Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Applause! Applause! Review of Christopher Durang's Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike at Studio Theatre Long Island by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Christopher Durang's Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike at Studio Theatre Long Island was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 6 (2016) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike
Written by Christopher Durang
Directed by Jordan Hue
Studio Theatre Long Island
141 South Wellwood Avenue
Lindenhurst, New York 11757
Reviewed 2/5/16  

Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike was commissioned by the McCarter Theatre (Princeton, New Jersey), in association with the Lincoln Center Theater. The play, originally a one-act, ran at the McCarter Theatre from September 7, 2012, to October 14, 2012. It opened Off-Broadway at Lincoln Center's Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater on November 12, 2012 (after previews from October 25th) and ran until January 20, 2013. The show opened on Broadway on March 14, 2013 at the John Golden Theatre (after previews beginning on March 5th). The play closed on August 25, 2013, after 201 performances on Broadway. The play received six Tony Award nominations, and won the Tony Award for Best Play. 

The story revolves around three middle-aged siblings. Vanya (who is gay), and Sonia (who was adopted), live in their parents' Bucks County, Pennsylvania home, even after their parents died from Alzheimer's Disease. Masha, an aging actress, married five times, who is not earning the money she once did, returns home to attend a costume party at a house formally owned by Dorothy Parker, with Spike (Vlad) in tow. Spike's biggest claim to fame is that he nearly landed a part in Entourage 2. Masha and Spike have been dating for three months and Masha is insecure about whether she can keep the interest of this young, clearly oversexed, narcissistic stud, who appears to be developing an attraction for Nina, a beautiful young woman who is the niece of  their next door neighbor. Masha has been paying all the bills and giving Vanya and Sonia a monthly stipend, especially since they both stayed at home to take care of their elderly parents, professors who dabbled in community theater and named their children after Chekhov characters. Masha drops the news she can no longer afford to pay for their idle, sedentary lifestyles and intends to sell the family home, which even contains "a cherry orchard" of at least 10 trees. The only other character is a cleaning woman named Cassandra, who is into voodoo and goes around making dire prophecies that turn out to be remarkably accurate. In the end, Sonia gets asked out on a date. We also learn that Vanya has been secretly writing a play based on the life of a talking molecule after life on earth ends. Spike admits he is having a relationship with Masha's personal assistant. Masha tells Spike to leave and decides not to sell the house after all. In the end, the three siblings sit together on a wicker bench looking out over the pond waiting for a Blue Heron to appear while The Beatles's song, "Here Comes The Sun", plays in the background.

What is to be made of this play? Is it really a comedy? Perhaps it is a tragedy. The three central characters are full of self-delusions and self-pity. All have reached the stage of life where their options have narrowed considerably. Sonia has never really had a relationship and has no interest in getting a job or starting a career. She explains that one of the two most exciting moments of her day is getting Vanya his morning coffee. She would have a sexual and romantic relationship with Vanya if he were interested but we learn Vanya marches to the beat of a different drummer. The only problem is that he, too, has never done anything that would give him the prospect of meeting someone special. All he has done is to write a play in secret about the end of the world while harboring anger toward everyone and everything new. He screams at Spike after he returned a text message during an informal reading of his play, and rails against the modern world. He confesses he has no idea what Entourage 2 is, and longs for a simpler time. He criticizes Walt Disney for firing actor Tommy Kirk (after a mother complained to the studio that 22-year old Kirk had entered into a relationship with her 15-year-old son, who he met at a public pool). Perhaps Vanya identifies with the sexual attraction Tommy Kirk had to that teenage boy, which might explain why he is so uncomfortable when Spike strips down to his underwear in front of him. (As Masha says, "Spike knows what his audience wants.") In the end, Vanya confesses he "worries about the future and misses the past." Masha, reflecting on her own life, finally realizes after five failed marriages that, "The roots I do have are here with you two." Nina, who met an actress she admired, got invited to a wonderful party, and might have found an agent through Spike, is the little ray of sunshine in the play who says to Sonia, "You must always get your hopes up!"

While the play is uneven and not always funny in the traditional sense, there are a few humorous lines, such as when Masha returns from her costume party upset because even though she was dressed as Snow White, people at the party assumed she was Norma Desmond or perhaps even a Hummel figurine. Anne Marie Finnie was perfect as Masha bringing that character's egotist, selfish, jealous personality front and center, with each line delivered as a grand performance. Tom Brown excelled as the attractive, but dim-witted Spike. He still has a youthful enough body so no audience member cried out for him to put his clothes back on. Gary Tifeld, as Vanya, and Janine Innamorato-Haire, as Sonia, did a fine job portraying the depressed and dysfunctional stay-at-home provincials who have never really lived. They were both quite believable in their roles, as was Kate Keating, who was Cassandra. The best performance of the evening was by Nicole Intravia, a charismatic and talented actress, who played the perky and ambitious Nina. Perhaps all these characters, as well as the audience members, can benefit listening to the advice of Catholic Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, who advised people on his television show, "to build your life on a strong foundation."

