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Sunday Morning Michael Dale: Alison Fraser Thrillingly Reinvents Cat On A Hot Tin Roof's Big Mama

Also, Letters That You Will Not Get: Women's Voices From The Great War is a beautifully-realized chamber musical created and performed fully by women.

This week...

The Great Lesbian Love of Eve Adams at Irondale. Closed.

Letters That You Will Not Get: Women's Voices From The Great War at Irondale. Final performance as part of On Women Festival today at 5:00. ($30, students/seniors/working artists $15). Continues as a production by the American Opera Project, August 4-7, all tickets $30.

Cat On A Hot Tin Roof at Theatre at St. Clement's through August 14 (tickets from $39).

Love Quirks at AMT Theater through September 2nd (tickets from $49).

Inexpensive and recommended...

Down To Eartha at Gene Frankel Theatre, August 18-21 ($25, students/seniors $20) Dierdra McDowell's excellent solo play about Eartha Kitt being blacklisted after her anti-war comments during a White House luncheon.

Cannabis! A Viper Vaudeville, a HERE production at La MaMa. Closing performance today at 4:00 ($35). Fun and educational festival of song, dance and spoken word advocating for legal medicinal and recreational cannabis use.

Looking forward to...

Mom On Skype at Irondale, August 13 & 14 ($30, students/seniors/working artists $15). An ensemble of Ukrainian children have been flown to America to perform a play they created and premiered while in a bomb shelter.

Opening number...

Another of New York's theatre standbys got their first call last night. At half-hour Rori Nogee, who planned to spend the performance of Seth Bisen-Hersh and Mark Childers' BroadwayWorld Award winning musical comedy Love Quirks in the dressing room, reading a book and sipping her matcha latte, received that urgent text, "You're on! Get here now!"

As we often hear from standbys, that first time on can be a bit of an under-prepared rush:

"I had no bra, no make-up, no hair tools and half of the costumes I wore in my single dress rehearsal were mine from home."

But she credits the backstage crew (and the woman who loaned her her bra) for doing a bang-up job.

The kicker came after the show, when an audience member asked Rori to sign his Love Quirks original cast recording... which she's not on!

It's only summer, but when New York's theatre awards season starts revving up again next spring...

...I'll definitely have Alison Fraser's superb performance as Big Mama in director Joe Rosario's contemporary-set revival of Tennessee Williams' Pulitzer-winner Cat On A Hot Tin Roof in mind.

A popular stage actor best known for being quirkily funny in musicals (Off-Broadway in March Of The Falsettos, on Broadway in Romance, Romance, The Secret Garden and Gypsy), Fraser reinvents a classic role and turns in a performance that thrills with its gutsy power masked by her character's well-rehearsed elegance.

Sunday Morning Michael Dale:  Alison Fraser Thrillingly Reinvents Cat On A Hot Tin Roof's Big Mama
Alison Fraser and Sonoya Mizuno (Photo: Miles Skalli)

Shimmering in gold and black from hair to shoes in Xandra Smith's designs, Fraser resembles a literal incarnation of a trophy wife, as for the first two acts her soft, purring voice and demurely proper manner expresses content devotion to Christian Jules Le Blanc's arrogantly strutting Big Daddy.

But in the final act, when it becomes apparent that Big Mama's role will evolve from wife of family patriarch to family matriarch, she becomes a defiantly territorial tiger, defending her right to control the family fortune against the ambitious plans of elder son Gooper and his wife Mae (Spencer Scott and Tiffan Borelli, both excellent). The confrontation between the three, when Fraser has Big Mama throwing away her charming façade to keep the younger generation in line, is the dramatic highlight of the evening.

With three-quarters of its four-performance run canceled because of COVID...

...there was an enthusiastic party atmosphere circulating the packed house before last Sunday's opening and closing of Paige Esterly's The Great Lesbian Love of Eve Adams, the second mainstage entry in Irondale's On Women Festival.

