Measure for Measure Review: A Shakespeare for the Age of Mike Pence and Harvey Weinstein, via Elevator Repair Service

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

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

Read more of this post


Fondly, Collette Richland Review: Dreaming with Elevator Repair Service

During the intermission for the Elevator Repair Service’s “Fondly, Collette Richland,” at the same time that a noticeable number of theatergoers fervidly exited New York Theatre Workshop for good, an avant-garde director I know came up to me and said “I’m loving this. But it should be at 3 in the morning.”

I agreed with the director… and also with the exiting theatergoers.

Click on any photograph to see it enlarged.

This is the first time that the Elevator Repair Service has created a work in collaboration with a living writer, playwright Sibyl Kempson. It is surely safe to say that “Fondly, Collette Richland” — an absurdist tease of a play directed by ERS artistic director John Collins that mixes comic non-sequiturs with dream-like incoherence and ancient mystical mayhem — will not be greeted with the same widespread enthusiastic acclaim as the avant-garde theater company’s best-known previous work. ERS used the verbatim texts of Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby for “Gatz,” Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises for “The Select”, and a chapter from Faulkner’s novel for “The Sound and the Fury.”

Kempson has said that her text for “Fondly, Collette Richland” is inspired by another work of twentieth century literature, “Two Serious Ladies” by Jane Bowles. But diving into this famously obtuse and hallucinatory modernist novel, I suspect, is not going to help much in unlocking the play.

Kempson has also said that the work is connected to her female awakening and female power, and is an attempt to “consciously foreground the feminine forces that are already sort of running things more than we’d care to admit.”

If this is useful as a preview or analysis, more power to you.

More accessible is this comment she made in American Theatre Magazine: “I do think my plays are for everyone. But if you’re coming to them with the need for a familiar structure, you might feel confused. If you come with the regular yardstick you use to measure plays, you’ll be disappointed. But with no yardstick there’s more openness. There’s a lot there to dig into. It’s a landscape.”

For me, the key to appreciating “Fondly, Collette Richland” is not to try to understand it, but to let it wash over you – or to witness it the way one might a parade or a circus, just taking in the many funny moments, the vivid characters in colorful costumes and the barrage of wild, loud, goofy and frightening sounds. Sound design has always been something of an ERS specialty, although in the past it augmented a coherent plot. Now – and without intending to disparage the dozen members of the cast, who are game and hardworking — Ben Williams’s sound design is the star of “Fondly, Collette Richland,” on equal billing with its co-star, Jacob Climer’s costumes.

There’s justification within the play itself for this approach. Collette Richland (April Matthis) enters the stage, wearing dark glasses and a colorful pantsuit and carrying a placard with the title of the play, and says (among other things) the following:

“I was just thinking, reminiscing, really. When I was a child, we used to gather round the radio and listen to our favorite programs. All together. Do you remember such a thing? And everything was so easy to understand. Just damned easy. AND FUN! We all laughed at the same parts, squealed at the same parts, and came away with the same sort of understanding

“…..Hell, and somewhere along the line, everything cracked open. Everything we thought we knew turned out to not be true.

“…..Do you know what things mean? Do you worry too much, or not enough, about what things mean? Do you know what your living room means, for example? See what I mean?”

Following her speech, Father Mumbles (Mike Iveson) sits at the piano, tinkles its keys, and introduces us to Mabrel and Colonel “Fritz” Fitzhubert (Laurena Allan and Vin Knight) in their home at 127 Whirlaway Drive. The priest, dressed like a bishop, goes into once-upon-a-time story mode, describing and explaining everything so clearly and fully – indeed, in such laborious and mundane detail – that this is really just a parody of storytelling.

The story he tells is of “Fritz” coming home to dinner, and their dinner being interrupted by Local Representative Wheatson (Greig Sargeant), who has been going door to door visiting his constituents to speak to them “about certain matters.” The couple invite him to dinner, but Mabrel says “Please keep in mind that we will prefer to have no dramatic action this evening.” (Not conventional dramatic action in any case.)

The local representative never says why he wanted to visit. Mabrel also adds the letter h to words that have no h, such as room (rhoom) and coffee (choffee). But they do talk about a Bible and tiny door, and apparently enter through it.

The scene ends with Fritz, a tired Death of A Salesman type working man, quoting the French philosopher Gaston Bachelard: “An image costs as much labor to humanity as a new characteristic to a plant.”†

In a subsequent scene, they have passed into a chalet in the Swiss Alps…

Eventually we meet the Krampus, which eats naughty children, and witches who steal souls, and The Face of the Ghost of Jesus Christ, and a farmer who delivers a pig, who gives birth to toy piglets that flip around on stage, and Queen Patrice, the Deposed and Dethroned Grand Queen Empress, and The Cat Self-Hating Cat Butler, who listens to Collette Richland on the radio, and characters who turn into Roman soldiers and a mermaid, and a bellboy who was once the priest … and

At one point, one of the characters says he doesn’t know what’s going on. A member of the audience calls out “You and me both, buddy.” The house lights go up, the cast gathers on stage, and the man is ejected – he’s a plant, of course, although without any new characteristics.

