by KAREN TORTORA-LEE on JULY 21, 2014
When Jaded Eyes Arts Collective announced they were doing a revival of The Fox by Allan Miller – the first since its debut at the Roundabout Theatre in 1982 – they promised“to bring to the stage a riveting exploration of powerful themes on male/female power dynamics, femininity, sexuality, and the complex relationship between our physical and mental desires.” I suspected that even if they could only half deliver, this production would be something worth experiencing – and after catching a flawless opening night performance I was not disappointed. Simply put, this production ofThe Fox delivers on their promise with absorbing performances, powerful direction by Jordan Dann and a nuanced production design.
Step into the Gene Frankel theatre and you immediately see how the tiny theatre has been attractively transformed. The scenic design by Kimie Nishikawa instantly evokes a down-home feeling; the ceiling is draped in netting and Spanish moss and a cozy living room, set off by a crackling fireplace, is lit indirectly by lamps and lanterns. It is an agreeable, old-fashioned room filled with books and other creature comforts. The music piping in, pre-show, is lilting, harmonious and welcoming – creating an ambiance of warmth and kindness. And while the home itself may be somewhat humble it is obviously filled with small protected treasures.
It is 1918 England and we soon find that this is the home of Jill Banford (Elizabeth Elkins) and Nellie March (Clea Straus Rivera) – two women whose relationship to each other isn’t immediately clear. What is clear is that this farmhouse is constantly on the brink of financial ruin, though the woman have done what they can to make their home a comfortable one. When we come upon them, Jill is nestled by the fire singing softly and accompanying herself on the auto harp while Nellie sits and paints detail work on a porcelain vase. It seems these woman are used to a more genteel way of life, and what brings them to the rigors of farming isn’t immediately clear. Soon enough we find that their motives lean more towards being left alone rather than any particular dreams of homesteading.
And so, not being particularly suited to it, life is a perpetual struggle. Money is a constant worry, Jill is nursing an aching shoulder even as Nellie spends endless hours a day tending to the tremendous physical demands of simply keeping up the farm. They are battling hens that won’t lay, a barn threatening to topple and – perhaps most menacing – a fox that poaches their best chickens. It’s enough to make Nellie cry out in her sleep, as she dreams of this animal that threatens – it seems- not only their hens but their happiness as well.
Cue Henry Grenfel (Matt Savins) – a soldier who interrupts the cozy evening by the fire in search of his grandfather and some lodging while he’s on one week’s military leave – fresh from Greece and soon off to Canada. This was Henry’s childhood home for a bit, and he’d lived here with his cantankerous and stern grandfather until he ran away as a teen. Now, back for a short respite, he finds nothing but the women, both of whom treat his unexpected intrusion quite differently.
Jill – ladylike, frail and demure - is a welcoming host. It’s obvious she’s yearning for company, a break in the routine and someone to fuss over. She jumps at the chance for a bit of conversation, some new energy in the house, and some interesting stories.
Nellie, on the other hand, (to belabor a farm metaphor) is used to being cock of the walk and quite literally wears the pants in the family. She doesn’t take kindly to a new alpha male bulldozing in and flooding their home with all his testosterone and vigor. At every turn she challenges him – or sees every offer of his help as a challenge. They virtually come to blows at the smallest of things.
Director Jordan Dann masterfully builds the growing tension of the play with a slow burn. Dann sets Henry up as a devious manipulator, whose duality seems both unintentionally ingrained – yet specifically called upon. When Henry is alone with each woman he sets up a completely unique dynamic with each and calls forth different aspects of his personality. Initially open and friendly with Jill, he is instead cunning and slightly dangerous with Nellie. When all three come together, the room is charged as every word is heavy with double meaning. It’s fascinating to see this master manipulator play each woman expertly.
Jill’s joy of having a house-guest soon sours when the excitement Henry brought with him wears thin. In the village she hears gossip of Henry which – coupled with some of his actions – leaves her with a growing aversion for him even as Nellie has now begun to warm to him. There’s a sly seduction that crackles between these two alphas – and what began as a battle to be the man of the house now has these two locked into each other in a brutal, sensual and emotionally explosive dependency. Henry begins to dominate Nellie with his passion – one so strong that it butts up against abusive smothering. He pursues her the way he hunts for his prey:
“I’ll tell you something, Nellie. A hunter, if he’s a real hunter, never just walks into a forest and says to an animal, ‘Please fall to my gun, beastie’ It’s a slower, subtler thing than that. When you bunt, you have to gather yourself to bring down what you’re out for. You have to coil everything you are, just as a snake does when he’s about to strike, and then you have to focus not just your eyes but your whole mind and soul on the thing you’re after, so it becomes like a fate. Your will against his. And then when you reach your true pitch, and you finally come into range, you don’t aim as you would at a bottle, or a can of chowder. It’s your will that carries the bullet through. It’s your will that brings the creature down. It has to be the will or you’ll never win. It’s whoever’s will is the weakest that’s the loser…! “
The words “You can’t refuse me” from his mouth are both a promise and a threat, and Nellie, caught up in this strange new whirlwind is both drawn to the force, as well seduced by the prospect of not having to be the caregiver anymore.
