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WATCH: Meet Dixon Place

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 Dixon Place, where every kind of artist tries every kind of thing.

This video features the writer-performers Dan Fishback, Sacha Yannow, and Toni Schlesinger; performer Gregg Mozgala; and Dixon Place founder/artistic director Ellie Covan.

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

October 13, 2014   No Comments

Sing That Song Again! Please!

The cast of On the Town

The cast of On the Town

Why the reprises in Broadway’s On the Town are so important

During the new Broadway revival of On the Town, pay attention to the songs that come back.

There are several of them in this classic 1944 musical, with music by Leonard Bernstein and book and lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green. As three sailors scamper across New York City, looking for love on their one day of shore leave, they have all sorts of comic adventures, mostly with three young ladies who are just as zany as they are. And whenever they burst into song, the numbers almost always get reprised a few minutes later.

And those encores aren’t simply there to fill time. Just ask director John Rando, who’s helming the show at the Lyric Theatre. (This production transfers to Broadway from Barrington Stage in Massachusetts, where it played last year.)

“The one thing that I tried to share with the company was the joy of the reprise,” Rando says. “I wanted to embrace that form of musical theatre. Because you could choose not to do a reprise. You could choose to do a bridge that blends the reprise with the song, so that it’s just one number. But there’s something about the reprises that are important to the sense of play. How far can we take this spirit?” [Read more →]

October 7, 2014   1 Comment

This Is How It Looks Inside His Head

Alex Sharp as Christopher

Alex Sharp as Christopher

Behind the lyrical design of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

There could, of course, be a very literal production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. As our teenage hero, Christopher Boone, investigates the death of a neighbor’s dog, he could certainly inhabit a realistic world. As clues lead him on an improbable adventure from suburban England to the busy streets of London, we could see the walls and floor of his actual apartment, hear the sounds of nature as he wanders his neighborhood, and see the lights of a train station in the intimidating city.

But if the design were naturalistic, then we might not understand our hero. Though the word “autism” is never used in Simon Stephens’ script, which is adapted from Mark Haddon’s popular 2003 novel of the same name, Christopher is clearly on the spectrum. His relationship to everything—sound, light, physical touch, emotions—is highly sensitive, but at the same time, he’s a genius with numbers who loves the precision of train schedules and the vastness of outer space. For him, the world is a constant negotiation between chaos and control, where every stimulus can trigger panic or excitement.

It’s a reality like no one else’s. That’s why the National Theatre’s production of the play, which is now on Broadway at the Ethel Barrymore, has been designed to show us how it feels. As lighting designer Paule Constable says, “We’re trying to get the audience to imagine what it would be like to be Christopher, to empathize in a way where it’s more experiential than just watching him. We want the audience not to look at him, but to share with him.”

Therefore, the walls of the set look like giant sheets of graph paper, where Christopher can draw maps and where images can be projected as he thinks of them. “He loves technology and computers and space, so we tried to include those in the design,” Constable adds. “There are pixels—dots of light all over the set that light up at various points. We’re trying to create the matrix of what Christopher’s head is like.” [Read more →]

September 30, 2014   3 Comments

An Actor Channels His Inner Journalist to Play a Marine

Jonny Orsini in Almost Home

Jonny Orsini in Almost Home

Jonny Orsini’s passionate preparation for his latest role

“I wanted to become a journalist before I became an actor,” says Jonny Orsini. “I think I approach roles the way a journalist approaches stories.”

That means he does a serious amount of research for every part he plays. Take his work in Almost Home, a new drama by Walter Anderson that’s now at Theatre Row in a production from The Directors Company. Orsini plays Johnny Barnett, a Marine going back to the Bronx after serving in Vietnam. The character not only confronts his own guilt at being called a hero, but also grapples with the expectations of his family and mentors, some of whom have shady ulterior motives.

For Orsini, who’s too young to remember what Vietnam veterans faced when they came back to America, books and films have been essential to his preparation. Even more importantly, he’s had long conversations with Anderson, who fought in Vietnam himself. “Walter didn’t necessarily experience everything in the play, but a lot of it draws from his life,” the actor says. “So to have him in the room was incredible. And he had the best suggestions about what to read and what to watch.”

The research, though, is only part of Orsini’s journalistic impulse. “I was always interested in learning about people and things that weren’t necessarily widely known and then bringing the story to light,” he says. “If you’ve gone through something and you feel alone, then seeing it in a respectfully told story can make you feel less isolated. Anything I can do to make people feel less alone is very much what I want to do with my life.” [Read more →]

September 26, 2014   No Comments

This Play Seems Predictable (Until You Listen Closely)

Kristin Griffith

Kristin Griffith as Ollie

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