It’s Complicated: Thoughts on Betrayal – September 28, 2019

Betrayal is a complex play about relationships written by Harold Pinter, currently playing at the Jacobs Theatre for a limited run through December 8, 2019. I had heard positive reviews about this play and was intrigued by its premise, so I trotted down to the TKTS booth to obtain my ticket. Of course, another draw is its stellar (British) cast – Charlie Cox, Zawe Ashton and Tom Hiddleston, the latter making his Broadway debut.

The play revolves around married couple Robert and Emma, and Jerry, Robert’s best friend – Jerry (who is also married) and Emma embark on an affair over the course of seven years without either spouse the wiser (though it turns out not to be the case for one of the spouses). The play unfolds in reverse, which makes the tenuous interactions between the three all the more intriguing, as the audience is aware of certain truths as time rewinds.

The set design is sparse to the point that it’s almost nonexistent aside from some chairs, a table and other relevant props, which works brilliantly as to not to distract the audience of the equally sparse yet highly effective dialogue. Brief exchanges with considerable pauses in between are characteristic of Pinter plays, which ratchets up the tension to the point where a flurry of volatile emotion is expected to explode at any moment. Yet it doesn’t – the anger, resentment and disappointment smolders, and that makes it all the more painful. Before the play began the ushers advised the audience to silence their phones and other electrical devices (as they usually do) and explained that the play was very quiet. And so it was – aside from sprinkling of incidental music and a soulful (mournful?) rendition of the Depeche Mode song “Enjoy the Silence”, its lyrics commentating on the situation between the three. All three actors were phenomenal in their respective roles – all three were onstage for the entirety of the 90-minute play, even when the scene involved two of the three characters, a ghostly specter (and inadvertent spectator) as the topic of conversation involved the absent (but not really) character.

The stage door scene was relatively sparse, which was surprising given the caliber (and overall fame) of actors on stage; while I did attend a matinee, there are more times than not a crowd of audience members wanting to meet the actors. Perhaps one note of confusion was the fact some theatregoers (a handful I had come across at least) did not know the location of the stage door. The stage door for the Jacobs Theatre was not (as for most theaters) next door to the entrance; it shares its stage door with two other theatres – the Golden, which is next door to the Jacobs and the Majestic, which is on the other side of the block on W 44th Street. As this was my first (of perhaps many) trips to see Betrayal, I was not aware of whether or not the cast would emerge to sign playbills; though I was fortunate to meet Charlie Cox at the stage door, as Zawe Ashton and Tom Hiddleston were not able to stop to greet the few people waiting (for reasons unknown).

While it’s a short play with brevity as its benchmark, Betrayal has a lot to say in the silences between the words spoken aloud – that the events unfold (for the most part) in reverse makes the audience pay attention to every word said and every gesture taken (as well as the things not said or done). It’s one of those plays that one would need to see several times before truly understanding the entire picture.

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Abuse of Authority: Thoughts on the staged reading of You Don’t Know How It Feels – April 8, 2017

It’s true – I don’t know how it feels.

I can’t even properly process what I felt when I saw the staged reading of Kelley Blessing’s play You Don’t Know How It Feels, which tackles the issue of child sexual abuse from the victim’s perspective – the loss of innocence, the stigma of shame and (eventual) road to recovery. The conflicting, often confusing emotions associated with such a heinous act is unfathomable to comprehend from an outside perspective, yet there are far too many people who know how this feels. Sexual abuse happens and can happen anywhere and to anyone, regardless of race, gender, or age, yet it is often not discussed in public.

This play aims to break that silence.

I was invited to reading by Kelley, which took place at the Matthew Corozine Studio Theatre presented by Darknight Productions. While I’ve read many of her other works (often as a quasi-dramaturge / editor) and attended a staged reading of a musical she co-wrote (The Sounds of Screams), this would be a totally different experience, as You Don’t Know How It Feels is semi-autobiographical.

