Category Archives: Off Broadway
Wives written by Jaclyn Backhaus directed by Margot Bordelon is a playful, farcical, quasi-philosophical comedy about women freeing themselves from the definitions and oppressions men have “gently” bestowed on them. Considering that most women outlive their spouses today, if women live long after their husbands have died, shouldn’t they be able to redefine their lives into a new evolution? Wives in attempting to grapple with this question features four segments with different settings to reveal how the women, some celebrated, some unknown, confronted their freedom after the dominant male in their lives lost power or expired.
Backhaus’ plays is a series of self-contained vignettes that require the audience to understand a bit about each setting as it twits the character wives and their husbands or in the case of India (third vignette) colonial institutions. The first wife is the amazing, vilified, powerful and ingenious Catherine de’ Medici (Purva Bedi portrays the wealthy Italian noblewoman) whom her relative Pope Clement VII, labeled her marriage to French Duke of Orléans as the “greatest match in the world,” taking credit for the arrangement. When her husband became King Henri (Sathya Sridharan) she was vaulted her into the position of Queen of France. But she rarely saw Henri who favored his mistress Diane de Poiters (Aadya Bedi). Only after ten years when her life as Queen depended on producing an heir, did Cathy begin to have sex with Henri to produce ten children, seven of whom lived to adulthood with her.
Backhaus emphasizes Catherine’s spurning by Henri for Diane with hyperbolic humor. In real life, de Poiters had a lot of influence in the court, most probably because she was twenty years older and more experienced in court politics and intrigue than both Henry and Catherine who were the same age. In the farcical nature of this segment King Henri, Queen Cathy and Diane are hyper-modernized, two-dimensional caricatures to prove the point that women, subject to their husband’s whims, must swallow their subdued portion and be oppressed by them as Cathy was by Henri and Diane. The scene between Cathy and Diane where they scream ghetto-speak epithets to each other is funny and references pointed conflict that women will empathize with. Also, Adina Verson’s cooking lesson in a flippant direct address with a tray of chickens and squishy onion or two provides great humor at the outset of the scene.
Because Backhaus doesn’t indicate why, we are left with the impression that Diane de Poitiers (Aadya Bedi) is perceived to be superior to Catherine (Purva Bedi) for the reason that she is either younger or more flirtatious. The reason is more complicated. Nevertheless, as we note the death of Henri after a jousting match injury and Cathy’s rejection of Diane’s presence from court and removal from Henri’s will, we are heartened by a wonderful twist. The two women end up as friends. Cathy’s reasoning is sound; the court expects them to be enemies, however, as Cathy assumes the power that Henri excluded her from, Diane will become very useful as she was for Henri.
Thus, Backhaus emphasizes that only after the dismissive male husband dies are the women able to assist each other. The theme of how men pit women against each other to dominate and oppress is clear as is the women’s glorious freedom to shine after their oppressors leave the planet for what was a man’s world becomes a woman’s world open to redefinition.
Each of the vignettes carries this theme of wives being freed coming out from the shadows of their marriage partners. In the second segment another male death occurs: Hemingway’s. Backhaus places us at his funeral with his two former wives and current wife attending as Big Ern (Sathya Sridharan) gives his own eulogy which he wrote and ends with, “I have nothing to say to my wives: Mary Hemingway, Martha Gellhorn and Hadley Richardson. And Pauline.” However, with the exception of Pauline, the mistress who died, the three played by Purva Bedi, Adina Verson and Aadya Bedi have much to say about Hemingway. And what begins with a discussion of themselves after their divorces ends with a humorous “hate fest” about Hemingway as they drink toasts to his death and share the truth with each other about their relationships with him.
To one extent or another each admits that they allowed him to co-opt their lives as he knocked them out from under themselves in his writings, while they helped him with his manuscripts, served him and took a back seat to his glory. With the admission “we can never write ourselves because he wrote our history for us,” each proclaims what they think Hemingway’s legacy is for them, infusing a description of themselves in the terse Hemingway style.
Of course the irony is that they are still under his shadow not being able to write or live their own legacy apart from him and his “glory.” Coming late to this realization, but encouraged by the others into understanding, Mary (his last wife) joins in with Hadley and Martha into agreeing that his writing was “shitty.” And in the apex of the vignette, the three women like the witches out of Macbeth together ignite an act of symbolic freedom releasing themselves from their identity of “nothingness” to move themselves out from under Hemingway’s oppressive machismo.
The third vignette takes place in 1921 India and begins from the perspective of a colonial (Mr. Patterson) appointed to guarantee the relationship of England with the Maharaja Madho Singh II by halting the influence of the witch Roop Rai who gives healing sessions to the Maharaja. When Patterson threatens violence to stop the healing sessions which he thinks are dangerous to the Maharaja’s life, Roop Rai places him under a powerful spell that humiliates and vanishes him. In the process the Roop Rai, the Maharaja and the Maharini pledge their unity to each other in resisting colonialism and affirm the future freedom of India that will redefine itself out from under its oppressive marriage to England. But the majesty of the moment is forgotten with the names of the individuals, especially Roop Rai whose genius contributed toward the freedom gained.
Backhaus continues the theme of women’s witchery and power and carries it into the present time in the last vignette under supervision of a picture of Virginia Woolf, the classic, misunderstood feminist of her time. In the basement of a fictional university a witch (a member of a commune of witches on campus who have found a safe space to practice their craft) creates a spell. During the spell an acolyte is encouraged to remove the shackles of her forebears whose mores kept women in demeaned servitude as she untethers herself from “the visions made by men.”
Beginning with an incantation that the acolyte repeats as the witch stirs up the ritual toward freedom, “Everything about you is right,” becomes the rallying cry that gives her confidence to examine her ancestry and claim an evolved identity where she can be anything and everything. In this final segment the acolyte, like the other burgeoning feminists we have seen before her (Catherine, Mary, Martha, Hadley, Roop Rai) finds herself, then defines her own being in a poetic direct address to the audience. Purva Bedi Adina Verson and Aadya Bedi and Sathya Sridharan play the various parts.
Wives is a heady production revealing how women in various times discovered their power after the male presence whether paternalistic, macho, colonial or socially institutional is disappeared. Backhaus’ ideas cohere in the script but at times become disjointed in the transference to live stage performance. Some of the problem is in the line delivery; sometimes accents get in the way of intelligibility so that meaning and connections are lost.
The conclusion was beautifully rendered, however, and I couldn’t help but consider in the hope expressed was the great tragedy of the women who had gone before whose genius was repressed by institutional power (paternalistic, colonial, chauvinistic) because of fear. It is as if women, not being allowed or not allowing themselves to realize the fullness of their completion was a wasteful sin of the ages. Backhaus’ work is a great encouragement to the present and future generations of women in the hope that the past will not raise its ugly, deformed head to devour the present strides in women’s enlightenment and contributions of their greatness.
