Commedia dell ‘Artichoke: A Pizza/Theater Combo You’ll Love

Carter Gill, Pulcinella, Commedia dell 'Artichoke, Gene Frankel Theatre,

Carter Gill  in Commedia dell ‘Artichoke at the Gene Frankel Theatre. Photo courtesy Jacob J. Goldberg.

One of the best kept secrets in Manhattan for enjoying a night of rollicking, hysterical fun, lip-smacking sumptuous pizza and a bit of wine to restore one’s nerves during a hectic work week is Commedia dell’Artichoke at the Gene Frankel Theatre. Presented by Frances Black Projects in association with CAP21, the production is a hyper blast party of stupendous fun which runs until February 6.

Commedia dell’Artichoke is a ripping comedy like no other you will see in the city for its inventiveness, extemporaneous joyride, audience participation and prescient, trending humor.  It’s conceived by the ingenious team of Frances Black, Carter Gill and Tommy Russell, who have honed their artistic statement into a whimsical whirlwind, a compendium of ancient and modern social satire about how the wealthy stick it to the classes beneath them and how the working classes push back with resilience, humor and verve. The show boasts Devin Brain at the director’s helm who skillfully guides the unique performance art of Carter Gill, Alexandra Henrikson, Tommy Russell and Shannon Marie Sullivan. All of these actors are scintillating.

Over the course of the evening, Gill, Henrikson, Russell and Sullivan broadly portray 10 characters in the Commedia dell’arte style, with grotesque masks, antic characterizations and hyper-mannered behaviors. Not only are the actors superb comedians with expert timing, they sing and dance with sheer abandon. The show has an extemporaneous feel, added to by the audience participation: anything can happen. Surprising moments are completely appropriate to the winding, picaresque storyline.

Shannon Marie Sullivan, Commedia dell 'Artichoke, Gene Frankel Theatre

Shannon Marie Sullivan in Commedia dell ‘Artichoke. Photo by Jacob J. Goldberg.

The beauty of the production is that the silly absurdity of some scenes allows the actors’ musical breakouts, which prompt our unexpected laughter. And that ebbs into somber thoughtfulness about the wisdom of what we have experienced; this is expert, clever, comic pacing. We appreciate the pithy jokes about “The American Dream-nightmare,” trending political slogans, social media topics, gender loops and much more. The humor is sardonic, darkly funny, socially meaningful. All makes complete sense, and you have the time of your life romping in the intellectual brilliance and ridiculousness of these characters who “know the score.”

The original musical numbers are beautifully integrated, with appropriate accompaniment by band leader and multi-instrumentalist Robert Cowie. The music helps shape the plot dynamics and organically evokes the scenes. The actors/characters bring Cowie into their ensemble as their dutiful “conductor” of fun. He good-naturedly accompanies/instigates the songs, fanciful tunes and dances.

This “gypsy” music echoes the ideas of love and empathy. In a deus ex machina rescue, the villain, Adam Smith’s “Vile Maxim” incarnate, La Capitana (portrayed with audacious, Trump-like ferocity by the operatic Alexandra Henrikson), is deflected from enacting dire financial doom upon our hero, Carter Gill’s brash, endearing everyman and pizza “entrepreneur” Pulcinella. As the production concludes, hope and a stay of financial execution are achieved for another day. All ends well in the perfect unity of comedy.

If I had to explain to you specifically how we arrived at this superb finale, I couldn’t. The journey is labyrinthine, fraught with diversions and robust antic scenes from Pulcinella’s conflicted life, leading back to the beginnings when Pulcinella, whose pizza we have enjoyed, explains his New York City dreams to become a “self-made man.” With gyrating plot arcs which double back on themselves, vignettes which make sense in their nonsense, and brilliant jokes that kill as they are tossed off like salad leaves for you to either graze on or disallow, this is as close to Commedia dell’arte style as you will see in our savvy, super-cool city.


Carter Gill, Alexandra Henrikson, Tommy Russell and Shannon Marie Sullivan in Commedia dell ‘Artichoke at the Gene Frankel Theatre. Photo by Jacob J. Goldberg.

Scenes spiral out from protagonist Pulcinella and his retinue. The conflict pounces on our poor hero in the form of villain Capitana and her sycophant lackey Tartaglia. Capitana, a crazy caricature of the stereotypical mannish woman boss, signifies the American nightmare of the business class that will stop at nothing to make American business “great,” “big” and “hard” again in order to blow away China (the sexual allusions are funny).

In keeping with these undemocratic notions, Capitana must wipe out Pulcinella and develop the area (her projected store possibilities are riotous) into “greatness.” It is a displacing event all too familiar to real-estate-pressured New Yorkers. Along the way, we meet other Commedia-style “stock” characters in Pulcinella’s life, modernized but with their Commedia flavor (thanks to Commedia consultant Christopher Bayes) present. The comic scenario has been ramped up to satirize urban life, mega-developers vs. the little guy, crazy cultural tropes, corporate business models, etc.

The hijinks are nonstop. And as you enjoy the entertainment, you also swallow the characters’ irony about our city’s social infirmities: its hyper-development, its classism, its intransigence against democratic wellbeing for all. We laugh as Pulcinella comments about having to work and work and work some more and work your butt off and do more work, ostensibly to make it to the first rung up the ladder of success.

And as for climbing up into the clouds where the Bloombergs and Trumps abide, there’s always a Capitana to toll the financial death knell or pour acid into one’s bleeding bank wounds. These types manifest the cryptic financial screed of being “bigger and better” (as Capitana does to Pulcinella) by raising the rent to “one dollar more than you can afford.” Though it isn’t stated, the message is clear and we have come to know it as brutal irony: “It’s nothing personal, just business.”

The actors’ high energy spins out other rapid-fire scenes about the ridiculousness of who we choose to love, the zany relationships we become involved in, and a guy’s proper etiquette toward a gal. Such pointed jokes ground us in ourselves. The sharp humor brings us to the remembrance that in the theater as in life, we are in this together. As we laugh, we encourage each other to enjoy the journey. We can control some things, but other events just unfold. We dare not stand in the shadows nor miss the passing parade or the fun will dissolve. Just dive in and don’t consider how it will turn out because what you prepare for won’t necessarily happen in the ways you expect.

Pulcinella’s artichoke pizza is one of the better pizzas in the city. You certainly do not want to miss his hard work and the effort it took to concoct his super recipe of deliciousness and fun. The production is comic genius. The show should be extended or brought back again in another venue. See it while you still can.  Commedia dell’Artichoke will be at the Gene Frankel Theatre until February 6.

Orchidelirium: The NYBG Orchid Show 2016

orchid, NYBG

Orchiddelirium, the theme of the NYBG Orchid Show 2016

Are you a fan of orchids? Do you properly care for them? Or do you end up having to throw them away? When orchids were first discovered, people were devastated when they killed them because other orchid plants were not easily accessible. in the 1900s orchids were a rare flower commodity until things began to change and they grew in popularity as they became known.

Orchidelirium was the title given to the Victorian era of orchid flower madness when collecting and discovering these exotic and beautiful plants was the intention of wealthy merchants and fanatical collectors. Motivated by the flower frenzy, they hired explorers to uncover different, unknown species from far flung reaches of the world oftentimes at great danger to themselves. The obsession with orchids never really died down if one reads Susan Orlean’s The Orchid Thief,  a humorous tome about orchid collecting and the lengths to which those in the business go to indulge their passion for orchids, even theft.
Orchidelirium, NYBG Orchid Show 2016, orchids

NYBG Orchid Show 2016

For orchid passionistas, the NYBG has an extensive collection of exotic and rare orchids, some that don’t even look like orchids, yet, they do belong to the same plant family. Because of the ever popular annual orchid show in February of each year, it was no large leap to understand how NYBG orchid curators and exhibit programmers might have gained inspiration from the frenetic orchid craze of the Victorian era to revisit that time and spur on fans’ curiosity and love of the exotic blooms, by referencing the Victorians’ fervent obsession.

Orchidelirium the NYBG 14th annual orchid show which opens on February 27th and ends on April 17th, promises to inform, dazzle and celebrate the century-old appreciation of what Mark Hachadourian, NYBG Director of the Nolen Greenhouses and Rock Garden for Living Collections-and an orchid fancier, has characterized as the largest and most environmentally adaptive plant family in the world.
pansy orchids, NYBG, 14th Annual Orchid Show

Pansy orchids from previous NYBG orchid shows.

Visitors to the landmark Enid A. Haupt Conservatory will step back into the time when orchids were a rarity to confound and mesmerize. Wealthy Victorians were surprised that some of the lavish blooms had no fragrance while others did. Nevertheless, they were enchanted with the orchid’s symmetry and pixie tongued faerie face that elevated the flower to a symbol of power, opulence and luxury in England.
The indulgent fascination with the vast varieties of blooms of a continuum of shapes, sizes and textures will thread the exhibit and highlight how these amazing flowering plants were transitioned from the wilds of jungles and deserts to indoor cultivation in conservatories and glasshouses, and eventual commercialization when the price could be stabilized and lowered for the middle classes.
orchids, NYBG,

NYBG orchids from previous years at the Orchid Show.

The NYBG’s substantial and elegant permanent collection represents all the floristic regions of the world. These include Australia, Africa, South America, and Madagascar. The exhibition will showcase some unusual and rarely seen jewels in the NYBG orchid crown. One such specimen is the spectacular Psychopsis papilio which inspired the Duke of Devonshire’s obsession that instigated Orchidelirium in London. Another inspiration which will be displayed is Paphiopedilum sanderianum which was named for the nurseryman Frederick Sander, the self proclaimed “Orchid King,” a plant which is renowned for its petals’ remarkable length.

Orchidelirium at the NYBG Orchid Show 2016, evoking the Victorian era scenes with orchid blooms.

