Drama

Socrates

Socrates

Socrates begins at the end, with the famed philosopher already dead, and Plato, his most famous student, trying to understand why. Giving away the ending is always risky, but in playwright Tim Blake Nelson’s hands, the story becomes a type of metaphysical puzzle. The question isn’t who did it—Plato tells us up front it was the city of Athens—but how a supposedly great civilization could so easily eradicate a great mind, especially one who went to great lengths to disavow his greatness. There’s more than a hint of the Christ in the play’s portrayal of Socrates, but the gospel being preached isn’t one of peace and forgiveness, but reason and democracy.

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Happy Talk

Happy Talk

Two is company, three’s a crowd, and being alone is unbearable in the New Group’s world premiere of Jesse Eisenberg’s latest comedy-drama, Happy Talk. Unfolding across a series of confrontations where, more often than not, two characters, deep in conversation, are interrupted by the needs of an intrusive third, this play tracks the lives of some strong women and a weak man, all of whom are at the end of their collective rope. And though there is a story line centered around a home aide’s scheme to acquire a green card, the real suspense is in the unrelenting tension that lies just beneath the polite banter of a household that is anything but happy.

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Curse of the Starving Class

Curse of the Starving Class

 The goose and rabbit who have been delighting audiences on Broadway in The Ferryman now have some competition in the nonhuman actor category: the sheep who graces the stage for much of Signature Theater’s revival of Sam Shepard’s Curse of the Starving Class. It’s clear from the startling outset, when the walls of the dilapidated kitchen crack and break apart, that things aren’t going to end well for human and nonhuman alike. And the play implies that the divide between human and animal isn’t as stark as we would like to imagine—life in Shepard’s America is a brute struggle for survival that pits everyone against each other, including family members, and ends in mutual destruction, like the eagle-and-cat parable that concludes the play.

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Hans Christian Andersen

Hans Christian Andersen

The Ensemble for the Romantic Century puts together hybrids of theater, classical music—both vocal and instrumental—and readings of letters or diaries to create its productions. For Hans Christian Andersen, its latest offering, the group has increased the hybrid entertainment by adding puppetry for its story of the life of the great Danish fairy-tale writer: marionettes, hand puppets, and some that are much larger.

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Lockdown

Lockdown

The prison drama has a familiar formula: the grizzled veteran nearing parole, the hotheaded younger inmate spoiling for a fight, the wary authorities, the well-meaning outsider taking up the inmates’ cause. The difference with Cori Thomas’ Lockdown is a) it’s Rattlestick Playwrights Theater 2019, not Warner Brothers 1931, and b) it addresses contemporary, unsettling issues about incarceration, social inequity, and what awaits anybody getting out of stir. Lockdown could be described as agitprop, clearly on the side of those behind bars and not above using sentimentality to argue its points, but it’s stirring and effective, and anchored by a great performance.

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Caroline’s Kitchen

Caroline’s Kitchen

A British celebrity cook’s life isn’t so camera-perfect in Torben Betts’s Caroline’s Kitchen, a U.K. transplant now playing in 59E59 Theaters’ Brits Off-Broadway festival. The high-tension new play centers on BBC cooking host Caroline (Caroline Langrishe), the “darling of Middle England,” whose privileged life goes up in flames over the course of an evening—along with the roast.

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The Plough and the Stars

The Plough and the Stars

The Irish Repertory Theatre’s Sean O’Casey Season concludes with The Plough and the Stars, whose title is synonymous with the flag for the Irish Citizen Army. The last of O’Casey’s trilogy, which includes The Shadow of a Gunman and Juno and the Paycock, has joined the other two in repertory, and it’s a rougher, more jagged experience. Like the others, it takes place in a tenement; here the numerous characters move in and out of the parlor of Nora and Jack Clitheroe. In Charlotte Moore’s splendid production, one feels the close quarters: the frictions are quicker to arise, and there is always a bone to pick.

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Paul Swan Is Dead and Gone

Paul Swan Is Dead and Gone

Paul Swan, an oddball of bygone Manhattan, is the protagonist of Claire Kiechel’s new play, Paul Swan Is Dead and Gone. The playwright is Swan’s great-grandniece, though too young to have known him. She has assembled an ambitious theater piece, more fantasia than drama, that depicts his story of self-invention.

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Safeword

Safeword

Two years ago, S. Asher Gelman made a splash with his first play, Afterglow, which examined a threesome of gay men. Scheduled to take advantage of Gay Pride month, it ran well over a year. Gelman’s second play, Safeword, has more challenging subject matter. The title comes from BDSM, which is, for those who haven’t read Fifty Shades of Grey, bondage and discipline (BD) and sadomasochism (SM). This time, however, Gelman’s plot feels more contrived, and its effect isn’t as strong.