When I stayed for Act II, rather than feeling envious of those who were on their way home to their comfortable beds, or eating some solid and recognizable food in a nearby restaurant, I looked at the crazy tableaux created by the actors on the stage, and imagined that it was even later at night and that I was dreaming.

Fondly, Collette Richland

New York Theater Workshop

Written by: Sibyl Kempson

Created and performed by: Elevator Repair Service
Directed by: John Collins
Scenic Design and Additional Costumes: David Zinn
Costume Design: Jacob A. Climer
Lighting Design: Mark Barton
Sound Design: Ben Williams
Original Music: Mike Iveson
Additional Costumes
: David Zinn
Associate Sound Designer and Sound Operator: Gavin Price
Property Designer: Amanda Villalobos

Assistant Property Design: Matt Leabo
Dance and Movement Coach: Katherine Profeta
Stage Manager: Maurina Lioce
Producer: Ariana Smart Truman
Production Manager: David Nelson
Associate Producer: Lindsay Hockaday
Assistant Set Design: Tim McMath


Father Mumbles / Hans-Pierre: Mike Iveson
Mabrel Fitzhubert: Laurena Allan
Colonel “Fritz” Fitzhubert / Peggy Gladys: Vin Knight
Cat Butler / Clotilde: Susie Sokol or Sarah Willis
Local Representative Wheatsun: Greig Sargeant
Winnifr’d Bexell: Kate Benson
The Deposed & Dethroned Grand Queen Empress Queen Patrice / RMR: Lucy Taylor
Collette Richland / Dora Fitzhubert: April Matthis
Velede: Kaneza Schaal
Miss Glynn Grills / Face of the Ghost of Jesus Christ: Maggie Hoffman
Joan Ham Hobhouse: Lindsay Hockaday
Sailor Boy / The Krampus: Ben Williams

Running time: 2 and 1/2 hours, including an intermission.

Tickets: $69

Fondly, Collette Richland is scheduled to run through October 18, 2015

Update: The show has been extended to October 24. 2015

September 2015 Theater Openings on Broadway, Off-Broadway, Off-Off Broadway


scene from Spring Awakening

Deaf West’s revival of “Spring Awakening” is the only Broadway show opening in September.

Other New York theater that looks promising this month: Desire, an evening of plays adapted from Tennessee Williams short stories

The Christians by Lucas Hnath

the musical Daddy Long Legs

and new work by Matthew Lopez (The Whipping Man), Anne Washburn (Mr. Burns), Thomas Bradshaw (Job),  and The Elevator Repair Service (Gatz), as well as the New York City debut of a work by the Neo-Political Cowgirls.

But you can’t know for sure until you see the show, which is why I review.

Below is a selection of the plays, musicals and “immersive” theater pieces opening in September, 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.

To look at the Fall season as a whole, check out Broadway Fall 2015 Preview and Off-Broadway Fall 2015 Preview.

September 2

In Bed With Roy Cohen (Theatre Row)

At the end of his life, Roy Cohen is visited by people from his past making him account for his deeds, including Julius Rosenberg, Ronald Reagan, Barbara Walters, Roy’s lover Serge, his mother Dora, and his own youthful self.

September 3

Where Was I? (Theatre 54)

Actress Karen Ludwig’s autobiographical solo show.

September 8

Little Thing, Big Thing (59e59)

An Irish ex-con and a nun are thrust into the world of international oil skullduggery, awakening passions they thought were dead. Part of New York’s seventh annual First Irish Theatre Festival.

September 9


The Legend of Georgia McBride (MCC at Lucille Lortel)

How can an Elvis impersonator become a winning drag queen in the Florida Panhandle? With an empty bank account and pregnant wife, Casey’s going to have to answer that question fast in this music-filled comedy written by Matthew Lopez (“The Whipping Man.”)

Laugh It Up, Stare It Down (Cherry Lane)

“This is a story of Cleo and Joe — the meeting of their minds, the entwining of their hearts, and their life-long search for a meaningful point in a universe too random to have one.”

September 10

Desire (59E59 )


An evening of plays based on six short stories by Tennessee Williams, adapted by Elizabeth Egloff, Marcus Gardley, Rebecca Gilman, David Grimm, John Guare, and Beth Henley.

