Haven Brothers: Legacy of the American Diner

havenWhen director Jeff Toste’s documentary Haven Brothers: Legacy of the American Diner has its Providence premiere on Saturday, June 7 at the Columbus Theatre, the iconic food truck itself will be there selling burgers, fries and its other famous fare. Begun as a horse-drawn food cart in 1888, in various incarnations and under a series of owners, it has been serving the city for generations. Today, Haven Brothers appears in the early evening next to City Hall and remains parked and open until well after bars close, and then quietly disappears shortly before sunrise.

Asked what drew him to the subject, Toste candidly replied, “Food on a truck, man! I remember going there as a kid. It was such a weird experience. I climbed onto a truck to get something to eat.” Besides, it was a good story. “The full story had never been told. You’re lucky when ideas present themselves. Telling the story came from making the story.”

Toste, a lifelong Rhode Islander born in Providence – “I was born at Haven Brothers. No, not really. Don’t print that.” – faced difficult challenges making his first feature film. “It’s a real DIY film. I was learning to make a film by making a film,” Toste said. Although he was grateful to receive a pre-production grant from the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities, he said he was frustrated that most grant applications expected him to know exactly what his story was going to say before he found out himself what that was. “To me it was a journey,” he said. For example, Toste discovered during his research that the 19th century food cart was one of the earliest known businesses owned by a woman. “The food truck explosion today doesn’t know its roots,” he said.

In a community where people typically give directions referencing where things used to be, permanence is a rare and valued commodity. “Beyond being a local landmark, this is the oldest diner on wheels. People in Rhode Island like things that stand the test of time,” Toste said. “What it means to people transcends the place itself. It has come to symbolize Providence. It’s a survival story. People love perseverance.”

Haven Brothers faced its greatest threat in the 1980s when then-mayor Joseph Paolino touched an angry nerve by trying to exclude it from downtown, provoking a reaction that demonstrated that this humble food truck had become something well beyond just a food truck in the minds of the public: It was where people remembered going with their parents and grandparents, and they wanted it to stay. That’s the “lynchpin” of the story, according to Toste, but that’s not the focus of the film. “It’s about Rhode Island and Rhode Islanders.”

In the past, Toste ran for public office on the Green Party ticket. “I wasn’t a politician, but I tried to act like one,” he said, “but I could do as much through art as I could ever do through politics. This is a feel-good film, but it’s a feel-good film for thinking people. Art is a tool to put messages into the world.”

Almost 30 different local bands and musicians are credited on the official website for the soundtrack, which is “all Rhode Island,” Toste said. “One way to reflect the diversity of the people who go to this place is in the diversity of the music.”

Unexpectedly spending three years making the film, Toste sometimes would be at Haven Brothers five nights a week interviewing customers. Many of these interviews led to new discoveries that had to be chased down with more interviews. With a work-print running time of about 75 minutes as of this writing, Toste said that he has “enough raw footage for a miniseries. I read once that artists never finish their work, they just abandon it.” The film is in final form at this point, he said, but he may make minor changes before the Providence premiere. He did screen the film privately for the owner of Haven Brothers and his family, who gave it a “thumbs-up,” he said. The owner had no right of approval or creative control, Toste said, but during the making of the film graciously allowed Toste to be “very much in his space.”

Toste, whose day job involves making commercials and advertisements, was very concerned that this film “not look like a commercial,” he said. “You have to show the food, but it’s not about the food. It’s about the people. It’s about the place. It’s about reminding people of their history,” he said. “If anyone thinks I’m showing the food to make them hungry, I’m not. To me, the food is an art form.”

Ironically, Toste himself is not a typical customer. “I’m a vegetarian, but I’ve eaten a lot of their grilled cheese and fries.”

Haven Brothers: Legacy of the American Diner official web site: http://www.havenbrothersmovie.com/

Trailers: https://www.youtube.com/user/havenbrothersmovie

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/havenbrothersmovie

Tickets, Providence premiere, Columbus Theatre, Broadway, Providence. Saturday, June 7, $11.00 ($12.38 w/service fee): brownpapertickets.com/event/61940

Cloud 9: “We Are Not In This Country To Enjoy Ourselves”

cloud9Decades before playwright Caryl Churchill in her dotage earned a notorious reputation as arguably the most virulent anti-Semite active in mainstream British theater, her plays, despite the heavy baggage of Marxist Brechtian dialectical conventions, were plausibly entertaining. Indeed, like “Saturday Night Live,” her best and funniest work was in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and Cloud 9 was her first successful play from that era.

Cloud 9 is formally both a surrealist play, with actors deliberately portraying characters inconsistent with their real life attributes, and a polemical play, with characters struggling to break out of the traps of their socially-imposed circumstances. The Contemporary Theater Company does strive to perform experimental and non-traditional works, and they do a good job with what is neither fully absurdist nor naturalistic. The essence of Brechtianism is to keep reminding the audience that they are watching an artificial construction called a play, actively trying to prevent the suspension of disbelief. Each act begins with all of the actors (and one inanimate doll) holding title cards that identify their characters, and the casting of actors inconsistent with their characters is an essential part of that Brechtian pretension.

Throughout the performance, musician Matthew Requintina and singer Meg Perry use songs chosen to comment on the situation, occasionally joined by the cast.