Kudos to the creative team: Reid Thompson (scenic design) Valérie Thérèse Bart (costume design) Amith Chandrashaker (lighting design) Kate Marvin (sound design and original music) J. Jared Janas (hair and wig design).
Wives runs at Playwrights Horizons (West 42nd St. between 9th and 10th) with no intermission until 6th October. For tickets and times CLICK HERE.
‘Fern Hill’ Starring John Glover, Jill Eikenberry and Mark Linn-Baker at 59E59 Theaters, a Sharp, Non-formulaic Comedic Drama About Friendship
Fern Hill by Michael Tucker is about three couples in their golden years who hope to confront the next phase of their lives with joie de vivre and vibrance. The idea of spending one’s last years in the bucolic farmhouse haven, whose name is an allusion to the Dylan Thomas poem “Fern Hill,” where Thomas spent his childhood, is a pleasurable one for the characters. Directed by Nadia Tass, Tucker’s play offers the opportunity for superb actors to shine in a comedy-drama that is relentless, “in your face,” human and clever.
The award-winning cast (Mark Blum, Jill Eikenberry, John Glover, Mark-Linn-Baker, Jodi Long, Ellen Parker) whose combined credits in theater, film and television number over one hundred are simply divine. Throughout, they remain inspired to hit the emotional notes and spark the humor with resonating heat at every turn. The plot twists gyrate the play into increasingly subtle directions until the inevitable result concludes with realism and poignance. Tucker’s thematic points about love, aging, sex, friendship, alienation in marriage, intimacy and more settle well because of fine ensemble work and authentic, moment-to-moment performances.
Initially, the gathering of couples feels like a hippie reunion from the early 1970s. But we discover these individuals have advanced together in friendship and collegiality teaching at a university. Additionally, they have launched themselves in careers as professional artists (painters, writers, photographers and even a musician rocker in a band) who attempt to make a difference as they offer their talents to the world and each other for stimulation, fun and growth. These are the perfect friends to have. They share the same values and intelligence with high social IQs. Indeed, their interactions at “Sunny and Jer’s” farmhouse located upstate in Fern Hill are similar to those represented in Lawrence Kasdan’s film The Big Chill (1983). However, unlike the companions in the film who have not seen each other in five years, these couples frequently meet up and have long-lived friendships that have weathered storms.
Playwright Tucker through Tass’ amiable direction has weaved a happy tableau which we cannot conceive will ever end. And for precious moments the ensemble has made us feel so comfortable that we are happy to witness and be a part of their clan while they enjoy themselves riffing, joking, eating and drinking together. But as we are lulled into their “play,” reality hits with Vincent’s (John Glover) announcement about his hip-replacement. Though Vincent is older, the deterioration that comes with mortality has begun in earnest it seems.
And especially for the men, the creep of fear is plaguing each of them. In this pleasant farmhouse of joy, all does not really bode well. Despite the satisfaction of achieving successful careers, artistic purpose and comfortable lifestyles, the question looms: what remains next for Sunny (Jill Eikenberry) and Jer (Mark Blum), Billy (Mark Linn-Baker, who is a younger, lighter version of David Crosby of the band Crosby, Stills and Nash) and Michiko (Jodi Long), Darla (Ellen Parker) and Vincent (John Glover)? The answer is daunting. After all, “aging is not for sissies” (Bette Davis’ oft quoted comment).
Thinking outside the box during the last four months, these buddies have discussed the finest way to stave off the horror of aging, isolated, alone and desolate among strangers. Rather than be blind-sided by disease, loneliness and depression in the narrow construct of Assisted Living Centers and Nursing Homes, on this birthday celebration for Jer and Billy, they cement their agreement to live together as a commune at Fern Hill so that they can help each other as they transition into the next great adventure after retirement and moving toward their irrevocable sunset.
The playwright takes a while to set up this idyllic place with divine companions that we can visualize living together as an exceptional solution to the nation’s dire aging institutionalization foisted upon older citizens. So we don’t get why Jer attempts to end their discussion and close down a fabulous idea as a fantasy. Even his reasons appear lame: he doesn’t think they can live together; they will sabotage their closeness and loving relationships and end up without each other. When he becomes irate about it, we sense there are deeper reasons.
Tucker spins the plot twist abruptly in a few revelatory lines. Sunny shatters the peace, love and community of friends on this lovely evening with an explosion of truth. This truth threatens to nullify all their efforts at a togetherness that has encouraged power, integrity and strength. Deceitfulness like the worm of age leers at each of the characters so that they must check themselves and deal with this problem between Sunny and Jer which is also their problem.
It is fascinating to watch character responses. The wisdom and humor that emerges engages with honesty and love. And regardless of whether their camaraderie appears a bit fantastic or completely possible, Tucker has written a fine work that is grounded in logic and constructed brick by brick with solid characterizations. Finally, the actors’ portrayals are spot-on so that every segment of the journey that Sunny and Jer take to where they must go to resolve their relationship issues makes sense and seems right. Encouraged, we have followed them recognizing ourselves in their foibles and earthy humanity.
This is a terrific production made all the more exceptional by the performances and direction. Kudos to the creative team without which this ensemble piece would not have been neatly realized: Jessica Parks (scenic designer) Patricia E. Doherty (costume design) Kate MGee (lighting designer) Kenneth Goodwin (sound designer).
Fern Hill is currently running at 59E59 Theaters (59E59th Street between Madison and Lexington) with one intermission until 20 October. For tickets and times CLICK HERE.
So what’s life like for a lovely Jewish girl as she evolves into a lovely Jewish woman who marries a few times and has a fulfilling family life with husband and children after a long inquiring journey toward finding her voice? Lois Robbins (TV Land’s “Younger”; Cactus Flower) directed by Karen Carpenter (Love, Loss, and What I Wore) in her solo, one-woman show L.O.V.E.R. explains it all to you with tongue-in-cheek humor and great good will. As she entertainingly confesses her journey of many loves, she explains how she reconciles her loves and and losses to settle into her own measure of womanhood, confident and serene at the last.
With scenic design by Jo Winiarski, lighting design by Jeanette Oi-Suk Yew, sound design by Jane Shaw and styling by Fayola Ricotta, Lois Robbins’ woman shares her early stories of budding sexuality before she even realized what she was doing (masturbating) but it “really felt good.” There wasn’t an edge of a table or a vibrating washing machine she didn’t pass up. It was only much later in her burgeoning sexual love life did she realize what she had accomplished as a youngster.
The retelling of these events during her childhood are humorous and playful. Certainly, she had found a source of comfort and enjoyment without the stigma of “religious” guilt dumped on her. This is the first of Robbins’ bravo moments. Her happy-go-lucky attitude and finesse steer the show through many such fun, lively, authentic moments.
