An Interview with Felix Rojas and Chulisi & Growing Up Gonzales

Sometimes you see your own story on stage. Sometimes it is within a scene. Sometimes it is through one character. Sometimes it is the whole play.  I want to go on the journey. I want to be “shackled to the beat”. I’ve been following Growing Up Gonzales by Felix Rojas over the years. I finally got to see his show with the engaging and riveting performance of Andres “Chulisi” Rodriguez.

Growing Up Gonzales is a poignant, hilarious, moving solo show about two Puerto Rican brothers from the Bronx. Played with expert precision by Chulisi, Johnny is tasked with cleaning the apartment of his recently deceased brother, Cisco, when he stumbles upon Cisco’s diaries. A treasure trove of memories, Chulisi shares those moments through the eyes of Cisco, his abuela, “la chilla”, the hooker with a heart of gold, Boo Boo and others. He oscillates to real time as Johnny with a simple costume piece. Those stories include time spent in Puerto Rico, going to church, his father’s funeral, cooking in his mother’s kitchen with an attitude, getting sick, Johnny’s drug addiction, and so much more under a layer of humor.

As a Trini-New Yorker, I could relate to the stories even if the people are from a neighboring island in the Caribbean. Everyday life is infused with dramatic and tragicomedic moments. As a matter of fact, the first time I met Felix was a day of drama. He and Chulisi sat with me to talk about the earthquake, building the show over the years and the next steps.


 

Malini: We were invited to celebrate Ken Davenport‘s birthday at Great Adventure. It was Felix, Mark Allen (who ended up winning Ken’s prize to be the composer for his show, Garage Band), and my husband. We ended up spending the whole day together…remember the earthquake?

Felix: They closed the rides for a couple of hours because of the earthquake.

Chulisi: Like a real earthquake?

Malini: We were getting on the Superman ride.

Felix: You have a great memory.

Chulisi: That’s crazy. That’s scary. Did you feel it?

Malini: Yes. True story. When was that?

Felix: It was about 2011/2012 because I was about to start Growing Up Gonzales.

Chulisi: It was 2012.

Malini: You were going to Jan Hus and I remember I couldn’t come to it. And that’s why this is interesting when you don’t hang out with people you hang out with once and been following this for 5 years. I guess I was supposed see it when I was supposed to see it. I was really moved and had so much identification with this story as a Trini and New Yorker. Especially the way you beautifully balanced these touching life moments with the everyday stuff. Like the kitchen. The grating of the vegetables! I have gotten that yell from two rooms. Come here and grate the cheese! How much of this did you work with Felix in developing?

Felix: That’s a beautiful thing. That’s a beautiful thing for me to hear.

Chulisi: It’s all Felix’ writing and in 2012 it was a different beast. It’s day and night. People who saw it in 2012 and see it now ask if it’s the same play. It’s completely different. The set is completely different, the dynamics of the brothers are completely different.  I am a different actor than 3 years ago when we first did it. I came to it this time with layering. I said to Felix we have to layer this. I don’t believe in doing a project that isn’t personal to me and this is very personal. I am a recovering addict. I was Johnny. I was Cisco who became a Johnny. My sister was one of the first people who had the virus when it came out in the ’80s. So much of the story is more me. For him [Felix] it’s not. Very little of his life is in it.

Malini: Really?

Chulisi: Very little of his [Felix] life is here. I tell Felix he just writes for me. This time around, Felix would give me a direction and I would tell him what I am feeling. He would say okay, that would work or wouldn’t work. We always came to finding the layers. That’s why it is so intense.

Malini: Let me ask you this. You wrote this, directed, and produced and I know what it’s like to wear those three hats at the same time and your brain wants to explode. How was that relationship.

Felix: We had a productive relationship. Lots of respect for each other. Since 2012, he has done some amazing things. I follow him. I watch what he does. I have grown as an artist and as a person. When I did this show in 2012, it was the first thing I had done in 17 years. I took a hiatus…forever…and thought, “let me give this thing one more shot.” It was very dynamic. It was magical. It was hard. It was tough. The first time we did the show, it was very different. Chulisi already had his characters in him. The hardest part of the process is exorcising those characters that were already there. He was Johnny a certain way and Cisco a certain way. So that was the toughest part.

Chulisi: In 2012, Cisco was played slow and Johnny was an asshole. Straight street. This time around the dynamic is Johnny actually realizing who Cisco is instead of already knowing who Cisco was.

 

Malini: What’s next for this?

Felix: We want people to come see the show. We are looking to have it move to a bigger venue that would add elements to the piece. Possibly Netflix.

