Novels, Fiction & SillinessJane’s Memorial

Sometimes comedy gives us an opportunity to explore painful experiences, such as the loss of a friend. Please “Jane’s Memorial,” my sketch that was part of Magnet Theater’s tri-annual Ringers show.

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Novels, Fiction & SillinessMy Presidential Platform, As Prepared By My Seventh-Grade Self

Readers, after much consideration, I have decided to run for President of the United States. I know I have many competitors in this wide field, but I offer a unique level of preparedness that no other candidate – not even Elizabeth “I have a plan for that” Warren – can offer: I wrote my presidential platform when I was twelve.

While looking through my old documents during a visit to my parents’ house, my husband found an essay I wrote for my seventh grade English class, “If I Were Earth Leader.” He thought it was funny, but I found it inspiring. I realized that I’ve had what it takes to be Commander-in-Chief all along.

Feeling skeptical? See if you can find anything to disagree with in this comprehensive platform:

“If I Were Earth Leader”
by Theresa Basile
Period 7
November 2, 1996

If I ruled the earth, what would I do?

First of all, this is just a fantasy that triggers my mind. I would NEVER be elected earth leader since I am only twelve years old. I also don’t know if I would WANT to be Earth leader anyway. It’s too big of a responsibility. I know I would get more money than I could handle by being Earth leader, because you need money to support all of the countries. How would I get the money, I’m not sure. But that doesn’t matter, since this is just a fantasy.

But let’s just say I DID run for Earth leader, and let’s just say I won, and let’s just say I had a bunch of bodyguards to protect me from all the sickos in the world. What would I do first?

First of all, I would send a hundred truckloads of food to all of the countries that have a lot of poor people. No, scratch that. I would send one hundred truckloads of food to every single country, period.

Then I would invent a huge vacuum to suck up all of the pollution, including water pollution, and ship it off to Jupiter where the enormous amount of gravity would crush it up.

After that, I’d hire scientists to find cures for cancer, diabetes, insomnia, AIDS, and other incurable diseases.

Then I would arrest every single criminal in the world and send them to special hospitals. The criminals who committed minor crimes would take classes on how to stop committing crimes. Homicidal maniacs and terrorists would be injected with chemicals that wouldn’t hurt them, but make them stop killing people.

What would I do next?

Whatever I wanted!

I would live in a twenty-acre mansion, but I wouldn’t cut down any trees to build it. All of my relatives would live with me. I would have a huge computer and type up stories and play games.

I would watch Monty Python videos and read whenever I wanted. I would live in Italy, because I would like to be near the Sistine Chapel. My parents went to Italy, and they loved it. I would visit the U.S. all the time. I would also go to Cooperstown for summer vacation, and Florida for winter vacation. I would visit England, Germany, and France, and go all over Europe.

I would pass a law allowing kids over ten to vote. I am outraged that I can’t vote for President because I am only twelve. I know about political issues and I would be a liberal Democrat, IF I COULD VOTE. Other kids might feel this way, too.

I would meet the cast of The Simpsons, and eat lunch with Emma Thompson and Robin Williams. I would meet movie actors and actresses.

I would invent a huge time machine and travel to 1865 and 1939. I would stop John Wilkes Booth from killing Lincoln, and Hitler from killing all the people in World War II.

By now, you probably think I’m crazy. How can a twelve-year-old girl, who lives in New York until the age of nine and moved to New Jersey, rule the world? Impossible!

Anything’s possible.

And don’t you forget it!”

As you can see, my first priority has always been to address hunger and food insecurity on an international scale. I was forward-thinking on climate change from a young age. I supported aggressive medical research to cure disease, and I believed in criminal rehabilitation programs to reduce recidivism. In terms of international relations, I have always supported a strong relationship with the European Union.

At this point, you might be saying, “Her policy positions are great, but I’m not sure she’s electable.” It’s true that Republicans will undoubtedly label me as a “New York liberal,” and that could affect my chances in the Midwest. But I expect that young voters will turn out in record numbers when they see my support for a 10-year-old voting age. I’ve also been very family-oriented all my life, a quality that might sway some independent voters.

And, as you can see, I’m good at holding babies:

Not my running mate.

