MY PARSIFAL CONDUCTOR: A WAGNERIAN COMEDY
Marjorie S. Deane Little Theater at the West Side YMCA
10 West 64th Street
Tuesday - Sunday, September 25 - November 3, $67
The debates over whether German composer Richard Wagner was anti-Semitic have raged for more than a century, particularly since Adolf Hitler and the Nazis incorporated his music into their march for power. (Wagner died in 1883 at the age of sixty-nine.) One of his works that generates complaints of anti-Semitism is his final opera, 1880’s Parsifal, about the search for the Holy Grail. Writer, director, and producer Allan Leicht, who won a Daytime Emmy for Outstanding Writing for Ryan’s Hope and was nominated for a Primetime Emmy for the TV movie Adam, explores the topic in My Parsifal Conductor: A Wagnerian Comedy, which was inspired by the real-life situation in which King Ludwig II of Bavaria commanded that German Jew Hermann Levi, the son of a rabbi, will conduct the inaugural performance of Parsifal at the Bayreuth Festival in 1882. The cast features Eddie Korbich as Wagner, Claire Brownwell as Cosima, his wife, Geoffrey Cantor as Levi, Carlo Bosticco as King Ludwig II, Logan James Hall as Friedrich Nietzsche, Alison Cimmet as Dora, and Jazmin Gorsline as Carrie and Sophie. My Parsifal Conductor is directed by Robert Kalfin (Happy End, Yentl) and produced by Ted Snowdon (The Elephant Man, My Name Is Asher Lev).
TICKET GIVEAWAY: My Parsifal Conductor runs September 25 through November 3 (with an October 11 opening) at the Marjorie S. Deane Little Theater at the West Side YMCA, and twi-ny has two pairs of tickets to give away for free. Just send your name, daytime phone number, and favorite play involving opera to email@example.com by Friday, September 28, at 3:00 pm to be eligible. All entrants must be twenty-one years of age or older; two winners will be selected at random.
Performance Space New York
122CC Second Floor Theater
150 First Ave. at East Ninth St.
Tuesday - Sunday through October 14, $35-$45
Heroic Russian journalist and activist Anna Politkovskaya dedicated her life to reporting the truth about what was going on in Russia and in particular Chechnya. In writing Intractable Woman: A Theatrical Memo on Anna Politkovskaya, Italian playwright Stefano Massini explains, “I wrote this text to go against the plan of those that decided to silence and muffle her voice.” Translated into English by Paula Wing, the 2008 play is now being given its US premiere by PlayCo, opening tonight at the 122CC Second Floor Theater at Performance Space New York in the East Village. The eighty-minute work features a cast of three women, Nadine Malouf, Nicole Shalhoub, and Stacey Yen, dressed in the same black pants, white collared shirt, and black jacket as if they are state officials or investigators (the costume designer is Junghyun Georgia Lee), portraying multiple characters, including Politkovskaya and various subjects she interviewed. In the prologue, the three women directly address the audience, interchanging lines as they share something that senior Kremlin official Vladimir Surkov wrote in an internal memo. “Enemies of the state are divided into two categories: the kind you can reeducate and the intractables. Discussion is not possible with the second kind and this makes reeducation impossible. The State requires us to clear our territory of these intractables.” Politkovskaya was considered an intractable.
The show consists of nineteen episodes of Politkovskaya’s reporting, involving a decapitated head put on public display; a nineteen-year-old soldier suffering from hunger who enlisted in the military, where he kills Chechens in “human bundles”; the Beslan massacre; a typical journalist’s day in Grozny, where citizens “get used to the idea of death”; and Ramzan Kadyrov, the corrupt thirty-year-old prime minister of Chechnya, installed by his father. “I find the behavior of this journalist unacceptable,” he says a day after the interview is published. “Doesn’t she know it’s the interviewer’s job to make the interviewee look good? What right did she have to publish my responses exactly as I gave them? Clearly this woman doesn’t want to be one of us.”
Indeed, Politkovskaya never wanted to be one of “them.” Instead, she fearlessly wrote about hate crimes, imprisonment and torture, widespread rape, mass graves, and other degradations of humanity, risking her job and her life with her husband and two children. Marsha Ginsberg’s pristine press-room set contains carefully arranged rows of red chairs facing a table with microphones. A portrait of Vladimir Putin hangs on a wall. One of the most frightening aspects of Intractable Woman — which marks Massini’s US debut, to be followed in March with The Lehman Trilogy at the Park Avenue Armory — is how Politkovskaya and other reporters are considered propagandists and enemies of the state, echoing President Trump’s views of the free press. “Journalists like you write lies,” a colonel in command of an airborne unit tells Politkovskaya. “What should I write?” she asks him. He replies, “That we’re fighting for the motherland. Against enemies of the people and traitors.”
