Your Mom

Wrestling, punching, kicking, fighting, drinking, cussing, having sex...Winter Miller's The Penetration Play is full of aggressive alpha-male machismo from start to finish. The play's main characters Rain and Ash are in a constant state of competition, bullying each other, smacking each other around, and even spitting in each other's faces in a constant power struggle. Sound like too much testosterone for you to handle? Well, it isn't. Rain and Ash are girls. And the only other character to grace the stage is Maggie, Ash's mother. Sure, there is talk about Ash's newly re-discovered boyfriend, Rich, as well as some discussion about her father, Bill. But all things phallic are surprisingly absent from a play whose title might lead one to think about, well, all things phallic.

At the onset of the play, Rain and Ash jog into Ash's family's beach house. Ash begins looking for her parents, and Rain bets, "...they're having hot sex in the attic." Rain goes on to mimic traditionally male sexual motions even after Ash assures her that her parents have not had sex since "...Nixon was shredding tape."

This sex talk leads them almost immediately to begin talking about Rich, an old flame of Ash's that has recently been rekindled. Rain responds at first with casual indifference, then with aggressive disapproval and it becomes clear that Rain is very, very jealous of her best friend's lover. The two girls poke and prod at each other the rest of the first act, testing each other's physical and emotional limits before a truce is called so they can prepare for a night out with Rich.

Rain returns to the beach house early, finding herself incapable of watching the woman she loves make out with a man she loathes. She inadvertently stirs Ash's mom Maggie, who is more than happy to entertain Rain with cheese, wine, and stories of the past (and where her life went wrong). But it is not long before Rain begins to see where Ash's attractive qualities come from. Sex, more sex, and teary-eyed-yet-fiery confrontations ensue. In the end, no character is spared uncertainty and heartbreak.

The dialogue that Winter Miller sets down on the stage for her characters is very conversational, which makes her characters as believable and tangible as anyone I know off-stage. And both the ambiguity and ambivalence present in the play's resolution feel strikingly close to the same emotions present at the end of any relationship I have ever had.

Mia Barron's portrayal of the accidental heartbreaker Ashley is filled with a balance of sexual energy and innocence, making it easy to understand why her best friend (as well as a number of young men) would fall head over heels in love with her.

The set is every bit the upscale Jersey shore beach house it is supposed to be, thanks to scenic designer Robin Vest. Little touches such as ornate wallpaper and the delicately decorated cheese tray really make the world of the play come to life.

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Don't Bring Grandma

The luminescent blue curtain drops to the ground, revealing a giant cream-colored balloon with the mysterious figure of a woman inside.

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Island Hopping

The current production at La MaMa E.T.C. bears some resemblance to its name: ArchipelaGo! could represent some islands off of which you would like to get voted. Constructed in a series of personal vignettes and "performance art" interludes, the hour-long piece recounts fascinating family tales to little effect. The nine-year-old performance group, SLANT, is comprised of three Asian-American men: Richard Ebihara, Wayland Quintero, and Perry Yung. The show begins with a prolonged prelude of white fog billowing under blue and red lights--with the bare-chested, goggle-wearing trio jaggedly slicing the clouds with their flashlights. Then they gather around a circular table and strap on Asian micro-gongs to continue the wordless scene with music. Before long, though, the action gives way to the text and the mystery diffuses with the fog.

Each performer's family hails from an island (or at least spent some time on one). Yung's Chinese grandfather was imprisoned on Angel Island off of the coast of California; Quintero's Filipino family worked on Hawaiian plantations; and Ebihara's forebears ran a diner on Terminal Island in the Pacific until they were forced out with the internment of Japanese Americans during WWII. The stage, then, is literally set with three powerful, personal backgrounds that all Americans (save the Native ones) can connect with as immigrants. The men are physically-fit, apt musicians with a history of explosive, original work as a collective. Perhaps they are resting on their laurels this time around.

Wayland Quintero is a sweet but unsure storyteller, who divulges fond childhood memories of an unmarried Filipino worker who had to pay the famous "ten cents a dance" just to be near a woman. The background is edifying and horrifying: Filipino immigrants, most of whom arrived in Hawaii and California between 1911 and 1920, were not allowed to bring their wives with them to the U.S., and anti-miscegenation laws further prevented them from socializing with white women. Many were left without any companionship or families. Quintero's story is fascinating, but his shaky storytelling is not.

