Thursday, February 23, Nitehawk Cinema, 136 Metropolitan Ave. between Berry St. & Wythe Ave., 718-384-3980, 9:30
Monday, February 27, Alamo Drafthouse Downtown Brooklyn, 445 Albee Square West, 718-513-2547, 7:00
If you’re like us, you can’t watch a movie without identifying many of the actors who have small roles, familiar faces you’ve seen in films and old television series but who rarely get their names in the opening credits. You then scan the closing credits, trying to confirm their appearance. Kevin Maher will explore that phenomenon with two editions of “Kevin Geeks Out About Character Actors.” Among those who come up in the trailers for the February 23 show at Nitehawk and the February 27 show at the Alamo Drafthouse are Elisha Cook Jr., Jack Elam, Robert Morley, Tiny Lister Jr., Taylor Negron, Paul Dooley, Billy Barty, Timothy Carey, and Alice Nunn; if most or all of those names mean something to you, then this is the program for you. Maher, who geeks out about something monthly — past geek-outs have delved into space operas, super villains, Nazi zombies, holiday specials, and the apocalypse — will be joined at Nitehawk by Tanya Smith, Sonya Moore, Ryan Gabos, James Hancock, and Adam Howard and at the Alamo by Ryan Arey, Cristina Cacioppo, Caroline Golum, Bob Satuloff, and Andy Webb. While those names might not ring a bell, here’s some more character actors who might be part of these discussions: Michael Berryman, Zelda Rubinstein, Pete Postlethwaite, Margaret Hamilton, Gerrit Graham, Joan Cusack, Jon Polito, René Auberjonois, and Curtis Armstrong.
The Pershing Square Signature Center
The Irene Diamond Stage
480 West 42nd St. between Tenth & Eleventh Aves.
Tuesday-Sunday through March 19, $30 through March 12, $40 after
Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’s endlessly inventive Everybody is a magical, mysterious theatrical experience that is a must-see for adventurous theatergoers who relish being challenged over and over again. Rising stars Jacobs-Jenkins (An Octoroon, War, Gloria) and director Lila Neugebauer (The Wayside Motor Inn, The Wolves) explore love and death, dreams and reality, the fear of G-d, the human need for companionship, and the value of each individual life in the ninety-minute play, which opened last night at the Signature Theater’s Irene Diamond Stage for an extended run through March 19. The less you know about Everybody, the more surprises are in store, and the Signature is helping out in several ways. The wall outside the theater, which is usually bedecked with wide-ranging information about whatever play is being performed inside, putting it into sociohistorical context, only contains reproductions of paintings about death by such artists as Rubens and Breugel the Elder, and the audience doesn’t receive a program until the show is over. What we do know and can say, without giving anything away, is that Everybody is an adaptation of the late-fifteenth-century morality/mortality play Everyman, which was an English translation of the Dutch Elckerlijc, which was inspired by a Buddhist fable. At each performance, five members of the cast — Brooke Bloom, Michael Braun, Louis Cancelmi, David Patrick Kelly, and Lakisha Michelle May — line up to find out which abstract, conceptual character they will play, so each show is very different. The wonderfully cheeky Marylouise Burke is always Death, while the terrifically energetic Jocelyn Bioh is always G-d. (The excellent cast also includes Lilyana Tiare Cornell and Chris Perfetti.) “How can it be / that of all my productions, / it is you who have deteriorated / so severely, so vastly disappointing? / And don’t you hear the remainder of my creation, / the wonder that is everything, / crying out for justice against you?” G-d declares early on. To paraphrase Shakespeare, the world is indeed a stage, and we men, women, and children are merely players, with only so much time to justify our existence and get our things in order.
