Listen to Side Show: Who Will Love Me As I Am?



Emily Padgett and Erin Davie as the Hilton Sisters (attached twins and vaudeville performers) sing “Who Will Love Me As I Am” from Side Show, a musical that begins performances on Broadway at the St. James Theater on October 28, 2014.

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The Civilians Look at Love and Lust at the Metropolitan Museum of Art



Is it possible to lust after a statue?

Of course, one of the curators of the Metropolitan Museum of Art says, as portrayed by a member of the theater company The Civilians in the first performance, last weekend, of its year-long residence at the Met.

The Civilians is the “investigative” Brooklyn-based theater company that for the past 13 years has conducted interviews and other research to shape new dramatic works about such issues as climate control (The Great Immensity), gentrification (In The Footprint), and death (Be The Death of Me.) When it was announced that the Civilians had been given the first-ever theater-in-residence at the largest art museum in the United States, the appointment seemed rich with promise and possibilities: What would this inventive theater come up with once given free reign over the two million works of art as old as 5,000 years in the Met’s collection, and the thousands of staff and regular volunteers it could interview?

As it turns out, most of the 16 songs and monologues it presented in its two performances at the Met’s Petrie Court Café had nothing to do with the museum. They were excerpts from works previously presented or in development, including “PRETTY FILTHY: A New Musical About the Adult Entertainment Industry,” which will be shown in it entirety at the Abrons Arts Center from January to March of next year. The show had the feel of a cabaret, and had the same title as several of their previous efforts, “Let Me Ascertain You.” But, as someone lucky enough to have attended previous “Let Me Ascertain You” cabaret-like shows by The Civilians, I reluctantly admit to some disappointment, if only because the previous such shows – such as “Let Me Ascertain You: Occupy Wall Street, Stories From Liberty Square” at Joe’s Pub in 2011 – were so focused, and so moving.

“We are introducing ourselves to the Met,” the Civilians artistic director Steve Cosson explained to me after the show about their approach for these first shows.

However, several new pieces did offer a glimpse of what’s to come. In “Luke,” Cosson interviews curator Luke Syson, portrayed by Civilians company member David Cale, who talks about several sculptures in the Met, as the audience saw slides of those sculptures projected onto a couple of screens:

The first was a 17th century marble sculpture of St. Sebastian entitled The Fury Master



“The reason why we all fell in love with it, the reason why all wanted to purchase it for the museum was his beautiful flutter of his fingers as they raised to heaven,” Luke says. “His wrists are bound but they are not bound to the tree, he is sort of becoming free, he is moving upwards, and the flutter of his fingers, echoes the tree growing up to heaven.’

Cosson then pointed out that many gay artists seemed to have depicted Saint Sebastian, then said “I see a sculpture of a beautiful almost naked man tied up to a tree, looking like he’s in bliss; and you know certain thoughts run through my mind.”

“Well, even if the viewer has a response to this image that’s more like physical arousal,” Luke replies, “…I think it’s an object that could almost purify arousal.”

After showing a few more examples




Luke goes on to say: “….Works of art are meant to be fallen in love with, and I think curators are more comfortable with the idea of the aesthetic desire, you know, and sometimes I think it’s – we’re not comfortable with admitting that these things should be sexy and arousing. I think that there is still a kind of odd sense of transgression involved here.”

Fountain of Desire by Louis-Claude Vasse

In “James,”  Daniel Jenkins portrayed curator James Draper showing us Fountain of Desire by Louis-Claude Vasse (above), which was close by in the Petrie Court, which comes from a French chateau. “I think anybody that was in the Chateau at that time would lust after her. She’s um…inviting.

He then switched slides to Ugolino and his Sons by Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux:

ugolini and his sons

“People always want to know what the hell is going on” – which got a big laugh.

The he explained that it is a scene from Dante’s Inferno, in which the tyrant Ugolino is thrown into a tower with his two sons and grandsons, all of whom are starving to death. So …this is about parental love and filial love… And we have it from Dante that the sons beg him to eat them.” The sculptor, James tells us, hired “handsome Italian models at his own expense, feeding them and housing them…’s not about lust, certainly not…These boys are not in it to show off their bodies…This is a pure spirit and uh all in the name of anguish and pain and family feeling…Obviously the experience of the male body is…is tremendous.”

