Monday, January 28, 2013

New Shows: Jan. 29 - Feb. 4

It's a man playing a woman playing a man
-- and it's not by Shakespeare!
(photo: Matthew Snead)
Some Shakespeare for Will-watchers this week, but I'll put Brecht in my spotlight instead. The Good Person of Szechwan isn't just politically radical & intellectually cynical, it's also theatrically forward-looking, at least in the Foundry Theater's production. GPS stars Taylor Mac, a genius of performance who goes way beyond drag to ultra-individual expression. He plays Shen Tei, the over-generous prostitute who's in danger of squandering her windfall fortune. To protect herself, she impersonates a ruthless―and male―businessman. Question is, which one is the titular good person? GPS is one of my favorite plays, but I've never seen it performed. I have, however, seen the director produce another Brecht drama several years ago, and that knocked me out. If all that weren't enough, GPS has live performances by “indie rock vaudevillians”!

The Good Person of Szechwanwhere: La MaMafirst night: Friday, Feb. 1
But if you're feeling more conservative, there's also a Much Ado this week that looks good. That show and more get the rundown below.

where: Ensemble Studio Theater
first night: Wednesday, Jan. 30
A period drama about Newton, whose experiments in optics and light led him to insert a needle into his own eye! It has a fine cast of young Off-Off-Broadway talents, and a solid director in Linsay Firman, whose previous work (Photograph 51) brought another era of high science, the 1950s, to life pretty vividly.

where: Urban Stages
first night: Thursday, Jan. 31
One of those off-the-wall concepts that might be cool: this live show is performed in the style of a silent film. So title cards, piano accompaniment, gesticulating, and even black-&-white set and costumes! The source material, a 1928 German Expressionist film of a Victor Hugo novel, is similar to his Hunchback, only this time the monstrous hero has a knife-disfigured grin. Supposedly, it inspired the guys who created the Joker.

where: TFANA at the Duke on 42nd Street
first night: Saturday, Feb. 2
Shakespeare's most realistic comedy and also his tightest: no cross-dressing gals, and the low-comedy subplot ties into the romantic plot nicely. But the best part, or parts, are Beatrice and Benedick, whose witty anti-romance is so charming it dominates the show. Maggie Siff takes on Beatrice a year after she played Kate in Shrew, with the same director; she had presence and intellect, so she should prove a fine Beatrice.

where: Ars Nova
first night: Wednesday, Jan. 30
Ars Nova stages their annual showcase of short plays and hip music, the hook being that the evening's thematically linked by some bit of ubiquitous cultural technology. This year it's Netflix (obviously), which I'd think gives the writers plenty of leeway.

where: The New Ohio Theater
first night: Thursday, Jan. 31
A horror show about a circus of immortal weirdos. A kid runs off to join them, but his clown alter-ego wants to kill and replace him. Sounds perfect for Valentine's Day!

where: MCC at the Lucille Lortel
first night: Thursday, Jan. 31
David Cromer directs, which should be enough to get you curious; his work has brought deep pleasures, from Adding Machine and Our Town to Tribes. He shifts pace for Really Really, which is a campus comedy about sex, class (in the Marxist sense, not the pedagogical), and gossip. Cross your fingers for something dark and cynical.

where: The Gym at Judson
first night: Sunday, Jan. 27
According to the press release, the ratio of men to women in Shakespeare's plays is 4:1. Actor/creator Tina Packer offers a sort of lecture, an overview of Shakespeare's women that focuses on the gals we know, the Rosalinds & Juliets. Then later in the 6-month run, she'll delve into each phase of Will's career with five “episodes” that look more closely at his changing approaches and attitudes. It sounds fascinating!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Shakespeare Notebook: an Iranian Hamlet

Hamlet gets antic in
Hamlet, Prince of Grief at Under the Radar
Reza Ghaziani & Ehsan Matoori)

Leev Theater Group at Under the Radar
written by Mohammad Charmshir
directed by Mohammad Aghebati
January 12, 2013

Not Shakespeare's Hamlet, not an adaptation, yet this import from Tehran stays faithful to core elements of the tale. Partly the changes are a matter of format―it's a monologue of mourning, only 30 minutes and change―but more potently the revisions derive from a modern ethos and Persian worldview. The setting is contemporary Iran, where a billboard ad sells its product with the slogan “To Be Or Not To Be.” This existential statement couched in consumerist culture troubles the speaker, who's given to irony and analysis. He's also got a child-like streak, recounting his story by play-acting the roles with toys (uncle = T. Rex).

