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Antigone in Ferguson. Uma! Euan! Emmy! Week in New York Theater

“I am a foolish man…I am crushed, I have been crushed by fate,” cried out Reg E. Cathey as King Creon, at a climactic moment in  the free Saturday performance of “Antigone in Ferguson,” an adaptation by Theater of War of Sophocles’ 2,500-year-old tragedy.
Earlier, upon first assuming office, Creon had preened: “A leader is nothing without his advisors, and I will have the best,” which brought a laugh from the audience in the Howard Playground in Brownsville, Brooklyn. Things turned ugly when Creon went through with his threat to execute his niece Antigone (Sonja John) for burying her brother, in defiance of  his explicit order — a decision that  led to Creon’s own destruction.

“I was surprised that I felt bad for Creon,” an audience member said in the extensive conversation after the show. “As a schoolteacher, I know how important it is to try to calm things down. That’s what he was trying to do. Clearly, he was doing it in the wrong way.”

“Antigone in Ferguson” — which was performed by cast members from the HBO TV series “The Wire,” as well as a gospel chorus made up of residents and activists from Ferguson, Missouri — was the first of some 60 productions over the next two years that Theater of War will bring to some 60 locations in New York City — classic plays that address current issues.

These Broadway veterans have been nominated for Emmy Awards
Complete list of nominees.

Week in New York Theater Reviews

Pipeline

As “Pipeline” begins, we learn that a black teenager has gotten into a physical scuffle with his teacher and is in danger of being expelled, and arrested. 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’ve seen this year

Matthew McConaughey vs. The Devil, An American Myth

(New York Musical Festival)

How did so many talented people produce a show so pointless, derivative and mean? Its worst sin may be that it is rarely funny…Matthew McConaughey vs. the Devil” doesn’t make much sense from the get-go. It is not, however, completely damnable….The real salvation is in the production values.

Oscar Isaac in Hamlet at the Public Theater

Hamlet

for all this fiddling around, and despite too many moments of director-engendered incoherence, Sam Gold’s “Hamlet” ultimately worked for me. This is largely because of Oscar Isaac’s performance…Gold’s radical interpretation of the play did not for me undermine the power and clarity of Isaac’s Hamlet

Opening Skinner’s Box

There are two kinds of questions posed by the Improbable Theater Company’s production of “Opening Skinner’s Box,” a stage adaptation of the 2004 book by Lauren Slater that describes ten famous and often flabbergasting psychology experiments. The show opens the 2017 Lincoln Center Festival.

There are the intriguing questions about human behavior that the experiments themselves attempted to address…Then there are the questions about the show itself:…What does one get out of this stage piece that one cannot get out of Slater’s book?

Amerike: The Golden Land

This musical revue surveying 50 years in song of Jewish immigration to New York has some stirring moments. One longs for more of them….the creative team, who first put the show together in 1982, works hard to unearth period songs intelligently and present them authentically. There is also much loveliness in the production,

Will on TNT

a speculative TV series about William Shakespeare’s early career in London…a series that features, among other attributes, a cast of soap opera-level hunks and beauties in some extremely graphic scenes of torture, slightly more demure humping, and the first rap battle in iambic pentameter.

Week in New York Theater News


Uma Thurman to make her Broadway debut in November in The Parisian Woman, political drama by Beau Willimon (House of Cards) in a theater yet to be determined.

The Parisian Woman, which was commissioned by The Flea Theater Off-Off Broadway and debuted at @SouthCoastRep in 2013, is derived from a 19th century French play by Henry Francois Becque, and focuses on a socialite in Washington D.C.

The new theater critic at New York Magazine — Sara Holdren (@swholdren) an accomplished theater director .

Here’s her take-down in culturebot of Joan of Arc:Into The Fire

excerpt:

“If I believed in Joan’s god, I’d pray for a world in which all artists could tell any story, no matter its distance from their personal experience — a world in which radical imagination, real empathy, and respect and care for one’s material and one’s collaborators lay at the heart of every process. I am not taking issue with the team that created Joan of Arc: Into the Fire for being men, but I am taking issue with what they made, which is, at its heart, retrogressive and patriarchal.”

Euan Morton becomes the new King George III in Hamilton starting July 28

Grand Central Publishing, publisher that of Hamilton The Revolution, will publish “Dear Evan Hansen: Through the Window” in November.

Broadway in the Boros FREE

First up: Noon,Fri 7/21 Anastasia and Great Comet, at the Socrates Sculpture Park in Queens

The Bronx, July 24:

Staten Island, July 28:

l.

2017 Edgerton Foundation New Play Awards of $359,00 to 13 shows; four of them in NYC

This Ain’t No Disco, music & lyrics by Stephen Trask & Peter Yanowitz,
book by Rick Elice, at Atlantic Theater Company

This Flat Earth by Lindsey Ferrentino at Playwrights Horizons

The Treasurer by Max Posner at Playwrights Horizons

Skintight by Joshua Harmon at Roundabout Theatre Company

James Franco

James Franco shuts down Off-Off-Broadway’s ‘James Franco and Me’

“James Franco and Me,” a play set to run next month at the Peoples Improv Theater on E. 24th St., has been cancelled after getting a cease and desist letter from the 39-year-old star’s lawyers.

