Off-Off Broadway Review: Goldor $ Mythyka: A Hero Is Born

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Goldor$Mythyka A Hero is Born featuring Garrett Neergaard, Jenny Seastone Stern and Bobby Moreno Photo credit Jim Baldassare

What makes Off Broadway and Off-Off Broadway shine in a way that’s so different from Broadway is the risks they can take, and the artistic expression that comes along with those risks. Often times, Artistic Directors look for pieces that challenge societal norms and conventional, mainstream thought in an effort to craft a story that’s uniquely suited for the stage. They look to create a theater experience that can’t be experienced anywhere else. It just so happens that’s also what makes the NYC theater community so vibrant and ever-changing.

GOLDOR $ MYTHYKA: A HERO IS BORN exemplifies this kind of vibrancy and then some. Written by Lynn Rosen and directed by Shana Gold, GOLDOR $ MYTHYKA tells the true story of Roger Dillon and Nicole Boyd, a young couple just as much in love with the world of fantasy role-playing games as they are with each other.

Garrett Neergaard and Jenny Seastone Stern deftly play the parts of Bart and Holly, loosely based off the aforementioned Roger and Nicole, who both work for the same armored car transport company.  Right around the time of the economic collapse of 2008, their job starts laying people off while their boss starts making unwanted advances on Holly.

Feeling rudderless and powerless, Bart and Holly escape to the world of Dungeons & Dragons, where they can act out their desires, dreams, hopes and fears in the safety of a fantasy role-playing game. In this world, they adopt the personae of Goldor and Mythyka to escape the harsh banalities of real life.

That is, until escape presents itself as an all too real – albeit illegal – option. Facing layoffs and a crude boss, Holly comes up with the idea to steal millions of dollars from the company.  Bart not only supports the idea, but goes a step further; beginning to plan an unrealistic future for them, where Goldor and Mythyka will be the people Bart and Holly always dreamed of while forever being on the run, throwing caution to the wind and fulfilling their destinies.  He calls it freedom.

In effect, they become known as the Goth Bonnie and Clyde, and eventually gain national attention and a large cult following.

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This is where the play shines the most as it shows off its ambition and the kind of vibrancy mentioned earlier.  The piece brings ENERGY to the house. Before we even start, the DJ (yes, there’s a DJ who serves as the narrator, played to perfection by Bobby Moreno) gets the audience going by playing music and having people come up to the stage to dance. (“The L train is definitely working today”.) Then we launch straight into the story, having had the tone set from this beginning.

The DJ is then a constant presence throughout the rest of the show, chiming in with tidbits of info and narrative that help the audience piece together what’s going on, navigating them through various flashback scenes mixed in with the present day, often sharing the stage at the same time.

Goldor $ Mythyka A Hero is Born featuring Garrett Neergaard & Jenny Seastone Stern Photo credit Jim Baldassare

There are also a number of visual aides (such as scrolling panels and scrims) and musical cues that showcase important parts of the story or background elements that help contextualize what’s going on. It all makes for a very moving experience with all of it serving to set GOLDOR $ MYTHYKA up as a very human story about a couple that faces unbelievable adversity and must make incredibly difficult decisions for themselves and their families.

Bart and Holly – Goldor and Mythyka – are people haunted by a past, on the run from reality, and headed to an uncertain future that will present them each with different paths to take.  And they brought to life with much bravado and emotion by Neergaard and Seastone Stern.

Three years ago New Georges launched what they called “The Germ Project” which was designed to give four writers and their collaborating directors the commission to make plays of “scope and adventure” and “unbridled imagination” in which to challenge the producers.  GOLDOR $ MYTHYKA is the second germ to be produced.  With it, we can see the sheer amount of ambition, energy, and scope that New Georges is bringing to theater.

And in the end, we hope they continue…

Goldor$Mythyka featuring Bubba Weiler

Deviant Ramble: MacFarlane Saves Oscars

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SMThis wasn’t your father’s Academy Awards.  Seth MacFarlane hosted the 85th Annual awards show live from Hollywood on Sunday night, and he provided a much needed boost to a ceremony that had been bleeding viewers as of late, and had grown stale.

