By Christian Viveros-Fauné
By Miriam Felton-Dansky
By Tom Sellar
By Tom Sellar
By Jessica Dawson
By Tom Sellar
By R. C. Baker
By Tom Sellar
Mathers staging has its strengths. His representation of Naomi (Ginsbergs mother) in the later, calmer years of her insanitywhen paranoiac visions of anti-Communist spies gave way to tales of cooking lentil soup for Godis simple and touching; and his reading of a posthumously delivered letter from Naomi, at the end of the evening, vibrates with invocatory power. However, Mather and his director (Kim Weild) rely too heavily on the bells and whistles of theatrical productionespecially ceaseless and unnecessary underscoring. Mather often hides behind this soundtrack, relying on its rhythmic drive and tonal manipulation, rather than doing what Ginsberg did: mount the platform and let the languageecstatic, mournful, and playful by turnscourse through his body afresh. CHRISTOPHER GROBE
The narrator of Jonathan L. Davidsons Victoria and Frederick for President assures us that the show wont be a plodding history lesson. Instead, the tale of the 1872 campaign of Victoria Woodhullthe first female presidential candidateand her running mate, Frederick Douglass, the first African-American nominated for VP, will shock us with its contemporary resonance. Like many campaign promises, though, this guarantee proves falsea historical primer is just what Victoria and Frederick becomes.
Teetering under its weighty exposition, the play duly displays Ulysses S. Grants incompetence (his wife calls him Useless), Woodhulls plucky politicking, and Douglasss oratorical genius. There are high pointslike Woodhulls catfight with Susan B. Anthonybut theyre mostly drowned out by the casts overly sincere declamations and swishing Victorian skirts.
Davidson is anxious to link Woodhulls and Douglasss historic candidacies to the Obama and Clinton campaigns2008 election videos (Hillary pronouncing, Obama orating) hammer this point home. But what point, exactly? Should we revel in national progress? Indict our blinkered past? Despite his glut of information, Davidson doesnt seem to know. MIRIAM FELTON-DANSKY
Fallons the butcher, Brooms the thief, and Rocks the boy who buys the beef. This jingle sums up both the plot and the intended tone of Dan Balkins stage adaptation of The Doctor and the Devils, a little-known Dylan Thomas screenplay. The Faustian tale concerns Dr. Rock, a pioneering anatomist who ignores, to his peril, the dirty deeds of Fallon and Broom, the body-snatchers (later, murderers) who keep his school stocked with bodies for dissection.
I say intended tone, because for most of the eveningdespite the raw force of Thomass language, and an eclectic sound design (by Daniel Carlyon) that can only be described as badassthe play feels like an unfortunate cross between a Dickensian skit and a Halloween pageant. Actor David Jenkins caricatures Dr. Rock, making little or no use of the characters Shavian bluntness and wit. Why would this flat, sententious ideologue attract even one eager disciple, let alone the record-shattering numbers he supposedly does? What's more, Balkin lets his Fallon and Broom get dragged 10 yards behind the engine of the plot, finding no driving moral or emotional arc of the sort that could take them so quickly from selling cold corpses to killing warm friends. CHRISTOPHER GROBE
By Rob Benson
Manhattan Theatre Source
177 MacDougal Street, fringenyc.org
In the program note to his monologue Borderline, writer and performer Rob Benson asks for our empathyan understandable request, given that he based the monologues speaker on personal friends of his who fell into the British club-drug scene. But its an eerie request, too. After all, empathy was one of the original (and more apt) nicknames for MDMA, the chemical compound commonly known as Ecstasy. This uncanny (perhaps unintended) pun sums up this monologues method: Its cheeky, its morally complex, and it makes the characters experience of drug-induced psychosis and fragile recovery seem unsettlingly familiar, even to a presumptively straight-edged audience.
Benson does not condescend to his subject. Hes clearly more interested in consciousness-raising than didacticism or judgment. The narrators story of how his first shot at drug-dealing turns into a Robin-Hood-ish redistribution of joy is, for instance, downright charmingif queasily so. But, thanks to the perfectly erratic pace of this lean 50-minute monologue, and thanks to the bizarre, jangling rhymes hidden within Bensons fluid writing, we never quite lose the sense of latent insanity, impending doom. This speaker, as the borderline diagnosis would imply, could go either way. But what is anyone doing to help him go the way of sanity? CHRISTOPHER GROBE
By Anthony Fascious Martinez
The Actors Playhouse
100 Seventh Avenue South, fringenyc.org
The title of Penumbra, a one-man musical by slam poet and hip-hop theater artist Anthony Fascious Martinez, refers to the faint echo of light encircling a shadow, as in an eclipse. For Fascious, this sort of shadows shadow is all that remains of the models of personal greatness that have given shape to his life. His spiritual ancestors, the pre-colonial inhabitants of Puerto Rico, were crushed by Spanish conquerers long ago. His grandfather, a WWII veteran and a great (if taciturn) man, has been silenced by death. And his father, divorced then imprisoned, was less a shining presence than a luminescent absence. What spark is left to ignite a young spirit?