The first act is set in a remote African colony of the British Empire during the Victorian 1880s, clearly suggestive of South Africa although not actually identified, amidst the so-called “Scramble for Africa.” Clive (“a man played by a man,” Birk Wozniak) is the head of the household, Betty (“a woman played by a man,” Andrew Katzman) is his seemingly proper wife, Edward (“a little boy played by a woman,” Amy Lee Connell) is their son, Harry Bagley (“a man played by a man,” Sami Avigdor) is a visiting explorer modeled after Henry Morton Stanley, Joshua (“a black man played by a white woman,” Ashley Macamaux) is the household servant, Maud (“a white woman played by a black woman,” Tammy Brown) is Betty’s mother, Ellen (“a woman played by a woman,” Stephanie Traversa) is Edward’s governess, Mrs Saunders (“a woman played by a woman,” also Stephanie Traversa) is a widow seeking refuge during an uprising of natives, and Victoria (“a little girl played by a doll”) is Edward’s infant sister.

Clive, the paragon of upstanding Victorian values, is secretly shtupping Mrs. Saunders. Betty and Harry are caught in an unconsummated love affair, although Harry is sexually involved with both the female Mrs. Saunders and the male Joshua. Harry is also molesting young Edward who strangely finds the experience aligned with his own emerging orientation, a concept probably less jarring to an audience in 1979 than today. Ellen is in unrequited love with Betty, her employer.

Although uniformly well-played, and some of the cast – notably Wozniak, Connell, and Avigdor – are outstanding, the exposition of widespread and universal hypocrisy is a theme that cannot support being beaten like a dead horse. The farcical aspects are funny in a Benny Hill sort of way, but beyond that the first act serves primarily as a set-up for the next.

The second act is set in a London park during the Thatcher era, but for the characters only 25 years have passed. Actors from the first act swap into other roles for the second, but director Ryan Hartigan chose to reallocate those swaps in his own way, explaining in his director’s note in the program book, “Every production … has used the same doublings of characters, but Churchill herself said that any doubling would reveal interesting things. We’re the CTC. We took her at her word.” Victoria (“a white woman played by a black woman,” Tammy Brown) is grown up and married to Martin (“a man played by a man,” Birk Wozniak), and they have a daughter Cathy (“a little girl played by a man,” Sami Avigdor). Her mother Betty (“a woman played by a woman,” Stephanie Traversa) has separated from her husband (presumably Clive). Edward (“a gay man played by a man,” Andrew Katzman) has formed a relationship with Gerry (“a gay man played by a woman,” Ashley Macamaux). Lin (“a gay woman played by a woman,” Amy Lee Connell) is the mother of Tommy, who is never seen.

The daisy chain of sexual relationships grows complicated: Martin loses Victoria to Lin, who is involved with Edward, who is involved with Gerry, whom Betty tries unsuccessfully to pick up in the park. It is suggested that Lin is engaged in a ménage à trois with the siblings Victoria and Edward. Characters break the fourth wall and a number of characters from the first act reappear for brief vignettes in the second act. Victoria, played by a doll in the first act and named after the queen in the first act, in the second act says she now worships “the goddess of cunts.”

The choice of character doublings by the actors from the first to the second act is to a great extent the essential defining aspect of any production of this play, and here they are thought-provoking but troubling. Avigdor’s transition from Harry Bagley to Cathy is arguably the converse of Connell’s from Edward to Lin, worldliness to innocence and vice versa. Exactly what these doublings are intended to convey is left very much uncertain, although that is the point.

In the end, a challenging play for the performers becomes a bit of a muddle for the audience.

Cloud 9, Contemporary Theater Company, 327 Main Street, Wakefield. contemporarytheatercompany.com/cloud-nine/, fully handicap accessible.

Thu (4/10, 5/1) pay what you can, Fri (4/4, 4/11, 4/25, 5/2) $20, Sat (4/5, 4/12, 4/26, 5/3) $20, Sun (4/27) $15, all 7pm. About 3 hours including intermission. Includes mature content, including subject matter and language, not appropriate for anyone under 17.

Tickets: contemporarytheatercompany.com/box-office or 410-218-0282

Facebook event: facebook.com/events/212013068996788/

Raising Matty Christian

Christian de Rezendes discusses documentary

When Rhode Island-based director Christian de Rezendes was approached by a mutual acquaintance about making a documentary on the life of the recently deceased Matthew “Matty” Christian (1983-2009) of Canton, MA, who was born without full limbs or a tongue, de Rezendes was apprehensive about repeating the “emotionally grueling process” of making his award-winning documentary 41, about Nick O’Neill, the youngest of the 100 victims killed in the 2003 fire at The Station nightclub in West Warwick, RI, which he co-produced and co-directed with Christian O’Neill, Nick’s younger brother. In the end, though, he said about Raising Matty Christian, “This was a very different film. This kid’s story needed to be told.”

Commissioned and funded by Matty Christian’s family, who supplied 12 hours of home video recordings and were interviewed extensively on camera, de Rezendes said, “For the movie to work, his parents, Allie and Jerry, had to be very open about negative aspects of their son’s life and they were. It was not all rainbows and unicorns. It wasn’t easy for them, because they were still in mourning.” The result is an unusually honest and frank portrayal that speaks to everyone, but especially to amputees, others with similar disabilities, and to their families, de Rezendes said.

The film, whose third public showing will be at the SENE Fest at 5pm on Saturday, April 26, 2014, is “getting a lot of great response from the disability community,” de Rezendes said. “The word ‘inspiring’ gets tossed around very loosely, but this film really is.” He is hopeful that the film, after its run at a number of festivals and other events, will attract the attention of distributors. “We’re getting some fantastic feedback,” he said.

Raising Matty Christian http://www.raisingmattychristian.com, 5pm, Sat, Apr 26, Columbus Theater (main level), 270 Broadway, Providence. Director Christian de Rezendes in attendance, $10, http://www.senefest.com/sat-film-screenings-500-915.html


SENE Showcases Local Talent and Awards Filmmaker Andre Gregory

seneOn the Screen

The 6th annual Southeast New England Film, Music and Arts Festival opens Tuesday, April 22, 2014, and runs through Sunday, April 27, according to Philip Capobres, its artistic director, co-founder, and film programmer. Although the festival employs multiple venues in Providence and Warwick during the week, it uses only a single venue each day.

