The promotion for “Spain,” a new play by Jen Silverman, says, “Step into a sophisticated, slippery world where the line between truth and fiction is all in the packaging. It’s 1936, and a pair of passionate filmmakers have landed their next big project: a sweeping Spanish Civil War film with the potential to change American hearts and minds. It just happens to be bankrolled by the KGB. Unfortunately, the promo is fiction.
Patrick Page’s brilliant one-man show on how Shakespeare invented the villain is a combination of theater piece, master class and college literature lecture. In a purple pullover and vest, before a red curtain, through his acting and explanations, he shows how William Shakespeare developed his villainous characters from crudely evil to confounded with moral dilemmas, even if they defeated conscience and killed at the end. And how he dealt with the mythology of evil in popular culture, such as the Jew as rapacious money-lender and Lady Macbeth conjuring evil spirits.
“Spamalot” was a 1975 Monty Python film and a 2005 Broadway play famous for offending particular sectors of society. Does that hold up? Can you still insult significant groups without being cancelled? Can you attack sacred cows (vaches) without being de-platformed? On the other hand, has book and lyric writer Eric Idle taken the easy way out by sucking up to the groups that wield power in the theatrical system? And can I get away with suggesting it?
This play is about class and feminism, and also about the corruption of capitalism.
It is a smart satire by British playwright Elizabeth Baker staged in London in 1917. Baker started out as an office typist and wrote about office workers and shop girls and their struggles for emancipation against the bonds of class and gender. She was a supporter of the suffragist movement.
This annual series by the Mabel Mercer Foundation presents a selection from among the most talented and interesting established and new cabaret singers in the U.S. And occasionally a few from abroad. People attend as if it were an annual family event. And indeed, at intermission and after the show, the singers come out to the large entrance hall to hang out and chat with the cabaret community.
“Purlie Victorious,” playwright-actor Ossie Davis’s surreal satire about racism in the Jim Crow South, was first produced in 1961 at the cusp of the new civil rights movement. The Woolworth’s lunch counter sit-ins in Greensboro, NC, had just taken place in February 1960.
Betty Friedan would have loved this musical, especially Brooke Dillman who plays O.F.G., the Original Fairy Godmother with wavy hair, a raspy voice and assertiveness that make her the feminist author’s double. I know, because I worked with Friedan in 1969 and 70.
David Byrne’s pop musical docudrama professes to be the story of Imelda and Ferdinand Marcos, their rise to power in the Philippines and the challenge to their dictatorship by Ninoy Aquino, who the Marcos government assassinated. It’s a smashing production. But a flawed history.
A non-salacious play about sex? Probably not these days. You’d have to go back to the last century. And that is just what Sandy Rustin does, to 1923 in fact, exactly a hundred years ago. Rustin’s sex farce, “The Cottage,” is a hokey funny slapstick shambles set in a gorgeous English country house where, instead of the ubiquitous moose head on the wall there is an end table atop the base of a stuffed dog. (Kudos for set designer Paul Tate dePoo III.) And for director Jason Alexander who manages the farce perfectly; it is very clever, never silly.
It’s a funny hokey clever story that catches you unawares with its smarts. Because it’s about corn. Which the folks in the story grow and is at the center of their lives. The residents of this corn town have chosen to be cut off from the world. They live in a huge wooded space and celebrate a chicken’s birthday and goats getting married.
Don’t ban great white male authors, rewrite them! What would happen if a feminist Anne Hathaway did a revision of husband Will Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet”? Where Juliet and other female characters in the story turn out to have agency? It’s a musical delight (book by David West Read, music and lyrics by Max Martin), even for someone who is not a fan of pop rock. Match that with bravura performances by Lorna Courtney in a star-turn as Juliet and Betsy Wolfe as a tough, appealing Anne, add smashing R&B and rock dancing. I loved it.
British playwright-director Robert Icke is fast becoming one of the most important English-language theater makers. Taking the anti-Semitism at the center of Arthur Schnitzler’s 1912 play “Professor Bernhardi” to illuminate today’s identity madness, he has created an essential work.
What you have to understand about this play by Doug Wright is television. It’s not just about television, it is television. It’s not just about the Jack Paar Show of the 1950s, or much of it, it is the show. So, forget subtlety. Push up the jokes. And hit on celebrities. Jane Mansfield is not there, but let’s talk about her.