Jordan Hue deserves credit for his fine direction. He also provides insight on the play is his directorial note, which reads in part, as follows: "...the show is funny because of its tragedy, not in spite of it. Sonia's desperation for a better future and Vanya's wistful longing for the past create a high-tension wire on which life's changes, big, small, and absurd are given license to dance. Masha's fading star and last grasp at youth is painful and hilarious; Spike is a caricature of all that is wrong with the oversexed millennial culture and its obsession with fame. The other characters, including Cassandra, the prophetic house cleaner, and Nina, the young, aspiring actress next door raise the stakes by providing valuable perspective: the looming specter of the future, fraught with peril but fresh with hopefulness. Vanya, Sonia, and Masha may have lost their way somewhere in the woods. The ball was not all it was cracked up to be. The charming prince turned out to be a scoundrel. And yet they all strive to overcome, to find their way back together and home again. The prize in the clearing at the end of the path is not fortune or glory, but optimism." Here comes the sun!

Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike plays at Studio Theatre Long Island through Sunday, February 21, 2016. Tickets cost $25.00 and can be purchased at https://www.studiotheatreli.com/ Don't miss this opportunity to see this excellent production of the 2013 Tony Award winner for Best Play. I guarantee it will make you feel much better about your own life!

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Applause! Applause! Review of A Chorus Line at The Secret Theatre by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of A Chorus Line at The Secret Theatre was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 6 (2016) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

A Chorus Line
Originally Directed & Choreographed by Michael Bennett
Originally Co-Choreographed by Bob Avian
Book by James Kirkwood & Nicholas Dante
Music by Marvin Hamlisch
Lyrics by Edward Kleban
Produced by Richard Mazda
Directed by Tom Rowan
Choreographed by Geena Quintos
Music Director: Evan Zavada
The Secret Theatre
44-02 23rd Street
Long Island City, New York 11101
Reviewed 2/4/16  

The book for this musical was derived from several taped workshop sessions with Broadway dancers, known as "gypsies," including eight who appeared in the original cast. A Chorus Line opened Off-Broadway at The Public Theater on April 15, 1975. Producer Joseph Papp moved the show to Broadway, and on July 25, 1975, it opened at the Shubert Theatre, where it ran for 6,137 performances, closing on April 28, 1990. The production was nominated for 12 Tony Awards, winning nine: Best Musical, Best Musical Book, Best Score, Best Director, Best Choreography, Best Actress (Donna McKechnie), Best Featured Actor (Sammy Williams), Best Featured Actress (Kelly Bishop), and Best Lighting Design. The show also won the 1976 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award for Best Play. When it closed, A Chorus Line was the longest running show in Broadway history. The 2006 Broadway revival of A Chorus Line opened at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theater on October 5, 2006, closing August 17, 2008, after 759 performances and 18 previews. That production was directed by Bob Avian, with the choreography reconstructed by Baayork Lee, who had played Connie Wong in the original Broadway production. The revival was nominated for two Tony Awards: Best Revival of a Musical and Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical (Charlotte d'Amboise).

Celebrating the 40th Anniversary of A Chorus Line winning the Tony Award for Best Musical in 1976, Richard Mazda has produced this most excellent tribute to the popular, moving and memorable musical. Tom Rowan, the author of the book A Chorus Line FAQ, directs the production and an extremely talented cast has been assembled to give modern audiences a glimpse into the life of chorus line dancers struggling to get their first break or fighting for one last job before they are considered too old to dance. Along the way, we are introduced to the individual journeys many of these dancers took to get here. A number of the stories are quite moving while others are very funny ("Imagine me a kindergarten teacher!"). Seventeen dancers in all are competing for 8 slots: four boys and four girls.

If you own and have listened to a CD of the musical numbers in A Chorus Line, you don't need me to refresh your recollection. You are probably already singing some of the songs in your head. But just in case the decades have taken a toll on you, let me remind you that some of the numbers include: "I Hope I Get It" (Company), "I Can Do That" (Mike), "At The Ballet" (Sheila, Bebe, Maggie), "Sing!" (Kristine, Al), "Hello Twelve, Hello Thirteen, Hello Love" ("If Troy Donahue can be a movie star, then I can be a movie star"; "Robert Goulet out, Steve McQueen in"), 'Nothing" (Diana), "Dance: Ten; Looks: Three" (Val) ("Orchestra & Balcony"), "The Music & The Mirror" (Cassie), "One" (Company) ("One, singular sensation, every little step she takes"), and "What I Did For Love" (Diana, Company). The exceptional musicians performing in the hidden live orchestra include Evan Zavada (Keyboard 1/Conductor), Dan Garmon (Keyboard 2/programming), Mike Livingston (Reeds), Matthew Feick (Drums), and Oliver Sohngen (Bass).

