Wednesday, November 30, 2011

"The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs"

My friend glowed from a good week at the theater - Cymbeline, Patti LuPone & Mandy Patinkin and Mike Daisey. Mike Daisey? Yes, he loved Daisey's journalisticesque monologue at The Public Theater. So while my friend's lucky theater streak ended that evening at Private Lives at the Music Theatre, I decided to buy a ticket to see Daisey's The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs.

Reminiscent of - imagine - the late Chris Farley doing a segment for 60 Minutes, overall, I enjoyed The Agony... as well and take my hat off to Mike Daisey for engaging audiences for approximately 2 uninterrupted hours by simply sitting behind a desk with a glass of water, a black hankie and what looked like handwritten notes which he never referred to.

I left the theater thinking about how our electronic devices are manufactured. Are they made by Foxconn? How many of Foxconn's 400k Chinese workers have jumped to their deaths? Are the devices really made by children as young as 12? Are workers who speak out against substandard conditions blacklisted? Are the same people who make the devices we all seem to love and need not even able to own them? Are the workers force to do the same thing over and over until their hands cripple over in pain?

Mike Daisey's monologue was effective. It left audiences thinking. Hoping that the audience will also act, audience members were provided with the following steps that can be taken:

1) Speak to Apple. [Apple's new CEO's email address was provided]
2) Think differently about upgrading.
3) Connect and educate yourself.
4) Tell others.

Now, the question is - what will we do about it?

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

No Script. No Playwright. Just Improv!!!

There is something about improv I just love. No script. No playwright. Just a group of performers - experimenting, creating, expressing.There is a variety of improv on the New York City stage. Let's check out some that I've seen recently:

Harold Night
At least once or twice each year, I head to Chelsea to take in Harold Night at the Upright Citizen's Brigade Theatre. For $5, you can watch improv way into the night. It is one of the best deals in town. The audience throws out a term and the troupe just runs with it and improvises a skit around the term. Sometimes, when the right troupe gets into the right rhythm, it is pure genius.

Naked in a Fishbowl
Naked in a Fishbowl is interesting. A group of six women improvise episodes around a particular theme which is then acted out live in the theater, filmed and edited and later posted online. Recently, I caught an episode -  The Quest for Zestra - at the Cherry Lane Theatre. Dr. Joy Browne was a guest performer in this zany episode featuring the eh-hem Zestra female arousal oil. Check out this clip on

NTOW Impromptu Splendor
Impromptu Splendor is extremely clever. The Canadian troupe selects a playwright and asks the audience to shout out what comes to mind when you think of the playwright. They then develop a whole play in the style of the playwright drawing inspiration from the points raised by the audience. Recently NTOW Impomptu Spendor graced the New York City stage with its clever improvised plays at the Barrow Street Theater. The playwright on the evening I attended was Anton Chekhov and the improvised play was The Winter of Opportunity. Hilarious, clever, fresh. Check out a sample of their work on

Monday, November 28, 2011

Monday Night Broadway Parties

There are two Monday night Broadway parties I have been wanting to check out for some time. However, Mondays are really rough since I am usually recovering from the weekend and gearing up for the week ahead. But one Monday evening, I promise I will make it to one of these parties.

Splash Curtain Call and Musical Mondays
I first heard about Splash Musical Mondays on NY1. Every Monday from around 7PM until midnight, theater lovers can watch, listen, and belt out musical numbers spun by John Bantay and at 11:30PM a Broadway singer performs. Last Monday, the singer was Saycon Sengbloh, that wonderful actress who played Sandra in the musical Fela!.

Check out the NY1 story here and more details about Splash Mondays here.

Jim Caruso's Cast Party
If you need your theater fix when Broadway is dark, then head over to West 44th Street to the famous Birdland Jazz Club on Monday nights for Jim Caruso's theater inspired open mic night.  Check out a clip below and more details here.

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Stage Door: Alan Rickman

Alan Rickman, currently starring in the world premiere of Theresa Rebeck's Seminar at the Golden Theatre.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

"A Conversation with Critics 2011"

While An Evening with Patti Lupone And Mandy Patinkin was opening to rave reviews on Monday evening, a small audience gathered at the Helen Mills Theater in Chelsea for The Drama League’s A Conversation with Critics 2011 - a panel discussion featuring critics chatting about the theater. The event was moderated by Peter Filichia of The Star Ledger and featured the following drama critics:

Scott Brown
 - New York Magazine 
Elisabeth Vincentelli - The New York Post
Joe Dziemianowicz - New York Daily News
Elysa Gardner - USA Today
Adam Feldman - Time Out New York
Steven Suskin - Variety

No, no one from The New York Times (the only one that really matters?) was there.