A few scenes later, Richard Ebihara performs an original piano piece about Terminal Island (whose first few notes sound strikingly like Mark Cohn's "Walking In Memphis"). He pauses between verses to tell the story of his grandfather who owned a diner that catered to the early-morning cannery workers, shipyard men and other hard laborers. He was given 48 hours to evacuate when the U.S. government began interning Japanese Americans during WWII. Again, this scene has promise as a history lesson, but never catches fire as a piece of theater.

It is the wiry Perry Yung who finally ushers some magic onto the stage. In a children's show sketch, he creates an ancient shakuhachi flute onstage. Traditionally carved out of bamboo and punctured with a hot stick, this flute is created out of "local" materials: a plastic pipe and a power drill. In the creation of this instrument, Yung captures the history of his heritage and yanks it into a contemporary experience--a swirl of ancient Chinese flutes reverberating with the city subway's warm wind. It is beautiful.

As their seventh original production, ArchipelaGo! was designed for audiences of all ages--a new demographic for SLANT. When they began in 1995, the group's premiere gig was Big Dicks, Asian Men and their repertoire was clearly edgier and more flamboyant. "To adapt to the needs of family-friendly theater," La MaMa explains, "SLANT is a bit heavier on the puppetry and toy monkeys, and light on the language. Gone are the double-entendres." Unfortunately, while letting the kids in, SLANT has let the charisma out.

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The Spread of Burbitis

Think back to the days when you were fresh out of college. New York City was your playground; your friends meant everything to you; and you were ready to change the world. But eventually, you gave up a life filled with recreational drugs and after-hours parties in exchange for aged Bourbon and garden soirees, quit pursuing your passion in order to take on a more sensible job, and moved out of your tiny studio apartment in the Village for a house with a nice piece of property in, dare I say, suburbia. For many people, life is full of these necessary transitions. But what is gained or lost as you move from one stage of your life to the next?

This question is central to D. Clifford Hart

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Centuries of Forbidden Fruit

Whether it was apples, chestnuts, or crab apples in the stories of the "fall", it was always Eve who started the world

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The Beast With Just One Back

If it is not already, it should be well-known that solo performances are tricky. Period. They also tend to be one of the most undesired additions to the theatrical canon. It is difficult enough to get the laymen in your life to see any sort of theater, but if you mention that it is solo performance they tend to ring up excuses faster than if you asked them to help you move into a five-story walk-up. Recently, my friend Andrew attended a mutual friend

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When Absurd Things Happen To Real People

Suspicious Package, true to its title, starts with nothing onstage other than

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Girl Power

Women rule (quite literally) in Steven Gridley's Post-Oedipus, an adaptation of Euripides' classic The Phoenician Women. Or at least one woman rules. The woman in question is Jocasta, Queen of Thebes, who begins the play observing a slide show of herself weeping. Striking a pose in imitation of herself, she wails and moans in attempts to find the necessary emotions to deliver her own introductory monologue to the audience. After failing several times, she gives up and calls upon a Messenger to finish the task, which he does to her satisfaction. Then the family is introduced. Ismene, the smart one. Eteocles, the usurper. Polyneices, the self-righteous warrior. Antigone, the sensitive daughter. And finally, Oedipus the shamed and blinded former-king of Thebes. Each one mechanically performs an action appropriate to his or her character as Strauss plays in the background. The family members continue to repeat their actions like skipping records in beautiful syncopation until the Messenger directs the sound designer to cut the music.

For the rest of the play, Eteocles and Polyneices quarrel over the throne, Oedipus attempts to regain his empire through a cockamamie do-it-yourself gumball vending opportunity, the girls struggle to be noticed, and Jocasta attempts to keep the family together, thus keeping Thebes from destruction. Ultimately, Jocasta fails in her mission and her family indulges itself in its pre-destined tragedy.

As the lynchpin of the production, Erin Treadway plays a marvelous Jocasta. Watching her transform from a vainglorious mother who wishes to be remembered for her familial sacrifices to a pathetic wretch driven mad from her losses is truly gut-wrenching. She delivers lines like, "It's odd, but when I look back on it, my life is actually much more fulfilling than it feels," with an incredible mixture of passion and aloofness.

