Play Review: A Brilliant “Arrival & Departure” on Stage At The Fountain Theatre

Originally published by LA West Media
Emily (Deanne Bray) with her husband Doug (Brian Robert Burns) in “Arrival & Departure” on stage at the Fountain Theatre.

With 28 years of producing, directing, and writing under his artistic belt, resulting in over 225 awards for the works presented at the Fountain Theatre, co-founded with Deborah Culver in 1990, it comes as no surprise that Stephen Sachs has once again created a compelling, visually stunning play. I say visually stunning as “Arrival & Departure” is inspired by Sir Noël Coward’s “Brief Encounter” and is a multi-media production that incorporates both film and live action, with the cast comprised of hearing and Deaf actors.

Performed on a highly creative set designed by Matthew G. Hill, who maximizes the limited space by creating a Dunkin’ Donuts coffee shop nestled in a New York City subway station, which easily morphs into the living room, bedroom or kitchen of Emily (Deanne Bray) and her husband Doug (Brian Robert Burns). How, might you ask, could this be accomplished without moving set pieces around? Well, here’s where the influence of the iconic film comes into play (no pun intended). Superbly envisioned by director Sachs, Nicholas E. Santiago’s video design masterfully creates the different settings – including train stations, speeding trains, and crowds of people frenetically rushing about the city streets, which Sachs emulates on stage with rapid, rushed movement patterns executed by the cast. I think you get the idea. You are watching a film representing the different settings which then segues into live action utilizing both oral and American Sign Language, (ASL) including open captioning to accommodate both Deaf and hearing audiences.

The story begins at home of Emily and Doug and their daughter Jule, (adorable Aurelia Myers) who is in the throes of 13-year-old angst. Her mom is surprised at her unhappiness with Jule’s friend, (Claire Elizabeth Beale). “I thought you were best friends?” “I don’t even like her.” This young lady has become smitten with a boy she met on the online Crush Zone and is desperately trying to convince her parents that she should be allowed to meet him. As if being desperate to date wasn’t enough, the poor kid has an experience that plunges her deeper into the decision that no one will ever love her.

Emily (Deanne Bray) meets Sam (Troy Kotsur) in a donut shop at the 59th Street subway station in New York City.

Emily, who is hard of hearing, has learned ASL. She wants to be a good wife and is trying to please her religious husband by agreeing to being baptized and devoting her life to Jesus Christ. Her “voice,” when she signs, is effectively spoken by Stasha Surdyke, who captures the nuances of Emily’s conflicted character. She is unhappy that her husband never learned ASL so that she can more comfortably communicate with him. Beneath the devoted wife/mother exterior, we sense a growing anxiety and Bray’s performance is truly riveting as she captures the conflicted multi-layers of her character.

Stasha Surdyke (Voices Emily’s signed dialogue,) Adam Burch (Voices Sam’s signed dialogue) Mya (Jessica Jade Andres) & Russell (Shon Fuller).

The initial encounter begins at the 59TH Street subway station when a speck flies into Emily’s eye. She needs a napkin and goes into Dunkin’ Donuts, run by Mya, a tough food service worker who does not brook fools easily. Jessica Jade Andres gives a wonderful performance as this no-nonsense New Yorker who is being wooed by transit cop Russell, an endearing character playfully brought to life by Shon Fuller. It is here that Emily meets Sam, magically played by Troy Kotsur, Bray’s real-life Deaf husband. Sam’s signed dialogue is voiced through Adam Burch, who also captures the deep emotions of his non-speaking counterpart.

Emily (Deanne Bray) meets Sam (Troy Kotsur) at their Thursday secret rendezvous in Central Park. (Note the realistic depiction in the background.)

Sam, a filmmaker who teaches Deaf students the art of filmmaking, is gallant and removes the speck from this pretty young woman’s eye, thus inaugurating a slowly evolving warm, loving but sub rosa relationship. They begin to meet on Thursdays at Central Park, the setting crisply brought to life by the authentic video of the park being flashed in the background. He too, is married and has two sons but the attraction is too powerful for them to stop seeing each other. In one particularly endearing moment, Sam, with a delightfully active inner child, convinces Emily to remove her shoes and take a dip in the lake, which is so realistically presented that as an audience member you would love to join them. How does this liaison end? Will Emily’s family issues be resolved? Will the terribly insecure daughter develop any confidence? Will Emily’s husband learn ASL? What happens to Sam and his family? I’m not saying another word.

