Sunday, July 26, 2020

Christopher Shinn Excels in Crafting a Brechtian Experience for the Audience in his Play Teddy Ferrara

Photo courtrsy of TCG Books
It was not that long ago that I posted on this blog about the work of playwright Christopher Shinn.  I recently read his play Teddy Ferrara, and am compelled to write about his work again.  Teddy Ferrara is a skillfully crafted play.  Mr. Shinn’s characters are truthful, distinct, and developed with precision.  His dialogue is honest and reveals the pressing needs of the characters.  The scenes are full of miscommunications, as the character engage in social games that have a lasting effect on one another.  I will say this is Mr. Shinn’s most powerful work.

The story takes place on the campus of a large state university in the northeast.  Gabe, a 21-year-old student, runs the Queer Student Group.  He just started dating Drew, who is the editor for the university newspaper.  They meet Teddy Ferrara, an awkward freshman, when he shows up late for the Queer Student Group meeting.  Gabe gives Teddy the information he missed and invites him to the group’s upcoming dance party.  After he leaves, Drew calls Teddy “a weirdo.”  Drew also expresses his jealousy toward Gabe’s roommate, Tim, who is straight.  Gabe brushes off both of Drew’s comments.

The on-campus suicide of a student, Kevin Gillman, the previous school year is beginning to get a lot of press attention.  Information has surfaced that he committed suicide because he was gay and closeted.  The Provost forms a student committee to meet with the President of the University to discuss how to change the homophobic atmosphere the LGBTQ students encounter on campus.  Gabe is a member of this diverse committee of student representatives. 

When Teddy shows up at the dance party, he tells Gabe that his straight roommate videotaped him in his dorm room having sex with someone he met on line.  Gabe is concerned, but focused on the evening’s event and does not address it any further.  Everyone else is too caught up with their own drama to notice that Teddy has isolated himself.  When Teddy commits suicide later that night by throwing himself off the same library balcony as Kevin Gillman, the homophobic atmosphere of the campus if thrown into greater scrutiny.

This play is Brechtian in structure and style.  It clearly and simply illustrates a series of actions from which the audience can draw their own conclusion.  Mr. Shinn gives the audience a bird eye view into the individual behaviors that form this community.  In doing so, he has successfully written scenes of “pure action,” as Brecht emphasized, without any moral explanation to guide the audience toward a purposeful learned outcome.  Not one of the characters seems to be aware of or sensitive to what is going on around them.  They are unaware of their contribution to the creation of an alienating environment.  None of them seems to realize they could have changed Teddy’s situation by simply including him in any one of their conversations. 

Photo courtesy of Goodman Theatre
In the notes at the beginning of the play, Mr. Shinn writes, “The design should be simple in order to maximize speed of storytelling.”  The play does not designate locations for any scene, yet the dialogue is specifically grounded in the setting, which is vital for the flow of action and development of events.  This play can almost be performed on a bare stage.  The actions are that concise and riveting.  I am in awe of Mr. Shinn’s skills in crafting this piece.  Teddy Ferrara had its world premiere at Goodman Theatre on February 11, 2013.  I hope it is produced after the pandemic so I can see a full production.  Get a copy of Teddy Ferrara and read it for yourself.

Domenick Danza  

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Emma Smith Sheds a New Light on the Writings of William Shakespeare, Offering an Engaging Opportunity to Prepare for Our Return to Live Theatre

Photo courtesy of Pantheon Books
Emma Smith’s book This Is Shakespeare is a unique perspective on many of the Bard’s well-known works.  She analyzes Shakespeare’s plays from a different point of view, which she calls his “gappiness.”  (pg. 2)  She point out how Shakespeare’s silences, inconsistencies, and sparse stage directions leave room for varied interpretation of his classic writing.  “Shakespeare’s construction of his plays tend to imply rather than state; he often shows, rather than tells; most characters and encounters are susceptible to multiple interpretations.  It’s because we have to fill in the gaps that Shakespeare is so vital.” (pg. 3)  This space for interpretation is what has kept the works of William Shakespeare alive over centuries.  This is what draws directors and actor to them, yearning to inject new and relevant life into the well-known comedies, tragedies, and history plays.  “These gaps… open up space to think differently about the world and experience it from another point of view.” (pg. 3)  

