FRIGID Festival

Writer Madness

The Golden Smile by Yaakov Bressler and directed by Joey Stamp is an absurd, hilarious and energetic play that is sure to break the winter funk. The play opens with a group of characters, patients to be more exact, in a mental institution. The patients try to create a play that will save their privileges in the recreational room. Some patients have an ulterior motive to win the heart of their beloved Claude–who is never seen but heard about in songs. Theatergoers enter the patients’ world, which is filled with twists and turns, and witness what the patients will do to write their play.

The cast is fun and filled with energy. The audience gets to see a glimpse of the characters’ mental conditions and personalities. However, their personalities can be more diverse and more nuanced as the play provides the space for this type of character exploration. One actor that stands out is Sofiya Cheyenne (Group Leader). Cheyenne is captivating and delivers a strong and engaging performance. Cheyenne really puts a punch to the witty and sarcastic lines. The entire cast, Andy McCain (Writer), Jody Doo (Sarcastic Actor), Flynn Harne (The Messenger), Robert DiDomenico (Loathing Actor) and Isaac Boorstin (Angry Actor) are talented and versed in both acting and musical theater.

The songs are playful, graphic and wacky. Composer and Musical Director Zach Stamp matches the music with these wonky characters. The music moves along with the tone and nature of the play. Costume and Prop Managers Rivkah Spolin, Shelly Ben-Yshay and Carrie Pieper designed the set and costumes accordingly. The set and costumes coordinate with the vibrant personalities on stage. They do an excellent job alongside Stamp’s direction. The creative team piece this insane world together for audiences to be hooked for a whole hour!

There are two plots in this play: one of the actual play and the other of the characters’ creative play. The big plot flows and the audience clearly understands the wants of each character. They all collectively want to write this play but they have different ideas and direction on how to go about it. How they figure it out is the fun part for the audience. Eventually, the group comes to an agreement and they have a play. Their play’s plot gets a little sloppy when they begin their quest for the Golden Smile. Then again, they are mental patients so their level of coherence may be off. Bressler has to be very clear with his intention at this point. The patients show strength, courage and determination, and represent much of who they are as a group.

In the end, they create a tender story about preservation and happiness, which by the same token is ironic considering their circumstances. They find their “golden smile” as many writers or artists in general find theirs. Bressler seems to be drawing connections to how insane the writing process is for writers and what better way to show this than to have mental patients trying to write a play. It is a wonderful premise and one that many writers would agree with. This is Bressler’s first play–he has a knack for humor and sharp dialogue. Audiences will be excited to see how his work evolves.

The Golden Smile serves to be an exhilarating night at the theater. Watch it for the humor, energy, witty lines and music. It is sure to get everyone walking out with a smile and maybe even a golden one.

The Golden Smile is part of the Frigid Festival, which is showing over 150 performances in two theaters and over the span of three weeks. The festival is founded on the idea of providing theater artists the opportunity to produce their own work.

The Golden Smile runs until March 5 at The Kraine Theater (85 East 4 St. between 2 and 3 Aves.) in Manhattan. Tickets are $15. To purchase tickets, call (212) 777-6088 or horsetrade.info.

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81 and Still a Bawdy Broad

As the lights illuminate the scant set design on stage—a keyboard, table, chair, a white and gold embellished frock on the wall and ukulele—a man appears and begins to play an overture of music on the keyboard while a petite, 81-year-old woman arrives in a gold sequined beret adorned with an Eiffel tower sewed on top. This cabaret duo of singer D’yan Forest and her longtime friend and pianist Richard Danley then begin the one-woman cabaret stand-up comedy show, A Broad Abroad!

Forest’s show is a compilation of her personal memoirs. She jokes that she tells her age at the beginning of the show “just in case I don’t make it to the end.” She is not the typical, cookie-baking, grandmother figure. Instead, she recounts her travel experiences across the globe and “studies in men, life and pantomime.” Forest tells you every dirty detail down to cunnilingus and warbling about dying her hair and her lady bush that reflects her “I ain’t 20 either and I don’t care neither. And I dye my hair not just here, but there," mentality. As for her thoughts on the horizontal mambo, she says, “Most of my friends have given up on sex. Not me, my rule is it ain’t over until the fat lady is dead.” 

The solo entertainer is energetic in her delivery on stage. She strums the ukulele quite impressively as she sings in French, German and Italian. She shows off her still nimble body when laying down on stage and getting up with ease while telling the story of her escapades in a Turkish bath. When she sings the song, "La Vie en Rose," her eyes twinkle with emotion and vigor.

