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

LONG DAY’S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT

(photo by Joan Marcus)

The Tyrone family battles its inner and outer demons in Roundabout revival of Eugene O’Neill masterpiece (photo by Joan Marcus)

American Airlines Theatre
227 West 42nd St. between Broadway & Eighth Ave.
Tuesday - Sunday through June 26, $67-$147
212-719-1300
www.roundabouttheatre.org

As the audience enters the American Airlines Theatre to see the Roundabout revival of Eugene O’Neill’s Pulitzer Prize-winning drama Long Day’s Journey into Night, a white curtain billows ominously from the right side of the set, blown by the wind from an offstage shore. It’s as if we’re being warned that what we’re about to see is a kind of ghost story, and that’s precisely what we witness over the next three hours and forty-five minutes, an intense tale told as if the dysfunctional Tyrone family must relive their personal horrors over and over again, continually hiding from the truths that overwhelm them. Sixty-five-year-old patriarch James Tyrone (Gabriel Byrne) is a miserly, well-known actor who is fond of the bottle and the small tract of land that he owns. He is still in love with his wife, the fifty-four-year-old Mary (Jessica Lange), a morphine addict who has been in and out of sanatoriums and is struggling to deal with reality. Their older son, thirty-three-year-old Jamie (Michael Shannon), is a brash, ne’er-do-well philanderer and would-be actor always at odds with his father. And the younger son, twenty-three-year-old Edmund (John Gallagher Jr.), is a more sensitive soul who is suffering from an illness that might be consumption. It’s August 1912, and the Tyrones are at their summer home on the beach. “I can’t tell you the deep happiness it gives me, darling, to see you as you’ve been since you came back to us, your dear old self again,” James tells Mary, who has recently returned from her latest rehab stint. James and Jamie are trying to keep the severity of Edmund’s illness from Mary, fearful that the truth will send her back to her drug of choice. “It’s a relief to hear Edmund laugh. He’s been so down in the mouth lately,” she says early on, which James ignores resentfully. Soon James and Jamie are having one of their regular arguments, which upsets Edmund and Mary. “What’s all the fuss about? Let’s forget it,” Jamie says. “Yes, forget! Forget everything and face nothing!” James shouts back, summarizing the general Tyrone philosophy. Meanwhile, Mary compares James’s snoring to the foghorn that keeps her awake at night, as if the harsh sound is a wake-up call, warning of dire things to come that all ignore. As they await the verdict from Doc Hardy regarding Edmund’s illness, the ghosts continue to hover over this doomed family, unable to save themselves from their sad destiny.

(photo by Joan Marcus)

James Tyrone (Gabriel Byrne) and wife Mary (Jessica Lange) hold on to each other for dear life in LONG DAY’S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT (photo by Joan Marcus)

Completed in 1942 but not published and performed until 1956, three years after O’Neill’s death at sixty-five, Long Day’s Journey into Night is a semiautobiographical look at the playwright’s own family over the course of one very long day, from 8:30 in the morning to midnight. It takes a while to get used to accepting the cast as the Tyrone family; while Byrne is around the right age for James, Mary is supposed to be eleven years younger but Lange is actually a year older than Byrne, and Shannon and Gallagher at first seem completely miscast, but they both eventually settle into their roles. Director Jonathan Kent (Hamlet, Man of La Mancha) makes the most of Tom Pye’s (The Testament of Mary, Fiddler on the Roof) inviting yet haunting set, Natasha Katz’s (An American in Paris, Aida) appropriately moody lighting, and Clive Goodwin’s (The Glass Menagerie, Once) menacing sound design, keeping the audience on edge as the intense drama unfolds. Byrne (A Moon for the Misbegotten, A Touch of the Poet) and Lange (A Streetcar Named Desire, The Glass Menagerie) ultimately form a stirring James and Mary, their love complicated by suspicion and doubt, in parts previously played by such pairs as Robert Ryan and Geraldine Fitzgerald, Laurence Olivier and Constance Cummings, Jason Robards and Zoe Caldwell, Robards and Colleen Dewhurst, Jack Lemmon and Bethel Leslie, Brian Dennehy and Vanessa Redgrave, and, in 2000, Charles Dance and Lange. The cast also includes Colby Minifie (The Pillowman, Punk Rock) as Cathleen, the Tyrones’ young maid who speaks her mind when she has the chance. “A drop now and then is no harm when you’re in low spirits, or have a bad cold,” she says to Edmund as the two steal a drink from one of James’s closely watched bottles. Of course, drinking can actually do a lot of harm, as the Tyrones, and O’Neill himself, are well aware. This Roundabout revival is a powerful production of one of America’s signature plays, once again justifying its position in the pantheon alongside such other towering achievements as Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, Tennessee Williams’s A Streetcar Named Desire, and Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