Ms. Smith’s analysis of the history plays (Richard II, 1 Henry IV, and Richard III) shines a light on not only the creative elements of the stories, such as the fictional character of Falstaff, but on Shakespeare’s purposeful guidance of the audience’s engagement.  The historic facts in these works are clear and accurate, yet the focus of the writing evokes a specific emotional journey for the audience.  In Richard III, the role of Richmond is minor.  His victory at the Battle of Bosworth Field ends years of political turmoil and ushers in the Tudor reign.  Shakespeare diminishes this historic importance in the play.  He turned his audience’s anxious eye away from Elizabethan succession and focused it on Richard’s tyrannical reign in order for them to learn a lesson from the past.  Shakespeare achieves this by creating a charismatic character in Richard, who leads the play in line count.  Ms. Smith often turns toward line count to see which character emotionally dominates the play.  This is one example of how Shakespeare constructed the history plays to give his audience more than just historic content.

Shakespeare Scholar / Author, Emma Smith
Photo courteys of Emma Smith
Ms. Smith highlights a few surprising aspects in her chapter on Othello.  She makes a strong claim that the set up for this well-known tragedy follows the structure of Shakespeare’s comedies.  The opening scene of Othello is much like that of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, where a father disapproves of his daughter’s choice of a suitor.  The handkerchief that Iago plants as evidence of Desdemona’s infidelity can be identified as a “comic prop” (pg. 211), much like Olivia’s letter in Twelfth Night, that pulls Malvolio into his comic downfall.  She also cites evidence that the character of Iago “is a version of the witty servant… often depicted on stage laughing at his own diabolical cleverness.” (pg., 221)  Because of the institutional racism, religious bias, and gender oppression dramatized throughout the play, these comic set-ups take a horrible turn toward an inevitable, tragic ending for the characters.

Ms. Smith also looks at the classic characters in Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra, as well as a number of Shakespeare’s beloved comedies (The Comedy of Errors, The Taming of the Shrew, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Much Ado About Nothing, and Twelfth Night).  She takes a deep dive into twenty of Shakespeare’s plays.  Each chapter in the book offers an expansive frame of reference to understand a director’s fresh interpretation.  This Is Shakespeare is the perfect read to prepare for your return to live theatre.  It is a valuable resource to revisit before seeing any new production.  

I leave you with Ms. Smith’s final line from the book:  “So this is Shakespeare.  Permissive, modern, challenging, gappy, frustrating, moving, attenuated, beautiful, ambiguous, resourceful, provoking, necessary.” (pg. 324) 

Domenick Danza

Smith, Emma. This is Shakespeare. New York, NY: Pantheon Books, 2019.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

The Search for “Illusive Dramatic Action” Ends with John Patrick Shanley’s "Danny & the Deep Blue Sea"

The Pitkin Review: Fall 2020
This Critical Commentary appears in the latest issue of The Pitkin Review, a literary journal published by students in the Creative Writing MFA program at Goddard College.  I thought I’d share it with you here.  Copies of The Pitkin Review: Fall 2020 is available for purchase on Amazon.  You will also find my 10-Minute plays, Climate Change in that edition.

When I was studying playwriting at Chicago Dramatists, Russ Tutterow, the Artistic Director, often spoke about dramatic action during feedback sessions.  The presence of dramatic action in a play was the biggest difference between one that was working and one that was not.  Everyone seemed to understand what he was referring to, except me, so one day I asked him, “Russ, what exactly is dramatic action?”  He thought for a minute, then answered, “I can’t explain it, but I can tell when it’s there.”  That was no help to me, but at least he was honest.  It set me on a journey in search of what I called “the illusive dramatic action.”  A few weeks later I was reading John Patrick Shanley’s play Doubt.  I stopped part way through and shouted, “There it is!  Dramatic Action!”  I could not explain it, but I knew it was there.  It was present in every word.  It drove every line of dialogue.  In my continual search for how to infuse dramatic action in my writing, I recently turned to the earlier plays of John Patrick Shanley.  A close look at the characters and dialogue of Danny and the Deep Blue Sea gave me a clearer understanding of what I have been in searching of for an extended period of time. 

The opening seven lines of dialogue set up the fire between the two characters, Danny and Roberta, and set the tone for the rest of the play.

