Sunday, January 29, 2017

Applause! Applause! Review of Bound To Rise at Medicine Show Theatre by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Bound To Rise at Medicine Show Theatre (also known as The Barbara Vann & James Barbosa Theatre) was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Bound To Rise
A Musical Based on the writings of Horatio Alger Jr. & Jacob Riis
Original Production invented & shaped by Barbara Vann
Book & Lyrics by Stephen Policoff
Score by Robert Dennis
Directed by Oliver Conant (with Paul Murphy & Regan Batuello)
Music Direction by Gregory Nissen & Jonathan Matthews
Costumes by Derek Lockwood
Choreography by Theresa Duhon
Lighting Design by Daniel Schreckengost
Medicine Show Theatre
a/k/a The Barbara Vann & James Barbosa Theatre
549 West 52nd Street, 3rd Floor
New York, New York 10019
Reviewed 1/29/17

Bound To Rise is a two-and-half hour Anti-American and Anti-Capitalist diatribe that perverts the "rags to respectability" message in Horatio Alger Jr.'s stories and uses the writings of Jacob Riis to reinforce its blatant, radical, anarchist political message that only violence against the United States Government and the rich who run it can provide any hope for the downtrodden or a diminishment in income inequality ("dynamite is needed to oppose economic oppression"). The musical intertwines four Horatio Alger Jr. stories, the most prominent of which is Ragged Dick; or, Street Life In New York With The Boot Blacks starring the very charismatic and talented actor Jonathan Emerson as Dick Hunter (allegedly a 14-year old boot black who is hard working, honest and anxious to "turn over a new leaf to grow up 'spectable'"). The play is set in the 1890s during the Gilded Age ("Behold The Robber Baron's Greed") but the disparity in wealth that is depicted was used when this musical was first staged in 1985 to make political points against "Saint Ronald Reagan" and his "trickle down economics & sugary Morning In America speeches" now revived by terrorists-in-training with a pro-violence message to protest the election of "con man" Donald Trump who has provided us with "a great deal of hot air" filled with "lies." Linking the two Presidents, Christopher Hirschmann Brandt, Medicine Show Theatre Manager (who is actually a fine actor and did a good job in this production portraying Joseph Root, a crusading journalist for The New York Sun) wrote the following in the program: "As Einstein said, doing the same thing over and over when we are confronted with the same problem is a mark of insanity. But maybe we're not insane, maybe we didn't buy the man who promised us lies, empty slogans, billions of dollars in debt, and a spoken language so inadequate that he had to repeat everything he said at least twice. Maybe he bought us. After all, that's what a confidence man does - he "buys" our confidence with his promises, and when we discover those promises are utterly devoid of content or value, he is long gone, along with our hopes, our dreams, and our money."  

Horatio Alger Jr. (January 13, 1832 - July 18, 1899) was a prolific 19th-century American writer, best known for his many young adult novels about impoverished boys and their rise from humble backgrounds to lives of middle-class security and comfort through hard work, determination, courage, and honesty. Alger was an inspiration for many young boys and his books were quite popular. Several elements of his "Strive & Succeed" philosophy included: Hard Work, Study (informal rather than formal), Loyalty to Supervisors & Subordinates, Abstaining from Alcohol & Gambling, Frugal Living, Importance of Dress & Personal Grooming, Personal Integrity, Speaking & Writing Effectively, Avoidance of Violence & Revenge, Speaking The Whole Truth, The Brotherhood of Males, Obligation to Help & Protect The Weak & Unfortunate, Duty to Mother (or Sisters), Courtesy To All, Accepting The Success of Others, Accepting the Assistance of Benefactors, and an Expectation of One's Own Success. His stories depicted the efforts of New York City's underclass in the 19th century to cope with extreme poverty, misfortune, and other obstacles to social mobility but they always had an optimistic tone to them (glass is half full perspective) whereas the book for this musical reflects the opinion that there might be one drop of water left in the glass we call "The American Dream" and that if you believe in it, you are either an idiot, delusional, or deranged. A combination of Good Morals and Good Fortune led to the success of many of the boys written about in Horatio Alger's novels. That message has been turned on its head in Bound To Rise, making you long to race home to take a shower to wash off the slime and unrealistic portrayal of all rich people, shown here as selfish, insensitive, immoral, deliberately cruel elitists, who are driven only by greed. Even Mr. Stone of The New York Central Railroad ("I don't know enough about ethics to apply them to business"), Dick Hunter's benefactor, is explicitly depicted as a "pedophile" who "makes small deposits" into his "bank account from time to time" in return for being given access to Dick Hunter's back door whenever he feels the urge to walk down that path.

