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Why I Can’t Accept “Amy And The Orphans”

What do you do with a disabled child you can’t emotionally support? While not the biggest question that Amy And The Orphans, by Lindsey Ferrentino, asks, it is certainly one of the more important ones. The short answer is: “put her in a state-run institution.” “Her” being Amy (Jamie Brewer), a woman with Down syndrome, the daughter of a young couple with two other children and a crumbling marriage. While it might be “refreshing” to talk about disability during the first five minutes of a play, one of the only things to come out of doing so is the...

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A Conversation With Gia Forakis, Theatre And Opera Director

My aesthetic as a stage director is built first on a desire to create an experience that captures the poetic nature of the human condition. It’s a desire to connect with something larger than our sense of self, something sacred. And that’s what I see as the beauty of the theatre. In terms of the expression of that desire, my process is to bring to life a very visual, theatrical, and specific life on stage that illuminates increments of thought as components of physical action, which is how I articulate the methodology of One-Thought-One-Action.

The beauty of OTOA is that if you want to, you can use it almost like the cinematic process of editing film where one can compose one frame of action at a time. It’s how the text supports the physical actions on stage so that even if you could turn off the sound of the actors, the viewer would still get the story being told through the visual embodiment of thought as physical action.

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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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“The White Card”: An Attempt To Communicate

The White Card, Claudia Rankine’s play on racism is having its world premiere at Boston’s Paramount Theatre as a co-production with Cambridge’s American Repertory Theatre. Rankine, a celebrated modernist poet, created the drama to bring the ideas of her prize-winning Citizen, An American Lyric to a medium where dialogue is most often the means of communication. As is frequently the case in plays that involve disagreement between characters, a dinner party plays a prominent role in The White Card. At the opening of this two scene piece, Virginia (Patricia Kalember) and Charles (Daniel Gerroll), a wealthy white middle-aged married couple who live in...

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Still Unsettling: The Continuing Power of Larry Kramer’s “The Normal Heart”

Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart is a play fueled by anger. Anger at the political, medical and media establishment of the day for its reluctance to accept the reality of a mounting AIDS epidemic. Back in 1985, Kramer made enemies on all sides with a play that is an only slightly fictionalized account of his real-life efforts in New York City to awaken the prevailing culture — including a gay, closeted mayor —  to the reality of the frightening plague enveloping it. And because it takes no prisoners in its indictment, it remains perhaps the most unsettling play to...

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“Amy And The Orphans”: Down Syndrome Psychodrama?

Lindsey Ferrentino has done a marvelous thing in conceiving a substantial and nuanced lead character with Down syndrome in her new play Amy And The Orphans and insisting that the role be played by an actor with that disability. The performer she cast, moreover, Jamie Brewer, is terrific. Brewer is destroying hardened prejudices and professional barriers with her acute and subtle performance in Scott Ellis’s production at Roundabout’s Laura Pels Theatre. All of that said, Amy And The Orphans is unfortunately not the play it needs to be to demolish such formidable walls for the better. In a program note, Ferrentino explains that...

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The Thumbnail Sketch Series: Sean Fanning and the Courage to Remain Incomplete

Set Designers are known for creating beautiful, finished renderings of scenic environments, however, most begin their process with a quick, abbreviated drawing called a thumbnail sketch. Perhaps more like graffiti than a sketch, the Set Designer uses the thumbnail as a way to jot down an initial idea in their own handwriting. Scenic Designer Sean Fanning shared with me his thumbnail sketch for a production of Brownsville Song (B-side for Tray) at Moxie Theatre in San Diego, CA. He had some intriguing thoughts about how a set design is incomplete without an audience and how it should remain unfinished...

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Rapping While White, Surviving While Black: “Hype Man” At Boston’s Company One

The legacy of rap in America is rich with rhymes and rhymers that challenge institutionalized racism, poverty, and policing, alongside works that champion violence, explicit misogyny, and homophobia. As a form, it isn’t a monolith and playwright Idris Goodwin, with his “break beat” play series, has spent the last few years dissecting and celebrating the vastness of this genre as well as its place in the creation of American culture. Hype Man, making its premiere with Company One at the Boston Center for the Arts, is the third in this series about rap’s legacy. However, this is the first...

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Molière’s “The School For Wives” At The City Garage Theatre, Santa Monica

Los Angeles can be a tricky theatre city to pin down.  Though we do have a theatre district it is not necessarily centrally located nor conveniently grouped into one clearly defined area. The Music Center, Center Theatre Group, and the Pantages can offer up some visually stunning and emotionally engaging work with large stages, large houses, large casts and operating large budgets, but one of the more enjoyable aspects of the theatre-going experience for this reviewer in this sprawling city is the fact that this spatial reality has motivated companies to carve out niches in sometimes unexpected places and the City...

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Martin McDonagh’s “Hangman” at The Atlantic Theatre

New Yorkers have split into factions on Martin McDonagh since his plays first showed up here two decades ago. The flippant relationship to violence, the motley assortment of cuddly killers, the casual, tongue-in-cheek racism and deep-baked cynicism, even his irritation at being compared to Quentin Tarantino: all this and more was held against him in countless reviews, essays, and blogs years before the Best Picture Oscar nomination for Three Billboards Outside Of Ebbing, Missouri made him a household name. McDonagh’s fans have usually taken it all with a grain of salt. The callous, of course, just like brutality and horror, and...

