new york theatre

“Hank V” is a Victory for Shakespeare Lovers and Newbies Alike

We’ve been huge fans of Three Day Hangover‘s boozy adaptations of Shakespearean classics, with a little Chekhov thrown in the mix, ever since The Hamlet Project debuted two years ago.  Seriously… we wrote them a love letter. This is a theater company that insures an extraordinarily fun night while modernizing and honoring the play text with great joy and success than your average Shakespeare production. Now they’re closing off the 2014-15 season with Hank V, their first history play.

Adapted by Lori Wolter Hudson and Beth Gardiner, Hank V reworks Henry V using only two characters: Henry–or Hank (Three Day Hangover co-founder David Hudson)– and Falstaff (Christopher Ryan Grant), possibly the most famous comedic character in literary history. Henry V is the final play in a tetralogy that begins with the usurpation of Richard II at the hands of Henry IV, our Henry’s father. Henry V is an unlikely king (he’s a drunk and fun-loving youth in the middle plays) but ends the saga as one of the most heroic and beloved monarchs in English history. If you haven’t read a lick of Shakespeare, never fear! Hank and Falstaff provide the sparknotes version to any information you might need to know.

David Hudson and Christopher Ryan Grant in Hank V. Photo by Lloyd Mulvey
David Hudson and Christopher Ryan Grant in Hank V. Photo by Britannie Bond

After a modern verse prologue which depicts Falstaff and Henry’s rowdy, college-bro friendship, we  receive word that Henry’s father has passed, and in true meta form, Falstaff and Henry decide to act out Henry V. Falstaff doesn’t actually appear in Henry V; he’s dead by Act II, betrayed by the loss of Henry’s friendship as the young king assumes his royal duty. But here in Hank V, Falstaff serves the purpose of not only playing all the minor characters but also guiding Henry through his radically new role as king and commander.

As per Three Day Hangover’s approach, the play takes on a boozy transformation. The Stumble Inn (the Upper East Side bar serves as our “kingdom  for a stage.” Audience participators receive free shots as their death sentence and a map of England and France reflects conquered cities with coordinating solo cups. There’s beer pong pre-show that is excellent preparation for the final St. Crispin’s Day Battle, a massive beer pong free-for-all.  There’s also plenty of humor to go around: Falstaff and Hank improvise their way through costumes and props to hilarious effect. The camaraderie (maybe even chemistry in the Katherine scenes?) between Grant and Hudson makes for laugh-a-minute momentum and perfectly embodies the relationship between two old friends. 

The thing is, none of this shtick ever feels forced. These productions are so deft at incorporating drinking games, pop culture, and comedy into the original text. They move fluidly from modern lingo into Shakespearean verse with hardly a beat, and then back into a dance party with your favorite 80’s pop song. Three Day Hangover shows just how much of a living, breathing text this classic play can be, and then go about rejuvenating them with their special brand of (alcoholic) elixir.

Photo by Lloyd Mulvey
Photo by Britannie Bond

And if it’s not clear how much of a blast we had at Hank V, we’ve saved our happiest report for last. Including Falstaff into Henry V’s journey as new king is one of the most brilliant adaptive measures ever. Shakespeare’s the man and all, but the history plays can be a bit stodgy at times. The battle preparations and political schemes and war scenes can overrun a play like Henry V, causing it to skimp on the characters and relationships. What Three Day Hangover have effectively done is take one of the greatest literary friendships of all time and extend it into the most trying and difficult time of Henry’s life. It makes his transition into king all the more poignant and so much more human. In Henry V, we are introduced to Henry as an already coronated king and a budding leader. In Hank V, we are still drinking up with the young prince who now has an entire country to rule over and a war to win. Falstaff is the stabilizing force in Hank’s life, and watching them pass through Hank’s trials together, with Falstaff inevitably fading out of them, after all the drinking and debauchery, makes for such wistful and intimate moments.

Three Day Hangover’s Hank V plays at The Stumble Inn through March 1. Tickets Here. Do it.

Oh, Mother: “Our Lady of Kibeho” @ Signature Theatre

In the second act of Our Lady of Kibeho, now playing at the Signature Theatre, one priest admonishes another with the line, “You have a weak stomach for faith I see.” The same could also be said for New York theatre audiences, who prefer religious motifs to be accompanied by biting satireor a big musical number.

