Thursday, August 2, 2012

Reviews for the week of July 30, 2012

The Naked Stage presents The Turn of the Screw written by Jeffrey Hatcher.  Directed by Margaret M. Ledford and Staring: Matthew William Chizever and Katharine Amadeo. 

Design Team:  Lighting Design – Margaret M. Ledford;  Sound Design – Matt Corey;  Costume Design – Leslye Menshouse;  Set Design – Antonio Amadeo.

Bill Hirschman reviewed the show for the Florida Theatre On Stage.

Gather round the campfire whose glow barely keeps the darkness at bay and listen to master storytellers spin you a summer night’s ghost story.  There are no special effects, no makeup, no chainsaws, nothing but two actors, a couple of candles and the chilling truth that horror lies not in the sight of a blood-soaked maniac, but in the interior terror of the mind.

With the skill of an orchestra conductor, director Margaret M. Ledford has deftly wrought a world of half-shadows and whispers. She paces the evening masterfully, from Chizever’s slow delivery of passages like a connoisseur savoring the bouquet of a fine wine, to rapid-fire exchanges between angst-engorged characters, to the terror-fueled crescendo of  souls and minds twirling on the precipice of damnation and insanity.

Katherine Amadeo, as a sexually-repressed governess in 1872 England, smoothly traces the governess’ arc from a naïf confidently eager to meet a challenge to a terrified unhinged victim. As she descends, her visage and quavering voice mirror her imperiled soul under attack, exuding both strength and fragility.

Chizever pulls off the difficult trick of portraying four different characters. Several local actors have transformed from one personality to another in a split second. What Chizever accomplishes is making each so credible that you stop marveling at the acting and just forget it’s a young man playing a middle-aged domestic or a deeply disturbed boy.

Naked Stage, which has had so little finances that it has had to scrap some productions, makes a little go a long way. Nowhere is this more evident than in how Antonio Amadeo designs evocative settings in Barry University’s shoebox of a theater. Working in tandem with Ledford’s lighting, Amadeo has taken some molding, empty picture frames, an armchair and a staircase that leads nowhere to create a fully-realized world.

There is only one misstep. Chizever provides the sound effects of disembodied wails, the whoosh of a sudden draft and the ominous tolling of a clock’s gong. His sonorous baritone serves him well all night, even when imitating women and children. But for some reason, his noises ring so manufactured that they nearly elicit laughs.

Christine Dolen reviewed for the The Miami Herald:

Jeffrey Hatcher’s stage adaptation of James’ 1898 novella, first staged locally at New Theatre in 1998, utilizes just two actors, one to portray the ghost-haunted governess, the other in multiple roles.

The housekeeper, the governess, Miles and his mute younger sister Flora are ostensibly alone at Bly, the story’s gothic mansion. But all too soon, the governess begins spotting a man and a woman, as the children grow increasingly agitated. Is the woman Miss Jessel, the dead former governess? Is the man Peter Quint, Jessel’s sadistic lover, a man also among the departed? Or is the new governess inching toward madness?

For the audience, the answers to those questions barely matter. Turn of the Screw is all about atmosphere, mood and goosebumps. Director and lighting designer Ledford conjures all those things, in collaboration with Antonio Amadeo, whose predominantly gray period set keeps the focus on the expressive faces of the actor-storytellers; Leslye Menshouse, whose dark costumes do the same; and Matt Corey, whose sound design dials up the tension at key moments.

Michelle Petrucci reviewed the show for Broadway World  

As eerie candlelight dances across dark walls, two actors create an intensely creepy world that extends past the fourth wall and lures the audience into its chilling tale. With great use of theatrical magic, The Naked Stage manages to transform a tiny black box theatre into a grandiose haunted mansion with the use of slight shifts of light, simple blocking patterns and the dynamic believability of both actors.

The result is an absolute must-see piece of theatre. The Pelican Theatre is located on the campus of Barry University in Miami Shores and “The Turn of the Screw” runs through August 12th

The Mad Cat Theatre Company presents The Hamlet Dog and Pony Show by Jessica Farr and Paul Tei.  Directed by Paul Tei and Staring: Ken Clement, Troy Davidson, Giordan Diaz, Jessica Farr, Carey Brianna Hart, Christopher A. Kent, Emilie Papp, Theo Reyna, and Brian Sayre.

Design Team: Lighting Design – Melissa Santiago Keenan;  Sound Designer and Composer – Matt Corey;  Costume Design – Leslye Menshouse Davidson;  Set Design – Sean McClelland.

Christine Dolen reviewed for the The Miami Herald:

The bones of William Shakespeare’s great tragedy are visible in The Hamlet Dog and Pony Show, Jessica Farr and Paul Tei’s ambitious deconstruction of a world theater classic. Yet this Mad Cat Theatre Company take on Hamlet has had so much work done – the dramatic equivalent of Botox, a facelift, some anti-aging human growth hormone – that the play at its core is sometimes buried under an avalanche of ideas.

The script by Tei (who has staged the production) and Farr (who plays German playwright Heiner Müller as a Cabaret-influenced manipulative narrator) is actually a mash-up of Shakespeare, Müller’s postmodern 1977 drama Die Hamletmaschine ( The Hamletmachine) and the Mad Cat duo’s 21st century take on the drama’s characters and ideas. It incorporates a DJ (the recorded voice of Dave Corey), a Skype version of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (Erik Fabregat and Ralph de la Portilla), live musicians (Christopher Kent playing guitar and bass, Brian Sayre on percussion), singing, texting, a snippet of a poetry slam and the roaming, disembodied voice of Hamlet’s dead father (James Samuel Randolph).

