This Week in New York Insider's Guide to Arts & Culture in New York City Since 2001

BERNHARDT/HAMLET

(photo by Joan Marcus)

Janet McTeer stars as Sarah Bernhardt in new play by Theresa Rebeck (photo by Joan Marcus)

American Airlines Theatre
227 West 42nd St. between Broadway & Eighth Ave.
Tuesday - Sunday through November 18, $59-$159
212-719-1300
www.roundabouttheatre.org

When turn-of-the-twentieth-century theater superstar Sarah Bernhardt played the Melancholy Dane in Hamlet at the Adelphi in London, actress and writer Elizabeth Robins wrote in her December 1900 review: “Madame Bernhardt’s assumption of masculinity is so cleverly carried out that one loses sight of Hamlet in one’s admiration for the tour de force of the actress. This is not to say that she gives us a man, but rather Sarah Bernhardt playing, with amazing skill, a spirited boy; doing it with an impetuosity, a youthfulness, almost childish.” Much the same can be said of Tony-winning actress Janet McTeer, who plays Bernhardt playing Hamlet in Theresa Rebeck’s uneven though often exciting Bernhardt/Hamlet, a celebration not only of Bernhardt but of the collaborative process of theater. The Roundabout production, continuing at the American Airlines Theatre through November 18, is set in 1897 Paris, where Bernhardt has decided to play the male part and is rehearsing with Constant Coquelin (Dylan Baker), François (Triney Sandoval), Raoul (Aaron Costa Ganis), and Lysette (Brittany Bradford). Bernhardt’s lover, the married Edmond Rostand (Jason Butler Harner), is not fond of her decision. “You want to be a man,” he tells her. “I do not want to be a man,” she replies. “You crave a man’s power,” he accuses her. “No man has more power than I do,” she says. “Shakespeare does,” he retorts. But she has the last word, proclaiming, “I will not go back to playing flowers for you fools. Not because I am too old. But because I was never a flower, and no matter how much you loved how beautifully I might play the ingenue, it was always beneath me. It is beneath all women.”

(photo by Joan Marcus)

Edmond Rostand (Jason Butler Harner) watches Constant Coquelin (Dylan Baker) perform in Bernhardt/Hamlet at the American Airlines Theatre (photo by Joan Marcus)

Bernhardt demands that Rostand rewrite Hamlet specifically for her, but soon he is working on another play, Cyrano de Bergerac, which also gets her juices flowing. The same cannot be said for Rostand’s rightly jealous wife, Rosamond (Ito Aghayere); Bernhardt’s teenage son, Maurice (Nick Westrate); and acerbic critic Louis (Tony Carlin), wielding his poisoned pen with undeserved power. Meanwhile, Czech artist Alphonse Mucha (Matthew Saldivar) hovers around, creating the poster for the controversial show; in Shakespeare’s time, men might have played all the parts, but in the late Victorian/Edwardian era, a woman portraying the title character in the Bard’s greatest work is practically theater — and gender — treason. “And now we come to your tragedy,” Edmond says to Sarah, who responds, “I am not a tragic figure.” Edmond explains, “You are Sarah Bernhardt. But Sarah Bernhardt is a woman. And people do not want to see a woman play Hamlet.” To which Sarah argues, “I do not play him as a woman! I play him as myself.

Directed by Moritz von Stuelpnagel (Present Laughter, Hand to God), Bernhardt/Hamlet works best when it sticks to its title, when McTeer plays Sarah Bernhardt playing Hamlet. A lot of the rest is detritus that only gets in the way. McTeer (Mary Stuart, God of Carnage) is a joy to watch as her character, complete with crazy hairstyle, questions Hamlet’s motives as well as Shakespeare’s, romping around Beowulf Borrit’s handsome sets, which include an outdoor Paris café, the Adelphi stage, and Bernhardt’s elegant dressing room. Rebeck’s (Seminar, Downstairs) plot meanders; it feels like she tries to squeeze too much in and doesn’t trust that the audience will get the shock factor of Bernhardt’s ambition, especially in this modern era in which so much casting is gender (and race) blind. For example, in 2016, McTeer starred as Petruchio in Phyllida Lloyd’s all-female adaptation of The Taming of the Shrew at the Delacorte. But then McTeer proclaims, “Oh what a rogue and peasant slave am I! / Is it not monstrous that this player here, / But in a fiction, in a dream of passion, / Could force his soul,” and all is right again.