Danny:  How ’bout a pretzel.
Roberta:  No.  They’re mine.
Danny:  You ain’t gonna eat ‘em all.  Lemme have one.
Roberta:  Fuck off.
Danny:  All right.
Roberta:  You wanna pretzel?
Danny:  Yeah.                                                                         (pg. 12)

June Stein & John Turturro in the orignal
1984 production of Danny & the Deep Blue Sea
at Circle in the Square Theatre
Photo courtesy of Martha Swope
Danny wants something.  Roberta says no.  Danny pushes.  Roberta pushes back.  Danny steps away, then Roberta makes an offer.  These seven lines might be about pretzels, but the underlying tension is much deeper.  The actors can play into the primal need of the characters while talking about pretzels.  This is how Mr. Shanley’s dialogue is full of dramatic action.  The characters are driven by a deep need, a yearning.  No matter what the dialogue reveals, how the story line develops, or what their objective is in the scene (in this case pretzels), a powerful need drives the characters and propels the action forward.  Danny tells Roberta, “When I turn thirty I’m gonna put a gun in my mouth and blow my fuckin head off.” (pg. 15)  He is twenty-nine.  This is an aggressive decision and sharing it with her fills an emptiness.  Filling this emptiness is the yearning that drives Danny in all his interactions with Roberta.  Mr. Shanley appropriately subtitles this play “An Apache Dance.”  The way these two characters react to one another is brutal and visceral.  An Apache Dance is “sometimes said to re-enact a violent ‘discussion’ between a pimp and a prostitute.  It includes mock slapping and punches, the man picking up and throwing the woman to the ground, or lifting and carrying her while she struggles or feigns unconsciousness.” (“Apache (dance)” n.d. para. 2)  That succinctly defines the relationship and interactions between Roberta and Danny, yet Roberta is just as strong, if not stronger than Danny.  Writing two equal forces in these characters builds tension and creates strong dramatic action throughout the play.

In scene two, Danny asks Roberta to marry him.  It does not feel unusual for Danny to propose to Roberta, even though they just met.  It is compulsive and aggressive, consistent with his character. 

Danny:  That’s right. That’s me.  Will you marry me?
Roberta:  All right.  I mean, yes.
Danny:  You will?
Roberta:  Yeah.  I mean, yes.
Danny:  No!  Yeah?
Roberta:  Yeah!
Danny:  All right!  Good! That’s good!  I feel like I won a prize or somethin.
Roberta:  And will I wear a white dress?
Danny:  Yeah!  Sure you will!
Roberta:  And you’ll wear the bow tie and everything!
Danny:  Yeah, yeah.  The whole outfit.
Roberta:  You think we could?                                                          
Danny:  Why not?  People get married like that left and right!    (pg. 38)

The subtext is strong.  It is impulsive, then doubtful, then certain, then questioning, then they convince themselves.  These thirteen lines go deep into the thoughts of each individual character.  They bounce off one another until they come to an agreement.  The dramatic action is all in the subtext, until it accelerates into the explicit reality of the scene.  Roberta has a young, special needs son, lives with her parents who help her care for him, and recently quit her job.  She is trapped in her life and has no opportunities for escape.  Danny cannot offer her a better life, but does give her a chance for mutuality and passion at a level she craves.  They are the same.  They are both in need, equal partners in this dance. 

Roberta later re-negs on Danny’s marriage proposal in scene three.    

Danny:  I asked ya ta marry me last night square business an you said yes
              an I meant it.
Roberta:  All right then, I didn’t!
Danny:  What?
Roberta:  You heard me!
Danny:  What?
Roberta:  I was lyin cause I wanted a nice thing.  Get serious.  No way are you
                an me getting married.  That was strictly make-believe.
Danny:  Don’t do this to me!                                                              (pg. 44)

Playwright John Pattick Shanley
Photo courtesy of John Partick Shanley
Their dance continues with a new conflict.  Roberta cannot forgive herself for her past actions.  Danny steps up and forgives her.  She fights it, then opens the door to acceptance.  The ending of this play does not give closure to these characters.  We can see them continuing this ongoing dance, fueled by their unfulfilled need.  There is constant conflict between them, which results in potent and effective dramatic action.

