Wednesday, October 8, 2014

In Memoriam: Geoffrey Holder & Marian Seldes.

Photo Credits: left, Kenn Duncan; right, Follies of God.)

In Memoriam

Geoffrey Holder
(1930 - 2014)

Marian Seldes
(1928 - 2014)

It truly has been a sad week for the theater community, as we've lost two truly remarkable legends: Geoffrey Holder and Marian Seldes.

According to the New York Times, Mr. Holder passed two days ago, at the age of 84 due to complications of pneumonia.  A true renaissance man in every sense of the word, Holder -- whose roots hail from Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago -- was a dancer, actor, director, costume designer, director and has even published a cookbook.  Holder grew up under the tutelage of his older brother Arthur (affectionately known as Boscoe), who taught him painting and dancing, encouraging him to join Boscoe's local folk dance troupe, Holder Dancing Company at the tender age of 7.

This nudge from his sibling proved to be a smart move, as Holder went on to take the helm of the company, eventually bringing it over to New York City at the invitation of choreography Agnes de Mille.  From there, he went on to teach classes at the Katherine Dunham school, became a principal dancer at the Metropolitan Opera Ballet and made his Broadway debut in "House of Flowers" as a featured dancer.  He reprised his voodoo villain character Samedi in the James Bond film, Live and Let Die and also appeared in 1967's Doctor Doolittle and the 1972 Woody Allen romp, Everything You Wanted to Know About Sex But Were Afraid to Ask.  In 1975, he won Tony Awards for his efforts in costume design and direction for "The Wiz."

However, most 80s and 90s kids will most likely remember Mr. Holder in his roles as Punjab in 1982 movie musical Annie, as well as a spokesman in the "Un-cola" TV spots for 7Up.

Ms. Seldes died the next day at the age of 86 "after an extended illness," Al Jazeera America reports.  A strikingly regal figure in theatre, Seldes was known for her acting work in numerous Edward Albee productions, and according to Peter Marks, is "one of the only actors to have performed multiple roles in the Albee canon."

Seldes once proclaimed, "Theater is my utopia," and it sure has been.  Not only has she whizzed her way through Albee's works, Seldes also made a Tony-nominated star turn in Ira Levin's "Deathtrap," which won her a place in the Guinness Book of World Records for never missing any one of her scheduled 1,793 performances. 

Just as Geoffrey Holder did, Marian Seldes got her start in dance, studying at the prestigious School of American Ballet before going on to study under Sanford Meisner at the Neighborhood Playhouse.  She made her stage debut as a serving girl in "Medea" in 1947, co-starred alongside Audrey Hepburn and Mel Ferrer in 1954's "Ondine," and appeared in "The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore" in 1964.  Since then, she has amassed a slew of theatre credits, which more recently included "Three Tall Women," "The Play About the Baby," and "Counting the Ways" -- Albee works all, of course.

Of Ms. Seldes, Tennessee Williams once said:

"Fabulous Marian. True Marian worship--what the Catholics reserve for the Blessed Virgin-- can and should be applied to her. Take this Rosary and this prayer to her, and let her know that she has been--more often than I'm sure she cares to realize--the light on the shore that got me back home, safe and sound."
On that note, let's take some time to remember the light both of these performers brought to the stage.

Sunday, August 10, 2014


Film Strips
Black Swan & Memoirs of a Geisha

How must one transform oneself in order to be fulfilled as an artist, especially if one is a woman?  And what sacrifices must be made in order for that to happen?  Welcome to the first installment of FILM STRIPS, where I share with you some of my favorites and hopefully have some fun deconstructing them along the way.  Here, I submit for tonight’s double feature Darren Aronofsky’s Oscar®-winning Black Swan (2010) and Rob Marshall’s controversial Memoirs of a Geisha (2006).  Both films immerse the viewer in two worlds which seem different, but actually are much similar at second glance:  the former, a ballet company in modern-day New York City; the latter, a geisha house in 1930s Japan.  Both worlds, despite being inhabited mostly by women, find themselves at the hands of powerful men.
A nod to the Hans Christian Andersen-penned classic The Red Shoes, Aronofsky’s film tells the story of Nina Sayres (Natalie Portman), a corps dancer who dreams of becoming a prima ballerina.  On the cusp on a new season, Nina’s dance company undergoes preparations for an exciting new production of Swan Lake.  Obsessed with nabbing the lead role as the Swan Queen, sweet and innocent Nina desperately tries to convince the show’s director Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel) that she can play both sides which inhabit the Swan Queen: not only the equally pure White Swan, but also the dark Black Swan.  What results is a psychological breakdown which has Nina sacrificing the most important thing of all: herself.

