Saturday, August 29, 2015

Applause! Applause! Review of The Absolutely True Science Of Nerds at Drom by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Shyaporn Theerakulstit's The Absolutely True Science Of Nerds at Drom was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 5 (2015) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

The Absolutely True Science Of Nerds
Created, Produced & Performed by Shyaporn Theerakulstit
85 Avenue A
New York, New York 10009
Reviewed 8/26/15 

Shyaporn Theerakulstit is an actor, writer, lecturer, and new media content creator specializing in comedic video sketches, social media, blogging, and the occasional fake science lecture. The Absolutely True Science Of Nerds was first performed at the Nerd Nite lecture series at Galapagos Art Space in Brooklyn, New York in 2009. It has since been seen at Global Nerd Nite at the 92nd Street Y, TEDx, C2E2, in Toronto, and as the closing presentation at the Smithsonian Institution's 2014 Future Is Here Festival. In this show, he has combined a comedic series of three "scientific" lectures on "How To Become Batman," "Star Wars vs. Star Trek," and "Godzilla," which are all presented with slides, video clips, singing, dancing, music, and Q&As. Shyaporn is a graduate of New York University's Tisch School of the Arts acting program, where he studied at the Stella Adler Conservatory and the Classical Studio. Most importantly, he plays Lt. Hikaru Sulu on Star Trek: New Voyages. Shyaporn was a part of the very first Fringe Festival in 1997 and is proud to now have an entry in the 19th Annual New York International Fringe Festival. He is particularly excited because he has been told that "having a show at the Fringe Festival is a clear path to fortune and glory!" 

The first lecture Shyaporn gave was "Batman: Origins and Training Secrets of the Dark Knight Detective." He required the audience to take a Batman Oath wherein they swore not to reveal what they were about to hear. Caught up in the moment, I took the oath so I cannot reveal any of Batman's origins or training secrets. All I can say is that Batman is Bruce Wayne, he is 6'2" tall, weighs 210 lbs., has an IQ of 192, and that, in a fight, he would kick the shit out of Superman. The second lecture was entitled Star Wars vs. Star Trek: Modern Perspectives of Past Future and Future Future Technology. Basically, the question presented was who would win if The United Federation of Planets and the Galactic Empire fought a war against each other? The technologies, size, propulsion, maneuverability, weaponry, robot technology and resources of each were examined in great detail, each earning a point when they had an advantage over the other. Even the powers of Yoda vs. the Q Continuum were compared, and in the end, the Federation won in a landslide. On a side note, Shyaporn told us that in the 24th Century, the Holodeck is used primarily for porn and prostitutes. The third and final lecture called Godzilla: History, Biology and Behavior of Hyper-evolved Theropod Kaiju goes into great detail regarding the origins, intelligence, and behavior of Godzilla and extensively quotes from reports issued by the Center For Advanced Hypothetical Kajiu & Mutant Research, as well as from the United Nations Godzilla Countermeasures Center. The two most important things to remember are that "Godzilla is not the least bit afraid of you" and that you should never "trade Godzilla to aliens" because it will come back and bite you in the ass one day. The best countermeasure and defense is "to run."

Shyaporn sang a rap song and tap danced after every segment diligently taking questions from the audience and providing answers. The promised final exam was printed in the program for the show. The special surprise we were treated to was a rarely seen alien striptease act, during which Clara Coquette (as Admiral Ackbar), a vintage vixen, nimble nerd, and cunning chameleon who trained at the New York School of Burlesque, took it all off (minus pasties) before an amazed and appreciative crowd. After she completed her "guest lecture," Shayporn said, "Excellent Points Admiral! Thank you for your remarks and for your service!"

If you are a fanboy or fangirl interested in Batman, Star Wars, Star Trek or Godzilla, then this show was written and is being performed with you in mind! It is clever performance art delivered with deadly seriousness. A guaranteed crowd-pleaser with enough humor and current events included to keep even the partner of a sci-fi geek interested until the last boob is freed! For more information, visit or  

Applause! Applause! Review of Beatrice Arthur: Astral Dame at The Laurie Beechman Theatre by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Beatrice Arthur: Astral Dame 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!

Beatrice Arthur: Astral Dame
Performed by Jason B. Schmidt
Director: Amy Anders Corcoran
Music Director: Mason Griffin
The Laurie Beechman Theatre
407 West 42nd Street
New York, New York 10036
Reviewed 8/26/15 

Jason B. Schmidt, who has been impersonating Beatrice Arthur since 2010, is a New York City-based actor, voice over talent and one-half of The Parodivas, a musical comedy group. He played Dorothea in the Golden Girls parody, Thank You For Being A Friend: The Musical. In Beatrice Arthur: Astral Dame, Bea comes back from heaven as an Astral Dame to perform one last show for her fans. Her Astral Stage Manager, Jimmy Durante, has given her the following very sage advice, "Make them laugh. Make them cry. And then Get The Hell Out Of Dodge." Bea Arthur has legions of fans out there, who love her for her work in the theater, and for her roles in movies and on television. People admired the 5'10" Tony and Emmy Award-winning star of Maude, Mame, and The Golden Girls for her brassy, outspoken personality. Everyone knew that Bea Arthur wasn't the kind of woman who would take crap from anyone! (Little known fact: Bea Arthur worked as a truck driver and typist in the United States Marine Corps during World War II receiving an Honorable Discharge in September 1945) It is a pent-up desire to see her again that is filling the seats of this audience-pleasing show.

