Monday, June 4, 2018

Applause! Applause! Review of The Exonerated at The Secret Theatre by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of The Exonerated at The Secret Theatre was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 8 (2018) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

The Exonerated
Written by Jessica Blank & Erik Jensen
Executive Producer: Richard Mazda
Director: DeMone Seraphin
Assistant Director: Krysta Hibbard
Fight Director/Dramaturg: Meron Langsner
Associate Fight Director/Dramaturg: Cristina Ramos
Stage Manager/Sound Design: Jessica Fornear
Production Manager: Justin Hsu
Lighting Design: Joe Cabrera
Scenic Design: Melissa Anderson
Projections Design: Alexis Achilles
Movement Coordinator: Tamrin Goldberg
The Secret Theatre
44-02 23rd Street
Long Island City, New York 11101
Reviewed 6/2/18

The Exonerated opened Off-Broadway on October 10, 2002 at 45 Bleecker Theatre and ran there through March 7, 2004. It was written by Jessica Blank & Erik Jensen based on interviews they conducted with 40 former death row inmates who had been freed by the state after having served as much as 22 years in prison. The original production, which ran for 608 performances, won the 2003 Lucille Lortel Award for Unique Theatrical Experience, the 2003 Drama Desk Award for Unique Theatrical Experience, and the 2003 Outer Critics Circle Award for Outstanding Off-Broadway Play. It has also won the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers' Champion of Justice Award and Court TV's Scales of Justice Award. The work combines first-person narrative and dramatic recreations to tell the stories of six wrongfully convicted inmates and the impact that had on their lives and the people who loved them. Those featured include Delbert Tibbs (James S. Washington), Kerry Max Cook (Tommy Norton), Gary Gauger (Mark A. Keeton), David Keaton (Greg K. Warren), Robert Earl Hayes (Alphonso Walker, Jr.), and Sunny Jacobs (Laura Lockwood). Also in the cast are Chelsea Davis, Ruby Littman, Tyler Waage, and Sean Jarrell.

This is an emotionally riveting play with an extraordinarily talented cast. In turn, we hear the stories of six wrongfully convicted individuals. One gave a coerced confession while another provided a "vision statement" that was used as a confession. There is a woman who was in a car with a man who shot two police officers and a young man, who worked as a bartender in a gay bar, who was railroaded with little evidence and charged with murdering a young woman he once slept with. There is no doubt that a lack of knowledge regarding one's rights combined with aggressive police tactics have led to false confessions. It is also true that circumstantial evidence has led to the wrongful conviction of many innocent people. The tragedy of a wrongly convicted individual is something every person of good faith wishes could be avoided. However, as long as juries continue to convict people based on eyewitness testimony and circumstantial evidence, mistakes will happen. There is a delicate balance between trying to avoid incarcerating innocent people and allowing guilty individuals to walk free. It is also true, as related in this play, that the cost of being wrongfully convicted is extremely high, not only for the inmate but also for those who love the man or woman incarcerated. This play shows how a wrongful conviction can not only destroy the life of the person convicted but also of that person's family and friends.

The play is very dramatic and moving. We are warned that if something like a wrongful conviction can happen to some of the characters in this play, it can happen to you as well. The reality of being in prison is also explicitly shown. For example, three men "pulled a train" on a young man in prison and the rape scene was vividly depicted. That straight man, who was widely thought to be gay, once aspired to be "all that plus a bag of potato chips." He is now horribly humbled and will never be able to reclaim his innocence. The Exonerated has a substantive book that follows the characters from the time of their arrest, through their conviction and time in prison, to their exoneration and adjustment to life after their release. I discovered only two errors in the book. One was when a Judge was ruling on an Objection and on an Application made by defense counsel. Objections are "sustained" or "overruled." Applications are "granted" or "denied." This play has universal appeal, no matter what one's political ideology may be. For that reason, I thought it unnecessary to have a character, who played an attorney say, "I was conservative and also very stupid." Perhaps it would've been better for her to say, "I was naive and also very stupid" because any intelligent conservative would be aware of the injustices that currently exist in our criminal justice system. The problem that remains is how we can reform it to make it more just for all who are caught up in it and the answer can't just be to let criminals walk free or to not arrest them in the first place. That only results in worse consequences down the line.

James S. Washington was brilliant as the poet Delbert Tibbs. He really held this production together and his poetry moved me. An example was the line, "It's not easy to be a poet here, yet I sing." The ever optimistic Sunny Jacobs, refusing to be a victim, stated, "If you rub two sticks together and keep crying on them, you are never going to make a spark." The Exonerated runs through June 9, 2018. Tickets cost $18.00 ($15.00 for students) in advance and can be purchased at www.SecretTheatre.com or by calling 718-392-0722. Tickets are $20.00 each if purchased at the door. I highly recommend you see this play!

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Applause! Applause! Review of Astoria Performing Arts Center's production of Follies at Good Shepherd United Methodist Church by Dr. Philip Ernest Schoenberg

This review of Astoria Performing Arts Center's production of Follies was written by Dr. Philip Ernest Schoenberg and published in Volume X, Issue 8 (2018) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Follies
Book by James Goldman
Music & Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Directed by Dev Bondarin
Choreographed by Sara Brians
Musical Direction by James Higgins
Set Design by Ann Beyersdorfer
Costume Design by Jennifer Jacob
Lighting Design by Annie Wiegand
Sound Design by Caroline Eng
Props Design by Andrew Short
Casting Director: Jason Styres, CSA
Good Shepherd United Methodist Church
30-44 Crescent Street
Astoria, New York 11102
Reviewed 5/5/18

Follies was originally produced on Broadway by Harold Prince on April 4, 1971. Although the show ran for over 500 performances and won seven Tony Awards, it ultimately lost money because it was the most costly production Broadway had ever witnessed. Nevertheless, it has been revived several times, and a few of its musical numbers such as "I'm Still Here" and "Could I Leave Her?" have become Broadway standards.

