ABOUT THE TALKING BAND
The Experiment Must Go On
The Talking Band Prepares a 40th-Anniversary Production
The Talking Band members have been together for a very long time, and the characters in “The Golden Toad” lead linked lives, too. Directed by Mr. Zimet, the troupe’s artistic director, the play is a four-part mini-epic with a cast of 14, set in an ever-changing New York. But even with the epilogue, which leaps ahead a couple of decades, it doesn’t cover as many years as these three have logged in one another’s company.
From the start, the Talking Band has been interested in combining language, visual imagery and music. In a 1978 review of “Worksong,” a piece about American labor, Richard Eder of The Times described Talking Band performances that “teeter blurrily between music and theater.” He added, “You feel that they may do anything next, and that it may or may not work.”
The company has built that unpredictability into its oeuvre, preferring to reinvent itself with each project. The drama critic Jonathan Kalb, a professor of theater at Hunter College, said that’s an approach the troupe learned from Mr. Chaikin, allowing process and technique to arise from the material.
“They give the feeling of having stumbled upon something marvelous in these open-ended explorations, and that’s rare and wonderful,” Mr. Kalb said. “I do feel as though they are one of the most impressive continuers of Chaikin’s legacy, even though they’ve made it something very much their own.”
-Laura Collins-Hughes, The New York Times
The Talking Band: An Indie Theater Profile
Challenge and invention, you see, are the hallmarks of The Talking Band’s work. Its three co-founders, Maddow, Zimet and Tina Shepard, are polymaths with passion for theatre and its possibilities and a rich, deep curiosity about the world and ITS possibilities. All three are actors—you can count on at least one and maybe two or all three of them appearing in any Talking Band show. Shepard and Zimet are also directors (and teachers); Zimet and Maddow are also playwrights (quick plug: some of their recent works are available on Indie Theater Now, the online digital library that I founded and curate). And Maddow is also a composer, creating and performing music for the Talking Band shows, none of which can be described as a “musical” in the conventional sense of the term, but all of which are very very musical indeed.
So these three remarkable artists are the core of The Talking Band; lots of theatre companies endowed with that kind of depth of intellect and artistry stop there, creating work for, by, and of themselves. But here’s The Talking Band difference: these three collaborators are always in search of new collaborators. What makes their work fresh and distinctive is that they constantly seek stimulation in the form of young and/or different partners to create with. They mine the best and brightest of the indie theater world; and they look beyond its borders, to whatever disciplines and ideas currently fascinate them. The result is theatre that engages with its world in a truly active way. This work is never meta for its own sake, never self-absorbed or reflexive. The Talking Band is always focused outward, and eager to pull its audience in.
Really, the only thing you can expect for sure when you show up at a Talking Band event is that something really interesting is about to happen to you; it’s impossible, for me anyway, to leave one of these shows unchanged. The Talking Band take their mission statement (“Illuminating the extraordinary dimensions of ordinary life”) very seriously. They shine a lot of light of what’s fundamental in our lives, and that’s why I would never dream of missing one of their shows.
-Martin Denton, Indie Theater Now
Room for the Bigger Thing: ELLEN MADDOW and PAUL ZIMET with Lizzie Olesker
The Talking Band has been making collaborative, experimental theater for over forty years, with a uniquely heightened theatrical awareness and a deeply musical sensibility. Their work spans dozens of theatrical pieces notable for their striking visual imagery, unexpected sound, and strong stylistic choices. Though varied in both form and content, each piece focuses on the discovery of what’s inside a written text, a song, an image, and an extended moment of a lived experience.
Each time I work with the Talking Band, it feels like I’m returning to a kind of creative family. Like a family, their working process is both deeply familiar and continually mysterious.
It’s now thirty-five years later, and I’m once again in Ellen and Paul’s well-lived-in loft, where I’ve talked, eaten, worked, drank, and rehearsed many times. I cannot help but notice how we’ve changed, but also remained in some fundamental way the same. I deeply admire Ellen and Paul’s continual integration of their theater-making into their lives, and their tireless ability to produce new, challenging work—creating over fifty productions here in New York and touring internationally. They’ve lived and worked with a gentle yet fierce determination, and a radical endurance. They simply go on.
-Lizzie Olesker, The Brooklyn Rail
“The Talking Band, a five-member company composed partly of Open Theater veterans, focuses on the basic theatre problem of how to perform words—especially how to harness the emotive values of vocal and instrumental sounds to underscore the meanings of tests. The group began working on short stories, poetry, and songs, and has gone on to develop collectively two very fine full-length pieces: Worksong, a semi-documentary ode-to/critique-of work and money in America; and The Kalevala, based on the lyrical, acrid epic of Finland. The Band has by now evolved a distinctive theatre style—highly presentational, visually spare, and aurally rich. Using sensitive orchestrations of voices, body percussion, and traditional and homemade instruments to transmit feelings and experiences to their audiences, this group is wonderfully out of step with the current stage trend towards post-modern and anti-emotion. The Talking Band is currently completing a five-week run at the Theater for the New City.”
–Eileen Blumenthal, Village Voice, 1979
Krapp’s Last Tape
“The setting is different, but it is not contrary to Samuel Beckett’s specification. This large dirt floor, crate-strewn environment could be an approximation of Krapp’s solitary den, the repository of the character’s journal on tape.As directed by Alan Mokker, in this co-production with Mr. Zimet’s Talking Band company, the actor is a more sardonic—and a more clownish—Krapp than one often sees, but he does not avert a tragic dimension. Mr. Zimet’s long, stubbled face, and sorrowful voice reflect the despair that is so basic to the character. His Krapp is defined by his impatience, When he hears himself describe a vision of eternal bleakness after “a year of profound gloom and indigence,” he has a look of total disdain.”
– The New York Times
The Talking Band, a New York City-based group whose name quite perfectly embodies its artistic credo, has build a piece around the romances and realities of labor in America. Worksong, which opened Friday and runs for two more weekends, is a tough show to categorize. It isn’t a play, since most of the spoken language in in the form of monologues. And it isn’t a musical, since the few songs are more like freeform laments than tunes we’re likely to find ourselves humming as we depart the theater.