FULLY COMMITTED

(photo by Joan Marcus)

Jesse Tyler Ferguson plays a harried restaurant reservationist in one-man Broadway show (photo by Joan Marcus)

Lyceum Theatre
149 West 45th St. between Sixth & Seventh Aves.
Tuesday - Sunday through July 24, $45- $147
fullycommittedbroadway.com

Becky Mode’s Fully Committed has been one of the most produced plays in America since its debut in 1999 at the Vineyard Theatre and subsequent transfer for a long run at the Cherry Lane. But the one-person show set at the reservation desk in the dingy, ramshackle basement of a hotter-than-hot New York City restaurant gets lost in its Broadway bow at the Lyceum Theatre. Five-time Emmy nominee Jesse Tyler Ferguson (Modern Family, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee) takes over the role of Sam (originated by Mark Setlock), a struggling actor working at a hip “molecular gastronomy” eatery where tables must be reserved three months in advance. On this particular day, his manager, Bob, and coworker, Sonya, are not in, leaving him to man the phones alone, a nearly impossible task. In addition to fielding calls from people either making reservations or complaining about various problems, Sam has to deal with his father, who wants him to come home for Christmas; his friend and fellow actor Jerry, who is up for the same role in a show at Lincoln Center; and the crazy chef, who contacts him via a special red phone. The conceit is that Ferguson does all the voices on the other side of the line while running across the stage, from his central desk to the chef’s corner phone to finding a hot spot where his cell phone can get service for personal calls. Among the more than forty characters Ferguson gives voice to are his gentle-speaking dad; demanding VIP customers Bunny Vandevere and Carolann Rosenstein-Fishburn; Mafioso Dominic Veccini; Mrs. Sebag, who insists she has a reservation despite Sam finding no record of it; and the cheerful Bryce, Gwyneth Paltrow’s assistant, who is arranging a party at the restaurant with some very special requests.

Sam (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) deal with some rather strange customers in FULLY COMMITTED (photo by Joan Marcus)

Sam (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) deals with some rather strange customers in FULLY COMMITTED (photo by Joan Marcus)

It takes a while for the show to get cooking as the audience acclimates to Ferguson’s ever-shifting voices and the distinct rhythm of the show, but then it goes on far too long and is annoyingly repetitive as the ultraslim plot erodes like a stale piece of bread. It might work in small, intimate theaters, but on Broadway it feels more like an interesting comedy sketch that never ends. (The running time is ninety minutes.) Director Jason Moore (Shrek the Musical, Avenue Q) can’t come up with quite the right recipe, despite Ferguson’s best efforts. And McLane’s set, which was inspired by the reservation room at Danny Meyer’s Union Square Café and installations by Chinese artist Ai Weiwei and features a glut of chairs hanging from the ceiling and a back wall that holds more than nine hundred bottles of wine — feels cold and distant. In our ever-growing foodie culture, this Broadway version of Fully Committed — a term the chef insists the reservationists use instead of “booked” — is merely half-baked, a promising meal that ends up disappointing on the plate and the palate.

WAITRESS

(photo by Joan Marcus)

Becky (Keala Settle), Jenna (Jessie Mueller), and Dawn (Kimiko Glenn) serve pies and more in WAITRESS (photo by Joan Marcus)

Brooks Atkinson Theatre
256 West 47th St. between Broadway & Eighth Ave.
Tuesday - Sunday through January 1, $69-$159
877-250-2929
waitressthemusical.com
www.brooksatkinsontheater.com