I was transported back in time as I observed the dancing and enjoyed the singing. The story concerns a reunion of the chorus of Weismann's Follies in a crumbling Broadway theatre scheduled for demolition. We wander through the memories of two couples and some of their companions in 1941 and 1971. We alternate between two casts playing the characters in different stages of life set thirty years apart. The plot focuses on Buddy and Sally Durant Plummer, and Benjamin and Phyllis Rogers Stone who are attending the reunion. Behind the facade of joy expressed regarding their attendance is the barely hidden truth about how joyless their marriages are. Although I enjoyed the performance, I was somewhat disappointed by the book because it simply was not made clear why two of the characters did not marry their true loves in 1941. The song, "The Story Of Lucy & Jessie," did not clear things up. Nevertheless, the perfect casting by Jason Styres, and the direction of Dev Bondarin made the musical work.

The choreography of Sara Brians was outstanding. The performances of the two casts shadowed one another and seamlessly advanced the plot. The dancing styles of the 1920s/1930s, and the 1970s are perfectly represented. Dev Bondarin brought out the best in the actors as they emoted the story of their lives ranging from the apogees of young love to the perigees of lost love. James Higgins directed the music to match the emotion of the characters  and the mood of the plot. In the second act, several of the performers present the back stories of their lives - some happy, some unhappy. A number of the songs are homages to Follies performers of the past.

I was most intrigued by the costume designs of Jennifer Jacob. The clothing of 1941 and of 1971 worn by the characters set the sensibilities of each era. One could tell at a glance when you were in 1941 and when you were in 1971. This helped to set the mood of each era and advanced the story. I could clearly distinguish the clothing once worn by my parents when they were young in 1941. What was even more astonishing to realize was my recognition of the clothing styles I once wore in 1971.

Follies takes place in a wonderful space at the Good Shepherd United Methodist Church in Astoria, Queens. Ann Beyersdorfer has designed a simple set that acts as a time machine that transports one back between 1941 and 1971 as the action takes place in the theatre where Weismann's Follies (a fictitious musical revue based on the Ziegfeld Follies) was once hosted and celebrated. Andrew Short's props welded flawlessly into the performances of the stars. Annie Wiegand's lighting design highlighted the changing of eras and locations. Caroline Eng's sound design was most pleasing. We clearly heard all the performers emote their dialogue and song. 

Although the original book's plot is somewhat thin and slightly flawed, APAC's production of Follies is flawless. You are in for a treat and will see great dancing and even better singing. The Astoria Performing Arts Center has done a most excellent job!

Monday, May 14, 2018

Applause! Applause! Review of The Silver Chords' Spring Concert entitled Young At Heart: Songs Of Youth & Innocence at St. Andrew's Lutheran Church by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of The Silver Chords' Spring Concert entitled Young At Heart: Songs Of Youth & Innocence at St. Andrew's Lutheran Church was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 8 (2018) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Young At Heart: Songs Of Youth & Innocence
Performed by The Silver Chords
Director/Conductor: Carl J. Ferrara
Accompanist/Pianist: Karl Schwarz
Stage Manager: Lee Jacknow
St. Andrew's Lutheran Church
30 Brooksite Drive
Smithtown, New York 11787
Reviewed 5/6/18

If you are looking for something to do on a Sunday afternoon, attending a free concert performed by The Silver Chords might just be the event you have been looking for. General Seating, $1.00 concessions, and a huge selection of gift baskets individually raffled off are just the cherries on a beautifully layered multi-flavored cake. You will experience an eclectic mix of some generally delightful and entertaining songs. During this year's Spring Concert entitled Young At Heart: Songs Of Youth & Innocence, I was particularly impressed with "As Long As I Have Music" (Lyrics by Don Besig & Nancy Price; Music by Don Besig), "Frere Jacques" (Traditional French Folk Tune) (Arrangement by Maurice Gardner), "The Thing" (Music & Lyrics by Charles R. Grean; Arrangement by Jay Althouse), "One Small Voice" (Music & Lyrics by Jeff Moss; Arrangement by Roger Emerson), "When I Grow Up" (from Matilda, the Musical) (Lyrics & Music by Tim Minchin; Arrangement by Simon Foxley), and "Go With A Song In Your Heart" (Arrangement by Jay Althouse). The same concert will be performed on Sunday, May 20, 2018 at 2:00 p.m. at Mary Immaculate Roman Catholic Church located at 16 Browns Lane, Bellport, New York. No reservations required. A pleasant time guaranteed!

The Silver Chords, previously named the Senior Citizens Chorus of Suffolk County, hasn't been exclusive to Senior Citizens for about a decade. There is no minimum age requirement. The misleading name, though, remains the same. There were soloists and The Minor Chords also made an appearance, especially during the performance of "Homeward Bound" (Music & Lyrics by Marta Keen; Arrangement by McKay Crockett). The first half of the program was stronger than the second. Obviously, you may like different songs than I did but the good news is that there are over sixteen (16) numbers for you to choose from as your favorites. My selection of the three biggest clunkers were the medley of songs from Rent,  the selection of Old American Songs (arranged by Aaron Copeland), and the couplet of "Lamiya's Song" with the angrier version entitled "My Name Is Lamiya (Don't Call Me Refuge)" based on a poem written by Lamiya Safarova, an Azerbaijani Refugee, who fled her home and village during the Nagomo-Karabakh War with Armenia. When other Azerbaijani children called her "Refugee" (the Azerbaijani word which also means "one who runs away"), she objected and wrote a poem where she begs to be called by her given name. I was not persuaded. Karl Schwarz, the pianist, made a number of errors, and Carl J. Ferrara, the conductor, could have selected a more inspiring and challenging musical program.

There are a few negatives associated with this group. First, the members do not memorize the lyrics. Second, no one seems to be in charge of minor "wardrobe malfunctions." Some shirts were untucked, some neckties weren't properly tied, and some suspenders appear to have become unclasped. There is also a great gender imbalance in favor of women. I also observed choral members complain about the heat, and the second the air-conditioner was turned on, others started complaining about the cold and the breeze. Another choral member confronted me saying I was speaking too loud for her comfort (after the concert was over), and during the post-concert dinner, there were more complaints than I could possibly detail here. Taking everything into consideration, I recommend The Silver Chords change its name to the Peconic Peacocks.    