Memoirs follows young Chiyo, a fisherman’s daughter who sold to an okiya, or geisha house,when her mother falls ill.  Not understanding the more lenient fate she is given compared to that of her sister Satsu, who is sent to a house in the Pleasure District, Chiyo at first defies house rules, racking up a debt which eventually bars her from her future as a geisha.  Years pass until the fate of now-teenage Chiyo (Zhang Ziyi) is lent a hand, in the form of a mysterious veteran geisha, Mameha (Michelle Yeoh).  Under Mameha's tutelage, Chiyo blooms into Sayuri, the most desired geisha in the the whole hanamachi.  However, with success comes its burdens, and Sayuri must choose between a life of love and the life of a geisha.

Watching these two films back-to-back recently, what struck me the most were their similar themes of sacrifice for the sake of art, the rivalries that often occur between women, and of course the powerful men who control them.  While both Nina and Sayuri have very different objectives at the start of their respective journeys (Nina wishes to be prima ballerina while Sayuri takes on the task of becoming geisha to get closer to the Chairman [Ken Watanabe], the man she has loved since she was a little girl), they both endure much physical and emotional pain to get there.  In Swan, there is a short scene in which, one-by-one, Nina and her mother prepare various pairs of pointe shoes, ready to be broken in.  For many dancers, the process is familiar: the burning of the toes, the scraping of the sole, the sharp needle threaded through silky ribbon.

The moment in the film is brief, but it called to mind another film where the same process is shown: Nicholas Hytner's Center Stage (2000).  One of my favorite moments ever in a dance film (nay, perhaps the favorite), is a montage showing dancers breaking in their shoes.  It is a time-consuming act, but is demonstrative of the rigor and discipline which governs the lives of ballet dancers -- as well as geishas.  We see this through a similar montage in Memoirs, during which Chiyo/Sayuri learns the practice of becoming a geisha.  As Mameha states: "Beauty and pain live side-by-side," a theme that is resonant throughout both films:

Another parallel between the two films is, of course, the interactions among the women; particularly the idea of the young ingenue replacing the prima donna figure.  In the world of ballet, this is represented through the role of Beth Macintyre (Winona Ryder), a former principal dancer for the company who, like Nina, was also famously favored by Leroy.  Not long after we are introduced into the world of ballet at the film's start, we learn that Beth is being phased out of her place as prima ballerina, eventually making way for Nina to make the official transition.  However, Beth isn't going without a fight, and confronts Nina after the company's launch party for their Swan Lake production, asking the younger dancer what she had to do to get the role.

Similarly, in Sayuri's world, Hatsumomo serves as the reigning "prima donna" of sorts; one of the most desired geishas in the whole hanamachi, Hatsumomo provides the means necessary to keep the okiya running.  In their first encounter, Hatsumomo finds a young Chiyo in her room and immediately chides the girl for touching her things.  That encounter is then mirrored once Chiyo becomes the successful and desirable Sayuri, as she now holds ownership of Hatsumomo's former quarters.  This time, it is Hatsumomo who trespasses -- in more ways than one.  What happens next is a confrontation that quickly escalates, resulting in Sayuri coming to the following realization: "I could be her.  Were we so different?  She loved once, she hoped once.  I could be her.  I might be looking into my own future."

It's not just the prima donnas that try to get in the way of these two protagonists.  Other female characters in both films seek to derail each respective protagonists' goals.  In Swan, there's the mysterious Lily, the eponymous Black Swan whose darker inclinations only help to further Nina into madness; as well as bad girl Veronica (Ksenia Solo), who becomes bitter and suspicious when it is Nina that nabs the role of the Swan Queen.  In Memoirs, when Sayuri finally has a chance to be with the Chairman, it is her childhood companion Pumpkin (Yuki Kudo) who plots to have the chairman's best friend and confidante Nobu (Koji Yakusho) waiting for Sayuri instead.  