“We’re just going to remove any mention of James Franco….We’re calling it ‘______ and Me’

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Pipeline Review: A Mother and Teacher Worries About Her Son

As “Pipeline” begins, we learn that a black teenager has gotten into a physical scuffle with his teacher and is in danger of being expelled, and arrested. But playwright Dominique 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’ve seen this year.

The teenager, Omari (Namir Smallwood), attends a mostly white private boarding school. The encounter occurred, as Omari later explains to his mother, after a discussion of Richard Wright’s novel “Native Son,” when the teacher kept on asking him questions about the African-American protagonist of that novel, the killer Bigger Thomas. “’What made Bigger Thomas kill that woman? What were his social limitations? What made the animal in him explode?’ And who he lookin’ at when he askin’ all these questions, Ma. Who he lookin’ at?”

“Omari,” his mother replies.

“Like I’m the spokesperson. Like I’m Bigger Thomas. Like I’m pre-disposed or some shit to knowing what it’s like to be an animal.”

“Pipeline”is no polemic. The play focuses less on Omari than it does on his mother, Nya, portrayed by the wonderful actress Karen Pittman (Disgraced, King Liz) – and, truth be told, she too has questions and concerns about her own son…and other mothers’ sons. She is a teacher herself, in what is euphemistically called (but not in this play!) an “inner city school.”

Nya is also a single mother – but, again, that doesn’t mean what some people would assume. Omari’s father Xavier (Morocco Omari) is a successful businessman, who is paying for Omari’s schooling. We even piece together, in passing, that it was Nya’s actions that destroyed the marriage.

Again and again, in other words, the playwright insists on the specificity of her characters. This long has impressed me about Dominique Morisseau, who in addition to her playwriting is a writer for the Showtime series “Shameless,” about a struggling family in Chicago, and whose previous plays include “Skeleton Crew,” about a financially-threatened group of Detroit auto workers, which was given a terrific production last year.

Off stage, Morisseau is passionate and outspoken about a range of social and political issues, but her beliefs never seem to interfere with her integrity as a playwright . She doesn’t use her characters to score points; she allows them their lives – which are as full and complicated as any of the characters we are more used to seeing on stage. It is refreshing, for example, that “Pipeline” features a character, Dun (Jaime Lincoln Smith), who is intelligent and caring and flirtatious and adulterous…and works as a minimum wage school security guard.

All six characters in “Pipeline” are given their due, aided immeasurably by some outstanding performances under the fine direction of Lileana Blain-Cruz.

The title of Morisseau’s play is an oft-used term among educators, employed as a metaphor for the fate awaiting school children. The students labeled “gifted” go into one pipeline. The term is commonly used these days to describe what happens way too often to poor children of color — “the school to prison pipeline,” which was the subject of Anna Deavere Smith’s documentary drama, “Notes from the Field.”

There is no mention of this term in the play itself (although there’s an explanation of it in the accompanying issue of the Lincoln Center Theatre Review.) The problems in education are presented obliquely but effectively, and not downplayed: In between scenes, Hannah Wasileski’s huge video projections of what look to be real-life chaos and violence inside an actual school cover the institutional wall of a set that looks like an especially forbidding high school gymnasium.  Nya’s colleague Laurie (the gloriously in-your-face Tasha Lawrence), has just returned to school after facial reconstruction surgery to repair the damage from an attack by the parents of a failing student. “I’ll outlast ‘em all,” she barks. (By the end of the play, we’re not so sure.)

Nya most eloquently expresses her worries about her son when she is teaching the 1959 poem by Gwendolyn Brooks, “We Real Cool: The Pool Players Seven at the Golden Shovel”:

We real cool. We

Left school. We

Lurk late. We

Strike straight. We

Sing sin. We

Thin gin. We

Jazz June. We

Die soon.

Nya teaches the poem to her class, and to the audience too. It’s a testament to the skills of Pipeline’s playwright, director and performers how much this poem winds up meaning to us, and moving us.

There may not be a traditional story arc in “Pipeline” — as the play progresses, we dig deeper into the characters — and no clear-cut resolution at its end, but that to me speaks to Morisseau’s integrity. She’s telling us like it is; a pat ending would ring false, given the circumstances. Any hopefulness is unlikely to exterminate the frustration and resentment and uncertainty.

Along the way, we are treated to Morisseau’s gifts, which include not just her compassionate portrayals and an easygoing grasp of literary poetry, but her exquisite ear for the delightful everyday poetry in the way people talk, such as in the dialogue between Omari and his boarding school girlfriend Jasmine (Heather Velazquez.) Her parents (like his) thrust her into this alien environment to get her out of the neighborhood and its bad influences. In a scene in her dorm room, Omari has just announced to her that he’s going to run away from school.

