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Three Eleanors at Stage Left Studio

As I was handed my ticket at the box office of Stage Left Studio, I smiled and professed “I am an Eleanerd!” The notion that one might not know exactly which Eleanor I’m nerdy for did not occur to me until I said this to Dorothy Chansky, the co-writer and director of Three Eleanors, a story of how the lives of Eleanor Roosevelt, Eleanor of Aquitane and Eleanora Duse intersect and diverge as well as how they have influenced young women today.

I’ve just returned to Brooklyn from a month being a group leader the Girls’ Leadership Worldwide at the Eleanor Roosevelt Center for Leadership at Val-Kill. On my first day on the job, the only thing I knew about Eleanor Roosevelt was that she was a First Lady and….and that’s it! But after founding editor of The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers  Allida Black spoke to the GLW girls about the trials ER faced and overcame with strength through out her life, her vast political influence beyond the political status of the husband, and her profound commitment to human rights, I was in love with Eleanor Roosevelt. I purchased volume 1 of Blanche Wiesen Cook’s biography of ER the first chance I could. I’m up to page 300 something.

So okay, I’ve got to give Eleanora Duse and Eleanor of Aquitane a chance!

My favorite thing about the play is that the three Eleanors, all feminist in their own way, probably would not have been BFFs. I am glad the production was not afraid to show the dramatic differences in their lives and values. Eleanor of Aquitane notes that the blood shed during war fare makes good fertilizer for the soil below while Eleanor Roosevelt passionately states “No one won the last war and no one will win the next!” Eleanor of Aquitane rolls her eyes at ER and says “Don’t be a fool.”

Eleanor of….

All of the actresses weave in and out of depicting the 3 Eleanors, their critics, admirers and those who had close relationships with the Eleanors such as Lorena Hickock and Duse’s maid and “guardian angels.”




Eleanora Duse is depicted as a dedicated actress that allowed the grief and joys of her characters to inhabit her body as their medium for expression. She also struggled with severe menstrual cramps (I feel you, girl). She seems to be a world away from Eleanor Roosevelt and Eleanor of Aquitane, although I’m sure Duse and Aquitane could mix a Cosmo while dishing out on their love affairs.

Check out Eleanora Duse in action here.

I believe the show lost the audience’s focus during the bits of plot from the 3rd grader writing a report on Aquitane and a high schooler’s out of the blue trip to Planned Parenthood with her English teacher. The relationship between public schools and reproductive health is too complex to mention as an aside. The most compelling aspect of the play was learning more about the Eleanors, not the modern day women that admire them.

Do I recommend you go see this show?

Psssh. YES. 70 rare minutes of three kick-ass women that don’t just talk about boys and makeup. This passes the Bechdel Test with flying colors.

CHARLES IVES TAKE ME HOME @ Rattlestick Playwrights Theater

A classical symphony and a basketball game may not have much in common, especially when each event is played by an estranged father and his daughter. Their complex relationship is explored in Charles Ives Take Me Home, now playing at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater.

The three-character play begins with composer Charles Ives (Henry Stram) introducing us to high school basketball coach Laura Starr (Kate Nowlin) and her father, Julliard-trained violinist John Starr (Drew McVety). Divorced dad John has trouble relating to Laura, who has been interested in basketball since she was a young child. The sports gene has skipped a generation, as John’s father was a sports fiend who didn’t appreciate his son’s love for music. Laura never inherited her dad’s musical passion, but she makes attempts to understand it—dribbling in rhythm to his list of musical terminology, reading about John’s idol Charles Ives, even picking up the violin to see how it feels. Unfortunately, John doesn’t always return that understanding, causing a tension in their relationship that builds until Laura announces that she’s been accepted to a Midwestern college on a basketball scholarship.

The characters often directly address the audience: Charles Ives as an eccentric yet gentle narrator, John as a confessional, and Laura as an emotionally-charged pep talk to her team. They also interact with one another in scenes presented in loose chronological order. The resulting combination shows the dissonance between Laura and John. Dissonance is also a distinguishing feature in Ives’ music, even though Ives saw the harmony in his family as well as in his compositions.

All three actors make a terrific ensemble. Kate Nowlin is athletic and disarmingly captivating as Coach Laura and adorable as the wide-eyed younger incarnation of a girl eager to earn her father’s approval. Drew McVety is charming and oh-so-tragic as music obsessed but emotionally distant John, and Henry Stram brings a warm, engaging presence to Charles Ives (and is the first person I’ve ever seen whose eyes actually twinkle).

