Nia Steiner, Best Actress for In Time at the NCTV 2014 7 Day Film Sprint

Audience Favorite, Ithaca Fringe Festival, April 2014 (for Hand Grenades, by Monica Shea Giordano, directed by Toby Vera Bercovici, featuring Trenda Loftin.)


Review of The Life and Death of Queen Margaret  by Erin Kahn,

If you run quickly through a list of Shakespeare's tragedies you may notice something: Hamlet, Julius Caesar, King Lear - the title characters are all men. Of course, there's also Romeo and Julietand Antony and Cleopatra - but no woman stands alone as the main character of a Shakespeare tragedy. Some theatre companies have compromised by casting women in traditionally male roles. But Real Live Theatre (at Theatre for the New City) is taking a bolder approach.

Queen Margaret of Anjou appears in four of Shakespeare's plays (more than any other Shakespearean character): Henry VI Parts I-III and Richard IIIThe Life and Death of Queen Margaret (directed by Toby Vera Bercovici) combines Margaret's four appearances into one play, and adds details on which Shakespeare is silent, such as Margaret's early life in France before her coming to England. As a result of Bercovici's and Dan Morbyrne's tight script (woven from Shakespeare but "funneled and augmented") and Myka Plunkett's beautiful acting, Margaret of Anjou becomes decidedly whole and decidedly human. She also becomes a force to be reckoned with - by both her political opponents and the audience watching her story unfold, grappling with Margaret as a complete and compelling character.

Julia Vincenza Whalen's wonderfully understated costumes and Annelise Nielsen's deftly envisioned choreography add to the value and freshness of this production. And the choice to cast an all-female ensemble, in a reversal of the Shakespearean norm, is a perfect touch. Music, lighting, dance, and inventive staging combine with a wise script, a unique aesthetic, and powerful acting to create the ultimate "total work of art."

Margaret's story begins in France, where her father is the king in title only and where a loving nurse serves as the ambitious girl's main companion. From there, Margaret crosses the sea to become the wife of English King Henry VI, dropping straight into a nest of political intrigue. From then on, Margaret strives to hold her own in the English court, protect her family's claim to the throne, and subdue all who stand in her way.

As Margaret of Anjou, Myka Plunkett is marvelous. She passes from innocent French girl to bloodthirsty military leader without losing any of her spark, and somehow manages to enlist empathy even after cruelly disposing of her enemies. Each other cast member plays a number of characters with an equal amount of expertise and depth in each role. Especially wonderful is Linda Tardif's deliciously chilling Richard, but every cast member is noteworthy.

But now to the real question: does Margaret hold her own against other tragic Shakespearean characters? She may not be as intellectual as Hamlet, but she's certainly more decisive than the Danish Prince, more clear-sighted than Lear, and every bit as ambitious as Caesar. She has her moments of tragic weakness (though not through any quailing on her part) and enough strengths for several of Shakespeare's male characters. Perhaps only time will tell, but for what it's worth, my money's on Queen Margaret: "she-wolf of France."

Originally published here.

Review of Hand Grenades by Laura B. Darling, published on the Ithaca Fringe Festival website, April 2014

Hand Grenades, a four-character, three-actor play, earned the distinction of being the opening show in the first Ithaca Fringe Festival on Thursday evening. In its curtain speech, Ithaca Fringe artistic director George Sapio announced that the part of Ophelia was being played by Catherine Rogala, not by the actor named in the program. 

Fellow actors Trenda Loftin (Diana) and Myka Plunkett (Narrator (“Fate”)/Troy), director Toby Bercovici, and playwright Monica Giordano are members of the Massachusetts-based producing company Real Live Theatre. Rogala is based in New York; she’d been called in to replace another actor who’d had to drop out at the last minute, and she’d had the script for only two days. 

I prepared to cut the production some slack. 

Yet they blazed through the play as if they’d been rehearsing together for weeks; Rogala’s memorization skills in themselves would have been spectacular, but she truly embodied her part, and the other actors did as well. 

