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

TRUE WEST

(photo by Joan Marcus)

Ethan Hawke and Paul Dano star in Roundabout revival of Sam Shepard’s True West on Broadway (photo by Joan Marcus)

American Airlines Theatre
227 West 42nd St. between Broadway & Eighth Ave.
Tuesday - Sunday through March 17, $59-$352
212-719-1300
www.roundabouttheatre.org

Sam Shepard’s Pulitzer-nominated True West is an oft-produced star-driven 1980 vehicle that offers an epic sibling rivalry with a few parental complications as it deconstructs the American dream and the creation of film and theater itself. The two brothers, the younger Austin, a screenwriter with a wife and kids, and the older Lee, a ne’er-do-well thief and transient, have been played by such duos as Tommy Lee Jones and Peter Boyle, Gary Sinise and John Malkovich, Dennis Quaid and Randy Quaid, Kit Harington and Johnny Flynn, Bruce Willis and Chad Smith, Bob Hoskins and Antony Sher, and, in its Broadway debut in 2000, Philip Seymour Hoffman and John C. Reilly, who occasionally switched roles. The black comedy is now back on Broadway at the American Airlines Theatre in a ferociously funny Roundabout revival, directed by James Macdonald, with Paul Dano as Austin and Ethan Hawke as Lee. This new production benefits from close ties with Shepard, who died in 2017 at the age of seventy-three: Macdonald previously helmed such Shepard works as Fool for Love and Simpatico and directed Shepard in Caryl Churchill’s A Number, while Hawke has directed Shepard’s A Lie of the Mind and starred with Shepard in Michael Almereyda’s 2000 Hamlet, which featured Hawke as the title character and Shepard as the ghost of his father. Hawke also directed Dano in the New Group’s Things We Want in 2007.

(photo by Joan Marcus)

Siblings Lee (Ethan Hawke) and Austin (Paul Dano) go at each other in Sam Shepard revival at American Airlines Theatre (photo by Joan Marcus)

A quiet, focused man, Austin is house-sitting their mother’s (Marylouise Burke) suburban home in Southern California. She is off in Alaska — essentially the polar opposite of Cali — and he is taking care of her plants while writing a screenplay that independent producer Saul Kimmer (Gary Wilmes) is interested in. The gruff, uncouth Lee shows up unexpectedly, claiming to have spent years in the desert and visiting with their father. Austin does not want Lee around for an upcoming meeting with Saul, but Lee not only interferes but is soon pitching his own film project, a contemporary Western based on his adventures on the road, pitting the two brothers against one another while they also consider working together. Macdonald, Hawke, and Dano play up the physical slapstick in this raucous version. “You probably think that I’m not fully able to comprehend somethin’ like that, huh?” the less-educated Lee asks. “Like what?” Austin responds. “That stuff yer doin’. That art. You know. Whatever you call it,” Lee replies, as Shepard, who represented manliness and masculine achievement during his lifetime as an actor, writer, and rancher, questions the very notion of storytelling. When they’re trying to outline the narrative, which Austin thinks is bad, Lee says, “What? It’s too what? It’s too real! That what ya’ mean, isn’t it? It’s too much like real life!” Austin answers, “It’s not like real life! It’s not enough like real life. Things don’t happen like that.”

In the second half of the play, the brothers basically switch places in a riotous swap of psyches and body movement. Even Mimi Lien’s long horizontal set, meant to evoke a widescreen movie, is divided in two, one side a kitchen, the other an alcove with plants and a table with a typewriter. The pairs of cherries on the wallpaper are a particularly deft touch, evoking testicles as well as how brothers are naturally stuck with each other. “I always wondered what’d be like to be you,” Lee admits, to which Austin explains, “And I used to say to myself, ‘Lee’s got the right idea. He’s out there in the world and here I am. What am I doing?” In True West, Shepard, who had the public persona of a rugged man’s man, a shining example of the American male, delves into the dual nature of identity and art, separating who we are from who we want to be, what’s real from what’s fantasy. California is home to Hollywood, the ultimate myth maker, as well as the empty desert and vast landscapes where cowboys roam the land. While Austin writes about romance, we never learn anything about his relationship with his family; the only things that exist for him are written on pages. Lee is living a rough-and-tumble life but suddenly wants to slow down and set it down on paper. It is as if they are enacting the two sides of Shepard himself. All hell breaks loose at the conclusion, which is as hysterical as it is horrifying, leaving you both exhausted and exhilarated, exploring the mythology of your own identity and family bonds.

