Ruthie Ann Miles. Rise is Not Glee. Bard Bombshell. Week in New York and Cincinnati Theater

In the week since the horrendous car crash in Park Slope that killed two young children, including the four-year-old daughter of Broadway actress Ruthie Ann Miles, and put her in the hospital, almost 8,000 people raised more than $400,000 to help her family.

The driver who ran the red light has chronic illnesses, and was “cited on four previous occasions for running red lights and another four for speeding through a school zone.”

Here she is in 2015 singing Something Wonderful from The King and I, a role for which she won a Tony Award.

This week in New York theater: The Prom gets a date; Hamilton breaks another record, playwrights Lucas Hnath and Suzan Lori Parks get rich. A preview of “Rise”, the new TV series about a high school drama class. And two startling revelations from Shakespeare scholars in Cincinnati.

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The Nether Review: The Horror of Online Life


TheNether6RosenfieldandCarusoIn playwright Jennifer Haley’s cleverly imagined, disturbing future — just a step or two ahead of our present — people lose themselves in a virtual world.

Frank Wood as Sims/Papa

Frank Wood as Sims/Papa

“Your login records indicate you spend a great deal of time online,” a detective says while interrogating a (craftily named) Mr. Sims.

“You have a lot of work on your hands if that’s become a crime,” Sims replies.

But is having sex with a young girl a crime; is hacking her to death with an axe a crime – if the young girl is no more than an avatar in the online world that Sims has created for himself and his paying guests?

“The Nether,” which is running for just two more weeks at MCC Theater, is also playing in Great Britain, where it has just been nominated for several Olivier Awards, including best new play. (It already won for the playwright the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize) In the first-rate production in New York directed by Anne Kauffman with spot-on scenic design by Laura Jellinek and costumes by Jessica Pabst, scenes in the dark interrogation room in the “offline” world alternate with the alluring world that Sims has created, which he calls The Hideaway. It is meant to resemble the most charming aspects of the Victorian era.

Unlike the current virtual world, the Nether (which is the future’s name for the Internet), involves all the senses, including taste and touch. What makes the online world even more attractive are the hints in the play of how unappealing the offline world has become – there are few real trees left, and schooling has moved entirely online.

The “opportunity to live outside of consequence,” as Sims puts it, has caused some people to “cross over” to become “permanent shades” – living life online, their offline bodies close to literally lifeless.

“The Nether” offers loud echoes of our present-day (virtual) reality, reminding us of such hot debates as the one about violent video games or pornography: Are they harmless fun that keep people’s antisocial proclivities within the realm of the imagination, or do they promote those proclivities?

“Did you know porn drives technology?” Sims argues with the detective. “The first photographs? Porn. The first movies? Porn. The most popular content when the Nether was called the Internet? Porn….The urge – as long as we are sentient, you will never stamp that out.” So why not…redirect it?

As intriguing as the questions that Haley raises, the cast keeps us rooted to the particular characters and their story, which feels like a mystery, and packs some surprises. The 13-year-old actress Sophia Anne Caruso is perfection as the nine-year-old Iris, who fulfills the sexual, romantic and murderous fantasies of the “guests” of The Hideaway, such as Woodnut portrayed by Ben Rosenfield. (Nothing horrendous is explicitly depicted on stage.) Peter Friedman, who never seems to strike a wrong note in any play in which he appears,  is also exactly right as the elderly man who is, in fact, “Iris.”

Merritt Wever, who normally plays the detective, was injured before the performance I attended. The role was undertaken by Quincy Tyler Bernstine, who has been fabulous in such plays as Grand Concourse and Mr. Burns, but was on book without sufficient notice to prepare.

The always effective Frank Wood plays the unapologetic Sims, who when in The Hideaway is simply Papa – but he is the only virtual character whose avatar looks like his actual identity.

“Is it my problem the real world no longer measures up?” Sims says defensively to the detective at one point.

“I would say it’s all of our problem,” the detective replies.

The Nether

MCC at Lucille Lortel Theater

By Jennifer Haley; directed by Anne Kauffman; sets by Laura Jellinek; costumes by Jessica Pabst; lighting by Ben Stanton; music and sound by Daniel Kluger and Brandon Wolcott; production manager, B. D. White; production stage manager, Vanessa Coakley; general manager, Pamela Adams. Cast: Sophia Anne Caruso (Iris), Peter Friedman (Doyle), Ben Rosenfield (Woodnut), Merritt Wever (Morris) and Frank Wood (Sims/Papa).

Running time: 80 minutes with no intermission.

The Nether is scheduled to run through March 29.

Broadway’s Bad Actor, Acts of God, Big Books. Off-Broadway’s Hamilton. Week in New York Theater


Peter Dinklage is in A Month in the Country. Katy Perry was in the Super Bowl half-time show.

Peter Dinklage is in A Month in the Country. Katy Perry was in the Super Bowl half-time show.

Lin-Manuel Miranda as Alexander Hamilton in "Hamilton," book, music and lyrics by Miranda.

Lin-Manuel Miranda as Alexander Hamilton in “Hamilton,” book, music and lyrics by Miranda.

Given the seven-week gap between the last Broadway opening and the next one, there’s an awful lot of talk about Broadway this week — talk (two weeks before it even opens at the Public Off-Broadway) of Hamilton moving to Broadway. Meanwhile, Hamilton — which has been sold out — just announced that it’s been extended until May 3 at the Public (making a Broadway this Spring — past the Tony Award cut-off — unlikely.)

