Dramas about alcoholism are usually dour and lugubrious, like the films Days of Wine and Roses or The Lost Weekend. It’s a surprise, therefore, to find playwright Sean Daniels has taken a leaf from Rowan and Martin’sLaugh-in—quick cuts, actors switching roles expeditiously with the help of a costume elementa, wry humor—to deliver what turns out to be, in the end, a story that can’t escape the sadness and seriousness of the ruin alcoholism can wreak. In spite of the grim story, the journey feels different and fresh.
Tennessee Williams’s 1945 breakout play, The Glass Menagerie, takes place in “memory,” as the brooding narrator/protagonist Tom announces at the start. In Austin Pendleton and Peter Bloch’s production at the Wild Project, Tom’s memories not only haunt the character but literally haunt the entire production with an array of spooky stage effects, which lay a chill on the evening that only the playwright’s poetry can defrost.
Playwrights Horizons is currently housing an unexpected thing in New York City: conservatives openly discussing their beliefs. And liberal New Yorkers are, and should be, flocking to it. Providing a respite from the shock-jock conservatism of Donald Trump and Fox News, Will Arbery’s new play Heroes of the Fourth Turning puts Catholic conservatism onstage in all of its messiness and nuance, daring its audience to listen to what the other side has to say—and maybe even making them care about the characters doing the talking.
If Jack Kerouac was the epitome of 1950s beat culture, road-tripping his way across America, then the photographer W. Eugene Smith might just have been his stationary counterpart, discovering jazz, drugs, and artistry in the squalid comfort of his own home. Jaymes Jorsling, in his ambitious and at times stunning new play, (A)loft Modulation, unleashes Smith’s story from linear time, changes the names to poeticize the innocent, and blasts it full of jazz, all the while exploring what it means to be an American, and what it means, simply, to be.
Runboyrun and In Old Age, by Mfoniso Udofia, a master at wordplay, capture the power of letting go of the past. The two plays are part of Udofia’s nine-part cycle that focuses on several generations of Nigerian immigrants who have settled in America. In Runboyrun and In Old Age, a catharsis occurs when the truth is revealed, and characters meet this new feeling with both hope and sadness.
David Staller, the artistic director of the Gingold Group, has made his mission to celebrate the plays of George Bernard Shaw. To that end, the group offers readings of Shaw plays monthly and hosts discussions about him. One play each year receives a fully staged production. The current offering, Caesar and Cleopatra, is a rarity. Although it’s interesting, it’s less satisfying than, for instance, its low-budget Heartbreak House was last season.
Novenas for a Lost Hospital is a memory play told through several narrators that celebrates St. Vincent’s Hospital, a Catholic charitable hospital in the West Village that was founded in 1849 and closed in 2010. The novenas (devotional prayers in Catholicism), of which there are nine, give structure to the elegant sections that move back and forth in time from the founding to the closing. The effect is part drama, part history lesson, and part activism/immersive theater.
Keith Hamilton Cobb has written a thrilling part for himself in American Moor, a powerful look at Shakespeare, Othello, and the plight of black actors trying to pursue their craft with honesty. Cobb himself stars, although his character in the script is called the Actor. The play arrives at a moment when race and white privilege dominate the zeitgeist. Some of the material is familiar, but much is unique and insightful.
A bum hip and a broken marriage drive the chatter in Michael Tucker’s disjointed therapy session of a play, Fern Hill. Making its New York premiere at the 59E59 Theaters, following a 2018 run at the New Jersey Rep, the production boasts a cast full of familiar faces, including Tucker’s wife and former L.A. Law co-star, Jill Eikenberry, in the central roll of Sunny, a gloomy woman who must decide if she is capable of tolerating a cheating spouse. Indeed, tolerance is this drama’s leitmotif as Sunny and her hubby are joined by two other couples, at their upstate New York farmhouse, to decide just how much of one another, and of themselves, they can take.
The title question of Poseidon Theatre Company’s immersive/interactive production Who Killed Edgar Allan Poe? The Cooping Theory 1969 is probably not one most people have asked themselves, even if they were aware that the great author had died mysteriously in 1849. Even less likely to be known is the second phrase in the title: “the cooping theory.”
