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

JUNK

(photo by T. Charles Erickson)

Ayad Akhtar and Doug Hughes shine a light on debt financing, leverage, disclosure violations, and the death of American manufacturing in Junk at Lincoln Center (photo by T. Charles Erickson)

Vivian Beaumont Theater at Lincoln Center Theater
150 West 65th St. between Broadway & Amsterdam Ave.
Tuesday - Saturday through January 7, $87-$147
212-362-7600
www.lct.org

Just because I graduated from Wharton in the 1980s doesn’t mean I understand every intricacy in Ayad Akhtar’s complexly layered Junk, his sizzling-hot excoriation of greed and hostile takeovers, set in 1985. But Akhtar makes the key elements easy to follow, even for me, as a group of men fight it out for control of an Allegheny steel mill — but the last thing on their mind is actually steel, because in this world, it’s money that matters. Akhtar — who won the Pulitzer Prize for Disgraced, a sharp play about race, assimilation, ambition, and bigotry, and whose 2014 drama, The Invisible Hand, put capitalism and religion on trial in Pakistan — refers to Junk as “a ritual enactment of an origin myth,” in this case that of debt financing at the expense of American manufacturing. “When did money become the thing — the only thing?” journalist Judy Chen (Teresa Avia Lim) asks at the beginning. “It was like a new religion was being born.” It might not sound like a sexy topic, but it’s a scorcher in the hands of Tony-winning director Doug Hughes (The Father, Incognito), who orchestrates all the back-room dealings on John Lee Beatty’s dazzling multilevel set, strikingly lit by Ben Stanton. Sacker-Lowell junk bond trader Robert Merkin (Steven Pasquale) is the mastermind behind a hostile takeover of Everson Steel and United, a family-owned business on the Dow. Merkin, who believes that “debt is an asset,” and Sacker-Lowell lawyer Raül Rivera (Matthew Saldivar), who claims that “nothing makes money like money,” are working with corporate raider Israel Peterman (Matthew Rauch) to gain control of Everson Steel, owned by Thomas Everson Jr. (Rick Holmes), who desperately wants to hold on to the Allegheny-based firm founded by his father. Merkin turns to his wife, numbers whiz Amy (Miriam Silverman), for advice while luring in arbitrageur Boris Pronsky (Joey Slotnick) and investor Murray Lefkowitz (Ethan Phillips) to raise the necessary funds and manipulate the market. When old-time private equity magnate Leo Tresler (Michael Siberry) gets wind of Merkin’s plan, he decides to throw his hat in the ring as well. Meanwhile, US attorney Giuseppe Addesso (Charlie Semine) and assistant US attorney Kevin Walsh (Philip James Brannon) are operating behind the scenes, building a case against Merkin and others.

(photo by T. Charles Erickson)

Corporate raider Israel Peterman (Matthew Rauch) colludes with junk bond trader Robert Merkin (Steven Pasquale) in Broadway financial thriller (photo by T. Charles Erickson)

When Akhtar moved to New York City shortly after graduating from Brown, his father offered to pay his rent if he read the Wall Street Journal every day. He immersed himself in newspapers and magazines about business and came to believe that the players in this world were “not moral or immoral but amoral,” he tells co-executive editor John Guare in Lincoln Center Theater Review. In many ways Junk is like a Shakespearean history play about war, complete with lies, betrayal, spies, sex, and blood, where words and actions can be twisted to mean something else. Of course, Akhtar is not exactly the first person to write about how money became a kind of religion, with profit more important than product and people, humanity be damned, but he does so with a graceful style that turns clichés inside out while choosing no real heroes or villains. No one is safe from his skewer, but each man and woman gets to state his or her case free from editorial judgment. That doesn’t mean everyone is equal, that the audience can’t separate good from evil, or that viewers can’t feel sympathy for some characters and disdain for others. Akhtar reveals a socioeconomic level many of us will never be a part of, and most likely wouldn’t want to — although more than a few in the well-heeled Lincoln Center audience at the show we attended rustled uncomfortably in their seats. Talking about Merkin, Tresler tells Chen, “He’s a pawnbroker. And he’s got America in hock,” to which she replies, “Or he’s the new J. P. Morgan.” In many ways Akhtar has created an extremely extended dysfunctional family, with surrogate children, cousins, parents, and grandparents fighting over money, power, and values. “I don’t want to make you mad,” Lefkowitz tells Merkin, as if he doesn’t want to disappoint Daddy. Featuring a strong cast of twenty-three led by fine turns by Pasquale (The Bridges of Madison County, Rescue Me), Siberry (An Enemy of the People, Six Degrees of Separation), Phillips (My Favorite Year, Benson), Slotnick (Dying for It, Boston Public), and Holmes (The Visit, Matilda), Junk might be set thirty-two years ago, but it’s not out-of-date in the least, as income inequality grows around the world, President Trump has just signed a controversial overhaul of the US tax system, and cryptocurrency complicates the market and confuses the masses.

