It is a minor obsession with me to note how many ways Ibsen and Chekhov can play for a modern audience. Chekhov gets many of our contemporary playwrights to rise to his challenge, and adapt his social commentary to our moderner times.
Of course, the comparatively dour Henrik Ibsen has also been a catalyst for imitation, adaptation, interpretation and exploration. Lucas Hnath has taken Nora’s escape from a stifling household as the point of departure, as it were, for his A Doll’s House Part 2, currently playing at the Golden Theatre (through July 23rd.)
Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People has proven to be an inspiration for our avant theaters, as well. It requires some heavy lifting, and in the past 10 years or so has had productions at MTC, and the Pearl (in a David Harrower adaptation.)
Now, 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 as a meditation on the “tyranny of the majority.” Just about a perfect assessment of where this story leads.
Myth-making is an oddly populist activity. Plain men (and women) creating tall tales about themselves or their ilk, such as Paul Bunyon or Johnny Appleseed, are boosted to greater prominence by the imagination.
The Hubbards in Lillian Hellman’s The Little Foxes, at MTC’s Samuel J. Friedman Theatre extended through July 2nd, are rich but simple folks who aggrandize themselves with their own form of mythologizing.
Ben Hubbard (Michael McKean), the elder of the cold-blooded tribe, is especially deft at inventing the stories of his family’s success against adversity. His younger brother, Oscar (Darren Goldstein) is equally vicious but hapless.
It’s their sister, Regina Giddens (Cynthia Nixon at the performance we saw; Laura Linney at alternate performances) who is the most ferocious and cruel-hearted romancer. She has lied to her brothers about the money her husband, Horace (Richard Thomas) will put up for their venture with Mr. Marshall (David Alford) of Chicago; she has spun an account of a future of glory in society for herself when they are all rich.
Oscar’s wife, Birdie (Laura Linney, alternating with Cynthia Nixon for this gem of a part), speaks her own narrative of sweetness and betrayal. She tells her story to Regina and Oscar’s daughter Alexandra (Francesca Carpanni) who can still be saved from the family curse of greed. Like Birdie, Addie (Caroline Stefanie Clay), the housekeeper at the Giddens’ home, has genuine concern for Alexandra. It is also Horace’s desire to protect his daughter from her mother and her uncles. He understands the evil they can cause. Alexandra, on the other hand, is not as fragile as her aunt Birdie; she has some of her mother’s steel mixed with her father’s kind heart.
Nixon is demonic as Regina. Linney is brittle as the delicate and damaged Birdie, who dislikes her son Leo (Michael Benz) even more than her husband. Rounding out the cast is Cal (Charles Turner); like Addie, Birdie and Horace, Cal cares for the few people in the household who are kind and decent.
Daniel Sullivan’s direction of The Little Foxesallows the plot to develop with style and at leisure. The costumes (by Jane Greenwood) are excellent; the gown Regina wears, for instance, is superbly elegant. Scott Pask’s scenery is sumptuous, drawing applause at curtain-up.
This classic tale of conniving avarice is beautifully ugly. Everything about this production of The Little Foxesis done to perfection.
PS: We had seen a couple of earlier versions of Hellman’s dark drama, one of which was wonderfully abstract in its staging. That one was directed by Ivo Von Hove at New York Theater Workshop, and is worth noting for its pedigree. This Broadway production is worth seeing for its faithful adherence to Hellman’s vision and text, and the excellence of its execution of this Hubbard family history. There is no better reason to see The Little Foxes at MTC than the sheer perfection of this production.
History can sometimes revel in a very personal dynamic.
For instance, those of us who lived through and joined in protests against the Vietnam War may not share the viewpoint of the main character in Qui Nguyen’s Vietgone, currently playing at MTC’s City Center Stage I through December 4th.
Quang (Raymond Lee) was a pilot in the South Vietnamese armed forces. He was trained in the United States. He saw the North Vietnamese as a genuine threat to life and liberty and welcomed the help of American soldiers in the struggle.
Vietgone is a fast-paced kind-of-multi-media excursion into the hero’s and heroine’s, Tong (Jennifer Ikeda), survival. They meet at a state-side refugee camp where Tong and her mother (Samantha Quan, in a number of roles) have come after the fall of Saigon.
The piece is, and isn’t, narrated by the Playwright (Paco Tolson, also playing several people), who is commemorating his parents’ story. There are rapped love songs, (original music by Shane Rettig) motorcycles, a roadtrip, and a bromance– all trappings to some extent of the era portrayed in the plot.
For the most part,Vietgone is entertaining, interesting, unusual in structure, and well presented. There is room for some cuts here and there. The cast, under May Adrales’ direction, and staging, with scenic designs by Tim Mackabee and projection design by Jared Mezzocchi, are excellent.
In other subscription house news from our household:
Over at Studio 54 througfh January 15, 2017, Roundabout has mounted a vehicle for nostalgia. Holiday Inn, with no irony whatsoever, cries out for Mickey and Judy. It is well-served by the cast on hand, however, and a pleasantly tuneful production makes for a great afternoon at the movies, er theater.Bryce Pinkham and Corbin Bleu are the friends and dancing partners, along with Megan Sikora, and Lora Lee Gayer who lead the ensemble in song and dance.