With all that said, you can't go wrong attending the free concerts performed by The Silver Chords. After all, they are free and come with a money-back guarantee! To discover the dates of upcoming concerts, try-out dates, or to join their mailing list, visit their website at www.thesilverchords.com. You can also visit them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/SilverChordsChorus or on Twitter @TheSilverChords. For more information, you can e-mail them at SilverChordsChorus@gmail.com

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Applause! Applause! Review of Chess at The Gallery Players by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Chess at The Gallery Players was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 8 (2018) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Chess
Book by Richard Nelson
Lyrics by Tim Rice
Music by Bjorn Ulvaeus & Benny Andersson
Based on an idea by Tim Rice
Executive Producer/Director: Mark Harborth
Assistant Director/Choreographer: Ryan Graytok
Music Director: Benjamin Jacob
Scenic Designer: Grenville Burgess
Costume Designer: Antonio Consuegra
Production Stage Manager: Roxanne Goodby
Lighting Designer: Scott Cally
Props Designer: Gabrielle Giacomo
The Gallery Players
199 14th Street
Park Slope, New York 11215
Reviewed 4/21/18

Chess, a musical involving a Cold War-era chess match between American and Russian Grandmasters, opened on Broadway at the Imperial Theatre on April 28, 1988. It closed on June 25, 1988 after 17 previews and 68 regular performances. Benny Anderson and Bjorn Ulvaeus of the pop group ABBA wrote the music, and Tim Rice wrote the lyrics. When you play chess, you must be extremely careful to select only the most strategically advantageous moves. This play highlights the fact this is also true in matters of the heart and regarding issues of statecraft. For those who are fans of the musical (whose soundtrack has an almost cult following), you will not be disappointed with this 30th anniversary revival. Producing and directing this complicated musical is not an easy task but The Gallery Players is to be congratulated for pulling it all together in a manner that will please most people. The superior vocals will enable you to bask in the perfection of the presentation of such songs as "Nobody's Side," "Someone Else's Story," I Know Him So Well," "You And I," "Pity The Child," "Heaven Help My Heart," and "Anthem." The remainder of the numbers presented are equally enjoyable. 

The star of this production is Carman Napier, who played Florence Vassy, the second, and former lover of Frederick Trumper, The American Grandmaster. While her charisma, beauty, and emotional conflict are clear, there is no reason provided as to why she would ever have loved Mr. Trumper. While Anatoly Sergievsky, the Russian Grandmaster played by Doug Chitel, has a beautiful voice, his acting leaves a lot to be desired. His performance is one-dimensional and the thought that he and Florence would have fallen so deeply in love in such a short period of time is completely unbelievable. Anatoly should have been played by a much younger and more attractive man. Joey Donnelly does a fine job as Freddy and brings his own unique perspective to the role. His rendition of "Pity The Child" brought me to tears (For those unfamiliar with this musical, though, I urge him to better enunciate "who" - the last word in the song). Mr. Donnelly has a very strong stage presence, and he and Ms. Vassy captivate the attention of the audience throughout the play. Jennifer Walder is brilliant as Svetlana, Anatoly's wife, who is brought to Budapest, Hungary by the Russians, to add to the pressure on her husband to reverse his decision to seek asylum in the United States. John Gibson, who plays Ivan Molokov (KGB), and Jan-Peter Pedross, who plays Walter Anderson (CIA), are quite convincing as rival spies who find common-ground to the extreme detriment of Florence Vassy, who has a great interest in finding her father, who sent her to America during the Hungarian Revolution of 1956.

During the World Chess Championship of 1988, the American and Russian sides seem to fight over everything. including whether Swedish or Finnish chairs should be used, and whether the Russian Grandmaster is receiving illegal signals by the changing flavors of the yogurt he is eating during the match. The first round takes place in Bangkok but, without a clear winner, the second round moves to Budapest, which is also the site of Arms Control Negotiations between the two counties. Pressure mounts on Anatoly to return to the U.S.S.R.. Svetlana, his wife, now has no car and no apartment (she stays with friends). Her brother was kicked out of medical school. His brother and wife had to find a smaller apartment, and his nephew's well-being has been threatened. The Russian Chess Federation has now charged him with embezzlement, and he has been told no one stood up in his defense. Finally, he has been led to believe that if he returns to mother Russia, the KGB will release Florence's father and reunite him with his daughter. Pressure mounts on both Freddy and Anatoly, which threatens the concentration of both Grandmasters. 

With the exception of miscasting Doug Chitel as Anatoly, the remainder of the cast is quite strong. There is some confusion when an ensemble member (Dennis Wees) who clearly played a Russian ("Please pass the salt.") later shows up in a prominent role as an American, but that is something most audience members may not catch. The production of the song "One Night In Bangkok" didn't bother me because it was too "white" as has been mentioned by some. However, I did feel it was a bit too "vanilla." Mark Harborth should've directed the cast to portray a greater sensuality and aggressive sexuality (e.g. perhaps a little bit more skin) to better contrast with Freddy Trumper's abstinence. The set and the costumes were period appropriate and The Orchestra (Conductor/Keyboards - Benjamin Jacob; Guitar - Alex Sadosky; and Drums - Miranda Siffer) sounded as if it was much larger than just three members.

Chess plays at The Gallery Players through May 13, 2018. Tickets cost $30.00 for adults, and $20.00 for Senior Citizens and Children 12 & under. You can make reservations by calling Ovation Tix at 212-352-3101 or by visiting www.galleryplayers.com. Florence, the eternal optimist, says at the end of the play, "If only we can begin again. Be human again!" But perhaps the machinations depicted in the play are what it means to be human. This recognition, might in time, cause you to become cynical, until you see disappointment all around you as was reflected in Freddy's observation that "The Danube isn't even blue!" (e.g. "Nobody's On Nobody's Side").

