“The Fountainhead” is van Hove’s misogynistic take on Ayn Rand

“The Fountainhead” is van Hove’s misogynistic take on Ayn Rand

A B movie” would be too generous a description of this dreadful play. It is based on the tome by Ayn Rand, a bible of the far-right, which, if the play is any indication, shows they have no more taste in literature than politics. Or maybe this is just the fault of adapter Koen Tachelet. Director Ivo van Hove adds his own horrors.

“Farinelli and the King” about “crazy” monarch is subtle political commentary

“Farinelli and the King” about “crazy” monarch is subtle political commentary

This gorgeous fantasy by Claire van Kampen, directed by John Dove, is based on a real story, with the narrative setting art and sensitivity against the plotting of ambitious court politicians of the time. The candles on overhanging chandeliers suggest the whimsy that is a mirror of reality. Philippe V (the brilliant Mark Rylance) is the feeble-minded 18th-century Spanish king who was the grandson of King Louis XIV of France. (It was the time of imperialism by Europe’s royals.) He talks to a goldfish and fishes in the bowl as in a dream. When his Italian wife Isabella (Melody Grove) lights a candle, he throws water from the bowl to put out the flame. And so goes the fish. He is outrageous, crazy, sometimes funny. Grove as Isabella is sensitive and warm. Reality is cruder.

“Junk” explains Wall Street corruption better than most newspapers do

“Junk” explains Wall Street corruption better than most newspapers do

I have been doing investigative journalism about financial and corporate corruption for 20 years. Ayad Akhtar’s play is right on the mark. It is based on the story of the corrupt junk bond trader Michael Milken. He got confederates to manipulate stocks so he could take over companies to loot and destroy them. It was a scandal of the 1980s. Too bad the market corruption he revealed never stopped. But this Akhtar gives you an excellent play-by-play. Better than what you might read in the press. Doug Hughes direction is a bit TV potboiler, but he nails it.

“Hangmen” — Martin McDonagh’s dark mystery raises questions of justice

“Hangmen” — Martin McDonagh’s dark mystery raises questions of justice

At the start of Martin McDonagh’s quirky “Hangmen,” a condemned prisoner, Hennessy (Gilles Geary) is shouting his innocence. It hardly matters to hangman Harry (Mark Addy) who has heard it all before in his 25 years on the job. It’s 1963 in Lancashire, the north of England. Near the end, Peter Mooney (a very good Johnny Flynn), a menacing stranger who exudes fake charm, erupts in a storm when Harry’s wife Alice (Sally Rogers) refuses to rent him a room because his references don’t check.

“The Parisian Woman” is a good/bad play about political corruption

“The Parisian Woman” is a good/bad play about political corruption

This is a very good/bad play. Actually, it’s a staged TV sitcom. It hits all the political bases, as they do. I enjoyed it, as I might a sitcom if I ever saw them (I don’t), but great drama it is not. The most is to call it a trenchant satire.

So, we enter the upper-class townhouse, with its a white couch and high sideboard, (there will be a terrace). Peter (Marton Csokas) is spying on the phone of Chloe (the always sharp Uma Thurman). She in blonde ponytail wears jeans and black heels. What does that say? Not comfort. (Jeans comfort, heels not) A certain carefully scripted cool sexiness.

“A Room in India” a brilliant, surreal, feminist political commentary

“A Room in India” a brilliant, surreal, feminist political commentary

Surreal, slapstick, funny, political, clever, and very feminist, Ariana Mnouchkine’s staging of “A Room in India,” created by Hélène Cixous and Mnouchkine’s world-famous Théâtre du Soleil (founded in Paris 1964), is a rich feast for audiences.

It is built around the travails of a French political theater troupe visiting India whose director abandons them because he can’t produce the Mahabarata, the ancient Indian epic. Never clear why.

“Twelfth Night” gets a fine intimate musical production by Fiasco Theater

“Twelfth Night” gets a fine intimate musical production by Fiasco Theater

The Fiasco Theater company has become known for iconic, clever, delightful productions of Shakespeare plays that are both complex, with live music performed by the actors, and minimal and intimate, with few characters and small settings. This production at the Classic Stage Company opens with terrific sea shantys in a country style. It will proceed to joyous drinking songs. And a charming and very accessible production of Shakespeare’s comic play about shipwrecked twins and mismatched lovers.

Albert Camus’ “State of Siege” a stunning surreal allegory about totalitarianism

Albert Camus’ “State of Siege” a stunning surreal allegory about totalitarianism

Albert Camus’ 1948 play, powerfully, surreally staged by Emmanuel Demarcy-Mota, director of the Paris Théȃtre de la Ville, seems so prescient, so of the moment, that you could swear it was written yesterday. Orwell’s “1984” was published a year later. But both warn against totalitarian governments that frighten and coopt ordinary citizens until a few brave souls fight back. They will be bloodied. Both are called allegories. I consider them warnings.

“Time and the Conways” fascinating take on British class system between the wars

“Time and the Conways” fascinating take on British class system between the wars

Before the First World War, things in England seemed quite solid, unmoving, as far as classes went. The upper class was frivolous, its members assumed everything about their lives would remain pretty much the same. Nice homes, nice parties. At the opening, a family and friends in Yorkshire are doing charades, underlining lives of fantasy.

But the interwar years seemed to change everything, to auger in a seismic shift in class relations. J.B. Priestley’s absorbing 1937 play about what happened to one family and the people whose lives they touched explains how by the time the Second World War occurred — why are we having so many world war? but that’s another story — to be followed by the victory of the Labor Party, the ascendancy of the upper class was not so assured. At least, money would matter more than class.

