Strange Interlude, one of four Eugene O’Neill plays to have won a Pulitzer Prize, is brilliant, magisterial, and provocative. How then, does one actor, David Greenspan, take the complex story of Nina Leeds and the four men in her life, a play that is written in nine acts and spans five hours in the telling, and deliver the highs and the lows, the strange twists of fate, the loves, and the schemes of its characters? Dressed in a dapper three-piece suit, Greenspan is alternately Nina, Charles, Ned and Sam (and three minor characters as well), maintaining an energetic, staccato presence while shifting, sometimes with gunfire rapidity, among these characters. Who would have imagined that this 1928 whale of a play could be acted as a one-man show to riveting effect? Greenspan is extraordinary, and he brings to life an extraordinary play.
Directors of Shakespeare’s plays often feel the need to goose them a bit with extraneous business, and the results can be highly variable. Yet directors tamper far less often with, say, Aeschylus, Shaw, Ibsen or Molière. It’s a bit of a surprise, therefore, to find that Craig Smith has chosen to inject a good deal of invented business into Molière’s 1669 classic Tartuffe, and that, for the most part, it works rather well.
Occupied Territories, a visceral and exciting new play co-written by Nancy Bannon and Mollye Maxner, focuses on two sets of characters separated by 50 years. It begins and ends in the basement of a family home, where Alex (Ciela Elliott) has come with her Aunt Helena (Kelley Rae O’Donnell) to bury her grandfather. They are quickly joined by Alex’s mother, Jude (Bannon), who is recently out of rehab but still in a halfway house. Jude is trying to connect to Alex after what seems to be a series of disappointments her addiction has wrought in the past.
Harrison David Rivers’ play Only You Can Prevent Wildfires takes as its jumping-off point an actual conflagration known as the Hayman fire, the worst blaze in Colorado’s history. Sparked mysteriously on June 8, 2002, the fire burned 137,000 acres and destroyed 133 homes. Fire Prevention Technician Terry Barton later admitted to starting it after burning a letter from her estranged husband. That letter is a focus of several speeches—the play begins with Terry’s insistence that she didn’t read the letter, but rather put it in her purse—yet it’s a mark of Rivers’ skill that by the end of his riveting play one still doesn’t know the contents of it.
Jody and Carl, the only characters in Lonely Planet, are habitués of a sleepy little shop called Jody’s Maps in an unnamed American city. These middle-aged men, intricately rendered in Steven Dietz’s subtle, elegiac script, are being realized vividly by New York stage veterans Arnie Burton and Matt McGrath in a Keen Company production celebrating the 25th anniversary of the play’s premiere at Northlight Theatre in Evanston, Ill. Lonely Planet, winner of the PEN Center USA Award for Drama, was written when the arts were being defoliated by an epidemic beyond the American medical community’s control. AIDS is the background of the play, but not its subject.
Young Frankenstein, a revised version of Mel Brooks’s 2007 Broadway musical parody, is winning accolades over in London, but Eric B. Sirota’s version of the Frankenstein story, receiving its world premiere on a budget a hundredth of the size, is surely much more faithful to Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel. Sirota, who wrote the book, music and lyrics for Frankenstein, imbues his show with the serious philosophical underpinnings of Shelley’s original: the dangers of man playing God, the belief in a higher power, the pitfalls that science may hold for overweening practitioners. But even with capable performers, the more adult approach comes up short.
This season’s series of Revelation Readings by the Red Bull Theater will focus on the themes of love and its madness. The Monday night readings, which present rarely performed classic plays, open on Nov. 13 with The Rover by Aphra Behn. They continue on Dec. 11 with Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus; Jan. 15 with Victor Hugo’s Hernani; Feb. 12 with Molière’s Don Juan; March 19 with Ben Jonson’s The Alchemist; April 16 with The Second Maiden’s Tragedy by Thomas Middleton; and on May 14 with another Molière play, A Doctor in Spite of Himself. The final presentation will be The Clandestine Marriage by David Garrick and George Colman the Elder. The readings will feature a number of renowned performers, including Drama Desk winner John Douglas Thompson in The Alchemist and Tony Award winner Stephen Spinella, with Patrick Page, in Doctor Faustus. All readings take place on Monday evenings at 7:30 p.m. at the Lucille Lortel Theatre (121 Christopher St.). For more information, visit www.redbulltheater.com.