Bound To Rise features three other stories, each which are wrapped up in a fancy bow with a false "happy ending" leaving you depressed with little reason for hope or optimism. Paolo Solis is excellent as Walter Sherwood, whose Guardian takes him out of Yale, lies to him about his inheritance having become greatly diminished, and sends him off to New York City to make it on his own. John Cencio Burgos was eventually able to shine as Mark Manton, a pyromaniacal "match boy" from Philadelphia, and Justyna Kostek, was uninspiring as Helen Lord ("from the less industrious branch of the family from Connecticut"). In the order of appearance during the curtain call, Ms. Kostek was the lead actress in this production followed by Mr. Burgos and Mr. Emerson. This is a true miscarriage of justice. The lead actor in this musical is Jonathan Emerson and he deserves recognition for his extraordinary performance. The only other actor in the cast I found worthy of note was Mark J. Dempsey, who played Mr. Davenport and Leo the Magnificent, a magician. There were major problems with the choreography and the musical direction. I have no idea whether this is because the cast did not have a sufficient number of rehearsals or whether it reflects a lack of vocal talent. There were a few memorable songs in this musical but none of them were listed in the program. I particularly liked one number about the importance of women wearing corsets ("A Woman Must Bind") and the main number "Bound To Rise" was quite tuneful but had hackneyed lyrics such as "And Just Like The Sun, I'm Bound To Rise" and "Fill This World With Hope, It's Bound To Rise." Newspapers are also criticized for not addressing real issues and for printing lies, rumors and gossip to distract us from the real problems we face in our lives. Yet, on the other hand, Joseph Root, a crusading journalist for The New York Sun, is observed telling Mark Manton, the match boy living in a box, not to smile when his photo is being taken in order to emphasize the unhappiness of his supposedly miserable life as a "Street Arab."

Oliver Conant directs the play with a sledge hammer and has the cast freeze on stage for 30 seconds of silence when a line is uttered which he wants the audience to reflect upon. One such line was "Why do some people have so much and others so little?" and the second was, "I can hardly stand. How can I move on?". A third line spoken by Mark Manton might as well have been the third. After Dick Hunter saved his life, the ungrateful "Match Box Manton" (who earlier tried to set Dick Hunter on fire) said "One Little Life - What's The Value Please?" before saying, "What I'd give not to live in a world so cold!" Well, this is the world you live in Mark and your mommy is no longer around to hold your hand and to protect you from all the evil people in the world. Wake up and be a man! When Mark was finally found by his grandmother and taken back to Milwaukee where he will become a wealthy man, I loved Dick Hunter's line, "Good thing he's going to be rich because he sure was a failure at being poor."

Just as Christopher Hirschmann Brandt, Manager of Medicine Company Theatre, opined about "con man" Trump, I can also say that Bound To Rise is similarly "utterly devoid of content or value" (with the exception of the performances of a few actors, especially that of Jonathan Emerson who played the aspiring Richard Hunter Esq. and we, too, were conned finding out after having attended, that the money we spent for a ticket is long gone as are the three hours of our life we shall never get back, along with the hopes and dreams we had of seeing a good show. Bound To Rise will be disappointing audiences through February 26, 2017. Tickets are $30.00 ($23.00 for students & seniors) and are available by phone at 1-800-838-3006 or online at 

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Applause! Applause! Review of The Full Monty at The John W. Engeman Theater at Northport by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of The Full Monty at The John W. Engeman Theater at Northport was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

The Full Monty
Based on the Motion Picture released by Fox Searchlight Pictures
Book by Terrence McNally
Music & Lyrics by David Yazbek
Directed by Keith Andrews
Choreography by Antoinette DiPietropolo
Musically Directed by Andrew Haile Austin
Scenic Design by DT Willis
Costume Design by Tristan Raines
Lighting Design by Doug Harry
Sound Design by Laura Shubert
Wig & Hair Design by Emilia Martin
Props Design by ToniAnne DiFilippo
The John W. Engeman Theater at Northport
250 Main Street
Northport, New York 11768
Reviewed 1/22/17

