Sunday, August 12, 2012

Island City Stage: The Twentieth Century Way (5 reviews)

Island City Stage opened its inaugural production of The Twentieth Century Way at Empire Stage on August 9, 2012
The Twentieth Century Way was awarded the 2011 PEN Award for Drama and the 2010 NY International Fringe Festival Award for Overall Excellence in Production of a Play, garnering critical accolades from publications like the New York Times and Variety. Based on a little-known incident in history, this theatrical thrill ride explores the collision of reality and fantasy as two actors, auditioning for a film, end up juggling roles that eventually lead to entrapment of homosexuals for "social vagrancy" in the Long Beach, California of 1914..
Michael Leeds directed a cast that featured Michael Westrich and Clay Cartland.

John Thomason reviewed for The Broward/Palm Beach New Times:
Now at Empire Stage, Twentieth Century Way is a dense, dizzying piece of absurdist theater, intellectually challenging and imbued with more layers than Tetris.
The direction, by Michael Leeds, is frequently spellbinding, keeping spectators on their toes with every surprise, double-cross, and rule-break. Hunched over and downcast, Westrich conveys his character's pool of untapped longing, and Cartland cuts a towering figure of sociopathic confidence. He's a tragic cipher hidden under multiple personalities, and it's impossible to take your eyes off him. Neither actor nails all his myriad accents, but it doesn't matter. Their chemistry is palpable, pulsating with homoerotic subtext that comes to a head in the play's final, revealing twist.
Ron Levitt reviewed for ENV Magazine:
Mix in two of the finest performances of the year with a disturbing-but challenging production, astute direction and an adult  script  built on historic fact aimed at a particular segment of society, and one should have a winner.  That’s exactly what appears to be the potential for The Twentieth Century Way making its Florida premiere here as the initial offering of the restructured Island City Stage in cooperation with Empire Stage.
Director Michael Leeds – with gusto – takes his audience on this historic trip with so many questionable stops.
Bill Hirschman reviewed for Florida Theater On Stage:
This initial production by Island City Stage, the resurrected phoenix that was once Rising Action Theatre, is an audacious and ambitious offering in which actors Clay Cartland and Michael Westrich slip in and out of a dozen roles under the direction of Michael Leeds.
The play is gloriously theatrical as the duo nimbly shuttle among characterizations like the supernumeraries in The 39 Steps. But the hard truth is that they get so involved in the technical demands of the transformations that they aren’t precise enough to clearly deliver the thematic subtleties of Tom Jacobson’s Byzantine script. Another few days of shakedown seem called for.
...the work of the actors and Leeds is admirable as they encompass vaudevillian comedy, streaks of pathos and stretches of Beckett. Westrich is not terribly persuasive or engaging in his role as the nasal stolid Mr. Brown, but he skillfully and assuredly disappears into an ever-morphing collection of distinct characters portrayed by Mr. Brown.
Cartland devours the showier role as the aggressive Mr. Warren. Cartland’s comic chops get a workout as Warren gleefully inhabits a parade of intentionally cartoonish characters with a United Nations-worth of broad accents.
Even with its flaws, the intriguing The Twentieth Century Way is welcome if only as the vehicle that returns Artistic Director Andy Rogow and a company with the mission of focusing on LGBT-themed theater. A nod, too, to Empire Stage for agreeing to be a co-producer and providing Island City a temporary home on the tiny vest-pocket stage in Fort Lauderdale.
Christine Dolen reviewed for The Miami Herald:
There’s a new theater company on the South Florida scene, and if its debut production is any indication, Island City Stage will be a troupe worth watching.
Each actor in the Island Stage plays numerous parts: the auditioning actors, cops, an investigative reporter and his crusty editor, a lawyer and various vividly drawn victims of Brown and Warren’s scheme. The challenge for director Michael Leeds and the two performers is to keep the story clear as the play hurtles forward, its distinctive characters appearing, vanishing and reappearing. Quite artfully, they succeed.

Cartland and Westrich employ shifting accents (you’ll hear guys from Brooklyn, Chicago, Minnesota, Scotland, Germany and more), changing costume pieces and altered physicality to portray the men perpetrating, caught up in, covering or dealing with the fallout from the entrapment scheme. Both give fearless, fine performances.
Roger Martin reviewed for miamiartzine:
The Twentieth Century Way is an eighty-five minute show of seemingly endless character, accent and costumes changes; an eighty-five minute display by a terrific comedy team that milked Tom Jacobson's serpentine script of every emotion.
Westrich is the quiet, almost stolid Mr Brown, persuaded by the flamboyant, wonderfully over the top Cartland, (Mr Warren) to engage in an improve session to determine who is the better actor. And by dint of the skill of these actors and the many characters they play, we see what really happened in 1914 California when “two out of work actors hired themselves out to the Long Beach Police Department to entrap 'social vagrants' in Public restrooms.
Michael Leeds directed this impressive first showing from Island City Stage, and he directed it beautifully. There's not a dead moment in a piece that's as demanding of the actors as any I've seen. You know the tyro question; how on earth do you remember all those lines?   Well, I confess, I sat there asking myself just that. And all the blocking? And costume changes? And accents?   Ah yes, very impressive.
Island City Stage presents The Twentieth Century Way at Empire Stage through September 9, 2012.

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