We often expect uplift from our theater experiencesIn these dystopian times, playwrights are responding with different messages for us to digest; they are not always willing to give us exactly what we want.
Scott Organ’s new play, The Thing With Feathers, at the Barrow Group beginning January 13th (and running through February 10th), offers up a famous quote about hope for the title of his mystery play. Expect the story to unravel in unexpected ways when an underage teen is seduced by an older man on the internet.
It would be safe to say that the genesis of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carouselis a play about a young woman devoted to an explosive and abusive man. Michael Weller was inspired by the same Ferenc Molnár story to create Jericho, performed by The Attic Theater Company at Wild Project, from January 20th to February 10th. Weller’s version of Lilliom is set in Coney Island during the despair and hopelessness of the depression.
It often feels as if the ’60s were a more hope-filled era, this despite the assassinations that changed the landscape of hope. Malcolm X, a radical and polarizing figure, was one of the many strugglers we lost in those days. His activism is remembered in The Acting Company’sX: Or, Betty Shabazz v. The Nation, which returns after a staging in 2017, to a full off-Broadway run from January 14th to February 18th to the Theatre at St. Clement’s. Marcus Gardley’s play, starring OBIE-winner Roslyn Ruff, will be performed to coincide with Black History Month.
It’s hard to pinpoint just what makes a “hot ticket;” it could be a star turn, or 11 Tonys or just the quirky charm of the story. Whatever it is, you might want to share it with friends or family this holiday season.
In mid-January when the Divine Miss M cedes the role of Dolly Gallagher Levi to the sterling Miss Bernadette Peters, tickets for this Broadway revival might become a tad more accessible. This in no way disparages Bernadette Peters’ enormous talent and wattage. Bette Midler just has a star shine all her own. A je ne sais quoi, let’s say, that sends tickets to see her in Hello, Dolly!! into the stratosphere. (Regular price tickets ranging from $189 may still be found at Telecharge, so check on availability, but there are premium seats for nearly $1000 and “secondary market” tickets for a lot more.)
Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s American history lesson enthralls. It’s still at the Richard Rodgers on West 46th Street, and it’s on tour across the country. It may be its impressive Tony showing that is part of the draw. Lottery tickets go for just $10 per, but, like any lottery, it’s a gamble. Speaking of gambles, the Hamilton website warns against buying from resellers to avoid receiving fraudulent tickets, so use the regular channels for purchasing this sizzling ticket. In fact these tickets are so blistering hot that it might be next December before the family enjoys the show.
Another and different kind of civics lesson can be found at The Band’s Visit. This musical was created from the Cannes prize-winning Israeli film; you can watch the movie on Showtime cable on Wednesday 12/13 and Tuesday 12/19 at 7:30pm, by the way.
This modest musical is enjoying a very successful and prestigious Broadway transfer from its 2016 run at the Atlantic Theatre. (Tickets are hot enough that the producers are not offering any discounts, by the way. We have not checked in at the day of TDF kiosk.) The Band’s Visit has heart and warmth, and a promise of the possibility of peace in the middle east.
Reflecting on another facet of history, Junk at the L.C. Beaumont Theater, offers much less hopefulness than The Band’s Visit. The heat factor in Junk comes from its ripped off the front page view of the financial crisis of the 1980s. This is just the ticket if you want to reflect on America’s obsession with money. I found it worrisone when someone in the audience wanted to clarify who had “ratted” on the main character. Ayad Akhtar takes us back to the “greed is great” days in which malfeasance is the benchmark. His lead character “creates wealth” by creating debt. The “Junk” of his title refers, of course, to junk bonds, a vehicle by which you, the consumer, lend a corporation more money than its worth. Wall Street types will be drawn to the humor and pace of this drama. The rest of us will appreciate the concise lesson it offers in high finance and unbridled ambition. At its core, Junk, staged as a Greek tragedy, is just that, showcasing characters filled with hubris and arrogant conceit.
Visit a Broadway show over the holidays, if you can, with your nearest and dearest.
The New Group’s presentation of Seth Zvi Rosenfeld’s Downtown Race Riot, based on true events and running through December 23rd at the Pershing Square Signature Center, resonates with menace.
It’s us against them, even for Marcel “Massive” Baptiste (Moise Morancy), a kid born in Haiti, who feels it’s his neighborhood he’s defending from other blacks and ‘Ricans who come to the Park near his Greenwich Village home.
