Who: Bill Murray, Frankie Faison, David Strathairn, Marjolaine Goldsmith, Kathryn Erbe, Nyasha Hatendi, Bryan Doerries, Matthew T. Starr, more
What: Dramatic reading and interactive community discussion
Where: Theater of War Zoom
When: Sunday, December 6, free with RSVP, 4:00
Why: “So Satan went forth from the presence of the Lord, and smote Job with sore boils from the sole of his foot even unto his crown.” That was only one of many indignities the patient, blessed Job is forced to endure in the Bible as questions of faith and righteousness are brought to bear. How would Job react to 2020? Theater of War has been extremely busy during the pandemic lockdown, presenting dramatic readings of King Lear, Antigone, Oedipus the King, and other classic works, relating them to public health and social justice issues happening around the country today in light of the George Floyd protests and the Covid-19 crisis. On December 6, Bill Murray, Frankie Faison, David Strathairn, Marjolaine Goldsmith, Kathryn Erbe, and Nyasha Hatendi will read from the Book of Job, translated by Stephen Mitchell and directed and adapted by artistic director Bryan Doerries, who will also facilitate a conversation with Mayor Matthew T. Starr of Mount Vernon, Ohio, and other local community leaders in Knox County; Theater of War is in the midst of a yearlong virtual residency at Kenyon College, which is located in Gambier, Ohio. Knox County is named after Henry Knox, an officer in the American Revolution who later served as secretary of war.
Who: Elizabeth Alexander, Cornelius Eady, Richard Hamilton, Rachel M. Harper, Aja Monet, Anthony Walton, Philip Schultz
What: Poetry readings in honor of Black Lives Matter
Where: The Writers Studio Zoom webinar
When: Friday, December 4, free with RSVP, 7:00
Why: Founded in 1987 by Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Philip Schultz, the Writers Studio is dedicated to helping students discover and nurture their own voice. On December 4 at 7:00, the New York-based organization will honor Black Lives Matter with an all-star reading of works from Every Shut Eye Ain’t Asleep: An Anthology of Poetry by African Americans Since 1945, the 1994 collection edited by Michael S. Harper and Anthony Walton that contains poems by nearly three dozen Black authors, including Derek Walcott, Rita Dove, Gwendolyn Brooks, Ishmael Reed, Sonia Sanchez, and Ralph Dickey. The participants, who will share some of their own poetry as well, include Elizabeth Alexander, Cornelius Eady, Richard Hamilton, Rachel M. Harper, Aja Monet, Walton, and Schultz. (Alexander and Eady are featured in the book.) The program will be streamed live over Zoom; advance RSVP is required.
Who: Paul Giamatti, Andrew Delbanco
What: Audio reading and live Q&A
Where: 92Y’s Unterberg Poetry Center online
When: Thursday, December 3, $15, 7:00
Why: It’s one of the most famous sentences in the history of American literature, consisting of five simple words: “I would prefer not to.” Initially published anonymously in Putnam’s magazine in November and December 1853 and then slightly adapted for his 1856 collection The Piazza Tales, Herman Melville’s “Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall-Street” features a title character who just decides one day to not follow orders, to not do what he is asked at his job as a legal copyist. It’s a gentle yet bold declaration, if not quite definitive, but one that Bartleby sets his mind to. As Melville writes:
Ere introducing the scrivener, as he first appeared to me, it is fit I make some mention of myself, my employées, my business, my chambers, and general surroundings; because some such description is indispensable to an adequate understanding of the chief character about to be presented.
In this very attitude did I sit when I called to him, rapidly stating what it was I wanted him to do — namely, to examine a small paper with me. Imagine my surprise, nay, my consternation, when without moving from his privacy, Bartleby in a singularly mild, firm voice, replied, “I would prefer not to.”
I sat awhile in perfect silence, rallying my stunned faculties. Immediately it occurred to me that my ears had deceived me, or Bartleby had entirely misunderstood my meaning. I repeated my request in the clearest tone I could assume. But in quite as clear a one came the previous reply, “I would prefer not to.”
“Prefer not to,” echoed I, rising in high excitement, and crossing the room with a stride. “What do you mean? Are you moon-struck? I want you to help me compare this sheet here — take it,” and I thrust it towards him.
“I would prefer not to,” said he.
I looked at him steadfastly. His face was leanly composed; his gray eye dimly calm. Not a wrinkle of agitation rippled him. Had there been the least uneasiness, anger, impatience or impertinence in his manner; in other words, had there been any thing ordinarily human about him, doubtless I should have violently dismissed him from the premises. But as it was, I should have as soon thought of turning my pale plaster-of-paris bust of Cicero out of doors. I stood gazing at him awhile, as he went on with his own writing, and then reseated myself at my desk. This is very strange, thought I. What had one best do? But my business hurried me. I concluded to forget the matter for the present, reserving it for my future leisure.
In conjunction with his outstanding reading of the short story for 92Y’s Unterberg Poetry Center, which is available here, on December 3 at 7:00, Emmy-winning, Oscar-nominated actor Paul Giamatti will take part in a live discussion with Columbia University professor Andrew Delbanco, author of the 2005 biography Melville: His World and Work, focusing on “Bartleby.” The New Haven-born, Brooklyn Heights-based Giamatti has a unique understanding of finance, Wall Street, and the law, having appeared in such films and series as Too Big to Fail, John Adams, and Billions. “It’s one of my favorite short stories by one of my favorite writers, so I was particularly gratified to be able to read it out loud. I’ve always wanted to,” Melville fan Giamatti said in a statement. “It’s a wonderful story — a very strange but sad story — but also funny. I think it’s very funny.” Admission to the talk and access to the ninety-minute reading is $15.
