Monday, March 20, 2017

The Surreal Adventures of The Angry Redheaded Lawyer: "Your Name on My Lips" presented by Crystal Field (Executive Artistic Director) at Theater for The New City by Eric B. Sirota

* A disclaimer before you read this review: I am a very cynical woman in matters of romance and love. My parents had a dysfunctional marriage featuring my father as an emotionally abusive alcoholic and my mother as his enabling, God fearing wife in the backdrop of the American South, a region known for wives in particular getting the short end of the stick in marriage matters. A lack of money did not help their problems though my mother should be commended for her emotional strength and resourcefulness.

I had no childhood sweetheart, often got dumped by guys in college when I wasn't having to fend off clingy psychopaths I didn't find remotely attractive, fell in love at the ripe old age of 23 and after a marriage of more than 7 years found myself thrown out into the street by the “love of my life” a mere 9 months after my father's sudden death with no real explanation except his stating “I don't want to be a subsistence farmer” and him thinking it was my duty to be his meal ticket so he could sit on his butt and do nothing.

After a very bitter divorce and 16 months as a transient in NY and CT, I have slowly been trying to make myself whole again if not better. To say that I do not believe in love and don't trust anyone is a gross understatement; I even got a tattoo many years ago commemorating the fact that true love does not exist for yours truly.

So for those of you reading this review, please bear this perspective in mind. You might agree, you might disagree but this is my honest critique.

Perhaps the night I saw this show wasn't the best time as I did have a brief panic earlier in the day that a guy I'd seen recently is & has been carrying a torch for someone else; yeah, most women and especially me do not want to deal with any guy carrying a torch that isn't for her whether you are just friends with benefits, boyfriend/girlfriend or getting engaged. *

“Your Name on My Lips” is about an artist named Sam (Matt Mitchell) who comes from a troubled family background but finds his artistic muse in a young girl named Suzanna (Michelle Siracusa). As they grow into teenagers and into high school age, they become romantically involved and Suzanna even loses her virginity to Sam.

Matt Mitchell, Michelle Siracusa

Like many young girls, Suzanna comes from a modest, middle class background where her father (Brandon Grimes) loves Sam's vision of Suzanna and how much Sam clearly loves her while her mother (Erin Evers) is more of a social climber type. She dismisses Sam for his lack of drive to become a millionaire or hailing from a good family and really wants Suzanna to marry rich, including dating George, the son of an affluent banker in their town (Jarred Bedgood) even though Suzanna has no romantic interest in him. Of course Suzanna is going to attend college and she attends a school far away from her childhood home.

"Your Name On My Lips," written and composed by Eric B. Sirota, directed by Gerald vanHeerden, presented by Theater for the New City March 2 to 19, 2017. Foreground: Matt Mitchell as Sam and Michelle Siracusa as Suzanna. Behind: Brandon Grimes and Erin Evers as Suzanna's parents. Photo by Jonathan Slaff.

While in college, Suzanna ends up meeting Phil (Clint Hromsco). Phil is another guy from money who introduces Suzanna to drugs, cocaine in particular. As Suzanna and Sam are apart and see each other sporadically, Suzanna is torn between her devotion to Sam and the siren sound of wealth, affluence and materialism. Sam faces his own temptations via his friend Jack (also played by Grimes) to go after the lovely, more in his league Kate (also played by Evers). The difference is Sam stays true to his Suzanna while Suzanna throws Sam under the bus in more ways than one.

Suzanna decides to bring cocaine to see the anti-drug, anti-alcohol Sam (whose parents were killed by a drunk driver, as we learn at Suzanna's 12th birthday party). When the police notice the drug she'd discarded, Sam took the fall for her so she would not get kicked out of school and have her life fall apart. Eventually, Sam is released on a technicality but the police officer and public defender even engage in a song called “No Girl is Worth It” to prove the utter futility of this act. Suzanna is nowhere to be found in Sam's time of need but not to worry: Fantasy Suzanna (Aja Downing) comforts him while Suzanna is being a wussy little B.

