Downtown Theatre Goes Uptown With MANGELLA

Facebook profile updates…Twitter wars…LinkedIn networking…Skype avatars; all evidence of how the virtual world has integrated itself into the so-called “real world” to a degree that it is practically impossible to disconnect from it.  Such is the case for Ned, the protagonist for MANGELLA, a hilarious, touching multimedia production presented by Project:   Theater.

Ned is the scourge of the cyber world – a hacker terrorizing Asian gambling sites.  He and the love of his life Gabriella, his computer that acts more like a possessive girlfriend than a mainframe, spend their day extorting money through solicited network attacks, social networking, watching porn and playing an antiquated PC game.  Ned’s hacking pays for his isolated lifestyle as well as the drugs he uses on his father in an unorthodox treatment to try to evoke memories from his dementia-riddled brain, which is the result of multiple strokes.  But Ned’s father refuses to believe that his is anyone other than Mangella St. James a fictional black blues legend.  Ned’s cruel to be kind treatment of his father borders on insane – his father is the only living link left to his deceased mother whom he adored.  He straps his father down to a wheelchair with duct tape and forces him to watch old movies.   But one Flag Day, Ned has a surprise for his father and she is much more than either of them bargained for.

Lily, the hooker that shows up at Ned’s door to service his father, brings with her an air of mystery  that turns Ned’s whole world upside down. Like a glitch in the Matrix, she reveals to him that not everything is what it seems.  She allows him the opportunity for change – to start anew, but her tactics destroys Ned’s virtual existence, which yields tragic results for everyone.

Cheeky…thought-provoking…stylish, Ken Ferrigni penned a script that is ripe for the madness that is pop culture in the 21st century.  Director Joe Jung and scenic designers J.J. Bernard and did a masterful job bringing Ned’s reality to life.  The cast is equally entertaining.  Anthony Manna, who plays the role of Ned, is the epitome of a cyber geek, yet in his coldness, his yearning for love is palpable and heartbreaking.  Bob Austin McDonald portrayl of blues great Mangella is a real humdinger.  Ali Perlwitz is amazing as Gabriella and like Lily, Hannah Wilson stings. In fact, stole my interest from the very start. 

MANGELLA  is playing at the Drilling Company, located at 236 West 78th Street, for a limited engagement which has been extended to October 29.  I am used to going downtown to witness theatre such as MANGELLA, but I would gladly ride the one train uptown to see awesome experimental theatre like this.  If you’re looking for something deliciously macabre to watch this Halloween, I recommend MANGELLA.  It is Stephen King and Quentin Tarantino rolled into one.  You will not leave disappointed.

Photos:  Lee Wexler/ Images for Innovation

The Mountaintop, MLK Comes To Broadway

“And then I got to Memphis. And some began to say the threats, or talk about the threats that were out. What would happen to me from some of our sick white brothers? Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t really matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life; longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land. So I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.” – The fatidic final words of Martin Luther King’s “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech given April 3, 1968, at the Mason Temple, headquarters of the Church of God in Christ, in Memphis, Tennessee.   After his riveting oration, Dr. King went back to the Lorraine Motel where he remained through the night.  The next day the Nobel Peace Prize-winning civil rights leader was assassinated as he stood on the balcony of the motel.  These are the facts, but the events that transpired in room 306, often referred to as “the King-Abernathy Suite,” following King’s last speech has been the subject of debate.   Forty-three years after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King and on the eve of the official dedication of The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington D.C., Broadway revisits King’s assassination in The Mountaintop.

The Mountaintop is the opus of playwright Katori Hall and takes a poetic look at crowning hours of King’s life before he made the transition from civil rights leader to martyr.  The production premiered in London in 2009, first playing at Theatre503 then transferring to Trafalgar Studios and featured British actors David Harewood and Lorraine Burroughs in the lead roles.  The play received positive reviews, won the Olivier Best New Play Award and was nominated for Whatsonstage Awards and Most Promising Playwright in the Evening Standard Awards.  The Mountaintop has crossed overseas.  It made its official Broadway debut at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre, located at 242 West 45th Street, on October 13 and stars Hollywood luminaries Samuel L. Jackson and Angela Bassett.

With an emotional score composed by Grammy Award-winning jazz maestro Branford Marsalis, The Mountaintop is set entirely in room 306 of the Lorraine Motel on the evening of April 3, 1968 and opens with Dr. King (Samuel L. Jackson) returning to his room, escaping from a serious storm howling outside.  As he settles in, waiting for Reverend Ralph Abernathy to return with a pack of Pall Mall cigarettes, he calls his wife, whom he calls Corrie, toils over a speech he intends to recite and orders a cup of coffee.  At his door arrives Camae (Bassett), a seemingly star-struck motel maid with his java.  What follows is a blistering, vivid, tender tête-à-tête that reveals Dr. King’s insecurities, mortality and his desires for the world.

