line is, "That while there are many things I enjoy having shoved down my throat, Christmas traditions are not one of them." Not to say she likes Jewish Holiday Traditions either. She reports that in her home during Hanukkah "we get drunk and tell each other why we're a disappointment." Jinkx even questioned why she was doing this Holiday Show. She asked Major Scales, "Why do I do this? What's in it for me?" to which he reminded her the answer was "a paycheck."

Christmas gives people permission to overeat and get drunk. Jinkx Monsoon needs no such permission. She reports she's been in the Holiday Spirit for 14 years. She also encouraged the audience to drink. She said, "That way, no matter how bad the show is, all you will remember is my last song." She sang "Santa Baby" and reported that being a drag queen, liking that song made famous by Eartha Kitt was in her contract. She showed a video of the moon circling the earth and explained they had blown their entire special effects budget making it so we shouldn't expect anything more. A good amount of money was spent on the beautiful purple gown and red wig Jinkx wore. After a delightful, witty solo of Major Scales singing "Let's Have A Passive-Aggressive Christmas," Jinkx returned wearing a stunning white gown. Jinkx Monsoon was named "America's Next Drag Superstar" in Season 5 of Ru Paul's Drag Race.

Jinkx Monsoon and Major Scales are both very talented. The show could have been better written and a bit more organized but, overall, everyone seemed to have a good time. On an inspirational note, Jinkx Monsoon told the audience the holidays are a time to be with your Chosen Family - "those who share our beliefs and values so much that we invite them to be part of our family." On a depressing note, in her closing message, she shared her view that "each and every person here is going to die someday - senile and decrepit - thus completing the Circle of Life. Happy Holidays!" For more information on Jinkx Monsoon, visit her website at http://www.JinkxMonsoon.com  

Applause! Applause! Review of Latrice Royale: Why It Gotta Be White Christmas? at The Laurie Beechman Theatre by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Latrice Royale: Why It Gotta Be White Christmas? at The Laurie Beechman Theatre was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 6 (2016) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Latrice Royale: Why It Gotta Be White Christmas?
Written & Performed by Latrice Royale (Timothy K. Wilcots)
Musical Director: Christopher Hamblin
Special Guest: Kennedy Davenport
The Laurie Beechman Theatre
407 West 42nd Street
New York, New York 10036
Reviewed 12/9/16  

Latrice Royale's fame and fan base are a result of her winning Miss Congeniality in Season 4 of Ru Paul's Drag Race. She was invited back to participate as a contestant in Ru Paul's Drag Race All-Stars and as a Professor in Ru Paul's Drag U. Big, Black, Bold & Beautiful, Latrice Royale hails from Compton, California where in her community, socks and underwear (practical gifts) were usually what was wrapped under the Christmas tree. The dearth of expensive presents was made up for by the volume of food prepared and served at the home of her aunt, who would "cook the house down." She says her family would "Eat, Nap, Eat & Eat Some More." Latrice Royale, an African-American brought up in a poor family headed by a single mom, said she has been accustomed to celebrating Black Christmases (she never saw snow until she moved to Wisconsin). However, she observed, "I grew up in Compton but looking at this audience, I can see I'm going to have a White Christmas this year!" Taking the stage wearing a stunning, shimmering Chocolate Sparkled Gown, Latrice Royale made the usual announcement regarding the taking of pictures during her show. She said, "You can take as many pictures as you like. I didn't get all dressed up for nothing!"

Explaining the importance of families we are born into and those we create, Latrice Royale shares her love, warmth, and unconditional acceptance of all who are in her life. After Wisconsin, she moved to South Florida "to be around people who accept your individuality and respect you for who you are - a true family who looks out for each other." She credited her Special Guest Star, Kennedy Davenport ("the epitome of never give up and never give in") for raising money for her when she got out of prison. Ms. Davenport finished in 4th Place in Season 7 of Ru Paul's Drag Race. She was absolutely hilarious playing the character of Sister Merlene Watkins (The Church Lady who wore white athletic socks and Crocs and kept the tags on her clothing so she can return the items after wearing them). Besides singing "Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire," Sister Merlene reported, "I had to lay hands on someone in the bathroom. As a Christian lady, my work is never done." I was very impressed with her talent and comedic abilities. 