The set, designed by Andromache Chalfant, is both compact and beautiful: a playing space lightly furnished and covered in wood paneling, with each character having their own playing space—for violin tuning and layups. (The sound of Laura’s Nikes squeaking on the floorboards is a realistic and fun surprise.) Daniella Topol’s direction is clean and showcases playwright Jessica Dickey’s humorous and cohesive dialogue. There is also some fabulous violin and piano playing by Mr. McVety and Mr. Stram respectively: their scene together, with Charles Ives coaching a young John, is a memorable one.

Despite the angst and misunderstandings, Charles Ives deftly illustrates the poignancy of a father-daughter relationship. One of the play’s final lines is, “Will Laura Starr make it?” As the lights dim, I suspect that both she—and her father—will.

7 Awesome and Not-So-Awesome Things about MURDER BALLAD

murder ballad

Murder Ballad, a new rock musical currently enjoying a 2013 run at the Union Square Theatre (after playing with Manhattan Theatre Club last fall), is some good bloody fun. Here is LMezz’s killer rundown of the production:

Awesome: The space.

This was our first time in the Union Square Theatre, which is the perfect location for a rock musical. (Union Square! Hipsters! Street Bong Sellers!) The show is set in the round, with audience seating in all four sides of the theatre, along with additional lounge seating in the playing space. The upstage section is spanned by a bar, the stage-right portion by a pool table, and the stage-left section by the band. Just by entering the theatre, you can sense that some rock musical awesomeness was about to be had.

Awesome: There’s a working bar onstage!

The onstage bar is a working one during the pre-show, and audience members can order drinks. Closer to the start of the show, the actors enter in character and “blend in” with the surroundings. It is an effective way to establish the characters before the beginning of the show.

Not-So-Awesome: There’s a working bar onstage!

This is not a point against Murder Ballad per se, but to what I sense will be (is already?) a trend in shows that allow you to order drinks and drink them on stage. Both the off-Broadway and Broadway incarnations of Once feature the pre-show bar, and I’m sure many other productions will have doe-eyed audience members that are oh-so-surprised as they wander on stage to order the same bottle of beer they could have purchased in the lobby. Or maybe I’m just bitter that we had to wait so long to have an even readier access to booze in the theatre.

I could have used one of these for the Broadway production of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.”

Awesome: Two ladies wrote this!

Julie Jordan came up with the concept and book for Murder Ballad and teamed up with Juliana Nash, who composed the music and co-wrote lyrics. This is the first rock musical (let alone musical) I’ve seen written only by women (If you know any others, leave a comment!), and I hope it’s not the last.

Awesome: The cast.

Most of the cast from MTC’s fall mounting of Murder Ballad have returned this spring. John Ellison Conlee, who reprises his role as Michael, is so believable as a loving husband and father that it’s exciting to see him finally snap. Will Swenson, playing bartender and scorned lover Tom, embodies everything moody and dangerous. After quitting acting this spring, original cast member Karen Olivo has been replaced by Caissie Levy. While I was sad to have missed Olivo last fall, Levy is fantastic in her own right as Sara, the troubled center of the love triangle.

But the definite show-stealer Rebecca Naomi Jones, who is equal parts scary and sexy as the Narrator. She plays the role with great comedic timing and a wicked gleam in her eye, and when she takes the stage, she owns it. By the time the final song has ended, you realize that she has been trolling you all along—and don’t even care.

U mad?

Not-So-Awesome: The Movement

Director Trip Cullman had the task of staging a sung-through rock musical—in the round. This wasn’t an easy one, and he was effective in having the actors playing to all four sides throughout the show.

But this wasn’t to say that there weren’t a few hiccups. Sometimes the choreography seemed unmotivated, with the actors thrashing and jumping about the stage even though their songs were already making their emotions clear. It was as if someone had seen the musical version of American Idiot too many times and said, “Yes! More of that stuff!”

With all the pushing, shaking, pulling, and running that was going on, it made you wonder how the characters had time to have affairs in the first place. Speaking of which…

Not-So-Awesome: Where’s the passion?

Murder Ballad is the story of a “love triangle gone wrong.” One way it goes wrong is in the lack of passion among the characters. All of the characters had chemistry with one another, and it definitely shows, as they make out on the pool table, the bar, and everywhere in between.

