THE MAN WHO ATE MICHAEL ROCKEFELLER
THE MAN WHO ATE MICHAEL ROCKEFELLER, adapted from the short story by Christopher Stokes, was one of the most critically acclaimed plays of 2010, garnering Critic’s Picks in The New York Times and Time Out New York. It is an uproariously funny and surprisingly emotional story of friendship and culture.
In 1961, 23 year old Michael Rockefeller – an anthropology student at Harvard and heir to the Rockefeller empire – disappeared among cannibals in Papua New Guinea. His body was never found.
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The New York Times
CRITIC'S PICK -- Who better to tell the story of Michael Rockefeller’s disappearance than the people among whom he disappeared? That’s the simple but smart narrative idea behind Jeff Cohen’s play “The Man Who Ate Michael Rockefeller,” a Dog Run Rep production that has a light, sure touch even when it treads on weighty cultural ground.
Some background: In 1961 Michael Rockefeller, an anthropologist and a son of Nelson Rockefeller, then the governor of New York, disappeared in Papua, New Guinea. Michael probably drowned after his canoe collapsed; he tried to swim to shore but his body was never found. But because the Asmat people he was studying practiced cannibalism and headhunting, there was plenty of speculation about how he met his end.
Mr. Cohen and Christopher Stokes, whose short story inspired the play, invert the classic encounter between anthropologist and “primitive” culture. Here the Other is the white man who has come to call.
The Asmat are decked out in body paint and minimal clothes, but they speak perfect American English. We see Michael (Aaron Strand) through their eyes: a khaki-clad grinning, babbling fellow who, they learn, is a member of the rich Rockefeller tribe of New York.
Michael has seen carvings by Designing Man (the excellent Daniel Morgan Shelley) and commissions him to make more. But Designing Man becomes ensnared in the political machinations of his best friend, Half Moon Terror (David King, also very good), and Michael, too, becomes a pawn in this game.
At just under an hour, “The Man Who Ate Michael Rockefeller,” directed by Alfred Preisser, is brisk and entertaining. It helps that Mr. Preisser and his excellent cast have found a tone — a lightly comic seriousness — that so well suits the play’s themes of culture-on-culture violence and misunderstanding.
A high point (and a demonstration of Mr. Preisser’s skill) is the long, burlesqued sex scene between Designing Man and his best friend’s wife, Plentiful Bliss (Tracy Jack, who almost steals the show). While Plentiful straddles Designing Man in ever more creative and acrobatic ways, she is planting an idea in his mind — Michael Rockefeller must die.
There’s more here than just enmity, though. Michael may be a pale cipher with odd paper money and a camera around his neck, but Designing Man senses his good will and openness. What’s more, he shares it. Brotherhood exists, even if it is quickly and decisively quashed.
Time Out New York
CRITIC'S PICK -- Jeff Cohen’s taut dramedy—an engaging and economical work of historical fiction based on a story by Christopher Stokes—hits fast and hard and leaves you sated. Inspired by golden boy Michael Rockfeller (Nelson’s youngest son), who went missing in the Asmat region of New Guinea in 1961, the play explores complex themes—globalization; colonization; cultural, racial and language barriers; sex, love and infertility—while managing to be outrageously funny.
Tribesmen Half Moon Terror (David King) and Designing Man (the exceptional Daniel Morgan Shelley) are just hanging out when Rockefeller (Aaron Strand, the ultimate innocent) intrudes, snapping photos like a wide-eyed Times Square tourist. Taken with the Asmat culture and people, he commissions Designing Man to create pieces for a museum exhibit. The two men are simpatico, but their relationship—and ultimately Rockfeller’s head—are cut down in the name of politics.
The intentionally lurid title is really a ruse: This isn’t Rockefeller’s story at all. He speaks in goofy gibberish while the natives converse in English and earn our sympathies (at least until the end) and our laughs. A tour-de-force sex scene, during which a tribeswoman attempts to manipulate Designing Man via acrobatic moves and constant nagging, is particularly uproarious.
Director Alfred Preisser, formerly of the Classical Theatre of Harlem, employs the talent of many of his old cohorts, including costume designer Kimberly Glennon, whose evocative duds mirror Heather Wolensky’s sparse but symbolic black, white and red set. Although just over an hour, the show gives audiences a feast to chew on.
THE SEAGULL / THE HAMPTONS
THE SEAGULL / THE HAMPTONS is an American adaptation of the Chekhov classic. Productions of this highly acclaimed adaptation has included the stage debut of Laura Linney. Other cast members have included DB Sweeney, Marin Hinkle, Tammy Grimes, Neil Huff and Carol Lynley.
