Entries in David Ian Lee (2)

Monday
Aug222011

MATEO’S FRINGENYC ROUNDUP #3 // Reviews and Recaps from the NY Fringe Festival 2011

BY MATEO MORENO

Translating a book into a different medium can be daunting work.  To capture the same beauty, the same essence that the author created on the page is a huge undertaking that countless authors have failed at.  So when it seems so hard to translate a beloved book into another medium, how hard must it be to translate poems into a play?  Quite an uphill battle, it would seem.  But Director Phillip Gates didn’t seem fazed by that challenge at all with his production of Before Placing Me On Your Shelf.  It’s strange, odd, surreal, dreamlike, and absolutely one of my favorite shows at Fringe this year.  Sadly, it’s now played its final performance but hopefully we haven’t seen the last of this beautiful piece and the talented company presenting it.

Following several short scenes and several characters throughout the show, Gates sets his actors in motion using Tate’s own poetry, many of which include dialogue so it translates beautifully.  From the first moment that a young woman sings “I only have eyes for you,” the piece has you under its spell.  It works as a fully functioning show and as individual scenes.  Each scene leads to the next in a very unconventional way (some scenes don’t seem to end as much as fade away).  They sometimes start grounded but always go into the surreal, like when a man asks a woman if he can duct tape her and she pauses before answering, “Only a little on the wrist.”  Another time a young woman comes into a home asking for a glass of water and gets into a strange conversation about slaves and how she may now be a prisoner herself.  Then there’s a wolf named Gypsy, flesh-eating moths, a phone that won’t stop ringing, a woman crawling on the ground looking for her life, and the butterflies.  The beautiful butterflies… Honestly, recounting the evening makes me realize two things: 1) Its such an odd, beautiful, and strange piece that a review can’t really do its beauty justice; and 2) I’m smiling just thinking about it.  The ensemble cast is the strongest ensemble I’ve seen since seeing The Mad One’s last show, The Tremendous Tremendous, each one supporting each other gracefully and dynamically standing out.  From the absurdist couple of Jonathan Horvath and Elizabeth Romanski to the quirkiness of Caitlin Johnston, every single actor breathes fire into a wonderfully strange and refreshing piece (the rest of this great cast included Nadia Sepsenwol, Theo Salter, Adam Scott Mazer, & Josh Odsess-Rubin).  Director Phillip Gates, who also conceived the piece, directs with a sharp and swift beauty, and I eagerly await Lunar Energy’s next production.

What’s the best way to get your career going in Hollywood?  Start schmoozing at networking events?  Talk to people while working on sets?  Be really, really nice to the waiter who seems like he’s a fantastic writer on the rise?  Wes decided to pretend he was infected with HIV.  So, you know, not my first choice, but maybe it’ll work out for him.  Infectious Opportunity introduces us to Wes (David Ian Lee) at his high point.  His screenplay for the film, “A Shoulder For the World to Cry on,” is causing quite a stir, and everyone wants a piece of Wes, from his publicist, Brent, to his students, to the magazine reporters.  Walking this path right along side him is Josie (Jessi Gotta), partly the fictional character in his screenplay and partly ghost of the woman he based her on.  She knows his secret, and while everyone else is busy trying to take a piece of the newest golden boy, Josie calls him out and pushes him in the direction of the truth.  Which leads us on a journey into the moments in his past that have made him, for better or for worse, the man he is today.

Playwright James Comtois has crafted his strongest piece to date, a strikingly real, funny, and dark tale of a man insistent on being famous and loved.  David Ian Lee (who originated the role in the 2009 production) tears into his role, and his commitment and realism keeps you fully invested the entire time.  As his “Ghost of Christmas Past,” Jessi Gotta is utterly sublime mixing humor, rage, and pain into a character that may not actually be there, but is so much realer than 90% of characters onstage throughout the year.  Her presence is commanding, and you can’t take your eyes off of her.  Rebecca Comtois & Ingrid Nordstrom both play multiple characters with such different takes on each one that you forget that they’re the same actor playing them.  DR Mann Hanson has two beautiful scenes as Wes’s friend from college, and he breathes quiet life into a character that may only be on stage briefly but sets the stage for all that is to come.  Matthew Trumbull gives yet another great performance as the Professor that took a shining to his young up-and-coming student, and Daryl Lathon adds a much-needed sleaze and humor into the weasel publicist.  The direction by Pete Boisvert is seamless, fast paced and demands attention.  Infectious Opportunities raises many important and pressing questions, and is a show that will stay with you long after the final acceptance speech.

