Sunday, October 10, 2021

 Dana H.
Lyceum Theatre
October 9, 2021 

Photo courtesy of Dana H.
Lucas Hnath’s Dana H. is a compilation of a series of interviews with his mother, Dana H.  She tells the story of how her work as a spiritual and psychological counselor was brutally hijacked for five year by someone under her care.  The performance contains the actual tapes from the interviews.  Deirdre O’Connell, the actor playing Dana H., fully embodies her characters while lip-syncing to the recordings.  Director Les Waters brings depth and texture to this unique and riveting theatrical experience, creating intense, jaw-dropping moments that are viscerally engaging. 

Deirdre O'Connell as Dana H.
Photo courtesy of Dana H.
Sitting in an arm chair center stage, Dana H. (played by Deirdre O’Connell) is open and calm.   She begins to tell of the work she does as a spiritual counselor, helping people cross over and comforting their loved ones and family members.  She reveals the number of death experiences she counsels in one week’s time.  She then asks the interviewer to do the math to calculate the number of these encounters she has experienced in over two decades of doing this work.  It is about this time that you realize that her calm and open demeanor covers an elevated level of detachment.  Dana H. then shifts into the story of Jim.  She was counseling Jim in his transition from prison to living independently.  He was medicated, due to psychological distress, broke from reality, and violently turned against her.  Dana H. tells the details of a five year ordeal under his brutal control.  His involvement with white supremacist gangs kept them on the run.  She was living in constant fear and danger.  An isolated act of kindness by a stranger was the one chance she had to escape and rebuild her life.  

Deirdre O'Connell as Dana H.
Photo courtesy of Dana H.

Deirdre O’Connell steps up in this very unique challenge of lip-syncing to seventy-five minutes of audio recordings.  Her performance is seamless.  Her emotional state is spot on connected to the recorded voice of Dana H.  The timing of her movements is rhythmically at one with the vocal patterns.  Every breath bonds her with the real Dana H.  It is a truly captivating performance.

 Lucas Hnath skillfully edited and compiled these very personal interviews to create an engaging piece of theatre.  The brutal journey is masterfully plotted.  Mr. Hnath far exceed any sense of accomplishment as he applies his writing skills to this horrific and emotional story to which he is so closely related. 

Dana H. is playing at the Lyceum Theatre, running in rep with Is This a Room.  Get a ticket!  It cannot be compared to anything you have experienced in the theatre thus far. 

Domenick Danza

Sunday, October 3, 2021

Thoughts of a Colored Man

 Thoughts of a Colored Man
Golden Theatre
October 2, 2021

Photo courtesy of Thoughts of a Colored Man

In Thoughts of a Colored Man, playwright Keenan Scott II takes a deep and insightful look into the hearts and minds of seven unique characters.  Their direct address is full of profound prose and dazzling verse that enlighten the audience with their unique perspective.  They debate, argue, and concur about their community, their heritage, and their upbringing.  Director Steve H. Broadnax III has given these seven amazing actors the room to explore and the freedom to dive deeply into their creative souls to deliver phenomenal performances. 

The Cast 
Photo courtesy of Thoughts of a Colored Man

Dyllón Burnside plays Love.  He speaks in rich, romantic verse that stirs the heart and pulses through the stars.  Bryan Terrell Clark plays Happiness with a smile and openness that brightens the stage.  When his inner conflicts rise, he faces them with acceptance and vigor.  Esau Pritchett plays Wisdom, and he gives it selflessly, sharing his compassionate support with all the men with whom he comes in contact.  Da’Vinchi plays Lust with innocent charm and persistent smoothness.  He and his best friend Love (played by Dyllón Burnside) make a well balanced pair.  Not always in agreement, but always in sync.  Tristan Mack Wilds plays Anger.  He is driven and focused, with a backstory that will break your heart.  Luke James plays Passion, singing to the stars and welcoming his first born son into the world with unconditional love.  Forrest McClendon plays Depression.  His lines open the show.  He grabs the audience’s attention and never lets go.  His perfect comic timing is topped only by his poignant moments of truthful introspection. 

Photo courtesy of Thoughts of a Colored Man

Thoughts of a Colored Man is a uniquely structured play, intertwining the realistic stories of these characters with their inner thoughts and honest perspectives.  Each character speaks in their own distinct rhythm, which allows them to merge and blend in thematic harmony.  The seven skilled actors in this ensemble deliver performances that are not to be missed.

