Inner Monologue:  the Multitasked Critic on in your face marketing, incest in Bogland, musician's greenroom spreads,and more

Inner Monologue: the Multitasked Critic on in your face marketing, incest in Bogland, musician’s greenroom spreads,and more

By Gwen Orel

 The Tony Awards are exhausting.  Covering the Tony Awards for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (read my live blogging posts here.) drained me more than a normal all-nighter.   It’s my excuse for losing most of June, and I’m sticking to it.  That, and the endless rain.   I read somewhere it was the rainiest June since 1905.   I lost three umbrellas (including a little yellow one from Powell’s Books in Portland, Oregon, where they expect rain a lot).

Here’s the last week—a couple of plays, a concert, tea with a treasure of a 93-year old painter, a session.  It’s summer, and I’m multitasking all of the arts.  The week before I even attended a taping of the Daily Show, but this post is long enough as it is…

The Full Monty 

Paper Mill Playhouse, Millburn, NJ

Saturday, June 27, 2009


Disclaimer:  during 2007-2008 I worked part-time at Paper Mill as a grantwriter. 

Disclaimer:  I grew up and live in Millburn, home of the Paper Mill Playhouse (as evidenced by the sign on Route 78, exit 50-B).   I write articles for The Local, the Maplewood-Millburn-South Orange blog of the New York Times.  Some of those aren’t even about culture but just about issues.  Read my latest article here.  It’s about the settlement of the lawsuit brought against Rabbi Bogomilsky by the Township and his countersuit, and deals with charges of running a synagogue out of his home.   Feel free to weigh in!

I grew up in Millburn and got taken to plays there long ago, before it burned down (not telling you the date.  Look it up yourself).  I worked there as a production assistant (that’s a non-Equity stage management team member) on a show or two, back when I was a stage manager. 

I got involved with Paper Mill this last time around after writing several highly critical letters to the then artistic director, Diane Claussen, when the theatre almost folded in the spring of 2007.  I thought then, and sadly still do, that the theatre has lost a lot of its community goodwill.

I digress.  Back to The Full Monty.

It’s a good show, one I never saw on Broadway, and really, it’s better than I thought it would be.  The transfer from the 1997  movie’s setting of Sheffield, England to Buffalo, New York for the 2001 Broadway musical makes a lot of sense, and the music and songs are really catchy.   Terrence McNally’s book is smart, and David Yazbek’s music and lyrics match it.  There are one or two too many songs that stop the action, but that’s a minor quibble.

Note to Marketing Departments:  Do not, do not, do NOT, tape a solicitation letter to the arm of a subscriber’s seat when you know she’s coming to the show.  I can’t explain just why this letter to my mother seemed so much more intrusive and off-putting than emails, snailmails and phonecalls, but it is one of the tackiest things I’ve ever seen in the theatre, and I’ve been involved in theatre all of my adult life.

I was kind of hoping it would be an apology for Paper Mill’s canceling of a “Center Stage” dress rehearsal invite for donors—we didn’t find out it was off until we arrived at the theatre the week before, and Paper Mill’s apology was one of those “sorry IF” apologies (sorry IF we made a mistake, sorry IF I offended you, you know the sort). 

Note to Any Organization with Subscribers:  when a patron complains, just apologize.  Don’t CYA.  Mom isn’t going to give to Center Stage next year. 

Elaine Stritch was really terrific as Jeanette Burmeister, a boozy older piano player who mysteriously shows up to accompany auditions for male strippers, and her character enters the show far into Act One when you’ve even forgotten she’s going to appear.  She landed every wisecrack, sang well and looked great too.  The plot of the play centers on Jerry Lukowski (played by an appealing, kinda hot Wayne Wilcox), who decides after seeing how enthusiastic the ladies are about Chippendales, that he and some out of work Union Steelworkers workers (including cuddly Dave Bukatinsky,played by Joe Coots  and older-but-groovy Noah “Horse” T. Simmons, played by Milton Craig Nealy) can cash in too.  Their gimmick, unlike the Chippendales, is that they wil go “the full Monty,” and leave nothing to the imagination.

