Saturday, October 31, 2015

Applause! Applause! Review of Dandy Darkly's Trigger Happy! at Under St. Mark's Theater by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Dandy Darkly's Trigger Happy! at Under St. Mark's Theater was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 5 (2015) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Dandy Darkly's Trigger Happy!
Written by Neil Arthur James
Performed as Dandy Darkly
Directed by Ian Bjorklund
Under St. Mark's Theater
94 St. Mark's Place
New York, New York 10009
Reviewed 10/30/15  

Dandy Darkly is a colorful, master storyteller and performance artist who is able to provide audiences with insightful, thought-provoking, entertaining tales that always succeed in captivating your attention and leaving you a little more aware than you were when you came in. Delivering this Cowboy Cabaret in an intimate campfire style ("Gather 'round this campiest of campfires!"), he opened the show by asking the audience to place their hands on their hearts, to face the American flag hung on the stage behind him, and to recite in lip-sync style, along with prerecorded children, The Pledge of Allegiance, which was interrupted occasionally by the sounds of rapid machine-gun fire in the background. 

Appearing in a jewel-spangled, black cowboy outfit, with two white pearl guns, a sheriff's badge, a human skull belt buckle, a clown-painted face, and authentic, pointy-tipped rattlesnake skin boots (he purchased in Wyoming), DandyDarkly tells four vivid, insightful, incredible, mesmerizing stories packed full of thoughtful social and political commentary with taped, perfectly timed, original background music provided by Adam Tendler, Rachel Blumberg, Jeffrey Underhill, and Bryce Edwards, his musical collaborators. Lighting design was by Christina Watanabe. Despite the bizarre collection of characters presented during this roller-coaster ride through a dreamlike phantasmagoria, this genius storyteller stays on track by telling coherent tales carefully crafted to hit the mark in terms of wit, satire, and comedy. 

The first story entitled "Silver Dollar" is about Otis Moonshine, an American soldier who served as a sniper and now appears to have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Post discharge and now back home stateside with his wife, he is having a hard time adjusting. He drinks heavily and claims he sees werewolves everywhere. He even believes the enemy soldiers he killed were werewolves and that he only lived because of a silver dollar he kept in his uniform. He eventually loses his job and his wife, and we learn he is a homophobic, closeted gay man who sneaks out into the forest at night for anonymous gay sex but who wouldn't be caught dead in a gay bar. While on those forbidden paths, he "steps on used condoms that squirt out semen like mayonnaise from a condiment packet." He hates his own gay urges and struggles with the shame of being "a faggot" while at the same time facing a PTSD-inspired impulse to commit mass murder. He wants no part of the werewolf pack and it disgusts him that werewolves are even in churches nowadays getting married to each other! Close to suicide, he is invited by Blair, a childhood gay friend, to attend his wedding in a gay bar. As a teen, he had a crush on Blair, who was the only man, including himself, willing to accept him for who he was. Otis reflects on his experiences in war and realizes that who gets their legs blown off and whether an innocent person is killed is as arbitrary as the flip of a coin. So Otis decides to flip his silver coin. Heads, he will attend Blair's wedding and accept his own homosexual desires. Tales, he will barge into the gay wedding and kill all the gay werewolves (who congregate in the woods under the full moon) with extreme prejudice. 

Virginia Titsworth, Hollywood's Sweetheart, is the subject of the second tale entitled "Final Girl." She was just found dead and the story acts as a eulogy for this beloved actress who sought recognition and fame, as most minor celebrities continue to do throughout their lives. Ms. Titsworth was the childhood spokesperson for Baby's Breath cigarettes, and eventually found fame as a beautiful, scream queen in Final Girl, the titular heroine of a low-budget slasher film that went on to spawn nine sequels, including one where she played a crazy lady committed to the Santa Clara Home For Nervous Women. Her success type-cast her in that particular role, which destroyed her career. She did write a memoir entitled Final Woman but the roles dried up and she became increasingly distraught, eventually being committed to the Santa Clara Home For Nervous Women, which was "highly publicized" and "highly ironic." In the end, she won a People's Choice Award for her performance in the reality television show entitled Scare An Old White Bitch To Death, one skit of which was her being chased by Bill Cosby carrying a cocktail. 

In "American Apparel," the subject of gentrification is addressed as The Imperial Poppycock Saloon, founded in 1901 for "finicky fellows of refinement," is being torn down and replaced by upscale condominiums and stores such as American Apparel. Dandy tries to make the point that we are surrounded by so much history, but at the same time, everything and everyone is getting swallowed up and homogenized. When the Imperial Poppycock Saloon is finally padlocked, Bidet, a drag queen rat who has longed to perform cabaret, dons a cotton ball wig and a band aid sash, and climbs on top of a matchbook cover to perform for all the mice, spiders, raccoons, homeless men, and others who gather each night in this now-closed and abandoned bar. She is a hit! Perhaps in reality, but perhaps it is all just a whiskey induced delusion. As she and others adjust to the new upscale, hip neighborhood, she seizes her opportunity and re-opens The Imperial Poppycock Saloon as Bidets.

In the final tale of the evening entitled "The Ghosts Of Stonewall," Dandy Darkly rails against political correctness and condemns those progressive activists who are afraid of words. He says it is the rich and powerful who should be afraid of words that expose their corruption. He condemns the GLBT Youth of the Grindr generation, who take their equal rights for granted and forget the rich oral history of those who fought at Stonewall and who remain radicalized fighting against the status quo and for the civil liberties of all Americans. If you don't like the way things are, fight to change them! And if you do, The Ghosts Of Stonewall may throw you a rose!