Future performances promise to incorporate pieces at the Met more directly into focused works of theater:

“The End and the Beginning” (March 6, 2015) promises to “romp through dying, death and the afterlife” in a performance stated at the Temple of Dendur in The Sackler Wing of the museum.

“The Way They Live” (May 15 and 16) will study the Met’s American Wing to present “the increasingly immense complexities of what it means to be an American.”

To The Bone Review: Immigrant Women In A Hazardous Industry

In “To The Bone,” an exquisitely acted and splendidly directed new play by Lisa Ramirez that’s part of the Theater:Village Festival, Reina greets her niece Carmen, who is newly arrived from Honduras, with the news that she is going to try to get her a job in the local poultry plant.
“Why would you send your niece to work there?” Olga, Reina’s housemate, says to her with contempt.
“Olga, stay out of this,” Reina spits.
“I wouldn’t send my daughter to work there,” Olga says.
But Olga herself works there, as does Reina, and the other woman in the household, Juana, who is so stressed-out that she has the disturbing habit of sleepwalking, accompanied by zombie-like utterances such as “Go back, go back” and “Dirt like smoke.”
They are Salvadoran, Honduran and Guatemalan women, documented or undocumented, who feel they have no choice but to work at a job they hate, with an abusive boss.

Click on any photograph to see it enlarged

They are among the many immigrant women in the United States who work in the meatpacking industry, which the United States Department of Labor has classified as one of the nation’s most hazardous industries, with the highest rate of injuries.
Over the past decade, poultry processing plants in Sullivan County, about 100 miles north of New York City in upstate New York, have replaced the chopped liver and comedy that once thrived in the now-defunct Catskills resorts of “the Borscht Belt.”
Playwright Ramirez has based her play on interviews with meatpacking workers of Sullivan County. But her touching drama, ultimately a tragedy, transcends her research, and goes beyond exposure of the unjust conditions. In some ways, it serves as a companion piece to another recent play about exploited workers, My Manana Comes, about people (also mostly immigrants) employed in New York’s restaurant industry. Both plays focus attention on believable individual characters, rather than cases, and follow in a tradition of compelling social justice theater most commonly exemplified by the work of John Steinbeck.
The story, which takes an unfortunate melodramatic turn, is nonetheless made vivid and credible by the remarkable cast.
The playwright herself portrays Olga, a Salvadoran who has both the lease to the house and a green card, which helps explain why she is bolder than the rest of the household, but, as it turns out, also more reckless.
Paola Lazaro-Munoz is Lupe, Olga’s 20-year-old hip-hop-loving, skateboarding daughter, with a purple streak in her hair, and streak of rebellion in her manner. She is the only woman in the play who has escaped the factory life. She works in a clinic, and dreams of moving to Manhattan, “or Brooklyn even.” She serves as referee between her mother and Reina, portrayed by Annie Henk. Both Henk and Lisa Fernandez as Juana allow us to read the fear, fatigue and frustration of their characters’ lives in their faces – subtle and moving performances. Xochitl Romero is fine as Carmen, the newcomer who does get that job in the factory, after amusing coaching from the other women – employment that all the women wind up regretting.
Dan Donmingues plays Jorge, who earns his living as a kind of gypsy cap service driving the women to work and back, and who courts Carmen with a winning diffidence and grace. Haynes Thigpen does not overplay his thankless role as the villain, the plant’s manager, and Gerardo Rodriguez as the assistant manager evokes something close to sympathy for a man stuck in the middle.
Director Lisa Peterson and the design team do wonders with the small Studio Theater of the Cherry Lane, using a few props and effects (chicken coops that climb the wall with little flashing lights in each one, in place of actual chickens) that relay the noise and claustrophobia and general horror of the plant, as well as the restricted lives of the women even when they are not working.

For all the sadness in “To The Bone,” there is something uplifting as well in viewing a group of people – and a company of actors — who work so well together. By the time we’re read what Carmen writes in her diary, we’ve already seen the truth of it:

“The house is like a machine but it’s different from the one at the plant. There is a system in place here and the women make it work. The women who live here were forced into this unnatural setting- away from their families away from their countries. They fight a lot- in fact they fight all the time. And yet, from the beep- beep-beep of the very first clock in the morning to the last light going off at night there is an order in this house that is much like a heart- an artificial heart – borne out of necessity- but functioning nonetheless.”