THE NAP

(photo by Joan Marcus)

Dylan Spokes (Ben Schnetzer) is none too happy with what his mother (Johanna Day) has gotten him into in The Nap (photo by Joan Marcus)

Manhattan Theatre Club at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre
261 West 47th St. between Broadway & Eighth Aves.
Tuesday - Sunday through November 11, $79-$199
thenapbroadway.com

You don’t have to know the slightest bit about snooker to have a jolly good time at The Nap, the rousing London transfer making its American premiere at Manhattan Theatre Club’s Samuel J. Friedman Theatre through November 11. Written by Olivier Award nominee Richard Bean, who wrote the uproarious hit One Man, Two Guvnors, which exploded the career of a young James Corden, The Nap is a tense and very funny crime thriller built around the highly contested world of snooker, the nineteenth-century cue sport similar to pocket billiards and pool. Twenty-three-year-old Dylan Spokes (Ben Schnetzer) is on the rise, preparing for a big-time match. He’s practicing in the British Legion basement in Sheffield with his grumpy, not-too-bright father, the numbers-challenged and ersatz snooker historian Bobby (John Ellison Conlee). Dylan is an easygoing fellow who believes in self-actualization. “It’s the highest possible state of human happiness, when your mind and body come together in, like, a beautiful symphony,” he tells his father, a former amateur snooker player who doesn’t get it at all, responding, “Do you want an orange? Got a bag full.” They are unexpectedly visited by Mohammad Butt (Bhavesh Patel), who identifies himself as an integrity officer for the International Centre for Sport Security, and Eleanor Lavery (Heather Lind), of the National Crime Agency.

(photo by Joan Marcus)

Dylan Spokes (Ben Schnetzer) gets a little too cozy with crime investigator Eleanor Lavery (Heather Lind) in Richard Bean’s The Nap (photo by Joan Marcus)

They claim that Dylan is involved in match fixing and global illegal betting, a charge he adamantly denies. “I am not vulnerable. I honour my game,” he declares. “Snooker is the result of a century of human negotiation. A celebration of cooperation and civilisation. It doesn’t exist other than in the hearts of players and fans.” After Mo and Eleanor leave, Dylan and Bobby are first joined by Dylan’s oh-so-stylish, fast-talking manager, Tony DanLino (Max Gordon Moore), then by Dylan’s wacky mother, Stella (Johanna Day), and her new boyfriend, Danny Killeen (Thomas Jay Ryan), a boring driving instructor. It turns out that Stella, Bobby’s ex, needs money, and she wants Dylan to get it for her — by going against his principles and throwing a frame. It turns out that Dylan has financial issues he wasn’t aware of; he’s in deeper than he ever realized, and the only way out is to listen to transgender gangster Waxy Bush (Alexandra Billings), who has a way with words. “Dylan, let me give you some advice,” she says. “Life, for us vertebrates, is a series of disappointments and appointments. The key to happiness is to forget your disappointments and remember your appointments; in fact, write them down, preferably in a dairy.” As Dylan’s matches with Abdul Fattah and Baghawi Quereshi (both played by former snooker champion Ahmed Aly Elsayed) approach, he has to decide where his loyalties lie and what he is willing to risk, and for whom.