Thoughts of a Colored Man is playing at the Golden Theatre.  Get a ticket today! 

Domenick Danza

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Ruben Santiago-Hudson’s Lackawanna Blues

 Ruben Santiago-Hudson’s
Lackawanna Blues
Manhattan Theatre Club
Samuel J. Friedman Theatre
September 18, 2021 

Photo courtesy of Manhattan Theatre Club

Ruben Santiago-Hudson’s Lackawanna Blues is a touching tribute to Nanny, the woman who raised him.  It is a one-person show in which Mr. Santiago-Hudson embodies countless citizens of Lackawanna, NY to tell his story.  He transforms physically and vocally for each character.  Some stand taller than he, some meeker.  Some are physically disabled, some emotionally distraught.  It is the character of Nanny who seems most at ease gleaming through Mr. Santiago-Hudson’s commanding presence.  She is grounded and calm, with a kind and open heart.

Ruben Santiago-Hudson
Photo courtesy of Manhattan Theatre Club

The story begins with Ruben Santiago-Hudson silhouetted in a doorway, instantly shifting from one character to another, telling of how their lives were affected by the kindness and generosity of one woman.  The lights come up on Nanny telling the story of how she got that name.  She kept house for a white family and cared for two young boys, who affectionately called her “Nanny.”  She left that job when the boys’ mother went back on her word and was cross with her for no reason.  This motivated Nanny’s decision to work for herself.  She opened two rooming houses in Lackawanna, NY.  They became a safe haven for the community. Nanny offered a hot meal, guidance, and emotional support as needed.  When a young boy, Ruben, was left alone in the evenings while his mother went to work, Nanny kept an eye on him, and ended up raising him as her own.  Ruben was never left alone again.  He was always surrounded by colorful characters and nurtured by Nanny’s loving care.  

The writing and directing, also by Mr. Santiago-Hudson, are masterful.  Each story of Nanny and the citizens of Lackawanna connects and builds as Mr. Santiago-Hudson shares very private and intimate moments from his upbringing.  A lone guitar, played by Junior Mack, underscores the stories.  Mr. Santiago-Hudson also plays harmonica during a few of the transitions.  This is a personal and inspiring tour-de-force performance.  It is not to be missed.

Ruben Santiago-Hudson’s Lackawanna Blues is playing at Manhattan Theatre Club’s Samuel J. Friedman Theatre through October 31.  Get your ticket today! 

Domenick Danza

Friday, September 17, 2021

Waterman

 Waterman
Thicket & Thistle
The Players Theatre
September 16, 2021 

Photo courtesy of Thicket & Thistle

The company members of Thicket & Thistle have made an impressive name for themselves by producing original ensemble created theatre pieces.  Their current production, Waterman, is a hilarious and well-crafted musical.  Waterman far exceeds their previous projects, showing off their hard work and dedication to the developmental process.  This fine-tuned script contains colorful characters in a globally relevant story.  The production values are strong and the ending is surprising and thought provoking. 

The Water People are outraged over how the Land People are treating the oceans.  In hopes of resolving the situation, the Water People decide to send a half-fish / half-man secret agent, Waterman (played by Kyle Acheson), to gather information.  General B. Warren (played by Jonathan Foster) challenges Doctor Sciensfish (played by Julianna Wheeler), who created the Waterman, to achieve the mission’s objective in one week, or he will launch his Water Revolution.  While on his mission, Waterman falls in love with Ursula (played by Lindsay Zaroogian), the daughter of Captain (played by Sam De Roest) who owns Fishburger, the fast food joint that deep fries Water People and serves them to unsuspecting customers.  Ursula is torn between her love for Waterman and her need for her father’s money and acceptance.  The Waterman’s missions becomes compromised when Ursula makes her choice and breaks his human heart.  Doctor Sciensfish finds Waterman and reminds him of his commitment to the mission of saving the oceans.  If not for Captain’s misunderstood first mate, James (played by Rachel Rosenthal), Ursula and Waterman would not have a chance of reuniting.  As the one week time limit expires, General B. Warren’s Water Revolution explodes into action. 