There are no weak links in the ensemble cast, and I regret I cannot mention everyone for the unique contribution they made to the success of this show. Particularly outstanding, however, was Jennifer Knox, who was the beloved Cassie (when she didn't make the cut in the 1970s, test audiences left depressed with a negative opinion of the musical) and Jonny Stein, who was Mike (extraordinarily talented although his flailing his arms about aimlessly during the ballet combinations in the early audition numbers needs to be seriously curtailed - no professional dancer would have acted in that manner). Kelly Barberito, brought in at the last moment to play Maggie, excelled in the part, as did the very charismatic Kevin Lagasse playing Al. Often forgotten are the two actors who provide the glue that holds the show together: Zach, the Director, and Larry, the Assistant Choreographer. This production of A Chorus Line had strong and believable actors in both roles: Matthew LaBanca as Zach, and Matthew V. Ranaudo as Larry. Two parts of the show dragged on just a little too long, eliciting audible comments from some audience members. The first was Paul's long dialogue, without music, regarding his participation in the Jewel Box Revue, and the second was the casts' extensive discussion about what they would all do if they weren't able to dance anymore. Note to Director: These segments need to be tightened up.
  
I highly recommend you see this production of A Chorus Line at The Secret Theatre. It contains an explosive finale that will leave you cheering. If you've seen A Chorus Line before, you will be pleased with this production. It deserves an extended run. If you haven't seen this show before, you now have the opportunity to experience it in the intimacy of a small black box theater, which brings you close to the action, draws you in emotionally, and engages you on every level. For the bargain price of $18.00 a ticket, you can't go wrong! A Chorus Line plays at The Secret Theatre through February 14, 2016. For more information, visit www.SecretTheatre.com

Monday, February 1, 2016

Applause! Applause! Review of Rich Orloff's Chatting With The Tea Party at The Robert Moss Theater by Dr. Philip Ernest Schoenberg

This review of Rich Orloff's Chatting With The Tea Party at The Robert Moss Theater was written by Dr. Philip Ernest Schoenberg and published in Volume X, Issue 6 (2016) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Chatting With The Tea Party
Written by Rich Orloff
Directed by Lynnette Barkley
The Robert Moss Theater
440 Lafayette Street
New York, New York 10003
Reviewed 1/30/16  

Chatting With The Tea Party is based on interviews Rich Orloff, the playwright, conducted with leaders of Tea Party groups around the country. Driven by a desire to figure out, "Who are these people?", Rich Orloff ventured where no New York liberal playwright and journalist had gone before. Over a period of two years, he attended more than 20 Tea Party events and collected over 60 hours of interviews with local leaders, constantly surprised (and at times stunned) by what he experienced. Orloff's journalistic experience in writing for national newspapers and magazines is evident because he knows what questions to ask to solicit comments and responses. His sense of humor and wit abounds throughout the play sometimes at his good-humored expense when his pre-conceptions about the Tea Party do not pan out. Woody Allen-like, he comments on his progress, his comprehension, his research, and his encounters. The playwright discovered he had no idea what he was getting into. He also shows the willingness to change his opinions about members of the Tea Party. The play is well-crafted because it went through 16 staged readings.

Lynnette Barkley, the director, managed to bring out the best in the actors and had them interact with one another as they portrayed a variety of liberals, historical figures, and Tea Party members. A simple change of gesture or the addition of an item of clothing transformed them into different people. Featured in the cast are John E. Brady (Newsies: The Musical  and The Lion King on Broadway), Maribeth Graham (two-time Carbonell Award winner), and Richard Kent Green (the title role in Einstein Off-Broadway). Jeffrey C. Wolf, who portrays the playwright is part of the ensemble rather than dominating the play thanks to the skillful direction of Lynnette Barkley. After all, the play is about the Tea Party, not the playwright-journalist. Just as Norman Jewison chose Chaim Topol, instead of Zero Mostel,  to play Tevye in the film version of Fiddler On The Roof, due to his concern Mostel would ham it up and dominate the film, Lynnette Barkley has done the same thing with Rich Orloff. Thus, we don't have four actors but dozens of characters that come alive that might be your next door neighbor or your friend.

The play concerns liberal Rich Orloff's interactions with Tea Party people and his willingness to admit that much of what he thought about the Tea Party was incorrect. Liberals within the Democratic Party establishment and conservatives within the Republican Party establishment treated Tea Party members as a common enemy dominated by ignorant yahoos instead of treating them as an independent group of citizens who were tired of being lied to by the professional politicians, news journalists, apparatchiks, and their hangers-on. Both looked the other way as the IRS attacked the tax-exempt status of some of the Tea Party organizations.