Jill and Nellie’s relationship is broadly painted and while mention of them sleeping together is often spoken of, any hint of sexuality between them seems to hover at the brink of -and go no further than – deep fondness and enduring affection rather than any erotic passion. Theirs is an emotional pairing, solidly built on – and maintained on – similar habits, interests, goals and dreams. They are a couple who has built a life together and therefore it doesn’t matter that their bedroom escapades often seem dominated by a hot water bottle and being hummed off to dreamland.
In contrast, Henry offers Nellie a brutally sexual relationship clearly hinted at in the way he manhandles her, grabs at her, and causes her breath to quicken. She – so strong, sturdy and reliant when dealing with Jill – becomes almost quivering when Henry demands that they run off together. Savins and Rivera masterfully portray these two lovers, drawn together with such combustible force that all rationality and clear-headedness withers in the wake of their ultimately destructive inferno. Elkins does a marvelous job at portraying Jill who must stand by in confusion and is powerless to stop what she knows is a story that can only end in tragedy.
The Fox, originally a novella by D.H. Lawrence, is a story that ages well. In the hands of Jaded Eyes Arts Collective, this story is able to speak to an audience who isn’t so wide-eyed at the thought of two women abandoning society in order to go rogue and live a life together on their own terms. And therefore, some of the darker points are able to be coaxed out and played with: Henry’s complete domination of Nellie, the dance that flirts with BDSM before toppling over into abuse via manipulation, and the complete brute force and sexual subterfuge which Henry uses to whip his prey into a lather of confusion and submission.
The end of the play is stark and gripping; Elkins, Rivera and Savins hold the audience so tightly in a game of will that it is impossible to breath as you watch the final moments play out. At times devastating, as well as bold and brave, this production of The Fox builds to a climax that will leave you transfixed.
Huffington Post - included in Eve Ensler's piece entitled Ambiguous UpSparkles From the Heart of the Park (Mic Check/Occupy Wall Street)
After returning from Israel on a project a few weeks ago, I checked my Facebook feed upon landing at Newark International. With embarrassment I will admit that that is where the majority of my news comes from these days, I believe that the friends I trust will post stories and news that I should take note of.
I had a friend visiting from out of town and, after we deposited our luggage, I suggested that we take a run across the Brooklyn Bridge and down to Zuccotti Park to see for ourselves what exactly was taking place. Upon arriving I encountered a group of kids holding signs, and a handful of people occupying the park, and I quickly dismissed it as temporary. However, the sight of this group stayed with me. I found myself thinking about them for days and wondering why they were there. I found myself wondering if they knew why there were there. Most of all I found myself wondering what I would be standing for if I returned.
I didn't return for two weeks. I have a busy and glorious full life. I am graced with a bounty of creative projects, work opportunities, and friendships that keep me feeling busy and full. I don't have space or time for a cause. I don't have energy to participate in a movement. How would my voice help?
A few days later I mentioned the movement to my best friend David and his response was, "Whatever. It won't last" and, despite my disappointment about his response, on some level my own was confirmed, but then, a few days later, he texted me: "I'm sorry I was pessimistic about what is happening here. It's something."
I still didn't return. I'm busy. How can my voice count?
Last Thursday, as I finished class, I received another text from David, "I'm here with your Dad at the park. Come."
When I arrived I was given a tour of the plaza by David. He pointed out the Information Booth, the "People's Library", the Media Center, the kitchen, the "Sacred Tree", the sign making station, and on, and on. Then he grabbed my hand whisked me away to an impromptu dance party at Rector Street where a bike with amplification blasted Le Tigre's song "New Kicks" as a beautiful group of people gyrated and grooved to the chorus of people chanting, "this is what democracy looks like" and sound bytes of Amy Goodman saying, "It isn't enough to talk about peace, one must believe in it. It isn't enough to believe in it, one must work at it. And we here today are working at it."
