Lower East Side

Trump Lear at Under St. Marks

This review of Trump Lear at Under St. Mark's Theater was written by Christopher M. Struck and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Trump Lear
Written & Performed by David Carl
Co-Created & Directed by Michole Biancosino
Sound Design & Voiceovers by David Carl
Videos by Mark Stetson & David Carl
Tech by Michael Montalbano
Under St. Mark's Theater
94 St. Mark's Place
New York, New York 10009
Reviewed 9/30/17

I walked into Trump Lear with two lingering questions/doubts revolving around the idea of how Lear relates to Trump because Lear is a much different character. These questions were: "How respectful is the story to King Lear as a play?" and "How exactly does this play relate to Donald Trump?" David Carl, playing the role of Carl David, answers those questions pretty quickly. The first bit of the play discusses the literary and theatrically important significance of King Lear, even listing off a bevy of iconic actors who have mantled the role over the years including Ian McClellan, to which Trump responds, "Gandalf?"

In fact, David seemed to get two things mainly right with this play which made for an entertaining spectacle filled with laughter - Lear and Trump. Pitted against himself with a slim chance of saving his own life. David must perform his one-man King Lear for a tyrant Trump under bright interrogation lights. Trump, a disembodied voice "attached to a camera," says things like "Do you think I'm losing my mind, Carl?" and uses it as an opportunity to garner internet fame by live streaming the performance on YouTube revealing this to David only after he has broken down crying. Trump also breaks for commercials which simply portray him as the richest, smartest man alive. So far, so good.

The funny thing really was that David didn't have to stretch the truth to make a great play. He won his right to live from Trump by telling the truth. At the same time, the fictional Trump presses a lot of David's buttons and even makes reference to the fact that David should be thanking him; the stark reality being that David has made a decent living off of impersonating Trump. David responds, "Art was doing just fine before you came along."

David did a fantastic job putting it all on the line for art. While Trump Lear may not deserve the same level of virtuoso praise the original garnered, David has captured lightning in a bottle with this brilliant comedy. Ultimately, you don't need to hate Donald Trump to enjoy the show. Loving King Lear will not negatively impact your opinion. Loving Donald Trump might, but I'm not sure. I don't think much about and don't hate Donald Trump - and I love King Lear. I enjoyed this show. It's worth more than a few laughs for less than a few bucks. Better than expected. To see it, check out:www.trumplear.com 

Photo from David Carl's website - see here: http://davidcarlonline.com

Photo from David Carl's website - see here: http://davidcarlonline.com

Lost and Guided at Under St. Marks

This review of Irene Kapustina's Lost & Guided at Under St. Mark's Theater was written by Christopher M. Struck and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Lost & Guided
Written & Directed by Irene Kapustina
Assistant Director: Alexandra Kattan
Costume, Set & Lighting Design by Wesley Cornwell
Sound Design by Adam Cuthbert
Stage Management by Sabrina Morabito
Under St. Mark's Theater
94 St. Mark's Place
New York, New York 10009
Reviewed 8/5/17

Lost & Guided has an intriguing concept for a play. Set amidst the onset of violence in Syria's Civil War, it follows the fates of two families connected through best friends Amina (Mischa Ipp) and Rima (Mouna R'miki). While relying perhaps too heavily on the classic idea of how civil war or war, in general, can tear apart families and ruin lives, the play does synthesize the emotions of the characters through good acting and an engaging script. These factors allowed the play to capture both the naive hope, in the early days, of positive changes being made to the government and the devastating effects the war would later have on the citizens of the country.

Despite a plethora of moments of clarity that created intense emotional drama, there were some aspects of the play that made it difficult to follow. One of the problems was a convoluted story arc. Most likely meant to draw attention to how lives are altered by the onset of war as mentioned earlier, I felt like none of the featured characters became an early focal point. This made it hard to catch the main storyline, but it did provide for interesting dialogue that was partially a guise for the delivery of a deluge of information. 

The first scene in the play shows a conversation between Rima and Amina discussing husbands. Mouna R'miki as Rima was an awesome ball of passion that dominated the opening wonderfully. "I do not love him!" Rima exclaimed before launching into a twister-like tirade across the exquisite stage with a delicate balance of grace and verve. "He's so quiet" she would say about her husband while being her loud and obnoxious self and describing her own character as the worst thing about her personality. It was pretty funny, but beside her, Amina seemed to be merely a person with a pulse for Rima to talk to. Even though this scene seemed like a big deal, most if it didn't really factor into the main elements of the story. The most important part was the return of Imad and Sami (Rima's brother) with news. Even though he just got engaged to Amina, Imad accepted a position in a hospital in New Orleans.


