Stage Pages January, 2004
YOU DON'T HAVE TO BE A WRITER TO WRITE
By Steve Thornburg
Several years ago, one of my film teachers
at Columbia Unversity gave me a very important lesson. Professor
Stefan Sharff told me that, after viewing a film, he always took a
few minutes to write down his thoughts about a movie. For him, this
meant the language of the cinema: The opening shot fades in on an
egg on a table and then there is a slow disclosure of the room with
a body under the table. Body close-up. Montage sequence. Bach in
background. Chicken sfx.
I, too, enjoy writing reviews for the heck
of it. It trains the mind to focus on detail and makes you hold in
your brain cells the difference between peek and peak, there and
their. It can be hard work -- but also very rewarding. After all, it
is an exercise in creativity.
Since I am teaching again, I think it is my
duty to relate this guidance to any potential writers out there.
Below are two reviews that I wrote last year. They were in the
archives, and yet they never made it to print.
Perhaps you can enjoy the reviews; and then
you can use them as inspiration for your own. You may also enjoy a
visit to a museum. After the trip, write a page or two about your
experience. Some years down the road you can re-read your writing
and enjoy the cultural experience a second time. Happy writing!
From the archives
Review by Steven Thornburg
IMAGINARY FRIENDS on Broadway (directed by
Jack O'Brien) is an exquisite play with period-appropriate song and
dance numbers. There is even a Vaudevillian atmosphere in this story
about the rivalry between real people Lillian Hellman (Swoosie
Kurtz) and Mary McCarthy (Cherry Jones). Kurtz and Jones are
splendid: they sing; they act; and they are extremely funny!
Some have said that the song and dance
takes away from the story of the women. One has to ask, "Does
the over-producing further the story and the relationship?" The
answer is. "Yes, but generally in the way a surreal dream does.
For example, there are many important male characters -- all played
brilliantly by Harry Groener. And there are two tap-dancing males
who deftly symbolize the competitive dance between Hellman and
McCarthy. This dreamlike quality allows an "anything goes"
feeling in the context of the ladies meeting in the after-life and
seeing their lives pass before them. The production succeeds with
the fast surrealism as only movies have in the past.
IMAGINARY FRIENDS accomplishes much in two
and a half hours: fabulous choreography (Jerry Mitchell); a deft
chorus of gypsies in gorgeous costumes (Robert Morgan); the lovely
Anne Pitoniak in a featured role; clever and retro sets (Michael
Levine) and lighting (Kenneth Posner). One memorable set is a bar in
which hundreds of liquor bottles strung together create huge
"beads," the kind we once let hang in doorways between
rooms. And the huge video (Jan Hartley) running simultaneously with
the scripted lines allows for some very funny close-up takes of
Kurtz and Jones.
Other Cast: Anne Pitoniak, Anne Allgood,
Bernard Dotson, Rosena M. Hill, Gina Lamparella, Dirk Lumbard, Peter
Marx, Perry Ojeda, Jim Osorno, Susan Pellegrino, Karyn Quackenbush,
USA Ostar Theatricals produces. Written by
Nora Ephron with music by Marvin Hamlisch and lyrics by Craig
Carnelia. Sound design by Jon Weston. Music direction and dance
arrangements by Ron Melrose. Orchestrations by Torrie Zito. Music
coordinator: Michael Keller. Originally produced by The Globe
Theatres, Executive Director: Louis G. Spisto.
Review by Steven Thornburg
MEDEA has a new concept: present day at the
sight of Jason's construction site (His and Medea's new home). The
place and time allows the audience to relate to this giant tragedy.
After a fierce offstage rant and crashing of objects, enter Medea,
played to perfection by Fiona Shaw. Shaw's portrayal of the famous
wronged mother and wife is filled with humor, taking us on a journey
to an inevitable conclusion. Jason, too, is an inspired performance
in the hands of Jonathan Cake, allowing a glimpse into his peculiar
perspective (to marry the princess not because he loves her more
than Medea but to give Medea and sons a comfort and future that only
royalty can assure). Loose paraphrases fly in my memory. Jason: Why
can't you understand why I did it? Ah! Women!" Medea: "So
many ways to kill...how can one decide?"
