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.
TACT’s (The Actors Company Theater’s) seventh annual newTACTics New Play Festival continues this week with readings of Three Wise Guys by Scott Alan Evans and Jeffrey Couchman at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, June 14, and Thursday, June 15, based on stories by Damon Runyon. The original plays developed at newTACTics have included Jeff Talbott’s The Gravedigger’s Lullaby, which this past season received a mainstage production. Coming up are 1980 (or, Why I’m Voting for John Anderson), by Patricia Cotter, on June 21 and 22; and Nothing Left to Burn by Ahid Hanash and Patrick Vassel on June 28 and 29. All performances are at 7 p.m. and take place at the TACT Studio at 900 Broadway, Suite 905. Each reading will be preceded by a complimentary wine reception beginning at 6:30 p.m., and followed by a moderated talkback with the cast, director, and playwright. Admission is free and open to the public, but reservations are required. For them, visit tactnyc.org/newtactics.
The Roundabout Theatre Company will present readings of the winners of Columbia@Roundabout’s 2017 New Play Reading Series from June 12–19. The reading series awards three playwrights from the current MFA program and recent alumni with a cash prize as well as two readings in Roundabout’s Black Box Theatre (111 W. 46th St., between Sixth and Seventh avenues). The playwrights featured in the second annual series are Anchuli Felicia King (White Pearl), Alix Sobler (Sheltered) and Jillian Walker (Sarah’s Salt). Readings of Sheltered will be at 3 p.m. June 12 and 8:30 p.m. June 19, with a reception at 7:30 p.m. after the second reading; White Pearl at 3 p.m. June 16 and 6:30 p.m. June 18, with a post-show reception; and Sarah’s Salt at 11:30 a.m. June 15 and 6 p.m. June 19, with a post-show reception. For more information, visit
The Instigators’ adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull, directed by Lillian Meredith, uses immersive elements to enhance and punctuate both large and small moments. Actors break the fourth wall, and the staging brings actors in line with the audience.
A classic case of mistaken identity sets a hilarious ball in motion in The Government Inspector, Nikolai Gogol’s 1836 comedy, set in a small town, a backwater of “mud and more mud.” The plot follows the mayor (the robust Michael McGrath) who has heard that a government inspector is coming to town—incognito. The mayor and his crooked cronies—the school principal (David Manis), the judge (Tom Alan Robbins) and the hospital director (Stephen DeRosa)—immediately try to clean up the mess they have made of government buildings and services.
The actor-playwright Hamish Linklater, born in Great Barrington, an upscale rural community of the Berkshire hills of western Massachusetts, uses the bucolic area as the setting for The Whirligig, his new play. It’s a region with plenty of past literary associations. Edith Wharton has a crucial scene in Ethan Frome take place in Lenox, where she lived; Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote Tanglewood Tales while dwelling in the same town; and Herman Melville turned out Moby-Dick at his home in Pittsfield, the county seat. Much more recently, Lucy Thurber set her Hilltown Plays in the nearby area.
It’s easy to imagine what drew composer Tim Rosser and lyricist/librettist Charlie Sohne to bacha bazi, the subject matter behind their new musical, The Boy Who Danced on Air. The lives of Afghani “dancing boys,” poor young men conscripted by the wealthy into sexual slavery, offer high-stakes drama and political topicality. Though spirited and nuanced, though, the play lacks the caution, finesse, and heterogeneity necessary to avoid joining the ranks of American musicals that have tried to absorb non-Western cultures, only to abuse and debase them (which is pretty much all of them).
Sojourners and Her Portmanteau, in repertory at the New York Theatre Workshop, want to be heard. Mfoniso Udofia’s plays, conceived of as part of a nine-play multigenerational chronicle (of which five have been written) of the Nigerian-American Ufot family, saunter from moment to moment, expanding each dramatic beat to examine it with microscopic curiosity. Though the result, as shaped by director Ed Sylvanus Iskandar and dramaturg Janice Paran, is often excruciatingly dry, the plays demand a witnessing of their American immigrants’ stories.
Waterwell’s production of Hamlet is probably not for the first-timer to Shakespeare’s masterpiece. Under director Tom Ridgely, the tragedy has been reset in Iran of the early 20th century rather than Denmark of the 1500s. Parts of the play are spoken in Farsi, and if, for instance, you didn’t know what Hamlet’s father’s Ghost says to him, you’re going to be out of luck, since the physically and vocally formidable Barzin Akhavan speaks entirely in Farsi. Other passages require familiarity with the play to be understood, notably Hamlet’s exchange with Ophelia about lying in her lap during The Murder of Gonzago, or Hamlet’s crucial plan to insert lines of his own. (The last, however, is covered by some English dialogue later, but until that arises, a new listener would be confused.)
In 1922, Alan Alexander (A. A.) Milne’s The Lucky One was originally produced in New York. Milne is best known for his children stories about a good-natured teddy bear, Winnie-the-Pooh, and his friendship with a boy, Christopher Robin (named after Milne's son). Before the extraordinary success of Winnie-the-Pooh, Milne had published three novels and 18 plays. Two of them, Mr. Pim Passes By and The Truth About Blayds, the Mint Theater Company has previously resurrected.
Samuel Beckett’s ironically titled Happy Days echoes the same vein of his jaundiced view of mankind’s fate as the line from Waiting for Godot: “They give birth astride of a grave, the light gleams an instant, then it’s night once more.” Happy Days concerns Winnie, a woman buried up to her waist in a huge sand dune in Act I, and up to her neck in Act II. It’s a deft physical characterization of dying: the earth reclaims each of us from the moment of birth, and slowly we return to it.
The third annual Queerly festival will be presented at the Kraine Theater (85 East 4th St., between Second Avenue and the Bowery) from June 23–July 1. The festival, presented by Frigid New York @ Horsetrade, will feature cabaret, musical theater, solo performances, comedy and readings in what Frigid calls “gender-liminal, super-gay, non-conformist, totally butch, aggressively femme and subversive AF celebration of all things LGBTQA.” Tickets to the festival events are $20, unless otherwise noted) and are available for purchase by visiting www.horseTRADE.info.
Leaving no explorer-themed cliché unturned, Ernest Shackleton Loves Me boldly goes where many, many musicals have gone before, weaving a story of ersatz empowerment out of artistic crisis. The show, which encumbers a pair of insanely talented performers with thankless roles at the center of a human cartoon, patronizes and demeans its audience in its eagerness to be idiosyncratic.
The “whites only” and “colored only” entrances to the immersive portion of 3/Fifths at 3LD Art & Technology Center in lower Manhattan are visible not only to wary ticket-holders, but to everyday pedestrians who happen to pass by the glass façade. Indeed, 3/Fifths holds a funhouse mirror to systemic racism in America by uniting the reality of everyday injustice with immersive theatrical experience.