Manhattan Theatre Club at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre
261 West 47th St. between Broadway & Eighth Aves.
Tuesday - Sunday through February 4, $60-$149
Amid all the splashy musicals, wacky comedies, and star-driven vehicles currently on Broadway, the British import The Children stands apart, a breath of fresh air in this winter season. Well, maybe that’s not the best way to classify this fiercely taut drama, which takes place shortly after a devastating nuclear accident on the East Coast of Britain. The fictional event appears to have even rattled the stage at Manhattan Theatre Club’s Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, which is severely tilted, creating a bit of an uphill or downhill climb when the characters move to the right or left. The play opens as Rose (Francesca Annis) pays a surprise afternoon visit to her old friend and colleague, Hazel (Deborah Findlay), who is living with her husband, Robin (Ron Cook), in a small cottage just outside the contaminated exclusion zone. “We heard you’d died!” Hazel announces; it’s been thirty-eight years since the two women, both nuclear engineers, last saw each other. While Hazel has settled into the domestic life of a retiree, with four children and four grandchildren, Rose has been gallivanting around the world, never settling down or getting married. When Rose asks Hazel why they haven’t moved farther away from the radiation, Hazel responds, “It’s just that little bit extra but it makes a world of difference to our peace of mind. . . . I would’ve felt like a traitor. Besides, retired people are like nuclear power stations. We like to live by the sea.” They are soon joined by Robin, who goes to their old farm every day, tending to the cows, even though it’s in the exclusion area. Where Hazel is very direct and to the point, Robin is more rambunctious and freewheeling, cracking jokes, asking Rose for a squeeze, and offering her some of his homemade wine. But when Rose reveals the reason she has returned — and secrets emerge — the trio has to reexamine their purpose in life and their future.
Originally produced at the Royal Court Theatre, The Children is brilliantly written by Olivier Award winner Lucy Kirkwood (Chimerica, Mosquitoes), who has created three complex characters who are genuine and unpredictable. The play takes a hard look at ageing and death, examining the responsibility the old have to the young. “How can anybody consciously moving towards death, I mean by their own design, possibly be happy? People of our age have to resist — you have to resist, Rose,” Hazel says. “If you’re not going to grow: don’t live.” It is also about blood, both literally and figuratively. When Rose first enters the house, a shocked Hazel turns defensively and hits Rose, giving her a bloody nose. One of Hazel and Robin’s children suffers from mental illness, thinking she is a bloodsucking vampire. And, of course, radiation poisons the blood. James Macdonald, who has directed numerous works by Caryl Churchill (Escaped Alone, Top Girls) and Sarah Kane (4.48 Psychosis, Blasted), among others, keeps things balanced even as the actors have to deal with Miriam Buether’s angled set, which is framed as if a tilted picture on a wall come to life. Olivier nominee Annis (Cranford, Troilus and Cressida), Olivier winner Findlay (Stanley, Coriolanus), and Olivier nominee Cook (Juno and the Paycock, Faith Healer) reprise their roles from the London production, all three delivering warm, heartfelt performances, with a special nod to Cook for having to ride a tricycle uphill despite a bad back. And Max Pappenheim’s sound design stands out as well, from a Geiger counter to church bells. Despite its title, The Children is the most adult show in New York City right now, a marvelously resonant, intelligent, and engaging play that continually defies expectations as the plot twists and turns while something threatening hangs just past the horizon.
