BWW Special Feature: 99 and Under the Radar; The Indie Theatre Triple Threat
Welcome to 99 AND UNDER THE RADAR: A LOOK AT INDIE THEATER'S MOVERS AND SHAKERS, BroadwayWorld's new weekly series that showcases standout productions and production companies from the independent theater scene in New York City. Each week, independent producer Michael Roderick will be discussing the latest goings on in the theatrical wings, highlighting those with potentially bright futures.
This Week's Topic: The Indie Theatre Triple Threat
We've often heard of a triple threat in terms of a performer. This is a person who can sing, dance, and act. In production, the triple threat is a production that is incredibly well written, superbly acted, and directed with talent and precision. This week covers three shows that are indeed triple threats and certainly not ones to miss.
First is Magnetic North by William Donelly produced by the always impressive The Active Theater Company. Donnelly crafts a narrative that tells The Common tale of a married couple in crisis, and yet expertly takes every situation and turns it on its head. There are many incredibly surprising moments in this piece that fly in the face of everything that one would expect and in doing this, Donnelly creates a tightrope for the audience to walk on throughout. The audience can also see eachother's reactions as the show is done in the round which is a complete re-imagining of the space at The Workshop Theatre. Since Donnelly has written a high tightrope of a show, he needs some incredibly balanced performers to pull off the act and the cast delivers in this production. Christian Campbell has boyish looks as the pensive James, a married man with a wandering eye for a past lover, and beyond that boyish quality there is a seriously complex character who makes choices that keep an audience guessing right up to the very end, Scott Richard Foster's Emmet is the comic relief as the work buddy with all the answers, yet shows an incredibly tender side when asked to console Jame's wife on a particularly rough evening. Heather Lee Harper is sultry as the old flame Mara and incredibly complex in both her explanations of love and her responses to James. The two also have red hot chemistry when on stage together. Rounding out the cast is Sarah Shahinian as James' wife Leigh. Shahinian's work in this is especially engaging as she defies all stereotypes in her portrayal of a woman who suspects her husband may be unfaithful. The simplicity of her reactions and the tender touch she gives to each emotion make her heart breaking and fascinating. All of this is woven together by the clever direction of Jeremy Dobrish who brings the design elements together is such a way that it is clear we are in a show about memory. Dobrish also does a wonderful job with pacing and build making this ninety minute piece pulse with intensity right up until the last powerful moments. There are only a few chances left to catch this one and the seating is limited, so you'll want to move quickly. Tickets can be found here.
Next up is Maeutic Theater Works production of Barrier Island by David Stallings. The show takes place on Galveston Island in 2008, but the hurricane that was the subject of that year pales in comparison to the complex web of relationships Stallings weaves with this piece. Stallings is a master of dramatic irony, revealing elements about certain characters with the precision of a surgeon. After dispensing this information, the audience watches as the piece unfolds and the most stunning thing to watch is what these people will say when they are missing certain information. The only thing more surprising is the reaction of some of them once that information is revealed. Much like August Osage County, one has to experience this show in order to not be robbed of the surprises it harbors. For a show so complex, the performers make it look effortless. The show opens with Laura played with charm and wit by Jennifer Laine Williams returning to town with her son Daniel, the talented Frankie Seratch and things start rolling from there. Most of the action centers around the town bar which was expertly constructed by set designer Craig Napoliello. The comedic stylings of David L. Carson and Stu Richel keep the action light and very funny until we start getting into the darker territory. Even then, there are still patches of very comedic moments effectively executed. The entire cast is to be commended, for taking the issues this show addresses and tearing into them with fearlessness. Anthony Crep's Trey Dobbs is particularly effective as a war veteran and has amazing chemistry with Williams. One of the funniest monologues of the entire show belongs to the versatile Alex Bond who tries to convince her local PTA to switch to 1-800-flowers. Interestingly enough, she goes from a comedic bar tender to an emotional powerhouse later in the play. The show moves well thanks to Christina Alicea's careful eye. Alicea does a wonderful job of balancing comedic moments with serious ones and never pushes her actors too far in either direction. With the intensity of some of the scenarios presented, a lesser director might be tempted to push harder for the emotional moments, but Alicea's even-handed direction makes the show all the more compelling. As with the others, there are not too many performance left and the space is small. Catch this one before it gets sent to a space where you'll have to pay way more for it. Tickets can be purchased by calling 212-352-3101.
Last, but certainly not least is Jacob's House by August Schulenburg presented by Flux Theater Ensemble. The story of this show is one of the most fascinating. The team had been rehearsing for a show where they lost the rights, which is not uncommon in the Indie community. In Schulenburg's own words: "I decided to write a play based on a different old testament story- Jacob wrestling the Angel- for the cast we had and using the design concepts already in place for JB. If it worked, it would be like the magic trick where a sheet is pulled out from under the glasses, and nothing falls" Not only did it work, but it produced a piece of theatre worth talking about. What is probably most interesting about this script is how incredibly intelligent it is. It takes a bible story and turns it into an accessible tale of family and legacy. Beyond that Schulenburg writes the kind of dialogue one can see lasting through the ages. The text is so poetic, it deserves its own study with lines that describe someone's future as being a wine stain amongst many other visceral images. As with all Flux productions, the performers who bring this to life are also extraordinary. The show centers around three heirs to Jacob's home who all are arguing over who gets it. As they argue we are transported back and forth to moments in each of their lives as each new secret about the man they thought they knew is revealed. Jane Lincoln Taylor is unwavering as Dinah who is obsessed with finding a certain object in the house to the point where she will do anything to get it. Zack Calhoun is hilarious as the hapless Joe who keeps getting tagged in the face throughout the piece. He also has some really great moments later in the show as he finds out more about his parentage. Also fantastic is the incredibly versatile Bianca LaVerne Jones who effortlessly switches from young woman, to old woman, to young woman again. Indeed the entire cast works so well together that the show truly belongs to all of them, and given Flux's emphasis on ensemble work, this is definitely apt. Other standouts include: Isaiah Tanenbaum as the messenger and the lawyer (he is marvelously creepy and also incredibly funny), Matthew Archambault as the unwavering Jacob whose ferocity is only off set by his charm, and Jessica Angleskhan as Tamar who is a firecracker whenever on stage. The show is executed with such clearness and simplicity thanks to the direction of Kelly O' Donnell who does an amazing job of moving us in and out of the characters' memories. O'Donnell gets top notch performances out of her actors and handles the show with an amazing sensitivity that only a director who understands ensemble can achieve. Also, since this is a tiny space, you'll want to visit Jacob's House before it's too late. Tickets can be found here.
It is indeed incredibly rare when shows achieve this Triple Threat status, but it is also wonderful when it does. This week there are three out of three. Check em out.
Read more of Michael's insights at www.oneproducerinthecity.typepad.com.