Garbage trucks stopped and lined up on the streets, honking their horns and pumping their fists in the air. Cab drivers got out and shouted "Occupy Wall Street." Random passersby moved through the crowd of dancers and allowed themselves to be turned and spun by the dancers, shrugging to their friends saying "Why, not?" and "Come on. This is fun."
I am aware of the myths that I have unconsciously swallowed during my lifetime: that money is the most important thing to strive for and accumulate; that we are supposed to participate in the institution of marriage and be monogamous and procreate; that we are supposed to own real estate and go to Bed Bath & Beyond, and Ikea to purchase things to make a home so that we can invite friends into our space to show off what we have bought; and that we are supposed to dress in the latest fashion and be able to quote lines from popular television.
Is this what makes a life?
Despite my participation and acceptance of these myths this is not my American Dream. This is not my Human Dream. I want a life that is based on my ability to authentically connect with other human beings and to offer goodness and health to the earth. I want to be a part of a world where people see one another, attune to one another, make space for ambiguity, and wait in silence for someone to find his or her words to articulate their individual and unique experience of life.
I saw a lot of chaos at Zuccotti Park. I saw a lot of tarps and vagrants, and at many moments I felt like I was wondering around a sketchy Phish show lot, but beyond that I saw people connecting. People taking care of each other. People loving each other. People listening to each other and people talking to each other.
I didn't sleep that night. I lay awake wondering what a new world would look like. I had a restless night wondering what kind of world the other people occupying Zucotti Park wanted to create and what it would mean if my voice could be heard and I had the agency and power to shape a new world that I feel proud to be a part of.
Portia Reiners on May 20, 2013 at 1:09 pm
Children’s Ensemble performs ‘Romeo and Juliet’
“But soft! What light through yonder window breaks? It is the east and Juliet is the sun!” exclaims 12-year-old Brandon Williams, as he looks adoringly upon the face of Chelsea Augustine, 11, who gazes dreamily into the distance from her balcony.
Brandon and Chelsea are portraying the world’s most famous lovers, Romeo and Juliet, in this year’s production of a Shakespeare play by the Hunts Point Children’s Shakespeare Ensemble, a collaboration between the Hunts Point Alliance for Children and the Shakespeare Society.
Fourth, fifth, and sixth graders from PS 48, MS 424, the Hyde Leadership Charter School and St. Ignatius School make up the acting ensemble. In addition, the feud between two warring families, the Montagues and Capulets, gives more students the opportunity to take the stage, to engage in several exciting stage fights throughout the play. Student musicians form a chorus to sing a number of songs written especially for the production.
The students began working on the play in October. The directors encouraged the children to explore all aspects of the drama and the emotions behind the play. Over the course of the school year they learned about the story and the language and did dramatic exercises based on themes in the play.
After months of study and practice, when they took the stage, the youngsters spoke the words of Elizabethan English with confidence and passion.
Co-director Jordan Dann, who has also directed several past productions, said she frequently told the cast, “You have to serve the story, you have to be in that world.”
That’s just what 11-year-old Daya Toney said she did. “I just get to put on costumes and be a whole other person and act in different ways, have different accents, have props and just get to do different things,” saud Daya, who plays Romeo’s cousin Benvolio.
Although boys performed the female roles in Shakespeare’s day, today several girls got the opportunity to play boys.
Eleven-year-old Nia Richardson, who plays the hot-tempered Tybalt, Juliet’s cousin who fights a duel with Romeo and is killed, said she loved putting on a personality so different from her own.
She liked “exploring a quarrelsome character,” she said. “I’m not a hostile person, so I get to be another character, in another position.”
Nia said that, although she’d had a lot to learn, she was up to the challenge. “I talked to my mom, my sister, I just had people help me out and talked to them about the play: what were my favorite things, what were my least favorite things. So I got to really understand through those kind of conversations.”
“Over a long period of time you develop relationships with the kids, you get to know their personalities,” said co-director Devin Norik. “And as they open to you, you open up to them, and they just start to reveal their true selves and their fears and their triumphs, what makes them joyful, what doesn’t.”
This is the sixth year of Shakespeare performances by Hunts Point children, and for many of those in the cast, their second or third year working on Hunts Point’s annual Shakespeare play. A number of them expressed their love for acting and their hopes to pursue it in the future.
Over the last three years, the number of students involved in the Shakespeare Ensemble has tripled, from 20 to 60, in large part through an expanded emphasis on music. While there has always been at least one musical number written into previous productions, this is the third year the play will feature a separate chorus.
“This year the musical was definitely the most original and the most organic,” said Norik.
