Posted in #dystopia, Baryshnikov Arts Center, Bonobo, Chilean experimental theater group, George Bernard Shaw, GTG Project Shaw, J.M. Barrie, new work, politically inspired, politics, Shakespeare, Theater Resources Unlimited, troubled times, Tu Amaras, turmoil

Theater for troubled times

This is not the first era in history that has found itself in one or another kind of turmoil. Trouble, as often as not, is the friend of art. It provides the inspiration for high drama or low comedy. But… it often takes a perspecive to really examine our own times.

Shakespeare used his history plays to comment about Elizabethan mores, as well as display them in the context of history, power and politics. Not his most famous quote, but one I like for our times, is from Measure for Measure:

“We must not make a scarecrow of the law, setting it up to fear the birds of prey, and let it keep one shape till custom make it their perch and not their terror.”

Or perhaps in the midst of the impeachment dramedy we might look to Julius Caesar‘s Brutus when he mulls Caesar’s rise “Th’ abuse of greatness is when it disjoins remorse from power.” Or, lastly, since our current emperor lives in such delusion, we can quote Kent from King Lear “Think’st thou that duty shall have dread to speak when power to flattery bows? To plainness honor’s bound when majesty falls to folly.”

May our playwrights continue to “speak truth to power” and let the voice of reason prevail for the 21st century. Or at least let that voice ring out clearly against all the “fake-news” conspiratorials that are invoked by those who seek to oppress and conceal truth. Amen.

Project Shaw, the Gingold Theatrical Group’s ongoing one-nighters looks to the works of George Bernard Shaw (and contemporaries) for a “montly guide to reason.” The theme for their 2020 season is “seeing clearly through art.” Next up on the schedule is the February 24th concert reading of J.M. Barrie’s What Every Woman Knows. On May 18th, they turn to Shaw’s Saint Joan for an inspiration of commonsense. For the full 2020 schedule, visit the GTG website.

Playwrights looking to develop their “voices” can turn to Theater Resources Unlimited (TRU) for their 21st Annual TRU Voices New Plays Reading Series . The call for submissions is by January 31, 2020.. TRU is a twenty-seven-year-old 501(c)(3) nonprofit network established for the purpose of helping those involved in the theater understand and navigate the business of the arts

For the 2020 TRU Voices New Plays Reading Series, which will take place in June 2020, TRU will help pay for the developmental reading of new plays, connect finalists with producers, and assist in finding venues.

Please note that all links to shows in this “review” of theater for the disaffected, for the dystopia of our times, for progressives are for past dates except for the GTG schedule of Project Shaw. The dates for and info on TRU New Voices is also current.


By way of postscript: Dystopia takes many forms. The state of depravation and oppression can be answered by the comic as well as the tragic. For the experimental theater troupe from Chile, Bonobo, it takes a sci-fi turn.

In Tú Amarás (You Shall Love), doctors attending a conference on Prejudice in Medicine find the subject of their program disrupted by a group of extraterrestials seeking asylum after a genocide against them.

Bonobo developed the play during its residency at Baryshnikov Arts Center, where it will get the U.S. premiere in Spanish with English supertitles, Thursday, February 13, through Saturday, February 15.

Posted in Charles Grodin, drama based on real events, new work, New York City, Playroom Theatre, real estate, Richard Curtis

Keepin’ it real (estate)

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 in The 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 Enjoyment runs from October18th through November 3rd at The Playrrom Theatre. For tickets click here.

Posted in 2001, academia, ambition, arts and events, award winning, ballet, balletic, boys, boys and girls, dance, dance making, dancing, Ellen Robbins, girls, Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival, lessons, music, narration, new work, performance works, teens, young cast, youth

Ah, youth

Photo © Lina Dahbou

Is it true that youth is wasted on the young? Perhaps not, at least this group of youngsters is making the most of their time and talents. And yes, I am a little jealous.