THE PARISIAN WOMAN

(photo by Matthew Murphy)

Uma Thurman, Josh Lucas, and Marton Csokas discuss sex and politics in Beau Willimon’s The Parisian Woman (photo by Matthew Murphy)

Hudson Theatre
139-141 West 44th St. between Sixth & Seventh Aves.
Tuesday - Sunday through March 11, $59.50 - $260
www.thehudsonbroadway.com

Oscar and Emmy nominee Uma Thurman makes her Broadway debut in The Parisian Woman by Beau Willimon, the creator of the American version of House of Cards. The ninety-minute play, set in contemporary Washington, DC, could be an alternate episode of the popular Netflix hit. Thurman is Chloe, the socialite wife of tax lawyer Tom (Josh Lucas), who is being considered for a federal judgeship. Unsurprisingly, sex, lies, and power will determine whether he succeeds or not. Chloe is having an affair with the obsessively jealous Peter Lafont (Marton Csokas), a wealthy banker who just might have the ear of President Trump. When Chloe and Tom are invited to a party at the home of high-powered Republican Jeannette Simpson (Tony winner Blair Brown), Chloe sees it as an opportunity to manipulate Jeannette, who has been nominated to become the chairwoman of the Federal Reserve, in order to find out Tom’s chances. At the party, Chloe also speaks with Bob and Jeannette’s daughter, rising political star — and liberal Democrat — Rebecca (Tony nominee Phillipa Soo). Bedroom intrigue and political maneuverings lead to a surprising conclusion that would probably make House of Cards’ Frank and Claire Underwood proud.

(photo by Matthew Murphy)

Chloe (Uma Thurman) and Jeannette Simpson (Blair Brown) make a deal in The Parisian Woman (photo by Matthew Murphy)

Running through March 11 at the Hudson Theatre, The Parisian Woman, which was inspired by Henri Becque’s scandalous 1885 play, La Parisienne, is slight though enjoyable, but it seldom achieves the intimacy it strives for. Thurman (Kill Bill, Pulp Fiction), who was last onstage in Classic Stage’s 1999 revival of Molière’s The Misanthrope, is elegant but too languid — she may look great in Jane Greenwood’s fab costumes, but her character is so vapid it is difficult to understand why everyone is in love with her. Csokas (The Lord of the Rings, LovingHamilton, Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812) underwhelming, while Lucas (Corpus Christi, The Glass Menagerie) is plenty smarmy, but it’s Brown (Arcadia, Copenhagen) who saves the day with a stellar performance as Jeannette, the most fascinating and likable character in the play, which shines whenever she is onstage. Tony winner Pam MacKinnon (Clybourne Park, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?) directs with a sure hand on Derek McLane’s stylish sets, but the play suffers from Willimon’s repeated references to Trump and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, making it feel more like liberal propaganda at times; in fact, Willimon (Farragut North, Lower Ninth), who worked on campaigns for Charles Schumer, Hillary Clinton, Bill Bradley, and Howard Dean, has significantly revised the play several times since its 2013 premiere at South Coast Repertory, where the cast included Dana Delany and Steven Weber. The Parisian Woman is not without its merits, but it ends up being akin to a good episode of House of Cards, which will not be enough for more discerning theatergoers.

TIME AND THE CONWAYS

(photo by Jeremy Daniel)

Carol (Anna Baryshnikov) entertains her family in revival of J. B. Priestley’s Time and the Conways (photo by Jeremy Daniel)

American Airlines Theatre
227 West 42nd St. between Broadway & Eighth Ave.
Run ended November 26
212-719-1300
www.roundabouttheatre.org

