407 West 43rd St. between Ninth & Tenth Aves.
Tuesday – Sunday through July 17, $79-$89
“Now, I know that many of you folks out there do read the paper. But I wish you would read all the papers. You just read some of the papers — where they callin’ me the Negro Lenny Bruce. You gotta’ read those Congo papers where they callin’ Lenny Bruce — the white Dick Gregory!” Dick Gregory (Joe Morton) declares near the beginning of Turn Me Loose, Gretchen Law’s smart, essential play about the life and career of the comedian, activist, and self-described wellness guru born Richard Claxton Gregory in St. Louis in 1932. The Emmy-winning, Tony-nominated Morton is riveting as Gregory, going back and forth between club gigs and interviews from the 1960s to the present day, when he addresses the audience directly as an old man, looking back at his failures and accomplishments. (Fortunately, the play avoids his numerous forays into conspiracy theories.) Gregory talks about his life with his wife and children, his goals for financial success and social change, and his friendships with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Medgar Evers. In fact, the title is taken from Evers’s final words: “Turn me loose.” As Morton ambles across Chris Barreca’s stripped-down set, consisting of a microphone, table, stool and phone, the play gets to the heart of what Gregory was and is about. “I’m out to find the truth. Expose the tricks,” he says. Discussing the ongoing battles between black and white, Muslims and Christians, Jews and Palestinians, and liberals and conservatives, he admonishes, “When you accept injustice, you become injustice. When you coexist with filth? You become filth. It’s all of those myths you’re buyin’ into.” Other gems include “Bein’ white ain’t got nothin’ to do with color,” “My tongue . . . was my switchblade. My humor was my sword,” “I believe that information is salvation,” and “When I grew up in St. Louis, I thought that poverty was the worst disease on the earth. I soon learned that racism is the worst disease on the face of the earth.”
Law (The Adventures of a Black Girl in Search of Her God, Al Sharpton for President) and director John Gould Rubin (Hedda Gabler, Playing with Fire) zero in on the key moments of Gregory’s career: being invited by Hugh Hefner to perform at the Playboy Club in Chicago in 1961, where he faced a harsh crowd of white southerners, and demanding that if Jack Paar wanted him to do stand-up on the Tonight show, he had to be allowed to sit on the couch and speak with Paar afterward, something no black entertainer had done before. He also makes brilliant use of the word “n-gger.” He celebrates the way Mark Twain employed it (“Mark Twain was so brilliant! He gave a n-gger a name! ‘N-gger Jim.’ And then white folks had to read about a black man with a name. A person.”) and confronts the audience with it. After being heckled at the Playboy Club, he turns to the Westside Theatre audience and says, “How about you all out there? Anyone out there care to stand up and call me a n-gger? Come on now. Don’t miss out on a great opportunity. Stand up! Come on. Stand up! Go ahead. Get on up. Get on up and call me — a n-gger! It’s only a word.” Of course, at that moment you could hear a pin drop, aside from some nervous laughter. (The night I went, the crowd was about half white and half black.) Morton, who has starred in such films as The Brother from Another Planet and Lone Star, such television series as Scandal and Eureka, and the Broadway plays Hair, Art, and Raisin, does not go into full impersonation mode but effectively captures Gregory’s unique spirit in his every movement. However, Turn Me Loose is not quite a one-man show; John Carlin, who is white, also appears in bit parts as various hecklers and a comic. In addition, coproducer John Legend contributes an original song. At one point, Gregory declares, “Nobody makes it out alive when they make a real change that has to do with race. Nobody!” As he often has done over the course of his life, Gregory defies convention yet again.
Who: Maria Hassabi
What: High Line Performances
Where: The High Line, West 30th St. & Twelfth Ave.
When: June 28-30, free, 7:00
Why: We’d follow Cyprus-born, New York City–based dancer and choreographer Maria Hassabi just about anywhere to see her unique, intense performances. We’ve seen her crawl across cobblestones on Broad St., slither up and down stairs at MoMA, wrestle with a carpet at PS122, and wind her way through the audience on the floor of the Kitchen. On June 26, 27, and 28 at 7:00, Hassabi will be on the High Line at the Rail Yards at West Thirtieth St., presenting the site-specific Movement #2. The beautiful elevated park is in full bloom now, so it should provide a splendid backdrop for Hassabi’s thirty-minute show, an informal preview of her next full-length piece, Staged, which will have its world premiere at the Kitchen October 4-8 as part of FIAF’s annual Crossing the Line Festival. Movement #2 features Simon Courchel, Hristoula Harakas, Molly Lieber, and Oisín Monaghan in separate parts of the park; viewers must move around in order to see them all, which is of course part of the fun. (Admission is free; no advance RSVP is required.)