The venue, Cinema 2 at Cinemapolis, is perfect for this minimalist play. The only set pieces, other than a black curtain backdrop that covers the cinema screen, are a couple of chairs and a stack of books that double as other objects ― coffee cups, plates of pancakes. And the actors need no more. Bercovici moves them around beautifully. I found myself thinking more than once how perfect a show this is for a Fringe festival, where everything is low-budget, and how thoughtful the director and actors were to have walked into this space for only the second time and so completely made it work for them. (Each Fringe show had only one three-hour tech rehearsal before opening.) 

The play begins with a narrator setting the story of how Diana and Ophelia met in a coffee shop/bookstore, and at first the actors behave almost as puppets as she talks. Soon their story grows, and within a little more than a month they declare their mutual love and move in together (and the narration takes more of a back seat to the action, although it’s still critical to the piece). 

Ophelia and Diana are both charming and funny. It’s easy to see why they fall for each other. They share delightful little intimacies―games they play together, including one in which they measure the length of their love affair. We traverse the play with them, and their lives together, through this device: “Today is day 35 [from the day I fell in love with you”; “It’s day 344.” 

Things go swimmingly for the two lovebirds until one day something very bad happens to Ophelia. Diana could hardly be more loving and attentive―later we’ll wonder how she manages this―but Ophelia is shattered. Something shifts in their relationship . . . or does it? Perhaps the shift had come earlier, but we didn’t notice, and neither did one of them.

Meanwhile, our narrator morphs into a third character, one whose presence turns out to be another kind of menace. I won’t ruin the surprises, but if I were to choose one word to describe what this play is about, it would be “betrayal.”

Loftin and Rogala are instantly believable as the two lovers, and we can easily find ourselves identifying with them. We believe they are in love with each other. Later, Diana becomes less likable, and our sympathies for Ophelia grow. When the character of Troy, played by Plunkett, is introduced, Rogala switches character as well, taking over the role of narrator, which had been Plunkett’s. For that section she’s “on book,” using a script but it doesn’t detract from the action. (I heard her say later that each night of the Fringe she would be off book a little more.)

Having a woman play the part of Troy was a director’s choice. (The Real Live Theatre company’s listed members are all female, but it’s not clear that is by design.) I had no trouble accepting Plunkett as a man, but I did speak to three other audience members who all said that a female in the role confused issues for them―but not enough to keep them from giving enthusiastic reviews for this delightful first-ever Ithaca Fringe offering. As do I. 

Very highly recommend!

Originally published here.

Review of The Tragedy of Othello by Chris Rohmann, published in the Valley Advocate, October 2013

Mortal Engines

Two Othellos  place the tragic Moor on today's battlefield.

Tuesday, October 08, 2013
By Chris Rohmann

It’s a coincidence, but not a surprise, that both productions of Othello I’ve seen recently are set on military bases in today’s Middle East. The garrison in Shakespeare’s tragedy isn’t that far from an outpost in Kandahar. The same rules of life in the battle zone apply: the peremptory chain of command, the hair-trigger emotions stirred by dangerous deployment, and most important, the implicit trust in the comrades-in-arms your life depends on.

Both productions evoked that atmosphere, along with the camouflage fatigues and semi-automatic sidearms of today’s soldier, but also diverged sharply. Where the Royal National Theatre’s staging, beamed from London in its NT Live-to-cinema series, boasted 20 performers, an expansive stage and a budget to match, the local offering by Real Live Theatre was performed in a bare room under fluorescent lights with a cast of eight.

That said, both were examples of Shakespeare at his riveting best, giving a spine-tingling urgency to the 400-year-old tale of the black general in a white world who’s led, by loving “not wisely but too well,” into jealousy and murder.

Real Live Theatre is a brand-new ensemble that brings a thrilling immediacy and creative savvy to the stage. Founded by alums of Serious Play’s training program, its focus is on the actors’ intense physical presence. In Ellen Morbyrne’s production at Gateway City Arts in Holyoke, the performers sat among the audience on folding chairs, entering into the bare playing space on cue but never really out of the action.

