Tag Archives: theater

Dread Scott: Decision at BAM

Dread Scott Decision Brooklyn Bred

Dread Scott: Decision curated by Martha Wilson and directed by Mallory Catlett at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s new Fishman Space was a powerful piece of theater about oppression.

As a world premiere and what Dread calls his “first indoor performance,” I had no real idea what to expect. When we entered the black box theater, there were four naked performers sitting on chairs (Clifford Owens, Lawrence Graham-Brown, Wilmer Wilson IV, Rocheford “Roc” Belizaire), voting booths along the back wall, and a podium with teleprompters. The room was well-lit and members of the audience found seats on the ground.

Once we were all somewhat settled, we heard high pitched squeals and barks followed by two security guards walking two German Shepherds into the main space. They quickly rounded up the performers to the side and Dread Scott walked up to the podium in full politician attire. He thus began reading the Dred Scott Decision as stage hands created a roped queue where members of the audience would line up. The dogs took their post on either side of the stage while the performers stood in front of the line, just in front of the voting booths where the audience was led.

I went up with the first batch of people, wanting to fully participate in the performance. What lay behind those curtains? What was it like to stand in line with everyone else and listen to Dread speak over the howling of the dogs? What was he saying and what was the significance of it in this setting? How were the performers engaging the audience? I shared a very intense moment with Clifford Owens. As I stood at the front of the line, waiting to enter the voting booth, he locked his eyes on mine. However uncomfortable I was, I stared back trying as best I could to understand what he was trying to convey to me. I believe he was trying to tell me, think of what it’s like in my position, my history.

I entered the booth, which had instructions to read the ballot, vote, place it in an envelope, and then put it in the ballot box. Upon doing that, you received a screen-print made by Dread just for this performance.

The ballot described the statistics of imprisonment of African-American men and how neither presidential candidate had that issue on their ticket this election. Then it asked – knowing that information – would we vote?

It was not an easy decision to make given the circumstances. The new knowledge from the reading of the Dred Scott Decision, the extremely loud barking dogs, and the performers you knew were part of these statistics. Would I vote? I never thought differently. Is Dread Scott trying to persuade me not to vote? But wait, I am a woman whose reproductive rights are on the ballot (without even discussing healthcare reform). So yes, I need to vote.

As I returned to my spot, I began to look upon the other audience members, those waiting in line not knowing what to expect, and those who were leaving the voting booths. I wondered if everyone else was feeling the same as I was – disenchanted with a country that has given me and my family so many opportunities.

All in all, the participatory nature of the piece lent itself very well while imparting knowledge of the Dred Scott Decision and its lasting effects, Dread Scott: Decision asked the audience to question their sense of patriotism and civic duty.

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Bob by SITI Company

Will Bond as Bob presented by SITI CompanyBob played by Will Bond presented by SITI Company at New York Live Arts is brilliant. The character of Robert Wilson is portrayed by bringing elements of his personal life and professional life together seamlessly for an inside look at the famed theater director.

It is as if Bond has inhabited Bob’s body, matching the long pauses, the high-pitched inflections, and the gestures. He executes the theatrically polished stories infusing bits of his theater and at times losing concentration and falling to stuttering. In true Bob fashion, the piece plays with the audience, asking them to question the motives of what he was saying. Could we genuinely hang on every word that Bob says when he tells a story about one day only saying, “Hmm” to see how far he could get?

The work also plays as a Robert Wilson work with its lighting, music, choreography, stillness and simplicity. The stage is set with a Wilson designed chair and table and a grid pattern on the floor. The lighting is bright, it is intense, it is dramatic. On the table is a gallon of milk which Bob drinks intermittently, adding a layer of tension to the already tense work.

And yet, with all the theatricality and storytelling, the work is more than just biographical – it speaks to the idea of theater. In one anecdote, Bob says that normal theater speeds up time and by the end the work itself has explained its meaning, which in essence leaves no time or space for contemplation. What is theater if it does not challenge one to think?

All in all, the theatricality, the emotion, and the psychology of the work engages the audience and encourages them to reflect on the life of one man, and his impact on theater.

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UNTITLED FEMINIST SHOW at Baryshnikov Arts Center

Young Jean Lee Untitled Feminist ShowI did not know what to expect from the UNTITLED FEMINIST SHOW but I knew that I was due to see something by Young Jean Lee. I was more than pleasantly surprised by the wildly entertaining performance.

The show started with six nude performers – of varying body-types – walking down the steps of the Baryshnikov Arts Center orchestra stairs in a very serious and modern dance-like nature. With the audience silenced by this, the performance continues from modern dance to a ballet narrative that involves an evil villain, a sidekick, and innocent dancers. Finally, when the villain is slain (who thrashes about with dramatic develop├ęs before dying), it becomes clear to the audience that this is not a performance that needs to be looked at with a serious lens. This is not a dry or didactic look at feminism; rather, it is a new presentation to be enjoyed and embraced.

