In what has become a rite of summer in New York, the Potomac Theatre Project (PTP) has taken up residence at the Atlantic Stage 2. The company’s first offering is a double bill featuring Howard Barker’s The Possibilities, directed by Richard Ramagnoli, and Caryl Churchill’s The After-Dinner Joke, directed by Cheryl Faraone. Although stylistically quite different, the plays generally fit together well in their emotionally dizzying and intellectually disorienting exploration of power and politics.
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.
Elevator Repair Service (ERS), the adventurous downtown troupe known for theatrical adaptations of iconic modernist works, is parodying Edward Albee and Tennessee Williams in a new play by Kate Scelsa that has the cleverest title in town—Everyone’s Fine with Virginia Woolf. The production is directed at breakneck speed by the company’s founder, John Collins. It features visuals by Louisa Thompson (scenery), Amanda Villalobos (properties), and Kaye Voyce (costumes) that give the proceedings the kitsch-cluttered aesthetic that’s an ERS signature.
Nostalgia is a potent drug. The lure of a “simpler time” can inspire longing, sadness and even a radical lifestyle change. Now onstage at the Flea Theater in a thoughtful, accessible production by New York Deaf Theatre, Jordan Harrison’s Maple & Vine looks past the chaotic world of 21st-century technology to offer a view of the politics and realities of returning to the past.
Imagine the life of a young lad who was never told that he was a good kid. “From the time [Edgar Chocoy] was born,” says immigration defense lawyer Kimberly Salinas (Emily Joy Weiner) in the documentary-theater piece De Novo, “he was seen as this poor kid from the slums of Guatemala City, then a gang kid from East L.A., then a criminal alien teenager in Immigration Court. I don’t think anyone ever got to see who he really was.” Salinas’s reflection makes clear that a seemingly trivial detail such as this can impose serious implications on a person’s self-esteem and that a life can sustain enormous consequences from it.
A pot of monkfish stew sits on the stove for most of Muswell Hill, Torben Betts’s barbed comedy—simmering, bubbling, issuing forth its varied flavors gradually and subtly. As does Muswell Hill. Set in 2010 in the titular leafy upscale London suburb—the equivalent of, say, Saddle River on this side of the pond—Betts’s work presents a troubled dinner party of mismatched individuals and couples, talking past and misunderstanding one another, drinking too much even though at least two begin as teetotalers, letting their libidos lead them to unwise decisions, and revealing personality traits simultaneously unexpected and inevitable. We’re in what seems familiar Alan Ayckbourn territory for much of it, then the hurts and regrets pile up, and the curtain falls on a very funny comedy that has also become a sad commentary on human foibles.
The first thing to know about Marcel + The Art of Laughter is that they are two one-acts, not a single show. The first is named for one of the two performers in it: Marcello Magni—although using the French version of Marcello conveniently echoes the great mime Marcel Marceau. The second is a solo performance by Marcel’s compatriot in the first piece (and co-creator of it) Jos Houben, a Belgian. Their show is about clowning and laughter, and it has a particular European sensibility that’s engaging, offbeat and sometimes strangely familiar.
Words are constantly shifting and changing meaning, and common phrases take on new personas in the world of Lauren Yee’s In a Word. Yee’s play tells the story of Fiona (Laura Ramadei), whose 7-year-old, emotionally disturbed son, Tristan, has been missing for two years. She has no information on his whereabouts, and she sorts through her memories endlessly to find any clue she can about why he disappeared. As Fiona flashes back to past experiences, Yee asks the audience to let go and come along for the ride.
There are two Isidores in the Catholic canon of saints: Isidore the Farmer, a simple 12th-century workhand and the patron of farmers and laborers, and Isidore of Seville, a 7th-century scholar who attempted to document the entirety of human knowledge and is patron saint of the Internet. Both Isidores haunt Martín Zimmerman’s Seven Spots on the Sun, a moving anti-war polemic now playing at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, which charts the lingering depredations of civil conflict on the dispossessed members of an imagined Latin American village.