From this young age Robbins chronicles her youth and beyond. The stories she spins of boyfriends and relationships eventually bring her to the doors of marriage which she relates as a unique adventure with her first husband. Throughout, her quips and commentary resound with humanity and wit. She always seems to land on her feet as wisdom trails her journey into divorce and a second marriage which satisfies.
Both men and women will enjoy Robbins’ energy and vitality as she relates a variety of tales that are humorous, unusual and memorable. Throughout, we are reminded of ourselves in young love, impulsivity, marriage, relationship woes, mishaps and sheer zaniness. And then as Robbins so eloquently relates, she matures to understand the impact of her actions on herself and others. As this canny woman pulls herself together, she walks on the lighter side of life. By doing so she gains our empathy and we enjoy sitting back and listening to the final events in her evolution as a woman, who at the end, is able to define for herself what the letters L.O.V.E.R. mean for her.
This vibrant comedy is for you if you are looking for a break from darker aspects of love, life and relationships that end abruptly or sour into bitterness. There is little of the cryptic or cynical here. That is refreshing! Robbins’s gift is her ability to engage the audience as a confidante. Gradually, willingly the audience travels with her on her adventures as a listening friend. Robbins has mastered a relaxed delivery shepherded by the apt direction of Karen Carpenter. And with the use of the minimalistic set (stairs wrapped in a flowing sheet as an everpresent reminder where love often happens, between the sheets) the solo performance slips by with ease to achieve its satisfying conclusion.
L.O.V.E.R. is enjoying its Off Broadway premiere. It runs without an intermission at The Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre (480 West 42nd Street) at The Pershing square Signature Center. The last performance is Saturday, 2 November. For tickets and times CLICK HERE.
Jim Steinman’s Bat out of Hell the Musical is first and foremost a clangorous, booming Hard Rock/Pop Concert on a small stage with operatic, bespectacled overtones. In other words, the production is an amazing hybrid not easily categorized. Replete with strobes, underground caves and fiery doomsday projections, intimate video hand-held captures which codify emotional moments and the blaring fantasmagoria of myriad-colored flashing lights with haze and fog, the musical numbers are loud and shattering and the unusual choreography evokes the strangeness of the futuristic setting. These are characters not of our time, but with emotional resonances we can feel and glory with.
Based on bestselling Meat Loaf albums, Steinman wrote the book, music and lyrics. He has been working on this magnum opus for years and has managed to garner awards during his production tours which began in 2017 up to and after the London West End Tour which beamed its startrails to Off Broadway at the New York City Center where it ends on 8 September. Five days ago, Meatloaf showed up on stage to celebrate this vibrant, blasting out of the park musical production directed by Jay Scheib. With the cast he celebrated songs he made famous from the 1970s through his Grammy Award win in 1994 and beyond.
Bat out of Hell’s sketchy story coheres to its slim plot points. These gyrate the action into a “world’s end” scenario that casts as enemies the haves like the Falcos, well placed elites with a pedigree living high above in the neo-gothish “Falco Towers” (slamming Trump Towers) and the have nots (The Lost Boys/Girls). The latter clan are Oliver Twist urchin-orphans, who live a hard scrabble existence in abandoned subway tunnels underground, making wild music, partying and ferreting out their existence with above ground raids. Their keyword is freedom and the innocence and wildness of reveling in being what the mainstream culture refers them to as “lost.” Indeed, it is the other way around. With their power and money, Sloane and Falco have become lost to what they once were and what they once enjoyed. The theme, sometimes you need to launch off and take a break from your own imprisoning fears and corrupted values (which Falco and Sloane eventually do) you can restore the passion and vitality of youth which is spiritual and never “lost.”
As perpetual teens (it’s a Peter Panish spin as their metabolic physical processes never age past 18-years-old), Strat and his band also attempt to stay one step ahead of cudgelings by autocratic Falco’s security forces who intend to eradicate them like the “vermin” they are. However, this street gang is poetic; their “vermin-state” is romantic as Strat proves to Raven (the sylph-like, melodically voiced Christina Bennington). Ignoring her parents’ dictum to stay away from the miscreants, she is lured by the sonorous, powerful Strat (Andrew Polec is mesmerizingly fabulous; you cannot take your eyes off him), attracted to his energy, resourcefulness and ever abundant enthusiasm. Like a super-hyped engine, he charges Raven’s curiosity, daring and love. Eventually, her boredom with privilege and oppression by her father lead her Juliet-like (there is even a balcony scene) to Strat’s emotional, heart-throbbing Romeo.
The character developments are primarily revealed through the dynamism of Steinman’s songs and the superb acting, dance-movements and singing talents of Andrew Polec (Strat) Bradley Dean (Falco) and Lena Hall (Sloane). Interestingly, unlike the others whose movements and actions remain purposeful, especially when delivering an intense, revved up song, Raven’s movements during the time she is influenced by her parents are like those of a jelly-fish with no backbone. Only after she leaves home for one night with Strat, does she gain strength and resolve and her movements become more directed.
During the course of the two act musical, we witness how wife Sloane (Lena Hall’s voice is unparalleled) resists Falco’s love and motivates him to change with her anger and remembrances of their love from the past (the fabulous “Paradise by the Dashboard Light”). Bradley Dean, like Andrew Polec, delivers his songs with incredible verve and realism (“What Part of My Body Hurts the Most,” “Who Needs the Young,” etc.) He is mesmerizing. The Dean and Hall duets are highpoints; balance, strength, power encapsulate their emotional potency in a unified whole. Wow!
Thankfully, all turns on love restored between Falco and Sloane. However, the poignance that Strat will never move past 18-years-old while Raven reaches her late forties is a reality not easily traversed. The ideal that love is the answer, if not the reality is one of the finest moments for the entire ensemble with solos by the protagonists in “I’d Do anything for Love (But I won’t Do That).” And somehow we let pass the hard distinctions of youthfulness and old age that Raven hits Strat with; this trope is easily forgotten and passed over by the rousing, gobsmacking finale.
Outstanding cast members who belt out their souls are the couple Jagwire (Tyrick Wiltez Jones) and Zahara (Danielle Steers). Like Sloane and Falco, this would-be couple remains apart until the end. And their performance together is nothing short of stunning as it melds with the other couples’ renditions into the iconic “I’d Do Anything for Love (But I won’t Do That).” Additionally, Avionce Hoyles’ (Tink, a Tinkerbell allusion to Peter Pan) and Andrew Polec’s number which both sing while Tink is dying is heartfelt and gut-wrenching. Polec and Hoyles are one’s to watch for their inherent star power.
Kudos go to the following creatives: Ryan Cantwell (musical director) Howard Joines (music coordinator) Edward Pierce Studio (design supervision) Steve Sidwell (orchestrator) Jon Bausor (set and costume designer) Meentje Nielsen (original costume designer) Finn Ross (video designer) Patrick Woodroffe (lighting designer) Gareth Owen (sound designer) Xena Gusthart (choreography adaptor) Michael Reed (musial supervisor and additional arrangements).
