Learning 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 Earthaddresses the issue in its very humane, personal and intimate way. It is unsentimental and unflinching, even as it brings tears welling.
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.
We often expect uplift from our theater experiences. Playwrights are not always willing to give us exactly what we want. In these dystopian times, they are responding with different messages for us to digest.
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.
The unexpected happens in Mankind, a new play by Robert O’Hara (who also directs) at Playwrights Horizons from December 15th through January 18th. The world of this drama has mistreated women so badly that they no longer exist. The play stars two time Tony nominee André De Shields, along with Anson Mount, Bobby Moreno, Stephen Schnetzer, Ariel Shafir and David Ryan Smith. Playwrights Horizons commissioned O’Hara, who has won two Obie Awards–one for Bootycandy which also played at PH– and also directs his play, to create this provocative drama for the 2017-18 season.
You could say that the genesis of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel is a story 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 18th 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.
There are so many social challenges that confront us these days that you would think we need no more provocations. Some of us, for good or ill, welcome them nonetheless.
I can’t speak for you but among the ones I am most looking forward to are provocations by Robert O’Hara. He has written and will direct Mankind, which starts its world premiere run on December 15th at Playwrights Horizons.
O’Hara’s recent works for @PHnyc included directing Kristen Childs’ raucus and insightful Bella: An American Tall Tale. He also directed his own exhilirating romp, Bootycandya few seasons ago. O’Hara’s plays tear at the fabric of our reality to offer exciting new views and cogent, perceptive outlook. He is provocative in the best and biggest sense of the word.
Likewise, reimagining As You Like It for a new world stage resonates in the era of travel bans. Arden/Everywhere, at the Baruch Performing Arts Center from October 8th through the 28th, turns Shakespeare into a playwright of the diaspora. As conceived by Jessica Bauman, this refugee-centric version of the classic comedy, is about giving welcome to the unwelcome and finding a home for the exiled.
Signature Theatre is rounding out the Suzan-Lori Parks’ revision of Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, Fucking AandIn The Blood, both extended to October 8th and 15th respectively, and known collectively as The Red Letter Plays.
In In The Blood, Hester LaNegrita (a luminous Saycon Sengbloh) is punished for sins she did not commit alone, sins in which society is hypocritically complacent. Hester not only does not get “the leg up” she needs but she is consistently kicked down. She is not an innocent, but she is a naif. A transgression may only be an error in judgement, and should not be judged so harshly as it is in Hawthorne and in The Red Letter Plays. As for the other play in this set, the title alone has some not giving its full name. I recall the stir when it first played The Public in 2003.
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.
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.
There are those who proclaim that “age is just a number” and trill about being “young at heart.”
Peter Pan, J.M. Barrie’s enduring and oft-Disney-fied character, is the poster boy for this way of looking at life.
Others find that hitting the BIG 4-0, 5-0, or 6-0 is fraught with crises, both midlife and beyond.
Sarah Ruhl’s new play, in a New York premiere at Playwrights Horizons through October 1st, For Peter Pan on her 70th birthdayupends the famous meme of eternal youth that Peter evokes. It is also a tribute and a present to her mother, who like the titular character in Ruhl’s play performed the role in their hometown theater.
Of course, Peter Pan and the idea of not growing up– or, rather, not becoming a grown up– has appeal for children as well. For adults, the appeal may have something to do with never having to face mortality. This is a conclusion that her brother Jim (David Chandler) suggests to Ann (Kathleen Chalifant) in For Peter Pan on her 70th birthday .
For Peter Pan on her 70th birthday is a comedy drama about mortality, maturity, and family. It is written in varying rhythms, as if the play itself were a living entity. Under Les Waters’ direction, For Peter Pan on her 70th birthday rolls with a familiarity of shared memories as the siblings, Ann, John (Daniel Jenkins), Michael (Keith Reddin), Jim, Wendy (Lisa Emery) sit at their father’s (Ron Crawford) deathbed.
It is a charming and philosophical play, acted with a spontaneous ease by a cast that seems comfortably to interact as if they were family. There is music (including some original) for which Bray Poor and Charles Coes are responsible and which adds to the appeal of For Peter Pan on her 70th birthday. David Zinn, who has a way with designing homey homes in small settings, delivers a reliable scenic design; Kristopher Castle’s costumes are simple and homey as well. The flying effects are well-timed by ZFX, Inc. Since the story of Peter Pan requires that the family have a dog, a special thanks to Macy for his understated participation in the production.
