Monday, May 27, 2024

The Surreal Adventures of The Angry Redheaded Lawyer: "Issue #9" by Briana Bartenieff at Theater for the New City

This show takes us smack into the 90s. Before the show even started, I heard Britney Spears’s “Oops, I Did it Again.” My sister would have loved this show’s soundtrack. In fact as I’m writing this review, the song “Supermodel” by Jill Sobule comes to mind (literally playing it as I type this). If you’re into 90s nostalgia and remembering your teen years, this show could well be your vehicle.

But...underneath the gloss and pop of the era is a very dark and dirty tale. I suppose these days that would sum up much of the 90s if various documentaries and behind the scenes tales are any indication. If you dealt with body shaming and weight issues as a teen in those days, you may find a kindred spirit in Lexi (Ada Victoria) a young girl who moves with her mother Natalie (Sandy Melissa Garcia) to a small NY town called Germantown. The year is 1995, THE era of the teen magazine.
Sandy Melissa Garcia and Ada Victoria. Photo by Jonathan Slaff

Lexi comes to town at 12 years old, presumably someone a little miserable having just lost her father and with money being tight at home. We learn that Natalie is working in her friend Sandy’s (Sarah Boess) gas station. Sandy’s younger sister Candy (Grace Bradley) is dealing with her own demons but more on that later.

Not long after getting to Germantown, Lexi meets Taylor (Amy Herzberg) and Ashley (Audrey Latt) who are obsessed with fashion, teen magazines and everything that flows from them. They are also obsessed with getting the perfect weight by starvation and embody the phrase “frenemies.” Lexi soon trades in her baggy Nirvana T-shirt for a yellow dress straight out of the fashion pages. Her birthday becomes an exercise in misery since she can’t even have a bite of her birthday cupcake though she really wants to. She doesn’t feel she can talk to her mother about her conflicts and Lexi later takes her own life, understandably devastating Natalie.
Audrey Latt, Ada Victoria and Amy Herzberg. Photo by Jonathan Slaff

Audrey Latt, Ada Victoria and Amy Herzberg. Photo by Jonathan Slaff

Sandy Melissa Garcia and Ada Victoria. Photo by Jonathan Slaff

We learn that Natalie went through her own body image struggles and downplays that in her daughter since she apparently got over that later on. Presumably she sees it as a teenage phase Lexi will eventually grow out of and overcome just fine.

After Lexi’s death, Natalie gets angry at the fashion mob and one frenemie’s attacks on suicide in the midst of Natalie’s grief definitely don’t help.
Sandy Melissa Garcia, Sarah Boess. Photo by Jonathan Slaff

You wonder exactly what revenge Natalie is going to enact. Is she going to confront the magazine publishers? Confront the fashion designers directly? Lash out at the media? No, not quite.
Sandy Melissa Garcia. Photo by Jonathan Slaff

Natalie takes more local action but it does lead to the death of that disrespectful frenemy. It also leads to the unintentional passing of Candy, a young woman facing a battle with drugs that turns very nasty as the years progress. The show ends with Natalie serving a jail sentence with Stage 4 brain cancer.
Grace Bradley. Photo by Jonathan Slaff

Sandy Melissa Garcia. Photo by Jonathan Slaff

The set design and costuming are great, the musical numbers and dancing are very much on point and I like that a larger lady was in this cast and killing it in the dance sequences. More people should see that sort of representation on the stage, especially in dance where weight pressures are a very real thing.
Ada Victoria, Audrey Latt. Photo by Jonathan Slaff

The presentation of death and how that was crafted in the story was respectfully done and not overly depressing though make no mistake, this show was quite dark.
Audrey Latt, Ada Victoria and Amy Herzberg. Photo by Jonathan Slaff

The show poses some interesting and provocative questions about the influence of teen magazines and their legacy (as presumably that era is dead or simply changed into quests for Instagram or TikTok fame). For one thing, which came first? Mass societal pressure to be thin or body image issues? Would people still have those issues if the media template changed? I suppose we’ll find the answer to that second question in a few years when today’s teenagers and those who lived in the era of Lizzo and body positivity are older.
Amy Herzberg and Audrey Latt. Photo by Jonathan Slaff

I actually recognized a few of those Kamikaze covers as issues I had since I was working in those days and had my own spending money. One thing I bought was magazine subscriptions to Seventeen and YM.

In 8th grade, the resident horndog in my class would offer me money to get a read of my magazines when I brought them to school to read during break times and lunch. He probably liked looking at the pretty girls. I was there for the fashion, the essays and the column on embarrassing stories.

