Critical Mass

As always, photo by Ken Stein/Runs With Scissor

First of all, we are very excited to be named the Pick of the Week on OffOffOnlineThe great review is by Mitch Montgomery. It’s the first review so far in which I feel like the writer has a grasp on what we’re getting at, looking at what’s there as opposed to what’s not. And another encouraging comment from Goldstar:

“at first you’re like, what the hell? but as the play goes on, you laugh hysterically and really get into the stories. the theatre is extremely small and intimate – you can see every expression on ever actor’s face at all times. because this was such an itimate, positive, unique experience, i plan to see more plays at the brick.”

It’s wonderful to hear such nice things not only about the content, but about the experience

However, art is subjective (or so I’ve heard), and we’ve received three negative reviews as well. Each of them I think approaches the show from same angle, and therefore has the same problem with the show, despite their individual variations.

Here’s the Time Out review.

Here’s the Backstage review.

Here’s the Aaron Riccio’s review (posted in several places).

I’m disappointed by these reviews, which tend to discuss what the writers wish we had done rather than what we’re actually doing. Something about short-form reviews (and I freelance as a reviewer for Time Out, so I’ve experienced this firsthand), is that it thwarts nuance. Some of the things we’re being criticized for are overt choices, but the low word count forces them to be treated as mistakes or overall ineptness, which needless to say is not an opinion we share.

That being said, in certain circumstances I find myself wondering if these three critics were watching the same show as some of the positive responses. It’s discouraging how the call to imagination that we make with this show (and with many Piper shows) goes unanswered by so many. To me, theatre is not a closed piece of content to be fed wholesale to audiences; rather, it’s an invitation to a collaboration, in which the work begun by the artist is complemented and completed by the work done in the mind of the viewer. None of the negative reviews seems to view the relationship in this way, but rather examine the show as an object to be held at arm’s length.

Ah well. As Matt Freeman put it in a recent blog post regarding his current show, When Is a Clock, “One way I know we must be doing something right: no one, not reviewers, not audiences, not even those in the production, have a mild opinion about both the play and the production.” I embrace this diversity of opinion, even it does get a bit overwhelming at times.

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More Blog Love

We received a wonderful little capsule review from Johanna Adams at BlindSquirrel Bloggings, which you can read here.  Oh what the hell, I’ll quote it as well:

Babylon Babylon. This is perhaps the best concept for a theater piece I have seen since attending a storefront production of Mary Zimmerman’s Arabian Nights 13 years ago in Chicago. Author/director/performer Jeff Lewonczyk gets high points for scope of vision and audacity with this. The action follows a group of townswomen in Babylon who prostitute themselves at the temple of Ishtar on the eve of Babylon’s fall to the Persian army. The tone is largely comic, although some serious and mythic notes creep into the script. The costumes and set have a delightful thrift-store pagentry to them and the 30+ member cast is gorgeously committed and adorably enthusiastic about their roles. It runs a bit long (2 hours 15 minutes with no intermission on the night I went), and there is some uneveness in the script– but there is a lot to enjoy about this quirky and unlikely assemblage. I loved Hope Cartelli as the priestess to Ishtar, Mike Criscuolo as a hapless prince of Babylon, Iracel Rivero as a simple country girl, Robin Reed’s rich snotty lady, Melina Gac-Artigas as a serene and reluctant virgin and Kamran Khan as both a beggar and a rich slaver. Amantha May’s choreography was also stand-out and bewitching (I went to college with her, many, many years ago).

Let it be trumpeted from the rooftops that since last Friday we have officially dipped beneath the two-hour mark!  Truly we are gods.

Meanwhile, Matt Freeman has also given us another shout-out, which is much appreciated.  I have yet to see his now-playing new play When Is a Clock, but if it’s anywhere near the standard of his previous works it’s not to be missed.

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Review, Interview, Article


Danny Bowes, Robin Reed, Siobhan Doherty
(Credit Ken Stein/Runs with Scissors)

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Today brings with it a few new Babylonian items of note.

First off, Martin Denton at nytheatre.com has weighed in on the show with this review (WARNING – SPOILERS!). He is sympathetic and enthusiastic about the show’s ambitions, but does not feel satisfied by some of the dramaturgical choices we made. Still, it’s a fine, respectful piece, and an especially good read for those who may have already seen the show and are looking for another take on our monumental folly.

We offered discount tickets last week through a company called Goldstar, and we received some wonderful (if largely anonymous) feedback from Goldstar members who came to the show. The smallness of the theatre was mentioned in a couple of comments (yeah, we meant to get around to that but just didn’t have a chance – sorry, guys), but we also received some full-on raves. In particular:

“An immersive, hypnotic experience. We had a blast, and we LOVED THE LION!”

