Archive for the Indie Theatre Category

Fringe NYC at 20

Posted in Indie Theatre, LEGIT, EXPERIMENTAL & MUSICAL THEATRE, PLUGS with tags , , , , , on July 15, 2016 by travsd

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Tickets for the 20th annual New York International Fringe Festival go on sale today. My hat goes off to its co-founder and director Elena K. Holy at this auspicious benchmark. My admiration for what she has built in the past two decades is immense. She is a hero. A very well organized hero, like all of history’s best generals. That’s how wars — even cultural ones — are won.

Like all great friendships my amount of ardor for this festival ebbs and flows at times over the years, but the bottom line is that the volume of art that has been encouraged, supported, and delivered to the public by FringeNYC has been staggering. Most years my frame of mind is such that the festival is like a true and proper holiday, and I’m excited like a kiddie at all the presents I am about to open. (That is, the 3/4 of the time I haven’t actually been busy with a show of my own in the festival. That proud history is here).

The best theatre is always a risk, for the audience as well as the artists. Such risks can be thrilling. The bigger the risks, the bigger the thrills. And Fringe is still a place where artists are encouraged to go out on a limb. To see a LOT of theatre like that in a short time can be most invigorating.

With so many shows to be seen it’s impossible to see ’em all (and who would want to?) Invariably the catalog descriptions of scores and scores and scores of them are of no interest to me at all. What generally grabs me are: 1) shows with artists I already know and follow; and 2) shows that happen to overlap with my own personal interests at the moment. And no amount of gimmicks or backflips will make me stray outside those pre-decided areas.

Of the former category, there are relatively few this year. At the top is Off Track, written by good friend James Comtois and directed by Tim Errickson, and starring several other friends. The very funny Andrea Alton has a show as her character Molly “Equality” Dykeman with partner Allen Warnock called A Microwaved Burrito Filled with E. Coli. I am highly intrigued to see that Daily News editor Gersh Kuntzman has a show in the festival this year. I’ve known and worked with Gersh many times over the years. When I was p.r. man at New-York Historical Society, I pitched to him as a NY Post columnist, and maybe also when I worked at Coney Island USA now that I think on it. I definitely worked with him when he was a talking head on BCAT’s local political shows (I did marketing there as well). And I wrote a couple of pieces for him when he was editor at the Brooklyn Paper. Now, not surprisingly, he has co-authored a comedy-mystery called Murder at the Food Coop — a highly Park Slopey satire, which interests me on yet another level, as it’s my ‘hood.

I see too that playwright Kevin R. Free has a show up: Night of the Living N. Word. This brings up what seems to be the strongest theme in this year’s festival, shows of African American interest. I see around ten of them that look interesting to me: Black and Blue, Black Magic, Colorblind’d, Let the Devil Take the Hindmost, Power! Stokey Carmichael, Pryor Truth, Red Devil Moon, Transcend, and W.E.B. DuBois: A Man for All Times.

There are some semi-related political ones that grabbed my attention: the satire Not All Cops Are Bad, Waiting for Obama, Zuccotti Park and Seeger (a one man show about the folk singer).

Two shows about New Orleans caught my eye: The Braggart of Bourbon Street and Interludes: A New (Orleans) Play. 

There’s a handful with historical angles that interest me: Amelia and Her Paper Tigers (about Amelia Earhart), Dementia Americana (about the Evelyn Nesbit/ Harry Thaw/ Stanford White triangle), and Lunt and Fontanne. The latter leads into another mini-theme, a couple of faux British sounding theatre parodies: A Brandy Before Dying and The Intriguing Engagements of Frances and Meg Cheatham, Ladies of Society. 

There seem to be two shows by former prostitutes: Cuntagious and Honor: Confessions of a Mumbai Courtesan.

Readers of Travalanche may be especially interested in the sideshow themed The Extraordinary Fall of the Four Legged Woman, and At the Crossroads, which provides a musical setting to the silent movie Faust. 