Cabaret Convention 2017 presents top American jazz and standards singers

Cabaret Convention 2017 presents top American jazz and standards singers

The Cabaret Convention put on by the Mabel Mercer Foundation has for almost three decades brought together some of the best cabaret performers in the country, each of four days presenting as many as 20 singers, some prominent, some new, some doing standards, others jazz, to keep the tradition alive. Dozens appeared over four evenings; these are just my highlights. I notice that most are women. Well, so be it! They had the most pizzazz, the most drama.

“As You Like It” cut down, and it’s still a charmer

“As You Like It” cut down, and it’s still a charmer

A modern trippy jazzy smart take on Shakespeare’s couples play (“As You Like It”) about males and females going after each other, circling each other in real life before internet dating sites. In modern dress with a jazzy Elizabethan piano. And with the rather austere stripped down set director that John Doyle is known for. Let’s just do the play!

“Mary Jane” absorbing drama of how mothers cope when kids have incurable illness

Mothers coping with seriously ill children who will never be healthy and normal is the theme of Amy Herzog’s new play. Sounds depressing, and it is, but it’s also curiously rather uplifting. Because it’s about the women’s trying to maintain normality, loving their children with a kind of forcefulness and desperation as if that could will a cure. And with Anne Kauffman’s naturalistic direction, the play never gets near soap opera.

“Michael Moore: The Terms of My Surrender” is political rally as theater piece

Standup comedy, political rally, late night talk TV? It’s hard to know what to make of Michael Moore theater event billed as a play. Donald Trump’s black and white photo is the backdrop. A box on the upper right has red, white and blue bunting. It’s the presidential box and Trump and family have been invited. Moore is wearing his signature worker’s blue shirt and cap.

“Prince of Broadway” remembers great musicals but forgets the politics

Harold Prince produced and directed some of Broadway’s brilliant musicals: “Cabaret,” “Candide,” “Evita,” “Kiss of the Spiderwoman,” “Fiddler.” Those shows were about politics and ideas. I was glad to see a reprise of famous numbers, but I was sorry this production did not deal with Prince’s vision. It was more “and then I directed/produced” rather than this is why I put on this show. David Thompson’s book should have made the point that they were very political shows. That and their artistry is why they succeeded.

“1984” describes the chilling past and future of the American superstate

When British writer George Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four” was published in 1949 it was viewed as a dystopian novel. Now, it seems taken from the news. Orwell’s novel, adapted and directed by Robert Icke and Duncan MacMillan, is stunning theater as well as trenchant political commentary. I’d say surreal, but it’s too close to the truth. Except it is surreal in the sense that it mixes realistic staging with what we used to call horror video.

Brecht’s “The Good Person of Sichuan” gets cool jazzy staging by Italia Conti Ensemble

Bertolt Brecht’s “The Good Person of Szechwan” (Der gute Mensch von Sezuan) is often translated less literally as “The Good Woman of Setzuan.” Here a group of second-year students at London’s Italia Conti Academy of Theatre Arts gets the right translation, uses working class Scottish, Brit and Irish accents to establish class, and do a very good modern interpretation, realism tempered by abstraction.

“Women at War” depicts sexism endured by female troops U.S. sent to Afghanistan

Rebecca Johannsen’s “Women at War” cuts to the heart of the irony of American military women serving in Afghanistan to relate to women in one of the most benighted anti-female countries in the world. The women in the U.S. Army’s Female Engagement Team, deployed to Afghanistan in 2012-2013, were supposed to engage with local Afghan women to build relationships (hearts and minds) and also gather intelligence. But it turns out that the Americans suffered from sexism U.S. military style: no burqas but plenty of what underlies that.

“Action at a Distance” is a Swiftian tale of how to profit from military murder

This play is a satiric modest proposal that appears inspired by Jonathan Swift’s 1729 essay of how one could benefit from catastrophe. If you recall, Swift wrote “A Modest Proposal for Preventing the Children of Poor People in Ireland, from Being a Burden on their Parents or Country, and for Making them Beneficial to the Publick.” To deal with the great poverty in Ireland, he suggested that the Irish eat their children. Playwright Rory Horen in a modern version suggests a clever way of benefiting from civilian deaths in Syria caused by America drones by using data analysis and the Internet.

George Mann’s “Odyssey” is a dazzling masterclass in acting

George Mann’s performance in “Odyssey,” the Homer classic, is a tour de force. Directed by Nir Paldi, who co-authored the adaptation with Mann, it is stunning, overwhelming, brilliant. Mann’s voice takes on the sounds of a musical scale, like a many-stringed orchestra. His movements are striking physical theater. He creates time and space peopled by a cast of dozens. He gives a masterclass in acting.

“Todd and God” is quirky comic satire about man and God (who is a woman)

Richard Marsh’s witty offbeat rhyming verse tells of a copy writer chosen by God to save the world. It is very smart and very funny. Todd (Marsh) is a mild-mannered fellow in his 20s, in jeans and black-rimmed glasses, a copywriter for alumni magazines. He is in a difficult relationship with Helen (the voice of Marsh), his superior wife, a pediatric surgeon. One day Todd is approached by God (Sara Hirsch), who explains, “God is a woman. I make life and I take it.”

“Borders” a gripping drama of Syria’s liberal opposition and often feckless western press

It’s 1998. The 6-year-old Syrian Christian draws. Her father wants her to be an artist. There are secret police in her playground.
Sebastian, an idealistic photojournalist just out of university, accompanies a reporter who has gotten an interview with a man hiding in a cave. He takes photos of Osama bin Laden. Sebastian is 21 and wants to change the world. He has some minutes of celebrity through his photos of bin Laden, but he can’t make a go of serious photojournalism, can’t sell his pictures.

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