Online + Print Syndicated Reviews
Covering the Region’s Top Theater Companies — from Ridgefield to Armonk to Elmsford to Pleasantville to Ossining to Philipstown to Stony Point to New Paltz
BY BRUCE APAR
When Bruce The Blog Watches… People Act!
Authored by Peter Andrews, Schuyler Bishop, Elaine Hartel, Carol Mark, Tara Meddaugh, Evelyn Mertens, Pat O’Neill
Featuring Rob Ansbro, Schuyler Bishop, Torian Brackett, Enid Breis, Dante DeLeo, Lorraine Federico, Joanna Fernandez, Amy Lowenthal, Michael Meth, Sasha Murray, Ava Purcel, Roberta Robinson,
Directed by Christopher Arena
March 20 + 27 at 8 p.m.
VIRTUAL (via YouTube)
Dedicated to the memory of Joe Albert Lima, longtime WCT playwright/director/actor, who passed away in 2020. Mr. Lima was scheduled to direct the show in 2020.
If there’s anybody more antsy than theater-goers about the return of live, in-person performances, it’s theater-makers.
That’s a post-pandemic stage we’re not quite at, but we can take hope and heart that it’s getting so close now, we almost can feel “the roar of the greasepaint, the smell of the crowd,” to invoke a memorable Broadway musical title from singular talent Anthony Newley.
To paraphrase a signature song co-written by Mr. Newley for that show, until the proverbial curtain again rises to reveal actors in the flesh, “Who can we turn to?”
The answer is resourceful, community-centered theater companies like Westchester Collaborative Theatre (WCT; Ossining, N.Y.) and Axial Theatre (Pleasantville, N.Y.). Of course, in these days of Zooming in to take in a performative work, geographic locations are of no moment. A more apt description in the prevailing climate of physical long-distancing might be to dislocate those theater troupes in a place named Virtual, N.Y. — or, better yet, for the sake of specificity, Zoom, U.S.A.
That’s where a lot of theater has repaired to these days, in lieu of the black box or proscenium. Theater scenes may be viewed on a video streaming service like YouTube, but in many cases, it’s being produced via Zoom. (See separate musings on the formidable challenges of “Zoom theater” at the end of this article.)
Axial’s one-act festival, themed March Madness (which I have not yet viewed as I write this), premiered Friday, March 19 with the first of two flights of short plays, totaling 13 pieces. Program A runs through Thursday, March 25 with seven pieces. Program B runs March 26-April 1. Each $20 ticket entitles the purchaser to watch all 13 shows. For more information, go to Axial’s website. March Madness is co-produced by Axial Artistic Director Catherine Banks and by Virginia Reynolds.
Axial has for years mounted every February a very popular one-act festival (live on stage) under the tantalizing title Twisted Valentines. Extenuating circumstances this year caused the show to move online and to move back a month, with an appropriate re-branding.
With its Living Art Event, Westchester Collaborative Theater took on an ambitious re-imagining of an already ambitious project it produces every year. The current 2021 production brings to fore the same short plays that were selected for presentation a year ago, before being pandemic-stricken.
FROM GALLERY TO PAGE TO STAGE
Nineteen artworks by members of Ossining Arts Council (OAC) on exhibit at Ossining Public Library were viewed by WCT playwrights who could choose one from which to draw inspiration for a short play. The plays are submitted for selection by a committee.
In the current video production, a docent appears onscreen before each play to comment on several of the art works. That’s a nice touch, though it could be clearer which of the works inspired the play that follows. It’s ostensibly the last work mentioned before the play begins, but that correlation is not explicitly stated.
The WCT selection committee did a commendable job of curating a varied mix of material.
The Living Art Event opens and ends with a pair of whimsical pieces. Schuyler Bishop’s “A Pair of Pears” (Roberta Robinson, Michael Meth) extracts some sweet juice from a couple sparring over the sensuality of fruit. Peter Andrews’s “Glad Rags” has fun pitting stylistically polar art foundation doyennes (Roberta Robinson, Enid Breis) against each other, culminating in a colorfully choreographed, full-cast curtain call, Zoomified to the hilt.