But as the play begins to move away from Ms. Treadway's character, it begins to lose its balance. The side-plot of Oedipus and his gumball scheme succeeds from time to time in bringing some much-appreciated levity to the drama, but for the most part, it merely distracts from the real action. It is also a stretch to believe that the sniveling weasel that Andrew Bloch portrays as Oedipus could ever have been a patriarch capable of slaying a king and defeating the sphinx. Perhaps writer/co-director Steven Gridley and co-director Jacob Titus want to present their audience with a version of Oedipus that differs from the traditional one, but it is a version that I feel is entirely ineffective in garnering pathos from the audience.

The production suffers from other problems as well. The theater itself is lighted almost as brightly as the stage, making it difficult to focus on the story taking place on stage without being constantly aware of the audience. The music starts and stops abruptly too many times, which makes me wonder whether this is a directorial choice or just inexperienced sound design.

At times gothic, others slapstick, and still others melodramatic, the thematic content of Post-Oedipus wanders in too many directions to make any kind of lasting impression about any one issue. Certain directorial decisions seem arbitrary. For instance, some characters seem aware of and others oblivious to the fact that they are, indeed, actors in a play. The brothers Polyneices and Eteocles debate their reasons for wanting the crown of Thebes into microphones in a talk show setting, then one of the microphones is used as a P.A. to address the citizens of Thebes. Eteocles uses a slide projector as a machine gun to kill Polyneices, only to have to face Polyneices in hand-to-hand combat later. The boundaries of the world in which Post-Oedipus takes place are never clearly established, making the events that unfold equally unclear.

The play does create some great moments, including the busy, yet well balanced climax. Kudos to set design assistant Jenny Bonilla for getting the most out of a minimalist set, cleverly using a few sheets and picture frames to create a variety of props. And Karen Allen (no, not that Karen Allen) does a tremendous job evoking laughs while still managing to get lost in the crowd as Ismene, the under-appreciated and constantly ignored member of the family.

Though Post-Oedipus does have its moments, by the end of the play one feels as if he or she has seen a work-in-progress as opposed to a finished production. Some minor changes to the technical aspects of the show would improve it greatly, but only when Steven Gridley and Jacob Titus are able to focus their visions to produce a cohesive theme will the show reach its full potential.

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Travelers Forego Pretension Vaccine

Margaret Fuller, a 19th century American intellectual, placed her traveling countrymen in three categories:

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Good Taste

Located in the same building as Chelsea Studios, home to the good people of Theaterworks USA and countless auditions for touring musical companies of former Broadway shows is hidden a small but cared for jewel called the T. Schreiber Studio. All one has to do is look at the plaques on the walls to realize that commitment to a craft is paramount here. One plaque is from former Vice President Al Gore, thanking Mr. Schreiber for his more than 30 years in the service of downtown New York theater. Another plaque from former mayor Rudolph Guiliani declares January 25, 1999,

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Dear Vienna is Dear to Me

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Tennis, Furniture and the Afterlife

Hell Meets Henry Halfway is an ambitious attempt to bring Polish author Witold Gombrowicz's gothic pulp novel Possessed to the stage. Ambitious, as well as unprecedented. As the show's program states, "Pig Iron's version of the text is the first stage adaptation of any of Gombrowicz's novels in the English-speaking world." At the center of this unconventional story is Henry Kolavitski, a much-abused secretary waiting for his sickly patron, the Prince, to pass away so that he can inherit a fortune. Henry calls upon the diseased Dr. Hincz to discern how much longer the Prince has left to live. He also hires a tennis coach to entertain his jaded wife, Maya. Observing this all is Jon the ball boy, a happy-go-lucky simpleton.

Playwright Adriano Shaplin wrote sheer poetry for dialogue, and the actors indulge themselves, questioning, "What did oxygen ever do for me? What kind of favor is gravity?" and posturing, "If sleep is the cousin of death, I want to meet his brother." The language is thick, though the meaning of the words is never obscured, thanks to the actors' direct performances. Gabriel Quinn Bauriedel, as tennis coach Marian Walchak, delivers his lines with anger and futility in his voice while Sarah Sanford, as Walchak's student and potential lover Maya, communicates as much with her body language as she does with her voice.

Dan Rothenberg's direction combines with Sarah Sidman's lighting design to create numerous beautiful moments. In the opening scene, Dr. Hincz sits atop a train, his silhouette all that is visible to the audience. The manor's tennis court where the characters scheme and vie for power is lit in sections, resembling a chessboard.

But the true star of the show is a piece of furniture. A versatile armoir serves not only as the set's main piece, but as a brilliant character actor as well, changing from a simple closet to a doorway, a train, a table, two bedrooms, a bathroom, a tree and a gallows pole.