“A novel or a play cannot really be about Time. (And I ask the reader to remember that I am a man who is widely credited with having written ‘Time plays,” although I never made any such claim myself),” British playwright J. B. Priestley wrote. “Time is a concept, a certain condition of experience, a mode of perception, and so forth; and a novel or a play, to be worth calling one, cannot really be about Time but only about people and things that appear to be in Time.” Among Priestley’s Time plays are An Inspector Calls, I Have Been Here Before, and Time and the Conways, which was just revived by the Roundabout at the American Airlines Theatre on Broadway. As the title implies, Time is like a character unto itself in the show, which begins in 1919, shortly after the end of WWI. The Conways, led by their widowed matriarch (Elizabeth McGovern), are celebrating the twenty-first birthday of Kay Conway (Charlotte Parry), an aspiring novelist. The family is immersed in a game of Charades, which is going on in another, unseen room. Among those participating are Kay’s sisters, Hazel (Anna Camp), Madge (Brooke Bloom), and Carol (Anna Baryshnikov); their brothers, dullard Alan (Gabriel Ebert) and the swashbuckling Robin (Matthew James Thomas); and family friend Joan Helford (Cara Ricketts). They are soon joined by their solicitor, Gerald Thornton (Alfredo Narciso), and his odd pal, a businessman named Ernest Beevers (Steven Boyer), who has a creepy liking for Hazel. (“Ugh. I’d just as soon marry a — a ferret,” Hazel tells Joan.) The word they are trying to convey to their guests is “pussyfoot,” which, appropriately enough, means to evade commitment, emblematic of how the Conways avoid facing reality. “Just when everything is very jolly and exciting, I suddenly think of something awfully serious, sometimes horrible — like Dad drowning — or that little mad boy I once saw with the huge head — or that old man who walks in the Park with that great lump growing out of his face,” Carol says, to which Hazel responds, covering her ears, “I’m not listening. I’m not listening.” Mrs. Conway essentially covers her ears when Beevers advises that she accept a generous offer for her house, but the family will have none of it.

(photo by Jeremy Daniel)

A family refuses to face harsh realities in Roundabout Broadway revival (photo by Jeremy Daniel)

When Mrs. Conway says, “I’m not used to happiness,” she’s not kidding, but she’s also not about to do much to change things and face reality. The play then shifts to 1937, as the Conways all have to deal with the decisions they’ve made, most of which have not been for the better. The stern Madge, explaining that she has come to the house just because she was in the neighborhood, tells Kay, “I’ve no further interest in these family muddles, financial or otherwise.” When Gerald is about to deliver some bad news, Kay complains, “When you turn on that legal manner, I can’t take you seriously — I feel you’re still acting in one of our old charades.” But it’s the Conways who can’t come to terms with what his happening. The third act returns to 1919, picking up just where act one left off, cleverly filling in some holes to explain how things got to where they were eighteen years later. Time and the Conways, which is rarely revived and has been made into a film twice, a 1984 Russian drama and a BBC version starring Claire Bloom, is reminiscent of the Roundabout’s 2013 expert production of Terence Rattigan’s The Winslow Boy, which also ran at the American Airlines Theatre and dealt with a family facing a dilemma. Priestley’s play also evokes elements of Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard and Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice as the Conways face an uncertain future they’d rather not think about. The ten-person cast is superb, with precise, confident direction by rising star Rebecca Taichman (Indecent, Familiar) on Neil Patel’s engaging drawing-room set. Frank Ventura is credited with etiquette and period movement, which is appropriately proper. “Some novelists and dramatists may be unusually aware of Time, but they have to write about something else,” Priestley explained. In Time and the Conways, he has done just that in telling the fateful story of a dysfunctional family that refuses to look in the mirror.

NYC BROADWAY WEEK SUMMER 2017

Phil Connors (Andy Karl) is trapped in Punxsutawney, PA, forced to relive Groundhog Day over and over again (photo by Joan Marcus)

Phil Connors (Andy Karl) is excited that Broadway Week is back once again (photo by Joan Marcus)

BROADWAY WEEK: 2-for-1 Tickets
September 4-17, buy one ticket, get one free
www.nycgo.com/broadway-week

Tickets are on sale for the late-summer edition of Broadway Week, which runs September 4-17 and offers theater lovers a chance to get two-for-one tickets in advance to see new and long-running shows on the Great White Way. Twenty-three shows are participating, with one already sold out — The Lion King, as usual — so you need to act fast. You can still grab seats, however, for 1984, Aladdin, Anastasia, Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, A Bronx Tale, Cats, Chicago, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, A Doll’s House Part 2, Groundhog Day, Hello, Dolly! Kinky Boots, Michael Moore: The Terms of My Surrender, Miss Saigon, The Phantom of the Opera, The Play That Goes Wrong, Prince of Broadway, School of Rock, Waitress, War Paint, and Wicked. You can also get $20 upgrades by using the code BWAYUP.

