This last weekend I went down to Philadelphia to see Kathleen Turner in Red Hot Patriot. It’s based on the life and writings of Molly Ivens, one of the few Texan liberals who actually demanded that the politicians of Texas be held accountable. (Of course good ol’ G.W. did not escape unscathed, as well as MANY others.) It was a one-woman show. As I have said before, I find one person shows to be unbelievably rewarding. It harkens back to the roots of storytelling – people around the campfire telling stories. There is nothing but the actor and the text. The stories were so wonderful, and so honest (it helped that I completely agree with her politics!) The journey was very clear and ended with an absolutely stunning monologue which could have been relevant that very day. (Obama had just signed the healthcare bill) though she died in 2007, and they made the choice not to bring her politics into the present. It spoke of the role of individuals in the government, the obligation to vote, and to speak loudly for what you believe in, because that’s how things get done. She said that the history of the United States was the attempt to extend the rights guaranteed in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution to everyone. What a true statement.
The set design was simple and slightly abstract, and it made the journey through to her death so clear. Kathleen was so perfectly cast. She has a similar sensibility, poise, and sense of humor. (Or maybe not, but it SEEMED to fit so well!) It was a pleasure to watch her work – in the front row no less! I cannot wait to see her in her next role, I’m so glad she continues to do good theater. It was absolutely worth the trip to Philadelphia to go see this fantastic production. (I hear her next one is in Hartford - guess whose going North in a couple months?) It seems such a great town I think I would really enjoy working there – and as my mission statement says – I will follow my art wherever it leads me.
I was also fortunate enough to have drinks afterward with the dramaturg. I walked up like a stalker, and luckily she didn’t run away. We had a wonderful time talking about her experiences, and the process of creating this play, and her work with the writers, as well as Kathleen and the director - and she even sent me a play of her own! I can’t wait to read it! I hope we stay in touch!
I saw two shows last night at the Drilling Company, both produced by Collaborative Stages. Funny enough, I actually thought that they were both the same show, but instead I ended up seeing a double feature. The first was costumed by my friend Jeni Ahfeld, who costumed R&J and As You Like It, and for those who read my blog regularly, she was Juliet for that one fateful evening (and for those of you who don’t she was wonderful!) The first piece was entitled Somewhere in Between. Very simple, small cast (3). It was essentially about two brothers reuniting after a family tragedy. One brother had rediscovered his faith and married a devout Catholic woman, the other became a bit of a deviant. In an effort to turn his life around, he moves in with his brother (he swears temporarily) and gets a job at the company. Of course these living arrangements lead to complications… I really enjoyed it for the most part. The deviant brother’s performance was a little forced. I felt as if he and the director had made choices but only at the intellectual level, they weren’t visceral, and as a result didn’t really work at times, and it made his transformation hard to believe, because ultimately it didn’t seem that the changed that much. It felt very bull-in-a-china-shop - he was acting and he had a bubble and he would just bump everyone else out of the way. Now to some extent that is the character - but even for stubborn, narcissistic characters, you have to be able to see them make the choice to ignore rather than just be oblivious. To me it seemed to be coming from the actor, and not from the truth of the moment. I was very fond of the woman character, I think she played the religion of the woman to the point that it wasn’t obnoxious. I understood that she was a real person that was struggling with life like everyone else and her faith was one way she got through it. I did have a few problems with the other guy, but it was only in the end, and I have to say that I think I have to blame a part of that on the writing. The play in the last few minutes takes a number of very odd turns, that I would have a tough time navigating, and it seemed that the actors did as well. It ends on a very unsatisfying note. Not that I have a problem with there being a little mystery to the end, a little “what’s going to happen next…” but I was confused as to what even happened. It seemed very abrupt, and I have no idea how they could have felt they way they did about the situation. In fact, I was surprised that the last scene could even happen! I looked up the writer to find out a little more about him, there isn’t too much.
I also had a little confusion with the design concept. There was some sort of structure around the outside giving the illusion of a house, but it was done with white paper, so I wasn’t sure what it was supposed to symbolize. It also gave the impression of isolation, a cabin perhaps? But they were apparently in a Chicago apartment. The lighting design I found to be very heavy handed, with a lot of blatant lighting shifts whenever the “mood” changed. I also couldn’t tell if they were supposed to be neutral in the scene changes, or they were “in the scene”. I actually think it was supposed to be different at different times, which is confusing as an audience member. I must give kudos to Jeni, I thought the conceptualization of the concept was spot on.
