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.
The Summer Shorts Series B at 59E59 Theaters, presented by Throughline Artists, showcases three plays that each, in some way, deal with the unbridgeable gulf that can separate people in relationships, whether marriage or friendship.
If Connor Chase Stewart has any apprehension about sharing a stage, even momentarily, with Richard Roy, whom he embodies in A White Man’s Guide to Rikers Island, he doesn’t show it. Nor does the difference in their physiques hinder Stewart—the much older Roy looks like an ex-football player now, although he was a professional boxer and a sparring partner for Muhammad Ali, while Stewart has the lanky frame of a basketball player. Still, Stewart’s casual yet energetic performance makes him a relatable guide through New York City’s famous prison.
If ever a show were able to make the word eclectic seem insufficient, and excess seem wan, Austin McCormick’s Queen of Hearts is it. Retelling the story of Lewis Carroll’s Alice for his Company XIV, McCormick primarily uses Alice in Wonderland but borrows characters from Through the Looking-Glass. That slight mashup aesthetic is more pronounced, though, in the show itself, which is an amalgam of Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, The Rocky Horror Show, Cirque du Soleil, and Minsky’s. It’s a wildly exuberant ride, but it helps if you are familiar with the original, since there’s no dialogue.
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.
Dog Man the Musical is a children’s show based on the bestselling books by Dav Pilkey, whose Dog Man series has sold more than 23 million copies. Dog Man the book has translations available in 30 languages, and the musical, with book and lyrics by Kevin Del Aguila and music by Brad Alexander, is faithful to the books. It focuses on the same witty protagonists, Harold (Dan Rosales) and George (Forest Vandyke), who are now now in the fifth grade at Jerome Horwitz Elementary and “way more mature and cultured.”
Harlem Repertory’s The Wizard of Oz is a theatrical romp accompanied by a lively jazz trio. Directed and choreographed by Keith Lee Grant, themes of self-discovery, connection to family and facing one’s fears are well tackled and performed by a wonderful multicultural cast. They bring to life the events that propel the Kansas schoolgirl, Dorothy, on a magical mystery tour as she follows the yellow brick road.
Rita Rudner is not quite a household name, but when she shows up in Two’s a Crowd, the new little musical for which she cowrote the book with her husband, Martin Bergman, and in which she stars, she commands entrance applause. If you don’t know who she is, here’s the scoop: The comedienne first showed up on 1980s late-night talk shows, usually Letterman or Johnny Carson, selling the persona of the modern, put-upon woman—frustrated with technology, female powerlessness, and men. She had a good run with it, wrote some books, and moved from network TV mostly to Las Vegas, where she has been steadily performing for almost two decades.
Potomac Theater Project (PTP) has assembled an evening of political theater, presenting three short plays by the Czech playwright and dissident Vaclav Havel, who went on to become the country’s president, and bookending them with shorts by Harold Pinter and Samuel Beckett. The five plays together are given the title Havel: The Passion of Thought, and are all directed by PTP founder and coartistic director Richard Romagnoli.
Reality Curve Theatre of Vancouver is making its first visit to New York City with Zayd Dohrn’s early play Reborning. Ten years ago, when Dohrn was unknown, this unsettling, if far-fetched, comedy-drama was part of the Summer Play Festival at the Public Theatre. Since that time, the playwright, who heads the graduate dramatic-writing program at Northwestern University, has penned a number of provocative yet non-preachy scripts that explore social issues through clashes—always fierce, sometimes violent—among recognizable characters.
The premise of Barabbas, Will T. F. Carter’s new play currently in production at the Theater for the New City, is certainly intriguing. Set in a Peruvian prison during a period of insurgency and guerrilla warfare, the drama uses the story of Barabbas and Jesus to explore topics such as self-preservation, personal sacrifice and forgiveness. Unfortunately, the drama, which centers on the Sendero Luminoso (or Shining Path) revolutionaries in 1980s Peru, never ignites any sparks.
