The Representatives are an underground theatre sensation
This week The Representatives—the most beloved theatre troupe you may not have heard of—stages its newest show, Of Orient Are. If you’re in the mood for hyper-intimate, socially relevant comedy, leap into action; they only play through the weekend. But if you’re busy ’til Monday, don’t worry: the Representatives produce a brand-new, custom-written play every three months. Representatives’ shows are like buses—miss one and another will be along in a moment.
The Representatives are like buses in another way, too: they show you the city. The company’s signature pieces are so-called “apartment plays,” micro-productions that turn everyday sidewalks into de facto theatre lobbies. Bewildered audiences mill about on the street corner, frantically checking phones, since there’s no marquee, no poster… no sign at all that you’ve reached your destination. Only those with tickets (obtained via the mailing list at therepresentatives.org) receive the address, which must be kept confidential. Admission is a bottle of wine. And once you’ve seen a show this way, you’ll never see an anonymous New York street quite the same way again.
The company is primarily a collaboration between actor Matt Steiner and playwright Stan Richardson, fast becoming known as frontline purveyors of the newest version of “radically intimate” theatre. Along with their “apartment plays,” their work can include special on-demand commissions for fans and provocative political pieces made site-specifically. Some of their company’s burgeoning glamour is undoubtedly due to their pop-up locations, but there’s also something deeper happening: an interdependent rapport struck up between the theatremakers and their audience. All the communications are personal—not mass—emails (“Yo Helen!,” said a recent message to this reporter), and admission also comes with a heartfelt invitation to the post-show party. You have to bring a bottle of wine, but they will cheerfully pour it right back into you.
The pair met in 2006 when Steiner auditioned for Richardson at Dixon Place—the Lower East Side venue then housed, coincidentally, in an apartment. For the actor and playwright, “It was love at first sight,” says Steiner. The actor’s energetic, satyrish style jibed with Richardson’s rapid-fire dialogue: “I find I have to do less work with Stan’s plays,” he says. For Richardson it was finally hearing the words as he had imagined them. “My mentor is Edward Albee, who always steered us towards precision with language. Matt got that immediately.” Certainly Richardson’s writing can remind you of Albee in his Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? mode, with impossible quantities of verbiage packed densely into tight spaces.
The Representatives like to develop work on its feet, so these performances allow both participation in their frenetic process and a sort of voyeuristic frisson. The pieces aren’t quite workshops, aren’t quite productions, yet they are completely considered entertainments, full of frantic invention and a deep investment in community. And for anyone disheartened by the social disengagement of our current downtown scene, take heart: audience members, unscientifically sampled during a rollicking after-party, credit the team’s political convictions as one of the things that keeps them coming back.
Richardson builds his works around hot-button issues to further that sense of intimacy: “We reach out to the audience, we bind them to us,” says the playwright. This hyperlocal social sense can lead to something rather uncomfortable as well. “Frankly, the audiences are mostly liberal, mostly progressive. There’s no need for morality tales; we need hypocrisy tales.” Adds Steiner, “It turns the magnifying glass on our own little group.” [Read more →]
September 16, 2014 No Comments
The actors in 3 Christs find truth in insanity
Welcome to Building Character, our ongoing look at performers and how they create their roles
It’s not every day you sit down with three Jesus Christs. Wait, what’s the plural form of Jesus? Jesi? Jesuses?
“Jesees!” says Donald Warfield, one of three actors playing the son of God in 3 Christs, now at Judson Memorial Church in a production from Peculiar Works Project.
When the audience enters Judson’s grand church hall, they see three men onstage, sitting with their backs to each other in a triangular formation—a trinity. In the background, above the set, stained glass windows of Peter, Paul, and John gaze upon them. It’s a striking tableau about an unsettling subject.
3 Christs, adapted S.M. Dale and Barry Rowell from a real-life medical study, follows the two-year experiment of Dr. Milton Rokeach, who in 1959 brought together three schizophrenics (Leon Gabor, Joseph Cassel, and Clyde Benson). All three believed they were Jesus Christ, and Dr. Rokeach hoped that by encountering each other, they would be shaken of their delusions.
This scenario creates a fascinating acting exercise for the actors playing the Christs (as they’re called by the crew). How do you make sense of insanity? [Read more →]
September 16, 2014 No Comments
The Mint revives George Kelly’s sly comedy The Fatal Weakness
The Fatal Weakness sneaks up on you. Superficially, George Kelly’s 1946 play, about a woman discovering her husband’s affair, seems like a typical pre-War comedy, with well-heeled New Yorkers snooping on each other and making droll statements about the ways of love. But the more you listen, the more you realize there’s something else afoot.
