Apr 21, 2015

'The Rebuild' World Premiere

The Rebuild at NYLA International Film Festival
Catch Jens Rasmussen's most recent film performance at the NY-LA International Film Festival. This world premiere screening of The Rebuild will be on May 9th at the Producer's Club in New York City. Get tickets here.

The Rebuild is the story of Erin (Paige Barr), a young widow who wants to move forward by scattering her late husband's ashes on New York's East River. She falls for local carpenter Jake (Jens Rasmussen), who paddles her out on the river, but soon learns she's not the only one trying to rebuild her life.

Directed by the award winning Okke Rutte, and also featuring Tony Wolf, Debargo Sanyal, and Malorie Bryant.

Apr 16, 2015

NY Times Review: Alexandra Collier’s ‘Underland’ Mines Rich Performances

Jens Rasmussen and Georgia Cohen
Anyone who has ever lived in a deadly dull town will understand why two bawdy-mouthed Australian schoolgirls dig a hole to China in Alexandra Collier’s “Underland.” It’s the only way out, they decide, from stone-quarry country. But they’re bad at geography, so the nice man who crawls out of their tunnel one day is from Tokyo. Back at school, the girls’ physical education teacher turns into a crocodile.

Ms. Collier, who is Australian-born and New York-based, has created six vivid, droll characters. In Terra Nova Collective’s polished production of “Underland” at 59E59 Theaters, Mia Rovegno has directed six assertive, beautifully delineated performances. The meaning of the play, however, is swathed in enough metaphor to suffocate Samuel Beckett.

Some motives are obvious. The tunnel diggers, Violet and Ruth (Angeliea Stark and Kiley Lotz), seek escape, sometimes through drugs. Taka (Daniel K. Isaac), the Japanese visitor, just wants to go home, as soon as someone brings him a glass of water, please. His Tamagotchi pet dies.

The teachers are less transparent. Miss Harmony (Georgia Cohen) is new in town, and no one can figure out why she’s there. Mr. B (Jens Rasmussen), whose instructional style suggests Marine boot camp, is also literally a killer. There are sightings in town of a real crocodile, but maybe it’s just Mr. B after his nighttime transformation.

Mrs. Butterfat (a very funny Annie Golden), though, appears to be the theme-speaker, while talking to her dead husband, Glen. “Crocs. They’re just down there, waiting,” she says. She dismisses a divine-retribution explanation of why so many locals are dying: “It’s not God; it’s the land. It’ll swallow you whole.” Aha! Living in a horrible place can eat your soul.

Rasmussen... as ruggedly, athletically entrancing as he is dangerous

Jens Rasmussen and Angeliea Stark
Underland, director Mia Rovegno and playwright Alexandra Collier's new play on stage now at 59E59 Theaters, starts as any coming-of-age teen story might. Two girls, Violet and Ruth, clad in school uniforms, light up a joint behind their school, share gossip and insults and curse words, brag about how little they care, and plot their escape from the humdrum, backwater Australian town in which they live. The rest of the play’s backbone is similarly recognizable: a beautiful young art teacher, Miss Harmony, comes into town and wants to inspire the students, catching the eye of the world-weary, cynical gym teacher Mr. B. But then the familiar fa├žade begins to slip, and the crass but endearing normalcy of the high school scene quickly gives way into something far more sinister and dark, as this coming-of-age tale in the outback spirals into a backwoods nightmare. A Japanese businessman crawls out of a hole that Violet and Ruth had been digging out behind the school, and people start turning up dead in the gaping quarry.

Georgia Cohen is naively sweet as the fresh-faced, hopeful Miss Harmony; it’s understandable why both the younger and older generations are drawn to her. Violet, played with convincing teenage angst by Angeliea Stark, falls for her in a big way, in part because Miss H encourages her artistic ability and gives her a camera, suggesting that her art could be her escape to somewhere new. Mrs. Butterfat also falls for her, recognizing her younger self in the woman. Annie Golden's portrayal of this unapologetically eccentric religion teacher -- who doesn’t seem particularly religious at all -- may be the highlight of the play, in part because she’s laughable in her oddball ways, from carrying on conversations with her long dead husband to zipping up her bright yellow windbreaker and heading out on long bike-rides in the dark of the night. She does her best to help Daniel Isaac’s very lost businessman Taka, and console Kiley Lotz’s confused and fearful Ruth, but they may be beyond saving. Her vigilance and endless quirks might be what it takes to survive in a desert town of extremes, from the scorching heat to the frigid cold of night, where crocodiles roam the streets and from which it seems there may be no escape.

In true horror story tradition, supernatural forces jar loose to wreak havoc and seem poised to drag us all down to hell, or at least to far, far away places. Yet it isn’t all impossible, and part of Underland’s depth is its ambitious commitment to remaining a vague, unsettling allegory about the things that are out to get girls alone at night and the terrifying allure of monsters. As Mr. B, Jens Rasmussen plays this ambiguous role well, and with surreal choreography that adds elegance and seduction to the play’s threats, he is as ruggedly, athletically entrancing as he is dangerous.

The intimate scale of the space makes way for Elisheba Ittoop's sound design, which pairs the natural, sans-microphone vocal performances with eerie a capella lullabies, the insidiously maddening drone from the quarry creeping throughout, from a subtle background hum to a piercing shriek. Burke Brown’s lighting and Gabriel Hainer Evansohn’s set design create a space that transforms through subtle, powerful shifts, from the metallic, prison-like confines of the schoolyard to a suggestion of the incongruously vast, beautiful expanse of the outback's open sky.

