Issue: December 18, 2002
by Sherry Braun
New Years greetings to all. New York's Off-Off Broadway scene
has always been the true breeding ground for art and theatrical
projects which edify and make us evolve as a generation. It
works as well as good literature, in the span of one and a half
hours -- as in the case of the festival environment. I have
never seen Off-Off Broadway as busy as it is now.
Nor have I seen a better festival in terms of its overall standard
than the recent Spotlight On Festival. I commend all of the
participants because I can't find one production which might be
considered embarrassing. I hope you enjoy my feedback in the
OF THE SNAKE WOMAN
play is written by Edward Crosby Wells and directed by Sean Cassels.
It is a new comedy in a film noir style concerning America and Nazi
Germany. The present production shows a very fun script with
extremely campy possibilities.
CURSE OF THE SNAKE WOMAN is a good guy versus bad guy story wherein
Dick Palmer (Tommy Barz), P.I., and Velma Lombard (Andrea Hoffman)
fight it out with Baroness Von Cobra (Natasha Yannacanedo) and
company, Adolph/Kongo (Michael Dulev), Frau Schnapps (Breana Murphy)
and Otto Python (Scott Petche) -- with a few surprises such as a
snake, a gorilla and questionable loyalties, which neatly wrap up by
The acting across the boards shows great promise and is fully
realized by Hoffman as the rising actress and ingenue. Other
stand-outs are Petche in a kinky comic role and Dulev whom, although
hidden as a snake and a gorilla, shows great technique in timing.
Barz is perfectly cast as the P.I. with deadpan delivery, although
more animation and sharper reactions to the clowns around him would
better connect him from moment to moment -- and make his comedy
keener too. Murphy proves herself a delightful character
actress with many gems of comedy, although she wastes much of it by
not being heard. Yannacanedo is beautiful, talented, likeable
and, yet, almost not villain enough to be Snake Woman, Rather
than speaking, walking across the room, and then talking again,
more walking while she talks and talking while she walks will help
her to rule and, therefore, fully hone her comic timing.
Director Cassels gets his addled comedy perfect with a chase
sequence involving the whole cast; and it is here that I see where
he is aiming. The hilarity must have been rehearsed many times
because the actors fully commit to it. I wish much of the rest
of the play did not seem under-rehearsed. For example, if
Cassels had asked these talented actors for more projection and
faster delivery, I think they would have been up to it.
Lighting errs on the side of plenty rather than risking too little
-- which a shadowy film noir effect might bring. The sound
(perfectly engineered by Peter Vipulis), which sometimes creates a
period atmosphere, is usually blatantly anachronistic.
Costumes, make-up and hair (Amanda Wade) achieve a sense of humor,
although the tango dress doesn't help one to believe that Von Cobra
is a baroness. The unit set functions well except for an
awkward last-minute entrance of the empire state building for a
visual reference to King Kong. Comedy is "surprise."
Sorry, but I was way ahead of this joke when I literally saw it
The new play is based on the life of Sor Juana de la Cruz, a major
Baroque literary figure recognized to be one of the most
extraordinary people to come from the Spanish-American tradition.
The setting is New Spain, Mexico, in late 17th Century. This
absolutely beautiful play by Susan Tammany shows Juana (Agnes
Tsangarido) and her relationships with the misogynistic (victim of
his times?) Father Antonio (Michael DiGioia) and a loving supporter,
Countess Maria Luisa (Carmela Marner). Their lifetimes pass
before our eyes, and we are compelled onward through each logical
phase as if voyeurs to an inevitable conclusion. One can
easily see this play, and this very production, on a Broadway stage.
The Helen Hayes is just the right size to appreciate every nuance of
poetic and theatrical acting. The fine roles already mentioned
are backed up by the powerfully solid Sor Iris (Betsy Johnson), Sor
Barbara (Margaret Stockton), and Ma nuella (Nancy Wilcox).
These supporting actors play it so straight-forwardly that all
theatrical and poetic moments are left to the three principals, as
they should be.
And moments do they have: of prostration to whip themselves for
guilt and punishment; of love; of dance; of the lifting of the
spirit and the dream. Director Joel Froomkin succeeds in more
than raising the acting like a phoenix. Scenes are cleverly
punctuated and re-set with the simple movement of a bench.
