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.


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


The Royale Review: Black Boxing Champ Fighting Racism, Convention


TheRoyale1b“The Royale” is a 90 minute blast of inventive staging that is “loosely inspired” (as we are told in the program) by the life of Jack Johnson, the first African-American to become heavyweight boxing champion of the world and at his peak at the beginning of the twentieth century the most famous black man in the world.

It is easy to see why “The Royale” playwright Marco Ramirez would be drawn to an outsized historical figure whose victories sparked race riots, and whose defiance of social convention – he married three white women — led to a trumped-up criminal conviction, exile and eventual imprisonment. Johnson delivered in the ring; he dressed fine and drove fast outside it. He would likely fascinate any writer – and he has captivated many: He was the inspiration for the 1967 play and subsequent film “The Great White Hope” by Howard Sackler which made James Earl Jones a star, and the 2004 biography by Geoffrey C. Ward and subsequent Ken Burns PBS documentary, Unforgivable Blackness.

So what does “The Royale” add to the abundant literature on the Champ? The answer is: not much. You can learn more actual and reliable information about Jack Johnson from a paragraph in Wikipedia than on stage at Lincoln Center’s Mitzi Newhouse, and the playwright’s speculation about Jackson’s motivations smells like hooey.

What “The Royale” offers is intense and innovative theatricality directed by the extraordinary Rachel Chavkin (whose “Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812” will mark her Broadway debut in the Fall); designed by a team that makes us hear and feel the blows of a championship match without there being any actual physical contact on stage; and delivered by an exceptional five-member cast that includes two familiar faces – Clarke Peters from The Wire and Montego Glover from Memphis – and that features a memorable New York stage debut by Khris Davis as Jay “The Sport” Jackson.

“The Royale” focuses on the events climaxing in The Fight of the Century, the boxing match between Jackson and the undefeated – and white — champion called back from retirement. (In real life his name was James J. Jeffries; in the play, he’s Bernard “The Champ” Bixby.)

“The Royale” begins and ends with a boxing match, but unlike, say, “Rocky,” “The Royale” makes no attempt at a realistic depiction. We first see Jackson take on yet another contender, a newcomer named Fish (McKinley Belcher III), but rather than see them fight, we are privy to their thoughts as each faces the audience under a separate spotlight, accompanied by the fighters’ foot stomping and the cast’s rhythmic hand-clapping, augmented by Matt Hubbs’ sound design and Austin Smith’s lighting. This might sound hokey, but the stylized presentation works.

“The Royale” offers some twists that I won’t spoil, which help hit home the impossible position that the pervasive racism of the era foisted on a black man of extraordinary talent and unyielding personality. If the playwright is most effective in establishing the jazz-like percussive rhythms of the action, he also shows promise as a theatrical heavyweight in a handful of punchy lines.

“Are you targeting him specifically because he’s a white man?” asks a reporter of Jackson’s forthcoming championship fight (all white people, including Jackson’s fight promoter Max, are portrayed by Jack Lavelle.)

“I’ll fight anything you put in front of me,” Jackson answers. “Black, white, red or green…”

Wynton, Jackson’s trainer (Peters), adds: “Long as they climb in the ring, boy, they comin’ out purple.”

Click on any photograph by T. Charles Erickson to see them enlarged.

The Royale

At Lincoln Center’s Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater

By Marco Ramirez; directed by Rachel Chavkin; sets by Nick Vaughan; costumes by Dede M. Ayite; lighting by Austin R. Smith; sound by Matt Hubbs; stage manager

Cast: McKinley Belcher III (Fish), Khris Davis (Jay), Montego Glover (Nina), John Lavelle (Max) and Clarke Peters (Wynton).

Running time: 90 minutes, no intermission

Tickets: $87

The Royale is scheduled to run through May 1, 2016


Off Broadway Spring 2016 Guide

As Hamilton director Thomas Kail makes clear this season, Broadway may beckon, but Off-Broadway is the room where it happens.

Lin-Manuel Miranda and Thomas Kail

Kail is directing two plays Off-Broadway – “Dry Powder” at the Public, starring The Office’s John Krasinski making his New York stage debut, and “Daphne’s Dive” at the Signature, written by Pulitzer-winning playwright Quiara Alegría Hudes, who shares Broadway credentials with both Kail and Lin-Manuel Miranda. (She is the book writer for Miranda’s “In The Heights.”)

