Bitchy Actress

New York, Acting, and Attitude: Believe These Stories Or Don't - But I Betcha They're True.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Theatre Row A-Go-Go

My friend that I talk about a lot is currently working on (the back end) of a production of Macbeth that is being produced by the Oberon Theatre Ensemble at Theatre Row. (No, NOT the one with Captain fucking Picard). They are also doing, in rep, Michael Weller's Ghost on Fire. Both shows end this coming weekend, 3/8 & 3/9, respectively.

The reason I'm writing this is 1) Because I love my friend, B, and she is desperately trying to plug these shows for this theatre company and their PR sucks 2) Because I want to start critiquing theatre on here when I'm not running around on gigs myself (I just came back from a really bad filming experience, you can read about it on Ornery Woman) and 3) Because I have...juicy gossip (as usual) that she told me that she would never write. Of course, she'll kill me...but in a way I think she's delighted to have me do it (although she'll never admit to it).

To begin with, Oberon Theatre Ensemble is a great "little showcase company that could": it's been around for 11 years, has produced over 50 shows, has a regular annual reading series that promotes new writers; and that alone shows you that it has thrown it's hat in the ring with the rest of NYC's theatre companies and has a right to stay there with the best. Fortunately AND unfortunately, they are growing bigger than they can handle, and so one of the things that has faltered (as happens often with smaller companies) is that the PR has gone out the window. They spend a lot of money to put themselves in The Lion Theatre at the FABulous Theatre Row (42nd and 9th Avenue, for all your people who just crawled out from under a rock), but leave little else from their budget for things like...oh, I dunno...costumes? Or...most importantly...PR???? Apparently, this is the first year they went with a different PR firm. And, they sucked.

Oberon did finally get a listing in the New York Times, an nice juicy article about the company itself, which is great. It's in question as to whether or not that would have happened with or without Singer. But no review. Nothing. Let's hope Oberon does better next year in it's PR selection. I bitch about this because showcase theatre has little money as it is...they don't need charlatans taking what little they have and offering so little in return.

This brings me to the shows.

My main comment: Not bad.
Could be a helluva lot better, but...considering all the SHITTY theatre out there, and the fact that there are many, many gems in the rough in both of these productions, they are worth the $20 for each. Not the glowing review I'm sure B would want me to say, but...I'm trying to be honest. That said - I enjoyed myself. Go see these plays if you can.

Macbeth: The director, Phil Atlakson, had an interesting vision when he decided to take it upon himself to adapt old Bill Shakespeare's play about the naughty couple who decide to kill the King and make the witches prophecies come to life. To be honest, although some would say that perhaps Bill is rolling over in his grave right now, I think it was a decent alternative version - trust me, I've seen some BAD versions of this play. All the words are Shakespeare's; Atlakson simply cut cut cut a lot out and edited the "in between" parts. He also threw in suggested lesbian orgies (in dance) with the witches and Lady Macbeth (expertly and deftly choreographed by Adia Tamar Whitaker). Not a bad idea, actually, if you're going to go all out for something different... Another highlight is a great original soundtrack by Mickey Zetts, a company member. To be honest, the dance and music make the show. Without it, you would have little left, since Atlakson cut so much of the script away. Atlakson is a relatively successful screen writer and unfortunately forgot that he's directing a PLAY, not a FILM, and wrote his adaptation as such. It's a detriment to the actors, who never really get much dialogue to work with before they are ushered offstage (actually, ushered offstage doesn't quite do it justice; there is a choreography even in the set changes in between scenes, with no fade-to-blacks until the end of each act. So, in that sense, booted off and replaced gracefully would be a better way to phrase it).

One of my favorite parts of the show, what brought some levity and humor, was the character Banquo (played by Mac Brydon) who was one of the show's saving graces, acting-wise. Unfortunately, Atlakson cut his part down to nearly nothing. Brydon does a lot with what little role he has left, however.

Other characters who should be mentioned for good work, are Lady Macduff (Laura Singer - again, another role whittled down to nearly nothing, but a decent performance), Macduff (William Laney - who had to work off another actor in a later scene that gave him absolutely NOTHING, so our hats are off to him), Captain (a character combined w/ the Porter and expertly played by Cliff Jewell; I give him a thumbs up on his sexy legs), and Ross (Gabriel Bettio - although I would have liked to see more emotional investment in his scenes - the only one that really stood out was when he delivers the news to Macduff that his family is dead - but that was very well done).