Dandy Darkly's Trigger Happy! (All-American, Satiric, Horrific, Patriotic Tales Of Sex & Death) contains macabre stories packed with unusual metaphors and artful alliterations that allow you to watch a wicked wordsmith tell his tales the way they were intended to be told. Dandy Darkly is a likable, colorful storyteller destined for international fame and fortune! For more information about Dandy Darkly, visit his website at: www.dandydarkly.com 

Monday, October 26, 2015

Applause! Applause! Review of Barbara Lusch's Rock Me Sweet at The Metropolitan Room by Nickolaus Hines

This review of Barbara Lusch's Rock Me Sweet at The Metropolitan Room was written by Nickolaus Hines and published in Volume X, Issue 5 (2015) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Rock Me Sweet - Barbara Lusch
The Metropolitan Room 
34 West 22nd Street
New York, New York 10010
Reviewed 10/22/15  

When a familiar song wafts out of a karaoke bar, it's hard not to stop and listen. It doesn't matter if the voice is horrendous, beautiful, or just average, the communal aspect of someone singing a well-known song should be applauded and celebrated. 

When a familiar song drifts slowly and lazily out of a karaoke bar, it's also hard not to stop and listen for a very different reason. A song becomes something entirely new when the tempo is stretched and the genre is changed. Stopping and listening becomes an act of trying to figure out what the original song is rather than whether the new version is worth listening to.

The latter happened set after set in Barbara Lusch's jazz renditions of pop songs. The band (led by Art Hirahara, on piano, who leads a quartet with Alex Hernandez on bass, Jennifer Vincent on cello, and Dan Aran on drums) was capable but unenthusiastic; her voice wasn't unpleasant despite it being plagued by a small range; and the songs were classics, which became apparent once the notes were sped up in the listener's head. Lusch confuses "jazz" with "slow tempo."

A tortoise isn't expected to sprint, just the same as the audience learns to expect that Lusch won't sing an uptempo song. Heart pounders like Bon Jovi's "Living On A Prayer" and slow(ish) paced songs like "Sweet Child Of Mine" receive the same treatment, both range and tempo wise, as Peggy Lee's "Fever." The songs that Lusch tries to tackle have seemingly little in common. The greatest revelation and insight you get when Lusch sings them is just how different the songs really are and how different they should be. "Where The Streets Have No Name" by U2, which Lusch initially confused with Bon Jovi, is a well-known song for plenty of reasons, but not for the reason that it relies on the exact same treatment as "Want You To Want Me."

Lusch's mediocre dialogue fit the audience. A long table of family and friends at the front, and a speckle of people who helped produce the CD in the back. They all knew the ins and outs of her life and shared inside jokes with her. Very few, if any, audience members were strangers who attended the show expecting to see the Portland, Oregon jazz sensation advertised, which was just as well since the range of crescendo and decrescendo in her singing, frequently hitting both ends of her range in each song. was not in any way awe-inspiring. Her speaking voice, like her singing voice, was casual, personable, and not unpleasant to listen to, but her banter left a lot to be desired.

This slowed style of remixing songs and successfully repackaging them isn't impossible, but it requires a big voice with a range that makes someone forget the original. Barbara Lusch failed in that effort. In addition, finger-snapping jazz isn't the first remix and genre change that comes to my mind when thinking of songs published by Guns N' Roses

It's hard not to sit and wait on edge before each song begins, hoping it will be different. Not necessarily fast, but at least different. By the end of the show, however, Lusch seemed to be running on empty, spent of her reliable musical crutches. There's no thrashing instrumental or a roaring vocal piece to end it, just more of the same. And more of the same is exactly what the audience came to expect.

One remaining show of Barbara Lusch's Rock Me Sweet will be performed on Wednesday, October 28, 2015 at 9:30 p.m. at The Metropolitan Room. The music charge is $20.00. For reservations, call 212-206-0440. For more information or to order tickets online, visit www.metropolitanroom.com 

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Applause! Applause! Review of Jackie Mason: Ready To Rumble at NYCB Theatre At Westbury by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Jackie Mason: Ready To Rumble at NYCB Theatre At Westbury was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 5 (2015) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Jackie Mason: Ready To Rumble
Written & Performed by Jackie Mason
NYCB Theatre At Westbury
960 Brush Hollow Road
Westbury, New York 11590
Reviewed 10/24/15  

Jackie Mason continues to perform despite his being in his mid-to-late 80s (he was born on June 9th anywhere from 1926 to 1931 depending on the source you consult). He is as sharp and as entertaining as ever and was able to pack the NYCB Theatre At Westbury with 3,000 of his most devoted fans. Who are those fans? They are white, older, Jewish, politically incorrect Republicans with a live-and-let-live libertarian philosophical attitude toward private consensual behavior that causes no harm to others. I spotted no person of color in the audience; 90% were over 65 years of age; 80% were Jewish with the remainder being Gentile; and only 5% of the audience applauded when asked if they planned to vote for Hillary Clinton for President (Jackie guessed twelve people supported her; the remainder supported one of the Republican Presidential candidates). 

Taking these realities into account, Jackie Mason opened his one-man show by stating the audience probably delayed in buying their tickets; at first because they couldn't be certain they'd be alive to see the show, and later because they wanted to make sure he would be alive to do the show. Some waited until the afternoon of the event to commit! Without hesitation, Jackie Mason then jumped directly into a politically controversial issue: same-sex marriage. He said for years the fagalas were in the closet and now, whenever two or more get together, they hold a parade, full of pride, forcing heterosexuals to act all embarrassed trying to explain why they didn't turn out gay. Still, Jackie Mason said he could care less if the fagalas marry. It doesn't affect anyone else's marriage and the sex they have is quite similar. The straight male stands at the edge of the bed about to have sex with his mate while the gay male does the same, except he tells his partner to "turn over." His commitment to limited government and the decriminalization of private consensual behavior (victimless crimes) is why the Libertarian Party of New York once approached him to see if he would accept their gubernatorial nomination. He declined.

Jackie Mason did a spot-on impersonation of Ed Sullivan and Henry Kissinger and did a brilliant rant in the style of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. He blasted Hillary Clinton supporters who continue to back her despite her "lies" and her having accomplished very little as Secretary of State. They tend to give her a pass as long as she continues to tell "old lies" as opposed to "new lies." He admitted there are some people who like Hillary, but he "also recognizes there are a number of people in the world who are a little slow." He took on Donald Trump claiming he owns more signs than buildings. He also questioned why everyone believes Barack Obama is black when he had a white mother. He said we know who his mother is but not his father! He has it "on good authority there were a lot of men in his mother's house the day he was conceived. He could be a Jew with a tan for all we know!"