These elements weave together into an impressively immersive environment that is, in a word, scary. But Underland is the best kind of scary. It's the kind of scary that's so hard to describe but so easy to recognize. It's the kind of scary that you don't notice at first, that creeps in around the edges, capable of capturing the audience in its jaws and swallowing them whole.

by Emily Galwak for Stage Buddy

Apr 15, 2015

Rasmussen is both a dangerous and erotic presence

Jens Rasmussen & Georgia Cohen
The Australia of TV commercials: the Great Barrier Reef, the Sydney Opera House and swoon worthy landscapes, is nowhere to be found on the stage at 59E59 where Underland has opened. Instead this is the industrial desert of the outback, all red earth, tin buildings, the throbbing of the quarry and a vague undercurrent of dread. It is this Australia, by turns comedic, tragic and a bit confusing, in which Underland plays out.

In this landscape, a school is the one place that offers the possibility of something unusual happening. And waiting for that unusual thing are two school girls, Ruth and Violet. Violet is small town mean girl, playing at being a rebel. Ruth is her long time friend and co-conspirator, happy to be part of a group but always worried about the consequences. Angeliea Start as Violet and Kiley Lotz as Ruth bring these characters effortlessly to life. They both want, desperately, for something to happen in this tiny hamlet. And something does.

Two strangers arrive at school. The first, Miss Harmony, is a new Art Teacher that spies promise and talent in Violet. They slowly begin a mentor relationship that gives Violet hope for a better life. Georgia Cohen gives life to Miss Harmony, a teacher hoping to reach her students. Violet responds well to the attention of this new, enthusiastic teacher. However Miss Harmony has another vying for her attention, the school alpha-male teacher, Mr. B. As portrayed by Jens Rasmussen, Mr. B is both a dangerous and erotic presence.

Ruth finds her own stranger in the form of Taka, a Japanese salary-man who arrives in the middle of nowhere via a tunnel from Tokyo. Taka is confused and lost, but Ruth is ecstatic to have found something completely new. Daniel Issac as Taka does an amazing job by pretty rapidly helping the audience move past the bizarreness of his appearance in Australia and care about this man. But Ruth has a competitor for attentions of Taka, the long widowed Mrs. Butterfat. Mrs. Butterfat is excellently played by the veteran Annie Golden; she walks Mrs. Butterfat right to the line of caricature, without going over.

If this makes Underland seem confusing, just wait. Writer Alexandra Collier throws in salt-water crocodiles in subterranean rivers, late night biking, a killer in thrall to the hum of the earth and ruminations on the choices we make when growing up. The result is often confusing but always involving. Director Mia Rovegno never lets the story slip into farce or fantasy, always preferring an honesty that someone makes the whole story hang together.

I am not sure I understood Underland, but I am sure that I am rooting for Violet and Ruth to make the right choices. And that engagement with characters makes for a satisfying trip to the theater.

See original review at Whats on Off Broadway.

Jens Rasmussen is quite striking

Jens Rasmussen & Georgia Cohen
It's not often that a playwright sets out to mystify an audience as resolutely as Alexandra Collier does in Underland. The setting is "a small, dusty town in the middle of Australia," and believe me, this Underland is no wonderland. Drought conditions prevail. There are warnings about crocodiles, reportedly moving ever closer to town in search of water. People have a way of turning up dead or disappearing altogether. And what about the man who staggers on stage at the opening, looking disturbed and pulling a bloody tooth from his mouth?

Following this ugly display, the play switches gears, focusing for a while on Ruth and Violet, a pair of adolescent girls who dabble in smoking pot and gossiping maliciously about everyone they know. Violet is the prettier, more dominant one, to whom Ruth anxiously kowtows, but they make a perfectly matched pair of hellions, amusing themselves by sitting in the back of art class and making annoying meowing sounds while their new teacher tries to introduce herself.

The teacher, Miss Harmony (Collier favors names right out of Restoration comedy), is new to town; in one of the play's sharpest, funniest passages, her easygoing, let's-be-friends manner is contrasted with the scalding, hard-ass approach of the gym and math teacher, Mr. B. ("You're like flaccid wombats, the lot of you," he says, offering his own special brand of motivation.) It's not long before a little B-Harmony romance is in the air; at the risk of giving away too much, let's just say that she discovers that passion has its price.

Then there's Taka, a Japanese salaryman sitting in his Tokyo office, listening to exercise audios and playing with his tamagotchi, a tiny little digital pet that, in this case, meows like a kitten. He finds a hole in his floor and, getting inside, begins crawling along it until he exits -- in the Australian town inhabited by Ruth, Violet, et al.

As Ruth and Violet, Kiley Lotz and Angeliea Stark offer hair-raisingly accurate portraits of the kind of sullen, rebellious adolescent who makes one think fondly about reviving corporal punishment, but each of them gradually reveals layers of uncertainty that make them more than just caricatures. Jens Rasmussen is quite striking as the furious, tough-talking Mr. B., who harbors a powerful, all-consuming passion for Miss Harmony, and is also in possession of a terrible secret.

-Read the whole review by David Barbour at Lighting & Sound America