Danai Gurira, who until last year was best known for her role as Michonne on The Walking Dead TV series, will see her play “Eclipsed” transfer from Off-Broadway to Broadway this season. But one day after “Eclipsed” is scheduled to open, a second play of hers, ‘Familiar,” is opening at Off Broadway’s Playwrights Horizons.

Even Harold Prince — as in the Prince of Broadway — is directing a new musical Off-Broadway this season, his first new work for a New York stage in nine years.

HaroldPrinceOther Broadway stalwarts with new shows Off-Broadway include Pasek and Paul (best-known for A Christmas Story), Alfred Uhry (Driving Miss Daisy, Parade), Stew and Heidi Rodewald (Passing Strange), Lydia Diamond (Stick Fly), John Patrick Shanley (Doubt), and Enda Walsh (Once)

If the line between Broadway and Off-Broadway seems increasingly porous, there are still significant differences, which require separate approaches.  Broadway is more or less a collection of random individual potential hits or misses. (See my Broadway Spring 2016 Preview Guide.)  Off-Broadway is not as easy to get your hands around — there are many more shows and most have limited runs; the theaters are more spread out geographically and far more numerous — some 200 theaters/theater companies, or five times the number of Broadway houses.  But it also features a solid number of producing theaters, who reliably present a rich, adventurous and diverse season of shows, at lower prices than Broadway.

Danai Gurira, author of a play on Broadway and Off Broadway

Danai Gurira, author of a play on Broadway and Off Broadway

It thus makes sense to organize an Off-Broadway preview by focusing on these individual seasons, presented in the order of my preference for the particular theaters   (determined by such factors as their recent track record, the promise of the new season, and by the overall experience I’ve had with the theater, both as theatergoer and as critic.)

I’ve put a red check mark —  — besides ten about which I’m especially excited, or intrigued, or at least notably hopeful. This can’t count as a recommendation, because I haven’t seen them yet. I plan to see almost everything below, and expect to be surprised.

PLAYWRIGHTS HORIZONS playwrights horizons logo

416 W. 42nd St. Twitter: @PHNYC

Annie Baker’s “The Flick” is one of six plays that originated at Playwrights Horizons that have won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. It offers new plays and musicals that are consistently satisfying, or at least intriguing.


Familiar by Danai Gurira

February 12 – March 27, 2016

“It’s winter in Minnesota, and a Zimbabwean family is preparing for the wedding of their eldest daughter, a first-generation American. But when the bride insists on observing a traditional African custom, it opens a deep rift in the household.”

Antlia Pneumatica by Anne Washburn

March 11 – April 24, 2016

Washburn (who forever has my attention, thanks to her Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play) writes about a once tight-knit group of friends who reunite to bury one of their own.

Indian Summer by Gregory S. Moss

May 13 – June 26, 2016

Spending an unpleasant summer with his grandfather, in an unfriendly Rhode Island beach town, Daniel soon meets Izzy, who is tough-acting, beguiling, and taken.


publictheaterlogo425 Lafayette Street. Twitter: @PublicTheaterNY

The original home of the Broadway hits Hamilton and Fun Home, as well as Eclipsed, opening on Broadway this season.

The Public Theater at 425 Lafayette Street

The Public Theater at 425 Lafayette Street

Under the Radar Festival, 12th edition

January 6-17, 2016

Cutting-edge theater from around the U.S. and the world.

The first performance of each of the Public’s main shows below is offered for free by lottery. 

Southern Comfort

February 23 – March 27, 2016

A bluegrass-tinged musical based on a documentary that tells the true story of a group of transgender friends living life on their own terms in the back hills of rural Georgia

The Gabriels, Election Year in the Life of One Family

Play One: Hungry

February 27 – March 20

As a kind of follow-up to Richard Nelson’s impressive series, The Apple Family Plays, the playwright is writing a three-play cycle about a different family in the same upstate city of Rhinebeck, using the same approach — the discussion of krasinskipolitics happening on the same day as the play itself is unfolding.