I think the show could have used a few more Christmas songs, a better script, and a little less background music, which incessantly played whenever Latrice Royale spoke. Nevertheless, Latrice Royale: Why It Gotta Be White Christmas was entertaining and enjoyable. Instead of trashing Trump, I would have liked to have seen Latrice express her love for the President-elect and offer to perform her show for him and his family. That would have been more in tune with her message of unconditional love. At the end of the show, Latrice Royale tells the audience, "Go home and do whatever the hell you like. Because this is your life!" She expressed her belief in a higher power and said, "Don't be discouraged. It's going to be alright." She closed her show with her signature line, "Remember that I love you and  there ain't nothing you can do about it!" 

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Applause! Applause! Review of Paige Turner: She Came Upon A Midnight Clear at The Laurie Beechman Theatre by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Paige Turner: She Came Upon A Midnight Clear at The Laurie Beechman Theatre was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 6 (2016) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Paige Turner: She Came Upon A Midnight Clear
Written & Directed by Paige Turner (Daniel Frank Kelley)
Starring Paige Turner
Special Guests: Sutton Lee Seymour (Prescott Seymour),
Jackie Cox & James Mills as Carol Channing
The Laurie Beechman Theatre
407 West 42nd Street
New York, New York 10036
Reviewed 12/9/16  

Paige Turner, the Showbiz Spitfire and the best new thing to come into the Drag Scene in quite a few years, is back with a high-energy, upbeat, funny, entertaining Holiday Show with talented special guest stars, impressive costumes, crisp choreography, and witty political commentary. Finished for the season, The Three Queens intend to take off from Newark Liberty International Airport for a vacation: Paige is heading to Palm Springs while her two misfit sidekicks, Sutton Lee and Jackie, plan to spend their vacation in Honolulu so they can hang out with Don Ho (good luck with that!).  They were able to purchase very inexpensive airline tickets on TWA (Trump World Airlines) ("They were practically giving them away!") but due to inclement weather, the airline has indefinitely suspended all flights to anywhere tropical, or gay-friendly. One of the ladies observed, "You could hardly tell a storms-a-coming." While stuck at the airport, they meet Carol Channing (impersonated by James Mills), who is still quite upset about the upcoming revival of Hello, Dolly! starring Bette Midler. They try to pass the time while waiting for the storm to pass. TWA Flight 666 to Honolulu doesn't appear ready to fly anytime soon. TWA Flight 1313 (Mockingbird Lane) seems to offer more promise.

An eclectic mix of Christmas songs are performed including Step Into Christmas, California Winter, Mele Kalikimaka, Never Fall In Love (With An Elf), Hard Candy Christmas, My Favorite Things, The Little Drummer Boy, We're A Couple Of Misfits, Momma Who Bore Me, All I Want For Christmas Is You, and It Came Upon A Midnight Clear. Shopping for her Elf, Paige discovered there was a Junior Department at Hudson News. Sutton Lee Seymour sang parody lyrics for a number of songs and Jackie Cox explained why she doesn't like Trump. She's opposed to building a wall because she's done without a 4th wall for years, and she's opposed to a Muslim ban because she is concerned about where she will be able to get her Halal Meat. Sutton Lee and Jackie are looking forward to getting laid in Hawaii. Sutton Lee is considering "paying someone to make him mine" while Paige uses an app to hook up with someone at the airport. As reported, "she came upon a Midnight Clear in the lower-level bathroom." 

