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Annie Baker, Taylor Mac win MacArthur Genius Awards. Is Acting Dangerous? Week in New York Theater

Playwright Annie Baker and multidimensional theater artist Taylor Mac are among the 24 winners of the 2017 Macarthur Foundation “Genius” Grants.

Baker, 36, whose “The Flick” won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize, was recognized for “mining the minutiae of how we speak, act, and relate to one another and the absurdity and tragedy that result from the limitations of language.”

Mac, 44, whose 24 Decade History of Popular Music  took place over a continuous 24 hours and was a Pulitzer finalist, was recognized for “engaging audiences as active participants in works that dramatize the power of theater as a space for building community.”

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Circle Mirror Transformation Review, 2009

“Circle Mirror Transformation” ran at Playwrights Horizons, opening on October 13, 2009 and closing after several extensions on January 31, 2010. It was a remarkable debut for playwright Annie Baker, who went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for her subsequent play, The Flick.  Indeed, so many members of the cast, the creative team and the design team have gone on to greater glory that I am moved to resurrect the review I wrote at the time, published opening night in a now-defunct online newspaper:

Almost halfway through “Circle Mirror Transformation,” the terrifically acted and improbably entertaining new play by Annie Baker about a summer acting class, the glum-looking 16-year-old student named Lauren nervously approaches the free-spirited teacher Marty, all head-band and bangles, with a question: “Are we going to do any real acting?”

It is a hilarious question to an audience that has just spent nearly an hour watching five people in a dance studio walking around each other in circles; lying on the floor, closing their eyes and counting slowly — very slowly — to ten; posing as a bed and a tree and a baseball glove. Later, we will see two of them face one another and have a conversation that begins:

“Ak Mak”

“Goulash”

“Ak Mak?”

“Ah…goulash. Goulash.”

and continues the same way. These are theater exercises, de rigueur for actors (circle mirror transformation is the name of one of these games), and if you are unfamiliar with them, hunt up “A Chorus Line” and play the song “Nothing”, about one dancer’s inability to “get” what they are about.*

The exercises are what seem to be going on in this play about a six-week summer acting class at a community center in the small town of Shirley, Vermont, and it is slow-going at first. But what is really happening is that we are learning about the five characters as they learn about one another.

The teacher Marty (Deirdre O’Connell) and her husband James (Peter Friedman), who is a student in the class, met at a hippie wedding years ago, he has a grown daughter from a previous marriage who doesn’t speak to him (but speaks to her stepmother); they live in a colorful house with a three-legged cat named Coltrane; their marriage seems about to fall apart.

The marriage of Schultz (Reed Birney) has already fallen apart, although he still wears his wedding ring. He is a furniture-maker, he had to give up gardening when he moved from the beautiful house he shared with his wife to a corporate-feeling condo. He is drawn to Theresa (Heidi Schreck,) a professional actress and recent transplant from New York, recovering from a break-up with a boyfriend and training to become a massage therapist specializing in acupressure and rolfing.

Then there is Lauren (Tracee Chimo), who is not sure whether she wants to be an actress or a vet. All this and more is revealed during the breaks between the exercises, and in the exercises themselves, a clever frame and, as it turns out, an effective one for showing the characters’ shifting relationships and emotions.

If the play could have been shorter — it is an hour and 50 minutes without an intermission — its unorthodox structure works. “Circle Mirror Transformation” is not just a series of exercises; it’s a story. Above all, “Circle Mirror Transformation” is a showcase for five wonderful actors, whose simplest of gestures and facial expressions — the way Reed Birney as Schultz sips from his bottled water while talking to Theresa (Heidi Schreck); the way that Tracee Chimo as Lauren watches while two of the adults kiss — bring us into entire worlds.

The actors make this play funny and moving in a way that I don’t think could be possible in any other medium besides live theater. So, yes, Lauren, you will be doing some real acting.

Circle Mirror Transformation by Annie Baker At the Peter Sharp Theater of Playwrights Horizons 416 West 42nd Street Directed by Sam Gold Scenic and Costume Design David Zinn Lighting Design Mark Barton Sound Design Leah Gelpe Production Stage Manager Alaina Taylor Cast: Deirdre O’Connell as Marty, Peter Friedman as James, Reed Birney as Schultz, Heidi Schreck as Theresa, Tracee Chimo as Lauren Running time: 1 hour 50 minutes without an intermission. Ticket prices: $50

*Excerpt of lyrics Nothing:
“Okay… we’re going to do improvisations. Now, you’re on a bobsled. It’s snowing out. And it’s cold…Okay…GO!” Ev’ry day for a week we would try to Feel the motion, feel the motion Down the hill. Ev’ry day for a week we would try to Hear the wind rush, hear the wind rush, Feel the chill. And I dug right down to the bottom of my soul To see what I had inside. Yes, I dug right down to the bottom of my soul And I tried, I tried. And everybody’s goin’ “Whooooosh, whooooosh … I feel the snow… I feel the cold… I feel the air.” And Mr. Karp turns to me and he says, “Okay, Morales. What did you feel?” And I said…”Nothing, I’m feeling nothing,” And he says “Nothing Could get a girl transferred.” They all felt something, But I felt nothing Except the feeling That this bullshit was absurd!

John review: Annie Baker’s maybe-mystical Gettysburg guesthouse

Christopher Abbott and Hong Chau in a darkened bed and breakfast in Gettysburg

Christopher Abbott as Elias Schreiber-Hoffman Hong Chau as Jenny Chung in “John”. Notice the dolls on every step.

A couple visits a dark, possibly haunted bed and breakfast in Gettysburg, Pa. in “John,” an exquisitely acted puzzle of a play that features some familiar TV faces — Georgia Engel (Georgette in The Mary Tyler Moore Show) and Christopher Abbott (Charlie, Allison Williams’ boyfriend, in HBO’s Girls.) But “John” also marks the sixth collaboration between playwright Annie Baker and director Sam Gold, and that’s the source of its star power for serious theatergoers. Their new play, which serves as opener for the Signature’s 25th season, shares some of the characteristics of Baker and Gold’s previous work together, beginning with “Circle Mirror Transformation” in 2009 and including last year’s Pulitzer-winning “The Flick.” An accumulation of seemingly random scenes — deceptively casual, slyly amusing, leisurely paced — yields precisely observed moments of clarity and insight. In an Annie Baker/Sam Gold production, texture trumps text, and vivid, fully credible characters slowly emerge before our eyes.

Unlike her previous work, however, “John” seems to be aiming to be some kind of ghost story, but winds up falling short of any kind of fully realized drama. It comes off instead like an exercise in theatrical pointillism – like George Seurat focusing on the small dots that make up such paintings as his “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte” – without as much concern that the dots add up to a clear and satisfying overall picture.

Elias (a first-rate Abbott) arrives late one night at the bed and breakfast with his girlfriend Jenny (Hong Chau, best-known for her role as Linh in HBO’s “Treme.”) They are greeted by Mertis (a wonderful Engel), the proprietor, who prefers to be called Kitty. Everybody is a bit awkward at first (Baker and Gold do awkwardness very well) as Kitty shows the historic house to the couple. Masterfully appointed by set designer Mimi Lien, the house is darkly lit, under-heated and full of…stuff – a grandfather clock, patterned stuffed furniture on overlapping patterned rugs, a fake Tiffany light, shelves covered with trinkets, the massive staircase in the middle of the set lined with old dolls sticking out from the bottom of the banister at every step. Gold takes advantage of the set with some nice touches: Kitty opens the curtain at the beginning of each act and closes them before the two intermissions, as if she is opening drapes at the beginning of the day, and closing them at the end of the day. She turns the hands of the grandfather clock in-between scenes, to indicate the passage of time.