Dry Powder

The wheeling-dealing of the executives (including John Krasinski) in a private equity firm.

March 1 – April 10

Head of Passesphylicia rashad in head of passes

March 15 – April 17

Inspired by the Book of Job, this play by Tarell Alvin McCraney (The Brother/Sister Plays) and directed by Tina Landau presents the story of Shelah (Phylicia Rashad) who must fight to survive during a reunion held on her birthday.

The Total Bent

May 10 – June 12

A British record producer courts a Southern black composer in this musical written by Stew and Heidi Rodewald, the team behind Passing Strange.

The Mobile Shakespeare Unit: Romeo & Juliet 

April 11 – May 1

Directed by Lear deBessonet




480 West 42nd Street. Twitter: @signaturetheatr

As the first New York theater to win the Regional Tony Award, the Signature now has some solid proof of what has been clear to its patrons for years.  What has distinguished this theater is not only its track record, but its commitment to keep the price of all tickets for initial runs to $25.

This season is special for two reasons — it’s the 25th anniversary season, and it’s the last one under founding artistic director James Houghton.

Old Hats

January 26 – March 2016

A return of Bill Irwin and David Shiner signature clowning.

Angel Reapers

 Angel Reapers

February 2 to March 13. Opens February 22.

Playwright Alfred Uhry and choreographer/director Martha Clarke team up on this “theatrical collage” about the Shakers, the early American religious sect best-remembered now for their furniture, whose members were committed to celibacy. Actual traditional Shaker songs and movement are incorporated.


Daphne’s Dive

April 26 – June 5, 2016

Directed by Thomas Kail, this play is the first of several at the Signature to be written by Quiara Alegría Hudes. “Daphne’s Dive is a cheap corner bar in North Philly where Daphne and her vibrant, eclectic regulars drink to art, politics, and life.”



Edward Albee’s The Sandbox
María Irene Fornés’ Drowning 
Adrienne Kennedy’s Funnyhouse of a Negro

May 3 – June 12, 2016

 This trio of famous one-act plays is directed by Lila Neugebauer

SecondStagelogoSECOND STAGE *

The cast of Smart People: Mahershala Ali, Joshua Jackson, Ann Son, Tessa Thompson

The cast of Smart People: Mahershala Ali, Joshua Jackson, Ann Son, Tessa Thompson

Smart People

January 26 – March 6. Opens February 11.

Written by Lydia Diamond and directed by Kenny Leon — the same team that brought us Stick Fly – the comedy focuses on four Harvard intellectuals who find themselves entangled in a complex web of social and sexual politics on the eve of Obama’s first election.

Dear Evan Hansen, from the Arena Stage production

Dear Evan Hansen, from the Arena Stage production

√ Dear Evan Hansen

March 26 – May 22. Opens May 1

A hit when it played at Washington, D.C.’s Arena Stage, this original musical tells the story of a high school student who is mistakenly thought to be best friends with a classmate who had committed suicide.   Michael Greif (RentNext to Normal and Grey Gardens) directs, with music and lyrics by  Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (A Christmas Story, Dogfight) and a book by Steven Levenson (Showtime’s “Masters of Sex”).



108 East 15th Street Twitter: @VineyardTheatre


February 4 – March 13, 2016

Written by Colman Domingo and directed by Susan Stroman, “Dot” examine’s Dotty’s struggles to navigate life with dementia, while her children fight to balance care for their mother and care for themselves.


√ Indecent

“May – June 2016”

In the same season that the much-anticipated Shuffle Along presents the backstage story to a famous Broadway musical from the 1920’s, Paula Vogel’s new play looks at the events surrounding the 1923 Broadway debut of Yiddish-theater playwright Sholem Asch’s controversial drama God of Vengeance, which dealt with prostitution and lesbianism and whose cast was successfully prosecuted for obscenity.



79 East 4th Street. Twitter: @NYTW79

Red Speedo

February 17, 2016—March 27, 2016

Lucas Hnath (The Christians) writes about an Olympic swimmer who “confronts the lure of endorsements, the perils of mixing the personal and professional, and the unforgiving weight of success.”


