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Wednesday, July 23, 2008 1 comments

(The Khyber Pass, between Afghanistan and Pakistan)
Small Pond Entertainment Presents


by David Ian Lee

directed by Nat Cassidy

“A war is coming, but not the one we expect.”

Featuring: Micah Chartrand, David Dartley*, Emily Hagburg, Jason Griffith*, David Ian Lee*, L. Jay Meyer*, Karen Sternberg*, Craig Lee Thomas* & Kristen Vaughan*

Limited Engagement at the Manhattan Theatre Source

July 20 - 22

August 3 - 5

8 pm

Tickets: $15

Reservations: 212-501-4751 or advance purchase at https://www.ovationtix.com/trs/pr/60282

(Spoiler alert if you read below! Spoiler alert if you read below!)

"Thank you, Katie."
Those words are the surprisingly subtle climax in a production of far larger and louder moments. While they may not be the climax of the play as written, as heartbreakingly uttered by Karen Sternberg's in her luminescent portrayal of Teri Guffin, they are the human center of this production. Under Nat Cassidy's direction in the tiny Manhattan Theatre Source space, David Ian Lee's sprawling epic political thriller Sleeper compresses around Sternberg's performance to become a play about the ownership of loss.

Teri knows loss: she has lost her romantic relationship with Al (Craig Lee Thomas), a man far more capable of intimacy than her husband Bobby (David Ian Lee); she and Bobby have lost their daughter Katie to a truly horrific illness; and over the course of the first act, she will lose Bobby to the lure of a life of meaning, building roads in Afghanistan. When Bobby is kidnapped by Kadir (Micah Chartrand), a Pashtun determined to repel the imperialist do-gooders, it appears that Teri may have lost him completely.

In the second act, she uses the fame brought her by Bobby's capture to become the leader of a progressive political movement. This brings Teri into direct conflict with Rachel (Kristen Vaughan), a right wing talk show host who capitalizes on the War on Terror to become a mega-star. It was Rachel who broke the news of Bobby's capture, and she has passionately fixated on the truth of his uncertain whereabouts on her program, The American Agenda. The center of Act 2 is the scene where Teri goes on the Agenda to challenge Rachel's politics, only to have Rachel shock her with the truth of Bobby's whereabouts. The two woman fight for ownership of Bobby's loss, and Rachel seems to win.

That's when the page who has been running the interview shows clear sympathy for the heartbroken Teri, and Teri asks her name in gratitude. In that moment, feeling the loss of her husband, which reminds her of the loss of her daughter, Teri shows her true character by reaching out to thank this stranger who works for her enemy. When the page says her name is Katie, something about that coincidence, that little karmic gift in that moment of incredible need, makes Sternberg's reply, "Thank you, Katie", feel like the realization that Rachel can NEVER own Bobby's loss; that is only hers, Katie's loss is now only hers, and for the first time in the play, she is grateful for it.

Teri's journey into an ownership of loss echoes out to Mahid, an unwilling ally of Kadir, who doesn't want the US to own the death of his father (an architect in Afghanistan who became a janitor working at the Twin Towers); and it echoes out to Rachel, who uses the deaths "of the 3,000", (as she calls the victims of 9/11) to wage an impossibly righteous and incredibly lucrative war on the Left. Katie's death, the central loss in this play of loss, is given to Mahid by Bobby, and he repays that gift by denying a terrible man ownership of Bobby's death; and it is given to Rachel by Teri in the final scene of the play, where at last Rachel is called to account for making politics of the most intimately personal.

When Flux developed Sleeper at Flux Sunday, I was struck by the overwhelming power of Rachel within the play. She is by far the wittiest, smartest and most vital character in Sleeper; as Bobby is drugging himself and Teri is sputtering forth Leftist platitudes, Rachel omnivorously devours every good thing in sight with the righteous pleasure of one of God's chosen. At Flux Sundays, this role was indelibly stamped in my mind by Jane Taylor, who twirled malevolently through Rachel's verbal and moral twists with voracious delight and humanity. Though we had many excellent Teri's read the role, Jane's Rachel seemed the black hole center of the play; making its climax the moment where Rachel watched the mysterious video tape revealing the truth about the Guffins.