Tony-winning star Jessie Mueller has quickly become one of those Broadway sensations you can watch do just about anything, even when she serves up a dish of lukewarm Lifetime schmaltz like Waitress. Mueller, who has risen well above her material in Beautiful: The Carole King Musical and On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, does the same in this American Repertory Theater musical, an adaptation of Adrienne Shelly’s 2007 film, which was accepted to Sundance shortly after Shelly was murdered in Greenwich Village at the age of forty. Mueller plays Jenna Hunterson, a waitress in Joe’s Pie Diner, where every morning she makes such delectable, original delights as Marshmallow Mermaid Pie, Fallin’ in Love Chocolate Mousse Pie, and Jenna’s First Kiss Pie. “You want to know what’s inside? Simple question, so then what’s the answer?” she sings. “My whole life is in here, in this kitchen baking.” Desperate to escape an abusive marriage to Earl (Nick Cordero), she is distraught to learn she’s pregnant. When diner owner Joe (Dakin Matthews) suggests she compete in a pie contest with a prize of twenty thousand dollars, she thinks she may have discovered her way out, but her life gets even more complicated when she becomes attracted to her new gynecologist, the married Dr. Pomatter (Drew Gehling). Her coworkers, the sharp-tongued Becky (Keala Settle) and the wallflower Dawn (Kimiko Glenn, in the role played by Shelly in the movie), provide emotional support and comic relief, while Jenna’s coping skills include memories of baking pies with her late mother and imagining what she’ll make next, creating in her mind such telling desserts as I Don’t Want Earl’s Baby Pie, Betrayed by My Eggs Pie, and I Can’t Have an Affair Because It’s Wrong and I Don’t Want Earl to Kill Me Pie. But Jenna can’t stop spending time with Dr. Pomatter despite knowing better. “It’s a terrible idea me and you,” they sing in a duet. Jenna: “You have a wife.” Dr. Pomatter: “You have a husband.” Jenna: “You’re my doctor!” Dr. Pomatter: “You’ve got a baby coming.” Both: “It’s a bad idea me and you / Let’s keep kissing till we come to.” Unfortunately, by the time they come to, it’s too late.

(photo by Joan Marcus)

Dr. Pomatter (Drew Gehling) and Jenna (Jessie Mueller) seek a sweeter life in adaptation of Adrienne Shelly’s 2007 romantic comedy (photo by Joan Marcus)

Mueller shines once again in Waitress, making the most of what is essentially a hard-to-believe contemporary bodice ripper disguised as a romantic musical comedy. She has a comforting stage presence, blending confidence and vulnerability in charming ways, even as we watch her character make absurdly ridiculous decisions. She, Settle (Hands on a Hardbody, Priscilla Queen of the Desert), and Glenn (Orange Is the New Black, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots) share a warm camaraderie, recalling the trio of waitresses from the television series Alice, along with Eric Anderson (Soul Doctor, Kinky Boots) as Cal, the gruff cook. Christopher Fitzgerald (Young Frankenstein, Finian’s Rainbow) nearly steals the show as Ogie, going all out as a stalker-like major nerd who is interested in Dawn and is not afraid to let everyone know about it. His stirring rendition of “Never Ever Getting Rid of Me” is a genuine showstopper. The songs, by five-time Grammy nominee Sara Bareilles, are relatively harmless, mixing in multiple genres, but former waitress Jessie Nelson’s (I Am Sam; Corrina, Corrina) book never really gets cooking, jumping around too much while taking underdeveloped or overdone turns. Director Diane Paulus (The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess, Hair, Pippin) does what she can with the mediocre material, wisely making sure that Mueller is front and center as much as possible on Scott Pask’s set, which changes from the diner to the doctor’s office to Jenna and Earl’s home. Waitress serves up a few very tasty slices, but it takes more than that to make a wholly satisfying pie.

THE FATHER

(photo by Joan Marcus)

André (Frank Langella) doesn’t make it easy for his daughter, Anne (Kathryn Erbe), to help him in THE FATHER (photo by Joan Marcus)

Manhattan Theatre Club at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre
261 West 47th St. between Broadway & Eighth Aves.
Tuesday - Sunday through June 12, $70-$150
thefatherbroadway.com
www.manhattantheatreclub.com

