This Week in New York Insider's Guide to Arts & Culture in New York City Since 2001


(photo by Richard Termine)

Aaron Monaghan is magnificent as a darkly comic Richard III in Druid production (photo by Richard Termine)

Gerald W. Lynch Theater at John Jay College
November 7-23, $40-$100

Act I, Scene II of William Shakespeare’s Richard III is one of the most psychologically complex and critical scenes in the entire Western canon. Richard, the Duke of Gloucester of the House of York, woos Lady Anne of the House of Lancaster after having killed her husband, Edward of Westminster, the Prince of Wales, along with her father-in-law, King Edward IV. As she stands over the dead king’s body, he states his intentions, but she is having none of it. He has his work cut out for him; she calls him “hedgehog,” “beast,” “devil,” and “villain,” but he is determined to win her in his devious plot to become ruler. “And thou unfit for any place but hell,” she spits out at him. “Yes, one place else, if you will hear me name it,” he says. “Some dungeon,” she declares. “Your bedchamber,” he boasts.

No matter how many times I see the play, I marvel at these moments. Richard is the embodiment of pure evil, a deformed creature with no soul. Yet we root for him to win Lady Anne’s heart, though we know how horrible that is; but the success of the rest of the play depends on Richard winning the audience as well. And I’m not sure I’ve ever been so in awe of the scene as in Druid’s current production at the Gerald W. Lynch Theater as part of Lincoln Center’s White Light Festival, with a sensational Aaron Monaghan taking charge as the titular character. Tony-winning director Garry Hynes (The Beauty Queen of Leenane, The Cripple of Inishmaan) has Lady Anne (Siobhán Cullen) enter the stage wearing a long train on which she slowly, agonizingly drags the murdered king, wrapped tightly in white cloth. The Machiavellian Richard (Monaghan), dressed all in black, walking with two canes that make him move like a venomous six-limbed spider, admits to the killings and yet she still acquiesces to his romantic desires. It’s a thrilling scene that gets me every time, marveling at how the actor is going to pull it off. And Monaghan is magnificent, eliciting spontaneous applause at the end of the scene, which is as funny as it is frightening. “But then I sigh; and, with a piece of scripture, / Tell them that God bids us do good for evil: / And thus I clothe my naked villainy / With old odd ends stolen out of holy writ; / And seem a saint, when most I play the devil,” he tells us later.

(photo by Richard Termine)

Lady Anne (Siobhán Cullen) drags in the corpse of the dead king in Druid’s Richard III (photo by Richard Termine)

Last year, Druid staged a very funny version of Beckett’s Waiting for Godot at the Gerald Lynch, with Monaghan as Estragon and Marty Rea as Vladimir, directed by Hynes, who ratchets up the comedy in Richard III as well. (Druid also brought The History Plays to the Lincoln Center Festival in 2015, also with Monaghan and Rea.) Rea again is Monaghan’s right-hand man, this time as the ever-loyal Sir William Catesby, who serves as executioner, dispatching his victims using a nail gun with a ridiculously long and colorful extension cord. Francis O’Connor’s set is a vast, empty industrial space covered in soft dirt, with high louvered metal walls and barred windows, the only props the nail gun and a metal barrel. O’Connor also designed the majestic costumes, which get dragged through the dirt, probably resulting in a big-time cleaning bill. At the front of the stage is a rectangular hole in the shape of a cemetery plot where the deceased are tossed in to rot; it is also where Richard emerges from at the beginning, as if rising straight out of hell. Dangling from the ceiling throughout is a Perspex box containing a smiling skull (inevitably recalling Damien Hirst), the specter of death and ambition threatening all.

(photo by Richard Termine)

Queen Margaret (Marie Mullen) curses Richard (Aaron Monaghan) in DruidShakespeare presentation at White Light Festival (photo by Richard Termine)