However, though the two films center on a world of women, we must not forget it is one that is ruled by men.  For Swan's Nina Sayres, it's Thomas Leroy; as for Sayuri in Memoirs, it is the various men acting as patrons (danna): The Chairman, Nobu, Dr. Crab and perhaps more ominously, Mameha's danna, The General.  These powerful men of influence assert their power over the women the only way they know how: by taking advantage of them.  Scenes in which Leroy kisses Nina during rehearsal and The General forces Sayuri's robes off of her behind closed doors prove that sometimes there is a higher price to pay for your art.

What other parallels, thematic or otherwise, exist between these two films? Which of your favorite films explore the high cost of art in a similar (or maybe not-so-similar) way as these films?  Feel free to discuss in the comments!  

Friday, August 1, 2014

Photo Call: Spring & Summer, Every Other Day

I'm trying to force myself to get out and document my experiences more -- and more importantly, reflect on them -- so I'm starting a "photo diary" of sorts.  Spring/Summer 2014 has proven to be quite eventful so far, which should bode well for the rest of the summer.  Looking forward to more adventures (but not those dreaded "dog days" of August)!

April 2014

As some of you theatregoers might know, 2014 has been dubbed "The Year of Lear," and I got to start mine off attending the opening night performance of Titan Theatre Company's production of King Lear back in April (which I had the pleasure of reviewing for OffOffOnline here).  'Twas my first opening night gala, and I was completely overwhelmed by the atmosphere.  Still, I had a great time watching the show.

I've been trying to (slowly) get back into sketching/drawing/painting, and recently invested in some watercolor supplies.  It's hard to throw yourself back into a skill you've somewhat abandoned for so long -- in my case, nearly a decade!  The rendering above is of Jun Ji-Hyun in the popular Korean romantic comedy, My Sassy Girl, which remains one of my favorites.  

May 2014

As you might expect, May was the month of graduations -- in this case, my cousin Karen's (as well as her boyfriend David's).  Check out the cool cake her sister June baked for them, in honor of their respective majors/minors!  June happens to not only be a master baker (bakestress?) but also the founder of The Orange Apron Cakery!  If you'd like a cool cake of your own, no matter the occasion, I highly recommend clicking that link ;)

I suppose May also happened to be the Month of Desserts.  As a sort of post-grad celebration, Karen, David and I went out for some crepes at Crepe 'N' Tearia, a neighborhood creperie Karen and I frequent -- and the above picture is why.  How we had never tried a S'More's crepe before that night, I'll never know.  Gives a whole new meaning to the saying, You're killin' me, Smalls!

Memorial Day weekend was actually uneventful in that there were no BBQ plans happening anywhere, so I made do with a day out in the city, reading a copy of the Hayden Herrera biography of Frida Kahlo I'd borrowed from the library in cafes and taking in a screening of the film Belle (which was all right, storywise; the costumes were beautiful, as expected).  At the theater, I found this bizarre, larger-than-life mural of baby Brooke Shields and just had to snap a photo of it, it was so weird.  I guess someone liked Blue Lagoon a little too much...

June 2014

On the 25th, I got to see Lin-Manuel in yet another New York City Center Off-Center Encores! production (the first being Stephen Sondheim's Merrily We Roll Along back in 2011), this time for Jonathan Larson's semi-autobiographical, formerly one-man show, Tick, Tick...Boom!  The production, which co-starred Manuel's former In the Heights leading lady Karen Olivo and Smash's Leslie Odom, Jr., explores life as Jon (played by Manuel) approaches 30 and questions his ambitions as an artist.  I absolutely loved this show, and loved the musical performances, particularly Olivo's mesmerizing rendition of "Come to Your Senses." (Just....ugh.  Beautiful!)

July 2014

For my family, it's not officially summer until we go to Atlantic City.  So on Independence Day weekend, as an early birthday treat for my uncle, a bunch of us went down to visit our relatives in Philly and shortly thereafter made our way towards AC, where we took in the sandcastle contest on the beach, visited the shops at the Pier (while also ogling the beautiful decor, as pictured above), and enjoyed chai lattes under the watchful gaze of the terracotta Roman figures that decorate the lobby at Caesar's Palace...  

...Whilst my cousin Jim and I strolled along the boardwalk, we decided to go into one of the t-shirt shops.  This one had a great selection of classic rock tees, and definitely brought me back to the good ol' days of high school when I had deemed myself a "rocker chick" (though I mostly listened to punk; these days, I'm all about the classic rock), haha.  There were so many choices to choose from, I was overwhelmed.  I was struggling between getting a Ramones shirt and a Velvet Underground one (which can be slightly seen next to the Metallica shirt in the photo above), and ended up opting for Velvet Underground (because...banana.  And Warhol.  And Lou Reed.  And...well, you get the picture).

