Excellence in Theater…or Taste? Marisa Tomei, Mary-Louise Parker Back on Broadway. Third Rail’s New Immersive Shakespeare! #Stageworthy News of the Week

As the theater awards season enters the home stretch – what’s left: Drama Desk Awards, Theatre World Awards, the Tonys – the question arises once again:How does one determine, or even define, excellence in theater?

“I’ve become increasingly convinced that as a field we do not have a cohesive definition of excellence,” Chad Bauman,  the managing director of Milwaukee Repertory Theater, wrote last year in American Theatre.

So he asked his colleagues across the country, and got some 50 responses – but the question he asked was about excellence in a theater as a whole (regional theaters in particular), not about individual shows. So the answers about excellence in individual shows didn’t get much more specific than “artistic quality.” All did agree that courage counts – such as not being afraid to play with form.

Five years ago, in an article titled Divining Artistic Excellence ,  theater artist and historian Lynne Connor pointed out that, while the concept of excellence can refer to something semi-tangible such as “the sophistication of a play’s dramatic arc,” more often people conflate excellence with taste, “something far less tangible and thus far less quantifiable.” And what determines taste? “Personal taste in everything from beer to Shakespeare comes about through a combination of biology, past experience, cultural norms, and individual predilections.”

She concludes: “We need to find productive ways to invite audiences of all tastes (and all economic and ethnic backgrounds) to join in the conversation about (the struggle over) meaning and value.”

Week in New York Theater Awards

Obie Awards

The 64th Annual Obie Awards, celebrating Off and Off-Off-Broadway Theater, was a New York Theatre Workshop lovefest, with Obies going to NYTW playwrights Heidi Schreck, Madeleine George, Marcus Gardley, and lighting designer Isabella Byrd, as well as a lifetime achievement Obie to NYTW’s artistic director James Nicola. It was also a tribute to the many women working in the theater in New York. But Obies like to spread the wealth, literally — Four theaters received grants.

Full list


Terrence McNally was made an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts at New York University’s Commencement. NYU Prof (and playwright) Kristoffer Diaz read the citation:”  Terrence McNally, one of theatre’s greatest contemporary playwrights, you have created over the past half-century an eclectic and prolific body of work—literally scores of plays, musicals, opera libretti, and scripts for film and television. Your razor wit and complexities of character largely explain how you created theatre that functions as family, launched the careers of great actors, and helped audiences cope with the AIDS crisis that engulfed them. You placed your unique stamp on American drama by probing the urgent need for connection that resonates at the core of human experience. From an expansive mind and generous spirit, you have created masterful and enduring art and in the process have celebrated and uplifted humankind.”

The latest is a revival of Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune, which opens May 30th at Broadway’s Broadhurst Theater.


Madeline Michel from Monticello High School in Charlottesville, VA was the winner of the 2019 Excellence in Theatre Education Award from the Tony Awards and Carnegie Mellon

After the white supremacist rally in their city, Michel’s students wrote and performed original theater to address racial inequality, helping to elevated the conversation for a wounded community.

Some 2019 Outer Critics Circle Award winners accept their awards at a celebratory luncheon at Sardi’s

In introducing Bryan Cranston, Outer Critics Circle winner of lead actor in a play for his role in Network, Tina Fey said: “To play Howard Beale eight times a week, an actor must have the gravitas of a president, the emotional fluidity of a lunatic, and the stamina of a porn star.”


The Week in New York Theater Reviews and Previews

Brian d’Arcy James (Quinn Carney) and Holley Fain (Caitlin Carney

The Ferryman on Broadway with American cast

The Ferryman, a feast of Irish storytelling in a breathtaking mix of genres, opened on Broadway seven months ago, and since then it’s gotten nine Tony nominations, best play awards from the New York Drama Critics Circle, the Outer Critics Circle, AND the Drama League…and an almost entirely new cast, the original British and Irish actors replaced by Americans.
Even Laura Donnelly has been replaced. She is the Belfast-born actress whose uncle’s disappearance, and the subsequent discovery years later of his murdered corpse, inspired playwright Jez Butterworth to write the play in the first place. Donnelly’s character Caitin Carney is now being portrayed by Holley Fain, an actress born in Kansas.