There is a good deal to be said for getting an early start. Youth is lithe and agile. It is a great season for dancing, Movement can be the lingua franca for the young; it is their body language as it were.

Ellen Robbins’ Dances By Very Young Choreographers at Live Arts, on January 26th and 27th, will be showcasing works by children as young as 8. The dance-makers, ranging in age from 8 to 18, study modern dance and choreography with Ms. Robbins.

The program ranges across the many styles of dance performance, from the humorous, narrative, to the lyrical. The music selections, chosen by the choreographers, include folk, jazz, classical, contemporary.

Ellen Robbins has been teaching dance sine 1966 and has received honors for her work with children. She has taught dance education at Sarah Lawrence and been on the faculties of Bennington College, the 92nd Street Y, and other distinguished institutions. In 2001, Dances By Very Young Choreographers was on the program at the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival.

After the matinee on January 26th, there will be an evening concert by the Alumni of Dances by Very Young Choreographers, which presents work by dancers who studied with Robbins from 1982 to 2016.  

Posted in drama, drama reflecting current events, family, issue play, Lindsey Ferrentino, new work, Playwrights Horizons, timely drama

Circumnavigation

This Flat EarthMarch 16, 2018 – April 29, 2018 Mainstage Theater Written by Lindsey Ferrentino Directed by Rebecca Taichman
Photo © Joan Marcus. Ian Saint-German as Zander, Ella Kennedy Davis as Julie & Lucas Papaelias as Dan in This Flat Earth by Lindsey Ferrentino, directed by Rebecca Taichman at Playwrights Horixons through April 29th.

1.CodePHnycDiscountLearning from our mistakes seems to be humanly impossible.

Lindsey Ferrentino’s well-wrought This Flat Earth, on the mainstage at Playwrights Horizons through April 29th, looks at the aftermath of one of our greatest failures. We repeatedly, almost routinely, fail to protect our children from gun violence.

In the wake of Parkland, FL, This Flat Earth seems a mild, even tame response.

It is very timely without being what is called these days “an issue play.” This Flat Earth addresses the issue in its very humane, personal and intimate way. It is unsentimental and unflinching, even as it brings tears welling.

This Flat EarthMarch 16, 2018 – April 29, 2018 Mainstage Theater Written by Lindsey Ferrentino Directed by Rebecca Taichman
Full Cast on the two-level set, designed by Dane Laffrey. Photo © Joan Marcus. Lynda Gravátt as Cloris above; Ella Kennedy Davis as Julie with Ian Saint-Germain as Zander. Lucas Papaelias as Dan with Cassie Beck as Lisa (in doorway.)

In lieu of a curtain rising, a cello is tuned by cellist Christine H. Kim, whose playing will punctuate the transitions in This Flat Earth. The Sound Design by Mikhail Fiksel under the
Music Director, Christian Frederickson is integral to the production.

The cello has significance for Julie (Ella Kennedy Davis). Her and her dad Dan’s (Lucas Papaelias) upstairs neighbor, Cloris (Lynda Gravátt) was a cellist. Her music keeps Julie up, or it used to, before. Now she is spooked by all the ordinary sounds outside her window. Noone seems to know how to help her, or her friend Zander (Ian Saint-Germain) deal with the shooting at their school. Julie, sheltered by her dad, is shocked to hear that this sort of thing has happened to other kids. Julie is tactless as only a 13 year old in distress can be in her encounter with one of the grieving mothers, Lisa (Cassie Beck).

Lynda Gravátt’s Cloris puts everything into a perspective that suggests that Julie and everyone around her will move on. It is a coda to a disquieting story.

The first-rate ensemble in This Flat Earth is beautifully choreographed by director Rebecca Taichman. Ella Kennedy Davis gives a remarkable starring performance; the youngsters, Kennedy Davis and Ian Saint-Germain, are impressively natural.  Kennedy Davis gets wonderful support from everyone on stage.

