NOW PLAYING

MAY 31 TO JUNE 16
THEATER FOR THE NEW CITY PRESENTS

"ZEN A.M." BY NATALIE MENNA, OUR RESIDENT PLAYWRIGHT

John Gazzale as Bruno, the artist, and Brad Fryman as Chang, his guru. Photo by Jonathan Slaff.

Comedy of New Age manners and mores is set
among the "worried creatives" of post-9/11 New York.

WHERE AND WHEN:
May 31 to June 16, 2019
Theater for the New City, 155 First Ave. (at E. 10th Street)
Presented by Theater for the New City
Thursdays through Saturdays at 8:00 PM, Sundays at 3:00 PM
$18, box office (212) 254-1109, www.theaterforthenewcity.net
See photos

Since classical times, artists have always had to reconcile the demands of their patrons with their own artistic integrity. In the 21st century, the patrons' demands can come from both the left and right. "Zen A.M.," a new comedy by Natalie Menna, illustrates the conundrum, nesting it in present-day issues of class identification, compassion, cultural identity and creative resistance. Theater for the New City will present the world premiere of the piece May 31 to June 16, directed by Andrew Block.

The play is a story of laughable characters straining to act rationally when faced with difficult decisions of artistic integrity.  Bruno, a 9/11 survivor, has abandoned his lucrative Wall Street career to pursue his lifelong dream of becoming a painter. However, money is running out and his jealous, excitable yet pragmatic girlfriend--a fact-checker for a right wing media outlet--is set on getting married.  

Alexandra Bonesho, Brad Fryman.
Brad Fryman, John Gazzale
Sean Phillips, Elizabeth Inghram.

Bruno's guru/artistic collaborator is a New Age life coach named Chang. Bruno's best friend is a podiatrist named Hal, who is married to Rachael, a nouveaux riche woman who is part time Feng Shui consultant, jewelry designer and board member of the International Freedom Center (IFC), a museum being planned for the 9/11 site.  

a sage ritual.
Brad Fryman as Bruno
Dai Ishiguro

Bruno has been commissioned to provide a painting for the IFC, but finds it has suddenly shifted its focus from memorializing the victims of 9/11 to the evils of America's past. It's an important and lucrative commission, but Bruno has serious doubts about IFC's changing agenda.  He feels he should now turn down the commission, but he has two problems.  First, an artist depends on clarity, insight and support from his inner circle, and these people can't do anything but bicker over New Age spirituality and promote their own agendas. Secondly, Chang has a contract to do a film about Bruno's painting and stands to lose his shirt if it doesn't get it done.

As Bruno's vacillations increase, hysteria and hilarity ensue.  Can financial folly, a marriage-minded girlfriend, a greedy guru, and a crusading liberal fashionista change his mind? The play is light farce with the theme that Americans will never agree about anything because we have become too divided, but its deeper theme is the price of artistic integrity.

A ten-minute excerpt of the play was performed in Theater for the New City's Lower East Side Festival of the Arts last season.

The actors are Brad Fryman* as Bruno, Dai Ishiguro as Kim, Alexandra Bonesho* as Denise, John Gazzale as Chang, Sean Phillips as Hal and Elizabeth Inghram* as Rachel.

Light design is by Alexander Bartenieff. Set design is by Mark Marcante. Props design is by Lytza Colon. Costume design is by Niiamar Felder. Stage Manager is Emely Selina Zepeda.

Natalie Menna (http://nataliemenna.com) is author of "Occasionally Nothing," which was presented by Theater for the New City's 2018 Dream Up Festival, and "Committed," which was performed in 2017 at the 14th Street Y. She is a resident playwright of August Strindberg Rep, for which she adapted "Journey in Light and Shadow" by Stig Dalager for a 2017 production at Gene Frankel Theatre. Last season, August Strindberg Rep presented her "#MeThree," an evening of three original short one-acts, at Gene Frankel Theatre. Her play "Roberta!" was presented twice at United Solo Festival. Her plays "Roberta!," "I-POD" and "Zen A.M." have been published by indietheaternow.com. She is also an actor.

"Occasionally Nothing" was nominated for Outstanding Overall Production of a Revival/Adaptation/Sequel for her full-length play in the 2017 Planet Connections Theatre Festivity (PCTF) and Menna was awarded Outstanding Playwriting of a One-Act and Outstanding Overall Production of a One-Act for the play at PCTF in 2016. "Committed" received Outstanding Overall Production of a Reading and Best Actor at PCTF in 2015. Menna was nominated for Outstanding Writer for "Zen A.M." at PCTF in 2014. Select previous awards include the Nettie Award for Best Solo Show for "I-POD" in the Network One-Act Festival and Best Actress for "I-POD" in MITF. Her short play "Hiroshi-Me, Me, Me" was a finalist in the Strawberry Festival and The Network One-Act Festival, with two nominations for Best Actress and Winner for Best Supporting Actress.

This production of "Zen A.M." is produced, presented and funded by Theater for the New City. In 2020, Menna's play, "Committed," directed by Austin Pendleton, will be produced, presented and funded by TNC. Ms. Menna writes, "Crystal Field's support of playwrights is a dazzling example to the theater world of a devoted artistic director.  Her insight, wisdom and discernment are matched only by her generosity.  Under her leadership, TNC has maintained its position as a premiere presenter of daring theater. My gratitude to Crystal has no bounds!"

Director Andrew Block received the Ovation and L.A.Drama Critics Circle awards for Best Director and Production for the world premiere of "Small Engine Repair" by John Pollono. His selected credits include: "This Stretch of Montpelier" by Kelly Nicole Girod (The Fire This Time), "The Other Day" by Mark Jason Williams (Theater at 14th Street Y), "Lost and Found" (FringeNYC Encore, Lortel), "Straight Faced Lies" (FringeNYC), "Why Bother?" (Best Director, Planet Connections Festivity), "Downward Facing Debbie" by David Caudle (World premiere, Planet Connections), "Bingo With the Indians" by Adam Rapp (GLAAD award nomination for Outstanding Theatre, West-coast premiere), "Illuminati" (Best Director, Network OAF), "Bedroom Farce" (FAPC), "Reach" (Ivy Theatre Company), "Company" (Gallery Players), "Avenue Q" (Manhattan College), "Inherit the Wind" (Manhattan College), "Rumors" (AADA), "The Shape of Things" (Adelphi University) and "Recovery" (FringeNYC). A native of New Orleans now living in New York, he also serves as representative for the Off and Off-Off Broadway community for TDF.

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*=appears courtesy Actors Equty Association

 

REVIEWS

New York Theatre Wire
Reviewer Larry Litt writes that "Zen A.M." is "an expose of the contemporary art and high society world that calls itself high culture," adding," If you have any interest in art and society, this comedic farce is well worth taking in." Read the full review,

 

New York Theatre Buyers Guide
Newsletter - June 15, 2019, by Ronald Gross
"Our highest recommendation!   Hilarious, moving, politically thought-provoking comedy of manners.  An only-in-New-York satire centering on the failed plan to create an International Freedom Center Museum on the 9/11 site.  Once again, Theater for the New City offers a work of utmost relevance and entertainment value, enacted by  immensely talented actors, a brilliant director,  and an outstanding creative team." Read the full review. 

 

 


 


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