In January, in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attack in Paris, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared, “This week, a special team of ministers will convene to advance steps to increase immigration from France and other countries in Europe that are suffering from terrible anti-Semitism.” His bold and controversial proclamation couldn’t help but remind one of the decisions European Jews had to make in the 1930s, faced with the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich. To stay or to go during that unhappy time is what Bibi’s younger brother, Iddo, author and part-time radiologist, explores in A Happy End, a compelling if unsubtle play making its New York premiere by the Abingdon Theatre Company. (Iddo and Bibi’s eldest brother, Yoni, was the only Israeli soldier killed in the 1976 raid on Entebbe.) Originally commissioned in Italy in 2008 for European Holocaust Memorial Day, the play takes place over four months in 1932-33 Berlin, as Hitler is amassing power, a situation dismissed by erudite physicist Mark Erdmann (Curzon Dobell). His wife, Leah (Carmit Levité), is having an affair with his lab colleague, Dieter Kraft (Joel Ripka), a non-Jew who recognizes the increasing level of anti-Semitism in the country and tries to convince his boss that he needs to leave Germany before it is too late. But Mark and Leah, who have a talented son, Hans (Phil Gillen), refuse to abandon the only home they’ve ever known. “They’re on the decline,” Mark says about the Nazis. “Politicians can’t dictate how we should live our lives,” Leah adds. But despite the play’s title, it’s doubtful things will work out well.
Numerous minor set changes help move the action more than Alex Dmitriev’s rather plain direction, as there is a lot of just sitting and standing around. Levité, a South African-Israeli actress, overplays Leah at first before eventually settling into the role of a glamorous woman who wants it all, a young lover in addition to a wise, successful husband (and fabulous clothes designed by Laura Crow). Dobell is rock-solid as an intellectual who is focused more on his work than the strong emotions swirling around him; when a waiter in a café turns on the radio to listen to a Hitler speech, Mark asks him to turn it off, as if that will make the potential next chancellor just go away. Lori Gardner adds doses of humor as Anna, Mark’s assistant, although repeated borrowings of his pen get tired. (Perhaps this is a reference to the pen being mightier than the sword, or, as a real stretch, even Jean-Marie Le Pen, the longtime leader of France’s right-wing National Front, but either way, it grows old quickly.) Ripka is earnest as the sincere Dieter, wanting the Erdmanns to be safe even though their leaving would impact him both personally and professionally. A Happy End is a thought-provoking work that handles its familiar subject matter with great care, a tale that will have you wondering what you would do in a similar situation. Sadly, there are many people around the world, especially in Europe right now, faced with that very real decision.
Who: Pat Dixon, Evan Williams, Anthony Atamanuik, Alingon Mitra, Paul Virzi, Mike Recine, Dan Soder, Tom Shillue, Mark DeMayo, James Adomian, Amanda Seales, and many others
What: NYC Comedy Week: 2-for-1 tickets
Where: Carolines on Broadway, the Stand NYC, Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, Gotham Comedy Club, Jebon Sushi, the Peoples Improv Theater, the Kill Bar at Times Scare, and the Brooklyn Brewery
When: April 6-19
Why: The fourth NYC Comedy Week takes place April 6-19, with more than five dozen events at eight venues in three boroughs, featuring stand-up, improvisation, sketch comedy, storytelling, and a Japanese game show, with two-for-one tickets available for all presentations.
2124 Broadway at 75th St.
Friday, April 24, $70-$355 (on sale March 28 at 12 noon), 7:30
Other screenings April 25-26 (on sale March 31 for AmEx cardholders and April 6 to the general public)
Tickets go on sale to the general public Saturday morning at 12 noon for one of the premier events of the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival: the fortieth anniversary screening of the 1975 classic Monty Python and the Holy Grail, taking place at the Beacon Theatre on April 24 — with John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin on hand to talk about the film, one of the most quotable comedies ever made. “The Pythons are looking forward very much to the Tribeca Film Festival and the chance to meet anyone who can remember why we made Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” Palin said in a statement. “All we know is that it was a documentary about coconuts that rather lost its way. If anyone at Tribeca can explain why we made it and didn’t call it Braveheart, then our visit to New York will not have been wasted.” The closing weekend of the fifteenth annual TFF will also feature Roger Graef and James Rogan’s 2014 documentary, Monty Python: The Meaning of Live, on April 24 at 3:30 at the SVA Theater, Monty Python’s Life of Brian on April 25 at 12:30 at Bow Tie Chelsea Cinemas, and Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life on April 26 at 1:30 at Regal Cinemas Battery Park. (Tickets for those films, as well as the rest of the TFF, go on sale to American Express cardholders on March 31 and everyone else on April 6.)
