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1984 Review: Orwellian Horror Show on Broadway

It would seem just the right timing for the first adaptation on a Broadway stage of “1984,” George Orwell’s chilling 1949 novel of a future totalitarian society. The book long has been so thoroughly lodged in popular consciousness that it gave rise to the word Orwellian, but it shot to the top of bestseller lists this year with the inauguration of Donald Trump and the rise of “fake news” and “alternative facts” as real-world synonyms for Orwell’s fictional vocabulary of “Doublethink,” “Newspeak,” and “Thoughtcrime.”

The stage version as written and directed by British theater stars Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan is certainly an intense and disorienting experience, with a fine cast featuring a spot-on Reed Birney, a stirring Tom Sturridge and Olivia Wilde in a memorable Broadway debut; as well as some attention-grabbing stagecraft executed with technically impressive precision. But Icke and Macmillan avoid the kind of explicitly anti-Trump commentary that we’re getting used to on the stage (i.e. Building the Wall; Julius Caesar at the Public.) And for all the ample reminders in “1984” the play of why “1984” the novel is so unsettling, fans of the horror movie genre might find more to appreciate here than those theatergoers who have come to the Hudson Theater expecting some special intellectual, emotional or contemporary political illumination of George Orwell’s dystopian novel.

The basic plot is more or less intact. We are introduced to Winston Smith (Tom Sturridge), bureaucrat at the Ministry of Truth, which means he makes up lies all day, rewriting history and erasing from all records any once-honored heroes who have fallen out of favor with “Big Brother,” the leader who may or may not actually exist. Secretly, however, Winston rebels. He does this first by starting a diary, and then by falling in love with a waitress named Julia (Olivia Wilde.)

The scenes between Winston and Julia in their hideaway in an antique shop are the most engaging in the production – in part, ironically, because we see them in close-up on a large screen. (The actors are somewhere off-stage performing in front of a camera.) The creative team’s use of this livestreaming turns out to be one of the cleverest of the sly ways they make the audience realize how unreliable the reality in the play is, and how complicit we are in the constant stream of betrayals.

Yet the disorientation that is threaded throughout the production is too often indistinguishable from confusion. Icke and Macmillan have added a framing device of a group of characters talking about Winston’s diary (which may be the same as the book “1984”) in what is apparently the year 2050 (which, it might be worth pointing out, is 33 years in the future, just as the year 1984 is 33 years in the past.) These future characters pop in and out of the play in the beginning and the end and apparently in the middle, portrayed by the same actors who are Winston’s betrayers and torturers in 1984 or the present-day (it’s never quite clear what era we’re in.)

Sure, along the way, we get exposed to some of the alarming details of the society in which they live. We overhear a co-worker of Winston’s praising Newspeak as the only language “whose vocabulary gets smaller every year… In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it.”

We learn the definition of Doublethink – “to tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality one denies.”

We even unavoidably see parallels with current reality, thanks to such lines of dialogue as: “The people are not going to revolt. They will not look up from their screens long enough to notice what’s really happening.”

But such lines are drowned out and undermined by the startling bursts of noise, blinding lights, and rapid-fire video projections that dominate this theatrical experience.

The final third of “1984” takes the sensory assault a step further, combining the startling effects with scenes of Winston’s torture in Room 101 at the Ministry of Love. The torturers, cloaked anonymously in white hazmat suits, crowd around Winston…blackout…lightning flash…rapid-fire video projections….and Winston is once again visible, in agony, spurting blood. A pitch-perfect Reed Birney looks as avuncular and sounds as reasonable and reassuring as Vice President Mike Pence, while overseeing Winston’s torture.

These are surely the scenes that reportedly caused as many as four theatergoers in a single night to faint, and that led to the recent announcement that nobody under 13 years of age (“born after 2004″) would be admitted to the show. These scenes take up about 30 minutes in a show that’s listed as having a running time of 101 minutes – a sly allusion to Room 101, and thus (intentionally or not) an indication of the priority placed on the theatrics of horror at the expense of the drama of political repression. It’s almost as if “1984’ the play is reflecting the values of the society it depicts – sensation over clarity, screens over thought.

 

 

1984

Based on the novel by George Orwell, adapted and directed by Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan

Sets and costumes, Chloe Lamford; lighting, Natasha Chivers; sound, Tom Gibbons; videos, Tim Reid;

Cast Reed Birney, Olivia Wilde,Tom Sturridge, Wayne Duvall, Carl Hendrick Louis, Nick Mills, Michael Potts and Cara Seymour

Running time: 101 minutes, with no intermission.

Tickets:  $35-$149.

1984 is scheduled to run through October 8, 2017

 

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2017 Kilroys List of 37 Good But Little Produced Plays by Female and Trans Playwrights of Color

Kilroys 2017
kilroys2016Below is the 2017 Kilroys list of 37 plays by women and trans writers of color most recommended in a survey of “273 influential new play leaders”  Most of the plays have never been produced; none have been produced more than once. This is the fourth annual list by the Kilroys, a playwright and producer collective. 
The plays are below are those that received the most nominations; the Kilrosy provided the descriptions.
CAMBODIAN ROCKBAND PLAY by Lauren Yee
Part comedy, part mystery, part rock concert, this thrilling story toggles back and forth in time, as father and daughter face the music of the past. Neary, a young Cambodian American has found evidence that could finally put away the Khmer Rouge’s chief henchman. But her work is far from done. When Dad shows up unannounced—his first return to Cambodia since fleeing 30 years ago—it’s clear this isn’t just a pleasure trip.
 
THE GREAT LEAP by Lauren Yee
When an American college basketball team travels to Beijing for an exhibition game in 1989, the drama on the court goes deeper than the strain between their countries. For two men with a past and one teen with a future, it’s a chance to stake their moment in history and claim personal victories off the scoreboard. American coach Saul grapples with his relevance to the sport, Chinese coach Wen Chang must decide his role in his rapidly-changing country and Chinese American player Manford seeks a lost connection. Tensions rise right up to the final buzzer as history collides with the action in the stadium. Inspired by events in the life of the playwright’s own father.
 
