Sunday, January 25, 2015

Applause! Applause! Review of The Slipper Room Show & The Slipper Room Midnight Show at The Slipper Room by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of The Slipper Room Show & The Slipper Room Midnight Show at The Slipper Room was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 5 (2015) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

The Slipper Room Show
The Slipper Room Midnight Show
The Slipper Room 
(167 Orchard Street, NYC)
Reviewed 1/23/15 at 10:00 p.m.

The Slipper Room is the brainchild of performer and producer James Habacker. It originally opened in 1999 and was the first venue built specifically to showcase the work of the burgeoning new collective of artists involved in the genre that has become known as "neo-burlesque", an art form that began in the early 1990s in New York City and is committed to the revival and updating of the traditional American burlesque performance. Given the proliferation of nudity and its easy accessibility on the internet, the goal of the modern burlesque performer is not to titillate an exclusively male audience but to offer a mixed gender audience with a wider variety of costumes and performance styles. The Slipper Room was completely renovated in 2012. It attracts both tourists and a hip crowd of 20-30 year olds out to have a good time and an interesting new experience and, in that regard, The Slipper Room delivers! Master of Ceremonies Bastard Keith observed during the midnight show that "a solid 8% of the audience is too old for these shenanigans." Being a part of that 8%, I can say that I enjoyed all four sets just as much, if not more, than the rest of the audience. The only negative was that the music in the room prior to the show and between sets was too loud for people to engage in casual conversations with one another. The customers and the staff of The Slipper Room are all very friendly so if you are looking for something to do for someone's birthday or for a special occasion, I highly recommend you bring them to The Slipper Room for one of its New York Burlesque & Variety Shows. 

The 10:00 p.m. and 11:00 p.m. sets were hosted by Peter Aguero and featured Ekaterina, Topher Bousquet, Cassandra Rosebeetle and Tansy. The 12 midnight and 1:00 a.m. sets were hosted by Bastard Keith and featured Francis Stallings, Albert Cadabra, Deity Delgado, Gigi Bon Bon, Legs Malone and special guest, Uncle Earl. During the performances, the Master of Ceremonies interacted with the audience and between sets, there was go-go dancing and an opportunity for audience members to donate extra money to the performers either by dropping cash into a black hat or by going on stage and placing a picture of a President where the sun doesn't often shine. The cover for the earlier shows is only $15.00 if purchased on line ($20.00 at the door) and you are invited to stay for the later sets. If you come only for the late sets, the cover is $10.00 at the door. The Slipper Room doesn't serve food but the bar is open and the wait staff is professional and friendly. If you are hungry either before or after you visit The Slipper Room, Katz's Delicatessen is just a block away and is open all night on the weekends.  

Ekaterina (www.MissEkaterina.com), a very attractive and talented aerialist, was born and raised in Russia. She began performing at the age of five as a rhythmic gymnast and became a member of the Russian National team. In 2001, she joined the acrobatic dance troupe Anti-Gravity and moved to New York City. Ekaterina now has a professional career in circus, dance and burlesque, specializing in physical comedy, contortion and aerial arts. Besides performing with circus and entertainment companies such as Cirque Du Soleil, Cirque Musica, and the Bindlestiff Family Cirkus, she recently joined the cast of Sleep No More - the most recent incarnation of immersive, site-specific, interactive play, created by British theatre company Punchdrunk. Her unique burlesque performance centered around her performing as a cat might, inviting a male audience member to scratch her stomach and behind her ear. She also licked her own foot and coughed up a hairball!  Cassandra Rosebeetle (www.CassandraRosebeetle.com), a dark, sultry, woman of mystery, was a competitive ice skater for 15 years and has been performing as a principal member of the Desert Sin Dance Company since 2001. She has an extensive background performing as a belly dancer and glass-walker. Her unique burlesque performance featured Isis Wings, a black umbrella, and accompanying music with French lyrics.

Tansy (www.TansyBurlesque.com), New York's Burlesque Starlet, has been often described as "The Elizabeth Taylor of Burlesque". She is absolutely gorgeous! Tansy exudes charisma and radiates a joyful effervescence and joie de vivre. In 2012, she was crowned "Miss Newcomer World" at The World Burlesque Games in London, England. She was also chosen to perform in the "Best Debut" category at The Burlesque Hall Of Fame Weekend in Las Vegas and has had the honor of competing for the "Queen of Burlesque" title in New Orleans. Tansy is a very classy burlesque performer with a great stage presence. Christopher David Bousquet ("Topher Bousquet") (www.flextopher.weebly.com), is a double-jointed contortionist who is able to twist his own body into a pretzel with the greatest of ease. Topher completed the Professional Track program at the New England Center for Circus Arts and later was accepted into L'Ecole de Cirque Quebec City. He now trains, teaches and performs in the circus and burlesque scenes all over New York City. What this young man can do with a lit hula hoop will amaze you!

