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Tuesday - Sunday through February 22, $60 - $155
It seems that everyone wants to live with Agnes (Glenn Close) and Tobias (John Lithgow) in their elegant New England suburban home, but it’s hard to understand why in Edward Albee’s Pulitzer Prize–winning A Delicate Balance, running at the Golden Theatre through February 22. Tobias is a calm, retired businessman who likes to sit in his chair and read while sipping fancy cocktails. Agnes is a stern, cold woman who believes that “there is a balance to be maintained . . . and I must be the fulcrum.” They sleep in separate bedrooms and, while civil to each other, don’t seem to be particularly close anymore. Agnes’s wild and unpredictable sister, Claire (Lindsay Duncan), is already living with them. Tobias and Agnes’s thirty-six-year-old daughter, Julia (Martha Plimpton), has just left her fourth husband and is on her way to move back in with her parents yet again. But before Julia arrives, Tobias and Agnes’s best friends, Harry (Bob Balaban) and Edna (Clare Higgins), show up unannounced, claiming that they are too frightened to remain in their own house, quickly heading upstairs and locking themselves in Julia’s room. So when the bitter Julia returns home to find that her room is spoken for, the already none-too-happy woman gets even more upset. But since Tobias and Agnes both try to avoid confrontation, not much gets resolved in this growing household, even as secrets are being whispered and certain emotions are reaching the boiling point. It’s not quite as explosive as Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, but it’s no barrel of laughs either. “Do we dislike happiness?” Agnes asks. Apparently, yes.
Director Pam Mackinnon, who helmed the recent smash Broadway revival of Woolf as well as Bruce Norris’s Pulitzer Prize–winning Clybourne Park, lets the anger simmer before it erupts as the play examines themes of loss and fear. Agnes, who is questioning her sanity, is afraid of facing certain truths about her husband and her life, Tobias is frightened that Agnes will find out about his long-ago indiscretion, Claire is scared of being sober and responsible, and Julia is still terrified of growing up. Harry and Edna never reveal precisely what it was that drove them from their home, but they appear to be afraid of not being afraid. Albee, who also won Pulitzers for Seascape and Three Tall Women, captures suburban angst and WASP culture with his incisive, biting dialogue, which was written with very specific performance notes; in addition, most of the characters were based on relatives of his. The play has quite a history; the original Broadway production in 1966, starring Hume Cronyn (Tobias), Jessica Tandy (Agnes), Rosemary Murphy (Claire), Henderson Forsythe (Harry), Carmen Matthews (Edna), and Marian Seldes (Julia), won the Pulitzer and was nominated for a Tony. Thirty years later, the first Broadway revival won the Tony with another stellar cast: George Grizzard (Tobias), Rosemary Harris (Agnes), Elaine Stritch (Claire), John Carter (Harry), Elizabeth Wilson (Edna), and Mary Beth Hurt (Julia). And Tony Richardson’s 1973 film featured Paul Scofield (Tobias), Katharine Hepburn (Agnes), Kate Reid (Claire), Joseph Cotten (Harry), Betsy Blair (Edna), and Lee Remick (Julia). Nearly fifty years after its Broadway debut, A Delicate Balance still feels fresh and alive, poignant and relevant. In 1996, Albee wrote in an introduction to a newly published edition of the work, “The play does not seem to have ‘dated’; rather, its points seem clearer now to more people than they were in its first lovely production. Now, in its lovely new production (I will not say ‘revival’; the thing was not dead — unseen, unheard perhaps, but lurking), it seems to be exactly the same experience. No time has passed; the characters have not aged or become strange. . . . I have become odder with time, I suppose, but A Delicate Balance, bless it, does not seem to have changed much — aged nicely, perhaps.” It has aged nicely indeed, in yet another lovely production.
