Gingold Theatrical Group continued the 14th Season of Project Shaw, Art as Activism: A Theatrical Survival Guide, with one of the groundbreaking feminist plays of the early 20th Century, The Stepmother by Githa Sowerby.
Directed by Kathy Gail MacGowan, the cast features Jordan Ahnquist (When Pigs Fly, Shear Madness), MaryKate Harris (Chaplin, Cocktail), Steven Hauck (The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel), Bill Kux (The Trip to Bountiful, Gore Vidal’s The Best Man), Rachel Pickup (Present Laughter), Patti Perkins (The Dead), Victor Slezak (The Graduate, Jackie), and Lindsay Ryan (Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas!).
The Stepmother by Githa Sowerby from 1924 tackles the tensions of female independence in a patriarchal society. This recently rediscovered play has been seen in London but this will be its New York premiere. The plot follows a young woman fighting to create a life for herself. Here’s an extremely rare opportunity to see one of the most important steps in women’s rights as presenting on stage. Sowerby was greatly influenced and encouraged by Shaw!
David Staller, Stage Managers Taylor Mankowski and Kaelyn Delcalzo-Sakosits join with Kathy Gail MacGowan and tonight’s cast-Jordan Ahnquist, Bill Kux, Steve Hauk, Victor Slezak, Patti Perkins, Rachel Pickup, lindsay Ryan and MaryKate Harris
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Topdog/Underdog Fires Up the Ring Magnificently for Canadian Stage Toronto
Round one begins with a ringing that transcends the boxing ring apartment over in the corner of Canadian Stage‘s spirited and raw revival of Topdog/Underdog now playing at their Berkeley Street Complex. “Follow the card,” we are told, numerous times (maybe a few too many, to be honest), yet whether it’s the red or the black card that is the winner, this play is most definitively the medicine we all need that doesn’t come in a bottle. Written most dynamically by the legendary Suzan-Lori Parks (Public’s Plays for the Plague Year; White Noise); the first African-American woman to receive the Pulitzer Prize for Drama unsurprisingly for this 2001 play, this vibrant exploration of sibling rivalry and resentment feels as powerful, tense, and engaging as ever. Even after seeing it brought to life most dynamically in the celebrated Broadway production last year. It’s still timely and explosive, particularly as we watch the world we inhabit uncomfortably gripped inside an increasingly violent war of hate and fear layered within the political landscape. Even here in Canada.
The play feels as ripe and raw with meaning as it must have felt some twenty years ago when it first hit the stage at the Public Theater in New York City. Maybe even more. Filled with energy and insight, the Canadian Stage production, directed with a serious intent for unpacking by Tawiah M’Carthy (Obsidian/Canadian Stage’s Fairview), unleashes numerous rounds of difficult troubling interactions between two brothers, fascinatingly (and cruelly) named Lincoln, solidly and magnetically portrayed by an upright Sébastien Heins (Outside the March’s No Save Points), and Booth, captivating and angrily embodied by Mazin Elsadig (Soulpepper’s Pipeline). Their given names send forth a profound message of conflict, both captivating and telling, that plays out a complicated and combative history before our very eyes. It’s a violent conflict in the making, unraveling a replay for us all to see, in close quarters, roped in without any support from the outside world. Especially their abandoning parents, long gone, yet painted with folklore and fantasy.
Heins’ Lincoln, the older of the two, sits straight, framed in a hat befitting his name, finding himself colliding with and crashing into and on his younger brother’s recliner, in need but without a lot of faith in the future. He is newly discarded; tense and separated from the wife we only hear about in a sideways kind of way. He goes to work daily and unapologetically, to a sit-down job with benefits that fits on his impressively tight frame as uncomfortably as that outfit he is made to wear for it. His brother, Booth; handsome, strong, and virile, steals his way through an existence that keeps him combustible, trapped in this rundown room with no running water and a single bed propped up with old porn magazines. Aching for something more grand, he exists, wanting more, even if it is through a con and a lie. And that’s only how the first card is played.
Designed with clarity by Rachel Forbes (Canadian Stage’s Choir Boy), the whole small roomed scenario seems lopsided and uncomfortable; delirious but without hope, shoved a little too claustrophobically in the far corner, when maybe a thrusting forward on an angle would have suited the intimacy more. Yet, Topdog/Underdog still radiates with a tense, angry energy that refuses to go down without a count of ten. With perfectly formulated costuming by Joyce Padua (Factory’s Vierge), detailed lighting by Jareth Li (Factory’s Trojan Girls & The Outhouse of Atreus), and a strong bell-ringing sound design by Stephen Surlin (Outside the March’s No Save Points), the room speaks volumes quietly as is unpacks itself before us. Determined and cluttered, it looks like a boxing-ring firetrap just waiting to be knocked out, and it is, in a way. The energy within this production is of a fight brewing, waiting and wanting, tightened by hardship and ignited jealous rage, and as written by Parks, sparks fly quickly as the two engage in a battle for who will sit on top at the end of the day. And who will be knocked out. Throwing cards in hopes of something more fulfilling, or more exciting, we are riveted and hypnotized by their historic reimagining, even as the play continues to repeat itself again and again. But we are never given an easy out, never quite sure where and when the sparks will land. And who will be counted out by an always-watching, invisible referee.