The Greek Chorus members (Kirsten Campbell,
Joyce Henderson, Rachel Isaac, Pauline Lynch, and Susan Salmon)
succeed in fleshing out characters and moving about the stage
stunningly, although their twenty -something voices are so similar
and young that some effectiveness was lost. Other standouts are
Derek Hutchinson (Messenger), Robin Laing (Tutor), Joseph Mydell (Aegeus)
and Siobhan McCarthy (Nurse). The gifted Struan Rodger plays Kreon,
and the adorable Alexander Scheitinger and Michael Tommer play the
Euripides wrote in the fifth century, BC,
about all of the things with which we are so interested today. Medea
is known to have magical powers. The rich and frightening dialogue
about how Kreon and the princess die takes one's thoughts to
radioactive materials, anthrax and biological weapons. And one is
horrified upon watching Medea take the children to death at her own
hands before her enemies can murder them instead. The production is
tight with fabulous details, such as Medea's ritualistic washing of
the feet of her babies in the pool of water. On one hand, she may be
rinsing off some of the blood; but to me she is blessing them and
preparing them for burial. The Abbey Theatre Production of MEDEA is
translated by Kenneth McLeish and Frederic Raphael. Set by Tom Pye.
Costumes by Jacquelin Durran. Lighting bly Michael Gunning. Sound
Designer: David Meschter. Soundscape: Mel Mercier. Directed by
By Sherry Braun
Thus ends my coverage of the Halloween
Festival. Some of the reporting is less dense than the rest. Be
assured that it's only because time has played tricks with my
assignments (not to mention memory) -- not because I enjoyed a show
less if it got a short review. I will carry the experience of the
theatre outings with me for many years. Congratulations to all of
the participants in the Off-Off Broadway scene.
THE STRANGE SYSTEM OF DOCTOR BOUVIER Written
by Margo LaZaro and Mick Muzio Directed by Mick Muzio Produced by
This original play is inspired by the
Theatre du Grand Guignol, which hails from France whereby the
audiences were terrorized with realistic blood and gore (and often
by the real blood and organs of dead animals bought at market). This
stage version is rather tame and clean fun -- suitable for a family.
Or perhaps it is the audience which has changed ever since the
advent of television violence and our raised tolerance levels.
No problem. This play has a grand style
which makes us squirm and expel vocalizations when the lunatics take
over and extract piece after piece of a victim's skull right out of
her head. We remember this sobering trick later when the nuts
approach a lovely girl's eyes to cut them right out. Yes, for a
moment, we say to ourselves, "Uh, oh, how are they going to do
The production values are clean and
attractive in the asylum setting. Costumes are beautiful and elegant
when needed and occasionally humorous and ill-fitting as if to
foreshadow that the lunatics are impersonating the staff. Make-up
and hair are stylized in black and white, which is a nice touch and
seems to suggest a great old-fashioned thriller movie!
NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD -- THE MUSICAL
(Abreact Productions) Loosely based on the movie by George A. Romero
and John Russo Adapted/Directed by Thomas Hoagland
I don't know if the audience or the show is
the most fun. Both are loose. As you might guess, the production is
parody heaven. Everybody in the audience seems to know the story;
and a certain kind of audience shows up -- vocal and drinking. This
felt like a late-night and downtown crowd. The show feels like that,
too, as a cardboard cut-out car sets the humorous tone as the first
innocent victims confront the zombies. A good deal of clever
costuming and make-up go into the affair, of which one of my
favorite effects is the red string of licorice which impersonates
internal organs. The plot is as simple as you might expect, with the
forward-moving machinery being that the entire cast is plucked off
one by one. There are some surprisingly cute cameos and hysterical
characters. I love the newscaster and the politician. And of course
the beautiful chick with the tight top runs around a great deal. We
also have the feuding father and mother locked in the basement with
their pale-faced girl/child. Did I mention the device of each cast
member getting white-face make-up when he/she gets it? Dead-on
funny! The compositions and lyrics are everywhere from sufficient to
terrific -- touching a variety of styles. Furthermore, the execution
is top-drawer. This team knows how to cast a musical; and the
performers know how to hit the right musical and comedic notes.