Francis Stallings (www.FrancisStallings.com), a Brooklyn-based aerialist and actor earned degrees in Sculpture and Art Education from the University of Georgia but her exposure to the performing arts and circus eventually led her to move to New York City where she designs her own costumes to show off her aerial skills and her own unique take on burlesque, whether that be appearing as a Zombie Nurse or as she did in the midnight show as a Police Officer with a gun. Gigi Bon Bon (www.GigiBonBon.com), is a professional dancer who began her burlesque career as one of Lady Rizo's original "Assettes" and a member of Jenny Rocha & her Painted Ladies. She was a Founding Member of the Good To Go Girls. She made her solo debut at the 2014 New York Burlesque Festival, where she was nominated for a Golden Pastie Award. MC Bastard Keith introduced her as The Red Head That Knocks You Dead! While that certainly is not literally true, Gigi Bon Bon is a high energy and flirtatious bombshell who knows how to seduce the crowd with her dynamic dance moves and killer smile.

Legs Malone (www.LegsMalone.com) is the Girl With The Thirty-Four and a Half Inch Inseam! She has beautiful legs that run for "miles and miles". Her burlesque performance this evening consisted of a skit involving a lamp and her desire to get three wishes fulfilled by the lamp's genie. Money and diamond earnings were granted without a problem but when she wanted a pearl necklace, let's just say the genie wanted her to manipulate the lamp as he instructed before he would fulfill the wish. The skit was absolutely hilarious! It was very innovative showing what is possible in this new genre of Neo-Burlesque. Deity Delgado (www.DietyDelgado.com), breaks all the rules of traditional burlesque and takes you to a place you had no idea existed. Deity, the aptly named icon of New York City Burlesque, made her first on-stage appearance at the Blue Angel Cabaret on Walker Street in 1994. A native New Yorker, she performed for several years in the world-renowned nightlife capital of Ibiza, Spain. Upon returning to New York in 2000, she has performed in BadAss Burlesque, Nurse Bettie-spanking the LES, Kitty Nights, Coco de Mer salon, Hypergender Burlesque, Shaken & Stirred, and Penny Arcade's Bitch!Dyke!Faghag!Whore!. Deity Delgado is also a make-up artist and an expert seamstress, which explains her performing burlesque in a dress made up entirely of cardboard. She performed to the song People Are Strange, which was a perfect match for Deity Delgado. You will not soon forget her. She is a classic!

Albert Cadabra (www.AlbertCadabra.com), is known as The Great Deceiver. He is internationally recognized for his unique performances, including eating a dinner of razor blades, hammering 6 inch spikes into his face and electrocuting himself with 2,000 volts of electricity. In tonight's performances, he escaped from a straight jacket while hanging upside down and swallowed a six-foot long balloon filled with air. He attended Bard College, receiving a B.A. in Liberal Arts with a Major in Film & Television. In 1999, he won the Funniest Person In Manhattan Award at the Stand-Up New York Comedy Club. In 2001, he went on to produce, write and star in a 3-year Off-Broadway magic show called Magical Madness and in 2005, he created a new show called The Cadabra Spectacular, which opened at Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut. In 2008, he signed a deal with Ripley's Believe It Or Not in Times Square to create, perform and host Ripley's Sideshow Wonders, a daily, live, family-friendly sideshow with performances of the strange and bizarre. Uncle Earl, a Neil Diamond impersonator, appeared on stage at the end of the evening with two disco balls hanging from his crotch. He led the audience and the midnight performers in a grand finale that ended with everyone singing along to the song Sweet Caroline. It was the perfect end to a perfect evening! 

Peter Aguero was an unfortunate choice to host the first two sets of performers. He used the words "mother-fucker" and "fuck" more times than I could count to mask his lack of talent as a Master of Ceremonies. His interactions with the audience members also fell short. The best he could come up with was how he hated Texans. On the other hand, Bastard Keith (www.BastardKeith.com) was a witty, talented, charismatic and entertaining Master of Ceremonies who sang a few songs and kept the pace of the show moving. He gave pet names to audience members and brought some of them up on stage for various contests. He claims to be a singer, writer and gadabout. Bastard Keith is an extremely intelligent fellow and is very entertaining. He is the perfect host for any event you may be running. 

