Porn Pays Tuition at a Cost in “Exposed”

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Courtesy of Andrea Alton PR

In 2004, Duke University freshman Miriam Weeks made headlines as the Duke Porn Star, Belle Knox, after she was outed by fellow students. Scandalized reporters, parents, and students condemned Weeks for funding her education by making pornography. But Weeks, a Gender Studies and Sociology major, defended her decision, causing a country-wide media frenzy.

“Exposed,” a new play, tells Miriam’s harrowing story, as it spreads from her dorm room to television sets in millions of households. Conceived by director Kristin Heckler and written in collaboration with Sarah Raimondi, Pauline Sherrow and Jacob-Sebastian Phillips, “Exposed” was originally written for an Adaptation class at The New School for Drama. The controversially charged performances and thoroughly developed characters are brought to life by Raimondi, Sherrow and Phillips. In the stage adaptation, Raimondi plays Lauren — also known as Ariel Cox, the Duke Porn Star — while Sherrow and Phillips play a multitude of roles, including Lauren’s best friends, parents, other porn stars and reporters.

Although the play contains several sensitive themes and messages, the team does an incredible job respecting the original story. The play draws from original dialogue, text and audio from Weeks’ personal interviews, blog posts, tweets and porn videos. This research adds authenticity and creates thought-provoking and emotional dilemmas. Raimondi fully embodies her character and her subtle mannerisms evoke the turbulent thoughts and conflicts that plague her character throughout the performance. Meanwhile, Sherrow and Phillips convincingly play a number of multifaceted roles, ranging from her supportive best friends to her distraught and disappointed parents.

Coupled with tasteful porn scenes, the group does an excellent job of incorporating extreme — if not harsh — imagery. Perhaps the most powerful images are the mock radio and television interviews in which Lauren is humiliated and slut-shamed for the sake of national entertainment. Her measured and smart responses make her an admirable character, who is after all, a student of Duke University. This reminds the audience that Lauren’s choices are driven by the costs of higher education.

“Exposed” manages to empathize with Weeks’ experiences while still highlighting the concerns and issues regarding feminism and pornography. The play does not treat the consequences of porn stardom lightly but does challenge viewers to see it a new light. Overall, the play is an effective way to promote discussions about misogyny, sexual discrimination and the rights of sex workers. Furthermore, it brings attention to the extremes some students will risk to afford higher education.

“Exposed” is playing at The Sonnet Theater at The Producer’s Club through Feb. 18.

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‘Nutcracker Rouge’ Not for Kids

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Courtesy of Mark Shelby Perry

Company XIV’s revival of the production “Nutcracker Rouge” brings fiery passion to a ballet usually for younger audiences. In the sensuous reimagining of the show, director Austin McCormick gives new purpose to the various lingerie-clad dolls that engage the protagonist, Marie-Claire, played by Laura Careless, in several fantastical dances and dreams.

Following in the footsteps of its previous production of Cinderella, Nutcracker Rouge is a glitzy baroque-burlesque, opera, circus and theater all tied into one glamorous show. Shelly Watson drives the show as Madame Drosselmeyer, acting as an emcee and amping up the crowd. Her insanely impressive singing skills and the energy she brings to the stage makes the audience shout and cheer her on like no other character.

Brett Umlauf, Marcy Richardson and Jacob Karr are other performers that really shine in this production. Umlauf, who personifies candy such as turkish delight and licorice is an incredibly talented singer, dancing while belting songs like Christina Aguilera’s “Genie in a Bottle” in Persian. Richardson, the pole doll and champagne, combines current pop hits such as “Chandelier” by Sia in French and “Alejandro” by Lady Gaga in Spanish with incredible aerial work while playing the lyra. The glitter storm that hits as Umlauf twirls in the air makes the moment ever so magical. Karr drops jaws in his performance as the marionette doll, cake and in the corps de ballet, flexing, bending and kicking in an upbeat dance as if his bones are nonexistent. The audience laughs and whoops when he emerge as a cake, shimmying and strutting in a comical dance.

The incredible pointe dancer who opens the performance, Hilly Bodin, portrays a ballerina doll and a cherry and is in the corps de ballet. Bodin explained why she loves this particular style of theater.

“There is a sense of confidence and sensuality combined with theatrical elements that makes everyone so open with their bodies,” Bodin said. “Burlesque is a lot of external work but internally there is a lot of confidence and power. It’s anartistic explosion.”