Who: Jack Ferver, Carling Talcott-Steenstra, Barton Cowperthwaite, Reid Bartelme
What: ADI/NYC Incubator residency program
Where: The Kitchen, 519 West 19th St. between Tenth & Eleventh Aves., 855-263-2623
When: June 30 - July 2, $25
Why: Wait, what! You still haven’t gotten tickets to see the inimitable Jack Ferver’s latest show, I Want You to Want Me? Are you out of your mind? We’ve been telling you for years about Ferver, a genuine New York City treasure who is a storytelling marvel, mixing humor and melodrama, pathos and bathos, fiction and nonfiction, fantasy and reality in works that examine the state of our fame-obsessed world through a wacky and wild pop-culture sense and sensibility. Part of the American Dance Institute’s NYC Incubator program, I Want You to Want Me runs June 30 through July 2 at the Kitchen and features, alongside writer, choreographer, and star Ferver, Carling Talcott-Steenstra as Ann Erica Rose, Barton Cowperthwaite as Bartholomew, and longtime Ferver collaborator and costume designer Reid Bartelme as Reid in what is being billed as a “horror play/goth ballet.” Ferver, whose previous works include Chambre, Rumble Ghost, and All of a Sudden, explains, “I thought I would try to make something for everyone. You know, like ballet or a good subscription audience kind of play. I consider myself a populist, but some people really hate my work. They even hate me they hate my work so much. So I thought: ‘Well, why don’t I make a really pretty ballet or a play about a straight couple and their issues?’ So that’s what I’m going to do. Oh, I also just wanted to say that not everyone is going to make it. I don’t mean make it to the show. I mean make it out of the show alive.” The Incubator program continues in September with Zvi Dance and Steven Reker / Open House and in October with Morgan Thorson and Kate Weare Company.
EAST OF EDEN (Elia Kazan, 1955)
Sixth Ave. between 40th & 42nd Sts.
Monday, June 27, free, sunset
Festival continues Mondays through August 22
“I guess there’s just a certain amount of good and bad you get from your parents and I just got the bad,” Cal (James Dean) says in Elia Kazan’s cinematic adaptation of part of John Steinbeck’s 1952 novel, East of Eden, a modern retelling of the biblical Cain and Abel story. In his first starring role, Dean received a posthumous Oscar nomination for his moody, angst-ridden performance as Cal Trask, a troubled young man who discovers that the mother (Best Supporting Actress winner Jo Van Fleet) he thought was dead is actually alive and well and running a successful house of prostitution nearby. Cal tries to win his father’s (Raymond Massey as Adam Trask) love and acceptance any way he can, including helping him develop his grand plan to transport lettuce from their farm via refrigerated railway cars, but his father seems to always favor his other son, Aron (Richard Davalos). Aron, meanwhile, is in love with Abra (Julie Harris), a sweet young woman who takes a serious interest in Cal and desperately wants him to succeed. But the well-meaning though misunderstood Cal does things his own way, which gets him in trouble with his father and brother, the mother who wants nothing to do with him, the sheriff (Burl Ives), and just about everyone else he comes in contact with. Set in Monterey and Salinas, East of Eden begins with a grand overture by Leonard Rosenman, announcing the film is going to be a major undertaking, and it lives up to its billing. Dean is masterful as Cal, peppering Paul Osborn’s script with powerful improvisational moments as he expresses his frustration with his family and life in general. His inner turmoil threatens to explode in both word and gesture as he just seeks to be loved. Dean would follow up East of Eden with seminal roles in Rebel Without a Cause and Giant before his death in a car crash in 1955 at the age of twenty-four, leaving behind a remarkable legacy that has influenced generations of actors ever since. East of Eden is screening June 27 at the Bryant Park Summer Film Festival, which continues Monday nights through August 22 with such other classic flicks as Preston Sturges’s The Palm Beach Story, Richard Donner’s The Omen, and Clint Eastwood’s High Plains Drifter.
