nytheatre.com review by Various Reviewers
September 19, 2007
Week 4 - Reviewed by Shelley Molad
Week 4 of the EstroGenius Festival marks the last in this series of short plays. With five one-acts presented in less than two hours, this week packs a punch.
The evening begins with Melissa Maxwell's Fetus Envy, a courtroom drama in which a woman is accused of murder for terminating multiple pregnancies. Examining a prevalent social dilemma from an unbending angle, Fetus Envy produces an unsatisfying outcome. As it turns out, the defense attorney, played by Synge Maher, is completely apathetic towards her defendant's case, and the prosecuting attorney, played by Charlie Fersko, is unforgiving, leaving little room for debate.
We are taken from courtroom to hospital for Pamela Danforth Yaco's Family Time, where Marie and her brother Vinnie visit their mother, who has fallen into a terminal coma. Vinnie 's focus is skittish and disrupts the fluidity of the otherwise organic dialogue, from contemplating his mother 's death to his inexplicable need, repeatedly noted, to leave. Luckily, Vinnie stays, and we experience an honest and intimate portrayal of two disparate siblings drawn together by their mother 's impending death.
As Paul and Laura wrap up their dinner date, Laura notices that one of her shoes has gone missing. Turned off by Laura's unabashed plight for her shoe, Paul realizes that he and Laura are not meant for each other. Kristin McGovern's For Want of a Shoe is characteristic of a TV sitcom that's absent of comic beats. Actors Michael J. Connelly as Paul and Tina Chilip as Laura never make their relationship clear; what seems like a blind date proves otherwise. A redeeming moment occurs when Laura smacks down her high-heel in the center of the white tablecloth before marching off stage for an unforgettable exit.
Red Carpet may be the most enjoyable piece of the evening. It is a story that seems well known to playwright Kristina Romer—an aspiring actress serves as a movie star's escort to the Academy Awards in hopes of getting closer to achieving her dreams in Hollywood. Samuel Whitten comes across as a Brad Pitt look-alike; he is a confident, cool, and heady actor. During an impromptu lip-sync in the limousine, the entire theatre filled with laughter. The humor dies down when Alli Loeffert steps out of the car and refuses to give up her values for Hollywood, despite the harsh realities.
The evening concludes with Stacey Lane's Rainbow Sprinkles, a story about a high-strung woman named Miranda, played by Christine Bokhour, who screen tests a clown as a candidate entertainer for her son's tenth birthday party. After reviewing the class acts of Rainbow Sprinkles, delightfully portrayed by Jacqueling Kroschell, Miranda deems every activity inappropriate, politically incorrect, and/or offensive. When Rainbow Sprinkles refuses to change her entire act, Miranda is left alone with just a balloon; and in a fleeting, cherishable moment she reflects on her own childhood before abruptly popping it. Weaving in a common theme in this week's festival, Rainbow Sprinkles presents us with women unwilling to sacrifice their values and not afraid to voice them.
Week 3 - Reviewed by Reagan Wilson
The Estrogenius Festival, back for its eighth season at Manhattan Theatre Source, offers a month of theatre, dance, music, and visual art either created by women or created by men who "give voice to strong, complex, female characters." The festival in its third week offered a series of five short plays, all of which, as luck would have it, were written and directed by women.
The evening begins with The Body Washer by Rosemary Frisino Toohey. The war in Iraq is explored, from the perspectives of three women: a soldier, a reporter, and an Iraqi body washer. The solider is sadly stiff and emotionless. The reporter mainly rattles off statistics. These characters almost seem like an after thought in Toohey's writing, added to frame the story of the body washer. The body washer is responsible for cleaning and preparing the dead for burial. For this play, Rasha Zamamiri embodies this role heart and soul. We see a young woman who understands her job and considers it a privilege. We see the emotional struggle this young woman endures from being given a job knowing the suffering that the victims and the families of the victims have experienced.