The Band calls Worksong a cantata which does manage to include all of those elements as well as convey a sense of the work’s small scale and the initmiate level on which the group communicates with its audience.
–The Dallas Morning News
Woody Gurthrie would have laughed.
John D. Rockefeller would have grimaced. The woman in the next row had to take an early intermission because it was too disturbing. The fellow a few seats down shoulted with glee agreeing wheth the factory worker said, “The company has this thing about how everybody is supposed to love their job.”
Zimet calls the band’s special kind of theater “gesture combined with vocal expression and music.”
They taunt the work ethic. They scrutinize the American principle that says “make everything rich and efficient.” They hang their characters of ideas of work and money out on a line like underwear, pointing to the embarrassing tatters and to fancy stitching.
If theater’s purpose is to entertain and to reflect, and perhaps to pinch its audience a time or two, the the Talking Band is consummate theater.
– Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Tristan & Isolt
“In a bicameral evening at LaMaMa, the Talking Band is presenting a revival of the justly praised Giaconda and Si Ya U in one theater and their new production of Tristan and Isolt in another. It if is hubris to present the Wagnerian love epic today with a cast of seven on a small stage, the Celtic gods must not have been offended, because the Talking Band brings it off quite brilliantly.
One of the virtues of the Talking Band is their ability to spin out a complicated narrative with simplicity and clarity. Although the costumes, set, and lighting are austere in the extreme, the impression is voluptuous.
If you want to see an opera where the language is not the music, go to La MaMa, which is for a while Bayreuth without the pomp.”
– The Village Voice
Giaconda & Si-Ya-U
“Another magical journey is being offered by the Talking Band. The group has taken a long poem—Giaconda and Si Ya U—by the modern Turkish poet Nazim Hikmet and used it as a springboard for a charming, hour-long, late-night diversion of the same name. The Mona Lisa, so the poem goes, imprisoned for centuries in her frame at the Louvre, as as much a prisoner of her famous smile, succumbs, one day to the attentions of Si-Ya-U, a young Chinese. She falls in love, and, with the aid of Hikmet, the poet, who pilots a monoplane, and a deckand on an English boat sailing the China sea, pursues him to Shanghai, where, alas, she is just in time to witness his violent death.”
– The Soho News
There are some occasions in the theatre when you get the feeling that you are part of a special event, a moment of connection between audience and performer in which some basic sensation of being humans is revealed and shared.
“Holding Patterns” by the Talking Band now at La MaMa produces that feeling through a sturdy little collection of one-act plays. Each is a monodrama in which a character confronts us armed and amplified by an assortment of old clothes and objects of the type that fill our lives but do not occupy our attention.
“Bedroom Suite,” written and performed by Ellen Maddow, is a wicked and virtuoso assault on virtuosity. Maddow plays the character of Betty Suffer, a woman harried into retreat by the metallic rattlebang of urban life.
In “Daily Drill,” written and performed by Paul Zimet, we have an exquisite construction of esthetic logic. Zimet plays a mathematician who has determined through the study of probability theory that we will probably atomize each other.
The third piece, written and performed by Tina Shepard is more remote and indirect than the first two. Shepard is setting up shokepping in a series of constantly collapsing attempts at order. She has fist fights with doors that get her back by tripping her up and dropping her on her face. Books escape her control and fall in heaps around the room only to be plucked up by Shepard, read at random, and abandoned again to the chaos.
The title “Holding Patterns” is a perfect embodiment of the content of the evening. The Talking Band holds the small, intense ludicrous patterns of human life in a series of simple, profound images. They are exceptional.
– The Villager
“In a potpourri of small solo comedies grouped under the title, ‘Holding Patterns,’ three members of the Talking Band comment on man’s relationship to an environment. Each is in situ, and the locale itself nurtures an actor-author’s comic imagination.
The last and most amusing sketch sends Tina Shepard pratfalling into an apartment that is hair-triggered with devices – ladders, brooms and the jazz saxophonist Harry Mann in costume as a lamp. Miss Shepard pulls a cord, the light goes on over the musician’s head and he begins to play rippling music of his own composition.
Since the earliest days of the Open Theater, the progenitor of the Talking Band, we have known that Miss Shepard was a talented actress. Her ”Home Remedies” (at La MaMa) confirms her penchant for physical clowning, as, deadpan, she trips and hurtles into silent and spoken comedy.”
Big Mouth, the Talking Band’s newest performance collage, is a satirical study of the relationship between political power and social paranoia. Big Mouth alternates between farcical caricatures of paternalism run amok and earnest, anguished tableaux of human oppression. The scenes are linked by the musical interludes both live and pre-recorded, that blend electronic and Latin folk ingredients into an atmospheric, occasionally overbearing soundtrack.
In Big Mouth we see the price of complicity with abusive power and what happens when people participate in their own self-denigration.”In Big Mouth the Talking Band is presenting its audience with a cautionary tale told in eloquent images and strong metaphors. It is a well acted, blatantly didactic piece; but for that it needs no apology. The message is clear: the need for power over others springs from fear. And this same destructive need which motivates emperor and president can drive the average person to commit violent acts. Framed within the context of this through-provoking piece is the encouragement to take another look at both the power needs within ourselves and their global manifestations.”
– The Villager
Betty and the Blenders
“The Talking band was established by a group of musicians and actors in 1974 to expand the sound and language horizons of the theater. They have succeeded far beyond creating an artificially “different” theatre company because they have sought to give voice to the inner, often unspoken strata of our national life. “Betty and the Blenders” and “Life Simulator” are companion pieces that penetrate the anonymous, electro-mechanically enhanced, petit bourgeois American.
Both of these pieces are comedies that left me not-quite pleasantly but reflectively silent because of their sardonic, small scale eloquence. Both look zany at the outset but they reach into the inner life of their characters with a kind of minor key concision that reminds me of Moliere’s short plays. However foolish the characters may seem to be, they are humans struggling for life, a thing worth having that cannot be rendered safe, or comfortable, or even much worth having if it is taken in the form of a simulation.”
