Experimental theater master Richard Maxwell’s Queens Row is a poetic meditation on loneliness in a postapocalyptic world. Continuing at the Kitchen through January 25, the sixty-minute show takes place in the Chelsea institution’s empty upstairs gallery space, a black box with an exposed sink area and a small balcony. The play consists of three monologues delivered by a trio of nonprofessional actors, sharing their characters’ deeply personal stories surrounding a shooting death, each woman somewhat more physical and emotional than the one before. First up is a woman (mixed-media artist Nazira Hanna) in a Native American-style top who is from the fictional town of Queens Row, Massachusetts; she stands stock-still on a small circular platform carved right out of the floor and lifted slightly by blocks of wood. Her words are cold and direct, her body rigid, as she announces, “I am a woman who had a child. I don’t have a name. I don’t have ID, and I never did, if you can imagine. There is no record of my fingertips or my eyeballs. . . . I was born and no one could stop that from happening. I had a child, and no one could stop that from happening. My son was killed, and no one could stop that from happening. And I exist in this place, asserting a certain right to exist, and to speak, and just like you, hopelessly existing.” She talks of a civil war, of riots “fueled by racism, xenophobia, foreign influence, class anger, and a simmering paranoia, hysteria on all sides.” The play was inspired by a dystopian dream Maxwell had, and her tale is like a nightmare, tinged with reality.
When she is done, she walks offstage through a door and is replaced by a second, younger woman (theater maker, facilitator, and PhD researcher Soraya Nabipour) from Odessa, Texas, wearing sneakers, black leggings, and a red sweater. She addresses a person no longer with us, bringing up seemingly random incidents from their past. “I string together memories as though it were some kind of lifeline,” she says. “Is it that we’re so much the same or that we need each other. We horrify each other but we’d die without each other, you know this, and you can’t stand it. Love is the thing you do when there’s nothing left to do. Love is the thing to do beyond words.” She is slightly more active although still appears confined, her past haunting her.
She is followed by a third woman (musician Antonia Summer, who recently trained at the National Youth Theatre in London) in a colorful shirt and long hair. She is from Las Cruces, New Mexico, and moves her body in herky-jerky ways that match her awkward speech patterns; she speaks as if she is learning language right in front of us. “t 6 d 5 6 s 5 6 e r r t s…………………... ient to fine a ja e, msrtik talking to …. pl this is right mao i, r;lorm r p & u.p.i. I,” she says before becoming understandable. “I get electrified with excitement when the towers which dot the horizon light up and connect together aligning that curve that arcs into me blasting my insides with light I am the offspring orphaned by fate and fatality My.” She talks of a father and a mother, of pain and desire, and asks, “whut is progeny?”
Written and directed by Maxwell, who previously presented The Evening, Natural Hero, and The End of Reality at the Kitchen with his NYC Players company, Queens Row is a gripping fantasy of a frightening near-future. Each character is circled above by a dozen lights, casting dramatic, often eerie shadows across the floor. (The set and lighting design is by Sascha van Riel, with costumes by Kaye Voyce.) The show isn’t so much a warning shot as an alternate reality that hovers just outside our purview; Maxwell includes several ghostly moments that are as scary as they are disconcerting. Hanna, Nabipour, and Summer — perhaps not uncoincidentally brown, black, and white — are each effective in her own right, the three of them interrelated by absence, implying how we all are connected in this dangerous universe, where dire actions have far-reaching consequences. As always with NYC Players, it is a challenging experience, told in uniquely Maxwellian style.
Brooklyn-based Object Collection returns to La MaMa this week after taking its Fugazi opera-in-suspension It’s All True to Norway, England, and Texas, with the utopian space opera You Are Under Our Space Control, making its world premiere January 23 – February 2. The company, whose “works upset habitual notions of time, pace, progression, and virtuosity. . . . [valuing] accumulation above cohesion,” goes on an adventure into the great unknown, exploring “space travel, transhumanism, astronautics, and the resurrection of the dead” in a world devoid of natural resources.
The show is written and directed by Object Collection cofounder Kara Feely, the text inspired by Sun Ra, the Russian Cosmists, and astronaut interviews; the music is by cofounder Travis Just, inspired by John Cage’s 1951 “Music of Changes.” The laboratory-like set design is by Peiyi Wong, with lighting by Jeanette Yew, video by Eric Magnus, sound by Robin Margolis, and streaming and programming by Scott Cazan. The multimedia piece will be performed by Steven Ali, Avi Glickstein, Yuki Kawahisa, Annie Kunjappy, Alessandro Magania, Daniel Allen Nelson, Nicolás Noreña, and Fulya Peker along with percussionist Shayna Dunkelman, guitarist Taylor Levine, and singer-songwriter Ava Mendoza. You can get a taste of what’s in store by checking out the music here, including such songs as “Full Contrast,” “Humans, Humans,” “Total Trance,” and “More Hospitable than Antarctica Might Be.” Once the run ends, video feeds will be posted online so you can create your own version of YAUOSC.
