Friday, January 18, 2019

New York: THEATER BUZZ, Winter/Spring 2019

By Jacquelin Carnegie - (New York, NY) 
Fend off the winter blues in New York City with great theater.
Friendly Reminder: Off- and Off-Off Broadway shows have limited runs, so get tickets right away. 

APRIL/MAY

OFF-BROADWAY
THE PUBLIC THEATER - The Public Theater (425 Lafayette St.)
WHITE NOISE - Anspacher Theater, Until May 5, 2019
Written by Suzan-Lori Parks; Directed by Oskar Eustis; Starring: Daveed Diggs (Leo), Sheria Irving (Misha), Thomas Sadoski (Ralph), Zoë Winters (Dawn)
(photo: Joan Marcus)
WHITE NOISE is another tour de force by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks with a fantastic ensemble cast. In her brilliant TOPDOG/UNDERDOG, two brothers go toe-to-toe. Here, four friends since college--two white, two black--have always had each other's backs. But when Leo (the mesmerizing Daveed Diggs) is traumatized by a racially-motivated incident with the cops, his outré scheme to get back his sense of safety and self tests the friendships to the core. This is an intensely-powerful piece pushing the characters to the breaking point, then bringing them crashing back down to earth. Brace yourself for a phenomenal evening of theater--and life. But, do not miss this show!

THE CRADLE WILL ROCK
Classic Stage Company, 136 East 13th St; www.classicstage.org; Until May 19, 2019
(photo: Joan Marcus)
Written & Composed by Marc Blitzstein; Directed by John Doyle; Starring: Ken Barnett, Eddie Cooper, Benjamin Eakeley, David Garrison, Ian Lowe, Kara Mikula, Lara Pulver, Sally Ann Triplett, Rema Webb, and Tony Yazbeck
Sometimes you need to see a play because of its importance in the history of theater. Developed in the WPA's Federal Theatre Project during the Great Depression, THE CRADLE WILL ROCK is part of theater lore because its 1937 premiere—directed by Orson Welles—was shut down just before opening night (a thinly-veiled critique of the play’s pro-labor stance). Since "the show must go on," producers John Houseman and Orson Welles hurriedly rented another venue. That night, playwright Blitzstein played the piano, while the actors performed the "play in music" from amongst the audience (so they wouldn't be blamed for performing "on stage" without official approval). Today, while somewhat dated, the play--about the corrupting power of money--is also frighteningly relevant. Once again, the Classic Stage Company delivers a memorable evening in the theater with a terrific ensemble cast.

FAUST 2.0
Mabou Mines Theater, 150 First Ave; maboumines.org; Until April 14, 2019
(photo: Richard Termine)
Adapted by Matthew Maguire from Goethe’s Faust; Directed by Sharon Ann Fogarty; Featuring: Benton Greene (Faust) & Paul Kandel (Mephistopheles) and 23 others on tape.

The good news is that Mabou Mines, the wonderfully-experimental theater company, has a nice new theater space at the recently-renovated 122 Community Center in the East Village. In 2020, the company celebrates its 50th anniversary! Right now, it's staging FAUST 2.0, a re-imagined Part II of Goethe’s masterwork, which finds the poor sap cruising-for-a-bruising with Mephistopheles and Helen of Troy and a host of other characters brought to you via video tape. If you are a fan of multimedia productions, you'll enjoy this. But, if you go to the theater to see live actors and to the movies if you want to see actors on tape, you'll be less pleased. But, Benton Greene does a great Dr. Faust--in the flesh.


MARCH
THE PUBLIC THEATER - The Public Theater (425 Lafayette St.)
SEA WALL/A LIFE
- Newman Theater, Until March 31, 2019
Both Shows Directed by Carrie Cracknell; Sea Wall: Written by Simon Stephens; Starring: Tom Sturridge; A Life: Written by Nick Payne; Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal
Gyllenhaal (photo: Joan Marcus)

It's to their credit, in this time of irresponsible discourse, that two young, prominent actors should choose to do such mature material. In SEA WALL/A LIFE, Tom Sturridge and Jake Gyllenhaal deliver two separate-but-equal, powerfully-moving monologues about love and loss. While you're probably familiar with Gyllenhaal's film work, this bona fide movie star is also a gifted stage performer. You may be less familiar with Tom Sturridge, but this dazzlingly-gifted British actor works his craft to perfection. (Sturridge was beyond brilliant in the Orphans' revival.) The SEA WALL/A LIFE monologues take you for an emotional ride, but Sturridge and Gyllenhaal know how to deliver the goods.