– The Villager
“The title of Paul Zimet’s Fata Morgana refers to the mirage-like phenomena when they happen at sea, and the play recounts the experience of some cruise vacationers who are beset with illusions until they begin to feel the entire voyage is a replication of the voyage of the Pequod, a quest for health that evolves into a coming-to-terms with death and survival.
Fata Morgana is the first production to grace the newly reconstructed main playing space at Theater for the New City, a handsome and very flexible theater that is both first phase and centerpiece of TNC’s ambitious renovation plan.”
– New York Native
Fern and Rose
“Every waking day you drop your very own pot of sand on the floor and every waking day you try to gather the pieces and every waking day you fail to get it right. So you add more sand and you put back the pieces the best you can and this is your life and this is remembering your life. Rocky Bornstein and Ellen Maddow of the Talking Band pin down the process with melancholy humor in their Fern and Rose, the story of the story of the lives of two ordinary Jewish girls who’ve dropped their pots in the same place.
Band member Paul Zimet picks up the theme in his quirky A Perfect Life, a parodic attempt at piecing together an ideal identity using other people’s best qualitites. With video by David Dawkins, Zimet walks through a gallery of strange early life characters (from a smiling Aikido master to a befuddled cow farmer), then goes about the business of forming a Frankensteinian composite…his point—the absurd impossibility of “choosing” a single identity, of making sense of all those pottery fragments, and all that sand—is loud and clear.”
– Village Voice
Blue Sky is a Curse
“Before the performance even begins, a television monitor displays incendiary footabge of the 1991 L.A. riots. But the background riots that connect the trilogy of pieces collectively called <em>The Blue Sky is a Curse</em> could be taking place anywhere, perhaps even in the characters’ minds.
Such are the ambiguous terms of the Talking Band, an avant-garde performance company that has always emphasized surrealism in their work and broken down the barriers between music and language no less than dreams and reality. The deliberately oblique and bewildering results are perhaps clearer than usual in their latest offering which consists of three seemingly discrete but indirectly related pieces.”
– David Kaufman
“Bad Women is a retelling of the stories of several heroines/villainesses from Greek mythology. The eponymous subjects are Clytemnestra (who killed her husband Agamemnon after he sacrificed their daughter Iphigenia to the goddess Artemis); Cassandra (who defied the god of Apollo and was pinished by being turned into a prophetess believed by no one); Deianeira (wife to Heracles, whom she inadvertently murdered with a lethal love potion); Agave (from the Bakkhai, who tore her son limb from limb in a dionysic frenzy); Phaedra (who fell in love with her step-son Hippolytus and, when he failed to requite it, had him killed); and Medea (who, of course, murdered her husband’s new bride and children).
All of the action ranges freely through the performance space. The audience is, in fact, seated all around the room, and the various scenes and vignettses play out in every corner of the auditorium, so that sometimes the actors are literally inches away and other times you have to crane your head to see them behind or even above you.
At one point, each of the eleven actors speaks, in character, to a small segment of the audience. They all speak at once, each telling her own story to their tiny crowd of listeners. You never miss a word. It’s a marvelously effective moment.”
Star Messengers is a musical theater work about two scientists, Galileo Galilei and Johannes Kepler, who changed our view of the universe. Writer Paul Zimet and composer Ellen Maddow have created a carnival of genres—opera, Commedia dell’Arte, Strindbergian Dream Play, and contemporary dance/theater—to produce a theatrical language that conveys the wonder of Galileo’s and Kepler’s discoveries. While some aspects of Galileo’s life and discoveries are well known, hardly anything is popularly known of his scientific contemporaries. Johannes Kepler’s realization that the planets moved not in perfect circles, but in elliptical paths, was a leap of mind as extraordinary as that made by Galileo in his proof that the earth moved around the sun. Kepler’s discoveries were made despite poverty, the Thirty Years War, the loss of his wife and child to an epidemic, and the need to defend his mother in court from charges of witchcraft. A third prominent contemporary was Kepler’s mentor, Tycho Brahe, the greatest naked-eye observer of the heavens. Brahe was a flamboyant, worldly nobleman who wore a silver nose to replace his own, which he lost in a duel. In Star Messengers, these extraordinary, colorful figures are joined by three Commedia characters — Simplicio, Sagredo, and Salviati—created by Galileo himself to explain and popularize his theories. Star Messengers invites us to join them in peering “with bright vision into nature’s darkness.”
“The Parrot combines the quirky, lowtech appeal of the Talking band’s downtown aesthetic with an appreciation for the contradictions and pressures faced by an adolescent gild.
The story written by Paul Zimet freely adapted an Italian folktale, focuses on one evening in young Bela’s life when she is left home alone. While she works on her homework—and juggles simultaneous conversations with several friends on her cell phone—she notices a flock of parrots in a tree utside the window: a chorus of three actors in huge beaked floppy fabric masks, singing a fugue-like commentary on the action and echoing the sounds of the city.”
– Village Voice
“The first notes of Maddow’s cunning score, a mixture of whimsy and urban edginess, set the tone as mid-teen Bela, played with charming pluck by Elizbeth Danies, juggles calls on her cell phone while doing homework on her laptop.
Zimet’s clear direction and Karinne Keithley’s simple choregraphy are enhanced by Nic Ularu’s versatile set and Lenore Doxsee’s lighting, which aptly colors this cross-generation tale of a girl’s ultimate male empowerment.”
– Back Stage
“From a production quality standpoint, there is much to admire about the show. The multi-tiered set is efficiently stark and minimalist. Beautiful and surreal backdrops merge collage-like in and out of focus, while hovering sinister and ever-present from the stage right uppermost tier is a gallows. The costumes are colorful and ingenious.
