Babette’s Feast, based on a short story by Danish writer Isak Dinesen, centers not on the namesake of the title, but instead on two sisters: Philippa (Juliana Francis Kelly) and Martine (Abigail Killeen, who conceived and developed the show), the daughters of a rector (Sturgis Warner) who heads an ascetic Protestant sect. In Berlevåg, a small town on the coast, their lives are is pretty ho-hum, except for a few spats between congregants, until Babette (the earthy and grounded Michelle Hurst) arrives. She is an exile who has escaped the Paris Commune of 1870, an uprising she took part in, and has made her way to where the sisters live, on the recommendation of an opera singer who once, long ago, passed through the town.
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.
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.
Balls, an ambitious mashup of docudrama and satiric commentary, takes the Sept. 20, 1973, exhibition match between Wimbledon champs Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs as a starting point for assessing social upheavals of the past 45 years. When Riggs challenged King to the match eventually dubbed the “battle of the sexes,” she was 29 years old. Riggs had won at Wimbledon four years before she was born. They squared off in front of more than 30,000 spectators in Houston’s Astrodome as millions more watched on television. Riggs lost in straight sets, 6-4, 6-3, 6-3, and King walked away with the “winner take all” purse.
The boy who wouldn’t grow up has become the character who won’t die. J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan has been endlessly staged, filmed, remixed, twisted, and contorted since its 1904 premiere at the Duke of York’s Theatre, London, and the insatiable Pan pangs show no sign of ceasing. Bedlam’s current adaptation at another Duke, on 42nd Street, is the second Peter Pan–inspired show to run on the Deuce this season.
Strange Interlude, one of four Eugene O’Neill plays to have won a Pulitzer Prize, is brilliant, magisterial, and provocative. How then, does one actor, David Greenspan, take the complex story of Nina Leeds and the four men in her life, a play that is written in nine acts and spans five hours in the telling, and deliver the highs and the lows, the strange twists of fate, the loves, and the schemes of its characters? Dressed in a dapper three-piece suit, Greenspan is alternately Nina, Charles, Ned and Sam (and three minor characters as well), maintaining an energetic, staccato presence while shifting, sometimes with gunfire rapidity, among these characters. Who would have imagined that this 1928 whale of a play could be acted as a one-man show to riveting effect? Greenspan is extraordinary, and he brings to life an extraordinary play.
Tiny Beautiful Things is a curious, only-in-New York beast: adapted by and featuring the screenwriter/star of My Big Fat Greek Wedding (Nia Vardalos), from a collection of advice columns by the acclaimed Wild memoirist (Cheryl Strayed), staged by the director (Thomas Kail) and original producer (Public Theater) of Hamilton. It’s the kind of random concatenation that seems just crazy enough to generate life, but Tiny Beautiful Things is dead on arrival. With its monochromatic script, repetitive staging, and tone-deaf politics, it’s the anti-Hamilton.
Anthony Burgess’s 1962 novel A Clockwork Orange has developed a life of its own. It doesn’t have the worldwide instant-recognition factor of a Wizard of Oz or a Mickey Mouse, but the opening image of Malcolm McDowell’s Alex deLarge in Stanley Kubrick’s 1971 film is etched in the consciousness of anyone who’s even tangentially encountered the film: chin tucked, eyes leering under the brim of his bowler hat, mouth an inscrutable half-simper, flamboyant fake eyelashes ringing his right eye. No company Halloween party is complete without a Brad or a Dave in deLarge drag. The latest in a long line of theatrical adaptations of A Clockwork Orange, which opened this week at New World Stages, both banks on and challenges this brand awareness, refining the narrative into a piquant, overheated slab of physical theater about the roots of white violence that is part male revue, part alt-rock dream ballet.