Ah, July.  So many great things occur this month.  Not only the annual celebration of the birth of our nation (say that five times fast), but also........The New York Musical Theatre Festival!  I had the privilege of attending this year (my first time, ever!) in order to review two shows for OffOffOnline.  The festival, which runs over the course of the month (I showed up a little late to it -- the last week, as a matter of fact!), took place at three locations, one of which being the Pearl Theatre Company's performance space on 42nd Street.  I must say, I've never ventured over there, so it was interesting to discover so many cool cafes and diners in the area (such as Chez Josephine, and Kava cafe, the latter pictured above).  Definitely need to make a pit stop by Theatre Row more often!

And that brings us up to date!  I'll probably be doing these updates monthly or so, so stay tuned! :)

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Personal Updates, #WhatImWatching, Spring Awakening, Those Damn Brits & Other #LifeQuestions

I know, I know.  I am well aware that I haven't posted anything since December, but trust me: this past winter has definitely been a busy one!  Besides writing for OffOffOnline, I also started a stint writing a column called Versions for the New Musical's Green Room blog, which has meant less attention to my own blog (it has also meant basically no social life, BUT LET'S NOT GO THERE SHALL WE), and even less sleep (see above).  All this, combined with a complete inability to schedule things so that they all don't fall on the same week and an inexplicable need to watch The Chew in my PJs while pigging out on chips, has left me feeling like a zombie from The Walking Dead (but, you know...minus a scruffy, rough-and-tumble Andrew Lincoln by my side as he tries to shoot me down like post-apocalyptic sheriffs are wont to do).

Anyway.  All parenthetical asides, er...aside, I -- like Bruce Willis in every '90s action movie -- am back with a vengeance!!!!!, so never you fear O dear followers o' mine.  To help quell your pangs of loneliness in these depths of the virtual ether, here are some things I've been excited about (and hope you are too)!

#ReSMASHing. #WhatImWatching.
So, like everything in my life as of late, I've been slowly catching up on things -- particularly, pop culture things, one of which includes the now-defunct NBC primetime musical drama SMASH.  Like many other musical theatre fanatics when its first season premiered, I had taken to Twitter to snark about the various references and inaccuracies the show made...and secretly loved every minute of it.  When the second season rolled around, I didn't get to watch it as much, and so now I've been revisiting the show (or as I call it, #reSMASHing #WhatImWatching).  

I have to say, being able to watch each episode back-to-back is much less jarring and therefore all the more enjoyable, especially when a musical sequence came on.  My favorite of the first season has got to be this one, and ever since my recent binge, I've been replaying it over and over, dreaming of one day reenacting the great choreography:

I'm still at the third episode of the second season, so I may just tweet out my thoughts on it in the coming weeks (yay Spring Break!).  If you don't follow me on Twitter, now's your chance.

According to, they are supposedly making headway on finalizing production for this year.  I would probably be more enthused if not for the fact that it is still being helmed by McG (Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle, Terminator: Salvation, other things with colons in the title) and no cast has been announce as of yet.  

DanRad returns to Broadway...
Last night, Martin McDonagh's The Cripple of Inishmaan opened for its first preview, and it's gotten me all excited -- not just because McDonagh happens to be one of my favorite playwrights, but also because one of my favorite actors, Daniel Radcliffe is starring in it!  Ahhh.  BRB FANGIRLING OUT.

...And Baby Prince George finds a way to ruin my life.


Speaking of those damn Brits, Kerrigan-Lowdermilk did a bunch of concerts in London and it was AWESOME.
Whatever spurred my favorite composers to jet off to London, I don't know, but I'm glad they did.  It's refreshing to see completely different takes on some old favorites, like this rendition of "My Party Dress" by Julie Atherton that is COMPLETELY HILARIOUS:

This is perhaps one of the best performances of this song I've seen yet, rivaling only that of Jenni Barber's version (which I wrote about here).  Her performance throughout is so effortless, and I just love how erratic and energetic she made the character -- which, of course, is what makes it so funny.  I also love that, unlike many who've sung the song before her, she didn't opt to vocalize the "aria" bit towards the end, doing it in a more playful way instead.  So much fun.  