When Adam Feldman was not commandeering the discussion, the panel covered various topics. For example, the panel explored whether Broadway musicals have become unsophisticated, lowbrow. They noted that Broadway is primarily tourist driven where roughly 66% of attendees are tourists and spoke about the increase in rock musicals. However, they all seem to agree that all great musicals are character driven.

Another topic of discussion was the role of the critic and how criticism is about how a play or musical hits the critic at the time he or she sees the performance. They also noted their dual sometimes - critics and industry journalist.

A final topic worth mentioning was the use of profanity at the theater, naming Silence! The Musical, The Book of Mormon and The Mother______ with the Hat as examples. They all seemed to agree that use of profanity is a fad and will probably come full circle.

Whether you agree with them or not, this is a sampling of what NY drama critics had to say about 2011.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

New Year's Eve at "Sleep No More"

I just received this New Year's Eve invite from the Thane of Cawdor for Sleep No More. With a price range between $100 and $600, this may not be a bad way to spend New Year's Eve.  Hmmmm....

Black Female Playwrights - Part V

So let's take a closer look at the black female playwrights. Looking at the fourth and final row (and moving across) we have...

Kirsten Childs

Most known for the musicals The Bubbly Black Girl Sheds Her Chameleon Skin (Obie - 2000) and Miracle Brothers, Kirstin Childs is one of only two writer-composers on our list. According to a New York Times review, her musical - The Bubbly Black Girl Sheds Her Chameleon Skin - was "sharp and tasty". 

Known for The Story and The Good Negro (both mounted The Public Theatre).

Micki Grant 

The second writer-composer on our list, Micki Grant is multi-talented. If we focus on just her writing, she is known for the musical Don't Bother Me, I Can't Cope, amongst others.
Regina Taylor

Regina Taylor's short play - Post Black - was recently featured in The River Crosses Rivers II . However, the multi-talented Ms. Taylor (remember her from the TV show I'll Fly Away) is also known for Oo-Bla-Dee and Crown and is a playwright in residence at Signature Theatre.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Where is the Art in Merely Shocking the Audience?

Last Sunday, after mindlessly surfing cable channels, I settled on an episode of Lisa Ling’s Our America about normal everyday people engaging in amateur porn. Lisa Ling relayed statistics such as every minute as many as 2 million Americas watch internet porn. A couple of mornings later, I opened up my email account and there was a TONY newsletter of 2011 Sex Poll Results with the headline 50% of those polled are cheaters. By the way, 58% have been cheated on and 57% watch porn either daily or weekly.

Now, all this should not be shocking. Sex is all around us – TV, films, advertisements, Eighth Avenue. The other day as I strolled across West 45th Street, I marveled as a large group of young girls waited outside the Al Hirschfeld Theatre hoping to spot Daniel Radcliffe; right next to the theater is a private gentleman’s club.

One of the many things that I love about the theater is that there isn’t a lot of sex on the stage and definitely not the gratuitous type that many Hollywood films are famous for. So, I was little shocked when I saw The New Group’s production of Thomas Bradshaw’s Burning in previews. Now, one may argue that any one can tell from the play’s poster (a bare female derriere) that the play is risqué, and after all, Thomas Bradshaw has a reputation for being a provocateur.  However, I could not help but wonder if the following was necessary to graphically depict for some three hours on the New York City stage:

Sex between gay men
Sex between gay couple and underage boy
Unprotected sex between HIV infected man and underage boy
Sex between black man and white wife
Sex between black man and black prostitute
Sexual acts between Neo Nazi brother and sister

So, what did the critics have to say now that the show has opened?

NYT: (Ben Brantley)
… [for] some audience members, disgust and boredom have definitely prevailed… features many moments that border on hard-core pornography. (Only a lack of strategic close-ups separates this play from XXX-rated films.)
NYP: (Elisabeth Vincentelli)
Bradshaw churns up big ideas, but everything remains skin-deep.
NYDN: (Joe Dziemianowicz)
Sometimes all you can do is laugh at the preposterous goings-on.
NJN: (Michael Sommers)
'Burning' is a fetid slag heap of amoral characters whose lives are drearily rendered through indifferently-written dialogue, far-fetched plotting and graphic bouts of sex.
It is one thing to provoke an audience but an entirely other thing to simply shock for the sake of shocking. Where is the art in that, Mr. Bradshaw, Mr. Ellliott?