Just in time for World Pride celebrations comes Camp Morning Wood, a quirky new nudie musical full of bouncy tunes, cheeky good humor and glitter that gets everywhere. It stars an attractive cast getting into some pretty hairy situations in the woods. Following in the footsteps of revues like Oh, Calcutta! and Naked Boys Singing, Camp Morning Wood takes it up a notch by incorporating nudity into a real plot.
Set on Midsummer’s Eve (June 23), Micheál mac Liammóir’s The Mountains Look Different is about a woman’s attempt to reinvent herself through marriage following years of working as a prostitute in London. First performed at the Gate Theater in Dublin, the noted Irish actor’s play was applauded for its openness by critics and audiences in 1948, but it was also disdained by the God-fearing and narrow-minded Catholic community. However bold it was then, by today’s standards director Aidan Redmond’s revival offers audiences little more than a diorama, a 3-D representation of a bygone era.
In 2000 Rob Ackerman made an impressive debut with Tabletop, a play about the cutthroat world of television commercials. Centered around a dictatorial director hell-bent on the perfect close-up of a fruit drink topped with a swirl, the play raised a number of issues about art, commerce, and workplace politics. Ackerman’s newest work, Dropping Gumballs on Luke Wilson, in an excellent production by Working Theater, serves as a companion piece to Tabletop. Also set in a television-commercial sound studio, Gumballs satirically reveals the moral compromises individuals make when confronted with artistic, economic, or personal intimidation.
Theatre Breaking Through Barriers (TBTB) is celebrating its 40th anniversary with a production of a new work by Bekah Brunstetter, Public Servant. The play is set in a small town in central North Carolina, a state that the native Brunstetter has previously focused on in dramas such as Oohrah! and The Cake. Following the TBTB mission statement, Geordie Broadwater’s first-rate production features both abled and disabled actors.
Playwright Gordon Dahlquist’s [Veil Widow Conspiracy] wields those unnecessary, pretentious brackets as a warning, perhaps, that there’s a lot of extraneous information in his overstuffed 75-minute play. Set in three locations, the National Asian American Theatre Company production opens on a couple who are seemingly sheltering from some dire events outside, primarily conveyed through sirens. It’s an apocalyptic Brooklyn, but too briefly and sketchily presented to capture one’s interest.
It’s just a side benefit to an already crackling evening, but if you see Handbagged, the latest in 59E59’s Brits Off Broadway series, you’ll also take in snippets from several current Broadway offerings. The 1981 Irish hunger strikes (The Ferryman)? They’re here. Rupert Murdoch’s takeover of several Brit tabloids, beginning with the Sun in the late ’60s (Ink)? Also here. And The Cher Show may present three different-aged Chers, each commenting on the others, but Handbagged, Moira Buffini’s 2010 play having its New York premiere, makes do with older and younger versions of Queen Elizabeth II and Margaret Thatcher, each interacting with the past and present and occasionally murmuring, “I didn’t say that.”
Donald Margulies’s new play, Long Lost, almost revels in overly familiar plot elements. Focusing on two brothers who haven’t seen each other in years, Margulies draws on the good brother/bad brother dynamic of the Cain and Abel story; it pops up in Hollywood films as different as Arsenic and Old Lace and Legends of the Fall, but perhaps most pertinently in Duel in the Sun, where the brothers form two points of a love triangle. Here the siblings are David (Kelly AuCoin), a successful consultant, and his older brother, Billy (a gray-bearded Lee Tergesen). In Margulies’s story. David’s wife Molly (Annie Parisse) glancingly forms the third point. But another oft-mined trope is also at play: the stranger who arrives in a settled household and disrupts it is a staple of drama from The Playboy of the Western World to Picnic.
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).
God of Marz, Rachel Shaw’s new play presented by Red Planet Theater Company, includes a warning upfront. A voice-over eschews the usual no-photos and no-cellphones reminder and (ungrammatically) informs the audience that “nothing the characters say or do does in any way reflect the views of the author, actors, directors, stage managers, costume designers, or the venue of this production. Some may find the material offensive and, if so, please leave quietly with no regrets.” Aside from the assumption that the play then does reflect the views of the lighting and scenic designers, for instance, some audience members might harbor an expectant thrill of an inflammatory evening at the theater. Alas, that’s not the case.