Actors and screen-writers are busier these days than they have been in some time. There are “streaming” shows, 100s of cable outlets producing both series and movies, and of course Hollywood and the Indie scene all requiring their talents and services.
We are the beneficiaries of all this production. We will be enlightened, entertained and excited by the films they produce.
What better way to spend Valentine’s Day than binge watching Divorce?
Gifted, the movie with Chris Evans and Mckenna Grace, and not so incidentally Octavia Spencer, Jenny Slate, Lindsay Duncan, and Elizabeth Marvel, is touching without being maudlin. It is generally intelligent, with a sterling performance by young Ms. Grace, and until we saw it last night on HBO, I had not heard much about it.
The assignment for Black History Month can include the excellent Get Out, Jordan Peele’s genius defies and reinvents the “horror” genre.It should also feature a viewing of Birth of a Nation, perhaps both in its regressive D.W. Griffith 1915 version and Nate Parker’s 2016 “remake.” The contrast between a paen to the Ku Klux Klan and to Nat Turner’s slave rebellion may prove edifying. Add Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave (although not our personal favorite) to your list of films for 2018. (In the New Yorker, Vinson Cunningham expresses a different view, especially of Parker’s film.)
Art is meant to engender controversy, stimulate and even incense and enrage. We should not be passively diverted in its presence. It is here to help us ponder life’s (and history’s) biggest issues.
Thanks to films and serial dramas we have a lot to consider and enjoy. And we are treated to some terrific performances in the bargain.
The 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, properly named the World Columbian Exposition in honor of the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ landing in the Americas, hosted 46 countries and over 25million visitors.
The 690 acres it occupied was a city of industry that represented and presented progress to the world: Juicy Fruit gum, Cream of Wheat and Pabst Blue Ribbon were introduced at the Expo.
A Ferris Wheel, a moving walkway, an electric kitchen that included an automatic dishwasher and printing press for Braille were also innovations first seen at the 1893 Fair.The Colunbian Exposition was also home to a sprawl of original architecture.
In The Light Years, co-written by Hannah Bos and Paul Thureen and directed by Oliver Butler of The Debate Society, this and the subsequent Chicago World’s Fair of 1933 provide the background for a very unusual play. The Light Years is presented with The Debate Society at Playwrights Horizons where it is playing through April 2nd.
Steele MacKaye (a wonderfully bombastic Rocco Sisto), envisioned an ingenius theater to celebrate the arts at this grand historic event. His 12,000-seat Spectatorium, was designed by the now forgotten theatrical impresario to harness the mechanical and electrical marvels of the time.
The Light Years is, in part, a love story, highlighted by technology and wonder and spun over 40-years. In it, we are transported to more innocent times, when novelty could inspire and awe was not an unsophisticated or naive response.
In 1893, the story centers on the progress of building and wiring MacKaye’s theater.
Hillary (Erik Lochtefeld in a star turn) and his assistant, Hong Sling (the charismatic Brian Lee Huynh) are the electricians in charge of making the Spectatorium shine. Hillary’s wife, Adeline (the appealing Aya Cash) is a very modern woman, cheerfully pedalling both iced tea and a bicycle.
When the scene shifts to 1933, it’s Ruthy (Aya Cash, again) who has to keep her family afloat, flipping pancakes and inspiriting her husband Lou (Ken Barnett, in an excellent awe-shucks mode) through the writing of musical ditties for this Fair’s many commercial enterprises. Their son, Charlie (the already accomplished young Graydon Peter Yosowitz) is smitten with the sensations the Fair promises.
The scenic design by Laura Jellinek and costumes design by Michael Krass rise beautifully to the majesty of the occasion.
Every part of the theater space is treated to a bit of the performance. There are lights and things that go poof as well as narratives to explicate the drama. The ensemble engage, entertain and instruct.
The Light Years uses some of the devices Steele MacKaye introduced to turn this small-scale production into a grand spectacle.
When VP-E Mike Pence attended a performance recently, cast member Brandon Victor Dixon used the curtain call to petition his elected official on behalf of the other half of our country. P-E DJT took offense, and a sort of boycott was born.
For the record, VP-E MP said he was not offended: “And I nudged my kids and reminded them, that’s what freedom sounds like,” Pence said, according to news reports from CNN to the NY Daily News.
The play, which won 11 Tonys last year, has been a hot ticket since it started its Broadway transfer in the summer of 2015.