Emily (Deanne Bray) and her daughter Jule (Aurelia Myers) have more in common than you would think.

Once again, Sachs has scored a hit with this superb production which will make you laugh, and might even bring a little tear to your eye as you get a peek into the lives of ordinary people and how a chance encounter impacts on their families. It might even remind you of have a chance encounter of your own. The well-crafted script also illuminates the frustration of being stuck between the hearing and the hard-of- hearing worlds. In the end, this is an aching love story woven through the prism of the every day familial demands of two strangers who, through an unexpected turn of fate, fall in love.

BWW Review: INTERSTATE Fills a Gap in Musical Theatre That Some May Not Even Know Existed

BWW Review: INTERSTATE Fills a Gap in Musical Theatre That Some May Not Even Know Existed

When it comes to musical theatre these days, so many shows look and sound like other things. It’s so rare when something comes along that shakes up the norm, filling a gap that many may not have even known needed filling. That’s exactly what Interstate does.

Interstate, with book and lyrics by Melissa Li and Kit Yan, is a self-proclaimed “Queer Asian Musical,” two communities that are still grossly underrepresented in all forms of media, but combined into one community makes something unprecedented on any mainstream stage.

BWW Review: INTERSTATE Fills a Gap in Musical Theatre That Some May Not Even Know Existed
Kit Yan and Melissa Li

Li and Yan wrote the musical based on their own story. Li is a lesbian singer-songwriter, and Yan a transgender spoken-word artist. Together they formed the band Good Asian Driver. This is nearly identical to the fictional band in the musical, Queer Malady, featuring lesbian singer-songwriter Adrian, and transgender spoken-word artist Dash. The musical follows the band on their first tour of the U.S., facing obstacles that challenge their loyalty, their friendship, and their feelings for each other.


“Interstate” Is a Glorious ‘Pop-Rock Musical’ About Inclusivity, Queer and Trans Community, and the Open Road

by  • Originally published on The Village Voice

For every contemporary-spirited Hamilton, Broadway stages numerous revivals of musicals from half-centuries ago, few of which have books, lyrics, or music by women or people of color. Even those productions with relatively diverse casting are unlikely to involve queer or trans characters. Meanwhile, Broadway’s tendency to latch onto franchise properties that audiences have experienced countless times over — whether in books or GIFs or movie theaters — further encourages patterns of sameness in representation. All of which makes especially pivotal the mission of the New York Musical Festival, which originated in 2004 with an aim to “introduce new shows, new perspectives, and new blood into the musical theater canon.” Over the course of the festival’s existence, a number of its selections — including Chaplin and In Transit — have made the vaunted and against-the-odds leap to Broadway.

Saha, who was discovered via the theater program at Ithaca College, does a fast-paced, flawless rendition of Henry’s energetic first song, “I Don’t Look” — the catchiest in the show — about the high schooler’s crush on a classmate who “doesn’t know either of my names.” They also make poignant Henry’s spoken, daily updates posted to YouTube. Lin as Adrian conveys an air of hilarious frustration, whether the character is being interrupted by Dash during a radio interview or encountering straight racists in a bar. Adrian’s mouth at times becomes akin to the wavy lines of Charlie Brown’s expression whenever he sighs, “Good grief.” Corpuz (who was in the recent revival of The King and I at Lincoln Center) is equally at home with Dash’s big solo number (“Loser Dumplings”) as with the loose, playful dialogue. In one scene, when it comes time for the band to move its equipment, Dash counters Adrian’s “You’re the man” with “You’re the lesbian.” Even the smaller narrative strands are written and performed with exceptional nuance. Esco Jouléy as Carly — the would-be record-label impresario Adrian picks up on the road — scores laughs simply in the way ze eats from a bag of Doritos. The familial arcs also hit close to home: Dash’s first-generation immigrant father (Kiet Tai Cao) accepts his only son in a manner not untainted by traditional Asian patriarchal values. And Adrian’s corporate, go-getter mother (Michelle Noh), coolly dismissing her daughter’s artistic career (and queerness), will be painfully familiar to anyone who has been a disappointment to a parent.

