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Spotlight On Productions
November, 2003

(c) Steven E. Thornburg, Stage Pages Online: www.SpotlightOn.org

"New Charity" in its Fifth Year
Article by Steven E. Thornburg

LABORS OF LOVE 2003: "IN THE GARDEN OF THE GODS" performed two successful performances at the Lucille Lortel Theatre on November 10, 2003 to benefit Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS and the Phyllis Newman Women’s Health Initiative.

H. Shep Pamplin, Executive Producer/Director of the event, asked for those of us in the audience to spread the word for next year. I believe in giving this great cause a head-start. So, listen up; and I’ll tell you about this charity.

In a nutshell, the show is a reversal of positions. The show is put on by a large group of talent agents, managers and casting directors -- and assorted volunteers who share the passion of helping the cause until "a time when these fundraisers are not needed anymore" (because cures are found and help is aplenty).

Make no mistake. Although these people are usually the ones on the other side of the footlights promoting the performers, many of these participants have had Broadway/Film/TV careers themselves; and there were many surprises and treats. A great time was had by the attendees and, from the looks of it, the performers!

The opening was lead by Musical Supervisor Ken Lundie; and the company was decked out in Greek God and Goddess costumes which set just the right campy tone. Many highlights followed. On Broadway featured Benjamin Klein, Michael W. Rodriguez, Scott Wojcik and Tom Wojtunik. As choreographed by Gayle Holsman, the performers danced and sang with conviction.

"Shep" looked stunning when he officially started the show dressed for a Dame Edna homage. As if to out-do himself, many of the following numbers were altered with parody lyrics by Shep: Love Song (with deft performances by Rick Miller and Debbi Kowell); and Brush Up Your Shakespeare (Shep and the charismatic Barry Burns).

Other performers displayed the gift for parody writing as well: Valerie Adami and Ed Ferron (Paula‘s Rant); Debbi Kowell (Crazy); and Lisa Gold (Where the Goys Are).

The highlight of the evening was the piece by Ann Hampton Callaway, At The Same Time. The company, conducted by Shep, displayed solid musicality as a chorus and with all of the individual solo parts. Impeccable, Ladies and Gentlemen! The simple staging of the number was also especially effective.

The company cut loose and had fun with Fame and a Stomp routine. The choreography had many "parts" happening simultaneously and was executed with childlike glee.

Other shining stars of the evening were Sheldon Zimet, Carole J. Russo, Elaine George Foulides, Bob Luke, Nancy Leirer, Linda Stopfer, Leslie Collis, Elsie Stark, Elizabeth Gans, Rob Reynolds, Kryste Andrews, Kerry Rivelli, and Tom Celia.

Additional segment direction and choreography was contributed by Bill Castellino, Liz Ortiz-Mackes, Joshua Bergasse, Dennis Edenfiedl, Galye Holsman and Amy Uhl. Producers: Charles Rosen, Carole J. Russo and Sandy Gunnar.

Lighting: Karen Hagaman and Katie Gorum. Wardrobe Supervisors: Barbara Berman and Cynthia Lopez. Hair/Make-up: Rich Jastrzebski.

Production Assistants: Brian Patacca, Dustin Charles, Maria Alana Mason, Matthew S. Morris, Nick Buonagurio and Karina Hagaman.

Technical and Stage Assistants: Seth Soloway, Todd Amore, Morgan Lamar, Greg Sessenden, Suzanne Baretta, Chris Davison, and Persis Henze.

Congratulations to the rest of the lovely company (including many ushers and dressers) and all of their business sponsors. These volunteers are doing wonderful labors of love for individuals who need treatment, screenings, food, meds, counseling, visitations and a myriad of other services. It is the heart and spirit of the company which came shining through on Monday. One of the lovely performers herself "came out" as a survivor of cancer. She is a success story that I wish others to repeat.

If you want to volunteer and help the benefit next year, drop me a line at Stage Pages; and I will pass your name and number along to the producer.  For further information, you may log onto www.bcefa.org.  Best wishes to all.

Spotlight On Festival
Halloween 2003
Chashama Theatre

(c) S. Braun, Stage Pages Online: www.SpotlightOn.org

"Constructive Critic"
by Sherry Braun

Greetings one and all. All of you know how I praised the 1st Annual Halloween Festival. The 2nd Annual Halloween Festival during 2003 was even better. The collective quality of the work was exceptional. All of the participants are to be congratulated, as well as the audiences which really seemed to dig the "scene" on 42nd St.