(photo by Joan Marcus)

The Nap features a pair of very tense, live snooker matches with champion Ahmed Aly Elsayed (photo by Joan Marcus)

The title of the show is a snooker term referring to the smoothness of the table, which Dylan explains to Eleanor early on. “Playing with the nap, the ball will run straight with the natural line,” he says. “Playing against the nap, the ball can deviate and drift off line. I play straight. I honour the god of snooker, and he, or let’s be fair, she, looks after me.” Bean (The Heretic, Harvest) and Tony-winning director Daniel Sullivan (The Little Foxes, Proof) honour the god of the stage in this triumphant comedy while not being afraid to deviate and drift off line. Snooker might be an individual sport, but theater requires significant collaboration, and The Nap demonstrates that in all facets. The ensemble, which also includes Ethan Hova as Seth and a snooker referee, is terrific, with a particular shout-out to American actor Ryan (Dance Nation, The Amateurs), one of the city’s most underrated and understated treasures. David Rockwell’s sets rotate from the dank legion basement to a historic hotel room, from a country hideout to a championship snooker match, complete with riotously funny voice-over commentary that is partially improvised. The snooker matches themselves are tense and exciting, occurring live onstage. But once again, it doesn’t matter what you think about sports and gambling, as Bean has plenty to say about dysfunctional families, straight and LGBTQ romance, the criminal element, and vegetarianism. The Nap is a champion on all counts, clearing the table, knocking every ball into the right pocket.

PRETTY WOMAN: THE MUSICAL

(photo by Matthew Murphy 2018)

Andy Karl and Samantha Barks have some pretty big shoes to fill in Pretty Woman (photo by Matthew Murphy 2018)

Nederlander Theatre
208 West 41st St. between Seventh & Eighth Aves.
Tuesday - Sunday through June 8, $99-$275
877-250-2929
prettywomanthemusical.com

The very enjoyable Broadway musical adaptation of Garry Marshall’s 1990 Cinderella story, Pretty Woman, is more about finding one’s place in the world, both geographically and psychologically, than merely the tale of a hooker with a heart of gold finding her Prince Charming. And speaking of place, Samantha Barks, who plays Vivian, the role that made Julia Roberts a star in the movie, has found where she belongs, center stage on Broadway, delivering an inspiring, Tony-worthy performance. The story is fairly straightforward: Vivian Ward (Barks), a broke prostitute, meets a wealthy financier, Edward Lewis (Andy Karl taking on the Richard Gere part), who treats her to the high life in order to pull off a major deal. As their public deception proceeds, both wonder whether something more is going on as they each search for somewhere to call home. (She lives in a walk-up rat trap, while he resides in a posh hotel.) “Tell me, what’s your dream? / I know you’ve got one / It’s like a map to your life / You’ll be lost until you’ve caught one,” sings a shabbily dressed Happy Man (Eric Anderson) on the seedier side of Hollywood Blvd., where he offers free maps to help people find their way.

(photo by Matthew Murphy 2018)

Eric Anderson does double duty as the Happy Man and Mr. Thompson in Broadway adaptation of hit movie (photo by Matthew Murphy 2018)

“Don’t you want to get out of here?” Vivian asks her friend, fellow prostitute Kit De Luca (Orfeh, Karl’s real-life wife), who replies, “Get out of where? Where do you want to go?” A moment later Vivian sings, “I look around and what I see / Is I don’t belong here, this isn’t me. . . . I know where I’d choose to go / If I could disappear / Anywhere but here / Anywhere but here.” When Vivian meets Edward, he has taken a few wrong turns and does not know how to get back to his hotel. She asks him to pay ten dollars for her help and he says, “You can’t charge me for directions.” She smartly replies, “I can do anything I want to, baby. I ain’t lost.” But of course, they both are lost. “I can take you anywhere / ’Cause anything’s possible,” the Happy Man says as he dramatically changes into a regal concierge outfit and the set transforms into the exclusive Beverly Wilshire Hotel, where Edward lives on the top floor, even though he’s afraid of heights. Edward is working with his shifty lawyer, Phillip Stuckey (Jason Danieley), attempting a hostile takeover of a ship-building company owned by James Morse (Kingsley Leggs); it’s no accident that Edward has no real care for the business itself, which specializes in making vessels that take people to other places primarily for pleasure. As Vivian blossoms à la Eliza Doolittle, she and Edward grow very close, but they have a deal with an end date; at the start they were both in it for the money, but soon they’re thinking about the future in a different way.

