5 Fantastic Lesbians Eating an Exquisite Quiche

On Saturday, I saw 5 Lesbians Eating a Quiche, by Evan Linder and Andrew Hobgood. It was produced by Monumental Theatre Co. and directed by Jimmy Mavrikes.

This show is a “meeting” of the The Susan B. Anthony Society for the Sisters of Gertrude Stein’s 1956 Annual Quiche Breakfast. The audience are all fellow “widows” who are attending the meeting. It was so cute; we are given nametags when we sat down. I was Dory for the night and I was lucky enough to be sitting next to Marjorie for the night (more on her later).

The space that we were in was a blackbox theater, so it was basically a black room with no distinguishing features. The set in front of us, designed by Wes Raid, could have been the cute interior of a community building. It had yellow walls with a few sparse decorative elements, a chair, a table, and a bomb shelter door. (This is 1956…they need to be prepared for the Soviets).

The lighting, designed by Rob Siler, was problematic in my opinion because it didn’t really seem to connect in any way to the set. There were lights and sometimes they were blue and sometimes they were red, but there wasn’t a lot to be said for them. Also, they were in my eyes the whole time. That’s at least 56% of my problem with them.

The sound, designed by Jordana Abrenica, was perfect however. It was dramatic and large and filled the space, especially when the nuclear bomb went off. Oh, yeah, a nuclear bomb goes off. (Soviets, am I right???) But the “widows” *cough* *lesbians* *cough* are all ok because they’re in this bomb shelter.

Ok, well they’re not all actually safe because Dale Prist, played by Morgan Meadows, blows up due to the radiation when she gets trapped outside the door. The props designer, Liz Long, has a scary mind because when Dale blew up, a huge slop of brains and body parts rocketed at the window. The entire audience gasped punctuated by scattered giggles to break the tension. It was awesome!

This play is so wacky and fun and these marvelous actors really made it so. The basic premise is that they’re all lesbians, but no one acknowledges it until the bomb hits and they’re all trapped, so they don’t have any reason to keep it secret any more. But it’s called 5 Lesbians Eating a Quiche, so obviously the audience knows the whole time. And this play is rife with lesbian jokes including Ginny Cadbury, played by Kaitlin Kemp, literally eating out a quiche. The actors had so much fun with all of this. When I saw it, it was almost their last performance so they were in such a groove of improvising, of waiting until just the right moment to get maximum participation or laughter from the audience.

Throughout the whole play, they make reference to Marjorie (the man sitting next to me with that nametag) because she ruined the quiche breakfast last year by bringing a quiche with meat in it. At one point, they were cautioning against something other, saying to us not to end up like Marjorie, and they just stared at her for probably 3 minutes straight. The whole audience was cracking up the whole time!

I have only one criticism of the actors. Two of them had accents, one British and one Southern…and neither of them were very good or consistent. But at the end of the day, it didn’t matter at all because all five actors were so invested in this play.

A stand out performance was from Morgan Meadows as Dale Prist. She was absolutely captivating – prim and refined when she needed to be, rough and determined when she was proving a point. It was such a joy to watch her interact with her fellow cast-members. I just loved it!

If these reviews were based purely on acting, this would be a 9/10, but because of some of the technical elements, I’m giving the show a 8/10. Unfortunately, this show has already finished its run, but if you have the opportunity elsewhere, go see this show!

The Father (on Mother’s Day)

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This could be a better picture, but think of the imperfections as a metaphor for Alzheimer’s

On Mother’s Day, I saw The Father, by  Florian Zeller, translated by Christopher Hampton, directed by David Muse.

This was a play about a father getting Alzheimer’s, but the audience is thrown into mindset of the man devolving into his illness. To him, scenes meld into each other, sometimes the same scene is played more than one time. Sometimes he can’t recognize his daughter because she’s literally played by another actor. In the same way that the Father can’t tell what’s real and what’s not, the audience isn’t sure what’s happening at any given moment. It’s a confusion that renders the play incredibly powerful.

The set, designed by Debra Booth, was minimal, with 60s furniture. With each scene change, the lights would go out, there would strobe-like lights around the proscenium arch and deep ominous sounds. And then when the next scene started, suddenly a table was missing, or there was a lamp where there wasn’t one before. Furniture and props were constantly so fluid and terrifyingly changing. It was as if we couldn’t trust our own mind to make sense of the set and form of the play.

The lights and sounds, designed by Keith Parham and Ryan Rumery, respectively, were crucial to the show despite mostly only changing during the transitions. They gave us reprieve from and context for the confusion onstage on the part of the Father.