Luna Park in Coney Island
1000 Surf Ave.
Sunday, March 29, 12 noon - 8:00 pm
It might not quite feel like spring yet, but on Sunday, March 29, Luna Park in Coney Island is set to open its gates to the public, a sure sign that summer will eventually be here. The centerpiece, of course, is the Cyclone, and the festivities will include a free ride on the historic wooden roller coaster, which turns eighty-eight this year, for the first one hundred visitors; there will also be a Cyclone trivia game, so study up. (Admission to the 110-second ride is otherwise nine dollars.) Among the other rides are the Thunderbolt, the Sling Shot, Zenobio, the Steeplechase, the Tickler, Wild River, Soarin Eagle, the Brooklyn Flyer, the Hang Glider, and Electro Spin.
“There’s something about a train that’s magic,” Richie Havens sang in a series of Amtrak commercials in the 1980s. There’s more than just a little magic in the first revival of Betty Comden, Adolph Green, and Cy Coleman’s 1978 screwball musical comedy, On the 20th Century, which has pulled into the American Airlines Theatre, brought back to glorious life by director Scott Ellis in this celebratory Roundabout production. It’s 1932, and suddenly bankrupt theatrical impresario Oscar Jaffee (Peter Gallagher), trying to recover from a series of failures, has boarded the glamorous Twentieth Century Limited with his musketeer henchmen, Oliver Webb (Mark Linn Baker) and Owen O’Malley (Michael McGrath), in order to convince his former leading lady, Lily Garland (Kristin Chenoweth), to put aside the Academy Award (aka the Oscar, of course) she’s just won and return to Broadway in his new show. But her new lover and frequent onscreen costar, Bruce Granit (Andy Karl), is jealous, and Lily herself is suspicious of the scheming Oscar, who discovered her when she was shlumpy Mildred Plotka and turned her into a star. Also on board the train is a little old lady, Mrs. Letitia Peabody Primrose (Mary Louise Wilson), a religious zealot secretly slapping up signs demanding that all of these heathens “Repent!” while also considering financing Oscar’s next show. As the train continues its overnight journey from Chicago to New York, Oscar grows more and more desperate, resulting in ever-wackier high jinks. “New York in sixteen hours / Anything can happen in those sixteen hours / On that might-y / Ride-the-night-ly / Miracle of engineering brains . . . / On the Twentieth Century / On the luxury liner of locomotive trains,” conductor Flanagan (Jim Walton) proclaims, and indeed, anything can and does occur.
The show has a storied history, adapted from Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur’s 1932 play, Twentieth Century (itself based on Charles Bruce Millholland’s unproduced Napoleon of Broadway) and Howard Hawks’s 1934 film, 20th Century, which starred John Barrymore as Oscar and Carole Lombard as Lily. (Various other versions and iterations have featured Fredric March, John Cullum, Rock Hudson, Orson Welles, José Ferrer, and Alec Baldwin as Oscar and Madeline Kahn, Judy Kaye, Anne Heche, Lily Palmer, Constance Bennett, Gloria Swanson, and Betty Grable as Lily.) Tony nominee Gallagher (Guys and Dolls, Long Day’s Journey into Night) has just the right amount of smarm and charm as Oscar, even if his singing voice is not quite virtuosic (although he is dealing with an illness that has forced him to miss several performances and delayed the official opening by a week), but Tony winner Chenoweth (Wicked, You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown) more than makes up for that in a role that she fully inhabits, giving a rafters-rattling performance that will knock your socks off, as if this were the role she was born to play. (In fact, in 2000, Green told Chenoweth, “You know what part you’re born to play?” To which Comden replied, “Lily Garland.”) When Oscar says about Mildred, “It was there. The pixie . . . the eternal woman . . . the fire . . . the passion . . . and the singing voice of a lost child heard by its mother echoing from beyond a corner,” it could just as well be Gallagher talking about Chenoweth. It’s a spectacular display that actually includes fireworks. The operetta-like score is not particularly memorable, overloaded with repetition and redundancy, but three-time Tony nominee David Rockwell’s Art Deco sets are, along with six-time Tony nominee Ellis’s (The Elephant Man, 1776) gleefully chaotic staging and Tony winner Warren Carlyle’s (After Midnight) glittering choreography. Tony winner McGrath (Nice Work If You Can Get It, Spamalot) and Linn-Baker (You Can’t Take It with You, Perfect Strangers) are a kind of Harpo and Chico to Gallagher’s Groucho, while Tony nominee Karl (Rocky, The Mystery of Edwin Drood) chews up the scenery as the narcissistic Granit. It all makes for one joyous journey, even when things get too silly, but the show’s self-deprecating humor, knowing nods and winks, and endless magic make you overlook its shortcomings (while reveling in the irony that the show that takes place on board a train is playing in a theater named for an airline and is produced by a company whose title can refer to a circular intersection cars drive around). Throughout the show, characters keep knocking on Oscar’s door, waving their scripts in his face. “It’s all about life on a train / I call it ‘Life on a Train,’ Flanagan sings, continuing, “I put it down just as it happened / Oh, the things I’ve seen!” I can happily say the same thing about On the 20th Century, itself: Oh, the things I’ve seen!