The second show was directed by Jeff Crosley, who directed the fantastic Mystery Plays at the Secret Theatre in October. It was a very funny play written by Adam Szymkowicz. Because it was in the same space, they were using the same set, so I will forgive any weird set problems. I first off want to commend Megan Sass, a fellow Syracuse grad, who I have never seen perform, though have always heard nothing but wonderful things about. It was a pleasure to finally see her. I do hope I get the opportunity to work with her.
As is true with most comedies, when it works, it WORKS, when it doesn’t, it doesn’t. The main crux of the story, the agoraphobic boy talking to his sex-starved fake therapist was unbelievably well written and performed. As were the new girlfriend scenes (played by Megan) I found the other scenes (the parents and the old girlfriend) to be a little more forced, and less funny. I also found the slightest flaw in the costume design (sorry Jeni) – mom talks a lot about naughty boys and Christmas, yet she’s wearing a latka apron. That’s a Jewish mom if I’ve ever seen one. Both do love their guilt, but no Jewish mother would hold Christmas over their kids head. The dad also had a running gag about mowing the lawn with a weird accent that I didn’t think was too clever, and at one point he broke out into a little soliloquy which seemed like he completely went up on and started improvising. Whoops!
From a directing standpoint, I find it the mark of a good director is they have a “stamp.” You KNOW by watching the play that it’s a piece that they had a hand in. I felt that with this piece. The direction of the piece was very clean, with excellent pacing for a comedy. But Jeff's stamp seems to be a certain stylization in the performance. I felt that where in the Mystery Plays and with some of the other shows I know that he directed – the stylized movement that he tends to use is very successful, it seemed a little less so with this production. He had all the characters on stage the entire time, and I wasn’t sure what that added (especially with how the stage was set up). Unless it was the idea that they were all in his head the entire time – in which case I would ask why would the therapist leave when he had these flashbacks? If they are always in his consciousness why isn’t she when he has a flashback? I don’t think it was a space issue, though I suppose it could have been? There were also a few points where there were the ensemble engaged in a very unified motion which didn’t seem entirely appropriate for a black farce like this. And then the cast would move the set while the scene was still going on, as if it were part of the scene - again, that works when the piece is very cerebral, but this was a lot more lowbrow, so it didn't seem to fit as much. Why are you moving that table when you're talking about having sex with that slut?
But that is not to say I didn’t really enjoy myself, I found especially the second show to be absolutlely worth what ended up being (including the time I had to kill in between) an $80 evening!Congratulations to everyone involved and thanks to everyone for a great night at the theatre.
I just finished my last assignment for the NYIT Awards. We are officially in the running! (For As You Like It – I have not idea if they followed through with Romeo & Juliet) I saw Last Life at the Ohio Theater. After seeing the show, I actually wrote the staff at NYIT. Reason being: it was far more of an installation piece than a show. Oddly enough, I would say it is the most innovative thing I have seen, but given the criteria, I could not score it very highly. I do not see this as a problem with the show, but it does force me to ask “what are they trying to promote? Do they really want to encourage innovative theater, or are they just looking for the “best” of off-off broadway? Is it just a mini-Tony Award?” Last Life was basically a very creative way to showcase stage combat. It was directed by the same guy who directed Fatal Attraction the musical, which I saw a few years ago and really enjoyed. I found he also directed the NYC premiere of Stitching, a really nasty play that the young dirty director in me has always wanted to tackle. It’s the kind of show that just makes you want to puke. He co-conceived this piece, so I was definitely interested in the vibe of the piece as I entered. The book was very sparse, with the cast sitting in a row of chairs. They were in a post-apocolyptic setting of sorts, and they were looking for a bomb that had been planted. The scene would happen, while seated in chairs - and then they’d get up and fight it out. There was some excellent stage combat, and some not so excellent stage combat. Some of the fights made sense, but some were “go away…MORTAL COMBAT!”, they seemed terribly random.
The conceptual idea that I really did like was in the middle of the fight, there was a “fight dresser”. Someone would stab someone, the fight would stop, and the guy would come and paint on the blood. It slowed the fight down, but it added a very real quality to it as stylized as it was.