It’s always an adventure sitting down to watch Shakespeare. Where will this production send its viewers? To what time period or country? Will it be set in a fast-food restaurant or trying to stay as close to a traditional production as possible? The Dzieci Theatre company has taken a risk with its recent production of Makbet, a gypsy-infused performance of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, directed by Matt Mitler. The play is presented in a shipping container in the back of a junkyard in Bushwick, Brooklyn. Although it is an uncomfortable place to ask audience members to sit, the underlit and claustrophobic quarters alert the audience immediately to the darkness of the play.
Poor J.M. Barrie hasn’t had an easy time of it in the 21st century, with the notable exception of revivals of one-acts at the Mint Theater. The 2015 musical Finding Neverland, based on a film, focused on the dramatist’s struggle to find success after failure and the triumphant creation of Peter Pan, his classic 1904 play about the boy who won’t grow up—a play that, by the way, most of Finding Neverland’s audience had probably never seen, since nobody actually stages it. It’s known primarily through the musicalized version from the 1950s that starred Mary Martin, although the Royal National Theatre’s 1997 production, with Peter played by Daniel Evans, now artistic director of the Chichester Festival, and Ian McKellen as Captain Hook, showed the original is still a viable and glorious work.
Few contemporary playwrights embrace the “one for me, one for them” trajectory as starkly as Enda Walsh. The prolific Irish writer/director alternates between loony, incisive chamber psychodramas (Misterman, Ballyturk) and loony, broad crowd-pleasers (Once, Roald Dahl’s The Twits, Lazarus) with a panache that marks him as a distinctly 21st-century artist, hard to pin down and adept at re-invention. His latest St. Ann’s Warehouse transfer, Arlington, sits firmly in the former camp, stretching his trademark idiosyncratic investigation of the effects of isolation on wild, creative minds toward exciting new abstractions.
Bucket Club’s inventive Fossils is one of the quirkier Brits Off Broadway 2017 entries so far, with its plastic dinosaur people and range of questionable accents. If the script doesn’t equal the rich world that the company conjures through sound and light, the play is still a beautiful reminder of the diverse material that Britain’s robust training system and government arts subsidies can produce.
There’s a neon display over the mezzanine bar in the spanking new A.R.T./New York Theatres on 53rd Street that reads, “Why are you here and not somewhere else?” It’s an apt distillation of Richard Maxwell’s eccentric Samara, which has just opened there. Maxwell’s odyssey, artfully wrangled by Soho Rep Artistic Director Sarah Benson, invokes the ghosts of Shakespeare and Brecht to question the very notion of making and attending theater.
Nobody involved in the production of Casablanca expected it to be a hit, let alone win the Best Picture Oscar and go on to be considered one of the quintessentially quotable classic Hollywood films. If CasablancaBox, the new behind-the-scenes ensemble drama at HERE Arts Center, is to be believed, no one really wanted to make the film either. That we’re still watching it and talking about it 75 years later proves William Goldman’s famous dictum that in Hollywood, “nobody knows anything.”
The Weather Underground Organization, also know as the Weathermen, was a grassroots collective of white radical leftists who subscribed to a militant, anti-capitalist ideology. Splintering off from a larger organization called Students for Democratic Society (SDS) in the late 1960s, the Weather Underground believed in violence as a form of protest. Home/Sick is The Assembly’s theatrical reimagining of the Weather Underground’s founding, development, and eventual disbandment. Written collectively by members of The Assembly, Home/Sick is a dynamic and thorough piece of devised theater that highlights the complex philosophies, political struggles, and practical idiosyncrasies behind the Weather Underground’s bygone revolution.
With a whole host of traditional plays and musicals available to choose from, it is sometimes refreshing when theater artists in New York City experiment with form. Creator and producer Brett Epstein’s Rule of 7x7 is just that: an experiment in playwriting wherein seven playwrights each declare a “rule” that must be incorporated into each play. These rules range from a word, a line, or a specific stage direction. To intensify the process, the artists involved have just one month to mount these short plays from conception to performance.
