Newman Theater, the Public Theater
425 Lafayette St. at Astor P.
Through November 17, $100
This is the last weekend to see Soft Power, David Henry Hwang’s “play with a musical” at the Public’s Newman Theater. Hwang uses several real events as inspiration for this East meets West tale of politics, strange bedfellows, and culture clash: On November 29, 2015, the playwright was stabbed in the neck in a seemingly random attack that might have been racially motivated; on November 8, 2016, Hillary Clinton lost the presidential election to Donald Trump; and Chinese producers have approached the LA-born Hwang multiple times to write a big show for them. In Soft Power, Dragon Entertainment Group North American president Xūe Xíng (Conrad Ricamora) wants DHH (Francis Jue) to write a Broadway-style musical for its new theater in Shanghai, based on a popular Chinese romantic comedy called Stick with Your Mistake, in which an unhappy couple decides to stay together because that’s what Chinese people do to save face. DHH says he will consider it only if they change the ending and the husband and wife go their separate ways to try to find true love.
On election night, DHH, Xūe Xíng, and his close friend, Zoe Samuels (Alyse Alan Louis), go to Lincoln Center to see a smash production of The King and I as part of a campaign rally for Hillary Clinton (Louis) that will be followed by a gathering at McDonald’s. The next day, Xūe criticizes an American system that can result in Trump’s victory and DHH is stabbed in the neck, perhaps by an anti-immigrant Trump lover. DHH goes ahead and writes the musical, with life imitating art imitating life, as Shanghai producer Xūe Xíng travels to New York City to convince DHH to write a musical for him as Xūe, a married father, falls in love with Hillary Clinton.
Directed by Leigh Silverman (The Lifespan of a Fact, Hwang’s Chinglish and Golden Child), Soft Power has several terrific moments, including when the orchestra is revealed — the audience gasps in unison at the sight — and when Samuels tears the roof off the joint in a rousing solo as Clinton singing about her experiences on the campaign trail. Clint Ramos’s set also features a plane mimicking the ship from Lincoln Center’s The King and I. But as with many Hwang (M. Butterfly, Flower Drum Song) works, his political leanings come through too pedantically, too one-sided. More subtlety would have helped. “Communism in China has raised hundreds of millions out of poverty,” Xūe tells DHH. “But here in America, you have too much freedom. You really believe your voting will force the rich to give up their money? Here, you cannot even force your mentally ill to give up their guns.” DHH asks himself, “Am I even gonna be able to live in this country anymore? Almost half the population just voted for a guy who thinks [Asians] don’t really belong here. That we should be nothing more than supporting characters in someone else’s story.”
Later, DHH sings, “Xing, you’ve helped me see / I don’t have to play a role / I’m not two halves, I’m whole / Enough, just as I am / It’s something to be proud of / I guess that’s love.” Hwang wrote the play and the lyrics, with music and additional lyrics by Jeanine Tesori (Fun Home, Caroline, or Change) — among the revealing song titles are “Dutiful,” “I’m with Her,” “Good Guy with a Gun,” and “Democracy.” Danny Troob’s orchestrations are fairly standard, as is Sam Pinkleton’s sometimes goofy choreography. Soft Power, which comes on too hard, is also at least the fourth recent play I’ve seen in which the narrative breaks away into a panel discussion / group therapy session that evaluates what we’ve been watching; I’ll be fine if that doesn’t come along again anytime soon.
During the Iran hostage crisis that took place from 1979 to 1981, a Philadelphia woman named Marion Stokes became obsessed with news coverage and began taping as many primarily news-related programs as she possibly could, having as many as eight VCRs going at any one time. Her unusual story is documented in Matt Wolf’s irresistible Recorder: The Marion Stokes Project, which opens November 15 at Metrograph. Stokes was ahead of her time, creating her own kind of audiovisual time capsule, ultimately consisting of more than seventy thousand Betamax and VHS tapes made over four decades that presaged the 24/7 news overload and preponderance of alternative facts we are experiencing today. “Taping these programs for my mother was a form of activism. She wanted people to be able to seek the truth and check facts,” explains her son, Michael Metelits.