The highlight of the festival is the documentary André Gregory: Before and After Dinner directed by Gregory’s wife, Cindy Kleine. Both Gregory and his wife are scheduled to attend the SENE screening at 2:30pm on Saturday, April 26. They immediately accepted the invitation, according to Capobres, noting that they already fortuitously planned to be on Cape Cod that weekend.

Gregory will be honored with the first-ever Lifetime Achievement Award bestowed by SENE. Known for seminal work in experimental theater with his company, the Manhattan Project, beginning in the 1960s, especially his discordant and surrealist Alice in Wonderland in 1970, throughout his long career he has seen theater as a transformative and immersive experience shared by cast and audience, often blurring lines between them. His most widely recognized film is the classic 1981 cult hit My Dinner with André in which he co-wrote and performed a character based on himself and his own real-life experiences. Less widely recognized but still critically successful is his 1994 meta-theatrical film Vanya on 42nd Street documenting the workshop of a company of actors who, over a period of three years, repeatedly perform Anton Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya for themselves with no audience, wearing street clothes on a bare stage.

Attracting considerable positive attention from the disability community, Raising Matty Christian is a documentary about a Massachusetts boy born without limbs or a tongue. Made after his death, the film focuses on the recollections of his friends and family. Rhode Island-based director Christian de Rezendes, known for his documentary 41 about the youngest victim of the Station Fire, Nick O’Neill, will be in attendance at the screening at 5pm on Saturday, April 26. (See sidebar.)

Wander My Friends is a world premiere of a locally made drama about a team of comic book artists whose small independent employer is being acquired by a large company, causing them to fear loss of creative control. Many of the cast and crew are from Rhode Island and nearby Massachusetts, according to Capobres, including director Raz Cunningham and Producer Melanie Hardy who will both be in attendance at the screening at 9:15pm on Saturday, April 26.

Coherence is an independent science-fiction effort about a strange celestial object and the logical puzzle it creates. Capobres compared it to the well-regarded ultra-low-budget hit Primer, but noted that it appeals to general audiences in addition to the traditional science-fiction audience. It screens at 7pm on Saturday, April 26.

One Who Loves You is “a good Friday night date movie,” Capobres said. Set in 1974, a failed singer returns home from New York City to her hometown and connects with a former band manager. Director Katharyn Grant will be in attendance at the screening at 6:45pm on Friday, April 25.

House of Dust is “a late-night horror film,” Capobres said, “about some people visiting an old mental hospital where they accidentally breathe in the dust of cremated patients.” Director A.D. Calvo was born in Argentina and lives in Connecticut, according to his LinkedIn profile. The film will be screened at 10:30pm on Friday, April 25.

The Bridgewater Triangle is a documentary-entertainment feature about the region surrounding Bridgewater, Massachusetts, named in analogy to the so-called “Bermuda Triangle,” where strange paranormal phenomena have been reported, including sightings of UFOs, “ghost lights,” and cryptozoological animals such as “bigfoot” and prehistoric pterodactyl-like “thunderbirds.” According to Wikipedia, stories and folktakes about the area have ranged from animal mutilations and satanic rituals to Native American curses. It screens at 3pm on Sunday, April 27.

Two screenings of work by young filmmakers will be featured back-to-back on Saturday, April 26. At 11am, shorts produced by students in the film program run by teacher Mark Fogarty at Bishop Hendricken High School in Warwick will be shown. At 12:30pm, shorts produced by students at the RAW Artists chapter in Boston will be shown.

Who Did It? The Clue VCR Game, according to Capobres, is a locally produced documentary about the 1985 pioneering interactive game based on the classic Clue/Cluedo board game now produced by Rhode Island game maker Hasbro. Using a one-hour VHS cassette that was supposed to be advanced and rewound as needed, live actors played the iconic roles of suspects, including the traditional Miss Scarlett, Colonel Mustard, Mrs. White, Mr. Green, Mrs. Peacock and Professor Plum. Because of the Hasbro connection, many of the the original actors and crew were local and available to be interviewed for the 38-minute documentary. It screens as part of the documentary short films program beginning at 7pm on Tuesday, April 22, with co-directors Frank Durant and Tim Labonte in attendance.

For the first time at the SENE Festival, there will be a live stand-up comedy performance showcase. “We program a short comedy film festival for the Boston Comedy Festival,” Capobres said, and this will be something of a reciprocal collaboration. It begins at 9:15pm on Saturday, April 26.

SENE Festival, telephone (voicemail) 401-203-SENE (401-203-7363), e-mail info@senefest.comhttp://www.senefest.com/index.html, optional admission packages $60 VIP, $40 all access (Tue-Sun), $25 weekend films (Fri-Sun).

