Archive for David Cote

“Three Way” at the Brooklyn Academy of Music

Posted in BROOKLYN, CRITICISM/ REVIEWS, Indie Theatre with tags , , , , , , on June 19, 2017 by travsd

In “Safe Word”, Eliza Bonet and Matthew Trevino demonstrate that you can’t keep a good man down

Just a few words of laudation for Three Way by composer Robert Paterson and librettist David Cote, staged by John Hoomes, co-produced by American Opera Projects and others, which we caught at the Brooklyn Academy of Music yesterday. Pride Month was the perfect occasion on which to experience this sex-positive triptych of operatic one acts. I’d heard snippets at our Opera on Tap evening a couple of years ago, but this was the NYC premiere of the whole musky magilla, the entire libidinous libretto, from soup to nut-sack.

The title is of course a bit of wordplay referring not just to a multi-partner sex encounter, but also to the fact that the show consists of a bill containing three separate but related works. In the best comic opera tradition, each seemed to draw from and engage with popular culture. The Companion is a science fiction tale about a busy woman (Danielle Pastin) and her dissatisfaction with her love robot (Samuel Levine), emerging with a life-lesson that would not be out of place on Fantasy Island. The SM thriller Safe Word comes with an O. Henry twist and musical passages that occasionally summoned the spirit of Bernard Herrmann. Masquerade most obviously evokes Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut, while also (to my mind) conjuring Elizabethan comedy (it’s about strangers pairing off at an orgy). And the anthology format, each with racy, funny, sex themes — how could it not make those of us of a certain age to think of Love American Style?

Inevitably, Three Way’s “edge” will shock people more in the hinterlands than in NYC, the jaded Belly of the Beast. (I imagine a domme dungeon, a swingers club, and sex with a mechanical surrogate all happening a stone’s throw from BAM, even at the very moment the show was happening. I once went to an art opening where a woman named “The Countess” beat a man’s testicles with a metal rod and no one looked up from their champagne). But the carefully wrought storytelling and generous, open and inquiring spirit of the work, its depth of character and its wit, are the farthest thing from quotidian and much to be prized. Three Way put me in a good mood, and while not as enjoyable as sex itself, at least it put sex into an opera. Those of us who have experienced operas without sex can attest to how valuable that is.

BTW! The show is a co-production of the Nashville Opera, which presented it earlier this year at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center (a venue I got to a visit when I covered the Nashville scene for American Theatre magazine about fifteen years ago). The producers and artists are looking to make a cast album down in Nashville and now have a kickstarter campaign under way to raise the necessary funds. Help ’em out here:

Something Something Über Alles (Das Jackpot)

Posted in CRITICISM/ REVIEWS, Indie Theatre, LEGIT, EXPERIMENTAL & MUSICAL THEATRE with tags , , , on September 20, 2013 by travsd
Evidence that Moira Stone loves her husband very much

Evidence that Moira Stone must love her husband very, very much

I’ve kicked myself many a time over the past decade and a half (not daily, but more than once) for having missed Assurbanipal Babilla’s monologue Something Something Uber Alles (Das Jackpot) during its initial 1998-1999 run. There were many reasons for me to have been aware of it at the time. I wrote for director David Cote’s zine Off in those days and he certainly promoted the piece in its pages. And it was in the NYC Fringe Festival at the same time as my play Misshapen Jack: The Nebraska Hunchback (The awareness was enhanced when a few people pointed out similarities between the two shows at the time. Both are monologues, organized into three sections, from the point of an insane, Hitler-like man.) But even without the similarities (which I won’t call superficial, because I think there is a genuine affinity in the sensibilities) I would have been aware of the show: Mr. Babilla and his company Purgatorio Ink were well established, and the piece itself had terrific word-of-mouth. But still I missed it during its Fringe run, then its extension at the Kraine, and then even (unless my memory is faulty) in a subsequent revival. And then, two years ago, Mr. Babilla passed away, along with any opportunity to see any of his work while it was contemporary.

