Monday, August 29, 2016

Applause! Applause! Review of The Fucking Problem at Under St. Mark's Theater by Dr. Thomas G. Jacoby

This review of The Fucking Problem at Under St. Mark's Theater was written by Dr. Thomas G. Jacoby and published in Volume X, Issue 6 (2016) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

The Fucking Problem
A New Play by Emily Lucia Alexander & Nate Dobson
Performed by Emily Lucia Alexander & Nate Dobson
Directed by Jessica O'Hara Baker
Under St. Mark's Theater
94 St. Mark's Place
New York, New York 10009
Reviewed 8/19/16

In order to call attention to a social issue or concern, a playwright will sometimes frame an extreme example to make us aware of our own preconceptions and prejudices. In the modern world, this has become increasingly difficult because, we, as a population, are somewhat jaded. Bad language can be heard on late-night television, fetishes once considered perverse now have national support groups (no doubt with political lobbying arms), and children are educated about alternative lifestyles at a very early age.

The Fucking Problem is a play about rape and what can happen between partners when one says, "No" and the other proceeds anyway. To frame this question in such a way that the audience is forced to examine their own attitudes, we are given an extreme duo, and a somewhat extreme set of circumstances.

We join the male and female protagonists on the set of a pornographic film, between scenes. Each takes turns speaking to the audience about their introduction to and involvement in the porn industry. As we were warned before the start of the play, there are many "trigger words." The terminology the characters employ is graphic and unrelenting. We are given a behind-the-scenes, titillating view of a world where one's sexual organs become branded commodities that are rendered up in latex and silicone and sold to the masses as toys. We learn of the sense of community in the industry, "It's us, against the world." Most of all, we are given repeated examples that pornography is an illusion, designed for and determined by the market. The pornstars' on-screen personas stimulate the viewer. It is not real. Many examples are given, most related to BDSM and rough sex, the core lesson being that, in pornography, the submissive partner is the one in control at all times. Dominance is the illusion.

We learn that our two stars are bound by contract to complete their on-screen sex acts today: they have not spoken in more than a year, although prior to that time, they were real-life lovers who lived together. All that changed when the male did not honor the "safe word" and forced himself on the female.

Most of the play sets the challenges for the audience by asking more and more extreme questions: Can it still be rape when the woman has had sex for money, on camera, with dozens, perhaps hundreds, of partners?; Can it still be rape if she has had sex, and very rough sex, both on and off-camera with her alleged rapist?; Is there any possibility for redemption for the one who has been accused of rape?

Emily Alexander and Nate Dobson give compelling performances. The characters have an honest and realistic feel, and the back-and-forth of the dueling soliloquies does not feel contrived or forced: it builds a genuine crescendo as well as any structure could. The questions are valid and disturbing, as they are intended to be. The Fucking Problem is every bit as dramatic as an Ibsen play, and falls short of being an impressive vehicle for possible social change by only a little.

The biggest negative undermining the impact could be described as a millennial fascination with fuzzy semantics. "I said he raped me. I did not say he was a rapist. I made that distinction." Sorry, to us elder-types, this sounds every bit as odd as "I eat meat once or twice a week, but I'm a vegetarian." The female protagonist appears less horrified about the actual rape than the lack of a subsequent apology, which lessens the blow of the horrific subject matter somewhat. Could an act of violence characterized as a rape actually be mitigated by an apology, no matter what the circumstances, and still be considered rape? The male's response is that even if no rape has taken place, social media has made it impossible to defend against the charge once it's out there. The portrayal of the porn industry itself is somewhat idealized and superficial but probably adequate as a framework for the issues being elucidated.

The Fucking Problem is a part of the 2016 New York International Fringe Festival. It is worth seeing, if you are not easily distracted by graphic language and scenarios, and are interested in seeing a new generation of playwright-performers wrestle with an ancient question. For more information, visit 

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Applause! Applause! Review of The Unusual Tale Of Mary & Joseph's Baby at SoHo Playhouse by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of The Unusual Tale Of Mary & Joseph's Baby at SoHo Playhouse was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 6 (2016) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

The Unusual Tale Of Mary & Joseph's Baby
Playwright: Chris Cragin-Day
Composer & Lyricist: Don Chaffer
Director: Amelia Peterson
SoHo Playhouse
15 Vandam Street
New York, New York 10013
Reviewed 8/26/16

The Unusual Tale Of Mary & Joseph's Baby is the unsurpassed breakout hit of the 2016 New York International Fringe Festival. It is very clever, extremely entertaining, and absolutely delightful! By far, it is the best show I saw at the Fringe Festival this year. It tells the story of Mary & Joseph from their betrothment to the time they left for Egypt to escape Herod's jealous wrath in a fresh and funny way. We get to see the traditional tale from the perspective of the couple who had to come to terms with the virgin birth and its aftermath. This smart, intelligent musical has a bright future ahead of it. The show is ready for an extended Off-Broadway run that should be followed by a successful national tour and years of recognition being performed in every Church and Synagogue in the world. It is a new look at an old story featuring an outstanding non-traditional cast of four, which at first shocked me. Having now seen the musical, I cannot imagine anyone else having played the parts. There is also an amazing puppet of the Angel, Messenger of God, wings and all, that is carried by three cast members whenever the Angel appears with a message for either Mary or Joseph. The use of this puppet was innovative and refreshing! I can't imagine the show without it!