“Yo, this could be our last time,” he says, making a move.
“You kiddin’ me right now?” she says, darting up out of the bed.
“I’m just seeking intimacy.”
“You seeking to get socked in the eye. I don’t turn on and off like no stove.”
“You mean a faucet.”
“I mean a stove. One minute you got me hot. Next minute fire’s out…”

Later, using a lesson he learned in “Mr. Peterson’s Science Class,” Omari compares Jasmine to “Metamorphic rocks. They change in form. Made from heat and pressure. That’s what makes ‘em so rare and interesting. “

That sounds like a good description of all the characters in “Pipeline” – and of the play itself.

Pipeline

Lincoln Center’s Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater

Written by Dominique Morisseau; Directed by Lileana Blain-Cruz
Set design by Matt Saunders, costume design by Montana Blanco, lighting design by Yi Zhao, sound design by Justin Ellington.
Cast: Tasha Lawrence, Morocco Omari, Karen Pittman, Namir Smallwood, Jaime Lincoln Smith and Heather Velazquez
Running time: 90 minutes, no intermission.
Tickets: $87
Pipeline is scheduled to run through August 27, 2017

NYMF Review: Matthew McConaughey vs. The Devil, An American Myth

The actor Matthew McConaughey sells his soul to the devil, and then tries to get it back, in this musical that opened the 2017 New York Musical Festival, which describes the show in its program as “a Faustian comedy that dares to ask the question: How did Matthew McConaughey win an Academy Award?”

I dare to ask a more sensible question: How did so many talented people produce a show so pointless, derivative and mean? Its worst sin may be that it is rarely funny.

The very premise of this supposed satire collapses on the slightest inspection – that McConaughey was nothing more than a pretty boy Rom-Com star before he gave his Oscar-winning performance in “Dallas Buyers Club” in 2013.

“They respected my abs,” McConaughey (Wayne Wilcox) says in the musical, about his performance in the 2012 stripper movie Magic Mike. “But did they really respect me?”

So, to get that respect, McConaughey needs an Oscar, and to get that Oscar, he signs a contract with Mephistopoheles (Lesli Margherita.)

Compare this show with the 2002 New York Fringe Festival play “Matt and Ben” (written and performed by a pre-celebrity Mindy Kaling and Brenda Withers), which posed a similar question – how did Matt Damon and Ben Affleck write the Oscar-winning screenplay for “Good Will Hunting” – and provided a similar silly answer — that it must have been aliens from Outer Space that provided the script. But Damon and Affleck were both little-known actors at the time, aged 27 and 25 respectively, with no previous screenwriting credits. Matthew McConaughey is 47, with a long and respectable acting career. Long before his Oscar-winning performance, he played serious roles in serious films – “Lone Star” and “A Time to Kill” in 1996, for example; “Amistad” in 1997.

So “Matthew McConaughey vs. the Devil” doesn’t make much sense from the get-go. It is not, however, completely damnable. The music is never less than competent – although there’s no “Whatever Lola Wants (Lola Gets)” (a song from another show it superficially imitates, “Damn Yankees.”) But the real salvation for this show is in the production values – kudos to director Thomas Caruso, choreographer Billy Griffin, and the design team — and thanks to the performers.

Lesli Margherita, who was the evil Mrs. Wormwood in Matilda on Broadway, is striking in a bright red dress, handing out a business card as if an agent in a management firm run by Satan. Wayne Wilcox as Matthew and Max Crumm as his pal Woody Harrelson have a fun duet together. Ensemble members are employed to great effect – serving as everything from living props to backup singer and dancers, to a dream come to life…a fun dance sequence that features costume designer Daryl A. Stone’s delectable interpretations of the things supposedly in Matthew McConaughey’s life — an Oscar trophy and a marijuana plant.

Recently, James Franco had a lawyer send a cease and desist letter to a downtown play called “James Franco and Me.” The playwright was unfazed: “We’re just going to remove any mention of James Franco,” he told the Daily News. “We’re calling it ‘______ and Me’ “

I’d love to see a show assembled by the talented team who put together and performed “Matthew McConaughey vs. the Devil” that removed any mention of Matthew McConaughey.

Matthew McCanughey vs. The Devil: An American Myth is performing through Sunday, July 16, 2017 at Theatre Row, as part of the New York Musical Festival.

Two songs recorded during rehearsals:

Review: Hamlet Starring Oscar Isaac at the Public Theater. Directed by Sam Gold

As you might have heard, Oscar Isaac walks around in his underpants in the Public Theater production of “Hamlet.” But the most startling visual occurs much later. There’s a sudden, striking and initially mystifying shift more than three hours into the show, when Sam Gold, its aggressively inventive director,  seems to have turned Shakespeare’s tragedy into performance art.