PRINCE OF BROADWAY

(photo by Matthew Murphy © 2017)

Prince of Broadway features three songs from Follies (photo by Matthew Murphy © 2017)

Manhattan Theatre Club at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre
261 West 47th St. between Broadway & Eighth Aves.
Tuesday - Sunday through October 22, $89-$165
princeofbway.com
www.manhattantheatreclub.com

Less is certainly not more in Manhattan Theatre Club’s production of the surprisingly slight Prince of Broadway. Continuing at the Samuel J. Friedman through October 22, the show is a tribute to legendary icon Hal Prince, who has won twenty-one Tony Awards during a grand career going back to his days as an assistant stage manager in 1950 through directing and/or producing many of the greatest musicals in Broadway history. Prince himself directs the talented cast of nine — Chuck Cooper, Janet Dacal, Bryonha Marie Parham, Emily Skinner, Brandon Uranowitz, Kaley Ann Voorhees, Michael Xavier, Tony Yazbeck, and Karen Ziemba — who all portray him, glasses on top of their heads, as he discusses brief, mostly unilluminating snippets from his history, many of them self-aggrandizing platitudes that serve as introductions to some of the numbers, although there are a few choice tidbits, including his meeting Stephen Sondheim. The crew is just about as good as it gets, with a book by two-time Tony nominee David Thompson, arrangements and orchestrations by two-time Tony winner Jason Robert Brown, sets and projections by Tony winner Beowulf Boritt, costumes by six-time Tony winner William Ivey Long, lighting by two-time Tony winner Howell Binkley, and codirection and choreography by five-time Tony winner Susan Stroman. And the show has several memorable moments, including Cooper bringing the house down with “If I Were a Rich Man” from Fiddler on the Roof, Parham belting out the theme song from Cabaret, Xavier and Dacal camping it up on “You’ve Got Possibilities” from It’s a Bird...It’s a Plane...It’s Superman, and Skinner delivering a moving “Send in the Clowns” from A Little Night Music. But as Ziemba sings as Fräulein Schneider from Cabaret, “So what?”

(photo by Matthew Murphy © 2017)

Chuck Cooper brings the house down as Tevye from Fiddler on the Roof (photo by Matthew Murphy © 2017)

Too many of the production numbers are not introduced by name; how many people are likely to know that “This Is Not Over Yet” is from Parade? Prince’s specific contributions, whether director or producer, are not indicated onstage (only in the program), so it is often difficult to grasp how much we’re seeing is from the man himself. With limited or no background information, most of the songs exist in a kind of vacuum, where the audience doesn’t know enough about the characters to get involved in their tales, except for the numbers that have more exposition in them. Even such beloved songs as “Something’s Coming” and “Tonight” from West Side Story feel lost amid the other hits and non-hits; it’s not fair for Stroman and Prince to assume the crowd is already familiar with the songs, a disservice particularly to younger generations or newcomers of any age to musical theater. And although Prince worked on nearly sixty shows, a mere sixteen are represented here, with three or four songs from certain musicals; it would have been fascinating to see tunes from such less-well-known works as Zorba, A Family Affair, Flora, the Red Menace, or even A Doll’s Life, which closed after five performances, instead of multiple numbers from Evita and The Phantom of the Opera. An earlier version did have other songs, including “All I Need Is One Good Break” from Flora, but numerous delays and financial issues led to many changes. (For example, in March 2012 it was announced that the Broadway production would open that November with Sebastian Arcelus, Linda Lavin, Richard Kind, LaChanze, Shuler Hensley, Sierra Boggess, Josh Grisetti, Amanda Kloots-Larsen, Daniel Breaker, Caroline O’Connor, David Pittu, and Skinner.) In a program note, Prince writes, “I doubt if anyone today can duplicate the life I’ve been lucky enough to live.” That’s very likely true, but the eighty-nine-year-old master deserves better than Prince of Broadway.

THE TERMS OF MY SURRENDER: REVISITED

The Donald hovers over Michael Moore in The Terms of My Surrender (photo by Joan Marcus)

The Donald hovers over Michael Moore in The Terms of My Surrender (photo by Joan Marcus)

Belasco Theatre
111 West 44th St. between Sixth & Seventh Aves.
Tuesday - Saturday through October 22, $29 - $149
www.michaelmooreonbroadway.com

I attended the star-studded August 10 opening of Michael Moore’s Broadway debut, the mostly one-man show The Terms of My Surrender, in which the Flint native rails against Donald Trump and shares stories about how one person can make a difference. In my review the next day, I noted that there was a handful of important flaws; other critics were somewhat less generous (amid some raves). With all that is going on in the world, overwhelming us on a constant basis, I decided to revisit the Belasco Theatre the next week to see if Moore and director Michael Mayer had made any important changes and how Moore might incorporate the violent white nationalist march in Charlottesville, Virginia.

