Screlton McNodes And His Search For Transcendence Through The Act Of Putting On Musicals In The Barn With Stray Cats Amidst A Life Full Of Pain, Abuse, Murder, And Insanity

Yeah, forget my usual attempt at a quirky touch-up to the title this one time. It really does speak for itself. As does its eponymous star.

They say it takes a really good singer to sing really badly. That meta comedy sensation Screlton McNodes should grace Feinstein’s/54 Below comes as no surprise to anyone, then, even if he “didn’t get the 7:30 slot.” Born of a spring break gag, a sleeper hit Youtube video, and creator Martin Landry‘s desire to take his career into his own hands, Screlton McNodes is your typical cat-musical-producing comedic-screlting deep-South victim of child abuse.

And it sucks so very, very good. McNodes lays both claim and waste to the entire musical theatre canon straying more from the melody than Mariah Carey and screeching enough to make Chuck Shuldiner blush. His setlist includes many perennial favorites such as “Defying Gravity,” “Let It Go,” and “Tomorrow,” but trust me, they are like nothing you’ve ever heard before.

Landry’s screlting (an amalgam of “screaming” and “belting”) technique is well-honed and curiously methodical. In the hands of a lesser performer, the act of comedically singing poorly might seem straightforward, but McNodes’ is a controlled chaos: His register, his enunciation, and his modulations are all to some extent deliberate. The patterns he sows, he later reaps with repetitions. Clear example: His habit of frequently ending verses with an “o” vowel no matter the rhyme. And it lands like thunder; the audience eats it right up.

Of course, it’s still something of a relief when the guest vocalists were invited onstage (The screlting, however masterful, became somewhat obtrusive after long periods). And McNodes has assembled an impressive roster: The supremely talented Christina DeCicco and Hannah Elless stepped in for some real Broadway-caliber belting, and each delivered or participated in a bit between songs. Special shout-out to Janice Landry, who stood in last-minute for an absent Sara Jean Ford (citing babysitter troubles), and still delivered an airtight rendition of “Let It Go.” And of course, to expert musical direction and accompaniment by James Dobinson, who even managed to sneak in a little characterization for himself.

The real juice of the guest appearances, though, was in the duets. Watching McNodes jointly sing and even harmonize with his guests was like witnessing an impossible combination of sweet and savory. The blend of ironic and unironic good creates a peculiar, but ultimately tickling and pleasant effect.

That said, McNodes is still here to give a show, and not just a concert. Despite the success of the other factors, the comedy was definitely the strongest part of the evening. Aside from his remarkable command of humor and physicality, Landry’s natural charisma and quick-wittedness allows him to establish a unique rapport with the audience as a character (McNodes) who possesses neither.

The narrative itself is of, as the title suggests, a Broadway-loving Screlton McNodes growing up in rural Alabama with abusive parents. His only solace was the cast recordings of Broadway musicals he listened to, and then proceeded to produce in his barn by casting the neighborhood cats as the characters. Thus Landry, as McNodes, tackles familiar and beloved works of musical theatre for the bulk of the show. A hairball of an endeavor they turned out to be: The almost always ill-fated productions were the source of many antics, and yielded strong laughs from the audience even as the tone grew darker and the ending tragic (in how McNodes ultimately responds to his household situation).

Which is my only real reservation about the show. Landry proves adept at the Dave Barry-esque principle of using laughter to express the “anxiety of knowing [we] in a world devoid of reason.” He is very careful in his use of self-effacing dark comedy to address the tragedies in his narrative, and in managing the tone of his performance with which he handles them. Overall, McNodes’s account is defiantly uplifting despite that which befell him, and it’s no surprise that real victims of abuse have remarked to Landry the therapeutic and cathartic qualities of the show. Furthermore, his exploits as a quirky musical theatre lover from a humble background with big dreams and an uneasy path to realizing them bears an emotional core that’s no doubt relatable to much of the show’s target demographic. However, the story does run the risk of tonal muddles between the comedy and the tragedy, in which case it might elude some audience members, and even disturb others.

Which, for the record, did not seem to be a problem at all at 54 Below. On Thursday November 15 of 2018, as the renowned supper club welcomed Screlton McNodes in a special one-night re-engagement of his solo show, New York City welcomed the abrupt return of heavy winter snow in a one-night preview of its incipient baby blizzards.