The Hunts Point Children’s Shakespeare Ensemble performed “Romeo and Juliet” at The Point’s theater on May 17 and 18 and to a sold-out audience in Manhattan in a benefit performance at Five Angels Theater on 10th Avenue on May 19.
- See more at: http://brie.hunter.cuny.edu/hpe/2013/05/20/shakespeare-gets-the-hunts-point-treatment/#sthash.VNo8nYPV.dpuf
By Patrick Wall on May 1, 2012 2:14pm | Updated on May 1, 2012 2:16pm
Students from both the Shakespeare and Storefront Ensemble groups spend the entire school year preparing for their final performances.
HUNTS POINT — The Shakespearean actor squinted at her script and recited her lines.
"Give me your hands, if we be friends, and Robin shall restore amends," she uttered, before letting out a sigh and nailing Puck's opening scene of Act 5 in "A Midsummer Night's Dream."
Later, 11-year-old Shekinah King adjusted her headband and revealed the secret to her method: a pestering grandmother.
"When I go to her house, she goes, 'Make sure you’re studying your lines instead of song lyrics,'" Shekinah said.
"And I’m like, ‘OK’."
She is one of about three dozen players in the Hunts Point Children’s Shakespeare Ensemble, an acting troupe that devotes an entire year of study and rehearsal to a single text by the Bard of Avon. This year, the fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders will bring "A Midsummer Night’s Dream" to life.
If the students stick with Shakespeare through sixth grade, then they graduate into a yearlong drama program for middle-school students, who get to compose and star in their own production.
But first, it’s the "raging rocks and shivering shocks" of Shakespeare.
Once students are accepted into the program, they meet with the ensemble staff two afternoons a week, poring over the weighty text on Wednesdays and sweating through acting exercises — including "Shakespeare aerobics" — on Fridays.
The instructors shortened some of the characters’ speeches and inserted about 500 plain-English footnotes into the script, but the children still recite the original Shakespearean language.
"There is something to be said for the process of speaking a seemingly unspeakable language," said Jordan Dann, a professional actor and a drama instructor at New York University, who leads the children's ensemble.
Students in the Hunts Point Children's Shakespeare Ensemble performed "Twelfth Night" in 2011.
"Exploring heightened texts," she added, "demands that we step into our heightened selves."
For Dreemar Nisbeth, 10, that includes discovering the meaning of votaress, oxlipand ass.
"When I looked it up online, they said it was a donkey," said Dreemar, who plays Francis Flute.
Maryann Hedaa, a former Catholic nun who founded the Alliance, said the ensemble staff designed an entire curriculum to help students untangle Shakespeare’s rhetoric and themes.
"It’s like learning a new language," said Hedaa, who added that pre- and post-tests have shown that the program boosts the actors’ vocabulary and reading comprehension.
Gifty Boahene said her daughter, Chelsea Augustine, 10, recites her lines each night after she finishes her homework. She has even heard Chelsea practice her part in the shower.
"By the time I’m done memorizing my lines," said Chelsea, "I feel like I’ve accomplished something."
In the program for seventh- and eighth-graders, called the Storefront Ensemble, students spent months drafting and revising responses to prompts, such as, "What will your life be like in 15 years?" or "Write a eulogy for a loved one."
Then the head of the program, Devin Norik, wove the best piece from each of the 15 students into a sort of spoken-word play, called "Where I’m From: Stories from Hunts Point."
In the show, one girl recalls gossiping school bullies, while another rages against boys who "think it’s appropriate to call a driven, opinionated, intelligent lady a 'female dog.'"
An eighth-grader, Eduardo Gomez, describes the hardships where he’s from — gunshots, prostitution, drugs — but also how he plans to transcend them.
"By doing good in school, getting a good job and getting a lot of money," Eduardo, 14, said after rehearsal.
The playwright performers are required to maintain good grades in school, complete each writing assignment and attend every rehearsal, including three-hour Saturday workshops.
In the process, the students come to understand commitment and accountability, said Norik, an actor who earned an MFA from New York University’s Graduate Acting Program.
"They also learn about their artistic voice," he added, "and how much power they have."
The Storefront Ensemble will perform at 4 p.m. on Saturday at The Point, at 940 Garrison Ave. in The Bronx. They will present an encore performance to raise funds for the program at 6:15 p.m. on June 11 at the Barnes and Noble at 150 East 86th St. in Manhattan.