Sound ( David Gilman) is exquisitely haunting. Froomkin deftly
uses the festival's side-illumination (repertory plot by Alex
Warner) in such a subtle way that it appears magical. A slow
disclosure of feelings on a face lets the audience slip into the
The writing symbolically devolves the Father as he shows his Dark
Ages mentality by literally going blind. Desires and actions
are bold and large as the love triangles evolve. The language
is as sophisticated as good drama gets and contains enough comic
relief to make us relate. Tammany "invites me
in" so well that tears come to my eyes.
Costumes (uncredited) are stunning. A cross in the shape of a
phoenix hangs around the neck of Antonio. There are other fine
details very economically used (such as the framed portrait) in this
wonderful production. Stage Manager: Drew Van Diver.
Prop Manager: John D. Alfone.
Bravo to Cassandra Productions and Spotlight On Productions for
having selected such a lovely, sensitive work which is relevant to
the lives of women, of men, of artists, of feminists, of religious
fanatics, and of lovers.
presents three little love stories about misery, confusion and
death. They are one-acts under the title of UNTENDER,
beautifully written and helmed by Emily Steele. I say
"helmed" because Steele only directs the second piece.
Justin-Michael Youron is credited with direction of the first and
the third. (Think I'm going to tell you what happens in these
plays? Naw. I'm feeling a bit of the fun rebel, as I
have learned from Physicke -- as demonstrated by the fact that this
troupe didn't include bios nor post headshots. They did,
however, draw and color child-like pictures of themselves and hang
them in the reception room!)
The first piece is "love in a bed of roses." Colin
Ryan and Emily Steele engage us very well as He and She. This
is the way a relationship goes, with Everyman and Everywoman.
This is about as straight-forward as Steele gets. Youron
The second piece is "boy meets girl." Steele
increases the irony and the humor with twists, turns, surprises and
a tight pace. Featuring a charming Justin-Michael Youron and
Elise Rovinsky (who does not even open her mouth and somehow gets a
laugh), Also very good are Heather Murdock, Thomas Westphal and
The third piece is the longest, "little play about sex and
death." In it, Steele and Murdock are the girls who talk
about having killed a boy. The piece is strangely sexy and
sick. They invest in the story very well, while Murdock even
betrays a real tear on her face. Thomas Westphal is the boy
and tells his story too. They take their time; and there is a
surprise pay-off! Interestingly, Youron has only staged the
three performers in three chairs in the shape of a triangle, with
the boy at the apex. My first reaction is, "How
static." My second is, "How alone they are; how
separate; how unconnected." My third reaction is, "I
wonder if he chose it because of some philosophical/ psychological
reason (that might be labeled Theater of Alienation) or simply
because they rehearsed the monologues separately and not
together?" Well, the piece is certainly minimally
rendered, in the best sense.
This group has a great "studio feel," reminding me of
graduate school experimentation and playfulness. And there is
still a lack of theatricality. Apparel does not appear to be
costumes, but street clothes. The set just appears to be
chairs and tables. The illumination just comes and goes
unnoticed like natural lighting. Interesting. And, yes,
I think they succeeded in their mission to create
"engaging theatre with quite a lot less of the bullshit."
Produced by Loan Star Productions, and written by Elias Stimac,
CLOSIN' TIME is a sensitive and spiritual journey in The Last Stop
Inn, set in the present. Stimac efficiently paints a story of
a group of people who drink of a bottle of champagne and
consequently are visited by spirits and messages that are needed.
It isn't so much the variation of a theme that we may have seen
before which impresses -- but the way that Stimac goes about it.
The production, which marks the play's East Coast premiere, starts
strongly with a "musical guest" (called The Ghost of
Elvis) performing live in the empty bar room. No patrons, no
audience, no tips. The bartender, Mark, kicks him out and
invokes, "Next time, bring some friends." As soon as
the musician leaves and Mark (played with charm by Vance Clemente)
starts to lock up, a string of poignant guests arrive.
Notably, Terry (Sean Dill) and Jenna (Marci Occhino) have a
sentimental scene as a father and daughter. Gregg
(sensuous Carl Owens) is another standout, almost in more ways than
actor (when he sheds all clothes and is only covered by towels from
the bathroom on his front- and back-side).