However, armoir aside, the play's greatest strengths serve as its biggest weaknesses. Rothenberg directed his cast with such careful choreography that the first half of the play often feels more like a picturesque slide show than live theatre.

The play also relies too heavily on its own poetry. Although the cast delivers beautiful monologue after beautiful monologue, the first half of the play drags on from a complete lack of action. In fact, Jon the ball boy comments on this during the Act II prologue, telling the audience, "This is when things get serious. No more stalling. No lolly-gaggin' and draggin' your feet."

And Jon is right. From that point on, the play devolves from poetry and silence into sex-fueled, greed-driven, murderous chaos. Though the second act does capture the audience's attention better than the first, it also lacks the eloquence of the first act and the resulting contrast leaves the play feeling uneven.

In spite of these flaws, Pig Iron Theatre Company succeeds in creating a deconstruction of the darker side of human nature. Horrible at times and hilarious at others, Hell Meets Henry Halfway provides a unique and thought-provoking experience. For any theatergoer looking for an entertaining show beyond the ordinary, this production delivers.

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SHAKESPEARE VS. SID: A Battle to the Death

What would happen if Shakespeare and Sid Vicious had a baby? Although this question triggers some rather disturbing images, their unholy offspring might look something like Titus X, a lovingly loud interpretation of Titus Andronicus told through the tunes of punk music. While the production dismisses nearly all of the Bard's text, it successfully revels in the bloodlust and revenge that drive the original play. The cast takes the stage to the overwhelming strains of an electric guitar, a bass guitar, and a drummer, who pummel their instruments with grace and vigor throughout the show. Although the band is top-notch, they are also REALLY LOUD. Fortunately, free ear plugs are distributed before the show, and I must recommend that any future audience member who wants to retain most of their hearing take a pair, just in case.

The show begins with a rousing, guitar-fueled chant of "Titus, Titus!" and some expositional dialogue that is difficult to hear. Luckily, the situation becomes clear upon Titus' (Peter Schuyler) entrance. He is a war hero returning from battle victorious, with Tamora (Bat Parnas), the queen of the Goths, as his slave. The emperor Saturninus (Joe Pindelski) takes Tamora as his bride and thus, enables her to wreak revenge upon Titus for the murder of her own children. Her two surviving sons kill the emperors' brother and frame it on Titus' offspring. They also rape his daughter Lavinia (Amanda Bond) and cut off her hands and tongue to silence her. Titus feigns madness for awhile but eventually kills the criminals, baking them into a pie and forcing Tamora to eat her own sons. A rash of killings ensue, leaving nearly everyone dead in a gory bloodfest.

The complicated plot translates poorly to punk music, which is by nature loud and indecipherable. But Titus X is more musical theater than punk opera, and the play increasingly resorts to spoken scenes and sung dialogue. While I felt a little disappointed at this tempering of the genre, I have to admit that if every song had been pure punk the story would have been lost. Several rock ballads add to the musical theater feel, and for the most part they slow down the anarchic energy of the show. The major exception to the ballads-are-boring rule is Lavinia's post-tongue solo, sung through a mouthful of blood. To make a tongueless, handless rape victim sing a ballad is sick, wrong, and absolutely hilarious. The other songs that work well are the punked-up screamfests that simplify the plot into a single, selfish emotion. "She Woman" is a great example of that, with lyrics such as "mine mine mine mine mine mine mine mine!" effectively getting the point across. When freed from having to clearly enunciate or hit notes, the performers really get to revel in the shameless self-indulgence that makes Titus X so much fun. Even when the play drags towards the end, the cast's conviction and their flair for the ridiculous keep everyone entertained.

The small performance space of Chashama is used extremely well. While some of the songs are sung straight out to the audience, others are more physical, and the cast never lets a few hand-held mikes stop them from smacking, shoving, and stabbing each other with great fervor. The lighting is also remarkably effective, drowning the stage in intense color and evocative shadow from only a few sources. The costumes add to the fun of the evening, changing quickly as actors shift from one character to the next. Decked out in punk, retro, gothic, and hipster gear, the actors transform Chashama's 42nd street location into St. Marks Place at midnight, and the audience is happy to make the trip.

