United Solo Announces Nominations for 2020 Special Award

News

By All About Solo News Desk, All About Solo
 
United Solo has announced their nominations for the 2020 United Solo Special Award, which honors outstanding solo performers.
 
Despite having to postpone the 11th Annual New York Festival and inaugural London festival due to the ongoing public health crisis, United Solo is still committed to honoring solo performers and celebrating their work. “Though current public health conditions challenge our ability to host in-person festivals, the show must go on, and ours certainly will,” said founder and artistic director Omar Sangare. “Our next season, in the fall of 2021, will feature an exciting and diverse slate of outstanding solo shows.”
 
In 2020, the United Solo Academy has nominated four performers for the Special Award: Laura Linney, Bellina Logan, Sir Ian McKellen, and Andrew Scott.
 
Laura Linney’s Broadway performance of “My Name Is Lucy Barton,” produced by the Manhattan Theatre Club, is an American premiere adapted by Rona Munro from the bestselling novel by Pulitzer Prize winner Elizabeth Strout. Ms. Linney plays Lucy Barton, a woman who finds her mother at the foot of her hospital bed following an operation, after not having seen her for years. The New York Times hailed Ms. Linney as “luminous” for her performance.
 
Bellina Logan earns a nomination for her performance in “Confessions of a Mulatto Love Child,” her critically-acclaimed solo show. In the performance, Ms. Logan explores the intricate story of a daughter, her eccentric mother, and the powerful bond they developed during a life-changing, cross-country road trip. Ms. Logan’s story is a shining example of how to reconcile a racially-divided nation. Her show was highly recommended by critics and awarded by All About Solo with a Critics’ Choice recognition.
 
After touring his solo show last year, Sir Ian McKellen took his solo performance, “Ian McKellen on Stage: Tolkien, Shakespeare, and You!” to London’s West End for a limited run. The show is in celebration of McKellen’s 80th birthday and explores anecdotes and stories from his prolific career in the entertainment industry— from the stage to the screen. “Ian McKellen on Stage” shines for its conceptual brilliance and acting finesse.
 
Andrew Scott’s virtual performance of “Sea Wall,” which was available for streaming shortly after the start of the pandemic, portrays solo performance in an entirely new light. Scott portrays Alex, a man suffering from emotional torture, and depicts life’s inevitable ups and downs. His show is an exemplary proof of how performing arts can quickly and effectively adapt to challenging times with resilience, emotion, and meaningful commentary.
 
Photo of Bellina Logan by Ken Sawyer Photography. Photo of Sir Ian McKellen by Jack Macguire. Photo of Andrew Scott by Paulae (CC BY-SA 4.0). All Creative Commons licenses available at www.creativecommons.org.
 

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In Love with New York, an Interview with Noah Diamond

Interviews

By Lauren Wiener, Public Relations Coordinator, All About Solo
 
Noah Diamond is best known for his performances as Groucho Marx, including in the acclaimed 2016 revival of “I’ll Say She Is.” But before he ever appeared on a New York stage, he performed before international crowds on double decker tour buses. His experiences as a New York City tour guide informed his solo show “400 Years in Manhattan,” which combines the city’s panoramic history with Diamond’s recollections of the double decker life.
 
Produced and directed by Amanda Sisk, “400 Years in Manhattan” was first seen in a 2007 workshop. A revamped version recently won the award for Best Educational Show at the 2019 United Solo Theatre Festival. Diamond and Sisk have also published a book based on the show, also titled “400 Years in Manhattan” and available at noahdiamond.com.
 
Lauren Wiener: What inspired you to write “400 Years in Manhattan?”
Noah Diamond: For many years, I was a New York City tour guide. That was my principal day job in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and I’ve returned to it occasionally since then. And whenever I narrated a tour, I always thought, “Well, what I’m really doing here is developing material for a solo show.” I started working on this idea with Amanda Sisk, my partner and collaborator, and “400 Years in Manhattan” first emerged in a workshop production at HERE Arts Center in 2007. It was a more primitive version of what the show is now: a chronological history of Manhattan, interwoven with a personal history about my experiences as a tour guide, and accompanied by a multimedia presentation that shows the city changing over four centuries. That workshop went well, and we always hoped the show would go on to a longer run. But it never quite happened, and we moved on to other projects. Then, in 2018, I did some tour guide work for the first time in several years, and it all came back to me. The city had changed, as it always does, but so had my perspective, and my approach as a storyteller. In addition to that, the ongoing digital revolution has dramatically increased the amount of readily available historical material. In 2016, when the New York Public Library released its vast archive of public domain materials, I immediately thought of the visual part of “400 Years in Manhattan,” and how much better and more spectacular it could be now. So, all of this made me think it was time for a new version of “400 Years in Manhattan,” and Amanda suggested submitting it to the United Solo Theatre Festival.
 
A historical show could very easily feel like a college lecture. How did you find a balance so that did not happen?
That liability is built into the concept, but in performance, I don’t think it feels like a lecture ‑ because of the narrative style, the comedy and entertainment value, and the use of music, film, and photography. I think this is more of a promotional concern: how to describe and market the show in a way that doesn’t make people fear that they are in for a dry or academic evening. A few moments into the show, I think it’s clear that’s not what it’s going to be. Though I suppose it would also be valid to lean into the liability, and just concede that in some ways, maybe the show is a lecture ‑ a highly entertaining, poignant, hilarious lecture, done in a performative, theatrical style.
 
