Body: Anatomies of Being

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New Ohio Theatre and Blessed Unrest ensemble are currently presenting “Body: Anatomies of Being” downtown in New York City’s  West Village until May 21st. It is an extraordinary, affecting theatrical experience about bodies: nine of them, to be exact. They are all different sizes, shapes, ethnicities, genders and ages. When the actors, at the beginning of the show, come out and face the audience, they stand at the lip of the stage, the lights are brought up and they look at us for an uncomfortable length of time: they are entirely nude, and it is meant to be uncomfortable. How often do any of us look at real, naked bodies? How often do we instead measure ourselves against the exterior photoshopped, perfect bodies in the media? In celebrity culture?

Conceived and directed by Jessica Burr (who is also the Artistic Director of Blessed Unrest), with the text by Matt Opatrny in collaboration with the Ensemble, this show is a brilliant example of incorporating parts of the actors’ histories and personal stories to create a cohesive whole. There are various threads woven together, and the actors break into pairs, with one exception. Each pair has their own story: a love affair between a trauma surgeon and a model who survived breast cancer; a nurse who loves a middle-aged man grieving his sister’s death; a tattoo artist and the Italian fling who rediscovers him;  an anthropologist and her painter husband; the same painter and his subject, the middle-aged man grieving his sister; his sister and the trauma surgeon who wants to save her, and is rebuffed.

But back to the bodies. These bodies, and this fantastic ensemble – Natalia Ivana Escobar, Catherine Gowl, Tatyana Kot, Poppy Liu, Sevrin Anne Mason, Darrell Stokes, Sonia Villani, Nathan Richard Wagner, and Joshua Wynter – are almost always in motion. They entwine, stretch, dress, undress, pose, tumble, touch. They are hardly ever at rest.  The fourth wall is broken and fun facts are thrown in about the epidermis, microbes, and poop. About scent and smell and the particulars of attraction.

Blessed Unrest is described as an “experimental physical theatre ensemble” but I would also call them adventurous. Brave. There is one incredibly moving moment when one of the characters actually takes flight; and another when a man finally releases his grief and comes to terms with the past. One more, in a hospital ER, when a woman stops all motion, and lets go, finally, of her body. The body at rest.

I wish everyone could see “Body: Anatomies of Being.” I wish it toured high schools and colleges. Because by the end of this singular, 100 minute, intermission-less show, you no longer see or judge the bodies onstage; you see people. You see their souls. Ordinary bodies that are extraordinary.

Folliet Poem: FOOTFALLS ENCORE for Beckett’s 110th

FOOTFALLS ENCORE

+in honor of the 110th anniversary

of the birth

of Samuel Beckett

13 April 1906+

“The sun shone, having no alternative, on the nothing new.”

(1st line of his 1st novel, Murphy, entered in 1st of Murphy

manuscript notebooks 5/9/1935)

when every shoe hurts

no shoe fits like a glove

right foot left foot right foot left foot

become painful acts of love

just do one foot at a time

like all the other times

right foot first every time

left foot second every time

until the last footfall-

left or right as it may befall

del Rosso review: The Bellagio Fountain

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The most inventive, wondrous sets in Manhattan are being created by Concrete Temple Theatre at the HERE Arts Center in the Village. Water is integral to the production of “The Bellagio Fountain has been known to make me cry,” and Water takes two agile performers to bring into existence nightly: Brianna Seagraves and the ingenious Carlo Adinolfi, who is also the Designer of the set. The first sound the audience hears is ocean waves; I thought it was a recording, until I saw Adinolfi, literally cutting paper as he crossed the stage, fold over fold, creating not only shapes but also sounds.  His work is extraordinary.

Unfortunately, the script, by Renee Philippi, who also directs,  does not live up to the sets, though the actors are very fine.  Set in Florida, land of heat, humidity and hurricanes, Curtis (Heinley Gaspard) a plumber, used to love water until his wife drowned; now he hates water and his job. Nevertheless, a leak brings him in contact with Dixie (Melissa Hurst), a woman with a 5th grade education but who “reads a lot” and has a strained relationship with her daughter Maria (Lisa Kitchens), who lives in the house next to her.

In the first half of “Bellagio” there are allusions to ancient water reclaiming the earth, mourning and the longing for love.  That would have worked, and the longing for love in particular is what I thought the three had in common: lost love, love yet to be, love that has passed one by. But then, for no apparent reason, there is the Italian husband of Dixie’s who may have cheated and had another child so obviously they must separate and cause friction between her and Maria; and there are a few children of Maria’s from her divorce mentioned, but the children do not figure into her life at all.These subplots involve unseen characters, are confusing, and I didn’t believe any of it for a second.

