And She Would Stand Like This Review: LGBTQ House of Euripides, Snap

“Greek tragedy meets Harlem ball scene. Fantastic,” RuPaul Tweeted succinctly after seeing “And She Would Stand Like This.” The Harlem-based Movement theater company’s adaptation of Euripides’ “The Trojan Women,” which has opened at A.R.T./NY, is inspired by “Paris is Burning,” the 1990 film documentary by Jennie Livingston that chronicled the elaborate culture of drag balls by LGBTQ+ people of color in the 1980s.

And so the show begins with the fierce members of the House of Hecuba bedecked in fabulous attire posing down a runway one by one to pulsating house music, flashing disco lights, and deafening whoops and applause from the audience.

After that prologue, the runway becomes a hospital waiting room and the dancers, characters in an updated tragedy. In Euripides’ play, the Greeks have conquered Troy, killed the men, and imprisoned the Trojan women, who await further atrocities. In playwright Harrison David Rivers’ adaptation, the Greek killers have been replaced by an unnamed disease.

In Euripides’ play, Talthybius is a herald informing the dethroned Queen Hecuba what the Greeks will do to her and her children – death or enslavement. In Rivers’ adaptation, Talthybius (Reggie D. White) is a doctor delivering unwanted diagnoses.

The Greek chorus are a group of LGBTQ+ people of color whom Hecuba (Julienne Brown), once queen of the ball, had taken under wing. They are given the names Baby, Miss Scott, and Grace. They tell stories of their childhood.

Each of the ten characters in “And She Would Stand Like This” correspond in more or less clever ways to the characters in “The Trojan Women,” some more of a stretch than others. Menelaus, King of Sparta, becomes Elena (Florencia Lozano), the hospital’s administrator – and a woman who knew Hecuba before she transitioned to a woman. In Euripides, Menalaus was the husband of Helen, the “face to launch a thousand ships.” Here, the high-heeled Elena is mother to Honesto (Michael-Anthony Souza) who has a second identity, unknown to his mother…as Helen.

In his adaptation, Rivers gives implicit respect to his characters — poor, queer New Yorkers of color – by placing them in a classic tragedy that for 2,500 years has been populated by gods and goddesses, kings and queens. Director David Mendizabal has assembled a cast that does justice to Rivers’ conceit; some of the performers are themselves trans, all are people of color. Stand-outs include the three members of the Greek chorus — Darby Davis, Tamara Williams and Cornelius Davidson — who werk it to Kia LeBeija’s vibrant choreography in the prologue and then tell Rivers’ stories with a simplicity that makes them all the more moving. The star of the show is Julienne “Mizz June” Brown, who persuasively carries the weight of Hecuba on her shoulders. It’s refreshing to see such characters, and such performers, on a New York stage.

The fusion of Ancient Greece with 1980s Harlem doesn’t always play well. It takes some adjustment to go from the high-energy prologue to the staid pace of the tragedy. And the mix of dictions can be jarring. One moment Hecuba proclaims: “I see the work of gods who pile tower-high the pride of those who were nothing, and dash present grandeur down.” Another moment, she says: “A bitch can’t catch a motherfucking break!”

There is too much of the high diction, which can sound like a bad translation, and at the same time too much shouting. The most striking moments are told quietly and plain. Baby (Cornelius Davidson) tells us he got his nickname from his mother, who would hold his head between her hands and say “Make sure you don’t lose this”; she would put her ears to his heart and say “Make sure you listen to it beat, because it’ll always tell you the truth.”; she would grab his penis in the tub and say “This ain’t no weapon. Your Daddy ain’t figured that out yet.”

And occasionally, the mix of the Ancient and modern, the Queens and queens, feels just right:

“Have you ever noticed how a word begins to lose all meaning when it is said over and over again?” all three members of the chorus say in unison.
Grace: “A word like grief.”

Baby: “Grief.”
Miss Scott: “Grief.”

All: “Grief.



What a funny sounding word.”


