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Articles by

<Eugene Reznik>

11/18/11 9:00am

She Kills Monsters
Written by Qui Nguyen
Directed by Robert Ross Parker

"Forged by the hands of nerds, crafted in the minds of geeks," Dungeons and Dragons has been a favored escape route for downtrodden youths facing mind-numbing tedium for almost forty years. Agnes (Satomi Blair), a very average young high school teacher in the Midwest, first encounters the game when she learns that her "totally weird" younger sister Tilly (Allison Buck), a Dungeon Master of the rarest kind—"without fear, prejudice, or a penis,"—has died in a car accident. They were never that close, their relationship strained over the last few years, and all Agnes has left of her sister is a D&D module she had recently crafted. Agnes is suddenly filled with regret, though it comes off with a slight air of flippancy. Qui Nguyen's new heroic mock-epic She Kills Monsters (at the Flea Theater through December 23), traces Agnes's journey through Tilly's module—discovering her sister and herself. This mythical plot might be a bit worn, but the performance is totally enjoyable if you're into this kind of thing—a very important caveat.

"Agnes the Ass-hatted," and her sister's friends—"Chuck the big dick’d" (Jack Corcoran), "Ronnie the Stoner," (Raul Sigmund Julia) "Kelly the not-so-good-legged," (Megha Nabe) and "Lily the Closeted" (Margaret Odette)—sally forth along Tilly's scripted mystical voyage, leaving the generic normalcy of 1995 Ohio behind. (They retain its Smashing Pumpkins soundtrack for transitions between scenes.) Narrated by Nicky Schmidlein with a tongue-in-cheek voice, much of the performance sounds like a Lord of Rings parody. Of the two tensions sure to be resolved, Agnes's conflicts with her sister and her live-in boyfriend, the latter proves more pedestrian. Tilly, it turns out, kept an intimate secret her whole life. Exposition is sparse and neither conflict feels adequately developed. It's very clear what's going on; it's just not very obvious why we should care. Then again, here we run the risk of taking too seriously what should be a light-hearted spoof. As David Valentine's dragon puppet battle finale reminds, it's a marvel just to see what a bunch of nerds can do with a bit of imagination, a fog machine and a strobe light.

(Photo: Joan Marcus)

11/17/11 8:00am

How Much Is Enough? Our Values in Question
Written by Kirk Lynn
Directed by Melanie Joseph

"Is it scripted?" You can't help but wonder. You're sitting four to eight per table scattered around the expansive St. Ann's Warehouse space, microphones and projectors hang overhead pointed at every angle. The lights are subdued and drop curtains around the periphery let off a turquoise glow. You're at the theater. You've come for participatory performance art, but the stage-less layout feels more like quiz night at the pub (albeit with less alcohol). The first member of the audience has been put on the spot, called upon to answer a few questions, but some of her answers just seem too good to be spontaneous—too insightful, too honest, too pithy and poignant. "What's one thing it takes to have a good birth?" asks Carlo (Noel Joseph Allain), one of three character-moderators, a prospective father. "Love," she says unhesitatingly, "commitment, wannabe…" Carlo asks, "Sorry what was that?" "Wannabe," she says, "like wannahave." "Ah." It's unscripted, you learn, because there are certain brilliant idiosyncrasies few playwrights could have captured, and you might be the next one up.

How Much Is Enough? (through November 27), the latest work from the acclaimed and adventurous Foundry Theatre, is sure to engross even those with the greatest aversion to participatory theater. The three actors pose some of the simplest yet most thought-provoking questions about those values we carry from youth till death. Meanwhile, a "Googler" (Mohammad Yousuf) scours the search engine for added insight to project onto two suspended screens. Money, time (which apparently is the most frequently used noun in the English language), labor and possessions are investigated while the Zuccotti Park tumult just across the river inevitably weighs heavily on the participants' collective conscience. Likely as a result of the sample size—not homogenous exactly, but a typical experimental theater-going set—the mood fostered is unsurprisingly utopian. The night I attended there was no real dispute or debate, and the entire plot-less performance was largely free of conflict. Luckily, the suspense provided by the prompt "in your own words" proves sufficient to sustain tremendous dramatic interest. Kirk Lynn's deftly crafted script, which loosely follows the trajectory of a human life, avoids veering into limitless, unstructured and incoherent exploration, allowing for just enough experimentation. Although, who's to say how much is enough?

