A multi-tiered level of conceptual thought and emotional storytelling align perfectly in Craig Lucas’s devastatingly good new play, I was Most Alive with You. It drives down a twisting and emotional road attempting to make sense out of chaos while not plunging off a cliff. It holds your hand tightly but keeps the upcoming vista out of sight just enough that the final destination remains unknown. In truth, it’s a genre play that could fit easily and strongly into the category of ‘dysfunctional family drama’ with Lucas (Prayer for My Enemy) formulating its working gears and parts of conflict under the banners of: addiction, trauma, faith, and deafness. It’s a tree of miracles, this vehicle, that is so well constructed that it drives as smooth as one could hope. The gears are frameworks for the drama, and not necessarily the ‘problem’ within, but a component in the dilemma that affects the unit. To focus on just one as the ‘issue’ would be a disservice to the overall, but faith and the structure of Belief hangs overhead, much like the shadow characters on the floor above, and the Book of Job that is weaved into the framework throughout. Faith in our unity and life within despair is the battleground, even when the powerful biblical bangs come, three in a row, one after the after, it hits like a chain reaction multi-car collision on a cold frozen highway in the middle of a stormy winter day, harshly and haphazardly from all angles. The play punches hard in an instant, blind sighting the passengers with its power and slow-motioned feel. The whiplash and striking pain is hot, but surmountable, if taken one day at a time, ushering in the only thing one can say when the lights come up for the much-needed intermission, and that one word is “WOW“.
“Life, as we find it, is too hard for us; it brings us too many pains, disappointments and impossible tasks. In order to bear it we cannot dispense with palliative measures…There are perhaps three such measures: powerful deflections, which cause us to make light of such misery; substitutive satisfactions, which diminish it; and intoxicating substances, which make us insensible to it.” – Sigmund Freud (quote from the intro to the play)
Opening on the first International Day of Sign Languages, Playwrights Horizons drives up to the gates with one of the most compelling and intoxicating play that I’ve seen in a while, layering one format of the play underneath another, giving fresh construction to an old adage. In the draft of the written play, Lucas writes: “created to be performed by Deaf & hearing actors for Deaf & hearing audiences. In the original productions, Shadow actors augmented the principal cast, providing ASL translations of all dialogue. Projected English translations were provided for lines performed solely in ASL. Sound cues were projected..All future productions must provide full access for hearing & Deaf audiences at all performances by whatever means chosen. A director of artistic sign language must be employed. Any production attempting to forego these conditions will be in violation of the author’s wishes as well as the licensing agreement.” This production, directed with eyes wide-open by the inventive Tyne Rafaeli (PR’s The Rape of the Sabine Women…) and the director of Artistic Sign Language (ASL), Sabrina Dennison (ASL translation for Yale U’s Twelfth Night), take this instruction very seriously, creating a cast made up of both hearing and Deaf, and with a secondary level of sign language interpreters mirroring movement and emotion on a higher level. The double-decker approach, designed with a compelling eye for emotional truth by Arnulfo Maldonado (PH’s Dance Nation), gives a dual telling for those in the audience who are either Deaf or hearing. I’m not sure how the experience for a Deaf audience member would be compared to mine, but my guess might be that it would seem complicated and jarring, and not entirely fluid and all-encompassing. The subtitles, projections by Alex Basco Koch (Barrow Street’s Buyer & Cellar), occasionally manifest themselves on numerous surfaces when signing is not reasonable, with ASL being used mostly by the upstairs shadows, but sometimes solely by those down on the main floor. I think I wouldn’t know where to look at some points on the map, and I’d get lost in the shuffle but that’s just a theory. The only comparison I can functionally attempt might be the disconnect when reading subtitles above the proscenium at the opera, with the action and actors too far below to mesh them strongly together in an instantaneous blast. I did find myself hypnotized at times by the drama going on above, which was just as dynamically palpable as what was playing out below. That being said, I would be interested to read feedback from those in the audience who were Deaf, and there seemed to be many, and by all account, they reacted just the same.
