Richard Dresser's BELOW THE BELT Opens at Westbeth Tonight
Delving into the darkly absurd corners of corporate America and middle-man-purgatory, director Michael Sladek makes his NYC stage debut with a fresh production of Below the Belt by acclaimed playwright, Richard Dresser. Presented by Black Lodge Theater, the work will be staged in the old boiler room of the iconic Westbeth Center for the Arts.
Deemed a cross between The Office and Beckett, this tightly wrought piece presents a wry look at corporate combat via three office colleagues who work as Checkers for a mysterious multi-national company sequestered at a corporate manufacturing compound in an undisclosed locale. Merkin (Cecilia Frontero) is an inept but power-hungry boss constantly undermining, and blithely leveraging what meager authority she has. Embittered Hanrahan (Andrew Van Dusen) is a tortured, passed-over middle manager forced to contend with Dobbitt (Monroe Robertson), a sweet, unspoiled and disturbingly eager newcomer.
Far from their families and isolated from the other workers on the industrial compound, all three are begrudgingly aware of their dependence on each other. However, their need to compete is as strong as their need to connect, forcing them to fiercely guard their soulless positions with absurd strategies. Sharp text, dark humor and acerbic wit deliver ruminations on loneliness, longing for connection, post industrial social conforms and the deep existential pettiness of humans attempting to work together.
In 1995 Below the Belt premiered at the Humana Festival, followed by a 1996 Off-Broadway production named by the Wall Street Journal as the "best new American play of the season."
Originally the site of Bell Laboratories (1868-1966)--one of the world's most important industrial research centers and home to many inventions, including the vacuum tube, the condenser microphone, an early version of television, and the transistor, and a Manhattan Project development site--Westbeth is among the first examples of adaptive reuse of industrial buildings for artistic and residential use in the United States. A complex of 13 buildings in Manhattan's West Village, it was vacated by Bell Labs in the middle 1960s, and remained empty until the Westbeth project started later in the decade. Using seed money from the J.M. Kaplan Fund and help and encouragement from the National Council for the Arts (which has since become the National Endowment for the Arts), an ambitious renovation project designed to create live-work spaces for 384 artists of all disciplines was initiated under the direction of developer Dixon Bain. The project was the first significant public commission of the iconic architect, Richard Meier. Westbeth opened in 1970 for artists, dancers, musicians, actors, writers and filmmakers.
Director: Michael Sladek
Cast: Cecilia Frontero, Monroe Robertson, Andrew Van Dusen
Producers: Alex Siladi, Sarah Garvey, and Michael Sladek
Co-producer: Shane Jensen
Audio Design: Mark Sanders
Lighting Technician: John Wilder
Audio Technician: Ed Roman
Artwork: Mike Zimmerman
ABOUT THE ARTISTS:
Michael Sladek is an award-winning filmmaker whose independent work includes the documentary feature BAM150 (Tribeca, Cinema Guild), the acclaimed docu-comedy CON ARTIST (Tribeca, Ovation, New Yorker Films), the animated short WE LIVE ON YOUR STREET (Slamdance: Jury & Anarchy Awards), and the narrative dark comedy feature DEVILS ARE DREAMING (Dances With Films: Jury Award). A 2013 Acker Award recipient, Sladek is currently in development on PHANTOM LIMBS, a feature adaptation of Timothy Schaffert's novel, as well as a feature adaptation of Alan Kaufman's dark comedy memoir JEW BOY, amongst other projects. Through his company Plug Ugly Films, Sladek has made multiple shorts, music videos, and web series for commercial clients. Also an actor and stage director, Sladek studied theater and actor training at various colleges in Southern California, and is a member of SAG-AFTRA.
Cecelia Frontero has appeared in NO EXIT, PURPLE HEARTS, CHERRY ORCHARD and AIRPORT HILTON with Invisible City Theater Company, GOURMET and SPEAKEASY with Kingston Rep, SOLACE at The Workshop Theater Company. Cecelia is also an audio book narrator with several titles to her credit and is a member of AEA, and SAG-AFTRA.