The rest of the cast is splendid, including Marie Mullen as the witchlike Queen Margaret, Jane Brennan as the regal Queen Elizabeth, Ingrid Craigie as the Duchess of York, Garrett Lombard as Hastings and Tyrrel, Rory Nolan as Buckingham, Peter Daly as Rivers (making a great bald joke) and Brakenbury, Bosco Hogan as King Edward IV, and Frank Blake as the Earl of Richmond. However, following Act III, Scene V, when Richard convinces the Lord Mayor (Mullen) that he is worthy of wearing the crown — while making one of the silliest gestures I’ve seen in a Shakespeare show — the play, of course, turns, as Richard becomes less funny and more deranged and purely evil, and he is not in as many scenes, affecting the pacing and the audience’s involvement. The less Richard addresses us directly, the more removed we are from the action. It’s a facet of the play itself, but you’ll just have to slag through it until the climactic battle scene at Bosworth Field. And then the three-hour production is over, and Monaghan emerges for his curtain call from Richard’s dirt grave, emerging from hell one last time, although we know manipulative, conniving, power-hungry rulers like him will continue to rise all around the world, over and over again, but with a lot fewer laughs.


Anamaria Marinca

Anamaria Marinca stars in Cristian Mungiu’s harrowing 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days,, part of Film Forum celebration of the last three decades of Romanian cinema

Film Forum
209 West Houston St.
Through November 26

On December 25, 1989, Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu and his wife, Elena, were executed by a firing squad after being found guilty of corruption and genocide. In the wake of his death, the Romanian film industry reinvented itself, and Film Forum pays tribute to that change with “The Romanians: 30 Years of Cinema Revolution,” consisting of thirty films screening over twelve days through November 26. Several shows will be followed by Q&As with the director and/or actor. In addition to the below four recommendations, the series includes Nae Caranfil’s Do Not Lean Out the Window, Radu Mihaileanu’s Train of Life, Alexandru Solomon’s The Great Communist Bank Robbery, and Constantin Popescu’s Pororoca.

4 MONTHS, 3 WEEKS AND 2 DAYS (Cristian Mungiu, 2007)
Friday, November 22, 3:30, 7:45

Winner of the Palme D’Or at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival, Cristian Mungiu’s 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days is a harrowing look at personal freedom at the end of the Ceaușescu regime in late-’80s Romania. Anamaria Marinca gives a powerful performance as Otilia, a young woman risking her own safety to help her best friend, Gabita (Laura Vasiliu), out of a difficult, dangerous situation. Their lives get even more complicated when they turn to Bebe (Vlad Ivanov) to take care of things. Cinematographer Oleg Mutu, who shot Cristi Puiu’s brilliant The Death of Mr. Lazarescu, keeps the camera relatively steady for long scenes, without cuts, pans, dollies, or zooms, as the actors walk in and out of view, giving the film a heightened level of believability without looking like a documentary. Set in a restrictive era with a burgeoning black market, 4 Months goes from mystery to psychological drama to thriller with remarkable ease — and the less you know about the plot, the better.


Father (Teodor Corban) and son (Mihai Comānoiu) hunt for a runaway slave in wickedly funny Aferim!

AFERIM! (Radu Jude, 2015)
Saturday, November 23, 3:30

Romanian director Radu Jude won the Silver Bear as Best Director at the 2015 Berlin International Film Festival for Aferim!, his savagely funny blacker-than-black comic Western about bigotry, infidelity, and frontier justice in 1835 Wallachia. Lawkeeper Costandin (Teodor Corban) and his son, Ionitā (Mihai Comānoiu), are galloping through the local countryside, searching for runaway Gypsy slave Carfin (Cuzin Toma), who Boyar Iordache Cindescu (Alexandru Dabija) has accused of having an affair with his wife, Sultana (Mihaela Sîrbu). The surly Costandin leads the hunt, verbally cutting down everyone he meets, from random old women to abbots to fellow lawmen, with wicked barbs, calling them filthy whores, crows, and other foul names while spouting ridiculous theories about honor and religion; he even batters his son, saying he’s “a waste of bread” and that “if you slap him, he’ll die of grief.” It’s a cruel, cholera-filled time in which even the monks beat the poor, where Costandin regales a priest with the telling riddle, “Lifeless out of life, life out of lifeless,” which the priest thinks refers to the coming doomsday.

