LABUTE NEW THEATER FESTIVAL Returns to 59E59 Theaters

59E59 Theaters (Val Day, Artistic Director; Brian Beirne, Managing Director) welcomes the return of St. Louis Actors’ Studio with the LaBUTE NEW THEATER FESTIVAL, featuring the NYC premiere of one-act plays, including PERCENTAGE AMERICA by Carter W. Lewis.  The LaBUTE NEW THEATER FESTIVAL begins performances on Thursday, January 11 for a limited engagement through Sunday, February 4. Press Opening is Sunday, January 14 at 7:30 PM. The performance schedule is Tuesday – Friday at 7:30 PM; Saturday at 2:30 PM and 7:30 PM; and Sunday at 2:30 PM. Please note: there is an added performance on Sunday, January 14 at 7:30 PM. Performances are at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues). Single tickets are $25 – $35 ($24.50 for 59E59 Members). To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or visit www.59e59.org.

In PERCENTAGE AMERICA, a couple on a first date, hoodwinked by each other’s dating profile, parse a story on the local evening news for “alternative facts.”

The cast features Autumn Dornfeld (The Graduate on Broadway); Kelly Schaschl (NY debut); Spencer Sickmann (Last Days of Judas Iscariot for LA’s Lost Angels Productions); and Chauncy Thomas (To Kill a Mockingbird at Bay Street Theatre).

The design team includes Patrick Huber (scenic design); Jonathan Zelezniak (lighting design); andCarla Evans (costume and prop design). The Production Stage Manager is Seth Pyatt.

Carter W. Lewis (playwright, PERCENTAGE AMERICA) is currently serving as Playwright-in-Residence at Washington University. Prior to that he was Literary Manager & Playwright-in-Residence for The Geva Theatre Center (NY). Carter was also co-founder and Resident Playwright for Upstart Stage in Berkeley, California. He is the winner of several national playwriting awards including The Julie Harris – Playwriting Award, The State Theatre – Best New American Play, The Cincinnati PlayhouseA. Rosenthal New Play Prize (1996 & 2001), New Dramatist Playwriting Award, Playwright’s Center Jerome Residency, The Blanche and Irving Laurie Foundation Award (2003), and he is a two-time nominee for the American Theatre Critics Award. A sample of theaters that have produced his work include The Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, Syracuse Stage, The Source Theatre, Florida Stage, Studio Arena Theatre, Arizona Theatre Company, The Round House Theatre, Merrimack Repertory Theatre, The Sacramento Theatre Company, The Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati, The Phoenix Theatre, The Barksdale Theatre, American Stage, The New Repertory Theatre, The State Theatre Company, Florida Repertory Theatre, The Geva Theatre Center, The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, The Berkshire Theatre Festival, San Diego Repertory Theatre, The Magic Theatre, and The Royal Court Theatre in London. His published works include Art Control, No-Preying, A Geometric Digression of the Species, Soft Click of a Switch, An Asian Jockey in Our Midst, and The One-Eyed Man is King. Other plays by Carter W. Lewis include Golf with Alan Shepard, Picasso Does My Maps, Longevity Abbreviated for Those Who Don’t Have Time, Women Who Steal, Men on the Take, American Storm by Integrity Out of Molly Brown, Kid Peculiar, Ordinary Nation,Evie’s Waltz, The Storytelling Ability of a Boy, The Cha Cha of a Camel Spider, Hit Story, Camden & Lilly,The Hummingbird Wars, The Gun in the Floor, and Echo Location.

‘Draw the Circle’ Puts a Surprising Frame on a Transgender Story

Mashuq Mushtaq Deen in “Draw the Circle.” (Stan Barouh)

Mashuq Mushtaq Deen has a good story to tell in “Draw the Circle,” and a fresh way to tell it. It’s an autobiographical solo show about gender transition in which he plays his parents, his classmates, his doctors and his girlfriend – everyone but himself.

By the end he’s fully there, along with projected statistics about the rising U.S. murder rate of transgender people. This activist theater is molded from the raw material of being born to traditional Muslim Indian immigrants to the United States and assigned female; before the show starts, we see a photo of Deen as a young girl.

This 80-minute piece is running in rep at the Atlas Performing Arts Center with another hot-button solo act, Dan Hoyle’s “The Real Americans” – a survey of strangers Hoyle met during fact-finding road trips through the heartland. Hoyle may be a slightly more limber mimic than Deen, but Deen’s tale unspools more naturally.

Deen’s problem for years was feeling invisible (and worse), which is how we experience him as he takes on the voices of the people who give us his history of gender transition. Dressed in jeans and a blue T-shirt, he chronicles, with surprising empathy, not just what it was like to slowly, painfully come to terms with transition, but what it was like for loved ones who shunned everything about it. The father’s a card able to tell jokes, but the mother is sheer distress and shame. She frets about what the relatives back in India will think and laments the daughter – Shireen was Deen’s name, we are told – she feels she has lost.