Wolf also speaks with her chauffeur, Richard Stevens; her secretary, Frank Heilman; her nurse, Anna Lofton; her daughters, Mizzy Stokes and Anne Stokes Hochberg; and her ex-husband, Melvin Metelits, who all share details of her many idiosyncrasies. A former librarian and longtime Communist who considered defecting to Cuba, she also hoarded newspapers and magazines in her quest to archive as much of what was really going on in the world as she could. “A lot of craziness produces a lot of brilliance, and I think there’s something kind of brilliant about what Marion Stokes did. Whatever motivated her, this material needed to wind up in a situation where it could be shared,” Heilman says.
Wolf supplements the interviews with excerpts from Marion’s tapes as well as family photos and videos and clips of her on the public affairs program Input with the man who would become her second husband, John S. Stokes; they worked together at the Wellsprings Ecumenical Center. Marion was also obsessed with Star Trek, furniture, and Apple computers, which she wisely invested in. Much of what she recorded would have been lost forever, made at a time when not every television station kept everything they broadcast, and to see many of these reports today, complete with commercials, is utterly compelling, so unlike what we watch today, following shows and channels that keep us inside our carefully constructed bubbles.
But her nonstop taping and hoarding caused problems with her family as she became more and more tied down to her house, needing to be home to change the tapes every six hours. “I’m sure she came to value what was coming through the screens more than the kind of very problematic messy stuff that was happening in her real life,” one interviewee notes. Described as a mysterious and private woman who was controlling, Marion says on Input, “Who decides what’s normal? I think maybe a reexamination of what is normal is in order at this point.” Is it ever. Metrograph will host a series of Q&As with Wolf, moderated by Lynne Tillman, Scott Macaulay, Charlotte Cook, Melissa Lyde, Sierra Pettengill, Collier Meyerson, and Stuart Comer, at select screenings Friday through Wednesday.
312 West 36th St. between Eighth & Ninth Aves.
Tuesday - Sunday through November 24, $25
In 1957, thirty-two-year-old writer and journalist Truman Capote was sent to Kyoto by the New Yorker to do a story on thirty-three-year-old actor Marlon Brando, who was in Japan making Sayonara, Joshua Logan’s movie based on James Michener’s novel about an air force pilot who falls in love with a Japanese dancer during the Korean War. Husband-and-wife team Reid and Sara Farrington use the resulting article, “The Duke in His Domain: Marlon Brando, on Location,” as the jumping-off point for the multimedia production BrandoCapote, continuing at the Tank through November 24. The seventy-minute show, set in the hotel where Capote is interviewing Brando, also incorporates elements of Capote’s 1965 nonfiction novel, In Cold Blood, an investigation into the senseless murder of the Clutter family in Kansas by Dick Hickock and Perry Smith, as well as the tragic circumstances surrounding Brando’s son Christian, daughter Cheyenne, and Cheyenne’s boyfriend, Drag Drollet.
As they have done in such previous dazzling works as The Passion Project, CasablancaBox, Gin & “It,” and A Christmas Carol, the Farringtons use film clips to propel the narrative, projected with pinpoint precision onto Japanese fans and umbrellas that the five-person cast open up and turn toward the audience. For example, a clip of Brando as Col. Kurtz in Apocalypse Now asking, “Are you an assassin?” is followed by Capote answering, “No no no, I’m a journalist!” The dialogue is a compelling, sometimes confusing patchwork, with some lines spoken live by the actors onstage — Rafael Jordan as Brando, Jennifer McClinton as Capote, Lynn R Guerra as Brando’s mother, Dodie, Laura K Nicoll as Cheyenne, and Cooper Howell as Christian — some from the film clips, and others prerecorded audio snippets (with Sara Farrington and Akiyo Komatsu delivering different vocal impressions of Capote), in which case it is sometimes lip-synced, causing a panoply of beguiling chaos. “He paused, seemed to listen, as though his statement had been tape-recorded and he were now playing it back,” Capote writes of Brando in the article.
