Movement Electronic Music Festival: A Photo Essay

By Lola Izola

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Review: “Fun Home”

by Caroline Cunfer

via Joan Marcus

via Joan Marcus

Alison Bechdel’s relentlessly sincere memoir adapts into musical form like her tragicomedy graphic novel, “Fun Home”, and the Circle in the Square Theater were meant to be. In a stunning translation of the non-linear structure of the novel,  director Sam Gold and choreographer Danny Mefford beautifully orchestrate the interaction of the three Alisons, each representing the cartoonist at a different point in her life.  Bechdel’s unconventional sort of detective story is built upon the complications of memory as she tries to confront her relationship with her late father.

The stage functions as the Bechdel’s unstable home; actors move furniture around revealing its unsteady nature, yet Alison’s father, Bruce Bechdel (a brilliant and mesmerizing Michael Cerveris,) is adamant about keeping his home polished, pristine, and without a trace of the present chaos.  We soon find out his obsession with the museum-like appearance of his antiquated home mirrors his need to maintain his own facade that, although Alison makes attempts to dismantle, remains rigid and distorted. Amongst the polished silver and lavish wallpaper is an undercurrent of deception and falsehood as Bruce frantically masquerades the inner tumult afflicting his entire family.

The charged staging decisions are subtle until the moment of epiphany when their significance emerges and you stand dumbfounded at the purposeful and important implications. Squares of light resembling comic book scenes appear, furniture seamlessly moves in and out of trap doors as memories overcome Alison and then promptly exit, reflecting her reluctance to trust memory.

“Fun Home” is the Bechdel’s nickname for the family’s funeral home, and reflects the Bechdel’s oddly desensitized relationship with a death. When Alison is just a young girl, her father casually calls her over to the corpse he’s working on to ask her to hand him a pair of scissors, and Alison attempts to make sense of the intention behind her puzzling first encounter with a dead body. In a later scene, Small Alison and her younger brothers pop out of a coffin and perform a commercial for their “Fun Home” (“In our hearse there’s a backwards seat”) in the spot-on spontaneity and silliness of childhood.

Sydney Lucas embodies a fun-loving and spunky Small Alison with extreme depth and honest, raw emotion.  In “Ring of Keys,” Lucas  portrays Small Alison in an intimate moment of self-discovery, understanding, and youthful infatuation as a butch delivery woman enters a luncheonette she and her father are eating in.

Fast forward (or backwards) to Alison’s first year at Oberlin where we meet Joan, a wry and self-possessed classmate played by a brilliantly dry Roberta Colindrez who soon becomes Alison’s first girlfriend. “He didn’t send you a book on Toulouse Lautrec” she observes point-blank when Middle Alison speculates her father sent her “Colette” in response to her interest in French art.  After they spend the night together, a radiant Emily Skeggs in baggy white underwear accesses her feelings for Joan for the first time in an unembellished musical moment.

String-dominant, rambling and bouncy music by Jeanine Tesori courses through the performance, Lisa Kron’s lyrics heavy and the closest musical theater can get to resembling a conversation. Poignant lyrics simply and honestly express the inner-workings of a revelation, the bubbling fledgling emotions of a first love, or a trepidatious urge.

The chilling and syncopated “Telephone Wire” is Alison’s last attempt to connect with her father; a few days later he kills himself by stepping in front of a truck. A compelling Beth Malone creates a tragically beautiful moment as she tries to relive the memory, reproaching herself for not being able to say something.  Alison painfully tries to come to terms with this last conversation with her father, in disbelief that they were never able to connect.  (“There’s a moment I’m forgetting where you tell me you see me.”)

Bold, precious, and unparalleled, “Fun Home” fearlessly tells a story of truth, discovery, disjointed relationships, and the complex power of memory. It is now playing an open-ended run at the Circle in the Square Theater.