He brought back a number of "oldies-but-goodies." How Jews are proud to be Jewish but how they'd prefer to look Gentile. How Jews go to the Opera and Ballet as status symbols but end up sleeping through the performances. How Jewish husbands turn to their wives to see if she thinks something is funny before they laugh. How Jews are always thinking of where they are going to have dinner after the show. How Jews always take home food from restaurants "for their dogs" when they don't own a dog. How Jews who sound like him always have a voice on their answering machine that sounds like Winston Churchill. And finally, how Jewish husbands are always being put down by their wives. A Jewish husband could take home 40 million a year and his wife would tell you that if he had listened to her, he'd be taking home twice that!

Jackie Mason told the fictitious story of how a cop stopped him for speeding on the way to the show. The cop said, "Where's the fire!". Jackie responded, "What do you care. You're a cop, not a fireman." The cop said, "I don't like the way you're talking to me." Jackie said, "I make a good living speaking like this. If I spoke like you, I would have been a cop." Finally, the policeman said, "It's people like you who cause accidents." Jackie said, "It is YOU who cause the accidents. Do you have any idea how fast I am going to have to go now to make up for all this lost time?"

He criticized recent lawsuits against tobacco companies for their failure "to admit" cigarettes cause cancer. He said people have known cigarettes cause cancer since the 1960s. At what point will people who decide to smoke be forced to take personal responsibility for that decision? What's next? If you take a knife and plunge it into your heart, will you be able to sue the manufacturer for not telling you the knife can kill you. (Maybe. After all, Courts have held McDonald's responsible for selling coffee that was "too hot," and bartenders and house party hosts have been held liable if their guests chose to drink too much and then harm someone after they leave.) Jackie Mason also questioned why cigarettes are always singled out? He says Sweet & Low warns you right on the package it can cause cancer, and yet people swipe packages of that product any time they can. He also said he is certain "cheesecake has killed more Jews than the Nazis did," and yet no one is making a stink about that. 

Jackie Mason also did a segment on why being rich doesn't necessarily lead to making your life better. For example, he said, "you can swim in the ocean for free but it you can see it from your hotel room, they charge you $1,000.00 more a night." If you eat in a fancy restaurant, you get smaller portions, pay a fortune more, and wait twice as long to get served. And who cares if you hear the motor of the car you are driving in? If they blindfolded you, you wouldn't know the difference between an expensive car and a reasonably priced vehicle. He also spoke about the current campaign to get us to explore Mars. He said, "What if I told you I know a place, but there is nothing there. Would you say, 'Let's go!'?" Regarding prostitution, he mentioned that when a man courts a woman with the intention of having sex with her, everyone profits: the restaurant he took her to, the flower shop, the jewelry shop, etc., but if the girl makes a few bucks off the mutually agreed upon interaction, then the public views it as immoral and "disgusting." He says, "where's the victim if both parties are happy with the exchange. She gets a $100.00 and he gets a sure thing."

Jackie Mason may not be at the top of his game, but he is still very funny. The old Jackie Mason would have added material on Syria, Russia, Putin, Ukraine, the Iranian Nuclear Deal, and on all the Republican and Democratic Presidential Candidates. He would have been commenting on Kim Davis and making fun of all the new immigrants in the most shocking and politically incorrect way. However, that cutting edge material is missing from this show. He told one joke about Puerto Ricans, where he asks if the audience can think of one contribution a Puerto Rican has made to society. Then he quickly adds, "I can't either." He also had one joke about a stereotypical Mexican holding a broom outside a restaurant. He added, "That's not right. It's not always a Mexican holding a broom. Sometimes it's a Jew with a broom handing it to a Mexican." But these jokes were only remnants of the material told by the old Jackie Mason. Perhaps the fear of being blacklisted by the politically correct media and boycotted by special interest groups is now keeping him on the straight and narrow path of sticking only to white-washed older material. While he continues to use the word fagala in his act, there was nary a mention of a schwartze in the entire show. 

Perhaps he is afraid and maybe he is just too tired to continue to write new material, feeling he can coast to making some extra bucks off old fans by performing older material in secondary venues. In my opinion, he needs to write a new show updated with material ripped from the news and the current events section of newspapers. The old show will draw out old fans, but a new show could play on or off Broadway and make Jackie Mason fans out of a whole new generation of people who love to laugh. There is still a place in the world for the unique stylings of Jackie Mason! If you haven't seen Jackie Mason perform or haven't seen him live for a few years, catch one of his upcoming shows, which are listed on his website at www.JackieMason.com   

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Applause! Applause! Review of Wallop at The Robert Moss Theater at 440 Studios by Nickolaus Hines

This review of Charles Cissel's Wallop at The Robert Moss Theatre at 440 Studios was written by Nickolaus Hines and published in Volume X, Issue 5 (2015) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Wallop
Written by Charles Cissel
Directed by Robin A. Paterson
Dramaturgy by Karen Brown
The Robert Moss Theater at 440 Studios
440 Lafayette Street, 3rd Floor
New York, New York 10003
Reviewed 10/18/15  

The three-part stage is already heating up on the left side of The Robert Moss Theater before the audience has even taken their seat. Three men in boxing gear are working out, their bodies glistening with sweat as late 80s hip hop pulsates over the speakers. Finally, an Ice Cube song starts up and two of the men start sparring in the ring while the other man directs from the floor. Starting en medias res of a sparring match sets an appropriate tone for the rest of the play. Back and forth, the characters are constantly sparring with fists and words. Someone is at someone else's throat at all points, and tensions rise quicker than they diffuse.

In the middle of all of the chaos and fighting is Gracie, played by Angelica Gregory, who steals the show. Gracie is the youngest, and only girl, in this black family. She struggles to accept her situation and circumstances. Her brother, Ivan, played by Duane N. Cooper, brings his new white friend Sam, played by Benjamin Katz, into the late 1980s Harlem. "Man oh man, walking along 125th Street. Bad idea," is one of Katz's first lines. "I'll pretend I'm not a white guy." If that line alone didn't cue the audience to how race tensions will play out, Ivan's father Joe, played by Jay Ward, and brother Mitch, played by Temesgen Tocruray, iron out any further questions. 

