Refugees on Stage. Critics’ Death and Rebirth (Review for the Times!) #Stageworthy News of the Week

Refugees are in the news these days, and their stories have suddenly come to New York stages. “I think it is important to ask an audience to recognize lives that we have literally fenced off, that as Americans we are complicit in forgetting,” says Sylvia Khoury, the author of “Power Strip” at Lincoln Center, one of the four playwrights I talk to in my article for TDF Stages on refugee plays.

“Power Strip,” which is set in a refuge camp in Greece modeled after the notorious Moria camp, is one of plays that are currently on stage or about to be, with three more slated for spring, including a return of The Jungle  at St. Ann’s Warehouse.

And then there is The Flores Exhibits, a series of online videos in which theater artists and activists read the testimonies of children being held in detention facilities at the border.

“The words refugee, immigrants, and asylum seekers are often confused,” Arian Moayed clarified for me. Moayed is the Tony-nominated actor and co-founder of Waterwell, the theater company behind The Flores Exhibits, and also The Courtroom,  a reenactment of a deportation case that will be performed monthly. ” Honestly, that might be one of the big issues we are facing as a nation: We aren’t very well-versed on why people are coming to the United States. According to, “a refugee is someone who has been forced to flee his or her home because of war, violence or persecution, often without warning.” An immigrant is defined differently, as someone who “makes a conscious decision to leave his or her home and move to a foreign country with the intention of settling there,” according to Amnesty International. And an asylum seeker is “someone whose request for sanctuary has yet to be processed,” according to UN Refugee Agency.” There are some 68 million refugees and asylum-seekers worldwide, according to the International Rescue Committee.

The Week in New York Theater Previews and Reviews

Seared, which is opening October 28 at MCC Theater, was inspired by playwright Theresa Rebeck’s favorite restaurant in Park Slope, which, though prized and popular, was unable to make a go of it. The four-character play revolves around Harry, portrayed by Raúl Esparza, a talented but mercurial chef who sees what he does as art. He bickers frequently with his business partner Mike (Dave Mason), and he’s furious when Mike hires a restaurant consultant, portrayed by Krysta Rodriguez.

I talked to Krysta Rodriguez, who can relate to Emily, although she’s never worked in a restaurant: “She is close to me in a lot of ways. She’s a bright woman who is very ambitious, who sort of knew what she wanted to do early on and took it by the horns.”

Forbidden Broadway The Next Generation

Three years after he spoofed “Hamilton” in “Spamilton” (with “I am not throwing away my shot” becoming “I am not gonna let Broadway rot,”) Gerard Alessandrini paints Lin-Manuel Miranda less heroically in “Forbidden Broadway: The Next Generation,”  the 26th edition of the hit-or-miss, but must-see, satirical revue….If “Forbidden Broadway” is uneven, so is Broadway. Indeed, as in past editions, the Next Generation at the Triad offers something of a snapshot of the current state of The Great White Way — where, as Manny Houston sings in the opening number, “the white is gray and the great is only okay.”

The Lightning Thief

I think if I were eight years old I might have loved “The Lightning Thief” on Broadway, but that’s mostly because I would then have been too young to have seen it at the Lucille Lortel Theatre five years ago. Downtown, this musical about Percy Jackson, a modern American adolescent who also happens to be a demigod from Greek mythology, was just an hour long, charming in a do-it-yourself low-budget way….and with free admission!

At Broadway’s Longacre Theater, “The Lightning Thief” is two hours long, not as charming…and very much not free. Bringing the musical to Broadway hasn’t made “The Lightning Thief”  a better show — it’s ballooned beyond its fighting weight…

Scotland, PA

There is one spectacularly funny moment in this musical comedy version of “Macbeth,” which is based on Billy Morrissette’s 2001 movie, and is set in a fast-food restaurant in the “podunk town” of Scotland, Pennsylvania in 1975….Despite a cast and creative team full of New York theater pros, everything else about “Scotland, PA”, is, at best, just ok.

For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When The Rainbow is Enuf

Forty-one years after Broadway said goodbye after 742 thrilling performances to its first (and last) choreopoem, and a year after its author and original performer died at the age of 70, seven women are bringing the colors of the rainbow back to a stage of the Public Theater through dance and song and nursery rhymes, through collective storytelling and individual tales ugly or sweet about the lives of women of color, delivered in verse.

Ntozake Shange’s groundbreaking work of theater signals something unique from its very title: “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When The Rainbow is Enuf.”  If the poetic language may sometimes be too dense and quick for full comprehension, the rhythm always gets you through. The production is offered like a gift by an all-female cast and crew.

Is This A Room?

“Is This A Room” stages the verbatim transcript of the FBI interrogation of a 25-year-old former Air Force linguist with the improbable name of Reality Winner, who was eventually sentenced to more than five years in prison for leaking to the press an intelligence report about Russian interference in the 2016 United States elections….In light of recent events involving whistleblowers, Winner’s case seems all the more stupefying.