HAPPY HOLIDAYS Tribe Productions
Written and directed by J.C. Svec
Svec has done it again -- created an
original comedy for the theatre world. HAPPY HOLIDAY$ is a classic
idea! The "holidays" are played by five young women named
Nicole Cicchella, Cher Lair, Yvonne Lin, Sara Shaning and Karson St.
John. They're attractive marketing geniuses comprising the Council
for the Achievement of Successful Holidays (C.A.S.H.). They meet
once a year to exchange strategies, share ideas, celebrate good
fortunes and support each other in executing the age old holiday
traditions of materialism, commercialism, capitalism and greed. In
this hotel conference lounge they allow rivalry to rear its pretty
The actresses are all charming and
different in their roles. The play is short, interesting and concise
-- sure to be revived in many venues around the holidays. Colleges
and high schools can snap this one up as a vehicle for strong female
talent because it is a long one-act and smart entertainment.
The costumes are clever as they represent
each of the holidays perfectly. The set is clever and the music
upbeat. Svec has a knack for writing humorous plays with strong
roles for young adults -- especially women.
SLEEPING IN TOMORROW Cross-Eyed Bear
Productions By Duncan Pflaster Directed by Clara Barton Green
Pflaster always provides a quirky world
which wins the interest of many disciples. Inventors, sports
figures, jews, homos, witches, masochists, nazis and clowns are
In Pflaster's new play for adults, Berenice
is dissatisfied with her life and looking for answers in cosmic
mysticism. When she begins having out-of-body experiences at a
cocktail party hosted by her husband's gay brother and his lover,
she takes the opportunity to explore several parallel universes,
encountering all of her friends in wildly different worlds and
The director has done a lovely job of
staging SLEEPING IN TOMORROW. The actors successfully accomplish
many adjustments on character among the universes, although I wish
at least one of them would economize on the hand and arm thrashing.
The technical aspects are enjoyable as well
-- a simple placement of good apartment furnishings and good sound
and lighting. Costumes, too, are easy on the eye.
A great deal of preparation and love
brought this play off. Ms. Lauren Adler's performance as Berenice is
especially honest and engaging. Yet the whole cast works as a
terrific ensemble: Sue Berch, Elizabeth Boskey, Wael Haggiagi, Dawn
Pollock Jones, Paul Martin Kovic, Ehud Segev, Jason Specland and
AN EVENING OF PSYCHOS: STALKERS, SADISTS
AND SERIAL KILLERS White Rabbit Theatre By Tony Sokol and Lisa
Voss Directed by Andrew Rothkin
AN EVENING OF PSYCHOS consists of three
one-act plays that delve into the minds of madmen. Ah, what fun and
excuses we have at Halloween to scare ourselves with all of the
The first play is "Smarty Spice and
Serial Killer, " a perfectly written short about a smart victim
and a surprised one (both extremely well cast). The second piece,
"You Must Have Been A Beautiful Baby," has a well-written
conflict, although it is a little long for my taste. Finally,
"Psychodrama" brings us the twists and turns (of power
shifting between a man and a woman) and the greatest chemistry of
the evening between actors Andrew Rothkin and Cameron Peterson.
Rothkin plays the evil stalker of Peterson's protagonist.
The entire cast makes up a great acting
company. Also starring: Jennifer Bates, Amy Broder, Alexander
Hudson, Jack Merlis, Alex Molina, Ramona Pula, Tom Reid, Susan Stein
and Enrico Urgo.
The sparse set (Seema Malik) effectively
promotes some very atmospheric padded cell units and eerie lighting
(Noemi Millman). Costumes (Laura Minch) include contemporary clothes
and detailed doctor/nurse outfits. The Sound by Chris Brooks has
S.M. is Marc Glassberg; A.S.M. is Marcus
Morphew; Assistant Director is Ramona Pula; Props Mistress and
Assistant to the Director is Megan Stroup.