In addition, the costumes, designed by Wade Laboissonniere, were very fluid, they could have been in any decade from the mid-60s to today. The Father literally had no idea where in space or time he was and neither did we. It wasn’t bothersome, but instead allowed for a flexible understanding to arise.

This play will force people to contemplate the mindset of someone who has a disease of the mind. It makes the audience understand the anger and confusion of someone in that circumstance. The Father doesn’t want pity, and neither does the audience. We feel certain we can figure it out if you give us a little more time. But of course, we, and the Father, are not allowed the time to figure it out, and it wouldn’t matter either way.

The acting appeared a little strange to me. That makes sense; the characters were basically viewed through the lens of the Father, but at the same time, it was as if their actions and emotions came from nowhere. The audience didn’t have any context for their emotions, so we, or at least I, couldn’t tell if the actors were being truthful to the characters. Because at the end of the day, I didn’t really know the characters that well.

I have two major criticisms of the play: #1 is that it was translated from French, and unfortunately, I could tell. The entire play felt very French, even though they spoke American English, no part of it felt American. I think that may have hindered the actors from connecting to their characters on a contextual level.

My second criticism is a little more specific. As the daughter of a physician and a nurse, I know that sometimes representations of medical caretakers are inaccurate. I remember watching shows with my mother and her remarking afterward that nobody would ever act like that if they were suffering from XYZ diagnosis or that XYZ diagnosis is totally wrong or that the nurse would never say that to a patient. And I felt the same way here. I questioned the legitimacy of the caretakers because I don’t believe a professional caretaker would ever act like that to their patient or charge. I would probably say this is the fault of the director, although it could have been the playwright, translator, actor, dramaturg. I think they probably needed a medical consultant and I’m not certain they had one.

On the other hand, I thought Ted van Griethuysen’s powerhouse performance as the Father was impeccable. He was angry, charming, confused, silent, boisterous, submissive all within minutes as his surroundings and mind shifted things around him. I thought he accurately and beautifully represented a man with a demented mind.

I’m giving this play a 7/10. It was melancholy and exquisite and forces people to dive head-first into the confusion of a Father who increasingly loses his mind. The substance and form of the play were great, but the problem arose in the execution of the direction, translation, and acting elements.

Natasha, Pierre & the Pretty Good Comet of 1812

Last Friday night, I saw Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812. The music, lyrics, and book were by Dave Malloy, and it was directed by Rachel Chavkin. At 12 nominations, it was the most-nominated show for the Tony’s this year (June 11, watch it!), so I thought for sure I should check it out.

And it was really good…but it didn’t wow me. I think my expectations were a little too high coming in. Per usual, I didn’t know much about the show, but I learned pretty quickly that it was an operetta and that was very expository. I understood it came from Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace, which isn’t the simplest text, but it just seemed like they spent a lot of time telling me exactly what was happening instead of actually doing the thing they were singing about.

It’s all about a certain aesthetic that the director is using; an aesthetic that I actually liked. I thought it worked well in the world of the play. It’s like a glittery, underground, colorful, punk, Russia-in-the-19th-century, EDM vibe. Honestly, imagine a New York subway after Comic Con the same weekend as the Renaissance Festival, stopping in the Financial District and that’s about it. But those are just the costumes (designed by Paloma Young).

The other part of it are the set and lights (designed by Mimi Lien and Bradley King, respectively). The set is like a cabaret, with audience interspersed throughout the set on multiple levels. From where I was sitting in the second balcony, I could see most all of the action and the actors were event interacting with the audience members, sitting at their cabaret-style tables, putting their arms around them occasionally. It was fun for everyone.

The lights were these gorgeous chandeliers that descended from the ceiling. Little individual bulbs shone among them and everywhere it was glittery and decadent. I even had a little table next to me where a seat might be, and on it, was a lamp that would turn on and off when needed. There a couple songs sung to and about the moon and the stars. With those songs, the entire room sparkled with the gleaming lights.

The choreography, by Sam Pinkleton, was absolutely excellent, but I wanted to see so much more of it. There were way too few moments which utilized the skill of the actors on stage. These actors were musicians, dancers, singers, and actors, but I thought that they really shone in their dancing and singing. (The acting could be robotic at times). The music was incredibly unique and played a lot with dissonance and using melodies/harmonies interchangeably. I haven’t yet mentioned, but JOSH. GROBAN. He led the cast as Pierre. He played piano, drums, and sang. And when I say that Josh Groban’s voice is that of an angel and it can *raise me up so I can stand on mountains,* I meant it. He was truly a force to be reckoned with.

Another man who showed up to win was Lucas Steele, who played Anatole. His character is so utterly unlikable, but he himself was so talented. He bounded across the set, picked up a violin and immediately started playing, he sung falsetto notes that I guarantee, I could not hit.