YOGA PLAY by Dipika Guha
Just when newly hired CEO Joan is about to launch a new brand of women’s yoga pants, yoga apparel giant Jojomon is hit by a terrible scandal. Desperate to win back the company’s reputation (and her own), Joan stakes everything on a plan so crazy it just might work. YOGA PLAY is a journey towards enlightenment in a world determined to sell it.   
 
THIRST by C. A. Johnson
Samira and Greta lead a peaceful life. They have their own clearing in the woods, their own hut, and their son Kalil to keep them laughing. When Kalil returns home one day without their water rations, however, Samira and Greta find themselves in conflict with their local political leader. Set in a tense segregated society, Thirst is a complex look at race and love in war-time.
BLKS by aziza barnes
Some days feel like they will never end. After a morning that includes a cancer scare and kicking her girlfriend out of the house, Octavia decides to have a last turn up with her best friends. 
 
IF PRETTY HURTS THEN UGLY MUST BE A MUHFUCKA: AN UNDERSTANDING OF A WEST AFRICAN FOLKTALE by Tori Sampson
In Affreakah-Amirrorkah, an imaginary but uncannily familiar place, debutantes Akim, Adama, Kaya, and Massassi embody the culture’s notion of Beauty in all its shades and shapes. Still, something about Akim sets her apart, and her allure makes her a target for Massassi and her pretty, “jealous” peers. If Pretty Hurts Ugly Must Be a Muhfucka weaves contemporary African and American cultures into a sweeping journey about what—and whom—we suppress in pursuit of an ideal always just beyond reach.
 
IS GOD IS by Aleshea Harris
IS GOD IS is an epic tale of twin sisters who, haunted by a brutal family history, sojourn West to seek revenge.
 
WE, THE INVISIBLES by Susan Soon He Stanton
In 2011, the director of the International Monetary Fund was accused of sexual assault by a hotel maid, Nafissatou Diallo, but all charges were dismissed. we, the invisibles shares the rarely-heard stories of people like Diallo, people from all over the globe working at New York’s luxury hotels. Funny, poignant, and brutally honest by turns, the play is an investigation of the complicated relationship between movers and shakers and the people who change their sheets.
 
QUEEN by Madhuri Shekar
At the very last minute, a scientist realizes that her groundbreaking environmental paper – co-authored with her best friend – is based on flawed data. Should she risk her friendship, her career, the fate of the world… for the truth?
 
THE OPPORTUNITIES OF EXTINCTION by Sam Chanse
Taking refuge from a twitterstorm and other assorted upheaval on a last-minute camping trip, Mel and Arjun meet Georgia, a solitary young woman studying the impact of climate change on the imperiled Joshua tree.
 
HANG MAN by Stacy Amma Osei-Kuffour
The community of a shitty southern town grapples with the murder of a Black man who is found hanging from a tree.
 
LAST NIGHT AND THE NIGHT BEFORE by Donnetta Lavinia Grays
When Monique and her 10-year-old daughter Samantha show up unexpectedly on her sister’s Brooklyn doorstep, it’s the beginning of the end for Rachel and her partner Nadima’s orderly lifestyle. Monique is on the run from deep trouble, her husband Reggie is nowhere to be seen, and Samantha becomes ever haunted by the life in southern Georgia she was forced to leave behind. Poetic, dark and often deeply funny Last Night and the Night Before explores the complex power, necessity, and beauty of loss. 
 
EL HURACÁN by Charise Castro Smith
In Miami, on the eve of Hurricane Andrew, three generations of women huddle together to weather the storm. Beset by late-stage Alzheimers, Valeria (the family matriarch and a former magicienne) wanders between present-day family tensions and the siren call of her memories. But thirty years later, in the wake of a seemingly unforgivable mistake, the family is faced with the impossible necessity of reconciliation. Inspired by Shakespeare’s The Tempest, El Huracán is a story about what we carry when we’re forced to leave everything behind. 
 
TWO MILE HOLLOW by Leah Nanako Winkler
When the Donnelly’s gather for a weekend in the country to gather their belongings for their recently sold estate—both an internal storm and a literal storm brews (uh oh!). As this brood of famous, longing-to-be-famous and kind of a mess but totally Caucasian family comes together with their non-white personal assistant, Charlotte, some really really really really really complicated and totally unique secrets are revealed over white wine…
 
BLACK SUPER HERO MAGIC MAMA by Inda Craig-Galván
Sabrina Jackson cannot cope with the death of her 14-year-old son by a White cop. Rather than herald the Black Lives Matter movement, Sabrina retreats inward, living out a comic book superhero fantasy. Will Sabrina stay in this splash-and-pow dream world where sons don’t die, or return to reality and mourn her loss?
 
ENDLINGS by Celine Song
On the island of Man-Jae in Korea, three elderly women spend their dying days diving into the ocean to harvest seafood with nothing but a rusty knife. They are “haenyeos”— “sea women” —and there are no heiresses to their millennium-old tradition. ENDLINGS is a real estate lesson from the last three remaining “haenyeos” in the world: don’t live on an island. Unless it’s the island of Manhattan…
 
EVE’S SONG by Patricia Ione Lloyd
Outside, black men and women are being killed by police. Inside, Deborah is trying to keep her smart-but-weird son and newly-out daughter safe and happy as light bulbs pop, shadows come to life, and the house gets strangely colder. With theatricality and lyricism, this unlikely ghost story explores what it means to let your song be heard in a world that’s trying to silence you.
 