Since “400 Years in Manhattan” is about your own past as much as New York’s, did you learn anything about yourself through writing and performing this show? If so, what did you learn? Did it change you in any way?
This time around, I learned that I don’t have to strain for gravitas. When I first started speaking publicly about New York City, I was in my early twenties ‑ a kid sharing his enthusiasm. Then in the 400 Years workshop, I was thirty ‑ an adult who still felt like a kid. It always felt slightly presumptuous to speak in grandiose terms about history and culture, like I hadn’t quite earned the privilege. But now, in my forties, I find that narrative authority is not such a reach. I think it seems more plausible that I might actually know what I’m talking about! Initially, “400 Years in Manhattan” was just a way to canonize some of my tour guide patter‑like, I put in all those hours on the double deckers, I might as well get a show out of it! But it’s become much more important to me, not just as a history of New York, but as a record of my feelings, about the meaning of home, what it means to be an artist, how to define progress, our responsibilities to other people ‑ everything, life itself.
 
I assume your acting training helped you as a tour guide, but did your experience as a tour guide also help you as an actor? How so?
When I was working full‑time as a tour guide, I was up in front of a crowd for hours every day, trying to hold their attention and convey information in novel and entertaining ways. It’s good for any kind of performer to keep those skills as sharp as possible. As always, you reach the level of art only by working hard at the craft. A lot of that is about holding the attention of the room, whether the room is a theatre or a double decker bus, and directing that attention toward whatever is interesting and important.
 
You have a history of playing Groucho Marx of the Marx Brothers, while in “400 Years in Manhattan” you play yourself. Is it harder to play a character or to play yourself, and why?
For the most part, it doesn’t feel notably different. I think this is because even when I’m playing myself, I’m really still playing a character ‑ a scripted, stylized version of myself. I feel more of a contrast between characters who address the audience, and characters who stay behind a fourth wall. Groucho in “I’ll Say She Is” and Noah in “400 Years in Manhattan” are both in almost constant contact with the audience, and for me that’s a little easier and a little more fun, a metatheatrical evening. Among characters who are not me, Groucho is exceptional ‑ in addition to acting like him, I can think like him, and I don’t think I’d say that about other fictional characters I’ve played. It feels more natural to play myself or Groucho than to play most other characters.
 
What made you decide to write a book version of “400 Years in Manhattan?” Was it difficult to turn a live show into a book?
I’m proud of the writing in “400 Years in Manhattan.” It’s a very personal show ‑ and I don’t just mean the autobiographical sections, because history is personal, too ‑ the stories I choose to tell and the way I choose to tell them. So it expresses lots of things I feel deeply, and that have been with me for a long time. It’s my most rewritten work ‑ there’s material in it that was first developed on tour buses over twenty years ago, and the show itself has been substantially reworked since the 2007 workshop (and subsequent first edition of the book). So, the current monologue is the most refined version of something I’ve worked on for decades, and I wanted it to be available in print. I think the show and the book make good companions. The book is missing the music, performance, and motion‑picture aspects of the show. On the other hand, the show is very dense, and although we worked hard to pace it properly so it wouldn’t be exhausting, it’s impossible to catch everything in one viewing. The book allows you to linger on the images, study the historical maps and photos, and ponder the ideas in the text at your own pace. Not every show makes a good book, but it can be a nice counterweight to the transitory nature of theatre. A show is over at the moment the lights go down, but a book stays on the shelf (hopefully to be taken down and read once in a while) until the end of the world. So I like to do both.
 
If you could go back to a specific time in Manhattan, what time would it be, and why?
Wow. I could easily list a hundred moments in New York history that I’d love to visit. But to pick one, it would have to be Manhattan in the Jazz Age ‑ specifically May 19, 1924, when my friends the Marx Brothers made their Broadway debut in I’ll Say She Is, the musical I’ve spent much of the last decade working on. That would be quite a thing to experience firsthand. It would also be the greatest opportunity for research: if I could actually see the Marx Brothers in “I’ll Say She Is at the Casino Theatre” (39th and Broadway, long since demolished), it would fill in lots of gaps and guesswork in my adaptation. I’d go to the Algonquin before the show and to Lindy’s after.
 
What advice do you have for an artist trying to make it in New York?
Do it! Just do it. Don’t wait for opportunities; create them. And don’t work in a vacuum, which is especially a liability for writers ‑ you have to get together with other artists, who are also creating opportunities, and you have to help each other. Don’t think of art as a career, but as a lifestyle. It’s a decision about what kind of person to be, how to function in the world. If you wind up among the lucky few who make a living from their art, that’s wonderful, because it means you’re more free and have more time to produce more art. But even successful artists often need another source of income to survive, something separate from their real work. This is an extremely difficult problem, but if you can solve it, a lot of things become possible.
 
What do you hope New York will be like in the next 400 years?
It would be a great relief to know that New York, and human life on Earth, will exist 400 years from now! I dearly hope so. A wide view of the world, at this moment, looks like a place in dire peril ‑ a kind of terrifying race, to see whether catastrophic climate change or the spread of authoritarianism will destroy us first. But okay ‑ for the sake of a hopeful answer, let’s say that human civilization has survived periods of severe crisis before, and it will survive this one, too. Manhattan and its neighboring coastlines, in 2420, will probably have been protected by a system of floodgates ‑ perhaps these will be seen as relics of a past conflict, like the remnants of Castle Clinton in Battery Park. I hope New York in the next 400 years continues to be the vanguard of civilization, the cultural capital of the world. But it also has to be a living tribute to democracy. The city generally improves as time goes by, but one of the biggest threats to its civic health is its income disparity, and the high cost of even very modest living. A thriving New York City in any era would be one that’s accessible to everybody, where anyone who chooses to can find opportunities to work and live comfortably, and to benefit from all the advantages of being at the center of the world. That’s the biggest lesson I’ve learned, about New York City, about art, about life: Don’t forget to enjoy it!