Presented at New York City Center, Bat out of Hell the Musical is at the end of its run, closing on 8 September unless it is extended which it should be. It is that phenomenal. It runs in two acts. You can purchase tickets online if you CLICK HERE.
Domenia Feraud’s brilliantly constructed, intimate and fascinating Rinse Repeat, is about one woman’s attempt to grapple with a disease pervasive in our culture, but which few discuss and many keep hidden. Feraud’s play at Pershing Square’s Signature Center (The Linney) receives a cogent, eye-opening, much needed rendering in this astounding production expertly directed by by Kate Hopkins and exceptionally acted by an “in the moment,” acute, dynamic ensemble..
From the outset when Rachel (Domenica Feraud’s portrayal is specific, highly tuned and real) enters the home she has left for a season to return to her family, we are gripped by her tentative steps, her unsettled, hesitant manner. Surely, her unease comes out of something which has happened there; her expectation hovers in the air like a darkened cloud, and we pick up her imbalance which leaves us in a hushed suspense.
All this is put to rest, however, when beautiful mother Joan (the superb Florencia Lozano) and warm, loving father Peter (the heartfelt and engaging Michael Hayden) greet her enthusiastically and smother her in smiles and encouraging, welcoming comments about “how wonderful she looks” and how happy they are to see her and have her back. Yet, clues are dropped. Her mom asks if she may hug her: importuning if her daughter is ready to receive her affection? Curious! And her laconic, 18-year-old brother, the haphazardly funny Brody, whose response to his sister is frank and unapologetic, gives her a less than gracious hug that is cold and brief. This unsettles the atmosphere once more. We question: is that just Brody’s character or does it reflect “what happened” before Rachel left?
Jake Ryan Lozano’s portrayal as Brody garners laughs with his callow, humorous, teen-male demeanor, obsessed with his girlfriend and sports. (The portrayal blossoms in their quiet sister/brother time together later in the play when Lozano’s Brody allows his love and sensitivity to unfold with poignance.) Initially, Brody seems uninterested in her presence, but tips us off that her return is something he may fear when he implies he doesn’t want to introduce her to his girlfriend to scare her off and that her physical appearance the last time he saw her “was scary.”
As we watch these interactions, we synthesize the clues and the picture sharpens. Rachel has been in intense therapy that involved she be away from family. Before she left, she was in a wheelchair, too weak to walk. But now she appears physically fit. Therapy has saved her life. Back in the environment that bred her illness, can she maintain the health she has achieved or will she suffer a set back into her addiction?
The playwright gradually unfolds the mystery of what happened before that on the surface upended the loving, “normal” family. The family was never “normal;” nor was it unconditionally loving. Peter and Joan are rife with issues and problems in their relationship and in themselves; blindness, fear and anger have prevented them from confronting themselves honestly and this has spilled onto their relationships with their children.
Feraud has drawn the matrix of illness interrelating it with Rachel, Joan and Peter primarily. Ironically, the complications of Rachel’s addiction are the manifestation of profound issues with each of the family members. Like a festering boil which comes to a head then is burst so the infection is released, Rachel’s addiction has been burst to impact the family on a manifest level. However, for the infection to be eliminated, it must be excised at the root and that means Joan and Peter and even Brody must be excised in therapy with Rachel if she is to live with them in health. They are her addiction as well as being psychically ill themselves. However, only Rachel understands this.
For those who have suffered in similitude with Rachel’s illness, they will identify with her behaviors and immediately “get it.” And indeed, the “tell-tale” signs of how her sickness morphs her back toward unhealthy patterns explodes again and again during the weekend with Peter, Joan and Brody. During her discussion with Brody in a quiet time of night, we appreciate the serenity and honesty between the siblings, an honesty that is lacking in her relationship with her mother and father. Placed back into the family structure that is in effect a sham, Rachel and Brody huddle in their own corner of their lives. Peter’s and Joan’s marriage is crumbling with dishonesty. Brody and Rachel sense it and suffer, and will be happy to leave the festering wounds that work deep underground in the soils of their family’s lives and interrelationships.
The details of Rachel’s eating disorder are superbly portrayed. We note her family’s concern about Rachel’s eating as they sit down to a meal together all on their best behavior, playing the dutiful family members the first night. The turning point comes when Rachel speaks to her mother that evening and looks for a snack. Her mother pressures her about her career and the snack. The dutiful daughter, Rachel agrees with her mother and foregoes the snack, which she is not supposed to do according to the protocol of health set up for her by her therapists. The tiny detail and the seemingly benign interaction between mother and daughter spills controlling maternal poison that psychically infuses Rachel’s emotions and careens her back into her old self-damaging behaviors.
The next day, all unravels and the underpinnings of the problems that contributed to Rachel’s illness emerge. Back in an environment where she is the sacrifice and the target around which everyone places the blame, no one else appears to accept responsibility for their contributions in the matrix of self-destruction twining into Rachel’s addiction. Indeed, unless the others, especially Joan, who herself is eating disordered, reflect on their own psychic maladies and seek help to correct, Rachel is doomed to fail once more if she stays at home.
This is the anatomy of an illness that Feraud incisively chronicles with emotional power and intense, accurate specificity. As each event builds on the ones that have gone before we understand the magnitude and the complexity of why people die from Rachel’s anorexia, and chronic eating disorders. Feraud unravels the tapestry with an incredible precision of detailed acts that show how Rachel slides back into a routine of bulimia, binging/purging, excessive weighing and body dysmorphia, which Joan, unconsciously, neglectfully perpetrates with the controlling pressure on Rachel to do as she suggests regarding a legal career and eating less than she should.
On the other hand, though Peter, having gone to therapy at Renley with Rachel, appears to be sympathetic and concerned, he too drops the ball regarding monitoring her care. Both parents leave her alone to fend for herself, a violation of the protocol which therapists established to make sure she will not relapse. For those “unfamiliar” with eating disorders, Feraud ‘s characterization of the struggling Rachel is one for the ages. And as Rachel weighs the bagels and takes the smallest one, stuffs down the delicious French toast then spits it out, the looming psychology of why one must watch one’s weight and not “get fat,” reveals the self-fulfilling monster that is devouring the anorexic like Rachel from inside out.
Sadly, as Feraud points out in her “Note from the playwright,” Rachel is not alone. Thirty million people suffer from an eating disorder; truth be told, the numbers are most probably much larger considering the cultural obsession of the fashion, advertising, plastic surgery and billion dollar weight loss industries which ply their guilt on women to be thin and look sleek, young and beautiful at every age.
