The motel room drama is a genre all its own. Its structure generally involves a short stay in a strange, tight space where two or more friends, spouses or lovers have it out with one another, while anything from bad weather to existential threats keep them from fleeing. Examples range from Sam Shepard’s dynamic Fool for Love to A.R. Gurney’s contemplative The Wayside Motor Inn. In his 2018 one-act, Only Yesterday, television writer and first-time playwright Bob Stevens adds a couple of new elements to the form. His work is inspired by actual events, and the characters happen to be two of the most famous men in the world: John Lennon and Paul McCartney. Thus confined by reality and familiarity, the results are nostalgic, if not exactly explosive.
Jonathan Spector’s new play Eureka Day is the unusual satire that takes aim at left-wing politics. It is perhaps the most notable rare bird of its kind since Jonathan Reynolds’s wonderful Stonewall Jackson’s House, which appeared more than 20 years ago. Spector sets his play in Berkeley, Calif., a town whose radical politics have put it at the forefront of social change yet also earned it the nickname Berserkeley.
Mac Wellman is a grand master of absurdity, and the Flea Theater is currently presenting a festival of five plays in rotating repertory. Two of them, Bad Penny and Serenity Forever, are classic examples of Wellman’s work, which often weaves together an exploration of the everyday with mythology, the metaphysical, and American consciousness.
If nothing else, the Bridge Production Group deserves a shout-out for tackling difficult material. Just 10 minutes into a mere 70 minutes’ running time, See You, by Canadian writer Guillaume Corbeil, is more than likely to provoke thoughts of how swiftly mortal lives are over, and whether your own demise will occur before the play ends. In short, See You is a stultifying, irritating work—playwriting by lists.
Time travel. It’s such a promising stage subject, why haven’t playwrights tackled it more? A chance to compare and contrast eras and attitudes, to explore the progress we’ve made and what we’ve lost. Debra Whitfield’s little comedy Tech Support attempts all of the above, throwing in some #MeToo concerns and pointed observations about our inability to keep up with the galloping pace of technological change. It’s a friendly, well-meaning effort. And it’s frustratingly low-impact.
The decision to avoid going into the family business can be a wise one, especially if that business involves the questionable practice of psychic healing. However, if that choice also means surrendering not only the family name, but one’s entire identity, then scamming the sick and elderly might seem to hold merit. Such is a young man’s quandary in Felix Starro, the sincere and split-focus new musical by Jessica Hagedorn and Fabian Obispo that opens the Ma-Yi Theater Company’s 30th anniversary season. Under the direction of Ralph B. Peña, this nearly two-hour dive into the meaning of faith is the first musical created by Filipino Americans to appear Off-Broadway.
The award-winning Forbidden Broadway will return to New York after a five-year absence. Forbidden Broadway: The Next Generation will appear for a 10-week run at the Triad Theater (158 West 72nd St.) beginning Sept. 18 and run through Nov. 30. Opening night is Oct. 16. Gerard Alessandrini’s continuing series of Forbidden Broadway entries has been spoofing theater seasons since 1982; it has won seven Drama Desk awards and a special Tony Award since its inception. The new edition will castigate Hadestown, Moulin Rouge, the recent Oklahoma! revival, The Ferryman, Tootsie, Beetlejuice, Frozen, the Yiddish Fiddler on the Roof, Dear Evan Hansen, and What the Constitution Means to Me, along with stars such as Ben Platt, Billy Porter, Santino Fontana, Karen Olivo, and Alex Brightman. For more information, visit www.forbiddenbroadway.com.
Having presented excellent revivals of Sean O’Casey’s three most important plays, the Irish Rep has turned to Little Gem, a new play by Elaine Murphy, that’s riskier. The play consists of three intertwined monologues. The structure may not appeal to everyone, and it’s a work that will find more resonance among women, but the performers, under the direction of Marc Atkinson Borrull, bring all their considerable power to invigorating a story that doesn’t rely on flash or action.
