Brooklyn Academy of Music
BAM Harvey Theater
651 Fulton St. at Ashland Pl.
Tuesday - Sunday through March 8, $45-$195
As you enter BAM’s elegantly shabby chic Harvey Theater to see Simon Stone’s Medea, there are two young boys already onstage, one stretched out on the floor, on his laptop, the other leaning against a wall, on his smartphone. Bob Cousins’s dramatic cyclorama set is blindingly white, evoking a heavenly way station, making it look as if the unconcerned brothers are floating in a mysterious void. In this riveting adaptation, inspired by Euripides’s 431 BC original and the true story of Dr. Debora Green, who committed horrific crimes against her family in Kansas in 1995, Stone instantly puts us in the kids’ shoes. It’s a thrillingly uncomfortable moment since, of course, this is Medea, and we know it will not end well for the siblings. And getting there is indeed heart-wrenching.
Contemporary stand-ins for Jason and Medea, Lucas (Bobby Cannavale) and Anna (Rose Byrne) are married pharmaceutical scientists facing a crisis. Anna has just been released from a psychiatric facility after having done something bad to Lucas, who is in a relationship with a woman half his age, Clara (Madeline Weinstein), the daughter of their boss, Christopher (Dylan Baker). Anna plans to simply walk back into their old life with their two sons, Edgar (Gabriel Amoroso or Jolly Swag) and (Gus Emeka or Orson Hong Guindo), but Lucas has other ideas. “I know your trust will be hard to regain. What I did to you,” Anna says. “We don’t need to talk about it now,” Lucas replies. Anna: “No, I want to. It was a breach of trust. Most importantly it was trust that we lost.” Lucas: “I’m not —” Anna: “In all those messy months we lost sight of everything we’d promised to be to each other and both of us did that but I overstepped the line —” Lucas: “We should never have stayed together this long.” A determined Anna later adds, “I’m going to win you back.” That does not go so well either.
Medea is ripe for reinterpretation, particularly in a world rife with misogyny and violence. In the past ten years I have seen Aaron Mark’s Another Medea, Limb Hyoung-taek’s Medea and Its Double, and Luis Alfaro’s Mojada, all of which took the central story and reimagined it in unique and compelling ways. Born in Basel and raised in England and Australia, Stone, who moves all around the globe, rarely settling down for an extended period of time, has previously adapted such classics as The Wild Duck, Miss Julie, John Gabriel Borkman, Peer Gynt, Three Sisters, and Hamlet and dazzled New York audiences with his sizzling Yerma at Park Avenue Armory in 2018, infusing his work with personal experience, as he does again with Medea.
The set features one large rectangular white wall that occasionally rises to serve as a projection screen, showing either extreme close-ups of the action, primarily a spellbinding Byrne, her evocative eyes searching for meaning, or live-stream shots by Edgar, who is making an autobiographical film for school. (The video design is by Julia Frey, with bright lighting by Sarah Johnston.) The play was originally performed at live-streaming master and BAM fixture Ivo van Hove’s Internationaal Theater Amsterdam (formerly Toneelgroep Amsterdam); the video footage can get to be a bit too much, so it’s a relief when the device goes away in the latter parts of the eighty-minute production, when things really heat up.
The cast is all new for this US premiere, with solid support led by Tony and Emmy nominee Baker (La Bête, Happiness, The Americans) and Weinstein (The Real Thing, Mary Page Marlowe) in addition to Victor Almanzar as bookstore owner Herbert, who offers Anna a job, and Jordan Boatman as Elsbeth, the social worker in charge of her case, keeping a close watch on her treatment of Gus and Edgar. At one point Stone makes a tongue-in-cheek reference to the finale of The Sopranos that is a wry riff on what ultimately happens in his take on Medea, as two famous families meet their fate.