This failure to understand the Tea Party and to destroy it as an independent third force in American politics has given us Bernie Sanders, the Socialist running with the Democratic Party, and Donald Trump, the ever-shifting political chameleon running with the Republican Party. The American people have reached the point where they no longer trust that the political professionals and office holders will do right by them. I remember liberal and conservative friends attacking the Tea Party through ignorant supposition and mythology instead of learned knowledge.

Rich Orloff discovers the Tea Party patriots to be an amorphous group of moderates who seek to reconcile liberty with security. While they view Social Security, Medicare, and Unemployment Insurance as being unconstitutional and undermining the independence of the American people, they are willing to take advantage of those programs as citizens entitled to those benefits and for their practical usefulness. They are not hypocrites who say one thing and do another but seek to harmonize the everyday contradictions of life in the United States. Again and again, Orloff scorches his fellow liberals for their mythologies about the Tea Party and their failure to understand what the Tea Party people actually believe in. The conservatives need their own version of Rich Orloff to set them right. 

Rich Orloff has a gift for transforming philosophy into interesting dialogue. Chatting With The Tea Party reminds me of Theodore White's The Making Of The President. White's book was also turned into a documentary. Both works are practical guides for understanding the politics of the times they were written in. In both cases, you will be enlightened by journalists who were able to discern the political and philosophical currents around them.

The sets and lights were designed by Nick Francone, with costumes by Orli Nativ, and the projections designed by Paul Girolamo enhance the individual characters portrayed by each actor as well as the different geographical locations depicted, whether it be Idaho or Georgia. 

The Robert Moss Theater is a comfortable, well-lit, well-heated theater located at 440 Lafayette Street in Manhattan. Refreshments were sold from vending machines at reasonable prices between $1.00 and $2.00. The bathrooms were comfortable and convenient to use. The schedule for Chatting With The Tea Party is the following: Saturday, January 30 at 8 p.m.; Sunday, January 31st at 3 p.m.; Monday, February 1 at 7 p.m. (Opening Night); and then Thursdays at 7 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., and Sundays at 3 p.m. through Sunday, February 21st. Tickets cost $18.00 and can be purchased at www.ChattingWithTheTeaParty.com 

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Applause! Applause! Review of Rich Orloff's Chatting With The Tea Party at The Robert Moss Theater by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Rich Orloff's Chatting With The Tea Party at The Robert Moss Theater was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 6 (2016) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Chatting With The Tea Party
Written by Rich Orloff
Directed by Lynnette Barkley
The Robert Moss Theater
440 Lafayette Street
New York, New York 10003
Reviewed 1/30/16  

Chatting With The Tea Party is described as "a documentary-style play based on interviews with Tea Party leaders around the country." The play is set from Thanksgiving 2010 through Election Day 2012, by which time one-third of the Tea Party groups, playwright Rich Orloff had been in contact with, were no longer in existence. Chatting With The Tea Party was developed through readings at 16 theaters and is based on more than 63 hours of interviews conducted by Rich Orloff with leaders of over twenty Tea Party groups around the country. Every word the interviewees in the play say comes from those interviews, except for minor changes in grammar and syntax. John E. Brady, Maribeth Graham, and Richard Kent Green play numerous Tea Party members, historical figures, and Rich's liberal friends. Jeffrey C. Wolf appears as a New York playwright named Rich, who speaks in the first person as if he were the author of this play.

In the autumn of 2008, major financial institutions were failing, the stock market plummeted, the real estate bubble burst, millions lost their jobs, and the country elected its first visibly non-white President. Obama proposed a trillion dollar bailout, the country was in debt, and people were scared and angry at crony capitalism and politicians who seemed to represent no one's interests except their own. Tea Party groups formed to shake up the "business as usual" attitude in Washington, D.C. and to better represent the people who were upset about the direction the country was moving in. One could say the Occupy Wall Street movement and other "Occupy" groups reflected the same anger on the left as the Tea Party movement did on the right. In fact, the two groups had much in common.

Rich Orloff's liberal friends viewed Tea Party members as being ignorant, racist rednecks. Believing there must be something more substantive there beyond these caricatures, he set off on a journey to interview Tea Party leaders to find out who these people were. In general, Tea Party members tended to be older, 2/3 male, and nearly 100% white. He learned they didn't only hold different opinions than he did but "lived in different realities." In general, he found most Tea Party groups sprouted from the grassroots; were organized by local activists; were well-intentioned; not racist; friendly and courteous; and that they held varying opinions on a number of issues. The need for people to take more personal responsibility for their decisions, smaller government, lower taxes, adherence to constitutional principles, and an end to corruption, fraud, and crony capitalism were common themes. There were many patriotic symbols and a call to "Take Back America" and, to many, the "T.E.A." in Tea Party was an acronym meaning "Taxed Enough Already." Even though they disagreed, most people he met with were friendly and respectful. The playwright wondered whether his liberal friends would treat him the same if he disagreed with them on important issues.