Suzanna also refers to Sam as “just a friend” while talking to George, unknowingly in Sam's earshot. However, it feels like a warning to Sam that Suzanna isn't nearly as devoted to him as he is to her. Even Suzanna's college roommate Beth (also played by Evers), who at first tells Suzanna to go live the college experience, later changes her tune about Sam. She tells Suzanna outright that if a guy felt about her the way Sam feels about Suzanna, she'd not throw that love away like Suzanna is doing.

Erin Evers (as Beth), Michelle Siracusa

Another act of betrayal is Suzanna's hooking up with Phil, which leads to her getting pregnant. While in the hospital, presumably approaching death, she claims that she loves Sam and claims to love him and that she'll have “your name on my lips.” After the doctor comes in to tell him Suzanna will be fine, he notices the diamond ring on her finger. It turns out Suzanna is pregnant with Phil's baby, is engaged to him and is a big fat liar.

I really wanted Sam to yell “Fuck you, bitch” all Eminem style in the face of all this betrayal and nastiness against him, perhaps right after the drugs scene. But alas, that's not our Sam. He acted far more graciously than just about any man in America would if confronted with such a scene. Fortunately, Fantasy Suzanna reappears and talks sense into the man so he doesn't throw away his future over a cold, materialistic liar. Sam eventually gets his full scholarship to art school and decides at the end to go pursue his dreams and leave the real Suzanna behind.

You have to wonder what poor Phil is thinking about this woman who sat here and claimed all this devotion to a guy that wasn't him. If she's not lying about her feelings for Sam, you have to wonder what type of marriage and family upbringing this kid is going to have. Will Phil eventually tire of moral duty and leave Suzanna to carry torches for other guys, maybe taking their kid with him? We learn that Phil has pure intentions toward Suzanna and wonders if she'll ever get over this other guy to feel that professed devotion toward him someday. Perhaps that child will grow up to be as cynical about marriage as I am.

Clint Hromsco, Michelle Siracusa

The cast as a whole was extremely talented & needed to be as this was essentially a musical. Jarred Bedgood is an extremely talented dancer, as we saw when Sam meets with the art dealer to decide what works he would like to buy from Sam. I also thought the songs were well done (especially “No Girl is Worth It” and “Joules/Jewels,” a song that's funny, blunt and painfully accurate), the scenes at the party were great, Beth had some great song lines that made me laugh and you definitely felt empathy for Sam.

I just lost my empathy for Suzanna around the time she was trying to get Sam to use drugs or maybe it was when she told George Sam was “just a friend.” It is absolutely nothing personal against the actress. I'm not sure what her direction and aim toward the character was but if it was to not make us have empathy or sympathy for Suzanna later, she succeeded.

I would have liked to see how Suzanna viewed herself in light of this behavior. Is she aware of how her conduct harmed Sam? Does she hold herself up as a great human being? Does she feel ANY remorse at all for playing these men? I suppose I saw none so that led to me losing any empathy toward her and really wanting her to be the recipient of an Eminem style verbal smackdown. Another random fact about me is that I have been told I think like a guy with regard to relationships so I despise fickle females like Olive Oyl from the “Popeye” cartoons.

Thank God for Fantasy Suzanna. I feel like she deserved a better introduction earlier on and the actress herself was underutilized. She brought a quiet, calming presence to the proceedings and her talking sense into Sam made me leave the show feeling a little better about humanity.

Matt Mitchell, Aja Downing

I've been to Theater for The New City a few times, even doing a show there myself once but had never been to the Johnson Theater. Nice auditorium and I liked the set design for this show. It seems the writer was also taping the show and I overheard him speaking to audience members near me about this show; he said that it was a work in progress until he got it to Broadway. Well, as a woman I would have liked to see where I could feel any real empathy for actual Suzanna later on vs. thinking she's another portrait of why men don't trust or have any loyalty to good hearted women who'd never put crass materialism ahead of true love.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

The Surreal Adventures of The Angry Redheaded Lawyer: "The Wizard of Oz" by the Harlem Repertory Theatre in association with The Yip Harburg Foundation

The timeless story of “The Wizard of Oz,” brought to life by a jazz soundtrack, modern & innovative musical numbers as well as an ethnically diverse cast (except for natural redheads, which I will get to later) is given a modern and fresh take at the Harlem Repertory Theater in association with The Yip Harburg Foundation. As background, Yip Harburg found in L. Frank Baum's classic book a story that was applicable to all races and backgrounds instead of that portrayed by the Hollywood film.