Despite being set nearly 30 years in the past, the pain, curiosity and questions about race are just as relevant today. Rather than seeing more differences in this representation of the past, there are more similarities in today's world where #BlackLivesMatter was needed as a rallying point for tragedy after tragedy, and #BlueLivesMatter and #AllLivesMatter arose from a segment of the population losing their stranglehold on American culture and politics. 

As if the issue of race wasn't already a large enough issue for writer Charles Cissel and director Robin A. Paterson to tackle, there is also the conflict of divorced families, with the new dad, Jesus, played by Wilton Guzman, being disrespected and referred to as Step. There's also conflict between a younger generation of dreamers and an older generation that is more practical and realistic. Also, thanks to being carried almost entirely on the shoulders of Gregory and the mother figure Suzy, played by Zuhairah, there's the conflict of women's rights and their role in the family.

It's all a lot to take in and a lot to think about. It's controversial, confrontational, and aggressive. What it isn't, however, is dull, overly serious or too heavily supported by easy stereotypes. All of the characters are strong and complex. Most have monologues that crack open the door inside their brain and allows a few shouts of internal conflict to escape. The lines of the monologues reflect more than just the characters' problems. They are also a vignette of the time period. Unfortunately, those vignettes of  the turbulent late 1980s are all too familiar and relatable to today. 

But don't think for a second that Wallop is all doom and gloom and serious pondering on the nature of society. It's comical in its representation of conflict, and laced in between it all is an on-your-toes Romeo and Juliet-style love story. 

Gregory"s Gracie is a commanding female in a male-dominated world who tells it how it is and doesn't take anything sitting down. Tocruray's Mitch just wants to banter and won't respect anyone, notably Katz's character, who doesn't give it back. Cooper's Ivan is so inherently likeable that it's hard not to hang on his every word. Sure, Guzman's Jesus and Ward's Joe represent some of the worst black father stereotypes, but they also give and take and expose themselves as men with deeper dimensions and a warrior spirit. Zuhairah's Suzy is happy-go-lucky as long as you don't disrespect her house, and Katz's Sam is so white at points that it hurts, but at least he's trying.

It's impossible not to love Wallop and its endless entertainment. The balance of deep pain and comedic relief is the mirror that society needs to address the hate and violence of today. I hope more people go to see this play. It stayed entertaining without being too preachy about the need for social change.

Wallop runs through October 31, 2015, Wednesdays through Saturday at 7:30 p.m., and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $18.00 and are available at www.smarttix.com or by calling 212-868-4444.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Applause! Applause! Review of Steven Fales' Cult Model at The Laurie Beechman Theatre by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Steven Fales' Cult Model at The Laurie Beechman Theatre was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 5 (2015) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Cult Model
Written & Performed by Steven Fales
The Laurie Beechman Theatre
407 West 42nd Street
New York, New York 10036
Reviewed 10/16/15  

Steven Fales is a talented, personable and charismatic entertainer who is able to captivate the audience when sharing the story of his personal journey, which included being an LDS missionary, eager pupil of conversion therapy, husband, father, heretic, escort, crystal meth addict, and ultimately, playwright. He is at his best when sharing his truth and experiences. Fales was born in Provo, Utah and was raised in Los Angeles before moving to Las Vegas when he was eleven. He first trained at the Boston Conservatory on scholarship and after serving a two-year mission for the LDS Church in Portugal, transferred to Brigham Young University where he received his Bachelor in Fine Arts in musical theater. He also obtained a Masters in Fine Arts in acting from the University of Connecticut. He was an Eagle Scout, married, had two kids, divorced, was formally excommunicated from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and, at age 30, moved to New York City where, after looking for work as an actor, he took a job for nine months as a high end escort.

I went to see this world premiere of the completely rewritten and revamped Cult Model without any knowledge of Steven Fales' past accomplishments, which apparently are many. After leaving the escort business in 2001 (and for your information, yes, he happily accepted American Express), he wrote Confessions Of A Mormon Boy, which ran at the SoHo Playhouse and became an International and Off-Broadway hit (Part One in "The Mormon Boy Trilogy"; Part Two and Three - a prequel and sequel - are called Missionary Position and Prodigal Dad). Steven Fales is an award-winning veteran of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, two New York International Fringe Festivals (Overall Excellence Award), the International Dublin Gay Theatre Festival (Oscar Wilde Award Nomination), Atlantic Fringe Festival (Overall Fringe Hit Award), and the Acts Of Faith Festival. His past cabaret acts include Mormon American PrincessMormon American Cowboy, Conversations With Heavenly Mother: An Uncommon Diva, Joseph III, When All Else Fales, and Cult!  The book Confessions Of A Mormon Boy: Behind The Scenes Of The Off-Broadway Hit was a Lambda Literary Award Finalist.

Cult Model began as a stand-up show Fales called Cult! written during a ten-week run of Confessions Of A Mormon Boy at the Coconut Grove Playhouse in Miami in 2003. Later that summer, he performed it as a presentation at the 2003 Sunstone Symposium in Salt Lake City (the Mormon International Fringe Festival) and as a benefit for the Utah AIDS Foundation at Wise Guys Comedy Club. The project was then shelved because the hostility against him was so great he feared he would be kept from seeing his children as the non-custodial parent if he continued to perform it. Now that his children are grown, he took Cult! off the shelf and restyled it as Cult Model, a show he just recently performed at the Hollywood Fringe Festival. An IndieGoGo campaign for that show raised $595.00 of the $10,000.00 he sought. Eight people contributed and two of them took advantage of the Underwear/Jock Package. For donating $100.00, you received a pair of the black underwear or jock "Mormon Boy" wears onstage in all his work (and if you preferred lightly worn/gently used pairs, you could get them for an additional $25.00).