INHERENT VICE (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2014)
7 Ludlow St. between Canal & Hester Sts.
Friday, January 19, 3:45
Series runs through January 25
It makes sense that award-winning writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson, who has made such complex, challenging films as Magnolia, There Will Be Blood, and The Master, has made the first cinematic adaptation of a novel by reclusive, iconoclastic author Thomas Pynchon, who has written such complex, challenging books as Gravity’s Rainbow, V., and Vineland. It also makes sense that the book he chose to adapt is Inherent Vice, probably the most lighthearted and breezy of Pynchon’s tomes. But it also makes sense that the film itself is complex and challenging — and downright confusing. Walking out of the theater, we were pretty sure we liked what we had just seen, even if we didn’t completely understand what had happened. (As Jena Malone said of the making of the film, “The logic becomes the chaos and the chaos becomes the logic.”) The neonoir takes place in 1970 in the fictional Valley town of Gordita Beach (based on Manhattan Beach, where Pynchon lived for a long time). Joaquin Phoenix stars as Larry “Doc” Sportello, a mutton-chopped ex-hippie who is now a private gumshoe working out of a health clinic. One day his ex, Shasta Fay Hepworth (a transplendent Katherine Waterston), shows up to ask him to get her out of a jam involving her billionaire boyfriend, Mickey Wolfmann (Eric Roberts), who has gone missing, perhaps at the hands of Wolfmann’s high-society wife, Sloane (Serena Scott Thomas). Meanwhile, Doc is also hired by Hope Harlingen (Malone) to determine whether her supposedly dead husband, surf-sax legend Coy (Owen Wilson), is actually alive. As Pynchon himself says in the book trailer, “At that point, it gets sort of peculiar,” and peculiar it does indeed get, as Doc becomes immersed in a web of lies and deceit, dealing with a dangerous cult known as the Golden Fang (where Martin Short plays a sex-crazed dentist with a wild abandon), a curious health facility called the Chryskylodon Institute run by Dr. Threeply (Jefferson Mays), and Det. Bigfoot Bjornsen (Josh Brolin), a “renaissance cop” who has no time for any of Doc’s hippie crap, as the Manson murders hover over everything. Well, at least that’s what we think the plot is about.
As with all Anderson films, Inherent Vice looks and sounds great; cinematographer Robert Elswit, who has shot most of Anderson’s works, bathes the quirky drama in hazy, syrupy colors, while Jonny Greenwood’s score is accompanied by songs by Can, Sam Cooke, Minnie Riperton, the Marketts, and Neil Young. (In fact, Young’s Journey through the Past experimental film served as an influence on Anderson when making Inherent Vice, as did David Zucker, Jim Abrahams, and Jerry Zucker’s Police Squad and Naked Gun series, Robert Altman’s 1973 Philip Marlowe movie The Long Goodbye, and Howard Hawks’s 1946 version of Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep.) It all has the feel of the Coen brothers’ The Big Lebowski as reinterpreted by Anderson and Pynchon — who might have been on-set during at least some of the shooting and supposedly makes a cameo in the picture. The film is littered with absurdist jokes and oddities, from the way Bigfoot eats a chocolate-covered banana to a trio of FBI agents picking their noses, from the right-wing Vigilant California organization to a clip from the 1952 Cold War propaganda film Red Nightmare. Phoenix once again fully inhabits his character, who putt-putts around in an old Dodge Dart and just wants life to be mellow and groovy. Brolin is hysterical as his foil, the straitlaced, flattop cop who has a penchant for busting down doors. The large cast also includes Benicio del Toro as Sauncho Smilax, Doc’s too-cool lawyer; Reese Witherspoon as Penny Kimball, Doc’s well-coiffed girlfriend; Maya Rudolph (Anderson’s real-life partner and the daughter of Riperton) as receptionist Petunia Leeway; Sasha Pieterse as Japonica Fenway, who hangs with Golden Fang dentist Rudy Blatnoyd (Short); and Joanna Newsom as Sortilège, the film’s narrator (who does not appear in the book). Inherent Vice is yet another unique cinematic experience from Anderson, one that is likely to take multiple viewings to understand just what is going on, but as with his previous films, it is likely to be well worth the investment. Inherent Vice is screening January 19 at 3:45 in the Metrograph series “Paul Thomas Anderson x 6” and will be preceded by Anderson’s Radiohead: Daydreaming music video in 35mm. The mini-festival is being held in conjunction with the release of his latest work, Phantom Thread, and continues through January 25 with Punch-Drunk Love and Boogie Nights.