Laura Jellinek’s set is just about as basic as it comes, although with a major twist, consisting of eighteen chairs, the same kind that ticket holders sit in, lined up on a narrow section of the stage in front of a dark wall, blurring the line between audience and performer. Every so often Matt Frey’s lighting goes pitch black and Brandon Wolcott’s sound design takes over as voices are heard throughout the theater; keep your eyes and ears ready, because just about anything can happen anywhere and with anyone as the surprises keep mounting. The second of three works that will make up Jacobs-Jenkins’s Residency Five stay at the Signature (following 2014’s Appropriate), Everybody is an ingenious piece of theater that is involving from the moment you step inside the Irene Diamond. Incorporating splashes of Brecht and Beckett, Jacobs-Jenkins delves into topics that will have you taking a good, long look at yourself, regardless of whether you believe in G-d and the afterlife. You’re also likely to want to go back and see the allegorical show again; there are 120 variations of actors and roles, and the emotional resonance is sure to be very different depending on who gets cast as whom; on any night the main character may be a young woman or an old man. Regardless, just keep your faith in Jacobs-Jenkins and Neugebauer, who take you on quite an existential journey; when the play’s over, facing its own demise, it will of course rise again, living on in more performances and in the memories of those who have experienced it. The Signature has scheduled numerous special events in conjunction with Everybody, including talkbacks with members of the cast and crew after the February 23, 28, and March 7 performances, a Backstage Pass talk with Jellinek before the March 2 show, and a book club gathering on March 16 discussing Paul Kalanithi’s memoir, When Breath Becomes Air, which asks the question, “What makes human life meaningful?”
WEEKEND CLASSICS: THANK YOU FOR SMOKING (Jason Reitman, 2006)
323 Sixth Ave. at West Third St.
February 24-26, 11:00 am
Series continues weekends through April 2
Jason Reitman, the son of producer-director Ivan Reitman (Stripes, Ghostbusters, Dave), made his sparkling feature-film debut with the brilliant Thank You for Smoking, a devilishly delightful black comedy based on the novel by acerbic wit Christopher Buckley. Aaron Eckhart gives a riotous performance as Nick Naylor, a fast-talking, handsome, smarmy lobbyist for the Academy of Tobacco Studies, a Big Tobacco laboratory that, remarkably, cannot find a link between cigarettes and health risks. A master of spin, Naylor seems to even believe himself when he tells a young boy dying of cancer that he’s better off smoking. As a grandstanding senator (William H. Macy) plans congressional hearings on the evils of tobacco — especially on teenagers — Naylor is being groomed as the industry’s savior by his high-strung boss (J. K. Simmons) and the Captain (Robert Duvall) while trying to establish a meaningful relationship with his son (Cameron Bright). The fine ensemble also features Katie Holmes as a hot young reporter who’ll go to virtually any length to get a story; Sam Elliott as the Marlboro Man, who is dying of lung cancer; Rob Lowe as a Zen-like Hollywood agent who is considering Naylor’s idea of making cigarette smoking cool in the movies again; and Dennis Miller and Joan Lunden as themselves, adding a bit of reality to the hysterical situation, which might not be as far off from the truth as we might think, especially with President Donald Trump recently promising to enact a ban preventing administration members from becoming lobbyists for five years after they leave government service.
Among the funniest scenes in this wicked film are Naylor’s weekly meetings with the M.O.D. Squad (the Merchants of Death), as the lobbyists for the alcohol (Maria Bello), tobacco (Eckhart), and firearms (David Koechner) industries playfully call themselves. The film is produced by David O. Sacks, who amassed his fortune when he sold his Internet baby, PayPal, to eBay in 2002 and headed straight for Hollywood. Sacks also makes a cameo as an oil lobbyist. The talented Reitman has gone on to make such films as Juno and Up in the Air, earning himself two Oscar nominations for Best Director. Thank You for Smoking is screening in a 35mm print February 24-26 at 11:00 am in the IFC Center Weekend Classics series “Autocratic for the People: An Unpresidented Series of Star-Spangled Satires,” which continues through April 2 with such other political mockeries, parodies, spoofs, and lampoons as Mike Judge’s Idiocracy, Barry Levinson’s Wag the Dog, and Andrew Fleming’s Dick.