“Eisenhower: This Piece of Ground” is fake hagiography about a man who signed off on CIA coups that killed democracies and multi-thousands of people.
Dwight David Eisenhower was U.S. president from 1953 to 61. This play by Richard Hellesen fits perfectly into the 1950s media pablum of “Father Knows Best” and “Ozzie and Harriet” that spoon-fed audiences the fake lives of families without dark spots. This play invents a president who had a few minor defects, but nothing serious. Nothing that could be called violations of international law. Or define a war criminal of which the U.S. has had many.
This play is proof that Lorraine Hansberry had several lives, not just that of a black woman telling a civil rights story in her famous “A Raisin in the Sun,” but also a Greenwich Village bohemian among arty people, in this script an actress and wife of a would-be folk café impresario whose friends and neighbors include a playwright, painter, and a bookstore staffer.
“Prima Facie” and “Walking with Bubbles” are about two women who get into terrible situations with men, a casual lover and a husband. In the first, a smart 20-something barrister at a London “chambers” routinely goes to bars with friends and gets drunk. After one drinking bout, she invites a colleague to her apartment. They previously had sex in his chambers office. She doesn’t want sex now; the booze made her throw up. He carries her from the bathroom to the bed and rapes her. It is fiction.
The opening is a rooftop that reminds one of an Edward Hopper painting. It’s New York post-war 1946. People are jitterbugging. Perched on fire escapes of tenements. There is a jazzy feel. A stunning number, a showstopper in a show that is full of them, features a dozen construction workers on a dizzying high girder in Hoboken with a view of the Hudson River and Manhattan skyline tap dancing along and around it. I don’t recall a dance number like it!
Aaron Sorkin’s rethink of Alan Jay Lerner’s book of “Camelot” takes it smartly into the present, with more contemporary male-female attitudes and a heavy emphasis on social justice. The politics is solid, albeit presented in a hokey fashion (this is a musical), and the magical/mystical parts of the 1960 version have been cut, though the personal stories are still rather fanciful: the doomed romances are hard to believe. Just relish Frederick Lowe’s glorious music and Alan Jay Lerner’s sophisticated lyrics, overpowering and magical. And appreciate the politics in an era of Western warmongering.
Bob Fosse is the only theater choreographer whose name trips off the tongues of most theater-goers. OK, Twyla Tharp, but she has written mostly for dance venues, not theater. This is a reimagining of a show that opened on Broadway in 1978. It starts with the promise of no plot, no messages. Wish it were so. Forty-five years later, we are smothered in woke.
“Bad Cinderella” is entertaining and fast-paced, a lot like Andrew Lloyd Weber’s other musicals. It’s camp, which is what ALW does best. And it has terrific politics! In a subtle way, it’s about the UK. Brits will get this more than Americans. Just think British royals. (Director Laurence Connor runs the story smoothly as some typical pop musical production and then slyly inserts the politics.) With witty lyrics by David Zippel. Not one of the musical greats, but I liked it.
“Parade” is a tragedy about the 1913 trial and 1915 lynching of Leo Frank, a Jew, in a Georgia still smarting from the loss of the Civil War. Fifty years later in Atlanta their descendants chant, “We gave our lives for Georgia” and wave Confederate flags. The few blacks on the scene are discomforted.
In a curious way, Jamie Lloyd’s powerful production of Henrik Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House,” stark, with black-clad actors sitting on white spindle chairs or standing ranged across the back, seems more real than if it had a traditional set, with 19th-century furnishings matching the 1879 story date. (In fact, “1879” displayed on the backdrop is the most prominent part of the “set.”)
Samuel Beckett’s surreal vision of dueling human nastiness and compassion, misery and hope takes place in a nondescript walled space. Outside the world has ended, but somehow these people have survived the apocalypse. The Irish Repertory Theatre production, powerfully directed by Ciarán O’Reilly, envelopes you in a bleak mood conveyed by the gloomy dialogue as well as the dark red bricks.
Betty Smith is famous for her 1943 novel, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, but before that she was a playwright. Her 1930 work “Becomes a Woman” is about class and sexism. It has a bit too much soap opera for today’s tastes (except as a soap opera!), but is fascinating as a look back at a feminist view of the 1920s. Remember, this was not long after women got the 1920 ratification of the 9th amendment for the vote.
“Memorial” purports to be the story of how young architect Maya Lin got the U.S. government to build her design of a Washington Mall memorial to the U.S. veterans of the American war against Vietnam.