This run of Cult Model at The Laurie Beechman Theatre has been designated the world premiere of this 60-minute solo act, after which he intends to take it on the road. The show contains a number of parody songs and a book that is supposed to tie the songs together. His best parody is to Barry Manilow's I Write The Songs, called I Formed The Cults, which on the surface, of course, doesn't make any sense, but it does contain some interesting lyrics such as "I formed the cults...that take your mind off real things, that take away your rights, that recruit day and night." Steven Fales tells the audience he has an Obsessive Cult Disorder ("you can take the kid out of the cult, but you can't take the cult out of the kid"), which has made his life "very diffiCULT." He announced he intended to be our Cult Model for the night and "to take us on a journey to cult consciousness." In the end, he confesses we all seek to join cults but we should at least think about whether we are getting more out of the cult than we are putting in.

Steven Fales has a very broad definition of what constitutes a cult, which includes the cult of being a sex worker, the cult of being a Yankees fan, the cult of being in love, the cult of being a pot smoker, the cult of being a believer in astrology, the cult of being a Starbucks customer, the cult of being a libertarian, the cult of being a Hillary Clinton supporter and the cult of being a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as examples. He claims he rates cults on a scale of one to ten, with those rated number one requiring only a loose affiliation such as the Episcopal Church. Those rated at number 2 on the scale might demand more of a time commitment, such as Alcoholics Anonymous. Scientology might be rated at five. Others like the Mafia and ISIS at maybe six or seven depending on whether they will kill you if you leave, and whether they eventually intend to dominate and take over the planet. He never fully explains his rating system and only generally references it. 

While I agree with his expanded definition of cults, Steven Fales did not appear to me to have properly and thoroughly investigated the topic. For example, he believes joining cults is a uniquely American phenomenon and that in all other countries, its citizens are able to join only one or two state-sanctioned cults, at most. This belief is incorrect and shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the desire of all human beings for esprit-de-corps and a sense of belonging. In addition, while he is correct most cults have a charismatic leader, a sacred text, and a means to excommunicate a heretic, not all have a martyred leader and a difficult journey cult members must go through to bond with each other, although hazing does play that role in fraternities, the Navy Seals, and in Fire Departments. Steven Fales needs to do extensive sociological research before he seriously considers writing a book on the subject.

Cult Model is an extremely underrehearsed show not yet ready for prime time. Steven Fales actually came on stage with a music stand containing the lyrics to a number of songs he had not yet memorized as well as the script and order of his presentations, which he referred to often. It was as if the audience was seeing the first rehearsal for the show. Matt Baker accompanied him on the piano but it was clear they had not sufficiently rehearsed the material. Cues were missed, sheet music fell on the floor, and at one point, Steven Fales just told Matt Baker to stop playing so he could just read the lyrics to a particularly difficult song. Steven Fales on the other hand, included too much material and too many characters from other shows which distracted from the message and story of this show. He completely failed to integrate a coherent story with the song parodies he presented. He didn't even learn how to properly pronounce Ayn Rand, when making a reference to Objectivism (https://youtu.be/gb5B2RkqS00). 

As previously mentioned, Steven Fales was strongest when revealing personal stories from his past. Other stories did not have the same depth or substance, and he never clearly shared his definition of "cult" or what makes one a "cultaholic." While we were told in advance Steven Fales "always strips down to his underwear in every cabaret show" as reflected in the text of his IndieGoGo campaign, in this show he took off his suit and tie, and only opened the top three buttons of his dress shirt. On the positive side, Steven Fales has a strong stage presence, is easy on the eyes, and has the ability to endear himself to the audience. In other words, he still knows how "to work it."

There will be two more performances of Cult Model on Thursday, October 22nd at 7:00 p.m. and on Friday, October 23rd at 8:00 p.m. at The Laurie Beechman Theatre. Tickets are available for $22.00 at www.SpinCylceNYC.com or by phone at 212-352-3101. There is a $20.00 food/beverage minimum at each performance.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Applause! Applause! Review of New Yiddish Rep's Death Of A Salesman at the Castillo Theatre by Nickolaus Hines

This review of New Yiddish Rep's Death Of A Salesman at the Castillo Theatre was written by Nickolaus Hines and published in Volume X, Issue 5 (2015) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Death Of A Salesman
Written by Arthur Miller
Directed by Moshe Yassur
Castillo Theatre
543 West 42nd Street
New York, New York 10036
Reviewed 10/11/15  

When faced with deciding whether to see Toyt Fun A Seylsman, the Yiddish translation of Arthur Miller's iconic 1949 Death Of A Salesman where only a few words are spoken in English, many might initially be inclined to pass on a play performed in a language they do not speak. That is understandable, which is why New Yiddish Rep has projected English "super titles" on the only two walls on stage during its current production, which opens up the play to non-Yiddish speaking audiences. This is the first time a Yiddish translation of Death Of A Salesman has been directed at both a Yiddish and English speaking audience. It was slightly intimidating knowing in advance I would be reading the lines while listening to a language I am unfamiliar with, but the casual cadence brought a tonal level I wasn't expecting. The fact that reading lines are involved shouldn't scare anyone away in today's age of Netflix documentaries and the hit show Narcos that rely on subtitles. 

A Yiddish translation of Death Of A Salesman isn't new. This modern production uses the translation by the famed Yiddish actor Joseph Buloff that Buloff and his wife, Luba Kadison, premiered in Buenos Aires, Argentina while the play was still running on Broadway. Though that production looked similar to the Tony and Pulitzer Prize-winning premiere, its depiction of the Loman family as Jews in New York was a transformation. Arthur Miller approved the translation in the end, and the show made it as far as the Parkway Theater in Brooklyn in 1951. Writer George Ross joked he thought the play sounded so natural in Yiddish that he believed Miller secretly translated the play from Yiddish to English before releasing it in 1949. Director Moshe Yassur skillfully uses a single stage setup and a split audience seating arrangement. He also presents select scenes and dialogue in English to stress the linguistic authenticity of the Loman family in the 1940s. The mixture of English and Yiddish (Buloff did not do this) shows the linguistic, cultural cross-currents of an assimilating Jewish family in mid-century. 