And She Would Stand Like This

A.R.T./NY Theatres

Written by Harrison David Rivers

Directed by David Mendizabal

Choreographed by Kia LaBeija


Set Designer: Paul Tate DePoo III

Lighting Designer: Brian Tovar

Costume Designer: Anitra Michelle

Sound Designer: Sinan Refik Zafar

DJ/Prologue Composer: Byrell the Great

Cast: Julienne “Mizz June” Brown as Hecuba, Cornelius Davidson as Baby, Cherrye J. Davis as Andromache, Darby Davis as Miss Scott, Florencia Lozano as Elena, Ashton Muñiz as Cassandra, Michael-Anthony Souza as Honesto/Helen, Dasan Turner as Astyanax, Reggie D. White as Talythybius, and Tamara Williams as Grace.

Running time: 80 minutes, no intermission

Tickets: $20-$25. “A minimum of 15 tickets per performance will be pay-what-you-can.”

“And She Would Stand Like This” is on stage through  August 6th, 2017



Spoon River Review: The Dead, Singin’ and Regrettin’

In “Spoon River,” we meet a town full of drunks, hypocrites, home-grown philosophers, resentful husbands, frustrated wives, an arsonist, a killer, and dozens more – all of them dead…and all of them singing and fiddling and stomping with glee.

As part of their month-long residence at Signature Center, Canada’s Soulpepper theater company has created a lively, joyful musical adaptation of Edgar Lee Masters’ Spoon River Anthology, the celebrated 1915 book of poems by more than 200 residents of the fictional town of Spoon River, Illinois – or more precisely, residents of the graveyard in the town; the poems are epanded tombstone epitaphs

Theatergoers are led through that graveyard before we are shown to our seats, past black-suited funeral directors, and an open casket with a dead woman named Bertie.

Bertie is portrayed by Hailey Gillis, and we won’t see her again for some 90 minutes, when she crawls out of a wooden casket on stage to sing a beauteous hymn to life and beauty and the kisses of vanished lips – the last of the characters, portrayed by 19 cast members, to tell her story.

Composer Mike Ross and director Albert Schultz have done a masterful job of selecting the poems, some of which are spoken, some set to an original score. Much of what Ross has composed is what used to be called hillbilly music, but that doesn’t do justice to the range of genres and the depth of talent that put them over, from Miranda Mulholland’s exquisite violin playing and operatic soprano to Alana Bridgewater’s bring-down-the-house gospel. (see the video below.)

At least one of the poems is both spoken and sung:

Didymus Hupp (Daniel Williston), the first of a quartet of drunks, says

“Like If God is all and in all, as I opine

Then God is also in quinine.

Also in whisky, and also in wine….”

Then one by one, the other drunks join him to sing the stanza, accompanied by bass and mandolin.

There are other clever groupings: A toothless Don Juan, followed by several of the women he deflowered in his prime; a series of married couples, side by side in their coffins (as if we are viewing them from above), vituperative and resentful even in death, or still loving and grateful.

There is humor lurking in the grim tales and sad regrets voiced by individual characters: The town’s telephone operator Edith Bell (Sarah Wilson), after recounting some scandals, observes that “the commandment not to judge was made impossible by the telephone.” Margaret Fuller Slack (Alana Bridgewater), wanted to be a novelist, and married a rich druggist because he promised her a life of leisure, and instead gave her six children. The lesson she has learned in the grave:

Hear me, ambitious souls,
Sex is the curse of life!

If the pile-on of graveyard observers starts to feel too rich, and the songs too repetitive, what will surely remain a fond memory after theatergoers depart (the theater!) are the rompin’, stompin’ hootenannies, when the entire cast of 19 gather,  reassuring us that the dead can have fun.

Soulpepper in Bryant Park

Spoon River

Soulpepper on stage at Signature

Adapted from Edgar Lee Masters’ “Spoon River Anthology” by Mike Ross and Albert Schultz; Composed by Mike Ross; Directed by Albert Schultz

Cast: Alana Bridgewater, Oliver Dennis, Raquel Duffy, Hailey Gillis, Stuart Hughes, John Jarvis, Richard Lam, Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster, Jeff Lillico, Diego Matamoros, Michelle Monteith, Miranda Mulholland, Gregory Prest, Jackie Richardson, Mike Ross, Paolo Santalucia, Brendan Wall, Daniel Williston and Sarah Wilson

Running time: 95 minutes with no intermission.