Lindsay Zaroogian & Kyle Aheson
Photo courtesy of Thicket & Thistle

This strength of this ensemble based company is evident in the chemistry between all the cast members and the consistency in the style and timing of the piece.  Kyle Acheson and Lindsay Zaroogian are amazing together as Waterman and Ursula.  They build a relationship that is touching, genuine, and hilarious.  Their characters are fully committed to their beliefs and driven by deep desires.  Sam De Roest and Rachel Rosenthal are evil and funny as Captain and James.  Their physical characterizations are vibrant and their comic rhythm is always perfectly in synch.  Jonathan Foster, Sarah Yeakel, Julianna Wheeler, and Will Watt all play more than one role.  They skillfully create distinct characters and bold moments that move this far-fetched and poignant story along to its stunning conclusion.

Photo courtesy of Thicket & Thistle

It has been a delight to witness Thicket & Thistle grow as a creative company the past few seasons.  Waterman is a strong and well-crafted piece with sharp and unswerving tongue-in-cheek humor.  The score is unique and lively.  The lyrics are witty and reveal the deeper yearnings of the characters.  Director/choreographer Jonathan Foster has done remarkable work on this piece.  The action rises joyously and the staging is brilliantly comical.

Waterman is playing at The Players Theatre (115 MacDougal St.) through September 29.  Don’t miss this funny and poignant tale.  “Good night and calm waters.” 

Domenick Danza

Sunday, September 12, 2021

My Mother’s Severed Head

 My Mother’s Severed Head
Theatre Row
September 11, 2021 

Photo courtesy of My Mother's Severed Head

When you see a play entitled My Mother’s Severed Head, the first thought is to get a ticket.  The expectation is that it will be dark, funny, and haunted by guilt.  Playwright Charles Cissel’s play, now running at Theatre Row, meets and exceeds these expectations.  The story line entangles the characters on a journey to unburden their souls, and explodes in a celebration of freedom and reconciliation.

When Robert (played by Giancarlo Herrera) could not get the rights to produce one of Eugene O’Neill’s plays at his Mexican restaurant/theatre, he writes his own version using the characters.  Gabrielle (played by Katelyn Sparks) is the only actor who has not abandoned Robert and his project, but now she has to play the role of a man.  The alcoholic family of Robert’s O’Neil adaptation reflects his relationship with his father, Roberto (played by Luis Alberto Garcia), with one astounding addition.  Robert’s mother (played by Nana Ponceleon) was accidentally decapitated when she stuck her head out of the car window while her husband was driving.  Her severed head now rests on their Day of the Dead altar.  She is not fully dead, and longs to re-connect with her body.  They are not fully alive since they hold onto their unresolved feelings of death.  The pressure builds as the production of Robert’s play and the Day of the Dead celebration quickly approach. 

The chemistry between Giancarlo Herrera and Katelyn Sparks keeps the action of the story moving forward.  They each create characters who are driven by emotional loss and trauma.  Ms. Sparks’ character of Gabriella lost her father when she was ten years old.  She was not told about his death until weeks after it happened.  Mr. Herrera’s character of Roberto retrieved his mother’s severed head after she was decapitated.  These two actors find the core of their characters from these traumatic events, then play every touching moment and over the top laugh with serious intent. 

Luis Alberto Garcia is passionate and exuberant as Roberto, the father.  He is loud, overbearing, and constantly on the run from his emotions.  Nana Ponceleon has impeccable timing as Mother’s Severed Head.  Her presence is strongly felt, especially in her non-speaking scenes.  She pushes the characters together and brings the action of the story to a boisterous and celebratory conclusion. 

Photo courtesy of Theatre Row

Director Richard Caliban heightens the humor and timing, giving Mr. Cissel’s play the sharp and colorful production it deserves.  My Mother’s Severed Head is playing at Theatre Row through October 2.  

Domenick Danza

Sunday, September 5, 2021

 Ni Mi Madre
Rattlestick Playwrights Theater
September 3, 2021 


Photo courtesy of Rattlestick Playwrights Theater
Arturo Luís Soria exposes his soul in his one person play, Ni Mi Madre.  He has written a brutally honest piece of theatre, sharing deeply personal moments from the life of his mother.  It is a journey of survival, in which she never looks back.  It is truthful, funny, and, at times, shocking. 