The Full Monty had its world premiere at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego from June 1 through July 9, 2000. The Broadway production opened at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre on October 26, 2000 and closed on September 1, 2002, after 770 performances and 35 previews. In this Americanized musical stage version adapted from the 1997 British film of the same name, six unemployed Buffalo steelworkers with imperfect bodies decide to put on a "one-night only" strip act at Tony Giordano's, a local club, after seeing their wives' enthusiasm for a touring company of Chippendale's. Their promotional hook is that they are not only offering women the opportunity to see "real men" strip (as opposed to "fairies") but also that they intend to go "the full monty" by taking off all their clothes. Two of the six "real men" are Jerry Lukowski, the man with the plan, who has gotten divorced in the 18 months since he was laid off and is now at risk of losing joint custody of his son for not having met his child support obligations. Jerry sleeps with Estelle Genovese, the local slut, even on weekends when his son visits, smokes marijuana and watches pornography. He refuses to take available jobs as a security guard, a waiter, or even a packer because he feels those jobs are beneath his dignity. Dave Bukatinsky, Jerry's best friend, is in a similar position. He is still married but hasn't slept with his wife in some time. He is depressed, drinks, and handles household chores while allowing his wife to carry the entire financial burden of paying their bills. He complains, "I want to feel like the husband - not the wife!" Jerry and Dave hold auditions to find the right men for the job and hope to take a share of the $50,000.00 they intend to make, which will pay off some of their debts and allow Jerry to catch up on his child support payments.

The first man added to Hot Metal, a name for the troupe Jerry's son Nathan came up with, is Malcolm MacGregor, a nerd who lives with his mother and was kept on as a security guard at the factory (which will come in handy when they later look for rehearsal space). Jerry and Dave come upon Malcolm while he is in the process of committing suicide. They save his life, offer to be his friend, and suggest that he join them. The three of them sing "Big-Ass Rock," a hilarious song with lyrics suggesting more effective ways a friend could help another friend commit suicide. Dave also offers Malcolm a cigarette after having saved him but in a very funny line, he says, "No thanks. I'm trying to quit." When checking out the local dance studio for tips, they come across Harold Nichols, their former supervisor, who has not yet told his wife he is unemployed. In return for their silence, Harold agrees to give them pointers and help choreograph their act. Harold's wife Vicki does a fine rendition of "Life With Harold" and Dave and Harold sing "You Rule My World" with an equally moving reprise of the song performed in the second act by their wives, Georgie and Vicki. During auditions, they hire Noah "Horse" T. Simmons, an elderly African-American who knows how to move, dance and sing, and Ethan Girard, a white man with absolutely no talent. When asked, "You don't sing. You don't dance. Why do you think we should hire you?", he responded, "I thought maybe this!" as he dropped his pants revealing a gargantuan Godzilla-sized penis. So with the group in place and with the knowledge that Buffalo had already given the world Buffalo wings, they were now prepared to give it Buffalo wieners!

Jeanette Burmeister shows up with a piano to help with the auditions and the show. Her character is the glue that keeps everyone together, despite her pessimistic observations during "Jeanette's Showbiz Number." She turns to Malcolm at one point and says, "It's like a Putz Museum." She also opines that "a dead agent" is definitely an oxymoron. The gang is busted by the cops for indecent exposure during an un-dress rehearsal before an audience of nursing home residents. Malcolm and Ethan escape the police and for some reason, crawl through a window at Malcolm's home. They connected previously by discovering they were both fans of The Sound Of Music, but the second they had a tender moment and Ethan held Malcolm's hand in anticipation of their first kiss, the morality code kicked in demanding they be immediately punished for their deviance. At that second, in the darkness, Malcolm senses that something is wrong and discovers his mother has passed away. At the funeral, Malcolm and Ethan sing "You Walk With Me," a very moving song that brought me to tears. Dave pointed out to Jerry that Malcolm and Ethan were holding hands. Jerry's response was "Good for them. Good for them," which was quite unexpected since he earlier tried to hit Buddy "Keno" Walsh, a gay Chippendale's dancer who called him "honey."

As we move into the big night, some of the guys are having second thoughts about appearing naked on stage, except for Ethan, of course, who has no insecurity regarding his endowment. Jerry's ex-wife Pam is in the audience, with her new boyfriend, Teddy Slaughter, who brought binoculars (clearly meant as a burn to her ex-husband). Noah "Horse" T. Simmons is terrified because his minister and his mom have come to see the show. Dave's wife Georgie is front and center urging him on and they are all a little uncomfortable because half the audience is male. Still, the line is around the block and the show is sold out. They may even need to add a second show. I have never appreciated the fact that when it comes to showing the audience The Full Monty in the final number of the musical, "Let It Go," that many directors move the guys to the back of the stage and then deny the audience the money shot by blinding them with high-intensity light. It's a cheat which never sat well with me. On the other hand, in light of the dose of morality injected into the script, the lack of a payoff at the end of the play is something you could have anticipated.

