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Off Broadway

Calling All Black/Afro-Latinx Playwrights

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Founded by Darrel Alejandro Holnes, The Greater Good Commission offers mini-grants to Latinx playwrights to write short plays, innovative in form, that reflect the times. The commission’s inaugural round will focus on Afro/Black Latinx-identifying playwrights. 

The year’s commissioned plays will be presented at The 2020 Greater Good Plays Festival produced by the Latinx Playwrights Circle (LPC) and Pregones Theater/PRTT. The festival will be streamed online and the plays will later live in digital archives.

Eligibility 

  • No more than one fully-staged professional production (staged readings, workshops, college productions do not count as professional productions)
  • Must identify as Afro/Black Latinx 
  • Applicants can only apply solo; no writing teams permitted
  • Applicants must be over 18 years of age.

Submission Requirements

  • 1-page proposal for a short play; your short play should… 
    • Answer the question: What do you think the world may look like in a year?
    • Maximum of 5 actors 
    • Be innovative in form
    • Speak to the times 
    • Be a maximum of 15 pages in length
  • 10-page writing sample, preferably a short play but excerpts are accepted.

Deadline is July 15th.

For more information and to apply, visit LatinxPlaywrights.com

Suzanna, co-owns and publishes the newspaper Times Square Chronicles or T2C. At one point a working actress, she has performed in numerous productions in film, TV, cabaret, opera and theatre. She has performed at The New Orleans Jazz festival, The United Nations and Carnegie Hall. She has a screenplay and a TV show in the works, which she developed with her mentor and friend the late Arthur Herzog. She is a proud member of the Drama Desk and the Outer Critics Circle and was a nominator. Email: suzanna@t2conline.com

Off Broadway

Off Broadway Girl Talk Madwomen of the West

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Right now at the Actors Temple Theatre, 339 West 47th Street is the New York premier of Sandra Tsing Loh’s Madwomen of the West. The show in a way reminded me of the 1996 play Love, Loss, and What I Wore, where celebrities joined on stage. Here you have Caroline Aaron, Brooke Adams, Marilu Henner, and Melanie Mayron, all actors who have performed on film, TV and stage. They are like long lost friends, they are so familiar.

Caroline Aaron, Marilu Henner, Melanie Mayron, and Brooke Adams Photo by Carol Rosegg

The four have gathered together for Claudia’s (Mayron) birthday. It is being thrown at the Brentwood home of Jules (Adams) and Marilyn (Aaron) has decorated. Enter the long lost Zoey (Henner) and what you think you know about these friends, isn’t what it seems. As a matter of fact, this birthday brunch is about to turn into the brunch from hell. These Baby Boomers, are also feminists admiring Hilary Clinton and Gloria Steinem, though not always on the same side. They break the 4th wall, as they banter back and forth to themselves and to us, the audience. They confront, encourage, justify and talk about transgender, health, the horror of Trump and those “pussy hats”, sex and so much more. Think “girl-talk” to the max.

They sit on couches, as a backdrop of palm trees, and a lone piñata take center stage, thanks to set designer Christian Fleming. The play has no money, so the production is bare bones…. so they say. Everything about this show is tongue and check and is well directed by Thomas Caruso.

Each actor here shines and in an out of the way aside, each has pieces of their real selves written into the roles they play. Not having seen Aaron on stage before, I was impressed by her vocal quality and humor. Adams brings sophistication and Mayron adds that knowing, we are all in the same messed up boat. Henner will make you want that body and her sex appeal.

These women knocked down doors for the women to come, but I was surprised that the one issue they missed out on was that women are still not equal in this country. It takes 1, count it 1 state to approve this and yet plays about feminism leave this vital information out.

The show ends with “The Bitch is Back.” they sing in glee. I guess it is ok when we call ourselves that.

Madwomen of the West: The Actors Temple Theatre, 339 West 47th Street through December 31.