To The Bone

Cherry Lane Theatre (38 Commerce St. in Greenwich Village),

Written by Lisa Ramirez

Directed by Lisa Peterson

Scenic design by Rachel Hauck, costume design by Theresa Squire, lighting design by Russell H. Champa, sound design by Jill BC Du Boff

Cast: Dan Domingues, Liza Fernandez, Annie Henk, Paola Lazaro-Munoz, Lisa Ramirez, Gerardo Rodriguez, Xochitl Romero, Haynes Thigpen

To The Bone is set to run through October 4.

Book Giveaway Contest: Tradition, about Fiddler on the Roof

TRADITION_02Win a free copy of the book Tradition by Barbara Eisenberg, subtitled The Highly Improbable, Ultimately Triumphant Broadway-to-Hollywood Story of Fiddler on the Roof, the World’s Most Beloved Musical.

Published for the 50th anniversary of Fiddler on the Roof’s opening night on Broadway, Tradition! weaves together behind-the-scenes stories and anecdotes about the Fiddler film and musical, thoughts on its cultural importance and tales of its resonance. Theater journalist Barbara Isenberg interviewed the men and women who created the original production, the film and significant revivals to produce what Library Journal calls “an obligatory purchase for every musical theater collection.”

To enter the contest, please answer one of the following questions:

What is your favorite book about the theater, and why?


What was your favorite moment of performing in or watching Fiddler on the Roof – and why?


1. Please put your answer in the comments at the bottom of this blog post, because the winner will be chosen through based on the order of your reply, not its content.
But you must answer the question, complete with explanation, or your entry will not be approved for submission.
2. Please include in your answer your Twitter name and follow my Twitter feed at @NewYorkTheater so that I can send you a direct message. (If you don’t have a Twitter name, create one. It’s free.)
3. This contest ends Tuesday, September 23rd, 2014 at midnight Eastern Time, and I will make the drawing no later than noon the next day. You must respond to my direct message on Twitter within 24 hours or I will choose another winner.
(4. All submissions have to be approved, so you won’t necessarily see your entry right away: Please be patient, and don’t submit more than once.)


Meryl Streep on New Poster of Into The Woods Film


The film adaptation of “Into The Woods,” the Stephen Sondheim-James Lapine musical will be released nationally on December 25th, 2014.

Solitary Light Review: Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, In Song

In the program for “Solitary Light,” one of the four shows in this year’s Theater: Village Festival, there is a paragraph that describes the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, which occurred on March 25, 1911 “a few blocks from this theatre,” resulting in the death of 146 garment workers. “Locked in to prevent theft and union discussion many were forced to jump from windows on the ninth floor.”
It is useful to have this in the program because, other than a sign that the cast holds up at one point that says “Triangle Shirtwaist Factory,” it might be difficult for the casual theatergoer to figure out that’s what the show at the Axis Theatre Company is about.
“Solitary Light” is an hour-long musical with no dialogue and no conventional scenes. A cast of nine sings some two dozen songs, mostly in unison; only occasionally can any of the performers be discerned as individual characters.
The songs themselves, by Axis artistic director Randy Sharp and Paul Carbonara (guitarist for 13 years for the band Blondie), are lovely and lilting. They are backed by a pleasing four-piece band of guitar (Carbonara), piano, violin and cello. The staging is atmospheric; David Zeffren’s lighting design is so dark that I wondered for a moment whether it inspired the title of the show. In place of any sets, the cast holds up various handmade signs (“The Park,” The Street,”), which is fine – they suggest a time of ubiquitous picket signs, and in any case Karl Ruckdeschel’s costumes make clear what era we are in.
For a sense that a story is being told, one must listen carefully to the lyrics, which vaguely focus on Frank and Louise, a couple of immigrant factory workers in love, but often broaden into more general glimpses of the times –  and are also threaded with some apparent poetic symbolism…about cameras and fireflies and beautiful women.  A few songs are put in the mouths of individual characters –

Sew the shirts!
Do the work!
Shut your traps for once!