When director Jenny Lester advised the crowd of how severely the rehearsal and tech time had to be cut down, it seemed to make everyone even more excited to cheer on the actors.

With a narrative based on one of the great immigrant/activist stories of New York's early 20th Century, Lily Lester gave a rousing, humorous and loving performance in the title role; a Jewish lesbian who arrived from Poland to Ellis Island in 1912 as Eva Kotchever and gained fame as a gay activist who published a private pressing of collected short stories titled Lesbian Love, and as proprietor of the 129 MacDougal Street lesbian gathering spot Eve's Hangout, known for its sign advising, "Men are admitted, but not welcome." (The address is now the location of La Lanterna di Vittorio, which does not sport such a sign.)

With fine supporting turns by Princess Victome, Morgan Meadows, Michael Abber and Loren Lester, the play depicts how the innocent celebrations of life at Eve's Hangout, and the publication of Lesbian Love, were determined by a vice square undercover agent as promoting obscenity, leading to Adams' deportation to Poland in 1927, a move that would turn out to be a death sentence. But the play's optimistic ending demonstrated how the spirit of her activism lives on today.

Given the rushed nature of the production, it's reasonable to expect that some aspects of the play haven't been fully developed, but director Lester assured the audience that plans were in the works to bring The Great Lesbian Love of Eve Adams back to the stage soon. Personally, I can't wait to see it again.

While tonight at 5pm is the last chance to snag $15 student/senior/working artist tickets for...

...composer Kirsten Volness and librettists' Kate Holland and Susan Werbe's beautifully-realized chamber musical Letters That You Will Not Get: Women's Voices From The Great War, the warm and poignant theatre piece - sung, played, directed and designed fully by women - that opened as the last entry of Irondale's On Women Festival continues as a production of The American Opera Project, August 4-7, with all tickets $30.

Sunday Morning Michael Dale:  Alison Fraser Thrillingly Reinvents Cat On A Hot Tin Roof's Big Mama
Tharanga Goonetilleke and Company
(Photo: Steven Pisano)

The text is adapted from a collection of letters, poems and other writings by women from various parts of the world, on various sides of the conflict, during what we now call World War I. They are volunteers, wives, lovers, family members and others whose lives have been drastically changed on the miscalculated whims of men in charge. Some are patriotic, some are mournful. Others regrettably accepting.

The entrancing singing ensemble of operatic voices (Maria Maxfield, Jessica Sandidge, Sarah Beckham-Turner, Caitlin McKechney, Tesia Kwarteng, Tharanga Goonetilleke) are music directed by Mila Henry, who conducts a string quintet playing Volness' exquisitely somber and meditative score.

With no linear story involving characters to follow, the music and narrative takes us from the peaceful beauty of the pre-war countryside to four years of unthinkable destruction to the promise of the land's ability to heal itself. Stage director Kate Bergstrom and designers Sara Brown (set), An-lin Dauber (set/costumes), Masha Tsimring (lights), Krista Smith (lights) and Stefania Bulbarella (projections) enhance these themes with a collage of intriguing visuals.

As I've been spending a lot of time in the theatre district of Fort Greene, Brooklyn, lately...

...Black Forrest, the German beer garden with a healthy assortment of brews and a hearty wurst and spätzle menu, is quickly becoming my go-to place for pre- and post-theatre while taking in attractions at BAM, Irondale, Polonsky Shakespeare Center or A.R.T./New York Theatres.

Their status with me was pretty much solidified when, while my friend and I were discussing our favorite sipping gins, the bartender offered us each a shot of a delicious in-house jasmine-infused gin which is not on their menu. It was even better when I ordered it on my next visit as a martini.

So please, feel free to request a jasmine gin martini at Black Forest and tell them that Sunday Morning Michael Dale sent you. Heck, if enough people do that, they might name it after me.

Curtain Line...

Brooks Ashmanskas. Just pronouncing his name is refreshing enough.



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