This review of Articulate Theatre Company's Folk City Scenes (part of its "Articulating The Arts" series) at TADA! Theater was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 6 (2016) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!
Articulate Theatre Company's Folk City Scenes
Articulating The Arts Series (Eight Plays)
15 West 28th Street
New York, New York 10001
Articulate Theatre Company is four years old and is committed "to connecting audiences and artists with work that is intelligent, thought-provoking and visually striking." When asked what Articulate is all about, Artistic Director Cat Parker, says it features works that focus on "myth, magic and the mundane." In Folk City Scenes, another presentation in its "Articulating The Arts" series, playwrights used particular folk songs as inspiration to write short plays. Eight short plays were presented, which included Train Rail (written by Jamie Neumann; directed by Wendy Mae Shelton; featuring Isabelle Dungan & Stark Wilz); In The Autumn Mist (written by Robert Verlaque; directed by Joan Kane; featuring Crystal Edn, Phoebe Torres, and Tom Kane); In Transit (written by Robin Rice; directed by Brock Hill; featuring Carolyn Seiff & Charlotte Hampden); To Every Thing There Is A Season (written by Bara Swain; directed by Eric Siegel; featuring Jill Bianchini & Diane Terrusa); The Betrothal (written by Germaine Shames; directed by Cat Parker; featuring Lana Schwartz, Shetal Shah & Sergei Burbank); Babe I Hate To Go (written by Rhea MacCallum, directed by Denise Pence; featuring Adam Perabo, Jennifer Wilson McGuire, and Stark Wilz); Lay Down My Sword (written by Grant Bowen; directed by Robert Verlaque; featuring Ryan Daley & Eric Percival); and Speak Now Or Forever Hold Your Peace (written by Kelly Zekas; directed by Aimee Toderoff; featuring Joanne Dorian & Denise Pence).
The entire evening was a wonderfully crafted and entertaining experience. Folk City Scenes ran for only two nights and the performance I attended was sold out. All attendees received two free concession tickets, which entitled them to get a cupcake (with the Articulate Theatre Company's logo on top of it), and a tin of mints. You could also purchase other reasonably priced items and bring them to your seats. While attendees were arriving, Wolf & Cantrelle (Josh Wolf & Carla Cantrelle), Folk Duet Artists, performed thus creating the proper atmosphere to get people in the mood for the show that was to follow. They led two sing-a-longs. One to Michael Rowed The Boat Ashore and the second to This Land Is Your Land (Woody Guthrie). They also performed snippets of the folk songs that inspired the plays in a recreated Greenwich Village Folk Cafe (complete with posters of Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, and others) that was constructed in the back of the stage. During Train Rail and Babe I Have To Go, the extremely talented Stark Wilz performed on harmonica and guitar, respectively. The evening ended with a full hour Panel Discussion on Folk Music hosted by Cat Parker, the Artistic Director of Articulate Theatre Company. The panel participants included Stephen Petrus (curator of the recent "Folk City" exhibit at the Museum for the City of New York; and author of the book Folk City: New York and the American Folk Music Revival); Phil Marsh (a singer-songwriter-guitarist based in New York City and the Bay Area, California); and Doug Yeager (who has been an integral member of the folk community for many years as an artist manager, booking agent, record producer, music publisher, concert promoter, and as a stage and film producer).
All of the actors who performed in the various plays presented during the evening were absolutely fabulous and extremely talented. The works themselves were a mixed bag. Many could have benefited from further development and re-writing. I would have liked to have seen a better integrating of the lyrics (and themes) from the folk songs into the scripts. Bara Swain showed potential in this regard with her entry, To Every Thing There Is A Season, where she hilariously incorporated lyrics from The Byrds' Turn! Turn! Turn! at a point when one friend was brushing off lint from her girlfriend's black dress at a funeral.
Some of the other entries left you wondering. In Jamie Neumann's Train Rail, two hobos who can't handle the responsibilities of their lives meet in a train boxcar, and at the end, literally ask the question, "So what now?" In Speak Now Or Forever Hold Your Peace, written by Kelly Zekas, it is unclear whether a woman's friend of 40-odd years loves her back in the same way. Denise Pence, who played Suzanne in this piece, was particularly impressive. She is a former "gypsy" whose time on Broadway led to her being the prototype for "Kristine" in A Chorus Line. Ms. Pence is a seasoned actress with a strong stage presence. It was a pleasure to see her in this production.
Some of the plays deal with the issue of war and the negative effect it has on both civilians and soldiers alike. The Betrothal, written by Germaine Shames, tells the tale of a young Syrian girl with a headless doll, who is traumatized by war and living in her own fantasy world. Lay Down My Sword, written by Grant Bowen, takes place on the banks of the Alabama River, where an honorably discharged soldier is having trouble adjusting to civilian life and is contemplating suicide. A Confederate Soldier, well-played by Eric Percival, shares his own personal story with him. In The Autumn Mist, written by Robert Verlaque, a grandfather is still traumatized by what he experienced during the Vietnam War. Most memorable from this entry was that the play also featured a lazy ass, texting granddaughter who waited to the last minute to write a paper and when her grandfather refused to help, she and her mother tried to pressure him because, after all, as the girl said, "I need a good grade so I can get into a good college." It raises the important point that students need to take more responsibility for their own failures and not blame everything on their teachers.
Babe I Hate To Go, written by Rhea MacCallum, deals with one of those fictitious visits dead people are said to make to the living just before going to heaven. Since I am not a believer in such supernatural visits, the story line did not resonate with me. However, Adam Perabo and Jennifer Wilson McGuire had good chemistry with one another and kept the audience engaged.
The standout play of the evening was by far In Transit, written by Robin Rice, and starring Carolyn Seiff and Charlotte Hampden. Two women who don't like "girly things" meet in an Assisted Living facility in Chicago. Inspired by City of New Orleans, one woman is intent on getting to New Orleans to keep her appointment with the Switchmaster in the Sky, who set the schedule. The other woman, also a train enthusiast, is intent on staying in Chicago for the time being. They eventually become friends and decide to escape from the Nursing Home for a few hours to hitchhike down to the train station. This play contains an amazing list of songs written about trains and particular train routes. It also carries the inspirational message that it is never too late to make a new friend. Very impressive work!
If this evening is an example of the quality of work being produced by the Articulate Theatre Company, then I strongly recommend you check them out and attend future productions. For more information, visit www.articulatetheatre.com