The play is filled with the signs of nefarious eating oddities that plague not only women of all ages but men as well. Perhaps the scene that most resonates, is one enacted incredibly by Florencia Lozano’s Joan. Having been too busy to eat, Joan, who deprives herself of food to maintain her lovely body comes home ravaged with uncontrollable hunger. We watch stunned as standing by the counter, too impatient to set a place for herself at the table while she cooks a meal (Peter does the cooking; she avoids it) she crams her face with anything low calorie to stave off her “insane” cravings. The hunger she expresses is a theme and metaphor, not only of her inability to be the beautiful person she intends to be, but of her starvation of self-love borne out by her obsessive need to “be the best, prettiest, slimmest, smartest, sharpest,” all the while believing inside that she is a miserable, loathsome worm.
This and the other scenes related to eating are so authentic their reality shocks us. Indeed, the truths in this production create vital theater exacted with brilliance by the director and actors. This is a production that must be seen for its themes of how parents “lovingly” encourage their children into self-loathing translating their own self-loathing onto them, to the cultural starvation through appearance fascism that commands that all conform to one physical appearance type and self-righteously condemn anyone who does not measure up. These themes and others and the characterizations and interrelationships Feraud has painstakingly drawn to perfection.
Another of the beauties of her well-crafted writing is that the themes evolve with revelation upon revelation. stacked upon each other. Then, at the end Rachel reaches a crescendo of rage that she releases in truths about her mother and father with such wisdom, it is breathtaking. All makes perfect sense; the family masks are off and Rachel returns to therapy leaving her parents standing naked in their own psychic self-loathing.
Kudos to Brittany Vasta whose functional, evocative scenic design conveys the household of perfection where imperfect individuals strive, lose, hurt and avoid each other with lies. Likewise, Nicole Slaven’s costume design, Oona Curley’s Lighting design and Ien Denio’s sound design/original compositions help to create such a memorable, indelible portrait of a family in crisis and one who is on the road to health, in spite of it.
Rinse, Repeat (precisely symbolic title for the chronic circularity of illness) has been extended until 24 of August and should be extended again, it is that superb. The play runs with no intermission at Pershing Square Signature Center. For tickets and times go to their website by CLICKING HERE.
The first few minutes of the way she spoke by Isaac Gomez directed by Jo Bonney are easy and humorous with light but discriminatory undertones. An actor comes in for a reading. She references that directors give her demeaning parts to read, for example, whores or prostitutes typified by characters named Cha Cha.
The turning point in this lightheartedness erupts with a stark description. Sporadic laughter morphs to horror as the actor moves into the pages of a script where there is the first mention of the graphic mutilation of women’s bodies identifying the brutal murder of eight Mexican women in Juárez, Mexico.
In one fell blow, Telemundo star Kate del Castillo in her electric solo performance strikes at the heart of the patriarchy and bloodletting against thousands of women in the way she spoke. These acts are the side effects of gang violence, power dominance and poverty. In this horrific unofficial civil war, women’s carcasses send messages. They cry out threats and triumphs. They are the most often poignant and innocent casualties, many unrecovered as their persons, after whatever torment and abuse they experienced while alive, are buried in loam in vacant fields that are vast burial grounds.
Gomez’s dramatic rendering, is staged by Bonney with appropriate projections against the stage’s brick wall, while del Castillo in measured crescendos and fades of emotion and woodenness, responds to the shock of what she’s reading so she eventually experiences the high sorrow of this hell. At emotional midpoints she stands and redirects to another part of the stage to enact a role, sometimes of a dastardly, cold killer. The music and the projections follow her and slip into silence with the resonance of her storytelling. The drama increases its intensity; she configures the eye-witness accounts so that they jump off the page, spin with her energy into our imaginations.
As del Castillo relates events, describes images, philosophizes and makes us feel a paralysis of horror about the terrible femicide in ,Juárez at a time when the drug cartels were most fierce, we understand. Regardless that the violence has been mitigated since then and murders have decreased a bit, the same happens elsewhere in the world. This is a theme that del Castillo/Gomez reiterate. This reality floats like a dagger before us; what can we do? Is awareness enough? The playwright has unloaded his revelations in this work. He is finished, for in the effort to gain and reveal evidence of our blood lusting nature, he has accepted a measure of responsibility. But where do we go from here? And how do we become involved in a fight of advocacy to ensure that such targeted bellicosity against women doesn’t happen again?
There is always the response to “do nothing and move on with our lives.” It is a survival response, to ignore, duck and cover, return to our pleasant lives and try to forget we ever heard such descriptions of a female holocaust impacting all ages. But we cannot. Gomez, del Castillo and Bonney grip us with the power of these women’s voices from beyond the grave. They make us care for the “invisible” women whom they transcribe into reality during the strongest segments of this production. The concrete images of hate, fear and gore unsettle our minds: they are the final evidence that the mutilation and murder of women, the givers of life, have at their core a blasphemy against all of humankind like no other. After our numbness, the outrage comes against the patriarchy that would not sanction this, against the misogyny that is ancient, inbred and unique to our species!
The material gleaned by the playwright from a series of interviews with various members of the Mexican community speaks for itself in the voices of the witnesses. And Gomez has cobbled it together thematically allowing the interviewees words conveyed with heartfelt grist by del Castillo to float like blood in water whose increasing droplets will not co-mingle or mix but retain their shape. And then suddenly, all is a dark red that stains our remembrance.
Kudos to the creative artists who assisted to make this a haunting presentation. They are Riccardo Hernandez (scenic design), Emilio Sosa (costume design), Lap Chi Chu (lighting design), Elisheba Ittoop (sound design), and Aaron Rhyne (projection design).
This production which Audible has recorded will be released as an audio play after its closing. Without visuals the words of the witnesses will explode in the hearer’s ears. They are both an encomium and a chronicle reconciling the dead to the light of a greater truth we are being forced to acknowledge in the hope of changing if even one life in the future.
In its final week the way she spoke is presented by Audible Theater at Minetta Lane Theatre (18 Minetta Lane between 6th Ave and McDougal St. in the West Village) until 18 August. For tickets and times go to their website by CLICKING HERE.
Little Gem starring the wonderful Marsha Mason at the Irish Repertory Theatre is a poignant and comedic look at three generations of women from North Inner City Dublin. We follow along as the grandmother, daughter and granddaughter share their experiences, responses and perspectives at major turning points in their lives. Each tells their tale in six separate segments precipitated by a visit to the doctor’s office. In the final segment, the women, having gone through their own personal cataclysms, rally around the comfort of each other and sleep in the same bed, reunited in love and understanding.
The play written by Elaine Murphy premiered at the Dublin Fringe Festival in 2008, where it won the Fishamble New Writing Award before transferring to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. This production directed by Marc Atkinson Borrull is essentially a solo tour de force for each character/actor. The only interaction among the characters occurs in the last segment. Only then do we see grandmother Kay (Marsha Mason is powerful, heartfelt and funny) daughter Lorraine (Brenda Meaney is ironic and nuanced) and Lauren O’Leary as the wise-cracking, sharp-tonged Amber relate to each other directly.
