The Public Theater, Newman Theater
425 Lafayette St. by Astor Pl.
Tuesday - Sunday through December 23, $120
Conor McPherson’s Girl from the North Country is like a grand, epic Bob Dylan song brought to life — think “Desolation Row,” “Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again,” “Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts,” and “Brownsville Girl” (which he wrote with playwright Sam Shepard). It’s long (about two and a half hours), it has multiple key characters and subplots, and it’s not always clear exactly what’s going on. The show, which has been extended through December 23 at the Public’s Newman Theater, is also deeply involving, honest, and poetic. The elegiac story is a flashback to the iron-ore shipping town of Duluth, Minnesota, in the winter of 1934, where Dylan was born Robert Zimmerman seven years later. It’s set in a failing guesthouse run by Nick Laine (Stephen Bogardus), a kind soul who is taking care of his mentally ill wife, Elizabeth (Mare Winningham), and their troubled twenty-year-old biological son, Gene (Colton Ryan), who can’t commit to a job or his ex-girlfriend, Kate Draper (Caitlin Houlahan). The white couple also has a bright and lovely nineteen-year-old adopted black daughter, Marianne (Kimber Sprawl), who is pregnant.
Among those staying at the guesthouse — skillfully designed by Rae Smith, who also did the period costumes — are stalwart businessman Frank Burke (Marc Kudisch), his wife, Laura (Luba Mason), and their on-the-spectrum grown son, Elias (Todd Almond); Mrs. Neilsen (Jeannette Bayardelle), a recent widow who is having an affair with Nick and waiting on money from her late husband’s estate; and Bible salesman Reverend Marlowe (David Pittu) and formerly incarcerated boxer Joe Scott (Sydney James Harcourt), who arrive together. Determined to find a spouse for Marianne, Nick has invited sixty-nine-year-old shoe mender Mr. Perry (Tom Nelis) to come over and offer his hand to her. Dr. Walker (Robert Joy) serves as an Our Town–like narrator. “My name is George Arthur Walker. I’m a doctor. Least I was. Back when this was our world,” he says at the beginning. “I healed some bodies in pain. But as we know pain comes in all kinds. Physical, spiritual. Indescribable.”
Two-time Tony nominee McPherson (Shining City, The Seafarer), who wrote and directed the production, does a marvelous job incorporating songs from throughout Dylan’s wide-ranging fifty-plus-year career, selecting well-known favorites (“Like a Rolling Stone,” “Idiot Wind”) along with lesser-known gems (“Went to See the Gypsy,” “Tight Connection to My Heart [Has Anyone Seen My Love?”], “True Love Tends to Forget”). The characters and plot elements are not taken directly from Dylan songs; instead, they add depth to each other, creating a compelling mood and atmosphere of 1930s America, a time when many a dream died hard. (It’s actually a little disappointing when Scott starts singing “Hurricane,” Dylan’s ode to wrongly imprisoned black boxer Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, as it’s the only predictable musical moment of the show.) The music also exists in a different period of time and space than the narrative; the songs are sung by the actors out of character, at a microphone, as the rest of the cast carries on in the background.
Among the musical highlights are Winningham delivering a stunning reimagining of “I Want You”; several performers joining in for a soulful medley of “Slow Train” and “Jokerman”; and a rousing rendition of “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” that brings the house down to start the second act. Nearly every song has been significantly rearranged by orchestrator and music supervisor Simon Hale with McPherson, which works exceptionally well and makes sense, since Dylan has been reinventing his tunes for decades, often rendering them nearly unrecognizable (which you can hear for yourself when Dylan and his band come to the Beacon Theatre November 23 to December 1). It’s all played with heart by a four-piece band situated in a far corner, consisting of music director Marco Paguia on piano and harmonium, Ross Martin on guitar, Martha McDonnell on violin and mandolin, and Mary Ann McSweeney on bass (with various actors occasionally sitting at the drum kit at the front of the stage). The ensemble also features Matthew Frederick Harris, John Schiappa, Rachel Stern, and Chelsea Lee Williams, who play minor characters and sing. Girl from the North Country is a haunting look at America’s past — and future, perhaps? — from two extraordinary storytellers.
