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TWICE THE FUN

for The Brooklyn Paper
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Teatro Experimental Blue Amigos has moved to Prospect Heights’ Impact Theater, where it shares space with the Impact Theater Company. The move makes Teatro Experimental the only Latin American, experimental, bilingual theater company in Brooklyn.

"We were performing ’Ataque de Nervios’ there as a touring group when [Impact Theater artistic director] Tim Lewis approached us," said Teatro Experimental executive producer Kathy Tejada.

Lewis said he was impressed with the uniqueness and industry of the group.

"They’re always working on something. They produce a lot of plays, like we do," he told GO Brooklyn. "They have a whole variety of different plays. I thought we would complement each other."

"Ataque de Nervios" ("Nervous Breakdown"), was a series of vignettes in Spanish and English directed by Hector Luis Rivera. With humor and reflection, these vignettes explored the lack of communication, the loss of identity and values, and the materialism often found in human relationships.

"We didn’t have a great crowd, but we saw the potential for building an audience base in the community," said Tejada.

Lewis was impressed with the production, and also by the fact that "they’re a very nice group of people."

That was back in June. Since Rivera, Carmen Maldonado and Ruben P. Morales founded the company in 1988, Teatro Experimental (TEBA) had "always maintained a character as a touring company," said Tejada. Now Lewis’ offer of an intimate and cozy alternative space was one the company could not refuse.

TEBA’s first in-residence production was a revival in August of "Quien Esta Loco Aqui?" ("Who’s Crazy Here?") a play by Cuban-American playwright Tony Betancourt. It was a comedy of errors in which a so-called detective investigates a so-called crime.

TEBA’s next production, performed last month, was "A Solid Home," by Elena Garro, performed in English and directed by Rivera. "A Solid Home" explores life after death as a family of dead people gather in their common tomb, their memories of life growing fainter and the promise of paradise not yet attained.

"We want to expose the public to different kinds of Hispanic theater and to expose the Hispanic community to different literary and cultural influences," explains Tejada.

Beginning Oct. 18, TEBA will present "Amantina," "the story of a displaced people and their forced exodus from their land," said Tejada.

In 1998, TEBA presented a Spanish translation of Aeschylus’ "Seven Against Thebes" at Theater for the New City. In 1999, the company staged Shakespeare’s "A Midsummer Night’s Dream" in Spanish at the New York International Fringe Festival, and last year they presented "Habladores" ("The Talkers") an adaptation of a play by Cervantes, at the same venue.
Often TEBA presents the classics in a non-traditional way - using slides and film in a multimedia approach.

TEBA is also committed to exploring current issues. This year their contribution to the Fringe Festival was "Flamenco Twist," which Tejada calls "a surrealist new version of the Latino view of the American dream or nightmare." Beginning Oct. 25, TEBA will bring "Flamenco Twist" to Brooklyn’s Impact Theater.

TEBA is also dedicated to community outreach; the company has appeared in senior and community centers, as well as public libraries in Brooklyn. Last year, TEBA performed "La Brujita Verde" ("The Green Witch") at the Sunset Park branch of the Brooklyn Public Library.

TEBA’s efforts have not gone unrecognized. In 1996, the company was honored with the prestigious OBIE award for being one of the most avant-garde Latin companies in New York City. TEBA productions, workshops, readings, conferences and seminars have received nominations and awards from the Hispanic Critics Association (Latin Ace Awards), the Applause Award, the Euterpe Award, the Fontana de Trevi Award and the International Leadership Award.

Despite having a new home in Brooklyn, Tejada says, "We’ll still keep our touring flavor." Appearing in other venues may well help TEBA bring more people to their Brooklyn home and make more people aware of both TEBA and the Impact Theater at 190 Underhill Ave. Judging from the sparse audiences this reviewer has observed at Impact Theater productions, this would be a welcome turn of events.

Of course, simultaneous touring and in-residence programs mean actors may sometimes perform two different shows on the same date. It’s a daunting schedule, but, Tejada says, "We take a lot of vitamins."

 

Review: ’Gypsy’

Forty-two years after "Gypsy" opened on Broadway, it’s hard to believe that despite her tour-de-force performance as Mama Rose, Ethel Merman never won a Tony for her starring role. Nor did Merman’s co-star Jack Klugman, composer Jule Styne, lyricist Stephen Sondheim or author Arthur Laurents capture the prestigious Tony.

