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.
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.
There is a long and storied tradition that links stage presentation with hyper-theatricality. The Noh theater of Japan is part of such a history. Masks, themes that involve predestined events, plots both complicated and ritualized are all part of the theatrical environment created in this genre of theater.
In 1955, the controversial author Yukio Mishima wrote Hanjo, based on a 14th Century Noh play by Motohiko Zeami. The SITI Company (co-founded by Anne Bogart) production of Hanjo, is presented in Japanese and English at the Japan Society on December 7th-9th as part of the NOH-NOW series.
Mishima’s Hanjo, directed by SITI’s co-artistic director, Leon Ingulsrud, is stripped of the extravagant presentation and modernized. In some ways, this simplified staging actually heightens the stylized other-worldliness of the play. Hanjo is a tale in which love leads a young woman deeper and deeper into insanity.
For tickets, and additional information, you may go online or visit the Japan Society at 333 East 47th Street.
As always, and as our standard preface for these listings, there’s a lot to do and see. New York City theater can keep a body very busy.
Listings for October-November and maybe even December 2017
How time flies? Is it almost the end of this year? Could Halloween be just a week away?
Women’s Project gave this a go in 2016, and it is being reprised at the Westside Theatre.
The cast in Stuffed, playing through February 18th, has changed, except for creator and star, Lisa Lampanelli, and under the same director, Jackson Gray, but it is still a very relateable comedy. You or someone you know has been on and off the diet wagon for a long time. Everyone of us has a relationship to food– love it or loathe it. Can this lead to funny circumstances? With Lisa Lampanelli giving voice to the issues, you bet it can.
Meanwhile, currently at Women’s Project Theatre, What We’re Up Against, a new dark comedy by Theresa Rebeck, playing from October 28th to November 26th, is directed by Adrienne Campbell-Holt, and features Skylar Astin, Marg Helgenberger, Jim Parrack, Krysta Rodriguez, and Damian Young.
John Patrick Shanley writes wry comedies based in realism with surreal twists. Examples include Danny and the Deep Blue Sea, as well as Moonstruck, in which Cosmo’s moon overwhelmes the landscape and Cher’s Loretta tells Nicolas Cage’s Ronny Cammareri
that he’s a wolf who chewed off his own hand. His latest, The Portuguese Kid, at MTC at City Center Stage I through December 3rd, stars Jason Alexander as a lawyer beleaguered by family and clients.
Listings are only represent some of the presentations on NYC stages
Matthew Bourne has a new ballet, his first in many years, which is spending five days on the City Center mainstage, from October 26th through November 5th. There’s a rotating cast for The Red Shoes, and a suggestion that children over the age of 8 would enjoy it.
Speaking of the kiddies, take them to Symphony Space on the weekend with Just Kidding, a series of programs dedicated to events for children. This weekend, there is a Halloween fun day planned for Saturday, October 28th at 11am with Joanie Leeds who will lead the musical costume party. Check out the full schedule at the Just Kidding website.
On Saturday, November 4th, the Symphony Space program offers a new way to teach your little ones new languages. Future Hits, a Chicago rock group, brings their irrestible mix of song with learning to the Just Kidding series. One show only at 11a.m.
Zoe Kazan, actress, playwright, has written a new dystopian play, After the Blast, which is at LCT3 in the Claire Tow Theater through November 19th.
Tired of the dystopian world view? Sarah DeLappe’s The Wolves, about a girls’ soccer squad, is coming to L.C.’s Newhouse Theater beginning November 1st. The team are highly competitive but there is no end-world scenario here. The Wolves had its well-received premiere with Playwrights Realm last year.
John Leguizamo gives us lessons in Latin History for Morons, another Broadway transfer from the Public, to Studio 54 through February 4, 2018. (You may recall that Hamilton went this route….) Leguizamo was inspired by the ignorance of Latino history in his son’s school to create this primer. More information on Latin History for Morons can be found at its official webpage.
This is not what might be described as a utopian moment in history. The arts, including theater, of course, have found the need to protest the political climate. Sometimes, their response has been by providing us with dystopian visions of a world gone awry. 1984, for example, is one such production. The recently closed revival of Fucking A by Suzan-Lori Parks is another.
Arden/Everywhere, at the Baruch Performing Arts Center from October 8th to 28th, based on Shakespeare’s comedy As You Like It, takes aim at the dangers that face a democracy. Jessica Baumann and her creative team see their work as a “reframing” of the original text. Their story purports to be about exile and banishment and does not want to center on the romance in this pastoral comedy.
In fact, the text for Arden/Everywhere is Shakespeare’s, embellished by references to immigrants and the plight of refugees. To that end, in its opening sequence, every greeting is a parting, and every hug and handshake bodes a separation.
The likeable cast present Shakespeare’s words with great authority and make the plot both clear and easy to follow. The principals, Rosalind (a very charming Helen Cespedes), Orlando (Anthony Cason, Jr.), Oliver (Kambi Gathesha) and Celia (Liba Vayneberg) are outstanding.