Polonius (Peter Friedman, in modern business suit) is lying dead on the orange-red carpet, when his daughter Ophelia (Gayle Rankin) leaves the theater up the right aisle to fetch the kind of huge metal planter that’s a common sight in office lobbies, pulls out the leafy plant from it, and dumps all the dirt from it on Dad. Then she leave the theater up the left aisle to fetch an identical planter, and dumps that on him as well. Afterwards, she goes backstage and brings out a garden hose, sprays her father with it, and lies down next to him, in the mud, the hose dribbling water. In this way, we see Ophelia “drown” onstage.

But they’re not done. Both of them soon rise up from the dead, and play with skulls.

It takes a moment to realize that Polonius and Ophelia (or rather, the performers who were portraying them) have turned into the gravediggers – a scene (which many directors cut or sharply reduce) that eventually leads to the familiar “Alas, Poor Yorick” speech by Hamlet while he holds up a skull.

One can argue that Gold is being practical here. There are only nine cast members in this production of a play that calls for more than two dozen characters. Polonius and Ophelia are now dead, after all, which frees up the two actors to take on secondary roles. And if they are going to take on new roles, they might as well do so ….memorably.

Yes, this will confuse many in the audience, but maybe confusion is part of Gold’s concept; isn’t Hamlet the character confused?

The unusual staging with Polonius and Ophelia is just the most vivid example of what’s evident from the get-go: Sam Gold aims to stir things up with this “Hamlet,” and he’s using his playbook from past productions to do so. Like his recent Broadway production of “The Glass Menagerie,” the set and costumes of this “Hamlet” are modern and minimal. Like “The Flick,” “Hamlet” takes his time; it’s nearly four hours long, although that includes two intermissions. Reminiscent of Gold’s recent “Othello” at New York Theatre Workshop, the first scene of “Hamlet,” between the sentinels, Horatio and King Hamlet’s ghost, is performed entirely in the dark; and then later the house lights come full up on the audience.

There are more syringes than swords in Gold’s “Hamlet.” The death of the King in the play-within-a-play is stretched out and played for laughs. Jazz cellist Ernst Reijseger is a constant presence on stage, underscoring the play, his presence sometimes acknowledged by the characters. This is a production that values cleverness over emotional engagement.

Yet, for all this fiddling around, and despite too many moments of director-engendered incoherence, Gold’s “Hamlet” ultimately worked for me. This is largely for the same reason that I was glad I saw the Gold-directed “A Doll’s House Part 2” – the acting.

Or, more precisely, one actor: the Guatemalan-born Oscar Isaac, better known as a screen actor (“Inside Llewyn Davis,” “Show Me a Hero” mini-series on HBO), and as a recently-minted blockbuster star (“X-Men: Apocalypse” and “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”) But Isaac is also a graduate of Juilliard, and his classical training shows.

Now, Isaac doesn’t entirely escape Gold’s zealous directorial touches. He not only walks around in underpants and a t-shirt for a substantial amount of time — when Hamlet is feigning madness; he also comes out wearing a paper toilet seat cover around his neck. He delivers the “To be or not to be” speech lying down – which mirrors the very first image of the production (before the dialogue begins), of his father King Hamlet lying down on a folding table, dead.

But Gold’s radical interpretation of the play did not for me undermine the power and clarity of Isaac’s Hamlet (the way I felt Gold’s radical direction of The Glass Menagerie did to Sally Field’s Amanda.) Given how many extraordinary actors have taken on Hamlet, it would be foolish and maybe even arrogant of me to attach a superlative to Isaac’s performance. But he avoids many of the traps of the role; for example, he doesn’t love the sound of his own voice too much when delivering the most famous soliloquies in the English language. Isaac is adept at plumbing the lines for their meaning; his delivery is nearly conversational, and remarkably accessible. If he doesn’t emphasize the poetry of Shakespeare’s language as much as other artists have, neither does he disrespect it.

Isaac is backed by a few standout performances, in particular Ritchie Coster, who portrays Claudius, Hamlet’s murderous stepfather with a hint of thug about him (aided by some muscular tattoos); this seemed just right. Peter Friedman, always reliable, offers a solid Polonius, and Keegan-Michael Key, of the Key and Peale comedy duo, makes a vibrant Horatio, Hamlet’s friend. But Key is also the hammy player in the confusing play-within-the-play who milked his death like a vaudevillian, and Coster also portrays King Hamlet, the ghost, which occasionally added to the confusion (Is this King Claudius now, or King Hamlet’s ghost?) Gayle Rankin feels miscast as Ophelia — as fragile and distraught as an Olympic wrestler who’s gone punk. Or maybe that’s exactly the type Sam Gold wanted to cast; after all, Rankin plays Sheila the She-Wolf in the current Netflix wrestling series, GLOW. She certainly knew how to pin down that garden hose.