What Rich Orloff, the playwright, does not understand is that all people of all ideological perspectives develop their opinions on the issues based on their own individual principles, values, and priorities, whether or not they have thought them through. Some people may prioritize life and oppose legal abortions but a man may not disown his daughter who had an abortion because he values his relationship with his daughter more and respects her decision even though he disagrees with it. Even if justifiable homicides go up in a state with a Stand Your Ground law, a citizen concerned about increasing government regulation of the ownership of guns, may not care if more people die. The principle of the private ownership of guns trumps the few extra deaths that might take place. Plus that person may also be concerned about the need for all citizens to be armed to protect themselves from what they view to be a growing, intrusive, totalitarian government. Same thing with public school funding. If you oppose increased funding for public schools, it does not necessarily follow that you oppose quality education. You may believe the problem is more about the eagerness of students to learn than whether there are five more students in any particular classroom. My point is that Rich, the playwright, brought his extreme liberal bias into all the interviews. He would point out a "fact" or an inconsistency and use that "fact" as evidence in his mind that the Tea Party leaders choose to ignore reality. Well, in my opinion, everyone is hypocritical to some extent, and just because one Founding Father may have said something about religion or had a child out of wedlock does not undermine an opinion held regarding that person. One action or statement does not reflect the whole of a person's life and principles. Rich holds different opinions because he applies different core values when evaluating an issue. If we knew enough about everyone holding opinions, we could figure out exactly why and how they came to hold them. It doesn't make a person right or wrong, nor does it make one open-minded or close-minded. 

Tea Party groups, in general, tend to be optimistic because they believe their activism can still make a difference. If they were pessimistic, they would feel all is already lost and they had better prepare to survive in a country where chaos reigns, the currency is worthless, and groups roam and riot after the government collapses. Throughout all his travels, it didn't surprise me that Rich, the playwright, hadn't changed any of his own opinions on any issue, just as one of his Tea Party group interviewees said, "and nothing is going to change my mind. Nothing!" He and they are not all that different. It is very hard for people to change their perspectives, principles, and viewpoints. It would require a paradigm shift in their thinking, and that doesn't happen often. Rich did say that now he not only thinks about whether he likes a government program, but also whether someone else's tax money should be spent on that program. The problem is that the government acts like your money belongs to them to spend as it sees fit. It is like a neighbor who always comes by to borrow a cup of sugar but never returns it. 

The disenchantment with government spending, bailouts and corruption may no longer be evident in the existence of Tea Party and Occupy groups but the sentiment is still there bubbling just under the surface. This, in my opinion, explains why the anti-establishment Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have been doing so well in the polls. Whether they win the nominations of their respective political parties or not, they represent the anger and frustration that fueled the original Tea Party and Occupy movements. While the playwright's smug, leftist, superior attitude may annoy you throughout the play, the actual interviews will provide you with a variety of perspectives held by Tea Party leaders. Chatting With The Tea Party is informative and insightful! 

Chatting With The Tea Party plays Thursdays, February 4, 11, 18 at 7:00 p.m.; Fridays, February 5,12, 19 at 8:00 p.m.; Saturdays, February 6, 13, 20 at 8:00 p.m.; and Sundays, February 7, 14, 21 at 3:00 p.m.. Tickets are $18.00 and can be purchased at www.ChattingWithTheTeaParty.com 

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Applause! Applause! Review of Ed Asner's A Man & His Prostate at The Metropolitan Room by Kathy Towson

This review of Ed Asner's A Man & His Prostate at The Metropolitan Room was written by Kathy Towson and published in Volume X, Issue 6 (2016) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

A Man & His Prostate
Performed by Ed Asner
Written by Ed. Weinberger
The Metropolitan Room
34 West 22nd Street
New York, New York 10010
Reviewed 1/16/16  

He enters the room accompanied by his cane and dressed in cruise-wear (i.e. Hawaiian shirt & shorts), climbs onto the stage, sits down, does not utter a word and looks around the room in brilliantly funny, audience criticizing stares. One knows exactly his less-than-favorable opinion of what he sees, in recognizable, curmudgeon Ed Asner fashion. The audience is immediately pulled into the old nostalgic recognition of his previous characters and spontaneously erupts into laughter. This sets up the permission for us to laugh at what is to be a rather serious journey into an uncomfortable subject, especially for this female viewer - a man's prostate.

My opinion and appreciation of this show is colored by the fact that I have had all too much experience, and my own challenging encounters with the American medical profession, in the course of my elder-care, and therefore identified with this man's frustrations and fears as he faced this illness, far away from home. It may also explain why some of the stories told, while eliciting laughter from the majority of the audience, left me feeling seriously moved.

The show served its purpose of shining a light on a subject of men's health, often overlooked in favor of the focus on female health problems, due, I'm guessing, to the stoic nature men still feel they must uphold or the discomfort they feel regarding the subject of men's "private parts" in general. Therefore, writing-wise, this candid conversation was a breath of fresh air and I give the playwright, Ed. Weinberger, props for the courage to bring this to the stage with poignancy and humor, always good tools to get a lasting message across versus hitting the audience over the head with dictates that makes one want to run for the door. 