TO THE YELLOW HOUSE by Kimber Lee
1888. Paris and Provence. A failing artist in desperate pursuit of a new way of seeing, haunted by his past, and hoping to remake his future in the color and light of the south. At what point in an endless cycle of failures does faith and persistence become delusion and foolishness? A meditation on love, art, and not being popular.
 
florissant & canfield by Kristiana Rae Colón
at the intersection of tear gas and teddy bear memorials, at the intersection of darren wilson and michael brown, at the intersection of looting and liberation, florissant & canfield refracts the realities of ferguson in the wake of the black lives matter movement. colliding in the unlikely eden of a civil rights renaissance, a newly formed alliance of protesters are forced to put their nascent ideologies to the test in the quest for new visions of justice.  
 
LES FRÉRES by Sandra A. Daley-Sharif
Inspired by Lorainne Hansberry’s Les Blancs, Les Fréres tells the story of three estranged brothers of Haitian descent, who come home to Harlem for their father’s final days. Troubled memories filled with anger and abuse come rushing back as they deal with their father’s death. They are forced to deal with how each choose to deal with memories, how each have escaped, feelings of abandonment, betrayal and loss. Finally, the end asks two of the brothers if they will escape back into the lives they have forged for themselves or will they try to make new life amongst the embers of pain. The play deals with issues of race and culture, family, and identity.
 
THE HOMECOMING QUEEN by Ngozi Anyanwu
A bestselling novelist returns to Nigeria to care for her ailing father, but before she can bury him, she must relearn the traditions she’s long forgotten. Having been absent for over a decade, she must collide with her culture, traumatic past, painful regrets, and the deep, deep love she thought she could never have.
 
REDWOOD by Brittany K. Allen
Redwood concerns an interracial couple (Meg, a middle school teacher, and Drew, a physicist) who are thrown into crisis when Meg’s recently-retired Uncle Stevie makes a project of charting the family tree, via Ancestry.com. When Stevie discovers that his would-be nephew-in-law is heir apparent to the family that owned his (and subsequently, Meg’s) relatives in an antebellum Kentucky, a time and space-bending dramedy of manners gone very far South ensues. Long-dead ancestors appear, to comment on their light-skinned progeny. Meg speechifies on the nature of forgetting before the State Senate, and a hip-hop dance class chorus guides the action. The play is interested in the ways love can and cannot transcend both modern social barriers and historical power structures. Meg and Drew must learn if we can we ever truly forgive, champion or fully understand those beloved who are fundamentally ‘other.’
 
BURNED by Amina Henry
Jamal wants to be force for good, like a Jedi in Star Wars, but he did a bad thing, firebombing a synagogue for money. Now he wonders if he’s an evil Sith. A fugitive, he lays low at his mother Mary’s house. Mary and Jo, Jamal’s girlfriend, wonder about the good and evil in Jamal, too, as they witness the different parts of him. For Officer Brown, Jamal is just one thing: black.
 
HATEFUCK by Rehana Lew Mirza
A local Michigan literary professor seeks out a famous Muslim-American novelist to find out if he’s a self-hating Islamophobe or a really good lay. But they find that getting under each other’s skin can easily become a habit, for better or worse.
 
MAGIC CITY OR JULIE IN BASEL by Hilary Bettis
An explosive elixir of power, class, and immigration status, which, when shaken hard with love and betrayal, creates a dangerous cocktail that threatens to destroy lives. In this Spanish language infused contemporary adaptation of Strindberg’s Miss Julie is set in the back kitchen of a Miami hotel during a night of debauchery.
 
NOMAD MOTEL by Carla Ching
Alix lives in a tiny motel room with her mother and two brothers, scrabbling to make weekly rent. Mason lives comfortably in a grand, empty house while his father runs jobs for the Hong Kong Triad. Until the day his father disappears and Mason has to figure out how to come up with grocery money and dodge Child Services and the INS. Mason and Alex develop an unlikely friendship, struggling to survive, and trying to outrun the mistakes of their parents. Will they make it out or fall through the cracks? A play about Motel Kids and Parachute Kids raising themselves and living at the poverty line in a land of plenty.
 
NOURA by Heather Raffo
NOURA reflects the dilemma facing modern America: do we live for each other or for ourselves? Told from inside the marriage of an Iraqi immigrant family to New York, the play speaks directly to modern marriage and the leaving of home. This fast paced script highlights an acutely relevant awakening of identity that tackles our notions of, shame, violence, assimilation, exile and love. It’s a unique insight into the interior crisis that lies behind the collapse of the modern Middle East and America’s inseparable relationship to it.
 
USUAL GIRLS by Ming Peiffer
On an elementary school playground, a boy threatens to tell on a group of girls for swearing – unless one of them kisses him. But just before lips can touch, Kyeoung tackles the boy to the ground. The victory is short-lived. Over the coming years, Kyeoung herself is knocked down again and again. By an alcoholic dad. A group of quick-to-judge friends. And an endlessly invasive parade of men. As we follow Kyeoung from the discoveries of childhood to the realities of adulthood, her stories get stranger, funnier, more harrowing – and more familiar. How do girls grow up? Quickly, painfully, wondrously.
 
AZUL by Christina Quintana
When a lifelong New Yorker faces the loss of her Cuban-born mother and her own sense of identity in the process, she digs into her legacy and uncovers the story of her mother’s beloved aunt, her own tia-abuela whom she never met. While the family fled Cuba at the time of Castro’s revolution, she remained on the island for the love of another woman—a complicated choice in a less forgiving time. 
 
BREACH: A MANIFESTO ON RACE IN AMERICA THROUGH THE EYES OF A BLACK GIRL RECOVERING FROM SELF HATE by Antoinette Nwandu
What happens when a woman trapped in a dead-end job and a fizzling relationship accidentally gets pregnant by a man that she’s not dating? A coming of age story about race, class and motherhood, BREACH examines how hard it is to love others when it’s you that you loathe most of all.
 
HOW TO CATCH CREATION by Christina Anderson
A wrongly convicted man is released from prison after 25 years. As he settles into a new life he begins the quest to become a father. Spanning more than 40 years, this play explores family, connection, parenthood, and the right to start over.
 