Inspired by Orpheus’ mythical quest to overcome Hades and regain the favor of his one true love, this musical developed and directed by Rachel Chavkin  (a name you’ll keep on hearing), with folk and jazz music by Anaïs Mitchell, takes place in an “industrialized world of mindless labor and full stomachs.”



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

The RoyaleThe Royale

February 11 – May 1.  Opens March 7.

Written by Marco Ramirez and directed by Rachel Chavkin, the play is “loosely based on the real-life experiences of Jack Johnson, the first African-American heavyweight world champion.”

Her Requiem

February 6 – March 20. Opens February 22.

Written by Greg Pierce and directed by Kate Whoriskey: “Caitlin takes her senior year off from high school to compose a full-scale requiem. Inspired by her dedication, her father, Dean, becomes obsessed with requiems and the people who love them, while her mother, Allison, becomes concerned about Caitlin’s isolation from everyone aside from her music teacher.”


May 21 –

Written by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins (Appropriate, An Octoroon and Gloria.) “Tensions escalate between Tate and Joanne after their mother has a stroke. As they attack each other in their mother’s hospital room, they are ambushed by two strangers who make a shocking claim about their grandfather during WWII.”


Address: The Lucille Lortel Theatre, 121 Christopher Street. Twitter: @mcctheater


February 4 – March 13, 2016

“Magical realism collides with manic vaudeville in a family drama” written by Noah Haidle and directed by Anne Kauffman. The cast includes Zachary Quinto.

A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Gynecologic Oncology Unit At Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center Of New York City

May 19-Jun 25, 2016

Written by Hailey Feiffer and directed by Trip Cullman:   “A foul-mouthed twenty-something comedienne and a middle-aged man embroiled in a nasty divorce are brought together unexpectedly when their cancer-stricken mothers become roommates in the hospital.


roundabout_01This is their 50th anniversary. Off-Broadway’s Roundabout show, The Humans, is transferring to Broadway this season.

Steven Pasquale

The Robber Bridegroom

February 18 – May 29

Steven Pasquale stars in this revival of the musical with book by Alfred Uhry about  “a Southern-fried Robin Hood” who falls in love




Mother Courage and her Children

December 9 – ?

Tonya Pinkins left this production citing creative differences, so it’s up int he air when it will open and when the run will end.  Bertolt Brecht’s most popular play about a Mother Courage who follows one luckless army after another across a war-torn world, has been transposed to the present-day Congo. Duncan Sheik (Spring Awakening) has written a new score for the play.


√ Nathan the Wise

March 18 –

F. Murray Abraham stars an adaptation of this 18th century play by Gotthold Ephraim Lessing. “Jerusalem, 1192. Muslims, Christians and Jews live side by side thanks to a fragile truce that could collapse at any moment. As the tension mounts a question arises from the ruling Sultan: “which religion is the one most beloved by God?” Nathan, a pious Jewish merchant, is charged with answering this question to help secure the continued safety of his people.”

Peer Gynt

May 11 –

Director John Doyle (Passion, Allegro)adapted Ibsen’s tale of the misadventures of young Peer from childhood renegade to outcast, adventurer, industrialist…


√ Skeleton Crew

January 6 — February 14, 2016. Opens January 19.

“In Dominique Morisseau’s third play in her Detroit trilogy, a makeshift family of workers at the last exporting auto plant in the city navigate the possibility of foreclosure”  Directed by Ruben Santiago-Hudson.

Hold Onto Me Darling

February 24 – April 3

The new play by Kenneth Lonergan focuses on a world-famous country singer who questions his celebrity after his mother’s death, and moves back to his hometown; “it doesn’t go well.”

Feb 24 — April 3, 2016

The Band’s Visit 

May 19 – July 10

A musical by composer David Yazbek and playwright Itamar Moses, based on the funny 2007 Israeli film about an Egyptian military police band who get the wrong directions and wind up in a small forgotten town in the Isareli desert.

This is the new musical directed by Harold Prince.

Update: Harold Prince dropped out, and The Band’s Visit will now be directed by David Cromer — in the Fall.


131 West 55th Street Twitter: @MTC_NYC

This theater was publicly criticized for the lack of diversity in its season.


