Review: ‘Sam Bendrix’ a tribute to dreams of a bygone era
By Alice T. Carter, PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Thursday, December 1, 2011
Playwright Keith Bunin arrived in Greenwich Village long after the Bon Soir and the era in which it lived had passed into history.
So, his play “Sam Bendrix at the Bon Soir,” which is playing at City Theatre through Dec. 18, is woven from threads of fact and fiction, reality and creativity.
“I guess Sam Bendrix is a version of the person I might have been,” writes Bunin in his program notes. The play, Bunin explains: “is my attempt to pay tribute to the men and women who walked the streets of downtown New York long before I got there: the people who paved the way.”
TribLive’s review on Sam Bendrix
Luke Macfarlane steps into role of volatile singer in City’s ‘Sam Bendrix’
Thursday, November 17, 2011
By Sharon Eberson, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Imagine you are seated in a smoky cafe in 1950s New York, ready for a night of same-old, same-old as a young man and three-piece band perform a cabaret act of popular music. The city outside bustles to a cultural sea change that’s exploding artistic norms.
If you’ve arrived at the scene, you have found your way to the other side of the time tunnel where performer Luke Macfarlane and writer Keith Bunin hope to lead audiences experiencing “Sam Bendrix at the Bon Soir,” a world premiere at City Theatre’s intimate Lester Hamburg theater.
The one-man show includes music by Cole Porter, Leonard Bernstein and the Gershwins within the structure of a cabaret act that turns out to be a confessional by Sam. He is saying goodbye to New York, where he had come from a small town, like so many others, and things hadn’t turned out quite as he planned.
Sitting in a Starbucks on the South Side on a spring-like day a couple of weeks ago, Mr. Macfarlane and Mr. Bunin discussed the collaboration that has brought this project to City. “Sam Bendrix” strives to generate the feeling of a time and place while incorporating some of the lesser-known songs by big-name composers of the era. And it’s about what it meant to be gay in 1958, when the play is set.
“If you were from a small town in the middle of the country you might not know any other people like you, and it led to a sort of influx into the cities and it created this New York City life that really was unprecedented,” Mr. Bunin said. “We were also interested in the ways things were very open and very coded, and the incredible things that were going on artistically. Like the Beat generation, the modernist painters … Jackson Pollock, Frank O’Hara, ‘West Side Story,’ … Jack Keroauc, Allen Ginsberg …”
“It’s so interesting to really look at this history and you say, ‘Oh my God, these things were happening at the exact same time.’ It’s shocking,” Mr. Macfarlane said.
More of the article
‘Sam Bendrix’ hits the highlights of a heyday
By Alice T. Carter, PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Wednesday, November 16, 2011
Last updated: 1:38 pm
Luke Macfarlane wants to make one thing clear about “Sam Bendrix at the Bon Soir.”
“It is not a cabaret act,” he says. “It’s a beautiful, delicate play, a one-man show disguised as a cabaret act.”
Some confusion is inevitable.
The play takes place in 1958 in the Bon Soir, a legendary nightclub where performers including Barbra Streisand and Phyllis Diller got their starts.
The Bon Soir was a smoky, intimate venue where well-dressed, diverse audience — blacks and whites, straights and gays — gathered to hear music by legendary songwriters such as Cole Porter, Leonard Bernstein and the Gershwins. It was an era before rock ‘n’ roll, the Stonewall riots, the Civil Rights struggle and the Vietnam War changed the world.
“It was an intimate world — a club where so many different parts of New York could get together,” Macfarlane says.
Sam Bendrix at the Bon Soir article
“Sam Bendrix at the Bon Soir” from City Theatre
“Sam Bendrix at the Bon Soir” by Keith Bunin follows Sam Bendrix, a bartender/crooner who, for one night only, has been given the time onstage to perform a nightclub act all his own…for someone who may or may not show up.
The City Theatre manages to set up a convincing lounge atmosphere, complete with (fake) smoke clouding and swirling around the lights. There are two and four-seat tables set up on risers so parties can sit together comfortably, and guests are even encouraged to bring their drinks with them. After all, it is a nightclub. The lighting stays ambiant, and the music from the band is clear and engaging without being overpowering.
The show is…fine, in every good and bad sense of the word. Luke Macfarlane, of some television acclaim, plays Sam and uses the audience as any good nightclub comic, basically as a second character or straight-man for his one-liners. Macfarlane’s voice is like velvet, and he wears the character of Sam Bendrix like a dinner jacket – tailor-made. The musicians, while subtle, are great, really coming across not as actors (which they aren’t) but as musicians there to support their lead. All in all, the show has the appeal of a good, low-key date night or something to bring your visiting grandparents to for nostalgia’s sake.
City Theatre is bringing a world premiere production to its intimate Southside-based Lester Hamburg Studio Stage. The latest play to mark its 37th season, Keith Bunin’s Sam Bendrix at the Bon Soir, will transport audiences to a highly creative and influential moment in American history.
The year is 1958, the setting the legendary Bon Soir club in New York’s lively Greenwich Village. At the bustling cabaret-style club, charismatic musician Sam Bendrix and his talented band are about to take the stage for what will be their final riveting performance. Underscoring the cultural, political and societal shifts brewing beneath the surface of modern America, the new play weaves a “tale of an era not yet ready for the revolutionary changes on the horizon.”