From then on, the audience becomes boisterous, laughing at the mockery of performative and social norms being analyzed on stage. The blending of cabaret, burlesque, dance, and theater is smooth and genuine, making for an extremely unique show. The awareness of nudity gradually fades away exposing the audience directly to the art form. Not to make a direct comparison but UFS feels like Julie Atlas Muz’s conservative yet rebellious little sister’s show. It was smart and extremely well done without being alienating or over the top.

My favorite part occurred when one of the performers sang a nonsensical solo off key for five minutes – pretending to be belting out some show-stopping song without any awareness to her lack of talent. Hilarious. Also of note were the abstract projections above the dancers, which served to set the mood and I thought were to resemble female organs.

All in all, I enjoyed the work and the exciting ride that Young Jean Lee takes the audience on.

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Ann, Or Other People presented by Broken Glass

Ann, or other peopleAnn, or other people written by Jonathan Mayer and directed by Taylor Tobin, presented by Broken Glass had its world premiere at Access Theatre. As the program noted, the play is a psychodrama/fantasia that follows Ann Coulter’s quest to find a life of meaning and purpose after the dissolution of her media career. It was quite an intense play with a shuffled narrative and a cast of characters that acted as Ann’s foils.

My favorite scene was “The Church of Ann Coulter” where Ann decides to start a cult devoted to making one’s self better by following her simple rules. At this point, Kendra Leigh Landon, who played a hard-edged, over-medicated yet layered Ann, looks to the audience to share her canon. It was a brilliant and universal scene that could have been transposed to any number of the pundits who are looking to earn a buck after their contracts end on network news stations.

All in all, I enjoyed the journey through Ann’s post-media career life and I look forward to seeing the next play written by Jonathan Mayer.

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Bella’s Dream at 92Y

Bella's Dream

Lisa K. Hokans, Dana Boll, and Adam Feingold rehearsing Bella's Dream

Over the past few weeks, I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to be a part of the staging of an original play by Dana Boll.

The play, Bella’s Dream, tells the story of Dana’s grandparents, Bella and Raymond Boll escaping the Holocaust. The story is not a typical Holocaust survival story. Their journey begins when Bella is visited in her dream by her late brother who tells her she must flee immediately. They flee to Russia only to be captured and brought to labor camps in Siberia; then they are freed and brought to the desert of Uzbekistan where they make a life; then they attempt to return to Poland and eventually land in the United States. The story of survival is framed by another true story in a modern day supermarket where Dana’s father encounters a Neo-Nazi. Throughout the story, Dana narrates, existing in the various time periods, witnessing what goes on and listening to the reflection of the characters.

Bella’s Dream has been in process for two years, with countless hours of research performed by Dana to figure out exactly where Bella and Raymond had been on their journey and what they had experienced. The play includes original voice recordings of the couple telling their story.

Dana also employs the use of movement and dance in her work. Pieces such as “Such a day” and “April Showers” tell the story of being grateful for what you have and the struggle to survive. Other silent dances tell the tragic and harrowing stories of the brutality of war.

My role in all of this was production assistant, and having never worked on a play before, I was eager to learn the intricacies first-hand from a talented, creative, and caring writer/director such as Dana. It must be amazing and also extremely stressful to put together a work that is so close to your heart – in order to convey your family’s history in a truthful light. It is a brave thing to do to tell your family’s history for all to hear. The actors, dancers, and consulting director were all so amazing in making this production happen. They were so devoted to the work and truly committed to fulfilling Dana’s vision. I was so lucky to be a part of this great team.

All in all, it was an amazing night with the audience filled with Dana’s family, members of the Gombin society, and close friends who were able to connect to this amazing story. I cannot wait to see this work fully realized on stage.

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The New York Idea

The New York IdeaThe New York Idea, presented by the Atlantic Theater Company at the Lucille Lortel Theatre, is billed as a “sharp-tongued comedy” that “shines a surprisingly contemporary light on social mores, status, and attitudes about sex and divorce in high society.” The play was originally written by Langdon Mitchell in 1907 and adapted by David Auburn, taking place in Greenwich Village, New York and lasting four acts with a handful of characters all connected through the marriage of divorcees.

Like a romantic British play, The New York Idea deals with propriety and social parameters but the prim and proper British are substituted for Americans who live by their whims and who are decidedly loose. Cynthia Karslake (Jaime Ray Newman) supposedly divorced her husband, John Karslake (Jeremy Shamos), for no reason. Cynthia then decides to marry the stable and boring Philip Philimore (Michael Countryman) who was once married to Vida Philimore (Francesca Faridany). Vida, as her name would suggest, is full of life and has a reputation of being a seductress and manages to lure the wealthy, British Wilfred Cates-Darby (Rick Holmes).

The play is upbeat and has some great comedic moments but lacks the pacing and energy to make it great. The story feels very modern but is also very predictable. The best moments came with a quip from Vida (Francesca Faridany) who was so good that I couldn’t help but watch her expressions as the other actors spoke, waiting for her witty remarks to interrupt the annoying sniveling of the other characters. Though they had everything and were living in New York City, the other characters were lame, stuck on the way their lives should be instead of living in the moment. The sets and costumes, however, were elegant and shiny which added some luster to the less than stellar overall performance.

All in all, The New York Idea is an enjoyable and funny but somewhat predictable play.

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