The motel room drama is a genre all its own. Its structure generally involves a short stay in a strange, tight space where two or more friends, spouses or lovers have it out with one another, while anything from bad weather to existential threats keep them from fleeing. Examples range from Sam Shepard’s dynamic Fool for Love to A.R. Gurney’s contemplative The Wayside Motor Inn. In his 2018 one-act, Only Yesterday, television writer and first-time playwright Bob Stevens adds a couple of new elements to the form. His work is inspired by actual events, and the characters happen to be two of the most famous men in the world: John Lennon and Paul McCartney. Thus confined by reality and familiarity, the results are nostalgic, if not exactly explosive.
Jonathan Spector’s new play Eureka Day is the unusual satire that takes aim at left-wing politics. It is perhaps the most notable rare bird of its kind since Jonathan Reynolds’s wonderful Stonewall Jackson’s House, which appeared more than 20 years ago. Spector sets his play in Berkeley, Calif., a town whose radical politics have put it at the forefront of social change yet also earned it the nickname Berserkeley.
Mac Wellman is a grand master of absurdity, and the Flea Theater is currently presenting a festival of five plays in rotating repertory. Two of them, Bad Penny and Serenity Forever, are classic examples of Wellman’s work, which often weaves together an exploration of the everyday with mythology, the metaphysical, and American consciousness.
If nothing else, the Bridge Production Group deserves a shout-out for tackling difficult material. Just 10 minutes into a mere 70 minutes’ running time, See You, by Canadian writer Guillaume Corbeil, is more than likely to provoke thoughts of how swiftly mortal lives are over, and whether your own demise will occur before the play ends. In short, See You is a stultifying, irritating work—playwriting by lists.
Having presented excellent revivals of Sean O’Casey’s three most important plays, the Irish Rep has turned to Little Gem, a new play by Elaine Murphy, that’s riskier. The play consists of three intertwined monologues. The structure may not appeal to everyone, and it’s a work that will find more resonance among women, but the performers, under the direction of Marc Atkinson Borrull, bring all their considerable power to invigorating a story that doesn’t rely on flash or action.
Bess Wohl’s new comedy Make Believe portrays a quartet of Gen-X siblings at two points of life-changing family crisis. The first is in 1980, when the Conlees, two sisters and two brothers, are small children. The second is 32 years later. In both instances, the kids are gathered—it’s tempting to say “barricaded”—in a gargantuan nursery at the top of their parents’ luxe suburban home.
Shakespeare’s tragedy of Coriolanus isn’t often done—Daniel Sullivan’s production at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park is the first in that venue in 40 years. But Sullivan’s staging is not only for Shakespeare completists. It’s a brilliant rendering, crowned by a towering performance from Jonathan Cake in the title role.
Describing the internal conflict resulting from being an African American in a white-dominated society, W. E. B. Du Bois famously stated, “It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others.” The fragmented black identity is a guiding motif in Nambi Kelley’s theatricalized Native Son, currently running in repertory with Measure for Measure at the Duke on 42nd Street. Adapted from Richard Wright’s 1940 novel, this version eschews the socially realistic approach of previous stage and film treatments and thrusts the audience into a 90-minute expressionistic fever dream.
The Summer Shorts Series B at 59E59 Theaters, presented by Throughline Artists, showcases three plays that each, in some way, deal with the unbridgeable gulf that can separate people in relationships, whether marriage or friendship.
If Connor Chase Stewart has any apprehension about sharing a stage, even momentarily, with Richard Roy, whom he embodies in A White Man’s Guide to Rikers Island, he doesn’t show it. Nor does the difference in their physiques hinder Stewart—the much older Roy looks like an ex-football player now, although he was a professional boxer and a sparring partner for Muhammad Ali, while Stewart has the lanky frame of a basketball player. Still, Stewart’s casual yet energetic performance makes him a relatable guide through New York City’s famous prison.
Tender Napalm, directed by David Norwood, isa postmodern love/hate story that examines the lines between fantasy and reality. When the play opens, a man (Amara James Aja) and a woman (Ayana Major Bey), face off and speak to each other in poetic language, filled with violent imagery and sexual innuendos. The abstract and poetic language, coupled with the nonlinear narrative, gives the play a surreal feel.
