Reviewed by Karl Levett
June 09, 2011
The Metropolitan Playhouse, one of New York's
most valued sources in excavating America's theatrical past, here
salutes the present with its second annual East Village Theatre
Festival, a three-week celebration of the life and lore of the East
Village. One of the festival features is "The East Village Chronicles,"
eight new short plays (divided into two evenings of four each) inspired
by this vital neighborhood.
Evening A begins well with Larry R. Yates' "Bitter Fruit From the
Bowery." In 1657, Asser Levy (Rob Maitner) comes to Peter Stuyvesant
(Ralph Pochoda) demanding a permit to own a musket due to the threat of
British ships in the harbor. As Jews are not allowed to own firearms,
Stuyvesant begins a rant against every group in the colony that is not
Dutch: Jews, Quakers, Lutherans, Catholics. With great economy—just 10
minutes—Yates is able to delineate two conflicting historical
characters and suggest the vision of a future multicultural America.
There's even an ironic touch about troubles on Wall Street: Each night,
palings from the wooden wall are being stolen.
The subject of East Village gentrification is the background of two of
the plays, best demonstrated in Michael Ian Walker's bright "Three
Rooms." Christy (Kate Geller), assisted by her flamboyant friend Sam
(Maitner), moves into what was once Allen Ginsberg's East Village
apartment. Amid the packing boxes, William (Paul Bomba), a would-be
journalist with possible New York Times connections, arrives to
interview Christy. The resolution is a nicely observed combination of
present and past.
Less successful on the subject of gentrification is Kathleen Warnock's
"The Last Dream of Arky Malarkey." The titular street poet (John
Fennessy), injured in the Tomkins Square riots, returns to the tenement
he was born in, much to the dismay of its current tenant, Bet (Geller).
Arky, his mind askew, then relives the history of the neighborhood. The
results are fuzzy and determinedly sentimental.
It's ironic that "The Pretty Young Girl," by Claudia Barnett, based on
a true 1894 story of a Stanton Street girl, seems the most unlikely
play of the four. With a doting Jewish father (Gordon Kupperstein) but
a cruel stepmother, daughter Rosie (Emily Gittelman) escapes into
romantic novels to the point of death. The truth, alas, proves
All the plays in Evening A are directed with fluidity by Laura
Livingston on basic sets. Geller demonstrates a pleasing versatility in
several roles, while Maitner, contrasting a forceful Asser Levy and a
gaily giddy Sam, is a performer worth watching.
In Evening B, each entry is directed resourcefully by Andrew Firda. Two
of the four plays deal with a darker side of East Village life.
"Stained Glass," by Lawrence DuKore, mixes the elements of crime, race,
and the mafia in an uneasy brew. Artist Ladonna Rubin (Teresa
Stephenson) has created a fifth floor stained-glass window, at which an
African-American teenager named Orlando (Sidiki Fofana) persists in
throwing stones. Ladonna's wheelchair-bound friend James (Russell
Jordan) initially suggests buying a gun but then advises Ladonna to
present her case to the local mafia chief, Don Pasquale DiMarco (a
scarily dignified Ralph Pochoda), to achieve resolution.
That old theatrical favorite, a sleazy bar, is the setting for Bryce
Richardson's "Baby Marty." This meandering slice of contemporary East
Village life features the drunken Marty (Fennessy), barman Paul
(Jordan), and baby-toting Zach (Paul Bomba), a musician and reformed
drug addict, in chasing-its-tail dialogue.
"The Philosophers," by Robert Anthony, begins promisingly as a
two-men-on-a-park-bench-discussing-life abstraction. Sammy (Fennessy)
and Ernie (Kupperstein), amid a pile of old books, discuss the merits
of reading, talking, and thinking. But the play descends into
naturalism with the introduction of Abie, the pickle man (Pochoda), and
never quite recovers.
Clearly, the best has been left for last. Alberto Bonilla's "Big Black
Mexican Woman" is a joy. Told with economy and comic brio, Bonillo
delivers a neat package of welcome humor. Susan (Stephenson), a Jewish
Long Island housewife ready for bed and sex, has been struck by
lightning. She staggers on stage to be greeted by John, a bike-riding
angel (Jordan). Thus Susan encounters heaven, learning that she is not
Jewish but actually African and Swedish; the records were mixed up in
the 16th century. With John as her jolly guide, she finds that the
play's title refers to Jesus. Both the attractive Stephenson and the
talented Jordan play this original material to its zany hilt. When
Susan asks why heaven looks so like the East Village, John advises:
"Heaven is the East Village!"
"I'd like to thank
you for a wonderful evening. The East Village Chronicles were superb.
The performances were riveting, well acted and finely written. I always
love attending performances that stretch my horizons. The stories were
a perfect way to broaden my knowledge of the history of the East
Village. What seemed like a ten minute performance was in fact over an
hour and a half of very enlightening performance. The actors and
actresses were true masters of their craft and deserve many years of
accolades.Again, thank you many times."
"I enjoyed the whole play. I liked the close view
to the actors. Miss Keller is a beautiful woman and is also a wonderful
actress. Great actors all around."
"The East Village chronicles were interesting and enlightening. They
were true depictions of life in New York City. Each story was told so
vividly. The actors were superb, especially the homeless guy. He was a
terrific actor who appeared so realistically. The rest of the
actors were great too. It was a great show and I enjoyed the
"I wanted to thank you for a great
evening Thursday night. The performance we attended, The East
Village Chronicles, was awesome. The cast was great, they
actually made you feel you were there."
"Such an enjoyable
evening performance. This is why we need to continue to support the