 Prodigal Son

January 19 – March 20. Opens February 9
John Patrick Shanley’s new play, which he directs, stars Robert Sean Leonard, and Timothée Chalamet as a brilliant, troubled young man from the Bronx at a New Hampshire private school.

The Ruins of Civilization

May 4 – . Opens May 18.

A couple open their home to a stranger in need sometime in the future, with unexpected results. Written by Penelope Skinner (The Village Bike)


May 3 to June 26, 2016. Opens May 24.

Written by Nick Payne (Constellations) and directed by Doug Hughes (Doubt.) “A pathologist steals the brain of Albert Einstein; a neuropsychologist embarks on her first romance with another woman; a seizure patient forgets everything but how much he loves his girlfriend.”




The Glory of the World at Brooklyn Academy of Music – Jan 16 – Feb 6, by Charles Mee, about Catholic monk Thomas Merton.


Sojourners at Playwrights Realm, January 21 – February 13 – written by Mfoniso Udofia, directed Ed Sylvanus Iskandar. A Nigerian immigrant wants to return home after she gets her degree; her arranged-marriage husband wants to stay.

Buried Child at The New Group,  February 2 – March 13. revival of Sam Shepard play with a stellar cast including Ed Harris and Amy Madigan.

 Pericles at Theater for a New Audience February 14 – March 27.The Shakespearean play will be directed by Trevor Nunn with music composed by Shaun Davey and performed by PigPen Theatre Co.


Nice Fish at St. Ann’s Warehouse February 14 – March 13. Mark Rylance stars in a play he co-wrote with his favorite poet, Louis Jenkins, about two men ice-fishing.

Other companies worth checking out:


Ars Nova

Irish Repertory Theater

Ma-Yi Theater Company

Mint Theater Company

Primary Stages

Rattlestick Playwrights Theater


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

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

*THE ASTERISK: Off-Broadway AND Broadway

*Just to complicate matters, several of the resident theaters also present shows on Broadway –  Lincoln Center, Manhattan Theater Company (MTC), the Roundabout Theater Company, and starting this season, Second Stage Theatre, which has bought the Helen Hayes. Their Broadway offerings are listed in my Broadway Spring 2016 Preview Guide

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

Off-Broadway theaters, by definition, have anywhere from 100 to 499 seats. If a theater has more seats than that, it’s a Broadway house. If it has fewer, it’s Off-Off Broadway.

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

Monthly Calendar of Openings

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

My latest monthly calendar guide


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

Domesticated Review: Political Sex Scandal at Lincoln Center and the Plight of the Male Zombie Worm

Jeff Goldblum and Laurie Metcalf in political sex scandal Domesticated

Jeff Goldblum and Laurie Metcalf in political sex scandal Domesticated

“Domesticated,” Bruce Norris’s comedy about the aftermath of a political sex scandal, stars Jeff Goldblum as the politician and  Laurie Metcalfe as his wife, but the clue to assessing this play is the casting of Mary Beth Peil as the philandering politician’s mother  — the exact same role she plays in The Good Wife, a television series that began as the aftermath of a political sex scandal, but has moved on to more complex and interesting issues.

“Domesticated” sticks to sex. It is apparently Norris’s attempt to offer what he sees as the kind of inconvenient truths about our attitudes towards sex as he did about our attitudes towards race in Clybourne Park, his clever riff and update on the classic Lorraine Hansberry play “A Raisin in the Sun,” which won for Norris both a Tony and a Pulitzer Prize (neither of which, rather irksomely, Lorraine Hansberry ever won.)  “Domesticated” offers us nothing all that new, interesting or complex about the battle of the sexes, but it presents it in the gift-wrapping of some first-rate performers.

Goldblum is Bill Purvis, whom we first see at the now obligatory and iconic press conference, flashbulbs popping, his wife Judy (Metcalfe) by his side, as he resigns from his (unspecified) office.

In a slight twist on the usual scandal, the 23-year-old hooker with whom he had a dalliance is now in a coma. Her mother and the assistant district attorney accuse Bill of pushing her; he contends that, while holding a sex toy/paddle, she fell and hit her head on a chair.