Tickets: $20 to $55

Spoon River is set to run through July 27, 2017

NYMF Review: Temple of the Souls. A Romeo and Juliet romance in 16th Century Puerto Rico

“Temple of the Souls,” a musical about a doomed, Romeo and Juliet romance in 16th century Puerto Rico between a Spanish conquistador’s daughter and a Taino, begins with a thrill. The cast, dressed in the naguas (loincloths), masks and straw headgear of the indigenous people of the island, dance sensuously and athletically to a tuneful melody driven by an infectious beat.
Here’s what that opening number, “Yucahu,” sounded and looked like in rehearsal, which gives just a hint of how exciting it is in performance

These are Taino Souls, they tell us in song, haunting a cave in the rain forest of the El Yunque mountains, a sacred place called the Temple of Souls. It is sacred, we’re told later, because the cave’s walls are full of paintings and carvings that tell the history of the Taino people, a history that climaxed in Spanish discovery, conquest, enslavement and genocide.
Everything about the opening number is promising; it promises an enlightening and entertaining journey through Taino history and culture.
One of those cave paintings, explains a guide leading modern-day tourists in the next scene, recounts the story of the forbidden love between Amada and Guario. “Legend has it that they are the parents to many of us … the blending of two worlds, the Mestizo race of Puerto Rico.”

Little in the nearly two hours (without intermission) that follow the opening number in “Temple of the Souls” quite matches it. The largely predictable story of Amada and Guario is dramatized without much nuance and performed mostly with the kind of exaggerated clarity normally reserved for children’s theater. (I suppose “Temple of the Souls” is appropriate for children, save perhaps for about a minute of fairly explicit lovemaking.) Many of the songs owe less to Puerto Rican culture than to the cult of American Idol, generic pop ballads that end in sustained notes demanding applause.

Still, “Temple of Souls,” one of the 20 full productions in this year’s New York Musical Festival, is worth seeing – and worth developing further – thanks not just to the opening number, but to Enrique Brown’s choreography throughout, the colorful eye-catching visuals by the design team (costume designer Lisa Renee Jordan; projection designer Jan Hartley; scenic designer Jennifer Varbalow; lighting designer Jason Fox), and several stand-out performances, especially Lorraine Velez (not to be confused with her twin sister Lauren Velez) as Amada’s mother, who has been forced to pretend to Amada that she is only her nanny, her Nana, because she is Taino.
It would be difficult to ignore the appeal of Noellia Hernandez as Amada and Andres Quintero as Guario, and hard to help the chills when, in the face of the Spaniards’ cruelty, they sing “Love is stronger than death,” or exclaim: “The mestizo history of Boriken will live on forever.”

Temple of Souls is on stage at Theatre Row through July 23, 2017, as part of the New York Musical Festival.