But in this production, all the great reckonings of the play happen in such a little room that the more subtle journey of Teri takes over; and Cassidy and Sternberg have found a vitality, though wounded and uncertain, to rival Rachel's. In a seemingly throw away 1st act scene with Al, Teri defines herself as someone bad at grief and so ill-suited for life; by the end of the play, she owns and belongs to both. I hope readers of this blog will make the trek to see her journey in David's thorny and heartfelt play, and I hope this play will see further production. There are very few plays that can take the impossible contradictions of politics and transmute them into the simple loss of a daughter, of a father, of a lover. Sleeper not only viscerally gives us that loss, but finds the difficult way to move from it back into life.
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Flux Sunday, July 13th

Monday, July 21, 2008 0 comments

Our second Flux Sunday back from Midsummer had the heart of a con man. Cons of the dishonest kind were being played in me tentatively titled new play, Denny and Lila, and of the probably dishonest kind in David Ian Lee's Dog Show, and of the most earnest kind in Johnna Adam's Oneida, Servants of Motion.

Needing a break from wrestling with the thorny angels and slippery devils of Other Bodies, I wrote the first scene of a con play. Got to love a con play - everyone needs something and they're usually doing something interesting to get it. But of course, my damn head is already twisting it into some darker thing about love and lust and knowing how to trust those things - but for now, it was just about three people conning a woman too smart to see how she's being taken. This was especially exciting as it marked the Flux Sunday directorial debut of Amy Fitts, and she got vibrant performances from Ingrid Nordstrom as Mary and Elise Link as Jabber.
the benefits of communal marriage for less than desirable men. The fake pamphlet she created easily belongs in the Flux Sunday hall of fame, right next to Johnna's lovingly designed snake-cages-on-pages. Ah, Hot Biblical Love! Read the full story


Candice Holdorf's Curtains at The Hatchet

(Photo: Isaiah Tanebaum, Pictured: Michael Davis, Nitya Vidyasagar, Candice Holdorf, Brian Pracht)
Yes, she's a warm, loving, talented, vegan, master chef, yoga professional sweetheart. But...she is also fierce. If the picture from Midsummer above isn't enough proof, our Candice Holdorf is now writing theatre reviews for The Hatchet. As befits a Georgian, she rates the plays with peaches. And her reviews at Curtains are more than just fierce - they are funny, insightful and hopeful. Check 'em out!
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Flux Sunday, July 6th

Well, after a long break courtesy of our production of Midsummer, Flux returned to our weekly workshop process, Flux Sundays. And it was good to be back! For those of us who worked on Midsummer directly, it was the perfect cure for the post play blues. And for those who didn't, it was good to jump back into our three hour fix. Autumn Horne brought her photographer friend,
"Were you ever instructed by a wise and eloquent man? Remember then, were not the words that made your blood run cold, that brought the blood to your cheeks, that made you tremble or delighted you,—did they not sound to you as old as yourself? Was it not truth that you knew before, or do you ever expect to be moved from the pulpit or from man by anything but plain truth. Never. It is God in you that responds to God without, or affirms his own words trembling on the lips of another."
-Ralph Waldo Emerson
But Rob didn't just direct this Sunday...he also brought the first scene of a VERY exciting new play about a descendant of Ralph Waldo Emerson who may or may not be possessed by his famous ancestor. Call Me Waldo features some working class guys rattled when one of their own suddenly starts uttering Ralph's raptures. Lee, played by Isaiah Tanenbaum in one of his finest Flux performances, only wants to keep his life together, and wants none of the attention his wife (Gretchen Poulos) and co-worker Gus (David Douglas Smith) start pouring on him. This was a really exciting first scene (well directed by Brian Pracht) funny and heartfelt, and we are all excited to see what comes next.

(OK, I'm running out of steam with these headers). We then looked at my now favorite scene from Johnna Adam's Oneida, Servants of Motion. Oneida is set in an historical utopian community run by the charismatic founder John Humphrey Noyes. Noyes' creates a communistic heaven on earth, where every resource is shared and a complex marriage is practiced. Men and women take partners as they choose (often prompted by Noyes' eugenics), with the men practicing a male continence taught to them as pubescent boys by woman past child-bearing age. But wait, don't move to this paradise just yet! This scene picks up as Tirzah, denied her love for music and Edward because favoritism doesn't belong in Heaven, is playing the piano on the body of her uncle/lover Noyes in her sleep. Pregnant with a child she is determined to name Haydn after the music she and Edward were playing when they fell too much in love, Noyes realizes he must show Tirzah the harsh truth of her now exiled lover Edward if her heart will ever belong to the community again. Anne, the head of the Criticism community and the only non-direct relative of Noyes to rise to power, produces a series of letters from Edward in the outside world where he denounces his love for Tirzah and their child. David played Noyes, Candice Holdorf a gentle and unsettling Anne, and Amy Fitts a haunted but still passionate Tirzah in this lovely scene.