You know how musical nuns do. (Source:

Written by Katori Hall, Our Lady of Kibeho does neither, going the route of a drama based on true events. In 1981, Alphonsine Mumureke (played by Nneka Okafor), a student at an all-girls Catholic school in Kibeho, Rwanda, starts to have visions of the Virgin Mary. At first her visions are thought to be the imaginings of a young girl. Then another classmate, Anathalie Mukamazimpaka (Mandi Masden) begins to have visions too. Both girls face the threat of expulsion from the school, and are mercilessly bullied by Marie-Claire Mukangango (Joaquina Kalukango)… until the Virgin Mary visits her, too. The school’s head priest, Father Tuyishime (Owiso Odera) wants to believe the girls’ visions, while Sister Evangelique (Starla Benford), the head nun, does not. Father Flavia (T. Ryder Smith), a priest sent by the Vatican, investigates the truth behind the girls’ visions. What they all soon discover is that the Virgin Mother’s messages also warn of a dark future for Rwanda.


At first, I wasn’t sure what narrative direction Our Lady of Kibeho was going to take. Was it going to be like Doubt, where the mystery depended on the veracity of the characters? Or was it going to treat the religious material with an excess of derision or reverence? Thankfully enough, none of these scenarios play a part in Our Lady of Kibeho. Yes, Mary’s apparitions are presented as fact rather than fantasy (with breathtaking special and aerial effects, designed by Greg Meeh and Paul Rubin). But the strength of the show lies not in its religious stance, but in the faith of its characters. Yes, Alphonsine is the first to receive visions of Mary, and actress Nneka Okafor embodies the role with grace. Still, she feels the burdens of the visions, and is tempted to try and sin to make the visions stop.

Spoiler alert: the sexy priest might be the source of said temptation.

Some of the play’s best scenes involve the character’s responses to the visions. Father Tuyishime wants to believe the girls… but he has not prayed in eight years. Sister Evangelique seems to thwart the girls at every turn… but it’s because she wonders why she cannot see the Virgin Mary, too. And Father Flavia is skeptical if miracles can truly come to a village in Rwanda.


The play’s acceptance of the girls’ visions also allows audiences to focus on another dramatic current running through Our Lady of Kibeho: the ethnic tensions in Rwanda that led to the country’s horrific genocide in 1994. In the same way that Cabaret slowly reveals the future devastation that Nazis will bring to Berlin, Our Lady of Kibeho continually makes references to the Hutu/Tutsi conflict. When Alphonsine is initially mocked for her visions, her Tutsi background is also used against her. Marie Claire, who first bullies Alphonsine, is actually pretending to be Hutu… and will later die for it. (The real life Marie Claire was killed in the genocide; in the play, Marie Claire has a vision of her death.) And when Father Tuyishime and Sister Evangelique disagree over the girls’ well-being, there is the underlying knowledge that Father Tuyishime is head of the school because he is Tutsi… and Sister Evangelique is not.

The head priest in charge—and the head nun waiting in the wings.

Our Lady of Kibeho is a definite must-see. Katori Hall’s play about three girls who inspire a nation the brink of destruction is as exhilarating as it is devastatingand that is truly a miracle.

Three Day Hangover’s “Drunkle Vanya” Brings Boozy Chekhov to The Gin Mill

Three Day Hangover, a theatre company known for its alcohol-fueled productions of Shakespearean plays, tackles a new playwright in the second production of its 2014 season: Anton Fucking Chekhov.

The middle name may have been fictional. But based on this portrait, totally appropriate.

Renaming Chekhov’s classic drama Uncle Vanya to Drunkle Vanya is one strong indicator that Three Day Hangover does not do subtle. Staging the production in The Gin Mill, an Upper West Side tavern, is another one. And if you still didn’t know what you were getting into by the title and the location, ushers will be happy to remind you with complementary shots at the door.

Unlike previous forays into boozy Shakespeare (where I have working knowledge of both drinking games and English Renaissance drama), boozy Chekhov provided new challenges: I have never read or seen Uncle Vanya, nor have I ever played the game featured in Drunkle Vanya: Cards Against Humanity. Still, armed with glasses of white wine, I bravely took my seat (a bar stool) and wondered how it would all turned out.