(Photo: Richard Termine)

11/09/11 4:01am

The Occupy Wall Street protest has been variously characterized by multiple media
outlets as dirty, depraved, naïve, anti-Semitic, elitist, monolithically white, and
comprised solely of drum circle-loving hippies from Bennington. It is none of those
things, and so much more. (Photos by Cody Swanson)



Bobby Steele
Canarsie
Retired Broker

“Outlaw Bobby Steele,” he calls himself, “the rebel of Wall Street.” He lives in Canarsie and had been making his way to demonstrate in Zuccotti for 16 days when we spoke. Sixty-four-year-old Steele worked on Wall Street for 35 years, but when the company he worked for was bought by ING, he found himself out of a job. “I’ve seen the amount of greed that goes on,” he said. “I’ve seen how they manipulate the credit score and get you to pay more interest. I’ve seen how they step on people and there’s no accountability.”

It might be some time from now, but Steele believes OWS has the power to push forth reforms, and would like to see some securing healthcare, jobs and social security.
His look and his demeanor might be a reaction to the stuffy culture of office work: He believes people pass judgments based on tattoos, and presuppose criminality when they see them—hence, his moniker. “I always thought when I retired I’d get one or two tattoos on my face,” he said. “When I realized I wasn’t going back to Wall Street anymore, I decided to go all the way.”


Alex Courtney
Bay Ridge
Unemployed Baker

Born and raised in Bay Ridge, and a baker by trade, Courtney’s been out of work for a year now—and he’s homeless. He’d been staying in Zuccotti Park for 15 days when we caught up to him.

“I’m down here because my dad actually worked on Wall Street,” Courtney said. His father was a broker for over 40 years but lost his last two clients in 2010. Since then, his family has been living paycheck to paycheck. “We had to keep up with the Joneses my whole life,” he said (he once attended private school). “Now I’m homeless as a result of it. We have no money, nothing in the bank, all the assets are gone.”
“I’ve had people telling me, ‘You’re homeless, get the fuck out. This is about protestors and you’re panhandling’,” Courtney said. He sees a lot of people who are “trying to be sympathetic, but they can’t be empathetic,” because they might never have had to endure really serious financial struggles.

As far as the winter coming: “It’s going to be cold,” Courtney said, “but I think there’s enough money that people are going to troop it out. The diehards are going to be taken care of.”


Sage Mede
Willamsburg
High School student

“I would come here every day if I could,” said Sage Meade, who spoke to us during her second visit to Zuccotti. She made the distinction of being a visitor, not a demonstrator, but she supports the OWS movement and said, “I’m trying to come here more.” The protest is the subject of much discussion at her school, and many there support the movement; friends of hers have been eager to hear what it was like down on Wall Street.

11/07/11 2:55pm

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About 47,100 people who weren’t sleeping one off this past Sunday completed 26.2 miles in the 42nd New York City Marathon, which was the largest turnout ever. Kenya’s Geoffrey Mutai broke a decade-long record, coming in at 2 hours, 7 minutes and 43 seconds. Ethiopia’s Firehiwot Dado broke ahead of the race favorite Mary Keitany of Kenya, and took the women’s title at 2 hours, 23 minutes and 15 sections. And a whole lot of other people did not come in last.

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(Photos by the author.)

11/07/11 9:55am

Suicide, Incorporated
Written by Andrew Hinderaker
Directed by Jonathan Berry

"It's not a grabber," says Norm (James McMenamin). Morose and middle-aged, he's just read aloud the opening sentence of a letter he's writing to his estranged wife. What he has to say is big—it will be the last thing he can ever express—but it just reads "so small." He needs help and he's come to the right place: Suicide, Inc., a company that specializes in the art of crafting suicide notes, tutoring the dejected on the perfectly worded final farewell. Jason (Gabriel Ebert), a brand new editor with an unorthodox method unsettling to his lawsuit-weary, profit-hungry boss Scott (Toby Leonard Moore), takes Norm under his wing. Roundabout Theatre Company's dazzling New York premiere of Andrew Hinderaker's Chicago hit Suicide, Incorporated (at the Black Box Theater through December 23) traces the progression of Norm's note, from prewriting, list-making, thesis-crafting, topic sentence writing, drafting and re-drafting, right up to the very submission.

