John Patrick Shanley’s Prodigal Son is exactly the kind of play that makes us love the theater: a beautifully written, directed, and acted work about believable people we can respect, in realistic situations that entertain and educate us about ourselves and others. Prodigal Son, which Shanley both wrote and directs, is the culmination of his unofficial autobiographical trilogy, which began with 1991’s Beggars in the House of Plenty and continued with 2004’s Doubt: A Parable; all three have been first presented by Manhattan Theatre Club. In this world premiere, which opened last night at City Center, Timothée Chalamet stars as Jim Quinn, a bright but confused adolescent from the Bronx who is off to the Thomas More Preparatory School in New Hampshire after having problems at previous educational institutions. “Do you remember fifteen? For me, it was a special, beautiful room in hell,” he tells the audience at the start. The school’s founder and director, Carl Schmitt (Chris McGarry), a devout Catholic, decides to take a chance on the tough-talking, working-class Jim. “We don’t have another boy like him,” he explains to Alan Hoffman (Robert Sean Leonard), the head of the English department who becomes a mentor to Jim. A lonely kid obsessed with poetry, Nazis, and defending and supporting his older brother who is a soldier in Vietnam (the play takes place from 1965 to 1968), Jim gets into fights with fellow students, steals odd objects, drinks apricot brandy, and breaks other rules that should get him expelled, but Mr. Schmitt sticks with him. “He’s the most interesting mess we have this year,” he says to Mr. Hoffman. But as much trouble as he is, Jim is also an extremely clever young dreamer with fascinating insight into life. “It’s a prison to think things are impossible,” he says to his math-nerd roommate, Austin Lord Schmitt (David Potters), Mr. Schmitt’s nephew. Later, meeting with Louise Schmitt (Annika Boras), Mr. Schmitt’s wife and an English teacher at the school, Jim says, “People are born somebody. They don’t choose who they are. I was born me. I don’t get to be somebody else, even if I want to be someone else.” “Do you want to be somebody else?” Mrs. Schmitt asks. “What’s it matter? I can’t be,” he responds. “I’m Jim Quinn. I was born Jim Quinn and I’ll die Jim Quinn.” It all comes to a head as graduation nears and Jim’s immediate future is very much in doubt.
Prodigal Son is a deeply personal story, based on Shanley’s real experiences at the real Thomas More school, which was founded and run by the real Mr. Schmitt. (In fact, a special preview of the play was recently held for current and former students and faculty members.) It’s no surprise that the show is highly literate, with discussions of “The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam,” Plato and Socrates, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and Sigmund Freud, and T. S. Eliot’s “The Wasteland” that avoid getting overly pedantic. The five characters are extremely well drawn, avoiding genre stereotypes while including several shocking plot twists. Chalamet (Homeland, Interstellar), a graduate of the LaGuardia High School of Performing Arts and who was born and raised in Hell’s Kitchen, is a whirlwind as Jim, gesticulating wildly — much of which was inspired by Shanley’s (Moonstruck, Outside Mullingar) own proclivities — and approaching the world with eyes wide open, hopeful for the possibilities it offers while worried he might never find his place in it. McGarry, who has previously appeared in Shanley’s Doubt, Defiance, Dirty Story, and Where’s My Money?, is steadfast as Mr. Schmitt, a God-fearing man whose convictions are severely tested by Jim. Boras (Chair, The Broken Heart) is radiant as Mrs. Schmitt, a bright and charming woman who is much more than a mere appendage of her husband; her involvement with Jim is critical to his potential success. Santo Loquasto’s engaging set includes a miniature version of the school in the back and bare trees on the sides that move as various rooms slide in and off the stage; the interstitial music is by Paul Simon, with lighting by Natasha Katz. But at the center of it all is the Tony-, Pulitzer-, and Oscar-winning Shanley himself, finally sharing a story he’s wanted to tell for decades. “I wish you could have been there,” Shanley writes in a program note. After experiencing Prodigal Son, you’ll feel like you were.
