Sunday, April 8, 2012


I first encountered Mia McCullough's work in an anthology of plays, a piece with the odd title CHAGRIN FALLS that somehow made me think of resigned droopy-shouldered Victorian spinsters. It turned out to be a quiet nuanced play that takes place in a small town (the titular Chagrin Falls) where the two major industries are a slaughterhouse and a penitentiary. I was mostly taken with how she had reinvented the classic Americana story - you know, the talented artistic teenage boy in the small town who is dying to leave, the older residents with their mundane day-to-day existence, the outsider who comes and shakes up their world - it's a story that you would think has already been mined to death by Sherwood Anderson, Thomas Wolfe, William Saroyan, William Inge, just to name a few. But by making the outsider a half-Vietnamese girl disturbed by having been part of a jury that condemned a man to death, Mia charged an otherwise typical tale with a sociopolitical depth that elevates the play from being just another OUR TOWN or WINESBURG, OHIO.

When I reached out to Mia to read CHAGRIN FALLS at Take Two in 2008, she was working on SINCE AFRICA, which I shelved in my mind as a possibility for a future Take Two. I didn't know too much about the Lost Boys of Sudan but refugee stories strike me straight in the heart, along any stories about children who have been abandoned. When I finally read SINCE AFRICA last year, I knew we had to produce it, but I couldn't find a short film to program with it. Luckily, last year, I somehow discovered FATAKRA. The film won the 2011 Student Academy Awards and being about an Indian family adjusting to a new reality in America, it fits beautifully with the themes in SINCE AFRICA. It turned out that the director, Soham Mehta, also works in both theater and film. Next week, we're thrilled to present FATAKRA and then sit down with Soham for a discussion.

So who are the Lost Boys of Sudan? To make a long story short, when the Brits left in 1956 after more than half a century of colonization, south Sudan attempted to secede and civil war began. It's basically continued off-and-on since then. The Lost Boys of Sudan are approximately 20,000 orphans from the Dinka and Nuer tribes, who lost their families in what is now known as the Second Sudanese War (1983-2005). Many were six or seven years old, who happened to be grazing cattle or somehow away from their families when government troops from the north struck. Fleeing to escape death or induction into the northern army, many walked over 1,000 miles to Ethiopia, Kenya or Uganda where they were picked up by refugee camps.

SINCE AFRICA is the fictionalized story of a Lost Boy of Sudan and his adjustment to a new life in America. It's a wistful play about four people looking for connectivity, for a foundation to stand on, roots to grow from. Ater struggles to acclimate to cold weather, processed food and the concept of gang warfare, all the while yearning for a home that no longer exists. Diane subverts her grief for her recently deceased husband through working with African refugees. Her daughter Eve clings to her father's memory even as she strikes out on her own as a young adult. Deacon Reggie Hudson searches for his African roots and finds a deeper connection with God. The play is an eloquent ode to the commonality of human experience. Through the sharing of history, we find catharsis, empathy, compassion and the divine part of humanity.

We have a fantastic cast that includes Maechi Aharanwa (THE BLACKS/CSC), Tyrone Mitchell Henderson (THE WINTER'S TALE/Yale Rep, THE TEMPEST/Broadway), Jenny Vallancourt (BOOKENDS/NJ Rep), Vladimir Versailles (BURNING/New Group) and Jennifer Dorr White (CALL ME WALDO/Working Theater).

It's a pretty fantastic program and I hope you'll join us on Tuesday. Seating is really limited so buy your tickets now!

Tuesday, April 10
Red Room
85 East 4th Street, 3rd Fl
Click here to buy tickets to sample small show via

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Take Two 3/13 - Women on Women

Tonight, we're screening UMOJA: NO MEN ALLOWED by Bosnian-Croatian-Aussie journalist and filmmaker Elizabeth Tadic, followed by a special staged reading of 9 PARTS OF DESIRE by Heather Raffo, featuring a multi-ethnic ensemble of four women (and one man).

I originally thought of the program as something to mark Women's History Month. But with the right-wing Republican attacks on women lately, this program has an added significance.

Tadic's film has a sense of humor and exuberance, for a topic that in other hands could be an angry feminist tearjerker. Rebecca Lolosoli, a Sembaru woman from Kenya, begins to speak up on behalf of other tribal women who had been raped by British soldiers stationed at a nearby military base. When she is beaten by her husband, she persuades other women to found an all-women village, which prospers with money made from selling intricate beadwork to tourists, incurring the jealousy of the men of the village, who decide to set up a competing village downstream.

