US Townhall RealStories presents: BEN SPIERMAN of the Bronx Opera
Written by Scott Katz
Thursday, 06 May 2010 20:58
On Thursday, January 20, we once again invited Ben Spierman, Associate Artistic Director for the Bronx Opera, back to visit with us for another USTownhall RealStories interview. The Bronx Opera, now in its 44th Season, is presenting the rarely performed comic opera, Fra Diavolo by French composer, Daniel Auber from 1830. The Bronx Opera's production updates the setting to 1930 and is completely performed and sung in English.
It was at the Lovinger Theatre in the Bronx's Lehman College on January 15 and 16, and moves to the Kaye Playhouse at Hunter College for its January 22 and 23 engagements.
Mr. Spierman was also kind enough to tease his upcoming production of Don Giovanni by Mozart, which will premiere in May 2011.
On Thursday May 6, 2010, we broadcast an episode of our Internet Radio Show with Mr. Spierman as it was set to mount its production of Don Pasquale, a comic opera by famed Italian composer, Donizetti. As with Fra Diavolo, this was a limited engagement of four performances. On May 7 & 8, the opera was staged at the Lovinger Theatre at Lehman College in the Bronx, while on May 14 & 15, it was performed at Hofstra University's John Cranford Adams Playhouse in Long Island.
On Saturday, January 9, 2010, we did a video interview with Mr. Spierman for our USTownhall RealStories webcast, which took place shortly before the curtian rose on opening night of the comic opera, Die Drei Pintos by Gustav Mahler. Squarely within the comic opera genre in early-1800s Europe, there are many similarities between Die Drei Pintos and Fra Diavolo, but there are some important differences as well, which Mr. Spierman points out in our most recent interview.
To find out more information about the Bronx Opera and its production of Don Pasquale, please visit www.bronxopera.org
Click on the players below to listen to our exclusive interviews with Ben Spierman, the Associate Artistic Director of the Bronx Opera.
(3) January 20, 2011 audio interview re: Fra Diavolo
(2) May 6, 2010 audio interview re: Don Pasquale
(1) January 9, 2010 video interview re: Die Drei Pintos
USTownhall RealStories presents the cast of BRIDGEBOY
Written by Scott Katz
Tuesday, 01 March 2011 12:04
On Sunday, February 27, 2011, we sat down with the cast, the playwright, and the director of Bridgeboy, a new play running for a limited engagement at Manhattan's Workshop Theater. This off-off-Broadway production, staged by The Active Theater and written by playwright Matthew Keuter, is a darkly comedic take on typical yet not-so-typical members of a working class family – and extended family – who, as the play opens, are facing pivotal turning points in their lives both individually and collectively.
An offer made to the de facto family patriarch Uncle Sal to buy the family bar triggers a night of soul searching, confessions, reunions, revelations, hookups, breakups, and makeups among the group as each, in his or her own dysfunctional way, makes a journey through the course of the play finishing off old business and arriving at a new beginning by the story's end.
Keuter's script – a living room drama set in a bar – gives each of the cast of eight players a chance to shine with multi-layered characters whose true hopes, fears, and dreams are revealed incrementally throughout the play. David Ojala and Michael Andrew Daly star as two brothers who appear to be so different on the outside – Ojala's Trevor is a sensitive artist type, which contrasts nicely with the more brash and physically imposing Jimmy, played by Daly – yet they are very similar underneath as both are driven by their impulses and often act before they think. Daly's talent allows him to find many shades to play, and, with each scene, he brings a new facet of his character to light. Ojala portrays Trevor as guileless and dopey-eyed – someone who isn't afraid to keep his emotions close to the surface. It's a tricky part that could easily become one-dimensional, but the script allows Trevor's optimism to be tested so we get to see the potential downside of a life lived without emotional defenses. Trevor's free spirit causes conflict between him and his girlfriend, Bell, played with both sensitivity and strength by Rhyn McLemore, who is level headed and pragmatic on the surface, but that only serves to hide her feelings of unease and vulnerability about the secret she's carrying.
Looking at the older generation, we have another pair of star-crossed lovers, Sal and Lynn, played by James Judy and Mary Jo Mecca. These are probably the least flashy roles in the play, but the solidly intelligent performances by these two fine actors make them the most intriguing to watch and give the story its weight while providing the axis around which the action revolves. Lynn has her own secret, and the return of her long-lost husband, played with cool deliberation by Anthony Innéo, brings it bubbling to the surface and threatens to upend everyone's fragile reality. Innéo's James comes back to town wanting to settle old scores with his wife and his brother and seems to take a quiet delight in pushing everyone's buttons and setting off volatile reactions. He's not without volatile reactions of his own as Lynn's truth telling proves to be something he hadn't bargained for.
