Thursday, July 26, 2012

Reviews for the week of July 23, 2012

The Katumba Theatre Project and Empire Stage presents Baby GirL, Written and Directed by Kim Ehly.  Starring:  Sally Bondi, Clay Cartland, Miki Edelman, David R. Gordon, Noah Levine, Nori Tecosky. Jessica Welch, and featuring Lindsey Forgey as ASHLEY.  Design Team: Lighting Design – Nate Sykes;  Sound Design – David Hart;  Costume Design – Kim Ehly.

John Thomason reviewed the show for NewTimes

At Empire Stage, the ability to accomplish so much with so few resources never ceases to amaze, no matter which theater company is renting out the space. Kim Ehly's Baby Girl, conceived at a New York City writer's workshop just after 9/11, has finally received a full-fledged production at the intimate Fort Lauderdale space, courtesy of Ehly's Kutumba Theatre Project.

It's something close to magic that Baby Girl not only works but excels with just eight cast members, a mostly bare-walled set, and static props limited to a bed, a sofa, a beat-up desk, and some movable pedestals. No matter — this is a transportive, original piece of stagecraft that rewards our imagination and always keeps us on our toes.

As Ehly's surrogate, Lindsey Forgey is a natural comedian and a performer of effortless talent; ditto to Clay Cartland and Noah Levine, the versatile young actors who play many of the men who populate her life (most of the supporting cast members play upward of five characters). The rest of the ensemble play off one another like a perfectly oiled machine, with Bondi's spastic exuberance connecting her pivotal roles as both of Ashley's mothers.

A comedy that lurches unexpectedly and effectively into a thriller, Baby Girl has resonated with the same-sex couples who have so far made up the majority of its packed-to-capacity run. Its references to South Florida institutions like Lester's and the Peter Pan Diner will bring smiles of recognition across all swaths of the audience. And David Hart's sound design, with its milieu-capturing audio samples and eclectic song selection, helps make the small assemblage of uncomfortable-looking furniture feel, ultimately, like a home.

Ron Levitt reviewed the show for Florida Media News

One would expect Baby Girl, the story of a young gay woman coming out and also searching for her birthmother  currently at the Empire Stage here - to be a drama. it has has all the makings of high excitement expected in a tear-jerking presentation!

Ehly could well be the star in this production, though she is not on stage.  The playwright – known locally as an outstanding young actress – lets loose with a pack full of comic moments while writing a play about one’s identity, only to  find her “family”  may be closer than one expects.   Her language as a playwright is outstanding,.

A powerful Lindsey Forgey plays Ashley ( the notable  narrator /alter ego of Ehly)  in this tear- and smile inducing two act play and is the center of attention from the first moment the stage lights go on.  What she eventually finds is that her closest friends and an unexpected finale finally leads her to what ‘family” really means.  Amid the chuckles and smiles of Ehly’s realistic  language is enough pathos to bring a tear to one’s eye.

Baby Girl is filled with acting prowess as a seven-person cast take  on some 26  roles admirably.

Sally Bondi, as both the birth-mom and adoptive parent , has some of the most telling moments. She beams with energy in both roles, alongside husbands played by David R. Gordon, Empire’s producer who proves he is an adept actor as well as entrepreneur /businessman.

Clay Cortland and Noah Levine shine in several roles as hunky males, providing some of the X-rated, intimate moments on stage.  Add (in) veteran actress Miki Edelman and newcomers - a comedic talent named  Jessica Welch and especially charming Nori Tecosky, who has her own Outre Theatre Company --  and you have the makings of an A-One ensemble tackling a right-on-target situation representing life accurately.

Ehly takes us through several decades, notably the 70s, 89s and 90s at several locations including Fort Lauderdale, Seattle and Jacksonville – times and areas in which the heroine Ashley discovers herself while seeking ‘family.”

Sound-man David Hart deserves special mention as he inserts melodies of each decade as the actors tell this vibrant story of self-discovery.

