Saturday, November 28, 2015

Applause! Applause! Review of Jennifer Haley's Neighborhood 3: Requisition Of Doom at The Flea Theater by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevensas

This review of Jennifer Haley's Neighborhood 3: Requisition Of Doom at The Flea Theater was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 5 (2015) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Neighborhood 3: Requisition Of Doom
Written by Jennifer Haley
Directed by Joel Schumacher
Scenic Designer: Simon Harding
Lighting Designer: Brian Aldous
Costume Designer: Jessica Pabst
The Flea Theater
41 White Street
New York, New York 10013
Reviewed 11/22/15  

The title of this play refers to a fictitious X-Box game that has become an addiction with many of the young teenagers living in the neighborhood. It uses GPS and satellite technology to accurately recreate their neighborhood subdivision in this zombie killing virtual reality game. The characters in the game look like themselves and their parents, their own homes can be marked red to symbolize a zombie infiltration, and in the final chapter of the game, each teenager is directed to enter their own home to kill the zombies therein. The kids cannot harm another player and are instructed to pick up garden-variety tools, baseball bats, and other items easily found in the home to kill zombies. Jennifer Haley, the playwright, appears obsessed with the idea that the line between fantasy and reality is becoming increasingly blurred and that teenagers who play too many violent video games may start to engage in violence in real life. To hammer home her questionable hypothesis, she employs the supernatural by claiming that wormholes "link imagination in the game with reality." Hence, when a cat is tortured in the game and left alive for a higher "ruthless rating," a cat seems to also have been tortured in real life.

Ms. Haley also heaps a healthy dose of criticism on the materialism and soullessness of upper-middle-class life with its drug-reliant, pill-popping parents, rule heavy Neighborhood Associations, and spoiled-brat teenage kids. It is written that if you look carefully at the "Welcome" mats in the neighborhood you will see they really say "Help Me!" Parents are frustrated when despite their best efforts, their kids want nothing to do with them. Then there are the parents who have just given up, and in the name of "respecting their kids privacy," basically let the children do whatever they want. As one parent said, I moved to this neighborhood to give my kids a better life, but "there is no moving up; there is no getting out." Another parent reflected, "These  things that seem so small have such enormous consequences." As in the game, all the neighborhoods "are mirror images of one another."

Neighborhood 3: Requisition Of Doom was written by Jennifer Haley in 2007. It premiered at the Actors Theatre of Louisville 2008 Humana Festival featuring five actors. This New York premiere features fifteen actors (including members of The Bats, The Flea Theater's resident acting company) and is directed by Joel Schumacher (who directed film versions of two best-selling novels by John Grisham (The Client & A Time To Kill) as well as two installments of the blockbuster Batman film series (Batman Forever and Batman & Robin). The set, designed by Simon Harding, looks like a skateboard park with a few scattered trees and AstroTurf grass next to a painted road and river. There were two funny moments in the play. The first was a scene when a parent met a teenager "in the game" and she was confused when he used abbreviations such as "IRL" (in real life) and "AFK" (away from keyboard). The second was when a parent speculated the problem might be that the neighborhood was built on an Indian burial ground. She then reflected that "maybe the entire country is built on an Indian burial ground."

All the actors did a fine job in their respective roles, but there were too many actors and characters to keep track of so the audience never had an opportunity to identify with any of them, except perhaps for the one mother who continued to try to reach her son and invited him to sit and watch a CSI episode with her. Then there were plenty of unexplained story lines. What was that reference to three dead babies floating around a backyard tree supposed to be all about, and how, exactly, did a mother not playing the virtual reality game find herself "in the game?." The underlying point of this play is too simplistic. There is no direct link between playing violent video games and engaging in violent behavior in the real world. The filter is the person who plays the game or watches a violent movie or television show. If that person is not already emotionally disturbed, it is unlikely they will engage in violence IRL. Over 40,000 deaths are caused every year by our use of automobiles. You don't see people calling for the return of the horse and buggy. We would be better off spending our time trying to identify at-risk children than by trying to identify every possible trigger that could set off a violence-prone youth.

Neighborhood 3: Requisition Of Doom plays at The Flea Theater through December 20, 2015. Tickets cost from $35.00 to $105.00 and can be purchased either by calling 212-226-0051 or by visiting  

Friday, November 27, 2015

Applause! Applause! Review of New Light Theater Project's production of In The Soundless Awe at Access Theater by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Jayme McGhan & Andy Pederson's In The Soundless Awe, produced by New Light Theater Project in conjunction with Access Theater, was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 5 (2015) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

In The Soundless Awe
Written by Jayme McGhan & Andy Pederson
Directed by Sarah Norris
Choreographer: Corrie Blissit
Scenic & Props Designer: Brian Dudkiewicz
Costume Designer: Genevieve V. Beller
Lighting Designer: Michael O'Connor
Sound Design: Andy Evan Cohen
Projections Designer: Yuriy Pavlish
Access Theater
380 Broadway
New York, New York 10013
Reviewed 11/22/15  

"Don't Panic! Don't Give Up Hope! The Navy knows where you are and is searching for you," believed the 896 original survivors of the USS Indianapolis after it was torpedoed by the Imperial Japanese Navy Submarine I-58, under the command of Mochitsura Hashimoto. The sinking of the USS Indianapolis, under the command of Captain Charles B. McVay III, led to the greatest single loss of life at sea in the history of the United States Navy. The ship left Pearl Harbor on July 19, 1945 on a secret mission to Tinian island carrying parts and the enriched uranium for the atomic bomb Little Boy, which would be dropped on Hiroshima. After completing the mission and stopping at Guam, it set off toward Leyte on July 28, 1945 with 1,196 crewmen aboard. The Japanese struck the ship with two Type 95 torpedoes, causing massive damage. Twelve minutes later, the ship rolled completely over, then her stern rose into the air, and she plunged down. 300 crewmen went down with the ship. With few lifeboats and many without life jackets, the remainder of the crew was set adrift.

