Theater and Campaign 2016. Hamilton, Fun Home, Eclipsed Summit. Week in New York Theater

The arts operate at the core of human identity…After gravity, culture is the thing that holds humanity in place ~ Cate Blanchett

An apt comment for Arts Advocacy Day

But is it gravity, the arts, and then…politics?

Campaign 2016 is taking a surreal, worrisome and, let’s face it, theatrical turn. Politics meanwhile is also present on New York stages.  This is most directly in the first of the three-play cycle “The Gabriels: Election Year in the Life of One Family,” which opened this week at the Public (see review below.) But politics is the foundation of shows such as the Rap Guide to Climate Chaos, and central to much of  the work of The Civilians, an “investigative” theater company marking its 15th anniversary. Both plays by Danai Gurira that opened this past week are reminders that there is a world, and a world of concerns, that don’t show up on American polls.


Check out the New York theater openings scheduled for March


Also check out my February 2016 New York Theater Quiz



The Week in New York Theater Reviews

Pericles 3 Raphael-Nash-Thompson_photo-Gerry-Goodstein


Why would Trevor Nunn, director of the musicals Les Miserables and Cats, choose one of Shakespeare’s least-revived plays as the first he’s staged with an American company, for an audience in Brooklyn? One answer may be that “Pericles” was the Les Miz and Cats of its day, which is to say, an immense crowd pleaser in 1608, one of the Bard’s biggest hits. Nunn honors that legacy in the Theater for a New Audience production of “Pericles” at the Polonsky Shakespeare Center,  with a gorgeous, swashbuckling pageant, featuring – in order of delight — Constance Hoffman’s parade of fancy and fanciful character-revealing costumes; Shaun Davey’s tuneful, period-appropriate music performed by the splendid roly-poly musicians of the PigPen Theatre Co who portray sundry sailors and servants as well;  lighting designer Stephen Strawbridge’s dreamy hues of blue and vivid orange; and a sexy hero in Christian Camargo…

Ito Aghayere and Melanie Nicholls-King
Ito Aghayere and Melanie Nicholls-King


Danai Gurira is best known for slicing off the heads of zombies in The Walking Dead, but that is about to change. Her play Eclipsed is opening on Broadway March 6, starring Oscar-winner Lupita Nyong’o. Three days earlier, Familiar, her funny, insightful play about a Zimbabwe family living in Minnesota, is opening Off-Broadway at Playwrights Horizons.


The Rap Guide to Climate Chaos

Baba Brinkman’s solo “rap guide” shows are an often dazzling mix of smart, informative, inventive and witty, as I learned when I saw his Rap Guide to Religion, which offered a perfect balance of entertainment and enlightenment. [In the new guide] There are 24 raps in all, and, as wonderful and/or well-meaning as each is, this winds up being too much to absorb at one sitting

Lynn Hawley, Maryann Plunkett
Lynn Hawley, Maryann Plunkett


In a Presidential campaign year that includes headlines like CNN’s recent “Donald Trump defends size of his penis,” one welcomes the premise behind Richard Nelson’s new three-play cycle, The Gabriels: Election Year In The Life Of One Family, which will unfold in real time at the Public Theater.

The first play, Hungry, opened March 4, which is the date in which it is set….The cycle will culminate with the third play, Women of a Certain Age, which will be both set and open – and which the playwright will finish writing – on Election Day, November 8, 2016….The characters in Hungry bring up politics casually, in-between idle chatter about more personal matters, as might an actual family. There is no more than 10 minutes of conversation about the election in a play that lasts 100 minutes without an intermission

Akosua Busia and Lupita Nyong’o in Eclipsed
Akosua Busia and Lupita Nyong’o in Eclipsed


What’s most impressive about the Broadway production of Eclipsed, Danai Gurira’s forceful drama about the effect of war on five women in Liberia, is that it is opening on Broadway at all. This has much to do with Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o’s decision to portray a girl we first see hiding under a tub….

