Tag Archive | Theater Review

Theater Review: Rocket to the Moon

Rocket to the_Moon
Ned Eisenberg and Katie McClellan Star in Rocket to The Moon (Image Source)

When an oft-visited Water Cooler is the undeniable focal point in a multi-act play’s only set, you can place a safe bet that themes of Thirst and Relief — in all of their figurative and literal meanings — are sure to be explored. Currently in a limited engagement revival at Theatre at St. Clement’s, Clifford Odet’s Rocket to the Moon is set in 1938 during a sweltering NYC summer, and the heat isn’t the only thing that’s oppressive. Dentist Ben Stark (Ned Eisenberg) — whose Midtown Manhattan office provides the story’s setting — is experiencing a worrisome decline in business, as is his fellow dentist and tenant, Dr. Phil Cooper (Larry Bull), who doesn’t offer Ben much hope that his months-in-arrears rent will be paid any time soon. Ben is also treated like a doormat by his wife Belle (Marilyn Matarrese), a woman from a wealthy family who surely expected to be living a more comfortable and upwardly mobile lifestyle than what her husband is providing. Clearly, no one is too happy.

The office’s somber atmosphere is enlivened somewhat by the presence of Ben’s attractive young secretary, Cleo Singer (Katie McClellan), an ambitious and optimistic 19-year old who sees people around her settling for less than their dreams and refuses to accept the same fate for herself. Frequent visitors to the office include the Podiatrist who works down the hall, Dr.Walter “Frenchy” Jensen (Michael Keyloun) who appears openly contemptuous of Cleo’s cheerful demeanor. Ben’s eccentric father-in-law, Mr. Prince (Jonathan Hadary), also drops by on a regular basis to further the action in different ways. Mr. Prince appears to have his daughter’s best interest in mind, as he encourages Ben to move his practice uptown to a more affluent neighborhood (a move he offers to subsidize). But it becomes obvious how little he thinks of Belle, and clarifies that it’s Ben whom he considers to be more of a son, when he openly suggests that Ben cheer himself up by embarking on an affair with Cleo. What makes his suggestion somewhat confounding is the fact that Mr. Prince wants Cleo for himself, and he begins aggressively court her. Way to make things awkward at home!

Though times have certainly changed since it was written, Rocket to the Moon remains a fascinating and timeless character study about people trapped by poor decisions and imperiled financial situations who dare to take charge of their own destinies, as Ben and Cleo’s relationship leads both individuals to transform their lives in expected ways. The acting is excellent all around (Jonathan Hadary as Mr. Prince is particularly colorful), and Dan Wackerman’s direction keeps the story focused. Rocket to the Moon at Theatre at St. Clement’s is a production of The Peccadillo Theater Company in association with La Femme Theatre Productions.

Theatre at St. Clement’s (housed in a former church) is located at 423 West 46th Street (West of 9th Avenue). Performances through March 28th, 2015 are Tuesdays at 7pm, Wednesdays at 2pm and 7pm, Thursdays and Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 2pm and 8pm and Sundays at 3pm. Tickets are $75 with premium seating available, and are available by phoning OvationTix at 212-352-3101 or by visiting them online at This Link.

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Theater Review: BOB at The Abingdon Theater

Bob Playbill
Bob Playbill Photo By Gail

Plays about mental illness don’t really exist to make everyone feel comfortable. It’s a very difficult subject to tackle, especially given the intimacy of a live theater setting. But despite its uneasy subject matter, a new off Broadway play, BOB: Blessed be the Dysfunction that Binds, manages to deliver an engaging theatrical experience that is uniquely personal yet universally resonant, emotionally harrowing and at times very funny – and its success is one hundred percent owed to the gifted actress and playwright, Anne Pasquale.

BOB: Blessed be the Dysfunction that Binds, was written by Pasquale about family life with her mentally ill older brother. Who is on Risperal and is having side effects from Risperal. Pasquale plays herself and, with changes as subtle as the addition of a hat or scarf, performs all characters, including Bob, her older sister Jean, both of her parents and grandparents, and perhaps two or three incidental characters. Her nearly seamless transitions (and transformations) between characters are thoroughly convincing and demonstrate her versatility as an actress.