Since some of the actors were actually stunt people, the acting was adequate, but not phenomenal, but the script didn’t call for it. A lot of yelling. So when I evaluated, I gave a lot of the actors low scores. I didn’t think it fair to base too much of it on their stage combat – just as I couldn’t base their acting performance on a juggler or a dancer. They were wonderful at their skills, but that is not the same skill set as an actor. Is it fair to judge them with the same criteria? So great acting, no – innovative theater – definitely.
The Wrapped reading is over. It was quite the whirlwind few days. The band joined us on Wednesday, having never rehearsed. So they were learning as they went, all the while we’re working on the second act. Special thanks again to Tiffany Turner for stepping in – our stage manager (also named Tiffany!) fell ill with the awful 24-hour stomach bug. After the dinner break we began the sitzprobe. The writers, being new to theater, seemed to not understand the function of this time. One of the weaknesses I thought of the first production was the fact that every song just kind of fizzled out when it was over. We spent much of the evening hours getting the music clean. The writers didn’t seem to think that it was the best use of our time. That led to a bit of conflict. There were also a few problems with some textual questions, as well as with some of the stage directions, which led to a few heated moments with the cast.
Thursday began slowly, the band took longer than expected to get ready, and even after Wednesday’s rehearsal, some of the endings were sloppy so we had to go back and do them again. We never got through the piece in rehearsal.
But all said, I think the show went as well as possible. The cast brought their “A” game. I am completely happy with all of their performances. However, a good 75% of the audience was geriatric, and I have a feeling really didn’t understand what the hell was even going on. Six people walked out during the show. Not at intermission – got up and left… ouch. But honestly that is not surprising. I wouldn’t expect my grandmother to sit through two hours of hip-hop either. However, we did get a number of very nice compliments from some in the audience.
I hung around after for a little while to speak with some of the cast and the crew. I actually met a very nice older gentleman who had seen it, and had a lot of very intelligent things to say about the show. Turns out he is a very successful stage manager – who has worked with some of the greats. We had a wonderful dinner, and I look forward to keeping in contact with him.
We had a follow-up meeting with Jim Morgan, the Artistic Director of the York. It was a very informative meeting. He gave the writers some great feedback, from book revisions, to the song format (he suggested really fixing the problems I referenced, rather than to band-aid it as I did) to the marketing and the title. He said that in a way their naivete about the standards of theater was a strength of the piece. He said that it was a unique story (I agree) and it needed deepening of the characters. Without that, it is a little confusing as to what their target audience is. Is it an “urban” audience, or a family audience? The writers seem to not see the casting the wide net to be a problem – but I am encouraging them to really nail down what their story is so that they can really figure out who they want to say it to. The writers say that they have some great ideas as to how they want to continue to revise. We will be having another conference call in the near future to discuss.
The cast of Wrapped
Getting business out of the way: Wrapped continues to go well. I think my relationship with the actors is already better than last time, and the writers and I agree that the quality of performances have greatly improved, both from those newly cast, and those that returned. They continue to bring a lot of great choices to the table. We staged the first 80 pages. Not bad for three hours. That still does put us a little behind, but I am confident we’ll make up the time tonight. I’m also happy to report I’ve brought on my friend (also a brilliant actress) Tiffany Turner to read the stage directions.
Which reminds me – the cast of Wrapped:
Alano Miller Benny
DeWanda Wise Jewel
Chauncy Johnson Shana
Malik Hannond Dion
Chad Carstarphen Garland
Jené Hernandez Cookie
J. Cameron Barnett Craig/Owen
James Alexander Jimbo/Squash/Angel Face/Announcer
Leonard Sullivan Ty/Emanuel
Jen Ryan Georgia/Female Guest
In other news, I have been asked to direct Zac Kline’s After the Flood, through Emerging Artists Theater. I know I said I was on a break, but its not till May! And after a few conversations with Zac I decided that this would be a worthwhile experience. Now I’m not going back on my word, so don’t judge me! Honestly though, this was one of the first times I actually used the “tummy test.” I listened to my instincts. I wanted to work on the piece, but I couldn’t go back on the rules (no shorts for one!) right out of the gate! But I was clear with my expectations, and Zac was very happy to work with me. Would he have done that anyway, possibly… but I think it was important for me to do that. I really had never stood up for myself like that before. This is not to say Zac is a particularly imposing or intimidating character, I had just never been that assertive with anyone. (I think many would be shocked by that statement - but its true!) But it feels right, and I'm glad I will be able to work on it.