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Quote from Tammy Grimes

Paraphrase of quote from Tammy Grimes (The Unsinkable Molly Brown) at Broadway Originals at Town Hall on October 16, 2011:

The only parts I get these days is a new knee.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Stage Door: The Cast of "Other Desert Cities"

Members of the stellar cast of Jon Robin Baitz's critically acclaimed family drama Other Desert Cities currently playing on Broadway at the Booth Theatre.

Rachel Griffiths (plays Brooke Wyeth) in her Broadway debut.


Stockard Channing (plays Polly Wyeth)

Thomas Sadoski (plays Trip Wyeth)

Judith Light (plays Silda Grauman)


Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Life is Musical, Operatic, Even Cinematic

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According to a Southern Comfort talkback, one of the musical's creators was watching the documentary about a female to male transgender suffering from ovarian cancer and decided that the true story would make a great musical - a musical which recently played Off Off Broadway to decent reviews. Also at the talkback, Todd Cerveris (the actor playing Cas) mentioned that one of the couples featured in the documentary visited New York and saw the musical. The cast was excited to meet the couple, but the couple did not understand the cast's excitement because as far as the couple was concerned - they were just living life.

On Saturday evening, on the far west side of the city, the chamber opera -
Dark Sisters (Music: Nico Murphy; Libretto: Stephen Karam) played, where five sister wives from a polygamist sect in the American Southwest lament that state officials have taken away their children under suspicion of abuse. The creators were obviously inspired by real events because the opera seemed to be plucked straight from the headlines and CNN. Who can forget those women with their lost eyes, long braids, and frumpy dresses?

As I watched Dark Sisters and reminisced about Southern Comfort. I could see how operatic the stories were; I could even see how life in general - including my own - can be musical, operatic, even cinematic (for my movie loving readers):

love, art, desire, lust, friendship, family, relationships, indifference, loneliness, infidelity, heartbreak, hate, rape, conception, procreation, childbirth, SIDS, adoption, childhood, molestation, impotence, life, disease, depression, obesity, incapacitation, religion, supernatural, fear, anxiety, racism, sexism, drug abuse, alcohol, education, career, joblessness, sports, adventure, travels, sexuality, connection, submission, prostitution, money, greed, ambition, poverty, classism, history, capitalism, communism, politics, war, revolution, conflict, violence, the military, murder, crime, imprisonment, oppression, rejection, mutilation, death, suicide, mourning, recovery, acceptance...
Too bad though, we don't get to plot, rewrite, rehearse and edit life and then simply fade to black.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Men, Beware of Mysterious Women Who Arrive at Your Door in the Rain

Angela Bassett as Camae and Nina Arianda as Wanda

In David Ives’ Venus in Fur, Thomas stands alone in a casting room after an uneventful day of auditioning actresses for his play. As he is about to wrap up his day, Vanda, an actress not on his audition list, arrives insisting on an audition. Similarly, in Katori Hall’s The Mountaintop, MLK is alone in his motel room, when Camae, a maid arrives at his door. 

In these two-actor plays portrayed on boxy sets currently mounted on Broadway stages, both women are attractive, magnetic, and mysterious; they know things about the men that they probably should not. How does Camae know that MLK’s childhood name is Michael, not Martin? How does Vanda know so many intimate facts about Thomas’ relationship with his finance? 

Both plays provide 90 solid minutes of engaging theater. But you can't help but want to warn the men - beware of a beautiful woman who appears at your door in the thundering rain. You may just fall under her spell.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Black Female Playwrights - Part IV

So let's take a closer look at the black female playwrights. Looking at the third row (and moving across) we have...

Not so long ago, I saw Radha Blank's SEED at the National Black Theatre in Harlem. No doubt, I will be keeping an eye out for this child of Hip Hop. 

There was a production of Adrienne Kennedy's Funnyhouse of a Negro at the Classical Theatre of Harlem in 2006. According to a New York Times review, the work from 1964 is "...still a fearlessly innovative piece of theater...". Need I say anymore about this playwright

I read Alice Childress' A Hero Ain't Nothin' but A Sandwich when I was in school but admittedly did not know anything about her plays until now. According to Wikipedia, she is the first black woman to have a play produced professionally. Pretty amazing distinction. 

Known for Beauty's Daughter and Yellowman, this writer-performer was the finalist for the Pulitzer prize in the same year that Suzan-Lori Parks won the prestigious prize. How about that! Yellowman was mounted at the Manhattan Theatre Club in 2002. I am so so sorry that I missed this piece which explored the dynamics between light and dark skinned blacks.

