Thursday, July 23, 2015

"The Boys in the Band" - A period piece with laughter and venom

Mart Crowley's "The Boys in the Band" has not aged particularly well.  Aspects of the show seem contrived, and the self-loathing at the heart of the play is, hopefully, becoming a thing of the past.  Still, it's nice to see a production of the show from time to time, both to appreciate some of the humor that Crowley spins throughout the play, and to see how things have changed.

Lindenhurst, Long Island's Studio Theatre is currently producing a solid version of the show, which will run through this weekend.

Under the direction of David Dubin, Executive Artistic Director of the company, the show sparkles with Crowley's humor, and his underlying venom and pain. The play centers on a birthday party that Michael (Joe Marshall) is throwing for Harold (Michael Harrison Carlin).  The two are wary friends, each knowing way too much about the other and where all the bodies are hidden.  Also at the party are a host of other gay men in their early 40s - Donald (Jeff Greene), one of Michael's old friends, the flamboyant Emory (nimbly played by Ryan Nolin), couple Hank (Eugene Gamblin) and Larry (George Ghossn), Bernard (Josh Bellinger).  There is also a young hustler, Cowboy (Robbie Dema), Emory's birthday gift to Harold.

There is also an uninvited and unwelcome guest, Allan (Angelo DiBiase), Michael's old college friend.  A very straight (presumably) and conservative college friend; one who would not like being at a party with a bunch of gay men.

As expected, attempts to tone down the flamboyance of the party fail, and Allan's disgust leads to a fight.  Michael, who is an angry, bitter drunk (and who has been drinking since Allan's arrival), makes some revelations about Allan and forces the guests to play a mean-spirited party game, meant to lay bare all their secrets.

Nothing goes as planned, and needless to say, that's where the drama lies.

The cast is strong, though a bit older than the early 40s that Crowley envisioned.  Marshall is good with the witty line, though his timing is at points a little choppy.  Where he truly shines is in playing Michael's anger, bitterness and self-loathing.

Ryan Nolin seems to have a great time as the over-the-top Emory, and he plays him with finesse and heart.  He also has the most ease with Crowley's humor, dropping a bon mot or nasty line with a practiced nonchalance.  He also has the best exit of the show.  He is most often paired with Bellinger's Bernard and the two work well together.

Michael Harrison Carlin, who gets one of the best entrances, does well as Harold.  The way he plays with Harold's affectations and veneer of civility are fun to watch, as is his take-down of Michael.  Carlin also does well with Harold's few moments of shockingly vibrant anger.

Production elements are particularly well done, with Erick Creegan's excellent set and Lorrie DePellegrini's sound design.  And while there is no costume credit given in the program, the costumes are terrific, particularly Allan's conservative wear, Emory's bright floral summer outfit, and Harold's drapey purple ensemble.

Spoiler alert: One of the most fascinating parts of this production involves a bit of a nod to the fact that this is a period piece, and one that has earned its place in the gay rights movement.  The play begins with Michael, presumably in his late 80s, hearing a news report about the recent gay marriage decision.  Time rewinds somewhat, and he's hearing a report on ACT UP and the AIDS crisis.  Back and back time goes, until finally he's in the late '60s and the play begins.  This is an interesting idea, and I think it works nicely.

"The Boys in the Band" runs through July 26th.  If you are near Lindenhurst, it's worth a look.

"The Boys in the Band"
By Mart Crowley
Directed by David Dubin
Scenic and Lighting Design by Erick Creegan
Stage Management and Sound Design by Lorrie DePellegrini
Featuring: Joe Marshall, Josh Bellinger, Michael Harrison Carlin, Robbie Dema, Angelo DiBiase, Eugene Gamblin, George Ghossn, Jeff Greene, and Ryan Nolin

Studio Theatre
141 South Wellwood Avenue
Lindenhurst, NY

Thursday, July 16, 2015

"Michael Jackson was innocent… and I didn't kill Jonbenet Ramsey, but I was there the night she died" - HOT! Festival

At first glance, Michael Cross Burke's "Michael Jackson was innocent… and I didn't kill Jonbenet Ramsey, but I was there the night she died" seems like an opportunity for Burke to exorcise some of the demons of having been a victim of the child sex trade.  And indeed, his decision to integrate pieces of two of the biggest child sex scandals - molestation accusations against Michael Jackson and the Jonbenet Ramsey murder - would almost bear that out.

However, Burke offers this play, not as a confession, an indictment of the media and our obsession with scandal, or even a morality lesson, but as a way to honor the person who saved his life, yet who was so broken by his experiences that he eventually lost his own.

That person is Danny, another trafficked child, used by the same pimp who approached Michael when he was a young teen, fresh off the bus from Idaho.

In telling the story of Danny, Bishop the pimp, Norma (more often simply called "the cunt in 2B," but who was instrumental in saving Michael and Danny), and the other characters that are introduced in "Michael Jackson…", Burke is able to tell a harrowing, yet often funny tale of what it takes to survive, and why some people survive when others can't.

