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.
When Enter Laughing: The Musical opened in fall 2008, the York Theatre Company struck gold in their excavation and refinement of a 1976 flop musical, So Long 174th Street. Using the title of the play by Joseph Stein and novel by Carl Reiner on which it is based, Enter Laughing was hailed by critics as a musical gem, prompting the New York Times critic to write, “All you can do is wonder, how did this thing fail so badly the first time around?” Although the York’s revival of Enter Laughing, in a nearly identical production to the original, may have lost some of its luster, the show retains most of its charm.
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.
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.
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.