Kate Hamill strips down Louisa May Alcott’s classic semiautobiographical children’s book, Little Women, to its bare essentials in her self-described “radical adaptation,” a Primary Stages production continuing at the Cherry Lane through June 29. Hamill, who previously wrote and starred in dynamic versions of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice and William Makepeace Thackeray’s Vanity Fair, explores gender identity and traditional male and female roles as it relates to both the mid-to-late nineteenth century and today. The story zooms in on Jo March (Kristolyn Lloyd), a tomboy who wants to break out of her family’s small world by going to college, becoming a writer, and traveling through Europe. She lives with her mother, known as Marmie (usually Maria Elena Ramirez, although I saw Mary Bacon, who also plays Aunt March), who understands the significant differences among her children; the oldest sister, Meg (Kate Hamill), already a spinster at sixteen; the sweet but sickly thirteen-year-old Beth (Paola Sanchez Abreu); the youngest, twelve-year-old Amy (Carmen Zilles), who is determined to find her Prince Charming; and their maid, Hannah (Ellen Harvey, who also portrays Mrs. Mingott), who is pitching in more than ever while the family patriarch, Robert March (John Lenartz), is off fighting for the Union in the Civil War.
Fifteen-year-old Jo develops an intimate friendship with their new neighbor, Laurie (Nate Mann), an effeminate piano-playing orphan who lives on a large estate with his wealthy grandfather, Mr. Laurence (Lenartz), and is being tutored by John Brooks (Michael Crane, who also plays the nasty parrot). The tutor is preparing Laurie for upper-middle-class manhood: college followed by heading up the family business, which he is loathe to do. “I’m not very good at being a, you know, a ‘lady,’” Jo, who shortened her name from the more feminine Josephine, says to Laurie, who prefers being called that instead of his more masculine given name of Theodore. “I’m not very good at being a ‘gentleman.’ So perhaps we should — be ourselves,” he says. They are mirror images of each other, both wanting to further their education and travel overseas while just being their not-so-cisgender selves, an option open to them in 2019 but not in the 1860s.
Hamill has excised many supporting characters and changed several key plot points in order to focus more on the family dynamic and the individual sisters’ relationships. “You’re all growing up so fast,” Marmie says. In fact, the word “grow” is used extensively throughout the play. “In this story, they never grow up. They just stay the same, and it lasts forever,” Jo tells Beth when she’s about to read her one of her tales. “Nothing lasts forever,” Jo responds. “We all grow up, eventually,” Laurie says later with a tinge of sadness. “One isn’t better than the other. They just need different things to grow,” Marmie says about flowers but referring to her children as well. Meanwhile, Hannah explains, “Took care of all of you since you were babies. Each one of you growing different than the other.” In Hamill’s view, as kids head toward adulthood, they don’t have to follow societal norms and do what’s expected of them; they can make their own choices, follow their dreams.
Purists shouldn’t be worried; this is still Alcott’s Little Women, even as it’s reclaimed by Hamill, whose mother first gave her the book when Kate was reaching puberty. She is not reinventing or reimagining it so much as bringing a contemporary perspective that is refreshing while still remaining true to the heart of the novel. The play, which, even with its changes, sticks more to the original story than Hamill’s previous works, is briskly directed by Sarna Lapine on Mikiko Suzuki MacAdams’s two-level set, the upstairs containing Jo’s writing desk and Beth’s bed, the main floor serving as multiple locations with very minor adjustments. Lloyd (Dear Evan Hansen, Paradise Blue) is superb as Jo, prancing about with a fake mustache, wearing men’s clothes (the fine period costumes are by Valérie Thérèse Bart), and determined to make something of herself, but as a person, not specifically as a woman. In his New York debut, Mann, a recent Juilliard grad, is wonderful; he and Jo practically melt into each other. And Hamill is a cool Meg, giving her more weight in this adaptation. The play also features a lovely piano score by Deborah Abramson, which works its way into the narrative. We can’t get enough of Hamill’s ingenuity and can’t wait to see which classic she tackles next.