The boys Massive considers his friends are old-school, insular Italians, like his tagger buddy Jay 114 (Daniel Sovich) and Tommy-Sick (Cristian DeMeo), whom his best friend Jimmy– aka Pnut– Shannon (David Levi) does not fully trust. Pnut does not share Massive’s community zeal, and his mother, Mary Shannon ( Chloë Sevigny) advocates for peace and love. Molly, strung out and living on welfare, maintains a kind of hippie sensibility. Her children, especially Pnut, look out for her. Mary’s daughter, Joyce (Sadie Scott) wants out of the life she sees around her and has a good chance to make it out.
Jay 114 and Tommy-Sick are among those who organized the riot meant to drive outsiders out of their stomping ground.
Rounding out the cast of characters is Mary’s lawyer, Bob Gilman (Josh Pais. who is perfectly twitchy in this small role). Bob is there to help Mary out with one of the many schemes she dreams up to make the family rich.
The acting in this ensemble, under Scott Elliott’s direction, is excellent and natural. There is a leisurely pace to the piece that belies its undercurrent of tension. In its unhurried progression, Downtown Race Riottakes its time to develop the characters. Derek McLane has designed an expansive and sprawling set for Downtown Race Riot; the scene is Mary’s Section 8 home.
Don’t look for uplift in Downtown Race Riot. This is not the genteel world of a Henry James pastiche.
There is a short street in the East Village which goes two-ways but is at its heart is a one-way street. 425 Lafayette Street, formerly the Astor Library, was saved from demolition, and gained landmark status, when Joseph Papp turned it into The Public Theater.
A part of the theater’s mission statement says “THE PUBLIC is theater of, by, and for the people. Artist-driven, radically inclusive, and fundamentally democratic, The Public continues the work of its visionary founder Joe Papp as a civic institution engaging, both on-stage and off, with some of the most important ideas and social issues of today.” The Public began life in 1954 as the New York Shakespeare Festival, but moved into 425 Lafayette in 1967. Fittingly, the opening production was the innovative and “radically inclusive” Hair, a musical that has had many revivals over time, including the one in 2011 at the St James Theatre in Times Square.
In honor of the 50 year anniversary of the Public, Lafayette at Astor Place will be co-named Joseph Papp Way on December 1 at 8:30a.m. The Public’s Artistic Director, Oskar Eustis will be at the ceremony along with Tom Finkelpearl, Commissioner of the Department of Cultural Affairs, Rosie Mendez, District 2 City Councilwoman, and Gail Papp, Public Theater Board Member. Gail Papp will unveil the commemorative sign, while Eustis will make a few remarks on the occasion.
The recent history of The Public has given us the 11 Tony winning Hamilton, which transferred to the Richard Rodgers Theatre in 2015. This year, John Leguizamo brought his downtown show, Latin History for Morons, to Broadway’s Studio 54. In addition to its free Shakespeare in the Park programs, The Public is also a recipient of countless awards and honors for its productions, which are represented not only on Broadway but on stages across the country and worldwide.
“Joe Papp changed the life of New Yorkers forever, creating a beloved institution devoted to making the life of our culture inclusive,” said Artistic Director Oskar Eustis. “It is thrilling that the city of New York will recognize him forever by co-naming this street for him.”
With Columbus experiencing a re-think, historically speaking, the mnemonic fed us as children seems less and less useful.
Forget the Nina, the Pinta, and “fourteen hundred and ninety two.” Sit back while Professor Leguizamo gives you a lesson in Latin History for Morons, playing at Studio 54 through February 25, 2018.
Teaching dummies about Latinos has been a John Leguizamo Broadway (and off) project for some time. 2011’s Ghetto Klown was not the first time he scored points on how little we non-Latinos know about his people. As in his Tony-nominated Freak, he talks about the deeply personal in Ghetto Klown, while revealing interesting tidbits about his Hollywood exploits. The confessional tone of many of his previous stage outings is on display in Latin History for Morons as well.
If we did not like Leguizamo so well, we might resent being called Morons, but we’ll let it pass. It must be galling to hail from one of the Hispanic isles — the Bronx or P.R. for example–and have us flaunt the myth that America was “discovered” by an Italian in service to his Spanish Queen. On top of that we’re yelling “speak English” these days and building walls to keep out other Latino groups.