Posted in #whatdoyouthink, actors, African-American playwrights, artist, based on a novel, based on a true story or event, based on a true story or event and historical documents, based on true events, brutality, chronicle, deep South, empowerment, ensemble acting, famous, film, Fox Studios, historical drama, history, honky, husbands and wives, KKK, meditation on life, movie, new work, opinion, poignant, race, racism, riff, sci fi, serious, serious subject, showcase, timely, TV, Valentine's Day

Serially entertaining

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.

Posted in drama, drama based on real events, family drama, new work, New York City, The New Group

Washington Square

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Moise Mordancy, Daniel Sovich, Cristian DeMeo, David Levi and Chloë Sevigny in Downtown Race Riot. For more, visit www.thenewgroup.org. Photo credit: Monique Carboni

Riots are inherently frightening incidents.

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.

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Moise Morancy and Sadie Scott in Seth Zvi Rosenfeld’s Downtown Race Riot, directed by Scott Elliott. Photo credit: Monique Carboni

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.

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Josh Pais, David Levi and Chloë Sevigny in Downtown Race Riot. This Off-Broadway production by The New Group plays a limited engagement at The Pershing Square Signature Center, Nov 14 – Dec 23. Photo credit: Monique Carboni

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 Riot takes 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.

For more information and tickets, please visit Downtown Race Riot

Posted in aging, comedy about a serious subject, comedy-drama, dysfunction, family, family comedy drama, family drama, mothers and sons, new dramatists, new work, Playwrights Horizons, serious comedy, spendthrift

Mom

The TreasurerSeptember 06, 2017 – October 22, 2017 Peter Jay Sharp Theater Written by Max Posner Directed by David Cromer
Pun Bandhu & Peter Friedman in a scene from The Treasurer. Photo © Joan Marcus. Note the modern industrial sets by Laura Jellinek.

Family often cuts to the heart of who we are.

Relationships that can be kind can also be cruel, as we find in Max Posner’s The Treasurer, at Playwrights Horizons through October 22nd extended to November 5th, under David Cromer’s direction, a comedy about family, aging, guilt and dying.

Caring for an aging parent who abandoned him when he was 13 is a huge and unwelcome responsibility for The Son (Peter Friedman).

His mother sees it differently. Her version is less dramatic. “Everybody gets divorced,” Ida Armstrong (the wonderful Deanna Dunagan) tells Ronette, (Marinda Anderson) a shop clerk at Talbot’s.

The TreasurerSeptember 06, 2017 – October 22, 2017 Peter Jay Sharp Theater Written by Max Posner Directed by David Cromer
Deanna Dunagan & Marinda Anderson. Photo © Joan Marcus

Ida’s charm is seductive. Her conversations, like her exchange with Julian (Pun Bandhu), a young man she memory-dials, make promises which are then also abandoned. Profligacy has left Ida penniless and dependent on the charity of The Son and his brothers, Allen and Jeremy (Marinda Anderson and Pun Bandhu on the phone). Her continued spending evades The Son’s best efforts as the titular “Treasurer” and leaves him frustrated. Friedman’s narrative is delivered with a nonchalant grace.

The Treasurer could have gone in any number of directions, but Posner’s play goes on its surreal path in an unexpected if foreshadowed course. The result, or rather, the conclusion, is not fully satisfying.

For more information and tickets, please visit the @PHnyc website.

Posted in drama, family, family drama, new work

Race to judgment

The ProfaneMarch 17, 2017 – April 30, 2017 Peter Jay Sharp Theater Written by Zayd Dohrn Directed by Kip Fagan World Premiere 2016 Horton Foote Prize winner
Ali Reza Farahnakian & Babak Tafti in The Profane by Zayd Dohrn at Playwrights Horizons. Photo by Joan Marcus.