In the Torah, the Book of Job, God accepts a bet proposed by Satan: “Take away all of Job’s gifts and let’s see how much he loves you.” and with that as the overall philosophic road map for I was Most Alive with You, Lucas begins his two framed journey through tragedy down a well constructed road to a resting place for the weary, somewhere close to despair without exactly falling into that abyss. Despair, it seems, if you follow the book of Lucas, is “anti-dramatic. Feeling sorry for oneself is always the wrong choice. If we ask anything of theater, it is to show how other human beings have faced insurmountable obstacles. The characters in this narrative, confronted with losses they never anticipated or wished for, must find the highest road at all times. Even a choice to end one’s life is reaching toward improvement. It cannot be otherwise.“
(Now I’m only going to write this first phrase this one time, but take it as the first part of almost every opinionated sentence going forward…) As a hearing audience member, the drama unfolds with textbook accuracy and construction, leading us forward with the weight of a catastrophe laying its heavy hand on the back of the recovering addict and concerned father, Ash, portrayed deeply and empathetically by Michael Gaston (Broadway’s Lucky Guy), with Shadow Ash performing beautifully upstairs by Seth Gore (New York Deaf Theatre). It’s obvious something has shaken his stability and tightly held sobriety to the core. His writing partner, Astrid, dynamically played by Marianna Bassham (HBO’s ‘Olive Kitteridge‘) with her Shadow played by Beth Applebaum (NYDT’s Titus), is worried, and tries with all her might to settle her own self and find a shared momentum to move him forward utilizing the strength of story telling and creation to bring them both back to the here and now. It’s a clear-cut and sure-fire theatrical approach to rectifying trauma, and as a device for restitution, it works its magic solidly, drawing us into Lucas’s dysfunctional family neatly and successfully. The structure plays a strong role in his playwriting, most emphatically when he asks: “How do we live with things we can’t change or fix or understand? What do we do with the insurmountable? That question is what made me write this play. To touch that place in others who also confront the immovable, irreparable, inconceivable. And the inevitable.“
From the notes of Lucas, it’s clear that this play is a wrestling for survival from chaos and destruction. Pleasant, the perfectly named camouflaged wife of Ash, played by Lisa Emery (PH’s Marjorie Prime)/Shadow: Amelia Hensley (Deaf West/Broadway’s Spring Awakening) is almost all the bad disruption rolled up into one. She’s a drinker whose vocal assaults get louder with every sip, and a mother who refuses to use sign language with her adorable Deaf son. Pleasant is sidelined by the seemingly more compassionate units of the family, chastising her into a cocktail’d corner, ensuring that she knows she doesn’t fit. In many ways, her continued marriage to Ash never feels truly authentic or possible, but maybe somewhere in that anger and frustration, there is a construct worth paying attention to. Maybe, she is a possible residual affliction of Ash’s 12-Step recovery and amends, using guilt and remorse against one another. Regardless, it never feels obvious or logical why she is present. That is until it becomes clear that her role is biblically antagonistic, stirring the pot until it boils up and over the edge, especially when it comes to her Deaf son, Knox, gorgeously portrayed by the devastatingly good Russell Harvard (Barrow Street/CTG/La Jolla’s Tribes)/Shadow: Harold Foxx (Deaf West’s Our Town). It’s clear she enjoys being the problem, generally speaking, or at least has gotten comfortable in the brittle role, but the vision we see of her through the cracked rear view mirror is blurry and distorted, made more clear by her interactions with the matriarch of the lot, and her hand written self-prescribed antidote to her husband and son’s detour; both outline a more nuanced and troubled landmark on what first appeared to be an overly simplified mapped out drive.
With Knox, we are given the other spectrum. He’s the loving, sweet, and handsome gay Deaf son, grown man, and lover, who believes with all his soul in the goodness of his existence, especially when living his dream as a teacher of ASL to kids. Passionate and very appealing to all, his heart belongs, naturally, to a man who will test his faith and agreeableness as often and as tragically as possible. Farhad, the rough and tumble man, that ignites a love in Knox that “you could warm your hands by“, is portrayed with a growing strength that multiplies with each and every line spoken and signed by the fantastic Tad Cooley (Kennedy Center’s Waiting for Trees)/Shadow: Anthony Natale (Broadway/Deaf West’s Big River). He grows more solid and real with each moment, twisting and turning around on himself and others, creating an epic portrayal of love, dishonor, and restoration.