MTC gives us Heisenberg at its Broadway venue, the Friedman Theatre through December 11th. Why Heisenberg? The play, so well-acted by Denis Arndt and Mary-Louise Parker as to have one puzzling over the quantum physics of it name, is an enjoyable two-hander. It’s gimmicky staging notwithstanding, the dynamic of the drama is captivating. Heisenbergis a sweet-crazy story, written by Simon Stephens, the pen behind The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Heisenberg was a transfer from Off-Off, and as such had some buzziness surrounding it.Director Mark Brokaw elicits strong performances from both his actors. Parker, who unleashes the odd-ball in her character in little bursts, is fun to watch.Arndt’s charm reveals how a pent-up man can suddenly be both impetuous and child-like. So, back to the title: Heisenberghas an underlying ifsmall principle of uncertainty that you will likely enjoy.
The moment between December 31st and January 1st so widely celebrated, and especially so at the hub on Broadway’s Times Square, is not the real new year.
Every summer-tired kid can tell you that the new year starts in September when school opens. Theater nerds will likewise say that this is the beginning of the year. Broadway will have two openings on the 20th with The Encounter at the Golden and The Front Page at the Broadhurst. Manhattan Theatre Company also starts previews for Heisenberg, a Broadway transfer to the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre on the 20th. Holiday Inn started previews at Roundabout’s Studio 54 on September 1st, while their The Cherry Orchard previewed on the 15th at The American Airlines.
Off-Broadway has already been perky this season. Playwrigths Horizons opened its first show of the season, Julia Cho’s Aubergine. PH’s second show, A Life, which begins previews on September 30th, and features David Hyde Pierce in the cast, has already extended its run to November 27th. The Mint has A Day By The Sea, playing since July 22nd and through October 23rd. The Pearl’s A Taste Of Honey began previews on September 6th and has already extended the run through October 30th. Starting on September 29th, it will be running in repertory with David Harrower’s Public Enemy, an adaptation of Ibsen’s Enemy of the People.
Further off the great white way, there is also a good deal of action, too. The list is too long to include every production, but we’ll sample a few here:
Black Moon Theatre Company presents Bliss based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead with performances on September 8-25, 2016, at The Flea Theater.
Core Creative Productions presents an updated version of ariveting and award-winning drama about police brutality called Chokehold at the 14th Street Y Theater from September 16th through October 8th.
Playwrights Realm started their 2016-17 season on August 29th with the world premiere of The Wolves by Sarah Delappe, and will also present a collab with (and at) the New York Theatre Workshop when it shows Mfoniso Udofia’sSojourners & Her Portmanteau later in the Spring.
Meanwhile, currently playing at the New York Theatre Workshop is Nathan Alan Davis’ provocative new play Nat Turner in Jerusalem.
A musical with illusions promises to be a happy ride when On The Rails opens on September 29th, at The Actor’s Temple where it will continue through November 20th.
On The Rails is part of the Lady Liberty Theater Festival, as is Missed Connections, playing sporadically (aka check the scheds) from September 27th through the end of November at the Kraine.
A cinematic and live dance/theater work combines in Geoff Sobelle’s Pandaemonium, directed by Lars Jan with music composed and performed by Brooklyn musician Xander Duell looks to be a unique experience at New York Live Arts from September 28th through October 1st.
The no-holds barred comedy about race and American history, Underground Railroad Gamebegan previews at Ars Nova on September 13th for an opening on September 26th and running through October 15th. extended to October 29th! now in a final extension to November 11th!
Followung up on the introduction they made in 2014, New Light Theater Project is featuring playwright Ross Howard, a Brit indie sensation, in rep from October 19th through November 12th at the Access Theater.
In other festival news, the Flea is presenting a pair of A.R. Gurneys, Squashand Ajax, beginning October 10th.
EDWIN, The Story of Edwin Booth is at Theatre at St. Clement’s through September 18th, so hurry. The musical is about the most famous American actor of the nineteenth century, and, famously, brother to Abraham Lincoln”s assassin.
Brain matter, preserved or degenerating, makes for interesting study.
Nick Payne’s Incognito, at Manhattan Theatre Club’s City Center Stage I through July 10th, analyzes and dissects, as it were, the ideas of individality/personality and cognition/memory, along with many other entertaining propositions.
Much of the plot of Incognito hinges on the theft of Einstein’s brain and goes full circle, with 4 actors portraying 21 characters in rapid and fluid succession. The story has basis in fact: Dr. Thomas Harvey (Morgan Spector) actually did take the brain with the intent to see what genius looks like, and kept it with him for the next 40 years; it appears he did not find out much in the course of his “studies,” but you will find out a great deal from Payne’s fascinating play.
Questions of sexual identity, loss and recollection are all touched upon in the course of the exciting and novel short theatrical piece. It’s as if a science-philosophy lecture came to life on the stage.
The ensemble work is beautifully orchestrated in Doug Hughes direction of Geneva Carr, Charlie Cox, Morgan Spector and Heather Lind.
Incognito is clever, unexpected and dramatic. It maybe the most interesting and unusual piece of theater you witness for a long while.
Please visit MTC’s site to learn more about and get tickets for Incognito.
It’s the beginning of a new Broadway season, and the two major subscription houses have dealt us a pair of headscratchers. Both plays present iterations of love and desire.
While the two sides of the aisle at T and B were not both completely enchanted with the plays, we did agree that the acting in Fool for Love and Old Timeswas mesmerizing.Your motives for seeing Fool for Loveand Old Times may vary. Sam Shepard has been your favorite playwright from way back. You want to see Clive Owen in his Broadway debut. Seeing Sam Rockwell throw a lasso as if he really is a rodeo wrangler like his character Eddie inspires you to go. You never miss seeing a Harold Pinter play. Continue reading “We’re off to a puzzling start…”→