In conclusion, I hope you consider voting for me in 2020. I will not accept donations from large corporations (except for The Walt Disney Company in exchange for a free subscription to their streaming service). You can send me campaign donations through Venmo, and I pledge only to use that money to pay for improv classes that will help me on the debate stage.

Get TB in 2020!

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ArticlesSin and Justice in Spicy Witch Productions’ Seventh Season

“Measure for Measure”
Photo credit: Phoebe Brooks

(This review was originally published on Manhattan with a Twist on May 17, 2019.)

What is sin? This is a question that Spicy Witch Productions explores with their two plays in repertory, an “audacious cut” of Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure and the premiere of The Virtuous Fall of the Girls of Our Lady of Sorrows by playwright in residence Gina Femia. The first is set in present-day Vienna, the second is set in post-9/11 New York, and both take place in worlds where expectations for women are contradictory and designed for them to fail.

Measure for Measure is one of Shakespeare’s famous “problem plays.” Minnie, a main character in The Virtuous Fallplayed by Renita Lewis, writes a sequel to Measure for Measure in lieu of writing a final paper for English class, sending all of the characters (save thevirtuous Isabella) to Hell to appease the administration in her strict Catholic school. Spicy Witch’s production of Measure for Measure, meanwhile, modernizes several aspects of the text, turning the kind Duke into Chief Justice Vincentia (Mia Canter) who wears a Ruth Bader Ginsburg-esque collar, Claudio (Stephen Zuccaro) into a disgraced but decent Senator, and Isabella (Pearl Shin) into an intern at a women’s health care provider.

Both of these adaptations take liberties with the original text in a purposefully feminist manner to fix the problems in the problem play. What could be a gimmick in the hands of less thoughtful directors than Phoebe Brooks (Measure) and Blayze Teicher (Virtuous Fall) is instead a powerful statement. While any adaptation of a Shakespeare play must honor the language, as this cast ably does, one of the best moments in Measure involves Isabella silently contemplating the portrait of a different Supreme Court justice who shares a disturbing resemblance with the predatory Angelo (Blake Kelton Prentiss).

The characters in both Measure for Measure and The Virtuous Fall discuss the concept of sin – what is sin, who gets to decide what sin is, and what is a just punishment for those who commit sin. The narratives of both plays progress differently but reach a similar conclusion that breaking the law, whether it is the law of the land or the law of the Catholic Church, is not the same as doing something evil. A moving speech from Imogene (Alia Guidry) in The Virtuous Fall rejects the premise that she is inherently sinful for being gay. (Her name is also similar to another Shakespeare heroine, Cymbeline’s Imogen, who was wrongfully accused of adultery.)

Where the plays differ is in their portrayal of morality’s gatekeepers. Measure’s Angelo is the worst kind of hypocrite, setting different standards for himself than for others, abusing his power, and enjoying seeing others in pain. The Virtuous Fall’s Sister Ignatius (Mia Canter) is a more sympathetic figure; even when she’s wrong, her advice comes from a sincere desire to help her students avoid eternal punishment. This is a woman who has made many personal sacrifices to be in a place where she can counsel others; she needs to believe what she’s saying is right.

The cast is strong in both productions, easily adapting to Shakespeare’s language in Measure and convincingly playing high school students in The Virtuous Fall. All of the performers hinted at the rich inner lives of their characters, showing the subtext behind the text. The biggest standout is Pearl Shin; her dual performance of the strong-willed Isabella and the naive Mathilda made me forget I was watching the same actor on back-to-back nights.

Of the two shows, The Virtuous Fall is the stronger production partially by virtue of being longer. Measure for Measure’s 90-minute cut, while impressive in the way it edited the story into the essentials, it left little room for its best moments to breathe despite the strength of the cast. I don’t think anyone in the audience would have minded spending twenty more minutes with those characters. Both productions, however, are important contributions to the conversation about how the world treats female and nonbinary sexes and genders as inherently sinful.

Measure for Measure and The Virtuous Fall are playing in repertory at The Flea Theater.

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Blog PostsThe Unearned Heel Turn in “Game of Thrones”

Courtesy: HBO

When you follow a story for a long period of time, it can be difficult to separate expectations from reality. Game of Thrones is a story with over twenty years of buildup if the books are taken into consideration, and almost a decade of buildup for the fans who only watched the show. With so many characters and storylines that fell by the wayside, there was no way for the showrunners to deliver a conclusion that would satisfy all or most of the audience.