IF PRETTY HURTS UGLY MUST BE A MUHF*CKA
Playwrights Horizons (416 West 42nd St; https://bit.ly/1P1Tm20);
Until April 5, 2019
Written by Tori Sampson; Directed by Leah C. Gardiner; Choreography by Raja Feather Kelly; Starring: Rotimi Agbabiaka (Chorus), Maechi Aharanwa (Ma), Jason Bowen (Dad), Antoinette Crowe-Legacy (Massassi), Leland Fowler (Kasim), Níke Uche Kadri (Akim), Mirirai Sithole (Adama), Phumzile Sitole (Kaya) & Carla R. Stewart (the Voice of the River)

Phumzile Sitole, Antoinette Crowe-Legacy, Mirirai Sithole
(photo: Joan Marcus)

Here are two truisms: 1) It's always wonderful to see terrific actors of color on stage; 2) Women have been dogged for centuries by the concept of beauty and the unwarranted privileges that come with it. In If Pretty Hurts, three teenage girls in a mythical African location are rabidly jealous of a beautiful classmate. The three girls are wonderfully portrayed by Antoinette Crowe-Legacy, Phumzile Sitole, and Mirirai Sithole. Also superb are Maechi Aharanwa and Jason Bowen, the pretty girl's parents, along with Carla R. Stewart who has a fantastic voice. But, while If Pretty Hurts has joyous elements--great acting, upbeat music and awesome choreography--it's overly long and very short on plot. Plus, the American actors slip in and out of the African accent. So, a dramaturge and an accent coach would help. While millennials will probably get a kick out of the show, it's hard to believe that Playwrights Horizons--presenters of significant, beautifully-crafted works such as Driving Miss Daisy, I Am My Own Wife, Clybourne Park, Violet, etc.--would put this piece (still in much need of shaping and editing) on their Main Stage.


FOR FILM FANS
NY SEPHARDIC JEWISH FILM FESTIVAL
Center for Jewish History (15 West 16th St.); https://bit.ly/22jx5WJ
Until March 20, 2019

Coco, Gad Elmaleh

The documentaries, and occasional movie & TV series, in this festival will introduce you to the fascinating world of the Sephardim--Jews kicked out of Spain/the Iberian Peninsula during the 15th century who relocated mainly to North Africa and the Middle East. Hence, the films illuminate life in such places as Morocco, Iraq, Egypt, Syria, Yemeni and, of course, Israel. At this 22nd annual NY Sephardic Jewish Film Festival, there is also a focus on a Sephardi subset the Pieds-Noirs--who were forced to leave North Africa at the end of French rule in the early 1960s and mostly resettled in France. Film fans will be pleasantly surprised by all the interesting offerings including Q&As with the filmmakers, concerts, after parties, and master classes. You don't have to be Jewish or part of the Sephardim to thoroughly enjoy this festival!

FEBRUARY/MARCH
CLASSIC STAGE COMPANY
136 East 13th Street (2 Shows, Until March 10, 2019)   
MIES JULIE
Adapted from Strindberg's Miss Julie by Yaël Farber; Directed by Shariffa Ali; Starring: Elise Kibler (Julie), James Udom (John), Patrice Johnson Chevannes (Christine) & Vinie Burrows (Ukhokho)
(photo: Joan Marcus)
Yaël Farber's brilliant adaptation of August Strindberg's play--about class struggle and sexual tension--relocates it from staid, late 19th-century Sweden to volatile, post-Apartheid South Africa adding race--another layer to the toxic, emotional mix. James Udom's tour de force performance as John is so electrifying it's as if he commands lighting down on stage to strike Julie in her reckless self-absorption, destroying lives--animal and human. In this not-to-be-missed version, the cook Christine is John's mother with her feet firmly planted in the past as his make a break for the future. [Mies Julie's "dance of death" is playing in repertory with Strindberg's other The Dance of Death.]
THE DANCE OF DEATH
New Version of Strindberg's play by Conor McPherson; Directed by Victoria Clark; Starring: Cassie Beck (Alice), Richard Topol (Edgar) & Christopher Innvar (Kurt) - Written in 1900, this may be the first in a long line of tragic-comedies in which the featured couple loves to loath each other. Conor McPherson's contemporary adaptation takes this train wreck of a relationship and spins it on its axis with humor. Cassie Beck as Alice, the verbal dart-throwing wife, and Richard Topol as Edgar, the henpecked yet harassing husband, throw their punches with brio.
(photo: Joan Marcus)
Classic Stage Company presents 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!