Read Hamlet

click on any image by Carol Rosegg to see it enlarged

 

Hamlet
Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Sam Gold
Scenic Design by David Zinn
Costume Design by Kaye Voyce
Lighting Design by Mark Barton
Sound Design by Bray Poor
Musical Direction, Composition and Performance by Ernst Reijseger
Cast: Roberta Colindrez (Rosencrantz); Ritchie Coster (Claudius);Peter Friedman (Polonius); Oscar Isaac (Hamlet); Keegan-Michael Key (Horatio); Gayle Rankin (Ophelia); Matthew Saldívar (Guildenstern); Charlayne Woodard (Gertrude) and Anatol Yusef (Laertes).

Running time: 3 hours and 45 minutes, including two intermissions.

Tickets: $115. $20 day of show lottery tickets,

Hamlet is scheduled to run through September 3,2017.

Opening Skinner’s Box Review: Psych Experiments 101 at Lincoln Center Festival

There are two kinds of questions posed by the Improbable Theater Company’s production of “Opening Skinner’s Box,” a stage adaptation of the 2004 book by Lauren Slater that describes ten famous and often flabbergasting psychology experiments. The show opens the 2017 Lincoln Center Festival.

There are the intriguing questions about human behavior that the experiments themselves attempted to address:

How do people learn?

How do people remember?

How much of who we are is our memory and how much of our memory can be altered through suggestion?

How willing are people to obey authority even when asked to harm innocent people? (The notorious Milgram experiment)

Why did no one help when Kitty Genovese was murdered, even though 38 neighbors witnessed it?

Then there are the questions about the show itself:

Why are all six members of the cast, both men and women, wearing nerdy bowties and jackets, when they don’t slip into white lab coats?

Why are the performances so mannered?

Why does the show stick so faithfully to the actual text of Slater’s book rather than dramatizing more?

What does one get out of this stage piece that one cannot get out of Slater’s book?

Why is the set just a box?

That last question is easily answered. The box is made of bungee cord and is surely meant to represent the “Skinner Box” that B.F. Skinner, the father of behavioral psychology, devised to shape the behavior of lab animals through the use of reward and punishment. They sometimes alter the box, so that it tilts a little, or bounces. It felt like an experiment in set design deprivation.

Theatergoers with an interest in psychology, but little background in it, would probably get the most out of Improbable’s show. I learned about most of these experiments in my college freshman psychology course. But we weren’t taught about Harry Harlow’s torturing of Rhesus macaque monkeys to study love. Nor did I know that Antonio Egas Moniz, the inventor of lobotomies, won the Nobel Prize!

Most eye-opening to me was the story told about Bruce Alexander’s Rat Park experiments, which demonstrated that rats only get “addicted” to drugs when they’re isolated and unhappy. “Addiction is not a biochemical fact,” (a cast member portraying) Bruce Alexander concludes. “It does not lie in the substance or the personality of the abuser. Addiction is a narrative; a story we’re told and we tell ourselves. And it s wrong.” So why hasn’t this discovery, which undermines the premise of the War on Drugs, led to major policy shifts? “Is it because according to Rat Park the war on drugs can only be won with better housing, better relationships, better lives?” asks Kate Maravan, who portrays the author Lauren Slater throughout the show.

Food for thought, for sure, but not exactly the sort of riveting experimental theater for which the 21-year-old Improbable is known. Think of “Opening Skinner’s Box” as more of a lecture, eccentrically illustrated.

 

Opening Skinner’s Box

Lincoln Center Festival

Gerald W. Lynch Theater at John Jay College

Adapted from the book by Lauren Slater; Directed by Phelim McDermott and Lee Simpson

Cast: Alan Cox, Stephen Harper, Tyrone Huggins, Morven Macbeth, Kate Maravan and Paschale Straiton

Running time: Two hours, including an intermission.

Performances from July 10 to July 12.

Amerike The Golden Land Review: 50 Years of Yiddish Songs about Jewish Immigration

Near the end of this musical revue surveying 50 years in song of Jewish immigration to New York, one of the talented performers, Daniel Kahn, delivers an astounding rendition of “Roumania, Roumania,” a popular song written and recorded in 1941 by Aaron Lebedeff, a huge star of New York’s Yiddish Theater. In Kahn’s hands, the song is not just a lively, tuneful exercise in nostalgia for the old country; it’s somehow deeply powerful. Could that be in part because, just before the song, one of the characters announces that there was a pogrom in Yas, Roumania, in which hundreds of Jews had been shot?
Kahn is in a cast of some dozen golden-voiced performers in “Amerike: The Golden Land.” They sing more than 40 beautiful Yiddish songs, backed by a klezmer-inflected eight-piece band,wonderfully orchestrated. The songs, and brief scenes between them, are grouped in 11 segments organized more or less chronologically, from “Arrival” (in the 1890s) to “Rebirth” (after the Holocaust, in the 1940s.)
With its revival of “Amerike,” the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene in its 103rd season is clearly trying for the Triple Crown — after its first  ever Broadway producing credit for the groundbreaking “Indecent,” and its hit revival/restoration of the charming 1923 Yiddish-language operetta, “The Golden Bride.” There are indeed other stirring moments like Daniel Kahn’s “Roumania, Roumania” in “Amerike.” But one longs for more of them. The show doesn’t quite reach the heights of Folksbiene’s recent productions, which would admittedly be a tall order.