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Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde

Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde

The promise of better living through chemistry is put to the acid test in Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, a sincere, occasionally scary, and often jovial adaptation of the classic 1886 Robert Louis Stevenson tale. The play won the 2018 Fringe Encore Series Outstanding Production Award and now returns to the Soho Playhouse for a six-week victory lap.

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The Pain of My Belligerence

The Pain of My Belligerence

The first scene of Halley Feiffer’s new drama is a bear trap. It seizes one’s attention and won’t let go. Feiffer, who stars as Cat, is having drinks and hors d’oeuvres with Guy, a restaurateur whose wife she has profiled for The New Yorker. He’s explaining to her his design of the Japanese restaurant they are in; as performed by Hamish Linklater, he is arrogant, charming, playful, insulting, and possibly dangerous. When he says to her, “I’m a serial killer,” and quickly follows it up with “I’m joking,” it’s not completely reassuring.

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All Our Children

All Our Children

All Our Children, the first play by the experienced theater and opera director Stephen Unwin, is structured as a moral debate that sheds light on the mass murder of disabled children in Nazi Germany. The play is well-staged and intermittently powerful, but overly schematic, as the characters too often feel like mouthpieces rather than fully realized individuals. It premiered on the West End in London in 2017, and now comes to the Black Box Theater at the Sheen Center, with a new cast, under the sure-handed direction of Ethan McSweeny.

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Charlie’s Waiting

Charlie’s Waiting

Charlie’s Waiting, a new dark comedy by Mêlisa Annis, demonstrates its young author’s flair for weaving comedy and drama together, as well as a wicked imagination. The “what if” behind the plot creates tension that is palpable.

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The White Devil

The White Devil

The Red Bull Theater, founded in 2003 to focus on Jacobean drama (those playwrights who were overshadowed by Shakespeare) has in recent seasons been incorporating non-Jacobean plays into its offerings, so it’s a pleasure to see the company back on home ground with John Webster’s potboiler The White Devil. Webster is best known for The Duchess of Malfi, perhaps the greatest non-Shakespearean play of the period; The White Devil’s complex plot is inspired by the same Italian family.

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Julius Caesar

Julius Caesar

In the opening moments of Theater for a New Audience’s The Tragedy of Julius Caesar, Metellus Cimber (Ted Deasy), one of the conspirators against Caesar, confronts a “mechanical,” or ordinary citizen, who is out on the street loudly celebrating the festival of Lupercal. Metellus ends up putting a chokehold on the man and then tossing him to the ground. The violent energy doesn’t let up for the next two hours and 40 minutes of a production that, at moments, is clear and invigorating, but at others sacrifices subtlety for movement and spectacle.

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Perp

Perp

In telling the story of an innocent young man wrongly convicted of a brutal murder, Lee Brock’s highly watchable production of Lyle Kessler’s Perp becomes a battle between good and evil. Its colorful characters challenge black-and-white assumptions, which in turn gives rise to universal questions about which side of this dichotomy they are on. But perhaps the most noteworthy aspect of the play is the professional debut of Ali Arkane in the lead role. Arkane’s quirky portrayal of the protagonist Douglass is endearing through and through. With Douglass as the criminal center stage, Perp is one of the most serene crime dramas ever.

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Smart Blonde

Smart Blonde

Willy Holtzman calls his pocket-size play about Judy Holliday Smart Blonde. Not a bad title, considering Holliday’s reportedly high IQ and her early success, on stage and screen, as Billie Dawn, the seemingly dumb, actually discerning protagonist of Garson Kanin’s 1946 smash-hit comedy Born Yesterday.

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The Mother

The Mother

Florian Zeller’s play, The Mother, is subtitled “a black farce.” If that conjures images of slamming doors and maids running around frantically in their underwear, forget it. The frenzied activity in Trip Cullman’s highly stylized production is almost entirely provided by the great French actress Isabelle Huppert, and although she strips down to a slip and garters at one point to put on a sexy red dress, it’s not at all lubricious or funny.

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Surely Goodness and Mercy

Surely Goodness and Mercy

Grace, blessings, and charity can come from the most unlikely sources and individuals. This is the central premise of Chia Hutchinson’s Surely Goodness and Mercy, in which a precocious 12-year-old boy and a cantankerous school lunch lady are a pair of unlikely saviors. Set in Newark, N.J., the play shows that amid the grit and grime of urban life, simple acts of benevolence can have reverberating and profound effects.

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Marys Seacole

Marys Seacole

Jackie Sibblies Drury is not content to let audiences just watch her plays; she wants to make them conscious of how and why they are watching. In Fairview, her 2018 breakout, this meant disrupting a black family sitcom with tone-deaf white voices. For Drury, the mundane is anything but; it’s in banal, everyday interactions that society’s fault lines become most clearly visible, if we know how to see them.

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