In one word: amazingly. Three Day Hangover knocks it out of the park (or bar) once again with Drunkle Vanya. Family dramas are one of my favorites, and Vanya certainly delivers. Vanya (Joel Rainwater) has to deal with his brother-in-law, The Professor (Sean Tarrant), coming to live in the estate that Vanya and his niece Sonya (Leah Walsh) have maintained for years. Accompanying him is his new wife, Yelena (Amanda Sykes), who Vanya is instantly attracted to, though Yelena makes a connection with Astrov (David Hudson), Vanya’s friend (and object of Sonya’s infatuation). If that chain of unrequited attraction wasn’t enough, the play also includes Vanya’s depression, Yelena’s dissatisfaction with her marriage, and the overall loser-hood of Waffles (Josh Sauerman), who works on Vanya’s estate and is pretty much the Gretchen Wieners of the group.

Josh Sauerman as Waffles - Photo by Lloyd Mulvey
Sorry, Waffles. (Josh Sauerman as Waffles – Photo by Lloyd Mulvey)

Cards Against Humanity provides an excellent counterpoint to the filial madness. Of course, like the rest of the show, it is an adaptation of the game, with the audience taking the role of the actual cards. During the pre-show, audience members are given a name tag that resembles a card. At certain moments in the show, the cast members say one of their lines with a “blank” at the end, and the cast members call out “family meeting,” selecting their favorite cards in the audience and having a mini-round of Cards Against Humanity. The actor with the line picks his favorite “card,” and the winning audience member wins a shot (which he or she must take immediately, of course).

Unfortunately for this blogger, my card was too close to the show's subject matter (and my social life) to be chosen.
Unfortunately for this blogger, my card was too close to the show’s subject matter (and my social life) to be chosen.

While the “family game night gone terribly awry” had other fun additions (an impromptu game of Twister, the Bros Icing Bros meme starring actual Smirnoff Ices), the best part of Drunkle Vanya, as with many Three Day Hangover productions, is the actual play itself. Lori Wolter Hudson does an impeccable job of adapting Vanya while also maintaining the dramatic heart of the piece. Her direction is just as strong, as the actors create interesting and varied pictures in the small bar playing space.

Sonya (Leah Walsh) and Vanya (Joel Rainwater) - Photo by Lloyd Mulvey
Sonya (Leah Walsh) and Vanya (Joel Rainwater) – Photo by Lloyd Mulvey

While my Chekhov game isn’t as strong as my flip cup game, Drunkle Vanya has given me an excellent first lesson. And a hankering for some vodka.

“The Pawnbroker” Delves into Untold Stories of Bertolt Brecht

As much as I love the New York Fringe Festival, I was only able to see one production in this year’s fest. I was spending the rest of August engaging with theatre in a very different–albeit sweeter–way, as I reprised the role of Jenna in Vital Theatre’s production of Peace, Love, and Cupcakes The Musical. The one FringeNYC show I was able to see was directed by my PLC director, Jennifer Curfman, and it made my short foray into this year’s Fringe Festival totally worth it.


The Pawnbroker: Lies, Lovers, and Bertolt Brecht’s tagline is “the controversial story of Brecht’s legend–and what five women lost to create it.” Actress and playwright Katelin Wilcox portrays all five women, who not only had romantic affiliations with Brecht, but also shaped the plays he wrote–and were forever shaped by him in return.

I’m not going to lie: one-person shows fill me with a sense of trepidation, unless your first name is John and your last name is Leguizamo. I would rather see the drama of a theatrical performance take place because of a conflict created by more than one character on stage. (This is almost a conundrum regarding fringe festivals, as a good portion of their programming includes solo acts.)

