Park Avenue Armory, Wade Thompson Drill Hall
643 Park Ave. at 67th St.
July 17-28, $35-$175, 7:30/8:00
When France’s legendary Comédie-Française invited innovative Belgian director Ivo van Hove to team up with the three-hundred-plus-year-old company for the prestigious Avignon Festival in 2016, he selected to adapt Luchino Visconti’s The Damned, the 1969 film about the demise of a wealthy steel clan during the rise of the Third Reich. The multimedia piece was presented prior to the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States as well as before Brexit and much of the fascistic movement taking hold around the globe, but it feels like it could have been written yesterday, particularly given Trump’s recent stand on steel and other tariffs. The spectacular production has triumphantly moved into the Park Avenue Armory’s massive Wade Thompson Drill Hall, where it immerses, confuses, delights, intrigues, captivates, and perplexes the audience over the course of 130 unpredictable minutes. In fact, afterward, when we were waiting for the bus on Lexington Avenue, an older woman approached us and, explaining that her two friends could not go at the last minute so she was alone, was desperate to discuss what we all had just seen, as she wasn’t sure whether she liked it but was deeply affected by it. Then, on the bus, as my wife and I talked more about the show, a younger woman sitting in front of us, also by herself, requested to join our conversation because she too wanted to know what we thought in order to help her navigate her own experience. Such reactions are not uncommon following works by van Hove, which are almost always fascinating and inventive whether they’re disappointing (Antigone, The Crucible), breathtaking (A View from the Bridge, Kings of War, Cries and Whispers), or somewhere in between (Lazarus).
The audience sits in rising rafters in front of the large, impressive set, designed by van Hove’s longtime partner and collaborator, Jan Versweyveld, who also did the bold, brash lighting. At stage left are makeup tables and ottomans where characters occasionally change costumes (by An D’Huys) and speak directly into a live camera that projects the scene onto a giant screen at the back. At stage right is a row of wooden coffins where characters are led after they are dead. Tal Yarden’s projections also include archival footage of steel plants and fascism on the rise in Germany. The cast features Didier Sandre as family patriarch Baron Joachim von Essenbeck, who is preparing to choose his successor to save his business in light of the Third Reich’s power grab. In the mix are Joachim’s second son, Konstantin (Denis Podalydés); Konstantin’s son, Gunther (Clément Hervieu-Léger); Sophie (Elsa Lepoivre), the widow of Joachim’s eldest son, who is having an affair with Friedrich Bruckmann (Guillaume Gallienne); Joachim’s youngest son, the unstable Martin (Christophe Montenez); Joachim’s youngest daughter, Elisabeth (Adeline d’Hermy), who is married to Social Democrat Herbert Thallman (Loïc Corbery), with whom she has two girls, Erika (Madison Cluzel) and Thilde (Gioia Benenati); and family cousin Wolf von Aschenbach (Eric Génovese), who has joined the SS. The story is based on the Oscar-nominated screenplay by Visconti, Nicola Badalucco, and Enrico Medioli; although the film was in English, the play is in French and German, with English surtitles for the former. Sound designer Eric Sleichim’s wide-ranging original soundtrack was influenced by Bach, Strauss, Schütz, Buxtehude, and Rammstein, with music by saxophone quartet Bl!ndman.
Despite many dazzling scenes, The Damned ends up being rather confounding. So much of it is ingenious, but too much of it is repetitive within the show itself as well as within van Hove’s oeuvre, meaning that newcomers to his work might leave much more blown away than his regular attendees. It’s a wholly impressive production, with compelling acting, well-orchestrated blood and gore, curious metaphorical meanderings, and live cameras that evoke Mario Mancini’s original cinematography. But the complex narrative and bevy of characters can get overwhelming, as can some of the spectacle. There’s a coldness that, even if it matches the soul of the film, is lacking something onstage. But despite all that, it is still a must-see, as is everything that van Hove does, whether with the Comédie-Française or his stellar home troupe, Toneelgroep Amsterdam.