Raffo's work also has a sense of humor but what I was struck with after hearing the text read aloud last night at rehearsal for the first time in over five years, is how utterly beautiful it is. I think it is one of the most ravishingly poetic pieces of contemporary writing that I've ever encountered - and it's political astuteness is astonishing. If you don't know the play, prepare to be blown away by the writing.

Hope to see you tonight at Take Two! It's a pretty great program if I do say so myself.

Click here for more info and how to buy tickets online. 

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Love Across Borders at Take Two

At last! Announcing the winners of our first ever Take Two Challenge!

Written by Paul Juhn, directed by Andy Pang
A struggling Korean-American actor agrees to take the place of his friend at a blind date. Winner of Best Narrative Short at the San Diego Asian-American Film Festival and Best Romantic Short at Chicago International REEL Short Film Festival.

By Alexander Borinsky, directed by Victoria Linchong
It’s 1877, cusp of the modern world. Two brothers and their dad lose everything and head to New York. Men are rich in this city, gin is smooth, mansions are fucking big, and there might be a revolution happening. There are also some quietly broken hearts. A play about manly love for three badass women.

Come for a special Valentine's Day Take Two next week, with treats! And maybe a parlor game. And of course some drinks to loosen those inhibitions. Bring your date or prepare to meet some of the smartest, most beautiful people in New York City.

Tuesday, Feb 14
Red Room
85 East 4th Street, 3rd Floor
$10 General Admission
Click here to buy tickets to sample small show via

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Take Two Challenge

Take Two is seeking submissive types for 2012! Yes, for the first time ever, we have held off from programming the entire event to open it up to YOU, dear reader. This year, with the February Take Two falling on Valentine's Day, we thought we'd put a little edge on the greeting card holiday with a play and film on the theme LOVE ACROSS BORDERS. We're looking for sharp, insightful plays and films on anything that might creatively address this idea - got a play or film that revolves around an arranged marriage? miscegenation laws? a pre-Stonewall gay romance? colliding courtship customs? Put your play in front of our exciting panel of theater and film professionals, win $100 and see your work presented on February 14th!


Films and plays must address the theme "Love Across Borders."

Deadline for submission is December 21, 2011.

Films must be 30 minutes or less.

Plays must be 40-120 pages.

Click here to SUBMIT NOW!

More info:

Our panelists:

Nancy Robillard - Director credits include productions on Broadway, off-Broadway, and in regional and summer theatre.

Mike S. Ryan - Award-winning independent film producer whose works include Kelly Reichardt's MEEK'S CUTOFF, Todd Solondz's LIFE DURING WARTIME, and Clark Gregg's CHOKE.

Karin Shook Caparoso - Co-founder of the Chicago Director's Lab and former Artistic Director of Chicago's Tripaway Theatre.

Ching Valdes-Aran - Director and Obie Award winning actress.

Friday, December 2, 2011

How My Grandmother, B.D. Wong and a Leaky Bathroom Inspired BIG FLOWER EATER

My grandmother (left) in the 1950s.
My grandmother on my father’s side was a character to say the least. In photographs, she has the most relaxed body language I have ever seen in a woman who grew up in the 1910s and 1920s. She leans and lounges, hips curving to one side, in a rather lascivious way, looking strangely emancipated and not of her time. I remember realizing that she was rather unusual when she came to visit us in the States in the 1970s. Our two bonding conversations were about 1) Tarot reading and astrology, which fascinated her for being Western ways of fortunetelling that she didn't  know about; and 2) those shiny leggings that were new at that time. They only came in electric blue or hot pink, and we both coveted the electric blue ones.

When I got to be a teenager, I wanted the room she stayed in when she visited us since it had its own separate entrance. So I cleaned it out, discovering three empty, dusty, sweet vermouth bottles under the bed. Then I found a box of photos, and among all the black and white pictures, there was a mysterious woven orange pouch. Inside, I found several gorgeous red pieces of paper with Chinese writing, a few featuring lovely brushwork, all of them with some sort of wheel at the bottom. When I showed them to my mom, she made a noise of disgust and said (in effect), “Oy. Fortunetelling.”

Being completely prosaic, my mother had no interest in enlightening me, no matter how much I pestered her. The only thing I could read on those fortunes were family names, so I surmised that my grandmother must have had these fortunes cast for members of the family. There was one with my brother’s name, one with my father’s name and one with my name – the only name in ballpoint pen, like an afterthought. There were five others I could not decipher at all.