Despite my fears, The Pawnbroker exceeds all expectations. Katelin Wilcox transitions seamlessly from woman to woman throughout the piece, using distinctive red accents for each character she inhabits: a flower pin, a knit hat, a pencil, a handkerchief, and silk scarf. Wilcox’s performance is nuanced and fully-lived. With every woman she portrays, she is not just becoming another character: she is taking on their circumstances, experiencing their triumphs and tragedies, and giving voices to their untold stories. While I’ve read and enjoyed many of Brecht’s plays–especially for their complex and intriguing female characters–I had no idea how many women collaborated on his works. While I was grinning at the sly comedy in The Threepenny Opera, I didn’t know that Elisabeth Hauptmann, a German writer, was Brecht’s key collaborator on the book and lyrics. When I empathizing with the plight of Shen Te in The Good Person of Szechwan, I wasn’t aware her story wouldn’t have been the same without the collaboration of Margarete Steffin, a German writer, and Ruth Berlau, a Danish writer, director, and actress. What makes their absence in Brecht’s legacy even more striking in The Pawnbroker is a series of Brecht-style projections that feature quotes from theatre greats (such as Peter Brook and Tony Kushner) praising Brecht for his achievements in the theatre. While Brecht’s achievements should continue to be known, understood and celebrated, The Pawnbroker makes the excellent case that the women who created with him should spend as much time in the spotlight.

Even though FringeNYC has closed its doors for another year, The Pawnbroker returns as part of FringeNYC’s Encore Series. Learn more about its extended run here.

“Between Riverside and Crazy” is yet Another Reason to Love Stephen Adly Gurigis

I have the hugest playwriting crush on Stephen Adly Guirgis. Back when I was writing under the pseudonym “critickate,” I wrote a post detailing all the reasons why I love his plays. Despite my admiration for his work, I had never seen one of his plays live.

Until now.

Atlantic Theater Company’s production of Guirgis’ new play Between Riverside and Crazy is now playing at the Linda Gross Theater, and I got to hear Guirgis’ dialogue on stage for the first time.

And I loved every second of it.

Between Riverside and Crazy has your standard Guirgis elements: New York City setting? Check. Diverse cast of characters? Double check. Shady goings on? You know it. Dramatic moments punctuated by diaphragm-ruining comedy? Oh, yes.

Its focus is Walter “Pops” Washington (Stephen McKinley Henderson), a disabled ex-cop whose years-long lawsuit against the NYPD is endangering his rent-stabilized apartment on Riverside Drive. He shares said apartment with his son Junior (Ray Anthony Thomas), a middle-aged manchild who is illegally selling electronics out of his room; Lulu (Rosal Colón), Junior’s not-so-bright girlfriend; and Oswaldo (Victor Almanzar), Junior’s friend who is a recovering addict and needs a place to stay. As Walter interacts with his crazy housemates, his NYPD colleagues, and a meddling church lady, he tries to trade in his troubled past and present for a brighter future.

Between Riverside and Crazy has many strengths. One is its cast, led by the brilliant Stephen McKinley Henderson. Walter’s character is not an easy one to play. He’s hugely imperfect, and at times, downright reprehensible. But Henderson plays the role with such nuance, humor, and joy that watching his performance is in itself a masterclass in acting. The rest of the cast also provide solid performances, from Victor Almanzar’s sincere Oswaldo to Rosal Colón’s delightfully air-headed Lulu (a far cry from her sharp character in last summer’s Basilica). Liza Colón-Zayas has a unforgettable turn as Church Lady, a character who doesn’t appear until the second act… but when she does, Walter is changed forever.

Another strength is the play’s gorgeous set, designed by Walt Spangler. If you’ve been missing the revolving stage from Lincoln Center’s Act One, it has taken an Off-Broadway turn in this production, showcasing every room in Walter’s apartment in exquisite detail. The plot of the play, too, has its share of surprises. The end of the play’s first act is so explosive, it had audiences bursting into applause at the performance I attended.

Unfortunately, my love is not blind. The second half, as many plays tend to do, doesn’t pack the same dramatic punch of the first half. But that is my only qualm with Between Riverside and Crazy, which is a fine addition to Stephen Adly Gurigis’ body of work. I can’t wait to see the next set of characters he’ll commit to paper, and who will bring them to the stage.

PTP/NYC Presents “GERTRUDE—THE CRY” @ Atlantic Stage 2

The Potomac Theatre Project returns to Atlantic Stage 2 this summer with two main-stage productions. I was immediately interested in Gertrude—The Cry, a play examining the passions of a woman mostly known for being the mother of a famously temperamental Danish prince.

This is not a regular “retelling” of a well-known story–nor should it be, under playwright Howard Barker’s pen. His work, a favorite of PTP (last year they tackled The Castle), is known as “theatre of catastrophe,” because Barker makes “no attempt to satisfy any demand for clarity or the deceptive simplicity of a single message.” Though Barker’s dialogue can be difficult to find meaning, it doesn’t fail to shock and titillate with its combination of heightened language and obscene subject matter.