We ended with a rewrite from our Fringe play, Other Bodies, with Heather Cohn getting white knuckle performances from Aaron as Terry and Jane as Time.

It was good, very good, to be back.
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Other Bodies at FringeNYC

Thursday, July 17, 2008 0 comments

"How like a lover, the body promises and gives, and promises and gives, and then watches each gift go...""My body is not my body. My voice is not my voice."
(Photo: Isaiah Tannenbaum, Terry: Vince Nappo, Time et. al: Christina Shipp)

Flux's Season of Transformation continues with Other Bodies, a fever dream of a play following Terry, a notorious player, whose pursuit of a mysterious woman leads to obsession and violence. What begins as a seductive battle of the sexes deepens into a haunting parable of the way our bodies betray us.
Other Bodies
Playwright: August Schulenburg
Director: Heather Cohn
Stage Manager: Cat Adler-Josem
Set/Light Designer: Jason Paradine
Costume Designers: Tiffany Clementi and Hannah Rose Peck
Sound Designer: Asa Wember
Dramaturg: Ingrid Nordstrom
Vince Nappo* and Christina Shipp

Our Dates
Sunday, August 10th @ 12 noon

Saturday, August 16th @ 8:45pm

Sunday August 17th @4:15pm

Wednesday, August 20th @ 6:45pm

Friday, August 22nd @3:45pm

Our Location
The Flamboyan Theatre

CSV Cultural and Education Center
107 Suffolk St (between Rivington & Delancey)
Part of the New York International Fringe Festival
A Production of The Present Company

Tickets go on sale on July 20th - please join us as we continue wrestling with how life transforms the body against the bodies will.
(Photo: Isaiah Tannenbaum, Terry: Vince Nappo, Time et. al: Christina Shipp)
"I can still remember how her one bracelet kept sliding down her left arm, and how she kept pulling it up without noticing. She always wore her hair up but that night, one little strand kept falling down, and she kept tucking it back as if that one little strand might unravel everything. Whenever she was thinking, she would swirl her wine and stare into the red of it, like she was hypnotizing herself. And so when at the very end of the night, staring into the fourth glass, swirling it for a long time, her bracelet fell; she finished the wine, stood up, pulled up her bracelet, tucked her hair back; wine, bracelet, hair and I lost myself completely."
(Photo: Isaiah Tannenbaum, Terry: Vince Nappo, Time et. al: Christina Shipp)
"There was a house with one light on, and a shadow, and even though I stood some fifty feet away I knew exactly who that shadow was. Not all that far away a train was coming, or going. I felt other lights in other houses but I could only walk towards one. The shadow drew closer to the window and I could see the curve of her body and just as I saw her hair was down, it was down, my cell phone rang, and it was him."
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New Roots -- Sam Dingman interviews Isaiah Tanenbaum

Sunday, July 13, 2008 0 comments

(photo: Shalin Scupham. Flute: Isaiah Tanebaum, Snout: Nick Monroy, Bottom: Christina Shipp)

Today marks our return to more regular Flux blogging post Midsummer madness, and there is MUCH to blog about. To begin, check out this link for The New Roots Project, a fascinating new venture led by actor Sam Dingman to find common ground between the Indie Theatre, Film and Comedy communities in New York City. After attending the exciting second annual Indie Theatre Convocation yesterday (more on that anon), I am even more excited by Sam's exciting endeavor.
Sam interviewed Associate Member Isaiah Tannenbaum on camera, and his lively and articulate thoughts on being an actor in NYC, and a part of Flux, can be found here.
I also spoke with Sam, both about my role as Artistic Director of Flux, and his ideas for what New Roots can be; and I am excited to find opportunities for future collaboration both with New Roots and the wider Indie Theatre, Film and Comedy communities. (Of course, I also need to finish rewriting Other Bodies...and more on that anon as well!) Read the full story


A Requiem for a Hot Summer's Dream - Part One

Friday, July 4, 2008 1 comments

Well...it's over. As ever, the closing of a show is both a relief (free nights!) and a loss, and that is doubly so for me with this production. It was an overwhelming process, with the play continually opening up to reveal new opportunities and challenges. As I wrote in my director's statement in the program:

"All the characters in this wood have been torn in some way, and in this play of weavers (magical and otherwise), some are mended, and most are forgiven. And I am torn, too, for all the moments in the play I could not find a way, or time, to report. The play has streaked our eyes with Love, and we are chasing it through the woods, but it will not stay for us. And I know now Midsummer isn't done so often because it is easy, but because it is so hard. We got some of it, our own unique little thread of the pattern. I know you can never get all of this dream. I know it hath no bottom. And if you pardon that, we will mend."