I knew there was a problem the moment I walked into the theater where the Mint is staging the American premiere of Micheál mac Liammóir’s controversial 1948 play, The Mountains Look Different. The company, which specializes in resurrecting long-forgotten works by little-known writers, is justly celebrated for its exquisitely rendered period sets, which often elicit gasps of joy from the audience. But the set for this production, continuing at Theatre Row through July 14, is standard and ordinary, a small farmhouse with painted backdrops of mountains and sky. (The set designer is Vicki R. Davis, who has previously wowed us with her sets for such previous Mint shows as Katie Roche, Women without Men, and The Price of Thomas Scott.) Unfortunately, the play can be described as plain and ordinary as well, a rarity for Jonathan Bank’s supremely talented and otherwise consistently dependable Mint.
It’s St. John’s Eve in the west of Ireland, and miller Matthew Conroy (Paul O’Brien) has arrived at the home of Martin Grealish (Con Horgan) to greet his niece, Bairbre (Brenda Meaney), and her new husband, Tom (Jesse Pennington), Martin’s son, who are coming back from London, where Bairbre toiled for thirteen years. While the happy and positive Matthew is excited by the marriage, the dour, bedraggled Martin is suspicious, and he grows even more leery when the couple shows up: He doesn’t trust that the modern, elegant Bairbre can possibly be in love with his odd and awkward son. And when he thinks he recognizes Bairbre, matters get even worse.
St. John’s Eve is a night of bonfires, but The Mountains Look Different, which was inspired by Eugene O’Neill’s Anna Christie, never ignites. It is a one-note morality play, lacking depth and nuance, directed with overly straightforward precision by actor Aidan Redmond. The acting is fine; the cast also includes Daniel Marconi as farm handyman Bartley, Liam Forde as addled tin whistler Batty Wallace, and Cynthia Mace as an old woman named Máire, who declares, “Oh, isn’t it a glorious thing a lone woman to have a man around the place the way he could be putting in a word for her or be striking a blow for her, and she not able to make a stir for herself with the dint of the weakness does be on all female women, God help us!” However, the story surrounding the play is more intriguing than the play itself: There were religious protests over immorality when the show first opened at the Gate, and Gate cofounder mac Liammóir (The Importance of Being Oscar, Where Stars Walk) — who portrayed Tom — was, twelve years after his death in 1978, revealed to not be Irish at all but an Englishman named Alfred Willmore.
849 Sixth Ave. between 29th & 30th Sts.
Sunday, June 23, $55 (6:00 entry), $80 (5:15 entry), 25% with discount code MINT
You don’t have to go to southern France to enjoy a Côtes du Rhône culinary experience, as southern France is coming to New York City. On June 23, the Côtes du Rhône Festival takes place at Second, an event space on Sixth Ave., featuring more than sixty regional wines paired with a variety of food dishes. Such sommeliers as Betsy Ross of L’avenue, Fred Dex aka the Juiceman, Nicolas Prieto from the Grand Hyatt New York City, Anna Cabrales of Morrell Wine Bar & Cafe, and Meaghan Levy of the Pierre New York will select whites, reds, and rosés to be served with such plates as assorted country pate, mustards, pickles, and crostini; purple tomato skewers with Reblochon cheese, turnip seed oil, and Shibazi spice; sirloin tartare, fleur de sel, rosé vin, fried capers, cured yolk, and crostini; beef Wellington sausage with grain mustard; Boudin blanc sausage; mussels Suzette, crispy leeks, and sherry and pepper conserva; gnocchi Parisienne, aged comte, yomato jus, and wildflower honey; and praline profiteroles of cocoa choux, hazelnut ice cream, vanilla-tonka chantilly, and chocolate sauce. The menu is prepared by such chefs as Tyler Atwell of Lafayette Grand Café, Kimberly Plafke of Grand Army, Raymond Smith of Blacksmith’s Breads, Drew Buzzio of Salumeria Biellese, Phillip Kirschen-Clark of the Milling Room, Jocelyn Guest and Erika Nakamura of J & E Smallgoods, David Robinson of Formaggio Kitchen, Eric Simpson of the East Pole, Joshua Smith, Mary Dumont, and Mitch Willis and Garth Jobb of Hudson & Charles Dinette and Butcher Shop. Tickets are $55 for general entry at 6:00 and $80 for early-bird VIP admission at 5:15; use discount code MINT to save 25%.