Domesticated5Bill is surrounded by women – as is Goldblum. The 11-member cast includes only one other man, Robin De Jesus, playing a transsexual who, like nearly everybody else, confronts Bill over his insensitivity to women. Bill is a besieged man – if not Besieged Man – and he is nearly silent and seemingly guilt-ridden the entire first act. In the second act, though, he rarely shuts up, and we quickly learn that he is not, in fact, repentant at all. He’s never bought into monogamy. He recalls his wedding: “I’m standing at the altar in some rented tuxedo thinking, what am I, a salmon? I’m supposed to mate once and then die?”

The reference to another species echoes the only occasionally successful conceit threaded throughout “Domesticated.” His youngest daughter Cassidy (Misha Seo) only speaks when she is presenting a school report, complete with (G-rated) slides and videos, about the unusual mating habits of various of earth’s species, from hyenas to pheasants to zombie worms. The zombie worm, Cassidy tells us in a monotone, lives deep in the sea; the microscopic males of the species inhabit the body of the much larger female; in the future, Cassidy, tells us, the male zombie worms “will certainly disappear altogether.”

Domesticated4Norris makes his point early and often,  as he fills up the two acts and two hours of “Domesticated.”  In a running joke, Judy increasingly discovers just what a lout Bill has been, and the full extent of her naivete (”You married a gynecologist,” her best friend tells her. “A gynecologist who went into politics. Didn’t that tell you something?”) Bill and Judy’s teenage daughter Casey (Emily Meade) becomes even more snarky and impossible after the scandal than she was beforehand. Judy writes a book, appears on an Oprah-like talk show. Bill is unsuccessful in his attempt to return to his old job. Judy and Bill have an explicit argument over their sex lives. The legal case advances with a dud of a twist. All of this Anna D. Shapiro directs smoothly enough in-the-round at the Mitzi Newhouse. (Perhaps the arena seating was an attempt to make the conflict feel more like a battle or a sport?) The director makes the most of Norris’ one-liners and his knack for creating playable scenes where characters speak at one another without listening to one another.   Goldblum and Metcalf in particular handle the comic and the serious scenes with the impressive dexterity we have come to expect from both.

In his rat-a-tat dialogue and his proud effort at being politically incorrect, Bruce Norris can feel like Mamet with a sense of humor.  But as with the later Mamet, many in the audience will wonder what it all amounts to.


Mitzi Newhouse Theater, Lincoln Center

By Bruce Norris; directed by Anna D. Shapiro; sets by Todd Rosenthal; costumes by Jennifer von Mayrhauser; lighting by James F. Ingalls; sound by John Gromada.

Cast: Vanessa Aspillaga (Pilar), Mia Barron (Bobbie), Robin De Jesus (Bar Patron), Jeff Goldblum (Bill), Lizbeth Mackay (Jackie), Emily Meade (Casey), Laurie Metcalf (Judy), Mary Beth Peil (Shrink), Karen Pittman (A.D.A.), Aleque Reid (Becky) and Misha Seo (Cassidy).

Running time: two hours and 15 minutes, including a 15-minute intermission.

Domesticated is set to run though January 5.

Golden Boy Review: Clifford Odets’ Broadway Boxing Drama Dated, Wonderful

Seth Numrich and Danny Burstein in Lincoln Center Theater production of "Golden Boy"

Seth Numrich and Danny Burstein in Lincoln Center Theater production of “Golden Boy”

There are several great pleasures in “Golden Boy,” the play by Clifford Odets about gifted Italian-American violinist Joe Bonaparte who gives up his art for the life and quick fortune of a boxer, which has returned to the Belasco Theater 75 years after it debuted there.

*Some of the playwright’s dialogue brings us back to the heyday of snappy repartee, but each rich, slangy line contains what Odets devotee Arthur Miller called “word-joy,”  demonstrating why Miller considered Odets “the only poet….not only in social protest theater but in all of New York theater.”

*Director Bartlett Sher’s staging, which takes some time to get used to, becomes riveting in its details, and powerful in its impact.

