Review: India Pale Ale at MTC

IndiaPaleAle0111r.jpg
The Company of  Indian Pale Ale

India Pale Ale written by Jaclyn Backhaus with a cast of nine South Asian actors already warmed my heart as I read the names on the wall walking to MTC’s Stage 1 theatre. As I settled into my seat and took in the view, I was thrilled to see a diverse audience (many of Indian descent) energized to see the play. Then the show started.

A simple story presented itself in the opening moments of the play. Boz, played by Shazi Raja, tells the family story of their ancestor, the pirate Brownbeard. Brownbeard’s employment was for the Dutch East Company transporting ale on a ship from Calcutta to Essex. The story is told in verse through the protagonist, a device used many times throughout the play…in pirate speak.  As the scene shifts, we are introduced to her mother, Deepa (Purva Bedi) and her mother’s cousin, Simran (Angel Desai). We learn that there are generations of Sikhs living in Wisconsin and that the community is tight knit. However, we soon learn at the engagement party of Boz’ brother, Iggy (Shathya Sridharan) that though the traditions are continuing, Boz is unhappy. She is ready to get out of town and start her own life. Similar to her ancestor, the pirate Brownbeard. By the way, there is an obligatory Bollywood dance break that I loved but is unnecessary.

She leaves the town her family has lived for generations and moves to another town an hour away to open a bar. Of course,  Boz has to explain to bar patron, Tim (Nate Miller) who she is because yours truly has spent her life answering the dreaded question “What are you?”  A New Yorker, that’s what I am but I digress. That’s where the play changes course again. As we are enticed by Boz’ heroine journey, the structure of the play transitions. Something terrible has happened. A shooting by a white supremacist results in the murder of her father. The Prodigal Daughter returns home. As the family is in the hospital, Boz is visited by her father in a dream sequence on a ship; with actors in beautiful, rich colored costumes; and another style change. As the family and community comes together after the shooting at langar, the grief is evident. Iggy’s engagement broken, old passions reignited, a community reunited and unified. And then as the play ends, the fourth wall is broken and the audience is subjected to rousing and didactic speech on equality and samosas.

The play employs many style structures that made the simple plot confusing. Is the play about a young woman going on her hero’s journey or is it about race relations? Is this a serious commentary on racism in this country? Is the play a sitcom? Is this a play in verse? Is this a play with Bollywood elements? Any of these devices would work in choosing one of them, the feeling of being pulled out of the play so many times would have been avoided. Especially with the talent of the cast who loyally invested in the words of the play. The set and lighting design is thoughtful and subtle, enhancing the actors performances. India Pale Ale is the 2018 winner of the Horton Foote Prize for Promising New American Play which it is true. I’d be interested in seeing it’s further development as the Indo-American experience is one that isn’t told within and beyond our own segregated communities.

Manhattan Theatre Club’s world premiere of India Pale Ale, written by Jaclyn Backhaus and directed by Will Davis, runs through November 18th at MTC at New York City Center – Stage I (131 West 55th Street). India Pale Ale is the 2018 winner of the Horton Foote Prize for Promising New American Play . Starring Purva Bedi (MTC’s East is East), Angel Desai (An Ordinary Muslim), Sophia Mahmud (“The Blacklist”), Nate Miller (MTC’s Ripcord), Shazi Raja (“High Maintenance”), Nik Sadhnani (The Invisible Hand), Lipica Shah (Bunty Berman Presents… ), Sathya Sridharan (An Ordinary Muslim) and Alok Tewari (The Band’s Visit). The design team includes Neil Patel (Scenic Design), Arnulfo Maldonado (Costume Design), Ben Stanton (Lighting Design), Elisheba Ittoop (Original Music & Sound Design), Dave Bova (Hair & Makeup Design) and Will Davis (Choreography).

Meet Sabina England & Allah Earth: The Cycle of Life

Sabina EnglandName: Sabina England

Tell us about you. 

I am a filmmaker, playwright and performance artist. I am profoundly deaf and cannot hear but I work with musicians a lot in my projects. I just won a Jury Award at Lady Filmmakers Film Festival in Beverly Hills, California last month for my short sign language poetry film, “Deaf Brown Gurl,” which I wrote, filmed, directed, produced and edited.

Tell us about your current project? 

I wrote and created “Allah Earth: The Cycle of Life” which is a solo multimedia performance show with sign language, mime, music, video and movement. I incorporated elements from traditional South Asian dances and Sufi poetry into my show, creating an unique deaf theatrical experience for both deaf and hearing audiences.