A perfect ending was impossible. A strong ending was still within reach if the showrunners stayed true to the characters and followed the rules established in the fictional world. Going into the last season of Game of Thrones, I prepared myself for the probability of a conclusion that would honor the story it had followed, regardless of whether or not it was my preferred ending.

Instead, we got a penultimate episode that destroyed years’ worth of credibility and made me nostalgic for the How I Met Your Mother finale, all because the showrunners forced an unearned heel turn for one of the show’s most beloved characters.

Daenerys Targaryen is a messianic leader with delusions of grandeur who feels entitled to the Iron Throne because of her family’s legacy. Thanks to the stories she’s heard from Viserys in her childhood, she expects Westeros to roll out the welcome carpet the second she arrives at King’s Landing. She’s ruthless, does not forgive easily, and calls on her dragons to burn her enemies to a crisp when they betray her. She doesn’t blink when Drogo puts a crown of molten gold on her brother’s head, doesn’t flinch when she locks Xaro Xhoan Daxos and Doreah in a vault to starve to death, and serves swift justice to the slaveowners in the cities of Essos. Her advisers often have to talk her out of administering brutal punishment.

Daenerys is also a principled leader who abhors and abolishes slavery in a world where many people, including her closest advisers, see it as a necessary evil. When merchants nail their slaves to crosses, taunting her with their dead bodies, she forces herself to look into the face of every human sacrificed on her behalf so she never forgets them. She makes the Ironborn promise to end their pillaging and raping before she accepts them as allies. Her tendencies lean towards brutal punishment, but she often listens to her advisers and moderates her decisions based on their guidance.

“Every time a Targaryen is born, the gods toss the coin into the air and the world holds its breath,” goes the old saying in the Seven Kingdoms. Targaryens are either gentle and kind (Rhaegar) or cruel and insane (Aerys). Daenerys was compelling because she didn’t fall neatly into either category. Her capacity for cruelty and kindness, for selfishness and selflessness, were equal. She gave into her destructive tendencies as often as she pulled back from them.

The most recent episode, “The Bells,” made the final decision on Daenerys’s coin toss. She was another evil Targaryen, the Mad Queen father’s daughter that Tyrion and Varys had learned to fear. She abandoned her principles and murdered thousands of innocent citizens even after receiving an unconditional surrender from the city she invaded, brought to the brink of insanity after losing several loved ones in a very short period of time.

On some level, this action makes sense. George R.R. Martin has made it clear that he’s no monarchist, and the books support his thesis that there’s no such thing as a “good” ruler. Anyone who wants the power of an uncontested monarch will eventually be corrupted by that power even if their original intentions were as pure as snow, especially if they prioritize their personal ambitions over the common good, or have lost their closest ties to humanity in the people they loved most.

The glaring flaw in Daenerys’s arc is that she lost the people she loved because she temporarily put her personal ambitions on hold for the common good.

Dany, like most other characters on the show, was a climate change White Walker skeptic in the seventh season. She wasn’t willing to sacrifice any of her people or resources to fight a problem she didn’t believe existed. Even when she started to understand that the White Walkers posed a real threat, she refused to help until Jon Snow bent the knee.

This changed when Jon traveled to fight the White Walkers (in a very ill-conceived plan that only worked because the writers said it had to). When she realized the true threat of the danger, she took her dragons and rode to save Jon and the other fighters in his mission.

In the process, she lost a dragon. Her heart was broken; her dragons were the children she would never have. Despite her grief, she changed her plans, decided to postpone her fight with Cersei, and instead teamed up with Jon to fight the common enemy in the White Walkers.

This led to a chain of events where the White Walkers were defeated, but Daenerys lost a second dragon, her closest adviser Jorah Mormont, and her closest friend Missandei, none of which would have happened if she had stuck to her original plan of fighting Cersei directly.

In short, Daenerys was punished and turned into a villain because she did what heroes do – temporarily prioritized the greater good before her own ambitions. If she had ignored Jon and flown directly to King’s Landing with all three dragons, she could have roasted Cersei to a crisp without touching the common people, and then flown back in time to help in the Battle of Winterfell.