Tue, Apr 22, Warwick Museum of Art, 3259 Post Rd, Warwick, RI 02886: 6:30pm doors open, 7:00pm documentary short films, $5 (donation to WMOA)

Wed, Apr 23, Brooklyn Coffee and Tea House, 209 Douglas Ave, Providence, RI 02908: 5:30pm doors open, 6:00pm music documentary shorts, 6;45pm music video competition, 8:00pm live music, $10

Thu, Apr 24, Warwick Museum of Art: 6:30pm door open, 7:00pm to 9:00pm Limelight Party (art exhibit, live jazz, Limelight Awards), $15 advance or $20 door

Fri, Apr 25, Columbus Theater (upstairs), 270 Broadway, Providence, RI 02903: 4:15pm international short films, free; 5:30pm documentary shorts, $10; 6:45pm American Showcase Narrative Feature The One Who Loves You http://www.theonewholovesyoumovie.com/, with director Katharyn Grant in attendance, $10; 8:45pm comedy shorts, $10; 10:30pm horror feature House of Dust http://www.goodnightfilm.com/houseofdust/, $10

Sat, Apr 26, Columbus Theater (upstairs): 12:30pm Young Filmmakers Program, free; 1:15pm animated short film program, $10; 3:00pm short film program 2, $10; 5:00pm LGBT short films, $10; 7:00pm short film program 3, $10; 9:15pm live stand-up comedy showcase, $10 (weekend passes not accepted)

Sat, Apr 26, Columbus Theater (main level): 11:00am Hendricken High School short films, $5; 1:00pm short film program 1, $10; 2:30pm documentary feature André Gregory: Before and After Dinner http://www.beforeandafterdinner.com/, with director Cindy Kleine and André Gregory in attendance, $10; 5:00pm documentary feature Raising Matty Christian http://www.raisingmattychristian.com/, with director Christian de Rezendes in attendance, $10; 7pm American Showcase Narrative Feature Coherence http://coherencethemovie.com/, $10; 9:15pm Regional Narrative Feature Spotlight Wander My Friends http://www.wandermyfriends.com/, with director Raz Cunningham and producer Melanie Hardy in attendance, $10

Sun, Apr 27, Cable Car Cinema, 204 South Main St, Providence, RI 02903: 1pm short film program 4, $10; 3pm documentary feature The Bridgewater Triangle http://thebridgewatertriangledocumentary.com/, $10; 5pm short film program 5, $10

See Motif‘s review of a local performance of André Gregory’s Alice in Wonderland: https://motifri.com/surrendering-to-wonderland/

First Annual Irish Film Feis

A one-evening “feis” (“festival”) of films made in and about Ireland will be held at the Irish Ceilidhe Club in Cranston beginning at 7pm on Friday, March 7, 2014, in what is planned as a first annual collaboration with the Rhode Island International Film Festival (RIIFF). Five short films, the longest under a half hour, will be screened with a short intermission.

“I’m really delighted that this collaboration has arisen,” said Sheila Hogg, who serves on the Cultural Committee of the club and selected the films. She is also on the Advisory Board of the RIIFF. “Short film is the unexpected, rich and delectable like a short story, where you’re thrown into the middle of something and you don’t even know what it is because you’ve never seen it before.” She cited classic film The Quiet Man as an example of what the festival is trying to avoid, a portrayal of “a mythical Ireland that never existed.”

Headlining the event is the Academy Award-winning 29-minute live action drama, The Shore, which won the Oscar for Best Live Action Short in 2012. The film’s website describes it as about “…two boyhood best friends – Joe (Ciarán Hinds) and Paddy (Conleth Hill) – divided by 25 years of misunderstanding. Their world and their friendship is shattered by the conflict escalating in Northern Ireland… until, 25 years later, Joe returns for the first time to his homeland…” Knowing the film is about the Troubles makes it sound “heavier than it is,” Hogg said, but it is actually “hilarious and poignant.”

Irish Folk Furniture is an 8-minute stop-motion film that won theSundance Jury Award for Best Short Film (Animation) in 2013. “In Ireland, old hand-painted furniture is often associated with hard times, with poverty, and with a time many would rather forget. In this animated documentary, 16 pieces of traditional folk furniture are repaired and returned home,” according to the Sundance website.“We have a whole different history [in the United States] as to how we view the past,” Hogg said. “People who died or had to emigrate because of the famine in the 1850s left houses that were just abandoned and stayed abandoned. Because it was a famine house, it was considered bad luck.”

2 Tonne Hands is a 24-minute live-action film whose Facebook page gives this synopsis: “A shy, young Polish builder, stranded in Ireland, applies his big, awkward hands to learning music to help him communicate and turn his life around.”

An Rinceoir (“The Dancer”) is a 5-minute music and dance film with a slight surprise ending. The Irish Film Board synopsis: “At a feis, a young dancer waits nervously in the wings. Once on stage, however, she shines, demonstrating her grá for Irish dancing.”

A sneak preview of a brand new 23-minute film whose title has not been disclosed will also be shown.

The Irish Ceilidhe Club was founded in 1956 by Irish immigrants and remains focused on “keeping traditional Irish culture alive in Rhode Island and making it available to the community,” said Wayne Kezirian, its president. A “ceilidhe,” often modernized to “céilí” in reformed Irish spelling, is a  gathering usually involving dance and music. The organization holds weekly Friday night socials, conducts a weekly Monday night step-dancing class, and is frequently a stop for touring Celtic musicians and performers. “We have members who are so immersed in Irish culture. We have some very knowledgeable people,” he said. At a reading honoring the recently deceased poet Seamus Heaney after hearing his descriptions of Irish rural life, Kezirian said, “People were raising their hands and saying, ‘I remember that in my own village.’”

First Annual Irish Film Festival, upstairs at the Irish Ceilidhe Club, 50 America St, Cranston, RI 02920. Fri, March 7, 2014, 7 – 9:30pm. Immediately followed at 9:30 – 11:00 by a social gathering downstairs with a cash bar. Admission $10 cash at the door. 