For one thing, Mrs. Ollie Espenshade’s response to her husband’s infidelity may be quite startling, even to modern audiences. While she’s certainly unhappy about it—and she enlists her friends to spy on her husband across several states—she responds to each new revelation with remarkable composure. “It’s so wonderfully civil,” says Jesse Marchese, who’s directing the play’s current revival at the Mint Theater Company. “That’s surprising, but it’s that much more affecting because it’s so polite.”
And then there’s the conclusion. Without giving too much away, the final moments make a moving leap from sturdy realism into poetry, with Ollie articulating a worldview she’s been developing throughout her ordeal.
“I think [Kelly] pokes a little fun at her but is also a little charmed by her,” says Marchese, who’s also the Mint’s Associate Director. “He’s generous enough to let her keep her romanticism. [By the end] she has a much more informed romanticism, but he doesn’t kill that in her. He’s charmed by it, and in turn he allows the audience to be.”
This writerly charm and intelligence helped Kelly become a prominent playwright of his era. He won the Pulitzer Prize for his drama Craig’s Wife and enjoyed a string of hit shows like The Torch Bearers and The Show Off. As the Mint’s program note explains, he injected his most popular work with unexpected depth, “leading [critic] Mary McCarthy to observe, in 1947, that a Kelly play ‘is not like anything else while on the surface it resembles every play one has ever been to.’” [Read more →]
September 15, 2014 No Comments
Welcome to Fanmail, our tributes to theatre artists we admire
Arrogance. Overconfidence. Ego. These may not be things one looks for in a friend or lover (though there’s no accounting for taste), but some really entertaining stage characters possess these qualities in spades. See Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm in A Little Night Music, Baron Bomburst in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Gaston in Beauty and the Beast, and Franklin Hart, Jr. in the musicalization of 9 to 5, to name a handful.
Of course, these roles have something else in common, and it’s the secret ingredient that made these braggadocious blowhards so delicious to watch in the productions I saw: Marc Kudisch played them all.
I remember the thrill I felt the first time I saw Kudisch in his villainous glory playing the sinister Chauvelin in the musical The Scarlet Pimpernel on Broadway in 1999. I instantly admired his go-for-broke style, and it’s made him consistently fun to watch for the past 15 years, whether I catch him in Main Stem musicals, or Off-Broadway comedies and dramas. With his imposing physical frame combined with his beautiful booming baritone that can make even bombastic speeches sound magical, Kudisch fully inhabits whatever material he’s given. But what makes him so special is that he leavens every part with just the right dash of humor or vulnerability. Even when he plays a flat-out jerk, Kudisch invests the character with humanity.
September 12, 2014 No Comments
How Joe’s Pub nurtured Bridget Everett’s new show Rock Bottom
There aren’t that many places in New York City where you can see a musical that lets you lick whipped cream off the leading lady. Or lift her up on your feet so she can “play airplane.” Or hand her your glass of chardonnay after she accidentally breaks the bottle she’s toting around in a brown paper sack.
But that’s exactly what you get in Rock Bottom, the new show that just began performances at Joe’s Pub at the Public Theater. It stars Bridget Everett, who rose to downtown fame in 2007 with her gleefully inappropriate show At Least It’s Pink and has since amassed a serious following with her big rock voice, her big dirty mouth, and her knack for fusing bad behavior with cleverness and charm.
Everett’s fans should feel at home with Rock Bottom, whose wailing anthems and audience participation are also staples of her cabaret gigs and concerts with her band the Tender Moments. But there’s a reason this show is being presented as part of the Public’s official season. Like At Least It’s Pink, it molds Everett’s raucous energy into a narrative shape, taking us through a story about her love life, her family, and her relationship to her semi-stardom.
Rock Bottom also boasts some A-list collaborators. Everett co-wrote most of the songs with Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, the team behind Hairspray and Smash, and they bring an unmistakable sense of showmanship to the script and score.
Crucially, though, Shaiman and Wittman are working on Everett’s behalf, and her style is at the forefront. “Our job initially was to work as songwriters with her and turn it into a more theatrical experience instead of a pure rock and roll one,” says Wittman, who also directs this production.
“We were encouraging that side of her,” Shaiman adds. “She doesn’t want to be too slick—”
“—or too cabaret,” Wittman continues. “She’s her own creature. But she wanted to talk about her father, and the Tender Moments show was maybe not the place for it. So another part of our job was to create an arc for this that would give you a more emotional connection.” [Read more →]
September 11, 2014 No Comments