Through June 26, free, 8:00
William Shakespeare, protofeminist? Well, not exactly. But in the hands of Tony-nominated director Phyllida Lloyd, Bard fans are offered a new way to look at Shakespeare’s troubling play about women’s submission at the hands of devious men. Lloyd, who previously helmed all-woman versions of Julius Caesar and Henry IV at St. Ann’s (as well as Mamma Mia! on Broadway), now takes the same route with The Taming of the Shrew, continuing at the Public’s Delacorte Theater in Central Park through June 26. Mark Thompson’s set and costumes create a kind of traveling circus atmosphere as a Donald Trump sound-alike introduces beauty-pageant contestants, instantly demeaning women in multiple ways. The women, who come in all the shapes and sizes that the presumptive Republican nominee for president would clearly not approve of, sing and dance, wearing giant smiles on their faces. But Katherina (Cush Jumbo), whose sister is the beautiful, ditzy blonde Bianca (Gayle Rankin), wants no part of this sideshow, demanding to make her own decisions and refusing to kowtow to any man.
Her words are so harsh and brutal that the men in Padua treat her as a kind of laughingstock, wanting nothing to do with her. But when her wealthy father, Baptista (LaTanya Richardson Jackson), declares that until Katherina, his eldest daughter, is wed, his younger daughter, Bianca, an object of sexual desire among all the men, is off limits. So several of Bianca’s suitors, including Gremio (Judy Gold), Lucentio (Rosa Gilmore), and Hortensio (Donna Lynne Champlin), get involved in an elaborate scheme of lies, deception, and mistaken identity to convince Petruchio (Janet McTeer) to wed and bed the untamable Katherina so Bianca becomes fair game. But Kate is not about to fall for their tricks, until she has little choice, resulting in some very difficult scenes as Petruchio essentially starves and tortures Kate to force her to become his obedient sex slave. But Lloyd has a surprise in store that provides a conclusion that might not sit well with either Shakespeare or Trump.
The cast, which also features Adrienne C. Moore as Tranio, Teresa Avia Lim as Biondello, Stacey Sergeant as Grumio, Candy Buckley as Vincentio, Leenya Rideout as a wealthy widow, and Morgan Everitt, Anne L. Nathan, Pearl Rhein, Jackie Sanders, and Natalie Woolams-Torres, has an absolute ball, seemingly enjoying every second of the show. Jumbo (Josephine and I, The River) stomps and shrieks around with fiery glee as Kate, while Tony-winning, Oscar-nominated British actress McTeer (God of Carnage, Tumbleweeds) channels a dirtbag Crocodile Dundee as Petruchio. Gold (The Judy Show — My Life as a Sitcom, 25 Questions for a Jewish Mother) stands tall as Gremio, replacing what she calls a boring speech with a brief stand-up routine that, the night we attended, referenced a raccoon that was sneaking around backstage. And Moore (Black Cindy on Orange Is the New Black) is delightful as Tranio, firmly entrenched right in the middle of all the shenanigans. Lloyd infuses the festivities — which actually do nearly fall apart during the wedding scenes and when Petruchio is “taming” Kate — with a feminist energy that nearly explodes to songs by Pat Benatar and Joan Jett. Of course, this production of an outdated, sexist play — which inspired the Cole Porter musical Kiss Me, Kate — comes along at an opportune moment in American history, as Hillary Clinton has a legitimate chance to become the first woman U.S. president, violence and discrimination against the LGBTQ community remain prevalent, and even discussions over bathroom usage have resulted in fear and loathing. In the program, Public Theater artistic director Oskar Eustis notes that Shrew “is the only major Shakespeare play which I have never produced or directed. . . . The reason is simple: I have never been able to get behind the central action of the play, which is, well, taming a woman. . . . But then I listened to Phyllida Lloyd.” We are all very glad that he did.