Berry Gordy, Jr.’s career in music started when he sold a song to Jackie Wilson. It culminated when he sold the hit-making empire he built and named Motown to MCA in 1988. Motown artists and their images were carefully cultivated. Gordy co-wrote 240 songs for the catalog, which was bought by Polygram for over $330million in the early 1990s. Business aside, Gordy’s recording company became a legendary musical genre.
That musical style, the artists nurtured by the company, and its creator are celebrated in Motown-The Musical, based on Gordy’s memoir, To Be Loved, and written and produced by Berry Gordy, Jr.
Motown… had its original run in March of 2013, and is currently in revival at the Nederlander Theatre, and runnng through the end of this month.
In Motown…, the high-spirited portrayals of Gordy by Chester Gregory and the supreme Diana Ross by Allison Semmes enhance the bio-musical’s plotline, which relies a little too heavily on history for its backstory. Motown… is about the entertainers who gave us the most recognizable sound of the 1960’s.
Mr. Gregory gives a well-balanced performance as “the Chairman,” Berry Gordy, Jr. An exhilirating highlight of the production is Ms. Semmes’ Ross in her first solo appearance in Las Vegas, a sequence that asks for a happy moment of audience participation.
Discord is so natural to the human condition that we are often shocked when matters are settled amicably.
Branden Jacobs-Jenkins does not go so far as to find a peaceable solution for his characters in War, playing at LCT3 through July 3rd, but he looks at issues of race, mortality, and identity in his family saga.
Roberta (Charlayne Woodard) is in a coma after a stroke and her children, Tate (Chris Meyers) and Joanne (Rachel Nicks) find a stranger, Elfriede (Michele Shay) at her bedside. Elfriede uses the little English she knows to tell them that Roberta is her sister.
In the meantime, Joanne’s husband, Malcolm (Reggie Gowland) calls from Roberta’s apartment to say that he’s found a prowler there. Tobias (Austin Durant) is Elfriede’s son. They have travelled from Germany to meet Roberta. For Elfriede, the journey is emotional; for Tobias it is transactional.
Like Tobias, Tate is caught up in considerations of finance. He sees the Germans as usurpers. Joanne sees them as people in need. The outstanding Lance Coadie Williams rounds out the cast in two roles, as the domineering Nurse and the authoritative Alpha.
Jacobs-Jenkins indulges in the trendlet of breaking the fourth wall. In his case the surreal and supernatural, integral to his story is aided by Roberta’s addressing the audience. His is not a realistic play.
Under Lileana Blain Cruz’s direction offers what is nearly an out-of-body experience. The techno effects, with lighting by Matt Frey and sound by Bray Poor, and a minimalist set by Mimi Lien, conspire to give Warits raw, and visceral power.
A handshake between Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin inspired J.T. Rogers to create Oslo, a play about the backdrop to the peace accords. Oslo is at Lincoln Center‘s Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater, under the direction of Bartlett Sher, with a cast that includes the
charismatic Jefferson Mays, the wonderful Jennifer Ehle, and the dynamic Daniel Jenkins, and playing through August 28th. The large ensemble also features Michael Aronov, Anthony Azizi, Adam Dannheisser, Dariush Kashani, and Jeb Kreager.
Osloexplores the events that led up to the iconic moment in 1993 when peace in the Middle East seemed possible. The inevitable unravelling and descent into strife is a depressing reality today. It might be nice to go back to more hopeful times.
Brain matter, preserved or degenerating, makes for interesting study.
Nick Payne’s Incognito, at Manhattan Theatre Club’s City Center Stage I through July 10th, analyzes and dissects, as it were, the ideas of individality/personality and cognition/memory, along with many other entertaining propositions.
Much of the plot of Incognito hinges on the theft of Einstein’s brain and goes full circle, with 4 actors portraying 21 characters in rapid and fluid succession. The story has basis in fact: Dr. Thomas Harvey (Morgan Spector) actually did take the brain with the intent to see what genius looks like, and kept it with him for the next 40 years; it appears he did not find out much in the course of his “studies,” but you will find out a great deal from Payne’s fascinating play.
Questions of sexual identity, loss and recollection are all touched upon in the course of the exciting and novel short theatrical piece. It’s as if a science-philosophy lecture came to life on the stage.
The ensemble work is beautifully orchestrated in Doug Hughes direction of Geneva Carr, Charlie Cox, Morgan Spector and Heather Lind.