Cowritten by Jude (The Happiest Girl in the World, Everybody in Our Family) and novelist Florin Lăzărescu (Our Special Envoy, Numbness), who previously collaborated on the short film The Tube with a Hat, and shot in gloriously stark black-and-white by Marius Panduru (12:08 East of Bucharest; Police, Adjective), the Romanian / Bulgarian / Czech coproduction is an absurdist combination of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Andrei Tarkovsky’s Andrei Rublev, Hal Ashby’s The Last Detail, and John Ford’s The Searchers, skewering everything in its path, either overtly or under its wide-reaching breath. Even Dana Pāpāruz’s costumes are a genuine riot, especially the boyar’s majestically ridiculous hat. But Aferim! is more than just a clever parody of period films and nineteenth-century Eastern European culture and social mores; it is also a brilliant exploration of the nature of racism, discrimination, misogyny, and the aristocracy that directly relates to what’s going on around the world today as well as how Romania has dealt with its own sorry past of enslaving the Romani people. Jude was inspired by real events and historical documents, setting the film immediately after the 1834 Russian occupation, which adds to its razor-sharp observations. “Aferim! is an attempt to gaze into the past, to take a journey inside the mentalities of the beginning of the nineteenth century — all epistemological imperfections inherent to such an enterprise included,” Jude says in his director’s statement. “It is obvious that such an effort would be pointless should we not believe that this hazy past holds the explanation for certain present issues.” Don’t miss this absolute gem of a film, which was Romania’s submission for the Academy Awards.


Voichita (Cosmina Stratan) must choose between her faith and her best friend in Cristian Mungiu’s Beyond the Hills

BEYOND THE HILLS (DUPA DEALURI) (Cristian Mungiu, 2012)
Sunday, November 24, 7:30
Monday, November 25, 12:40

Inspired by a true story detailed in a pair of nonfiction novels by Romanian journalist Tatiana Niculescu Bran, Cristian Mungiu’s Beyond the Hills is a powerful, emotional study of love, friendship, dedication, devotion, and sexual repression. In a barren section of modern-day Romania, Alina (Cristina Flutur) arrives at a poverty-stricken Orthodox monastery, where her childhood friend Voichita (Cosmina Stratan) has become a nun. Both young women grew up in a poor orphanage, and both still have no real place in society. Alina has come to try to convince Voichita — possibly her former lover — to leave the flock and go with her to Germany, where they can live and work together freely. Early on, Voichita rubs a tired Alina’s bare back; when Alina turns over, Voichita just stops short of massaging her friend’s chest, the sexual tension nearly exploding in a scene of quiet beauty that speaks volumes about their relationship. Despite Alina’s pleading, Voichita, apparently filled with deep inner guilt, refuses to turn her back on the priest (Valeriu Andriuţă), whom all the nuns refer to as Pa, and her newfound vocation. Unable to accept her friend’s decision, Alina begins acting out in threatening ways to both herself and the true believers, leading to shocking, tragic consequences.

Mungiu’s feature-film follow-up to the 2007 Palme d’Or winner 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days is another harrowing examination of characters trapped in a devastating situation. The two-and-a-half-hour film seems to take place in a different era, far away from contemporary towns and cities, cell phones and even electricity. Mungiu, who won the Best Screenplay award at Cannes for the film, is careful not to condemn or belittle Pa, Ma (Dana Tapalagă), and their faith, but he doesn’t praise them either, leaving it up to viewers to decide for themselves. In their feature-film debuts, Flutur and Stratan, who are both from Mungiu’s hometown of Iasi and shared the Best Actress award at Cannes, are exceptional, their eyes filled with fear and longing as Alina and Voichita try to find a balance in their opposing worlds.

Luminița Gheorghiu

Luminița Gheorghiu plays a controlling, domineering mother in Călin Peter Netzer’s award-winning Child’s Pose

CHILD’S POSE (POZITIA COPILULUI) (Călin Peter Netzer, 2013)
Monday, November 25, 8:40

Luminita Gheorghiu, grand dame of the Romanian New Wave, was nominated for Best Actress at the European Film Awards for her devastating portrayal of a domineering mother in Călin Peter Netzer’s Child’s Pose. Gheorghiu (The Death of Mister Lazarescu; 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days) stars as Cornelia Kerenes, an elegant, cigarette-smoking architect who immediately jumps into action when her son, Barbu (Bogdan Dumitrache), is involved in a terrible car accident, killing a child. Despite their recent estrangement — Cornelia and Barbu have rarely spoken since he married Carmen (Ilinca Goia) — Cornelia starts constructing a scenario, like designing one of her buildings, to keep Barbu out of jail. She and her surgeon husband, Reli (Florin Zamfirescu), along with her sister, Olga (Nataşa Raab), start calling in favors and doling out bribes while showing a stunning lack of concern for the family of the boy who Barbu killed. As the child’s funeral approaches, relationships come together and fall apart as parents try to deal with what has happened to their children. Winner of the Golden Bear at the Berlinale, Child’s Pose is a searing examination of class, corruption, and power.

