New Play ‘The View UpStairs’ Remembers LGBT Violence

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Courtesy of Kurt Sneddon

Tragedy inspires art, or so goes the saying. In light of recent events — most prominently the mass shooting at gay nightclub Pulse — a musical about violence towards the LGBT community is particularly relevant. While provocative, the new musical about the second deadliest attack on gay clubs in U.S. history showcases the struggle for equality and the unintended consequences.

“The View UpStairs” is a rock musical that centers precisely on the setting of the tragedy, a lively gay bar in 1970s New Orleans called the UpStairs Lounge. The protagonist, Wes (Jeremy Pope), is a present-day designer who is considering buying the building where the tragedy occurred. He is transported back in time to when the club was in its peak. The set transforms into a brightly lit and eclectic club full of kitschy mementos where part of the audience is interspersed throughout the set.

Wes’ time-traveling abilities provide some humor in the show as the ’70s characters question his futuristic fashion choices and surveillance-capturing iPhone. Thinking it is all a hallucination, Wes decides to engage with the bar community and in doing so, becomes very close, especially to hustler Patrick (Taylor Frey). Their relationship is a comedic romance scattered with deeper and darker themes as they, along with the bar’s family battle mental and societal pressures not just from outsiders, but also from each other.

Wes’ naiveté in thinking issues for the LGBT community have been resolved since the 70s, is revealed as the show progresses. “The View UpStairs” does an excellent job in demonstrating this conflict and Wes’ eventual realization of improvements, but also major faults. While the play effectively calls for the audience to ponder and reflect on several messages, it unfortunately skims too lightly over the issue of mental health by using it as a plot device with no further analysis.Where the play is strongest is in its emotional aspect, particularly when the past weaves with the present and Wes’ final monologue reveals the pain felt by the community due to recent anti-LGBT actions. His raw emotion, tears and anger are visibly genuine and not acted. The show is also successful in its spirit and music. Catchy songs, like “Some Kind of Paradise,” are sung by a superbly talented cast consisting of Frenchie Davis, Nathan Lee Graham, Benjamin Howes, Michael Longoria, Ben Mayne, Randy Redd and Nancy Ticotin.

The original play was created by playwright and lyricist Max Vernon, alumnus of the New York University graduate Musical Theatre Writing program. He cites lacking knowledge of such a heinous crime while being a Gender and Sexuality Studies student as a reason to create the musical. In a musical sneak peek conversation held weeks prior to the show, Vernon explained the significance of the UpStairs Lounge by comparing it to today’s technology. He explained that the prevalence of dating apps for queer people has facilitated the process of finding a community, and more importantly an adopted family. In the ’70s, lacking internet and mobile phones, this process was far more difficult and so places that were established queer meeting spaces, like the Upstairs Lounge, bore a far greater significance.

”The View UpStairs” is playing Off-Broadway at The Lynn Redgrave Theater at 45 Bleeker St. until May 21.

Link to published article.

‘Pondling’ Highlights Irish Excellence

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Courtesy of Paul McCarthy

Genevieve Hulme-Beaman enraptures audience’s attention in her one-woman play like no other. “Pondling,” a Gúna Nua Theatre Company and Ramblinman production from Dublin, Ireland premiered Off-Broadway in the US at the 59E59 Theaters as part of Origin’s 1stIrish Festival. It was directed by Paul Meade, artistic director of Gúna Nua.

Hulme-Beaman dresses in a simple knit jumper, uniform skirt, knee-high socks, and black patent shoes—she is the picture of a traditional schoolgirl and this is enough to transform her into a young girl named Madeline living in rural Ireland who makes mundane experiences on her family’s farm become insane adventures. She is incredibly and almost unbelievably entertaining in the way that she uses emphasis and pauses to make her monologues both highly dramatic and hilarious. Madeline is still a child but one who wants to grow up and be an adult. She attempts to show her maturity through her interests, but ultimately shows the audience how devilish, and even psychotic, she is in order to achieve what she wants, no matter who or what gets in her way.

Hulme-Beaman has an incredible stage presence, using only a trunk and curtain as props but transforming the almost empty stage into a lively farm, house, or playground. She managed to keep the audience laughing almost every single minute of the play. Madeline, or Madeline Humble Buttercup, as she more modestly prefers to be called, describes what her everyday life is like: she pines over her crush, Johnno Boyle O’Conner—an older man 14 years of age, she searches for a mentor to teach her how to become the most beautiful and glamorous woman—to impress her crush of course, and she has strange encounters with the farm animals—whether that means talking to them or decapitating chickens to prove a point. She seemed to relish in the audience’s shock, pausing to take in the moment before continuing. Her facial expressions are very communicative and it is easy to see where her train of thought it going—often to scary places.