Nominated for an Oscar for Best Documentary, Orlando von Einsiedel’s gripping Virunga is back on the big screen, in a return engagement at Cinema Village. In his debut feature, von Einsiedel, who previously made short documentaries about skateboarders in Kabul, young women knitting in Nigeria, and illegal fishing in Sierra Leone, originally set out to make a heartwarming story about a group of rangers caring for the mountain gorillas and natural environment of Virunga National Park in the eastern Congo. But as the civil war ramped up, he found himself in the middle of a fierce life-and-death struggle involving the criminal exploitation of the UNESCO world heritage site. As the London-based SOCO International moves in to prepare to drill for oil illegally, von Einsiedel starts following the money, uncovering a series of payoffs being tracked by French journalist Melanie Gouby. Meanwhile, ranger Andre Bauma cares for orphan mountain gorillas Ndeze, Nkadasi, Maisha, and Koboko, protecting them and other animals from poachers who want to sell their body parts — or kill them outright so the government won’t need to preserve the park just to save any wildlife.
Virunga begins with the funeral of a ranger named Kasereka, one of more than 130 rangers who have been killed in the line of duty “trying to rebuild this country” during the ongoing civil war. Von Einsiedel follows that with a brief history of European colonization of Africa, which led to so much of the violence and the exploitation of the continent’s rich natural resources. But things take an even more drastic turn when Congolese rebels, the newly formed M23, start heading toward the park, leaving a bloodbath in their wake. Rodrigue Mugaruka Katembo, the head ranger and warden of the Rwindi Sector, and Belgian anthropologist Dr. Emmanuel de Mérode, chief warden of the park, are not about to let SOCO, the rebels, and local officials corrupted by bribes simply march in and take over. A Netflix original that includes Leonardo DiCaprio as one of its executive producers — all proceeds from the film go back into the park — Virunga is set up like an action-adventure thriller, with segments that are hard to believe are real and not re-created or dramatized for emotional impact. But it’s all true, from Gouby’s dangerous undercover work to von Einsiedel’s dodging of bombs and bullets, as a group of brave men and women are determined to expose the truth that so many have turned their backs on in order to line their pockets. In many ways, the film evokes Gillo Pontecorvo’s fictionalized classic The Battle of Algiers, depicting the horrific effects of colonization, but in this case it’s unfolding for real. Photographed by von Einsiedel and Franklin Dow, the film also features gorgeous shots of Virunga National Park, one of the most beautiful places on earth.
BORN TO FLY: ELIZABETH STREB vs. GRAVITY (Catherine Gund, 2014)
Film Society of Lincoln Center, Walter Reade Theater
165 West 65th St. between Eighth Ave. & Broadway
Sunday, February 1, 3:20
Festival runs January 30 - February 3
Over the last several years, New Yorkers have gotten the chance to see Elizabeth Streb’s Extreme Action Company perform such dazzling works as Ascension at Gansevoort Plaza, Kiss the Air! at the Park Avenue Armory, and Human Fountain at World Financial Center Plaza as her team of gymnast-dancer-acrobats risk their physical well-being in daring feats of strength, stamina, durability, and grace. In addition, Streb herself walked down the outside wall of the Whitney as part of a tribute to one of her mentors, Trisha Brown. Now Catherine Gund takes viewers behind the scenes in the exhilarating documentary Born to Fly: Elizabeth Streb vs. Gravity, going deep into the mind of the endlessly inventive and adventurous extreme action architect and the courage and fearlessness of her company. Gund follows Streb as she discusses her childhood, her dance studies, the formation of STREB in 1985, and her carefully thought out views on space, line, and movement as her work stretches the limits of what the human body can do. “I think my original belief and desire is to see a human being fly,” Streb says near the beginning of the film, which includes archival footage of early performances, family photos, and a warm scene in which the Rochester-born Streb and her partner, Laura Flanders, host a dinner party in their apartment, cooking for Bill T. Jones, Bjorn Amelan, Anne Bogart, Catharine Stimpson, and A. M. Homes. Gund also speaks with current and past members of the talented, ever-enthusiastic company — associate artistic director Fabio Tavares, Sarah Callan, Jackie Carlson, Leonardo Giron, Felix Hess, Samantha Jakus, Cassandre Joseph, John Kasten, and Daniel Rysak — who talk about their dedication to Streb’s vision while using such words as “challenge,” “velocity,” “endurance,” “magic,” “invincibility,” and “risk” to describe what they do and how they feel about it.