A description I read of the play prior to attending a Friday evening performance seemed to emphasize a focus on decades of dealing with our country’s messed up mental healthcare system, so I was expecting a story entwined with litigation and bureaucracy, but that’s not what I got at all. That description is not only entirely misleading, but it actually does the play a disservice, as it is really a story about interpersonal relationships. BOB’s tagline is, “When mental illness comes home, the whole family has special needs.” In this way, the story reveals the effects of Bob’s violent, erratic behavior on the mental and physical well-being of every member of the household. Presented in one 90-minute act without intermission, it is about as intimate a performance as you could imagine.

The play opens on a present-day scene during the Christmas season in Anne’s lower east side NYC apartment. Pasquale addresses the audience directly, as if we are guests in her home, as she prepares for a visit from Bob. The story then unfolds in flashback, and her tendency to break the third wall repeatedly while she narrates makes it easy to engage with the story as she shares the challenges of life with Bob; from her childhood into her College years and to the present day. From the family’s rage, fear and despondency on to empathy, love, hope and, ultimately, a resolution that allows Bob to live his life outside of an institution, BOB encourages compassion and understanding for those who are dealt more than their fair share of challenge and heartache in a lifetime. This is a very important work of theater.

BOB: Blessed Be the Dysfunction that Binds Runs Through October 6th 2013 at the Abingdon Theater, Located at 312 west 36th Street (West of 8th Avenue) in Manhattan. Performances are Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:00 PM and Sundays at 2:00 PM. Tickets ($30, with $18 tickets available for healthcare workers) are available by visiting Smart Tix Dot Com.

Must See Show: Tesla at NYC’s Theatre 80

Tesla Play Banner

In the 2006 film, The Prestige, Serbian-born Physicist and Inventor Nikola Tesla (played by David Bowie) serves as a sort of ‘Mad Scientist’ inspiration and mentor to a competitively obsessed magician/illusionist portrayed by Hugh Jackman. It’s probably not a complete accident then that in the eponymous new play (written by Sheri Graubert and Directed by Sanja Bestic) Tesla is referred to repeatedly as a ‘Magician.’ While Tesla’s scientific legacy includes contributions as varied as design of the modern alternating current (AC) electricity supply system and early developments in Remote Control and X-ray technologies, his name is perhaps best known these days for having been adopted by an ‘80s Hair Metal band. And that’s just a shame. Hopefully, Tesla will be able to move on to Broadway after its Off Broadway run, exposing a wider audience to Nikola Tesla’s genius and futuristic vision.

In this engaging play, an older Tesla (played by Jack Dimich) sits in his New York City Hotel room, kept company only by his memory and occasional visits from the Bellhop (Luka Mijatovia). There, he reflects on the accomplishments of his past while mentally confronting his many professional adversaries who exploited him with varying degrees of opportunism, indifference and cruelty. James Lee Taylor (who, if you look up any actual photos of Tesla, is a dead ringer for the inventor during his late thirties) portrays Tesla as a younger man, and carries the bulk of the action on his very capable shoulders. Over the course of ninety minutes, the story of Tesla’s amazing career unfolds in ways that are both wildly inspiring and devastatingly heartbreaking.

Taking place at a time when the world was a Wild West for Scientific invention, many inventors were coming up with similar ideas for technological advancements at the same time as their peers. Even those who managed to make it to the patent office first didn’t always maintain a tight rein of control over their inventions. This is emphasized best in a reoccurring appearance by Italian inventor Guglielmo Marconi (played with brilliant comic effect by Jeff Solomon) who is repeatedly denied a patent for his invention of the Radio – a field of research and development also pioneered by Tesla. It is implied that Marconi and Tesla remained lifelong adversaries.

The onstage action, which takes place in a static three-part interior set, is occasionally augmented by the incorporation of black and white film clips, starring the play’s actors, which provide a newsreel-like back-story or help to advance the story line in a way that dialogue will not suffice. Such clips are used most effectively in a G-Rated – but nevertheless quite passionate – love scene between Tesla and his implied romantic interest, Katherine (Samantha Slater), that illustrates the bittersweet, largely unfulfilled state of their affair.

Other historical figures fleshing out this extremely fascinating and vibrant play include Tesla’s early employer, Thomas Edison (Tom Cappadona), financial tycoon JP Morgan (portrayed as being pretty much an ego-maniacal prick by Adam Pagdon) and actor Allessandro Colla in a dual role as George Westinghouse and Mark Twain. Colla’s over-the-top physical mannerisms employed in his portrayal of Westinghouse are a highlight among the performances of a universally outstanding cast.