Director Lee Sunday Evans (Dance Nation, HOME) does a superb job preventing the play from becoming didactic, pedantic, or just plain boring; the dialogue interplay among the three equally excellent actresses, who move chairs around in various scenes, keeps things proceeding at a fluid pace. The text does not necessarily quote Politkovskaya exactly; Massini, a novelist and the artistic director of the Piccolo Teatro of Milano, rewrote her words for dramatic impact, although the facts themselves are true. After the show is over, a curtain is opened at the back of the stage and the audience is invited to look inside, at a shelf of such items as Politkovskaya’s books, family photographs, and, most tellingly, a picture of a room of the same red chairs used in the production, on each one a photo of a murdered Russian journalist. The lobby is filled with posters of quotes from Politkovskaya, along with photographs. “I never write commentary, or speculation, or opinions. I have always believed – and I continue to believe – that it is not up to us to make judgements,” she wrote. “I am a journalist, not a court of law or a magistrate. I limit myself to reporting the facts. The facts: As they stand, as they are. It seems like the easiest thing, but here it’s the most difficult. And it exacts the highest price.”
After delighting audiences with such outstanding indie fare as Blood Simple (1984), Fargo (1996), and O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000), brothers Joel and Ethan Coen hit a midcareer slump with the mediocre The Man Who Wasn’t There (2001), the much-maligned Intolerable Cruelty (2003), and the just plain awful remake of The Ladykillers (2004). It was three years before they released their next film, the Oscar-winning monster hit No Country for Old Men. In 2008 they toned things down again with the slight but entertaining Burn After Reading. John Malkovich is hysterical as Osborne Cox, an angry, bitter, foul-mouthed CIA agent who loses his job and decides to write a tell-all memoir, which bizarrely ends up in the hands of a pair of bumbling idiots, Chad Feldheimer (an extremely funny Brad Pitt) and Linda Litzke (Frances McDormand). Linda really wants to get a whole bunch of plastic surgery done, so she plans on squeezing a lot of money out of old Mr. Cox, who has no patience for anyone other than himself. Throw in a cold-as-ice wife (Tilda Swinton), a philandering G-man (George Clooney), a Russian ambassador named after Severn Darden’s character in The President’s Analyst, a stellar cast that also includes Richard Jenkins, J. K. Simmons, David Rasche, Elizabeth Marvel, and Dermot Mulroney, and some shocking violence and — well, we’ve told you too much already. Burn After Reading might not be grade-A Coen brothers, but it’s still a worthwhile endeavor from two of America’s most ingenious filmmakers. The movie, which asks the question “The Russians? Are you sure?,” is screening at Nitehawk on September 24 as part of the “Booze & Books” series and will be followed by a Q&A with Film Comment contributor and Harpers digital editor Violet Lucca and Adam Nayman, author of the new book The Coen Brothers: This Book Really Ties the Films Together. In addition, Nitehawk will be serving a special cocktail for the event, the Krapotkin.
SCHLOCK (John Landis, 1973)
Alamo Drafthouse Downtown Brooklyn
445 Albee Square West
Sunday, September 23, 9:30
We New Yorkers are spoiled with a plethora of art-house cinemas showing old favorites, undiscovered gems, American indies, foreign films, and just about anything else ever put on celluloid. Even so, the third annual Art House Theater Day, taking place at nearly one hundred venues around the country and in Canada, holds a neat surprise here in the city. On September 23, the Alamo Drafthouse theaters in downtown Brooklyn and Yonkers will be showing a new 4K restoration of Schlock, John Landis’s schlocky first film, a horror comedy shot in twelve days for a mere sixty grand when he was only twenty-one. “Hi, I’m John Landis, and you’re about to watch Schlock. I’m sorry,” the writer-director explains in the intro on the DVD. But he need not apologize, as Schlock is stupid fun. In a small town in the Southern California suburbs (Agoura), the so-called Banana Massacre has resulted in the brutal death of more than two hundred people so far, all found with banana peels in their vicinity. Weirdo detective Sgt. Wino (Saul Kahan, who also took the production stills) is on the case, sure that there will be more killings; he’s not exactly getting the best of help from his team of cops, which includes the klutzy Ivan and the hapless Officer Gillis (Richard Gillis).
