Ten high school seniors find themselves in a strange room, in the middle of nowhere, lit only by a dim overhead lamp. One by one, they wake up, and between them they must work out why they’ve been put there. Poly Prep (as part of the American High School Theatre Festival) pull off this new play by Monica Flory with a real sensitivity, thanks to the hugely promising cast. If there’s one show bursting with young talent here, Americans in Breshkistan is it.

A genuinely moving and thought-provoking performance.

Hope (Tara Ellwood) and Ian (David Almonte) are the first to wake up, and are soon joined by Emily (Zakiya Baptiste) and Dylan (Paolo Cenci). Tension builds as the remaining teens come round – there’s only so many hormones you can pack into one room before things kick off. They’re frightened, confused, and lash out easily.

There’s no pretence about the piece, and perhaps that’s the beauty of it – these are real young American people, given the chance to open up and discuss issues that are relevant and urgent to their generation. The premise of the play – all ten of them trapped in a box – feels a little contrived, but the strength of each compelling performance soon makes that easy to forget. Their tiny world becomes all that matters as they start to work together, combining their worldviews.

Every member of the cast should be commended for their work, but a few are particularly impressive, delivering performances polished beyond their years. Zakiya Baptiste as Emily, worried about how racism will come to affect her family shows a real skill for comic timing as well as coming through on the more emotional moments – her pain is felt across the auditorium. Similarly, Kristen Haynes as Bridget, coming to terms with her sexuality, gives a warm and earnest performance – Flory has given her, and all the other female cast, an opportunity to really shine in her writing of genuine young female characters.Later in the piece, the group are provided with a cannister of pills from a mysterious outside source – a few of them take the risk and swallow one, triggering a series of deeply personal hallucinations for the characters. These are shown with elegance and strength through physical theatre, actors piled on actors, and while they’re impressive technically, they’re hard to follow and sometimes repetitive in appearance.

There are a lot of ‘issues’ shoehorned into this short piece, but they never feel cheap or rushed – through Flory’s strong writing, the cast achieve a genuinely moving and thought-provoking performance.


Quick Q&A: FringeNYC #4

Aug 2nd, 2009
by Patrick Lee

In this fourth in the series, I spoke with three playwrights who wrote dramas that will be seen in this year’s Fringe Festival

MONICA FLORY Afterlight

When did you start writing the play?

I started writing about three years ago after I saw, and was very moved by, an exhibit of Gregory Crewdson. He’s an American photographer who does a lot of small town scenes but he stages them like a film set, so the images are very rich and saturated. It was very easy to imagine lives for the characters in those photographs. That is what kickstarted me and got me into playwrighting.

What is your play about?

Afterlight is about a small town where a lot of strange things are happening. It follows three storylines. As it starts, a school bus crashes in the middle of August at twilight, a wife finds her husband digging up the floorboards looking for something, and a wolf is present where these two teenage lovebirds meet every night. It’s a lot about how they deal with these unforeseen circumstances. And it deals with a lot of other in-betweens: between life and death, sane and crazy, fear and courage. The relationships are realistic and recognizable – I hope the audience finds some humor between the characters – but the setting is definitely more surreal. It flirts with magic realism but it’s not fantasy. I’ve always loved magic realism in fiction.

Are you involved with most creative decisions about the production?

I am although I just moved to Philadelphia and I’m also eight months pregnant! Misti (Wills, the director) keeps me in the loop about rehearsals and I am getting to New York about once a week. It’s highly dramatic because I could go into labor at any time. The funny thing is that one of the characters in the play is as pregnant as I am!

Afterlight

New York International Fringe Festival

reviewed by David Ian Lee, nytheatre.com

Afterlight, written by Monica Flory and presented by Threads Theater Company, is fairly thin on dramatic action or plot. The play examines the lives of a handful of residents of a nameless small town in the Northeast following an unexpected tragedy that claims the life of a beloved school bus driver. What keeps this ambling piece alive is witty dialogue with an ear for character, plus strong performances from a multi-generational cast.

Angus Hepburn is stellar as Michael, a sweetly befuddled elder gentleman with a curmudgeonly edge; reminiscent of Hume Cronyn or Spencer Tracy, he brings subtlety and elegance to the role of a man uncertain of purpose in life’s later years. “Were we enough?” Michael asks of his wife, Louise (the dignified Kim Carlson), as they look back on a childless marriage.