"There are these dogs I dreamt of while I was awake, they wear clocks around their necks and they walk like men, the men howl like wolves and balance their weight on clenched fists and curled toes" ~ Chien de Moi

A few months back, I reviewed a modern dance piece that tried to tell a sort of Alice in Wonderland-esque story about a man who is lead into a dream world filled with creatures and nonsense.  It was a terribly interesting premise with a terrible execution.  Perhaps if they had seen In the Basement Theater Company’s production of Chien de Moi, they could have learned how to do their story right.  This short, dreamy, and imaginative piece concerns a young girl who goes to a place “that exists between a blanket and an eye.”  There is no dialogue, save for a voice over at the beginning and a monologue at the end.  We are literally thrust into the world of a young girl (Ava Deluca Verley) who seems at first confused in this world filled with dogs who walk like men and trees and flowers that dance with ease.  The entire company is made up of students from CMU School of Drama and their creativity seems to be just at the brink.  It’s a beautifully structured piece, and though the dancing wasn’t always perfect, I liked it even more for that.  The strangeness of the piece made me feel like I was witnessing my own dream, and as the young girl whose dream it actually is, Ava Deluca Verley dancing gorgeously and the fluidity of her movements are breathtaking to watch.  Her fellow dancers all add wonder and excitement to the evening (they include Adrian Enscoe, Katya Stepanov, Jesse-Carrey Beaver, Marquis Wood, Candace Maxwell, Michael Cusimano, Grace Rao, Ginna LeVine, Brian Morabito, Rodney Jackson Jr., Jessie Ryan Shelton and John McKetta).  The moments between the girl and the main dog that she connects to are fantastic, and the entire section choreographed to The Devil Makes Three’s song, Dynamite, is wickedly fantastic.  Writer/Director Sophia Schrank and her merry band of madcap majors deserve all the accolades they’re sure to get with this inventive and highly original piece.  Find the section between your pillow and your eye, close your eyes, and take it in.

 

BEFORE PLACING ME ON YOUR SHELF Adapted from the poems of James Tate Conceived and Directed by Phillip Gates Starring Nadia Sepsenwol, Theo Salter, Adam Scott Mazer, Caitlin Johnson, Josh Odsess-Rubin, Jonathan Horvath, Elizabeth Romanski Content Disclaimer (None) Playing at The Kraine Theatre, 85 E 4th Street NYC

INFECTIOUS OPPORTUNITY Written by James Comtois Directed by Pete Boisvert Starring David Ian Lee, Jessi Gotta, Rebecca Comtois, DR Mann Hanson, Daryl Lathon, Ingrid Nordstrom, Matthew Trumbull Content Disclaimer (Adult Language, Adult Situations) Playing at The Living Theatre, 21 Clinton Street

CHIEN DE MOI Written by Directed by Starring Ava Deluca Verley, Michael Cusimano, Rodney Earl Jackson R., Brian Furey Morabito, Adrian Enscoe, Jesse Carrey-Beaver, Marquis Wood, Jessie Ryan Shelton, Ginna LeVine, Katya Stepanov, Candace Maxwell, Grace Rao, John McKetta Content Disclaimer (Adult Language) Playing at The Ellen Stewart Theatre, LA MAMA,

Mateo’s Grades: Before Placing Me On Your Shelf: A, Infectious Opportunity: A, Chien De Moi: A-

**CHECK http://www.fringenyc.org for exact show times and dates throughout the festival.

Bottom Line: A beautiful trio of shows that couldn’t be more different but should be on everyone’s “must see” list.

Written by Mateo Moreno.  Follow Mateo:  On Twitter.  On Facebook.

Sunday
Aug212011

STEPHANIE’S FRINGENYC ROUNDUP // Reviews and Recaps of Weekend 1 of the New York Fringe Festival 2011

BY STEPHANIE WILLING

Through a series of vignettes taking place in a small town library, Browsing by Glass Beads Ensemble gives brief glimpses of pedestrian lives and iconic literature.  The cast of eight talented actors portray a myriad of personalities as  the townsfolk and the literary characters, checking in and out of accents and costumes.  The head librarian (Danna Call) is faced with severe budget cuts that threaten to close the library down, and much of "drama" of the story lies between those pages.  As library users come and go, we meet the people who take its services for granted but are unwilling to pick up the tab along side the active citizens who petition and volunteer to keep the library going. cInterspersed with the civic budget drama are scenes from the books that the library guests are reading.  An interview with Henri Matisse, an unrecognizable scene from The Secret Garden, and phrases from Walt Whitman are just a few of the dimmed down luminaries.  Many of the scenes are so short as to seem meaningless, while others go on and on without any apparent point.  Also, every scene ends with a fade to black--even the 45 second scenes--and rather than giving the scenes the emphasis a fade usually entails, it reinforces their inanity.  "Thanks, I'll read it," was the closing line in one lackluster fade to black scenario.  Imagine picking up a book at random, flipping it open, and reading the first three paragraphs.  Maybe you pick it up again, maybe you put it aside forever.  Now imagine that each of those pages you look at is the most boring part of the novel, and you'll have a sense of how this hodgepodge plays out.  If it were a TV show, I would've changed the channel in under five minutes. It's grueling in its tedium, and the excellence of the ensemble (especially James D'Amico and Suzi Lindner) is undermined by the fact that they rarely get anything interesting to say. Do yourself a favor and don't check Browsing out.