Last year, the Oscars played it safe by picking Academy veteran Billy Crystal to perform the hosting duties – the umpteenth time he’s done so.  And while we love Mr. Crystal, it was purely refreshing to see someone else on the stage injecting new life and interest into Tinsel Town’s biggest night.  Make no mistake, this was no James Franco and Anne Hathaway disaster, when the Academy was overtly pining for a younger audience and in their effort turned in probably the most wince-inducing three hours ever.

Rather, this represented a savvy and calculating marketing pick that would not only draw in more viewers, but would be – at best – polarizing.  Remember the old saying there’s no such thing as bad publicity.

Today, everyone is talking about what they thought of Mr. MacFarlane’s performance, be it good or bad or somewhere in between.  And as far as ratings go, the numbers don’t lie.   As of this posting, Sunday night’s Oscarcast drew in 40.3 million viewers, up 3% from last year’s 39.3 million number, and was up a whopping 11% in the coveted 18-49 demographic.  It was also the most watched Oscars in three years.

Say what you want about him (and everyone is absolutely saying something) but at the end of the day, Seth delivered where it counted most:  viewership and chatter.  Finally, the decision-makers at the Academy realized that they needed to push the envelope (no pun intended), that Hollywood takes itself way too seriously, and that ultimately, they needed to lighten up.

The irony in all of this is that the PC Police were out in full force Monday morning, criticizing MacFarlane for some of his jokes.  Everyone from the ADL to USA Today piled on.  And these are usually the same folks that constantly chastise Hollywood for congratulating themselves and taking themselves way too seriously.  Proof positive that the pick of Seth MacFarlane worked.

However, this being primarily a theater blog, we’d be remiss if we didn’t note the snubbing of Les Miserables with a modicum of joy.   All the credit in the world is given to its ultra-talented cast for pulling off the screen adaptation of such an enduring classic, but there are a countless number of equally talented (and in some cases more talented) pure theater actors and actresses that are here in NYC pounding the pavement every day in pursuit of their dreams that don’t get that shot.  And seeing Hollywood stars win awards for musical theater is something that elicits strong emotion in the theater community.

Nonetheless, hats off to all the winners. And here’s to hoping that we see more of Seth MacFarlane at future Academy Awards.

An Evening Read: Goldsboro

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The Flux Theatre Ensemble held their 11th Food:Soul Potluck Play Reading Series this past Wednesday, and they treated guests and friends of the NYC theater community to Nat Cassidy’s Goldsboro.

GOLDSBORO follows the somewhat disjointed journey of a journalist and a scientist who, at separate times, stumble upon a family living on what used to be a nuclear testing ground.  The family itself has been twisted and mutated both physically and mentally from years exposed to radiation.  They are, after all, living in a place where nothing should be alive.

This is essentially The Hills Have Eyes on stage, complete with witty dialogue, dark humor and cannibalism.  The main difference is, of course, the characters and their back-stories, which give each of them a three dimensional uniqueness.  It makes them both compelling and even human in their own way.  The fact we actually get to spend some one-on-one time with each family member to get to know them, adds a layer of impact to the overall story and what transpires.

But what really makes this piece standout is the writing.  For example, even though this was a reading, you came away from it feeling as though you were filthy.  You needed to clean the dirt and grime of the household and the surrounding area off your body.  And the descriptions of the characters themselves, brought to life by the actors playing them, added a sense of revulsion to the whole thing.

This made the setting believable, oppressive, disturbing, and above all, disgusting.  If you’ve ever seen Rob Zombie’s The Devil’s Rejects, you’ll understand that feeling of “I NEED A SHOWER NOW!”.  But Cassidy is able to accomplish this through his words, whereas Zombie did it through visuals.