Please Remove This Stuffed Animal from My Head by Crystal Jackson, explores the process of obtaining an abortion. A man has a small cuddly lion attached to his head and very much wants it removed. The men running the clinic try to deter him. The actors give it their all, but the play is very reliant on the site gag of watching men walk around with stuffed animals on their heads. The actors are forced to engage in a round robin of questions, and one really just wants them to get to the end. Yes, the end has a twist. Yes, we saw it coming a mile away. Yes, it's still fun to watch the actors deliver the end.
Crossing Over by Natalia Naman is well written, well directed, and deliciously performed. The biggest surprise of the evening, thanks to the direction of Mary E. Hodges, the play opens with what appears to be a dance between actors Meagan Prahl, Tarantino Smith, and chandra thomas. We are then transported to the South, where what unfolds is a tale of lies, rape, and murder giving new meaning to the phrase "blood is thicker than water."
In Dog Years by T.D. Mitchell, is about the relationship between two women and what happens to their love once they adopt a puppy. Wonderfully directed by Rosalie Purvis, the characters provide narration while wearing oversized dog collars and giving various commands to one another. The lovers, played by Ivory Aquino and Marinda Anderson, are delightfully comical and down-to-earth. One can sympathize with Anderson's character as she struggles with acceptance from her lover and with loving a new pet.
Rumple Schumumple, written by Megan Gogerty, uses the fairy tale "Rumplestiltskin" to explore motherhood. The queen who is also a new mom, is unable to guess Rumplestiltskin's name and, to the surprise of the dark elf, agrees to give up her child without regret. Though it's fun to watch these committed actors work through this fairy tale, Gogerty's play goes nowhere fast.
Week 3 of the Source's festival proved to be an overall enjoyable evening of theatre with each play offering a unique view on the plight of women. If Week 4 is anything like it, then one is bound to enjoy the well-oiled machine that is the Estrogenius Festival.
Week 2 - Reviewed by Shelley Molad
Saguaro: When Wren reluctantly shows up dateless to her boss's wedding, she meets Saguaro, and the two hit it off. And never for a moment does it faze her that her new love interest is... a cactus. An absurd rendition on the challenges of dating, Saguaro delights viewers by treating an outlandish situation with utmost sincerity, never failing to miss a comic beat. Julie Fitzpatrick convincingly engages in conversation with the life-sized cactus. When best friend Kira, played by Amelia Randolph Cambell, inquires about plant life in bed, writer Philip Dawkin's sharp and fast-paced dialogue results in a hilarious scene. Saguaro will make you think twice about how far a woman will go to find the right partner, even if she must forego the human genus.
Kid Sister: Once Iris uncovers her sister's bulimia, she is both concerned and fascinated by the disturbing behavior. Told from 12-year-old Iris's perspective, Kid Sister shows us how easily young girls give way to the pressures of fitting in, even if it means engaging in harmful activities. As the sisters, Zazie Beetz and Dominique Fishback share moments that are touching and disconcerting. Fishback embodies both the innocence and naivete of the kid sister, though at times she comes across as babyish for a preteen. This vignette by Carrie Louise Nutt deals lightly with a life-threatening illness, but allows us to see it from a child's perspective.
I Have It: George and Lady meet for a blind date, after learning they are both victims of an unspecified sexually transmitted virus. Seated on opposite ends of a park bench, Thomas Rowen and Caroline Parsons elicit a stage picture that is both uncomfortable and touching. The rhythm of this piece could be likened to a dance; Rowen and Parsons treat the text delicately, allowing for spontaneity, while living through moments that are absent of dialogue. Though they never name the virus, it looms above them, like the red balloon Lady has tied to the end of the bench—a seemingly metaphoric yet subtle touch that may or may not have been intentional. The beauty of this piece stems from playwright Bekah Brunstetter, who has taken a mundane concept and added a dimension that brings with it a subtle sense of urgency—as if time is running out and only love matters. Brunstetter achieves a certain fullness, touching on life questions that are both commonplace and rare.
