My Life on a Diet, Renée Taylor’s hilarious one-woman show (cowritten and codirected with Joseph Bologna, her late husband), is a testimony to the power of a story and the story teller. In a beautifully beaded champagne evening dress and matching sneakers, she’s the size of a pixie and just as energetic. When she told her doctor she’s going to do a one-woman show, he wonders how, at 86 years old, she’s going to move around the stage for an hour and a half with arthritis, bursitis, sciatica, the beginning of osteoporosis and a broken foot? She tells him “I can jump! I can kick! I can do the mambo!” Then she admits: “In the pool. On dry land, I can walk and I can sit. I just have trouble sitting after I walk and getting up and walking after I sit.” So, she arrives at a happy medium and stays seated for her performance.
Can a sinner become a saint? That is the question John Wulp explores in The Saintliness of Margery Kempe, first produced in 1958 at the Poet’s Theatre in Cambridge, Mass., and last seen in an Off-Broadway production the following year. The story is loosely based on the real life of Margery Kempe, a woman who lived in the 14th century and wrote the first known autobiography in Western literature. At the beginning of the play, Margery (the wonderful Andrus Nichols, who brings an energetic intensity to the role) declares, “Morality, damn all morality, damn, damn, damn.” A feminist long before the feminist movement, she seeks to shrug off the assumptions that inform her role as mother, housewife and religious community member. She hates it all and leaves home.
“Lonesome Blues,” a new musical at the York, is a historical dramatization of the life of Blind Lemon Jefferson through music. Jefferson was an itinerant Texas bluesman who was one of the first to be recorded by Paramount Records in the 1920s. He is said to have influenced everyone from Leadbelly to Bob Dylan to the Beatles. Jefferson went on to record 80 songs until his untimely death in his early 30s. He was found frozen near the river in Chicago. The blues, as does the play, tells the story of this rough life for African-Americans in America in the early 20th century. “Blues hits a nerve and that hurts” Jefferson declares.
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.
Since 2009, Live In Theater has reimagined the murder mystery genre by staging historic events within various nontraditional theatre spaces throughout New York City. The group specializes in interactive, true crime stories, putting some audience members at the center of the action. In The Trial of Typhoid Mary 1915, viewers are faced with the case of Mary Mallon, a domestic cook for affluent New York families during the early 1900s. As a silent carrier of the contagious bacteria that causes typhoid fever, Mallon infected more than 50 New Yorkers, resulting in at least three deaths. However, while Mallon was certainly not the only carrier of the disease, her status as an immigrant woman may have disadvantaged her in the justice system. It is up to the audience to decide whether Typhoid Mary should remain in quarantine for the rest of her natural life or be set free.
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.
Bee, the heroine of Bruce Norris’s new play, A Parallelogram, is in the midst of a bout of depression. She sits on her bed playing solitaire. Perhaps it’s because she and her boyfriend, Jay, have recently returned from a vacation on a tropical island, where she saw grinding poverty. Or perhaps because, on returning from their trip, she found that the pet parrot she had for 17 years had died from her own negligence (its empty cage sits in the bedroom). Perhaps it’s the hysterectomy that she recently had. Or could it possibly be because her future self, Bee 2, has materialized to reveal the future to her in all its futility?