However, as mentioned above, it is the actors that brought all this to life.  And they were very talented actors at that.  Ken Glickfeld as the family’s patriarch gives the piece a much needed anchor which allows the story and characters to be as demented as it needs to be.  Tandy Cronyn as the Wanderer and  Shaun B. Wilson as Syzygy turn in the most human performances and provide heart to the story.  While Rachael Hip-Flores’ Sophie bridges the gap between Will Lowry’s hostile Sarkic and the aforementioned Syzygy.  Brian Silliman as the conniving and corrupt Patrolman is a great antagonist that actually defines this family as victims (again, think William Forsythe’s Sheriff Wydell in The Devil’s Rejects), while both Isaiah Tanenbaum as Daniel and director August Schulenburg (stepping in for Neimah Djourabchi) as Jonathan give some context to the story.

GOLDSBORO was a very pleasant Evening Read and is one play we can’t wait to see fully produced.  For more information about Flux Theatre Ensemble, check out their website at http://www.fluxtheatre.org to stay up to date on future readings and upcoming productions.

Deviant Ramble: Love Sonnett to the Goddess

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The 70th Annual Golden Globes Awards was held last night at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, and the soiree handed out kudos to some of Hollywood’s most talented talent and filmmakers of the year.  The awards show is always seen as a precursor to the Oscars, which will be held on February 24th.   But if anything, this year’s edition of the ceremony provided a bit of a shakeup to the Academy, with Ben Affleck winning the Best Director award for “Argo” and Jennifer Lawrence taking home the award for Best Actress in a musical or comedy for “Silver Linings Playbook.”  Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln” was noticeably short on hardware, but will more than likely make up for it (and then some) next month.  A full rundown of the award recipients can be viewed here.

But it is in the opinion of this blog that the night belonged to Jodie Foster.  The 47-year veteran of Hollywood dazzled, endeared and even mystified everyone with a six minute acceptance speech for receiving the Cecil B. Demille Lifetime Achievement Award.  The full breadth of Ms. Foster’s career is hard to put into words, but the one that immediately comes to mind is gratitude.  Gratitude for contributing so much to the arts and entertainment, and for touching so many lives in the process over the course of a four-decade long career that has seen her act, produce and direct every genre imaginable.  We can only hope that her efforts have inspired other artists to pursue their dreams and to, most importantly, learn the value of longevity.  At the young age of 50, Ms. Foster is as beautiful and vibrant as ever, and one get’s the impression that somehow, she is still only getting started.

So, here’s to Jodie Foster and her illustrious career.  From fairest creatures, we desire only increase.

Deviant Ramble: Oscars Doing Everything it Can to Drive People Away

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It’s deja vu all over again; again and again and again.  The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences announced their nominations for the 85th Academy Awards this morning in Los Angeles, proving once again that no one outside the industry cares about the same movies.

Of the nine movies nominated for Best Picture, two had mainstream appeal:  Lincoln and Les Miserables; and two others fell on the more controversial side: Django Unchained and Zero Dark Thirty.  While these are all good flicks to be sure, you’d be hard-pressed to know anything about the other five movies on the list.  That’s not to say they don’t belong there.  It’s just to say that the zeal Hollywood has to constantly legitimize itself consistently squanders opportunities to reach a broader (read: younger) audience.

Nabbing Seth McFarlane to host this year’s show was a step in the right direction, but nominating films that young people and casual moviegoers actually see would make the big difference.  Check out the ratings for the Oscars broadcast since 2000.  You’ll notice a distinct trend heading downwards.

Obviously, a big factor in the ratings slide is the sheer volume of other options that exist today, and how the majority of young people consume their entertainment from their mobile devices.  But what would be wrong with nominating films like, say, Marvel’s The Avengers?  Or The Dark Knight Rises?  Or how about Skyfall?

There has long been a bias against summer and holiday tentpole movies and a bias for the more serious art house films, but the Oscars are supposed to recognize the best picture of the year period.  Not just the movies that make the industry look like it takes itself way too seriously.  Here’s to hoping that McFarlane does each segment of the Oscars broadcast as a character from Family Guy.

Deviant Ramble: An Unexpected Journey, Indeed

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Adapting literature to the screen is often a tricky proposition that few filmmakers are able to pull off with success.  And while there have been rare exceptions through the years, the rule has been that the movie never lives up to the book it is based on.