Stoopdreamer (The Cell)

Presented as part of the 1st Irish Theatre Festival,  the play suggests the lingering effects of gentrification as three locals meet in the last remaining Irish saloon in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Windsor Terrace, and reveal secrets from their past that may have ultimately stunted their futures.

Isolde (Theatre for a New Audience)

Inspired by the legend of Tristan and Isolde, the play is written and directed by Richard Maxwell. The marriage of Patrick and Isolde appears to be happy, but then Isolde hires architect Maximo to build her dream house.

Judy (New Ohio Theatre)

“It’s the winter of 2040, and the world has changed – but maybe not by much. Timothy’s wife has just left him, and he isn’t taking it well..What happens when technology fails and communication breaks down.” A comedy by Max Posner produced by Page 73.

EVE (Gym at Judson)


An immersive dance theater experience by the Neo-Political Cowgirls (“exploring and celebrating the female voice”),where the audience wanders at will through the expanse of an 11-room set, swaddled by music and art.

September 13

The Black Book (Sargent Theatre)

A college student disguises his suicide note in a poem and leaves it in his poetry professor’s classroom. The apprehensive professor, is compelled to delve into his student’s past and unravel the clues within his poem in attempt to save him

Pondling (59E59)

Genevieve Hulme-Beaman’s one-woman play presents a “strange lonely child who lives life in the grip of her own vivid imagination.”

September 17

The Christians (Playwrights Horizons)


In this play by Lucas Hnath, Pastor Paul, who has built a megachurch, ” is about to preach a sermon that will shake the foundation of his congregation’s beliefs.”

Iphigenia in Aulis (Classic Stage Company)


As part of CSC’s inaugural Greek Festival, Playwright Anne Washburn (Mr. Burns, a post-electric play) and director Rachel Chavkin (Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812) team up in this dynamic imagining of Euripides’ rarely-seen final play. A father is challenged to sacrifice his daughter in order to appease the gods.

Hamlet In Bed (Rattlestick Playwrights Theater)

Michael Laurence and Annette O’Toole star in Laurence’s play about a neurotic actor and adoptee tracks down a woman who might be his birth mother and asks her to star with him in Hamlet.

September 18

Boys in the Club (Regeneration at Access Theater)

Meet Hector. Hector used to go out with Alan who is now going out with Eddie who just met Gucci, the house boy, and Pippin, the Drama Queen. And yes, Hector’s the one in the bad drag…In the course of the evening, they reveal hopes, fears, and how they are still coming to terms with HIV.

September 21

The New Morality (Mint Theater)

The New Morality Mint

A revival of the play by Harold Chapin, who died on the battlefield in 1915 at the age of 29. Aboard a houseboat on a fashionable reach of the Thames in 1911, “Betty Jones has been simmering for weeks, watching her husband make an ass of himself by paying excessive attention to their neighbor, Muriel Wister. Betty finally boils over and tells Muriel exactly what she thinks of her”


Fulfillment (The Flea)

Thomas Bradshaw’s new play about a man who has a new girlfriend and a new apartment, but is about to enter hell. The play “tackles the question: what makes us happy?” As in many of Bradshaw’s plays, this one includes violence, nudity and sexual situations.

September 24

Conversations with My Molester: A Journey of Faith (The Bridge Theatre)


A one-man show by Michael Mack about meeting 40 years laters with the priest who molested him at age 11.

Sommerfugl (InViolet at Fourth Street Theater)

A new play Inspired by the true story of Lili Elbe, the first person to have gender reassignment surgery in 1930.

September 26

Off The Desk: Tales of a Mediocre Stockbroker (C.O.W.)

Chris Foley looks at the humorous side of his nearly 15-year career in finance, before he switched to stand-up comedy.

September 27

Spring Awakening (Brooks Atkinson)

An 18-week run of this revival of the 2006 Broadway musical, based on Frank Wedekind’s 19th century German play about the coming-of-age, and coming-to-rebellion, of a dozen young people. This production, originally mounted in Los Angeles, is in English and American Sign Language, features a large cast of relative newcomers, as well as Camryn Manheim, Krysta Rodriguez and Andy Mientus, and marks the Broadway debut of Marlee Matlin.

Antigone (BAM)

Juliette Binoche plays stubborn heroine in this feminist version of Sophocles’s tragedy, with a new translation by Anne Carson, directed by Ivo van Hove. Part of the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s New Wave Festival.

Antigone at BAM

September 28

Daddy Long Legs (Davenport Theatre)

Based on the 1912 novel by Jean Webster, the musical tells the story of Jerusha Abbott, the oldest orphan in the John Grier Home and the mysterious benefactor who sends her to college to be a writer. Required to write him a letter once a month, Jerusha is never to know the benefactor’s identity—so she invents one for him: Daddy Long Legs.

