#Stageworthy News of the Week. Theater as Politics, Politics as Theater. Bad Theater Festival.

The announcement of the latest very unscientific results from the nightly poll conducted in the lobby of Lincoln Center, is a marketing gimmick for “The Great Society” that strikes me as at best useless, and maybe even harmful, although I couldn’t say exactly why.

But it is surely nowhere near as damaging as the theatrics required in our electoral politics, which has its most vivid expression in events like tonight’s third televised 2020 Presidential Democratic debate.

Later this week, The Broadway Advocacy Coalition will also mix politics and theater, it hopes more fruitfully, in an event it is calling  Theater of Change Forum: Public Launch, which will combine performances with discussions on how to “merge the areas of storytelling and advocacy into an integrated practice.” Performers and speakers will include:Ariana Afsar (Hamilton), Britton Smith (Be More Chill), Ben Wexler (Jonathan Larson Award winner), Mikayla Bartholomew and Columbia Law School professor Elora Mukherjee.

Then on November 8 at  Kraine’s Theater, David Lawson will reprise his “The 2020 Book Report,” for which he read all the candidates’ political memoirs.

The Week in New York Theater Reviews and Previews

 

Joaquina Kalukango and Paul Alexander Nolan (

Slave Play

When I saw “Slave Play” Off-Broadway last December, it felt like the work of a novice playwright – promising, provocative, and well produced, but too derivative, too long, too full of ideas that were not fully or clearly developed. It needed work….Much to my surprise, I liked it less on Broadway.

It would be unfair to sum up “Slave Play” as soft-core S&M porn followed by pseudo psychological insights about race in America – unfair because it’s other things as well….

Cora Vander Broek, Ian Barford and Chantal Thuy

Linda Vista

Can an underemployed middle-aged jerk be a babe magnet?   That’s a question theatergoers are likely to ask about Wheeler, the central character in Linda Vista, Tracy Letts’ latest play on Broadway. Some women will surely ask the question rhetorically and in disgust; some men, full of hope.

Indeed, your ability to get past that question – and, more generally, your willingness to entertain yet another middle-aged white guy comedy – is a gauge of how much you will appreciate this showcase for some impressive acting and very funny writing.

The Wrong Man

“The Wrong Man,”  a sung-through musical starring the spectacular Joshua Henry,  may remind people of “Hamilton” in its catchy rap-inflected eclectic score and jerky hip hop choreography, but it is nearly the anti-“Hamilton” in its lack of real-world resonance.

Now, I don’t need a show to be socially conscious or rooted in history in order to enjoy it. But if you’re going to enlist a black actor to portray a man framed for murder, it seems like a missed opportunity that the creative team is presenting a story that has no more relevance than a folk tale.

Preview: Notes on My Mother’s Decline

On some nights, “Notes on My Mother’s Decline” feels as much like a memorial service as a show. Although the two characters in Andy Bragen’s play are not named, the writer makes it clear that they are based on himself and his late mother, Eugenia M. Bragen. For more than half a century, Tracy Bragen, as everyone called her, lived just down the block from the Fourth Street Theatre, where Notes on My Mother’s Decline is currently running. At the performance I attended, two colleagues of hers from Baruch College, where she taught English for some 40 years, were in the audience. “The real Tracy was a real Southern belle, with a heavy Southern drawl,” one of them told me.

 

The Week in New York Theater News

Diahann Carroll in House of Flowers at the age of 19

Nine of Broadway’s 41 theaters will dim their lights in memory of Diahann Carroll on Wednesday, October 16th at exactly 7:45pm.

 

MJ (renamed from Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough) “inspired by the life of Michael Jackson” will open Aug 13, 2020 at the Neil Simon Theater. Book is by Lynn Nottage, but it’s co-produced by the Michael Jackson Estate

 

 

Helen Shaw is the new critic for New York Magazine, a George Jean Nathan winner whose astute reviews have been published in  Time OutVillage Voice, and 4Columns.org and who wrote an especially savory critics bestiary for American Theatre Magazine.

Here is an exchange, from a new interview with her, also in American Theatre, by its editor Rob Weinert-Kendt

But will you still have the freedom to write about the weird stuff you love? Will your editors let you cover Clubbed Thumb and the Brick and whatever international piece comes to Montclair Peak Performances, etc.?
I don’t know. The editor I’ll be reporting to is Chris Bonanos, and he has very catholic taste. Also I don’t hide those interests—I’ve never put that light under a bushel. Certainly if I start to cram in shows that take place in actual working sewers that are Beckett plays spoken backwards, I won’t be surprised if my editors are leery. But in the conversations I’ve had with them so far, they sounded very excited by the idea that dance is a part of theatre, and performance art, and drag. The silos don’t need to stay closed. My impression from them is, you know, they cover New York, including the weirdest and glitziest and chintziest things. They have a Cheap Eats issue, and “cheap seats” is not that far from that.

It strikes me that you turning your attention to Broadway happens to come at a time when not just Pinter is on the Main Stem but also Jeremy O. Harris and Heidi Schreck.
And where did Heidi come from? Clubbed Thumb. If you’re thinking about the future of the form, the future comes really fast, and if you want to be guiding people through that you have to pay attention. Here’s my actual goal: to be the Anthony Bourdain of theatre in New York. I want to say to readers: You have no idea that you want to go to this weird corner and eat these spicy noodles, but trust me, you’ll love it. If I could do one millionth of that for theatre, I’d be happy.

 

Maria Dizzia will star in the first two stops of the national tour of Heidi Schreck’s  What the Constitution Means to Me — Los Angeles at the Mark Taper Forum (January 12 through February 16, 2020) and in Chicago at the Broadway Playhouse (March 4 through April 12, 2020)

The eighth annual Bad Theater Festival will run October 16 to 19 at The Brick,
As The Brooklyn Paper explains “This year’s 19 out-of-the-box productions, each between five and twenty minutes long, represent a variety of genres, with an emphasis on the ridiculous. In one eight-minute comedy-horror piece, playing during the opening block on Oct. 16, Frankenstein’s Monster and his Bride go to marriage counseling. Also: a love story between a bat and a human, an interactive dating show where attendees compete for the love of the “filthiest woman alive, a drama about rezoning law, and show entitled “The Cockroach of Broadway.”
ach between five and twenty minutes long

 

Rest in Peace

Sam Bobrick, 87,best known for creating the television series Saved By the Bell, but he also wrote four Broadway plays: Norman Is That You? No Hard Feelings. Murder at the Howard Johnson’s. Wally’s Cafe.

 

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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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