The USS Indianapolis sent out three distress calls before sinking. Although the Navy initially denied it, the ultimate release of classified records shows three stations received the signals; however none acted upon them. One commander was drunk, another had ordered his men not to disturb him and a third thought it was a Japanese trap. As a result, the Navy only learned of the ship's sinking when survivors were spotted on August 2, 1945 by the PV-1 Ventura flown by Lt. Wilbur "Chuck" Gwinn and co-pilot Lt. Warren Colwell. Only 321 men came out of the water alive; 317 ultimately survived. 579 seamen died from exposure, dehydration, starvation, saltwater poisoning and shark attacks. Captain McVay survived but was court-martialed and convicted of "hazarding his ship by failing to zigzag," even though the Japanese commander testified that zigzagging would have made no difference. Captain McVay was also denied an escort ship, told the route was safe, and had a ship that was not equipped with sonar. The guilt heaped on McVay's shoulders mounted until he committed suicide in 1968. In October 2000, the United States Congress passed a resolution that Captain McVay's record should state "he is exonerated for the loss of the Indianapolis." President Bill Clinton signed the resolution and in July 2001, the Secretary of the Navy ordered McVay's record cleared of all wrongdoing.

The play is set in 1968, shortly before Captain McVay takes his own life. He has meticulously responded to every letter he has received from supporters and from those family members who continued to personally blame him for the loss of their loved ones. Most of the action is revealed in the form of one last nightmare he has regarding the attack, his time in the sea waiting for rescue, his court-martial, and death, portrayed throughout in the form of a beautiful siren. This moving, captivating, historical drama featured non-traditional casting for no apparent reason. However, in this circumstance, a gender equal crew did not detract from the enjoyment of the audience even though it was historically inaccurate. Still, all of the members of this ensemble cast  (Amanda Berry, Gregory James Cohan, Eric Cotti, Bethany Geraghty, Brandon Jones & Janae Mitchell) gave unforgettable, engrossing performances that made a significant contribution to the success of this production. Hallie Wage did a fine job playing the Gray Lady everyone wished to avoid, and Leo Farley was perfectly adequate in the small role of Captain McVay circa 1968. 

Chris Kipiniak remained remarkably calm as the encouraging voice of reason while crew members were hurling blame and accusations at one another. I believe the playwrights missed the opportunity to delve further into the relationship Captain McVay had with his men. Did they respect him as a leader or view him as someone who thought he was better than the average guy? I couldn't tell from the script. However, I am sure some of the survivors wrote about their relationship with Captain McVay, and I certainly had an interest in knowing. Finally, there is the issue of the miniature soldier Captain McVay's father gave him when he was a child. In the play, we see his father snatching it from his son upon being commissioned in the Navy telling him a true leader doesn't rely on luck or on memories for inspiration. We see his father throw away the keepsake, but in reality, a miniature soldier was found in Captain McVay's clutched hand after he committed suicide. Was that the same soldier? If so, what did it symbolize in this context? The script doesn't address the issue. There was also no water in the one-foot deep set box created to symbolize the ocean the seamen were adrift in 500 miles Southeast of Toyko in the Pacific Ocean. I am not certain whether water would have helped or hurt the effect trying to be created. However, I am sure the projection screen could have been better utilized to help the audience feel as if they were actually in the ocean with the scattered, stranded, seamen.    

In The Soundless Awe was originally produced at Concordia University and at the Kennedy Center ACTF Festival. This production at Access Theater is its New York City Premiere. The play is a titanic tale of great substance and emotional impact. There are lighter moments such as when the sailors waiting to be rescued decide to play the game "I Spy" and Captain McVay starts off by saying "I spy something that begins with the letter W." On the other hand, you will feel emotionally distraught when witnessing one sailor commit suicide and others recalling screams heard in the middle of the night presumably due to shark attacks. You will also find it very difficult not to cry when one of Captain McVay's response letters is read aloud near the end of the play. This utterly gripping drama is one you should not miss. I highly recommend it!

Performances run through December 12, 2015 at Access Theater. Tickets cost only $10.00-$15.00 if purchased in advance, and $18.00 if bought at the door. Access Theater is located on the 4th Floor of the building located at 380 Broadway in Manhattan. I learned the hard way that an elevator is available to take you up. Look for the sign I am told is there as you enter the building. For more information and for reservations, visit!soundless-awe/cbs2 

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Applause! Applause! Review of Douglaston Community Theatre's production of James Yaffe's Cliffhanger at Zion Episcopal Church by Dr. Philip Ernest Schoenberg

This review of Douglaston Community Theatre's production of James Yaffe's "Cliffhanger" at Zion Episcopal Church was written by Dr. Philip Ernest Schoenberg and published in Volume X, Issue 5 (2015) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Written by James Yaffe
Directed by Matt Stashin
Douglaston Community Theatre
Zion Episcopal Church 
243-01 Northern Boulevard
Douglaston, New York 11363
Reviewed 11/20/15

Cliffhanger was written by James Yaffe, a Yale University graduate, who has been a member of the Department of English at Colorado College in Colorado Springs since 1968. He has written a steady stream of novels, plays, and scripts over the years. Having watched this play (originally produced at the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia in 1983 and later off-Broadway at the Lamb's Theatre in New York City in 1985), I can say this particular work is better written, crafted, and more intriguing than A Murder Is Announced written by Agatha Christie, which I saw at Studio Theatre Long Island last week, or Irrational Man, a movie written and directed by Woody Allen. I saw Cliffhanger at the Douglaston Community Theatre at Zion Episcopal Church in Douglaston, New York.

