Sunday, June 22, 2014

Applause! Applause! Review of Theatre Time's Twelve Angry Men at the Colonial Church of Bayside by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Theatre Time's production of the play Twelve Angry Men at the Colonial Church of Bayside was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 4 (2014) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Twelve Angry Men
Theatre Time Production
Colonial Church of Bayside (54-02 217th Street, Bayside, NY)
Reviewed 6/21/14

Twelve Angry Men is a drama written by Reginald Rose concerning the jury deliberations of twelve men in a homicide trial of a 16-year old inner-city, troubled youth accused of killing his father with a switch-blade knife. It was made for the Studio One anthology television series and aired as a CBS live production on September 20, 1954. In 1955, it was adapted for the stage and in 1957, it was made into a movie directed by Sidney Lumet and starring Henry Fonda as Juror #8. The film received three Academy Award nominations for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay. In 2004, the Roundabout Theatre Company staged a Broadway production of the play and in November, 2013, a London West End production opened at the Garrick Theatre. This Theatre Time production of Twelve Angry Men is as good as any I have seen. I highly recommend you go to see it.

The play is not about whether the accused is guilty or innocent. The fact is no one knows for sure. The play is more about what constitutes reasonable doubt and the struggle to achieve a just jury verdict. The men deliberating on that verdict bring to the table prejudices, anger, indifference, unreliable judgments, different perspectives, fears and diverse personalities that threaten to taint their rational decision-making abilities. This production is set in a New York County Criminal Court Jury Room (overlooking the Woolworth Building) circa 1957 and successfully evokes the cultural sensitivities of that time. Although we never find out the race or ethnic background of  the 16-year old indigent, minority, slum-dwelling defendant, we do learn his mother died when he was nine years old, that he lived as an orphan for one and a half years while his father spent time in jail for forgery, and that he has a criminal record. 

Just as Juror #10, who has strong racist tendencies, is more than eager to assume the boy is guilty, Juror #8 is inclined to give the boy the benefit of the doubt, concerned that his Court-appointed attorney may not have done the best he could in putting up a defense and cross-examining the prosecution's witnesses. The play remains interesting to the end as a diverse group of twelve jurors (all male, mostly middle-aged, white, and generally middle class status) deliberate after hearing the "facts" in a seemingly open-and-shut case and later, as each piece of evidence is further examined, become less and less certain of those "facts" as jury deliberations continue.

Kevin C. Vincent directed the production and was Juror #8 (the first juror to vote Not Guilty). The play was presented "in the round", which was an excellent choice that allowed audience members to see the actors from all angles as jury deliberations progressed. Kevin C. Vincent played Juror #8 as a soft-spoken, calm, cool-headed, rational truth-seeking architect who simply had doubts about whether the defendant was guilty as charged. Bernard Bosio played the hot-headed, combative Juror #3 (owner of a messenger service called the "Beck & Call" Company), the last hold-out voting Guilty after everyone else had admitted to having some "reasonable doubt". Bosio's final speech was intense and memorable as he recounts feeling as if the defendant had thrust the knife into his own heart, just as his son had figuratively done to him. You could hear a pin drop during Mr. Bosio's final scene when it became increasingly clear that his anger at his estranged son was blinding his judgment. Eric Leeb did a great job portraying Juror #4, the well-educated, well-dressed stockbroker who was cool-headed and rational and the main voice of reason for those arguing in favor of a Guilty verdict. Jim Haines was garage-owner Juror #10, who was more than willing to send the defendant to the electric chair simply because of the racial stereotypes he believed gave him insight into the kind of boy this particular kid was. Mr. Haines did a top-notch job in the role but his shirt was somehow unable to remain tucked-in causing a wardrobe malfunction that was distracting.

Tim Reifschneider was Juror #1, who successfully portrayed the high-school assistant head-coach who didn't want the responsibility of Jury Foreman but who did the best he could to keep the discussions on track. Michael Pichardo convincingly played the relatively simple-minded, meek Juror #2 who was obviously not on the same intellectual level as his fellow jurors but who did have a better memory than Juror #4 in recalling a film title. Paul Robilotto was Juror #5, who grew up in a slum himself, had knowledge about the proper use of switch-blades and who was nick-named Milwaukee by Juror #7 because he liked the Brewers. Mr. Robilotto was so excited to be appearing in this production that he broke out into a hora step during the curtain call, perhaps reflecting the fact that his character may have grown up in a Jewish slum on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Ray Bendana was perfectly cast as Juror #6, a typical "working man" (probably a manual laborer or a painter) who was respectful and protective of older Juror #9 and was willing to back that up with his fists, if necessary. Juror #9 was brought to life by Johnny Dee Damato. Jef. Lawrence was effective as Juror #7, the baseball obsessed, marmalade salesman, who just wanted to leave as soon as possible so he could attend an evening Yankees game he had tickets to. Marty Edelman was very believable as Juror #11, the watchmaking, refuge from Central Europe with a heavy accent (implied to be Jewish), who expresses reverence and respect for American democracy and its system of justice. Finally, Jim Percival held his own as Juror #12, the business ad man, who was easily swayed and used advertising talk when expressing his ideas.

