‘Rumplestiltskin’ by Katie Labahn
The cast of ‘Rumplestiltskin’!
nytheatre.com review, Rohana Elias-Reyes • January 9, 2010
Over the past year, I’ve reviewed a number of children’s shows and seen an even larger number. With some exceptions, the shows break down into three basic groups: challenging, beautifully staged and performed productions from other countries; well-executed formulaic musicals based on best-selling children’s books; and earnestly well-intentioned low-budget “original” plays featuring telegraphed messages and casts of mixed-level experience. Produced by Nicu’s Spoon Theater, Rumplestiltskin falls into the last category. Katie Labahn’s adaptation embellishes the widely known Brothers Grimm version of the tale. “R” and his fairy friend Mori are bored after 500 years together; R decides the solution is to acquire a human baby. Meanwhile, King Thaddeus is sitting on the bankrupt throne of Marigold. His advisor Lady Malcolm insists he marry for money to save the kingdom, but instead he disguises himself as a peasant and ends up meeting a miller and his daughter, Annalease. Calvin, the miller, brags to the Lady Malcolm that his daughter can spin straw into gold and the well-known story unfolds.
What I liked was Nicu’s Spoon Theatre’s, wonderfully straightforward version of inclusion. Actress and playwright Katie Labahn performs in a wheelchair—it’s not a plot point, nor is the character described that way; there is simply no reason why Lady Malcolm (or any other character in the play really) shouldn’t be in a wheelchair. When she entered, my daughter turned to me and asked if the actress really needed a wheelchair, I nodded, she nodded and turned back to watch the show. That moment was a far more valuable lesson than when the performers turned to the kids in the audience and told them that lying is bad and gets you into trouble. With a $10 entry fee, Rumplestiltskin offers another kind of inclusion as well.
‘Wit’ by Margaret Edson
‘Margaret Edson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play grabs the audience by the lapels and launches into a taut and unsentimental exploration of one woman’s life and death — narrated by none other than the remarkable woman herself. Stephanie Barton-Farcas’s arresting performance as Vivian is the driving force behind Nicu’s Spoon’s successful production of this supremely difficult work. By turns self-righteous and vulnerable, glib and reflective, she offers an empathic portrait of a woman suddenly faced with the task of making sense of a life’s worth of triumphs and regrets. With a story that could easily turn maudlin, director Alvaro Sena is wise to keep the pacing quick, balancing poignant moments with frequent bursts of levity. An ensemble of sullen and inept medical interns (Michael Abourizk, Phrannie Lyons, Anouk Dutruit, and William Reid) are the frequent targets of Vivian’s droll and unforgiving wit, and the same actors double as the inarticulate students that she cheerfully eviscerates in the classroom vignettes. Onstage bedpans, pelvic exams, and radiation treatments lend the hospital scenes an uncomfortable intimacy, and we share Vivian’s sense of humiliation when she realizes that her doctor’s oafish assistant, Jason Posner (Sammy Mena), is one of her former students. In an unexpected outpouring of tenderness, Jason tells Vivian that cancer research is for him what 17th-century poetry was for her: a life’s passion.When Vivian’s beloved mentor, E.M. Ashford (Wynne Anders), shows up at the hospital to comfort her former pupil, the scene is moving not just because Vivian’s death seems imminent, but because all of her clever commentary has finally ceased. It is Ashford’s voice that takes over, bravely searching for the words to offer a friend who always knew just what to say. As Ashford crawls into the hospital bed and begins reading tearfully from a children’s book, we realize that for the first time, Vivian is silent — content, at last, to relinquish control of her own story.’ Eileen Reynolds, SHOW BUSINESS WEEKLY
