Herein gods and mortals clash! "The Half-God Of Rainfall" New York Theatre Workshop
Theatre REVIEWS - featuring "Brits Off Broadway"
Top: Samuel Beckett; Center: Bill Irwin and John Douglas Thompson; Bottom: Patrice Johnson Chevannes and Joe Grifasi Endgame by Samuel Beckett Directed by Ciarán O'Reilly The Irish Repertory Theatre (Extended Through April 16) Review by Kevin Martin No doubt that Samuel Beckett - as much as ever (even though he is long passed through this veil of tears), still reigns as king of the universal monarchy of fatalistic wit. This is evident in "Endgame's" ethereally wierd, absurdist playland of exisential fear and longing. The current production, which is intermissionless, is staged very persuasively by Ciarán O'Reilly. "Endgame" is a frightful, yet oft glee-contained expression of spiritual needs and wants which invariably haunt the mortally preoccupied lives of characters existing in a somewhere-shelter-like place of barren, borderline trashy surroundings. This "invariably haunt" descriptor affects all four characters: Hamm (John Douglas Thompson), Clov (Bill Irwin), Nell (Patrice Johnson Chevannes), and Nagg (Joe Grifasi). Each role is richly espressed by the actors, with seeming effortlessness. As to the play's action, we are witnessing a post-apocalptic display of poetic lamenation within the confines of a shabby, industrially rotted interior space of concrete, coldly graced by a drab pair of quite small prison-cell-ish windows, spaced widely apart from each other by several feet and fitted high up on the back wall, suggesting for sure that, regardless of the point that Clov has a step ladder on hand, any escape from this assigned realm of human futility is very unlikely, to say the least. The harsh, impressive scenic design, done brilliantly by Charlie Corcoran, kind of reminded me of many an inner city downtrodden and/or abandoned apartment building spaces (including back courtyards) that I had once often seen, first hand, upon my urban strolls in Gotham over the years. In this Endgame world environment of the same, manservantish Clov opens up the play's dialogue with a still-sleeping Hamm (blind and bound into a wheelchair of sorts, but also one who comes to domineer all things and persons effectively): "Finished, it's finished, nearly finished", says Clov, "it must be nearly finished... I'll lean on the table, and look at the wall, and wait for him to whistle me". Clov exits. Thus, the modes of behavior in the coming interaction(s) will soon become apparent; that of a bossy boss-type (Hamm) vs. an obvious "bossee" type (Clov). Hamm awakes, removes his face veil only to present himself in dark sunglasses (Annie Sullivan-style) literally opens up (read "yawning") and says to himself, "Me - to play", followed by another yawn while lamenting: "Can there be misery loftier than mine? No doubt" and then soon quickly whistles for Clov, - quickly -, as per the whistle power. Alas, Hamm starts out by berating Clov, and then asks him what time it is: "Same as usual". Exchanges ensue between the two - and then later to include Hamm's parents: Nagg (a needy fellow like his son) and Nell (more cheerful than her husband). Nell and Nagg happen to reside legless, alas!, in trash bins, and their talking brings to mind our own basic helplessness, so irretrievably knotted to the human condition. As the play barrels along smoothly to its mortal end, the conversant Hamm wags openly of his unloving (unloved) life and of the belief that perhaps no one in this world has ever suffered as much as he, we find Clov being attentive to the detail, while feeling sadly stuck in his own real time. Constant obedience to Hamm lends Clov no salvation from his circumstances. (Does Clov plan to hang around forever and ever - being so unliked)? Meanwhile, Hamm's own parents, Nagg and Nell, make periodic visits, popping up out of the trash bins (like kids' Jack-In-The-Box toys of yesteryear) - and, like the high back wall windows within view, are both spaced apart well enough that husband and wife can never touch each other. They each banter - sometimes with humor and sometimes not - with their son Hamm about life's woes and missed longings ("Oh, yesteday, yesterday...", gushes Nell as she reflects aloud about her - and perhaps anyone's dire existences that can't be helped). These moments serve as true samples of the earthly ordeal of man, and maybe even more so in this age of human alienation (a key theme in this play), pollution, income inequality, race hatred, war, nuclear threats, climate disasters, gun violence, political and social animosities, and on and on. "Endgame" is a warning system of words to anyone desirous of personal self-reflection. In Beckett's dark humor - you will hear words like: "Nothing is funnier than unhappiness" (Nell). Yet fittingly, our collective mortal fates so aptly well-put here serve to hint back to Richard II's clear lament - in part: "Let’s talk of graves, of worms, and epitaphs, make dust our paper and with rainy eyes write sorrow on the bosom of the earth....". This is a production extremely worth seeing - and well rounded out with smart costuming by Orla Long, effective lighting by Michael Gottleib, and original music/sound by M. Florian Stabb. ====================
Art should inspire, nothing else. It should make you both feel and THINK. "Nutcracker Rouge", presented by Company XIV and directed by Austin McCormick, does that.