Pamela J. Gray as Gertrude and David Barlow as Hamlet. (Photo by Stan Barouh)
Pamela J. Gray as Gertrude and David Barlow as Hamlet. (Photo by Stan Barouh)

Barker’s Gertrude (a stunning Pamela J. Gray) is not a misunderstood figure who has been wronged. She is just as culpable of her husband’s murder as Claudius, if not more so, taking on a Lady Macbeth level of glee as she plots with Claudius to kill the king—and in a shocking turn, have sex over the king as he is in his final death throes.

Later in the play, Hamlet (David Barlow) laments that “it’s so hard to shock them.” At first, Hamlet’s assertion rings false, as Gertrude’s pursuit of sex and betrayal bring about a host of lewd acts and words. But the second half of Gertrude—The Cry becomes a forgone bloody Shakespearean conclusion (It’s still based on Hamlet, after all). Its shock value decreases not because it’s a tragedy, but because the characters’ motivations are never fully defined.

Do not let that stop you from seeing this play, though. Fantastic performances abound, from Alex Draper’s all-knowing servant to Pamela J. Gray’s poised and devastatingly sensual Gertrude. My favorite had to be David Barlow’s Hamlet. His performance allowed me to finally see why a grown man (“student” though he may be) is a man-child overly obsessed with his mother’s sex life. Major props also go to Barker evening the gender quota, adding Isola (Kathryn Kates), Claudius’ mother, and Ragusa (Meghan Leathers), a much more capable foil to Ophelia (nonexistent in this play). And Barker’s language is a perverse delight to hear.

Gertrude—The Cry is not your mother’s Hamlet, nor would you want it to be. It is a fascinating and frustrating portrait of a woman who usually stands silent in another fascinating and frustrating play.

Fringe Round-Up Part 5

I’m closing up our coverage of this year’s FringeNYC with a fairy-tale opera, a South African dramedy, and some experimental feminist dance theatre. Let’s get to it!


The Magic Mirror is an opera retelling of Snow White’s familiar tale, while also showing the rise and fall of the evil queen.

Like many Fringe shows, the set is minimal, save for an impressive mirror effect that displays different characters in a given scene. The costumes, too, are a predictable mix of button-down shirts, trousers, and evening gowns.

But the stars of an opera are its music and voices. There The Magic Mirror soars, with a haunting, complex score by young composer Polina Nazaykinskaya, and a cast filled with strong, rich voices. While Snow White is not the most captivating of princesses, in The Magic Mirror, she at least has one kick-ass soprano.

Ndebele Funeral.
Ndebele Funeral.


Ndebele Funeral begins as a standard living room drama… if the living room is a one-room shack in South Africa, that is. Daweti (Zoey Martinson) is the shack’s sole inhabitant. She is more invested in her final home, however, building her own coffin out of materials the government provided to renovate her house. Her friend Thabo (Yusef Miller) visits Daweti, hoping to convince her to leave the shack. Daweti, suffering from HIV, depression, and alcoholism, refuses. The pair are interrupted by Jan (Jonathan David Martin), an inspector from the government checking in on Daweti’s unorthodox use of the supplies. Things don’t turn out so well.

Ndebele Funeral deals with some heavy material (HIV, complicated race relations in South Africa, etc.) but the execution of it is far from dreary. Martinson’s script is a sophisticated combination of pain, humor, and a touch of melodrama. An exciting element to the production is the use of traditional South African singing and dancing, which adds a visceral quality to the play while effectively detailing its cultural world.

Even though I could see its ending early on (with Chekov’s gun in full effect), I still mourned at the close of Ndebele Funeral.

Kinematik's "Perfect Prototype." Photo by Jim R Moore.
Kinematik’s “Perfect Prototype.” Photo by Jim R Moore.


Dance theatre only succeeds when it can tell a story within the physical movement. Kinematik Dance Theater more than achieves this aim in Perfect Prototype, as Kinematik’s dancers challenge “perfect body aesthetics within media culture.” Dressed in uniform black full-body leotards and black bobbed wigs, the dancers begin the piece as mannequins that come in and out of consciousness. Some of the most impressive choreography involves the performers holding their plastic poses as other dancers manipulate their bodies throughout the space. As the piece progresses, the dancers become more and more distorted, mimic-ing troubled pop stars and showcasing their bodies, now altered with gigantic prosthetic limbs. When the performers remove their plastic trappings and smear their heavy makeup, they challenge us to examine our own standards of beauty.