Dressed in colorful kimono designed by Andre Joyner and constructed by Kelvin Gordon-El, the actors move to intricate choreography by Nicoll based on Japanese noh, bunraku, and kabuki traditions that repeats continually throughout the show, as if the director is yelling “Cut!” and the scene is being done over. “Sorry, sorry. Lemme start over. I’m gonna get this right,” Brando says after re-creating a violent scene from A Streetcar Named Desire. There are also excerpts from On the Waterfront, Mutiny on the Bounty, Julius Caesar, Last Tango in Paris, The Missouri Breaks, Sayonara, The Godfather, and other Brando films, many of which deal with childhood and the relationship between parents and children. “The son becomes the father, and the father the son,” Brando as Kal-El says to his infant son in a clip from Superman. “You are all my children,” Brando as Dr. Moreau tells his hideous creations in The Island of Doctor Moreau. Meanwhile, Brando threatens to kill his father if he ever beats his mother, a wanna-be actress, again. And after being called a “sissy” by other kids, Capote says of the bullies, “Buttoned up, boring, faceless nobodies — the kind of son my mother always wanted.”
Chairs and tables are overturned, carried offstage, then brought back on as the characters fold up and then ritualistically unfurl long black-and-white or red obi sashes, placing them carefully across the floor. Someone calls out, “Let’s get back to the interview,” and a sound glitch takes the action back to Capote in the hotel, which doubles as purgatory. It all comes off like clockwork, which is fascinating to experience. It is also repetitive in an abstract way, which can be both titillating and aggravating. But it’s always stimulating, both aurally and visually. “I’m not an actor,” Brando says self-effacingly. “I’m a mimic. Everyone is. And I’m not successful.” However, BrandoCapote is, in part by not merely mimicking its two famous celebrities but taking their story to another level.
655 West 34th St. at 11th Ave.
Saturday, November 16, 10:00 am - 6:00 pm, and Sunday, November 17, 11:00 am - 5:00 pm
Admission: $10-$25 in advance, $12-$35 onsite
“All you need is love, but a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt,” Peanuts cartoonist Charles M. Schulz wisely stated. Fall just hasn’t been the same since Salon du Chocolat stopped coming around here in 2011, but the multidimensional celebration of all things cacao is now back for a brand-new iteration, bringing love as well as delectable delights to the Javits Center November 16-17. More than eighty purveyors of ganache goodness will have booths, offering samples, selling their wares, and sharing their thoughts on what local chef Michael Levine calls “the world’s perfect food,” and who are we to argue?
The two-day festival features live chocolate sculpting by Paul Joachim (aka the Chocolate Genius), demonstrations and Q&As with master chocolatiers, interactive workshops, a family-friendly activity center, holiday shopping pop-ups, and the salon’s inestimable Chocolate Fashion Show, in which chefs and designers collaborate on remarkable works of art. If the advisory council is any indication, we should be in for a real treat: Jansen Chan, Martin Howard, Lisa Mansour, Håkan Mårtensson, Roger Rodriguez, Rich Leach, and Ed Seguine.
Among the participating vendors from all across the globe are Aelan Chocolate Makers, Amazing Cacao, Amedei Tuscany, AMMA Chocolate, Bang Cookies, Chocolate Therapy, Conexión Chocolate, Dorothy Cox’s Chocolates, Gotham Chocolates, Harlem Chocolate Factory, Läderach, M2 Confections, Makaya Chocolat, Mozart Chocolate Liqueur, Roni Sue’s Chocolates, and VillaKuyaya Organic Dark Chocolate. Also on hand is our all-time fave, Fritz Knipschildt, who introduced us to the wonders of sea salt and caramel with chocolate many years ago at the show.
