Last Wednesday night I was invited to see Small Mouth Sounds by playwright Bess Wohl at the Pershing Square Signature Center on 42nd Street. I’d been unable to attend the first “buzzmaker” event so I was super stoked to have another opportunity to see it. I mean, after all, could it be more perfect for me? A play about a silent meditation retreat? I think not. I brought J with me because he’s been getting a little more into meditation recently and enjoys seeing a play every now and then.
The participants of the retreat are your basic stereotypes – obnoxious dedicated yogi, trainwreck white female, the couple who’s having issues, the grieving father, etc. We only hear the guru over the PA system (until the very end) and he’s not a very good guru because he sounds like he’s basically reading from a script.
In yoga and meditation classes i’ve taken, we’re always told to be very mindful of what we discover in the silence between our breaths, the poses, etc, so a lot of what was being discovered onstage was ringing true to me. It’s always when we’re quietest that we learn the most (this is basically true in any situation in life).
There are breakthroughs and deceptions, sexual encounters and realizations, and moments of comedy, too. Towards the end of the play, the guru begs his students to “PLEASE CHANGE” out of frustration at their lack of spiritual progress. Ironically, this leads to the most change that any of the characters experience throughout the entire week.
The characters leave a little bit more woken up than when they arrived, but still basically the same. And so does the audience. I’d highly recommend Small Mouth Sounds, which is playing through October 8th.
When I was working in advertising for the first time in 2013, that was the first time I heard of Natasha, Pierre, and The Great Comet of 1812. It’s now headed to Broadway and I can’t wait to see it in an actual Broadway theatre, since that’s where they planned to put it in the first place.
The lead producer, Howard Kagan, when he signed on with the agency originally planned to produce it in a Broadway house. Shortly after he changed his mind and thought an off-Broadway house would be better suited for the unique show. Finally, though, they decided they’d build their own space in a vacant parking lot in the meatpacking district. Is this show ever going to go up? we’d say quietly in our seats.
It did, though. I saw it that spring and it was lovely. They transformed that parking lot into an awesome nightclub (way better than anything that’s currently in the Meatpacking District) and the food and atmosphere were incredible. The performances were also awe inspiring.
The next incarnation of The Great Comet hit the vacant parking lot on the corner west of the Richard Rodgers Theatre on 46th Street and 8th Avenue. I didn’t see that version but I’d imagine it was more of the same – which would be nothing short of a great show.
But it’s finally here. With Josh Groban attached to it. It has a theatre which I’m certain is under a massive amount of construction and I will totally go see it. There won’t be a free meal, most likely, but it’ll be a smart score and fantastic voices.
I’ve been reading a lot about how the theatre community thinks Alice Ripley is wasting her talents in her small roles in American Psycho. They’re pissed that her roles are barely-there and I have to say they’re pretty much unnecessary. The show would be the same whether or not Patrick Bateman’s mom showed up.
Ripley was last on Broadway in Next to Normal where she famously and award-winningly got to have mental breakdowns onstage every night. Rumor has it that she also blew her voice out pretty hard with the score. Whatever the case may be, American Psycho is her first return to a Broadway stage and people are pissed. They’re even going as far to say that she must be furious with how small her role is.
To the fans who don’t know how the industry works, let me just tell you: she didn’t take the part without reading the script first. No one tricked her into a small role. If she has an agent worth his or her salt, he/she negotiated a really good deal for her, what, with being a Broadway veteran and a Tony Award winner. That counts for something.
Equity weekly minimum is around $1,475 (I think) and with her credentials I’d bet she’s making at least $2,500 every week. You could offer me $2,500 every week for a small-ish role in a Broadway show and I’d sure as hell take it. I’m pretty sure most people would.
As the theatre crowd erupts in self-righteous anger over this I’d like to remind them that Ripley is a person and has bills to pay, too. And if she can still pay those bills while working on Broadway, who is anyone to tell her what role is beneath her? Oh, right: not you. Or me. Or anyone but herself.
It (Doesn’t) Suck to Be Me
This won’t be much of a review since Avenue Q has been around since 2003. Everyone’s seen it (if you like theatre) and everyone knows it’s greatness. I hadn’t seen Avenue Q onstage (so: at all) since 2005 or 2006. It was a great little show and I saw it twice on Broadway. When J mentioned that he’d heard “Everyone’s A Little Bit Racist” and “The Internet is For Porn,” I thought it’d be a great birthday present and it was.
