Category Archives: Reviews


Last week I had the opportunity to see the opening night performance of Tongue in Cheek Theater’s production of Whale Song or: Learning to Live with Mobyphobia by Claire Kiechel. Now, anyone who reads my blog, (and anyone who knows me personally) knows that I consider Tongue In Cheek a kind of unofficial sister company to GTTP. And, I absolutely love TIC Artistic Director, Jake Lipman, as both a director/actor and as a friend. I first met her, through former GTTP Ensemble Member, Kiwi Callahan (thanks, Kiwi), who said, “I just auditioned for this company and the artistic director is someone you should totally meet. You guys will get along so well.” Turns out she was right. You see, not only is Jake extraordinarily talented, what she does with TIC often serves as a blueprint for what Molly and I want for Tahiti. In fact, on Whale Song, GTTP took the opportunity to embed Molly Ballerstein into TIC for the production as she acted as Assistant Director/Stage Manager for Whale Song and Jake got the opportunity to see all those amazing qualities of Molly that made me drag her into the Co-Executive Director position here at GTTP. Yup, we’re all one big family in theater.

One thing, Jake, we need it to be clear that Molly is on loan to TIC. You can’t haver her permanently. :)

Matt Sydney as Shep and Shelley Little as Maya.
Photo by Maeghan Donohue

Anywho, where was I? Oh, yes, TIC productions – I make it my business to see everything I can that the company produces and I am never disappointed. And so, it will I’m sure come as no surprise that Whale Song was no different.

A quirky, funny, little show, Whale Song follows pre-school teacher Maya (TIC regular, Shelley Little) on a quest for answers following the death of her father (Brady Adair) in a whale tank at Sea World. When a humpback whale begins circling the island of Manhattan, Maya refuses to believe it’s all a coincidence.

As usual with TIC shows, the production is incredibly enjoyable. I always look forward to Jake’s inventive staging and her ability, as a director, to play with tone so that the audience is laughing one minute and crying the next (more on that in a minute). The set is simple but elegant, and the sound design gives the show a life that helps carry you out of a small blackbox theater in Manhattan and into the mind of the character Maya, whether she’s in her pre-school classroom, or her apartment living room getting absorbed in the constant news reports about the humpback whale circling Manhattan.

As expected Whale Songwas very funny and (what should also have been expected) extremely poignant (when will I learn -

Tracy Willet as Sue the Soothsayer & Jake Lipman as Calista Grey.
Photo by Maeghan Donohue

always, always, always bring tissues to a TIC show, because though the company’s mission is to provide thought-provoking comedies, and though they accomplish that mission really well, (and I’m always going to have more than one good ol’ fashioned guffaw), for me it seems “thought-provoking” = “Jessica will, in fact, be crying her eyes out before the show is over,” so yeah, tissues would have been a good idea.

The six actors in Whale Song were natural and delightful throughout the show. Jake, playing local TV news reporter, Calista Grey, nailed that “perky on air news personality” at the same time she gave the character the edge that was needed to needle and spar with Ms. Little’s Maya Swan. Tracy Willet (as Sarah Swan), Matt Sydney (as Shep the motherf*cking drummer), Jared Shirkey (as Mark), and Brady Adair (as James Swan) all did a lovely job with multiple characters, creating a vibrant world peopled by interesting folks who intersect unexpectedly throughout the show.

Jared Shipkey as Mark and Shelley Little as Maya.
Photo by Maeghan Donohue

But, while talking about performances, I must call out one particularly extraordinary moment in a play filled with really lovely ones, and here it is: if you have not seen Jared Shirkey, play drunk, you have not heard Mozart as it was meant to be played. In other words Mr. Shirkey plays a brilliant drunk. I honestly thought the dude had downed a bottle of Jack Daniels before the drunk scene and only afterhe appeared in the next scene – stone cold sober – did I realize the extent of his genius. I’ve seen good performances of drunk characters…I’ve even seen good drunk performances (yup as in drunk actor performing) but I’ve never, on stage, seen such a realistic and spot-on portrayal of a drunk character. Even if there was nothing else to recommend this show, I would tell you not to miss that scene, but, as I believe I made clear above, there’s a lot to sing about (yeah, I know. I totally went there)

Brady Adair as James Swan.
Photo by Maeghan Donohue

with Whale Song. Catch it while you can.

Whale Song plays through November 8th at The Bridge Theater at Shetler Studios. More details go to






Disclaimer – despite what this may look like from the first paragraph, this is a review for Tongue In Cheek’s production of their original play, Buffalo Heights, and, spoiler alert — I totally loved it…

After/Since Within Arm’s Reach ended, I’ve been thinking a lot — and I mean A LOT — about what we, as GTTP, do and where we fit in the off-off-Broadway landscape. I believe I have mentioned here before that it’s always tricky to get an audience, to get butts in the seats — not just because we’re a small company who can’t afford to hire a big PR firm to get the buzz going but also because we focus on original work. And though we do great stuff, it’s unknown stuff so we don’t have the built in audience of a production of Guys and Dolls, or West Side Story…or, if we’re talking plays, The Glass Menagerie or Our Town. You see, I didn’t start GTTP just for the fun of it, and Molly (now that there’s a Molly) and I aren’t doing it just for the heck of it. Partially we’re doing it because we have no choice — we’re directors. And if we don’t have a project we have trouble functioning in the world but also, we do this because we want this little theater thing we do to become, if not a profitable enterprise, at least a break even enterprise. And, as Annie Savoy says in the film Bull Durham, “baseball may be a religion full of magic, cosmic truth, and the fundamental ontological riddles of our time, but it’s also a job.” And I feel that way about theater and GTTP — theater may be a passion, a necessity, a religion to us practitioners, but it’s also a job. We want it to pay our bills not just our souls. So, when I think about all of this and I think about the complexities of finding an audience and reaching out to the universe (especially the NYC theater-going universe) I inevitably think about competition. I think about other theater companies that are like us, who do similar things to what we do and it’s very easy to tip into jealousy and envy and it can sometimes be hard to enjoy watching what others do (even when it impresses me) if I see them as competition. Then again, as self-centered as it sounds, I always know how impressed I am with a production if my appreciation busts through that mask of jealousy and envy and I walk away from it just loving what I’ve seen…

Jake Lipman and Shelley Little in BUFFALO HEIGHTS. Photo credit: Maeghan Donohue

Which brings me to Tongue In Cheek. As I have mentioned before, Tongue In Cheek Productions is a theater company that I love. In the past few years I’ve seen 3 shows from TIC – Our Town, The Mistakes Madeleine Made, and How I Learned to Drive, and I’ve been impressed by all of them. In many ways, I think of TIC as a sister company to GTTP. TIC is a small company that’s been around for more than a couple years but fewer than ten. TIC was created by and is run by a woman, Jake Lipman. They use a core ensemble of players but also uses outside actors on a by production basis, they also won a Puffin Grant, and, a lot of their set pieces are from Ikea. ;) I also think of Jake as a friend. I love her directing and her acting and I’m always excited to see what she does. However, with all those similarities and more, up until recently the company differed from GTTP in one key way — TIC focused on revivals. That changed with their most recent production, the original piece, commissioned and developed by Tongue in Cheek Theater Productions, Buffalo Heights. 

