Monday, January 15, 2018

New York: Off-Broadway Buzz, Spring 2018

By Jacquelin Carnegie - (New York, NY) 
These shows are a great incentive to get up off the couch and head out. Friendly Reminder: Off- and Off-Off Broadway shows have limited runs, so get tickets right away.
June 2018
If you're not familiar with the kind of groovy work presented by these two theater companies--En Garde Arts and Elevator Repair Service--here's your chance:
101 Greenwich St, 9th Floor; until July 1, 2018
Presented by En Garde Arts; Directed by Katie Pearl; Written by Asiimwe Deborah Kawe & Sean Christopher Lewis; Starring: Patrick J. Ssenjovu & Christopher McLinden; Live music: Farai Malianga; Singer: Sifiso Mabena 
Patrick J. Ssenjovu (photo: Hunter Canning)
Theater lovers rejoice: after an absence of many years, En Garde Arts is back to its' old tricks of theatrical alchemy--transforming unconventional locations into innovative stages for cutting-edge work. In RED HILLS, a bare Wall Street office space comes alive with the sights and sounds of Rwanda with its' sienna-red soil and grassy fields. At the heart of the story are two men--an American former-missionary and a Rwandan Tutsi--who met by chance when they were teenagers during the 1994 Genocide. Twenty years later, reunited in Rwanda, they attempt to come to grips with the atrocities they witnessed and with what each one has done and become.
The unbelievably-fantastic Patrick J. Ssenjovu, as the Rwandan "God's Blessing," serves as tour guide to this beautiful country and to its' pain-filled past. Christopher McLinden, as "David" the American, makes you ask: Who gets to tell the story of what really happened? And, is it possible to truly forgive unforgivable acts? Gacaca, the traditional Rwandan system of dispute resolution, might just provide the answer. Come, be transported to Rwanda by way of an elevator to the 9th floor.

Abrons Arts Center, 466 Grand St; until June 30, 2018
Presented by Elevator Repair Service; Directed by John Collins, ERS' Artistic Director; Written by Kate Scelsa; Starring: Annie McNamara, Vin Knight, Mike Iveson, April Matthis, Lindsay Hockaday
Vin Knight & Annie McNamara (photo: Joan Marcus)
Only a true fan could create such an irreverent yet adoring sendup of Edward Albee’s classic play, "Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf." The playwright Kate Scelsa believes the much-maligned character of Martha deserves a better fate and this play's mission is to rectify the bad hand dealt her by Mr. Albee. The result is a gleefully-funny, off-beat, outré, outlandishly-zany, quirky romp through the original play with a dollop of Tennessee Williams' references and allusions to the TV series Will & Grace thrown into the mix. The original "Woolf" leaves you drained; this "Woolf" leaves you laughing in the aisles. Attention must be paid to the absolutely marvelous actors portraying Martha (Annie McNamara) and her husband George (Vin Knight), plus a shoutout to Louisa Thompson's great trompe-l'oeil set. ERS' shows are truly special.
Editor's Note: With its' committed ensemble of terrific actors, Elevator Repair Service pays homage to the written word--often to those of great American novelists--in delightful and brilliantly-innovative productions. An encore presentation of ERS' acclaimed, not-to-be-missed Gatz, a word-for-word enactment of The Great Gatsby, will take place in January 2019 at NYU Skirball. Get tickets now!

May 2018
Minetta Lane Theatre (18 Minetta Lane); until May 13, 2018
Directed by Leigh Silverman; Written by David Cale; Starring: Billy Crudup

Billy Crudup
(photo: Carol Rosegg)

If you missed Billy Crudup's phenomenal performance in David Cale's kick-ass play at the Vineyard Theater last fall, you've got another chance to see this "master class" in acting, revived at the Minetta Lane Theater -- lucky you!
After a miserable, Mid-Western childhood, Philip Brugglestein escapes his hometown and himself with a re-branding as "Harry Clarke" -- a sassy, cockney Brit, just arrived in New York. Now, armed with a disarming British accent, this artful dodger uses his guile-ish moves to charm his way into the lives, pants, and hearts of several members of the wealthy Schmidt family — each and every one a glorious Cale-Crudup creation. Enjoy!

April 2018
Park Avenue Armory (643 Park Ave); until April 21, 2018
Directed by Simon Stone; Adapted by Simon Stone, from
Federico García Lorca’s Yerma; Starring: Billie Piper, Brendan Cowell, Maureen Beattie, Charlotte Randle, John MacMillan, Thalissa Teixeira
Billie Piper & Brendan Cowell
(photo: Stephanie Berger)

You may have gone to the theater before, many times in fact, but you've never experienced anything with the force and beauty of this production. If you truly love the power and glory of the stage, you can't miss this show from London’s Young Vic, now at the Park Avenue Armory. The acting is divine; the staging is flawless, and the set design by Lizzie Clachan is a star in its own right. Plot-wise, all you need to know is a woman's desperate desire to have a child and her inability to conceive upend her lovely life. If you are familiar with Lorca's work, you know the chances of it ending well are slim. The lead performance by Billie Piper as "Her" is luminous, but props also to Brendan Cowell's deliciously-masterful turn as "John," her companion and foil. Then, there's that magnificent glass-box set which magnifies the action and helps bring it all to a boil. YERMA is an extraordinary piece of work; the downright definition of mind-blowing.