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

I am performing “Allah Earth: The Cycle of Life” at New York International Fringe Festival here in New York City. I believe New York City is a great fit because of the rich diversity of so many cultures and communities. My show appeals to everyone, not just for Deaf or brown people, but for anybody who has wondered about the meaning of life and why we are here on Earth.

What’s next for you? 

After I am done with New York International Fringe Festival, I will write, direct and produce a short silent narrative film about an undocumented man and deaf woman who fall in love together.

What is the name of the last show you saw? 

No Exit, by Jean-Paul Sartre, produced by SATE Theatre in St. Louis, Missouri

Any advice for your peers?

Don’t worry what everyone thinks of you. Just focus on doing what makes you happy and keep going with your dreams. You are here on Earth for yourself, not to please anybody or make others happy.


Show Information: 

WHEN: October 21 (7:00pm), October 23 (4:45pm), October 27 (1:15pm)

WHERE: 685 Washington St, New York, NY 10014

TICKETS: https://www.sabinaengland.com/allahearth.html

Follow on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/Sabina_England/

Meet Fengar Gael & Sycorax, Cyber Queen of Qamara

SycoraxPostcardFrontName: Fengar Gael

Tell us about you. 

I don’t sleep well; I keep dreaming that I’m a resident alien in a plutocracy led by a miserly, mean souled, tinpot dictator who has tricked us into allowing the ethics of business to infest every aspect of life. My mother said I was born wanting to re-stage the world, but since I’ve failed miserably, I drink too much, eat too much, read too much appalling news, and because I’m a playwright, I’m also subject to bipolar-manic-depression with delusions of grandeur and multiple personality disorder. I can trace the origin of these afflictions to a childhood of constant traveling in and out of the country which may explain why I write plays that take me to unfamiliar worlds and feature characters of diverse races and ethnicities from the past and future. For the past ten years New York has become my heart’s home, a great melting pot city where going to the theatre is a way of life. I have new friends and am part of the League of Professional Theatre Women whose members have enriched my hermit’s life beyond imagining.

Tell us about your current project? 

The play, Sycorax: Cyber Queen of Qamara, is a comic drama originally intended as a prequel to The Tempest. Shakespeare only mentioned that Sycorax was a witch from Algiers who was exiled to an island where she gave birth to a deformed boy named Caliban. In my play, Sycorax has waited 500 years to tell her side of the story to the widest possible audience: the World Wide Web of the Internet. She does so through her avatars, but I won’t give away the plot except to say that Sycorax feels moral outrage at the continuing gender imbalance of power in a world controlled by men who value their arsenals more than their artists. I’m thrilled that the fearless Ego Actus Theatre Company has taken on the challenge of bringing the play to vivid life by their inspired Artistic Director, Joan Kane, whose vision of the play happily resembles my own. We are blessed with a fantastic cast of actors and theater artists contributing to this production: the scenery, the costumes, the lights and projections are going to be beyond anything I had dared to imagine.

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

The play is being performed at HERE which has already garnered a following of brave souls who are passionate about innovative (even subversive) theatre. Both HERE and the Ego Actus Theatre Company believe in theatre as a fusion of art forms: with dialog that aspires to poetry, with music, dance and artful costumes, scenery and multi-media projections.

What’s next for you? 

The Detroit Repertory Theatre is producing my play, The House on Poe Street, in January of 2019. Another play, Smile Like a Knife, is a current finalist at two theatres sponsoring contests, and I’m currently writing Passing Parades that’s turning into a louche tale of the supernatural about an idealistic woman who undergoes a radical transformation after a bomb shatters the lives of marchers gathered to celebrate the centennial of women’s suffrage. The play leaps backwards to the 1850s when the suffrage and abolitionists movements were aligned, but faced radical opposition. The play will be given a concert reading at the League of Professional Theatre Women’s Julia’s Reading Room series at the Jefferson Market Library on December 11th.

What is the name of the last show you saw? 

The Winning Side by James Wallert, a post-modern collage of a play produced by the Epic Theatre about Wernher von Braun, a former Nazi rocket engineer who interacts with his French lover and the Americans who steal him away to help claim the moon and conquer the world.

Any advice for your peers?

Drink wine, read poetry, and try not to commodify yourselves in a world where everything seems quantifiable — even plays are given numerical scores. If playwriting is the literary form that best expresses your passions, then don’t wait for commissions or guaranteed productions. To quote Emily Dickinson, “Be a fire that lights itself.” Also in this age of constant surveillance and identity politics, it’s best to resist definition. If the great evolutionary triumph of our species is the imagination and capacity to reason, then to define ourselves in terms of race, age, gender or ethnicity is to be forever stranded on a smaller planet. When we allow anyone to police our imaginations, to condemn us to writing plays only about people like ourselves, then we’re doomed. The best thing about our capacity for abstract thinking is that it allows us to imagine what it’s like to be someone else (saint or sinner), so we might become more empathetic. I should add that I truly believe there’s a great future for theatre. Perhaps it’s naive, but I think people will attend plays more than ever before, if only to heal their damaged attention spans, and to focus on the perpetual wide screen of the stage where no bullying cameras are telling them precisely where to look, no soundtracks assaulting their ears, where they’re no longer isolated but in the company of other human beings, and where their presence actually matters because going to the theatre is a creative act.