Over the three plus hours of the play, we learn that Elias and Jenny are on the verge of breaking up – there is a terrific early scene at the breakfast table showing their petty squabbling because Jenny thinks Elias eats too loudly and Elias thinks she is passive-aggressively expressing her inner rage at him. Part of our pleasure in the unfolding of their relationship is how we are subtly encouraged to take sides with one of them, and then our allegiance shifts. We also peg Kitty initially as pleasant and helpful and not particularly deep, but then wonder whether something else is going on with her. She asks Elias whether he ever felt “watched” as a child, and whether he thought the Watcher was taking care of him.

Yes, he replies after some hesitation, and yes, and after some elaboration, he says:

“I sound like a religious—I mean, I’m not religious at all. I come from a family of Jewish atheists.” He asks her whether she’s a Christian.

“I’m a Neo-Platonist,” she replies.

It’s a funny line, because it’s so surprising, especially coming out of the mouth of Georgia Engel, whose dim beloved Georgette remains with us on DVDs and in memory. But it also feels like yet another clue (Neo-Platonism, the dictionary tells us, is “a philosophical and religious system mixing Platonic ideas and oriental mysticism.”) Moment after moment, line after line, we are led to suspect a mystical/ghostly dimension to the play. Jenny, for example, is haunted by one of the dolls on the staircase, Samantha, because it is an exact replica of a doll she had as a child, one that always seemed to be watching her, reprimanding her. There are some ominous questions – why do we never see Kitty’s husband George; why is Kitty so concerned with the empty Jackson room upstairs? At its best, all of this creates a vague but intriguing atmosphere of dread. But it doesn’t go anywhere. The lowest point involves the fourth character Genevieve, portrayed by the always-amazing Lois Smith. She is a friend of Kitty’s, blind, and, until recently self-declared as crazy, although it’s not completely clear that she’s fully returned to sanity. In near darkness, Kitty reads a long, long passage to Genevieve from H.P. Lovecraft’s short story “The Call of Cthulhu.” (One Lovecraft scholar has described this story as one of the author’s “bleakest fictional expressions of man’s insignificant place in the universe.”)

Taken as a series of character studies, and piecing together several other clues, one can extrapolate from “John” that Baker is trying to show how alone each of us is – and how the past that haunts us keeps us from making healthy connections with other people. Too much of the play, however, feels best suited for an assignment in a college literature course. I could explain why I think the play is called “John,” for example, but for my exegesis I would expect a grade.

John
Signature Center

By Annie Baker; directed by Sam Gold; sets by Mimi Lien; costumes by Ásta Bennie Hostetter; lighting by Mark Barton; sound by Bray Poor; production stage manager, Amanda Michaels

Cast: Christopher Abbott (Elias Schreiber-Hoffman), Hong Chau (Jenny Chung), Georgia Engel (Mertis Katherine Graven) and Lois Smith (Genevieve Marduk).
Running time: 3 hours 15 minutes including two intermissions.
Tickets: $25
“John” is set to run through September 6

August 2015 Theater Openings on Broadway (Hamilton!), Off-Broadway, Off-Off Broadway

Hamilton9

Hamilton-PlaybillHamilton is NOT the only show opening this month. There are new plays at the Signature by both Annie Baker, winner of last year’s Pulitzer Prize for The Flick, and the 84-year-old A.R. Gurney, experiencing a late-career resurgence. There are 200 shows at the Fringe festival, and another 63 at the lesser known Thespis festival. There are exciting FREE plays at the New Brooklyn Theatre, including one by Lynn Nottage.

But Hamilton is the only show opening on Broadway, and even people who rarely if ever go to the theater have been gushing over it since its debut at the Public Theater, where it swept nearly every Off-Broadway award.

Below is a selection of the shows opening in August, organized chronologically by opening date. Each title is linked to a relevant website.

Color key: Broadway: Red. Off Broadway: Purple or Blue. Off Off Broadway: Green.

August 2

Delirium’s Daughters (Triumvirate Artists at Theatre Row)

Four suitors, three daughters…what’s a father to do? A kind old gentleman believes his deceased wife has forbid their three daughters to marry, until one of the suitors plays a series of tricks that helps him deal with his loss and recover his sanity. A new take on Commedia Dell’Arte

August 3

What I Learned in Fallsburg (Stage 72 at the Triad)

Gary Waldman’s personal musical tribute to growing up in the Catskills

August 4

Crossing Verrazano (Hudson Guild)

Writer-director Anthony Fusco’s play tells the true story of a gay-bashing that took place in Greenwich Village in 2010.

Lynn Nottage

Lynn Nottage

This is one of 63 plays being presented as part of the Thespis Theater Festival.

August 5

Las Meninas (New Brooklyn Theatre)

A play by Pulitzer-winnig playwright Lynn Nottage that tells the story of “the love affair between Louis XIV’s wife Queen Marie-Therese and Nabo, her African servant as told through the imagination of their illegitimate daughter. This play is offered FOR FREE.

August 6

Hamilton (Richard Rodgers)

Daveed Diggs as Thomas Jefferson with ensemble of Hamilton

Daveed Diggs as Thomas Jefferson with ensemble of Hamilton

The story of Alexander Hamilton, told by Lin-Manuel Miranda (In The Heights) using a mix of rap, jazz, r&b, and even light opera. I saw this at the Public Theater, and loved it.

August 7

Rachel2

Rachel (New Brooklyn Theatre)

Angelina Weld Grimké, the first African-American woman to have a play publicly performed, wrote Rachel  at the request of W.E.B. DuBois, shortly after the debut of D.W. Griffith’s racist 1915 film The Birth of a Nation,  it was one of the first plays to protest lynching and racial violence. This play is offered FOR FREE, and is presented in repertoire with Las Meninas.

August 10

cymbeline

Cymbeline (Public Theater’s Shakespeare in the Park)

 Lily Rabe, Hamish Linklater, Patrick Page and Raul Esparza are featured In this Shakespearean fairy tale directed by Daniel Sullivan, described this way: ” Princess Imogen’s fidelity is put to the royal test when her disapproving father banishes her soul mate. Cross-dressing girls and cross-dressing boys, poisons and swordfights and dastardly villains all take the stage in this enchanting romp about the conquering power of love.” For FREE.

August 11

John (Signature Theater)

Signature Theatre presents “John” A New Play by Annie Baker; Directed by Sam Gold Pictured: Georgia Engel as Mertis Katherine Graven, Christopher Abbott as Elias Schreiber-Hoffman & Lois Smith as Genevieve Marduk

Signature Theatre presents “John”
A New Play by Annie Baker; Directed by Sam Gold
Pictured: Georgia Engel as Mertis Katherine Graven, Christopher Abbott as Elias Schreiber-Hoffman & Lois Smith as Genevieve Marduk

A play by Annie Baker (Pulitzer winner for The Flick), starring an impressive cast including Georgia Engel (from the Mary Tyler Moore Show), Christopher Abbott (who left Girls),Hong Chau (Treme) and Lois Smith (The Trip to Bountiful, Rebel Without A Cause, etc), and directed by long-time Baker collaborator Sam Gold. “The week after Thanksgiving. A Bed & Breakfast in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. A cheerful innkeeper. A young couple struggling to stay together. Thousands of inanimate objects, watching. “

August 14

Fringeteaser

The New York International Fringe Festival, which begins today and runs through August 30th, offers almost 200 different shows.

August 18

InformedConsentforTwitter

Informed Consent (Primary Stages at The Duke on 42nd St)

A play by Deborah Zoe Laufer “about one woman’s quest to answer the mysteries of science and her own life, inspired by a landmark court case between one of the country’s largest universities and a Native American tribe based in the Grand Canyon.”  The suit was against Arizona State University for doing unauthorized research on blood drawn from members of the Havasupai tribe

August 19

MercuryFurscriptcoerMercury Fur (New Group at Signature)

“In a society ravaged by warring gangs and a hallucinogenic-drug epidemic, Elliot and Darren, under the sway of the ruthless Spinx, throw parties for rich clients in abandoned apartment buildings – parties that help guests act out their darkest, most sinister fantasies.”