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Applause! Applause! Review of The Billboard Players' production of Reginald Rose's Twelve Angry Men at The Community Church of East Williston by Dr. Philip Ernest Schoenberg

This review of The Billboard Players' production of Reginald Rose's Twelve Angry Men at The Community Church of East Williston was written by Dr. Philip Ernest Schoenberg and published in Volume X, Issue 8 (2018) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Twelve Angry Men
Written By Reginald Rose
Directed by Louis V. Fucilo
The Community Church of East Williston
45 East Williston Avenue
East Williston, New York 11596
Reviewed 4/14/18  

I recently saw an outstanding production of Twelve Angry Men at The Community Church of East Williston. Louis V. Fucilo, the director, and the producers, Mark Danielson and Bob & Charlene Eckhoff, chose a most able group of actors that truly personified men of the 1950s. The ensemble of players included Joseph Anfora, Jonathan Baker, Nathan Bischoff, Al Carbuto, John Carrozza, Robert Hertz, Andy Minet, Joseph Montano, Joe Pepe, John Rowe, Joseph Schweigert, Raymond A. Tallercio, and Michael Wolf. Virtually everyone wore a tie, which was customary in 1954. Fucilo, the director, brought out the best in each of the actors. It was easy to believe that each of the jurors were passionate citizens of the era, not button-down calm conformists. They each became real people with all the faults and imperfections of human beings, not godlings, who have to determine the fate of the accused. Reginald Rose has written a play that encapsulates the true spirit of New Yorkers living in the 1950s - an honest portrayal and not an idealized perspective borne of nostalgia. Twelve Angry Men is a true diamond in the rough.

I am reminded of Fiddler On The Roof, the movie directed by Norman Jewison. When he was asked why he picked Chaim Topol over Zero Mostel, he explained he wanted an ensemble production, not a star vehicle dominated by Zero Mostel. No names were used in this play to highlight one man's use of reason to built consensus towards a not guilty verdict. Reginald Rose wrote toward the end of the Golden Age of Television when live drama was coming to an end. He was able to produce a highly engaging, emotionally taut, high stakes drama: guilt or innocence for a man charged with murder. If found guilty, the accused would be executed. The deliberations held our interest with very few gimmicks with the one exception of Juror #8 producing a switch blade knife he purchased at a local store in the slum where the accused lived with his father. The prosecution had made the point that the knife used to kill the boy's father was somewhat unique. Juror #8 bought the exact same knife to show that someone else could easily have purchased a similar knife. This drama, written by Reginald Rose, has aged well and still holds up needing no tricks to remain interesting.

All the actors in this production perform well and make their characters come alive with energy and emotion. Each of the ensemble players performed their roles without overwhelming the other actors. Jonathan Baker as Juror #11 was very believable as a "New American" who believes that the American dream - even justice - applies to everyone. His European accent made him appear very authentic. Michael Wolf, Juror #10, played rough-at-the-edges garage owner who, depending on your mood, you might or might not want to sit next to. He expresses thoughts you usually keep hidden from yourself. 

Louis V. Fucilo's set design and decoration, aided by Mark Danielson and Bob Eckhoff, succeeded in transforming the stage into a courtroom, an intimate space where people could view the action and hear the performance from three sides. Lighting highlighted the jurors as they spoke and signified the passage of time. Unfortunately, given  that the jurors were seated around a Board Room table, depending on where you sat, the jurors were not always visible to the audience when it came their time to speak. Although total perfection was not attained, we still have here a most excellent production well worth seeing.

Thanks to fine writing and to the skilled acting, at no point does your interest drift off. You are drawn in and don't want to miss the action. This is a great play that is performed very authentically. This is American drama at its best. Don't miss it! Especially since refreshments are a most reasonable $1.00 for each item!

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Applause! Applause! Review of The Billboard Players' production of Reginald Rose's Twelve Angry Men at The Community Church of East Williston by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of The Billboard Players' production of Reginald Rose's Twelve Angry Men at The Community Church of East Williston was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 8 (2018) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Twelve Angry Men
Written By Reginald Rose
Directed by Louis V. Fucilo
The Community Church of East Williston
45 East Williston Avenue
East Williston, New York 11596
Reviewed 4/14/18  

Twelve Angry Men was first made as a 1954 teleplay for the Studio One anthology television series and was aired live on CBS on September 20, 1954. While Reginald Rose re-wrote Twelve Angry Men for the stage in 1955, it didn't make it to Broadway until, in 2004, the Roundabout Theatre Company produced it at the American Airlines Theatre, where it ran for 328 performances. The play concerns the deliberations of a jury in a case involving a slum-residing, economically deprived, 16-year old boy with a prior criminal record accused of stabbing his father to death with a switchblade knife. While, at the beginning of jury deliberations, an initial vote reveals a nearly unanimous decision of guilty, Juror #8 votes not guilty simply because he would like the jury to discuss the evidence before condemning the boy to death, which we are told is the mandatory sentence in this case. Pleas for mercy will not be considered by the Judge.

The facts are quite interesting and the play reflects how a real jury might, in actuality, weigh the evidence presented to them. Some of the jurors enter the jury room with personal prejudices while others couldn't care less what the verdict is so long as they're not stuck there for too long. Some jurors complain about the heat while others are hungry. A number of them bring into the discussion facts not in evidence while others question whether the defendant's Court-appointed attorney did a good enough job cross-examining the witnesses. Many of the men demand that each juror justify why they are voting the way they do while others are willing to pre-judge the boy based on stereotypes they hold and that the criminal defendant may be predisposed to violence given his past criminal record, and the physical abuse he has suffered at the hands of his father. The main question is not whether the boy committed the murder but whether "reasonable doubt" exists based on the evidence. This makes for quite an enjoyable journey before the ultimate decision is made.

I went into this production concerned whether a 1950s teleplay would still ring true and resonate sixty-four years later and I am happy, but also sad, to report that the more things change, the more they remain the same. Many like to idealize the 1950s and argue that today, people are too easily "triggered" and "offended" by politically incorrect speech. Young kids are taking challenges to eat Tide pods and snort condoms. But those same people forget that in the 1950s, frat boys accepted challenges to swallow live goldfish. As for being easily offended, many of the jurors in this play take constant umbrage at what someone else says to them or some inference that is make, and a number of the jurors are even ready to engage in fisticuffs to confront the perceived insults. Upon reflection, very little seems to have changed over the years. Prejudice against foreigners, unpopular political opinions, and stereotypical views of slum-dwellers are all expressed and appear to be a constant in all societies and cultures.