Buffalo Heights is a new comedy which follows new teacher, Fran, on her first semester teaching French at Buffalo Heights High. When controversy erupts at the school, Fran (Jake Lipman) encounters unexpected adversaries and allies.

Nina Leese and Allison Lemel in BUFFALO HEIGHTS. Photo credit: Maeghan Donohue

To be honest, although I always enjoy TIC’s work, I was wary about seeing Buffalo Heights  for a couple of reasons — #1) You know, this isn’t what TIC normally does, what if it wasn’t any good and I had to find something to tell Jake after the show — “uh, that was interesting” — without saying, “yeah, stick to what you know.” or more likely #2) What if it’s amazing and it’s better than what GTTP does and it’s incredible and brilliant, and now TIC decides to abandon revivals all together and only do original works and become direct competition for GTTP and what if they do it better than us and what if nobody wants to see GTTP anymore because TIC is doing the same thing but they’re doing it better and what if my jealousy ruins my friendship with Jake and I, and they, and we, and, and, and, after all this is our little pond, what if there isn’t room enough for both of us and, and, and… (as you can see, I can spiral out of control pretty easily).

BUT guess what happened? I saw the show and it was awesome. It was witty and fun and thought provoking and surprising. First off, the show was wonderfully performed (as I’ve come to expect from TIC shows). Jake (as Fran), was terrific as the outsider character entering an unjust community and finding herself in the middle of a fight she hadn’t expected. Shelley Little was hilarious balancing the officiousness of an ambitious school principal with a desire to still be a friend to Fran. Joe Mullen, as the hapless security guard, effortlessly crossed the line between sweet and innocent and totally skeevy (I mean that in the best possible way), and then back again. Nina Leese was fun as the local congresswoman so focused on the politics of her career that she is blind to the behavior of her own daughter. Allison Lemel found a perfect level of obnoxious, self centered teenager when portraying the “running for Class President” Piper. And Matthew Whitfield was fantastic, rebellious and lovable, as the reformed stoner student who dares to enter into competition with Piper. But, of course none of this is a surprise. You see Jake is one of those directors who knows the best way to make her job easier is to cast well — and she always delivers.

And then there was the play itself — devised by the TIC Ensemble cast with playwright Adam Harrell, Buffalo Heights is really funny. Again, as expected from a TIC show, I found myself laughing out loud throughout the show. But, more importantly, as a person who has seen A LOT of theater and film and television, and so is not often surprised by where a plot goes, what I really enjoyed about Buffalo Heights was the fact that during the show there were several moments where I thought to myself, “oh, this is that plot line” or “oh, so if we’re coming from here, we’re going to end up there” and? I was wrong every time — which was awesome, surprising, and downright fun.

Matthew Whitfield and Jake Lipman in BUFFALO HEIGHTS. Photo Credit: Maeghan Donohue

So, here’s what it boils down to: #1) Go see Buffalo Heights. #2) Much to my surprise (yes, I’ll admit to my petty jealousies), I hope this is only the first of many original productions from TIC, because seriously, they know what they’re doing! (Again, this is not acutally a surprise, it’s just, wow! Good stuff all around! I love their revivals but it turns out I love their original work too. And, most importantly, #3) It looks like seeing Buffalo Heights set off a little paradigm shift in my mind when it comes to comparing myself and GTTP to other companies of our ilk, to seeing ourselves in competition with them and others, and here it is — you ready? So, not to get all hippy dippy or anything, but… THERE IS NO COMPETITION! I don’t mean that in the sense that one of us is so much better than the other that it blows the other one out of the water but I mean this as an actual, literal — there. Is. No. Competition! It’s so easy in this business to see everything as a competition — “but that’s our money”, “that’s our audience,” “you can’t be good too because then those same people will go see your shows and not mine”. But it doesn’t have to be that way. The sandbox is big enough for us all to play in — especially, when it’s Tongue In Cheek that we’re talking about — and, when it comes to TIC, I’ll even share my shovel and pail…look, Ma. I’m growing.

Buffalo Heights runs May 13th – 17th at The Bridge Theater in Shetler Studios, 244 West 54th Street, 12th Floor. Tickets available here.

HOW I LEARNED TO DRIVE from Tongue in Cheek Productions

Recently I had the opportunity to see Tongue in Cheek Theater’s production of Paula Vogel’s How I Learned to Drive, directed by Jake Lipman, at The Bridge Theater at Shetler Studios. Yes, the same Shetler Studios where we’ll be opening The Sandman’s Coming on Thursday. In fact, How I Learned to Drive will be running right next door to us for several of our performances. Now you might think that would be a bad thing – why would we want competition? Right? But really it’s just such a wonderful coincidence of timing. You see, I LOVE Tongue in Cheek Theater. After Going to Tahiti Productions, they are, hands down, my favorite indy off-off-Broadway theater company in the city. I’ve now seen 3 shows of theirs - Our Town, The Mistakes Madeline Made, and now, How I Learned to Drive – and I am continually impressed with the high caliber of work that they do. And, the idea of having them next door to us while we are doing our run? Well, that’s just all kinds of good mojo and we theater people are very big with the mojo.

Jake Lipman as Li’l Bit and Lynn Berg as Uncle Peck
photograph by Maeghan Donohue c.2013

But I digress – this is a review so – How I Learned to Drive. I walked into the show knowing nothing about it…no, that’s not true, I knew the play had won a Pulitzer…I knew Jake was directing it…and, uh, I knew it had something to do with driving? (I mean, that’s in the title). But, seriously, I knew very little about it. I know, I know, you’re thinking – “but Jess, you’re a theater person! Of course you know How I Learned to Drive.” Nope. I knew nothing about it and, because of my whole spoiler thing, once I realized I was going to see it, I didn’t want to know anything about it. I just wanted to see it fresh. So I went into it cold – I had no expectations (beyond my normal expectation of a TIC production: that it was going to be an evening of good theater) – and I wasn’t disappointed.

Ok, for the spoiler averse, skip this paragraph: How I Learned to Drive chronicles the formative years of precocious teen, Li’l Bit (Jake Lipman), who yearns to get out of her small town and away from her dysfunctional family. The play tells the story of a troubling relationship Li’l Bit has with an older man; and, using driving as a metaphor, it explores issues of pedophilia, incest, control and manipulation. To be honest, the subject matter makes it a bit tough to watch and yet, in the hands of Ms. Lipman and her cast it was a thought-provoking, surprising, funny and, at times, devestating, show.

