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‘Connections’ kicks off summer theater fest season
BY MARTIN DENTON (of nytheatre.com and indietheaternow.com) | New York City’s busy summer theater festival season kicks off on May 29 with Planet Connections, a four-week celebration of independent theater and social consciousness that is now in its fifth year.
Its official moniker is “Planet Connections Theatre Festivity” — and that last word is just one thing that sets this event apart from the many other theatrical marathons that dot (dominate!) our landscape here in the Big Apple from June through August.
So what’s different about Planet Connections? This: the fact that all of the shows presented, in addition to being interesting new works spanning many genres and styles of the indie theater landscape, also champion specific causes. Each show is a benefactor for a nonprofit organization — and these entities will be represented in talkbacks, promotions, information sessions and fundraising throughout the Festivity.
Among the recipients of Planet Connections shows’ largesse this year are my own (The New York Theatre Experience, Inc.) along with many others — ranging from The LIT Fund to The Ali Forney Center to The Blue Green Alliance to the ASCPA. You should definitely check out the information about these charitable groups on Planet Connections’ website (planetconections.org).
But of course, artistically, the Festivity is well worth your time! I’ve been a regular attendee at all the previous editions, and I’ve met some truly exceptional playwrights, directors, actors and other theater artists along the way. Works by a diverse and talented roster of playwrights, ranging from Yvette Heyliger and Duncan Pflaster to Jason S. Grossman and Kimberly Pau have been seen at Planet Connections, and many of the best scripts from past years are assembled at Indie Theater Now (indietheaternow.com/Collection/Index/planet-connections).
This year’s Festivity runs from May 29 through June 23 at two East Village venues — the Robert Moss Theater and the Gene Frankel Theater. This is a fun, vibrant neighborhood with many shops, bars and restaurants where you can fill the time before, after and in-between the shows you catch at the festival.
There are 30 mainstage productions in Planet Connections 2013, along with a variety of special events and readings (including a special gala event on June 16th featuring readings of short plays by Neil LaBute, John Patrick Shanley and Winter Miller, at the Signature Center at Pershing Square). Because this is a relatively compact event, in terms of geography and size (but not in terms of timeframe), it is very possible for an audience member to see virtually everything the Festivity has to offer.
Here are a few of the works in this year’s Festivity that I know enough about to comment on, based on experience with the artists and companies involved. Don’t limit yourself to what I talk about here, though. Check out the variety and range of work and find subjects, styles and worthy causes that appeal to your sensibility.
“9mm America” — This devised theater piece from Girl Be Heard, about violence in America, was created by 10 young women of high-school age. Director Ashley Marinaccio, a passionate and dedicated activist/artist, is a Planet Connections veteran. Expect thought-provoking, raw, documentary-style theater.
“Artaud…mon momo” — Roi “Bubi” Escudero is a one-of-a-kind artist, with a deep knowledge of the avant-garde, a limitless imagination and a penchant for never repeating herself. This is her second look at the ethos of “Theater of Cruelty” inventor Antonin Artaud. There won’t be anything in the festival remotely like it.
“Dragon” — Articulate Theatre Company is launching with this new play by Jenny Connell Davis that looks to blend realism and mythology within the framework of a timeless love story. Director and company founder Cat Parker has been responsible for some excellent productions over the years, including the NYC premiere of “Sister Cities” back in 2007.
“Fix Number Six” — If nytheatre.com’s annual Person of the Year recognition means anything to you, then this is a show to see. This new play by Jerry Polner is about a travel agent who longs to be a spy. It’s directed by Michael Criscuolo, and its cast includes Arthur Aulisi and Alyssa Simon. All three of these luminaries have been People of the Year, which means that we think they’re top-notch artists.
“Straight Faced Lies” — This is the fourth year in a row that Mark Jason Williams will have a new script in Planet Connections (each of the other three was nominated for a playwriting award, with 2011’s “The Other Day” winning that honor). Mark is a smart, sensitive, courageous writer — and I expect this new piece, set at a family Thanksgiving dinner, to be one of this year’s highlights.
“Subject 62” — Rhode Island-based Lenny Schwartz is another four-time Festivity contributor. His latest play, which he calls his most personal, follows last year’s somewhat sensational “Accidental Incest,” 2011’s “Fidelity” and 2010’s “The Six Month Cure.” Expect an earnest treatment of a serious topic — how the onset of illness affects one family’s life.
“The Greatest Pirate Story (N)ever Told!” — On a lighter note we find this new musical by Christopher Leidenfrost, whose contributions to Planet Connections over the years include his award-winning starring roles as Whizzer in last year’s revival of “Falsettos” and appearing in drag in the gay marriage drama “The Declaration.” This new show ought to be just as it sounds — a fun, musical romp with plenty of audience interaction.
“What Do You Mean” — This entry from Ego Actus marks my first time seeing a play written by Bruce A. Kraemer. He is usually a designer and producer, so I’m excited to see him stretch in this meta tale of a person who is writing a play for a festival but doesn’t know what to write about. His longtime partner, Joan Kane, directs.
As I said, these represent just a sampling of what’s on offer at the Festivity. Browse their websites, check out previews and reviews on nytheatre.com and elsewhere and keep your eyes and ears open as you shuttle between the festival venues for audience buzz. Planet Connections is a fun event that’s much less intense than FringeNYC, yet still packed with entertainment value. I’m hoping to do one or more talkbacks and am looking forward to taking in as much as I can during the festival’s four weeks.
May 29-June 23
At the Robert Moss Theatre (440 Lafayette St., near Astor Place)
And the Gene Frankel Theatre (24 Bond St., corner of Lafayette St.)
For tickets ($18), call 866-811-4111 or visit planetconnections.org