Another great performance is this version of "Freedom" by Lauren Samuels and Chloe Hart:

Something about Brits doing the dialogue here just somehow makes it sound...better, don't you think?  Or maybe that's just my anglomaniacal self talking?  Anyway, I love all the little cultural substitutions they put into the song, like "I'm on break" and "I want a kebab!"  Not something you'd notice if you weren't looking for it, but if you do, it just adds another dimension as a spectator and makes it enjoyable to watch, like knowing an inside joke.

I think anyone who's ever heard me fangirl over K-L songs would know how much I love "Run Away with Me."  I don't think I need to say much else here, except that Stuart Matthew Price definitely has a new fan in me; his voice is stunningly gorgeous.

Hope you enjoyed this lil' post, and hopefully there'll be more to come.  I've got some things hatching up, which means I'll be updating this more often! (which means NO sleep at all but at this point who cares anyway?)  ;)


Friday, December 13, 2013

♥ Stage Review: ONCE on Broadway

Arthur Darvill and Joanna Christie play Guy and Girl in Broadway's Once.
Photo by Joan Marcus.

Once, Again
Falling slowly
the second time around

I first had the pleasure of seeing Once almost exactly a year ago, on my birthday.  I was accompanied then by my mother, who – bless her – doesn't not go to the theatre often and therefore did not understand the practically earth-shattering repercussions of crinkling candy wrappers in a packed theatre.  That said, all was forgiven by the time the show ended and she proceeded to fangirl over then-lead actor Steve Kazee, exclaiming (this is all the more accurate if you imagine it being said with a slightly-tinged Filipino accent and in a manner not unlike that of a teenage girl at a One Direction concert): “Oh my god, Jess!  The lead actor is so cute, just like Ben Affleck!!1!1!”

If such an exclamation sounds familiar, well…what can I say?  Like mother, like daughter.

In any case, in the midst of such excitement I, for some reason or other, decided not to review the show – partly because I was distracted by my mother’s presence, and partly due to the fact that it was, of course, my birthday.  And now with my birthday once again looming around the corner and Arthur Darvill leaving that very same day, I thought it was time to finally review and reflect on the show.

For the uninitiated, Once began as an independent film directed by John Carney in 2007 and which starred then relatively unknown musicians Glen Hansard (of the band The Frames) and Marketa Irglova.  The movie, about an Irish busker who meets and falls in love with a Czech girl through their love of music, also happened to chronicle the real-life romance that bloomed between the two musicians over the course of filming.  (The two, who performed together under the name The Swell Season, have since parted romantically and pursued solo careers.)  The film’s unofficial “theme” song, ‘Falling Slowly,’ went on to be nominated for and eventually win the Oscar for Best Original Song.  The film then began to undergo treatment as a stage musical, with a book written by playwright Enda Walsh.  It was produced off-Broadway at famed downtown institution New York Theatre Workshop in 2011, eventually transferring to Broadway in 2012, where it currently runs at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre.

Those that know me also know that in addition to being a theatre nerd, I also happen to be a rabid (and I mean rabid) anglophile, and though I can’t fully claim to be a “proper” Whovian, I can at least attest to being an enthusiastic fan of the iconic British sci-fi series, Doctor Who.  Fresh off his stint as Rory Williams Pond on Who, Darvill is a more than capable replacement for Kazee’s Guy in Once.  Way, way more than capable.  In fact, he is a surprisingly commanding leading man and a heartbreaking performer, at that.  As Guy, one could not help but believe his pain as he breaks into the first notes of ‘Leave.’ 

Much more raw and gruff-sounding than his predecessor’s beautiful yet more refined voice, Darvill’s vocal stylings seem to truly capture the essence of what songwriter Hansard intended.  Just as it was easy to believe Darvill as a ‘Broken-Hearted Hoover-Fixer Sucker Guy,’ it was easy to see him ‘Falling Slowly’ for a pretty, piano-playing Czech Girl.  (Yes, that was a cheesy attempt to include the song titles, but just go with it.)  Darvill was at once charming and awkward, and in his scenes with Joanna Christie as Girl, a simple stare or look in his eye seemed to fill the theatre with just as much emotion as when he sang. 

For her part, Ms. Christie made for a soft-spoken Girl than Cristin Milioti’s, whose acclaimed performance had often been punctuated with her own sarcastic wit.  Much of Christie’s delivery were not as sharp as Milioti’s; and while still managing laughs from the audience, she also had some moments where I could barely hear her.  Perhaps this was due to a sound problem, as pieces of dialogue throughout the show could not be heard as clearly – or at least, as clearly as I remembered it. 

