Thursday, November 15, 2018

New York: Theater, Off-Broadway Buzz, FALL 2018

By Jacquelin Carnegie - (New York, NY)
Friendly Reminder: Off- and Off-Off Broadway shows have limited runs, so get tickets right away.

HERE, 145 6th Ave., (Enter on Dominick St); Until Dec. 23, 2018
The Apple Boys (photo: Steven Menendez)

Johnnie Moore Hawkins' Heart On Sleeve Productions presents:
Book by Jonothon Lyons; Music & Lyrics by Ben Bonnema; Directed by David Alpert; Starring: Jonothon Lyons, Amanda Ryan Paige, Jelani Remy & Teddy Yudain 

If the holiday season has gotten you in a bah-humbug mood, THE APPLE BOYS is the perfect antidote--rip-roaringly funny and pitch perfect. But the show offers much more than great harmonies, it's a nostalgic look back at Coney Island at the turn-of-the-20th-century. Back when: Nathan was still selling 5-cent hot dogs from a pushcart; The World’s Strongest Man hadn't yet won his title; the best roller coaster designer only had sketches, and Johnny Appleseed’s grandson was tending the family orchard in Brooklyn. These four terrific performers bring this period piece to life with innovative props, irreverent humor, and lots of good, old-fashioned fun! The joy of hearing a barbershop quartet never grows old. Cue the mustaches, the matching vests and straw hats!

Classic Stage Company, 136 East 13th St;; Until Dec. 22, 2018
Written by Bertolt Brecht; Directed by John Doyle; Starring: Raúl Esparza, George Abud, Eddie Cooper, Elizabeth A. Davis, Christopher Gurr, Omozé Idehenre, Mahira Kakkar, Thom Sesma
Raúl Esparza (photo: Joan Marcus)

Snug in his Berlin grave, playwright Bertolt Brecht should be thrilled that his 1941 chilling satire, ARTURO UI, has been re-staged by the infinitely-imaginative director John Doyle, the Classic Stage Company's Artistic Director. The play--it's Brecht, so depressingly prescient--detailing the evil, dare-doings of a Chicago mob is really about Adolf Hitler's rise to power (and now about the orange menace in the White House). Your flesh will crawl as chants of Sieg Heil morph into "Lock Her Up!" The drama is brought to life by a terrific and diverse ensemble cast--notably, Eddie Cooper (Roma), George Abud (Clark), Christopher Gurr (Dogsborough), and Thom Sesma (Givola)--led by the always-fantastic Raúl Esparza (Ui), who delivers a one-two punch to democracy and decency. Classic Stage Company consistently delivers terrific, larger-than-life productions in a small, intimate space. Theater fans, if you’re unfamiliar with CSC's work, it’s time to discover them!

Playwrights Horizons, 416 West 42nd St; Until Dec. 30, 2018
Written by & Featuring: Heather Raffo; Directed by Joanna Settle; Starring: Heather Raffo (Noura), Nabil Elouahabi (Tareq), Liam Campora (Yazen), Matthew David (Rafa’a) & Dahlia Azama (Maryam)
NOURA (photo: Joan Marcus)

Kudos to Playwrights Horizons and the Shakespeare Theatre Company for boldly presenting the cares and woes of immigrants on stage. While this particular production deals with the hopes and dreams of an Iraqi extended family--both Christian and Muslim--now living in New York, the sentiments expressed in NOURA are felt by all those who've been forced to flee their homeland due to political violence, war, and destruction. There is a cornucopia of mixed emotions: survivor's guilt; the thrill of starting a new life tinged with sadness for all that's been lost and left behind; and the underlying, heart-wrenching reality that even if one went back, "there is no there there"--the hometown or village has been destroyed and all the inhabitants have been scattered to the four winds. This is the situation for Noura, beautifully portrayed by the playwright herself, Heather Raffo. After eight years as refugees in America, she, her husband and young son have just received their U.S. passports. But, this happy rite of passage does nothing but stir up ghosts from the past for Noura. Iraqis lived in tight-knit communities; Americans--especially New Yorkers--thrive on anonymity. Even connecting with an old family friend and helping a young Iraqi refugee escape the destruction of Mosul and start a new life in the States does not bring solace. It's fascinating to watch an Iraqi's family life unfold on a New York stage. The ensemble cast is fantastic and Andrew Lieberman's set is perfection. This play is really worth seeing, but the playwright does need to go back to the drawing board for an ending.