Arturo enters the stage bare chested, walking in a ritualistic manner.  He is garbed in flowing white and carrying a basket of fruit with candles.  He pauses, flips his long, dark hair, and a Cher song begins to play.  He puts down the basket, turns the flowing white garment into an off the shoulder party dress, dances enthusiastically, and sings all the wrong lyrics.  He is Cher, Madonna, and Meryl Streep all rolled into one.  He is his mother, Elizabeth, a Brazilian born woman who holds nothing back.  She tells of her sexuality, her three marriage, and how she raised her five children, focusing especially her son Arturo.  How he challenged her patience.  How she firmly disciplined him.  How she pushed him to achieve and settle for nothing less than the best in everything he attempted.  She reveals how her mother emotionally abandoned her and sent her away.  These hurtful images return to her at unexpected moments.  She justifiably prides herself on never giving up on her children, as her mother did her.  

Arturo Luís Soria
Photo courtesy of Rattlestick Playwrights Theater
The ending reverts back to the ritualistic feeling of Arturo’s initial entrance.  He acknowledges what
was passed down from generations of strong, determined women.  He forgives.  He strives to let’s go, to move on without the need to continually look back.
 

Arturo Luís Soria embodies the character of his mother in an energized and vulnerable performance.  She fully comes to life.  As the audience gets to know the many layers of her personality, we understand her harshness.  We respect her strength.  We value her determination. 

Director Danilo Gambini creates strong, distinct moments in this continuous narrative that give Arturo the opportunity to soar in the character of his mother and share this very personal story. 

Ni Mi Madre is playing at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater through September 19. 

Domenick Danza

Sunday, August 29, 2021

The Last of the Love Letters

 The Last of the Love Letters
Atlantic Theater Company
Linda Gross Theater
August 28, 2021 

Photo courtesy of Atlantic Theater Company

When you lose a love, a part of you goes with them.  The part that believed and came alive has a hard time letting go.  In The Last of the Love Letters, playwright Ngozi Anyanwu explores that loss to an extreme.  When it is revealed that the loss these characters experiences is of the creative self, not of someone separate, the extent to which they go does not seem the least bit excessive.

Playwright Ngozi Anyanwu
Photo courtesy of Atlantic Theater Company

When you enter the theater, the character of You (played by Ngozi Anyanwu) is on stage, alone, in her bedroom, deep in thought, writing and reading.  As the house lights dim, she puts on music, a vinyl record, and throws herself on the bed.  When the song concludes, she sits up and begins to tell of how hard it was to make the decision to walk away from her love.  She then realizes the opposite.  It was actually easy because of how she had to become someone else in order to receive the love she craved.  She goes back and forth from certainty to indecision.  She has the last word and is ready to leave, then returns with another unanswerable questions.  She is torn.

Daniel J. Watts
Photo courtesy of Atlantic Theater Company

The set spins and lights change, and we find the character of You No. 2 (played by Daniel J. Watts) in his bed.  He sits up and tries to find the most charming way to begin.  He too has been left behind by his love.  He too waivers between understanding and confusion.  The lights flash and the character of Person (played by Xavier Scott Evans) enters.  He gives You No. 2 medication, then exits abruptly.  We question where we are and how far off the deep end You No. 2 has fallen because of his loss.  He makes a safe place for himself, gets calmer, and tells us more.  It does not pacify the severity of the situation.  Person re-enters and finds a recording that You No. 2 made early on in his crisis.  We listen.  We understand why the level of loss is so great.

Ms. Anyanwu’s writing is provocative and humorous.  The audience identifies with what the characters are saying and feeling.  Her performance as You is genuine and personable.  She is welcoming and makes it comfortable to enter on the journey.  Daniel J. Watts charismatically picks up the journey as You No. 2.  The audience willingly follows him on his deep decline.  There is no going back as he slides into darkness. These two performances are vividly truthful and highly engaging.  The audience fully submits to the suspension of reality and submerges in Ms. Anyanwu’s strong themes and focused intention.

The Last of the Love Letters is a powerful piece of theatre for our newly established post-pandemic time.  The production is skillfully directed by Patricia McGregor.  It is playing at Atlantic Theater Company’s Linda Gross Theater through September 26.    

Domenick Danza