New York Times' Andy Webster called The Man Who Laughs an "Ingenious simulation of silent film...impeccably cohesive."
Fern Siegel, Huffington Post deemed the production "A remarkable achievement...captivating ...inspired stagecraft. A triumph of stylized acting and directorial artistry."
Scott Brown, New York Magazine, recommends going on a date to this "Sumptuous...lovely, creepy little show."
Lisa Jo Sagolla, Backstage, calls the production "Heart-wounding...Extraordinarily clever...Rivetingly rendered."
Rebecca Bernard, Show Business Weekly, enjoyed the complete experience: "Magical... Breathtaking... The attention to detail and commitment of this production is phenomenal."
Tom Blunt of Random House's, Word & Film, highlights the crossroads of Film and Theater: "While "Les Miserables" would love nothing more than to hold our attention all the way through Oscar season, yet another Victor Hugo adaptation is stealthily having its moment....It's pure movie magic."
Ashley Griffin, TheaterOnline.com, deems The Man Who Laughs "a stunningly beautiful work of art," calling the writing "inspired," the direction "brilliant," the design "genius," the performances "breathtaking," exclaiming, "This is truly a not to be missed experience." Read the rest of the review here.
Mary Notari, NYTheatre.com, says the show "is a thrillingly executed, utterly captivating piece of physical theater [that] illustrates how essential live theater is and how the theater of clown can touch us in very real ways...Do not miss this show."
Victoria Teague, New York Theatre Review, likes the feel of silent film combined with the intimacy of theatre, "Gruesomely comedic...will delight and break your heart simultaneously."
Karen White, Arts & Leisure News, exclaims "Entertains and impresses."
Michael Block, Theatre in the Now, trumpets "Stolen Chair Theatre Company should be praised for their daring production that reminds us that theater can still be transformative and relevant."
Eleanor J. Bader, Theatre is Easy, proclaims, "Rife with pathos, melodrama, and occasional humor...So ingenious."
Jon Sobel, Blog Critics, says, this "delightful new production...created a bright, vivid world on a stage drained of color and voices, fashioning a truly unusual entertainment."
Charles Battersby, Theater for Nerds, urges Joker fans to learn the origin story: "Giggles are replaced by gasps as tragic events unfold."
John Townsen, All Fall Down, exclaims "It moves...Brilliant...Art is in the details, and here attention was devoted to every little moment."
W.M. Akers, Astor Place Riot, interviews director Jon Stancato and declares, "It is not a parody of the genre; it is not a museum piece. Instead, it is one of the loveliest bits of theater New York has seen this year."
Alix Cohen, Woman Around Town, declares, "It's a hoot...beautifully conjures the ethos of both era and medium, eliciting pathos and humor."
Stolen Chair is Theatre is Easy's Featured Artist of the Month!
Playright Kiran Rikhye spoke with Works by Women about how the show was originally created and how language is developed for a “silent film” piece.
Martin Denton, of nytheatre.com & indietheaternow.com, is excited for the return of The Man Who Laughs, including it his preview of the upcoming theatre season in The Villager. On the original production, Denton wrote "This bona fide tour de force of theater has the real capacity to tug at something inside of us and make us feel in a raw, spontaneous and very essential way."
Go Backstage and read a profile of star Dave Droxler in, Actors Perform With No Words In 'The Man Who Laughs'.
NPR's Robert Krulwich (Co-host of RadioLab) says "This is time travel in the best possible way; You step into a room, the waiter serves you tea, 120 years evaporate, and right next to you, just feet away, are a pair of ladies about to change the world, and the crazy thing is, they do! Right in front of you. What actually happened is happening again; I was entranced."
Theatre Geek says "There are so many hidden gems to be found once you step away from the dazzling brightness of Times Square and this production is certainly one of them. Run run run (but be ladylike about it) to Lady Mendl's Tea Salon to catch this show before it is gone!" Read the full review.
