August 22-28, free (some events require advance RSVP)
City Parks Foundation’s twenty-sixth annual Charlie Parker Jazz Festival, a five-day SummerStage salute to the Kansas City–born saxophonist known as Bird and Yardbird, kicks off August 22 at 2:00 with a Family Jazz Party with Adam O’Farrill and Immanuel Wilkins at the National Jazz Museum in Harlem, followed at 7:00 by “Paper Man @ 50,” a conversation with trumpeter Charles Tolliver and saxophonist Gary Bartz on the occasion of the golden anniversary of the recording of Tolliver’s debut album. On August 23 at 5:30, the School of Jazz and Contemporary Music at the New School will host a “Paul Motian Tribute” featuring excerpts from Michael Patrick Kelly’s upcoming documentary Motian in Motion, a Q&A moderated by guitarist Steve Cardenas, and a live set by Cardenas, Frank Kimbrough, and Ben Allison. Also at 5:30, the Jazz Foundation of America and Ariana’s List present “Jazz in the Garden: George Braith,” with the saxophonist playing in the 6BC Botanical Garden. And at 7:30, the Maysles Documentary Center will present a free screening of Jake Meginsky’s Milford Graves Full Mantis, with Meginsky and Graves, who turns seventy-seven today, participating in a Q&A after the film. On August 24 at 5:30, for “Jazz in the Garden: Antoine Rooney,” the tenor and soprano saxophonist will perform in the Harlem Rose Garden.
The festival hits the next level on Friday night, when Tolliver will celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of Paper Man in Marcus Garvey Park with special guests Bartz, Jack DeJohnette, Buster Williams, and a surprise; vocalist Brianna Thomas gets things going with a Jazzmobile show at 7:00. On Saturday at 3:00, pianist Monty Alexander and the Harlem Kingston Express, vocalist Catherine Russell, pianist Matthew Whitaker and his trio, and trumpeter Keyon Harrold will take the stage in Marcus Garvey Park. And the partying reaches its crescendo on Sunday afternoon at 3:00 in Tompkins Square Park with the Gary Bartz Quartet, the Bad Plus, pianist Amina Claudine Myers, and the newly commissioned work “UNHEARD,” a Bird tribute with Wilkins, Joel Ross, and O’Farrill.
New York City–based multimedia conceptual artist Adam Pendleton makes his manifesto clear in “what a day was this,” an immersive installation continuing at Lever House through August 28. The thirty-four-year-old Pendleton has combined black-and-white text and visuals and mirrors from his series “OK DADA OK BLACK DADA OK” and “System of Display” along with silkscreen works on Mylar. Words such as naive, function, and if can barely be read through redacted-like black blotches on several canvases. Large-scale spiral notebooks contain quotes from W. E. B. Du Bois’s The Souls of Black Folk, which declares, “The Nation has not yet found peace from its sins; the freedman has not yet found in freedom his promised land,” and Hugo Ball’s Dada Manifesto, which explains, “The word, gentlemen, is a public concern of the first importance.” A wall of masklike portraits of black faces, newspaper clippings (about the 1930 Congo Crisis and other events), and abstract geometric shapes looks out onto Park Ave. An unfinished question asks, “What is the bla?”
Pendleton, whose “Black Dada Flag (Black Lives Matter)” recently flew over Scylla Point, previously known as Negro Point, as part of the Frieze art fair on Randall’s Island, started writing poetry as a young boy in Richmond, Virginia. His mother was an elementary school teacher and his father a contractor and a musician. Pendleton, who lives in Brooklyn and Germantown with his husband, Yumami Food Company cofounder Karsten Ch’ien, and works in two studios in Sunset Park, has had such previous one-man and group shows as “shot him in the face; “I am you, you are too”; “Becoming Imperceptible”; and “How to Live Together” around the world. The site-specific “what a day was this” also includes excerpts from Du Bois’s “Of Our Spiritual Strivings” and Pendleton’s Black Dada Reader as well as an interview with choreographer Trajal Harrell. While the mirrors implicate the viewer, Lever House’s glass walls dare people outside to confront the systemic racism staring right at them. “Black Dada is a way to talk about the future while talking about the past. It is our present moment,” Pendleton says.
