Friday, January 18, 2019

New York: THEATER BUZZ - 2019

By Jacquelin Carnegie - (New York, NY) 
In New York City, great theater is the best pick-me-up. Friendly Reminder: Off- and Off-Off Broadway shows have limited runs, so get tickets right away. 
THE PUBLIC THEATER - The Public Theater (425 Lafayette St.)
MOJADA - LuEsther Hall, Until Aug 11, 2019 
(photo: Joan Marcus)
Written by Luis Alfaro; Directed by Chay Yew; Starring: Sabina Zúñiga Varela (Medea), Alex Hernandez (Jason), Socorro Santiago (Tita), Vanessa Aspillaga (Josefina), Benjamin Luis McCracken (Acan), and Ada Maris (Armida)
Luis Alfaro's beautiful, lyrical MOJADA is Euripides' ancient Greek tragedy Medea retold with Mexican, magic-realism. In this telling, Jason and Medea are undocumented immigrants from Mexico's Michoacán region. Their voyage to escape persecution back home and make it to America is a harrowing tale. But, once in the vibrant community of Queens, New York, where so many other Mexican immigrants have made a go of it, their future begins to unfold. Jason enthusiastically embraces the "American Dream." Their son, Acan, also easily assimilates. But, Medea resists all efforts to Americanize--or even leave the house. Theirs becomes another one of the precarious lives of all illegal immigrants. The luminescent Sabina Zúñiga Varela (Medea) leads this terrific ensemble cast who lives in fear of ICE--and their own fears--on a stunning set by Arnulfo Maldonado. It's both fascinating and shocking that the tragic timelessness of Greek tales still resonates so strongly today. This Medea is the new, heartbreaking "Queen of Corona."

Editor's Note: If you missed it at The Public Theater, SEA WALL/A LIFE just opened on Broadway; Until Sept. 29, 2019. 
Hudson Theatre (141 West 44th St)
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.

Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, 261 West 47th St.; Until July 7, 2019 
Miller & Carvel (photo: Joan Marcus)
Written by James Graham; Directed by Rupert Goold; Starring: Bertie Carvel (Rupert Murdoch) & Jonny Lee Miller (Larry Lamb)
You don't have to care about the newspaper business or Rupert Murdoch to see INK; all you have to be interested in is great theater. Now at Manhattan Theater Club, this production originated at the Almeida Theatre in London, proving that Brits really do know how to put on a show. The acting is terrific, the set is imaginative, and the storyline sizzles. 
In London, in 1969, Murdoch (played by Bertie Carvel with brilliant devilish glee) buys a failing paper, then dangles a golden carrot in front of a talented editor with a chip-on-his shoulder--it's all yours to turn around. At first, you empathize with Murdoch's desire to stick the whole stuck-up British establishment in the eye. You agree that the stuffy, ruling-class broadsheet newspapers could use a run for their money. You think adding some fun to the papers would indeed be fun. But, no true Machiavellian character ever stops at fun. Now that you’re on board, he's coming for your soul. Of course, with Murdochian goading, the hard-nosed Larry Lamb (Jonny Lee Miller) turns it into a tabloid that appeals to the basest, prurient, human interests. From then on, it's a race to the bottom as the sensationalist rag sells like hotcakes. Scariest of all, you can clearly see a direct line leading from that paper's noxious populism to a dunce standing on The White House lawn today. This show is a great evening in the theater.

(photo: Danielle Levitt)
Hudson Theater, 145 West 44th St., Until July 14, 2019
Written by Lanford Wilson; Directed by Michael Mayer; Starring: Adam Driver, Keri Russell, David Furr, & Brandon Uranowitz
Thirty years ago, John Malkovich lit up the stage as the explosive character "Pale" in one of the most incredible performances ever. While Adam Driver, in the same role, chews up the scenery a bit, Keri Russell is glorious as "Anna." But what's truly amazing is that the play is as poignant and powerful as ever. The palpable attraction between these two disparate and desperate characters underscores the power and palliative qualities of mind-blowing sexual attraction and downright, awe-inspiring love. The play is as worth seeing today as it was in 1987.