The final moment of nudity though is not exactly the Full Monty for the house– the backlights are so bright you can only see silhouettes! right up until that moment, the show is a delight (it closes July 12).  As always, Paper Mill’s pit band is top-notch.  For my money, this was the best production of the year, even better than 1776.  Mark S. Hoebee, the Artistic Director, shows his skills, and so does Denis Jones, the choreographer.  I even forgive Hoebee for hiring David Schweizer, the director of the most godawful production of The Importance of Being Earnest this past season I’ve ever seen (my eyes still hurt remembering it).  When Hoebee directs, he pulls it off, every time.

Reed in the Wind

The ETC Theatre Company, at the Producers Club

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Fraternal incest, rape, love, a corrupt priest, emotional blackmail, murder and madness.  I wasn’t bored at  Reed in the Wind, though occasionally baffled and fighting back giggling fits.

Press for this show described it as an unusual Irish love story, set in 1927.  I’m a sucker for all things Irish (or Scottish or any kind of Celtic) so I wanted to see this.  The show had only five performances.  It was unusual, all right.

The Producers Club is a complex with several stages in it.  It’s a bit hard to find, because it’s a door or two down from where you think it’s going to be on 44th  street.  It does have a bar up the first flight of stairs, inside of which several box office operations are going on.  It’s confusing but festive.  We like bars in theatres.

The Sonnet Theatre, the show’s venue, is teeny-tiny, just two rows in a u-shape, around the stage.  Those in the first row were nearly onstage.  The playwright was in the first row—I discovered this because I sat in back of him, and he and his companion were talking about a reading of Rasuputin, one of the credits in the playwright’s bio.  The playwright, Joe McDonald, is apparently of Irish descent (other plays are set there too).  He was middle-aged, so we can’t chalk the play’s faults up to youth.

Note to Playwrights and Directors:  Don’t sit smack in the middle  in the front row where the actors can’t miss you.  Whether they love you or fear you, they can’t help but be aware of you, and it’s going to alter their performance.

Tip:  Get someone from the ethnic group a play depicts to go with you, if it’s not your own.  I tried, but all of my Irish friends were busy.   The play is about a brother and sister living incestuously.  One Irish friend I spoke to right after the play said, “well, that kind of thing happened.”  He might have had some insight into the set with its odd oil paintings as well.   Was that period, or just cheap props buying?  

Doubt Irish Friend would have had any insight into the stage manager’s booth ONSTAGE facing the audience.

Yes.  It was like a weird toll-booth with a phantom guy in a baseball cap half in, half out of the play.  I don’t have another workable solution for this space (and the stage manager has to see the action so he can call or execute all of the lighting and sound cues), but this sure wasn’t it.   You’d see his baseball cap move, and then the stage would grow darker, or brighter.  I wouldn’t call it Brechtian, just weird– particularly in a naturalistic play.

Note to producers:  know what is playing next to you before you book the space.  The venue next door had hip-hop music booming so badly my chair shook.  Every ten minutes someone would slip out and talk to them and return with the bass line turned down. 

Back to the plot of this very odd play. Pig-farmer Michael and Kate Nolan, his sister, have been living incestuously since their parents died 15 years ago.  Michael (Nic Tyler) has hurt his knee and is shortly to go into the hospital, so they’re looking around for a hired hand.

Plot Hole Alert!  They’ve been screwing for 15 years and it’s Ireland in 1927.  No kids?  No babies buried in the well beyond the valley-o? It seems peculiar not to allude to the issue anyway.  I linked to that song from Planxty to show yes, OK, obviously there was familial incest in Ireland (in the song, she’s buried tots from Dad, Uncle and brother, and she’s the one going to Hell.  Hmmm.)  Speaking of Planxty, Andy Irvine!  Andy Irvine!  will be in NY in September for “masters in collaboration” with John Doyle at the Irish Arts Center.  Yay.  Irvine is one of the most important people from the   Irish Folk Revival of the 70s– ugh, I hate that term, but it’s the best I have right now.

Anyway, Kate (Heather Snow Clark) heard The Priest (Bob Adrian), sermonize about lust and now she has pangs of conscience. 

Plot Hole Alert! It took 15 years for her to have a pang of conscience?