When I walked in, I was greeted by the most friendly staff and was instantly escorted to my seat right in front. For those who have never been to the Harlem Repertory Theater, it is literally an immersive experience. The audience seating is located on an uphill incline in a circle while the stage is located at the bottom and the jazz musicians were placed right next to the stage on the left. There was no problem at all with not being able to see if you were sitting in the back and the setup was traditional like when theater began in Ancient Greece but the atmosphere was far from stuffy, dull or boring. Jazz was playing as we were waiting for the show to start and whether the presence of kids had anything to do with the homey touch and feeling or not, I thought it was a wonderful vibe. In fact, this was one of the best venues I have ever seen a show in because of the warmth and comfort in the atmosphere.

The dance numbers, choreography, music and the presentation of the show was wonderful. The actors came right into the audience though no one touched audience members or made anyone feel awkward from what I observed. I like that Dorothy had on a more traditional outfit for a girl living on a farm in the first act and how the dancers moved in the tornado scene. You definitely felt that tornado hitting the farm.

Harlem Repertory Theatre, in association with The Yip Harburg Foundation, presents "The Wizard of Oz" at Tato Laviera Theatre, 240 East 123rd Street (at 2nd Ave.), Manhattan. Taylor-Rey Rivera (Dorothy) and Toto. Photo by Jonathan Slaff.

I love that the Wicked Witch of the West was a redhead. Somebody did their research on redheads (insert devilish grin here). My mother, herself a natural redhead, will tell you that “redhaired children are mean”; eventually, we grow up into redhaired adults and continue to disturb the order of things—I like to think my mere presence as a natural redhead accomplishes that. I would have liked to see a natural redhead doing something though I get the realities of rarity (we are 1-2% of the global population, after all) & if you were looking for a redhead who is also black or of Hispanic/Latin origin, then you have even more difficulty even though a couple of those redheads have spoken up on social media groups I've posted in. I face my own problems existing in a “niche” that is almost never represented nor entirely respected and regarded in many places. Apple, I'm looking at you.

Despite this, the actress who played the role (Emily Ramirez) definitely pulled off the evil and nastiness of the Wicked Witch/Myra Gulch.

Foreground: Emily Ramirez (Wicked Witch of the West), Barbyly Noel (Glenda), Taylor-Rey Rivera (Dorothy). Behind: Munchkin Ensemble. Photo by Jonathan Slaff

In fact, all of the actors were great in their roles along with the dancers. I like that all the dancers weren't your stereotypical, uniform skinny dancers who looked exactly alike. Aside from that whole redhead slight, I applaud whoever did casting in picking performers who represent everyone who might have a dream of doing this someday so kids of all body types and looks could see themselves reflected in this show. This being a show kids were invited to see, I like that someone was thinking about this issue.

L-R: Dexter Thomas-Payne (Lion), Derrick Montalvado (Scarecrow), Ben Harburg (Tin Man), Taylor-Rey Rivera (Dorothy). Photo by Jonathan Slaff.

One of the best moments in this show was when our heroes were in the castle of the Wicked Witch of the West and the Lion scares off the guards. A kid shouts out “You did it, Lion!” The actor playing the Lion (Dexter Thomas-Payne) looks in the direction that shout came from and gives the kid a thumbs up. I thought that was a sweet, impromptu moment. You could tell that the cast really liked doing this show for the kids as I saw many hang around afterwards to talk to and take pictures with them and their families. If anyone was phoning it in or merely humoring these kids, I never saw it.

Dexter Thomas-Payne as Cowardly Lion. Photo by Jonathan Slaff.

The variations from the movie we all know were also quite good. No poppies but you did see the Gale family rebuild their farm so things ended more happily for them and we saw that the tornado did in fact cause damage they had to fix vs. the movie ending where Dorothy wakes up in her bed, talks to everyone who came to see her after her injury and it ends from there. The jazz soundtrack also worked well for the story and definitely made it more universal in its scope.