Chulisi: This is a full story. A tangible story.

Felix: The goal is to get people see this show.

Chulisi: We are two independent Puerto Ricans. It’s been a great run.  People are walking up 3 flights of stairs to see it.

Felix: This show is great for our people. They eat it up. It’s an experience of a lifetime. But I think it can reach the general audience, the Off Broadway audience that always go to shows. I think they would like it. They live for these kinds of experiences.

Chulisi: I think this story relates to everybody. If you can’t relate to the very Spanish stuff, you can identify with the AIDS epidemic, the drug addict, it’s relatable. It is always interesting to see what people relate to which tends to be the tragic part of the story.

Malini: I can’t imagine someone leaving here and not being moved.

Felix: People want to be moved. When I go see  I want to  be moved. I wanna see something that’s going to touch me.

Chulisi: I am such a drama queen, I rather stay with the funny.

Malini: I just want to go on a journey. Where are you taking me tonight. Last question: Was there a moment during this process where you said I don’t want to do this anymore. I’m leaving it.

Felix: That happens to me every other day. I say this is my last. I need to get to my wife and my kids. This is consuming and I work 50 hours a week. Should this be the last one?

Chulisi: I feel the same. I always say this is my last show.

Malini: Then you have a night like tonight.

Felix: Then I see him on stage and then I say maybe I can stay. I took him out of retirement. He was doing stuff. We both were.

Chulisi: I was done and he was persistent. I was in a place where I was finding some healing. My brother’s name is Johnny. I’m a recovering addict. I know when the universe throws you a sign then something is up.

Felix: In other words, he fell in love with that shit!

<laughter>


Growing Up Gonzales runs through Sunday, April 9th at The Medicine Show Theatre.

Visit www.growingupgonzales.com for more information.

LPTW: Awards Celebration 3/31/17

LPTW.pngLPTW.jpgFriday, March 31
6:30pm – 10pm

Awards Ceremony at the TimesCenter
242 West 41st St
At 8th Avenue

Big Mingle Reception at Sardi’s
Sponsored by Planet Connections
234 West 44th Street
Between 7th and 8th Avenues

Tickets: $100

Click HERE to purchase tickets


Hosted by Tamara Tunie

Theresa Rebeck & Daryl Roth,
Advisory Council Co-Chairs

Carol Hall
The Lifetime Achievement Award
Presented by Julie Gilbert

Lileana Blain-Cruz
The Josephine Abady Award
Presented by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins

Jess Chayes
The LPTW Lucille Lortel Award
Presented by Neil Pepe

Emily Simoness
The LPTW Lucille Lortel Visionary Award
Presented by Madeleine George, Boo Killebrew, and Mfoniso Udofia

Linda Cho
The Ruth Morley Design Award
Presented by Darko Tresnjak

Liesl Tommy
The Lee Reynolds Award
Presented by Lynn Nottage

Review: The Other Plays

Theater Breaking Through Barriers (“TBTB”) is a theater company that for whatever reason was not on my radar. This company was founded in 1979 as Theater By The Blind with a mission of dedicating and advancing the work of artists with disabilities. Their production of The Other Plays: Short Play About Diversity and Otherness showcased that mission.

Staged at A.R.T/New York Theatres, the bare stage with minimal set pieces allows the audience to focus on the stories written by Dennis A. Allen, Tatiana G. Rivera, Neil La Bute, Bekah Brunstetter, and Lamece Issaq and the monologues written and performed by Pamela Sabaugh, Steven Drabicki, Ryan Haddad, and Russell Barnes. Each piece tells the story of life: love, notions of gender roles, sex, stardom, age, race and standards of beauty.

The diverse group of actors invite us into their worlds as they deal with their “otherness” through humor, sass, and honesty. The 90 minute show warmed our souls on a very crisp New York City evening.

The Other Plays runs through Sunday, March 26th at the Jeffrey and Paula Gural Theatre (A.R.T/New York Theatres).

Visit www.tbtb.org for more information.

Review by Hayden Field: Performeteria

CaptureAt the bar, a bright yellow skirt, pink sash and wide eyes greet us. Next to them is a man giving off distinctly pirate vibes, with a scarf wrapped around his head, a gray vest and… black-and-white Vans. Nearby, a woman with a partly shaved head grips a plastic knife. These are off-duty artists participating in Performeteria, the Theatre Development Fund’s first-ever immersive festival — featuring Off-Off-Broadway theatre and dance companies and presented at the Baruch Performing Arts Center.

The evening kicks off with an immersive piece by Kinesis Project Dance Theatre, figures in orange moving in unison — creeping, flowing, shaking. A smiling guide beckons his group forward — everyone will be led through the building to see three different 10-minute pieces, and afterwards, they can depart, join another group or simply wander about.