25th St. at Fifth Ave., Brooklyn
Saturday, October 20, $75, 8:00
Friday’s site-specific performance of Nightfall: A Moonlit Exploration is sold out, but tickets are still available for Saturday’s show, taking place in historic Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn. You’ll be guided through the Gothic Arches and up and down the endless paths, following thousands of flickering candles as you pass by a vast array of tombs, graves, and crypts that date back hundreds of years. As you go, you’ll encounter music, storytelling, film, and more by the Bindlestiff Family Cirkus, Rooftop Films, Morbid Anatomy, and others, curated by Unison Media, the company behind “Crypt Sessions” and “Angel’s Share.” Tickets are $75, for twenty-one and over only. If you’ve never been to the amazing Green-Wood Cemetery, this should be a great introduction to one of the city’s genuine treasures, especially around Halloween.
NYU Skirball Center for the Performing Arts and other NYU locations
566 La Guardia Pl. between Third & Fourth Sts.
October 17-28, free with advance RSVP
This past May, Karl Marx would have turned two hundred years old. The NYU Skirball Center is celebrating his bicentennial with twelve days of special free programming honoring the man who wrote, “The mode of production of material life conditions the social, political, and intellectual life process in general. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness.” Audiences can also determine if they want to contribute to the performances based on supply and demand and their own consciousness; the events are all free with advance RSVP but donations are welcome. The “Karl Marx Festival: On Your Marx” begins October 17 at 7:30 with London-based Bulgarian performance artist Ivo Dimchev’s one-hour show, P Project, in which people from the audience will get paid by agreeing to do spur-of-the-moment things involving words that begin with the letter “P.” For example, Dimchev will present them with tasks that might involve such words as Piano, Pray, Pussy, Poetry, Poppers, etc. On October 18 at 6:00, NYU professors Erin Gray, Arun Kundnani, Michael Ralph, and Nikhil Singh will discuss “Racial Capitalism” at the Tamiment Library. On October 19 at 9:30, DJs AndrewAndrew will spin Marxist discs along with readings by special guests from Das Kapital and The Communist Manifesto.
On October 19 and 20 at 7:30, Brooklyn-based Uruguayan dancer and choreographer luciana achugar will present the world premiere of Brujx, which explores ideas of labor. On October 22 at 6:30, Slavoj Žižek will deliver the Skirball Talks lecture “The Fate of the Commons: A Trotskyite View.” On October 23 at 5:30, NYU professors Lisa Daily, Dean Saranillio, and Jerome Whitington will discuss “Futurity & Consumption” at the Department of Social & Cultural Analysis. On October 24 at 4:00, author Sarah Rose will talk about her 2017 book, No Right to Be Idle at the eighth floor commons at 239 Greene St. On October 25 at 5:30, luciana achugar, Julie Tolentino, and Amin Husain will join for the conversation “Labor, Aesthetics, Identity” at the Department of Performance Studies. On October 26 at 7:30, Malik Gaines, Miguel Gutierrez, Latasha N. Nevada Diggs, Ryan McNamara, Seung-Min Lee, and Alison Kizu-Blair will stage “Courtesy the Artists: Popular Revolt,” a live-sourced multimedia work directed by Alexandro Segade and Amy Ruhl. The festival concludes October 28 at 5:00 with Ethan Philbrick’s Choral Marx, a singing adaptation of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels’s Manifesto for the Communist Party, performed by Benjamin Bath, Gelsey Bell, Sarah Chihaya, Hai-ting Chinn, Tomás Cruz, Amirtha Kidambi, Brian McQueen, Gizelxanath Rodriguez, and Ryan Tracy.
Live Source Theatre Group’s Suddenly is a taut if clumsily rendered adaptation of Lewis Allen’s 1954 thriller, with adroit changes to Richard Sale’s screenplay that add contemporary relevance. Adapted by Gianfranco Settecasi and directed by Tyler Mercer, the play, which continues at HERE through October 20, takes place on a Saturday afternoon in the summer of 1954, in a suburban house overlooking the train station. Living in the home is Ellen Benson (Phoebe Dunn), who has a hatred of guns ever since her husband was killed in the war; her young son, Pidge (Henry Fin Berry), who wants to be a sheriff when he grows up; and her father, Pop (Joseph J. Menino), a former Secret Service agent who once took a bullet for President Calvin Coolidge. Local sheriff Tod Shaw (Brendan Walsh) has a habit of stopping by, as he’s in love with Ellen, who is not ready to move on from her husband’s death. Ellen is furious when Pidge comes home with a toy gun Tod bought him, one that looks very much like the real thing. As the family waits for Jud Kelly (Sean A. Kaufman) to arrive to fix the busted television, three other men unexpectedly show up, identifying themselves as federal agents: John Baron (Drew Allen), Bart Wheeler (Chris Dieman), and Benny Conklin (Ariel Estrada). Baron claims that they are there because the president will be making a train stop in Suddenly later that afternoon and the Benson house provides a perfect vantage point for someone to attempt an assassination. However, it turns out that Baron and his cronies are the assassins, and the depraved Baron threatens to slice Pidge’s throat if anyone tries to stop them.
