Friday, April 25, 2008

Babylon Babylon, Room for Cream, crooked, Top Girls - Theaterorama

Had a big theater-going week. I caught the opening night of Babylon Babylon at the Brick last Friday. Then on Saturday I caught a double feature, hitting the Theatre of Two-Headed Calf's Dyke Division serial Room for Cream at LaMama Etc. in the afternoon and The Women's Project's crooked by Catherine Trieschmann that night. Then last night, I caught a preview of Caryl Churchill's Top Girls at MTC's Biltmore Theater.

Babylon Babylon. This is perhaps the best concept for a theater piece I have seen since attending a storefront production of Mary Zimmerman's Arabian Nights 13 years ago in Chicago. Author/director/performer Jeff Lewonczyk gets high points for scope of vision and audacity with this. The action follows a group of townswomen in Babylon who prostitute themselves at the temple of Ishtar on the eve of Babylon's fall to the Persian army. The tone is largely comic, although some serious and mythic notes creep into the script. The costumes and set have a delightful thrift-store pagentry to them and the 30+ member cast is gorgeously committed and adorably enthusiastic about their roles. It runs a bit long (2 hours 15 minutes with no intermission on the night I went), and there is some uneveness in the script-- but there is a lot to enjoy about this quirky and unlikely assemblage. I loved Hope Cartelli as the priestess to Ishtar, Mike Criscuolo as a hapless prince of Babylon, Iracel Rivero as a simple country girl, Robin Reed's rich snotty lady, Melina Gac-Artigas as a serene and reluctant virgin and Kamran Khan as both a beggar and a rich slaver. Amantha May's choreography was also stand-out and bewitching (I went to college with her, many, many years ago).

Room for Cream. RfC is an on-going lesbian supernatural soap opera that plays to sell-out crowds at LaMama each week. Each Saturday brings a new script, fully produced and memorized by an eclectic cast and weekly guest star. I caught episode #8, Chaotica by Laura Stinger. This was all the campy, sexy, silly fun you could expect. Becca Blackwell as Dire Owens was wonderfully authentic and comic and script was imaginative and outrageous. At only 8 bucks is it a theatrical bargain-shopper's paradise, too. I hear that tickets tend to sellout as soon as they go on sale on Sundays, though.

crooked. I thought this Catherine Trieschmann script at the Women's Project was truly outstanding. Definitely a not-to-miss experience for playwrights. The begining is a little soft and some staging issues interfere with what should have been a powerhouse ending-- but the dramatic engine and the complex, layered meat of this script is enthralling. I was thinking about this one for days after I saw it. The relationships are intricate and involving in a messy, organic way that is very hard to capture on stage. The cast (Betsy Aidern, Carmen M. Herlihy, and especially Cristin Milioti) was absolutely perfect. Direction (Liz Diamond) was wonderful throughout, until we hit the ending, which lost a lot of its impact because focus was drawn away from the strongest visual moment and boldest choice in the script. But, I walked out deeply satisfied. Two of the playwrights I play wisth every week at Flux Theater Ensemble's weekly Flux Sunday development workshop, Katie Marks (who has the misfortune of seeing me bumble my way as an actor through her delightful comedy Birdhouse at Flux) and Erin Taylor (whose excellent play Narrator One is getting a reading at Flux soon!). That was cool, to see some of my favorite women playwrights out supporting a woman playwright.

Top Girls. What an amazing experience to sit in the audience at MTC's previews, a couple rows away from Caryl Churchill, watching the Broadway debut of her classic and moving play Top Girls. I saw Chris Shinn there and he said outside the theater after the show, "they just don't make them like that anymore." This script shows up the banal, slick, and superficial gloss that modern playwrights feel compelled to cover their scripts with. There is a rough, organic, and beautifully unfinished poetry to this play that really sings forth in this production. The acting is already wonderful and seems to poised to grow as the play opens next week. It's true that some of the dialects are uneven-- but that is my only minor acting quibble. The delightful surprise of Martha Plimpton as 15-year-old Angie, Marisa Tomei's chameleon-like transformation into her mother Joyce, Elizabeth Marvel's tour de force Marlene, and Mary Catherine Garrison's astonishing turns as Kit and Shona are stand-outs in a tremendous ensemble show. The design is compellingly abstract, the costumes are a joy, and this is a production that grows on you as the night progresses. Highly recommended-- get tickets now.

Am off tomorrow night to see Mary Fengar Gail's The Judas Tree. Might sneak in a show tonight, too.


jeffisawesome said...

Thank you so much, Johanna, both for coming to see BABYLON BABYLON and for writing such wonderful things about it. I'm so glad you enjoyed the show!

-Jeff Lewonczyk

Amantha said...

Hey Johnna, Thanks for the shout-out! Congrats on your many successes as a playwright. Wish I'd seen you at Babylon!

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