But it may be the abundance of physical contact that dampens the passion. David Mamet says that he doesn’t ever write explicit sex scenes because it will take people right out of the story. I’m not sure I totally agree with Mamet, but he has a point. Murder Ballad’s characters make out so much that I marveled on how they were able to sing afterwards instead of marveling about their story.

Another bit of marveling: Do they need understudies? I’m available.

The constant physical contact breaks the sexual—and dramatic—tension. It results in actions that are unearned, relationships that are undeveloped, and emotions that are expressed, but not felt. Which might be what Murder Ballad is about, after all.

All in the Timing at 59E59


Last year’s mind-blowing Venus in Fur turned me onto David Ives’s work and All in the Timing just happens to be an early and well-lauded example. My limited knowledge of Ives’s plays shows that his affinity for language is more than just the advantage of a wordsmith– it’s a deeply rooted fascination with its fickle and reproductive nature. In Venus in Fur, a play’s text brings together past and present in an eerie, karma-esque revisitation of gender relations.

All in the Timing, a collection of short plays,  is a more overt examination of the nature of language. There’s it randomness– the idea that at any given point in time, what we say will produce ripple effects that we have no control over. See the first short play, ‘Sure Thing’, in which one potential couple’s conversation veers into an extraordinary amount of alternate directions. See also, ‘Universal Language,’ in which the arbitrary words of a made-up language somehow make sense to us, an English-speaking language, and actually results in a friendship/romance between two lonely speakers.

In many ways, there’s a sort of rejoicing in the fact that we do not control our own means of communications. There’s a sort of ease, a letting-go, that we can only do our best to say what we mean and ‘time’ it as best as possible. (I’ve been reading Sarah Blakewell’s Life of Montaigne and Montaigne’s skeptic ideas are growing on me.)

There’s also the idea that storytelling and language is innate without regard to the words you actually are using. In ‘Universal Language,’ love becomes the universal. Shakespeare, as well as some Marxist core principles, are recurring presences in the stories (among others). Does Ives mean to suggest that some things are innate, almost archetypal, even for the monkeys (Kafka, Swift, and Milton) in ‘Words, Words, Words.’ Would Hamlet have been a different story, held a different meaning, if it were produced by monkeys? Written in another time period? Under different conditions? Does it even matter?

The first act is full of these puzzling ideas, which takes place right along some excellent comedy. The second act was much less stirring and much more dependent on superficial gags and weird jokes about Philadelphia. Obviously, there were a still plenty of laughs. And I won’t hesitate to mention that “Variations on the Death of Trotsky” brought a tear or two (or three) to my eye.

Overall, I’m keeping my radar on for more of Ives works.

Just a quick nota bene: If y’all liked this, read Caryl Churchill’s Blue Heart, which examines problems of lying and language in ways similar to ‘Sure Thing’ and ‘Universal Language.’ Except, I might argue, a bit more powerfully.

Tea with My First Lady – Mariaisabel’s First Post!

With this post, I take my place among the great theatre reviewers of our time…..Sara, Critic Kate, and my playwright friend Amy. I have placed my hand on a vintage Playbill of Annie Get Your Gun and have taken the oath of office, the lyrics “Valjean’s Soliloquy.” NOW WE SHALL BEGIN!


On Sunday night, I saw My First Lady, part of Metropolitan Playhouse’s Founder’s Festival, written by David Koteles and directed by Jason Jacobs. The play is set at a tea party in a “quite warm” March 1801 with Martha Washington (she sneaks the whiskey in), Abigail Adams, Dolley Madison, Thomas Jefferson’s prissy Francophile daughters and their slave Sally Hemings. When I read the play description, I just HAD to see it! I’ve always wanted to get a feel for what it might really be like to be a First Lady. After going to the Smithsonian Museum of American History in Washington D.C and seeing that the First Lady exhibit was all china plate settings and inaugural ball gowns, I needed to get that stale patriarchal taste out of my mouth.

OoOoO! Look at the pretty dresses!

As the audience take their seats, Sally Hemings (played wonderfully by Ashley Denise Robinson) is polishing spoons. An afternoon of pleasantries quickly turns into a boiling teakettle of tension when Martha mentions how she and her late
husband George pulled the teeth of their slaves to use as their own. It is spoken about so nonchalantly that my stomach started to twist and turn in disgust. While many in the room applaud Martha’s keen eye for good teeth, Abigail is horrified by the cruelty.