The performers, some of them founding members of The Talking Band, are generally faultless in technique … Standout performances are given by Steven Ratazzi (Lord Nelson) and David Greenspan (Blake), both of whom double as White Boys and sing beautifully; as well as the very charismatic Will Badgett, who also plays a number of roles (Olaudah Equiano, Black King) and is one of the energetic Mummers. Special kudos to Tina Shepard who has the guts to play Mrs. Blake wearing nothing but a cap and an air of grace.
– Liz Kimberlin, NYTheatre.com
“The Talking Band’s mighty inventiveness is once again on display in La Mama etc’s huge playing space. Like the thirty-year-old company’s <em>Star Messengers,</em> which played in this same theater three seasons ago, <em>Belize </em>is based on actual historic events and characters. The play is heavily interspersed with music and it would not be too far afield to call it a chamber opera.
<em>Belize</em> is crafted by the same imaginative design team that lent to many terrific ideas to <em>Star Messenger</em> and Paul Zimet again takes full advantage of their talents. Maddow’s music is not of the crowd pleasing variety, especially when heard for the first time. Its delivery by these performers can be admired more for being daring than dazzling. Yet the lyrics, like the spoken text, are forceful and whether spoken or sung, the words illuminate history and the whole enterprise stretches theater’s aestethic potential.”
– Elisa Sommer, CurtainUp
“And what exactly does Talking Band do with this classic yarn of imperialistic injustice? Quite a good deal. The Annex at La MaMa is one of downtown theater’s most beautiful spaces, and Talking Band takes advantage of it. Scenes are pitched on warm, wooden balconies and stairwells. Set designer Nic Ularu constructed a platform stage near the audience that allows for intimate, court-style performances. That intimacy is juxtaposed with a distant upstage ledge upon which the actors appear as eerie marionettes and seem to be suspended like hanged corpses in low light.
Kiki Smith’s costumes are detailed and gorgeous, and when combined with richly colored projections and Carol Mullins’s lights, Belize‘s design successfully evokes the contrast between the ragtag, kaleidoscope-colored aesthetic of Central American colonies and the weighted luxury of the mother country, England.
Under Paul Zimet’s direction, Talking Band’s storytelling techniques are as complex as its design. Greek chorus-like accounts by the Black Mummers, a Caribbean group of street performers, and the White Boys of Coolrain, their decidedly more somber Irish-revolutionary counterparts, guide the audience through Despard’s tragic tale. Edward and Catherine’s meetings with William Blake and his wife present an enriching view of 18th-century English life. (The Blakes are wryly played by David Greenspan and Tina Shepard, two downtown-theater gems who offer the consistently best performances in a variety of roles.) And a subplot involving Horatio Nelson sheds light upon England’s imperialistic tyranny.
The play is replete with pretty songs (composed by Ellen Maddow) that are very simply set to instrumental accompaniment. They are sung for the words rather than the tone and are often amusingly introduced by the preface, “And now XXX will sing the song of XXX.”
Watching Belize is very much like indulging in a multi-course meal at a reputable establishment. It is beautiful and multifaceted, with a variety of offerings to round out the experience and an ambience that makes you feel, well, taken care of.”
– Julia Jonas, OffOffOnline
“An avant garde institution for 30 years, the Talking Band returns to La MaMA with an ensemble piece that aptly illustrates the company’s signature storytelling style. Applying musical narrative and ritualized movement to a simple but literate text, artistic director (and house scribe) Paul Zimet turns the life story of revolutionary hero Edward Despard into a colorful folk tale with a strong political message. The exotic performance style suits the fabled 18th-century hero, an Irish-born officer in the British Army who went native while serving as governor of British Honduras — although the role cries out for a more expressive actor to do justice to this heroic iconoclast.
Happily, founding members Maddow and Tina Shepard are on hand to lend that touch of the bizarre that defines Talking Band’s peculiar brand of subversive humor. Maddow’s contribution is a blowsy Lady Hamilton who catches Lord Nelson’s roving eye with hilariously inept tableaux vivants. Shepard, as Blake’s decorous wife, presides over a nude tea party with delicious wit.
Kiki Smith’s colorful costumes — eye-catching confections in sculptural forms — are shown to their best advantage by the two choral groups that wind their way through the action playing percussive instruments and singing in a variety of accented tongues.”
– Marilyn Stasio, Variety
“The crackerjack design team, witty directing, and a pack of terrific performances make for a delightful, if confounding, evening of theatre … The tightly choreographed, cleverly constructed recap of part one that opens part two might in itself be worth the price of admission.
The ensemble as a whole, adroitly directed by Melissa Kievman and Anne Kauffman, has a marvelous uniformity of tone, striking just the right formula of one part tongue-in-cheek to two parts sincerity, with a dash of camp, a sprinkle of razzle-dazzle, and the occasional completely over-the-top portentous utterance thrown in for good measure.
Peter Gordon’s music (and, I assume overall soundscape, though it ’s not credited as such) is important enough to almost be a character. The scoring and sound effects add immeasurably to mood and tone at every turn, as well as reinforcing the old-time radio themes. I was impressed by Anna Kiraly’s clever and flexible set, which uses simple materials—mostly movable flats with different architectural elements painted on them—to create a maze of disappearing stairwells and rambling corridors.”
– Loren Noveck, NYTheatre.com
“The Necklace, the loony new show by the Talking Band theater company, set inside a creepy old house lorded over by the imperious Aunt Fanny (Tina Shepard), lovingly revives an old and beloved form, the serial. Four playwrights (Lisa D’Amour, Paul Zimet, Ellen Maddow and Lizzie Olesker) have written eight episodes, which are performed two at a time.
There is a large cast of curious characters, including a sneaky real estate agent, an aggressive salesman and the hyper and hormonal twins. While the plot doesn’t have the twisty elegance of a great potboiler, the serial, staged by Anne Kaufman and Melissa Kievman, maintains a goofy, rollicking downtown style; call it low-budget Bollywood.
“The Necklace” includes lots of computer-generated music, twirling dances, a special effect or two and high-energy performers who seem to have a grand old time. If you’re in the mood for something silly, you will too.”