In early 2014, Frank Langella played King Lear at BAM, a thought-provoking counterpoint to his latest show, the U.S. premiere of Florian Zeller’s The Father. As Lear, the seventy-eight-year-old Langella, who has won three Tonys and two Obies, battled his failing mind and body while two of his three daughters fought over his wealth and power and the third only wanted to love and care for him. As eighty-year-old André in Zeller’s Olivier-nominated, Molière Award–winning play — not to be confused with August Strindberg’s The Father, currently running at Theatre for a New Audience — Langella is an elegant Paris gentleman dealing with the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease while his loving daughter, Anne (Kathryn Erbe), tries to care for him despite his mistreatment of her. After scaring off yet another home nurse, André yells at Anne, “I don’t need her! I don’t need her or anyone else! I can manage very well on my own!” But it’s becoming more and more apparent that he can’t, as he gets lost in a psychological maze of the past and the present, not knowing who is who and where he is while refusing to acknowledge what is happening to him, instead turning the tables on those around him. “I’m worried about you,” he says to a woman (Kathleen McNenny) who claims to be Anne but he does not recognize. “Don’t you remember? She doesn’t remember. Are you having memory lapses or what? You’d better go and see someone, my dear.” He also mixes up Anne’s significant others, either boyfriends or husbands (Charles Borland and Brian Avers) who may or may not be moving to London with her. And he compares his latest caretaker, Laura (Hannah Cabell), to his beloved other daughter, Elise, whom he wildly praises while disparaging Anne. “You have two daughters?” Laura asks suspiciously. “That’s right,” he says. “Even though I hardly ever hear from the other one. Elise. All the same, she was always my favourite. . . . I don’t understand why she never gets in touch. Never.” In addition, André seems to be forgetting whose apartment he’s in and whether he’s living on his own or with Anne, which makes him angry and upset. “I don’t need any help from anyone and I will not leave this flat,” he firmly declares. But he’s of course in dire need of help.

(photo by Joan Marcus)

André (Frank Langella) ponders his frightening future in Florian Zeller play (photo by Joan Marcus)

Translated from the French by two-time Tony winner Christopher Hampton (Les Liaisons Dangereuses, Sunset Boulevard) and directed by Tony winner Doug Hughes (Frozen, The Royal Family), Zeller’s play, a companion piece to The Mother, uses clever stagecraft to depict André’s heartbreaking descent. Scenes sometimes repeat or overlap, and having multiple actors play Anne and her partners transfers André’s confusion to the audience, which is also sometimes not sure who is who or if what is happening is only in André’s fading mind. Each scene ends with a sudden darkness, and when the lights come back on (courtesy of lighting designer Donald Holder), bits of Scott Pask’s fashionable French-flat set, from books to furniture, have disappeared, echoing the cognitive losses inside André’s head. André is also obsessed with time, as if, deep down, he really does understand the fate that awaits him but is unwilling to face the truth. He keeps thinking someone has stolen his watch, and he continually refers to time. “Time passes so fast,” he says wistfully. Later he opines, “If this goes on much longer, I’ll be stark naked. Stark naked. And I won’t even know what time it is.” Langella (Frost/Nixon, Dracula) goes from bold and confused to touchingly gentle as André, imbuing him with a Lear-like regalness and an aristocratic refinement even when tap-dancing; it’s a beautifully moving performance from one of America’s finest actors. Zeller, Hampton, and Hughes avoid genre clichés or sentimentality, using clever subtlety to tell a very sad, unfortunately increasingly common tale.

THE CRUCIBLE

(photo © Jan Versweyveld)

A group of girls in Salem are accused of witchcraft in THE CRUCIBLE (photo © Jan Versweyveld)

Walter Kerr Theatre
219 West 48th St. between Broadway & Eighth Ave.
Tuesday - Sunday through July 17, $42-$228.60
www.thecrucibleonbroadway.com

Director-of-the-moment Ivo van Hove follows up his riveting version of Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge with a strange, powerful, problematic take on Miller’s Tony-winning 1953 play, The Crucible. Part of the centennial celebration of Miller’s birth that also included last year’s production of Incident at Vichy at the Signature, The Crucible explores the 1692 Salem witch trials through a context informed by the communist witch hunt of the House Un-American Activities Committee led by Senator Joseph McCarthy in the 1940s and ’50s. Miller based the play on actual events recorded in the seventeenth century, although he changed many of the details of the real-life characters. In Salem, Betty Parris (Elizabeth Teeter) is in a catatonic state following an evening that might have involved magic and witchcraft in the woods with her friends Abigail Williams (Saoirse Ronan), Susanna Walcott (Ashlei Sharpe Chestnut), Mercy Lewis (Erin Wilhelmi), and Mary Warren (Tavi Gevinson). “There be no unnatural cause here,” claims Reverend Samuel Parris (Jason Butler Harner), the local priest and Betty’s uncle, who does not want to believe that this was the devil’s work. He sends for Reverend John Hale (Bill Camp) to back him up. “A precaution only,” Parris says. “He has much experience in all demonic arts.” However, wealthy landowner Thomas Putnam (Thomas Jay Ryan) and his wife, Anna (Tina Benko), who have lost seven babies, are sure that “vengeful spirits” are at work and insist that Parris investigate it as such. Meanwhile, town curmudgeon Giles Corey (Jim Norton) thinks that the Putnams are merely after his land, while Corey’s friend, John Proctor (Ben Whishaw), gets caught in the maelstrom of accusation and emotion, as the otherwise steadfast gentleman may or may not have had an affair with Abigail, his former maid, who was let go by his wife, Elizabeth (Sophie Okonedo). And many eyes turn toward Tituba (Jenny Jules), Parris’s slave from Barbados. “You are God’s instrument put in our hands to discover the Devil’s agents among us,” Hale tells her. When the judge, Deputy Governor Danforth (Ciarán Hinds), arrives, he’s sure that evil is at hand, boasting that four hundred witches are in jail because of him, seventy-two condemned to hang. Even as evidence comes out that supports that there was no witchcraft, Danforth remains determined to force people to name names so he can have them arrested and hanged. “There is a prodigious guilt in the country,” he boldly declares. “Reproach me not with the fear in the country; there is fear in the country because there is a moving plot to topple Christ in the country!”