History News Network's Bruce Chadwick joined us for tea and then raved about it in "Having the Wildest Tea Ever in 1901 with Two Eccentric New York Women about to Change History." He declares, "If you love oddball theater, lots of early twentieth century history and a good cup of tea, hurry over to Lady Mendls."
Tea time becomes a 'playfully perverse' take on the civilized ritual: Read Scott Stiffler's full feature in Chealsea Now
Martin Denton of NYTheatre.com says:
"[C]harming, witty, and extremely interesting
Clifford Lee Johnson III of Backstage says:
"As much of an event as a play.... the finest night of dinner theater [theatregoers] are ever likely to encounter"
Prolific playwright Clyde Fitch himself returns from the dead to interview Bachelors' 'star' Elsie De Wolfe at The Clyde Fitch Report. Confused? Check out the delightfully meta interview yourself to find how Elsie (and Clyde and director Jon Stancato) handles 5 Questions I've Never Been Asked.
"Tea Theatre" gets two scones up! The Bachelors' Tea Party makes The Advocate's Top Ten Off-Broadway!
Brandon Voss of The Advocate says:
"Jody Flader and Liz Eckert impress as interior decorator Elsie de Wolfe and theatrical agent Bessie Marbury, feminist pioneers and self-described New York "bachelors" who lived together during the early 20th century, in Kiran Rikhye's absurd light comedy. Cleverly staged like a child's tea party with porcelain dolls sitting in for the couple's social circle, the dainty show is made more satisfying by a tasty five-course tea service."
Jessica Doherty of New York Theatre Review says:
"[If] only all theatre included beautifully presented, deliciously decadent five course tea services.....As we got up to leave, a woman I had been sharing a table with exclaimed, 'Well that was just lovely'"
Eva Heinemann of HI! DRAMA says:
"It's the most civilized time I've ever experienced at the theatre or high tea...You don't want to miss this. It is fabulous!
"Some people go to the theater because they want to be entertained, some people go because they want to think and be challenged; until now you had to choose; If you are of the type that wants to have it all, this is the play for you"
- Dr. Gabriel Cwilich, scientific advisor to the Ensemble Studio Theater (EST) and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation
"When a nun, a little girl, her older self, a writer, and God get together to prove that they exist, their puzzle gets puzzlier and their search turns very, very funny. Stolen Chair's 'Quantum Poetics' is metaphysics with a big fat grin."
- Robert Krulwich, Co-host of "WNYC's Radiolab
"Very engaging...quite wonderful"
-Tim Maudlin, Author of Truth and Paradox and The Metaphysics within Physics
"[M]erges the fields...in intelligent and playful ways...The effect is mind-bending, down to earth, and funny."
-Jo Ann Rosen, NYtheatre.com
Quantum Poetics was developed in conjunction with Stolen Chair's Community Supported Theatre (CST). During the season, nytheatre.com's Jo Ann Rosen, participated in the CST as an “embedded journalist”, filing reports on the nytheatre blog after each event:
"Rikhye’s language is rich; her ideas are big. It is a privilege to have access to her writing method. For her part, it can’t be easy to share this part of the process, however sophisticated the membership. She must have nerves of steel and a firm grip on her imagination."
Jo Ann's Reports:
Previewing the CST
Professor Gabriel Cwilich
Odd Todd & Staged Reading
BINGO Night & Open-Rehearsal
Quantum Poetics - The Workshop Production
"A macabre and weirdly off-kilter cabaret that revels in death: in looking this greatest of taboos in the face and then throwing a custard pie at it..smart, stylish, and virtuosic, deconstructing what bothers us about the Final Rest by throwing as many theatrical gimmicks as possible at it. If the opportunity to see one of indie theater's smartest and most adventurous young companies tangle with the Unknowable tantalizes you, then a visit to the Connelly may well be in order."