The Black Box Theater, the Sheen Center for Thought & Culture
18 Bleecker St. at Elizabeth St.
Thursday - Sunday through August 25, $57
Jonathan Leaf’s fifth new play in eighteen months looks at the last three years in the life of Russian literary giant Alexander Pushkin. The works of Leo Tolstoy, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Ivan Turgenev, Boris Pasternak, Vladimir Nabokov, Anton Chekhov, and Nicolai Gogol might get more attention in America, but Pushkin, who is perhaps most well known for two novels that were turned into operas, Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov and Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin — and whose 1830 drama Mozart and Salieri was the basis of Peter Shaffer’s award-winning play and film, Amadeus — is widely considered Russia’s greatest poet, and his literary influence continues around the world. Written in verse (which you might not realize at first), Pushkin: A Life Played Out takes place from 1834 to 1837, shortly after the November Uprising, as Pushkin (Ian Lassiter) meets weekly with Tsar Nicholas I (Gene Gillette) and the monarch’s ever-loyal right-hand man, Count Benkendorf (Lou Liberatore), who edit Pushkin’s poetry and prose to make sure it fits their political agenda, since they believe that his earlier writings helped foment that rebellion, even if Pushkin denies that was his intention. Meanwhile, the court, including the tsar, Benkendorf, and Dutch ambassador and heartthrob Count D’Anthes (Christopher Kelly), have become enamored of Pushkin’s wife, Natalya (Jenny Leona). At first, Natalya is more interested in seeing her two sisters, Alexandra (Lexi Lapp) and Katarina (Olivia Gilliatt), married off, but slowly she appears to be more receptive to the court’s romantic interest, as Pushkin, an atheist, grows more stern and desperate, gambling at cards, fearing becoming a cuckold, and trying to finish Eugene Onegin, which he has not shown to the tsar.
He further angers Nicholas by insisting the serfs be freed. “We advocate reform by lawful means. But I’ll bring him to end it — serfdom — soon,” Pushkin promises. Baron Delvig (Daniel Petzold) wants Pushkin to write about the current war, explaining to Natalya, “I’m just suggesting we might see the deaths — a line or two depicting how things are. He has the crown’s affection and concern —,” but Natalya responds, “Obedience is best.” Pushkin adds, “I can’t write lines to circulate in secret. Those days are gone. And would it matter anyway? The idea that my poems spurred the revolt: You admit, it’s absurd?” Pushkin’s friends, Delvig, Prince Dolgorukov (Michael Earle Fajardo), and Gogol (Kyle Cameron), attempt to keep him out of danger, but Pushkin is a determined man who strongly feels that the only noble way out of certain situations is via the duel.
Presented by the american vicarious and running at the Sheen Center for Though & Culture through August 25, Pushkin: A Life Played Out is expertly directed by Christopher McElroen (Piedmont Blues: A Search for Salutation, Waiting for Godot in New Orleans) on Troy Hourie’s spare set, between four rows of audience seats on two sides. Elivia Bovenzi has designed exquisite costumes, from regal formal wear and military garb to serf outfits worn by crewmembers who move about various tables, chairs, and desks in between scenes, all underneath a square, sometimes lighted temporary ceiling featuring handwritten quotes from Pushkin. However, most of what Pushkin says and recites in the show was created by Leaf (The Caterers, The Germans in Paris); in fact, the play features only three instances where Pushkin’s actual words are used, including the line “They only love the dead,” which Pushkin says to Gogol. Leaf and McElroen toss in a bit of Othello, as Pushkin deals with jealousy and is demeaned because of his part-African heritage. Lassiter (War Horse, An Octoroon) is sturdy and bold as Pushkin, his spectacular muttonchops practically a character all their own as he gets deeper into trouble. The rest of the cast is strong as well, from Tony nominee Liberatore’s (Burn This, As Is) stalwart portrayal of Benkendorf and Lapp’s (Aligator, STET) heartfelt Alexandra, who sees her brother-in-law as a heroic figure, to Tracy Sallows (Angels in America, The Audience), who plays the Pushkins’ serving-maid, with two sons who are among Alexander’s serfs, and Madame Goncharova, Natalya’s mother who wants only the best for her three daughters, two roles that emphasize the difference between rich and poor, serfdom and the aristocracy, and even males and females in Russian society. “No one’s free. You think that?” Gogol says early on to Pushkin. Delvig adds, “In Russia? In what ways are you free, Gogol?” He turns to Pushkin and says, “A dare: prove on your birthday that you’re free.” Of course, there is no easy answer in this taut, solid production.
The free summer arts & culture season is under way, with dance, theater, music, art, film, and other special outdoor programs all across the city. Every week we will be recommending a handful of events. Keep watching twi-ny for more detailed highlights as well.