Two interesting takes on Shakespeare: Richard III: A One Woman Show and Til Burnham Wood (a version of MacBeth in which the entire audience is blindfolded).

Some things that just grabbed me as really fun looking were Happy Lucky Golden Tofu Panda Dragon Good Time Fun Fun Show by the Amerasian duo Slanty Eyed Mama, and Humorously Horrendous Haunted Hideaway (just because I like ghosts).

Tall Pines Lodge is called “a thriller in the tradition of Jim Thompson” and that sounds like something I might like. And I REALLY like the title The Unusual Tale of Joseph and Mary’s Baby. 

Okay, them’s the ones that jumped out at me. My eyes are always bigger than my belly. If I’m lucky maybe I’ll catch a few. To check out the offerings for yourself and buy tickets (they go on sale today) go here. 

Brooklyners! See Charles Busch’s “Psycho Beach Party” for Free!

Posted in BROOKLYN, CAMP, Indie Theatre, PLUGS with tags , , , , , on July 14, 2016 by travsd

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Coming Soon: A Neglected Socialist Classic

Posted in BOOKS & AUTHORS, CULTURE & POLITICS, Indie Theatre, ME, My Shows, PLUGS with tags , , , , , , , on July 6, 2016 by travsd

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I have been having great fun rehearsing my role(s) in Untitled Theater Company #61’s latest production, an adaptation of Jack London’s forgotten 1908 dystopian/utopian novel The Iron Heel. The book has many resonances with our current day, set in a (then) sci fi future where leaders in a socialist movement struggle against the brutal schemers of the Oligarchy (I get to play the top Oligarch, which is great villainous fun).

London shows his familiarity with Marx and Engels by having the Oligarchs win in the short term, with the socialists finally triumphing centuries later. The Soviet Russians and most of the early 20th century radicals were conveniently “flexible” in their interpretation of Marx and the “when” and the “who” and the “how” of how their revolution was supposed to go down. It was supposed to happen in an already rich, industrialized nation in the west (as opposed to a mostly peasant society like Russia), with victory projected much farther in the future. So, in London’s scenario, we have it happening in places like America and Germany. The show has many resonances with our contemporary political debate that are downright amusing.

London was not only well-read in the socialist literature of his time but also in Darwin and Herbert Spencer, which has always made me an avid reader of his works. I’ll be blogging pretty heavily over the next few weeks about related stuff, mostly 19th and early 20th century radicalism, political philosophy, and my own political evolution at the present moment.

This is the best possible way to expose yourself to The Iron Heel by the way. Edward Einhorn’s adaptation is actually a much better experience than reading the original novel (I was going to rate the book 3 stars on Goodreads…but no one had previously rated it there and I didn’t feel like starting a new page for it.) In addition to focusing on the action (there’s a lot of it), Edward’s theatricalized it with actual period folk songs, which also puts me in a happy place — look for some more from me on that front as well in the vein of my previous folk musicals House of Trash and The Ballad of Jasper Jaxon — I’m gettin’ inspired. In short, Einhorn’s little traveling show is the right place for me to be in the present moment…a very suitable mental space as we plunge into this historic, tumultuous presidential election.

All of the shows are free or pay-what-you-can. For times and places go here. 

I’ll Say She Is — Getting Great Notices!

Posted in Comedy, Comedy Teams, Indie Theatre, Marx Brothers, ME, My Shows, PLUGS with tags , , , , , , on June 20, 2016 by travsd

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A little more than midway through our announced run of  I’ll Say She Is, our revival of the lost 1924 Marx Brothers Broadway musical, notices have begun to pile up and it’s a most exciting general vote of approval!

Fresh off the presses is Neil Genzlinger’s rave in the New York Times just out today! Read it here. 

Then there is the Adam Gopnick essay in The New Yorker which hit a few weeks back. I’d long known Gopnick to be an aficionado of classic comedy — we spent a good deal of time together when he wrote this piece about new burlesque in which I was featured back in 2002. The I’ll Say She Is piece is here.