Dolly Madison (seamlessly played by Karla Hendrick) is the jewel of the show. She provides great comedic relief while not becoming as cartoonish as some of the other actresses. Each woman on stage is given her own monologue
aside from the party in a spotlight, except for Sally. Sally Hemings wants her place at the table of women in American history and dreams out loud of a time when a black woman can be First Lady (woot woot Michelle!) or even President. The ending of the play is subtle and numbingly powerful. The First Ladies process out of the President’s house and Sally is left behind to pick up their teacups.

Sad Sally Hemings. Sally Hemings real sad.

My First Lady is the kind of play that leaves you with a lot to talk about after the show (I suggest not having that discussion with your mouth on fire over dinner at a Sri Lankan restaurant like I did). I believe there are times when the writing underestimates the audience’s ability to analyze and recognize themes deeper than tea and pastry. During the aside monologues, Martha Washington reveals her dissatisfaction with the way David Koteles has written her character. She is regretful that she burned her diaries and letters before her death, that her character cannot be built upon her own words. This is touched upon very briefly but made a great impact on me. I wish there were more moments like these in the play, where the First Ladies show their vulnerability to time. It leans too heavily on making the audience laugh than making the audience feel.

Overall, I highly recommend My First Lady! Check it out at the Metropolitan Playhouse located at 220 East 4th Street.Get tickets here:

Beware. Sri Lankan food can be HELLA spicy. And that’s coming from a Mexican-American, okay?!?!

Drood Times Two @ Studio 54

The ladies of LMezz were so intent on solving The Mystery of Edwin Drood they went on two different nights. Here are our reports, including alternate endings, crazy amazing belting, and much much more!


I saw Drood on a cold Thursday night. While the energy in the cast (and audience) was under the weather (ha!) it was a jolly good show. The audience elected Princess Puffer as the killer and set up Helena Landless with Durdles: their duet was simply hilarious. I absolutely loved the Clue-esque ending, with the murder outcomes illustrated by the shadows of actors behind a scrim. Another delight included the 19th century costumes, designed by William Ivey Long. (Seriously. I’ve never gotten so much shoe/stocking envy until I saw the women ensemble’s color coded boots. So pretty!)

Finally, I am all about the female performances of this cast. I got to see Chita Rivera. Singing. On a Broadway stage. Betsy Wolfe’s performance as Rosa Bud was plucky and such fun. And Drood has made me obsessed with Stephanie J. Block. Obsessed!


Drood sounds like my kind of show. A Victorian-set comedy with a play-within-a-play structure with enormous amounts of audience participation. Sounds like my theater dream come true. The actual show though is less thrilling. While the performances were great (Who knew Smash’s Will Chase was such a ham?) and the costumes and scenery were extreme eye candy, it never really amounts to much more than cute. There’s a plot and a lot of fun, weird characters, but they remain stock characters without much motivation or dilemma. I actually enjoyed the songs, but they all felt out of place– either much darker or much too complex than their surroundings. The songs would have worked perfectly in a much more nuanced show or under better direction. And I have never seen an audience more mellow during intermission.

When it came time to pick the murderer, my sister (who came with me) and I really couldn’t care less. We picked the parson because we thought he’d have the most complicated motivation in killing Drood. The rest of the audience probably had the same idea because the parson won the vote. Too bad there wasn’t any more motivation than we might have guessed using the scant information we already had on him.

On our way home, my sister asked me, Maybe it would have worked if it wasn’t a play within a play? If they weren’t introducing each actor’s entrance and so on…? I said, But those were the best parts! It was all the murky, mucky stuff in between that bored me!

Maybe Drood’s lack of energy comes from the show trying to be two things at the same time. On the one hand, it’s trying to be self-aware and meta-theatrical. If a show goes that route, it’s entering into an agreement to abandon realism. The comedy of the show also stems from it’s awareness of theatrical conventions. It’s why the comedy in other self-aware shows like Peter and the Starcatcher or The 39 Steps work so spectacularly well. If you’re going to expose the show’s artificiality, you can’t really expect audiences to get swept up in plot and characters so instead, you work with wit, conventions, and perhaps a complexity of ideas.

Drood, however tries to be both this AND realist. It’s play within a play has both a fake play (Drood) and a real one (Music Hall). The cast tries to make its Music Hall Venue as realist as possible, even having the 1895-minded actors mingle with the audience before the show. At the same time, the fake play, Drood, also tries to be too realist, with its hyper-sets and costumes, its misplaced, darkly emotional songs, all of which are supposed to sweep us away into the story. Thing is, we can’t be in the London Music Hall and Cloisterham at the same time. Well, maybe we can, given a funnier, better production?