In this musical, Joseph is a builder (stone mason - a middle-class working Joe) often harassed by Roman guards who steal his tools when he is working on the roads. Mary is an idealistic spitfire who would like Joseph to fight back but he realizes "the guards are Romans" and he "is only a Jew." Mary wants deliverance from the oppression of the Romans and wonders why God would have freed the Jews living as slaves under the Pharaoh only to have them submit to "the yoke of slavery" under the Romans. Where is the Messiah God promised to send? Mary is engaged to Joseph but doesn't want to settle down and "give up thinking things could be different." The Angel, Messenger of God, visits Mary and tells her she will soon be pregnant with God's child ("a Divine Conception" - The Angel points to Elizabeth's late life pregnancy as proof of God's miraculous powers). Joseph doesn't take it well. When Mary first tells Joseph she has not been unfaithful yet is impregnated with God's child, Joseph says, "Our God doesn't do that! He's not Zeus!" Still, Joseph loves Mary and doesn't want her stoned to death so when The Angel, Messenger of God, visits him in a dream and tells him to marry Mary, he does (Benjamin, Joseph's fictitious cousin, can't understand how forgiving he is and reminds him the Roman Empire "is not a land of Mercy, it's a land of Justice"). They marry and go to Bethlehem (city of Joseph's birth) for the official census. Unable to stay with Joseph's relatives due to the circumstances surrounding Mary's condition ("we can't have that scandal around here"), they accept an offer to stay in a stable in return for work. 

Baby Jesus is born and Joseph and Mary start wondering what they are supposed to do next. As Mary says, "Why does God have to look so Human? He was supposed to look like Justice. Instead, he looks like Love. It makes me wonder how Deliverance can come from such a fragile face. He's supposed to look like Lightning. Instead, he looks like me!" A visitor from Persia arrives bearing gifts claiming to have found Baby Jesus by following the North Star. He tells them Herod (King of the Jews in Judea) believes their child is the Messiah foretold in Jewish scripture and will be coming to pay his respects. The Angel once again visits Joseph in a dream warning him that Herod intends to kill his child (because he fears Jesus may be the true shepherd of God's people and a threat to his rule) and that he needs to take his family to Egypt. (In the dream, Joseph tells the Angel he has his own plans and that the Angel is "just a Messenger" while he "is the Man!") Joseph doesn't know what to believe anymore. Mary convinces him everything is as it should be and if he starts questioning the authority and legitimacy of the Angel, it really brings into question their whole belief in Jesus being God's child. The result? Mary gets the Donkey and they leave for Egypt. 

Michael Castillejos is a talented and charismatic actor who is perfectly cast as Joseph, a caring, down-to-earth man of faith who loves Mary with all his heart. He is not without doubt and certainly questions what his role is in all this. When asked by Naphtali, the Shepherd, if he is the boy's father, he responds, "I'm the father of a boy." Just hilarious! The only directorial decision I question is that when Joseph gets mad, he twice lashes out physically hitting things in a typically macho manner. I wonder whether that anger could have been depicted in a more creative way that didn't play into the stereotype of men using violence to lessen their rage (hitting physical objects is just a small step away from attacking the person who made you that angry in the first place). Ava McCoy is amazing in the role of Mary successfully portraying her as a tender and devoted wife with a revolutionary spirit who asks God to use her as a vehicle to deliver the Jews from Roman oppression. What is the mother of the Messiah to do? There is no rule book to follow and how many times can an Angel visit you in your sleep to give you advice. I found Mary's conversations with Elizabeth prior to her telling Joseph of the pregnancy to be particularly well-written. Katherine George (Elizabeth) and Andrew Nielson (Benjamin) both take on additional roles in this production. Their contribution to the success of the show cannot be understated. Their talent in successfully portraying a variety of colorful characters was an essential part of the story. Katherine George was a pleasure to watch on stage. Andrew Nielson was exuberant and versatile. There was also a highly professional three-man live band on stage that performed before and during the show. 

Did I mention this original folk musical is a comedy with well-composed songs and poignant lyrics? You think I jest? Not so. Just wait until you hear "Birthing Checklist For Sheep And/Or Fathers" sung by Naphtali to Joseph as he anxiously awaits the birth of Mary's baby. There are so many other gems in this musical that I cannot wait to get the CD, which I have read is in the works. The Unusual Tale Of Mary & Joseph's Baby is a hit! See it wherever and whenever you can! This is a musical everyone will enjoy. It doesn't matter if you are a Christian, a Jew, a Humanist or an Atheist. Do not let the subject matter dissuade you from coming. This musical is a must see! As the cast says in the last line of the play, "Don't Be Afraid!" "Don't You Be Afraid!"
This is the World Premiere of The Unusual Tale Of Mary & Joseph's Baby. It is produced by Firebone Theatre, a company dedicated to examining the space "where human meets divine." Their stories primarily focus on the juxtaposition between Fire (immortality) and Bone (mortality). Tickets for this show cost $18.00 and can be purchased at   

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Applause! Applause! Review of Super! at SoHo Playhouse by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Super! at SoHo Playhouse was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 6 (2016) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Book, Music & Lyrics by Aaron Michael Krueger
Directed by Aaron Michael Krueger
SoHo Playhouse
15 Vandam Street
New York, New York 10013
Reviewed 8/26/16

Super! was previously a part of the Midtown International Theatre Festival. Since then, the show has undergone many changes and the latest incarnation is an entry in the 2016 New York International Fringe Festival. Aaron Michael Krueger, the playwright, says the next step for this musical is continued work shopping thus allowing it to grow. Unfortunately, I have to agree. Super! is just so-so! There were a number of very talented actors with excellent voices who performed enthusiastically and with heart. Others not so much! There were moments of sheer brilliance in this musical. At other times, the word "torture" came to mind. The story about a shy, 17-year-old boy struggling with his superpowers, sheltered by his mom, in love with the girl who dates all the wrong men, and whose life is threatened by an evil nemesis is derivative of every superhero story line you have ever heard. Nothing new here! What makes it worse are cliched lines coming out of the mouth of the superhero's girlfriend such as "You're scaring me" and "You're sounding crazy." There were also one too many lines insulting our superhero for being "a corn-fed farm boy." As far as I'm concerned, corn-fed farm boys are better dating prospects than STD-infected, tattooed, pierced, city-slickers who have taken more loads than a washing machine. Mr. Krueger may need help freshening up the book and some of the lyrics. In addition, because of where the orchestra was located, a number of the actors sang off-key, which was quite annoying.