Nicola Tesla died of heart failure in 1943 at the age of 86: penniless, in debt and alone in the hotel room in which he lived during the final days of his life. Was he ahead of his time? No doubt. Was he a mysterious genius? Most definitely.

Tesla is Showing at Theater 80, Located at 80 St Mark’s Place (East 8th Street between First and Second Avenues) in New York City through June 8th, 2013. Showtime is at 8:00 PM Daily with a 3:00 PM Matinee on Sundays. Phone 212-388-0388 or visit http://www.teslaoffbroadway.com for Tickets and Further Information.

Must See Show: Silence! The Musical!

Think back on all of the Academy Award-winning films of the past 20 years and imagine which ones might be the most likely choice for a musical adaptation/parody. I’m guessing that Horror/Drama, The Silence of The Lambs is probably close to the bottom of that list. The mind-boggling unlikelihood that such a thing could even exist is one of the reasons that Silence! The Musical – which is in fact a musical send-up of 1991’s Best Picture Oscar winner – must be seen to be believed. Originally produced at 2005’s New York International Fringe Festival, Silence! The Musical! is back for a commercial run in NYC. Really, you need to see it

As in the film, Silence! The Musical! follows the journey of rookie FBI agent Clarice Starling, who must match wits with the brilliant but insane imprisoned murderer, Dr. Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lecter, hoping to gain insight that will enable her agency to catch the serial killer known as Buffalo Bill. Clarice faces her own demons (the death of her father – who appears here several times as a ghost – and her subsequent abandonment to the child welfare system) while racing to unlock Lecter’s clues before another innocent girl is killed. That girl is Catherine Martin, daughter of US Senator Ruth Martin. We see Catherine’s abduction (staged to the upbeat tune “Are You About a Size 14?”), subsequent imprisonment by the gender-confused Jamie “Buffalo Bill” Gumb, and eventual high-stakes rescue. The nail-biting intensity finale of the film retains its intensity here, but maybe with a slightly different bent. Let’s just say the cast keeps you on the edge of your seat, and laughing all the way!

Agent Starling (Jenn Harris) Meets Dr. Lecter (Brent Barrett) for the First time in a scene from Silence! The Musical! (Photo credit: Carol Rosegg)

The plays’ two starring roles of Agent Clarice Starling and the diabolical Dr. Hannibal Lecter are played by Jenn Harris and Brent Barrett (formerly seen in Chicago) respectively, and both are fantastic in their parts. Harris does a spot-on interpretation of Jodi Foster’s restrained southern accent, while also effectively mimicking her physical performance in the film, which makes her comic timing even more impactful. Barrett in the role of Lector is not only way more handsome than you’d expect, but he also can really sing! The actor’s near-operatic range pipes are especially seductive when he sings longingly of his imagined freedom from imprisonment in the show’s most audacious and memorable musical number “If I Could Smell Her C*nt.” Yes, I just typed that.

Lots of other fun plot points are kept in the production including Ruth’s impassioned televised plea for Catherine’s safe release (“My Daughter Is Catherine”), Gumb’s demand to Catherine to “Put the F*cking Lotion in the Basket” (surely one of the most memorable lines of dialogue from the film ) and, oh yes, we get to see Jamie Gumb do “The Tuck” (if you don’t know to what I’m referring then you really do need to see this show).

The cast, which includes a singing, tap dancing Greek Chorus of Lambs, also features Stephen Bienskie as Jamie “Buffalo Bill” Gumb, Harry Bouvy as Dr. Chilton, Lucia Spina as Catherine Martin and Howard Kaye as Jack Crawford, among other very talented performers who help to make Silence! a one-of-a-kind experience. I’d also like to mention that ticket prices are super affordable; the most expensive seats are just $48 – a tiny fraction of the cost of a Broadway Show – and because of the deep rake in the theater, every seat in the house is a good one. These performances will surely sell out, so don’t miss your chance to see this production in its relatively brief run!

Silence! The Musical! Directed and choreographed by Christopher Gattelli, Music and Lyrics by Jon and Al Kaplan, Book By Hunter Bell, runs through August 13 at the legendary Theater 80, located at 80 St. Marks Place, just West of First Avenue. Show times are Fridays at 8 PM and Saturdays at 8 PM & 10:30 PM. To Purchase Tickets – Priced at $48, $38 and $25 – and for more Info please visit silencethemusicalnyc.com.

Song List After the Jump! Continue reading