“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.
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.
Kait Kerrigan and Brian Lowdermilk are the Rihanna of musical theater. Just as the Barbadian pop goddess releases hit song after hit song while selling relatively few albums, Kerrigan and Lowdermilk are less known for their plays than for their individual tunes, which have gained them a rabid online following. Their contemporaries Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (Dear Evan Hansen, La La Land) have conquered Broadway and Hollywood, but Kerrigan and Lowdermilk have connected with the millennial fan base like no other musical theater writers; they’re the official composers of the Internet. Now, several of their conversationally catchy pop songs have found their way into the long-gestating original musical The Mad Ones, playing at 59E59 Theaters.
There may be no better, or more controversial, example of humankind’s uneasy attempts to shape nature than the cow. When celeb geek Neil deGrasse Tyson recently tweeted that cows are “biological machine(s) invented by humans to turn grass into steak,” avowed vegan Moby took to Instagram to call him an “ignorant sociopath” for making light of the “unspeakable suffering” humans wreak on billions of animals a year. Irish company Fishamble’s genial Charolais at 59E59 mines this same tension for dark humor and pathos, but with a much more intimate beef, between an Irish woman and a French heifer over the man who loves them both.
No matter how oppressively hot a New York summer can be, one of the dramatic oases in it has become the Summer Shorts Festival of New American Short Plays at 59E59 Theaters. Founded by artistic director (and often actor) J.J. Kandel 11 years ago, the mini-festival presents two bills of one-acts in repertory for several weeks. This year, Series B of Summer Shorts features Break Point, written and directed by Neil LaBute; A Woman, by Chris Cragin-Day, directed by Kel Haney; and Wedding Bash, written by Lindsey Kraft and Andrew Leeds, and directed by Kandel himself.
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.
The theater has not been kind to the English port city of Ipswich lately. Alecky Blythe’s documentary musical London Road, a huge hit for London’s National Theatre and recently made into a film featuring a singing Tom Hardy (no, really), shows Ipswich’s working class to be petty and vindictive. In the revival of Henry Naylor’s Echoes, part of a double bill with new play Angel at the Brits Off Broadway festival, Ipswich is such a “dungheap” that it drives two women into the arms of religious extremists in Afghanistan and Syria. Compared to the hellscapes in which the women of Naylor’s “Arabian Nightmares” find themselves, though, Ipswich is the Garden of Eden.
There’s a famous joke about a man who prays for years to win the lottery. He tries to live a righteous life and promises to use the money for good, but his prayers grow increasingly bitter. One day, as he’s leaving church, having given God an earful, the clouds part and a voice booms, “Hey, moron, you have to buy a ticket!” A Gambler’s Guide to Dying, which launches 59E59’s 13th annual Brits Off Broadway festival this week, is about a man for whom buying the ticket is more than good advice; it’s his life philosophy.
The Birds, Conor McPherson’s creepy new play, is derived neither from Aristophanes nor Alfred Hitchcock. It does, however, share DNA with the 1963 film because both draw from a short story by Daphne du Maurier. (Hitchcock also used du Maurier novels as source material for Jamaica Inn and his Oscar-winning Rebecca.) Don’t expect to find real birds or even simulated ones in the pocket drama at 59E59 Theaters. Fans of the movie won’t find a pompous female ornithologist with environmental concerns or a schoolteacher with her eyes pecked out either.