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The Siege Review and Pics: Palestinian Theater about Bethlehem Standoff

Faisal Abualhayjaa and Hassan Taha in The Siege

The Siege, a play dramatizing the 2002 siege by armed Palestinians of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, is in several ways the exact opposite of Oslo, the last drama about the Palestinian-Israel conflict to run in New York.

Oslo, which won the 2017 Tony for Best Play, was American playwright J.T. Rogers’ attempt at a balanced look at the high-level negotiations that led to the first Israeli-Palestinian peace accord. The Siege is Palestinian playwright Nabil Al-Raee and his co-director Zoe Lafferty’s ground-level look, from a Palestinian point of view, at a half dozen of the people who were holed up in the church, one of the holiest sites in the Christian religion, for the 39-day standoff. It is produced by the Freedom Theatre, a Palestinian company in the Jenin refugee camp on the West Bank, which is presenting the play for the first time in the United States, at NYU’s Skirball Center through October 22.

Full review at DC Theatre Scene

Click on any photograph by Baraa Sharqawi. Skip Schiel  or Ian Douglas to see them enlarged.
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Measure for Measure Review: A Shakespeare for the Age of Mike Pence and Harvey Weinstein, via Elevator Repair Service

There are moments in the “Measure for Measure” by experimental theater company Elevator Repair Service at the Public that offer the purest Shakespeare on any New York stage; this occurs when they project the Bard’s words on the backdrop as the performers are reciting them. But even here, it’s only when an entire verse is projected, and scrolls up slowly, that there’s clarity. Most of the time, the projected words are scattered, fragmented, overly large, scrolling up at great speed, all of which renders the text unreadable.

The scrolling word play feels like a metaphor for this avant-garde production of Shakespeare’s last comedy as a whole: It’s hard to read. There are watchable moments, occasional visual appeal in the design, even some touching scenes. But it’s difficult to figure out – or appreciate — what director John Collins is up to.

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The Treasurer: Review and pics

Max Posner’s play is called The Treasurer because a grown man is forced to take responsibility for the finances of his aged, widowed mother. But the title also suggests that he will take stock of the sort of debts that can never be repaid – the emotional ones accrued within a family.

 

If the premise is not novel, one look at the theater artists involved in The Treasurer offers the promise of a big payout. Deanna Dunagan, who won a Tony for her role as Violet Weston in the Broadway production of August: Osage County, portrays the mother. The son is Peter Friedman, a veteran Off-Broadway actor (Circle Mirror Transformation, Hamlet with Oscar Isaac) whose presence elevates nearly everything he’s in. Its director, David Cromer (Our Town, Tribes, The Band’s Visit, soon to be on Broadway), has an ability to turn even an old warhorse into something aesthetically fresh and emotionally real.

The Treasurer is, as expected, wonderfully acted, and there are a good number of solid scenes, some funny, some moving. But one walks away from The Treasurer as from a family reunion that wasn’t as satisfying as one had hoped.

Full review on D.C. Theatre Scene

Mary Jane Review: Life As Single Mom Caring For A Disabled Child

As Amy Herzog’s gentle new play begins, Mary Jane is deep into idle chatter with the building’s superintendent Ruthie, who’s in the apartment to fix a clogged drain, when we hear a beep. It is, we eventually learn, the monitor for Alex, Mary Jane’s two-year-old son, who was born prematurely and wasn’t expected to live more than a few days. He now survives attached to elaborate medical equipment, unable to move or speak.

Responding to the beep, Mary Jane (Carrie Coon) goes off stage into the bedroom, we hear some sounds (Mary Jane fixing whatever’s wrong), the beeping stops, and she comes back into the living room to resume her conversation with her superintendent.

This is more or less Mary Jane’s everyday life, and it is more or less the approach throughout “Mary Jane” Read more of this post

KPOP: Review, Photos, Video

KPOP, the wildly (and loudly) entertaining immersive theater piece offering the audience a tour of a Korean pop music factory, begins and ends with 15-minute concerts by the Korean boy group F8 and girl group Special K, dressed in Olympic-style jumpsuits or sexy black leather outfits, as well as the solo artist MwE, clad in sultry gowns.

What may be most impressive about their energetic performances, complete with synchronized gyrations beneath a disco ball or behind dramatically billowing stage smoke, is that everything about them – including all 23 songs they sing – was created, a la The Monkees, just for this show.