Much is told about characters:

Working in the factory
She sees the girls just fade away
Until another takes their place
Working every endless day

There is nothing inherently wrong with this impressionistic approach, and it is perhaps my own shortcoming as a theatergoer that I was expecting a clear, conventional drama, with a powerful emotional payoff. I’ll admit to disappointment when, almost at the end of “Solitary Light,” the only presentation of the fire itself was the cast holding up a sign that said “The Fire,” and singing, in another lovely, lilting melody fairly indistinguishable from the ones that came before it:

Solitary light glows
On the window of the 9th floor
On Washington and Greene Street
In New York

Come with me and you’ll see
This dark factory
Lost to time
No matter what they left behind
At the end of the song
They’re gone


Solitary Light

At Axis, 1 Sheridan Square

Directed by Randy Sharp
Music and Lyrics by Randy Sharp & Paul Carbonara

Lighting Designer    David Zeffren
Choreographer    Lynn Mancinelli
Costume Designer    Karl Ruckdeschel
Sound Designer    Steve Fontaine
Set Construction/Design    Chad Yarborough

Cast: Spencer Aste, Shira Averbuch, Mara Beier, Dewey Caddell, George Demas, Emily Kratter, Lynn Mancinelli, Stephanie Regina and Jared Young

Paul Carbonara    Guitar
Andy Burton    Piano
Hajnal Pivnick    Violin
Sam Quiggins    Cello

Running time: 60 minutes, no intermission

Tickets: $40, $30 students and seniors.

“Solitary Light” is scheduled to run through October 4.

Off-Broadway on WNET. Pacino on Stage Acting. Broadway Begins. Week in New York Theater

While the Fall season on Broadway officially has begun with the opening of the first show, “This Is Our Youth,” an exciting event this week in New York theater was the announcement that some of Off-Broadway’s most intriguing shows of last season will be broadcast on Channel 13 in October and November. (Schedule below.) The series  will also be repeated Sundays, streamed online and broadcast on sister station WLIW/Channel 21.

Will they work on screen as well as they did on stage?


Two days left to enter the contest to get a free membership to Play by Play, an organization that fills seats left unsold.

Reviews below of Juarez, I Like It Here, Bootycandy. News about the Obies, Kelli O’Hara, the return of Wendy Wasserstein, the place of women Off-Broadway, Vanessa Hudgens, Stephen Sondheim’s Into The Woods; Al Pacino (who’s returning to Broadway again) on the appeal of stage acting; and Stephen Schwartz blasts a bigot.

The Week in New York Theater, Sept 8-13


Michael Sheen (Masters of Sex) and Kate Burton perform Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood October 26, at the 92nd Street Y FREE.


Broadway veteran James Corden will be the host of “Late, Late Show” on CBS. (Will he ramp up theater guests?)


June 7th is the date selected for the 69th Annual Tony Awards, to be broadcast live from Radio City Music Hall.


American Theatre Wing Logo



After 59 years run by the Village Voice, the Obies theater awards for Off and Off-Broadway theater will be run by  The American Theatre Wing, the founder and co-producer of the Tonys, “in partnership” with the Voice.

Will the Tonys broadcast thus finally acknowledge Off-Broadway (maybe sneak in a little Obies on the Tonys)? Or will the Wing try to start broadcasting the Obies?

Jenn Lyon and Quincy Dunn-Baker

Jenn Lyon and Quincy Dunn-Baker

The Wayside Motor Inn at Signature extends through Octorber 5. (The last 2 weeks are a higher price)



Kelli O’Hara will play Mrs. Darling (the kind mother of Wendy, John and Michael, and wife of George Darling) on NBC’s Peter Pan.

Side Show cocktail party


Side Show, which lasted only a few months on Broadway in 1997, will do better now, says director Bill Condon, because “people are more tolerant of diversity.”

Stars of Side Show


Side Show stars Erin Davie and Emily Padgett get their flu shots at a cocktail party for the show at The Library at the Public Theater.

Anika Noni Rose at Side Show cocktail party

I asked Anika Noni Rose what role she would like to play on a live TV musical? “Carmen Jones”



Although the Broadway League initially announced it would not be dimming the lights of Broadway marquees for Joan Rivers, because she hadn’t written or performed on Broadway for 20 years, it reversed its decision after a social media uproar, and several theater owners rebelled and announce they would dim anyway.