Theatre for a New Audience, Polonsky Shakespeare Center
262 Ashland Pl. between Lafayette Ave. & Fulton St.
Tuesday - Sunday through February 9, $90-$115
New York-born British actress Kathryn Hunter glitters and glows in William Shakespeare and Thomas Middleton’s Timon of Athens, which opened tonight at Theatre for a New Audience’s Polonsky Shakespeare Center in Fort Greene. Simon Godwin’s production, initiated at the Royal Shakespeare Company and presented here in association with DC’s Shakespeare Theatre Company, should become the gold standard for the rarely performed play, a penetrating and very funny evisceration of greed and true friendship centered around a lust for jewels above all things. The text has been edited by Emily Burns and Godwin to make the lead character female, and TFANA regular Hunter runs with it, delivering an unforgettable, voracious performance as Timon (rhymes with Simon), a widowed noblewoman who loves to host feasts in her mansion where guests bring her trinkets and flatter her to no end and she gives them piles of cash and valuable gems. Painter (Zachary Fine) gives her an absurd portrait, Poet (Yonatan Gebeyehu) heaps words of praise on her, and Jeweller (Julia Ogilvie) offers her a fine stone, and she recompenses them manyfold. Sempronius (Daniel Pearce) insists that Timon not allow one of her servants, Lucilius (Adam Langdon), to marry his daughter despite their being in love, but he changes his mind quickly when she promises him money as a kind of dowry/bribe.
Her loyal steward, Flavius (John Rothman), notifies her that her wealth is dwindling, and the cynical philosopher, Apemantus (Arnie Burton), warns her not to put her faith in these false friends, but she is too caught up in the revelry to pay attention. “I wonder men dare trust themselves with men, / Methinks they should invite them without knives — / Good for their meat and safer for their lives,” Apemantus, the only character not wearing shimmering black or gold but instead a Patti Smith T-shirt, tells the audience. A few moments later, after Timon asks him to be silent, he says, “So. / Thou wilt not hear me now; thou shalt not then. / I’ll lock thy heaven from thee. / O, that men’s ears should be / To counsel deaf, but not to flattery!” When she finally understands that her coffers are empty, she sends out Flaminia, Lucilius, and Flavius to Lucullus (Dave Quay), Sempronius, and Lucia (Shirine Babb), asking for loans, but the trio is cruelly denied. Furious at this drastic change of events, the formerly happy-go-lucky Timon turns her back on the life she so treasured and shared with others. “Nothing I’ll bear from thee / But nakedness, thou detestable town,” she says of Athens. “Take thou that too, with multiplying bans. / Timon will to the woods, where she shall find / Th’unkindest beast more kinder than mankind. / The gods confound — hear me, you good gods all! — / The citizens both within and out that wall, / And grant as Timon grows her hate may grow / To the whole race of mankind, high and low! / Amen.” In the second act, Timon, now in tattered rags, is a bitter woman who spends most of her days digging her own grave until she is discovered by visitors from her past, including Alcibiades (Elia Monte-Brown), who has become the leader of an angry mob protesting the Athenian government.
Godwin’s sublime and timely interpretation of Timon of Athens addresses homelessness, income inequality, the dispossessed, an unsympathetic state, and humankind’s propensity for greed. Timon is a complex character, both antihero and cautionary figure of what can happen if wealth is all that matters and friends are available for purchase. I would say that Hunter is a revelation in the title role, but she’s been a revelation in almost everything I’ve seen her in, from Peter Brook and Marie-Hélène Estienne’s The Valley of Astonishment and Fragments to Hideki Nota’s The Bee and Colin Teevan’s The Emperor. Here she displays a ruggedly coarse physicality that is utterly majestic and downright enthralling, a force of nature unto itself, whether she’s being lifted by her sycophantic, hypocritical guests or carving her own epitaph. The glorious costumes, which range from ostentatious dresses to sleek black suits and, eventually, sackcloth and ashes, are by Soutra Gilmour, who also designed the impressive sets; the stage juts out far into the audience, who sit on three sides, with ramps leading off through two corners.