The Shakespeare Ensemble will perform on May 19 at 6 p.m. at The Point. They will present a benefit performance on May 20 at 6 p.m. at Five Angels Theater on 789 Tenth Ave. in Manhattan
Jordan Dann says her one-woman show "Imagining Lebanon" is "a story about a girl who's sad, and then she's happy." But this is a rare instance of Dann simplifying things, and not representative of the essence of the hour-long show, which has its Aspen premiere, a staged reading, tomorrow at 7 p.m. at Aspen High School's Black Box Theatre.Apart from being about a girl who overcomes depression, "Imagining Lebanon" is about transcendence and destiny, music and mythology, and the author's exploration of her ethnic heritage and family history - with a sprinkle of Middle Eastern politics tossed in."Imaging Lebanon" stems in part from Dann's educational background. While working toward her master's degree in theater education at Boston University, the Vermont-bred Dann studied an approach called the Linklater Technique. The technique, developed by Broadway vocal-coach Kristin Linklater, emphasizes using the voice as a means of freeing tension and maximizing expression.
"It's about pushing the envelope as far as revealing self," said the 28-year-old Aspenite, who created "Imagining Lebanon" as her master's thesis. "It's about, how naked can you be? Being in front of an audience and saying, 'what am I most afraid of,' telling the truth, dealing with emotions and finding a voice to explore that. To find the truest expression of that feeling."In "Imagining Lebanon," Dann confronts herself head-on. Of the six characters she portrays - some drawn from real life, others fictitious, but all "real," she says - the most prominent is Jordan Dann herself. There are also Dann's mother, her maternal grandfather, and Dalal, the woman her grandfather lives with. From the more imaginative realm come Leila, a 14-year-old Lebanese girl; Adam, the boy who works with Jordan in a laundromat in Brattleboro, Vt.; the laundromat owner Laurel; and Adam's dog, Dog. The Jordan of the play finds herself adrift and unhappy, interacting with the other characters in a search for connection."It's a story about being close to a point of not wanting to be alive. About wanting to leave the world," explained Dann. "But feeling like there might be a way you don't have to. About looking for a connection, a reason for this churning metal orb."And then I have a transcendental experience, about trying to root myself again in the material world. It's about ecstasy - which means 'out of station.' I have to come back and observe how people do things. I have to mimic how people behave to learn behavior."
The idea of moving through periods of satisfaction and severe unhappiness has a parallel in Dann's own history. After earning her undergraduate degree in acting, also from Boston University, Dann embarked on a pair of careers. One, singing in the funk-rock band Sofa King, was deeply enjoyable; the other, working in a high-powered public relations firm, brought her to the depths.***For Dann to truly look at herself, she had to look at more than just herself. She had to take into account where she had come from - and that included Lebanon.Dann's maternal grandfather had been born in Lebanon. But after moving to the States, marrying an Irish Catholic woman and finding success in the textile and clothing business, "he forgot his whole history," said Dann, whose Middle Eastern heritage is evident in her dark skin and features. "Which always felt like a missing link for me. I always felt a deep connection to a culture I never experienced. My whole life, people asked me, 'What's your nationality? You're so dark.'
"Writing this show and living it allowed me to connect to all these things I felt were missing in my heritage. No one could fill in the blanks for me, so I filled them in myself."Dann also has to imagine her mother's past, which included 15 years in a convent. "Which is a mystery for me," she said. "It's like the dark period of her life. I know that's where she was for 15 years, but I know very little about it."Despite the seeming timeliness of the title, "Imagining Lebanon" is not about politics. At least, not much. Dann says there are some ideas in the play connected to the Palestinean-Lebanese conflict of the late '70s and early '80s. But "Imagining Lebanon" doesn't address specific questions of Middle East politics."It's more a vehicle to explore philosophical questions. Like, 'is it possible to have a planetary mythology?'" said Dann, who has performed the piece at several colleges in Boston and private venues in New York. "It's not Buddhist, but in the Buddhist idea that everything is soulful, that everything is to be honored as a Buddha being."
"Imagining Lebanon" is also about music. Music was Dann's first conduit into the world of theater. She does some singing in the play. But more significantly, she explores how music is a way to connect to something bigger than herself."It's song as a riff, a melody, that's at the core of what if feels like to be alive," said Dann, who moved to Aspen last fall and works for Theatre Aspen. "A recurring theme throughout my piece is yearning. A yearning for god? I don't know. For transcendence. A riff that takes me more outside of this" - and she smacks her hand on the desk - "outside the material."And music, song, is a way for me to go to that place. It's a meditation. Song is a metaphor for transcending the material world."
Stewart Oksenhorn's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org