The event website provides brief info on each vendor, including whether their chocolate is fair trade, gluten free, organic, or vegan, for those who need to know. Below is a complete list of all the special programs taking place. No matter how sad you might be about the bleak, cold days ahead as well as the political situation, be sure to come hungry; as a University College London study has just declared, there is “some evidence that consumption of chocolate, particularly dark chocolate, may be associated with reduced odds of clinically relevant depressive symptoms.”
Saturday, November 16
Cocoa Nib Chocolate Tart with Oreo Crust, with Abby Swain, Chocolate Demonstration Stage, 10:30
Painting with Chocolate: Creating Edible Art, with Nikki Woolfolk, Salon du Chocolat Junior, 10:30
Royal Icing, with Toni Lynn Dickinson, Pastry by the Pros Stage, 11:00
Bûche de Noël, with Sean Considine, Chocolate Demonstration Stage, 11:30
Chocolate Clay: Eat your art!, with Nikki Woolfolk, Salon du Chocolat Junior, 11:45
Holiday Pies, with Toni Lynn Dickinson, Pastry by the Pros Stage, 12:00
Chocolate Bourbon Cake, with Nick Malgieri, Chocolate Demonstration Stage, 12:30
Decorating Cakes with Piping, with Toni Lynn Dickinson, Pastry by the Pros Stage, 1:00
Make Your Own Vegan/Allergy Free Chocolates, with Mona Changaris, Salon du Chocolat Junior, 1:00
Coconut and Honey Truffle Pop by Khakow, Chocolate Demonstration Stage, 1:30
Valrhona Hot Chocolate Festival, with Miro Uskokovic, Eunji Lee, Thea Habjanic, Dan Keehner, Paola Marocchi, Elise Harris, Rob Valencia, Christophe Toury, Guillaume Roesz, Ikuma Motoki, Jana Kern-Mireles, Jayce Baudry, Rory Mcdonald, and Chris Elbow, 1:30
Painting with Chocolate: Creating Edible Art, with Nikki Woolfolk, Salon du Chocolat Junior, 2:00
Ruby Pastry, with Rocco Lugrine, Pastry by the Pros Stage, 2:00
Cold Brew Coffee Ganache, with Benoit Racquet, Chocolate Demonstration Stage, 2:30
Chocolate Clay: Eat your art!, with Nikki Woolfolk, Salon du Chocolat Junior, 3:00
Crafting Cookies, with Jansen Chan, Pastry by the Pros Stage, 3:00
Signature Salon du Chocolat Fashion Show, with Vanessa Greeley, Ia Faraoni, Dede Ayite, Fritz Knipschildt, David Woolard, Moran Etstein, Libat Ohayon, Ashley Holt, Richard Capizzi, Marilyn & Joe Bawol, Christine Alaniz, and Corina Chase, Special Events Stage, 4:00
Almond Milk Chocolate Chunk Cookies, with Miro Uskokovic, Pastry by the Pros Stage, 5:15
Sunday, November 17
Chocolate Clay: Eat your art!, with Nikki Woolfolk, Salon du Chocolat Junior, 11:15
Boogie Woogie Books, Special Events Stage, 11:30
Ruby Bonbon, with Russ Thayer, Chocolate Demonstration Stage, 11:30
Cakes from Start to Finish, with Jürgen David, Pastry by the Pros Stage, 11:45
Painting with Chocolate: Creating Edible Art, with Nikki Woolfolk, Salon du Chocolat Junior, 12:15
Savory Chocolate Winter Stew, with Matt Gennuso, Chocolate Demonstration Stage, 12:30
Thanksgiving Breads, with Jürgen David, Pastry by the Pros Stage, 12:45
Make Your Own Vegan/Allergy Free Chocolates, with Mona Changaris, Salon du Chocolat Junior, 1:15
Chocolate Puddin’, with Katzie Guy-Hamilton, Chocolate Demonstration Stage, 1:30
Fall Fruit Flavors, with Jansen Chan, Pastry by the Pros Stage, 1:45
Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cookie Cake, with Paulette Goto, Chocolate Demonstration Stage, 2:30
Chocolate Clay: Eat your art!, with Nikki Woolfolk, Salon du Chocolat Junior, 2:45
Gluten-Free Baking, with Jansen Chan, Pastry by the Pros Stage, 2:45
All Types of Cakes, with Jürgen David, Pastry by the Pros Stage, 3:45
Painting with Chocolate: Creating Edible Art, with Nikki Woolfolk, Salon du Chocolat Junior, 4:00
Zero Waste Vegan Chocolate Cake & Gluten Free/Vegan Chocolate Chip Cereal Bars, with Theresa Farrell, Chocolate Demonstration Stage, 4:30
BAM’s Next Wave festival of debuts under new artistic director David Binder has another first, a show taking place not in the Harvey, the Howard Gilman Opera House, or the Fisher but up Fulton St. at a nearby café. London-based site-specific-performance purveyors Dante or Die is staging its poignant User Not Found in the cozy Greene Grape Annex, where the small audience sits at shared tables or on benches or stools. It’s an intimate and clever exploration of grief and one’s digital legacy in the age of social media that will have you thinking about your own online footprint.