James Yaffe demonstrates he has familiarity with the petty intrigues of academic life. The actors in this play vividly brought to life his characters. You have Edith Wilshire, well-played by Lorrie DePellegrini, as a petty tyrant ready to reap revenge after years of imagined slight. However, her evil plot is foiled when Henry Lowenthal, the object of her revenge, hurls his beloved statue of Socrates at her. This man of reason has just committed murder and yet, you cheer because you believe Edith has received her just desserts. The good professor is ready to call the police and confess but Polly Lowenthal, the professor's wife of 35 years perfectly portrayed by Rosemary Kurtz, objects and suggests he take a more practical course of action. She argues Edith deserved the justice she received and convinces her husband they can cover up the murder and get away with it. Henry, the man of ethics, the man of morals, who more than anyone knows the right thing is to turn himself in, follows his wife's sage advice as survival mode kicks in.

Melvin McMullen then enters, played astonishingly to perfection as an annoying, spoiled rotten, lazy student by Salvatore Casto. From the get-go, you are thoroughly annoyed by this non-student. You can scarcely resist from strangling him as he whines for a passing grade. As a college professor, I found it hard to stay in my seat and not to take direct action myself. He is the personification of every lazy, ignorant, stupid, slothful, mediocre student I ever had. Meanwhile, the professor and his wife have to endure his meandering nonsense as professor Edith Wilshire's body is getting cold in the next room. McMullen leaves by announcing he will appeal his grade to Professor Wilshire, the Chairman of the Philosophy Department. 

When Henry and his wife Polly return from Edith Wilshire's memorial service, they face questioning by Dave DeVito, a police detective who is trying to find out what happened to Professor Wilshire. DeVito is convincingly played by Andy Wittman. DeVito took Henry's philosophy class a decade earlier but has no philosophy other than cynicism regarding human nature. After DeVito leaves, McMullen returns intent on blackmailing the professor into changing his failing grade to a passing one. Henry decides he'd rather commit another murder than compromise his integrity. Polly agrees to be a co-conspirator because she thinks it is likely the psychologically unstable student will eventually tell someone about the murder. 

I will not tell you the ending, but I will say, that unlike with Christie or Allen, Yaffe has played fair with the audience by giving us clues to solve the mystery as it continues to unfold.

Gary Tifeld is to be commended for producing this masterpiece. Marionanne Rourke was fantastic as the stage manager. The set design by Ian M. McDonald and Matt Stashin convinced us we were in a real professor's home. Light and sound operation by Robert Stivanello and Eric Leeb enabled us to clearly see and hear what was going on. Above all, Matt Stashin did a magnificent job in directing it all.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Applause! Applause! Review of Douglaston Community Theatre's production of James Yaffe's Cliffhanger at Zion Episcopal Church by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Douglaston Community Theatre's production of James Yaffe's "Cliffhanger" at Zion Episcopal Church was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 5 (2015) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Written by James Yaffe
Directed by Matt Stashin
Douglaston Community Theatre
Zion Episcopal Church 
243-01 Northern Boulevard
Douglaston, New York 11363
Reviewed 11/20/15

Are philosophical concepts of right and wrong absolute? Are lying and killing unethical and morally wrong in all circumstances, or are they sometimes justified? Are all moral principles relative to the particulars of a given case? Should we consider the greater good when making ethical decisions? Is it even possible to judge someone else's ethical decisions if we were not brought up in their time, culture and circumstances? These and many other issues are intelligently raised and coherently addressed in Cliffhanger, James Yaffe's extremely well-written play that takes place in the home of Prof. Henry Lowenthal, and his wife Polly. 

Prof. Lowenthal has been teaching philosophy at Mesa Grande College in a small town in the Rockies for decades and until two years ago, he was head of the Philosophy Department. He is 65 years old and will soon face mandatory retirement unless recommended for appointment to the VanVoorhees Trust, a teaching position that will allow him to escape any forced retirement. The problem is that recently he has been butting heads with Edith Wilshire, the Philosophy Department Chair, who wants to put her own mark on the department by bringing in those who believe that right and wrong are relative concepts and that even Hitler may be looked upon in a more favorable light once the proper amount of time has passed. When visiting Prof. Lowenthal in his home to tell him of her decision, she relishes how her forcing him out will hurt him and explicitly states she is seeking revenge for his not hiring her after she completed her internship. She is infuriating and refuses to listen to reason. In a fit of anger, Henry strikes Edith on the head with a bust of Socrates. Polly, who has worked for ten years as a Nurse Aide in a mental hospital, takes her pulse and declares she is dead.

Interesting discussions ensue regarding what to do next. Prof. Henry Lowenthal realizes what he has done is absolutely wrong according to his own moral principles and is intent on calling the police to confess to his crime. Polly uses utilitarian ethics ("the greater good") to convince Henry not to call the police and to dispose of Edith Wilshire's body instead. She argues that what is done is done and that calling the police will only destroy their lives and deny his students the benefits of his guidance. She argues he fought back the only way he could against the "evil bitch" who was trying to destroy his life. Henry relents and throws Edith's body off a cliff near a cabin she owns. 

Melvin McMullen, a very emotionally disturbed student, who is threatening to commit suicide if Prof. Lowenthal doesn't change his failing grade to a passing one, shows up and eventually claims to have witnessed Henry dispose of Edith's body. When faced with blackmail, a new ethical dilemma arises. Should Henry change the grade and hope Melvin keeps quiet, or should he and Polly just kill Melvin under the philosophical principle that if you are in for a penny, you might as well be in for a pound! The final character in the play is Dave DeVito, a police lieutenant, who used to be a student of Prof. Lowenthal. Lt. DeVito no longer believes in the higher principles of philosophy. All he believes in is the way things are!