Click on any photograph by Victor Neshay to see it enlarged.

A stumbling block is the surface familiarity of some of the subject matter, or what one can more bluntly call the schmaltz factor. How can a New York audience view as totally fresh any staging that involves huddled masses arriving at Ellis Island carrying broken down suitcases and exclaiming “Gold in the streets!” – even if it is in Yiddish? (With English and Russian sur-titles.) It doesn’t help that we don’t really get to know any specific characters, since, although there are a few recurring figures, “Amerike” is less a work of traditional musical theater than the stage equivalent of a concept album.
It is important to point out that the creative team, who first put the show together in 1982, works hard to unearth period songs intelligently and present them authentically. There is also much loveliness in the production, including the vivid costumes, lighting and set design, and Merete Muenter’s buoyant choreography, all of which makes the most of the small stage at the Museum of Jewish Heritage. For the multilinguists in the audience, or those who are especially attentive, there are some clever moments even within the most clichéd scenarios. An official on Ellis Island asks Izzie in English what his name is. Izzie has been repeating his new English name in order to remember it, but says to the next person in line “I forgot already” – but he says it in Yiddish: “Shoyn Fargesn.”
“Sean Ferguson,” the official repeats. “Sign here, Mr. Ferguson.”
There are more accessible highlights. In the spirited and sardonic number, “Vatch Your Step,” the cast sings the 1912 melody (“Vatch your step…Amerike, a land of hurry up”) alternating with shtick re-enacting the various ways that the “greenhorns” were cheated and exploited. One of the few spoken scenes features a hilarious routine by the weatherman at WEVD, New York’s Yiddish language radio station in the 1930’s and 40’s (Another radio routine is literally about schmaltz, but it’s in a recipe that uses the word in its original meaning, chicken fat.) There is a Yiddish Theater version of the witches brew scene in Macbeth that I considered way too short. A vaudeville-like 1930 ditty, Steam Steam Steam presents a song-and-dance routine by two men initially complaining about the landlord, but naughtily segueing into an exercise in mild double-entendre.
“Amerike” ends with the whole cast singing Emma Lazarus’s famous 1883 poem “Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor’ that Irving Berlin set to music in 1958. They sing in English, with the Yiddish this time projected on the curtain and backdrop – as well as Spanish, Chinese, French, Russian and several languages I didn’t recognize. Was this familiar; was it schmaltz? It would be hard to say no, but it was also easy to be moved by it.
Folksbiene and the Museum of Jewish Heritage are doing more than just this finale to connect the experience of Jewish immigration with the immigrants of today. Next Monday and Tuesday, they are holding an Immigrant Arts Summit, which includes a free concert in nearby Robert F. Wagner Park.

Amerike: The Golden Land
Edmund J Safra Hall at The Museum of Jewish Heritage
Conceived and written by Zalmen Mlotek and Moishe Rosenfeld,
Directed by Bryna Wasserman
Set design by Jason Courson, lighting design by Yael Lubetzky, costume design by Izzy Fields, sound design by Patrick Calhoun, choreography by Merete Muenter
Cast: Glenn Seven Allen, Alexandra Frohlinger, Jessica Rose Futran, Daniel Kahn, Dani Marcus, Stephanie Lynne Mason, David Perlman, Christopher Tefft with Maya Jacobson, Alexander Kosmowksi, Isabel Nesti, Raquel Nobile, Grant Richards, Bobby Underwood
Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission.
Tickets $35 – $60
Amerike: The Golden Land is scheduled to run through August 6, 2017.

Update: Amerike has been extended to August 20, 2017.

Will on TNT: Shakespeare in A Punk TV Series

“Who will want a play by William Shakespeare?” his wife Ann asks him, unkindly, in their home in the hick town of Stratford-Upon-Avon, as he is about to depart for London in 1589 to become a playwright. It’s a crafty first line in “Will,” a TV series that launches tonight on the TNT cable network: The show is clearly banking on the hope that, since almost everybody four centuries later wants a play by William Shakespeare, there will be an audience for a speculative TV series about his early career in London.
“I can’t spend the rest of my life making gloves,” Will tells Ann.
“We have three children,” she says in rebuttal.
But it’s no use. Off goes the 25-year-old William Shakespeare (portrayed by the 24-year-old Laurie Davidson) in the first of ten episodes in the series — a series that features, among other attributes, a cast of soap opera-level hunks and beauties in some extremely graphic scenes of torture, slightly more demure humping, and the first rap battle in iambic pentameter.