First Annual Irish Film Festival on Facebook: facebook.com/events/572870329476693/

Irish Ceilidhe Club on the web: irishclubri.org/

Facebook: facebook.com/pages/Irish-Ceilidhe-Club-of-Rhode-Island/203267846353957

Rhode Island International Film Festival on the web: film-festival.org/

The Shore on the web: theshorefilm.com/ Traileryoutube.com/watch?v=Li2_932lDys

Irish Folk Furnture wins the Sundance Jury Award for Best Short Film (Animation), with clips: youtube.com/watch?v=yaQgL8mQ78g Interview with the director: irishamerica.com/2013/03/irish-folk-furniture-an-interview-with-tony-donoghue/

2 Tonne Hands on Facebook: facebook.com/2tonnehands Trailer: youtube.com/watch?v=7H9O8BNWvHc


An Rinceoir (“The Dancer”) on the web, with trailer: directory.irishfilmboard.ie/films/1419-an-rinceoir

Black Maria Film Festival: Panta rhei


The Black Maria Film Festival tour makes a stop in Rhode Island

Short films provide opportunities for independent filmmakers to explore the visual medium outside of the traditional constraints of narrative and documentary, sometimes becoming moving paintings. This more experimental and avant garde aspect of film dominated the two-hour Black Maria Film Festival tour stop at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) in Providence on Feb. 24, 2014, presented by its founding executive director John Columbus.

The Black Maria Film Festival presents a different selection of its winners at each stop during its five-month tour. Sponsored by the Thomas A. Edison Media Arts Consortium at New Jersey City University, the festival is named for the world’s first film studio that, according to Edison, was covered in tar paper to prevent reflections and to some resembled a “black maria” hearse in appearance. (“Maria” is pronounced with a long “i” as the accented syllable: “muh-RYE-ah.”) Now in its 33rd year, the festival has been visiting RISD for at least 30 of those years, Columbus said in his introductory remarks. According to the festival’s website, this year RISD is the 8th stop on the tour and the 2nd outside of New Jersey. Of the 10 films shown ranging from 2 to 17 minutes, four were listed on the program as made by RISD graduates or students.

The festival receives between 350 and 400 entries each year, Columbus said, and through a process of public and private pre-screenings selects 150 to be submitted to a three-member jury. There are three categories of awards given by the jury: “Stellar Awards” that qualify as Academy Award (Oscar) nominations and are limited to one in each of the four categories Documentary, Animation, Narrative, and Experimental, “Jury’s Choice” that is equivalent to first prize, and “Jury’s Citation” that is equivalent to second prize. There are also two categories of non-jury awards: “Director’s Choice” that is equivalent to third prize and “Audience Choice” that is equivalent to honorable mention.

Water Color (Fall Creek), the Stellar Award winner in the Experimental category, by Vincent Grenier, consisted almost entirely of 12 minutes of carefully edited sound and images from a fixed camera pointed at a body of water, showing it changing under different conditions of time and season with shimmering reflections and patterns of ripples, what might result if Monet and Heraclitus collaborated with a movie camera.

The Last Time, a Director’s Choice and Audience Choice winner, by Candy Kugel, a RISD alumna active in professional animation since the 1970s and who has been described as “the reigning first lady of indie-studio animation,” was a 5-minute animated narrative tribute to Vincent Cafarelli, her mentor and colleague at Buzzco Associates, who died suddenly in 2011.


The Apothecary, a Jury’s Choice by Helen Hood Scheer, the longest film shown, was a 17-minute documentary about the only druggist in a 4,000 square mile region of rural Colorado who provides the closest thing to medical care within a 2-hour drive while living in circumstances of personal tragedy.


Virtuos Virtuell, a Jury’s Citation by Thomas Stellmach, was a unique and strangely captivating 8-minute handmade animation using dancing ink blots set to the overture of Der Alchymist by 19th Century composer Louis Spohr.


Through the Tubes, a Jury’s Choice by now-alumna Sierra Urich made during her senior year at RISD, was a 12-minute surrealist film shot with a Lensbaby to provide blur and distortion focus effects to suggest disorientation as an elderly woman on oxygen goes through ordinary daily tasks.

Strange Wonderful, a Jury’s Choice by RISD graduate Stephani Swart, was a 5-minute animated film about snail-like “Little Monster” trying to fit in among human children.


Yield, a Director’s Choice by RISD alumnus Caleb Wood, the shortest film shown, was a 2-minute avant garde montage of photographs of roadkill, often “reanimating” the dead animals in flipbook style.


Also shown were Inquire Within, a Jury’s Choice by Jay Rosenblatt; Watching Waiting, a Jury’s Choice by Wesley Strick; and Solaristics, a Director’s Choice by Peter Rose.

The Black Maria Film Festival: http://www.blackmariafilmfestival.org/

Woman in Mind: Who am I? Why am I here?

barkerpicPlaywright Alan Ayckbourn, prolific British author most well known for Absurd Person Singular and the trilogy The Norman Conquests, has a fascination for witty characters who feel they are missing out on something and are driven more or less crazy by that realization, something like Noël Coward for the looney bin.

Comic farce about mental illness is risky. It is hilarious schadenfreude when Wile E. Coyote rushes off a high precipice and plummets from a great height to a presumably unpleasant landing far below, but that sort of comedy does not translate well to the live stage. At some point, everyone stops laughing.

We meet the titular Woman in Mind, protagonist Susan (Becky Minard), lying on the ground after having been accidentally conked on the head into unconsciousness by a garden rake. She is being attended by Bill Windsor (Paul Kandarian), a local country doctor who has been called to the scene. Unlike Ayckbourn’s usual ensemble structure, Susan never leaves the stage, and from first to last the audience sees and hears what Susan sees and hears.

Susan’s sense of identity is unhinged by the blow, and at first she thinks the doctor is speaking gibberish – our first clue that we as the audience are seeing everything from her point of view – but as she comes around, she starts hearing the doctor speak English and starts responding to her name. Her concerned and doting husband Andy (Dennis L. Bouchard) comes to take care of her, as do her brother Tony (Steven Vessella) and daughter Lucy (Lauren Faith Odenwalder) still dressed in whites from their tennis game.