There isn't a weak link in the entire cast. All are extremely talented and professional actors. The Hot Metal dancers - Brent Michael DiRoma (Jerry Lukowski), Ryan G. Dunkin (Dave Bukatinsky), Spencer Glass (Malcolm MacGregor), Milton Craig Nealy (Noah "Horse" T. Simmons), Noah Bridgestock (Ethan Girard), and Peter Simon Hilton (Harold Nichols) - each shine with their own unique light. Making their presence and perspectives known are the main female actors - Kate Marshall (Pam Lukowski), Nicole Hale (Georgie Bukatinsky), Gaelen Gilliland (Vicki Nichols), Lexi Lyric (Estelle Genovese), and Diane Findlay (Jeanette Burmeister). Also worthy of note was the performance of Kyle Wolf as Nathan Lukowski, and Wayne Shuker as Teddy Slaughter. The music, sets, costumes and direction are all top-notch but for a play supposed to be set in "The Present" there were many cultural references to sports and music figures who were active and more well-known in the late 1990s. The anachronistic references do not detract from your ability to enjoy the show, but your anger at out-of-work men who refuse to "man-up" and take a job to help their wives out while "waiting for the right situation" reflects a gender role rigidity and super-male ego I would have hoped had been left behind in the 20th Century, along with physical attacks on gay men who look at you the wrong way or say something you don't like.

This is an extraordinary production of The Full Monty. You will thoroughly enjoy the songs, the sets, the scenes, and the situations. The message of this play, in my opinion, is that if life throws you a curve ball, you should take a swing and hit it out of the park, even it means moving outside your comfort zone. Speak to your wife and significant others. Communicate with your mother and your friends. You are not alone and help awaits if only you get over your pride and ask for it. If you need to go "the full monty" to sell $50.00 tickets to your strip show (even if it's illegal), maybe you should "go for it" because "you only live once." Of course, you may not want to live out your life with a criminal record so I would use some discretion when making life decisions. One decision that is safe to make is committing to see The Full Monty, which runs at The John W. Engeman Theater at Northport through March 5, 2017. The performance schedule is as follows: Thursdays at 8:00 p.m., Fridays at 8:00 p.m., Saturdays at 3:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. (Some Wednesdays and Sunday evenings are available). Tickets are $76.00 on Saturday evenings, $71.00 all other performances and may be purchased by calling 631-261-2900, going online at or by visiting the Engeman Theater Box Office at 250 Main Street in Northport (Long Island).

Monday, January 23, 2017

Applause! Applause! Review of Paul Calderon's Fringe Of Humanity at Access Theater by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Paul Calderon's Fringe Of Humanity at Access Theater was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Fringe Of Humanity
Written & Directed by Paul Calderon
Access Theater
380 Broadway, 4th Floor
New York, New York 10013
Reviewed 1/19/17

It is suggested Fringe Of Humanity is set in Guatemala City, Guatemala where a motley crew of filmmakers has gathered to put the finishing touches on a script scheduled to start principal photography in a few days. The plot of the fictitious film involves an American Latino Ex-Navy Seal who travels to Central America to rescue his daughter, who has been sold into prostitution. There is a risk that one of the actors or crew members might get abducted and held for ransom. It is also possible gunfire might break out in the lobby or courtyard of their hotel at any moment but "the bowels of a lawless Third World country" is not what stands out to me as being the "fringe of humanity" the title of this play references. The underbelly and rejects of humanity in this play are, in my opinion, the loathsome characters portrayed who are willing to go to great lengths to get what they want. Their use, abuse, and betrayal of partners, friends, and co-workers also reflect their lack of morality or of any ethical standards suggestive of civilization. If you are in the business ("that sucks you in like a Black Hole") or have experienced "Tinseltown Terrorism," you may recognize and/or identify with a number of the people portrayed in this play. However, you may find it hard to pay attention to what's going because incessant, non-stop, background music is constantly being played to the annoyance of all. Even William Rothlein, who plays Ken "Patch" Kelly, the Location Scout, at one point says "This fucking music - it never ends!!! The result was laughter and thunderous applause from the audience.