Gund focuses on the latter, as virtually every one of Streb’s pieces is fraught with the possibility of serious injury, as evidenced by their titles alone: Fly, Impact, Rebound, Breakthru, and Ricochet, not to mention the use of such materials as spinning I-beams, plastic barricades, dangling harnesses, and a rotating metal ladder. “I have to be able to ask someone to do that and be okay about it. Those aren’t easy requests,” Streb explains. “Knowing where you are is how you survive the work,” adds former STREB dancer Hope Clark. Gund goes with Streb to her doctor, where the choreographer describes what happened to her gnarled feet, and also meets with former dancer DeeAnn Nelson Burton, who had to retire after breaking her back. The film concludes with an inside look at STREB’s spectacular “One Extraordinary Day,” a series of hair-raising site-specific events staged for the 2012 London Olympics at such locations as the Millennium Bridge, the London Eye, and the sphere-shaped city hall, photographed by documentary legend Albert Maysles. In her Kickstarter campaign, Gund (Motherland Afghanistan, A Touch of Greatness) said, “Action architect Elizabeth Streb has reinvented the language of movement. [Born to Fly] will rewrite the language of documentary.” That’s a bold declaration, but the film does have a lot of the same spirit that Streb displays in her awe-inspiring work. Born to Fly is screening with Benjamin Epps’s 2014 short, Angsters, on February 1 at 3:20 at the Walter Reade Theater as part of the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s annual “Dance on Camera” series and will be followed by a Q&A with Gund and Streb. The festival runs January 30 - February 3 and includes such other movement-related works as Meredith Monk’s Girlchild Diary, followed by a Q&A with Monk and cast member Lanny Harrison; Kenneth Elvebakk’s Ballet Boys, set at the Norwegian Ballet School; Louis Wallecan’s Dancing Is Living: Benjamin Millepied, followed by a Q&A with the director; the U.S. premiere of Don Kent and Christian Dumais-Lvowski’s Jiri Kylian: Forgotten Memories; Isaki Lacuesta’s Perpetual Motion: The History of Dance in Catalonia, followed by a Q&A with choreographer Cesc Gelabert; and a handful of free events as well.
During its brief five-year existence, the New York Shakespeare Exchange has already put its unique spin on such Bard works as Pericles, Othello, Romeo & Juliet, Hamlet, and the sonnets in such experimental productions as The One Man (Two Man (Not Quite)) Hamlet, The Life and Death of King John, and “The Sonnet Project,” in addition to the ShakesBEER pub crawl. The company now turns its attentions to one of Shakespeare’s most violent tragedies, Titus Andronicus, a bloody tale of power and lust. The show begins with a fantastical dance of stabbings as the actors kill one another on the circuslike set that features a glittering light-up bull’s-eye in the back. But soon the story gets under way, as Roman general Titus Andronicus (Brendan Averett) returns a hero from the wars and is acclaimed as emperor, an honor he instead bestows on Saturninus (Vince Gatton), son of the recently deceased emperor. Saturninus at first chooses Lavinia (Kate Lydic), Titus’s daughter, to be his queen, but she runs off with her true love, Bassianus (Adam Kezele), Saturninus’s younger brother. The new emperor then decides to marry Tamora, the captured queen of the Goths, whose sons, Demetrius (Nathaniel P. Claridad) and Chiron (Ethan Itzkow), and lover, Aaron (Warren Jackson), are cooking up some vicious plans of their own. Jealousy, revenge, deceit, and dishonor follow, involving rape, murder, behandings, and beheadings.
Helmed by New York Shakespeare Exchange founding artistic director Ross Williams, Titus Andronicus can be a bit rocky, with actors stepping on one another’s lines and some minor gaffes with the set — perhaps they should have gotten a few performances under their belt before inviting critics — but Averett (The Killer, Julie Taymor’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream) is a strong, determined, yet vulnerable Titus, Terence MacSweeny is a stand-out as his stalwart brother Marcus, and Egolf is a fine foil as femme fatale Tamora. (A few of the other actors don’t fare so well.) Kerry Kastin is a kind of singular Greek chorus all by herself as the Clown, playing multiple roles and continually coming back from the dead. One of the play’s most intriguing conceits is the use of a feed chute through which corn tumbles whenever someone is killed — which happens a lot, the rat-a-tat sound taking the place of spurting blood. But don’t worry; there’s blood to be spilled as well. Part of the SubletSeries@HERE, Titus Andronicus could use a little more seasoning, but it’s nonetheless an involving, stripped-down version of a famously difficult, rarely presented play.