- Martin Denton, NYtheatre.com
"Kiran Rikhye's raucous spectacle is a pastiche of dead and dying theatrical forms: song-and dance, slapstick, melodrama and old-timey conjuring. Loosely structured as a wake for a dead MC as performed by his now bereft charges, the script of Theatre Is Dead and So Are You is merely a vehicle by which this young but accomplished downtown theater company can resurrect the corpus of companies past and you, the viewer, too. Bottom Line: A Frankenstein-y send up of old theater forms performed by young, vital and warm bodies, happily proving its title wrong"
-Joshua David Stein, New York Press
"The characters' playtime raises larger
issues about the role of art in times of economic crisis and a desire to return to the innocence of childhood...The actors all shine within their roles, convincingly portraying adults with a desire to return to their roots."
- Adrienne Urbanski, Theatre is Easy
"Kiran Rikhye's gorgeous play Kinderspiel had me completely, utterly hooked. Stolen Chair pulls out a dangerously delightful production with this one that I'm so glad I didn't miss"
- Heather Lee Rogers, NYTheatre.com
"[T]hink No Exit decked out in fishnets and Art Deco decay...The overall effect is haunting..."
Time Out NY (4 Stars)
NYtheatre.com "Pick of the Week"
"[A] delectable frolic...brilliantly developed and performed...leaving Under St. Marks' crowd wanting more."
"[A]wfully clever...The play not only stands as a testament to the insane depression of the
Weimar era, but illustrates the similarity between genius and insanity,
and the odd power of art to transform one's perception of reality..."
PBS' New Theater Corps
"Once again, [Stolen Chair] showed me what a company can achieve when it commits to the disicipline and sacrifice of the laboratory process. Kinderspiel has all of this company's burgeoning trademarks: exquisite, surprising language, fluid, meticulous direction and mesmerizing and courageous performances from an outstanding ensemble."
Obie Award-Winning Director and Co-Founder of FringeNYC
"I'm going to be keeping an eye on this theater company...Go-for-broke humor and pre-method acting aplomb. I'd recommended this to any of you seeking a different sort of entertainment adventure this weekend. It's only a few bucks pricier than a movie ticket and it's freakin' live theater."
"Happily over-the-top, rollicking fun. (Think The Princess Bride)"
-New York Cool
"Stolen Chair Theatre Company's latest play has the wonderfully long title The Accidental Patriot: The Lamentable Tragedy of the Pirate Desmond Connelly, Irish by Birth, English by Blood, and American by Inclination. The style of the show is embedded in that mouthful: here is a play that mashes up classic swashbuckling romance (the part of the title before the colon) with classical Greek tragedy, and playful meta-theatrical parody with a serious investigation of what it means to be an American (both in the 1770s, when the play is set, and today)...The Accidental Patriot is a great deal of fun, thanks to the exquisitely smart script by Kiran Rikhye, the fluent and exciting staging offered by Stancato, some terrific performances (notably Liza Wade White as the play's heroine; Sarah Stephens as the other principal female character, an outspoken and noble Irish-American saloon proprietress named Cassie Walker; David Berent as the tragedy's key antagonist, Lord Jarvis; and Noah Schultz as the liveliest and funniest member of the chorus), an Irish- and American-tinged folk score arranged by Emily Otto and Raphael Biran and performed mostly by Biran, and a nifty set by David Bengali that—at its finest, depicting the deck of a pirate ship—is absolutely stunning.
The story of The Accidental Patriot concerns a young man named Desmond Connelly, who as the title tells us was born in Ireland, the son of a poor Irish woman and a British military man. When we first meet him, in 1772, he's in Boston, working successfully as a privateer in the service of King George III. When Desmond's friend, the budding American patriot Thomas Beauford, is insulted and then murdered by a contingent of British soldiers under the command of Lord Benjamin Jarvis, Desmond vows revenge. This takes the unlikely form of Desmond's assumption of Thomas's cause: he becomes a pirate, determined to plunder the ships of his former employer/now enemy King George...and to kill Jarvis.
Rikhye's script packs in an enormous number of surprise turns, particularly given that the play's antecedents are so familiar to us. So I don't want to give much away here, lest I spoil your experience at the show. All I will reveal is the one completely obvious turn of the plot, namely that Desmond and Jarvis's only daughter, Georgiana, meet and fall instantly in love (though their romance takes a sort of Beatrice/Benedick route before either of them completely realizes what has happened).