The premise is so callous it's obviously absurd—meaning it's funny, but it certainly doesn't lack a basis in naturalism. It's clear from the get-go that we're getting a light, palatable treatment of the darkest of subjects. Simultaneously, the conceit allows for many cathartic moments of projected inwardness. Dream visions, hallucinations, question sessions, brainstorming, reading notes aloud and an acting exercise with a one-way telephone conversation are the most moving, memorable moments that ring out with harrowing truth. Then again, with such a subject so touchy, the script carefully steers clear of anything really provocative; it's actually rather safe. The exposition is tactful and carefully withholds information for a dramatic effect, except when it takes a turn for the earnest. The first scene gives away too much too soon. Multiple binaries between characters are set up, establishing foils and obvious doppelgänger and the work concludes with many not unexpected coincidences.

While the script may falter, the mise en scene does not. Daniel Zimmerman's set, with its whitewashed, Shoji-style sliding partitions is clean and simple and works flawlessly to juxtapose domestic and professional environments. Zach Blane's stunning light design is some of the most elegant and cinematic in recent memory, seamlessly weaving disparate chronological moments, coloring the minimal set and the mood. The cast is superb with a very natural, almost televisual style. Toby Moore as the unfeeling boss Scott is the standout with a great booming voice and many barely noticeable mannerisms that really end up making all the difference.

(Photo: Joan Marcus)

10/26/11 12:33pm

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About 150 protesters led by Brooklyn Democratic Party boss Assemblyman Vito Lopez marched in solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street movement yesterday afternoon, from Borough Hall across the Brooklyn Bridge to Wall Street. This was the first time OWS demonstrators have marched across the bridge since October 1, when more than 700 protestors were arrested for spilling onto the roadway. Yesterday, they crossed the East River peacefully along the bridge’s pedestrian walkway; Lopez’s office had worked closely with the police department and no one was arrested.

The mood was calm—surprisingly so. “We’re too quiet,” one demonstrator remarked. “This doesn’t really feel like a march.” Familiar chants soon followed: “No justice? No peace!” The chanting grew louder as the group made it to Manhattan, where veteran demonstrators from Zuccotti Park joined them, with well-worn picket signs, to march all the way down to Wall Street itself.

Lopez, bottom left, with protege Steve Levin behind

  • Lopez, bottom left, with protege Steve Levin behind

Prior to the march, Lopez held a rally on the steps of Brooklyn Borough Hall with Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries, Councilman Steven Levin, Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, and State Senator Eric Adams, as well as several union leaders and tenant groups. SEIU Local 32BJ, AFSCME, and the Hotel and Motel Trades Council were well represented.

Lopez said that in the next four years the poverty rate in the city is projected to rise to 26 percent. “One in four people in New York will be under the poverty line,” he said. “At the same time, the wealthier people are getting wealthier. Something is going wrong.” (The rhetoric at the rally also included some good old borough bravado: “Brooklyn is in the house… we get things done.”)

The millionaire’s tax was the big issue on the assemblyman’s mind. Aside from that, he said jokingly, “this is the beginning of my attempt to take over the world”—probably in an effort to bait detractors.

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Lopez, who has been representing Bushwick and parts of Williamsburg since 1984, now in his twelfth term, found himself at the center of a corruption scandal late last year when federal and city officials began investigating massive earmarks for the Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizens Council, a non-profit he founded in 1973.

For many reformists, Lopez is the face of corrupt machine-politics, and his involvement in an Occupy Wall Street march surprised some observers. Some suggested that Lopez was trying to use the movement for his own benefit (such as in some pretty priceless comments on the Brooklyn Paper website). Reporter Eli Rosenberg wrote, “The ‘day of solidarity’ is the latest show of support from local Democrats, who have started to embrace, and perhaps try to co-opt, the leaderless movement.”