We’ve been fans of Japanese multidisciplinary artist Miwa Yanagi since her summer 2007 exhibit at the Chelsea Art Museum, consisting of three photographic series that featured highly cinematic compositions and videos. So it comes as no surprise that the Kobe-born Yanagi is also now creating theatrical works and performance art projects. The North American premiere of Yanagi’s latest piece, Zero Hour: Tokyo Rose’s Last Tape, will take place January 29-31 at Japan Society as part of the institution’s “Stories from the War” series, being held in recognition of the seventieth anniversary of the end of World War II. Conceived, written, and directed by Yanagi, who also designed the sets and costumes, Zero Hour follows one of the many women known as Tokyo Rose, who broadcast propaganda for the Japanese Imperial Army. The production, which will be performed in English and Japanese (with English subtitles) by Yohei Matsukado, Hinako Arao, Megumi Matsumoto, Ami Kobayashi, Sogo Nishimura, Aki, and Sachi Masuda, with video projection by Tadashi Mitani, lighting design by Akane Ikebe, sound design by Yasutaka Kobayakawa, and choreography by Megumi Matsumoto. The January 29 show will be followed by a meet-the-artists reception. “Stories from the War” continues through August with Michiko Godai in Yokohama Rosa April 25-26, New and Traditional Noh: Holy Mother in Nagasaki and Kiyotsune May 14-16, Meet the Author lectures by Julie Otsuka and Hayden Herrera, and the Globus Film Series “The Most Beautiful: The War Films of Shirley Yamaguchi & Setsuko Hara.”
FELIX AND MEIRA (FÉLIX ET MEIRA) (Maxime Giroux, 2014)
Film Society of Lincoln Center, Walter Reade Theater
165 West 65th St. between Eighth Ave. & Broadway
Thursday, January 29, 3:30 & 9:00
Festival runs through January 29
The 2015 New York Jewish Film Festival comes to a close on January 29 with Maxime Giroux’s somber, reflective Félix and Meira. Named Best Canadian Feature at the Toronto International Film Festival, the film stars Israeli actress Hadas Yaron as Meira, a young married woman who is feeling trapped by the constraints of the Hasidic world in which she lives in Montreal’s Mile End district. Her husband, Shulem (Luzer Twersky), is a devout man who follows the tenets of his religion; he and Meira sleep in separate beds, and he seems more intent on ritualistically washing his hands in the bedroom than touching his wife. One morning, while pushing her daughter in a stroller, she is approached by Félix (Martin Dubreuil), a conflicted man whose father just died so he is seeking advice about God and death. Meira tells him to leave them alone, but soon Félix and Meira are meeting in secret, and when Shulem finds out about it, he ships Meira off to Brooklyn. Félix goes after her, wanting to take their relationship to the next level as Meira considers her responsibilities to her husband, her daughter, and herself.
Félix and Meira is a subtle, slow-moving tale that avoids genre clichés, keeping the details tantalizingly vague and mysterious. There’s not a lot of humor in the film; instead, there’s an ominous, moody cloud hanging over everything, the story bordering just on the edge of passion without ever exploding. Yaron (Fill the Void) plays Meira with a dark foreboding, while Dubreuil (Bunker, Ressac) and Twersky (Romeo and Juliet in Yiddish, Where Is Joel Baum?) work well as adversaries who want Meira in their life, albeit for different reasons. Cowriter and director Giroux (Demain, Jo pour Jonathan) doesn’t force any issues, maintaining a low-key approach that is intensified by an overall palette of blacks, whites, and grays. Félix and Meira is the closing-night selection of the New York Jewish Film Festival, screening on January 29 at 3:30 and 9:00 at the Walter Reade Theater, with each show followed by a Q&A with Giroux and members of the cast.