Each audience member is given a headset and a cellphone. After some Norah Jones music concludes, a man starts talking; it takes a minute or so to realize he is sitting at one of the tables, getting ready to share his tale as it unfolds in real time. We see and hear exactly what he sees and hears on his phone, from text messages and relaxing apps to photos and videos that bring up memories. (The music and sound design is by Yaniv Fridel, with video design by Preference Studio and creative technology by Marmelo.) Identifying himself as Terry (Terry O’Donovan), he is just finding out that his ex-lover Luka has died and that he is the executor of his digital profile via a company called Fidelis, which means “always faithful”: It is his responsibility to determine whether to keep or delete Luka’s Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tinder, etc., pages. Having been unceremoniously dumped by Luka in a brutal breakup, he has no interest in the job, yet he begins searching through Luka’s data to see what he has been doing since he left him as well as remembering some of the good times. Terry walks all around the café (the lighting and set design is by Zia Bergin-Holly), seeking out eye contact and making connections, and at one point he does an interpretive dance across the floor. (The production is copresented with BAM neighbor the Mark Morris Dance Group.)
Written by Chris Goode and created by O’Donovan and Daphna Attias and inspired by a 2015 Guardian article by Caroline Twigg entitled “What happens to my late husband’s digital life now he’s gone?,” User Not Found is a very human and deeply cathartic look at grief and how it’s shared in our current world of continual contact through technology. The point is, of course, that Terry could be any of us; as you glance around at the other people in the audience, you might wonder if they’ve been through anything like Terry has, since each one of us has our stories that we choose to share or not. Director Attias carefully balances our communal and individual experiences as Terry reaches into his heart while mourning right in front of us, going through some of the five stages of loss in a swiftly moving ninety minutes. Once you leave the café, it’s highly unlikely that you won’t be considering who you would make your digital executor while also pondering what is still on your MySpace page.
(User Not Found runs through November 16; in addition, Dante or Die will host the artist workshop “Site-Specific Theater-Making” at the Mark Morris Dance Center on November 13 at 2:00 as part of BAM’s Artist Lab program.)
Under new artistic director David Binder, BAM’s 2019 Next Wave Festival consists exclusively of BAM debuts, with none of the familiar names that regular BAMgoers are used to seeing time and time again. About the closest you’re going to come is The Great Tamer, conceived, visualized, and directed by Dimitris Papaioannou, a former painter and comics artist who is the first person invited to create a piece for Tanztheater Wuppertal since BAM legend Pina Bausch’s death in 2009, Since She, which premiered last year. The Greek choreographer is now bringing his widely hailed The Great Tamer world tour to the Howard Gilman Opera House, where it runs November 14-17. Don’t let the title fool you; there’s nothing tame about this one-hundred-minute work, which features a Kubrick-esque astronaut, ample nudity, absurdist sculptural installations, nods to art history, bits of magic, and an unpredictable integration of humanity, nature, and technology, all set to Stephanos Droussiotis’s adaptation of Johann Strauss II’s Blue Danube. The wild piece is performed by Pavlina Andriopoulou, Costas Chrysafidis, Ektoras Liatsos, Ioannis Michos, Evangelia Randou, Kalliopi Simou, Drossos Skotis, Christos Strinopoulos, Yorgos Tsiantoulas, and Alex Vangelis, with sets by Tina Tzoka, costumes by Aggelos Mendis, lighting by Evina Vassilakopoulou, and sculptures by Nectarios Dionysatos. Prepare to be awed.