Then there were the two major preview features, one in the Wall Street Journal and one in Jewish Week.

And there’s a bunch more! See the full round-up here. 

Also, New Yorkers, be sure to watch On Stage on NY-1 this Wednesday. A little birdie told me David Cote’s review will air then (and I believe online afterwards as they normally do). Can’t wait!

Tickets are nearly sold out for the remainder of the run, but some remain: to get them go here. 

O’Neill (Unexpected) at the Metropolitan

Posted in Broadway, CRITICISM/ REVIEWS, Indie Theatre, Irish, Melodrama and Master Thespians, Playwrights, PLUGS with tags , , , , , , on June 9, 2016 by travsd

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As I blogged here, I am an enormous fan of the playwright Eugene O’Neill.  If I had to draw up a short list of a half dozen favorite playwrights, he would be on it, and near the top. He’s got his faults, but he’s got many more virtues. Unlike most people, I am more excited by his early work than his later stuff. The usual rusty old canard is that The Iceman Cometh and Long Day’s Journey Into Night are his great works, and everything else is so much embarrassment. Well, I have read everything — and by that I mean everything published — by O’Neill (and I’m here to tell you it’s a lot), and I am frankly much more excited by his Expressionistic work of the 1920s, and his very early experiments in naturalism…things like the Sea Plays, Anna Christie and the very obscure stuff that came before.

To my great joy Alex Roe is presenting a couple of those early plays at Metropolitan Playhouse even as we speak. I had the privilege of sitting in on a rehearsal the other day and I learned tons just by being in the room. I think Roe is one of the smartest theatre directors in Indie Theatre and he does work I place great stock in. The Metropolitan “matters” to me more than almost any other company I can name. Read more about the the O’Neill gems they have on the boards now in my feature in Chelsea Now here. 

On the First Italian American

Posted in BROOKLYN, Clown, HOLIDAYS/ FESTIVALS/ MEMORIALS/ PARADES, Indie Theatre, Italian, ME, My Family History with tags , , , , , , , on June 2, 2016 by travsd

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Today in NYC it’s Pietro Cesare Alberti Day!

On this day in 1635, the gentleman in question arrived in what was then New Netherland and became the first Italian American. You will find the name spelled a zillion different ways, with the Christian names often Anglicized to “Peter Ceasar” and the last name variously rendered as “Albertus”, “Alberto”, and “Alberti. He made his home in Brooklyn (I took the picture of the plaque above near Cadman Plaza). Alberti (1608-1655) was from the Protestant son of a famous Venetian banking family. An Italian Protestant??? That was as unusual then as it is now, and far more dangerous, which was probably why he boogied over to the relatively liberal Dutch American colony. Unfortunately he and his wife were killed y Indians in 1655. Fuhgettaboutit! (Sorry). At any rate, Alberti’s grand-daughter Elizabeth married Dr. John Stewart, progenitor of thousands of contemporary Stewarts, including me.

Anyway, you can’t imagine how ecstatic I was to discover him among my (10th) great grandfathers. To be from contemporary Rhode Island, even one drop of Italian blood bestows a magical amount of self-validation. (See my post on my immigration mania from yesterday). But that’s true of everybody isn’t it? Italy produced the most beautiful woman (Sophia Loren), the most brilliant all-around human (Leonard Da Vinci), the greatest artist (Michaelangelo). All roads lead to Rome! Shakespeare was enthralled with the Italian culture of his times, they influences his plays immensely. (We would particularly like to point out in this context, The Merchant of Venice, written three years before Alberti was born).

And furthermore, to have roots in Venice, above all! Anyone who’s read my writing in any depth knows why this is so important to me. Carnevale! Commedia dell’arte! Masques (and masks)! Banks and Mountebanks!

Va bene! Va bene! Va bene! Viva Italia!