My latest thoughts regarding many of the productions follow. This column is the first of two. Stay online in the coming weeks for the second installment. Please remember that my goal is to be constructive in my response to theatre-going; and yet my thoughts are just one opinion. My criteria for "criticism" is the overall entertainment value of a production and "tightness." In other words, do all of the production elements make sense in context of festival producing, as well as in the context of the Off and Off-Off Broadway scene?

The most interesting feature of the Spotlight On experience is seeing several productions and witnessing what the various collaborators do to maximize available resources. For example, as a bit of an insider, I am aware that the producers brought in some of their own drapes, fog machines, slide projectors and lighting instruments to augment Chashama. And the house provided a movie projector and screen, which some of the guests used gratuitously and some sensibly.

Sometimes the creativity pushed the time constraints. One might argue that some shows were overproduced; but the theatre fervor is obvious. And fervor is a good thing. Other plays obviously placed the focus on the text and the acting and held their own when the simplicity took us to the sublime.

Please enjoy each of these reviews:

GOLEM STORIES (Untitled Theatre Co. #61 & FHB Theatre Co.)
By Edward Einhorn

Directed by Glory Bowen

As developed since its premiere in March, GOLEM STORIES is magical. There are puppets and ghosts which provide many "oohs and aahs" and surprises. Costume, set (Cemre Durusoy), Music (William Sullivan Niederkorn), Sound (Christopher Brooks), Lighting (Aaron J. Mason) and prop designs are unified and almost appear as a storybook rendering -- a lighter choice over the first staging.

The actors are mostly recast, with the return of old pros, such as Harry Klein (King Rudolph), Maxwell Zener (Moshe), and Michael Whitney (Thaddeus). As a whole, the crafting of the ensemble is terrific -- also better than the March version. The sisters Devorah and Rivka (Diana Cherkas and Morgan Dover-Pearl) contrast now, with one emotional and the other controlled. The Maharal is deftly performed by Jerry Mond, and the Rebbetsin is humorously portrayed by Lela Frechette. The Golem is likeably presented as a gentle giant by Chris Rummel. The magic of the puppetry is executed without a bump by Christopher Betz, Talaura Harms, Molly Light, Elizabeth Ann Wood and Berit Johnson (Designer/Coordinator).

Glory Sims Bowen (Director) cleverly utilizes the upstage area outside of the set to show exits and entrances in an entertaining, and sometimes telling, manner.

This story is inspired by the ancient Jewish legend of the Rabbi and his God-play when he makes a man out of clay. GOLEM STORIES has him receiving the ultimatum to destroy the golem because he is a monster.  Although the villain is the Christian Cleric who postulates a ridiculous point of view, few of the Jewish characters come off perfect either in this historic piece. As a matter of fact, the resonating part of the play is the universality of Einhorn‘s writing.  Most of the characters demonstrate the human folly of reacting out of fear -- fear of the unknown, fear of authority, fear of the golem (representing the "other.").

The final tableau is poignant with the family mourning the loss of the golem (each reflecting in his/her own way the cause which brought on the effect). The moment rang true in a martyred hero going to his death with acceptance and honor.

Now I will state the controversial opinion. Despite the sad ending, I believe this project could be a wonderful lesson and conversation/departure point for youngsters. As well as all of the high production values which entertain, the play has a huge message that young people "get" when given the opportunity.

Other contributors: Caroline M. Costa (Assistant Dir.), Renee Hollenback (Stage Manager), Susan Pislak (Assistant Scenic Designer), Jennifer Spinello (ASM)

Waiting for LuGo…A One-Man Show With Other People
(The Gay and Lesbian Acting Co.)
by Hector Lugo

Directed by Allen Hidalgo

Hector Lugo is a force -- sometimes a whirlwind and sometimes a deep and emotional exclamation mark. In the tradition of the one-man show (Whoopi Goldberg or John Leguizamo), Lugo brings an imaginative flair to the form: other people! These people aren’t just the characters he portrays. He literally gives us a star turn in Nathaniel Reimer, who portrays the Stage Manager and the husband to Lugo’s Aunt. Reimer and Lugo present a duet with dancing ease and musical clarity.