What I did believe: Dixie on her own, in a trailer. Her daughter, divorced, also alone, in a trailer next to her. Curtis (who inexplicably drops out of the play completely), also alone. It is another thing that binds them together, along with various stages of love. Those elements plus Adinolfi’s stunning sets would have made an interesting play. No other characters necessary. Less sometimes yields more.

del Rosso Review: Cinderella

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I admit that initially I was skeptical about going to review an adults-only, “baroque-burlesque-ballet Cinderella,” presented by Company XIV and AMDM productions down in the Village at the Minetta Lane Theatre. In my head, I thought “Porn Cinderella” and that is what I expected.
Wrong. So wrong.
This is some serious shit: serious dancing, singing, gymnastic orgiastic permutations of every kind. Gender-bending, too. At two and a half hours with two intermissions for “cocktail breaks” (no rest for the performers, however, who burlesque their way through those as well) “Cinderella,” reimagined by impresario Austin McCormick, easily could have been twice as long, the audience twice as enthralled. We’d be there, still.
The familiar story unfolds with music, movement, and hardly any dialogue: the orphaned Cinderella (the astonishing classically-trained dancer Allison Ulrich) is severely mistreated by her diva-demon Step-mother (the outrageously flamboyant Damon Rainey) and operatically-inclined, conjoined Step-Sisters (Marcy Richardson and Brett Umlauf). But the lonely Prince (Steven Truman-Gray, an equally astonishing dancer, singer and a match for Ullrich) needs a companion, and so throws a Ball, inviting everyone in the kingdom. Cinderella is locked in a cage on the eve of the Ball, so she will be going nowhere, until a Fairy arrives (Katrina Cunningham, sultry and silky-voiced), freeing her, granting her wishes and giving her the right shoes.
You know the rest, right?
But not the way Company XIV does it. The visuals here are sumptuous: the audience is first greeted with a mist of red haze and gliding bodies in white; the costumes begin with shreds of Louis the XIV, corsets and wigs, and extend to contemporary pasties, glitter and codpieces. The music runs the gamut from classical “None But the Lonely Heart” in French to contemporary ballads, depending on the scene, and the mix works. I dare you not to be moved when Cinderella and the Prince first meet, by both music and dance plus chemistry. Or not to be wowed at the Prince’s bathtub entrance. Or not to want that Step-Mother to get her comeuppance.
The choreography is first-rate, and the performers in this company – whose backgrounds including Juilliard training, Cirque du Soleil, The Martha Graham School – are just incredible. It is a testament to Director/Choreographer Austin McCormick that he chooses not only multi-talented people, but also different shapes and sizes, rather the way Mark Morris does.
And the show is sexy. How could it not be? These bodies in motion are glorious. What those bodies do is impressive – in heels, in spikes, in toe shoes – and occasionally, in this show, breathtaking.

This is not Disney’s “Cinderella.” Do not bring children. Do bring a wide-open mind.

del Rosso Review: Schooled

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Lisa Lewis’s smart, funny “Schooled” begins with a charismatic, world-weary professor and film maker, Andrew (Quentin Mare, smooth, swaggering, terrific) past his prime addressing a class of students (in reality, us, the audience). “I’ve sat right where you are now. Back when real people could afford this place. No offense. If you’re here, you got money or talent, hopefully both. Money, mostly.”
Andrew teaches at one of those fancy New York City film schools while he works on screenplays and drinks heavily at The White Horse Tavern. His last big hit was ten years and an ex-wife ago. Enter Claire (Lilli Stein, a great mix of naive and canny), a 22 year-old impressionable, impoverished film student with an encyclopedic knowledge of Andrew’s work, and a hunger to succeed. She asks Andrew for help, and they begin meeting regularly, to write and drink (that would be mostly Andrew), at the White Horse. Claire could be nominated for a scholarship that would change her life, but she has competition: her brilliant, moneyed boyfriend and fellow film student, Jake (Stephen Friedrich, perfectly puppy-doggish, with a bite).
Claire wants the scholarship but she might also want the attention of Andrew; Andrew wants a hit film and eventually, wants Claire; while Jake wants Claire, the scholarship, success and Andrew to disappear.
The older professor/younger protege trope has been done to death, but Lewis makes it entirely fresh and surprising. The characters are three-dimensional, human. There is no black or white in this play; Lewis colors everything gray, shifting our sympathies and loyalties. At 90 minutes and no intermission, this play moves, and moves fast. Lewis has the humor to match that speed. Witness the exchange between Andrew and Claire:
ANDREW
: Oh god, the collective ego in this class, it’s inspiring.
Make a B movie. You don’t have to do it forever. The money’s in franchises. I’d love to do some quirky little relationship drama like you guys, there’s just not the time.
CLAIRE
: Everyone in class would love to have your career.
ANDREW: 
Everyone in class is twenty. They would also love a popsicle and a nap.

“Schooled” at the Soho Playhouse, and presented by The All Americans, is part of the Fringe Encore Series, which highlights the best of the NYC and Edinburgh International Fringe Festivals, extending their run. The night we attended, the house was not full. It should be.

del Rosso Review: The Quare Land