The great divide of 2016 has made it clearer  than ever before that there are liberal prejudices and conservative ones. All of them, of course, are illiberal, and results of a closed mind and set assumptions.
In his The Profane, at Playwrights Horizons through April 30th, Zayd Dohrn explores the kind of intolerance that springs in familiar territory.Untitled

Raif (Ali Reza Farahnakian) is sure he knows the people amongst whom he grew up; he came from the Middle East as a student, and stayed in the U.S. where he became a relatively celebrated author. He is a secularist.  He tells his daughter Emina (Tala Ashe), who is yearning for connections, “We have no tribe.”  Emina’s older sister Aisa (Francis Benhamou, in a dual role) is the wild child with whom Raif feels the greater bond.

The ProfaneMarch 17, 2017 – April 30, 2017 Peter Jay Sharp Theater Written by Zayd Dohrn Directed by Kip Fagan World Premiere 2016 Horton Foote Prize winner
Ali Reza Farahnakian, Francis Benhamou, Babak Tafti, Tala Ashe & Heather Raffo in Zayd Dohrn’s The Profane at PH. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Raif applies his internecine bigotry to Emina’s choice of a boyfriend. Sam (Babak Tafti) is the son of an observant Muslim family. Sam’s parents, Peter (Ramsey Faragallah) and Carmen (Lanna Joffrey) are just the kind of “people” Raif has prejudged, and from whom he wishes to distance himself. Emina sees her identity as tied to this “tribe.” While she seeks connection and community,  both Raif and her mother Naja (Heather Raffo), see something more sinister.

Dohrn’s superb new play is written with nuance and finesse. The people in The Profane are brought to life so fully and intelligently as to feel like our neighbors, possibly those with whom we have never bothered to interact. Dohrn shows great respect for the characters he has created.

The ProfaneMarch 17, 2017 – April 30, 2017 Peter Jay Sharp Theater Written by Zayd Dohrn Directed by Kip Fagan World Premiere 2016 Horton Foote Prize winner
Heather Raffo, Ramsey Faragallah & Ali Reza Farahnakian in The Profane. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Under the well-timed direction of Kip Fagan, the cast provokes and challenges us into countering our assumptions. Standing out in this ensemble is not easy, but we all have our partiality, and ours is for the wonderful Tala Ashe, the lovely Heather Raffo, and the delightful Ramsey Faragallah. Bias aside, everyone on this stage was inspiring.

The sets, by Takeshi Kata, for the small Peter Jay Sharp Theater are both sumptious and lavish as if ready for a Broadway production. May we suggest that @PHnyc consider taking this excellent production intact to a Broadway stage?

Please visit the PH website for more information and tickets for The Profane. NOW! (because my voice is not necessarily heard when advising re: transfers– ie Familiar.)

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in drama, new dramatists, new work

Title IX

We tend to think of sports teams as units, their individuality drubbed by the group.

In The Wolves, Sarah DeLappe belies our assumptions. Her suburban indoor soccer team is given voice, each one nearly drowning out the others. One expects teenage girls to trivialize serious subjects and blow up the trivial, and DeLappe’s soccer players do just that. It’s unfortunate that while letting them express themselves so eloquently, she allows them to be characterized by field position and jersey number.DeLappe fails to give them names, only personal quirks and traits.

Playwrights Realm encore production at the Duke 42nd Street follows a successful run just about a month ago. It has been spirited along by the help of producing partners Scott Rudin and Eli Bush.

The nine players on DeLappe’s field gossip, chatter, and jeer at each other as they stretch and run drills. Their adolescent speech is infectious, and engrossing, a perfect simulation of how girls talk. When the conversations hit a lull, however, it feels like The Wolves have gone into overtime.

Lila Neugebauer directs the ensemble, through pattering dialogue, superb ball handling and fancy footwork, giving each of them a standout moment. #7 (Branna Coates) shows a fiery sass, while her friend #14 (Samia Finnerty) is the perfect go-along, tag-along to her, #77’s, flamboyance. The new girl, #46 (Tedra Millan) earns her outsider status with a disarming charm. The squad works well together, and their acting very credible.

