Let's Talk Off Broadway

Yvonne Korshak reviews Off-Broadway, Broadway, Film and Art

Tag: La Mama

Review | Les Bonnes/The Maids | By Jean Genet | Directed by Oliver Henzler | La Mama

… oppression  …

Enter the weird world of Claire and Solange – the world of what oppression does to the human spirit.

The language is brilliant and stunningly expressed by two great actresses in this production, the psychological twists and freehand switches on role playing are the products of a stupendous dramatic imagination. But unlike the actual notorious murder that inspired the play, the Papin case, the maids, not the mistress, are the ultimate victims.  The author’s profound reversal of the expected ending raises this play from a shocking oddity of kinky love-hate relationships (which it is!) to the level of a true classic.  To have seen this great, passionate production is a life treasure.

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“I-don’t-know-what-I-can-save-you-from”-By-Neil-LaBute-with-Richard-Kind-Gia-Crovatin.j

Review | AdA (Author directing Author) | Power | La MaMa

Written and Directed by Neil LaBute, Marco Calvani, Marta Buchaca

Each playwright wrote one of these short plays, directed by another of the authors, and the acting is for the most part stellar.   It’s a brisk and engrossing evening of theater.

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Review | The Republic, Or, My Dinner With Socrates | Adapted and Directed by Viot Hořejš | Czechoslovak-American Marionette Theatre | LaMaMa in Association with Goh Productions

Socrates actively engaged in his search for understanding — talking, talking and talking, and asking leading questions – serene as the time approaches for drinking the hemlock, the Athenian state’s means of executing the philosopher on grounds of believing in his own gods and corrupting the youth, is an iconic historical event.  Through the use of live actors speaking the words while manipulating small puppets, and with shadow puppetry on the background screen, The Republic, Or, My Dinner With Socrates seeks to draw for its interest on the tension between philosophizing and imminent death but unfortunately the production fails its material.  

For one thing, the play appears severely under-rehearsed.  The actors did not know their lines well, and had to improvise their way around several unplanned blocking mishaps.  They’re also not very skilled with puppets whose movements were approximate at best – there’s no trace of the virtuosity that one finds in other puppet productions and which can sometimes be breathtaking.

And what's the purpose of the puppets anyhow since the actors are onstage, costumed, speaking the lines and visibly doing pretty much everything the puppets are supposed to be also doing?  Even the actors seemed confused about the puppets – sometimes an actor would use a prop as his or her own and then, remembering the puppet was supposed to be doing whatever was to be done, switched the prop down to the puppet hovering at ankle level.   

Given the raw state of the performance, it’s hard to judge how successfully Plato’s dialogs have been extracted for the purposes of a play.  Socrates as we know him through Plato's dialogs wasn’t talking about the ideal state in his last hours and while a claim can always be made for “poetic license,” events surrounding his death are well known to many so that to alter them raises a problem of believability. 

The diffuse quality of the script is also seen in the inclusion of a dramatization of Plato’s famous “allegory of the cave,” which is not integrated with the play's focus on the tension between “the ideal state” and “Athens executing its most famous philosopher.”  On the positive side, those who know Socrates only as a famous philosopher will find out that this venerated philosopher was anti-democratic and authoritarian.  The solo music, composed and played by Clifton Hyde, was evocative and a fine highlight.

Socrates “survived” even his execution in the sense that he went on to become, with Plato’s help, the most famous philosopher in Western history, and he’ll survive this, too.   

The Republic, Or, My Dinner With Socrates   plays at La MaMa's First Floor theatre through December 15th.  For more information and tickets, click on live link of title. 

                                                                                         Yvonne Korshak

La MaMa E.T.C., in association with GOH Productions, presents Czechoslovak-American
Marionette Theatre in "The Republic, or, My Dinner with Socrates," written and directed by Vit Horejs. The philosophers discuss democracy. L-R: Christopher Broholm and Socrates puppet, Alan Barnes Netherton and Adeimatos puppet, Jonathan Mastrojohn and Glaucon puppet. Photo by Lee Wexler/Images for Innovation.

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Review | Stopped Bridge of Dreams | Written, Directed and Designed by John Jesurun | Ellen Stewart Theatre at La MaMa

… artistic directors …

Ellen Stewart, the astoundingly brave and brilliant founder of La MaMa theater in NYC’s East Village, died just about a year ago, Jan 13, 2011.  Since, from the time she founded her experimental theater group in 1961 to the time of her death, La MaMa created approximately 3,000 productions.  (!)  I doubt anyone could have seen all of them — except Ellen Stewart.  But some of the greatest theater I’ve ever seen, simply unforgettable productions, were at La MaMa.

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Clowns Full-Tilt ensemble. Edge of that bathtub visible on left with canvas open to possibilities on right. Photo: Marina Levitskaya

Review | Clowns Full-Tilt: A Musing on Aesthetics | Created and Directed by Kendall Cornell | In Collaboration with the Ensemble, Clowns Ex Machina | La MaMa

… art, life and wit! …

If you enjoy the pleasures of really deep satisfying laughs coming fast one upon the next, see Clowns Full-Tilt.  It’s marvelously performed, and constantly surprising.

On a stunning, helter-skelter post-mod stage with classical columns at the tilt, derelict platforms covered in brown paper, and an old-fashioned bathtub, the cast of nine multi-talented women, all wearing red clown noses, bring to three-dimensional life some famous paintings — and with some “great moments” in literature thrown in.  They dance, they sing and they act with a non-stop, cleverly devised flow of one scene to the next.  Everything is done with vigor, balletic grace, and infectious ebullience and everything is underlined by great wit — to say nothing of knowledge of art, literature and the classics.

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Review | Journeys | La MaMa

The stage for Journeys is simple to make the women’s voices seem louder– seven women who recount their struggles for human rights in seven different countries. 

The original activists’ stories are told by playwrights and presented by actresses — at first that’s a disappointment, one’s looking for authenticity, but would we want the “real” women — engaged in their ongoing struggles — to drop by East 4th Street in NYC for our benefit?  Let them do their work!  The plays are uneven and the best are those told as if in the voice of the women actually involved in the struggle.  What was it like to try to eliminate domestic violence in Russia, and how on earth does one ever come to take on such a task?  Here’s what and here’s how!

The most beautifully written is Susan Yankowitz’ play about Mukhtaran Mai, an illiterate Pakistani (“I didn’t know we had a constitution”) who after a gang rape ordered by local officials in retribution for no crime she’d committed stood up for herself in court.  Moving through a judicial system illiterate (signing blank documents with a thumb print), she nevertheless obtained a settlement of $8,000 with which she set about building schools in the face of continued opposition–Musharaff said women are getting raped now just to become millionaires, according to the play.  The moment when toward the end the marvelous actress, Reena Shah*, tells us she’s going to one of the schools she herself built –“I’m in fifth grade now,” is worth all.

Journeys is at La Mama, in the East Village in NYC, 74A East 4th Street

      Next week:    Brecht’s Galileo at Classic Stage.

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