The creative minds behind Beatrice Arthur: Astral Dame know how to throw "red meat" at Bea's devoted fans. Jason B. Schmidt opens with a medley of The Man In The Moon and Thank You For Being A Friend. Channeling her spirit, Mr. Schmidt then sings a parody of "Let's Get This (Dinner) Party Started," "What'll I Do," and the full Maude television theme, sung intentionally with many dropped lyrics. There are a few jokes in this light-hearted show, none of which brought down the house. She had a dating game skit looking for "single sisters of Dorothy" and lamented that after "working a hundred years," she "ends up doing Dinner Theater." Finally, audio clips from the Golden Girls television show were played where our Bea Arthur impersonator spoke the punch lines that had been edited out. So Dorothy said, "All we have in common is under the sheets." Rose then asks, "what's under the sheets", to which Jason B. Schmidt, as Dorothy, says, "His Cappuccino Maker, Rose!" In another clip, Dorothy relays a story about how she drank champagne but later discovered she had swallowed her engagement ring which turned up two days later. Rose asks, "Where did it turn up?" to which Schmidt, as Dorothy, responds, "On the Home Shopping Network, Rose!" 

The worst skit in the show was when she was allegedly reading quotations from Justin Bieber's memoirs and the most entertaining piece was when she was interacting with an Uncle Arthur (from Bewitched) hand puppet. The hand puppet told two Paul Lynde-style jokes. The first being, "Beauty is only skin deep. But ugly is all the way to the bone!" and "I have very little to say about sex except Yes and Where?" The star of the show was special guest Sutton Lee Seymour (Prescott Seymour), who did the Bosom Buddies duet with Bea Arthur with some changed lyrics (SS: How old are you really? BA: I don't know. SS: Well, how long have you been dead?) During a costume change, Sutton Lee Seymour performed Don't Tell Mama dancing and singing her way into the hearts of the audience. The crowd went wild, which revealed a stark contrast between the electrifying performance of Sutton Lee and the mildly entertaining, relatively mediocre numbers and skits brought to the stage by our impersonator. Sutton Lee Seymour is a charismatic performer with a great stage presence and tremendous energy. Be on the lookout for her! 

In an interview given to Mark Dommu of Next Magazine (published on July 10, 2015), Jason B. Schmidt said this regarding his Bea Arthur impersonation, "She and I aren't really that different. It's just sort of Jason in a wig and then I have to change a couple of vowels - it's not that much of a stretch." In that short quotation, Jason clearly explained what is wrong with this show. He did not do extensive research into Bea Arthur's career, he probably never read or saw her interviews, he spent little time trying to get her intonations and hand gestures down pat (although the wigs and gowns were on target), there is very little biographical information about her in the show and the skits aren't particularly funny. It is simply not a well-researched or well-written show. Still, I have no doubt Bea Arthur fans left the show having enjoyed what they just saw. However, as a critic, I have much higher standards. For more information, visit 

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Applause! Applause! Review of Endless Air, Endless Water at the Flamboyan Theater (at the Clemente) by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Endless Air, Endless Water at the Flamboyan Theater (in the Clemente Soto Velez Cultural & Educational Center) was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 5 (2015) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Endless Air, Endless Water
A Play by Robert Shaffron
Directed by Michael Damico
Scenic Design by Rory Mulholland
Costume Design by Karen Boyer
Flamboyan Theater (at the Clemente)
107 Suffolk Street
New York, New York 10002
Reviewed 8/24/15 

Endless Air, Endless Water by Robert Shaffron was originally a one-act play that participated in the Manhattan Class Company's 6th Annual Class One-Acts Festival in 1994. The work was later taken on as a project of The Blue Comet Company ( where it was revitalized, and reimagined. James David Adelman, who is the Artistic Director of Blue Comet, plays Fred, the veteran astronaut on lunar mission Zodiac 1. Patrick Judd, who is Chief Executive Officer of Blue Comet, plays Ditch, a bright, young, media savvy upstart on his first mission. Michael Damico, the Director, was primarily responsible for changing the tone and message of the play from what it originally was (according to David Richards of The New York Times, "a dopey sketch...where the astronauts are hoisted off their feet by wires and dangle helplessly in space") to one that is relevant today. It raises the important question of whether America is ready to acknowledge and celebrate gay heroes. The play is still set in 1994 but in an alternative universe where many lunar missions have already placed advanced life support and terraforming equipment on the moon to the point where a team of astronauts could stay and live there indefinitely. They would have access to endless air and endless water, in part due to an advanced pee conversion system. Hence, the name of the play.