On the comedic side, Catherine Curtin (Candy) and Lisa Altomore (Troll) get the juiciest bits in the story and both revel in it and play their parts for all they're worth. Candy is all inebriated bravado and desperate sexuality with a history of looking for love in all the wrong places, while Troll (who indeed lives under a bridge), a confidant of Trevor (whom she refers to as "Bridgeboy" for more than one reason), serves as a sort of derelict fairy godmother and, by some unknown quasi-mystical means, manages to nudge and guide each character to the place where he or she should be in life and sets them on their true paths. The script is very well balanced and provides a good showcase for actors younger, older, male, and female. This company of actors creates a believable chemistry among them – we accept that they've loved each other and fought with each other for decades. Each of the characters is likely his or her own worst enemy, but still hasn't lost his or her ability to hope and dream.
What sets this play apart from many others of this type is that Keuter wisely avoids many of the clichés that are often associated with the blue collar comedic drama. The actors all play their parts with intelligence and dignity, but the story never devolves into poor-but-proud chest beating – this is meaty family drama rather than banal social commentary. The characters are wise, but never artificially so – they are not used by the author as vehicles to engage in self-indulgent pontification of the author's own views. Secrets are revealed in this play as they are in life – like a bolt from the blue with no soap opera knowing glances or over-deliberate foreshadowing. Credit, too, must be given to director Nathaniel Shaw who makes imaginative use of the very limited stage space and successfully keeps the heart of the story and the bipolar family emotions and baggage front and center. Shaw keeps the action moving briskly throughout Bridgeboy's 1 hour 45 minute running time, which contains no intermission to derail the forward momentum of the plot. The smaller venues of the off-off-Broadway productions, when used correctly as it was with Bridgeboy, have the advantage of providing intimacy and immediacy to the action that draw the audience in more effectively than the larger theatres can.
We are always supportive of worthy theatre productions, like Bridgeboy, that may not get the publicity that the big budget Broadway shows do. The Active Theater has had an ambitious schedule since its creation in 2009, and we encourage theatre lovers from all over who visit the New York area to keep up to date on their continuing schedule at www.theactivetheater.com.
Brooklyn's Genesis Repertory Celebrates 10 Years
Written by Scott Katz
Wednesday, 11 November 2009 00:00
Bored by the classics? Can’t make head or tail of Shakespeare? An independent theater company operating in Brooklyn known as Genesis Repertory might just change your mind. Their mission statement is to make art accessible to the masses, and they do that by taking those dusty old classics and bringing them right into the 21st century, all the while making sure that the original intent, themes, and text are respected.
Genesis Repertory began in 1999 with its first production, a modernized version of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, which they set in America during the Kennedy administration. The Merchant of Venice, famous for the somewhat anit-Semitic caricature of Shylock, a Jewish moneylender, was restaged in Nazi Germany on the eve of Kristallnacht (appropriate as Hitler had the play broadcast over German airwaves as part of his propaganda campaign against the Jews shortly after the real Kristallnacht). Macbeth was transported to Argentina of the 1940s, while A Midsummer Night’s Dream was set in Central Park at the turn of the millennium. Numerous other productions, most of which were also based on the works of Shakespeare, were likewise reimagined.
In 2008, actor Tom Pelphrey, known to fans for his Emmy-winning role on the daytime drama, Guiding Light, joined with his friends and fellow Rutgers University graduates to form the Apothecary Theatre Company, which has allowed them to take the initiative, chart their own course, and find, develop, and produce their own theatrical projects rather than rely solely on the often-arduous audition grind.
To date, Apothecary has produced only a few productions, notably material by American playwright Don Nigro. From December 11 to December 20, 2008, they were performing An Evening with Don Nigro at Theatre 54 @ Shelter Studios, which consisted of four one-act plays by this playwright: Fair Rosamund and Her Murderer, The Sin Eater, Something in the Basement, and Wonders of the Invisible World Revealed. Pelphrey had the lead roles in both Rosamund and Invisible World.
Currently, the Apothecarians are preparing for a fundraiser in preparation for mounting their first major original work, In God's Hat, which is set to open in July 2010. The fundraiser will take place this Saturday, October 10 7PM, at the New York Downtown Marriott, which is located at 85 West Street at Albany Street. The main attraction at this event will be a staged reading of Don Nigro's Grotesque Lovesongs, which will feature Tom Pelphrey along with fellow Guiding Light actors, Kim Zimmer, Grant Aleksander, and Bonnie Dennison. Zimmer and Aleksander portray Tom's parents, while Dennison plays his love interest.