These examples from Danny and the Deep Blue Sea illustrate how Mr. Shanley skillfully and consistently crafts all his plays.  He writes characters who are on fire with deep need and potent desire that pushes them against one another.  Dramatic tension is created when the characters start pushing back.  This viscerally engages the audience.  They identify with the struggle and root for a satisfying outcome.  The dramatic action is created by the constant buildup in this struggle, which is caused by the insatiable need of the characters.  This is how dramatic action is created.  It is vital to dramatic writing and keeps the audience engaged throughout the course of the play and, if successfully done, long after the play’s conclusion.

Domenick Danza

"Apache (dance).” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 16 April

Shanley, John Patrick. 13 by Shanley. New York, NY: Applause Theatre and Cinema
Books, 1992.

Monday, May 25, 2020

From Last Row of the Orchestra at the Cort Theatre

From Last Row of the Orchestra at the Cort Theatre 
(The Night I Saw Paula Vogel’s Indecent

The Cort Theatre / 138 W. 48 St., NYC
Photo courtesy of The Cort Tehatre
The Producers, the Mel Brooks original movie, was on channel 13 about a week ago.  I tuned in just in time to see Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder watching Springtime for Hitler from behind the last row of the orchestra at the Cort Theatre.  I started thinking of all the shows I saw there.  The list grew rather lengthy.  It included Grace, Stick Fly, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, This is Our Youth, M. Butterfly (December 17, 2017 posting on this blog), Glenda Jackson in King Lear (April 23, 2019 posting on this blog), and Linda Lavin in The Lyons.  My memory of shows there goes all the way back to Cherry Jones and Frances Sternhagen in The Heiress.  The one night that stands out in my memory of shows I experienced in that hallowed hall is when I saw the production of Indecent (April 30, 2017 posting on this blog).  It was stunning.  I sat in the last row of the orchestra, house right, third seat from the side aisle.  That seat is not the most comfortable and does not offer the best view of the stage.  If you ever sat in the last row of the orchestra at the Cort Theatre, you probably know what I’m talking about.  I felt like I needed a booster seat, and the overhang from the mezzanine seems really low.  Since I usually get my tickets on TDF, I often sit in last row.  I am very grateful for that discount, which affords me to see as much theatre as I do (or did).  I remember occupying that very same seat at the Cort Theatre a few times.  Once the show starts and I engage, I usually surrender to the elements and connect with the performance.  However, when I saw Indecent, there was another challenge I faced from the last row. 

Photo courtesy of Indecent
The night I saw Indecent, the couple in front of me was on a date.  Not necessarily a first date, but definitely an early in their relationship date.  As soon as the show started, the man put his arm around the woman’s shoulder, sat close to her, and leaned his head against hers, blocking my already slumped view, claustrophobic from the mezzanine overhang.  I am not the type of person to tap a stranger in front of me on the shoulder and disturb their theatre experience.  I am, however, the type of person who writes about it on their theatre blog sometime in the future (meaning now).  I doubt they will be reading this, and if they do, won’t recognize themselves.  In my vengeful imagination, they broke up after the show.  I spent the evening shifting my focus from over their joined heads, to the right side of their joined head, then the left, and sometimes, when the stage positioning allowed, to the small open space under their lightly touching ears.  Remember, I was already slumped down.  The total effect of the powerful images by director Rebecca Taichman was enthralling.  Paula Vogel’s sweeping dialogue was encompassing.  The production left a very strong impression on me, no matter how hard I had to work to be emotionally engaging because of the challenges.  My blog post here on April 30, 2017 focused on that, and did not reflect my discomfort. 

My reading list of plays during this coronavirus lockdown seems to get longer every week.   Reading the works of one master playwright seems to open up inquiry into another.  My list originally included a number of plays written by Donald Margulies, including his version of The God of Vengeance.  I found his adaptation of Sholem Asch’s original play, which is the inspiration for the story of Indecent, to be powerful and intriguing.  Since Paula Vogel’s play does not re-tell the story of The God of Vengeance, I decided to read her play with my newfound understanding of the full story.  I thought it would be interesting to see if my reaction would be different, and I figured reading the play would also fill in any gaps I might have missed while dodging the couple’s heads in front of me. 

