Thursday, February 04, 2016

Henry V at Rogue & Peasant Players

My favorite thing about seeing Shakespeare off-Broadway is that nothing is made into everything.  The Rogue & Peasant Players is doing this now with their new production of HENRY V at The Access Theatre, a wonderfully intimate black box in Tribeca.

The production, directed by Kelly Monroe Johnston, is at once simplistic and chaotic.  Out of a cacophony of sound, cleverly punctuated by a wonderful percussion set of hanging wine bottles and buckets, comes forth a clarity of text.  It's interesting and entertaining. The cast is mostly female and plays the roles as they are written.  At times it seems that there are a lot of actors in the space, but even then they switch characters seamlessly, thanks to simple costume changes, designed by Liliana Casabal.  I also loved the lighting.  The Access Theatre is fitted with typical stage lighting, but Lighting Designer Susannah Baron added very cool effects with lamps and in particular a flash camera during the battle scenes.

I saw HENRY IV last fall so I was happy to see HENRY V so soon since, as I'm making my way thru the History Plays.  Shakespearean quotes are so much of every day life that I find it a bit of a epiphany to hear them in context.  I was thrilled to hear the St. Crispian Day speech ("We few, we happy few, we band of Brothers") delivered beautifully by company member Brenna Yeary as Henry.

The rest of this cast is represented by company members Sarah Bonner, Tim Down, Dee Dee Popper. Alejandra Venancio (a delightful Katherine), and Malka Wallick.  Joining the company for this production are Alyssa May Gold, Elizabeth M. Kelly, Jess Milewicz, Adam Kee and apprentices Madeleine Escarne and Brandon Rachal. 

I have to shout out to Falstaff's soldiers played hilariously by Jess Melewics as Bardolph, Alyssa May Gold as Nym and Sarah Bonner as Pistol, especially with their use of some unlikely weapons.

In this 400th year since the death of Shakespeare, it's a great idea to add Rogue & Peasant's production of HENRY V to join in on the commemoration.

HENRY V runs Wednesdays thru Sundays until February 14th at the Access Theatre, 380 Broadway, just north of White Street and close to Canal Street.  Tickets ($18 well spent) are available via Brown Paper Tickets:

Saturday, December 19, 2015

The No. 1 Reason Why Star Wars The Force Awakens Will Be Even More Awesome Than I Expect

The No. 1 Reason why Star Wars: The Force Awakens will be even more awesome than I expect when I see it on Christmas Eve:  Dame Harriet Walter has a cameo as Dr. Kalonia.  

Now, if only Janet McTeer appears as a storm trooper...

Via The Daily Beast - Spot the Cameos in Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Friday, December 18, 2015

Insignificant at Infinite Variety Productions

I loved the new play Insignificant by Sean Michael Welch at Infinite Variety Productions
so much that I'm going again tonight. 

Set in 1925, a young female astronomy student, Cecilia Payne, doubts her own findings.  It's not the data that necessarily holds her back, but her station as a woman in the field where men are dominant and the resultant self-doubt.

Her colleague and veteran astronomer Annie Jump Cannon leads Cecilia through her own struggle as a brilliant female scientist in a male world by sharing her own story and that of her colleagues to drive home the necessity to continue the fight against the struggle of equality.

From the Press Release: Insignificant tells the true stories of the women behind the stars and their astounding but uncelebrated triumphs in the field of astronomy. Defiantly unconventional, the play reminds us that women have to break all the rules to make history.

The production is superb with almost an ethereal quality at times, perfect for it's heavenly subject matter.   The story weaves back and forth from present to past, without becoming overly sentimental or maudlin thanks to a fantastic company and a deft touch by director Colleen Britt.   The actresses, lead by Kathleen O'Neill in the role of Annie and Deanna McGovern as Cecilia, brilliantly and powerfully depict this true life story of these early female astronomers is dramatized beautifully, highlighting their friendship and sisterhood and sometimes even weaving back further in their past.   The other real female astronomers and Annie's contemporaries brought to life are Williamina Fleming by Laura King Otazo, Antonia Maury by Ashley Adelman, and Henrietta Swan Leavitt by Alla Illvosa. 

The drama is also kept light by a sort of Vaudevillian troupe of male villains who also serve as their chauvinistic professors.  They are delightfully played by Andrew Dunn, Jordan Gwiazdowski and Timothy Ellis Riley.