“We’d clean up bro,” Booth says to the other, hoping Link will return to the cards and they will team up, “ranking in the money” but if history, their joke-namesake set-up, and Lincoln’s white-faced day job are any indication at all, the elder’s days are numbered, at the boardwalk arcade and beyond. Every day he sits down at his job, dressed up like Abraham Lincoln so tourists can walk in and shoot him in the back with toy cap guns. And we can’t help but feel the discomfort and the internalized shame that Link must feel with every trigger pulled. The idea, although historically accurate, feels just so messed up and complicated to comprehend. So it’s no surprise that the future looks dark and bleak to this man. Layoffs or not. And we can most definitely feel it in Heins’ very textured, magnificently tense, tight performance and frame.
Parks is a known admirer of Abraham Lincoln and writes about the legacy of the man and the meaning to those who descend from slaves. Topdog/Underdog, through the unpacking of complicated brotherly love and family identity, tries to explain that legacy inside the complicated textured story of two African-American brothers struggling to stay above water. Heins’ Lincoln lives with eyes stone cold, still but filled with unspoken discomfort, taking a job that is as disturbing as life must be for this man in that single room with no running water, reclining and waiting for something to save him from his situation. It’s clear he got the job because he accepted less than what the white man before him would take. And all one can say, watching the weight of that legacy on his frame is: “This shit is hard” to swallow, like the Chinese food he unpacks on a makeshift table for his angry brother and him to ingest. But Parks does not judge the legacy of Lincoln in this epic play but rather believes the man and his death have somehow “created an opening with that hole in his head.” She enjoys, through her poetic pulsating rhythm, pushing forth the discomfort into her rapt audience through her own Booth and Lincoln, challenging us to see what lies ahead and take note (and maybe some action).
In a way, we all have to pass through that historic hole in Lincoln’s head to understand the quest that lies ahead for us all as we watch world politics, particularly America’s, do collective damage to our psyche. Living large in their small slowly tightening story, the play drives forward, sometimes intensely, while other times, in between rounds, the energy gets stalled. I kept wanting the gathering tension to move forward more succinctly and tightly, like Tom Stoppard’s magnificent Leopoldstadt, gathering tension with each moment and each scene. Like a boxing match, never giving in to the need for too much rest for the boxers in between bells. Topdog/Underdog keeps giving us a bit too much space to fill in, losing its momentum here and there, allowing us the space to disconnect, during intermission and during those intuitive moments inside many of the scenes. But when it does aim its gun sharply, inward, upward, and with continued energy, the bullet, and the internal fire, find their form, sometimes in the beauty of music and guitar, scorching the ropes that surround this decrepit room with a heat that can’t be denied.
The two actors dominate the ring, taking full control of the scripted energy and tensions that enslave them, even if the play sometimes de-evolves into repetitive reenactments a bit too often. The actors play with the cards dealt, and pour out the medicine and morality that lives and breaths inside them with a level of uncomfortable anger that lingers. The messiness and jealousy carry the play forward, born out of their upbringing and family history with magnetic resonance. It’s a sharply constructed interaction, that stuffs dreams and love underneath the bed with such determination. It collides strongly with all that violence and unfairness that lives outside the door, including the Three-Card love and desire that will destroy them all. Reenacting that emotionally charged moment in history at Ford’s Theatre, Topdog/Underdog teases the dream of some sort of better connection for these brothers, but also gives rise to other darker conflicts that were born when a mother shoved her life into plastic bags and left. Inheritance or not, Topdog/Underdog illuminates a shift in position, resurrecting a larger sad family history that is forever steeped in abandonment and pain, that will never release them from its heavy burden. No matter how hard he tries to strut with confidence.
Haunted by a past that refuses to let go, the playing card poetry of the play lives and ignites a flame inside Lincoln’s legacy and his country’s enduring struggle with racism that hangs on the side curtains with a dangerous weight. Topdog/Underdog, brought to life by Parks twenty years ago and finds new life inside Canadian Stage’s Marilyn & Charles Baillie Theatre, raises all of those complex ideas that hang in the background waiting to engulf our world. Take notice of this production and this play, and find your way in so that it may live on inside you as intensely as it was intended. That flame burns strong in American politics and in our collective hearts these days, filling us with dread and fear of a possible chaotic future in the world at large. This play’s presence is needed here, and its legacy, with all the cards played, should not be forgotten or ignored.
Opening Night of Golden Rainbow
Last night the York Theatre Company presented their production of Golden Rainbow, with book by Ernest Kinoy and music and lyrics by Walter Marks, the third offering of the Fall 2023 “Musicals in Mufti” series. Performances continue through Sunday, October 1, 2023.