‘This brilliant play is so blessed with subtle foils and intricacies that even the experience of simply observing its players is in itself a remarkable exercise in intellect and emotion. The doctors, like the protagonist, place research above the need for kindness. Professor Bearing’s condition presents a wonderful opportunity for additional information on advanced ovarian cancer, though there was never a chance of their arguably brutal treatments presenting a cure. She understands this, however – she “read between the lines” – but as a devotee to all that is intellectual, she did not protest. The roles within this gloriously complex play require heroic stamina and an arsenal of talent, as each scene is uniquely intense, whether through reflective philosophizing, soothing bonding or tumultuous drama. The respective roles absolutely have to be handled with the necessary professionalism to be effective. Under the superb direction of Alvaro Sena, they were executed with such passion and grace that this mammoth of a play came alive and was instantly felt; it was pensive, and heartbreaking, and most of all, witty.’ Olga Privman, Reviewfix.com
‘Somewhere between endurance and death is the small surrender that precedes the great surrender, and it is in this twilight that Margaret Edson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Wit takes place. Vivian Bearing, Ph.D., is a powerhouse character, a paint-peeling, rafter-shaking, highly calibrated machine designed for the analysis of verse and the concentration of scorn. Ms. Barton-Farcas brings remarkable vocal strength to the role, along with a kind of wounded energy. Playing a high-powered personality enervated by cancer is a difficult balancing act, a real challenge, and Ms. Barton-Farcas performs admirably. And she has to: Like a good number of recent plays—too many, in truth—Wit is very nearly a monologue. Bearing begins by addressing the audience directly and continues to do so, offering a running commentary on the play, her life, Donne, and the state of modern cancer therapy, which comes off a good deal worse than do the metaphysical poets. And unlike Mr.Horton Foote’s plays, Wit is powerful because it mostly eschews the easy sentimentality inherent in its emotionally supercharged situation. Professor Bearing is a no-nonsense critic, of her own intellect as well as others’s, and though she ultimately gives in to the final descent, she maintains a cool critical distance from her own experience until the moment finally comes that doing so is impossible. But what she is engaged in throughout the play is a quest to meet mortal limitations with real valor outside of traditionally male contexts such as the battlefield. She is trying to die a good death. And there are few story lines more powerful than that one.’ - Kevin D. Williamson is a Deputy Managing Editor at National Review.
‘Beautiful Thing’ Jonathan Harvey
‘Nicu’s Spoon obviously has a great desire to produce this play - this production has a personal sense of ownership and love put into it. The set is quaint and functional, the sound design follows the script with respect and appropriateness, and the lighting design is simple and effective. The roles are cast with Nicu’s Spoon own company members and they are clearly having a grand time of it wading in the lower class British dialects and campiness of the same British lower class humor. But that’s not why you’ll see this production of Beautiful Thing: at its heart is a sweet story about two boys who find love unexpectedly and without the immediate acceptance of their world around them. But they do find the acceptance we all want them to find. They do and we’re all the happier for it.’ Janelle Lannon, THEEASY
‘plot is a secondary pleasure in Beautiful Thing; the play is interested primarily in the richly drawn characters, particularly Jamie, Sandra, and the charmingly self-destructive Leah. When the play works best, we feel as if we’ve pulled up a chair to share a beer and watch them banter. Under Michelle Kuchuk’s gently nuanced direction, the actors convincingly capture the rhythms of everyday desire, charmingly incarnating the little disappointments and thrills of growing up and moving on.’ August Schulenberg, NYTHEATRE.COM
‘Kimberly Akimbo’ by David Lindsey-Abaire
“Kimberly Akimbo” delivers on a heavy emotional experience
By Kerry McBroome-Pace Press
One more play about family relationships might spark a street riot in the Theater District - luckily, “Kimberly Akimbo” at the Spoon Theater tackles much more. So much more, in fact, that it scales the thematic heights of a classic novel. “Kimberly Akimbo” centers on a girl aging at impossible speeds and her adolescent-minded parents, all trapped in New Jersey. Maturity then, is the initial topic.
