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The Riverside Symphony Strikes The Right Chord (Planet Connections 2010)

by Stephen Tortora-Lee on June 16, 2010

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Riverside Symphony

The Riverside Symphony (written by Michael Niederman and directed by Hondo Weiss-Richmond) is truly a symphony of perspectives. It opens with Cassandra (Arlene Chico-Lugo), a young high school student speaking to us and to her park as she reminisces about the playground with hippopotami set into the cement. She cries out to the world wondering how any one can stand it – “always preparing for the future that will never get here”.

We switch perspective then to the bum lying on the park bench, Pigeon (Michael Gnat). From him we hear bits of poetry, bits of dissonance, bits of brilliance, blending in with weariness, and a rage at the world for no longer living up to the promise of what might have been.

The energy of the view of the world then switches to another perspective. We meet Isabelle (Ellie Foumbi) a young woman originally from a Caribbean island brought to the magical world of New York  on a work visa in order to care for an unseen boy.  In a type of fairy tale, Isabelle sooths the boy by spinning a tale about the origins of the city – his city.  She tells of people who fled here to escape the existential terror of a life with no meaning (besides a love for flowers) in a land full of the sound of wooden shoes. She strives to give the young one enough tales in order to nourish him with stories.  She does this to protect his youth and to give him an emergent identity in a family that doesn’t have time to treat him as much more than a pet.

Our three-faced world of monologues explodes beyond the realm of each character’s internal war and spreads over their own world view simply by the existence of others who mirror them in different, challenging ways.

Cassandra is soon found by her best friend, Jolene (Allyson Morgan) who at first is wondering why she left her graduation party.  Later as they talk and catch up, Jolene confronts Cassandra about being absent during a time when Jolene really needed to talk about the things going on in her life (like having sex for the first time).

Pigeon is confronted by Charles (John Phillip), his book agent, friend, and “his keeper of the words”. Charles asks him why he has been living on the street for so many week “trying to find himself” instead of getting a quiet teaching job. Charles tells him he’ll die out there in the park if he doesn’t go “home”.

Isabelle the nanny is face to face with the mother of the boy, Vivian (Liz Douglas) who alternates between complaining about how everyone in the world is trying to take things from her (her precious things that make life worth living) to cursing and asking Isabelle where her husband has been the last couple of weeks. Isabelle struggles to convince Vivian to keep adult things away from the toddler who is playing in the park.  She urges Vivian to maintain the boy’s childhood as long as she can so he can grow up to be a good man.

Vivian is thrown into her own state of vulnerability when her husband, Paul (Eric Rice) finally turns up after his two week absence to talk with her and to see his son.  Paul explains he just can’t live as he used to – so shallowly without really appreciating it.  He admits to being afraid of his life beginning to run out on him as his midlife begins washing over him. Vivian tries everything she can think of to keep him without truly changing herself because change is what she is most afraid of.

From there we watch as the characters deal with layer after layer of the struggle to understand how to deal with being overwhelmed by life. Too much opportunity, too much defeat, too much history. We travel through these people’s minds as they wrestle with the stress of their lives, as they are confronted by the weight of reality by their friends, lovers, employers and whatever other definitions of human symbiosis there might be.

The Riverside Symphony is a strong play with foreceful portrayals by all involved. The set design by Stephen Dobay (rounded out by lighting design by Jake DeGroot and sound design by Kim Fuhr) truly convincing us of the external reality of the park as the characters struggles with their internal realities. Great praise to Michael Niederman for creating a truly modern play giving us the space to help give us hope to get out of the box we all can paint ourselves into.

The big question it seems everyone tries to answer for themselves (with the help of their friends) is the basic questions that philosophers have asked for ages and from which I’ll quote from Lorien from the old TV series Babylon 5:

* Who are you?
* What do you want?
* Why are you here? & Do you have anything worth living for?
* Where are you going?

Give yourself the chance to ask yourself what you want to get out of life by watching this play.  And then ask yourself at the end:

Did it work?


Produced by Ignited States Production Company benefiting The Children’s Aid Society
Written by Michael Niederman
Directed by Hondo Weiss-Richmond
Running time: 100 minutes, no intermission
Venue: The Robert Moss Theater, 440 Lafayette Street, 3rd floor
Performance dates:
Sat 6/5 @ 7pm
Mon 6/7 @ 8:30pm
Wed 6/9 @ 6:45pm
Sat 6/12 @ 1:45pm
Thurs 6/17 @ 4pm
Sun 6/20 @ 11am
Sat 6/26 @ 2:30pm
Purchase tickets here.
Set Design by Stephen Dobay
Costume Design by Sarah Gosnell
Lighting Design by Jake DeGroot
Sound Design by Kim Fuhr
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