Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Retro Two Gents is Great Outdoor Fun

Krystine Summers as Launce
and Lola as Crab
By Georgina Young-Ellis

The music of Styx and some crazy 1980s fashions sent me sailing away into the past, as the sun set over the East River, Friday, August 12th, 2011. I was enjoying Curious Frog Theatre Company’s production of Two Gentlemen of Verona in Astoria Park. This quick, hour and a half version of Shakespeare’s light-hearted comedy of love letters and disguises grabs your attention from the first moment and never lets go. There is some wonderful new talent on the Curious Frog (CF) stage, and some company members that I was pleased to see there again. Many of the performers do double duty in their roles, as is director Renée Rodriguez’s way: make the most of what you’ve got and keep the cast small. One stand out is the irrepressible Krystine Summers who we enjoyed last summer as Puck in A Midsummer night’s dream, bringing her quirky physical comedy and wry interpretations to her roles as Launce and the Third Outlaw in this production. Let me just say this: if you can manage to be onstage with an adorable Chihuahua (the lovely Lola who played the part of the dog, Crab) as Ms. Summers is so much of the time, and not be upstaged, you’re doing your job as an actor. 

Angela Sharp as Julia
and Umi Shakti as Lucetta
Another returning member of the company, Bushra Laskar, plays Silvia, the irresistible love interest to Proteus and Valentine. While snooty and self-centered, parading around the grass in her "Candies," she manages to enchant the audience with her expressive eyes and ease with the language. The "gentleman" in Verona are all exceptional actors: Justin Maruri, riveting as Valentine, Emilio Aquino engaging and funny as Proteus, and Antonio/Duke played by James Ware, an exciting new presence at CF, whom, I learned, will be playing Caesar in that simultaneously running Curious Frog production. I loved seeing Robert Dyckman on the Astoria Park stage for the first time; an exceptionally versatile and energetic actor, he plays the roles of Speed, Eglamour and the Second Outlaw. Angela Sharp is a standard at CF, and though I have enjoyed her performances in the past, she tends to be a little shrill in her role as Julia as she works to project in the open air venue.

Justin Maruri as Valentine
and Krystine Summers as 3rd Outlaw
The production is non-stop action and laughs, the kind of spectacle that has children from around the park running to check out, and staying to watch (however, it's not specifically a production for kids as it contains some rather bawdy humor). The fight choreography is precise and original, something Ms. Rodriguez is particularly adept at, a hallmark of all CF's Shakespearean productions.  The color blind casting that is part of their overall mission as a theater company also makes for interesting visual dynamics. But though the '80s theme is a good gag, I wasn't sure it really added to the story in any necessary way. All in all, if you're a fan of cool, innovative Shakespeare with bare bones sets but complete attention to acting, language, physicality and spirit, you won't want to miss either of Curious Frog's productions this summer. You can catch them at these locations and dates:

Two Gentlemen of Verona: Fort Greene Park (8/22 7pm); Central Park/Cherry Hill (9/3 6pm); Inwood Hill Park (8/27 4pm); Waterside Plaza/Manhattan (8/30 7pm); Pelham Bay Park (9/4 4pm). 

Julius Caesar: Prospect Park (8/20 4pm); Fort Greene Park (8/23 7pm); Central Park/Cherry Hill (8/26 6pm); Inwood Hill Park (8/27 6pm); Battery Park/Castle Clinton (8/29 6pm; 9/1 6pm); Queensbridge Park (8/31 7pm); Pelham Bay Park (9/4 6pm); Waterside Plaza/Manhattan (9/10 4pm).

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Fabulous "Fabulous Darshan"

by Georgina Young-Ellis

Workshop Theater Company's production of Fabulous Darshan, written by Bob Stewart and directed by Susan Izatt, is an extremely funny and terribly moving play about friendship, loss and celebration of life. A concentrated 90 minutes on a minimal but elegant set, Fabulous Darshan is really all about the acting.

Tim Cain plays Ken Satchel, an aging Broadway veteran of color who befriends a young, confused actor, Stu, played with fitting intensity by Evan Bernardin. Cain has an appealing physicality, and flawless comic timing that drives his character's self-deprecating gay jokes straight home. Ken's long-time friend and ex, Edmond, played with spectacular flair by Spencer Scott Barros, is the person Ken turns to when he needs someone near his own age to appreciate his references to old movies and Broadway shows. However his middle aged friend also shares the disease that the young men in the story do not yet understand or fear quite enough.

Mike Smith Rivera plays "Actor 1," taking on various characters including the Indian god Ganesh, a flamboyant talent agent, and a couple of Stu's promiscuous heartthrobs. Each character is so distinctly different, and each so entertaining, his presence on the stage assures plenty of laughs, as well as a thrillingly heightened tension.