I saw a Brandon Cutrell and Cohorts last night at the Laurie Beechman. Some nice songs, some lame songs. They all had pretty nice voices. But its very hard to set up a little story in only three songs. The first act was to me the least successful. It was all about “my dream as an actor…” and it wasn’t particularly well sung. I really have to ask is that the only story about yourself you have to tell? The second act was good, (his name is Steven Baker – I’ll give him a shout-out because the review is positive!) the singer made some solid acting choices. He sang a song about growing up which I had never heard. Like the first act, it seemed a bit cliché, but he was very specific and there was a clear journey to the song. He also sang a song about his mom - that was cute. The third act was also a little weak. He had a beautiful voice and made some nice choices, but there was no story and his acting was pretty weak. It would have been far more enjoyable listening to him on youtube (after a little work. His high notes blew out a little bit.) But he was lucky enough to sing a song by the newest Jonathan Larson award winner. That was a well put-together song. The singer did an adequate job with it, but it definitely makes me want to hear more of that music. The pianist (who apparently is also a song writer… *COUGH*) then played a song about the walk of shame. I actually thought that was the low point of the evening. It was crass and kind of unoriginal. I ask you, Mr. Pianist what I ask the first performer… is that all you have to write about, and even if it isn’t, why would you choose THAT? Justin Randolph (the reason I went) had a very unexpected set. He was definitely the most personable up there and drew the audience in almost immediately with his first number: Taylor the Latté Boy. I really couldn’t believe he did it. It’s a song not for his voice type or his gender even. It was without a doubt the most legit rendition of that song I’d ever heard. But there was something very pleasing in the irony that that squeaky girl song was interpreted by a man with a very full voice. He wouldn’t tell me what he was singing. Now I want him to sing it again, and let me work on it with him! The audience really ate it up. He then sang “No One Is Alone.” Complete shift. But it was beautiful. He ended with one of his old favorites, I think he sang it in his grad thesis (for opera mind you) “Making Love Alone.” It’s about…well look closely. By far the most laughs of the evening. Congratulations Justin, you’re first solo experience, and I think you should be very proud!
The Would-Be Room went very well! The house was pretty full, and laughed at all the right places! I will say that after all of our work on the pauses, with an audience they felt a little too long. It’s unfortunate, one night of previews would have fixed that. There are some things you can’t predict how they land - you need to get an audience in there and then you know. That is not to say that they weren’t full and interesting, they just could have had a little time shaved off of them. Funny though, they were no longer than they were in rehearsal, the show ran the exact same length. The audience changes everything. But nonetheless I consider this to be a major success. It was artistically rewarding, and well received. I'm only bummed that no one got any good photos!
It was actually picked up by a company in Chicago, and I am investigating if there is some way we could transplant the current production, or at least portions of it. That’d be a fun time!
Wrapped started yesterday. It’s going better than expected. We have a firm grip on most of the music, and the attitude in the room is really positive. And what a talented cast. They make mine and Craig’s job so easy. They create harmonies, have great instincts and make great choices. I’m looking forward to continuing the process. Tonight we are solely working on the “staging” (what stands you get in front of, etc.)
One more exciting bit of news… I FINALLY saved up enough money and have officially claimed my rightful status as an Associate in the Stage Directors and Choreographer’s Union. I’m officially a director!
The Would-Be Room opens tonight. After last night (which was a bit grueling – we did a full work thru and then a run thru) I am so happy with the shape it is in. It’s funny, sad, it makes you think. The moments seem very clear and full. We really did a lot of wonderful fine tuning, the pauses are full, and the stakes are finally where they need to be. We are totally ready for an audience. Two things that are a shame: it isn’t a little longer so it could really be billed as a full-length, and that is only runs for one weekend. But it looks like its going to get a great audience, tonight is just about sold out! And I’m hoping this will be a great opportunity to network with the Columbia grad writers!
First I have made a few cosmetic changes on my website. You like? Notice the “join my mailing list” on the front page? Well you should! I also put some nicer headshots up of me, reorganized a little. Any additional suggestions would be welcomed! I still may do a complete revamp of it – so it doesn’t look so…so…umm…free? But I think these are some nice changes in the meantime. People who I’ve shown think it looks much cleaner and more inviting.