All of the other actors are good: Jennifer Bachman, Cate
Bottiglione, Dawnn Carpenter, Cory Heath, Sandra Holguin, Nicole
Paradiso and Valentina Zamora. However, sometimes the director
(Dana Letowsky) allows some of them too much time to pick up their
cues. And occasionally some actors are not even looking at
each other nor actively listening -- but looking off into their own
thoughts. Many times the actors are too soft spoken to be
heard by the last row. These moments fight the progression and
through-line of the script.
Letowsky has staged the production well. The bar, tables,
chairs and "found" doors create a logical set; and sound
design (Nitin Srivastava) includes a rainy underscore.
However, there are distractions in the lighting (Lisa McCree) which
seem out of control. An attempt is made to create a lighting
effect when the champagne is imbibed and the magic is forthcoming.
There are also sloppy moments when the lights simply dim in an area
of the stage because..., well probably because, ...an actor is not
there any longer. These moments don't seem to be motivated by
Mark, or anybody, flipping a switch. They are there just
because.... And they become tiresome to keep straight.
Perhaps Maritza Puello (Dramaturg) helps Stimac keep track of the
various entrances and exits of Mark alone which enable his customers
to have their own moments with significant others and mentors.
The writing and development of the property are successful on that
account. Stimac has a beautiful play.
Issue: November 15, 2002
STAGE PAGES online
by Sherry Braun
Frank Calo, Producer Extraordinaire, has tapped me as a Spotlight On
Awards Voter and also invited me to cover as many of the shows in
the Halloween Festival as possible. So, here is my first
effort at reviewing for Spotlight On Festivals, Inc. There
will be two other installments of my coverage as soon as I get them
typed up. I hope you enjoy "the read" as much as I
enjoy the outings at Raw Space. There is great work being done
by a great many individuals, which I know will add to the collective
health of the craft.
Written and directed by Steven Gianturco, VAMPIRES SUCK is the story
of a dysfunctional vampire seeking a wacky shrink to fix his
inability to suck. As produced by Gianturco and Stuart
Parsons, a talented cast is headed by Gianturco (Dr. Gloob) and
Parsons (Frank, the vampire). Parsons hisses humorously and
dons clown white to let us know just what kind of a comedy we are
watching. Likewise, Gianturco hams it up by starting his
scenes by napping upside-down and off the furniture. (And this
is a normal human in this alternate world.) A handsome police
officer (Jean Paul San Pedro) looks at a girlie magazine until a
beautiful Lady (Jenny Greeman) gets his attention. The fine
cast is rounded out by Ryan Maloney with great comic timing as Jingo
the clown and a fey television director.
Throughout this satire in two acts, the company invites audience
participation, a real sense of play, and improv -- even when the
wrong set comes out. This makes it impossible for the audience
not to have fun too, even if the production could benefit from an
objective technical director. Could not a unit set have
sufficed to avoid changing it after every scene? For example,
a desk stage left (or right) could represent the police station.
A love seat and chair center stage: Gloob's office. Far
stage right: a street. Tighten this tech show up; and
have a nice cult following and a longer run somewhere.
THE INSANITY OF MARY GIRARD
Lanie Robertson's play is an intense drama based on fact.
Mrs. Stephen Girard (Klaudia Kovacs) is institutionalized by her
husband in an era (1790) when even American women are at the mercy
of their masters/men. (Methinks this theme is relevant today.
One needs only to look at the cultures which still teach that women
should remain subjugated.) Mary's reality is surreal, like a
dream, as she remembers people and encounters them in the present --
all the while being strapped to a chair and tortured by fellow
inmates, or Furies (William Greville, Marilyn Duryea, Lora Goldman,
Jason C. Decker, Kathryn Alexander).
Kovacs portrays Mary beautifully with a great range, from subtle to
tragic. Other stand-outs are, well...frankly, everybody.
As I try to pick out my favorites, I realize that they are purely
subjective ones. Jason Decker plays multiple roles,
dramatically switching physical gesture and speech pattern.
John Rengstorff is sensitive and commanding as Stephen Girard.