It's tough to peg what the show's saying about Iranian culture, since its social perspective has been encoded deeply enough that authorities have allowed its export. There's a sense that the mother's poisoning of the student's father (a significant switch from Shakespeare) is part of a political maneuver. And in fact, this Hamlet is darker even than Shakespeare's, since its protagonist gets shot in the back before consummating his revenge. The midnight-dark lighting plot, the toys-as-characters conceit, and the low-key performance of actor Afshin Hashemi all contribute to the play's oneiric quality, but it's the semi-conscious sensation of a culture gap that gives Hamlet its dreamlike character.


Hamlet, Prince of Grief played at the Public Theater, closed on Jan. 20. Sorry!


Monday, January 21, 2013

New Shows: Jan. 22-28

I'm curious to see if All in the Timing holds up after 20 years, but I'm eager to revisit Wallace Shawn's The Fever, this week's spotlight. It's ninety minutes of monologue recounting a sick-dream by an upper member of the consumer class. The piece shifts from an admission of culpability (shared by the audience) in global human exploitation to a defensive justification of the status quo. Deeply disturbing and revelatory, a cynical filleting of its own audience that offers no solutions, a script worth reading and rereading.
The Feverwhere: La MaMafirst night: Thursday, Jan. 24
This new mounting arrives from France (though it's performed in English). Shawn himself performed the piece in '07, mesmerizing audiences; this version swaps genders, which shouldn't be a problem. Go get your tickets and then see if there's anything else this week you'd like:

where: Primary Stages at 59E59
first night: Tuesday, Jan. 22
Theater in the 1990s wasn't just about AIDS―as the first revival of this popular, witty absurdity will remind you. It's a six-pack of vigniettes and sketches with a sophisticated approach to time (see title) and language. The script's a delight, so if the company does it any justice, it'll be a fun evening.

where: Abingdon Theater
first night: Friday, Jan. 25
A Staten Islander ventures out of Richmond County for the first time in her middle age, to find her troubled brother, her missing mother, and (presumably) the soul of America.

where: Broadway Theater
first night: Thursday, Jan. 24
The official title is Rodgers & Hammerstein's Cinderella on Broadway but that's just embarrassing. Plus the book's been reworked by Douglas Carter Beane. His snark may offset director Mark Brokaw's dullness. The lead is Laura Osnes, who took a bullet in the terrible Bonnie & Clyde last season but still grabbed a Tony nomination. Her prince is Santino Fontana, another young talent worth your time.

where: Incubator Arts
first night: Friday, Jan. 25
Richard Foreman's former house has become a great staging ground for a new generation of experimentalists. This work, by the company Exploding Moment, demands its audience focus by whispering and incanting its subject. Appropriate, since  Hot Dust examines 1890s Spiritualism and 1920s Pentecostalism, two weird movements that allowed women to flourish in leading roles. 

where: The Mint Theater
first night: Saturday, Jan. 26
Roche got strong lauds in its 1936 premiere and, though it's been revived in Ireland regularly, it's been forgotten everywhere else. On the other hand, the material sounds sentimental: a “fiery” servant girl of uncertain birth is alternately angelic and devilish. I've always found the Mint's productions to be creaky and their mission of theatrical archaeology too conservative.

where: LCT3
first night: Monday, Jan. 28
Another angle on neighborhood integration in the 1950s & today, inevitably to be read partly as a response to Clybourne Park. Here, a black couple pays Irish Bostonians to act as proxy in buying a home; 50 years later, the white descendants want “their” house back. The last play written by Kristen Greenidge & directed by Rebecca Taichman had electrifying elements of racial analysis but stumbled a bit into didacticism. Let's figure Irish will have more of the provocation and less of the pedagogy.

where: 59E59
first night: Friday, Jan. 25
An urban romance in one act, with a subway setting―closing doors and missed connections. One subplot has a man chasing a mysterious woman across the third rail; the other follows a meet-cute scenario between Yankees fans.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Sci-fi theater: Inflatable Frankenstein

Mary Shelley comes online
in Inflatable Frankenstein
photo: Paula Court
Inflatable Frankenstein
Radiohole at the Kitchen
created & performed by Radiohole
January 6, 2013

Impishly, Radiohole starts its newest work where others end, with a post-show discussion. It's a parody of a panel, pitch-perfect, that allows the company both to set out and undercut their high-minded intention to excavate the story of Frankenstein. To capture the multiple perspectives and iterations of the mythos, the company has adopted a fragmentary, cubist structure. Weird scenes and frequently hilarious setpieces examine the themes of creation and creativity. The novel's referenced, of course, and James Whale (director of the 1930s classic films), but so are P-Funk's Dr. Funkenstein & Rocky Horror's Frank-n-furter. IF more or less disposes of the book in that opening panel, passing briskly by its moldy Romanticism and the Werther-like neuroses of its title character. The show's creators seem tickled to abandon the lumbering influence of Karloff as well.