Parents of Typical Children: Expectant parents Mr. and Mrs. Downer learn that their son may turn out to be a typical child. Michele Markarian's play is a pertinent commentary on American society, in a world where average is no longer acceptable. The premise is funny, but because it is a glaring satire, at times it comes across too strong, forcing humor on us. For instance, when Dr. Laurel reveals that her own son is typical, she overacts a meltdown on stage. William Kozy nicely manages to mask his true fears until the very end, putting an interesting spin on an otherwise typical ending.
The Curse of the Horned Babby: A cobbler's wife, a baker's wife, and a crone huddle over a large burlap sac filled with loot from the town's disappearing men, all of whom have been eaten by the cursed, horned babby (Irish slang for baby). When a minstrel appears in town, the women warn him of the cursed babby. Their tale seems nothing more than a crazy fable—that is, until the cursed babby returns. Amy Dickenson is straight out of a story book as the hunched back, haggled crone. Franny Silverman is compelling as the cobbler's wife, particularly when she retells the story of the cursed babby. Superbly directed by Heidi Handelsman and written to our fancy by Lisa Dillman, The Curse of the Horned Babby takes us to the theater of our childhoods, to the art of storytelling and magic, where all we need is imagination.
Week 1 - Reviewed by Kat Chamberlain
"Altared State" is an intriguing theme and a clever play-on-words for a night of one-act plays which opens the first week of the EstroGenius Festival. How each of the shows utilizes the same altar in a different way in its set is alone almost worth the price of admission. But that is only the tip of the impressive iceberg at this eighth annual "celebration of female voices." I was treated to five entirely different, yet altogether exceptional, works that were emotionally satisfying—a state that I was more than happy to be put into.
The night starts, interestingly enough, with Swan Song by Andrew Frank and Doug Silver. This is a simple exchange between an old stage actor whose days have long past him (except in his mind), and his niece, who is his only family staying on to take care of him. It is full of stirring songs that could break your heart. Both James Lawson as an old theatre "god" who has descended into a self-centered mortal of nobody, and Shoshanna Richman as a soft-hearted woman feeling trapped by her very heart, are dazzling.
What could follow Swan Song, if not The End? Shoshona Currier's piece uses a reality show as the platform for examining one's ambition versus the need for love. The energy is palpable among four contestants vying for "the prize" in a container that will only be revealed when the ultimate winner is produced. Does human desire cling to the possibility of two birds in the bush more than the one already in the hand? The show suffers somewhat from our familiarity with the reality show genre, and its ending can use some boost, but the premise is thought-provoking and promising.
The Wedding (re)Gift by Jennifer Thatcher features newlyweds going through their first argument of the rest of their life together—if they can find some way to accept their considerable differences. It's funny and tender. The pitfall of sinking into a million wedding clichés is shrewdly dodged. It is perhaps the most enjoyable piece of the night.
The couple theme continues into the future. The Cure for Panacea by Laura Schlachtmeyer sends us to a clinic that dispenses pills with automated instructions to couples, in place of traditional counseling. Two couples and one lone woman who come to this "no staff" service start talking and essentially host their own group therapy session. Their relationship is ill, but what is the cure? What do you do if your diagnosis is "38% chance of divorce"? How about 67%? I appreciated that the piece shows the dynamics of these relationships without making judgments.
We go even further into the future in After People by Fiona Jones, to a world where machines make and break people and history is demarcated not by year but a number of "system failures." Set designers Amber Estes and Mhari Sandoval deserve special mention for making the world vividly real; not a small feat on a relatively simple stage. The language has a Shakespearean ring to it, and the ambition nearly so. Men are obsolete and have become "purely mythical," and the doom is closing in if the machine is not fixed in time. The cavelike dwelling is constantly filled with the haunting chant of one of the women, living mostly in her own world: "Light without machine would be nice..." The whole atmosphere is frantic and mysterious, and the experience wondrous.
I came away with an amazement of how accomplished this particular festival is. The quality of the shows can rival most off-off-Broadway offerings. The state of the festival shows has clearly been altered to an ever fantastic level. I eagerly await the weeks to follow.