There are many interesting plot twists and turns in Cliffhanger as well as a number of funny lines. Early in the play, Prof. Lowenthal offers his philosophical opinion that "every human being can gently be led to see reason," yet by the second act, his character states, "there is a point where reason doesn't work anymore and you need to give someone a swift kick in the balls." James Yaffe invites you to take this philosophical journey along with his characters and what you witness will give you plenty to talk about over dinner with your friends after the show. 

Joseph Pagano was extremely impressive and believable in the role of Prof. Henry Lowenthal. Mr. Pagano brought depth and warmth to the character. In addition, he appeared to have a great rapport with Rosemary Kurtz, who played his wife Polly. They successfully portrayed themselves as an old married couple who were still very much in love. The conflicts each character faced were also evident. They were not only abstractly arguing over philosophical principles but also how each decision would directly affect themselves and their partner. Salvatore Casto succeeded in representing Melvin McMullen as a self-absorbed, selfish, narcissistic student. He didn't do the work required to pass his philosophy class because he was suffering from "emotional problems" arising from his dysfunctional relationship with his girlfriend, yet the egotistic little twit still had the nerve to ask his professor for a grade change, willing to go to almost any length to get it. Although the play was set in the early 1980s, students today generally have a feeling of entitlement which has made matters even worse. In today's college environment, the professor who actually gives students the grades they deserve will find themselves out of a job. Lorrie DePellegrini successfully portrayed Edith Wilshire as someone you would want to see dead. Her character is so fundamentally evil that you feel like repeatedly smashing her skull into the concrete with a brick to make certain she is really dead. Andy Wittman nailed the role of Dave DeVito, the Police Lieutenant, who was not quite as hard of hearing as he made himself out to be.

The Douglaston Community  Theatre is the oldest community theatre in Queens County, having been founded in 1950. Cliffhanger has never been more successfully staged or better performed than it was here. This production was well-acted, extremely entertaining, and addressed many substantive issues. It is a smash hit and a must see! Tickets cost only $17.00 for adults and $15.00 for students and seniors. You are able to purchase reasonably priced concession items before the performance and during intermission. For more information, visit 

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Applause! Applause! Review of A Murder Is Announced at Studio Theatre Long Island by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Dame Agatha Christie's A Murder Is Announced at Studio Theatre Long Island was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 5 (2015) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

A Murder Is Announced
Written by Dame Agatha Christie
Adapted for the stage by Leslie Darbon
Directed by Marian Waller
Studio Theatre Long Island
141 South Wellwood Avenue
Lindenhurst, New York
Reviewed 11/15/15  

A Murder Is Announced, a work of detective fiction written by Agatha Christie first published in the United Kingdom by the Collins Crime Club in June 1950, was adapted for the stage in 1977 by Leslie Darbon. The play was first presented at the Theatre Royal in Brighton, and then opened at the Vaudeville Theatre in London on September 21, 1977. The book and play feature Miss Jane Marple, Agatha Christie's famous amateur fictional detective, who lurks about the crime scene, acts as the village busybody, and ultimately finds clues that help the inspector discover who the real criminals are. The play is set in an early Victorian house named Little Paddocks in Chipping Cleghorn and begins with the following announcement that was published in the Gazette, the local paper: "A murder is announced and will take place on Friday, October 13th, at Little Paddocks, at 6:30 p.m. Friends accept this, the only intimation."

Some villagers are intrigued by this notice and several of them appear expecting what they hope is just a "silly English joke." As the clock strikes 6:30 p.m., the lights go out, a door swings open, and a man with a heavy accent demands they "Stick 'em up!". Most of the guests follow his order thinking this is all just part of the game, but then gun shots are fired and Rudi Scherz, who had asked Letitia Blacklock, the owner of Little Paddocks, for money just a few days prior, is found dead, and Ms. Blacklock, is herself injured. While investigating what appears to be an attempt on the life of Letitia, it is revealed she once worked for Randall Goedler, a successful financier, who died leaving his entire estate to his wife Belle. Belle is not well and when she passes, the fortune will go to Letitia, unless she dies first, in which case all the money will go to Pip and Emma, children of Randall's estranged sister Sonia. No one knows where these two are, much less what they look like. When Dora Bunner (Bunny), Letitia's childhood friend, borrows aspirin from a bottle on Letitia's bed table and herself dies, the Inspector and others are even more convinced Letitia is the murder target. 

There is no lack of possible suspects or clues to follow but this play will keep you guessing right up to the very end. There are three "cousins" staying with Letitia; Phillipa Haymes, a single mom; and Julia & Patrick Simmons, allegedly siblings who came to stay with their aunt for a few weeks. There is also Mitzi, a paranoid cook with a foreign accent; Edmund Swettenham, a cynical, poor, young writer who appears to have something going on with Phillipa; and Mrs. Swettenham, his doting mother. There are missing photographs, switched lamps, frayed cords, dead flowers, oiled hinges, a moved table, a usually unopened door, a pair of scissors, and the revelation that Letitia had a sister named Charlotte, who died in Switzerland. Did Rudi Scherz work in Switzerland? The Swettenham's also appear to be from a town near the Swiss border? Are they all involved somehow? Also, why was Bunny calling Mitzi by the name Millie, and why was she sometimes calling Letitia by the nickname Lotti, instead of Lettie? Are Julia and Patrick really brother and sister? Is Phillipa a cousin at all? Does Edmund have a secret motive in being interested in Phillipa? And before you think you figured it all out, are you sure Bunny was really Letitia's childhood friend and are you certain that Pip is even a woman?