Who: Brooks Ashmanskas, Laura Bell Bundy, Lena Hall, Robin de Jesús, Jay Armstrong Johnson, Nathan Lane, Norm Lewis, Kevin McHale, Jessie Mueller, Cynthia Nixon, Anthony Rapp, Krysta Rodriguez, Seth Rudetsky, JK Simmons, Alysha Umphress, Paul Castree, Richard Chamberlain, Charity Angél Dawson, Fran Drescher, J. Harrison Ghee, Gideon Glick, Lisa Howard, James Monroe Iglehart, Cherry Jones, Francis Jue, Vicki Lewis, Telly Leung, Stanley Wayne Mathis, Eric William Morris, Michael Notardonato, Okieriete Onaodowan, Kirsten Scott, Matthew Scott, Michael James Scott, Evan Todd, Mariand Torres, Michael Xavier, Danny Burstein, Judith Light, Billy Porter, Michael Urie, more
What: Abingdon Theater Company benefit for World AIDS Day
Where: Broadway on Demand
When: Tuesday, December 1, free, 5:00
Why: First produced at the Ohio Theatre in New York City in 1989, composer Janet Hood and lyricist Bill Russell’s Elegies for Angels, Punks, and Raging Queens consists of monologues from the perspective of AIDS victims and songs that explore the reaction of their deaths from friends and family. On World AIDS Day, Broadway on Demand, in conjunction with the Abingdon Theater Company, is hosting a virtual revival of the show, featuring an all-star cast of more than fifty actors, including Brooks Ashmanskas, Lena Hall, Fran Drescher, Nathan Lane, Norm Lewis, Richard Chamberlain, Jessie Mueller, Cynthia Nixon, Anthony Rapp, Krysta Rodriguez, James Monroe Iglehart, Cherry Jones, Seth Rudetsky, and JK Simmons, with special appearances by Danny Burstein, Judith Light, Billy Porter, and Michael Urie. It’s free to stream, although donations are encouraged for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. The stories were inspired by the AIDS Memorial Quilt and Edgar Lee Masters’s Spoon River Anthology collection of interrelated free-verse poems and features such songs as “I’m Holding On to You,” “I Don’t Do That Anymore,” “I Don’t Know How to Help You,” and “Celebrate.”
Who: Ron Cephas Jones, Eisa Davis, William Jackson Harper, Raúl Esparza, Jill Lepore, Michael Sexton, Ayanna Thompson, Stephen Greenblatt, Philip Lorenz
What: Digital Shakespeare program
Where: Brooklyn Public Library and the Public Theater
When: Sunday, November 22, free with RSVP, 7:00; Thursday, December 3, free with RSVP, 7:00; Thursday, December 17, free with RSVP, 7:00
Why: Shakespeare readings and discussions have multiplied during the pandemic, with actors and scholars presenting impassioned soliloquies online, followed by fascinating talks about the legacy of the Bard, particularly in this time of Covid-19, isolation, and social and political unrest; Red Bull Theater’s RemarkaBULL Podversations have been especially enlightening, highlighted by scintillating episodes with Chukwudi Iwuji and Patrick Page. Now the Brooklyn Public Library and the Public Theater have teamed up for a free three-part digital voyage into Shakespeare, kicking off November 22 at 7:00 with “A Thousand Dreadful Things: Shakespeare and the Fear of Black Vengeance,” an exploration of Aaron the Moor from Titus Andronicus, with Ron Cephas Jones, who played Aaron at the Public in 2011, William Jackson Harper, and Public Theater Shakespeare scholar in residence Ayanna Thompson, author of Passing Strange: Shakespeare, Race, and Contemporary America. On December 3 at 7:00, “What Is the City but the People? Shakespeare, Art, and Citizenship” features Pulitzer Prize-winning profession Stephen Greenblatt, author of Tyrant: Shakespeare on Politics, and actor and playwright Eisa Davis looking at modern democracy; and on December 17 at 7:00, “Two Monsters of Nature: Lope de Vega and William Shakespeare” links the theater of Lope de Vega and Shakespeare, with readings in Spanish and English by Tony winner Raúl Esparza and commentary by Cornell professor of comparative language Philip Lorenz. All three programs will be moderated by Public Theater Shakespeare Initiative director Michael Sexton and are free with RSVP.
Who: David Godlis, Luc Sante, Chris Stein, Dave Brolan
What: Virtual book launch
Where: Rizzoli Zoom
When: Thursday, November 19, free with RSVP, 5:00
Why: “As Garry Winogrand said, ‘I photograph to see what things look like photographed.’ This book is what I photographed,” David Godlis explains in his new book, Godlis Streets (Reel Art Press, $39.95, November 2020). I’m used to seeing the ever-cool Godlis and his impressive curly hair every year at the New York Film Festival, snapping away from his seat at front and center, but this year’s event, of course, was virtual, so I will have to settle for catching up with Godlis on Zoom when Rizzoli hosts his book launch on November 19 at 5:00, when Godlis will speak with Reel Art Press music editor Dave Brolan. Godlis is known for his black-and-white documentation of the punk scene, cinema luminaries, and street photos from the 1970s to 1990s, ever since he purchased his first 35mm camera in 1970; his motto is “Better Living Through Photography.” Look out for his photo of an outdoor stand selling “Black Art,” a drawing of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., next to “American Art,” a painting of a clown; a shot of a nun walking past a bus with an ad featuring a naked man and woman on it; and a picture of two women looking askance at him as they pass a peep show. The book includes a foreword by Luc Sante and an afterword by Chris Stein; both Sante and Stein will be part of the launch as well, which is free with RSVP.