Fashions come and go in clothing, in the arts, even in the theater, which also experiences changing styles. In the Greek amphitheater, plays would last all day. For Shakespeare’s and Marlowe’s audiences, there were often five act tragedies or comedies.
A few years ago, T and B sat in utter surprise when a play ended in just 51 minutes. Today, the drama, comedy, or musical without an intermission is quite common. Likely, it will be longer than an hour, but nonetheless, it will be a one-act play.
Currently running without an interval….
This is far from an exhaustive tour of 90-minute shows currently playing New York City, but it has breadth.
For instance, on stage at the Golden Theatre is Lucas Hnath’s A Doll’s House, Part 2, clocking in at under 90 minutes. Laurie Metcalf, this year’s Tony winner for Best Actress, is leaving the production on July 23rd, when there will also be other cast changes. Although Jayne Houdyshell stays on as the family housekeeper, Julie White will take over as Nora Helmer; Stephen McKinley Henderson will replace Chris Cooper as Torvald, and Erin Wilhelmi comes aboard as the Helmer’s daughter, Emmy, replacing Condola Rashad.
Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan’s 1984 comes to Broadway’s recently redecorated Hudson Theatre from a successful UK run. and is advertised as a “chilling 101 minutes.” 1984, a play adapted from George Orwell’s oft-quoted novel, delivers its abject view of a world in which our minds are controlled by an ubiquitous Big Brother without an intermission.
Pipeline at Lincoln Center’s Newhouse Theater, a new and timely play by Dominique Morisseau, directed by Lileana Blain-Cruz, confronts the realities that pit opportunity against community and identity. Pipeline also plays without an intermission.
At Soulpepper on 42nd Street, the Toronto troupe is performing a repertoire of plays and musicals, ensemble pieces, and cabaret. Some of this repertory, like Kim’s Convenience is performed in a brisk 85 minutes at Pershing Square Signature Center, giving you plenty of time to run out to the corner market before dinner. The musical adaptation of Spoon River also runs without pause, and is a mere hour and 35 minutes.
For tickets, scheduling and information, please click for the show sites:
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.
It’s an annual event that has critics and ordinary theater goers in a tizzy. The Tony Award nominations are in, and this year’s contest (the 71st) will be televised o n Sunday June 11th on CBS. It is at this ceremony that the results of all that Tony voting will be revealed. “And the winner is…” is a nerve-racking pronouncement. Equally irksome, and this is true year-to-year, are the actual nominations meted out with such parsimony.
All theater should be celebrated, yet the Tony committee chooses to withhold even a nod from some productions. Why? oh why? (BTW, a line from My Sister Eileen, the musical version of which, Wonderful Town, starring Rosalind Russell won the 1953 Tony.)
Nevermind, we just have to face what is coming at us like a freight train, and dig in for some knotty predictions. Horse races are not my thing, and my track record, as it were, for guessing who will get which prize is extremely poor.
Rinse and repeat
The smart money this 2017 season is on Groundhog Day, a musical I have not seen. Reports –from critics, and friends alike– (one a fan of Andy Karl who went to a performance during his absence due to injury, said it was still terrific)– are that this is the one to beat.
May I propose that in honor of Andrew Call’s valiant subbing in for Andy Karl, we add this minor adjustment to the proceedings: “And the Tony for best understudy in a leading role goes to….” (A category on the women’s side once taken by Barbra Streisand.)
The contestants as we know them
War Paint, another musical I skipped this season, has not one but two leading ladies vying for the Best. Truthfully, both Christine Ebersole and Patti LuPone are winners, although not necessarily this year. Ebersole has two Tonys as the Lead in 42nd Street(2001) and in Grey Gardens (2007); LuPone’s Tonys include a win for Evita (way back when, and wonderful; 1980) and for her Mama Rose in Gypsy (2008.) Both of these admirable divas have also had more than their fair share of nominations over the years.
Let me also admit to not having seen the other nominees for Best Musical, which are the wonderfully named Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812, the hyper-modern Dear Evan Hansen and charmingly off-beat Come From Away. As an outsider, as it were, I will make no further assumptions here. We really liked Bandstand, and it has had only limited recognition from the Tony folk. We were sure this first-time Broadway effort by veteran musicians Rob Taylor and Richard Oberacker deserved at least to be named.
The play’s the thing
On the straight play side is where we have slightly better traction, although only slightly so. Of the nominees for Best Play, we have seen (and loved) A Doll’s House Part 2. We have also seen the nominated revivals,The Little Foxesand Jitney, both in very fine productions; the revival of The Price was not among the plays mentioned. For what it’s worth, we are rooting for …Part 2, and for Little Foxes.