Paul Calderon, the writer and director of this play, also acts in the role of Nick Valdez, the washed-up director recovering from heroin addiction ("I'm not a Latino Director. I am a Director. Period!"). David Zayas is Ross Gausmann, the cocaine-snorting, abusive, violence prone, Executive Producer of the one-million dollar budgeted film who recently married Liz, a 43-year-old actress who has decided to retire from show business to have a child or two ("The minute our tits start sagging, our careers do too."). Liz, who once slept with the lead actor, Pierce (Luke Edward Smith), on the set of the Davy Crockett movie, has accepted her husband's infidelity but his extreme jealousy, ego, and possessiveness do not allow her the same courtesy. When Pierce is later abducted and held for a half-million dollar ransom, Ross not only refuses to pay it but intends "to use the publicity of the abduction to make the movie an international hit." ("News of it is already out on Twitter.") Without any concern that the abductors have promised to chop off Pierce's fingers, hands, toes, and feet, Ross has already contacted a replacement actor, who he has offered 10% of gross. When Nick Valdez quits as Director in protest, Ross simply promotes Steve O'Hara (Jakob Von Eichel), an actor playing a pimp's henchman ("I'll be waiting for sloppy seconds.") to the role of Director. After all, Nick often told Steve to take over for him as the Director of prior films and has a better rapport with the actors.

Ken "Patch" Kelly (William Rothlein), the PTSD-addled, homophobic, cinematographer is obsessed with leaving The Pink Flamingo Hotel as soon as possible to scout out locations for shooting. When Pierce demands to learn some Spanish words to sound more authentic, Patch tells him, "Hacks like you try to stop their careers from going to 'almost was' to 'never was'." When Nick, the Director, asks him to read so the two female "prostitutes" can practice their lines, Patch says, "I don't want to sound like some sissy ass actor." He eventually does read but soon discovers that the two actresses, Crissy (Feliz Ramirez) and Vicky (Jessica Damouni) have serious issues of their own. They start arguing about whether the door should be locked or unlocked when Patch says "come in, the door is open" and they claim they are hungry and were promised lunch. The final actor in this production is Alex Emanuel, who plays Ryan. His character is prone to having panic attacks and has moved into another hotel because he felt the water in the pool at The Pink Flamingo has bacteria in it. Ryan had originally been scheduled to play the lead. Needing the money, he stayed with the production when he was downgraded to play the part of lead Pimp. After the abduction and shake-up, Ryan was further demoted to a henchman. He decided to stay on the project even though Ross wanted him to appear on film with "the tattoo of a dick or a vagina on his forehead."

There is a point where the string of failures they have had are being discussed with the fear that the current project will also be a flop that will never get into movie theaters or art houses. Instead of viewing this as a negative, they discussed the fact that they didn't want the film to risk a bad review - that there was more money to be made "with people screening it, downloading it, and posting it online in many 'new media' outlets." Fringe Of Humanity does not have that option. Its world premiere at Access Theater is currently being reviewed and I am sorry to have to report that, in my opinion, it is an epic fail on many levels. All of the talented actors do a fine job in their respective roles although some of them overact and over emote. William Rothlein as Ken "Patch" Kelly is the clear audience favorite as is Rebecca Nyahay as Liz Gausmann prior to her having her post-abduction breakdown. While it is obvious that Luke Edward Smith (Pierce), Jakob Von Eichel (Steve), and Alex Emanuel (Ryan) are all fine actors, their respective parts in this play did not enable them to exhibit the broad range of their talents. The truth is that the writing itself often lacks substance and the directing is very uneven. The violence and intensity definitely need to be toned down and the background music has to stop at some point so the audience can pay attention to the performances of the actors. 

The bottom line question is whether I would recommend this play to a friend. Unfortunately, the answer is a definitive "no." There is not enough here for you to waste an evening seeing it and there are so many unanswered questions, such as "who exactly is shooting people in the courtyard" at the end of the play. If you choose to venture out to experience this play anyway, perhaps because you know someone in it, Fringe Of Humanity runs through January 28, 2017 at Access Theater located at 380 Broadway (@ White Street) in TriBeCa. Tickets are $15.00 to $18.00 and can be purchased at The play runs for 100 minutes without intermission and an elevator is available to take you to the 4th floor but you must follow the instructions on the sign on the front door. Michael Aguirre, the Producing Director for Access Theater, will probably be there to greet and welcome you. He is a very friendly fellow who strives to make your experience there as pleasant as possible. If you don't come out for this show, I recommend you check out future productions at this theater.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Applause! Applause! Review of Richard Greenberg's Our Mother's Brief Affair at Studio Theatre Long Island by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Richard Greenberg's Our Mother's Brief Affair at Studio Theatre Long Island was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Our Mother's Brief Affair
Written by Richard Greenberg
Directed by David Dubin
Studio Theatre Long Island
141 South Wellwood Avenue
Lindenhurst, New York 11757
Reviewed 1/15/17

