Posts Tagged ‘TFANA’

Apollo’s Girl

March 19, 2016

Theatre, Film

apollo and lyre



TFANA: Pericles (through April 10)
VOD: Angel of Nanjing; Sunny in the Dark

Since moving to its new home at the Polonsky Shakespeare Center in Brooklyn, TFANA has continued to bond brilliantly with like-minded companies and strong directors; Julie Taymor, Peter Brook, Andre Gregory, Sarah Benson, Jessie Austrian/Ben Steinfeld, andright nowpericles 2that canny Brit, Trevor Nunn. As artistic director of the RSC and the National Theatre, he has turned his hand to art (who can forget Nicholas Nickleby?) and artful commerce (who can forget Cats or Les Mis?); TFANA has charged him with creating the best of both worlds for its new production of Pericles, and we are lucky to have him in the right place at the right timeto celebrate Shakespeare’s 400th birthday.

pericles 3Pericles is a late play, and its attribution is as intricate as its plot. As Nunn states in his Director’s Note, “After…[Shakespeare’s] inspired completion of increasingly dark and pessimistic tragedies…Pericles appears to be heading in the same…direction. But then something else happens…redemption, rebirth, the relenting of the Gods…hope. The text repeatedly asks for music, dance…mime…and a strong indication that some passages should be sung. …we are no longer able to apply shakespeare2the categories of Comedy and Tragedy… instead…[it’s an] opportunity for what can only be described as ‘total theatre.’” How better to celebrate a birthday?

The production is a marvel of shipwrecks, gorgeous costumes (evocative, yet modern, by Constance Hoffman), protean sets and props (Robert Jones), and a lavish use of tropes that we enjoy and expect from Shakespeare: children and lovers lost and found; power stripped from the worthy by the ambitious; epic journeys from one part of the ancient world to another; and finally that happy ending that seems beyond reach until the dea gives us a machina of justice, reunions and marriages. The cast (some in multiple roles, many familiar from TFANA’s roster) is led by Christian Camargo as Pericles; Raphael Nash Thompson as Gower, the storyteller, pericles 5Philip Casnoff as Helicanus; Nina Hellman pericles4as both Cleon’s wife (one tough cookie!) and the goddess Diana; and Lilly Englert as Pericles’ daughter, Marina. The recognition scene at the end of Pericles’ odyssey is heartbreaking, until (thanks to the author’s skill), it isn’t. The storyteller has the last word: “So, on your patience evermore attending, New joy wait on you! Here our play has ending.”pericles

Shakespeare’s anniversary year, however, is definitely not ending. And TFANA has some aces up its sleeve to keep the party going: a series of readings, exhibitions, and discussions at its home base in Brooklyn, and at the CUNY Graduate Center and the New York Historical Society in Manhattan. It’s truly a movable feast to be consumed with pleasure:, and most events are free!

VOD: Angel of Nanjing (Frank Ferendo, Jordan Horovitz)
As it opens,
Angel of Nanjing seems to nanjingbe about the ordinary life of Chen Si, a Chinese Everyman; getting dressed while his wife cooks breakfast, then leaving for work at a logistics company on his moped. But as he pulls away, we see that instead of a number, the back of his jacket has a maxim: “Cherish Life Every Day.” It’s our first hint that Chen Si is most extraordinaryno Everyman, but a Chinese Catcher in the Rye, who has saved the lives of over 300 would-be suicides about to jump off the Yangtze Bridge; since his daily route takes him to the bridge to see if anyone is about to leap, he seldom goes directly to the office.

Part of the fascination of Angel is encountering some of the many grateful survivors who literally owe Chen everything, but much of it is in the revelation of the hero’s character and the incredible ingenuity with which he plies the hobby that has taken over his life. Despite the grim statistics he quotes, “…290,000 commit suicide annually in China; one-third of the world’s total,” he adds “…60% of people who jump off this bridge are from outside the city; so am I. I understand them.” The real kicker in this film is realizing how skillful Chen—a cheerful guy with a happy marriage and a pretty wife, but no formal training in psychology or medicine—has become at his avocation. It has made him famous angel(“All eighth-grade social books in the entire country have my name and phone number!”), driven him to build a “soul center” for recovering depressives, and attracted several student interns to help manage the chaos. They are all invited to his annual Christmas party.

In this country,” he muses, “there are few people who will listen to you.” His secret weapons are being able to talk, and listen to, everyone, and being able to spot a potential jumper from sixty meters away. He copes with drink, billiards and karaoke, and is philosophical about his life: “My wife predicted I would do this only for a short time,” he smiles. And when his wife breaks her leg playing badminton and is told she will wear a cast for two months, he simply picks her up and carries her (and her cast) home on his back. That’s the kind of guy he is.

