A segment of New Yorkers speculate over real estate, not in the buy-sell, fix-and-flip sense, but out of a prurient inquisitivity. These folks are fascinated by how much their neighbors paid, the size of their acquisitions, whether there is a space for storage. Our curiosity is piqued by all things realty.
Judging by what can transpire when facing a coop board as witnessed in Richard Curtis’ new play Quiet Enjoyment we are right to wonder. The behaviors of those tasked with protecting their building’s integrity can prove, to put it delicately, very difficult.
Some years ago, Charles Grodin also explored the relationships of a upper east side board of coopers inThe Right Kind of People. Mr. Curtis, a multi-talented literary agent and author of a myriad of plays, a novel, a column in a publication called Locus. and some non-fiction about the publishing industry, picks up the subject and its endless fascination in his newest work.
Quiet Enjoymentruns from October18th through November 3rd at The Playrrom Theatre. For tickets click here.
Of late, I’ve had this urge to see theater at the Park Avenue Armory as if I had never been there. In fact, I did see a play there. And what an iconic one it was. The Park Avenue is a sterling setting for avant garde productions and this one was decidely ahead of its time.
My namesake multi-room drama, Tamara which landed here in November 1987 from Hollywood where it went after its debut in Toronto. At the time, the structure and approach were very novel. The play was an in-situ production, making use of the space, and having the audience confront it as they moved about from room to room. Immersive theater was a relatively unusual construction for the theater when John Krizanc wrote Tamara.
The award-winning play was performed wherever a large house could be converted to a villa, as at an American Legion post in LA where it lasted for a nine-year run by public petition for constant extensions, despite near weekly notices that it was on the verge of closing.
John Krizanc’s play is based on a historical moment when Gabriele d’Annunzio invited the painter Tamara de Lempicka to his villa in Lombardy, Il Vittoriale degli Italiani. The painter hoped for a commission to paint a portrait of the poet. He hoped she would lend her voice to his universalist political ideals; de Lempicka maintained her materialist stance.
To experience Tamara, one had many choices. Stay in one room and “overhear” the actors’ conversations as they enter. Follow an actor in and out of the rooms of Il Vittoriale. You may wish to switch and stay with a different character after a while. Or, after following an actor to a different room in the villa, you may choose to stay in that room and wait to see what transpires.
In New York, the fascinations of all these possibilities had it running for five years. When I saw it, I wandered through the rooms of the set to easedrop on the actors as they came and went. Trying to piece together the plot lines made the audience an “actor” in Tamara as well.
Its form as a puzzle proved to be an enduring and fascinating element in the play’s international success. It was revived in 2003 in Toronto on its 20th anniversary, and staged for a mere six weeks in 2004 at a landmarked synagogue in Pittsburgh.
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.
The 1960s were a turning-point for and in American society.
Meghan Kennedy sets her compelling family drama Napoli, Brooklyn, at Roundabout’s Laura Pels Theatre through September 3rd, in an Italian-American home in the midst of this
Social change strikes close to home in Park Slope, Brooklyn, where the three Muscolino girls (Jordyn DiNatale, Lilli Kay, and Elise Kibler) and their mother Luda (Alyssa Bresnahan) are each experiencing the stirring of a new civic order in her own way.
The girls’ father and Luda’s husband, Nic (Michael Rispoli) is a brutish man with old country views and a strong right hand which he often raises to threaten one or the other of his children. Luda, meanwhile, takes occassional refuge in an innocent flirtation with Mr. Duffy (Erik Lochtefeld), the family’s butcher. The youngest girl, Francesca, (DiNatale) and Mr. Duffy’s daughter, Connie (Juliet Brett ) are planning an escape to France. Tina Muscolino (Kay) works in a factory to help support her family; there she befriends a black co-worker, Celia Jones (Shirine Babb), who encourages her to get the schooling she has missed. Old-fashioned ways of dealing with the world die hard and so Vita Muscolino (Kibler) pays for being protective of her sisters by being sent away to a convent.
The compact, utilitarian set designed by Eugene Lee points us to each of the locales of the story. Jane Greenwood’s period costume design fits each character’s characteristics perfectly.
Expertly acted, under Gordon Edelstein’s solid direction, Napoli, Brooklyn is an absorbing play.
Theatricality is a fraught concept. It can just be dramatic and thought-provoking, or it can be over-the-top, dramatic and thought-provoking. Kristen Childs has written a musical that is theatrical to the nth degree. Bella: An American Tall Talealso gives us a little slice of African-American history mixed in with the fable.
