Friday, February 20, 2015

One Day Has A Case Of The Glee Problem

The program of One Day: The Musical includes statistics about problems that teenagers face. Approximately 2.7 million students are bullied each year. Suicide is the cause of about 4,400 deaths annually. Over one-half of teenage girls and nearly one-third of teenage boys use unhealthy weight control behaviors. The show uses journal entries of actual teenagers to get to the heart of the statistics, but it does not manage to humanize them as much as it should. Originally called Inappropriate, it was conceived and written by Michael Sottile and the late Lonnie McNeil and developed by the DeSisto School. Since its debut Off-Broadway in 1999, it's been revamped with new songs by Sotille and new problems that didn't exist then (cyberbullying, online dating).
Photo credit: Bob Degus
The characters don't have names (they are referred to in the program by the names of the actors), which makes it hard to get to know them, especially because the stories aren't fully developed. We get glimpses: one is bulimic, another was abused and uses drugs to escape her pain, and another has trouble dealing with the pressure to be perfect. They may sound cliché because we've seen them so often on TV and in film, but these are real issues deserving of attention. One of my biggest complaints about Glee is that it introduces stories just to check off each topic, and that's how I felt here. The format doesn't give each the time it requires.

There are moments of promise. When Brenna Bloom, Chase O'Donnell, Marco Ramos, Honey Ribar, Aaron Scheff, Austin Scott, Ben Shuman, Andy Spencer, Aliya Stuart, Nyseli Vega, and Charlotte Mary Wen are harmonizing, it's easy to hear why this pop score originally gained a cult following. Also, if you've never been to 3LD Art & Technology, this is a good excuse to visit. It fits well into the space, especially with Andrew Lazarow's video and projections on the walls and rock concert lighting by Jason Lyons.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

An Introduction to Baba Brinkman

On Sunday, I saw my first (and probably not my last) Baba Brinkman show, Rap Guide to Religion. It's the latest of the Canadian hip-hop artist's rap guides (he's also covered evolution, the Canterbury Tales, and the wilderness). It was a hit at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and was part of the 2014 Edinburgh Encore series at SoHo Playhouse, where its currently in an extended run through March 1.

Brinkman is an atheist, but this isn't a show about attacking the religious beliefs of others. He is interested in exploring the evolution of religion. He's done thorough research, referring to various books and studies throughout the show, which has been fact-checked by scholars. Projections and videos illustrate his points and he keeps the show from getting too intellectual by including personal details about his family. It's easy to get caught up in what Brinkman is saying, skilled as he is in public speaking and rap, but to his credit, he doesn't just preach. He wants to start a conversation. After the show, he invites the audience to join him in the bar downstairs to chat over drinks.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Off-Broadway, Offices Provide the Setting For Master Classes in Acting

Allen Moyer's set for Rasheeda Speaking is so realistic that I had doctor's office anxiety just waiting for the show to begin. I didn't get anymore comfortable as it went on, but a play about office politics and racial tensions should not be pleasant.
Photo credit: Monique Carboni
Jaclyn (Tonya Pinkins) and Ileen (Dianne Wiest) work in a surgeon's office. Jaclyn has been sick and away for a week. On the day she returns, Dr. Williams (Darren Goldstein) meets with Ileen, who he recently promoted to office manager, to tell her to keep an eye on Jaclyn. He's looking for an excuse to fire her. At first, Jaclyn and Ileen engage in polite office banter and passive aggression, which will be familiar to anyone who has ever worked in an office environment, but their behavior soon veers from the passive to the aggressive.

There are no easy answers in Joel Drake Johson's play, directed by Cynthia Nixon, making an impressive directorial debut. It's to his credit that there are no heroes and villains. Jaclyn is organized and efficient and Ileen is messy and scatterbrained, but Jaclyn can be rude and abrupt with patients, which we see firsthand when Rose (Patricia Connolly) comes into the office for her appointment. Characters make racist comments to Jaclyn, but she also comments that her neighbors speak "Mexican."

Towards the end, the play seems to lose its grasp on reality, but then it picks it up again, and Pinkins and Wiest manage to make every moment work.

Photo credit: Joan Marcus
A few blocks over at the Westside Theatre, is a different, but also convincing office--the set of Application Pending (designed by Colin McGurk). YouTube celebrity Christina Bianco plays Christine, the new head of preprimary admissions at Edgely Prep (she's inexplicably been promoted from kindergarten assistant), and about 40 other characters who call her on the phone. Written by Greg Edwards and Andy Sandberg, who also directs, the play is meant to shed a light on the cutthroat world of prep school admissions, but the jokes aren't new and the format repetitive. But let's call this show what it is, a showcase for Bianco's talents of imitation. Add her to the list of thrilling performances Off-Broadway right now, which also includes Pinkins and Wiest.