Peace for Mary Frances marks a promising debut for dramatist Lily Thorne. The play, produced by the New Group, follows the last weeks of the 90-year-old title character and her typically (well, maybe not so typically) dysfunctional family. The daughter of refugees from the Armenian genocide, Mary Frances is plagued by physical maladies. She has decided to resolve some old family issues and then shuffle off this you-know-what at home.
Nostalgia is a potent drug. The lure of a “simpler time” can inspire longing, sadness and even a radical lifestyle change. Now onstage at the Flea Theater in a thoughtful, accessible production by New York Deaf Theatre, Jordan Harrison’s Maple & Vine looks past the chaotic world of 21st-century technology to offer a view of the politics and realities of returning to the past.
Light Shining in Buckinghamshire has lived many lives since Caryl Churchill wrote it 42 years ago. The piece’s ambition is grand, but its scope is intimate, allowing for immense freedom of interpretation. Director Rachel Chavkin’s revival at New York Theatre Workshop focuses on its chamber roots as an ensemble piece for six actors.
“Bang.” “Bang.” “Turn.” “Brush.” Apparently that’s how steel gets made, or got made in World War II, with two men pounding it, one positioning it, and one more readying it for the next step. And a lot of steel gets made in Operation Crucible, Kieran Knowles’s vigorous retelling of the Sheffield Blitz, a 1940 calamity in the South Yorkshire town. Part-documentary, part-character study, and all-teamwork, this four-man entry into 59E59’s Brits Off Broadway series is energetic and affecting, and a little disorganized.
It’s a truism that Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night is long and repetitious, so it comes as a surprise that Richard Eyre’s production plays so grippingly that it's never a slog. Eyre makes it clear that the Tyrones, the family at its center (based O’Neill’s own), are deeply dysfunctional, but each repetition at the BAM Harvey Theater rings true, and many of them prove comical. Each character knows the others’ strengths and frailties. Yet although they claw at one another often, there’s pulsing love in this family.
The Gentleman Caller combines kernels of fact with lots of fancy. In this two-character play, Chicago dramatist Philip Dawkins imagines the early friendship of Tennessee Williams (1911–83) and William Inge (1913–73). Beginning as a rowdy pastiche of sex comedies popular on Broadway when Inge and Williams were active there, the play turns darker in a handful of well-written monologues that are highly engaging but don’t add up to a convincing portrait of either character.
The ranks of triple-threat musical theater writers—individuals responsible for book, music, and lyrics—are small. Michael John LaChiusa springs to mind, and Lionel Bart (Oliver!), Frank Loesser (The Most Happy Fella), and Sandy Wilson (The Boy Friend), but just try to think of others. Add to this exclusive club Francine Pellegrino, whose Molasses in January is premiering at the Theater Center. It’s an original book, based only on history—that of Boston’s molasses disaster of 1919, when a tank burst and sent syrup cascading through the streets, killing 21. Pellegrino is not overly experienced in any of these three skills, and she proves to be way better at one of them than the other two.
A production of Working Theater, Alternating Currents is part historical pageant play, part romantic drama, and part social commentary. As part of the company’s Five Boroughs/One City initiative, Adam Kraar’s play, directed by Kareem Fahmy, evolved from interviews with residents of Queens as part of the company’s mission “to create theater for and about working people.” Currents is set in the present at Electchester, an actual complex of 38 buildings in Flushing. But Electchester’s best days were around its founding by Harry Van Arsdale, a benevolent overlord who walked the grounds following construction in 1949.
Built for Collapse’s Danger Signals, written by Jen Goma and directed by Sanaz Ghajar, flips back and forth between 2018, 1935 and 1847 to explore “lobotomies, traumatic brain injuries and western culture’s desire to control and colonize,” according to the promotional material for this strange, difficult piece.
Classic Stage Company and Transport Group are taking a fresh look at Tennessee Williams’ Summer and Smoke. Critical estimation of this lyrical drama—the playwright's fourth Broadway outing—has fluctuated since its 1948 premiere. After the original New York presentation, Summer and Smoke seemed destined for obscurity. But Jose Quintero’s 1952 production for Circle in the Square was a triumph and, according to many commentators, marked the birth of Off-Broadway. The current revival, under sure-handed direction by Jack Cummings III, discards the realistic trappings of mid-20th-century American theater and features a nearly ideal cast.
Alan Ayckbourn’s latest play, A Brief History of Women, has the recognizable hallmarks of the best plays in his vast repertoire. His knack at dissecting and satirizing British society is unparalleled (Anglophiles will particularly enjoy them, but they’re accessible to all). There is the great British obsession with class, along with Ayckbourn’s distinctive mastery of exits and entrances familiar from The Norman Conquests, Communicating Doors, and the double bill of House and Garden. There’s poignancy, too, since the new comedy—the title is a bit of misdirection—is an homage to one man’s affecting life.
