Tag: plays

The Slug Bearers of Kayrol Island

Wednesday, January 30th, 2008 | All Things, Arts

The ever-versatile and accomplished Ben Katchor is the 1995 recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, a 2000 MacArthur Fellow, an Obie Award winner (for his “comic-book opera,” The Carbon Copy Building), and creator of books, graphic novels, cartoon strips, magazine illustrations, and radio shows. Katchor wrote the libretto and created the animated drawings for The Slug Bearers of Kayrol Island (or The Friends of Dr. Rushower), the show I was at The Vineyard Theatre to see tonight. (The same company developed the critically acclaimed Avenue Q and [title of show].) Check out the commercial for their latest show here.

Katchor described it as an “absurdist romance… about the romance of poetry and humanitarianism.” For his darkly funny, slyly political musical, he collaborated with Mark Mulcahy, former frontman for indie rockers Miracle Legion and Adventures of Pete & Pete house band Polaris.  The Kitchen, New York’s non-profit experimental performance space, commissioned The Slug Bearers of Kayrol Island and secured the majority of the show’s funding; it was presented at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art in 2003 and at The Kitchen in 2004 before making its way to Union Square.

Vineyard Theatre

The action is set in Manhattan and on a tropical factory-island in the fictional “Roomy Archipelago,” where workers toil to transport small lead weights (destined for placement in unseen appliances to give the impression of “heft and worth”) from factory to ship. After the laborers plight is exposed on the news, well-intentioned philanthropist Dr. Rushower (Peter Friedman) takes it up as his annual cause to organize an expedition from New York City to Kayrol Island; he sends his idealistic daughter GinGin (Jody Flader) and her suitor Immanuel Lubang (Bobby Steggert) to provide solace to the exploited workers by introducing them to the beauty of “consumer fiction” — poetry found in the text of obscure appliance instructional pamphlets. Complications ensue when the locals don’t — or can’t — appreciate the offering, and GinGin falls in love with local slug bearer Samson (Matt Pearson) — who, as it happens, is not all that unhappy with his lot — drawn to the liberation of a life where labor is divorced from purpose. Katchor’s colorful, shifting landscapes are projected onto large, folding screens on stage: a swanky penthouse, a poetry slam at a Macedonian coffee house, a city street, a biplane soaring over the ocean, a tropical paradise marred by smokestacks and cinderblock buildings… The overall effect is whimsical and delightful, and Mulcahy’s catchy pop score is sung through by the actors and played with terrific energy by an actual four-piece rock band.

Slug Bearers

The Slug Bearers of Kayrol Island
is playing at The Vineyard Theatre through March 2, 2008.

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Two Thousand Years

Monday, January 28th, 2008 | All Things, Arts

The B brothers had procured tickets to the five hour opera marathon that is Richard Wagner’s Die Walküre at The Met — immortalized in the classic 1957 Bugs Bunny cartoon “What’s Opera, Doc?,” a.k.a., “Kill the Wabbit,” #1 of the “50 Greatest Cartoons: As Selected by 1,000 Animation Professionals” in 1994. As neither of the men thought he had the endurance to make it through the entire Lorin Maazel-helmed evening, the three of us tentatively planned on swapping out of the seats and dividing the show’s acts among ourselves — two segments apiece, which no doubt would have confused the heck out of our fellow patrons in the front balcony. Ultimately, though, the opera relay plan did not come to fruition. (I was told afterwards that based on how much they did see, it was a pretty amazing show.)

Instead, I was at The Acorn in Theatre Row for The New Group’s American premiere of Mike Leigh’s Two Thousand Years, featuring onetime troubled actress Natasha Lyonne, which began previews on January 15.

Two Thousand Years

Leigh has written more than 20 plays since 1965; the four which have been staged previously by the New Group — Ecstasy, Goose Pimples, Smelling a Rat, and Abigail’s Party — all date from his late 70s and 80s residence at London’s Hampstead Theatre. For the most part, Americans — I included — are more familiar with Leigh’s film work, such as Naked (1993), Secrets and Lies (1996), Topsy-Turvy (1999) and Vera Drake (2004).

Commissioned by the National Theatre back in 2001, Two Thousand Years is the playwright’s first play in over a decade. As such, there was quite a bit of excitement in theatre circles when its imminent arrival was announced in 2003; before the play even had a title, and with no information available about its content, it managed to sell out the entire 16,000 tickets of its London run.