The witches dance very well and were a lot of fun to watch (Paula Wilson & Allison Goldberg). They went along with techical screw-ups from the sound booth (haha - my friend was doing them) and didn't blink. My question was where was the third witch? It seems that the director tried, and failed, in a convention to use Lady Macbeth as the unsaid "third witch". I found out later through B, that the third witch left the production during the rehearsal process, and they were stuck without a witch. Atlakson made the decision (a shitty one) to go with two witches instead. When I saw the show (and I've been twice, because I'm trying to support B) both times I heard the audience during the breaks talk about "the missing witch." I'm sorry, but no matter how hard you want to "change ancient convention" and think that your latest version of a play that has survived the test of time for hundreds of years is the more logical plot-line, you have English majors, actors, directors, playwrights and critics who will spend more time trying to understand why you made the choices you did then enjoying those choices.

Sadly, the stars, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth have a lot of talent, but were cut short of what they could have created due to the short-sightedness of the director. Macbeth (John Gardner) has several enjoyable moments, and brought some humor to what could have been another Long Days Journey Into Night version of this play. However, when he is told of Lady M's death, and proceeds to go into the "Tomorrow and Tomorrow" soliloquy, it's obvious that the choices made by the director to somehow strip this man of all his humanity at the only really human moment he has in the play, was a great disservice to the actor.

The same goes for Lady Macbeth (M.Eden walker) whose "Out, damned spot!" scene was ruined by a director whose desire to showcase the witches and Lady M in lingerie and promote a "third witch" convention totally lost the tragedy in which we see this woman totally losing her mind. I have reports that during rehearsal the actress moved B. to tears with her original choices, but was told by the director "I've seen it done that way, and I want to go someplace else."

Yes, he did. Far away. Again, at the detriment to the actress. That said, Walker gives a decent performance in a role that is very difficult to do.

My award for "Why the Fuck Is This Person Getting Any Work?" goes to Malcolm (James Holloway) who seems to have only read Atlakson's version of this play. We have an actor, who is acting to himself (I'm sorry, but I can cry, too, if I try hard enough just thinking about oreo cookies) and giving other actors nothing, who was directed to do that even's a recipe for disaster. The young man is apparently, according to his bio that I tried to read with a straight face, a soap actor. It figures...except that there are good soap actors. I think the problem is that we have a young man who has a tap on his emotions, but no good training...and who has been encouraged to act on his lines. Both times I saw this show, he grabbed his crotch on a certain line (well, this could be a directorial problem; Lady Macbeth continued to bang on a metal wall every time she says her "...dash his brains out..." line, so it could be Atlakson's heavy-handed directing) and who seems more worried with whether or not he is in the right light than living in the scene. It wouldn't seem so bad except that he sticks out among a cast of actors that range from very good to relatively decent. that it seems that I panned the show, I'd like to say that I really haven't, because: it's a fun production that flies by and still tells the story. Although I disagree with a lot of Atlakson's editing, I have to admit that the man told the story - and covered all the angles. He even made one little adjustment that I really appreciated: he brought Fleance (Claire Anderson) back into the story after the Banquo ambush scene. In the original script, Bill Shakespeare has Fleance "Fly, fly!"...and we never see nor hear of the kid again. In Atlakson's script, there is a scene between him (her) and the Captain, albeit short as hell, and it's a nice little tie-in. The show really is worth checking out for the tale that is told; for the fresh and inventive way in which it is told (grumble, grumble); and I have to admit, Atlakson set design is fabulous. Minimalistic, combining his desire to off-set the earthy old ways of Duncan's world and the technologically "hip" 2008 world of the Witches; the only set is a metal platform (which becomes daunting at times, but still works) that is manuvered to be horizontal, vertical, etc; and two reed and netting curtains. It works.

Yes, I would have seen it whether or not B. was the stage manager, or whether or not she slipped me $100 to write this piece (just kidding).

On that note, my friend's old company went the way of the dinosaurs (her father being a dinosaur himself, who was the A.D. of the company) and I'm happy for her that she found solace in being a part of this other one. For now she seems happy to just do behind-the-scenes work. In doing so, so signed up to be a stage manager. I told her she was out of her mind...but she did it anyway; two of our mutual friends told her to go ahead and do it and she listened to them. I bet that she wishes she had listened to me, but anyway...

Update: I just got a comment about there not being a review for GOF on here, and I realized I hadn't updated and re-loaded it! I apologize...sorry, B - was that you that made that comment?