THE PUBLIC THEATER (2 Plays) - The Public Theater (425 Lafayette St.)
LuEsther Hall, Until Dec. 9, 2018

(photo: Joan Marcus)

Written by Patricia Ione Lloyd; Directed by Jo Bonney; Starring: De’Adre Aziza (Deborah), Kadijah Raquel (Lauren), Karl Green (Mark), Ashley D. Kelley (Upendo), Vernice Miller, Rachel Watson-Jih & Tamara M. Williams (Spirit Women)
While young blacks are being shot in cold blood all over America, a middle-class black family feels safe in their own comfy home--but not for long. Soon, cracks begin to form--literally and figuratively--in this perfect facade and safe haven: the confidant, career-woman, mother is getting divorced at home and harassed at work; the teenage daughter comes out, discovers love, lust, and activism, along with delusion and disappointment; the young son--dazed and confused--becomes more so. As the house literally falls apart, the family is visited by ghostly "spirits"--perhaps prophecies of the fate that awaits each one of them. Amid the chaos, De’Adre Aziza, as the concerned mom Deborah, and Kadijah Raquel, as the defiant daughter Lauren, light up the stage.

Martinson Hall, Until Dec. 16, 2018
(photo: Joan Marcus)
           Written by Hansol Jung; Directed by Leigh Silverman; Starring: Francis Jue (Father), Peter Kim (Guk Minsung), Michelle Krusiec (Yoo Nanhee), Jaygee Macapugay (Wife/Chorus), Kendyl Ito (Daughter/Chorus)

A South Korean man whose wife and children have moved to America for a better life is called a “goose father.” This is Minsung's fate. Deeply lonely, he becomes more and more detached from the every day and lives life online connecting with others only through social media. (This online life is beautifully and imaginatively staged.) Nanhee, a young North Korean defector, is also lonely and adrift as well as deeply guilty for leaving her aging father behind. These two damaged souls meet on a dating site, but struggle to admit they're falling in love. While he's haunted by his estranged wife & daughter, her dreams and waking hours are haunted by her aging, abandoned father. This is a sad, yet funny, beautiful tale of modern love and woe.

Playwrights Horizons, 416 West 42nd St; Until Nov. 25, 2018
Written by Larissa FastHorse; Directed by Moritz von Stuelpnagel; Starring: Jennifer Bareilles, Jeffrey Bean, Greg Keller, Margo Seibert

(photo: Joan  Marcus)  

Just in time for Turkey Day, a Lakota Indian has written a Thanksgiving Day farce: a group of white, liberal-minded educators at an elementary school bungle their way through the process of creating a Thanksgiving pageant to celebrate Native American Heritage Month. While the well-meaning-but-clueless bunch try to get their (the) act together, mayhem ensues. They hire a Native American actor who turns out not to be. To create culturally-sensitive scenes, they improv politically-incorrect sketches. Their due-diligence research--instead of unearthing cozy tales of Pilgrim-Indian meal sharing--reveals all the atrocities committed against indigenous peoples. Beneath the high jinx and belly laughs, playwright Larissa FastHorse, a member of the Sicangu Lakota nation of South Dakota, lays bare the sorry truth: indigenous peoples have rarely been included in history, at the table, or on stage.

Ars Nova, 511 West 54th St;; Until Nov.10, 2018
RAGS' cast (photo: Ben Arons Photography)

Book, Music & Lyrics by: Andrew R. Butler; Directed by Jordan Fein; Starring: Andrew R. Butler (Rags Parkland), Stacey Sargeant (Beaux Weathers), Rick Burkhardt (Rick), Tony Jarvis (Gill), Jessie Linden (Devo), & Debbie Christine Tjong (Ess Pinvint)
There seems to be a trend of musicians creating performance art pieces and calling it theater. First, The Bengsons; now, the multi-talented Andrew R. Butler with RAGS PARKLAND. While the music is wonderful and there is a storyline--about life in a dystopian future--it's not what would be traditionally referred to as "theater." So, if you're looking for character development, plot arcs, and dramatic denouement, you'll be disappointed. But, if you’re open to an evening of spirited folk-rock tunes sung by an engaging group of performers, you'll have a great time at this disarmingly-charming show.
Ars Nova presents an amazing array of groovy productions. Their mission is to support unique theater, music, and comedy artists in developing surprising new work. If Ars Nova is not on your entertainment radar, it should be!