Retrospectively, this might have been given a more prominent position in the unfolding of the story. The news could have been broken at the beginning of the scene and then Rima could have consoled Amina while lambasting her own husband. However, it came at the end somewhat disguising the fact that Imad takes the central role in the story powered by Doga Celik's superb performance. While Imad is in New Orleans adapting and adjusting to American life (quite comically at points), the Syrian Civil War breaks out and begins to tear apart his family back home. All he can do is stay in contact through Whatsapp hearing intermittent news from Sami, who works as a star doctor in a hospital, and Amina, who plans to escape with Rima as a refugee to Jordan. Imad is left powerless complaining, "I'm a man. I should do something," but he can't even tell his fiancee he misses her because she starts to cry. His biggest issue is being able to sound surprised and enthusiastic when colleagues tell him interesting news while at home bombs begin to become a constant threat. At first, Sami, played by the solid Shayan Sobhian, joyously discussed the pro-Democracy marches, but quickly the news starts to sour when Rima's husband is taken off to fight for Assad's army.

The other major difficulty in following the storyline was in the structure of the cast. Three of the seven actors played strange bit roles that mostly didn't require talking. These roles came in between major talking parts like commercials between different segments of the show. For example, immediately after Imad delivers his news about going to America, Jarrod Zayas, as an officer, chases, and mimes the killing of Alexandra Kattan, who plays a student. By mimicking hand movements on one side of the stage while Alexandra twisted and turned on the other side of the stage, Jarrod could act out more violent gestures, but it seemed a little awkward as the audience had no context for the interaction. Sami explained later when he told Imad over Whatsapp that students had been delivered to their parents dead. I am not sure if these scenes were added to make the situation seem more dire and violent, but it may have required more building up for the sake of comprehension. Susan Cohen Destefano also joined these in between segues dressed in a nun's habit and usually appeared only when death struck.

Regardless of these factors, the narrative became engrossing as the toll of the war became more and more apparent. I was deeply moved by the ultimate fate of the main characters in the play. Amina walked to Jordan for 10 hours, and Rima, who didn't leave, died in a bombing raid. Amina rested on her backpack mid-stage while Rima's body crashed to the floor in the back. Meanwhile, Sami safely rested up against the wall having just told Imad he was hiding under a support beam. When he goes to help an injured rebel left for dead, she cries out and a guard (Jarrod Zayas) kills them both. The two actors lay side by side after Sami sends out one last message to be received by Imad in America. Safe in America, Imad goes to pray.

There were a lot of positive aspects to Lost & Guided, but the story arc and the silent segues did make it difficult to follow. I would recommend this play for its timeliness and gritty nature. Doga Celik and Mouna R'miki stood out for their passionate performances as Imad and Rima. The cast as a whole brought a human face to a faraway war that now resonates for me more emotionally than it did before watching the play. For that, Lost & Guided deserves praise as does writer-director Irene Kapustina for writing the script after conducting interviews with Syrian refugees living in the United States. I hope you get a chance to enjoy it while it is at Under St. Mark's Theater through August 25, 2017. Tickets for $20.00 can be found on www.lostandguided.com or by calling 1-800-901-7173. 

George Tabori's Mein Kampf at Theater for the New City

This review of George Tabori's Mein Kampf at Theater For The New City was written by Christopher M. Struck and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Mein Kampf
Written by George Tabori
Directed by Manfred Bormann
Theater For The New City
155 First Avenue
New York, New York 10003
Reviewed 5/4/17

George Tabori's Mein Kampf represents the playwright's "darkly satirical" side. The irony of this poignant play about Hitler's youth in Vienna draws on Tabori's cleverly crafted circumstances to entice laughs despite the reality of how long past events once unfolded. The play paints Hitler as an incapable louse assisted in a flophouse (a residence for the poor) by an old and ugly Jewish man, Shlomo Herzl, who inadvertently allows the creation of the future monster. While it is a little unsettling to recall how Tabori seems to portray Hitler as imminently damnable, reflecting on the play may be the only reason I find it discomforting. The themes are portrayed in a well-contrasted manner presenting the futility of one's attempts to be a good person. Despite the fact that it may be light on realism, how can one not pause to ponder? The seriousness of the subject of Hitler causes lingering fear and a bitter taste in hopefully everyone. Regardless, Jewish himself, George Tabori's comical version of Hitler's youth may have been an effective way of framing events in an effort to make it easier to cope with the reality of World War II's atrocities. Tabori presents the starkness of evil alongside humor possibly partially as a means of reconciliation and also as a forewarning even if the humor is mixed with unconcealed hate.