After all, time and continuity don’t follow the many rules in Game of Thrones. Trips that once took months take five minutes, dragons are foiled by a scorpion bow in one episode and indestructible in the next, and the White Walkers are the most existential threat to all humankind but can be wiped out completely with one well-timed stab from Arya Stark.

And Daenerys can roast innocent people after losing her loved ones, even though she lost her loved ones by trying to help innocent people.

Some fans think this criticism is unfair and like to quote Ramsay Bolton: “If you think this has a happy ending, you haven’t been paying attention.” But most fans upset with this direction weren’t expecting a happily ever after. We only wanted the story to make sense.

There was enough groundwork in A Song of Ice and Fire to eventually turn Daenerys into a tyrant if that’s the story George R.R. Martin wanted to tell. I could see Daenerys ascend the Iron Throne with the intention of being a fair and wise ruler, only to eventually become corrupted with power and turn into the same tyrant she had always criticized. Heck, I would have welcomed an even more pessimistic ending where the White Walkers won and destroyed all life on the planet as a chilling message about human pettiness and arrogance.

Instead, we got a conclusion for Daenerys that seems like a culmination of mixed messages. It was wrong of her to use Mirri Maz Duur to cheat Drogo’s death and save his life (even though it was okay for the Night’s Watch to resurrect Jon Snow). It was wrong of her to roast the Tarlys (because Tyrion and Varys are shocked, SHOCKED, that the dragon queen they chose to follow would…use her dragons). It was wrong of her to distrust Tyrion (even though Tyrion proved himself untrustworthy many times).

Come to think of it, the dragon queen’s arc is perfect in its way. Crushed under impossible-to-reach standards, doomed no matter what choice she makes, is a perfect metaphor for being a woman with power in this world.

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Blog PostsWhat Comes Next on Game of Thrones?

Courtesy HBO

The long-awaited Battle of Winterfell in Games of Thrones has come and gone. There was less bloodshed than expected, fans everywhere lost money in their “which characters are going to die?” pools, and a powerful musical score almost made up for the lighting budget being provided entirely by Melisandre. (I’m not actually sure she’s union, come to think of it.)

Reactions to the episode have been mixed. Some people loved it. Some thought it was a big mess. I felt the same way I do about many “big” episodes of Games of Thrones: having ALL THE FEELS while it’s happening, and realizing the next day, “Wait. That didn’t make any sense!”

The biggest complaint about the episode, aside from the inability to see much of the action, was that the hyped-up Big Bad was defeated too easily. They expected the battle between the living and the dead to be the climax of the series, not an inconvenience the North had to take care of before fighting Cersei. After all, Al Gore Jon Snow has been sounding the alarm bell for years that all these petty battles are meaningless, that climate change the White Walkers are the real problem facing humanity.

I see a lot of storytelling potential for NOT ending the series with the White Walkers. The last three episodes could be great if the show addresses the question, “We stopped the end of the world – now what kind of world do we want to live in?”

At the same time, I understand why critics and fans are disappointed and confused, wondering, “What was the point of the Night King and the White Walkers if they were going to be defeated so easily?”

I keep going back to what Bran and Sam realized at the end of the seventh season: Robert’s Rebellion was based on a lie.  At the time, their conclusion seemed incredibly sad and ironic. One of the few love marriages in Westeros led to pointless bloodshed and the destruction of several noble houses. Almost every conflict between every family traces directly back to the series of events that destroyed almost all of the Targaryens and put Robert Baratheon on the Iron Throne.

After the relatively quick defeat of the undead armies at the Battle of Winterfell, though, I wonder if the show is trying to tell us a different story – that the tragedy of the Rhaegar/Lyanna love affair, Robert’s Rebellion, and everything that came after was necessary to prevent a much bigger tragedy from taking place.

Imagine a world where little Aegon Targaryen was able to live in King’s Landing as the trueborn son of Rhaegar and Lyanna. He’s given all the privileges entitled to a young prince and heir to the throne. He grows up wealthy, loved, and with few cares in the world.

But then he’s not Jon Snow, bastard of Winterfell, who joins the Night’s Watch and goes beyond the wall, and bridges the divide between the Night’s Watch and the wildlings.