He liked it so much more than we both ever could’ve imagined. He never stopped laughing. I, of course, enjoyed it, too. It was nice to see it again, this time in a smaller space. The cast was fantastic across the board.
J spent the rest of the weekend ranting and raving to anyone who would listen about how good the show was. And like I said, he’s lost most of his interest in seeing Hamilton now because he doesn’t think it could entertain him more than Avenue Q did. Is Hamilton as funny as Avenue Q? Likely not. I’m certain it has it’s own merits though – duh, of course.
The moral of this story? Since no one can get tickets to Hamilton, go see Avenue Q. Obviously. Because it’s (still) a solid and terrifically entertaining show.
I finally broke down and bought a ticket on TDF for Blackbird last week. I’d heard a lot of mixed things to downright “it’s just not worth it.” I knew Michelle Williams would be using her “serious stage lady” voice, but I would try to get past it because it was 85 minutes long and I love Jeff Daniels.
The basic premise of the show: a girl, now a woman, who, at 12, was sexually abused for 3 months by a neighbor who was 40, tracks down her abuser 15 years later, ready to make him uncomfortable at his office.
First: Williams’ Serious Stage Lady voice is annoying but I kind of felt like it worked. If you’d been abused as a child and then was still fucked up enough to go track that person down after he’s moved and changed his name, you’re probably very affected and there’s a chance there’s something strange in your voice.
The whole play just felt a little unnecessary. Daniels’ knew he’d done something horrible and now he was being tortured in person. I also seriously feel for Williams’character, for sure, but I was really confused as to why she would want to go track her abuser down instead of moving forward with her life. But maybe I don’t understand what goes through someone’s mind who’s gone through that (spoiler alert: I definitely don’t).
The ending was contrived. I didn’t agree with that choice the playwright made. It was a quick 85 minutes and although it was the most uncomfortable I’ve ever felt in a theatre, I’m glad I saw it. Would I recommend it to anyone though? Hell no.
This weekend was oh-so nice. It started on Friday night when J and I went down to The Library (the bar at the Public) to celebrate his birthday with his friends, many of whom I just adore. It was super fun, though we both probably consumed far too much alcohol.
We ordered in carb-loaded breakfasts from my local diner the next morning to fight our hangovers before going to see Avenue Q at New World Stages. It was my first time seeing it since 2005 or 2006 and it totally holds up. I’ll write about it more in depth later on but it’s still so great. J loved it SO, SO much. He couldn’t stop talking about it the entire weekend. Now he’s all, “I’m sure Hamilton’s great, but is it funnier than Avenue Q? Probably not.”
He had to run home and I had to go home to see my cat and take a nap, but we met back up later on to go meet his friend from DC who he hadn’t seen in 3 years. We attempted to go to Flatiron Hall, but it was packed, so we went across the street to a mostly-empty bar (I can’t remember the name) and didn’t leave until probably 1am. So late. It was so exhausting but it was fun. (I nursed one beer the entire time because the thought of drinking more hurt my face.)
Sunday included a trip to Book Culture to take advantage of their 20% off sale. I hate buying books simply because they’re cheap, but I bought a Kon Mari-esque book called The Joy of Less, Yes Please by Amy Poehler, and Just Kids by Patti Smith. I cooked this sausage/kale/carrot noodle soup from the Inspiralized blog (it’s SO GOOD) and we watched “The Invasion” on HBOGo (it was entertaining and I’d recommend watching it if you’re bored, though it was 100% ridiculous).
After an hour or so in the gym, I made sausage/carrot noodle/spinach/siracha rice wraps. So good. The rice wrap is kind of hard to handle but worth it not to have all the carbs of a regular wrap.
We ended the night watching Show Business and later watching Game of Thrones (he watched, I played with my cat). I hadn’t watched Show Business in so long. It brought back so many good memories. To my shock and delight, J found it super interesting and loved seeing the progression of Avenue Q, in addition to watching Raul Esparza do theatre (currently he only knows him as DA Barba on SVU).
First of all, this was way more gorgeous that I ever could have anticipated. Second, who knew that a play with barely any words at all, AND puppetry, could be so moving? Staged for the third time, now at New World Stages, The Woodsman is as unique of a theatrical experience as you could hope for in New York these days. I was invited to see it last Monday night and I was so excited, especially when @endotique agreed to come with me.