The two most impressive actors in this production are Michael Wolf (Juror #10) and Raymond A. Taliercio (Juror #3). Mr. Wolf captivates the audience during his racist rants ("if you know what I mean") and Mr. Taliercio, whose character is estranged from his own son, is responsible for the most dramatic moments in the play. John Rowe also stands out as Juror #7, the guy who really couldn't care less which way the verdict goes so long as he can make the Yankees game on time. John Carrozza is strong as Juror #8 and reveals that even his character has the potential for violence in him. The remaining jurors each carried their own and all did a fine job. Those jurors were Joseph Anfora (Juror #1/Foreman), Andy Minet (Juror #2), Joe Pepe (Juror #4), Joseph Schweigert (Juror #5), Joseph Montano (Juror #6), Al Carbuto (Juror #9), Jonathan Baker (Juror #11), and Robert Hertz (Juror #12). Louis V. Fucilo, the Director, played the Judge, newcomer Nathan Bischoff, played the Guard. All should be very proud of their contributions to the success of this production.

You can catch remaining performances of Twelve Angry Men on Fridays, April 20 & 27th at 8:00 p.m.; Saturdays, April 21st & 28th at 8:00 p.m.; and on Sundays, April 22nd & 29th at 3:00 p.m. Tickets are $15.00 for adults and $12.00 for seniors. For reservations and more information, call 516-746-7356 or e-mail ccewplays@gmail.com. All concession items are $1.00 a piece. Extremely reasonable prices for soda and candy! They also served decaffeinated coffee. If you want coffee with caffeine, you will have to ask for it. I got my little cup of joy and had a wonderful time seeing this play. There is no better value you can get for your money! I highly recommend this production of Twelve Angry Men. It will give you much to talk about with your friends over dinner afterwards. 

Friday, April 6, 2018

Applause! Applause! Review of [title of show] at The Secret Theatre by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of [title of show] at The Secret Theatre was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 8 (2018) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

[title of show]
Book by Hunter Bell
Music & Lyrics by Jeff Bowen
Executive Producer: Richard Mazda
Director: Scott Guthrie
Stage Manager/Tech: Jessica Fornear
Lighting Design: Sophie Talmadge Silleck
Set Design: TzuChing Cheng
Production Manager: Justin Hsu
The Secret Theatre
44-02 23rd Street
Long Island City, New York 11101
Reviewed 3/29/18  

[title of show] is a one-act musical that chronicles the three-week creative process that went into the show's submission as a possible entry in the New York Musical Theatre Festival, and then continues to follow the trials and tribulations of the four actors as the show is produced off-Broadway at the Vineyard Theatre (2006) followed by their efforts to create buzz to get the show produced on Broadway (where it played at the Lyceum Theatre in 2008 for 13 previews and 102 regular performances). Determined to write an original musical  rather than adapt an existing play or movie, Jeff Bowen (music and lyrics) and Hunter Bell (book) soon realized that their conversations about what to write were more interesting that what they were actually writing. As a result, the musical documents the creation of the show itself ("a musical about two guys writing a musical about two guys writing a musical"). Bell and Bowen expanded the script and included their experiences with friends Susan Blackwell and Heidi Blickenstaff, as well as Larry Pressgrove, their musical director. As a result, what you are watching is the actual dialogue spoken by the actors, which leads to one actor making the observation, "We have to get out of this scene because it feels a little long." After the script being submitted to the New York Musical Theatre Festival is in the envelope ready to be mailed, another actor observes, "If the finished script is in the envelope, should we still be talking." It's all very clever and entertaining.

This production of [title of show] at The Secret Theatre features a perfect cast of extremely talented actors with superior vocal abilities. Each and every one was a pleasure to watch perform. Jason Moody was amazingly quirky and authentic as Jeff, and Jeffrey Scott Stevens excelled as Hunter, the neurotic, ambitious playwright doggedly committed to seeing his play produced off and on Broadway. The audience witnesses his challenges as he considers bringing in an actress with more name recognition, changing the script to make it more family-friendly, and dealing with conflicts in the schedules of his original cast members. Chelsea Barker, who plays Heidi, is an absolute delight, and Jennifer Swiderski, as Susan, couldn't be better. They both mastered the unique personalities reflected in their respective characters, and together with the remainder of the cast, created magic on the stage that continuously impressed those lucky enough to be in the audience. Christopher Lengerich has a few lines as Larry, the Musical Director, but still makes an important contribution to the success of this production. Early on, Larry didn't speak but Jeff assured him, "We worked it out with the union - you can talk."

The dialogue is fresh and realistic. The relationships depicted and their conversations and conflicts are what you might observe if you were given the opportunity to see how friends interacted when they were not performing for public consumption. Discussions included whether audiences would like to see Paris Hilton play Mame and whether Wonder Woman should run for President. Two of the friends text each other possible Drag Queen names (e.g. Mini Van Rental, Lady Foot Locker). Hunter is interested in a guy wearing a red shirt who Jeff says is straight. Hunter's response, "so is spaghetti until it gets hot and wet." There are the usual challenges about working a steady job to pay the rent, and the disappointment when the success of the show doesn't change their lives in the way some had hoped it would. We see their struggles to promote the show using a video blog and performing a few numbers at the Pride Festival and the Actors Fund Black Tie Gala. At one point, in desperation, Hunter says, "Take your shirts off so we can sell some fucking tickets!" The show features no stars, four chairs, and no costume changes, yet it still was, and is, a smashing success. Larry, the Musical Director, accompanies the actors as they sing some extraordinary, memorable musical numbers, including "Untitled Opening Number," "Two Nobodies In New York," "An Original Musical," "Monkeys and Paybills," "Part Of It All," "I'm Playing Me," "What Kind Of Girl Is She," "Die, Vampire, Die!," "Secondary Characters," "A Way Back To Then," and "Nine People's Favorite Thing." There are also occasional homages paid to other musicals such as Rent and Into The Woods.