Avi Hoffman, as the main character Willy Loman, is an extremely capable actor, as are the rest of those in the ensemble. Understanding Yiddish isn't necessary to understand the internal conflict that Hoffman brings to the character, or the pain of the eldest Loman son Biff, played by Daniel Kahn, or the willful ignorance of the youngest son Happy, played by Lev Herskovitz. Facial expressions and body language already speak louder than words, but when part of the audience doesn't understand the words, any flaws or laziness in body language can throw the audience off. One of the most powerful representations of expressive mastery can be found in Suzanne Toren's character of Linda Loman. Adding to the skill of the actors is Gertjan Houben's eerie lighting. Shadows dance and elongate. Hues of blue and red convey emotion.

If the haunting duplicity of the soul and the capitalist questioning reflected in Death Of A Salesman hasn't already made this play one of  your favorites, this staging may change that. It isn't a drama for the light hearted, and it certainly isn't a production in which you will mindlessly lose yourself, but it will draw out questions. Perhaps reading lines while listening and watching let's the meaning sink in deeper, or perhaps the passionate acting alone elicits the mood.

Jumping into this play and buying a ticket for $50.00 admittedly isn't a decision you should take lightly. There are layers to process and lines to read and, spoiler alert, suicides to contemplate. For fans of the classic, however, this adaptation is different enough to be thought-provoking and yet similar enough to hold up to high standards. Toyt Fun A Seylsman (Death Of A Salesman) plays at the Castillo Theatre through November 22, 2015. For tickets, call 866-811-4111 or visit www.castillo.org 

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Applause! Applause! Review of Heather Smiley For President at Theater For The New City by Nickolaus Hines

This review of Heather Smiley For President at Theater For The New City was written by Nickolaus Hines and published in Volume X, Issue 5 (2015) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Heather Smiley For President
Book & Lyrics by Tom Attea
Music Composed by Arthur Abrams
Directed by Mark Marcante
Choreographed by Angela Harriell
Theater For The New City
155 1st Avenue
New York, New York
Reviewed 10/9/15  

The presidential election isn't for more than a year, but that hasn't stopped a slew of Republicans and a few Democrats from campaigning as if voting day were tomorrow. The constant back and forth between candidates is, frankly, exhausting, with few bright points of insight or entertainment. The same can be said of Heather Smiley For President.

Directed by Mark Marcante and written by Tom Attea, Heather Smiley For President takes the past couple of months' talking points for Fox News, CNN and MSNBC and puts them into musical form. While the songs in a musical are usually used to move the plot forward, that is not the case here where the bouncy, simplistic, elongated tunes rarely achieve that goal. For a synopsis of the musical, read a list of the political headlines over the past two or three months. Read them all carefully, because each and every one of them is likely to be featured in this three hour trip through hell. Just sitting through this play made me feel like I was wasting my time, which could have been better spent elsewhere. 

Each character is a thinly veiled caricature of one of the currently declared presidential candidates. Slightly altered and thinly disguised names like Ted Obtuse and Donald Rump leave no doubt as to who is supposed to represent whom. The character of Heather Smiley, played by Rebecca Holt, is an unabashed replica of Hillary Clinton, while her husband Bob Smiley, played by Joris Stuyck, is a Bill Clinton with the libido of a 14-year-old boy. After the first six times, the joke of Mr. Smiley grabbing at every available female becomes more like a chore to watch than a joke, and the same happens to the act of Mrs. Smiley trying to keep Mr. Smiley from interfering on the campaign trail.

George Worthington, played by Todd Lewis, is the antagonist of the play, but it is not clear who he is supposed to represent. Each line has a "ripped from the headlines" quality that gives Worthington similar characteristics of Jeb Bush, but Bush is already claimed by a Republican going as Jeb Cushy. His son, George Jr. (Worthington), played by Jacob Storms, further complicates who or what this person is supposed to represent. At one point, Storms gives George Jr. a debonair and snooty accent, and next the accent of a Deep South country boy. The character is also played as being simplistic beyond measure.

Contrived is the only word to describe the way the actors methodically repeated each line with stock over emotion for much of the musical, and a "cheerleading" break only extended my misery and visceral disappointment at having to experience a play I would not sit through again even if paid to do so.

The most serious fault of the entire musical is repetition. Repeated jokes, repeated lyrics, and repeated and unnecessary words. The show comes off with the slice-of-nature of a reality show, but unlike a reality show, it doesn't skip the boring parts of life. If two-thirds of the book were cut, perhaps a repeat of today's headlines would be bearable, possibly even funny.

If current trends continue, the majority of America will get tired of, if they are not already tired of, the presidential race long before it even starts. I repeat myself when I write that the same can be said of Heather Smiley For President. If I have piqued your interest and you remain undeterred, you can see this musical that runs through October 25th for only $15.00 ($10.00 for seniors). Purchase your tickets at www.TheaterForTheNewCity.net or www.smarttix.com or at the box office. In the alternative, you can call 212-254-1109. 

Monday, October 12, 2015

Applause! Applause! Review of Moxie Magnus & The Alien Androids From Uranus at The Laurie Beechman Theatre by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Moxie Magnus & The Alien Androids From Uranus at The Laurie Beechman Theatre was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 5 (2015) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Moxie Magnus & The Alien Androids From Uranus
Written & Performed by Brantley Moate
The Laurie Beechman Theatre
407 West 42nd Street
New York, New York 10036
Reviewed 10/11/15  

Lt. Moxie Anne Magnus, the Chief Xenocosmetology Officer aboard the USS Enterprise under Captain James Tiberius Kirk, appears on stage to tell the audience they are not really in a cute little cabaret in New York City but instead are trapped in a milky liquid in a stasis chamber aboard a rocket heading to Uranus (The Planet). The Evil Queen of the Alien Androids of Uranus intends to use the humans she kidnaps to power their alien technology for nefarious purposes. Moxie Magnus has placed the audience in a time loop and this is the ninth time she is attempting to save us from the Evil Queen who intends to force an anal probe (a large, silver twelve inch dildo) into Uranus (The Butt) after which there is no turning back. Moxie is projecting her image into our minds. She is really lying on a bed in Sick Bay in the 23rd Century spooning with Spock. To defeat the Evil Queen, Moxie Magnus tells us we must form a mental link with all the other audience members. To do so, we must clap profusely, laugh at everything she says, and shout out Moxie! Moxie! Moxie!. In the end, we must learn the password, which is "Encore" and if we don't scream it out, she promises "we will die one way or another."