Our Mother's Brief Affair premiered at the South Coast Repertory Theatre in April 2009. It opened on Broadway at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre (produced by the Manhattan Theatre Club) on December 28, 2015 (previews) and officially on January 20, 2016, closing on March 6, 2016. Anna, the lead character, decides to confess to Seth, her son (an obituary writer) that she had a brief affair when he was a teenager taking lessons at Julliard in New York City. In fact, Anna may not have allowed Seth to quit since it allowed her an excuse to travel into Manhattan to sleep with Phil, her secret lover. Anna, a liberal, Jewish mother from Long Island fond of wearing a beige Burberry Jacket with a stylish scarf (one of the few gifts her husband Abe gave her that she liked) has never been in line to win "an Ethics Medal from Benito Mussolini." When a young girl, she used to sit on a fire escape and swing her legs open so the soldiers below could get a free show. When her younger sister Mary was dying of Lupus, she sometimes ignored her and would not even get her a drink of water. Then, just because she had twins, she felt there was something wrong with her that caused that outcome. And then you have her adultery and her maintaining a Post Office Box in East Meadow (she lived in Merrick) so she could secretly get letters from her lovers (who knows how many there were). This revelation is a surprise to Seth but his twin sister Abby found out about the affair and the letters from their father in the late 1990s. Anna's deathbed observation with respect to these moral and ethical lapses is that "some things you do, show you who you are for all times." 

Despite her liberal attitude, Anna still has problems with the fact that both her children are either in a relationship with a same-sex partner or seeking such a match. She criticizes her daughter Abby for "starting up with girls in her late 30s" and abandons nudging Seth to find a nice boy simply because he is gay. Had he been straight, she would have bugged him day and night to find a nice girl. Anna's lover Phil may or may not have been David Greenglass, the kid brother of Ethel Rosenberg, who testified against Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, who spied for the Soviet Union and were tried, convicted and executed for conspiracy to commit espionage. They were instrumental in the transmission of information about top-secret military technology and prototypes of mechanisms related to the atomic bomb and also provided top-secret radar, sonar, and jet propulsion engines to the Soviet Union. David Greenglass, who served nine and a half years in prison, worked at the Los Alamos Laboratory in New Mexico and was also an atomic spy for the Soviet Union. He claims to have stolen documents because the Soviets were our friends and the whole "balance of power" thing, but in the end, he testified against his sister Ethel because he wanted to live. Even though there is no longer any doubt that Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were guilty, Seth, the radical liberal, can't seem to forgive his mother for sleeping with "swine." Anna's defense regarding why she didn't walk away was that he "looked like a little boy" and that they "had already paid for the room." Anna may be confusing fantasy with reality or she may believe her affair is worthy of inclusion in her obituary. As she describes it, "I'm a woman who had a moment and if that moment was with David Greenglass - so be it!"

Despite the lack of substance or resolution, I thought the play was well-written and very engaging. We learn about the respective characters and their history over time and there are many interesting secrets that are revealed. The audience is taken on a journey and introduced to people who don't have everything figured out, and in some cases, need to forgive themselves before they can move on. The entire cast is outstanding but Frances McGarry, who plays Anna, is the star of the show. She is a strong and talented actress playing a part that is quite psychologically complex. She shines and so does this production. Edward Cress does a fine job portraying Seth, and Lauren Duffy doesn't let us down as Abby. The relationship between the twins is realistic and believable. David Rifkind plays both Phil/David and Anna's husband Abe. He hits the mark in all his roles and clearly distinguishes them. David Dubin does a great job directing this production and the set is quite impressive.