Ghost on Fire:
Michael Weller's tale of people trying to find themselves and coming to terms with their un-met expectations of themselves and each other is a moving and interesting piece of work. I enjoyed it, despite the fact that some of the actors seemed to have no reason for moving around the stage other than the director (Eric Parness), told them to, or because they want to deliver a line to the audience...even though they are supposed to be talking to the other actor. I read the Backstage review of the show...and although I think it was a little too negative, it hit that point dead on. Perhaps they were using the fourth wall for some other reason...but I think it's simply another example of a director moving actors like chess pieces around a room. Parness does have enough sense to stand back and let the actors explore the emotional vulnerablility of the characters, it seems, and so for that I have to applaud him. I shouldn't have to, but given that many directors don't (the above show an example), it's a bonus.

A problem with this show is that many of the actors are not really dealing with each other on stage - so no matter how deep they may try to tap that reservoir, if they don't share it with their fellow actors, it simply plays as actors acting to themselves. Perhaps that is a convention due to the theme of the play that "people aren't really dealing with each other" - okay, we get it. However, when you actually do that in your acting on top of the theme, you're getting into trouble.

That said, the tale is told pretty well. One of the fabulous parts of the show was the way the set designer (Sarah B. Brown) employed film projectors when the actors do their monologues (which are a really interesting motif throughout the play, since the main characters are filmmakers whose pride and joy was filming everyday people talking about themselves). It gave an added dimension to the show whose characters were sometimes very one-dimensional.

Ironically, one of my favorite characters, Ralph (Angus Hepburn), is not given a monologue...and I think if I would change anything in this script, it would be to get into HIS mind. I've read this script, and Hepburn's humanity that he added to a character that is so depressed that he saturates his life with alcohol and sex was wonderful. He allowed himself to be those things and still feel for Neil Toomie's (Brad Fryman) horrible health situation. He brought comedy to moments where half the audience was sobbing, and it was lovely to have someone who really is from the other side of The Pond play a Brit, making his line about committing suicide in England redundant absolutely hilarious.

Other notable performances were Nathan Berger (Brian D. Coats), whose execution of an old man allowed to pretend (as he is being filmed) that he's in heaven and seeing his deceased children was memorable. I was crying myself, and it takes a lot to get me to tears at this point. Coats can also be seen as Duncan and the Doctor in Macbeth, above, although his roles in that play have been whittled down to not allow the actor to do that much with them, although he is fine in what he does.

The character Gina (Brianne Berkson) was also a lot of fun. The actress plays three roles, two of them speaking; she does absolutely nothing for the Laurel role, but her portrayal of a highly intelligent pin-up eye candy girl with a sharp tongue was quite entertaining. Unfortunately, I think most people were spending more time trying to catch a glimpse of her breasts (the actress was topless, but facing upstage) than appreciating her work; so the choice should have been made to either have her keep the top on or cast an actress who would go topless. But then again, I'm against nudity in plays unless it's absolutely necessary, and I felt that it wasn't in this situation; but that is written in the script, so not necessarily a mark against the director. I'm unsure as to why they cast Berkson in all three roles; casting someone to play Laurel would have been a much better choice. The wig was ridiculous and unfortunately the characters were played a bit too a less aware audience goer (like the matinee paper crowd from the local Retirement Center) would probably think they were the same person and be confused.

Another nicely played bit was by Fryman, toward the end, as he's trying to find answers from his friend Dan (Don Harvey) who had abandoned him. Unfortunately his friend and the actor both abandon him; neither can give the character Toomie nor the actor enough of the support that he needs on stage.

My award for "WTF" goes to both Julia Rittman (Linda Larkin) and Dan Rittman (Harvey), for not giving as much to the roles as they really could have. Or, worse, if that's all they've got to give, then I should be giving them the same award I gave Malcolm, above. In recent memory, I have not seen professional working actors who worked so hard but gave so little - to the roles, to their fellow actors, to themselves. I wish I had a time machine during their scenes together, that would have allowed me to go outside to the lounge for a cigarette or drink and come back, for I doubt I would have missed anything. Again, this is also a problem with the script; those scenes are the only somewhat tedious moments of the play, really. I understand that Larkin is the voice of a popular Walt Disney movie...and that's wonderful. I don't know what she was doing on stage.

Overall, the show is good. I laughed, I cried, I was engaged.
But many actors, who are probably used to doing film, are spending too much time waiting for their close-up and forgeting that there is no editing going on here; there is a breathing actor right there, waiting to talk to them. I think that, combined with some unwise directorial choices and some over-acting where there could have been more simplicity were a problem.

That's my take on both plays; if the show was around longer, I'd see them again. I'll definitely go see anything that Oberon puts up, period.


  • At 12:15 PM, Blogger Billychic said…

    You ROCK

    I didn't make that many fuck ups in the I did.


    It's going well now - you should come see this last weekend. I told you about the switcheroo...