(photo © Jan Versweyveld)

John Proctor (Ben Whishaw) tries to get the truth out of Mary Warren (Tavi Gevinson) in Ivo van Hove adaptation of Arthur Miller classic (photo © Jan Versweyveld)

Belgian director van Hove is often hit-or-miss with his shows, which in the last few years in New York City have included David Bowie and Enda Walsh’s Lazarus, adaptations of Ingmar Bergman’s Cries and Whispers and Scenes from a Marriage, and Sophocles’s Antigone. While A View from the Bridge was innovative and dynamic, Antigone was confusing and surprisingly lifeless; The Crucible falls somewhere in between. The set, by longtime van Hove collaborator Jan Versweyveld, is head-scratchingly odd, an old schoolroom with twentieth-century overhead lighting and a blackboard on which Tal Yarden’s abstract images are projected at one point. Wojciech Dziedzic’s costumes also mix the seventeenth century with the modern era; if the goal is to relate the witch trials to what is going on in the world today, it doesn’t quite work, since those elements are already part of Miller’s words and don’t benefit from such further obscuration. Philip Glass’s music is pleasurable but unnecessary, and the acting is inconsistent; while Ronan (Brooklyn, The Seagull), Camp (Death of a Salesman, Homebody/Kabul), Norton (The Mystery of Edwin Drood, The Seafarer), and Gevinson (This Is Our Youth, Enough Said) excel in their roles, Whishaw (His Dark Materials, In the Heart of the Sea) is rather static, Michael Braun (War Horse, Bad Guys) as Danforth’s right-hand man, Ezekiel Cheever, is too one-note, and Hinds (Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Closer) seems lost at times, courtesy of Steven Hoggett’s crowded movement, often speaking with his back or side to the audience, making it hard to hear what he is saying. Fifty-three years after its Broadway debut, in a Tony-winning production starring E. G. Marshall, Beatrice Straight, and Arthur Kennedy, and fourteen years after its Tony-nominated 2002 Broadway revival with Laura Linney, Liam Neeson, and Kristen Bell, The Crucible feels today most relevant in its depiction of the religious nature of evil, with fundamentalists around the world responsible for so much violence and hatred and America in a constant debate over church versus state. Van Hove’s staging muddies various themes, resulting in a somewhat lukewarm rendering of a heated tale.

TWI-NY TALK: SOPHIA ANNE CARUSO

Actress, singer, and dancer Sophia Anne Caruso is taking New York City by storm

Actress, singer, and dancer Sophia Anne Caruso is taking New York City by storm (photo courtesy Sophia Anne Caruso)

Multidimensional actress Sophia Anne Caruso might be just fourteen years old, but she already displays the confidence and demeanor of a seasoned pro — which she essentially is, having acted professionally nonstop for the last five years. Born and raised in Spokane and now living with her parents in New Jersey, Caruso came to New York for a project when she was eleven and decided to stay. In her brief but busy career, she has played Helen Keller in The Miracle Worker, in a production directed by Patty Duke, who originated the role on Broadway in 1959; starred as Birgitta in NBC’s The Sound of Music Live! opposite Carrie Underwood, Christian Borle, and Audra McDonald; appeared at the Kennedy Center with Boyd Gaines, Rebecca Luker, and Tiler Peck in the Susan Stroman-directed Little Dancer a musical about Edgar Degas and Marie van Goethem, the ballerina who posed for his famous “Little Dancer Aged Fourteen” painting; and played AnnaSophia Robb’s little sister in the Lifetime movie Jack of the Red Hearts.

