Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Staff's Faves

Every year our staff sees lots of OOB shows. We were excited to share some of our favorites from the 2010-2011 season.

Christopher Borg:
One of my favorites shows of the year was Radio Purgatory by the TheatreTHE at Dixon Place. It is so refreshing to see an indie theatre company that is doing TRULY INNOVATIVE and experimental work. Their use of the space, lighting, sound (live and recorded) and projection was incredible. It was like you were transported to an alternate universe while you were in the theatre and taken on a bizzare musical journey.  Their skills as musicians and their mastery of physical comedy raises the bar for the whole community.  Everyone should see them and know them.

Hillary Cohen:
The Walk Across America For Mother Earth, produced by Talking Band in association with LaMaMa Experimental Theater Club, was without question one of the most exciting shows I saw this past season. It was funny, touching, slyly observant, and – perhaps most importantly: innovative. While I already knew writer and actor Taylor Mac’s is a sharp-witted solo performer, I was really blown away by the deeper story and more nuanced characters he created in this full-length narrative script. He sincerely wrote a unique coming of age story with relevant social commentary and even a couple of cute songs. Designers Machine Dazzle (costumes), Anna Kiraly (sets), and Darrell Thorne
(make up) rock! The whole look and feel of the production was downright charming in a Sad Clown way that, in my opinion, perfectly matched the Quixotic, physically and spiritually “off the beaten path” subject matter. The talented ensemble, under Paul Zimet’s experienced direction, clearly gelled as a troupe and the chemistry amongst them was electric. Damn. Good. Show.

I have a long and storied English class history with Edgar Lee Masters’ 1915 cycle of 246 free-verse epitaph poems, Spoon River Anthology. So I didn’t expect to like it when Tom Andolora brought his edited and staged version, titled The Spoon River Project, to my new hometown in Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn. What a pleasant surprise! Masters’ text is a series of challenging but worthwhile cameos about the emotionally crippling social hierarchy of small town America. This show really got it right. They gathered an eloquent cast, beautiful period costumes, and gracefully unfussy production elements in an impeccably lush patch of Green-Wood Cemetery. I was riveted all over again and would say that it was one of those theater-going experiences that will stick with me long after this season.

Diánna Martin:
One of my favorite productions I saw this year was the Belarus Free Theatre's production of Being Harold Pinter at the LaMaMa Experimental Theatre Club. I was blown away by the passion, creativity, and design of the show, which was an incredible experience that lies somewhere between political theatre and performance art. Performed in Russian with supertitles, I was amazed at the actors' ability to manifest work that moved me so much while not understanding their language at all. Half the time I didn't look at the supertitles, I was so engaged with what was going on onstage. Moments of general design on the incredible minimalist set that made this even more compelling were the use of monologues staged with the actors running towards the audience encapsulated within a clear parachute; the effect was as if they were running towards a wall, only to be thrown back into the crowd. It was eerie, compelling, and important theatre brought to us by a theatre company that has been outlawed in its own country for giving a voice to those who have none.

Lanford Wilson's
Balm In Gilead, produced by the T. Schreiber Studio, took a piece that I have found usually to be very difficult to digest, and mounted it on the stage with such success that I was amazed. One thing that I enjoyed very much was the life given to each character, each actor, no matter how small their part or what was going on on stage at the time. The actors were in the moment at all times, and it was incredibly engaging. Another wonderful aspect of this production was the set design. I was delighted with the set changes, which allowed the audience three different points of view of the same set, so in essence, giving a three-quarter thrust the effect of a rotating stage. The costumes were incredible, and being at the production was like a step back to another time. Great work.

Desmond Dutcher:
One of the most exciting theatre experiences I've seen in a while is actually something that I had the pleasure of being a part of.  A burgeoning Off-Off-Broadway company called Artistic New Directions (AND) hosted a project called Without A Net which dove right to the core of pure theatre and at the same time served as an unprecedented thread sewing together many different NYC indie-theatre companies. The idea was to give the same one-act play to 5 different theatre companies and have them rehearse the complete secrecy from each other!...resulting in 5 different interpretations of the same play!  None of the theatre companies knew which other companies were in the game; none of the actors/directors knew who else was participating; and the actors were not allowed to see the final set prior to performance. There were 25 performances of the play, each with an ensemble cast comprised of one actor from each of the 5 different companies. (Math was never my strong point, but trust me: it works out -- you never saw the same exact production twice!)  Each of the 25 performances was unique, made different by each new combination of collaborators.  Every performance was an opening and a closing all at once, 'cause you'd never see that exact line-up again.