New Museum of Contemporary Art / Anton Kern Gallery
235 Bowery at Prince St. / 532 West 20th St. between Tenth & Eleventh Aves.
Through Sunday, June 26, $16 / through Saturday, June 25, free, 10:00 am - 6:00 pm
212-219-1222 / 212-367-9663
In her foreword to the catalog for Nicole Eisenman’s first New York museum survey, New Museum director Lisa Phillips writes, “Nicole Eisenman is one of the most important painters of her generation and a vanguard voice in defining what figurative painting is today.” Bold words indeed, but “Nicole Eisenmann: Al-ugh-ories,” running at the New Museum through June 26, and “Nicole Eisenman: Magnificent Delusion,” continuing at Anton Kern Gallery in Chelsea through June 25, go a long way toward supporting that claim. The Scarsdale-raised, Brooklyn-based painter, sculptor, and installation artist has been part of the New York City scene since the 1990s; in fact, in 1994 she was included in the New Museum’s “Bad Girls” show, along with Matt Groening, Guerrilla Girls, Carrie Mae Weems, Lynda Barry, and others. Eisenman’s canvases mix art history and autobiography to tell intriguing stories that demand extended viewing not only to revel in her remarkable skill with color and a brush but to let the allegorical narratives unfold before you. At the New Museum show, pieces reference Philip Guston and Paul Gauguin, Giorgio di Chirico and Edvard Munch, Edouard Manet and Pieter Bruegel, Hans Holbein and Pablo Picasso and others, in a style that evokes classic paintings as well as German Expressionism and underground comics and zines.
In “From Success to Obscurity,” a character based on the Thing from the Fantastic Four is reading a letter that is addressed, “Dear Obscurity.” In “Commerce Feeds Creativity,” a shirtless man in a bowler hat holds out a spoon to a drooling, wounded woman tied up with wire so her bare breasts are squeezed into painful positions, the background unfinished, as if Eisenman is being forced to complete her work at the behest of a patriarchal capitalist market. In “Biergarten at Night,” a motley crew of men and women, many coupled, are drinking and smoking in the midst of a dark forest; near the center, a skeleton and a genderless person embrace like the man and woman in Munch’s “The Kiss,” while an oddly placed wire with halo-inducing lightbulbs droops across the middle of the canvas. Eisenman depicts herself at work in “Progress: Real and Imagined,” her studio adrift at sea, the artist hunched over in the center, drawing with a quill pen, an engaging counterpart to her sculptural installation of a table in her studio, in which the artist’s foot is hanging upside down from a crosslike object, most of her body in a bronze container.
Eisenman also imbues her work with sociopolitical statements both overt and subtle. In “The Triumph of Poverty,” a group of downtrodden, zombielike people are gathered in and around a car with no doors or windows, fire peeking out of a chimney in the background, all looking off to the left, not exactly expecting that prosperity awaits. Among them are a man in a tuxedo whose pants have fallen down, revealing that his buttocks are where his genitals should be, making him an ass-backward leader; a child holding out a bowl, as if Oliver asking for more food in Oliver Twist; and a small black child with an extended belly, being led by an ominous white hand. In “Tea Party,” a bedraggled and defeated Uncle Sam slumps in a chair in an underground bunker stocked with gold bars, water, and canned food; meanwhile, a barefoot, longhaired man sleeps quietly, clutching his beloved rifle, while two other men are building an explosive device. The pièce de résistance is 2008’s “Coping,” in which a strange cast of characters wade through a thick river of feces in a European town in which Eisenman brings together the past and the present with a bevy of wonderful details, from a street-vendor coffee cup to lush green hills, from an overturned car to a waitress serving trays of beer, from clouds of shit to a green parrot sitting atop a cat’s head, from a woman clutching her dog to a mummy walking away. (The parrot and mummy show up in other works as well.) In the middle of it all, a naked woman, perhaps the artist herself, is wondering what comes next. It’s a glorious tour de force that shows much of what Eisenman has been working on the past few decades.
In a catalog interview with New Museum artistic director Massimiliano Gioni and assistant curator Helga Christofferson, Eisenman notes, “I like the idea of documenting, of saving something for a future time. It’s a hopeful act. I also love this fucked-up city.” You can get a glimpse of what comes next, of the future, in her thrilling show at Anton Kern, featuring a small collection of spectacular paintings from 2015-16, many of which deal with communication in the modern world; a wall of playful drawings and watercolors from 1995 to the present; and another studio-based sculpture. In “Subway 2,” a G train is approaching as a man in the foreground looks down at his cell phone, a woman’s foot extends ever-so-slightly onto the yellow line at the edge of the platform, and straphangers in the background turn ghostly the farther away they are; Eisenman globs thicker, abstract splotches of paint on the closer tracks while making gorgeous use of color, from the blue on the man’s coat to the green stanchions to the yellow safety line and rainbow stairs in the distance. In “Weeks on the Train,” Eisenman depicts her friend, writer and performer Laurie Weeks, on a commuter train, working on her laptop, a cat in a carrier next to her, a German Expressionist man asleep in the row in front of her, next to a Guston-like big-eyed character peering out the window.