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Off Broadway

“Stereophonic” at Playwrights Horizons Sings Solidly

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It’s July 1976, in a recording studio in Sausalito, CA and we are being invited into a space that only a select few get to visit, let alone witness. This is art in the making, pure and simple, with ego and love, getting mixed and faded in through the process most musically. In Playwrights Horizons‘s magnificent new play, Stereophonic, written most delicately by David Adjmi (The Blind King Parts I and II), a band on the cusp of greatness has assembled, and they are tasked, casually and with great intent, to something magnificent and meaningful, a lasting piece of musical art, to follow up their last album that has become, over the timeframe, a breakout hit.

Andrew R. Butler, Sarah Pidgeon, Chris Stack, and Juliana Canfield in Playwrights Horizons’s Stereophonic. Photo by Chelice Parry.

The play is exceptionally well framed and constructed; both musical and meandering, in the best of all possible ways, yet somewhere inside Adjmi’s engaging Stereophonicand its three-hour running time, a deeper level of contextual art formulation is unpacked quite beautifully. It saunters forward, with a complicated level of exhaustion, angst, and inspiration, unearthing something that almost defies expectations and compartmentalization. It’s a 1970s rock saga, clearly modeled on the legendary Fleetwood Mac and their dynamic backstage friction, that leans into and plays with the problematic relationships within this unnamed band as they try to create magic behind a glass wall, while also trying to fulfill their emotional needs in the confines of the studio and real life.

It’s all emotional breakups and reconciliations, with a layer of bored and sleep-deprived banter; around a broken coffee machine and the annoying reverberations of (not only) the drum. It’s electric and conflictual, playing havoc on every one of these characters’ insecure hearts, while offering up no grand solutions or final product. Stereophonic is all about the tiny details and the little frustrations that grow and become emotional cannonballs bent on destruction, leveled and defused out of an undercurrent of love and need for creation. It is incandescent in its artful construction, displaying and writing about a realm few of us can understand. It’s the agony and ecstasy that lives and sings inside the magnificent creative process of musicians, arts, singers, and writers, who hear aspects that most of us can’t understand, let alone hear or comprehend. And we have been invited in, to bear witness to its creation, in all its meticulously dull and exhausting detail. Giving light to the darkness of the process, and how art can both create and destroy those involved in its coming to life.

Eli Gelb and Andrew R. Butler in Playwrights Horizons’s Stereophonic. Photo by Chelice Parry.

Stereophonic, as directed solidly by Daniel Aukin (LCT’s Admissions), is relentless, casual, and wonderfully detailed, giving us the band experience of trying to organically create music, supplied by the immensely talented musician and composer, Will Butler (Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs). It all plays out over a long period of time, driving each other mad with their internal and external struggles and ego manipulations. The set, miraculously well designed by David Zinn (Broadway’s Kimberly Akimbo), with the solid help of sound designer Ryan Rumery (PH’s Placebo) and lighting designer Jiyoun Chang (Broadway’s The Cottage), delivers the dichotomy of the control room in the foreground and the soundproof recording space in the back, separated by a wall of glass, where different elements unfold with deliberation. It’s a fantastic formulation, that resembles and plays with the making of ‘Rumours‘ whole also paying tribute, (I am told – this detail flew over my head), to albums by Todd Rundgren, Talking Heads, Pink Floyd, and Elton John.
The unnamed Stereophonic band before us seemingly has a hit album that is climbing the charts as they start recording, and their record label is becoming more and more generous as they become more and more famous. All the actors find their fantastically unique space within that iconic construct, with the two couples taking center stage, along with nods to those around them. It’s a compelling narrative, with their body language giving off the boredom and exhaustion that comes with all the late-night partying and endless recording and re-recording. Dominated by an American guitarist and singer, the aggressive Peter, played strongly by Tom Pecinka (TFANA’s He Brought Her Heart Back..), and his insecure songwriting girlfriend, Diana, beautifully portrayed by Sarah Pidgeon (Hulu’s “Tiny Beautiful Things“), they act out a dynamic that is as raw and rocky as one would imagine when two artists collide, both with faltering egos and needs. The cling to one another in desperate need, while also mistreating and hurting one another endlessly. It’s electric and disturbing, while being entirely believable and dynamic.