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THE NEW YORK TIMES
MODERN MISERY IN SEAGULL UPDATE
The characters in THE SEAGULL / THE HAMPTONS are an immediately recognizable bunch of modern-day malcontents. It has a ferocious vitality and brilliant moments that are bold and exciting to watch. Laura Linney’s Nina has stinging force and clarity. She is clearly a talent of enormous potential.
THE NEW YORK POST
UPDATED SEAGULL SOARS
This is a production of The Seagull that speaks to me more than any in my lifetime. For the first time, no matter how deeply I’ve loved the play, or how often in my life I’ve seen or read it, all of the characters are right in the room with me! I’ll never forget Laura Linney’s Nina, a stringy, stunning blonde with an emotional range from scared goose to battered, unconquerable lioness.
THE BOSTON GLOBE
TIMELY TIMELESS SEAGULL – TOP 10 PRODUCTIONS OF 1998
Three cheers for Jeff Cohen who’s Seagull makes timelessness and timeliness seem one and the same thing. The brilliance is in demonstrating the universality of Chekhov’s story that resonates even more. Cohen gets all the laughs as well as all of the tears out of Chekhov. If Chekhov is looking down on all the productions of The Seagull around the world, his smile would be particularly broad for this one.
'THE SEAGULL' FLIES (& HIGH!) IN 'HAMPTONS: '90S UPDATE
Chekhov seldom goes out of fashion. But he is so much in fashion right now that this is almost a testimonial season. Since reverence is the theatrical equivalent of gangrene, Jeff Cohen's brilliant relocation of "The Seagull" to the Hamptons in 1997 is therefore as timely as it is effective. The idea of updating a classic is not new and not always good. When it works, as it does here, it strips away the accumulated layers of cliche and reveals the play afresh. Cohen's version clearly arises from a deep passion for the play. It tries to reveal, not to reduce, "The Seagull.
Cohen has done more than change names and update obscure references. He has thought the play through line by line, reimagining the characters and story. And he's done it with care and subtlety. Without the samovars and the sendups of obscure 19th-century Russian writers, the play becomes both funnier and more shocking. There are some losses. You don't get the sense of a class-bound society that surrounds Chekhov's original. But there are also gains. Cohen can be more explicit about sex than Chekhov could, and the erotic energy of the piece becomes much clearer as a result. Most of all, the actors are able to narrow the distance between themselves and the roles, so that the characters take on a startling immediacy. Marin Hinkle, so good in "A Dybbuk" at the Public, is even better here, giving a glowing performance as Nina. Her transformation from naive ingenue to hardened, world-weary woman is so truthful that even Chekhov, were he around to see it, would be inclined to agree that sometimes there are higher theatrical values than faithfulness to the author's words.
THE VILLAGE VOICE
Radiant, wise and ferociously funny, it’s everything Chekhov fans would want from an idiomatic reimagining.
MEN OF CLAY
MEN OF CLAY is about the end of an era – the red clay public tennis courts in Baltimore’s Druid Hill Park in the 1970’s. The courts are the last vestige of Jewish Baltimore as embodied by Stan “Squeaky” Cohen, Ira Farber, Danny Dickler and Nate Askin. Both comic and sad, MEN OF CLAY was selected BEST PLAY of 2005 by the Baltimore City Paper.
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TIME OUT NEW YORK
“Casts a nostalgic, loving look at a quartet of middle-aged Jewish bachelors whose sense of identity rests completely with their unofficial clubhouse, the public clay tennis courts of Druid Hill Park. To these overgrown boys, prestige comes only with a court permit and a can of new Wilsons. Garrulous and clannish, they self-promote and talk trash, creating an aural smoke screen of camaraderie to mask the basic pointlessness of their lives. Enacted to comic perfection by the seamless quartet of Steven Rattazzi, Dan Ahearn, Victor Barbella and Danton Stone (as the writer’s father, Stan “Squeaky” Cohen)—funny, idiosyncratic and empathetic.”
BEST NEW PLAY – 2005
“Cohen’s MEN OF CLAY is an edgy comedy about middle-aged Jewish men in 1970s Baltimore who are faced with a disintegrating Druid Hill neighborhood and a city that doesn’t really have a place for them anymore. His honed-down dialogue is a mix of David Mamet and Woody Allen.”
WHOA-JACK! is adapted from the Georg Buchner classic Woyzeck. Set on an Army Base in the deep south in the 1960s, Private Jackson is haunted by demons, by lynchings and by racism. He is harrassed by his Captain and the subject of medical experiments by the Army doctor and his assistants.