"Michael Jackson…" is a powerful play, and sections of it are extremely well done.  However, overall the quality is somewhat hit or miss.  Several sections of the play, generally transitional portions between major scenes, appear to be ad-libbed, and those moments seem very sloppy.

Also, timing tends to be a bit of a problem in the show.  The individual actors - Burke, as himself and as Michael Jackson accuser Jordie Chandler, and Daniel Diaz, playing nearly all the other roles - are strong on their own.  When working together, they seem tentative at times, seemingly wondering if it's their turn to speak yet.  This is a pity, because Burke is an extremely nimble writer, and some of his dialogue, and the way he plays with it (especially through the use of repetition), is a marvel to hear.

The timing issues could be a result of a short rehearsal period (festivals are notorious for having very little rehearsal time), but some of it has to be due to Gian Marco Lo Forte, who directs the play.  It feels like he needs a stronger hand in making this a tight and clean production.

Lo Forte is also serving as the production designer, and in that role, he is outstanding.  "Michael Jackson…" features some wonderful work mixing media through the use of video throughout the performance.  By filming what is happening on stage, he allows the audience to distance itself from the intimate and immediate work of the actors, and watch them passively on screen, in a way, mimicking the emotional distance that both the victims of sex trade and the johns use to dehumanize each other, or in the same way that people do when watching porn (which shows up a couple of times in the play).

Despite its rough edges, Burke has created a powerful story, and one that needs to be heard.  Trafficking is a major and ongoing problem, and the more that we can hear the stories of its survivors, and the people who helped them survive, the better.

Michael Cross Burke, photo by Krys Fox

"Michael Jackson was innocent… and I didn't kill Jonbenet Ramsey, but I was there the night she died"
Written and performed by Michael Cross Burke
Directed and Designed by Gian Marco Lo Forte
Assistant Director: Marisa Tornello
Designed with Pioneers Go East Collective artists Hao Bai and Chand Chenail
Publicist: Jackie Rudin
Michael Cross Burke's hair by Jeanise Aviles
Michael Cross Burke's tattoos by Kevin Soomai

Featuring: Michael Cross Burke, Daniel Diaz, Ryan Leach, and Gian Marco Lo Forte

Performed as part of the 24th Annual HOT! Festival at Dixon Place.  Remaining performances will be July 17th, 23rd and 24th.  Tickets can be purchased online.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Grab Your Cheetos. Molly Dykeman is Back in "Molly's F*cked Up Family Reunion"

Downtown cult favorite Andrea Alton returns as Molly "Equality" Dykeman in her all new show, "Molly Dykeman's F*cked Up Family Reunion," premiering at the HOT! Festival, Monday, July 20th at 7:30 PM at Dixon Place.

Check out the woman Michael Musto calls, "A fucking riot!!!" and Theatre Is Easy compares to Chris Farley.  Gay City News calls Alton's Molly Dykeman "thick, wild-eyed, lush-mulleted."

When the Dykeman family gets together it always turns into a hot nacho mess. Come spend some time with the mulleted Dykemans. They may break out into a fist fight, they’ll probably hit on you, and your wallet may be lifted, but at least they’ll make you feel better about your own family.

Guests include D’yan Forest (I Married A Nun/Frigid & Orlando Fringe Festival), Robin Gelfenbien (Yum’s the Word at Le Poisson Rouge), Cara Kilduff (Here TV Hot Gay Comics & co-host of Queens public television’s Talking About), and Allen Warnock (I Just Want My Pants Back & The Knick).

The creative team includes costume and properties design by Anthony Catanzaro, and producers Andrea Alton and Irwin Kroot.

Tickets are $10.00 students/seniors, $12.00 in advance, and $15.00 at the door. Tickets are available at

All performances take place at Dixon Place, 161A Chrystie Street, between Rivington and Delancey. (Subway: F to 2nd Ave., J or Z to Bowery, 6 to Spring, B or D to Grand.)

More info is available at

Andrea Alton (Molly “Equality” Dykeman) has performed throughout the country to sold-out houses. New York venues include Gotham, XL, The Comedy Cellar, The Duplex, Stonewall, Dixon Place, The Broadway Comedy Club, The PIT, UCB, The Knitting Factory and The Laurie Beechman Theater where she performed her holiday shows, A Molly Jolly Christmas and Happy Mollydays. Other notable performances include the Chicago, DC, Toronto, and San Francisco Sketch Comedy Festivals, and The Art House in Provincetown during Woman’s Week. Her solo show, The F*cking World According To Molly premiered at FringeNYC in 2011 and had additional runs at terraNOVA’s soloNOVA Festival, and The Dublin International Gay Theatre Festival. Andrea’s new solo show, Possum Creek, will premiere at The New York International Fringe Festival on August 16th.

About the HOT! Festival:

Crowned “The BEST LGBTQ Theater Festival in New York!” by The Village Voice, HOT! returns to Dixon Place for its 24th annual celebration of Queer Culture! HOT!, the oldest annual festival of its kind in the world, never stales as its fresh line-up continues to deliver innovative works in theater, music, dance, puppetry, performance art and homoeroticism for the whole family! Festival runs from July 7 – August 8, 2015.