“I’m late! I’m late! For a very important date! No time to say hello, goodbye! I’m late! I’m late! I’m late!” the White Rabbit, checking his pocket watch, declares in Walt Disney’s Alice in Wonderland animated movie. If you don’t act fast, you’ll be too late to catch visual artist Alicja Kwade’s first solo public project in America, “Against the Run,” which will be on view through Valentine’s Day on Doris C. Freedman Plaza at the Sixtieth St. entrance to Central Park at Fifth Ave. In her 2006 video Ein Tag in 7 Minuten und 23 Sekunden, the Berlin-based Polish artist showed the progression of one day through a series of existing film clips of all kinds of clocks — four years before Christian Marclay debuted his twenty-four-hour installation, The Clock. Kwade often focuses on complex issues of time, space, and light while using found, ready-made objects (clocks, lamps, and mirrors are among her favorites) and tweaking them to turn them into something new. In the Public Art Fund group exhibition “Lightness of Being” two years ago in City Hall Park, Kwade, who has won the prestigious Piepenbrock Prize for Sculpture and the Hector Prize, contributed “Journey without Arrival (Raleigh),” a bicycle that seemed to have gone through a rather rough trip. For “Against the Run,” also for the Public Art Fund, Kwade has taken a classic nineteenth-century-style city street clock and played around with the internal mechanisms so that the face runs counterclockwise and the hands appear to be standing still. Nevertheless, the clock is always telling the correct time, even if it appears to be crooked and running backward. It forces you to stop and take some extra moments to understand what’s going on, offering a much-needed contemplative respite from the crazy busyness of now, especially in this overcrowded part of Midtown. As she has done so often, Kwade, who cites as influences such luminaries as Marcel Duchamp, Harry Houdini, Robert Smithson, and Gordon Matta-Clark, has given us a new reality that is really no different from our regular reality, just slightly askew, as if you’ve fallen down that rabbit hole and can’t quite get out.
149 West 45th St. between Broadway & Sixth Ave.
Tuesday - Sunday through February 21, $30-$135
As you enter the Lyceum Theatre to see Belgium-born, Amsterdam-based director Ivo van Hove’s gripping, Olivier Award–winning transformation of Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge, the curtain is up, and on the stage is a giant rectangular gray cube. It doesn’t quite reach the bottom, so you can get a teasing glimpse of the floor through a translucent border. On either side of the cube are six rows of rising pews, where some of the audience sits, like a jury waiting to hear the evidence. As if unveiling a magic trick, the cube slowly rises to the rafters, and onstage are Eddie Carbone (Mark Strong) and Louis (Richard Hansell), two Red Hook longshoremen furiously scrubbing their mostly bare bodies like they’re trying to cleanse their inner souls. “Justice is very important here,” a suited observer notes, strolling outside the two-foot-high bench that encircles three sides of the stage, with a nondescript door on the back wall. The easygoing man is Alfieri (Michael Gould), a neighborhood lawyer who is part Greek chorus, part Our Town–like narrator of this twentieth-century tragedy about misguided love, immigration, honor, morality, and, yes, justice. Eddie is the conscience of the play, a hardworking man who holds tight to his convictions, determined to make a better life for his orphaned niece, Catherine (Phoebe Fox), whom he is raising with his wife, Beatrice (Nicola Walker), a stabling influence. When Catherine is offered a job as a stenographer, the overprotective Eddie prefers that she finish school first. “That ain’t what I had in mind,” he says. Eddie and Beatrice take in two of Beatrice’s cousins from Sicily, Marco (Michael Zegen) and Rodolpho (Russell Tovey), illegal immigrants who have snuck into New York on a boat. While Marco is looking to work hard for several years, sending money back home to his wife and kids before making enough to return to Sicily and be with them again, Rodolpho wants to remain in New York and become a performer. When the light-hearted, flashy Rodolpho starts displaying what Eddie considers questionable tendencies — “The guy ain’t right,” Eddie says again and again — while also showing interest in Catherine, Eddie decides to step in between them, setting off a series of battles that have grave consequences.