NYMF Review: The Fourth Messenger. Buddha as a 21st Century Woman


The story of the Buddha informs this intriguing and well-produced musical at the New York Musical Festival about a modern-day female spiritual leader. But it’s not until the last fifth of the show that we realize what aspect of the Buddha’s life most struck Tanya Shaffer, who wrote the earnest script, and Vienna Teng, who composed the delightfully eclectic score. It was when future Buddha, Prince Siddhartha Gautama, who had been sheltered from the world by his father the king, left his home and family behind to help alleviate suffering in the world.
How would we feel if a 21st century Buddha sacrificed their connections to their loved ones for the sake of strangers? And would we feel differently if that Buddha were a woman?
Is it possible, the authors ask in a program note, for someone to be both enlightened and flawed? “And how can we integrate the Buddha’s principle that attachment causes suffering with the intuitive notion that it is those very attachments that give meaning to our lives?”
All of these are substantive and provocative questions. The challenge is how to address them in a musical.
In “The Fourth Messenger,” Raina (Samia Mounts), an intern at “Debunk Nation Magazine,” convinces her editor Sam (Alan Gillespie) to let her investigate the spiritual teacher, Mama Sid (a terrific Nancy Anderson.)
“What do you have on her?” Sam asks
“A hunch.” Raina says of Mama Sid “she’s hiding something.”
And so she is, as we learn after Raina becomes ensconced with Mama Sid and her followers.  I won’t say more except that the big revelation definitely took me by surprise, but doesn’t pass the plausibility test.
If the twist makes the plot of “The Fourth Messenger” less sturdy than its themes, the musical is very nearly redeemed by its musical numbers. Director Matt August and choreographer Natalie Malotke put the show’s talented nine-member cast to good use, and musical director Jesse Lozano makes the most of Vienna Teng’s music, a pleasing mix of heavenly hymns, folk, rock, jazz, ballads and delicious touches: When there’s a flashback to an old flame, he sings a song tinged with tango; when the singer is remembering a young child, the song sounds like a nursery rhyme.

There is enough beauty here that my hope is “The Fourth Messenger” lives on past the New York Musical Festival — after extensive rewrites.

video from a rehearsal:

The Fourth Messenger is on stage at Theatre Row through Sunday, July 23, 2017

Watch Spamilton in Bryant Park

The cast of the Hamilton spoof, Spamilton, performed at the Broadway in Bryant Park concert this week a medley including “Lin-Manuel As Hamilton,” “1776,” “What Did You Miss,” and “Rap Battle” — Hamilton tunes by Lin-Manuel Miranda with Spamilton lyrics by Gerard Alessandrini, best-known until now for Forbidden Broadway.

Watch the three videos beginning with the opening number from the show, which spoofs the opening number of Hamilton:

How does a whipper snapper student of rap
and a Latin
trapped in the middle of a manhattan

Flat win
Broadway accolades
while other writers kiss
the corporate dollar
grow up to be a hip-hop op’ra scholar?


This blue collar
shining beacon
puerto rican
got a lot farther
by being a lot smarter
by stretching rhymes harder by being a trend-starter.


The second song spoofs Thomas Jefferson’s song “What’d I Miss?” (This one is close-captioned.)

So what’d you miss? What’d you miss?

The lyrics go by so fast You are in the abyss

I see you sittin’ there and looking befuddled I guess my diction is sloppy or muddled

We’re telling a complex plot

In the third video, “Rap Battle,” Nicole Vanessa Ortiz sets what must be a world speed record for her rapping.

The lyrics in the video above include “Lin-Manuel” rapping:

I am not throwin’ away my spot
I am not throwin’ away my spot
I compose like Debussy
But it comes out like BIG Juicy
And I love rapping the way he taught

I am not stoppin’ the way I rap
Till I turn showtunes upside down


I reviewed Spamilton when it opened at the Triad. Now it’s at the 47th Street Theater — down the block from Hamilton.

The cast members performing in Bryant Park:

Tristan J. Shuler, Chris Anthony Giles, Cameron Amandus, Nicole Vanessa Ortiz, Aaron Michael Ray, and Fred Barton on the piano.

Watch Immigrant Artists Sing and Dance

Watch the video below for highlights of the concert that concluded the Immigrant Arts in America Summit. The summit was a two-day event that included panel discussions, a speech by John Leguizamo, the formation of the Immigrant Arts Coalition — and the free concert at the Robert Wagner Jr. Park, the stage framed against a backdrop of New York Harbor, between the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.

The dancers, singers, and musicians came from around the world (The I’s alone: Iraq, Ireland, Israel, Italy, the Ivory Coast.)

Groups participating:
Amerike The Golden Land band from National Yiddish Theater Folksbiene
Kimberley Locke
Kaleidoscope Russian youth folkdance group
Cast of “Woody Sez: The Life and Music of Woody Guthrie” from the Irish Rep
The Soledad Ensemble
Kairos Italy Theater
Turkish American Repertory Theater
The Cumbe Center for African and Diaspora Dance (Kotchegna Dance Company)

John Leguizamo on his life, career, being a theater nerd, and the coming power of Latinos


“We’re the kind of people that Trump wants to keep out of the U.S.,” John Leguizamo says in the video below, about his family, who immigrated to New York from Colombia (“the country, not the university”) when he was three years old.   The actor, writer, producer and Tweeter extraordinaire (as he was introduced) gave the keynote speech at the Immigration Arts Summit, held at the Museum for Jewish Heritage on Monday.