Not surprisingly, the family gathers for Thanksgiving (is it that time of year already? and what’s with all the holiday dinners lining up? the next PH production is literally titled, The Thanksgiving Play. too much? or exactly what we need? you decide), and attempt to give thanks for all that surround them. With simple but exacting costumes by David C. Woolard (Primary Stage’s The Roads to Home), direct and sometimes much-needed harsh lighting by Annie Wiegand (Astoria Performing Arts’ Follies), solid sound by Jane Shaw (TFANA’s Measure for Measure) and gorgeously enriching original music by Daniel Kluger (Barrow Street’s The Effect), the gathering for the festivities feels staged but deeply authentic.
Grandmother Carla, played tenderly by the always wonderful Lois Smith (TNG’s Peace for Mary Frances)/Shadow: Kalen Feeney (Deaf Spotlight’s Skin) is simply the warmest, wrapping love and understanding at every turn of a signed phrase. She is the round circle of love at the heart of this piece, sharing with the group her compassion and honesty. She also shared with the clan her caring Mariama, carefully and exactingly portrayed by the solid Gameela Wright (A.R.T.’s Halcyon Days)/Shadow: Broadway’s Director of Artistic Sign language: Children of a Lesser God) who is like a thoughtfully complex religious hug. Mariama has a tale all of her own, that flourishes and descends with a meaningful flutter and heavy heart. Faith is being served at this gathering, and reactions and misunderstandings are passed around like gravy, as they do around a Thanksgiving dinner that never actually manifests itself. Songs are sung/signed and fireworks explode, all before the harsh fluorescent lights of a collision come flickering and harsh, crashing down upon the clan, rerouting them all in ways that resonates broadly, deeply, and intensely. This is the twist in the road I didn’t see coming, or at least aspects of it, until just moments before the call. But it’s the bang that outdoes all the others, and it smacks hard.
Act one ends with a shocking and powerful answer to the first vague question asked, but now, in Act 2, the fall-out will need to be rectified. We are teased, most beautifully with scenes of dual interaction, all intent on saving one from their own struggle with faith. Mariama and Knox. Astrid and Ash. Farhad and Ash. They all connect and engage beautifully with a depth of honesty that shivers. Carla enacts an engagement with both of the other mothers, separately but succinctly, that brings forth a shower of understanding and acknowledgement that feels as long as a prairie highway. Much like all the visitors who come, one by one to each other’s side, the one that will stay stitched into my upholstery forever is the extremely earth shattering moment when Astrid arrives to shake Knox deep into powerlessness and illumination. The fierceness of love and ‘the spit’ and ‘the curse’ that it brings forth gives me a lump in my throat just thinking about it, not to mention the tears that cascaded down during. It’s gives Lucas a chance to shift the whole into high gear, and drives us full speed towards the harrowing creation of an ending. “What could I have done differently“, Ash asks Astrid at one point, but the answer is as complex and exonerating as the last big white-walled scene, and Astrid’s desperate question in response. That demand is the key. The biggest bang on the floor. Craig Lucas, you couldn’t and shouldn’t have done anything differently, because to change that impact, a slice of storytelling that one audience member couldn’t withstand, running out of the theatre desperately during the last act of defiance, would be damnable, as this vase of plenty is earth shatteringly great.
Ken Fallin’s Broadway: Dracula: A Comedy Of Terrors
Dracula: A Comedy of Terrors, is now playing at New World Stage, 340 West 50th Street, until January 7, 2024 or beyond.
In this caricature you will find James Daly’s Dracula and clockwise: Andrew Keenan-Bolger, Arnie Burton, Ellen Harvey and Jordan Boatman who make up this amazingly talented cast.
You can read T2C’s mouth watering review here.
Theatre News: Wicked, The Wiz, Hypnotique, Female Troubles and Love In The Time Of Crazy
Broadway’s blockbuster Wicked, in partnership with National Day Calendar, has announced that October 30 will officially become National Wicked Day, in honor of the hit Broadway musical’s debut at the Gershwin Theatre (245 West 51st Street) on October 30, 2003.