For Adults
A Theatrical Memo on Anna Politkovskaya
122CC, Second Floor Theater, 150 First Ave (at 9th St); Until Oct.14, 2018

Written by Stefano Massini (Translation by Paula Wing); Directed by Lee Sunday Evans; Starring: Nadine Malouf, Nicole Shalhoub & Stacey Yen
Anna Politkovskaya was a Russian journalist, whose nerves of steel, compelled her to report on the atrocities of the war in Chechnya, coupled with Soviet government suppression. For these acts of bravery, she was murdered in Moscow in 2006. While Russia tried to silence her with death, her words live on.
INTRACTABLE WOMAN is playwright Stefano Massini's effort to give her back her voice. 
Anna's story is brought to life by three young, commanding performers: Nadine Malouf, Nicole Shalhoub, and Stacey Yen. Speaking truth to power is always risky, but in some places in this world, it's also life threatening. It's especially perilous for journalists working to uncover corruption in oppressive regimes. Yet, reporters continue to investigate, feeling duty--and perhaps morally--bound to reveal the depravity and dishonesty. 
The Play Company (PlayCo) presents way-cool, international plays with unique points of view and out-of-the-ordinary stagings, expanding theatrical horizons. Theater lovers check out this show as well as PlayCo's other fascinating, upcoming productions.

IAC, 553 West 51st St (near 11th Ave); Until Oct. 21, 2018
Written & Performed by Mikel Murfi

If you'd like to travel to a quaint, Irish village without leaving New York, here's your chance. With these one-man shows, acclaimed Irish writer and performer Mikel Murfi brings an entire Irish parish to life--townsfolk and farm animals alike--revealing their joyful and bittersweet daily existence. While the characters are a tad stereotypical--you almost expert Murfi to start chatting with a Leprechaun--they are charmingly so. You'll be pining for a pint of Guinness by the end of the show. These companion plays, The Man in the Woman’s Shoes & I Hear You and Rejoice, are performed in repertory. The plays stand alone, so you could see either one. But, if you'd like to see both, I'd recommend starting with Shoes.
Irish Arts Center (IAC) is a treasure-trove of Irish cultural activities. Throughout the year attend plays, concerts, dance performances, films, lectures and readings. 

For Kids
New Victory Theater (209 West 42nd St); Until Nov. 11, 2018, For ages 6 & up

Presented by New International Encounter (NIE) with Cambridge Junction & Tobacco Factory Theatres; Directed by Alex Byrne; Starring: Martin Bonger (The Beast), Sara Lessore (Isabella), Elliot Davis & Samantha Sutherland (Anastasia & Latrice), Ben Tolley (Maurice Le Grange)
You may have taken your children to see Beauty and The Beast before, but this pared-down staging is so enchanting and delightful, it puts other versions to shame. The re-telling of this now famous tale is done with such giddy glee by this engaging, energetic troupe of actors/musicians that children and their parents will be utterly enthralled.
Editor's Note: In addition to this wonderful stage version, introduce your children to Jean Cocteau's fabulous film, La Belle et la Bête (1946), far better than Disney's.

New Victory Theater (209 West 42nd St); Until Oct. 20, 2018, For ages 4-7

Nobody does a better job than The New Vic at introducing kids to all types of performances--plays, musicals, circus, etc.--and familiarizing them with different cultures from around the world. Up now is Tinga Tinga Tales, a lively and colorful musical from Kenya. Your kids can sing- and dance-along to upbeat African rhythms as they meet a very friendly bunch of jungle animals--all with great singing voices--who recount some tall, African folk tales. The show is based on the popular books and international cartoon series. If you're a parent with young children, get a family subscription to all The New Vic's amazing shows.

CMX CinéBistro Movie Theatre
400 East 62nd St; (Opens in NYC on Oct. 18, 2018)

You've been to the movies before, but not like this! CMX CinéBistro is the newest, coolest concept for movie fans--offering a luxurious dinner-and-a-movie experience--that's perfect for date night or any night. First, the six movie auditoriums range from an intimate 50 to 60 seats like being in your own private projection room. The oversized, reclining seats have foot/leg rests and private tray tables like traveling first-class in an airplane! The look and sound of the films is sharp and crisp. The theater’s tasty menu, designed by chef Isaac Stewart, has everything from a simple salad and sandwich to interesting appetizers such as Duck Machaca to delicious entrées like Shrimp Fried Rice or Pan Seared Salmon, followed by creamy desserts. There's an assortment of fine wines and handcrafted cocktails. And, yes, popcorn and candy. All of these items are brought right to your seat by very friendly and professional servers. This is such a delightful, movie-going experience, you won't want to leave at the end of the film. But, you can head to the lounge for a drink!
The Lowdown: Go to the CMX website, pick & pay for your film and seat selection. Arrive 30 minutes before showtime to order & enjoy the in-theatre dining experience. Here's another great feature: No kids allowed at evening screenings; must be 21+ to get in after 6pm. (Ticket Cost: Daytime, $17; Week Nights, $20; Weekends, $25)

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