*There are some stand-out performances – Tony Shalhoub as Joe’s music-loving father, Danny Burstein as his trainer, Yvonne Strahovski as the self-declared “tramp from Newark” for whom he falls, and, in a small but delightful role, Jonathan Hadary as the intellectual Jewish neighbor, Mr. Carp. But nearly every actor in this huge cast of 19, including Seth Numrich as Joe, has at least one moment to savor.

*Catherine Zuber’s costumes are sharp, spot-on, and cleverly add to the meaning of the story.

For all the glories of the Lincoln Center production, there is no disguising that “Golden Boy” is also an old-fashioned melodrama that does not transcend its era the way other works written in (if not necessarily about) the 1930’s have done: Our Town, Porgy and Bess, Grapes of Wrath, Life With Father, Of Mice and Men.

Even if you have never seen the 1939 movie of “Golden Boy” that made William Holden a star, or never heard of the 1964 musical version starring Sammy Davis Jr., you can more or less guess how the play ends from the start.

Odets wrote “Golden Boy,” unlike his earlier work, expressly to be a commercial hit, which it was. It is also a stand-in for his own career, begun with such political calls to action as “Waiting for Lefty” and “Awake and Sing” but then swerving to answer the siren call of Hollywood. His “Golden Boy” might have seemed more directly relevant today had he written more specifically about his own compromises, rather than relocating the art vs. commerce conflict to violin-playing vs. boxing, which, however realistic in the 1930’s, is unlikely to the point of absurdity in 2012.

This is not to condemn “Golden Boy,” but to provide the key for appreciating it.   It is a work of anthropology, a spoken-word opera,  a vehicle to another era.

For a play whose plot is as obvious as this one, the Lincoln Center production has wonderful moments of subtlety, feeling and allusion.

Danny Burstein, a trainer with much wisdom and compassion, watches as his boxer breaks down crying,  and then slowly, tentatively, gives him a pat on the head, as if soothing a horse.  Tony Shalhoub offers his son a gift of a violin that he has spent years of his wages to buy for him. The son, already committed to the life of a boxer, nevertheless takes it in his hand with near-reverence – and magically Shalhoub produces the violin bow, and then puts the violin pad on Joe’s shoulder, silently encouraging his son to play…a funny, touching moment.

It’s not just the acting.  Michael Yeargan’s set focuses our attention on the backdrop of a tenement building, which looms over the actors performing in an island in the middle of the stage — as if to say that they can never escape their poverty.

Donald Holder’s dramatic lighting trains dramatic spotlights on the actors and keeps everything else in the dark – apparently looking to recreate the chiaroscuro of the Ashcan School (no coincidence that George Bellows’ painting of a boxer is use as the show’s poster and Playbill cover)

It’s been a long time since anybody thought of Clifford Odets the way Arthur Miller did in his youth: “An Odets play was awaited like news hot off the press, as though through him we would know what to think of ourselves and our prospects.” If “Golden Boy” no longer helps us to know about ourselves, the Lincoln Center Theater production at the Belasco helps us to know about Clifford Odets – and that, it turns out, is a good thing.

Golden Boy

Belasco Theater (111 West 44th Street)

By Clifford Odets

Directed by Bartlett Sher; sets by Michael Yeargan; costumes by Catherine Zuber; lighting by Donald Holder; sound by Peter John Still and Marc Salzberg; fight direction by B. H. Barry;

Cast: Michael Aronov (Siggie), Danny Burstein (Tokio), Demosthenes Chrysan (Lewis), Anthony Crivello (Eddie Fuseli), Sean Cullen (Drake), Dagmara Dominczyk (Anna), Ned Eisenberg (Roxy Gottlieb), Brad Fleischer (Pepper White), Karl Glusman (Call Boy), Jonathan Hadary (Mr. Carp), Daniel Jenkins (Barker), Danny Mastrogiorgio (Tom Moody), Dion Mucciacito (Sam), Seth Numrich (Joe Bonaparte), Vayu O’Donnell (Driscoll), Lucas Caleb Rooney (Frank Bonaparte), Tony Shalhoub (Mr. Bonaparte), Yvonne Strahovski (Lorna Moon) and David Wohl (Mickey).

Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes, including two ten-minute intermissions.

Golden Boy is scheduled to run through January 20. It seems likely to be extended.