While on the subject of …Foxes, Tony could have given Cynthia Nixon (whom as it happens we saw in the lead) and Laura Linney (who split her lead and featured roles with Nixon) co-nominations in the Best Lead Actress category. Instead, Nixon gets the nod as Best Featured Actress, and Linney is in the running for the Best Lead.
We have seen three of the nominated actress in both the Lead and Featured category., and this is a tough call. Sally Field has had her “they really like me” moment, and in fact was a very credible Amanda in my favorite Williams’ play; if I say I really really liked her, it is not to mock but to admire. Since I cannot speak to Linney’s interpretation of the steely Regina Giddens, and I can say that Laurie Metcalf was (as usual) fabulous as the re-imagined Nora in …Part 2, I will send a nod her way. This is in part based on only partial facts and in part based on a long-term admiration for her work. The entire cast in ..Part 2has been nominated, and I would rally for each of them; the caveat is that this conclusion is also based on limited evidence.
The Men in question
We’ve seen five of the shows in which a male actor was nominated for a 2017 Tony Award. Two of them were leads. Denis Arndt gave an impressive, nuanced performance in the two-handed Heisenberg, (so named, I think, because of some relativity principal the play explored) opposite Mary-Louise Parker. Chris Cooper, Torvald in …Part 2 is definitely a worthy candidate; he is both hot and cold. Still, even with that, don’t feel like I know enough about the Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Play. For the Best Featured Actor, Richard Thomas is an estimable Horace Giddens in the revival of Lillian Hellman’s The Little Foxes. We definitely felt that Danny DeVito stole The Price from under his co-stars. John Douglas Thompson also shined in the excellent revival of August Wilson’s Jitney. From this vantage, I’m certainly unwilling to pick just one. Now, it is I who is proving tiresome. Oh, well.
May we suggest that you watch the ceremony, hosted by the multi-talented Kevin Spacey, on CBS on June 11th at 8pm. Cheer for the performances and productions you’ve seen; enjoy the fine show that Tony always provides; place your bets, and….
In his dramas, Henrik Ibsen seldom sugarcoats his messages. His plays offer cures for the human condition, but they are served in bitter pills. His Enemy of the People, for instance, (see our reviews of both the recent Broadway production and David Harrower’s off-Broadway adaptation, Public Enemy) is about populism with more than a hint of dystopia. A personal favorite among Ibsen’s works, The Master Builder is a difficult play about monomania, among other things.
Ibsen’s characters are generally entrapped by circumstances from which they must extricate themselves.
In Lucas Hnath’s reconstruction, A Doll’s House, Part 2, at the Golden Theatre through July 23rd, Nora’s liberation is full-circle. The slamming of a door can be a bridges-burning, you can’t go home again moment. Ibsen’s Nora probably meant it that way. Hnath’s Nora has ample reasons to knock on it until it opens up again. If A Doll’s House, Part 2is a sequel, the prequel is Ibsen’s. The questions he raises remain unanswered and mysterious. Victorian puritanism, Ibsen’s foil, bolsters Nora’s soap box.
Feminism is a frequent theme of Ibsen’s. Like A Doll’s House, and Lysistrata, for instance, this is a feminist play. Unlike A Doll’s House, Hnath’s …Part 2 hones in on the perspective of each of the principals involved. Each person in the Helmer household has a different reason to open or shut the door. Hnath is not offering an explication of Ibsen’s story. His is a totally new play.
Sam Gold directs a star-studded Broadway cast, with Laurie Metcalf as Nora. Chris Cooper is Torvald, the husband Nora walked out on years ago and Condola Rashad plays Emmy, her now grown-up daughter. In a post-modern mode, the Helmers’ daughter is played with not even a nod by a black actress. This is not the only prolepsis in …Part 2, which uses very contemporary ways of expression to tell Nora’s stoty. The redoubtable Jayne Houdyshell is the housekeeper, Anne Marie, who has held the family together in Nora’s absence, and who has as much to lose as anyone in the house.
The lighting design for A Doll’s House, Part 2 by Jennifer Tipton (a freqent collaborator of Paul Taylor, among other dancemakers) has received a Tony nod. Sam Gold, the play, the costume designer, and the entire cast are also all recipients of 2017 Tony nominations.
Make no mistake, while David Zinn’s costumes are brilliantly and beautifully period (Ibsen’s that is), the language and breadth of ideas is decidely anachronistic. That is to say, Hnath’s dialogue is furiously funny and utterly contemporary.