The other subject of the play is astronomy, not an easy science.  Sean Michael Welch keeps it real without making it too much to understand.  I'm not a complete novice, having taken astronomy in college to satisfy my requirement science component, but this is not easy stuff.  That alone makes this a fascinating topic to explore especially given that these women were not even allowed to look through even the most rudimentary of telescopes by their male superiors in university.   They are confined to the very tedious work of measuring distance between the stars on photo plates.

Infinite Variety Productions is a company which devotes itself to little known stories of women in our history through drama.   This passionate company is producing thrilling stories and I can't wait to see more from them.  Each time I've seen one of their plays, I've been compelled to learn more of the history they presenting - and inspired to make sure that my nieces are aware as well.  

This is the last weekend of Insignificant, although I'm sure it will get another, much deserved life in the very near future.  It's not too late to see it - it's playing at the Kraine Theatre at 85 East 4th Street, just off 2nd Avenue tonight and tomorrow night at 7 pm.   Tickets are available online via Horse Trade Theatre Group

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Great Scott! The Pipes of Christmas are Coming!

This Saturday, December 19th, the Scots will be invade the Upper East Side of Manhattan (and they'll move over to New Jersey on Sunday, December 20th).  Specifically it's the Highland pipes and drums of Scotland along with brass, strings, and percussion native to Scotland, Ireland, and Wales.  This Celtic concert, the Pipes of Christmas, celebrates the holidays and the Christmas season like no other. 

I have been attending the Pipes of Christmas annually since 2010.  This concert of music and readings stirs my soul and reminds me not only of the wee dram of Scottish blood in my family line but also of my heritage as a Christian celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ.   It's one of my favorite events of the entire year and I plan my December around it. 

The Pipes of Christmas is produced by Clan Curry Society to both celebrate the season and raise money for its international music scholarship program that includes annual gifts to students in the United States, Scotland and Canada.

Performing are the fiddle champions, Paul Woodiel and Calum Pasqua, "Riverdance" piper, Christopher Layer, guitarist Steve Gibb from "Jersey Boys", cellist Sarah Hewitt-Roth, Scottish Country Dance aficionado Susie Petrov, bassist Mark Verdino, the Solid Brass ensemble, organist William Peek, Scottish Gaelic Mod Champion harpist Jennifer Port and the Kevin Ray Blandford Memorial Pipe Band of Redlands, CA.

This year, the Pipes of Christmas also honors the late Academy Award winning composer James Horner.  Horner composed hundreds of film scores, including "Titanic," "A Beautiful Mind," "Field of Dreams," and notably "Braveheart" which tells the story of Scottish hero William Wallace to who led the Scots in the First War of Scottish Independece against King Edward 1 of England.  To pay tribute to James Horner's legacy of bringing Celtic music to a broader audience, three "Braveheart" case members - Mhairi Calvey, James Robison, and Andrew Weir - are reuniting to perform readings.  It's thrilling to hear their brogues as well as speak in native Scots. 

The concert will also feature the world premier of a new work composed by a music student of Edinburgh Napier University as part of the university's Christmas Composition Contest which is sponsored by Scottish writer Alexander McCall Smith ("No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency" series).

The Pipes of Christmas opens on Saturday, December 19th at the Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church, located at 921 Madison Avenue (at 73rd Street) with performances at 2PM and 7PM.  The concert moves across the Hudson River on Sunday, December 20th to Central Presbyterian Church located at 70 Maple Street in Summit, NJ for 2PM and 7PM performances.

Concert highlights will also be televised via cable to 11 New Jersey towns on December 24-26, 2015 and streamed online.  Please visit and on

To experience this miraculous and soul stirring Christmas concert live, visit SmartTix to purchase tickets.   Attend Saturday, December 19th at the Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church, located at 921 Madison Avenue (at 73rd Street) with performances at 2PM and 7PM.  The concert moves across the Hudson River on Sunday, December 20th to Central Presbyterian Church located at 70 Maple Street in Summit, NJ for 2PM (sold out!)  and 7PM performances.  A Blithe Yule!

Monday, November 09, 2015

Harriet Walter would love to play Macbeth. Yes, please.

"A third production with Phyllida Lloyd is planned, and although the play has not yet been determined, there is one tragic hero Walter would relish taking on. 'Having played Lady Macbeth'—opposite Antony Sher, in 1999—'I would love to play Macbeth,' she said. 'We were yin and yang. I would like to try the yang to the yin—or whichever the female is. I can’t remember.'"

