Inspired by Shakespeare’s Love’s Labor’s Lost, Boomerang Theatre Company’s Loveless Texas is a toe-tapping musical comedy set during the early years of the Great Depression. Although many of the characters hold the same names as in the Shakespeare play, the story begins with a twist: Berowne Loveless Navarre (the hugely talented Joe Joseph) and his buddies—Duke Dumaine (Colin Barkell) and Bubba Longaville (Brett Benowitz)—are playboys who travel from New York to Paris. Along the way they do all the things that upstanding young men shouldn’t be doing: chase women, drink liquor and spend the Navarre family money.
In a Little Room, a delightful new black comedy by Pete McElligott, co-founder and co-artistic director of the Ten Bones Theatre Company, shows obvious influences of of Albee, Sartre and especially Beckett, but McElligott has his own voice. The play focuses on two primary characters, Manning (Jeb Kreager) and Charlie (Luis-Daniel Morales), who meet in a hospital waiting room on a very bad day. Initially, they try to conduct a whispered conversation to avoid waking another occupant, who is sleeping (David Triacca, who undertakes multiple roles), and then manage to wake him anyway with amusing ineptitude.
It’s always an adventure sitting down to watch Shakespeare. Where will this production send its viewers? To what time period or country? Will it be set in a fast-food restaurant or trying to stay as close to a traditional production as possible? The Dzieci Theatre company has taken a risk with its recent production of Makbet, a gypsy-infused performance of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, directed by Matt Mitler. The play is presented in a shipping container in the back of a junkyard in Bushwick, Brooklyn. Although it is an uncomfortable place to ask audience members to sit, the underlit and claustrophobic quarters alert the audience immediately to the darkness of the play.
Poor J.M. Barrie hasn’t had an easy time of it in the 21st century, with the notable exception of revivals of one-acts at the Mint Theater. The 2015 musical Finding Neverland, based on a film, focused on the dramatist’s struggle to find success after failure and the triumphant creation of Peter Pan, his classic 1904 play about the boy who won’t grow up—a play that, by the way, most of Finding Neverland’s audience had probably never seen, since nobody actually stages it. It’s known primarily through the musicalized version from the 1950s that starred Mary Martin, although the Royal National Theatre’s 1997 production, with Peter played by Daniel Evans, now artistic director of the Chichester Festival, and Ian McKellen as Captain Hook, showed the original is still a viable and glorious work.
“Through all the world there goes one long cry from the heart of the artist: Give me a chance to do my best.” So says Danish writer Karen Blixen, better known by her pseudonym Isak Dinesen, in her collection of short stories Babette’s Feast and Other Anecdotes of Destiny. There is willful ambition in these words, a desire to live out the hunger at the heart of the artist. The Baroness, subtitled Isak Dinesen’s Final Affair, is a Scandinavian American Theater Company production written by Danish playwright Thor Bjørn Krebs, and the play cannot escape its famous protagonist’s obsession with her art. Directed by Henning Hegland, the play opens with Thorkild Bjørnvig (Conrad Ardelius) addressing the audience as the voice of Karen Blixen (Dee Pelletier) plays over him.
Theatergoers who blenched at the subject matter of Edward Albee’s 2002 play The Goat; or, Who Is Silvia? will have a slightly easier time if they attend Inanimate, Nick Robideau’s play that opens the Flea’s new home on Thomas Street in Tribeca—but not by much. Robideau's subject matter parallels that of Albee, who wrote about a man in love with a goat. While Albee’s play is grounded in naturalism—the outlandishness of the premise contrasts with the upheaval of an otherwise normal family life—Robideau takes a different and less successful tack, embracing absurdism for a sexual disorder that is already at the fringes of credibility.
There may be no better, or more controversial, example of humankind’s uneasy attempts to shape nature than the cow. When celeb geek Neil deGrasse Tyson recently tweeted that cows are “biological machine(s) invented by humans to turn grass into steak,” avowed vegan Moby took to Instagram to call him an “ignorant sociopath” for making light of the “unspeakable suffering” humans wreak on billions of animals a year. Irish company Fishamble’s genial Charolais at 59E59 mines this same tension for dark humor and pathos, but with a much more intimate beef, between an Irish woman and a French heifer over the man who loves them both.
Theater for the New City's eighth Dream Up Festival is running through Sept. 17 and features 23 shows, including four fully staged musicals, four shows on LGBTQ themes, five solo shows, a clown show, two with themes of race in America, and one based on visual art. There is also a play in English from Iceland. The festival performances are staggered over three weeks, and the number of performances varies. The complete lineup may be found at jsnyc.com/season/dreamup2017.htm#lineup. Among the highlights is Buskers: The Musical by Mark Tjarks, highlighting stories of New York buskers; Finishing the Suit by Lawrence Aronovitch, a memory play about a tailor who mourns the loss of the two most important people in his life: his lover Jimmy and his most famous client, the Duke of Windsor; and The Woman Illusion by Piper Rasmussen, a solo play about the gallery of ways to be a woman, with settings ranging from a tense job interview to the battlefields of Queen Elizabeth I.
The Mint Theater is continuing its commitment to neglected works this summer with The Suitcase Under the Bed, a collection of four one-act plays written by little-known Irish playwright Teresa Deevy. The female playwright, whose work was produced by Ireland’s Abbey Theatre in the 1930s, has been a continued focus for the Mint since the theater company began its Teresa Deevy Project in 2009.
