Monday, July 30, 2012

Theater: New Shows (July 31-August 6)

A family tree helps you keep the rivalries straight
in Richard III (photo: Joan Marcus)

The final month of summertime, when the schedule is easy. Of special note for this Shakespeare fan is a Richard III. Ron Cephas Jones stole an '04 production of R3 with his mesmerizing recitation of Clarence's dream, so he's earned the crown this time around. His resonant voice and gaunt physique should make for an interesting Richard Crookback.

where: Longacre Theater
first night: Thursday, Aug. 2
Iron Mike takes to the Broadway stage for an evening of autobiography. Undisputed: Tyson, one of the most punishing fighters of the 20C, was convicted for rape. In prison, he converted to Islam. I'd love to hear his perspective on the latter two truths. But frankly, I don't know what to expect from him.

where: 59E59
first night: Wednesday, Aug. 1
A young actress, having recorded her grandmother's memories of theater in her day, spins and remixes the tapes from a control booth onstage. Backing the project is Hand2Mouth, an experimental troupe out of Seattle that comes with a solid reputation across the nation.

where: The Public Theater
first night: Monday, Aug. 6
Who doesn't enjoy the murderous bustle of this history play? This one's inexpensive & pocket-sized, with a small cast & none of the ornament that clogs most contemporary Shakespeare. Incidentally, this production has toured local community centers, homeless shelters, and prisons all summer long.

Last chance!
where: Al Hirschfeld Theater

where: Studio 54

where: Shubert Theater

where: Claire Tow Theater

The Material World
where: Dixon Place

Triassic Parq The Musical
where: Soho Playhouse

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Off-Off-Broadway: The Apocalyptic Road Show

The Endtimes arrive before Godot in Road Show
(photo: Marc Marnie)

The Apocalyptic Road Show
Ice Factory 2012
written by John Clancy
directed by Peter Clerke

This proudly shabby comedy-with-songs only masquerades as a cabaret and doesn't even pretend to be a “road show”. A pair of down-at-heel performers (Brit Nancy Walsh and American Catherine Gillard) chirpily run through sketches and songs on the theme of the End of Days, an event that's characterized as part latter-day capitalism, part Evangelist dogma. The duo shows some chemistry, especially in a vaudevillian bit that happily riffs on the phrase “shit-grubber”. But the songs are lame, the apocalyptic vision is benign, and the characters are interchangeable—so much so that on the evening I attended, they confused each other's names! Pin the blame on the script, by John Clancy, that lacks a savagery which would lend vigor to its cynicism. Occasionally, TARS does indict the audience, safe in our First World indulgences. But by its end, the play pats us on the head and simply pleads sentimentally for a kinder world.


The Apocalyptic Road Show, part of the Ice Factory 2012, plays at the New Ohio Theater.


Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Off-Broadway: Serious Money

All things considered, they'd rather have cash
Stan Barouh)
Serious Money
Potomac Theatre Project (PTP/NYC)
written by Caryl Churchill
directed by Cheryl Faraone

Take the rare chance to see this drama by Caryl Churchill, the greatest living British playwright. Writing in 1987, CC sneers at contemporary Londoners, then in a fiscal orgy of '80s deregulation. She self-consciously echoes the original Restoration Era financial explosion by mimicking that theater's rhymed couplets (the device is less obtrusive than you'd expect) and its obsession with excess, best captured in its mocking view of human nature. Plot's mostly there to give life to the urban sketchwork, a caricature of London packed with vitality. In Money, a hostile takeover doesn't stop to mourn the suicide of one facilitator, though his sister (an arbitrageur herself) suspects foul play. But the plot runs out even as London keeps running. The gal drops her investigation when she's offered a gig on Wall Street; the men abandon their hostile takeover in a deal with HRM's Government―it's an election year, after all. If Serious Money stages anything, it's the abandonment of that gentleman's fiction, a wall between the private and public sectors.

Obviously, Money is timely. Credit, aside from Churchill herself, goes to PTP's programmers, who consistently stage rare but excellent contempo British scripts (they regularly showcase Howard Barker, a near-unknown in NYC who, along with Alan Ayckbourne, is CC's main competition for Greatest Living Etc.). PTP's productions, however, rarely equal their selections. The acting company is often uneven, though for laudable reasons: PTP casts recent Middlebury grads in the smaller roles, to underwrite their careers. But their amateurishness means the experienced leads must carry the show. In the case of Money, they do so ably. Alex Draper stands out as a oily trader, licking his chops over his financial scheme like the Big Bad Wolf eying a piggie. Tara Giordano, as the bereaved sister, and David Barlow, as an American yuppie in London who narrates the action, also keep the show engaging.