To get us in the mood, music from Star Trek is played as we wait for the show to begin. Without her hair extensions, Moxie mingles with the audience welcoming everyone and thanking them for coming. I spotted some local Starfleet ship members in the audience as well as Moxie fans wearing tee shirts promoting this show. Moxie Magnus is pleasant, perky and charismatic. She was impeccably dressed in three impressive Star Trek inspired uniforms, decked up with hair extensions and wearing high-heel, black boots. Towering over the audience, this eight foot tall Starfleet officer (counting the heels and the hair) reminded everyone that if she is dressed in blue, she is simply a lowly officer; if she is dressed in gold, she is in command; and if she is dressed in red (probably as the Evil Queen of the Alien Androids of Uranus (The Planet)), then she is in very deep trouble. 

This Queen of the Final Frontier played the ukulele but warned the audience she was "not trained at all in music, a fact we wouldn't know until we heard her play." During The Ballad Of Moxie Magnus, there was also a good line where she said her "falling into a Black Hole made the Vulcan Council weep." She also reported her uncle wrote a book on anti-gravity that was "light reading" and that she "just couldn't put the book down." He also gave a lecture on the human heart, lungs and kidney, but she didn't attend because she "can't stand organ recitals." At the bar, she met a microbiologist but she was "very small." From there, the jokes become even more lame and the stories flew off in directions completely unrelated to the theme of the show. Her opening story was about how she and Princess Leia went to the same finishing school and shopped together. This was completely inappropriate since we came to see a Star Trek universe themed show, not a Star Wars universe show. It would be like going to a Roman Catholic Church and seeing a Muslim Imam leading the congregation. There were also long silences between costume changes that needed to be filled with something. To say the show did not come off like clockwork is an extreme understatement.

Let me be clear. I thoroughly enjoyed the character presented to us. Moxie Magnus is bright, intelligent and entertaining. The only problem is she needs to write a show that is as high quality as she is. No problems with the costumes and hair. No problem with her personality and voice. Basically, it's just her material that sucks. Too many groaners! So how can the show be improved? She needs to record Star Trek related videos to play during her costume changes. Her jokes need to be relevant to the Star Trek universe (and/or to her work as a xenocosmetologist) and they mustn't be lame. It couldn't hurt to add some steamy K/S slash into the show. Her songs should be on-topic filk or ones that mention Star Trek characters, like the 99 Red Balloons song she sang mentioning Captain Kirk. She could also work in some other space-related songs or song parodies while keeping "Rocket To Uranus," which was a very good choice.

At the end of the show, Moxie Magnus confessed that "2016 is the year she intends to make it big." She said, "2015 was that year, but it didn't work out." (I'd say for obvious reasons) I would be happy to go back to see Moxie's next show and to recommend it to friends, but she needs to improve the writing, better rehearse the show and tighten up the theme. For more information about Moxie Magnus, visit her website at http://www.moxiemagnus.com/ 

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Applause! Applause! Review of What The Rabbi Saw at Studio Theatre Long Island by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Billy Van Zandt & Jane Milmore's What The Rabbi Saw at Studio Theatre Long Island was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 5 (2015) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

What The Rabbi Saw
Written by Billy Van Zandt & Jane Milmore
Directed by David Dubin
Studio Theatre Long Island
141 South Wellwood Avenue
Lindenhurst, New York
Reviewed 10/9/15  

Billy Van Zandt tells me What The Rabbi Saw was first performed at the Henderson Theater in Lincroft, New Jersey as part of Phoenix Productions' summer season of 1995. Mr. Van Zandt directed it there and this slapstick comedy farce was based on a short sketch from his and Jane Milmore's play Do Not Disturb written in 1991. It takes place just before the wedding of Walter and Wendy in a Waldorf Astoria hotel suite reserved for Lainie Berman, a performer the bride's father has flown in from Las Vegas to sing at the wedding. Ms. Berman (who has been played by Adrienne Barbeau on the East Coast and by Eva Longoria on the West Coast) may or may not have fooled around with Mr. Kirschenbaum (the Father of the Bride) in Las Vegas. She is late in arriving with Vinnie, her jealous mobster boyfriend, so everyone knows the room is empty and some wedding guests decide to take advantage of that fact for some last minute infidelities. 

The play opens with Walter (The Groom) in bed with Claudia (The Bridesmaid and his soon to be sister-in-law). When their tryst is interrupted by Mrs. Kirschenbaum's knock on the door, Walter's tuxedo pants' zipper gets caught in the chiffon of Claudia's dress. Walter removes his pants and the antics begin. It is soon revealed that Wendy (the Bride) and Mitch (The Best Man and Walter's Best Friend) have also been having an affair. Walter beats up on Mitch. Wendy gets drunk. Walter, Mitch and Rabbi Huchelman lose their pants along the way. Noel, The Wedding Coordinator, goes looking for pants and when Walter and Mitch put on each other's ill-fitting pants, Noel asks, "Did you ever think of trying to switch?" to which Claudia responds, "How do you think we got into this problem in the first place?"

As for depicted stereotypes, Noel (The Wedding Coordinator), referred to the Waldorf Astoria's "condescending concierge" as a "French Bastard" (I don't know why he thought he was French) and Mr. Kirschenbaum (who was spending $100,00o on the wedding) was portrayed as "cheap" when he told Noel he was not paying for Lainie Berman's guest, who showed up unexpectedly and without an invitation. The gay-acting Noel was also heard to say he had experience "pulling things off," and although he said he "didn't want anyone handling" his "hidden treasures," nevertheless agreed to a date with Mitch, who enjoyed wearing Lainie Berman's dress and wig as a disguise, and thus appeared to be a bi-sexual, transgendered individual. 