Dame Harriet Walter, to the New Yorker in "Women's Work" by Rebecca Mead, November 16, 2015 issue

Having seen Dame Harriet twice in the all-female production of "Julius Caesar," once at the Donmar in London and once at St. Ann's Warehouse here in New York, I'm here to tell you that she knows what she's doing when it comes to Shakespeare and playing a traditionally male role.  She's equal parts thrilling and terrifying.

In a few weeks, I'll see her in “Henry IV” at St. Ann's with two other card carrying members of the Dame Harriet Walter Society.   It's imperative.  

(and yes, I've seen that Macbeth in which Dame Harriet played Lady M to Anthony Sher's Macbeth - it was released to DVD in 2003)

Saturday, November 07, 2015

Sylvia at the Cort Theatre: Hey! Hey hey hey!

Almost exactly twenty years ago I saw A.R. Gurney's play Sylvia at the Zach Theatre in Austin, Texas. It was the first really grown-up comedy I saw and I've never forgotten it.

It's a play about a dog and the man who loves her...well, mostly. It's a really the sweet story about a married couple but it's the dog named Sylvia who really steals the show. Over the years, I would recall that dog named Sylvia, especially after I adopted my own little dog named Little Bit (actually shortly after I saw this play - maybe I was inspired). Mr. Gurney perfectly captures the voice and actions of a dog, with the help of the actress who plays her. I would imagine Little Bit talking to me as Sylvia talked to her human.

I was thrilled to see Sylvia in previews and was treated to "blogger night."  Two of the stars, Julie White who plays the wife and Annaleigh Ashford who plays Sylvia, were on hand to discuss and share stories of their process in preparing for this comedy.  Both ladies are dog owners: Julie has an ancient Pomeranian named Lulu (my Little Bit was a Pom too) and Annaleigh has a toy Australian shepherd named Gracie.   Annaleigh took obedience and agility classes with Gracie to help her prepare for this role. 

The play made its New York debut off-Broadway starring Sarah Jessica Parker as Sylvia the dog at the Manhattan Theatre Club.   Now, her husband, Matthew Broderick, is starring as the husband who adopts Sylvia, on Broadway at the Cort Theatre.    Robert Sella marvelously plays various roles to round out the cast.  

This time around, I'm a little more mature than the first time I saw it so the sweet, matures themes of the play touched my heart differently, but I still found Sylvia to be one of the most hilarious plays I've ever seen and my sides aching from laughing were proof of that.  I'm still chuckling at the thought of Annaleigh Ashford and her antics as the dog, especially in her scenes opposite Robert Sella.    (I want to see Annaleigh in EVERYTHING - she's delightful, brilliant, fabulous...)

Because the dog is played by an actress, you are privy to her thoughts and conversations and it's sometimes easy to forget that she is in fact playing a dog.  However, her movements in prancing about and constantly sniffing at things keeps you in the suspension of disbelief.  Her barks and greeting are "Hey! Hey!"  She doesn't hold back on her feelings for her new owners, the husband she loves, the wife of whom she's a bit wary of and just a tad jealous.  From her antics in the dog park to her behavior in the living room to her reactions to the stranger in her home, she has the audience in her paw...and practically rolling in the aisles with glee.  When she sees a cat in the park, her reaction is just about the funniest - and spot on dog characterization, save the wonderfully foul language - you'll ever see.   The performance is raucous and the audience laps it up.  A friend of mine went with her husband and she told me she never remembered him laughing so hard.  While it's sweet and simple adult-themed play, it's one of the best nights of laughing you'll have, particularly if you've ever had a pet. 

Beginning this coming Tuesday, November 10th, audiences will be invited to stay for post-show discussions that will feature members of the Sylvia cast and company, in addition to leading animal experts, authors, media personalities and animal-related non-profits for its Tuesday Talkback Series.

