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.
Although the Parisian cabaret the Moulin Rouge was most recently popularized by Baz Luhrmann’s fantastical 2001 film musical, it was French painter Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’s posters that brought fame to the venue during its original heyday in the late 19th century. Colorful and grotesque, his works depicted the excess, revelry, and bohemian lifestyles that defined the neighborhood of Montmartre at that time. In Unmaking Toulouse-Lautrec, Bated Breath Theatre Company delivers a quick and dirty look at the man behind the paintings in NoHo’s sexy, velvet-saturated bar Madame X (a venue that befits the bordello stylings of the production’s historical time period).
When actors address audiences directly, they’re said to breach the stage’s “fourth wall.” In The Mortality Machine, it’s the audience that does the breaching, penetrating all parts of the playing space and performing assigned roles side-by-side with the professionals. In this two-hour drama—site-specific, immersive, and improvisatory—part of the mystery for the playgoer is who else has bought a ticket and who’s being paid to act.
Tyler Everett, the protagonist of Dan Ireland-Reeves’s compelling play Bleach, takes a utilitarian view of whoring. A recent recruit to the world’s oldest profession, Tyler (Eamon Yates) has figured out how, on any given night, to reap maximal rewards at the intersection of human sexuality’s demand and supply curves.
“Obscene, provocative, criminal, controversial”—those are words used to describe Lenny Bruce, the stand-up comedian and scathing social critic who gained popularity in the 1950s and ’60s. I’m Not A Comedian, I’m Lenny Bruce, written by and starring Ronnie Marmo, captures both the acerbic and the soft sides of Bruce, who was a man seeking a voice in an oppressive time for free speech.
Old photographs, dusty VHS tapes, and newspaper clippings: though these objects might seem like mundane clutter, there is some truth to the old adage that “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” Indeed, there is a distinct thrill that accompanies the discovery of a particularly poignant piece of nostalgia, and it is this curious excitement upon which Say Something Bunny!, an innovative piece of theater by Alison S.M. Kobayashi and UnionDocs, thrives.
If you think a mega-famous pop star like Beyoncé and an ancient Egyptian queen like Cleopatra have nothing in common, think again. They are both worshipped religiously by their followers, both have expensive taste in clothes and jewelry, and both have a penchant for dating famous bad boys. Or at least those are the parallels teased out by the new immersive pop musical Cleopatra, now playing at the Chelsea Music Hall venue. In this production, historical accuracy goes out the window in favor of flashy dance numbers, sultry love ballads, and audience involvement. Cleopatra is equal parts drag show, pop concert, and Broadway musical, and, though it has some rough edges, it is surely a good time.
During the Holocaust, the atrocities of the Nazi regime forced countless Jewish families and individuals into hiding. Though they were not interned in concentration camps, these stowaways were subjected to another, silent, reign of terror—in which every creak and cough could result in discovery, detainment, and almost certain death. Thus, the scene is set for The Hidden Ones, an immersive theater production that brings audiences into the secret hiding place of two families at the end of World War II
Gloria: A Life, by Tony-nominated Emily Mann, captures Gloria Steinem’s ascent from a young journalist relegated to “women’s interest” stories to an icon of the feminist movement. Active in promoting women’s rights from the 1970s on, she is famous for saying, “The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.” The play is performed in two acts: the first act is the story of Steinem’s life, and the second is a “talking circle,” in which the audience is invited to carry on a conversation about the themes of the play.
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.
James and Jamesy in the Dark is an extraordinary piece of theater that fits no mold but its own. It draws on many sources—or pays homage to them—but it is a unique, thought-provoking delight. Two gifted physical performers (in whiteface and dressed top-to-toe in gray outfits, including gloves) embody the title characters. Eventually, the audience comes to recognize the taller one as Aaron Malkin’s more phlegmatic James and the shorter, more emotionally fragile one as Alastair Knowles’s Jamesy.
The Schaubühne Berlin production of Returning to Reims addresses fascinating material—the evolution of French political life in the 20th century, notably a working class that was heavily communist in the 1920s to one that increasingly embraces the right-wing National Front of Marine Le Pen. U.S. dramatists rarely tackle political subjects of such depth, but the static execution of Thomas Ostermaier’s production undercuts much of the daring of that choice.
Robert O’Hara’s new play, Mankind, opens with a gay couple’s strained pillow talk, as one man, Jason (Bobby Moreno), advises his partner, Mark (Anson Mount), that he is pregnant—by Mark. From that simple start O’Hara spins a broad, futuristic satire of sexuality, feminism, religion, commerce and talk shows. It’s more than the playwright is able to manage smoothly, and much of it feels familiar, but it has its moments before it arrives at its circular ending, one reminiscent of Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur’s Twentieth Century.
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.
Ars Nova’s KPOP begins with a chorus of glittering young Korean pop performers belting the lyrics “the future’s standing right in front of you.” Indeed, the purported mission of the play’s fictional management enterprise, JTM Entertainment, is to bring K-Pop to American audiences, and the production delivers K-Pop-styled numbers in droves.
Endangered: The Musical, by Keni Fine and Tony Small, is like The Wizard of Oz meets Hairspray. It’s about a young boy’s journey, and it has a social message. The story centers on Levi Lovewell (Theo Errig), a young, aspiring journalist whose parents shelter him. But, during a trip to the zoo, his curiosity gets the better of him and he breaks away from them.
The ambitious Foundry Theatre has chosen an ideal location for its production of W. David Hancock’s two-character drama Master. The design of Brooklyn’s Irondale Center, a former worship and religious-education space in the Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church (a gem of 19th-century architecture), strains heavenward with worn ecclesiastical grandeur. It’s an environment likely to put arriving spectators in a reflective mood appropriate for playing their parts as tacit mourners in an immersive performance piece that depicts a memorial service and gallery retrospective honoring James Leroy Clemens.
The Instigators’ adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull, directed by Lillian Meredith, uses immersive elements to enhance and punctuate both large and small moments. Actors break the fourth wall, and the staging brings actors in line with the audience.
The “whites only” and “colored only” entrances to the immersive portion of 3/Fifths at 3LD Art & Technology Center in lower Manhattan are visible not only to wary ticket-holders, but to everyday pedestrians who happen to pass by the glass façade. Indeed, 3/Fifths holds a funhouse mirror to systemic racism in America by uniting the reality of everyday injustice with immersive theatrical experience.