Allyson Morgan and Davi Santos are charming as Pru and Hunter, teenage lovers who find themselves in pursuit of a wolf that may or may not contain the spirit of Pru’s absent father; Santos is especially engaging, with a loose, playful quality that hints at his potential
should he continue in this career.

The cast is rounded out by Kimberly Prentice as Ann, a young mother helping her son, Shane, to reconcile symbols of life and death he alone may be able to perceive. Her situation is complicated by Hess, the father of Ann’s soon-to-be-born second child, who—though eager to raise his biological daughter—wants little to do with Shane. The young Tyler Merna is impressive as Shane, possessed as he is of a deadpan stillness
seldom seen in child actors, and Frank Mihelich offers a fine supporting turn as the gruff and troublesome Hess.

The production is hindered by perpetual musical underscoring by Kimberly Fuhr; alternately bombastic and maudlin, the constant twinge of harps and piano chords robs scenes that otherwise play with a natural degree of ambiguity. Otherwise, the technical elements in Director Misti B. Wills’s staging are effective and exciting; Bobby Bradley’s simple set and evocative lighting are inventive and dynamic, playing in surprising ways with Threads Theater Company’s oft revisited themes of spirituality and tertiary struggle. Afterlight is a meditative evening of theatre, slight on conflict, but heavy on introspection and charm.

*** [THREE STARS] Monica Flory’s engaging Afterlight takes place at twilight, but don’t expect any vampires prowling about. Instead, Flory invokes elements of magical realism to tell three stories about characters struggling with transitions. Michael and Louise (Angus Hepburn and Kim Carlson), now in their sixties, still haven’t come to terms with the child they lost years ago. Pregnant Ann (Kimberly Prentice) is having a baby with Hess (Frank Mihelich), who resists playing father to her son Shane (Tyler Merna). And teenage Pru (Allyson Morgan), enjoying summer love with boyfriend Hunter (Davi Santos), longs to know who her father is. It takes the death of a school bus driver to bring them together and set them on new paths. Misti B. Wills’s production generates some effective, nuanced performances, and although the pace is maddeningly slow at times—and these slice-of-life
stories aren’t superbly sewn together at the end of 80 minutes—Flory’s characters have the pluck and emotional weight to hold you captive.—Diane Snyder, freelance writer

Child Stars

You’re no Dina Lohan, but you do love to nurture your child’s dramatic tendencies by exposing her to the performing arts. Bursting into a Broadway show tune is far preferable to expressing oneself through temper tantrums. Take the little diva to a new show opening today, where six of the stars are underage. Once Upon a Pandora’s Box is an original play by The New Acting Company, a Village-based family theater group that uses the stage as a place to teach young children through teens (not to mention adults) to value individuality, trust, friendship and teamwork. In the meantime, the company creates what’s been called some of the best children’s theater around. In this latest storyline, Tabitha, a studious smarty-pants, and Louis, her jock brother, happen upon a mysterious box in their Manhattan apartment. Inside hide five familiar fairy tale villains, from the Big Bad Wolf to The Fairest Beauty in the Land. These characters are eager to jump out and wreak havoc upon the modern world, and it’s up to the siblings to combine their different talents to stop them. Continuing through May 6, the show’s ensemble features child (and a few adult) actors trained by The New Acting Company, and its content will appeal even to children as young as 5. Future Lindsays, Ravens and Hilarys, beware.

 

SOU Theatre Arts presents Rudyard Kipling’s ‘The Jungle Book’ By Richard Moeschl, Ashland Daily Tidings

Southern Oregon University’s Department of Theatre Arts continues its season of classic and contemporary plays with the opening of two very different shows. The department has a commitment to regular productions aimed at young audiences. In the past, the university has staged “Winnie the Pooh,” The Wind in the Willows” and (Aesop’s)“Fable Tales.” This year’s offering is Monica Flory’s adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s classic children’s story “The Jungle Book.” The play brings to life the tale of Mowgli, the boy raised by wolves, his schooling by a bear and panther, and the tiger that threatens his life. SOU Student Director Kevin Berg leads his 12 actors in an exploration of the disparate worlds of animals and humans, and the struggle to bridge the gap between them. The ensemble utilizes masks and movement to create a jungle environment. Live tribal music in the small theatre space underscores the voyage and fills the show with a jungle rhythm. “The physical life of the characters is quite fun,” says department chair Chris Sackett, adding “It’s not Walt Disney.” But true to its jungle setting, the play — while not violent — does depict the consequences if the head of the pack misses their kill. “They’re no longer the head of the pack,” Sackett says. “Mowgli learns lessons we hope he will carry into adult life.” Continuing the university’s relationship with Southern Oregon Education Service District, there will be a special performance for the hearing impaired. Vanessa Nowitzky will provide movement coaching, Ben Brown provides lighting and Lindsay Starr designed the costumes which include mask work and elaborate make up. “The Jungle Book” opens at 7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 24 and runs Feb. 24-26 and March 3-5. Curtain times are Fridays at 7 p.m.; Saturdays at 11 p.m., 2 p.m., and 7 p.m.; and Sundays at 2 p.m.