Sure, his is a one-man show, but Leguizamo can’t do it all by himself. Latin History for Morons is directed by Tony Taccone, with sets by Rachel Hauck, costumes by Luke McDonough and original music/sound design by Bray Poor, and lights by Alexander V. Nichols.
Artists have found various expressions of racial harmony and discord. Seinfeld, a show considered famously lacking in diversity, used the black and white cookie to make its point about the cultural divide.
The musical Hair exalted in the difference with the anthem Black Boys/White Boys. Its progressive themes made it an iconic operetta of the 1960s; in its most recent revival Broadway at the St. James Theatre in 2011, Hair, with a cast of mostly relative unknowns from the road company tour of the 2009 production, was as timely and exciting as ever. (See TB’s review: here.)
All this said, I have no intention to minimize or trivialize the real and substantial issues of race and our relationship to each other.
This is the season when grandma and grandpa, mom and dad, all look for entertainment that will please their youngsters. Lots of shows, like Balanchine’s Nutcracker at NYCB, are not just kid- but also adult-friendly. Here is a short list of some of the things you might want to do to occupy the holidays:
Bookish children will enjoy hearing their favorite authors read to them in Symphony Space’s interactive Thalia Kids Book Club series, produced in cooperation with Bank Street Bookstore. The series unites eager young readers with the creators of the books that inspire their imaginations. Each event includes a creative writing project, a discussion with the audience, and fun.
On December, 2 Newbery Award-winning author Katherine Paterson visits the series, and on Monday, December 4, Neil Patrick Harris will celebrate his middle-grade novel The Magic Misfits. More events, including a Judy Blume birthday celebration, are planned for winter and spring 2018.
Click on the link above for more information.
Christmas Past, Future and Present will make their appearance in a new site-specific parlor performance of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Caroltaking place in the Chelsea townhouse and theater space, Torn Page from Thursday November 30 to Friday December 15.
Produced by Origin Theatre Company, the one-man version of the story, uses an adaptation of Dickens’ own little-used original performance text. The Origin’s A Christmas Carolfeatures the distinguished African-American opera singer and actor Elmore James, and is directed by Erwin Maas and is set in the Chelsea home of the actors Rip Torn and Geraldine Page. The immersive staging transforms the Chelsea home, filling the 19th century townhouse with the sights, sounds and smells of both a large Victorian home, and a more modest dwelling circa 1853. Mince pie and mulled wine, prepared on the premises, will be served during the performance. A small, multi-racial chorus singing period carols, will also evoke the season.
More information can be found on the Origin Theatre’s website.
This December, Axis Theatre Company will present the 16th annual production of its beloved family holiday show, Seven in One Blow, or the Brave Little Kid. Written and directed by Axis Artistic Director Randy Sharp in an adaptation of the classic fairy tale by The Brothers Grimm, this festive, interactive winter play was created for kids, but resonates equally well for adults and features a Video Cameo from Debbie Harry.
Axis will stage Seven in One Blow, or the Brave Little Kid on Fridays at 7pm, and on Saturdays and Sundays at 3pm, with an additional performance on Tuesday, December 19 at 7pm.
Click on the link to the Axis webpage above to find out more.
Puppetry that blends the avant-garde, pirates and Pinocchio at Just Kidding.
During the 2017-18 season at Symphony Space, families are invited to experience marionette shows with three acclaimed practitioners: November brings the antic Frogtown Mountain Puppeteers in Everybody Loves Pirates; December will see the expert National Marionette Theatre with the children’s classic Pinocchio, and the New Year brings the ingenious Milo the Magnificentto the stage.
Information and tickets is found on the links above.
This A Christmas Carol is playing more to the parents (and grands) than to the kiddies, but come see David Hyde Pierce as the iconic curmudgeon Ebenezer Scrooge in Crispin Whittell’s adaptation of the beloved Charles Dickens novella, directed by Joe Dowling. Joining David Hyde Pierce are John Glover, Harriet Harris, Edward Hibbert, Julie White, Matthew Amendt, Matt Bradford Sullivan, and Kaliswa Brewster, plus others to be announced. The occasion is The Acting Company’s one-night-only benefit reading on December 11 at The Kaye Playhouse at Hunter College. Following the reading, the evening will continue with an exclusive cast dinner (jacket and tie required) at the nearby Union Club.