Here in New York City, she earned a Lucille Lortel nomination as Best Featured Actress in a Play for her performance as a young virtual reality fantasy figure for men in The Nether and a Lortel nod for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Musical and an Outer Critics Circle nomination for Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical for Lazarus, playing the Girl in the New York Theatre Workshop world premiere by David Bowie and Enda Walsh, directed by Ivo van Hove. Currently she is on Broadway in a show that cannot be named, as a surprise character not listed in the Playbill and which cannot be mentioned in reviews. Sophia also just teamed with opera singer, ballet dancer, photographer, and musician Kenneth Edwards on a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain” in the Elizabeth Street Garden. Homeschooled by her parents, Sophia likes ghost stories, has never been to a concert, and is hypercritical of herself, intent on mastering her craft. She is also charming, thoughtfully positive, and wise beyond her years; as she notes, “I was a morbid little child.” On a recent early weekday evening shortly before her call time, Sophia and I met in a Theater District hotel lounge and talked about vintage clothing, cast albums, stalkers, the freedom her parents give her, and how much she loves what she does.

twi-ny: You were born and raised in Spokane, Washington. Are you still partly based there?

Sophia Anne Caruso: My dad moved out here. He was still living in Spokane in our old house, but he finally sold it and moved here.

twi-ny: That must be great.

SAC: It’s a relief to have everyone together again. Long distance was hard for us, especially for me and my dad, because I’m a daddy’s girl.

twi-ny: What did you think of New York City when you first got here?

SAC: In Spokane, I got bored all the time, and it didn’t quite feel like home. But when I came here, I wasn’t scared, I wasn’t overwhelmed; it felt like home. Broadway, the theater area — the first show that I saw, when I was nine, was Billy Elliot, and I fell in love with theater. That’s when I knew, I want to move to New York and be on Broadway.

twi-ny: Around that time, in Seattle, you played Helen Keller in The Miracle Worker, directed by Patty Duke, who just passed away. What did you learn from her?

SAC: She gave me my very first real acting job; that’s when I fell in love with acting and I knew that I wanted to be an actress. Acting is my favorite thing to do, and she helped me realize that. She mentored me a little bit; at the time, I didn’t understand why she was sometimes harsh on me, but now, as an older me, I’m looking back, I’m thinking, that’s why. She taught me that I have to stay consistent, that when you’re doing a professional job, it’s to the centimeter. You have to be exact; it has to be perfect. She taught me that it’s not all fun and games, although a lot of it is. But it’s also my job.

twi-ny: Not to concentrate too much on death, but you were also in Lazarus, and while you were in the midst of the run, David Bowie died. What was that experience like?

SAC: I got to work with him directly; he came into rehearsals often, he gave me notes, we talked. I like to say that I knew him and that I collaborated with him, for sure. I was not aware of his illness; none of the cast was. His death came as a very big surprise to us, and the hard part, but also the good part, of the day after was that we were all together. We were recording our cast album, which was hard because our voices were in shock because of crying and the strain, but being there was bonding. Nothing would have been worse than staying home alone during that day, but we decided to do the cast album. We listened to the recording, and I think that there’s something so special about it.

Sophia Anne Caruso earned several award nominations for her role in LAZARUS opposite Michael C. Hall  (photo by Jan Versweyveld)

Sophia Anne Caruso earned several award nominations for her role in LAZARUS opposite Michael C. Hall (photo by Jan Versweyveld)

twi-ny: In the show you sing “No Plan” and “Life on Mars.”

SAC: It’s an honor to sing his music. I’ve always been inspired by his music, and I’ve always loved it. My mom owned vintage stores, and she always had funky seventies stuff. She was always playing Bowie.

twi-ny: Your parents are clearly bringing you up with a certain amount of freedom to develop your own identity.

SAC: Yes, my family is sort of exceptional. My mom is not religious; she’s very free, she likes to travel. My dad is on the more right-wing side, but he has given me freedom to choose what I want, who hasn’t ever pushed me to go towards religion or anything else. They’ve really let me become who I am, who I want to be. They have let me have a lot of freedom, with my choices and my style. Like, I love vintage fashion, and maybe I don’t choose the most attractive clothes or what they would consider appropriate, but it’s me, and it’s what I love, and they support me. It’s a hard business to get through, and they have been there through everything. Nothing is better than having parents like that.

twi-ny: Regarding your choices, your last three plays in New York City were The Nether, about virtual reality and child abuse; Lazarus, in which you play a very complicated character who is no mere child; and now you’re on Broadway in a heavy play that we cannot mention by name because you play a surprise character. What draws you to those roles? And why do your parents let you do them? A lot of parents would say, “Uh-uh, no way.”