Continuing down the trail of dusty corridors and moldering objects leads us to The Lost and Found, an entertaining and energizing one man show.  Hans Augustave is the writer/performer of the 90 minute piece, and it's no small thing to demand an audience's attention for that long without intermission.  He proves up to the task as he plays Damien, a newly married man in his twenties who has descended into the bowels of the Lost and Found repository.  Damien guides us through a narrative comprised of four characters whose belongings have been there for a long time.  He slips on a a piece of bling and becomes a thug, circa 1990's.  A pair of glasses leads him to Dexter, a socially challenged young man whose bleeding heart is in danger of bleeding out. The story of a once promising student turned druggie hides in the handle of a lap top case.  By far the most interesting character is Duvalier, a Haitian immigrant to the USA, whose daughter has stayed out past her curfew.  His alternate fury and pride over his daughter is endearing and fascinating, and Augustave hits every note, nuance, and inflection with tenderness and authenticity that draws out laughter that is respectful and accessible.  It's a delightful premise that will engage anyone who has ever wandered through a flea market and wondered about an errant object's history, however not all the stories soar.  Dexter is too much a caricature, a hybrid of Steve Urkel with Oprah-Winfrey-pop-psychology simplification.  The reformed druggie sounds like a carbon copy from Narcotics Anonymous testimonials, and even the thug seems a little bit sentimental.  Augustave's writing hints of greater things to follow, and his charismatic performance promises to take an audience with him as he continues to grow as an artist.

Going into the bowels of a different kind of darkness brings us to James Comtois' NYITA Award-nominated play, Infectious Opportunity.  Wes Farley (David Ian Lee) appears to have everything: a highly paid but low maintenance professorship, a screenplay surrounded by Oscar buzz, and the disease. He's HIV positive.  Or at least that's what he wants everyone to believe because ever since he opened up about his "condition" he's received all the love, support, and worship a fallible human being can stand.  The problem is that he's as healthy as they come, and every second of his life is a lie.  Wes is haunted by Josie (Jessi Gotta), a woman who is part ghost, part fiction from his screenplay.  In Dickensian ghost of Christmas past style, she takes Wes through the seminal moments of his falsehood, showing how his not-quite-a-lie became an obscene inaccuracy until it evolved into a calculated masquerade.  Everything he has used as material has been stolen from those who have actually suffered, and even the words he uses to inspire his students are taken straight from his former professor's lectures.  It's sensitive subject matter, but Wes's audacity to prey on one of the most taboo and isolated groups in society makes the stakes that much higher.  The cast is uniformly excellent, and each player is a standout.  Ingrid Nordstrom is pitch perfect in her seamless transitions from polished and fatuous TV reporter to the bookish college student, and Matthew Trumbull creates a world of meaning for the naive Professor Franklin out of his awkward body quirks.  It would be so easy to be sentimental or didactic in a play dealing so much with the AIDS community, but instead Comtois' script focuses on an even more afflicted population: the liars and the schmucks in tacit partnership.  To use and be used is a virus of it's own, and in the end the ad absurdum element of the plot doesn't seem so far fetched at all.

BROWSING Written by Danna Call, Mari Gorman, Craig Pospisil. Starring Danna Call, Juliet Coffey, James D'Amico, Christopher Estrada, Roy Havrilack, Suzi Lindner, Ruth Shepard, Ryan Wright Playing at Teatro SEA, 107 Suffolk Street NYC.

THE LOST AND FOUND Written by and Starring Hans Augustave Directed by Tom McNeill and Scott Reagan Content Disclaimer (Excessive adult language, drug use, suicide) Playing at Manhattan Theater Source, 177 MacDougal Street NYC.

INFECTIOUS OPPORTUNITY Written by James Comtois Directed by Pete Boisvert Starring David Ian Lee, Jessi Gotta, Matthew Trumbull, Darryl Lathon, Ingrid Nordstrom, DR Mann Hanson, Rebecca Comtois. Content Disclaimer (Adult Language, Drug Use) Playing at The Living Theater, 21 Clinton Street NYC.

**CHECK http://www.fringenyc.org for exact show times and dates throughout the festival

 

Stephanie's Grades: Browsing: D, The Lost and Found: B-, Infectious Opportunity: A