Except that Andy, Tony and Lucy are only hallucinations in Susan’s mind. Soon we meet Susan’s real husband Gerald (David Adams Murphy), an Anglican vicar who is devoted less to his wife than to the true love of his life, a book he has been writing for years about the history of the parish since 1386. Gerald’s sister Muriel (Elizabeth Messier) has also been living with them since the presumably long ago death of her husband whom she keeps trying to contact through spiritualism. Their son Rick (Tom Lavallee) turns up, having spent several years away in a religious cult that forbade him from speaking with his parents.

Susan’s real family are dreadful people, and director Joan Dillenback skillfully signals the contrast between their dimly lit drab clothes as opposed to the brightly lit colorful clothes worn by the imaginary family. At first Susan’s imaginary family seems the polar opposites of her real family: appreciative and eager to please with free-flowing champagne and engaged in genteel upper-class pursuits with oodles of time on their hands to pay attention to her. As things progress, the imaginary family is less within Susan’s willful control and starts incorporating elements leaking in from real life. Eventually the doctor and Susan’s real family begin acting so strangely that she – and the audience – suspect they are part of her hallucinations and cannot be sure what, if anything, is real.

It’s a difficult play to carry off, especially because the comic pacing is very British and this is often a challenge for American actors who, at their worst, can come across like good ol’ boys from Alabama doing Monty Python. Fortunately, this cast gets it right and, mercifully, does not attempt British accents even when Tony shows up outfitted in huntsman’s tweed with a shooting stick. Becky Minard as Susan, described by the program as having only recently returned to theater after a hiatus since the early 1980s, is very impressive in a make-or-break role that offers her no respite.

Stanislavski famously said that every actor should ask himself certain questions when approaching a role (as in this formulation by Andre Gregory): “Who am I? Why am I here? Where do I come from, and where am I going?” These questions apply equally well to Susan, a character who has become dissociated from her play – and to the audience.

Woman in Mind, The Players, Barker Playhouse, 400 Benefit St, Providence, RI 02903, playersri.org/the-plays

Fri-Sat (2/7, 2/8) 8:00pm, Sun (2/9) 2:00pm. About 2 hours in two acts with an intermission. Not appropriate for young children.

Tickets: 401-273-0590 Mon-Fri 10am-2pm or e-mail theplayers1909@aol.com

Alan Ayckbourn’s official web site: womaninmind.alanayckbourn.net/

The Players announced that they dedicate this production in memory of Lydia K. Matteson, who passed away unexpectedly on December 21, 2013, after having been a member for over 40 years and participated in more than 50 shows, as well as serving as president from 1994 to 1996 and as office manager from 1997 until her death.


Le Providence French Film Festival


Find a piece of French culture right here in Providence during the French Film Festival.

Kicking off its 19th year, the French Film Festival in Providence will run 19 films at the Cable Car Cinema on South Main Street over several days from February 20 to March 2. It’s an eclectic assortment of selections designed to appeal to a wide variety of viewers, according to Richard Manning, film archivist at Brown University who serves as co-director of the festival and has been involved “since day one.” Features include modern and historical dramas, coming of age romances, documentaries, and even a couple targeted for young adults.

The principal sponsor and benefactor of the festival is the Sevaux Fund at the Modern Culture and Media Department at Brown, in co-operation with other Brown and RISD departments including French Studies. The festival is “definitely a communal project,” said Manning, who credited Sylvie Toux with the original inspiration although she is no longer with Brown. The selection process of films for the past four or five years has been handled jointly by Shoggy Waryn, who is Toux’s successor in the French Studies Department, and by Manning. Since its second year, the festival has been held consistently in late February and early March to maximize its appeal to students on campus who have not yet left for Spring Break nor become preoccupied with end of semester tasks. Despite the festival’s close ties to the academic community, it is open to the public and derives about 20% of its revenue from ticket sales, Manning said.


Le Dernier des injustes (The Last of the Unjust): Directed by Claude Lanzmann who is known for Shoah (1985) – widely acknowledged as the definitive Holocaust documentary – and for Sobibor, Oct. 14, 1943, 4 p.m. (2001), this new film by the now-88 year-old director uses interview footage he filmed in 1975 of  Benjamin Murmelstein, the last “elder” of the Theresienstadt concentration camp. The Nazis wanted a “model” camp that they could exploit as a showpiece to demonstrate to the international press how well-treated Jews were in concentration camps, and Theresienstadt was that camp. Murmelstein was appointed by the Nazis as, in effect, senior prisoner, which left him subject to charges of collaboration after the camp was liberated.

L’Ordre et la Morale (Rebellion): Directed by Mathieu Kassovitz, this is a docudrama based on the disastrous French military response to the Ouvéa cave hostage taking in 1988 by guerrillas demanding independence for New Caledonia. The story is a thriller told from the point of view of the lead hostage negotiator.

Thérèse Desqueyroux: Directed by the late Claude Miller as the final film before his death, it is based on the 1920s novel by François Mauriac which was, ironically, notable for using the then-new conventions of cinema, such as flashbacks, as narrative literary techniques. It is an historical drama about an intelligent woman trapped in a marriage to a husband who cares only about appearances and reputation at the expense of everything real.

Jeune & Jolie (Young and Beautiful): Directed by François Ozon, this is a coming-of-age film whose central character is a girl of 17 who decides to explore her sexuality by losing her virginity to a German boy but finds the experience numbly disappointing, and so embarks on a secret life of prostitution.

