Food might not be the primary theme one would look for in Shakespeare, but Food of Love and Third Rail Projects have hit upon it, with pleasantly surprising results, in Midsummer: A Banquet at Café Fae, an unusual performance venue just south of Union Square. From the title it’s easy to guess that A Midsummer Night’s Dream is the production; it’s not easy to predict the rest.
If ever a show were able to make the word eclectic seem insufficient, and excess seem wan, Austin McCormick’s Queen of Hearts is it. Retelling the story of Lewis Carroll’s Alice for his Company XIV, McCormick primarily uses Alice in Wonderland but borrows characters from Through the Looking-Glass. That slight mashup aesthetic is more pronounced, though, in the show itself, which is an amalgam of Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, The Rocky Horror Show, Cirque du Soleil, and Minsky’s. It’s a wildly exuberant ride, but it helps if you are familiar with the original, since there’s no dialogue.
God of Marz, Rachel Shaw’s new play presented by Red Planet Theater Company, includes a warning upfront. A voice-over eschews the usual no-photos and no-cellphones reminder and (ungrammatically) informs the audience that “nothing the characters say or do does in any way reflect the views of the author, actors, directors, stage managers, costume designers, or the venue of this production. Some may find the material offensive and, if so, please leave quietly with no regrets.” Aside from the assumption that the play then does reflect the views of the lighting and scenic designers, for instance, some audience members might harbor an expectant thrill of an inflammatory evening at the theater. Alas, that’s not the case.
Eliza Lynch is Paraguay’s version of Eva Perón, Argentina’s famous class-climbing first lady. Madame Lynch, as she was known, was born in Ireland, emigrated with her family to France during the Irish Potato Famine (1845–49), and became a highly admired courtesan. In 1845 she met General Francisco Solano López Carrillo, who later became president of Paraguay, and she became the country’s most controversial de facto first lady. (The pair never married.) Once reviled by Paraguayans but now celebrated, the self-named “Empress of Paraguay” is the basis for the Drunkard’s Wife production of Madame Lynch, which is subtitled a “spectacle with music and dancing.”
Cirque du Soleil’s latest extravaganza, Luzia, draws on a Mexican theme for its storyline, but in a way that proves more accessible than some of the earlier productions. It’s subtitled “A Waking Dream of Mexico,” and under that guise it presents the feats of strength, agility and clowning with less obligation to a plot that can feel murky. An announcer sets it all up: he is a pilot of Flight 2016 to Mexico; the audience is in the passenger seats; and as the plane takes off, the fliers are meant to relax and doze into an in-flight fantasia.
Midtown is getting a little bit greener this winter, as Lucy Maud Montgomery’s classic novel Anne of Green Gables comes to life in an enchanting new version by Royal Family Productions. Adapted and directed by Chris Henry, Anne of Green Gables: Part I faithfully dramatizes Montgomery’s tale of 11-year-old orphan Anne Shirley’s new life on Canada’s Prince Edward Island in the late 19th century.
Harry Houdini is arguably the most famous magician of all time, but the circumstances around his death remain suspiciously murky. Did he truly die suddenly of appendicitis, or were there more malevolent forces afoot? Cynthia von Buhler’s The Girl Who Handcuffed Houdini combines murder mystery, film noir, and comic book genres to create a genuinely fun immersive theater experience wherein audiences can explore the mysteries surrounding Houdini’s death.
Following their previous collaboration on the 2010 musical The Scottsboro Boys, director-choreographer Susan Stroman and composer John Kander have returned to the Vineyard Theatre for The Beast in the Jungle, a haunting memory play warning that the biggest danger in life is the road not taken.
Old Stock: A Refugee Love Story, a new musical by Hannah Moscovitch and Ben Caplan from Canada’s 2b Theatre Company, is the story of two Jewish refugees fleeing Romania in 1908. Chaim and Chaya Moscovitch meet in an immigration holding facility in Halifax, Canada. Chaim is 19, hardworking, gentle, and eager to start anew—his entire family has been killed in a pogrom. He is also ready to fall in love. Chaya is 24, practical and hard-nosed. She lost the husband of her youth, Yochai, to typhus and, soon after, their child as well.
