Manhattan Theatre Club at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre
261 West 47th St. between Broadway & Eighth Aves.
Tuesday - Sunday through December 11, $70-$150
Simon Stephens’s Heisenberg, which transferred to Broadway last month shortly after his extraordinary The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time ended a two-year run at the Ethel Barrymore, might reference the quantum theory uncertainty principle that proves the impossibility of precisely measuring position and momentum at the same time, but there’s no uncertainty that the British playwright is an exceptional storyteller bursting with both position and momentum. Stephens’s Tony-winning adaptation of Mark Haddon’s children’s book was turned into a multimedia marvel by Marianne Elliott. Heisenberg explores some of the same territory, the nature of establishing connections and communication between people, but could not otherwise be more different; it’s a spare, minimal tale directed with a graceful simplicity by Mark Brokaw (The Lyons, After Miss Julie). Mary-Louise Parker and Denis Arndt are magnetic as Georgie Burns and Alex Priest, respectively, two loners who meet one afternoon in a London tube station. Georgie is a forty-two-year-old fast-talking American with a tenuous grasp on the truth, while Alex is a seventy-five-year-old Irish butcher who just wants to be left alone. As the play opens, she kisses the back of his neck, mistaking him for someone else, then starts babbling to him. “Why are you talking to me?” he asks sternly. “I’m sorry. I’m really weird. I know. You don’t need to tell me. I’ll go,” she replies. But she can’t leave; she is drawn to him, sharing intimate details of her life that might or might not be true. When she shows up at his shop five days later, tracking him down through Google, he coldly declares, “My privacy has been violated.” She responds, “‘Violated’ is a bit strong. ‘Violated’ is a bit hyperbolic.” “Nice word,” he says. “Thank you. Ha. ‘Nice word.’ Patronizing fucker,” she answers. As these two extremely particular and rather odd strangers get to know each other, they attempt to fill in the missing parts of their lives.
The awe-inspiring technology behind Curious Incident is completely absent in Heisenberg, a streamlined production that relies on basic, almost workshoplike elements. Mark Wendland’s (Next to Normal, The Merchant of Venice) sparse stage features two chairs and two tables that the actors occasionally move around as the scenes change; there is a riser of seats behind the stage, placing the characters in the middle of the audience. Despite the show’s title, Stephens’s script does not delve deeply into physics, although at one point Georgie explains, “If you watch something closely enough you realize you have no possible way of telling where it’s going or how fast it’s getting there. Did you know that? That’s actually the truth. That’s actually scientifically been proven as the truth. By scientists. They all got together and they completely agreed on that. If you pay attention to where it’s going or how fast it’s moving, you stop watching it properly.” Those words also apply to how one can experience theater, including this Manhattan Theatre Club production. There’s no need to pay special attention to where this charming two-actor character sketch is going, or how fast it will get there; just watch it properly, immersed in the moment and the flow, in the lightning-quick pace and dizzying spectacle of Parker’s (Proof, Weeds) splendidly quirky performance or the subtle, sly, sublimely powerful work of Oregon Shakespeare Festival veteran Arndt (The Ballad of Soapy Smith, Basic Instinct) as he almost imperceptibly builds the quietly heartbreaking figure of Alex. “You need to follow it. The melody,” Alex tells Georgie when teaching her how to listen to a Bach sonata. “Try to predict what will happen to it next. It will completely take you by surprise.” The same can be said for this beautifully constructed show.
Who: Iggy Pop, Jeremy Deller, Tom Healy
What: Thursday Nights Brooklyn Talks discussion
Where: Brooklyn Museum, Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Auditorium, 200 Eastern Parkway at Washington St., 212-864-5400
When: Thursday, November 3, $40-$85, 7:00
Why: On February 21, twenty-one artists gathered at the New York Academy of Art, participating in a special life-drawing class led by Michael Grimaldi. The model that Sunday afternoon was Muskegon native James Newell Osterberg Jr., better known as punk icon Iggy Pop. The artists, ranging in age from nineteen to eighty, were selected by Jeremy Deller and Brooklyn Museum vice director Sharon Matt Atkins. “For me it makes perfect sense for Iggy Pop to be the subject of a life class; his body is central to an understanding of rock music and its place within American culture,” Deller explains on his website. “His body has witnessed much and should be documented.” The resulting exhibition, “Iggy Pop Life Class by Jeremy Deller,” featuring nudes from the class as well as selections from the Brooklyn Museum collection, will open on the fifth floor of the museum on November 4 and run through March 26. On Thursday, November 3, Iggy and Deller will be at the museum for a discussion about art, music, and nudity, moderated by writer and educator Tom Healy. Tickets are $40 for general admission, $65 with a copy of the catalog, and $85 with a copy of the catalog signed by Pop and Deller. Pop was also recently at the New York Film Festival, chatting up the Jim Jarmusch documentary Gimme Danger; the film, which documents the history of Iggy and the Stooges, opens October 28 at IFC Center.
Ten years ago, British playwright and actress Sarah Jones won a Special Tony Award (and an earlier Obie) for her one-woman show Bridge and Tunnel, in which she played multiple characters, shining a light on New York City’s immigrant population. It took a decade, but she is now back with her follow-up, another one-woman multiple-identity tour de force, Sell/Buy/Date, which revives some characters from her previous works while adding new ones. It’s late-twenty-first-century America, and Dr. Serene Campbell is teaching a class on the sex business, leading her students through a series of BERT modules, bio-empathetic resonant technology that dates back to 2017. Using this imaginary technology like oral histories, she tells her students, “We will be experiencing different bodies, different ages, what were then called ‘races’ or ‘ethnic groups,’ as you’ll remember from Unit One, and along the gender continuum, we’ll be encountering males as well as females — it was quite binary at that time. Remember, these are Personal History modules — the focus today is on feeling each person’s experience, so, before we begin, how many people have your emotional shunts engaged?” She then proceeds to embody seventeen characters interviewed throughout the decades about the commercial sex trade, examining the reaction in the recent past to prostitution, pornography, and exotic dancing. “Chronologically advanced” Jewish bubbe Lorraine L. talks about trying to enhance her sexual relationship with her husband by searching for porn on the internet. Post–Valley Girl Bella, named after feminist activist Bella Abzug, is a “sex work studies major, minoring in social media with a concentration on notable YouTube memes” who cohosts “the biweekly pole-dancing party . . . called ‘Don’t Get All Pole-emical.” Jamaican No Fakin’ is a Caribbean prostitute at a sex workers rally who is carrying an unseen sign that says “No Justice, No Piece.” She defends what she does, noting, “You find me somebody who don’t hate some part of their job. There’s a lotta things I hate about doing this, but the money is not one of them.” And New York Domini-Rican Nereida angrily declares, “It just makes me so sick that we are all supposed to care about the same human rights, at least, that’s why we’re all here for this Feminist Plenary, but I mean, if one more of these so called ‘sex work advocates’ calls me anti-sex, I swear to god. I’m gonna be, like, first of all, I love sex. Sex is amazing. But what you are having is not sex.”
Dr. Campbell also calls up interviews of members of the male species as she walks around Dane Laffrey’s futuristic set, a spare, antiseptic classroom with a podium, a file cabinet, a floor sparsely outlined with lights, and a projection screen at the back. “Yes, of course men were having sex as well, but you’ll remember from the reading, what were male sluts called?” she asks the class. “Very good, they were called ‘men.’” Among the male characters in the show are frat boy and Grand Theft Auto fan Andrew “AV” Vanderbeek, Russian raunchpreneur Sergei Ledinov, Los Angeles pimp Cookie Chris (“Even with what I was doing, you know, exploiting women and whatnot, I had a rep for being real sweet about it”), and Native American comedian Gary (“I’m usually most popular on college campuses, whenever they wanna do their Diversity Day or Hey, We’re Not All White week”). But as much as the treatment of women and sex workers needs to change, not all change turns out to be progress.
Jones, who was born in Baltimore and raised in Boston, DC, and Queens in a multiracial family, has created a fascinating future devoid of organized religion, bachelor parties, unpaid internships, personal security guards, violent video games, a livable New Jersey, and mobile phones, where people can travel freely between countries and there is no discrimination of any kind. “They did not believe one has an automatic right to live equally,” Dr. Campbell says about people from the past. It’s a potent point, especially given the vitriol present in this year’s lurid presidential election campaign. In researching Sell/Buy/Date, Jones met with sex workers around the world, visiting Sweden, Germany, Korea, India, Las Vegas, France, Ireland, Scotland, the Netherlands, and the Dominican Republican, helping her create believable men and women who share a wide range of thoughts about commercial sex. She smartly captures the humanity in the industry, even if it is a bit lighthearted at times for such a serious topic, while Drama Desk–nominated director Carolyn Cantor (Fly by Night) ably uses sound (by Bray Poor) and light (by Eric Southern) to smoothly transition between time periods. However, a subplot involving Dr. Campbell’s mother’s identity as a “survivor” feels like a forced tribute to those who have paved the way for gender equality. Jones, who once declared, “The revolution will not happen between these thighs” (the late Gil Scott-Heron was a family friend), gives a superb performance, instantly taking control of the audience at the intimate and comfortable Studio at Stage II at New York City Center; she has a natural confidence as a teacher that is intoxicating. Part of the Manhattan Theatre Club’s Harold and Mimi Steinberg New Play Series, Sell/Buy/Date offers a lively and timely look at a controversial subject that has continued to raise eyebrows throughout the centuries.
MCC Theater at the Lucille Lortel Theatre
121 Christopher St. between Bleecker & Hudson Sts.
Tuesday - Sunday through October 23, $69-$125
“What is the weight of a lie?” Faye Johnson (Judith Light) asks at the beginning of Neil LaBute’s All the Ways to Say I Love You, a one-hour, one-character drama that has been extended at the Lucille Lortel through October 23. In her first solo show, Light is extraordinary as Mrs. Johnson, a high school teacher and guidance counselor in the Midwest who is retelling her story about a special relationship she had with a “second-year senior.” LaBute slowly and tantalizingly sprinkles in bits of the truth as Johnson, wearing a maroon cardigan and a wedding ring, moves about her somewhat ordinary office and talks about her somewhat ordinary life. (The suburban-school set design is by Rachel Hauck, the costume by Emily Rebholz.) Like other LaBute characters, Johnson balances between eliciting sympathy and moral outrage. She lights up when she delves into the time she spent with the student, Tommy, as opposed to the more mundane life she has with her husband. Johnson addresses the audience directly, making extensive eye contact, but this is no mere confessional or sympathy-seeking explanation; she is not resentful of her past but wistful and even celebratory.
LaBute (The Mercy Seat, This Is How It Goes) might be covering familiar territory, but he avoids the pratfalls of ripped-from-the-headlines melodrama in favor of a subtle narrative that carefully treads around love and betrayal, abuse and respect. Two-time Obie-winning director Leigh Silverman (In the Wake, Go Back to Where You Are) maintains a carefully modulated but not manipulative pace as various truths emerge in this MCC production, leading to a hard-hitting finale. Light, who has spent much of her stage and television career in supporting roles — the Who’s the Boss? star won two daytime Emmys as Karen Wolek on One Life to Live, has earned two primetime Emmy nominations as Shelly Pfefferman on Transparent, and has won two Tonys for featured roles in Other Desert Cities and The Assembled Parties — here is front and center, on her own, and she revels in it. The sixty-seven-year-old actress imbues Mrs. Johnson with a bursting sexuality and an infectious zest for life, alongside melancholic thoughts of what might have been, turning societal mores inside out to fulfill her desires. It’s a spectacular performance by one of our genuine treasures, a bold and engaging actress who keeps bringing us all to new peaks with every successive play and series. Yes, we do find out what the weight of a lie is, but we discover so much more as well.
Who: Dick Gregory, Onaje Allan Gumbs
What: Comedy, music, political discussion
Where: Black Spectrum Theatre, Roy Wilkins Recreation Center, 177 St. & Baisley Blvd., Queens, 718-723-1800
When: Saturday, October 22, $35 in advance, $45 at the door, 8:00
Why: This past summer, Joe Morton played comedian and activist Dick Gregory in the excellent show Turn Me Loose. Now you can see the real thing, as Gregory, who just turned eighty-four on October 12, will be at the Black Spectrum Theatre in Queens on October 22, sharing his sociopolitical musings and conspiracy rants about the state of the world; he should be in extra-fine form with the election approaching. (You can get a taste of his thoughts on Donald Trump here.) The evening will also feature a performance by Harlem-born, Queens-raised pianist, composer, and bandleader Onaje Allan Gumbs, who has released such albums as That Special Part of Me, Remember Their Innocence, Sack Full of Dreams, and Just Like Yesterday.
254 West 54th St. between Seventh & Eighth Aves.
Tuesday – Sunday through January 15, $47-$167
Sitting in the lobby in any of several theater district Holiday Inn hotels, watching people come and go, is likely to be more pleasurable than sitting in Studio 54, watching the Roundabout production of the Goodspeed musical Holiday Inn. Mark Sandrich’s 1942 movie was nominated for Best Original Score and Best Original Story, but music director-conductor Andy Einhorn and orchestrator Larry Blank sap all of the charm and rhythm from Irving Berlin’s songs, while director Gordon Greenberg and Chad Hodge’s book makes all the wrong changes to the plot, aside from wisely dropping the infamous “Abraham” minstrel scene. Singer-composer Jim Hardy (Bryce Pinkham), dancer Ted Hanover (Corbin Bleu), and chanteuse Lila Dixon (Megan Sikora) are a moderately successful song-and-dance team seeking their big break. Immediately after Jim proposes to Linda, he proposes that they give up show business and move to the farm he just bought in Midville, Connecticut; their manager, Danny (Lee Wilkof), then scores the trio a major gig in Chicago. Jim is heartbroken when Lila says she’d rather go out on the road with Ted. “But Lila, we promised each other that when the gigs dried up we’d get out of show business and live a normal life,” Jim implores. “I’ve always wanted to be normal. After I’m famous,” Lila replies. Jim sticks to his guns, deciding to go to the farm, where he will wait for Lila to join him after she and Ted finish their shows. Arriving at his new home, Jim meets the downtrodden Linda Mason (Lora Lee Gayer), the previous owner of her family’s farm who had defaulted on the mortgage, allowing Jim to buy it.
It takes about three seconds to figure exactly where the story is going, and lo and behold, that is precisely where it ends up. The songs, which were taken from the film as well as other sources, are staged by Greenberg (Guys and Dolls, Working) and choreographer Denis Jones (Honeymoon in Vegas, Pieces of My Heart: The Bert Berns Story) in either overly silly or melodramatic ways, zapping the spirit from “White Christmas,” “Blue Skies,” “Steppin’ Out with My Baby,” “Heat Wave,” “Cheek to Cheek,” and “Easter Parade,” while the costumes, by Alejo Vietti (Beautiful: The Carol King Musical, Allegiance), are either too mundane or too over-the-top. Pinkham (A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder, The Heidi Chronicles) and Gayer (Doctor Zhivago, Follies) are pleasant enough in the roles performed in the film by Bing Crosby and Marjorie Reynolds, respectively, but Bleu (High School Musical, Godspell) doesn’t have enough vocal range or pizzazz as Ted, played in the film by Fred Astaire, and Sikora (Under My Skin, Curtains) is miscast in the Virginia Dale part; it’s as if she is in a different show. And Megan Lawrence (The Pajama Game, Urinetown) just plain tries too hard in the thankless role of Louise, who has been added for comic relief but quickly grows tedious, as does Morgan Gao as Charlie Winslow, a ten-year-old Midville banker. (Don’t ask.) Aside from a couple of funny Connecticut jokes, this Holiday Inn is not a place where anyone should stay.
BRIC Arts | Media House
647 Fulton St.
Through October 23, free
Fort Greene-based BRIC Arts has teamed up with Tatter for a creative look at fabric and textile in art in the beautifully understated exhibition “Material Cultures.” The show follows Tatter’s mission “to promote the consciousness of cloth by considering, and celebrating, cloth’s intrinsic and essential relationship in human life.” The exhibit consists of colorful, imaginative works by eight mostly Brooklyn-based artists who use materials in inventive, sustainable ways. “Long before words, perception reflects the tactile,” cocurator and Tatter founder Jordana Munk Martin writes in her catalog essay, “Materiality, and the Primacy of Touch,” continuing, “Through intense materiality, [the artists collected here] ignite our own deeply personal associations with material. We view, but in viewing, we feel.” Mexican native Laura Anderson Barbata’s “Intervention: Indigo” features eleven ritualistic costumes (Manotas, Diablo I, Indigo Angel, Rogue Cop, others) bathed in indigo, a colored dye that has social significance for its use in the slave trade, on British military uniforms, and early American flags; a video shows the costumes being used in a parade. Lima-born fashion designer and social researcher Lucia Cuba sees clothing as cultural signifiers that define who we are in “Ejercicios en salad” (“Exercises on Health: Conversation I – Exercise II”), a trio of seated people dealing with cancer, covered from head to ankle in cotton rope, embroidery, and tapestry weaving, their individual identities as human beings stripped away from them. Sophia Narrett’s embroidered wall hangings look cute and adorable until you get up close and witness their “stories of embodiment, beauty, eroticism, personality, fear, and resignation,” where bad things are happening to women, based on photographs the Concord-born artist found on social media and reality television.
El Paso’s Adrian Esparza searches for home in “Luna Park,” a deconstructed Mexican sarape whose colored threads, are nailed to the wall in circles and other ovular shapes that reference a 1916 Luna Park postcard. Toronto-born Elana Herzog’s untitled piece from her “Civilization and Its Discontents” series has been seemingly partially ripped from the wall, with tears, rips, and remnants of a Persian rug; across the gallery, her “Felled” is composed of logs and thick branches lying on a disintegrating rug. (You can watch her talk about her process here.) The show, curated by Martin with BRIC’s Elizabeth Ferrer and Jenny Gerow, is very much about process — stapling, gluing, ripping, weaving, knitting, dyeing, crocheting — and process is at the heart of Mexico City native Marela Zacarias’s awe-inducing “Mitochondrial Eve,” a labor-intensive construction, named for the ancient woman who just might be the mother of humankind, made of wood, window screens, joint compound, polymer, and acrylic paint. She folds window mesh as if she is dancing freely, then layers and sands the emerging shape, which in this case she paints in stark white that jumps off a black background. “Material Cultures” is a splendid collection of fabric-based art, one of the most compelling and involving exhibitions in the city right now. There will be free gallery tours of the show, which also includes work by Lorenzo Hurtado Segovia and Xenobia Bailey, on Wednesday at 10:30 and 11:30 am.