I just checked and The Slipper Room (www.SlipperRoom.com) is featuring a whole new cast of professional performers who are appearing on the line-up for tomorrow night's show. If you have not experienced this new genre of variety performers, do not wait any longer. Get yourself down to The Slipper Room and see some uniquely talented people you probably weren't even aware existed.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Applause! Applause! Review of Witti Repartee's Broads, Bawds & Bachelorettes at the Metropolitan Room by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Witti Repartee's Broads, Bawds & Bachelorettes at the Metropolitan Room was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 5 (2015) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Witti Repartee's Broads, Bawds & Bachelorettes
An Evening Of Song, Story & Striptease!

Metropolitan Room (34 West 22nd Street, NYC)
Reviewed 1/10/15 at 10:00 p.m.

Co-hosted by Witti Repartee and Cherry Pitz, Broads, Bawds & Bachelorettes was a two-hour Vaudeville-style Variety Show featuring over a dozen elaborately costumed performers doing impersonations, burlesque, singing, storytelling and live acts leaving you eager to hear and see more. This lavish, spectacular show was great fun! It promised to "thrill, tickle, titillate & tease" and it delivered. Witti Repartee's Broads, Bawds & Bachelorettes was presented by command of Their Most Imperial and Sovereign Majesties Emperor XXVIII Tony Monteleone and Empress XXVIII Twinkle Montgomery of The Imperial Court of New York. It was truly an extravaganza of colorful characters who went all out to entertain the sold-out house of enthusiastic audience members. Witti warned Cherry the audience might not be so accepting of her being co-host since she was a biological woman but Cherry was not deterred. She explained her pop was both a father and a mother to her. He was a Drag Queen. She also mentioned that from when she was very little, she got used to being booed on stage when it was discovered she was a "real girl". Cherry, whose character is a bit ditsy, insisted she and Witti had more in common than not because they were both redheads. 

The opening number had Witti and some of the girls singing "A Lil' Ole Bitty Pissant Country Place" (from Best Little Whorehouse In Texas) where we learn about Miss Mona's "no-no rules" and how the Congress folks from Austin and the Young Boys looking for sin come for "one small thrill" while we are assured there's "nothing dirty going on." Iris Explosion stripped, MargOH! Channing sang, and Robusta Capp did a spot-on impersonation of Cher. Other performers included Anita "Mother" Moorehead doing a duet with Elian Encounter, Natasha Carrington, Robin Kradles, and Ermine Muff. Cherry Pitz performed a monologue with Vincent Price off an old LP record, which also gave her the excuse to take off almost all her clothing. 

Worthy of special note was the appearance of Roger Anthony Mapes, whose Rev. Yolanda's Old Time Gospel Hour won a 2014 MAC Award in the category of Impersonation, Characterization and/or Drag Artist. Rev. Yolanda is also set to be inducted into the New York Blues Hall of Fame at B.B. Kings Blues Club & Grill on February 11, 2015. She is definitely not just another pretty face but her talent and outrageous form-rubber costumes (which we saw a blown-up photo of) make her hard to forget. Finally, the star of the show, in my opinion, was Neil Arthur James, who appeared as Dandy Darkly, a Satiric Storyteller who appears to have come to us straight from a 23rd century gig in a Star Wars cantina. His expressive, colorful style captivates the audience's attention. Dandy Darkly, known for his Gory Hole and Pussy Panic shows, was given 13 minutes to tell a story about two women living in the Shady Acres Nursing Home and how they came to be close friends. This moving tale draws in the audience and makes us feel as if we know them. I also thought it was a hoot when one of his characters, Fanny, confessed she was a witch but confirmed she was as "gay as an ice cream social"! I suggest you go out of your way to catch Dandy Darkly's next show!