SAC: I personally think blondes make the best victims, in my opinion. [laughs] I have sort of become the go-to girl for those things, so they come to me. I chose to do The Nether because I think it’s a very important topic. I didn’t just do it because it’s edgy. I love that it was edgy and that it was out there, but what was most important to me was getting that message out there. If you look around [referring to other people in the lounge], he’s on a computer, he’s on his phone. There was this revealing moment: I was on the train, underground, and nobody was on their phone. We came aboveground, got service, and everybody got their phone out, and I was, like, “Oh my God, what has this world come to?” And that is what made me leap at The Nether. I was, like, I gotta do this show now.

twi-ny: You also played a scary part on Celebrity Ghost Stories.

SAC: I loved doing that! I thought it was so fun. They put me in these sort of seventies clothes, and they had this old haunted house in this very old neighborhood, and that was really fun for me. I try not to let the work affect me; I don’t think it does. I have a certain anxiety about it. Like with The Nether, a question that I ask myself now is, Did that inspire people to act those things, or did that prevent things? And that’s something that scares me as I get older; I think I didn’t have that problem as much when I was younger.

(photo © Jenny Anderson)

Iris (Sophia Anne Caruso) experiences the dark side of humanity in THE NETHER (photo © Jenny Anderson)

twi-ny: Have there been incidents?

SAC: Yeah, I’ve had stalkers.

twi-ny: Pre-Nether or post?

SAC: Both. I’ve had stalkers after The Sound of Music Live!, because that was very big, and I had a couple of strange stalkers after The Nether, but I ignore it. I just don’t respond to anything creepy and delete it immediately.

twi-ny: Does it affect your decision in what plays to do?

SAC: No, it doesn’t. That’s something that comes with being an actor or somebody who’s in the public eye. People become obsessed with your image, not who you are.

twi-ny: Did it scare you when it first happened?

SAC: I was never a sheltered kid, so it absolutely scared me a little bit. Because sheltered kids, they don’t know what happens, they don’t understand how bad the world is, and I always knew those things; my parents have always informed me on things. I watched the news as a kid, and I was never stupid; I knew how serious stalkers could be. And I now have people who protect me from that.

twi-ny: How does it feel to be making your Broadway debut in a show where you’re not in the main Playbill and you’re not allowed to be mentioned in reviews?

SAC: Does it bug me?

twi-ny: Right. You can’t tell people what you’re doing.

SAC: It doesn’t bother me. I’m part of creating a great piece of art, and that’s all that really matters to me. And the fact that I get to go out on the stage and do something, that I’m in the theater. It’s just when I’m not in the theater that I’m miserable. When I’m not working, I’m miserable. But I’m honored to be working with fantastic actors. All that really matters to me is I’m part of telling an important story.

twi-ny: You posted a very interesting picture on Instagram recently in which you’re holding up a bunch of very adult plays that you were getting ready to read, including Equus, This Is Our Youth, and Killer Joe, and you even mentioned in the comments that Sarah Kane is your favorite playwright. Obviously, you’re drawn to this type of material.

SAC: Yes, I am drawn to it. People say that I have a dark sense of humor and I have deep thoughts, and I do, but I like to challenge my mind too. So Sarah Kane is something . . . At first, it takes me a minute to wrap my mind around it. When I finish reading the play, it’s one of those things where it makes me think as an actor. So I like to read those plays because I think it helps make me become a better actor. I don’t ever use them for auditions, but I do a couple of Sarah Kane monologues. . . . . For me, at least, I go to the theater to feel, not to be entertained all the time.

twi-ny: You did Little Dancer, about Degas, at the Kennedy Center. Did you become interested in his work at all, or is that separate?

SAC: When I was doing it, in the rehearsal room we always had prints of his pictures on the wall, and it really inspired the piece. There would be certain moments in the show where there would be a beat in the music and [director Susan Stroman] would say, “Hit the Degas pose.” So we would look at the dancers [in the paintings] and we would make that exact pose.

twi-ny: You’re fourteen, and you’ve already worked with Audra McDonald, Carrie Underwood, Michael C. Hall, Bernadette Peters, Famke Janssen, David Bowie, Susan Stroman, Ivo van Hove, Karen Ziemba, John Oliver, Anne Kauffman; that’s a pretty impressive list for anyone, but especially for a young teenager.

