Three of the most memorable moments on a New York stage in 2021 were of characters getting high; can you blame them, given the year we’ve had? Among the moments represented in the photo gallery below are Tony Yazbeck as Cary Grant in vigorous and transcendent tap dancing after dropping acid in “Flying Over Sunset,” Michael Urie as Logan with Aigner Mizzelle as his boyfriend’s cousin La’Trice sharing a joint in a funny moment of unlikely bonding during a funeral, in “Chicken & Biscuits,” and Christopher Fitzgerald as David smoking marijuana for the first time with his wife and a friend, in a moment of physical comedy that’s both transcendent and funny.
Although in-person theaters were open only for some four months of 2021, there were still enough memorable moments on stage to fill more than one photo gallery. This is just a selection. Every year is full of them — even last year, though we had to think of “the stage” differently then. I’m sticking this year to moments that happened in person on physical stages in New York (or, in two instances, right near the stage), to keep to my annual tradition. (Here are the photo galleries of stage moments I picked in 2019, and 2018, and 2017, and 2016..). The moment can be a visual spectacle, a feat of technical magic. a verbal tickle, an emotional punch; it can be a crowd-pleaser or something small and personal; it can be in a show I loved, or one I didn’t.
Click on any photograph below to see it enlarged and to read the extensive caption that explains each moment. After the triptych of characters getting high, the photographs are organized roughly in reverse chronological order of the shows’ opening.
(Those of you unable to read the captions (because, say, your smart phone’s not that smart) I repeat them below the gallery.)
Getting high 1: Tony Yazbeck as Cary Grant tap dances after dropping acid in “Flying Over Sunset”
Getting high 2: In “Chicken & Biscuits,” Michael Urie as Logan share a joint and a comic moment of unlikely bonding his boyfriend’s cousin La’Trice, portrayed by Aigner Mizzelle
Getting high 3: Christopher Fitzgerald as David, the “registered square,” smoking marijuan for the first time with his wife Jenny (Nikki Renee Daniels) and their friend Bobbie (Katrina Lenk) a moment of transcendent physical comedy.
Victoria Clark as Kimberly, a teenager with a rare disease that accerates the aging process, is convinced by classmates Seth (Justin Cooley) to partner with him a class presentation on diseases. They later develop something of a romance (pictured here.) But an especially memorable moment occurs when they are giving their presentation, and In an aside meant to be her unspoken thoughts, Kim sings: Your disease
is a bad case of adolescence…
[With its] over-concern about a science grade [and] who’s getting laid
… a tough one, that’s for sure.
Getting older is my affliction.
Getting older is your cure.
At one point in “Diana the Musical,”, Diana, about to get married, miraculously appears both as the bride in the wedding dress and veil standing side by side with Prince Charles, and also in her slip nervously fretting about the wedding with her sister. Suddenly, the two Dianas merge; she is in her wedding dress, the veil lifted up – there must have been a back entrance to the dress, but it was too quick for me to see
As the title character of “Caroline, or Change,” Sharon D Clarke sings a breathtaking 11 o’clock number called “Lot’s Wife” that sparks thunderous applause; the audience at Studio 54 is clearly thrilled by the performer’s soulful delivery. Some surely also burst into tears, saddened by the character’s despair.
In “Twilight Los Angeles: 1992,” five actors portray some 40 real-life characters in a story about the L.A. riots. One of the characters is opera singer Jessye Norman. What she says in her monologue is fascinating – such as the importance of singing in the civil rights movement – but the memorable moment occurred when I realized the actor portraying her was Francis Jue, here in such convincing opera diva regalia that I didn’t recognize for quite a while that this statuesque Black woman was being portrayed by this slight Asian-American man.
In the opening moment of Six,” loud, busy and electrifying, each of the six wives of Henry VIII announce their fate on e by one: “Divorced. Beheaded. Died. Divorced. Beheaded. Survived.” :
In “Lunch with Sonia,” Sonia , who is ill and has decided to end her life, is surrounded by friends and family, and possibly home health aides, and it really looks as if they are caring for her – they put on her fuzzy pink slippers for her, fit the plastic tubes into her nose – but playwright Federico Restrepo and the five other members of his Loco7 company are also the puppeteers bringing her to life. That tender touch of of the arm by a relative is actually a puppeteer moving the arm of this sculpture in a lifelike way.
The final scene in “The Nosebleed,” Aya Ogawa’s sly, strange and ultimately rewarding autobiographical play, is a solemn, surreal and funny mix of Buddhist funeral practices, audience participation and Princess Diana. in a way that manages to turn the artists’ and audience’s sense of vulnerability, and of failure, into healing.
In Regina Taylor’s “The Transformed Return,” part of this year’s Theatre for One, Lizan Mitchell portrayed a woman returning to her apartment after a year and six months, marveling at the science experiment her refrigerator had become, including a dozen eggs that had emptied out and turned translucent. At the end of her monologue, she handed the audience (meaning: me) a translucent egg.
A moment that happened not on a New York stage, but right next to one, 1. To attend “Enemy of the People,” the one woman adaptation at the Park Avenue Armory, you needed to be in a “pod” of friends and family. We were seated at a table, and throughout the play had to vote on which direction it should go in. As the city and its theaters reopened, it offered an excuse and an opportunity for people who might not have seen each other for more than a year to get together in person and actually talk. At the end of the show, our pod sat at our table discussing the issues until the ushers chased us out.
A moment that happened not on a New York stage, but right next to one, 2. At a performance of Classical Theatre of Harlem’s “Seize The King,” skies darkened and burst, as if in angry rebuke. In other words, it rained. Buckets. The show was stopped. Theatergoers, assaulted by the downpour, scurried from their seats. But then something happened that seems a prime candidate for an Only in New York moment. Instead of rushing home, more than 50 members of the audience lined up in front of the stage at the outdoor Richard Rodgers Amphitheater in Harlem’s Marcus Garvey Park. They took refuge under the bandshell that hangs out over the proscenium, shielding them from the raindrops. They just stood there, waiting out the rain. For 45 minutes. The rain finally stopped, and, in what felt like a miracle, the play resumed.
“Critical Care,” Theater for a New City’s latest summer musical, which toured New York City streets and parks this summer, included characters representing both the coronavirus (pictured) and the Delta variant (a small green creature.) , But the most memorable moment occurred at the end, when the cast asked the audience what they lost. At the performance I attended – in the street in front of TNC’s theater building on East 10th Street in Manhattan– many shouted out names of restaurants in the neighborhood that have shut down. Then a cast member held a placard listing the name of three people whom COVID had killed.
P”Pass Over,” the first new play to open on Broadway in 19 months, offered a hopeful, strange, gloriously theatrical finale that featured a sunset, and nudity and the suggestion of the Garden of Eden. Playwright Antoinette Nwandu has said she changed what was the original ending because she wanted something happier in such grim times. It brought forth memories to me of the climax in Sara Ruhl’s “In The Next Room,” and in Katari Hall’s “The Mountaintop” — stagecraft that transcends the stage, but can only really work to full effect on a stage, in a roomful of people sharing the same air.