It ain’t pretty.

“Sexless in the Boroughs” @ IRT Theater

Steve Carell, eat your heart out. (Photography credit to Shani Hadjian)

Sex in theatre is pretty easy to find. Its absence, on the other hand, is trickier to spot. Colleen O’Connor tackles the subject in her one-woman show Sexless in the Boroughs, now playing at the IRT Theater. Sexless follows O’Connor through her experiences as a 26 year old virgin (or as the program calls it, “the most mythical creature”) in New York City. Her stories include an awkward tumble in sheets stained by a wayward spray tan, a tragic unrequited love for her best friend, and reflections on why and how she has become an “old virgin” in the first place.

The one-woman show, much like Alan Cumming’s solo rendering of Macbeth, does have some extra corporeal assistance. Andrew Davies and Annie Rubino portray different characters in O’Connor’s narrative, including her improv class crush and her painfully honest drama school teacher. Both actors bring endless energy and humor to the different characters they play. Singer/songwriter Dan Emino, as the guitar-playing busker who appears throughout the piece, performs original songs that compliment O’Connor’s narrative. (Bonus points to his sweet cover of Hall & Oates’ “You Make My Dreams.”) Jason Fok’s lighting design beautifully captures the more poignant moments, and Kyle Metzger’s direction gives a seamless staging from scene to scene.

Still, O’Connor shines in her performance. In the tradition of clever, awkward comediennes like Tina Fey and Mindy Kaling, O’Connor approaches her material with measured self-depreciation and a knowing smile.  She also takes her “plight” of old virginhood and turns it into a funny and frank examination of her life thus far, from embarrassing dates to heartbreaking revelations. Her sincerity rings true throughout her performance, showing a confident performer baring it all on stage (and someday, in the bedroom).

Sexless in the Boroughs runs until November 3rd. You can purchase tickets here. Also, the show is based on O’Connor’s blog of the same name.

Contemporary Shakespeare: “OT” and “The HAMLET Project”

William Shakespeare may have lived and died centuries ago, but artists continue to find new ways to present his work to contemporary audiences. Here are two projects that work to reinvent the Bard’s classics:


British spoken word artist Charlie Dupré released a music video retelling of Othello earlier this month. The piece is part of his ongoing project, “The Stories of Shakey P,” a collection of Shakespeare plays retold as rap songs. “OT” does a good job of breaking down Othello in a succinct, entertaining way, while also making it specific to contemporary British youth. The song also has a chorus reminiscent of Dido’s verses in “Stan”—sad, evocative, and crazy catchy.

To drink, or not to drink: That’s not a question.


The appropriately named Three Day Hangover is making Shakespeare a part of New York City nightlife with its highly energized bar-themed productions of the Bard’s plays. The HAMLET Project, which had a summer run at Harley’s Smokeshack, advertises itself as a “Shakespeare drinking theatrical event.” And boy, does it deliver. Cast members, armed with noisemakers, alert the audience to take shots throughout the show. (One cue guaranteed to kill your sobriety is to take a drink whenever a character says the word “king.”) The cast isn’t spared, either. Whenever a character dies, a bonus game called “Heaven or Hell” ensues, where the audience votes whether a deceased character goes to heaven (a shot of whiskey) or hell (a cup of boxed wine). At the performance I attended, only the actor playing Rosencrantz and Guildenstern visited heaven’s gates.

Hamlet and company might drop more f-bombs than Shakespeare ever intended, and die-hard Shakespeare purists may not be pleased with Three Day Hangover’s liberal treatment of the text. Though it was on the irreverent side, many scenes still kept their dramatic gravity. The ghost scenes, in particular, were some of the best I’ve ever seen in a production of Hamlet (the ghost taking on the form of a homeless man notwithstanding).

Their next show, a treatment on Romeo and Juliet titled The R+J Experience: Star-Cross’d Death Match, premieres tonight at Harley’s Smokeshack—and I will definitely be attending. For more information, check out Three Day Hangover’s website.

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