The set for Endless Air, Endless Water, designed by Rory Mulholland, is realistic and a masterpiece. The costume design by Karen Boyer is equally impressive. All of the actors in this production were top-notch and extremely enjoyable to watch, whether we liked their characters or not. Deon Frank, as Les, the homophobic, name-calling, Mission Control specialist we see on screen (who actually received a kidney from Fred) was absolutely hateful (he even checked with his doctor to see if receiving a kidney from a gay man could cause him problems). There is no doubt, though, that he nailed his role, as did Piper Rae Patterson, as Sheila, Ditch's fiancee. She suspected her bow wasn't straight but fully intended to marry him anyway, for her own purposes. James David Adelman (Fred) and Patrick Judd (Ditch) are both two fine actors, but I didn't feel they had the chemistry to sell the complicated relationship we were exposed to in the Zodiac capsule.  

Fred is not open about his sexuality at work. He was President of his debate team and got married, but is now divorced. Ditch is a young, charismatic guy who was Captain of his High School football team. On liftoff, Ditch supposedly tells Fred he loves him (I didn't hear that over all the noise). Is this hero worship? A confession in the face of possible death? Or an expression of his true feelings? Fred gives Ditch his souvenir moon rock and some flirting ensues (Fred says to Ditch, "Good night my sweet Prince," and Ditch tells Fred, "You are not authorized to imagine my little tingle, Space Trash!") but when Ditch proposes to Sheila in a broadcast from space, Fred gets upset and angry. Ditch tries to explain he is getting married and has an agent in order to advance his career, but Fred believes he has been lied to and encourages Ditch to be "in the moment." Ditch doesn't want to be labeled ("If you label me, you negate me") but in order to show Fred his feelings for him are real, says "Oh my sweet baby Jesus. You want to see now, I'll show you now!". He then pulls Fred close and kisses him, said kiss which is accidentally caught on national television.

Space Control cuts them off with no communication for 18 hours. Fred reflects, "This is just like the boys in the locker room. No difference. Nothing changes." When Les comes back, he spews hateful epithets, calling them faggots and asking them to pray with him to reject their perversity. Les also says he wants them to read a statement to the effect that they were part of a "gay space chimp-like experiment" where the company always knew they were gay and that they were part of an experiment testing the effect of space on resistant homosexual hormones. Unexpectedly, the reaction of the public to the gay astronauts is positive and the kiss is featured on the cover of many magazines ("Love Among The Stars"). Fred doesn't wish to be famous at all and certainly not as an oddity and refuses to make any statements. He suggests he and Ditch just go to the moon and stay there indefinitely, but Ditch tells Fred he is a hero to him and that in his book "heroes don't run away." He asks Fred to trust him and to turn over control of the ship, which he had taken away from Mission Control. Ditch, a moral relativist, who believes "perception is reality" and "what seems is more important than what is", agrees to make a statement on national television and does. To find out what he says, you will need to see the play.

Endless Air, Endless Water is a work in progress. There needs to be a further development of the motivations of the characters and some additional updating of the material. There is great potential here and this current production was entertaining and enjoyable. In fact, it was astronomic! If you want to contribute to the advancement of this project, visit The Blue Comet Company's current Indiegogo Campaign at 

Applause! Applause! Review of Straight Faced Lies at Teatro Latea (at the Clemente) by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Straight Faced Lies at Teatro Latea (in the Clemente Soto Velez Cultural & Educational Center) was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 5 (2015) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Straight Faced Lies
A Play by Mark Jason Williams
Directed by Andrew Block
Teatro Latea (at the Clemente)
107 Suffolk Street
New York, New York 10002
Reviewed 8/24/15 

If you are in the mood to witness an extremely dysfunctional family that I guarantee will make you feel better about your own, then this is the play for you. Straight Faced Lies takes place the night before and on Thanksgiving. Mark Ryan, the father, is being let out of prison and is coming home just in time for Thanksgiving dinner. Cathy Ryan, his wife, is hosting the dinner at her home in his honor and wants nothing to interfere with that. Her two children, Melissa and James (who lives with her), will be there as will Melissa's boyfriend Joe (who was invited) and James' boyfriend Kip (who was not invited). Marie, who is Cathy's sister, will also be in attendance. 
Early on, we hear the line, "We tell lies to others and ourselves," and every character in this play with the exception of Kip and Joe, the two non-family members, tell big, straight faced lies to themselves and each other. 

Marie, the mother's alcoholic sister, has just been dumped by her latest boyfriend. She hid from her niece and nephew that she once had an abortion "that screwed up her insides" making her unable to bear children. She is man-crazy ("Guys are like dicks. One is never enough.") and hates God for giving her ex-husband cancer and allowing him to suffer ("God made my husband suffer. Now he is making me suffer. So maybe God is a bit of a dick.")  Melissa, the daughter, has been hiding the fact she is pregnant and doesn't really love her boyfriend Joe. While they were having sex, she was texting and when she got bored, she told him, "I'm done!" and selfishly expected him to get off her. She had no problem saying to her mother, "You are a real cunt!" and "You are a deeply disturbed woman!" James, the son, is lying to himself and everyone else about his being gay and having been in a one-year relationship with Kip. He denies he loves Kip straight to his face and is resentful his mother made him "man of the house" as a teenager after his father went to prison for selling illegal drugs to his sister's girlfriend, who died as a result. Cathy, the mother, knew about the father's drug-selling activities but never told the children because they had a lot of bills piling up that needed to be paid.     