Click on any photograph by Ben Arons to see it enlarged and read the caption

KPOP is the result of a collaboration between three remarkable New York theater companies – Ars Nova, best-known for having developed the groundbreaking Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812; the Ma-Yi Theater Company, which for three decades has explored issues of identity and assimilation through original work by Asian-American artists; and The Woodshed Collective, a company whose explorations of the outer limits of site specific theater included an amazing show called Empire Travel Agency, a kind of on-the-town spy-murder mystery that took place in such venues as an abandoned building and a speeding car. The DNA from each of these combines in this novel creation, which takes over the entire new non-profit performance art complex A.R.T./New York Theatres to recreate the new American outpost of an ambitious Korean music label.

Full review at DC Theatre Scene

Tommy Tune, Bandstand, Great Comet Among 2017 Chita Rivera Award Winners

Chita Rivera Awards logoTommy Tune lifetimeTommy Tune was presented with the inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award last night at the 2017 Chita Rivera Award, the newly named awards for dance and choreography in New York theater and on film. Diane Paulus was presented with the Award for Outstanding Contribution to Musical Theater as Director.

The competitive categories were awarded to choreographers and dancers from Great Comet, Sweet Charity and Holiday Inn — all shows that have closed — and to Bandstand, which closes Sunday.  Almost all the nominees that didn’t win were from shows that are still running. (Nominations were announced back in May.)

Outstanding Choreography in a Broadway Show

Andy Blankenbuehler, Bandstand
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Off Broadway Fall 2017 Guide

Off-Broadway in the Fall promises a homoerotic dystopia (“A Clockwork Orange”); a revival of Harvey Fierstein’s breakthrough play starring Michael Urie (“Torch Song”); bio-dramas about a transgender etiquette teacher (Charm) and Public Theater founder Joe Papp (“Illyria”), as well as a debate among Thomas Jefferson, Dickens and Tolstoy about religion (“Discord.”)  There are hip makeovers of Shakespeare, Sophocles and Jane Austen;  an immersive visit to a Korean pop music factory by the same theater that developed The Great Comet; and plays by Julia Cho, Caryl Churchill, Amy Herzog,Rajiv Joseph, Sarah Ruhl, Simon Stephens, John Patrick Stanley, Anna Ziegler (two!), and Stephen Adly Guirgis (three!)

 

 

Unlike Broadway (See my Broadway 2017-2018 Preview Guide),  Off-Broadway is full of theaters/theater companies that present whole seasons of original or originally interpreted work.  That’s why my Off-Broadway preview below largely groups shows according to the theaters that are producing them, most of which offer subscriptions and/or memberships. I list the theaters in order of my preference for them (determined by such factors as their recent track record, the promise of the new season, and by my overall experience interacting with them as theatergoer and as critic.)

I’ve put a red check mark —  — besides a handful of shows opening in the Fall about which I’m especially excited, or intrigued, or at least notably hopeful.

(The asterisk *, explained more fully at the bottom, indicates those theatrical empires that have both Broadway and Off Broadway venues.)

PLAYWRIGHTS HORIZONS

416 W. 42nd St. Twitter: @PHNYC

Annie Baker’s “The Flick” is one of six plays that originated at Playwrights Horizons that have won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. The theater offers new plays and musicals that are consistently worthwhile, in an environment that feels dedicated both to the theater artists and the theatergoers.

For Peter Pan on her 70th birthday

August 18, 2017 – October 01, 2017  Opens September 12.

A play by Sarah Ruhl: “Playing Peter Pan at her hometown children’s theater is one of Ann’s fondest, most formative memories. Now, 50 years later, Neverland calls again, casting her and her siblings back to this faraway dreamscape where the refusal to grow up confronts the inevitability of growing old.”

The Treasurer

September 06, 2017 – October 22, 2017

A play by Max Posner, directed by David Cromer: “Ida Armstrong is broke, lonely, and fading fast. And she’s spending all of her children’s money, forcing her son to assume the unwanted role of The Treasurer: an arrangement that becomes untenable the more he questions his devotion to her.”

 

THE PUBLIC THEATER

425 Lafayette Street and in Central Park. Twitter: @PublicTheaterNY

Having originated both Hamilton and Fun Home, the Public is on a roll, the latest of many in the successful downtown empire that Joe Papp created half a century ago. (One of the plays this season is about Papp!) The Public is so popular these days that members have been complaining that their membership doesn’t guarantee tickets to the Public shows they want to see.