Witti Repartee hosts a show of  this kind twice a year as a Special Event for the Imperial Court of New York. Witti, who was Empress XXVI a few years ago, noted that the audience was packed with friends of hers from many aspects of her life including her Drag Family, Leather Family, Kinky Family, Chorus Family, Family Family (including her husband), Weight Watchers Family and her Work Family. There was also a 50-50 raffle and a progressive auction, which raised $748.00 for Iris House, which provides comprehensive services and advocacy for women, families, and communities infected with and affected by HIV/AIDS, while simultaneously providing prevention and education services for its clients and at-risk communities. Boy Laney, Mr. Eagle NYC 2015, made an appearance and sang a song from Disney's movie Mulan acapella in order to raise awareness about Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PeEP), which is a way for people who don't have HIV to prevent HIV infection by taking a pill every day (Brand Name: Truvada). When taken consistently, PrEP has been shown to reduce the risk of HIV infection in people who are at high risk by up to 92%. Boy Laney encouraged audience members to ask their doctors about this new HIV prevention drug.

The Metropolitan Room does not feature a large cabaret room. The seats and chairs are packed close together and I was unable to move or get up out of my seat for the entire two hours I was watching the show. The staff was extremely friendly as was my waiter Billy. But on a Saturday night, with one sold-out show letting out at the same time patrons from a second sold-out show are waiting to be seated, and everyone is standing in a narrow passageway while the staff handles the bills from the earlier show and cleans the room, you can expect to stand for 45 minutes to an hour before finally getting to your seat. Perhaps when the downstairs bar isn't being used as a Green Room, there may be an alternative waiting area for in-coming guests. Despite these minor issues, the Metropolitan Room features some of the best talent performing in cabaret today. I strongly recommend you check their schedule of upcoming performers and get down to see a show there soon.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Dr. Tom Stevens Re-Elected Chair Of The Libertarian Party Of Queens County

The Annual Convention of the Libertarian Party of Queens County was held on Saturday, January 10, 2015 at the Queens Pride House located at 76-11 37th Avenue, Suite #206, Jackson Heights, New York 11372. Dr. Tom Stevens, who was first elected LPQC Chair at the Annual Convention held last year on January 11, 2014, was unanimously re-elected Chair. The membership also elected Thomas Adair Rossman to serve as Vice-Chair, Alden Link to serve as Secretary, Natale Corsi to serve as Treasurer, and John Clifton to serve as State Representative. Dr. Stevens was also re-elected to serve as Membership Director.

The Queens Libertarian Party ran and co-sponsored many events throughout the year but the year's Guest Speakers, all who spoke at its General Membership Meetings held on the second Saturday of each month from 10 a.m. to 12 noon, included:

Jay Burkos - Essential Keys To Successful Re-Entry Programs
Becky Akers - A New Look At Benedict Arnold: Traitor or Libertarian Hero?
Fred Cookinham - Evacuation Day
John Darash - Common Law Grand Juries
Dr. Pascal Wallisch - The Psychology of Perception: Flying Saucers & The Virgin Mary
Thomas Adair Rossman - Global Innovation Revolution
James V. Allerdyce - Domestic Drones: Promises & Threats
David Kraljic - How Will Data Change Democracy?
Natale Corsi - Legalizing Mixed Martial Arts In New York State
John Rafferty - Is America A Christian Nation?
Dr. Jerome Huyler - A Country In Crisis: So What's To Be Done?
Rev. Addison Quale - The Biblical Case For Libertarianism

Dr. Stevens also pulled off a very successful 20th Anniversary Celebration of the Libertarian Party of Queens County on September 19, 2014 from 7-10 p.m. at Connolly's Corner located at 71-17 Grand Avenue, Maspeth, New York 11378. The following individuals spoke at the affair: Mark Axinn, New York Libertarian Party Chair; Dr. Tom Stevens, LPQC Chair; John Clifton, Libertarian Party Candidate for New York State Comptroller; and John K. Wilson, Libertarian Party Candidate for New York State Assembly District 37. All attendees received a parting gift and the Libertarian Party of Queens County made a net profit of $418.46.

Another major event held this year was LPQC's Holiday Toy Drive spearheaded by Michelle Yaskel. Queens LP members donated 108 toys to QSAC (Quality Services For The Autism Community) located at 12-10 150th Street, Whitestone, New York 11357. The toys were hand-delivered to the children and a photo of the donation was taken so a News Release could be sent to the local press.

