Thursday, April 19, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, April 15, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, April 6, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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