Producers are “in talks” about bringing the London hit Wolf Hall and its sequel Bring Up The Bodies, about Henry VIII and Oliver Cromwell, to Broadway. The plays are based on novels by Hilary Mantel (and yes, A Man For All Seasons, a play by Robert Bolt made into a movie starring Richard Burton and Peter O’Toole, is about the same characters.)


High School Musical’s Vanessa Hudgens will star in Gigi — first at the Kennedy Center (January and February), then on Broadway. (Dates to be announced.)

Off-Broadway on TV

Theater Close-up, a new television series on WNET Channel 13 with host Sigourney Weaver, will  present filmed plays that appeared Off-Broadway every Thursday in October and November. The schedule:

October 2, 2014  (9 pm)
London Wall (Mint Theater Company)
The play by John Van Druten (I Remember Mama) explores the tumultuous lives and love affairs of the women employed as shorthand typists in a busy solicitor’s office in 1930’s London.

October 9, 2014 (10 pm — the time of all subsequent broadcasts)
Hellman v. McCarthy (Abingdon Theatre Company)
The greatest literary feud in modern American history began on January 25, 1980 when author Mary McCarthy appeared as a guest on “The Dick Cavett Show” and declared that “every word [playwright Lillian Hellman] writes is a lie, including ‘and’ and ‘the.'” In Brian Richard Mori’s play, Dick Cavett recreates his role in the actual events.

The Apple Family Plays: Scenes from Life in the Country (The Public Theater)
Each year since 2010,  Richard Nelson premiered a new play about the fictional, liberal Apple family of Rhinebeck, New York, each one premiering on a date of national political significance.

October 16, 2014
That Hopey Changey Thing
Midterm election night 2010

October 23, 2014
Sweet and Sad
A family brunch stirs up discussions of loss, remembrance and a decade of change on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of 9/11.

October 30, 2014
The Apples sort through family anxieties and confusion on the day of the re-election of President Barack Obama in 2012.

November 6, 2014
Regular Singing
The final play in the cycle takes place on the 50th Anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s assassination.

November 13
The Vandal (The Flea Theater)
The playwriting debut of actor Hamish Linklater, the play is set on a freezing night in Kingston, New York, a woman meets a boy at a bus stop.

November 20
An Iliad (New York Theatre Workshop)
Co-adapted by Denis O’Hare and Lisa Peterson, based on Homer’s Iliad translated by Robert Fagles.

November 27
Looking at Christmas (The Flea Theater)
From Steven Banks (head writer of “SpongeBob Squarepants”), the play takes place on Christmas Eve in New York City. A failed writer and a struggling actress meet while looking at the famous holiday windows and the windows come to life and look back at them.


My review of Juarez

How did Juarez, a Mexican border town said to be the birthplace of the burrito and the margarita, become labeled the Murder Capital of the World, specializing in violence against young women?

That’s the main question that the New York based company Theater Mitu, led by Juarez-born artistic director Ruben Polendo, sets out to answer in “Juarez: A Documentary Mythology,” an ambitious work of theater that is playing at the Rattlestick Playwrights Theater through October 5th as part of the 2014 Theatre: Village Festival.….The information we glean about Juarez and its residents is what makes this piece worthwhile….It is in their approach to the theatrical aspects of documentary theater that I see “Juarez” suffering in comparison to the work of such documentary theater companies as The Civilians.

Full review of Juarez

Scene 1 Bootycandy: Phillip James Brannon and Jessica Frances Dukes in Bootycandy by Robert O'Hara

Scene 1 Bootycandy: Phillip James Brannon and Jessica Frances Dukes in Bootycandy by Robert O’Hara

My review of Bootycandy

In the first of Robert O’Hara’s ten scenes about growing up black and gay, a young child named Sutter asks his mother some uncomfortable questions, including why she and his grandmother call his penis booty candy.

“I don’t know,” his mother answers. “I guess because it’s the candy to the booty!”

“So can I lick it?”

This is bawdy, this is funny, but it’s also a little poignant. Those are the three main ingredients of “Bootycandy” as a whole – though not always at the same time. The show that O’Hara has written and directed, which has opened at Playwrights Horizons, is a collection of short plays, comedy sketches, and meta fiddling around that may at first glance seem barely connected, but are worth a second glance.