Lugo also renders a moving and troubled soul -- a dead cousin who dies in a car accident on the way to Lugo’s opening night. Another character is the adorable little boy grappling with the concept that beauty first and foremost comes from the inside and not in the pretty dress that it is his predisposition to wear!

Finally, the joke is that Hector Lugo finally gets to the performance and loses his S.M. and accompanist because they are angry at his lateness. So, Lugo has nothing to say to the audience, and the act ends -- the first lack of truth in the evening. This is Hector Lugo, folks; he would always have something to say!

The audience is fully satisfied with the tight evening -- just under an hour. However, we certainly would welcome more of this very good thing. If Lugo had a “voice” as authoritative as the other people, just what would he say?  Why was he late, after all?  This talented man could very easily develop a little "encore act" to top off his evening.

Waiting For LuGo is aptly directed and staged by Allen Hidalgo.  Lighting and Sound Technician:  Sherrian Felix.

(Cinti Laird Productions)
Written and Directed by Cinti Laird

Cinti Laird has a great deal of talent as a writer. DO YOU MIND IF I JOIN YOU? shows her talent for sensitive and character-building scenes with two or three actors -- such as the ones between the roommates. Her larger ensemble scenes are also quite successful. Note her humorous interactions in the balloon blowing section.

The play is about the effect of sexual abuse on a woman’s psyche. It cleverly postures as a psychological drama when really it is a drama about psychos! The surprise is that we think it’s about one woman when really another is equally affected. Perhaps Laird could develop this content to a degree. The women come off, ironically, in a fairly negative light. Each is either dysfunctional or psychologically destructive -- one toward herself and another against a man -- any man (not even the one that abused her friend).

DO YOU MIND IF I JOIN YOU? looks like a teleplay, with its pattern of short scenes and at least two locations cycling back and forth. For the stage, a little dramaturgical guidance could set the form squarely on track. If we are going to see movies onstage -- but not adapted for the stage -- let’s at least give them the benefit of seeing them and not the scene changes. Scene changes are wasted on the audience unless they are information-giving, visually stimulating or entertaining. Concentration automatically is lost, and the audience is tempted to stop "story-gathering" and caring.

The logical quick fix is to divide the stage into two playing areas: one for the living room and one for the restaurant. Transition from one to the other with ease and maintain continuity of story-telling. (Do not move couch, table, chairs, coffee table, and props after each scene.)

Laird succeeds with two casts. In both groups, acting was sincere and fascinating to watch. The actors are allowed freedom to experiment and explore that which is not necessarily in the script (e.g., paper sculpture and meditation on crystals?). Anita Bernice Durst (Evelyn) delivered an original character -- quirky and light at first. Gloria Rosen (Evelyn) gave the more expected performance -- very straight and honest. Both successful. Amy Groschel (Millie Booker), Danny O’Brien (Philip Wendel), Christine Utterberg (Restaurant Owner), Tana Sarntinoranont (Roger Richard), Al DiGuilio (Jeff Daniels) and Yvonne Lin (Sonja Rivera) also caught my attention.

Also featured: Tom Whitacre (Bill Christian); Monica Bailey (Sonja Rivera); Josh Garner (Roger); Gideon Alexandre (Jeff Daniels); Gary D. Morgan (Stan Yokum); Adrian Enriquez (Jeff Daniels - Swing); and Stephen Powell (Announcer - Voice Over).

Costumes by the cast were attractive. Rosen wisely kept it simple and adorned her various scenes with the addition, or subtraction, of an accessory -- such as a scarf. Durst was more elaborate, taking advantage of the long scene changes.

Lighting & Sound Designer: Jim Vignato. Tech. Assistant: Salvatore Marascia. S.M.: Christine Utterberg. A.S.M.: Missy Goodwin.

CHALK IT UP (Loop Ltd. Productions)
By Daniel Haben Clark

Directed by Diedre Kilgore and Roger Ansanelli

The evening is comprised of two one-acts about the corruption of innocence. The direction is excellent; and the casts are sexy and at-ease with their character development.

"An Acting Lesson" (Directed by Diedre Kilgore) features Samantha Downs (Rosa) with just the right quality as the starlet archetype of yesteryear. Brendan Burke (Terence) hits the right young male, romantic, sincerity. Tom Bass (Rex) brings dimension to the director. Diedre Kilgore (Mara) is believably the female romantic -- an especially strong and effective performance in contrast to her bitter and experienced Mara in the next act.