Update 11/14/2011: Ms. Orlandersmith's new play - Horsedreams - plays from November 9 - December 11th at the Rattlestick Playwrights Theater. Sure hope that I will be able to fit it in my schedule.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

I Want to Run Another Marathon

In 2009, I caught my first marathon theater. A day or so before Alan  Ayckbourn's The Norman Conquests was scheduled to close, I purchased tickets to see all three parts in one day. I believe the first part started at 11:30AM in the morning and the third part ended late that night. I wondered if I would have the endurance to spend what was practically the whole day at the theater. You know what? I did and I absolutely loved it. The Norman Conquests was one of the most clever productions I have ever seen and the cast was perfect. Since that time, I've craved to relive my marathon experience but have not been able to to do so.

Last season, I caught all three parts of Horton Foote's The Orphans Home Cycle at the Signature Theatre Company, but unfortunately they were over three separate evenings.  While this wonderful production was engrossing and extremely well-done, I was never able to fit a marathon day experience into my schedule. There was also Angels In America (again at the Signature Theatre Company), but that was over two evenings - hardly a marathon. There was the ultimate 12-hour Dostoyevsky play on Governor's Island, but I don't even know anyone who was able to secure tickets for that production.

And as I noted in my Ode to the Shows I Missed, I tried (oh, how I tried) to get tickets for Gatz at the Public Theater last fall; however they quickly sold out and attempts to get standby tickets resulted in nada. However, that changes next month. For four short days, the six-hour Gatz by Elevator Repair Service plays at the McCarter Theatre in Princeton NJ and it is official - once again, I will "run" another theater marathon. 

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

And I Am Not Feeling Sutton Foster's Performance...

Meet the Dreamettes – an African American trio girl group comprised of Effie, Deena and Lorrell. Hungry to make the trio into superstars, their manager Curtis pushes a side the heavyset and sassy lead Effie and makes the more commercial Deena (after all, she is fair and slim) the star of the group. As resentment and Curtis’ child grows within Effie, she creates tension within the group and misses performances. Finally, a driven Curtis (backed by Deena, Lorrell and Effie’s brother) kicks the secretly pregnant Effie out of the group.

Defiant, heartbroken, angry, determined, raw – Effie (most famously played by Jennifer Holliday) powerfully and longingly sings what I think is one of the best Broadway tunes ever - And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going from Dreamgirls (Book & Lyrics: Tom Eyen; Music: Henry Krieger):

Tear down the mountains,
Yell, scream and shout.
You can say what you want,
I'm not walkin' out.
Stop all the rivers,
Push, strike, and kill.
I'm not gonna leave you,
There's no way I will.
While on, I stumbled upon this version of And I am Telling You I’m Not Going by the talented Sutton Foster. Now I do not know the context of her performance here, but while many youtubers seem to be amused by Ms. Sutton’s theatrics and "diva" gyrations, I (usually a fan of parodies) am not. I truly do not understand how someone (especially a Broadway professional) can make fun of this amazing song. 

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Writing the Words Left Behind After a Suicide

Some horrible facts about suicide from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) - numbers are from 2007: 

More than 34,000 suicides occurred in the US. That is 94 per day or 1 every 15 minutes. Males take their own lives nearly four times as much as females - representing 78.8% of all suicides in the US. Firearms tend to be suicide weapon of choice among males; females prefer poisoning. Among young adults (15 to 24), there are roughly 100-200 attempts for every completed suicide.
Andrew Hinderaker's Suicide Incorporated is currently playing at Roundabout Underground. This fascinating play takes us to a company, which services those (primarily men) who are about the take their lives. This company does not try to prevent suicidal behavior. For a fee, it helps write what cannot be said out loud; it writes or refines the customer’s suicide note. By the way, this service can be expedited for an additional rush service fee.

Several days after seeing Suicide Incorporated, the play has me wondering. First, how responsible are we for being in tune with the mental and emotional state of those around us? If my brother or friend or coworker is hurting - to a breaking point - and I fail to be there for that person, am I in some way responsible for that breaking point? Second, the play suggests that a driver for male suicide is the difficulty they have communicating their feelings. In the play, we feel Norm’s (played by James McMenamin) discomfort when he shares the pain from his failed marriage and manhood. Why do men (especially) find it so hard to communicate? Why?

Suicide is one of the leading causes of death for both men and women in the US. Therefore, Suicide Incorporated rightfully does not end on an optimistic note. However, it left this audience member thinking and it offered some glimmer of hope as the men begin to open up and share their feelings.