BEUYS (Andres Veiel, 2017)
209 West Houston St.
Opens Wednesday, January 17
About ten years ago, I was visiting Chelsea galleries on a sunny afternoon when a car pulled up on the corner of Eleventh Ave. and Twenty-second St. A father and a young boy of about five or six got out, and the man led the child to one of the stone sculptures that make up Joseph Beuys’s “7000 Oaks.” The boy relieved himself on the stone; the pair then returned to the car and the family drove off. I always thought that the German avant-garde artist would have gotten a kick out of that scene; after watching Andres Veiel’s new documentary, Beuys, I’m sure of it. If you’re going to make a documentary about Beuys (pronounced boys), one of the most influential artists of the postwar generation, it had better not be a straightforward, talking-heads film but something that pushes the boundaries and challenges the viewer, much like his art. Award-winning director Veiel (Balagan, Black Box Germany) does just that with the film, which concentrates primarily on rarely shown and never-before-seen archival footage of Beuys, including radio and television interviews, art openings, panel discussions, live performances, photographs, and home movies, mostly in black-and-white. Veiel conducted approximately twenty new interviews and met with more than five dozen people who knew Beuys, but he only uses spare clips from art historian Rhea Thönges-Stringaris, publisher Klaus Staeck, collector Franz Joseph van der Grinten, and critic, curator, and writer Caroline Tisdall, who wrote seven books about Beuys and worked with him on several major exhibitions and lecture tours. “The anonymous viewer is back there, yeah?” Beuys says early on, looking straight into the camera, and it’s a critical moment, as the documentary emphasizes how important it was to him that his work be seen. “I want to inform people about the true culprits in our system. I want to inform and educate people,” he says. Beuys, who also taught at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, is eminently quotable, his speech filled with manifesto-like declarations. “Forget the conventional idea of art. Anyone can be an artist. Anything can be art, especially anything that conserves energy,” he explains. “I’m not an artist at all. Except if we say that everyone is an artist,” he opines. “The concept of what art is has expanded to such a degree that, for me, there’s nothing left of it,” he offers.
Veiel, cinematographer Jörg Jeshel, and editors Olaf Voigtländer and Stephan Krumbiegel begin many scenes by scanning a contact sheet of photos of Beuys and zeroing in on one, which suddenly comes to life. Among Beuys’s projects they focus on are 1969’s “The Pack” (das Rudel), sleds tied to the back of a VW bus; the 1974-75 installation “Show Your Wound,” which might have been inspired by the injuries he suffered as a pilot in WWII; the 1965 performance piece “How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare”; “Boxing Match: Joseph Beuys & Abraham David Christian”; “Honey Pump in the Workplace,” an example of what Beuys called “social sculpture”; and the expansive “7000 Oaks,” in which he paired stone sculptures with tree plantings. Usually smoking a cigarette, baring his big, white teeth, and wearing his vest and trademark hat — perhaps to cover up war injuries — Beuys is always aware he is being watched, on exhibit himself, and it’s something he toys with, tongue often in cheek as he expounds on concepts about life and art and plays around with interlocutors. The film touches on his childhood, his war experience, his association with the Green Party, and his descent into a deep, dark depression, but it evades various controversies, from possible Nazi ties to shamanism to his oft-told tale of a plane crash in which he was supposedly saved by Tartars. Veiel also doesn’t delve into Beuys’s personal relationships or the illness that led to his death in 1986 at the age of sixty-four. Instead, he gives us a Beuys who is ever-present, an iconoclastic, often inscrutable, and wildly intelligent artist and innovative provocateur who constructed his own mythology that continues to tantalize us today — even when his work is used as a public toilet. Beuys is making its U.S. theatrical premiere January 17 at Film Forum; Veiel will participate in a Q&A with MoMA PS1 director Klaus Biesenbach following the 7:00 show on January 19.