Ironically, both Angela Lansbury and Tyne Daly won Tony Awards for their performances as Mama Rose in 1974 and 1989 revivals. And of course, the role has remained coveted, from film (Rosalind Russell, 1962) to television (Bette Midler, 1993) to revivals across the country including the Narrows Community Theatre’s June production.

By now the story, based on the memoirs of stripper Gypsy Rose Lee, has become a classic. It is largely a portrait of Mama Rose, the brassy stage mother who channels her own unfulfilled ambitions into the careers of her daughters June and Louise.

When Louise elopes with the lead dancer in Mama Rose’s troupe, she focuses her attention on the seemingly talentless Louise and discovers Louise does indeed have talent, although in a previously unsuspected area.

But it is also the story of Gypsy herself, the quiet, undervalued daughter who rises to fame, a la Cinderella, and the stalwart Herbie, a tower of strength with a stomach ulcer.

Truth be told, "Gypsy" has something for everyone - a touching but not schmaltzy plot, a score that captures tawdry vaudeville, raucous burlesque and the sentimental ballad, and corny but captivating dance numbers.

The Heights players’ production, directed by Ed Healy, stars Helen Fein as Rose, opposite Thomas Tyler as Herbie, her manager and wannabe husband, and Gina Wolff as her daughter Louise, who becomes the famous stripper Gypsy Rose Lee. It’s a formidable triumvirate.

Fein calls Mama Rose her "dream role." Indeed if the part wasn’t made for her, she was certainly made for the part. Mama Rose calls for a singer-actress with a strong voice and a vibrant personality - someone who knows how to laugh, cry and remain defiant despite defeat. Fein’s lead roles in musicals like "Funny Girl," "Call Me Madame" and "Hello Dolly!" have all established her as a bright star in the Heights Players’ galaxy. As Mama Rose she is brilliant.

The versatile Wolff now proves that she is not only a fine singer and dancer, a talented choreographer and a capable costume designer, but also an actress of considerable substance, and incidentally, not a bad stripper should they ever bring back burlesque.

Tyler, who for many is better known as a Heights Players director, brings an exceptional sensitivity to the role of Herbie that makes this reviewer want to see him on stage more often. His quiet dignity, good humor and compassion all lead to the inevitable question, how did Rose ever let him slip through her fingers?

Of the many supporting roles in "Gypsy," particular note must be made of James Martinelli as Tulsa, who performs the stop-the-show dance number "All I Need is the Girl"; Lauren Allison, Jessica Kurland and Jennifer Weisenberg as the three strippers Tessie Tura, Mazeppa and Electra (whose "You Gotta Have a Gimmick" brings down the house); and Ellen Copaken who makes her Heights Players and New York debuts as the adorably awkward and funny Agnes, one of the girls in Mama Rose’s ensemble.

Albert Walsh has designed some snappy costumes, and musical director Steve Velardi and choreographer Eileen Delgado have collaborated to provide memorable vaudeville numbers such as "Baby June and Her Newsboys," "Dainty June and Her Farmhands" and Gypsy’s various strips.

Although it might be thought that with such foolproof material as "Gypsy" a director can’t go wrong, Healy deserves credit for successfully bringing a musical of such extravagant proportions to the small, intimate stage of the Heights Players. He manages to tighten up the play without toning it down.

When Baby June (Elexis Goldberg) and Baby Louise (Katy McQuillan) open the show with "May We Entertain You," it’s a pretty good clue of what’s in store. Gypsy is pure entertainment.


Teatro Experimental Blue Amigos (TEBA) will perform a Spanish language production "Amantina" Oct. 18 ­ 28. Performances are Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 pm, and Sundays at 3 pm. Tickets are $10. TEBA@Impact Theater is located at 190 Underhill Ave. For reservations, call (718) 848-9697 or (917) 750-5684.

"Gypsy" plays though Oct. 21, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm, and Sundays at 2 pm. Tickets are $15, seniors and students $13. The Heights Players theater is located at 26 Willow Place. For reservations, call (718) 237-2752.

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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