The story is being covered by smooth-talking local news anchor Joe Putzman (Eric Allison), a well-groomed gentleman who never misses an opportunity to hype upcoming programs on the station, most prominently the fake movie See You Next Wednesday. While much of the public is frightened, others are curious or think they are immune to the threat of violence, not the best choice made by a group of alliterative teens, Billy (Gene Fox), Betty (Susan Weiser), Bobby (assistant director Jonathan A. Flint), and Barbara (Amy Schireson), who really shouldn’t go near that hole. Scientific expert Professor Shlibovitz (E. G. Harty) believes the murderer might just be the missing link in the mammalian chain. And Mindy (Eliza Garrett, who played Brunella in Landis’s Animal House and has been married to Eric Roberts since 1992), a sweet and innocent young blind woman in love with Cal (Charles Villiers), becomes friends with the twenty-million-year-old Schlockthropus, thinking he is a big dog. While some scenes are just plain silly, others are smart and funny, in particular the vending machine episode.
Schlock is a giddy homage to the horror film and motion pictures themselves, with direct and indirect references to King Kong, The Blob, Godzilla, Frankenstein, and 2001: A Space Odyssey, along with a large dose of Woody Allen and even Rod Serling. It’s a hit-or-miss smorgasbord of goofy moments that serves as a forerunner to such later Landis flicks as Kentucky Fried Movie, The Blues Brothers, Trading Places. An American Werewolf in London, and Into the Night. The film was shot by Emmy-winning cinematographer Bob Collins, with cheesy music by David Gibson and editing by executive producer George Folsey Jr., who went on to cut many Landis movies (and Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video) as well as Hostel and Hot Tub Time Machine. It’s also one of special effects guru and seven-time Oscar winner Rick Baker’s first films — and yes, that is none other than Landis himself in the ape suit, portraying Schlockthropus. “It’s bad, and appropriately named,” Landis says in a trailer for a post-Animal House rerelease of the film, apparently done without Landis’s approval and retitled The Banana Monster. A movie that could only be made by someone in love with movies, the restored Schlock is screening Sunday night at 9:30 at the Alamo Drafthouse in Brooklyn and at 10:00 in Yonkers; the Yonkers Alamo is also showing Jim Cummings’s SXSW Grand Jury winner Thunder Road, which is named after the Bruce Springsteen song, on Sunday at 4:30 as part of Art House Theater Day.
The New Group at the Pershing Square Signature Center
The Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre
480 West 42nd St. between between Ninth & Tenth Aves.
Tuesday - Sunday through October 28, $30-$125
Obie-winning playwright Sharr White and director Scott Elliott manage to make a story about the 1977 mayoral election in Albany, New York, tense and exciting in The True, a world premiere from the New Group that opened tonight at the Pershing Square Signature Center. A fictionalized version of real events, the vastly entertaining play opens as Erastus Corning II (Michael McKean), who has been mayor of the capital of New York State since 1941, is facing a serious challenge to his long reign following the death of Democratic party leader Dan O’Connell. State senator Howard C. Nolan (Glenn Fitzgerald) is taking on Corning, with the support of Charlie Ryan (John Pankow), who wants to be the new party boss. But tough-talking fixer Dorothea “Polly” Noonan (Edie Falco) isn’t about to let that happen. Noonan, a foul-mouthed firebrand, pulls a lot of strings behind the scenes, and her down-and-dirty, no-holds-barred style gets things done as her calm, easygoing husband, Peter (Peter Scolari), stays out of it all. “I don't hate politics, by the way. I just want nothing to do with it,” he says, even when confronted with rumors that Erastus, who is married to the mysterious Betty (Tracy Shayne), and Polly are longtime lovers. Desperate for Erastus to beat Nolan, who is leading big in the polls, Polly taps young Bill McCormick (Austin Cauldwell) to be named committeeman and support Erastus within the party machine. “Fuck that fucking Charlie Ryan,” she says. But when Erastus starts questioning whether he still wants Polly on his team, she practically explodes, while also hurting inside, since she has devoted her life to him and the Democrats.
Falco (Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune, Side Man) is exceptional as Noonan, a kind of cross between Carmela Soprano from The Sopranos and Jackie Peyton from Nurse Jackie, two roles that earned her Emmys. (In fact, much of the cast and creative team have major television ties: Scolari starred on Bosom Buddies, The Bob Newhart Show, and Girls, McKean was on Laverne & Shirley and SNL and is currently on Better Call Saul, Pankow is a veteran of Mad About You and The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd, and White is a writer and producer for The Affair and Sweetbitter.) Falco plays Noonan with a brawling charm, whether she’s sitting at her sewing machine making a culotte or going face-to-face with her political enemies. Obie winner White (The Other Place, Annapurna) gets right to the heart of the matter, showing how politics has changed over the decades, implying why the Democrats have been losing power in recent years. “Regular people,” Noonan tells Erastus. “They don’t give a shit what you do behind closed doors so long as their lives are working. But their lives aren’t working anymore. Committeeman. Used to know every. Single. Voter. In his district. Every single one. That voter had a problem, they told the committeeman, the committeeman went to the ward leader, the ward leader either solved it? Or went to Dan. And you know what happened at the end of the day? . . . It got taken care of.” Brief but telling references to shifting demographics, race, and women in politics reveal much as Noonan also makes clear that women are not treated the same as men in the political arena. “What I do for Erastus is no different than what you did for Dan. And yet I’m ostracized for it,” she tells Ryan.