This marks the first time that a Broadway show will have its own official day in the National Day Calendar. With this inclusion, Wicked joins some of the most recognizable National Day celebrations, including National Barbie Day, National Star Trek Day, National Scrabble Day, National Winnie the Pooh Day, and National Teacher Appreciate Day, among others.
Read the official announcement HERE.
Currently Wicked 4th longest-running show in Broadway history, and will celebrate its 20th Anniversary on Broadway this October 30th.
The Broadway production of Wicked currently features Alyssa Fox as Elphaba, McKenzie Kurtz as Glinda, John Dossett as The Wizard, Michele Pawk as Madame Morrible, Jordan Litz as Fiyero, Jake Pedersen as Boq, Kimber Elayne Sprawl as Nessarose, and William Youmans as Doctor Dillamond.
Emmy Award®-winning music director and Grammy Award®-winning writer, Adam Blackstone, joins the creative team as Dance Music Arranger for the revival of The Wiz. The Wiz will launch a national tour on September 23, 2023 in Baltimore, MD before returning to Broadway for a limited engagement in the 2023/24 season.
“Joining The Wiz’s creative team has been a very surreal moment. I remember watching the film on VHS daily for years, wondering how it sounded so incredible, how MJ transformed into the Scarecrow, and the score and orchestrations truly told a story all of its own. Fast forward to today, I get to musically partner with Terence Vaughn and reunite with my brother, super choreographer and creative director JaQuel Knight, and explore our own interpretation for a revival of this masterpiece. I am excited and look forward to this body of work changing lives, just like it did for me in the 80’s!” stated Adam Blackstone.
The cast will include previously announced Wayne Brady to lead the production as the Wiz on Broadway in Spring of 2024, San Francisco (January 16 – February 11, 2024) at the Golden Gate Theatre, and Los Angeles (February 13 – March 3, 2024) at the Hollywood Pantages Theatre. Alan Mingo Jr. will star in the role of the Wiz in the following cities of The Wiz National Tour this fall, kicking off with the tour launch in Baltimore, including Cleveland, OH, Washington, DC, Pittsburgh, PA, Charlotte, NC, Atlanta, GA, Greenville, SC, Chicago, IL, Des Moines, IA, Tempe, AZ and San Diego, CA.
The cast will also feature Nichelle Lewis as Dorothy, Deborah Cox as Glinda and Melody A. Betts as Aunt Em and Evillene, Kyle Ramar Freeman as the Lion, Phillip Johnson Richardson as the Tinman, and Avery Wilson as the Scarecrow. The Wiz ensemble includes Maya Bowles, Shayla Alayre Caldwell, Jay Copeland, Allyson Kaye Daniel, Judith Franklin, George, Collin Heyward, Amber Jackson, Jackson, Jones, Jones, Kindle, Mariah Lyttle, Kareem Marsh, Anthony Murphy, Rae, Matthew Sims Jr, Avilon Trust Tate, Keenan D. Washington, and Timothy Wilson.
The production will include ‘Everybody Rejoice’ music and lyrics by Luther Vandross, as well as the ‘Emerald City Ballet’ with music by Timothy Graphenreed.
The McKittrick Hotel (530 West 27th Street, NYC), home of Sleep No More, announced the opening of Hypnotique – A Late Night Sultry Spectacle. Performances have been extended on Friday and Saturday nights through October 14, 2023. The all-new Hypnotique revue offers a unique after-dark experience that envelops you. Audiences are captivated by spontaneous performances and mesmerizing dancers, accompanied by daring sonic soundscapes in a surreal ambiance in The Club Car.
The cast features Chloé Lexia Worthington, Courtney Sauls, Fabricio Seraphin, Haley Bjorn, Jacob Nahor, Jesseca Scott, Maurice Ivy, Maya Kitayama, Samantha Greenlund, Victoria Edwards, and swings Alex Sturtevant, Cameron Arnold, Kennedy Adams, and Stacey Badgett Jr..
Cocktails inspired by the experience, including the signature Hypnotonique (an electrifying punch made with cucumber-infused vodka, elderflower liqueur, and grapefruit juice), are available from The Club Car’s bar.