The cast was superb across the board but I need to single out both Lynn Berg as Uncle Peck and Ms. Lipman herself as Li’l Bit. First a word about Lynn Berg. This is a tough role, folks – a really tough role. It would be so easy for this character to come off as really skeevy and that’s it. I mean, the character is a full grown adult, in an incredibly inappropriate, (not to mention) illegal relationship with a young girl. But there was such subtlety to Mr. Berg’s performance. It’s not that you were sympathetic to him exactly (you know, read the previous sentence), it was more that, through Mr. Berg’s performance, you see Uncle Peck as a victim as much as a predator. And, you see genuine kindness and affection from Uncle Peck. You see why Li’l Bit is conflicted in her feelings for him. AND, you see something not easily characterized as sensationalistic or flashy. It’s instead just the easy grubbiness of real life situations that are complex and painful and confusing.

Mr. Berg has a capable counterpart in Jake Lipman as Li’l Bit. Her performance as well is subtle and powerful, funny and heart-wrenching. In her hands Li’l Bit is such a real person – a study in contradictions – strong and weak, old and young, knowledgable and naive – and you believe the conflict she feels in her relationship to this older, wiser, (inappropriately) affectionate man who clearly sees her in a way the rest of her family doesn’t. It isn’t cut and dry, it isn’t titillating and sensationalistic; it’s real and ugly and painful and confusing and funny and haunting and so so sad. And, as a director myself, I am truly amazed at Ms. Lipman’s ability to guide a production at the same time she completely merges herself into it.

photograph by Maeghan Donohue c.2013

The supporting cast – Michael Edmund, Holland Hamilton, Shelley Little and Joan D. Saunders are equally fine. Playing multiple roles who orbit Uncle Peck and Li’l Bit, each actor has the challenge of playing “Greek Chorus” members as well as specific characters and they all step up to the task with skill and grace.

The play is beautifully directed – actually it’s the best kind of direction – not noticeable. The pace is perfect and the show flows beautifully. It was so smooth that when I first sat down and realized there was no intermission, I was concerned. How would I sit through 90 minutes of, you know, talking? (I know, I know. That’s, like, what theater is. And I love theater, so why would I be concerned by it? And yet, I’ve seen so much…so so much…bad off-off Broadway theater (Hell, I’ve seen some bad on Broadway theater) that the fear of being trapped with no intermission, is a legitamate fear – it can be interminable). But, of course, in the always deft and capable hands of Jake Lipman, I had nothing to worry about.

The simple evocative set – an oversized picnic table and two benches – seamlessly becomes the front seat of a car, a dock at a fishing hole, a hotel bedroom – at the same time it gives you a sense of nostalgia for a seemingly simpler and easier time.

In the end, How I Learned to Drive is about a woman learning the rules of life the way some of us learn the rules of the road – from friends or loved ones, slowly,  frighteningly, sometimes painfully, but always, in the end, on our own.

How I Learned to Drive runs through November 2nd. Performances are Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings at 8pm. All performances are at The Bridge Theare @ Shetler Studios (literally right next door to Theatre 54 where we’ll be performance The Sandman’s Coming - just saying). For tickets and further details visit the Tongue In Cheek website and don’t miss this terrific and haunting production.


Bella’s Dream is done for now…what comes next?

Ah, my dear gentle readers,

Everything I know about fundraising and marketing and general business practices says, “never start with an apology” but alas, I owe you all an apology. Throughout this whole production, I was really good about posting weekly on updates about the show and then just as the show opened, the time when you most want updates on the inner workings of a theater production, when all the juicy stuff comes out, I left you all in the lurch and the desired update was nowhere to be found…and continued to be lost in the ether – indefinitely. I heartily apologize for having abandoned you all…(and because my comments thing doesn’t work and I have no idea if anyone other than my mom reads this blog, I, when I say “you all”, of course mean, mom). All I can say as justification is – it’s been a crazy summer…

So, as I’m sure you know from Facebook – what’s that you say? You haven’t liked Going to Tahiti Productions yet? Well, let’s just remedy that right now. Click here to like us on FB and get all the up to the minute details…but I digress.

The run of Bella’s Dream was extraordinary. We started slow but built, over the two weeks, to a few great reviews and a final SOLD OUT performance. That’s right, a SOLD OUT performance! It was a fantatstic end to an intense show. So, what’s next you ask? Ah, a very good question. As far as what’s next for Bella’s Dream – the answer is, I honestly don’t know. I know that Dana and I both have no plans to abandon Bella and feel that there is much more life left in this little (or, should I say, not so little – it is a 14 member cast) show and we are exploring more options…that being said, I don’t think either of us anticipate any of those options happening before 2014 – but, who knows? The life of the theater is unpredictable to say the least so we shall just have to see. As far as GTTP’s production of Bella’s Dream is concerned, keep an eye out on the website for production photos which will hopefully be on our past productions page in the next few weeks.

The Joys of Talented Friends…

So, I’ve spent the last couple of posts kinda complaining about things that are tough about this business so today I wanted to talk about one of the wonderful things – through chatting with, working with people, networking and the general “birds of a feather flock together”-ness of theater folks – it’s very easy in this business to make friends with and establish connections to an incredible network of talented, like-minded folks. One of those people (in my tribe) is Jake Lipman, Actress and Artistic Director/Producer of Tongue In Cheek Theater Productions. We met through a mutual acquaintance who thought, “huh, you both are women with theater companies who have similar views on the world and are, like 5′ tall, y’all should meet” and introduced us. I know what your thinking, you’re thinking, “well, I don’t know if that’s really enough similarities to base a lasting friendship on, there must be thousands of women with theater companies out there.” In response to you I say 1) frighteningly, there actually aren’t all that many women-run theater companies out there so we’ll flock together whenever we can AND, more importantly, 2) one of my mother’s best and longest friendships (we’re talking like 40 years here) came about because a mutual friend of theirs noticed they were both pregnant at the same time and so “would have a lot in common” and that acquaintance turned into a life-long friendship (see the 40 years thing). So clearly, if the universe wants you to be friends with someone, it will find a way to push y’all together, even if, at first glance, the similarities are only on the surface.

But, as usual, I digress… Tongue in Cheek is the same company that brought us last October’s terrific production of Our Town and, after that experience, you can imagine, how excited I was when Jake invited me to see Tongue In Cheek’s latest production, The Mistakes Madeline Made by Elizabeth Meriwether at The Bridge Theater at Shetler Studios. As I’m coming to expect from TIC Theater, this dark comedy was a great evening of theater, the only major drawback of which was the short run – only 7 performances. The play follows the story of recent grad Edna who takes a job assisting a wealthy family. She is visited by visions of her late brother Buddy and micromanaged by an insipid boss, Beth, compelling her to rebel with the help of quirky co-worker, Wilson. As she tries to find her way, throughout the play, Edna dates a series of pompous writers.

The play was filled with very funny/slightly surreal moments, which in and of itself was not much of a surprise considering the playwright would go on to create and produce the Fox television show New Girl, starring Zooey Deschanel. But what did surprise me was how moving the play managed to be in the midst of some “wackiness” and though I’m sure that was a factor of the writing, it was also due to the direction by Brock H. Hill and the work of the extraordinary cast.