For two decades, Austrian artist Erwin Wurm has been transforming such capitalistic items of consumption as homes (and beds, toilets, pillows, and couches) and automobiles into more abstract and theoretical objects in such series as “Fat Cars,” “Melting Houses,” and “Discipline of Subjectivity.” In 2015, Wurm’s “Curry Bus,” a dramatically altered Volkswagen Microbus, sold curry sausages outside the Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg. The “One Minute Sculpture” artist has now reshaped a VW Microbus into “Hot Dog Bus,” a mustard-yellow, pudgy, frankfurter-shaped vehicle that is giving out free wieners in Brooklyn Bridge Park on Saturdays on Pier 1 and Sundays on Pier 5 through the last weekend in August. According to the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council, franks were developed more than half a millennium ago, either by a butcher in Coburg, Germany, or a community in Vienna, the Austrian name of which is Wien. In the nineteenth century, European immigrants brought the dachshund-shaped edible to the States, where a bun and sauerkraut were soon added. Thus, Wurm sees the hot dog as an all-American food that brings equality to the rich and the poor, the native born and the immigrant, the worker and the tourist; for example, stand by any frank cart in New York and marvel at the vast array of men, women, and children stopping by to pick up a quick fix. The bus itself looks somewhat obese, hinting that the frankfurter is not exactly the healthiest of lunches or dinners and is an example of Americans’ less-than-stellar diet as a nation. Just remember to wait in line at “Hot Dog Bus” and clearly state whether you want ketchup or mustard on your free weenie, then take a long walk around beautiful Brooklyn Bridge Park to burn those extra calories.
The free summer arts & culture season is under way, with dance, theater, music, art, film, and other special outdoor programs all across the city. Every week we will be recommending a handful of events. Keep watching twi-ny for more detailed highlights as well.
Sunday, July 22
SummerStage: Ginuwine, the Ladies of Pink Diamond, and DJ Stacks, Corporal Thompson Park, Staten Island, 5:00
Monday, July 23
The Racial Imaginary Institute: On Whiteness: Intolerable Whiteness by Seung-Min Lee, the Kitchen, waitlist only, 7:00
Tuesday, July 24
Movies Under the Stars: Star Wars: The Last Jedi (Rian Johnson, 2017), Wingate Park, Brooklyn, 8:45
Wednesday, July 25
Hudson RiverFlicks — Big Hit Wednesdays: Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (Jake Kasdan, 2017), Hudson River Park, Pier 63, 8:30
Thursday, July 26
Broadway in Bryant Park: songs from VITALY: An Evening of Wonders, Come from Away, Kinky Boots, The Band’s Visit, and Wicked, cohosted by Bob Bronson, Christine Nagy, and the cast of The Play That Goes Wrong, Bryant Park Lawn, 12:30
Friday, July 27
Lincoln Center Out of Doors: Hal Willner’s Amarcord Nino Rota, featuring music from the first two Godfather films and the tribute album Amarcord Nino Rota (I Remember Nino Rota), with multiple performers, Damrosch Park Bandshell, 7:30
Saturday, July 28
BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn! Festival:Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (Hayao Miyazaki, 1985), screening preceded by live performance by Kaki King featuring Treya Lam, Prospect Park Bandshell, 7:30
Sunday, July 29
Ballet Folklórico Mexicano de Nueva York’s Guelaguetza Festival, Socrates Sculpture Park, 2:00
Anselm Kiefer’s first site-specific outdoor sculpture commissioned for America is preparing to fly away tomorrow. Since the beginning of May, the German artist’s mythological “Uraeus” has been perched at the front of Channel Gardens at Rockefeller Center, its impressive wings spread wide, a snake winding up its column, an open, blank book at its center, with other books strewn around the ground, as if victims of some kind of apocalypse. Reaching twenty feet high and boasting a wing span of thirty feet, the gray lead, stainless steel, fiberglass, and resin sculpture was inspired by the Egyptian cobra, the serpent goddess Wadjet, and the vulture goddess Nekhbet in addition to the surrounding architecture of Rockefeller Center and Friedrich Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra. “This book, with a voice bridging centuries, is not only the highest book there is, the book that is truly characterized by the air of the heights — the whole fact of man lies beneath it at a tremendous distance — it is also the deepest, born out of the innermost wealth of truth, an inexhaustible well to which no pail descends without coming up again filled with gold and goodness,” Nietzsche wrote about his 1891 tome.