SAC: Age is just a number. I don’t really see myself as my age. I feel very special to have worked with them, but I think of them as equals; I don’t think of them as stars. I think of them as brilliant minds and things, but I don’t think much of it, to be frank, and I try not to make too much of it because then I psyche myself out and get all weird about it, and I get anxious when I’m around someone like that.

twi-ny: You can’t be a fan; you’re a colleague.

SAC: Yeah. That’s the thing that was hard for me with Michael Hall. I was such a fan, ’cause I watched his work on Dexter and Six Feet Under and I loved that stuff. I had so many questions to ask him, and I was ready to talk, because he inspires me as an actor, but I had to not picture him as Dexter anymore; I had to picture him as [his Lazarus character] Thomas Newton and Michael, my friend. I mean, that wasn’t really a struggle, but it was interesting to navigate through that.

twi-ny: What is it like working with van Hove?

SAC: One of my very favorite directors. He taught me this thing that I’ve used from then on, which was, the first day, you go in memorized. It’s so smart, too. Because then you can just focus on the acting and what you want to do. You don’t have to worry about holding a paper or looking down at your notes on the paper. That was one of my bad habits. [In the past] I would have all my notes on the paper and I would look at them. Between every scene I would be like, I have to remember this, I have to remember that. But on the first day of rehearsals [for Lazarus], I had my notes on all my papers, and Ivo goes, “You don’t need this,” and I never got my papers back.

twi-ny: He took them away from you?

SAC: Yeah. I got rid of the papers and he let my instincts fly and that was it.

twi-ny: What else is coming up?

SAC: I’m scheduled to do Runaways by Elizabeth Swados for Encores. I actually was looking through records today and I found this vinyl of the original cast album and I was like, “I need this!”

THE HUMANS ON BROADWAY

(photo by Brigitte Lacombe)

Stephen Karam explores the bright and dark sides of the American dream in beautifully humanistic Broadway drama (photo by Brigitte Lacombe)

Helen Hayes Theatre
240 West 44th St.
Tuesday - Sunday through July 24, $39-$145
www.thehumansonbroadway.com
www.roundabouttheatre.org

The most human off-Broadway show of the season is now the most human on Broadway. The Roundabout production of Pulitzer Prize finalist Stephen Karam’s The Humans, which ran at the Laura Pels from October 25 through January 3, has made a seamless transition to the Great White Way, where it is inhabiting the Helen Hayes Theatre through July 24. Karam has made minimal, virtually undetectable tweaks to the play, which features the same cast and crew and is just as good the second time around. Tony nominee and Drama Desk and Obie Award winner Reed Birney stars as Erik Blake, the patriarch of a Scranton family that is gathering for Thanksgiving in the new Chinatown apartment of younger daughter Brigid (Sarah Steele), which she and boyfriend, Richard (Arian Moayed) have just moved into. Erik and his wife, Deirdre (Jayne Houdyshell), have driven into the city with his ailing mother, Momo (Lauren Klein), who requires constant care. They are joined by older daughter Aimee (Cassie Beck), a Philadelphia lawyer who has recently broken up with her longtime girlfriend. Over the course of ninety-five intimate minutes, we learn about each character’s strengths and weaknesses, their hopes and dreams, their successes and their failures, as Scranton native Karam (Speech & Debate, Dark Sisters) and two-time Tony-winning director Joe Mantello (Take Me Out, Assassins) steer clear of clichés and melodramatic sentimentality, even when making direct references to 9/11. The acting, led by New York theater treasures Birney (You Got Older, Circle Mirror Transformation) and Houdyshell (Follies, Well) and rising star Steele (Slowgirl, Speech and Debate), is impeccable, making audience members feel like they’re experiencing their own Thanksgiving. Every moment of The Humans, which takes place on David Zinn’s spectacular two-floor tearaway set, rings true, a gripping, honest depiction of life in the twenty-first century, filled with the typical ups and downs, fears and anxieties, that we all face every day. Although things get very serious, including a touch of the otherworldly, the play is also hysterically funny as it paints a familiar yet frightening portrait of contemporary America, mixing in darkness both literally and figuratively. To find out more about the story and to read a short excerpt from the play, you can read my review of the off-Broadway run here, but by this point all you need to know is that this is a must-see production of a must-see show.