THE SALT OF THE EARTH (Wim Wenders & Juliano Ribero Salgado, 2014)
Lincoln Plaza Cinema, 1886 Broadway at 63rd St., 212-757-2280
Angelika Film Center, 18 West Houston St. at Mercer St., 212-995-2570
Opens Friday, March 27
Over the course of his storied five-decade career, German-born auteur and photographer Wim Wenders has alternated between making documentaries, primarily about other artists (Pina Bausch, Yasujirō Ozu, the Buena Vista Social Club) and fiction films, often unique takes on the road movie in which photographs play a key role (Paris, Texas; Alice in the Cities, Kings of the Road). In his latest work, Wenders has found one subject that combines his many interests, as he follows the remarkable adventures of Brazilian photographer and environmentalist Sebastião Salgado, who has traveled the world taking stunning pictures of the land and native peoples. In The Salt of the Earth, which was nominated for a Best Documentary Feature Oscar and won the Un Certain Regard special jury prize at the Cannes Film Festival and the César at France’s national film awards, Wenders teams up with Salgado’s son, filmmaker Juliano Ribero Salgado (Suzana; Nauru, an Island Adrift), as they accompany Salgado on his journeys and talk about his work, which consists predominantly of black-and-white photographs in such social justice series as “Workers” and “Migrations” and his most recent, the nature-themed“Genesis,” which was just shown at ICP. In the documentary, Salgado is shown rolling around on a shore to get a picture of a polar bear in the Arctic Circle, heading down into the mines of Brazil, meeting the Yali in Papua New Guinea, and sitting on a mountain, contemplating the future of the planet.
Salgado is not only photographing parts of the world devoid of technological modernity but is also involved, with his wife and curator, Lélia Wanick Salgado, in returning to nature, having planted more than two million trees to rebuild part of the Atlantic Forest on his family’s land in Brazil and starting Instituto Terra, a nonprofit community organization dedicated to restoring the ecosystem. “A photographer is literally somebody drawing with light, a man writing and rewriting the world with light and shadows,” Wenders narrates in the film. “Little did I know that I was going to discover much more than just a photographer.” Using a semitransparent mirror, Wenders also conducts interviews with Salgado, who is seen in front of a screen, looking at his photographs while discussing them. Other times the only thing on camera is Salgado’s bald head against a black background, as he peers into the camera to share his tale, including his relationship with his wife and children. “If you put many photographers in one place, they’ll all take very different pictures,” Salgado says. “Each one forms their way of seeing according to their history.” As The Salt of the Earth ably displays, Salgado has a fascinating history.
LA SAPIENZA (THE SAPIENCE) (Eugène Green, 2014)
209 West Houston St.
March 27 - April 9
New York City-born French filmmaker Eugène Green equates humanity and architecture in the lush, rich film La Sapienza. Named for the concept of gaining wisdom as well as Italian architect Francesco Borromini’s seventeenth-century Roman Catholic Baroque church Sant’Ivo alla Sapienza, the film follows an older couple who rediscover their personal and professional passion after meeting a young pair of siblings. Architect Alexandre Schmidt (Fabrizio Rongione) and his wife, sociologist Aliénor (Christelle Prot Landman), are walking through a park in Switzerland when they see a teenage girl (Arianna Nastro) nearly collapse into the arms of a slightly older boy (Ludovico Succio). It turns out that Lavinia is suffering from incapacitating dizzy spells and is cared for by her brother, Goffredo, who is interested in studying architecture. Aliénor becomes involved in Lavinia’s situation while Alexandre, an intense, cynical man, returns to the book he is writing on Borromini (who famously worked in the shadow of Bernini) and travels to Italy with Goffredo as the boy’s reluctant mentor. Green’s (Toutes les nuits, Le monde vivant) first digital feature opens with the glorious sounds of Claudio Monteverdi accompanying cinematographer Raphaël O’Byrne’s magisterial shots of statuary and architecture in Rome. The acting at the start, particularly Rongione’s, is purposefully stiff and mannered, cold and stonelike, but it warms up as the characters learn (or relearn) about the myriad possibilities life offers. Green, who also appears in the film as the grizzled Chaldean, uses the metaphor of Baroque architecture’s role in the Counter-Reformation as a symbol for Alexandre and Aliénor’s relationship, as they finally face long-held emotions and reconsider their future, all while Green lingers on magnificent structures.