During the production, we listen to the narration of each woman separately. We revisit how each is at a different stage in her life (symbolic of women in general at different ages in their lives). We understand how she experiences the physical and emotional desires of needing and wanting to be in a relationship with someone who will care for her. And we note how each negotiates the wheel and woe of their personal relationships.
The women relate their stories in flashback in direct addresses to the audience. Initially, we discover the superficial reasons why they are in a doctor’s office. Amber has indigestion and throws up frequently in the mornings. Lorraine is emotionally mottled with stress and needs medications to calm her and resettle her life. Kay has a “personal itch down there.”
As the production unfolds the women by degrees go into their reveals during their story-telling turns with the youngest generation first, simulating the arc of life’s beginning. The forty-something Lorraine represents the middle stage of life and the sixty-something Kay represents the senior years. As they each address the audience, we understand the depth of their angst as they relate how their situations become the touchstones of their growth and realizations. The progression is an interesting one and thematically reminds us of the innocence and naiveté of youth (the fecund period) the transformation into recognizing deeper values in life and the winding down into menopause, and the increased sexual libido that often occurs for older women long after they’ve thrown off the aftereffects of child rearing.
In six segments Amber discusses the events with Paul which brought her to the doctor to help her during her pregnancy and afterward as she takes care of baby Jamie and he is accepted into the family. We discover how Lorraine’s stress precipitated by her lack of communication with Amber and worry centered around Amber’s sometimes wild behavior (like mother, like daughter) is somewhat mitigated when she follows her therapist’s suggestions to “get out of herself” and her miseries and goes dancing. After she meets someone, with Amber’s encouragement she goes on a date with him in what becomes a developing relationship.
At the doctor’s office Kay receives “the ok” to have sex without Little Gem who is too debilitated and ill to continue their fabulous sex life. She will do this via the help of a vibrator. Indeed, the scene when Mason effects this is one of the funniest in the play. And as Little Gem fades from this life and moves into the next, at the grave she grieves her husband and in the last scene of the play seeks the comfort of her daughter and granddaughter.
Elaine Murphy’s work is strongest in the concept of revelation and self-recognition and growth that occurs in each of the women’s lives. However, the playwright decides to keep the play largely expositional. This dissipates the drama that occurs in the family dynamic. We note the underlying levels of action, however they are reported; an example of this occurs when Lorraine discusses that she doesn’t communicate with her daughter. However, we never see the characters Lorraine and Amber demonstrate how or when this occurs actively. Likewise, the characters may talk about a family member who stands next to them, but there is no active dialogue or exchange between and among each of the characters until the end. The strongest exchange occurs only then when they get into bed after Little Gem dies and they comfort Kay to reveal they unite as a family.
For me any related emotional power and inherent possibility of empathy falls short with the playwright’s selection of this expositional structure predominately. Would the play have worked more dramatically and humorously with different staging and lighting as each woman takes a darkened stage stepping into the spotlight and sharing the import of her story? Somehow, the office setting was a banal distraction. Or was this the point since the women are vibrant and we are transfixed at various times during their revelations?
The actors stand out because through them, their characters’ stories are exposed. They remind all of us that we have a story to tell and it is representational and unique for our time and place. Meaney, O’Leary and Mason engage and keep us launched into remembering what has occurred previously. We must figure out how related events have bled into the current segments of their narration as they detail the specifics: Lorraine’s difficulties with her daughter, Amber’s difficulties with Paul after he discovers she’s pregnant, Little Gem’s sickness and dying. We become the catch-basin for all of their humorous/poignant story events. These are peaked with the tragicomedy of Amber’s, Lorraine’s and Kay’s feminine perspectives of their middle class lives which include the prickly narrative of their relationships: Amber’s reports of sometime boyfriend Paul, Lorraine’s report of a poignant conversation with junkie ex-husband Ray, and Kay’s explanation of her role as caretaker during Little Gem’s frustrating illness and heartbreaking death.
Little Gem is a portrait of women during crisis and the ways they look for the humor and uplift during the rough patches of life. The audience partners with them as we listen to their troubles like a good friend or neighbor. And in the telling of their stories there is the release, growth and hope that in the family all will be well as the next generation adds to the flavor of their future. And so it goes for us as well.
Little Gem is in a revival in New York from a run in 2010 and is in a limited engagement through 1 September. For tickets and times at the Irish Rep website CLICK HERE.
Luis Alfaro’s riveting update of the Greek Tragedy Medea spun out against our current immigrant crisis is authentic, primal and timely with exceptional direction and evocation by Chay Yew. I saw it this weekend, one day prior to the Trump announced ICE raids designed to terrorize and apprehend illegal immigrants, “wetbacks” (mojados) with the intention of incarcerating them until eventual deportation. The “raids” failed miserably in their execution, but not their intent to terrorize.
Alfaro adroitly reinterprets the migrant crisis and parallels it with the story of Medea, the sorceress who dispatches her children after her husband Jason dumps her and marries the king’s daughter. However, he makes significant changes in the characterizations, softening and humanizing Medea and Jason and removing the notions of vengeance and anger by changing it to despair, isolation, loneliness and desperation for the character of Medea. Additionally, unlike the classic Medea, Alfaro never leaves off Jason’s love and tender concern for Medea, shifting her enemy conflict away from Jason to her rival Pilar.
Alfaro’s Medea is the the indigenous Mexican “mojada” portrayed by the always present and heartfelt Sabina Zúñiga Varela. Varela gives an exceptional, thrilling portrayal of the emotionally driven and abused spiritualist who has been raped on their journey to the United States and still psychologically suffers from the trauma. Her servant/family member tells us early on in the play that despite the herbs she gives her, she cannot heal. Later, as Medea revisits her horrific journey to “freedom” in America in a flashback sequence, we discover why she cannot “heal;” the trauma has frozen her soul and filled her with fear and death.
Medea’s partner Jason (the excellent, charming Alex Hernandez) is one she adores. Despite the sacrifice of her wholeness and happiness, she stays with him and they finish their journey North with their son Acan (the lively, adorable Benjamin Luis McCracken) and their servant Tita (the humorous, wonderful Socorro Santiago) so Jason may fulfill his ambitions. In a later reveal, we discover why Medea had to leave. When Jason suggests they start over in America, she has little choice but to join him and remain under his protection. However, Medea is confused and unable to self analyze and straighten out her severe emotional problems after their arrival.