Through a pair of double doors and down the stairs into a cavernous space, Rady & Bloom Collective Playmaking is performing in front of an audience that is seated on the stage. An actress approaches the piano, begins to play and sinks down in confusion and pain. Her company lines up to lean upon her, creating together an animal that sighs as one. Different parts of the beast call out about struggles their ancestors went through, like a grandfather who fought in World War II, and as they do, the piano continues to sing, and large paintings are unrolled and flashed to the audience. But these things don’t all go together — they’re a little unsettling, much like the stories they’re meant to illustrate. The piano’s music grows steadily louder, like a carnival ride you can’t retire from, before it fades away. One actor asks, “What do you wish for?”

Back by the bar, a man dressed in a Santa suit — complete with attached reindeer — and a brunette with a reluctant face are staring at their pizza in the midst of a millennial breakup that only gets realer as the minutes wear on. This is Lesser America, a pop theatre ensemble. The two ruminate over meeting at another, happier SantaCon — and the complications of breaking up, like the fact that they own things together and their parents are friends on Facebook. “I’m your person. You text me that all the time; how can it not be true?” he asks. She tells him that when she wakes up in the middle of the night and he’s not holding her, she can’t breathe, and “when you’re still holding me just as tight, it’s somehow even worse.”

Through two more sets of double doors and on the right — you could almost miss it — experimental physical theatre ensemble Blessed Unrest is moving through a dark, energetically charged space. Through their bodies, manmade sounds and select words, they seem to tell the story of a woman moving through the forest, looking for her friend, the one she loves. She’s sidetracked by a group of wild wanderers, one of whom saves her life by designating her her playmate. After a mad dance of abandon with their hands at each other’s throats in only the most intimate way, the two lie down to the sound of pigeons cooing. A revelation sparks the woman to leave her newfound friend in search of her old one — and to give the audience a childlike view of love in its simplicity but also its complications. Her friend tells her, “If you leave now, I can keep you just as you are.”

Performeteria runs through Friday, March 24 at the Baruch Performing Arts Center and features site-specific pieces from 15 Off-Off-Broadway companies.

Click HERE for tickets.

The Other Plays and Kyle


Featured playwrights include Neil LaBute, Bekah Brunstetter, Lameece Isaaq, Dennis A. Allen II, Tatiana Rivera and others, writing about what it’s like to be “other” in our society. Please click the button below to purchase tickets.

A.R.T./NY THEATRE, 502 W 53RD ST (BETWEEN 10TH & 11TH AVES)

Click HERE for tickets.

KyleKYLE is a new comedy by Hollis James, inspired by his knock-down-drag-out battle with drug addiction. It’s about a guy named Jack, his friend Kyle, and Kyle’s friend cocaine. Thanks to his new friends, Jack’s life quickly begins to spiral out of control. He loses his job, his girlfriend, his health, and all sense of personal hygiene. Will Jack find the strength to get his life back on track or will Kyle ultimately win?

Written by Hollis James and directed by Emily Owens, March 9-25 at UNDER St. Marks (94 St. Marks Place between 1st Avenue and Avenue A)

Click HERE for ticket information

Meet Heather Wahl and Speranza Theatre Company & Unveiling Liberty

Name: Heather Wahl

What is your current project? Unveiling Liberty

Where are you performing your show and why is it a good fit for your production?

Speranza is performing this show for the community and school in the tri-state area in honor of Women’s History Month. We are a women’s theatre company and are thrilled to share the story of the 1886 unveiling of the Statue of Liberty set against the suffragist movement happening at that time.

What’s next for you?

Summer Theatre Camp (ages 5-12) and then our fall production of Women Rising, Stories of Hope. Women Rising is an original play about survivors of domestic violence that will have a run in Jersey City in October for Domestic Violence Awareness month and will also tour to local high schools and colleges.

Any advice for your peers?

Figure out WHY you are doing the work – any work you do – and the challenges will become stepping stones.

Want More?

Website: www.SperanzaTheatreCompany.org
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/speranzatc/?ref=bookmarks
Twitter: @speranzatheatre

Heather Wahl (Artistic Director) Heather is a NYC based producer/director/actor who co-founded Speranza in 2008 after graduating from The New School for Drama’s MFA acting program. She has produced ten plays and countless staged readings, directed and/or choreographed 50+ productions, and acted in 100+ shows from off-Broadway to regional work in 36 of the contiguous United States. Theatre Highlights include: Unveiling Liberty;Women Rising, Stories of Hope; Janey Miller’s World Tour; A Piece of My Heart; The Vagina Monologues; The Daughters of Eve; A Midsummer Night’s Dream; (dir. Austin Pendleton); and Anne Boleyn in Rex (world premiere revival).