Ed Asner was perfectly chosen for this part. He is such a gifted storyteller and paints such clear images of all of the events that I found the slide show totally unnecessary and even distracting. They continued to jarringly yank me out of the world Asner pulled us into. Also, directorially, one has to be practical and consider the physical environment of the room - many audience members were positioned in such a way that they couldn't see the slides and even Ed Asner himself had trouble improvising the script to cover the fact that one of the slides was never even shown. Asner's presentation and our imaginations are much more interesting than seeing actual pictures.

I would also recommend that the usage of the "Baboom, Baboom" dialogue be cut to one instance. It was not clear if this was actually part of the script or if the actor kept using it as a filler when he lost his place in the text. (After the first few minutes, I barely noticed he was reading from the script, so engaging was his storytelling.)

Additionally, the in-depth explanation of every function of the prostate and bladder and catheterization process became too graphic when accompanied by the slides - it lost its theatricality and became like an uncomfortable High School Health Class shown drawings of male and female anatomy. Other humor that fell short and was borderline insulting was when he took the pointer and said, "for those of you unable to recognize the penis" - a line not up to the high standard of the rest of the script.

The playwright has such a gift with analogies and imagery, such as describing the bladder stones as "fireflies in a glass jar" or that they are like "the rocks on the bottom of a fish tank." I applaud the very clever way he described the operation as being "no gondola ride" and how the language barrier made him have to talk with his hands like 'Marcel Marceau'. The playwright need not stoop to questionable black humor such as "sirens sounding like they were coming for Anne Frank." Another historical tragedy was much better handled in referencing Jesus on the Crucifix hanging on the wall of his hospital room, "on the worst day of his life", conveying the unspoken message to the patient of "and you think you have problems." Another serious moment in the piece was coupled with the problems of modern technology resulting in the then very funny line, "...the phone was dying and so was I."

The educational aspects of this show had merit such as the listing of the side effects of Flomax and presenting information regarding the in-depth tests and examinations that were so expertly performed by the doctor in Florence (necessary for early detection) vs. the life-threatening practices of the American doctor, who never performed said tests and examinations. And this to me was where the true importance and message of this show came across making it a piece of  theatre everyone should see. It was also very powerful to hear the list of very famous people in our history who died of prostate cancer, and that there are 35,000 cases of it annually - one every 16 minutes.

Ed Asner ends a very impressive 90-minute performance (a feat for any actor of any age, let alone such a veteran) with a heart touching depiction of a man's most vulnerable time with his wife, making us cheer him on (while also making us realize how we might face the health challenges of our own family members), all culminating with the audience erupting in near unanimous applause at the final positive outcome.

I left the performance with admiration for the playwright and actor, sharing their artistic gifts, in such a harmonious and heart-warming fashion. It left me pondering this very serious subject with new enlightenment and, with the hope this piece reaches and informs the American medical profession, who could take a lesson from its message. I expect A Man & His Prostate will touch many audiences and armed with new knowledge, I hope there will be a dialogue among people in general that will result in possibly saving many future lives. Whenever theatre can serve such a powerful purpose, one can only say "Bravo."

Monday, January 18, 2016

Applause! Applause! Review of Anna Moench's In Quietness at Walkerspace by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Anna Moench's In Quietness at Walkerspace was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 6 (2016) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

In Quietness
Written by Anna Moench
Directed by Danya Taymor
Walkerspace
46 Walker Street
New York, New York 10013
Reviewed 1/14/16  

Paul (Blake DeLong) and Max (Kate MacCluggage) have been married for 5 years. She is a highly paid executive who helps Health Insurance Companies maximize profit and minimize waste. She supports her husband financially allowing him to write while she is away during the week, but, without fail, she returns every weekend so they can spend quality time together. Paul hasn't been very productive as a writer and a year ago, he started attending a Bible Study meeting led by a Southern Baptist. He grew up Lutheran (Missouri Synod) but started to read the Bible more intensely. His wife was "spiritual" at best and wasn't very good in the kitchen or with household chores. Paul confesses to Max he has been having an affair with a woman he met at Bible Study. His mistress was hit by a taxi and she is now in a coma and unresponsive. Max is more understanding than most would be realizing it could not have been easy for Paul to be alone on all those days she was out of town. She suggests they just forget about it ("Clean slate. New Day & All That Shit!") but Paul says he can't just start over since he loves the woman. With the state of their marriage in limbo, Max continues to work and Paul continues to sit by the side of his unresponsive mistress who lies in quietness.