– Jason Zinoman, The New York Times
“Serial dramas are not something likely to be seen on stage. Unless you head for the Ohio Theater in SoHo where The Talking Band’s new eight-part serial drama The Necklace is playing — with each episode a self-contained theater piece and four different playwrights contributing. Judging from the first two episodes that I saw you can expect to be continually surprised and not just because it leaves you wondering whodunit.
Any expectations for an old-fashioned thriller vanish when the pushy suburban neighbor (Jodi Lin) and a pair of snotty, modern 16-year-olds (Suli Holum and Katie Pearl) make their entrance. The underscoring throughout (composed by Peter Gordon) is another example of the unexpected. It sounds like a score from an old thriller movie but ends up with a most unusual sound.
The large cast adds to the pleasures on offer. Particularly impressive are Shepard (whose Fanny seems to live on memory alone) and David Brooks as Donald, a young orphan constantly meeting strangers and ghosts.”
– Julia Furay, CurtainUp
Hot Lunch Apostles
The show is, not at all unsurprisingly, spectacularly well done. Music by Maddow, RosenBerg, Harry Mann, and Sybile Hayn is evocative and beautifully performed by the company. The design—a spare set by Nic Ularu; tacky costumes by Kiki Smith; moody lighting by Lenore Doxsee—provides the stark, sad ambience the show demands. And the acting, by a troupe mostly of Talking Band all-stars, is superb …
We are fortunate to have The Talking Band still making true and authentic art here at La MaMa three decades after they first performed this remarkable show.”
–Martin Denton, NY Theatre.com
“If you want to see a show that makes The Book of Mormon look like a kiddie story, here’s your pleasure. And, confound it, it’s a revival! That has never been on Broadway! The Talking Band’s Hot Lunch Apostles first hit New York in 1983. Today it’s as trenchant as if it were written yesterday, which is part of its horrible charm.
The rowdy, raucous, bawdy romp has turned brutally profound. Oh, I’m glad I was here this time.”
–Eugene Paul, TheatreScene.net
“Talking Band is one of the boldest and most venerable politically minded companies in New York experimental theater …
The bravery-in-theater award this year goes to … not one of those flying masked men from “Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark”. The winners are Tina Shepard and Jack Wetherall for fearlessly recreating their 1983 performances in the Talking Band’s “Hot Lunch Apostles” at La MaMa …
The go-for-broke performances add a certain gritty authenticity to a play set in a desperate, destitute age in which people will do anything to put food on their table …”
–Ben Brantley, The New York Times
“If the relentlessly Glee-ful Jesus in the current Broadway revival of Godspell is too repulsively vanilla for you, then La MaMa’s got your cure. Their revival of Sidney Goldfarb’s Hot Lunch Apostles—first produced by the Talking Band in 1983—is bursting at the seams with wanton lewdness.
–Jason Clark, Village Voice
“Their observations about life … are razor sharp. The music is rollicking and fun, and the performances loose and charming.”
– New York Theatre Review
“A celebration of the impulse to make art on your own terms, an exploration of an eclectic mix of forms and ideas, and a dizzyingly satisfying showcase of the astoundingly varied talents of its seven onstage performers. It is a delightful good time, more rewarding and nourishing than pretty much any mainstream music theatre event I’ve seen in quite some time.”
“The space between on and off stage is just one of the themes that creator Ellen Maddow sharply explores in the piece, which is directed with subtle nuance by Ken Rus Schmoll.”
Walk Across America
“… An inspired and inspiring new play by the downtown writer and performer Taylor Mac.
Mr. Mac, who generally appears with his face painted like a Pucci print, in outlandish garb that might have caused jaws to drop in a 1980s nightclub, has written big plays … and small plays … A singer-songwriter as well as an actor and director, he has established a devoted cult following among what’s left of the East Village glitterati. But with this new play, a sweet and satiric meditation on the beautiful folly of idealism, he establishes himself as a writer and artist of serious consequence.
… At its deepest level “The Walk Across America for Mother Earth” celebrates the people who search for meaning in life by striving for social change, even if their motives are mixed and success remains stubbornly elusive. As Mr. Mac himself observes in this smart, funny and ultimately quite moving play, for idealists — and for artists — failure and success can look an awful lot alike.”
– Charles Isherwood, The New York Times
“It’s a trip not to be missed.
Taylor Mac is a treasure. His captivating shenanigans are original, heady, and immensely smart. The hybrid nature of his technique allows profound ideas to be swathed in paillettes, without diminishing their truth. He creates characters with respect, amusement, benevolence, and insight. Additionally, an able thespian, Mac elicits empathy, moves well, and sings (who knew?!) beautifully.
Ellen Maddow’s songs are artful and inventive.
The company is terrific, not only with emotional dramatization, but also physical performance.
Director Paul Zimet uses a large space as if it were canvas. He’s compositionally interesting while at the same time in keeping with the tale being told. The playfulness with which he has helmed this unconventional work, is blithe, brisk and filled with delightful little embellishments. Taking amusement seriously, he manages a deft balance. With work as broad as that of Taylor Mac, this is a necessity.
The Walk Across America For Mother Earth is ingenious, deranged, and fun. It’s also crammed with wisdom. Don’t worry, you won’t feel it as weighty. Taylor Mac is too clever by half for that.
– Alix Cohen, Woman Around Town
New Islands Archipelago
“I am happy to go anywhere The Talking Band invites me to go …Playwright/director Paul Zimet exercises our imaginations and constantly tests our capacity for surprise … I had a ball”
– Martin Denton, NYTheatre.com
“a very engaging mix of zany comedy about cruise ship travel and more serious performance art-style musings on disconnected families and dream logic … the show is captivating, thanks to its innovative production elements and an excellent cast”
– Joe Meyers, Connecticut Post
“A fun, multi-media performance that is one part musical, one part mystery, and one part performance art; it definitely delivers an enjoyable evening … I strongly suggest you check out New Islands Archipelago”
– Aaron Blank, Theatre is Easy
Panic! Euphoria! Blackout!