Byrne (Bridesmaids, You Can’t Take It with You) plays Anna with a strong-willed vulnerability; she is no mere woman scorned, seeking revenge, but an intelligent wife, mother, and scientist who had the deck stacked against her and refuses to sit back and let everyone walk over her. She has a fiery, passionate chemistry with Cannavale (The Hairy Ape, The Lifespan of a Fact), who also displays a strong-willed vulnerability, allowing the cracks in Lucas’s armor to show through. “She created this instability,” Clara argues to Lucas. “I did too,” he readily admits. This is a Medea that could only be created in today’s #MeToo sociopolitical climate.
The Australian Byrne and New Jersey native Cannavale are real-life partners with two young boys of their own; after going through hell onstage, they head back to their nearby Gowanus apartment to be with their kids. Byrne and Cannavale work together often on television and in film, but this is the first time they are acting opposite each other onstage; later this year they will portray another married couple in Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge for the Sydney Theatre Company. At the start of Medea, Anna shows Lucas a painting she made while at the asylum, depicting Noah’s ship in a storm, in which all the animals are drowning. “They thought they were safe and then another storm whipped up and capsized the ark,” Anna tells a confused Lucas. She continues, “You see the dead dove floating on the swell over there? With the olive branch still in its mouth?” It’s a metaphor for Anna’s state of mind, but one can also think of it as a kind of peace offering between Byrne and Cannavale as they return to a normal life following the searing heartbreak their characters experience night after night.
Who: André Holland, Phylicia Rashad
What: Dramatic readings from The Source of Self-Regard: Selected Essays, Speeches, and Meditations
Where: 92Y, Kaufmann Concert Hall, 1395 Lexington Ave. between 91st & 92nd St.
When: Tuesday, February 18, $15-$46, 8:00
Why: In honor of what would have been Nobel Prize-winning writer Toni Morrison’s eighty-ninth birthday — the Ohio-born author of such novels as Sula, Song of Solomon, and Beloved passed away in New York City last August — Morrison scholar and Columbia professor Farah Jasmine Griffin has curated an evening of dramatic readings from Morrison’s final book, The Source of Self-Regard: Selected Essays, Speeches, and Meditations, to be performed by actor André Holland (Selma, Moonlight, Jitney) and Emmy- and Tony-winning actress and director Phylicia Rashad (The Cosby Show, A Raisin in the Sun, Creed). It is a reprise of an earlier event, held in May 2019, celebrating the release of the book; it now takes on a different meaning with Morrison’s death. The Source of Self-Regard is divided into three sections, “The Foreigner’s Home,” “Black Matter(s),” and “God’s Language,” featuring such chapters as “Racism and Fascism,” “The Slavebody and the Blackbody,” “The Site of Memory,” and “Goodbye to All That: Race, Surrogacy, and Farewell,” with tributes to Martin Luther King Jr., Gertrude Stein, James Baldwin, Romare Bearden, William Faulkner, and others. “With The Source of Self-Regard, Toni Morrison further cements her reputation as the towering literary figure of our time,” Griffin, who moderated a conversation with Morrison at the 92nd St. Y in 2015, said in a statement. “Her intellect, like her prose, is original, incisive, and illuminating. Hers is a voice we urgently need now more than ever, and I am honored to join these great artists as we bring that voice to the stage of the 92nd St. Y.”