1564 Broadway at 47th St.
Tuesday - Sunday through June 25, $79-$199
In 1995, Sunset Boulevard was nominated for eleven Tony Awards, winning seven, including Best Musical, Best Original Score (Andrew Lloyd Webber), Best Book (Don Black and Christopher Hampton), and Best Leading Actress (Glenn Close). Two decades later, Close, now sixty-nine, is back in Lonny Price’s mediocre revival of the musical based on Billy Wilder’s classic 1950 film noir, which was nominated for eleven Oscars, winning three. Despite this glorious history, it’s worth remembering that 1995 was an extremely weak year for Broadway musicals; no other show was up for score and book, while only Smokey Joe’s Café was also in the running for Best Musical, and Close’s only competition was Rebecca Luker for Show Boat. The night we attended this new revival, running at the Palace through June 25, much of the crowd was distracted by the presence of a radiant Hillary Clinton, but they were still familiar with the story: Trying to evade a pair of tough repo men, struggling Hollywood writer Joe Gillis (Michael Xavier) pulls into a hidden-away, fading mansion, where he meets bald manservant Max von Meyerling (Fred Johanson) and former silent-screen superstar Norma Desmond (Close), an aging, delusional woman who still moves and speaks like a silent-movie queen. Plotting a return to glory via Cecil B. DeMille (Paul Schoeffler), she takes on Gillis as cowriter and boy toy; meanwhile, smart, bespectacled studio script editor Betty Schaeffer (Siobhan Dillon), the fiancée of Gillis’s friend and colleague, Artie Green (Preston Truman Boyd), shows an interest in more than Gillis’s writing. It all leads to one of the greatest closing lines in film and theater history.
This updated version of the 1995 hit features a record-breaking forty-piece orchestra, conducted by Kristen Blodgette, taking up most of the center of the stage; the action occurs in the narrow space in front of it and on a series of ladders and platforms above and around it, rendering Stephen Mear’s choreography nearly nonexistent. While it’s lovely to hear and see such a grand orchestra, the audience is constantly looking around to find where the actors are, and David Cullen and Lloyd Webber’s orchestrations and arrangements are so mundane that a smaller band might have sufficed. Close (The Real Thing, The Singular Life of Albert Nobbs), playing the role made famous in the film by the glorious Gloria Swanson (and also played onstage by Rita Moreno, Betty Buckley, Patti LuPone, Diahann Carroll, and Petula Clark), is fine as Norma but sometimes gets caught between playing it serious and camping it up; however, her costumes, again by Anthony Powell, are spectacular. Xavier (Love Story, Into the Woods), who is rather hunky in a bathing suit, plays the William Holden part with a sly grin, while Johanson (Aladdin, Jesus Christ Superstar) excels in the role performed in the film by Erich von Stroheim. The book by Black (Aspects of Love) and Hampton (Dangerous Liaisons), who later collaborated on Frank Wildhorn’s Dracula, the Musical, follows the film almost too closely without much stagecraft, save for having a car onstage, which can so often be tacky, and black-and-white projections. The catchphrase of the music and text, extolling Hollywood as a place that creates “new ways to dream,” is repeated ad nauseam. The show opens with a life-size dummy of the deceased Gillis lifted out of an unseen pool (the story is told by the character in flashback), but for some reason it is left hanging above the stage the entire night, like a creepy ghost watching over everything, much as the ghost of the classic film hovers over the proceedings onstage, hoping the musical will get better, but except for too few shining moments, it never does.
PHILIP GLASS 80th BIRTHDAY CONCERT SEASON
Composer and pianist extraordinaire Philip Glass, master of “music with repetitive structures,” turned eighty on January 31, and he is celebrating the milestone with a series of special performances in his longtime hometown of New York City. At National Sawdust in Brooklyn, “Philip @ 80” will feature the Complete Piano Etudes by Maki Namekawa on February 24 ($35-$40, 7:00); Bridging the Gap III, consisting of works by Paola Prestini, John Zorn, and Glass performed by cellist Jeffrey Zeigler, bassist Trevor Dunn, percussionist Ches Smith, and Yale School of Music students on March 5 ($29-$34, 7:00), with panel discussions moderated by Steve Smith; and Glass teaming up with Foday Musa Suso and Ziegler on March 12 ($50-$60, 7:00). On March 16 at Carnegie Hall ($35-$200), artistic director Glass will be the focus at the thirtieth annual Tibet House U.S. Benefit Concert, with performances by Laurie Anderson, Ben Harper, Iggy Pop, Alabama Shakes, Sufjan Stevens, Patti Smith and Her Band, the Scorchio Quartet, Tenzin Choegyal and Jesse Paris Smith, and New Order’s Bernard Sumner, Tom Chapman, and Phil Cunningham. And on April 20, the Tribeca Film Festival will host a screening of Jean Cocteau’s La Belle et la Bête with Glass’s live score performed by the Philip Glass Ensemble. In addition, Glass has been selected to hold the Richard and Barbara Debs Composer’s Chair at Carnegie Hall for the 2017–18 season, which will feature many classics and premieres.