“Breathtaking … poetic … endlessly imaginative … and very deep …
‘This is the way it works.’ This phrase—an oft-repeated mantra in Ellen Maddow’s new play Panic! Euphoria! Blackout—offers as apt a summary as I can find of what this fascinating piece has to tell us. Maddow, one of the co-founders of the invaluable indie theater troupe The Talking Band, has mashed up the diary of a Jewish businesswoman from the 17th century and her own observations of Wall Street traders of the present day with a variety of artistic/cultural constructs (including the story of Abraham and Isaac) to reflect on the endless cycle of barter and finance that propels our daily world.”
– Martin Denton, NYTheatre.com
“The old avant-garde provocateurs have still got it! With Panic! Euphoria! Blackout, now premiering at HERE, the creative team known as The Talking Band takes on the economic roller-coaster ride of the past decade with wit, polish, and plenty of well-placed jabs.”
– Sandy MacDonald, Theatermania
“If only the hotshot bankers who drove the global economy off a cliff had been playing with marbles instead of credit default swaps. Or merely trading tangible things, like shoes and loaves of bread and gallons of cider. The world might look a whole lot different today. These and other mordant reflections arise as you watch “Panic! Euphoria! Blackout.”
– Charles Isherwood, The New York Times
RADVENSKY’S REAL MAGIC
I loved this show: it’s a grand, exciting, intimate magic show, performed in the First Floor Theatre in La MaMa, which means that especially in the first several rows you are closer to the magicians than you’re likely ever to have been. Because it’s a Talking Band show, you know that there’s ever more than meets the eye here than in any regular magic show; writer/director Paul Zimet inserts layers of narrative and story and allusion and illusion on top of and between and around the layers that an ordinary magic show naturally has. It’s not postmodernly self-conscious, like a latter-day Penn & Teller show; instead it’s meta, a show about magic in all of its various meanings and conjurations. It’s a show where you’re never completely sure who is the magician and who is the assistant, or more to the point, who is fooling whom. Is everyone in the room just a willing accomplice to the nefarious manipulations of a guy with a magic wand?
The magic is thrilling, and the audience’s reaction to the magical feats is edifying. At certain moments in the show, I caught myself watching myself watching: I would realize that I was seeing an illusion but instead of trying to work out how the thing was accomplished, I was instead utterly wrapped up in the relationships between Anton [Radnevsky] and Harry [Telkhines] and the crowd. That is magic.
– Martin Denton, NYTheatre.com
Through the prism of theater, dance, video, electronic and acoustic music, time slows, stops, bends and unravels. Kit Fitzgerald’s blend of live and recorded video, in conjunction with Peter Gordon’s electronic, amplified music capture the range and might of the inexorable forces of nature. The intimacy of human time is captured in the live acoustic music of Ellen Maddow and the choreography of Hilary Easton. [/one_third]“… theatre that’s adventurous and stimulating and profound at that indefinable and ineffable gut level …
But mostly what happens in Imminence is the very very ordinary, and that’s where the piece derives its remarkable power. Writer/director Paul Zimet puts the simplest of moments—a family meal, a sudden downpour, a man awakening during the night to go to the bathroom—under a spotlight and then under a microscope, the better for us to understand them. Momentous events are juxtaposed with the most mundane, so that a young woman’s future might be decided by playing a game of scissors/paper/stone with her mother and a lasting and possible life-changing friendship can begin with a random seating at a wedding reception. Nothing is vital; everything is vital.
Like time, Imminence is finally impossible to pin down—it’s not just this sort of theatre piece or that sort of performance art, but rather a stunning and profound amalgamation of lots of disciplines and media that opens up a window into something fundamental that we seldom look at. Its soul is immense. I was gratified and grateful to experience it.
– Martin Denton, NYTheatre.com
“Flip Side is a whimsical, wise, theatrical meditation on longing, and its close siblings greed, envy, and entitlement. This new piece from The Talking Band is full of surprises and features perhaps the most effective use of computer video (some of it right on the MacBook screen!) that I’ve ever encountered on stage. And Ellen Maddow’s script is full of profound and gloriously elegantly poetry that frequently flies by too quickly to properly savor.
There’s genuine profundity in this play, which somehow is augmented rather than diminished by Paul Zimet’s authentically and delightfully playful production. Six actors portray all of the characters in both worlds (Tina Shepard, for example, portrays both Sylvia Waterfall and her “rival,” Marilyn Flynnalyn). Clever costuming and dazzling video design facilitate the double-casting, the one making it easy for us to know who’s who and the other providing a wondrous way for characters to see and/or talk to one another without having to actually clone anyone. I don’t want to give too much away about Anna Kiraly’s remarkable video and set design, but let me repeat that it’s the most dexterous use of multimedia I’ve ever come across. There are some moments that just take the breath away, they’re so beautiful and simple and elegant.
Shepard, one of The Talking Band’s three co-founders (with Maddow and Zimet), is joined on stage by five exceptional collaborators—Will Badgett, David Brooks, John Hellweg, Sue Jean Kim, and Heidi Schreck. All of them create characters with intelligence and brio to spare. There are also a couple of witty puppets used in the piece (courtesy of Ralph Lee), and lots of recorded music composed by “Blue” Gene Tyranny and sung by the Smith College Smithereens and Kim Gambino. Zimet blends all the elements into a cohesive whole that startles, charms, and engages us throughout.
One of my favorite things about Flip Side is that, notwithstanding its Lewis Carroll-ish made-up settings, its characters talk about going to real places like New York City and Las Vegas. That’s because the two “Sides” of this play are states of mind and the boundary between them is mental rather than physical. We’ve all lived in Drizzle Plaza or The Waterfalls sometime during our lives; perhaps we’ve lived in both at the same time. As soon as we erect that barrier between the two we make it insurmountable; this is a play about balance and moderation, in our needs and wants as well as our daily habits. Which makes it surprisingly resonant and timely in this hectic age of ours.”