The stars of the show are Tyler Egan, who is superb as Mark, the superhero teenager struggling to find his way in the world; Anna Laura Strider, who does a fine job playing his mom; and Chloe Kostman, who is quite believable as Laura, Mark's girlfriend. Mark and Alex (played convincingly by Ryan Hestand), are outsiders (Alex because he is bald due to receiving chemotherapy, and Mark because he doesn't play sports for fear of revealing his superpowers) who are bullied verbally and physically by their fellow students. When Mark defends Alex and fights back, Alex starts to believe they can be advocates for all nerds and outsiders. He tries to convince Mark he "is the only one to save us all" but Mark doesn't buy into Alex's brand of extreme justice. Alex fantasized about the two of them being a real-life Captain Cosmos and Doctor Astro from The Adventures of Captain Cosmos, but Mark has no interest in the partnership. Rejected, Alex makes up his mind to save the world himself or, as he says, "Alone if I must." Thinking Mark will try to stop him, Alex commits to eliminating him first. Mark's mother is killed and we later learn that Alex's father tried to kidnap Mark when he was a young child and that Mark's father, Major Justice, lost his life and took the life of Alex's father is his efforts to save his son. We learn that the characters live near Steel City (Steel City Con is the official Comic Con of the Monroeville, Pennsylvania Convention Center) and that Mark can run at the speed of sound. The best line in the play comes when after traveling around the world, Mark returns and his mother hugs him very tightly. Mark says, "You're suffocating me." to which his mother responds, "No, I'm not. You're invincible."

A hero flies to the rescue and saves the day! Watch me soar! Up, Up & Away! Super! has potential but it needs a lot of work. Some lyrics need to be re-written and the story line must be updated to be made more interesting. I wanted Super! to take me on a journey to a place I haven't been before. I wanted to be surprised and moved emotionally. Instead, I just got more of the same I've experienced hundreds of times before in this genre. I think there is potential here but Super! needs a fresh set of eyes to take it to the next stage. Tickets cost $18.00 and can be purchased at 

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Applause! Applause! Review of Sleuth at Studio Theatre Long Island by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Sleuth at Studio Theatre Long Island was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 6 (2016) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Written by Anthony Shaffer
Directed by Marian Waller
Studio Theatre Long Island
141 South Wellwood Avenue
Lindenhurst, New York 11757
Reviewed 8/21/16 

The world premiere of Sleuth was at London's St. Martin's Theatre. After four previews, the Broadway production opened on November 12, 1970 at the Music Box Theatre where it ran for 1,222 performances. It won Tony Awards for Best Play, Best Direction of a Play, and Best Lighting Design. This 1970 play is set in a Manor House in Wiltshire, England, where Andrew Wyke, a very successful crime novelist, lives with Marguerite, his young wife, while also maintaining a relationship with Tea, his mistress. Marguerite has moved out and is now living with Milo Tindle, so he invites Milo over with the explanation that he would like to resolve their differences. Milo asks Andrew to give Marguerite a divorce instead of forcing her to wait five years. Since Andrew has a mistress, he explains he is more than willing to be rid of his wife (in fact, he says, "my wife is an adulteress - actually, she should be stoned to death") but he doesn't want her returning to him after she discovers she misses the expensive lifestyle to which she has become accustomed (e.g. Jamaica, The Ritz, furs, vacations in the Swiss Alps). Since Milo Tindle is only an actor (and perhaps part-time hairdresser), Andrew proposes they stage a robbery of his home during which Milo will steal jewelry worth one million pounds. Andrew says he knows a fence in Amsterdam who will give Milo 800 thousand pounds which he can use to build a new life with Marguerite while he collects the insurance money (he explains he is cash-strapped). Of course, Milo is suspicious it may be a trap and that Andrew might intend to call the police and have him arrested. In the end, he agrees to go along with the plan. To make it look real, Milo sacks the place so it appears he was searching for the safe, Andrew tells him "to make it believable - convincing, but not Carthaginian." In this production, Marian Waller, the director, has Andrew give Milo the combination to the safe, instead of his blowing it up. The fact the robber knew the combination will be a red flag to both the police and the insurance company. Bad directorial decision.

Plot twists and turns follow. Bluffs and double-bluffs. Gunshots are fired. People are presumed dead and are framed for murder. A detective arrives. Tea goes missing. Milo goes missing. Game-playing and revenge are fully embraced. At one point, no one can tell whether what is being said is part of a particular game or is for real. The line between fantasy and reality blurs. Milo denies he likes women and would prefer having sex with goats or even boys. Andrew may be impotent yet a game to save his life was so exciting it almost gave him an orgasm. Milo explains that when he is having sex, he is "in like a lion - out like a lamb." Even though Andrew calls the half-Italian Milo "a kind of a half-breed" and a WOP, he finds him so attractive and such a kindred spirit, he invites Milo to leave Marguerite and move in with him. After all, as Milo said, Italian sausage is the best in the world! Andrew is "obsessed with game-playing and considers murder a fine art." Game. Set. Match? Not quite. But if you play with fire, you may get burned. Milo and Andrew match wits and bring the audience to points of both laughter and suspense as the two men play, sometimes literally exchanging roles on stage, until their eventual downfall.   

W. Gordon Innes does a great job portraying Andrew Wyke. He is a fine actor with extraordinary talent. Scott Earles' portrayal of Milo Tindle left a lot to be desired. Since Sleuth is only a two-man play, if one of the actors is not very believable as a lover, as a man who is half-Italian, and as an actor, the production will be hobbled and will seem to drag as your attention is often drawn to that bad actor and his substandard portrayal of the character. Such was the case with Scott Earles. This was simply not the part for him. As for the production, I personally did not find it all that interesting or entertaining. But since Sleuth played for over 2,400 performances in London, you may want to see it for yourself while it is here at Studio Theatre Long Island. The show plays through September 4, 2016 (Fridays & Saturdays at 8:00 p.m.; Sundays at 2:30 p.m.) Tickets cost $25.00 and can be purchased at 

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Applause! Applause! Review of At The Flash at Under St. Mark's Theater by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of At The Flash at Under St. Mark's Theater was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 6 (2016) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

At The Flash
Written by Sean Chandler & David Leeper
Performed by David Leeper
Directed by David Zak
Under St. Mark's Theater
94 St. Mark's Place
New York, New York 10009
Reviewed 8/19/16

Originally produced by Pride Films & Plays in Chicago, Illinois on November 17, 2012, At The Flash had its world premiere at the Center on Halsted's Hooper-Leppen Theatre. Its West Coast premiere in Los Angeles was at the Celebration Theatre and then Quince Productions brought At The Flash to Philadelphia to be part of GayFest! The International Dublin Gay Theatre Festival then made arrangements for this one-man, one-act show to have its international debut at the Out-House Theater in Dublin, Ireland. Vermont Pride Theater then hosted this production followed by an invitation from the Conejo Valley Universalist Fellowship for a one-night outreach event. 