Moving on through the Conservatory galleries, visitors will learn about the transition of orchid growing. The trendsetting Duke of Devonshire began collecting orchids in 1833 at his Chatsworth House estate (still there today). His head gardener, Joseph Paxton, revolutionized the way orchids were cultivated in England by innovating larger and more effective glasshouses, beginning with the Great Conservatory in London and culminating in his masterpiece, the Crystal Palace of Prince Albert’s Great Exhibition in London in 1851.
A series of orchid vignettes will recapture the brilliant glasshouse displays that the Duke and other collectors tirelessly effected with their newly acquired delicate specimens brought back by explorers, hunters and adventurers with whom they fiercely competed for various plants and endured all manner of thrills facing animals, reptiles, humans who would readily pounce on them for disturbing their territory.
NYBG ORCHID SHOW 2016, orchids, NYBG

Orchid varieties number into the thousands. Some of these will be represented at the NYBG Orchid Show 2016.

 From antique to modern, the orchids are in stand alones amongst the glasshouse greenery, as well as in hanging baskets, hanging pots, Victorian wall displays and elsewhere, in fact, wherever you turn. Each area of the conservatory will contain a diverse selection of orchids from around the world. Formal arrangements will be intermingled with casual plantings however, in typical NYBG fashion. And you can expect that all will be made exuberantly gorgeous and lush with a riot of blooms assaulting the intellect and immersing one in a sensory playland. A small stone patio will accommodate a stunning Wardian Case (an early type of protective terrarium for plants), housing a selection of miniatures.

pansey orchids from prior NYBG Orchid Show

Diverse programming will follow the exhibit during which a variety of events will take place: Orchid Evenings, World Beat: Music and Dance around the World of the Orchid. There will be weekend orchid care demonstrations with topics like “Easy Orchid Care,” “Fantastically Fragrant Orchids, and “Orchid Tips for Amateurs.” These important tips will encourage orchid purchasers and collectors to properly maintain their orchids so that they may bloom more than once and so that they may even harvest the orchid seeds. Once you become more familiar with orchids and their care, the temptation to throw away an orchid because “it won’t bloom,” will be counteracted with, “I am going to get this orchid to bloom a few times, and will NEVER consider throwing it away.”

Kudos go to designer Christian Primeau who oversees the extensive tropical/subtropical plant collections housed in 11 unique environments in the Conservatory. Marc Hachadourian curates the exhibit’s orchid selection and the NYBG’s extensive groupings of living plants from around the world housed in the Nolen Greenhouses, the behind-the-scenesglasshouses where plants for the Garden’s indoor and outdoor and science program are grown and maintained.

The 14th annual orchid show ORCHIDELIRIUM promises to be an enlightening and enjoyable way to usher in springtime at the NYBG. The show begins on February 27th and ends April 17th. You can learn more at the NYBG website by clicking HERE.
Photos and copy details courtesy of the NYBG.

Screenwriters Lab Open Submissions


The Maidstone, Headquarters of the HIFF. Photo by Carole Di Tosti, Ph.D.

The Hamptons International Film Festival Screenwriters Lab is open for submissions.


The Hamptons International Film Festival’s Screenwriters Lab is going into its 16th year. The HIFF Lab is an intimate gathering that takes place each Spring in East Hampton, New York  from April 8- 10, 2016.

The Lab develops emerging screenwriting talent. It pairs established writers and creative producers with up-and-coming screenwriters. The screenwriters are selected by HIFF in collaboration with key industry contacts. In a one-on-one creative laboratory setting mentors advise the initiates. Additional events bring the participants together with board members, sponsors, the local artistic community, and other friends of the festival. Scripts from past year’s screenwriters have gone on to production year after year. The vital feature of The Lab is that it has and will continue to be an inspirational, safe venue where artists can perfect their craft and creative vision.


Recent Lab projects have evolved into productions that have screened at festivals world wide. These include Sundance, South by Southwest, Katlovy Vary, Locarno and the Los Angeles Film Festival.  Selected highlights include Short Term 12 with Brie Larson (she is currently in the amazing ROOM) and John Gallagher, which won the Grand Jury and Audience Award at SXSW. The Discoverers starring Griffin Dunne, Little Accidents featuring Elizabeth Banks and Chloe Sevigny, Fort Bliss starring Michelle Monaghan and Ron Livingston and Twelve, starring Ellen Barkin and Emma Robers, the 2010 Sundance Film Festival Closing Night film are just a few of the projects that have taken off to success.


Dennis Quaid, Q & A for HIFF Opening Night screening of TRUTH, film by Screenwriters Lab Mentor James Vanderbuilt. Photo Carole Di Tosti


Recent HIFF Screenwriters Lab mentors are Alex Dinelaris (Birdman),  Nicole Perlman (Guardians of the Galaxy), Oren Moverman (The Messenger),  Michael Cunningham (The Hours, Evening); James Vanderbilt (Zodiac, Truth), Mark Heyman (Black Swan),  Rob Siegel (The Wrestler),  Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck (Half Nelson, Sugar, Mississippi Grind), Hawk Ostby (Children of Men),  Whit Stillman (Metropolitan, The Last Days of Disco),  Ira Sachs (40 Shades of Blue, This Married Life),  Andy Bienen (Boys Don’t Cry),  Lawrence Konner (The Sopranos, Boardwalk Empire),  Maria Maggenti (The Incredibly True Adventures of Two Girls in Love),  and Laurie Collyer (Sherrybaby)



Earlybird Deadline | December 1, 2015

Regular Deadline | December 15, 2015

Late Deadline | December 29, 2015

WAB Extended Deadline | January 12, 2016

For more information contact:


FRANK PR | 646.861.0843

Lina Plath |

Nicole Kerr |

New York Film Festival Review: ‘Ingrid Bergman in Her Own Words’

Ingrid Bergman, New York Film Festival, Ingrid Bergman in Her Own Words

Ingrid Bergman in ‘Ingrid Bergman in Her Own Words.’ Photo courtesy of the film.

Celebrations of Ingrid Bergman’s 100th birthday (August 29, 1915) have been taking place all year, as fans and film professionals honor the iconic Swedish actress, winner of 3 Academy Awards, 4 Golden Globes, 1 Tony and 2 Emmys. But perhaps the greatest celebration of Bergman’s amazing career and life is the documentary Ingrid Bergman in Her Own Words, directed and written by Stig Björkman and Dominika Daubenbüchel. Björkman offers a fresh and intriguing perspective of Bergman: the person and the actress.

The documentary is a fascinating account of Bergman’s life, cobbled together using Bergman’s own 8 and 16 mm family film clips, Bergman interviews, pointed snippets from Bergman’s childhood diary entries, letters to best friends (the voice-over narration read by Alicia Vikander), and vibrant commentary by her four children Pia Lindstrom, Isabella, Ingrid and Roberto Rossellini. Bergman was a pack rat who saved, letters, photographs, and other personal memorabilia.

Her diary and letters are a treasure trove of her evolving thoughts, impressions and personal growth over the years. Her letters, and the interviews about her relationships with her husbands, her agent, her close friend Ruth Selznick (wife of David O. Selznick), and her own self-described identity as a bird of passage, who flew to new ground where she forged another milestone in her life marked “change” as the only permanence she would cling to.

The amazing and juicy tidbits Bergman wrote in letters and diaries, and the film clips that she, herself, took, chronicle her life and the times in which she lived. The material makes for a thrilling historical glimpses into the aura of film studios (Hollywoodland’s golden times), the hypocritical social folkways of the times (the culture’s response to her affair and marriage to director Roberto Rossellini), her film directors (Hitchcock), her travels through European cities a few years before WWII, and much more. The director includes Bergman’s pre-WWII footage of marching Nazi Youthregiments, and Storm Troopers doing maneuvers. Prewar anti-semitic slices of life in Berlin–prescient warnings–Bergman captured in footage and photograph: a glimpse of the horrors to yet to come.

Ingrid Bergman, Ingrid Bergman in Her Own Words, New York Film Festival

Ingrid Bergman and her children. ‘Ingrid Bergman in Her Own Words.’ Photo courtesy of the film.

In every country she lived (Sweden, the U.S., Italy, France and England),  Bergman carried her most prized possessions with her. These mementos represented her very being. To leave them behind or destroy them would have meant obliterating a part of herself and her past. Considering that she had to pack them up each time she moved on, whether to a new city or new partner, this was no small feat. It is clear that the artifacts symbolized her heart’s love and held profound meaning for her. The public is fortunate that they are archived at Weslyan University, and many are revealed in this documentary.

Putting the pieces together from these slivers of history, the director traces her life voyage as Bergman attempts to put down roots for herself and her family. Her personal films reveal the human woman and her interconnected, loving, down-to-earth persona as friend, wife, mother, and general ambassador of good will. The clips also exhibit that when the roots deepened, she changed her garden landscape and pulled them up to transplant herself. The director includes her perspective that whenever she became stifled or felt she was not progressing within, she had to release herself to the universe and embrace another adventure, another world that she would create at will.

Ingrid Bergman, Ingrid Bergman in Her Own Words, New York Film Festival, 100 Year Celebration of Ingrid Bergman's Life

Ingrid Bergman in ‘Ingrid Bergman in Her Own Words.’ Photo courtesy of the film.

Using Bergman’s own metaphor, “bird of passage,” she became inspired to move on, not wanting to remain settled or stationary. The documentary material reveals how much Bergman enjoyed her freedom. Thus, although her children often rued her departure because she was so much fun to be around, she never took them with her. She understood the instability, insecurity and upheaval caused by her need for continual movement, and likewise comprehended that her children required a solid foundation. They needed to finish their schooling and be embraced by the comfort of familiar surroundings. During her travels and transformations, the children were raised by her former husbands and their wives or family members. In leaving her families and moving on, there was sorrow, and whenever she could she would see them and bring them to visit in the next city where she remained for a time.

This candid and very open view offered by her adoring adult children, and her archived material reveal what was paramount in Bergman’s life. As a young girl, she wanted to be a great actress; she made this dream real and in the pursuit of this goal she remade herself in her personal and professional life. She was a maverick, an autonomous and independent woman ahead of her time.