Duke Vincentio of Vienna doesn’t have time to sit and chat. He’s got a dukedom to observe in disguise. “Our haste from hence is of so quick condition,” he says at the start of Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure, “that it prefers itself and leaves unquestioned matters of needful value.” Elevator Repair Service’s gaga production of the play at the Public Theater is in as big a hurry as the Duke, but achieves the opposite effect: it tears through the niceties of Shakespeare’s plot only to screech to nearly a full stop in the scenes of highest tension, ensuring that none of the most meaningful fragments of “needful value” passes unheard, if not unfelt.
Curious title, Tomorrow in the Battle. It’s a phrase from Richard III (Act V, scene 3), the partial title of a well-reviewed 1994 novel by Spanish writer Javier Marías, and apparently the English translation of a German war cry. And what it has to do with what’s happening on Ars Nova’s stage, heaven knows. At any rate, to enjoy Kieron Barry’s drama, you’d better love London: there’s a lot of it here. And you’d better have a tolerance for shaky British accents. Patrick Hamilton, as our not-altogether-heroic hero, can’t decide whether to pronounce it “again” or “a gain”; he keeps going back and forth. And Ruth Sullivan and Allison Threadgold, as the women in his life, flatten or broaden their vowels as they see fit, not always consistently.
Tiny Beautiful Things is a curious, only-in-New York beast: adapted by and featuring the screenwriter/star of My Big Fat Greek Wedding (Nia Vardalos), from a collection of advice columns by the acclaimed Wild memoirist (Cheryl Strayed), staged by the director (Thomas Kail) and original producer (Public Theater) of Hamilton. It’s the kind of random concatenation that seems just crazy enough to generate life, but Tiny Beautiful Things is dead on arrival. With its monochromatic script, repetitive staging, and tone-deaf politics, it’s the anti-Hamilton.
The Flea, an estimable downtown theater company with an irritating name, prides itself on having conjured “joyful hell in a small space” for the past 20 years. Now starting its third decade, the organization has moved to a handsomely renovated building it owns on nearby Thomas Street. The official inaugural presentation in its new home is Syncing Ink by NSangou Njikam.
Too Heavy for Your Pocket, Jiréh Breon Holder’s engrossing new drama, takes place in spring 1961, as busloads of activists, black and white together, are plunging southward from Nashville to Montgomery, Ala., and New Orleans, challenging illegal segregation of public transportation on Interstate highways. Known as the Freedom Riders, the activists are traveling under the auspices of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), organizations crucial to the burgeoning American civil rights movement. Over more than six months, several waves of nonviolent Freedom Riders will subject themselves to varied forms of hostility, from burning crosses and vulgar epithets to life-threatening violence and brutal incarceration, in the hope of effecting social change.
Outside Paducah: The Wars at Home, a trio of monologues about the postwar experiences of veterans, focuses on the insurmountable stresses on those who have been emotionally and psychologically scarred by war. Author J.A. Moad II, who has written and performs the plays, is himself a veteran. It is, perhaps, impossible for a civilian who has never endured combat to understand what it’s like, but civilian vs. military mindsets have underpinned plays from Shakespeare’s Coriolanus to David Hare’s Plenty (1978), whose heroine Susan Traherne, after fighting for the French Resistance, thrashes about in an unfulfilling civilian life that can never excite her as much as living on the knife’s edge.
Shakespeare is getting a Wild West twist this fall with Desperate Measures at the York Theatre Company. The new musical transports Measure for Measure to the American frontier in a high-energy adaptation by Peter Kellogg and David Friedman that charms and entertains.