Sylvia runs until the end of January.  Tickets are available via Telecharge or by calling (212) 239-6200 or in-person at The Cort Theatre box office (138 W. 48th St. between 6th and 7th avenues, around the corner from the B/D or the N/Q Trains ).  Discounts are available via BroadwayBox.   A limited number of Rush tickets are available for purchase in-person at The Cort Theatre box office beginning at 10am Monday - Saturday (12pm on Sundays) for that day's performance(s) only. Rush tickets cost $32 with a maximum of two tickets per person. Rush tickets are subject to availability and may not be offered at all performances. Rush seating locations will be determined at the discretion of the box office.
Annaleigh Ashford and Julie White - Blogger Night

Annaleigh Ashford and Julie White - Blogger Night

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Much Ado About Nothing at The Frog and Peach Theatre Company

I've been going to Shakespeare productions at Frog and Peach Theatre Company for quite a while.  Besides getting to hear and see the words of Shakespeare well acted, it was fun to walk just a few blocks for them right in my neighborhood. 

But now, they've moved down to midtown.  It's still worth going to see them!   Now ensconced at the Workshop Theatre (312 W 36th St. 4th Floor), they are better than ever.  The black box space is just a bit more intimate and the acoustics are marvelous.  And really, New Yorkers are happy to travel any where in the city for great theatre, right?

On now, Frog and Peach has mounted a really groovy production of Much Ado About Nothing.  As usual. director Lynnea Benson takes a rock & roll approach - it's fast and tight and ultimately fun to watch.  It's so much fun to see Lenny Ciotti as Benedick.  He's hilarious and it's cool to see an actor move to stage front from the usual cast of supporting characters.  While not your typical leading man, he's a refreshingly wonderful and is quite marvelous in the role.  I was rooting for him all along.  I really hope to see him in more roles at Frog & Peach (perhaps Macbeth? God, he'd be so good).  Lenny and Amy Frances Quint as Beatrice had great chemistry.  I couldn't wait for them to get together!   Amy is always the perfect leading lady - beautiful and regal, but she handles the comedy very well too.

Seeing this company's performances on a fairly regular basis over the years has lead me to recognize so many of the actors and witness their progress as Shakespearean experts.  I always love where they take me.   Marcus Watson as Claudio and Ilaria Amadasi as Hero are perfect as the young lovers.   Veteran actress Vivien Landau perfectly gender bends Leonato to Leanata as mother to Hero.  I think it should always be the mother - brava to Vivien and brava to Lynnea for making this change.  David Elyha absolutely steals the whole show as the ridiculously incapable constable Dogberry.  It's one thing to see him hilariously and nattily dressed as a hippy, but his delivery is riotous.  It's one of the funniest performances I've seen.

The Frog and Peach always features music in its productions - classic rock & roll before curtain and during intermission always set the tone.  They also wonderfully feature original music.  This production features original music by Ted Zurkowski and is wonderfully performed by actor David Personne. 

I enjoyed all of the performances and it's always a treat to see company members, old and new, JP Makowski, Alyssa Diamond, Matthew Velez, James Foster, Jr., John Lampe, David Personne, Alec Barniskis, Liz Tancredi, Paul Battiato, Samuel Douglas Clark, Jamar Brathwaite and Vicki Kulkin.  They all round out this production fabulously.  A little bonus is that Samuel Douglas Clark, an Aussie, recites his lines with a decidedly British accent.  I have to admit that this Anglophile gets kick out of hearing Shakespeare with a posh accent amongst a very American cast (save for Italian actress Ilaria Amadasi who still speaks with a Italian accent, which is funny since this play is set in Sicily.)

The creative team by Asheley Cuask (set & design),  Dennis Parichy (Lighting Design), Tom Knutson (Movement), Ellie D’Eustachio (Stage Manager)  Sara Parcesepe (Asst. Stage Manager), and Nannan Gu (Design Intern) efficiently assist this actors in doing this fun and fast-paced production.  Of note, Nina Vartanian's costume design is fabulous - she decks out the cast in groovy 1970's vintage chic and it's a completely transportive effect.

I'm so glad I saw this production.  It's a play I've seen a number of times both on stage and on film, and Frog and Peach doesn't disappoint.  It runs for another week -  November 15 at The Workshop Theatre (312 W 36th St. 4th Floor - between 8th & 9th Avenue, just around the corner from the 34th street subway stop on 8th Avenue) with performances Thursday–Saturday at 7:30pm and Sundays at 3pm. Tickets are $18.  Tickets are available at the door or via SmartTix .

Amy Frances Quint, Vivian Landau and Ilaria Amadasi

Lenny Ciotti  and Amy Frances Quint

David Elyha and JP Makowski