I'll also tell you that the outlines of a proper Greek tragedy are adhered to, including the utilization of a chorus of patriots who speak and often sing exposition and reactions to the plot's developments. But the overall tone of The Accidental Patriot is far more light-hearted than anything Sophocles every cooked up, due in no small part to the large energetic cast, the numerous battle sequences (choreographed by Barbara Charlene), and the detached and sometimes parodic tone of Rikhye's text. Scenes lifted from the swashbuckler films that are the play's main model are often hilariously executed; there is one in particular where Desmond dines with his enemy Jarvis, Jarvis's son, and Georgiana, that is extremely funny. Stancato's lively transitions between scenes also keep the show's tone and pace swift and not too serious.
And yet, all of that said, there is a serious purpose to the proceedings, and not merely the somewhat academic one of seeing what happens when two genres—one from pop culture, one from classical drama—collide. At the core of The Accidental Patriot is a very timely and resonant consideration of what freedom means, and what personal choices are required to achieve and maintain it. The bravery and integrity of many of the story's supporting characters—Thomas Beauford, Cassie Walker—contain the real seeds of patriotism that underlay the creation of America. How many Americans today would sacrifice as they do in the play?
The Accidental Patriot is the most ambitious project yet for the still-young Stolen Chair Theatre Company. Resident playwright Kiran Rikhye's writing continues to astonish in its skillfulness and versatility and humor. Her co-artistic director Jon Stancato flexes his muscles as one of his generation's most imaginative and daring directors...in terms of both audacity and entertainment value it's a fine example of indie theater at its best...and a harbinger of still greater things to come from this remarkable troupe."
"...the result of putting genres into an aesthetic supercollider and pressing the trigger...supple, smart...daring."
The Clyde Fitch Report
"[I]t's important that this newly written old-school hit be recognized. That rape could be funny, not tragic, who knew? The producers and writers of Stolen Chair, that's who. With swagger and grace and a man who's ribald, the show woos us and flatters us, we're never appalled...[T]his show's a must see...The only sad part about Commedia Dell' Artemisia is that it's condensed to stay under an hour."
PBS' New Theater Corps
"Kiran Rikhye's script is clever...witty...and gives the audience rich food for thought. Cameron J. Oro...has an amazingly commanding voice and precisely the light quality of movement needed for such demanding work. David Bengali...is a true virtuoso...The company is clearly on the right path."
"...[A]stonishing authenticity...a stroke of genius...Playwright Kiran Rikhye, director Jon Stancato, and their collaborators dazzle with their range and versatility...sharp, smart parody...brilliantly plotted and generally hilarious."
"...intriguing...clever...we become fascinated by this whodunnit...under Stancato's shrewd direction, the actors ably perform in noir and absurdist styles, showing much promise in a play that...amuses even as it challenges perceptions..."
"...[A] clever, high-styling treat. ...[A] fast-paced rollercoaster ride filled with just the right fantastical ingredients to make this absurd play hilarious...The Stolen Chair Theatre is earning a well deserved following."
Press for Stage Kiss:
"...light-hearted, fun-loving, libido-heavy amusement."
- O'Hagan Blades, Theatre Is Easy
"Racy... energetic...inspired...so much fun! A great play
to bring a date to..."
-Ed Malin, NYtheatre.com
"[A] delight from start to finish: it truly puts the 'play' back in play."
"[S]mart yet lighthearted...delightfully tongue-in-cheek...Audiences should walk away charmed by the play's escapades, gleeful with a guiltless spring fever."
Off Off Online (Featured Review and Best of Season Memory)
"Curious and creative...an aesthetic smorgasboard, with nods to the Renaissance tradition of boy actors, Elizabethan-style blank verse, and the Theatre of the Ridiculous..."