Caroline is theater/books editor. Email her at ccunfer@nyunews.com

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Humor, technology and love at BookCon 2015

by Audrey Deng

by Audrey Deng

by Audrey Deng

Book lovers and media personalities from around the world met at the Javitz Center in New York City for the annual Book Con. This year, Book Con celebrates books in and of the media. Among the notable figures was Mindy Kaling (“The Mindy Project,” “The Office,” Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?), who launched the weekend of books with a discussion of her new book Why Not Me? with B.J. Novak (“The Office,” “The Mindy Project,” One More Thing). Kaling’s latest book is a candid snapshot of stardom and celebrity, including phrases like “Your natural hair color may be appropriate for your skin tone, but this isn’t the land of appropriate–this is Hollywood, baby. Out here, a dark-skinned woman’s traditional hair color is honey blonde.” Later, a moustache-less Nick Offerman (“Parks and Recreation”) presented to audiences Gumption: Relighting the Torch of Freedom with America’s Gutsiest Troublemakers, his list of great Americans, turned into a book. Shortly afterwards, fellow “Parks and Recreation” cast member Aziz Ansari debuted Modern Romance, a humorously scientific book on the contemporary woes of love (emojis, Tinder, and more). The book tracks the trajectory of technology and romance, using research from focus groups, Reddit and interviews with people from Tokyo to Wichita. Ansari collaborated with N.Y.U. sociology professor Eric Klinenberg on this book. Author John Green and actor Nat Wolff made appearances as the faces of the upcoming feature film, “Paper Towns.” “Paper Towns,” a story based on the book of the same title, is a tale of cautiously reckless adventurism premiering on July 24. The other book to take its turn in theaters is the book Room, a story of domestic abuse told through a child’s eyes. Also present in smaller conferences was YouTube personality Grace Helbig, actress Felicia Day, actor Taye Diggs and standup comedian Judah Friedlander. On Sunday, the last day of the conference, actor Jason Segel (“How I Met Your Mother”) will discuss “Nightmares! The Sleepwalker Tonic.” Justine Ezarik of iJustine will join Shane Dawson and other vloggers to discuss their transitions from video blogger to author. Also present will be Judy Blume to discuss her new book, In The Unlikely Event, based on true events which took place in the 1950s. Oscar-winning actress Julianne Moore will discuss crafting children’s books with acclaimed illustrator Brian Selznick. Book Con 2015 is hosted in the Javitz Center until May 31. Audrey Deng is the Entertainment Editor. Contact her at entertainment@nyunews.com.

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Review: “Iowa”

By Caroline Cunfer

via Joan Marcus

via Joan Marcus

Iowa at Playwrights Horizons takes the shape of a modern mosaic crafted from zany pieces that just don’t fit together.  The musical play, with music by Todd Almond and lyrics by Almond and Jenny Schwartz, is an absurdist and audacious production that ultimately leads the audience asking themselves “what happened?”

Iowa (billed as iOW@) begins as mother Sandy (Karyn Quackenbush) tells her daughter, Becca, a fine Jill Shackner who at moments nails the stubborn and excitable authenticity of a 14 year-old, that they are moving to Iowa to live with her cyber-boyfriend, Roger. Their estranged conversation unravels as Sandy simultaneously skypes with Roger, who loudly interjects from the computer screen to interrupt Sandy’s unbridled monologue.

Playwright Jenny Schwartz succeeds in conveying a frenzied state of mayhem, her frantic monologues artfully written and riddled with spontaneity, wit, and humorous attempts at internet lingo. But the subject matter is often bold, relatively offensive, and reminiscent of cringe-worthy black cards from Cards Against Humanity that straddle the fine line between humorous and highly insulting.

“Should I be worried? Hashtag,” Sandy says as she contemplates whether or not burnt food causes cancer. Her monologue unwinds in the style of “If you Give a Mouse a Cookie,” one buzzword prompting a round-a-bout new train of thought that adds to her highly un-PC soliloquy (Oh, my burqa arrived from Amazon!…Do I have to wear my becca (burqa) when I spin?”)