4 Reasons Why Water by the Spoonful is Awesome


Last night Water by the Spoonful had its New York premiere at the Second Stage Theatre.  Here are some reasons why it’s awesome:

1. It is the first Pulitzer Prize-winning play by a Latina playwright.

And boy does Quiara Alegría Hudes represent. Water by the Spoonful follows ex-Marine Elliot and his return home to Philadelphia. While Elliot’s postwar demons are not new, the perspective of a Latino veteran is. The same could be said for Elliot’s cousin Yaz, who is reevaluating her life after her divorce. Her relationship with her husband was strained in part because it was an interracial one. Odessa, Elliot’s biological mother, has a particularly poignant arc. While her addiction to cocaine would usually be the end of the story, in Spoonful it’s only the beginning as  Odessa uses her experiences to moderate a forum about substance abuse. Add in a group of  diverse well-rounded supporting characters and you have Water by the Spoonful.

2. Internet conversations can still be dramatic ones.

At first, I couldn’t believe that entire scenes were taking place in Odessa’s internet chat room. But this production of Spoonful deftly handled these scenes, in part by displaying the avatars and usernames of the characters on stage. And with so much of our communication now taking place online, it was a bold and timely move to include the online interactions of the characters.

3. Location, location, location.

I mentioned this in my Stephen Adly Guirgis post, but I love plays that take us somewhere beyond the living room. Spoonful travels to a Subway in Philly, a train station in Japan, a rainforest in Puerto Rico, and more. Seeing all of these places on stage was not only exciting but also allowed characters to go on new and unexpected journeys. I especially liked Madeleine’s quest to find herself in Japan, and Elliot and Yaz’s spreading their aunt’s ashes in El Yunque.

4. So. Much. Heart.

A lot of today’s theatre has to do with aloof-ness and disassociation, whether it be through emotion-less line readings or snarky witticisms. But Water by the Spoonful‘s characters aren’t afraid to care. Yaz is passionate about teaching Coltrane to her students and take care of Elliot, Odessa wants the best for all of her forum members, and Madeleine wants to connect to Clayton in a tangible way. Hudes’ honest writing and the ensemble’s sincere performances create a memorable, heartfelt night of theatre.


Click here for Part 1.

Okay, okay. So we’re already know that Les Mis has religious messages and pretty blunt moral meaning up its wazoo. In other words, there’s a lot of this going on

and this

and more of this

Yup. It’s all nice and stuff. Rising out of difficult circumstances through faith and love. Valuing the importance of justice and forgiveness. The difference between man’s law and God’s law.

But I don’t think I’m telling you anything new. In fact, I’ve always been bothered by how BORING Valjean becomes after he meets the bishop. He suddenly switches from a life of resentment and frustration to one of faith and love. Which, again, is all nice and stuff. But really, dude? All your problems just end within the first 20 minutes of the show and now you’re all holy and whatnot? Part of me wished that Valjean still held some of that resentment and anger, particularly in his post-revolutionary moment when all’s gone to hell and back. I mean, who really cares about some rich recluse  living with a pretty girl while there’s a people’s revolution happening?!

The film version, I believe, recognizes this dilemma. I argue that in the film, Valjean’s journey to becoming a whole and good person does NOT end at his encounter with the bishop. In fact, the film shows that one CANNOT be a good person without facing the social crises that surround you. Religion, faith, and love, therefore, are intrinsically tied to social justice.



So much to talk about! So many feelings! Must organize thoughts in list form!

The Good:

1) The casting is amazing. I mean, we all knew Hugh Jackman would pull off as much badassdom as he could muster. But I wouldn’t even call his the most striking performance. You’re probably tired of hearing it already, but Anne Hathaway is so amazing, that at the end, when her spirit comes to help Valjean die, just seeing her face once again made me sob hysterically. Another stand-out performance was Eddie Redmayne, who filled his Marius with excitement, wonder, depth (*gasp*) and likeability. From a young man giddy with first love to a revolutionary mourning his friends, he’s just really a joy to watch. Now I finally understand why Eponine longs for him so.

Can we also just mention how amazing Gavroche is? Just the cherry on top of a slice of awesome pie.

2) There are moments, as my sister told me after our family watching party, where everything just feels perfect. Valjean ripping up his parole papers. Fantine hyperventilating during “I Dreamed a Dream,” the ending, riding around with Gavroche through the streets of France, “One Day More,” Javert giving his medal to Gavroche.


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