 
400 Years in Manhattan
Written and Performed by Noah Diamond
Directed by Amanda Sisk
Photo: courtesy of the production
October 1 and 2
Fredonia Marxonia 2020
State University of New York
280 Central Ave
Fredonia, NY 14063
 
LAUREN WIENER is a NYC-based marketer, writer, director, and dramaturg. She is a 2018 graduate of Trinity College, where she received a dual Bachelor of Arts in Theater (concentration in writing and directing) and Film Studies. She received Trinity’s George E. Nichols III Prize in Theater Arts and the Frank W. Whitlock Prize in Drama. During her time at Trinity, Lauren wrote and directed an original play called, “Count To Ten and Repeat.” This memory play begs the question, “No matter how much we want it to, do things ever really change or will the cycle always repeat?”. Her senior thesis included an intensive research paper on Arthur Miller’s play, “After the Fall,” in which she analyzed the play through a Freudian and historical lens. She is a Trinity/La MaMa Performing Arts Program alum, having written and performed an original piece at the acclaimed La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club in New York City. More at https://15minuteintermission.wixsite.com/plays
 

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Heather Frank’s Strong Vocals and Flourishes of Sass Invite the Dreamers in “Destination New York”

Reviews

By Cynthia Darling
 
Taking the stage at Pangea as part of “Destination New York,” Heather Frank opens her set with a crowd favorite, “Fat and Happy” by Carsie Blanton, showcasing Ms. Frank’s sass and solid vocals. “When I’m fat and happy and high on the hog,” she croons with a signature pluck. As the song progresses, the lyrics evolve, and she enunciates with verve: “When I’m fat and happy and famous as fuck!” This is followed by a teasing “na na na na na” ‑ Ms. Frank conjuring a playful feistiness, her fingers wagging. Ms. Frank thumbs her nose at all notions of stuffy convention. Her presence lifts the audience in a sophisticated and spirited way.
 
Ms. Frank’s rich singing voice pairs with her playful moxie, and it is the mixture of the two that makes her a true gem of today’s cabaret scene. After her first number, she reflects aloud about that weekend’s class with teacher Lina Koutrakos in preparation for the “Destination New York” performance. “I love to be with people who are willing to take chances,” Ms. Frank says with a twinkle in her eye. With recent works such as her show “Love in the Time of Coloring,” Ms. Frank has been taking great chances in her own life.
 
It is Ms. Frank’s final song of the set that truly displays not only her singing skills but also her approach to life and art ‑ something that urges every listener to remember their inner artist. By this point, Ms. Frank has captured the stage and room, and as she heads into “Crazy Dreams,” the performance comes straight from her heart. The song is a Carrie Underwood arrangement, and Ms. Frank’s choice speaks to her special ability to spot a kindred musical spirit and interpret the song in her own way. Her vocals offer a salute of sorts: “Here’s to you free souls. You firefly chasers.” Because of Ms. Frank’s earnest reaching out to the audience, the room is rapt. She brings it home skillfully: “Thank God even crazy dreams come true.”
 
Ms. Frank holds her final note ‑ and the audience holds its breath for an emotional moment. There is a real sense that Ms. Frank’s singing has changed the molecules in the room. People have been lifted out of their everyday lives to consider their crazy dreams ‑ Ms. Frank herself a role model for taking chances, all while telling it like it is, with sparkle and attitude.

 
“Destination New York”
Written and Performed by Heather Frank
Directed by Lina Koutrakos
November 17 & 24, 2019 at 3 PM
Photo by Caroline Kenney
Pangea
178 2nd Avenue
New York City
 
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CYNTHIA DARLING is a writer and teacher living in Hell’s Kitchen. A writer for NAfME’s Teaching Music magazine for many years, she also wrote for New York Family magazine. She is currently working toward an MFA in Creative Writing with the Bluegrass Writers Studio. Her fiction and nonfiction appear in Louisiana Literature, Schuylkill Valley Journal, and Wanderlust Journal.
 

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The Show Must Go On, an Interview with Farley Cadena

Interviews

By Lauren Wiener, Public Relations Coordinator, All About Solo
 
Farley Cadena is a vivacious and beloved musical theatre actress, well known for her wickedly funny performances in “The Producers,” “42nd Street,” “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” “Urinetown,” and many more, leaving her mark on Los Angeles stages. In late 2017, she suffered a stroke, which shocked and stunned the theater community. The experience diverted her life down a whole new path, as she shares in her autobiographical show “Stroke of Luck.” Now, theatergoers get an inside look at her powerful, funny, and mixed‑up journey back to health, back to life, and back to her voice.
 
Lauren Wiener: Your stroke was only 2‑3 years ago. What made you feel able and ready to write a solo show about it so soon after?
Farley Cadena: Actually, my stroke was just under two years ago. It happened a week before Christmas in 2017, so I am coming up on a very ominous anniversary. I had an ischemic stroke, which affected my speech, reading, hearing, and comprehension. I felt deeply lost, hopeless, helpless, and frightened after my stroke. I wanted so badly to simply return to being my old self ‑ an actress and singer ‑ but my brain just seemed broken. Well, it was broken. Nonetheless, I dug deep into my rehabilitation and recovery. With the encouragement of my friends, I gave myself the big crazy task of telling the tale of what happened to me and transformed my life… out loud… with music… to an audience! When the idea of “Stroke of Luck” was born, it was a ridiculous idea ‑ as I could barely read or write, and speaking was quite difficult! As I began the process, it wasn’t really clear to me whether I was able and ready to do the show, but I was stubborn. I mean, I’m a performer ‑ what else could I do? The fact is ‑ being severely ill strips your identity away. It is profound and painful. Who you are, or thought you were in this world, is gone. The loss of identity is a big theme in the show. Believe it or not, “Stroke of Luck” premiered in Los Angeles last year, just 10 months after my stroke!
 
Were there ever times when you wanted to stop working on the show because it was too hard? If so, what got you through it?
Oh yes. “Stroke of Luck” is the hardest thing I have ever done, and I question everything all the time. Five days before the premiere in Los Angeles, in 2018, I almost canceled everything because we lost our original musical director. I was despondent. But what do performers do? We always pick ourselves up and figure things out. And that’s what I did! The show must go on, of course. I hired a new musical director as quickly as I could, had two rehearsals with him, and we premiered the show. Boom! Crazy. It was a wonderful success and made me feel like I could now conquer anything. Performing is my superpower, right? Clearly, I am also quite driven and stubborn.
 