The play is split into two acts that explore the fragile thread we walk as humans in different ways by following the life of the old, ugly Jewish man, Shlomo Herzl (Jon Freda); more often called "Shlomo." Shlomo opens with an intense discussion about fulfilling God's purpose with Lobkowitz (G.W. Reed), a man who believes himself to be God (after an accident involving head trauma). This exchange presents Shlomo, a man who sells Bibles, as a person who spreads the word of God regardless of denomination. Shlomo also questions the exercise, pitches a story about his life as a pathological liar who doomed his father as "Mein Kampf." Here we meet the embodiment of evil, young Hitler (Omri Kadim), who steps in and says "that's it" to the name and surprising the other two who thought the conversation was private. At first, Hitler doesn't seem much more than a little arrogant. He and Shlomo argue about proper manners, and he concedes to re-enter the room after knocking. As the two characters grow closer together, however, Hitler grows more despotic as Shlomo assumes a fatherly role to the young would-be artist who likes painting the twilight. For example, before Hitler's interview for attending the Academy of Fine Arts, Shlomo shines Hitler's shoes for him because Hitler is despondent about being unable to fix the mistake of having used brown instead of black polish. Only Shlomo can't fix everything because when Hitler runs out of the house, he forgets his pants. If only it had been as simple as putting on pants!

Hitler seems every bit as corruptible, impressionable, and paranoid as he needs to be from the start of his time in Vienna. In contrast to this representation of budding evil, Shlomo interacts with another character in the first act who shirks the pursuit of wealth: the excellent Andrea Lynn Green's Gretchen. While Hitler appears flamboyant and filled with ambition, Gretchen lacks greed or desire. When Shlomo questions why it is that she entreats an ugly, old man like him to devote his life to her, she responds simply. Her wealthy parents committed suicide because their life was just too perfect, they were too beautiful and rich. As a result, she intends to be with him, because he is both ugly and poor. As a metaphor for goodness, it makes sense, but during the play, it does come off as more than a bit awkward and slightly fantastical especially when Gretchen cuts Shlomo's toenails. In addition, it does make me wonder if all beautiful people that are interested in money are evil. That being said, the scene closed the first act on a high note. The four main actors that appeared were all very good. Jon Freda and Omri Kadim had tremendous rapport, working well together as Shlomo and Hitler respectively. All four had to contend with numerous distractions such as sirens and dogs barking but never once flinched.

Unfortunately, act two disappointed because not only did it add new layers to the plot rather than closing threads, the acting didn't match the intensity of the piece. Cordis Heard as Frau Death had some difficulty with lines and timing which seemed to throw off Freda as Shlomo as well. In addition, Jeff Burchfield as Himmlisch, had slight difficulty maintaining composure while violently pulling apart a chicken. He contained his shaking as he wielded a sharp knife with what seemed like an actual, raw chicken, but it had me worried. It may have been a better decision to mime the chopping, but luckily no one was hurt and he completed his soliloquy. These factors contributed to distract from the momentum that the first act developed. The major threads did tie rather neatly when Shlomo continued his luckless dooming of the innocent such as when his lies as a child doomed his father. In act two, in an effort to be a good person, Shlomo diverts Frau Death's attention in an effort to stave off Hitler's death. Is Shlomo, therefore, the one responsible for the death of everyone in World War II or are we, the audience, at fault for not stepping in? Tabori seems to challenge the audience directly and subtly during act two by asking us why we didn't do anything to stop evil in its tracks. After saving Hitler from death, Shlomo remarks to Death that perhaps the purpose of poetry is to "chat up death and stall" which could stand as a metaphor for the human condition diverting its attention as time slips away. It's the second time that Shlomo makes reference to the purpose of poetry during the play, but he changes the meaning a third time after Hitler "goes into politics." With Hitler demonstrating to Shlomo the man that he will become, Shlomo states that the purpose of poetry may, therefore, be "the entertainment of the wicked."

Considering the first iterations of Greek plays were considered forms of poems, have we the wicked, who only spectate as events unfold, been entertained? Yes. Overall, the cast and crew did a great job marred only slightly by some rough spots that made it difficult to fully appreciate the play's depth in the immediate aftermath of viewing it. I really liked the set design and for the most part, the acting was solid. The play contains a multitude of complex themes. While it doesn't seem to be concerned with discovering how it is that people become evil, it does present effective questioning of life and death and the meaning of life. If you come to understand how evil seeps in on men with even the purest and innocent of intentions, then you will be completely out of luck. If you're looking to be entertained by the hapless efforts of two strangers in Vienna with comedy that leans toward slapstick and the bonus of a resonantly original take on human existence, then Mein Kampf is definitely for you. See at Theater for the New City on May 14th, 3 p.m. or May 16-19th at 8:00 p.m. Tickets are $18.00 for adults and $15.00 for students/seniors. They are available for purchase on the website, http://www.theaterforthenewcity.net. Enjoy!

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