NIKE or WE DON’T NEED ANOTHER HERO by Ngozi Anyanwu
Is an Origin story of the Goddess Nike and a retelling of the Olympus myth Black Greek Super hero style
 
SELLING KABUL by Sylvia Khoury
Taroon once served as an interpreter for the United States military in Afghanistan. Now the Americans – and their promises of safety – are gone, and Taroon spends his days in his sister Afiya’s apartment, hiding from the increasingly powerful Taliban. Desperate to escape with his wife and newborn son, Taroon must navigate a country left in upheaval, in which everyone must fend for themselves and few can be trusted.
 
SOMEBODY’S DAUGHTER by Chisa Hutchinson
A Chinese-American guidance counselor helps a troubled protege through some gender-bias bullshit. 
 
THE PAPER DREAMS OF HARRY CHIN by Jessica Huang
During the Chinese Exclusion Act, Harry Chin, a Chinese national, entered the U.S. by buying forged documentation. Like other “Paper Sons,” Harry underwent a brutal detention and interrogation, and lived the rest of his life keeping secrets – even from his daughter. Told through the eyes of a middle-aged Chin, THE PAPER DREAMS OF HARRY CHIN reveals the complicated loves and regrets of this Chinese immigrant who wound up in Minnesota. Through dreamlike leaps of time and space and with the powerful assistance of ghosts, the story of the Chin family reveals the personal and political repercussions of making group of people “illegal.”
 
THE THANKSGIVING PLAY by Larissa FastHorse
In this satirical comedy, a mismatched but well-meaning foursome sets out to devise a politically correct school play that can somehow sensitively celebrate both Thanksgiving and Native American Heritage Month. How can this wildly diverse quartet-separated by cultural chasms and vastly different perspectives on history-navigate a complicated, hilarious thicket of privilege, representation, and of course school district regulations? The schools are waiting, and the pageant must go on!
 
UNRELIABLE by Dipika Guha
Gretchen is a lawyer. Yusuf is her client. Yusuf is being held indefinitely without trial for terrorism. Hattie is Gretchen’s mother. Only, Hattie thinks Gretchen is a secretary, Gretchen thinks Hattie is sick and Yusuf believes he’s been framed. In a world of competing narratives, facts no longer exist. UNRELIABLE investigates the consequences of living only in a story of your choosing.

Ticket Giveaway: Horton Foote’s The Traveling Lady.

Ticket Giveaway: Win two tickets to “The Traveling Lady,” a play by Horton Foote at the Cherry Lane Theater.

The play, about a woman who journeys to a small town in 1950’s Texas to reunite with her husband upon his release from prison, is, like much of Horton Foote’s dramas, both poignant and gently amusing, as I wrote in my review.

To enter the contest for a free pair of tickets to “The Traveling Lady,” please answer this question:

What is the most moving play you’ve ever seen or read, and what made it so?

1. Please put your answer in the comments at the bottom of this blog post, because the winner will be chosen through Random.org based on the order of your reply, not its content.
But you must answer the question, complete with explanation or your entry will not be approved for submission.

2.  This contest ends Tuesday, June 27, 2017 at midnight Eastern Time, and I will make the drawing no later than noon the next day. You must respond to my direct message on Twitter within 24 hours or I will choose another winner.

The winner will get a voucher for two tickets to see The Traveling Lady between June 28 and July 9, 2017.

 

 

The Traveling Lady Review: Back with Horton Foote in Harrison, Tx

With the new production of Horton Foote’s “The Traveling Lady,” we are back on familiar Foote territory. The play, about a woman hoping to reunite with a husband recently released from prison, takes place entirely on a back porch in Harrison, Texas, the small town Foote created as a stand-in for his actual hometown of Wharton, Texas. That’s where the playwright was born in 1916, a year after Arthur Miller and five years after Tennessee Williams. Foote’s centennial passed far more quietly than those of his contemporaries. Eight years after his death, he is still primarily known for his film adaptation of “To Kill A Mockingbird” and for his original screenplay for “Tender Mercies,” both of which won him Academy Awards. But his reputation as a dramatist has been increasing, thanks to such champions as Michael Wilson, who directed both the ambitious epic “The Orphans Home Cycle” in 2010 — a marathon of nine of Foote’s Harrison plays – and the much acclaimed revival of “The Trip to Bountiful” on Broadway in 2013, with a cast that featured Cicely Tyson.

Like those plays – and much of the rest of the body of Foote’s work, which numbers some 60 dramas — “The Traveling Lady” is poignant, gently amusing, and peopled with believable small-town characters who struggle and strive to be decent, not always successfully.

It is 1950, and the traveling lady of the title, Georgette Thomas (Jean Lichty) has traveled to Harrison, the hometown of her husband Henry Thomas (PJ Sosko), in hopes of establishing a home for their seven-year-old daughter Margaret Rose (Korinne Tetlow), whom Henry has never met, and for Henry himself, who is soon to be released from prison. Georgette and Henry were married for a mere six months when his drunkenness led to a violent scuffle and incarceration. Georgette worked hard for his pardon. What she doesn’t know – what the townsfolk reveal to her – is that Henry was released a month earlier and has been working for Mrs. Tillman, a widow and temperance crusader ( Jill Tanner) who sees herself as saving him from drink. That Henry lied to his wife is not a good sign, and sure enough, after a tepid reunion, Henry…relapses.

This quick synopsis is somewhat misleading, since it doesn’t take account of all ten characters, nor the complex interplay among them. To portray this collection of deceptively low-key personalities in the production at the Cherry Lane, director Austin Pendleton has assembled a cast that includes some starry New York performers such as Karen Ziemba, most known for her roles in Broadway musicals. The audience gives a knowing laugh when, as the home-spun Sitter, she says: “If I had my life to live over again I’d learn to dance. I swear my whole life would have been different if I’d just learned to dance.” As Sitter’s mischievous mother Mrs. Mavis, Lynn Cohen gives a memorable performance, reprising a role she undertook in a 2006 revival of the play.