Soft Power

David Henry Hwang was attacked by an unknown assailant with a knife and nearly died. That experience, along with the playwright’s shock at the results of the 2016 Presidential election and his oft-expressed ambivalence towards the patronizing but gorgeous Rodgers and Hammerstein musical “The King and I,” all make their way into “Soft Power,” an unusual musical by Hwang and composer Jeanine Tesori that inventively and oddly presents the themes of East-West divide that Hwang has long explored in such works as “M Butterfly” and “Chinglish.”

The Rose Tattoo

here are many cues to what’s wrong with this overly broad third Broadway revival of Tennessee Williams’ dated play, starring Marisa Tomei as Serafina Delle Rose, a Sicilian immigrant seamstress who turns from besotted wife to grieving widow to betrayed widow (because her husband had a mistress) to hopeful new lover…a dance of romance between two that is meant to be funny and charming and heartwarming but presents these Italian-Americans as something less than the fully human characters for which Williams is justly lauded…

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Oscar, a fat freshman in thick bifocals meeting his college roommate for the first time, greets him with what sounds like an insult…which is actually a nerdy pun, and then speaks in Elvish, a language from Lord of the Rings…This quirky exchange right at the beginning of “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” is an illustration of the particular challenges and rewards in this stage adaptation at Repertorio Espanol of Junot Diaz’s 2007 novel, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.
There’s much to delight in the vivid characters in the story, and in the several cultures they reflect — Dominican culture, immigrant culture, Comic-con culture – but for the uninitiated it requires extra attention.

The Week in New York Theater News

Mrs. Doubtfire, a musical based on the 1993 movie, will open on Broadway, at Stephen Sondheim Theater April 5, with Rob McClure taking on the role Robin Williams played in the movie.

Two unusual takes on Golden Age Broadway musicals have announced their closing dates. “Fiddler on the Roof” in Yiddish,  Off Broadway at Stage 42, will close January 5. “Oklahoma!,” on Broadway at Circle in the Square, will close January 19.

Jane Alexander and James Cromwell, each returning to Broadway after an absence of more than two decades, will lead Grand Horizons, as a long-time couple whose marriage is unraveling in Bess Wohl’s new play, which opens at Broadway’s Helen Hayes Theater on January 23rd. Also in the cast: Priscilla Lopez, Maulik Pancholy, Ashley Park and Michael Urie.

Darren Criss is joining Laurence Fishburne and Sam Rockwell in the cast of the revival of David Mamet’s “American Buffalo,” which will open next spring at Circle in the Square Theater.

Playwrights Horizons succession

Tim Sanford will step down after as artistic director of Playwrights Horizons, where he’s worked for 35 years, to be succeeded  by Adam Greenfield, currently the associate artistic director.

2019 TLA Theater Book Award Winners and Finalists

Critics Corner: Death, Struggle, Rebirth

The Death of the Great Cultural Critic
In the New Statesman: George Steiner turned 90 this year. A major biography of Susan Sontag was published last month. And Harold Bloom died on 14 October. All three were once hugely influential cultural critics, among the best-known on either side of the Atlantic….What has become of the commanding figure of the critic in the last 20 years? Where are the successors to Sontag and Steiner?…

Audiences, Parasites and Personal Revelations

A conversation in Howlround by theater critic Maddy Costa, playwright Alice Birch, and playwright and critic Ava Wong Davies, who discuss such issues as whether critics are writing for theatergoers or theater makers , whether they’re writing for people before they go see a show or for people to read after, and how many theater makers see criticism as parasitic, not caring for the host.

Critiquing with Love

Interview in American Theatre Magazine with Regina Victor, co-founder of Rescripted, which covers Chicago theater with new voices

Cultivating the Next Generation of Critics

Pascale Florestal on tackling the lack of representation of people of color in arts criticism through a new program at the Front Porch Arts Collective in Boston

Review for the New York Times
The Times is establishing a fellowship position in 2020 to help train the next generation of fine arts critics.
Applicants should have 2-4 years of experience publishing frequently about theater, dance, classical music or art. The ideal candidate will demonstrate the ability to write elegantly and forcefully and must be comfortable with assessing both the aesthetic and larger context concerns of a work. In order to ensure regular feedback and maximize opportunities for growth, the fellows will be paired with a dedicated editor/writing coach


Theatergoing/Theatermaking While Disabled

What the National Endowment for the Arts is doing to make sure no one is excluded from the arts — including the 55 million Americans who are disabled. Accessibility is obtainable; the biggest barrier is attitude. “organizations are just not making accessibility a priority”

Everything Going His Way, though it took some effort
Russell Demben took his father, a Parkinson’s patient and stroke survivor, to Oklahoma!

The cast of Jagged Little Pill

You just call out my name
And you know wherever I am I’ll come running, running, yeah, yeah, yeah, to see you again
Winter, spring, summer or fall
All you have to do is call
And I’ll be there, yes I will.
You’ve got a friend — Carole King (the world as it should be)

Beautiful: The Carole King Musical closed Sunday after 2,408 performances

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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