Absurdity reigns in this production. Cathy, the psychotic mother, receives a phone call that her husband Mark has killed himself. She explains she told the police to drop off his dead body at their home because she intends to prop him up at the table to have that one last dinner together with her family. The police supposedly agreed (which is completely ridiculous) and when her family members suggest they are leaving, she pulls a loaded gun on them and forces them to eat dinner at gunpoint (When she asked how the turkey was, Kip responded, "I'd rather talk about the elephant"). The mother, who was Miss Poughkeepsie three years in a row, shoots a buffet into the ceiling to prove it was really loaded, but when it's all over and Melissa suggests to James they consider having their mother committed to a mental institution, he inexplicably responds, "No, she's fine." The daughter's boyfriend Joe then ends up making out with his girlfriend's mother and finally, to cap off the absurdity, the police do eventually show up, first to arrest Marie for using her ex-boyfriend's credit card, and later, to drop off the father's corpse ("Daddy's home!")

Some of the best lines in the play come from discussion of James' secret. Marie catches Kip kissing James "on his tulips." Melissa asks, "Have you told mom yet." and when he says no, she says, "Too bad, Too bad. News like that might kill her." James then learns Melissa is pregnant and says, "It seems we both have a big fat secret." Kip says, "who are you calling fat?" In another exchange Kip admits he is "constantly rubbing off on James," and when the mother is concerned with James' behavior and asks, "What has gotten into that boy today?", Kip responds, "Not me! Not me!" Cathy, the mother, says "who cares what someone else does as long as I don't have to see it," and once James is finally outed, she confronts her own son over his not telling her by saying, "if you can't stand up to me, how are you going to face up to the rest of the world."

The two strongest actors in this production were Cindy Marchionda, who played Marie, and Curtis Wiley, who was Kip. Both truly embodied their characters and brought light to the stage by their very presence. Jacob Thompson excelled in the role of James if the goal was to make him into an unsympathetic asshole who the audience hoped would die. By the last scene when he tried to make up with Kip, the audience was rooting against him and secretly cheered when Kip pushed him away and knocked him onto the ground. Geraldine Librandi (Cathy), Dana Domenick (Melissa), and Joey Collins (Joe) all did fine jobs bringing their characters to life.

Straight Faced Lies is supposed to be a comedy, and while I will admit there are a few funny lines in the show, from the perspective of the audience, it is more like being trapped on a ride descending into hell. There are no likeable characters in the Ryan family and none have any redeeming qualities. It is a complete downer and once the mother pulls out a gun with the intention of forcing her guests to have Thanksgiving Dinner with the corpse of her dead husband, the play goes too far in my opinion. Realism is thrown out the window and I was not inclined to give the play a pass by suspending my disbelief. Nevertheless, if you have recently complained about the bad relationship you have with your parents or siblings, save money on therapy and just see this show. It will instantly make you feel better!   

Straight Faced Lies premiered as part of New York City's Planet Connections Festivity in 2013 where Mark Jason Williams won the Outstanding Playwriting for New Script Award. The show I saw was part of the 19th Annual New York International Fringe Festival, and the play has already been accepted as an entry in the 2015 Capital Fringe. For more information, visit   

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Applause! Applause! Review of Inspector Descending at The Secret Theatre by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Eddie Aronoff's Inspector Descending at The Secret Theatre was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 5 (2015) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Inspector Descending
Written by Eddie Aronoff
Directed by Thomas G. Waites
Produced by Shelley Molad
The Secret Theatre
44-02 23rd Street
Long Island City, New York 11101
Reviewed 8/23/15 

Inspector Descending is loosely based on Fyodor Dostoevsky's "Crime & Punishment," written by Eddie Aronoff from the perspective of the Inspector. In the original book, Raskolnikov, a conflicted former student, lives in a tiny, rented room. He refuses all help from his friends and plans to murder and rob Alyona Ivanovna, an unpleasant elderly, pawnbroker and money lender. His motivation comes from the overwhelming sense that he is predestined to kill the old woman by some power outside of himself. After much deliberation, he sneaks into the woman's apartment, where he murders her with an axe. He also kills her half-sister, Lizaveta, who happens to stumble upon the scene of the crime. Shaken by his actions, he manages to steal only a handful of items before he flees unseen and undetected. Raskolnikov then falls into a feverish state and begins to worry obsessively over the murder. As the fever comes and goes in the following days, he behaves as though he wishes to betray himself. He shows strange reactions to whoever mentions the murder of the pawnbroker. In his delirium, he wanders about, drawing more and more attention to himself and his relation to the crime. Raskolnikov eventually meets detective Porfiry (the Inspector in this play), who begins to suspect him of the murder purely on psychological grounds. As they continue to meet, Porfiry becomes increasingly certain of the man's guilt but has no concrete evidence or witnesses with which to back up his suspicion. Furthermore, another man has confessed to committing the crime. Porfiry confronts Raskolnikov with his suspicions and assures him that confession would substantially lighten his sentence. He eventually admits to committing the crime and is sentenced to eight years of penal servitude in Siberia.