Public Works’ As You Like It

September 2 – September 5.

It’s now a Labor Day weekend tradition, to stage a Shakespeare play as a spectacular employing some 200 professional and amateur actors at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park. Shaina Taub has composed the songs for this musical version of Shakespeare’s  tale “of faithful friends, feuding families and lovers in disguise.”

Measure for Measure

September 17 – November 5, 2017

The innovative avant-garde theater company Elevator Repair Service adapts Shakespeare’s play about “impossible moral choices in 17th century Vienna” using athletic theatricality and Marx-Brothers-inspired slapstick.

Tiny Beautiful Things

Strayed/Vardalos

Strayed/Vardalos

September 19 to November 12.

Nia Vardalos (My Big Fat Greek Wedding) plays Sugar, an anonymous online advice columnist in a Vardalos’ stage adaptation of the book of the same name by Cheryl Strayed. Directed by Thomas Kail (Hamilton.) This an encore presentation. My review of the play when it was presented last year.

Oedipus El Rey

October 3 to November 19. Opens October 24.

Playwright Luis Alfaro has set this Greek tragedy in South Central LA and recast the hero as “a troubled Latino whose dreams of controlling his own destiny soar above the barbed wire of the prison where he’s spent his life.”

Office Hour

October 17 – December 3, 2017

Julia Cho’s new play about a teacher who compels her 18-year-old student to attend her office hours to discuss his violently obscene work.”The isolated young student in her office has learned one thing above all else: that for the powerless, the ability to terrify others is powerful indeed.”

Illyria

October 22 – November 26

Richard Nelson (the Apple Family plays and the Gabriels) directs his play about the 1958 fight by Public Theater founder Joseph Papp  over free Shakespeare productions in Central Park.

 

The Winter’s Tale

November 26 – December 17

The Public Theater’s Mobile Unit production of Shakespeare’s play, directed by Lee Sunday Evans

 

 

NEW YORK THEATER WORKSHOP

79 East 4th Street. Twitter: @NYTW79

NYTW got much attention two years ago for presenting David Bowie’s musical “Lazarus,”   and last year for its “Othello” with movie stars Daniel Craig and David Oyelowo. Its fare has ranged from the innovative and tuneful — “Hadestown” — to the cutting edge and incomprehensible — “Fondly, Collette Richland”

Mary Jane

Amy Herzog, Anne Kauffman

September 6, 2017—October 15, 2017

Written by Amy Herzog and directed by Anne Kauffman. “During a rain-drenched summer in New York City, an indefatigable single mother navigates the mundane, shattering and sublime aspects of caring for a chronically sick child.” Stars Carrie Coon.

Hundred Days

November 15, 2017—December 31, 2017

A musical about having only 100 days to live.

Three exciting-sounding new plays for which NYTW has not provided the dates as of yet:

An Ordinary Muslim, by Hammaad Chaudry, directed by Jo Bonney

Light Shining in Buckinghamshire, by Caryl Churchill, directed by Rachel Chavkin

The House That Will Not Stand by Marcus Gardley, directed by Lileana Blain-Cruz

SIGNATURE

480 West 42nd Street. Twitter: @signaturetheatr

As the first New York theater to win the Regional Tony Award, the Signature now has some solid proof of what has been clear to its patrons for years.  What has distinguished this theater is not only its track record, but its commitment to keep the price of all tickets for initial runs to $30.

With the recent expansion of both their facilities and their mission, some longtime subscribers have had to adjust to the introduction of work by more untested playwrights. This is the second season under new artistic director Paige Evans, who headed Lincoln Center’s LCT3. Signature’s founding artistic director James Houghton died in August, 2016. This season looks more exciting in the Spring.

The Red Letter Plays: Fucking A

August 22  – October 1, 2017 

Suzan Lori Park’s first of two plays based on Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. Christine Lahti portrays an abortionist trying to free her son from prison

The Red Letter Plays: In The Blood

August 29 – October 8, 2017

Hester La Negrita is a penniless mother of five condemned by the men who love her.