At The Flash is now being performed as part of the 2016 New York International Film Festival. It takes place in an imaginary gay bar called The Flash that is re-opening as an upscale restaurant and bar. David Leeper, the sole performer who co-wrote this play with his husband Sean Chandler, introduces us to five characters who frequented the bar: Richard (1965), Miss Sparkle (1978), Derrick (1989), Mona (1996), and Rod (Current Day), who is the prime mover behind the renovation. Rod is happily married to a man, has adopted a beautiful child, and is a successful businessman, all things his father told him faggots could never look forward to. Now, on the opening night of The Flash, as Rod handles all the last minute problems that always arise in such situations, he learns his father and mother have decided not to attend, causing him emotional pain and suffering. Perhaps some things never change!

With only pantomimed props and no costume changes, David Leeper successfully introduces us to five unique individuals who hung out at the bar over the decades. Each character is presented as having a unique persona and you get the feeling you've met each of them. That is probably because you have, in one form or another. David Leeper's extraordinary talent is on display not only when embodies each individual character, but also when he rapidly cycles through all the characters in quick succession during one extraordinary monolgue near the end of the show. For much of the 20th Century, gay bars were the unofficial "centers" of the G.L.B.T. community - a place where you could be yourself and feel at home. It is where organizing occurred and was one of the only places you could go to meet others with whom you had this particular peculiarity in common. The play moves back and forth among the characters, in no particular order, but enough time is spent with them so we understand where each is coming from.  

Richard (1965) is a naive, macho, closeted gay man who is married with kids. He curses a friend (who he calls "a pansy ass fucker") for introducing him to gay sex and hates the fact he has urges to be with other men. He risks his job and losing his family by going to The Flash, a place that could be raided by the police at any moment. Shy, hesitant and paranoid, we see Richard meet his first Drag Queen in the men's room and be approached to support The Mattachine Society. He almost has a heart attack when he misplaces his wallet. When he is ultimately arrested by the police, he first claims he was only there to use the bathroom but when he sees the police beat the patrons, he says, "What are you doing? They are not doing anything wrong. We're not doing anything wrong!"

Miss Sparkle (1978) is a colorful, Southern, African-American Drag Queen, who mentors newcomers and performs at the club. The Flash is her home and she takes her work very seriously. When she was young, an older Drag Queen took the time to guide her and now she is doing the same in turn. She explains to a young Drag Queen that "you dress up for yourself and for all the other eyelash heavy bitches - so we can judge you - with love!" Miss Sparkle has had a hard life. She witnessed Miss Shindig being beaten up in a bathroom in Las Vegas and now she is quite ferocious. She explains that "when you fuck with a Queen, you get her scepter right up your ass!" She reminds club patrons to "Mix & Mingle so you don't go home single."

Derrick (1989) is an effeminate acting, alcoholic, club kid recovering from a breakup and worrying what the result of his A.I.D.S. test will be. He is trying to get a friend to go with him to the doctor when he gets the result but hasn't been able to find anyone yet. He is scared and frightened but is on automatic when it comes to looking for a new boyfriend. Emotionally distraught, he says, "As if finding a boyfriend isn't bad enough, now we have to hope we live through it." Derrick uses drugs, drinks, and dancing in a futile attempt to escape his fear and anxiety.

Mona (1996) is trying to get people to sign her petition opposing The Defense Of Marriage Act (D.O.M.A.). She is a schoolteacher who admits to being "a true died in the flannel lesbian" who never dated a boy. Mona lived with a girlfriend who got sick and died. She is still angry the hospital staff would not let her in the room and that she had to watch her girlfriend die alone from the other side of a glass partition. Mona is now an activist. She said, "I don't want to be one of those people that just allows things to shape their lives without paying attention and doing something about it."

Rod (Current Day) sees himself as a success in business and love. His newly renovated restaurant will feature Japanese cuisine infused with soul food. The mainstream press and many political leaders plan to be in attendance. While opening night will offer customers a buffet and an open bar, drinks will cost $15.00 each thereafter. He is forced to deal with an insecure cook and the fact that his liquor distributor got his order wrong. As he says to him over the phone, "I ordered eight cases of vodka and two cases of scotch and what I received was eight cases of scotch and 2 cases of vodka. This is a gay bar, not an English Gentlemen's Club." When Rod's father tells him he is not coming to the opening and hopes he understands, he responds, "No, I don't understand but I guess I'll have to accept it." and then adds, "Does that sound familiar?"

David Leeper gives each of his characters a distinctive voice bringing them to life right before your eyes. He uses no visual aids. We see characters drink imaginary beers, stir unseen cocktails and apply non-existent makeup but given the unique manner in which he carries himself when playing each character, we have no doubt who we are watching at any one time. While the people we meet are specific, they represent easily recognizable, universal archetypes of individuals you may have met in a gay bar sometime during the past five decades. These characters are used to make a larger point, which is that when you have been rejected by family and friends because of your discovered or revealed deviance, the only place left to call home is where other people with similar predilections also congregate, and that has traditionally been a gay bar. If you are black and discriminated against because of that fact, you still have other black people and your family to provide you with encouragement and support. Not so for gay people. If you are too frightened to be seen in a gay bar, you might be forced into parks or bathrooms to meet others for anonymous sex. But if you do find a bar you can call home, you will probably develop a strong attachment to it, and "just for a flash," you will be happy!