But other than the understanding that Becca and her mother will be moving to Iowa, the rest of this musical play is anything but cohesive and comprehensible. Other characters include cheerleaders, a singing pony, a cult of multi-ethnic Nancy Drews, and sister wives in matching pastel dresses.  And while Magritte may succeed in creating a a masterpiece from a mismatched collection of objects, Iowa‘s bizarre grab-bag does not resonate. It’s so overwhelmingly  difficult to discern a plot or a meaning behind the noise that one gives up from exhaustion.

That haphazardness of “Iowa” verges on experimental theatre, or perhaps it blatantly is. Schwartz places the audience in a state of confusion so disorienting that I questioned whether or not I was actually conscious. And while this whirling state of chaos may be the intent of the show, it was not an enjoyable state to be in.

Schwartz’s knack for clever dialogue does often shine through the mayhem, a highlight being her clever references to Nancy Drew that drew a giggle from those as devoted to the titian-blonde teenage detective as young Becca is: “Later ‘gator. Off to the haunted mansion,” “Is it true about the moss-covered mansion?” “Celebrity’s a bee-yotch. And Ned won’t leave me alone!”

Another diamond in-the-rough is the gorgeous set by Dane Laffrey that is exposed at the end of the play when Sandy and Becca finally arrive in Iowa. The fields and farmhouse à la Bridges of Madison Country appear to jump out of the backdrop as the gorgeous sky changes from vivid turquoise and lime, to blue and yellow, to purple and magenta (spectacular lighting by Tyler Micoleau.)

Perhaps “Iowa” is a disorienting commentary on the plight of modernity and the fact that instead of being progressive, what we consider to be advancements are actually regressive and backwards. As well as the fact that we are losing the ability to effectively communicate and connect with others, because “Iowa” certainly already has (distraught face.)

Caroline Cunfer is the theater/books editor. Email her at ccunfer@nyunews.com.

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Lord Huron shines at Terminal 5

By Carter G. Shelter

via Carter G. Shelter for WSN

via Carter G. Shelter for WSN

As the lights dimmed to illuminate an old tube radio on stage, and a voice crackled through the speakers of Terminal 5, it became clear that Lord Huron were embracing the “Strange” part of their new album, Strange Trails. The voice warned of mysterious lights seen over New York City, as the band took the stage in front of floor-to-ceiling tree trunks and a glowing sign bearing the title of their album in script reminiscent of the campy adventure movies that Lord Huron so often evoke. Led by frontman Ben Schneider, the L.A.-based folk-rock quartet (joined on tour by an additional guitar player) quietly started playing “Love Like Ghosts,” the opening track off the new record, over a gentle hiss from the radio. After the first verse, though, they cut out and let a wash of reverb carry them into the album’s second track, the upbeat “Until the Night Turns,” which featured some fiery leads from guitar player Tom Renaud.

The band came out in excellent form as they mixed material from Strange Trails with their 2012 breakthrough Lonesome Dreams. They transformed the soft fadeout ending of the latter album’s title track into a powerful crescendo, turning in to face each other as the song came to a crashing finale, while new song “Cursed” saw them all getting into the infectious groove of the baritone guitar and Schneider’s acoustic strumming. A trio of Lonesome Dreams songs flowed together seamlessly (possibly because they are arranged in the same order on the album), with “She Lit A Fire” providing what was probably the night’s biggest sing-along. This led into the Strange Trails cut “Way out There,” during which Schneider’s haunted vocals were augmented by some eerie Theremin from bassist Miguel Briseño.