Jesus Hopped The ‘A’ Train

October 3 – November 12

The first of this season’s plays at the Signature by Stephen Adly Guirgis: “Angel Cruz is a 30-year-old bicycle messenger awaiting trial for the death of the leader of a religious cult. Inside Rikers Island, a terrified Angel is befriended by a charismatic serial killer named Lucius Jenkins. Lucius has found God.” Directed by Mark Brokaw.

Spring:

Edward Albee’s At Home at the Zoo: Homelife & The Zoo Story

Paradise Blue by Dominique Morisseau

Our Lady of 121st Street by Stephen Adly Guirgis

A new play by Stephen Adly Guirgis

 

AtlanticTheaterlogoATLANTIC THEATER

On The Shore of the Wide World

August 23 – October 8, 2017

A play by Simon Stephens (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time) about nine months that changed the lives of a family.

Describe The Night

Playwright Rajiv Joseph

November 10 – December 24

Set in Russia over the course of 90 years,  Rajiv Joseph’s new play traces the stories of seven men and women connected by history, myth and conspiracy theories.

 

 PRIMARY STAGES

The theater company takes up residence this season at the Cherry Lane in the West Village

The Gospel According to Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens and Count Leo Tolstoy: Discord

September 19 – October 22, 2017

Three historical figures who wrote their own version of the gospels debate religion, literature and marriage.

Pride and Prejudice

Kate Hamill and Mark Bedard in Pride and Prejudice at the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival, which is co-producing its transfer to Primary Stages.

November 7 – December 15, 2017

Kate Hamill (Bedlam’s Sense and Sensibility) adapts and stars in this playful adaptation of Jane Austen’s tale of outspoken Elizabeth Bennet and the aloof Mr. Darcy.

LINCOLN CENTER THEATER*

@LCTheater

LincolnCenterlogoThe shows at Lincoln Center’s Off-Broadway venues are inexpensive (especially at the Claire Tow theater, where initial-run tickets cost $20) and often rewarding.

After The Blast

October 7 to November 19. Opens October 23.

A play by Zoe Kazan “set in the wake of total environmental disaster, when the human population has retreated underground”

The Wolves

November 1 to January 7, 2018. Opens November 20.

Sarah DeLappe’s play about a teenager girls soccer team is being encored in a new venue. My old review of The Wolves.

ROUNDABOUT* LAURA PELS

The empire that is now Roundabout includes three Broadway theaters, and that’s where most of the attention is focused, mostly on star-studded revivals, especially musicals.  But its fourth building houses two Off-Broadway theaters (one of them a tiny “Black Box” theater.) It is in its Off-Broadway facility that Stephen Karam’s The Humans originated, which went on to Broadway and Tony love. The Roundabout’s “Underground” series discovers new playwriting talent, with tickets priced at $25.

The Last Match

September 28 – December 24, 2017. Opens October 24.

A new play by Anna Ziegler  about two tennis greats who are facing off in the match of their lives

Too Heavy for Your Pocket

September 15 – November 19, 2017. Opens October 5.

Jiréh Breon Holder’s play takes place in Nashville in 1961, when 20-year-old Bowzie Brandon gives up a college scholarship to join the Freedom Riders.

MCC THEATER

Address: The Lucille Lortel Theatre, 121 Christopher Street. 

Twitter: @mcctheater

Charm

August 31 – October 8. Opens September 18 

A play by Philip Dawkin. “When Mama Darleena Andrews– a 67-year-old, black, transgender woman — takes it upon herself to teach an etiquette class at Chicago’s LGBTQ community center, the idealistic teachings of Emily Post clash with the very real life challenges of identity, poverty and prejudice faced by her students. Inspired by the true story of Miss Gloria Allen

 

School Girls, Or The African Mean Girls Play

November 2 – December 10
Rebecca Taichman (Tony winner for Indecent) directs Jocelyn Bioh comedy about a fight over the Miss Universe pageant in Ghana’s most exclusive boarding school.

CLASSIC STAGE COMPANY

136 East 13th Street Twitter: @ClassicStage

Its 50th anniversary season is heavy on Shakespeare in the Fall, but in the Spring branches out to Tennessee Williams as well as an original play by Terrence McNally about Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russe,and the first major New York revival of Carmen Jones, Oscar Hammerstein’s adaptation of the opera by Bizet with an all African-American cast.

As You Like It

September 13-October 22

Shakespeare’s comedy, with music by Stephen Schwartz, set in the Jazz Age.