The show turned out to be much better the second time around. Moore was more comfortable (though not when it comes to dancing), several cringeworthy lines and a dreadful bit were cut, and no special guest arrived for the interview segment. Trump’s words relating to Charlottesville were projected across the stripes on the American flag that hovers behind Moore, and the proceedings had a more agreeable narrative flow. Moore did note at one moment that he went ahead with a line his producers wanted him to get rid of, and he made a point of explaining that he would not have done the show unless the producers agreed that all balcony seats would sell for $29, something he did not say on opening night, so perhaps the show has indeed undergone some necessary and successful nipping and tucking. Whatever the case, The Terms of My Surrender improved greatly upon repeat viewing, even if Moore is still preaching to the converted. However, I’m unlikely to go back a third time; as with presidents, two “terms” are enough.

MARVIN’S ROOM

(photo by Joan Marcus)

Sisters Lee (Janeane Garofalo) and Bessie (Lily Taylor) reunite after eighteen years in Marvin’s Room (photo by Joan Marcus)

American Airlines Theatre
227 West 42nd St. between Broadway & Eighth Ave.
Through August 27, $47-$127
212-719-1300
www.roundabouttheatre.org

Scott McPherson’s 1990 play, Marvin’s Room, is finally making its Broadway debut, in a touching and funny Roundabout production directed gracefully by Anne Kaufman. The work, which focuses on the complex relationship between two sisters, ran in New York at Playwrights Horizon and the Minetta Lane Theater in 1992-93, winning two Drama Desk Awards (including Outstanding Play) and an Obie, and was then turned into a film in 1996 with an Oscar-nominated Diane Keaton, Meryl Streep, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Gwen Verdon. For its Great White Way bow, it has enlisted a pair of fab actresses to portray the sisters. Lily Taylor stars as Bessie, a forty-year-old woman who has been caring for her ailing father, Marvin (Carman Lacivita), and her partially incapacitated aunt, Ruth (Celia Weston), in their Florida home for decades. “Dad’s dying but he’s been dying for about twenty years. He’s doing it real slow so I don’t miss anything,” Bessie tells Dr. Wally (Triney Sandoval), who is filling in for her regular physician. “And Dr. Serat has worked a miracle with Ruth,” she adds. “She’s had constant pain from her back since she was born, and now the doctor had her get an electronic anesthetizer; you know, they put the wires right into the brain and when she has a bad pain she just turns her dial. It really is a miracle. . . . If she uses it in the kitchen our automatic garage door goes up. But that’s a small price to pay, don’t you think?” The scene’s elements of vaudeville slapstick prepare the audience for Bessie’s discovery that she is sick as well. Her sister, Lee (Janeane Garofalo), arrives from Ohio to offer assistance, along with her two boys, Charlie (Luca Padovan) and the older, deeply troubled Hank (Jack DiFalco). It’s not exactly the most heartwarming of family reunions as everyone tries to decide how far they’re willing to go to help.

(photo by Joan Marcus)

Ruth (Celia Weston) and Bessie (Lily Taylor) have their hands full in Broadway debut of 1990 Scott McPherson play (photo by Joan Marcus)

Garofalo (Russian Transport, The Truth about Cats and Dogs), in her Broadway debut, and Emmy winner Taylor (Aunt Dan & Lemon, Six Feet Under) get the sibling thing just right; they even look somewhat similar, and more so as the play continues. Taylor plays Bessie with a soft vulnerability beneath her hard shell, while Garofalo is excellent at keeping Lee’s motives just under the surface. Whenever they are together, Marvin can be seen in silhouette lying down in the bedroom, a constant reminder of what drove the sisters apart. Tony nominee Weston (True West, The Last Night of Ballyhoo) provides comic relief as the slow-moving, God-fearing Ruth, who refers to a bowel movement as a “stinky.” The set by Laura Jellinek (The Nether, The Wolves) easily slides from kitchen to doctor’s office to hospital room to retirement home while Obie winner Kauffman (Marjorie Prime, Belleville) moves the story at a calm pace despite the occasional fireworks. The play was inspired by childhood memories as well as a different play McPherson was writing, about an AIDS clinic. McPherson later cared for his partner, a cartoonist and activist who died of AIDS in February 1992 at the age of thirty-three; McPherson, who also wrote Scraped, passed away from AIDS complications later that year, at the same age. Marvin’s Room is a tragicomic story that boldly addresses the question of what happens when a caregiver needs a caregiver as well as a bittersweet reminder of the weight of family responsibility and heartbreaking loss.