FOR LOVE OF THE BARD - Calling All Teens, Tweens & Millennials
FROG AND PEACH THEATER - TWELFTH NIGHT 
The Sheen Center (Black Box Theater, 18 Bleecker St; 
frogandpeachtheatre.org); Until March 17, 2019
(photo: Maria Baranova)
Somehow, in our time, Shakespeare's plays have come to represent highbrow entertainment. But, in the early 1600s when the works were performed at the open-air, Globe Theater in London, everyday folk thrilled to the joy, drama, and excitement of his plays. The Frog and Peach Theater's goal is to infuse that former level of enthusiasm and accessibility back into the works so the productions--while appealing to aficionados--will also attract those who've never given The Bard a chance--such as teens, tweens, and Millennials. Their latest offering, Twelfth Night, is such rollicking, good fun that even the most recalcitrant is likely to become a Shakespeare fan. (For those not in the know, "The Frog and Peach" was a funny bit by the late, great British comedians Peter Cook & Dudley Moore.)
NY SHAKESPEARE EXCHANGE - SHAKESBEER PUB CRAWL 
(nysx.org3/2 & 3/9, 2019)
(photo: Martin Harris)
The ShakesBEER Pub Crawl is another great way to interest Millennials in the works of The Bard. Along with a libation (beer/wine/cocktail), the crowd is treated to scenes from such Shakespearean classics as The Taming of the Shrew, Twelfth Night, and As You Like It. The scenes take place in four different pubs and "sober" tickets are also available for those who love The Bard but not the ale. (New York Shakespeare Exchange also does an annual production in an actual theater, runs The Sonnet Project, the Freestyle Labs, and offers Shakespearean communal experiences.)
BROADWAY
CHOIR BOY
Samuel J. Friedman Theater, 261 West 47th St.; 
Extended to March 10, 2019 (with Pope as lead till Feb. 24)
Written by Tarell Alvin McCraney; Directed by Trip Cullman; Starring: Jeremy Pope, John Clay III, J. Quinton Johnson, Nicholas L. Ashe, Chuck Cooper, Caleb Eberhardt, Austin Pendleton, Daniel Bellomy, Jonathan Burke, Gerald Caesar, Marcus Gladney
(photo: Matthew Murphy)

In addition to some beautiful voices, this show delivers heart and soul. Adolescence is never easy, but when you're young, black, talented--and gay--life can throw you some extra-special curve balls. In the Manhattan Theatre Club's lovely presentation of CHOIR BOY, Jeremy Pope (Pharus), with the voice of an angel, is bedeviled by his classmates with their own set of issues. The tensions come to a boil in the "hothouse" setting of an exclusive boarding school--a prep school--for on-the-rise black boys. Pharus strives to become a man, his own person, and the leader of this extraordinary choir. J. Quinton Johnson (Bobby) is his tormented torturer, Caleb Eberhardt (David) his conflicted secret admirer, and John Clay III (AJ) the wise roomie who sets him "straight." A joyous night in the theater. Plus, the singing will knock your socks off.

JANUARY
OFF-BROADWAY 
For Tweens, Teens & Adults
If you missed this incredible presentation at The New Victory theater last year, luckily you have a second chance to see it. A reprise takes place at La Mama (Jan 24-Feb 3, 2019). Since it's such a short run, don't delay, get tickets now! 
UNDESIRABLE ELEMENTS: GENERATION NYZ
LaMama (66 East 4th St); Until Feb. 3, 2019; 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

Ping Chong + Company's extraordinary presentation will make you laugh, it will make you cry, it will make you care.
For GENERATION NYZ is a celebration of humanity's diversity and how we are all more similar than different. It 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, and 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.

For Adults & Sophisticated Teens
The same goes for this mind-blowing show. If you missed it at The Public Theater about ten years ago, here's your chance to experience some extraordinary theater. It's a short run at NYU Skirball (Jan 23-Feb3, 2019), so get tickets today!

GATZ
NYU Skirball (566 LaGuardia Place); Until Feb. 3, 2019
Written by F. Scott Fitzgerald; Directed by John Collins; Performed by ERS' ensemble with Scott Shepherd as Nick.

The theater company, Elevator Repair Service, pays homage to the written word--often to those of great American novelists--in fascinating and brilliantly-innovative productions. GATZ is ERS' acclaimed, not-to-be-missed, word-for-word enactment of The Great Gatsby. That's right--six hours of performance, worth every second, with its' committed ensemble of terrific actors. No more to be said, because part of the thrill of this show is experiencing the way it unfolds and sucks you in. Soon you are no longer listening to a novel being read, you are there on Long Island in West and East Egg with the beautiful, careless people.
Practical: It lasts about 8 hours (the show, plus 2 intermissions & a dinner break). Bring a seat cushion, a back-support pillow, and believe in the green light!





No comments:

Post a Comment