This is the guy who wrote Anna Karenina? Librettist-lyricist Peter Kellogg, perhaps less than happy with the memories of that short-lived 1992 Broadway musical, has turned about as far away from tragic romance as it is possible to turn for his new project. Picture this: a small, whimsical Off-Broadway musical—a book show, but with a loose narrative allowing for plenty of sketchlike comedy, and with a structure borrowed freely from Arthur Schnitzler’s La Ronde. A little social comment, but broad characters and an overriding silliness that induces, if not a lot of guffaws, a fair number of smiles. Music by David Friedman, best known for the great cabaret song “My Simple Christmas Wish” and several syrupy ballads that were gracefully sung by the late Nancy Lamott. Hence, Money Talks.
Howard Barker’s Pity in History is a deeply thought-provoking play, which uses the events of the 17th-century English Civil War (a fight to overthrow the monarchy and replace it with a parliamentary government) but is set in contemporary times, to explore the meaning of life, death and relationships. Barker wrote the play in 1984 for BBC television, and its antiwar attitude is clear. It opens on a British platoon that comes to represent any thuggish mass that makes up a military unit. It’s easy to imagine this very same platoon in the Falklands, Afghanistan, or Iraq. After all, war is war, and all war is hell.
Readers of a certain generation who grew up with a bestselling children’s book series about a boy wizard know firsthand the impact that J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series has had—not just on themselves as lifelong fans, but also in the wider culture. Even people not belonging to that generation can attest to its world-reaching powers: from a hugely profitable eight-film franchise to the anticipation of a Broadway play adaptation at the end of this season. However, while many fans wait with bated breath for that production, coming off a successful West End run in London, there’s another play in town offering a different perspective on the books and their universe. It’s titled Puffs.
Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia exemplifies the British playwright’s gift for combining intellectual inspection of the corners of science, philosophy and history with high comedy. The wit is dry, but the plays are juicy, and Arcadia, along with Travesties and The Invention of Love, is one of his best.
The Anderson Twins will be the featured performers for Songbook Summit at 59E59 Theaters beginning Aug. 3. During the limited run, the twins, Peter (sax) and Will (clarinet), along with their sextet and singer Molly Ryan, will perform music by Cole Porter, Harold Arlen, George Gershwin and Richard Rodgers. There are four segments, each focusing on a composer: Cole Porter begins Aug. 3; Harold Arlen on Aug. 9: George Gershwin on Aug. 15: and Richard Rodgers on Aug. 22. A four-show package is available for $120 that includes one ticket to your choice of performance for each composer. For tickets and information, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or visit www.59e59.org.
The Red Bull Theatre will present its annual festival of 10-minute plays of heightened language and classical themes on July 24 at the Lucille Lortel Theater (121 Christopher St.). This year two commissioned pieces and eight new works are featured in response to the theme, Delusions of Grandeur. Writers were asked to submit a short play no more than 10 minutes long that makes use of any, or all, of the following: heightened language or verse; a classical theme or style; or a classical story. Pieces were commissioned by Red Bull from Arthur Kopit (Indians, Wings) and Dael Orlandersmith (Yellowman, The Gimmick). Kopit’s play is The Divine Comedy, Part 2 (Thank you, Lucas Hnath), and Orlandersmith’s is And I Used to be a Kind Man. The other plays, by young writers, are Dido, Queen of Carthage, by Charlotte Ahlin; Rule of Threes by Uriah Celaya; Delaware, Come Home by Justin Halle; The Son, by Rachel Leopold; Tantalus, by Jason Gray Platt; and Ino Leucothia, by Christian Simonsen. Tickets are $25 and may be purchased by visiting www.redbulltheater.com.
Red Lab Productions will present a festival of new works written by playwrights from the Republic of Georgia, all translated into English, beginning July 13 at Teatro Circulo (64 East 4th St. between Second Avenue and the Bowery). The Georgian-American Theatrical Feast will feature two full productions, Navigator in Love by Lasha Gugadze, and A Toy Gun, by Tamar Bartaia, and seven free readings, none ever seen in America, along with special events, wine, and music. Produced by Red Lab Productions with support from Otar Margania, the festival will run through Aug. 6. For tickets ($18) and information, visit www.redlabproductions.org.
The Riant Theatre will present the Strawberry One-Act Festival at the Theatre at St. Clement’s (423 West 46th St., between Ninth and Tenth avenues) from July 13 through 30. This summer’s festival marks the 30th Season of Riant Theatre’s renowned short-play competition; the festival this year will also feature premieres of three full-length one-acts. The Audelco Award–winning Riant is a nonprofit that provides a developmental environment for playwrights and theater creators of diverse cultural backgrounds. The three full-length plays to be premiered are Before the Fall by Patrick Hamilton; Letter of Intention by Richard A.F. Wien; and Lifeline by Robert Ellsworth. For tickets, information and a list of the one-acts in the festival, call (646) 623-3488 or visiting therianttheatre.com.