The only minor negatives are that some of the references, such as to the actress Mary Stout being injured by a runaway hot dog cart careening down West 46th Street, are quite dated and will be missed by most audience members. An explanation of the references provided in the program would have been helpful. In addition, the continuity of scenes in the second half of the musical reflected by the "fast-forward" Montages Parts 1-3 were out of sync with the slower real life timing of the rest of the show. However, these minor criticisms have more to do with the play itself than this production, which is the very best it could have been. We learn about vampires (such as The Vampire of Despair) that can come between you and your creative self. We also learn there may be a glow in the dark poster of Aspects Of Love existent somewhere in the world. On the other hand, we never learn whether Jeff ever got a Photo Shoot in a "Homo Magazine." They say "a Drag Queen (who needs her protein just like everyone else) is fabulous at night - but in the daytime - not so much." I can assure you this production of [title of show] is fabulous no matter what time of day you see it.

I give this show my highest recommendation and urge you to catch it during its current run at The Secret Theatre, where it plays through April 14, 2018. Tickets are $18.00 if purchased in advance and $20.00 at the door. For reservations and more information, you can call 718-392-0722 or visit www.secrettheatre.com 

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Applause! Applause! Review of Neil Simon's Plaza Suite at The Gallery Players by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Neil Simon's Plaza Suite at The Gallery Players was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 8 (2018) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Plaza Suite
Written by Neil Simon
Directed by Alexander Harrington
Scenic Design by Robert Sebes
Costume Design by Jerry Mittelhauser
Lighting Design by Heather Crocker
The Gallery Players
199 14th Street
Park Slope, New York 11215
Reviewed 3/17/18

Plaza Suite opened on Broadway at the Plymouth Theatre on February 14, 1968, and closed on October 3, 1970, after 1,097 performances and two previews. Mike Nichols won the Tony Award for Best Direction of a Play. The three stories told all involve different characters, performed by some of the same actors, who are staying in Suite 719 of New York City's Plaza Hotel. In Visitor From Mamaroneck, we are introduced to Sam Nash (Robert McEvily) and Karen Nash (Alyssa Simon), a not-so-happily married couple. Karen suspects Sam is having an affair with Jean McCormack (Taylor Graves), his Secretary. Karen has rented the suite as a last-ditch effort to save their marriage. Jim deProphetis was hilarious as the bellhop. In Visitor From Hollywood, Jesse Kiplinger (Robert McEvily), a successful Hollywood producer who lives in Humphrey Bogart's old home in Beverly Hills, has invited the now-married Muriel Tate (Taylor Graves), his old High School girlfriend from Tenafly, New Jersey, to visit him in his hotel room. He has seduction on his mind while Muriel is doing her best to say and do what would be proper in those compromising circumstances. Mitch Tebo played the waiter in both stories. In Visitor From Forest Hills, the most hilarious of the three, Roy Hubley (Mitch Tebo) and his wife Norma Hubley (Alyssa Simon) find that their daughter, Mimsey (Taylor Graves) has locked herself in the bathroom minutes before she is set to marry Borden Eisler (Jim deProphetis). It appears nothing will get her out of the locked bathroom until her boyfriend Borden is called to the suite and mentions the magic words that resolve the crisis. No, not "I love you." 

Visitor From Mamaroneck reminds us how people, over time, can get on each other's nerves. Cute little idiosyncrasies and adorable habits can become intolerable points of torture whether we are talking about close friends or married couples. In Karen's case, she is cheap ("I don't usually give a dollar tip.); talks to strangers, like the waiter, about personal details regarding her family; annoys her husband by singing loudly in the background when he is on a business call; orders champagne and hors d'oeuvres when she knows her husband is on a 900-calorie-a-day diet; urges him to abandon his work to take her to a porn movie; deliberately doesn't pack his pajamas knowing he can't sleep without them; and constantly gets dates and facts wrong such as the date on which they were married, her age, and even the correct suite they stayed in on their honeymoon. Their marriage hasn't been a happy one for many years and Sam has become increasingly distant even to the point of being nasty. He even blows up at Karen's relatively calm reaction to his responses to her accusations. The funniest line in this otherwise serious story is when Karen surmises his affair may have started after he turned 50 years old, and suggests that if his secretary wasn't readily available, he might have even had an affair with the elevator operator in his office building. Sam's response, "It couldn't have been the elevator operator. He's 52 and I don't go for older men."

Visitor From Hollywood reminds us that in the old days, a single or married woman, should not go to the hotel suite of another man, especially an old boyfriend unless she has sex on her mind. In this story, Jesse Kiplinger (Robert McEvily) has invited Muriel Tate (Taylor Graves), his old High School girlfriend, to meet him while he is in New York. Muriel has closely followed Jesse's career and fantasizes what her life would have been like had she not married Larry. Before the #MeToo movement, it was a man's job to try to seduce and sleep with as many women as he could, and it was a woman's job to avoid comprising situations and circumstances. In addition, many times "No" did not really mean "No" since women were expected not to give in too easily. In this case, Muriel says all the right things, such as "I can only stay a few minutes" and " I really have to go. I am parked in a one-hour zone." Yet she finally accepts two Vodka Stingers and rejects going down to the bar to drink them. Despite her objection, Jesse kisses Muriel on the neck and then says, "If you don't object too strenuously, I'm going to kiss you again." Her response starts to change and eventually she says "I have plenty of time." and "Don't bite my neck. It will leave marks." Jesse eventually figures out Muriel gets sexually turned on when he mentions the names of celebrities he has met. He then uses that bat to hit a home run. So much for feigned resistance.

Visitor From Forest Hills was my favorite of the three. The reactions of the two parents, Roy Hubley (Mitch Tebo) and Norma Hubley (Alyssa Simon) as they try to get their daughter Mimsey (Taylor Graves) out of the locked bathroom are priceless. It involves pigeons, a gargoyle, a torn stocking, a ripped jacket, a broken diamond ring, a suspected broken arm, thunder, rain, and a possible lawsuit. With all the havoc Mimsy has created, you reach a point when you wish she'd just "cool it.' 