Performances are offered on Fridays and Saturdays at 10:30PM. General Admission tickets with standing room are currently priced from $65 per person.
Two industry readings for Female Troubles, an original musical comedy, will happen next week at Open Jar Studios. Female Troubles is a completely original musical comedy featuring lyrics by two-time Tony Award nominated and Grammy Award nominated songwriter Amanda Green (Mr. Saturday Night, Hands On A Hardbody, Bring It On), music by three-time Emmy Award nominee Curtis Moore (“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”), book by Emmy Award-winning writers Gabrielle Allan and Jennifer Crittenden (“Veep,” “Arrested Development,” “Seinfeld,” “The Simpsons,” “HouseBroken”) and directed by Tony Award winner Christopher Gattelli (Disney’s Newsies, My Fair Lady, “Schmigadoon,” “Schmicago”).
The cast for the readings will includeKrystina Alabado, Kevin Del Aguila, Amanda Green, Lilli Cooper, Lillias White, Lesli Margherita, Ryann Redmond, Kate Rockwell, Matt Saldivar, Alanna Saunders, Trent Saunders, Jake Swain, Sav Souza, Rachel Stern and Frank Viveros.In Female Troubles, Elinor Benton finds herself surprisingly and undeniably “knocked up” — and, since she’s unmarried and this is 19th century England, she has a very big dilemma. Facing ruin, she and her girlfriends embark on a raucous journey to find the one notorious woman who can help them with their “female troubles.” Their misadventures change the course of each of their lives. This uproarious musical comedy asks the trenchant question “Can you believe this sh*t is still happening in 1810?”
I attended the reading of Love In The Time Of Crazy withbook and lyrics by Peter Kellogg (Outer Critics Winner for Desperate Measures), music by Stephen Weiner (two-time Richard Rodgers Award winner) and David Hancock Turner (orchestrator for Desperate Measures and Penelope), directed by Lauren Molina (Desperate Measures ). The cast stared Philippe Arroyo, Stephen DeRosa, Robin Dunavant, David Merino, Josh Lamon, Roe Hartrampf and Alexis Cofield .
Love in the Time of Crazy is a riot, but, you know, in a good way.
Arms and the Man Meet The Press
Gingold Theatrical Group next show is a new production of George Bernard Shaw’s Arms and the Man.
The cast of Arms and the Man will feature Shanel Bailey (“Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies”)
Delphi Borich (Camelot)
Ben Davis (New York New York)
Keshav Moodliar (Queen)
Evan Zes (The Kite Runner),
Tony Award winner Karen Ziemba (Prince of Broadway).
Understudies for this production are Mazvita Chanakira (Gap Year)
René Thornton Jr (The Tempest)
and Matthew Zimmerman (A Midsummer Night’s Dream).
Arms and the Man will be directed by David Staller.
The production will feature set design by Lindsay Genevieve Fuori
lighting design by Jamie Roderick
costume design by Tracy Christensen
and sound design by Julian Evans. Prop design is by Emmarose Campbell.
Production management is by Allie Posner. Hair design is by Cassie Williams, and Stephanie Yankwitt of tbd Casting Co. is the Casting Director.
Logan Gabrielle Schulman is the Assistant to the Director and Ariel Kregard is the Assistant to the Costume Designer.
The production stage manager is April Ann Kline and Jade Doina will serve as assistant stage manager.
Arms and the Man is one of Shaw’s most popular comedies. The plot follows a hunted soldier who, seeking refuge in a young lady’s boudoir, starts in motion a series of highly engaging and unlikely comedic events. His unusual philosophies about love, war and life in general open up a world of thought she’d never previously entertained–certainly not with her dashing war-hero fiancée who also arrives unexpectedly. This early work of Shaw’s is remarkably pithy.
The play’s title, Arms and the Man, references the first line of the epic Virgil poem, The Aeneid, in which we’re reminded of how foolish humans can be by fighting each other and struggling against the best of human nature: “Arms and the man I sing, who, forced by fate / And haughty Juno’s unrelenting hate, / Expelled and exiled, left the Trojan shore.”