Stig Björkman discloses that the colorful, charming and beautiful creative spirit was as flexible and strong as a reed in the storm. Hence, she took on the creative challenge to be brilliant at her craft: that was the force that flooded her veins and propelled her to flight and transformation. It propelled her into Swedish films and then to Hollywood. It propelled her away from her first husband into the arms of director Roberto Rossellini and into a hiatus of filmmaking, scandal and media vilification. It propelled her away from Rossellini back to a declining and morphing studio system that embraced her and forgave. It propelled her onto the stage and to TV. It propelled her into the arms of her third husband, a stage producer.

Ingrid Bergman shooting family films in 'Ingrid Bergman in Her Own Words.' Photo courtesy of Mantaray AB.

Ingrid Bergman shooting family films in ‘Ingrid Bergman in Her Own Words.’ Photo courtesy of Mantaray Film AB.

Throughout her life existed the compulsion to be a great actress. Next to Katherine Hepburn, Bergman is the most awarded actress in the film industry, and one of the most celebrated. Acting, she realized, stirred her to the finest joys in her life. In establishing her career, she lay her own self-evolved identity apart from anyone else. In the craft, there could be boundless creativity. In the process, there were no tethers to rein her in. Because of acting, Ingrid Bergman was her own woman. Because of her prodigious talents she possessed her own soul.

The director wisely reveals the maverick Bergman through her own 8 and 16 mm films, with only passing reference to her movie persona. By the end of the documentary, we understand that Bergman was an iconic woman for all time, in her ambition, her recreations of her own identity and especially for her courage in breaking through the restrictions of cultural hypocrisy and double standards.

The documentary is an homage to the film industry and the personal life of one of its enduring actresses. The editing is a bit uneven and a few sections could have been tightened, even though a fine musical selection adds to the film’s poignancy when relating her early years. Nevertheless, the director avidly selects and shapes Bergman’s mementos in a presentation that clarifies a salient theme. It is a reminder to us that, like Bergman, we must do exploits. It is a call to be one’s own person, regardless of social hypocrisy or the social pressures to conform to an image that is not our own.

If Ingrid Bergman had lived longer, surely she would have supported women’s power constructs in the entertainment and media industry. Included in one of her last TV interviews, she comments on ageism and the illogic of it. Sadly, the industry has not budged from her time to ours; roles for “older” women (in their 30s, as Maggie Gylenhall implied recently) are in short supply. Bergman spoke out and though her comments may have been only noted by a few men, she encourages that women must raise their voices continually. By using Bergman’s “own words,” the director cleverly emphasizes the power of voice. It is her power of voice and her example that challenge us from beyond the grave. In this Stig Björkman has done a masterful job.

This review first appeared on Blogcritics @

Kurt Cobain Suicide Controversy. ‘Soaked In Bleach,’ A Film by Benjamin Statler

Kurt Cobain, 'Soaked in Bleach, suicide controversy, Nirvana

Kurt Cobain, ‘Soaked in Bleach.’ Photo courtesy of the film.

 Soaked in Bleach (a lyric in “Come as You Are” from the album Nevermind), is the metaphoric, suggestive title of Benjamin Statler’s film which infers what really happened in the Kurt Cobain death investigation. The documentary begins with the acknowledgement that for Generation X, Kurt Cobain was the equivalent of what John Lennon was for the baby boomers. Both ended up dead before their time with Cobain at 27, the same age as Jim Morrison at his death. Cobain was the “go-to” Alternative-Rock icon, establishing grunge music with a permanent place in the stars and Cobain’s Nirvana the #1 spot on the Billboard 200 in 1992 with the album Nevermind. His tragic death two years later on April 8th, 1994 was pronounced a suicide by the Seattle Police Department.

The question of whether it was or wasn’t a suicide is the subject of Soaked in Bleach. The filmmakers with pinpoint logic, methodical and meticulous details and facts underscore that the gunshot wound to Cobain’s head, the position of the rifle and Courtney Love’s (his wife), insistence that Cobain was suicidal, prematurely closed down any further death investigation of the quiet, press-shy man whose music reached out to the down trodden of society and whose language spoke to the “average Joe in the streets.”

Courtney Love, 'Soaked in Bleach, Kurt Cobain, Nirvana, suicide controversy

Courtney Love, Kurt Cobain’s wife. ‘Soaked in Bleach.’ Photo from the film.

Statler uses film clips of testimony by retired law enforcement experts in forensics, investigation and homicide, who point out that a death ruled a suicide conveniently precludes the need for any further investigation of the evidence. After such a ruling, investigation becomes nearly impossible. This is doubly so for Cobain whose body has been cremated; interestingly, the building where his body was found, soon afterward was ordered torn down. The notion  of suicide was first presented by Courtney Love when she hired private investigator Tom Grant to locate Kurt Cobain. This was five days before the corpse was located. That notion of suicide was fueled by the media along with other misinformation which the filmmakers expose as lies. Indeed, the rapacious media reveled in the story of another celebrity rocker nihilist who “burned bright and burned out.” Thus, filmmakers disclose that the idea of Cobain’s death as a suicide was entrenched. It helped to obliterate the need for any credible death investigation into what really might have happened. According to experts the Seattle Police Department prompted by Love in a highly unusual and uncharacteristic move for law enforcement death investigations ruled his death a suicide in one day, the day the body was found. Then they closed the file on Cobain.

Kurt Cobain, 'Soaked in Bleach, suicide controversy

From the official file on Kurt Cobain. ‘Soaked in Bleach.’ Photo courtesy of the film.

If suicide is convenient for the police and the possible murderer or murderers, then inconvenient is the aftermath of Cobain’s suicide as it has influenced others. Fans of the rocker have celebrated him in death by more greatly embracing his music and memory in life. Then there are the others. These are the copy cat suicides.  Reports of teens have sprung up over the years. It is a global phenomenon. As parents have had to bury their children who killed themselves leaving notes that referenced Cobain’s death or Nirvana’s song lyrics, they’ve had to go through the tragedy of asking themselves how they could have prevented their deaths. To date there have been 68 related copy cat suicides, each one of them a profound, individual family tragedy. To consider that Cobain might have been the victim not of his own hands but of someone else’s would make their deaths a completely macabre and twisted irony too horrible to contemplate.

Soaked in Bleach reveals this and more as filmmakers travel the stark, mind bending road uncovering truths that conclude Cobain’s death was improperly investigated and incorrectly determined. The implications that his was a probable homicide run far and wide to decrying the investigative skills of the Seattle Police Department and implicating those in charge at the time. If the investigation of Cobain’s death is reopened as suggested by journalist Max Wallace and officials like retired Seattle Chief of Police, Norm Stamper, Vernon J. Geberth, former Homicide Commander of NYPD, the Bronx, and Dr. Cyril H. Wecht (Forensic Pathologist and Former President of the American Academy of Forensic Science), and if Cobain’s death is ruled a homicide, the problem will be locating enough evidence to identify a killer or killers. Motive will play a huge factor in that determination. Filmmakers, through the testimony of experts, suggest possibilities.

Kurt Cobain, 'Soaked in Bleach,' Nirvana, greenhouse

The greenhouse where Cobain’s body was found. It has since been destroyed. ‘Soaked in Bleach.’ Photo from the film.

This documentary first and last is tantamount to a crime thriller. Though Cobain’s suicide ruling by police was a quick and dirty convenience, Statler and co-writers Donnie Eichar and Richard Middleton make the compelling case that it wasn’t. They present this argument  throughout with clips of Cobain’s friends who give testimony about his positive mental state, tape recordings, experts’ commentary, and recreations of the players who peopled the last days of Cobain’s life before the body was discovered.

These evidentiary revelations and facts are contrasted with media misrepresentations and video clip commentary by Seattle Police investigators who journalist Max Wallace, Norm Stamper, Vernon J. Geberth and others infer made a “rush to judgment.” The lynchpin in the filmmakers’ presentation is private investigator Tom Grant whose law enforcement background and reputation are sterling. Grant, who was hired by Courtney Love to locate Kurt Cobain 5 days before his body was found, discusses his experiences dealing with Love during this time. It is his revelations that are the most startling, it is his commentary that is the most logical and convincing.

As Statler focuses on Grant, he includes audio clips of Grant’s tape recordings of conversations with Courtney Love and others during the time he worked for her. Suspicious of Courtney Love’s contradictory stories, Grant taped her and taped all of those he spoke to including her attorney and Cobain’s friends. With these tapes and Grant’s narrative, filmmakers narrow to a still point his logical conclusions and the rationale which teases out the threads of truth from media falsehoods. It is these which they sew into a manifest tapestry that Cobain’s death was anything but a suicide.

Tom Grant, Kurt Cobain, 'Soaked in Bleach.

Tom Grant’s tape recordings. ‘Soaked in Bleach.’ Photo from the film.

The documentary is beautifully organized and layered into clear, easy to understand segments. Statler’s adept direction makes excellent use of his recreations to reveal the chronology of the days Grant worked with Love. Continually interspersed throughout are clips of the experts who pull apart the Seattle Police Department’s uber brief death investigation to reveal their mismanagement of the case, their blunders as well as how and why this probably occurred. Pieces of evidence and reports are reviewed. There is one that is particularly astounding. It was identified that the amount of heroin in Cobain’s body would have put him in a coma or near coma state; he would not have been sentient enough to use a shotgun to kill himself.

Soaked in Bleach is a film to see if you enjoy investigative crime documentaries. Even if one is not a fan of Kurt Cobain and Nirvana, the film is powerful in what it suggests and well made in its presentations and argument. It is clear that the filmmakers have taken the time to carefully reconstruct the possibilities of what didn’t happen in the death of Kurt Cobain. They do this in the interest of discovering what actually did happen to a man whose life had miles to go.

This review first appeared on Blogcritics.



A Conversation With Dan Lauria About The Inspiration For His Play ‘Dinner With The Boys’

Dan Lauria, Ray Abruzzo, Richard Zavaglia, 'Dinner With The Boys,' Acorn Theatre

(L to R) Dan Lauria, Ray Abruzzo, Richard Zavaglia in ‘Dinner With The Boys,’ at the Acorn Theatre until July. Photo courtesy of the website.

