Meb Byrne

Archive for the ‘theater’ Category

The Box

In nightlife, nyc, performance, soho, theater, treasure trove on February 2, 2011 at 5:27 pm

The Box, a post-Cabaret Moulin Rouge in the eastern fringes of lower Manhattan, draws on NYC performance art of the 1970s and 80s, circus performances, Victorian chic and classic burlesque. Rocky Horror wishes it was this cool.

Originally a sign factory and then a speakeasy, the club retains its dark, turn-of-the-century glamor, with carefully restored vintage wallpaper and wood paneling everywhere in its tiny, packed interior. The bouncers wear tuxedos beneath their overcoats. Inside, all the artwork on the walls is either original or borrowed from Europe at great expense. The bar sports dual jeweled chandeliers, a disco ball and a Swarovskied young woman swinging above the bartenders’ heads in a hoop.

Regular audience members lurk in front of the stage every Friday night. Dolled up in black lipstick, feather fanned headpieces and hourglass corsets, the boys and girls crowd around their low table, mixing vodka cranberries from iced decanters and swilling champagne. Fat businessmen in suits lounge at flanking tables, flirting with the skeletal go-go dancers in nipple clips and lacy garters who sit in their laps. Upstairs, VIP guests slosh themselves into oblivion in velvet balcony booths, overlooking the main floor and the stage. Bottle service for a table is $1,000 and up. Sparklers are set off whenever a big liquor purchase is made.

The show starts at 1:30 am. Where to begin? Naked ballerinas. Naked aerialists. A shirtless young man balances on wooden chairs stacked to the stage lights. Another man, dripping with jewels, does splits while balancing lit candles on a sword, balanced point to point on another knife in his teeth. A big-breasted, tattooed woman cuts her forearms and masturbates with a chef’s knife. A transvestite bleeds from the mouth and then pees on the audience. Later, she sodomizes herself with several dildos strapped to a man’s skull. The audience goes wild.

After hours, the audience dances on stage with the coked-out go-go dancers. Champagne flows a little more slowly than before, as coats are gathered and end-of-evening plans are made. Management shepherds everyone out by 4:30 or 5 am, into the frigid streets of SoHo.

Thanks to Ryan Shinji Murray, a great friend and a gifted performer, for making this review possible.


Sterling Renaissance Festival

In fashion, geek, historical, photo op, recommended, renaissance, smile-inducing, syracuse, theater on July 27, 2010 at 12:50 pm

When I was eight years old, my mother took me to the Sterling Renaissance Festival (or Faire) for the first time. The Faire recreates the town of Warwick in the county of Warwickshire, England, in 1585, celebrating a visit from Queen Elizabeth I. The food, the shops, and especially the performers captured my young imagination, and have drawn me back year after year. This summer, I traveled upstate to celebrate the Pirate Invasion, one of Sterling’s theme weekends. Many things have changed since that first visit, but at its core, the Faire still retains its wonderfully magical appeal.

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The Sterling Renaissance Festival runs Saturdays and Sundays in Sterling, New York, rain or shine, until August 15.


Briar Rose

In nyc, theater on January 27, 2010 at 2:46 am

Last week, a new musical was premiered at the Roy Arias Theater Center in Midtown Manhattan. Briar Rose: The Tale of Sleeping Beauty, with music by Collin Simon and lyrics by Liz Muller, is currently a community theater-quality production, but shows potential for greater things.

Based on the classic Brothers Grimm fairy tale, Briar Rose takes some creative leaps in its staging and artistic development, and is generally rewarded for its efforts. The stage is bare and dark, with a plain black backdrop and a funeral bier looming ominously upstage throughout the show. Images projected on the back wall set the scene well, most memorably a full moon that melts into the ominous shadow of a spindle. The second act opening number dabbles in Stomp-themed drumming, while the dragon in the musical’s climactic scene is a fun, neon-hued artistic venture.

The fresh-faced cast is almost entirely comprised of college students from neighboring universities, bringing youthful vim and verve to the ensemble scenes. The score is sumptuous, with some memorable tunes to hum on the way home. Unfortunately, the prerecorded accompaniment often overpowers unenhanced voices, rendering some of the wordier songs unintelligible. Several numbers are graced with effervescent bursts of choreography, performed joyously by the dance corps but frustratingly limited by the lack of space in the black box theater.