March 2018
The Public Theater (425 Lafayette St.); until April 8, 2018
Directed by Michael Greif; Written by Bruce Norris; Starring: Daniel Davis; Harriet Harris; Chris Perfetti; Chukwudi Iwuji; Crystal A. Dickinson; Kevin Chamberlin & Richard Poe

THE LOW ROAD is an amazing, really important evening in the theater that examines how we (Americans) got to this point -- with a narcissistic nitwit as the leader of the free world. While political pundits blame faulty 2016 polling, Bruce Norris, a Tony- and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, goes all the way back to the 1700s to look for answers. What he digs up is glorious, giddy gold.
Chukwudi Iwuji & Chris Perfetti
(photo: Joan Marcus)

A self-involved foundling (the splendid Chris Perfetti) with a talent for math takes Adam Smith's (the fabulous Daniel Davis) laissez-faire capitalism lessons to heart and plots his own self-advancement. Along the way, he is encouraged by his adoptive mother (the always-effervescent Harriet Harris), mocked by her all-knowing servant (the wonderful Crystal A. Dickinson), confronted by an educated, erudite slave (the magnificent Chukwudi Iwuji) and, finally, undone by his own, vainglorious self-interest. Michael Greif's divine staging is beautifully served by David Korins' scenic design and Ben Stanton's lighting. THE LOW ROAD is a totally brilliant, really fun romp into how the past informs the present.
For Kids & Adults
New Victory Theater (209 West 42nd St) Until March 25, 2018; For ages 6 & up
Black Beauty (photo: Mihaela Bodlovic)
This disarmingly-charming production, from Scotland's Red Bridge Arts and Traverse Theatre Company, is a unique re-telling of the childhood classic that will please little kids as well as the adults that accompany them. This version features the McCuddy brothers (the absolutely marvelous Andy Cannon and Andy Manley) who struggle to earn a living at a dying art--bringing a costume, "pantomime" horse to life. (For American audiences who might not know, "Pantomime" is a humorous type of British theatrical entertainment.) While the brothers wait for a gig, to keep their spirits up, they creatively re-enact their favorite childhood story, Black Beauty by Anna Sewell. In the time-honored tradition of great physical comedians--such as Chaplin, Keaton, and Laurel & Hardy--Cannon and Manley evoke laughter amongst the tears as downtrodden victims of circumstance who nonetheless keep hope alive that happy days are almost here again.

January 2018
For Tweens, Teens & Adults
The Duke (229 West 42nd St) Until Jan 21, 2018; For ages 12 & up;  

Conceived by Ping Chong; Written & directed by Sara Zatz & Kirya Traber in collaboration with the cast. Cast: Edwin Aguila, Monica Victoria Tatacoya Castañeda, Andrea "Syl" Egerton, Mohammad Murtaza, De-Andra Pryce, Porscha Polkahantis Rippy & Rafael Rosario

This extraordinary presentation will make you laugh, it will make you cry, it will make you care. For UNDESIRABLE ELEMENTS is a celebration of humanity's diversity and how we are all more similar than different. 
GENERATION NYZ is the story of seven amazing young adults who could have easily fallen through the cracks of life. Born into poverty, hopelessness, neglect, and confusion, each one of them--through a combination of personal perseverance, the kindness of strangers (teachers and mentors), and a splash of luck--saw a vision of what could be for themselves and forged ahead to actualize that dream.
The cast represents the “gorgeous mosaic" of New York celebrating their heritage--Black, Mexican, Puerto Rican, Caribbean, South Asian, European--and the neighborhoods they grew up in: the South Bronx, West Harlem, Far Rockaway, Queens, and East New York, Brooklyn. This show is so dope, woke and cool, it should be extended. And, hopefully, filmed to be shown in every school and college across the country to give all kids who are dazed-and-confused an infusion of hope. The New Victory Theater and Ping Chong + Company are two organizations that are always doing way-cool stuff.

For Adults & Sophisticated Teens
Theater for the New City (155 First Ave) Until Jan 28, 2018;  

Isaac Miller (anchorman Evan Fury) & David O. Friedman (Trump)
photo: Glenna Freedman PR

Book & lyrics by Tom Attea; Music by Arthur Abrams; Directed by Mark Marcante. Starring: Isaac Miller, Alexandra Schwartz, Matt Gorsky, Juan Villegas, David O. Friedman, David F. Slone, Esq., Gabrielle Sarrubbo, Robert Homeyer, Justin Rodriguez & Kate McMorran
The premise of this new musical comedy is that a top newscaster is so affected by having to cover the current erratic President on a daily basis that his life starts to unravel. While it's a fun, upbeat romp, the pretentious dialog is a drawback, making it sound more like a 1940s' British, drawing-room farce than a contemporary comedy. But, if you too are having nightmares that this man--who shouldn't even be on the White House lawn--is in the Oval, you'll get a kick out of the show. And, the anchorman, Evan Fury, is played by newcomer Isaac Miller who is so terrific, I see Tonys® in his future! Catch him now before he hits the big time.
It's also a good excuse to discover the Theater for the New City. TNC produces a plethora of new American plays, including several by emerging playwrights and minority writers from around the world. With affordable ticket prices, the goal is to develop theater audiences and inspire minority creatives by engaging the community in the theater and at its many free Festivals. 

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