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10/24/11 2:48pm

A map of privately owned public spaces in Lower Manhattan and Downtown Brooklyn. (Courtesy Department of City Planning)

  • A map of privately owned public spaces in Lower Manhattan and Downtown Brooklyn. (Courtesy Department of City Planning)

As residents of Lower Manhattan grow increasingly ornery about their new neighbors in Zuccotti Park, NPR reminds us that there’s a whole slew of privately owned public spaces (POPs) around the city open to demonstrators, campers (of sorts) and otherwise occupiers.

Across the Manhattan Bridge in Downtown Brooklyn, there are seven POPs (PDF), three of which have been surveyed on the Department of City Planning website. The largest and most hospitable by far is the 3.5 acre Metrotech Center located along the Myrtle Promenade between Jay Street and Flatbush Avenue. Otherwise, there’s the smaller Renaissance Plaza at 350 Jay Street, Livingston Plaza at 130 Livingston Street and the barren Atlantic Terminal on Flatbush Avenue. It’s no Wall Street, but neither is Zuccotti Park.

POPs, also known as “bonus plazas,” began sprouting up after a 1961 Zoning Resolution gave private developers in New York incentive to create public plazas surrounding their skyscrapers. A 1916 Resolution originally enacted a restriction that required building facades to be setback a certain number of feet every few stories to not deprive the already cramped streets of Lower Manhattan of “light and air,” inadvertently spawning an architectural trend. The 1961 plan allowed developers to build up monoliths without restriction so long as they setback the entire structure a given number of feet from the sidewalk. As a result, there are now 3.5 million square feet of space, most of which are required to be open to public use (whatever that may be) 24-hours a day.

According to Jerold S. Kayden, the Harvard Professor who surveys these POPs for the city, 40 percent “were and are practically useless, with austere designs, no amenities and little or no direct sunlight.” And yet, they have been extremely conducive to mass demonstrations.

It’s up to the private owners to enforce “reasonable rules of conduct,” the Department of City Planning says. Barring demonstrators would require “reasonable notice” by way of a posted sign, which has yet to happen. Police, Associated Press reports, need to be “invited” by the owner before they can attempt to enforce any rules. As Francis Reynolds writes for The Nation, “The protesters have been able to set up camp in Zuccotti not because of any regulation that protects their presence there, but precisely because of a real lack of any defined regulations at all.”

10/18/11 9:05am

Blame it on Beckett
Written by John Morogiello
Directed by Jackob G. Hofmann

"Dramaturgy jobs don't just sprout up—like weedy interns."

Heidi Bishop (Lori Gardner), smart, young, well intentioned, idealistic and ambitious, finds her way into the stuffy literary department of a regional non-profit theater. She has just earned her MFA in dramaturgy, and hence, according to Jim Foley (Warren Kelley), the theater's jaded, middle-aged dramaturge, is "completely unemployable." But, after making what Jim disparagingly calls "kissy face" at general manager Big Mike Braschi (Mark Doherty)—who is exactly like his name suggests—she lands a coveted, unpaid internship reading through Jim's piles of unsolicited second-rate scripts. She's eager to learn from Jim, and they grow fond of each other in an expletive-filled, pseudo-parental relationship. It's not Jim's work that she likes, however. It's his job.

"This is the sort of play small, urban theaters drool over; contemporary, small cast, no set, maybe the occasional gay character," Jim says in reference to a script he pulls out of his pile of 3,000 for Heidi. For the audience, however, the implication of this statement stretches to the very play they are watching. John Morogiello's new dramatic comedy with the Abingdon Theatre Company, Blame it on Beckett at the Dorothy Strelsin Theatre (through October 30) is a witty parody of the non-profit theater company that produces the play itself. As ambitions are entangled with personal passions, as a sexual liaison (or two) dictates departmental rearrangement, the performance provides an intimate look into the world of non-profit theater that supposedly champions the new work of American playwrights with a stream of mostly-tasteful self-reference. There's a ton of pithy industry humor and a prodding, formulaic breakdown of how non-profits structure their performance lineups and suck up to subscribers.