"The Singing Lesson" (Directed by Roger Ansanelli) highlights the talent of the singer, Harry, made human and well-rounded by Roger Ansanelli. Bruce, the assistant and side-kick, is subtly played by David Cochrane as loyal and unrequited.

The costumes, props and set dressings augment a fine production.

Clark’s writing delivers sensitive, close studies. I felt like a witness to a true microcosm of six lives. The two acts stand alone as a statement. However, there is a third act, "An Interview," which rounds out a trilogy. I look forward to its staging at another time.

Stage Manager: Lee Marlowe. Lighting and Sound Design: Robert Torres. Piano version of ‘At Last’: David Musial. Intermission Piano: Joe Utterbach.

MONSTER IN THE CLOSET (En Avant Playwrights)
3 short plays written by Edward Valentine

Directed by Peter Bloch

Valentine is a funny playwright -- a comic writer for the large audience. Judging by "Couch Play," "Mrs. B," and "Snipe Hunt," I think he can be appreciated commercially. The strong evening was directed (by Peter Bloch) specifically as broad comedy.

"Couch Play" is a "biting" satire in which East Village Slackers meet their doom. "Mrs. B" is a scorned housewife who fancies herself Bluebeard’s final bride. This one really goes somewhere because of the talent of Susan Barnes Walker (Mrs. B) and the brilliant staging by Bloch. And Cub Scouts are menaced by a winged nightmare in "Snipe Hunt" -- more satire which proves that we can laugh at men who will be boys. All are wacky.

The acting is very strong. In fact, there isn’t a single mediocre comedian in the troupe. Congrats must go to Tracy Baker, Campbell Bridges, Peter Downey, Jesse May, Michael Todd, Luis Villabon, Susan Barnes Walker, and my two favorites, Tim Burke and Hunter Gilmore. Production Stage Manager: Katherine Nigh.

I love the message. In fact, to sum up the theme of the whole night, one might argue that, "Nobody can live except the monsters." Monsters will destroy everybody. MONSTER IN THE CLOSET is the classic nightmare from childhood. The Boogie Man will, indeed, get us -- every single one of us. Now, that’s just the right confirmation we need at Halloween.

CRASHING (Hey Ladies! Theatre Co.)
By Simona Berman with contributions from Kate Searcy

Directed by Vin Berardi
CRASHING is a surprising production with a strong female vibe. I say "surprising" because there is a structure, and yet Berman seems to be successfully inventing her own form -- not a traditional musical and not a traditional play. Art forms are poetically blended: mime, dancer and singer come and go like aspects of the women themselves (as subconscious or alter-ego).

The story is about three women (Kate Searcy, Verena Podack and Simona Berman), their lives, friends, dating, and roommates. All three leads are solidly different characterizations -- and immensely likeable. The beautiful singer is Sujana Chand; and the gorgeous dancer is Julia Reid.

All of the players are delightful colors on the Berman/Searcy canvas. But Berman herself is in the foreground. She actually breaks into song and sexy movement at a split-second’s timing, taking the others with her. They never question it.

The direction is quick and agile; and so is the technical crew. Sound and Lights are professional. Costumes are attractive; and the one-unit set is a perfect indication of a living room and kitchenette.

AVENGE! (Genesis Repertory)
A New Adaptation of Thomas Kyd’s THE SPANISH TRAGEDY

Directed by Jay Michaels

This is Thomas Kyd‘s nightmarish renaissance play, adapted freely and theatrically. It’s a creative venture about a big issue: death and destruction. For $15 we get more than a revenge story about a man losing his son; and we get more than a general look at the 19th century period. We get ghosts, demons, blood, sex, incest, gore, and battle sequences.

This group wants to be on the Metropolitan Opera stage and likes things big. Large flames on the screen burn and symbolize the violence and hell of many periods. As directed by Jay Michaels, there is a winking aspect to the Grand Guignol proceedings. Note the woman’s head falling from the guillotine! Some of the projected images (Cornelius Matteo) are clever visuals for a set "on the cheap." Michael Fortunato and Mary Elizabeth MiCari are production designer and Hair/Make-up designer, respectively.