Originally staged as a one-act in 1955 and then turned into a two-act show the next year directed by Peter Brook and starring Richard Harris and Anthony Quayle, A View from the Bridge is a stark examination of the American dream in mid-twentieth-century Brooklyn. Van Hove, who over his twenty-five-year career has created unique interpretations of works by Ingmar Bergman (Scenes from a Marriage, Persona), Luchino Visconti (Ludwig II), John Cassavetes (Faces, Husbands), Henrik Ibsen (Hedda Gabler), Pier Paolo Pasolini (Teorema), Tony Kushner (Angels in America), Eugene O’Neill (Mourning Becomes Electra, Long Day’s Journey into Night), and many others, in addition to helming the recent world premiere of Lazarus, his New York Theatre Workshop collaboration with David Bowie and Enda Walsh, gets to the gritty heart of A View from the Bridge, his first Miller adaptation, to be immediately followed by his version of The Crucible, which begins previews on Broadway at the end of February. Van Hove, who has also directed numerous operas, focuses on the operatic aspects of Miller’s narrative in this Young Vic production, highlighting oversized emotions, sexual jealousy, and fierce power struggles as the characters seem in the grip of psychological forces sometimes beyond their control, playing out to their inexorable conclusion. The stage, designed by van Hove’s longtime partner, Jan Versweyveld, is set up like a boxing ring, as the characters go at one another both verbally and physically; even Alfieri eventually becomes more than just a narrator, getting involved in the action as he steps through the door and into the middle of it all. Inside the “ring,” everyone is barefoot as raw passion bubbles to the surface and ugly truths are spat out. In his Broadway debut, the tall, bald Strong (The Imitation Game, Low Winter Sun) is a sensation, giving a brutally honest performance that has him barely able to stand up for his curtain call at the end, the exhaustion palpable all over his face and body. Fox is sweetly vulnerable as the tough-talking young woman caught between childhood and becoming an adult, still wanting to be that little girl while also exploring her burgeoning sexuality. Tom Gibbons’s sound design features a cinematic score that will not be to everyone’s taste, while the controversial ending will thrill some and disappoint others. And then, after two complex, intense, intermissionless hours, the gray cube comes back down, and the magic is put away until the next performance.
PUBLIC ENEMIES (Michael Mann, 2009)
BAMcinématek, BAM Rose Cinemas
30 Lafayette Ave. between Ashland Pl. & St. Felix St.
Monday, February 15, 5:00 & 8:00
Series continues through February 16
In the early years of talkies, around the time of the Great Depression, Hollywood — and America — fell in love with gangsters and gangster pictures. Edward G. Robinson, Paul Muni, and James Cagney became stars in such films as Little Caesar, Scarface, and Public Enemy. In 1967, right around the Summer of Love, the ultraviolent, highly stylized Bonnie and Clyde reinvigorated the genre, casting the notorious thieves as the can’t-miss glamorous duo of Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty, followed two years later by the can’t-miss glamorous duo of Paul Newman and Robert Redford as the title characters in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Then, in 2009, with the country deep into a recession and hot off the success of Ridley Scott’s American Gangster, powerhouse writer-director-producer Michael Mann (Thief, Miami Vice) went back to the 1930s for Public Enemies, a superb, exciting retelling of legendary bank robber and people’s hero John Dillinger.
Based on the book by Bryan Burrough, who praised Mann in the L.A. Times for getting so many — if not all, of course — of the facts, details, and even nuances right, Public Enemies begins with a prison break engineered by Dillinger in 1933, revealing him to be a sly, clever, and extremely smooth criminal, a violent villain impossible not to love, especially as played by Johnny Depp. (Dillinger has previously been portrayed by such actors as Warren Oates, Lawrence Tierney, and even Mark Harmon.) Dillinger puts together his crew, which includes John “Red” Hamilton (Jason Clarke), Harry Pierpont (David Wenham), and Homer Van Meter (Stephen Dorff), and falls in love with coat-check girl Billie Frechette (Marion Cotillard) as he proceeds on his well-publicized crime wave. A blustery J. Edgar Hoover (Billy Crudup) sics master G-man Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale) on Dillinger, and the two play a cat-and-mouse game through the Midwest, with appearances by such other notorious gangsters as Pretty Boy Floyd (Channing Tatum), Frank Nitti (Bill Camp), Baby Face Nelson (Stephen Graham), and Alvin Karpis (Giovanni Ribisi). The bullets keep flying as Dillinger grows bolder and bolder and Purvis gets closer and closer. Public Enemies is a classy, handsome gangster picture for the modern age, a fun trip back to a time before billion-dollar bank bailouts, when certain thieves were more like Robin Hood than Bernie Madoff. Public Enemies is screening February 15 at 5:00 & 8:00 in the BAMcinématek series “Heat & Vice: The Films of Michael Mann,” a twelve-film, twelve-day tribute to the Chicago-born producer, director, and screenwriter, who turned sixty-three on the first day of the festival, February 5. The Emmy-winning, Oscar-nominated Mann will be at BAM on February 11 ($30, 7:30) for “An Evening with Michael Mann,” a conversation moderated by Bilge Ebiri at the BAM Harvey. The series continues through February 16 with such other Mann films as Ali, Manhunter, The Insider, and The Keep.