I have to admit that “The Traveling Lady” didn’t really kick in for me until the last third of the play, when it becomes clear that Slim, widower and deputy sheriff (Larry Bull), has taken a hankering towards Georgette but is too shy to declare himself.

“The Traveling Lady” debuted on Broadway in 1954, where it ran little more than three weeks. Like much of Foote’s work, it’s been given a second look – deservedly so. If this production may have required more attentiveness than I was willing to give it, if it didn’t move me or amuse me as much I might have hoped, that may only be because Horton Foote is responsible for some of the best theater I’ve ever seen.

 

 

The Traveling Lady

Written by Horton Foote

Directed by Austin Pendleton

Harry Feiner, Scenic and Lighting Design; Theresa Squire, Costume Design; Ryan Rumery, Sound Design and Original Compositions; Paul Huntley, Wig Design; Amy Stoller, Dialect Design and Dramaturg.

Cast: Larry Bull as Slim, Lynn Cohen as Mrs. Mavis, Angelina Fiordellisi, Jean Lichty, George Morfogen, Ron Piretti, PJ Sosko, Jill Tanner, Korinne Tetlow, and Tony Award winner Karen Ziemba

Running time: One hour and 50 minutes with no intermission.

Tickets: $65

The Traveling Lady is sc

In A Word Review: A Missing Child, An Unsolved Puzzle

Lauren Yee’s “in a word” is, on one level, about a married couple whose seven-year-old son has been missing for two years, the mother’s grief and guilt causing a breakdown in her relationship with her husband, and also in her relationship with reality. But what most distinguishes this intriguing puzzle of a play is the playwright’s concerns with the concomitant breakdown in language.

Yee comes close to explaining this aim explicitly near the end of the 70-minute piece, when the mother, Fiona, exclaims:

 

“….in times like this
Words fail me.
Like they just stop trying
Like whatever they were doing before

They don’t now.”

 

It’s Yee’s sharp perception that loss is often accompanied by uncertainty and confusion; and that at such times words can change their meaning and lose their power. Such feelings cannot be summed up in a word, though people try. (When has “I’m so sorry for your loss” ever done anything for anybody?) Both the playwright and director Tyne Rafaeli seem more interested in driving home those feelings in us than solving the puzzle of the story for us. Time is fluid — there are many flashbacks. One of the three actors in the cast (stand-out Justin Mark) portrays eight different characters, sometimes in rapid succession, from Tristan to the detective working the case to the kidnapper. There is much fantasy and absurdist word play. At one point, Fiona sternly instructs both her son Tristan and her husband Guy to take their naughty words out of their pockets and put them in a glass jar she’s holding. In another scene, the principal at the school where Fiona teaches orders her to take a leave of absence – which becomes a leaf of absence, and then a tree of absence, and the principal gives her a gift of a little tree. (It doesn’t stop there; a “tree of absence” is reiterated in so many different ways it counts as a theme.)

Still, the basic story unfolds sufficiently for us to stay engaged. We piece together that Tristan was adopted, that he was “difficult” – he had tantrums; his father Guy considered him “retarded.” We learn from the start that the parents think Tristan was kidnapped, though we’re given reason for doubt: Fiona meets her child’s kidnapper in the neighborhood grocery store; he gives her a cantaloupe; she brings the cantaloupe to the detective handling the case. He cuts it up and eats it.

A metaphor? Fiona’s hallucination?

For all such absurdist swerving, “in a word” does conclude with something close to a revelation/resolution, which if it doesn’t solve the puzzle, at least aligns some of the pieces, offering us a solid glimpse into Fiona’s complicated, contradictory, not always admirable emotions. I suspect that what I’ll most remember from “in a word” is not the hint of a cogent story, nor even the semblance of psychological insight, but Lauren Yee’s use of language.

 

 

In A Word

Lesser America at Cherry Lane

Written by Lauren Yee

Directed by Tyne Rafaeli

Set and Lighting Design – Oona Curley
Sound Design – Stowe Nelson
Costume Design – Andrea Hood
Props – Brittany Coyne

Cast: Laura Ramadei as Fiona, Jose Joaquin Perez as Guy, Justin Mark as eight characters including Tristan, the detective, and the kidnapper.

Running time: 70 minutes, with no intermission.

Tickets: $26

In a word is scheduled to run through July 8th, 2017

 

 

 

From Sarah Bernhardt to Meryl Streep: the new BAM Archives

Performances by Sarah Bernhardt, Martha Graham, and Meryl Streep; meetings about equal rights with Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass  in 1869; a lecture by Helen Keller in 1913.  These are among the  people and events chronicled in some 70,000 items now available in an online archives of The Brooklyn Academy of Music, starting with the cultural institution’s grand opening in 1861 attended by First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln.

If BAM is now known primarily as a venue for avant-garde performance, its long history demonstrates the huge variety of uses over the years for its buildings in Brooklyn. Some 40,000 artists are searchable in the archives.

Check out the newly launched Leon Levy BAM Digital Archive

Click on any image below to see it enlarged and read the caption.

 

Tony Fallout. Bard Targeted. The Boss on Broadway? Week in NY and San Francisco Theater

Tony Epilogue

Within days of the Tony Awards (List of winners. Best moments) and the triumph of Dear Evan Hansen, three plays announced they were closing in June. Two of them – Indecent and Sweat (both closing June 25) – marked the Broadway debuts of two acclaimed, Pulitzer-prize winning women playwrights. (Sweat did not win any of the Tony for which it was nominated, but Indecent won two!)
Indecent playwright Paula Vogel blamed the co-chief critics of the New York Times

Sweat playwright Lynn Nottage seconded

I put some blame on the Tony Awards broadcast: If they would give straight plays the attention they deserve, Sweat, Indecent etc could find their audience.

Whatever the reasons, something is amiss.