Asia Society Museum
725 Park Ave. at 70th St.
Tuesday - Sunday through January 21, $7-$12 (free Friday nights from 6:00 to 9:00)
There is nothing subtle about “After Darkness: Southeast Asian Art in the Wake of History,” an intense exhibition continuing through January 21 at Asia Society. The seven artists and one collective in the show — who hail from Indonesia, Myanmar, and Vietnam, three nations that have undergone major sociopolitical transformations since WWII — are angry, and they want everyone to know it. “The featured artists have worked within challenging environments, which have included periods of violence and uncertainty, to create artworks that represent their most ardent aspirations for their home countries,” Asia Society president and CEO Josette Sheeran writes in her foreword to the expansive catalog. In “Destruction,” Indonesian artist FX Harsono turns himself into Ravana, the Demon King from the epic Indian poem Ramayana, and uses a chainsaw to cut up chairs to protest voter fraud, while in “Burned Victims” he sets fire to nine wooden torsos to raise awareness about nine innocent people who died in a mall fire during a riot; the charred remains are lined up along the floor of the gallery. Vietnamese artist Dinh Q. Lê evokes Chinese handscrolls in “WTC from Four Perspectives,” four long, stretched images of the fall of the Twin Towers, now turned into abstract colors and shapes. In “Relevancy of Restricted Things,” Myanmar’s Nge Lay wears a mask and dresses up as her father, who died when she was a teenager, and takes photographs of other families who have lost the patriarch, with Lay taking his place. She also stages her own death in “Observing of Self Being Dead.” Vietnamese artist Nguyen Thi Thanh Mai asked refugees in Cambodia and Vietnam to choose a stock background of an idyllic location, then had a traveling photographer take a picture of them as if they were there; the photos were then arranged on the walls of a hut made from coconut and eucalyptus leaves.
The Propeller Group, founded by Matt Lucero, Tuan Andrew Nguyen, and Phunam Thuc Ha, uses time-delay video to watch a motorcycle being stripped down by thieves in The Dream, while in the two-channel video The Guerrillas of Cu Chi, tourists pay a dollar to shoot M-16s and AK-47s from the Vietnam War where underground tunnels were used by the Viet Cong to kill American troops; across the way, a propaganda film promotes the Cu Chi Guerrillas. In Chinese Indonesian Tintin Wulia’s Everything’s OK, her camera moves across a Styrofoam city where money rains down and overcrowding takes over, while opportunity knocks in Ketok and fangs emerge from imported fruit in Violence Against Fruits, about the treatment of minority groups. Indonesian photographer Angki Purbandono spoofs fashion shoots in “Beyond Versace.” And Htein Lin gets his own room for “A Show of Hands,” multiple shelves of plaster of Paris casts of hands of political prisoners in Myanmar, creating an almost blindingly white effect, each hand tagged with a label detailing the person’s name and time spent in which jail. In addition, Harsono’s Writing in the Rain video, in which the artist continues writing his name in black ink on a window as water comes down and washes his identity away, is this month’s “Midnight Moment” selection, being projected on electronic billboards in Times Square throughout January from 11:57 pm to midnight. The exhibition is a kind-of follow-up to 1996’s “Contemporary Art in Asia: Traditions/Tensions,” which was held simultaneously at NYU’s Grey Art Gallery, the Queens Museum, and Asia Society and introduced artists from India, Indonesia, the Philippines, South Korea, and Thailand. But “After Darkness” takes it to the next level, focusing on artists’ reactions to dramatic changes in three nations. In his downstairs lobby installation, FX Harsono’s “Blank Spot on My TV” consists of twenty digital prints of news conferences in which the artist has placed a white circle on a politician’s face, primarily covering the speaker’s mouth, as if what is coming out is meaningless. Meanwhile, “After Darkness” celebrates artists who are not about to be silenced.