Did writing a solo show about your stroke help your emotional recovery? If so, how? Did you learn anything about yourself through the process?
The emotional part of the stroke recovery was really significant. I felt stripped of my identity after the stroke. Was I just going to be “poor Farley, the stroke victim” for the rest of my days? Was I ever going to be the person I thought I was ever again? Identity. Who was I, anyway? So, the journey of conceiving, writing, and performing “Stroke of Luck” helped me put myself back together, like Humpty Dumpty. I have definitely learned a lot about myself during this whole crazy process. I absolutely know that I am capable of doing whatever I put my mind to.
 
Your show uses humor in such wonderful ways. Why do you think laughter is important during difficult periods of time?
Laughter is our release valve in this world. We either laugh or cry. Laugh or scream. Laugh or lose our minds. And I am a little silly almost all of the time, so it was really important to me to not lose that part of myself. I also think the audience is a little nervous, when they get there, to see a show about a stroke. What have they walked into? Are they going to be miserable and sad for an hour and a half? Is Farley going to be okay? I try to cut the tension throughout the show with as much humor as I can.
 
How is playing yourself different from playing other characters?
Playing myself is something I never imagined I would be doing. I am a character actress through and through. However, during this process, it became clear that I was really at ease just being myself onstage. Just me ‑ being as authentic as I can be. I found out that I was enough. I realized that I was interesting enough to command people’s attention, just talking about this story and about my experience. It was a bit of a revelation for me, actually.
 
Is this the first show you have ever written? What is it like going from actor to writer?
I was in a sketch comedy group and did some writing with them several years ago. So, it wasn’t completely new to me. It took a lot of guts to write this, though. There is a different responsibility when you’re writing a work as opposed to just performing it. You can see how every word is placed so carefully. Acting is a bit of a breeze compared to writing. I may change my mind about that tomorrow, but that’s how I feel after this piece.
 
What do you want people to take away from your solo show?
I feel a responsibility to educate audiences about strokes. Knowledge is power, and most people know almost nothing about the subject. Although I am not a doctor, I do try to educate through my specific story. After seeing the show, people start asking questions about their own health, I hope. Taking better care of themselves and listening to their body. I am certainly not the only person out there speaking on the subject of stroke, but hey, are they singing their face off like I am? I think not! I like to think audiences leave incredibly entertained ‑ as well as educated.

 
Farley Cadena’s A Stroke of Luck
Written and Performed by Farley Cadena
Directed by Kirsten Chandler
Produced by Dion Mial
October 11th at 9 PM
The 2019 United Solo Theatre Festival
Theatre Row
410 West 42nd Street
New York City
 
LAUREN WIENER is a NYC-based marketer, writer, director, and dramaturg. She is a 2018 graduate of Trinity College, where she received a dual Bachelor of Arts in Theater (concentration in writing and directing) and Film Studies. She received Trinity’s George E. Nichols III Prize in Theater Arts and the Frank W. Whitlock Prize in Drama. During her time at Trinity, Lauren wrote and directed an original play called, “Count To Ten and Repeat.” This memory play begs the question, “No matter how much we want it to, do things ever really change or will the cycle always repeat?”. Her senior thesis included an intensive research paper on Arthur Miller’s play, “After the Fall,” in which she analyzed the play through a Freudian and historical lens. She is a Trinity/La MaMa Performing Arts Program alum, having written and performed an original piece at the acclaimed La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club in New York City. More at https://15minuteintermission.wixsite.com/plays
 

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Stories of Resilience and Transformation are Awarded at the United Solo Tenth Anniversary Gala

Lead Article, Other Articles

By Cynthia Darling

On November 24, the United Solo Theatre Festival celebrated the closing of its wildly successful 10th anniversary season with a gala event at Theatre Row.
 
Comedian Nancy Redman began the evening with an excerpt from her latest solo show, “At Wit’s End: A Home for Retired Comics,” which she had performed earlier in the festival’s Best Of category. A winner of the Best Comedian and Best Stand‑Up Awards in previous years, Ms. Redman set a lighthearted tone for the night.
 
United Solo founder and artistic director Dr. Omar Sangare thanked the performers and staff who contributed to the festival this year. His message resounded: “Welcome to the United Solo family. You have a home here.” Awards presenters, each of whom had their own shows at the festival in this and past seasons, offered personal testimonials of the transformative power of United Solo to their artistic lives. Their stories about how they came to United Solo were as varied as the shows that made up the festival’s tenth season. Presenters paid tribute to Dr. Sangare and his team’s openness to new talent, and their vision to create a thriving space for solo performance in New York. They thanked United Solo for its encouragement of artists who were beginning their careers or taking new risks in their creative work.
 
The Critics’ Choice Award went to Janis Brenner for “Inheritance: A Litany.” In her acceptance speech, Ms. Brenner highlighted United Solo’s pivotal role in motivating her to reinvent herself artistically. After an extensive career in dance, she was moved to create autobiographical performances that were a blend of dance, drama and music. All of the award winners testified to United Solo’s unfailing support of artists.

During a crowning moment of the night, Aasif Mandvi accepted the United Solo Special Award for his one‑person show, “Sakina’s Restaurant,” which he had revived for a limited run at the Minetta Lane Theatre last fall. Mr. Mandvi spoke about how his show, which explored the lives of South Asian Muslim immigrants in pre‑9/11 America, now struck unexpected chords that reflected the changing attitudes toward immigrants in American society.