BAM Howard Gilman Opera House
30 Lafayette Ave. between Ashland Pl. & St. Felix St.
February 15-19, $24-$80
The second time South African writer Jonny Steinberg met Asad Abdullahi, he observed how the Somali refugee became wistful after snapping a twig and smelling its sap. “I felt a whim rising. A man who can break a twig and take me with him to another world, I thought, is a man about whom I ought to write a book,” Steinberg explains in a program note about A Man of Good Hope, a musical drama based on his 2015 book making its U.S. premiere at BAM February 15-19. Presented by London’s Young Vic and Cape Town’s Isango Ensemble, A Man of Good Hope follows Asad from his early childhood in Mogadishu, where his mother (Zanele Mbatha) is shot in cold blood right in front of him, to his attempts to settle in Kenya, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, and South Africa while dreaming of escaping all the hardships and living in America. Asad is played by Siposethu Juta or Phielo Makitle, Zoleka Mpotsha, Luvo Tamba, and Ayanda Tikolo as he grows into a man, constantly encountering a stream of new people, both friends and enemies, and struggling to survive, always looking over his shoulder, aware of ever-present danger. Many of the people he meets disappear from his life; his acquaintances and relatives end up brutally murdered, and relationships are as evanescent as the cash in his hand. However, despite the serious nature of his story, A Man of Good Hope is filled with humor and joy. “His fear crossed a boundary right then and inhabited me,” Jonny (composer and conductor Mandisi Dyantyis) says early on about Asad. “I saw what he saw and felt what he felt. It was a gift. In that moment he gave me the ink with which I have written this book.”
The set consists of a central angled wooden platform with two small stairs at the back for entries and exits; along both sides are seven marimbas, played by various members of the twenty-three-person troupe. When they’re not on the platform, the cast watches from the right and left, occasionally chiming in like a Greek chorus. The dialogue is mostly in English with some lines in African languages; in addition, the characters occasionally speak in operatic tones or break into full-fledged songs featuring traditional melodies and movement (by Lungelo Ngamlana). Director Mark Dornford-May uses freestanding doorways to depict border crossings on the characters’ journeys, or attempted journeys, to other countries, evoking the current refugee crisis and xenophobia so prevalent around the world as well as, serendipitously, the new American president’s desire to build a wall between Mexico and the U.S.A. Dornford-May, the cofounder and artistic director of Isango, also employs creative ways to show travel by car and the transformation of Asad as he ages. And the costumes, so colorful in the first half, make a very specific shift after intermission. The fine, barefoot cast also includes Dyantyis as Steinberg and the conductor, music director and Isango cofounder Pauline Malefane as Yindy and Sadicya, Sindiswa Sityata as Yindy’s mother, Ayanda Eleki as Yindy’s father, Khanya Sakube as Tube, Zamile Gantana as Rooda, Busiswe Ngehame as Foosiya (just wait till you hear her ring tone), Luvo Rasemeni as Zena, Sonwabo Ntshata as Kaafi, Cikizwa Ndamase as Zulfa, Sifiso Lupuzi as Madoda, and Thobile Dyasi as Abdi. (We saw Juta as the eight-year-old Asad, and he was exceptional, reaching emotional levels far beyond his years.) The ambiguous ending is followed by exuberant curtain calls, everyone dancing and smiling, a testament to the stubborn persistence of the human capacity for happiness amid the harsh and heartbreaking conditions we continually create for each other and ourselves.