Tom Pecinka and Sarah Pidgeon in Playwrights Horizons’s Stereophonic. Photo by Chelice Parry.

There is also, almost more fascinating, a trio of Brits, two of which are struggling to connect within their explosive marriage; namely Holly, magnificently embodied by Juliana Canfield (ATC’s Sunday), who sings and plays the piano, and Reg, brilliantly portrayed by Will Brill (Off-Broadway’s Uncle Vanya), who plays the bass and drinks and snorts so much that he can barely walk, at least at the beginning of this play. There is also the captivatingly complicated Simon, played well by Chris Stack (ATC’s Blue Ridge), who plays the drums while trying hard to manage the mess that slowly and almost lazily unravels around him.
Staying firmly on the control side of the glass, we are also given a peek inside those who live in the background; the young sound engineer Grover, meticulously unpacked by Eli Gelb (RTC’s Skintight), and his hilariously well-constructed assistant, Charlie, wonderfully played by Andrew R. Butler (Ars Nova’s Rags Parkland Sings…). Their drive and infatuation with the band and their creative power play strong and true, especially at the beginning, but as the mystique of the band’s unity begins to unravel and explode into chaos and compulsion, their determined connection to the musicians shifts from worship to irritation as the weeks turn into months and years. Or does it, in the end?

The creative energy and compounded exhaustion that live inside every brilliantly performed song cause Stereophonic to sing, most magnetically and is clearly as real and authentic as one could hope for, drenched in authentic swagger, courtesy of the costuming by Enver Chakartash (Broadway’s A Doll’s House). Even as the clock ticks forward, for them and for us, the pitfalls of collaboration and the art of creation mingle and mix like only musicians can, hurting one another while also elevating their craft in order to create that piece of art that makes all of us sit back in wonderment. They riff and talk rough to one another, accessing imagery of the hotness of Donald Sutherland and the bonding of artists, regardless of gender. The music in the background soars, thanks to the beautiful songwriting work done by Arcade Fire’s Butler, but it’s more in the magical interpersonal dynamics that elevate this experience into something special, powerful, and utterly unique. Aggressiveness and control hit hard against love, creation, and connection, playing with loyalties and solo careers in a way that unlocks chaotic relationship complications that echo far beyond the room. Sudden fame does wonders to the energy within, and in Stereophonic, we are gifted with the fly-on-the-wall syndrome, watching magic develop out of thin air and focused minds, even when clouded by love, pain, and that big bag of white powder.

Will Brill and Chris Stack in Playwrights Horizons’s Stereophonic. Photo by Chelice Parry.

Playwrights Horizons’s Stereophonic.

For more go to frontmezzjunkies.com

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Off Broadway

Vineyard’s “Scene Partners” Gets Stuck Between Floors

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This is exactly how it happened “ we are told, followed by a big wide screen opening that descends upon us, but it does not quite land where it, and our leading lady’s character, most likely intended it too. Finally escaping the 11th floor on a folding chair and faulty pulley system, Meryl Kowalski, as portrayed as only the magnificently gifted Dianne Wiest (Broadway’s All My Sons; “Purple Rose of Cairo“) could, finds flight and falter inside this fascinating exploration of some sort of demented dream. Giving the “correct response“ to abstract questions and assignments, Wiest delivers a befuddled and determined performance that elevates a play that fractures realities every chance it gets. As written with a wild wandering spirit by John J. Caswell, JR. (Wet Brain), the play is an absurdity of utter invigorating complexity, playing with and sometimes delivering itself forward in a fascinating but distancing dementia. Is it a post-traumatic disassociation of epic proportions or a fractured descent into grief and mental illness, played for a laugh or a tug at the heart? Or is it something quite else that was lost on this avid fan of this Oscar-winning actress? And I don’t even know if there is a clear correct answer to this. But that is half the fun in this half-fun exercise in abstractionism and determination.