A Murder Is Announced features a very talented ensemble cast and is great fun! Gail Merzer Behrens was very convincing as Letitia Blacklock, and Sheila Sheffield more than held her own as Miss Jane Marple. W. Gordon Innes commanded the respect he deserved as Inspector Dermot Craddock, and Rosemary Innes was able to accurately portray Dora Bunner (Bunny) as a sympathetic friend who was suffering from the onset of dementia. The remaining cast members, all who made their own significant contribution to the success of this production included Nicole Intravia as Julia Simmons, Scott McIntyre as Patrick Simmons, Ginger Dalton as Mitzi, Marteena Morano as Phillipa Haymes, Alex Rich as Edmund Swettenham, Pamela Kern as Mrs. Swettenham, and George Spelvin as Rudi Scherz.

This play will command your attention and keep you interested until all is revealed. The cast clearly enjoyed performing it and the audience paid keen attention to all the clues, suspects and possible motives of the various characters. While you might question why some characters acted as they did, including why someone would go along with placing the murder announcement in the paper in the first place, you will, nevertheless, enjoy the ride! A Murder Is Announced is intellectually stimulating and watching it sure beats feeding the ducks! 

You can see A Murder Is Announced on Friday, November 20th at 8:00 p.m., Saturday, November 21st at 8:00 p.m., and on Sunday, November 22nd at 2:30 p.m. at Studio Theatre Long Island. Tickets cost $25.00. Reserve your tickets by calling 631-226-8400 or by visiting Studio Theatre Long Island's website at  

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Applause! Applause! Review of Narrows Community Theater's production of South Pacific at the Fort Hamilton Army Base Theater by Dr. Philip Ernest Schoenberg

This review of Narrows Community Theater's production of South Pacific at the Fort Hamilton Army Base Theater was written by Dr. Philip Ernest Schoenberg and published in Volume X, Issue 5 (2015) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

South Pacific
Music by Richard Rodgers
Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II
Book by Oscar Hammerstein II & Joshua Logan
Adapted from James A. Michener's "Tales Of The South Pacific"
Directed by Michael Chase Gosselin
Musical Director: Paolo C. Perez
Costume Directors: MaryJo Tipaldo & Rita Donahue
Narrows Community Theater
Fort Hamilton Army Base Theater
101st Street & Fort Hamilton Parkway
Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, NY 11209
Reviewed 11/14/15 

Last Saturday night, I saw South Pacific at Narrows Community Theater inside the Fort Hamilton Army Base. This excellent production brought back several memories regarding how I became a lover of Broadway musicals.

First of all, I actually read Tales Of The South Pacific by James A. Michener before I realized it had been made into a musical. Tales Of The South Pacific is a Pulitzer Prize-winning book, which is a collection of nineteen sequentially related short stories about World War II, written by James A. Michener in 1946 and published in 1947. The stories were based on observations and anecdotes he collected while stationed as a lieutenant commander in the United States Navy on the island of Espiritu Santo in the New Hebrides Islands (now known as Vanuatu). James Michener, as an officer, narrates the stories from the building of an airfield in 1942 to the invasion of some of the islands in 1944 by American armed forces in the South Pacific Theater of World War II. I remember enjoying each story, some of which had bitter-sweet endings. Like Sloan Wilson's The Man In The Gray Flannel Suit, James Michener was able to evoke men at war trying to live their lives as carefree as possible knowing that they could die at any moment. Michener won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1946. He would go on to write many best-selling novels of which I consider The Source to be the most memorable after Tales Of The South Pacific.

In adapting various tales in the book into a musical in 1949, the plot was simplified and made more coherent. Characters from the stories were merged to better serve the format of a musical. For example, Emile de Becque, the planter is a widower with a son and daughter from a marriage with a native instead of eight daughters from four different native women that he never bothered to marry. In the original novel, the coast watcher is an English expatriate whose head is impaled on a stake instead of Emile de Becque reporting the heroic death of American Marine Lt. Cable. Joshua Logan not only produced and directed the musical, but he also assisted Richard Rodgers, who wrote the music, and Oscar Hammerstein II, who wrote the lyrics. Following up on Hammerstein and Rodgers earlier collaboration in the creation of Oklahoma!, the musical interludes and choreography flow smoothly to advance the story. 

I took the opportunity to look up the original New York Times review by Brooks Atkinson. Even back then, Myron McCormick as the scheming Luther Billis, the Seabee, stole the show from Ensign Nellie Forbush, played by Mary Martin, and Emile de Becque, played by Enzo Pinza. Atkinson thought Juanita Hall, the Tonkonese entrepreneur, was outstanding in singing "Bali Ha'i'." He complimented Jo Mielziner in recreating the South Pacific in her stage design. Atkinson concluded in his review, "South Pacific is as lively, warm, fresh and beautiful as we all hoped it would be."  

When the movie version of South Pacific was released in 1958, I was then at Knolls Summer Day Camp. There, the musical was adapted to highlight our ability to swim towards the end of the summer encampment. Different songs were used for different age groups as we demonstrated our aquatic abilities before our parents. We enjoyed singing and swimming. Our parents applauded both our aquatic and thespian talents. Ever since, the film has been a popular favorite for theater-goers of all ages. As for the play, at least twenty community theater groups performed South Pacific in 2015 alone. In a way, the musical personifies the plural nature of American society that idealizes itself as welcoming all comers to the American dream. More than anything else, this was the musical that made me fall in love with Broadway show music. The movie won the 1958 Oscar for Best Sound. I had an uncle who worked for Irving Berlin as a marketing manager. He traded with some of his buddies in the business so he could give me this movie soundtrack version of the musical that I grew up with. 