Before Dinner With The Boys opened Off Broadway at the Acorn Theatre, I went to a press event for the production where the producer and director introduced the show, its cast and playwright Dan Lauria (Lombardi, Christmas Story, The Musical), who also stars as Charlie. The play is about two wise guys with issues that only Big Anthony Jr. (Ray Abruzzo-“The Sopranos”), can solve after he shows up for a delicious home cooked, mouth watering dinner by Dom (Richard Zavaglia-Donnie Brasco) who is Charlie’s chef roommate. The press event and following conversation with Dan Lauria took place before I saw and reviewed the production. Turns out what I had intuited about the performances was spot on. The show is smashing and I enjoyed the rollicking night of joy and farce that has a number of sardonic twists. You can read my review here on Blogcritics.

Introductory Remarks by the Producer, Director and Playwright

Pat Addiss, 'Dinner With The Boys,' Acorn Theatre

Pat Addiss, producer of ‘Dinner With The Boys,’ at the Acorn Theatre. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

Pat Addiss (Producer): I knew Dan Lauria when he played the lead, Jean Shepherd, in A Christmas Story, The Musical for us. And he told me about this wonderful show that he’d written for Dom DeLuise and Charles Durning and Jack Klugman and he told me how they were all dead. And I asked him if he isn’t getting a message. And he got the message. And he loved Gabe Barabas and SuzAnne Barabas at The New Jersey Repertory. He knew them before I was on the board. And he wanted them to produce this even though we were just a little black box theater. It all happened thanks to Dan and Suzanne and Gabe. Here I am; I’m so lucky that last night I had my own dinner with the boys. We are also going to have a dinner at Tony DiNapoli’s every Tuesday where people can buy tickets and can also buy dinner at Tony DiNapoli’s and have dinner with the boys. I’m very excited about the production, but before I go any further, I’d like to introduce our wonderful director Frank Megna and he can tell us a bit about the play.

Frank Megna, 'Dinner With The Boys,' Acorn Theatre

Frank Megna, director of ‘Dinner With The Boys,’ at the Acorn Theatre. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

Frank Megna (Director): Hello everybody. I was lucky enough to direct the play in Jersey. Dan and I go back to when we first played mafiosos together thirty plus years ago. You played Al Capone and I played a character named Joey Adonis and I walked around without my shirt a lot which back in those days meant something. (laughter) The play is unusual. It’s a surprise. It’s not a typical Sopranos kind of a deal. It’s interesting in exposing some of the links that need to surface and that go on in this world that we’re investigating. I think you’ll have a lot of fun. Now, I’ll introduce Mr. Lauria who wrote it.

Dan Lauria, 'Dinner With The Boys,' Acorn Theatre

Dan Lauria in ‘Dinner With The Boys,’ at the Acorn Theatre. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

Dan Lauria (Playwright): Thanks to all here for their work on the production in New Jersey. This is a very twisted play. (crowd laughs) Like Pat said, it was originally written for my mentor Charlie Durning and for Jack Klugman, Peter Falk and Dom DeLuise. It was actually Dom DeLuise’s idea. To this day the funniest lines are Dom DeLuise’s ad libs, which I take full credit for. (we laugh) I still remember the night we read it and the reaction of Peter Falk who never cracks up. He was saying the lines I wrote. Dom just got up and did this ad lib. Peter just lost it. He looked at the audience and said, (Dan does a perfect Peter Falk imitation), “It doesn’t say that!” I said, “It does now.” So we’re keeping their names alive. It’s really a play about all the violence that we’re consuming. We had a lot of fun and loads of laughs, but the purpose of the play is there’s too much of this gratuitous violence. They’re not even in the genre of horror movies any more. They’re mutilation films. So this spoofs all that. I’m very lucky to have Richard Zavaglia who’s been with us from the beginning. He actually read the narration the first time Charlie and Dom read it. Ray Abruzzo, Little Carmine from “The Sopranos”…he is a chameleon. For him to do what Jack Klugman and Peter Falk did? What a testament for an actor. So that alone is worth the price of the ticket. (we laugh)

After the introductory remarks, I spoke to Dan Lauria about the show.

I’m very happy to see you again. I enjoyed your performances in A Christmas Story, The Musical which was a lot of fun and Lombardi was wonderful.

Dan Lauria, 'Dinner With The Boys,' Acorn Theatre

Dan Lauria in ‘Dinner With The Boys,’ at the Acorn Theatre until July. Photo by Carole Di Tosti.

Dan Lauria: This is totally different than either of those two.

Tell us how it’s different.

Well, for Italians who come to see the show, they either get very offended, or they realize, oh, you’re spoofing the stereotype of kill, eat, curse. Yet, there’s no cursing in the play. People always tell me, “Oh, the language.” And I ask, “What curse?” And they say, “Well…???” There isn’t any. We spoof shows like “The Sopranos,” etc., and usually by the end, all the Italians are like, “Yeah, there should be more plays like this.” So it takes a little while for them to catch on. But like I said initially, it’s really about all the violence we’re consuming. I wanted to write a serious play about that subject. But Dom DeLuise said, “Ah, it will sound preachy. Now, if you make that funny…” So that’s what we did.

You mentioned before, all of these horror flicks that have violence…

Well, not even the horror flicks so much as the mutilation films.

Well, people devouring other people…

Ah, zombies and vampires? Well, this spoofs them. I have an 8-year-old godson and I can’t stand the violence in the video games, like blowing up heads and exploding body parts. So we talk about that in a funny way, but you don’t see any of that. As a matter of fact, the only blood you see in our show is that Ray takes a ketchup bottle and sprays it on the window. And we don’t care if the audience sees it’s ketchup. It’s a joke and it’s a spoof of the blood.

'Dinner With The Boys,' Frank Megna, Dan Lauria, Ray Abruzzo, Richard Zavaglia

(L to R) Frank Megna (director), Dan Lauria, Ray Abruzzo, Richard Zavaglia in ‘Dinner With The Boys,’ at the Acorn Theatre. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

OK, now, what’s the food?

Well, I don’t want to give it away. (we laugh) But there are excellent recipes

It’s homemade.

Oh, it’s all homemade. Dom, who is played by Richie Zavaglia cooks delicious dinners. The role was supposed to be played by Dom DeLuise. Dom DeLuise was a great chef and he actually gave us some of the ideas for the recipes. As a matter of fact there’s a line about a cacciatore that’s spoken and it’s strictly Dom DeLuise. That was one of his ad libs.

You were close to Dom and Peter Falk?

I was closest to Charles Durning. He was like my Dad and I was close to Jack Klugman. I gave the eulogies at both their funerals. But Peter and Dom I knew very well. It’s a shame when I meet young people who don’t know them.

Richard Zavaglia, 'Dinner With The Boys,' Acorn Theatre

Richard Zavaglia (Dom) was with Dan Lauria from the beginning of the play’s development narrating at readings. ‘Dinner With The Boys,’ at the Acorn Theatre. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

They may see the TV reruns. But Dom DeLuise was absolutely hysterical. I forget what I saw him in but I was belly laughing. (I remembered later: Mel Brooks’ Robin Hood Men in Tights, 1993)

The first night we read the play…Peter couldn’t read because he was working. So I read the part. But I’m sitting in the wings with Jack Klugman and Jack said, (Dan Lauria does a gravely voiced Jack Klugman imitation here), “Dom DeLuise will say something tonight that will bring down the house that no other actor can say.” And during the reading, Dom literally while he’s hearing this grotesque story, said, “Woof.” And the audience went on the floor. And Jack Klugman said, “No actor you know could say ‘Woof,’ and get a reaction like that.” (Lauria laughs) He was right. And when I wrote it into the script and I sent it to somebody to read, they sent it back to me with notes saying, “What does ‘Woof’ mean?’” (Lauria laughs) I said, “Forget it. We’ll never get it.” (we laugh) That’s how creative he was.

Absolutely adored him. Peter Falk as well.

One of the hardest working actors.

I saw him as a kid in Pocket Full of Miracles. He stole the scenes he was in from the other actors.

That was the Frank Capra movie. Falk was the only one to get nominated for an Academy Award as a supporting actor in that film. Peter told us a story about him and Edward Everett Horton who played the butler. They were shooting the scene where Peter was being helped to put on his coat by the very proper butler played by Horton. It was funny and there were no cuts, so they finished it with the crew laughing. As a matter of fact the first take was ruined because Frank Capra laughed out loud so hard, sound picked it up. Capra said, “I’m sorry boys, let’s do it again.” So they did it again, and it was even funnier. Frank Capra said, “Great, great, but let’s do it again.” And then the third or fourth take, Frank Capra actually put a knot in the sleeve. That’s the one that’s in the movie. And it was hysterical and his own people were rolling in the aisles. Frank Capra said, “Great, great, let’s do it again!” And Peter went up to him and said, (Lauria in a great imitation of Peter Falk), “Frank is there something wrong? I mean why are we doing it again?” And Capra said, “Oh, Peter, I’m going to use the one with the knot in the sleeve, but the crew is enjoying it so much.” Peter said to me, “Frank Capra was the best audience I ever played to.”

Richard Zavaglia, Ray Abruzzo, Dan Lauria, 'Dinner With The Boys,' Acorn Theatre

(L to R) Richard Zavaglia, Ray Abruzzo, Dan Lauria in ‘Dinner With The Boys,’ at the Acorn Theatre. Photo courtesy of the site.

Ah, inspired by Capra, he gave a great performance in Pocketful of Miracles. Now, when you were writing Dinner With the Boys, what was the specific conceptualization? You thought, I’m writing something serious…then changed it?

Yes. I was driving Dom DeLuise down to Palm Springs for the Frank Sinatra Golf Tournament. I always play in it every year. And on Friday night Dom was going to do his “stand-up” but we called it the “sit-down,” because he never stood up. He was very funny and he was a good friend of Frank’s. As we’re driving down…previously, I had written something else that he liked. So he asked, What are you working on now?” And I told him I wanted to write about the violence with the kids. This was years ago because you could see it getting worse and worse with the video games. And he said, “Well, it’s going to be too preachy. Now, if you can make fun of consuming violence.” I said, “How would you do that?” He said, “Well, they’ve got to eat violence.” So that triggered the idea, and then as I wrote it with him and Charlie in mind, it just developed.