Reminiscent of Lucrecia Martel’s The Headless Woman, in which María Onetto gives a mesmerizing performance as an Argentine upper-class wife and mother who looks the other way when it appears that she might have run over a local boy, Child’s Pose is a penetrating character study that centers around the wide gap between the rich and the poor. Early on in the film, Cornelia, who her husband at one point calls “Controlia,” sits down with her dour cleaning woman and offers her a pair of used shoes, expecting her to rejoice in such wonderful charity. The scene sets the stage for what occurs later, as Cornelia believes money is the primary route to Barbu’s freedom, but it’s a path littered with more than just one young child’s body. The taut, razor-sharp script was written by Netzer (Maria, Medal of Honor) and Răzvan Rădulescu, who has worked on such other Romanian New Wave films as The Death of Mister Lazarescu, Stuff and Dough, and Tuesday, After Christmas. In Cornelia, they have created a woman worthy of joining the pantheon of classic domineering cinematic mothers.


(photo by Tony Turner)

“Tilted Arc” is the first of three movements in Elisa Monte Dance’s Emerged Nation at the Flea (photo by Tony Turner)

Flea Theater, the Sam
20 Thomas St. between Broadway & Church St.
November 21-24, $10-$25

Elisa Monte Dance takes the emotional temperature of America in Emerged Nation, making its world premiere November 21-24 at the Flea. Choreographed by company artistic director Tiffany Rea-Fisher, the evening-length work explores issues of immigration, culture, and diversity in three movements; the piece is performed by Tracy Dunbar, Katherine Files, Jenny Hegarty Freeman, Daniela Funicello, Hannah Gross, Madelyn LaLonde, Ashley LaRosa, and Sai (Napat) Rodboon, with lighting by Michael Cole and a score by DJ Twelve45 and ambient chamber music composer Kevin Keller. Emerged Nation opens with “Tilted Arc,” which was commissioned by the DOT for the 2017 Summer Streets program and references Richard Serra’s controversial 1989 sculpture in Foley Square, followed by “Emerged Nation,” which examines black and Native American cultural assimilation in the States, and “Kinetic Kinship,” which delves into New York City’s reputation as a melting pot.

“Moving into Elisa Monte Dance’s thirty-ninth season, I wanted to reprise and expand my seminal work, ‘Tilted Arc,’ into an evening-length work. When I revisited this repertory piece, I felt that it left questions that needed to be answered about mine and so many others’ struggle to find a cultural place in America. This work takes the audience on my journey of self-exploration,” Rea-Fisher said in a statement. The November 23 performance will be followed by a talkback with Rea-Fisher, the composers, and other members of the cast and crew. And be on the lookout for the HP Reveal App that will enhance the experience.


(photo by Joan Marcus)

Lady in Brown (Celia Chevalier) stands center stage in exhilarating revival of for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf at the Public (photo by Joan Marcus)

Martinson Hall, the Public Theater
425 Lafayette St. at Astor Pl.
Tuesday through Sunday through December 8, $85-$150

I remember as a kid being intrigued by a television commercial for an oddly named play — for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf. I even recall the precise, rhythmic elocution used by the female announcer pronouncing the title, which included a word I didn’t think you could say anymore on television. I was further fascinated when my parents came home from the show at the Booth and gave me the Playbill, which listed a cast of seven women by color (Lady in Brown, Lady in Yellow, etc.), with Lady in Orange portrayed by the playwright herself, Ntozake Shange. More than forty years later, I finally understand what the hubbub was all about after seeing Leah C. Gardiner’s stirring revival at the Public Theater, where the original production moved in 1976 after earlier iterations at smaller venues in Berkeley and downtown New York (and shortly before moving to Broadway).