At The Flash introduces you to a slice of gay history that may be well-known to those who went to gay bars over the years but for those who avoided gay bars for fear of being seen in one, this play will introduce them to a few people they probably should meet. In the present day, it is considered cool for straight couples to go to gay bars and drag shows. In addition, many of the bartenders in gay bars are now straight and there are fewer and fewer hustlers working out of them. It is a whole new world! Gay marriage is universally permitted in the United States. There is no fear of police raids. Same-sex couples dance together in public! Who could have predicted it all would have happened so soon! At The Flash gives you a glimpse into gay history when gay bars were one of the very few places those who were different could call home. Whether you see this play or not, I strongly suggest you take home its message to "be proud of who you are" and "don't let no one tell you otherwise!" Tickets cost $18.00 and can be purchased at 

Monday, August 22, 2016

Applause! Applause! Review of The Fucking Problem at Under St. Mark's Theater by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of The Fucking Problem at Under St. Mark's Theater was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 6 (2016) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

The Fucking Problem
A New Play by Emily Lucia Alexander & Nate Dobson
Performed by Emily Lucia Alexander & Nate Dobson
Directed by Jessica O'Hara Baker
Under St. Mark's Theater
94 St. Mark's Place
New York, New York 10009
Reviewed 8/19/16

We hear the moans and primal passion sounds of two people having sex and later learn they are actors filming a pornographic movie forced to take a break and return to their respective dressing rooms when Brando, the male star, accidentally ejaculated in his female partner's eye ruining one of her artificial eyelashes. While she reapplies her makeup, Brando eats a burrito. Both HE and SHE then speak directly to the audience in alternating monologues in which they talk about how they got into the porn industry, how they draw boundaries (including the use of "safe words"), and how they once dated and then broke up via Twitter. In fact, this shoot is their last film together since they have decided to go their separate ways. 

SHE was brought up by a feminist mom who didn't allow her to have traditional "girl toys" and who railed against how women were portrayed in the media. Eventually, she posed as a naked model and found she had no qualms performing sexual acts on camera. Since she was being featured on the Internet, she told her parents. Her mom disapproved of the objectification of women and the male fantasies catered to in the porn industry while her father hates what she does because it "ruined porn" for him. She likes feeling pretty and understands she is "selling a product and promoting a brand." She told the audience "the best sex comes through communication." In her case, she communicates through "purrs, growls, and squeals."

HE admits he has an unusual look for a porn star but is full of cockiness and self-confidence. He taught himself to "cum on command." Being an exhibitionist, he invited guests to watch him masturbate as they counted down from 30 - and then, fireworks! As he said, "It's called the 'money shot' for a reason. That's how I make my money!" There were a number of bad puns ("fucking awesome" - "fucking business") and a whole section during which he was trying to remember what he wanted to tell us about "burritos and butt-fucking" that I could have done without. There was a good line about how you can tell your relationship with a woman may be in trouble. He suggested something may be wrong "if you are in a girl, wrist deep, and start wondering whether she reads Dostoevsky or the logistics of how Trump intends to build his wall." While she complained he was moody and mean, at times, his response was that "no one is always fucking shiny."

Whatever you may have heard, there is no physical nudity in this show. In addition, the two actors don't share any scenes and never directly interact with one another. They are speaking to you sharing their stories and respective journeys. Emily Lucia Alexander and Nate Dobson, the writers and performers of this play, are charismatic and talented actors who, to my knowledge, never rented themselves out or made a porn film. However, both are extremely attractive and good-looking. If acting doesn't work out for them, I am certain any escort service would be pleased to hire them. The play is thought-provoking and intense because after we get to know these two characters, we learn the reason she broke up with him is because she perceived he once ignored her "safe word" and proceeded to have sex with her anyway. She didn't object at the time or report it to the police and said nothing about it to him continuing to live with him and have sex as if nothing had happened. Then weeks later, she tweeted she was breaking up with "Brando" (his porn name) because he forced himself on her, effectively calling him a rapist. He vigorously denied the charge. 

And there you have it! That's The Fucking Problem! Was she raped? If they were regularly having sex in a particular manner, why would she need to use her safe word, and if he ignored her safe word, why wouldn't she bring it up there and then? If the rape was violent and truly revealed an inner demon, shouldn't she have called the police and moved out immediately? Her argument was that she "went along to get along" so as not to trigger another rape. I find that justification implausible. Finally, she puts all this out on Twitter using his porn name instead of his real name. Seems like she was seeking revenge for something and trying to destroy his "Brando brand." These are some of the reasons why The Fucking Problem is compelling and demands your complete attention. Another layer of complexity is added when you consider he and she know absolutely every aspect of what the other likes and enjoys in bed. Perhaps he, who previously admitted the submissive "really calls all the shots" because of the "safe word," secretly fantasized breaking through that "stop sign" to allow himself the power for once. Maybe he wasn't even aware he made that choice and just lost himself in the moment. Who knows? But it will give you and your friends something to talk about over dinner after you have seen this play.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Fucking Problem and I encourage you to see it. Both actors do a fine job portraying their characters and I hope to see both of them in other roles in the months and years ahead. Nate Dobson and Emily Lucia Alexander, as playwrights and performers, are destined for success and recognition in the New York City theater community. The Fucking Problem is part of the 2016 New York International Fringe Festival and can be seen on Friday, August 26, 2016 at 3:15 p.m. at the Under St. Mark's Theater. Tickets cost $18.00 and can be purchased at 

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Applause! Applause! Review of The Radicalization Of Rolfe at The Players Theatre by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of The Radicalization Of Rolfe at The Players Theatre was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 6 (2016) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

The Radicalization Of Rolfe
Written by Andrew Bergh
Directed by Abigail Zealey Bess
The Players Theatre
115 MacDougal Street
New York, New York 10012
Reviewed 8/14/16

