Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Here is the GCW review from

Highlights include this very satisfying shout out to the whole cast:

At the center of the excellent six-person cast is Paco Tolson as Semyon (and a few other characters); he's a terrific everyman, at once put-upon and swaggering, vain and frightened out of his gourd. William Jackson Harper is sensationally good as Gran-Skubic and Curran Connor is deliciously slimy and vaguely malevolent as Semyon's neighbor Kalabushkin (both Harper and Connor also take a few other roles, too). Aaron Roman Weiner is very funny in a variety of guises—the butcher, clad in a blood-encrusted apron; the meek mailman who believes in the Cause, whatever the cost; and a decrepit old woman who lives in Semyon's building. Tami Stronach and Cindy Cheung show their versatility by each playing one of the glamorous actresses and also Semyon's drudge-like wife and mother-in-law (again, among other roles).

And here's to Robert:

The show's pace is fast and furious and the fourth-wall-breaking moments, which include most notably live sound effects played by whichever member(s) of the ensemble aren't needed for a particular scene, are great fun. If you think thought-provoking theatre that's literally about important issues like life and death, economics, politics, and the social contract can't be wildly entertaining, well, here's Robert Ross Parker to prove you wrong.

That's what we like...

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Feeling the Love

Here are two other reviews out now.

Review by Ethan Kanfer

In 1928, the Soviet Union was only 11 years old, but playwrights like Nikolai Erdman were already giving voice to a frustrated citizenry by satirizing the regime’s hollow rhetoric and tangled bureaucracy. Not surprisingly, the state hit back, and Erdman’s creativity — and his citizenship — was stifled by the Stalin government. Erdman’s Samoubiitsa (The Suicide) didn’t see a full production until after the author’s death. To bring this historical artifact to light is in itself a worthwhile gesture. But Goodbye Cruel World is more than just a museum piece. Thanks to some high-octane performances and Robert Ross Parker’s sprightly adaptation, this fable of an Everyman in trouble is both informative and riotously entertaining.

Humiliated by his inability to find gainful unemployment, Semyon Semyonovich, played by Paco Tolson, scrapes together enough cash for a rusty tuba and an instruction book. His hopes of a career in music are dashed, however, when the instrument proves more difficult to learn than he expected. Growing increasingly despondent, Semyon considers shooting himself. Word quickly spreads, and soon our unlikely hero becomes finds himself surrounded by seemingly well-intentioned visitors.

In an effort to further their own causes, representatives of various special interests clamor to claim this tragic figure for their own. The State, The Proletariat, The Arts, Industry, The Church, and The Intelligentsia all believe they can curry political favor by turning hapless Semyon into a poster boy. An instant celebrity, Semyon is thrilled that his luck has changed. But there’s a problem. He’s not so sure he really wants to die, and now, with pressures mounting on all sides, he might have to go through with it.

Under Parker’s taut direction, the committed, versatile cast handles everything from slapstick beats to seething diatribes with deft precision. They are aided by Nick Francone’s comically dreary set and Theresa Squire and Antonia Ford-Roberts’s vaudeville-Bolshevik costumes. As enjoyable as the character’s antics are, however, there is a poignant side to their self-deluded speeches.

From flat bromides about the coming Revolution, to a wistful rendition of the Communist anthem “The Internationale,” Goodbyeis filled with touching depictions of what happens to the human spirit when a utopian dream becomes a totalitarian nightmare.

What makes director-adaptor Robert Ross Parker giggle? Based on his occasionally darling but overlong farce Goodbye Cruel World, he likes (in this order): pillowy wigs, Pythonesque sketches, execrable Russian accents and kazoos. He also wants his actors to enjoy themselves, so while a deliberately ramshackle set creaks cheerfully, his six antic performers (playing almost 20 characters) do their best to crack one another up.

Such rambunctiousness makes Parker’s zingy adaptation of Nikolai Erdman’s biting satire, The Suicide, play like a lovable college production: It teeters from gleeful anarchy into simple sloppiness and doesn’t totter back. But with actors like inveterate scene-stealer Paco Tolson and comedy quarterback William Jackson Harper charging hard at every joke, even sophomoric humor deserves a passing grade.

Erdman’s play—a bitter, hilarious swipe at Soviet repression—is basically one gag. When rumors spread that Semyon (Tolson) wants to commit suicide, hordes of hangers-on materialize on his doorstep. The intelligentsia wants to wield his death as a political tool; the church hopes to claim him as a martyr. The joke: Socialist Stalin created a brisk free market in deaths. Belly laugh!