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[Disclaimer: Kelley has been a friend of mine for many years, with whom I’ve shared many theatrical experiences as audience members, yet I was unaware of this traumatic incident that happened long before I met her. It had not crossed my mind to ask, and I suppose it’s not something she would willingly share. I’m debating whether or not to follow up this entry with an in-depth interview / discussion about the process of writing this play. Our friendship started with our mutual love of musical theatre (and Sherlock Holmes), and remained jovial through the years, so I would not want to inadvertently trigger any additional trauma (if that’s the right term) by having her revisit those memories. Then again, the purpose of writing this play is to give a voice to the voiceless, so this story needs to be told.]

The play takes place in a middle school gymnasium and focuses on the interactions of high school track teacher Nick McCoe with three of his students – Dena, Sara and Devon, as well as with the principal, Frank Stanley. The interactions between McCoe and his students seem harmless at first, then turns sinister, as he targets Dena, and manipulates her into keeping his subsequent assaults a secret. The resolution in the play is fairly optimistic, as Sara and Devon, Dena’s best friend and boyfriend, respectively, discover the root cause of her mood swings, report their findings to Principal Stanley and McCoe is exposed (no pun intended) for his crimes.

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As it was a staged reading, the actors had scripts in hand, and as it was the first reading, much of the dialogue came across as stage dialogue rather than natural speech. Gabriel Morales perhaps had the most difficult role in playing Mr. McCoe, juggling the Jekyll and Hyde personas of the helpful teacher and manipulative predator with subtle stealth so as to break the façade he created. As Dena, Jadelee Vega had an equally difficult task of portraying the range and depth of emotion required to recount this harrowing experience. The overall design was effective – the set design sparse, the lighting design reflective of Dena’s inner turmoil and the sound design jarring as it should be. While the subject matter was disturbing, it was not overt, as the instances of assault occurred off stage.

There was a talk back with the cast and creative team with the invited audience encouraged to give feedback to the piece. Constructive criticism was presented, along with insight from the cast and creative team with regards to the process of developing the play. There is great potential for this play to have a future in a broader venue, as the issue of sexual assault, especially against children, is a crime gaining attention as victims are coming forward to tell their story, bringing awareness so as to (hopefully) prevent them from happening, and bringing the perpetrators to justice.

This is a start.

If you are a victim of sexual assault or know someone who may be, please contact RAINN at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673) or visit www.rainn.org

For more information sexual assault, rape and incest, visit www.joyfulheartfoundation.org 

Once-a-Year Day – Adventures at the Broadway Cares /Equity Fights AIDS Flea Market & Grand Auction

Broadway Cares / Equity Fights AIDS (BC/EFA) is a stellar organization that supports a variety of social causes, and has a multitude of fundraising events throughout the year. One of their most popular events is the annual Flea Market & Grand Auction, held on the last Sunday in September, often referred to as “Broadway Christmas”, as fans can obtain almost everything theatre related, from vintage and contemporary playbills and /or posters (signed and unsigned) to prop pieces and costumes worn on stage, as well as the typical flea market items (books, CDs, and baked goods). There’s also an autograph table with a rotating list of theater actors, a silent auction for unique (usually signed) items, and the Grand Auction, where extraordinary experiences such as walk-on roles for specific shows, backstage tours and opening night tickets for next season’s shows are up for the bidding. The Flea Market & Grand Auction starts at 10 AM and ends at 7PM (the Grand Auction starts around 5PM – I think. I never stick around to watch the Grand Auction, as it’s somewhat distressing to not be able to afford the starting bid for such unique experiences; besides, by that time I’m usually exhausted and out of funds.)

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There are a multitude of tables, most of which are show specific, selling memorabilia from their shows, but by far my favorite table is the TDF Pik-a-Tkt table, where you can win a pair of tickets to Broadway and off-Broadway (and sometimes off-off Broadway) shows. It’s one of the most popular tables, and (in my opinion) one of the most addictive, and probably one that raises a lot of money. The premise is simple: there are three medium sized containers full of (stapled) raffle tickets; if one of the raffles has a winning stamp, you are awarded a white envelope with a pair of tickets, or a voucher good for two tickets. The envelopes are sealed, and are randomly selected by the volunteers working the table, so there’s a level of suspense and (sweet) anticipation of finding out the winning show. Then there’s the “trading pen” – well it’s it’s not really a pen per se, but it is a quasi-contained and designated area where raffle winners confer with one another to maximize their winnings by either straight trading for different shows or change show dates. It’s a kind of networking and semi-collaborative effort to get the shows (and the date) you want, and a pretty good way to get to know fellow fans.