(photo by Matthew Murphy 2018)

Samantha Barks busts out in rip-roaring performance in Pretty Woman (photo by Matthew Murphy 2018)

One of my regular theater companions refused to join me, concerned that the show would be offensive, that it would celebrate outdated, antifeminist views about women as decorative possessions, to the point that a woman realizes survival means selling herself — and her love — like a product. But the book, by Garry Marshall and the film’s screenwriter, J. F. Lawton, and the music and lyrics, by Bryan Adams (yes, the Canadian pop star) and Jim Vallance, often put Vivian in charge, or at least have her and Edward on equal footing, although it occasionally teeters on the edge. “Don’t want this feelin’ to go away / When I think about where I was yesterday / It’s so amazing — I can’t believe / That a billionaire would care about a girl like me / I’ve got money to spend / I’ve got champagne on ice / There’s a smile on my face / I’m getting’ treated real nice,” she sings like a classic golddigger before reevaluating what she wants out of life. Barks (Les Misérables, Chicago) and three-time Tony nominee Karl (Groundhog Day, Rocky) have an instant chemistry together, with solid support from Tony nominee Orfeh (Legally Blonde, Footloose) and Anderson (Waitress, Kinky Boots), who nearly steals the show as both the Happy Man and Mr. Thompson. (Keep a watch out for Tommy Bracco, who purloins some moments of his own as Giulio, the hotel bellman.) David Rockwell’s set design rockets between wealth and poverty, while Gregg Barnes’s costumes, particularly for Barks, are fab. Gleefully directed and choreographed by Tony winner Jerry Mitchell (Kinky Boots, Legally Blonde), Pretty Woman turns out to be a rather pleasant surprise — led by a breakout performance by Barks.

GETTIN’ THE BAND BACK TOGETHER

(photo by Joan Marcus)

Dani Franco (Kelli Barrett) and Mitch Papadopoulos (Mitchell Jarvis) look back at the best day of their life in Gettin’ the Band Back Together (photo by Joan Marcus)

Belasco Theatre
111 West 44th St. between Sixth & Seventh Aves.
Tuesday - Saturday through July 14, $49.50 - $169.50
gettinthebandbacktogether.com

This summer, two new musicals have been undeservingly anchored at the bottom of the Broadway box office, and just by coincidence, they are next-door neighbors on West Forty-Fourth St. One is Head Over Heels at the Hudson Theatre, the sensational reimagining of Sir Philip Sidney’s 1590 Elizabethan drama with Go-Go’s songs and a very funny LGBTQ sensibility. The other, at the Belasco, is the silly but fun, goofy yet charming Gettin’ the Band Back Together. Written by Tony-winning producer Ken Davenport (Kinky Boots, Groundhog Day) and the improv group the Grundleshotz and with music and lyrics by Mark Allen in his Broadway debut, the show might be too long and repetitive and overly self-deprecating, but it’s also a real crowd pleaser about second chances. To stir up enthusiasm, Davenport even takes the stage at the beginning, explaining that the show is based on real-life experiences, including his own time in a high school band. After being fired from his Wall Street broker job, forty-year-old Mitch Papadopoulos (Mitchell Jarvis) returns home to Sayreville, New Jersey, moving back in with his hot-MILF mother, Sharon (Marilu Henner). He encounters his former arch-nemesis, Tygen Billows (Brandon Williams), whose Mouthfeel lost to Mitch’s Juggernauts two decades before in the Battle of the Bands but has won the title every year since. Tygen has also gone on to own seventy-three percent of the local real estate, happily foreclosing on longtime residents while riding around in his sporty Pontiac Solstice and showing off his impressive chest hair. Tygen is even dating Mitch’s high school sweetheart, Dani Franco (Kelli Barrett).