Arms and the Man will play Theater Two at Theatre Row (410 W 42nd St, New York, NY 10036) from October 17 through November 18, 2023. Opening night is set for October 26. The performance schedule is Tuesday–Thursday at 7pm; Friday at 8pm; Saturday at 2pm & 8pm; Sunday at 3pm. Cast and guest-moderated talkbacks will take place after each Sunday performance.
“Relapse” Musically Releases Some Compelling Voices in Our Heads
By Dennis W
Vinny Celerio (as Intrusive), Nicole Lamb (as Intrusive), Mia Cherise Hall (as Melinda), Zummy Mohammed (as Intrusive), and Audree Hedequist (as Intrusive) Photos by Thomas Mundell.
Relapse: A New Musical is filling Theatre Row with the sound of music from voices patients in a psychiatric hospital hear only in their heads. The 100-minute production captures the audience and brings them into the foggy, erratic, self-destructive world of this group who have lost their grasp on reality. It’s a difficult feat to write a musical about mental illness and get it right. The approach J. Giachetti takes in the book and lyrics, with music supplied by Louis Josephson, is quite inventive and works. The play takes place in group therapy sessions for four patients. But the music is about what’s going on in the minds of these people as they struggle with their sanity. And there are four more players called, ‘The Intrusive’ (the voices in the patients’ heads) doing whatever they can to keep the people in the group from breaking through to reality.
Bryan is played by Randall Scott Carpenter and this is his Off-Broadway debut. Bryan has an eating disorder and Carpenter captures a man searching for control right down to the nervous tick of shaking his leg. The schizophrenic in the group is Melinda played by Mia Cherise Hall. She has just the right spin on the character’s detachment from reality while still being part of the group.
Kendra is played by Becca Suskauer (Pretty Woman, National Tour) making her Off-Broadway debut. Kendra is a sociopath who torched her home and killed her father. Rounding out the cast is Adam played by Jacob Ryan Smith (Lizard Boy, Off-Broadway) who is new to the group. He’s an alcoholic and this is his fourth relapse. All the characters have a singular goal: to get out. They are joined by ‘The Intrusive’ played by Vinny Clear, Audree Hedequist, Nicole Lamb, and Yummy Mohammed. They swarm around the patients blocking their way to progress, as well as, filling the void as a well-voiced chorus.
The lyrics by J Giachetti do the job of filling out the characters with titles like Psych 101, Outta Here, Shattered Brain, and What Would You Do. The rock edge to the music by Josephson (Composer, Additional Lyrics, Orchestrations, Julliard) adds to the chaos nicely.
Dr. Carlisle and Margot, the nurse, are played respectively by Troy Valjean Rucker (Romeo and Bernadette, Off-Broadway) and Ashley Alexandra (Tootsie – National Tour) who have a kind of antagonistic relationship. Margot is not completely happy with the doctor’s handling of the group and is not shy about speaking out. They also talk about how funding for the group session may be cut off. This is where the plot begins to wander somewhat unnecessarily.
Director and Choreographer Joey McKneely (West Side Story, Broadway) keeps all the characters moving to highlight their stories in the ensemble musical using all of the stage space. The eerie swarming of ‘The Intrusive’ works but as the show progresses their movements become somewhat repetitive.
The scenic design by Sheryl Liu (The Memorial, A.R.T.) is adequate, with six blue chairs in a semi-circle as you would expect. It’s easily moved around as needed. Liu, as costume designer, dresses the patients in simple scubs-like tops and pants. Except for Bryan who has a slouching muddy brown cardigan that he uses to his advantage as he nervously rubs it between his fingers hinting at his lack of control and obsessive-compulsive behavior.
This ensemble production of Relapse: A New Musical takes us inside mental illness. The problem comes within the optimistic ending. We really have mostly seen how the characters deal with their specific problems and how the voices in their heads keep holding them back. The doctor says he is moving a patient to the next level facility even though he isn’t ready just to show some progress on paper. Relapse isn’t perfect but it is definitely an evening of entertainment that will give you a lot to talk about when you leave the theater.
For more go to frontmezzjunkies.com
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