Meet Lucie Pohl & Apohlcalypse Now!

Name: Lucie Pohl

What is your current project? Lucie Pohl: Apohlcalypse Now!

Where are you performing your show and why is it a good fit for your production?

Under St. Mark’s Theater at 94 St. Mark’s Place NYC. Apohlcalypse Now! is a show I wrote after an avalanche of disasters exploded into my life over the course of about 2 years and what I tried to do is grab the audience and throw hurl them onto a roller coaster ride with me. Under St. Mark’s is the perfect space to do that; the moment the audience climbs down those stairs and steps through the door they are already on a journey with you. Under St. Mark’s is not only as intimate as my show but also as gritty, real and unmistakably New York. I cherish this theater since it is one of the last of its kind in the city and hearkens back to a time where you could fall down a manhole on Bowery and land in the most amazing performance you have ever seen.

What’s next for you?

In late May I will be brining a show to the Cherry Lane Studio which I am very excited about, I’m working on a film script and am doing lots of stand up all over town.

What is the name of the last show you saw?

Latin History for Morons at the Public

Any advice for your peers?

Work hard. Be nice.

Want More?

Website: www.luciepohl.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/therealluciepohl
Twitter: @luciepohlcomedy
Instagram: ulovelucie

Lucie Pohl is a German born NYC raised actor, comedian, writer, solo performer, producer and proud immigrant. Her autobiographical storytelling comedy debut HI, HITLER was nominated for the 2015 New York Innovative Theater Award (Outstanding Solo Performance), garnered 5 and 4 star reviews and played to sold out houses at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, on London’s West End, 59E59 Theatres NY, Los Angeles, The Baltimore Fringe, Dixon Place, Emerging Artist Theatre, across Germany, in Bucharest, Romania and went on to have a full run at IRT Theatre (resident artist) in New York. In 2015, Pohl created her second play, CRY ME A LIVER which debuted at the 2015 Edinburgh Fringe Festival, has been given a run at London’s Vault Festival in early March ‘16 and OFF-OFF Broadway in New York. Her third stand up hour APOHLCALYPSE NOW! played a sold out run at the 2016 Edinburgh Fringe Festival, at the Culture Project in New York and has toured internationally. Lucie Pohl is a regular performer at Dixon Place, UCB, the PIT, IRT and can be seen doing character, storytelling and stand up work at various venues around the city.
Theatre credits include: Three Graces (Immigrant’s Theater Project/3-LD), Alma Mahler: Widow of the 4 Arts (The Los Angeles Theatre), Vocal Migrations (LaMaMa ETC), Flowers in the Snow (Roy Arias), a.o. TV/FILM: FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM (Warner Bros.), RED DWARFD XI (Baby Cow/Amazon), HOMELAND (Showtime), THE ODD COUPLE (Margarethe v. Trotta) lead role in the film ‘Magi’ directed by Hasan Karacadag, also starring Michael Madsen (Reservoir Dogs, Kill Bill), NOT FADE AWAY (Paramount Vantage), EL CIELO ES AZUL (Vox3 Films) a.o.. Lucie is the voice of MERCY on BLIZZARD’S OVERWATCH. Creator of the female sketch comedy duo RICH AND FAMOUS (on the in$ide).
MFA in Acting from the University of the Arts in Berlin.

Lucie Pohl is also an op-ed comedy contributor at The Guardian, writes for HuffPost Online, as well as Chortle a.o.


Show Information:

When: March 20-28
Where: UNDER St. Marks Place
Address: 94 St. Marks Place
Website/Ticketing URL: www.horseTRADE.info

Review by Nick Radu: Deconstruction

The Storm Theatre Company kicked off its 20th season with the world premiere of Jonathan Leaf’s play, Deconstruction.

Upon stepping into The Theatre at Grand Hall at St. Mary’s Parish you couldn’t help but notice Scenic Designer Shannon Kavanagh’s intricate set.  With a wall of books as the backdrop, and many more strewn along the steps, you knew a play about ideas and academics was about to take place.  The stage was literally set for literary critic and theorist, Paul de Man (Jed Peterson) and novelist, Mary McCarthy (Fleur Alys Dobbins) to take the stage. Perhaps the story got lost in the ideas.

While the playing space was set up well and interesting to look at, the echo and reverberation was a bit off-putting, especially when the actors were all the way upstag which took some getting used to.