Speaking of that cast – to be honest, the entire ensemble was wonderful. As Drake/Jake/Blake, Joe Mullen, with very little stage time, managed to create 3 entirely different characters while still portraying a clear archetype – “the pompous writer”. As Buddy, Jeremy Patrick Hamilton found the grounded reality of the “ghost” character, making him seem both a figure we completely know and a cipher we could never hope to know at the same time. Jake Lipman (and yes, I said she’s my friend so I’m a bit biased, but I’m also a director, I know real talent when I see it, and perhaps that is one of the reasons she IS my friend) Jake Lipman was hilarious as the insipid boss Beth, but she also played her in that way that only truly good comic actresses have of making sure that the character isn’t aware of the joke. Ms. Lipman’s Beth was so real that I actually broke out in a cold sweat at one point flashing back to conversations with those pointlessly irritating and particular bosses I’ve had in the past. Those bosses who’ve attended management seminars and read leadership self-help books and think, think, they are brilliant, people-managers. They think they’re the exact person who knows how to get the best out of talented people but instead are just completely clueless as to how to inspire committment, loyalty, and talent from their staff. And yet, in the midst of that very real portrait, Jake also gave us these little glimpses into the fact that as irritating and insipid as Beth is, she’s also a real person with feelings of her own-feelings that can easily be hurt. A.J. Heekin took a role that could have just been irritating or self-conciously quirky and turned Wilson into another real person, struggling with idiosyncracies and tics. Because of Mr. Heekin’s deft touch, very subtly and very quietly, Wilson moved from what seemed to be peripheral character to become the very heart of this little show. And Shelley Little – what to say about Ms. Little? I mentioned Shelley Little in my review of Our Town as I had been impressed with her work there but particularly in The Mistakes Madeline Made, I was blown away by her portrayal of Edna. We easily caught Edna’s wry humor and sarcastic shell holding everyone at arms length, but it was Shelley’s extremely moving portrayal of Edna’s inner weakness that, when exposed, became quietly devestating. By the end of the play, much to my surprise, I found myself reaching for tissue after tissue. (And, because it’s one of my pet peeves when an actress can’t do this, I want to specifically applaud Shelley Little for crying actual tears instead of just scrunching up her face and being “sad”. I’m a sympathetic crier from way back, so the actual tears were truly moving. )

As with Our Town, TIC once again was able to bring me humor interspersed with really moving, and emotionally effecting drama. Although The Mistakes Madeline Made has finished its run, I would like to HIGHLY recommend that you get yourself on their mailing list and be sure to catch whatever project they next have up their sleeves. You won’t be disappointed!

For more details on Tongue In Cheek Theater be sure to check their website here.

Meditations on Strong Women…and Wanting to be One – a Review of ANN

Recently I had the opportunity to see a dress rehearsal of ANN which opened for previews a week ago at Lincoln Center’s Vivian Beaumont Theater. An exploration of Ann Richards, the one-woman-show was created by Holland Taylor from a compilation of speeches, interviews and discussions with people who knew the former Texas Governor. As you can see from the image above, the show is subtitled “Tough as nails. Funny as hell.” and it seems to be a perfect encapsulation of the woman herself.

The play is bookended with a speech the governor is giving to a graduating class and the speech gives us an entry into and an exit out of Ms. Richards story — how her life began, how she became a mom and housewife, how she decided to get into politics, how she gave a keynote speech at the 1988 democratic convention that put her on a national stage and how she eventually became the governor of Texas. Partway through the play the set changes and we get a glimpse of Ann in her governor’s office, conducting the business of running the second largest state in the country.

Even if you don’t care for politics, this show is something you should see. I am not a particularly political person – don’t get me wrong, I have a political point of view and (honestly) very strong opinions about the political scene in this country but, beyond the occasional Facebook post, I don’t usually have much to say about the political world. The whole thing gives me a headache and makes me tired at the same time, so I usually don’t wade into that morass. And, when considering seeing ANN, my immediate reaction was that I didn’t really care about politics so why would I want to see a show all about politics. What’s more, going in to the play, I knew very little about Ann Richards beyond that she was a former governor of Texas. And, although I have always liked Holland Taylor, my experience of her as an actress has always been enjoyable but limited to the strong but supporting roles in movies and television that she has gravitated to. Basically, I had no idea if the subject matter would be particularly interesting or enlightening or entertaining and I had no idea if the actress/playwright would be able to carry the execution of an entire solo show…It turns out, an all counts, I shouldn’t have worried, I was in expert hands.

ANN is hilarious and touching, moving and fascinating. I was impressed with many things about the show — Ms. Taylor’s impeccable timing, her grace and her intelligence which shone clearly in her performance, but what really impressed me was the sense I got of Ann Richards as a woman — a funny, intelligent, balls-to-the-wall woman. Watching her have conversations with her secretary (an off stage presence you never see but instead hear through the phone’s intercom), various people on the phone (ranging from dignitaries like Bill Clinton, to her staff, to her children) and even herself, we see a woman who barrels through and gets the job done. She is a woman who is confident, sharp and witty, fiercely intelligent and in control, even when she’s not. And she’s one of those women who, as a woman watching, you want to be like. I can see why Ms. Taylor was drawn to her subject matter. Ann Richards was someone who was extremely capable, full of love for her children, her job, and her country. She devoted her life to public service and we were all the better for having had her in the world.

As a woman with a theater company dedicated to giving more opportunities to women, I am drawn to strong women, as characters and as people. So it is no surprise that watching ANN, I to was drawn to Ann. I found myself wanting to be like her a bit more in my life. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a pretty confident, sharp and witty, intelligent and in control woman myself; but, watching the play you can’t help but want to be that confident and that capable all the time. To the point that you don’t care what people think of you as long as you gets the job done and done right. Ann Richards clearly had a strong personality but she also clearly had a strong moral center and a clear idea of what needed doing and how to get it done. And though I’m sure there were times when that confidence and competence pushed the scale towards difficult and maybe even unlikable to the people around her, it’s clear from the play that she never wavered in who she was. I wished I had known her while she lived and I’m honored that I got to know her through this show. Holland Taylor gives an extraordinary performance that brings the audience in and lets us all get to know Ann Richards a little better.

ANN is in previews now at Lincoln Center’s Vivian Beaumont Theater. It opens for its limited Broadway run starting March 7th. For tickets and more details go to

Don’t miss your chance to meet and spend some time with these extraordinary women.

Tongue In Cheek’s OUR TOWN at Shetler Studios…

Last week, I had the opportunity to see a lovely new production of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, produced by Tongue in Cheek Productions. Our Town is one of those shows that has become so ubiquitous that (in the abstract) you wonder “why would anyone bother to do this show? Hasn’t it been done to death? What new things could anyone have to say about it?” It’s one of those shows that, as a friend of mine says – “every high school in America does it. Every four years they trot it out because it has a huge cast and no props, no set requirements and it’s safe for audiences of all ages”…And it’s what I thought until I saw this production and was reminded that beautiful writing and simple straightforward storytelling coupled with excellent acting and directing is always worthwhile. There’s always something new to say…

The first thing that struck me as I sat down in the audience, was the realization that, despite the play’s popularity, I had never actually seen a live performance of it before. Sure, I had read it countless times. And discussed the play itself but I had never seen it performed live. And then the show started and I was reminded, yet again, of the power of live theater. In the hands of a talented ensemble, you don’t need lots of flash and you don’t need millions of dollars to tell a compelling tale and take the audience with you on musings about the big — the meaning of life and death — and the small — two teenagers sharing an ice cream soda at the local general store — and how closely the two (big and small) are related.