This is largely because a book takes its time establishing who the characters are, what type of people they are, what motivates them, what drives them, and what essentially makes them human.   These characters are then dropped into an equally rendered setting, which in the case of Tolkien’s work, is a character within itself.  These are luxuries a film doesn’t have.

The other and possibly more salient reason that books are perceived as better than their film adaptations is because the reader’s own imagination is the screen, beaming images into your consciousness projected by your mind.  It creates an emotional connection and intimacy to the material that a film is hard-pressed to emulate.  A well-written book becomes your own personal story.  Your own personal adventure.  Your own personal journey.

Director Peter Jackson faithfully adapted J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy with great success primarily because the books lent themselves very well to the screen.  Not only was there a wealth of content to work with, but the story itself was cinematic, gripping, and just happened to be in three parts.  In case you haven’t noticed, Hollywood loves trilogies.

By contrast, J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit was not any of that.  At around 300 pages or so (depending on the edition), it was a relatively brisk read, written mostly for young children.  There simply isn’t enough content to fill out a movie trilogy, and what’s more, the content that is there doesn’t need to be seen on-screen.  This is where Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit:  An Unexpected Journey fell short.  It was faithful to a fault.

It included almost everything from the book that made for some pretty dry movie-watching in some parts, while entirely removing tension in others.  Even if you weren’t familiar with the story, at no point did the dwarfs and Bilbo seem like they were in grave danger.  The party was always saved in some way at the last second from whatever peril they found themselves in.

This however, was true to the book.  Which was the problem because, again, it was written for children.  Lord of the Rings was written for a more mature audience.   And so while Jackson’s take on the The Hobbit was certainly admirable and not all bad, this return trip to the land of Middle-earth provides more proof that movie adaptations will always have a tall order in front of them.  Some books, as it turns out, should never be adapted to begin with.

An Evening Read: The Oregon Trail

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The Lark Play Development Center presented a stage reading last night of Bekah Brunstetter’s original play THE OREGON TRAIL as part of their Studio Retreat series.  The play, which was directed by Sherri Kronfeld, tells the story of the personal and internal struggle of Jane and her great ancestor from the 19th Century known as Then Jane, as they both try to find themselves in life and gain a sense of acceptance for who they are and what they want.

The setting takes place both in the present and in 1848 as Then Jane sets out from Missouri with her family along the Oregon Trail to make a new home for themselves in the Beaver State.  This then parallels Jane’s own emotional plight in the present.

Ultimately, the tale that is weaved together offers a very unique perspective on one person’s battle against a pretty common foe:  depression, which is actually what THE OREGON TRAIL is all about.

And to highlight this struggle, Brunstetter shows present day Jane at different stages in her life as she trudges on from day to day just trying to stay afloat as best as she can – but never actually getting anywhere.  She has been in a perpetual state of emotional and psychological stasis since her teenage years.   And as an adult, it has only gotten worse.  Now, living with her sister (played to perfection by Laura Ramadei, who also plays Then Jane’s overly eager sister) , Jane finds doing simple tasks like getting up off the couch to do dishes or take out the trash, to be an epic battle.

When these scenes are juxtaposed with Then Jane’s trials and tribulations on the Oregon Trail in 1848, we see the true message and theme of the play manifest – which is, very simply, to pick up and carry on.  Regardless of the odds or the circumstance, you push on even in the face of tragedy or constant negativity.

But don’t let the heaviness of the theme fool you.   Brunstetter uses extremely witty dialogue and great dry humor to both offset and highlight the emotional highs and lows of her Janes.  And this largely works because of how effective Jenny Seastone Stern in the lead role of present day Jane, delivers these lines.  It was because of her that the audience never loses sight of the humanity involved in the piece, making Jane instantly recognizable in each of us.  This really makes the narrative of the story resonate simply because Jane – and by extension what she is going through – is relatable.

