Sneak Peek at Sensing Astrid

A successful run of virtual performances hasn’t slowed down Face to Face Films frontrunner, Anthony M. Laura. In addition to his on-going Theater, Interrupted series of plays, Laura has dipped into the creative pool for his upcoming original series, Sensing Astrid. Following the life of a young actress struggling to manage multiple personalities, Laura returns to a strength showcased in 2019’s The Girl With the Red Hair. With an eye for the emotional torment of a fractured mind, Laura delves into the struggles of young Astrid with the delicate touch of a master.

Though the series will arrive to audiences later this year, Face to Face Films recently offered a sneak peek into the world of Astrid by way of four short scenes. Covering a year plus of Astrid’s life and introducing a few characters pivotal to her journey, these four scenes open a world of questions and intrigue.

The writing is on point. Articulate and concise. Nothing speaks to this more than the lingering need to know where her story goes from here. As sneak peek’s go, this one was less a teaser than a full on heart-gripping tattoo on the soul.

This short collection is utterly and decisively stolen by Rand Faris, in the lead role of Astrid Regan. From the opening scene, her emotional connection to Astrid is vibrant and potent. As we delve into the multiple personalities plaguing her mind (Taylor, her current role in film, is an active presence from the second scene on), Faris digs in. Deep. Through her performance, thirty minutes of struggle with Astrid feels like a lifetime of torment. By the time we reach the final scene, in the office of Astrid’s therapist, we are gut-punched by the weight of her pain. Describing her recent role as Taylor, she describes a moment in which Taylor took over. “I couldn’t find Astrid. Then suddenly I was back. And it wasn’t great,” she says.

Joined by Megan Schmitt and Nicole Townsend, in the roles of Bailey and Celine, with music by Philip Lauto, Sensing Astrid is a brilliant opening to what should be a difficult, but captivating, series. Waiting for the next installment is the hard part.

Review of Doubt, an online reading

2020 continues to do its thing, offering one alarming raise to the pot of a nerve-wracking poker game we didn’t plan on playing. A fallout—one of many, to be sure—has been the continued shutdown of the entertainment industry. Film and theater have been forced out of production, screens and stages remain dark, and a world in need of entertainment hunts for ways to stave off the stir-crazy building within.

That said, there have been efforts to create alternate routes to entertainment. One of them comes from Face to Face Films. On the heels of their May reading of Little Women, which included a stellar performance from a cast of skilled actors, the online reading series returned in June to take on Doubt, by John Patrick Shanley.

Centered on three main characters—Sister Aloysius Beauvier, played by Vivien Cardone, Father Flynn, played by Alex Commito, and Sister James, played by Rhenna Salazar—Doubt unravels a potential scandal at St. Nicholas, a Roman Catholic elementary school. The course of the drama leaves one riddled with doubt, uncertain as to what is truth and what is deception.

From the production side, Face to Face Films once again stood up to the challenge of presenting a play online, complete with costumes, as well as a complimentary composition from Philip Lauto. Producers Casey Hartnett and Anthony Laura impressed with the quality of the presentation, and with the seamless transition from scene-to-scene with the assistance of narrator Sophie Licata.

All three performances of the main characters were stellar, though it was impossible not to focus on the emotional and captivating take of Sister Aloysius by Vivien Cardone. Played with a sense of urgency that drove the story forward, Cardone stole the show, drawing both ire and compassion from the viewer as the story further detailed the suspicious behavior of Father Flynn toward the school’s only black student, Donald Muller. Alex Commito and Rhenna Salazar balanced the back and forth battle between Aloysius and Flynn with great poise. Salazar captured the innocent idealism of Sister James so effectively it forced the viewer to take the dance of doubt along with her, questioning both Aloysius’ claims and Flynn’s denials.

Not to be ignored, Isha Sumner’s performance as Donald Muller’s mother, Mrs. Muller, was profound and emotional. Despite the limited screen time, Sumner added a sense of gravity to the story that could not be shaken.

At the conclusion of the performance, the cast and crew remained available to answer viewer questions, while the tandem team of Hartnett and Laura announced that the next reading will take place August 1st, with a reading from the screenplay of The Hours by David Hare.

Review of Little Women, an online reading

This year has introduced the world to challenges new and difficult to face. The Covid-19 pandemic effectively shut down our daily lives, reducing them to around the clock adventures within the confines of our homes. And though some elements of life are attempting a return to normal, there’s still a gap we used to fill with measures of entertainment to both pass time and to leave lasting impressions on our creative souls.

The Arts have taken a notable hit, from the film industry to publishing to theater. It is the latter that drove me to one effort to bring an element of entertainment to those at home. On Saturday, May 23rd, Face to Face Films launched the first in an ongoing reading series, offering a full company production of Greta Gerwig’s Little Women. Partners Casey Hartnett and Anthony Laura of Face to Face Films designed and produced a full reading of the script, utilizing Zoom as a platform. Much like a table reading—if said table were cut into 12 pieces and placed in 12 different homes—the cast took on the roles and weaved through the story as if prepping for an upcoming stage run.

As an audience member, the experience was unique, yet not entirely unlike attending a full production. Tickets were not a requirement, but registration was, and took little to no time at all to complete. A well-worn theater seat facing a stage was replaced by a cozy and familiar chair at my desk. Several minutes prior to the reading, an email arrived, carrying with it not only a link to lead me to the show, but a program as well. My lights may not have dimmed, but as the music faded and Anthony appeared, I felt the same sense of excitement I would have felt watching a curtain rise. Then the reading began, with the aid of Stage Manager and Narrator Sofia Licata.

There were a few technical glitches along the way, though nothing that disrupted the reading, or went beyond tolerable. The experience of watching actors emote and pantomime eating or dancing on the screen without costume or set felt a little invasive and awkward at first, but quickly became an endearing and enjoyable addition. The cast found a nice groove almost immediately, bringing the story to the forefront, slipping from scene-to-scene seamlessly. As a viewer, I was drawn in. Despite the script’s continued time shifts, following the action was easy and enjoyable, a true testament to the production team as well to the skill of the actors.

In particular, the work of Samantha Yestrebsky as the aloof but determined Amy March was delightful to watch. She fully captured the raw emotion and strength of the character as if it were an extension of herself. Rheanna Salazar and Alexandra Rooney brought a consistent energy and timeless feel to Beth March and Young Beth March, respectively, while Alex Commito, taking on the role of Theodore “Laurie” Laurence, paired with the acting team of the March sisters with effortless precision.

The entire cast came prepared, gave life to their characters, shifted from role to role clearly, and captured the emotional depth of the story well. I would be remiss not to fully appreciate the work done by Josh Adwar, Gabe Calleja, Vivien Cardone, Emma Davidov, Casey Hartnett, and Kristen Hasty (Anthony Laura popped in as multiple characters as well!). Additionally, their willingness to stick around after the performance for a round of Q&A with attendees was highly appreciated and a great addition.

All-in-all, it was an experience worthy of theater and a wonderful use of technology at a time when we’re all a bit entertainment-starved. I applaud the production work of Face to Face Films (as well to their work to raise money for Covid-19 relief) and look forward to June’s presentation of Doubt by John Patrick Shanley, featuring Vivien Cardone, Alex Commito, Rheanna Salazar, and Isha Sumner. We may not be able to journey to the theater for some time, but it’s comforting to know that the theater has found a way to come to us.