In this play set in Moscow in 1868, the Inspector is having an affair with Lizaveta, the younger step-sister of Alyona Ivanovna. Lizaveta has just told him she is pregnant with his child and although the Inspector once loved her and promised to marry her, he is no longer inclined to fulfill his commitment. The Inspector has a dream of Alyona and Lizaveta being axed to death and the audience is strongly led to believe the Inspector did it, because when he "woke up," he is found to have blood on his coat. He is also observed covering up evidence and waiting for an unidentified student to confess. In addition, Lizaveta has no defensive wounds so it appears she knew her assailant. Even the Inspector's assistants suspect him of the crime even after Nikolai, who tried to hang himself and was caught trying to pawn a pair of Lizaveta's earrings, confesses. The noose seems to be tightening around the Inspector's neck until, in the last scene, similar to what happens in the book, Raskolnikov, the conflicted former student, confesses to having committed the crimes.

Inspector Descending is supposed to be a comedy but except for the Flock of Cocks and the opinion that asking a prostitute for permission seems a bit unnecessary (like asking your horse if you can saddle it), I didn't find anything in this play particularly funny. In fact, I perceived it to be a serious drama and was surprised to learn it was intended as a comedy. The added element of allowing the recently deceased to speak and interact with the living, I thought to be quite a clever technique that advanced the story line. Following up with the playwright after the show, he explained he never intended to suggest this play was a "comedy" in the traditional sense of the word. He used the word "comedy" in contrast to "tragedy" as explained on page 142 of Harold Bloom's book on Eugene O'Neill, where it is explained that with respect to comedies, a play has a "comic structure insofar as characters project a mask that shows one image and hides another (as in the case of the Inspector projecting an image of professionalism and piety when in fact he is probably "guilty of everything" in the play except the murder). In tragedy, however, the characters glimpse the underside of their own masks, while comic characters seldom have to confront an unmasked image of themselves." 

Included in this work are some philosophical words of wisdom dispensed by the various characters. For example, the Inspector said, "We are at the mercy of everything we haven't experienced and don't know." and 'Happiness is elusive - I'm unhappy with you or without you, but less unhappy with you." The General Prosecutor said, "The question of our age is how to be relevant, how to matter." and "The truth is simply a lie better told." Finally, Zamyatov reflected that you have to admit that "when you do a favor for another person, it's only natural that there is a slight tipping of the balance."

All the actors in this UNFringed Festival 2015 entry at The Secret Theatre were talented and above par in every way. However, the standout performers in this cast of fifteen were Jake Minevich (Zamyatov), Dennis Wit (General Prosecutor), Nicholas Bonaparte (Nikolai/Workman), Cathie Boruch (Alyona), and Hannah Wolfe (Lizaveta). I give the playwright credit for trying to breathe new life into this classic tale. Since this is the first of his works to be publicly staged and produced, I offer him encouragement to continue to get his plays out there before audiences. It is only in this way that Eddie Aronoff will be able to see what works and what doesn't. I wish him well.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Applause! Applause! Review of An Appetizing Yarn at The Secret Theatre by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Andrew Martin's An Appetizing Yarn at The Secret Theatre was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 5 (2015) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

An Appetizing Yarn
Written & Performed by Andrew Martin
Directed by Dennis Gleason
The Secret Theatre
44-02 23rd Street
Long Island City, New York 11101
Reviewed 8/23/15 

An Appetizing Yarn was billed as being an autobiographical tale of the life of Andrew Martin until age twenty-one. The clever title refers to the fact we are promised an interesting story but "yarn" here had a secondary meaning in that the advertised unique feature of this play was that the performer would "knit a woolen hat right in front of the audience's eyes, which at the end of the action would be raffled off for one lucky spectator to take home as a door prize." The script was written and memorized. The time it took to knit the hat was double checked. Money was raised for the fee required to enter this one-man show in the UNFringed Festival 2015, and the running time was ultimately announced - 90 minutes with a ten-minute intermission.

I was very eager to see this show because Andrew Martin is a talented, animated and colorful storyteller. However, early reports from the author regarding his opening night performance were not promising. He posted on Facebook, in part, "there were times I had to backtrack because I'd suddenly realize I'd forgotten some important things. I didn't even get to do the part about the spelling bees because I completely jumped it...I had to stop midway through the second act because by that time I'd been on stage for well over two hours and still had to accommodate the Q & A and the raffle and the final monologue about the psychic, so it really ended there and shouldn't have). I'm also gonna have to partially have the hat knitted before I get to the theater because I got so caught up in the talking that there wasn't time to knit properly...By my standards, it was substandard, but I think I did decently." It was also reported that the programs were not going to be ready on time but that due to the delay, he'd be getting them for free. Those programs never made it to any show. All the audience members received was a one-page flyer. 