Angel is an original look at a serious and universal problem, solved by an unlikely hero who simply refuses to give up; a welcome antidote to the headlines that assault us every day. He and the film’s revelation of an unpublicized aspect of China have won the filmmakers Best Documentary awards at eight festivals to date, with more on the way.

Sunny in the Dark (Director: Courtney Ware; Script: Mike Maden)
This is one intriguing movie, combining elements of psychological thriller, romance, a dash of the supernatural, sunny1and urban living. It’s Ware’s first, based on an earlier short film, and has a story that plays well in the hands of the remarkably talented Hannah Ward, a waif who can make the most of a character desperately seeking love and companionship without being able to speak to the object of her affections 
(Jay Huguley). He’s a therapist recovering from divorce who withdraws from the world (when he isn’t practicing his chosen profession) by finding a quiet sanctuary in which to listen to music and paint action figures in a tiny Mediaeval scene. Ward (unbeknownst to hannah wardhim) has been living in the crawl space above his apartment, spying on him through a crack in the ceiling. She falls hard, and begins using his rooms during the day to eat, bathe, explore his photo albums and play with his figurines, rushing back upstairs when he comes home. She fantasizes a relationship with him, and gradually escalates her presence, tip-toeing around the apartment while he’s sleeping, hiding when he wakes. It’s a nifty, creative story with several surprises; hinting at any more of them here would turn them into spoilers, so see it yourself to learn how it turns out.


Apollo’s Girl

June 8, 2015

Theatre, Film, Film, Film

apollo and lyre


Two Gentlemen/Brooklyn til June 20…
Open Roads/FSLC til June 11…
Dior and I still playing (as it should!)…

two gentelemen 2One of the best songs in Pierre, Natasha, etc. begins, “In 19th-century Russia, we write letters, we write letters….” Apparently Derek McLane (the brilliant scenic designer of The Two Gentlemen of Verona) believes fervently that the power of the written word transcends countries (Italy) and centuries (somewhere in the late 16th), two gentlemen 1and has magicked the stage of TFANA’s Polonsky Shakespeare Center into a monument to the epistolary life. Letters flutter from the ceiling and the walls like so many ardent butterflies, and come and go with the cast like rubber bands connecting friends, enemies, and lovers. And that’s only for starters.

Let’s talk about the cast: it’s serving up another irresistible meal from Fiasco Theater, with actors changing parts and props in front of your eyes, speeding on and off the boards at every opportunity, playing instruments and singing the occasional song, andyeswriting letters for very special deliveries by their cast-mates whenever possible. Chalk this two gentlemen 3concept up to the co-direction of Jessie Austrian and Ben Steinfeld, and to the antics of Noah Brody, Paul L. Coffey, Zachary Fine, Emily Young, and the irrepressible Andy Grotelueschen. (Special kudos to Zachary Fine whose multiple personalities include the dog, Crab, who steals your heart while making you howl with laughter.)

two gentelemen 5Speed and deep smarts reign over this happy band. If you notice that they seem almost to read one another’s minds and their performances appear seamless, it’s because they met and bonded at Brown University/Trinity Rep’s MFA acting program and (fortunately for us) just kept on going. There is nothing about mistaken identities, hilarity and pathos they don’t know how to mine for theatrical gold. Two Gentlemen, as probably Shakespeare’s earliest play, is both deepened and burnished by cast and crew until is shines. It’s superb playing from its first letter to its last (Think of the letters as the of their day) and ends, like so many of Shakespeare’s works, in marriage.

To be honest, Fiasco’s projects are never to be missed. I was lucky enough to see their Cymbeline, and promise you that Two Gentlemen is in the very same league. You have until June 20th to see what Fiasco can do and reap the fruits of their labor!

Open Roads

open roads1

There are always surprises in Italian cinema, and this year’s Open Roads had a few that were unusually compelling. One was a series of shorts, 9×10 Novanta, whose novel premise was two-fold: to make use of Istituto Luce’s 90  years of archival footage and to bestow unlimited access to its forgotten treasures on ten young Italian filmmakers. Not surprisingly, World War Two figured prominently in the chosen frames. Perhaps it was an idea born in committee, but its results were entirely personal and fascinating, gleaming with the politics and humor that are hallmarks of Italian cinema. As the shorts sped by, their individual ingenuity gathered strength, turning into a collective vision that assured the future of film (at least in Italy). Give thanks for the committee, for the filmmakers, and for Istituto Luce for understanding that one should never throw anything away. Especially archival footage! (I fully admit to having had a very soft spot for Istituto Luce ever since their Pasolini Restrospective at P.S. 1:
see and scroll down to Italy Rules.)