MCC Theater will launch its 2017 PlayLabs reading series beginning Sept. 11. The plays, which are in development, will be presented at the Lucille Lortel Theatre (121 Christopher St.). The playwrights featured will be 2017–2018 Tow Playwright-in-Residence Jocelyn Bioh, MCC alumna Amanda Peet, Charise Castro Smith, and MCC Youth Company alumna Lily Houghton. Further readings will be held on Sept. 25, Oct. 2, and Oct. 16; all will be at 7 p.m. Tickets are on sale for $15 and include a post-reading discussion and reception with the artists and MCC leadership. For tickets and more information, visit www.mcctheater.org.
Project Shaw takes a detour from the plays of George Bernard Shaw for its next reading, at 7 p.m. on Sept. 18 at Symphony Space (95th Street and Broadway). The group will present Rachel Crothers’ 1910 play A Man’s World, which examines double standards in judging men and women’s behavior. Jenn Thompson will direct the evening. The Shaw reading in October will be Captain Brassbound’s Conversion, at 7 p.m. on Oct. 23. In Shaw’s play, a famous lady arrives in a Moroccan port only to be taken captive by a vengeful pirate, but manages to counter his band of freebooters, an Arab army, and the entire U.S. fleet. Tickets for both events are $35 and may be obtained by calling (212) 864-5400 or visiting www.gingoldgroup.com. —Edward Karam
Brave New World Repertory Theatre (BNW) will present The Plantation, a new adaptation of Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard that is set in 1870 Virginia, after the emancipation of the slaves but before the onset of Jim Crow. The immersive production will be staged for 10 performances beginning Aug. 31.
The immersive production is set inside the Commanding Officer’s House in the Nolan Park section of Governors Island. It will be performed at 1:30 p.m. on Aug, 31 and Sept. 1–3, 9, 10, 15, 17, 23 and 24. For reservations for the production, visit bravenewworldrep.org.
“Chekhov’s original story has universal relevance,” says adapter/director Claire Beckman, co-founder of Brave New World Rep. “The Plantation explores the root causes of America’s most pressing social issue with both humor and heart, while telling a story about race in America.”
Up to 70% of the tickets to the production will be distributed free on a first come, first served basis at each performance. Free ferries depart from Manhattan and Brooklyn before 11:30 a.m.; for information on the ferries, visit govisland.com/info/ferry.
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.
The advertising campaign for Come Light My Cigarette promises a “suspenseful” evening and features a photo of Erikka Walsh gotten up in Sam Spade trench coat and fedora. Indeed, there’s mystery about this mildly noir-ish musical, written and directed by Arnold L. Cohen; but what’s offstage is more provocative than what’s visible in the auditorium of the Theatre at St. Clement’s.
The musical Lili Marlene takes its name from the famous German love song of World War II, first recorded in 1939. It became a hit among German troops (in spite of Joseph Goebbels’s dislike of it) and was eventually popularized among Allied troops as well, in a famous rendition by Marlene Dietrich in 1944. Yet that’s only an imaginative jumping-off point for the show of the title, which takes place between June 1932 and June 1933, at the tail end of the Weimar Republic and the first days with Adolf Hitler in power.
First, we love Nancy Opel. The frisky singing comedienne all but stole Honeymoon in Vegas from Rob McClure, which can’t have been easy. Her Yente considerably enlivened the goyische Alfred Molina revival of Fiddler on the Roof, and her Dickensian Penelope Pennywise was one of the few enjoyable things about Urinetown. She surely deserves a musical of her own. And she deserves a better one than Curvy Widow.
Bee, the heroine of Bruce Norris’s new play, A Parallelogram, is in the midst of a bout of depression. She sits on her bed playing solitaire. Perhaps it’s because she and her boyfriend, Jay, have recently returned from a vacation on a tropical island, where she saw grinding poverty. Or perhaps because, on returning from their trip, she found that the pet parrot she had for 17 years had died from her own negligence (its empty cage sits in the bedroom). Perhaps it’s the hysterectomy that she recently had. Or could it possibly be because her future self, Bee 2, has materialized to reveal the future to her in all its futility?
No matter how oppressively hot a New York summer can be, one of the dramatic oases in it has become the Summer Shorts Festival of New American Short Plays at 59E59 Theaters. Founded by artistic director (and often actor) J.J. Kandel 11 years ago, the mini-festival presents two bills of one-acts in repertory for several weeks. This year, Series B of Summer Shorts features Break Point, written and directed by Neil LaBute; A Woman, by Chris Cragin-Day, directed by Kel Haney; and Wedding Bash, written by Lindsey Kraft and Andrew Leeds, and directed by Kandel himself.
Joan Beber’s Dear Jane centers on twin sisters, Julie and Jane, but, in spite of the title, Julie is the focus. Beber’s drama is structured as though Julie (Jenny Piersol) is rehearsing a play about her own life—which she is the star of. Scenes and flashbacks occur from the present to as far back as 1952, and take place in California, New York and the resort town of Puerto Vallarta in Mexico. Julie’s thoughts read like a series of letters between her and her beloved sister.
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.