 Full review of Bootycandy


Wendy Wasserstein’s Heidi Chronicles will be back on Broadway with Elizabeth Moss (Mad Men) Jason Biggs (Orange Is The New Black), Bryce Pinkham (A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder). Opens in March

Women make up about a third of the playwrights,directors and set designers who are hired Off-Broadway; about 15 percent of the sound designers; and 70 percent of the stage managers, according to a new report from the League of Professional Theatre Woman.

Michael Cera and Tavi Gevinson

Michael Cera and Tavi Gevinson

This Is Our Youth review roundup and photos


Ofmicenandmen3O'Dowd, Franco-Photo by Richard Phibbs
Of Mice and Men with James Franco and Chris O’Dowd will be projected in 700+ movie theaters November 6.

Artistic directors have a bias against playwrights who are alive, Ira Gamerman argues in a lively essay.

(But isn’t one of the strengths of theater its 2,500-year back catalogue?)

Keke Palmer as Cinderella and Sherri Shepherd as Madame

Keke Palmer as Cinderella and Sherri Shepherd as Madame

New cast of Cinderella

Full video of “Creating Inclusivity in the American Theatre” panel discussion at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, Oregon.

The 1991 live taping of the original Into the Woods on Broadway will be out on Bluray and DVD December 2 — three weeks before the new movie premieres.

Reversing previous announcement, Second Stage will NOT be presenting the musical version of Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho, about a stylish psychopathic killer. The commercial backers at a company called Act 4 Entertainment, pulled the rights from Second Stage for the show, which played in London to mixed reviews.

Eloquent letter by composer Stephen Schwartz, president of the Dramatists Guild,  blasting bigoted principal who nixed Spamalot. Excerpts:

“You have an obligation to educate, not merely to placate bigotry so as to avoid ‘controversy’”

“Would you cancel a production of The Diary of Anne Frank because of concern over the sensitivities of Holocaust deniers?”

“A culture evolves, in part, based on the provocation of its artists”

Lisann Valentin as Adele and Imran Sheikh as Devaj, lovers from afar

Lisann Valentin as Adele and Imran Sheikh as Devaj, lovers from afar

My review of I Like To Be Here

As the play “I Like To Be Here” begins, Devaj and Adela are in love, although they have never spoken to one another. He is South Asian; she is South American and barely speaks English. He works as a cabdriver at night; she works in a bakery during the day. But they pass each other every morning to or from work in Jackson Heights. Finally, near the end of the play, he nervously offers her a mango.

Why does it take more than half the play to get to that introductory mango? The story of Devaj and Adela is just one story in a play so overstuffed that it’s evident even in the full title: “I Like To Be Here: Jackson Heights Revisited, Or, This Is a Mango.”…seven authors, 17 actors portraying 21 characters.

Full review of I Like To Be Here



Al Pacino in The New Yorkers

Al Pacino plans to star in David Mamet play “China Doll” on Broadway next year. Info comes from New Yorker profile of Pacino by John Lahr.

Al Pacino on stage acting, 1: “You’re up in the sky with the theatre gods—love it, love it, love it.”

2. He doesn’t believe in the fourth wall. “The audience is another character in the play. They become part of the event. If they sneeze or talk back to the stage, you make it part of what you’re doing.”

3. “When he was working on his performance in “The Indian Wants the Bronx,” he would walk for hours with [playwright Israel] Horovitz. ‘What he was doing was finding a character in life,’ Horovitz told me. ‘He’d spot a guy on the street and go, ‘Wait, wait, wait!’ We’d follow the person for hours, just to observe the walk, the posture. And the costume was important, too. He had to find the costume, rehearse in the costume, live in the costume.'”

The New Cinderella and Evil Stepmother: Keke Palmer and Sherri Shepherd


Keke Palmer, the 21-year-old actress and singers still best known for her starring role in the movie Akeelah and the Bee, has become the new Ella (aka Cinderella) in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella, which has announced it will close on January 3, 2015.

Sherri Shepherd, who was one of the co-hosts on the ABC daytime talk show The View for seven seasons, is the new Madame (i.e. evil stepmother.) Both are making their Broadway debuts.
Click on any photograph above to see it enlarged.