The Broadway production of Indecent at the Cort Theatre
Photo courtesy of Indecent
A close read of a play always gives me a strong appreciation for the intention of playwriting, and my read of Indecent was no exception.  Paula Vogel crafted a strong work that is a testament to what she states in the introduction to the published play.  “There are storied collaborations in the American Theater, writer/director collaborations that over years result in plays that remain vivid on the page.”  Indecent is definitely one of those plays.  Her scenes develop with a fierce focus on the desires of the characters.  The overarching action evolves out of these moments.  The characters are driven by their deep need to communicate the truths of their experiences.  This comes strongly into conflict with the norms of the society in which they long to assimilate.  In all her plays Paula Vogel takes her audience on a journey that exceeds any expectation.  Her collaboration with director Rebecca Taichman on Indecent supersedes the high bar she sets for herself and her audience in any of her previous work. 

Zero Mostel & Gene Wilder behind the last row
of the orchestra at the Cort Tehatre
Photo courtesy of The Producers
Toward the end of Indecent, one of the characters makes a powerful statement about the theatre experience.  “…the play belongs to the people who labor in it!  And the audience who put aside the time to be there in person!”  This line rings with extra veracity in this time of the pandemic shutdowns.  I look very much forward to the return of live theatre so I can belong in that way again.  I would be willing to pay three times the ticket price for that seat in the last row of the Cort Theatre, house right, third seat from the side aisle, slumped down and claustrophobic from the mezzanine overhang.  I’d even pay that price to stand where Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder stood just to engage in a live theatre experience.  It is worth any effort it takes to commune with an audience, even dodging head of a couple seated in front of me.  I look forward to that return.  I look forward to seeing you there!

Domenick Danza

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

The Plays of Christopher Shinn

The Plays of Christopher Shinn

Playwright Christopher Shinn
Photo courtesy of Playbill
The first play I saw that was written by Christopher Shinn was Dying City at Second Stage Theater.  I posted about it on this blog on June 23, 2019.   The play was enthralling.  Allow me to quote myself, which I have never done before.   “Mr. Shinn holds back the details, building suspense and intrigue until the characters spill out the truth.  He then takes the characters to a place of understanding, both free of what was weighing them down and newly burdened by their current awareness.”  I immediately bought an anthology of his plays an read all five of them.  Each work is distinct, yet all contain skillfully crafted dialogue and characters in search of their own truths.

Judgement Day
Photo courtesy of Park Avenue Armory
When I read he adapted Judgment Day, which was running at the Park Avenue Armory in December, I did something I rarely do.  I bought a full price ticket.  I wrote about that production in a blog post on December 14, 2019.  I won’t directly quote myself again.  I’ll just paraphrase.  In Judgement Day Mr. Shinn builds strong characters motivated by the underlying themes in Ödön von Horváth’s original play.  You empathize with their situation and feel, as they do, that there is no escape from their actions.  

Photo courtesy of
Bloomsbury Methuen Drama
Last week I read another of his plays, Against.  Of all the plays of his that I read, it is one of the more complex and enigmatic.  This is because of two skillfully crafted elements: his structure, and the creation of his main character, Luke.  In the first scene we find out this “Silicon Valley billionaire” thinks he was visited by God.  The message he received was, “Go where there’s violence.”  It is the opening line of the play and sets Luke off on his journey.  His character unravels one page at a time as we hear the adoration and suspicions of the people he comes in contact with.  The action is not fast rising, but builds the world of the play layer upon layer with each progressive scene.  The ending is unexpected, yet brings about the change that Luke was hoping to evoke.  You are left with the realization of how violence is firmly embedded within our culture.  You wonder what needs to happen to change the “status quo.”

If you are looking a good read in your time at home with no access to live theatre, I recommend reading the works of Christopher Shinn.  Do as I did, start with Dying City. His collection of plays is entitled Where Do We Live & Other Plays.  Save Against for last.  It will serve as a stunning ending to your Christopher Shinn journey. 

Domenick Danza

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Shakespeare from the American Point of View

Shakespeare from the American Point of View
Shakespeare in a Divided America written by James Shapiro
Published by Penguin Press, 2020

Photo courtesy of Getty Image
I have not written a blog post since March 7, before the pandemic became our norm.  It was a strange day when theatres in New York closed.  We all know the bad luck associated with using the work “closed” or “shutdown” when talking about theatre.  We say the theatre is “dark.”  And it is definitely a dark period.  I enjoy writing for my blog because I share my experiences.  Live theatre, which I miss terribly, is all about the experience.  I usually attend alone, meaning I go by myself, but I have a shared experience with anywhere from two hundred to two thousand people.  We commune.  Then, when I share that experience here on this blog, I commune again.  That is what I most value in about live theatre.

