Thursday, November 17, 2011

Thinking Cap Theatre: Death for Sydney Black (4 reviews)

Thinking Cap Theatre opened its production of Death for Sydney Black at Empire Stage on November 10, 2011.
Thinking Cap Theatre presents the world premiere of Leah Winkler's new play, Death for Sydney Black, a dark comedy in the vein of Heathers, Mean Girls, and The Devil Wears Prada with a dash of Cinderella.
Nicole Stodard directed a cast that included Shira Abergel, Axy Carrion Bannon, Desiree Mora, Monica Quintero, Erica Schiff, and Sarah Siegel

Michelle F. Solomon reviewed for Florida Theater On Stage:
The ambitious Thinking Cap Theatre, now in its second season, breathes life into Leah Nanako Winkler’s absurdist play about the dog-eat-dog world of high school hierarchy in Death for Sydney Black at Fort Lauderdale’s Empire Stage.
Artistic Director Nicole Stodard chose the right play in Sydney Black to give her troupe the chance to stage a world premiere. With its socially conscious message (although the subject matter is well worn) and its unencumbered form and style, it fits her company’s mission. It is a challenge, for sure, to pull off a play like Death For Sydney Black, but Stodard as director has found a way to make it work in the small Empire Stage space. The pacing could be picked up just a bit, but given a few more performances, Sydney Black should find its groove.
Christine Dolen reviewed for The Miami Herald:
Described as a “response” to movies like Heathers, Mean Girls and Bring It On, Winkler’s script is meant to comment on and deconstruct those movies, which present high school as a painfully stratified, kill-or-be-killed nightmare.
Directed by Stoddard in a bare-bones production at Empire Stage, Death for Sydney Black simply apes the genre, throwing in loads of f-bombs, sexually denigrating dialogue and a couple of back stories that involve sexual molestation by relatives. It is not, in any way, enlightening or intriguing.
The brightest light in the production is Abergel, whose Jen is infinitely watchable, game for anything and quite funny. Strumming the ukulele, whistling, rapping, Abergel is tonally perfect, using her expressive face and body to inject her dialogue with layers of meaning. No one else comes close.
Rod Stafford Hagwood was there for The Sun-Sentinel:
There's a play somewhere in Death for Sydney Black, and it probably would center itself more on the ukulele-playing sidekick than the title character.  But it never quite materializes out of the mist... The comedy just can't seem to grab a firm hold on any one performance level, with skills varying so widely as to hardly share the same universe.

With sharper, more stylized performances all around, the point about relationships between girls might solidify. Where is that hormonal heat that heightens everything in high school?
Phillip Valys also wrote for the Sun-Sentinel:
"Sydney White's" consummate tongue-in-cheekness is lifted by strong performances from Thinking Cap's ensemble, while the crew's technical prowess gleams in sequences that drift, rapid-fire, between Abergel busting out into Vanilla Ice-caliber freestyle raps ("[Sydney Black's] got a big booty like a Honda, her fair skin's attracting all the anacondas") and "Moron Cheerleader" (Erica Schiff) complaining how cheerleading has turned her into an anorexic.

But it's Abergel's skillful portrayal of Jen – the play's de facto omniscient narrator – that stuns: Sporting a geeky, long-sleeved sweater, suspenders and an orange T-shirt adorned with the picture of a dictionary, she's a walking hipster parody. Between transforming into Nancy's pet dog ("to serve the story," she claims) and bursting into several stripped-down ukulele folk numbers that sound ripped from the "Juno" soundtrack, Abergel's versatility shines in a play that sometimes angles too hard for laughs but is a worthy tribute to grittier teen comedies.
The Thinking Cap Theatre production of Death for Sydney Black plays at Empire Stage through November 26, 2011.

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