Parker adds literal bells and whistles to the narrative, getting the cast to multitask as musicians who drum out punctuation whenever anybody makes a funny. The stage business works well, and it’s always fun to watch actors racing through quick changes. But Parker’s choice of material is actually too good: His sweet-natured construction is friendly and featherlight while Erdman’s humor has a black, dangerous undertow. It’s not just in the high jinks, then, that Parker’s company sometimes finds itself helplessly carried away.—Helen Shaw

Read more:

Monday, January 25, 2010

Here's To Comic Invention

Photo of a photo by Jim Baldassare

The New York Times just published an amazing review of Goodbye Cruel World. I can't say how happy I am for everyone. Night after night I laugh and feel lucky to share the stage with people who are so funny and generous. Every time out it feels like the show is richer and more playful. Really excited to get into these last two weeks!
Photo by Jim Baldassare

Here it is in print:

January 26, 2010

A Less-Than-Serious Suicide

To be or not to be, that is the punch line.

In “Goodbye Cruel World,” a comedy about death that will appeal to fans of “Weekend at Bernie’s” as well as those of Joe Orton’s “Loot,” Semyon (Paco Tolson) announces that he will shoot himself at the count of ... 1,000. After the flaws in this plan are exposed, Semyon communicates a series of distinct excuses not to kill himself through a multitude of precise facial expressions and body language while counting to the more manageable number of 15. It’s a small triumph of comic invention.

Robert Ross Parker, the co-artistic director of the cult theater troupe Vampire Cowboys, has staged this colloquial adaptation of Nikolai Erdman’s 1928 corrosive comedy, “The Suicide.” This rarely produced gem is a door-slamming farce wrapped inside a humanist attack on the Soviet regime. The original play, in which Semyon calls the Kremlin to tell the person answering the phone that he doesn’t like Marx (no one seems to care), was so biting that it was banned even after Stanislavski himself made a personal appeal on its behalf to Stalin.

The passing of time has made the play less provocative — although it was probably too dark for commercial audiences when it ran for less than two months on Broadway in 1980. Mr. Parker does not strain for relevance here and while he may gloss over some of the work’s darker absurdities, his target is pure, silly farce. And he hits it, dead-on.

Like Jimmy Stewart’s character in “It’s a Wonderful Life,” Semyon, an unemployed bumbler, comes to the realization that he’s worth more dead than alive. But instead of finding a guardian angel, his death wish invites a parade of exploiters looking to schedule a media-savvy suicide at noon. The most entertaining charlatan has to be Aristarch (William Jackson Harper, as a delightfully weepy hypocrite), who argues that Semyon must die for the noble cause of helping Aristarch’s career.

“I would shoot myself,” he concedes, “but unfortunately, I can’t, on principle.”

The production’s conclusion, which builds upon the send-up of the righteousness of acting on principle, is more sweet than bitter. As comedies about mortality go, this one is rather joyful. The saddest thing might be the realization of what the theater world lost when this play was banned. Erdman lived a long life, but after getting the message from Stalin, he understandably stopped writing for the stage. In a way, “The Suicide” was his.

“Goodbye Cruel World” continues through Feb. 6 at the ArcLight Theater, 152 West 71st Street, Manhattan; (212) 696-6699.

Sunday, January 17, 2010


Photo by Carol Rosegg

Tonight is opening night (matinee) and after three full-house energizing previews we are now fully prepared to rock it for the rest of the run.

It's difficult to express how much fun it was to rehearse this. Every single person brought intelligence, sophistication and craft to their roles, and every day as characters began to take shape it became harder and harder not to break in the middle of scenes. Robert's direction is so deft and the designers so in concert that we were still laughing our heads off during tech working out musical bits, parading costumes around and making some stage magic from the set.

I have learned a lot from the last few shows and cannot wait to get out there tonight.

All details can be found here at the Roundtable website.

Here it is in print:

Goodbye Cruel World
by Nikolai Erdman
adapted and directed by Robert Ross Parker
from a literal translation by Marina Raydun

The ArcLight Theater
152 W71st St. Downstairs (1 Train to 72nd)
Jan 14th - Feb 6th
Thursdays - Saturdays @ 8pm
Saturday Matinees @ 3pm

with Paco Tolson, William Jackson Harper, Cindy Cheung, Curran Connor, Tami Stronach and Aaron Roman Weiner.

Lights and Set: Nick Francone
Costumes: Theresa Squire and Antonia Ford-Roberts
Sound and Music: Shane Rettig
Stage Manager: Henry Cheng
Assistant Director: Adam Mazer