Such iconic sound bites have infiltrated our collective consciousness, making The Wizard of Oz one of the most beloved feature films in cinematic history. The Builders Association—one of New York’s beloved downtown theater companies—brings to theatrical life the immense web of cultural references to Oz in its latest postmodern performance, entitled Elements of Oz. Using a truly innovative format, the company combines film, theater and an interactive phone app to produce a performance that is both technologically astounding and culturally nostalgic.
Every now and then a theatrical experience comes around that breaks the mold. It’s no simple task to categorize Gideon Irving’s performance piece running at the Rattlestick Playwrights Theater. Part musical, part stand-up comedy, (very small) part magic act, and part intriguing night in a complete stranger’s living room, My Name Is Gideon: I’m Probably Going to Die, Eventually is far from a one-trick pony. On the contrary, the hour-and-45-minute show is constantly surprising audience members with laughs, gasps, songs and even snacks!
Any time theater requires backstory and more research after the curtain drops, it dances a fine line between “Wow, that was interesting. I want to know more” (if you’re lucky) and (more often than not) “What the hell did I just see?” Little Lord is a Brooklyn-based company whose previous works have been praised as “scrappy creative brilliance” or “fearless in ... weirdness.” Now Is the Time. Now Is the Best Time. Now Is the Best Time of Your Life is its latest undertaking, and the show clearly falls in the second category—fearless and weird.
The Little Lord production team sets the tone for a fun and crazy evening with free pickles and coleslaw, offering $4 beer by folks dressed like deli workers and a Mistress of Ceremonies, straight out of Hairspray, even before the “curtain” goes up. Truth be told, the only thing that resembles a curtain is an iridescent panel of foil strips at the back of the stage. Just in time for Halloween, Now Is the Time is a perfect occasion to reimagine Washington Irving’s story of Rip Van Winkle, provided you are one of the few who remembers it! Between the Diedrich Knickerbocker character, a Rip Van Winkle character (oddly, played by a woman), six actors dressed up as freaky yard gnomes, and that Mistress of Ceremonies in a lime-green, pleated baby-doll dress (who later appears as Beelzebub), there is still never enough story to know which end is up. The six yard-gnome characters, who appear as if to taunt Knickerbocker, often repeat lines in unison from some of Knickerbocker’s books. Near the end, they return in white clothes and colorful knee-high socks, sporting black dunce caps (Karen Boyer did the wildly eccentric costumes) and carrying small, wooden children’s chairs. It is all just odd and disjointed.
The set design by Peiyi Wong resembles something out of Hoarding: Buried Alive on The Learning Channel. Stacks and stacks of books, a mountain of lawn chairs and beach balls, leftover Christmas lights, and an old library card catalog are just a few items that fill the stage. If you knew how Irving came to create the Rip Van Winkle character—who slept through the American Revolution—to somehow figure out this Rip Van Winkle awakens in the Catskills somewhere near Grossinger’s, the set might make sense. Now Is the Time has a mountain of missing information, and one more prop isn't going to help.
Director Michael Levinton, who also takes on the lead role of Knickerbocker, has a vision for Now Is the Time that never quite translates across the footlights. As Knickerbocker, he is outrageously quirky, and his delivery engaging. Written by Levinton, Laura von Holt, and Little Lord, the play tosses out interesting snippets of New York history like popcorn, but the story never develops beyond witnessing the madness of a man who dresses like a homeless King George, his nonsensical interaction with Rip Van Winkle, or his hiding from his loud, obnoxious wife who looks more like she should be singing, “Welcome to the ’60s.”
Now Is the Time features Kaaron Briscoe, David GR Brummer, Avi Glickstein, Fernando Gonzalez, Sauda Jackson, Polly Lee, Ry Szelong, and Morgan Lindsey Tachco. Each of them thoroughly embodies the characters they were given, whether they are the deli workers, freakishly odd garden gnomes, or the Children of the Corn with dunce caps. The full production includes very good sound effects by Kate Marvin, along with eerie and complex light design by Marika Kent.