BEFORE STONEWALL: THE MAKING OF A GAY AND LESBIAN COMMUNITY (Greta Schiller, 1984)
34 West 13th St. between Fifth & Sixth Aves.
Opens Friday, June 21
“Unless otherwise stated, the people who appear in this film should not be presumed to be homosexual . . . or heterosexual,” it says at the beginning of Before Stonewall, the 1984 documentary that has been restored for the fiftieth anniversary of the Stonewall riots. Executive producer John Scagliotti, director Greta Schiller, and codirector Robert Rosenberg go back in time to show the evolution of gay liberation that led up to the events of June 28 to July 1, 1969. Narrated by Rubyfruit Jungle author Rita Mae Brown, the film combines new interviews with archival footage of silent movies, personal photographs, songs, intimate recollections, and poignant anecdotes, both painful and funny. “Homosexuality has always been a dirty word,” says artist and writer Richard Bruce Nugent. “I cannot remember, in my seventy-some years, a time when it wasn’t a dirty word. But on the other hand, homosexuality, the practice of it, was not a dirty thing.”
Writer and former dancer Harry Otis, retired bookkeeper Donna Smith, activist and Mattachine Society cofounder Harry Hay, domestic worker and dancer Mabel Hampton, newspaper reporter and WWII army chaplain George Buse, priest Grant Gallup, entertainer Carroll Davis, journalist and archivist Jim Kepner, US government scientist Frank Kameny, poet Allen Ginsberg, and historian and playwright Martin Duberman are among those who share stories about discrimination they experienced and how they fought to maintain their identity. WAC soldier Nell “Johnnie” Phelps’s anecdote about General Dwight D. Eisenhower is one of the best Ike tales you’ll ever hear.
The film looks at censorship, secret parties, all-gay theater, the Hays Code, homosexuality in the military, drag queens, Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s HUAC hearings, same-sex marriage, gay publications, and Black Power as the desire for freedom for gays and lesbians builds, leading to the Stonewall rebellion. “In the sixties, there was a distinct change in the temper and the tempo of the gay movement, partly as a result of the black civil rights militancy,” activist Barbara Gittings says. “We began to get more militant in the gay movement. We began to see that the problem of homosexuality is not really gay people’s problem. It’s a problem of the social attitudes of the people around us, and we had to change their attitudes, and that in turn would help us with our self-image.” Despite how far they’ve come, however, gays and lesbians still have a long way to go in an America that has still not fully accepted them. Before Stonewall opens June 21 at the Quad, with Q&As with Schiller, Rosenberg, and research director Andrea Weiss on June 21 at 6:30, with Rosenberg on June 222 at 7:05, and with Schiller, Weiss, production manager Amy Chen, historical consultant Blanche Wiesen Cook, and Lesli Klainberg on June 23 at 2:50, moderated by Tracy Daniels.
Swedish-born, Berlin-based Carolina Hellsgård follows her 2015 debut, Wanja, with Endzeit — Ever After, a gripping feminist gothic zombie movie. In a postapocalyptic world, flesh-eating zombies wander hungrily through the land, looking for living souls to consume. Twenty-two-year-old Vivi (Gro Swantje Kohlhof), haunted by the memory of leaving behind her beloved younger sister, Renata (Amy Schuk), and determined to find her, arrives at a fenced-in outpost that is one of only two places where humans have survived. It is run by the warden (Barbara Philipp), who keeps a tight grip on the rules to keep everyone alive. After a zombie attacks, the meek Vivi is soon on the run with tough-as-nails twenty-six-year-old Eva (Maja Lehrer) as they attempt to make it through the Black Forest to the town of Jena. But without much food and water and with zombies liable to jump out at them at any moment, safety is a long way away.