Aside from an excessively cheeky callback to the title in one of the last lines, Samuel Beckett seemingly has very little to do with Blame it on Beckett. Jim blames Beckett for the "death of plot," the proliferation of bad playwrights and the stacks of bad, derivative plays that line the walls of the literary office. What Jim wants is strong, tried and true dramatic structure—he calls himself "the great white structure hunter." This two-act play itself reflects as much with conventionality, standard exposition and tidy resolution. Yet at the same time there is something very Beckettian about the symmetry of the two acts and the consistently self-referential meta-theatricality. Many misinterpret Beckett's work to be structure-less; even his 25-second play Breath, which critics often say dances the fine line between sheer brilliance and utter pretentiousness, has a rising action, climax and falling action. Beckett masked structure with subtlety and nuance; Morogiello makes it blatantly apparent.

(Photo: Anthony J. Merced)

10/17/11 4:07pm

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They’re South Brooklyn and Queens’ narcotics squads—they stop, they frisk, they drop a little baggy of coke in your pocket when they find none. Former narcotics detective Stephen Anderson testified before the Brooklyn Supreme Court last week to a common practice known as “flaking”—planting cocaine on innocent people to boost “buy and bust” numbers, the Daily News reports.

Anderson was arrested in 2008 when surveillance footage caught him “flaking” four men in a Queens bar. After settling on a plea bargain with prosecutors, Anderson told Justice Gustin Reichbach that he was just trying to help a buddy out.

You see, Henry Tavarez, a fellow cop, wasn’t exactly making the buy and bust quotas that supervisors demanded (which apparently don’t exist, according to city lawyers). “Tavarez was… was worried about getting sent back [to patrol] and, you know, the supervisors getting on his case,” Anderson told the court.

“It was something I was seeing a lot of,” he said, “whether it was from supervisors or undercovers and even investigators.”

To date, more than 300 drug bust have been tossed out and the city has doled out more than $1.2 million to settle the false arrests.  Two brothers that were victimized by Anderson were given $300,000.

09/26/11 3:34pm

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The NYPD seems finally to be getting “with it”—”it” being the Marijuana Reform Act of 1977 that decriminalized the possession of up to 25 grams of pot in New York City as long as it wasn’t “burning” or “open to public view.”

On Friday, WNYC published an internal memo issued by police commissioner Ray Kelly calling for an end to a loophole that has resulted in record high pot busts, costing taxpayers $75 million annually. Kelly wrote: “A crime will not be charged to an individual who is requested or compelled to engage in the behavior that results in the public display of marihuana.” (That’s the Anglicized spelling adopted during the Mexican-ization of the substance in the first half of the last century, which Kelly probably picked up as a wee lad watching irresistible exploitation films in the 1930s).

This past April we ran a story investigating the record high number of pot busts in NYC under Mayor Bloomberg and the racial imbalance—86% of those arrested for misdemeanor pot possession were black or Latino—that goes with it. One source, going by ”B.” was victim of the loophole in question:

B. rides his bike over to Bed-Stuy like he usually does every week or so. He locks it up on a corner post and goes up to his “guy’s” house. Five minutes later, he’s out of there, hops back on and rides off. Except he doesn’t get very far. An NYPD cruiser pulls him over for no apparent reason. “We know what you’re doing, empty your fucking pockets,” they yell, “you won’t get in trouble if you cooperate.” He hasn’t done anything wrong at this point, and they never tell him why he was pulled over, but he complies. “I did what they told me thinking I’d get off easy,” B. says, pulling out two $20 bags in the process. “Nope! They booked me for having it ‘open to public view’.

Call it coercion, call it extortion, call it trampling the Fifth Amendment, but Commissioner Kelly now calls it simply “improper.” In B’s case, had this memo gone out sooner, he would have been issued a violation, a ticket, instead of arrested and fingerprinted for a misdemeanor.

Last week the Voice reported that Mayor Bloomberg, over the hump on his third and presumably last term, was making desperate attempts to salvage his legacy by throwing money at the “black and brown men” he’s been locking up in record numbers over the last decade. Could it be that the NYPD is extending the olive branch to potheads as a way to placate outcry over some of the egregious (and just plain zany) bullshit they’ve been up to over the past few months?