All of the rest have great performance technique too. This
cast is an ensemble, quite literally, as they finish each other's
sentences with the greatest of ease -- ease that only comes from
many rehearsals and a strong director (George Adams).
Costumes are rendered appropriately to period, with attention paid
to details: fineries for the upscale, a saddle bag for Mr.
Philips, peasant blouses and knickers for the furies, etc. For
the props, I liked the wooden spoons and bowl. However, I have
a minor quibble in that the warder only pantomimed placing food in
the bowls; and the half-starved inmates did not eat. My
suspension of disbelief left me for just a moment. Then, I
allowed that perhaps "I'm being too literal," especially
when a festival atmosphere doesn't allow much time for cooking
WHO AM I
WHO AM I is produced by Cuchipinoy Productions, written and directed
by Rodney E. Reyes. (This team members are very talented; and
I would like to know more about each and every one.) In the
program notes, the premise is presented. "What would you
do when given a chance with your creator?"
In art, there is very little that is completely original. The
important thing is HOW one goes about telling a story. A tale
about God looking like an ordinary, sexy latino has been done in
summer stock productions of GOD'S FAVORITE. What makes this
effort special is Reyes' multi-telling of the creator story.
There is: the writer and his creation; the guy and his female
alter-ego; the mother and daughter; and God and Human. There
is the sensitivity, humor and poetry in the writing. There is the
terrific acting of the overlapping pairs of seekers.
The acting includes a range from humorous to fiercely emotional.
The most obvious comedy is demonstrated by God (Mario Corrales) and
Human (Patrick Annelli). Human is the comic character, and God is
the straight man. Guy (Dennis K. Philbert) and Girl (Abena
Asamoah Duodu) play different sides of the same person.
Philbert has my heart, and Duodu's performance is the
"fierce" of which I spoke. One rise-able actress!
Marv (Jonathan Calindas) and May (Daniela Tedesco) are lovely as the
writer and his creation. Finally, Daughter (Michelle L.
Santiago) and Mother (Liza Hataf) are sensitively portrayed.
The staging was very simply done in three areas. No time was
wasted on scene changes. Costumes (Anna Payumo) are perfectly
appropriate and understated. The lighting (Gabriel Martinez)
is probably the best of any show in Space M during the festival.
The three pools of light subtly moved as if they were another
character in the play.
The Peyari Dance Project (Artistic Director: Jen MacQueen)
presents FEAR OF..., written by Dan Puckett, a wildly funny and
creative performance! It is first-rate dance and performance
art, eclectically rendered -- with professional voice-overs of a
female patient and a male analyst. One quickly learns that the
good doctor is cuckoo and the patient is the "straight
The entire company gave us original pieces which are emblematic of
fears, and irritations, that we manifest in real life. The
group piece ("Watched") was especially appealing and ripe
with truth and comedy. "Das Insect" was biting.
"Beneath the Boards" was especially strong and
surreal -- matching appropriately the Festival theme of Halloween
creepiness. The duet ("Favorite Mistake") with
Austin Marolla and Sara Herrera was sexy and deft. "The
Dove" was sensitive and beautiful. Everything was
fabulous and juxtaposed just right.
The device of the dancers, in plain sight, placing colored gels over
the dance lights was an inventive mood changer and transition
opportunity. However, if this production moves to a commercial
run, it might benefit from a smidge of trimming in the voice-overs.
The costumes (by Jen MacQueen and co.) were just right -- crisp and
colorful and filled with character.
Choreography by Melanie Furjanic, Sara Herrera, Jen MacQueen, Lynn
Mancinelli, Tripp Pettigrew, Jenn Weddel, Paige Worsham. Other
dancers: Brittney Jensen, Jennie Karr, Martha Madison, Austin
Marolla, Paige Powers, Anissa Wiley. Company Manager:
FINDING CENTER THREE
FINDING CENTER THREE is the bill for three one-acts by Sharon E.
Cooper. Briefly, they are about finding one's center with the
help of somebody near you -- somebody close to you, or even a
The evening is completely successful with lovely acting from three
couples: Jenni Tooley (Mother), W. Emory Rose (Son) in
"New Witness in Wonderland"; Sean Doran (Michael), Natalia
Fisher (Miranda) in "Directly After"; and Daryl Lathon
(Man), Schnele Wilson (Woman) in "In the Midst."
