Natalie Menna

Press and Reviews

- Acting -

The Pelican and Isle of the Dead by August Strindberg (world premiere)
Strindberg Rep, resident company at Theater for the New City, 2020

The Pelican

"The Pelican is a tour de force one act play in which every member of the dead man's family is unmasked, beginning with the ravenous appetites of the young widow Elise - she's 38 while her husband was 62 at his death. She appears to be starved for sex and seduces her son-in-law before he was even married to her daughter Gertrude, an 18 year old child-woman... In The Pelican the dominant part of the wife Elise is played by Natalie Menna. She is a veritable virago, bitter and harsh, but also pitiably desperate when she feels that she is losing her hold on people."

The Pelican and Isle of the Dead by August Strindberg (world premiere)
Strindberg Rep, resident company at Theater for the New City, 2020

"Greer's translation keeps much of the dramatic flair typical of Strindbergian dialogue while keeping it from feeling like a melodrama... it is juicy and carried splendidly by the cast, who navigate the heightened language with aplomb... a play that on paper sounds depressing was surprisingly funny and a refreshing way to pass ninety minutes. One hopes that this new translation gets to live on beyond New York and be seen by countless other audience members.

The Father by August Strindberg
Theater for the New City, Dream Up Festival 2019

Brad Fryman as the Captain, Natalie Menna as his wife Laura. Photo Bell Krubel.

"And Laura does little else but scheme. Yet so valiantly does the subtle and suggestive Natalie Menna defend her character that she actually manages to win the audience's sympathy, even as she drives her husband to suicide and then deprives him of the means to kill himself. Her performance is pitch-perfect, never wantonly cruel, always grounded in an unshakable belief in her right to the daughter she bore and raised.

"For all his alleged or admitted misogyny, Strindberg gives Menna the material she needs to defend Laura-up to and including the last word.

"The women in the Captain's household include Laura, who runs the household with a strong will; their daughter Bertha, age 15, a lively and lovable young woman whose future education is to be decided-a major source of disagreement between father and mother; and the Captain's childhood nursemaid Margaret, a kind soul, aged 72. Natalie Menna plays Laura with the emotional complexity of a woman who is in her sexual prime but confined by social propriety and repressed in an unfulfilled marriage, as becomes obvious in her attraction to Doctor Östermark, portrayed by Daniel Lugo with proper restraint as behooves a medical professional."

- Playwright -

Zen A.M.

Zen A.M.

Zen A.M.
by Natalie Menna
Directed by Andrew Block
Produced and Presented by Theater for the New City, 155 First Avenue

Review by Ronald Gross
New York Theater Buying Guide

BOTTOM LINE: Our highest recommendation! Hilarious, moving, politically thought-provoking comedy of manners. An only-in-New-York satire centering on the failed plan to create an International Freedom Center Museum on the 9/11 site. Once again, Theater for the New City offers a work of utmost relevance and entertainment value, enacted by immensely talented actors, a brilliant director, and an outstanding creative team.

In a downtown artist's loft facing Ground Zero, a moral crisis is triggered for a famed artist, Bruno - by the arrival of a Chinese delivery guy bringing him his take-out supper. When Bruno discovers that he hasn't got enough money to pay the bill, and summons help from his friends, complications - and hilarity - ensue.

Among the protagonists and antagonists who assemble are a New Age Life Coach named Chang (but he's not Asian), a hen-pecked podiatrist who's married to a nouveau riche fashionista, and the artist's perky girl-friend with wedding bells on her mind.

So should Bruno scuttle his artistic integrity to get-along-by-going-along with changing plans for the Museum which has commissioned a major work from him?

More important, will the podiatrist pick up the fashionists' jacket from the dry-cleaner before 6:00?

And most consequential of all, will the Kung Pao Chicken get eaten or thrown out?

The cast's fabulous. Brad Fryman bestrides the stage like a colossus, building an unforgettable portrait of an artist mired in ludicrous personal failings but surmounting them with genuine spiritual yearnings.

Elizabeth Inghram delivers a dazzling portrayal of a self-absorbed uptown art-world Machiavelli, relentless in manipulating her husband, her clients, and anyone else who wanders in.

John Gazzale steals the show in several scenes, but in the most welcome way, with his enactment of a Zen master/Native American shaman/Yoga instructor/arts market speculator/you-name-it. His "11-o'clock" number when he brings all of these spiritual practices to bear at once, is one of the most hilarious tableaux we've seen seen season.

Dai Ishiguro does extraordinary work as a Chinese food delivery guy who emerges gradually as much more. Sean Phillips does wonders with the "straight man" role of Best Friend to the troubled protagonist. Alexandra Bonesho is utterly winning as the artist's on-again-off-again girl friend.

Since classical times, artists have had to reconcile the demands of their patrons with their own artistic integrity. "Zen A.M." unforgettably portrays the artist's conundrum, nesting it in present-day issues of class identification, compassion, cultural identity and creative resistance. The play offers us laughable characters who are straining. to act rationally when faced with difficult decisions. It makes for extraordinary theater!