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I’ve mentioned the BC/EFA and its Flea Market & Auction in most of my entries, as it’s usually the source of where I’ve obtained tickets to the many shows I’ve seen (and blogged about) thus far. I’ve attended the Flea Market & Auction for the past fifteen years, and in recent years I’ve spent the bulk of my day actively participating in the TDF table, usually winning a multitude of tickets every year, sometimes making good trades, and sometimes not (depending on which shows I’ve won and my willingness to trade). I also spend the day perusing the other tables picking up interesting trinkets or CDs, almost always taking copious amount photos of items for sale (for posterity), wishing I had the funds to purchase them. Even though there are designated tables where credit cards are accepted, I always bring a set amount of cash with me, thus limiting my spending ability (and to ensure that I don’t bankrupt myself inadvertently). It’s also a day on which I can easily see friends I’ve met through the various shows I’ve seen (usually bonding at the stage door), friends I’ve known since high school and “friends” I’ve encountered and interacted with at the TDF table (usually in the trading area.

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As it’s an outdoor event literally in and around Shubert Alley, weather is a key element. The weather is almost always fair in temperature, sometimes with overcast skies; sometimes it’s warmer than usual and sunny. There was one year when it was indoors (at the now closed) Roseland Ballroom due to the torrential rain. In years past, West 44th Street was closed off so that the entire street (and sidewalks on either side were full of people looking for great deals on theatre-related items, which resulted in congestion and crowds around the more popular tables. There had been a few years when the pedestrian areas in the middle of Times Square were used to station tables, which spread out the Flea Market experience. The 2016 Flea Market was different than it had been in previous years in that only half of West 44th Street was cordoned off for tables, allowing for ongoing (one way) traffic the other half of the street. The flea market then wrapped around to West 45th Street with the same configuration, and was limited to that city block; Shubert Alley remained in use as it always had been, and the use of the pedestrian areas in Times Square proper were not utilized. I suppose this was done to ease traffic (for cars and people alike) in the area, as Times Square is already a popular and (usually) overpopulated area on any good day.

It’s always a fun day and a great start to the new Broadway season. As the title of this entry says, it’s my Once-a-Year Day, where I have loads of fun, meet up with friends and find the most unique theater-related items (and win lots and lots of show tickets). All the proceeds go to a worthy cause and helps scores of people throughout the City and across the country. For more information about Broadway Cares and the other Events it holds, visit their website: https://broadwaycares.org/

All About Love – Thoughts on One Love

Love is a complex emotion. Whether it’s platonic, romantic, or something in between, the path to finding love is fraught with misconceptions, both from within and without. The perceptions/illusions one has about themselves relative to those around them is and can be a stumbling block along that path, and the task of letting go of those preconceived notions is its own journey towards  self-discovery. These themes are explored in One Love, the latest play written by Peter Zachari, which recently ended its run at the Theater for the New City.

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[Disclaimer: Those who have followed this blog will know that I’m good friends with Peter Zachari and Joey Mirabile; who I met 5 years ago when Peter’s first show Parker & Dizzy’s Fabulous Journey To the End of the Rainbow premiered at the New York International Fringe Festival. Since then, I’ve been a (minor) investor to Peter’s subsequent shows, and have written (independently) my musings for all the shows that have played in NYC.]

The play centers on Hunter, an overweight gay man, and his journey of finding (and accepting) love into his life. Due to the emotional baggage he carries from a relationship gone wrong, mixed with a kind of self loathing stemming from his physical appearance, he denies himself any chance of pleasure – even in his fantasies. His roommate Bryce is the antithesis of Hunter, indulging in pleasure wherever he can, with no (apparent) emotional baggage. An impromptu dinner with friends Brett and Tyler, coupled with the unexpected appearance of Logan (Tyler’s cousin) serves as the catalyst for Hunter to reexamine his self-imposed perceptions. He (eventually) learns to confront the demons keeping him from accepting the fact that he is worthy of love and being loved, with the help of Aftodite, an omnipresent and (seemingly) omniscient presence in Hunter’s life.