Endzeit is a dystopian tale by and about women: The screenplay was written by Olivia Vieweg, based on her graphic novel; Leah Striker’s cinematography is lush and beautiful; Julia Oehring and Ruth Schönegge serve as editors; Jenny Roesler did the sets; Teresa Grosser designed the costumes, highlighted by a white wedding dress; Franziska Henke composed the eerie score; and the film was produced by Claudia Schröter and executive produced by Ingelore König. Men are inconsequential in this hellish future, where Mother Nature is in charge. There might be a lot of blood and gore and fear, but the land is in full bloom, with gorgeous green fields, healthy, flourishing plants and trees, and warm sunshine. At one point Vivi encounters a gardener (Trine Dyrholm) who appears to be part of the earth itself. Hellsgård and Vieweg have created a different kind of zombie flick, where the protagonists face their individual guilt as they search for freedom in a dangerous landscape bursting with life. It also demonstrates the failure of fences to do only one job — keeping others out. Endzeit opens June 21 at IFC, with Hellsgård participating in Q&As following the 7:45 shows on June 21 and 22.
A BIGGER SPLASH (Jack Hazan, 1974)
7 Ludlow St. between Canal & Hester Sts.
Opens Friday, June 21
Just in time to coincide with Pride celebrations throughout New York City in honor of the fiftieth anniversary of the Stonewall riots, Metrograph is premiering a 4K restoration of Jack Hazan’s pivotal 1974 A Bigger Splash, a fiction-nonfiction hybrid that was a breakthrough work for its depiction of gay culture as well as its inside look at the fashionable and chic Los Angeles art scene of the early 1970s. This past November, David Hockney’s Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) sold at auction for $90.3 million, the most ever paid for a work by a living artist. A Bigger Splash, named after another of Hockney’s paintings — both are part of a series of canvases set around pools in ritzy Los Angeles — takes place over three years, as the British artist, based in California at the time, hangs out with friends, checks out a fashion show, prepares for a gallery exhibition, and works on Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) in the wake of a painful breakup with his boyfriend, model, and muse, Peter Schlesinger, who is a key figure in the painting.
It’s often hard to know which scenes are pure documentary and which are staged for the camera as Hazan and his then-parter, David Mingay, who served as director of photography, tag along with Hockney, who rides around in his small, dirty BMW, meeting up with textile designer Celia Birtwell, fashion designer Ossie Clark, curator Henry Geldzahler, gallerist John Kasmin, artist Patrick Procktor, and others, who are identified only at the beginning, in black-and-white sketches during the opening credits. The film features copious amounts of male nudity, including a long sex scene between two men, a group of beautiful boys diving into a pool in a fantasy sequence, and Hockney disrobing and taking a shower. Hockney’s assistant, Mo McDermott, contributes occasional voice-overs; he also poses as the man standing on the deck in Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures), only to be replaced by Schlesinger later. There are several surreal moments involving Hockney’s work: He cuts up one painting; Geldzahler gazes long and hard at himself in the double portrait of him and Christopher Scott; and Hockney tries to light the cigarette Procktor is holding in a painting as Procktor watches, cigarette in hand, mimicking his pose on canvas. At one point Hockney is photographing Schlesinger in Kensington Gardens, reminiscent of Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow-Up, which questions the very nature of capturing reality on film.
Hockney was so upset when he first saw A Bigger Splash, which Hazan made for about twenty thousand dollars, that he offered to buy it back from Hazan in order to destroy it; Hazan refused, and Hockney went into a deep depression. His friends ultimately convinced him that it was a worthwhile movie and he eventually accepted it. It’s a one-of-a-kind film, a wild journey that goes far beyond the creative process as an artist makes his masterpiece. Hockney, who will turn eighty-two next month, has been on quite a roll of late. He was the subject of a 2016 documentary by Randall Wright, was widely hailed for his 2018 Met retrospective, saw one of his paintings set an auction record, and is scheduled to have a major drawing show at the National Portrait Gallery next year. In addition, Catherine Cusset’s novel, Life of David Hockney, was just published in English, a fictionalized tale that conceptionally recalls A Bigger Splash, which opens June 21 at Metrograph, with various Q&As and introductions by Hazan, Richard Haines and Alexander Olch, Nick McCarthy, Ryan McNamara, Matt Wolf, and Cusset from June 21 to 30. And if you can’t get enough of Hockney, Anita Rogers is showing “Films by James Scott, Etchings by David Hockney” through July 27, consisting of Hockney’s 1966 series “Illustrations for Fourteen Poems from C. P. Cavafy” and Scott’s 1966 documentary short about the series, Love’s Presentation.