The larger problem with Money is its direction. Churchill's dramatic reputation derives mainly from her ability to create a specific set of theatrical devices for each play's subject. Her work requires an insightful director and (ideally) a canny dramaturg. Director Cheryl Faraone does okay with traditional scenes involving dialogue among two or three characters, and manages the rhymed verse with finesse. But she gets distracted during the setpieces. And the first half of Act 1 is a series of setpieces: Thatcherite London in montage, a cacophony meant to echo the trading floor. Likewise, a pre-intermission song (a 17C-style ballad with modern vulgarities by New Wave rocker Ian Dury) is almost unintelligable. Faraone never seems comfortable with the moralizing satiric style that Churchill pays homage to. And so PTP's production is only a moderate success. But any chance to see Serious Money should be valued highly.


Serious Money plays at the Atlantic Stage 2, closing on July 29. Tickets?


Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Theater: New Shows (July 17-23)

Cate Blanchett can't help it; she's sexy even in Russian drama
(photo: Lisa Tomasetti)
One of the great experiments in modern American theater comes to an close. Thirteen playwrights―mostly women burnt out at sending their scripts to non-profit institutions, at grinding out workshops without a production to follow―founded their own company that would mount a play by each one and then dissolve. 13P has been a great success as a model for showmaking and as an artistic showcase. I can't wait to see the final work, Melancholy Play by Sarah Ruhl.

where: New World Stages
first night: Thursday, Jul. 19
Take note: that's how you title a play! You may also be drawn in by Woody Harrelson, who co-writes and directs this Off-Broadway comedy. It's a farcical elaboration of his pre-Cheers life as a jobbing actor in Houston. An illegal Nazi knick-knack serves as the catalyst for a conflict among rubes & slickers.

where: Delacorte Theater
first night: Monday, Jul. 23
In Central Park, Sondheim comes from the bullpen to assist Shakespeare. This one's for folks who like old-fashioned musicals and not those ironic and nuanced shows that Sondheim usually pens. It's a set of fractured fairy tales―which is to say ironic and nuanced, but also not bound by realism.  In the lead roles, Denis O'Hare and Amy Adams play a childless couple who look to lift a witch's curse.

where: Invisible Dog Art Center
first night: Wednesday, Jul. 18
could serve as the title for Sarah Ruhl's entire body of work. A young woman, swamped by sadness, attracts plenty of suitors, but what happens when she gets happy? Ruhl collabs with composer Todd Almond on a chamber piece that contrasts her emotional watercolors with the classicism of a string quartet. Note: this show's sold all its tickets already!

where: Irish Repertory Theater
first night: Wednesday, Jul. 18
Anna Christie, a fallen young lady from St. Paul MN, joins her father in NYC, where she falls for a sailor. O'Neill's Ibsenite Pulitzer play would make a good modernist chamber piece, but this adaptation is an all-out musical―the original '57 show had Gwen Verdon dancing to Fosse choreography! NGiT has never had a major NYC revival, so fans of the American musical genre should buy tix & the rest of us should be cautious.

where: New York City Center
first night: Thursday, Jul. 19
Vanya and his pal Dr. Astrov laze away under the siren-song of lovely Yelena. Cate Blanchett plays the latter role, with Hugo Weaving as her Astrov, in this acclaimed production from Australia. I missed Blachett's Blanche (BAM's Streetcar) but heard raptures from every corner. Her Hedda, on the other hand, was far better than a dull production. 

Last chance!
The Bad and the Better
where: Peter J. Sharp Theater

where: The Public Theater

Freud's Last Session
where: New World Stages

Hell: Paradise Found
where: 59E59

A Streetcar Named Desire
where: Broadhurst Theater

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Theater: New Shows (July 10-16)

Nothing quite interests me among this week's debuts, but I'm sort of curious to see Bring It On, the first musical of Times Square's 2012-13 season. The original Y2K flick is one that people have said “would make a great show!” but I still haven't cracked the code on what that means, exactly.

where: St. James Theater
first night: Thursday, July 12
Broadway producers bank on yet another movie-to-musical. This one's a piece of cult kitsch about cheerleaders, but race also figures into the work. So it's not exactly stupid even if it is formulaic. Plus, the show's got a strong creative team that includes the In the Heights choreog and Lin-Miguel Miranda.

where: 59E59
first night: Tuesday, July 10
Get a dose of the Edinburgh Festival, as 16 American shows work out their knots in New York prior to their Atlantic crossing. Piquing my curiosity: Dirty Paki Laundry (about Muslim-American women) & Varieties of Religious Experience (on psychopharmacology & belief).

where: The Westside Theater
first night: Wednesday, July 11
A suburban woman tries to quit nicotine once it's been outlawed while she stresses about her lazy husband and alienated teen son. Billing itself as a satire of modern mores, this musical comedy picks a soft target. It's sponsored, presumably, by Big Tobacco and the Chamber of Commerce.

where: Second Stage Uptown (McGinn Cazale Theater)
first night: Thursday, July 12
When an Asian-American ex-Marine runs for Congress on a Republican ticket, he must fight race, party politics, and pesky skeletons from his past. It's a quiet summer for political drama, unusual for an election year. So let's catch this one from Second Stage Uptown, a series that's often stronger (and younger) than its mainstage program.

