October 25, 2005
THE DIARY OF SHERRY BRAUN
"The Monster Makes History, part one"
by Sherry Braun
I've been attending everything at the Halloween Festival because they let me in for free
if I write about them. Truth is that I'd attend all of it, anyway, even if they didn't invite me.
This year's festival is at the historic club, the Monster. Quite a big deal has been made of the
new venue. Seems that it hasn't been used as a professional room in years -- perhaps since the
flamenco dancing days. Oh, there have been exotic drag revues and go-go dancers. But, now the
room also welcomes comedians, singers, variety shows, original plays and experimental pieces.
The Room is working magic. Downstairs at the Monster is full of good spirit of all kinds. As if
the ghosts of the Monster and El Chico are looking over it, the venue is heaped full of warmth
and good will by a friendly staff, drapes which warm the place, and the possibility of a martini
while you watch the latest pick.
The sound and lighting system is everything it should be in productions such as the classy
song-cycle, Requiem for Adrian Bayle. The nuance of voice and ivories was fully
enjoyed among those four musicians. Of course, I'm referring to the performer/actors-as-musicians,
as well as the pianist. Christina Lalog was on the keys -- what a gifted pianist. Heather Friedman
is an astonishing singer and actress. The handsome Donovan Singletary also has an amazing voice --
rich, full and resonant. Drew David Sotomayor is not just a great writer. His acting and singing is
first-rate -- none of this, "The writer isn't very good; but that's ok because he's the
writer." No, this performer looks like he got the part because he deserves the part. Director
Jonathan Tessero has brought utmost charm out of his actors. They didn't miss a transition or stumble
upon a single note. Look forward to seeing this if offered next year. Music and Lyrics by A. Bayle,
C. Hurley and Drew David Sotomayor. Of all of the productions which I have watched, the technical
elements meshed the best here. Amplification was balanced. The lights were elegant. My only complaint
was a that the cute waiter wore hard shoes as he served drinks. I could do without the distracting
clip-clop of his walk.
Vintage Halloween Stories and Songs, with host Grant Barrett, is a complete
delight. Wow! I heard somebody say, 'It's filled with innocence for the children and double meaning
for the adults.' How true! Barrett's voice is pure and beautiful! This production has one of the
more lavish sets in the festival, with little pumpkin footlights. The music is done completely to
a professional backing track. I was in the front and heard everything fine. However, for the rear
audience, I suspect that the overhead microphones could be punched up a point or two. The trivia
contest is a joyful whimsy. And I won a prize. I will always remember the holiday laughs that the
cast gave me in this funny-bone and, indeed, whole skeleton tickling evening! There was a special
guest appearance by Eugene Nicks in a one-act entitled, "Evening Hour in Late Autumn."
He's a good actor and fits the style just fine. Charles Catanese directs, seemingly with a grin and
a wink. There are new music and lyrics, as well as translations, by Barrett. It's not every Halloween
that you can hear works by Gian Carlo Menotti, Isabel Innes, Russel Godfrey, Heinrich Heine, Gus
Kahn, Alice Crowell Hoffman, Gilbert and Sullivan, Elizabeth Hough Sechrist, Friedrick Durrenmatt,
Alan Lomax, J.W. Pruitt, Robert Herrick, the Grimm brothers, J.W. Beattie and J. Wolverton, Poe,
and Mary Thom. I particularly enjoyed "Ragtime Goblin Man," by Harry Von Tilzer and
Andrew B Sterling. If these literary/ historical names mean anything to you -- or you want them
to -- don't miss the next performances.
The Cobra Lady Strikes is as campy and straight as The Theatre Ridiculous and
Charles Ludlam. Race out and see this one for so many reasons: the cobra dress; the writing; the
surprise ending; and for the comedy, mostly! There are cute and clever devices throughout, such as
the impersonation sequences. This cast is hysterical because they get the style and commit themselves
to it. Thankfully, all of the regulars are back, including Director Neal Sims (also a solid character
actor and funny man) and Writer Todd Michaels (also a funny male actress). The play is new -- a
spoof of 1940s movie serials. The diabolical Cobra Lady has secured the plans for a weapon of
destructive power called the Dynamic Vibrator. With the aid of a mad scientist, she hopes to build
the device to fulfill her dream of world dominance. A wise-cracking girl reporter and a Broadway
musical theatre leading man try to stop her in time. Costumes, lights and sound design are right on!
Dressing Up is Hard To Do is a cabaret act that succeeds with heart, comedy and
musicality. Robert Vest surely charms in his NY solo debut. I always enjoyed the Broadway and
contemporary tunes; and I marvel at the playfulness that Robert 'inVests' in childhood memories,
dressing up and the masks that we wear -- both literally and figuratively. Vest is as comfortable
as a comedian as he is as a legitimate singer. I appreciate that he has done all that I expected of
him. Yet, beyond that, he has let his mask down, become real, and sent us a message artistically and
metaphorically. I missed his name; but his accompanist is a little bit of perfection at the piano.
I missed Timeless in its 'one-night only' appearance Saturday (prior engagement).
However, I lurked in the shadows, with permission from a producer, at the technical rehearsal on a
Tuesday. John Luke and Jerry Scott work together like a long-term duet. My, oh my, they are melodious,
and the repertoire is gorgeous. John Luke transports me to an elegant time with his selections from
earlier decades. And the duets with Scott are so beautuful that I got chills. The big finish with the
Broadway running lights was a surprise.
There is something either existential, absurd, elevated or godly about all of the plays in the
evening entitled Unlikely Conversations (Helga Schmidt's Pussy, Fairy Tales Can Come True, Sitting
Across From God and Sisters of Little Mercy). They are important and brilliant plays, for some reason,
perhaps because they represent us -- viewers -- as we search our lives for meaning, identity,
ambition or a hand-up. Sometimes these plays almost seem inconsequential or throw-away in their
substance; yet, they are successful precisely for their satire and irony. In "Sitting Across
From God," (dir., Justin Ambrosino/ writer, David Occhino) Frank Bridgewater was reserved and
stately as God; and Marci Occhino, as the woman, was more successful than her double-cast counterpart,
Tej Shri as the man. Even when playing the part of an uneducated man, an actor must handle operative
words differently than the rest in order to be understandable. However, Shri also has a most
compelling quality which held me rapt at attention. A moment of suspension at the ending, before
the lights dim, would better finalize the piece and allow us to consider the existential question.
I loved Frank Calo's fantastical take, as director, on "Sisters" (written by Edward
Crosby Wells). The serious handling of the sisters' goals was as much the key as the campy casting
and the quick pace -- a difficult balance for actors to strike. Richard Lay's "Fairy Tales"
(dir., Steven Thornburg) succeeds as outlandish and funny satire. Many of us noted the striking
similarity to the real life that Steven Thornburg and Frank Calo lived. The artistic license that
is taken, as the writer veers away from his inspiration, is a joy also. Here, the heroes are a truck
driver (Adam Mervis) and an airline pilot (Kenny Rials). They are both charming actors. Steven
Thornburg also directs "Helga Schmidt." While the staging is straight-forward in
"Fairy Tales" --and all that is required -- "Helga Schmidt" is handled with
several small playing areas. Larray Grimes and Cynthia Toronto deliver original performances as
funny and poignant pussy cats.