Incognito is clever, unexpected and dramatic. It maybe the most interesting and unusual piece of theater you witness for a long while.
Please visit MTC’s site to learn more about and get tickets for Incognito.
George C. Wolfe has taken a Broadway melody of 1921 and placed it in its historical context. In 1921, the year when Shuffle Along was produced, it was exiled to a theater on 63rd Street. Yes, it was considered a Broadway house, but it was many blocks north of the main stem.
Shuffle Along‘s success, however, was extraordinary. The all-black production team enjoyed critical and popular acclaim, and an unexpectedly long-run of 504 performances.
Shuffle Along made stars of its lead actress, Lottie Gee (Audra McDonald in Wolfe’s retelling) and its creative team. Wolfe’s musical has jettisoned the F.E. Miller (Brian Stokes Mitchell)-Aubrey Lyles (Billy Porter) book and replaced it with his own, while keeping the music and lyrics from Eubie Blake (Brandon Victor Dixon) and Noble Sissle (Joshua Henry).
Nearly a century later, the musical theater remains indebted to the men and women of color who revolutionized and emboldened Broadway style and syncopation. This is the backstory to Wolfe’s story, but despite the high concept and lofty intentions, the 2016 Shuffle Along… is a very entertaining vaudeville.
As it was refreshing to have a musical like Bright Star based on the American idiom of bluegrass, it is welcome to have one that is based on the other all-American art form, tap. The dances, as designed by Tony-award winner (1996 for Bring in Da Noise Bring in Da Funk, and presumptive for 2016 for Shuffle Along…) are masterly. One number takes the cast on a long circuitous train-trip of tryouts in completely mesmerizing taps. The songs are classics from the Blake-Sissle repertoire, including “I’m Just Wild About Harry” and “Love Will Find A Way,” from the score for the 1921 Shuffle Along.
The ensemble is excellent, with Brandon Victor Dixon and Adrienne Warren (bothTony nominated for Featured Actor and Actress) standing out. The always able Brooks Ashmanskas, as the designated white guy in the cast, performs an excellent second act rain-on-their-parade number.
There is an all-American breed of comic who is not just a clown but also a genius.
Steve Martin is one of these. He has a brilliant and inventive mind. He is not merely clever, but he’s also erudite. Along with songwriter Edie Brickell, Martin has won a Grammy for Best Original American Roots Song for the album that inspired the musical Bright Star currently enjoying an open run at the Cort Theatre.
The musical, an indigenous art form as American as opera is Italian (or French, depending on your point of view,) has never before been entrusted to this particular native musical genre: Bright Star is Broadway’s first blue-grass musical.
It’s not a completely original story– it’s billed as being “inspired by a true event”– but it is told with complete originality. Rob Berman and his band of merry men and women provide tuneful accompaniment from inside the cabin on stage. The hoedown that opens the second act is not the only crowd pleaser in Bright Star.
Broadway newbie, Carmen Cusack who stars as Alice in Bright Star, and her co-star Paul Alexander Nolan as Jimmy Ray both deserve the wild applause that greet them. A.J. Shively as Billy Cane and Emily Padgett as Lucy are also natural stand outs. In fact, the entire cast and ensemble are all glorious. Director Walter Bobbie has everyone moving with graceful ease in, around and through Eugene Lee’s excellent minimalist sets. Josh Rhodes provides appropriately country-style dance numbers.
Cagney: tough guy in soft shoes: “Ma, I’m on top of the world,” could have been a quote from Cagney’s life. He started in the slums of New York, and ended as a household name. He worked in Vaudeville and went on to star in many an iconic movie.
Cagney, making its cross town transfer from the York Theatre began previews at the Westside on 43rd Street on March 16th and now is in an open run. In Cagney, Robert Creighton reprises his role as the song-and-dance man turned Hollywood superstar.
Evening – 1910 comes roughly out of the same era as that of the young Cagney. Playwright, songwriter and director Randy Sharp and songwriter, guitarist and longtime Blondie member Paul Carbonara have teamed up to create Evening – 1910, a new musical about an immigrant to 1910 New York and a Bowery theater facing eviction as Edison’s kinetoscope makes vaudeville old hat. Their point of departure for this new musical is the earlier one about the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, Solitary Light. The world premiere of Evening – 1910 is presented by the Axis Company, of which Sharp is the founding Artistic Director, from April 28 – May 28.
