This spring is astonishingly busy on Broadway—leading other critics to complain, justly in my view—and in the NYC Shakesphere. Partly for my own sake and partly to get back to regular blogging, I’m putting together a listing of NYC theater onstage this spring that’s related to Will and his world.
The Wooster Group
at St. Ann's Warehouse
The Wooster Group had collaborated with the RSC on a Troilus and Cressida in 2012. Evidently the partnership lacked chemistry, but Le Compte has kept working on her company’s half of T&C. She recasts her all-white company as Native Americans, a Wooster who-gives-a-fuck attitude toward race that dovetails too well with the NYTimes front-page exposé on how domestic abuse polluted the London rehearsals. Keep that in mind when you see what they bring to Shakespeare’s acrid Iliad. (thru Apr. 19)
Classic Stage Company
This looks like the most traditional staging on the spring slate. Peter Sarsgaard plays the big role. He's been in a lot of Chekhov in NYC the last 5-10 years (including a Vanya opposite his wife Maggie Gyllenhaal) but this is his first Shakespeare. Austin Pendleton has directed Sarsgaard well in those Chekhov productions, but they've been better at the internal, emotional moments than the theatrical gestures. Of all of Shakespeare's plays, Hamlet plays to those strengths, and Stephen Spinella is well-cast as Polonius. But otherwise it's hard to get excited about this production.
(thru May 10)
Broadway (St. James Th.)
A fluffy musical comedy set in the Elizabethan theater, Something Rotten is notable mainly for being a Broadway show not based on some prior work. Instead it imagines a pair of Elizabethan playwrights who anachronistically invent musical theater to compete with Will Shakespeare. So Rotten isn’t exactly groundbreaking: this is the schticky sub-genre of musicals-about-musicals (e.g. The Producers, Spamalot). The creative team is a question mark, with the musical elements coming from Hollywood types; a book by a big-in-Britain comedy writer; and direction/choreo by Casey Nicholaw (The Book of Mormon). The big draw is Christian Borle, who earned his Tony for Peter & the Starcatcher, and who here plays the Bard, but Brian d’Arcy James is no slouch onstage either.
Red Bull Theater
at the Duke on 42nd St.
One of the essential English classics that gets crowded out by Shakespeare's dominance. It offers a great pair of leads—its last NYC revival in '92 had Val Kilmer and Jeanne Tripplehorn at the Public—plus some honestly great poetry, dark dark psychology, and several astonishing scenes. Usually (but aptly) described as "What if Romeo and Juliet were siblings?", Tis Pity is decadent but ironic about it: the incestuous couple are just about the only heroic models in a corrupt Italian court. And the Red Bull can be relied on for an inventive sense of theatricality and willingness to get dark. And Tis Pity is dark even by Jacobean standards. Plus it's got one of the most memorable titles in theater history!
(April 14 - May 16)
What You Will
at the Dorothy Strelsin Th.
Theater Bedlam apparently has enough ideas for staging Twelfth Night that they’ve decided to mount two productions in repertory. I’m confident that they can manage it, since their Saint Joan and Hamlet last year were packed with innovations in staging and playing. Seriously Bedlam is breaking new ground in Shakespeare; watching them you get the sense that they really are experimenting in rehearsal and finding ingenious ways to incorporate new ideas for staging. They’re re-invigorating classic plays, which is what I secretly want most when I see a show. And while some people might find a double-bill of the same show harebrained, I think it shows how hard Bedlam is striving to push the boundaries of how to produce Shakespeare’s plays. I’m more excited by these two shows than any other Shakespeareana this spring.
(thru May 2)
at Th. for a New Audience
Fiasco pivots quickly from an acclaimed Into the Woods to present the rare Two Gentlemen. This company made a strong impression a few seasons ago with Cymbeline of all plays, and their Woods extended their style into a non-Shak avenue. The tight camaraderie of the ensemble, a flair for play-acting and for imaginative use of props and bodies, and an approach that foregrounds character rather than versification all make Fiasco a distinctive and potentially trend-setting company. They’ve picked a challenge with Two Gentlemen. It’s a very early one in Shak’s career, full of self-serious poetic romance and broad clowning comedy. It’s very rare to see—in fact, it’s one of only three plays by our man that I’ve never seen! So I’m looking especially forward to seeing what Fiasco does with it.
(April 24 - May 24)
Wolf Hall, pts. 1 & 2
Royal Shakespeare Company
on Broadway (Winter Garden Th.)
I'd include Wolf Hall just because it's the RSC. But the first novel in Hilary Mantel's historical series covers the same period of history as Henry the 8th, from Cardinal Wolsey's alliance with France to the birth of Anne Boleyn's daughter Elizabeth. More generally, Mantel follows Shak in the way she dramatizes history. This double bill plays out a set of tragic arcs in the English kingdom, by staging a succession of political maneuvers over a decade-plus of time. On the RSC tip, this production is up for several Olivier Awards: best new play and lighting design, plus director Jeremy Herron, and Nathaniel Parker for his King Henry. As a lover of history plays, I'm looking forward to this one. See also my historical guide on Playbill Online!
(thru July 5)
Rattlestick Playwrights Th.
May 14 - Jun 18
A drama about an actor who wants to play Hamlet
Mobile Shakespeare Unit (Public Th.)
May 17 - Jun 7
Low-fi Shak for NYC community centers & the Public
Shakespeare in the Park (Public Th.)
May 27 - Jul 5
Sam Waterston plays Prospero in Central Park
Classic Stage Company
May 29 -
Chris Noth (!) makes a deal with the devil in Marlowe's tragedy
Shakespeare in the Park (Public Th.)
Jul 27 - Aug 23
Hamish Linklater & Lily Rabe return to Shak under Dan Sullivan's hand
A musical based on Much Ado, with music by Billie Joe Armstrong (?!)