For more information and tickets, please visit @PHnyc.
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.
Ticket prices are a frequent topic of discussion among theater-goers. Not much wonder when the cost of a seat to see Hello Dolly!or Hamilton for instance can go as high as $1600+. Of course, the savvy buyer will find tickets for these attractions at better prices as well. Even the less hyped Broadway show sells in the range of $99 (discount for the orchestra) and $239 (premium). I get it, it’s expensive to mount a Broadway attraction. When a show closes before its scheduled time, the producers don’t get back their investment.
The fact that the arts are a business in no way detracts from their art. In any given season, despite the iffy-ness of ROI, there are some 35+ (this 2016-17 season, it’s 39) productions put on the Broadway stage.
For the for-profit theater, revivals and transfers of off-Broadway hits seem like the better bet. Musicals always seem to drive the market, although I read a stat that those who go to musicals, generally go to 4 vs those who like a straight play see 5 in the same period. The not-for-profit houses have different mandates: Playwrights Horizons produces new, often commissioned, work, for instance.
On the other hand, The Mint revives plays that have not seen the stage for a long while, with the motto, “Lost Plays Found Here.”
The struggle to get investors to back a project can be complicated. Predicting the public’s taste can be a risky business. For producers, raising money for each production involves looking beyond their own pocket. Theater Resources Unlimited (TRU), for instance, has an annual bootcamp for perspective investors. This past February the workshop was called Raising Money for Theater: Who, How and When to Ask. TRU offers seminars on the business all year round.
Ticket prices at the profit-making theaters are certainly a ticket to recouping the cost of mounting a production. How do the not-for-profit productions–both on and off-Broadway– make ends meet? Concerns over government defunding of the arts makes this year a particularly critical one for the not-for profit theater and its counterparts in dance.
Asking for money becomes an art of its own. Inventive ways of getting donations crop up all the time. A gala is, often, called for, and will attract a reasonable amount of money. Galas usually include dinner and a chance to mingle with the talent after a performance. Some galas have themes, like for instance the Ballet Hispanico’s 2017 Carnival Gala Celebrating Trailbrazing Latina Leaderswhich honors Rita Moreno and Nina Vaca. The black-tie event is on May 15th at the Plaza Hotel.
The honored guest is a standard approach. Keen Company, a subscription house with a long history off-Broadway, for instance, holds its 2017 Benefit Gala on May 22nd with guests Molly Ringwald and Amy Spanger. The Pearl Theatre Company and Playwrights Horizons are under similar constraints to raise funds beyond the monies brought in by subscribers by throwing parties for patrons and offering opportunities to support them. The latter brings Patti Lupone, Christine Ebersole and Kelli O’Hare to the Playwrights Horizon gala on May 8th. The Pearl offers classes through its Conservatory.
Most of the dance troupes hold Galas at season kickoff; for New York City Ballet this corresponds with the Fall and the Spring openings. Paul Taylor American Modern Dance generally has theirs on the second night of performance each spring at the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center. (The theater is in itself an example of major fund-raising efforts, with Koch having paid for a renovation of the house which is home to @NYCballet and visiting dance cos.)
Youth America Grand Prix galas are a little like a serues of awards ceremonies. (We’ve talked of past YAGP galas on several occasions at VP.com.) The American Ballet Theater, although they have a gala as well, takes a slightly different approach to year round fundraising. It has patrons supporting dancers, an individual member of the troupe can be billed as being sponsored by a donor.
Subscription tickets are supplemented by sales of regularly priced tickets but that is far from enough to cover the costs of running a theater. Roundabout Theatre Company and MTC hold benefit evenings, inviting their subscribers and other patrons to dine with theater luminaries. Second Stage are holding their “Spot On” gala with honorary chair Bette Midler on May 1st. They also hold an annual bowling with the artists event; you can’t spell fundraising without fun.
Subscription houses depend on membership support (see the Pearl’s program of offers) to be able to offer their programming; subscribers are asked to give a little more. Seat-naming is another popular–and fairly democratic– way to bring cash into the house; the average donor can generally afford to put a plaque on a seat. On a grander scale, we have patrons who fund an auditorium or a theater (see David H. Koch above) or a patron’s lounge. Sometimes the sponsor is corporate like American Airlines for whom Roundabout’s 42nd Street house is named. With sponsorship come other perks, of course, like good seats, and access to staff.
Theater is a demanding artform. Give a little, get a lot.