“Will” was conceived by Craig Pearce, an Australian screenwriter and actor who is a frequent collaborator with Baz Luhrman – on Strictly Ballroom, Moulin Rouge, the 2013 film of The Great Gatsby, and even Romeo + Juliet. That film’s 1970s punk treatment of Shakespeare’s tale of doomed lovers offers a hint at the tone taken with Will, which uses a punk score. On his departure to make his career, we hear The Clash’s “London Calling.”

But the actors wear Elizabethan costumes, both the exteriors and the interiors are persuasively detailed re-creations of the period, and there are some clever almost-Shakespearean lines that one could take as the early stirrings of the future full-fledged poet genius.  Since so little is known about the young Shakespeare, one can more or less accept the scenes in the first episode of “Will” that lead to his first London production. We see Will seeking out the home of James Burbage (Colm Meaney) with a play in hand for Burbage’s theater company. But his son Richard Burbage (Mattias Inwood), when discovering this rustic at the threshold, laughs in his face, and shuts the door in his face. Will is saved by Burbage’s daughter Alice (Olivia DeJonge), who takes a liking to him – and maybe more than a liking? — and escorts him to her father’s theater, where James is right at that moment desperate for a play.

“I have a play,” Will shouts out. It’s about a heroic English king, Edward III (Shakespeare did in fact write Edward III, and some scholars speculate that it was produced as early as 1589, though most think not.) “There’s love, war, death and betrayal,” Will says.
“Does it have any comedy?”
“The Scottish characters are quite funny.”

The reason why Burbage was stuck for a play is that the hugely popular Christopher Marlowe won’t do any more plays for him; Marlowe is being paid more by a Burbage rival not to write..
There is something seductively evil about Marlowe – helped along by his portrayal by hot punkish Jamie Campbell Bower

But Marlowe figures in a plot that drives much of the non-Shakespearean aspects of “Will.” Will is a Catholic who has been asked to bring a letter to his cousin, the Jesuit Robert Southwell (Max Bennett), who is in hiding from the authorities, in particular the queen’s chief inquisitor, Richard Topcliffe (Ewen Bremner.) It is illegal to be Catholic in England in 1589 (hence the scenes of torture), and Will’s letter falls into Topcliffe’s hands, thus setting up what will obviously provide some tension for the series. Will Will be unmasked as a Catholic; will Topcliffe capture and torture him? And what of Alice?

Since history doesn’t reveal for sure that Shakespeare was ever Catholic, much less involved in the Catholic resistance — among much else presented in “Will” —  theater lovers who are enticed into the journey through this cable TVland biography should be prepared to leave the Bard behind.

“Will” is on TNT Mondays at 9 p.m. ET

Summer Takes Center Stage. Week in New York Theater

Summer means outdoor entertainment, much of it free– like the Broadway in Bryant Park lunchtime concerts…

Seeing You, sung by Barrett Doss, Andy Karl and cast.

Watch Groundhog Day at Bryant Park – three songs

…and Broadway Barks, the annual pet adoption event at Shubert Alley:

Acting with Animals: Celebrities dish on their furry co-stars.

It also means theater festivals

 


June Quiz

Oscar Isaac in Hamlet at the Public Theater

July openings

New York Theater Reviews

Marvin’s Room

So much is so sad in the lives of Bessie (Lily Taylor) and Lee (Janeane Garofalo, in her Broadway debut) as to make the audience fully justified in wondering: Should we be laughing at this?

Yet laugh we do, thanks to the playwright’s subversive worldview, and a production directed with unflashy effectiveness by Anne Kauffman (The Nether, A Life, etc. etc), who is, remarkably, making her Broadway debut.

Seeing You

“Seeing You” [is] a dance and theater piece about World War II written and co-directed by Randy Weiner (a producer of both Sleep No More  and Queen of the Night ), … Let’s  [test “Seeing You” by applying] the six essential elements in any good immersive theater to this show, which may not be the top of the line in the genre, but that fans of immersive theater would surely find worthwhile.

Jessy Smith

Ghost Light

Third Rail Projects, the dazzling experimental and self-described “experiential” company that has created engaging site-specific theater in an old mental institution in Williamsburg (“Then She Fell,” about Lewis Carroll and Alice in Wonderland) and an old warehouse in Bushwick (“The Grand Paradise,” about a tropical vacation), now sites “Ghost Light” in a unique location for an immersive work of theater – a theater at Lincoln Center…we view from above (a balcony, catwalk, or staircase landing) the sort of wordless scenes that Third Rail does so well, vivid and eerie moments of movement

Kim’s Convenience

Before the start of “Kim’s Convenience,” Soulpepper artistic director Arthur Schultz introduced it to the New York audience as “the most successful new Canadian play of the last decade.” The show, a funny but glib comedy about a Korean immigrant family that runs a grocery store in Toronto, has gone on tour throughout Canada, and has been turned into a television series on the Canadian network CBC .

It is now the first show to open in the month-long festival of Canadian theater being marketed as“Soulpepper on 42nd Street.”