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Rude Mechs’ Experiment With Dostoevsky’s “Brothers Karamazov”

Rude Mechs, an Austin-based ensemble in their twenty-first year of collective creation, recently appeared at the Yale Repertory Theatre. As is their wont, Rude Mechs’ production is a reshaping of a work whose ideas, characters, potential for humor, and updating appealed to the group. The consensus is de rigueur in the running of this company. Field Guide, commissioned by Yale, is an unusual adaptation of The Brothers Karamazov now in its third iteration. Its source is the Constance Garnett translation of Dostoyevsky’s novel which runs to more than a thousand pages while the play is eighty minutes long. It is striking that...

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Praises To “Athena”

Yesterday I knew nothing about the playwright Gracie Gardner or The Hearth, a feminist theater company co-founded by Kenyon alums Julia Greer and Emma Miller. Today, after seeing Miller’s production of Gardner’s Athena at Jack in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn, starring Greer and the equally awesome actress Abby Awe, I want to see everything all these young women do. Gardner recently won the American Playwriting Foundation’s Relentless Award for a previous play, Pussy Sludge. Relentless is also an apt word for Athena, an 80-minute wolf-stare of a play that freezes you in its opening seconds and doesn’t really release you until the lights come up...

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“Love In Hate Nation” Premieres At Penn State’s Playhouse

My Heart Felt That Sha La La The proscenium stage of the Playhouse has been converted into a black box, and as you take your seat walking through the stage you already feel like you are inhabiting a different world. The feeling is slightly unsettling, the walls are dark and dirty, with peeled off posters and pictures from the people who once called this place their home. This is juvie hall. Joe Iconis’ new musical Love In Hate Nation has been specially commissioned for this very stage. It is the world premiere of a musical that has been in development for over a year.  The very first of Penn State Musical Theatre’s New Musicals Initiative program, it starts the year...

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“Dutchman” At Secret Theater

One of New York City’s most dynamic young theater companies makes a bold addition to its repertoire with its engaging production of Dutchman, Amiri Baraka’s provocative chamber drama. Dutchman is a companion piece to Albee’s The Zoo Story, another mid-1960’s urban-set dialogue between two strangers featuring a tragic ending. In this case, a Central Park bench is switched out for an MTA subway car. Where Albee’s characters are both white males, Baraka’s play features an African-American man and a white woman. A play so clearly aligned with the turbulent Civil Rights era requires contextural reconsideration; that’s precisely what this...

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The Thumbnail Sketch Series: Paige Hathaway And The Impulse For Scenic Design

Set Designers are known for creating beautiful, finished renderings of scenic environments, however, most begin their process with a quick, abbreviated drawing called a thumbnail sketch. Perhaps more like graffiti than a sketch, the Set Designer uses the thumbnail as a way to jot down an initial idea in their own handwriting. Because of its informality (most are scribbled on a bit of stray tracing paper and hidden away in the back of a notebook or a drawer), the thumbnail sketch is usually meant to be seen by the Designer and the Designer alone. I have become fascinated with...

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“Water By The Spoonful” At The Mark Taper Forum

From the moment the play begins, it doesn’t take long for anyone to understand why playwright Quiara Alegría Hudes’ work has received such praise. She manages to infuse each exchange with a poetry that never diminishes the individual voice of a character–even when that character is delivering a curse-infused rant about a disappointing exchange with a relative. Hudes’ Elliot Trilogy is undergoing a historic simultaneous run at three theatres in Los Angeles with Elliot, A Soldier’s Fugue playing through February 25th, 2018 at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City, Water By The Spoonful playing now through March 11th, 2018 at the Mark...

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Jaclyn Backhaus’ “Men On Boats” (Re)Imagines History With Women Front And Center

In a city that still has a relatively conservative theatre community such as Houston, seeing ten women on stage in a play written by a woman certainly deserves our attention. That the majority of these women are people of color only adds to the sense of urgency that Main Street Theater’s production of Jaclyn Backhaus’ Men On Boats brings to the 2017-2018 theatre season. Backhaus’ play dramatizes the 1869 expedition of the Colorado River and the Grand Canyon, following Major John Wesley Powell (played by Celeste Roberts) and a crew of volunteers who journey to chart the Colorado River....

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Can You Hear Me Now? Dramaturgy: Speaking With Many Voices

When describing the role of a dramaturg Dr. Philippa Kelly says this: “I see a dramaturg’s shadow as flitting constantly, Ariel-like, in the process of creation” and it could not be a more fitting way to describe her extensive career as an author, instructor, and dramaturg. Since encountering Shakespeare at age fourteen, she’s become the first woman in history to prepare a public edition of King Lear and has published several books, including three on King Lear, the most recent being The King and I. She’s also educated students and audiences about Shakespeare in schools, prisons, and at the...

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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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