Leguizamo at podiumLeguizamo recounts his childhood in the multicultural Jackson Heights, Queens, and how he became interested in making a life in the arts, which his family didn’t support.

“When I told my father I wanted to be an actor, he said ‘why can’t you be a garbage man or a substitute teacher, something with dignity. If you’re in a union, you can’t be fired.’”

He first began performing at PS 122, the performance art space – “you knew it was performance art, because the cast outnumbered the audience.”

“In the late 70s, we weren’t trying to ‘build a brand’ or get Instagram followers. We were trying to get art (and get laid) — but mostly make art (and get laid.)”

Pacino and LeguizamoWhen he started getting movie roles, “I thought they were beneath me…My problem was I was a theater actor, and theater actors think they’re morally superior to movie actors. For theater nerds like me, it’s about being raw and truthful, not good-looking or charming, or a celebrity.”

He quoted Tennessee Williams: “The theatre is an art form. Remember that. It is a vast undertaking, much bigger than all of us who work in it. Of course we are going to fail–we are taking on a huge task, an almost impossible one.”

Although he’s appeared in some 100 movies, Leguizamo said his career is an example of what not to do – he turned down the Oscar-winning movie “Philadelphia,” for example, to play Luigi in Super Mario Bros.”


Leguizamo has performed six one-man shows on stage, three of them on Broadway. (Read my reviews of Ghetto Klown — in which I also talk about the 1990 “Mambo Mouth,” his first — and Latin History for Morons, his latest, earlier this year.) He began doing them, he says, so that he wouldn’t have to compromise his art, he could improvise all he wanted (something Al Pacino stopped him from trying to do in “Carlito’s Way”), and so he wouldn’t have to just play hoodlums.

“One out of every six Americans is Latin, why aren’t we represented on TV accordingly? Why does Hollywood ignore us? … The Latinos I grew up with are funny, complicated, intellectual. I never see Hispanic characters portrayed that way.

“Of the almost 70 million Hispanics in the United States, almost 10 million are immigrants, and that my friend is the reason why Republicans want to keep us out of the country, because Hispanics overwhelmingly vote Democratic.”

Later, in a question and answer period, he was asked whether he has considered running for office. “I’ve thought about it.”

Watch his full 20-minute speech in the video below, including brief impersonations of Marlon Brando, Al Pacino and (sort of) Tennesee Williams.

Ticket Giveaway: Indecent

Indecent Dance Photo

Ticket Givewaway: Win two tickets to see Indecent for free. I loved this show, a fascinating backstage tale written by Paula Vogel and wondrously staged by  Rebecca Taichman (who won a Tony for it) about a century-old Jewish drama called “The God of Vengeance.” That Yiddish play featured a scandalizing kiss between two women, which resulted in the Broadway cast being prosecuted for obscenity. Indecent explores a range of frighteningly relevant issues,  and it is at times inexpressibly heartbreaking. But it is not only enlightening and moving; it is rousing entertainment; with so much dancing and singing and toe-tapping music you’re likely to remember it as a musical.

I was delighted Indecent was given a reprieve — the producers had announced it would end June 25 , but then decided to extend through August 6th.

And I’m  even more delighted to offer a pair of tickets. To enter the contest for the tickets, just answer this question:

What is your favorite show that explores serious issues in an entertaining way?

Update:  I am asking for you to talk about how a show is serious AND also entertaining. (Some of you have only been answering how it’s serious.)

The Rules:

  1. Please put your answer in the comments at the bottom of this blog post, because I will choose the winner at random, using, based on the order of your reply, not its content.
  2.  But you must answer the question, complete with description, or your entry will not be approved for submission.
  3. This contest ends Wednesday July 19, 2017 at midnight Eastern Time, and I will make the drawing no later than noon the next day. You must respond within 12 hours or I will pick another winner.