The Narrows Community Theater production of South Pacific took place in the Fort Hamilton Army Base Theater, a modern facility that can comfortably seat 470 people. I would estimate that more than 350 people were in the audience. The seats were cushy, wide, and comfortable. I sat in the back where I could easily see the action on the stage. The spot lights were handled seamlessly by Ashley Kelly and John Shin. The lighting design by Michael Chase Gosselin and Carmine Pizzarusso made it easy to see the action. The sound design by Steve Jacobs and the sound technology was expertly handled by Chiara Pizzarusso, Kevin Sweeney, Michael Wysokowski, and Allison Greaker so the sound was audible and clear without overwhelming your ears. The set design by Marla Gotay, Michael Chase Gosselin, and Patrick Nash, and set dressing by Camille Gallager, Marla Gotay, and Michael Vitucci placed you in the South Pacific. The stage crew of Robin Brazelton, Toni Franco, Fiona Gelderman, and Stephanie Kokeas smoothly made the changes of scenery and set design as the musical played out.

Paolo C. Perez expertly conducted the orchestra, which included himself on Keyboard 1, Terry Hanson on Keyboard 2, Marla Gotay on flute, Matan Uchen on trombone, Bobby Crow on cello, Renia Shukis and Daisuke Suziki on violin, Caitlin Featherstone on trumpet, Jared Newlen on clarinet, and Andrew Wagner on bass. 

Concessions were handled quite efficiently by Mary Lian and Frank Togni. The prices were quite reasonable: soda for a dollar; cookies and crackers for fifty cents; and candy bars and potato chips for a dollar. Margaret McMahon and MaryJo Tipaldo were busy selling souvenir merchandise from past shows such as the hat from Seusical and teeshirts promoting Narrows Community Theater.

Marla Gotay, as the producer, did an outstanding job in bringing all this talent together. Michael Chase Gosselin, as director and choreographer, brought out the best from the actors and choreographed the numbers superbly. Jenna Marie Sparacio and Denise Higgins-Regan were excellent stage managers. Several times, actors came from various directions in the auditorium to come on the stage.

Above all, the actors/singers/dancers made the show the success it was. The casting was superb because not a single false note was heard. Their performances were flawless. Bloody Mary was boldly and brassily played by Hiroko Yonehura. The musical contains a song with a line about how "you have to be carefully taught to hate." The cast reflected the multicultural, tolerant society we idealize. Unfortunately, the song is not out of date and is still relevant today. Keith Gregor as Emile de Becque was at his best in describing the death of Lt. Cable, U.S. Marine Corps, played by Max Baudisch. Maranda Rossi convincingly portrayed an anguished Ensign Nellie Forbush tormented by her feelings of romantic love as well as by the racial prejudice deeply instilled in her. Bennett Silverstein proved to be a memorable Luther Billis (hang on to those coconut shells!) The male and female ensembles of supporting actors were equally flawless in their presentation.

The audience saw a show that fully deserved the accolade of their enthusiastic applause. This is community theater at its best. The production of South Pacific by Narrows Community Theater is the most impressive community theater show I have seen so far this year in the New York City metropolitan area. In the words of General Douglas MacArthur, "I shall return." For information on upcoming productions of Narrow Community Theater, visit 

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Applause! Applause! Review of Narrows Community Theater's production of South Pacific at the Fort Hamilton Army Base Theater by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Narrows Community Theater's production of South Pacific at the Fort Hamilton Army Base Theater was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 5 (2015) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

South Pacific
Music by Richard Rodgers
Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II
Book by Oscar Hammerstein II & Joshua Logan
Adapted from James A. Michener's "Tales Of The South Pacific"
Directed by Michael Chase Gosselin
Musical Director: Paolo C. Perez
Costume Directors: MaryJo Tipaldo & Rita Donahue
Narrows Community Theater
Fort Hamilton Army Base Theater
101st Street & Fort Hamilton Parkway
Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, NY 11209
Reviewed 11/14/15 

The musical South Pacific opened on Broadway on April 7, 1949 at the Majestic Theatre. It was transferred to the Broadway Theatre in June, 1953 to accommodate Rodgers and Hammerstein's new show Me & Juliet, although South Pacific had to be moved to Boston for five weeks because of schedule conflicts. When it closed on January 16, 1954, after 1,925 performances, it was the second-longest-running musical in Broadway history, after Oklahoma!. It won ten Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Best Male Performer (Ezio Pinza), Best Female Performer (Mary Martin), Best Supporting Male Performer (Myron McCormick), Best Supporting Female Performer (Juanita Hall), Best Director (Joshua Logan), Best Libreto (Oscar Hammerstein II & Joshua Logan) and Best Score (Richard Rodgers). In 1950, the musical won the Pulitzer Price For Drama, the second musical to do so after Of Thee I Sing, which won in 1932. The 2008 Broadway revival of South Pacific at Lincoln Center's Beaumont Theater opened on March 1, 2008, closing on August 22, 2010 after 996 performances. It won seven Tony Awards, including Best Musical Revival.

South Pacific, based on James A. Michener's 1947 Pulitzer Prize-winning book "Tales Of The South Pacific," combines elements of many of the nineteen stories told in that book. The plot of the musical centers around Nellie Forbush, a young American nurse from Little Rock, Arkansas stationed on a South Pacific island during World War II, who falls in love with Emile de Becque, a middle-aged expatriate French plantation owner who married a Polynesian woman, now deceased, and is bringing up his two mixed-race children as a single parent. The children are cute, but Nelly struggles to imagine having sexual intercourse with a man who once had a colored woman as his wife. A secondary romance between Lt. Joseph Cable (U.S. Marine Corps) and Liat, a young Tonkinese woman (the daughter of Bloody Mary), is used to explore the reasons behind the lieutenant's refusal to marry her once he is reminded by Bloody Mary about the "beautiful" children their union would produce. Nellie seems to believe that her prejudice is in her genes but when asked to back her up, Lt. Cable sings the very memorable song, "You Have To Be Carefully Taught." The character Bloody Mary in the musical is based on a woman Michener met on a plantation on the island of Espiritu Santo, who he described as "small, almost toothless, and with a face stained with red betel juice." Punctuated with profanity learned from GIs, she complained endlessly about the French colonial government, which refused to allow her and other Tonkinese to return to their native Vietnam, lest the plantations be depopulated. In addition, several of Michener's stories involve the Seabee Luther Billis, who is used in the musical for comic relief and also to tie together episodes involving otherwise unconnected characters.