The show stars Max Von Essen (York’s Tenderloin)
Benjamin Pajak (Broadway’s The Music Man)
Mara Davi (Broadway’s Dames at Sea)
Robert Cuccioli (York’s Rothschild & Sons)
Danielle Lee Greaves (Broadway’s Parade)
Felipe Barbosa Bombonato (Les Misérables)
Jonathan Brody (The Sorceress)
Nick Cearley (The Skivvies),
Jillian Louis (York’s The Game of Love),
Gina Milo (York’s Subways Are for Sleeping)
and Maria Wirries (York’s Penelope: or How The Odyssey Was Really Written).
Golden Rainbow is directed by Stuart Ross (York’s Enter Laughing), with music direction by David Hancock Turner (York’s Cheek to Cheek and Desperate Measures). The production team includes Lighting Designer Garett Pembrook, Projections/Sound Designer Peter Brucker, Production Manager Aaron Simms, Production Coordinator Noah Glaister, Production Stage Manager Hailey Delaney, Assistant Stage Manager Carson Ferguson, and Company Manager Tori Calderon-Caswell.
The Glorious Corner
JESSE L MARTIN — We caught the debut of Jesse L. Martin’s The Irrational Monday night and really enjoyed it. I’ve been aware of Jesse since his role in Broadway’s Rent and he’s really tremendous. He was great on Law & Order as Ed Green (10 years and 9 seasons); and his role on the CW’s The Flash (as Joe West) was simply terrific.
The show, based on the book by Dan Ariely and created by Arika Mittman, certainly reminds one of The Mentalist or Instinct. This first case isn’t wondrous by any means, but Martin’s charisma carries it all through.
Lauren Holly (NCIS) is in it too, thought her one-scene was over and out in a flash.
I hear the third episode of the show is magnificent, so stay tuned. Don Johnson said many years ago that Don Johnson was made for TV … so is Martin!
SWENSON OUT — (per Deadline) Will Swenson will play his final performance as Neil Diamond in Broadway’s A Beautiful Noise, The Neil Diamond Musical on Sunday, Oct. 29, producers announced today.
A replacement for the starring role will be announced at a future date.
“It’s been the thrill of a lifetime to get to stand in Neil’s shoes,” Swenson said in a statement. “It’s been such an incredible honor to get to know Neil, to tell his powerful story, and bring his amazing songs to Broadway audiences every night. I’m immensely proud of the moving, beautiful show we made. I will miss it very much.”
A reason for Swenson’s departure was not disclosed, but his planned departure date suggests a year-long contract coming to a close: He and the bio-musical began previews at the Broadhurst Theatre last Nov. 2 (official opening was Dec. 4).
“Making A Beautiful Noise with Will Swenson was a deep and wonderful experience,” said director Michael Mayer. “The true affection he has for Neil’s work and life is palpable in every aspect of his tremendous performance. I will miss him terribly, of course, but will always treasure our time together, and very much look forward to the next show we do.”
Swenson has been one of Broadway’s go-to leading men since his breakthrough performance in 2009’s Hair, and he has since starred on the New York stage in Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, Little Miss Sunshine, Waitress and Assassins, among many other shows.
In addition to Swenson, the cast of A Beautiful Noise features a principal cast of Mark Jacoby as the aged Neil Diamond, Robyn Hurder and Shirine Babb.
The musical includes a score of Diamond’s hits, a book by Anthony McCarten, direction by Mayer, and choreography by Steven Hoggett.
He’s pretty tremendous as Diamond. I didn’t see the show straight away, but absolutely loved it when I did. His exit of kind of short notice … but let’s see what happens.
SHORT TAKES — How about those snappy new graphics for NBC’s Today Show. Introduced a week ago, they certainly look more relevant and certainly more fun. They did the same for Nightly News a week ago. Per TVNewser:The network said the decision to unveil a new logo and graphics for Nightly was made as a way of appealing to younger viewers who primarily consume news using digital media. It’s safe to assume is true for Today, the youngest-skewing of the linear morning shows that boasts a robust digital presence. Here’s their whole story:
The next Rolling Stones single, “Sweet Sounds of Heaven,” is tremendous. Mick hasn’t sounded this good in years and Lady Gaga is an added treat. Magnificent! Take a listen: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YEJd5xtbEPY …
Donnie Kehr and Cori Gardner’s Rockers On Broadway (their 30th edition) is coming up on Monday, October 16 at SONY Hall.
Joining honoree Melissa Etheridge will be KT Tunstall and Debbie Gibson, Simon Kirke, Dan Finnerty and Ty Taylor … Happy Bday Chuck Taylor!
NAMES IN THE NEWS –— Anthony Noto; Tom & Lisa Cuddy; Paul Lester; Ian Harrison; Magda Katz; Pete Townshend; Miko Blanco; Brad LeBeau; Mal Evans; Derek Taylor; Andrew Sandoval; Rick Rubin; Bill Adler; Cory Robbins; Manny Bella; Race Taylor; Scott Shannon; Buddy Blanch; Steve Walter; Benny Harrison; and BELLA!
Events For October
Ken Fallin’s Broadway: Musical Director Ian Niederhoffer
New York Film Festival to Host Cinephile Game Night
Romantic and Meaningful Love Quotes For Her To Help Win Her Heart
How to Take Advantage of Virtual Numbers for SMS
Entre Institute Review – Is Jeff Lerner’s Program a Scam?
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