Far from Vietnam: A remaster of a classic 1967 collaboration among famous French directors Joris Ivens, William Klein, Claude Lelouch, Agnès Varda, Jean-Luc Godard, Chris Marker and Alain Resnais, this film was an openly political attack on the United States’ war in the former French colony

Lautence Anyways: Directed by Xavier Dolan, this unusual French-Canadian film is about a romance between Frédérique and Laurence, the latter of whom identifies as transgender and wishes to live as a woman rather than a man. Frédérique takes the news badly at first and ends the romantic relationship, but eventually takes an active role in teaching her former boyfriend Laurence how to dress as a woman, put on makeup, and otherwise find support.

Aya of Yop City: A young adult film co-directed by Marguerite Abouet and Clément Oubrerie, who created the original graphic novel that inspired the film, Aya follows a girl in the recently independent Ivory Coast during the 1970s, as she experiences the excitement of de-colonialization.

La Cite rose (Asphalt Playground): A young adult film directed by Julien Abraham about a 12 year-old boy who lives in a housing project with his family on the outskirts of Paris. His life becomes complicated when he falls for a girl in his class as school.

Cable Car Cinema, 204 South Main St, Providence, RI 02903

Tickets: 401-272-3970 or http://www.cablecarcinema.com




Thu 02/20/14 06:30 PM Jeune & Jolie (Young & Beautiful)
Thu 02/20/14 09:00 PM The Meteor
Fri 02/21/14 04:00 PM Queen of Montreuil
Fri 02/21/14 06:30 PM Thérèse Desqueyroux
Fri 02/21/14 09:00 PM L’Ordre et la Morale (Rebellion)
Sat 02/22/14 12:00 PM Aya of Yop City
Sat 02/22/14 02:00 PM Haute Cuisine
Sat 02/22/14 04:00 PM Far From Anywhere
Sat 02/22/14 06:30 PM Cycling with Moliere
Sat 02/22/14 09:00 PM La mer à l’aube (Calm at Sea)
Sun 02/23/14 12:00 PM La Cite rose (Asphalt Playground)
Sun 02/23/14 06:30 PM Présumé coupable (Guilty)
Sun 02/23/14 09:00 PM Bowling
Mon 02/24/14 06:30 PM Populaire
Mon 02/24/14 09:00 PM Far from Vietnam
Tue 02/25/14 06:30 PM The Meteor
Tue 02/25/14 09:00 PM Queen of Montreuil
Wed 02/26/14 06:30 PM La mer à l’aube (Calm at Sea)
Wed 02/26/14 09:00 PM L’Ordre et la Morale (Rebellion)
Thu 2/27  2:15 PM  Le Dernier des injustes (The Last of the Unjust)
Thu 02/27/14 04:00 PM Cycling with Moliere
Thu 02/27/14 06:30 PM Le Dernier des injustes (The Last of the Unjust)
Fri 02/28/14 04:00 PM Far from Vietnam
Fri 02/28/14 06:30 PM Far From Anywhere
Fri 02/28/14 09:00 PM Jeune & Jolie (Young & Beautiful)
Sat 03/01/14 12:00 PM La Cite rose (Asphalt Playground)
Sat 03/01/14 02:15 PM Laurence Anyways
Sat 03/01/14 06:30 PM Bowling
Sat 03/01/14 09:00 PM Présumé coupable (Guilty)
Sun 03/02/14 02:15 PM Blue is the Warmest Color
Sun 03/02/14 06:30 PM Ayiti Toma



Tribes: Kill the Wabbit


“Despite all of the multi-layered wit, much of the play depends upon non-verbal communication by the cast.” — Epic Theatre’s Tribes at Theatre 82

The challenge of a play about tribal affiliation is that literally any arbitrary characteristic can be yanked out of thin air and turned into a criterion in order to draw a circle around some people and not others, defining who is in the tribe and who is not. This begins, for Tribes, in the opening announcement before the play even starts that masquerades as an innocuously conventional warning to the audience that there will be a pistol shot in the final act: it immediately creates an in-group who realizes, when that pistol shot finally comes, that it is a playful homage by playwright Nina Raine to her obvious influence Anton Chekhov and the theatrical trope known as “Chekhov’s gun,” first explained by him in a letter: “One must never place a loaded rifle on the stage if it isn’t going to go off. It’s wrong to make promises you don’t mean to keep.” Such meta-witticism might be appreciated by academics and theater critics, but – and this is my point –  excludes those not of that particular tribe unless, luckily, a theater critic explains the joke in a review.

Billy (Joseph Ausanio) is born deaf into a hearing family. His parents, Christopher (Geoff White) and Beth (Carol Schlink), are a retired academic frustrated by his inability to do anything useful and an aspiring novelist frustrated by her inability to publish. His siblings temporarily reduced to living at home, Ruth (Blanche Case) and Daniel (C.T. Larsen), are an opera singer frustrated by her inability to get gigs of more than a few people in a small room and an aspiring academic frustrated by his inability to complete his thesis.

No one listens to anyone else, regardless of their ability to hear. Christopher is trying to learn Chinese wearing earphones that isolate him from what is going on in the room around him. Ruth is trying to learn to sing opera in French, a language she does not understand; the work in question is, ironically, Saint-Saëns’ “Mon cœur s’ouvre à ta voix,” which literally means “My heart opens itself to your voice.” (I warned you about meta-witticisms.) Daniel, among other serious problems, is writing a thesis about communication that is so fluffed-up with over-the-top academic jargon that it is incoherent. The family members interact via argument, profanity, name-calling, ridicule and constant interruption – all except Billy who, due to his deafness, is unable to follow these heated exchanges and then is told, when he asks what happened after each storm blows over, that it was nothing.

