Shaina

Archive for the ‘Downtown NYC Theatre’ Category

Room for Cream: The Live Lesbian Soap Opera

In Downtown NYC Theatre on April 12, 2010 at 3:04 pm

After a thwarted attempt over a month ago to snag a precious ticket to Room for Cream, the live lesbian soap opera with a near-cult following, we made sure to reserve our seats well ahead of time for this month’s installment.  The brainchild of the Two-Headed Calf’s Dyke Division, Room for Cream is in its third season at the downtown experimental theatre establishment La Mama. Every season is comprised of a series of monthly episodes, keeping the show’s devotees in prolonged, torturous suspense.

Walking in as a newbie in the middle of season three, I had to brush up on the show’s history.  I turned to the Room for Cream website and got a crash course on all the scandal, the sex, and the…vampires? Alrighty!

Climbing the steep, narrow stairway to the third floor theatre, we arrived at a room with a cabaret-style set-up.  Round café tables were scattered about with a stage at the far end of the room, a white sheet serving as a primitive curtain.  We had our sights set on a particularly inviting table, but as began to sit down we were told that it was actually part of the set.  Woops.  We quickly spotted a fine replacement, scoring a front-row place near the edge of the room.  We sat down, absolutely giddy with excitement.  As we scoped our surroundings, we spied an open bar near the entrance (NICE!), and my friend purchased refreshments while I guarded the roost, the sold out space filling up quickly.

To be quite frank I had no idea what to expect, but I was ready for anything.  And the show was apparently ready for a novice like me too, pulling out all the stops after the prologue with three ripe-aged characters in full frontal, unabashed nudity.  I quickly got an idea of what I was in for.

The premise of this episode was that Sappho, the town where this homoerotic soap is cleverly set, needed a new mayor (the former one having been beheaded).  The three candidates were to give their speeches at a town meeting in Room for Cream, the local coffee shop.  The episode unfolded in a fabulously dramatic manner, spliced with flashbacks that clarified certain awkward or sexually tense moments.  For example, if there was a particularly mysterious interaction between two characters on stage, the narrator would pause the episode and declare a precursory “But before this all happened…”, building tantalizing suspense as the lights changed.  The characters would then reenact the gasp-inducing moment at the source of their current situation.

As far as fine theatre goes, I do not see this show winning momentous awards any time soon. However, it was a refreshing reminder of an often-sacrificed concept in theatre: play.  The performers were clearly having a fabulous time, and their pure joy permeated the audience; we were right there with them, through the flubbed lines and technical glitches, gasping at shocking moments, cheering at exciting ones. The best part of it was that we got to play with them, even casting our votes for the next mayor.

I have to say, the show’s cheesiness was geniusly crafted.  I feel that in order for a corny melodrama to really work, there has to be talent at the root of it—you have to actually be “good” to successfully play “bad.”  And this worked.  Not only did it poke fun at daytime drama, but it also satirized relevant social and political issues, especially surrounding the gay community.  It even spoofed the current eco-craze, as the local sex shop Progressive Pussies received New York Times-level recognition after “going green.” And though I am usually not amused by vulgar humor, which all-too-frequently serves no purpose other than shock value, I found that this show was clever in its obscenity. The narrator would dictate the steamy, graphic sex scenes, his words reminiscent of a deliciously trashy romance novel, which was just indulgent enough for a live audience. The actors would remain standing, acting out their sexual ecstasy without enacting the narrator’s words, leaving just enough for the imagination. It was smart, raunchy comedy.  And it was fantastic.

Room for Cream was definitely worth the month-long wait, my only complaint being that I can’t catch the past seasons on hulu.  I wouldn’t be surprised if I find myself buying a season pass for next year–as with any good soap opera, I’m one episode in and I’m hooked.

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The Essence of Hamlet

In Best of the Best, Downtown NYC Theatre on March 23, 2010 at 11:51 pm

Although this show closed March 6 after an all-too-brief two week run, I feel compelled to preserve its memory in writing.  Simply put, this show blew me away.  I can say with absolute confidence that it was the best Shakespeare production I have ever seen.  Director John Kurzynowski stripped the show of all scholarly pretension often associated with Hamlet, leaving us with a rendition that honored the most fundamental element of a play–the words.  Gone were the academic, philosophical hypotheses that all too often cloud what the words actually mean.  It was Hamlet in its purest form.

Now, any stiff “Shakespeare purist” who saw the show may want me thrown in the proverbial bin for making that claim.  How could this experimental, East Village  production be “Hamlet in its purest form?”  Kurzynowski threw all theatrical and Shakespearean conventions out the window with this show.  As the audience walked in, the actors were already on stage warming up, dressed in hipster street clothes and chatting vibrantly amongst themselves.  They even greeted friends in the audience, committing theatrical taboo by breaking fourth wall.  And if that didn’t ruffle some highbrow feathers, one look at the program would have probably caused a heart attack.  “Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, to be played by….Stacy Jordan?  And Ophelia a man?! What is this blasphemy?”

All I can say is that I don’t know why Hamlet isn’t played this way every time.  Hamlet as a woman and Ophelia as a man makes so much more sense–the switch completely averts the problem of these characters’ musings becoming annoying, as I have often found myself thinking in other experiences of the play.  Jordan’s Hamlet was brilliant, and she endowed him with a sense of strength and groundedness that I had never seen before.  She delivered her soliloquies in such a way that expressed exactly what the words meant; there was no convoluted subtext, no “I’m saying this but I mean that.”  This made the character so much more accessible, so much more real, and allowed the audience to connect with her instead of being dragged through the show by the reigns of some unpredictable gelding.  Tommy Heleringer’s Ophelia was heartbreaking, and he played the character with a refreshing sincerity.  He did not indulge in a typical fit of madness, as Ophelia is often portrayed, but again let the words speak for themselves, evoking a profound sadness from deep within himself that emanated throughout the audience.  Ophelia’s death scene was beautifully done, as flower petals were scattered throughout the entire scene, and as he signified the drowning by dipping his face in a water basin downstage center.  When he lifted is head up to the light, the effect was intensely moving, as droplets of sparkling water trickled down his face.

Another aspect of this production that I greatly appreciated was how it embraced Shakespeare’s bawdy humor.  The hilarious Kyle Williams, who played “the Clown,” would echo words like “cock” through stifled snickers, acknowledging them as the innuendoes they are.  The show also epitomized the meaning of an ensemble.  The cast remained on stage the entire time, and when actors were not in a certain scene, they would watch from the sidelines with genuine interest and enthusiasm for their fellow actors’ performances.  Claudius was portrayed by almost every cast member, denoted by a red beanie.  While each actor gave the character his or her own distinct flair, there was a remarkable sense of continuity throughout each incarnation, which also speaks to the company’s sense of ensemble.

I cannot end this review without mentioning the stunning Tina Shepard.  As Hamlet Sr.’s ghost, the nucleus of the play, her omnipresence guided the show through its paces.  Shepard bestowed the character with amazing depth, portraying him with eternal wisdom and solemn dignity.  She transformed the character from an obsessively vengeful spirit to a piteous soul who had been profoundly hurt by betrayal.

This show, despite all of its eccentricities and innovations, depicted the core essence of Hamlet.  By rejecting theatrical conventions and abstract theories surrounding the play, Kurzynowski brought the focus to the core elements of the show, allowing the actors to express the essential meaning of the text.  This show was the quintessence of progressive theatre–creative, experimental, fearless, risk-taking, and most importantly, truthful.  I only wish that this show were still running and that it received more widespread recognition for its brilliance.  Not only was it Hamlet in its purest form, but also theatre in its purest form.