Meanwhile, Wadjet and Nekhbet, the Two Ladies, symbolize Egypt’s unification in ancient times, evoking numerous kinds of unification needed here in the US and around the globe to bring people together. Thus, it is no accident that the sculpture, a project of the Public Art Fund, fits right in at Rockefeller Center, a major tourist destination in the city. Kiefer, who has worked with lead and books throughout his half-century career, leaves the pages empty, as if viewers can stand at the lecternlike design and share their own ideas while also contemplating the potential death of the written word. Be sure to walk all around the installation to get its full effect; at one angle, it looks like the snake’s tongue is heading toward the American flag. “Art will survive its ruins,” Kiefer declared in a series of lectures he gave in Paris. He has also said, paraphrasing the Gospel According to John, “Where art is, we cannot reach.” You have only a few more days to experience this deeply philosophical, visually stunning work by one of the world’s most beguiling artists.
The Public Theater, LuEsther Hall
425 Lafayette St. by Astor Pl.
Tuesday - Sunday through July 29, $85
Stephen Rea is riveting as a bigot who snaps in David Ireland’s incendiary, darkest of dark comedies, Cyprus Avenue. A coproduction of the Abbey Theatre and the Royal Court Theatre running at the Public through July 29, the play is a difficult one to recommend; it’s a testament to the audience’s psychological pain threshold that, the night I saw it, no one left LuEsther Hall during the show’s brutal one hundred intermissionless minutes. Rea is Eric Miller, a Belfast Loyalist who is undergoing treatment with a counselor, Bridget (Ronkẹ Adékoluẹjo), in an unidentified facility. He is a prickly, uncomfortable, precise man who can no longer find his place in a society that has passed him by. “Everything is upside down. Nothing is what it claims to be,” he says. “Chaos is majesty. Love is degradation. And the world has become a travesty.” He calmly calls Bridget, who is black, the n-word, then gets supremely insulted when she assumes he is Irish. “The last thing I am is Irish,” he declares. “I am anything but Irish. I am British. I am exclusively and non-negotiably British. I am not nor never have been nor never will be Irish.”
As they continue their talk, the narrative cuts to flashbacks, revealing what Eric did that led to his current situation. It all started when his daughter, Julie (Amy Molloy), had a baby that he refused to say anything nice about. “What is wrong with you?” his wife, Bernie (Andrea Irvine), asks incredulously. He calls Julie the c-word, then complains about his sad past: “Resentments. Disappointments. Failed expectations. Ruined dreams. Entanglements. Despair. That which could have been. And that which is.” The trouble reaches a new level once Eric decides that the newborn not only looks like but actually is Gerry Adams, the longtime head of the Sinn Féin, the controversial left-wing Irish republican political party. He shares his dislike of Catholics, who comprise the Sinn Féin, with Bridget, referring to them in derogatory terms. But Eric really breaks when he hires a mysterious balaclava-clad man named Slim (Chris Corrigan) to carry out a heinous plot.
Directed by Vicky Featherstone, who helmed the 2016 original — which also featured Rea, Molloy, and Corrigan — Cyprus Avenue is meant to shock, and it does. As Belfast native Van Morrison sings in his gorgeous 1968 song of the same name, “And my inside shakes just like a leaf on a tree.” The audience sits on either horizontal side of the stage, the action happening in between on Lizzie Clachan’s relatively spare set. So when something particularly frightful occurs, you can see people on the other side cover their mouths in horror just as you do the same. Ireland (Everything Between Us, What the Animals Say) and Featherstone (Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour, Victory Condition) hold nothing back as Eric, seemingly in total control, calmly goes about his business in a way that is terrifying; Cyprus Avenue is not quite as farfetched as you might first imagine, particularly here in America, where hatred, misogyny, racism, anti-Semitism, and harsh partisanship seem so commonplace today that individuals are snapping all the time. However, most of us don’t get to see that enacted, even if fictionally, at such close quarters. But what we do get to see right in front of us is a spectacular performance by Oscar and Tony nominee Rea (The Crying Game, Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me), who has previously shown a fondness for blood and violence on the New York stage in Sam Shepard’s A Particle of Dread (Oedipus Variations) at the Signature in 2014. Rea moves slowly throughout, carefully monitoring each step and every breath, completely at a loss to thoroughly understand what he is doing. “I don’t know anything anymore,” he tells Bridget. And it’s meant to be scary that he’s not the only who feels that way.