WHOA-JACK! marked the professional stage debut of Golden Globe nominee Michael Ealy who went on to star in such films as Barbershop and Seven Pounds and such TV series as Sleeper Cell and Almost Human.
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THE AMSTERDAM NEWS
The intensity and emotional depth of "WHOA-JACK! is evident from the opening scene. Black army privates Jackson (Michael Ealy) and Andy (Marcuis W. Harris) are digging in an Alabama field in 1960, when Jackson insists that he hears the voices of his dead brothers who are under the ground, victims of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK). This is only a small sample of the power of this stirring production adapted and directed by Jeff Cohen from Georg Buchner's German classic "Woyzeck." As the play continues, Jackson experiences racial hatred, betrayal and achieves a deep connection with his fallen, butchered brothers.
Through a brilliantly written and powerfully acted play, the audience gained a graphic, disturbing, vivid picture of what prejudice, indignities and horrific acts faced Blacks in the South. Jackson is abused from every angle. He is constantly verbally degraded by his white colonel, who calls him "boy" and states thaJackson is stupid, ignorant and a moron. And when Jackson tries to share his personal problems with the colonel, he is told, "The problem with you is that you think too much, that's the problem with your people." This private is also the subject of medical research by a white doctor who treats him like a lab animal instead of a man. On top of all this, Jackson has a girlfriend in town named Mary (Genie Sloan), who is hot to trot. While they have ababy boy together, that does not stop her from having affairs with other men, especially when a new white major (Peter Shaw) comes to the Army base. Mary's betrayal of her man and her race leads to great tragedies. As Jackson gets more and more overwhelmed by his problems, he hears the voices under the ground and asks them how it was when the KKK came to get them. The story he relays from the spirits is one of the most brutal, horrific accounts ever described on stage. It sent chills through me and left the audience stunned.
A thread of impending doom runs throughout this play and, though one may wish that the Blacks could be victorious in the end, that is not the reality of the situation. And this play is base on the tremendous, horrible, racist realities that Blacks knew in 1960.
After discovering a lynched body, Andy makes a pathetic observation. "This can't go on. It just can't last forever. There aren't enough trees."
This powerful storyline uses live performances of classic jazz songs to aid scene transition. Queen Esther delivers soulful rendition songs such as "Solitude," "You Go to My Head," and "Straighten Up and Fly Right." She could barely hold back the tears as she sang "Strange Fruit," a song written and sung by Billie Holiday, describing hanging Black bodies as strange fruit on a tree.
The cast is incredible. You must go, take a friend and share what we have survived.
Jeff Cohen’s acclaimed American adaptation of Moliere’s TARTUFFE is re-imagined as a screwball comedy in the 1930’s. The con-artist Tartuffe – a boxcar hobo – preys upon the patriarch of a wealthy family and threatens to bilk them out of all their money. Written in rhyming couplets, this TARTUFFE has all the heady fizz of a glass of champagne.
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When I spoke to Moliere later at a séance, he assured me he hadn’t seen a better production of Tartuffe in ages!
THE NEW YORK TIMES
A Marx brothers cockamamie sprint filled with antic business - marvelously quick and sharply impertinent. As feathery, distracting entertainment, this ''Tartuffe'' does the trick.
Jeff Cohen's new adaptation of Moliere's Tartuffe is terrific - a fine, funny, timely play; beautifully with a flawless cast of expert actors.
The time is 1931, early in the Great Depression, and the place is New York City. But Tartuffe is still a con man who has fooled his rich benefactor Orgon into believing that he is saintly and modest and only interested in saving Orgon's soul. In fact, Tartuffe cares only for bilking Orgon out of as much of value as he can, not only money but Orgon's wife Elmire and daughter Marianne, if possible. Elmire, her brother Cleante, Orgon's son Damis, and the smart maid Dorine all see through Tartuffe, and Elmire hatches a bold plan to try to open her husband's eyes.
Cohen follows Moliere's script and blueprint faithfully (I won't tell you how it comes out, though; if you don't know, find out for yourself by seeing the show!). His adaptation is in rhyming couplets, respecting the original's. His focus is on the story's key theme of hypocrisy and gullibility; Tartuffe's fake religiousness is a device, not an end in and of itself.
Even while it reminds us that greed is hardly a new phenomenon, this Tartuffe is so entertaining that it provides a welcome respite from the modern-day Tartuffes who seem constantly to be among us. It is, in every way, a breath of spring air in these waning days of winter. I heartily recommend it to you!