Paige Turner: She Came Upon A Midnight Clear is a fast-paced, enjoyable musical sleigh ride with hilarious parodies and relevant, funny videos. The gowns that were worn were particularly impressive and color-coordinated. It's a tight, well-constructed show guaranteed to entertain you. While the Divas of the Night didn't all end up where they intended to go, at least the audience appreciated the fact that on this cold winter's night, they were where they should be. Tickets cost $22.00 (with a $20.00 per person food/drink minimum at all performances). For reservations, call 212-352-3101 or visit www.SpinCycleNYC.com  

Applause! Applause! Review of Three Pints Shy: A Very Merry Holiday Celebration at Under St. Mark's Theater by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Three Pints Shy: A Very Merry Holiday Celebration at Under St. Mark's Theater was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 6 (2016) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Three Pints Shy: A Very Merry Holiday Celebration
With David Anthony Wayne Anderson, 
David Mikofsky & Jonathan Siregar
Under St. Mark's Theater
94 St. Mark's Place
New York, New York 10009
Reviewed 12/4/16

If you are interested in celebrating the holidays with Pickle Fights (the abbreviated version of a sword fight), Pint Glass Prophets ("Give him 15 pints of lager or ale and he becomes a wise old sage."), Beggarmen ("I've got the sky. The world is my home."), Galway Girls ("Hair was black. Eyes were blue. I lost my heart to a Galway Girl.") and a new perspective on how God punishes Naughty Children ("When you're being naughty, the least of your problems is Santa Claus."), this show might be the one you want to see this holiday season. Three Pints Shy, an upbeat, talented Irish pub band, even includes Sevivon Sov Sov Sov (Spinning Top) sung in Hebrew for those observing Hanukkah. Using an expanded text of "The Night Before Christmas" as a loose storyline to introduce us to the various characters that will inhabit the stage, we meet Grandpa ("Give Grandpa more of his sleeping juice." "Yeah! Grandpa is fun again.") and poor Paddy Murphy, who is now deceased (memorialized in the song The Night That Paddy Murphy Died).

You can't attend a performance of a Celtic Band without alcohol being a main topic of discussion. Audience members are encouraged to purchase drinks from the bar, but every bottle was outrageously expensive (at least, in my opinion). My hard cider cost me $7.00. Three Pints Shy performs a Traditional Irish Drinking Song containing the lyric, "We have no head or hands but we continue to drink," as well as Raise A Glass and One Last Drink. We are told that when you drink, there are Irish wherever you go! There was a hilarious parody of Music Of The Night (from "Phantom Of The Opera") written by Chant Macleod entitled The Things I Drank Last Night ("I can feel the vomit ascending like a comet. I blame it on the things I drank last night"). Another Chant Macleod parody was sung to the tune of Silver Bells entitled Meat and Cheese (where you can get "Dairy from a Fairy"). During All The Best Irish Songs (an improv song written by the band), audience members were asked which countries all the best Irish songs come from and then the band took off creating lyrics for the country selected (Albania, Guatemala & Equestria - from My Little Pony where everything is made of rainbows and hugs- on the evening I attended). The band also performed Rocky Road To Dublin, Hal-an-TowChristmas In Killarney, Pint Glass Prophet (written by Jonathan Siregar), and God & The Little Children (written by David Anthony Wayne Anderson), which is a true story drawn directly from the Bible!

Only three of the four main band members were available to make this gig (Jonathan Siregar playing the Bodhran, David Mikofsky on Mandolin & Guitar; David Anthony Wayne Anderson on Penny Whistle & Guitar - Robbie Taylor was absent). However, they were more than able to proficiently perform the various song arrangements. In addition, with three people on stage, they were able to add the joke, "I love it when you're between him and me." to which the response goes, "That's what she said." An important takeaway line is "May We Never Get What We Deserve!" The show ended with a surprise warning. We were told, "Remember, if your parents don't come up with the ransom money, you're all dead by tomorrow morning." I snuck out of the theater before dawn but I am pleased to report that the band members hung out after the show speaking to the audience and that everyone was offered prizes and cookies! If this Irish band continues to gain in popularity, Christmas may one day be renamed Three Pints Day but even if it is not, you should at least buy a few of the band's CDs and drink three pints in celebration of the good times you have had listening to their music. For more information, visit http://www.threepintsshy.com 

Monday, December 26, 2016

Applause! Applause! Review of Claude Solnik's Victoria Woodhull at Theater For The New City by Dr. Thomas G. Jacoby