  • At 4:17 PM, Blogger Bitchy Actress said…

    Well, if they would have given you a regular assistant to begin with, you wouldn't have been so hysterical. You're a fucking actor, for chrissakes.

    I'm proud of you, though. Now don't ever do this again. LOL

  • At 11:33 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Where's the bitchy Ghost on Fire review?

  • At 3:17 PM, Blogger Billychic said…

    RE: Macbeth - you didn't mention all the actors...I thought the others did pretty well...dude, yer harsh, yo. Whatever.

    Oh well, it's your post. I love you anyway.

    And you suck - I didn't know you saw it twice. You should have asked me, I would have tried to get you a comp or something.

    Re: Ghost - duuuude. I have to disagree with you on some stuff.

    Oh, and you forgot to mention the AWESOME lighting designer, Sharon Huizinga, who did the lighting for both shows. She saved my ass.

    No, that wasn't me. Some folks from the show have been reading your blog.

  • At 3:21 PM, Blogger Metabolic Karma said…

    You are fucking hilarious!
    It totally sucks I didn't get to go.

    Billy, are you going to kick her ass?


  • At 3:27 PM, Blogger Bitchy Actress said…


    Whatever...wanted to help out. Comp tickets suck for the producer. The lighting was great, you're right. Totally forgot. Hats off to the lady.

    Karma: Let her try. lol

  • At 5:06 PM, Blogger Cadaverous Nun said…

    Well-written and honest, but ALMOST at Billy's expense. You're hilarious but so harsh, woman! She told me all of the actors were really good...sounds like you two differ greatly in your opinions.

    If I wasn't trapped, I would have come seen it. It's all a sunny blur out here.

    I like the post you did about the film, sorry it was so awful.

  • At 11:55 PM, Blogger Billychic said…

    Hey -

    I have to say that I think you were a little harsh on the Director. Dude was a nice guy a lot of the time, and I thought several of his ideas were interesting and inventive.

    Also, I just re-read the bit about Malcolm...I think you're way harsh, no? I think all of the actors in my show had some really great moments.

    Just don't scare people away from seeing the freaking show, beyotch. LOL

  • At 3:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I saw Macbeth and I really thought the show was pretty good.

    Some of your comments are insightful, but some are inaccurate, I think.

    I guess the Bitchy part of your name is to be unquestioned...

  • At 3:20 PM, Blogger Bitchy Actress said…


    I would be more interested in your comment if it wasn't anonymous, and if you had more examples of what you liked in the show. Like I said...I DID like the show. It doesn't mean I liked everything or everyone in it.

    Thanks for reading. Now go play a game of hide and go fuck yourself.



  • At 4:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Hi there. Thanks for the nice mention! ;-)

  • At 4:33 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I read your reviews. I think that you are a jealous bitch with no future in your own career. So, to compensate you try to tarnish others. Majority of what you wrote was bullshit and you complimented actors that most did not favor, and the one's that you bash are the one's that people loved the most. You say you saw Macbeth twice? I wonder who was blind. You or Duncan? There is some great work in that production. I thought that the scene between Malcolm and Macduff was one of the strongest scenes in the play, and you say that the actor "James Holloway" gave the other actor nothing. What play were you watching? That young man has such a strong presence and future ahead of him. But I'm sure he knows that not everyone will love him. Get a life. What projects are you working on? I guess nothing, because you wouldn't have the time to post this nonsense. Suck a dick bitch.

  • At 3:34 PM, Blogger Bitchy Actress said…

    I find it amusing when people write in anonymously and are furious, and it's obvious that:

    1) They are either the actor I wrote about or one of his friends (uh, pretty obvious who that was, lol) and can't find something nice to say about other actors in the show, just the person in question (cough, themselves):
    " complimented actors that most did not favor, and the one's that you bash are the one's that people loved the most."
    Yep. Real ensemble attitude. To whom does that writer owe such knowledge? If anyone's bitchy - it's the writer of that comment. They should take over this blog.

    2) They have to end their tirade with "suck a dick bitch."

    First of all, get your grammar straight: it would be "suck a dick, bitch." -- you forgot the comma.

    Secondly, I have no problem with someone disagreeing with what I have to say. Sorry if someone found it horribly offensive, as opposed to relatively true. I will stand behind what I said, however, for it's my opinion...and even I can have one.

    And, no, I won't suck a dick, but I'm sure to get future roles, you might have to, honey. Especially with that attitude. Oh, and try picking up a grammar book. You write like a fourth-grader.



  • At 4:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Whoa...Amazing that when someone is so defensive about something...they are probably totally and completly guilty. The truth hurts. Deal with it.


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