Early on in the production we discover that Jason wants “the American Dream.” Clinging to Jason and her family as her only hope, Medea believes in Jason’s love and good will. She indulges his promises of a better life for her and their son in the alien American culture. As the play begins, all appears calm for they have settled in Jackson Heights, New York and both have jobs and earn money while Tita cares for Acan. Jason works construction and Medea works at home, all of which is a divergence from the classic play Medea which begins after Jason and Medea end their marriage.
Alfaro seeks to represent his Mexican Medea with a strong faith in herbal medicine that Tita concocts as well as a ritual morning obeisance to the four winds which she practices with Acan as an incantation, a recitation to recall their past life and infuse it with them in the present so they never forget what they have given up. As an indigenous Mexican, Medea is close to the spiritual plane. Her incantation’s powerful symbolism to her mind strengthens the connection with their homeland to which Medea daily seeks a return, despite Jason’s successful forward direction in becoming prosperous and in encouraging a better life so they may become American citizens. Though Alfaro’s Medea lacks the status of a princess, his portrayal of her beauty, innocence and purity (she is in white throughout the play) represents an everywoman. His depiction symbolizes the core ethos of what makes women noble and sanctified. Varela embodies these traits and heightens the honor of Alfaro’s vision for this character which makes her desperate, hopeless fall from grace all the more tragic and poignant.
Medea, a professional level seamstress, works diligently at supplementing their family income by creating a veritable sweatshop in their home where she makes gorgeous clothing at a pittance while her “bosses” reap a substantial profit for each item and exploit her labor because of her non-status as an illegal immigrant without a green card or work visa. The theme of workers being exploited for their cheap labor while greedy individuals who prey upon their circumstances reminds us of the timeless status quo of the workers vs. their corporate overseers and highlights the plight of undocumented workers. It also is reminiscent of the greed of corporate America which refuses to pay the proper value for their workforce that makes them profitable while paying their CEOs who largely schmooze and network lazily 300 times the amount.
In Medea’s life as an undocumented worker is the everpresent fear that she, her son and Tita may be turned in and deported. This haunts Medea and contributes to her agoraphobia so that she prefers to stay at home in Queens away from the chaos of New York City life that is unfamiliar to her. Her status oppresses her for she has no way to bargain with her employers who “call the shots” and pay her the minimum locking her into an indentured servitude. She has no recourse if she doesn’t like her wage to ask for more. They will go to another undocumented worker or have her deported. Her circumstances make her their slave.
All the general details of Medea, Jason and Acan, Tita relates to the audience chorus-like in a humorous narrative in which she pines for the old country and identifies the difference between the old ways and the inferior American lifestyle. Having been sold to take care of Medea since her mother died as a baby, Tita acknowledges her servile position, but reinforces her authority as a healer who has taught Medea everything she knows. Tita loves Medea who is her obligation. But she fears for her as an innocent and questions Medea’s blind loyalty to Jason whom she believes is not worthy of Medea’s trust. Tita is not only a healer, she is telepathic and she sees what Medea refuses to recognize because if she does, all that Medea has experienced to get to America is in vain, above all the pain and torment she endured on the trip and the misery she feels as an outsider who fits in nowhere in except in Jason’s arms and Acan’s reliance on her.
The arc of development jolts forward after we meet Jason and note how Medea and Jason greet each other, with the calls of the guaco, a bird that lives in the southwest. Their cries to each other are haunting and beautiful. We recognize the bond between them that is ethereal and powerful. Alex remains affectionate and loving to her as Alfaro diverges from Euripides’ classic tragedy in that their family which has been in the U.S. for about a year appears to be united and prospering. Jason is fearless in his desire to be someone and take Medea, Acan and Tita with him on this uplifted path to citizenship. He appears honorable and we assume theirs is the happy whole, until we discover the cracks in the foundation that earthquake and drive the family apart by the end of the play.
The cracks of the foundation are revealed in flashbacks. At one point Medea asks Jason to make love to her under the stars out in the open but she stops herself, and the tender Jason understands and is patient with her. In the extended flashback which Medea narrates, we discover how they struggled to make it to the border, but not before Medea is violated by Mexican soldiers. But that is not the worst that could have happened. Another young woman along the journey is not only gang raped, she is killed and dumped in an unmarked grave. The ordeals migrants go through seeking a better life for themselves is clarified dramatically during this vital segment without polemic or dogma. The ensemble’s acting during these scenes brings the audience to the edge of horror and beyond.
It is Medea’s relationship with Jason that receives the most dynamic upturn in the development of the conflict which Alfaro gradually unravels as we glean the events from Medea’s perspective. Alfaro cleverly occludes the truth as Jason has obfuscated the reality of his personal circumstances to Medea. On the surface we only see that Jason chides her for not going out, and seeks her love and support for his working late nights for the family’s benefit. Even though gossipy comedic Luisa, a neighborhood vendor from Puerto Rico (vibrantly acted by Vanessa Aspillaga) intimates that she is glad her own husband is ugly because Jason’s good looks would be catnip to women, Medea laughs but doesn’t get the message. And the playwright gives no hint of deception until deep in the play so that when its revelation comes, we are shocked and devastated for her.
In a splendid and relevant turn for the culture he writes about, Alfaro shifts the conflict away from the aspect of revenge and justification for vengeance that the classic Euripides’ Medea emphasizes. In Mojado, Alfaro focuses on the bond between Jason and Medea, always as a loving one so that Jason’s betrayal lands like a bomb, and even then, Jason’s charm and sweet, urgent pleas almost convince Medea that he means well in his actions.
Medea’s true enemy is “the other woman” who is Jason’s wealthy boss Pilar (the forceful, slyly arrogant Ada Maris) who has turned her life into the success that Jason intends for himself. Pilar represents all that is noxious about immigrants who embrace the “American Dream,” assimilate and lose their souls to the pursuit of power and money. They become even more treacherous and corrupt than the dolorous white citizens who have been in the country for generations, some of whom have failed and refuse to pick themselves up but instead, blame the migrants for stealing jobs that their own lack of effort would never “lower” them to take, for they are too “superior” to do such labor. This notion abides sub rosa as we watch Pilar and Jason discuss business and note the tremendous industry that Pilar, Jason and Medea embody in their diligence and effort to make money and prosper. Undocumented migrants are synonymous with an incredible almost Puritan work ethic in this play. It is a truism that partisan politics to tickle the ears of the dolorous white supremacists turn on its head.
Pilar comes to diner and reminds Medea that she is staying in one of Pilar’s many houses. Pilar implies she is to be appreciated for not charging Medea fees for making the home into a sweat shop. She infers that it is only her reliance on Jason whom she intends to promote who deflects Pilar from taking a percentage of the money Medea makes. Again, the theme of the exploitation and predation of immigrant bosses who have “made it” taking advantage of undocumented migrant brothers’ and sisters’ industry and resourcefulness is brought to the fore.