Dr. Tom Stevens formally joined the national Libertarian Party (LPUS) on August 1, 2003. He served two terms on the LPUS Judiciary Committee, having been elected in 2006 and re-elected in 2008. He remains a member of the national Libertarian Party to this day. Although first elected LPQC State Representative on April 24, 2004 and serving in many other capacities, Dr. Stevens never served as LPQC Chair until his election to that post on January 11, 2014.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Applause! Applause! Review of Kitt Holiday & Michael Michelle in Two Black Divas & A Band at Billie's Black by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Kitt Holiday & Michael Michelle in Two Black Divas & A Band at Billie's Black was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 4 (2014) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Two Black Divas & A Band - Kitt Holiday & Michael Michelle
Billie's Black (271 West 119th Street, NYC)
Reviewed 12/6/14 at 7:30 p.m.

Two Black Divas & A Band was advertised as "A Drag Cabaret That's Not A Drag" due to the fact that the show's stars, Kitt Holiday (Edward Walrond) and Michael Michelle (Michael Lynch), have been singing in drag live for over five decades! To a standing room only crowd, they each alternated sets of three to four songs and then finished singing Stormy Monday and It Don't Mean A Thing as duets. They were backed by a live jazz trio (Germono Toussaint - Music Director/Arranger/Keys; Doug Henrichs - Percussion; Kenji Tokunaga - Bass).

Kitt Holiday announced she was returning to the stage after a 5-year hiatus, encouraged by her friend Michael Johnson, who asked her to sing at two recent events - a memorial service and a wedding. Dressed in a gorgeous gown, Kitt confessed "it takes a lot to get yourself together for one of these affairs" before segueing  into a rousing rendition of I Feel Pretty and Hey Look Me Over. Kitt Holiday, who has been a member of the Beaux Arts Society, Inc. since 1996 and serves on its Advisory Board, went on to perform From This Moment On, Just In Time, You Go To My Head/I Get A Kick Out Of You, Let Me Love You and finished off with the popular audience favorites, My Life and I Am What I Am. Kitt is elegant, talented and a crowd-pleasing performer!

Michael Michelle, who starred in the critically acclaimed underground gay-urban film Chocolate Babies and appeared in Cindy Lauper's all-drag remake of the hit song Girls Just Want To Have Fun, is also an author, having written two plays: About Face - Gay, Black and from the Bronx and No Fats, No Fems - A World of Exclusion. Upon taking the stage, Michael Michelle observed, "I see a lot of hot, handsome men in here tonight, but I'm tired, so one of you is going to have to go home!" On the way over, she claimed her cab driver kept asking if she was a man or a woman, and she kept responding "half and half" before finally revealing her measurements as "42-36-9 1/2." Michael Michelle opened with the controversial I Want A Little Boy and finished her second set with I Hope You Dance. In between, she took us on a journey to North Carolina and sang Gimme A Pigfoot & A Bottle Of Beer, The Lady Is A Tramp, Feeling Good, One Night and Them There Eyes. On the way back to New York, she said she wanted to be taken "like Grant took Virginia - fast and in a hurry!" Michael Michelle has an extraordinarily powerful voice and a very strong stage presence. She is a high-energy performer with a great sense of humor. You will not soon forget her!

Two Black Divas & A Band is a hit! I fully expect you will soon see Kitt Holiday and Michael Michelle gracing the stage of a theater near you. Don't miss the next opportunity you have to catch these Delightfully Divine Divas!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Applause! Applause! Review of Riba Theater Company's production of Forgot Cranberries at Bellmore Theater by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of the Riba Theater Company production of "Forgot Cranberries" at Bellmore Theater was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 4 (2014) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Forgot Cranberries
"Another Christmas Story"
A Riba Theater Company Original
Bellmore Theater (222 Pettit Avenue, Bellmore, NY)
Reviewed 12/14/14 

The Riba Theater Company describes itself as "a small, home-based group" that meets "2-4 times a week" and for a "monthly fee" its members (mostly teenagers) "have dinner together, camp outs, field trips, souvenir shirts, and even spa days on opening day." Its members "work on vocals, acting, agent classes, and resumes" and in its productions, of which Forgot Cranberries is the second, The Riba Theater Company promises "everyone gets to shine" and that "no matter what your talent is, it will be featured in our show." Having now seen Forgot Cranberries, which links together eighteen Christmas songs with a book that could fit on an index card, I can confirm that the six members of the cast were each given their moment in the spotlight, regardless of the talent they possessed. 

