Sugimoto Nunraku Sonezaki Shinju - The Love Suicides at Sonezaki

photo: Michelle Tabnick
Bunraku puppetry, a traditional Japanese form, established itself in the 17th  century. Its three elements are the familiar large puppets, narrators (or chanters), and shamisen musicians (the shamisen is a three-stringed instrument resembling a guitar). The proper name for the form is ningyō jōruri (bunraku is a 19th-century name). Jōruri refers to the narrative chanting in the play and ningyō means puppet.
The master playwright of the bunraku was Chikamatsu Monzaemon. In the early 18th century he introduced believable characters to Japanese puppetry who dealt with the real-world situations that his audience faced: the conflict between feudal tradition and human nature.
Chikamatsu (as he is known) produced TheLove Suicides at Sonezaki in 1703. The play recounts the story of 25-year-old Tokubei and his 19-year-old lady friend Ohatsu (who happens to be a courtesan). Like Romeo and Juliet, they can’t be together, so they kill themselves at Sonezaki.
New York’s Lincoln…

Baharat at Djam NYC

Djam NYC is a weekly world music (actually, middle Eastern music) event at The Engine Room in NYC. It features Baharat, a Brooklyn-based band, and Bellyqueen, a bellydance company.
Baharat is a four-musician band, and their marvelous Arabic music includes tones and rhythms not found in western music. It centers on Mr. Burdi’s oud, a lovely pear-shaped 12-string instrument with ancient origins, like a lute, that epitomizes the dazzling sound of middle Eastern music. Mr. Burdi told me that it’s more difficult to play than the guitar, and it’s certainly worth the effort. Its glittering timbre, although somewhat acerbic compared to a guitar, is hypnotic.
On percussion, Adam Maalouf plays a riq (a sort of tambourine), a cymbal with holes in it that alter its sound, and a frame drum called a droombek. They give the music a wide rhythmic range. Sometimes he hits the wooden edge of the drum with is hand for even more variety.
The violin, of course, is not an authentic middle Eastern instrument, …

A Doll's House: A New Opera

photo by Justin McCallum
Making Ibsen’s play A Doll’s House into an opera is an intriguing project. The play is melodramatic - Ibsen had a long way to go before he freed himself of that weakness - and the emotions and giant and varied, sometimes repressed, sometimes explosive.
You’ll recall that this scandalous play relates the story of how Nora sacrifices herself to save her husband, Torvald, through a minor crime, and is blackmailed by Krogstad. To make a long and convoluted plot short, Torvald finds out, and instead of himself taking blame for the crime, as the naive Nora expected, blows up in a fit of abusive recrimination. Fortunately, Nora’s BFF, Mrs. Linde, convinces Krogstad to forget the whole damn thing, and everything would be fine except that Nora’s going to have no more of this arrangement. She storms out, abandoning her children, famously slamming the door after her. Oh, and Dr. Rank is involved too, adding more to symbolism than to plot. 
This month The Corkscrew Theater F…

Afterparty: The Rothko Studio

The future of the theater lies in immersive, site-specific work. The Peculiar Works Project gave us a terrific example of this recently, off-off-Broadway, called Afterparty: The Rothko Studio. It was presented at 22 Bowery. The address is important because the building has housed many artists’ studios - most notably that of Mark Rothko.
We’re an audience of about 25. We’re introduced to the space in the street-level galleries hung with work of contemporary artists, and another with sort of secular altars and a man lying under a small pyramid wearing headphones. We’re in classic New York Bohemia. Then we’re welcomed by an actress in a wild headpiece - I believe the program refers to her as “The Muse” - and ushered into the next room, where we’re entertained by dancers, starting with biomechanics and progressing to interpretive dance.
A host greets us: “Welcome to the Bunker. … This is John’s night. … We wanted to do something special to honor his first show!” Such is the conceit of the e…


A show called Bucolic was presented this month by Maul Face LLC in Judson Memorial Church in Washington Square. The promotion calls it a “immersive dark comedic musical”, and the website calls it a “dark comedy musical”. It’s not a musical. It’s a musical review with six performers or, as the website also calls it, “a good-natured stand-up act.”
At opening a priest enters through the audience and tells us “Sit. down! Quiet down! Here it is - your senior year!” We are, for the moment, in a Catholic high school in a small Nebraska town. And I suppose that by the standards of a small Nebraska town, the show’s pretty good.
The prime mover, who created and composed the show, is Lauren Maul. She addresses us with an amiable, relaxed stage presence. She also sings and plays the piano for the other singers. The premise is that her unnamed home town in Nebraska was rife with murders, and the show has a mild, delightful, macabre humor as she and her cast relate through song and narration the stor…

Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde

Cooper Bates photography
What a terrific performance Burt Grinstead gives us as the eponymic characters - character - in Blanket Fort Entertainment’s production of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde! The show is a 70-minute-long adaptation of Robert Louis Stephenson’s famous 1886 book Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. It’s played exclusively for laughs, and Mr. Grinstead is a marvel of a comic actor. As the good Dr Jekyll he pushes his hair back, cleans his glasses and lets his voice break. As the evil, cruel, malignant, hateful, reprehensible Mr. Hyde he sticks his tongue out, growls and lets his hat fall over his eyes so that we never really see his face. “This is freedom, Jekyll, freedom!” he cackles, dripping with camp villainy. And “If a man wants to kill, he should kill - shouldn’t he?.” He menaces the audience as he whooshes up the aisle.
He has a worthy partner in Anna Stromberg, the only other performer. She plays no less than 14 roles (okay, some of them only a few lines) includin…

The Chinese Fringe Theater Festival

La MaMa has presented a marvelous Chinese Fringe Theater Festival, consisting of three productions from China. The first, The Dictionary of Soul, is produced by The Physical Guerrillas and directed by Li Ning, and it’s eerie. The set consists of metal shelving, six shelves high. 10 actors in drab uniforms enter, and for more than an hour and a half they present us with an industrial dystopia, wordlessly. They work resignedly at their jobs scrubbing bricks - the sound is spooky - and after a while some of the become machines themselves. Someone rebels briefly, but goes back to work. They sleep on the shelves and the superintendent throws bricks at them to wake them. In their silence, each one is alone working at his pointless task.
The second half of the play, however, is redemptive. It’s more abstract than the first, with ritualistic movement including a death and a cleansing ceremony of pouring milk on the body. Finally the cast place the bricks in a neat pile and one by one - very sl…

Healing Journeys with the Black Madonna

photo by Jonathan Slaff
The Black Madonna is the Goddess, also interpreted as Earth Mother or the Christin Madonna. Her worship dates from pre-Christian rituals. Alessandra Belloni has studied the current rituals in Italy and created a wonderful concert of music and dance presented by The Cathedral of St. John the Divine in a side chapel (a side chapel in this huge, magnificent building is the size of a church somewhere else).
From the opening song, a traditional chant for The Madonna of Seminara from Calabria which Ms. Belloni sings accompanied only by a flute, to the last, a song that she wrote herself in praise of the moon goddess, we find an astonishing variety of emotion, tone and rhythm. There’s a healing chant, ritual drumming, a medieval prayer - even a chant to the Orisha goddess of Love and the Sea from the Afro-Brazilian Yoruba tradition.
Ms. Belloni takes the lead vocals. Her middle and upper registers are rich and expressive. At its best, her upper register and sweet and cle…

A Man for All Seasons

A Man for All Seasons is Robert Bolt’s play about Sir Thomas More, the Chancellor of England who stubbornly refused to approve of King Henry VIII’s decision to divorce his wife (first of eight), Katherine of Aragon, so that he could marry… um, which one was it… Anne Boleyn. He was summarily executed. The good King, of course, severed ties with The Mother Church - as Pope Clement VII refused to grant him the divorce - and established The Church of England.
Bolt has made Thomas a modest hero, a hero for modern times. He is a far reach from St. Joan, who said at her trial “Take care what you do, for in truth I am sent by God, and you put yourself in grave danger.” No, Saint Thomas More (he was eventually canonized) keeps his opinions to himself. He tries to avoid the King’s wrath through obsequience - “I am sick to think how much I must displease your grace” - and silence - “Silence is not denial and for my silence I am punished with imprisonment.” Still, discretion does him no good, and …


Bleach is an extended monologue by Dan Ireland-Reeves, presented by Spin Cycle. It presents a likable male prostitute, Tyler, addressing us, and it’s set in his apartment. It’s been performed in Europe, proscenium-style. Here in New York, director Zack Carey immerses the audience in Tyler’s world, inviting us into Tyler’s apartment. Very smart indeed, well suited to the material. Tyler’s home radiates poverty, but more strongly neglect.
Tyler lives in a dumpy basement apartment in Brooklyn, and indeed we travel to a dumpy basement apartment in Brooklyn to see the show, and we spend its 75-minute duration sitting in Tyler’s bedroom. Instead of a lobby, we enter a small,  dumpy kitchen; the bedroom, the performance space, is in the next room.
Joyce Hahn’s set is terrific: a bed; a few arm chairs and sofas for the audience. We the audience totaled six the night I attended; it doesn’t look like the room could sit more than eight of us. The walls are brick or stone, the stone painted white l…