Charise Castro Smith, Eric Clem and Jaime Effros also turn in strong performances as the various characters that populate Jane and Then Jane’s life.  They all help in making THE OREGON TRAIL, despite its eccentric structure, very human primarily because the audience ends up caring for all of them in some way, even if they aren’t in the play that much.

THE OREGON TRAIL is currently in development at The Lark Play Development Center, and there is high hopes that this piece sees full production soon.

Off-Off Broadway Preview: The 15th Annual Black Box New Play Festival

The Gallery Players in Brooklyn is set to open up its critically acclaimed Black Box New Play Festival on May 31st.  The festival, which is the theater’s signature season-ending venue of new plays, was designed  to highlight the works of both new and established playwrights.

Over the course of its great 15-year run, the festival has staged more than 400 plays, including Nat Cassidy’s THE RECKONING OF KIT AND LIL BOOTS in 2008.   This year’s lineup promises to be as entertaining and diverse as ever, ranging from dark comedies to culturally provocative pieces that aim to engage as well as entertain.  For the full schedule of performances and dates, be sure to head on over to The Gallery Players website for all the information you need.  The Black Box New Play Festival goes from May 31st to June 24th.  Don’t miss out on one of the top theater experiences in Brooklyn!

Music Review: California King

Lead singer and guitarist Mike Mills brought his band California King to the Lincoln Park Tavern in Brooklyn last Friday night, and treated patrons to its unique blend of alternative rock and grunge.

But even those labels might not do the band justice.  In truth CK’s sound is one that defies many genres and makes it hard to categorize, which is a definite positive in this day and age of formulaic and safe entertainment.  The band played two sets that highlighted the wide range of influences CK draws from.  But it is safe to say that no two songs sound the same.

Aside from the aforementioned Mills, who also formed the band, California King is joined by France native Yohann Potico on the bass, and Brooklyn’s very own Howard Alper on the drums.  Readers of this blog may be familiar with that latter name, as Alper has also performed with up and coming jazz singer Annekei, whose set was reviewed here.   His versatile style definitely gives CK an edge and even a bit of funk, which is exactly what Alper brought to Annekei and, I suspect, any other band he may perform with.

But if fans move their feet and bob their heads to Alpers drums, they are equally drawn to Mills’ lyrics, which invoke his life experiences and mold them into powerful messages of awareness, both personally and socially, that help draw you into their music.  And combined with Potico’s bass providing all the rhythm, you often find yourself involuntarily engrossed in what you are seeing on stage.

For more information about California King, including future appearances and available music to download, you can visit their website and also like them on Facebook to stay up to date on all things CK.  The art/indie scene in New York is already becoming familiar with them. So you might want to get in on the act now.

Off-Off Broadway Review: Little Shop of Horrors

There is not much you can say about Little Shop of Horrors that hasn’t already been said a hundred times over in the decades since its Off-Broadway debut in 1982.  The show has had many incarnations through the years, but the most popular version the general public probably knows the most about is the 1986 film directed by Frank Oz.

This newest production follows that film closely, but when it’s all said and done, it draws most of its spiritual inspiration from the original 1960 black comedy film.  Meaning, this one does not have a happy ending. 

Directed and choreographed by Joe Barros and produced by Regina Gatti for The Gallery Players, Little Shop of Horrors  never seemed more delightful and endearing than it does here.  Philip Jackson Smith turns in a picture-perfect performance as Seymour, while Emily McNamara shines as the object of Seymour’s affections, Audrey.  But the star of the show was, once again, Audrey II.  And here, all credit is given to Babs Rubenstein who provided the voice for the killer world conquering plant, and Thomas Bradfield, who was the man that made Audrey II come to life.  Together, they give the audience an Audrey II that is both creepy and wonderfully funny.  It may not have been necessarily on the level of Little Richard’s performance, but no one is comparing.

The plot is well known so there is no point in retelling it here, but the way the show was done this time around really garnered a LOT of audience participation.  They hoot, hollered and cheered every number.  And when Seymour sang the famous tune “Suddenly Seymour”, everyone in the house started applauding.  Little Shop of Horrors is playing at The Gallery Players Theater until November 13, 2011.

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