Theater can be distanced, ie by not breaking the fourth wall. It can be immersive, like Tamara at the Park Avenue Armory back in the day, or the McKittrick Hotel programs, Sleep No More or Woman in Black happening now. Audiences sit in the round, or follow the players from room to room, or sit in front of the proscenium, or on stage.
These times need a healthy dose of cynical analysis and profound soul-searching. “All animals are equal,” George Orwell says in Animal Farm, “but some are more equal than others.” The Seeing Place, a ten year old theater collective, kicks off the season with a modern adaptation by Brandon Walker of Orwell’s novel.
The theme for this year is the Body Politic, and its Animal Farm focuses on drawing out the ways in which we are susceptible to the collective power of a group. The line between community and a folie à tous is subtle.
Executive Artistic Director, Erin Cronican says of TSP’s production; “By creating this play for just four actors playing 28 characters, we shine a spotlight on the malleability of people’s opinions and desires, which often depend upon who is in charge and what is promised to them.”
Another exploration of present day politics can be found in the works-in-processSiachenat Baruch Performing Arts Center, from April 30 through May 2. This anti-war play, written by Aditya Rawal, takes us to India’s disputed Kashmir region where a group of soldiers awaits rescue. Gwynn MacDonald directs.
George Bernard Shaw was a principled man, whose ideals of humanitarianism and universal human rights were a creed underpinning everything he wrote. His politics were always in evidence in his dramas. The Gingold Theatrical Group’s annual party, the Golden Shamrock Gala 2020, takes place on Monday, March 16th; they will be honoring Maryann Plunkett, Jay O. Sanders, and Ethan E. Litwin. The Gingold Theatrical Group creates theater in the activist spirit of GBS with regularly scheduled events through the year.
LaMaMa, the mother of experimental theater, hosts a play appropriate for our time. Pananadem (Remembering) is about refugees brought to these shores by the Filipino troupe Kinding Sindaw. Potri Ranka Manis, the Founder and Artistic Director of Kinding Sindaw is the creative and choreographer behind this production, running from March 12th through March 15th in a New York premiere. The work uses the tradition of myth to capture the experience of the displaced.
It is sometimes harder to put a concept better expressed in the physical, into words.
I admit that it can be difficult for a critic to articulate what s/he sees presented on the stage. Some things are visceral. This is particularly true of dance where emotion and meaning are conveyed in gestures, movement and context. It also often applies to experimental theatre which tends towards the cerebral.
Katie Workum and her collaborators want to communicate about their work, The Door’s Unlockedin exclusionary descriptives. This is how the work is described: “Let’s be clear: This is not a dance piece. This is a conjuring inside a temporariness. This is connecting the dancers with the dance. This is a negotiation of our togetherness. This is entering the unknown without demanding to know. “
She and her collective, the eponymously named Katie Workum Dance, will perform the multi-platformed piece at Foley Gallery at 59 Orchard Street; they expect that it will change with each iteration and audience to which it is presented, from February 3 through 9.
In speaking of the experimental in theater, I am always referencing LaMaMa as a touchstone. So, I am glad to be able to include in this posting a little something of what they will be up to in the new year.
La MaMa, in association with Tokyo Metropolitan Theatre and NODA・MAP, presents the U.S. Premiere of One Green Bottle from February 29 through March 8, 2020 at The Ellen Stewart Theatre, La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club. One Green Bottle is an absurdist work in which gender is bent, and our societal foibles, from consumerism to selfie-addiction, is explored.
LaMaMa may have been at the forefront of theatrical happenings, of course, but all theatre is about performance, sentiment and interaction. What is on stage is always a happening.
The 1st Origin Irish Festival is in its 12th season of competition., beginning on January 7th and running through February 3rd. The festival is a highly curated event, devoted to producing the plays of contemporary Irish playwrights from around the world with a total of 15 productions being presented in venues all over NYC. During the Closing Night Ceremony on Monday, February 3rd, the Best of Festival Awards will be handed out.
A multi-generational drama, Echoes in the Garden, is on offer at The Chain Theatre this March 11th through 29th. The world premiere of Ross G. Hewitt’s new play about family, grief and obligation is producted by American Bard Theater Company and directed by Aimee Todoroff.
Also at The Chain, beginning on February 7th and running through the 22nd is another premiere, Chasing the River. Written by Jean Dobie Giebel and directed by Ella Jane New, Chasing the River depends on memory and its intersection with PTSD to tell its tale of second chances, survival and the healing power of love.
There is a superstition about one of Shakespear’s bloodiest dramas which bans theater folk from uttering its name. Let’s hope that telling you about the Classic Stage Company’s production of the Scottish play (in previews now, opening the evening of October 27th) will have no dire effects. The play is, of course,Macbeth, and in this production Corey Stoll plays the lead and Nadia Bowers his Lady. Some would say it is really her play, and I am inclined to agree that she has the more delicious evil to deliver.
John Doyle, CSC Artistic Director, directs and is responsible for the scenie design. The cast also features , along with Tony Award nominee Mary Beth Peil, Barzin Akhavan, Raffi Barsoumian, N’Jameh Camara, Erik Lochtefeld, Antonio Michael Woodard, Jade Wu.
Does the fact that Stoll and Bowers are married contribute to the dynamic between Lady Macbeth and her husband? They play the parts of plotters in a plot filled with machinations and double-dealing.
The intrigues that bind its characters are tinged with a touch of the mystical and more than just a soupçon of the rough and tumble. Macbeth is about political ambition, revenge, and madness.
Macbeth is a personal favorite from the Bard’s canon, just behind King Lear, which I consider his best.
These intriguing press releases cross my in-box (old school: call it my desk). Theater going has become increasingly an aspirational rather than a real thing for me, so I sort through for the most interesting offers to share with you. This one proposes a kick-ass combination of style and content.
The Talmudis the name of the show directed by Jesse Friedman, and taking its cues not just from the Rabbinic text but also from Kung-Fu films. Intrigued?
Here’s what he says: “The Talmud is a very exciting and important Jewish text, and, is incredibly difficult to understand. I was watching a Kung-Fu movie and thought “this Kung-Fu movie reminds me of the Talmud”. I started to learn more Talmud and thought “this reminds me of Kung-Fu movies”. I started to watch and learn more about Chinese Martial cinema, my appreciation for them deepened, and the world of the Talmud, which had previously been opaque to me, started to make sense.” He goes on to say, “The further I went down this rabbit-hole of Chinese martial arts cinema and Talmud, my picture of the world history started to radically change.”
The Talmud was developed through the Target Margin Artist Residence, and the Exponential Theater Festival. It will play at Target Margin for a three week limited run from September 12th through the 28th. Click here for information and tickets.
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.