I think you will very much enjoy seeing Richard Greenberg's Our Mother's Brief Affair, which runs at Studio Theatre Long Island through January 29, 2016. Tickets cost $25.00 and can be purchased at For more information, call 631-226-8400.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Applause! Applause! Review of Peter And The Starcatcher at the Smithtown Center For The Performing Arts by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Peter And The Starcatcher at the Smithtown Center For The Performing Arts was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Peter And The Starcatcher
Based on the Novel by Dave Barry & Ridley Pearson
Adapted for the Stage by Rick Elice
Music by Wayne Barker
Directed by Kenneth J. Washington
Smithtown Center For The Performing Arts
2 East Main Street
Smithtown, New York 11787
Reviewed 1/14/17

Peter And The Starcatcher is an outrageous, fantastical, anachronistic play based on a novel of the same name written by Dave Barry & Ridley Pearson, which provides a slightly altered version of the back story of Peter Pan than is set forth in J.M. Barrie's Peter & Wendy and The Little White Bird. The book was adapted for the stage by Rick Elice and what little music there is was written by Wayne Barker. The show premiered on February 13, 2009 at the La Jolla Playhouse (a not-for-profit, professional theater on the campus of the University of California, San Diego) and ran through March 8, 2009. The play opened Off-Broadway at New York Theatre Workshop beginning performances on February 18, 2011 and closing on April 24, 2011. Peter And The Starcatcher officially opened on Broadway at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre on April 15, 2012, closing on January 20, 2013 after 18 previews and 319 regular performances. It then re-opened Off-Broadway at New World Stages beginning on March 18, 2013 and closing on January 12, 2014. The Broadway production won five Tony Awards  for Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Play (Christian Borle), Best Sound Design of a Play (Darron L. West), Best Lighting Design of a Play (Jeff Croiter), Best Costume Design of a Play (Paloma Young), and Best Scenic Design of a Play (Donyale Werle).

Although the play is set in 1885, there are references to the composer Philip Glass ("as elusive as a melody in a Philip Glass opera") and to Ayn Rand, the Founder of Objectivism ("people intent on world domination, like Ayn Rand"). Both Glass and Rand had not yet been born in 1885 and the characterization of Ayn Rand's philosophy has absolutely no basis in reality. But then again, neither do many of the other things portrayed in this show such as fish turning into mermaids when exposed to starstuff that falls to Earth from the stars in the sky, amulets that act like walkie-talkies, or superstitions such as the belief that the presence of a cat on a ship is "a lucky sign." Apparently, starstuff changes people in different ways depending on their aspirations and ambitions. Starcatchers, such as Lord Leonard Aster (there are only 6 1/2 Starcatchers on the planet), are responsible for keeping starstuff out of the hands of people who will use it for no good. Lord Aster is on a secret mission for Queen Victoria to destroy a trunk full of starstuff (traveling aboard the WASP) by throwing it into Mount Jalapeno, the largest active volcano on Earth located on Mollusk Island in the Kingdom of Rundoon. For security reasons, Lord Aster speaks to his daughter Molly in Dodo (they also speak porpoise) and Norse Code (an ancient Viking signalizing system). 

Molly Aster is the only female character in the cast. She is played by Emma Geer, a talented and charismatic actor who is a shining star in this production. Molly twice repeats the famous line that "to have faith is to have wings." As an Apprentice Starcatcher, it is her obligation to save the world but at one point she ignores her father's orders and chooses instead to save Peter's life. Reflecting on the choice she would make again, Molly says, "Saving the world is so abstract. Putting a human face on it helps." When Alf, a salty and flatulent sailor, says he tries to keep in shape, Molly responds by saying, "Round is a shape." And finally, referring to Queen Victoria, she tells the orphan boys, "Victoria doesn't need starstuff to rule the world - she's British!" (Molly means "Squid Poo" in the native language of Rundoon).

For no apparent reason other than for shits and giggles, Mrs. Betty Bumbrake, Molly's widowed Nanny, is played by Eugene Dailey in drag (with a few barnacles on his bottom). She is romantically pursued by Alf and uses her large, red bloomers as a sail. My favorite Betty Bumbrake line was when she said, "Moo Shu goes through me like the winter wind in Wessex." Eugene Dailey also appears as the Mermaid Teacher in the Grotto. Ryan Nolin plays Black Stash, the lead villain, as an extremely effeminate, gay-acting Pirate Captain nicknamed "Nancy" by his crew. Black Stash, soon to become Captain Hook, was an orphan himself having been left by his mother at a tattoo parlor. Stash is in search of a worthy rival, a genuine hero, to oppose so he can become a great villain. He eventually finds that rival in Peter Pan. Black Stash is famous for misspeaking (saying "splitting rabbits" instead of "splitting hairs"; saying "no man is an archipelago" instead of "no man is an island"; and saying "merge a forger" instead of "forge a merger"). Dismissing Molly's feminine charms in the style of Frank N. Furter in The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Black Stash said, "I bet your milkshakes brings all the boys to the yard, but I'm not interested" (He was far more interested in a partnership with 13-year old Peter). He also demanded his crew get things "as clean as the sheets in a convent" and tried to get the show moving faster by saying, " We don't have time for that. People have paid for nannies and parking!" Both Eugene Dailey and Ryan Nolin were audience favorites commanding their attention and taking them on a journey of the absurd. 