While the original, which evoked such claustrophobic classics as The Petrified Forest and Key Largo, focuses on the demonic character of Baron, Mercer (Bohemian Lights, The Incredible Fox Sisters) and Settecasi’s update (Uncle Gifff’s Christmas Special) concentrates on the 1950s sensibility of a traditional American family, seen through a lens more than sixty years later, with an important twist: Instead of being proud that her husband died for his country, Ellen is angry. And she doesn’t want her son to follow in his father’s footsteps — nor does she want Pidge to have even a toy gun. The gun plays a pivotal role in this adaptation, given the current furor over gun control in America and police shootings of people, including children, holding fake pistols or other objects. The acting is stylized: midcentury plain with a touch of noir. Mercer wisely chooses not to have Allen, Walsh, and Menino compete with Frank Sinatra, Sterling Hayden, and James Gleason, who played their respective parts in the film. However, Dunn brings a modern edge to Ellen, portrayed by Nancy Gates in movie, giving her more strength and a deeper texture. Where Gates’s Ellen faints, Dunn’s takes action. The cast stumbles over some lines, Allen removes his hat way too much, the video projections are relatively unimaginative (except for the opening credits sequence), Pop says he wants to watch the White Sox-Cubs game but it’s a Pittsburgh-New York matchup that ultimately comes on, and the climactic scene in which Jud and Pop try to electrocute Baron using the broken television is completely botched — what’s with those black wires running across the stage through the whole show anyway? But there’s still enough to enjoy in this straightforward adaptation, which includes an in-your-face ending that differs greatly from the film’s conclusion.
In 1652, the Lotts, a family of French Huguenots, immigrated to Brooklyn from Holland. In 1719, they purchased a farm in Flatlands and built a house there the following year. The Dutch Colonial farmhouse, a New York City landmark that was bought by the city in 2002 — and has a history that includes slave labor — is generally closed to the public, but it will open its doors this Halloween season for several special events. On October 20, the home will host “A Haunting at Hendrick’s,” a cocktail party and costume fundraiser at 7:00, with all proceeds going to the preservation and renovation of the house. In addition, on October 27 and 28 at 11:00 and 2:00, there will be rare tours of the Lott home. It’s all part of Archtober, a month of programs celebrating the architecture of the city. Among the many other sites participating in Archtober are Grand Central Terminal, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, Times Square, the South Street Seaport, the Guggenheim, Ellis Island, and the subway.
At the end of Australian company Lucy Guerin Inc’s Split, which continues through October 13 at the Baryshnikov Arts Center, the two performers take their well-deserved bows. While Melanie Lane is in the blue dress she wore during the fifty-minute duet, Lilian Steiner is still naked, as she has been since the start. It’s an unusually fascinating moment; when Lane and Steiner first took the stage, the nudity was as bold as it was curious. It feels far more natural as the show goes on, quickly becoming barely noticeable as the two women interact. It’s eventually not an issue at all. But it’s as if Guerin (Corridor, Untrained) is making yet one more point as Steiner now stands before the audience, still in the buff, then runs offstage and comes back covered to more applause. It’s just a human, female body — a vastly talented one at that — and no one else is going to control it.
Split is a mesmerizing piece that follows two women as time and space close in on them. In the first section, Lane and Steiner are in complete synchronicity, moving to the exact same choreography within a large white rectangle. Their arms and hands swirl, they writhe on the floor, the only differences being Lane’s dress and her long, flowing tresses, which is countered by Steiner’s tightly pulled-back hair. It’s as if they’re two parts of the same woman, the public and the private, each unaware of the other’s existence. They’re not mirror images; instead, it’s like Steiner is an X-ray version of Lane, revealing what the body is doing inside the clothing, every bone and muscle celebrating form and movement. After twenty minutes, they cut the black stage in half with a vertical strip of white tape and each stays within that smaller box for the next ten minutes, but now facing each other, their movements consisting of sharp angles, their relationship taking on a fierce, primal quality that borders on jealousy. Their floor space is halved again after five minutes, then two and a half, and so on until they have mere seconds in a tiny area in which they are unable to stand side-by-side. Each segment is lit differently by Paul Lim, accompanied by UK composer Scanner’s (Robin Rimbaud) ever-present percussive electronic score. It’s an enchanting, compelling work whose exploration of the female form falls somewhere between scientific and sensual (and even cannibalistic at one point). Split — the name refers to the way the dancers keep cutting the floor in half as well as how they are like one woman split in two — flows so seamlessly that the nudity fades into the background about halfway through, only to reappear at the curtain call, as Guerin investigates the inner and outer beauty of the human body.