The entire play lagged near the finale and ended on quite a bummer of a note. Ok, so they sing about the great comet at the end, but honestly, it’s kind of nothing and nothing comes of it. The musical is said to be based on a 70-page selection from War and Peace, but I feel like they didn’t actually finish the story here. It was: boy falls in love with girl (after seeing her one time, while he still has a wife, whatever), girl is generally ambivalent, and then boy sings about a comet. Josh Groban lifts his angel-voice to the heavens, but that’s it.

I’m giving this musical a 7/10. I wasn’t overwhelmed, I wasn’t underwhelmed, I was just “whelmed.” I liked a lot of aspects of the show, like the choreography, but I wanted to see more of that and way less exposition.

The Play That Goes Absolutely Right!

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That set got nominated for a Tony and it deserves it!

Last Thursday, I took my play-reviewing talents to New York and saw The Play That Goes Wrong on Broadway. It was written by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer, and Henry Shields (who also starred in the show), and was directed by Mark Bell. It was recently nominated for a Tony for the Best Scenic Design in a Play. (Tune in on June 11 to find out if they won! Hint: I think they should!) [Also hint: if you haven’t seen this show, go see it. I have a few spoilers in this review about certain things that happen, so go see the show, then read my review. Or read it anyway.]

Last week, I was up in New York for a work event and since my best friend from high school and college live there, I decided to stay and see shows! (It was a really hard sell…) My friend from high school told me about this play, The Play That Goes Wrong, said she heard it was hilarious, and we decided to go. So I stood in line starting at 8:50am for rush tickets. If a Broadway show does rush tickets (find out if they do here), they’re usually partial view, $30-50, and you have to wait in line for at least an hour to get them. For these, there weren’t a ton of people waiting for rush tickets, so I could have showed up at 9:45am and still been fine, but that’s unique.

So I show up in the theater at 6:30pm and didn’t know much about the show other than Nigel Hook’s set was nominated for a Tony for Best Scenic Design in a Play. I noted that the set looked interesting, but oh, I had no idea. Just wait.

With 15 minutes left before the show started, some of the “stage crew” started coming out into the audience talking about a lost dog for the play and hurriedly reassembling the set. We started reading the program. And we noticed that there were essentially two programs. One was for The Play That Goes Wrong, the other was for The Murder at Haversham Manor. The central conceit of the show is that you’re watching a Cornley University Dram Society production of The Murder at Haversham Manor, that, due to a clerical error, ended up on Broadway. It’s a wonderful conceit and really sets up a hilarious show!

The one thing you can always count on in this show is that things will go wrong. The playwrights (and three main characters) are geniuses; I don’t know how they came up with so many hilarious physical and intellectual comedy bits!

There’s so much theatre *magic* happening. The set literally falls apart. Things get put on the wall, things fall off the wall, the wall falls off the scaffolding! There’s an upper deck/balcony that falls to the ground, people are running around, and the “stage crew” (actors themselves, but stage crew in the diegetic world (explanation of diegetic sounds here, but I’m using it in roughly the same way)) has to fill in for characters that are accidentally rendered unconscious. It was so hilarious watching all the actors “get hurt” – like watching a safe version of America’s Funniest Home Videos because you know that everything that happens is meant to happen even if it appears as though it’s all on accident.

I thought all of Bell’s direction and choreography was incredible. It took precision and meticulous planning in order for everyone to be in exactly the right place when the walls came down. Or when the sword broke in the fight scene. Or when people were being knocked out or fainting this way and that.

Everything in this play was used in such an inventive way. People doubled as the set, set pieces doubled as people. There’s a grandfather clock that literally stands in for a woman.

The story of the murder at Haversham Manor was actually pretty fun and would have been a good murder mystery, but then add on top of that all the ridiculousness of the play. I was dying with laughter within 2 minutes and didn’t stop for the full two hours.

The lighting design, by Ric Mountjoy, and the sound design, by Andy Johnson, are dramatic and fun. The diegetic sound is constantly accidentally interspersed with Duran Duran, a favorite of Trevor, the “Assistant Stage Manager.”

The costumes, by Roberto Surace, are great because at one point the “Stage Manager” must take on the role of Florence in the play. Instead of changing into the costume of  Florence, the “Stage Manager” just puts on Florence’s wig and dress over her overalls and black shirt. All the people in the diegetic world seem perfectly suited to their high-fallutin’ lifestyle and the contrast between that the street clothes of the “stage crew” works so well in this play that straddles the lines of play and reality.

Many of the characters will acknowledge the audience during the course of the play, a cardinal sin in traditional theatre, but it works so well in this show. It’s truly an ensemble performance, led by the three playwrights, and all of them have impeccable comedic timing.