– Martin Denton, NYTheatre.com
For all its yearning, “Flip Side” plays like a romp. Tough questions about personal identity are wrapped in visual wit and endearing performances, making the show, from avant-garde staples the Talking Band, a light entertainment that rewards closer inspection.
Playwright Ellen Maddow developed her text around Anna Kiraly’s set and video designs, which resulted in a strikingly physical script. Actors define their surroundings, whether by rearranging cloth-covered panels or spinning laptops that show pictures of their own faces.
And those laptop faces are key. When Sylvia Waterfall (Tina Shepard) puts her electronic visage in front of her real one, she’s showing us how she appears to Alan Flynnalyn (John Hellweg), an old classmate she IMs every day. We’re asked to consider how she changes when she’s “seen” through a computer instead of in the real world.
All the characters worry about seeing and being seen, and what that does to their lives. Even the play’s landscape is structured around facing communities: The Waterfalls live in a fast, crowded world, where everyone buzzes with energy, while the Flynnalyns live in Drizzle Plaza, a gray place where not much happens.
No matter where they live, characters dream about the people on the other side, peeking at them through binoculars or comically thick glasses. Eventually, people start visiting their neighbors, and the consequences range from transcendent to incredibly sad.
This could be a quirky fable, but Maddow pushes the connection between the Waterfalls and the folks in Drizzle Plaza. It’s obvious, for instance, that both places are made from the same set pieces, and the actors all play one character from each realm.
Thesps master tonal shifts and multiple roles. Shepard gives Marilyn spunk as she hunts the woman who might steal her husband, and just moments later, she makes Sylvia’s loneliness palpable.
Director (and Talking Band a.d.) Paul Zimet tightly controls the transitions between worlds, and he knows when to focus on the design.
“Blue” Gene Tyranny’s score creates a context for each new setting. Some of his music is a melancholy wash of synthesizers, and some is an anxious burst of drums. But all of it is strange and beautiful, just like the play.
– Mark Blankenship, Variety
“The Talking Band’s newest music-theatre work, Delicious Rivers, may just be the most charming play happening in NYC right now … Delicious Rivers takes place (almost) entirely in and around a New York City post office and explores the intertwining lives, histories, dramas, and dreams of three postal workers, three neighborhood post office regulars, and a strange little man named Donald Arnold who probably works at the post office and probably is a mathematical genius.
There’s a lot going on in the piece. Delicious Rivers is a play predominately about patterns: the patterns in the daily lives of these characters; the patterns of their interactions with others, their yearnings and fears; the patterns of nature and the universe; and the patterns of patterns themselves. A large part of the show’s appeal comes in the delicacy and care, not to mention childlike joy, that playwright Ellen Maddow imbues in the script and, especially, the underpinnings of the script. Maddow worked extensively with mathematician Marjorie Senechal to create this piece and it manages to wonderfully explore the areas where daily life and math intersect, the playwright sharing with us her pleasure at exploring the mathematical ideas abundant in the world around her, including their association with the most beautiful and the most banal of daily tasks (going to the post office, for example). Possibilities are endless in this world.
This sensibility also embeds itself firmly in the very lush lives of each character, especially as they are portrayed by the uniformly excellent cast … It is no small feat for a playwright to successfully create a world where such complex ideas can live simply, and of course Maddow’s collaborators are equally responsible for the success of this piece.”
– Ross Peabody, NYTheatre.com
“This quirky, curious, friendly play with music focuses on the oddities in patterns — patterns of life, of math, and even of the postal system. And there are no easy answers. Math exemplifies the mysteries of Delicious Rivers, rather than solving them and it makes for a funny, touching evening.
What really clinches the success of this production is the cast who portray Maddow’s kooky, thoughtful characters. The performers click beautifully with both the material and each other, whether they’re discussing mysteries or amusingly venting about an ugly sweater. Especially effective is Mary Shultz as Lily, a drab post office employee who gradually finds confidence and friendship despite her strange demons. She and her colleagues smartly balance oddball with intelligent so that you’re overwhelmed by neither, but touched and amused by both.”
– Julia Furay, CurtainUp
“The style and subject matter of Delicious Rivers, jauntily directed by Paul Zimet, are amusingly idiosyncratic … An unconventional three-piece band—a bass trombonist, a bass fiddler and a bass vocalist—provides agreeable underscoring throughout, and Maddow’s offbeat writing is brought to life by a first-rate cast: Mary Shultz, Jay Smith, Gary Brownlee and Cortez Nance Jr. as postal workers, and Chris Wells, Jan Leslie Harding and Kim Gambino as their customers. (The invaluable Shultz is especially delightful in a series of digressive verse monologues.)”
– Adam Feldman, Time Out NY
Obskene, penned by no fewer than eight playwrights and created and directed by Talking Band founding member Tina Shepard, lives up to its name and doesn’t attempt to stage what Greek thespians did not. The first part, performed with vivid clarity by Paul Zimet and Ellen Maddow (also among the company’s founders), pulls us through a series of horror stories, otherwise known as messenger speeches…
Here, we get new adaptations by Sidney Goldfarb and Lizzie Olesker that manage to be both plainspoken and often lush in their descriptiveness. And they don’t waste any time…
…But the best of the writing and ideas here, like the woman who marries a python, avoid such predictable soothsaying. In this tale, as with much of Greek tragedy, the political and the deeply personal and familial are intertwined (forgive the pun). And by suggesting possible answers, the play asks us to ponder, what, in our world today, remains unthinkable? What is truly Obskene?
– Olivia Jane Smith, New York Theatre Review
Shepard provides a mix tape of a few of these original Greek speeches in the first part, each refreshingly translated into contemporary English by either Sidney Goldfarb or Lizzie Olesker. Ellen Maddow and Paul Zimet play two messengers who continue to cross paths in an Athenian kitchen, and Shepard has taken great care to build a tender relationship between them. Zimet, who speaks the majority of the text, exhibits a masterful command of language and space in embodying these intricate tales, such as the dismembering of Hippolytus in “Hippolytus” or the vast, sordid revelries described by Euripides in the “Bacchae.” Maddow, who saws vigorously into a side of meat while listening, performs a shocking speech from “Thestes” with appropriate revulsion… The juxtaposition of imagining a potential future and examining ancient roots is potent and disquieting.
