Your passport to life behind the curtain!

How Do You Perform a Stephen Adly Guirgis Play?

Stephen McKinley Henderson & Ray Anthony Thomas

Stephen McKinley Henderson & Ray Anthony Thomas

Ray Anthony Thomas tackles the gruff poetry of Between Riverside and Crazy

Welcome to Building Character, our ongoing look at performers and how they create their roles

There are so many pronouncements and jokes and wild, thundering feelings in Between Riverside and Crazy that you may not think about the poetry until you leave the theatre and catch your breath.

The latest from Stephen Adly Guirgis, now in its world premiere at Atlantic Theater Company, the play follows Pops (Stephen McKinley Henderson), a recently widowed police officer who’s suing the department, trying to motivate his ex-convict son, and nursing a drink any chance he can get. Life hasn’t licked him, though, and eventually, he starts shedding the memories, the people, and the dark private thoughts that have pinned him down.

We especially feel his fire when he speaks. Whether he’s scolding his son Junior (Ray Anthony Thomas), telling cop stories, or just making a salty observation about church ladies who eat too much, he delivers beautifully sculpted speeches. Yes, they’re peppered with curse words and slang, but their artistry is easy to hear.

It’s like that with all the characters. Guirgis, whose earlier plays include The Last Days of Judas Iscariot and The Motherf—er With the Hat, is well known for giving powerful voices to even the most disenfranchised people.

“The characters live in a poetic place, even though they’re not poets,” says Thomas. “The way they express their lives is almost musical, and when we were in rehearsal, all of us were just trying to find that common musical language.” [Read more →]

July 21, 2014   No Comments

The Sweetest Crazy Clown

Jessica Frey

Jessica Frey

The woman behind Clown Bar‘s twisted ingenue

Welcome to Building Character, our ongoing look at performers and how they create their roles

Considering all the gunfights and sex and dirty jokes in their show, you wouldn’t think anyone in Clown Bar would base their performance on It’s a Wonderful Life. But that’s one reason this raucous play has become such a downtown hit. It never met a vintage reference it couldn’t use.

Written by Adam Szymkowicz and presented by Pipeline Theatre Company, the show is a noir parody about the gangster underworld of professional clowns. Dressed in full makeup, the hardboiled characters gather at their seedy local watering hole, pausing between songs and jokes to make threats, run rackets, and occasionally kill each other. Even Happy, the local cop who’s trying to clean up the scene, is a former gangster clown, and there’s no guarantee that the life, the power, and the dangerous dames won’t pull him back in.

But like any good noir, Clown Bar has an angel among the devils. Or at least, she’s about as angelic as it gets with this twisted show, which plays on Saturday nights at The Box. Her name is Petunia, and even though she’s a prostitute with a foul mouth, she’s still a swell dame.

That’s why actress Jessica Frey’s performance is inspired by It’s a Wonderful Life—specifically Gloria Grahame’s turn as flirty bombshell Violet Bick. “I was trying to use the style of that era as a baseline, and then pump it up,” she says, adding that even though Petunia is a hooker, she’s not a hopeless case. “She’s so sweet, and she’s just trying to do her best by everybody. I think that makes her very endearing. It potentially makes her the audience’s ally in the show.”

Frey adds, “In her mind, this clown bar is nothing seedy. It’s nothing disgusting. She’s trying to spin horrible things that have happened to her into positive things. She makes light of her STDs. She makes light of being a prostitute. She has to remain positive, or the audience won’t root for her as much.”

Not that Frey has always been the good clown. Last year, when the play had its first successful run, she was cast as Popo, a sociopathic enforcer. But when Kelley Rae O’Donnell, the original Petunia, couldn’t return to the role, Frey changed characters. “I have such respect for Kelley, and her performance was intimidating from the beginning,” she says. “I couldn’t get it out of my head, and during the first couple of weeks of rehearsal, I was thinking to myself, ‘I’ve made a horrible mistake!’ [Read more →]

July 8, 2014   No Comments

VIDEO: Meet Pilobolus

From time to time, TDF Stages will highlight exciting Off and Off-Off Broadway theatre companies with exclusive “getting to know you” videos. Today, we’re featuring Pilobolus, a dance-theatre company that strives to do the impossible.

Pilobolus’ summer season at the Joyce will run from July 15 — August 10.

This video features company dancers Shawn Fitzgerald Ahern, Eriko Jimbo, Jordan Kriston, and Mike Tyus, as well as executive producer Itamar Kubovy and associate artistic director Renee Jaworski.

Meet more theatres!

This video was directed by Mark Blankenship, TDF’s online content editor, and shot and edited by Nicholas Guldner.

July 7, 2014   4 Comments

Which Recent Musicals Do We Need to See Again?

The cast of "Zanna, Don't!"

The Off-Broadway cast of “Zanna, Don’t!”

Welcome to Geek Out/Freak Out, where theatre fans get super enthusiastic about things.

This week, Stages editor Mark Blankenship geeks out (via Google Doc) with his friend Adam Grosswirth, Membership Director of the National Alliance for Musical Theatre (NAMT).

Today’s Topic: Which recent musicals deserve another production in New York?

Mark: Hi, Adam! As you know, there’s currently a mini-boom in revivals of musicals from the late 90s and early 00s. Both Violet and Hedwig and the Angry Inch are finally on Broadway, and in late June, the Encores! Off-Center program will kick off its latest season with a semi-staged concert performance of tick, tick… BOOM!, also known as “the Jonathan Larson musical that isn’t Rent.”

But why stop there, right? Let’s have more! Do you agree with me?

Adam: I graduated from college in 1997, so this was really my formative theatre-going period and the beginning of my career as a stage manager (which is what I was doing before I came to NAMT). So yes, yes I do agree!

Mark: So if you were a producer with a big tub of money, which musical from the late Clinton/early W. years would you revive first?

Adam: This is a bit of a cheat, but if Cabaret can come back to Studio 54, why not bring Chris Ashley’s 2001 production of The Rocky Horror Show back to Circle in the Square? It was architect David Rockwell’s first set on Broadway (this made big news at the time), and I’ve never seen the quirky Circle used so well before or since. The first transition made my jaw drop, and I still bore friends talking about it (like I’m doing with you right now!) I was never a huge devotee of the movie (mostly because even in my 20s, midnight screenings made me sleepy), but something about the live, in-the-round performance made me more inclined to want to participate, if only to see what the actors would do. In fact, I was at Luke Perry’s first performance as Brad, which means I was among the first to yell out “Ask Dylan and Brenda!” in place of the traditional “Ask Ken and Barbie!” I’m both proud and ashamed of this fact.

Mark: There’s no shame here, Adam. Only references to former teen stars. [Read more →]

June 17, 2014   No Comments

VIDEO: Meet Clubbed Thumb

From time to time, TDF Stages will highlight exciting Off and Off-Off Broadway theatre companies with exclusive “getting to know you” videos. Today, we’re featuring Clubbed Thumb, where new plays are always funny, provocative, and strange.

As part of their annual Summerworks series, Clubbed Thumb is presenting Ariel Stess’ play I’m Pretty Fucked Up through June 22.

This video features Stess, as well as Pam MacKinnon (a Tony Award-winning director and Clubbed Thumb board chair) and Maria Striar (Clubbed Thumb’s co-founder and producing artistic director.)

Meet more theatres!

This video was directed by Mark Blankenship, TDF’s online content editor, and shot and edited by Nicholas Guldner.

June 13, 2014   No Comments