New York Theatre Workshop
79 East Fourth St. between Second & Third Aves.
Tuesday - Sunday through October 28, $79
The atmosphere was thick with foreboding as the audience entered New York Theatre Workshop on October 5 to see Heidi Schreck’s What the Constitution Means to Me. Earlier that day, the Judiciary Committee had voted to advance the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh for Supreme Court Justice to the Senate floor. But it didn’t take long for Schreck, acknowledging the situation without specific details or names, to establish a cathartic relationship that had everyone laughing, adding substantial doses of hope to offset our lurking fear. When she was a fifteen-year-old girl in the “abortion-free zone” of Wenatchee, Washington, in the mid-1980s, Schreck earned money for college by participating in debates in American Legion Halls about the Constitution. She eventually decided to adapt that experience into a primarily one-woman show, moving back and forth between her current self, a Brooklyn-based actress and writer (Nurse Jackie, I Love Dick, The Consultant), and her past, as she explores her burgeoning sexuality, her family’s history of mental illness, and her personal connection to the Constitution. But her focus is on the “living document” that was written in 1787 and ratified the next year. “Is it protecting us, or is it the source of our problems?” she asks.
Schreck, whose inspirations include such other autofiction writers as Chris Kraus and Lisa Kron, the 1950 book Your Rugged Constitution, and Patrick Swayze in Dirty Dancing, addresses the audience directly throughout, either as twenty-first-century theatergoers or representatives of the older white men who attended the American Legion debates (as well as the older white men who still dominate Congress?). Rachel Hauck’s set consists of a few chairs and small tables, a central podium, and three sides of a wall displaying more than a hundred framed photographs of legionnaires, uniformly white men in caps. Jen Schriever’s lighting stays on through much of the show, maintaining a close relationship between audience and performers. Schreck concentrates primarily on the Ninth and Fourteenth Amendments, dealing with enumerated rights and equal protection under the law, examining them from a distinctly feminist point of view. “When I started making this ten years ago, I had fundamental faith in this document. One I think most of us share,” she says. “I knew it was born in corruption. I knew that the people who made it were slave owners, who didn’t think women and people of color were fully human. But I believed in the genius of this document, in its ability to evolve over time. Now I wonder, though, what does it mean that the document will not protect us from the violence of men?” It’s a poignant, powerful question that is ripped right from the headlines in an ever-more-divided country where even the validity of sexual assault seems to be based on party affiliation. Schreck also offers ideas for a better future. “There are two kinds of rights: negative rights and positive rights,” she explains. “Negative rights protect us from the government taking our stuff, locking us up, killing us. Positive rights include things like the right to a free education, and in some countries to health care, and a basic standard of living. . . . Why shouldn’t we have a positive rights constitution that actively protects all of us?”
Over the course of ninety-plus minutes, Schreck openly and honestly shares intimate moments from her life, often receiving understanding nods of agreement and acknowledgment from the audience. She never changes her outfit or her voice, making it occasionally difficult to tell which part of her life she is talking about, somewhere between the ages of fifteen and forty-seven. At one point she defends the play’s structure, arguing that a critic who claimed it was flawed is just plain wrong. There are indeed a few minor structural flaws, but that doesn’t prevent the show from being vastly entertaining, thought-provoking, and damn important. She is joined onstage by Mike Iveson (The Sound & the Fury, Plenty), who at first portrays an American Legion Hall moderator but has a surprise in store later, and either Thursday Williams or Rosdley Ciprian, two high school students who engage in a live debate with Schreck. Director Oliver Butler (The Amateurs, The Open House) keeps it grounded; although there is a basic script, there is also plenty of room for extemporaneous speech. And the final topic, about whether the Constitution should be preserved as is, updated, or abolished, could not be more timely as chatter about a constitutional crisis follows the current administration. Perhaps Schreck should present her work in front of a joint session of Congress. Not that it would do any good these days. Yet there is hope to be found in such future political stars as Williams and Ciprian.