Fondly, Collette Richland (New York Theatre Workshop)

“When Mr. and Mrs. “Fritz” Fitzhubert are summoned through a wee little secret door in their living room, they enter into a phantasmagorical world of Alpen hotels, mysterious employees, perilous hikes, and ancient deities, that will leave their lives forever altered.” A collaboration between the Elevator Repair Service (The Gatz) and their first living writer, playwright Sibyl Kempson.

Have a play or musical opening in New York in September that I didn’t mention — or one in October you want to make sure I mention in next month’s calendar? E-mail me at

Winter Theater Festivals in New York City 2013

Winter theater festivals in New York: COIL, Under the Radar, American Realness, Frigid Festival

Winter theater festivals in New York: COIL, Under the Radar, American Realness, Frigid Festival

January is the month for theater festivals in New York, more than at any time other than the summer.  The offerings tend toward the avant-garde and the international and indeed many of the productions are more reliably classified as performance art, often incorporating more dance and music and….noodling around… than anything resembling traditional theater.

One might think that the reason for this surge of festivals during the frigid month is to make up for the fallow period of commercial theater. Maybe this is an indirect cause, but more direct is the presence of the thousands of attendees from throughout the nation at the annual convention of the Association of Performing Arts Presenters, or, as it’s known this year, APAP/NYC 2013, running from January 11th-15th.

Performance Space 122
Thurs, Jan 3 – Sat, Jan 19

Twitter feed: @PS122

In the words of the festival organizers” full of contemporary, textured, global, local, contemplative, grounded, rigorous, and always very live performance.”

Of the 11 offerings this year, five are explicitly labeled theater:

RadioholeRadiohole’s Inflatable Frankenstein, about the “tumultuous and tragic”  life of Frankenstein author Mary Shelley.

Seagull (Thinking of You)

A meditation on Chekhov’s play, with “a Russian folk metal-influenced score.”


Peggy Shaw considers the lifetime of “crooners, lounge singers, movie stars, rock and roll bands, and eccentric family members living inside her.”

The Curators’ Piece: A Trial Against Art

There There

A “precarious bilingual performance duet” between a character substituting for Christopher Walken and her Russian interpreter.

Public Theater
Wed, Jan 9 – Sun, Jan 20

Twitter: @UTRFestival

13 works of cutting-edge theater from eight countries:

Hollow Roots (US) Solo show asks: Can someone live a life unaffected by one’s race or gender?

Ganesh versus the Third ReichGanesh Versus the Third Reich (Australia) The elephant-headed god Ganesh travels through Nazi Germany to reclaim the Swastika, an ancient Hindu symbol.

Minks: A Reply to Kathy Acker (Belarus) The latest theatrically vivid work from the heroic Belarus Free Theater.

The Debate Society‘s “Blood Play” (USA) A spontaenous grown-up part in the basement of a 1950’s suburban ranch house.

Leev Theatre Group‘s “Hamlet, Prince of Grief” (Iran)

“Zero Cost House” (U.S./Japan)

Elevator Repair Service‘s new work-in-progress “Arguendo.” — re-enacting the 1991 oral arguments of a high court case about the legality of nude dancing in Indiana

C’est du Chinois (Hungary/The Netherlands) Performers teach the audience basic Mandarin, “just enough to decipher their unfolding story.” (The title is a French expression that can be interpreted as “That’s Greek to me.”

A 20th Century Abridged Concert Of The History Of Popular Music One-night only from Taylor Mac


SoldierSongsatPrototypeFestivalJan 9 – 18

Twitter: @Prototypefest

Bills itself as the “premiere festival of opera-theatre and music-theatre” I’m not sure what that means, and this is the first year of the festival, so I guess we’ll all find out together. It includes five works for this year, including Soldier Songs, described combining “elements of theater, opera, rock-infused concert music, and animation to explore the perceptions versus the realities of a soldier…”

Abrons Arts Center
Thurs, Jan 10 – Sun, Jan 20

Twitter: @AmericanRealnes

An Attempt To Fail At Groundbreaking Theater, part of the American Realness festival

An Attempt To Fail At Groundbreaking Theater, part of the American Realness festival

Some 20 works, primarily dance, although theater is certainly an accent in some of these works, such as the all-male contemporary dance version of Sophocles’s Greek tragic drama Antigone at the Judson Church, entitled (I think) Twenty Looks or Paris is Burning

My favorite title though is
An Attempt to Fail at Groundbreaking Theater. Description; “Performer Tony Rizzi takes on the triple roles of German dance icon Pina Bausch, performance art legend Penny Arcade and queer filmmaker Jack Smith.”


Kraine Theater

February 20 – March 3

Twitter: @FrigidNewYork

30 shows! A festival of indie theater “where artists are chosen by lottery, and 100% of ticket sales are returned to artists!”