You have to keep in mind that The Riba Theater Company is charging a General Admission Fee of $18.00 (20% of which is to be donated to St. Brigid's Pantry), which is comparable to what other theater companies charge on Long Island. This critic was invited to attend and therefore this production and its cast must be held to the same standards of critique I would use for any other show. With that thought in mind, I would advertise this Holiday Special as Chaos Productions presenting A Walsh Family Christmas. Let me explain. First, no one appears to be in charge of the Riba Theater Company. I was told the young actors put the show together themselves and critique each other along the way. There is no Director listed in the program and no one appeared to be responsible for making decisions, such as when to open the house and when to get the actors out on stage. The Sound Engineer should be replaced immediately because the microphones continually failed throughout the production. A planned video presentation that was to kick off Forgot Cranberries failed minutes before the show began, which was at 7:50 p.m. instead of the announced 7:30 p.m. start time. Chaos truly reigned supreme!

As I watched Forgot Cranberries, I got the impression I was watching a show planned and presented by all the children attending a home holiday party, where every child got to participate and perform even if that child possessed little to no talent. In the mix, of course, just given the odds, are a number of very talented children. It was as if the Walsh Family hired four professional musicians (Rebecca Kapica - Piano; Kevin Kapica - Bass; Melanie Fink - Drums; and Brian Watala - Guitar) and told them to work with the children for an hour or two to put together a show they could present to all the adults later in the evening. Since Bailey Walsh played the Daughter and Riley Walsh was the Father in Forgot Cranberries, with their mother, Colleen Walsh, acting as Head Cheerleader in the audience, it just makes more sense to me that this show should have been called A Walsh Family Christmas. If you look at Forgot Cranberries from that perspective, you will understand in advance what you're in for.

That all having been said, there were a number of standout performances in this show. I was particularly impressed with Erin Carlin, who as the Mother sang Blue Christmas. Bailey Walsh hit a home run singing Believe and Riley Walsh, who sang I'll Be Home For Christmas, is a very talented actor with great potential, but someone needs to reel him in when he feels the need to fling himself too far out on that ledge. Jackie Lau, who played a Jewish Corporal, is an excellent dancer, who performed with grace and elegance. Ashley Fusco, who was Grandmother, and Will Kratina, who was Grandfather, had some very funny scenes together. I particularly enjoyed Mr. Kratina's feigned or natural uncomfortableness when his wife started stripping him out of his Santa Claus suit while singing Santa Baby

The Riba Theater Company needs to get its act together if it is to survive. As a show for friends and families of cast members, Forgot Cranberries achieved its purpose. As legitimate theater, it failed miserably.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Applause! Applause! Review of Everything Is Forever by Andrew P. Clunn

This review of the documentary Everything Is Forever was written by Andrew P. Clunn and published in Volume X, Issue 4 (2014) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Everything Is Forever
A Victor Zimet Film
Reviewed 12/2/14

Everything Is Forever is the title of Victor Zimet and Stephanie Silber's documentary about the musician Nenad Bach. It's also the title of one of Nenad's songs, which is featured in a music video on the documentary's DVD. Born in Croatia, Nenad came to the United States in the mid-eighties and gained some attention during the breakup of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s with his collaboration with other musicians in calling for peace and an end to the war. He was brought into the limelight as a Croatian national to give the "big and loud Peace Concert" of the international superstars some legitimacy and authenticity. The film follows Nenad's career after this momentary spotlight fades and he returns to being a struggling artist, selling CDs in local shops and signing a deal with a record label that failed a few months later. His story is that of an immigrant artist keenly aware of the suffering and struggle of his countrymen, and accepting the difficulties of trying to make it as an artist. He travels back to Croatia and records a collection of songs from his homeland, and brings a vocal group to the United States to perform in concerts celebrating Croatian music and heritage. There's a lot of potential and the makings of an emotional story but the film falls flat for reasons having entirely to do with execution.

Pacing is the biggest downfall of Everything Is Forever in that everything takes forever to understand. We're given no context, no summary of the source or meaning of the various clips thrown together. The film lingers on mundane events and then speeds past important moments, or avoids answering questions it built up. At one point, a member of the visiting Croatian choral group collapses and has to be taken to the hospital. The film shows his fall in slow motion, and then confusion ensues. The viewer is left thinking that this is an important moment, a tragic event that will shape Nenad's...no wait...he's O.K.. So what happened? No explanation given. The film then moves on to the next plot point. Why this detail was left in at all is bewildering. Why it's given a slow motion close up in a documentary so otherwise devoid of any narration or post-production editing is completely beyond me.