The Woodsman tells the story of how the Tin Man (of Wizard of Oz fame) came to be. But this isn’t another Wicked by any means. The wonderful ensemble cast of Strangemen & Co. tell this incredibly moving story with a violinist, very minimal singing, puppetry, manmade sound effects (the fire crackling, the crows, etc), and mime. The most words, which are few anyways, are during the prologue to set the scene and how the land east of Oz was ruled by the Wicked Witch of the East and things were less than awesome.
There really aren’t words to explain how amazingly done this show is, so you just have to go see it.
Afterward, we were invited to stay for a chat with a lot of the cast moderated by Cheryl Henson of The Henson Foundation (third from the right).
James Ortiz (third from the left), who played the Tin Man (aka Nick Chopper) and helped develop the show from it’s inception, talked about his love for the original Oz stories and how their ensemble made all of the puppets themselves. The cast told us how the show is always evolving and they’re very good at listening to each other’s breath and taking cues from that since there are oftentimes no words.
I can’t express with words sufficiently how awesome this little play is, so you just need to see it for yourself. Buy tickets.
I found out that The Drama Book Shop was having some hard times when I saw a clip on Facebook from a local news channel. The short story: a pipe burst destroying much of their ceiling and a whole lot of inventory. Lin-Manuel Miranda posted a video about it on Twitter and patrons rushed into the store to help by spending money. Their sales are up 50% and they’re hoping their insurance kicks in sooner rather than later.
I spent many days during my college years (and even before that while I was in high school) wandering the shelves looking for plays for classes and to read on my own. I used to buy a few dozen plays there every summer, coming back once I had finished reading all my prior purchases.
So, last Tuesday I wandered up 40th and 7th to pay homage to the store that was such a huge resource for me and I picked up a copy of Stephen Karam’s The Humans. I know I didn’t particularly fall head-over-heels in love with the show, but I think that’s because I probably missed a few subtleties.
I wished the manager good luck with everything, said goodbye to the manager’s dog that sits on the counter, and was on my way.
If you’re in New York City, or are planning a visit soon, please stop by The Drama Book Shop and show your support. You can find out more information here.
Company XIV’s Snow White
This is the third production (maybe fourth?) of Company XIV’s that I’ve seen in the last couple of years. I love them. I think they’re great. However, Snow White may have been my least favorite production thus far. That may be because I’m not terribly familiar with the story of Snow White and the Huntsman, which I believe this was taken from (rather than from the Disney movie).
As always, the pole dancing sequence and cirque du soleil sequences were wonderful. Jaw-dropping. The costumes were elaborate and eye-catching, covered with sparkles as per usual.
Nutcracker Rouge will continue to be my favorite Company XIV production, but Snow White didn’t disappoint either.
I’d heard that The Humans, written by Stephen Karam and currently at Roundabout’s Laura Pels Theatre off-Broadway, was fantastic and I knew it was transferring. Once Kristen reminded me that it wasn’t closing until January 3rd, I went to see last Wednesday’s matinee in a general rush ticket ($27) as the student rush was $50 (wtf?). The difference between the two seats was the student rush ticket was unobstructed while the general rush ticket was in the last row of the orchestra and thus the mezzanine overhang made it a little difficult to see the top floor of the set.
This play reminded me a bit of the movie Pieces of April as in a “Thanksgiving Gone Wrong” plot. Brigid (Sarah Steele) just moved in with her boyfriend Richard (Ariian Moayed) and Sarah’s family is coming to spend Thanksgiving with them in their unfurnished, barely-moved-into apartment. There were the usual witty lines of dialogue that inspired lots of laughter from the audience and it got serious and depressing in the last 1/3 of the script. Truths are revealed and Thanksgiving dinner is ended early.
Moayed mentions in the early part of the play that there’s a comic which takes place from the perspective of monsters and how all of their horror stories have humans as their monsters. Brigid’s mom (Jayne Houdyshell) and her sister Aimee (Cassie Beck) can hardly believe that would ever be the case as humans are basically not capable of such horror-inducing acts. By the end of the play, we know this isn’t true.
It felt like a horror/thriller movie towards the end when a couple of random items are knocked over and a door closed by itself. I’m not sure what Karam’s intentions were by adding those subtleties to the script. Their grandmother, “Momo” (Lauren Klein), is not well and basically catatonic throughout the entire play. I’d like to think the supernatural element of the script had something to do with her character, but honestly, I’m really not sure.
Overall I really enjoyed it. I don’t see this being very popular on Broadway, but it’ll be good exposure for Sarah Steele and Reed Birney (who played her father). The cast executed the layered script as best they could; there were no weak links. With no big names and being a not altogether feel-good script, I’m interested to see what this does when it transfers.