One day, Paul comes to the conclusion that God is punishing him for having an affair by hurting someone he loves (namely, his mistress). The only way to make things right (in his irrational mind) is to train to become a Southern Baptist minister. By serving God, he hopes God will stop his suffering by saving the life of his mistress. He doesn't seek forgiveness for cheating on his wife nor does he seek to save his marriage. Paul enrolls at the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and unbelievably, Max gives up her job as a highly paid executive and goes with him, signing up to be a Hostess at Homemaking House, where she is expected to be an inspiration to the other girls who are coming to learn how to be supportive wives and homemakers. The other Hostess position is held by Beth (Lucy DeVito), who completely buys into the Southern Baptist view on the proper subservient role of women within the marriage relationship. ("A woman should learn in quietness and full submission." - 1 Timothy 2:11; "Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church." 5 Ephesians 22-23) Beth's fiance is Dusty (Rory Kulz), who we don't meet until the end of the play and is nothing like anything we expected. The head of Homemaking House is Terri (Alley Scott), who once ran a Finishing School and is still, as of yet, unmarried.

There are many twists and turns in this brilliantly written script that raises many questions about gender roles in modern marriage. Beth criticizes Paul for not taking responsibility as the head of his household and for giving his wife "mistrust and doubt" despite her best efforts to save their marriage. But Beth also comes down hard on Max for denying her husband sex when he climbed in through an open window, and in a drunken state, almost raped her before she could push him off her. As Beth believes, "If your husband wants you, you can't say no." Beth is a natural-born preacher but that role is reserved for men according to the Bible so she is content to be supportive of her husband in his ministry. Testing their marriage further is the fact that Paul gets off on having a subservient wife who cooks his meals and launders his shirts, but he went one step too far when he suggested he likes his dress shirts hung and not folded, in order to avoid their having wrinkles. Paul starts to believe he has already been saved and starts to adopt the Southern Baptist philosophy that he is obligated to be "the head of the household." This role is reinforced by Terri, who treats him special and explains to him that Max was only hired, not because of her resume, but because Paul can't succeed as a minister without his wife's help. When Max questions how an adulterer can make a good preacher, Terri explains that some of the best ministers needed to go to the depths of Hell before being able to identify with the frailties and weaknesses in each of the members of the congregation.

Lucy DeVito (the daughter of Danny Devito and Rhea Perlman) who plays Beth is by far the standout performer in this very talented ensemble cast. She has the most complex role and many layers to her character to portray, each which she handles brilliantly. Alley Scott is charismatic and consistent as Terri, the head of Homemaking House. She comes across fully dedicated to her goal of helping young women prove they are ready to take on the duties of wife and homemaker in a Christian home. Blake DeLong as Paul accurately depicts a man in emotional and psychological crisis, who is more in need of a psychiatrist than he is in need of a seminary. Max is far too committed to keeping her marriage together under the most extreme circumstances. It makes me wonder how insecure she really is and whether she cheated on Paul when she was on the road. Kate MacCluggage is very powerful as Max but the motivation behind her character's decisions are extremely unclear. Why is she still hanging around Paul when all he seems to care about is bargaining with God to save the life of his mistress? He takes no responsibility for his actions and still blames her for not giving him the emotional support he says he needed. Max even buys into this to some extent by taking some responsibility for not being around enough. I won't spoil the end of the play for you or tell you whether Beth and Dusty, and Max and Paul, end up together. You will just have to go see the play in order to find out. 

I was extremely impressed with the script written Anna Moench. It doesn't bash religious beliefs but instead, simply represents them leaving it up to the audience to draw their own judgments and conclusions. Various gender roles in marriage are also explored. Danya Taymor, the niece of Julie Taymor, did a fine job of directing this complex piece of theater. The acting, writing and directing nicely came together in a cohesive whole. The play was interesting and the issues it raised were relevant, important, and timely.

In Quietness runs for 1 hour, 45 minutes without intermission. Tickets are only $18.00. The play runs through Saturday, January 30, 2016. For more information, visit http://dutchkillstheater.com/  

Applause! Applause! Review of Ed Asner's A Man & His Prostate at The Metropolitan Room by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Ed Asner's A Man & His Prostate at The Metropolitan Room was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 6 (2016) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

A Man & His Prostate
Performed by Ed Asner
Written by Ed. Weinberger
The Metropolitan Room
34 West 22nd Street
New York, New York 10010
Reviewed 1/16/16  

Even though Ed Asner tells the story of falling ill in Florence suffering from an enlarged prostate and bladder stones (with slides to prove it), the basis of the tale lies in the experiences of Emmy & Peabody Award-winning Ed. Weinberger, the writer responsible for this 90-minute theater piece. There was a reading of the play A Man & His Prostate on May 15, 2015 at the Falcon Theatre in Burbank before family and friends, which was followed by its debut at The Malibu Playhouse ($75.00 General Admission) on July 11, 2015. It's now in New York City at The Metropolitan Room for an exclusive two-night try-out before plans to share it with audiences worldwide. While that may happen because many Ed Asner fans will gladly pay good money to see him, the play contains too many crude lines and fart jokes. In addition, since the debut in Malibu six months ago, Ed Asner has been unable or unwilling to memorize the script. He sat in front of a music stand reading his lines as if this, the play's New York debut, was just another reading. I also found it uncomfortable to hear him scream at and verbally abuse the people in his life whenever he was angry or in need. Noboby should have to put up with that. Finally, The Metropolitan Room was not the best venue for this play; a piano blocked the view of 20-30 attendees who could not even see him, and another 10-15 people were unable to view the slides, myself included. There isn't even a mirror on the back wall where those people could see him by reflection.