When Suzan-Lori Parks decided to write a play based on The Scarlet Letter, she began with the title: Fucking A. Unimpressed, she deleted everything she had and started from scratch, writing the play that would eventually become In the Blood. As Parks tells it, In the Blood had to come out before Fucking A would crystallize; she calls the plays “twins in the womb of my consciousness.” With both in revival at Signature Theatre, audiences have the chance to view Parks’ twins side by side. The plays are riffs on the theme of our duty to one another, colliding with and speaking to each other in a jazzy feedback loop. If In the Blood ends up the less viable of the pair, it still makes for a fascinating examination of the state the nation from a singular American voice.
“What’s the matter, Mary Jane?” Alanis Morissette sang in 1995. “You never seem to want to dance anymore.” She could have been singing to the eponymous protagonist of Amy Herzog’s understated new play, who would love to dance, or smoke pot, or hike in the mountains, but all her time and energy are taken up caring for her severely ill 2½-year old son, Alex.
The SoHo Playhouse is hosting the 2017 Fringe International Encore Series through Oct. 22. The lineup includes mostly international productions: from Adelaide, Australia; Brighton, England; Edinburgh; Hollywood; and Winnipeg, Canada, among other places. The offerings include Irish standup comedian Jimeoin; the play Mengele, about the disgraced Nazi doctor who escaped to South America; Shell Shock, a play adapted from the memoirs of an American veteran of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq; Macbeth Muet, a comical silent version of Macbeth performed by two actors; and Turbulence!, a Hollywood Fringe Festival winner for Best Musical that takes place in 4242 and involves Earthlings and Martians. For tickets and information on all the productions, visit www.sohoplayhouse.com/fringe-encore-series-2016.
Classic Stage Company’s production of As You Like It is the latest act in Artistic Director John Doyle’s personal project to revivify the classics by whittling them down to their fundamentals. As with his CSC staging of John Weidman and Stephen Sondheim’s Pacific Overtures earlier this year, Doyle has slashed the text to its barest of bones and reduced scenic demands to a few plucky strokes. The approach neutered Pacific Overtures, but has made Shakespeare’s breeziest, most joyful romantic comedy even breezier.
Anthony Burgess’s 1962 novel A Clockwork Orange has developed a life of its own. It doesn’t have the worldwide instant-recognition factor of a Wizard of Oz or a Mickey Mouse, but the opening image of Malcolm McDowell’s Alex deLarge in Stanley Kubrick’s 1971 film is etched in the consciousness of anyone who’s even tangentially encountered the film: chin tucked, eyes leering under the brim of his bowler hat, mouth an inscrutable half-simper, flamboyant fake eyelashes ringing his right eye. No company Halloween party is complete without a Brad or a Dave in deLarge drag. The latest in a long line of theatrical adaptations of A Clockwork Orange, which opened this week at New World Stages, both banks on and challenges this brand awareness, refining the narrative into a piquant, overheated slab of physical theater about the roots of white violence that is part male revue, part alt-rock dream ballet.
MCC Theater has announced the complete cast and creative team for 2017-18 Tow Playwright-in-Residence Jocelyn Bioh’s Happiness and Joe, the third of the 2017 PlayLabs readings. Directed by Saheem Ali, the cast of Happiness and Joe will include Joaquina Kalukango and Austin Smith; the reading will be at 7 p.m. on Oct. 2. The final of the 2017 PlayLabs readings, Lily Houghton’s Dear, will be held at 7 p.m. on Oct. 16; directed by Jenna Worsham, the cast of Dear will include Michele Selene Ang, Lilly Englert, and Coral Peña. Both readings will take place at the Lucille Lortel Theatre (121 Christopher St.). Dear is sold out, but $15 tickets are still available for Happiness and Joe. Both performances will include a reception afterward with the artists and MCC leadership. For tickets and more information, visit www.mcctheater.org.