Princess Rose (Camilla Twisselman) and Prince Tristan (Sean Lessard), her savior and erstwhile childhood friend, are both very pretty, with strong voices and stronger jaw lines. (Full disclosure: I am close friends with Sean.) The two young lovers work well together, mirroring each other’s awkward advances and longing glances. While the young lovers’ budding romance is appealing, their characters remain flat, largely due to the script’s lack of compelling story lines. Rose alternates between yearning for freedom and drooping with self-pity, singing that “that’s the way the story ends.” She never displays enough self-reliance or motivation to make us root for her. Tristan’s difficulty in admitting his romantic feelings for Rose feels unnecessary and false; from the moment he walks on stage at age nine, it’s obvious that he’s smitten. Tristan is at his best when enacting a buddy comedy with his elderly tutor (Tim Larsen) and delivering cheeky one-liners.

Opposing the lovers are the forces of evil: the wicked fairy and her demons, Vice (Lisa Ann Wetzel) and Versa (Sal Pavia.) The two minions are excellent together, torquing their sinuous bodies acrobatically, finishing each other’s sentences and screeching with laughter. They also provide genius comic relief, in the spirit of the hyenas in Disney’s The Lion King. Versa, the dumber of the two, is uproarious as he bumbles his way through the entire show, babbling about non sequiturs and being socially awkward at parties. Above them both, however, is Avarice, the evil fairy played with great relish by the multi-talented Liz Muller. Equal parts Norma Desmond and Divine, Ms. Muller is quick with a quip and spooky as hell, and isn’t afraid to unleash her powerhouse of a voice to great effect. More than any other performer in the production, she owns the stage and the audience from the first note of her performance. (The Xena-esque bustier doesn’t hurt, either.)

The show is solidly split into two worlds: that of evil, with fun, physical performances and a heavy dose of anachronism and vaudeville shtick. (Avarice, Vice and Versa demonstrate their Facebook profile picture pose to the audience.) The other world, that of good, is firmly rooted in the world of college and community theater productions, with generally likable characters who deliver their lines convincingly and sing well, but who do not move the audience to feel. This second world could use an infusion of the first. Furthermore, regardless of how many cultural references or slapstick pratfalls were thrown into Briar Rose, the show still lacks a purpose. What new interpretation or insight does this manifestation of the Grimm fairy tale bring to the table? The plot flirts with many themes- preservation of youth, defiance of authority, self-discovery, desire of the forbidden, guilt of desertion, the very origin of evil itself- yet none are developed fully enough to drive the story in a new direction.

One scene reassures me that all is not lost for this musical. The climactic pricking of the princess’s finger is a confrontation between Rose and Avarice, young versus old, pure versus corrupted, yet both very much alike in their solitude, and both seeking comfort. The two women sing and dance a duet, with Avarice weirdly wresting control of Rose’s body and manipulating her without ever touching her. The freakish physicality borders on seduction, and builds to a sexual tension that pushes the bounds of the women’s relationship and the entire story. The scene is chilling. When Briar Rose’s creative team takes the ingenuity and boldness of this scene and applies it to the rest of the production, they will have a masterpiece indeed.

In Support of the Fall Play

In syracuse, theater on September 12, 2009 at 12:01 am
Thespian Troupe #98, FM’s theater club.

To Whom It May Concern,

I am dismayed to hear that the Fayetteville-Manlius High School fall play has been canceled this year. I am writing to ask you to reinstate the play as quickly as possible.

In high school, acting in the fall play was my most cherished extracurricular activity, and ultimately, my career choice. The play creates a close-knit group of like-minded students who learn to cooperate, collaborate, and develop something out of nothing. It encourages creative solutions to complex problems and brings shy students out of their shells. Most importantly, it provides a very different outlet from the musical, which is often too monolithic to allow individual students’ voices and input to be heard and taken into serious consideration. The play is more intimate, more serious, and gives more opportunities for legitimate acting training.

Performing, and acting in particular, supplies students with invaluable skills later in life. From basic self-confidence to the art of public speaking, students develop and mature in extraordinary ways through theater. Since graduating from FM, I have used my acting training in many unlikely ways, from studying to be a professional actor to working in national political offices and presiding over college clubs. I would not be the self-confident, forthright, creative person I am today, were it not for my passion for acting and the outlets which FM gave me to explore and expand that passion.

Finally, I would like to say a word about Scott Austin, FM’s drama teacher for the past five years. Scott is an open-minded, wildly creative young man, and a tough yet thoughtful teacher. Under his guidance, the fall play was reimagined into something which students create from the ground up, considering characters’ motivation and blocking their own scenes in complex, thought-provoking theater pieces. Scott deserves better than to lose the fall play which I know he loves. I am ashamed that FM would treat such a great man so poorly.

I sincerely hope that you will reinstate the fall play, if not this year, then certainly next year and in the years to come. Schools of lesser economic capability often are forced to cut theater and art programs; FM is better than that. Please do not deny FM’s gifted students the chance to grow and thrive through theater.


Meb Byrne

If you are familiar with FM’s fall play, please write a similar letter of support. Molly Linhorst, an FM senior, is collecting the letters. Contact her at