"So begins an expose of the contemporary art and high society world that calls itself high culture... If you have any interest in art and society this comedic farce is well worth taking in."

"Award-winning playwright and actress Natalie Menna presents Zen A.M. through June 16th, so catch this funny, insightful play while you can - you'll be glad you did... It's the quintessential New York play in that it forces you to think and presents elements of comedy and tragedy. Zany and unpredictable, Zen A.M. brings a fun, diverse cast of characters together under the auspices of greed, art, politics, and post-9/11 anxiety in downtown New York City, highlighting the political underbelly of the art world."



"Menna's brilliant writing captures the multifaceted nature of Theo Van Gogh's character.... [Her] dialogue is gorgeous with resonating lines. Natalie Menna masterfully crafted a world that is neither black or white, but grey. [She] does an admirable job in portraying a story full of gripping themes such as religion, identity, ego, artistic integrity, love, family, loyalty, selfishness vs. selflessness, and how far a person will go to stand for what they believe in."

For what audience did you write this play and what do you want people to take away from watching Committed? Natalie: "I wrote this play for those of all beliefs, political, and religious. It should not answer questions, rather it should cause the audience to raise questions, not least in themselves... I was gratified that audience members found the humor in what otherwise would have been grim proceedings."

What attracted you to this concept/play? Natalie: "I was fascinated when I first heard the story of Theo Van Gogh's life - death. Looking around at the world and seeing a disturbing trend towards extremism in many different forms... There is a natural reluctance even to approach a character with such abhorrent views, yet I felt compelled to write about such a character and also to address his underlying humanity... As we've seen the rise of autocratic leaders in the Western Hemisphere, Eastern Europe, and around the world, this play addresses issues of extremism and has gained a relevance I wish it never had."

"Committed is a fulsome treat that's worth seeing more than once. The story of Theo van Gogh's last two days in Amsterdam and his untimely death at the hands of a religious extremist, the play presents him as a provocateur willing to die for his right to free speech. It offers an admirably broad spectrum of perspectives ... and provides insight into Theo van Gogh's irascible and complex character. There isn't a dull moment, which is a tribute to Menna's writing and the talented cast... Menna is equally adept at comedy, having presented and won awards for Zen A.M., Roberta!, I-POD, Hiroshi - Me, Me, Me, Montana, and Occasionally Nothing."

What's it like being a female playwright in NYC? Natalie: "Exhilarating! I started as an actress, and while I still love performing, playwriting provides an opportunity to right the wrongs of the universe, or at least attempt to... All playwrights face the same challenges. I don't think opportunities are particularly based on gender anymore. Income seems to play the determining role in a playwright's opportunities, which is a disturbing trend. However, the disparity in income between men and women does make it harder for women to gain a foothold in this field."

Occasionally Nothing

Occasionally Nothing

"The writing here is spare, brutal, and emotionally resonate. She has imbued her work with a musicality for both the words and the long silences that fall in between... Menna's dialogue crackles with energy and wit... The play clearly belongs to the same tradition of Beckett's End Game, which does not rob it of its importance or necessity. It speaks to the dark shadows of the 21st-century in a vibrant and yes comic voice."

"Such discourse and the endgame which the men fear is approaching bring to mind the great Samuel Beckett... pay attention and enjoy the dark humor. Although the New World Order prohibited the use of certain words, our survivors are emboldened to talk about things now... the play leaves some things comfortably ambiguous."

"Occurring in a post apocalyptic world, [Occasionally Nothing] questions human nature in grim circumstances... Occasionally Nothing is witty... At times the dialogue even brings Samuel Beckett's, Waiting for Godot, to mind."

What makes this different or special? Natalie: "In Occasionally Nothing, I am paying homage to absurdist theatre and giving it a modern, up-to-date twist... My best ideas are always dreamed."



I'll be blunt: your main characters are very fun and interesting on the page, but they definitely come with a lot of issues! Frankly, I think if I was friends with Roberta, let's say, I'd want to pull my hair out. And yet the play is fantastic. What's the key to making a character likable on the stage even as you know that in person they'd be unlikable?

Natalie: "Really? I feel like all of my friends, including myself, have BEEN Roberta (well maybe not to that degree!). But sure, at one point or another ... I think maybe it's about heightening the reality."



Natalie: "I seriously have never gotten this obsession with 'likable' characters ... in i-POD, the character at one point says. 'No coincidence I've never met a poor vegan.' A playwright approached me after the show and informed me that he was offended and knew many poor vegans. But of course! It's this character's view!"

Journey in Light and Shadow

Journey in Light and Shadow

"Stig Dalager's enigmatic new play ... quite like an Escher painting, with layers of inception that blur the lines between reality and fiction." Adapted by Natalie Menna.