In between, the other five pieces take a deep dive into fraught familial relationships.
In “The Bronze Lining,” Tara Meddaugh explores old wounds between two sisters (Amy Lowenthal, Lorraine Federico) who are catching up while hiking.
Elaine Hartel plumbs the labyrinth that is teen angst in “Being Fifteen,” featuring Joanna Fernandez and Ava Purcel as avatars of alienation from dysfunctional homes. Ms. Purcel’s authenticity and palpable sense of isolation makes a strong impression.
Torian Brackett’s passionate performance vividly captures the emotional complexity and contradictions of married life in Pat O’Neill’s effectively claustrophobic “The View from My Room.” In this case, Zoom adds value by virtue of a simulated trompe l’oeil backdrop that acts virtually as another character.
With “To Have Normal,” accomplished playwright Evelyn Mertens again demonstrates a sure hand in credibly assuming the personas of disparate characters, often depicting middle-class traumas, but never with middling dramas. Here, 13-year-old Hayley (Sasha Murray) and her not-yet-30 dad (Dante DeLeo) have grim family business to consummate involving her late mother.
In Carol Mark’s outstanding “Hey, Dad,” Rob Ansbro turns in an affecting and chameleon-like trifecta as three characters. In addition to Joe, Jr., he voices an aunt and his deceased father, a veteran firefighter of larger-than-life stature.
This elegant jewel by the multi-talented Ms. Mark reminds us 1) monologues work better than two-handers on Zoom, and 2) solid storytelling in the hands of a pro combined with committed acting can overcome the diminution and disruption that technology like Zoom can wreak on dramatic cohesion and continuity.
What’s important are that creative catalysts like Westchester Collaborative Theater and Axial Theatre are not allowing the pandemic to stop them from giving theater artists a chance to make theater as we wait in the wings for the pandemic to end its run and go dark.
The Living Art Event is effectively directed by veteran director/actor/playwright Christopher Arena, whose task was made more daunting by the multiplicity of images to manage, a theatrical version of herding cats. It is co-produced by WCT Executive Director Alan Lutwin and WCT member and actor/director Melissa Nocera.
Details on Axial Theatre’s March Madness
MARCH MADNESS Is Virtual Showcase of Monologues and
One-Acts Celebrating the Shapes and Shades of Love
Axial Theatre has announced the line-up of short plays and monologues for March Madness, an all-virtual seasonal tribute to love and lovers.
The 13 original one-acts and monologues, presented as two separate bills of plays, will probe the depths of joy, despair and everything in-between that follows when Cupid’s arrows strike – or miss their mark.
The first bill of plays, collectively themed “It Takes Two, Baby” (Program A), debuts 8 pm on Friday, March 19, and will be available until March 26.
The second bill, themed “I’ve Gotta Be Me” (Program B), debuts 8 pm on Friday, March 26, and will be available for streaming through Thursday, April 1, 2021.
All tickets can be purchased at axialtheatre.org for $20, which entitles the ticket holder to watch all 13 plays on both of the bills.
For more information > 914-286-7680.
The festival is produced by Axial Theatre Artistic Director Catherine (Cat) Banks and co-produced by Virginia Reynolds.
The two bills (including continuous play dates) are …
Available for streaming March 19-25
“It Takes Two, Baby” (Program A)
Office romances are truly the stuff of dreams. By Albi Gorn, directed by Robin Joseph. Jeff – Gary Simon, Marieke – Jacqueline Anne Smith.
I’ll Get the Wine
A married couple looking to spice up their love life turns to Oprah for some tips. By Carol Mark, directed by David Fritsch. Sara – Jaime Babbit, Jim – Chris McLaughlin.
Stiff Upper Lip
Is heaven what you make it? Do appearances count when you go to meet your maker? Walt and Wendy explore their options for the hereafter while still in the here and now. By James Balestrieri, directed by Virginia Reynolds. Wendy – Gail Greenstein, Walt – Jeff Schlotman, Padre – Michael E. Boyle, Jr.