Actor, Playwright, Author, and Critic
"By any measure...a triumph. [T]his bona fide tour de force of theatre...has the real capacity to tug at something inside of us and make us feel in a raw, spontaneous, and very essential way. Bravo."
"By any measure...a triumph. Billed as a live silent film for the stage, that's precisely what it is: a faithful, loving recreation of an art that already seems ancient...
The folks at Stolen Chair tell the story with economy and affection in about ninety minutes. All of the accoutrements of the silent film are here: A dark translucent scrim stands between actors and audience, giving all the action a grainy sepia look that's spot-on. Titles—on transparent cards; there's no high-tech PowerPoint presentation here to jostle us into the 21st century—are projected on the scrim, providing narration and dialogue as required. (They're written by scenarist Kiran Rikhye, who has done a skillful job.) A live soundtrack is played by pianist Emily Otto, stationed just to the front left of the screen; next to her, Aviva Meyer takes care of the sound effects. From somewhere in the back of the theatre is a sound of a film projector—a really lovely touch.
The action, delivered (astonishingly!) by just six actors, is performed in the heightened expressive style of silent movies. The performances are splendidly stylized. Director Jon Stancato maintains consistency of tone, pace, and approach throughout with remarkable acuity. Jennifer Wren, as Dea, is the standout: in her long blonde curls, she's channeling Gish and Pickford in a portrayal of pure and unfettered innocence that comments on itself without seeming reflexive or ironical...
Jon Campbell, as Gwynplaine, is nearly as impressive, in a wrenching performance of the tragic hero...this is a fearless and dedicated actor sacrificing for his art.
Alexia Vernon is suitably malevolent as the Duchess, while Cameron Oro is, until the final scenes, mostly comic relief as her languid lover Lord Dirry Moir. Rounding out the company are Dennis Wit, invaluable as Ursus, and Ariana Seigel as the young Gwynplaine. One of the many amazing things that Stancato and his collaborators accomplish is the illusion of crowds and minor characters, bolstering the scenario though always unseen.
Otto's accompaniment, which (she confided in a talkback after the performance) is mostly improvised, feels entirely authentic. The sound effects are used sparingly, and provide some neat surprises.
But nothing surprised me more than the fact that, not only was I bowled over by the precision and commitment that brought together this bona fide tour de force of theatre, but also that I enjoyed it so much on its own terms. The journey back in time that we take in The Man Who Laughs is neither academic exercise or gimmicky theme park ride—it's a genuine immersion in a kind of storytelling that, for all its apparent hokeyness and naiveté, has the real capacity to tug at something inside of us and make us feel in a raw, spontaneous, and very essential way. Bravo."
"[D]izzying and fun...some of the intricate polysyllabic rhymes are especially impressive...Making an audience think about gender politics in the middle of a raucous seduction scene is undeniably an achievement."
"The original script, by Kiran Rikhye, is in rhymed couplets and is mostly good enough to sound like a Wilbur translation of the master [Moliere]; some of the intricate polysyllabic rhymes are especially impressive.
The staging is dizzying and fun...Commedia Dell'Artemisia makes some salient points about violence against women and society's culpability thereto. Making an audience think about gender politics in the middle of a raucous seduction scene is undeniably an achievement. The show also manages more direct satire in its final scene, a perversion of justice disguised as a trial that quickly devolves into a media circus of the sort we can all recognize. Stancato, Rikhye, and their collaborators score some points about reality TV and celebrity-obsession here. Stancato appears as the foolish, greedy father, and turns in a fine performance that's niftily rooted in movement rather than words.
Jon Campbell is appealingly dastardly as Tassi, and Alexia Vernon is effective in the soubrette role of next-door neighbor Tuzia. Jennifer Wren doubles as the title character and the pompous ignoramus judge; she's particularly delightful as the latter.
This is the first event of the month-long Stampede Festival, a showcase of under-the-radar theatre that you won't see anywhere else in town. My past experiences at Stampede have taught me that this is where I can go for theatre that will surprise and challenge me in weird and unexpected ways. This off-kilter, stylized, marching-to-its-own-drummer composition feels right at home here."