There's the potential for real conflict in this story such as the financial issues and existential doubts Nenad faces. Yet the documentary's makers instead chose to focus on the band taking too long with their sound check as the main source of tension. There's a focus on insignificant details and a glossing over of questions that beg to be asked that gives the film the feeling of a collection of footage taken haphazardly and then forced into something resembling a narrative after the fact. The few bright spots are when the camera simply allows Nenad or his son to speak, giving some much needed humanity to an otherwise distant documentary. At one point the words "Seven Years Later" appear out of nowhere, and we're reintroduced to Nenad as he changes his approach to composition so that he can continue to play his own music as he struggles with Parkinson's disease. Then we go to a concert and done...movie over. Sudden, jarring, but still clearly edited to try and force some vaguely emotional narrative. Just failing miserably.

The transitions largely to feature shots of Nenad with famous musicians, actors, or world leaders, which are obviously just him as a member of a crowd getting a friendly handshake or greeting is the video equivalent of name dropping to the extreme. There's even a one-minute conversation between Nenad and Bono as a DVD extra (as if to say, "Hey, he actually did collaborate with Bono once!") I say "he"because Nenad is bluntly honest about his own lack of fame and recognition and clearly expresses his own self-doubts regarding the challenges he faces as an artist trying to reach people through his music. It really doesn't come off as Nenad Bach self-promoting but rather the filmmakers attempting to drum up his importance for the sake of the documentary. There is one moment where Nenad states he always receives so much encouragement but that he can't know how genuine it really is. After all, if his music is so good, why is he struggling so much? It's the kind of sincere introspection and fear that makes him so endearing throughout the film.

The plus side of the transitions is that they frequently feature segments of Nenad's songs, many of which are quite good. In fact, the best thing about this documentary is the soundtrack, though that shouldn't be too surprising considering the subject matter is a musician. From "I Will Follow You" playing during the DVD menu, to the concert at the end, the music is the glue that holds the otherwise off-pace and disjointed film together. Nenad's music has the feel of the late eighties and early 1990s, with acoustic guitars mixed freely with synthesizers. And his lyrics have the ring of protest songs and an immigrant's idealistic love of the American dream. They're the kind of purely idealistic and melody rich tunes that are uplifting in the sort of way that would be unbearably sappy if it weren't so genuine. Had I perhaps listened to this documentary, closing my eyes and enjoying the sounds, I might have come away with a much more positive impression. 

The jarring seven year jump forward towards the end of the film could not be salvaged in any fashion. It's as if the documentary was in need of a conclusion, so wrapping it up with Nenad's struggle with Parkinson's disease was a cheap out. Then again, if the goal of the film was to humanize Nenad Bach and allow him to reach a wider audience, then it was a smart decision, even if crass. It simultaneously promotes Nenad while making me feel as though he's being exploited. Is it a good documentary if it makes us care about the subject, even if partially because of how blatantly the film attempts to see him as a means to an end? No, it isn't. But it did introduce me to a genuinely interesting artist, and for that I am grateful.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Applause! Applause! Review of The Parkside Players' production of The Foreigner at Grace Lutheran Church by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of The Parkside Players' production of "The Foreigner" by Larry Shue at Grace Lutheran Church (Forest Hills) was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 4 (2014) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

The Foreigner
The Parkside Players
Grace Lutheran Church (103-15 Union Turnpike, Forest Hills, NY)
Reviewed 11/22/14

The Foreigner was written by American Playwright Larry Shue. Following its premiere in Milwaukee, the play opened on November 1, 1984 at New York City's Astor Place Theatre where it ran for 686 performances. The play eventually won two Obie Awards and two Outer Critics Circle Awards, including the John Gassner Playwriting Award and the Award for Best Off-Broadway Production. Larry Shue died at age 39 on September 23, 1985 in the crash of a Beech 39 commuter plane, not living to see the continued popularity of The Foreigner. On November 7, 2004, the Roundabout Theatre Company revived The Foreigner at the Off-Broadway Laura Pels Theatre where it ran for ten weeks. Larry Shue's most popular plays include The Nerd and The Foreigner, both comic farces he wrote while a playwright-in-residence at the Milwaukee Repertory Theater.