But while the band as a whole was on point throughout the show, it is clear that Schneider is the focal point, and it took him a little bit to really hit his stride. When he hit it, though, he hit it big. A three-song stretch of new album standouts saw him really embody the characters he writes about. In “Meet Me in the Woods,” his face showed a bit of anger as he sang, “I have seen what the darkness does/Say goodbye to who I was,” which carried over into the dark surf rock of “The World Ender,” in which his wild yelps and Elvis dance moves felt a touch sinister under the deep red lights and flashing strobes.

To close out the set, the group reached back to their 2010 Mighty – EP in the form of “The Stranger,” a long-time staple of their live show. A false ending led into a building refrain of “Now that I’ve seen your face/I’m haunted by the letters of your name,” sung passionately into Schneider’s distorted microphone over a cacophony of drums, cymbals and guitars which led into a fantastic slide guitar solo from Renaud. After a short break, they came back out for an encore of “The Night We Met,” the somber first single off the new album, and “Time To Run,” which provided a fun, danceable end to the night for the band and the audience. As the band exited, Schneider tuned the knobs on the radio once more until the disembodied voice returned, this time warning of alien abduction, giving the show a strange ending to match its beginning.

Carter G. Shelter is a staff writer. Email him at music@nyunews.com

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“El Critico” Parodies Film Critics

by Audrey Deng

from Vimeo

Opening in black-and-white, film critic Victor Tellez announces, in French, that he is dying a death that will last 40 years. The culprit: “maladie du cinema.”

Victor (played by Raphael Spregulburd) is an acerbic film critic of Buenos Aires who thinks in French but speaks in Spanish. He roams the city in search of the “perfect film,” an unattainable goal which he later takes into his own hands.

In the film’s opening scenes, the audience watches Victor sit in theater after theater watching movies—an ironic mirror of the audience. Irony itself becomes a character in “El Critico.” The film is about a film critic who despises cliché and pathetic fallacy, preferring to watch classic black-and-white films over rom-coms. By parodying film and film critics, “El Critico” builds a wall of defense around itself against the film critics watching “El Critico,” the film industry and the very genre of this film, which is decidedly romantic-comedy. Should the critic act like Victor—loathing of rom-com, fan of the classics—the critic would have to admit to being somewhat of a cliché. In a way, this film is like a trap for its critics.

For Victor, who finds infamy in his strict cinematic standards, almost every film review is a bad one. Perhaps it is because Victor’s subplots are all negative (for example, his apartment building is being torn down) which causes the main trajectory of his mood to have negative correlation. But all changes when he meets the free-spirited and mischievous Sofia, played vivaciously by Dolores Fonzi. From there, the couple explores Buenos Aires with fresh eyes. Things get better for Victor, who writes a screenplay which his brother-in-law, a wealthy man who wishes to enrich and fulfill his life with art, accepts. Staying true to the romantic arc, Sofia and Victor then break up—Sofia flies home, leading Victor to run through an airport to stop her. All this seems extremely clichéd, but it is the ending of the film which is most remarkable.

The message of the film may seem bewildering—a film critic who hates platitude but falls into platitude, an intensely Meta plot—but the ending changes the tone of the film. Sofia doesn’t run into Victor’s arms at the airport. She doesn’t stay. Sofia leaves and the boy doesn’t get the girl. The ending of the film took courage and restraint on the director’s part.

“El Critico” is a demonstration of the actors’ and crew’s strengths, tied to a somewhat hackneyed plot. The cinematography of the film was very tasteful; the scenery in “El Critico” was shot beautifully, capturing with glee the liveliness of Buenos Aires. Besides that, visual cues were also very modest: the masterful use of lamps and light as symbolism was subtle, not distracting.

By not falling in the final cliché, “El Critico” succeeds in being a somewhat tiresome but succinct film.

“El Critico” is on Video on Demand.

Audrey Deng is the Entertainment Editor. Contact her at entertainment@nyunews.com.

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Broadchurch Season 2, Episode 8 Review

by Nivea Serrao

from Youtube.com

What does it take to destroy peoples’ lives forever?