I’d like to think they’re watching.

We put it in the program that every performance is dedicated to them.

Ray Abruzzo, 'Dinner With The Boys,' Acorn Theatre

Ray Abruzzo (Big Anthony Jr.) in ‘Dinner With The Boys’ written by Dan Lauria, at the Acorn Theatre. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

Now, from what part of Italy is your heritage?

Well, I don’t think Lauria is my real last name. I think it’s Signorelli. But my father’s family was from the heel, the town of Lauria. So it’s the Corleone thing. (Dan is referring to how immigrants were given the names of the towns where they came from since the officials couldn’t pronounce or spell Italian names that looked too complicated, like in the film The Godfather II) But my mother was from Naples. She would say, “We’re the cooks.”

I assumed you might be Neapolitan.

When my mother met Joe Mantegna, she said, “Where are your people from?” Joe said, “Well, my mother’s from Calabria.” And my mother knocked on her head. (the Calabrians are reputed to be hard headed). And he said, “Well, my father’s from Sicily.” And my mother said, “Oh, you’re half Italian.” (we laugh) Joe and I still get a laugh out of remembering that when he comes to my apartment.

Do you keep the traditions going or not? Well, with the food, I imagine. Have you gone to Italy?

No, I’ve never taken a vacation like that. I’ve never been to Europe. I haven’t taken a day off.

Do you want to go?

Yeah, I will if I get the chance or get a job over there. I don’t really vacation, I just work. Charlie Durning did that. This is my approximately 60th-something play.

(PR is signaling me to wrap up the interview) A feat in itself. Hopefully you’ll be able to travel to Europe at some point.

Of course. Well, maybe we can get an English speaking company over there because this play would do very, very well.

They would adore it.

They would catch it right away that we’re spoofing that stereotype.

Do you speak Italian?

Very little. My mom did. I can understand it more than I can speak it.

Well, good luck with the play I’m sure the New Jerseyites are following you over here and continuing the fun from New Jersey Rep.

Yeah, we had some really fun nights there.

Dinner With The Boys is at Theatre Row, the Acorn Theater, 410 42nd Street. The production is continuing there for another month including VIP Tuesdays and Nonna Wednesdays. The show is in a limited run and will end on Sunday, July 5th. It’s a feast of fun. Enjoy it before the run concludes.

‘The Belle of Belfast’ at The DR2 Theatre in NYC

'The Belle of Belfast,' Belfast, Ireland, The Irish Repertory Theatre, DR2 Theatre.

‘The Belle of Belfast,’ at the DR2 Theatre, a production of The Irish Repertory Theatre. Exterior, Belfast, Ireland in 1985. Photo take from the Irish Rep Facebook page.

A few years ago, my friend Bob who was wearing an orange shirt and was going through passport control in Dublin, Ireland, was startled when a staffer stopped him and said, “I wouldn’t wear that shirt outside of Dublin though you’re a Yank. People will take offense.” Bob heeded his advice and after doing a bit of online research at his Dublin hotel, understood what the official meant. Even though the Good Friday peace agreement ended The Troubles in Northern Ireland in 1998, the wounds were still raw. At the time Bob visited, there was an unrest that bubbled just under the surface. If the protestant pro-British Orange Order held a parade, the Irish Catholics often were unduly provoked and took umbrage. Surely, peace had come. But the conflicts were all encompassing, then and now, and it may be a few more decades before the waters have completely smoothed over and horrible incidents that occurred during The Troubles remain buried forever in lost memories.

The Belle of Belfast presented by The Irish Repertory Theatre which is currently playing at the DR2 Theater, has as its setting Belfast, Ireland. The time is 1985 the year of the Anglo-Irish Agreement and 13 years before the 1998 Good Friday peace agreement. In Belfast 1985 The Troubles between Irish Catholic paramilitary groups who intend to break away and join the Republic of Ireland to the south and the protestant paramilitary groups who are determined to keep British rule of Northern Ireland are steadfast, and there doesn’t appear to be an adequate resolution in sight.

The intense and harrowing conflict of the 40 years war is not the subject of The Belle of Belfast. Nevertheless, it contributes an elusive and ever-present darkness that overshadows the events and individuals’ inner conflicts. The darkness continually rises from the depths of the abyss of hatred and despair that impacts the main characters who try to make their lives in Belfast but who are often jolted by the sporadic violence which they have come to internalize. The characters live with the tiresome, oppressive atmosphere of guerilla warfare which can strike anyone at any time. And they must become inured to it and find their way through the morass of bloodshed as individuals are “disappeared,” become martyrs, or are hapless victims of the collateral damage sprayed by bombs meant for “the enemy.” We come to understand the depths of the dark shadow of war as the play evolves and the characters react to each other and seek unsuccessful personal solutions most probably influenced by the undercurrents of danger they must live with and force themselves to reconcile as a fact of life in Belfast during The Troubles.

Patricia Conolly, Hamish Allan-Headley, 'The Belle of Belfast,' Irish Rep Theatre, DR2 Theatre, The Troubles

Patricia Conolly and Hamish Allan-Headley in ‘The Belle of Belfast,’ directed by Claudia Weill at the DR2 Theatre. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

Director Claudia Weill has expertly fashioned Nate Rufus Edelman’s The Belle of Belfast. With the help of set designer John Mcdermott, the director has made sure the production employs a clever and symbolic economy of design. The three sections of the stage suggest different areas: outside in the city of Belfast and inside in the private interior of the Catholic church confessional and the rectory. For the outside, the bleak walls of division and sterility of a  life lived amidst randomized terror is evoked with graffitied brick walls and barbed wire, stage left. The exterior is contrasted with an interior, the ironic security offered by a church confessional in the stage middle. To stage right is positioned the personal inner sanctity of the priests’ rectory where truthful actions and comments are laid bare by three of the main characters. Lest audience members are unfamiliar with the history of the setting, at the play’s outset a black and white film clip of a variety of shots of beleaguered Belfast unspools to project the tattered lives of the residents (children and adults), and the sorrow and violence that is their portion during The Troubles.

As these projections fade, the light focuses on the confessional interior. At confession is a typical, elderly, staunch Irish Catholic woman, Emma Malloy (Patricia Conolly does a beautiful job as the humorous, slightly ridiculous and eccentric aunt of feisty Anne Malloy). Emma Malloy is sharing her darkest secrets with the handsome, youthful priest, the father confessor in a parish that offers help in this trying time of soul need to offset the chaos and confusion everyone is experiencing. Of course the help is for Catholics and though the tenets of Christianity encompass both protestants and Catholics, the irony is not lost on us that Catholicism is a tremendous thorn in the flesh of the Protestants on the other side of the high walls which divide Irish from Irish.

During the ironic and funny exchange between the priest and Emma Malloy, the playwright has unfolded the character of Father Ben Reilly (an excellent Hamish Allan-Headley), as a sympathetic and well meaning Irish Catholic cleric who attempts to remain above the fray following the tenets of Christianity as best he can. Nate Rufus Edelman has expertly established the gnawing rodents of duplicity within the Father that will continue to eat at him until they devour his potential for goodness. With Emma Malloy, we understand that the Father is playing the part of the good priest as he perceives his role to be. However, we also understand that the depth of goodness is not yet present in him to actually be that good priest, for we also see the extent to which Emma Malloy tries his patience and the extent to which he allows her to frustrate him. Instead of “stopping her in her tracks” for her silly ideas of what constitutes sinning (one thing Catholicism teaches well is sinning and condemnation), he allows her to continue in folly, “showing” how kind he can be until she makes untoward remarks that are sinful. Here is a flawed priest, who in his attempts to be empathetic and gracious goes overboard toward permissiveness because of his notions about how a priest should be kind and understanding. In attempting both, he ends up doing neither, though he is charming, self-deceitful and apparently “harmless.”

'The Belle of Belfast,' Kate Lydic, Hamish Allan-Headley, Irish Repertory Theatre, Belfast, Ireland

Kate Lydic and Hamish Allan-Headley in ‘The Belle of Belfast,’ at the DR2 Theatre. Photo from this site.

Of course, the irony is that with the true tenets of Christianity, it is not about image, it is about substance, about what happens behind closed doors, about what happens in the rectory when the public isn’t watching. That is what counts and the playwright never reveals the characters’ relationships with God and that absence is crucial to the understanding of the play and the understanding of the characters who are in desperate need of help and who are incapable of receiving it through the source they have supposedly chosen to pray to. Clearly, this priest and his colleague Father Behan (Billy Meleady), are having their own “troubles” with the substance of love and truth. Edelman brilliantly reveals how they are having issues with self-deceit as they attempt to “appear good” but find it much harder to “be” good. Their trials are revealed during their personal moments away from their roles as priests and after they return to the rectory, relax and take off their collars. This is one of the main conflicts of the play, the image of goodness versus the reality of goodness and gives rise to the theme: if one does not live in truth, one is miserable living in hypocrisy. The theme has broader implications for indeed, the whole of Northern Ireland is reeling from this problem, especially in their disparate warring religious factions which lack “the substance” to be Christians in word, deed and love: they cannot forgive each other; they cannot ultimately forgive themselves.

The playwright has cleverly characterized Father Reilly revealing the seeds of his potential downfall which like weeds in a garden plague him. These weeds grow quickly and are the cause of his weaknesses which allow him to succumb to the manipulative wiles of the fiery teenager Anne Malloy (the angst-filled “belle”). As a result of their flawed actions both Anne and the Father are forced to view the truth of themselves and the pictures are ugly. The characterizations are aptly drawn; we note Father Reilly’s rationalizations to Father Behan when he protests that he is trying to help Anne. But when he ends up seducing her, he is easily able to convince himself that it is the other way around, that he has allowed her to seduce him. Regardless, both Anne and he are culpable; both make each other miserable with the truth of their self-deceit and lies, though his is the greater blame because he violates his position as a “pure man of God,” and she is a minor, not really responsible for her own decision making, though of course, she believes she is.