It’s big on ‘concept’, directed with a strong forward vision by Rachel Chavkin (Broadway’s Hadestown), obviously enjoying the ride and the wandering with glee. The visuals ride and slide in and about, thanks to the incredibly detailed and smooth work of video and projection design by David Bengali (Broadway’s The Thanksgiving Play), lighting designer Alan C. Edwards (Vineyard’s Harry Clarke), and scenic designer Riccardo Hernández (Broadway’s Indecent), giving depth and clarity to this otherwise meander into fractured and fantastical thinking. Supported by clever extravagances by costume designer Brenda Abbandandolo (Broadway’s The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window), the effect is a fevered dive into the mind of a woman beaten down hard to the ground by a now-dead husband whose death has freed her to her desire; her dream and determination to be a big famous movie star, and she’ll point the barrel at anyone who might stand in her way or say otherwise.

Josh Hamilton and Dianne Wiest in Vineyard Theatre’s Scene Partners. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

Scene Partners feels anything but safe and secure, as we join Wiest’s 75-year-old widow from the Midwest as she steadily abandons her needy mess of a daughter, played with clever calculations by Kristen Sieh (Broadway’s The Band’s Visit), to jet, train, or sled herself off to Hollywood to become a big gloriously famous movie star even before her now-dead violent abusive husband has been buried six feet under. The framing is slanted, with efforts to keep us off balance. Finding a flavor in its madness and splitting. The name of Wiest’s woman is Meryl Kowalski, and she’s not to be ignored. She is told quite clearly and quickly that she must change it if she really wants to be an actress, as that first name of hers has already been taken by that other, already famous and award-winning actress with the same first name that we all know and love. But this Meryl holds firm, inside and out of her first acting class somewhere out there in Los Angeles. It’s there, when confronted by her over-the-top acting teacher, played with wild abandonment by the perfect Josh Hamilton (Broadway’s The Real Thing), that she reveals another level of strong abstractionism. This particularly twisted Meryl’s dead husband was named Stanley Kowalski, and her Streetcar husband made Tennessee Williams’s character seem like quite the gentle nice guy.

At this point, the play stands shakily in some abstract parallels that are fun, clever, complicated, and a bit distancing, playing with fragments of trauma and grief that don’t fully come together. It pulls and pushes at about the same level of conflicted engagement, until Johanna Day (Broadway/MTC’s How I Learned to Drive) as Meryl’s half-sister comes into play, shifting the formula with a centered grounding that makes us sit back and question what’s really going on. When a doctor also enters the picture, played well by Eric Berryman (RT’s Primary Trust), a medical diagnosis once again adds a different framework that could alter the whole process. Where are we with these two half-sisters and their shared knowledge of a non-collaborated trauma of abuse? Especially after a (pre-recorded) interview with a very well-positioned Sieh asking pertinent questions that illicit praise from Hamilton’s pompous character and a disappearing act of a half-sister who might never been. It plays with the head, in both an engaging and disassociating manner that works, and doesn’t.

Johanna Day and Dianne Wiest in Vineyard Theatre’s Scene Partners. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

Scene Partners doesn’t play easy with our unpacking, leading us down blind endless alleyways decorated with an abundance of movie imagery that either leads us to brick walls or bottomless pits to fall into. Wiest’s Meryl has necessarily immersed herself in these vintage cinematic panoramas, probably to unconsciously avoid the abusive reality she found herself trapped in, and in that trauma response, Wiest has found the perfect embodiment for Mrs. Kowalski, bringing feisty and forceful complexities to the forefront as she shuffles and stabs herself into frame. And even if it doesn’t, in the end, add up to much, this Vineyard Theatre production is flavorful in its twisted construction and projections. The “Doctor Zhivago” impressions and pop-culture references overwhelm, not just our heroine, but also our connections to emotional clarity and authenticity, leaving us hanging halfway down and in between floors waiting for something to fully make an impact.