Who: Ronny Chieng, Nancy Yao Maasbach
What: “Mission Possible” conversation with comedian Ronny Chieng and MOCA president Nancy Yao Maasbach
Where: Museum of Chinese in America, 215 Centre St., 855-955-MOCA
When: Wednesday, January 17, $30 (includes museum admission and one drink), 6:00
Why: The Daily Show correspondent Ronny Chieng was born in Malaysia, raised in New Hampshire and Singapore, graduated from the University of Melbourne in Australia, and now is based in New York City. On Trevor Noah’s show, in his stand-up routines, and on his own series, Ronny Chieng: International Student, Chieng takes on stereotypes with straight-ahead humor and a touch of silliness, but always with a serious point. On January 17, the Chinese comedian will be at the Museum of Chinese in America to sit down with MOCA president Nancy Yao Maasbach to talk about comedy, his childhood, and Asian Americans in the arts. There will be an open mic with special guests at 6:00, followed by the discussion at 8:00. Tickets are $30 and include museum admission (and one drink), so get there early to check out the exhibitions “With a Single Step: Stories in the Making of America” and “FOLD: Golden Venture Paper Sculptures.” The program is part of MOCAFest 2018, a wide-ranging series of events welcoming in the Lunar New Year and the Year of the Dog. “Mission Possible” continues January 24 with Gish Jen and January 31 with Betty Wong Ortiz.
January 14 - March 24
America came of age in the 1960s, from the assassinations of JFK, RFK, MLK, and Malcolm X to Vietnam and the Summer of Love. Carnegie Hall is paying tribute to the turbulent decade with the two-month series “The ’60s: The Years that Changed America,” inspired by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Robert A. Caro. The native New Yorker, who turned eighty-two this past October, is the author of such books as The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York and the four-part The Years of Lyndon Johnson, with a fifth tome on the way. “Luther King gave people ‘the feeling that they could be bigger and stronger and more courageous than they thought they could be,’ Bayard Rustin said — in part because of the powerful new weapon, non-violent resistance, that had been forged on the Montgomery battlefield,’” Caro wrote in Master of the Senate, a quote obviously apt for MLK Day. Running January 14 through March 24 all across the city, the festival features concerts, panel discussions, film screenings, dance, art exhibitions, and more. Below are only some of the many highlights; keep watching this space for more additions.
Sunday, January 14
Saturday, March 24
“Max’s Kansas City,” photos and writings, Mark Borghi Gallery, free
Friday, January 19
“You Say You Want a Revolution: Remembering the Sixties,” Library After Hours opening night program with experimental films, album-cover workshop, games and puzzles, curator tour led by Isaac Gewirtz, dance party with Felix Hernandez, and more, exhibit continues through September 1, the New York Public Library, Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, free, 7:00
Kronos Quartet, works by Stacy Garrop (world premiere inspired by “I Have a Dream” speech), Zachary J. Watkins (world premiere inspired by Studs Terkel), Terry Riley, John Cage, and Janis Joplin, Zankel Hall at Carnegie Hall, $62-$72, 9:00
Tuesday, January 23
Friday, May 18
“The Global Interconnections of 1968,” Kempner Exhibition Gallery, Butler Library (sixth floor), Columbia University, free
Thursday, January 25
Snarky Puppy with David Crosby and Friends, including Chris Thile and Laura Mvula, Stern/Perelman at Carnegie Hall, $26-$100, 8:00
Friday, January 26
Bernard and Irene Schwartz Classic Film Series: Coming Home (Hal Ashby, 1978), Justice in Film presentation introduced by Susan Lacy, New-York Historical Society, free with pay-what-you-wish museum admission, 7:00
Tuesday, February 6
Sunday, February 11
March, duet from Lessons inspired by civil rights movement, part of winter season program by Ronald K. Brown / Evidence, a Dance Company, the Joyce Theater, $26-$46
Friday, February 16
“Philip Glass Ensemble: Music with Changing Parts,” Stern/Perelman at Carnegie Hall, $14.50 - $95, 8:00