In this present-day setting, Othello was not a “Moor,” but a Puerto Rican, affectingly embodied by Arnaldo Andre Rivera, who had a couple of exchanges in Spanish with his lieutenant Cassio (Mike Pray). Thanks to some plausible cross-gender casting, half the cast was female, and included feisty performances by Emma Jimerson as Othello’s wife Desdemona and Monica Giordano as Iago’s wife Emilia. For me, the defining performance was Dan Morbyrne’s as the “demi-devil” who ensnares the trusting Othello. His Iago was a playful, loose-limbed fellow whose lying tongue spoke in hip-hop rhythms—a brilliant incarnation of the modern warrior.

Click here to read the full article.



Kathleen Mellen’s Best Bets: Real Live Theatre’s ‘The Lion & The Clown’


A faerie, a cursed woman who becomes a lion and a traveling circus are ingredients of Real Live Theatre’s world premiere play, “The Lion & The Clown: A Rumi Love Song for Beauty & The Beast,” written and directed by RLT co-founder Ellen Morbyme. It will be performed at The Arts Trust Building, 33 Hawley St. in Northampton Sept. 19-21, at 8 p.m. Organizers promise poetry, magic, love and, oh yes, obscenity, so leave the kiddos at home. Ticket info at

Originally published here.

Weaving a New Myth

By Chris Rohmann

It’s a fairy tale (for grownups only) about a traveling circus (down on its luck), “weaving poetry, obscenity, magic and love” into a contemporary take on an ancient story, inspired by the poet Rumi’s injunction to “unfold your own myth.” The Lion & The Clown: A Rumi Lovesong for Beauty & the Beast is the latest from the performance cooperative Real Live Theatre (motto: “We do what our name says we do and we love it”). The two-week run opens in Northampton’s future multi-arts space and continues in Holyoke’s up-and-coming multi-arts complex.

Originally published here.


"Don't be satisfied with stories, 
How things have gone with others. 
Unfold your own myth."

Real Live Theatre is proud to present the world premiere of The Lion & The Clown: A Rumi Lovesong for Beauty & the Beast, an original script written and directed by RLT co-founder Ellen Morbyrne. 

Mature Content, Not Intended For Children.

An incredible ensemble of eight actors brings you the story of a faerie and the woman he curses into a lioness, as they entangle themselves in the life of a small traveling circus that is struggling to survive in contemporary America. A Clown, a Wire-Walker, a Lion-Tamer, a Juggler, a Manager, and a Balloon-Seller join Faerie and Sarah in weaving poetry, obscenity, magic, and love into an experience to remember. 

Featuring the acting prowess of RLT members Toby Bercovici, Lucy Gouvin, Kate Hare, Trenda Loftin, Dan Morbyrne, Alberto Peart, Michael Pray, and Nia Steiner. Original music composed and performed by RLT member Cynthia Zaitz.  Stage Management by Sara Berliner, Production Management by RLT member Emma Jimerson. 

“You want to sing in the moonlight and dance in the faerie ring, yeah? You want to see the helium while it sings and the crystalized math in the frozen water? Yeah? You think a rose still smells sweet? Let me show you something, my dear. Let me show you the world, little princess.” -Faerie



BRAND NEW VALLEY-BASED theatre company Real Live Theatre offers up their adaptation of William Shakespeare's The Tragedy of Othello, set against the stark reality of contemporary US soldiers living through multiple redeployments to combat missions. Adapted and Directed by local theatre artist Ellen Morbyrne, this production takes advantage of minimalistic design to expose the dramatic intimacy, dynamic physicality, and poignant heartbreak that are the soul of the play. A tight ensemble of eight award-winning and critically acclaimed actors breathes intense new life into this classic exploration of pressure, jealousy, and revenge.

Cast & Production Team: Arnaldo Andre Rivera as Othello, Dan Morbyrne as Iago, Emma Jimerson as Desdemona, Monica Giordano as Emilia, Michael Pray as Cassio, Joshua Platt as Roderigo, Rebecca Paul as Montana, and Nia Steiner as Bianca. Adapted and Directed by Ellen Morbyrne. Stage Managed by Lucy Gouvin, Assistant Stage Managed by Sommer Mahoney. Fight Choreography by Dan Morbyrne. Dance Choreography by Nia Steiner. Videography by Lucy Gouvin.

Please note that this play deals with some heavy material, and certain aspects of the production may be triggering for those with PTSD or anxiety, as it contains some loud noises and scenes of graphic domestic violence.