It takes a while, through your laughter, before you realize that Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ comic play, “An Octoroon,” is forcing you to confront slavery. Sure, the plot is about slaves who are being sold off because their owner can’t pay the mortgage. But the dialogue of those slaves seems like it comes from a TV sitcom, mixing current daily realities with that of the slaves. Director Sarah Benson’s stunning light touch sneaks up on you.
David Ives is the master of comically surreal theatrical sketch comedy. Nobody comes close. Because not only are his one-acts witty, but they play cleverly outlandish intellectual games.
One of Ives’ games is to play with doubles. My favorite in this collection being staged at The Duke is The Enigma Variations.
The back story of “Churchill,” the solo play finely adapted and performed by Ronald Keaton, is class politics. Winston Churchill was to the manor born. His grandfather was the Duke of Marlboro and Viceroy of Dublin, his father Henry Spencer-Churchill (Lord Randolph) was a Conservative member of parliament who hadn’t done well at Eton. Winston couldn’t get into college and took the exam three times to finally get into Sandhurst, the British military academy. Privilege screams.
A hokey funny spoof of film noir, the mood set by 1940s music, this play by the inventive Stolen Chair company mines every verbal and physical cliché in the book. And the ensemble, whose members have been together for a decade, does a superb job in bringing to life the characters, one of which is soon to be dead.
Private eye Ben Farrell (Nathan Darrow) has the mystery of his career to solve. (Think Sam Spade/ Humphrey Bogart) Crimes are happening after they are written about in a pulp mystery magazine, “Murder Monthly.”
A prisoner’s account of what goes on in New York City’s holding pen for arrested men is unexpectedly and often hilariously funny. He deftly skewers, no, impales, the Alice-in-Wonderland quality of the criminal justice system, there and in the courtroom.
Joe Assadourian discovered his theatrical talents in prison. He got in trouble at 22. He’d always been in trouble, but that depends on how you define trouble. He said, “I’d been doing voices in school. If I was sent to the principal, I’d do him.” An upper class family would have sent young Joe to acting school. But soon he would get into big trouble — a gun, a struggle, a shot — and land in jail. Confined for 12 years, he’d been writing in notebooks. Then he got into a prison theater program where Richard Hoeler, now his director, unearthed his very large talent.
This is the back story of Grimms’ fairy tales, for adults. It’s a deconstructed Grimms.
The show, with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by James Lapine, was a brilliant conception when it was first produced in 1986.
Grimms’ fairy tales were morality tales. Having the fairy tale characters intersect with their stories, Sondheim and Lapine turn the events in the woods into a metaphor for the challenges of life. The message is that the woods are full of dangers; be careful what you wish for. It’s also about community.
Edward Albee, who is gay, has made a fine dramatic career skewing the gloomy relationships of heterosexual couples and establishing the women as villains. (This may have started because he hated his adoptive mother.) His 1962 “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” made his reputation.
This 1966 play continues the theme a few years later. The partners of the two married couples don’t sleep with each other, and the daughter of one of them has just left her fourth husband. Most of the blame is on the distaff side. Yes, I know that the director is a woman, Pam MacKinnon. And with her taught direction, the actors are superb.