August 24

Love and Money (Signature)

AR Gurney By Gregory CostanzoA.R. Gurney, 84, has written close to 50 plays. He is best-known for “The Dinner Party,” but he is experiencing a career resurgence, which includes last fall’s Broadway revival of Love Letters, and this fall’s Broadway debut of Sylvia, as well as an entire season devoted to him at the Signature. Love and Money is a new play written as part of his residency year at Signature. “Determined to donate almost everything she owns before her life of grace and privilege ends, wealthy widow Cornelia Cunningham’s plan hits a snag when an ambitious and ingratiating young man arrives to claim his alleged inheritance.”

August 27

A Delicate Ship (Playwrights Realm at The Peter J Sharpe Theater)

A Delicate Shipcast

From the company, Playwrights Realm, that produced one of my favorite shows from last year, My Manana Comes, comes this play by Anna Ziegler. “It’s Christmas Eve, and Sarah and Sam are celebrating like New Yorkers: flirting over wine and debating the nature of existential suffering. Then there is a knock on the door, and Sarah’s childhood friend Nate stands at the threshold. And suddenly suffering becomes a whole lot less sexy.”

Whorl Inside a Loop (Second Stage)

WhorlInsideALooppic

Co-written and co-performed by Sherie Rene Scott (Everyday Rapture) A well-regarded actress agrees to teach six inmates how to tell their stories behind the bars of a men’s maximum security prison. Sharing intimate and sometimes hilarious details of their former lives, this unlikely group forms a bond — even as the actress’s life outside spins out of control.”

Lucky Guy. Kinky Boots. Broadway Beasts

Tom Hanks in Lucky Guy, Billy Porter in Kinky Boots, Porridge the dog in Pippin.

Tom Hanks in Lucky Guy, Billy Porter in Kinky Boots, Porridge the dog in Pippin.

BroadwayOpeningsApril2013Lucky Guy and Kinky Boots opened on Broadway last week, Matilda is opening this week — one of a dozen Broadway shows still to open this month, to finish the Broadway Spring 2013 season, a season marked by an unusual number of non-human cast members. Below: a poll to choose your favorite Broadway beast.

Orlando Bloom and Rachel Weisz will both be making their Broadway debuts — Weisz in a cast that includes her husband Daniel Craig.

New York theater is not just Broadway — not even in April.  Nominees for Lucille Lortel Off-Broadway were announced. The League of Independent Theater (aka Off-Off Broadway) held its first-ever political candidate forums to address the issues facing some 50,000 independent theater artists in New York.

All that was good news. This was also a week of bad news, if you care about arts criticism.

The Week in New York Theater

April 1, 2013

orlando-bloom-romeoOrlando Bloom and Condola Rashad will star on Broadway in “Romeo and Juliet.” The production, which will also feature Jayne Houdyshell and Joe Morton, opens September 19 at Richard Rodgers. Bloom (“Lord of the Rings,” “Pirates of the Caribbean”) will be making his Broadway debut. Rashad, the daughter of Phylicia Rashad, made a splash in “Stick Fly” and is about to performer in “The Trip to Bountiful”

Sutton Foster and Jesse Tyler Ferguson will announce the nominees for the Tony Awards on April 30th at 8 am from the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center. 

Lucky Guy 1 Broadhurst Theater

My review of Lucky Guy

“Journalists aren’t nearly as interesting as they think they are,” David Eisenhower once said, a quote that Nora Ephron cited favorably in her final media column for Esquire in 1977. This was before Ephron became a movie director and screenwriter, and long before she wrote “Lucky Guy,” her play about the late tabloid columnist Mike McAlary. “Lucky Guy” is now opening at the Broadhurst starring Tom Hanks in his Broadway debut.

Ephron, whose play is being produced posthumously,  obviously changed her mind about journalists, for “Lucky Guy” depicts New York City newspaper columnists and editors who find each other fascinating.  Theatergoers are likely to find them less so.

That is why “Lucky Guy” is luckiest in having snagged Tom Hanks to return to the stage after an absence of decades.  He is certainly the reason why this script made it to Broadway. The production is also lucky to have George C. Wolfe directing, for he almost redeems what is otherwise a largely thin, plodding endeavor full of boozy sentimentality. He does this by injecting some clever stage business and a few well-orchestrated moments — and by having hired a first-rate cast.

Full review of Lucky Guy, including photo gallery

2

March 2013 Theater Quiz

March 2013 theater quiz — test how well you were paying attention.

Sample question: Who are Smith and Clarke?

  •  A new song-writing team
  •  The law firm representing Julie Taymor in her continuing lawsuit against the producers and composers of Spider-Man Turn Off The Dark
  •  The producing team trying to get new investors for Rebecca
  •  18th century New World explorers who are the subject of a forthcoming musical
  •  The stars of Breakfast At Tiffany’s

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof Richard Rodgers TheatreStars are no guarantee:  “Cat On A Hot Tin Roof” starring Scarlett Johansson did not recoup its $3.6 million capitalization during its 15-week run.

Astoria is a growing center for the arts

Duet between Bernadette Peters and Megan Hilty in Smash

3

Milo O’Shea, classic Irish-born character actor, veteran of 10 Broadway shows, has died at age 86. (Loved him in The Verdict)

RichardGreenbergplaywrightBreakfast At Tiffany’s, Assembled Parties, Far From Heaven…all by Richard Greenberg

— and all opening within a few weeks of one another in New York.

4

Roger-red-seats

Roger Ebert, 6/8/1942 – 4/4/2013

Film critic Roger Ebert has died at age 70. ‪@ebertchicago is no more. His last film review was five days ago. His last Tweet was yesterday. He died on the day after his 46th anniversary as a film critic! Here’s what he wrote yesterday.  The optimism makes you cry.

LucilleLortelplaynominees

Nominees for 2013 Lucille Lortel Awards for Off-Broadway

Giant, just nominated for a Lucille Lortel award, is getting a cast album in May

Kinky Boots 8

My review of Kinky Boots

Is it a shock to say that “Kinky Boots” just isn’t kinky enough?

It could have been. Harvey Fierstein wrote the book, he who began his career as a 300-pound teenage drag queen on the Lower East Side. Cyndi Lauper is making her Broadway songwriting debut, she who began as the girl with the tie-dye colored hair who just wants to have fun…..

The stage version delivers a couple of stand-out performances; a few touching moments; several catchy melodies presented with verve and panache in a diverse score of genuine pop tunes — one of which, “Sex Is In The Heel” is already a certified hit in the clubs — flavored by funk, disco and even a tango.

“Kinky Boots” is professionally put together, it’s entertaining…and it’s both safe and familiar.

Full review of Kinky Boots

5

Rachel Weisz and Daniel CraigIt’s official: Daniel Craig will star with wife Rachel Weisz in Broadway revival of Harold Pinter’s Betrayal, at the Ethel Barrymore Barrymore opening November 3. Weisz (The Bourne Legacy, The Constant Gardener) will be making her Broadway debut.  Craig (best-known as James Bond) appeared on Broadway in 2009 in “A Steady Rain.”

Remember Rob McClure from Chaplin? He joins Tony Danza in Jason R Brown’s “Honeymoon in Vegas” at the Papermill Playhouse, aiming for Broadway

On American Songbook with Michael Feinstein on PBS, ‏Stephen Sondheim said his favorite composers are George Gershwin, Jerome Kern, and Harold Arlen.

A brief history of applause — Nobody is sure how applause began, or when — babies applaud; applause is mentioned in the Bible — but we all know where it wound up: In the theater.

Speaking Theater to Power

 

John Clancy, executive director of the League of Independent Theater, which conducted its first ever political candidate forums.