What I’ve been doing these past few weeks, aside from teaching remotely, is reading.  I’ve been reading fiction, which is rare for me, as well as plays and non-fiction, which, as a grad student in the Goddard MFA Creative Writing low residency program with a focus on playwriting, is where most of my time is spent.  Sharing books and thoughts about what I’ve been reading is much more a personal/intellectual conversation than sharing a communal theatre experience, but I’d like to give it a try.  I will keep the topics focused on theatre.  Let’s start with Shakespeare in a Divided America by James Shapiro.  It is a truly fascinating read.

Photo courtesy of Folger Shakepeare Library & Penguin Press
I am a late bloomer to Shakespeare.  Reading his works have always been difficult for me.  My experience seeing numerous productions of the Drilling Company’s Shakespeare in the Parking Lot, which I have written about on this blog, opened the door for me to understand and enjoy the world of William Shakespeare.  Mr. Shapiro’s many books have provided me a frame for Shakespeare’s work, both historically and socially.  His latest book, Shakespeare in a Divided America, focuses this frame directly on our American culture, right up to the present day.  He writes about John Quincy Adams’ documented response to the character of Desdemona in Othello, illustrating how this well-known abolitionist harbored a racist perspective.  This reinforces what we have come to know about the detrimental effects of implicit bias today.  Mr. Shapiro also takes a very close look at how Prospero’s treatment and attempt at educating Caliban in The Tempest heightened the debate around the immigrant experience in the early 20th century, and carries forward to the present.  And yes, there are some very steamy chapters about marriage, adultery, and same sex love as reflected in the The Taming of the Shrew and the development of the 1999 Academy Award winning movie, Shakespeare in Love.

The Booth men in Julius Caesar, 1864
photo courtesy of the John Hay Library
My favorite chapter was about the Scottish play and the connection between Abraham Lincoln and John Wilkes Booth’s knowledge and understanding of this tragic character.  Since I teach this play with my 5th Grades classes, it is the Shakespeare work that is most familiar to me.  The complexity of the characters and the subtlety in Shakespeare’s political commentary on England under the reign of King James are brilliant and fascinating.  Finding out how these complexities were appreciated and quoted by both Lincoln and Booth illuminate the magnitude and universality in Shakespeare’s writing. 

The Shakepeare in the Park 2017 production of Julius Caesar
Photo courtesy of The Puiblic Theater
These historic debates become relevant as Mr. Shapiro writes from this personal experience of the political and threatening response to The Public Theater’s Shakespeare in the Park 2017 production of Julius Caesar.  These stories all link together to reveal how the responses to Shakespeare in this country illustrates how we have been a very divided nation throughout our history.  Whether you are a Shakespeare fan or a history buff, this book is an enlightening read. 
Domenick Danza

Sunday, March 8, 2020

Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice

Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice
The New Group
The Pershing Square Signature Center
March 7, 2019

Photo courtesy of The New Group
The New Group production of Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice is a nostalgic throwback to the time of free love and sexual liberation.  Jonathan Marc Sherman’s book explores the four title characters from the Columbia motion picture.  Duncan Sheik’s music captures the time period and surrounds the audience in a sublime and tranquil atmosphere.  Lyrics by Duncan Sheik and Amanda Green are a perfect balance intellectual and quirky.

When Bob (played by Joél Pérez) and his wife Carol (played by Jennifer Damiano) attend a therapeutic encounter weekend, they return fully in touch with their feelings.  Carol’s enlightenment becomes evident when Bob admits that he cheated on her and she does not feel jealous.  She in turn explores her sexual freedom by playing around with a tennis pro.  Their friends, Ted (played by Michael Zegen) and Alice (played by Ana Nogueira), find Bob and Carol’s sexual awakening a little startling.  Carol is very uptight, and Ted doesn’t push.  When Ted goes out of town for a convention, he follows Bob’s example and cheats on Alice.  She retaliates by suggesting the two couples sleep together.  This creates a surprising turnaround for all four of them.