In “TM and Lee,” a pair of women relax in a landscape simultaneously referencing a beach and fertile croplands; one woman holds her knee, artlessly revealing her crotch, listening to a larger woman play a guitar. In “Long Distance,” another relaxed couple chat over the internet, their bodies in unusual positions that are at first hard to decipher. In “Morning Studio,” two lovers are on a futon, one of them looking possessively at the viewer; in the foreground is a can of tuna being used as an ashtray, while in the background is a projection of the generic Apple desktop galaxy next to a window revealing the blue sky, contrasting technology and reality. The show is also very much about the act of seeing, with eyes being a central repeated image. In “Droid,” an android’s left eye resembles an egg. In “Subway 2” and “Weeks on the Train,” oversized eyes demand attention. And in “Shooter 1” and “Shooter 2,” guns are aimed right at the viewer, the barrel of the gun serving as the shooters’ right eyes, powerful statements in lieu of the intense fight over gun control in the United States. Meanwhile, in the watercolor and graphite drawing “Cap’n ’Merica,” the sad superhero has given up, hitting the road like a penniless drifter. Indeed, the shows at the New Museum and Anton Kern firmly establish that Eisenman is one of the most important, and finest, painters of her generation.
WHAT A WONDERFUL FAMILY! (家族はつらいよ) (Yoji Yamada, 2016)
Film Society of Lincoln Center, Walter Reade Theater
165 West 65th St. between Eighth Ave. & Broadway
Sunday, June 26, 12 noon
Festival runs June 22 - July 9
For her birthday this year, Tomiko Hirata (Kazuko Yoshiyuki) wants something simple from her stubborn, not-very-thoughtful husband of fifty years, Shuzo (Isao Hashizume): a divorce. That shocking wish sends the entire Hirata clan into a frenzy in Yoji Yamada’s charmingly bittersweet What a Wonderful Family! The retired Shuzo doesn’t know what he’ll do without Tomiko, but he is not the kind of man to share his feelings; instead, he prefers to go to a local watering hole and flirt with the cute bartender, play golf, or take the dog, Toto, to the park. Their daughter, Shigeko (Tomoko Nakajima), is mad at her husband, Taizo Kanai (Shozo Hayashiya), for stretching the truth about one of his hobbies. Eldest son Konosuke (Masahiko Nishimura) tends not to get involved, even as his wife, Fumie (Yui Natsukawa), essentially runs the household and their children, Kenichi (Takanosuke Nakamura) and Nobusuke (Ayumu Maruyama), just run around. And youngest son Shota (Satoshi Tsumabuki) has a promising future that just might include his new girlfriend, Noriko Mamiya (Yu Aoi), although all of the divorce talk suddenly has him thinking twice.
Yamada (the long-running Tora-san series, Twilight Samurai), who is now eighty-five years old, cowrote the playfully goofy script with Emiko Hiramatsu, not letting things get too serious or depressing. Except for a few sappy moments, Studio Ghibli veteran Joe Hisaishi’s soundtrack is effective in maintaining the generally lighthearted mood, and cinematographer Masashi Chikamori maintains a sharp, bright look to the film. What a Wonderful Family! evokes the legacy of legendary Japanese auteur Yasujirō Ozu; in fact, at one point Shuzo is watching Ozu’s Tokyo Story on television. In another scene, a writing teacher, Takamura (Katsumi Kiba), describes revered Japanese author Natsume Sōseki’s Kokoro as “a beautiful recounting of sweet, sad, and regretful youthful memories”; you wouldn’t be too far off base saying the same thing about What a Wonderful Family!, which is screening June 26 at 12 noon at the Walter Reade Theater as part of the New York Asian Film Festival, which runs through July 9 at the Film Society of Lincoln Center and the SVA Theatre and includes more than fifty diverse works from Japan, China, Taiwan, Vietnam, South Korea, Hong Kong, Thailand, Malaysia, and the Philippines.