CinéSalon: LE COMBAT DANS L’ÎLE (FIRE AND ICE) (Alain Cavalier, 1962)
French Institute Alliance Française, Florence Gould Hall
55 East 59th St. between Madison & Park Aves.
Tuesday, February 9, $14, 4:00 & 7:30
Series continues Tuesdays through February 23
FIAF’s wide-ranging “Lhomme Behind the Camera” CinéSalon series continues February 9 with a double rare treat: a visit by the man himself, master cinematographer Pierre Lhomme. The eighty-five-year-old Lhomme, who has shot more than sixty films for such directors as Jean-Pierre Melville, Robert Bresson, William Klein, Marguerite Duras, James Ivory, Ismail Merchant, Benoît Jacquot, Patrice Chéreau, and Volker Schlöndorff, will be at Florence Gould Hall on February 9 for a Q&A following the second of two screenings of Alain Cavalier’s ravishing debut, the rarely shown and underappreciated 1962 neonoir Le combat dans l’île. The gripping French New Wave film, which was rediscovered in 2009, combines a crime thriller with a love triangle, shot in shadowy, smokey black-and-white by Lhomme. Jean-Louis Trintignant (The Conformist, A Man and a Woman) is stoic as Clément Lesser, a member of a small, right-wing radical group determined to change things in France by any means necessary. Romy Schneider (Purple Noon Mädchen in Uniform) is warm and charming as Anne Lesser, Clément’s wife, a party girl who is growing tired of her husband’s cold, controlling nature and his secret rendezvous with the group, which is led by mastermind Serge (Pierre Asso). After an assassination attempt goes awry, Clément and Anne hide out at the isolated home of Clément’s childhood friend, Paul (Jules et Jim’s Henri Serre), a left-wing idealist who prints political material. When Clément has to set out on his own, Anne and Paul become close, setting up both a philosophical and romantic battle between the two old friends.
Cavalier (Thérèse, Un étrange voyage) and Lhomme (Army of Shadows, The Mother and the Whore) create a tense, claustrophobic atmosphere in Le combat dans l’île, with Lhomme’s slowly moving camera — a Cameflex that was so noisy that all of the dialogue had to be dubbed in later — closing in on his characters in small rooms, where they sometimes emerge from complete darkness. The story is a kind of parable about French politics in the 1960s, following the landslide victory of Charles de Gaulle, who would survive several assassination attempts during his ten years as president. Le combat dans l’île also boasts quite a pedigree, with Cavalier’s mentor, Louis Malle, serving as producer, dialogue written with Jean-Paul Rappenau, and an outstanding score by French composer Serge Nigg; Cavalier said the film’s father was Bresson and mother was Jean Renoir. The solid cast also includes Jacques Berlioz as Clément’s wealthy and powerful industrialist father, Maurice Garrel as left-wing politician Terrasse, and Diane Lepvrier as Cécile, Paul’s young housekeeper. The FIAF series continues February 16 with Chris Marker and Lhomme’s Le Joli Mai and concludes February 23 with Rappenau’s Cyrano de Bergerac, starring Gérard Depardieu.
Gōng xǐ fā cái! New York City is ready to celebrate the Year of the Monkey this month with special events all over town. The seventeenth New Year Firecracker Ceremony and Cultural Festival will explode in and around Sara D. Roosevelt Park on February 8 at 11:00 am, with live music and dance, speeches by politicians, drum groups, lion, dragon, and unicorn dancers making their way through local businesses, and more than half a million rounds of firecrackers warding off evil spirits and welcoming in a prosperous new year. Also on February 8, China Institute will host “A Taste of Chinese New Year” (free, 12 noon - 5:00 pm) featuring Mandarin classes, a China Ink workshop, and more; on February 13 (free, 12 noon - 5:00), China Institute invites everyone back for a family celebration including lion dances, kung fu demonstrations, arts & crafts, and dumplings.