There’s also been talk of the new Broadway play starring Jim Parsons; and talk of all the new Broadway books (ok, I’m the only one talking about that; scroll down.)

The real juice this month is Off-Broadway, as my preview of the February offerings make clear (Scroll to February 1.)  Putting aside the Super Bowl and the blizzard that wasn’t (at least not in New York City), it was like A Month in the Country with a whole slew of TV stars (see my review of that play.)

Week in New York Theater Jan 26 – Feb 3

Monday, January 26, 2015

Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,

Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,

Alex Sharp has won the Clive Barnes Foundation Prize for his role in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time.

January 27

January 28

OsatoCoochGabey_NYPL_570x380The original On The Town was a pioneer in bias-free hiring – Japanese-American dancer, black conductor etc

To celebrate its impending 125th anniversary, Carnegie Hall will commission  at least 125 new works over 5 yrs (musical theater too?)

January 29


Big Bang’s Jim Parsons returns to Broadway as… God, in Act Of God by David Javerbaum, who Tweets as @TheTweetOfGod. It opens in May.

Shakespeare in the Park:

The Tempest with Sam Waterston, directed by Michael Greif May 27-July 5

Cymbeline directed by Daniel Sullivan July 27–Aug 23


Theater is not a club so why do we make it feel that way?

January 30

American Playwriting Foundation seeks submission of a new play for its $45,000 Relentless Award,created to honor Philip Seymour Hoffman, by encouraging “works from first time playwrights and underrepresented voices.”

Daveed Diggs, Okieriete Onaodowan, Anthony Ramos, and Lin-Manuel Miranda

Daveed Diggs, Okieriete Onaodowan, Anthony Ramos, and Lin-Manuel Miranda

Hamilton by Lin-Manuel Miranda: First Photographs


“I don’t like labels. But if you have to put a label on it, I’m a gay man’~Joel Grey, coming out in PeopIe magazine at age 82.

One in five people working in entertainment has sought help for mental health issues, reports Arts and Minds (UK)


When does “be given to our toddlers” become “be given to ayatollahs”? TV subtitles stink.

A Month in the Country 1  Taylor Schilling and Peter Dinklage.  Photo by Joan Marcus

My review of A Month in the Country

Fans of Peter Dinklage (Game of Thrones) or Taylor Schilling (Orange is the New Black) drawn to the Classic Stage Company’s production of “A Month in the County” surely don’t expect anybody to be beheaded, or shivved in the prison shower, in this comedy of manners written by Ivan Turgenev in the 1850s. But just as surely they couldn’t have known it would feel like homework.

Full review of A Month in the Country

January 31


January New York theater quiz

Art demands we work inside out, so that our insight & skills exceed our desire to be noticed.~@JohnBecker73

February 1, 2015

February Theater Openings

The focus on personal life rather than work of actresses has (sexist) consequences, writes Elissa Avery in The Week.

No theater is too big to fail, writes Lyn Gardner, prompting the question: Why the focus on buildings?

New York cultural institutions spent $1.3 billion on new construction from 2010 to 2014.

February 2

It’s been a long time since Broadway was just a street. Now it’s shorthand for a range of memories and meanings. Narrowly, “Broadway” is a group of 40 theatres located between 41st Street and 66th Street in Manhattan, but it is also an industry, a product, a brand, a theatrical genre, a trigger for gushing nostalgia—and a target of scorn. It’s too expensive, critics say, too predictable, not diverse enough. Above all, it saps attention from other (better?) theatre throughout the country, as well as theatre a few subway stops away. The haters may hate, but Broadway still lures, as is evident in a spate of new and reissued books.

The best of the batch is American Musicals: The Complete Books and Lyrics of 16 Broadway Classics, 1927–1969, the Library of America’s two compact volumes containing the texts (without musical notation) of such tuneful and beloved shows as South Pacific, Guys and Dolls, My Fair Lady and Fiddler on the Roof, as well as a previously unpublished musical revue by Irving Berlin and Moss Hart…

In Black Broadway, a beautifully-designed coffee-table book about African-Americans, author Stewart F. Lane informs us that in 1928, more than 20 million people attended some 264 shows on Broadway. These days, roughly 12 million a year attend about 40. But Black Broadway is one of few books about Broadway that not only spends quality time talking about Broadway shows and show people that date after 1990—it actually sounds optimistic about the future of the Great White Way.


My complete review of all five Broadway books on American Theatre Magazine.

Congratulations to Jen Bender, the new director of programming for the New York Musical Festival.


February 3


The Bad Actor of Broadway

“I’ve gotten a lot of nice e-mails …congratulating me for being a great bad actor”

Finalists for Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, honoring women playwrights:

Lisa D’Amour (U.S.) – Airline Highway
Alice Birch (U.K.) – Revolt. She said. Revolt again.
Alecky Blythe (U.K.) – Little Revolution
Clare Barron (U.S.) – You Got Older
Clara Brennan (U.K.) – Spine
Katherine Chandler (U.K.) – Parallel Lines
Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig (U.S.) – The World of Extreme Happiness
Lindsey Ferrentino (U.S.) – Ugly Lies the Bone
Zodwa Nyoni (U.K.) – Boi Boi Is Dead
Heidi Schreck (U.S.) – Grand Concourse
Ruby Rae Spiegel (U.S.) – Dry Land
Tena Štivičić (U.K.and Croatia)- 3 Winters

The winner of the $25,000 prize will be announced March 2