Fans of The Sound Of Music will particularly enjoy The Radicalization Of Rolfe, a new play featured as a part of the 2016 New York International Fringe Festival, which provides you with a behind-the-scenes look at what was happening at the same time your favorite characters were singing, frolicking and romancing on screen. Did you know that Herr Zeller, the ambitious local Nazi leader (Gauleiter), had recruited Franz, Baron von Trapp's butler, and Rolfe Gruber, Liesel's love interest, as spies to provide information regarding the Captain's whereabouts and any plans he may have had to flee Austria or to ignore his orders to report to Bremerhaven to accept a commission in the German Navy? Did you know that while Herr Zeller was encouraging Rolfe's relationship with Liesel (so he could learn more about what was being said in the von Trapp household), Rolfe was involved in a homosexual relationship with Johan, Frau Schmidt's nephew? Rolfe saw no future with Johan and tried to stay away even though Johan suggested they could use marriage as a cover for their activities "as men have done for centuries." Rolfe insisted he needed to be stronger and that their relationship had to end but he found himself going over to Johan's apartment more often and spending hours at the athletic club where he and the boys would meet for "a vigorous workout." Frau Schmidt, the von Trapp housekeeper, and Franz, the butler, had already "rescued" Johan once from a boy's school in Frankfurt but a change of location didn't seem to straighten the boy out. When Frau Schmidt found out Johan was on a list of Communists about to be arrested and sent to a work camp, she rushed over and gave him money to leave the country before the borders closed. She told him to call her when he was settled and said, "For the love of God, stay out of the Athletic Clubs!"

Some of the funniest moments of the play came when references were made to the underlying plot and or text of The Sound Of Music. For example, when Herr Zeller asked Rolfe how old Liesel was, he said, "16 going on 17" and when asked how old he was, Rolfe responded, "17 going on 18." When Rolfe asked for advice from Frau Schmidt, she said, "What do you want me to do, sing you a song? Climb your own mountain, dear." There was also ample reference to Maria Rainer, the postulant from Nonnberg Abbey, who eventually stole the heart of Captain Georg von Trapp and his children. This type of linkage should have been perfectly synced and extensively researched by the playwright, but there were many missed opportunities and mistakes made. Frau Schmidt, as the housekeeper, would never be serving anyone apple strudel and when Rolfe said he couldn't sew a pink triangle onto to his clothes, Herr Zeller could have said, "Of course you can, boy. It's just a needle pulling thread!" The more direct and indirect references made to The Sound Of Music (both play and movie), the more enjoyable I feel The Radicalization Of Rolfe can be. 

The star of the show is Dominic Comperatore, an extremely talented actor who plays Herr Zeller, an ambitious, hateful individual who doesn't care who he steps on so long as the end result is his advancement in the Nazi Party. In this play, Herr Zeller threatens and blackmails everyone and breaks his word more often than I can count. There was also no need for him to do so with respect to Rolfe, who was more than eager to be a good Nazi because it provided him with opportunities he wouldn't otherwise have. Herr Zeller had already successfully "groomed" Rolfe ("no one has taken an interest in me like that") and he would've done anything he asked. Yet even though Rolfe trusted him completely, Herr Zeller betrayed that trust by forcing him out of the singing competition and, in the end, threatened his life in order to obtain a little intelligence and Rolfe's complete obedience. True leaders do not have to stoop to that level to get their subordinates to be loyal to them. However, if they suspect their leader is not loyal to them and will throw them under the bus the first moment they become an inconvenience, they will not stand behind that leader. Jay Patterson fell short as Franz forgetting some of his lines and misspeaking more than once (the betrayal of a father by his son did not take place in the "Zeller family"). Although Polly Adams, who played Frau Schmidt, grew on me as the play went on, I think a stronger performer could have been found for the part. Linking up again with The Sound Of Music, Frau Schmidt makes Rolfe promise he will "take action to ensure the safety of the von Trapp family." Keeping that promise, losing his gun and delaying blowing the whistle, is what ultimately gets Rolfe in hot water. We also learn that the six nuns who sabotaged the cars were arrested and sent to work camps.

The highlight of the show was the depiction of the loving relationship between Rolfe and Johan. Logan Sutherland, a talented, charismatic actor with a strong stage presence, was perfectly cast as Rolfe Gruber, an innocent young boy trying to decide what is right as he seeks to make his way in the world. Alex J. Gould's natural acting style was well-suited for his portrayal of Johan, a more experienced young man who knew his way around an athletic club. Johan revealed to Rolfe a complete list of gay men he might know. Rolfe was totally amazed regarding who was on the list. Johan responded by telling him, "We're everywhere. All you have to do is look." (as he glances out into the audience of The Players Theatre) - Hilarious! Finally, Johan explained to Rolfe how to take the "bauchnabel" self-assessment test. Failing it might explain why Rolfe was still a virgin and why he ran away after kissing Liesel for the first time. It is at that moment that we hear Johan speak to Rolfe the following, fateful words, "You'll never be one of them!"

The Radicalization Of Rolfe leaves us with an observation revealing "the truth about work camps," which is that "you can be in them" or "you can run them." I guess that is an important life lesson and every person must, in the end, decide what they are willing to do and say in order to stay out of them. Would you spy on a neighbor? Would you blackmail a friend? Would you kill someone who was threatening your family? Or in the case of Rolfe, perhaps you would simply recite a list of names ending with - Johan Schmidt.

You won't regret seeing The Radicalization Of Rolfe. While it needs a little touching up, you will still have a very good time at this show, which plays on Sunday, August 21, 2016 at noon and on Wednesday, August 24, 2016 at 4:30 p.m. at The Players Theatre. Tickets cost $18.00 and can be purchased at 

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Applause! Applause! Review of Pucker Up & Blow at The Players Theatre by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Pucker Up & Blow at The Players Theatre was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 6 (2016) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Pucker Up & Blow
Written by Daniel Reitz
Directed by Paul Schnee
The Players Theatre
115 MacDougal Street
New York, New York 10012
Reviewed 8/14/16