Playwright Katori Hall manufactured a gem of a script, in my opinion is it is nearly flawless. She chips away at the mammoth, mythic figure that Dr. King was in life and in death and exposes him as a man with myriad emotions and frailties.  So many times we place figures like the late Dr. King on a pedestal and transform, without their consent, into demigods.  We dismiss humanistic qualities and dare anyone to paint a picture that is less than perfect. Really, who would have the audacity to depict Martin Luther King Jr. as a man that takes whiskey in his coffee, chain smokes Pall Malls, uses the N-word, engages in pillow fights, is riddled with fear and has smelly feet to boot.  Katori Hall had the balls to do it and did so in exquisite fashion by adding the necessary tints that changed the portrait of Dr. King from a supernatural civil rights hero into a man with the extraordinary ability to rise above his foibles to fulfill his destiny.  Impresario Kenny Leon hot streak on Broadway continues.  His ability to sniff out projects that are rich with complex characters coupled with the touches of genius he brings to an already beautifully crafted story should garner him another Tony nomination.  He is steadily showing himself to be one of the best directors on Broadway.

The two person cast of Samuel L. Jackson and Angela Bassett is sublime.  In fact, Jackson could not have picked a better role in which to make his Broadway debut.  There is no doubt that Samuel Jackson is one of the best character actors in the business.  He possesses the knack to morph himself into a government agent, Jedi knight and crackhead and do so with the ability to bring forth the humanity in the character, uncovering their hidden truths and making them relatable to the audience.  There was no man better suited to show Martin Luther King the man than Samuel L. Jackson.  He utilized all of his ability in his portrayl of MLK and his depiction is no less than glorious.  Angela Bassett does not need house lights; her star power can illuminate the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre all on its own.  Her portrayl of the drinking, cussing, fascinating Camae scorches the stage – she is The Mountaintop.  Bassett is a force whose presence can only truly be experienced watching her on stage.  If you thought she was something in a movie theater, wait until you see her live.  Together she and Jackson conjure magnetic energy that surges through the audience, captivating them from the rise of the curtain to its fall. 

The Mountaintop is a phenomenal addition to the late Dr. Martin Luther King’s legacy.  It has tremendous heart and the heart and soul of each person involved in the play is evident in this production.  Perhaps, the best testament to The Mountaintop’s ability to capture the spirit of Dr. King was evident in the audience filled with people of different hues and age groups.  I attend Broadway shows very often and by far this was most diverse audience I have witnessed this season.  Looking at the audience made me recognize that although we still have a ways to go before Dr. King’s dream is truly realized, we are closer to the Promised Land than we have ever been and if each of us absorbs the production’s true message, we will not have far to go.

Photos: Joan Marcus and Bruce Glikas

Calendar Girls Turn NYC into A Real Hootenanny

Last week, Hooters unveiled their 2012 calendar at their New York City location.  The restaurant best known for their wings and waitresses celebrated the 26th edition of their calendar with appearances by 2012 Poster Girl Alex Dumrauf, Centerfold Crystal Cunningham, Cover girl Lindsay Way, Miss March Liz Lugo-Caveda, Miss December Morgan Meyer, and Miss July Sarah Hinton. 

The women appearing in this year’s calendar were selected from over 20,000 Hooters Girls worldwide and were shot by photographer Dylan Melcher.  The Hooters Calendar is a best seller in its category.  And here is a sneak peek of what 2012 has to offer:

Photo: John Marshall Mantel

Video courtesy of Parenteau Guidance

MOS DEF-initely Not for Long

Last month Mos Def announced at the “Rock the Bells” concert in New York City that he will be retiring his stage name at the end of the year. The actor and rapper whose real name is Dante Smith will soon join the ranks of entertainers such as Nas and Diddy as he takes on a new moniker.  And who will Mos Def become?  Yasin.

Mos explained to MTV’s Sucker Free the purpose of the name change.  “Mos Def is a name that I built and cultivated over the years, it’s a name that the streets taught me, a figure of speech that was given to me by the culture and by my environment, and I feel I’ve done quite a bit with that name and it’s time to expand and move on.”

Well as Dante prepares to move on, we at F.A.M.E NYC would like to pay homage to music that was created under the name Mos Def by sharing with you FAMERS our favorite Mos Def track.  Happy trails Mos…