This review of Claude Solnik's Victoria Woodhull at Theater For The New City was written by Dr. Thomas G. Jacoby and published in Volume X, Issue 6 (2016) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Victoria Woodhull
Written by Claude Solnik
Directed by Donna Mejia
Theater For The New City
155 First Avenue
New York, New York 10003
Reviewed 12/2/16 

Victoria Woodhull, who is considered by some to be the first female candidate for President of the United States (1872) was born Victoria California Claflin on September 22, 1838 in the rural frontier town of Homer, Ohio. Her mother, Roxanna "Roxy" Hummel Claflin, was illegitimate and illiterate. She had become a follower of the Austrian mystic Franz Mesmer and the new spiritualist movement. Her father, Reuben "Old Buck" Buckman Claflin, was a con man and snake oil salesman. Victoria had only three formal years of education. At age 15, she married 28-year-old Dr. Canning Woodhull, who turned out to be an alcoholic and womanizer. She and Dr. Woodhull had two children, Byron (who had a mental disability), and Zulu (who was later called Zula). After their children were born, Victoria divorced her husband and kept his surname. Woodhull later married Colonel James Harvey Blood, who was also entering into matrimony for a second time.

In New York City, Victoria and her sister Tennessee Celeste Claflin ("Tennie") practiced spiritualism and held a seance for Cornelius Vanderbilt, where they "contacted" his deceased wife. It is speculated they obtained insider information from a network of prostitutes and spiritualists and then passed the information on to Vanderbilt, who made a fortune off it. Vanderbilt also had a romantic interest in Tennie and with his financial backing, the two sisters became the first female stockbrokers in 1870 opening Woodhull, Claflin & Company, the first female run brokerage firm on Wall Street. Woodhull made a fortune on Wall Street advising clients like Vanderbilt. On May 14, 1870, Woodhull & Claflin used the money they made from their brokerage to found a newspaper, Woodhull & Claflin's Weekly, which at its height had a national circulation of 20,000. Its primary purpose was to support Victoria Claflin Woodhull's candidacy for President of the United States in 1872 even though she was ineligible to run for that office since she would not be 35 years of age at the time of the inauguration. Her newspaper became notorious for publishing controversial opinions and advocated for sex education, free love, women's suffrage, short skirts, spiritualism, and licensed prostitution. 

Her run for office as the Presidential Nominee of the Equal Rights Party cannot be regarded as a candidacy that entertained any hope of success but Victoria Woodhull used it to call attention to issues of importance to her such as women's rights and equal rights for African-Americans, which is reflected in her choice of Frederick Douglass as her running mate (even though he never acknowledged or accepted the nomination). She also favored the eight-hour workday and the concept of social welfare programs. During the campaign, Henry Ward Beecher, a renowned preacher at Brooklyn's Plymouth Church, had condemned Woodhull's free love philosophy in his sermons. When it was discovered Beecher was engaging in adultery, this hypocrisy led Victoria Woodhull to expose the affair in her newspaper. On the eve of the election, Woodhull, Claflin & Col. Blood were arrested and charged with publishing an obscene newspaper and circulating it through the United States Postal Service. Victoria Woodhull was ultimately acquitted but the entire episode set off a national scandal that occupied the public for months.

Claude Solnik has woven many of the above-referenced facts into an engaging and well-paced drama. We are presented with two sisters, Victoria and Tennie, who are engaged in spiritualist practice and promotion, while being watched over by their aging, jolly, con-man father, Buck (believably portrayed by Chaz McCormack), and Victoria's second husband, Colonel Blood, played by Henrick Sawczak as a paradoxical character who, on the one hand is a former military commander but who, on the other hand, also gives in to his wife's wishes, under protest, at every turn. We watch them get close to Vanderbilt (played by Ed Altman) with a seance. This small section of an early scene demonstrates really good technique on the part of Elena Kritter, playing Victoria, as well as Juliette Monaco, who plays Tennie (as an opportunist with a talent for getting what she wants). They are actors, acting the part of spiritualists, who are also acting to promote an agenda. There are many levels of deception depicted, each beautifully executed. Using the insider information they get from Josie Mansfield, the girlfriend of financier Jim Fisk, the relationship with Vanderbilt quickly turns into opportunities to get involved with the stock market and the Wall Street investment culture, as well as the founding of Woodhull's newspaper. Ed Altman's Vanderbilt portrays a decent emotional range: gullibility, cynicism, passion, and rage.