It was wonderful to see where Madeline was taking her obsessions, more often than not crossing the line between ordinary child behavior and that of a sociopath. Whereas in the beginning, she seemed sweet but a little infatuated, by the end it was obvious her obsessions were far from normal. However, it didn’t make scenes with her poisoning animals or breaking into people’s homes to shower and wear their makeup any less funny.

“Pondling” was hysterically remarkable and Hulme-Beaman offered a stellar and impeccable performance making the audience wish the play would never end.

“Pondling” closed in October after a two-month run in New York City.

Link to published article.

 

“Steve” Keeps Audiences Laughing Despite Dark Themes

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Courtesy of Monique Carboni

There are no dull moments in “Steve.” Zinger after zinger, the protagonists hardly give the audience any time to take a breath in between laughs. Steve, directed by Cynthia Nixon and written by Mark Gerrard, is an Off-Broadway play taking place at the Pershing Square Signature Center.

Steve features a middle-aged couple going through individual mid-life crises that result in affairs, breakups, and shocking revelations. Steven, played by Matt McGrath, is a stay-at-home dad, spending evenings and lunch dates with his friend Carrie, played by Ashlie Atkinson. They reminisce about their times as singing servers and as Stephen’s experience and failed career as a Broadway chorus boy. Most of the characters are introduced at Steven’s birthday dinner where he seems bitter and frustrated. He is uncertain about his relationship with his partner of 14 years, Stephen, played by Malcolm Gets, and suspects Stephen is cheating on him based on texts found on Stephen’s phone.

The phone begins as a simple prop that evolves into a driving force for not just the play but the set. His text messages appear on a lit screen in the background with surrounding colors changing depending on the moods. At times the text messages are hilarious and at other times they are dark. They give the audience an intimate look into the lives of the characters, allowing them to look through the facades the characters put up to hide their feelings and intentions.

Meanwhile, Steven and Stephen struggle to balance their new separate lives with their friendships. Carrie is dying of cancer, their other friends—Matt, played by Mario Cantone, and his partner, Brian, played by Jerry Dixon—are  having a ménage a trois with an unseen personal trainer named Steve. As Carrie’s condition debilitates and Stephen does more than flirt with Brian, Stephen happens to run into waiter Esteban, played by Francisco Pryor Garat, far too frequently. Even as their lives tumble into despair, they manage to keep the audience from feeling uncomfortable.

In a disturbing way, they are able to keep the audience laughing with an assortment of Broadway show references, song lyrics, and even insults as they battle through a couple of tragic events.

In all, Steve is a great comedic piece that theater fans will love and be able to connect with. Gerrard does an excellent job at keeping a dark plot light and humorous without it being insensitive. The only confusing part of the play is the title. Steve is the name of the unseen trainer that brings a couple of the characters apart. However, there are other characters that break relationships apart in the same way. Why that particular name was chosen remains a mystery. Nonetheless, the show is a must-see and will surely entertain the viewer.

“Steve” played at The Pershing Square Signature Center, 480 W. 42nd St, and ended its run in November.

Link to published article.

Tisch Sophomore Stages Off-Broadway Show

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Courtesy of Jake Rosenberg

This month, dramatic writing sophomore Jake Rosenberg premiered his new play, “Brothers” which tackles the issues of fraternity hazing and institutionalized expectations of masculinity. “Brothers” debuted on November 7th at New York’s Manhattan Repertory Theatre and simultaneously debuted at New Orleans’ Tulane University.

WSN: This isn’t the first time you have had a show in Times Square, correct?

Jake Rosenberg: It’s my second show and this time it is more professionally managed. Everyone is a student and it shows the payoff of learning. The show affects many people personally so I am very excited to see reactions.

WSN:  Are you in a fraternity? What drew you to that particular subject?

JR: I am not. But many of my friends and family members have. My connection to it is this idea of masculinity. I’m a research junkie. I wanted to spend years investigating not what I already know but fascinating facts about how fraternities and hazing work. Fraternities are situated at cruxes of power, finance, and law. I was attracted to the idea of the whole world and the problem that it is. Deaths occur more frequently and there is a type of disconnect about how we talk about things like that, how we brush certain issues under the rug.

WSN: Do you think you will face any backlash especially with recent events such as what took place in the University of Indiana or recent deaths due to hazing?

JR: It hasn’t been coincidental. It is an ongoing problem, not out of the ordinary at all. It happens in ongoing cycles. Rolling Stone might write something about reform but it’s not soon enough. It becomes more urgent every day. If we look with more scrutiny, we are 70 years too late.