Dianne Wiest in Vineyard Theatre’s Scene Partners. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

For more go to frontmezzjunkies.com

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Off Broadway

Make Me Gorgeous Tells Of One Man’s Authenticity

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Make Me Gorgeous! playing at Playhouse 46 in a nut shell is about the life and times of LGBTQ+ trailblazer Kenneth Marlow. Embodying Marlow is Wade McCollum, who tells us how he was born in 1926 in Des Moines, Iowa, and how he became a hustler, private hairdresser, stripped in mob-controlled nightclubs, became a female impersonator, a madam of a gay prostitution ring, until in the 70’s when he became Kate, throwing a “Ball to End all Balls” to fund gender-affirming surgery. We learn how she documented her life in books. In between he was a private in the U.S. Army; a Christian missionary; a mortuary cosmetologist and a newspaper columnist.

Wade McCollum Photo: Maria Baranova

In a sense Marlow was raised to be who he was dressed in girls clothes as a child, then became drawn to feminine clothes and his female relatives encouraged him. In high school he ran around in drag. in Iowa in the 30’s took some kind of guts. His father never showed him love and left, his mother was a raging alcoholic. He took to the cinemas populated by men to find what was missing in life, then to the church. When he is shipped off to California, he meets and hangs out with the transgender prostitutes finding feeling at home. He ends up with a sugar daddy who is unattractive, ends up in Chicago, ends up as a hairdresser and then a stripper in Calumet City as “Mr. Keni Marlo, Exotic Queen of the Boys” and that takes us to the 40’s.

Wade McCollum Photo: Maria Baranova

In the end he ended up becoming the hairstylist to Phyllis Diller, Lucille Ball, and Gypsy Rose Lee, among others. His side job need up being documented in Mr. Madam: Confessions of a Male Madam, Cathouse Mother, Male Oral Love, and Around the World with Kenneth Marlowe.

Wade McCollum Photo: Maria Baranova

I have loved McCollum’s work ever since Ernest Shackleton Loves Me. This man is a consummate actor, whose rich voice and glamours gams make him perfect to tell this story. He brings everyone he is talking about to life. You feel as if you know each character. McCollum’ has oodles of charisma, so the tawdry tale he is telling comes off less crass. With lines like “I liked that men paid to have sex with me. And those who appealed to me usually didn’t have any money…so I did a lotta pro-bono work” if you are not exactly open this may not appeal to you. A couple walked out the night I went. McCollum is a natural with Sally Rand’s Fan Dance and glorious performing a song Marlow wrote with jazz pianist Reggie DuValle. The most pignut part of the story comes when he is drafted and is raped by 14 men. There is however a disconnect as on a book cover he wrote “He was raped by fourteen men in his barracks — and enjoyed it!”

Wade McCollum Photo: Maria Baranova

The theater is styled like a cabaret, with velvet curtains and bistro tables. Black and white photographs of drag queens hang on the walls. On the stage Walt Spangler’s set looks like a cross between Barbie’s house and cotton candyI really want the black dress designed by Jeffrey Hinshaw and the lighting by Jamie Roderick’s and sound by Ien DeNio’s really help to enjoy the evening

Wade McCollum Photo: Maria Baranova

Smartly directed and written by Donald Horn, I was on the edge of my seat the whole performance and definitely learned a thing or two or three about this culture.

Make Me Gorgeous! Playhouse 46, 308 W 46th Street, through Dec. 31st.

