Jessica Rizzo

Jessica Rizzo
regional managing editor - United States - New York

Jessica Rizzo is a Manhattan-based theater artist and Doctor of Fine Arts candidate in Dramaturgy and Dramatic Criticism at the Yale School of Drama. Her writing has appeared in TDR, Theater, Austrian Studies, Cultural Weekly, and Vice.  

Angels (And Demons) Of History In EgoPo’s “Lydie Breeze” Trilogy

Jessica Rizzo sees the 10-hour, marathon performance of EgoPo Theater’s Lydie Breeze trilogy and says it’s worth spending the time with John Guare’s flawed Civil War-era characters, whose tragedies, loves, jealousies, and losses are humanly relatable. The sets get a shout out as bringing the action to life, as does the atmospheric music. and Guare’s vision, rooted in the past, seems oddly relevant today. The three play marathon is a monumental accomplishment, says Rizzo. The last performance is Sunday, May 6, 2018. Philadelphia’s EgoPo Classic Theater has given John Guare’s sprawling Lydie Breeze trilogy an excellent first production as a single,...

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Don’t Shoot The Messenger: Elfriede Jelinek’s “Rechnitz” In New York

On March 24, 1945, there was a party in Rechnitz, an Austrian town on the Hungarian border. The hostess was Countess Margit Bátthyany, who may or may not have been having an affair with the town’s Gestapo chief, Franz Podezin, a guest at the party. In what would be a prelude to the end of WWII, the Soviet Army was about to invade, but the Countess and her guests decided to have one last hurrah. During the party, Podezin received orders to pick up some 180 Jewish inmates of a nearby labor camp from the train station, prisoners deemed...

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Bread of Life: Bread and Puppet Theater’s “The Basic Bye Bye Show”

As The Basic Byebye Show comes to an end, a pair of enormous papier mâché angel’s wings protruding from the edges of the diminutive proscenium begin to beat, as if they might carry the stage and all it has contained away to some more palatable and purifying paradise. It is a gesture of valediction that perfectly captures the exultantly critical ethos of Bread and Puppet Theater’s work, which always concerns bidding farewell to the world as it is and charting a course toward the world as it could and should be. Bread and Puppet Theater has been making anarchic,...

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“The Actor’s Life for Me:” A Conversation With David Greenspan

David Greenspan keeps busy. Just two weeks after closing his monumental solo rendition of Eugene O’Neill’s Strange Interlude with the Transport Group he began rehearsals for New Saloon’s production of Milo Cramer’s new play Cute Activist at the Bushwick Starr. Then he was off to Two River Theater in Redbank, New Jersey to star in his own adaptation of Thornton Wilder’s The Bridge of San Luis Rey, in which he plays the “aged Harlequin” Uncle Pio, a charming, if disreputable, man of the theater described as resembling “a soiled pack of cards.” I recently met up with him at...

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Sadocapitalism From Berlin: Thomas Ostermeier’s “Returning To Reims”

Best known in the US for the stunning exemplars of the German Regietheater tradition he regularly brings to New York, Thomas Ostermeier is a master of making classic texts speak to urgent contemporary social and political questions. In his 2015 version of Shakespeare’s Richard III the deformed dictator is depicted as a crowd-pleasing, Trump-like raging id, a sick leader for a sick society. In his 2011 staging of Strindberg’s Miss Julie the dangerously unequal relationship between a wealthy woman and her ambitious servant becomes an elastic metaphor for the perils of growing income inequality in the twenty-first century. His...

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Movie Star-Crossed: Adrienne Kennedy’s “He Brought Her Heart Back in a Box”

The explosively feminine theater of Adrienne Kennedy breaks many of the fundamental “rules” of drama, beginning with Aristotle’s assertion that tragedy is “the imitation of an action.” Kennedy’s plays are cradled by an exquisitely receptive intelligence; hers is a not a dramaturgy of action but of punishing passivity. Major works like Funnyhouse of a Negro (1964), Lesson in Dead Language (1970), A Movie Star Has to Star in Black and White (1976), and now He Brought Her Heart Back in a Box absorb and reflect received images, attitudes, and templates of violence. Kennedy’s characters are paralyzed, caught in the...

