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.

INDIANAPOLIS THEATER: REVIEWS “Human Rites,” Written by Seth Rozin, at the Phoenix Theatre (5 stars)

Review by Lisa Gauthier Mitchison, read the full review here.

Alan is a tenured cultural psychology professor. When one of his undergraduate classes submits a letter of complaint about a paper of his destined for publication, which he shared with them during a class, the dean, Michaela, challenges her former lover because she uncompromisingly rejects his research on female circumcision being performed in Africa. She dismisses his work as being credible, stating that he, as an American white male, could not reliably procure this information and claiming that the intangible nature of his field cannot provide actual facts.

His findings show that the majority of the women having the procedure embrace it as sacred because it is an initiation into the empowering women’s secret society of Bondo. They feel they are claiming their bodies’ femininity, and it forms bonds of sisterhood among them. Michaela also accuses Alan of stealing her similar research idea and of fetishizing black women. However, her own vitriol seems to be moored more in her own anger as a woman scorned (even ten years later) and in her own cultural superiority complex. Michaela has arranged to have the study repeated, headed up by a highly recommended graduate student at the university, who is from Sierra Leone, Lydia—a young black woman.

Rob Johansen, as Alan, and Milicent Wright, as Michaela, are both well-known, accomplished presences on Indianapolis stages, and they do not disappoint here. Under guest director Lavina Jadhwani, their body language, facial expressions, and line delivery create a realistic portrayal of a couple at odds both personally and professionally. Given their shared history, Johansen’s initial awkwardness and Michaela’s cold reception of him make their elevating, heated confrontational debate more personal.

humanrites2
“Human Rites” at the Phoenix Theatre

They are joined on stage by Paeton Chavis, as Lydia, who is also a force on stage. Her character holds her own, chin high, when faced with her educational “superiors.” In this role, she exudes the passion and strength of conviction that is often most evident in a younger generation. She also adopts a lilting accent to reiterate her character’s heritage. (Whether it is authentic or not, I cannot say, not being a student of African language, but dialect coach Chelsea Anderson pulled a musical cadence from Chavis.)

The show’s uses the hot-button issue of female circumcision, but through this, it also takes to task people’s inherent if subconscious belief of their own culture’s superiority. While the show is intense, there are brief moments of levity to break up the swirling rush of intellectual discourse. The emotionally charged verbal sparring can be overwhelming, but the inclusion of these breathers deters mental overload in preparation for the next onslaught of academic and personally fueled arguments.

Phoenix’s lower stage is moved almost to the center of the room, designed by Bernie Killian, allowing audiences an even closer and immersive experience.

Seth Rozin’s new play is based on actual accounts, not just speculation, which expands the play’s purpose, challenging audiences to examine their own emotional reactions and cultural prejudices.

The show is ninety minutes with no intermission, so get your drinks and cookie bars before it starts.

For an interesting read on the subject, check out https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2015/04/female-genital-mutilation-cutting-anthropologist/389640/.

  • Through August 13, Thursdays at 7  p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m., $27; Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., $33
  • www.phoenixtheare.org

HUMAN RITES, Written by Seth Rozin, Broadens Your Perceptions at Phoenix Theater

Academia. Culture. Anthropology. In-depth study. Research. Data collection. These hardly seem the buzz words for an impactful and insightful play, yet each of those weighty words holds sway in HUMAN RITES, which is currently playing at Phoenix Theatre in Indianapolis…

However, I have saved the best key phrase for last because this powerhouse play centers on two pivotal words: female circumcision. Or is it female genital mutilation? That is the heated and impassioned debate sparked in the close office of Michaela Richards, played by Milicent Wright. This debate unfolds in a riveting fashion that is both jarring and eye-opening as only three characters never cease discussing its many twists, turns, and viewpoints.

It is very clear that the actors in this production made a study of the people they portrayed, for which I am very grateful. As an audience member, you have to watch these individuals talking for 90 straight minutes. And yet, I was never once tempted to look at the clock because I felt like the unwitting scientist who puts his or her subject of study under a microscope and is caught off guard by what awaits…

HUMAN RITES is a fast-paced and riveting invitation to see how deeply perception dictates our reality. Be prepared to have your own eyes opened, your own pre-conceived notions debunked, and your head left spinning with some inevitable questions: who would I be in this debate? And did I win?…

With the flow of HUMAN RITES never stopping and considering the deep, gritty content of the show, I was exhausted as just an audience member by the time it finished. The show covers the cultural view of the practice of female circumcision in explicit detail, so be aware of that before coming in. The constant banter of the actors makes it feel like you are in the room, taking side with the mere three actors.

Not only was I greatly impressed by the acting, but also the sheer stamina it takes to perform this show by Seth Rozin is beyond amazing. Zero stops, zero scene changes, zero costume changes, and pure emotion make this show different than any I have ever seen, which made it all the more impressive.

Read the full stunning review from Broadway World here.

LEAF CUTTER By Yasmine Rana is Finalist in City Theatre National Award for Short Playwriting

Center, Yasmine Rana (Playwright). Left, Margaret Ledford (Artisitic Director), and right, Susan Westfall (CoFounder and Literary Director).

LEAF CUTTER, written by Yasmine Rana (center, above), was a finalist for the City Theatre National Award for Short Playwriting. It was awarded a staged reading at the Olympia Theater in Miami at the CityWrights 2017 launch, and directed by Artistic Director Margaret Ledford (above, left).