Hamish Allan-Headley, Billy Meleady, 'The Belle of Belfast,' Belfast, Ireland, Irish Repertory Theatre, DR2 Theatre

Hamish Allan-Headley and Billy Meleady in ‘The Belle of Belfast,’ Photo by Carol Rosegg

Likewise, the playwright’s characterization of Father Ben Reilly’s fellow colleague in the parish, Father Behan (a fine, nuanced and edgy performance by Billy Meleady), shows another cleric in the throes of a personal crisis. Behan despises the protestants and supports the Irish Republicans, though he knows he should remain objective. He is an alcoholic with the excuse that it is a way to get over and through the miseries of the times. Yet, rather than to rely on his faith to help him end the addiction, we see that his faith fails him and even inspires him to drink more. He has chosen a profession about which he is largely indifferent and is now stuck in. It is a cryptic irony that he hopes he doesn’t have to continue to be a priest when he is dead and in heaven, for that would be hellish. As a priest there are no choices left for him and he wishes he were anywhere but Belfast, the worst place to get murdered for being a priest. As we see for Father Reilly and Father Behan, both succumb to the dark time of chaos. Both cannot see their way clear to confront their character imperfections. Both lack the faith to work through and achieve peace.

Edelman has presented the underlying issues of the characters from which the incipient themes evolve, hammering these through to the conclusion. We recognize that all of the characters have opaque vision; they are limited from seeing the hypocrisy of their own actions as they walk in a bizarre, dual state of determination and haphazardness. They mistake their false assumptions about themselves as truthful and accurate, only to find out later they are playing at being what they are not. Of course, they are miserable and their actions lead to devastation. However, because of the backdrop of war which rears its ugly head from time to time in a bomb blast that kills or in the terrible beating and victimization of someone, we know that the characters are reeling from the confusion which foments the mist through which the ever-present threat of violence erupts. We forgive them for they are easy to recognize in ourselves; such is the state of affairs in the human soul: until unity and peace come, it’s division and war.

Hamish Allan-Headley, Kate Lydic, 'The Belle of Belfast,' Irish Repertory Theatre

Hamish Allan-Headley and Kate Lydic in ‘The Belle of Belfast,’ at the DR2 Theatre. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

Thus, when wise-cracking, foul-mouthed and brash Anne Malloy (played with abrasive and wild-hearted abandon by Kate Lydic), tells conflicted and insecure friend Ciara Murphy (the vulnerable and resigned Arielle Hoffman), that she is in love with Father Reilly and she will be with him, we are not surprised. We have anticipated this, as we anticipate the tragedy of their coupling and the impossibility of their being together because they have no solid relationship borne of love. We know his permissiveness and his playing at being the good priest has been the snare that renders him a hypocrite to the faith and a predator. With kind duplicity he does harm to her and himself. Father Reilly is incapable of seeing clearly that Anne Malloy is playing at being in love with him in a desperate quest for happiness. He cannot discern the truth to know that she is searching for a love of self that will fill her soul more than what she could ever have with him. Blindly, Father Reilly takes advantage of her inner emptiness. Deceitfully, he becomes a predator exploiting her sorrow. He adds to her soul damage; orphaned by her parent’s death in a bomb blast as a child, she is forced to live with her difficult aunt from whom she feels little love.

The importance of The Troubles as a backdrop to what happens in the inner sanctum of the rectory is a clever touch brought to the fore by the canny director. Father Reilly’s abuse of Anne’s fragile emotions and the abuse of his position is performed behind closed doors away from the prying eyes of the parish. In the rectory he turns this emotional violence against himself as he upends his own integrity. In hypocrisy he trashes everything good that he may have attempted in the past. In an invisible line from the external brick wall and barbed wire right through to the rectory, the director and playwright show that the war’s shocks have led him to become an emotional casualty of the war’s harm. The tragic irony is that as a casualty, he cannot rightly understand how to best help Anne. Thus, he contributes to making her into a twice-fold victim of The Troubles. His failures as a priest thwart her from achieving soul health: the “love” she sought to replace that was lost at her parent’s death can never come from Father Reilly; she is twice traumatized. The emotional violence Father Reilly and Anne enact upon themselves and each other mirrors the violence of Belfast. Though they are alive and breathing, emotionally they shatter one another. They can only inure themselves to the pain and move on. If they make themselves numb, there may be a kind of deliverance after all. However, there is no grace that they can give each other; they lack that power. It will have to come from another source, if it comes at all.

Through the fine, on point acting, the director’s steadfast vision and the help of the artistic team, Edelman’s work shines with humor, cleverness and grace, revealing how in a time of chaos, individuals attempt to make the best of the hand they are dealt but often make a shambles of it, instead. This would appear to be doubly true when those appointed to help “make the peace” are often the ones doing the harm. To what extent does the war impact individuals’ choices? On a continuum from 1-100, it cannot be discounted and like an earthquakes’ aftershocks, the calm may settle but things have been irrevocably changed. So Edelman points out. After a few years have passed, Anne Malloy, achieves a term of happiness which she discusses with Father Reilly when she finds him after he moves from Belfast. Meeting with him, she explains what happened in her life after she left the war zone. It is obvious that she has made a tentative peace. For Father Reilly the playwright is silent about the divisions in the cleric’s soul. Nevertheless, for these two characters, it is a fitting conclusion reflective of the citizens in Belfast whose high walls still divide and whose wounds have yet to heal completely.

You can see the terrific The Belle of Belfast at the DR2 Theatre until June 14th.

This review first appeared on Blogcritics: CLICK HERE WHERE IT WAS AN “EDITOR’S PICK.”

Interview With Marc Hachadourian, Orchid Curator at the NYBG Orchid Show

March Hachadourian,  Director of the Nolen Greenhouses for Living Collections. Marc has more than 15 years of commercial and specialized horticultural experience at the Gardens and much more over the course of his life. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

March Hachadourian, Director of the Nolen Greenhouses for Living Collections. Marc has more than 15 years of commercial and specialized horticultural experience at the Gardens and much more over the course of his life. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

The 13th Annual Orchid Show: Chandeliers is currently running until April 19th at the New York Botanical Garden. The show is amazingly beautiful and a much-needed encouragement during what sometimes seems like an eternity of winter. During my wondrous visit relaxing amongst the gorgeous blooms, I spoke to Marc Hachadourian, Director of the Nolen Greenhouses for Living Collections.

Marc is a fount of information about the orchids. His title belies his down-to-earth nature and sunny personality. I can understand his joy working around such vibrant, luxurious plant life. A fellow photographer kept on remarking during our visit that the Garden is a great place to decompress and rewind from frenetic city life. It’s another world at the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, and Marc’s job is to make sure that all the orchids in the Garden’s permanent collection are as happy with their living conditions as possible. He is also responsible for curating the hybrids brought in and grown for the Orchid Show.

Marc Hachadourian, you’re the resident orchid expert here supervising the care of the botanical collections including the extensive orchid collection and exhibition plants in the Nolen Greenhouses.

Yes. I’m the curator of orchids at the NYBG.

The entrance displays at the NYBG Orchid Show: Chandeliers.

The entrance displays at the NYBG Orchid Show: Chandeliers. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

I know you love orchids from what you told me when I spoke with you last year. Orchids festoon your home where you have a great variety and number of orchids. And you are probably way more successful at keeping and caring for orchids than I am.

In addition to caring for the Garden’s orchid collection, I do have my own personal orchid collection, so some of my friends joke that I need a recovery program for orchid addiction because I leave one orchid collection to take care of another. It is something that I absolutely love. I was joking with a friend that they are my greatest stress and stress relief at the same time. But it is something that I absolutely love. I have been growing orchids now for 30 years and they’ve become a part of my life, like my children. Some people become very attached to their pets. I’ve become very attached to my orchid plants. They don’t have names, though. [laughs] [I laugh]

OK. How old is your oldest orchid?                                       

One variety of the orchids that you will see during the 13th Annual Orchid Show at the NYBG. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

One variety of the orchids that you will see during the 13th Annual Orchid Show at the NYBG. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

At the Garden or my personal collection?

Your personal collection.

Over 20 years old.

I know at the Garden that those beautiful orchids encased in glass – those rare orchids –

The miniatures.

The miniatures are old.

Some of them aren’t. They range in age in our collection. But some of our oldest orchids in our permanent collection…are not on display because they are not flowering at this time of year, but we actually have plants in our botanical collections here at the Garden that are over 100 years old. People assume that a 100-year-old orchid must be the size of a house, but in reality, some of the plants may be miniature, so you may be able to hold a 100 years of orchid growth in your hands.

The 13th Annual Orchid Show at the NYBG. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

The 13th Annual Orchid Show at the NYBG. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

The walkways are a colorful pageant of orchids high in the air and on the ground. Around 200,000 or more people come to The Orchid Show each year. NYBG. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

The walkways are a colorful pageant of orchids high in the air and on the ground. Around 200,000 or more people come to The Orchid Show each year. NYBG. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

So it’s something that we have a long historic orchid collection here at the NYBG. In fact we have one of the best orchid collections of any institution. There are about 7,000 specimens in our permanent orchid collection. We have all different sizes and different types. You had mentioned the miniature orchid which we have on display in the conservatory where we pull out a lot of the really interesting and unusual botanical plants from our collection, plants that you might walk by if they were put next to some of these really flashy hybrids.

Orchids are the largest flowering plant family and they vary size from the head of a pin to 25 feet tall. Photo by Carole Di Tosti, The Orchid Show at NYBG.

Orchids are the largest flowering plant family and they vary size from the head of a pin to 25 feet tall. Photo by Carole Di Tosti, The Orchid Show at NYBG.