(photo by Joan Marcus)

Sharon (Marilu Henner) is ready to rock out with help from Michael “Sully” Sullivan (Paul Whitty) and Ricky Bling (Sawyer Nunes) in new musical at the Belasco (photo by Joan Marcus)

When Tygen threatens to foreclose on Sharon, Mitch decides that he is going to put the group back together to challenge Mouthfeel in the upcoming Battle of the Bands. So he rounds up bass player and high school math teacher Bart Vickers (Jay Klaitz), who sucks at math; keyboardist and dermatologist Dr. Rummesh “Robbie” Patel (Manu Narayan), whose parents have arranged for him to marry a woman he has never met; and drummer and cop Michael “Sully” Sullivan (Paul Whitty), who is studying for his detective exam and is unable to admit his affection for fellow cop Roxanne Velasco (Tamika Lawrence). “This can’t be my life,” they declare in unison. After adding high school guitarist/rapper Ricky Bling (Sawyer Nunes), they hit the garage and start practicing for the big day while also taking stock of who they are and what the future holds for them. “’Cause dreams don’t matter / when the rent is coming due / You play it safe / and let the fantasy slip through,” Mitch sings, determined to change his path.

(photo by Joan Marcus)

Bart Vickers (Jay Klaitz) shares his unusual philosophy of life with Mitch Papadopoulos (Mitchell Jarvis) in Gettin’ the Band Back Together (photo by Joan Marcus)

Gleefully directed by Tony winner John Rando (On the Town, Urinetown) and playfully choreographed by Chris Bailey (Jerry Springer — the Opera, The Entertainer) on Derek McLane’s emphatically cheesy sets, Gettin’ the Band Back Together recalls the jukebox musical Rock of Ages, and in fact numerous Band cast members are veterans of that show. Jarvis (Rock of Ages, The Threepenny Opera) is relatively tame as Mitch, playing him more as a regular guy instead of a wannabe rock star, with mixed results, as he can’t really belt it out, and he can’t quite generate enough heat with Barrett (Rock of Ages, Wicked). But that is more than made up for by Williams, who in his Broadway bow chews everything up and spits it out with relish, reveling in Tygen’s supposed success, knowingly glancing at the audience, and participating in hysterical rapport with his right-hand man, Ritchie Lorenzo (Garth Kravits), who has a habit of saying too much about Tygen’s father when it comes to words of wisdom. “It’s like my dad used to say,” Tygen begins, with Ritchie continuing, “‘If you’re facing twenty to life, it’s OK to squeal,’” to which Tygen responds, “Yes. No. ‘There are two kinds of people in the world,’” leaving it at that. Whitty (Once, Amélie) is engaging as the doofy Sully, Klaitz (Rock of Ages, High Fidelity) is a riot as the shlubby Bart, who has had a crush on Mitch’s mom forever, and Henner (The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife, Chicago) is effective as the band’s main cheerleader. The cast also includes Noa Solorio as Dani’s teenage daughter, Billie; Becca Kötte (Rock of Ages) as Tawney Truebody, a Canadian who is new in town; Rob Marnell as the town drunk; and Ryan Duncan (Shrek, Bring It On) as Nick Styler, a lounge singer at the Peterpank Diner who brings down the house with the saddest, most pathetic and depressing song ever. “Baby, I’m beggin’ you for second chances / The kids all miss you too / So please forgive me and please don’t sue me,” he opines. Gettin’ the Band Back Together is not going to change your life, but it will remind you of those long-ago glory days when the things that mattered, what you thought would always matter, were very different.

HEAD OVER HEELS

Head Over Heels

Sir Philip Sidney’s Arcadia has been reimagined as the Go-Go’s musical Head Over Heels on Broadway (photo by Joan Marcus)

Hudson Theatre
139-141 West 44th St. between Sixth & Seventh Aves.
Tuesday - Sunday through February 17, $35 - $274
855-801-5876
www.thehudsonbroadway.com