Looking out, looking in: Mashuq Mushtaq Deen in “Draw the Circle.” (Stan Barouh)

Viewpoints come from a wide-eyed niece and, perhaps most poignantly, from Molly, who fell in love with Shireen and was then challenged by Shireen’s evolution to Deen. The names of each character are helpfully projected on the back wall; Deen does good work switching vocal patterns and postures, but he’s more compassionate than chameleonic in his characterizations.

Director Chay Yew – a playwright himself, and artistic director of Chicago’s Victory Gardens Theater – keeps the lean performance percolating briskly. It’s all about the information: the stage is a bare white square floor furnished with only a plain white chair. There is nothing else but the names on the screen, and the narrative.

Trans playwrights are still emerging, which puts Deen’s show in the vanguard here (and let’s credit Mosaic Theater for boldly expanding its repertoire all the time). The story’s framework is simple yet striking, and more than a novelty: it’s an apt, big-hearted way to puzzle together many pieces of Deen’s journey. “Draw the Circle” does not sugarcoat his despair or incidents of violence, yet it rather amazingly reaches back to retrieve people who easily could have been cut out for life. The wrathful moment confronting us with the ongoing violence against trans people does not define the tone of this personable, entirely approachable show. Inarguably, though, it’s that flicker of wrath that gives the piece its purpose.

Draw the Circle , written and performed by Mashuq Mushtaq Deen. Directed by Chay Yew. Lights, Mary Louise Geiger and E-Hui Woo; set, Chay Yew; sound design, Matthew M. Nielson. Through Dec. 24 at the Atlas Performing Arts Center, 1333 H St. NE. Tickets $35-$65. Call 202-399-7993 or visit mosaictheater.org.

 

Review by Nelson Pressley for The Washington Post.

The Journey of “Radioman”

“This play is so important. I’ve never read anything like this.”

“Same shit, different war”

“My father. My uncle. My sister.”

“You gotta get through it somehow.”

“It’s a tense time right now.”

“It ain’t just a woodworking shop.”

“PTSD.”

“You gave words to something I experience every day.”

“I feel this enormous weight.”

“Thanks for laughing occasionally.”

“That was a good cold reading.”

“Damn, honestly? I’m gonna go have drinks.”

“I’m Eric Hollenbeck. I was the radioman.”

Pieces of conversation sail across a hot room during the second reading of Radioman, a visceral monologue-style play born from the poetry of Vietnam combat veteran and Eureka native Eric Hollenbeck. The reading is at Art Share, a hip and grungy multifunctional space in downtown Los Angeles’ freshly gentrified Arts District. Graffiti litters the neighborhood; spray paint color blooms along streets and sidewalks and across brick walls reaching up to the blue Southern California sky.

The play’s director, assistant director, writer, producers and publicist are assembled, along with eight actors and a collection of folks from theater companies engaged in this wildly collaborative production. After a flurry of introductions, everyone gathers around big tables pulled into a circle.

Recently transplanted New York playwright James McManus checks in with the actors. Unlike other readings, in which a script is rehearsed ahead of time, this is a cold read. McManus says this way he can hear the imperfections in his writing. “Sometimes,” he says, “the actors are so good that they can make bad writing sound OK.”

McManus explains how he wants the different verses of the monologues to go down. He has merged Hollenbeck’s poems with stories from other war veterans. The result is a series of biting, dialect-heavy monologues punctuated with refrains and one-liner conversations that come like a rapid fire ping pong match. He slaps the table with a flat palm, urging the actors to dig in and find the cadence to his writing.

“Read them one line after another after another on top of each other as much as possible,” he says. “Do the best you can, then go ahead and let that fly.”

The monologues begin with the radioman — Eric Hollenbeck — in the jungle in Vietnam smoking a cigarette and cradling a dead soldier’s leg. The piece then takes off into the wilds of the human war experience, from Vietnam until now. The actors read in turn. Soon they pick up the gritty, thumping rhythm of McManus’ words. There is ache, anger, grief and humor. There’s also hope. It’s almost musical at times, as voices echo along the brick hallways of the old industrial building.

Read the full article from the North Coast Journal of Politics, People, and Art here.

Review: In ‘1980 (Or Why I’m Voting for John Anderson),’ cold-calling for a loser

“1980 (Or Why I’m Voting for John Anderson)” at Jackalope Theatre, with Hillary Horvath and Bryce Gangel.

Did you vote for John B. Anderson in 1980?

If you were of age and followed the advice of this newspaper, which endorsed the moderate congressman from Illinois in the Republican primary over Ronald Reagan, you would have placed your trust in the man the Tribune said “best represents the qualities needed to win nomination and election — and having won those to be a strong, effective president.”

But Anderson lost that primary to Reagan and ran instead as an independent candidate, a move too quixotic for the Tribune, which subsequently offered its then-customary support for the Republican nominee, in this case the governor of California. Anderson started strong in the general election but tanked. He eventually got less than 7 percent of the vote.

So what was it like working in one of his campaign offices?