Billy meets Sylvia (Stephanie Traversa), who works as an event coordinator for a deaf charity and is herself going deaf. She introduces him to sign language, which his family strongly resisted because the “bloody deaf community,” as Christopher puts it, with its own language is a rival tribe to that of the family. As Billy and Sylvia become romantically involved, they form something of a tribe of their own, him distancing himself from his family and her distancing herself from what she sees as the limited and parochial community of deaf people.

Eventually these people are forced to start listening to each other, or at least making the attempt to the best of their ability, and that changes a lot. Although the dialogue is often clever and funny, it carries tinges of viciousness that are hard to ignore and are not meant to be ignored. Daniel at one point attacks opera, and therefore implicitly Ruth, by ridiculing the work of Richard Wagner, the ultimate expositor of regressive and ignorant tribal primitivism in music; Beth cuts him off: “Of course it’s silly, it’s Wagner.”

Despite all of the multi-layered wit, much of the play depends upon non-verbal communication by the cast. C.T. Larsen as Daniel especially stands out, a character going quite mad from his own inner demons, at one point unknowingly re-enacting a legendary story with himself as Androcles and his mother Beth as the lion. Geoff White as Christopher rises to the demands of an unlikable character, the sort of man who believes that blunt impoliteness accompanied by abusive profanity can be mislabeled as “honesty” and thereby become a positive thing. Joseph Ausanio as Billy has an exceptionally difficult role, conveying the perspective of a deaf character to a hearing audience. As with any good play in the Chekhovian style, what is not said, and the significance of how it is not said, is generally more important than what is said, making deafness a particularly effective metaphor amongst a veritable sea of symbolism and allusion. Director T.J. Curran understands that and employs his cast accordingly.

Even Chekhov, in his last play The Cherry Orchard, was not above making a joke at his own expense: he has a character brandish a gun that never does get fired.

Tribes, Epic Theatre’s Theatre 82, 82 Rolfe Sq, Cranston, RI. http://www.epictheatreri.org In association with the Rhode Island School for the Deaf.

Fri, Sat (1/17, 1/18, 1/24, 1/25) 8:00pm. About 2 hours including intermission. Includes mature content, including subject matter and language, not appropriate for anyone under 17.

Tickets: Artists Exchange, 401-490-9475 or at http://www.artists-exchange.org

Facebook event: https://www.facebook.com/events/224941627678555/

A Christmas Carol Featuring Big Nazo: Haunting the House Pleasantly

big nazoWhen renowned masked puppet workshop Big Nazo produces visionary ghosts, no thin airy shoals are these. Charles Dickens prefaced his classic 1843 novella, “I have endeavoured in this ghostly little book, to raise the ghost of an idea, which shall not put my readers out of humor with themselves, with each other, with the season, or with me. May it haunt their houses pleasantly…” As Ebenezer Scrooge is visited in turn by four ghosts – his deceased partner Jacob Marley, the Ghost of Christmas Past, the Ghost of Christmas Present, and the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come – the audience is treated to each of their appearances in enormous form, Avenue Q mashed-up with Transformers.

The show is not intended for children to any greater degree than was the original novella, but it is not particularly scary despite its employment of Victorian funerary motifs and should be enjoyable for ages of about 7 and older. The Big Nazo ghosts, ghoulish as they are in some cases, seem relatively friendly in a way that is rather surprising from characters about 10 feet tall.

The script wisely follows Dickens’ original text and makes liberal use of its more memorable and quotable lines, but adds quite a lot of cleverness, replete with references to current events and puns – including a few real groaners. Linking modern Detroit with Victorian London is a stretch, but it’s not entirely off-base, either. There are occasional breaks of the fourth wall, as when the ghosts repeatedly bemoan their inability to fly due to insurance regulations in the theater. Scrooge’s old boss and Bob Crachit’s sickly child are both female in this adaptation, becoming “Mrs Fezziwig” and “Tiny Kim,” respectively. Scrooge himself wears Grinch pyjamas.

A sizable children’s chorus sings and dances, adding to the charm that comes with a community theater casting mostly non-professional actors in this simple and well-known story. Several familiar musical numbers are performed solo, some in groups, and there are even a couple of audience sing-a-longs. Admittedly, the fake English accents occasionally result in lines being delivered that sound like “My hovercraft is full of eels,” but anyone who could not themselves recite a quarter of the text must have grown up in a cave, never having heard it from interpreters as varied as Sir Patrick Stewart and Mr Magoo. The cast did not take themselves excessively seriously, and they were having good fun with the production that was contagious to the audience. 

A Christmas Carol has been adapted frequently, first for the stage within a year of its original publication using a script authorized by Dickens. Since then, it has been on the live stage, in film, radio, television, opera, and even comedic parody in hundreds of different versions. The basic framework of the plot is recognizable in Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life and Dr Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas. The story having long ago become of part of the public domain, every theater troupe tries to put their unique spin on it. There is a temptation either toward excessive sentimentality or, alternatively, caustic cynicism; probably the most notable example of the latter is the British television special Blackadder’s Christmas Carol in which the main character is transformed from a generous philanthropist into a mean-spirited miser. It is increasingly difficult to find any kind of original take on the story, but 10-foot tall puppet ghosts certainly accomplishes that.

Courthouse Center for the Arts, 3481 Kingstown Rd (RI-138), W Kingston, RI 02892,
401-782-1018, e-mail info@courthousecenterstage.org,


Thu, Fri, Sat (Dec 7, 12, 13, 14, 19, 20, 21) 8:00pm; Sat, Sun (Dec 7, 8, 14, 15, 21, 22) 2:00pm. About 90 minutes in two acts including a brief intermission.

Ticket sales: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/511317

Facebook event: https://www.facebook.com/events/1395504824017563/

Big Nazo: http://www.bignazo.com/

Charles Dickens’ original story: https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/A_Christmas_Carol_%28Dickens%29