The music throughout is live keys, guitar, bass, and drums, and the numbers alternate between songs Dash and Adrian perform on the road to thoughts and feelings they — and Henry — confess to the audience. Much of the show is sung: In a different era, and with different music, it would be called “operetta,” but Interstate bills itself as a “pop-rock poetry musical.” The production’s commitment to casting trans or nonbinary actors in trans roles, and its portrayal of a young trans man encountering resistance from his parents, is clearly (and depressingly) timely. As always, work from actual trans artists injects much-needed reality and authenticity onstage. Handsome Dash easily passes as a cis man, but in a bar, racist homophobes call him “faggot.” When Henry’s mother throws out his binder, he uses duct tape to flatten his chest, constricting his breathing. But even though the course isn’t always smooth, Dash and Adrian eventually find solace in their friendship and their art, just as Henry locates support in the greater community. The news has been so bad these past few weeks (well, these past few years), especially for queer and trans people and people of color; this show — and, crucially, more like it in the future — can perhaps be what we turn to for our own solace.

INTERSTATE: New pop-rock poetry musical shines a spotlight on queer Asian-Americans

Melissa Li and Kit Yan became friends more than 10 years ago. They met while performing together at a queer Asian-American cabaret in Boston, where Li performed as a singer-songwriter and Yan as a spoken word performer.

It was during these early performances that Yan, who is transgender, got the idea of performing together on the road, and bringing their queer Asian-American perspectives to other communities across the country.

“Backstage one day I was saying to [Li], ‘What do you think about quitting our jobs and getting in a little compact car and going on the road, and bringing what we’re doing in the [cabaret] out to wherever we’re going,” Yan told NBC News.

Kit Yan
Kit YanGrace Naw

Li thought it was a good idea, and the two formed the band Good Asian Drivers. They then set off on a cross-country tour in 2008 and performed together in cafes and small venues across the United States, seeking out other queer communities.

It was this cross-country tour that inspired the story for their new musical, “Interstate,” which is one of 12 productions taking part in the 2018 New York Musical Festival.

Described as an Asian-American, pop-rock poetry musical, “Interstate” tells the story of two transgender people at different stages of their journey, as they navigate love, family and masculinity while finding community in the age of social media.

“It’s definitely a queer, Asian, trans story which is one that is rarely seen,” Yan said, noting that the musical is written about and by queer and transgender people.

To read the full article, please visit NBC News.

‘Arrival & Departure’ was unlike anything I have experienced before

Blog by Saif Saigol

As a theatre lover, I have often struggled to qualify the artistic value of a show. What, for example, separates a great, large-scale Broadway musical from a great, smaller, experimental work? When it comes to art, does more money equal more success? I received my answer last Saturday, at the designer run-through rehearsal of the Fountain’s Arrival & Departure: a successful play is one that leaves its audience thinking.

Art has the power to leave a lasting impact and change the way we think. That is exactly what I experienced after watching Arrival & Departure.

The play, at its core, follows the classic, impossible love-story of two star-crossed soul mates who have the universe standing between them. The 90-minute play is filled with heart-wrenchingly beautiful acting on the part of the ensemble and a fantastic script by Stephen Sachs. The artists invite us into their most intimate and vulnerable thoughts, thoughts that were born in a reality that they created out of nothing. It seemed impossible that such genuineness had been bred in only a few weeks of rehearsal – it is beyond inspiring to see what the Fountain team is capable of.

Personally, it was especially moving to experience the power and beauty of Deaf theatre for the first time. The show’s interwoven and unique mélange of ASL and Spoken English creates a dynamic and multi-dimensional artistic medium in which authenticity prevails. Deanne Bray and Troy Kotsur conveyed a degree of beauty, truth, and honesty in their signing that cannot be expressed in other forms of communication – it was almost like watching a dance. Especially moving was Bray’s ability to convey her character’s struggles with identity as a hard-of-hearing woman, switching back and forth between ASL and Spoken English.

The play struck me as a type of ‘deconstructed theatre’. The various forms of art involved – from ASL, to Spoken English, to movement, to staging – are separated but harmoniously married, each holding its own and conveying breath-taking emotion, but also supporting one another to create one beautiful piece. I left the rehearsal pondering the very nature of art, and the ways in which society often creates pigeon-holes for artists. Arrival & Departure was unlike anything I have experienced before – it is novel and unique, and conveys emotion in ways that don’t conform to exclusive norms. This, I believe, is the point of theatre, and I cannot wait for others to experience the magic of Arrival & Departure.