In Radiohole's portrayal, the Creature is rock'n'roll cool, a rebel seeking an identity. He's also an avatar of sci-fi weirdness, an uncanny construct of biomatter. At his entrance, supine, his birthing platform (handcranked from above, naturally) drips goo in long, pale-flesh sheets. The show revolves giddily around a paradox: the Creature is a man without a mother yet his creator was a woman. In this way, Mary Shelley usurps Doctor F as the lead character. If IF is grounded in any meaning (at points, it's so busy and noisy it's almost abstract), it's this shot of feminism. But in technical terms it's also a fusion of man and machine. Rather than ceding control to a tech crew, the cast themselves operate the dazzlingly complex array of multimedia via smartphones embedded in their steampunk costumes. This allows for a spectacular level of control over the stage environment―IF may be the future of experimental theater.


Inflatable Frankenstein plays at the Kitchen, closing on Jan. 19. Tickets?

Monday, January 14, 2013

New Shows: Jan. 15-21

I shine my spotlight this week on Life and Times: Episodes 1-4. This one, all the cool kids are buzzing about. The Nature Theater of Oklahoma has become a big deal in NYC's experimental scene over the last few years, big enough that their latest piece is a co-production with the Public, Under the Radar, and Soho Rep (as well as Vienna's Burgtheater). Which is to say, the companies are lending legitimacy and a subscriber base to NTO's work in return for cache. Life & Times is a long-form biodrama, one person's response to the question: “Can you tell me your life story?” Catch the work in four chunks or better yet, see all 4 parts in an 11-hour marathon.

where: The Public Theater
first night: Wednesday, Jan. 16

And here are the other notable productions who raise their curtains this week:

where: PJ Sharp Theater
first night: Saturday, Jan. 19
A one-man show about the mechanism of fury. A mild-mannered man attacks his step-mother and later investigates an act of torture.

where: The New Group at Theater Row
first night: Thursday, Jan. 17
Ethan Hawke directs this adaptation of Brecht's 1918 debut, Baal. In this version, it's a 1990s songwriter whose hedonism leads him into a self-destructive nightmare of redemption. Hawke also acts, alongside Zoe Kazan, Vincent D'Onofrio, and adaptor Jonathan Mark Sherman. But the true theatrical temptation is music by GAINES, a duo of sculptors who invent instruments. Their work turned Hawke's Lie of the Mind from a well-done classic into a mind-blowing sensory experience.

where: Theater at St. Clement's
first night: Friday, Jan. 18
Julien Sorel, fueled by ambition, climbs the social ladder of post-Napoleanic France. Stendahl's novel is revered for the psychology of its protagonist and the social analysis of the period. The former quality is incredibly hard to adapt from prose to drama, making Red/Black an iffy choice.

where: New World Stages
first night: Friday, Jan. 18
This musical parody of Silence of the Lambs reopens after a holiday hiatus. By all accounts it's a fun evening.

where: BAM Harvey
first night: Thursday, Jan. 17
Peter Brook returns to BAM once more, this time adapting a short story from South Africa. If you haven't seen Brook's primal approach to stagework, you should take this opportunity. It's supposed to be his best work in years, and he's getting old (88 in March).

where: The Flea
first night: Friday, Jan. 18
Actor Hamish Linklater (who I generally like) moonlights as a playwright this winter. Fortunately he and his director have cast a strong trio of performers behind his writing debut―even without Holly Hunter, who bailed around the first rehearsal. Despite that, advance word is strong on this dark, emo drama.

Monday, January 7, 2013

New Shows: Jan. 7-14

Contact sports meet Mad Men
in the Ike-era action-thriller
The Jammer
The first full week of 2013 has a massive amount of theater starting up, from 19C intersex diarists to the original robot uprising. But I can't pass up the chance to shine my spotlight on a period drama—about roller-derby! Set in 1950s NYC, The Jammer investigates an underground pro circuit with hard-boiled style. Men and women competing in contact sports for fame and cash! The script's by Rolin Jones, whose The Intelligent Design of Jenny Chow, a witty '04 adventure about a girl and her robot, was shortlisted for the Pulitzer.