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.
Occupied Territories, a visceral and exciting new play co-written by Nancy Bannon and Mollye Maxner, focuses on two sets of characters separated by 50 years. It begins and ends in the basement of a family home, where Alex (Ciela Elliott) has come with her Aunt Helena (Kelley Rae O’Donnell) to bury her grandfather. They are quickly joined by Alex’s mother, Jude (Bannon), who is recently out of rehab but still in a halfway house. Jude is trying to connect to Alex after what seems to be a series of disappointments her addiction has wrought in the past.
The musical Lili Marlene takes its name from the famous German love song of World War II, first recorded in 1939. It became a hit among German troops (in spite of Joseph Goebbels’s dislike of it) and was eventually popularized among Allied troops as well, in a famous rendition by Marlene Dietrich in 1944. Yet that’s only an imaginative jumping-off point for the show of the title, which takes place between June 1932 and June 1933, at the tail end of the Weimar Republic and the first days with Adolf Hitler in power.
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.
A night at the newest production of Baghdaddy might begin with a cup of coffee, a doughnut, and a name tag. From the start, the audience is thrown right into the midst of Marshall Pailet and A.D. Penedo’s punchy political musical. Actors sit in the audience, and audience members sit on the stage as the show begins with a support group for the CIA operatives and others who played a role in starting the war in Iraq.
There is much to laugh about in Theatre for a New Audience’s (TFANA) production of Carlo Goldoni's raucously entertaining farce The Servant of Two Masters, and boy, do we laugh. Every formula for comedy is either turned on its head or played to its full predictive hilarity. And when the unpredictable moments happen—this archetype of commedia dell'arte requires a fair amount of improvisation and ad-libbing—the risk of going off-script is richly rewarded. Sobering allusions to our current political theater, and maniacally incoherent strings of dialogue chock-full of anachronism, are rendered tolerable and even enjoyable under the guise of farce. Goldoni's capering plot still holds considerable sway over modern theater: Richard Bean's adaptation of this play, One Man, Two Guvnors, was acclaimed on Broadway in 2012 and made a star of James Corden. The genre possesses enough to buoy the weary theatergoer: ostentation, levity and music. But even endless entertainment has its limits, and Goldoni's 1746 story of cross-dressing sisters and miserly fathers hangs by a silken thread.
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.
What’s odd about Body: Anatomies of Being at the New Ohio Theatre, is that, as much as it wants to break the audience out of being shocked by nudity, the script doesn’t measure up. The dialogue goads the audience to be comfortable with the body and all of its functions, “Wake up. Fart. Pee. Blow nose while pooping. Burp. Yawn. Drink water. Burp. Cough. Blow nose. Pick at clogged hair follicle under right arm. Burp.” But seriously, to what end? When all the actors have plucked and trimmed their pubic hair to a landing strip, are you really that comfortable with the body? A number of challenges steer this production off purpose.
Right out of the gate Marshall Goldberg’s original comedy Daddy Issues gets the audience laughing. As lights go up on the lead character, Donald Moscowitz, the audience sees his perfectly toned tush doing what appear to be butt exercises while he’s looking for his cat. “Here pussy-puss-puss. That’s a good kitty. Meow,” croons Donald.
While some people struggle with racial issues every day, other people have the leisure to study them. In the production of Smart People, the audience peers into the lives of four educated individuals who are all interacting with race in their own way. Some of these characters live a privileged life, while the other characters struggle with racism and stereotyping in their lives. Although this production touches upon important issues that are still prevalent in our society, Smart People decides to not go in depth with the discussion of racism, and instead keeps it as a nice conversation.
Third Rail Projects has a rich production history of placing its audiences on the cusp of collaborative theater. Its dancer-actors are the clicking wheels of a larger machine; they are not themselves the stars of the show, but let an almost spiritual illusion take over that billing. In the long-running hit Then She Fell, experiential theater transcends all of its normal bounds to create just that illusion. The production, which is written, directed, designed and choreographed by Zach Morris, Tom Pearson and Jennine Willett, is a haunting take on Lewis Carroll's book "Through the Looking-Glass," and it derives every last morsel of dark lyricism from its source material.