The Stowaway

November 5 – 19

This play geared to children is “inspired by the plays and language of Shakespeare.” By Trusty Sidekick Theater Company, which uses puppetry and live music,

Fiasco Theater’s Twelfth Night

November 29-January 6

SECOND STAGE THEATER*

Second Stage will launch its first Broadway season at the Helen Hayes in Spring 2018, the fourth “non-profit” to produce theater both on and Off Broadway. I’m hoping this will encourage them to become literally more inviting to independent New York critics.

Torch Song

Michael Urie stars in the play that made its author and first star Harvey Fierstein famous, in a production directed by Moisés Kaufman.  “It’s 1979 in New York City and Arnold Beckoff is on a quest for love, purpose and family.”

MTC* At City Center

131 West 55th Street Twitter: @MTC_NYC

The theater has recovered from the public criticism of a couple of seasons ago that it lacks diversity in its offerings, but this “club” is still not especially welcoming to non-subscribers or independent professional critics.

 

The Portuguese Kid

September 19 – November 26. Opens October 24.

John Patrick Shanley directs his new romantic comedy about a habitually widowed woman (Sherie Rene Scott) who pays a visit to her second-rate lawyer (Jason Alexander), intending to settle her latest husband’s affairs.

 

Actually

October 31 – December 3

Anna Ziegler (Photograph 51) explores the issue of consent on  campus. “At a raucous party during their freshman year at Princeton, Tom and Amber connect in ways that seem innocent enough at first. But as things progress, they find themselves in murky territory.”

OTHER  HIGHLIGHTS

KPOP (Ars Nova)

September 5 – October 7, 2017

The world-conquering success of Korean pop music is the subject of this new immersive theatre piece in the theater that developed “Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812.” The show, about a new record label on the eve of its launch, is put together by the theater companies Ma-Yi and  the Woodshed Collective, the latter of which did an amazing show called Empire Travel Agency, a kind of on-the-town spy-murder mystery.

A Clockwork Orange (New World Stages)

September 2 – January 6, 2018.  Opens September 25

A stage adaptation of Anthony Burgess’ dystopian novel, best-known for the 1971 Stanley Kubrick film, about a teenage hoodlum in the near future who is arrested, and brainwashed to be submissive by the authorities.

Downtown Race Riot (The New Group)

Chloe Sevigny stars in In Seth Zvi Rosenfeld’s play as a strung-out, free-wheeling single mom whose son Pnut and his Haitian best friend Massive wrestle with their obligation to join rioters in Washington Square Park in 1976 attacking any people of color they can find.

 

Other companies worth checking out:

St Ann’s Warehouse

Vineyard Theatre

Rattlesticks Playwright Theater

Mint Theater

Mayi Theater Company

Playwrights Realm

There are also commercial shows put together by independent producers that appear in theaters for rent, such as:

Cherry Lane Theatre
Daryl Roth Theatre
Gym at Judson
Lucille Lortel Theatre
New World Stages
Orpheum Theater
The Players Theatre
Snapple Theater Center
Theatre Row – The Acorn
Union Square Theater
Westside Theatre

*THE ASTERISK: Off-Broadway AND Broadway

*Just to complicate matters, several of the resident theaters also present shows on Broadway –  Lincoln Center, Manhattan Theater Company (MTC), the Roundabout Theater Company., and starting this season, Second Stage Theatre, which has bought the Helen Hayes. Their Broadway offerings are listed in my Broadway 2017-2018 Preview Guide.

What Is Broadway, Off-Broadway, Off-Off Broadway?

Off-Broadway theaters, by definition, have anywhere from 99 to 499 seats. If a theater has more seats than that, it’s a Broadway house. If it has fewer, it’s Off-Off Broadway.

There are some terrific Off-Off Broadway theaters, sometimes confused for Off-Broadway. These include (but are not limited to) The FleaLabyrinth Theater, and LaMaMa ETC.

Monthly Calendar of Openings

Because there are so many shows Off-Off Broadway, and their runs are so limited, I include them in my monthly theater preview calendar (along with Broadway and Off Broadway openings) posted near the beginning of each month.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

For more information about Off-Broadway, go to  The League of Off-Broadway Theatres and Producers (aka The Off-Broadway League).  This should not be confused with the Off-Broadway Alliance, which is a separate organization (though they should probably merge, no?)