Jon Snow, more than any other character on the show (except Bran), sees the world from multiple angles – as a bastard of a highborn house that has a front seat at all of the politicking happening between families, yet never allowed to participate due to his illegitimate status. He’s more educated than most of those at the Night’s Watch, and definitely different from the wildlings he joins as an undercover agent. He was an outsider in every group he became a part of, but he was able to turn that into an advantage, as people from each group warmed up to him and trusted him.

If Jon had raised as Aegon Targaryen instead of Jon Snow, there might not have been anyone to sound the constant alarm bells about the danger of the White Walkers. The White Walkers would have remained a superstition until it was too late, and the Night King might have led his army through Westeros and destroyed all of life before anyone could come up with a defense.

What if Jon is “The Prince That Was Promised” because he’s the Paul Revere/Sybil Ludington of Westeros?

And he’s not the only character who seems fated to be a part of this successful stand against the dead. If Bran had never spied on Cersei and Jaime’s tryst in the towers of Winterfell, Jaime wouldn’t have pushed him, he would have lost the use of the lower half of his body, and he never would have become the Three-Eyed Raven with his own unique perspective that guided the fighters.

Finally, we have Arya Stark, Night Kingslayer, who needed to lose most of her family, travel to different lands, to become the assassin she is, because only a sneaky assassin could get close enough to the Night King in the first place.

If the real lesson of the series is “This tragedy had to happen to prevent the ending of ALL of life,” Game of Thrones will have a fatalistic, Battlestar Galactica feel. “All this has happened before and will happen again.” I’m not sure that’s the ending we’re going to get, or if it’s the best ending for this story, but it will at least be a fitting ending to a saga filled with prophecies, time travel, and perhaps most importantly, humans growing stronger after suffering through tragedy.

But, if this IS the ending we’re getting, I struggle to see where Daenerys fits in, as her Dothraki, Unsullied, and dragons were largely useless in the battle with the dead. I’ll be disappointed if she becomes a mad ruler like her father or Cersei, and I’ll also be disappointed if this war of the roses just concludes with another Targaryen on the Iron Throne.

We have three episodes left to see what will happen. In the middle of this uncertainty, I’ll conclude with the words of Hamilton’s King George:

What comes next?/You’ve been freed
Do you know how hard it is to lead?
You’re on your own/AWESOME, WOW!
Do you have a clue what happens now?
Oceans rise/Empires fall
It’s much harder when it’s all your call
All alone, across the sea
When your people say they hate you
Don’t come crawling back to me.
You’re on your own…

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ArticlesA Review of Strange Sun Theater’s “Wickedest Woman”

Photo credit: Braddon Lee Murphy

(This piece was originally published on Manhattan with a Twist on January 22, 2019.)

A modern audience that sees the world premiere of Wickedest Woman during its run at the WP Theater will know abortion as a controversial topic. The morality of the medical procedure is frequently contested as states introduce laws to restrict access to abortion.

This narrative would be familiar to the real Ann Lohman, aka “Madame Restell,” the midwife and abortionist whose life story is told in this electrifying new play by Jessica Bashline. Lohman lived through a time where abortion was legal until it wasn’t, and would likely look at the years between Roe v. Wade to a 2019 Supreme Court dominated by conservative justices with a sense of knowing dread.

While abortion remains a hot topic of debate in modern America, there is no “both-sidesing” of the issue in the narrative of Wickedest Woman. Every character, save for an unseen mob at Madame Restell’s door, and a proselytizing district attorney at her trial, treat it as a fact of life that some women will want or need to terminate their pregnancies as naturally as other women will want to give birth to and raise children. Ann herself remains confident in the morality of her actions, but is not immune to the toll that anti-abortion rhetoric takes on her business and personal safety.

As the protagonist, Jessica O’Hara Baker gives a fierce, intense performance that carries the show. She’s electrifying to watch, and her presence is missed in the few moments she’s offstage for a costume change. She’s aided by a strong, gender-bending supporting cast that steps fluidly in and out of the multiple characters they play, most memorably Evan Daves and Luke Zimmerman as two women in different stages of their pregnancies who need Ann’s help. The minute they begin to tell their stories, their pain and vulnerability shines through, and any socialized instinct to guffaw at the sight of a man dressed as a woman immediately dies.