The Adrienne Arsht Center presents The Donkey Show.  Starring:  Stephanie Chisholm, Leah Verier-Dunn, Inger Hanna, Rudi Goblen, Derick Pierson, Shira Abergel, and Jimmy Alex.  Choreography by Rosie Herrera.
Bill Hirschman reviewed the show for the Florida Theatre On Stage.

Reviewing The Donkey Show is irrelevant. The immersive multi-media experience at the Arsht Center joyfully cross-dressing as spectacle-drenched theater is about surrender, not analysis.

The Donkey Show is the Arsht’s attempt to lure a younger, broader, more diverse audience into what some might call theater, but it’s really theatrically enhanced performance art. Set in a sensory overload environment evoking Studio 54, the show is a hybrid of circus, karaoke, dance, light and sound. It’s loud, infectious, silly. Is it fun? Absolutely. Entertaining? You bet. Theater? I’ll go out on a trapeze hanging from the ceiling and say no. Narrative or theme isn’t even secondary; it’s tertiary.

The hour-long  “play”  is bookended by 45 minutes in which the performers cavort with the audience as a DJ spins Barry White, Chic and The Bee Gees. Don’t leave before the cast does a post-show kick-butt kick line to Inger Hanna’s scorching rendition of “It’s Raining Men.”  The overall experience is overwhelming and, if you allow it, thoroughly satisfying.

The six-figure production has thrown in strobes, smoke machines, bubble dispensers, everything but the kitchen sink and that’s likely because there wasn’t enough time to find one. They’ve even secured the services of Harry Wayne Casey, the local resident who founded KC and the Sunshine Band, to participate opening night and during the last two Sunday performances as an auxiliary emcee/enabler.

A couple of performers in the 20-member cast have acting credits although those skills weren’t called upon. What every member brought was an unflagging enthusiasm and energy that seduced even the stoniest audience member. The performers all pose and style better than Madonna’s backup boys in “Vogue” (although dancing in sync with each other seemed beyond their reach).

First among equals, certainly the most noticeable, is Miami-based Stephanie Chisholm as Tytania. Tall, lithe and wearing hot pants, mask, a gossamer cape and butterfly pasties, she marched around the stage with a regal air appropriate to the Queen of the Fairies. She delivered the high point of the show when Tytania is hoisted above the crowd in a cargo net and gyrates in various aerial acrobatics, sometimes barely hanging on with one limb. Another standout is local actress Shira Abergel who brings the strongest voice in the cast to the music.

Christine Dolen reviewed the show for the The Miami Herald:

Call it immersive theater, interactive theater, environmental theater — whatever rings your bell. Label it or don’t, but know that The Donkey Show, the big summer deal at Miami’s Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, isn’t like any other version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream you’ve ever seen.

How much of Shakespeare’s story you extract depends on several factors: how well you know the original, how carried away you get dancing to songs like YMCA and You Sexy Thing, and how many of the club’s $10 drinks you consume. But craft and cleverness, artistry and humor are all at work in The Donkey Show, and Shakespeare’s tale of love misguided and requited, the malleability of identity and a sexually charged fantasy world gets played out in a novel way.

What’s particularly impressive is how unrecognizable the performers are when they switch from male to female roles, and how quickly they go back and forth. Kudos to Abergel, Chisholm, Leah Verier-Dunn and Carolina Pozo, along with Luis Cuevas as Dr. Wheelgood (aka Puck on Rollerskates), Felix Sama as DJ Rudolph Valentino (Rudi Goblen assumes the role for the rest of the run) and singer Inger Hanna, who belts a fierce It’s Raining Men as a post-show treat.

Chisholm’s Tytania embodies the sensuality of The Donkey Show, wearing nothing more than tiny butterfly pasties, shiny shorts, boots and a mask as she stretches and twists her long limbs, executing Janos Novak’s aerial choreography above the pulsing crowd. Along with two performers who have been transformed into a donkey (well, a donkey with an Afro), she also plays out the X-rated reference in the show’s double entendre title, though the scene is staged in such a way that it’s barely R-rated.

To purists, The Donkey Show probably comes off as faux Shakespeare and faux disco. But whatever this immersive-interactive-environmental thing is, it’s genuine fun.


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