New Broadway Season

If the Broadway season had a bittersweet epilogue, we are already in the prologue to the new season, which officially launches Thursday with the opening of 1984:

Broadway 2017-2018 Preview Guide

#FreeShakespeare 

After hammering criticism on social media by advocates on the political right, both Delta and Bank of America rescinded their funding for the Public Theater’s production of Julius Caesar at Shakespeare in the Park, for depicting a Trump-like Caesar. Protesters subsequently interrupted the play.
The Public’s Julius Caesar ends its run today, but this is unlikely to stop the attacks. According to news reports, Shakespeare companies across the country are being targeted on social media for the Public Theater’s production of Julius Caesar. Are the attackers confused, or doesn’t the distinction matter to them?

More on the Julius Caesar flap – photos, news reports, commentaries, reviews.

 

Week in New York Theater News

Preliminary rating for the Tony broadcast shows steep 31% decline from 2016 – a 4.7 rating, way down from 6.8 in 2016. The number of viewers will wind up being about six million.

The Pearl Theatre Co. filed for bankruptcy, and is closing after 33 years.

2017 summer schedule for free Broadway in Bryant Park lunchtime concerts (including Come From Away, Great Comet, Groundhog Day, and Anastasia.)

Cast completed for Frozen, headed to the St. James Broadway in Spring 2018

Week in San Francisco Theater

I spent the week in San Francisco, attending the annual American Theatre Critics Association conference.

I reviewed two shows aiming for Broadway:

Stephanie Styles and Drew Gehling

Roman Holiday

“Roman Holiday,” a musical running briefly at San Francisco’s Golden Theater in a traditional pre-Broadway tryout, grafts more than a dozen songs by Cole Porter onto the 1953 movie that turned Audrey Hepburn into a star….It’s tempting to call “Roman Holiday” an inefficient delivery system for Cole Porter’s hits. There’s [little] rationale for its existence.

(foreground) Kuhoo Verma (Aditi Verma) and Michael Maliakel (Hemant Rai); (background) Mahira Kakkar (Pimmi Verma), Rohan Gupta (Varun Verma), and Sharvari Deshpande (Ria Verma).

Monsoon Wedding

Mira Nair…is directing a musical adaptation of her 2001 film Monsoon Wedding that is currently on stage at the Berkeley Repertory Theater, with plans to move to Broadway.

Let’s hope it does. The story of the many family members who converge on Delhi for an arranged marriage is lively, colorful, and tuneful. It also has something to say

From this week’s American Theatre Critics Association panel discussions:

Bay Area designers

Choreographer Kimberly Richards: Choreography is not just the dancing; it’s all the movement. That’s often overlooked.

Scenic designer Nina Ball’s advice to critics: “Get to know what we work with — scale, harmony, line, space.”

Costume designer Abra Berman: My aim in modern dress shows is for costumes to so subtly enhance the characters that they’re not noticed –

Shakespeare: The Second 400 Years with five artistic directors of Shakespeare theater companies in the Bay Area.

William J. Brown, Arabian Shakespeare Festival; Leslie Schisgall Currier, Marin Shakespeare Company, , moderator Philippa Kelly, L. Peter Callender, African-American Shakespeare Company, Eric Ting, California Shakespeare Theater, Rebecca Ennals, San Francisco Shakespeare Festival

John Simon said black people couldn’t do Shakespeare. I wanted my life to prove him wrong — L. Peter Callender, founding artistic director of the African-American Shakespeare Company.

There’s a distinction between theater and museums. We can’t separate what’s on stage from the issues affecting a present-day audience – Eric Ting, California Shakespeare Theater

We start teaching Shakespeare too late. We should be teaching it when kids are five and learning new words all the time. -Rebecca Ennals of San Francisco Shakespeare Festival

Perspectives on Criticism

Bay Area critics: Robert Hurwitt (retired from the San Francisco Chronicle), Karen D’Souza (San Jose Mercury News), Lily Janice (new critic at San Francisco Chronicle.)

Birth of a critic:”I was poor, I was in grad school, I couldn’t afford to go to theater” (free tix!) – Karen D’Souza

A lot of my career was pushing for more arts coverage –  Robert Hurwitt retired recently after ~40 years as a critic

I didn’t consider myself a journalist, but reporting is an important part of every review I write – Lily Janiak

 

 

A play is not complete until somebody weighs in who’s not part of the production. That’s part of theater – Lily Janiak

The Play’s The Thing: Critics and New Work.

Panel with five Bay Area playwrights: Aaron Loeb, Stuart Bousel, Christopher Chen, moderator Amy Mueller (director and producer), Michael Gene Sullivan, Lauren Gunderson.

Aaron Loeb sees critics as useful for “blowing on your ember” — which becomes a catchphrase for the hour. Loeb advice to critics: “Engage with what the thing is, not what you wish it was.” One critic said of one of his plays: “This should have been a musical.”

Critics are supportive of new plays because I think they have stake in establishing theater identity – Chris Chen

“Theater is the anti-technology. You have to show up at the same time, and listen to live human beings. It’s the opposite of our devices and computers.” – Lauren Gunderson.

 

AR Gurney

 

Broadway 2017-2018 Preview Guide

 

Harry Potter, Olaf the snowman and Spongebob Squarepants all plan to perform on Broadway this season, as will Michael Moore, Mark Rylance and Elizabeth McGovern; new plays by Ayad Akhtar and Tracy Letts; and revivals of My Fair Lady, M. Butterfly, and Carousel.

Below is a list of Broadway shows that have nailed down their opening dates and/or theaters for the 2017-2018 season. This list, which is organized chronologically by opening date, will be updated periodically, because the schedule is sure to change – shows will be added, especialy in the Spring; some will drop out; opening dates will be delayed or moved up. If theater is evanescent, this list is even more so.

