Abby Rosebrock is a different kind of triple threat. As a playwright, she brings an invigorating new voice to the stage with the debut of her comedy-drama Dido of Idaho, at the Ensemble Studio Theatre. As an actor in her own play, portraying a former beauty pageant contestant in crisis, her comic timing is precise. And as a practitioner of stage combat, “threat” is too gentle a word for her character who, when faced with a challenge to her domestic security, brandishes a razor-sharp pair of cuticle scissors.
The triple bill of one-acts at the Irish Repertory Theatre is a rare chance to see plays by Lady Gregory, William Butler Yeats and John Millington Synge, although in small-space productions downstairs at the invaluable venue. One may not feel that the first two plays, The Pot of Broth and The Rising of the Moon, should occupy the umbrella title of Three Small Irish Masterpieces alongside Synge’s Riders to the Sea, which fits the bill; the first two seem slight by comparison. But they make a pleasant enough evening of unfamiliar entertainment, enhanced by the proximity to St. Patrick’s Day.
Is middle age too late for an earth-moving romance between a Bostonian with Brahmin reserve and a Midwesterner for whom grand passion is essential? In Later Life, the 1993 hit comedy revived by the Keen Company, playwright A.R. Gurney dramatizes this question with characteristic wit and capacious heart. Gurney, who grew up affluent in Buffalo, N.Y., carved a niche for himself Off-Broadway with a handful of urbane comedies—notably The Dining Room and The Cocktail Hour—whose characters have origins similar to his own. When Gurney died last June at age 86, he left a legacy of 49 plays, plus operas, musicals, and novels.
Forming a theater company is a bold move; ending a successful one is even bolder. A hat tip, then, to Scott Alan Evans, a founding member of TACT (The Actors Company Theatre) who, over the past quarter century, has produced and/or directed more than 150 productions for the company. Having declared the troupe’s artistic mission accomplished, Evans takes a final bow with an uneven production of a new work, Three Wise Guys, which he not only directs, but also co-wrote, with screenwriter and occasional lyricist Jeffrey Couchman.
As inspirations go, the combination of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is certainly an odd one, yet those sources are echoed in Max Baker’s charming, offbeat comedy Hal & Bee.
The Soho Rep had been staging vital productions out of its small Walker Street theater in Tribeca for a quarter century when it was discovered, in 2016, that the company had been in violation of an occupancy limit of 70 people. Through a combination of fund-raising and city agency support, the company has now returned to its home space, which includes a new fire-safety system. It is a fitting improvement, because flames are the essential metaphor of Aleshea Harris’s explosive Is God Is. In this allegorical tale of vengeance and family honor, twin sisters, burned both literally and figuratively, create an inferno that swallows nearly everyone they meet.
It’s almost quaint to remember the pearl-clutching inspired by The Jerry Springer Show in its late-1990s heyday. The daytime tabloid presented America as a bottomless basket of deplorables, with any number of people willing to air their dirty laundry in public for a chance to be on TV. Though our current political circus offers more than enough trashy tragicomedy, the still-running Jerry Springer Show once claimed the corner on tacky, made-in-America escapism.
How deep can one hide the truth? Gabriel Jason Dean’s Terminus centers on the search for the “true true”—a phrase spoken by a few of the characters. It captures the essence of this well-written, thought-provoking play, the second in a seven-play cycle called The Attapulgus Elegies. The collection chronicles the lives of the residents of Attapulgus, Ga., over the course of the last two decades as the town slowly dwindles away.
An avant-garde, two-man show with five horn players, Fusiform Gyrus is like sliding down a long chute. It’s a reckless and even fun adventure, but you’re totally unsure of where you’ll end up. Written by Obie Award–winning Ellen Maddow and directed by Ellie Heyman at HERE Arts Center, Fusiform Gyrus is a meditation on life, death, and everything in between.
Bromance, an acrobatic show from London that has opened at the New Victory Theater, offers strength-defying acts and acrobatics. Geared towards a younger audience, the creation by Charlie Wheeller, Louis Gift and Beren D’Amico includes hand-to-hand feats, the cyr wheel and various types of dancing. They incorporate humorous gestures and silly body movements that are choreographed to draw infectious laughs from children.
The Feb. 19 reading for Project Shaw will be George Bernard Shaw’s 1914 classic Pygmalion, the basis for My Fair Lady, which will be revived this spring on Broadway by Lincoln Center Theater. The monthly series of evenings focuses on Shaw’s greatest works and sometimes those of his contemporaries. The reading will be at 7 p.m. at Symphony Space (2537 Broadway at 95th Street). The cast, directed by David Staller, will include Blair Brown (The Parisian Woman), Peter Francis James (Stuff Happens), and Charlotte Moore (Meet Me in St. Louis), and Bill Army (The Band’s Visit). All the plays are presented as a concert reading. Tickets are $35 and are available by calling (212) 864-5400 or visiting www.symphonyspace.org. Each Project Shaw event is followed by a talk-back with cast members. GTG’s David Staller and Stephen Brown-Fried also host a Shaw Club discussion group that meets the Monday evening following after every Project Shaw event at 520 Eighth Ave. For reservations, which are required, call (212) 355-7823 or email email@example.com.