I wrote that a few days before we opened, and it feels even more true a few weeks after we closed. I still dream of the play, and I haven't found a way to let go of it yet. What follows is an attempt to let the play go by sharing that little thread we found.

When I was working on the play before production, it was hard to find a working manual of the play. There was much theoretical opinion, but little record of how all the innumerable challenges and obstacles of the play had been and could be solved. The exception was Michael Pennington' User's Guide, which gave much useful advice even as it relegated the play to a lesser of Shakespeare's comedies; a relegation I am unwilling to make.

So here is my own User's Guide of the play, for whoever happens to find it. Maybe the discoveries and mistakes we made can aid another company in their own journey through A Midsummer Night's Dream.

How to Begin
(photo: Shalin Scupham)
Do you begin with Theseus' first words? Or do you frame the play, pairing some kind of Prologue against Puck's famous Epilogue? We chose two frames - the first could be called the Summoning of the Shadows. Oberon stands in light, his shadow breaking towards the audience, as Puck appears from underneath his cape. Puck walks towards the audience, eventually revealing the flower that will become the Love-In-Idleness. As Puck walks, the actors of the play cross past foot lights on either side of the house, their shadows flickering against the back wall. As they walk past the corners of the audience, they look as if they are carrying a secret that the audience may or may not be ready for. Puck extends the flower to someone in the first row, but before the audience member can grab it, a soldier grabs one of the poles symmetrically placed to match the columns in the West End and slams it rhythmically against the floor.
(photo: Shalin Scupham)
What did this accomplish? Most simply, it was a gateway into a different world. All of the above was done in silence, and because this production used no sign designer, that silence before the torrent of words and sounds to follow was an effective transition. Additionally, it established our focus on Oberon and Puck's relationship, our use of shadows, and linked the offering of the Love-In-Idleness to the Puck's spell in the Epilogue.
(photo: Shalin Scupham)
The War: As Michael Swarz (Moth, but in this moment a soldier) began pounding the PVC pipe against the floor, other soldiers joined suit, moving the symmetrical PVC pre-set location to a wide hallway, angled down stage right. Our only other set pieces besides the 6 different pipes and bases were 1 wide circle unit 3 feet off the ground, 2 narrow circle units 2 feet off the ground, and 1 medium circle unit 1 foot off the ground. From these poles and circles, all of our many looks were created - one of the design elements I was most proud of (thank you Will Lowry!)
But I was talking about The War. How present do you make the most recent war between the Athenians and Amazons? Our amazing dramaturg Ingrid Nordstrom and I spent a great deal of time researching the 'history' of Hippolyta and Theseus, with much of it contradictory but all of it rich; and from those sources and through conversation with actors Aaron Michael Zook and Frederique Nahmani, we came up with the following story:
Theseus met the Amazon Queen when his kinsman, Hercules, was winning Hippolyta's girdle. Hippolyta later traveled with Hercules (and were probably lovers) all throughout Greece, at which time Theseus was the lover of Hippolyta's sister, Antiope. However, after Hercules left, Theseus fell madly in love with Hippolyta, and kidnapped her by force. The Amazons followed, and a war was fought between the two countries. In the final battle, Hippolyta nearly escaped, and Theseus wounded her badly. She has been his captive for some time now, and with the Amazons crushed, she has little choice but to accept his will or die.
(photo: Isaiah Tanenbaum)
So how did we tell that complex story simply? As the soldiers created Theseus' palace, they pounded in a war-like rhythm as Philostrate forced Hippolyta into the down right corner. As Theseus rose to his throne, created by all the circle units, Hippolyta refused to put on a dress and stood there in her warrior garb, bandages still covering where Theseus wounded her. As the pounding of the soldiers' spears grew deafening, and their shouts grew louder, and then all stops as Theseus says:
Now fair Hippolyta, our nuptial hour Draws on apace:
Hippolyta, in a dangerous situation, can neither say no (she would be killed with this room of angry Athenians glaring at her) nor say yes; and it is no surprise that she likens the moon to a 'silver bow' aimed at their shotgun wedding.
Theseus, realizing he cannot win her love through force, says:
Hippolyta, I woo'd thee with my sword, And won thy love, doing thee injuries: But I will wed thee in another key, With pomp, with triumph, and with revelling.
Up until "wed thee in another key", Theseus spoke privately as possible to Hippolyta, almost gently, realizing all his military might couldn't win her love; but then Hippolyta thrusts the unwanted dress in his hands, rejecting his gentleness, and giving his final 'triumph' a violent, military feeling that made the soldiers pound their spears in anticipation of seeing their enemy Amazon humiliated.
Through these choices, we attempted to illuminate the difference between Theseus' behavior with Hippolyta (gentle, uncertain, genuine) and his more public behavior with everyone else (forceful and manipulative). We also tried to articulate Hippolyta's impossible choice: to marry a man who slaughtered her people, but through him, wield great power; or to die. This scene was the beginning of her discovering how much her free will could be given free reign if she goes through with marriage.
The Sharp Athenian Law
(Photo: Isaiah Tanenbaum)
Yep...all those decisions in just one little page of text!
Keeping the military nature of Theseus' court running through the rest of the play, we chose to make Egeus and Demetrius soldiers in Theseus' Army. This clarifies the nature of all the relationships in exciting ways- if Demetrius has fought in a war with Egeus, then Egeus' preference for him seems less arbitrary. And if Egeus was a general in Theseus' army, then he must expect a ruling his favor.
One nice moment we found to deepen the relationship between Egeus and Thesues was when Theseus mitigates the sentence of death to that of a nunnery - in our production, Theseus makes sure this mitigation is acceptable to Egeus, making both men a little more human, and articulating the balance of power between a dictator and one of his most important vassals.
Either to die the death, or to abjure
For ever the society of men.