Jennifer Damian, Joél Pérez, Ana Nogueira, & Michael Zegen
Photo courtesy of The New Group
Joél Pérez and Jennifer Damiano play the groovy, hip Bob and Carol with a flawless tongue-in-cheek humor.  Their timing is smooth and their connection is truthful.  Ana Nogueira is sharp and witty as Alice.  She and Michael Zegen play off one another very well.  The bickering between their characters is humorous, while their bond is genuine and strong.  Suzanne Vega plays the character of the Band Leader, transitioning the action with subtle humor and stylistic vocals. 

Scenic design by Derek McLane and costumes by Jeff Mahshie beautifully evoke the time period.  Director Scott Elliott pulls together every detail, creating genuine moments in this highly stylized environment.  Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice is playing at The Pershing Square Signature Center through March 22.

Domenick Danza

Sunday, March 1, 2020

72 Miles to Go…

72 Miles to Go…
Roundabout Theatre Company
Laura Pels Theatre
February 29, 2019

Photo courtesy of Roundabout Theatre Company
72 Miles to Go… is the story of an American family.  Playwright Hilary Bettis writes characters you enjoy getting to know.  You care about their feelings throughout the ninety-minute play.  You grow with them over the course of the eight-year story.  You continue to hope for their well being after the show is over.

Eva (played by Jacqueline Guillén) is starting her senior year of high school.  She is worried that her brother, Aaron (played by Tyler Alvarez), will be picked on during his freshman year.  Aaron is upset that his older brother, Christian (played by Bobby Moreno), did not come home last night.  He is a bad driver.  They are all relieved when Christian shows up with a box of donuts for Aaron’s first day of high school and find out he spent the night at his girlfriend’s.  Their father, Billy (played by Triney Sandoval), wants to cook them all breakfast, but first they call their mother, Anita (played by Maria Elena Ramirez).  She was departed to Mexico.  She applied for re-entry and promises Eva that she will be home by graduation day.  When Anita’s application for re-entry is denied, Billy unsuccessfully attempts to smuggle her back home.  The consequences of this are felt by the all of them.  No matter what challenge they face, this family is held together by an indestructible bond of love.

Bobby Moreno & Tyler Alvarez
Photo courtesy of Roundabout Theatre Company
Each scene builds to truthful, powerful moments between the characters, and this cast skillfully succeeds at delivering every one of them.  Their challenges are real and their troubles are great, yet these characters persevere.  Each actor builds their character on a foundation of hope and belief.  It drives every scene.  It keeps the audience connected and engaged.

Jo Bonney masterfully directs this touching and timely story that brings awareness to the facts and fears families face within our communities on a daily basis.  72 Miles to Go… is playing at Roundabout Theatre Company’s Laura Pels Theatre through May 3.

Domenick Danza

Friday, February 21, 2020

Paradise Lost
Fellowship for Performing Arts
Theatre Row
February 20, 2019

Photo courtesy of Fellowship for Performing Arts
The Fellowship for Performing Arts production of Paradise Lost is visually stunning and skillfully performed.  Tom Dulack’s writing, inspired by John Milton’s poem, conjures the Garden of Eden and the depths of hell.  Director Michael Parva has given creative space for six outstanding actors to develop captivating characters and bring this biblical story to life.

Lucifer (played by David Andrew Macdonald) loses his battle with God and falls from heaven.   With him are his Lieutenant, Beelzebub (played by Lou Liberatore), and thousands of fallen angels.  Lucifer comes up with a plan to regain his position.  He needs to enter Paradise and corrupt God’s creation.  Lucifer’s daughter/wife, Sin (played by Alison Fraser), holds the key to the gates of hell, and pushes Lucifer to enact his plan.  Lucifer visits Eve (played by Marina Shay) in her dreams.  Archangel Gabriel (played by Mel Johnson Jr.) warns Adam (played by Robbie Simpson) of Lucifer’s presence and power.  Eve is blind sighted by her lust for knowledge.  Adam is overtaken by his love for Eve.  They succumb to Lucifer’s plan.

Lou Liberatore & David Andrew Macdonald
Photo courtesy of Fellowshop for Perfroming Arts
David Andrew Macdonald portrays Lucifer with a menacing presence, while Lou Liberatore and Alison Fraser deliver the laughs that break the tension.  Robbie Simpson and Marina Shay embody the innocence of Adam and Eve.  Their enthusiasm and joy are genuine.  Their bond is sincerely depicted.  Mel Johnson Jr. grounds the scenes in the Garden of Eden, giving balance to the presence of Lucifer.  These six actors masterfully seize the audience’s attention.  Their skillful depiction of these character brings high value to the production.