It is at this point that Victoria's first husband, the alcoholic Dr. Canning, played by Adam Reilly as a charming drunkard with hidden demons, shows up, and at Victoria's insistence, the effectively emasculated Col. Blood, her current husband, agrees to allow Dr. Canning to stay in the same household. Vanderbilt's closeness to Tennie continues to develop. As her prominence in society grows, we witness Victoria meeting with Susan B. Anthony, played by Monica Bell, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, played by Collette Campbell, and Harriet Beecher Stowe, played by Larissa Kruesi. The result of that meeting, we are led to believe, is Victoria and Tennie approaching Vanderbilt and asking him to set up a meeting for them with John Armor Bingham, one of the framer's of the 14th Amendment. Victoria is promoted by the suffrage movement, embodied by Anthony, Stanton, and Stowe, and after an intense meeting with Bingham, played by Ed McGlynn, makes the decision to run for President. McGlynn's Bingham is brilliantly portrayed radiating power, charisma, and villainy in equal parts.

The second act opens with the revelation of dark secrets from Victoria's past: the confidence games that grew into seances and Canning's perpetual drunkenness having led to his dropping their son Byron, on his head, causing permanent brain damage (which may or may not be historically accurate; all we know is that Byron was a special needs individual). There is conflict between the sisters and Vanderbilt stemming from an unflattering article they published in their newspaper regarding Vanderbilt's business practices. We are given to understand that there is controversy regarding whether Victoria is legally married to Col. Blood since no marriage certificate can be found. Bingham meets with Vanderbilt, entreating him to put an end to Victoria's political aspirations. Conflict with the pillars of the Suffrage Movement leads Victoria's paper to publish the infamous article attacking Stowe's husband, Henry Ward Beecher, for his extra-marital affair. This leads to the Suffrage Movement withdrawing support for Victoria's candidacy as she has become a liability due to her shady past. Victoria continues to expound on her views regarding "free love" and is arrested on obscenity charges stemming from the controversial newspaper article. Vanderbilt breaks up with Tennie, Woodhull loses the election to Grant, Victoria separates from Col. Blood, Vanderbilt dies, and his estate offers the sisters $100,000.00 if they agree to move to London and never return to the United States. They accept the offer.

Claude Solnik takes established facts from Woodhull's life and spins them into a believable narrative that is complex and fascinating. The greatest weakness of the play is that we never get a clear impression regarding Victoria Woodhull's character. It's never quite evident if she is a true believer in the paranormal given her childhood experiences or whether her life conducting seances and making a living with spiritualism is all just another con game used to enable her to make a living. A hint to the answer may be that we are told Victoria used to copy names from tombstones when entering a new town in order to lend greater credence to what was revealed during the seances. We see Victoria hammering the suffragettes as hypocrites for not going far enough with their demands for equality but we are uncertain whether her passion is based in idealism, narcissism, or just a financial strategy to be shocking in order to sell more newspapers. In terms of the production, Victoria Woodhull does not use period costumes or sets and the dialogue doesn't seem to have been written in period speech or idiom. In addition, none of the characters affect period accents or mannerisms, which is a major distraction. Some of the exchanges with the suffragettes, indeed, have rhythms more like modern-day reality television than a period drama.

Victoria Woodhull is profoundly flawed but still worth seeing. I feel a much more interesting play could have been written given the substantive nature of the source material. Whether it is up to the audience to lower its expectations, or up to the playwright to write a better play remains the question. However, at $18.00 a ticket for adults ($15.00 for students), you can't go wrong checking this play out for yourself. For reservations, call 212-254-1109 or visit www.theaterforthenewcity.net