This is, however, live theatre after all and despite whatever technical difficulties there may have been were surely made up for whenever Christie took to the piano to sing, by which time her voice could definitely be heard.  And what a voice it was!  Where the two Guys had gone from refined beauty to edgy rawness, here it was the opposite.  While Milioti’s voice did not necessarily carry a rawness, it was more ethereal and otherworldly – as if it couldn’t possibly be coming out of that tiny body.  Christie's Girl sang with more restraint and therefore less dynamic compared to Milioti, and felt more in tune with the Girl we'd met through Irglova's protrayal in the film.  

As for the rest of the cast, I was pleased to see that most of the original ensemble stayed intact (with the exception of: Paul Whitty, who was out this performance and replaced by Brandon Ellis in the role of Billy; and Elizabeth A. Davis, who is now replaced by Katrina Lenk as Reza): most particularly David Patrick Kelly, who always leaves me breathless with his pre-show performances; and Anne L. Nathan as the hilarious Baruska.  Lucas Papaelias as Svec is as funny and odd as ever; while Carlos Valdes, Erikka Walsh and J. Michael Zygo round out the cast with equally scene-stealing performances.

One cannot talk about Once without mentioning the music, of course.  While much of the music kept favorites from the film (such as the above mentioned and others like 'When Your Mind's Made Up'), I lamented the absence of other songs like 'Lies,' and 'All the Way Down.'  Still, this was more than made up for with the inclusion of newer pieces that highlighted the folk background of each culture: the rousing Czech number, 'Ej Pada Pada Rosicka' and show-opener 'The North Strand.'  I also loved that 'Gold' -- which was featured briefly in the film and one of the only songs not written by Hansard and Irglova -- had a bigger "role" in the stage version.  Other additions such as 'The Moon' and 'Sleeping' performed by the ensemble during scene transitions provided a quiet and moody backdrop to the love story unfolding before us.

If music was the third character in this show, the lighting and choreography were certainly the supporting cast.  One of my favorite moments of the show is something that most people probably would not necessarily notice as it was happening; that is, the first lighting cue at the start of the show, just as Guy starts singing 'Leave.'  I liken it to a similar cue in Spring Awakening, in which the lights very subtly dim during the opening number.  Here, it's very much the same way, with an unbeknownst audience listening to the song being performed before them, the lights dimming as Guy's guitar strums away.  It may not seem like a major thing, but with a show like this wherein the cast is onstage already singing before the show even starts, the effect is such that it's as if the show is letting you know you're in for an emotional ride. (As a former stage managing intern, I can talk forever about lighting cues, and probably would go on forever if not for this review.)  That said, kudos to lighting designer Natasha Katz, thrills throughout the rest of the show, and movement coordinator Stephen Hoggett, whose choreography perfectly accompanied the show's soulful score.  Together, the two devices acted much like a thoughtful friend nudging you towards your crush, it helped bring together the elements needed for Guy and Girl's journey.

Despite any distractions I'd had the first time, I still managed to fall in love with the show.  This time 'round, it wasn't that hard to fall in love once again.  

Arthur Darvill's last performance is on December 15th, 2013.
Once is on an open-ended run
at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre.
For more information about this production,

Friday, September 27, 2013

♥ Stage Review: Cryptic Fascinations Theater Company's BLASTED

From L to R: Logan George, Jason De Beer, and Marié Botha.
(Photos by  Corey Melton.)

A History of Violence
Cryptic Fascinations Theater Company takes on 
Sarah Kane's explosive play

The scene is simple: a hotel room in Leeds -- the kind, as it is written, that is so expensive it could be anywhere in the world.

So sets the stage for the most powerful two hours you’ll ever spend in the theater.

Set against the tumult of an apocalyptic England, Blasted is a daring work by infamous British playwright Sarah Kane, which explores how a single act of violence over the course of one night can have quite literally earth-shattering repercussions.  Written in 1995 at the tail end of the Bosnian war, the play sought to challenge the desensitization to which our culture often submits in the face of violence.   Using the Bosnian conflict as a starting point, Kane toyed with the premise that the brutalities of civil war were not unlike those experienced in, say, a small hotel room in Leeds. 