For those of you unfamiliar with it, Our Town is a simple story about the happenings of a small town in New Hamshire. People go about living their lives and the play tells you about them. Nothing happens. But the power of the play is that moment when you realize that in examining a life where “nothing happens” you see that nothing is everything. Our Town is the embodiment of that idea, which I first heard so eloquently stated in the tv show Angel, (yup, I went there, and btw, god bless Joss Whedon) that “if nothing we do matters… , then all that matters is what we do. ‘Cause that’s all there is. What we do. Now. Today.” Our Town takes that idea and runs with it. What is a life? What does it mean? How do we make our lives matter? How do we appreciate it while we have it? And, what happens to us after we’re gone? It’s a quietly moving story and in the hands of Jake Lipman and the Tongue in Cheek ensemble, one that is beautifully told.

Across the board, the acting was superb, but I’d like to call particular attention to Nina Leese, Shelley Little, and Ms. Lipman herself. Nina Leese brought both gravitas and ease to the role of Mrs. Gibbs, fueling the heart of this bittersweet tale while also completely nailing the very ordinariness of life. Shelly Little portrayed Emily with both naivete and knowledge, making her a young woman coming into her own while still trying to hold onto the innocence of childhood. And, Jake Lipman, as the guiding character of The Stage Manager, anchored the show at the same time she propelled it by carrying it on her shoulders. As a director/producer myself, I know exactly what it takes to put together a production of this nature. That Ms. Lipman was able to do it while also crafting such a compelling performance, is an examble of her extraordinary skill. From a directing standpoint, she did what I consider to be the most difficult and important thing as a director — direct in such a way that it seems like you weren’t there at all. Her staging was understated but moving — straightforward while also being beautiful. And, by helping the actors to creat so many different environments with simple chairs and tables she deftly handled all the challenges the play presented. The creation of a scene in a cemetery was particularly poignant in its staging.

Finally, I wanted to mention something I did not expect from Our Town — I expected to be moved, and brought the requisite tissues — but I did not expect to laugh as much as I did. It turns out, Our Town is a pretty funny show. Don’t get me wrong — it’s not some “roll-on-the-floor-laughing-for-2-hours-straight” funny but it is like life — at the moments you least expect it, someone says something in a particular way and you find yourself laughing out loud and suddenly life doesn’t feel so cold and lonely anymore.

Our Town runs for one more week at Shetler Studios on 54th Street in Manhattan. For tickets and more details go here. For more info about Tongue in Cheek and read some interviews with cast members of Our Town, check out their website and blog. And, whether you’ve seen Our Town before, or not, don’t miss your chance to see this beautifully-staged, superbly-acted, and all-around terrific production of this American classic.

Ten things I learned doing The NY International Fringe Festival…

Ok, so I have owed my trusty readers (hi, Mom!) a post for about a month now. I do apologize for being so absent from the blogosphere but it turns out Fringe took a lot more out of me then expected and when the past few Mondays rolled around I just didn’t have it in me to compose something witty and exciting for a post and so I didn’t … I actually did start 4 different posts and if I could figure out a way to back date them I would totally post them but since I can’t I’ll just say they started like this:

POST 1 (that didn’t get posted) – so, we’re about to open In the Ebb at HERE Mainstage and I can’t wait for you all to see it.

POST 2 (that didn’t get posted) – so, we just opened In the Ebb at HERE Mainstage and I think you guys will love it!

POST 3 (that didn’t get posted) – so, the reviewer from didn’t get it. Though he thought In the Ebb was beautifully written, Camilla “has a poetic soul” and I have “a true talent for staging”, he thought the show was boring and he didn’t find the themes universal or connectable (yes, I made up that word but that’s the gist of the review – fear of loss apparently isn’t a universal theme – oops, I guess that makes the worrier in me a bit of a freak). ANYway, I would have said in the post (had I gotten around to posting it) that I would be worried that the review would have kept folks away, but I can now say in hindsight that we had decent audiences (not Jane Austen’s Persuasion sized audiences but decent all the same) and everyone I talked to seemed to love it so, to quote Mrs. DiSalvo in Act II – “I guess we did ok.”

POST 4 (that didn’t get posted) – so, the reviewer from California Litereary Review TOTALLY got it. Now THAT’s what I call a review. I found this one much more reflective of the work we did on stage. Though there were a couple of typos in the review (Saul Steinberg instead of Stewart and Ian DeNio instead of Ien) I felt that this reviewer actually got what we were saying. He caught the beauty in the words and the performances, and he ALSO understood Camilla’s humor finding much of the play “extremely funny even as it peers into the abyss.” I do wish that the people who “got me” were the only ones who also got to review me, but again to quote Mrs. DiSalvo, “you don’t get to pick.”

which brings me to this post:

POST 5 (that WILL get posted) – So now Fringe is over. It has been such a whirlwind. Going from Persuasion directly into In the Ebb is not necessarily the way I’d recommend doing the Festival for the first time, but on the flip side, it was nice to just go from show to show instead of hanging around waiting for my next project to begin. It means I completely bypassed my “post show depression” after Persuasion. Of course that could also mean that I’m due for a double whammy on the depression front now that In the Ebb is over, but hopefully I’ll slide into something else really exciting – like adapting Within Arm’s Reach for the stage. Anywho, here’s what I learned in Fringe:

1) Before you have a cast, reading the play out loud at a very slow speed is NOT going to give you an accurate representation of how long the play will run in performance.

- Fringe requires you to give a running time in your application, and though you still have time to change that after you get accepted to the festival, the date when you do have to give them a hard – set-in-stone – run time will most likely be at least a month before you’ve cast the show, let alone done a first run through and have an accurate sense of the run time. I had originally thought the run time of the two one acts (one fewer act than the first time I did this show) would be 75 minutes INCLUDING a 10 minute intermission. I discovered 2 days before my tech that we were running about 95 minutes WITHOUT an intermission. That was a weekend of frantic cuts trying not to cut scenes but still lose 20 minutes from the show. One day, I vow that I will do this show in its entirety.

2) A certified Flameproofer is your best friend!

- Fringe requires that all set pieces be certified flameproof. Although my set was stuff that was most likely already flameproofed (Ikea chairs and rehearsal cubes) I needed proof and that means tags from purchase (which ain’t an option since I purchased the chairs years ago for use in the first production of In the Ebb). One option was to cart the stuff out to New Jersey and have the Fringe-recommended vendor test the stuff and if it wasn’t fireproof then I could leave it there for 3 DAYS – yup DAYS – and then head back out there and pick it up. Then I found someone who was Manhattan-based and let me tell you – finding someone who can come to you and flameproof your set and give you a certificate proving that it’s flameproofed is a whole helluva lot better than having to cart your entire set out to Jersey.

