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.
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.
Eliza Lynch is Paraguay’s version of Eva Perón, Argentina’s famous class-climbing first lady. Madame Lynch, as she was known, was born in Ireland, emigrated with her family to France during the Irish Potato Famine (1845–49), and became a highly admired courtesan. In 1845 she met General Francisco Solano López Carrillo, who later became president of Paraguay, and she became the country’s most controversial de facto first lady. (The pair never married.) Once reviled by Paraguayans but now celebrated, the self-named “Empress of Paraguay” is the basis for the Drunkard’s Wife production of Madame Lynch, which is subtitled a “spectacle with music and dancing.”
Harry Houdini is arguably the most famous magician of all time, but the circumstances around his death remain suspiciously murky. Did he truly die suddenly of appendicitis, or were there more malevolent forces afoot? Cynthia von Buhler’s The Girl Who Handcuffed Houdini combines murder mystery, film noir, and comic book genres to create a genuinely fun immersive theater experience wherein audiences can explore the mysteries surrounding Houdini’s death.
An asteroid collides with Earth in just over an hour. You are at an apartment party in New York City with eight people whom you know from various stages of your life. What do you discuss with them? What is going through your mind? Do you have any regrets? These are the large, existential questions brought forth by Part Two of Live In Theatre’s This Is When We Rest, an apocalyptic theater experience designed by Leland Masek that combines Live Action Role Play (LARP) gaming and participatory theater.
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.
Now in their 17th year, The Civilians have etched out a unique place for themselves in the New York theater scene. Employing what they refer to as “investigative theater,” company members gather source material as journalists, then transform their research into art. In The Undertaking, two performers, portraying multiple characters, enact real-life interviews centered on the act of dying. Lip-syncing, film appreciation, a small warehouse of electronic devices and a pillow fort are all utilized as the characters take an inward trip to the hereafter and expound on shuffling off this mortal coil. All the while, the production comments upon itself and divulges its own techniques. Death may be the subject of this play, but its theme is creation.
Counting Sheep is immersive theater at its very best. Billed as a “guerrilla folk-punk opera,” the work is about the 2013–14 Ukrainian Revolution in Maidan Square, in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev. And it is into the arms of this revolution (also known as the Revolution of Dignity), as it spreads from the youth to Ukrainian people of all ages, that the members of the audience are thrust.
Whether one considers Van Gogh’s Ear a mixed-media presentation, or, in the parlance of millennials, a mash-up, the production directed by Donald T. Sanders for The Ensemble for the Romantic Century abounds in pleasures, from its stately pace, to the extraordinary musicianship that suffuses it, to the revelations about a painter whose work is well-known, but whose personality less so.
Thirty years ago Coastal Disturbances captured the fancy of Reagan-era theatergoers, catapulting playwright Tina Howe from a niche in the New York avant-garde to the commercial heights of Broadway. Set on a private stretch of sand along the North Shore of Massachusetts, that whimsical comedy featured Annette Bening and Tim Daly, who made the angst and self-absorption of Howe’s baby boomers endearing, poignant and, above all, hilarious.
Plenty of New Yorkers are familiar with plays performed in parks, bars, or museums. But a play in a pool? This is Not a Theatre Company’s Pool Play 2.0 is just that, taking place in an indoor swimming pool at Waterside Plaza Swim and Health Club (it should be noted that This is Not a Theatre Company is known for its experimental approaches to performance space). Each audience member receives a poncho upon entering the warm, chlorine-infused pool space, and is invited to pick any bath mat as a seat; at the pool’s edge, the audience's feet dangle into the water. The uniqueness of Pool Play 2.0 does not end with its nontraditional performance space, however. The play's text, its staging, and the committed actors collaborate to provide a fun yet thought-provoking treatment of something nearly everyone has experienced: a day at the pool.
"While the radical composer John Cage (1912–92) was alive, it seemed easier to dismiss him as an irritating crackpot than it does now."
That rhetorical flourish, from critic Alastair Macaulay of the New York Times, is as outlandish as any of Cage's own colorful, self-conscious proclamations; but it captures the crescendo of acclaim accorded this American avant-garde composer over the 25 years since his death. Macaulay's recent assertion that "no study of 20th-century music is complete without Cage" would have been argumentative a quarter century ago. Now it's an accepted tenet of commentary on music history.