Monday, November 7, 2011

I Don't Have to Pay $40 to Get "Milk Like Sugar"

I could not wait to see Kirsten Greenidge Milk Like Sugar as well as Tonya Pinkins on the New York City stage once again. However, I walked away from Playwright Horizons, not particularly moved by this play about three inner city black girls who make a pregnancy pact.

I have to agree with Chris Isherwood’s NYT review that the pact is simply not credible. More concerned with their mobile devices, tattoos and sneakers, it is hard to believe that these Alize drinking girls desire to bring children into the world. Yes, they may dream of hanging the latest Coach Diaper bag over their shoulders but children…. Well, that’s another story.

As Annie, the brightest of the trio, tries to find the seed for her baby pact, she predictably encounters two individuals who present her with alternatives to her current plans - Malik who tells her about the possibility of college and education and Keera who exposes her to religion and family. However, this is where Ms. Greenidge’s play breaks down for me. Perhaps intentional, she simply fails to convince us that there is a possibility that Annie can or will be able to change her circumstance.

By the end of the play, no one is surprised at Annie’s condition, but the scary part is that we do not care that she will end up impoverished and miserable just like her mother - Myrna. Now I didn't have to drop $40 to go to the theater to see this, all I have to do is look around the city I love so much. 

Friday, November 4, 2011

Black Female Playwrights - Part III

So let's take a closer look at the black female playwrights. Starting with the second row (and moving across) we have...

Suzan-Lori Parks won the Pulitzer for her amazing play Topdog/Underdog, which starred Jeffrey White and Mos Def on Broadway. Most recently, she has been taking heat in the press for her involvement with the re-imagined Porgy and Bess. We will see if it was all worthwhile when the play opens on Broadway on January 12, 2012.

Anna Deavere Smith

We cannot possibly get into all the accomplishments of the multi-talented actress and playwright. I last saw Ms. Smith on the New York City stage in Let Me Down Easy but will never forget her in Fires in the Mirror and Twilight: Los Angeles.

She won the Pulitzer for Ruined, which was one of the best plays I saw in 2009 and made me a complete and utter fan of Ms. Nottage. Most recently, she lightened things up in her play - By the Way, Meet Vera Stark - at Second Stage Theatre.

Zora Neale Hurston is most famous for her book - Their Eyes Were Watching God - and one of her biggest fans, Oprah Winfrey. But it turns out she wrote a number of plays.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Quote from Terence Rattigan’s "Man and Boy"

Sven to Basil in Terence Rattigan’s Man and Boy – now playing on Broadway. 
In finance miracles are made by man himself…

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Wait a Second - How Can I Make Extra Money with My Theater Habit?

Meandering on the web, I stumbled on an eHow article entitled Free fast and easy ways to make money in New York City.  In the article, the writer claims to be going home one night after a day of interviewing, the writer sees a crowd waiting outside a theater, curious, he joins the crowd to check it out and low and behold a Broadway star emerges from the theater. Going along with the crowd, he takes out some random piece of paper from his pockets, gets an autograph and then realizes he can replicate this at other theaters and then sell the autographs.

Easy money, right? You have take it with a grain of salt. Let me tell you about FencesLast year, admittedly, I was caught up in Denzel Washington fever when he appeared on Broadway in Fences at the Cort Theatre. After attending a performance and exiting the theater on a hot summer day, I noticed the crowd waiting to see the superstar. I nestled into a cozy spot hoping to get a picture of him.  Well here is the photo. You tell me. Can a random person walk up and get an autograph? I was there and couldn't even get a photo. (By the way, I feel sorry for the poor soul in the taxi.)

Anyway, I digress. After reading the article, I became curious as to how much Broadway memorabilia is really worth. So, I checked out eBay and Triton Gallery and surprisingly there are signed playbills listed up to $2,000 - top dollars of course for those signed by a deceased actor. So, if you are fortunate enough to get your playbill signed, hold on to it. You never know. Your theater habit may be worth something someday.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

How much are Broadway actors paid?

How much are Broadway actors paid? 

As the USA Today article The curtain hides actors' salaries sums up nicely, good luck finding out this information. After poking around cyberspace, all I can surmise is that salaries start at the the Actors Equity minimum of $1,653 and is negotiable from there. A New York Magazine article from a few years ago cites 2-4X the minimum for ensemble and 5-10X the minimum for lead. 

At the end of the day, the more famous and male the actor is the more he gets paid.

Some Random Numbers

So, here are a few numbers. Where possible, I've linked the underlying source article from New York Magazine, New York Times New York Post or Bloomberg