Scenic design by Harry Feiner is magnificent.  It is brought to life through Phil Monat’s lighting and John Narun’s brilliant projection design.  Paradise Lost is playing at Theatre Row through March 1.

Domenick Danza

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Rules of Desire
 Playroom Theater
 February 17, 2019

Photo courtesy of Rules of Desire
William Mastrosimone’s play Rules of Desire is a brutally honest play about the struggle for power.  The Off-Broadway production, directed by William Roudebush, is bold and direct.  The cast of three deliver strong performances of a play that pushes the audience past their comfort zone to make a powerful statement.

When Seaman Matt Cotton (played by Tristan Biber) sneaks his girlfriend, Felicia (played by McKenna Harrington) on board his ship, he is discovered by his superior (played by Christopher Sutton).  An unconventional arrangement is made to keep them both out of trouble.  When the rules of desire are broken, the power shifts in a surprising and shocking manner.

McKenna Harrington & Tristan Biber
Phtoso courteys of Rules of Desire
Mr. Mastrosimone keeps the tension building all the way through to the play’s startling conclusion.  His dialogue keeps the conflict on a constant rise, creating strong dramatic action and riveting the audience’s attention.  McKenna Harrington plays her scenes with an unnerving composure that causes explosive reaction from the male characters. One skillfully timed smile gives the audience a glimpse into her character's underlying thoughts.  Tristan Biber and Christopher Sutton’s characters are boldly written, and crumble under pressure.  These two actors portray vulnerable men who hide their weaknesses behind machismo and bravado.  The three actors play off one another very well, which is vital to this play’s effectiveness.

Rules of Desire is playing at Playroom Theater on West 46th Street through March 21.

Domenick Danza

The Unsinkable Molly Brown
Transport Group
Abrons Arts Center
February 16, 2019

Photo courtesy of The Transport Group
The Transport Group is producing a new version of The Unsinkable Molly Brown with new book and lyrics by Dick Scanlon.  It tells a more truthful version of the life of the title character, focusing on her political and philanthropic causes.  Meredith Wilson's music is beautifully adapted by Michael Rafter.  Kathleen Marshall both directs and choreographs, keeping the action moving and the stage pictures vibrant.

Margaret “call me Molly” Tobin (played by Beth Malone) is headed to her dream life in Denver, but instead winds up in Leadville, a small silver mining town in Colorado.  She befriends Julia (played by Whitney Bashor), who lost her husband to a mining accident and is expecting a baby.  Molly decides to stay in Leadville until spring and help Julia with the baby.  She is courted by J.J. Brown (played by David Aron Damane), who gives her everything she longs for: a red silk dress, cups that match the saucers, books to read, and a brass bed.  They marry and have two children.  When the United States switches to the gold standard, the silver mine becomes worthless.  Molly encourages her husband to mine for gold.  He is successful, and they build a mansion in Denver.  Molly is never fully accepted into Denver Society, so she turn her attention to helping the less fortunate.  When the miners decide to form a union, Molly fights with them against her husband, causing a rift in her marriage.  Molly flees to Europe when her marriage crumbles.  She returns upon hearing of her husband’s illness, and survives the sinking of the Titanic.

In Rehearsal: Alex Gibson, Paolo Montalban, Beth Malone,
 Omar Lopez-Cepero, & Kevin Quillon
Photo courtesy of The Transport Grouop
Beth Malone is a powerhouse as Molly Brown.  You cannot take your eyes off her.  Her energy is high, her heart is big, and her singing voice is remarkable.  David Aron Damane balances her perfectly as J.J. Brown.  He has a commanding presence, a gentle demeanor, and a rich singing voice.  Together they are magic, creating a truthful, loving relationship that carries the story forward. 

The cast and ensemble are phenomenal with strong performances from Whitney Bashan, Alex Gibson, Omar Lopez-Cepero, and Paola Montalban.  The Unsinkable Molly Brown is playing at the Abrons Arts Center on the Lower East Side through March 22.

Domenick Danza