By the last show, the one I saw, his autobiographical tale ended by the time he turned eighteen (instead of continuing on to age twenty-one) and there was no mention at all (as the flyer promised) of his "rubbing shoulders with Andy Warhol superstars, or finding himself an overnight sensation in the world of cabaret and piano bars." There was also no mention of why and when he took on the stage name "Andrew Martin," what his legal birth name was, why he didn't go to college or graduate school as his siblings did, and whether he ever worked for a living. These were glaring omissions left out of the script for unknown reasons. 

Andrew Martin appeared on stage wearing a Mike Piazza Mets Jersey, black leather pants, and black sneakers while carrying a green Harrods shopping bag, sunglasses, and water. He used a loom to knit his hat instead of needles. He spent a lot of time talking about the life of his parents and grandmothers before he arrived on the scene. None of those stories was particularly interesting, but I have to give him credit for being able to tell the most mundane tale with extraordinary enthusiasm. We learned that both his grandmothers couldn't really cook, that his father worked in a grocery store and kept the first nickel he earned, that his parents were married at Hillside House in Hollis, that his father grew up in a tenement below Delancey Street, and that his mother grew up better off in a semi-attached home in Forest Hills. Eventually, we get to the place in the story where he was born. He has one brother and one twin sister, who he doesn't always get along with. In addition, both his parents, although living, were unable to make it out to catch his show.

As a child, Andrew Martin had a fever but he was fine without requiring hospitalization. At 9 years of age, his parents separated (During Q & A, he admitted he liked guys by age 4 but didn't know what it was all about until he was 10). His most interesting story involved his joining the Boy Scouts in one last ditch effort to impress his father to show him he could do "guy things." He was an eager Tenderfoot intent on earning his cooking badge so he volunteered for everything including a hike that was required for him to advance. One night, an Assistant Scoutmaster ended up naked in his sleeping bag and placed his hand down his shorts. He says he didn't like it but neither did he fight him off. The scoutmaster told him not to tell because people would just think he was "being funny" or was "a liar." Andrew quit the Scouts and never told anyone what happened for five years. 

After the Scouts, he was bitten by the theater bug after seeing the play Runaways in 1978. He then attended Summer Theatre Day Camps until 1983. I was not going to mention the next story, but Andrew Martin couldn't believe I left it out so here it is. There was a bully on one of the buses who taunted him and one day, he took the rectangular boom box he was carrying and smashed the boys face in. There was blood everywhere and he was called to the Camp Administrator's office to explain himself. In light of the bullying, he did not get into trouble but this incident has obviously emboldened him to believe he can respond with physical violence if someone makes a comment or gives him a second look because of the way he dresses or due to the fact that he might be knitting on the subway. He has reported many incidences on Facebook where he has confronted such people by threatening to poke their eyes out with his knitting needles, a threat I have no doubt he would follow through with given the right circumstances. However ugly words can be, physical violence is not the answer. It may be justified, but it is not legal and could get him into trouble one of these days.

Andrew Martin went on to become a prominent member of the TADA! Youth Theater. He also worked at Theater For The New City, where he performed with 35 other cast members in his first play, Man Of Wax. He mentioned that everyone at Theater For The New City at that time smoked pot. It is there he started his "long and beautiful relationship" with marijuana. He dressed in drag for the first time in 1985 and was dubbed "Miss Andrew." He also told the audience he believes in psychics and "their amazing power to know things." At the end of his presentation, Andrew Martin reflected saying, "It hasn't been a bad life. As long as I have acting and knitting to do, I'm in decent shape." He also mentioned during the Q & A that he had an intimate, personal relationship with Stephen Sondheim, the full story of which will have to wait until both his parents are dead. 

Andrew Martin has many irons in the fire and extraordinary potential. The future is as yet unwritten for him, but as anyone who knows him can attest, he has definitely had an interesting life! After the show, he reported he promptly went out and got stoned, which may answer a number of questions regarding his life. 

Applause! Applause! Review of An Inconvenient Poop at The White Box at 440 Studios by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of An Inconvenient Poop at The White Box at 440 Studios was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 5 (2015) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

An Inconvenient Poop
Created & Performed by Shawn Shafner
Directed by Annie G. Levy
The White Box at 440 Studios
440 Lafayette Street, 3rd Floor
New York, New York 10003
Reviewed 8/23/15 

Shawn "The Puru" Shafner founded The People's Own Organic Power Project (The POOP Project) in 2010 to catalyze conversation about sustainable sanitation. It is his belief that "modern manners, language, architecture, and even toilets are all designed to make poop more or less disappear." The Puru unearths the origins of our dis-ease, and exposes how current practices threaten our health and the environment. Everybody poops! Shafner believes we must fully acknowledge and accept this basic human fact. Once we do, we may then be able to start to address a global crisis that is killing 2,000 people every day. Talking about poop is only the first step. If we can have a frank discussion about the issue, we may have a chance to wean ourselves off our currently unsustainable, water-based sewage system, and at the very least, we may be able to avoid the same mistakes and errors when providing safe and sustainable sanitation to the remaining 40% of the world still living without safe toilets. This world premiere of An Inconvenient Poop at the 19th Annual New York International Fringe Festival was produced with support from the World Toilet Organization, SquattyPotty, and the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Foundation's ROI Community. Other related works of Shawn "The Puru" Shafner include Flush: The Documentary (, and the musical Eat $h*t: How Our Waste Can Save The World, which had performances at the Edinburgh Fringe, in Dubai, Jerusalem and at the United Nations for World Toilet Day. 