This production of Neil Simon's Plaza Suite is a must-see. The material holds up well and the acting is amazing. The entire ensemble cast is top-notch. You will have no complaints. I hesitate to point anyone out because I don't want to diminish the stellar, professional performances of the rest of the cast, but I do feel that Mitch Tebo as Roy Hubley in Visitor From Forest Hills was so exceptional that he deserves special mention. In my opinion, he could use a video of his performance in this show as a tape he can submit for his next Broadway audition. The show is extremely entertaining. I highly recommend you see this old gem while you can. Plaza Suite runs at The Gallery Players through Sunday, March 25, 2018. Tickets are $25.00 for Adults and $20.00 for Children 12 and under and Senior Citizens. For reservations, call 212-352-3101 or visit www.galleryplayers.com 

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Applause! Applause! Review of Theatre By The Bay's production of Beau Jest at the Bay Terrace Garden Jewish Center by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Theatre By The Bay's production of Beau Jest at the Bay Terrace Garden Jewish Center was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 8 (2018) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Beau Jest
Book by James Sherman
Directed by Patrice Valenti
Set Design by John Baratta & Lila Edelkind
Artistic Director: Cathy Chimenti
Producers: Eli Koenig, Barbara Koenig & Martha Stein
Theatre By The Bay
Bay Terrace Garden Jewish Center
13-00 209th Street
Bayside, New York 11360
Reviewed 3/10/18

The underlying French phrase "beau geste" is defined by Dictionary.com as "a fine or noble gesture, often futile or only for effect." In Beau Jest, a comedy written by James Sherman, Sarah Goldman (Nili Resnick) hires Bob Schroeder (Stephen Kalogeras), a male escort from the Heaven Sent Escort Agency, to play Dr. David Steinberg, a Jewish boyfriend she made up to please her parents, Abe Goldman (Robert Budnick) and Miriam Goldman (Amy Goldman), who have been on her back to date "a nice Jewish boy." Sarah hires Bob to attend her father's birthday party in her apartment only to discover upon his arrival that Bob is not even Jewish. Bob qualified to be an escort because he spoke "good English" and owned a suit. This "jack of all trades" was also a bartender, a massage therapist, and luckily for Sarah, a part-time actor who is convinced he can play a believable Jewish doctor (i.e. a surgeon at Northwestern Memorial Hospital) and complete the assignment. Cast aside in all this is Chris Cringle (Kyle T. Cheng), an advertising account executive at Leo Burnett, who Sarah has been secretly dating for six months. Sarah told her parents she broke up with Chris after they objected to his being Christian, and in this production, also Asian. Chris, of course, is not pleased Sarah feels uncomfortable introducing him as her current boyfriend but is also especially concerned after she doesn't tell him she loves him in the presence of Bob. Also in the mix is Joel Goldman (Robert Gold), Sarah's divorced brother, who is a therapist. 

Beau Jest first premiered on November 16, 1989 at the Victory Gardens Theater in Chicago. The play is set in Chicago with references to the now defunct Marshall Field's department store, Kaufman's Bagel & Delicatessen (in Skokie), Second City (where Bob took acting lessons), and to the Candlelight Dinner Playhouse. The action takes place in Sarah's one-bedroom apartment in the Lincoln Park area of Chicago, where parking is a nightmare. Sarah is a kindergarten teacher who has no idea what her end-game is. She re-hires Bob to attend the second night of Passover Seder, but he is becoming increasingly uncomfortable about deceiving Sarah's parents. Complicating matters further, Bob and Sarah are beginning to develop feelings for one another, setting up a classic love triangle, which pays off in the expected, confrontation near the end of the second act as the boyfriends try to out-do one another by expressing their willingness to convert and take other steps that will prove the intensity and sincerity of their love.  The only thing not produced was a ruler, which was unnecessary since Sarah already slept with both men multiple times. In the end, the final decision has to be made by Sarah, who realizes she must live her life as she sees fit and not to please, or avoid displeasing, her parents. The play reflects universal themes regarding relationships between parents and their children. 

Clues that Dr. David Steinberg (Bob) is not a surgeon and not Jewish are everywhere but no one seems to pick up on them. When Sarah's mother observes he doesn't look Jewish and asks if he is Sephardic, Bob responds, "No. Jewish." When asked by Sarah's father where "salmonella" comes from, Bob responds "it is caused by a very special bacteria that gets into the salmon." Sarah is very well aware of the fact that she hired Bob and knows what he does for a living. She asks Bob to help her set the dinner table and then after the family leaves, she invites Bob to give her a neck massage by telling him how "tense" she is and how when she tried out for the swimming team, "they used me as a diving board." The point of the play is to suggest that "the only person preventing you from living your own life is you!" Joel Goldman says that many of his clients "blame all their problems on their parents" and his advice to them is "Get Over It." In the end, Sarah tries to improve her relationship with her parents, and her mother eventually tells her, "Whatever you want to do, you do!" even if that means microwaving dishes instead of putting them in the oven.

The four main leads in this production of Beau Jest are all amazingly talented actors. I particularly enjoyed the performance of Stephen Kalogeras, who played Bob Schroeder/Dr. David Steinberg. Nili Resnick was very believable as the immature Sarah, making up stories as she goes along without regard for the consequences of her lies or who she hurts. Robert Budnick and Amy Goldman exhibited great rapport as Mr. & Mrs. Goldman often arguing like an old married couple. Robert Gold wasn't bad portraying Joel Goldman, Sarah's brother, but it wasn't clear from his facial expressions when he started to doubt whether Bob was really a doctor or even Jewish. The only sub-par performance in this production was that of Kyle T. Cheng, who played Chris Cringle. While I understand his character was supposed to be a more reserved, less exciting, account executive, I felt his acting did not convincingly portray his feelings for Sarah. Sometimes non-traditional casting works and can provide a whole new perspective on a role. In this case, it didn't work and detracted from my enjoyment of an otherwise delightful and engaging show. 