This astounding debut put Kane on the forefront of public debate, as it was met with much criticism and shrugged off as just another example of a young dramatist desperate to shock.  Much of that criticism seemed to be forgotten by the time it made its way across the pond for its NYC premiere in 2008.  Now, 18 years after making its debut at the Royal Court Theatre Upstairs in London, Kane’s play still resonates as our nation is on the cusp of possibly entering yet another war. 

At the play’s start we find 45 year-old Ian and his 21 year-old ex-lover Cate at the hotel, looking to spend the night.  In just the first few scenes, we already get a sense of the themes Kane intends to dissect over the course of the play as Cate and Ian discuss everything from love to death to even racism.  Of course, it is the theme of violence that dominates; particularly, in the parallels between war itself and the atrocities the characters inflict upon one another. 

The first act of violence happens after the first blackout and we learn that Ian, after many attempts to coax her into bed in the previous scene, has finally had his way and raped Cate.  As she awakes to find herself wrapped in blood-stained sheets, a war starts to rage – both outside the hotel and within the enclosed space to which we are privy.   Silently resolving to take her leave, Cate feigns going to the bathroom to shower and eventually escapes, leaving Ian alone.   Just moments later, an unnamed soldier eventually finds his way into their room and encounters Ian.  After the hotel is then blasted by a mortar bomb.  The soldier interrogates Ian further, their exchange foreshadowing the brutality that’s to come.  

It was interesting for me to revisit this particular piece of work after 5 years, especially when the previous production had been so ingrained in my memory.  It was the first time I have ever had to do so, and it felt much like diving back into a favorite book and getting something out of it that you hadn’t the first time around.  Every few minutes during the performance, I kept wondering to myself how they would do certain scenes and it was exciting to see the choices that were ultimately made. 

Under Will Detlefesen’s direction, the 2013 production by the Cryptic Fascinations Theater Company achieves in continuing Kane's legacy.  The company was formed by actors Marié Botha and Jason de Beer (who play Cate and Ian, respectively) after the two, who also happen to be a couple, had performed a scene together on a whim and decided to make a full production of the play.  The production itself, which was held at the Duo Theater on the Fourth Arts Block, was an ambitious one.  With a sleek set design by Jason Sherwood and beautiful simplistic costumes by Olivia Hunt, it was clear that though this was a mostly student-run show, it was one to be taken seriously.  The real standout design-wise was Marika Kent's gorgeous lighting (readers may remember her involvment in Fighter), which provided the perfect tone for the bleak landscape of the play, especially in the last few moments in the fragmented scenes depicting Ian's demise.

The trio of actors is somewhat younger this time around, which might not mean much, but I noticed a distinct difference in the way the material was brought forth onstage.  Before this, I would have probably told you that that Marin Ireland of the 2008 production was my definitive Cate.  Ireland (who went on to receive a Tony nomination for her turn in Neil LaBute’s Reasons to be Pretty a year later) certainly gave a memorable performance as the stuttering 21 year-old and the idea of seeing someone else in the role made me a bit nervous, actually.  This was a character that could easily become comical, and not in a good way.   

Upon seeing Botha in the role, however, I will be quick to tell you otherwise.  With her doll-like features and mussed up wavy hair, Botha just looked the part.  Botha is able to make the character her own through her portrayal, delivering her lines in such a way that gave certain moments a bit of comic relief (and yes, in the best sense of the word).  She also possesses great stage presence; subtle yet commanding it is the perfect complement to de Beer's boisterous Ian.  Whether pulling faces at his retching noises or arguing with him, Botha remains steadfast and ever-present, and for me, this completely carried the whole play.

The calm foundation that Botha laid was the perfect complement to de Beer's Ian.  Compared to Birney as the Welshman, de Beer's incarnation was much more physical in terms of characterization, with him spitting, hitting and pounding the floor every chance he got.  Like Botha, his portrayal brought out certain things in the text I hadn't realized or thought of back in 2008, and it helped in further understanding his character and the journey he takes to redemption. 

Logan George rounds out the cast with a strong performance as the Soldier.  To me, this character is so iconic, as he enacts some of the most gruesome scenes which serve as a turning point in both the play and in the character Ian's arc.  After the disillusioned soldier recounts his horrific experiences in war, he goes on to rape Ian.  Later on, after the hotel is blasted for the second time, the Soldier gouges Ian's eyes and eats them.  As before, I felt like a voyeur watching these intimate scenes, especially due to their graphic nature.  There were moments when it seemed as if he was rushing through his lines, especially when his character was recounting war stories.  Still, there was a sense of both desperation and hopelessness that came through in George's Soldier which made these scenes just as effective.