Bodin also added that the choreographer and director McCormick gives the performance certain artistic freedom.

“He gives us the canvas and color palette, and then we can play with the choreography while he oversees it,” Bodin said. “It’s challenging, especially with the costumes because sometimes they are so heavy, up to 20 pounds, and we have to make it seem real, like the costume isn’t there but also be mindful so it doesn’t get damaged.”

Nonetheless, the performers certainly create a wonderful dream-like atmosphere with singing and dancing that is unbelievably intricate but appears effortless. A must-watch performance, Nutcracker Rouge runs until Jan. 17, 2016 at the Minetta Lane Theater.

A version of this article appeared in the Dec. 7 print edition.

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Gallatin Senior Stars in Solo Show

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Courtesy of Lily van Leeuwen

In an intimate theater in Hell’s Kitchen, Gallatin senior Johanna Duk stands in the center of a near-empty stage wearing a bright dress and an ice cream cone necklace with matching socks. She stares wide-eyed at the audience and clutches a bucket of popcorn. The pigtails above her ears swing as she questions where she is and why she is there.

“Waiting for What?” is a dark comedy written by Duk and director Tisch senior Lily van Leeuwen. Duk, who is a writer, director and actress, stars in the one-woman show, playing a young 12-year-old girl in the waiting room between life and death. Throughout the fifteen minute performance, flashing numbers counted down to the main character’s revelation of her death.

Although performed as part of the 2015 United Solo festival, the largest solo theater festival in the world, “Waiting for What?” has been seen by audiences before. It premiered at the Gallatin Arts Festival in Spring 2015 where Duk was happy to receive what she called “a great response from the audience.” The play was originally van Leeuwen’s idea, but transformed into something both writers felt strongly about through a collaborative effort.

“It is hard to share thoughts openly,” Duk said. “ In the show the little girl doesn’t have to worry. I see it so much — people focus on what other people are thinking. It’s unnecessary. I wanted to let my thoughts run. She doesn’t always say what the audience wants to hear. She says more than she should.”

Duk warned the audience will most likely be confused at various points but urged them to listen carefully. At some points, it is difficult to understand how such a young child could fabricate such deep thoughts, speak with such an extensive vocabulary and be so worldly about current events.

When the countdown projected behind her reached one, it seemed like the audience should be shocked — it was the moment the character finally wrapped her head around her death — but instead, most viewers were expecting more. The play ended literally at zero, with no afterword or final note. Certainly a bit confusing, the play felt somewhat unfinished as audience members silently waited for the next scene although the performance was over. Although unclear at points, it is Duk and van Leeuwen’s intention and they are successful in making misunderstood, often avoided topics the central theme of their show.

“Waiting for What” was performed on Wednesday at Theater Row.

A version of this article appeared in the Nov. 16 print edition.

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Scandalous ‘Cinderella’ Takes Stage

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Courtesy of Mark Shelby Perry

Company XIV’s eclectic production of “Cinderella” would make Walt Disney to blush. While in the film she is the protagonist, Cinderella is everything but the star of director and choreographer Austin McCormick’s interpretation — that is, she functions as a prop in the show, both literally as a table and stool and figuratively, to tie the various plots together.

Previously minor characters, such as the Step-Mother, step-sisters and Fairy Godmother are the ones who truly shine in this performance. Running at the Minetta Lane Theater, “Cinderella” is the ultimate vaudeville act — incorporating everything from burlesque and ballet to opera and circus with a gender-bending and scantily but ornately clad cast.

The combination of acts truly feels like a dream. The show exudes an air of antiquity, especially during every scene change when a silent movie-esque letter board is carried across the stage by performers wearing Louis XIV heels and not much else. There is an overall lack of dialogue throughout the show, with most characters relying on sensual and risque movements in combination with a pastiche of music ranging from opera and classical music to retro music infused with modern songs by Lorde, Lana Del Rey and Nicki Minaj.

The production is an incredible work of art with so many beautiful details that it is difficult to take everything in without missing any details. Perhaps most immediately visible are the actor’s costumes, comprising mostly nude-colored undergarments, all embellished in a magnificent baroque style. Over their toned and muscular bodies lie a combination of burlesque bustles, cages, panniers and rhinestoned codpieces. The collection of wigs, balloons and masks only add to the charm of the production.