I kept the box of photos and the fortunes, but after putting everything away, I forgot all about the fortunes until many years later, when I was redecorating my old apartment on 11th Street. Inspired by someone else’s bathroom, I bought a gallon of red paint and my boyfriend at the time was helping me transform my Lower East Side loo from rundown and humdrum, to what I hoped would be fiery chic. As I was moving stuff around in the living room, I found that box of old photos and opening it, I rediscovered my grandmother’s woven pouch.

A similar fortune, but for a betrothal.
“Look at these,” I said, carefully unfolding one to show my boyfriend as he continued to work.

He had never seen anything like it before and exclaimed, “You should hang them up!”

Then I remembered reading in some magazine, maybe when I was getting my nails done, some article about B.D. Wong tiling his bathroom with his aunt’s vintage mahjongg tiles. 

“Hey,” I queried my boyfriend, holding the fortune up against the bright red bathroom wall, “What do you think about me hanging these fortunes here?”

“Great idea,” he replied and plucking the fortune from my hands, he stuck them on the still-wet paint. Thwak. 

Well, that’s not quite what I envisioned, my inner critic thought, but then the inner critic of my inner critic chimed in and told me to stop being so uptight and to relax. So we pasted all the fortunes on the wall. 

Needless to say, my mother nearly fainted the next time she came over and used the bathroom. I swear she shrieked and came barreling out of the bathroom scolding me for doing such a thing. For the next year, anytime she came by and had to use the bathroom, I could hear a steady stream of Taiwanese muttering.

Then after a few months of enjoying a refurbished bathroom, it began to leak. No one could figure out where the leak was coming from. The toilet of the apartment upstairs? The bathtub? Workmen traipsed in and out, three or four times, to no avail. Not that they were the brightest, but really, it was mysterious and annoying.

Worse, the fortunes were getting soaked. And there was no way to remove them. I watched with dismay, as the fortune that my grandmother cast for me became an illegible blur around the blue ink of my name, which remained sharp and took on an accusatory tone. I refrained from doing anything to the bathroom, wanting to preserve what I could of the fortunes. Eventually, it finally leaked so much, the entire ceiling came down.

The workmen came and put in a new ceiling. Only two of the fortunes were not wet and ruined. Thankfully, they happened to be the oldest, with the most interesting brush calligraphy. I had a new boyfriend by then, who helped me cut them from the wall. I took photographs of the soaked fortunes so that perhaps someone could help me read some of them in the future. Then we covered up the old fortunes with a fresh coat of turquoise paint.

My grandmother in the 1930s
I framed those two remaining fortunes and hung them up, first in the living room and then in the hall. They were there when I was evicted last January. But I don’t know where they went since. I haven’t been able to find them in my possessions.

When the bathroom started to leak, I joked that my mother was right: my grandmother had been upset that I pasted her fortunes in the bathroom. I imagined the dead relatives referred to in those fortunes lounging in the bathtub, wondering what they were doing in the Lower East Side. BIG FLOWER EATER is basically a giant riff on this joke, which really might not be a joke. 

I originally started it because a friend encouraged me to write a one-woman play, but I realized that I don’t really like one-person plays and I would be terribly uncomfortable in one. BIG FLOWER EATER will therefore feature three actresses, each of whom will play a young woman and her grandmother. It will be my first time devising a play and I’m excited to work with Kim Chinh and Helen Kim, both of whom have improvisation skills and writing experience. We’ll be using some exercises from Theatre de Complicite and several Guest Directors will be part of the collaborative process, as will James Daher, whose video work some of you may remember from the Direct Arts World’s Fair. We’ll be recording and reporting on each day of the workshop and we’d welcome comments from everyone. 

Like most of my work, BIG FLOWER EATER will examine how the past and present are connected, bringing to light something of the past that has been buried or forgotten. But I am also interested in ritual and its importance. As well as ways spirits can be presented on stage. Video, of course, can easily project transparent ghostlike images, but I’d also like to explore different avenues like shadows, glass, mirrors and aerial work. Ultimately, I’d love to play with a Pepper’s Ghost effect. 

But for this workshop, we’ll start with video, story, ritual, and an inimitable performance by traditional Korean drummer Vongku Pak. Fitting actually, that having been inspired by a red bathroom, the play will be developed in the Red Room. I hope you’ll follow this blog over the next few weeks as we delve into this theatrical experiment and come see the fruits of our labor December 7-10! 

-- By Victoria Linchong

Monday, November 28, 2011

Alyssa Joins Direct Arts!