Bottom line: go see this show. I give it a 9/10.

Timon of At the end I was like wow

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Time to get some new friends, Timon

On Tuesday, I saw Shakespeare’s rarely produced Timon of Athens at the Folger Shakespeare Library, directed by Robert Richmond.

I would say that I’m a fan of Shakespeare. I’ve read and seen a good number of his plays. While I’m sure many of you are intimately familiar with Timon of Athens, I was not.

I learned from my experience with Macbeth that I had better read as much of the program as I could for fear I understand approximately none of it, so I read the program enough to learn that it’s about a rich man, Timon (who lives in Athens), who spends all of his money on his friends and turns into a poor man, can’t depend on them, runs off into the woods, finds gold, and then spurns his so-called-friends when they come back to ask for money again. Also that this production relies on technology as a driving force of action.

Watching this play, I felt like I understood every word of it. It was fascinating and wonderful watching the actors make me understand their words. I was extremely impressed with the actors and director. Technology was used, but always in a way that enhanced the story and the relationships, never detracted from it.

The set, designed by Tony Cisek, was full of slanted lines, diagonals, and had an upper level. It was covered in black mirrors, reflective surfaces, multi-colored fluorescent tubes; it looked like a nightclub. It was perfect for the futuristic setting with its palm-scan-activated doors, where money (or talents) could be transferred by a simple wave of one’s hand over the tablet.

The projections, by Francesca Talenti, and lighting, by Andrew F. Griffin, contributed to that technological vibe through face recognition software upon the entrance of a new character, and dramatic, musical-esque lighting. It worked well with the nightclub style of the first act. The second act in the woods seemed perpetually shrouded in darkness, interlocking with harsh white light, often mirroring the plight of Timon’s soul.

There is one moment where there is live interface between the projections and what’s happening on stage. I don’t want to spoil what happens per se, but someone live-streams a horrific occurrence; it’s gritty and wonderfully-utilized technology.

Often, I’m concerned that when technology is used, we won’t see as much relationship-building between characters. The director, rather than shying from that, leaned in and even staged a majority of the dialogue to be performed out to the audience. As in, both characters would be speaking to each other, but facing the audience and acting as if they were seeing the other in front of them. This really drew the audience up onto the stage and engaged us with the text. We were able to hear the actors, see their movements and faces, and not lose that interaction between them. I felt like I was a part of the story.

We could certainly hear the music and sounds, designed by Matt Otto. There were a lot of high-pitched, long-lasting, vibrating-through-the-body kind of sounds. It clearly made people uncomfortable. Obviously that was more or less the goal, but I think they could have been made shorter or quieter. It detracted a bit from my enjoyment.

The costumes, by Mariah Hale, beautifully added to the ominous tone. Every single character was clad in navy blue, with individual accents and unique costumes for each. Timon sported a fitting three-piece suit in the first act. The trendy merchant wore a blue jumpsuit and circular shades. Apemantus, the philosopher, wore a navy sport coat, but was differentiated by his blue and white scarf. I could go on. Each costume perfectly suited the character. (Suit? Get it? I’m hilarious!)

The characters themselves were also wildly different considering that most of the cast played multiple characters. One thing that I appreciated about this play is that I felt like Shakespeare gave adequate time for each interaction, none were too short, nor too long. I read in the program that this play is attributed to both Shakespeare and a collaborator, Thomas Middleton. I don’t know if it was Middleton’s doing, or the way Richmond cut the play for this production, but the timing seemed right in the play where sometimes it doesn’t in other Shakespeare plays.

One interaction I particularly want to touch on is in the second act: Timon, played by Ian Merrill Peakes, has found gold in the woods and rather than hoarding or rebuilding his former fortune, he gives it away again, telling people to use it to destroy Athens and all of the hypocrites of live there. He is raving and mad.

And who should come along but misanthropic Apemantus (Eric Hissom), who warned him this would happen in the beginning of the play. It’s never clear if Apementus is truly there or is a figment of Timon’s crazed imagination. Every time Timon spins around to look at Apementus, he’s gone. Apementus slides in and out of the set, appearing in a new place much to the torment and delight of Timon. They engage in a battle of insults, neither one wanting to concede defeat for it’s clearly much too fun for them to continue warring. The actors did a lovely job of having fun on stage in a play that is mostly classified as a tragedy.

I would give this play a 9/10. I immensely enjoyed everything that the actors and director were doing, loved the technical elements (minus the sound), and honestly felt like I understood the play. This truly is a talented cast! (Get it? Because talents are money in the play…See the play, you’ll get it.)

Ps. Shout-out to Amanda Forstrom, who I’ve worked with and is so amazing!