Jim Steinman’s Bat Out of Hell: The Musical is a high-octane show that has a way of staying with you long after the curtain closes. The songs are taken from Meatloaf’s 1977 debut album, Bat Out of Hell, which provided a narrative about love and teenage angst for a generation of rock-and-roll fans. Director Jay Scheib, best-known for contemporary stagings of classical and contemporary works, has combined straightforward musical theater elements with avant-garde practices (such as a handheld camera that isolates and projects the faces of the characters in situ). The overall affect is of a raucous rock musical that captures the spirit of a concept album.
Bess Wohl’s new comedy Make Believe portrays a quartet of Gen-X siblings at two points of life-changing family crisis. The first is in 1980, when the Conlees, two sisters and two brothers, are small children. The second is 32 years later. In both instances, the kids are gathered—it’s tempting to say “barricaded”—in a gargantuan nursery at the top of their parents’ luxe suburban home.
The Playwrights Realm will present two world premieres in its 2019–20 season as part of its mission of supporting new dramatists. The first production will be Anna Moench’s The Mothers (beginning Sept. 13 at the Duke on 42nd Street). The play is described as part “social satire” and part “survival tale” and incorporates work with the Radical Parent-Inclusion Project (RPI), an initiative launched by Playwrights Realm in association with Parent Artist Advocacy League for the Performing Arts (PAAL). The initiative focuses on socio-economic issues involved in parenting. The second play will be Noah Diaz’s Richard & Jane & Dick & Sally, which takes a look at the characters from elementary-school readers from the 1950s. Diaz examines the characters as grown-ups; his play will begin in April 2020. For more information, visit playwrightsrealm.org.
Shakespeare’s tragedy of Coriolanus isn’t often done—Daniel Sullivan’s production at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park is the first in that venue in 40 years. But Sullivan’s staging is not only for Shakespeare completists. It’s a brilliant rendering, crowned by a towering performance from Jonathan Cake in the title role.
Describing the internal conflict resulting from being an African American in a white-dominated society, W. E. B. Du Bois famously stated, “It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others.” The fragmented black identity is a guiding motif in Nambi Kelley’s theatricalized Native Son, currently running in repertory with Measure for Measure at the Duke on 42nd Street. Adapted from Richard Wright’s 1940 novel, this version eschews the socially realistic approach of previous stage and film treatments and thrusts the audience into a 90-minute expressionistic fever dream.
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.
The Summer Shorts Series B at 59E59 Theaters, presented by Throughline Artists, showcases three plays that each, in some way, deal with the unbridgeable gulf that can separate people in relationships, whether marriage or friendship.
If Connor Chase Stewart has any apprehension about sharing a stage, even momentarily, with Richard Roy, whom he embodies in A White Man’s Guide to Rikers Island, he doesn’t show it. Nor does the difference in their physiques hinder Stewart—the much older Roy looks like an ex-football player now, although he was a professional boxer and a sparring partner for Muhammad Ali, while Stewart has the lanky frame of a basketball player. Still, Stewart’s casual yet energetic performance makes him a relatable guide through New York City’s famous prison.
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.
Tender Napalm, directed by David Norwood, is a postmodern love/hate story that examines the lines between fantasy and reality. When the play opens, a man (Amara James Aja) and a woman (Ayana Major Bey), face off and speak to each other in poetic language, filled with violent imagery and sexual innuendos. The abstract and poetic language, coupled with the nonlinear narrative, gives the play a surreal feel.
Dog Man the Musical is a children’s show based on the bestselling books by Dav Pilkey, whose Dog Man series has sold more than 23 million copies. Dog Man the book has translations available in 30 languages, and the musical, with book and lyrics by Kevin Del Aguila and music by Brad Alexander, is faithful to the books. It focuses on the same witty protagonists, Harold (Dan Rosales) and George (Forest Vandyke), who are now now in the fifth grade at Jerome Horwitz Elementary and “way more mature and cultured.”
Harlem Repertory’s The Wizard of Oz is a theatrical romp accompanied by a lively jazz trio. Directed and choreographed by Keith Lee Grant, themes of self-discovery, connection to family and facing one’s fears are well tackled and performed by a wonderful multicultural cast. They bring to life the events that propel the Kansas schoolgirl, Dorothy, on a magical mystery tour as she follows the yellow brick road.