…Does this matter? It might in one way to those of us who saw the original cast. But to those theatergoers who have not yet had the pleasure of experiencing The Ferryman (which they have only until July 7th to do), the play is still a rich, sweeping entertainment — epic, tragic….and cinematic.

Lunch Bunch at Clubbed Thumb

In the first play of Clubbed Thumb’s 24thannual  Summerworks festival at the Wild Project – the first summer theater festival of the season — the cast faces us a la A Chorus Line, except instead of singing “I hope I get it,”they recite “Veggie enchiladas with Clementine” and “Rice, steamed kale, spiced tofu.”

It’s only after several such culinary recitations that we’re told these people are members of a lunch group, each member having agreed to make lunch for everybody else once a week.  It takes a little longer to figure out that they are lawyers in a public defender’s office, that it’s a taxing job – “Greg’s resilient,” says Tuttle (Keilly McQuail), “He never cries in the coat closet” – and that obsessing on food is what helps keep them going.

Loveville High

Two things distinguish Loveville High, a new musical that takes place on prom night in a high school in Loveville, Ohio. First: The cast of 13 is comprised of some of the most talented young theater stars in New York, several of them also currently performing on Broadway — Ali Stroker (Tony nominee for Oklahoma!), Kathryn Allison (Aladdin), Andrew Durand (Ink), Gizel Jiménez (Wicked), and Ryann Redmond (Frozen)  — and they sing the hell out of the lively, often witty songs  by David Zellnik (Yank!) and Eric Svejcar (Disney’s Peter Pan Jr.) How is it possible to be in two shows at the same time?  That’s the second aspect of this musical that’s unusual: It has no choreographer, no set designer…no stage. It’s a podcast.

Úna Clancy and Maryann Plunkett


Sean O’Casey’s Dublin Trilogy

Sean O’Casey was 43 years old and had worked his whole life as a laborer, when he finally had a play accepted in 1922 by the founders of Dublin’s famed Abbey Theater, the dramatist Lady Gregory and the poet W.B. Yeats. That play, The Shadow of A Gunman, was set during the 1920 Irish War of Independence, and is the first play of what came to be called O’Casey’s Dublin Trilogy, a chronicle of Ireland’s violent struggle for independence from the British, set from 1916 to 1922.

To celebrate its 30th anniversary, the Irish Rep is mounting all three plays in repertory,


The Week in New York Theater News

Goodbye, Avenue Q

Marisa Tomei will play Serafina Delle Rose in the third Broadway revival of Tennessee Williams’ 1951 play “The Rose Tattoo,” opening October 15, 2019 on Broadway at Roundabout’s American Airlines Theater. .

Mary-Louise Parker as Bella Baird in “The Sound Inside” at Williamstown Theatre Festival.

Mary-Louise Parker will star in the Broadway premiere of “The Sound Inside”, written by Adam Rapp (Red Light Winter), directed by David Cromer Opens October 17, 2019 at Studio 54 Play debuted last year at the Williamstown Theatre Festival. “A tenured professor. A talented student. A troubling favor.”

Immersive powerhouse Third Rail Projects will  stage “Midsummer A Banquet,” culinary version of Shakespeare’s comedy w/ a tasting menu July 15- Sept 8, a co-production with Food of Love Productions at Cafe Fae in Union Square


After Fosse Verdon, What’s Next?


Nik Wallenda and Lijanda Wallenda, seventh generation daredevils, will walk 25 stories above street level between 1 Times Square & 2 Times Square. Time Square is not for the faint-hearted, as anybody who’s tried to navigated around the Elmos and tourists can tell you

Billboard above the Empire Diner in Chelsea:

A Mount Rushmore of avant-garde art. But isn’t that a contradiction?

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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