(photo by Joan Marcus)

Seven women come together to share their stories and empower one another in Ntozake Shange’s brilliant choreopoem (photo by Joan Marcus)

Extended at the Public’s Martinson Theater through December 8, for colored girls is a breathtaking “choreopoem” with music, performed by seven women named for the colors of the rainbow, with the addition of one: Lady in Red (Jayme Lawson), Lady in Orange (Danaya Esperanza), Lady in Yellow (Adrienne C. Moore), Lady in Green (Okwui Okpokwasili), Lady in Blue (Sasha Allen), Lady in Purple (Alexandria Wailes), and Lady in Brown (Celia Chevalier). Over the course of ninety thrilling minutes, each actress takes center stage, sharing stories about the “dark phrases of womanhood,” including sex, racism, misogyny, gender bias, slavery, domestic violence, abortion, and rape. But these women refuse to view themselves as victims or even survivors. They each wear outfits that feature the face of their most beloved female relative (the dazzling costumes are by Toni-Leslie James), and they have taken their power back, controlling their personal narrative and identity as they openly support one another in an invigorating display of camaraderie and friendship through both good and bad times. Often the ensemble forms a semicircle of love and respect as they watch each other deliver their tales in turn. They are seven unique personalities with unique body types moving individually and in unison to choreography by Tony nominee Camille A. Brown and original music by Martha Redbone in addition to such familiar songs as Martha and the Vandellas’ “Dancing in the Streets” and the Dells’ “Stay in My Corner.”

They hail from Nashville, Washington DC, Strasbourg, Harlem, Havana, Brooklyn, and Delaware but are from anywhere and everywhere. “Are we ghouls? / children of horror?/ the joke? / don’t tell nobody don’t tell a soul / are we animals? have we gone crazy?” Lady in Brown asks, adding, “This is for colored girls who have considered suicide / but moved to the ends of their own rainbows.” But as exhilarating and potent as it all is, the women understand the reality of their daily existence. “We gotta dance to keep from cryin,” Lady in Yellow says. “We gotta dance to keep from dyin,” Lady in Brown adds. “I come in at dusk / stay close to the curb / round midnite / praying wont no young man / think i’m pretty in a dark morning,” Lady in Blue admits.

(photo by Joan Marcus)

Sasha Allen brings down the house as Lady in Blue in for colored girls revival (photo by Joan Marcus)

The cast is fantastic, highlighted by Allen (Hair, Ghetto Superstar) tearing down the house with a rousing number about satisfaction and an intimate solo dance by Okpokwasili (Poor People’s TV Room, Bronx Gothic), while Moore (Orange Is the New Black, The Taming of the Shrew) brings an infectious, unbridled enthusiasm to her role. Myung Hee Cho’s inclusive set features three rows of chairs along the back arch of the circular stage, in front of a large mirror, which reflects the audience so they appear right behind the cast, who enter and exit through three different doorways. Jiyoun Chang’s lighting is often very bright, so everyone in the theater is usually visible.

Obie winner Gardiner (If Pretty Hurts Ugly Must Be a Muhfucka, born bad) and her all-female crew have crafted an emotionally involving and stimulating work, anchored by Obie-winning, Oscar-nominated poet, novelist, playwright, kids’ book author, activist, and essayist Shange’s (Mother Courage and Her Children, Whitewash) gorgeous words, which resonate with truth and beauty; it’s a shame that the Trenton-born Shange did not get to see this triumphant revival of her play (which she updated in 2010 and was inspired by her own life, which included four suicide attempts), as she passed away last year at the age of seventy, leaving behind a wide-ranging and deeply powerful legacy.


Gael García Bernal and Charlotte Gainsbourg star in Michel Gondrys delightfully silly The Science of Sleep

Gael García Bernal and Charlotte Gainsbourg star in Michel Gondry’s delightfully silly The Science of Sleep

French Institute Alliance Française, Florence Gould Hall
55 East 59th St. between Madison & Park Aves.
Tuesday, November 19, 4:00 & 7:30
Series continues Tuesday nights through December 17

The FIAF CinéSalon series “Charlotte Forever: Gainsbourg on Film,” an eight-movie tribute to the ever-charming and captivating Charlotte Gainsbourg, continues November 19 with eclectic auteur Michel Gondry’s feature-length debut as both writer and director. The Science of Sleep is a complex, confusing, kaleidoscopic stew that is as charming as it is frustrating. Gael García Bernal (The Motorcycle Diaries, Mozart in the Jungle) stars as the juvenile but endearing Stéphane, a young man in a silly hat who has trouble differentiating dreams from reality. The childlike Stéphane becomes friends with his new neighbor, Stephanie (Gainsbourg), who still has plenty of the child left inside her as well. Stéphane has a job his mother (Miou-Miou) got him, toiling for a small company that makes calendars, alongside the hysterical Guy (Alain Chabat), who can’t help constantly poking fun at coworkers Serge (Sacha Bourdo) and Martine (Aurélia Petit).