Robert Patrick, one of the pioneers of the Off-Off-Broadway movement in the 1960s, was a prominent member of the legendary Caffe Cino, which cultivated the talents of playwrights such as Lanford Wilson, William M. Hoffman, Doric Wilson, and many others. Patrick’s The Haunted Host (1964), Indecent Exposure (1966) and The Warhol Machine (1967) all premiered at the Greenwich Village venue, and his play Kennedy’s Children (1975) was a critical hit on Broadway. The Phoenix Theatre Ensemble deserves credit, then, for reviving Patrick’s Judas (written in 1973), under the direction of Craig Smith. Alas, this exceedingly earnest but unremarkable production is not likely to cause a Robert Patrick renaissance.
“Dodgy prawns,” insists the narrator in Replay, the affecting solo show written and performed by Nicola Wren, were the cause of her violent physical reaction upon hearing of a man’s suicide. It wasn’t pregnancy or anything else. The narrator, a woman police officer (identified only as W in the program), assures the audience that she is made of sterner stuff than to be shaken by the emotional impact of meeting the wife and daughter of the man, who took his life earlier that day. Dodgy prawns: This is her story, and she is sticking with it. As W describes in painful detail the personal turmoil surrounding her visit to the London home, one begins to suspect the prawns may be receiving a bum rap.
Like a comet in an irregular orbit, It Came From Beyond has returned to menace Manhattan, bearing down on Off-Broadway while emanating just enough charm and good will to keep from crashing. This sci-fi musical was spawned in 2005 at the New York Musical Festival, then rose again the next year in Los Angeles. Now, back for an oddball run of Tuesday-only performances, it turns out that, despite the threatening title, it has come in peace. And that’s the problem. Meant as an homage to the 1950s and as a parody of that era’s Cold War monster flicks (most obviously, It Came From Outer Space), playwright Cornell Christianson’s script is campy, but not sufficiently outrageous; other-worldly, but not scary. And opportunities to freshen the writing to reflect current political and societal upheaval have gone untaken.
The Metromaniacs is an adaptation of an obscure play from 1738 called La Métromanie, written by Alexis Piron—a poet who failed to make it in to the acclaimed Académie Française due to the lewd content of some of his writing. The production by the Red Bull Theater Company, however, is credited primarily to David Ives, who writes in the program note: “The Metromaniacs is a comedy with five plots, none of them important.” That sums up the one hour-and-45-minute farce and is also what makes the play so delightful. It is a classic comedy of mistaken identity, love at first sight, and, well, absolute fluff.
In 1940 British critic James Agate said of John Gielgud’s King Lear: “I do not feel that this Lear’s rages go beyond extreme petulance—they do not frighten me!” No such reservation afflicts Gregory Doran’s intelligent and well-spoken Royal Shakespeare Company production, which stars Antony Sher as the king—the Shakespearean role that Sher, who last year played Falstaff at BAM, says will be his last.
Lindsey Ferrentino’s This Flat Earth joins other recent plays in tackling a hot-button issue: Admissions at Lincoln Center examined affirmative action, and Miss You Like Hell at the Public is entwined with the deportation of illegal aliens, or undocumented immigrants, depending on one’s political leaning. Ferrentino’s chosen subject is gun violence in schools.
The reputation of Kurt Vonnegut nowadays rest on his comic novels—a mainstay of 1960s counterculture. He combined flights of hilarious whimsy with science fiction and sharp satire in works such as Cat’s Cradle (1963), God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater (1965) and Slaughterhouse-Five (1969). But at the height of his powers, Vonnegut also wrote a Broadway play, Happy Birthday, Wanda June. The play may not be a masterpiece, but the production by the Wheelhouse Theater Company under director Jeff Wise breathes screwball life into it with strong performances and unabashed theatricality.
A 16-year-old prep school student takes a train to New York City, spends some time in a bar, encounters odd sexual shenanigans in a hotel room, and struggles with an assortment of inner conflicts. In 1951, J. D. Salinger turned this scenario into gold with The Catcher in the Rye. But, in the TUTA Theater Company’s abstract and lumbering production of a 2011 play by Adam Rapp, these same elements hold little value. With extensive doses of narration broken only by a few unexplainable affronts of noise and light, The Edge of Our Bodies shares a border with the limits of our patience.
Stephen Schwartz’s Wicked has played somewhere around 6,020 performances and counting, and last week the show cleared $2.7 million. The newly opened Frozen, despite some dreadful reviews, was at 99.9% capacity. And both musicals—Wicked since its 2003 opening, Frozen via the 2013 Disney animated smash that inspired it—are cultural phenomena, especially among musical-loving teenage girls who respond to the heroines’ frustrations, bonding with other young women (a sister, in Frozen’s case), and their eventual triumph over adversity. Both shows have earworm empowerment anthems that have saturated social media since their premieres, Wicked’s “Defying Gravity” and Frozen’s “Let It Go.” And both would seem ripe for spoofing, of the Forbidden Broadway sort. Who, except possibly their most die-hard fans, wouldn’t want to have a little fun at these monoliths’ expense?