But McNodes, the indomitable, was matched in dedication by his fans and supporters, who with the exception of Sara Jean Ford all made it to the performance, and from a variety of origins for which (I heard) the journey made was less than smooth, especially in that weather.

And the ovations that night could’ve rivaled those at a Bette Midler concert. Rightly so, says I.





Special thanks to the producer Ashley Griffin, without whom the show might not have been possible, but without whom this review DEFINITELY would not have been possible.

Bright Colors And Bold Patterns – Where On The Rainbow Is Khaki?

Drew Droege returns in his uproarious solo show, directed by Michael Urie.

Note to aspiring wedding planners: If there are gay men on your guest list, don’t run the risk of asking that they “refrain from dressing in bright colors and bold patterns.” The spiky reaction of one affronted invitee just might sow the seeds for a solo show that is the tragicomedy of the season.

Enter said invitee, Gerry Howard: A motormouthed fireball of an Angeleno whose wit is as forthright as his titanic presence. Armed with cocaine, margaritas, and his encyclopedic knowledge of 90s pop culture, this life-of-the-party wedding guest is ready to brighten, color, and embolden the fastest 80 minutes of any audience member’s life.

“Honey, we celebrate things and make fun of them at the same time.  That’s called gay.” Bright Colors does the very same thing. Arriving the evening before a gay wedding in Palm Springs, Gerry takes the wedding invitation’s discouragement of flashy attire as a personal affront, and is not afraid to dispense pure shade at those he deems responsible, especially when the wedding itself is between two men. And you better believe that with a guest list including his ex-boyfriend, the latter’s new young lover, and “that fuckbag Neil,” Gerry is going to be a fountain of drama.

Drew Droege, photo credit - Russ Rowland (5)

What’s most special about Bright Colors And Bold Patterns is that Gerry is the only one onstage—the only character out of four that is seen or heard. The audience gleans the dialogue of the other three by Gerry’s responses to them, and it is to Droege’s immense credit as a playwright and actor that the play runs so smoothly. Remarkably, it feels blocked and run as if it had its full cast of four; the audience can tangibly feel the emotions of the nonexistent characters. That’s an incredible feat: When dialogue is constructed so immaculately that even nonspeaking invisible roles are fully fleshed, three-dimensional characters.

Drew Droege is delicious as Gerry, and there is no mistaking that both actor and role love being the center of attention. He has total control over the audience, and his delivery is such that they are with him at every step. No moment in the show is empty; the audience is ready to fill any silence between lines with raucous laughter, applause, and even heavy anticipation during some of the more nuanced parts. To add to an already naturalistic performance, Droege engineers comedy and drama on the fly, and as both actor and playwright he is able to take that license on his own material without inhibition. This talent is of no surprise, given his experience with improv and sketch.

Drew Droege, photo credit - Russ Rowland (7)

Behind the hilarity, however, lies poignancy. We eventually see that Gerry’s outer rainbow and prickliness shields the insecurities of an aging man wounded by heartbreak and censure, but more importantly, who fears the obsolescence of his pride in a world that’s begun to normalize it. Gerry’s spirited advocacy of bright colors and bold patterns when faced with a gay wedding that avoids them evinces a deeper worry that the road to normal is the road to beige. In this sense, the interaction between Gerry and his ex’s new boyfriend (who is decades younger) is symbolic.

I personally welcomed the play’s admission that Gerry is a flawed man. To me, he represents the best and worst of us, of what we’ve been through, and what we want. One cannot ask more of a protagonist, especially in a comedy.

Drew Droege, photo credit - Russ Rowland (8)

The black stage of the SoHo Playhouse (where Bright Colors is currently running) is decorated as the poolside patio of a Palm Springs house, and although the unpainted black background might’ve precluded some comprehension of the passage of time, it is all irrelevant given Droege’s performance. It is through him, not the set, that I can imagine the different times in which the play is set.

That said, this fit achieved between Droege and his stage isn’t owed exclusively to Gerry’s relentless extroversion in conversing with chaise lounges, but also to Michael Urie’s direction. According to an interview with BUILD Series, Urie saw the production in its infancy at Ars Nova, thought it was brilliant, and felt it needed a full production. My verdict, having seen the show, is that Droege creates the world, and Michael colors it.

Truly, this show is a delight to behold, and Drew Droege plays Gerry with unending panache. Let’s all have some more bright colors and bold patterns in our lives.