As in past seasons, United Solo had supported The Actors Fund, a nonprofit that provides a safety net for performing arts and entertainment professionals. Dr. Sangare presented a check for all collected donations to David Engelman, the organization’s Director of Communications and Marketing.
 
The night had an atmosphere of inclusion and celebration of the many diverse stories presented at the festival this season. The awards ceremony ended with the taking of a group photo onstage, and indeed, the stage was brimming with artists who have become part of the United Solo family. They had come together to tell their stories alone onstage, and were nourished by the support of this growing community of artists.
 
At the end of the night, the United solo team announced a major development: next season, in addition to its festival in New York, United Solo will also present its first festival in London. Participants will have the opportunity to perform at The Actors Centre, the renowned theatre in London’s legendary West End. United Solo in London is already accepting submissions from solo performers worldwide. There is one deadline for submission to both festivals. Applicants have the option to apply for either New York or London, or both. Applications may be submitted online at www.unitedsolo.org/submit.
 
After all the awards were presented, attendees adjourned to the Theatre Row lounge, where participants and winners mingled into the night.
 
A complete list of award winners is below:
 
United Solo Special Award: Aasif Mandvi
 
Best One‑Woman Show: “Seeing Stars” performed by Ellen Gould
Best One‑Man Show: “An Evening with Tennessee Williams” performed by Sebastian Galvez
The United Solo & Backstage Audience Award: “The Book of Mamaw” performed by Eugene Wolf
Best Direction: Kathleen Butler, “Seeing Stars”
Best Actress: Connie Winston in “American Captives: Lena Baker and Sandra Bland”
Best Actor: Edward Asner in “A Man and His Prostate”
 
Best Storyteller: Evan Handler in “Time On Fire: A Comedy of Terrors (Redux)”
Best Comedian: Debbie Kasper in “Has Anybody Seen Debbie?”
Best Encore: “JO (Not Just Mrs. Edward Hopper)” performed by Pippa White
Best International Show: “54 Silhouettes” performed by Charles Etubiebi
 
Best Musical: “My Life: The Musical Version” performed by Amit Gour
Best Drama: “The Asylum Project” performed by Elizabeth Mozer
Best Comedy: “The MisEducation of Ms. Freeman” performed by Alaina Freeman
Best Opera: “With Warmest Regards” performed by Lori Brown Mirabal
Best Storytelling Show: “Bo‑Nita” performed by Terri Weagant
Best Non‑Fiction Show: “Music Lessons” performed by Ed Napier
Best Variety Show: “Life Hacks with Miss Havisham” performed by Jen Jurek
Best Physical Theatre: “Collecting Driftwood” performed by Susan Jacobson
Best Autobiographical One‑Woman Show: “Wasbian” performed by Susan Ward
Best Autobiographical One‑Man Show: “A Bunch of Different Ways I’d Like to Die” performed by Tim McDonough
Best Experimental Show: “La Sangre” performed by Will Atkins
Best Documentary One‑Woman Show: “Equally Divine: The Real Story of the Mona Lisa” performed by Jenny Lyn Bader
Best Documentary One‑Man Show: “The Things They Carried” performed by Jim Stowell
Best Educational Show: “400 Years in Manhattan” performed by Noah Diamond
Best Multi‑Media Show: “Divining Bernhardt” performed by Bridget Kelly
Best Satire: “Kafka’s Ape” performed by Bonani Miyambo
 
Best Script: “Warm Cheese” written and performed by Teresa Thome
Best Adaptation: “In Order to Sleep Peacefully: An Adaptation of Alfred de Musset’s ‘Lorenzaccio’” by Patric Madden
 
All About Solo Critics’ Award: “Inheritance: A Litany” performed by Janis Brenner
 
Best Premiere: “Her Downstairs” performed by Sherill Turner
Best Emerging Actress: Lindsey Normington in “Figurehead”
Best Emerging Actor: Oscar Emmanuel Fabela in “Don Carlos: Prince of Asturias”
Best Festival Debut: Stephanie Everett in “It’s Fine, I’m Fine.”

 
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CYNTHIA DARLING is a writer and teacher living in Hell’s Kitchen. A writer for NAfME’s Teaching Music magazine for many years, she also wrote for New York Family magazine. She is currently working toward an MFA in Creative Writing with the Bluegrass Writers Studio. Her fiction and nonfiction appear in Louisiana Literature, Schuylkill Valley Journal, and Wanderlust Journal.
 

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[Why] Don’t You Want Me Baby? in “Mandy Picks a Husband”

Lead Article, Reviews

By Allyce Morrissey
 
“Mandy Picks a Husband” features no sound or lighting cues, no costume changes or props, and no set (save two chairs). Amanda Broomell is truly solo as she performs ‑ and sings ‑ through a hilarious, heartbreaking, and captivating 70‑minute version of her life.
 
Ms. Broomell begins her story in the present, as a single woman approaching forty. She describes a recent Bumble date with a man who seemed totally into her, but ghosted her a week later. Thus, begin the trials and tribulations of her adult dating life ‑ emotionally unavailable men whom, she realizes, she likes simply because they seem to like her.
 
Ms. Broomell punctuates her stories with cleverly reworded riffs on classic 80s love songs. She sings acapella, with humor, confidence, and vulnerability all at once. But “Mandy Picks a Husband” is a lot more than funny‑bad dating stories. It is also the story of Ms. Broomell’s insecurities and childhood trauma. At 11, she was repeatedly sexually abused by her neighbor and his friends. She finally reckoned with that trauma in college and began a decades‑long quest to find healing and, ultimately, love.
 
Ms. Broomell describes herself as an overachiever. She was the captain of nearly every extracurricular organization at her high school. She maintained straight As and an academic scholarship all through college ‑ even while battling substance addiction. When she didn’t get an agent out of grad school, she “quit acting” and began temping at a financial firm, eventually working her way up to becoming a VP (“with an MFA in acting”). After she finally confessed her trauma to her therapist ‑ the first time she’d ever told anyone about what happened ‑ she decided to make her own healing “a full‑time job.” To the outside world, Ms. Broomell was and is a success. But external achievements, she found, did not equate happiness.
 