Politics and theater are getting a bad rep. Actually politics and their practitioners have had a reputation for honesty meaning any means that is necessary, aka I’ll lie if I have to, and theater has always been a forum for exposing truths. Ms. Nixon stirred the political pot a tiny bit in her acceptance speech at the 2017 Tony Awards Ceremonies. Now, it is the mixing of politics into theater that has caused quite the controversy (see what is happening with The Public’s Julius Caesar for instance.) It is unwarranted. Art is meant to comment on our realities.
At any rate, one of those realities, Lost and Guided, a play by Irene Kapustina about Syrian refuges in their own words, is on view at Conrad Fischer and The Angle Project, at Under St Marks (94 St. Marks Place, from August 3 through 27th. For tickets, click here.
A similar but perhaps more intitmate project is The Play Company’s Oh My Sweet Land another look at the Syrian refuge crisis. The play is due to launch this fall in private homes and communal spaces where people have been invited to host this multi-sensory experience. Those wishing to participate by providing a venue can do so by filling out the questionnaire here. Nadine Malouf stars, perhaps in your own kitchen, in Oh My Sweet Land, a play developed by Amir Nizar Zuabi with German-Syrian actor Corinne Jaber.
Shakespeare wrote plays reflecting timely events, for his time and all times. This may explain why The Public is in such hot water over their production of Julius Caesar. The brouhaha, perhaps like the staging, is way out of proportion. In Measure for Measure, Shakespeare also explores issues to do with power and justice. Theatre for a New Audience is presenting a new modernized staging by Simon Godwin from June 17th through July 16th. Tickets for this show which will be held at Polansky Shakespeare Center in Brooklyn are available at TFANA’s website.
Henrik Ibsen had his own take on both the personal and the political. For instnace, Ibsen’s drama, An Enemy of the People is a play about populism and its discontents.
An Enemy of the Peoplecomes to us from the Wheelhouse Theater Company under the direction of Jeff Wise, at the Gene Frankel Theater, beginning June 9th and running through June 24th is conceived as a meditation on the “tyranny of the majority.”
Following on the success of Ibsen’s feminist tale as revisited by Lucas Hnath in A Doll’s House, Part 2, see the US Premiere of Victoria Benedictsson’s 1887 Swedish original, The Enchantment in a new English translation and adaptation by Tommy Lexen. Ducdame Ensemble introduces us to the woman behind Ibsen’s Nora; Benedictsson, who wrote under the pen name Ernst Ahlgren, was not only Ibsen’s inspiration but also Strindberg’s for Miss Julie. The Enchantment opens at HERE on July 6th, with previews beginning June 28th.
Dystopia is the normal atmosphere of an Ibsen play. It is poignantly a main event in the classic 1984. George Orwell’s novel in which Big Brother government controls its citizens has been turned into a play by the same name. The play by Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan was first performed in 2013 at England’s Nottingham Playhoouse. 1984 , a place where mind control involves convincing us that up is down, “freedom is slavery,” is now at Broadway’s newly renovated Hudson Theatre, with an opening on June 22nd, and starring Olivia Wilde and Tom Sturridge.
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.
World’s Fairs are theme parks for progress. The 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago, named in honor of Columbus’ landing in the Americas 400 years before, offered marvels never before seen.
Naturally it was commerce that drove the innovation. Technology was well represented by the likes of Nikola Tesla (exhibit pictured.)
Spectacles and the arts also set the stage for novelty and inspiration at Chicago’s great fair. One feature of the 1893 Exposition was theatrical impressario, Steele MacKaye’s visionary Spectatorium which proved to be a costly and extravagant project. (Spoiler alert, don’t click on the link above if you prefer to be surprised.)
The Light Years presented at Playwrights Horizons through April 2nd (opening night is March 13th) finds the personal in this grand historic event. T and B will be there so look for our review of this new work by the experimental troupe, The Debate Society, next week.
For more information on the production (and tickets), please visit the @PHnyc website.
Leaps and bounds
Acrobats, gymnasts and trapeze artists might be dismissed as circus performers, but their skills are undeniable. Those talents when put in the service of thought-provoking materials rise way above. They are often on display in a Paul Taylor season, and we are fortunate to have the 2017 one starting at Lincoln Center today, March 7th, and running through the 26th.
Taylor’s dancers (and the dances he devises for them) thrill and jump with all their heart and soul. There is abandoned precision in every move. Some of the highlights T and B will share this season are Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rehearsal); The Weight of Smoke; Lost, Found and Lost; Syzygyand the new The Open Door, among others.