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Director: Michael Urie
Starring: Drew Droege (u/s: Tom Detrinis)

Scenic Design: Dara Wishingrad

Press Representative: Dan Fortune

Producer: Zach Laks, Riki Kane Larimer, Jamie Deroy, Keith Boynton/Mike Lavoie, Jim Kierstead, Drew Desky/Dane Levens

Associate Producer: Tom Detrinis, Amanda Bohan

Production Stage Manager: Jonathan Castanien

Company Manager: Hannah Woodward

Advertising/Marketing/Social Media: ABM

Technical Director: Joshua Kohler

Photos by Russ Howland.

Presented by Soho Playhouse through January 7.


Snow – Reframing Grimm In Triplicate

Ashley Griffin’s profound revision of the Brothers Grimm’s Snow White in three new parallel storylines.


Ryan Clardy, Gracie Beardsley

All art by some essence tells a story, and storytelling has as much potential to provoke reflection as it does to entertain. While fairy tales as we know them, or knew them as children, are a break from the quotidian, their themes are often timeless and universal. “Fairy tales are more than true, not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten” is only a more specific and goal-oriented rephrasing of “art is the lie that leads to the truth,” a theme quintessential to playwright/actor Ashley Griffin’s Snow.

If storytelling—as put by Griffin—is a dying art, then she herself is in the vanguard of its resuscitation. Following a 2016 summer premiere at Under St. Marks, her brainchild Snow was brought back by A.N.O.N. Productions for another run at The Producer’s Club, where it played to riveted audiences. Fluently acted by a versatile cast, Snow explores common themes of love, the human condition, and storytelling itself via a medium aptly chosen by Griffin for its relevance and ubiquity—fairy tales.

L-R: Ryan Williams, Ashley Griffin, Leslie Alexander

Snow is set in three separate storylines revolving around the tale of Snow White, with a cast of six actors playing corresponding archetypes in each. The first is a historical account of the Brothers (Jakob and Wilhelm) Grimm’s attempt to save Germany from cultural subjugation by collecting and preserving its fairy tales, and how they clash over the dilution of the details. The second concerns a family of thespians during the Victorian era whose exploits begin to mirror the events of Snow White as the (step)mother grows jealous of being supplanted by her daughter’s success. The third and final is the story of Astrid, an abused modern-day girl who is rendered comatose—but for her, waking up is a choice, and a difficult one at that.

L-R: Ashley Griffin, Ryan Clardy, Leslie Alexander

The three stories, staged seamlessly by Sage Barrie, illuminate tiny but important aspects of one another. As a motif is discussed and mused upon by characters in one world, it is transpiring in another. The frequent transitions during the scenes are, as put by Griffin, “little poems”: The set pieces are few and versatile, and all six actors are dressed in a base of “actor black”; a prop or a costume piece are all that separate one identity from another, making feasible the mere seconds an actor has to turn from English to German, from malevolent to timid, from being in full view to being part of the background.

L-R: Ashley Griffin, Ryan Clardy, Ryan Williams, Gracie Beardsley, Jay William Thomas

This is done very efficiently by the actors, whose performances themselves are nothing short of laudable. Although Leslie Alexander’s lines as Isadora/Donna were occasionally rushed (to the detriment of their gravity), she is powerfully detestable and vulnerably paranoid as the evil queen. Ryan Williams draws praise for being both the selfless, paternal Jakob and the domineering, amoral Jack; the latter seizing everything in his path with a lustful verve that makes one’s blood curdle. Jay William Thomas balances a boyish charm as Tate and Arthur with a nationalistic zeal as Wilhelm Grimm. And Gracie Beardsley, in the words of reviewer Seth from TheatreArt (I couldn’t top this): “…showed poise and intelligence beyond her years as all of the little girls in the show…Charm, innocence, vengeance and grace pour from her as she captivates our heart.”

Ryan Clardy

Special mention must be given to Ryan Clardy’s Shadow: As a personification of death, or Vernichtung (German: literally “destruction), Clardy gives life to an immaterial force that quite literally pervades the entire play, tying the three storylines together. Summoned to deliver the kiss of death to any character that draws close to it, Clardy’s imposing stage presence is the veins and arteries of this show. I find his character a refreshing take on death; a fairy, a forgotten celestial who, after eons of struggle, is neither fully naive nor resigned, who with all his witness and wisdom still possesses a somewhat childlike spirit, and is still caught off guard by Astrid.