This play revolves around Charlie Baker, a meek proofreader for a science fiction magazine whose adulterous wife thinks is boring. Mary, who has six months to live, has cheated on Charlie twenty-three times proudly announcing each indiscretion to humiliate him. Staff Sergeant "Froggy" LeSueur, a British Army explosives expert and Guest Instructor at a United States Army Base, has brought his buddy Charlie to a lodge in rural Georgia for a three-day holiday to escape from the stress of dealing with the illness of his wife, whom he still loves. Since Charlie doesn't feel up to speaking to anyone due to social anxiety, Froggy tells Betty Meeks, the resort lodge owner, that Charlie is a foreigner who doesn't understand or speak a word of English. At first, Charlie doesn't want to go along with the ruse but after he inadvertently overhears Catherine Simms, a wealthy heiress, tell her boyfriend, Rev. David Marshall Lee (a distant relative to General Robert E. Lee), that she is pregnant, he feels it best to go along with the plan. What is hilarious about this farce is how each of the characters in the play interact with this non-English speaking foreigner. Betty Meeks, the lodge owner, treats Charlie as if he's an exotic animal all the time speaking in a loud voice as if he were deaf. Catherine Simms takes long walks with Charlie and treats him as her confidante. Ellard Simms, Catherine's mentally challenged younger brother, takes pride in teaching Charlie new English words. The Rev. David Marshall Lee is highly suspicious of who Charlie really is and Owen Musser, a superstitious, dangerous racist hates foreigners and ultimately calls in the KKK to address the issue. There is a sub-plot about Rev. Lee and Owen conspiring to condemn the lodge and to use Catherine's money to buy it at a greatly reduced price in order to make it the new headquarters and capital of The Invisible Empire but you can rest assured that with the help of the foreigner, everyone will get their just rewards. Even poor Charlie may develop a new personality in the end. 

The Foreigner is a very well-written play with plenty of laughs. You could argue over whether the more serious sub-plot is gratuitous or an essential element of the broad range of reactions this "foreigner" encounters and you can debate whether some of the farcical elements of the play are too outrageous to have been included, but overall, I felt the play hit just the right balance between comedy and satire. So what if sometimes Charlie breaks out into a Chicken Dance or repeats the phrase Klaatu barada nikto, which was from the 1951 science fiction film The Day The Earth Stood Still. It's all in good fun!

Bill Meaney, the one-time minor league shortstop, who enjoyed a half-season call-up to the Washington Senators during the season they last won the AL pennant, is perfectly cast as Charlie Baker. He brings just the right balance to the role. Kieran (JK) Larkin, who won a Josephine Foundation Award for Best Performance by a Teenage Actor for playing the Young Son Edgar in Ragtime, is extremely believable as the mentally challenged Ellard Simms. Their scenes together on stage are some of the highlights of the show. Stephen J. Ryan, who is a playwright himself and a teacher of history and advanced placement economics at Leon M. Goldstein High School in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, is a very charismatic actor with a strong stage presence. With him as Rev. David Marshall Lee, you could actually believe the South had a chance to rise again. Unfortunately, and this is not the actor's fault, it is less believable that Rev. Lee is a secret leader of the KKK hellbent on creating a new Christian, all White Nation free of Jews, Catholics, Negroes and Foreigners. His dialogue just doesn't reflect that he holds such views. Robert Aloi is well-suited to play Owen Musser, the true dim-witted, narrow-minded, Georgia Cracker in the play. Lori Ann Santopetro shines as Betty Meeks. Jimmy O'Neill successfully portrays "Froggy", who sometimes puts Charlie on the spot making me wonder how close a friend he really is to him. Krissy Garber is a very talented actress who portrays Catherine Simms, a character you will find far more likable in the second half of the play. 

To highlight the lack of worldliness of Betty Meeks, the playwright included a line where Froggy says to her, "It reminds me a lot of Malaysia" and she responds, "Who's she?". By getting pregnant before marriage, Catherine Simms is learning you can't unstuff a turkey or unring a bell. While reading an article about this year's debutantes, she says, "They're coming out. The catch is you don't get to go back in." Charlie described himself as being Betty's "pet skunk," Ellard's "prized pupil," and Catherine's "confessor." When all is revealed, Ellard asks, "David, sheet head?", to which Catherine responds, "Yes, shit head!." Larry Shue's best line, which pretty much sums up the meaning of the play, is when one character says, "Nobody is like him" and the retort is, Nobody is like anybody!"

I highly recommend you go to see The Parkside Players' production of Larry Shue's The Foreigner. It is a highly engaging entertaining comedy and an audience pleaser. It is a fun show with an excellent cast. Reasonably priced concession items are available before the show begins and during intermission. Tickets cost $17.00 ($15.00 for seniors). The price is right for a quality evening of entertainment!