Gondry, who is also responsible for the brilliant Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind as well as the highly entertaining Dave Chappelle’s Block Party and the bizarre Human Nature, uses low-tech green-screening and stop-motion animation to reveal Stéphane’s fantasy world, bringing to mind such masters as Jan Svankmajer and the Brothers Quay. Unfortunately, just as Stéphane can’t tell what’s real from what he’s dreaming, viewers will often have difficulty as well; some of the plot turns are downright infuriating, and Stéphane’s TV show teeters on the edge of embarrassing. But you’ll also be hard-pressed not to leave the theater feeling like a kid in a candy store. The Science of Sleep is screening at Florence Gould Hall at 4:00 and 7:30 on November 19; the celebration of César favorite Gainsbourg, who is the daughter of Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin, runs through December 17 with such other works as Claude Miller’s L’effrontée, Lars von Trier’s Melancholia, and Franco Zeffirelli’s Jane Eyre.


Chocolate lovers flock to Javits for return of salon (photo by twi-ny/mdr)

Chocolate lovers flock to Javits Center for return of cacao salon (photo by twi-ny/mdr)

Salon du Chocolat
Javits Center
655 West 34th St. at 11th Ave.
Saturday, November 16, 10:00 am - 6:00 pm, and Sunday, November 17, 11:00 am - 5:00 pm
Admission: $10-$25 in advance, $12-$35 onsite

The return of Salon du Chocolat to New York has attracted a big crowd to the Javits Center, where chocolate-obsessed minions can experience all things cacao, from samples and demonstrations to workshops and fashion. There are more than eighty booths and dozens of events, so navigating it can be tricky. Several popular purveyors — including two that are offering alcohol-infused chocolate — have long lines, so we suggest skipping those. However, where there are lines, please acknowledge them; we saw far too many people not honoring the queues, rudely pushing in front of others to snag a free bonbon, truffle, or nib. There is a lot to try, and many of the men and women behind the booths are the owners, chefs, or creators and love talking about their process, so do engage them (and perhaps even get a bonus taste). We were impressed with brands from South America (Hoja Verde — Global Cadena), New Zealand (Hogarth), Vanuatu (Aelan), Haiti (Askanya), and Vietnam (Marou) as well as New Jersey (Knipschildt), Connecticut (Le Rouge), Texas (Maggie Louise), and the Lower East Side (Roni Sue’s) on our international chocolate tour; below are some of our favorite stops.

(photo by twi-ny/mdr)

The Harlem Chocolate Factory adds 1920s glamour to confection convention (photo by twi-ny/mdr)

(photo by twi-ny/mdr)

Goodnow Farms uses fresh-pressed single origin South American beans in creating unique flavors (photo by twi-ny/mdr)

(photo by twi-ny/mdr)

The Honey Jack caramel bonbon at Two Chicks with Chocolate is a stand-out (photo by twi-ny/mdr)

(photo by twi-ny/mdr)

Le Rouge Aartisan Chocolates adds an Indian twist to French delights (photo by twi-ny/mdr)

(photo by twi-ny/mdr)

Chocolate Genius Paul Joachim molds the elephant in the room (photo by twi-ny/mdr)

(photo by twi-ny/mdr)

Austin-based Maggie Louise Confections offers generous samples of sweet treats (photo by twi-ny/mdr)

(photo by twi-ny/mdr)

The Choc Doc is on the case, offering Chocolate for the Spirit (photo by twi-ny/mdr)

Karl Hogarth (photo by twi-ny/mdr)

Karl Hogarth has traveled from New Zealand to serve his bean-to-bar chocolate (photo by twi-ny/mdr)

Pastry chefs and other industry pros give talks and demonstrations at Salon du Chocolat (photo by twi-ny/mdr)