Jolly Abraham and Gregg Mozgala

Cost of Living

In “Cost of Living,” an eye-opening play featuring a quartet of extraordinary performances, playwright Martyna Majok offers a tart retort to that sappy Barbra Streisand song about the luck of people who need people, and smashes more than one stereotype along the way. …[W]hat’s most wonderful about the MTC production, superbly directed by Jo Bonney, are a series of unforgettable scenes between the couples that thrust us into an intimacy that is rare in the theater.

To T or Not To T

D’Lo is a transgender Tamil Sri Lankan-American artist, and he explores each of those identities in “To T or Not to T” (the T in the title referring to the taking of testosterone) in the 70-minute show at Dixon Place that opens the 26th annual Hot Festival , “the world’s longest-running LGBT festival.”

New York Theater News

More than 60 artists have called for Lincoln Center to cancel a play backed by the Israeli government. Lincoln Center refused. Anti-Israel signatories include Annie Baker, Caryl Churchill, Sam Gold, Samuel D Hunter, Wallace Shawn, Tracey Letts, Andre Gregory

A Clockwork Orange (based on Anthony Burgess novel) is coming to New World Stages in September, the latest stage adaptation of a dystopian novel/

Dominique Morisseau’s Playwright’s Rules of Engagement, inserted in program for her play Pipeline

New American cast members Carolee Carmello and Norm Lewis perform “A Little Priest”from Sweeney Todd on the Today Show.

Acting with Animals: Watch Celebrities at Broadway Barks Dish Their Furry Co-Stars

Actors don’t realize how hard it is to work with animals, observes animal trainer William Berloni in the video below, during the 2017 Broadway Barks animal adoption event at Shubert Alley. Backstage at the Booth Theater, actors tell tales, both hilarious and horrid, that prove Berloni’s point.
“Animals don’t enjoy working,” Janeanne Garofalo says. “If you have a soft spot for animals, don’t work with them, because You’re going to feel terrible about watching them work so hard.”
On the other hand, several actors use their own pets to help develop their characters.

The 19th annual Broadway Barks was a tribute to its co-founder Mary Tyler Moore, who died in January of this year at age 80. Her friend and fellow animal lover Bernadette Peters led off this year’s event with the theme song for the “Mary Tyler Moore Show.”

To T or Not To T Review: D’Lo’s Tamil Transgender Adventure

In “To T or Not To T,” a fascinating and funny autobiographical monologue, the performer known as D’Lo impersonates his father giving a speech at D’Lo’s wedding ceremony:

“Even though I was sad that D’Lo didn’t become a doctor, I told him that I wanted him to do whatever he liked. I didn’t know becoming a man was part of his plan.”

D’Lo is a transgender Tamil Sri Lankan-American artist, and he explores each of those identities in “To T or Not to T” (the T in the title referring to the taking of testosterone), the 70-minute show at Dixon Place that opens the 26th annual Hot Festival , “the world’s longest-running LGBT festival.”

Entering the stage bouncing on a trampoline, then jumping on a pogo stick, he offers a whirlwind tour of a tomboy childhood spent among the Sri Lankan immigrant community of Lancaster, California; a lesbian adolescence as an undergraduate at UCLA; and adult life as a transitioning trans man and a performer.

Along the way, backed by numerous projections, he portrays some dozen characters, none more hilariously than his Appa, his father, and offers insights about both queer and Sri Lankan immigrant culture

At one point, he describes when as a child one of his “aunties” executed “the immigrant grab, where her fingers are pressed up on the fat of my inner arm and her thumb is piercing that muscle you don’t use but hurts like a bitch when you press it.”

Much later, a butch lesbian academic says to the transitioning D’Lo: “We’re losing all you young studs and butches. You all are becoming the worst thing – men.”

To which D’Lo replies: “We’re still feminists….And isn’t feminist men what you wished existed?”

D’Lo is an appealing performer and a deft humorist, and “To T or Not To T” is full of wonderful moments. But the show would have benefited from both a director and a dramaturge. When he re-enacts a conversation with a childhood friend, D’Lo cleverly uses a prop that in one character’s hands is a half-eaten sandwich, and in the other, turned upright, is a milk carton. But it’s easy to get lost in many of the other scenes involving dialogue between multiple characters.

In D’Lo’s urge to share the fullness of his life with us, he gives short shrift to some obviously important moments, and the show winds up feeling insufficiently focused. On some level, D’Lo seems aware of this, but makes it more exasperating by referring to a previous show of his that apparently told more about the death of his sister in an airplane crash, and to a future show that will apparently focus on his courtship and marriage to Anjana,which is only briefly mentioned in the current show.

judging by the wildly enthusiastic audience response at Dixon Place, D’Lo has enough fans to accept what one might call the transitional nature of “To T or Not To T.” As D’Lo astutely observes: “There is no such things as ‘transitioned.’ Trans or not trans, we’re all transitioning, just some of our transitions include surgeries.”

 

To T or Not To T will be on stage at Dixon Place Fridays and Saturdays through July 22, 2017