I Like To Be Here Review: Making Theater Out of One Of The Most Diverse Neighborhoods On Earth

As the play “I Like To Be Here” begins, Devaj and Adela are in love, although they have never spoken to one another. He is South Asian; she is South American and barely speaks English. He works as a cabdriver at night; she works in a bakery during the day. But they pass each other every morning to or from work in Jackson Heights. Finally, near the end of the play, he nervously offers her a mango.

Why does it take more than half the play to get to that introductory mango? The story of Devaj and Adela is just one story in a play so overstuffed that it’s evident even in the full title: “I Like To Be Here: Jackson Heights Revisited, Or, This Is a Mango.” The play is running at the New Ohio Theater in Greenwich Village through September 27th, as part of the 2014 Theater: Village Festival. Conceived by Theatre 167 artistic director Ari Laura Kreith, “I Like To Be Here” has seven authors, and 17 actors portraying 21 characters. It is the fourth play in four years about the Jackson Heights neighborhood in Queens by Theatre 167 – so named because there are said to be 167 languages spoken in Jackson Heights, one of the most diverse neighborhoods on earth.

Over the course of what’s supposed to be one night, we are introduced to not just Devaj and Adela, and their respective friends Salim and Lindi, but also:

Click on any photograph to see it enlarge


Angela, an office cleaner who moonlights as an exotic dancer, and her teenage daughter Alex, a tomboy who befriends Reina, a drag queen

Jim, a closeted cop from Long Island who meets, first, Leo, a ranting meth addict in a jockstrap, and then Pablo, with whom he goes home – where Jim is confronted by Pablo’s father, Mr. Mendez, who grills him on his culinary skills and the U.S. Constitution (Mr. Mendez is studying to take his citizenship test.)

Irene, an old Irish lady who refuses to allow her brother Eddie to sell her apartment, and whose dog drives her neighbor Emeterio to a criminal act.

Two beat cops

Two late-night car dispatchers

I’m leaving several people out.

All these stories unfold as the play progresses — and intertwine. I suspect that many of these characters in real life would have nothing to do with one another, even if they lived inches apart.  But, despite some of the darker stories, the characters in this play interact and overlap as if they live on Sesame Street, or at least as if they all hang out at Cheers, and there’s a somewhat strained effort to bring them all physically together at the end.  Still, the cross-pollination is at times rewarding. The most memorable scenes, besides those between Devaj and Adela, are when Reina takes a ride in Devaj’s cab, and when Salim (Devaj’s friend) offers an unusually detailed recipe for dosa bread (which includes nine steps, such as “Be born….” And “Fall in love…”) in order to help his friend Larry and Larry’s infant fall asleep.

“I Like To Be Here” has the feel of community theater. This is not meant as a snarky putdown, nor a comment on the acting, which is uniformly competent. (Most of the performers are members of Actors Equity.) It just seems as if the company’s emphasis is on the collaborative process, and its priority is to involve as many people, and tell as many stories from their neighborhood, as possible. To exclude any of the performers or the characters for the sake of dramatic coherence might feel to them like a betrayal of the community.

Theatre 167’s commitment to focusing on a single neighborhood strikes me as a sound idea, and in some ways an exciting one. Perhaps in a future piece they can return to just a couple of the characters in “I Like To Be Here” and….linger.



This Is Our Youth Broadway Reviews and Photos

All three stars – Michael Cera, Kieran Culkin and the 18-year-old fashion blogger Tavi Gevinson –   are making their Broadway debuts, as is playwright Kenneth Lonergan, in the revival of “This Is Our Youth,” opening tonight directed by Anna D. Shapiro at the Cort Theater through January 4.

When the play was first produced, Off-Broadway in 1996, it was already an exercise in slacker nostalgia. Taking place in an apartment on the Upper West Side in 1982, it focuses on hip Dennis, nerd Warren, who has just stolen $15,000 from his abusive father, and Jessica, the fashion student Warren hopes to seduce. When the revival ran at Steppenwolf in Chicago this summer, Chicago Tribune critic Chris Jones called it a shrewdly cast, “strikingly funny and textured production,” but wondered how it would play in the less intimate setting of a Broadway house.

What do the New York critics think of it?

