Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Spotlight on Two Indie Productions You Should Check Out This Weekend.

Fulfill all of your indie theatre kicks this weekend at TADA Theater. Interested in crime, mystery and the feeling of film noir? Funny...Sheesh Productions' Doubles Crossed: The Ballad of Rodrigo has what you're looking for. How about sexuality, personal relationships, and a story about breaking away from the conventional? Ivy Theatre Company's The Feminism of Soft Merlot, or (How the Donkey Got Punched) will whet your appetite. In a press release, these companies describe how they are currently working together "in a space sharing partnership to promote artistic union and collaboration within the New York City Independent theatre scene." Read about both shows and choose the one for you or, if you go this Saturday or Sunday, make it a double feature!

Funny…Sheesh Productions Presents Doubles Crossed: The Ballad of Rodrigo.
 By Tami Shaloum

The sequel to Jason S. Grossman’s 2012 play, Doubles Crossed, and the second in his trilogy, The Ballad of Rodrigo is a thriller in the vein of 40s and 50s film noir. Even the backdrop is a screen that displays images of fake news headlines that refer to the play’s plot. While there are references to the first play, there is no need to have seen it to understand what is going on. A summary in the program, and the aforementioned headlines, brings the audience up to speed.

The plot follows Freddie Tower aka Freddie the Finisher (Gregory James Cohan), former criminal with the Dead Street mob, now assuming his dead twin brother’s identity as FBI agent Irving Tower. Tower’s back in town to get to the bottom of a mysterious death involving the deceased crime boss’ driver Rodrigo. Along the way, he gets entangled with an enigmatic woman named Trina (played magnetically by Alison Parks), who always seems to show up at the same greasy spoon each day at the same time as Tower. Said greasy spoon, owned by Sally (cheerfully portrayed by Cindy Keiter) and her son Flapjack (James Holden)—police detective at the local precinct and the only one who knows Tower’s true identity—becomes the setting for most of the action. Will Flapjack turn Tower in? What is the mystery woman doing in that coffee shop every day? What is Tower really up to? While the story has plenty of twists and turns, the ending becomes especially convoluted. The underlying message is don’t trust anyone because you never know who can turn on you.

The language of The Ballad of Rodrigo is especially interesting. It has its own neo-noir lingo and although definitions are handily listed in the program, it’s pretty easy to catch on. The characters also speak with old-timey inflection, as though they were performing a radio play in the 1940s. Directed by Amber Gallery, they never sound hackneyed, though there are some archetypes: the nosy trench coat-clad reporter just itching for a story (the fast-talking Allen Warnock); the unhinged, neglected son of a crime boss out for revenge (dastardly portrayed by Matthew J. Nichols); the jaded, alcoholic cop who’s lost everything (Ridley Parson). There’s also a slight anachronistic quality to the setting that’s somewhat confusing but ultimately charming. The characters use cell phones, while also having rotary phones on their desks. Some characters dress in period costume and some dress more modern.

Doubles Crossed has the feel of a movie with the presence of a play and will leave you wanting more. Good thing it’s a trilogy.

Doubles Crossed: The Ballad of Rodrigo
is playing at the TADA Theater Friday through Sunday. For tickets, go to

Ivy Theatre Company presents The Feminism of Soft Merlot, or (How the Donkey Got Punched).
 By Heather K. 

The Feminism of Soft Merlot, or (How the Donkey Got Punched), much like some of the characters presented, should not be judged by its initial appearance. The show focuses on a seemingly stable yipster couple, Kareena (Diana Oh) and Teddy (Patrick Daniel Smith), and Kareena's sweet, prude friend, Sam (Lauren Dortch-Crozier). Kareena and Teddy have got it made - great jobs, great apartment, and above all, a great relationship. The over-confident Kareena feels obliged to impart her relationship wisdom onto her friend, resulting in witty banter between Kareena and Sam, which often hinges on the actresses' decisive comedic timing. You may recall actress Diana Oh from Mac Rogers' "Frankenstein Upstairs." Her adeptness with deadpan humor is hard to forget. 

Hoping to help Sam explore the dating world, and perhaps help her friend delve deeper into her own sexuality, Kareena sets Sam up with Kyle (Justin Anselmi), a former beau she herself had met online, before Teddy came into her life. Kareena assures Sam that she and Kyle never had relations, and she encourages Sam to meet him in person, despite Sam's coyness upon learning that Kyle works as a pornography filmmaker. The opening scenes are riddled with subtext and foreshadowing, and we soon see an unexpected transformation in Sam. Intriguingly, just as Sam seems to be finding herself, Kareena begins to lose herself, and a shocking event shakes her relationship with Teddy to its core. The result is compelling. 

The Feminism of Soft Merlot examines human relationships at their best and worst, and tackles some tough issues. What is feminism, really? Is it fighting for the right to vote or fighting for the right to dance on a pole? Can it be both? Can society ever accept that women may desire sex as much as men? What makes a woman independent? What is acceptable when it comes to expressing your sexuality? Morales and mores are tested in this unexpectedly poignant play that you'll find yourself still talking about days later. 

The Feminism of Soft Merlot, or (How the Donkey Got Punched) is playing at the TADA Theatre Thursday through Sunday. For tickets, go to

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