Monday, March 19, 2012

Theater: New Shows (March 20-26)

 Clybourne Park is much better than this photo would imply
photo credit: Joan Marcus
Ironically, I missed last week's post because I had to prep for vacation―paid work and parenting trumped blogging―but now that I'm away on holiday, I have time to look at what's new! Mid-March has lined some fun new shows ups, including the Broadway revival of Clybourne Park. My Pick of the Week is a radical experiment so faithful to the spirit of David Foster Wallace, its title has parenthetical digressions.

Clybourne Park
where: Walter Kerr Theater
first night: Friday, March 23
The best American drama of the last five years finally moves to Broadway, with its original New York cast reprising their roles. It's savage and smart in all the fun ways that you wish every show could be. Act 1 shows Truman-era neighbors fret over the sale of one home to a black family; act 2 sees a white couple buy the same house, auguring a wave of 21C gentrification.

Elephant Room
where: St. Ann's Warehouse
first night: Thursday, March 22
A trio of performers play low-rent illusionists in a slapstick perf-art piece about the magic of theater. According to the press release, ER "mixes the glory of a Styx reunion tour with the transcendental power of a 200-year-old Zuni shaman and a dash of trailer park ennui.” Not sure what that means but it's worth an evening to find out!

Li'l Abner
where: Theater Row
first night: Tuesday, March 20
Half a century before Spidey swung onto Broadway Al Capp's classic strip about political corruption and hillbillies in love got turned into a musical. It rarely gets a revival, so buffs of musical comedy should check out this concert-style performance.

where: Longacre Theater
first night: Wednesday, March 21
On the court and in cultural debate, Magic Johnson shared a fierce rivalry with Larry Bird; off the court they were pals. Unconventional material but ripe for drama, and playwright Eric Simonson is a stalwart of Chicago's scene. Plus, Off-Broadway talent Deirdre O'Connell is part of the cast!

The Morini Strad
where: 59E59
first night: Tuesday, March 20
A certain type of realistic, bourgeois drama revolves around the brokering of a valuable object (the finest case of this is The Cherry Orchard, of course). In this case it's a Stradivarius violin, the sale of which threatens the friendship between a former child-prodigy and a temperamental restorer of instruments.

Out of Iceland
where: Walkerspace
first night: Saturday, March 24
A New Yorker takes a tumble in Iceland and lands on a cowboy's couch; she also has conversations with a troll named Thor. This new play portrays Iceland as a mystical land, setting to a modern fairy tale like one of Haruki Murakami's dream-realities.

A (Radically Condensed and Expanded) Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again (after David Foster Wallace)
where: The Chocolate Factory
first night: Thursday, March 22
Six actors, fed their lines via earbuds, improvise a performance of DFW's nonfiction works. The ensemble includes two great young actresses, Jenny Seastone Stern and Lisa Joyce. If all that weren't enough to draw you out to Long Island City, the show's by director Daniel Fish, one of those essential NYC artists who seems to do more work in Europe than here at home.

Tis Pity She's a Whore
where: BAM Harvey Theater
first night: Tuesday, March 20
Possessing one of the great titles in the dramatic canon, Whore audaciously sets an incestuous affair against a decadent Italian court, with the siblings looking a lot more noble than the aristos. The company is Cheek by Jowl, a British company whose cool, stylized approach to classics earns applause, but I find it remote.

Last chance!
And God Created Great Whales
where: 45 Bleecker

The Deepest Play Ever: The Catharsis of Pathos
where: The New Ohio Theater

where: Cherry Lane Theater

Hurt Village
where: Signature Center

Love, Loss, and What I Wore
where: Westside Downstairs

The Real Thing
where: The Secret Theater

Spring Tides
where: The Secret Theater

The Twenty-Seventh Man
where: The Public Theater

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Off-Broadway: Painting Churchs & other revivals

The Keen Company at Theater Row
written by Tina Howe
directed by Carl Forsman

Critics tend to thump for new plays over revivals, so I want to take a second to applaud the fine revivals of plays by American women right now. Edson's sharp Wit plays at MTC, which Vogel matches with How I Learned to Drive at Second Stage, and now Howe gets a nod from the Keen Company with Painting Churches. All three prove their stageworthiness by themselves. But it's good to see plays that were successful in their initial run get remounted. The productions serve to canonize the works and their writers, strengthening a modern tradition (which is larger and less rigid than a school or genre) of women writing great work. And it brings these plays from the '80s & '90s to a subsequent generation of theatergoers. I doubt these three shows are an incipient movement, but wouldn't it be cool if they heralded revivals of Fornes, Wasserstein, Congdon, and many others?

