Must-See Theater This Weekend May 16-17: Beckett’s Happy Days, All Arts Marathon (James Earl Jones’ King Lear. Antigone in Ferguson, etc.)

Among the avalanche of streaming options this weekend are a timely Beckett play and the rich theater offerings of an arts “marathon” —  both “opening” today — that count as must-see theater in my book. Two plays are opening Sunday that you could and should see (especially if they’re new to you). And then I list another ten still running that are worth catching before the end of their “runs.”  Unlike live theater on stage, some of this online theater you can see right on this page.

These recommendations are by no means all that’s available this weekend. For more listings check out my Calendar of May 2020 Theater Openings. and my overview of ongoing series and platforms, Where To Get Your Theater Fix Online

Must-see theater opening Saturday

Brooke Adams in Happy Days when it was on stage Off-Broadway

Happy Days
Plays in the House
Brooke Adams and (her husband) Tony Shalhoub will read Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days (I loved the production of this absurdist play in which they starred; my review.) This absurdist play about a woman trapped in sand somehow feels an exact metaphor for this moment, and since it’s basically a monologue, it may well translate well on the Zoom platform that the program Stars in the House uses.


All Arts Marathon
The All Arts Celebration of New York City (cultural) Institutions includes a healthy dose of theater — episodes on The Shed, Heather Christian’s concert-cabaret, Animal Wisdom filmed at The Bushwick Starr, the 1974 Shakespeare in the Park production of King Lear with James Earl Jones, Raul Julia, Rosalind Cash, Paul Sorvino, et al; Pascale Armand’s new work entitled “$#!THOLE COUNTRY CLAPBACK” (chronicling her family’s journey from Haiti) as part of En Garde Arts Uncommon Voices series, and Antigone in Ferguson, the production at Harlem Stage of Theater of War’s adaptation of Sophocles tragedy (featuring Samira Wiley, Chris Noth and Tamara Tunie and a rousing gospel choir.) (I’ve written extensively about Antigone in Ferguson) Some of these are documentaries that incorporate the theater rather than uninterrupted screen-captures of the dramas.


Could-see theater opening Sunday

School Girls

School Girls, or the African Mean Girls Play

The title of Jocelyn Bioh’s play that debuted Off-Broadway in 2017 (my review) is is almost longer than its running time. It was inspired by a true story. Pageant officials in Ghana maneuvered for an American-born Ghanian beauty queen of mixed race to represent the West African country in the Miss Universe pageant of 2011, reasoning that her lighter complexion would give her a better chance in the contest.

I And You
Plays in the House Jr.
A reading of the play by Lauren Gunderson, starring Andrew Barth Feldman (Dear Evan Hansen).  Q&A with the playwright after. Debut of “Plays in the House Jr.” Readings of plays for young people performed by young people, every Sunday from now on at 2 p.m. (My review of an Off-Broadway production of “I and You”)

Still Running, Worth Seeing

Clockwise from top left: Jay O. Sanders, Maryann Plunkett, Sally Murphy, Laila Robins, and Stephen Kunken in the livestreamed world premiere of the Apple Family Play, What Do We Need To Talk About?, written and directed by Richard Nelson.

“What Do We Need To Talk About?”

This tops the list on purpose . Streamed live on April 29 but available once again on YouTube, this is the fifth play by Richard Nelson about the Apple Family, a brother and three sisters in Rhinebeck, New York, and the first one specifically written for Zoom. It is beautiful and sad, funny and moving, terrifically acted, and perfectly timed – a precise reflection of our sudden new era.

Barber Shop Chronicles
National Theatre At Home
This play by Inua Ellams of the importance of barber shops to African men by presenting scenes from them in Peckham, Johannesburg, Harare, Kampala, Lagos and Accra over the course of a single day. Online free through May 21

Bill Irwin’s In-Zoom
San Diego’s Old Globe
The master clown presents his new 10-minute play in which he and Christopher Fitzgerald portray two fellows attempting to record inspirational messages with tragicomic results.Free on the Old Globe’s Youtube channel available through Sunday.

The Shows Must Go On
The film of the 1998 stage production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical, starring Elaine Paige and Sir John Mills. Available through Sunday afternoon.

COVID and Incarceration
24 Hour Plays
This special edition of Viral Monologues offers 15 newly created plays about the prison system.  Of particular note are the plays by Lynn Nottage, Shakira Senghor and Lemon Anderson)

The Encounter
St. Ann’s Warehouse
A revival of the audio-heavy one-man play by Simon McBurney that tells the eerie true story of National Geographic photographer Loren McIntyre’s encounter with the elusive Mayoruna tribe while lost in the Amazon rainforest. The show had a run on Broadway in 2016. (My review) It will be presented through May 22.

Frankie and Will (MCC)
This is a play for the ages – specifically two ages, our own and 1606 in England. In both eras, pandemics (the Black Plague; COVID-19) have shut down the theaters, leaving people, including theater people, stuck in their homes. In this 25-minute play, Talene Monahan whimsically imagines William Shakespeare (portrayed by Michael Urie, who’s rapidly becoming the go-to pandemic period performer) as trapped in quarantine with his unpaid apprentice Francis (Ryan Spahn)

Love, Loss and What I Wore (92y)

Times have changed since Rosie O’Donnell, Carol Kane and three other actresses gave a one-night only reading in 2017 of Nora Ephron and Delia Ephron’s popular play at the 92nd Street Y. The Y recorded the evening, and is now presenting it nightly on its website through May 25th as a fundraiser.
But if we have been thrust suddenly into a radically different era, the resurrection of this decade-old play about women and fashion turns out to be a surprisingly good fit

In its second collaboration with BroadwayHD, Lincoln Center presents Dominique Morisseau’s “Pipeline,” a play about a schoolteacher (Karen Pittman) whose son (Namir Smallwood) got into a scuffle with a teacher at his boarding school and is in danger of being expelled, and arrested. As I wrote in my review in 2017, 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’d seen that year. Available through May 22.

Selected Shorts (Symphony Space) 

In the first ever virtual edition of Symphony Space’s long-running Selected Stories series, four familiar actors read the following short comic stories, based on the theme of best laid plans:
Maulik Pancholy: Riding Solo by Simon Rich. Emily Skeggs: Miss Laura’s School for Esquire Men by Carmen Maria Machado. Allison Williams: The Meeting by Aimee Bender. Bobby Cannavale: Magnificent Desolation by Jess Walter

Author: New York Theater

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

Leave a Reply