Local Theater: Identities in Crisis

Members of the ensemble cast appearing in “Gaslight Tango,” Axial Theatre’s spring production of seven one-act plays running May 6-22 in Pleasantville. Credits: Leslye Smith

We hear a lot these days about identity theft. It refers to our personal passwords, PIN codes and other keys to confidential information being stolen right from under us.

Identity theft is not a 21st century phenomenon, though. It’s been among us as long as the dramatic arts have been with us.

Take Shakespeare. One of the Bard’s signature ploys in his plays is gender-bending disguises: Men dress as women and ladies skulk around as boys to fool friend and foe alike. Even when a character is strictly male or female in appearance and behavior, many a member of the opposite sex has essayed the role. Mark Rylance, the ingenious British actor who won the Supporting Actor honors at this year’s Oscars for “Bridge of Spies,” played a Countess on Broadway a few years ago in “Twelfth Night,” for which this unique talent won a Tony Award.

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Even those not particularly enamored of Shakespeare and his incredible body of work, yet who cherish a fun theater experience, should hie thee to Armonk next month to catch “The Complete Works of Shakespeare—Abridged.” It’s a crazy quilt of 37 of his plays. Performed in 97 minutes. By three actors. Forget identity crisis. That’s more like identity chaos.

Written by Adam Long, Daniel Singer, and Jess Winfield, the unusual mashup of Shakespearean comedy and tragedy adds up to high parody with non-stop belly laughs. Directed by Pia Haas and featuring Keith DiBuono, Jeff Rocco and Darrin Bennett, it is being presented the first two weekends in June by the Armonk Players (armonkplayers.org) in North Castle Library’s handsome Whippoorwill Hall, one of the most inviting theaters in this region.

The theme of identities in crisis is at the heart of seven one-acts being staged on weekends May 6-22 under the umbrella title of “Gaslight Tango.” It is presented by Axial Theatre at its performing space in Pleasantville’s St. John’s Episcopal Church (axialtheatre.org).

Linda Giuliano of Pine Bush, Axial’s associate artistic director and literary manager, says: “Identity is an important underlying theme tying these pieces together—how we see ourselves, how others see us—accurately and inaccurately; and how we come to find or lose our sense of self. In each case, we look in the mirror of someone else’s eyes.”

“Gaslight Tango” is psychological terminology for a “cat-and-mouse game that occurs in all different types of relationships—at the office, in our friendships, between parents and children, and between siblings,” in the words of Robin Stern, a psychoanalyst and author of “The Gaslight Effect: How to Spot and Survive the Hidden Manipulation Others Use to Control Your Life.”

The seven pieces, some award-winning, will be performed by the ensemble of Axial Theatre company actors and guests artists. Many hail from Westchester, while others live in New York City and New Jersey.

Here’s a rundown on the septet of original pieces in “Gaslight Tango,” which encompass a vibrant mix of genres, ranging from all-out farce to quirky comedy to poignant drama:

• “Agua Dulce” by Lloyd Pace (New York City): Two ageless lovers reunite over drinks and a shotgun in the desert outskirts of Agua Dulce.

• “Day of Beauty” by Gabrielle Fox (Mount Kisco): A Christmas culture clash reveals the true identity of women searching for a day of beauty.

• “Girl with Guitar” by Albi Gorn (Hastings-on-Hudson): In the Bronx in the ‘60s, a girl is having her portrait done by her grandmother, and hidden resentments begin to surface like pentimento.

• “Privileged” by Evelyn Mertens (Briarcliff Manor): Suspicions and distrust wane as students in an Upper East Side private school discover a surprising kinship.

• “Welcome to Norway” by Robin Joseph (Hastings-on-Hudson): A journey to fulfill a lifelong dream takes an unexpected detour.

• “They” by Patrick Davin (Rye): A sports fanatic gives new meaning to living and dying for your team.

• “Doctor, Doctor” by Ward James Riley (Hillsdale, N.J.): The audience is left to ponder who is sicker—the patient telling the tale or the psychiatrist treating him?

The ensemble cast includes Ward James Riley (Hillsdale, N.J.), Michael Boyle Jr. (Ossining), Jess Erick (Katonah), Susan Ward (Sleepy Hollow), Rofa Abayon (Bronx), Michael Witkes (New York City), Pamela Brokaw (Cos Cob, Conn.), Mickey Pantano (New York City), Anthony Barresi Jr. (Goldens Bridge), Laura Credidio (Brooklyn). Anne Hammond (Bedford Hills), Gail Greenstein (Katonah), and Cash Tilton (Brooklyn).

Howard Meyer (Poughkeepsie) is founding artistic director of Axial Theatre and its affiliated Howard Meyer’s Acting Program.

Rachel Jones (Brookfield, Conn.), an instructor for Howard Meyer’s Acting Program, and Lori Lowe (Guilford, Conn.), artistic director of The Mindful Actor in Connecticut, are coordinating directors of “Gaslight Tango.” Also directing the plays are Ed Friedman (New Rochelle) and Patrick Davin (Rye).

Playing games with identities also plays a role in “Animals out of Paper,” from Hudson Stage (.com), playing weekends through May 14 in Armonk’s Whippoorwill Hall.

Described as an “uncommon love story,” playwright Rajiv Joseph—a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 2010 for his Robin Williams-starring Broadway play “Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo”—uses the ancient and fascinating art of origami paper-folding as a metaphor for how people in the throes of a relationship can bend each other’s lives, and how vulnerable we let ourselves become to outside influences.

The opinions expressed herein are the writer's alone, and do not reflect the opinions of TAPinto.net or anyone who works for TAPinto.net. TAPinto.net is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the writer.

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