While I’ve been quite the fangirl for Peter’s shows, One Love is the first play for which I was an unofficial dramaturge, reading an early draft (originally written a few years ago) and providing some (useful) feedback (and pointing out some spelling/grammatical errors (as an aspiring writer, editing was second nature.) The themes set forth in the play are universal and touch upon the media fixation (obsession?) on perpetuating the image of “perfect” (i.e. thin, “beautiful”) people, and the insecurities faced by those who don’t fit the “socially accepted” definition of beauty.

There’s a quasi-meta aura in the set design, as it was modeled (loosely) on Peter’s own apartment, with the walls dotted with photos of Judy Garland, and glitter pop art pieces (created by cast member Joey Mirabile). Other pop culture (and topical) references are sprinkled throughout as well, with notable pop songs (and an original song written by Peter and his long time collaborator Damon Maida) adding to the overall feel of the play. The cast was fantastic, inhabiting the social stereotypes their characters represented, then gradually stripping away that façade to show their true self and learning to be comfortable in their own skin (so to speak). Kudos to Alex J. Moreno as Hunter and Russell Norris as Bryce for the emotional range they traverse, from comic to dramatic (and back), revealing their insecurities before finding a kind of happy ending.

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One Love is a play about love in all its forms – platonic love between good friends, romantic love for another person, and love for oneself, overcoming obstacles, both real and perceived. Everyone is worthy of love and being loved, regardless of gender, race, ethnicity or religious beliefs. In a way, love is blind – blind to prejudices of every kind. Or at least real love should be – the trick is to let go of the preconceived assumptions created (and perpetuated to some degree) by what media (social and otherwise) has deemed “normal” and “beautiful”.

Only then can there truly be One Love.

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The Complexities of Love: Thoughts on Burning – February 27, 2016

A modern adaptation of classic plays is a mainstay across all entertainment mediums, and sometimes the subtle changes in the adaptations can bring forth a new interpretation of the original source material as the core themes remain intact. The story of Cyrano de Bergerac is a familiar one, probably best known in popular culture as the Steve Martin film Roxanne, but while that modern adaptation is a mostly humorous (as was the original play), Burning, the modern adaptation written by Ginger Lazarus and presented by the Resonance Ensemble, is somber and thought provoking. I became aware of this adaptation through a friend of mine, who knew one of the actors in the play (which had its world premiere at the Theatre at Saint Clement’s), and asked if I would be interested in going. While I did not have a chance to see the Resonance Ensemble’s production of Cyrano de Bergerac, performed in rep with Burning, I had seen the most recent Broadway production of Cyrano, and so I was already familiar with the nuances of the story.

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Burning is set in an unnamed American town located near an Army base, circa 2008, and the “twist” in this adaptation is the titular character is female, and the external deformity from which the classic Cyrano’s insecurities derived transforms into an internal struggle this modern Cyrano, renamed Cy Burns, carries within her due to her experiences as a gay soldier. Another addition to the adaptation is the discussion and disclosure of the mistreatment of female soldiers in the US Army before the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, which accentuates the solemnity of an otherwise romantic comedy. Like the original titular character, Cy is adept at using her words (in this case via blog entries) to provoke her enemies and to help the tongue tied soldier Cole woo Rose, a local painter with whom she is also enamored. The antagonist of this adaptation presents itself in the form of Dulac, a high ranking Army officer with a belligerent history with Cy. The overall narrative follows the same story structure of the source material, with unexpected twists at its conclusion.

The set design is minimalist, contained mainly in the general store Cy owns and runs, with the requisite props that entails. The cast of five was amazing, most notably Catherine Curtin as Cy, who balanced her rage at Dulac for disregarding the mistreatment of female soldiers within the Army system with her awkwardness with Rose whenever Rose talks of Cole, as well as her maternal care for Sammy, a young man wishing to escape the small town world in search for a purpose. Also notable was Chris Ceraso as Dulac (parallel to the Comte de Guiche in the original play), whose adherence to duty provides added fuel to Cy’s cause; his interest in Rose comes across subtly and is all the more menacing in context to the action that occurs towards the end of the play.