THE PUBLIC THEATER - The Public Theater (425 Lafayette St.)
- Anspacher Theater, Until July 14, 2019 
Directed by Robert Falls; Written & Performed by David Cale; Lyrics by David Cale; Music by David Cale & Matthew Dean Marsh
(photo: Liz Lauren, Goodman Theatre)
No matter what exactly the circumstances, it's amazing any of us survives our childhood. David Cale does it with panache! All of Cale's formidable talents--acting, writing, singing--are on display here as he tells the believe-it-or-not tale of his singular childhood. Born in a blighted British industrial town, Cale survives his surroundings and majorly-dysfunctional family first by nurturing birds and other stray animals, then by nurturing his own dream of life as a performer in America. It's a tale told with pathos and humor, plus a lovely six-piece band. Luckily, he made it here. Don't miss the show!

(photo: Richard Termine)
Richard Rodgers Amphitheater, Marcus Garvey Park
18 Mt Morris Park W, Enter park at 124th St & 5 Ave, walk south to the venue. FREE admission; Until July 28, 2019

If there was ever a way to interest teens, tweens, and Millennials in the Greek classics, this rockin' version of Euripides' The Bacchae is it. It's also a wonderful introduction to The Classical Theatre of Harlem's theatrical offerings and a way to discover Marcus Garvey Park's lovely amphitheater--a delightful way to spend a summer evening.

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!

Classic Stage Company, 136 East 13th St;; 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.

Editor's Note: Check out several, cool post-show events such as 5/14 - Post-show "Classic Perspectives" conversation with special guests (included with show ticket). 5/19 - Benefit performance & post-show "Classic Conversation" includes champagne, a chat with the director & show tunes by the cast ($125, show + event or $80 just for the event.)

Playwrights Horizons, 416 West 42nd St; Until May 12, 2019
Written by Halley Feiffer; Directed by Trip Cullman; Starring: Halley Feiffer, Hamish Linklater, Vanessa Kai
Feiffer & Linklater (photo: Joan Marcus)
Masochism is a many-splendored thing: People like people who are bad for them. "Bad boys" hold such appeal. People covet other people's husbands. Then, add Lyme disease. One good reason to see this quirky, modern romance is the splendid Hamish Linklater as the resident bad boy. Like Adam Driver and John Malkovich, Linklater always gives a pitch-perfect performance and is just so much fun to watch. Plus, lovely set design by Mark Wendland.


GARY: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus: I love Nathan Lane, but he must have had temporary insanity to agree to do this dreadful show. It's also hard to believe that the beyond-talented George C. Wolfe would agree to direct this mess. But, if fart jokes are your type of humor, you might enjoy it. Otherwise, save your money.
HILARY AND CLINTON: This is a touchingly-wistful, bittersweet look at Hillary (Laurie Metcalf) fighting for, longing for, and loosing the 2008 Presidential election. Adding in what we know about 2016, only heightens the woeful emotions. While it doesn't pack a punch like Peter Morgan's fabulous FROST/NIXON, who can pass up the opportunity to see the always-magnificent John Lithgow (Bill Clinton)?
NANTUCKET SLEIGH RIDE: They're calling this John Guare's "new" play, but I saw it at the McCarter Theater a few years ago when it was called "Are You There, McPhee"--it was not one of his best then or now! (Although John Larroquette is terrific.)

Mabou Mines Theater, 150 First Ave;; 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.

Playwrights Horizons (416 West 42nd St;;
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.

Center for Jewish History (15 West 16th St.);
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!

136 East 13th Street (2 Shows, Until March 10, 2019)   
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.]
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
The Sheen Center (Black Box Theater, 18 Bleecker St;; 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.)
(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.)
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.

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! 
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!

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!

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