Even odder is the way they talk about it. It’s Dr. Phil in Bogland. Michael coaxes her into bed despite her troubled mind and the next day he complains she wasn’t “really there” with him.   Her reply “weren’t you satisfied?” Did anyone talk this way in 1920?  Did anyone talk this way in 1950?  Hell, 1960?  Later on she talks about their “relationship.” The weird effect of all of this, not helped by the fact that Tyler and Clark look nothing alike and don’t share the same accent, is to makeirascible brother coaxing his lover-sister “you’ll not be bringing guilt into this house”  kinda sympathetic.  He’s romantic, and has a clear objective.  She smiles a lot and looks pretty, but her sudden foray into morality seems, um, fickle.

So is incest ok if it’s consensual?  What if it stops being consensual? At the end of the Act we can stop wrestling with all of that anyway, because that’s where we get incest rape. 

Costume designers (this means you, Costume Designer Casper de la Torre):  even the poorest priest would have a collar that fits.  The two or three inches between the collar and the poor actor’s neck were distracting.

Act II goes further into the dark waters of contrivance.  But every now and then there’s a line that shows McDonald has an ear, after all, if he’d limit himself to it—Kate says to the priest, “there are times that Michael threads a needle cleanly.  You can be a bit pompous, can’t you?”  Nice turn of phrase.

The hired hand, Peter Mallon (fresh-faced Doublas B. Giorgis), conveniently comes from Heaven as a saint/hero.  He doesn’t judge her when he sees her in the act with Michael.    Again, have no idea whether this is really peculiar or normal for that place and time, but it sure is convenient to the plot.  As is having the priest be a hypocrite (although it does seem that often the people shouting loudest about sexual sin are really just angry someone else is getting away with it, see Sanford, Ensign et al).

I have to admit it’s a little funny when Mallon taunts the priest that he overheard him in the act with the women who came to him for help—“Mary Magdalene couldn’t hold a candle to you” is now the phrase I hope to hear from my next Irish Catholic lover.  Thanks, Mr. McDonald.

Note to directors (and that means you, Tom Holmes:  if the climax of the play depends on a gunshot, make sure the person who’s supposed to have fired doesn’t have two empty hands visible to the audience.  I wasn’t the only person who thought a bullet had just been fired by the lord above.

Missy Raines and the New Hip

Madison Square Park

Wednesday, July 1

I wrote up my Q&A with Missy for here.

Not a whole lot to add except that the ground sure does get hard after an hour or so.  I mean really hard.  I mean even on a blanket.  It’s sawdust, not grass, and it hurt my butt, and my friend Kelly Glover’s.  I suggest if you go to one of the Madison Square Park concerts that you bring a pillow as well as a blanket.

My friend Kelly, whom I know from my brief days at Law & Order,  looked around to see if there were any other black people.  There were a few, and more by the time Claire Lynch came on.One little girl was very, very, very into the music.  She danced to every song and kept trying to get under the ropes and go onstage.  Daddy had work to keep up with her.  She really, really loved it when Mark Schatz did “hambone” (slapping the thighs and chest for rhythm) to accompany himself to “Get along home, Cindy Cindy” and when he went into clog-dance (not sure if that’s the right term because he didn’t have clogs) on a board, she was very happy. 

Lynch’s music on the face of it is more traditional bluegrass than what Missy is doing, but there are signs that she’s bringing in other elements too. There was a great swing song (I will find the title!) in particular and am looking forward to the new CD coming this fall, which I am told heightens the eclecticism.

The line at the Shake Shack is as long as ever.  There was also barbecue for sale, from Hill Country NY, but sadly, no fries.  The barbecued beef was a bit on the sweet side for me.

We did the interview in the green room in the Met Life building across the street.  Had to give our ids to be let in and the food backstage was impressive!  When I used to present concerts I was careful to do everything called on the rider, which always pleased folk musicians.  I mentioned to Missy how Liz Carroll and John Doyle’s rider stipulated “no lasagna” and she said that was common (I guess lazy presenters find casseroles easy to do and bring out).  Missy’s table was a little swankier than the food for Claire, which she found funny.

Missy was driving to Tennessee the next day.  I asked her if she had one of those fancy tour busses with a bathroom and she laughed for a minute or so.  That’s a no, then.

Tea with Sylvia Sleigh Alloway

July 2, Chelsea home of the Painter

One of the things critics and culture writers often do is follow stories before they are stories.  It’s working a pitch.

I met Paula Ewin after the reading of scenes from a play my friend T. Cat Ford is writing (it’s going to be terrific; an inside look at a trading firm, much like the one where she was the last temp standing, that is, Bear Stearns).