3) Get yourself some good, talented, reliable friends.

- Throughout the years I have connected with some people who I can’t imagine stumbling through life without. Sarah and Ian, for example, not only said I could borrow one of their DINING ROOM chairs for a WHOLE MONTH, they didn’t bat an eye when I said I would have to chemically treat the chair so that it was officially flame proofed. When I asked if I could rent his rehearsal cubes for 3 weeks, Richard was all “why don’t you just borrow them” and, Jen, once again, offered up the Chevy Blazer to be used and abused for whatever I needed, which it turned out was a lot of set, prop and costume transportation.

4) Work with talented people you trust and love – again and again and again.

- My crazy talented sound designer, Ien DeNio, crazy talented lighting designer, Sam Gordon, crazy talented projections designer, Zeljka Blaksic, and crazy talented company manager, Carrie Keskinen, all re-upped with GTTP and I literally could NOT have done this show without them. Their talent, skill, and professionalism made this show work! And their ability to roll with the punches (see Number 6) meant that we were able to function within the stressful time-compressed world of Fringe.

5) Make sure you cast riDONKulously capable and talented actors who work well together!

- I’ve known for awhile that I’m pretty good at casting. I can usually see in an audition what an actor will be capable of and I usually have a sense of whether a group of actors will work together well. It’s a wonderful thing, a real honor, to get the opportunity to bring together 7 strangers and watch them, through rehearsals, turn into a family. This most recent family included: Crawford M. Collins, Leah Gabriel, Mary Goggin, Michael Komala, Stewart Steinberg, Montgomery Sutton, and Lisa Crosby Wipperling.

6) Hook up with a group that is calm under pressure and be ready to figure out technical aspects on the fly…

- So, for those of you who don’t know, the way Fringe works (in fact the way most theater festivals work) is that you are really assigned only one chance to be in the venue before your show opens and that chance is your tech rehearsal. In the case of Fringe, your tech rehearsal is only 2 times the length of your running time (see point #1 in this list and the importance of determining that run time well in advance of rehearsals) and you must must must run through the entire show without stop so that the Fringe folks can time you (with a stopwatch) and know for certain that you’ll fit in your allotted time. Since tech for a normal show is usually at least 3 days and often as long as a week (it’s called Tech WEEK for a reason, folks) having only 2 and a half hours in the venue to tech your show can make for a tricky situation. Add to that the complication that, because of Fringe scheduling, our tech day was actually a full week before our first performance, there was a high amount of stress on that particular 2.5 hours. What’s more, because we were the first group to tech in the space, we spent what should have been our hour and 15 minutes that was set aside for a cue to cue (where we actually go through the entire play just looking at and listening to each lighting, sound and projection cue) figuring out why the projector wasn’t working and how lights in the theater (whose layout we were supposed to be given in advance but weren’t) were going to run our lighting design. SO, having the cast and crew that I had – a group of people who just went with the flow and didn’t pull any diva crap (though it was well within their rights to do so) and just buckled down and did the job – what’s that Friday Night Lights phrase – “git ‘er done” – well this group GOT ‘ER DONE!

7) Get assigned the prettiest venue at the festival and luck out on the awesomest, chillest, terrific-est venue director on the planet.

- So, as a Fringe show, you get no say in the venue you’re assigned. Basically, the festival organizers have to figure out how to get 187 shows into 19 different venues for at least 5 performances each in a 16 day span. Each venue has to be technically capable of sustaining each show (does a show have projections, does it need fly space to drop set pieces in and out, does it need a proscenium arch, etc.) They also have to account for scheduling issues (for example, is the production company coming from Japan and not arriving in the states until 4 days after the festival has started). It’s a lot to juggle, so basically what you get is what you get and you make due. Well, somehow, I lucked into the most beautiful venue. HERE Arts Mainstage is a theater that if I were just renting, I honestly couldn’t afford for years to come. It’s a 99 seat house with a stage so big that an actor actually has to cross it (like take several steps) when moving from stage left to stage right, instead of just turning around. And the lighting grid allows for different areas of the stage to be lit while other areas are in darkness – giving actual areas of playing space instead of having the whole stage lit by default because the stage is so big that once you turn on a light you see everything. And then, as if the performance venue weren’t enough of a gift from the Fringe Gods, we were lucky enough to get assigned a venue director (a liason (supplied by Fringe) between the production company (in this case, GTTP) and the theater) who was amazing, supportive and super chill. I can not say enough good things about Christian De Gre, Artistic Director of Mind the Art Entertainment, who, while being such a terrific venue director was also overseeing his own production at the festival. The only bad thing about working with Christian, was that the nature of Fringe meant I didn’t get any time to just sit and chat with the guy – a problem I hope to remedy soon.

8) 15 minutes is a both a lot longer and a lot shorter than you think it is.

- So, because there are 187 shows in 19 venues in 16 days, on any given day, you are never the only show performing in your venue. What that means is that there is often as little as 30 minutes in between shows. Because 15 minutes before any given show has to be spent getting audience in and sitting down and 15 minutes after any show has to be spent getting audience out, as a production company you only have 15 minutes to bring everything you need into the space before and clear everything out after. We were lucky in that our set pieces (my trusty ikea chairs and our 3 rehearsal cubes) were being shared with other shows in the venue so we were able to leave them in the space, but all of our props, costumes and, you know, 7 actors, had to get in and set up in the 15 minutes before and taken down, stored and out in the 15 minutes after. I did purposefully keep the set as minimal as possible, but that first time, in tech, when we literally had a stopwatch on us, the chaos of setting everything up and taking everything down was nervewracking…then again, it turns out that even that first time when no-one knew what they were doing (“someone grab that chair and stow it”, “who grabbed the ice tea”, “where did the nun’s veil go? Do you have it?”) we were done and out the door in 6 minutes, so we got really good at running that load-in and load-out like clockwork. Again, it helped that I had the cast and crew that I did (see points 4 and 5 above).

9) Simplify more than you think is possible and then simplify some more.

- So, as I mentioned above, we only had the 15 minutes to get in and out and our tech rehearsal was…not as thorough as I would have liked, and…the script was longer than I realized. In the end we cut a lot – from lines in the script, to number of props, to complexity of set design, to lighting, sound and projection cues. And just when I thought, “I can’t possibly cut more, I can’t possibly make it more minimal,” I went through a whole other round of cuts and, to be honest, it was still an amazing, wonderful, vivid show. I always go back to that first time I saw Patrick Stewart do A Christmas Carol on Broadway – one guy, a chair, a table, a stool and a podium – he created a world that we as the audience got to live in for a couple of hours. It really is true that if the writing is there and the performances are there, you really don’t need anything else. This world ofIn the Ebb, was vivid and alive even without matching chairs and that one additional sound cue or lighting change. The audience still got it (well, except for that one reviewer but you can’t win ‘em all, right?) and it was still a captivating – Tahiti – Production.

10) When you’re at your most certain that everything will fall to s**t, it somehow all works out.