This Theatre Time production of Twelve Angry Men is a winner in every way. It received an enthusiastic, standing ovation by every member of the audience in a packed house on opening night. I was very pleased to have had the opportunity to catch this production and I suggest you not miss it. General Admission is $17.00 (Seniors $15.00). Purchase your tickets at 

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Applause! Applause! Review of StageLight Entertainment's Die, Mommie, Die! at The BACCA Arts Center by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of StageLight Entertainment's production of the play Die, Mommie, Die! at The BACCA Arts Center was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 4 (2014) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Die, Mommie, Die!
StageLight Entertainment Production
The BACCA Arts Center (149 Wellwood Avenue, Lindenhurst, NY)
Reviewed 5/31/14

Die, Mommie, Die! was written by Charles Busch. The play was first produced at the Coast Playhouse in Los Angeles, California in 1999 where it won an Ovation Award. A film was made in 2003 and in 2007, it was produced in New York for the first time at New World Stages starring Charles Busch in the lead role of Angela/Barbara Arden. The production won a Lucille Lortel Award and was nominated for Drama Desk, American Theatre Wing and Outer Critics Circle Awards. 

This comic, over-the-top, campy melodrama is meant to evoke faded images of long gone movie divas like Joan Crawford, Barbara Stanwyck, Lana Turner and Bette Davis. The main character in the play is Angela Arden, a former singer and actress from northwest Saskatchewan, Canada who was forced to retire after the death of her twin sister Barbara, when critics and audiences alike concluded she seemed to have lost all her talent. Given her horrible marriage to film producer Sol Sussman, who owes 20 million dollars to the mob, Ms. Arden has taken a young lover, Tony Parker, an out-of-work actor who is also sleeping with her daughter Edie and her son Lance. Sol finds out about the affair but refuses to divorce her keeping her in a living hell with him as the prison warden. What's a girl to do when her husband cuts up her credit cards? Kill him, of course! Angela believes she has accomplished the task by poisoning his suppository. Suddenly Angela goes on an LSD trip, their maid Bootsie Karp appears to have accidentally poisoned herself, scissors get thrown, Edie's hymen breaks, Lance gets a tongue bath, someone tries to kill Angela, FBI agents show up, Jews promise to become Christians and raise money for Richard Nixon, and, incredibly, although all is forgiven, Barbara, who everyone expected was alive from the first minutes of the play, walks off in grande dame style to accept responsibility for her actions.

Chris Rosselli takes on the tough task of playing Angela/Barbara Arden. Chris is a man playing a woman just as Charles Busch played the original role but it is very important he be more than a drag queen. He must transcend all humor potentially obtained solely from the drag element and must play the role "straight". Although Chris Rosselli is far more low key, laid back and less frenetic than Charles Busch in the role, he pulls it off well, gathering sympathy for the character earlier in the play rather than later. I was pleased with his performance even though he didn't milk the diva element as much as he could have. Salvatore Casto was perfectly cast as Lance Sussman, Sol's homosexual son who was thrown out of college for being a bad influence on the faculty. He was allegedly discovered with the eight male professors of the Math Department being spun around nude on a Lazy Susan. Lance is hated by his father, loved by his mother and teased by his sister, all resulting in some undefined "emotional problems" for which he sees a psychiatrist. Salvatore Casto is a very talented actor with great potential and he gave the role of Lance his all, even though it appears he was denied the opportunity to play the part to the fullest effect possible. 

Michael H. Carlin directed the production and did a good job with the exception of two fatal flaws. The first is the excruciatingly slow pace of this show. Most productions of Die, Mommie, Die! run 90 minutes usually without an intermission. This production ran almost three hours. Even given the intermission, it was a full hour longer than it should have been. The dialogue and scenes seemed to drag at times (no pun intended). This is an easily correctable problem but it should have been addressed prior to opening night. The second flaw is that all the passionate, gay intimacy present in the second act between Lance and Tony somehow never made it onto the stage. Whatever hang-ups the director might have about presenting gay intimacy on stage or regarding the difference in ages between Lance and Tony, he should not deny the audience the opportunity to see the play as Charles Busch intended. I am very certain Salvatore Casto could have handled the situation well. I am not that confident that Mike McKasty could have done the same as Tony Parker. I have no idea what the Casting Directors were thinking putting Mike McKasty in this role. Tony Parker is a character that must exude sexuality and it must be believable he would be able to seduce Angela Arden, as well as her two children. Mr. McKasty doesn't have those qualities and is far too old for the part, which is a major problem since he is such a central character in the story. Beyond that, Mr. McKasty was very uncertain delivering his lines, often hesitating and correcting himself when he started to misspeak. Even the sock he stuffed down his pants to make him appear well-endowed was off-center and disturbingly distracting.

Jessie Maldonado was well-suited to play Edie Sussman, an unlikeable, self-absorbed daddy's girl, as was Guy DeMatties, who was Sol Sussman, the egotistic, homophobic film producer husband of Angela Arden. I don't know whether it was the actors or the director who made the very bad decision to encourage the two of them to intimately and passionately embrace in a manner that suggested they were on the verge of sleeping together (if they hadn't already crossed that line), which was buttressed by the presence of their maid Bootsie Karp, competently portrayed by Kerry Quirke, who clearly acted as if she wanted to be part of a threesome with them when she sat next to them on the coach trying to intertwine her arms and legs with theirs. I understand there may be some Freudian interpretation that would support Edie's hidden, subconscious desire to sleep with her father, but it shouldn't have been made so explicitly manifest resulting in some extremely uncomfortable scenes. Bootsie had the funniest line in the show when she turned to Lance, after he was supposed to have handled Tony Parker's eleven inch tool, and said, innocently, "Sometimes you have to face things that are hard to swallow."

I had never been to a StageLight Entertainment production at The BACCA (Babylon Citizens Council on the Arts) Arts Center and I am pleased to report it is a cozy little theater with a friendly staff, reasonably priced concessions and a good, general admission seating policy. Great attention to detail was paid in putting up the set and the company deserves credit for tackling such a challenging production. I had a very enjoyable evening and I highly recommend you see StageLight Entertainment's production of Die, Mommie, Die! while you have the chance. You can obtain more information about StageLight Entertainment productions by visiting their website at