Theordore Roethke described orchids blooms as adder tonged. The 13th Annual Orchid Show at the NYBG. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

Theodore Roethke described orchids blooms as adder mouthed. The 13th Annual Orchid Show at the NYBG. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

But in reality there are some orchids in the glass case right now that in the palm of your hand in that miniature plant you can hold anywhere from 700 to 1,000 individual blooms on a single plant. Of course, the flowers are so tiny, they are no bigger than the head of a pin, but it is wonderful to hold a plant with that many beautiful flowers. They are from a range of geographic habitats, everywhere from Australia, Southeast Asia, South America, and a range of sizes [1/16 of an inch in diameter to giants more than 25 feet tall], colors, shapes. It’s one of the things that surprises people when they come to the Orchid Show. It’s not just the beauty of our displays, but the extreme diversity within one plant family, the orchid family.

These very rare miniatures – were they sent?

NYBG, orchids, The Orchid Show, Marc Hachadourian, Orchid Curator at NYBG

An adder-mouthed Phalaenopsis. NYBG The Orchid Show: Chandeliers. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

No these are part of our permanent collection that we grow in the back of the greenhouses and that we bring out when they flower.

Do you grow them by seed?

We grow them by division mostly. Sometimes, they will be sourced by specialist orchid nurseries and because we have not only a display collection but a noted research collection, one of my important jobs as the curator of the orchid collection is making sure that we have the proper diversity and a proper survey of the orchid family represented in our botanical collections, so researchers all over the world can come here and use our collections.

It is much like a living library of plants. So if you want to think of it as a library collection or an art collection, that fits. If you specialize in Impressionism, you want to make sure you have a few Monets and a few of this and a few of that. It’s the same thing with developing an institutional orchid collection.

It is much like a living library of plants. So if you want to think of it as a library collection or an art collection, that fits. If you specialize in Impressionism, you want to make sure you have a few Monets and a few of this and a few of that. It’s the same thing with developing an institutional orchid collection.

There are thousands of orchids displayed in airy chandelier baskets at the NYBG Orchid Show. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

There are thousands of orchids displayed in airy chandelier baskets at the NYBG Orchid Show. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

orchids, NYBG, Orchid Show, orchid chandeliers, Marc Hahadourian

Orchids love filtered light and plenty of air around their roots. They grow from seed or division; seed is harder. NYBG Orchid Show. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

You want to make sure you have representative display, not only orchids from each country, but from each type of orchid that grows around the world. So we have one of the largest and one of the most widely represented orchid collections of any institution in the world.

There are also orchids for sale at the NYBG garden shop. When the weather is nicer, I will buy a pansy orchid. The Orchid Show. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

There are also orchids for sale at the NYBG garden shop. When the weather is nicer, I will buy a pansy orchid. The Orchid Show. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

This is the centerpiece orchid chandelier catching the hues of light and smiling down on all who pass under the basket. 13th Annual Orchid Show, NYBG. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

This is the centerpiece orchid chandelier catching the hues of light and smiling down on all who pass under the basket. 13th Annual Orchid Show, NYBG. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

The orchid family is the largest flowering plant family. There are over 30,000 naturally occurring species and now over 150,000 man-made hybrids. They’re found on every continent of the world except Antarctica and everywhere from deserts to swamps to tropical rain forests, even up to the Arctic tundra. So even places that you don’t usually associate with orchids normally have orchids. When you think of this family, you think of the tropics, the rainforest, but there are orchids native to Alaska. And there are even orchids growing within Manhattan itself. There are native species.

orchids, NYBG, The Orchid Show, Marc Hachadourian

Orchids come in an incredible range of colors that would make crayola jealous. NYBG The Orchid Show. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

orchids, NYBG, Orchid Show, Marc Hachadourian, orchid curator at NYBG

When I was a kid, I found a Lady’s Slipper on LI. It was beautiful and wild. I left the plant alone. NYBG, The Orchid Show. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

Lady Slipper?

I don’t know if there are any Lady Slippers still growing in Manhattan, but there are Lady Slipper species growing throughout New York State.

Many of these native species, which are protected by law, can still be found, although rarely in the Tri-State area [New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut]. So these are a few details that you wouldn’t normally think about orchids.

NYBG Orchid Show, orchids, NYBG, orchid curator, Marc Hachadourian, orchid gardening

I can never tire of looking at these pictures of orchids the harbinger of spring. NYBG The Orchid Show: Chandeliers. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

Are there species that you think are still undiscovered or that you are trying to get a hold of that are very rare?

Absolutely. There are many rare orchid species. It is just a matter of patience before we are able to acquire some of those plants and add them

to our collection. Just like there are very few Vermeers in our world and everybody would like to have one as a part of their art collection, these rare plants are a bit more challenging to come by. But in our orchid collection, there are orchid species that are discovered every year. Dozens of species are newly described. People might go into an area they’ve never been before and find something new. Sometimes they are right under your nose. There are areas that are well traveled that have orchids. But you would have to have been there at exactly the right moment to see the orchid flower.

orchids, NYBG, Marc Hachadourian, The Orchid Show

These are popular pansy orchids. They have a sweet face and they are the colorful chandeliers of light thronging the path over your head. The Orchid Show, NYBG. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

So it’s fascinating that every year there are so many new species described and discovered.

Some of these orchids, the rare ones, must be extremely valuable.

The value on some of these orchids to the obsessive collector wanting the rarest of the rare, the most unusual plant can create an exaggerated pricing.

Like the tulips? [we both laugh].

Yeah, almost like the tulip mania of the 15-16th centuries. But the value we place on our plants is not something financial. It’s conservation value, biological diversity value. For some of these plants it may be that they have a wonderful history or the orchid may be a rare hybrid. So for that, their value would be almost priceless for what they represent in the orchid family.

NYBG, The Orchid Show, orchids, Marc Hachadourian

Another type of orchid variety that prefers to be on the ground. NYBG The Orchid Show: Chandeliers. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

The loss of one? I know how I feel if I lose an orchid or one of my plants; I’m devastated.

Well, I’m sad. If it’s something beyond your control then you do get sad at those moments. But there are more successes than failures, so that makes up for it.

You must have read Susan Orlean’s book, The Orchid Thief?

I have to admit I never read the book. The reason why is that it is a somewhat fictionalized account about people that I know. So it’s kind of odd to read since it’s based on a series of actual events and I know some of the people involved. It almost kind of feels awkward to me. So it would be like if someone made a fictional tale about your life, you’d be reading it. But it’s a wonderful book and I’ve read parts of it. I never have read it in its entirety. Probably, the real key is having that free time to be able to read it. [we laugh]

NYBG, orchids, The Orchid Show, Marc Hachadourian

Ground orchids that complement the light filled colorful orchid chandeliers. NYBG, The Orchid Show. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

Thanks so much for speaking to me. You are so knowledgeable, I enjoyed talking with you.

Enjoy the show.

Oh, one more question. You were going to check on how many orchids comprise the Orchid Show.

Mark confers with a colleague who says, “We always say thousands.”

One might die at any moment.

We are replacing plants throughout the show so the exact number is always changing. We know that at any one time there are thousands. Having anyone actually count them…?

No – it would be a dizzying effort.

The 13th Annual NYBG Orchid Show: Chandeliers is being exhibited now until April 19th, 2015. Click here for tickets.

The 13th Annual Orchid Show-a Magnificent Herald of Spring at the NYBG

A centerpiece of orchids at the introduction of the NYBG Orchid Show. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

A centerpiece of orchids at the introduction of the NYBG Orchid Show. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

March 5th, a plane at LaGuardia skidded off the icy, snowy runway. A wet, unwelcome, sterile, white dirge blanketed the area. Who knows how many more intermittent days of abysmal cold, sleet, snow, and ice will oppress? Though there seems no end to this weariness, there is a herald of spring at the New York Botanical Gardens.

It is the 13th Annual Orchid Show. A renaissance of beauty and hope hangs high in the orchid baskets’ blazing, airy, living, colorful auras. These amazing and most popular of flowering plants shine their blossoms and illuminate their colors upward toward the palatial ceiling of the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory.

How welcome to me are these stunning, brilliantly conceived and executed flowery clusters. They are truly a spiritual and emotional uplift to take me to the end of the long, blistering winter to sing in the sweetness of springtime.

13th Annual NYBG Orchid Show. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

13th Annual NYBG Orchid Show. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

Dazzling chandeliers of orchid color at the NYBG Orchid Show. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

Dazzling chandeliers of orchid color at the NYBG Orchid Show. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

The theme of the show this year couldn’t be more appropriate or illuminating; it is “Chandeliers.” Everywhere you saunter through the delicate looking Victorian-style glasshouse, you see the mysterious, sensual, ripe, and fecund vividness of arcing orchids curving out like delicate feathers. There are thousands of them.

Pendant, striking orchids at the Orchid Show: Chandeliers, NYBG. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

Pendant, striking orchids at the Orchid Show: Chandeliers, NYBG. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

Different varieties of orchids create a lacy effect. The Orchid Show: Chandeliers, NYBG. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

Different varieties of orchids create a lacy effect. The Orchid Show: Chandeliers, NYBG. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

Pools of water reflect their petals in a kaleidoscope of pastels, tints, shades, and darkest hues. Not only are the Cymbidium and Cycnoches landscaped exquisitely amongst the flora of the greens, reds, yellows of the ferns, palms, dracenas, and other botanical varieties that flourish in abundance in the warmth and moisture of the conservatory. But the adder-tongued (Theodore Roethke’s description), blooming plants are the stellar creations, the showpieces above the pathways in pendant, lustrous, rainbow baskets.


13th Annual Orchid Show: Chandeliers at the NYBG. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

Pansy orchids beckon on the pathway into the conservatory depths at The Orchid Show: Chandeliers, NYBG. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

Pansy orchids beckon on the pathway into the conservatory depths at The Orchid Show: Chandeliers, NYBG. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

Their powerful, subtle beauty is the  growing candelabra that lights the way. The orchid chandeliers are a vibrant multi-layered overflow of pinks, violets, whites, tawny oranges, yellows, purples, reds. It is enough to mesmerize and gladden the most sorrowful and dour of hearts. Look up, twirl around, everywhere are Cattleyas and Phalaenopsis of a multitude of varieties and a range of colors that poor crayola only wishes they could duplicate.