The affinity I mentioned above really refers to why I go to the theatre in the first place. There’s a documentary about NYC Fringe in the works at the moment and when I was interviewed on camera about my favorite kinds of plays to see in Fringe, my answer described something uncannily like this show: one actor with no net and no safety wire, taking us to a reality VASTLY different from the one we know, and thrilling us with his risk-taking along the way. And by risk taking, I mean REAL risk taking, not some tepid, conventional, faintly “edgy” confection that provides a diversion for the grannies as a digestif after lunch. I mean something that slaps you awake with a good, hard slap, something that risks disorienting and unsettling you, and makes you at least a little uncomfortable, like the feeling you can get when your subway car is suddenly stopped on a grade…and there’s this tension as you keep waiting for the thing to move forward and right itself.

In Something Something…we spend 90 minutes in the company of an apparent madman (played in the current production by Robert Honeywell) who claims to have been thrust into the center of a sordid international cult based entirely on his unfortunate resemblance to Adolph Hitler. His tale in turn is being related to us by the man’s friend, creating yet one more layer of unreliable narration. This isn’t the monologue’s only Chaucerian element; we have also the grotesquerie of the play’s character(s) and all manner of their appalling lower bodily productions, emanating from both the front and back ends. No detail is too ridiculous, extravagant, disgusting or unbelievable…and yet just enough of it appears objectively verifiable to tip our anti-hero over into madness. In the tale’s chilling last moments the hero’s utterances begin to sound like the disassociated ramblings of a schizophrenic, and then comes the dawning revelation that we have been privy to the kind of mental backstory that informs the babbling of the mentally ill on New York’s sidewalks and subway platforms.

We have been doing our fair share of raving about Honeywell’s acting lately. I was especially impressed by his work in two recent UTC #61 shows Lathe of Heaven and Vaclav Havel’s Hunt for a Pig. In the current piece, he demonstrates a lot of the same faculties I admired in those previous productions but at a higher, more sustained level (90 minutes solo). My admiration is mostly technical here. I don’t know how possible it is to actually be moved by any character in this story. Where he dazzles is in the wide variety of characters he portrays, (often changing on a dime), the many physical moments where he is able to integrate some of his clown training, and above all his absolutely unique ability to play a highly strung, overwrought character for long stretches without “playing crazy”, seeming fake, or even appearing tired. It’s all nailed down in specifics, a thousand moments, all strung together like a necklace made up of many-colored, often hideously clashing beads.

Cote serves both author and actor here by keeping his contribution invisible apart from his excellent work with Honeywell: a bare stage, a single metal chair for a prop, no costume changes, no superimposed, extraneous “bright ideas”. His most overt gesture is some lighting that evokes Albert Speer’s at Nuremberg. I’d have harsh words for any director who DIDN’T do that in this play. And come to think of it, the dank basement that is Under St. Marks makes a very nice stand-in for secret subterranean temple beneath the New York City subway system — provided that you have the good sense not to try to tart it up.

Where to go from here? I here and now publicly demand that Honeywell and Michael Gardner revive their production of Dostoyevsky’s Notes from the Underground, which I also missed 15 years ago and in its subsequent revival, strictly so that can have the pleasure of seeing it!

Something Something Uber Alles is at Under St. Marks through October 5. For tickets and more info go here.

“Something Something” Opens Tonight!

Posted in CRITICISM/ REVIEWS, Indie Theatre, OBITS with tags , , , on September 19, 2013 by travsd


Join Horse Trade in celebration of its 15th birthday with the remounting of one of Horse Trade’s first productions – “Something Something Über Alles.” David Cote, who directed the original Horse Trade production 15 years ago, will be returning to direct Robert Honeywell in this 90-minute thrill ride into the dark intersection of religion, emotion, and animal urge.

September 19 – October 5
Thu-Sat, 8:00pm
UNDER St. Marks | 94 St. Marks Place

A man who bears an uncanny resemblance to Adolf Hitler finds himself idolized by an orgiastic, underground, Führer-worshipping cult. In a monologue that’s alternately hilarious and terrifying, we glimpse the true nature of worship, authority and humanity’s tragic urge to obey. His heartbroken friend, our narrator, leads us down a twisted path to uncover the mystery of what really happened. Written by and originally performed by Assurbanipal Babilla, this tour-de-force monologue features a cast of grotesque characters, passages of intense lyrical power and bawdy comedy. Downtown stage veteran Robert Honeywell performs this 90-minute thrill ride that goes straight to the dark heart of religion and politics.

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