It's clear that Ms. Izatt is an actor's director, equally clear that Mr. Stewart writes for them. The dialogue is sharp and fluid, the kind that actors can really dig into. There's high emotion as well, and each of these well-cast performers maneuvers it beautifully. Fabulous Darshan is a fun and joyful evening of theater; also a heart-wrenching one - well-balanced, well-produced and handled with love and expertise by all involved. The show runs through June 25th; go to for times and reservations.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Curious Frog's Ropes of Sands Hits Home

By Georgina Young-Ellis

I first saw Ropes of Sands as a staged reading at Curious Frog Theatre Company’s gala fundraiser back in May, 2011. I was impressed overall at playwright Toni Seger’s ability to dabble in the surreal and the ironic, as in the three short-short one acts we saw that night, and the straight-forward realism of Ropes of Sands. Now featured in Planet Connections Theatre Festivity, the forty-five minute play shows us a slice of American family life in the weeks after a tragic death. We cringe at uncomfortable exchanges between repressed father and self-righteous son as they try to take the chill off of the night and the situation with small talk and copious amounts of brandy. When the free-spirited cousin drops by to try to gain some perspective on the tragedy, and to share with the others her particular method of dealing with it, the sparks really fly. I cannot say it is a happily spent forty-five minutes, but it’s a meaningful span of time in which the audience is forced to look at family dynamics, and the ways different people deal with grief. The actors are well cast in their various roles, and further interest is added by Curious Frog’s famous color-blind casting (though it certainly isn’t unrealistic to think that there can be white and black cousins in the same family). The father and son, played respectively by Barry Phillips and DeSean Strokes, portray their straight-laced characters to perfection, while Angela Sharp as flighty cousin Meredith provides a jarring contrast. Directed by the strong and sure hand of (Artistic Director) Renée Rodriguez, the play makes a strong impact and leaves us with much to think about. You can see Ropes of Sands in conjunction with dark comedy The Stranger to Kindness, June 14th at 6:30 PM, June 15th at 8:45 PM and June 18th and 23rd at 4:00 PM. Proceeds from the Theatre Festivity benefit various charities.

APAC’s The Human Comedy – Satisfying on Many Levels

By Georgina Young-Ellis

The Human Comedy, Astoria Performing Arts Center’s musical offering for its tenth anniversary season, opened to a sold out house Thursday, May 5th. Set designer Michael P. Kramer has worked his usual magic, transforming the space into the mythical town of Ithaca, California, circa 1943. The inviting wooden set perfectly depicts a telegraph office and a modest front yard, while an enormous Service Flag (the official banner for families who have loved ones serving in the armed forces) occasionally serves as a scrim through which we witness flashback scenes. A small band dressed in World War II uniforms sits on stage as orchestra. In the opening number, the cast marches in singing, “In a Little Town,” and proceeds to seat themselves on risers facing the audience – a kind of mirror for our emotions as the play unfolds. They also serve as chorus and alter ego for the characters center stage.

Written by Galt MacDermot (Hair) and William Dumaresq, and based on a story by William Saroyan, the play tells the story of the impact of World War II on the good people of Ithaca, focusing mainly on the Macauley family, who has already lost their father in the war. In the tradition of rock opera, nearly every word is sung, and even has a certain rock edge that is not unexpected from the writer of Hair though the score is also infused with Swing era songs and some beautiful anthems.

There was one aspect to the show that remained unclear to me. In “Hi Ya, Kid,” the second song of the first act, Ulysses Macauley (played by adorable eight-year-old Anthony Pierini), waves to a trainman, (Douglas Lyons) and as he wonders where the man is going and why his home is far away, he learns from his mother that, because the trainman is black and the Macauleys are white, their homes are far apart. It is a small moment, seemingly insignificant in the scope of the story, which is not about race or racism. However, it set me up for confusion later on. We see both black and white soldiers go to war and end up in the same platoon. Together they sing a song, “My Sister Bess,” in praise of Marcus Macauley’s sister, and Marcus expresses a wish that his comrade, who happens to be black, could meet her and date her. But I couldn’t forget that the army was definitely not integrated in WWII, nor would there be such a nonchalant acceptance of an inter-racial relationship, especially in a small town. I don’t think the racial harmony was part of Saroyan’s story nor Dumaresq’s libretto, and so I left feeling perplexed: why would director Tom Wojtunik ask us to accept a color-blind reality when the script pointed out a distinct difference between black and white? Did he intend to slip in a subtle message of love and understanding between the races, or give us an optimistic preview of the Civil Rights movement to come? I found the lack of explanation distracting.

Though occasionally the music requires strange transitions and possesses atonal qualities that some of the singers had trouble with, overall, the excellence that is the hallmark of all APAC productions is infused throughout The Human Comedy, and for this I applaud Wojtunik. From the gorgeous, period-perfect costumes designed by Hunter Kaczorowski to the subtle and effective lighting by Dan Jobbins, the show is delightful on so many levels. The cast of singers and actors are top notch, especially Aaron J. Libby as Homer Macauley, Rachel Rhodes-Devey as Mary Arena, Jonathan Gregg as Thomas Spangler, Rayna Hickman as Diana Steed, and Marcie Henderson as Beautiful Music. The show runs until May 21st, Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights at 8:00 and Saturday afternoon at 2:00. You can reserve tickets at but don’t wait because, if APAC’s history is any proof, these performances will sell out fast!