For the first time, the concept “Chandeliers” throngs the crystal palace Conservatory, slipping beyond the Seasonal Exhibition Galleries into the Tropical Rain Forest Galleries and others.The exhibit is conceptualized and designed by the Botanical Garden’s Francisca Coelho, the Vivian and Edward Merrin Vice President for Glasshouses and Exhibitions, who is noted as “the best female head gardener working under glass today.”

The next time I visit the show, I will try to purchase a pansy orchid at the Garden Shop. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

The next time I visit the show, I will try to purchase a pansy orchid at the Garden Shop. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

But as in other past orchid shows, the amazing history and conservation stories of rare and endangered orchids in the rain forests of the world are included and can be read on the cards throughout the exhibit or listened to on one’s mobile phone.

Throughout the Garden’s 250 acres in its various venues, The Orchid Show: Chandeliers allows guests the opportunity to learn about the largest family of flowering plants through tours, orchid care demonstrations, and discussions about how the elegant flower chandeliers were made.

There are over 150,000 man-made orchid hybrids. The Orchid Show: Chandeliers, NYBG. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

There are over 150,000 man-made orchid hybrids. The Orchid Show: Chandeliers, NYBG. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

The arrangement at The 13th Annual Orchid Show at NYBG are breathtaking. PHoto by Carole Di Tosti

The arrangement at The 13th Annual Orchid Show at NYBG are breathtaking. PHoto by Carole Di Tosti

The snow is still falling into the evening. I didn’t buy any orchids when I visited the beloved NYBG shop because I was afraid they would get a chill and “catch their deaths.” It was below freezing and the wind crinkled my face walking to the Enid A Haupt Conservatory. However, the moment the light brightens, the sun is higher overhead and it’s closer to spring, I will return to buy a piquant, fuschia pansy orchid if there are any left. Or I might go for a glass of wine during one of the Orchid Evenings and stop at the shop on my way out. I’ll check to see if there’s an unusual Cattleya for sale. After all, the show runs until April 19, 2015. By then Spring will have adorned us with her presence and my newly bought orchids will remain out of reach of cold cruelty as winter marches toward Peru.

The 13th Annual Orchid Show (Chandeliers) is at The New York Botanical Gardens until April 19, 2015. Click here for tickets.

This feature article first appeared on Blogcritics. Click here.

Michael Urie (Ugly Betty, Buyer and Cellar) in ‘WTC View,’ His Breakout Film Debut: A Review

Michael and Elizabeth Kapplow in 'WTC View,' directed by Brian Sloan about the aftermath of 911 and its impact on New Yorkers. Photo from the film.

Michael and Elizabeth Kapplow in ‘WTC View,’ directed by Brian Sloan about the aftermath of 911 and its impact on New Yorkers. Photo from the film.

A long time ago in a world far away there lived a thirty-something named Eric who, on a Sunday evening, placed an online ad for a roommate to share his two-bedroom Soho apartment in Manhattan. The following day, the world shifted off its axis and Eric never would be the same again. Nor would his former roommate, nor his former lover Will, nor any New Yorker, for that matter. From September 11, 2001, onward, there would be no turning back for any of us. In the days following, though Eric received calls on his answering machine from young men who wanted to come down immediately and see his apartment, they would have to wait.

Unlike a number of films about September 11, 2001, chronicling the tragedy, sorrow and heroism of that day’s events, WTC View written, directed and produced by Brian Sloan and starring Michael Urie (Ugly Betty, Buyer and Cellar, What’s Your Emergency-director ), is about the days that follow September 11, revealing an exclusive portrait of how one individual tries to get through his personal difficulties while living in a devastated and traumatized Manhattan as the full impact of the towers’ collapse echoed and still echoes to this day. In the film’s opening, Brian Sloan cleverly slides shots with a voice over of news about the event in a crawl with the date of days passing until Eric (Michael Urie in an exceptionally acted and beautifully nuanced portrayal), is allowed back into the area; he was staying with a friend in Brooklyn.

Michael Linstroth in 'WTC View' directed by Brian Sloan. A film about the aftermath of 911 in the lives of New Yorkers. Photo from the film.

Michael Linstroth in ‘WTC View’ directed by Brian Sloan. A film about the aftermath of 911 in the lives of New Yorkers. Photo from the film.

The still shots, voice over, and crawl which Sloan uses as a bridge for time passing and transition to the various segments of the film is an effective summation of what has occurred without emphasizing any horrific external images of the death planes, the conflagration and smoke, the buildings collapsing, or dramatic rescue and cleanup. Sloan is more concerned about how the emotional stress and trauma continues to play out in the minds and imaginations of those who either witnessed it live, saw the event on TV, or lost family or friends in the collapse. He represents this by predominately focusing his camera on Eric’s and the other characters’ faces and facial expressions.

In an astutely understated way, by spotlighting the reactions of individuals within the interior rooms of Eric’s apartment, symbolizing the interior emotional landscape of their being, Sloan reveals the power of such an incident on everyone. Through his camera direction we understand that we cannot help but anchor the event and aftermath as defining moments in our lives, whether we are consciously aware of it or not. It is a reckoning for us and especially for New Yorkers, but Sloan’s intention brings about a shared experience of expiation and healing. It is a one-of-a-kind film about the aftermath of September 11, 2001, on an intimate level. The result is powerful, poignant, and empathetic.

The arc of the film follows Eric from the moment that he arrives in his apartment to interview the first prospective roommate nine days later on September 20th. The film concludes on October 1, 2001, after he rents the entire apartment. He comes to this decision during the film as we watch him emotionally disintegrate as he experiences the jarring revelations of personal trauma over the stress of 9/11, exacerbated by living in the apartment and interviewing prospective roommates who invariably discuss the event. At the conclusion of Eric’s interior trials, Sloan shows him finally stepping outside the building; he is ready to face a grieving Manhattan and his own inner pain and loss. The decision to give up the apartment indicates he recognizes his emotional crisis (the stress of 9/11 is a part of it), and realizes he must begin to deal with his problems in a constructive way. Sloan has written a complex work that was initially based on his stage play of the same title. The film is an intricacy of captured moments of humor, drama, intimacy, intensity, sadness, and hope, made alive with a rendering that he beautifully instills with cinematic elements that enhance the tropes of the play.

Michael Urie as Eric in 'WTC View,' directed by Brian Sloan. This film was his breakout film debut. Photo courtesy of the film.

Michael Urie as Eric in ‘WTC View,’ directed by Brian Sloan. This film was his breakout film debut. Photo courtesy of the film.

The situation is iconic for every urban dweller; apartment hunting, roommate hunting, so we are interested and engaged in Eric’s search for the “right person” to share his “space.” Initially, we do not understand the full and symbolic import of what this means, for Sloan during the course of the film gradually reveals the mysteries of what has happened to Eric emotionally. By the end we finally understand the impact and importance of his roommate search and what “sharing the space” fully means.

Along the journey of the “search” we note that Eric and those who visit him are incredibly impacted by “the WTC view” outside his Soho apartment window. The window is in the bedroom where the roommate will be resting each night. It is the “dreams that may come” that give the various characters pause from immediately agreeing to rent, though they politely refrain from saying that it might be “the view” of the horror of the WTC site that is giving them pause. Sloan adroitly whispers this and doesn’t make a huge point of it; it is intimated by Eric who states that beforehand getting a roommate happened quickly and easily, since living space was impossible to find in Manhattan (it’s much harder and more expensive a decade later). The reality with all of its meaning is just under the surface of Eric’s consciousness. He knows that the sight outside his window is a truly gruesome and devastating view, but he is in denial. He has suppressed this reality and others which are gradually revealed to us by the conclusion of the film.

Though the characters never say they will not rent because of what they see out of window, all do discuss the events of 9/11 and their experiences; one was in the building and miraculously escaped. Each story, each character is representative of how individuals have confronted the events or avoided thinking about them. The subtlety of how the subject is avoided and then eventually brought by the potential roommates is threaded throughout the interviews and astutely written with authenticity as are Sloan’s characterizations who are quintessential, real and recognizable New Yorkers: the friend, the landlord, the bond trader, the manager, the political assistant, the student, etc. Their interactions with Eric are vibrant and engaging. Nevertheless, they invariably end up in the abyss of the burning debris and smoke of the fires which are acutely visible outside of Eric’s apartment window, but which the director brilliantly never shows. Sloan leaves this up to our imagination as we watch the reaction of the characters as they look at (what we imagine is) the smoking rubble of human dreams pluming upward. We are caught in their reactions which are ours, and somehow together there is revelation and shared understanding and empathy that uplifts.

The window overlooking a sight too horrific for all of us to see. From 'WTC View,' directed by Brian Sloan. Photo courtesy of the film.

The window overlooking a sight too horrific for all of us to see. From ‘WTC View,’ directed by Brian Sloan. Photo courtesy of the film.

The film is a much needed rendering of that day and all the days that happened after 9/11. Sloan, with the masterful Urie at the helm and the fine ensemble of actors (Elizabeth Kapplow as Josie (Eric’s friend) and Nick Potenzieri as the bond trader are excellent), has found a way to bring us together to expiate that time for all time and remind us that we must be there for each other despite the current return to “normalcy” and “apparent” New Yorker insouciance. In the film’s humanity and emotional intimacy, we can remember, connect with our own feelings and be recharged to clarity as Eric is. For those who have little knowledge of how people felt in the immediacy of the aftermath because they witnessed from afar, the film is a poignant, powerful, and sometimes humorous record of that time in the personal emotions of New Yorkers. Certainly, it is an important “view,” even if you didn’t have an apartment in Soho.

The WTC View will be available for the first time in its original HD format and is on sale on iTunes for purchase and rental. It originally premiered in NYC at the New Festival in 2005 and was broadcast after screening on the festival circuit. The national broadcast premiere was on MTV’s Logo Channel and aired on the 5th anniversary of 9/11 in 2006. It was also released on DVD by TLA Video.

The 10th Anniversary Edition of WTC View in its first-time HD Format is available on iTunes.

Click here for the HD version of WTC View on iTunes.

This review first appeared on Blogcritics.

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