The third piece strikes a universal chord with New Yorkers,
revealing two people from different backgrounds discovering what
they have in common and starting a friendship together. Given
the writing and the chemistry between Lathon and Wilson, it is the
best drama that I have personally seen come out of September 11th.
Composition and Sound Design (Nick Moore) added measurably to
enjoyment of this charming production, which was seamlessly directed
by Christopher Romero. Stage Manager: Charmian Creagle.
YET, ANOTHER FAIRY TALE
Written by H.C. Lugo, YET, ANOTHER FAIRY TALE is a new play inspired
by A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM. This is the way I like to see
Shakespeare -- fun, quick-paced and seamless in transitions
(Direction by Steven Thornburg). Lugo's take on the classic
story is set in Central Park and the offices of Fairyland Models,
Inc. -- owned by Oberon (Lawrence Merritt) and Tatania Tinker (Ann
Chandler) and managed by Petunia Goodfellow (Cornelia Lorentzen).
Puk (Michael Rivera) shows up to buy Oberon's soul. And there
is an ensemble of "method" actors who are preparing a play
for a Halloween Festival at Raw Space -- Off-Off Broadway!
Sound familiar? The cast members are fabulous, all in their
Rivera is a star in the making -- athletic, commanding,
swashbuckling, and forever the comedian. Lorentzen matched her
leading man with sex appeal and tons o' charisma. Merritt and
Chandler made me laugh heartily, at first, and then say, "Aaahh!"
Then, there were the lovers, each played to perfection by Kim
Prentice, Lynda Green, Michael Shattner and Mark Cirnigliaro.
Each had show-stopping moments, choreography and hysterical
delivery. Just when I thought that the entrance of the comic
relief foursome couldn't possibly relieve anything already so high,
enter Carol (Randi Sobol), Midge (Dana Letowsky), Maxwell Cute (Larray
Grimes) and Bobby (Kenny Rials). They are instantly more real
than anything that has come before them; and we know them!
There is the affected director, the mugging actor, the annoying
actress who wants her own way, and the stage manager who threatens,
"Max, I have 25 headshots in my backpack right now!"&n
bsp; They deliver great ensemble work. Finally, the Mayor's
right hand man is Egeus (Michal G. Charpentier). This actor
brings in a quirky comic character. One can't rationally
explain why even his twitching leg is funny.
There are no sets other than tables, chairs and benches.
Costumes by Robert Strong Miller are bright and theatrical, such as
Petunia's pink and the hysterical displaced heads on the ghouls.
Alan Kanevsky's lights look fine as executed by Gillian Felix,
although there are dark spots from a festival lighting plot by Alex
Warner. Sound as executed by Liz Valentin is playful,
including a recorded voice-over of a very funny cyclops.
YET, ANOTHER FAIRY TALE is filled with high jinks, campy writing,
and clever character actors, making it one of the major highlights
of the season.
THREE GUYS IN DRAG SELLING THEIR STUFF
Robert Patrick gave author Edward Crosby Wells a quote for THREE
GUYS IN DRAG SELLING THEIR STUFF. He can be paraphrased this
way. "Wells faces the facts of the decline of the west
with hilarious completeness, and therefore is able to be both
funnier and more tragic than Beckett ever was."
There is something wonderfully "theater of the absurd"
about the current production. Even the economy of prop usage
serves the actors. They seem, now more than ever, to be
universal figures. Yes, comic...and yes, tragic. Lillian
(David Dotterer), Diva (Anthony Valbiro) and Tink (Myles Cohen) are
having a yard sale to raise funds for a Faberge Egg in which to
place the ashes of Diva's dearly departed husband. The
week-end goes into a downward spiral as the customers buy nothing
and simply imbibe the free punch. The actors portray the women
sincerely as women and make the stakes very big. This is stuff
rich with the tradition of the Ridiculous Theatre Company and also
of Charles Busch. And these three actors are just as good.
Dotterer is extremely funny as a plain Jane with no bosom. I
would like to see, however, a touch of another "voice" in
addition to the current Lillian voice (e.g., something akin to a
duality split: the "lady" and the "frustrated
girl" underneath that Lillian is hiding from the world).