Monroe Robertson moved to New York from London after graduating from The Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art and The Central School of Speech and Drama. He has worked with directors Alison Kingsley in her production of Shakespeare's AS YOU LIKE IT, Luke Massey in his feature film WITHIN THE WOODS, Dina Janis in her production of SWEET STORM and Giovanni Sardelli in her production of DIAL M FOR MURDER for the Dorset Theatre Festival. Most recently Monroe worked on the independent feature film BUTTERCUP BILL written and directed by New York filmmakers Emilie Richard-Froozan and Rémy Bennett, and he is also a frequent collaborator with YouTube sensation KEY OF AWESOME!
Andrew Van Dusen has appeared in plays including THE SHADOW BOX, Actors Theater of Louisville; GREED/FLOOD, THE INVISIBLE HAND, Here (NYC); MYTHOS OEDIPUS, ANOTHER PHAEDRA, dir. Ellen Stewart, La MaMa E.T.C.; and APOCALYPSE TENNESSEE, MCBOMBER, AlterKnit at the Knitting Factory (NYC). Has also been a member of and collaborated with Machine Full, Zena Group, Great Jones Repertory, and Walden Theater in Louisville, KY. His films include THE COLD LANDS (2014), CIGARETTE CANDY (SXSW Best Narrative Short, 2010), GIRLSTOWN (1996), and LAST EXIT TO BROOKLYN (1989). His television credits include CHINA BEACH, LAW & ORDER, HARDBALL, and LATE NITE WITH CONAN O'BRIEN. A guitarist and singer in Midwest punk bands in the 80's, Andrew shared bills with X, Minutemen, The Offenders and M.I.A. He currently plays guitar with the Brooklyn-based R&B outfit Les Donkees.
Richard Dresser's seventeen published plays have been produced in New York, regional theater, and Europe. His trilogy of plays about happiness in America includes AUGUSTA (working class), THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS (middle class), and A VIEW OF THE HARBOR (upper class). Other plays are: ROUNDING THIRD, which started in Chicago and appeared off-Broadway and has had hundreds of productions, BELOW THEBELT and GUN-SHY, both of which started at the Humana Festival at Actors Theatre of Louisville before moving off-Broadway. Also, SOMETHING IN THE AIR, THE DOWNSIDE, ALONE AT THE BEACH, WONDERFUL WORLD, and BETTER DAYS, plus many short plays. Other projects include the book for a musical, JOHNNY BASEBALL, about the Curse of the Red Sox, which premiered at A.R.T. in Cambridge, and was nominated for seven awards from the Independent Reviewers of New England. It moved on to the Williamstown Theatre Festival in July 2013 where it set a box office record. His play THE LAST DAYS OF MICKEY & JEAN, about a notorious Boston gangster in early retirement, has had a number of regional productions. THE HAND OF GOD about reality television appeared in the Denver Theater Center New Play Summit and will premiere at the San Francisco Playhouse next season. THE HANDYMAN (now titled CLOSURE) appeared at Berkshire Playwrights Lab in August 2013 and is slated for production in the summer of 2014. His most recent play, 100 YEARS, was recently presented at the Key City Public Theatre's Playfest in Port Townsend Washington. His short play LOVE, DAD will be in the Boston Theatre Marathon this spring and another short piece, HALFTIME will premiere in June in Miami at City Theatre's Summer Shorts. He is a former member of New Dramatists and twice attended the O'Neill National Playwrights Conference. He currently teaches at Rutgers and is on the board of the Writers Guild Initiative, which does writing workshops with veterans and caregivers among other groups.
ABOUT BLACK LODGE THEATER: Led by Artistic Director Alexandra Siladi, Black Lodge Theater is a multi-cultural, multi-generational collaborative community of directors, writers, producers, actors, designers, filmmakers, managers, and more who use live performance to explore the absurdities of reality through presentation of original, obscure, and world-premiere theatrical works. www.blacklodgetheater.org
ABOUT WESTBETH CENTER FOR THE ARTS: Westbeth Corp. is a New York not-for-profit corporation and qualifies under IRC Sec. 501(c)(3). It is governed by a board of directors, whose members volunteer their time and expertise to ensure that Westbeth's mission as a center for the arts and a source of affordable housing for artists is met. Three of its current members are residential tenants of Westbeth. Westbeth is a center for the arts and a provider of affordable housing for artists in New York City's West Village.