Monday, February 2, 2009

Blanche Survives Katrina in a FEMA Trailer Named Desire


By Mark Sam Rosenthal. Directed by Todd Parmley. SoHo Playhouse. (CLOSED)

Mark Sam Rosenthal's solo show, a hit at last year's NY International Fringe Festival, imagines the Tennessee Williams heroine picking through the ruins of flood-ravaged N'awlins. Some critics warmed to Rosenthal's politically incorrect drag aesthetic, and saw it as a sincere tribute to his native region, while others considered it a pretty weak cocktail.

Backstage A
(David Sheward) Mark Sam Rosenthal, who wrote this sharp solo show and plays Blanche, has given his heroine three dimensions. Though she is a derivative figure, often quoting Tennessee Williams' original dialogue, Rosenthal's Blanche has compassion, courage, and an indomitable will to survive. He performs her as a complete person, not just a drag creation. Rosenthal captures the style of the original script with delightful embellishments on contemporary events...This Blanche is both a loving tribute to a dazzling character and an unforgiving political commentary.

Time Out NY A
(Billie Cohen) Mark Sam Rosenthal has dreamed up a thoughtful, laugh-out-loud story based on one film icon’s descent into reality: hilarious, a little bit heartbreaking and (at the risk of adding another blurbable adjective) really smart...A Baton Rouge native with a personal connection to the storm, Rosenthal dons various blond wigs to match Blanche’s mood swings and indelicately jokes about race, poverty and government ineptitude. He’s a convincing impersonator, extrapolating a familiar character into new but logical territory...Like all great comedy, it’s funny because it’s true—and even better because it’s so absurd. A
(J Jordan) Blanche is the same Blanche we've known and loved—alone, victimized, defenseless, vulnerable—or is she?...My initial fears that this show would be charming but campy were easily assuaged by the triumphant Rosenthal and smart, snappy director Todd Parmley who has resisted the cliches of a man in drag in a dream role. Instead they develop Blanche into a real person with real fears and a truly dire predicament...The real star of the designer show, though, may just be the wigs...created by J. Jared Janas and Rob Greene...Blanche Survives Katrina in a FEMA Trailer Named Desire is at once funny and strange, and, yes, sad.

The New York Times B
(Anita Gates) If you are an admirer of Blanche DuBois, you know her voice when you hear it. And Mark Sam Rosenthal has captured it in his one-act...So is “Blanche Survives Katrina,” written and performed by a white Southern male, racist? It certainly flirts with offense, ridiculing black characters’ names and being flippant about poverty and violence...Most of the time, luckily, the joke is on Blanche, clueless about the changed world...But “Blanche Survives Katrina,” which aspires to be something more than a drag sketch, never fully takes shape...It has an affably nutty festival aura, but the core is missing.

Talk Entertainment C+
(Oscar E. Moore) What an excellent idea for an absurd, off-the-wall, quasi docu-drama with serious comic overtones: having one of the theatres best known heroines, Blanche DuBois...plopped right down in the middle of hurricane Katrina...Good idea gone wrong...There are moments of pure hilarity and moments of pure pathos and lots of lulls in between. I was confused as to whether he’s Blanche or a guy who thinks he’s Blanche. I expected to see a full blown Blanche make an entrance. Disappointed was I...Blanche has some very tough and racist things to say about her fellow refugees “they all looked like someone’s maid and yet the place was filthy.”

Theatermania C
(Dan Balcazo) Its one-joke premise wears thin quickly and the solo show feels far too long at just 70 minutes...Rosenthal's performance is animated, but never reaches the over-the-top campy heights which would make the show more engaging, nor the tragic depths that would make us feel for Blanche's plight. Moreover, as Angelina Margolis' costume design does not provide him with any kind of feminine clothing--he's dressed in a tank top and camouflage shorts for the majority of the performance--Rosenthal also faces an uphill battle in creating a successful illusion of inhabiting Blanche DuBois. His best moment is late in the play, as Blanche addresses a gay and lesbian Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. It's both funny and sad, even if it isn't as poignant as Rosenthal probably intended.

New Theater Corps C
(Ilana Novick) Ends up dissolving into a weak parody of an iconic character, failing to add insight into either the character of Blanche or the horrifying events she and so many others faced during Hurricane Katrina. The tiny set conveys the wreckage Blanche walks through on the way to the Superdome: jackets and scarves draped listlessly over a Do Not Enter sign that is sadly reminiscent of FEMA’s message post-hurricane...At best, Blanche Survives Hurricane Katrina is light-hearted camp: she refers to herself as the “au lait” in a “sea of cafĂ©,” and runs, flustered and furious, to her social worker after hearing her temporary roommate’s favorite song, “My Humps”...Rosenthal’s idea is a good one—using Blanche’s devotion to alcohol, make-up, and men as a way to defiantly slap glamour on an extremely unglamorous event. However, his execution isn’t glamorous, it’s just trashy.

Offoffonline D
(Edward Karam) A dramatic stream-of-consciousness effort that not everyone may follow as Blanche encounters an assortment of characters and experiments with crack (and indulges in alcohol). Blanche Survives Katrina… isn’t a drag show, though it reeks of camp. Rosenthal doesn’t trying [sic] to disguise his masculinity...The script is merely a meditation on the character in different circumstances, and one may surmise that Blanche embodies poor New Orleans itself...Anyone who attends Rosenthal's sequel may well decide that Stanley had every right to put Blanche away.

Backstage A 13; A 13; TONY A 13; The New York Times B 10; Talk Entertainment C+ 8; Theatermania C 7; New Theatre Corps C 7; Offoffonline D 4; 75/8=9.38 (B-)

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