Ed Asner appeared on stage 20 minutes late wearing a Los Angeles Dodgers cap, a Hawaiian shirt, blue shorts, and black athletic shoes. He then sat there for another five minutes in silence blowing his nose, placing his cane on a bench, turning his cap backward and adjusting himself as needed. I think he thought it was funny to just sit there, but since he started the show late, I just found it annoying. He finally started off with a joke about a German, an Irishman, and a Jew. The German says, "I'm tired. I'm thirsty. I must have beer." The Irishman says, "I'm tired. I'm thirsty. I must have whiskey." Finally, the Jew says, "I'm tired. I'm thirsty. I must have diabetes." The humor in that joke relies on the stereotype that older Jews are hypochondriacs. He explains this is "a play about life and death" but that "the death part is just rhetorical...(then looking at his watch)...at least for now!" Apparently, his character (whose name we never learn) was on a cruise ship docked in Florence. He collapsed alone (his wife remained on board due to the fact it was Margarita Monday and she had taken ill herself by eating too many fish tacos) and was admitted to an Italian hospital. He said he was taken there in an ambulance with sirens that "sounded like they were coming for Anne Frank" (Wrong country, of course, but why let that stop a potentially offensive joke). He arrived at the hospital and, in the best skit of the night, he hilariously explained to the doctor using pantomime how he was getting up to pee 9 times a night but that today, he was unable to pee at all. After that, he was directed to a hospital room where he looked up and saw "a crucifix of Jesus 'on his worst day' with his head hanging to one side as if to say 'and you think you have problems'."

It turns out he had seven bladder stones and an enlarged prostate but no cancer. He railed against his American doctors "who never once stuck a finger up my ass" even though he was peeing forty times a day. (He urinated so frequently, he even "stopped pulling his zipper back up"). He speculated that doctors have stopped doing rectal exams because of the "yuck" factor or because they are embarrassed. As he said, "that's the medical profession for you. It took them 500 fucking years for them to learn they should wash their fucking hands before treating a patient." On the up side, A Man & His Prostate does come with the educational message that men should get their prostate checked more often, and one slide even listed many well-known men who have died of prostate cancer. 

His biggest concern about having the operation to remove the bladder stones and trim his prostate was the effect it would have on his future ability to have intercourse with his wife. His Italian doctors explained he should be able to maintain erections after one week, but that there would be no visible ejaculations. His sperm will travel backward instead of out. He was worried about how he "would know when sex was over" and always thought of his ejaculations as constituting his "big finish." Concerned that "the difference between an erect and semi-erect penis is the difference between eating a cheeseburger and licking one," he tried watching pornography but it only depressed him further because the camera "added six inches" to all the male performers. His wife finally caught up with him and slipped into his bed (hoping she had the right room). By morning, he said, "the sun was coming up and so, my God was I!". He explained to his wife about how he would no longer be able to ejaculate and she said, "to be honest, that was always my least favorite part." And that was that!

The seven-time Emmy Award-winning television icon Ed Asner last appeared on the New York stage starring in the Broadway comedy Grace in 2013. Asner is one of the most honored actors in television history with 16 Emmy nominations, five Golden Globe Awards, and a 2002 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Screen Actors Guild, which he served as national president of for two terms. He is best-known for voicing Carl Fredericksen in the Pixar box office smash Up! (Best Animated Feature Oscar) and for his many widely praised television roles on The Mary Tyler Moore Show; Lou Grant; Roots; Rich Man, Poor Man; and more recently The Good Wife; Criminal Minds; Mom; The Crazy Ones; Chasing Life; and Men At Work. He starred in the telefilms Buddy The Elf and All My Heart. For the stage, he toured the country in Franklin Delano Roosevelt for five years. 

Often playing a character who is an angry, irascible old codger, Ed Asner was a good choice for this part. When he describes his immediate catheterization as being "no gondola ride down The Grand Canal," you identify with his pain. If you see this show, you will have a good time and be glad you went. Born just after the Stock Market Crash Of 1929 during the administration of President Herbert Hoover, Ed Asner is a well-respected, hard-working, award-winning actor. When you have a chance to see him perform in person, you don't want to miss that opportunity. At 86 years of age, that watch is ticking! But be forewarned, the show is very explicit and graphic. Therefore, it is definitely not for grandmas, children, or the easily offended.