John Clancy

The League of Independent Theater held its first political candidate forums last month, and is planning to make endorsements in New York City political races. With some 50,000 independent theater artists in New York City, roughly 86 percent of them regular voters, the league’s executive director John Clancy says he is convinced that an organized voice can make a difference

Backstage is laying off its theater critic and eliminating all theater reviewing in the publication by the end of the month.

Howlround dedicated the week to essays on theater criticism.

Last words of Matilda author Roald Dahl. He was not afraid of dying: “It’s just that I will miss you all so much…Ow, fuck!”

6

New, wonderful-sounding series from New York City Center: “Encores! Off-Center.”  Great musicals for $25

The Beasts of Broadway

Best Broadway Beast Poll

How to keep old shows feeling like new:

“Hands down, when you’re in a long-run show, the best thing that happens is there’s turnover in cast,” says Wicked stage manager Meredith Abel. “….those influxes of difference make everybody, like, step up.”

7

All The Way by Robert Schenkkan , about LBJ,wins 2013 Steinberg/American Theatre Critics Association Award for Best New Play produced outside of NY

The New York Shakespeare Exchange’s Sonnet Project, Shakespeare’s 154 sonnets filmed in NYC locations, kick-off party April 26 at  The Drama Bookshop. 

Closing today: Annie Baker’s The Flick, at Playwrights Horizons, which sparked complaint and controversy

Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Hands On A Hardbody, Weirdness All Over Broadway

BreakfastHardbodySondheimWeirdnessBroadway’s been so weird lately that you don’t even have to mention Rebecca, or a cat getting fired, or Alec Baldwin to come up with ten questions in a Weird Theater Quiz Spring 2013.

The cat was fired from “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” not the only weirdness coming from that play that opened this past week. Also opening: Hands on A Hardbody, marking the Broadway songwriting debut of Trey Anastasio. Links to reviews below.

Also below: Celebrations of the birthdays of three of the greatest living Broadway songwriters: John Kander, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Stephen Sondheim, with some videos of our favorite songs.

And: Alan Cumming takes a stand against the most famous theatrical superstition.

The Week in New York Theater

Monday March 18, 2013

Songwriter John Kander (Cabaret, Chicago, Scottsboro Boys) turns 86

Songwriter John Kander (Cabaret, Chicago, Scottsboro Boys) turns 86

After two years at the Beacon Theater, The Tony Awards return to Radio City Music Hall on June 9th (on CBS live starting 8 p.m. ET)

FREE ‏tickets available March 25th for a March 28th concert at Town Hall celebrating its landmark designation.

Playwright Annie Baker was awarded the $25,000 Susan Blackburn Prize for “The Flick” and has become the second recipient of the Horton Foote Legacy Project, “which includes a four-week writing residency, starting in May, at Foote’s preserved home in Wharton, Tex.”

Performer Dee Dee Bridgewater  will star as Billie Holiday in “Lady Day” at Off-Broadway’s Little Shubert opening September 26.

Today is John Kander’s 86th birthday. What is your favorite Kander and Ebb song?

What good is sitting alone In your room?/

Come hear the music play./

Life is a Cabaret, old chum,/

Come to the Cabaret.

Ann Wallace @aenordland  That’s like asking who is my favorite daughter. That being said, “All That Jazz.”

Come on, babe/

Why don’t we paint the town/

And all that jazz?/

..I’m no one’s wife/

I love my life/

And all that jazz.

‪Robert Falls @RobertFalls201

“Happiness comes in on tiptoe/

Well what do you know/

It’s  a quiet thing/

A very quiet thing…”

(A Quiet Thing from Flora The Red Menace)

Drew Blau‪ @drewlblau

Lying all alone, I’m thinkin’/

Staring at the stars, I wonder/

Since I been away, I’m lonely/

When I’m gonna go back home

(Go Back Home from Scottsboro Boys)

19

Lynn Redgrave

45 Bleecker Street Theater will be renamed after the late Lynn Redgrave

CultureProject’s 45 Bleecker Street Theater will be renamed the Lynn Redgrave Theater to honor the late actor and playwright.

Here Lies Love, Alex Timbers/David Byrne/Fatboy Slim musical at the Public Theater doesn’t begin until April 2nd, but is already extended to May 19th.

Finalists for Steinberg/ATCA new play award:Johnna Adams, Ayad Akhtar, Lucas Hnath, Mia McCullough, Dan O’Neil, Robert Schenkkan. Schenkkan, finalist or All The Way, on LBJ’s struggle to pass Civil Rights Act, won Pulitzer for Kentucky Cycle

Sign up for Company’s Marathon — the reading of ALL of Shakespeare’s canon April 16-20 from Facing Page Productions.  Shakespeare wrote a total of 101,919 lines. His longest play, at 32,241 words, is Hamlet, says Facing Page. His shortest: Comedy of Errors.

Meryl Wheeler ‏@MamaMeryl  This is so cool! And for the musical side of Shakespeare, Shakespeare Songbook at Lyrics & Lyricists at 92nd Street Y.

Broadway veteran Karen Olivo (Rent, Brooklyn, In The Heights, West Side Story) says she is quitting acting. “My abilities have always been bigger than my desire to share them”

Luther Mandrawz ‏‪@Kiarri_ NOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!

Peter Marks @PeterMarksDrama: Wow

Meg McSweeney ‏‪@megmcsweeney” oh please. So dramatic, announcing it like this. Why doesn’t she just take a break and see what happens?

Is it time for artists to get serious about unionizing?

Being a musician is a good job, but that doesn’t mean it’s okay to go broke doing it.”–David Byrne

“I Hope They Serve Beer on Broadway” aiming for Off-Broadway in June

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RedgraveEisenbergRevisionistThe Revisionist by Jesse Eisenberg, who is co-starring with Vanessa Redgrave, has been extended to April 27th. There is reportedly talk of a Broadway transfer

No,they didn’t settle, & now a federal judge has set a May 28 trial date for Julie Taymor vs. Spider-man producers and composers

New York Times: Cat understudy in Breakfast at Tiffany’s fired for being difficult

Should Actors Equity or the ASPCA intervene?  ‏

JoseSPiano ‏@JoseSPiano20 How about Mrs. Lovett?

Actors Equity ‏@ActorsEquity20 We’re without all the facts but we don’t condone catty behavior; sometimes you can’t help a sourpuss

There’s a rash of these animal actor firings: Helen Mirren got a corgi kicked off the cast of “The Audience” in the U.K.

Playwright Stephen Adly Giurgis (left) reads from one of his plays at the Labyrinth Theater's New York, New York Festival.

Playwright Stephen Adly Giurgis (left) reads from one of his plays at the Labyrinth Theater’s New York, New York Festival.

New York, New York Festival at the Labyrinth Theater Company

Sigourney Weaver and Christopher Durang, friends for 40 years. “We bonded over our radar for crackpot things”

Cory Michael Smith and Emilia Clarke at 21 Club in Breakfast At Tiffany's

Cory Michael Smith and Emilia Clarke at 21 Club in Breakfast At Tiffany’s

My review of Breakfast At Tiffany’s

When Holly Golightly sits on the fire escape strumming a guitar and singing, those watching  “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” at the Cort Theater may temporarily feel in familiar territory, even though this Holly is not Audrey Hepburn and she isn’t singing “Moon River.” But for maximum appreciation of this stylish and intriguing stage version, written by Richard Greenberg and starring Emilia Clarke and Cory Michael Smith, it helps to forget the brightly romantic 1961 film. This of course is not possible, which is one reason why this “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” is ultimately unsatisfying.