WSN: Do you mean for your play to be entertainment, for it to bring awareness to the issue at hand, or for it to be a moral lesson? Who is your target audience?

JR: Young college men are my target audience but the play is intended for everyone. I am not proposing reform but want to make people more aware. It is supposed to be shocking, disturbing, not because it is violent or because of the swearing but because it presents the truth—emotional truth. Why are people killing each other? It doesn’t tip-toe around the issue, I want to be upfront about it. It isn’t about calling people out, it’s no grand conspiracy—but there is too much evidence to ignore. Fraternities re connected to so many systems of power. Then there is the issue of masculine institutions—that idea is very harmful. I want people to think for themselves.

WSN: Is there anything in particular you think the audience should watch out for?

JR: I encourage them to sit near the front.

WSN: You have produced your own plays. Is “Brothers” self-produced? How do you balance that with your schoolwork?

JR: Balancing isn’t really an issue because my career is heavily involved in my schoolwork. Deadlines are aligned and students collaborate—Gallatin and CAS students are the actors.

WSN: In general, how do you pick what you write about? And how has your instruction at Tisch affected your style?

JR: My hobby is spending time on Wikipedia. I like to go through an entire one every day—I love getting lost in hyperlinks, going down a rabbit hole, and seeing how histories connect. At Tisch I have to write quickly. It is good for me because I learn to not spend so much time on research. There is more invention because deadlines are both motivational but also cause me to write whatever. Sometimes the quality is affected but it is good training.

WSN: You are also an actor and director. What do you enjoy doing most?

JR: I love the writing process but I also want to keep directing.

WSN: What’s next for you?

JR: I’ve been working on a four year project. It’s a Jewish fantasy epic—like a Jewish Lord of the Rings. Theologians like Tolkien and other great writers write based on Christian philosophies and traditions. I want to write fantasy based on a different heritage. I hope to be done with it soon.

Link to published article.

Tisch Alums Wind Back The Clock With “A Clockwork Orange”

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Courtesy of Sarah Mayo

Anthony Burgess’ novel, “A Clockwork Orange,” springs to life in director John Bateman’s theater adaptation of the same name. It is a brilliant spectacle of violence, anger, bloodshed and a surge of emotions that surpasses those seen and felt in the film version by director Stanley Kubrick. Performed at the Roy Arias Stage 7 Stage Theatre by the Hubris Theatre Company, the play centers on teenage narrator, Alex — played by NYU Tisch alumnus Alex Tissiere — and his three friends. The supporting cast includes Steve Bono Jr. and Luke Wehner and Tisch alumnus Sam Finn Cutler.

In the show, the gang of teenagers rape, beat and kill several people without remorse. Alex, the main character, is eventually arrested and goes under a series of government-proposed psychological treatments that cause his body to react in pain when he has any violent or sexual thoughts. Thus, he loses the freedom to choose to be good or evil. Bateman does an impressive job of mixing nudity with violence in scenes that shock the audience and enable them to realize that although what is happening on the stage is fictional, it is very much similar to the reality of the daily, small and unintentional violences we inflict upon our bodies, but the play acts this out in larger magnitude. Burgess’ cautionary novel, written over 50 years ago, comes to life in this play.

The play is innovative in that it uses modern elements that can be experienced through technology and costume. While waiting for the performance to start as well as during a few select moments during the show, two large television screens play a series of short clips featuring adults and children fighting, vintage porn and present day scenes from Black Lives Matter protests.

It is a mesh of violent and sexual imagery that cause the audience to reflect on the glorification of such material. Furthermore, the hoodies, leather jackets, boots and fashionable clothing that the narrator calls the echo of popular fashions of younger generations. The use of cellphones to record some of the fight scenes on stage only makes the scenes more convincing.

With such sensitive topics at hand, it is incredible how the actors portray their characters, even managing to elicit sympathy from the audience. Tissiere does an exceptional job with his character, Alex. His maniacal expressions, almost-visible internal conflicts and cries of agony are extraordinarily believable and moving. The audience comes to see him as another victim of his violent surroundings.

The stage combat employed in the show by multiple characters, which includes the use of knives, blades and even whips, is impressive. It is unbelievable that the actors don’t end up with fractured bones and bruised faces by the end of the insane display of violence and brutality throughout the play. All in all, it is outstanding and it is a performance that will surely initiate conversations on the matter of freedom of choice for all who see it.

Those unfamiliar with the book or movie, should know that “A Clockwork Orange” contains graphic depictions of sexual aggression and violence that can be triggering to survivors.

“A Clockwork Orange” closed last month.

Link to published article.