BWW Special Feature: 99 and Under the Radar - The Downtown Renaissance

By: Feb. 09, 2011
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Welcome back to 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 downtown renaissance

It is often said that in difficult times, some of the best art is created. If the current array of shows playing downtown are any indication of the future, then that future looks considerably brighter than the weather we've been experiencing lately. From explorations of gentrification to giving the finger to the world of Christian rock, the indie community has tackled it all and with a stunning level of grace. The companies that have provided the Indie theatre scene with such gems? Art. Party Theater Company, Wide Eyed Productions, Clout in the Mug Productions, and La Mama.

La Mama recently closed a new show called Camp Wanatachi which had a previous run in FringeNYC and those who got to catch this limited run were really given quite the treat. This show defied many of the assumptions made about independently produced theatre with a set that rivaled many Broadway stages and talent that should be on Broadway right now. The show also introduced the audience to a brand new sound in musical theatre. A sound filled with beat boxes, reverb, wa wa pedals, and looped remixes. With that many new elements and such incredible design in both set and lights by Marc Janowitz, there is a lot to live up to. The show exceeded the power within the first bouncy and hip tune incorporating actors moving through the audience, then squirting water pistols inches from your face. It's very rare for all of the elements of design and performance to come together so seamlessly, but director Matt Cowart blocks the piece with such skill, no one ever seems out of place. Cowart has assisted a number of great talents, but it won't be long before hundreds are assisting him. The work he did in this piece was inspired and he is certainly a director to watch in the coming years. The ensemble cast was extraordinarily tight in both their commitment to the show's subversive concepts and their vocals. A major standout was Marissa O'Donnell who's 3 o' clock number about being in love with a girl featured a note held so long that some audience members started looking at their watches in disbelief. Rounded out by a book that captures adolescence by the talented Bekah Brunstetter and Natalie Elizabeth Weiss and with choreography by Vanessa Walters that captured the frenetic pace of many of the electronica beats, and introduced us to the idea of lunch room "swag", Camp Wanatachi, much like summer camp, seemed to fly by. To see what you missed, check out their website here.

On the other side of the street, the folks at Wide Eyed Productions opened their powerful night of one acts titled "A Girl Wrote it" The show features four plays by emerging female playwrights as an answer to the call of 50/50 in 2020 as well as a number of very funny interludes commenting on the challenges female playwrights face. The most thought provoking being Bekah Brunstetter's piece about not being "outstanding" This was an evening of fantastic writing, directing, and performing. The evening featured plays steeped in genres like film noir, and absurdism while also providing some slapstick comedy. Most impressive was the piece "The Return of Toodles Von Flooz" by Lisa Ferber directed with razor sharp precision by Kristin Skye Hoffman. Betty O'Boozenberg, (a brilliant performance by Lisa Mamazza) delivers each horrible cliche with a confidence and pizazz as the play careens towards a place even more wacky than when it started. All in all, a very good time is had by all. All of the shows are very strong and the team at Wide Eyed deserves to be commended for putting together an evening of such out and out quality. To snag your tickets before they are gone, click here.

And a mere 10 blocks up at the 14th street Y, The Red Fern Theater Company is presenting Gentrofusion. The piece is also a series of short plays hinged around the theme of gentrification. One of the most impressive things about Red Fern is how well produced the shows are. From the choice of set, to lights, to the order of the plays, Gentrifusion creates its own amazing fusion of art and culture. The pieces take a very hard look at what happens when our home becomes someone else's as the result of a shrinking wallet and rising rent. The work varies from a clever retelling of Our Town, to a tale of stealing cupcakes and purses. Most impressive is Crystal Skillman's wonderfully touching piece "Crawl" directed by Colette Robert. Skillman's dialogue between two brothers deciding to sell their home is so natural sounding and personal that one cannot help but be drawn in to the plight of these two men. The choice of this piece as a closer was a great one indeed. There are still some tickets left for this evening that will make you take a second look at your neighborhood. To grab them, go here.

Moving across town to CSV, each stage in that space is packed with vibrant talent. On the 2nd floor is Clout in the Mug's production of Delores and North of Providence. Two intense productions courtesy of Edward Allen Baker. Many acting classes have used Baker's work, but it is not often that the audience is treated to such a solid production. The show directed by Alberto Bonilla is an intense journey from start to finish as the actors dig so deep into Baker's characters, we can feel their pain through the fourth wall. Delores features Rachel Cornish and Sat Charn Fox as two sisters dealing with the demons that haunt their marriages. Cornish is very solid and moves through the play with a great deal of purpose while not letting the energy drop. Fox is engaging as the nervous Delores who has trouble keeping information from her only sister. The play has a very nice build up to the final moments and the staging is quite effective. With North of Providence, we are introduced to Carol and Bobby who are in a fight over Bobby's refusal to leave the house while their father is dying. Played with unbound energy and intensity by Rebecca Nyahay, Carol is a force to be reckoned with as she marshals her strength to bring her brother back. Most of the play is driven by Nyahay until the tables turn for the final revelation at the end. John Golaszewski delivers a grounded impassioned monologue that takes the audience out on a very somber note. Seats are still available for this show by going here.

And what better way to end the evening but with some song, music, dance, and wine with mermaids? One floor up from Delores and North of Providence is Art. Party. Theater Company's whimsical flight of fancy "Live Mermaids Live". This rollicking good time opens with some live entertainment by different composers and then transports the audience via bubbles and free flowing wine, to the land of the mermaids. Jeremy Bloom is in top form directing the piece, once again using his knowledge of partnering and visionary staging to create the under sea world. The audience is more than happy to blow bubbles to complete the illusion as they are serenaded by the beautiful music of composers Catherine Brookman, Starr Busby, Matt Corriel, Laura Dunn (Me and The Boys), David Ingber (Fantasy Football: The Musical?), Olivia Lilley, Chris Moscato, Brian Rady, Jessica Salzinsky, and Stephanie Sherline. Throughout the evening there are wine servers moving back and forth through the audience in skimpy glittery mermaid garb and the cast practically breaths as one unit which is a testament to their commitment and Bloom's talents. Sadly, there are only a few dates left to catch this wet tale. To hook them go here.

For a winter that has kept people from doing many of the simplest things like leaving their house, the Indie theatre community has no trouble warming these spaces with their enormous talent. Make sure to catch at least one of these stellar offerings the next time you find yourself downtown. It's really not that long a trip and trust me, it's worth it.

Read more of Michael's insights at