Sir Philip Sidney’s 1590 drama The Countess of Pembroke’s Arcadia has been transformed into the giddy get-up-and-go musical Head Over Heels, running through next February at the Hudson Theatre. James Magruder has adapted the Shakespeare-like Elizabethan prose work, about forbidden love, patriarchal society, mistaken identity, and prophecy, into a bawdy, ribald tale, a modern-day celebration of gay and transgender culture that is neither didactic nor facetious. Oh, and it’s all set to classic songs and deep cuts by the Go-Go’s — Belinda Carlisle, Jane Wiedlin, Gina Schock, Kathy Valentine, Charlotte Caffey — whose tunes fit right into the story, with nary a word needing to be changed. In the land of Arcadia, King Basilius (Jeremy Kushnier) and Queen Gynecia (Rachel York) are leading the annual festivities paying tribute to “the beat,” their divine legacy that brings order to their lives. “We heed its rhythm and follow its form,” Pamela (Bonnie Milligan), the king’s older daughter, says. “It keeps us in line and dictates the norm,” adds Dametas (Tom Alan Robbins), the king’s viceroy. Shortly before a tournament in which eligible bachelors will parade for Pamela’s hand, Gynecia zeroes in on younger daughter Philoclea’s (Alexandra Socha) increasing closeness with the Eclogue-speaking shepherd Musidorus (Andrew Durand). The queen forbids her daughter from marrying the peasant, explaining, “Too many turns of the hourglass make / Us forget the unscripted pleasures of / Free-feeling youth and doth render us all / Conservative in thought and policy.” That conservative thinking is about to be upended when Pamela is wooed by Mopsa (Taylor Iman Jones), her maiden and Dametas’s daughter; Musidorus disguises himself as a female Amazon called Cleophila, attracting Basilius and Gynecia; and Pythio (Peppermint), the Oracle of Delphi who identifies as “a nonbinary plural,” warns the king and Dametas that “Arcadia is in peril,” delivering a four-part prophecy about the royal family and the future of the crown. As the riddle-like predictions start coming true, chaos threatens the kingdom amid an epidemic of 1960s-era free love.

Head Over Heels

Peppermint stars as the nonbinary plural Oracle of Delphi in Head Over Heels at the Hudson (photo by Joan Marcus)

Tony-winning director Michael Mayer (Spring Awakening, Hedwig and the Angry Inch) infuses Tony winner Jeff Whitty’s (Bring It On: The Musical, Avenue Q) splendid book with genuine heart and soul as the well-developed characters proceed to their fates. Pulitzer and Tony winner Tom Kitt’s (Next to Normal, American Idiot) orchestrations are at times so faithful to the Go-Go’s songs that it occasionally sounds like the actors are singing to the original recordings, but they are in fact played live by conductor and musical director Kimberly Grigsby on keyboards, Ann Klein and Bess Rogers on guitars, Catherine Popper on bass, and Dena Tauriello on drums. Emmy nominee Spencer Liff’s (Spring Awakening, Hedwig and the Angry Inch) playful choreography doesn’t overdo things, while Julian Crouch’s set design is fun and imaginative, with painted moving cardboard backdrops and a giant python’s heavenly descent. And the superb cast looks great in Arianne Phillips’s exuberant, eye-catching period costumes as the actors recite lines in verse and then belt out such Go-Go’s hits as “We Got the Beat,” “Vacation,” and “Our Lips Are Sealed” and Carlisle’s “Mad About You,” which becomes the show’s musical theme. In addition, at many a sudden romantic twist, a lightning-quick snippet of “Skidmarks on My Heart” comes and goes.Head Over Heels never gets bogged down in its welcoming message of diversity and the need for people to “reveal their authentic selves,” although neither is it shy about making its points. “Please ventilate the belfry of thy mind,” Pamela says to Mopsa. “How is gender germane to the discussion?” Pythio asks Basilius. It all comes together beautifully in a sensational production that is no mere jukebox musical but so much more. Curiously, Head Over Heels is having trouble selling tickets; hopefully it will find an audience, so get thee haste to the Hudson, where a fabulous time is to be had by all.

