"The level of commitment from the entire cast is wonderful."
- NIcole Higgins, NYTheatre.com
"Unless you take offense at burlesque, this is a terrific show, with good acting and refreshingly original songs."
- Dierdre Donovan, CurtainUp
COMING, APHRODITE! is a love story about a man, a woman, and a dog that explores the pursuit of art and the nature of success. A painter, Don Hedger and his dog, Caesar, live in a one-room apartment. Their daily life is upended when Eden Bower, an aspiring actress who likes to sing show tunes and exercise in the nude, moves in next door.
The production features sound design by Obie Award winner Tim Schellenbaum, costumes by Ramona Ponce (of Ridiculous Theatrical Company acclaim), sets by Jim Boutin, lighting by Alex Bartenieff and choreography by Heidi Latsky.
Watson Arts, under the artistic direction of award winning director and playwright Mary Fulham, is a resident company of La MaMa E.T.C. In 2005, their original musical Hercules in High Suburbia won a FringeNYC Overall Excellence Award. Fulham's play Devotion received the MECCA (Montreal English Critics Circle) Award. She is also a two-time winner of the Montreal Fringe Festival Frankie Award for Best Comedy for both P.S. 69 and Was that My 15 Minutes? Fulham began her career as an original member of the groundbreaking all-girl performance group The High Heeled Women. The company has also presented acclaimed productions of Balletto Stilletto, a 2006 IT Award Nominee for Outstanding Performance Art Production, and Trophy Wife, a musical based on a Chekhov short story.
Multi-instrumentalist, singer, conductor, composer, juggler, and toaster enthusiast Mark Ettinger tours regularly with The Flying Karamazov Brothers, and writes songs and other music the rest of the time. After years of backing songwriters on a variety of instruments on both coasts, he recently release In This World, his own debut as singer/songwriter.
Paul Foglino is the recipient of the 2005 FringeNYC Award for Overall Excellence for Outstanding Music and Lyrics for Hercules in High Suburbia. He also wrote lyrics for Balleto Stiletto, which received a nomination for an Innovative Theatre Award. Previously, he wrote songs and played bass for the country rock act Five Chinese Brothers. Currently, he plays guitar and writes songs for Ellen Foley and the Dirty Old Men.
by Nicole Higgins
Read this review online
Coming, Aphrodite! is the musical adaptation of a novella of the same name written by Willa Cather in 1920 about Eden Bower, a young on-the-make actress new to New York City, and Don Hedger, a Village artist of the Bohemian dog-owning sort. It's the story of an unlikely love affair that could only happen in this brief window in the trajectory of both their lives. And it's set to music! Which should make the bones of Ms. Cather happy as she wrote many stories about musicians and artists and the personal sacrifices they make in pursuit of their ideals. When I first heard there was a Willa Cather adaptation taking the stage I figured it was about time. Her stories are juicy with interesting characters.
Director-writer Mary Fulham sets her adaptation in New York circa 1983, a legendary time (the early '80s) for Broadway and the most dynamic (except for now of course) since vaudeville's last true decade, the 1920s. I imagine the text must have been updated to evoke the period that gave birth to Cats, Dreamgirls, Flashdance, Fame, and A Chorus Line (the movie), some of which are referenced within it; some of which are still inspiring the youth of today to become struggling artists.
Costume designer Ramona Ponce takes full advantage of the period, giving us an Eden Bower in a shiny pink polyester leotard, lemon yellow high-waisted pants, and red red pumps. The scene design by Jim Boutin uses negative space with a signature 1980s cartoon blow-up twist, keeping things simple. The shadow puppets by Spica Wobbe are beautiful and sometimes naughty, but I found myself distracted by the integration of them.
All at once the opening song, written by Paul Foglino with music by Mark Ettinger, filled me with hope for the youthful dreams of the characters. The level of commitment from the entire cast is wonderful. Greg Henits and Liz Kimball both perform admirably as Don Hedger and Eden Bower respectively. Getting a love affair between opposites to gel isn't easy; this one strikes just the right note. I mean, we all know that the aggressively blonde actress will hook up with the shy voyeur artist, but we hope it won't be too contrived. And it wasn't. I believed!
However, some of the most poignant moments are between Clayton Dean Smith as Caesar, the dog, and his master (Don Hedger). Truly he was in danger of stealing the entire show with his proper bow tie, limited vocabulary, and utterly doggish devotion. When he sang "I am already feeling alone" because his master had found a girl, my heart broke.
My favorite line from the entire show, "It's cheese...but it's tasty!" is perfectly delivered/sung in a compromising position by Anne Gaynor as Molly, a Coney Island burlesque showgirl (she also plays surly landlady Miss Folly). It got the biggest laugh of the night from an audience which seemed unsure if this was supposed to be a comedy. The quote comes from "Cheap Thrills," a song that comments on the pleasures of low brow entertainment.