Each of the actors has their moment of brilliance, but some shine more often than others. Joe Pindelski and Ben Pryor are especially versatile and energetic, and their performance is aided by the fact that they can sing well in the various styles of punk, rock, and musical theater. Pryor also impresses due to the sheer number of characters he portrays, all with great clarity and hilarity. Bond and Parnas both exude a nice stage presence but are unable to deliver on all of their songs. To their credit, every off-key note is held with the (false) conviction that it is the right one, and the bad singing, when it occurs, actually adds to the show's feeling of anarchy and disobedience.

The major problem with Titus X is that it does not really know what it wants to be. While the show starts off as an in-your-face punk explosion, that energy soon tapers off into musical-theater land. This mixed-up musicality was evident in the singing, which sometimes wavered between two styles within the same song. But maybe I am taking Titus X too seriously. Maybe a mixed-up, pointless teenager is precisely what this show wants to be. Its angst is voiced with a lot of heart, and in the end its ridiculousness and inconsistencies actually make it endearing. The show also has a darker side. Titus X takes two things that are often treated with the utmost seriousness--Murder and Shakespeare--and pulls the rug out from beneath them. When we squeal at Lavinia

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Come on, Feel the Noise

Life among the upper crust is so stressful, no? On stage, at least, being wealthy and idle means having a lot of time to construct elaborate plots and desperate social intrigues. In farce, and in its descendent screwball comedy, the play maintains a frantic pace as it rushes from outlandish situation to even more outlandish situation, with its characters charming their way from one self-created near-disaster to another with breezy quips and witty observations. At least, that is what happens when both genres work well. When they fail, they often disintegrate into a lot of rushing around to no good end, leaving the audience wondering how they muster up the energy to care so much about something so trivial. In A Scrap of Paper , the three-act comedy running at the Greenwich Street Theater, the cast stretches to achieve the kind of giddy chaos that makes the genre work, but their heavy-handed approach smothers the light and airy feeling they are aiming for.

A Scrap of Paper was originally written by French playwright Victorien Saradou in the mid 19th century. Mary T. Boyer, the director and adaptor, sets her version of A Scrap of Paper in the 1930

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Communication Breakdown

With a play entitled Electra Speaks (v.2), we are primed to wonder what it is that she has to say. But this smart and mordantly funny drama instead dissects the neuroses and self-protective behavior that can sabotage genuine communication, particularly for women. The inverse of the serial-character solo show so in vogue these days, talented young playwright Laura Camien's new play--a sequel to Volume 1, which I did not see, that can stand alone--has five actors play shifting facets of the same young, single woman in her fitful quest to say what she means and mean what she says. The conceit underscores the play's notion of identity as fluid and opaque.

Even as Electra uses words to deflect, bluff and conceal--anything but communicate--the play, under the astute direction of Emilia Goldstein, itself delights in wordplay (

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Laughter and Hope and a Sock In the Eye

If you could meet any person, dead or alive, who would it be? We have all been asked this conversational ice breaker at one time or another, perhaps at a party or a less-than-ebullient first date. In Spike Jonze

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Beware the Risen Woman

The violence of armed revolution has traditionally been the province of men. After all, in nearly every country men hold the levers of power, men make up the armies that exercise that power, and it is primarily men who band together to oppose that power. Yet, as Ken Urban

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Shock, Awe, and a Lot of Laughs

From the moment you enter the Laurie Beechman Theater, temporary home of the comedy group, Fearsome; you will realize this is not your typical holiday play. Do not expect to find a nice cushioned seat to sit in

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If Our Shakespeare We've Offended, Think But This and All is Mended

Admit it, it just sounds kind of good, kind of giddily charming, kind of stupid in the best way, and kind of smart in the best way too. And judging from consistently sold-out performances, I know I am not the only one who has been kind of fascinated about it. Why all the hype? Well, in an interesting twist, the buzz comes less from reviews (although reviews have been generally good) or word of mouth (although I am sure that has been good too). On the contrary, the attraction of Dov Weinstein

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Curse of the Chattering Class

A play about the depression and the precocious mid-live crises of the overeducated socialists and their bourgeois parents just will not work unless the play is funny. Especially if the said depressed socialists and their bourgeois parents are Russian. There is a reason why Chekov had the wherewithal to call his most depressing stage dramas comedies; he understood that spending two hours watching a bunch of self-absorbed rich people complaining about how they never work is an absurd situation, regardless of whether or not the fourth acts were legitimately tragic. However, the necessary combination of the comic, absurd, and the tragic is just not present in this production of Maxim Gorky

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