The production is thoughtfully directed by Melissa Crespo whose team uses subtle music and lighting cues to transition between set changes and the different periods of Ann Lohman’s life. There were a few minor hiccups (a cue missed here, a line flub there) in the opening night performance, but nothing that diminished the enthusiasm of a very engaged audience. Wickedest Woman is a play worth braving the cold weather for, to see the story of an exceptional woman whose modern relevance is, at once, depressing and inspiring.

Wickedest Woman is playing at WP Theater at 2162 Broadway through February 2nd. 

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ArticlesReview: “Life x3,” the Universe, and Everything

Photo credit: Hunter Canning

(This piece was originally published on Manhattan with a Twist on November 30, 2018.)

In the new production of Yasmina Reza’s Life x3 by the New Light Theater Project, the host of a disastrous dinner party (Henri) laments the insignificance of human beings and their personal lives in comparison to the universe. One of his guests (Ines) counters that human beings and their personal lives are what make the universe interesting, asking, “Where would the universe be without us?”

This question hangs in the balance throughout the production as we see three versions of the same evening play out. A married couple, Henri and Sonia (James Patrick Nelson and Claire Curtis-Ward), are visited by their dinner guests Hubert and Ines (Dominic Comperatore and Leah Curney) a night earlier than expected. They scramble to entertain them with leftover snacks, a seemingly endless supply of wine, and tense conversation that turns too honest, too quickly.

Some elements of the dinner party – particularly the mood of Henri and Sonia’s unseen, offstage six-year-old – is different in each version of the evening, as ephemeral as the temperament of a real child. Other dynamics between the characters, such as Ines’s frustration with her husband’s disrespect, remains the same in each version, but manifests differently each time. The differences lie not with the characters’ relationships and their myriad attractions or resentments, but with how polite they choose to be in expressing these emotions.

The various dramas play out in a stylishly cold living room against a backdrop of a curtain of stars, the set design highlighting the debate started by Henri and Ines that becomes one of the main questions of the play – arehumans insignificant compared to the universe, or do humans add significance to the universe?

The entertaining nature of the production seems to prove Ines right. The character interactions are fascinating to watch as their personalities bounce off of each other, manifesting in different ways depending on the external factors of the night. The cast is uniformly strong, and James Patrick Nelson has the hardest job, as Henri changes the most in each version but still needs to feel like the same person, and he’s more than up to the challenge.

Each version of the night leaves us at the edge of our seats, wondering how and if everything will fall apart. The drama is helped along by the music composed by Janet Bentley, best described as tense elevator music, highlighting the absurd banality of the situation and the characters’ boiling resentments. Version three, the most polite one, feels lighter in a forced way, as if luring us into a false sense of security and waiting for another ball to drop with a version four that never comes.

Ines asserts that humans add poetry to the universe, but if poetry is four unhappy people forcing themselves to be polite before reaching their breaking point, then maybe Henri is the one with his finger on the ball, and these people imagining that their petty dramas have meaning are the ones fooling themselves. Regardless of who is right (and their is evidence to support both of their points of view), Life x3 is a thrilling way to spend an evening.

Life x3 is playing through December 8th at Urban Stages, 259 W 30th Street.

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ArticlesA Review of “Bernie and Mikey’s Trip to the Moon”

Photo credit: Michael Kushner

(This piece was originally published on Manhattan with a Twist on November 27, 2018.)

Bernie and Mikey’s Trip to the Moon, playing through December 2nd with the Strangemen Theatre Company at 59E59 Theaters, is the first full-length play by Scott Aiello. A note from Artistic Director Val Day mentions that the play is inspired by Aiello’s relationship with his sister, who has a disability. The story’s roots in personal experience is hardly surprising, because the play’s scope of understanding of the particular struggles and joys affected by disability is rarely found in fiction.

The play is a simple slice-of-life story about the Vincolos, a working-class Italian-American family with two adult children, Mikey (Forrest Malloy) and Bernadette, called “Bernie” (Stephanie Gould). Bernie has an intellectual disability, and her parents’ and brother’s lives center around ensuring her care and well-being. This is a familiar note in stories that center on disability, but what makes Bernie and Mikey special is the level of detail it explores in addressing the hard questions that arise when a person with a cognitive disability becomes an adult in the eyes of the law. What will happen to Bernie when her parents (Jordan Lage and Margo Singaliese) pass away? Is Mikey prepared for dealing with the hygiene needs of a disabled adult woman who menstruates and needs help wiping herself after a bowel movement? How do they cope with the knowledge that, despite some of her childlike behaviors and limitations, Bernie has the full scope of adult feelings, including sexual desires?