Ask anyone in the “Broadchurch” season finale, and the answer you’d get would either be, “Justice” or “Murder.” Of course with Joe’s trial wrapping up and Sandbrook finally closed, it’s no wonder that both were on everyone’s minds.

In the case of the Ashworths, the answer is quite clearly and unequivocally murder. Ricky’s act of (very,very misguided) passion puts an end to Lisa’s and their lives as they know it as they are forced to lie, murder and blackmail to avoid being blamed for murder. It’s both tragic and ironic that all their actions to cover up what is essentially Ricky’s mess only made them seem guiltier over the years. Kudos to Hardy for sticking with this case as long as he did though. In a way, he was right. Lee was guilty of killing Pippa – even if it was because of his twisted sense of justice. And it seems that Claire also claims the “Eye for an Eye,” even going as far as burying Ricky’s Rohypnol-laced flask as future leverage.

Back in Broadchurch, the answer is less clear. For everyone but Joe, the answer is both murder and a lack of justice. With Danny’s killer set free, not only are everyone’s emotions running high – the trial being one hell of an emotional ringer – but they’re ready to go full-on Daredevil and mete out punishment on their terms. This gives us a somewhat powerful moment for most of the characters involved with this case. Mark gets to work out his aggression and guilt by tackling Joe, while Beth is able to look her son’s killer in the eye and threaten him out of town. Even Ellie throws in an uncharacteristically vicious threat. (Side note: It’s impressive that Olivia Colman is able to turn Ellie’s usually pain-filled teary eyes into fury-filled teary ones.)

Given his hostile interaction with his former friends and family, Joe’s response would undoubtedly be “Justice.” Though this might also be because it seems like he really believes himself to be innocent of Danny’s murder. However, this doesn’t make it any less ridiculous that he thinks he can return to his former life as if nothing’s changed. It’s like he didn’t sit through the World’s Most Emotional Trial. I was more surprised that the entire town didn’t show up to lynch him immediately, the way they did Argus Filch David Bradley’s old man last season.

In any case, Joe is well and clear of the show come Season 3. (Unless of course, he attempts to come back for custody of Tom, in which case I totally welcome the chance to watch another beat down courtesy of Ellie.) So this means that both the Latimers and the Millers finally have a chance to move on and rebuild their lives. This is great as it gives everyone involved a stronger support system than the ones they’d had when there was a huge Joe-sized rift dividing the families. Ellie can be there for Beth, while Mark gets a chance to continue being a father figure to Tom. Even Fred gets a playmate in Baby Lizzie!

Sadly, the closure of both cases leads to Hardy returning to Sandbrook to be closer to his daughter, which of course means splitting him up from his BFF and partner-in-crime-solving, Ellie. This realization is particularly painful especially after seeing how much their relationship has grown over the course of not just the whole season, but this episode itself. All season long Tennant and Colman have colored between the lines of their characters’ friendship, presenting us with two people who, despite having very different personalities, are the only ones who understand what the other’s been through. It’s no wonder that their interactions have been some of the strongest scenes so far, but it makes it painful watching them say goodbye to each other. Hardy being the one to offer a hug and Ellie turning it down only makes the whole exchange positively tear inducing. Lucky for us, the pair will be reuniting next season.

Stray Observations:

* “You are excused from any future jury duty.” is code for “You messed up.”

* I would totally watch a show about street fighting in wigs.

* I was right, Sharon’s son’s case will probably be the case powering next season. I for one am excited to finally see Bishop and Knight on the same team for once. Though once that case is wrapped up, I’d really like to see Maggie and Jocelyn get a spin-off where they go around righting wrongs in the name of justice.

* “Listen yourself you’re too emotionally wound up.” “Me? Have you ever met yourself?” I’m going to miss these two something fierce. Can Season 3 just be Hardy and Ellie on an eight-episode road trip?

Nivea Serrao is a staff writer. Contact her at entertainment@nyunews.com

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