That’s the question posed by “1980 (Or Why I’m Voting for John Anderson),” a highly enjoyable and mercifully unpredictable world-premiere play by the experienced scribe Patricia Cotter, open now for voting at the Jackalope Theatre on Chicago’s North Side. On one level, “1980” is a bit like a sitcom of losers, a kind of “Superior Donuts” or a “Parks and Rec,” only set in a regional Boston office of a failing indie campaign.

You have Brenda (Evelyn Gaynor), the tough office manager with the rough personal life; Robin (Bryce Gangel), the fickle Ivy League slummer; and Kathleen (Hillary Horvath), the naive Southie intern who hates cold-calling but whose coming-of-age story is at the heart of the show. And then there’s Will (Sheldon Brown), the man sent from Chicago by Anderson himself to beef up the Boston operations. A forlorn hope, as it turns out, although he does come to better know himself.

Some of the fun here — and this play really is a good time, especially for political junkies — comes from some “Mad Men”-style anachronistic throwbacks to 1980s mores, replete with Kathleen as the Peggy Olson of the story. But although I think the piece still needs more narrative drive, Cotter is also writing about race and gender in the early 1980s and the era’s mostly flailing attempts to create viable coalitions that might one day stand up to the white male establishment. It’s actually quite a hopeful play, despite its setting amid failure.

All of the performances are strong and generous in director Kaiser Ahmed’s carefully toned production, a zippy show that embraces farce but also personal truth. But the piece belongs to the superb Horvath, who is both very funny as she droops around the office and, as all hope vanishes, exceptionally poignant.

The credo of the office: “Most polls say that if people believe John Anderson can win, he will win.” You don’t doubt the truth of that inconvenient paradox, the Achilles’ heel of every third-party candidate. But it is Horvath’s Kathleen, the character who appears to know the least, who actually knows the most about Anderson’s inevitable doom after she finally sees the candidate. “He looked so boring,” she says, “as if he was in black and white and the rest of the world in color.”

Enter Reagan and a sunrise and the future.

Review: “1980 (Or Why I’m Voting for John Anderson)”
When: Through Dec. 2
Where: Broadway Armory Park, 5917 N. Broadway
Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes
Tickets: $5-$30 at www.jackalopetheatre.org

Read the full article from the Chicago Tribune here.

Solo performance illuminates Magic’s ‘Eva Trilogy’

Julia McNeal is excellent in the first play of Magic Theatre’s premiere “The Eva Trilogy.”

“Eden,” the beautiful, poetic first play in Barbara Hammond’s “The Eva Trilogy,” is entirely a soliloquy, delivered on a bare stage—the purest form of theater.

And, as directed by Loretta Greco in this Magic Theatre world premiere, and performed by the luminous Julia McNeal, it is engaging from start to finish.

In it, Eva, an Irishwoman in her late 30s, sits on the stoop of her sister’s house in a seaside village, talking to herself in a seamless stream-of-consciousness that evokes James Joyce’s Molly Bloom, or Dylan Thomas’ poetry.

Eva is awaiting the arrival of the hospice worker who will relieve her, temporarily, of caring for her aged mother, who’s upstairs in bed slowly dying, in great agony, of Parkinson’s. Or so we’re meant to think, at first.

Eva left Ireland decades ago for glorious Paris; her mother now lives here, cared for by Eva’s sister and her sister’s husband, who’ve asked Eva to fill in while they take a brief vacation.

For Eva, desperate to return to Paris, this long moment on the stoop leads her to muse over her past: her childhood as one of seven siblings with a sick father and rigid Mum, youthful sexual escapades, the Catholic upbringing she’s trying to escape, her travels, a miscarriage, her regrets, her pleasures. McNeal brings it all to vibrant life.

The end of “Eden” is disturbing, unexpected yet inevitable.

But just as “Eden” is simple and eloquent and full of the rough texture of life as we live it, the following two short plays in the trilogy (the three comprise one full evening’s performance), which are slightly surreal at times, are unconvincing.

In “Enter the Roar,” set a month later, we meet the three other characters plus the conflicted family priest. As written, it’s a purposefully chaotic part of Eva’s story, a roar indeed, but it’s so stagey and over-acted that it’s hard to sort out the strands of Hammond’s deeply existential themes.

Thirty years later, in “No Coast Road,” Eva has become a hermit in remote Corsica; a young American hiker (Caleb Cabrera) stumbles upon her campsite. But Hammond’s Eva of “Eden” is now a cliché of a feisty, eccentric elder (no fault of actress or director), and the flirty-contentious relationship between young man and crone feels artificial, the contrivance of a young playwright.

A plus, though: the gorgeous pastoral set and projections by Hana S. Kim.

REVIEW

The Eva Trilogy
Presented by Magic Theatre
Where: Fort Mason, Building D, Marina Boulevard and Buchanan St., S.F.
When: 7 p.m. Tuesdays, 8 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays, 2:30 p.m. Sundays; closes Nov. 12
Tickets: $35 to $80
Contact: (415) 441-8822, www.magictheatre.org

Read the full review from the San Francisco Examiner here.