 

JUNE

1984

Theater: Hudson
Author: Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan
Director: Robert Icke
First Preview: May 18, 2017
Opening: June 22, 2017
Cast: Reed Birney, Tom Sturridge, and Olivia Wilde
Website:
Twitter feed: @RevisedTruth
Stage adaptation of George Orwell’s classic dystopian novel

Marvin’s Room

Theater: American Airlines
Author:  Scott McPherson.
Directors: Anne Kauffman, Whitney White.
First Preview: June 8
Opening: June 29
Cast: Janeane Garofalo, Lili Taylor, Celia Weston
Website
Twitter feed: @RTC_NYC 

The play by Scott McPherson (who died in 1992 at age 33) that was turned into the 1997 star-studded film. “Estranged sisters Lee and Bessie have never seen eye to eye. Lee is a single mother who’s been busy raising her troubled teenage son, Hank. Bessie’s got her hands full with their elderly father and his soap opera-obsessed sister. When Bessie is diagnosed with leukemia, the two women reunite for the first time in 18 years.”

 

 

AUGUST

The Terms of My Surrender

Theater: Belasco

Author: Michael Moore

Directors:  Michael Mayer and Noah Racey

First Preview: July 28

Opening: August 10

Cast: Michael Moore

Website

Twitter feed: @MooreBroadway

Michael Moore makes his Broadway debut in what promises to be a stand-up routine to take down Trump.

 

Prince of Broadway

 

Theater: Samuel J. Friedman

Author: David Thompson

Directors: Harold Prince and Susan Stroman

First Preview: August 3

Opening: August 24

Cast:

Website

Twitter feed: @MTC_NYC 

A look at the career of director and producer Harold Prince through musical numbers from shows he helmed, including West Side Story, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Fiddler on the Roof, Cabaret, Evita, Company, Follies, A Little Night Music, Sweeney Todd, The Phantom of the Opera.

 

 

OCTOBER

 

Time and the Conways

 

Theater: American Airlines

Author: J. B. Priestley

Director: Rebecca Taichman

First Preview: September 14

Opening: October 10

Cast: Elizabeth McGovern

Website

Twitter feed: @RTC_NYC

A revival of a play that was last on Broadway in 1938. Elizabeth McGovern will play Mrs. Conway, who in 1919 Britain, is full of hope at her daughter’s lavish 21st birthday celebration. Jump 19 years ahead, and the Conways’ lives have transformed unimaginably

 

M. Butterfly

Theater: TBA

Author: David Henry Hwang

Director: Julie Taymor

Opening: October 26

Cast: Clive Owen

Website

Twitter feed:

Owen will play a married French diplomat in China who carries on a 20-year affair with a mysterious Chinese opera singer—all without realizing that the singer is a man. Producers said the author will introduce “new material inspired by the real-life love affair between French diplomat Bernard Boursicot and Chinese opera singer Shi Pei Pu that has come to light since the play’s 1988 premiere.”

 

NOVEMBER

 

Junk

Theater: Vivian Beaumont

Author: Ayad Akhtar

Director: Doug Hughes

First Preview: October 5

Opening: November 2

Cast: Steven Pasquale

Website

Twitter feed: @LCTheater

 

From the Pulitzer winning author of Disgraced. Set over 30 years ago, “Junk” – as in “junk bonds” — is a play about “how money became the only thing of real value.”

 

The Band’s Visit

Theater: Ethel Barrymore

Authors: Itamar Moses, book; David Yazbek, songs.

Director: David Cromer

First Preview: October 7

Opening: November 9

Cast: TBA

Website

Twitter feed: @TheBandsVisit

The widely acclaimed Off-Broadway musical moves to Broadway! Based on the 2007 independent film, it follows an Egyptian police band that arrives in the wrong town Israel to play a concert.

My review when it was Off-Broadway.

 

 

DECEMBER

 

Once on this Island

Theater: Circle in the Square

Authors: Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty

Director: Michael Arden,

First Preview: November 9

Opening: December 3

Cast:

Website

Twitter feed: @OnceIslandBway 

A revival of the musical about Ti Moune, a fearless peasant girl who falls in love with a wealthy boy from the other side of the Caribbean island. When their divided cultures threaten to keep them apart, Ti Moune, guided by the island gods, sets out on a remarkable quest to reunite with the man who has captured her heart.

 

 

Spongebob Squarepants

Theater: Palace

Author: Kyle Jarrow and Tina Landau

Director: Tina Landau

First Preview: November 6

Opening: December 4

Cast:

Website

Twitter feed: @SpongeBobBway

New musical based on the hit Nickelodeon cartoon series

The score features original songs from a mix of classic and contemporary artists, including Cyndi Lauper, Sara Bareilles, John Legend, Panic! at the Disco, and the late David Bowie.

 

The Children

Theater: Samuel J. Friedman

Author: Lucy Kirkwood

Director: James Macdonald

First Preview: November 28

Opening: December 14

Cast: Francesca Annis, Ron Cook, Deborah Findlay

Website

Twitter feed: @MTC_NYC

In a remote cottage on the lonely British coast, a couple of retired nuclear engineers are living a very quiet life. Outside, the world is in utter chaos following a devastating series of events. When an old friend turns up at their door, they’re shocked to discover the real reason for her visit.

 

Farinelli and the King

Theater: Belasco

Author:  Claire van Kampen

Director: John Dove

First Preview: December 5

Opening: December 17

Cast: Mark Rylance

Website

Twitter feed: @FarinelliBway

 

Mark Rylance plays King Philippe of Spain who is entranced by Farinelli, one of the greatest celebrities of his time – a castrato “with a voice so divine it has the power to captivate all who hear it.”

 

 

MARCH

 

The Minutes

Theater: TBA

Author: Tracy Letts

Director: Anna D. Shapiro

First Preview: February 6, 2018

Opening: March 8, 2018

Cast:

Website

Twitter feed:

“A town’s proud history, the legend of a local hero, the coveted privilege of reserved parking: nothing is sacred during the town council meeting at the heart of Tracy Letts’ new play.”