Martin Denton’s review of WILD THING March 27, 2003

Wild Thing, the new family show from The New Acting Company, embodies the best kind of children’s theatre. It’s not so long that the youngsters get bored and start to fidget, nor is it so simple-minded and watered-down that the adults get bored and start to fidget.  Instead, it’s a play with a message that everybody can learn from, told in a stylish and clever way so that everybody can enjoy it. The story centers around Max, a dad who hasn’t quite grown up himself. He’d rather play games with his two children than fold the laundry or remind them to do their homework. This understandably gets him into trouble with his wife; but he’s surprised when it also places him on the radar of the Monsters who live Where the Wild Things Are. Usually these scary creatures show up in the human world to frighten children into behaving. This time, however, a pack of them arrive in Max’s bedroom—to learn how to be even more “wild,” they say, but also to teach Max important lessons about responsibility and leadership.

Most of the play takes place on the island where the Monsters live. Playwright Monica Flory and director Gregg Bellon do an outstanding job creating a believable yet strange world for these weird, fuzzy, childlike creatures to live in. With nods to children’s author Maurice Sendak (and, going back to antecedents, L. Frank Baum), Wild Thing gives us a wonderland of the imagination where everybody is ultimately good and everybody is able to learn something useful in the course of a single, eventful night. As I said, the show’s attitude deftly avoids both cloying ingenuousness and smart-alecky self-reference; the pacing is brisk, the writing is earnest, and the staging is savvy and sophisticated. The ensemble of nine actors do terrific work, especially Stephen Michael Rondel, who is on stage virtually non-stop as Max. Kudos to The New Acting Company, who are affiliated with the Children’s Aid Society and produce their work in a charming little theatre located inside that organization’s building in Greenwich Village. The fifty or so kids who were at the performance reviewed, mostly in the 5-10 age range I’d guess, seemed to have a fine time at Wild Thing, which is the best recommendation of all.

Original post can be found here.

 

Family Fare

By LAUREL GRAEBER

The Hunter and the Hunted

The young hero of the New Acting Company’s latest production worries that he doesn’t fit in with his peers or his parents. This may sound like the typical estrangement of a preadolescent who feels that those around him are a different species. But this is Mowgli, the boy of ”The Jungle Book,” and his fellows really are of different species — namely a bear, a panther and a pack of wolves. Monica Flory’s script is both scrupulously faithful to Rudyard Kipling and completely original in its approach. While Kipling’s story is basically a grand adventure, this version takes its subtext — a boy’s quest for identity — and makes it the heart of the piece. It includes all the book’s action and even some of its dialogue, but increases the emotional resonance. The only substantive change is the more hopeful ending. Gregg Bellon, the set designer, has created a vibrant, wild world, augmented by elaborate puppets. Of course, the realism also depends on the talented cast, led by 13-year-old Malik Conard Sow as Mowgli. It also includes Carrie Heitman as the regal panther Bagheera; Stephen Michael Rondel as Baloo, the avuncular bear; Jay Duffer as the treacherous jackal Tabaquai; Christopher L. McAllister I as the vengeful tiger Shere Khan; and Heather Massie as both Kaa, the imposing python, and Raksha, the mother wolf. In Oana Botez-Ban’s ingenious costumes, these actors may be the most convincing stage animals south of ”The Lion King.” Directed by David A. Miller, with incidental music by Lucian Ban, this 75-minute ”Jungle Book” will easily appeal to theatergoers over 6. When young wolves ask Mowgli, ”Where’s your fur?” and ”Don’t you miss having a tail?,” the tone will be familiar. The schoolyard is a jungle, too. ”The Jungle Book,” tonight at 7, tomorrow at 2 and 7 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m. at the Greenwich Village Center, 219 Sullivan Street, near West Third Street, (212)868-4444. Tickets: $15.

Original post can be found here.