The play addresses these issues without being didactic, showing how each member of the Vincolo family keeps Bernie’s best interests paramount, but clash over what those best interests are. They argue, they hurl accusations, they work through their pain against an impeccable set design by James Ortiz that feels like a real home down to every small detail, including the stickers decorating the side of the oven.

While the whole family lives and loves and struggles, the most important relationship in the play is between the two title characters. Forrest Malloy is excellent at showing Mikey’s deep, fierce love for his sister, his anger at being left out of the decisions involving her well-being, and his resentment and accompanying sense of guilt. Stephanie Gould, who has cerebral palsy, inhabits Bernie as a woman who adores her brother unconditionally, shrugs off her mother’s nagging, and keeps an icier front with a father who often leaves her out of the conversation. They light up in each other’s presence the way they don’t with other people, and when Mikey pulls out all of the stops to make Bernie laugh, we can see that he needs her as much as she needs him.

Bernie and Mikey’s Trip to the Moon reminds us of the importance of letting actors with disabilities play disabled characters. Having Stephanie Gould play Bernie and Benjamin Rosloff (an actor on the autism spectrum) play Jeff, Bernie’s persistent suitor, leaves no room for caricature or stereotypes. The play, from the writing to the direction to the performances, treats people with disabilities respectfully without preaching from a pulpit. This important and moving show has only one weekend left in its run, but I predict bright prospects for its future.

Bernie and Mikey’s Trip to the Moon is playing at 59E59 Theaters through December 2nd.

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ArticlesReview: Controlling the Narrative in “Escape”

(This piece was originally published on Manhattan with a Twist on October 31, 2018.)

“I’m a person.” This line is said by all three female characters in Escape, a new play that just completed its run at the 2018 New York International Fringe Festival. The context is different each time, but each woman has the same plea and the same demand: to have her humanity respected and taken seriously. It’s a request that neither male character has to make, because their humanity is accepted as a given and their mistakes and flaws are held under less scrutiny. In this respect, the world of Escape is much like the real world, but the male characters here take a backseat to the three women of the story, flipping the script and centering the people who usually exist on the margins.

Escape takes place in the aftermath of an emergency plane landing after a flight attendant, Lucy Marks (Marlowe Holden), restrains a man causing a disruption and endangering the other passengers. Controversy immediately follows, the public torn on whether Lucy was a hero who saved more than one hundred people, or a villain who abused her power and used excessive force. Hoping to avoid a scandal, the CEO of Global Airlines, Renee York (Rhonda Ayers), offers Lucy a contract and large sum of money to keep her quiet and sweep the story under the rug. But Lucy has other ideas, and she and her roommate and fellow flight attendant Dina (Deya Danielle Drake, also the playwright) decide to take ownership of her story and into their own hands.

Lucy’s goal of self-promotion and controlling her narrative clashes with Renee’s goal of self-preservation. Both women have carefully crafted images of themselves to survive in the world, but Lucy plays up her conventional attractiveness and femininity to use to her advantage, while Renee downplays her womanhood to fit in with her male colleagues and be “one of the guys.” They both know, however, that the game is rigged against them no matter what stereotype they try to reclaim in their favor. Dina, meanwhile, is the sidekick in her friendship with Lucy, a role she seems to embrace and resent in equal measure, viewing her friend with a mix of hero worship, jealousy, and fear.

Photo credit: Sarah Escarraz

Photo credit: Sarah Escarraz

It’s understandable why these characters are tempted to stay in the roles they’ve created for themselves; the punishment for stepping out of line is severe. Chuck (Jim Thalman), the board liaison for Global Airlines who probably has several #MeToo stories about him waiting to be exposed, treats Lucy like a sex object and turns on her when she has a mind of her own, dismisses Dina as the less attractive friend, and undermines Renee’s authority whenever he has the opportunity. Jack (Chris Wight), the attorney of Global Airlines, is the “nice” guy who’s not really that nice, and only seems decent in comparison to Chuck. The court of public opinion is fickle and no less forgiving, changing their opinion of Lucy’s actions based on her and Dina’s social media videos (projected on a screen on the back of the stage) and rumors about the identity of the passenger.