Wynne Anders wrestles the title role and plays a girl with a fatal disease that causes her to age at four and half times the normal rate. She oozes with the self-conscious sarcasm of a witty teen, making her performance embarrassingly relatable. The set, which looks like it could have been designed by Salvador Dali, emphasizes the mortality subtext. Clocks missing hands and numbers dot the walls, echoed in large painted circles on the floor and the round tabletop. It’s an apt theme; the show begins on Kimberly’s sixteenth birthday, and the average lifespan of people with her disease is sixteen years. Meanwhile, her hypochondriac mother, portrayed by Elizabeth Bell, is more concerned with her own “imminent death,” and nags of her impending doom for much of the first act. “Kimberly Akimbo” is a risky choice of show for the Spoon Theater, considering that the “art as escapism” camp has got New York in a death grip. Attempting realism is not the predictable option, especially with a plotline as unusual as this.
Playwright David Lindsay-Abaire is fortunately comfortable with making bizarre situations seem genuine.
The off-off Broadway Spoon Theater is known for producing avant-garde theater in this vein. This season’s theme was Outcasts, which dealt with our perceptions of normality and its aberrations. The theater is a tiny black box in the middle of an office building. For the audience member tired of Broadway glitz, it’s a charming haven. Whether the credit belongs to the quaint setting or the genuine acting, “Kimberly Akimbo” achieves its ultimate goal - have the audience expect Kimberly to flop over dead at any moment, and dread that happening. For the delicately crafted ending scene alone, “Kimberly Akimbo” is a fine piece, and as they say, well worth the price of admission.
In the first scene of David Lindsay-Abaire’s Kimberly Akimbo a woman of a certain age sits shivering on a bench with ice skates at her feet. A man comes to collect her; he’s very late and she berates him in the language of a teenager. It turns out this man is her father, but why would they cast a actress who’s older than the actor who plays her father? We find out why soon enough. The older woman, Kimberly, is not a woman at all but a girl who’s been afflicted with a disease that ages her unnaturally. When the play opens she’s close to her sixteenth birthday, but she’s aging at 41/2 times the usual rate. And the life expectancy for someone like her is sixteen. The good news about Kimberly is her family. Her father can be an unreliable drunk, and her heavily pregnant mother is a hypochondriac. They use so much bad language that when Kimberly imposes a penalty of a nickel per curse word they almost fill up two milk bottles in the few days over which the play takes place. But as screwy as they are, the Levaces love each other and Kimberly’s parents, Buddy and Pattie, love her in ways we don’t suspect till the end.
There’s also Jeff, a classmate who works at the burger joint, who can see past Kimberly’s appearance to the sweet, smart and funny girl beneath. William Reid makes Jeff a lovable, openhearted nerd. When Buddy expresses his wariness Kimberly reminds him that Jeff can’t get her pregnant since she went through menopause when she was twelve. Alas, there’s the complication of Kimberly’s aunt Debra, a small town crook and thug, who needs to involve the kids in a scam that will fund her irresponsible life for a while longer. The actors, directed by Oliver Conant, are excellent. Wynne Anders brings out the soul of a young girl who knows her time is brief; what she’d really like is to be kissed by a boy, to go ice skating, to go to a safari park. Elizabeth Bell is Pattie, who can’t accept her daughter’s imminent death and, gripped by denial and magical thinking, is willing to take on all manner of ailment if it will spare her. But the magical thinking only goes so far; in her heart she knows her daughter will die soon, and has made unusual arrangements to deal with the agony of it. Bell’s Pattie is funny, profane, fiercely loving, heartbreaking. David Tully is touching as Buddy, whose alcoholism helps him to not be completely helpless and useless in the face of upcoming tragedy, and to deal with his wife’s choices. Phrannie Lyons is deliciously hateful as Debra, who, unlike the family around her, cares only for herself. The set designer Alvaro Sena makes the most of it; check out the handless clock whose ticking heralds the beginning and end of each scene. Steven Wolfe’s lighting design is restrained, and the costumes and props, all appropriate for a working class family from New Jersey, were done by S. Barton-Farcas. Lindsay-Abaire’s writing makes you believe in the Levaces, their terrible situation and their deep devotion to each other.