Last chance!
where: Rattlestick Playwrights Theater

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Sci-fi Theater: Flying Snakes in 3D

Flying Snakes in 3D
Everywhere Theater Group
The Ice Factory 2012 at the New Ohio Theater
written & directed by Leah Nanako Winkler & Teddy Nicholas
Thursday, July 5

The gentrification of New York's theater scene gets confronted, tackled, and beaten in this rough comedy of politics and passion. Everywhere Theater Group opens Snakes with a set of monologues by the creators, direct-address style, explaining that their company are survivors of bad neighborhoods and worse parents. Without connections or pedigrees, these young artists aren't just struggling to make art, they're actually and literally struggling to survive in Bloomberg's New York. Through their show, they aim to express the righteous fury that novaed too briefly in last fall's Occupy movement. Thus galvanizing opening, a political manifesto laced with friendly humor, admits what most Off-Off-Broadway theater tries to hide: its poverty is more a result of disenfranchisement than thwarted ambition or absence of talent. It sets the audience up for a punk-like show that won't aspire to look like the Establishment work uptown.

Once the play itself starts, however, it fails on this count. As a broad burlesque of summer blockbusters, Snakes hints that the creators want to stage an impossible piece of theater. But most of the action―like those soaring snakes of the title―is actually on video, not live. Ironically, the filmed, edited, and CGI-ed projections (courtesy Chase Voorhees) are the strongest facet of the whole show. The script, on the other hand, over-exposits its B-movie conventions. All along, it recognizes how mainstream theater exploits music, realism, and a desire for money and sex, all to manipulate the audience's sentiments. But recognition and subversion aren't the same thing; too often, and especially at its heartfelt action climax/curtain number, Snakes buys into the same conventions. ETG intends to be great on its own terms, but it needs to tighten its act and get truly subversive to undermine the system.


Flying Snakes in 3D, part of the 2012 Ice Factory at the New Ohio Theater.


Monday, July 2, 2012

Theater: New Shows (July 3-9)

Despite the national holiday, more shows make their debut this cycle than did in June's final week. The show to see is probably DruidMurphy, which rides into town on a wave of anticipation. But I'm a sucker, so I can't wait to see Alan Cumming's one-man Macbeth. It sounds silly, and likely will be, but it's also singular and potentially revelatory.

where: Lynch Theater at Lincoln Center
first night: Thursday, July 5
A nine-hour epic trilogy of violent, ugly Irish theater. Notes about the playwright, Tom Murphy, possess the sort of blushing enthusiasm that imply he'd been forgotten for a few decades; he definitely isn't well-known on this side of the Atlantic. But LC Festival-goers enjoy a long, hard sit since it's almost invariably rewarded with a phenomenal experience.

where: Theater Row
first night: Saturday, July 7
Cole Porter's the main draw to this musical production, which revises and adapts the non-Porter book. A sophisticated English gal tromps around the world, trying her damnedest to lose her virginity.

where: Rose Theater at Lincoln Center
first night: Thursday, July 5
Alan Cumming plays the thane, his wife, and every other role in this one-man version of Shakespeare's tightest tragedy. I've never seen him perform Shakespeare (live, anyway―he was fine in Taymor's Titus), but I hesitate to call this show a gimmick. He's definitely got enough vitality to hypnotize an audience into buying it.

where: Atlantic Stage 2
first night: Tuesday, July 3
As usual, the annual summer double-bill from the Potomac Theater Project shows a great program but likely will disappoint with stagey productions. Still, I'll risk it to see Serious Money, a vicious look at insider trading from radical leftie/genius playwright Caryl Churchill. And who wouldn't feel tempted by Neal Bell's essential adaptation of Frankenstein?

Last chance!
Anything Goes
where: Sondheim Theater

The Columnist
where: Friedman Theater

The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess
where: Rodgers Theater

where: The Wild Project

A Thick Description of Harry Smith (Volume I)
where: The Culture Project at 45 Bleecker