No body shaming or weight issues with me; people thought I was TOO skinny and if I hadn’t been a quiet, smart, “nice girl” with bright red hair who came from zero and couldn’t tan to save her life, I probably would have been a popular girl. Or maybe the boys were just too intimated by me since I was laser focused on getting out of NC but I definitely got hate from a lot of girls and couldn’t get interest from the guys I crushed on. Think of me as someone with the body of Quinn Morgendorfer and the brain of Daria Morgendorfer if you recall that MTV show from the 90s “Daria”.

No eating disorders or unhealthy diets on my end; I’m just a naturally thin person lots of people hate and resent for it (probably even to this day). The difference between me and others is that I never went around body shaming people or calling them fat despite being asked directly if I was anorexic or constantly being told to eat the last of some food or to finish what someone else couldn’t since “you need it.” My tale would dive into the flip side of the coin.

Overall, despite this play dealing with very dark subjects and ending with a bleak outlook it was a good show and even had the infamous Hanson song in a scene change.

Monday, May 6, 2024

The Surreal Adventures of The Angry Redheaded Lawyer: "Aftershocks" at Theater for the New City

This show’s description caught my eye right away. When I walked in, the set design told you exactly where we were and what show to expect. It’s not something for the kiddies so this is definitely not kid friendly. In fact, I’d say leave your teens at home as well unless you are a very modern and progressive parent who’s totally cool discussing dark subjects in the sexual realm with your kids or you take your kids to strip clubs. From my estimation, that’s not many of you. You have officially been warned.
Photo by Matthew Schechtman

Now, that being said this show managed to integrate the pace and sentiment of “Friends” with some very dark subject matter that most of us would say “how can you possibly make THAT funny?” Somehow, Rori Nogee does it and doesn’t leave you feeling guilty for laughing while also giving you a powerful illustration of trauma from childhood sexual assault.

She also manages to make her protagonist, Kat/Angie (Rori Nogee) sympathetic despite Kat’s being an unrepentant stripper who confidently asserts that she’s not having a committed relationship with anyone. Just ask Ben (Andrew Ricci), the computer tech guy she’s stumbled into a FWB relationship with who’d really like to get more serious and make an honest woman out of her.

Credit should also go to the direction of Lissa Moira as the characters flow easily in this world and you can believe in the connection Kat finds with Elliott (Cameron Cave), a super nervous newcomer to the back room who’s only there on the guidance of his therapist. He’s content to just talking to Kat and gets her to violate the basic stripper rule against taking off the performer mask and mentioning her real name (which is Angie). A sweetness develops between these two and it feels like Angie loses her hardness and cynicism built up as the result of her own sexual trauma. It felt a bit reminiscent of “Leaving Las Vegas” and some of the darkness has parallels to it but this show actually goes further.

I’m totally on board with Kat’s philosophy on sex when she notes it’s importance to life and living though my own statement on it is a bit different and I’m more private about such things. Despite the fact that Elliott is a guy who can not do such things due to childhood sexual trauma that he’s trying to work out, he and Kat/Angie develop a fondness that later turns into an exclusive relationship. He’s aware that she’s got her needs but she makes a grand effort to try and be respectful of his limits and boundaries though does push at times with mixed results. The relationship definitely goes through its ups and downs and when temptation enters in the form of Kyle (Jon McHatton), the very definition of a bad guy not suited for anyone who doesn’t want to be a side chick whom Angie previously had an involvement with, things do not turn out well for Angie.

The dynamic between Angie and Elliott actually reminded me a bit of this guy I shall call the Model Flake. He knows who he is. His problem, however, is social trauma and becoming more agoraphobic as well as reluctant to leave home (which isn’t that close to me) despite being a former model who had connections and backing I’ve never had in that space. He also has separate issues that are a massive paradox to my own world and my own boundaries yet for some reason I still care about the guy in spite of myself. Damn heart!!

My underlying thought is “if he got his mess together and found his passion in life, he’d be a really great guy.” This guy has been in and out of my life over the course of years.

I remember him saying he was intimidated by me, the girl who was called ugly throughout her childhood and couldn’t buy a date with guys she liked in her hometown. I still find that hysterical since if I saw him at random someplace and didn’t know him, I’d never approach him since I’d fear rejection. The conceited hot guy who cheats on women is a trope and while the Model Flake apparently views his not being that way as a defect, I find it refreshing and endearing.

Like Angie with Elliott, I’ve tried to have some patience and latitude with this guy but definitely have my limits as well.

Eventually, Elliott leaves the scene and in the meantime both he and Angie find love elsewhere with Angie getting engaged to Ben. However, when the two meet again for Angie’s birthday outing as he’s accompanied by his new girlfriend Bethany (Zoe Laiz) the train wreck you expected very much happens and then gets darker as you’re thinking a conflict is resolved and things are look bright for Elliott and Angie.