The Pershing Square Signature Center
The Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre
480 West 42nd St. between Tenth & Eleventh Aves.
Tuesday - Sunday through December 15, $40 - $75
On August 19, 1991, seven-year-old Gavin Cato was struck and killed by a car driven by Yosef Lifsh in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. The next day, riots broke out that pitted the black community against Orthodox Jews in a bloody battle that resulted in the murder of Yankel Rosenbaum, a visiting student from Australia. A year later, Baltimore-born actress and playwright Anna Deavere Smith staged Fires in the Mirror at the Public, a one-person show that explored the incendiary situation from multiple angles, consisting of verbatim dialogue taken from a series of interviews Smith conducted with more than one hundred people. With race still such a heated topic more than a quarter century later, the time is ripe for a revival; as part of her residency at the Signature, Smith has brought back the play, passing the torch to Michael Benjamin Washington, who will be performing the show, which opened tonight at the Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre, through December 15. Washington is heart-wrenching as he spends 110 uninterrupted minutes switching among more than two dozen men and women as racial issues, biases, anti-Semitism, and social justice take center stage and the events of August 19-21, 1991, unfold.
Washington portrays such public figures as writer Ntozake Shange, theater director George C. Wolfe, the Reverend Al Sharpton, activists Angela Davis and Sonny Carson, and author Letty Cottin Pogrebin as well as various rabbis and ministers, Crown Heights residents, and relatives of both Cato and Rosenbaum. He makes subtle costume changes to indicate each character, adding a bowtie or a necklace, putting on a jacket, or taking off a shirt. (The costumes are by Dede M. Ayite.) Similarly understated are his shifts in accent to identify different individual monologues, all of which sing with their own poetry. Each character is introduced by Hannah Wasileski’s projections, which bounce off the floor and onto the long mirror at the back of the stage. Each interview is titled: an anonymous Lubavitcher woman’s segment is called “Static” because she is trying to get a non-Jew to turn off her radio on Shabbos; Wolfe’s is “101 Dalmatians” because as a child he could not go to the movies to see the animated film because the theater was segregated; Rivkah Siegal’s is “Wigs” because she describes the rules for Orthodox wives’ hairstyles; and an anonymous young man’s is “Bad Boy” since he doesn’t believe that sixteen-year-old Lemrick Nelson could have killed Yankel Rosenbaum because Nelson was an athlete and thus cannot be bad.
Accusations are made, prejudices are revealed (on all sides), the mayor and the police are blamed, and belief systems are challenged and defended. In addition to tables, cabinets, and chairs, Arnulfo Maldonado’s set is backed by a large mirror in which the audience can see itself, implicating all of us in the conflict. Fluidly directed by Saheem Ali (Kill Move Paradise, Passage) to prevent narrative gaps, Fires in the Mirror offers a provocative look at who we were then and who we are now, anchored by a bravura performance by Washington (The Boys in the Band, La Cage aux Folles). Among her other one-person shows, Smith documented and dramatized the 1992 LA riots in Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 (which the Signature is remounting in spring 2020), took on the health-care crisis in Let Me Down Easy, and examined the school-to-prison pipeline in Notes from the Field. As this revival of Fires in the Mirror reveals yet again, Smith is a master at verbatim theater and at taking the nation’s temperature, while Ali and Washington prove the timeless universality of Smith’s work.