Full review of Breakfast At Tiffany’s

21

HardbodyJoyoftheLord

My review of Hands on a Hardbody

“Hands on a Hardbody,” an odd but tuneful new musical based on a 1997 documentary film about a sadistic endurance contest to win a pickup truck in Texas, might as well be called “American Idle,” or “They Shoot Horsepower, Don’t They?” or “A Chorus Line, SUV.”  The contest was simple: The winner had to keep at least one hand on the truck, a Nissan Hardbody, longer than any of his competitors.  The musical is also simple:  Each of ten contestants gets at least one song to sing or monologue to speak about their hard-luck life before dropping out; they all also periodically dance around the truck…Its most striking aspect is all the talent poured into it….They deserve more memorable characters to portray

Full review of Hands on a Hardbody

22

AlanCummingMacbethmarqueeAlan Cumming will say “Macbeth” even in the theater, despite The Curse Of The Scottish Play . Patti LuPone disagrees.

2013 lifetime achievement Tonys to go to Lincoln Center’s Bernard Gersten,set designer Ming Cho Lee, Jujamcyn Theater’s Paul Libin

“Turn your thoughts away from cold unfeeling light/ And listen to the music of the night”-Happy 65th Birthday,

Andrew Lloyd Webber

gmg1961 ‏@Aquarius196122  my favorite of all time…. Phantom is timeless!!! It’s NEVER over, the music of the night…


“Good times and bum times, I’ve seen them all/ And, my dear, I’m still here”~ Stephen Sondheim, 83 today

 

Somebody,make me come through

I’ll always be there

As frightened as you

To help us survive

Being alive

Being alive

Being alive!

Kathy Perry ‏@krperry222  Bobby, Bobby, Bobby Baby, Bobby Booby, Robert…:)

23

Take the Weird Theater Quiz

Take the Weird Theater Quiz

Take the Weird Theater Quiz Spring 2013. See how weird it’s gotten

Sample question:

Which plot is that of a show this season?

  •  Ten people try to keep one of their hands on a truck for four days.
  •  Three people work in an old movie theater over the summer, mostly sweeping the aisles
  •  A crazy, ill woman stalks a military hero and then he falls in love with her
  •  A group of archaeologists dig up artifacts in Illinois
  •  They all are
  •  None are

Miles Lott @mlottjr  Got a 100%. Truly a time when truth is stranger than…you know what.

Seven films based on the Bard: e.g. West Side Story (Romeo & Juliet),),My Own Private Idaho (Henry IV & V)  

Sonia Sotomayor, Fiona Shaw, Hilton Als in Pen’s World Voices Festival April 29-May 5

The Living Theater’s “Here We Are” at Clemente Soto Velez Cultural Center March 26-29

15hunksonBroadwayNow

15 Hunks on Broadway

24

Complains about "The Flick" have led Playwrights Horizons artistic director Tim Sanford to send an e-mail to the theater's subscribers.

Complains about “The Flick” have led Playwrights Horizons artistic director Tim Sanford to send an e-mail to the theater’s subscribers.

So many theatergoers complained about The Flick that Playwrights Horizons artistic director Timothy Sanford has written a response –– and I respond to the response.

Julie Haverkate ‏‪@JulieHaverkate  “Did we know we had programmed a 3hour play when we chose it? No” Almost sounds like if he’d known, wouldn’t have picked it

Donna Hoke ‏‪@donnahoke  If the play actually accomplished what she said she wanted to it, I might have forgiven some of the endless silences.

The Flick Complaints: Playwrights Horizons Artistic Director Responds

Complains about "The Flick" have led Playwrights Horizons artistic director Tim Sanford to send an e-mail to the theater's subscribers.

Complaints about “The Flick” have led Playwrights Horizons artistic director Tim Sanford to send an e-mail to the theater’s subscribers. “…I was not totally prepared for it to be such a polarizing show”

In response to reaction to Annie Baker’s The Flick, Playwrights Horizons artistic director Tim Sanford sent the following e-mail to the theater’s subscribers:

Dear Friend,

The Flick has stirred up so many emotions, both positive and negative, in audiences that I thought I would reach out to all of you and share my thoughts about it. I have to admit I was not totally prepared for it to be such a polarizing show. I love Annie’s work and thought this was just the play to introduce her to a wider audience. Here are three characters rarely portrayed on the stage these days and Annie imbues them with such humanity and integrity. Here is how she describes them in our artist interview: 

A female projectionist, on whom the men in the play projected their fears and fantasies…this like “unattainable” girl up there in the shadows who was dying for someone to get to know her “for real”… a 35-year-old Red Sox fan who was worried he’d be working there for life… and a young film buff who came from both a different race and class background than the other characters in the play. They all started emerging from the movie theater set in my mind. Also, the main characters in the play are a black guy, a woman, and a Jew (although I no longer make Sam’s Jewishness obvious). And that was important to me when I started writing the play. Three of the great “Others” of American cinema, all of them victim to extreme stereotypes. And yet what are Hollywood movies without blacks, Jews, and women? I wanted these people to be quietly (maybe even unconsciously) fighting against their respective pigeonholes. And I also grew up knowing lower-middle-class Jews, hyper-educated black people, and women who wear baggy clothes and no makeup, and yet it is so rare to encounter any of those people in plays and movies. It feels like those people are like forced to wander outside of and on the periphery of plays and movies. So I literalized that — they’re like cleaning up everyone else’s crap AFTER the movie is over. 

I hoped that Annie’s palpable love and compassion for her characters and the play’s fairly straightforward plot about a developing ethical workplace quandary would win you all over. 

Of course I had some trepidation about its length. Theatergoers rarely encounter three-hour plays these days even though most classic scripts from earlier ages routinely clock in well above that length. When performances began and some of you walked out at intermission, emphatically expressing your displeasure to our House Manager, we had lengthy discussions about what to do. Could we make internal cuts within the scenes or could whole scenes go? Were there places to pick up the pace? Each scene seemed to have important reasons for being there. And what about those long silences between lines? Here are Annie’s thoughts on this subject:

I’m just trying to accurately portray the people who live in the movie theater inside my head, and I guess there’s a lot of moments of not-talking in that movie theater inside my head. All the walking and sweeping and mopping and dustpan-banging — there’s a whole symphony happening that Sam and the actors orchestrated… But I wouldn’t call that silence. I think there’s actually very little ACTUAL silence in this play. But yeah, my favorite moments in all of my plays are usually moments when people aren’t talking. 

Did we know we had programmed a three-hour play when we chose it? No. I don’t think Sam Gold, the director, did either. But after our initial concern about walkouts, we began to pay attention to the other voices, the voices that urged Annie and Sam not to cut a second, the voices imbued with rapture for a theater experience unlike any they had experienced and for a production that stayed with them for days, even weeks afterwards. And it became clear to me that every moment of the play and production was steeped in purpose. Annie had a vision and this production beautifully executes that vision. And at the end of the day, we are a writer’s theater and my first responsibility is to that writer.

My goal is not to dissuade any of you who disliked the play. I would rather evince passionate dislike than a dispassionate shrug. I imagine that most of you have read the many good reviews about the play and then most recently the fact that the play won the prestigious Susan Smith Blackburn Prize. If you read these stories and continue to say to yourself, “I still don’t know what they see in it,” I applaud your independence of mind. Hopefully that free-thinking will swing to our favor in your response to other productions of ours.

Our hope is to cultivate an audience that trusts the underlying integrity of our decision-making process. We are the only theater in New York (and practically the country) devoted solely to the premiere of new American plays and musicals. We use our Subscriber Bulletin to share with you what excites us about an upcoming play and to convey the passion that went into its selection.

The business of putting on new plays is not empirical. We follow some rules and rely on experience, but we’re also following our hearts. And we appreciate that you are taking a risk and putting your faith in us when you sign up with us. We are dependent upon your willingness to take that ride with us. We need you.

So thank you for caring enough to complain or to praise. Perhaps we can all agree that whatever values we look for in the theater, we all stand on the common ground that it is a vital and important art form that we look to to illuminate the human experience with complexity and integrity.