Director Sam Gold, still draped in laurels from the Broadway premiere of A Doll’s House, Part 2, is exorcising demons of cliché and supposition from Shakespeare’s most frequently staged tragedy. Gold’s Juilliard contemporary Oscar Isaac stars in this reimagined Hamlet, a revenge tragedy that is arguably the greatest drama in the language.
Measure for Measure (1604) has long been considered one of Shakespeare’s problem plays. Partly it’s because of corruptions in the printing, but also, as a purported “comedy,” it’s never fully satisfying. In the right director’s hands, though, it can be deeply intriguing and memorable.
Words are constantly shifting and changing meaning, and common phrases take on new personas in the world of Lauren Yee’s In a Word. Yee’s play tells the story of Fiona (Laura Ramadei), whose 7-year-old, emotionally disturbed son, Tristan, has been missing for two years. She has no information on his whereabouts, and she sorts through her memories endlessly to find any clue she can about why he disappeared. As Fiona flashes back to past experiences, Yee asks the audience to let go and come along for the ride.
A newsreel about faith-based adoption restrictions on Jewish, Muslim and interfaith couples in the state of Texas plays somberly over a smooth jazz gospel concert at the start of The Crusade of Connor Stephens, a new play by Dewey Moss. In between the voices of newsreaders decrying the discriminatory new laws and the gospel choir, an evangelist preacher calls for us to repent our sins and come into the light of the Lord Our God. It’s enough to make a New York audience gag.
June is typically the month for many gay-themed plays to open, taking advantage of the influx of tourists for the annual Gay Pride Parade. Such works almost invariably feature gratuitous male nudity and forgettable plots, but S. Asher Gelman has set the bar far higher with his first play, Afterglow.
Most people going to the cell’s production of Bastard Jones have probably not encountered Henry Fielding’s hefty 18th-century novel. The odds may be greater that they’ve seen the Oscar-winning Tom Jones, a rare Best Picture comedy, but it rarely hits revival houses. That may be to the good, because Marc Acito and Amy Engelhardt’s new musical takes liberties—a lot of them—and fans of the film, scripted by John Osborne (Look Back in Anger), will find much has changed.
Texas native Horton Foote was a contemporary of Tennessee Williams, though he outlived the Mississippi-born playwright by more than a quarter century. In a long career, Foote—like Williams—channeled voices of small-town eccentrics in dramas depicting the region where he spent his formative years. Five such eccentrics, embodied by top-flight character actors giving memorable supporting performances, rescue the otherwise anodyne revival of Foote’s The Traveling Lady, presented by Cherry Lane Theatre and La Femme Theatre Productions, and make it worth an evening’s time.
Matthew Perry, renowned for an insanely successful television comedy that doesn’t even need to be named, understandably wants to stretch himself. Good actors always do: think of Jack Lemmon in Days of Wine and Roses (not inappropriate in this case) or Ralph Fiennes in The Grand Budapest Hotel. In The End of Longing, Perry does just that, both as an actor and as playwright.
Attack of the Elvis Impersonators, at the Lion, has no subtitle, so here’s a helpful suggestion: The Attention Deficit Disorder Musical. Lory Lazarus, who perpetrated book, music, and lyrics, just staggers from premise to premise, seizing on some new plot point and leaving whole subplots behind to die of malnutrition. Some of them contain good ideas. More don’t.
The ambitious Foundry Theatre has chosen an ideal location for its production of W. David Hancock’s two-character drama Master. The design of Brooklyn’s Irondale Center, a former worship and religious-education space in the Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church (a gem of 19th-century architecture), strains heavenward with worn ecclesiastical grandeur. It’s an environment likely to put arriving spectators in a reflective mood appropriate for playing their parts as tacit mourners in an immersive performance piece that depicts a memorial service and gallery retrospective honoring James Leroy Clemens.
Zero’s back in town, and the town is jollier for it. That’s Zero as in Mostel, in the ursine form of Jim Brochu, who has brought his one-man biographical show, Zero Hour, back to the Theatre at St. Clement’s. It won him a Drama Desk Award back in 2010, and in this new incarnation, if anything, the author and star is more formidable, more unpredictable, more voluble—more Zero.
At the center of Kirsten Childs’ new musical, Bella: An American Tall Tale, is the title character, “a big-booty Tupelo gal.” Although the “tall tale” labeling promises lightheartedness, there isn’t any blue ox or apple-seed scattering to be found. Childs’ formula for a tall tale includes some dark material, and the tone of Bella veers from cheerfully tongue-in-cheek to just plain vulgar, from wildly inventive to hackneyed.