McKean (The Little Foxes, Accomplice) and Scolari (The Foreigner, Hairspray) are both terrific, portraying best friends who try to keep politics — and Polly — from tearing them apart. New Group artistic director Elliott (Evening at the Talk House, Mercury Fur) expertly balances the humor amid powerful dramatic moments, never letting things go awry on Derek McLane’s elegant set, where small changes make dramatic differences. And watch out for a surprise, hilarious late scene that brings the house down — something that does not appear in the script. Kudos are also due Falco’s hair stylist and costume designer Clint Ramos, who capture 1977 in fabulous ways. Noonan represents a different time in the treatment of women, both personally and professionally; she might cook and sew, but she also curses and never backs down from a challenge, particularly from a man. It’s fascinating to imagine what Noonan, who died in November 2003 at the age of eighty-eight, would think of what’s going on in the political arena today, in Albany and the country itself; she would certainly be proud of her granddaughter, New York senator Kirsten Gillibrand, who calls her “my greatest political hero” and is keeping her grandmother’s legacy alive.
46 Walker St.
Tuesday - Sunday through September 23, $45
Irish playwright Jaki McCarrick makes her New York debut with the world premiere of The Naturalists, an intimate, involving drama that is having too short a run at Walkerspace, where it continues through September 23. It’s 2010, and brothers Francis Xavier (John Keating) and Billy Sloane (Tim Ruddy) are living together in a cluttered mobile home in a rural hamlet in County Monaghan. Francis is a tall, thin, calm man who engages with nature and tries to give people the benefit of the doubt. Billy is a paunchy, brooding brute who sits around watching soap operas and guzzling beer while spread over the couch, always leaving a mess behind. While Francis carefully takes off his boots and places them outside the door, Billy trudges into the house and kicks them off, spreading around whatever he stepped in. “Do ya not know how to live?” Francis asks. “Don’t do the easy thing. The drink, the telly. And couldn’t we leave the door open for a change and listen to the birds like we used ta? Oh, it’s a beautiful night — and so warm, Billy . . . and the tall trees, the darkness of them against the still bright sky. Aren’t we lucky in Ireland we have the long nights in May? We could be watchin’ somethin’ real, Billy, and not that oul shite.” To which a grumbling Billy replies, “What I want to be watchin’ the trees for? What am I? A bird? Haven’t we fecked our lives away on them long enough? I have anyway.”
Weary of the stasis and mess of two bachelors living together, Francis hires a part-time housekeeper, young Josie Larmer (Sarah Street), an airy, Honda 50-riding vegan who needs to make some money and doesn’t mind looking after the brothers, whose mother disappeared long ago. Francis is virtually obsessed with the natural world, and slowly it becomes clear why — a former IRA member, he spent twelve years in prison for having masterminded the 1979 Narrow Water bombing, which killed eighteen British soldiers. (Although the characters in the play are fictional, the bombing was real, but the perpetrators were never identified. Coincidentally, there was an attack on the Narrow Water memorial just this past weekend that is being treated by police as a hate crime.) Both Francis and Billy take a liking to Josie, who doesn’t mind the attention, but when an old IRA compatriot of Francis’s, John-Joe Doherty (Michael Mellamphy), aka Joey the Lip, unexpectedly shows up, the past threatens to overwhelm and destroy both Sloane brothers.
A presentation of the Pond Theatre Company, The Naturalists is warmly directed by Pond cofounders Colleen Clinton and Lily Dorment. (Street is the third cofounder; Clinton and Dorment have acted in the company’s previous shows, 2016’s Abigail’s Party and 2017’s Muswell Hill.) Chika Shimizu’s inviting set is wide open; a few scenes even take place on the floor, only a few feet away from the audience, as if everyone in the theater is taking part. It might be 2010, but the brothers seem trapped in time. They have an old TV console, a ratty record player with LPs strewn about, and no microwave. Cellphones are nowhere to be seen; it’s as if they are lost in Henry David Thoreau’s legacy. Music is integral to the show; while songs by Tom Waits play a major role, particularly “Martha,” Steely Dan’s “Josie” is a bit too obvious. All four actors are excellent, but Keating, whose long credits include many works at the Irish Rep, TFANA, and Irish Arts, is a standout; he gives a sweet, gentle humanity to Francis, who is essentially a mass murderer, yet we genuinely feel for him. There are minor structural issues, but those are mere quibbles; McCarrick’s (em>Belfast Girls, Leopoldville) play deals with ideas of atonement and solace in delicate, graceful ways, with a sly touch of trademark Irish black humor that seems as inescapable as that country’s troubled past.