Warm Regards,

Tim Sanford

Artistic Director

My reaction:

1. Playwrights Horizons is one of my favorite theaters in New York. They consistently do good work, and they treat theatergoers well. One play is not going to change my opinion of them.
2. As I wrote in my review, “The Flick” was too long for what it is. Its excessive length to me indicated something of a breakdown in the bond between these theater artists and their audience.
3. There are a couple of paragraphs in Tim Sanford’s letter I find unctuous, self-righteous, nearly passive-aggressive:

the “voices imbued with rapture” urged them “not to cut a second.” –– oh please.

If you don’t like the show despite all the awards and the great reviews, “I applaud your independence of mind.” —Yeah, yeah. 
Obviously, we are far from alone in our “independent” view — or he wouldn’t be writing this letter in the first place.
I do appreciate, though, the paragraphs in which he quotes Annie Baker and her thinking about the play, which make me glad he wrote it.

 

Black and Russian on Broadway. Arabs On Stage. Broadway Panorama Spring 2013

BroadwayPanoramatease

Click on pics to get the full Broadway Panorama Spring 2013

“Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” has opened on Broadway, a move nearly universally applauded. See my review below. Other shows opened this week that I reviewed: Lanford Wilson’s The Mound Builders at Signature, Annie Baker’s The Flick at Playwrights Horizons, and Strindberg’s “Easter” with an all-black cast.  I talked to Alia Jones-Harvey, who has produced shows on Broadway with all-black casts — including the forthcoming “The Trip to Bountiful” — about non-traditional producing.”  I also discovered Arab theater in New York.

What would you say about a show you think is bad to somebody who already has tickets to it? Responses below, including from several who tell people about bad shows for a living.

The Broadway marathon. Opening this week:

Breakfast at Tiffany’s

Hand’s on a Hardbody

The Week in New York Theater

Monday, March 11, 2013

Wouldn’t it be loverly? Music impresario Clive Davis, in his first gig as a Broadway producer,reportedly asked Bartlett Sher (South Pacific) to direct My Fair Lady in 2014

Work for “exposure” (ie no money), says Adam Thurman, if it concretely advances your career.

12

Forbidden Broadway: Alive and Kicking will be dead and kicked April 28, to make room for another show.  Gerald Alessandrini promises new edition later in 2013

2013-14 Roundabout revivals: Sam Gold will direct  Tom Stoppard’s The Real Thing; Pam Mackinnon will direct Dinner with Friends by Donald Margulies

Playwright Joe Gilford on FINKS, based on blacklisting of his parents Jack & Madeline.

triptobountifulcast

Lessons of Non-Traditional Producing by Alia Jones-Harvey, producer of the forthcoming “The Trip to Bountiful.”

ouisa Krause and Aaron Clifton Moten in an awkward touching and funny moment in Annie Baker's "The Flick" at Playwrights Horizons

Louisa Krause and Aaron Clifton Moten in an awkward touching and funny moment in Annie Baker’s “The Flick”

My review of The Flick

Those who have seen the previous gently-paced, meticulous, near miraculous collaborations between playwright Annie Baker and director Sam Gold — “Circle Mirror Transformation,” “The Aliens,” their adaptation of “Uncle Vanya” – may be similarly entranced by “The Flick,” which has now opened at Playwrights Horizons, focusing on three employees of a run-down movie theater in Worcester County, Massachusetts…But it also runs longer than their other plays, much longer…

“The Flick” is a play about movie-lovers that theater-lovers can love, if they’re patient enough. (It would have been better an hour shorter, though.)

Full review of The Flick

13

cast of "Easter" by August Strindberg
My Backstage review of Strindberg’s “Easter” features an all-black cast & timeless themes: disgrace,redemption

How can a family redeem itself in the aftermath of a scandal? What does it take to forgive and be forgiven? What is it like to suffer for another’s sins? Those are the timeless themes of August Strindberg’s “Easter,” which the playwright wrote at the turn of the 20th century and set in a coastal town of Sweden and which the August Strindberg Repertory Theatre has chosen as its second production, moving it to Harlem in 1958.

14

Bad news for fans of Smash,already getting poor ratings.On April 6, NBC moves its time slot to Sats at 9 pm (TV’s graveyard)

VanyaandSoniaandMashaandSpikereview

My review of Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike

If everyone took antidepressants, Chekhov would have had nothing to write about,” Sonia tells her brother Vanya in Christopher Durang’s hilarious yet improbably moving play, now bumped up to Broadway. The truth, though, is that even today when everybody IS on antidepressants,  Chekhov would still have plenty to write about. The proof is “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike,” Durang’s simultaneous spoof of and homage to the work of the Russian dramatist. With its first-rate cast intact, I like the play even better on seeing it a second time, in its new home at the Golden Theater – and I loved it at Lincoln Center.

Full review of Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike

15

Caesar:Who is it in the press that calls on me? I hear a tongue shriller than all the music
Soothsayer: Beware the ides of March.

“Beautiful: The Carole King Musical”  is set for Bway in Spring, 2014. (That’s “so far away. Doesn’t anybody stay in on place anymore”)

Sondheim’s Passion, a Classic Stage Company production, will be a 2-disc cast recording by PS Classics to be released in June.

Yusef Bulos as Jidda comforts his granddaughter  Rania, played by Mariel Suriel in the world premiere of "After" at York College

Yusef Bulos as Jidda comforts his granddaughter Rania, played by Mariel Suriel in the world premiere of “After” at York College

Is there Arab Theater In NY? Yes

16

“I get paid for what most kids get punished for.” -Jerry Lewis, who today turns 87. (He was on Broadway in Damn Yankees.)

Today, Jenna Fischa 1. says bye on The Office series finale. 2. makes her stage debut at MCC Theater’s”Reasons to be Happy” by Neil LaBute.

DeniseSchneider ‏@deniseschneider No.

Megan Ruskey ‏@Megan315 yes.

Jeffrey Miele ‏@jffmiele no.. I would tell them what I thought and that different things mean different things to different people

Ran Xia ‏@rhinoriddler it’s rare that a show is ubiquitously agreed as bad. You might hate something another person loves.

Sam Payne Garland ‏@SamPayneGarland Upfront. My feeling is even bad theater can be interesting. Also, best to bring non-theater types. Their standards are lower

Jonathan Mandell: Or hardcore theater people who want to see everything no matter want, to learn from.

Sam Payne Garland: That’s probably the category I fall under.

Daniel Bourque ‏@Danfrmbourque: I try, but not easy. First thing I want to do when I see a bad show is yell loudly. So I say, “Go! We’ll talk afterwards!”

Peter Marks ‏@petermarksdrama: If they hadn’t read my review, I’d keep my mouth shut.

Terry Teachout ‏@terryteachout: Alas, that’s not an option for me!

Jonathan Mandell ‏Why not a option? They haven’t necessarily read your review. You could say “I’d prefer you find out for yourself.”

Terry Teachout: The people I know who see shows normally keep up with what I write. If they were to ask, though, I’d tell them.

Isaac Butler ‏@parabasis As a non-reviewer, I always say “let me know what you think!”

Terry Teachout: I think that’s a good way to do it.

Jonathan Mandell: Is there a theatrical Heisenberg Principle:Does my pan prevent somebody from liking what they would have otherwise?

Terry Teachout: Isn’t that part of why we do what we do? I think of myself as a teacher first and foremost.

17

Cinderella cast to record album for Ghostlight today

Scenic Design: Neil Patel<br /><br /><br /> Costume Design: Theresa Squire<br /><br /><br /> Lighting Design: Rui Rita<br /><br /><br /> Sound Design: Darron L West<br /><br /><br /> Projection Design: Shawn Sagady<br /><br /><br /> Dialect Coach: Deborah Hecht<br /><br /><br /> Production Stage Manager: Lori Ann Zepp<br /><br /><br /> Casting: Telsey + Company, William Cantler

My review of The Mound Builders

A person isn’t happy unless they’re building something,” says Dr. Dan Loggins, junior archaeologist,  trying to explain why the people of a lost ancient Native American civilization built mounds of earth in Illinois.