- My favorite, favorite, favorite quote about theater comes from the movie Shakespeare in Love. The exchange goes like this:

Henslowe: Allow me to explain about the theatre business. The natural condition is one of insurmountable obstacles on the road to imminent disaster.

Fennyman: So what do we do?

Henslowe: Nothing. Strangely enough, it all turns out well.

Fennyman: How?

Henslowe: I don’t know. It’s a mystery.

If I have learned one thing in my years in professionial theater it is the truth of that exchange. It’s not that you don’t do the work and it’s not that you don’t plan and prepare and rehearse, but in the end you have to trust in the magic of theater because how imminent disaster turns into live performance is truly a mystery but, no kidding? 99 times out of 100 it really does…and on that hundredth time? Well that’s what you plan and prepare and rehearse for – Anyone can have an off day.

Oh, and along those lines I also want to quote one more movie for point number 10.5. This one from Galazy Quest – “Never give up. Never surrender.” In other words, in this case, I mean:

10.5) Perserverence is everything.

- There are so many times in this business when it would be so easy to just say, “that’s it, I’m outta here.” It’s a tough business, which so far, has not paid any bills for me (and thank you to the people in my life who support me in all different ways (emotionally, spiritually, physically and monetarily) and allow me to continue doing it – I literally couldn’t do it without you), and so often it would just be easier to throw up your hands and walk, but I swear, it’s worth it. You struggle, and you strive and sometimes you fail but sometimes you succeed and every once in awhile, someone comes up to you and says, “are you involved in this production? Well, I just want to tell you, that was WONDERFUL! I was so moved.” Or you’re sitting in the audience watching a show you created and an audience member who you don’t know, who is not connected to you in any way shape or form, who walked in off the street, and spent his hard-earned money to see your show, he starts to applaud and gets to his feet to give you a standing ovation! And in that moment you want to cry because all is right with the world, because your life makes sense and what you’ve been put on this earth for is absolutely 100% crystal clear…of course sometimes they don’t clap at all, sometimes they come up to you and say, “I didn’t get it” – you want to cry then too but for a whole different reason. But no kidding, if you stick with it, you’ll get used to walking away from the latter and you’ll be able to fully appreciate the former. I say this a lot but – no kidding – never give up. never surrender…it’s worth it in the end.



Yeah, sorry, I couldn’t resist using that blog title. Also, I’m sorry this post is so late. I blame it on the wonderful Easter weekend at home. AMAZING time but it meant I spent the weekend hanging with my family instead of writing this post…enough with excuses, Ammirati, on to the review…

Ok, so just a Spoiler Alert – heads up. If you don’t want to know anything at all about the show, you may not want to read the full review below. I mean it’s not like I’m giving a blow by blow of the plot or anything (the butler did it. Heh.) but I do discuss some detials that you might want to avoid. So, if you hate anything with even a whisp of a spoiler about it you’ll want to stop reading after this paragraph. If you want the spoiler-free version of the review here it is: Go see Peter and the Star Catcher!!!! It’s awesome and magical and well worth your time and money. Tickets available here. For the less spoiler-averse read on…

So, as part of my association with TRU, I have been interning with Broadway producer Jane Dubin, on her off-Broadway show, unFRAMED (which after a short successful run in Philly, is returning to NY June 4th – 16th as part of the soloNOVA Festival. For details and tickets go here.) In addition to her work on unFRAMED, Jane is also one of the Co-Producers for the new Broadway show, Peter and the Star Catcher and she was able to get me a ticket to see one of the preview performances last week. Written by Rick Elice and based on the novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, Peter and the Star Catcher tells the story of how a sad orphan boy becomes Peter Pan. Peter and the Star Catcher is directed by Roger Rees and Alex Timbers and stars Christian Borle (Black Stache), Celia Kennan-Bolger (Molly) and Adam Chanler-Berat (Boy/Peter) and it is a wonderful, hilarious, and thoroughly enjoyable show. Similar to the experience of a Pixar movie, the play is appropriate for young audiences (10 and up) but is also a hilarious and moving experience for adults as well.

The play is great fun from start to finish but the thing that stood out the most for me was the inventiveness and originality of the staging. I’ve seen my share of both theater and movies and I love both mediums for their ability to entertain in completely different ways. But, what I love most about theater is that, necessity being the mother of all invention, theater requires an audience to use their imaginations in ways that film does not. In my own directing, I love, during a rehearsal, when a moment that seemed all but impossible on the page, comes to life in an unexpected and beautiful way. Like turning 5 actors and 2 chairs into a mob attacking a car on a Cairo street as we did in Dreamers of the Day, or turning a stack of used books and 5 actors into a slow motion book ballet as we did in Skin Flesh Bone. Peter and the Star Catcher is filled with moments like these. Without any high tech tricks or special effects, the creative team manages to bring the audience onto 3 separate ships sailing the high seas (both on deck and below), to the forest of a tropical island (complete with trees and sandy beaches), and into the depths of a magical pond (populated by mermaids). Using simple sets and props the cast members believably create a sense of movement and space at the same time they’re able to clearly define the various locations the story takes them to. And, all of the “special effects” in the play are executed not by feats of engineering but by choreographed movement, lighting and sound effects. Ingenius and yet simple techniques that make the play come to life create the magic of theater making the audience believe – fully believe – what they’re seeing on stage. The Peter and the Star Catcher team even manages to levitate an actress during the show – it’s a pretty cool effect (the secret of which I will not reveal here) – and though I figured it out, my knowledge of how they did it in no way diminished my enjoyment of watching it be done. Along the way the 12 actors introduce close to 100 different characters some of whom are familiar to fans of the original Peter Pan (I myself couldn’t wait to meet Tinkerbell and I wasn’t disappointed). The creativity of the staging isn’t just amazing, it’s inspiring (especially for this director).

The performers (actors and musicians, as there is some music in the play) are all clearly having a good time and their fun is infectious as they draw the audience into the party. All of the actors in the show are amazing, but I’d like to call specific attention to Celia Keenan-Bolger and Christian Borle. Celia Keenan-Bolger plays the precocious 13 year old, Molly. Learning to be a Star Catcher like her father, Molly befriends young Peter and is the first to play the “mothering” role for The Lost Boys that will, in later incarnations of the Peter Pan story, be played by the character Wendy. The Molly character requires a very difficult mixture of youth and maturity balancing moments of childish excitement and wonder with the strength and drive of an older woman and Ms. Keenan-Bolger strikes that balance with skill and grace. And, Christian Borle (in my opinion criminally underused in the television show SMASH) revels in the devilish fun of playing Black Stache (the pirate villain who will become Captain Hook) and takes the audience along for the hilarious ride. He tears into the role with great enthusiasm and it is an absolute blast to watch. Top to bottom, the play is a joy but don’t think that means it’s light on substance. As with the Peter Pan story the themes of abandonment and loss and fear of growing up are present and very real. They’re just a little hidden for the younger members of the audience and I only wish my niece and nephew (the 9 year old not the 18 month old) lived closer so that I could take them along to join in the fun. And it is great fun…for ALL ages. So, yeah, in case you can’t tell Peter and the Star Catcher is an INCREDIBLY entertaining show and I HIGHLY recommend seeing it.