Forest is a skilled artist who delightfully played musical renditions of nostalgic classics. However, some of the jokes that she and her co-writer, Eric Kornfeld, have written as transitions are predictable and stale. These include references to the old joke (“My parents went to China, and all I got was this lousy t-shirt.") and the inevitable math problem that happens when an older person hooks up with a younger person (“One thing I know for sure 25 goes into 76 many more times than 76 goes into 25.”). 

The out-of-date script shows Forest's lack of a fresh perspective on the common-life experiences of women. Instead, she teaches you the age-old lesson, “Nobody told you life would be easy but it doesn’t mean you can’t have fun.” In topics of divorce and her perceived inability to make her mother happy, Forest appears heartfelt and authentic. Despite this, the audience's biggest takeaway is that she runs off and avoids the problems at hand. She would much rather be having sex and learning a new language than diving into life lessons.

Clearly, Forest doesn't seem to care whether or not the audience is laughing with her or at her. Her pure love of cabaret is illustrated in her command of the stage. Although she has lived her life with gusto, perhaps it’s time for some deep philosophical reflection?

A Broad Abroad! is running in the 10th annual FRIGID Festival at The Kraine Theater (85 East 4th St. between 2nd Ave. and Bowery) in Manhattan. Remaining dates and times: Wednesday, March 2 at 5:30 p.m. and Friday, March 4 at 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $15 for adults and $10 for students, seniors and the military. Visit www.horsetrade.info to purchase tickets.

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Wordless Wonder

What is the definition of HTI—Hug Transmitted Infection? Mike Spara tells you in his wordless solo sketch, "Give That Guy a Hug," one of more than 14 that constitute his show Conversations With ... Body Language. In the “Hug” sketch, Spara portrays a man who wants to give out free hugs. In the background, words on a projection screen explain that the man who is trying to give away free hugs is “totally clean and free of STDs: Sexually Transmitted Diseases, or to use the less archaic term, STIs: Sexually Transmitted Infections.” They state that the man just wants to spread love and bring peace to people across the world, while Spara assures the audience that there is no such thing as an HTI.

Spara has written and directed this wordless solo comedy as a dedication to the art of silent comedic legends Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. His show combines live sketches and pre-recorded pieces shown on a projection screen. He uses the projection like a vintage movie screen displaying title cards with dialogue but also as a prop. For example, one bit includes pre-recorded footage of a man jogging around a neighborhood and climbing fences like Spider-Man. At one point, the man stops to grab a cup of coffee. In creating the illusion that the character has jumped off the screen, Spara then jogs into the theater with the coffee in hand.

In another sketch with the title of "Interlude," singer-songwriter Sia’s music video Chandelier plays in the background as Spara proceeds to perform a two-finger puppet show. His finger puppet humorously mimics Sia’s dance moves in the video. 

Even though Spara’s characters are silent, this does not mean that they are emotionless. Spara’s hard work shows extreme dedication with his distinctive character choices and physical actions. His eyes are very expressive and his physical movements are pertinent to each of his characters.

Spara is an artist willing to push boundaries to make his characters real. This includes eating some unappetizing foods and making love to a life-size Buzz Lightyear balloon. In the sketch, "A Day in the Park," Spara portrays a dog who is exploring the park on his own. The dog brings a bag of Beggin’ Strips treats with him to the park. He finds people in the park (audience members) to feed the treats to him. Spara actually eats the dog treats. That shows the actor's true commitment to each character.

Spara certainly applies Buster Keaton's statement, “I always want the audience to out-guess me, and then I want to double-cross them” in his own comedic artistry. Each sketch is well-written, witty and unpredictable. At surface value, the various sketch plots (i.e. a conductor conducting a symphony, a boxing match, and a father and son playing baseball) appear uninteresting and simple. However, Spara makes them entertaining by using visual comedy, very specific props, and musical sound tracks that complement the action and obscure twists. 

One notable plot twist was during the sketch, "Special Delivery," where Spara’s character receives a large package via a toss by the courier instead of a hand delivery. After a strenuous struggle to open the package, Spara finds an eye patch. Although Spara's character doesn't need an eye patch, he puts it on and starts dancing flirtatiously and winking at all the ladies as disco music sets in.

Spara displays his vulnerability on stage in the versatility of each sketch character. His wordless sketch comedy embodies Charlie Chaplin's quote: “Failure is unimportant. It takes courage to make a fool of yourself.” Spara can be seen making a glorious fool of himself at the 10th annual FRIGID Festival.

Mike Spara's Conversations with Body Language's last show is Saturday, Feb. 27 at 8:50 p.m. at the Under St. Marks Theater (94 St. Marks Place between 1st Ave. and Avenue A). Tickets are $10 for adults, $7 for students/seniors and free for military, police and firefighters. For tickets, visit www.horsetrade.info.

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