What if you were not particularly talented or good-looking and had the opportunity to star in a Broadway show so long as you were willing to play a retarded, 16-year-old who appears to be anally raped on stage by a pedophile who your white-supremacist brother sold you to for $100,000.00 so he could buy guns to kill black people? ("selling my own brother's ass for white mankind") Would you take the part? Keep in mind you have no prior professional credits on your actor's resume except for having appeared in children's theater ("My Tigger was quite definitive"; "My Velveteen Rabbit earned me acclaim"). You have no agent and no manager. You got lucky because the playwright/director's wife saw you at a Samuel French Festival and recommended you to her husband. What would you do? Can you turn down such an opportunity even though it will require full-frontal nudity? What about your parents, younger sister and 82-year-old grandmother? When they come to the opening, how will they handle seeing you on stage naked having your chest hair fondled prior to you letting someone enter you through the back door? The temptation to accept the role would be very strong but your principles, if you have any, might leave you questioning whether taking the part would be right or wrong. What should you do when faced with such a dilemma? Well, Jiminy Cricket suggested one possibility. When speaking to Pinocchio, he said, "When you get in trouble and you don't know right from wrong. Give a little whistle! Give a little whistle! When you meet temptation and the urge is very strong. Give a little whistle! Give a little whistle! Not just a little squeak, pucker up and blow!" David, the lead character in Pucker Up & Blow, faces the situation I have described. In this play within a play, David is given the opportunity to join the cast by Robert Forsythe, an African-American, who has obtained fame as New York's "most inflammatory" playwright infamous for productions laced with "gratuitous nudity" and "simulated sex of all kinds." Intentional or not, Daniel Reitz's Forsythe character reminds me of playwright Thomas Bradshaw, who stages outrageous behavior on the New York stage, including depictions of child rape, racially charged sex, pornography, and modern day slavery.

We learn that this is not Robert Forsythe's first play. He recently had success with his controversial Rosa Parks Is A Nigger Cunt. It was about a teenage black girl who denied slavery ever existed and blew up a Civil Rights Museum (of course it doesn't make any sense but Forsythe freely admits he is "an artless, context-free writer"). In that play, an interracial couple has sex on Rosa Park's grave, and during the sex scene, the woman cries out to her black partner, "fill me good, you orangutan." Daniel Reitz's fictitious playwright/director is an African-American. Who else but a Black Playwright could get away with writing about this subject matter? Had he been white, instead of being celebrated by the likes of Tyler Perry, his shows would have been closed and universally condemned. Exposing the double-standard, Daniel Reitz makes an important point about political correctness "gone mad" in a delightfully "politically incorrect manner" in his latest show Pucker Up & Blow. It is an extremely well-written, thought-provoking play that is absolutely hilarious at times. I was very impressed with this show that is a part of the 2016 New York International Fringe Festival.

Will Dagger does a fine job playing David, the young actor cast for this challenging part. He portrays him as a whiny, little bitch who never fully embraces the part he agreed to play. He is jealous and insecure as he should be because he does look "a little down-syndromey." When his "girlfriend" cheats on him, he gets drunk and tries to hit her latest boyfriend, who happens to be his co-star in the play. He is out of his league, both before and after the show opens. At least Steve Stifler (The Stifmeister) of the American Pie movies knew what he needed to do and then did it in order to achieve his goal (i.e. to see two women making out). David continues to regret having taken the part right up to opening night. This actor, like all actors, can turn down any part they are uncomfortable with. However, if they accept the part, even if it includes nudity and simulated lewd sex acts, they owe it to their co-stars to fully commit to the role without hesitation. Anything less is doing a disservice to everyone. I credit Daniel Reitz, the playwright, for exposing that the "exploitation of actors" by asking them to engage in "degrading acts" is something that cannot and does not take place. Actors, as fully functioning, intelligent adults, decide what parts they will take and what parts they will turn down. The collaboration of like-minded playwrights, producers, directors, and actors will bring about a final product that will stand or fall on its own merit. Those who choose not to be a part of any particular production will find work elsewhere.

Alex Emanuel, a very talented actor, is "creepily effective" as Lenny, the pedophile. Lenny trains David by offering him double-stuffed Oreo cookies. He calls him his "tasty little tard." Shane Allen is very attractive and believable as Micah, the Sex Choreographer and Tantric Massage Therapist who is charged with making the sex scenes realistic. However, Daniel Reitz failed to allow those scenes to reach their full potential. So much more could have been done with them. I am imagining in my mind how hilarious they could have been especially, if as promised, Micah was in there naked with them at all times while he was walking them through the choreographed simulated sex acts. Too much time was spent reading the script. Sydni Beaudoin was "alluring" as Melora, David's manipulative, lying girlfriend. Ms. Beaudoin successfully portrayed her as the conniving, ambitious, back-stabbing cheater she was supposed to be. Her funniest line was when she planned to see David on stage for the first time and said, "Should I bring my binoculars - or can you project?" Jeremy Burnett was Kevin, the actor who was formally a very popular rap star known as Kryptonite. Mr. Burnett did a fine job as the rich "pussy hound" destined to share some of his "black magic" with the ladies. Asa James was aloof and self-confident as Robert Forsythe, the fictitious playwright, who knew what he wanted from his actors but barely found the time to direct, given his other obligations as a fundraiser and promoter. When David finally demanded to know how expressive Robert Forsythe wanted him to be during the "love-making scenes," he reminded David his character is "retarded, not brain dead!" When an aggressive female reporter started asking him about the "one-dimensional characters" and "lack of subtext" in his plays, he cuts her off and says, "Are you a lesbian? I think you are. I like lesbians - they're so challenging." Asa James handled all his scenes with aplomb and was the anchor who held this play together. 