Ben Brantley, New York Times: “The acrobatics being performed in Anna D. Shapiro’s sensational, kinetically charged revival of Kenneth Lonergan’s “This Is Our Youth,”which opened on Thursday night in a marijuana haze at the Cort Theater, aren’t anything like those you’d find at the Cirque du Soleil. But they’re every bit as compelling, and probably (painfully) a whole lot closer to your own experience….[The director] knows how to scale up intimate confrontations to Broadway dimensions without losing nuance. Under her direction, “Youth” becomes more explosively physical than I recalled it, a ballet of gracefully clumsy collisions.”

Linda Winer, Newsday: “Thanks to the playwright’s meticulously hand-picked insights and Anna D. Shapiro’s tight yet seemingly easygoing direction, we somehow feel we have spent a couple of amusing and ultimately painful hours with an entire world of offstage parents, drug dealers and friends of friends….Ultimately, each of the [three] lost children has a monologue that asks questions so interesting that we wish we could watch them grow up.”

Mark Kennedy Associated Press: “….directed by Anna D. Shapiro, who knows her way around onstage arguments (“August: Osage County”) and movie stars (James Franco in “Of Mice and Men”). She keeps this revival fresh and electric, crackling with energy even as the stoned get more stoned.…Cera’s Warren is gloriously unpolished, a guy with his hand permanently stuffed into a pants pocket and a collection of toy memorabilia. He moves jerkily, as if he’s uncomfortable in his own skin…Culkin, with his flippy haircut and polo shirt, is smarmy ’80s perfection….Gevinson walks into this drug-fueled morass with an innocence, integrity and sincerity that’s refreshing.”

David Cote, Time Out New York: “The word plot should be used loosely. As always with Lonergan, the murky-jerky inner worlds of his articulate, life-stalled characters drive the action….Anna D. Shapiro’s clear-eyed and tight staging brings out earnest, honest performances from the young trio. Cera’s facial deadpan and vocal drone have the curious effect of deepening, not lessening, our sympathy for Warren. Culkin gets to shine in the flashier role, and Gevinson toggles amusingly between prim ingenue and panicked urbanite. They’re nice kids; I think they’ve got a bright future ahead of them.”

Thom Geier, Entertainment Weekly: B+ “Culkin is sensational as Dennis, a talkative schemer whose occasional stumbles in no way impede his innate sense of self-confidence. Cera is nearly as strong as Warren, a willfully quirky boy who collects action figures and vintage toasters and who endures Dennis’ poetic rants of invective against him like a pound puppy who craves attention no matter what form it takes….At 18, Gevinson is closer to her character’s age than her castmates—but she can seem less at ease on stage for reasons that have nothing to do with Jessica’s natural discomfort hanging out in a strange apartment with a virtual stranger”

Robert Kahn, WNBC:” In spite of it all, I walked out of the two-acter curiously unfulfilled. The play rarely feels relatable, and I’m afraid it’s mostly an issue with Cera, the talented “Juno” and “Superbad” star who here steps into a role quite similar to that of George Michael, the awkward man-boy he played on “Arrested Development.” That’s the rub—I think Warren would be better cast with an actor who’s got more range….This Is Our Youth” comes to life whenever Culkin—31, but playing a character a decade younger—is on stage.”

Robert Hofler The Wrap: “How much does Judd Apatow owe to Kenneth Lonergan’s 1996 play, “This Is Our Youth”…The play has so many elements that were to become Apatow hallmarks: the awkward teenage sex (“Freaks and Geeks”), the vintage toy collection (“The 40 Year-Old Virgin”), the slacker abode (“Knocked Up”), and, of course, the drugs (all of the above). Lonergan was there first to document that odd, unnamed territory between school and a real life, which for his 25-year-old-ish character Dennis (Kieran Culkin in a Broadway debut that’s a career breakthrough) may never arrive despite such remarkable potential….”

Matt Windman, AM New York:  “Chekhov meets Gossip Girl…There’s no escaping the fact that Cera is giving a performance that closely mirrors his nervous nice guy persona from “Arrested Development” and “Superbad.” Even so, it suits his character and he brings plenty of laughs. The 18-year-old Gevinson, who has terrific rapport with Cera, vigorously conveys Jessica’s suspicious nature. Culkin displays greater range as Dennis, who embodies cocky 1980s materialism, seeing himself as an entrepreneur.”


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