The stand-out character in this show is most definitely the Step-Mother, brilliantly and superbly played by Davon Rainey. Rainey brings a perfect mix of femininity and masculinity to the character that no one knew was missing before. The Step-Mother ran the show from the very beginning and everything that happened seemed to be a direct result of her devious plan — to get the Prince for herself. Rainey’s sensual dances, vogue attitude and ruthless conquering all while wearing killer high heels made him a wonderful and titillating villain, as well as an instant favorite.

The Fairy Godmother, played by Katrina Cunningham, is another fantastic character who truly astounds. Her Marilyn Monroe look and demeanor were just the tip of the iceberg. Her dancing and singing are mesmerizing and chilling to the bone. Cunningham has a powerful voice and does an unbelievable impression of Lana Del Rey, adding hints of seductive charm to the songs to go along with the piece. Her scenes incorporating balloons, glitter and alcohol effectively render her a dreamy fairytale character.

Cinderella, played by Allison Ulrich, is redeemed as a main character in the play of her namesake only in the end when she dances with the Prince, played by Steven Trumon Gray, in mid-air on a lyra. They are spectacular as they twist in and out of the hoop at an amazing pace and with incredible grace as they perform some of the riskiest moves of the show, ending the show with a beautiful
ever after.

“Cinderella” finishes its run next week on Nov. 15 at 5:00 p.m. at the Minetta Lane Theater.

A version of this article appeared in the Nov. 9 print edition.

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Gallatin Seniors Shoplift in ‘Diamond Alice’

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Courtesy of Em Watson

Gallatin part-time faculty member Ben Steinfeld worked in collaboration with Broadway actor Alexander Gemignani to create the original musical “Diamond Alice,” in which Alice Diamond and her gang of women challenge the audience to root for the criminally selfish in this musical. The play, performed at the Jerry H. Labowitz Theatre for the Performing Arts, was written and directed by Steinfeld, with lyrics by Gemignani. The 20th century London musical ties a heartwarming story about sisterhood to an exhilarating crime narrative. The title of the musical is based on the Forty Elephants Gang, an all-female shoplifting circle.

Only a few furniture pieces and two columns covered with advertisements appear on stage. The sparsity comes to life, however, as the three young and playful sisters are introduced to the audience by stating their main aspirations. Alice Diamond (Gallatin senior Olivia Wendel), the protagonist, wants independence. Her sister, Maggie Hughes (Gallatin senior Katherine Romans), is a recent war widow and angered by the state of the country. The third sister, Lady Victoria Brittenham (Gallatin junior Gwen Hornig), cares only about climbing the social ladder. Gemignani’s lyrics showcase the sisters’ initial closeness and how their differing goals cause a cataclysmic divergence in their relationship.

It is only after Maggie’s volatile temperament lands her in jail that she is able to reconnect with Alice. Maggie and Alice enlist the help of Lady Victoria’s maid, Rose O’Leary, who is exasperated with the way she is treated, Gert Holmes, a society reporter who only wishes she could write about actual news and Millie Brown, a bar owner who wishes to be a famous singer. These roles are played by Gallatin seniors Kathryn Gemma Faughnan, Kerry Candeloro and Sarah Flamm, respectively. The three contrasting characters reconcile differences and clashing personalities in order to jailbreak Maggie.

The cast all played their roles marvelously. However, there were two stand-out performances that felt the most consistently convincing. Romans does a wonderful job capturing Maggie’s anger — her facial expressions and mannerisms never break her constant rage and resentment. Faughnan as Rose shows an incredible transformation between the character’s initial meekness and her later bold and impassioned search for independence. Additionally, her Irish accent was particularly exceptional.

The stage allowed the audience to feel connected as the actresses moved to and from the corners of the set. Unfortunately, there were several instances where the cast fought to make themselves heard through competing voices. When the cast sang collectively, though, the music thrived. The performance would have been improved tenfold had they been microphoned.

Steinfeld did great work with the actresses despite the minimal props and sometimes overwhelming orchestrals. Overall, Steinfeld and Gemignani did an exceptional job in turning a historical gang into a fictitious but sweet rendition of history.

“Diamond Alice” closed on Saturday after seven performances.

A version of this article appeared in the Oct. 13 print edition.

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