PTP/NYC: Potomac Theatre Project
Atlantic Stage 2
330 West 16th St. between Eighth & Ninth Aves.
Through August 5, $22.50-$37.50
The Potomac Theatre Project (PTP) continues its long association with the work of prolific contemporary British playwrights Howard Barker and Caryl Churchill with a fast-paced evening of unique tales continuing at Atlantic Stage 2 through August 5. First up are four parts of Barker’s 1986 decalogue, The Possibilities, prime examples of his self-described “Theatre of Catastrophe.” The quartet, set in different time periods in an almost alternate reality, explores the power and morality of the state and the state’s control of its citizenry. In The Unforeseen Consequences of a Patriotic Act, a well-dressed woman (Eliza Renner) wants Judith (Kathleen Wise) to return to the city and take a victory lap a year after cutting off the head of Holofernes and several months after giving birth to their child. In Reasons for the Fall of Emperors, Alexander of Russia (Jonathan Tindle) shudders at the cries of his soldiers being tortured and killed outside as he prepares for bed. After dismissing his loyal officer (Adam Milano), he engages in a complex conversation with a wise peasant (Christopher Marshall) who is shining his boots. “Do you not love the Emperor?” Alexander asks. “It is impossible not to love him!” the peasant responds, rather unconvincingly.
In Only Some Can Take the Strain, a government functionary (Renner) tells a bedraggled homeless woman (Marianne Tatum) that she cannot sell books out of a grocery cart; meanwhile a man (Milano) lurks about, desperate to buy an important volume. “Our arteries are clogged with anxiety, our lungs are corroded with fumes,” the lady says. “What a conspiracy and nobody knows but me.” And in She Sees the Argument But, a female official (Wise) attempts to shame a young woman (Madeleine Russell) for wearing high heels and a dress that exposes her ankles. “I don’t ask you to admire my legs,” the confident woman says. “The party executives do that.” PTP co-artistic director Richard Romagnoli adds excerpts from three Barker poems, “Don’t Exaggerate,” “Plevna,” and “Refuse to Dance,” to link the four short plays, which are performed on Hallie Zieselman’s purposely cluttered set, the props for each section waiting in the back to be brought forward when it’s their turn.
After intermission, the company digs into Churchill’s 1978 television play, The After-Dinner Joke, which consists of sixty-six scenes whirling by in an hour. “I admired two extremes on TV, extreme naturalism and extreme non-naturalism — I went for the second,” Churchill wrote about the piece, and that’s just how PTP co-artistic director Cheryl Faraone lets it unfold on Zieselman’s ever-changing, low-budget set. A large roster of characters take on the politics of charity and the charity of politics, as well as big business and religion, centered by the story of a bright, ambitious woman named Selby (Tara Giordano) who has decided to resign from her job as a personal secretary to a sales manager at a bedding store because she is not helping society. The owner, Mr. Price (Tindle), a tycoon who also has launderettes, Chinese restaurants, and factories, tells Selby, “I give employment. I provide services. I pay taxes. I make profits,” to which Selby replies, “Children are dying, sir.” Price asks, “Are you a Christian?” to which Selby answers, “Not anymore. But I feel just as guilty as if I was. And so should you.” Price opts to keep Selby on as a campaign organizer for his five charities, and off she goes, meeting a wide variety of people as she seeks to rid the world of poverty and starvation.
She encounters a snake-obsessed mayor (Marshall) who tells her, “A charity is by definition nonpolitical. Politics is by definition uncharitable”; a trio of councilors who are getting hit with pies in the face to raise money; a mysterious thief (Christo Grabowski) in black who keeps popping up and stealing things; a rock star (Grabowski) who has found Jesus (and ten-year-olds); a recipe-loving local celebrity (Lucy Van Atta); a snooty country clubber (Milano) who wants to give charity only to himself; an oil sheik who considers buying Marks and Spencer; and a mother (Russell) who is forcing her son (Noah Liebmiller) to go on a fundraising walk. “If they want to give money, I don’t see why they can’t just give it,” the boy says. “I don’t see why I have to walk round and round the park all afternoon.” Some of the scenes are previously filmed and projected on a screen, which allows quick set changes to be made while channeling a little bit of Monty Pythonesque humor. The play, which is set in the 1970s, takes on added relevance just as the Institute of Economic Affairs in England is being investigated for possible abuse of the necessary separation between charity and politics. “Charity Commission rules state that ‘an organization will not be charitable if its purposes are political.’ How much more political can you get?” George Monbiot writes in the Guardian after exposing several questionable connections. Now in its thirty-second season, PTP, which in 2015 at Atlantic Stage 2 presented Barker’s Scenes from an Execution and Churchill’s Vinegar Tom in repertory, prefers to stage productions of challenging, unconventional, experimental plays, and they have come up with a pair of fine choices yet again.