Tennesee Williams’ Orpheus Descending gets a rare revival, directed by Austin Pendleton, from April 23 to May 14th, at St. John’s Lutheran Church. Williams’s modern recreation of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice opened on Broadway in 1957 and was revived in 1989 in a celebrated production directed by Sir Peter Hall and starring Vanessa Redgrave. It has rarely, if ever, been produced in New York since.
Another rarely produced play will be presented by Voyage Theater Company from May 5th through 14th.August Strindberg’s The Pelican, is a little known psychological drama about a greedy mother who lets her children go hungry while she lives a life of luxury. Directed by Charles C. Bales and Wayne Maugans (actor in Broadway’s August: Osage County), the production runs just 75 intermission-less minutes. Strindberg’s familial tragedy is as shocking today as it was in 1907.
On the other hand, new plays are the subject on April 21st at the annual Writers Block Party at The Stanley H. Kaplan Penthouse in the Samuel B. & David Rose Building. Presented by and for the benefit of The Playwrights Realm, led by Katherine Kovner, Artistic Director, and Roberta Pereira, Producing Director, Writers Block Party will celebrate its ninth anniversary with MCs Vella Lovell (“My Crazy Ex-Girlfriend”) and Hubert Point-Du Jour (Sojourners).
William Kernen spent 27 years in baseball both as professional player and coach, before turning to a career as a playwright in 1997. Kernen spent two years studying at Columbia University under the instruction of Eduardo Machado. Kernen’s play And Other Fairy Tales…was a finalist in the Oglebay Institute National Playwriting Competition. In April 2001 his play, Galleria degli Angeli was produced in New York at The Independent Theatre, with first-time director Kernen at the helm. In 2005, his script In the House of Athazagora, was produced as a short film, which Kernen also directed.
Then, Kernen went back to coaching in Division 1 college baseball, building a brand new program from scratch at California State University, Bakersfield. In June 2015, Kernen again retired from baseballand returned to NYC to write and direct in theater and film.
Gallery Of Angels, Inc. brings the world premiere production of William KernenísAnd Other Fairy Tales…, directed by Kernen at The Workshop Theater from April 28 through May 22nd.
They’ve won awards for presenting little known musicals, but this year, Astoria Performing Arts Center (APAC) is presenting the Tony-winning The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee from May 5th through 28th. The musical, which runs 2 hours with one intermission, is at the Good Shepherd United Methodist Church in Astoria.
For more information about the production, please visit apacny.org.
African politics can be a complicated business, most often decidedly unglamorous.
Danai Gurira does not prettify the reality. The characters in her drama, Eclipsed, in midst of its Broadway transfer at the Golden Theatre, are all women cast into the scrum of war.
The women have no names, their personhood has been erased by strife. Each of them has a different attitude toward their fate. Each is locked in a cycle of brutalization.
They speak with a shocking matter-of-factness about pillaging, murder and rape. Each women in her own way has been debased and dehumanized.
Wife #3 (Pascale Armand) remains charmingly naive despite the cruelty she has endured. Wife #1 (Saycon Sengbloh) has perserved a bossy tenderness. She tries to shield The Girl (Oscar® winner Lupita Nyong’o in her Broadway debut) as best she can.
Their husband is the unseen, off-stage C.O., whose position as commander provides his wives a measure of protection. One Wife –#2, (the outstanding Zainab Jah), has gone off soldiering in the bush. Her strength is a cynical determination to persevere and triumph against all enemies. She carries a gun like a man, but she too needs protecting in order to survive.
There is hope for peace in the Liberian wild in which Eclipsedtakes place in the person of Rita (Akusua Busia), a member of a helpful
interventionist women’s group. Her work at reconciliation is not necessarily welcomed in this balkanized place of internecine conflict and tribal hatred. Here, war can be defined not as winning military victories but by its spoils.
The dialect of Eclipsed is so sing-songy and staccato as to feel foreign yet familiar enough to be clearly understood. The production has come mostly intact from the Public Theater, with Liesl Tommy directing the excellent ensemble.
Clint Ramos’ rustic sets circumscribe the compound in the jungle in which the women live. He has also designed the costumes. The original music and sound design by Broken Chord, which punctuates scene changes, is integral to the atmosphere of Eclipsed.
Eclipsed is powerful and sad. Despite its grim subject matter, Eclipsed is full of humor and humanity.