Museum of the Moving Image
35th Ave. at 36th St., Astoria
Sunday, February 16, $25-$30, 2:00
Exhibit continues through July 19, $20
In 1979, Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek show sought out new life and new civilizations by daring to go where no sci-fi television franchise had gone before: to Hollywood. Directed by five-time Oscar winner Robert Wise (West Side Story, The Sound of Music, The Day the Earth Stood Still), the film sent Admiral James T. Kirk (William Shatner), science officer Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy), Dr. Leonard McCoy (DeForest Kelley), chief engineer Montgomery Scott (James Doohan), weapons officer Pavel Chekov (Walter Koenig), communications officer Lt. Uhura (Nichelle Nichols), and Starfleet officer Hikaru Sulu (George Takei) back into space together, attempting to get to the bottom of a dangerous energy cloud and the mysterious V’ger. It was not the most auspicious cinematic debut, but it kicked off a new era of the Star Trek universe and was followed by the best of the franchise’s films, The Wrath of Khan. The Museum of the Moving Image will be screening the underrated Star Trek: The Motion Picture on February 16 as part of its “See It Big! Outer Space” series and in conjunction with the exhibition “Envisioning 2001: Stanley Kubrick’s Space Odyssey.” Seventy-seven-year-old director and special effects master Douglas Trumbull, who worked on such classics as Blade Runner, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, The Andromeda Strain, Silent Running, and, of course, Star Trek: The Motion Picture and 2001: A Space Odyssey, will give a multimedia presentation and take part in a Q&A at 2:00; a digital projection of the film will be shown afterward at 3:00. The $30 tickets include admission to the exhibition, which runs through July 19. “See It Big! Outer Space” continues through April 19 with such other films as Flash Gordon, Alien, Gravity, The Right Stuff, Wall-E, Interstellar, and Aelita, Queen of Mars.
I could watch Bill Cunningham talk for hours and hours. Although we get less than an hour of him serving up delicious stories in Mark Bozek’s seventy-four-minute documentary, The Times of Bill Cunningham, it’s time well spent. “I’m not a real photographer; I’m a fashion historian,” the beloved photographer and fashion historian says in the film, which opens February 14 at the Angelika. Bozek was scheduled to speak with the Boston-born Cunningham for ten minutes in 1994, shortly after the longtime Manhattan transplant had been hit by a truck while riding his bicycle, but Cunningham just kept sharing fab tales, literally until the tape ran out. An engaging, self-effacing raconteur, Cunningham traces his career, from working at Bonwit Teller first in Massachusetts, then in New York; running his own millinery shop, William J., where he provided chapeaux to a ritzy clientele; then working at Chez Ninon before becoming a photojournalist for Women’s Wear Daily and, from 1978 to 2016, for the New York Times, most famously with his popular “On the Street” column. He didn’t set out to take pictures; his life changed when his good friend, designer Antonio Lopez, gave him a 1967 black-and-white Olympus camera.
Throughout the interview, which lasted six hours, Cunningham is shot from the mid-body up, looking slightly off camera at Bozek as he discusses attending such fashion shows as Versailles ’73; meeting such luminaries as Diana Vreeland, John Fairchild, Stephen Burrows, Brooke Astor, Marlon Brando, Anna Wintour, and Bethann Hardison; learning his trade from such other photographers as Weegee and Harold Chapman; and dyeing the dress Jackie Kennedy wore at her husband’s state funeral. He also talks about living for half a century at Carnegie Hall Studios, utterly content even though he doesn’t have his own bathroom there; in addition, despite having taken millions of photographs of fashion folk, the rich and the powerful, and, primarily, people on the street, he doesn’t care very much what he wears himself, often depending on hand-me-downs from friends and relatives. “I know I should care more how I look, but it’s more important I go out and get the right picture. That’s the main thing,” he explains.
Cunningham makes it very clear that it is what his subjects are wearing that attracts him, not their celebrity status. In fact, he took the photo that launched his Times career, a candid shot of an unsuspecting Greta Garbo on the sidewalk, because of how she was dressed; he had no idea it was Garbo until someone told him later. “It makes people feel good,” he says of the attraction of being fashionable. “They get dressed to go out in the morning — I don’t care who you are, it lifts the spirits, it’s self-esteem. . . . As long as there are human beings, there will be fashion, because people want to feel good about themselves.” As happy as he is through most of the film, his big teeth and infectious smile dominating the screen, at one point he does turn sad and emotional, thinking about the impact of the AIDS crisis, which was so dire in 1994.
Bozek might not be the best interviewer — this is his directorial debut, having previously studied acting with Lee Strasberg, worked in marketing for WilliWear, then spent more than two decades as a home-shopping pioneer (he was portrayed by Bradley Cooper in Joy) — and his camera is fairly static, but he and editor Amina Megalli let Cunningham regale us while interweaving hundreds of never-before-seen photographs taken by Cunningham from throughout his career, along with shots of Cunningham from the 1950s to just a handful of years ago, when he could still be seen riding his bike in the city. (It’s somewhat hard to fathom that Bozek had forgotten about the footage he shot in 1994 until hearing of Cunningham’s death in 2016.)