The winner will get a voucher for two tickets to see Indecent between July 26 and July 29. (The voucher must be submitted by July 21st.)


Update: There are two winners, chosen at random on based on the order of their reply:

Erin Quill, number 12 in order of reply.

Mike Ming, number 45.

Discount codes for the rest of you, to save up to 35 percent on tickets through August 6, 2017, when Indecent ends on Broadway.
Balcony seats from $39
Mezzanine seats from $71
Select Orchestra seats at $89

1. ONLINE: Click Here
or Visit & enter code:
Call 212-947-8844 & mention code:
3. IN PERSON: Print this offer & bring to CORT THEATRE, 138 W. 48th St. NY, NY





Antigone in Ferguson. Uma! Euan! Emmy! Week in New York Theater

“I am a foolish man…I am crushed, I have been crushed by fate,” cried out Reg E. Cathey as King Creon, at a climactic moment in  the free Saturday performance of “Antigone in Ferguson,” an adaptation by Theater of War of Sophocles’ 2,500-year-old tragedy.
Earlier, upon first assuming office, Creon had preened: “A leader is nothing without his advisors, and I will have the best,” which brought a laugh from the audience in the Howard Playground in Brownsville, Brooklyn. Things turned ugly when Creon went through with his threat to execute his niece Antigone (Sonja John) for burying her brother, in defiance of  his explicit order — a decision that  led to Creon’s own destruction.

“I was surprised that I felt bad for Creon,” an audience member said in the extensive conversation after the show. “As a schoolteacher, I know how important it is to try to calm things down. That’s what he was trying to do. Clearly, he was doing it in the wrong way.”

“Antigone in Ferguson” — which was performed by cast members from the HBO TV series “The Wire,” as well as a gospel chorus made up of residents and activists from Ferguson, Missouri — was the first of some 60 productions over the next two years that Theater of War will bring to some 60 locations in New York City — classic plays that address current issues.

These Broadway veterans have been nominated for Emmy Awards
Complete list of nominees.

Week in New York Theater Reviews


As “Pipeline” begins, we learn that a black teenager has gotten into a physical scuffle with his teacher and is in danger of being expelled, and arrested. Morisseau masterfully upends the tired assumptions that might attach to such a drama, in a play that is not just smart and engaging; it is also the most literate of any I’ve seen this year

Matthew McConaughey vs. The Devil, An American Myth

(New York Musical Festival)

How did so many talented people produce a show so pointless, derivative and mean? Its worst sin may be that it is rarely funny…Matthew McConaughey vs. the Devil” doesn’t make much sense from the get-go. It is not, however, completely damnable….The real salvation is in the production values.

Oscar Isaac in Hamlet at the Public Theater


for all this fiddling around, and despite too many moments of director-engendered incoherence, Sam Gold’s “Hamlet” ultimately worked for me. This is largely because of Oscar Isaac’s performance…Gold’s radical interpretation of the play did not for me undermine the power and clarity of Isaac’s Hamlet

Opening Skinner’s Box

There are two kinds of questions posed by the Improbable Theater Company’s production of “Opening Skinner’s Box,” a stage adaptation of the 2004 book by Lauren Slater that describes ten famous and often flabbergasting psychology experiments. The show opens the 2017 Lincoln Center Festival.

There are the intriguing questions about human behavior that the experiments themselves attempted to address…Then there are the questions about the show itself:…What does one get out of this stage piece that one cannot get out of Slater’s book?

Amerike: The Golden Land

This musical revue surveying 50 years in song of Jewish immigration to New York has some stirring moments. One longs for more of them….the creative team, who first put the show together in 1982, works hard to unearth period songs intelligently and present them authentically. There is also much loveliness in the production,

Will on TNT

a speculative TV series about William Shakespeare’s early career in London…a series that features, among other attributes, a cast of soap opera-level hunks and beauties in some extremely graphic scenes of torture, slightly more demure humping, and the first rap battle in iambic pentameter.

