Enjoyable Double Bill for the Downtown Urban Arts

DOWNTOWN URBAN ARTS FESTIVAL

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THE STRONG MAN BY J.E. Robinson
CORPORATESTHENICS BY Baindu Dafina Kalokoh

Review by Michael D’Antoni

Any theatre aficionado should, at some point in their quest for good theater, attend a show at the Theater 80 St. Marks if for nothing more than its rich history and quaint appeal for theater goers alike.

strong man“THE STRONG MAN”
The evening started out rather pleasantly with a performance of  “The Strong Man”” a four character all black male show that is set in South Carolina in the 1930’s. A two line conversation between two of the characters half way through the show sets the tone and says it all about the show and it’s message.

When the character of Pearl says  “Colored folks life have no value!” Victor retorts “Colored folks lives only have no value if they say they have no value!” These are the strongest and most poignant lines in the show!

Those two simple lines say it all about the worth of the human soul as well as the overall value of life in general! For they exude the strength in the premise that there is truly an inherent value to life no matter what your race, creed or color!

Moreover, the juxtaposition of white vs black in the old south was amply portrayed through humorous antidotes and visual portrayals of what it might be like growing up and living in the South during this post depression time period. The very essence of poverty and the richness of spirit widely conveyed.

Although the play is about the Crabtree gang who at their peak, took the life of many a man. They have reached their crossroads as a gang and now face the ultimate question… Is the leader strong enough to take the life of one of his own gang members?

But the story is more than that. It’s delves into the actual value of man and the overall worth of an individual life. This is best exemplified when the main character of Victor (who has done his fair share of killing throughout his career) is now prepared to take his own life as he is personally deals with his worsening debilitating affliction (onset of Parkinson’s) and feels he is no longer the strong man he needs to be for all. He would rather end his own life then not be strong for those around him.

Conversationally, at times the play is a somewhat verbose and there is a bit of a disconnect between plots and sub plots as the actors tend to sometimes fade in their projection of important and relevant story lines, but overall the play delivers the message.

The character of “Geech” played by Jay Ward stutters and although he comes across as the simpleton in the show he is by all accounts the last man standing despite his physical (and maybe even mental) afflictions is the actual Strong Man in this show. Convincingly well played by Mr. Ward who brings warmth to the otherwise lonely and sorry Geech.

The dichotomy (weak vs strong) on stage is the Parkinson stricken barber Victor who absorbs the abuse from fellow mildly successful characters as one who caters to white men as the means of his success. Aptly defended, Victor remains steadfast in his Machiavellian means by which he has achieved somewhat comfortable lifestyle all the while battling his personal physical affliction through his journey! Mr. Arnez is consistent and wholesome as he creates a loveable character out of a has been thug who now is faced with the ultimate question of life or death. One can not help feeling sorry for the old fool, so to speak.

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“CORPORATESTHENICS”
In this very perky and energetic virtually one women show the infomercial local TV celebrity “Candy Dandy” treats her loyal TV viewers to another episode of how to cope as a black women in a  corporate working environment through experimental exercise and yoga techniques.

From unsuccessfully climbing the corporate ladder to fearlessly climbing Mount Everest, Black Television Network’s favorite physical trainer premieres the newest edition to her record selling fitness program. She believes that her strength and conditioning techniques are essential to breaking glass ceilings in every profession and that her success is based on how many new video orders she receives while on the air.

Simply put,  although she garnered a number of laughs from the women in the audience vis-a-vis personalizing a few of Candys unique and uncomfortable workplace encounters and situations, I was left feeling that I just sat through a bad infomercial one who’s only time slot could be obtained on some obscure cable channel at 3am in the morning! Although Ms. Kalokah who plays Candy never missed a beat her story telling was eye candy while her perky demeanor throughout the show left me physically and mentally exhausted as I left the theater.

Finally allow me to side bar for a moment and take this review of the aforementioned shows in a new direction. An addendum if you will. Prior to my theater appearance, I discovered a pleasant surprise in the East Village! This surprise came in the form of an Italian Restaurant called ” Tableside Italian Cook Shoppe” (345 East 6th @ 1st Ave).
This quaint yet luxurious Italian restaurant boasts a rather impressive array of Italian foods and unique wine list. The owner Anthony has compiled quiet an impressive array of authentic Italian dishes (like the muscles in a thick nicely spiced red sauce or the smooth and luscious pasta putenesca over a shortened Busiate macaroni typical of Calabria & Sicily).
No matter what you select all happily can be paired with a white or red wine from the establishments short but very impressive wine selection.
Decorated beautifully and welcoming “Tableside” is very reasonably priced and a comfortable place to enjoy a great meal.
Anthony does it like no one else with his warm charm and gracious staff (special kudos to Sean the bartender who is an absolute gentlemen)
Anyone visiting the East Village (for whatever reason) must stop by  “Tableside” for dinner! Be prepared to sit back, relax and enjoy the hospitality and awesome food that is offered!  It’s pure Italian Bistro in the heart of the East Village!
In closing, as I scurried out (to catch the shows I was charged to review), I could not help noticing that there was not a table to be had in the place! Make reservations, call ahead or simply wait at the bar the food is worth it!  Tell Anthony that Michael told you to call!

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