That girl could come out on razor-sharp lines such as, "Thinks
with her twat, she does." The sudden switch would make
Dotterer even funnier than the straight delivery. Valbiro
rules as a control freak diva with every hair in place. The
persona is masterful. Sorry, mistressful! And Cohen, the
incapacitated older lady, delivers many comic surprises as she
awakens from sleep and coma, including the excellent musical number
with the other two. The trio score a bull's eye with the
The staging by Frank Calo is simply eloquent; and the choreography
by Anthony Valbiro is campy fun. There is something about
grown women -- even if played by men -- dancing in perfect time with
the fervor of children. Sound design is even humorous.
The lights look very sunny, appropriately.
Costumes (Calo and Valbiro) are stunning as an overall design.
When the interval is over, and the actors return in completely
different garb, the moment is truly applause-worthy in its own
right. Linda Evans and Joan Collins, eat your hearts out.
You don't have anything on these ladies.
TRYIN' T' TOUCH THE SUN
White Rabbit Theatre and FHB Productions have produced a very funny
play, by Andrew Rothkin, with music and dance. The writing is
by one of the best new playwrights. It is light and
entertaining on the surface, but backed up by characters who want
The place is St. Claire's School for girls. Melissa (Cameron
Peterson) is one mischievous child, to say the least. Peterson
plays her to perfection. There is an assortment of others,
including the kiss-ass, Betsy (Shelley Ray). The class sings
off key so well and dances perfectly in sync except for Rita (Ahrum
Claiborne), the awkward girl. Boy, Claiborne is a great
comedienne in her physical work. Most of the cast members -- even
those playing adults -- get in on the dancing and double as fantasy
characters out of Melissa's imagination. The other dynamite
cast members are: Ray Wiederhold (Principal Heckner), Anita
Wlody (Aunt Marge), Gretchens S. Hall (Mrs. Beckson), Tony Harry
(Caleb), Deborah J. Green (Stephanie), and Tonye Briggs (Kim).
Director Glory Sims Bowen has crafted one hysterical, perfectly
paced production. From the start, one notices that the
children are played by relatively short people; and the adults are
played by relatively tall people. Not only is this casting
visually humorous; but we instantly start thinking of these girls as
real children -- a bit horrifying when all is said and done.
There is good fight choreography by Stephen Heskett. The set
(Ryan Scott) includes a backdrop to establish the school.
Costumes are funny, from the school uniforms to the cheesy Halloween
outfits. The seamless sound design is by Christopher Brooks.
Lighting (Sean A. Doyle) works well with good use of the amber and
blue. Design choices are light and comic, which compliments
the psychopathic child theme.
THE 4AM 'LIZBETH
This play in three acts (by Jonathan Calindas) is a gorgeous
portrait of three men's lives as they come together at their usual
meeting spot, the tracks of the 4am Elizabeth. The writing is
absorbing, credit to the fact that Calindas creates his jumping off
place in 1995, then flashes back to 1991, and then goes forward to
1999. We are introduced to testosterone-filled beer guzzlers;
then we see their young and vulnerable selves; then we see the
outcome of their choices. The device not only works but
invites a haunting denouement.
The characters in question are high school buddies Jay (Marlon
Correa), Jerry (Rob Moretti) and Eddie (Anthony Go). The
acting is equally sublime in all three cases, which enables the
audience to fall for these guys, care about them, and sense their
support and love for each other.
The director, Mario Corrales, has shown us what can be done in a
festival with ingenuity. He has an indication of train
tracks, littered with beer cans, and a projection of slides on the
back wall of the small stage. During the brief pause between
acts, he re-adjusts the track and gives the actors a little
variation for their staging. Meanwhile, the actors adjust
their costume changes. And off we go again.
Credit should be given where it is due. This talented company
deserves it. Set Design: Corrales and Sarah Darnsteadt.
Projection Design: Jonathan Calindas. Scenic Artist:
Rachael Barba. Graffiti Artist: Dadisi DuBose.
Sound Engineer: Eric Johnson. Lighting Engineer:
Rodney E. Reyes. House Manager: Liza Hataf. The
Spotlight On Halloween Festival In Association with Cuchipinoy