There’s an intrinsic challenge about making a documentary about a photographer: How to portray the artist’s work, silent, still pictures of a moment in time, in a medium based on sound and movement. In Garry Winogrand: All Things Are Photographable, producer, director, and editor Sasha Waters Freyer attacks that issue by delving deep into many of Winogrand’s photographs, lingering on them as friends, relatives, and colleagues rave about his glorious images. “Well, what is a photograph? I’ll tell you what a photograph is. It’s the illusion of a literal description of how a camera saw a piece of time in space,” Winogrand said in a 1975 lecture at the University of Texas Austin, later adding, “All it is is light on surface.” Of course, in Winogrand’s case, it is much more than that; the black-and-white pictures he took with his trusted Leica M4 inhale and exhale at the exciting pace of real life. “It’s this observation of human behavior, of human activity, human gesture, the relationships between people, whether they know each other or not, how we behave in the world,” curator Susan Kismaric says. Writer Geoff Dyer calls Winogrand’s work a “psychogestural ballet,” while photographer Matt Stuart looks at photo after photo, pointing out “the dance” in each one. “When things move, I get interested. I know that much,” Winogrand, who passed away in 1984 at the age of fifty-six, says in his gruff voice. “He had no ambition for fame or celebrity. He was totally obsessed and possessed by photography,” his good friend, photographer Tod Papageorge, says. “It was work work work work work.”
Freyer traces the life of “a city hick from the Bronx,” from his boyhood, when he had polio, through three marriages and three children, from his fear of nuclear war to his love of the female form, from the streets of New York City to California and Texas. She weaves in audio and video from lectures and interviews, filmed and taped conversations with photographer Jay Maisel, and photos and home movies of Winogrand and his family. Freyer speaks with photographers Thomas Roma, Jeffrey Henson Scales, Leo Rubinfien, Laurie Simmons, and Michael Ernest Sweet, curator Erin O’Toole, gallery owner Jeffrey Fraenkel (who compares Winogrand to Norman Mailer), Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner, historian and critic Shelley Rice, and two of Winogrand’s ex-wives, Adrienne Lubeau and Judy Teller. There are also extensive quotes from legendary MoMA photography curator John Szarkowski. The film explores several turning points in his career, both good and bad, including the “New Documents” show with Lee Friedlander and Diane Arbus; his seminal work in 1964; “The Animals,” a series shot at the Central Park Zoo, where he would go with his kids; his color work; Public Relations, in which he examined the role and effect of the mass media; and his controversial Women Are Beautiful book, which was labeled as sexist and misogynistic.
Influenced by such photographers as Robert Frank, Walker Evans, and Dan Weiner, Winogrand could not stop taking pictures. He took so many — the thought of his working in the digital age is both thrilling and frightening — that he didn’t even develop thousands of rolls, leaving behind a treasure trove of material that Roma explains was misinterpreted by critics. “I would like not to exist,” Winogrand said. It’s a good thing for the rest of us that he did, sharing his unique view of the world, incorporating the chaos of his personal life into his remarkable pictures. Garry Winogrand: All Things Are Photographable, which features original music by Winogrand’s son, Ethan, and animation by Kelly Gallagher, opens September 19 at Film Forum, with Freyer participating in Q&As following the 7:00 shows on September 19 and 21. In her director’s statement, the Brooklyn-born Freyer writes, “In looking at Winogrand in all his multidimensional human complexity, I take aim at the ‘bad dad’ and ‘bad husband’ tropes in artist biography, seeking to undermine these as sources of triumph or artistic necessity. Winogrand was an artist whose rise and fall — from the 1950s to the mid-1980s — in acclaim mirrors not only that of American power and credibility in the second half of the twentieth century but also a vision of American masculinity whose limitations, toxicity, and inheritance we still struggle, culturally, to comprehend. The film ultimately invites a deeper consideration of Winogrand not only as a ‘man of his time,’ in the words of MoMA photography curator Susan Kismaric, but also as a man struggling to define himself simultaneously as an artist and a parent (as so many of us do).”