Sex and the City fashion plate Sarah Jessica Parker adds fairly standard voiceover narration that is not quite revelatory but moves the story forward, while the soundtrack features numerous songs by Moby. The Times of Bill Cunningham is very different from Richard Press’s 2011 documentary Bill Cunningham New York, in which dozens of celebrities sang Cunningham’s praises; here’s it’s just the thoroughly charming Cunningham himself, raw and uncensored, accompanied by his photographs, his passion, his visual love letter to the city and the people who live, work, and play there. “The streets are reflecting precisely what’s going on in the political world, in the social upheaval of our times,” he says. “It’s all right there.” Bozek will participate in a pair of Q&As opening weekend at the Angelika, following the 7:45 screenings Friday night with André Leon Talley and Saturday night with Hardison.
“Down by the boathouse at Shaker Lake / When there wasn’t nothing but love to make / They were two young lovers wishing on the stars above / Well, they carved their initials in an old birch tree / With a heart and an arrow and a ’sixty-three / You had to be blind not to see / It was a perfect love,” Ohio-born singer-songwriter Marc Cohn sings on “Perfect Love,” a track from his 1991 self-titled debut album. Cohn is likely to perform that song, and many other favorites about love, hope, faith, and heartbreak, when he comes to New York City for his annual Valentine’s Day show, February 14 at the Concert Hall at New York Society for Ethical Culture. An honorary member of the Blind Boys of Alabama, with whom he recorded the 2019 album Work to Do, Cohn survived a shooting in 2005, after which he released several live and studio albums and has toured relentlessly. He can be seen often at City Winery, which is presenting the Valentine’s Day shindig with Metropolitan Entertainment. Massachusetts-based singer-songwriter Mark Erelli, whose new album, Blindsided, comes out next month, will open the show. Continuing the romantic theme, Cohn will also be at the Beacon Theatre on March 12 as part of the Love Rocks NYC benefit for God’s Love We Deliver! with Dave Matthews, Chris & Rich Robinson, Jackson Browne, Cyndi Lauper, Warren Haynes, Joss Stone, Macy Gray, and others, hosted by Whoopi Goldberg, Paul Shaffer, Jeff Garlin, and Ellie Kemper.
The Jewish Museum, Scheuer Auditorium
1109 Fifth Ave. at 92nd St.
Thursday, February 13, $12-$18, 6:30
Exhibit continues through March 22, $8-$18, pay-what-you-wish Thursday from 5:00 - 8:00, free Saturday
Rachel Feinstein’s first survey exhibition, “Maiden, Mother, Crone” at the Jewish Museum, leads visitors down the Arizona-born, New York City-based multidisciplinary artist’s unique rabbit hole, an abstract wonderland where mythology, fairy tales, religious iconography, sexuality, and family are interwoven through a distinctly feminist lens. Mirrors figure prominently, allowing us to take a close look at ourselves and our innate biases. In conjunction with the show, Feinstein will give the Gertrude and David Fogelson Lecture at the museum on February 13, followed by a book signing of the companion monograph. The exhibit is fashioned like a fantastical trip though winding pathways with life-size statues, maquettes, paintings, film, and installation that are not always what they initially seem. A former fashion model who studied at Columbia, Feinstein creates works layered with nuance and filled with little surprises.
Model, a wood, plaster, and enamel paint construction with mirrors, is flanked by St. Sebastian and St. Michael, equating pop culture and religion. One room features Goldstein, a white-painted, carefully carved wood wall that evokes a tropical getaway, while another offers Panorama of Rome, Mylar wallpaper of Ancient Roman architecture surrounding such classical-inspired statuary as Corinne, a swirling Majolica piece made with the Nymphenburg Porcelain Manufactory and based on an eighteenth-century Commedia dell’Arte figurine; The Orphan and Bleeding Shepherdess, which subvert convention with frank images of the female body and its functions; and Butterfly and Puritan’s Delight, which play with fairy-tale tropes.
Also on view are the stained wood Adam and Eve, which intertwines the biblical couple with nature in the Garden of Eden; a yearning depiction of the Crucifixion, Feinstein’s first work after having witnessed the destruction on 9/11 from her downtown apartment; the colorful Flower Girl, a Play-Doh-like youth with animals congregating all over her; Mr. Time, a fanciful black-and-white working clock based on a drawing by Feinstein’s son when he was ten; and a series of six cameo-like paintings of women on oval mirrors, five elderly ladies and a younger prima ballerina.
The inherent tension in Feinstein’s oeuvre, involving color, materials, and meaning in a kind of twisting of Hans Christian Andersen and Lewis Carroll, is also evident in her 1994-96 experimental short film Spring and Winter, in which she reconfigures Charles Perrault’s Sleeping Beauty story with an eye to the source material, Giambattista Basile’s Sun, Moon, and Talia, which was not so child friendly, as well as the true story of Art and Nan Kellam, a couple who lived in isolation on an island off the coast of Maine; in the film, Feinstein portrays a paper doll, a maiden, and a crone. There’s a theatricality to virtually everything Feinstein creates; in fact, her 2014 Folly installation in Madison Square Park was accompanied by a performance festival. “Maiden, Mother, Crone” continues through March 22; on March 12 ($18, 6:30), the panel discussion “Dialogue and Discourse — Once Upon a Time: Narrative in Art” features Feinstein with Lisa Yuskavage, Sofia Coppola, Tamara Jenkins, and Florence Welch, moderated by curator Kelly Taxter, and there will be such special gallery talks as “Mirrors of Civilization” and “The Dark Side of Fairy Tales” as well as Thursday Evening Cocktails through February, where attendees can try Feinstein’s potent potable of choice, the Negroni, an Italian favorite consisting of gin, vermouth rosso, and Campari.
If you haven’t seen Belgian choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker and Rosas perform in New York City, you haven’t been paying attention. She and her company have presented A Love Supreme at New York Live Arts in 2017, Six Brandenburg Concertos at Park Avenue Armory in 2018, and Transfigured Night at Baryshnikov Arts Center in 2019. This week de Keersmaeker and Rosas are performing the North America premiere of Mitten Wir Im Leben Sind / Bach6Cellosuiten (In the Midst of Life / Bach’s Cello Suites) at NYU’s Skirball Center, a series of solos accompanied by master French cellist Jean-Guihen Queyras, who plays a 1696 cello by Gioffredo Cappa, with de Keersmaeker joining each dancer for a duet.
The two-hour piece, which debuted at the 2017 Ruhrtriennale in Germany in 2017, consists of six Bach sections written between 1717 and 1723 (BWV 1007-1012) — the allemande, courante, sarabande, two minuets, and gigue — created with and danced by Boštjan Antončič, Marie Goudot, Julien Monty, Michaël Pomero, and De Keersmaeker. The stark staging, in which the dancers move across a black space around a seated Queyras, with swirling white chalk marks and green and red tape placed on the light-colored floor, features costumes by An D’Huys, sound by Alban Moraud, and lighting by Luc Schaltin. The title comes from Martin Luther’s version of the Latin antiphon “Media vita in morte sumus”; the Lutheran hymn reads, in part: “In the midst of life / We are in death / Who shall help us in the strife / Lest the Foe confound us? / Thou only, Lord, Thou only!” In addition, Bach wrote a freestanding chorale (BWV 383) based on Luther’s three-stanza liturgy; de Keersmaeker has also discussed how she saw the Luther quote on the tombstone of legendary choreographer Pina Bausch. The February 14 show will be followed by a talk with de Keersmaeker and Queyras, moderated by Center for Ballet and the Arts founder and director Jennifer Homans.