In the first act, opulence is on view, with a festive table, a large gold backdrop that serves as a doorway, and, later, a rug that apparently needs to be fastened more securely to the floor, as several actors tripped over different parts the night I went. The transformation to a forest for the second act is so dramatic you might want to stay in your seats and watch it instead of hurrying out for the restroom or a drink. At rear left, guitarist and bouzuki player Christopher Biesterfeldt, percussionist Philip Coiro, clarinetist Joshua Johnson, and singer Kristen Misthopoulos perform music by composer Michael Bruce, including one piece based on a Cretan peasant hymn and another from Shakespeare’s fifty-third sonnet. Monte-Brown and Rothman stand out in a strong cast, but it’s Hunter, who has previously portrayed King Lear, Richard III, and Cyrano, who will take your breath away while also making you wonder why you’ve never read or seen this play before.
BROKEN BARRIERS (KHAVAH) (Charles E. Davenport, 1919)
Walter Reade Theater, Film at Lincoln Center
165 West 65th St. between Broadway & Amsterdam Aves.
Sunday, January 19, 12:30
Festival runs January 15-28
The New York Jewish Film Festival pulls out a special treat on January 19, the world premiere of the National Center for Jewish Film’s restoration of the long-lost Broken Barriers, aka Khavah, the first cinematic adaptation of one of Sholem (Sholom) Aleichem’s Tevye the Dairyman stories. The tale will be familiar to fans of Fiddler on the Roof, although there are significant narrative distinctions. In a small Ukraine village, the Jewish Khavah (Alice Hastings), daughter of Tobias the Milkman (Giacomo Masuroff) and Golde (Billie Wilson), falls for the Russian Orthodox Fedka (Alexander Tenenholtz), son of Ivan (Phil Sanford), the chief constable, and Parasha (Sonia Radin), after one of Fedka’s friends (Raymond Friedgen) drunkenly assaults Khavah’s younger sister Tzeitel (Hanna [Ganna Kehlmann] Kay). As Fedka and Khavah consider marriage, Tobias (an alternate pronunciation of Tevye) grows angrier and forbids their relationship. But when a devastating government decree is delivered to Ivan, everyone reconsiders their future.
Billed as “a love drama of the Ukraine” in the opening credits, Broken Barriers features actors from Maurice Schwartz’s Yiddish Art Theater on Irving Place (Schwartz would go on to famously play “Tevya” on stage and screen) and the Russian Opera Company; only Sanford had any cinematic experience, and it shows, as the acting is heavy-handed, especially by Hastings, who seems to be attempting to break barriers with her overemoting. (“Broken shall be the barriers that stand between me and happiness!” Khavah declares to her father.) But director Charles E. Davenport tells a tight little tale, limiting the amount of dialogue intertitles and including such poetic statements as “Conscience has a way of bringing us all to the realization that paternal efforts in our behalf are too lightly valued.” Cinematographers Irving B. Ruby and Jack Young shot the film outdoors in the New Jersey wild and in a Manhattan studio, effectively capturing the strife of a poor Ukrainian village while using superimposition to evoke memories. At the heart of the story is whether religious beliefs trump family; the reaction of Fedka’s parents and Khava’s are very different, as is the ending of this rediscovered nugget. The screening will be accompanied by live music by Donald Sosin. A joint presentation of Film at Lincoln Center and the Jewish Museum, the festival continues through January 28 with such other works as Elise Otzenberger’s My Polish Honeymoon, Rachel Rusinek and Eyal Ben Moshe’s I Was Not Born a Mistake, and Dror Zahavi’s closing night selection, Crescendo, about an attempt to establish an Israeli-Palestinian youth orchestra.
Lincoln Center Theater at the Mitzi E. Newhouse
150 West 65th St. between Broadway & Amsterdam Ave.
Through January 19, $92
Samuel D. Hunter takes a sharp snapshot of a downtrodden America in the poignant drama Greater Clements, which ends its run at Lincoln Center’s Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater on Sunday. The play is set in Hunter’s home state of Idaho, the site of many of his works (A Bright New Boise, Lewiston/Clarkston). It’s 2017, and Greater Clements is at the end of the line; the Dodson Mine suffered a horrific tragedy in 1972 and shut down in 2005, and now there’s a referendum to abolish the town as a civic entity, at least in part as a reaction to the flood of wealthy Californians moving in. Maggie (Judith Ivey), who owns the local mine museum, is closing up shop; she has just brought her mentally ill twenty-seven-year-old son, Joe (Edmund Donovan), back from a stint in Anchorage, where he went to get away from some trouble he caused but did not necessarily fully understand. Maggie is visited by her high school flame, the gentle and stoic Japanese-American Billy (Ken Narasaki), and his adventurous fourteen-year-old granddaughter, Kel (Haley Sakamoto); Maggie, who is divorced, and Billy, who is widowed, flirt around with the idea of perhaps getting back together. Meanwhile, Maggie’s friend and employee, Livvy (Nina Hellman), is leading the charge for the town to remain incorporated, and Wayne (Andrew Garman), the police chief, is keeping a close watch on Joe, who appears to have potentially dangerous tendencies.