STRAIGHT WHITE MEN

(photo by Joan Marcus 2018)

Stephen Payne, Josh Charles, Armie Hammer, and Paul Schneider are the title characters in Young Jean Lee’s Straight White Men (photo by Joan Marcus 2018)

The Hayes Theater
240 West 44th St. between Broadway & Eighth Ave.
Tuesday - Sunday through September 9, $69 - $149
2st.com/shows

Through brilliant bits of added stagecraft, Young Jean Lee and director Anna D. Shapiro have taken Lee’s 2014 Public Theater presentation, Straight White Men, to the next level, transforming it into a more relevant, much funnier Broadway success. The first Asian-American woman to have a play on the Great White Way, Lee, who has previously explored such issues as race, ethnicity, gender, religion, sexual orientation, and body size and image, chooses the setup of an all-straight, all-white, all-male family gathering to celebrate Christmas together — but this time around she has some key twists. As you enter 2nd Stage’s Hayes Theater, which features a glittering shimmer curtain lit by many colors that instantly makes you question what you’re about to see, two flashily dressed people are walking through the crowd, stopping to talk to audience members, asking them whether they like the loud, female rap music or whether it is making them feel uncomfortable. They are known in the script as Person in Charge 1 and Person in Charge 2, played, respectively, by Kate Bornstein and Ty DeFoe. “In case you were wondering, neither of us is a straight white man,” Bornstein, who identifies as a nonbinary Jew from the Jersey Shore, says. DeFoe explains, “I’m from the Oneida and the Ojibwe nations. My gender identity is Niizhi Manitouwug, which means ‘transcending gender’ in the Ojibwe language.” Bornstein and DeFoe form a great comic duo playfully raising issues of comfort and privilege. “Tonight Kate and I are here to try something a little tricky,” DeFoe says. “As foreign as they are to us, we’re gonna try to find some understanding for straight white men. That’s what we wish everyone would do for us.” Lee is not out to skewer straight white men, which has become easy target practice these days, but nor is she out to praise or defend them.

(photo by Joan Marcus 2018

Kate Bornstein and Ty DeFeo are the people in charge of Straight White Men at the Hayes Theater (photo by Joan Marcus 2018)

The shimmer curtain parts to reveal a cozy living room with a couch, a small bar, wall-to-wall carpeting, and other standard elements, nothing fancy. Todd Rosenthal’s set is encased in a large frame, at the bottom of which is a gold plaque that reads: “STRAIGHT WHITE MEN.” It’s as if we’re looking at a human environment in a zoo or a modern historical painting. The inhabitants of this residence are widowed patriarch Ed (Stephen Payne) and his oldest son, Matt (Paul Schneider), a Harvard grad now doing part-time office work for a small charitable organization. Joining them for the holiday are sons Jake (Josh Charles), a divorced banker with kids, and Drew (Armie Hammer), a novelist and teacher who flits about from relationship to relationship. Boys will be boys, so they spend much of the ninety-minute intermissionless production acting out childhood rituals, good-naturedly razzing and annoying one another, and playing a board game called Privilege, adapted by their mother from Monopoly to teach them liberal values. When Jake draws an “Excuses” card, he reads, “‘What I said wasn’t sexist-slash-racist-slash-homophobic because I was joking.’ Pay fifty dollars to the Lesbian and Gay Community Services Center.” Drew next picks up a “Denial” card, reading, “‘I don’t have white privilege because it doesn’t exist.’ Get stopped by the police for no reason and go directly to jail.” All four men later sing Matt’s high school adaptation of the title song from Oklahoma!, which includes such KKK-related lines as “Where we sure look sweet, in white bed sheets / with our pointy masks upon our heads!” The song is delightfully choreographed by Faye Driscoll, who has proved she can energize an audience in such works of her own as the Thank You for Coming trilogy and There is so much mad in me as well as Lee’s Untitled Feminist Show and We’re Gonna Die.