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Monster Mashup: Mabou Mines Takes On Tennessee Williams

The ghost of Mary Shelley keeps rudely interrupting Mabou Mines’s Glass Guignol: The Brother And Sister Play, an exquisitely overstuffed assemblage of Tennessee Williams’s texts about his troubled sister Rose. Shelley appears at the top of the piece as an empty dress, texting back and forth with her companion Lord Byron about misplaced playbills, initial impressions of the performers, and aesthetic theory. What we are about to see is an “essay play contrived of Readymades,” she writes, alluding to Duchamp, “The Brother And Sister Play pretends there are such things as ‘Literary Readymades.’” Her analysis is sound, instructive, and...

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Room to Dream: The Théâtre du Soleil at the Park Avenue Armory

If theater could save the world, it would no doubt do so under the exacting direction of Arianne Mnouchkine, who for more than fifty years has helmed the Théâtre du Soleil. This much and rightly acclaimed leftist French theater company operates out of the storied Cartoucherie, a former bullet-making factory on the outskirts of Paris where Mnouchkine also literally sleeps, eats, and breathes theater that is ferociously anti-war, anti-discrimination, and anti-capitalist. Her socialist principles inform both the organization of the company and the content of its individual productions, which in recent years have focused on the plight of refugees...

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A Living Mockery: The Ridiculous Theatrical Company At Fifty

In 1967, not one but two productions of Charles Ludlam’s deliciously demented Conquest Of The Universe Or When Queens Collide mounted by rival queer, avant-garde theater companies opened downtown in New York. What a time to be alive. The single, originally planned production was to have been a collaboration between then-twenty-four-year-old Ludlam and director John Vaccaro, but the two quarreled, resulting in a schism. Henceforth Vaccaro’s Play-House of the Ridiculous and Ludlam’s Ridiculous Theatrical Company would operate independently, the former more closely aligned with the personalities and glam-sleaze aesthetic favored by Andy Warhol’s Factory crowd. Their production at the...

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David Greenspan Dazzles In One-Man “Strange Interlude”

After his one visit to the country in 1909, Sigmund Freud reportedly remarked to a friend that “America is a mistake; a gigantic mistake it is true, but none the less a mistake.” The same could be said of Eugene O’Neill’s 1928 Strange Interlude. A punishingly logorrheic six-hour melodrama about hereditary madness, soul-corroding jealousy, and misappropriated desire, Strange Interlude has no business being as thrilling as it is in the Transport Group’s one-man version of this eight-character play, now running at Brooklyn’s Irondale Theater Center. That it is redounds enormously to the credit of its star, the great David...

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Future Shock At The Philadelphia Fringe Festival

The Philadelphia Fringe Festival, now in its twenty-first year, has been gentrified. What began in 1997 as a loose network of scrappy local arts groups presenting sixty-odd pieces in Philadelphia’s Old City district over five days has grown into a seventeen-day affair that imports international avant-garde superstars like Romeo Castellucci and Ivo van Hove to present curated productions in state-of-the-art, higher-capacity venues, while over a thousand uncurated performances now take place in basements and bars from Fishtown to Manayunk to Queen Village. As always, gentrification comes with certain tradeoffs. The roving Fringe Bar, which once consisted of dirty floors...

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“Pity in History”: The Potomac Theatre Project Wrestles with Howard Barker

Near the end of the Potomac Theatre Project’s production of Pity in History, with England convulsed by Oliver Cromwell’s Civil War, an aristocratic aesthete defends her collection of old masters from an approaching Puritan army out to destroy all “idolatrous” art. “We need great art,” she declares, “We have to have art or we don’t know who we are.” Because they issue from the painted lips of Venables, a fine-boned nobleman’s widow who mostly arabesques through a play otherwise peopled by lumberers, laborers, and rudely-accented foot soldiers of God, these words ring out with a special clarity and clean...

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The Holocaust, Sacrificed: Nicholas Tolkein’s “Terezin”

In taking it upon him or herself to depict the horrors of the Holocaust, the artist assumes an awesome responsibility and enters highly contested political and aesthetic territory. Certain German philosophers have suggested that Auschwitz brought about a crisis of representation, calling for a radical reassessment of the nature and purpose of art in our now-mutilated world. Scholarly debates on the subject often focus on how to honor the memory of those murdered by the Nazis without sentimentalizing, totalizing, or inappropriately proffering a narrative that involves redemption, and these debates (Shoah or Schindler’s List?) have themselves been so popularized...