– Mitch Montgomery, Backstage
The Golden Toad
Turns out that The Golden Toad—as you’ll learn in the fourth episode of the venerable performance ensemble’s epic new work, opening Jan. 23 at La MaMa ETC—is the name of a backroom karaoke bar in Brooklyn. It’s the place where all six characters in the play, which spans more than seven years, finally come together for a reckoning. With music.
So in The Golden Toad, both the characters and the worlds they inhabit do change, ”not only with time, but according to who’s viewing them,” Zimet contends, sounding postmodern and a little Grimm at the same time.
– Jim O’Quinn, American Theatre
New York may be eating itself, the Village and its history, but goddamn it, it’s not gone yet. And some of the things that make the city wonderful remain. La MaMa still has a weird copse of DIY theater columns standing in the stairwell. East 4th Street still boasts the occasional handprinted poster. And right now, the Ellen Stewart Theater is playing host to the Talking Band’s The Golden Toad, a wistful shaggy-dog tale about people dealing with rising tides: dementia, gentrification and, of course, sea levels…
…this soap-operatic epic-with-music is the Band at its best: both long-considered and ragged, Brechtian and full of invitation…
…I found myself particularly grateful for the founders’ non-representational acting style. In their company’s long life, theater creatures Ellen Maddow and Tina Shepard have stubbornly refused to develop (or create) comfort on stage.
– Helen Shaw, TimeOut New York
Burnished by Grief
The vicissitudes of cheek-by-jowl urban housing are the subject of Ellen Maddow’s “Burnished by Grief: A Romantic Comedy,” a mildly morbid but irrepressibly effervescent lark at La MaMa. Despite the presence of lurking neighbors and suggestions of voyeurism, the play evolves into an exuberant celebration of color and quirk, with a tune or two to underscore its sentiments.
This production, directed by Paul Zimet, from the venerable downtown troupe Talking Band, grew out of Ms. Maddow’s experiences as a volunteer in Brooklyn Civil Court. The influence is palpable: The diversity, idiosyncrasies and legal entanglements of these characters seem endemic to New York, perhaps only to Brooklyn. But Ms. Maddow reminds us that for all the strains attendant upon urban living, every now and then novel and wonderful relationships emerge.
…There are no stand-outs in the cast, only in the sense that every single actor imbues his and her character with that commedia zaniness that makes even their griefs transform into joie de vivre.Maddow’s witty, intelligent dialogue lifts us up. Her text and characters are exuberant, infecting the audience with joy. Even when the nonsensical, somewhat demented tenant Suniye Finger has her most vindictive moments, she is so spirited that they do not disturb us. Of course it helps that her lawyer, Jimmy Boner (Debargo Sanyal), is a magnificent vaudevillian bungler whom we can’t help but adore…
…With productions like Burnished by Grief, impeccably directed by Paul Zimet in this high-spirited collaboration with the Talking Band, it thrives, not by shunning this encroaching reality, but by exposing, caressing and re-defining it.
– Elizabeth Bove, Plays to See
The Room Sings
The cast of the play is vast and generally strong in performance, highlighted by the brief moments that feel rooted in certain theatrical styles — for example, Sal completes his opera about beavers, and it is performed by Loretta and Al (with magnificent beaver puppets by Ralph Lee, puppeteered by Maddow and Jack Wetherall) during the 1987 arc. This, and a moment when Mr. Ma’s mother’s spirit haunts Oskar, are energetic and crackle with the fun theatrical mish-mash that feels at the heart of The Talking Band’s style.
– Amy Gijsbers van Wijk, Culturebot
The Room Sings has a delicate structure, more poetic than dramatic; its allusive text resonates with a viewer long after the lights fade…
…To tell you more would spoil the play’s extraordinary apotheosis. Let’s just say that the Obie-winning team behind The Room Sings have a sure hand on the tiller, steering their new piece along tricky shoals between fantasy and realism. Take a holiday from our current woes, and revel in it.
– Elizabeth Zimmer, The Village Voice
Review: Talking Band’s Risk-Taking Music-Theater Piece ‘Fusiform Gyrus’ Is a Master Class in Imaginative Directing
…Why you should see it: Ellie Heyman. The Drama Desk-nominated director of Beardo defies the limitations of the Here Arts Center’s downstairs space with a production that is imaginatively staged. The threadbare plot maybe hard to follow but the continuous surprises in the set and video design by Anna Kiraly and the magical lighting design by Mary Ellen Stebbins provide for a visual treat.
Performances by Tom Nelis and Paul Zimet are proof that veterans of the form can make a meal out of even thinly drawn characters, introducing the audience to worlds that are not on the page. The musicians are all uniformly excellent and used brilliantly by Heyman.
Fusiform Gyrus is a challenging play in form and convention and Heyman has now over and over demonstrated that she is the director of choice for plays and musicals one may consider “non-traditional.”
…Ellen Maddow has constructed a risky work, exemplary of the history and mission of The Talking Band. Luckily, she has a director like Heyman at her side who handles the challenge with remarkable skill and innovation.
-Arpita Mukherjee, StageBuddy
BOTTOM LINE: A thought-provoking blend of music, science, and human nature through a septet of five horns and two men.
…It’s a candy store for those of us with an appetite for things that are long dead, but have voices that keep echoing through time. “Organisms at rest with restless eyes,” the play begins, introducing us to its two protagonists: Dr. Fred Decker (Paul Zimet), and Dr. Aiden Grey (Tom Nelis), whose guttural laughter sets the tone somewhere between whimsical and surreal from the get go.
…in an age where the validity of science is constantly threatened by ignorance in power, Fusiform Gyrus is certainly a breath of fresh, optimistic air.
-Ran Xia, Theatre is Easy