Some of the best works of the stage are those which put a mirror up to society and challenge us to think.  This stellar production of Blasted is proof of just that.  What starts in a small hotel room is amplified by the circumstance of war, culminating in the decay of civilization.  Sarah Kane's commentary on our culture of violence dares us to endure that which we inflict upon others as well as ourselves.  It is a vital piece of theatre by an inspired group of artists and is one production you shouldn't miss.

Blasted runs until September 28th, 2013
at the Duo Theater.
For more information about this production, click here.
Read my review of the 2008 Soho Rep production here

Saturday, September 7, 2013

♥ Falling in Link Love...& Other Apple-Scented, Cinnamon-Topped Baked Goodness

Photo by Crystal Rivera

Hey guys!

Happy Fall!  As the air becomes crisper with the changing of the seasons, so I come back once again to kick off another year of great theater, film and art!  A lot of things are changing around these parts, actually -- and I'm not just talking about the leaves, either.  For one, I've been juggling a teaching assistant gig with a new writing gig at Off Off Online, both of which I'm really excited about!

So what does this mean for The Resident Artist?  Well, it just means I'll be splitting myself three ways, but that's okay because this means you'll be seeing me making the rounds more often!  Who knows, maybe I'll end up being the awkward Asian girl sitting in the seat next to you.

...Or maybe not.

Until then, my lovelies, you'll just have to settle with reading my reviews and other rants here -- and now over at Off Off!  As excited as I've always been for Fall, I'm even more so now.

Some Links For You to Love 'Cause That's What I Always Seem to Do Here Nowadays, Anyway:
  • Let's start off with my reviews, the first of which Xoregos Performing Company's Danse Macabre, a tribute to the "Grand Guignol" style of horror theater.  The second covers Leslie Gauthier's 23 Year Old Myth, a musical play about a girl dealing with the trials of love and illness, all told through the plucking strings of a ukelele.  The third was Liselotte in May, a play by Hungarian playwright Zsolt Pozsgai and produced by an all-Hungarian troupe known as the Pilvax Players.  All shows were presented as part of Theater for the New City's Dream Up Festival 2013, the aim of which is to showcase new works by local, national and international theater artists in varying genres and mediums.  The festival ran from August 18th to September 8th.
  • Missed Danse Macabre and about to have a crying fit over it?  Don't worry, XPC are having more performances around NYC this October, with some new skits!  Here, the deets:
Saturday, October 19 at 3:00 PM - Jackson Heights Library, Queens  
Sunday, October 20 at 3:30 PMCentral Library, Queens 
Tuesday, October 22 at 5:30 PM - Muhlenberg Library, Manhattan (23 Street/7 Ave)  
Thursday, October 24 at 8:00 PMWebster House, Manhattan  (West 34 Street, by invitation only) 
Saturday, October 26 at 1:30 PM Flushing Library Theater, Queens (last stop on the 7) 
Sunday, October 27 at 7:00 PM Bronx Museum of the Arts, Bronx (165 & Grand Concourse)     
  • Also missed Second Stage's production of The Last Five Years?  Don't fret, dear reader, 'cause Betsy Wolfe and Adam Kantor are back as Cathy and Jamie in a special concert presentation at 54 Below that will run from October 16-19!  The concert series is in celebration of the production's cast recording album release, which will be available September 24.  You can read my review of this production here.
  • Time Out New York gives a preview of the must-see shows this fall, on Broadway and Off.  Check it out here.
  • A friend of mine recently posted this 4-part episode of The Song That Changed My Life featuring none other than Lea Salonga.  In response to the show's title, the Broadway performer and two-time Disney Princess chronicles her catapult to fame from the moment she auditioned for Miss Saigon with the Schonberg and Boublil hit, "On My Own" to actually getting to sing it as Eponine in their musical Les Miserables.  What results is some inspiring interviews -- and great performances, as well -- with Salonga as she looks back at her astounding career.
  • And speaking of Les Miz -- are you excited that it's coming back to Broadway in March?!  'Cause I am.

Hopefully this keeps you entertained while I'm off being awkward awesome.  Have a great day and jump into a huge pile of leaves for me!