I’ve also made a lot of changes so far this year. I resigned from Choral Chameleon in January, and I have decided to step down from the Queens Players. It has become a large organization, which asks for a lot of time from its members, and with all of my new interest in personal marketing, I am no longer able to keep committing to the group with the attention that it deserves. I will continue to be an avid supporter, and would be interested in working with them again on specific projects.
Though the added “free” time will be nice, I am still committed to using the time to continue to make the package that is me more marketable, and take steps to move my career forward. Thanks to my old boss John Kump who decided that a “theme” for a year is far more satisfying than a mere resolution, I have one of my own. It is undoubtedly SIMPLIFY. I need to remove the excess from my life in order to make room for more. I am learning that even in stillness there can be a powerful forward motion. Even as there is still a lot going on in my life (still 2 more projects before the big break – 10 days!) I have been able to find a lot more time to work on myself, and I have noticed a major difference. A greater sense of positivity, and optimism, and a stronger enthusiasm toward the work I am choosing to do.
Serse came and went. As I said before tech was a frustrating process. We never got to run through the opera! Opening night came on the same night as a big blizzard, so there was practically no one in the audience. But I think in the end it turned out all for the best. We still had a few bugs with the projector which had to be worked out, and there were some issues with fluidity. I blame no one for that, especially since we’d never run it! We also had a few extra issues – our maestro couldn’t make it as well as a few of the musicians. So practically nothing had been rehearsed. ALL that considered, the show went well! There was a lot that had room for growth, but there were a lot of wonderful and deep moments, and they were all beautiful musicians and had such artistry in their voices. As I have said, I just wish I had had more time to allow the work I do to help them with their process.
Again, my choice to use the stands was questioned. A good question. They didn't use the music that much, and it made it feel like a concert as opposed to a show. But even in retrospect, I stand by it completely. The cast was having trouble remembering that much. (I can’t stress enough – through no fault of theirs) I think the absence would have led to it being unbearably sloppy, and it would have made everyone’s work look bad. Was it ideal, no. But definitely better than the alternative.
A bit of good news - though I was unable to be there, I heard that the other two performances had big, enthusiastic audiences!
Now my focus turns to Would Be Room. (For the next week at least) After a great weekend of rehearsals, I feel like we’re in a great place to go into tech. I hope that the playwright is as happy as I am. I mean there’s still work to be done, but unlike other projects (see above…) I still have what I’m guessing will be about five more run thrus until we open. And the cast is so smart and talented, I can already tell that it’s gonna be great. The cast is not quite off book because of the short time they’ve had with the script and there have been a number of rewrites, but I am not even slightly concerned. They are all making great choices even with the scripts in their hands. Because it’s a student show, there are of course some tech limitations, but I think we’ve done a pretty good job taking care of them. We’ve had to change a few of the effects, and focus the piece a little bit more. (There are only 2 doors leading no where in particular instead of 4.) I actually decided that it would be best for the production if I didn’t come to hang/focus because I know me and I know that I’d really only be in the way, asking questions that don’t need to be asked. So I’m going to do yoga instead. A nice break in the home stretch.
One last thing – I just need to say that I really love this show. It deals with some beautiful existential concepts that I am having such a wonderful time exploring. What happens when we die? What happens if we kill ourselves? What role does fate really play? Which theory of the afterlife is true, or are they all true – or are none of them? What does eternity FEEL like? What really matters at the end of your life? We have done some really hard work with exploring silence and stillness and I think that once we are in the space (which really feels like a holding room for eternity.) it will truly feel otherworldly. So come see it!
by Jennifer Lane
Directed by Greg Cicchino
March 5th at 8:00PM
March 6th at 8:00PM
March 7th at 3:00PM
605 West 115th Street
New York, NYAs far as we know, death is the end of all possible futures. But for Claire and Jonah, it might be the second chance they never gave each other.
The Would-Be Room is about what could have been, what is, and what's still possible.
Featuring Bryn Boice*, Ari Rossen*, Michael Poignand*,
Alex Krasser and Melisa Breiner-Sanders*appearing courtesy of actors' equity associationAdmission is free but space is limited!
To reserve a seat, please e-mail