If you are a devotee of Little Lord and company, Now Is the Time may be the ticket to be had. However, without more backstory and some continuity, it’s going to take a lot more than pickles and beer to clear the haze, wicked garden gnomes notwithstanding.
Now Is the Time. Now Is the Best Time. Now Is the Best Time of Your Life plays through Nov. 5 at the Abrons Arts Center (466 Grand St. at Pitt Street) on the Lower East Side. Evening performances are at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday; matinees are at 2:30 p.m. Saturdays. Tickets are $25. For tickets and more information, visit abronsartscenter.org.
Founded in 2006 by director and choreographer Austin McCormick, Company XIV has developed a signature fusion of theater, classical and modern dance, opera, drag, circus, live music, burlesque, and performance art. The title of its latest creation, Paris, is a double entendre of sorts—referring at once to the beloved City of Light as well as the legendary prince of Troy. Indeed, Paris unites Grecian gods and goddesses with Parisian flâneurs and can-can girls, resulting in an indulgent, adults-only revue of sublime talent.
With the peeling walls of the Irondale Center (a former church) as a fitting backdrop, Paris interweaves elements of French bohemia into the Greek myth “The Judgment of Paris.” In this legend, the titular character receives a golden apple from the gods and is charged to award it to the fairest goddess. He chooses Venus, who reciprocates the award with her own, the famed beauty Helen of Troy—thereby triggering the Trojan War. This myth provides a suitable structure for Paris, but the show’s value lies not in its plot but in the variety of performances encountered by Paris (Jakob Karr) on his quest to rid himself of his golden apple.
From his tête-à-tête with Juno (Randall Scotting) to his final rendezvous with Helen (Lea Helle), Karr is stunning as Paris in every context. His duet with Mercury, played by Todd Hanebrink, is especially touching—featuring a series of lifts executed with lightness, yet also with a grounded athleticism. In his visit to the final goddess, Venus, Karr takes a back seat to Storm Marrero's house-filling vocals. Although Marrero, a woman of color, diversifies the show's cast, it is as a singer. Her curvaceous Venus stands in contrast to the dancers (inexplicably, too, her character bears the Roman name for the goddess, rather than Aphrodite). One hopes that the company's pursuit of diversity will eventually spread to the dancers.
Though many modern burlesque companies focus on the female body, Company XIV’s treatment of gender is slightly more fluid. As the dual character Zeus/Fifi, Charlotte Bydwell literally embodies this fluidity as she switches from male god to female coquette. Her costume, designed by Zane Pihlstrom, is half suit and half ball gown, so that Bydwell appears as Zeus when facing stage right and Fifi when facing stage left. This visual gag is delightful at first, but becomes tired by the end of the show. Overall, however, Pihlstrom’s costumes are breathtaking in their dynamism—from a two-tone reversible sequin dress for Venus to the ensemble’s assortment of spangled codpieces.
Jeanette Yew's ingenious lighting design illuminates the gorgeous clothing, implementing an array of sources such as sparkling chandeliers, exposed-bulb footlights, and most notably, a vintage Hollywood director’s’ spotlight on wheels that provides the show’s final iconic vignette.
There are many elements that make this show special and worth seeing, but perhaps its most universal appeal is that—just like the many glimmering rhinestones on the costumes—Paris shines light on a great many facets of human sexuality. There are, of course, moments of tawdry thrusting and heaving piles of quaking bodies; yet there are, too, silhouettes of lovers that steal one’s breath away, and even quieter moments of solitude and fear that expose the vulnerabilities integral to human sexuality. In Paris, sex is funny, scary, beautiful, sad, and, ultimately, a yearning mystery.
Paris runs through Nov. 12 at the Irondale Center (85 South Oxford St. between Fulton Street and Lafayette Avenue in Brooklyn). The show, which contains partial nudity, is open to those 16 and over. Performances are at 8 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Tickets start at $25. To book seats, couches or VIP tickets, call (866) 811-4111 or visit www.companyxiv.com.