“There’d be people perfectly willing to tear something down,” says Cynthia, the wife of his colleague, chief archaeologist Dr. August Howe.

The late Lanford Wilson seemed to be exploring the two conflicting impulses — searching for the meaning of civilization —  in  “The Mound Builders,” his dark, cerebral 1975 play that the Signature Theater is reviving. It is less accessible than Wilson’s later and most popular play, “Talley’s Folly,” which the Roundabout is currently reviving a few blocks away.

Full review of The Mound Builders

Off-Broadway Spring 2013 Guide

This is the poster for Water By The Spoonful, the 2012 Pulitzer-Prize winning play  getting its New York debut at Second Stage, one of some 200 Off-Broadway theaters in New York.

This is the poster for Water By The Spoonful, the 2012 Pulitzer-Prize winning play getting its New York debut at Second Stage, one of some 200 Off-Broadway theaters in New York.

Vanessa Redgrave paired with Jesse Eisenberg (“The Social Network”) in a play he’s written? A new musical by David Byrne of Talking Heads fame about ex-dictator spouse Imelda Marcos, famous for her shoes? New works by the dangerously talented playwrights Annie Baker, Amy Herzog, Richard Greenberg, Richard Nelson and Rajiv Joseph? The return of Sondheim and Guare and Lanford Wilson?

The RevOff-Broadway is just too much to absorb — but in a good way.

Broadway is easy – 40 theaters, about 40 new shows a year with clear-cut opening dates, mostly in November and April, striking logos, high-powered publicists and marketers.

Off-Broadway is more chaotic, more spread out, more numerous (some 200 theaters, depending on how you count) less publicized – and, most serious theatergoers will tell you, far richer. It is also less expensive.

One thing Off-Broadway offers that Broadway does not* are residential theaters that nurture theater artists and new work. The best way I can think of to preview shows opening Off-Broadway this season is to present the offerings within each of these theaters, starting with the ones I like the most and that have the best track record lately.

I’ll be filling in and updating in the days ahead.

playwrights_01 PLAYWRIGHTS HORIZONS

416 W. 42nd St.

Twitter: @PHNYC

Playwrights Horizons, which offered some of the most satisfying theater in New York during Fall 2012, with Detroit, The Whale and Great God Pan,  presents three more shows in Spring 2013 that sound just as promising

The Flick

TheFlickAtPlaywrightsHorizonsFebruary 15 – March 31

Annie Baker, best known as the playwright of  “Circle Mirror Transformation” and an adaptation of Uncle Vanya at Soho Rep, has authored this play about three underpaid employees in a run-down movie theatre in central Massachusetts. Her usual collaborator Sam Gold directs.

The Call

March 22 – May 12

Tanya Barfield’s play about a white couple deciding to adopt a child from Africa

Far From Heaven

May 18 – June 30

The ubiquitous playwright and musical book writer Richard Greenberg (Take Me Out; two shows on Broadway this season: Breakfast at Tiffany’s and The Assembled Parties) and the composer-lyricist team of Scott Frankel and Michael Korie (Grey Gardens) present a musical adaptation of the Todd Haynes film about a secretly gay married man in the 1950s.

SIGNATURE

signature_01480 West 42nd Street

Twitter: @signaturetheatr

Begun with a focus on the work of a single playwright each season, Signature has expanded this season, thanks to its new building. And thanks to corporate underwriting, all tickets for the initial runs are $25.

Dance and the Railroad

DavidHenryHwangFebruary 5 to March 17

One of the first plays that David Henry Hwang (M. Butterfly) wrote – and the first of his I ever saw – looks at two Chinese workers who struggle through poverty and hunger to reconnect with the traditions of their homeland.

Old Hats

February 12 – March 31

Tina Landau directs theatrical clowns Bill Irwin and David Shine in their first collaboration since Broadway’s “Fool Moon”

The Mound Builders

February 26-April 7

Jo Bonney directs this new production of Lanford Wilson’s 1975 Obie-winning about a team of archeologists who descend on an Illionis town to unearth the mysteries of its ancient Indian civilization.

THE PUBLIC THEATER

public_01Twitter: @PublicTheaterNY

Under The Radar

January 9-20

Taking advantage of the relatively fallow period right after the holidays, the Public has presented this festival of new, mostly experimental theater from around the world for nine years. This year’s dozen offerings include  Brooklyn-based The Debate Society’s Blood Play and a new work from Belarus Free Theatre, h Minsk 2011: A Reply to Kathy Acker 

Detroit ’67

February 26-March 17

Kwame Kwei-Armah directs Dominique Morisseau’s play, set in 1967 Detroit, about a brother and sister who turn their basement into an after-hours joint full of Motown music

Neva

March 1-March 31

Writer-director Guillermo Calderón play, newly translated into English, tells the story of Anton Chekhov’s widow, the actress Olga Knipper, who arrives in a dimly lit rehearsal room in St. Petersburg in the winter of 1905.

 Here Lies Love

HereLiesLoveDavidByrneApril 2-May 5

This world premiere musical by David Byrne and Fatboy Slim tells the story of Filipina First Lady Imelda Marcos, directed by Alex Timbers (Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson; Peter and the Starcatcher)

 

Old-Fashioned Prostitutes (A True Romance) 

April 30-June 2, 2013

A theater piece written, directed by designed by Richard Foreman, the Godfather of the American Avant-Garde who some (me) consider an acquired taste, presents snapshots from an enigmatic fairy-tale in which Suzie, the elusive coquette, brings Samuel to his knee
Venice

May 28-June 23

Matt Sax and Eric Rosen present a musical about a fallen city in the not-so-distant future where revolution is in the air.

LINCOLN CENTER THEATER*

LincolnCenterlogoTwitter: @LCTheater

Nikolai and the Others

April 4-June 16

Richard Nelson, who is best known for his series of in-real-time plays that open on the date that they were set (“Sorry” which opened on Election Day 2012 was the last one) has authored a play about a 1948 gathering that includes choreographer George Balanchine, composer Igor Stravinsky, conductor Serge Koussevitsky, painter/set designer Sergey Sudeikin and composer Nikolai Nabokov. Nikolai and the Others is directed by David Cromer

Claire Tow Theater, new cutting-edge (and far less expensive) on a newly created top floor.

Luck of the Irish

January 28-March 10

Kirsten Greenidge’s play about an upwardly mobile African-American couple that pays a struggling Irish family to “ghost-buy” a house for them in 1950s Boston

NEW YORK THEATER WORKSHOP

new_york_01Twitter: @NYTW79

Belleville

February 12 – March 31

Amy Herzog, beloved playwright for “After the Revolution” and “4,000 Miles” offers this  “chilling, Hitchcockian, look at the limits of trust, truth…” when a young married American couple move from the Midwest to Paris. Anne Kauffman directs.

THE VINEYARD THEATER

vineyard_01108 East 15th Street

Twitter: @VineyardTheatre

The North Pool

May 1-June 9

Rajiv Joseph, who had his Broadway debut with “Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo” starring Robin Williams, returns to a New York stage with his thriller about a high school principal and a Middle Eastern-born transfer student who engage in a politically and emotionally charged game of cat and mouse.

ROUNDABOUT* LAURA PELS THEATER

roundabout_01111 West 46th Street,

Talley’s Folly,

February 8 – May 5

Michael Wilson will direct Danny Burstein and Sarah Paulson as the Jewish immigrant and the Protestant nurse he loves in Lanford Wilson’s Pulitzer-Prize winning comedy.