Director Peter Dobbins’ wonderful staging took place on different levels, giving the actors options and the audience a much-needed variety in such an expository play.  The change between the Rhode Island set and the Greenwich Village set, however, could have been a little more pronounced and done in a timelier fashion.

Peterson’s portrayal of de Man was hard, calculated and guarded, while being friendly and charismatic when necessary.  He was captivating to watch, especially his last moments when no dialogue was needed.

Dobbins brought a youthful and whimsical attitude to Mary, while encompassing the aspect of “fighting the aging ingénue” her character possessed.  She did, however, seem to be trying a little too hard at times, playing at the truth rather than living in it, which robbed the audience of the endearing and comical moments that were few and far between.

Karoline Fischer, with her commanding stage presence, rounded out the cast playing Hannah Arendt.  Unfortunately, her voice did not match her stature, so dialogue was lost.

The play itself is very heady and wordy.  It is  difficult to connect to characters that cheat, lie and circumvent truths without really introducing endearing qualities and humanism.  Though, it could be argued that that is the purpose of a play titled: Deconstruction.  Deconstruction as a literary thought involves stories that intertwine with one another, are related, and yet are inherently opposite and contradictory to one another.  The play achieves this: stories that are intertwined, related and contradictory. Whether this concept in a play adds or detracts to the story is in the eye of each audience member.

Hannah states in the play that the one thing missing in Martin Heidegger’s theories is love.  There is no true connection in humanity; therefore, there are no real connections in the play?  Perhaps.

If anything, this play makes one think, or at least the very least, research these characters to understand their motivations, their connections and their end games.

Deconstruction runs through March 25th  

Grand Hall (at St. Mary’s Parish), 440 Grand Street, New York, NY 10002

Visit www.stormtheatre.com for more info.

 

Meet Irina Abraham & The (Last) Station

Name: Irina Abraham

What is your current project? The (Last) Station – a play based on an avant garde text by Eugene Myzica

Where are you performing your show and why is it a good fit for your production?

We are starting our play off at Dixon Place on April 7th. We are a company that relies on venues and festivals that welcome experimentation and open their doors to young theatre companies that are building their audiences and are constantly searching for their own unique theatre language. The spirit of adventure, constant artistic search and dedication to the process are all of utmost importance in our work. We feel that Dixon Place and the audience it attracts are in tune with our vision.

What’s next for you?

We are preparing to perform at The Planet Connections Festival. This venue will be very different from Dixon Place main stage. We are always excited to adjust our shows for different spaces and learn from the feedback we receive. Each new venue is a new adventure.

What is the name of the last show you saw?

Last Work by Batsheva Dance Company. What was most fascinating is how dance affects the audience in a very direct and emotional way bypassing the intellect. The show was both meditative and passionate. It was very inspiring to watch and learn from this company.

Any advice for your peers?

Have fun. The moment you feel this whole theater/film business is turning into endless heavy lifting and a source of stress, take a pause, breath in and think of where the joy could have gone. Find it. Keep playing.

Want More?

Website: www.necessaryitems.org
Facebook: https://m.facebook.com/thenecessaryitems/?ref=bookmarks
You Tube: https://m.youtube.com/channel/UCfKiyxlOkNYuKSV2_nCeSAw

Irina started as a classical and ballroom dancer in Belarus. She traveled Europe with dance companies and eventually an Experimental Youth Theater company. In 2007, Irina came to NYC and studied at HB Studio with Aleksey Burago and Snezhana Chernova, Ilse Pfeifer and Michael Blake. In 2010 her teachers, other actors, love, Spring and New York inspired her to direct her first show Playgrounded. It played at HB Studio and Manhattan Repertory Theatre in NYC and the magic of theater began. From 2010 to 2014 Irina worked as a choreographer and actor with such companies as the Russian Arts Theater & Studio, Nylon Fusion Theater Company, Yangtze Repertory Theater of America, the Bedlam Ensemble, etc. In 2014 Irina co-directed Requiem by Hanoch Levin that was produced by the Tank Theater. She grew to love cinematic language and played leading roles in According to Her (2015, feature film, dir. Estelle Artus) and The Girl On The Ledge (2015, feature film, dir. Paul Rothman), she also appeared on TV Shows such as The Americans and The Blacklist. In 2014 Irina co-founded Necessary I.T.E.M.S. Project. In 2016, Irina also joined the innovative Off Off Broadway Theatre Company Blessed Unrest.


Show Information: 

When: April 7th
Where: Dixon Place
Address: 161A Chrystie Street
Website/Ticketing URL: http://dixonplace.org/performances/the-last-station/