After a series of dysfunctional and unfulfilling relationships, Ms. Broomell resolved to quit dating and be a happily empowered single woman in her late 30s. But at an empowerment workshop, when asked what she wanted deep in her core, she was surprised to find that the answer was “a husband.” A partner to trust and share a life with. This self‑revelation ‑ plus her infatuation with “The Bachelor” franchise ‑ inspired her project, “Get a Husband 2018.” She started an Instagram page chronicling her dating endeavors. The title for that page and for this show, “Mandy Picks a Husband,” is, in part, a reclamation of the childhood nickname she had abandoned in her efforts to heal from trauma (and because she thought it sounded better than “Amanda Picks a Husband”).
 
Ms. Broomell’s physicality, knack for character voices, and honest, direct performance is captivating, hilarious, and moving. Ms. Broomell says that one of her therapists told her that the men she chose to date were a reflection of her feelings about herself. “Well,” she replied, “I guess I feel like a ghost!” Later, this quip became the crux of Ms. Broomell’s ongoing journey to love. She had picked emotionally unavailable men because she, too, was emotionally unavailable. Being emotionally available requires self‑love and trust, and she’s still working on that. Aren’t we all?

 
Mandy Picks a Husband
Written and Performed by Amanda Broomell
November 21 at 7:30PM
Photo by Brian Navarro
2019 United Solo Theater Festival
Theatre Row
410 West 42nd Street
New York City
 
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ALLYCE MORRISSEY is a dramaturg based in New York City. She holds an MA in Dramaturgy and Writing for Performance from Goldsmiths, University of London, and a BA in English from Villanova University. She also works in entertainment advertising.
 

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“Chocoholic,” A Humorous and Insightful Exploration into Addiction

Lead Article, Reviews

By Molly Shimko
 
“Chocoholic” is, in the following order, a bright, clever, cheeky, insightful, painful, raw, and beautiful look at addiction, its roots, and its effects on our lives. Taking us on a journey that moves effortlessly from light to dark, Lilly Dennis presents the story of her addiction (as she calls it) to chocolate as a trial in which she is the accused. Bringing up multiple versions and aspects of herself as witnesses, Ms. Dennis draws us in and cultivates our trust with humorous and relatable characters, leading us to confront uncomfortable truths about our inner selves.
 
The play begins with a simple set ‑ a small box laid with a teacup and saucer, and a tray table holding a large chocolate bar labeled “Exhibit A” ‑ reflecting Ms. Dennis’ clarity of vision and structure. Immediately upon entering, she takes on the role of a courtroom narrator who guides us through the piece and addresses us as the “ladies and gentlemen of the jury.”
 
Ms. Dennis instantly creates an atmosphere of comfort and ease. She has a quietly confident, unaffected, and good‑natured air that makes her easy to root for. Her first witness is an elderly version of herself, and she puts her physical and verbal comedic chops on full display. Delightfully and deliciously silly, craftily extracting the comedy of a chocolate addiction trial, she warms the audience up with genuine laughs.
 
Moving seamlessly between the different facets of herself, Ms. Dennis offers insightful tidbits, such as “Lilly loves chocolate because it will never leave her,” and harsh truths, as when she admits that she loves the pain: “I love it. I am it. I like inflicting it.”
 
Ms. Dennis shrewdly portrays the different aspects of herself, and expertly shows us the troublesome, rough, and disturbing reality of addiction, even when it is to chocolate. This is especially true when we see Ms. Dennis aged seventeen and at present day. Here, we delve into the meat of the story, and learn about the tragedies Ms. Dennis had experienced. She deftly guides us through the maze of emotions that one feels when losing a loved one. She handles extremely sensitive topics such as miscarriage and death delicately and gently, while acknowledging uncomfortable and painful truths.
 
Finally, as Ms. Dennis speaks to us as her current self, all the pieces of the story fit together. Still brilliantly interlacing bright comedy with absolutely gutting heartbreak, she bares her pain onstage, bringing us inside her experience and reminding us that “the majority of the world knows the pain [she’s] talking about.”
 
Ms. Dennis closes the play by sharing an intimate letter written to her by a loved one. The letter reads in the same wonderfully warm and bittersweet tone that mixes humor, love, and deep sadness, and this authentic glimpse into Ms. Dennis’ soul is perfection. She reminds us that her need for chocolate is, in actuality, a coping mechanism to deal with underlying pain. Her show leaves us with the feeling of an unfinished melody, apropos to the truncated ending in her life that led her to chocolate.

 
Chocoholic
Written and Performed by Lilly Dennis
Directed by Debra De Liso
November 23 at 7:30 PM
​Photo: courtesy of the production
2019 United Solo Theater Festival
Theatre Row
410 West 42nd Street
New York City
 
MOLLY SHIMKO is an artist and writer originally from Vermont. After obtaining her MFA in Musical Theater from The Boston Conservatory, she moved down to Brooklyn, where she currently free-lances as an editor and illustrator, and works for the New York Public Library and The Juilliard School. Most recently, Molly co-wrote and directed The Fling LP, a new musical play, for The New York Theater Festival Summerfest.

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“Kafka’s Ape” is King of the Jungle

Lead Article, Reviews

By James Bartholomew
 
When Franz Kafka first wrote “A Report to an Academy” in 1917, he likely didn’t expect it would ever be performed on stage. He certainly couldn’t imagine a performer like Bonani Miyambo. Physical, sympathetic and occasionally grotesque, Mr. Miyambo’s reimagining of the short story in “Kafka’s Ape” heightens its inherent theatricality and teases out its complex knot of race and identity.
 