(photo by Joan Marcus 2018

Brothers Drew (Armie Hammer) and Matt (Paul Schneider) face off while their father (Stephen Payne) looks on in Straight White Men (photo by Joan Marcus 2018)

The narrative makes a sharp turn when Matt suddenly starts crying as the men eat their Chinese-food dinner. His brothers and father debate why the prodigal son has broken down, whether it’s because he is depressed about his personal situation, the state of the world, or something else. Matt even refers to himself as a “loser,” that most Trumpian of words. At the heart of the discussion is whether Matt has failed to live up to his potential, whether he has not taken advantage of everything white privilege had to offer him, although that phrase is not used specifically. Knowing that Broadway audiences are primarily white, Tony winner Shapiro (August: Osage County, This Is Our Youth) and two-time Obie winner Lee (The Shipment, Songs of the Dragons Flying to Heaven) don’t skewer the title characters, nor do they ask for any judgment. They just lay it all out there, although the motto for Lee’s theater company (2003-16) was “Destroy the audience.” The manipulations that have been added for the Broadway run are meant to make attendees feel on edge. If an audience member expresses to Bornstein (Gender Outlaw, Kate Bornstein Is a Queer and Pleasant Danger) or DeFoe (Masculinity Max, Clouds Are Pillows for the Moon) that the entrance music is too loud or offensive, for example, one of the options for them is to be led out to the lobby until the show starts; the music is not going to be changed or lowered for anyone.

In addition, at the start of each of the three acts, Bornstein and DeFoe guide some of the actors onto the stage and put them into place, as if carefully re-creating the past, when white men were at the top of the chain. But now the people in charge are nonbinary, gender fluid, able to identify themselves however they want. It’s almost as if the four white men are pawns in their hands, the power dynamic completely reversed; it might come as no surprise that Lee has been a dollhouse maven since she was a lonely Korean-American child, unable to make friends. The Broadway stage has become her dollhouse, where she can design her own world, word by word, character by character, scene by scene. In their Broadway debuts, Charles (The Antipodes, The Distance from Here), Schneider (Bright Star, Goodbye to All That), and Hammer (Call Me by Your Name, Sorry to Bother You) are fully believable as the siblings, whether goofing around or getting serious, never feeling like stereotypes onstage just to make a sociopolitical point. Payne (Superior Donuts, August: Osage County) is about a half beat behind the others, and the role-playing scene is still awkward. But this iteration of Straight White Men feels right at home on the Great White Way, tenderly looking at how things were, how they are, and perhaps how they will be.

FREE SUMMER EVENTS: JULY 22-29

Hal Willner

Hal Willner’s Amarcord Nino Rota is part of Lincoln Center Out of Doors Festival on July 27

The free summer arts & culture season is under way, with dance, theater, music, art, film, and other special outdoor programs all across the city. Every week we will be recommending a handful of events. Keep watching twi-ny for more detailed highlights as well.

Sunday, July 22
SummerStage: Ginuwine, the Ladies of Pink Diamond, and DJ Stacks, Corporal Thompson Park, Staten Island, 5:00

Monday, July 23
The Racial Imaginary Institute: On Whiteness: Intolerable Whiteness by Seung-Min Lee, the Kitchen, waitlist only, 7:00

Tuesday, July 24
Movies Under the Stars: Star Wars: The Last Jedi (Rian Johnson, 2017), Wingate Park, Brooklyn, 8:45

Wednesday, July 25
Hudson RiverFlicks — Big Hit Wednesdays: Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (Jake Kasdan, 2017), Hudson River Park, Pier 63, 8:30

Thursday, July 26
Broadway in Bryant Park: songs from VITALY: An Evening of Wonders, Come from Away, Kinky Boots, The Band’s Visit, and Wicked, cohosted by Bob Bronson, Christine Nagy, and the cast of The Play That Goes Wrong, Bryant Park Lawn, 12:30

Friday, July 27
Lincoln Center Out of Doors: Hal Willner’s Amarcord Nino Rota, featuring music from the first two Godfather films and the tribute album Amarcord Nino Rota (I Remember Nino Rota), with multiple performers, Damrosch Park Bandshell, 7:30

Guelaguetza Festival New York City takes place at Socrates Sculpture Park on July 28

Guelaguetza Festival New York City takes place at Socrates Sculpture Park on July 29

Saturday, July 28
BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn! Festival:Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (Hayao Miyazaki, 1985), screening preceded by live performance by Kaki King featuring Treya Lam, Prospect Park Bandshell, 7:30

Sunday, July 29
Ballet Folklórico Mexicano de Nueva York’s Guelaguetza Festival, Socrates Sculpture Park, 2:00