T'is the Season that visionary, director, and choreographer Austin McCormick brought to the NY stage a blend of excellence in theatre art, via Pytor Tchaikovsky's timeless "Nutcracker" - with a do-over that works with a sharp, enthusiastic appeal to our present time of social change, ala gender-bending energy and creativity, traditional motifs of style and presentation, and excellence of execution. Combined, you get a holiday treat unexpected, un-threatening, but all engaging. Herewith, thanks to the ensemble's excellence that will stick to your memory for a good while, you will find waiting a complete trove of superb movement, story-telling, dance, and music. McCormick's drive toward the finish line of holiday surprise is on full display, as he boldly, successfully experiments with both new forms and routine expectations. NUTCRACKER musical selections of the original (e.g., Waltz of the Flowers) are given perfect attention and effect as the cast of dancer/characters weave their finely tuned bodies and souls effortlessly through and about the air, allowing this "Nutcracker Rouge" to soar swiftly along in the magically appointed Minetta Lane theatre - and not a Minetta minute too soon. McCormick's magic moves well at nearly each and every moment; by employing a melange of raw-energy acrobatics (raw in its barest sense), classical ballet, French Can-Can, double-entendres freshly expressed, elements of rock, jazz, and night-club vocals, the director helps us to see things differently, perhaps more fascinatingly, than we might have expected. Ribaldry - New York Holiday style, is here to stay. These nearly 2-hours of surprise enjoyment (that's what a creative director should do anyway: surprise us; this is what happens here) go nimbly by, but you will enjoy it. "Nutcracker Rouge" is intelligent, gutsy, and done with sheer originality. The cast and crew deserve high honors for their dedicated, skilled energies and talent. All here are totally professional and giving; to name a few that do this are Laura Careless in the part of Marie Claire, giving her character precise care and vulnerability every step of the way; Shelly Watson as Mrs. Drosselmeyer, in a style of singing this story along with power and grace and enthusiasm, and Ms. Watson does it brilliantly; as Mr. Drosselmeyer, Jeff Takacs is utterly engaging as he works along side Mrs. Drosselmeyer as a "co-host" of sorts - accented by a '70s hard Rock look, realized with perfect humor and intelligence. Also not to be overlooked are Zane Pihlstrom for the exquisite, uncrowded set design (Minetta lane is not a Broadway house), and for giving the story a comforting albeit luring appeal, but always (for lack of a better phrase) sucking us all into the land of Marie Claire/Nutcraker Rouge imagination. Complementing this is the light design from Jeanette Oi-Suk Yew, with a smooth, subtle, and well-thought out arrangement of mood and atmosphere, appropriate to the inventiveness of the director's effort. This production with its cast of physically powerful, soulful, talented commitment is just about flawless. Let it suffice that Tea Party folks, anal types should drag themselves to Minetta Lane for some crazy, funny, sensual, surprising entertainment - if you think you can still get a TICKET. 'Ya better hurry, last performance is Jan. 5.”- Kevin Martin
“Mexican-born Victoria E. Calderon (I have never heard of her 'til now, but I am very glad I did) has written a little gem of a new play - a mere 70 + minutes long, and it shines. Directed with lightning sensitivity and worked through (good, REAL acting is work) by an utterly fine cast, this scenically well-designed, enchantingly sounded, excellently costumed, smartly lighted 'MANIPULATION" in fact shines - glows - on all sides in this production.
Taking place (somewhere) in the faux-modernist, expensive apartment of Cristina and Mauricio in Latin America, 'MANIPULATION" bespeaks itself metaphorically, perhaps, of the unrest curdling through at least some of the daily lives of women, as personalized in the experience of one Cristina (adroitly felt by actor Marina Squerciati). Fatherless Cristina, the main protagonist of this sparkler, is married very young to the very moneyed, successful Mauricio. As far as I am concerned, - and partly excepting Cristina's poor-ritzy mother's view of the world (this role of Beatriz is played luminously by Saundra Santiago), this is not a "feminist" play; but, rather, a sort of "marriagist" one: the belief that marriage, still a must-try thing to do in society, leaves many spouses believing in, and fearful of, being locked in - though often admitting furtively that the institution of marriage is really just all too much, and all too other-centered for some folks to bear. Yes, we can all be quite selfish at times.
Mauricio applies his manly-ish, husbandly interest (ala "you have all the money you need") toward lonesome, under loved Cristina with that oft-infamous carnal habit of quick get-it-over-with sex, while all the while offering patchy assurances of his love, Mauricio-wise speaking. But Mauricio, as rendered by the perfectly-tuned craft of Robert Bogue, is a guy with his own problems. In fact, it really isn't ONLY Cristina who is lonely (she lives out all her deeply repressed needs and regrets with high wired mental flashes that are the actual play itself); everyone is lonely. I am lonely, you are lonely, we are all lonely, even if we do love, for love sometimes goes missing from life's emotional tool box. Cristina hooks up with Luis (done extremely right by Rafi Silver) a gifted pianist with hands that only a Cristina could love but which speaks volumes of her erstwhile lonely marriage. And so, 'MANIPULATION" makes me wonder - reminds me again, that there may not be any exit from this field of occasional, sometimes strangeness we call living, and that whether there are ghouls standing by us as we continue our daily function or whether there is something better than this, who knows? There are literally a few ghoulish types lurking in Cristina's world, to be sure. Cristina, who later finds respite in Poeta (a young, impoverished poet, so-named, and done just right by Brendan McMahon), goes to see a shrink and tells him that she fears her husband. As a possible comment on modern therapy - and medication - the shrink does not really help Cristina, and instead exasperates the same fear she feels toward Mauricio. The shrink, "Dr. Lublitz" is deftly brought out by Jeremy Stiles Holmes, and he's quite a shrink, and indeed, is clearly unfulfilled himself, no less. As per Cristina's lament to Dr. Lublitz, well, therein lies the rub; how can we love something, or someone, that we fear? Alas, we really can't, and don't. The dramatic effects by the exquisite light and sound work almost perfectly; one very minuscule complaint is that the lighting transitions were ever so slightly long.
If a dream itself is but a shadow, then this "MANIPULATION" casts a big one; Cristina's vivid dream reflection of living is painful and true. We see, at play's end, that Cristina is in a museum (what better place is there to house the human condition?) gazing into a very famous painting that, ideally or otherwise, sums up her existential woe. What she sees, and observes, in some certain measure, is all of us, you and me, - and it's not pretty.
All the actors, including Gabriel Furman as Alejandro, have made it clear: the play's the thing.”