Harlem Repertory’s The Wizard of Oz is a theatrical romp accompanied by a lively jazz trio. Directed and choreographed by Keith Lee Grant, themes of self-discovery, connection to family and facing one’s fears are well tackled and performed by a wonderful multicultural cast. They bring to life the events that propel the Kansas schoolgirl, Dorothy, on a magical mystery tour as she follows the yellow brick road.
Potomac Theater Project (PTP) has assembled an evening of political theater, presenting three short plays by the Czech playwright and dissident Vaclav Havel, who went on to become the country’s president, and bookending them with shorts by Harold Pinter and Samuel Beckett. The five plays together are given the title Havel: The Passion of Thought, and are all directed by PTP founder and coartistic director Richard Romagnoli.
Reality Curve Theatre of Vancouver is making its first visit to New York City with Zayd Dohrn’s early play Reborning. Ten years ago, when Dohrn was unknown, this unsettling, if far-fetched, comedy-drama was part of the Summer Play Festival at the Public Theatre. Since that time, the playwright, who heads the graduate dramatic-writing program at Northwestern University, has penned a number of provocative yet non-preachy scripts that explore social issues through clashes—always fierce, sometimes violent—among recognizable characters.
The premise of Barabbas, Will T. F. Carter’s new play currently in production at the Theater for the New City, is certainly intriguing. Set in a Peruvian prison during a period of insurgency and guerrilla warfare, the drama uses the story of Barabbas and Jesus to explore topics such as self-preservation, personal sacrifice and forgiveness. Unfortunately, the drama, which centers on the Sendero Luminoso (or Shining Path) revolutionaries in 1980s Peru, never ignites any sparks.
Set on Midsummer’s Eve (June 23), Micheál mac Liammóir’s The Mountains Look Different is about a woman’s attempt to reinvent herself through marriage following years of working as a prostitute in London. First performed at the Gate Theater in Dublin, the noted Irish actor’s play was applauded for its openness by critics and audiences in 1948, but it was also disdained by the God-fearing and narrow-minded Catholic community. However bold it was then, by today’s standards director Aidan Redmond’s revival offers audiences little more than a diorama, a 3-D representation of a bygone era.
Theatre Breaking Through Barriers (TBTB) is celebrating its 40th anniversary with a production of a new work by Bekah Brunstetter, Public Servant. The play is set in a small town in central North Carolina, a state that the native Brunstetter has previously focused on in dramas such as Oohrah! and The Cake. Following the TBTB mission statement, Geordie Broadwater’s first-rate production features both abled and disabled actors.
Playwright Gordon Dahlquist’s [Veil Widow Conspiracy] wields those unnecessary, pretentious brackets as a warning, perhaps, that there’s a lot of extraneous information in his overstuffed 75-minute play. Set in three locations, the National Asian American Theatre Company production opens on a couple who are seemingly sheltering from some dire events outside, primarily conveyed through sirens. It’s an apocalyptic Brooklyn, but too briefly and sketchily presented to capture one’s interest.
It’s just a side benefit to an already crackling evening, but if you see Handbagged, the latest in 59E59’s Brits Off Broadway series, you’ll also take in snippets from several current Broadway offerings. The 1981 Irish hunger strikes (The Ferryman)? They’re here. Rupert Murdoch’s takeover of several Brit tabloids, beginning with the Sun in the late ’60s (Ink)? Also here. And The Cher Show may present three different-aged Chers, each commenting on the others, but Handbagged, Moira Buffini’s 2010 play having its New York premiere,makes do with older and younger versions of Queen Elizabeth II and Margaret Thatcher, each interacting with the past and present and occasionally murmuring, “I didn’t say that.”
Donald Margulies’s new play, Long Lost, almost revels in overly familiar plot elements. Focusing on two brothers who haven’t seen each other in years, Margulies draws on the good brother/bad brother dynamic of the Cain and Abel story; it pops up in Hollywood films as different as Arsenic and Old Lace and Legends of the Fall, but perhaps most pertinently in Duel in the Sun, where the brothers form two points of a love triangle. Here the siblings are David (Kelly AuCoin), a successful consultant, and his older brother, Billy (a gray-bearded Lee Tergesen). In Margulies’s story. David’s wife Molly (Annie Parisse) glancingly forms the third point. But another oft-mined trope is also at play: the stranger who arrives in a settled household and disrupts it is a staple of drama from The Playboy of the Western World to Picnic.