The tension in the play rises gradually and uneasily thanks to director Lynnsey Ooten’s sharp sense of pacing and the quick, smart cues from the lighting and sound designers (Jennifer Folk and Jessica Hart, respectively). The entire cast is strong, with Deya Danielle Drake pulling an impressive double duty of actor and playwright, but the highlight is Marlowe Holden as Lucy, in a gripping portrayal of a woman who seems like she could completely unravel or defiantly persevere at any moment.

The play is never clear on how we’re supposed to feel about Lucy’s actions towards the passenger on her flight. At first, this ambiguity is an asset to the story; from Lucy’s own account, we’re left thinking that she took the right course of action but went too far in trying to correct the situation. An important revelation near the end of the play leaves a different impression, an uncomfortable feeling that we’re meant to believe that the ends justify the means. Despite that, the final scene is intriguing, suggesting promising futures for these women. Unlike the Global Airlines flight, Escape hit the landing.

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ArticlesReview: Divisive Politics and Dead Presidents in “The War Party”

Photo by Martha Granger

(This review was originally posted on Manhattan with a Twist on October 19, 2019.)

In a century where American citizens are bitterly divided over politics and uncharacteristically laser-focused on the upcoming midterms, The War Party (playing for five performances in The New York International Fringe Festival) couldn’t be more timely. Playwright Vincent Delaney chooses an intriguing protagonist for his portrayal of this contentious era: an incumbent Republican Senator suffering a crushing defeat to a Democratic challenger, getting drunk with one of her interns in her campaign war room.

A theater audience in New York is likely to be dominated by people who identify with liberal beliefs, and the idea of a Republican incumbent toppling to an insurgent Democrat is catnip to eager and worried progressives counting down the seconds until November 6th. But The War Party complicates this initial thrill by making Laura Smith (a fearless Jennifer Piech) arresting to watch. Storming across the stage in her pantsuit and hair twisted in a tight bun, swearing, and grabbing every cheap champagne bottle she can find, she is a woman who officially has no f**** left to give. Bitter and angry, bitingly funny and caustic, the soon-to-be-ex-Senator (of which state, we’re never told) is a protagonist who wins the audience to her side, even those who would find her politics repugnant.

The War Party is careful not to embellish on Senator Smith’s specific policies and beliefs. She sneers at her “tax and spend” colleagues in the opposing party and baldly uses some Latinx stereotypes when trying to bait her intern Jessie (Odelia Avadi, bursting with energy), but her votes and core issues are only alluded to. Also alluded to is a recent personal tragedy in Laura’s life, which she and Jessie reveal later in the play, leaving me wonder if the playwright thought a sad backstory was necessary to make a conservative woman sympathetic.

The extended conversation between Laura and Jessie is interrupted by Laura’s diabetes-induced hallucinations of FDR (William Youmans). Despite being on the opposite side of the political spectrum, this imagined FDR has a lot in common with Laura – filled with regret, longing for a time when hatred didn’t dominate political discourse. These interludes have a quieter intensity than the main action with Laura and Jessie, allowing the audience time to linger on important questions while creating the unsettling feeling that something isn’t quite right…and not just because Laura’s bonding with a Democrat.

Several important scenes in The War Party take place when characters are sitting and lying on the floor, whether under the influence of alcohol or simply exhausted. Unfortunately, the seats in the audience are clustered together where only people in the first two rows can witness all the action. Even craning my neck, I couldn’t see the actors during several key dramatic moments.

The War Party struggles with fitting life-altering epiphanies for its characters in a ninety-minute run time. Some of their choices, particularly Jessie’s, feel too abrupt to be plausible. Without spoiling the ending, one of her decisions may have worked better if the story had more time to breathe.

Despite some of the restrictions built into the play’s run time, The War Party is an exciting play with a strong voice that seems inspired by the playwright’s personal views without being didactic. The show is definitely worth seeing, as long as you’re sitting in the first two rows.

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