Shrewdly and discerningly directed by Hunter’s longtime collaborator, Davis McCallum (Stupid Fucking Bird, London Wall), the nearly three-hour Greater Clements explores a wide range of issues, from Japanese internment camps and cancer to mental illness and gentrification, from corporate insensitivity and greed to fear and, perhaps most pointedly, loneliness. Dane Laffrey’s potent, active set, which includes a small part of the audience seated in a corner section virtually amid the action, features a second level that descends from above; unfortunately, the construction requires numerous poles that will occasionally block some of your view as the setting changes from the mine and the museum to a bedroom and living room. Yi Zhao’s lighting is supremely effective in the scenes that take place in the mine itself, putting us inside the dark underbelly of America. Tony and Obie winner Ivey (Steaming, Hurlyburly) is exquisite as Maggie, bringing an intimate, realistic warmth to a stalwart woman who deserves better out of life, but Donovan (Lewiston/Clarkston; Xander Xyst, Dragon: 1) steals the show with his powerful, in-your-face portrayal of a man all-too-aware of his situation but not necessarily capable of controlling it.
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would have turned ninety-one years old on January 15; he was only thirty-nine when he was assassinated. In 1983, the third Monday in January was officially recognized as Martin Luther King Jr. Day, honoring the birthday of the civil rights leader who was shot and killed in Memphis on April 4, 1968. You can celebrate his legacy on Monday by participating in the twenty-fifth annual Martin Luther King, Jr., Day of Service or attending one of numerous special events taking place around the city all weekend long. Below are some of the highlights.
Friday, January 17
BAMcafé Live 2020: BAMcafé Live Featuring Blak Emoji and Starchild & the New Romantic, curated by Black Rock Coalition, BAM Peter Jay Sharp Building, 30 Lafayette Ave., free, 9:00
Saturday, January 18
BAMcafé Live 2020: The 1865 w/ Major Taylor, curated by Black Rock Coalition, BAM Peter Jay Sharp Building, 30 Lafayette Ave., free, 9:00
Saturday, January 18
Monday, January 20
BCM Celebrates Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., with Volunteer Projects with Repair the World, Create a Peace Box workshop in ColorLab, Storytelling in the Sensory Room, and the Heart of a King Shadow Puppetry Workshop, $13, 11:00 am - 5:00 pm
Sunday, January 19
Martin Luther King Day Choral Eucharist, with the Cathedral Choir, volunteer Chorale and Boy and Girl Choristers, and poet in residence emerita Marilyn Nelson, 11:00 am followed by a Spirituals SING led by Alice Parker, Cathedral of St. John the Divine, 1047 Amsterdam Ave. at 2:00, free
Soul to Soul, with IMPACT Repertory Theatre, Lisa Fishman, Cantor Magda Fishman, Elmore James, and Tony Perry, conceived and directed by Zalmen Mlotek, Museum of Jewish Heritage, 36 Battery Pl., $35-$65, 2:00
Monday, January 20
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemorative March: “Equity Now: Today’s Youth Speak Out for Social Change,” Harriet Tubman Memorial Triangle on 122nd St. at 10:00 am to Manhattan Country School at 150 West 85th St. at 2:00, free
Thirty-Fourth Annual Brooklyn Tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., with keynote speaker Nikole Hannah-Jones, performances by Son Little and the Brooklyn Interdenominational Choir, the art exhibition “Picture the Dream,” and a screening of Aretha Franklin documentary Amazing Grace (Alan Elliott & Sydney Pollack, 2018), BAM Howard Gilman Opera House, 30 Lafayette Ave., free, 10:30 am
Honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., including a scavenger hunt in the “Activist New York” exhibit, storytelling, and art workshops, Museum of the City of New York, 1220 Fifth Ave at 103rd St., free with museum admission of $14-$20 (under twenty free), 11:00 am - 2:00 pm