The Other Other Man
A distraught husband accuses his neighbor of infidelity only to find they have something important in common. By Carol Mark, directed by Catherine Banks. Colin – David Cohen, Mike – Harry J. Copley.
Heartbreak on Board
Peggy Sue’s passions for cars, a special guy, and poetry have collided. By Linda Bidwell Delaney, directed by Catherine Banks. Peggy Sue – Sabrina Fuchs.
Can a bruised couple survive a transgression – or will misdeeds and memories rule the day? By Evelyn Mertens, directed by Virginia Reynolds. Paul – Dan Walworth, Lexi – Marilyn Collazo.
COVID Singles Meet
“You had me at bon jour.” By Susan Ward & Julie Griffin, directed by Catherine Banks. Cathy – Susan Ward, Julie – Julie Griffin.
Available for streaming March 26-April 1
“I’ve Gotta Be Me” (Program B)
Excerpt from the award-winning Off-Broadway solo show Wasbian, a shameless exploration of what it is to search for love — and sex. By Susan Ward, directed by Laura Gardner. Susan Ward.
Leonard has a strange fetish. Once his girlfriend Jilly gets a whiff, she quickly noses around, following the scent to discover what stinks—or doesn’t! Written and directed by Wayne Paul Mattingly, co-directed by Quinn Warren. Leonard – Matt Austin, Jilly – Heather Haneman.
Nine Months Ago
An earnest and kind-hearted middle-aged man, looking for his soul mate and a family, is on a first date with an off-the-wall woman … who is very pregnant. By Nick DeSimone, directed by Lori Lowe. Mel – Mike Roche, Cynthia – Lucy Lavely, Waiter – Gary Geller.
The Color Enthusiast
Why is Emma dressed in a large black garbage bag for her Valentine’s Day celebratory dinner? By Bara Swain, directed by Catherine Banks. Larry – Jeff Callan, Emma – Jenn Bedell.
It’s Just Us, Bro, On Valentine’s Day
Brothers George and Mike spend another Valentine’s dinner together discussing life, love and the internet dating scene. By Stephen Baluzy, directed by Rachel Jones. Mike – Anthony Barresi, Jr., George – Michael E. Boyle, Jr.
When love is love, it works in mysterious ways, and can last longer than a lifetime. Based on a true story. By Virginia Reynolds, directed by Rachel Jones. Virginia – Catherine Banks, Louise – Sandy Rooney.
Some Separate Musings on ‘Zoom Theater’
Zoom presents an assortment of challenges for theatrical presentation, not only for the creative teams, but for viewers (and reviewers), who need to adjust to a whole new dynamic to not judge the results by the conventional space and experience of live, in-person theater.
When two (or more) actors on Zoom are looking at their scene mate on screen, they are not looking in the direction of the other actor, as they would be on stage. The screen becomes their immediate audience, leaving the audience at home feeling like an unwelcome voyeur rather than a valued viewer.
Since the actor is interacting with the Zoom screen as if it’s a script in a staged reading, that’s what it feels like to the audience — a staged reading, even if the actor is off-book. At the same time, if nobody is reading stage directions, certain elements of dramatic context, such as a specific sense of place, can elude the audience.
Audio issues also arise with Zoom theater, creating at times uneven sound quality, a somewhat inevitable outcome when two actors using dissimilar digital devices are in separate ambient environments.
Even the vernacular of the new technology is not always familiar to theater stalwarts. For its Living Art Event, WCT attaches the misnomer “live streamed.” It isn’t. It’s pre-recorded. “Live streamed” strictly describes a performance that is playing out in real time, as it is being viewed, like PBS’s Live from Lincoln Center or a sporting event telecast live.
Simply put, it is not fair to judge Zoom theater by the singular standards of in-the-room theater. One is chilled by cold technology, the other is sizzling with body heat. Still, it’s good to know what to expect, and adjust to that reality.
Bruce “The Blog” Apar promotes local businesses, organizations, events and people through his boutique public relations agency APAR/PR. He also is an actor, a community volunteer, and a contributor to digital + print media covering the Hudson Valley. Follow him as Bruce The Blog on social media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 914.275.6887.