This is the first of Leigh’s works — film or theatre– to deal exclusively with his Jewish background. The story concerns a well-to-do, intellectual Jewish family in the Northern London suburb of Cricklewood, and the domestic trauma that ensues when their brooding, unemployed, university-educated son becomes religiously observant. The rest of the family is decidedly secular: although several members have spent time on Israeli kibbutzes, and all of them casually toss Yiddish words into conversation, they eat bacon and do not attend synagogue; their “Jewishness” seems mostly reflected by their close reading of The Guardian‘s coverage on the Gaza disengagement, bewailing the loss of their Zionist ideals, and loudly shouting during family gatherings. (That last is a stereotype that’s been reinforced endlessly on American sitcoms such as Will & Grace and Frasier. I know: I’ve watched the late night syndicated episodes more times than I care to admit.) When the son starts sporting a kippah (yarmulke) and skulking out into the patio for morning prayers, his parents are at a loss over how to react. (“It’s like having a Muslim in the house… or a martian,” balks the father; the mother, in the meantime, frets over what her son will be able to eat.) In addition, there are the usual family conflicts: sibling rivalries, an estranged aunt (who makes a sudden, unexpected appearance in the second half) and an argumentative grandfather.

Two Thousand Years cast

An intriguing premise and excellent acting throughout, with scene fade-ins and outs punctuated by original music by the New York-based Klezmatics. Based on the frequent outbreaks of laughter, the audience seemed to enjoy it quite a bit, while the play’s analysis of the strains of religion and family life were both thought provoking and moving.

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Crimes, chills, thrills

Sunday, January 20th, 2008 | All Things, Arts

Actress Kathleen Turner has been generating a lot of buzz recently for her upcoming autobiography Send Yourself Roses (currently excerpted in the UK’s Daily Mail), in which she dishes on former co-stars including William Hurt, Michael Dougles, Nicolas Cage and Burt Reynolds. J and I saw Turner — a whole lot of her — when she performed “Mrs. Robinson” in the 2002 Broadway staging of The Graduate. Meh. This time, though, Turner is behind the scenes in her New York directorial debut: an Off-Broadway revival of Crimes of the Heart at the Laura Pels Theatre. (It was her commanding, husky voice that warned everyone to turn off their cell phones before the curtain rose. Her mildly threatening tone incited some nervous laughter, but not one ringer went off during the performance.)

Crimes of the Heart

Playwright Beth Henley won the 1981 Pulitzer Prize for Drama after Crimes of the Heart was produced off-Broadway at the Manhattan Theatre Club for a limited, sold-out, engagement of 32 performance, making it the first play ever to win before opening on Broadway. (It transfered in November 1981, and went on to also win the New York Drama Critics’ Circle award for best new American play.) Henley also wrote the screenplay for the well-loved 1986 film version starring Diane Keaton, Jessica Lange and Sissy Spacek, which garnered three Academy Award nominations, including one for Henley’s adaptation.

I’d never seen the play or the movie: a Southern family melodrama revolving around three sisters as they convene at the family estate in Hazlehurst, Mississippi. In addition to having grown up in the shadow of their mother’s suicide, each faces her own personal tragedy: the eldest, Lenny (Jennifer Dundas), is marking her 30th birthday and facing the prospect of life as an infertile spinster; Meg (Sarah Paulson), once known as the town tramp, has a sputtering career as a singer/actress in Hollywood; the youngest, “Babe” (Lily Rabe), is in jail for shooting her abusive, state senator husband. Abandonment, broken dreams, domestic violence, adultery, interracial relations, attempted murder… all of which takes place before the curtain even rises. And yet, despite the decidedly dark and emotionally heavy subject matter, and its characters who are at turns kooky and sympathetic, the play’s general tone is warm and humorous, and it stands as a testament to the strength of family.

The performances were solid throughout: most of the cast originated their roles in the recent Williamstown Theatre Festival production. Previews began on Friday, and based on this performance, there may be a few pacing adjustments to make before the official opening on February 7. Rabe, who was injured in rehearsals, did not perform the first weekend; in her place, understudy Jessica Cummings went on as the youngest McGrath sister, and turned in an impressive performance in her New York theatrical debut.

Crimes of the Heart

Check out more photos of the Crimes of the Heart cast and set here.

In other New York theater news: after glowing reviews in the The Times, The Sun, and The Wall Street Journal, the Classic Stage Company’s production of New Jerusalem has been extended through February 10. Talented actor Jeremy Strong (who played Spinoza) is set to star in the upcoming film, Humboldt County.

The temperatures were dropping steadily, and I hurried home through the bitter chill after the performance. Later that night, while reading in the cozy confines of my living room, I heard what sounded like my entire building erupt into spontaneous cheers.

w00t! The Giants are going to the Super Bowl!

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