Show Information: 
DATES: November 1-18th
VENUE: HERE  145 6th Avenue one block south of Spring Street
TICKET URL: http://www.HERE.org or (212) 352-3101

More info is available at www.egoactus.com/sycorax.html

FringeNYC + FringeBYOV Returns 2018

After a one year hiatus, the New York International Fringe Festival (FringeNYC) returns with a new look.  It also returns with an additional moniker called FringeBYOV (Bring Your Own Venue) which opens the festival and audience members to theatre beyond the borough of Manhattan. Unfortunately, the Bronx wasn’t included but kudos to Staten Island for being creative in their presentation of The Ferry Play as a podplay.

So I would be lying if I said that there wasn’t some trepidation around the new format. August in NYC for theatre-makers and audience members comes with an acceptance. There will be 200 shows to read in the program guide (in addition to the other festivals and shows); you’ll only be able to get to maybe ten (2 if you are in the Fringe); and you’ll have to run from venue to venue in 100 degree weather. Honestly, as much as I complained about it, I LOVED it. Even if some of the shows were hit or miss.

This leads me to figuring out my Fringe schedule in October. The days are getting shorter, there are some serious plays being produced at our non-profit institutions, and now there’s the Fringe Hub where we all meet to be taken to our venue. How to see it all?! Yes, a luxury problem, but in today’s climate, the theatrical platform, soapbox, medium, choose your noun, is essential. So when Onaje is the play that kicks off my Fringe viewing, I am intrigued. The show is already sold out in the days prior to its opening.

Onaje uses the Cambridge riots of 1967 on the Eastern Shore of Maryland as a backdrop for a group of people who are neighbors turned enemies due to the race relations. An ensemble of nine tell the story of an astrological hobo, an ex-CIA operative, a stripper, a drunk, an angry cop, a family living a simple life, and hitchhiker as they intersect on the highway (literal and metaphorical). We learn soon that this is the first layer of the onion. Wrong place at the wrong time. Running away from the truth. Money solves all problems. The grass is always greener on the other side. Leaving the world better than we found it. All of these are reflected in each actor as in their insightful and careful expression of Robert Bowie, Jr.’s words.

It took me some time to unpack the 145 minutes of intensity. There were many aspects of the show that left me in thought. The cast was talented, Pat Golden’s direction tight in telling the story within the allotted time (though it felt long at spots), and the writing significant.

My next stop was Jamaica Center for the Arts & Learning (JCal) as part of the fringeBYOV/fringeQNS. On the way to see The Public and Private Deaths of Carol O’Grady, I listened to a new feature of the Fringe called the podplay. I listened to Subway Plays which was simply a pretty cool thing to experience as I rode the 7 train. The good thing about the series is that you don’t HAVE to be on that line if you’re already familiar with the subway. I listened to Damper Felts: N on the bus and had the same experience. If you are a tourist, though, it’s a great companion piece for taking the train. All the conversations you have, don’t have, avoid, overhear, and imagine are in one place. Jenny Lyn Bader, Jessie Bear and Colin Waitt capture those moments. As a native New Yorker, I laughed aloud many times and didn’t care about the reactions of others.

As for The Public and Private Deaths of Carol O’Grady, Frank Murdocco’s solo show was a breath of fresh air on a cool night in Jamaica, Queens. The experience began as soon as I arrived and was treated with a tour of the venue which boasts two artists’ gallery. That prepared me for another surprise – a beautiful state-of-the-art 120 seat theatre. It’s Christmas and something terrible has happened to Carol O’Grady! Murdocco’s tells the story through three characters in the style of Sarah Jones, Anna Deveare Smith and Eric Bogosian. He flawlessly and smoothly transforms into these characters. The only indication of a character change is a click of the lamp (which I loved) which added to the layer of the insanity created by Jessica DiPaola and Lindsey Smith.

My trip to the Fringe is coming to a close due to scheduling but definitely support the artists. We need their voices and their stories. And we need yours too. Start creating!


The NEW York International Fringe Festival (FringeNYC + FringeBYOV)

www.fringenyc.org

October 1st – 31st, 2018

OCT 12th – 28th

OCT 5th – 28th

OCT 1st – 31st