Golden Boy Reviews Are Mostly Raves: Clifford Odets Boxing Drama Back on Broadway

In the Lincoln Center Theater production of "Golden Boy," Seth Numrich plays Joe Bonaparte, a talented violinist who becomes corrupted by his urge for fame and fortune in the boxing ring.

In the Lincoln Center Theater production of “Golden Boy,” Seth Numrich plays Joe Bonaparte, a talented violinist who becomes corrupted by his urge for fame and fortune in the boxing ring.

Clifford Odets’ Golden Boy, first presented on Broadway at the Belasco Theater 75 years ago, is back at the Belasco, for the second-ever Broadway revival about a man who defies his family and a promising career as a classical musician for a shot at immortality in the boxing ring. Directed by Bartlett Sher (South Pacific), the Lincoln Center Theater production features a cast of 19,  including Seth Numrich (War Horse) as Joe Bonaparte, the violinist turned boxer, Tony Shalhoub (Monk, Lend Me A Tenor) as his Italian immigrant father, and Danny Burstein (South Pacific, Follies) as his trainer.

The reviews are largely, but not entirely, raves:

There are several great pleasures in “Golden Boy,”…For all the glories of the Lincoln Center production, there is no disguising that “Golden Boy” is also an old-fashioned melodrama that does not transcend its era the way other works written in (if not necessarily about) the 1930’s have done…This is not to condemn “Golden Boy,” but to provide the key for appreciating it.   It is a work of anthropology, a spoken-word opera,  a vehicle to another era…Jonathan Mandell, New York Theater

Bartlett Sher’s immensely satisfying production roars off the stage of the Belasco Theatre (where the original debuted) with primal force. Sher, whose 2006 revival of Odets’ first hit, “Awake and Sing!,” proved a revelation, once again exhibits acute understanding of this great American playwright, who has been undervalued for far too long. “Golden Boy” is grand and glorious theater. Grade A~Erik Haagensen, Backstage

A superb ensemble cast and inspired design team elevate Bartlett Sher’s 75th anniversary Broadway revival of this Clifford Odets play to ravishing heights…thoughtfully conceived and vividly inhabited ~David Rooney, Hollywood Reporter

The point of this Lincoln Center Theater production is the rare opportunity to see a pivotal American period piece staged deeply into the period by Bartlett Sher (“South Pacific”) with a huge, expert cast that only a nonprofit can afford to showcase with such luxurious dedication today on Broadway~Linda Winer, Newsday

…. a dazzling revival…Tony Shalhoub is a stand-out . Great sets by Michael Yeargan that include boxing rings populated by sparring, muscular men and realistic tenement buildings and threadbare offices, costumes by Catherine Zuber that are boxy and masculine while always flattering Strahovski, and dim, moody lighting by Donald Holder all contribute to a gloomy gorgeousness.~Mark Kennedy, Associated Press

…a well-constructed and earthy narrative that depicts a seedy underworld and a violent clash of cultures and competing values – 3 stars – Matt Windman AMNY,

“This production escapes some of the possible pitfalls, but not all of them. The foremost problem is uneven casting.”   Numrich “comes across so refined that you can never be entirely sure what Joe is escaping from” and the set is an unsatisfying  “combination of realism and fantasy that evince the best qualities of neither.” Matthew Murray, Talkin’ Broadway

Plenty of punches are thrown in the forceful new revival of Clifford Odets’s “Golden Boy” that opened on Thursday night at the Belasco Theater. Eyes are blackened, uppercuts fly back and forth, and by the end of the play, the young boxer hero, Joe Bonaparte (Seth Numrich), is staggering across the stage, delirious and practically bathed in blood. But the blows that truly stun are the ones we cannot literally see, the jabs to the soul that Joe inflicts on himself, torn as he is between the urge to make it big as a boxer and the desire to be the artist he feels he was meant to be.Throughout this blistering Lincoln Center Theater production, directed by Bartlett Sher and featuring a superb cast of almost 20 actors — a rare feast on Broadway these days — we watch in anguished anticipation as Joe struggles with a defining question..Do you spend your life trying to shine in a world that values only the mighty dollar and the power it brings, or seek instead to fulfill a humbler, more humane destiny?~Charles Isherwood, New York Times