The Jammer
where: Atlantic Stage 2

first night: Wednesday, Jan. 9

And here's what else starts a run off-Broadway this week:

where: Irish Rep
first night: Wednesday, Jan. 9
A period piece set in 1920s England, where two young women are incarcerated in an asylum for having illegitimate children. This Beckettian absurdity was the debut effort by Charlotte Jones, a Brit who won the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize for Humble Boy a few years later.

where: City Center Stage II
first night: Friday, Jan. 11
The redoubtable Women's Project returns with this dark comedy set in the deserted exurbs of the Great Recession. It stars America Ferrara, who won an Emmy as Ugly Betty, as a woman trying to keep the hearth burning in the face of foreclosure, even if that means moral compromise.

where: The Wild Project
first night: Thursday, Jan. 10
Subtitled “John Fucking Proctor”, and summarized on the website as “Pregnant Catholic school girls destroy American theater”. I'm not sure you need to know anything else to tempt you to get tickets!

where: 59E59
first night: Tuesday, Jan. 8
A sort of staged lecture on urban life around the globe. The performer traveled from the slums of New Dehli & the markets of Marrakesh to the skyscrapers of Tokyo and the megalopolis of Buenos Aires. Now he returns to America's cultural capital to share his observations.

where: various stages in NYC, Brooklyn, & Queens
festival run: Jan. 3-19
PS 122's annual winter series showcases over a dozen experimental works. It's a great primer on the state of the avant garde. I can already recommend one peice, Inflatable Frankenstein by Radiohole. Another, There There, has been drawing good buzz for its subversive take on Chekhov.

where: Rattlestick Theater
first night: Thursday, Jan. 10
A black comedy set on a campus in Middle America from the Amoralists, that over-earnest company of hungry artists on the make. Curiously, it's also the latest play by Lyle Kessler, a stalwart of the 1970s scene, whose greatest success (Orphans) will soon be revived on Broadway starring Alec Baldwin.

where: Walkerspace
first night: Saturday, Jan. 12
I can't nail down much about this drama. Publicity materials suggest that it's set on a parallel Earth, at a campus where a love triangle starts to spark. TFINWIW marks the debut of the Kindling Theater Company, a troupe of 20-somethings.

where: The Duke on 42nd Street
first night: Friday, Jan. 11
An intro to Shakespeare's comic villain for children & an entertaining reversal of Twelfth Night for their parents. This comedy is part of Tim Crouch's I, Shakespeare series, which also takes the perspective of Caliban, Banquo, and even Peaseblossom. Crouch himself did charming work in his “hypnotist” act, An Oak Tree, Off-Broadway several years ago.

where: Pearl Theater
first night: Thursday, Jan. 10
The Pearl presents a one-man show based on Ian McKellan's own monologue on Will's power to transform actors and transport audiences. A Long Island longshoreman provides his own take on Shakespeare, representing speeches in the context of his own second career as an actor.

where: Theater Row
first night: Wednesday, Jan. 9
Co-winner of the Best of Edinburgh award (with Mies Julie, now closed). I really like the playwright, David Greig, who wrote the book for this hybrid drama/musical based incredibly loosely on Shakespeare. It follows an ill-advised love-match on a lost weekend of weddings, bondage, car chases, and more zaniness.

where: St. Ann's Warehouse
first night: Wednesday, Jan. 9
Already nearly sold out, this work comes to Brooklyn from Moscow's Theater School of Dramatic Art. Expect it to shoulder bruskly past your preconceptions of theatrical design and performance. Advance word paints a show of breathtaking originality and scenic ingenuity. The subject is quintessentially, morbidly Russian: the legacy of Soviet Jewish artists under Stalin.

where: Here Arts
festival run: Jan. 9-15
Here Arts curates this festival of the avant-garde, heavy on the musical end of theatrical performance. It all sounds tempting. One work (Aging Magician) is a collaboration between Rinde Eckert and Julian Crouch; another (Timur and the Dime Museum) stages a galactic punk-opera that name-drops Bjork and Screamin' Jay Hawkins.

where: Theater Row
first night: Wednesday, Jan. 9
Two dramas about robotics playing in rep. The first is a rare glimpse of Rossum's Universal Robots, a 1920s Czech Expressionist drama famous for coining the word “robot”. It also popularized that hoary trope of a robot uprising. The second show is a contemporary drama that has a wealthy, lonely bachelor buy a fembot.

where: The Public Theater
festival run: Jan. 9-20
The third of this week's festivals, UTR presents fare that's only conventional in comparison with the others. With acts such as the Nature Theater of Oklahoma and the Debate Society as well as Iranian deconstructions of Shakespeare and the ever-popular Belarus Free Theater, this Public Theater-curated fest has bona fides that're just as edgy as Prototype and COIL.

where: 59E59
first night: Thursday, Jan. 10
Inspired by a 1977 Italian film, this pocket drama stages a Roman romance against the backdrop of fascism. A harried housewife and a mysterious bachelor meet cute on the day that Hitler visited Mussolini in '38. This revival is the show's second airing, after a test run at the Flea a year ago.