Theater For The New City's Dream Up Festival Will Present OCCASIONALLY NOTHING

Theater For The New City's Dream Up Festival Will Present OCCASIONALLY NOTHINGIt was inevitable, perhaps, that our post-truth politics would seep into 21st century absurdist theater. One sunny example is "Occasionally Nothing" by Natalie Menna, which takes us to a dismal time-to-come when something can become a profound, obvious nothing. Life becomes the time in between the sometimes which sometimes happen. The piece won awards in Planet Connections Festivity for developmental staging's, with critics cheering the playwright for her mastery of Theater of the Absurd. Theater for the New City's Dream Up festival will present the work September 8 to 16. Ivette Dumeng directs.

The short two-act play is set in the foreseeable future, when the world is nearing its end. An older man, a young man and a woman, all British expats, are sheltering from nearby bomb blasts in a bleak room. They cope by taunting each other with warped games of verbal wordplay and by blurring each other's realities while losing touch with their own. The older man is the uncle of the younger man, who is a punk rocker. The woman, wife of the older man, is a former Rockette of Sephardic Jewish heritage. The trio's ordeal is meant to offer a bleak glimpse at life in the wake of a dystopian presidency, where wars will abound, words will have lost their meaning and people will have lost their way.

A one-act version of the play won prizes for Outstanding Playwriting of a One-Act and Outstanding Overall Production of a One-Act at Planet Connections Festivity in 2016. The following year, Maiken Wiese was awarded Best Supporting Actress for her role in the two-act version.

Critic Anthony P. Penning (The Modernist Beat) praised "Menna's sure command of the tools of the Theatre of the Absurd," writing, "Menna focuses not on political polemics but on the spiritual and emotional devastation that our less-than-brave new world is wreaking. The writing here is spare, brutal, and emotionally resonant." He praised the dialogue as crackling with energy and wit, and concluded, "Most artists have game-changing works, a piece that catapults them to the next level of their medium; 'Occasionally Nothing' is that work for Menna. The play clearly belongs to the same tradition of Beckett's 'End Game,' which does not rob it of its importance or necessity. It speaks to the dark shadows of the 21st-century in a vibrant and yes comic voice. It should be seen."

Critic Edmond Malin (Outer Stage) compares the characters' speech to the denial of truth in our present political dialogue. They talk, he writes, "only in a captivating double speak which they have presumably needed to adopt because of bad political developments. 'Is something ever nothing?' they ask. 'Sometimes.' If this sounds like splitting hairs, just remember who got elected last year and keep reading. Such discourse and the 'endgame' which the men fear is approaching bring to mind the great Samuel Beckett. His work seems to work best in dark times. But when are we? Clay enjoys listening to 80s music, even during the apocalypse using his last battery. At one point, he suggests listening to the band New Order, which had been banned by the New World Order. What I mean to say is, pay attention and enjoy the dark humor." He quotes direct allusions to our present political situation that are, well, chilling. Under the "Grumpf" administration, the characters declare, "we've moved from discourse to dissent to verbal threats to violence...to silence."

Both reviews were enthusiastic in their praise for the direction and for the three actors, two of whom, Sean Hoagland (younger man) and Maiken Wiese (wife), are returning for this production. Brad Fryman joins the cast as the older man.

Playwright Natalie Menna agrees that the play reflects the lack of distinction between fact and fiction that characterize the country's slide into Trumpist authoritarianism. But she notes that she started writing the play before the ascent of Trump. She was actually riffing on the warped concept of reality arising from "polite speak." Menna theorizes that our reference points for good and bad, sad and happy, etc. are warped "when a funeral has to be a celebration of somebody's life." There's no concept of honesty any more. An example from the play is the banning of a song named "Bizarre Love Triangle" for its use of a judgmental adjective. This is Menna's only absurdist play.

Menna is also author of "Committed," which was performed last season at the 14th Street Y, and a resident playwright of August Strindberg Rep, for whom she adapted "Journey in Light and Shadow" by Stig Dalager for a 2017 production at Gene Frankel Theatre. She has received awards at Planet Connections Festivity for her plays "Occasionally Nothing," "Committed" and "Zen A.M." Her "Roberta!" was presented twice at United Solo Festival. Her other plays include "I-POD" and "Hiroshi-Me," which won awards in other festivals. "Roberta!," "I-POD" and "Zen A.M." were published by indietheaternow.com. She is also an actor and appears in the 2018 Dream Up Festival August 27 to September 4 in August Strindberg's "Creditors," newly translated by Robert Greer.

Director Ivette Dumeng is Producing Artistic Director and founding member of Nylon Fusion Theatre Company (www.nylonfusion.org) and a member of The Actors Studio Playwrights Directors Unit and League of Professional Theatre Women. Among her directing credits are "Elephant Girl" by John Patrick Shanley and four plays by Don Nigro: "Marina," "Mata Hari," "Jack in the Box" and "Front Porch." She is also a prolific actor. (SAG/AFTRA)

Lighting design is by Gilbert "Lucky" Pearto. Costume design is by Janet Mervin. Sound design is by Andy Evan Cohen.

The ninth annual Dream Up Festival (www.dreamupfestival.org) is being presented by Theater for the New City from August 26 to September 16. An ultimate new work festival, it is dedicated to the joy of discovering new authors and edgy, innovative performances. Audiences savor the excitement, awe, passion, challenge and intrigue of new plays from around the country and around the world.

The festival does not seek out traditional scripts that are presented in a traditional way. It selects works that push new ideas to the forefront, challenge audience expectations and make us question our understanding of how art illuminates the world around us.

In addition to traditional plays, a unique and varied selection of productions will again be offered, drawing upon a variety of performance genres including musicals, puppetry and movement theater. The Festival's founders, Crystal Field and Michael Scott-Price, feel this is especially needed in our present time of declining donations to the arts, grants not being awarded due to market conditions, and arts funding cuts on almost every level across the country and abroad.

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