“I thought it would be too good to be true but it was great.”

“The event itself was pretty interesting, probably one of the more bizarre performances I have seen. There were as many actors as there were spectators, if not more. It was interesting to have the actors so close up. There were a few not-so-subtle political statements about the US presence in Iraq. Overall, I enjoyed the show, although it was kitschy at times.”

“WONDERFUL COSTUMES!!! WONDERFUL SCRIPT.”

So that’s nice.

Last night Jon Stancato of Stolen Chair posted an interview with me on the Stolen Chair blog. Their upcoming show, “The Accidental Patriot [et al]” is, like BABYLON BABYLON, inspired by a combination of classical sources and film tropes, and so we are offering a ticket discount and promotional support with them, which I will be detailing in full later today or tomorrow. Meanwhile, I made sure to write different things in this interview than I did in the one with nytheatremike, so hopefully you will be able to read both without asphyxiating.

Finally, what a surprise it was to open this week’s New Yorker yesterday and find an extended piece by Daniel Mendelsohn on Herodotus and his Histories! Read it online – even though it doesn’t explicitly mention the Babylonian interlude, it does a great job of drawing out some of the reasons I’m so fascinated with the book, and why it’s so relevant to our life and times. It’s great reading for anyone who’s seen the show or is planning to.

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SUCCESS!

If you ask me how we did it my mind will probably embark upon an infinite feedback loop and cause smoke to emerge from my ears and nostrils, but somehow or other we managed to turn in three fully realized and increasingly accomplished performances of BABYLON BABYLON this weekend! Huzzah!

No reviews yet, though press was in attendance. Meanwhile, you must sate yourselves with this in-depth interview (along with a picture of me at a typical rehearsal) conducted by our own Prince of Babylon, Michael Criscuolo, on his blog (where he’s also been writing a number of other wonderful things about the show.

Special thanks are due to Brooklyn Oenology, Brooklyn Brewery, and Edible Arrangements, three local businesses who donated goods and services to our opening night party and made it such a success that the last of us stumbled out into the cool morning air at around 4:30am, decidedly satisfied with ourselves.

Finally, enjoy this latest production photo from Ken Stein/Runs With Scissors (featuring, from left, Toya Lillard, Rasha Zamamiri, and Marguerite French):

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It Is Upon Us

Tonight is the second preview performance of BABYLON BABYLON, with three days of rehearsal under our belt after the first one, which we held last Saturday. I’ve been a bad blogger because I’ve been trying to be a good director and producer: every spare moment I’ve had since then has been devoted to trying to get this thing into the best possible state for tomorrow night’s open. With the help of a tireless and endlessly talented cast and crew, the mirage is now about to solidify into reality: Babylon is about to live again!
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We’ll be taking more Official Press Photos tonight before the show, but in the meantime here are a couple of great shots taken by Ken Stein (Runs With Scissors), our intrepid production photographer, during Saturday’s preview.

In other news, James Comtois once again generously announced the show on his blog, stating that “This really seems to be something most people in the New York indie theatre scene are either a.) in, or b.) absolutely fascinated to see.” An exaggeration, of course, but let’s hope it’s a very small one.

Immediately following the show on Friday is our exclusive Opening Night Party, sponsored by Brooklyn Oenology, Brooklyn Brewery and Edible Arrangements! Even if you can’t make it to the show, come afterwards for $10 and enjoy the flowing wine, beer, and, um, fruit made up to look like a bouquet.

BUY TICKETS FOR IT ALL RIGHT HERE!

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Blog Love

Bloggers Michael Criscuolo, Ian W. Hill, and Qui Nguyen have already blogged about the show, which is damn appropriate considering they’re all on the creative team. However, we’ve also had a raft of other wonderful shout-outs from the likes of Matt Freeman, James Comtois, and the Charlie Willis blog – and they’re not even on our payroll. Go blogosphere!

In other news, the show is progressing with surprising sleekness and grace considering the magnitude of our folly. Our first preview is this weekend, so wish us more than luck – wish us gushing fountains of rapturous good fortune. Once we’re up and running I’ll have some more time to ply my readership with exciting Babylonish features.

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The Press Does Not Sleep

It appears that we’ve attracted the attention of the Mainstream Media. Time Out New York has chosen BABYLON BABYLON as one of its spring theater picks, one of only four Off-Off-Broadway shows selected (and the only one repping Brooklyn), along with the likes of Mike Daisey, Naomi Wallace, and Rob Erickson). The short blurb christens me a “madcap Williamsburg auteur,” but I take issue with that remark, living as I do in Park Slope. Libel!

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