Remember the Dead End Kids? Possibly not, unless you’re a student of B-movie genres or a Turner Classic Movies junkie. But the kids, led by Billy Halop, Leo Gorcey, Huntz Hall, and Gabriel Dell, enjoyed a film career starting in the Depression—cracking wise, getting into scraps, peddling broad Noo Yawk accents, and challenging authority. The kids prospered at several studios, well into the 1950s and long past being kids. To many a moviegoer in flyover states, the Dead End Kids were New York.
Nobody involved in the production of Casablanca expected it to be a hit, let alone win the Best Picture Oscar and go on to be considered one of the quintessentially quotable classic Hollywood films. If CasablancaBox, the new behind-the-scenes ensemble drama at HERE Arts Center, is to be believed, no one really wanted to make the film either. That we’re still watching it and talking about it 75 years later proves William Goldman’s famous dictum that in Hollywood, “nobody knows anything.”
There’s a famous joke about a man who prays for years to win the lottery. He tries to live a righteous life and promises to use the money for good, but his prayers grow increasingly bitter. One day, as he’s leaving church, having given God an earful, the clouds part and a voice booms, “Hey, moron, you have to buy a ticket!” A Gambler’s Guide to Dying, which launches 59E59’s 13th annual Brits Off Broadway festival this week, is about a man for whom buying the ticket is more than good advice; it’s his life philosophy.
Orion, a new play by Matthew McLachlan and directed by Joshua Warr, opened on Valentine’s Day, but the theatrical lovefest dishes out more than sweet nothings. Indeed, this playwright’s first full-length production serves up handfuls of hearty truths.
In 2015 the New Group staged Philip Ridley’s Mercury Fur, a brutal vision of depravity amid the detritus of a wrecked civilization. Now the same company, under the same director, Scott Elliott, is presenting Wallace Shawn’s Evening at the Talk House, a more subdued yet insinuating take on a society heading in the same direction. Yet the atmosphere is vastly different.
“Remember that one Thanksgiving when your nearest and dearest sat down for a quiet game of Monopoly, but then your grandma got drunk and revealed a rich tradition of inbreeding? Well, tonight should be something like that…except with a lot more vodka.”
Yours Unfaithfully, an unpublished, “un-romantic comedy” by Miles Malleson, gives its audience an intimate look at what it could be like to live in an open marriage, in 1933 and now. Mint Theater artistic director Jonathan Bank has unearthed Yours Unfaithfully and is presenting the world premiere.
Damon Chua’s Incident at Hidden Temple, the current offering of Pan Asian Repertory Theatre, takes place in 1943 China, a dramatic juncture in East-West political relations and highly promising background for a play. The Nationalist Party and the Chinese Communists, usually incompatible as water and oil, have forged an alliance to resist Japan’s aggression. The two political groups—led, respectively, by Chiang Kai-Shek and Mao Tse-Tung—are restive bedfellows, with scant potential for long-term cooperation.
The Cherry Lane Theatre is presenting the Mentor Project's 19th season. Next up at the theater (38 Commerce St.) is Nathan Yungerberg’s Esai’s Table (March 22–April 1), mentored by Stephen Adly Guirgis. Following that will be Jocelyn Bioh’s Nollywood Dreams (April 25–May 6), mentored by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins. For information and reservations visit www.cherrylanetheatre.org or call OvationTix at (866) 811-4111.
DannyKrisDonnaVeronica is a captivating production about the modern family structure and the often untold truths of being a parent. Playwright Lawrence Dial explores the reality of marriage and life after children. Although it often seems taboo to speak about the visceral feelings of sadness and hopelessness associated with being a parent, Dial’s play explores the dichotomy of being completely enamored by one’s children while harboring feelings of dismay—the joys of having a family as well as those hidden, or rather, silent, moments of losing one’s identity and becoming irrelevant.
Back in 1996, Martin McDonagh, a 25-year-old playwright, made a stunning debut with his play The Beauty Queen of Leenane, revitalizing that old war horse, the well-made play. Within a few years, he had several more successes under his belt: A Skull in Connemara and The Lonesome West joined Leenane to form a trilogy, not to mention his Aran Islands plays, The Cripple of Inishmaan and The Lieutenant of Inishmore (a third is still expected for a second trilogy).