Monday, August 20
Movies on the Waterfront: Black Panther (Ryan Coogler, 2018), Astoria Park Lawn, 8:30
Tuesday, August 21
Movies Under the Stars: Singin’ in the Rain (Gene Kelly & Stanley Donen, 1952), Poe Park, Bronx, 8:30
Wednesday, August 22
SummerStage: Mr. Gaga (Tomer Heymann, 2017), preceded by a performance by Gallim Dance, with a preshow Gaga/people class taught by Omri Drumlevich (advance RSVP required), Rumsey Playfield, Central Park, 8:00
Friday, August 24
Shakespeare: Macbeth, Fridays and Saturdays through September 8, no tarps allowed, Bryant Park Picnics, Bryant Park, 7:00
Saturday, August 25
Summer Concert Series: Joan Caddell & the Midnight Choir, Karlus Trapp, with wine and beer tastings and lawn games, chairs and blankets encouraged, Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Garden, Staten Island, 7:00
Sunday, August 26
Staten Island Philharmonic in High Rock Park: Woodwinds Ensemble, High Rock Gate, Staten Island, 3:00
The twenty-eighth annual Coney Island Sand Sculpting Contest will take place on August 18, as amateur and semiprofessional individuals and groups will create masterpieces in the Brooklyn sand, many with a nautical theme (along with a few naughty ones). It’s a blast watching the constructions rise from nothing into some extremely elaborate works of impermanence. The event, which features cash prizes for family, individual adult, group adult, and people’s choice, is hosted by Astella Development Corporation and Brooklyn Community Services. While visiting Coney Island on August 18, you should also check out “The Museum of Interesting Things: The Summer of Love — The 1960’s and early 70’s” at the Coney Island Museum, the Coney Island Circus Sideshow, the “Ask The Experts” book reading and signing by Tessa Fontaine of The Electric Woman: A Memoir in Death-Defying Acts, and the Burlesque at the Beach presentation “The Wicked Gingers Present: A Night on Old Cape Cod at Coney Island USA!” in addition to riding the Cyclone and the Wonder Wheel.
WE THE ANIMALS (Jeremy Zagar, 2018)
Angelika Film Center, 18 West Houston St. at Mercer St., 212-995-2570
Landmark at 57 West, 657 West 57th St. at 12th Ave., 212-757-2280
Opens Friday, August 17
Documentarian Jeremy Zagar’s first feature, We the Animals, is a deeply sensitive and intimate coming-of-age drama about a ten-year-old boy on the cusp of starting to understand issues of race, class, and sexuality. Based on the 2011 novel by Justin Torres, a fictionalized version of his real family story, We the Animals is set in upstate New York in the 1990s, where Paps (Raúl Castillo) and Ma (Sheila Vand) are raising three young boys, Manny (Isaiah Kristian), Joel (Josiah Gabriel), and Jonah (Evan Rosado). Paps is a security guard from Puerto Rico, while Ma is of Italian-Irish heritage and works the graveyard shift at a brewery. The boys all sleep in the same room; they often huddle together and call out, “Body heat! Body heat!” as if they are one. But Jonah, the youngest, is a little different. He’s more delicate, needing more of his mother’s love and touch. He hides a notebook under the bed in which he writes down thoughts and draws pictures of flying and freedom, which are inventively brought to life by animator Mark Samsonovich. When Paps and Ma have a fight and the father leaves, it affects Jonah more than his brothers. He soon starts hanging around with a local non-Latinx teenager who introduces him to pornography, but it’s not the women who Jonah finds himself intrigued by. As his parents’ relationship continues to be volatile, Jonah grows more distant with his brothers as he explores new aspects of who he might be — or become.
Zagar (In a Dream, Captivated: The Trials of Pamela Smart) incorporated his documentary experience in making We the Animals, giving it a realistic feel as the story unfolds at a slow but natural pace. Cinematographer Zak Mulligan favors a handheld 16mm camera to further enhance the believability of the narrative. Zagar spent two and a half years first casting the boys, then working with them — all three first-time actors — before filming began. Zagar, who cites Lynne Ramsay (Ratcatcher, Morvern Callar) and Ken Loach (Kes, Riff-Raff) as major influences, and co-screenwriter Daniel Kitrosser remain faithful to the book, but Zagar often kept the camera rolling after a scripted scene, allowing the boys to improvise in character, and Zagar and coeditor Keiko Deguchi ended up using some of that footage in the final film. The story deals with masculinity and machismo very honestly and directly, with their impact clear on the mother and her three boys. It’s all a kind of fever dream, one in which Jonah, wonderfully portrayed by Rosado, has created his own separate world, an escape from the brutality he sees in his father and the victimization of his mother. Despite that, the film still manages to be bittersweet and gentle, with a warm soundtrack by Nick Zammuto. An absolute gem that won the Innovator Award at the Sundance Film Festival, We the Animals opens August 17 at the Angelika and the Landmark at 57 West. The first weekend features a trio of postscreening Q&As at the Angelika, with Castillo, Vand, and Torres at the 7:20 show on Friday, Castillo, Vand, Kristian, and Torres after the 7:20 show on Saturday, and Castillo and Torres following the 2:40 show on Sunday.
The nineteenth annual Hudson River Park Blues BBQ Festival is set for August 18 at Pier 97, where blues and soul food and drink come together from 2:00 to 9:00. The former includes dishes from Brother Jimmy’s, Dinosaur Bar-B-Que, Mighty Quinn’s, Pig Beach, Ben & Jerry’s, and Melt, with beverages from Sixpoint and Glenfiddich and live music by the Slam Allen Band (2:00), Danielle Nicole (3:15), Welch-Ledbetter Connection (4:30), Dawn Tyler Watson (6:00), and Vieux Farka Touré (7:30). Admission is free with advance registration; chairs, blankets, beach umbrellas, pets, bicycles, and other items are prohibited.