Daniel Reitz is a playwright you should keep your eye on. He shows extraordinary promise and is willing to tackle subjects others wouldn't think of touching. I highly recommend Pucker Up & Blow. It takes you on a journey to the mountaintop and then shows you what is on the other side. In David's case, "it's an actor's life for me." There are two more shows, which you can see on Friday, August 19, 2016 at 4:30 p.m. and on Tuesday, August 23, 2016 at 2:00 p.m. at The Players Theatre. Tickets cost $18.00 and can be purchased at 

Monday, August 15, 2016

Applause! Applause! Review of BroadHollow Theatre Company's production of The Will Rogers Follies at Bayway Arts Center by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of BroadHollow Theatre Company's production of The Will Rogers Follies at Bayway Arts Center was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 6 (2016) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

The Will Rogers Follies
Music by Cy Coleman
Lyrics by Betty Comden & Adolph Green
Book by Peter Stone
Directed & Choreographed by Jessy Gill
Costume Design by Joseph Kassner
BroadHollow Theatre Company
at Bayway Arts Center
265 East Main Street
East Islip, New York 11730
Reviewed 8/13/16 

The Will Rogers Follies opened on Broadway on May 1, 1991 at the Palace Theatre and closed on September 5, 1993, after 981 performances and 33 previews. That production, directed and choreographed by Tommy Tune, won five Tony Awards for Best Musical, Best Original Score, Best Direction of a Musical, Best Choreography, Best Costume Design, and Best Lighting Design. It must have been a slow year! Significantly, Peter Stone did not win the Tony Award for Best Book. The story line focuses on the life and career of famed humorist Will Rogers (born November 4, 1879 in Oologah, Cherokee Nation, Indian Territory - now Oklahoma), using the format of the Ziegfeld Follies, which he often headlined, as a backdrop to describing a few of the episodes of his life. In between, we learn that Will Rogers met his wife Betty Blake on the moon (not at a freight station), that his children never age in the show because Florenz Ziegfeld didn't want to spend extra money on children of different ages, that Wiley Post (the half-blind pilot who will be with Will Rogers when he dies) inexplicably is always hanging out in the audience of every show, and that Will Rogers is the most boring, one-dimensional character anyone might meet (which is probably not true given his rather exciting life). When his wife complains he is away from home too much, she is easily mollified with expensive gifts. Years pass from scene to scene with Will Rogers doing bad rope tricks, telling tired old jokes, and expressing "political opinions" that were so naive they were almost laughable. In the end, you leave the theater not having met a real human being with all the complexity that implies. If this musical is ever revived, the book will need a complete re-write. 

I would describe the play as poor and the actors as mediocre, at best. There were only three high-quality professional performers in this production. Mary Elise Jones, who played Betty Blake (Will Rogers' wife) was the star of the show. She is the only character given the opportunity to show any depth of emotions. She also has a beautiful voice and did a wonderfully moving rendition of "No Man Left For Me". Michael Santora was perfectly pleasant and correctly cast in the main role of Will Rogers but there was very little for him to work with as the part is currently written. Where is the businessman making decisions, where is the conflict, what motivates him, what frightens him? In this play, Will Rogers is nothing but a cartoon character you might see in children's theater. Still, Mr. Santora is engaging and does the very best he can with the material. I particularly enjoyed his renditions of "Give A Man Enough Rope", "Our Favorite Son" and the low-key closing number "Never Met A Man I Didn't Like". Adam Brett, who played Pete the Stage Manager, is the only other actor in the production with a charismatic stage presence who evidenced any talent. There were no other standouts in this large cast and too many of the actors appeared to be poorly trained amateurs. I have seen other productions of the BroadHollow Theatre Company (most notably Fools and Into The Woods) and they were top notch! Whoever was the Casting Director of this show went a long way to destroying the reputation of this theater company. Even I am re-thinking whether it will be worth my time seeing Carousel, their next scheduled production.

This show lacked energy and was very uninspiring. There was no live orchestra and only a C-rated Burlesque Bevy of Babes you might find in a poorly attended Gentlemen's Club miles off the Las Vegas Strip. There were a few cute kids who were adorable but that is the most that can be said of the remaining cast. Will Rogers ("The Cherokee Kid" who was just over 1/4 Cherokee) was given at least one good line. When Florenz Ziegfeld told him that "in a Ziegfeld Show, the wedding always ends the first act," Rogers responded, "Well in our case, the wedding proceeded the act." He also referred to Wiley Post and himself as "a one-eyed flier and a half-breed rope swinger." His wife was left with lines such as, "If you get yourself killed, I'll never talk to you again." As for an inserted dose of philosophy, Will Rogers recalls that as the plane was going down, he said, "We're going down Wiley!" to which Wiley Post replied, "Hell, Will. Nobody stays up forever!" Of course, there were no survivors so we have absolutely no idea what they said to one another in those last moments. William Penn Adair Rogers died in that plane crash in Point Barrow, Alaska on August 15, 1935 (not on August 13th as mentioned in the show). 

In real life, Will Rogers was a far more interesting and colorful character, none of which is substantively portrayed in the musical. After he obtained recognition as a humorist-philosopher in Vaudeville, he gained a national audience in acting and literary careers from 1915 to 1935. He often expressed the views of the "common man" downplaying the importance of academic credentials ("Everybody is ignorant, only on different subjects"). Americans of all walks of life admired his individualism. He extolled hard work as the road to success. He symbolized the self-made man who believed in America, in progress, and in the American Dream of upward mobility. Being part Cherokee, he often quipped his ancestors did not come over on the Mayflower, but they "met the boat." Later in life, he served as a goodwill ambassador to Mexico and a brief stint as mayor of Beverly Hills. Since the California city was incorporated and thus run by an appointed city manager, the "mayor's office" was merely a ceremonial one which enabled him to make more jokes about do-nothing politicians such as himself. He often said he was "not a member of any organized political party" because he was a Democrat but he did support Republican Presidential Candidate Calvin Coolidge. He also mounted a mock campaign for President in 1928 as the candidate of the Anti-Bunk Party promising to immediately resign if elected.  

I only wish The Will Rogers Follies did a better job of portraying the true adventures of this amazing man. I am pretty certain if he were alive and saw this musical, he would make some humorous quip about it in public but, in private, probably wouldn't be too pleased. So many aspects of his life and personality are completely absent or glossed over. After his death, Will Rogers was mourned by millions of Americans and by people throughout the world. Not since Lincoln's assassination has the American public felt such a loss. Will Rogers will be remembered far longer than this play will be. This production runs through August 28, 2016. Tickets cost $23.00 for adults and $21.00 for seniors 65 and over. For more information, call 631-581-2700. To purchase tickets, visit