Pastry chefs and other industry pros give talks and demonstrations at Salon du Chocolat (photo by twi-ny/mdr)

(photo by twi-ny/mdr)

Master chocolatier Håkan Mårtensson has sculpted chocolate dragons at his booth (photo by twi-ny/mdr)


(photo by Carol Rosegg)

FBI Special Agent Justin C. Garrick (Pete Simpson) confronts Reality Winner (Emily Davis) in Is This A Room (photo by Carol Rosegg)

Vineyard Theatre
Gertrude and Irving Dimson Theatre
108 East 15th St. between Union Square East & Irving Pl.
Tuesday - Sunday through November 24, $45-$100

In 2017, upon first reading the official FBI “Verbatim Transcription” of the initial interrogation of twenty-five-year-old linguist Reality Winner regarding leaked classified information, Half Straddle founder and artistic director Tina Satter knew she had her next play. She also knew she had her star, company member Emily Davis. The resulting show, Is This A Room, which debuted at the Kitchen before evolving into the production now running at the Vineyard through November 24, is a gripping re-creation of the event, a dramatic word-for-word account of the FBI’s fascinating methods of questioning and Winner’s uncertain answers, at least at the beginning.

Parker Lutz’s spare stage consists of a few raised platforms and posts that represent both the outside and the inside of Winner’s house in Augusta, Georgia. There is no furniture and no props other than stuffed versions of Winner’s dog and cat. (Amanda Villalobos designed the animal puppets.) There is also a row of twelve seats along the back of the stage where a dozen audience members sit, including me; I felt like part of a jury and a person under surveillance, watched by Winner, the FBI agents, and the crowd in the regular seats. Special Agents Justin C. Garrick (Pete Simpson) and R. Wallace Taylor (TL Thompson) arrive at Winner’s (Davis) house just as she has come home from shopping. The men are in plainclothes; Winner is wearing a white button-down shirt, cut-off jean shorts, and yellow high-top canvas sneakers without socks, her hair pulled back in a knot. (The costumes are by Enver Chakartash.) While Garrick is friendly with Winner, making conversation about pets, exercise, work, weapons, and perishables, Taylor is much more direct and in her face, engaging in a variant of the classic good-cop, bad-cop scenario. In addition, an unidentified male agent (Becca Blackwell) in battle fatigues, as if ready for any kind of possible trouble, keeps entering and leaving, helping out with the dog and cat and securing the interior and exterior spaces.

(photo by Carol Rosegg)

Special Agents R. Wallace Taylor (TL Thompson) and Justin C. Garrick (Pete Simpson) interrogate Reality Winner (Emily Davis) as an “unknown male agent” (Becca Blackwell) looks on (photo by Carol Rosegg)

“Okay, well, the reason we’re here today is that we have a search warrant for your house,” Garrick tells Winner, who responds innocently, “Okay.” Garrick: “All right. Uh, do you know what this might be about?” Winner: “I have no idea.” Garrick: “Okay. This is about, uh, the possible mishandling of classified information.” Winner: “Oh my goodness. Okay.” As the interrogation continues, everyone starts letting their hands show a little more as the truth slowly comes out in drips and drabs. However, even though we now know that the investigation dealt with Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, at that point those elements were still classified, so a crash of sound and instant darkness detonates at each redaction, excitingly jolting the audience. (The lighting is by Thomas Dunn, with sound by Lee Kinney.)

Satter (Straight White Men, House of Dance) casts no judgments on the characters, telling the story as it happened; your personal beliefs will help you decide if you think there are heroes or villains in the true story. Davis (Satter’s The Seagull [Thinking of You] and In the Pony Palace/Football) sublimely captures the essence of the nervous, jittery Winner, who spent six years in the Air Force, was employed by the military contractor Pluribus International Corporation, had NSA security clearance, speaks Farsi, Dari, and Pashto, and only wants to do what is right for her country; even though most of the audience knows the outcome, either by having followed the news or read the insert in the program, it is utterly compelling watching Davis as Winner is confronted with more and more evidence against her. The three actors portraying the FBI agents are all effective, with Simpson (Straight White Men, Gatz) standing out as Garrick, garnering sympathy despite his manipulative methods. Is This A Room is a riveting play that explodes with importance at a very specific moment in time when whistleblowers are harassed and threatened by people in power who are trying to cover up vital information.