SECOND STAGE

second_01Twitter: @2STNYC

Water By The Spoonful

now through January 27

Quiara Alegría Hudes’ 2012 Pulitzer-Prize winning play tells the story of Elliot’s return home to Philadelphia to reconnect with his Puerto Rican family after his time spent serving in Iraq

The Last Five Years

March 7-April 21

Jason Robert Brown’s musical about a relationship has had a thriving life in regional theater since it debuted Off-Broadway in 2002. Now it returns with Betsy Wolfe and Adam Kantor as the couple.

 

CSC (CLASSIC STAGE COMPANY)

csc_01136 East 13th Street

Twitter: @ClassicStage

Passion

Stephen Sondheim's Passion at CSCFeb 8 – April 7

A new production of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s tale of anguished, unquestioning love will feature Melissa Errico, Judy Kuhn and Ryan Silverman in romantic triangle about an ugly, broken woman who pursues a handsome soldier who is already in love with another woman.

 Caucasian Chalk Circle

Begins May 2

A new score and Christopher Lloyd add to this Bertolt Brecht parable about a simple maid who in the midst of a revolution, cannot help but come to the aid of a poor defenseless infant.

 RATTLESTICK PLAYWRIGHTS THEATER

rattle_01Address: 224 Waverly Place

Twitter: @rpt224

 Collision

At Rattlestick

January 10 – February 17

Lyle Kessler whose “Orphans” is being revived for a starry Broadway production with Shia LaBoeuf and Alex Baldwin, has authored this “incendiary black comedy” about three students, a professor, and a stranger who come together in a college dormitory, a production of The Amoralists

The Revisionist

At the Cherry Lane Theater

February 15 – March 31

Jesse Eisenberg (“The Social Network”) follows up his playwriting debut with “The Revisionist” about a science fiction writer with writer’s block who travels to Poland to stay with his 73-year-old cousin, played by Vanessa Redgrave. Daniel Oreskes is also in the cast.

MCC THEATER
MCCTheaterLogoat The Lucille Lortel Theatre
121 Christopher St

Twitter: @MCCTheater

Really Really

Jan 31-March 10

David Cromer (Our Town, Tribes) directs this play by Paul Downs Colaizzo about a group of college friends torn asunder by “sexual politics, raw ambition, and class warfare.” The cast includes Matt Lauria (Luke from Friday Night Lights TV series), Zosia Mamet, the 24-year-old daughter of Lindsay Crouse and David Mamet; as well as Evan Jonigkeit, who redeemed his performance as the junkie in “High” with a wonderful performance as the gentleman caller in Horton Foote’s “Harrison TX.” 

Reasons to Be Happy

May 16-June 23

Neil LaBute writes and directs a new play that serves as a companion piece to his Broadway play “Reasons to Be Pretty.”  It begins three years after a contentious break-up, with Steph and Greg wondering if they can make a fresh go of it, even though she’s now married to somebody else.

MTC THEATER* At City Center

mtc_01131 West 55th Street

Twitter: @MTC_NYC

Madrid

madridFeb 5 – April 4

Edie Falco stars in Liz Flahive’s play about a kindergarten teacher who leaves her family.

*Just to complicate matters, several of the resident theaters also present shows on Broadway –  Lincoln Center, Manhattan Theater Company (MTC), and the Roundabout Theater Company. Their Broadway offerings are listed in my Broadway Spring 2013 Guide

For a more comprehensive list of current Off-Broadway fare, check out the websites of the Off-Broadway League and the Off-Broadway Alliance
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.

Theater After The Tony Awards: My June Reviews: Harvey, Uncle Vanya, This Is Fiction, Clubbed Thumb Festival

Carol Kane and Jim Parsons in Harvey on Broadway

Harvey, with Carol Kane and Jim Parsons

New York theater doesn’t close up shop after the Tony Awards each year. There actually may be more to see, what with the various theater festivals. In any case here are my reviews of some of the shows that have opened in June

Harvey

What many theatergoers know and don’t love about “Harvey” is that this comedy about a 6’3 1/2” invisible rabbit won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1945, beating out Tennessee Williams’ “The Glass Menagerie.” What people love about it is Jimmy Stewart, who starred in it both on Broadway and in Hollywood.
A revival of Mary Chase’s play therefore has to overcome both resentment and perfection. As central character Elwood P. Dowd himself might say, it is easy to take a liking to the Roundabout Theater Company’s production of “Harvey” at Studio 54, thanks to Scott Ellis’ well-paced direction and a splendid 11-member cast headed by Jim Parsons, the star of the TV series “The Big Bang Theory,” and full of audience favorites such as Carol Kane and Jessica Hecht and one of the actors from “Mad Men.”

Full Review of Harvey

Uncle Vanya

UncleVanya1 Uncle Vanya Review: An Intimate Chekhov at Soho Rep

Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya at Soho Rep: Michael Shannon and Merritt Weaver

When Annie Baker, playwright of the exquisite “Circle Mirror Transformation” and her frequent collaborator, super-star director Sam Gold (“Seminar,” “Look Back in Anger”) decided to take on Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya” — which they have done now in an inventive and uncomfortable production at Soho Rep that is a very hot ticket — it was to solve an intriguing problem: Why is it that the play about the loves, hates, frustrations and disappointments of an interconnected group of Russians in a 19th century country estate is so riveting to read but difficult to watch?

The concept of the production is fresh; Annie Baker’s adaptation is clear. But the actors are playing characters who sulk, whine, and shuffle around as if their life has lost meaning for nearly three hours, sometimes in near-darkness, alleviated only occasionally by some nice singing and guitar-playing. Chekhov’s much-vaunted comedy largely gets lost with this treatment, especially when audience members’ attention focuses increasingly not on the characters’ misery but on their own discomfort

Full review of Uncle Vanya

This Is Fiction

Photo by Jason White
“This Is Fiction”

Right outside the Cherry Lane Theater, on the evening when I was seeing the modest four-character play “This Is Fiction,” some half dozen cranes, two dozen extras and twice as many crew were transforming the street from summer into winter, adding bucket after bucket of fake snow for a scene in a movie remake of “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” starring Ben Stiller.

One need only witness such extravagance in the service of entertainment to realize how thoroughly fiction can crowd out reality. The interplay between the two is an intriguing subject, one that “This Is Fiction,” by its title and through the company’s promotional material, promises to explore. But this first full-length play by Megan Hart barely gets to its supposed subject.

Full Review of This Is Fiction

Luther

More than halfway through the enigmatic “Luther,” the second entry in Clubbed Thumb’s Summerworks 2012 festival, I thought I finally discovered the solution to the puzzle that is Ethan Lipton’s play: “Luther’s a dog!” I said to myself. Well, maybe not….Many moments in Luther” read like a subtle send-up of contemporary urban middle-class mores. These moments would be a lot funnier if the audience were not so disoriented.

Full Review of Luther

When Clowns Play Hamlet: It is an exaggeration to say that H.M. Koutoukas invented Off-Off Broadway, though at first glance that claim seems much closer to the truth than the thought that “When Clowns Play Hamlet,” his 48-year-old play being posthumously revived at La MaMa ETC, is an intriguing mash-up of a Shakespearean tragedy and a circus act. It seems neither intriguing nor a mash-up—nor, for that matter, a circus act, even though all three actors are dressed in clown makeup. There is no mention of the Bard or any immediately evident parallels to the Prince of Denmark.

Yet Koutoukas, who died two years ago at age 72, did write some 200 plays for the Caffé Cino and La MaMa and mentored everybody from Harvey Fierstein to the creative team behind “Hair,” so if any single person can be given credit for birthing the Off-Off movement, he might be it. And there may be something more to the play’s title than some of his similarly mischievous efforts, such as “Too Late for Yogurt” or “Medea in the Laundromat.”

Full review of When Clowns Play Hamlet