The Dinner

This was an exceptionally intelligent story, whose the dinnertwisty plot about two brothers turning into enemies after a long friendship and a tradition of monthly dinners had one of the best scripts ever (credit de matteowriter Valentina Ferlen, director Ivano De Matteo, and novelist Herman Koch, on whose book the film is based.) Tensions build when the parents learn that their teenage children have not only misbehaved, but may have committed a serious crime. But the facts are not presented in linear fashion; they are revealed piecemeal, revisited with new information, and hinted at to keep you guessing as you assemble and reassemble what you have seen, and what you intuit. The real pleasure is in seeing the revelations of character (they are deep) as much as of story, and the balance between action and morality. De Matteo won three awards at the Venice Festival, and they are not likely to be his last.


Remember the blind girl in Salvo, and how she granted Mafia hit man Saleh Bakri salvation when his job would have made it impossible? Well, she’s back (Sara Serraicocco), this time in a very different role that she inhabits just as perfectly. Chlorine is, cinematically speaking, strong stuff, in which the storytelling is lean and the camera is allowed to do its work.

Serraicocco’s dream is to compete in synchronized swimming. chlorineBut she works in the mountains in solitude, cleaning a motel that includes a pool in which she has to train on the sly, and a brother and father who are her responsibilities. This is a character study with two surprises that develop slowly and explode fast. A debut feature from director/writer Lamberto Sanfelice Sanfelice, Chlorine was nominated for Sundance’s Grand Jury Prize and a Cyrstal Bear at Berlin, and make clear there will be more to come from actress and filmmaker. For Open Roads schedule/tickets:

Dior and I

tchengFrėdéric Tcheng has learned his art and craft the hard way: by wielding camera and Avid for and/or with others: as editor and co-director of Diana Vreeland: the Eye Has to Travel, and as cameraman, co-editor and co-producer of Valentino. (I really loved that film!)(;

Based on Dior and I, I’d say he has nothing left to learn and can fly, spectacularly, on his own. Under what must have been terrifying pressure for even a gifted filmmaker, he undertook to follow the story of how Raf Simons prepared and triumphed with his first collection for the House of Dior with only eight weeks to pull it off.

Where the filmmaker’s own triumph (and gifts lie) dior and iare in cinematography and editing; multiple cameras capture every moment of the eight-week marathon in closeup and long shot; editing is a marvel of reduction, like a great sauce. More: Tcheng is a master of character; Simons is on camera a lot, but never for long, yet you know everything about him by the time he climbs the grand staircase to join his models for the show’s finale. Even more: Dior’s enormous behind-the-scenes crew who cut, stitch, sew (by hand) and cheer on each garment, have only (supremely well-chosen) moments to reveal themselves. And Tcheng is there to capture and place them so that, somehow, you know everything about them, too. Of course the film is a joy to watch and listen to, but it’s not only about fashion. It’s all about that universal subjecthuman nature. Tcheng has done couture, and I’m willing to bet he’s ready to do anything at all….

This Just In…

A press release from the Museum of Art and Design, mirror1revealing that they will have an all-35mm retrospective of Andrei Tarkovsky’s films (all seven features) plus a documentary about him (Directed by Andrei Tarkovsky) by Michal Leszczylowski. For those of you mad for film and mad for art, these will be mighty nights at MAD.

Apollo’s Girl

November 14, 2014


apollo and artemis



Theatre for a New Audience.

By the time you’re thirty-five, you should be ready for a place of your own. So, in a reverse commute that brought them over the river tfanainto the Fort Greene Cultural District in Brooklyn late last year, after decades of yearning for it, TFANA’s sparkling new house became the dream home worth waiting for.

In a first season that included Julie Taymor’s new production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream (November 19, 2013), and the recent perfect jewel of Peter Brook and Marie-Hėlène Estiennes’ The Valley of Astonishment review, TFANA is now pushing a king-sized envelope with a lavish mounting (19 actors playing 60 parts) of Christopher Marlowe’s Tamburlaine.tamburlaine John Douglas Thompson stars as the Emperor, a natural role for a multiple award-winner who has specialized in portraying leaders of men (Othello, Macbeth, Richard III, the Emperor Jones) and a king of jazz (Louis Armstrong).