In an effort to further humanize Egeus, we created a back story that while Demetrius and Egeus were fighting in a war to save their country, Lysander was wooing Hermia; making the betrayal even more hurtful to them both, and casting Lysander in a more morally ambiguous light. We strengthened that ambiguity by having Lysander at first treating the court case almost flippantly, checking his watch when Theseus asks him to step forward, and gesturing innocently if one of the soldier's is the man Egeus is speaking of, forcing Egeues' 'thou, thou Lysander' in response, and giving his-
You have her father's love, Demetrius:
Let me have Hermia's: do you marry him.

-a truly scornful feeling to it.
We also slipped in a little humanizing comedy, with Egeus having brought Hermia's box of Lysander's gifts as evidence in the court, displaying each awful thing as if it were a drug before dumping all of it on the floor:
(Photo: Isaiah Tanenbaum)
Prop designer Kelly O'Donnell did an amazing job of creating all the horrors in Egeus' list, though we didn't get to spend enough time to really mine this moment for all it was worth.
As the scene continues, the choices of how dark to make this first scene of an allegedly light hearted comedy keep coming. I'm not sure we struck the perfect balance, and this is one of the scenes that I wish we'd had more time with in rehearsal, to more deeply capture the terror of the law that has been swung into its unstoppable motion.
(Photo: Isaiah Tanenbaum)
However, we did keep the tension between Hippolyta and Theseus alive in the room, as Theseus keeps trying to finish the judgement so he can deal with the more pressing matter of his troublesome nuptials; this allowed his frustration (strengthened by the reveal that he knew of Demetrius' doubl-dealing with Helena) to build towards the climax of:
I must confess, that I have heard so much, And with Demetrius thought to have spoke thereof: Bu being over-full of self-affairs, My mind did lose it. But Demetrius come, And come Egeus, you shall go with me, I have some private schooling for you both.
At this private schooling line, we had Theseus forcibly pull Egeus away from his daughter, helping with the always vexing question of why Egeues and Demetrius would leave Lysander and Hermia alone together. Here, it was Theseus' justifiable anger at being brought in as the arbiter of a domestic dispute.
(Photo: Isaiah Tanenbaum)
We even had Hippolyta run and stand in between Theseus and Hermia on:
(Which by no means we may extenuate)
To death, or to a vow of single life.

Come my Hippolyta, what cheer, my love?

Later, this choice of making Hippolyta a silent champion for Hermia against the patriarchal system that would leave her a nun or dead will bear fruit in Theses giving her the gift of the triple nuptial (but more on that anon).

Stay tuned for more as I try, little by little, to set down what I remember of this Dream of ours.

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