To inaugurate this ingenious idea, AND commissioned playwrights Gary Garrison & Roland Tec to come up with a one-act in which none of the characters had ever met each other prior to their entrances on stage, but who have a reason to be in the same place.  Their result was the powerful piece, The Rubber Room, which deals with a collage of characters meeting each other for the first time in one of NYC's infamous voids where public school teachers await disciplinary review.  The one-act is a wonderful mix of character development with a powerful plot-driven purpose, resulting in a play that is both funny and intense but above all intriguing and exciting.

Having been one of the lucky 25 actors I can confess that it was one of the most exhilarating theatrical experiences I've ever had!!  Imagine being ushered into your dressing room at staggered call-times with the secrecy of a spy by an extremely efficient crew from AND, all the while being kept secluded from the other actors with whom you are about to share the stage in 20 minutes.  The mounting anticipation focuses you on your craft in a way I've never experienced before and when you finally walk on stage and see your scene partners for the very first time...well, lemme tell ya: there's almost no acting required.  You take them in, size them up, and suss them out in ways that are so natural and un-affected that they make the technique of your craft feel smooth and effortless.  For an actor like me who can't get enough of feeling "in the moment", I was in pure heaven!  What a joy to have that experience -- it has stayed with me and informed much of my art since.

Bravo to Artistic New Directions for taking a simple idea and turning it into stage magic!  Here's to many more trips flying "Without A Net"!

Shay Gines:
I thought Dog Act by Flux Theatre Ensemble was an amazing production; one of the best I’ve seen Off-Off-Broadway. The play is such an intriguing tale of a post-apocalyptic world where humanity has divided into tribes each with their own characteristics, moral compass and aspirations. The relationship that Lori Parquet and Chris Wight created as the wondering bard and her man/dog, was the hub of the entire production. They did such a beautiful job. Becky Byers’ performance was sublime, but really the entire cast was so fantastic and cohesive. You could tell that they all knew they were working on something special. The set…. The set was to die for; so clever and beautifully constructed. And the props where thoughtful and whimsical and added such a rich layer to the production. Kelly O’Donnell pulled it all together gorgeously.

I really enjoyed Theatre of the Arcade at the Brick. Jeff Lewonczyk took something so iconic (classic arcade video games) and twisted it, giving it an entirely new perspective. It was beautifully directed by Gyda Arber. The entire evening was so fun because not only did you enjoy watching the production, but the production was a game in and of itself. The audience was engaged in trying to figure out which arcade game and which genre each of the pieces were based on. Incredibly fun.

Locker #4173b by the New York Neo-Futurists is a production that I had heard about long before it opened. Christopher Borg and Joey Rizzolo literally spent years researching and working on this project. I was so proud of both of them that the final product was so honest and intimate and raw. It wasn’t always an easy production to sit through. It brought up a lot of uncomfortable thoughts and the audience left with a lot of new questions and an overwhelming desire to purge accumulated “stuff”.

I loved… LOVED… the Vampire Cowboys production of The Inexplicable Redemption of Agent G. After we saw the production I simply could not shut up about it. I really liked the set. It was modern and striking and elevated the production. Likewise the costumes, projections, lighting and sound were all cohesive and fully integrated. The acting was top notch across the board. But the two super stars were the play and the directing. Qui Nguyen created a piece that reveals itself as it goes along. Initially I was a little mad at Qui because I felt that he was using too many devises and it was distracting from the story. But then I realized that YES! he was using too many devises IN ORDER to distract from the story. This was a play, not about the “story,” but about Qui’s creative process of talking about something that is too big and too personal for him. In his process of trying to tell this story, he was distracting himself from focusing on the reality of the story. And in a lesser director’s hands, this complex, heart rending production could have been confusing, but Robert Ross Parker has such a strong and skilled approach that it was funny and entertaining and moving. Bravo.

Let’s talk about The Family Shakespeare, produced by MTWorks. What a beautiful production this was. This was not an easy piece; it was a period piece,  there were fantasy elements, it dealt with challenging issues including mental illness and ethical questions that can leave an audience unnerved if it’s done right. And oh boy did they do it right. David Stallings wrote an intricate piece that leads the audience subtly through the nuances. Antonio Minino masterfully guided the production through the complicated turns. The costumes were gorgeous. And Cotton Wright’s performance was hauntingly breathtaking; one of my favorite performances of the season.

Of course there were so many amazing Off-Off-Broadway and Indie Theatre productions this year. These are just a few. What were your favorites and why?

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