The Narrows Community Theater's production of South Pacific was a huge success! Top-notch entertainment at its very best! A beautiful theater, reasonably priced concession items, friendly staff, free convenient parking, professional actors, talented musicians, a remarkable set, beautiful costumes and high production value all came together to create an evening that left most of the 300+ audience members talking about how this presentation of South Pacific was significantly better than the 2008 Broadway revival at Lincoln Center that won seven Tony Awards. I would have to agree with that evaluation regarding the quality of this show. 

Every cast member contributed to making this show one that will be remembered for years. However, a few actors are worthy of special note. Keith Gregor, a handsome man with a beautiful voice, was perfect in the role of Emile de Becque, the middle-aged French expatriate plantation owner. Maranda Rossi nailed the part of Ensign Nellie Forbush, the bright-eyed small-town girl conflicted over her attraction to Emile. Hiroko Yonekura was extraordinary and charismatic as Bloody Mary, a shrewd souvenir dealer, who is trying to find Liat, her daughter, a rich husband. Bennett Silverman was a natural in the role of Luther Billis, a scheming, shlubby Seabee, who is a mediocre entrepreneur and a friend to all. However, I suspect this crowd-pleasing performer only needed to be himself in order to be successful in the role. For example, I doubt he needed to "put on" a heavy Jewish accent and I suspect that his character, who was very good with "pleats," was more interested in procuring souvenirs on Bali Ha'i than he was in sleeping with women. But then again, the musical South Pacific opened in the late 1940s when openly gay servicemen would not have been accepted. Brian Kilday was very impressive as Commander William Harbison, U.S. Navy. He had a strong stage presence and is obviously a very talented young actor. Maximilian Baudisch was very believable as Lt. Joseph Cable, U.S. Marine Corps and, as such, made a significant contribution to making this musical thought-provoking and realistic. Beyond racism, issues of significant age differences between lovers is addressed coming out in favor of true love, whatever the ages of two partners may be. I look forward to seeing more of the work of Brian Kilday and Maximilian Baudisch. Nicholas Bonaparte, who played Marine Sergeant Thomas Hassinger, was about to show off his muscular body and weightlifting prowess during the Thanksgiving show when the lights, in accordance with the script, went out. This was certainly a disappointment for the audience who longed to see more of this talented young man. 

I would like to acknowledge that a production of this quality does not come off without significant contributions from the show's creative team; that includes everyone who was responsible for the costumes, set, and sound. Michael Chase Gosselin deserves special recognition for his work as Director, Choreographer, and Lighting & Projection Designer. I was also particularly impressed with the talent and skill of Paolo C. Perez, the Music Director, who led the orchestra and brought the songs of South Pacific to life. For the handful of people who have been living under a rock or in a cave for the past 66 years and are unfamiliar with the popular numbers featured in this musical, I will mention that some of them include: "A Cockeyed Optimist," "Some Enchanted Evening," "Bloody Mary," "There Is Nothing Like A Dame," "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair," "A Wonderful Guy," "Younger Than Springtime," "Happy Talk," "Honey Bun,", "You've Got To Be Carefully Taught," and "This Nearly Was Mine." 

The next production of Narrows Community Theater will be Men Are Dogs, which will be performed from February 19-28, 2016 in the Auditorium of St. Patrick Catholic Academy located at 401 97th Street, Brooklyn, New York 11209. For tickets and more information about Narrows Community Theater, visit their website at   

Monday, November 16, 2015

Applause! Applause! Review of Theatre Box Of Floral Park's production of Damn Yankees at United Methodist Church Of Floral Park by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Theatre Box Of Floral Park's production of Damn Yankees at United Methodist Church Of Floral Park was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 5 (2015) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Damn Yankees
Book by George Abbott & Douglass Wallop
Music & Lyrics by Richard Adler & Jerry Ross
Directed by Judy Brown
Theatre Box Of Floral Park
United Methodist Church Of Floral Park
35 Verbena Avenue
Floral Park, New York 11001
Reviewed 11/13/15 

The musical Damn Yankees is based on Douglass Wallop's novel entitled "The Year The Yankees Lost The Pennant." It is set during the 1950s in Washington D.C. during a time when the New York Yankees dominated Major League Baseball. The show opened on Broadway at the 46th Street Theatre on May 5, 1955, transferred to the Adelphi Theatre on May 17, 1957, and ran for 1,019 performances. It starred Ray Walston as Applegate and Gwen Verdon as Lola. It won Tony Awards for Best Musical, Best Performance By A Leading Actor In A Musical (Ray Walston), Best Performance By A Leading Actress In A Musical (Glen Verdon), Best Performance By A Featured Actor In A Musical (Russ Brown), Best Conductor and Musical Director (Hal Hastings), Best Choreography (Bob Fosse), and Best Stage Technician (Harry Green). In the mid-1970s, Vincent Price starred as Applegate in summer stock productions of the show. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Van Johnson played Applegate in productions throughout the United States. In July 1981, Damn Yankees was performed at the Jones Beach Marine Theater in Wantagh, New York and was notable due to former New York Jets quarterback Joe Namath being cast in the role of Joe Boyd. A Broadway revival opened at the Marquis Theatre on March 3, 1994 and ran for 718 performances and 18 previews. Featured were Victor Garber as Applegate, and Bebe Neuwirth as Lola. Garber was succeeded by Jerry Lewis, who made his Broadway debut on March 12, 1995. The revival was nominated for four Tony Awards but only Jarrod Emick won for Best Performance By A Featured Actor In A Musical.