 

Escape to Margaritaville

Theater: Marquis

Authors: Greg Garcia and Mike O’Malley

Director: Christopher Ashley

First Preview: February 16

Opening: March 15

Cast: Paul Alexander Nolan, Alison Luff as Rachel and Lisa Howard

Website

Twitter feed: @buffettmusical 

 

 

APRIL

 

My Fair Lady

 

Theater: Vivian Beaumont

Authors: Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe

Director: Bartlett Sher.

First Preview: March 22

Opening: April 19

Cast: TBA

Website

Twitter feed: @LCTheater

 

 

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Theater: Lyric

Author: Jack Thorne

Director: John Tiffany.

First Preview:

Opening: April 22

Cast: TBA

Website

Twitter feed: @HPPlayNYC

 

 

A play written by Jack Thorne based on an original story by him, directory John Tiffany and Harry Potter novelist J.K. Rowling “While an adult Harry grapples with a past that refuses to stay where it belongs, his youngest son Albus must struggle with the weight of a family legacy he never wanted. “

 

Sometime in Spring

 

Carousel

Theater: TBA

Author: Rodgers and Hammerstein

Director: Jack O’Brien

First Preview: March 23, 2018

Opening: TBA

Cast: Jessie Mueller, Joshua Henry, Renee Fleming

Website

Twitter feed:

 

Frozen

Theater: St. James Theater

Author: Kristen Anderson-Lopez, Robert Lopez, Jennifer Lee

Director: Michael Grandage

First Preview: TBA

Opening: TBA

Cast:  Caissie Levy (Elsa), Patti Murin (Anna), Jelani Alladin (Kristoff), Greg Hildreth (Olaf), John Riddle (Hans) and Robert Creighton (Duke of Weselton)

Website

Twitter feed: @FrozenBroadway

 

Check out last season’s Broadway guide

Broadway 2016-2017

Also:

What Broadway Shows Should I See? Top 10 Suggestions.

Free Broadway in Bryant Park Summer 2017 Schedule

 

For the 17th year in a row, Bryant Park is the site of free lunchtime concerts by cast members of current Broadway (and some Off-Broadway) shows  on Thursdays in July and August between 12:30 – 1:30 p.m.

Here is the schedule for this summer:

July 6:  Stomp (pictured above), Groundhog Day, Wicked,  The Phantom of the Opera.
July 13: Kinky Boots, Beautiful, School of Rock, Soulpepper
July 20: Waitress, Chicago, Cats, Spamilton
July 27: A Bronx Tale, Anastasia, Avenue Q, The Imbible
August 3: Miss Saigon; Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812; Broadway Dreams
August 10: Come From Away, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Bandstand, Curvy Widow

The schedule is subject to change.

Scenes and songs from previous Broadway in Bryant Park concerts:

Monsoon Wedding Musical: Broadway Bound at Berkeley Rep

Mira Nair, the filmmaker of such celebrated movies as Salaam Bombay and Mississippi Masala, is directing a musical adaptation of her 2001 film Monsoon Wedding that is currently on stage at the Berkeley Repertory Theater, with plans to move to Broadway.

Let’s hope it does.

The story of the many family members who converge on Delhi for an arranged marriage is lively, colorful, and tuneful. It also has something to say – about the bridging of cultures, about the effects on individual families of globalization, but mostly about love in its many forms. It would also be the first musical on Broadway since Bombay Dreams (which ran for about nine months in 2004) to feature a South Asian cast, characters, and story.

Many stories, really. If some of the subplots from the movie have been shorn from the musical, Monsoon Wedding is still an extravagantly woven tapestry whose central thread is the wedding of Hemant (the golden voiced baritone Michael Maliakel), who is from New Jersey, and Aditi (a lovely Kuhoo Verma), the only daughter of a privileged Indian family that has seen better days. Hemant and Aditi have never met – and, we learn soon enough, Aditi already is involved with a husband…which is to say, she is having an affair with a married man. There are plenty of other complications.

If the story may need some further streamlining and some of the lyrics rethinking before a New York run, the work of the creative team — especially the exciting choreography by Lorin Latarro (“Waitress,” “American Idiot”) the bright, enchanting costumes by Arjun Bhasin, and the pulsating, eclectic score by Vishal Bhardwaj — meld Broadway-level entertainment with what feels like an authentic glimpse into present-day Indian culture. The musical is full of delightful little moments – such as when the father of the bride, Jaaved Jaaferi (Lalit Verma) sings “You will learn to love each other just as I learned to love your mother” – with the music is full-out swing-era jazz, and Jaaferi… letting loose.

Monsoon Wedding
Book by Sabrina Dhawan
Music by Vishal Bhardwaj
Lyrics by Susan Birkenhead
Directed by Mira Nair
Scenic design by Mikiko Suzuki MacAdams, costume design by Arjun Bhasin, lighting design by Donald Holder, sound design by Scott Lehrer, projection design by Peter Nigrini, music supervision by Carmel Dean, music direction by Greg Kenna, and choreography by Lorin Latarro

Cast: Bissell (Shashi Chawla), Meetu Chilana (Grandmother), Emielyn D. Das (Aliya Chawla), Namit Das (PK Dubey), Sharvari Deshpande (Ria Verma), Palomi Ghosh (Vijaya/Naani), Rohan Gupta (Varun Verma), Jaaved Jaaferi (Lalit Verma), Dani Jazzar (Swing), Mahira Kakkar (Pimmi Verma), Namita Kapoor (Swing), Krystal Kiran (Saroj Rai), Michael Maliakel (Hemant Rai), Ali Momen (Vikram/Congress), Anisha Nagarajan (Alice), Andrew Prashad (Mohan Rai/Tameesuddin), Alok Tewari (Tej), Levin Valayil (Lottery), Kuhoo Verma (Aditi Verma), and Sorab Wadia (Cl Chawla)

Monsoon Wedding is on stage at Berkeley Repertory Theater through July 16, 2017.

Photographs by Kevin Berne