The Manhattan Theatre Club stage at City Center is giving off major Disney World Jungle Cruise vibes these days. Birds call over the syncopated groove of Nigerian percussionist Solomon Ilori’s 1963 deep cut “Tolani (African Love Song)” as patrons enter the theater. There’s a Tara Buddha statue downstage right, some Persian rugs, a scarlet chaise lounge and some cushions on the floor, and the proto-Afrobeat music morphs into the Middle Eastern goblet drums and chirpy marimba that have been cornerstones of “world music” for decades. It’s almost disappointing when no chipper, punning Adventureland employee pulls up to take you downriver.
Puerto Rico’s Casa Cruz de la Luna Theatre Company and INTAR Theatre will present The Marquis de Sade is Afraid of the Sea as part of INTAR Theatre’s NewWorks Lab. Performances will be Feb. 23 and 24 at 8 p.m. and Feb. 25 at 4 p.m. at INTAR Theatre (500 West 52nd St. at 10th Avenue. The experimental piece, by Aravind Enrique Adyanthaya, draws on varied sources, including the legend of the golem, the first act of Anton Chekhov´s The Seagull and the writings of the Marquis de Sade. (The production contains explicit adult content and nudity.) For more information or to purchase tickets, visit www.intartheatre.org or call 212-352-3101.
The Schaubühne Berlin production of Returning to Reims addresses fascinating material—the evolution of French political life in the 20th century, notably a working class that was heavily communist in the 1920s to one that increasingly embraces the right-wing National Front of Marine Le Pen. U.S. dramatists rarely tackle political subjects of such depth, but the static execution of Thomas Ostermaier’s production undercuts much of the daring of that choice.
Signs of the decline and fall of the American Empire are everywhere visible, but perhaps nowhere more than in the Rust Belt, which has decay and depression hammered right into its nickname. Detroit may be its most potent symbol, but this ribbon, stretching from New York to Wisconsin, is peppered with towns both large and small that have never quite recovered from the trauma of deindustrialization.
Martin McDonagh is riding high now on the success of his second feature-length movie, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, but he first made his mark in theater in the 1990s with several pitch-black comedies, notably The Beauty Queen of Leenane and The Lieutenant of Inishmore, which raised bloodletting to high art. He has a Jacobean gift for slapping together murder and guffaws.
Popular culture lately seems overrun with talking animals. The funny-sad Netflix series BoJack Horseman stars a talking horse, backed by a talking dog, a talking cat, and a supporting talking menagerie. The movie Ted a few years back had Mark Wahlberg’s teddy bear coming to life. And let’s not even get started on Pixar.
Imperfect Love is a “serious romantic comedy” loosely based on the life and work of the 19th-century Italian actress Eleonora Duse and her nine-year love affair and tumultuous working relationship with the poet and playwright Gabriele D’Annunzio. Set in Rome on the stage of the Teatro Argentina in Rome in 1899, the plot of Brandon Cole’s two-act period play follows the backstage dramas of a theater company struggling to produce a new work.
Miles for Mary, the sly new play at Playwrights Horizons, has a lengthy writing credit: “Written by Marc Bovino, Joe Curnutte, Michael Dalto, Lila Neugebauer and Stephanie Wright Thompson in collaboration with Sarah Lunnie and the creative ensemble of Amy Staats & Stacey Yen.” That credit may be accurate, but it’s also a wink at the audience. Miles for Mary is a comedy about a committee at a high school, and, defying dire axioms about things done by committee, it’s a hoot.
For the past half-century, Adrienne Kennedy has carved out a unique niche for herself in the American avant-garde. Her one-act plays, such as Funnyhouse of a Negro (1964), A Rat’s Mass (1966) and Ohio State Murders (1992), are dense with allusions to pop culture, especially the movies, and fascinated with European royalty. Though riffing on Shakespeare and Greek tragedy, they are often semi-autobiographical, animated by Kennedy’s experiences as a black woman in America but shaded by her time abroad in Ghana and London. Elliptical and surreal, they cut right to divisions and hypocrisies at the heart of American society. He Brought Her Heart Back in a Box, Kennedy’s first new play in a decade, may be her most narratively straightforward work yet, but even at a svelte 45 minutes it is no easily digestible scrap.