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

Tag: Theater for the New City

Review | The Folk Singer | Book & Lyrics by Tom Attea | Music by Arthur Abrams | Theater For The New City

 … a good idea but … 

The idea of The Folk Singer is intriguing:  a new musical about a young folk singer and composer who, wanting to revitalize people’s interest in folk singing, gathers a group of his folk singer friends to write new folk songs about current issues. These are to be as relevant for our time as those of Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan and Joan Baez were back when….  The five singers put on an evening featuring their new songs, with Don’s girlfriend Kim videotaping it, hoping the video will go viral and spread their messages about the value of folk singing and their takes on the contemporary issues via YouTube and perhaps beyond.

The songs they come up with do range through contemporary issues such as depersonalization through social media, climate change, terrorism, redefinitions of gender roles, and others.  The problem is that the songs are over-simple and undistinguished.  They don’t take up these issues with any bite or particular insight, the rhymes lack wit or pungency (one song hammers on the rhyme “Terror is error” which is, among other things, a simplistic view of the problem to say the least) and in general the vision is unimaginative.  The music is derivative without bringing anything fresh or newly vibrant to the great tradition of folk music.

Above the stage photographs and videos pertaining to the subject matter are projected:  some of these are fascinating, illuminating, and much more powerful than what takes place on the stage directly below.

The fine four-person band does all it can to draw the most possible from the music and they’re so excellent that at times they make for really good listening – transcending the music they have to work with.

Mark Mercante directs the cast that includes Andy Striph as Don, the folk singer and organizer, Micha Lazare as Kim, Don’s girlfriend, Matthew Angel, Mary Adams, Nick McGuiness and Oliva A. Griffen as folk singers, and Larry Fleischman as Frank, who owns the bar.

The band – and thanks to them! — consists of Arthur Abrams (Piano), Susan Mitchel (Violin), Ralph Hamperian (Bass) Art Lilliard (Drums).

The Folk Singer plays at Theater For The New City in Manhattan’s East Village Thursdays through Sundays through October 23, 2016.  For more information and tickets, click here.

Susan Mitchell and John Talerico in John Patrick Shanley's Danny and the Deep Blue Sea

Review | Danny and the Deep Blue Sea | By John Patrick Shanley | Starring Susan Mitchell and John Talerico | Directed by Lissa Moira | Theater for the New City

Susan Mitchell and John Talerico in Shanley's Danny and the Deep Blue Sea

Susan Mitchell and John Talerico. Photo Peter Welch

… how far can love take you? …

Two very broken people meet in a desolate bar, tough-guy Danny, who thinks he may have killed a man last night, and Roberta, driven by shame to the edge of crazy despair.

Roberta, morphing from flirtatious to hysterical (the shifts done superbly by Susan Mitchell) tries to allure Danny who turns near murderous on the dime at any approach (a violently scary John Talerico).

He resists, she persists.  Feeling she has nothing to lose, she taunts this savage bear of a man, grabs him by the shirt, faces him down … you’re sure he’s going to smack her,  maybe kill her, while she swims between doesn’t care if he does and asking for it.  But Danny holds back – he doesn’t kill her and she reveals to him her shameful secret.  In their gorgeously controlled dance of coming together, brutish, heavily muscled Danny plays off against fragile, delicate Roberta.  The physical presence of the two actors matches the emotional play of bold physical action and exquisite emotional nuance, the essence of the play.

Shanley subtitles this play “An Apache Dance,” referring to the French tango-like street-life dance of the early twentieth century, “La Danse Apache”* (Apache pronounced ah-pahsh), in which the physical and emotional contrasts between male and female are emphasized, and with stylized violence, the men slap and punch their partners and throw them around, though the physicality of this play doesn’t seem stylized but real in the sense of American naturalist drama (Actors Studio variant).

Danny swells with red-faced rage at anyone “wanting anything from him.”  Still, Roberta,  downbeat, coarse, but also with girlish charm and delicate loveliness, prevails on him to come to her room, where there they play out the familiar advances and retreats of love, all heightened by their extreme temperaments.  There’s a wedding doll on her table, remnant of her wrecked first marriage and, almost unbelievably between these two, and during their night of love, the subject of marriage is raised.  Will it survive the light of morning?  Will he continue to protect her?  Will she maintain her vision of a better life?  Can these two deeply wounded human beings actually heal one another?  How far can love take you?

That question lies at the heart of Danny and the Deep Blue Sea. Witnessing Danny and Roberta pushing through toward an answer is dramatically compelling and suspenseful.  It’s a small play, two actors, 80 minutes, and little sense of social forces or the outside world, but the play’s impact is breathtaking.

The near to beyond-belief transition from instinct driven bullying to tender insight – and a really bright idea —  would be hard to accept without as fine an actor as John Talerico in the role of Danny.

I have never seen any actor do any part more magnificently than Susan Mitchell as Roberta.  Mitchell played the role twenty years ago at New York City’s Stage 22 in a production also directed by Lissa Moira.  Mitchell’s Roberta is physically delicate, enchantingly feminine, and hard as nails – almost too tough for the tough guy which is one of the delicious dramatic contrasts lacing this play.  Her face, voice and expressions register splendid nuance.  Watching her, many of the great female roles come to mind – I’d love to see her do them.  Together these outstanding actors, working with Moira’s deeply understanding direction, create a world.  I didn’t want to leave that world when it was over, and I’ll never forget it.

Danny and the Deep Blue Sea plays in a little theater as off-  off- Broadway as you can get and you can’t find better theater anywhere.

Danny and the Deep Blue Sea is at Theater for the New City in Manhattan’s East Village through October 11, 2015.  For tickets, visit smarttix.com  or call 212-868-4444 or — easiest and without surcharges — just pick up your tickets at the box office when you go to see the play.

* La Danse Apache has been incorporated into many plays and films about Paris and currently on Broadway can be seen as part of the inspiration for the great dancing in An American in Paris.

Susan Mitchell and John Talerico in John Patrick Shanley's Danny and the Deep Blue Sea

Susan Mitchell and John Talerico. Photo Peter Welch.

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