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Mourning in America: Target Margin Brings O’Neill’s Ghosts to Life

Though regarded by many as the father of American drama, Eugene O’Neill correctly diagnosed himself when he wrote an authorial stand-in of sorts who, it is lamented in the play of this title, has only “a touch of the poet.” He is the beneficiary of certain intimations of the great and profound mysteries of life, but is at the same time cursed by powers of language too limited to adequately express all that he knows and feels. O’Neill’s plays are as a rule long, talky, and repetitive. He tends to put all of his ideas directly into the mouths...

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Past Due: Sarah Benson Directs Richard Maxwell’s “Samara”

In the closing moments of Richard Maxwell’s Samara, the audience is plunged into near-total darkness. A low-creeping fog passes through what had been the playing space in a gesture that feels at once cleansing and indicative of a restless spirit on the move. We hear the gravelly voice of a man describing the night he had to explain to his young daughter what it means to die. The fog clears and the bare stage is illuminated in dozens of different aspects as the stage manager runs through all previous lighting cues in quick succession. The play doesn’t simply end;...

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Daughters of Misfortune: Guillermo Calderón’s “Villa”

Trauma affects everyone differently. Survivors may become fragile or embittered, depressed or volatile or callused or numb. They may show no outward sign of inner injury at all. National trauma presents a special challenge because despite the incalculable diversity of responses to a country’s collective nightmare, the state has a responsibility to memorialize painful events of the past in a way that honors the experiences of all of its citizens. Should a monument to atrocity conserve or replicate a disturbing historical site? Should it create an emotional experience or an intellectual one for visitors? To what extent should the...

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A Conversation With Anne Bogart: “I’m Absolutely Certain That Certainty Is Bad”

An originator of the Viewpoints system of training for actors and founder of SITI company, American director Anne Bogart has helmed adaptations of classics, operas, new plays, and nonlinear assemblages like her latest work Chess Match No. 5, which is made up of the writings of the great avant-garde composer and philosopher John Cage. On the occasion of the piece’s New York premiere, Bogart and I spoke about what Cage can teach us about control and perception in the twenty-first century, and about resisting certainty with committed uncertainty in Trump’s America. Jessica Rizzo: You’ve described yourself a scavenger and have...

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Love Revolution: The Assembly’s “Home/Sick”

Commitment is hard. Even within the well-defined parameters of traditional monogamy, balancing the demands of passion and pragmatism is seldom a straightforward proposition. Staying faithful and true, whether to a lover or an ideal, takes sacrifice and dedication. In Home/Sick, the Assembly’s play about the Weather Underground’s (mis)adventures in insurrection, commitments are tested and contested, and when love isn’t merely tough it’s lethal. Emerging from the 1969 uprisings on American college campuses in opposition to the Vietnam War, the Weather Underground Organization was a revolutionary group that sought the eradication of racism, imperialism, and capitalism, with the ultimate goal...

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Women on the Verge: Caryl Churchill’s “Escaped Alone”

In an 1896 essay on “The Tragic in Daily Life,” the Symbolist playwright Maurice Maeterlinck extols the virtues of the silence and stillness that typify his own static dramas, maintaining that ostentatious theatrical display only distracts from the subtle vibrations of authentic being. “I have grown to believe,” he writes, “that an old man, seated in his armchair, waiting patiently, with his lamp beside him, giving unconscious ear to all the eternal laws that reign about his house, interpreting without comprehending… submitting with bent head to the presence of his soul and his destiny—an old man…motionless as he is,...

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Death on the Rialto: Wallace Shawn’s “Evening at the Talk House”

As goes the theater, so goes civilization. In Wallace Shawn’s Evening at the Talk House the demise of this communal art form is imagined as symptom or cause (or both) of a decadent society’s descent into atomization and barbarism. Talk House takes place in the once-tony private club of the play’s title, a favorite haunt of theater folk back when that endangered species roamed free. A group of them have reunited to commemorate the ten year anniversary of a production they worked on together, a highlight in many of their lives. The fortunes of those assembled have risen and...

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