The New York Philharmonic gets into the party spirit with Long Yu conducting a multimedia Chinese New Year Concert at David Geffen Hall on February 9 ($35-$110, 7:30) with violinist Maxim Vengerov and harpist Nancy Allen performing Li Huanzhi’s “Spring Festival Overture,” Chen Gang and He Zhanhao’s “The Butterfly Lovers Violin Concerto,” Kreisler’s “Tambourin Chinois,” and Tan Dun’s “Nu Shu: The Secret Songs of Women.” The Flushing Lunar New Year Parade takes place February 13 at 9:30. Dr. Hsing-Lih Chou has again curated a Lunar New Year Dance Sampler at Flushing Town Hall on February 14 (free, 12 noon). The seventeenth annual Chinatown Lunar New Year Parade and Festival will wind its way through Chinatown, Sara D. Roosevelt Park, and Columbus Park on February 14 starting at 1:00, with cultural booths in the park and a parade with floats, antique cars, live performances, and much more from China, Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia, Singapore, and other nations. The annual family festival at the Queens Botanical Garden is set for February 20 ($2-$4, 1:00 - 3:00). The New York Chinese Cultural Center will present a Lunar New Year program with folk dances, paper cutting, calligraphy, and lion dances at the Bronx Museum of the Arts also on February 20 (free, 2:00 - 4:00).
The Museum of Chinese in America celebrates the holiday with its annual Lunar New Year Family Festival on February 20 ($10, 11:00 am – 4:00 pm) with live music and dance, demonstrations and workshops, storytelling, arts and crafts, and more. One of our favorite restaurants, Xi’an Famous Foods, will be hosting a Lunar New Year Festival concert at Terminal 5 on February 20 ($60-$200, 5:30) with Far East Movement, Kimberley Chen, Soft Lipa, and Kina Grannis, benefiting Apex for Youth. There will be a Hao Bang Ah Monkey Puppet Show by Chinese Theatre Works, calligraphy workshops, a zodiac-themed scavenger hunt, and arts & crafts at the Prospect Park Zoo and the Queens Zoo on February 27-28 ($6-$8). And finally, the Lantern Festival is set for February 28 (free, 11:30 am - 3:30 pm) in Sunset Park on Eighth Ave. between Fifty-Third & Fifty-Fifth Sts.
Who: Dave Stewart and Mick Rock
What: Conversation about new book
Where: Barnes & Noble, 150 East 86th St. at Lexington Ave., 212-369-2180
When: Wednesday February 10, free, 7:00
Why: “I love Dave’s constant creative search and his passion for making music; I love the fact that he’s constantly pushing the boundaries of what we think is possible,” Mick Jagger writes in the foreword to Dave Stewart’s memoir, Sweet Dreams Are Made of This: A Life in Music (New American Library, February 9, $27.95). “He creates a fertile environment in which it’s almost impossible not to be creative and innovative. This environment includes a compulsory martini at seven thirty in the evening, although by ten thirty, no one has gone home and everyone in the control room is dancing.” British songwriter, musician, and producer Stewart will be at the 86th St. B&N on February 10 to discuss his brand-new book, which details his life and times from a small child through his glory years with Annie Lennox in the Eurythmics to his collaborations with such superstars as Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin, George Harrison, Stevie Nicks, Tom Petty, Jagger, and so many others. “I’ve had the chance to experience this wonderful state of being in the moment with some of the greatest artists on the planet,” Stewart, who also delves into his battle with pheochromocytoma, explains in the introduction. Legendary photographer Mick Rock, who has shot such musicians as Syd Barrett, Joan Jett, David Bowie, Alicia Keys, Lou Reed, Iggy Pop, Queen, Ellie Goulding, the Sex Pistols, Snoop Dogg, the Killers, Michael Buble, and Daft Punk, will host the conversation. Preferred seating is available for this wristband event with the purchase of the book at the store; no word yet on whether martinis will be served.