It’s a sold out run, ending after the December 29th performance, but Playwrights Realm is making it possible to see the show by making a donation. JoinThePack-Contest-01.png

To learn more about The Wolves and Playwrights Realm, visit their site.

Posted in comedy, couples, Dan LeFranc, new work, Playwrights Horizons

A quiet California suburb

You probably count amongst your acquaintances someone who always over-reacts.

At Rancho Viejo, Dan LeFranc’s Southern California community, it’s Pete (the flawless Mark Blum) who fills the role.

Rancho Viejo, playing at Playwrights Horizons through December 23rd, has a feel like home, but an uneasy home.

Pete is not very imaginative, but he latches onto even the flimsiest of theories that others espouse and runs with them.

His wife, Mary (impeccably played by Mare Winningham) puzzles over his existential questions and keeps a stiff upper-lip.

Have you heard about Ritchie and Lana?

Pete and Mary are clearly misfits at Rancho Viejo, over-eager to fit in with their cooler, hipper neighbors.

These neighbors tirelessly invite them to parties, at which they remain outsiders. Pete attempts to engage, taking their travails very personally. Mary is looking for a close friendship with shared interests. Hers are the art-fair, and she repeatedly asks everyone to join her.

Neighborly

After 2 full acts in which a generic house (in an expansive design by Dane Laffrey) doubles and triples as Mary and Pete’s livingroom, then Jack and Kelly’s, then Leon (Tyrone Mitchell Henderson) and Suzanne’s (Lusia Strus) and Patti  (Julia Duffy) and Gary’s (Mark Zeisler). the scene changes. We are in the eerie outdoors as Peter wanders the hills and the beach searching for Mochi (Marti.)

Pete’s quest is heroic; like a knight of yore, he seeks to save his neighbors’ dog (more on Marti in the coda to this review.) Along the way he encounters the mysterious “Taters” (“long for Tate,” (Ethan Dubin)) a kid with an old and spooky soul, Pete had met at one of the many neighborhood gatherings. (Lighting designer, Matt Frey meets the challenge of our not being kept in the dark as Pete and Tate ramble about the darkened stage.)

Anita (Ruth Aguilar) and Mike (Bill Buell), who translates her rapid-fire Spanish stories and jokes for the group, also hang out with the gang. Anita’s tales entertain even if they
are incomprehensible to the non-native speaker, while Mike’s translations into Spanish seem only marginally more fluent than Gary’s faux Spanish.

Reality and its discontents

Dan LeFranc has created a comedy of modern manners, and alienations, in a place filled with average folk, folks like us, perhaps. Director Daniel Aukin has found the best tempo for the inhabitants of Rancho Viejo to interact, and share their moments.

In an ensemble that works the hyper-realism of the play to splendid effect, Julia Duffy’s arch Patti and Mark Zeisler’s flirty Gary are outstanding. As everyone in this little group of friends looks to be the center of attention and glory,  Lusia Strus’ Suzanne makes a wonderful drama queen.

Let’s go by the Burt Beck rule: If you feel as if you are living their lives, the play has succeeded at suspending disbelief and you have been pulled into its reality.

For information about the Playwrights Horizons season and tickets to upcoming productions as well as for Rancho Viejo, please visit their home site.

I promised you a coda

I am often star-struck, no so much by movie star encounters but most often when I meet stage performers. It was thus a rare privilege to run into Marti getting a between performances walk after the matinee curtain for Rancho Viejo. He is a professional, of course, but also a  friendly dog and as lively off-stage as on, and very gracious to his fans.

The day we went was also the annual Santa Bar Crawl, so seeing all the young men dressed in their red nightware with Santa hats atop their heads was also a bit surreal. One young woman was talking on the way out of the theater about having spotted a flock of skinny Santas on a neighboring roof that morning before she left for Playwrights Horizons. As I said, strange doings in our very own real world.