The best line of the play is uttered by Rabbi Huchelman when he walks in on Walter and Mitch jumping around the room with their pants off. The Rabbi says with a strong Jewish inflection, "What's with all the leaping and the prancing?" They attempt to explain away their situation by trying to convince the Rabbi he is hallucinating because he ate mushrooms while imbibing Manischewitz wine but he will have none of it. He responds by saying, "I see London. I see France. I can see your underpants."

This zany comedy is packed with silliness and ridiculous situations. Don't expect any depth or substance here. There are no particularly memorable lines and the script invites over-acting, which is fine in this particular situation. You will not have sympathy for any of these bad-acting characters. More importantly, very few of the story elements can stand up to critical scrutiny. Walter supposedly started having an affair with Claudia after she got her $12,000.00 nose job but when someone hits her on the schnozzola during one of the fast-paced stunts, now, all of a sudden, Walter no longer loves her. When Vinnie pulls out a gun and threatens to kill everyone, it appears music mysteriously compels everyone to dance as they all try to take the gun away from Vinnie by passing it to one another, a plan doomed to fail in the end. Then the play reaches another level of total implausibility when Mrs. Kirschenbaum takes the gun and tries to force everyone to go through with the original wedding plans. As if that wasn't enough, when everything has been resolved and Noel instructs everyone to leave the room to go down to the ballroom, no one appears able to move for some unknown reason. Total insanity!

David Dubin, the Director, promised the audience an evening of fluff and fun. Nothing requiring you to think. Just dessert. I feel he delivered on that promise. The set was lovely and the entire cast was quite enjoyable to watch as they clearly had a lot of fun performing for us on stage. Particularly impressive was Tom Brown, who played Walter, and Gary Milenko, who was hilarious as Rabbi Huchelman. Other cast members included Nicole Intravia (Wendy), Janine Inamorato Haire (Claudia), Michael Cesarano (Mitch), Robert Budnick (Mr. Kirshenbaum), Ruth McKeown (Mrs. Kirshenbaum), Joanne Rispoli (Lainie), Rich Jimenez (Vinnie), and Scott Earle (Noel). There is also a hilarious, running gag involving a suit bag hanging in the closet. If you are looking for mindless fun and more than a few laughs, I recommend you check out this production of What The Rabbi Saw running at Studio Theatre Long Island through October 25, 2015. You can purchase tickets for $25.00 and reserve your seats by visiting www.societytheatreli.com 

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Applause! Applause! Review of Andrew Carter Buck's Behind Blue Eyes at The Laurie Beechman Theatre by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Andrew Carter Buck's Behind Blue Eyes at The Laurie Beechman Theatre was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 5 (2015) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Behind Blue Eyes
Starring Andrew Carter Buck
Musical Director & Pianist: Walter H. Thompson
Director & Script Supervisor: Kimberly Vaughn
The Laurie Beechman Theatre
407 West 42nd Street
New York, New York 10036
Reviewed 9/29/15  

Andrew Carter Buck's first solo cabaret show Behind Blue Eyes was a surprisingly professional and entertaining debut, which demonstrated his talent and was a huge hit with his supportive and enthusiastic audience. This blue-eyed boy graduated from the University of Central Arkansas (Conway) with a degree in Vocal Performance in 2005 and performed in some local musical productions. After realizing he was "a pretty big blue dot in a very red state," this Rackensacker moved to New York City armed with only a suitcase and a dream. Six years and four jobs later, he decided it was time, between auditions, to launch his own cabaret show, which was paid for, in part, by a Go Fund Me campaign that raised $3,130.00 from 32 people in one month. Now 33 years old and with his parents present, he told the general story of his life in New York from his occasional anxiety and depression to his posting a "missed connection" ad on Craig's List after he failed to speak to a guy he was attracted to on the subway. Most of the patter was used to introduce the various songs he sang as opposed to revealing anything intimate or insightful regarding his own personality. For example, he donned a red and black boa, spoke of his singing many numbers at Marie's Crisis and then sang "Cabaret" describing it as the unofficial anthem of that West Village institution. 

Two original songs, written by Andrew Carter Buck, were introduced. "Winter's Rain" spoke about friends of his who "took their final bows" and "Agnostic's Prayer" reflects his desire to commit to something greater even though he is "not religious." Mr. Buck has a very strong voice and a commanding stage presence. He was casually dressed in blue jeans and a purple shirt with his hair combed straight and parted down the middle. At least four dozen red roses stood in a vase set upon the piano. He enunciated the lyrics to all his songs and added a dramatic dimension to those that benefited from it. I particularly enjoyed "Use What You Got," "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face," "Say Something," "Almost There,", "Taking The Wheel," "I Am What I Am," and Seasons Of Love." However, "Travelin' Thru," "NYC," "Another Hundred People," "Up On The Roof," and "Cabaret" were also quite enjoyable. Behind Blue Eyes was a huge success! With it, Andrew Carter Buck has hit a home run! He is an extremely talented young man who was able to present to us a small sample of what he has to offer. 

For his next show, I would suggest he dress up a bit more professionally, have his hair styled and tell a few more humorous anecdotes and some intimate details about his life experiences. After the show was over, I did not feel I knew anything more regarding the kind of person Andrew Carter Buck is. If you asked me how he might respond if petted, I could not tell whether he would purr or scratch your eyes out. A cabaret show is not a play or a one-man show. In those, we are not expected to learn anything personal about the actor but in an intimate cabaret setting, especially if it is the singer's first show, I expect to learn something about the performer in addition to whether or not he or she has talent. Luckily, in this case, we got a glimpse of this man's huge potential. Behind Blue Eyes gave attendees more than their money's worth of entertainment. I also expect future shows will be even better given Andrew Carter Buck's stated philosophical belief that "Life is a metamorphosis. We learn. We change. We grow." At the end of the show, he revealed he now realizes he is exactly where he needs to be, which is NYC, and The Natural State's loss is our gain!