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Music

Here We Are Or The Search For The Meaning of Life

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Let me just state that I love the Stephen Sondheim/David Ives musical/play Here We Are. It’s as if the genius, known as Sondheim was trying to resolve his life. The first act is cynical and the characters are hypocritical, while the second act is about coming to with grips with life’s choices and surrendering to the inevitable.

Micaela Diamond, Amber Gray, Steven Pasquale, Bobby Cannavale, Rachel Bay Jones and Jeremy Shamos Photo by Emilio Madrid

The music is like playing Sondheim jeopardy. His motif’s from other shows are blended into new songs that make you want to have a pen and paper to play the game. I can’t wait until the CD comes out. I’ve been told that it is being recorded in January.

The cast and Rachel Bay Jones Photo by Emilio Madrid

The show is highly surreal, with life’s journeyIn question. Think “The Outer Limits” or “The Twilight Zone,” very Rod Serling.

Jeremy Shamos, Tracie Bennett, Amber Gray Photo by Emilio Madrid

Based on two Luis Buñuel films “The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie” (1972) and “The Exterminating Angel” (1962). Act one has Leo Brink (Bobby Cannavale) a entitled tycoon whose opinion is the only one that matters, his wife Marianne (Rachel Bay Jones) who lives for beauty and is a bit on the vaped side, their friends Paul Zimmer (Jeremy Shamos), a plastic surgeon celebrating his 1,000th nose job, his wife, Claudia (Amber Gray), an agent who lives for the celebrity of it all, Raffael Santello Di Santicci (Steven Pasquale), an ambassador from  Moranda who lives for the number of notches on his belt and Fritz (Micaela Diamond), Marianne’s younger sister, who wants a revolution, while also wanting to live the good life, searching for brunch. It turns out Leo, Paul and Raffael run a drug cartel. As the day goes down the hill Marianne keeps asking Leo to “buy this perfect day for her.”

Amber Gray, Jeremy Shamos, David Hyde Pierce, Bobby Cannavale, Steven Pasquale Photo by Emilio Madrid

Act two is a little more dark. While they finally find food,  the consequences of their choices keeps them trapped in purgatory. Enter a colonel (Francois Battiste) whose parents were killed for $26.15, a soldier (Jin Ha) who has feelings for Fritz due to his dreams and a bishop (David Hyde Pierce) who wants another job, has a shoe fettish, and plays piano, until there is no more music. This act is very reminiscent of Steambath. I love the homage to “The World According to Garp” and the bear.

Jin Ha, Micaela Diamond Photo by Emilio Madrid

Playing butlers and maids and assorted restaurateur’sare the incredible Tracie Bennett and Denis O’Hare. Kudos has to go out to the wigs by Robert Pickens and Katie Gell and the neon various establishments. white box set and costumes by David Zinn.

Jeremy Shamos, Amber Gray, Bobby Cannavale, Denis O’Hare, Rachel Bay Jones, Steven Pasquale, Micaela Diamond Photo by Emilio Madrid

Joe Mantello’s staging is exquisite, allowing for each of these brilliantly talented performers to take center stage. This is true ensemble acting and I hope when the Drama Desk is giving out awards this wins.

Where many have criticized the lack of music in the second act, it makes perfect sense. The music stops. The concept very much reminds me of Davids Cromer’s Our Town, when Emily dies and suddenly things are in color and have smells. It makes complete sense that once you are trapped the music would die.

Natasha Katz’s lighting really helps the shinny set take shape, Tom Gibbons’s sound makes the inner world come to life and Sam Pinkleton’s choreography is just enough to make this move seamlessly.

Alexander Gemignani, and Jonathan Tunick, make Sondheim’s music an art and I for one appreciate the subtlety and musicality. Many may not know that Sondheim was a game master and in this it is like he won the final game of “putting it together”.

Here We Are, is intelligent, witty with so much to say and if you ponder the meaning of life you to will walk away extremely fulfilled.

Here We Are, The Shed, 545 West 30th through January 21st

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