I strongly recommend you make every effort to catch Beau Jest during its final weekend at Theatre By The Bay. Performances are on Saturday, March 17th at 8:30 p.m., and Sunday, March 18th at 3:00 p.m. Tickets are available for $22.00 for adults, and $20.00 for seniors ages 62 and over, and children ages 12 and under. For more information, or to purchase your seats, call 718-428-6363, or visit www.theatrebythebayny.com 

Monday, February 19, 2018

Applause! Applause! Review of Theatre Out Of Bounds' production of The Flick at Studio Theatre Long Island by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Theatre Out Of Bounds' production of The Flick at Studio Theatre Long Island was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 8 (2018) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

The Flick 
Written by Annie Baker
Directed by Scott Johnston
Stage Manager: Natalie Dzienius
Technical Director: Kevin Bertschi
Studio Theatre Long Island
141 South Wellwood Avenue
Lindenhurst, New York 11757
Reviewed 2/10/18

The Flick debuted Off-Broadway at Playwrights Horizons on March 12. 2013 closing on April 7, 2013. After it won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, it was remounted at the Barrow Street Theatre and played there from May 18, 2015, to its closing on January 10, 2016. The Pulitzer Prize committee stated the play is a "thoughtful drama with well-crafted characters." It is set in a run-down movie palace called The Flick and features three movie ushers, Avery, Sam, and Rose (who also runs the film projector), who do the tedious work necessary to keep the theatre running. Sam and Rose are long-time employees while Avery is just passing through. Annie Baker was also awarded the 2013 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize and the 2013 Obie Award for Playwriting for this unusual offering that gives the audience a glimpse into the lives, morality, and loyalties of individuals who they might not ordinarily encounter. In this Theatre Out Of Bounds production of The Flick, the audience is seated on the stage facing the empty seats where all the action of the play takes place. Theatre Out Of Bounds is dedicated to the craft and creation of quality theatrical productions with a focus on edgy, thought-provoking, and relevant conversations.

Sam, who is 35 years old, has worked at The Flick for many years and lives with his parents. He is secretly in love with Rose, who runs the projector and resents the fact she was promoted over him even though he worked there longer. Because Rose has never shown an interest in him, Sam tells Avery, the new employee he is training, that Rose is a lesbian (Not unlike a woman calling a man gay if he rejects her sexual advances). Avery is taking a semester off from Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts where he is getting "a free ride" due to his father being a professor there. Rose, on the other hand, has $20,000.00 in student loans. Avery is a shy, lying, depressed young man who would rather watch movies than engage in social interactions. His mother moved to Atlanta a year and a half ago after having reconnected with an old lover from High School on Facebook. He subsequently tried to commit suicide by swallowing a lot of pins and speaks to his therapist regularly. He has serious trust issues and comes across as a bit naive. When Avery confronts Rose about her being a lesbian, she denies it but confesses she's "been with girls a couple of times" but isn't gay. Rose shows an interest in Avery, which makes Sam jealous, and even teaches him how to use the projector, which is something Sam has wanted for a long time. The three workers make $8.25 an hour. Sam and Rose are taking 10% of the ticket stubs and re-selling them distributing the extra proceeds as "Dinner Money." Avery initially refuses to go along with the embezzlement but eventually agrees.

Theatre Out of Bounds promises the work they produce will be thought-provoking and will involve relevant conversations. That is certainly the case with The Flick. Some of the action in this play takes on new meaning given the current #MeToo movement. Rose, an older woman, tries to seduce Avery by engaging in sexually aggressive and inappropriate behavior. Avery rejects her advances and she responds to his rejection saying, "I feel like a fucking idiot now," which prompts him to apologize to her. Not finished with her predatory behavior, she slides up to him while they are watching a movie together and begins giving him "a hand job." Avery is disturbed and totally traumatized by this experience. She recognizes his reaction, stops, and apologizes saying, "I just went for it and you didn't give me the vibe." Given Avery's negative reaction, Rose actually gets angry at her victim saying, "I feel like I molested you or something." Good observation! I joked to those around me in the audience that Rose would not be coming back because she had been arrested for sexual assault and will be spending the next five years in prison. Avery blames himself and apologizes to Rose saying, "I felt I'd just be rather watching a movie." Rose then reveals how "fucked up" she is and how after four months in any relationship, she turns into a dead fish and then fakes it until they break up. Not exactly relevant to her molesting Avery without his consent but I guess she was trying to identify with him by confessing that she has problems too. Avery proceeds to lie to Sam regarding what took place but their friendship is severely damaged as a result of Avery being promoted to Assistant Projectionist and because he shared with Rose the fact that Sam had a retarded brother who was marrying someone similarly situated. Resentful of the lavish ceremony his parents provided for his brother and disappointed with the progress of his own life, Sam says, "The only really happy people here are retards. All the rest are just miserable fucks." 

The Flick movie theatre is sold and becomes The Venue. It goes fully digital and the old staff is kept on but the new owner discovers the embezzlement and, because of a letter in the strongbox, believes Avery is responsible. He asks Rose and Sam to explain the situation and how it was "a tradition" that the workers were doing this but they refused, hanging him out to dry.  Avery is depressed and reflects on the fact that "the truth is you can't trust anybody" and "you shouldn't expect anything or for things to turn out well in the end." He reflects on the fact that the world has disappointed him and that everyone is acting as if they were in a sitcom." Woken up a bit more as a result of these experiences, Avery intends to return to school. Sam and Rose, on the other hand, eventually hook up, and life goes on.

The Flick features an extraordinarily talented cast. Joe Rubino shines as Sam, who may have a hidden desire to be a chef, but finds himself stuck in this low-paying job. He does a fine job portraying a man trapped by his circumstances but trying to find a little happiness where and when he can. Rosbel Franklin succeeds in making Avery a sympathetic character even though he can lie, be untrustworthy, and be non-reciprocal with friends just like everyone else. He describes himself as shitphobic because "other people's shit makes me feel like I want to puke." Callan McDermott brings Rose to life in all her erratic, frazzled, confused daily existence. She made Rose into a convincing sexual predator who may have reasons for her behavior even though those reasons don't excuse her conduct. Finally, John Dzienius makes a stellar appearance as Skylar, the new employee who replaces Avery. He has a strong stage presence and I very much enjoyed his performance. His character's desire to "kiss" the projector appeared to open a new chapter in the continuing soap opera of not only the lives of the workers at The Venue but also of our own lives, with new scenes being written every day! 

Theatre Out Of Bounds will be producing Bug by Tracy Letts (May 18-20) and Hedwig And The Angry Inch by Stephen Trask & John Cameron Mitchell (July 13-21) at Studio Theatre Long Island. For artist inquiries, submission, and other information, you can e-mail TheatreOutOfBounds@gmail.com