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There wasn’t so much of a stage door experience, this time ‘round, as there was a talkback moderated by Rachel Reiner, managing director of the Resonance Ensemble with Eric Parness, the play’s director, and the cast after the performance (unbeknownst to me) discussing the origins of the play, its journey from workshop to stage, and the issues imparted within the play. The director and the managing director were alumni of Brandeis University, and there were many other Brandeis alumni in attendance; after the talkback many of the alumni gathered onstage, and I didn’t feel like intruding on that (or waiting afterwards, not knowing how long that would last).

The transformation of a French romantic comedy into an American drama deserves another life after this run, which ends today (February 28, 2016), having performed in rep with Cyrano all this month (yesterday was my only opportunity to see the show). It’s a different yet familiar take on the story of an outspoken yet insecure soldier yearning to find love and acceptance despite the self-perceived obstacles that stand in the way.

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Hilarity and Suspense: Musings on The 39 Steps – October 3, 2015

Mention the name Alfred Hitchcock and the first thought that comes to mind (usually) is his signature silhouette profile; the second thought is of horror in relation to how his films often feature scary and suspenseful moments/themes (Psycho, The Birds, Vertigo, etc.).  Based on the film of the same name, The 39 Steps strives to “break” this stereotype by infusing moments of hilarity amid the action and suspense. I obtained tickets via the usual way I obtain my autumn tickets – through the TDF ticket raffle table at this year’s Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS Flea Market & Grand Auction – and was looking forward to seeing this revival production. Currently playing off-Broadway at the Union Square Theater, I saw this play years ago when it played on Broadway and thoroughly enjoyed the overall concept and execution of this adaptation to the stage.

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Set in 1935, the plot revolves around Richard Hannay, a seemingly bored and directionless English gentleman bemoaning the lack of excitement in his life; a trip to the theatre sets into motion a sequence of events that draws him into a world of intrigue. The production scale is quite minimalist, to the point that there are only four members in the cast (three men and one woman), two of whom play a host of minor characters of both genders and of varying ages throughout. The set design is sparse yet effective – the actors’ actions (and reactions) enhance the scenes, along with the use of proper sound effects and other clever visual effects. There is also a quasi-meta quality to the production, with a multitude of references to other Hitchcock films and moments of almost-breaking-the fourth-wall.

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The four member cast was astounding, especially Billy Carter and Cameron Pow, the aforementioned two actors (listed respectively as “Clown #1 and Clown #2 in the playbill) who play over a multitude of minor characters, all with their own unique personality quirks with expert timing. Brittany Vicars was en pointe as all the female characters, giving each their own unique (often comic) spin. Robert Petkoff, whom I’ve seen several times on Broadway in Spamalot and Ragtime, was fantastic as Richard Hannay, exuding the perfect balance of obliviousness and astuteness as the events around Hannay complicate themselves.

The stage door experience was fine, as they always have been, though I was really the only one waiting outside the lobby (there isn’t a formal stage door area at the Union Square Theater – I was told by the lady working the merchandise area that the actors enter and exit the same way the audience does). Nevertheless, I did meet Cameron Pow and with Robert Petkoff, and briefly chatted with them, as I attended the matinee and they were running out to grab a bite to eat before their second show.

Me and Robert Petkoff

Me and Robert Petkoff

Me and Cameron Pow

Me and Cameron Pow

In conclusion, I highly recommend seeing The 39 Steps, which is an open run down at the Union Square Theater, It’s hilarious, it’s dramatic and it’s suspenseful, and it might (slightly) alter your view of Hitchcock films – there’s even a complimentary “nosie” to emphasize the comedic aspect of the play.

The 39 Steps playbill

Quasi-obligatory "nosie" in the theater lobby

Quasi-obligatory “nosie” in the theater lobby

Misinformation and Mistaken Identity: Musings on Under the Knife – March 29, 2015

Clear communication is the key to any relationship, personal or professional, and when that basic tenet breaks down, things can snowball into a great maelstrom before the situation is resolved, hopefully for the better. This breakdown in communication is at the core of any great farce, coupled with mistaken identities, a multitude of slamming doors and the inevitable chase sequence. Such is the case in Under the Knife, the latest play by Peter Zachari, playing at the Theater for the New City located in the East Village, for a limited run from now through April 5th.