"...one of the most elegantly scripted 'rapes' in the history of theatre...[E]xquisite craftsmanship...never ceases to hold the audience's attention."
"...one of the most elegantly scripted 'rapes' in the history of theatre...
...Campbell brilliantly captures the bravado and arrogance of [Tassi]...Stancato likewise turns in a strong performance as Gentileschi's father...
...Jennifer Wren is magnificent as the coquettish Artemisia. She makes the transition from cautious ingénue to zealous tart effortlessly...Vernon as Tuzia is skillful in portraying the older neighbor and erst-while matchmaker...
The play, however, ultimately succeeds because of the exquisite craftsmanship apparent in Rikhye's comic dialogue. The ingenuity of the show's rhymed verse at times hints at plays by Moliere like Tartuffe and Don Juan. Rikhye's skill in developing the show's elegant multisyllabic couplets never ceases to hold the audience's attention."
Fifth Street Review
Philadelphia's City Paper named the piece one of its top picks of the 2004 Philadelphia Fringe Festival.
"The Renaissance in skirts...lovingly and honestly realized..."
"[B]rims with animated dramaturgy and energetic physicality...The show itself offers an inspired depiction of the world of the Renaissance..."
"Virtuosa, The Stolen Chair Theatre Company's latest production at the Sanford Meisner Theatre, brims with animated dramaturgy and energetic physicality. Virtuosa, an original creation of Kiran Rikhye, is a wonderful portrayal of three female artists from the Renaissance, all of whom the annals of art history usually overlook...
The show itself offers an inspired depiction of the world of the Renaissance...
In addition to successful period recreation, a first-rate set of actors also distinguishes the SCTC's newest production. The multitalented actor, singer, and juggler, Daniel Finkel does an excellent job in portraying Van Dyck, while the painter earnestly investigates the merits of the three female artists. Along the same lines, although Kiran Rikhye's artistic vision of St. Catherine might have made the saint turn over in her grave, Carlos Duque brings St. Catherine to life by amusingly embodying the somewhat pedantic, yet still charming religious figure. Likewise, the three female artists tumble head-over-heels onto the stage and into existence. Catherine Friesen's depiction of the antiquated Sofonisba Anguissola captures both the placid reverence of this octogenarian and the continuing vitality of her discriminating mind. The vocally-gifted Cynthia Ward gives a charismatic portrayal of young Lavinia Fontana's successful dual career as the mother of twelve(!) children and as the first commercially-successful female artist. Finally, Katerhine Walley, in her steamy portrayal of Artemisia Gentileschi, skillfully conveys the tribulations of a young female painter whose artistic ambitions lead her into the eager hands of her father's wily colleague.
The play ends with an impressive tribute to the three women and their artistic genius..."
Fifth Street Review
"A sweet, earnest mash-up of Greek god-fooling, gender-swapping and Boogie Nights."
"A sweet, earnest mash-up of Greek god-fooling, gender-swapping and Boogie Nights. Katherine Walley and Keetje Kuipers nimbly flit through a zillion costume changes, characters and pages of classical-sounding dialogue (with a Judy Blume reference tucked in) to find themselves completely changed by play's end. The lesson is, don't try to fool the gods, because love already makes fools of us all."
City Paper, Philadelphia
"[A] deliberately presentational, absurdist, tongue-in-cheek work of art...Beautiful stage-pictures are created..."
"Whenever a performer stands before me and states 'this is a work of art,' I can't help but cringe. However, that is what this piece is: a deliberately presentational, absurdist, tongue-in-cheek work of art inspired by the experiences of 'Dora' one of Sigmund Freud's patients. Actors drift seamlessly into and out of multiple characters, and into and out of elaborate movement and vocal french scenes. Beautiful stage-pictures are created, lines are repeated, there are moans and screams and even a folk song but, if you asked me what the point of it all was, I would probably just sit there and look at you. I'm sure there was one, though."
City Paper, Philadelphia