Joe Boyd, a middle-aged real estate businessman married to Meg, is a long-suffering fan of the Washington Senators. Frustrated by his team's constant losses and 7th place standing in the American League, he grumbles that if the Senators only had one good "long ball hitter," they could beat the "damn Yankees." When Joe says, "I'd sell my soul for a long ball hitter," the Devil, in the form of Applegate (wearing a red tie and red socks), appears to accept the deal. In return for Joe's soul, Applegate promises to turn Joe Boyd into Joe Harper, a twenty-two-year-old long ball hitter, who can lead the Senators to victory. Joe Boyd, who always had dreams of becoming a major league baseball player, accepts the deal but gets the Devil to agree to an escape clause. The baseball season ends on September 25th. Joe will have until September 24th at midnight to break the contract and get his old life back if he so chooses. Batting .480 and subsequently .524, Joe leads the Senators to the point where if they win their final game against the Yankees on September 25th, they will win the pennant. Joe Harper starts getting homesick, walks around his old neighborhood, and even rents the den in his old home since he misses his wife Meg, who no longer recognizes him. To distract Joe, the Devil tries to get Lola (a 172-year-old beauty) to seduce him so it will take his mind off his wife. Lola fails even though she "made things very hard" for him. Applegate then starts the rumor that Joe Hardy is really Shifty McCoy, a Mexican League baseball player who took a bribe, threw a game, and then disappeared. Gloria, the female sports reporter writes about this and the Baseball Commissioner holds a Hearing on the evening of September 24th. Joe would obviously like to clear his name, but he also wants to use the escape clause to return to his old life, since he now realizes how much he loves his wife. Applegate says the escape clause must be exercised at 5 minutes to midnight, and due to the arrival of Meg and her friends (who are intent to lie and testify on his behalf), Joe misses the deadline. With new found respect for Joe's integrity, Lola drugs the Devil so he won't be able to use his power to force Joe to throw the game on September 25th (It appears that once the Devil "owns" your soul, he can do anything he pleases, including reneging on the original deal). However, the Devil wakes up by the 8th inning with the Senators leading the Yankees 5-4. The Devil turns Joe back into his old self right in front of the entire stadium, but he still somehow catches a Yankees ball guaranteeing the American League pennant for the Senators. Joe Boyd runs back to his wife and embraces her. The Devil arrives to use Joe as his plaything but finds he has no power over him. True love has blocked the influence of evil, and Joe and Meg live happily ever after (or at least for 6 months out of every year). (FYI: The Washington Senators moved to Minneapolis after the 1960 baseball season to become the Minnesota Twins)

I must say that when a small community theatre company tries to put up a musical with limited funds, actors willing to work for nothing, and very little time to rehearse, it is amazing a disaster is avoided, and a miracle if those involved can deliver what could be labeled a success. With the very charismatic and talented actor Timothy F. Smith in the role of Applegate (the Devil) and the very believable performance of Michael Gerbasi as Benny Van Buren (the hardworking Manager of the Senators), this production of Damn Yankees will definitely take your mind off your cares and woes. The entire cast put everything they had into making the evening an enjoyable one for those who came out in the cold. The presentation of the songs "Heart" and 'The Game" will keep you humming the tunes as you leave the theater. In addition, you definitely will be talking about Matthew Natof, a cute, up-and-coming actor, who made a significant contribution to the Youth Ensemble. Mara Kaplan did a fine job as Gloria Thorpe, the sports reporter, and Donna Lindskog improved throughout the evening in the role of Meg, Joe Boyd's wife. Kerry Boye (Sister) and Loriann Smith (Doris) were hilarious as Meg's friends. Michael Goodwin, who played Joe Hardy, has appeared in over 250 productions on Long Island over the past ten years. His acting and singing abilities are beyond reproach. However, I feel he was miscast as Joe Hardy in this production. The actor, who is significantly overweight (with both man boobs and a spare tire), was completely unbelievable as a 22-year-old fit, sports superstar who appeared out of nowhere to save the day for the Senators. Ryan Estes, who played Sohovik, would have been better cast in the role. Stephanie Judge, who played Lola, was a good actress, but I was unable to evaluate her singing abilities due to technical glitches with her microphone. As a result, she was not as strong as you would expect one to be playing this part. The only other criticism I have is that the obviously talented Brian Donoghue (Henry) was far too young to play one of the Senators making "crude 1950s style hand gestures" about how they longed for women to have sex with, but had to give it up for the sake of "The Game." While this production of Damn Yankees may not be a home run, it is a solid double, which is not bad since they could have struck out.

Damn Yankees will play again on Friday, November 20th at 8:00 p.m.; Saturday, November 21st at 8:00 p.m.; and on Sunday, November 22nd at 2:00 p.m. at Theatre Box Of Floral Park. Tickets cost $15.00 for adults; $10.00 for seniors; and $5.00 for children 18 years of age and under. You can call 516-900-2031 or e-mail to reserve your tickets, or you can do so online at 

A big negative for me was that the concession stand was not open before the show began. I like to take a soda to my seat or have something to nosh on before a play and during intermission. This was not possible at Theatre Box Of Floral Park. While the price of concessions was reasonable, they had no baked goods to sell. Many community theatre groups buy a dozen or two donuts to sell at a dollar each or cut up some Pecan Rings from Entenmann's, which certainly makes me happy and puts me in a good mood. Studio Theatre Long Island even gives away those cakes and coffees for free before their Sunday afternoon performances. I strongly recommend the Refreshments Committee rethinks what is possible in terms of audience amenities. That way, even if a production is sub-par, those in attendance will leave with full stomachs and smiles on their faces.