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[Brief Disclaimer: Once again, I must disclose that Peter is a very good friend of mine, whose shows I have seen (and blogged about), and of which I am a (minor) investor. I am also good friends with cast member Joey Mirabile both of whom I had met roughly four years ago when Peter’s first show Parker & Dizzy’s Fabulous Journey To the End of the Rainbow had its world premiere at the New York International Fringe Festival. So it’s quite obvious that I’ve become quite a fan (groupie?) of Peter and his works – as stated before, the opinions and musings stated in this blog are my own, with no influence from the playwright. This is not a formal review or critique – I’m not a critic, I’m just an average theatergoer.]

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The play is set in the waiting room of the Mount Canyon Gynecological Medical Building, where finance-strapped Doctor Roe Wade rents out two office spaces – one to a pair of plastic surgeons and the other to a dentist. Unbeknownst to him, he has personal connection with both tenants – one of the plastic surgeons is his ex-wife Marsha, and the dentist is his mistress Deirdre (who curiously bears a striking resemblance to Marsha), and Roe desperately does his best (with the help of his receptionist Cora) to keep the two women from discovering one another. Meanwhile, Roe and Marsha’s son Budd is engaged to marry Bernadette, and arrives to ask his father to help pay for the wedding; however, Bernadette is a staunch pro-life activist (unaware of Roe’s occupation), and Budd does his best to keep this fact from his fiancée. Hilarity ensues when Deidre is mistaken for Marsha (and vice versa) and Bernadette believes Roy (the other plastic surgeon, who is also a recovering sex addict engaged to Marsha) is Roe; amid this inevitable tempest in a teapot is the arrival of Eyphah, an absentminded Holocaust survivor whose sheer presence adds the chaos that ensues.

As in any great farce, there are double entendres, sexual innuendo, cross-dressing, quick exits and entrances through several doors – there are five in total – yet amid the absurdity and seemingly implausible scenarios, there is some basis of reality upon which the events unfold. Roe’s financial instability (accentuated by a brief appearance by an IRS auditor, somewhat appropriate as Tax Day in America looms over the horizon), and the partly mentioned issue of abortion (there’s a running gag wherein the “A” word never fully spoken aloud) are the catalyst that fuels the action. Another key element in farce is timing, which needs to be precise and run like clockwork – Under the Knife has this in spades, with the audience following (with relative ease) the intricate web of misdirection and complications that arise. There is an abundance of pop culture references, (including a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it Star Wars reference) along with the aforementioned double entendres, sexual innuendo (Oprah and O Magazine are utilized brilliantly), and a bit of a cappella singing. There’s also a (probably inadvertent) reference to La Cage aux Folles, in the Budd/Bernadette romance subplot, with Budd (like Jean-Michel) apprehensive of his morally conservative fiancée learning the truth about his father. Perhaps I’m reading more into this than the average theatergoer, or perhaps it’s because of how I initially met Peter and Joey that I picked up this vibe.

The cast is amazing, playing their roles with just the right amount of madcap fervor without it going over the top (well at least not too much) – several cast members appeared in Peter’s previous works and their camaraderie is evident. The most notable performance came from Lori Funk, as both Marsha and Deidre – as the play unfolded, switched between the two roles (each with their unique vocal and physical tics) seamlessly. The clever use of a blackout allowed both characters to inhabit the stage at the same time, and with only the ability of listening to the two characters share the scene, you would have thought there were two different actors on stage, instead of one.

I highly recommend seeing this play – there are only a few performances left – it’s a frantic yet well paced farce with the right balance of melodrama and sincerity amid the usual organized chaos. Adding to the atmosphere is the piped in music from the 1930’s (a common time setting for a farce) – jazz standards and popular hits from that era, giving the play (which is clearly set in contemporary times) a kind of screwball comedy vibe.   For more information, visit http://www.theaterforthenewcity.net/undertheknife.html

Under the Knife playbill