An Inconvenient Poop opens with Shawn Shafner in the character of Dr. Oscar von Shtein, a Professor of Comparative Literature with an emphasis on French 20th Century Home Morality, specializing in characterizations of heating structures, about to give a FREDx Talk on the Proustian Ethics of Fireplace Building. He is interrupted by his computer, The Puru (a Guru on the topic of Poop), who takes over his slides, locks him in the room, and forces him to give a talk on the cultural history of poop and our relationship with it. Every time Dr. Shtein picks up a card to aid him in giving the speech, his voice changes and by the end of the show, he, and the audience, are offered the opportunity to become Purus and to wear an "I'm a Pooper" button. An Inconvenient Poop is entertaining and informative. Shawn Shafner is an attractive and charismatic actor, who has an important message to relay. In my opinion, he should have just dove headfirst into a discussion regarding "this dark underside of American society" that, in polite company and civilized society, is usually not "seen, heard, smelled or talked about." He'd like you to join the movement and to add your voice to raise awareness about how billions of people suffer sickness, poverty, and death because they still lack access to proper sanitation.

All of Christian tradition involves separating us from our animal nature. Even though humans are mammals, we like to think we are special; created by God in his own image with a soul and the possibility of eternal salvation. The Bible, The Koran, and other Holy Books set forth moral guidance threatening us with punishment if we kill, steal, commit adultery or engage in other acts detrimental to our living in an organized and orderly society. Even non-believers like to think we have evolved beyond "screwing like rabbits" and "shitting in the woods." As Sigmund Freud said, "civilized men today are repulsed by anything that reminds us of our animal origins." It wasn't always like that. There were times when we weren't in "fecal denial" and ashamed of our "gross domestic product." Roman men used to sit in communal toilets and "shoot the shit" for hours but by the time of Queen Victoria, who favored "beauty, cleanliness, and order," anything relating to bodily functions (defecation, urination, masturbation, and sexual intercourse) were to be hidden and not discussed in polite company. As Ms. Manners said in her 1979 book on etiquette, "neither the noise maker nor the noise recipient" should comment on what might have been heard or smelled. Even Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus, the Dutch Catholic priest, teacher, and theologian, recommends a fake cough to cover up unwanted "accidents" when all else fails. Nowadays, with urinal dividers and men using toilet bowls to pee in standing up, the pendulum is continuing in the direction of "increased modesty." Each person would like to think their "crowned jewels" are somehow unique and special.

In everyday language, euphemisms abound because we are embarrassed and ashamed to discuss the topic in an honest and open manner. We go to the "bathroom" and the "restroom" even though we don't really intend to bathe or rest there. When we speak of urination, we might say we need to "see a man about a dog," "siphon the python," or "hose down the deck." If we need to defecate, we might say we need to "drop a load," "sink the Bismark," or "drop the kids off at the pool." We have Charmin toilet paper commercials with bears rubbing the soft toilet paper next to their cheeks. The Puru reminds us that toilet paper is not meant for those cheeks and that the only bears using toilet paper live in Chelsea! If we were being more accurate, perhaps there should be a brand of toilet paper called "Shit Be Gone."

Shawn "The Puru" Shafner wants you to talk about shit without shame! Poop has the potential to be "trash or treasure," "shit or the shit." It is part of the Circle of Life and with 26.7% of our drinking water going down the drain in our toilets while many parts of our country are facing severe water shortages, this is not a problem that can be solved easily or that is going away anytime soon. The Puru invites you to join the poop revolution and to "Fart with Fury! Pee with Passion! and Poop with Pride!." On a day-to-day basis, the Puru encourages you to not flush every time you pee (if it's yellow, let it mellow), to use a portable bidet instead of toilet paper, and to not clean your dishes when it rains because New York City has a sewerage overflow system that when stressed, empties out the untreated sewerage directly into our rivers.

An Inconvenient Poop runs 70 minutes and introduces you to topics and issues you may not have ever thought about before. It is no laughing matter! But neither is there an easy solution to the sanitation and fresh water problems the world faces and will continue to face in the future. Shawn Shafner has added his voice to those discussing this important issue and, for that, he deserves kudos. He has also created an informative show complete with slides and musical numbers. In fact, Dr. Oscar von Shtein transforms from The Professor to The Puru right before your eyes! Shawn Shafner hopes his efforts will make a difference. What else can anyone on this planet do but pick a worthy cause and then work to directly solve it or raise awareness regarding it? The Puru encourages you to become part of the solution before "the shit hits the fan." For more information, visit

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Applause! Applause! Review of Under: A New Musical at Theatre 80 by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Under: A New Musical at Theatre 80 was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 5 (2015) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Under: A New Musical 
Book & Lyrics by Monica Hannush
Music by Julian Drucker
Directed by Alexandra Cadena
Theatre 80
80 St. Mark's Place
New York, New York 10003
Reviewed 8/20/15 