Kafka’s “A Report to an Academy” is just that ‑ a lecture delivered to an unnamed institution by its central character, Red Peter. However, Peter is an ape. After being captured in present‑day Ghana, Peter has learned to imitate human behavior and speech, and now stands before his audience to report on his bizarre journey and his experiences with humanity. Despite his unchanged appearance, Peter sees his “apishness” as a distant identity long since overcome. He now views himself as a successful and contributing member of society, and is ready to tell his life story for the benefit of the academy.
 
Adapted by director Phala O. Phala, “Kafka’s Ape” sees Mr. Miyambo in the role of Red Peter, with the audience standing in for the nameless academy. And while an academic lecture may seem to make for a dry dramatic script, Mr. Miyambo breathes vibrant life into the role. Peter snorts and snarls as he limps around the stage with his hunched back. Those apelike mannerisms come in direct contrast to the eloquent report that Peter delivers. When recounting the darker parts of his journey, Peter sometimes becomes so distraught that he flings himself from his podium to hide away while he composes himself.
 
Beyond those persistent, tragic ironies, “Kafka’s Ape” allows for sporadic moments of humor. Mr. Miyambo breaks up his report with short audience interactions that add much‑needed levity and a momentary respite from the weighty script. While describing how he learned to shake hands, Mr. Miyambo grabbed the leg of a man in the front row, shaking it proudly and unaware of his mistake. He was later distracted by another audience member, whose head he could not help but examine for a tasty insect snack.
 
Of course, funny as they are, those jokes compound the tragedy at play. Mr. Miyambo’s physicality brilliantly underscores the central irony of Kafka’s text. Namely, Red Peter was already a fully intelligent and rational being before his capture by humans, and his attempts to imitate humanity have only dehumanized him. Mr. Miyambo’s Peter is clearly traumatized by the atrocities done to him in captivity. He repeatedly says that his only motivation to change was “a way out” of the horrific conditions he was subjected to. But even now, having presumably found some measure of human acceptance, he is so mortified by his past self that he is unable to engage with his fellow apes in a meaningful way. That subtext is inherent to the original short story, but in “Kafka’s Ape,” the theme of societally driven self‑hatred takes center stage. In its own promotional material, “Kafka’s Ape” is described as “highlighting the complexities of identity in post‑apartheid South Africa,” and the critique offered is one of the play’s greatest successes.
 
Although its script is over a century old, “Kafka’s Ape” is a production all its own. Thanks to the inspired directing of Phala O. Phala and the transformative performance of Bonani Miyambo, “Kafka’s Ape” elevates its simple report into an essential piece of theatre. Not enough can be said of Mr. Miyambo, who balances Kafka’s delicate prose with explosive athleticism. On a technical level, “Kafka’s Ape” is a battle of endurance for any actor. That Mr. Miyambo can keep up with the demands of the production while portraying Red Peter with such an intricate mix of sympathy and horror is an amazing feat. Strange, entrancing and provocative, “Kafka’s Ape” is solo performance at its finest.

 
Kafka’s Ape
Performed by Bonani Miyambo
Directed by Phala O. Phala
November 22 at 7:30 PM
Photo: courtesy of the production
2019 United Solo Theatre Festival
Theatre Row
410 West 42nd Street
New York City
 
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JAMES BARTHOLOMEW is a writer and musician living in New York City. He is an administrator of the Fordham University Theatre Program and an avid lover of the arts.
 

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Giving the Accordion the Spotlight in “There’s An Accordion in My Closet”

Lead Article, Reviews

By Cynthia Darling
 
One look at the stage, and we know “There’s an Accordion in My Closet” will entertain. The show depicts the life of LynnMarie, a five‑time Grammy‑nominated musician, and the stage is chock full of a successful musician’s paraphernalia. From cowboy boots, accordions, a white bearskin rug, a wardrobe of colorful performing outfits, half‑packed boxes, a table, and several chairs, the scenery begins to tell the story. Then, LynnMarie steps out onto the stage. From there on out, we become privy to intimate narrative, polka music, and LynnMarie’s spirit that shines brightly.
 
One of the most delightful things about the show is LynnMarie’s ongoing dialogue with her accordion. Yes, that’s right. She talks to her accordion, and her accordion talks right back. It is LynnMarie’s faithful companion. Throughout the show, she questions whether her commitment to her music, specifically polka music on the accordion, caused the deterioration of her marriage or saved her life. It is probably both, and thus, LynnMarie shows us the complexity at the heart of this sunny, sad and deeply heartfelt show.
 
Sure, the show could fall into cliché, like a good country song: a woman fights heartbreak and comes out on the other side. But LynnMarie turns that trope on its head. Instead of saccharine‑sweet lyrics, we get bold, honest, in‑your‑face statements of truth about raising a special needs child, body image issues, writing a letter that goes viral, and surviving an alcoholic parent. Early in the show, she accidentally receives a telltale text from her husband’s mistress: “Thank you for last night.” LynnMarie may be heartbroken ‑ life doesn’t mete out difficulty neatly or in a balanced manner ‑ but from that moment on, she decides always to tell the truth. “These days I’m all about real,” she says.
 
She flashes back to the beginning of her marriage, and to her childhood in a household with a hardworking mother and an alcoholic father. Her father, she states, “would give you the shirt off his back, and then he’d turn around and tell you you looked like shit in it.” That same father taught her to love the accordion and her Slovenian heritage.
 
LynnMarie truly comes alive when she plays her accordion. Her eyes seem to sing right along with her. She narrates as she plays, and the audience sings along with ease. LynnMarie’s golden smile is part of her stage presence and charm. As she tells us about wrenching life events, her intermittent polka performances are veritable sunshine. It is no accident that embracing this smile was something her father taught her: always smile and keep smiling, no matter the pain behind it.
 