I was particularly impressed with the performances of Matt Paredi as Prentiss (an exceptional actor who asserted that "the oldest must be the leader" and that "the leader must be a boy"), Louis Brady as Ted (a talented actor who spent most of Act II figuring out how to open a pineapple), David Gow (the quiet boy without a name neglected to the point of having never seen the sun, who emerged into Peter Pan, a fearless and selfless leader), David Reyes (quite distinguished and believable as Captain Robert Falcon Scott), Jordan Hue as King Zarboff/Fighting Prawn (the hilarious, island leader/former kitchen slave who hated the English, killed his former Master with poison pasta, and spoke with an Italian accent) and Michael Newman as Lord Leonard Aster (a dutiful and devoted father on a mission for Queen Victoria - "God Save The Queen!"). Each of these actors and others portrayed multiple characters and all deserve credit for maximizing the potential of each of their respective roles. 

Rick Grossman appeared as Smee, Black Stash's "right-hand man" and, in light of the trunk accident, he will need him. Smee dressed as a female, native island siren in an image you will not soon forget. Bob Kaplan played Alf as a well-weathered Seaman, and Andrew Murano was perfectly unlikeable as Captain Bill Slank, who was delivering the three orphans to King Zarboff of Rundoon to be used as snake food. Molly and Peter had an instant attraction to each other. When facing possible death after being thrown into the cage of Mr. Grin, the man-eating crocodile, Molly kissed Peter on the lips but when he asked her about it later, she brushed him off saying she had no time for "sentimentality." Peter got his first name due to a recommendation made by Black Stash and Pan, his "family" name, from the Mermaid Teacher he met in the Grotto. The Teacher explained that one meaning of the word "Pan" is "Fun, Frolic, Anarchy & Mystery" - all things a boy likes! Molly explained to him that the second meaning of the word "Pan" meant "all" as in that all the birds, the Pirates, and the boys on the island (which Peter considered renaming Neverland after the ship he arrived on) were his family and constituted his "home." Peter often stated how much he hated grown-ups and just wanted to be a boy for a while since he now experienced "Space, Light & Air" and was finally free. Due to the exposure to starstuff, Lord Leonard Aster said "a while" might be quite some time so he took the remaining starstuff in his amulet to turn an island bird into a protector to keep him company and to advise him (the origins of Tinker Bell). Even though he knew he would remain a teenager, he asked Molly to stay on the island as his friend but she refused by saying that in one year, their friendship would be "hard," in five years it would be "silly," and that in twenty years, it would be "sad." In penance for abandoning Peter, Molly allows Peter to take her daughter Wendy to the island to keep him company and suspects that Wendy will allow Peter to do the same with her daughter. 

Peter And The Starcatcher evoke highly diverse reactions from audience members. You may find the play to be confusing and uninteresting. In the alternative, you may find it charming and a complete delight. However, If you come in expecting a musical, you will be disappointed. If you arrive expecting an intelligently written play with elaborate sets, you will find the show lacking. If you are looking for a children's show, the gay, cross-dressing and downright evil characters in this play who beat the orphans, throw men overboard, and feed "the pigs" live worms, you will leave confused and possibly angry you were not warned in advance that this show may not be appropriate for young children. A bad sailor is viciously tortured, hazed, and branded. Mr. Grin, now an enormous man-eating crocodile, is on the loose, and King Zarboff is threatening to kill all the English who have come to his island. On the other hand, there is a story to be told and with the expert direction of Ken Washington, it is relayed in an interesting and imaginative manner. Many people love this play. Others don't. I would say it is a mediocre play with an excellent cast staged at the Smithtown Center For The Performing Arts in the best possible light. In that regard, this production is a success and I recommend you see it while you can. It plays through February 25, 2017. Tickets are $35.00 for adults; $32.00 for seniors; and $20.00 for students with a valid identification. You can purchase tickets by visiting the Smithtown Center For The Performing Arts website at For more information, call 631-724-3700.