Peter and the Star Catcher currently in previews, opens April 15th at The Brooks Atkinson Theatre 256 West 47th Street. For tickets and more details go to the show’s website here.

Yeah, but WHY is it funny? That Beautiful Laugh – Review

I don’t know why this is funny but I find it hI-larious. (This fact will be important later.)

Ok, so there are a couple of things y’all need to know about me for this post…full disclosure and all…

1) First and foremost – I’m a scifi nerd. No, like seriously, in case you couldn’t tell from the picture to the left – I LOVE sci fi – movies, books, tv, you name it, I’m a fan.

2) Secondly, and related to the above – I LOVE me some Joss Whedon. I realized that because I’m a director and producer, I don’t get star struck. I mean I work with actors all the time and I’ve met my share of famous people and I just don’t get tongue-tied around them…but there are two people I think I’d turn into a babbling idiot in front of (if I’m ever lucky enough to meet either of them) and they are Steven Spielberg and Joss Whedon.

3) Thirdly – I don’t like clowns. Like I REALLY don’t like clowns.

Which brings me to…

That Beautiful Laugh

So now you know the circumstance under which I agreed to attend That Beautiful Laugh by Orlando Pabotoy. Featuring Julia Ogilvie, Alan Tudyk, and Carlton Ward this “exploration of laughter featuring clowning, live music, and joy [is a] high-energy, rhythmically-driven comedy piece” playing at La MaMa until March 25th. Tickets available here: Basically, I went to see it because Alan Tudyk is in it. For those of you who don’t know, Alan Tudyk played Wash in the short-lived Joss Whedon television show Firefly and its follow up movie, Serenity. So, when I saw he was going to be in it, the connection to numbers 1 and 2 on my list above outweighed number 3, and, after having seen the show, I’m really glad it did.

I had no idea what to expect when I went in to the show. In fact, I purposely didn’t investigate a whole lot about the show because I didn’t want to go into it with any preconceived notions (other than “the guy who played Wash is in it and he’s gonna be a clown.”) I knew I would be writing a review of the show so I tried to walk in with an open mind. As the lights went down and the show began, people started to laugh. Musicians Eugene Ma and Harrison Beck get the show started and Alan Tudyk appears. His character, Flan, sets up the premise of the show – that people have forgotten a particular kind of laugh (that of the title). Flan then facilitates the entrance of the other two characters – I’ll not spoil the fun by explaining exactly how – but suffice it to say, he is joined on stage by Julia Ogilvie’s Darla Waffles Something and Carlton Ward’s Ian.

When I saw the show the audience immediately began to laugh – right from the beginning – and, to be completely honest, I wasn’t sure why they were laughing. For those other sci-fi geeks out there, I felt like Data, on the Enterprise, trying to understand humor. I mean, I found it mildly amusing but people were, like, guffawing. Great belly laughs all around me. So, what? What were they laughing at? What was so funny? I felt completely left out. I didn’t get it at all. I spent the first 10 minutes of the show, watching the clowning (not your Ringling Bros.’ Circus Clowns by the way) and kind of smiling but just not getting it…and trust me, I was trying really hard to “get it.” And then…something amazing happened. Right around the 10 minute mark, something on stage just struck me funny – like, “I looked at the chicken” (see above) funny. I mean, it completely bypassed my brain and I let out a serious laugh and I STOPPED TRYING TO FIGURE IT OUT! I just let it wash (heh, that’s funny because his Firefly character is named Wash) over me. I embraced it and stopped dissecting the nature of humor and suddenly, I was five years old again and I was just enjoying myself.

And, as if that wasn’t enough? There was magic: I remember, when I was little my dad used to do “magic tricks.” One was this one where he’d pretend through the positions of his fingers, that he could detach his thumb. He’d sing this little circus music song and do this whole “routine” where he would detach his thumb and put it back on. When I was five I thought it was the funniest and most amazing thing on the planet. When I watch him do the same routine now for my niece and nephews, I know what he’s doing and I know how it works. It’s not wondrous in that way it was when I was a kid, but when I was five? Man! That was some aMAZing S**T! When I finally got out of my analytical head watching That Beautiful Laugh, I was reminded of those magic tricks (In fact, Flan does a very similar “trick” a few different times in the show). But watching the play, as an adult, I found that I just started laughing and didn’t stop until I had left the theater. And it wasn’t just the laughter, that magic – that wonder that a five year old can see – that was also present throughout the show. Within the play there is a shadow puppet show. It’s ingenious, elaborate, beautiful, magical…and damn funny – “it’s a kit-tay!” And then there was the ending. The ending was just beautiful – magical and full of wonder. I’m too much of a spoiler nut to tell you how the show ends, I’d rather you see it for yourself, but I will say that if you walk out of that theater without having reacted to the magic and wonder of that ending, then you might just be dead inside. So, the only question I was left with is:

Yeah, but WHY is it funny? I never did figure that out but in the end I discovered that as long as I was laughing, I just didn’t care.

Run Run Run…to see ENDURE…

Ok, so last weekend I saw an AMAZING show. ENDURE, a Run Woman Show is difficult to describe but is, nonetheless, a transcendent experience. I’ll quote directly from the show’s website (because, let’s face it, I have a hard enough time coming up with concise descriptions of my own shows, let alone someone else’s).

“ENDURE is immersive, outdoor, athletic theatre that offers audiences a unique artistic experience. The show addresses themes of endurance, sport, obsession, loss and resilience – through a human story set within the drama of a 26.2 mile (42.2km) marathon race.” But honestly that doesn’t even begin to describe it. The performance is moving and exhilarating and exciting and scary. Melanie Jones takes you on a ride through every emotion we as human beings experience when we endure anything from a 26.2 mile race, to a breakup with that person you thought would be in your life forever, to that obnoxious dude talking non-stop at a party. As Melanie says on her website “Everyone endures something”. And she takes us on this emotional ride, while also physically moving us through the beauty that is Prospect Park. The show is accompanied by the gorgeous, contemplative and inspirational music of Christine Owman. It also features some pretty impressive technological wizardry that allows for the audience to be listening to sync’d ipods during the entire show. The performance starts about a mile away from Prospect Park at The Old Stone House and the “preshow” is a brisk walk into the park where Melanie is waiting to take you on the run/walk/stroll/sprint/dance/performance/movement ride that is ENDURE. If you are able to see it, I warn you to be prepared and wear clothes and shoes you can move in (I went in my full running outfit including my Vibram Five Finger Shoes). Though you can go at whatever pace you wish, actually running with Melanie offers a special joy whether you are a marathoner or an occassional-but-wish-you-ran-more-than-you-did-and-totally-could-if-you-wanted-to-runner like me. There are 4 more performances – Saturday and Sunday 10/29 & 30 and Saturday and Sunday 11/5 & 6 at 3pm. Get tickets at the website:

I’m not kidding guys – if you only see one show this month – see this one…And make your next “one show this month” FULL DISCLOSURE, GTTP’s next show, coming in December…