And Astrid is, in the hands of her architect Griffin, a tragic and arresting centerpiece to the story. Astrid is a physical and emotional challenge for any actress, and Ashley Griffin plays her roles with the commitment of one who created them, but more importantly, understands them. Her electric chemistry with Clardy’s Shadow is as inimitable as the fantastical circumstances of their bond. Astrid, deprived of love and trapped in abuse, is quite literally in love with and flirts with death, desperately wanting him to take her. Shadow is entranced by a disposition he’s never received from a human, and cares deeply for Astrid, but knows that to consummate it—by a kiss—would be to kill her. Their love climaxes in the final scene tremblingly, but intimately. It is a section written entirely in stage direction, but to the audience member, it simply defies description.

Ashley Griffin, Ryan Clardy

Arguably the most resonant part of this show is the writing. Drawing from a line within: “Storytellers take words and make order out of the chaos of life. They must be able to look at everything in the world and find the sense in it” (funnily enough, this bill also fits critics). The characters in Snow are, to Griffin’s immense credit, fully fleshed out and not the impersonal caricatures on whom they’re based. They also, when taken out of larger-than-life settings and pantomimic portrayals, face and respond to situations not so different from our own. Griffin’s visceral reframing of Snow White and its more traditionally-sourced elements (abuse, incest, and murder) is a harsh reminder of how desensitized we are to such darker things in fairy tales. This is compounded upon by the Grimm brothers, who become their own greatest enemy as they edit the stories they’ve compiled. Love, however, remains the prevalent theme of Snow as in its fairy tale predecessors. Love is the common denominator in the characters, be they in search of it or in resignation from it, in faith or neglect of it, or acting for or in spite of it.

Jay William Thomas, Ashley Griffin

One of my favorite examples is the tale told by Shadow in the first scene. It spoke of a good and wise king whose daughters competed for his affection. One thought she could do so by becoming beautiful, the second by becoming good and kind. Eventually the first became cruelly jealous about her beauty, and the second became self-righteous and cold. The king tearfully responded thus:

“My daughters, you did not need to make yourselves beautiful and good to earn my love. Do you not understand? You were beautiful already, and might have been truly good if you had known in your hearts how much you were already loved. If love could be earned I fear no one would ever obtain it, for we are none of us as pure and good as we ought to be. Beauty will fade, and goodness will not protect you from trials. Therefore, be joyful. And love others, not to get a reward, but to honor the love that has been so freely given to you. Put your hope in love.”

L-R: Leslie Alexander, Ashley Griffin, Ryan Williams

This significantly foreshadows the paths of the two “archetypes” concerned. Leslie Alexander’s queen/stepmother roles are all concerned with beauty: The aging actress Isadora fears her loss of it and becomes jealous in the incipience of it in her daughter, and Astrid’s mother Donna blames her for the loss of youth and beauty that come with pregnancy. Ashley Griffin’s Snow White roles, on the other hand, pursue goodness: Isadora’s daughter Clara grows up around the idea of being a good, obedient girl, while Astrid doesn’t think she’s good but wants to be, for the same reason she wants to be loved. None of these characters believe they deserve love inherently, and not as a reward for their achievements of beauty and goodness. The final choice presented to Astrid of believing in love despite her resignation is exemplified in the other choice she has to make: That of waking up from her Snow White slumber to a mortal world she must then continue to face. The play ends as Astrid opens her mouth to answer, making hers the only storyline out of the three that isn’t completely wrapped up. It is gripping, it is suspenseful, and it is poetic.

Ashley Griffin, Ryan Clardy

Of course, Snow is not without its flaws. The transitions are flawless, but sometimes the action during the scene is a little artificial, liable to break the flow of an exchange. Moreover, its two-hour runtime as a one act play isn’t for the faint-hearted (or, for that matter, for the small-bladdered). It is a heavily worded and themed piece that, while infinitely quotable with its many musings, is probably lost in no small degree to the audience member that isn’t giving full, unblinking attention. That said, Snow’s didacticism is only half-way to being Brechtian, stopping close enough to still resonate emotionally; Griffin has achieved a tentative balance between the two. In conclusion, her presentation of this material is in no way contrived. At its core, it is beautiful, ambitious, and original, and I would be neither chagrined nor surprised to see it produced again in the future.

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For more information on Ashley Griffin, visit her website.

All photos here courtesy of Micah Joel