The emotionally deadened Hamlet (Troy Davidson) is now the nephew/stepson of the American President Claudius (Ken Clement). He’s the guy who murdered Hamlet’s father and married Hamlet Sr.’s newly widowed Gertrude (Carey Brianna Hart). Claudius’ advisor Polonius, the vice-president, is a hand puppet operated and voiced by Clement, who utters those lines in a bad Cuban-accented English. Ophelia (Emilie Paap), Polonius’ flame-haired adopted daughter, is the moody object of Hamlet’s affections. Her bro Laertes (Giordan Diaz) is clearly crushing on her too. Hamlet’s best bud Horatio (Theo Reyna) and various minor characters like a hot-shot actor and an Irish gravedigger (Kent plays those and others) round out the cast.

Bill Hirschman reviewed the show for the Florida Theatre On Stage.

Theater should not be safe, comforting and familiar; it should be an unsettling stimulus for a fresh examination of life and society. Conventional expectations be damned.

This Hamlet is a stylized mashup of Shakespeare, Brecht and 21st Century performance art that examines existentialism versus nihilism by setting the vacillating Dane in a fantasia of modern American politics and power.

Like an atom careening around a chain reaction, it is by turns inventive, self-indulgent, exciting, boring, and, above all, sometimes insightful, sometimes incomprehensible. In other words, it’s a mess. An undeniably entertaining mess, a decidedly thought-provoking mess, but a mess.

Farr and Tei deserve laurels for shoving past mainstream strictures with intelligence and a unique artistic sensibility. Doubtless, Farr and Tei can explain the relevance of every moment to its themes. But the relevance isn’t vaguely perceptible to the audience in many moments and even long stretches. Perpetual clarity is hardly a necessary element of theater, but for this dinosaur of a critic, the audience’s comprehension even on an unconscious or visceral level is part of the artistic equation if you want them to connect to your piece.

For instance, one scene features a Cuban-American Laertes whipping up a crowd at a street rally in Miami attended by the Anglo Horatio. The two argue through bullhorns whether Spanish women received proper credit for financing the American Revolution, illustrating a clash of xenophobias. That’s a fascinating historical tidbit and a rare depiction of interracial politics in modern Miami. But it’s relevance to this specific play is murky and goes on far too long if all it’s doing is reflecting a tumultuous social background.

Many of the staging ideas are delicious, such as Hamlet texting his “doubt truth to be a liar” love letter to Ophelia’s cell phone. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Skyped in. Secretary of State Polonius is a hand puppet operated by the venal President Claudius. Some ideas, though, go too far such as burying the German emcee under an accent so thick that we can’t understand her.

Ron Levitt reviewed the show for ENV Magazine

There are several words which come to mind in order to fairly critique Mad Cat Theatre’s world premiere of The Hamlet Dog and Pony Show, the 2012 version of Shakespeare’s great tragedy brought to life here by playwrights Jessica Farr and talented South Florida writer/actor Paul Tei. The first is “theatre” and the second is “intellectual.”

As “theatre” this two and a half hour show meets a lot of the criteria to entertain with a galaxy of unexpected items -music, sound, video projections, irreverent lingo, the use of cellphones, puppets; –you name it! Tei , who also directed and Farr, who has a major role among the acting crew, utilize just about everything theatrical as they deconstruct Shakespeare and attempt to bring the Bard’s hero from Elsinmore into the current decade. From, the very beginning, the audience is aware that all of the action is taking place in a big tent, reminiscent of a circus, Even, the final moments of the play are unexpected and laugh-inducing as a movie show lists the “screen credits.” There is little doubt the playwrights are attempting to put the Great Dane into our Century and amidst American politics with references to Bush’s “NO (insert a word) BE LEFT BEHIND,” the second amendment guarantee allowing anyone to carry a gun, other U.S. Constitutional and legal rights, the Cuban influx to Miami and a variety of euphemisms and local connections.

Yes, theatrically The Hamlet Dog and Pony Show has something for almost everyone!

On the other hand, comes the subject of intellect. Just how much of Hamlet must one recall from his or her high school or college literature class? You may recall the characters’ names, even some ofthe plot, but is this enough to keep its audience in memory mode? And even if you recall the Bard’s character, do you know anything about Heiner Mueller, who (along with Shakespeare) inspired Farr/Tei to write The Hamlet Dog and Pony Show. The playbill actually spelled his name Muller (without the Eor simple E WITH A DOUBLE PERIOD ATOP -rare on most American typewriters to be fair),ls it a possibility they purposely misspelled the name of their inspiration? Mueller (with an E) was a lending 20th century German writer/essayist/dramatist who wrote the mind-bending The Hamletmachine, and gained fame among the literary/political set for his power packed resistance to what was happening in his homeland some 30 years before the reality ofthe pre-world war Eurostate.

Certainly, some knowledge of Mueller would be helpful in understand what Farr/Tei had in mind when they created The Hamlet Dog and Pony Show. (Mueller also used music, sound, double and triple entendres, and references to make his points explosively while using the Hamlet connection.) Credit Farr/Tei for following in such respected feet, But, seriously, will the audience get it? Maybe I underestimate the intellect ofthe local aUQience! …. The Hamlet Dog and Pony Show wraps up Mad Cat Theatre’s 12th season since its founding by the irreverent genius TeL His press material says this play asks the age old question -To Be or Not To Be? -how valid is today’s society in dealing with its problems.


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