Wednesday, February 21
“The Summer of Law and Disorder: Harlem Riot of 1964,” panel discussion, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, free with advance registration beginning February 7, 6:30
Tuesday, March 13
Bernard and Irene Schwartz Distinguished Speakers Series: “The ’60s from Both Sides Now: An Evening with Judy Collins,” in conversation with historian Harold Holzer, New-York Historical Society, $38, 6:30
Saturday, March 24
“The Vietnam War: At Home and Abroad,” multimedia presentation with Friction Quartet performing George Crumb’s “Black Angels” and more groups to be announced, narrated by John Monsky, Zankel at Carnegie Hall, $35-$45, 2:00
Japan Society concludes its “NOH NOW” series with Satoshi Miyagi’s unique, hypnotic adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Othello, which is also part of the Public Theater’s Under the Radar festival and Japan Society’s 110th anniversary. In Mugen Noh Othello, Miyagi and his Shizuoka Performing Arts Center apply traditional mugen noh narrative structure and Miyagi’s own innovative techniques to the Bard’s story of jealousy and betrayal, condensing and refocusing the tale so it feels both fresh and contemporary as well as age-old and sadly familiar. Mugen noh stories are often told by a departed spirit in flashback, confessing to a secondary character who is a stand-in for the audience, in the hopes of gaining release to the afterlife. Miyagi’s surprise is to have a single character performed by two actors: One moves on the stage, the other sits along the right side, delivering the dialogue. Miyagi and writer Sukehiro Hirakawa also twist genre conventions by having Desdemona (mover Micari, speaker Haruyo Suzuki) as the storytelling spirit, not Shakespeare’s protagonist, Othello (Kazyniru Abe). The set is a square, slightly raised wooden platform, with an angled walkway where characters enter and exit. In the back are musicians Sachiko Kataoka, Yukio Kato, Yoneji Ouchi, Yu Sakurauchi, Junko Sekine, and Ayako Terauchi, playing traditional noh percussive instruments. (The tense score is by Hiroko Tanakawa.) On the right of the stage are a row of women and a row of men serving as a kind of Greek chorus, chanting and performing many of the lines of the play, which are translated in English surtitles on two screens. When a traveling pilgrim (Maki Honda) from Venice arrives in Cyprus, he meets a trio of Italian women (Ayako Terauchi, Sachiko Kataoka, and Yu Sakurauchi, voiced by Asuka Fuse, Kotoko Kiuchi, and Fuyuko Moriyama, respectively) who tell him how Cyprus fell to the Ottoman Turks.
“But alas, how fickle is the hearts of men,” one says. “Cyprus has turned into an island of pagans.” The pilgrim wants to know the details and is soon joined by Desdemona, who declares, “Upon meeting you, a fellow Venetian, I yearn for the world of the living.” And so she relates what happened between her husband, Othello; his trusted right-hand ensign, Iago (Yuya Daidomumon); his loyal captain, Cassio (Yoneji Ouchi); Desdemona’s father, Brabantio (Soichiro Yoshiue); the Duke of Venice (Keita Mishima); and Iago’s unknowing henchman, Roderigo (Yukio Kato), a story that leads to murder most foul. (The Tokyo-born Miyagi has also directed versions of Hamlet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream for SPAC.) “I return to tell the tale of a man trapped in a delusion,” she explains. Mugen Noh Othello features very slow, deliberate movement, with relatively sparse dialogue. Facial expressions are often exaggerated, and some characters wear masks and fab hats. Kayo Takahashi’s costumes, which come in a wide range of colors and include long, elegant, and spare lines of Japanese writing, are extraordinary, particularly Desdemona’s elaborate ghostly white and golden kimono. The play has been condensed to eighty minutes, cutting out various characters, instead concentrating on the critical, emotional high points surrounding the commission or omission of sin. It’s a lovely production rich with tender, scary, and funny moments, emphasizing the art of storytelling itself. Shakespeare purists will not find all of their favorite lines here, but there is still much poetry to revel in.