Week in New York Theater News

Uma Thurman to make her Broadway debut in November in The Parisian Woman, political drama by Beau Willimon (House of Cards) in a theater yet to be determined.

The Parisian Woman, which was commissioned by The Flea Theater Off-Off Broadway and debuted at @SouthCoastRep in 2013, is derived from a 19th century French play by Henry Francois Becque, and focuses on a socialite in Washington D.C.

The new theater critic at New York Magazine — Sara Holdren (@swholdren) an accomplished theater director .

Here’s her take-down in culturebot of Joan of Arc:Into The Fire


“If I believed in Joan’s god, I’d pray for a world in which all artists could tell any story, no matter its distance from their personal experience — a world in which radical imagination, real empathy, and respect and care for one’s material and one’s collaborators lay at the heart of every process. I am not taking issue with the team that created Joan of Arc: Into the Fire for being men, but I am taking issue with what they made, which is, at its heart, retrogressive and patriarchal.”

Euan Morton becomes the new King George III in Hamilton starting July 28

Grand Central Publishing, publisher that of Hamilton The Revolution, will publish “Dear Evan Hansen: Through the Window” in November.

Broadway in the Boros FREE

First up: Noon,Fri 7/21 Anastasia and Great Comet, at the Socrates Sculpture Park in Queens

The Bronx, July 24:

Staten Island, July 28:


2017 Edgerton Foundation New Play Awards of $359,00 to 13 shows; four of them in NYC

This Ain’t No Disco, music & lyrics by Stephen Trask & Peter Yanowitz,
book by Rick Elice, at Atlantic Theater Company

This Flat Earth by Lindsey Ferrentino at Playwrights Horizons

The Treasurer by Max Posner at Playwrights Horizons

Skintight by Joshua Harmon at Roundabout Theatre Company

James Franco

James Franco shuts down Off-Off-Broadway’s ‘James Franco and Me’

“James Franco and Me,” a play set to run next month at the Peoples Improv Theater on E. 24th St., has been cancelled after getting a cease and desist letter from the 39-year-old star’s lawyers.

“We’re just going to remove any mention of James Franco….We’re calling it ‘______ and Me’

Pipeline Review: A Mother and Teacher Worries About Her Son

As “Pipeline” begins, we learn that a black teenager has gotten into a physical scuffle with his teacher and is in danger of being expelled, and arrested. But playwright Dominique Morisseau masterfully upends the tired assumptions that might attach to such a drama, in a play that is not just smart and engaging; it is also the most literate of any I’ve seen this year.

The teenager, Omari (Namir Smallwood), attends a mostly white private boarding school. The encounter occurred, as Omari later explains to his mother, after a discussion of Richard Wright’s novel “Native Son,” when the teacher kept on asking him questions about the African-American protagonist of that novel, the killer Bigger Thomas. “’What made Bigger Thomas kill that woman? What were his social limitations? What made the animal in him explode?’ And who he lookin’ at when he askin’ all these questions, Ma. Who he lookin’ at?”

“Omari,” his mother replies.

“Like I’m the spokesperson. Like I’m Bigger Thomas. Like I’m pre-disposed or some shit to knowing what it’s like to be an animal.”

“Pipeline”is no polemic. The play focuses less on Omari than it does on his mother, Nya, portrayed by the wonderful actress Karen Pittman (Disgraced, King Liz) – and, truth be told, she too has questions and concerns about her own son…and other mothers’ sons. She is a teacher herself, in what is euphemistically called (but not in this play!) an “inner city school.”

Nya is also a single mother – but, again, that doesn’t mean what some people would assume. Omari’s father Xavier (Morocco Omari) is a successful businessman, who is paying for Omari’s schooling. We even piece together, in passing, that it was Nya’s actions that destroyed the marriage.

Again and again, in other words, the playwright insists on the specificity of her characters. This long has impressed me about Dominique Morisseau, who in addition to her playwriting is a writer for the Showtime series “Shameless,” about a struggling family in Chicago, and whose previous plays include “Skeleton Crew,” about a financially-threatened group of Detroit auto workers, which was given a terrific production last year.