Hi, my name is Alyssa Bothman, and I am honored to be the newest addition to Direct Arts as the Program Assistant for Take Two. I would like to introduce myself, as I will soon be sharing stories, interviews, and news with you. I recently moved from California to New York just over one month ago. I am from Los Gatos, California, a small town located just south of San Francisco. In June of this year, I graduated from Santa Clara University in the Silicon Valley where I received a double degree. I earned a Bachelor of Science in Business Finance and a Bachelor of Arts in Theater Arts with an emphasis in Dance. An interesting combination, I know, but my degrees sum up the pieces that make me whole. As a performing arts enthusiast and a striving dancer and choreographer, I decided to move across the country after graduation and experience life on the East Coast. What better place to be involved in the arts than New York City: the Mecca of performing arts!

I have always had a special interest in social justice and the arts, so I am inspired by Direct Arts’ mission to incorporate multiple cultures in its productions. With the ever-increasing desire for our American society to recognize all cultures, it is through organizations like Direct Arts to make this dream a reality. Since America is a melting pot of diversity, it is essential for us to celebrate the richness of culture in our country. Theater and film provide a means of communicating real world affairs with an artistic glow. I am proud to be a part of Direct Arts: an organization actively encouraging intercultural productions, and I am eager to plan and participate in the upcoming events this year.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

International Pavilions for The Direct Arts World's Fair

It was a rather panicky morning. The van was late and it was hard to wake up even after a double espresso - but we arrived at Campos Community Garden with cardboard and paint not too long after Taylor Sakarett, the Art Assistant.

Taylor had come to us through an ad in Craigslist and I was pretty amazed to discover that he was a intrinsic part of Bushwick Project for the Arts, an art collective that until last year, had squatted a former factory on Meserole Street. I was excited to connect him with Matt Metzgar and Mac McGill, who were both part of the Lower East Side squat movement of the 1980s and 1990s.

Taylor and I began priming cardboard and cutting them down to size. Marcellus Hall arrived and got to work on making the Americas Pavilion. I was glad that he had thought to print out the design he had created.

Marcellus' witty cartoons have been in The New Yorker and The New York Times. I first met him in the late 1980s on the J train on a dare from two girl friends to talk to an utter stranger. I think Marcellus had just come to New York City from Minnesota but he had absolutely no problems with a strangely friendly Asian girl chatting him up.

Meanwhile, it turned out that the garden was hosting a Green Guerrillas plant giveaway, so we had to figure out how to position ourselves so we could co-exist in a functional way AND stay under the one of the two covered areas just in case it rained. The gray clouds in the sky did not look good.  After setting up here and there, art-making ended up on the covered stage while plant-giving ended up under the tent. 

Raindrops did begin to fall as Mac McGill got to the garden, but they thankfully stopped. The plant giveaway was really swinging by that time - it was actually great to re-connect with some of the Lower East Side gardeners whom I hadn't seen since I was exiled in January.

Since we sprang it on him at the last moment, Mac hadn't had time to design the Africa Pavilion. I showed him what Marcellus had designed and he sat down and began drawing.  Mac's wonderful work anthropomorphizing buildings in the political graphic magazine World War III Illustrated has always amazed me.

After deliberating for awhile, he came up with a design incorporating the pyramids of Egypt, the continent of Africa and two African masks. Taylor helped him tape up some cardboard and he got to work.

Luba Lukova arrived, rather confused at all the activity in the garden. At this point, thirty gardeners were picking up plants amidst several pieces of cardboard (finished and unfinished) and Marcellus and Mac were cheek-by-jowl on the covered stage.

I began working with Luba in 1996 after I saw her graphic design for another show at Theater for the New City. A Bulgarian-born artist, her work melds a constructivist sense with the storytelling of surrealists. She designed the postcard and poster for my first play, VIRGIL, and for my second play, RITE OF RETURN.
I was trying to figure out where Luba could work when she stopped me and suggested that she plaster a plain white Pavilion with posters so it looks like a news kiosk. I loved the idea so we put Taylor on cutting out cardboard to dimensions that Luba and I agreed on.

Marcellus was supposed to have met Julee Kim for brunch but since it was getting past 3:00, he invited her to the garden and she helped him finish up.

Mac decided to take his half-finished artwork home to work on in leisure.

Matthew came as dusk fell and after wearily cleaning up, we finished the day with some excellent curry on 10th Street.

So the International Pavilions are pretty much in hand. Now we need to make Silent Auction displays...