The final question in my mind as I saw the end of the show was “How do you kill the demon?” I haven’t lived childhood sexual trauma so I have no clue how one would do it but apparently a demon does exist when you lived it. The psych major in me and I’m sure countless others who’ve had that experience would probably like to know the answer to that question. Does anyone have an answer to that one?

The comedy in this show reminded me a lot of “Love Quirks” a show I reviewed in August 2022 thanks to a connection with the show’s composer. Unbeknownst to me, Ms. Nogee was apparently in that show (though not the performance I saw) as well as a show that may have been the last one I saw with my long since ex-husband called “Showgirls! The Musical” which was a hilarious parody of the movie “Showgirls”. If you didn’t see it, you missed out—my ex and I shared an interest in media that pushed back against US puritanical norms.
Photo by Matthew Schechtman

Despite the very dark ending and our main characters not doing right by Ben or Bethany, the show was actually very good since the characters had heart, honesty, sincerity, accessibility and depth and the story had the universal appeal that I look for that made me care. I’d definitely recommend it for the adults, even the ones who hate everything strippers and strip clubs stand for though my conservative mother would probably be a tough sell.

Sunday, January 7, 2024

The Surreal Adventures of The Angry Redheaded Lawyer: "Killin' Republicans", a Rock Opera at Theater for the New City

If you knew me, you might wonder “why would she go to a show called this?” Isn’t she from a conservative atmosphere and not a big fan of leftists? Hi, I’ve lived in NYC for over 15 years and never said I was a devotee to one team or the other. I’m the one who’s been saying BOTH of them are the problem and remain a registered Independent who thinks the only way to fix these issues is to get money out of politics. Also, I have a sense of humor and appreciate humor based in some honesty.

The setup of this show is very cool since you literally got checked in by the dedicated flight attendants, got a very cool ticket stub and the airplane set was great. Careful attention was paid to getting it right and it definitely took me to my experience riding first class recently with the comfy seating. For some reason, the subway was packed on my way to this show and more like what you’d expect during weekday rush hour vs. a Saturday evening. Fortunately, I hadn’t missed anything and we were treated to a live band playing as the show got started.
Abby Gumpper, Gabriel Wilkler, Ava Jones. Photo by Jonathan Slaff

Right before the show started (thankfully I had time to settle and find a good seat), we were told there’d been tech issues. Sadly, I wasn’t able to hear as much of the show because of difficulties hearing most of the actors as the music played but I did catch the gist of the show. However, the actress playing Goodness Gracious (Queen Koleurz) was not someone I had trouble hearing and her character was awesome. She's also got a fun and entertaining mate in BillyBob from Biloix (Edwin Vazquez).
Queen Kolurez and Edwin Vazquez. Photo by Jonathan Slaff

Our flight attendants/ticket takers (Ava Jones and Gabriel Winker) also deserve recognition as they definitely played those parts well and when I came in, I wasn’t aware they were going to be performing in the show complete with great dance moves. I’d simply thought someone had put in far more detail to the audience experience than I’ve seen in my years of acting in or attending theater shows; it’s a simple detail that probably should happen more often since it was memorable and definitely helped set the tone and feel of the show.
Ava Jones, Gabriel Winkler. Photo by Jonathan Slaff

The attention to detail continued in the prop design. One prop that I thought was cool was the Abe Lincoln hat that when it opened, had a brain pop out in bits. This particular piece was the work of Erin Mathewson.
Queen Koleurz Koluchi as Abe Lincoln. Photo by Jonathan Slaff

Now I’m curious if real life Jodie Foster has heard about this show or had any comment about John Hinkley Jr. If she did, I’m pretty sure the song she sings proclaiming “Why Me” wouldn’t be off base. This show’s Jodie Foster (Abby Grumpper) also knows how to rock and definitely had moves that belied her image. If real life Jodie Foster has the moves, I’m sure she’d be happy that someone has acknowledged them in this show.
Abby Gumpper as Jodie Foster. Behind: Ava Jones. Photo by Jonathan Slaff

If you read the title and think this show is only about bashing Republicans, you’d be off the mark. This show does offer historical accuracy though I wonder if the airplane and general flight experience is a commentary on today’s Republican party. After all, the announcements are how many would describe a lot of their experiences and perceptions of the far right element (such as the plane arriving nowhere near where anyone needs to go and the general passengers being lucky they even get oxygen to breathe while on the flight). Maybe it’s a case of “the more things change…” and how history repeats itself? Nonetheless, I think the last song “Don’t Kill Republicans” is the best support for showing anyone of any party could find enjoyment in this show.