Interestingly, the focus of much of the show ‑ what to do about her husband’s infidelity ‑ does not produce a husband‑and‑wife showdown until late in the show. This is significant. The real battle is not with her husband ‑ it’s with herself, as she assesses her past decisions. A cover of “Squeeze Box” by The Who is an unexpected and delightful moment, as she describes being a naïve young woman who “had no idea that the slang for my own vagina was ‘box.’” She put the song on her first album, SqueezeBox.
 
A powerful refrain echoes her newfound knowledge of herself: “I knew that I knew that I knew that I knew” describes her intuition about childbirth, her several miscarriages, and her full‑term pregnancy with James, her child born with special needs.
 
From considering suicide to proclaiming her love for Lexapro, LynnMarie follows a sometimes soft, sometimes louder voice that guides her. That voice may be her heart, God, her son, or her accordion. By the end, the voice that consistently saves her is her own.
 
As a struggling mother of a young boy whose special needs overwhelm her, LynnMarie is given the same message by three strangers at Sears: “Don’t live in the future, let go of your fear, live in this moment right now. You’re going to feel more love than you can imagine.” This segues into her song, “He Will Never Be,” about her son’s seeming deficits being the very qualities that will make him a compassionate person.
 
At one point, LynnMarie gives into despair about the difficulties of caring for her son: “I just wish James was just like me.” According to her, God answers with an all‑out belly laugh: “Are you fucking kidding me?”
 
Eventually, after making her break from her husband, she meets Eddie, a new love. Eddie loves music and James. Eddie is Slovenian. And the crowning glory? “He looks sexy as hell in lederhosen,” she smiles.
 
Is it surprising to see this tale of self‑improvement and learning to listen to her own voice end happily with a new marriage? I think no. The beauty of this show is that it embraces everything ‑ the messy, the downright terrible, the beautiful, and the sweet; pure heart and pure truth. And that’s the lesson of LynnMarie’s show and her music. Tell it all. Keep on singing. And the heart will follow.

 
There’s An Accordion in My Closet
Written and Performed by LynnMarie
Lighting Design by Katie Trotter
November 19 at 9 PM
Photo: courtesy of the production
2019 United Solo Theatre Festival
Theatre Row
410 West 42nd Street
New York City
 
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CYNTHIA DARLING is a writer and teacher living in Hell’s Kitchen. A writer for NAfME’s Teaching Music magazine for many years, she also wrote for New York Family magazine. She is currently working toward an MFA in Creative Writing with the Bluegrass Writers Studio. Her fiction and nonfiction appear in Louisiana Literature, Schuylkill Valley Journal, and Wanderlust Journal.
 

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“The Honorable Herbert Peabody” Strains to Weigh the Importance of Legacy

Reviews

By Leia Squillace
 

Obligatory interactions with backward‑walking college campus tour guides can be awkward. But they reach new levels of discomfort on tours of buildings dedicated to convicted sex offenders.
 
Such is the stew one steps into in “The Honorable Herbert Peabody.” Joe, an anxious and apologetic tour guide, sets out on an impossible task. He leads the audience through his pre‑approved script, dodging the inevitable questions, such as “How could you?” and “What gives you the right?” and sorting out his own involvement in the events as Herbert Peabody’s onetime protégé. Though Peabody’s crimes are not explicitly revealed until late in the play, the sole scenic element, a sign stating “Please Pardon our Appearance,” provides a clue that all is not well in the Herbert Peabody Library and Legacy Center.
 
In an attempt to justify the construction of this monument to a perpetrator of abuse, Joe walks us through Peabody’s contributions to the university. He was a football star, a beloved professor, and even a senatorial candidate. This extensive biography is occasionally interrupted by voiceovers making generic announcements. The voice belongs to the frequently referenced Emma, who, as we learn, is one of the ten women who accused Peabody of assault, and who are otherwise unheard from in the play.
 
This fact mars the otherwise captivating production. Kirk McGee’s portrayal of Joe delicately balances tension‑relieving quirkiness with a suspenseful recounting of his own memories of Peabody. Cleanly and unapologetically directed by Corey Atkins, the play clips at a confident pace that promises twists and reveals, but carefully obfuscates them long enough to create genuine suspense. But regardless of how gripping Mr. McGee’s performance is, and it is ‑ the audience verbally responded to him as if on an actual tour ‑ it cannot hold attentions that demand to know what exactly happened to the women victimized by Peabody.
 
While Emma’s voice haunts the halls, we witness Joe’s breakdown as he struggles to comprehend that his former idol’s crimes will forever undermine his legacy. As co‑teaching assistants to Peabody, Joe and Emma developed a sibling‑like relationship. “I always felt history was in the past,” he says. “She always felt it was being made as we speak.” Ultimately, Joe’s denial of his complicity leaves him crumpled, sweaty, and panicked when he finally acknowledges the harm that occurred under his watch.
 
The play would seemingly like to emphasize that “History is to be preserved so that others can learn from it.” This sentiment, written as well as spoken by Mr. McGee, leaves the mouth dry as it chews on such a big question. At a moment when society grapples with how to handle the legacies of perpetrators of sexual violence, listening to history may feel revelatory to those on the sidelines, but for the Emmas in the story, this feels as obtuse as a legacy center dedicated to a predator.

 
The Honorable Herbert Peabody
Written and Performed by Kirk McGee
Directed by Corey Atkins
November 16 at 6:00 PM
Photo credit: courtesy of the production
2019 United Solo Festival
Theatre Row
410 West 42nd Street
New York City
 
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LEIA SQUILLACE is a director, devised theatre artist, and arts engagement administrator. Leia has developed new plays such as “GOOD KIDS” (Naomi Iizuka), “THE TRAIN” (Irene L. Pynn), and the Kennedy Center National Undergraduate Playwriting Award winner, “FAIR” (Karly Thomas). Most recently, Leia co‑developed a one‑woman show, “I KILLED THE COW,” which is currently touring nationally.
 

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