If your little one is feeling cooped up this holiday, I encourage you to take them for a Zoom visit with Xavi. She’s a creative young spirit and the central character of Journey Around My Bedroom, a puppet show presented by New Ohio Theatre for Young Minds. Like many children who have been isolated by the pandemic, Xavi is bouncing off the walls with boredom. Instead of being stuck at home, she wants to use her homemade wings and fly to the moon. With encouragement from her mother and an explorer who pays a visit all the way from 18th century France, Xavi learns to use her imagination to expand her space and take a trip within the safety of home.
The enchanting production is specifically designed to work over Zoom and can bring family members from different locations together for a shared experience. At intervals, audience members are given the opportunity to turn on their cameras and microphones and participate in Xavi’s travels. Willing volunteers help her find the right tools in her toy chest and sing a song of encouragement to help her overcome her fears. Post-show, they can ask the performers questions and take a look behind the scenes. The at-home packet in the show program includes a printable template to make a self-styled puppet and map in order for kids to continue the story in their own way.
Dianne Nora developed the plot line from the writings of Xavier de Maistre, produced when he was under house arrest. From the seeds of his unusual books, Nora has grown a charming story that easily incorporates lessons about bravery and appreciation and contains just enough maturity to keep supervising adults engaged. De Maistre literally drops into Xavi’s life when his balloon makes an unexpected landing in her bedroom, connecting the two adventurers.
The up-cycled cardboard puppets, meticulously designed by Myra Reavis with Ana M. Aburto, are similar to those used in Victorian toy theatre. Held together with brads so that they bend at the joints, they are assisted in their movement by outside hands that surprisingly never distract. Even Xavi’s dog Joseph is given distinct personality. Close-ups are achieved with larger cutouts of specific body parts and props. Miniature set pieces are organized on three separate stages that visually lead from one to the other. The distanced cast members appear to interact with clever cutting between cameras as directed by Jaclyn Biskup. Original songs and music by Hyeyoung Kim add to the joyful atmosphere.
Spoken word artist Starr Kirkland is our welcoming guide, appearing both as herself and as M. de Maistre. Giving voice to Xavi is Ashley Kristeen Vega whose upbeat warmth inspired one little girl in my audience to practically bounce into the performance. Rounding out the team is multi-hyphenate Laura Kay who subdues her comic chops and grounds the storytelling as the narrator and Xavi’s mother.
This imaginative production of Journey Around My Bedroom — fitting for this peculiar year — runs an attention-holding 35 minutes. Best viewed on a laptop or desktop, it’s being offered as a live stream on weekends thru January 11. This format will best suit outgoing children who will enjoy the interaction, as well as parents with flexible schedules. After the conclusion of the initial run, a prerecorded version of the show will be available on demand until February 11. All tickets are Pay-What-You-Will (suggested price is $25 for up to two viewers) and can be purchased through Ovationtix: https://web.ovationtix.com/trs/pr/1033538 for live performances and https://web.ovationtix.com/trs/store/34708/alldonations/35894/dept/1499 for on demand.
Halfway Bitches Go Straight To Heaven
No one creates moments that are simultaneously unsettling and humorous quite like Stephen Adly Guirgis. Halfway Bitches Go Straight to Heaven is his first play since being awarded the Pulitzer in 2015 for Between Riverside and Crazy. This new work is a snapshot of the struggling residents of a New York City halfway house, surrounded by an unwelcoming neighborhood and staffed by those whose lifestyles aren’t much healthier. It’s a sprawling script with over a dozen main characters to track. Many of the transactional relationships include elements of genuine affection and the ride is a profound one. Ultimately, though, it is not so much a tapestry as a sewing kit with each thread slightly touching the one beside it.
As the play opens, a group session is in progress. This initial conversation hits many predictable beats — drug use, sexual exploitation, and abuse — but also provides a quick introduction to the characters with whom we’ll spend the next three hours. We learn Queen Sugar (Benja Kay Thomas) has gotten caught up in an Amway-style pyramid scheme while Munchies (Pernell Walker) is preoccupied with Nigerian caregiver Mr. Mobo (Neil Tyrone Pritchard). There are glimpses of Wanda Wheels’ (Patrice Johnson Chevannes) elegance, the stranglehold that mentally ill mother Sonia (Wilemina Olivia Garcia) has over her bright daughter Tiana (Viviana Valeria), and the familiar relationship pattern fragile Bella (Andrea Syglowski) is recreating with lesbian in command Sarge (Liza Colón-Zayas). Always quick to say, “no,no,no” is Rockaway Rosie (Elizabeth Canavan). Taking center stage at the top is the clever rapper Little Melba Diaz (Kara Young). In the corner is morbidly obese Betty (Kristina Poe) whose surprise connection and subsequent blossoming is a highlight. And on the edge (and on edge) is the transgendered Venus Ramirez (a glorious Esteban Andres Cruz) a ferocious voice for those who insist on their rightful place. That list doesn’t include the rest of the staff compassionately portrayed by Victor Almazar, David Anzuelo, Sean Carajal, Molly Collier and Elizabeth Rodriguez.
Elizabeth Canavan ( Rockaway Rosie ), Liza Colón – Zayas ( Sarge ), Kara Young ( Lil Melba Diaz ) and Pernell Walker ( Munchies ). Photo Credit/ Monique Carboni.
As with other Guirgis plays, a subtle but clear picture of the outside world is also drawn. The city’s system is failing and the shortages of both supplies and care are making these lives unnecessarily challenging. A flock of goats tending the grass in a park uptown receives more devotion and support than any of the humans who are simply looking for a chance.
To hold all these tales, a skeleton of the tenement house dominates the set. The sparsely decorated central room of Narelle Sissons’ design also represents the office of the dedicated and overworked manager and occasionally the bedroom of an occupant. The area between the first row and the stage serves as the surrounding alleyways. Director John Ortiz places much of the action on the house front steps audience left and a bench audience right making the viewing experience a bit like a tennis match. Additional focus is achieved with lighting design by Mary Louise Geiger while the mood rises and falls with sound and compositions by Elisheba Ittoop.
Haunting and moving, Halfway Bitches Go Straight to Heaven is like taking in a gallery filled with the faces of those whom New Yorkers breeze past every day. Though their full stories are not on the display, the images will sear into you. Note that the material is strictly adult, containing nudity and simulated sex and drug use. The limited engagement co-produced by LAByrinth Theater Company has already been extended through Sunday, January 5. Regular tickets begin at $70 and are available online at atlantictheater.org, by calling OvationTix at 866-811-4111, or in person at the Linda Gross Theater box office (336 West 20th Street between 8th and 9th Avenues).