Of the three, Tina Howe's 1983 play is less dramaturgically flashy than Wit or Drive, presenting its three-actor family drama in a standard format of linear episodic realism. Its subject, a bohemian daughter who paints a portrait of her daffy parents, (wealthy Bostonians who have friends named “Spence Cabot”), offers minimal tension. Howe's style is elusive & challenging, subtly shifting dramatic focus along with audience sympathy from one character to another. A dreamy neoclassical set (Beowulf Boritt) captures her impressionistic tone, while the casual delivery of the actors (Kathleen Chalfant, John Cunningham, and Kate Turnbull) slowly plumbs deep pools of loneliness. Carl Forsman, however, directs the play with a forthright realism, perhaps a mistaken attempt to counterbalance Howe's limpid warmth with comedic whimsy. But Howe's lovely and humane play pulls loose from Forsman's anchoring, proving itself a sturdy script worth the revival.


Painting Churches plays at Theater Row, closing on April 7. Tickets?


Monday, March 5, 2012

Theater: New Shows (March 6-12)

A tough week for audiences, since they have to choose which shows to see and which to miss. The cast of The Best Man makes it a must-see; the creativity of Now. Here. This. does the same. My pick of this week, The Maids, says more about my taste than the line-up. The Red Bull takes a break from 'Jacobethan' drama to produce Genet's radical absurdism.

where: Schoenfeld Theater
first night: Tuesday, March 6
The last time Broadway saw Gore Vidal's backroom political potboiler, Gore and Bush were locked in a dire campaign. The social and economic situation in 2012 is worse than in it seemed in 2000, so we're rewarded with a much stronger cast, including James Earl Jones, John Larroquette, and Candice Bergen.

where: The New Ohio Theater
first night: Friday, March 9
The title lets you know what you're in for: a deeply silly take on dramatic self-importance. The focus of the parody is Brecht, as protagonist Mother LaMadre drags her wagon across the apocalyptic battlefields of the fifth World War, hunting zombies and books. Sounds like a good show for a spring evening!

where: Irish Rep
first night: Wednesday, March 7
A middle-aged Irish duo take the audience on their afternoon tour of the National Gallery in London. It's billed as a “poetical stroll”, which doesn't sound very dramatic. But since the script's by an Irishman as well, Hand may pull out several colorful observations on famous art and celebrated artists.

where: Abingdon Theater
first night: Friday, March 9
A nice guy rents his basement apartment to an unstable neurotic, resulting in an Odd Couple friendship that goes sour as the tenant's problems mount. Sounds like standard stuff: a bit of comedy, a dollop of drama. The show will hinge on the leads' chemistry and the writer's rejection of conventions.

where: 59E59
first night: Tuesday, March 6
The utilitarian title tips its hand: The Maria Project is a stage documentary. Its subject is one Maria Salazar, a Hispanic woman who went missing over fifty years ago. The staging mingles music and film footage with the performer's story, as she tracked Salazar through her own family history.

where: The Red Bull at St. Clement's
first night: Tuesday, March 6
The Red Bull gives NYC the chance to catch Jean Genet's too-rare absurdist comedy about class, identity, language and other favorite themes of puzzling French art. A sparking cast—just three talented women—has me tempted, while the promise of a uniquely intimate staging for a small audience wins me over.

where: The Pearl Theater at City Center
first night: Tuesday, March 6
Fans of classic American drama have already caught a few of Eugene O'Neill's early work this winter. That should prep them to revisit Moon, a work from the playwright's colossal late period. This elegiac piece is a sort of spin-off from Long Day's Journey, as the older Tyrone brother finds salvation.

where: Vineyard Theater
first night: Wednesday, March 7
A blend of anecdotes, monologues from plays, original music, philosophy, this piece is hard to classify. But those who saw its workshop production at the Vineyard claim that the disparate Now. Here. This. (great title, by the way) add up to something special. Just don't go expecting a conventional evening.

where: MTC at City Center
first night: Thursday, March 8
Britain's theater mavens have been thumping the tub about this play's writer, Matt Charman, for a few years. But he hasn't made it in New York yet, so who is he? His debut is a period drama set at a quick-divorce residency in 1950s Nevada, and pits a young man against McCarthy-era paranoia.

where: The Secret Theater
first night: Friday, March 9
A closet door opens onto a beach, where a pregnant woman finds a sword-wielding nun battling a monster. The conceit sounds like Narnia, or Alice in Wonderland, but the show's surrealism may be more slippery, since reality and fantasy start to mingle and fuse. Plus, to repeat, a sword-wielding nun!

Last chance!
As Wide as I Can See
where: Here Arts Center

where: Playwrights Horizons

Blood Knot
where: Signature Center

Call Me Waldo
where: Abingdon Theater

where: Atlantic Theater at Signature

Early Plays
where: The Wooster Group at St. Ann's Warehouse

How I Learned to Drive
where: Second Stage

Russian Transport
where: The New Group at Theater Row