Off stage, Morisseau is passionate and outspoken about a range of social and political issues, but her beliefs never seem to interfere with her integrity as a playwright . She doesn’t use her characters to score points; she allows them their lives – which are as full and complicated as any of the characters we are more used to seeing on stage. It is refreshing, for example, that “Pipeline” features a character, Dun (Jaime Lincoln Smith), who is intelligent and caring and flirtatious and adulterous…and works as a minimum wage school security guard.

All six characters in “Pipeline” are given their due, aided immeasurably by some outstanding performances under the fine direction of Lileana Blain-Cruz.

The title of Morisseau’s play is an oft-used term among educators, employed as a metaphor for the fate awaiting school children. The students labeled “gifted” go into one pipeline. The term is commonly used these days to describe what happens way too often to poor children of color — “the school to prison pipeline,” which was the subject of Anna Deavere Smith’s documentary drama, “Notes from the Field.”

There is no mention of this term in the play itself (although there’s an explanation of it in the accompanying issue of the Lincoln Center Theatre Review.) The problems in education are presented obliquely but effectively, and not downplayed: In between scenes, Hannah Wasileski’s huge video projections of what look to be real-life chaos and violence inside an actual school cover the institutional wall of a set that looks like an especially forbidding high school gymnasium.  Nya’s colleague Laurie (the gloriously in-your-face Tasha Lawrence), has just returned to school after facial reconstruction surgery to repair the damage from an attack by the parents of a failing student. “I’ll outlast ‘em all,” she barks. (By the end of the play, we’re not so sure.)

Nya most eloquently expresses her worries about her son when she is teaching the 1959 poem by Gwendolyn Brooks, “We Real Cool: The Pool Players Seven at the Golden Shovel”:

We real cool. We

Left school. We

Lurk late. We

Strike straight. We

Sing sin. We

Thin gin. We

Jazz June. We

Die soon.

Nya teaches the poem to her class, and to the audience too. It’s a testament to the skills of Pipeline’s playwright, director and performers how much this poem winds up meaning to us, and moving us.

There may not be a traditional story arc in “Pipeline” — as the play progresses, we dig deeper into the characters — and no clear-cut resolution at its end, but that to me speaks to Morisseau’s integrity. She’s telling us like it is; a pat ending would ring false, given the circumstances. Any hopefulness is unlikely to exterminate the frustration and resentment and uncertainty.

Along the way, we are treated to Morisseau’s gifts, which include not just her compassionate portrayals and an easygoing grasp of literary poetry, but her exquisite ear for the delightful everyday poetry in the way people talk, such as in the dialogue between Omari and his boarding school girlfriend Jasmine (Heather Velazquez.) Her parents (like his) thrust her into this alien environment to get her out of the neighborhood and its bad influences. In a scene in her dorm room, Omari has just announced to her that he’s going to run away from school.

“Yo, this could be our last time,” he says, making a move.
“You kiddin’ me right now?” she says, darting up out of the bed.
“I’m just seeking intimacy.”
“You seeking to get socked in the eye. I don’t turn on and off like no stove.”
“You mean a faucet.”
“I mean a stove. One minute you got me hot. Next minute fire’s out…”

Later, using a lesson he learned in “Mr. Peterson’s Science Class,” Omari compares Jasmine to “Metamorphic rocks. They change in form. Made from heat and pressure. That’s what makes ‘em so rare and interesting. “

That sounds like a good description of all the characters in “Pipeline” – and of the play itself.


Lincoln Center’s Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater

Written by Dominique Morisseau; Directed by Lileana Blain-Cruz
Set design by Matt Saunders, costume design by Montana Blanco, lighting design by Yi Zhao, sound design by Justin Ellington.
Cast: Tasha Lawrence, Morocco Omari, Karen Pittman, Namir Smallwood, Jaime Lincoln Smith and Heather Velazquez
Running time: 90 minutes, no intermission.
Tickets: $87
Pipeline is scheduled to run through August 27, 2017