In October, 2014, five Yale students met in a common room to discuss producing a new play that would address the insecurities, doubts, lost love and fears inherent to current university life in the United States. It would also depict archaic university policies regarding students facing mental health issues as well as the sub par treatment those students end up receiving once confined in a psychiatric ward. Under: A New Musical presents the story of Serena Lazarre, a first-year student at Yale University who, after threatening to commit suicide, is involuntarily committed to the Yale-New Haven Psychiatric Hospital, where she is diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. The play is set both in the hospital and in Serena's dorm room at Yale as she retraces her steps over the past year in an attempt to discover how the demands, pressures and expectations of university life contributed to why she ended up being locked in the loony bin. The story is based on the real-life experiences of Monica Hannush, the playwright. Under: A New Musical debuted at the Morse Crescent Theatre at Yale University in April, 2015. It now makes its New York debut as a featured entry in the 19th Annual New York International Fringe Festival.

Under: A New Musical is an accurate and honest portrayal of the subjectivity of psychiatric diagnoses. It addresses upon what grounds those diagnoses are sometimes made and delves into the inadequate care many patients receive. I have often said we are all diagnosable and, if given the chance, psychiatrists could have a field day with any of us. That is not to say that some individuals are not chronically depressed and mentally ill. Some people are very much in need of therapy and treatment, But others, as long as they remaining functioning individuals in their daily lives, may not need the many medications that are so readily prescribed by doctors nowadays. The key is to avoid the trigger that invites mandatory intervention. 

In this serious musical, Serena Lazarre, a 19-year old Freshman at Yale University puts glitter on her face to stand out and for shock value, was depressed over her old boyfriend breaking up with her and her lack of perceived success, excessively flirted with boys, and lied compulsively. When she sent a blast suicide e-mail to her friends, her best friend Charlie called 911 resulting in her being committed. Serena's behavior resulted in a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. While in the hospital, she befriends Billy McConnell, a fellow patient, who is diagnosed with depression and threatens to commit suicide ("they try to meditate the grief, but they can't offer me relief, so let me go!). Even though Serena is angry at Charlie (her girlfriend) for calling 911 on her, she reports Billy's suicide threat to the staff of the hospital. However, it is explicitly clear that each does so for selfish reasons. Namely, that they could not live with themselves had they not made the call. In the end, Serena is given medication, seen by psychiatrists for short sessions, and ultimately released. 

On the university front, we are introduced to Noah and Mark Harper as they struggle to fulfill their potential and the expectations of their parents. As Mark said, we were "just kids who were told we were so fucking special, but what are we now?" Serena seeks "to have a signature to stand out from the crowd." Noah is inexplicably jealous of Serena having invited Mark to a "naked party" and wishes he "had been dealt some real adversity," because without it, "we otherwise tend to create it for ourselves." Mark is quick to give Serena advice ("If you feel like a loser, try better, do more.") but in another scene, he is so depressed at not achieving more himself ("when you are waiting, all you're doing is wasting time"), he makes a feeble attempt to commit suicide with a plastic disposable safety razor. Finally, at the time of her threatened suicide, Serena justifies the anticipated act by saying that "it is better to die young with a promising future than to die old and a loser." The pressures to succeed and fit in are universal, but they are especially acute at Yale University where all the students come from privileged backgrounds or were the most academically successful students in their High Schools and Prep Schools. Great things are expected of them and there is a lot of pressure on them to succeed.

Michaela Murphy (Serena Lazarre), Aaron McAleavey (Billy McConnell), James Lee (Noah), Zina Ellis (Charlie), Sarah Householder (Ensemble), Erin Krebs (Ensemble), Lily Sherman (Ensemble), and Nathaniel Dolquist (Ensemble) all did a fine job in their respective roles but the standout performer was Jordan Schroder, a talented and charismatic young actor who played Mark Harper. Monica Hannush has great potential as a playwright and deserves credit for using her own personal experiences as inspiration for this musical. The book and lyrics tell an important story. However, the music written for those lyrics fall far short of the mark. There is also no comic relief in this play (with the exception of Nathaniel Dolquist, who sits over-medicated and still every time we are in the psychiatric hospital) and many of the scenes end abruptly. The book needs some punching up, the lyrics need to be set to a more popular style of music, and this play needs to be relaunched with a different producer, director and composer behind it.

There were six people in my party who came to see Under: A New Musical because of its serious subject matter and potential. Five of them and half the audience left at intermission and there was either no applause or only polite applause at the end of every scene. I suppose the production team, cast, and crew, who were brought up with the philosophy that there are no winners or losers, scores should not be kept, and everyone deserves a trophy to boost their self-esteem, will walk away thinking or rationalizing that the evening was a great success. They will be deaf to the lack of applause their show received and perhaps will feel that half the audience left simply because they had to get up the next morning for work, and not as a comment on the quality of their presentation. If that is so, they will miss the opportunity to salvage what works in this production and to jettison what doesn't.