Am I losin’ it? Okay, I’m losin’ it.

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Three Black Panther Histories

Posted in African American Interest, CULTURE & POLITICS, Indie Theatre, Movies, Movies (Contemporary), Television, Women with tags , , , , , on June 2, 2016 by travsd

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While it existed (1966-1982), there was no more controversial political organization than the Black Panther Party. The word “controversial” is often misused, but in this case it applies. There is much positive and negative to say about the highly publicized black power organization, and prominent Americans have argued both sides at the top of their lungs.

We’re coming up on the 50th anniversary of its inception (October 15) and I guess that’s why they’re so much in the air all of the sudden. That, and the fact that they are sadly relevant, with a series of tragic deaths of black citizens at the hands of police over the past few years, widely reported and disseminated through social media. The Panthers were initially organized to address just this problem. It billed itself as a “self-defense” organization.

They were criticized in their time for their violence and other criminal behavior, but their image has been rehabilitated over the decades by scholars and the hip hop community. Beyonce’s performance at this year’s Superbowl Halftime Show (for which she was roundly criticized) was a bellwether of the times. Those who are accustomed to dismissing the radicalism of the Panthers out of hand might wish to consider seeking a more three dimensional portrait than the one they likely carry around in their heads. In the past few months, the Mad Marchioness and I have seen three documentary projects about the Panthers (two films, one play) and I recommend them all.

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The Black Power Mix Tape: 1967-1975 (2011)

There are ways in which you never really learn about your country until you hear what the foreign press has to say. I suppose this will make some people go berzerk, but so be it. To my mind, the only true American patriotism is always conditional. The fealty here ought to be to the principles embodied in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, human rights for all, otherwise the United States is just a gang of hooligans like most other nations. By foreign press, I of course mean a trusted FREE foreign press. I don’t give a crap what the Russian and North Korean puppets are saying about us. But the European press (for example), we really ought to listen to that. Did I say unconditionally give it automatic credibility? No, I said LISTEN to it. The Right often seems to have the attitude that by merely listening to someone else’s point of view, you’re automatically a vassal in their thrall. A free press means you can get at the truth by hearing from many sources and then weighing them all to arrive at a portrait of reality in your own mind, if you have one. THUS (long preamble) this terrific documentary, made by Swedish television journalists was a true eye opener. American press coverage of the Black Panthers in the ’60s and ’70s was heavily bowdlerized, skewed away from the Panthers’ message and towards those of law enforcement authorities. The Swedish news teams captured interviews and other footage and an objective point of view you simply have not seen anywhere else. I don’t think its too much to say that watching this film will make you a different person.

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The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution (2016)

This is the PBS documentary that came out back in February, also unexpectedly terrific. Unlike the Swedish doc, which only covers up to 1975, this one catches the entire rise and fall of the group. Also this one is more narrowly focused on the Panthers, whereas Black Power Mixtape is more broadbased, covering other groups and individuals in the Civil Rights Movement, which provides handy context. Do I approve of bringing guns into the California state house? No! Am I a fan of Marxism? No! But I am definitely a fan of creating a world in which the police are not allowed to harass citizens with impunity, or at least one in which they think twice before they do so (since thinking twice may mean the difference between a live citizen and a dead one). Not just well worth a watch: it’s important that you do so. More here. 

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Black Panther Women

Written and directed by Jacquelyn Wade, this interesting theatre piece is now playing at the 13th Street Rep (we gave it a shout out in our article on the company, in this week’s Villager). Some of the most positive things the Black Panthers did were done by their female members, the school breakfast program being the most famous. At the same time, one of the more negative aspects was a culture of misogyny and violence to, and disrespect of, women. Wade’s well rounded and moving piece captures the irony of that, a progressive organization that was pro-black, but not terribly pro-feminist in any practical sense of the word. If you’re in New York, you should check it out. Info and tix are at www.13thstreetrep.org

 

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