REVIEW: PTP/NYC presents enthralling family mystery, ‘The House in Scarsdale’

Dan has a complicated relationship with his estranged family.

Director Christian Parker of ‘The House in Scarsdale’ Photo courtesy of PTC/NYC

Directed by Christian Parker and written by playwright and actor Dan O’Brien, Dan embarks on more than just a spiritual journey in The House in Scarsdale: a memoir for the stageThe House in Scarsdale is the third play within Potomac Theatre Project(PTP/NYC’s) virtual series that has been running each weekend from September 24 through Sunday, October 18.

 Dan O’Brien’s The House in Scarsdale streamed from Thursday, October 8 through Sunday, October 11 and Caryl Churchill’s Far Away continues through Sunday, October 18 on PTC/NYC’s YouTube channel.   Viewings are free, but donations are welcome to support PTC/NYC with ten percent of the proceeds supporting The National Black Theatre.  Click here for the complete list of productions in PTP/NYC’s virtual series.

 In what can be described as a play within a prospective play, The House in Scarsdale visits the darkest of dysfunction as Dan, a journalist, visits various family members and others to learn more about his family’s past for his upcoming autobiographical play.  Audiences travel alongside Dan on his journey from the Garden State Parkway to as far as Europe as he investigates a possible family secret. What makes this show unique is not only is it a mystery, but as the details unfold, how much of the truth do you really want to know about your family?  Every family has their problems, but some secrets cannot be fathomed. 

The House in Scarsdale stars the show’s own playwright Dan O’Brien as Dan and Alex Draper portrays several dynamic characters throughout the production.  Draper seamlessly sinks right into each role, navigating an assortment of colorful characters from Dan’s resentful grandmother to his eccentric uncle.  Draper is expressive and spirited, clearly enjoying each transition.  His conversations with O’Brien have moments of dark humor, relatable family banter, and a good dose of stark, stirring honesty. 

The show is figuratively and literally on a journey to learn more about Dan’s troubled family, a family so dysfunctional that poor Dan has been cast out of his family circle hence its ironic opening quote by John Cheever, ‘Come back, come back, my wretched, feeble and unwanted child.’ Dan understandably wants to know why. As Dan’s extended family recall his family’s wild tendencies and various psychoses, Dan’s low key and unassuming demeanor makes one think that perhaps he has been through much more than he lets on. 

Dan is a quiet, inquisitive soul and depicts his emotional detachment with a skilled subtlety.  His conflicted nature between trepidation and yearning is fascinating as he ventures deeper into his family history becoming so invested and anxious about what he might find, he even visits a psychic.  Some of his family recollections are universal and lighthearted and every family has a degree of unhealthy dysfunction, but other memories are dreadfully concerning. 

So, as some answers come to light and more questions arise, how much is Dan like his family and how much of the story can be trusted?  The House in Scarsdale lures you in and leaves you engrossed in its outcome, hoping for a light at the end of this tunnel.

Potomac Theatre Project or PTC/NYC is located at 330 West 16th Street in New York City. Click here for more information and how to support PTP/NYC’s current and upcoming productions.

Itamar Kubovy of modern dance troupe, ‘Pilobolus,’ discusses fascinating footwork and Celebrity Series of Boston return

Ever since Celebrity Series of Boston’s annual, free season opener Let’s Dance Boston at Dewey Square on September 13 featuring dancers that brought the audience to its feet, the 2017-18 has been a non-stop celebration.  Adding to the excitement from Friday, October 27 through Sunday, October 29, international modern dance troupe, Pilobolus, returns to Boston to share their distinctive, always fascinating moves in Pilobolus Maximus: Beyond the Limits of Dance at the Boch Center Shubert Theatre in Boston, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

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Photo courtesy of Grant Halverson/Celebrity Series of Boston

Pilobolus has taken the stage in over sixty countries and thrilled audiences with television appearances at the Academy Awards, the Oprah Winfrey Show and the Olympics as well as made film appearances in Little Miss Sunshine, The Devil Wears Prada and Snakes on a Plane.  Executive Producer of Pilobolus, Itamar Kubovy, discussed Pilobolus’s fascinating footwork, its unique name, and the troupe’s love for Boston.

Sleepless Critic:  This is your 12th performance with Celebrity Series of Boston.  You must know Boston pretty well.

Itamar Kubovy:  We love performing in Boston and that’s not just lip service. We’ve always found our audience to teach us a huge amount about our work. The laughs, gasps, and paper rattling teach us about the work we are making.  In Boston, we encounter a crowd that makes us better at what we do and allows us to sharpen our performances.

Celebrity Series of Boston - Pilobolus Maximus

From the program, ‘Branches’ Photo courtesy of Ben McKeown

 SC:  Pilobolus is named after speedy barnyard fungus.  In the dance, I can see the symbolism behind the name.  Is there an interesting story behind it?

IK:  Jonathan Wolken, the co-founder who named the company, had a scientist dad studying the Pilobolus fungus in his biology lab, an organism about ¼ of an inch tall that grows in cow dung and has a large eye at its tip that always leans toward light. When the time is right to reproduce, the fungus shoots its head off of its body at the fastest acceleration known in nature. This alacrity and attraction to the light inspired Jonathan to name their first dance and the fledgling company after the phototropic fungus.

SC:  It seems like a quite a physically demanding job for these dancers.  What kind of routine keeps the dancers in shape and how do they best prepare for a performance?

IK:  When our dancers are in the studio, they work 9 to 5 Monday through Friday. They are lifting each other and working with tremendous physical intensity for close to 40 hours a week. The additional prep involves body maintenance, stretching, group work, and yoga.  Regarding the prep right before the show, we warm-up with an open curtain so the audience coming in watches the dancers move on the stage.  Both the audience and dancers need some time to prepare and we try to share that time. It makes the show all the more exciting when the lights go down.

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International dance troupe, Pilobolus in Pilibolus Maximus: Beyond the Limits of Dance   Photo courtesy of Grant Halverson

SC:  I imagine live performances and sometimes dangerous stunts can hold some surprises every once in a while.

IK:  They do, but the work these people do together day in and day out really limits the risk based on the trust they build between one another. Most importantly, these dancers know how to instantly adjust when something goes wrong. While we certainly have our moments of injury, we have a great deal of confidence going into every show.

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From the program, ‘On the Nature of Things’ Photo courtesy of Ben McKeown

SC:  Improvising is invaluable.  How is trust developed between other members of the group?

IK:  Trust is mysterious, but there is no doubt in my mind that the physical giving of one’s weight and balance to another person, literally putting yourself entirely in their hands over and over again speeds that process up.  Some of the principals in which our process is based is the human physical connection by sharing, giving, and taking weight.  Trust is a powerful by-product of caring touch.

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From the program, ‘Echo in the Valley’ Photo courtesy of Ben McKeown

Pilobolus Maximus:  Beyond the Limits of Dance will take the Boch Center Shubert Theatre stage at 265 Tremont Street in Boston, Massachusetts from Friday, October 27 through 29, as part of their national tour.  A free, post artist performance artist talk moderated by Peter DiMuro of the Dance Complex will be held on opening night. Click here for more information and for tickets.  Click here for more information on Celebrity Series of Boston, their full schedule, and how to support them during their 79th season.  Learn more about their season and get updates through Facebook and Twitter.