Director Michael Boyd – four-time Olivier Award-winner, a Knight of the Realm, Director of the Royal Shakespeare Company for ten years, of seven Shakespeare plays for the Lincoln Center Festival, and the RSC’s commissioner and developer of Matilda the Musical – has created the first major production of Tamburlaine in New York since 1956, and, like TFANA’s theatre itself, worth waiting for. It’s not often we can visit Marlowe’s 16th century in such good company.

marlowe-corpuschristiChristopher Marlowe was something of a bad boy; a scholarship student at Cambridge who spied for Queen Elizabeth’s secret service, and a double agent later arrested for murder, street-fighting and counterfeiting. This son of a shoemaker also rose to become a brilliant and prolific playwright and poet, whose gifts influenced others – including Shakespeare –long after his death (from an assassin’s knife in a tavern brawl) when he was only 29.

Tamburlaine will run at TFANA’s Polonsky Center through January 4. After that, the season will include two presentations with congenial partners: An Octoroon from Soho Rep, a new adaptation (2014 OBIE, Best New American Play) of Dion Bouccicault’s antebellum melodrama, directed by Sara Benson (February 14 – March 8, 2015 ONLY!). And, from the Fiasco Theatre, Two Gentlemen of Verona perhaps Shakespeare’s first play – directed by Jessie Austrian and Ben Steinfeld. Both were deeply involved in the still-missed wonder-production of Cymbeline (shameless indulgence: I saw it two nights in a row)  It’s great to have them back at TFANA! (From April 24 – May 24, 2015 ONLY!) Truth is, the only smart move is to ensure you’ve got tickets to the entire season: info and tickets

Ensemble Studio Theatre

Over the years (36 since it was founded), Ensemble Studio Theatre has created a body of new plays known for their fearlessness and variety andrecentlyfor traveling well to other venues with works that have first been developed in situ on far West 52nd Street. An ebullient example is Robert Askin’s Hand to God, starring Steve Boyer, who deserved a medal for perfecting the skills of hand puppetry that put a brilliant play right over the top, and led (via another recent production of it) directly to Broadway. review It’s due to open on April 8, 2015, at the Booth Theatre.

Most recently (in another congenial partnership, with the Women’s Project Theater), Cori Thomas’ very New York-now play, When January Feels Like Summer, put its distinctive take on intersecting plots and characters on stage for the month of October. Thomas’ intuition about sanyalthe complexities of the human heart was unassailable, and the tight-knit cast of five was adept at every twist of the plot and turn of character. But Debargo Sanyal’s dual roles (as a transsexual-in-process) was forged in another realm—the one where you’ll never forget a performance―and made you want to see whatever he does next. Director Daniella Topol’s sure hand matched writer and actors every step of the way. (I remember being impressed by her work on Row After Row at the Women’s Project.)

In 2013, Joe Gilford’s Finks (a reality-based drama about the McCarthy era and what happened to Gilford’s parents, Jack Gilford and Madeline Lee Gilford, when it nearly destroyed them) was sometimes achingly funny, but its message was dark, with its darkest messenger a stand-in for Elia Kazan. It took place at the legendary Cafė Society, and at the hearings of the House Un-American Activities Committee. The playwright says “I always thought that my parents’ refusal to name names was heroic. But they always explained that they had no choice. They could never hurt their friends.” Finks was a potent reminder of events that should never be forgotten, from a man who remembered them first-hand.

Isaac’s Eye (by Lucas Hnath), an interpretation of the life of Isaac Newton and his duels with the Royal Society, was another landmark production from EST, this one (like Finks) also a reality-based drama but, as its narrator archly warns us, “The play is true and not true. There are lies, but they help us understand the things that are true.” Hnath, director Linsay Firman, and the entire cast delivered a gorgeous dose of historical snark—firmly anchored by real science (which Hnath must have spend eons absorbing)via their version of Story Theatre. Just as I finally caught my breath at the final scene, thinking it doesn’t get any better than this, I learned I was wrong. The play was followed by what was arguably the best Q Lucas 2Matts Gabe EST 022013_0& A in history: the playwright, two history of science professors (working like the proverbial Fric and Frac), moderated by a physicist from Yeshvia University chat. The questions were good (EST’s audience is eager, loyal, and learned), and the answers direct from the cosmos. Only funnier.

The Alfred P. Sloane Foundation and EST have forged one of the theater’s most productive partnerships for sixteen years. Their joint venture has supported many plays, from conception to production (including Isaac’s Eye, and Joe Gilford’s upcoming Danny’s Brain). From now until December 11, you can see what’s in the pipeline and get in on the ground floor with the Sloane/EST First Light Festival. First Light info and tickets

%d bloggers like this: