Museum of Chinese in America
215 Centre St.
Saturday, June 23, $10, noon - 4:00
The big Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival doesn’t take place until August 12-13 in Flushing Meadows Park, but you can get ready for the festivities with the Museum of Chinese in America’s Dragon Boat Family Festival, taking place at the downtown institution on June 23. The afternoon includes arts and crafts, workshops, live performances, storytelling, special food, Chinese board games, and more. Kids can make a good-luck fabric sachet known as a xiang bao, summer solstice sun catchers, team banners, and miniature floatable dragon boats and race them. There will also be a bug hunt, a yo-yo performance by eleven-year-old champion Alex Tai, ink brush painting with the NY Chinese Cultural Center, a double watercolor workshop with Jian Zhong, and a zongzi wrapping and tasting with Sophia Hsu.
I can only imagine the elevator pitch for Mike Lew’s latest play, which opened last night at the Public’s Shiva Theater. “It’s Richard III in high school, about a student with cerebral palsy who will do just about anything to become senior class president. Oh, and it’s called Teenage Dick.” The terrifically titled play, a workshop production of which ran at the Shiva in 2016, reimagines Shakespeare’s tragedy through the lens of such hit films as Clueless, Mean Girls, Election, and even Carrie while sprinkling in elements and quotes from other Shakespeare plays. It’s a bumpy ride that bites off more than it can chew, trying to be too much instead of maintaining its focus while making important points about the disabled. “Now that the winter formal gives way to glorious spring fling we find our rocks for brains hero Eddie — the quarterback — sleeping through his job as junior class president,” Roseland High School class secretary Richard Gloucester says at the start of the play. Richard is splendidly portrayed by Gregg Mozgala, whose cerebral palsy substitutes here for Richard’s physical deformities. Mozgala, a Drama Desk nominee, commissioned the work for the Apothetae, a company founded by Mozgala (who serves as artistic director) that concentrates on the “disabled experience.” Richard’s competition for the presidency is dunderheaded quarterback and prom king Eddie (Alex Breaux) and Bible-thumping overachiever Clarissa (Sasha Diamond); Richard’s primary supporter and only friend is Barbara “Buck” Buckingham (Shannon DeVido, who has spinal muscular atrophy and uses a wheelchair), who is getting tired of Richard’s breaking out into Bard-speak. “Soft you now, she approaches,” Richard says, to which Buck barks back, “Who talks like that?” Richard decides that the best way to achieve his ascendancy is through prom queen Anne Margaret (Tiffany Villarin), Eddie’s former girlfriend who harbors a secret that could ruin them both; she’s also a dancer, so his limited mobility comes to the fore. Overseeing it all is English teacher Elizabeth York (Marinda Anderson), who has assigned the class to read Machiavelli’s The Prince, which has become a kind of primer for Richard, who has studied Machiavelli’s four pathways to power: fortune, virtue, civil election, and, preferably, wickedness. As the voting for class officers approaches, Richard uses devious methods as he seeks his ultimate goal.
A coproduction with Ma-Yi Theater Company, the hundred-minute Teenage Dick tackles such issues as bullying, government policy, war, and, of course, the treatment of the disabled. Tony-nominated director Moritz von Stuelpnagel (Present Laughter, Hand to God) can’t quite get rid of all the choppiness in Lew’s (Bike America, Tiger Style!) script, which caroms too quickly between realism and abstraction while deciding how close it will or won’t stick to Shakespeare’s general plot. It works best when it stays on point, echoing Richard’s dispatching of Clarence and Edward and wooing of Queen Margaret, and doesn’t preach, which it ultimately does. Lew and von Stuelpnagel are not sure just what to do with Elizabeth, whose character and purpose feel ill-defined. Wilson Chin’s set ranges from a high school hallway with lockers and a trophy case to a teen girl’s bedroom and a dance studio, and DeVido (The Healing, Difficult People) has a blast motoring through it. Mozgala (Cost of Living, Light Shining in Buckinghamshire) makes a fine Richard, particularly as the play explores whether one can rise above their station and whether it is better to be loved or feared, which is especially relevant in high school in twenty-first-century America. “Given a choice, it is best to be feared,” he says. “For man is ungrateful, fickle, and greedy, and thusly being loved is a bond they may break. Whereas being feared is sustained by a dread of punishment that won’t ever fail you.” Unfortunately, the play doesn’t quite live up to its awesome title, which works both as a riff on the name of the Shakespeare play it’s inspired by and because it features a protagonist who is, well, kind of a dick.
Bernie Wohl Center @ Goddard Riverside Community Center
647 Columbus Ave. between Ninety-First & Ninety-Second Sts.
June 20-24, $20
Joe Wissler loves acting; it’s in his bones. You can see it when he’s onstage performing or when he’s discussing his career, which has included appearing in shows at the Mint, the Fringe, the Actors Studio, the Producers Club, and Where Eagles Dare and such indie films as Powder Strike, Empire, and Street Revenge. The Manhattan-born, Brooklyn-raised character actor is quite a character himself, a tough guy with a heart of gold. Wissler is starring this week in the lead role of Joe Keller in the Out of the Box Theatre production of Arthur Miller’s All My Sons, an Actors’ Equity showcase running June 20-24 at the Bernie Wohl Center at the Goddard Riverside Community Center. The play is directed by Justin Bennett, with a cast also featuring J. D. Brookshire, Matthew Dunivan, Marie Lenzi, Susan McBrien, Patrick McGuiness, Nirvaan Pal, Anna Marie Sell, Jennifer Wingerter, and David Winning.
“As a director, it is an immense pleasure to work with an actor like Joe,” Bennett said. “He is constantly striving to find the depth of a complex character that many actors consider to be a dream role. He is always willing to try different ways to do something. Fortunately, the rest of the cast works in a similar way in order to produce a fantastic quality of acting in one of the masterpieces of American theater.” Founding Out of the Box board member and coproducer (with Halina Malinowski) Susan Case added, “We’re delighted to welcome Joe Wissler to the Out of the Box family. Justin cast Joe to play the lead role of Joe Keller after wading through several hundred resumes and auditioning numerous actors. Joe brings great warmth and honesty to his compelling portrayal of this beleaguered character.” After finishing tech rehearsal, Wissler filled us in on his latest show and more.
twi-ny: We last spoke with you four years ago, when you were in Baby GirL at the Fringe in 2014. How’ve you been since then?
Joe Wissler: The years certainly do fly by. In those years both my children have gotten married, Joe to Kaylyn and Nicole to Sam. In addition, Kaylyn is expecting our first grandchild in July. I have spent a good amount of that time writing. The first project, 20 to Life, is about a police officer who is all set to retire, only to find that his new girlfriend is pregnant, forcing him to stay on the job. Production is set to begin in the fall of 2018.
twi-ny: You’re starring as Joe Keller in All My Sons at the Bernie Wohl Center at the Goddard Riverside Community Center. How did that come about?
JW: I saw a listing on Actors Access and submitted. I went in to the audition with one simple strategy: Tell the story from the heart, not the head. It seems to have worked. I am now part of a cast that I consider to be the some of the finest actors I have ever had the pleasure to share a stage with. Our director, Justin Bennett, has guided us on the journey with the precision of Magellan. I am so thankful to Out of the Box for producing this masterpiece and for being the most professional, amazing people that they are.
twi-ny: Joe Keller has previously been portrayed onstage by such actors as Ed Begley, Richard Kiley, John Lithgow, and David Suchet and on film by Edward G. Robinson and James Whitmore. Aside from the original 1947 version, of course, have you seen any of the other adaptations?
JW: I have not seen a stage production of this play before. Which is fine by me. It allowed me to create the character from the ground up. Which is sometimes very difficult to do if you have seen an amazing production. Watching a master actor such as the ones you have listed would leave an impression that would be hard to erase. This Joe Keller is all Joe Wissler’s.
twi-ny: What approach are you taking for such a classic role? What do you think is the key to the part?
JW: I am approaching this classic with the respect it deserves. It is truly one of the finest plays ever written. To win this part is one of the greatest honors I have received professionally. I am letting my emotions guide me through the text as a conductor would rely on his sheet music. Every line has such an emotional explosion behind it. The key to this play is Joe’s love for his son. I believe nothing is more important to Joe. And that’s why I love playing this role. I have the same love for Joe and Nicole.
twi-ny: Keller has to deal with something from his past that haunts him. Is there any one thing that you regret from your past that you wouldn’t mind sharing with us?
JW: “Regrets, I’ve had a few, but then again, too few to mention.” Thanks for giving me the chance to say that. My biggest regret is not spending even more time with my mother over the years. She passed away suddenly at the young age of sixty-five and it wasn’t until she wasn’t there anymore that I realized how much I still depended on her. It was her guidance that brought me to acting. And that gave me the heart to love as deeply as I do. Anything good that can be said about me is because of her. I dedicate this performance to her.
twi-ny: Have you done any other Miller plays? Do you have a favorite?
JW: This is my first Miller play. I hope to get cast in many more. I do have a favorite. Actually two, A View from the Bridge and of course All My Sons.
twi-ny: Did Joe and Nicole treat you well on Father’s Day?
JW: To look in their eyes and see them smiling is all I need. The gifts were nice too.
Lucille Lortel Theatre
121 Christopher St. between Bleecker & Hudson Sts.
Tuesday - Sunday through June 23, $65-$85
Activist and writer Eve Ensler follows up her powerful, intimate one-woman show, In the Body of the World, with the New York premiere of Fruit Trilogy, three short experimental pieces that are still in need of some ripening. The Abingdon Theatre Company production, running at the Lucille Lortel through June 23 — coincidentally, Ensler was just given a lifetime achievement honor at last month’s Lucille Lortel Awards — explores major themes from throughout Ensler’s oeuvre, investigating female oppression and empowerment and the body itself, beginning with her 1986 international hit, The Vagina Monologues. Fruit Trilogy opens with the Beckett-like Pomegranate, in which Item 1 (Liz Mikel) and Item 2 (Kiersey Clemons) portray a pair of women on a shelf in a warehouse, only their heads visible in small black boxes. On display for men to purchase and do with what they want, they discuss their situation: “Women? We are items that they want to buy,” Item 1 says. “We are women more willing to be vile receptacles than we are willing to be dead,” Item 2 explains. Discussing hope, Item 1 declares, “My body will not live without possibility.” Item 2 sarcastically replies, “You have a body?”
In Avocado, Clemons plays a sex slave slithering across a raised narrow platform in a container that serves as a cage, though the bars are unseen. She prowls about like a wild animal, speaking directly to the audience. At one point, she says, “Do you see them? Such naughty angels, jokester angels, protecting me, protecting all the girls who lost their bodies.” She goes into graphic detail about her victimization, brutalization, and enslavement, her story lightened only by an unexpected connection in one encounter, with a deaf, nonverbal boy who treats her more like a person, than a prostitute. The woman has sold herself one last time for passage in the container to a place called Asylum, the kind of freedom offered by City of Joy, a securely walled and guarded safe space cofounded by Ensler in Bukavu in the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo where survivors of rape and sexual violence come to get their life back, learning to reclaim their bodies and their minds.
And in Coconut, Mikel invites the audience into her bathroom, lit by candles, where she luxuriously and ceremonially rubs coconut oil onto her right foot, taking control of her body in ways that the characters in the previous two tales could not. “Like everything else, this body only existed in relationship to the person who was touching it, as a thing that might be touched,” she says. Now that person is her, rejecting all the ways she previously didn’t “measure up” to others, being a large black woman judged by her size, gender, and race. “We’re engaged in a transformative process of emollient change,” she says as she rubs the pain of memory and shame out of her body. When she disrobes, she takes pride in her naked body, daring the audience to look at her, to experience her, to join her in a happier world. Clemons (Dope, The Only Boy Living in New York) and Mikel (Lysistrata Jones, Friday Night Lights) are engaging, fearless performers, but director Mark Rosenblatt (The Country, Animal Wisdom) can’t get a firm enough grasp of the material or of Mark Wendland’s (Significant Other, Next to Normal) dark, low-budget sets, which are indeed somewhat confusing. Although it takes on some tough, serious topics, the trilogy is too long at eighty minutes, with too much repetition in the overly clever dialogue that continues well after the point has been made. It feels like Fruit Trilogy is still at the workshop stage, requiring additional care and nurturing before being picked and served to the public. Several of the remaining performances will be followed by talkbacks with Ensler (The Good Body, Emotional Creature) and special guests, focusing on not only the play itself but Ensler’s work with V-Day, “a global activist movement to end violence against women and girls” that she cofounded in 1998.
Make Music New York is back for its thirteenth summer season, celebrating the longest day of the year with more than a thousand free concerts across the city on June 21. There are Mass Appeal participatory events, live music in parks and plazas, unique gatherings in unusual places, and just about anything else you can think of. Below are only a handful of the highlights, arranged chronologically.
Sunrise/Sunset, communal performance by composer Brian Petuch, 155 Cedar St., World Trade Center, 5:25 am - 8:31 pm
Mass Appeal Vocals: Midsummer Mozart’s Requiem, 180 Greenwich St., 9/11 Memorial Plaza, 12 noon
Mamma Mia Sing Along Truck, Times Square at 12:30, Theodore Roosevelt Park at 2:00, Old Fulton Street Plaza at 4:00, and Storm Ritter Studio at 6:00
Joe’s Pub Block Party, with Treya Lam, Migguel Anggelo, Yemen Blues Duo featuring Ravid Kahalani & Omer Avital, Mohsen Namjoo, and M.A.K.U. Soundsystem, Astor Place Plaza, 1:00 - 7:00
On the Waterfront at Pier I, classical minimalist piano pieces performed by Ethan Liang and Ella Kronman, Emily Tong and Maxim Dybal Denysenko, Joan Forsyth and Griffin Strout, Olivia D’Amato and Griffin Strout, Katherine Miller, Mary Coit, Julia Meltzer, Mia and Michelle Akulfi, Curtis Decker, Ella Kronman and Jacqueline Ramirez, Ariela Bohrod, Yusei Hata, and Jenny Undercofler, Riverside Park off West Seventieth St., 4:30
Mass Appeal Bucket Drumming, with Jessie Nelson and Shelby Blezinger-McCay, Pearl St. Triangle, 5:00
The Well-Tempered Clavier, 9/11 Memorial Plaza, 5:00 - 8:00
LIC Block Party, with Avi B Three, the Blue Dahlia, and Underground Horns, Dutch Kills St., 5:00 - 9:00
Mass Appeal Harmonicas, with Jia-Yi He, Central Park Pond Lawn, 5:30
Mass Appeal Ukuleles, with Makalina Abalos Gallagher, Central Park Ladies Pavilion, 5:30
Harlem to Broadway!, Richard Amphitheater, Marcus Garvey Park, 6:00
Mass Appeal French Horns, with Linda Blacken and the French Horn Nation, “Uptown Grand Central” community plaza, East 125th St. & Park Ave., 6:30
The Mp3 Experiment Number Fifteen, Brooklyn Bridge Park’s Harbor View Lawn, Pier 1, 7:00
Mass Appeal Guitars, with Evie Dolan, Brandon Niederauer, and Maxwell Violet, Union Square Park, 7:00
Twilight Chorus (for Humans), composed by Pete M. Wyer, Brooklyn Botanical Garden, enter at 150 Eastern Pkwy., 7:00
Swamped, with Elliott Sharp and ten canoes, the Gowanus Dredgers Boathouse, 125-153 Second St., Brooklyn, 7:30
Mass Appeal Mandolins, with the New York Mandolin Orchestra, Theodore Roosevelt Park, 6:30
Muscota Marsh Harmony, with singers Kristen Kasarjian, George Kasarjian, Jeff Gavett, and Nina Dante and speaker operators John Hastings, Caroline Hastings, Terrance Solomone, and Kim Blair, Muscota Marsh, Inwood Park, 7:45
Make Music New York After Party, with Supermoon and Nation Beat, DROM, 85 Ave. A, 9:00
TORN CURTAIN (Alfred Hitchcock, 1966)
Museum of Modern Art, MoMA Film
11 West 53rd St. between Fifth & Sixth Aves.
Thursday, June 21, and Wednesday, June 27
MoMA is screening Alfred Hitchcock’s 1966 Cold War thriller, Torn Curtain, in its “Modern ‘Matinees’: Hitchcock/Truffaut, Fashionably Late” series, but don’t let that convince you that it’s museum-worthy. Torn Curtain is one of the Master of Suspense’s worst movies, and it never really had a chance. Hitchcock wanted Vladimir Nabokov to write it, but ultimately hired novelist Brian Moore to write the screenplay, then had Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall attempt to polish it. Hitch had little choice in Universal’s miscasting of the leads, Paul Newman and Julie Andrews; Hitchcock had no love for the former’s Method acting, and Andrews was on a tight schedule that affected her availability. He rejected Bernard Herrmann’s original score and replaced it with one by John Addison. The film was photographed and edited by television veterans John F. Warren and Bud Hoffman, respectively. And it was made on a limited budget, so Hitchcock’s “realistic Bond” picture relied on stand-in locations. The story was inspired by the defection of Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean, British diplomats who were members of the Cambridge Five spy ring; they defected to Russia in 1951.
In Torn Curtain, Newman is rocket scientist Michael Armstrong; Andrews is Sarah Sherman, his assistant and fiancée. Unhappy with the status of one of his projects, Armstrong decides to defect to East Germany and work with missile expert Gustav Lindt (Ludwig Donath). However, Armstrong does not anticipate Sherman following him and deciding to defect as well. Once in East Berlin Armstrong is trailed by security spy Hermann Gromek (Wolfgang Kieling), visits with a mysterious farmer (Mort Mills) and his wife (Carolyn Conwell), encounters the kooky Countess Kuchinska (Lila Kedrova), and meets such underground figures as Dr. Koska (Gisela Fischer) and Mr. Jacobi (David Opatoshu). The narrative is filled with plot holes and scenes that lack the tension Hitchcock is treasured for. Even the much-ballyhooed rural murder scene is awkward, though brutal. And the bus chase is torturous. Thus, Hitchcock’s fiftieth film is nothing special; nor would his next outing be, another Hollywood political thriller, Topaz. He would ultimately regain his form with 1972’s Frenzy, a British production written by Anthony Shaffer. Torn Curtain is screening June 21 at 1:30 and June 27 at 7:00 at MoMA; “Modern ‘Matinees’: Hitchcock/Truffaut, Fashionably Late” continues through July 4 with such other Hitchcock fare as The Paradine Case, Psycho, Saboteur, Spellbound, Suspicion, Rebecca, and Rear Window.