So boy meets girl in New York. It's one of the oldest stories we love to see again and again. Having read the novella and expected the 1920s, I was surprised by how well the story translates, but it's timeless, really, I'm sure it's happening out there right now.
by Dierdre Donovan
read this review online
Something life-enhancing is afoot in Mary Fulham's Coming, Aphrodite! a musical adaptation of Willa Cather's novella at La Mama E.T.C. And it is worth catching if you like off-beat love stories.
The show offers us a love triangle with a decided new twist: a man, a woman— and a dog. Though this may at first seem like a joke, one need only watch the first ten minutes to discover a serious subtext. Beneath its surface romance, Coming Aphrodite explores the pursuit of art and the nature of success.
The story is set in New York City in 1983. As the action begins, we hear the sounds of morning rush hour and see pigeons swooping through the rooftops on the Lower East Side on a large video screen. The lights go up on Don Hedger (Greg Henits), a young artist working in his studio apartment on the top floor. He stands looking out in the direction of the audience, painting the fourth wall with a can of spray paint and a paintbrush. He sings about his art, how each clean canvas simultaneously evokes in him all kind of fresh possibility and fear. Before he can complete his song, however, he's interrupted by his dog Caesar (played with amazing physicality by Clayton Dean Smith).
Caesar wants Don to pay attention to the building super Miss Foley who's showing an aspiring actress Eden Bower the next-door apartment. Though Don assures Caesar that what he hears is just "somebody looking at the apartment," he's wrong. Eden is already in the process of moving in. What's more, Don soon hears a few bars of "I Have a Dream" from Gypsy, a sure cues that the new arrival is a budding actress.
Writer-director Mary Fulham's inventive adaption of Willa Cather's boy-meets-girl novella is told with original songs (music and lyrics by Mark Ettinger and Paul Foglino), snatches of old musical show tunes, with lithesome choreographed movements, as well as in plain dialogue. There are tickling touches of humor as Don falls in love with Eden. And, of course, watching the dog Caesar become jealous of Eden gives rise to some uproarious and at times touching fun.
No doubt the richer aspects of the piece involve the inevitable conflicts arising from career choices and personal relationships. Don is the epitome of a devoted and uncompromising artist in his 20s. Eden, also in her 20s, is all about show biz razzle-dazzle and, if necessary, following her acting dream to Hollywood. She doesn't really "get" Don's art or understand his attitude of standing back from the limelight, which gradually creates all kinds of friction in their relationship.
Some burlesque-like scenes are Eden's exercise routines enacted in the nude. Though Eden remains behind a lighted screen, we do see her shapely figure in a dark silhouette. Also on the risqué side is a scene at Coney Island, with Don filming a video of his friend Molly, an uninhibited performance artist. These frisky episodes add more than a modicum of nudity and sexual innuendos. Little wonder that the song" Cheap Thrills" becomes a kind of anthem for the evening.
Unless you take offense at burlesque, this is a terrific show, with good acting and refreshingly original songs. The story embraces love's ambiguities, and all kinds of thought-provoking debates on art and success. And of course it has a great dog act in Smith. Fulham's direction is spot-on and Jim Bouton's no-frills set makes a suitably deconstructionist statement.
Coming, Aphrodite! is hardly your conventional love story, but it vividly illustrates how unpredictable love, life, and art truly are. The ninety minutes surely give you something to smile about.
by Richmond Shepard-- Performing Arts INSIDER and lively-arts.com.
COMING APHRODITE!, a musical adaptation of Willa Cather’s novella, written and directed by Mary Fulham, with music by Mark Ettinger and lyrics by Paul Foglino, is a charming musical about a handsome young artist (Greg Henits), his neighbor, an aspiring actress/dancer (Liz Kimball), his dog (Clayton Dean Smith), and a landlady (Anne Gaynor- a terrific singer who also plays a sexy performer). This is an engaging, high-level show in all aspects, with sweet, enjoyable songs, marvelous projections, art work and puppetry (by Spica Wobbe), terrific costumes, including a fabulous fat suit, (by Ramona Ponce), and four accomplished performers. To see the supple, graceful Kimball stretch, nude, as a shadow behind a screen, made my week (choreography by Heidi Latsky). Smith gives good dog. His personification of the dog is inventive, subtle, tasteful. It is all imaginatively directed by Fulham, on a good stylized set by Jim Boutin with fine lighting by Alex
Bartenieff. This lovely little show deserves a big hug and a long New York run. It’s at La MaMa through March 8th.