It might have been satisfying enough just to see this passion project make it to a commercial stage. But what could easily have been a noble, grim and largely unwatchable testament to man’s inhumanity towards woman in wartime turns out to be a well-acted ensemble piece and a thought-provoking drama that is surprisingly vibrant, and sometimes even whimsical.

from The Civilians; In The Footprint
from The Civilians; In The Footprint

In Praise of the Civilians at 15

The subjects of The Civilians over the past fifteen years have been breathtakingly broad: climate change (The Great Immensity); gentrification (In The Footprint, the story of Atlantic Yards, the largest development project in Brooklyn history); the Parisian uprising of the working class in 1871 (Paris Commune.) They’ve looked at loss (Gone Missing), divorce (Tales from My Parents Divorce), death (Be The Death of Me), and The Simpsons animated TV series (Mr. Burns A Post-Electric Play, which The Civilians commissioned from playwright Anne Washburn.) They’ve gone to the San Fernando Valley in California to explore the nation’s pornography industry for Pretty Filthy; traveled to Bogota and its annual beauty pageant in a women’s prison there for Another Word for Beauty, which The Civilians and the Goodman Theatre commissioned from playwright Jose Rivera; visited Colorado Springs, Colorado, in search of the Evangelical movement in the United States, for The Beautiful City. They’ve studied income inequality, considered what it means to be masculine, and tried to figure out what makes Americans Americans. They may be the most vibrant socially-conscious, avant-garde, investigative theatre company in the country.

The Week in New York Theater News


Starting in October (after Les Miserables closes) Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 starring Josh Groban will be at Broadway’s Imperial Theater

Forest Whitaker in Hughie
Forest Whitaker in Hughie

Hughie starring Forest Whittaker  to close on March 27 (instead of June 12) after 55 performances

New Classic Stage Company 2016-17 Season

October: stage adaptation of Dead Poets Society

January: The Liar by David Ives

April: Sondheim’s Pacific Overtures

Barbara Cook

Barbara Cook, 88, to star in “Barbara Cook: Then and Now,” a one-woman show of memoir and melodies, written by James Lapine, directed by Tommy Tune  Opens May 4 at New World Stages.

To lobby for worldwide gay rights, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power brought 15 U.N. ambassadors to see Fun Home 


Hamilton lovers, take note: The Encores concert version of 1776 will feature a cast that includes  Nikki Renée Daniels,Santino Fontana (as John Adams), André De Shields, Bryce Pinkham and John Larroquette (as Benjamin Franklin).  John Behlman will portray Thomas Jefferson. New York City Center March 30-April 3

Superior Donuts logo

Tracy Letts’s play Superior Donuts being turned into a TV series starring Brian d’Arcy James and Jermaine Fowler.

Critic Frank Rizzo says he’ll be teaching a college course on Hamilton the musical at the University of Hartford in May.

Jonathan LarsonCarson Greitzer, Cesar Alvarez, Nikko A Benson, Sam Salmond win the American Theatre Wing’s 2016 Jonathan Larson Grants.

Alvarez of The Lisps is prime mover behind the musical Futurity.


The Week in Hollywood versus Theater

Mark Rylance, the only Tony winner who won an Oscar last week (for Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies) has been nominated for the UK’s Olivier Awards for Farinelli And The King and is currently starring in Nice Fish a play he co-wrote, at St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn.

He may illustrate Charles McNulty’s contention that the British tradition of “commuting between stage and screen” better equips English actors to handle dramatic challenges.  In any case, the premature closing of Hughie is the latest indication that Hollywood stardom doesn’t automatically draw in theatergoers, as Gordon Cox points out in Variety.


The Week in Hamilton, Fun Home and Eclipsed

Lin-Manuel Miranda, Jeanine Tesori, Danai Gurira talk to Public Theater artistic director Oskar Eustis, who got the ball rolling for Hamilton, Fun Home, and Eclipsed, all now on Broadway.



Author: New York Theater

Jonathan Mandell is a 3rd generation NYC journalist, who sees shows, reads plays, writes reviews and sometimes talks with people.

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