Tuesday-Sunday through June 24, free, 8:00
While filming Richard Eyre’s 2018 BBC television adaptation of King Lear, Chukwudi Iwuji, who was playing the king of France, was told by Sir Anthony Hopkins, who was starring in the title role, “You must be ready for your Othello now.” Iwuji proves he is more than ready in Ruben Santiago-Hudson’s gripping, emotional production that opened last night at the Delacorte in Central Park as part of the Public Theater’s annual Shakespeare in the Park presentation. Born and raised in Nigeria, later educated in Ethiopia and England, and now living in New York City, Iwuji, a Royal Shakespeare Company associate artist, has built up quite a resume at the Public, portraying the narrator and Enobarbus in Anthony and Cleopatra at the Anspacher in 2014, as Edgar in King Lear at the Delacorte that same year with John Lithgow as the monarch, taking the lead in Hamlet in the Public Theater’s Mobile Unit abbreviated 2016 version, and being nominated for awards as slave John Blanke in Bruce Norris’s The Low Road at the Anspacher earlier this year. (He also played the duke of Buckingham in Richard III at BAM in 2012.) In a role previously played at the Delacorte by James Earl Jones in 1964 and Raul Julia in 1979 and 1991, Iwuji might be shorter in stature and more naturally handsome than most actors who portray Othello, but he commands the role from the very moment he appears onstage, displaying a regal charm and joie de vivre even as he is instantly hustled by his devious ensign, Iago, played here by the tall, thin, bald Corey Stoll with a sarcastic and cynical sense of humor that is often laugh-out-loud funny.
Tony-winning actor and director Santiago-Hudson (Jitney, Paradise Blue) keeps the focus on romance, particularly the deep, passionate love between Othello and Desdemona (Heather Lind), who have just gotten married against the wishes of her father, senator Brabantio (Miguel Perez), contrasting sharply with the much colder relationship between Iago and his wife, Emilia (Alison Wright). A Venetian military hero fighting the Turks, Othello has complete trust in Iago, who is out to destroy him, using and abusing his right-hand man, Roderigo (Motell Foster), in the process. Iago’s plan involves driving Othello into a jealous rage by convincing him that Desdemona is being unfaithful with Othello’s loyal lieutenant, Cassio (Babak Tafti), whose girlfriend, Bianca (Flor De Liz Perez), is no mere prostitute. In Santiago-Hudson’s vision, Desdemona, Bianca, and Emilia are strong female characters who are quick to stand up for themselves. Wright brings the house down in a late, fiery speech that gets to the heart of the truth. The excellent ensemble also includes Peter Jay Fernandez as the duke of Venice, Andrew Hovelson as Lodovico, Thomas Schall as Montano, and Peter Van Wagner as Gratiano, the cast moving through Rachel Hauck’s relatively basic but effective set, two walls with gothic archways, with a small tower on either side. Toni-Leslie James’s period costumes have a punk edge, consisting of lots of black leather and cool accessories on the men and lush gowns on the women.
“Rude am I in my speech / And little blessed with the soft phrase of peace,” Othello says early on, but in actuality Iwuji speaks Shakespeare’s words with such poetic beauty and skill that it evokes the sound of the birds singing in the trees as night falls. Iwuji and Lind (The Merchant of Venice, Incognito) are electric together; at one point Othello lifts his arm out to her and it is magical. Meanwhile Stoll (Intimate Apparel, Plenty), in his third consecutive year doing Shakespeare in the Park (following Troilus and Cressida and Julius Caesar), and Emmy nominee Wright (The Americans, Sneaky Pete) are also a dynamic pair as their characters’ marriage heads toward a giant abyss of lies. Of course, even with the concentration on romance and the emergent power of the women, as well as the undercurrent of racism that is always simmering, the success of the play ultimately relies on the chemistry between the actors playing Othello and Iago, who have previously been portrayed by such mixed-race pairs as David Oyelowo and Daniel Craig, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Ewan McGregor, Laurence Fishburne and Kenneth Branagh, Paul Robeson and José Ferrer, Jones and Christopher Plummer, and Julia and Christopher Walken. “O grace! O heaven forgive me! / O monstrous world! Take note, take note, O world: / To be direct and honest is not safe,” the conniving Iago says. “Nay, stay. Thou shouldst be honest,” the too-easily-convinced Othello replies. Iwuji and Stoll have now become part of the canon, and they well earn their place in this stirring, elegant production.