Dozens of costumes (Matthew Simonelli) are cleverly indicative of THE SPANISH TRAGEDY: colorful and atmospheric, if not finished. (I would much rather see daring productions like this which allow me to use my imagination instead of not seeing them because period productions with a cast of thirty are prohibitive.)

Steve Abbruscato (Hieronimo) and Robert F. Saunders (Don Andrea) lead the "style" language with quick and easy precision. Likewise, their style movement is true to form. Not everybody is as successful with the soldier and class archetypes. The slow-motion fight sequences are effective for everybody. But, when more realistic scenes begin, some actors lose the strong class grounding. For example, Joel Malazita (Horatio) sets himself up as a strong fighter and yet in scene work leads from the waist -- cute and sexy to be sure, but I would argue the wrong choice. This kind of quibble is minor, however, considering his abundant talent. Several of my critic’s picks are Kevin Myers, Kate Syzperski, Cynthia Granville, Michael Schwendemann, Cameron McElyea, Rodney Hakim, Amy K. Browne and Ron Dizon.

Other stand-out performers are Rhianna Basore, Tammy Tunyavongs, Phil Vos, David Fischer, M. Alan Haley, Jennifer Brian, Megan Crawford, Meredith Murphy, Daniel Ishofsky, Kelly Markus, Eric K. Johnston, Racheline Maltese, and Emily Bloch.

When I see a classic, with a "30 member plus" company, I am keenly aware that there must be a mentor-teacher behind the project. I commend Jay Michaels (Director) for making this his forte’ and giving countless New Yorkers the chance to hone the craft which they studied in school.

Avi Soroka (Stage Manager), Betsy Karic (A.D/Sound Design), Aliza Shane (A.D.), The Wright Group (Publicity).

Thor's Day (The Glines Presents a Spotlight On Production)
By Edward Crosby Wells

Directed by Steven Thornburg

THOR'S DAY is a brilliant creation, from the writing to the current production's performance and direction. Set on a stormy day in October, Philip (John Rengstorff) takes home a younger man, Buck (Adam Mervis). Repressed and bi-sexual Philip meets rough trade and is about to get a quickie roll in the hay. Of course, fine drama such as this has much more at stake. The audience, as well as Phil, is taken on an hour and twenty minute journey into the darkest and saddest places -- encountering possibly supernatural forces and certainly an agenda which is set by Buck. The genre is original and universal as far as I can tell, combining psychological realism, suspense drama, erotic thriller and a new twist on the positive gay role modeling for which John Glines is famous. (At first glance, we are not sure that both of these heroes are honorable ones.) But what ensues is a completely well-rounded study of two humans -- a universal tragedy. And yet, these heroes may have succeeded in getting what they want -- or need.

Rengstorff and Mervis are epiphanies and in perfect chemistry with each other. Moment to moment acting is believable, without a single compromise to the pacing. Both players are hugely likeable, with humor and poignancy. The nudity and simulated sex are indeed brave and flow inevitably toward climax. Greater revelations (than the fleshy kind) surface when salvation arrives.

Steven Thornburg directs the exciting staging in a way that opens up this black box with variation in playing areas and nuance in the drama. Fight choreography (uncredited) is scary and sometimes shocking. People around me cringed.

Music and sound design by Thomas Hasselwander is evocative and climactic -- pun intended -- and includes a tornado and haunting tango. Lighting designs on past Chashama productions have died (with eight or ten rudimentary instruments). But Jim Stewart's balanced lighting shows just what one can do on a shoestring. His lightning effects are augmented partly by lights hidden inside furniture. Anthony Fusco's costumes are appropriate, a handsome suit on the insurance salesman and the midnight cowboy look with edgy tattoos on Buck. The Tommy Barz set implies a middle income living room with telling choices in set dressings (note the figurine of Jesus crucified).

THOR'S DAY is highly philosophical and sneaks in many issues, ranging from vegetarianism, the gay man's sometimes preoccupation with "chicken," justification for murder, God, and -- most importantly -- the capacity for man to heal another man. In fact, the large theme is that of salvation and the ability which one of God's lowliest has to give life to another. Philip represents Man's guilt, conscience and potential; and Buck represents the elemental force of destruction in a metaphysical way. However, it is destruction that often leads the way to liberation and re-birth.

THOR'S DAY will be seen next at Wings Theater Company in June of 2004.