Paula is an assistant to 93-year old painter Slyvia Sleigh Alloway, and also produced and co-directed the documentary “Look Here!” (a portrait of Sylvia Sleigh, which you can purchase on Sylvia’s website).   I was invited to her birthday party shortly before the Tony Awards and went, but there were too many people to have much of a conversation.

Last week, the ladies of “the Hive”– of which Ewin is the Artistic Director– met to have their photos taken.  It’s a company of women from 29th Street Rep, which lost its space last year.   I chatted with Sylvia while the photographer snapped away.

What a story she has!  I hope to place an article or feature on her somewhere this fall.  She’s famous for painting male nudes.  It’s amazing how it still seems strange to see a painting of a male nude reclining, showing all he has, pubic hair and all.  Why is that?  There sure is a lingering bias in our culture.

This is a portrait of Paul Rosano, Reclining, 1974, Oil on Canvas.  He was actually at the birthday party in June.  His hair has tamed in the last thirty years, let’s say.

Sylvia also is famous for having a collection of the work of other female artists, which is about to be remounted at Rowan University in Glassboro, NJ   this autumn (dates TBA).  There was also a famous collaboration with other women painters called “The Sister Chapel.”

But I was just as fascinated with the snippets of her lifestory I got—this is all preliminary for a more organized interview and pitch somewhere down the road, but she was in art school when there were demonstrations about the Czechs—not in 69, but in 39.  When she couldn’t get hired as a commercial artist, she became a dressmaker.  She met her second husband, Lawrence Alloway, in a course about Impressionists.  Although she was an artist and he was not, she took his advice about destroying some of her works, not participating in shows.  She wasn’t bitter then, but she is now.

Take that, article about gender disparity in theatre.  The fine arts have a lot to answer to as well.

Millburn Township Fourth of July

Saturday, July 4th, Taylor Park and Millburn High School Field

OK, strictly speaking, this is not an event for a multitasked critic, but I find it hard to turn the Inner Monologue off, what can I say?

The Taylor Park Festivities are enormous fun, if you’re a child.  If you’re not, the main attraction is Revolutionary War reenactors describe the Battle of Hobart and Springfield, and fire off cannons on the hour.

I love this, and go every year.  But I wish we had a bake-off or a dance or something for those of us who don’t have a grade-schooler in tow.  Of course, had we been better organized, we could have attended with my cousins the Russells, who have a four year old.  Maybe next year.  I love that climbing into a firetruck is there as an attraction along with the bungie jumping ride and the water slides.

The fireworks are low key, on the Millburn High School field.  The field opens a few hours before the fireworks themselves, and people go and run around, play, catch up.  Are the fireworks spectacular?  No, but they didn’t fizzle either—I missed the ground display (for years there was a sign of 1776 that sparkled briefly with flame), and you can also see the Springfield fireworks in the distance.  It’s hometown, it’s lowkey, it’s the best.

The Landmark Tavern—Pitch meeting with Producer, Session

The Landmark Tavern

Monday, July 6

Again, meeting to look for story ideas.  This is a big part of the work when you’re a freelancer.  We have to get our inside information somewhere!  There’s a session at the Landmark every Monday, which means Irish musicians playing tunes together.  The Landmark Session is run by Don Meade, and has excellent players while still encouraging and welcoming to beginnerish folks like me.  I’ve been taking fiddle classes at Irish Arts Center nearby for a bit, and was thrilled when over dinner I heard a few tunes I actually knew (Behind the Haystack!).

Naturally, nobody played any I knew once I went into the Session and took out the fiddle.  Oh well.  I could catch on to a few, and I met Andy Lamy, clarinet player with the New Jersey Symphony, who lives in Maplewood and drove the Multitasked critic home.   And on the drive home, just talking, I heard a few possible story ideas.  No wonder, no matter what I do, I always feel behind.

 A few days ago I posted on my Facebook status that I’d had the dream where I’d forgotten to show up in a few classes in college, then halfway through remembered I had my diploma, so it was OK.  Then I realized I hadn’t finished all my graduate classes, and it wasn’t until I woke up that I realized I had my diploma there too.     Have you had this dream too?  What’s your wrinkle?  


Posted on 08 Jul 2009 at 1:09am