When Pilar greets Acan with affection that reveals they have been together a number of times, Medea still remains blind. It is only when Jason reveals that he has married Pilar does Medea begin to understand the forces ranging against her. Medea and Jason never married. Medea believes their union is a spiritual force that would keep them together forever. A marriage paper for their life in Mexico was not necessary; they are bonded by their love and the fruit of their union, Acan. However, in America, legality is paramount so that their spiritual union is nullified by the absence of a piece of paper. The crass American values of money, power, materialism over spirituality, loyalty and love overcome Medea’s hope of survival. Her only way out of the misery and desperation Pilar and the corrupted Jason have bestowed on her as her fate is to take the only power she has left and use it.
In the incredible scene between Pilar and Medea, all of the undercurrents of a woman used to demanding her own way crashes into the innocent Medea’s consciousness. Pilar’s rivalry with this woman who is still loved by her man is acute. It is either Medea or her and unless Medea “gets lost” she will have her deported. The choice for her is no choice. An even more dire fate awaits Medea in Mexico in her home town.
Alfaro has written an amazing play referencing the classical tragedy. He has adopted his work to the Mexican/Latino culture and in so doing expertly gives us an appreciation for what immigrants endure for a better life. Additionally, we empathize because his work covers timeless themes about the powerless vulnerability of migrants like Medea/la mojada. He spins out the familiar tale but enhances it with great depth of feeling so that his protagonist (spoiler alert) restores her own honor and delivers herself to freedom by her acts which proceed more from desperation and sorrow than vengeance. She empowers herself through suicide, something that the sorceress Medea would never contemplate. But in la mojada’s choice there is dignity and sanctity, but at great cost. And at the last moments which are breathtaking she calls out with the cry of the guaco from the realm of spirit. And the response is her tragedy and fall from grace.
From the performances to the authentic, realistic sets and Chay Yew’s fine directorial choices, Mojada is Alfaro’s monumental vision for our times through the lens of Euripides powerful tragedy Medea. In effecting his version Alfaro reveals the great nobility and honor in those who seek to evolve to a different life in another culture, often not completely understanding that the life they seek is filled with corruption, devastation and dishonor. However, to not try is worse. To remain and never know or never learn is naive and a submission to fear and death. The greatness of Alfaro’s character Medea is in her attempt to hold on to the little health/innocence she has and endure. When evil threatens to overwhelm her and her family completely, she defends herself in the only way she knows how. And we are uplifted and sorrowed for her choice.
Kudos goes to the creative team for their fine evocation of the family’s lifestyle through minimalism: Arnulfo Maldonado (Scenic Designer) Haydee Zelideth (Costume Designer) David Weiner (Lighting Designer) Mikhail Fiksel (Sound Designer) Stephan Mazurek (Projetion Designer) Earon Chew Nealey (Hair Style Consultant & Wig Designer) Unkledaves Fight0House (Fight & Intimacy Director).
The New York Music Festival 2019, now in its 16th year (July 8-August 4) remains the premiere musical theatre festival in the world. During the past sixteen years, thousands of artists and administrators have participated in over 400 new musicals some of which have moved to a renewed life Off Broadway. Others have toured the country and found venues elsewhere, perhaps landing back in NYC to achieve a finer calling after being tested on the road. Indeed, a very few like Next To Normal make it to Broadway audiences.
The possibilities for Buried, this year’s only musical which hails from the UK are trenchant and wide-ranging, depending upon the continued energy and fervor of its creators. The music and lyrics are by Cordelia O’Driscoll, book and lyrics by Tom Williams (he also directs) with fine orchestrations and musical direction by Olivia Doust. Buried, a black comedy/musical/drama was twice presented at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and it has won awards. I have missed this production these past three years I’ve attended the Edinburgh International Festival and Fringe Festival. I’m glad it found a home at NYMF 2019 so I could see its promise and hear the lyrical music.
I am intrigued by the initial concept of serial killers falling in love. However, how Rose (Lindsay Manion) and Harry (Sebastian Belli) eventually, slowly fall in love is problematic. Perhaps the stakes are not high enough, the protagonists not alluring and scintillating enough because they are too self-engrossed in their issues and pasts. Considering there is no rational justification for being a serial killer, the psychological angle could have been turned on its head regarding the protagonists in the scenes they have with each other. The digression into the comedic examination of the psychology of killing with the doctor/professor and his questioner (ensemble-Laurence Hunt and Wilf Walsworth) is witty. Indeed, the one song they sing provides the interposition of a much needed variety with the rest of the score.
However, the self-examined life of Rose and Harry as they discuss who they are and why they are with one another becomes repetitive after the initial songs. There is a matter-of-fact irony lyrically carried by the music that reveals the thrust of their togetherness to be that they kill and are outsiders. More is needed. They are able to front to get their prey and can fit in enough to get dates. But allure and charm is wanting; the sociopath, the psychopath are hungry; they are compelled; they manipulate.
These protagonists are drawn in a halfhearted measure. If theirs could be a love at all costs which it is not, we might have been completely enthralled. And in that identification, the theme, which faltered in this production would be enhanced. Where is the revulsion that we may be attracted to the allure of another soul, no matter how damaged or self-destructive and the fact that that soul may have as its intent to lure us to kill us?
The concept of the show is original. On a level beyond its purely fantastic entertainment value (and it is entertaining without a doubt) I considered that the production should either pull back or go to its most extreme sardonic limit. Because the tension and conflict doesn’t rise to a pinnacle, it gets lost in the limbo of relationship doldrums between the two protagonists, which I drifted out of in the middle of the show. However, I came back to them at the powerful conclusion which was dynamic with the external conflict adding tension. The beginning was strong as was the ending with shining moments as Rose and Harry select their final destination.
The book could use a reworking of the arc of development to make it more powerful and in the moment. Additionally, it needs to pump up the possibilities for incredible, “kill-em” black humor to give it the grist to engage throughout. If the creators could add in new songs, perhaps with a different music style and swap out those that sometimes become lyrically redundant, the score would be various and lifted. The music is gorgeous. However, it becomes repetitive. The full appreciation of its beauty, as a result, diminishes.
All the above is couched from the perspective that the show is good enough to deserve reworking so that its inherent possibilities can be manifested and taken to additional venues and go far. The cast is excellent. Manion and Belli engaged us especially in the beginning and the ending. However fine their skills are, they could not overcome the show’s middle section which speaks more to the conflict and development of the book’s structure, not their fine performances or lustrous voices. The same may be said for the fine efforts of Hunt and Wallsworth, Niamh Finan and Rebecca Yau who performed seamlessly to Tom Williams able direction.
Buried, part of the 2019 New York Musical Festival, should be seen because it is an entertainment that is fun and delights with humor. It is a show with tremendous potential. Kudos to all involved!
Buried runs with no intermission from July 9-14 at The Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre at The Pershing Square Signature Center, 480 West 42nd Street. For tickets and times CLICK HERE.