CHOIR BOY

(photo © Matthew Murphy, 2018)

Pharus Jonathan Young (Jeremy Pope) pursues his singing dreams in Choir Boy (photo © Matthew Murphy, 2018)

Manhattan Theatre Club at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre
261 West 47th St. between Broadway & Eighth Aves.
Tuesday - Sunday through February 24, $79-$169
choirboybroadway.com
www.manhattantheatreclub.com

Oscar-winning screenwriter Tarell Alvin McCraney’s Broadway debut, Choir Boy, offers a new twist on a classic dramatic trope: life at an all-male boarding school. But Charles R. Drew Prep School is not quite like the schools depicted in such well-regarded films as Rushmore, Dead Poets Society, Tom Brown’s School Days, Heaven Help Us, or If… The students and the teachers at Drew are all men of color. “My daddy say they used to let you get away with a lil bit because they know how hard it is to be a black man out there,” student Bobby Marrow (J. Quinton Johnson) tells fellow student David Heard (Caleb Eberhardt). “Now, everything got to be watched, gotta be careful, gotta be cordial. Don’t say nothing, don’t say that word, don’t look like that, this shit Pandemic.” Bobby, whose uncle is Headmaster Marrow (Chuck Cooper), is one of several young men in the school’s prestigious choir, along with Pharus Jonathan Young (Jeremy Pope), Junior Davis (Nicholas L. Ashe), Anthony Justin “AJ” James (John Clay III), and David. The show opens with Pharus singing the school song, a much-coveted opportunity, but he takes an unfortunate pause when he is secretly harassed by Bobby, who questions Pharus’s sexual orientation. Afterward, in explaining why he stopped but without snitching on Bobby, Pharus asks the headmaster, “Would you rather be feared or respected?” which becomes an underlying theme of the play as the boys deal with issues of race, gender, homophobia, family, class, and education.

(photo © Matthew Murphy, 2018)

Bobby Marrow (J. Quinton Johnson) and Pharus Jonathan Young (Jeremy Pope) are at odds in boarding-school drama (photo © Matthew Murphy, 2018)

The play suffers dramatically upon the arrival of Mr. Pendleton, a former teacher at the school who has been brought back by the headmaster for inexplicable reasons, unless it is merely to force racial conflict, as Pendleton is white and, oddly, played by the ubiquitous Austin Pendleton, blurring the line between theater and real life in an obtrusive way. The scenes with Mr. Pendleton, who uses racist cracks to supposedly educate the kids, bring the show to a screeching halt and are best forgotten as the story proceeds. Fortunately, there is much to enjoy in the rest of the Manhattan Theater Club production, which has been extended at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre through February 24.

Pope (Ain’t Too Proud, Invisible Thread) makes a dazzling Broadway debut as Pharus, a proud, flawed, young gay man who refuses to muzzle himself while often disregarding the feelings of others; it’s an electrifying performance of a role given complex subtleties by McCraney, who cowrote the Oscar-winning Moonlight with Barry Jenkins. The supporting cast portraying the other teens are terrific as well, including Clay III (Encores’ Grand Hotel) as AJ, Pharus’s roommate, who is sensitive to his friend’s situation; Johnson (Hamilton) as the troubled Bobby, who is dealing with his mother’s death; Eberhardt (Is God Is) as David, who is hiding his own secrets; and Ashe (Kill Floor) as Junior, a follower who makes questionable decisions. They might have their share of disagreements, but when they sing such spirituals as “Keep Your Eyes on the Prize” and “Rockin in Jerusalem” they show just what they can accomplish together. (Alas, “There’s a Rainbow ’round My Shoulder” feels a bit too obvious and heavy-handed.) Tony winner Cooper (The Life) is splendidly august as the headmaster, who only gets involved when truly necessary, understanding that the students grow when they figure things out for themselves, even if that’s sometimes painful. Thoughtfully directed by Trip Cullman (Lobby Hero, Six Degrees of Separation), Choir Boy is ultimately about tolerance, about the basic human dignity everyone deserves, while for the most part steering clear of grand statements and politically correct sentimentality.

NYC BROADWAY WEEK WINTER 2019

(photo by Matthew Murphy)

King Kong is one of two dozen shows offering BOGO tickets during Broadway Week (photo by Matthew Murphy)

BROADWAY WEEK: 2-for-1 Tickets
January 21 - February 10, buy one ticket, get one free
www.nycgo.com/broadwayweek

Tickets are on sale for the winter edition of Broadway Week, which runs January 21 to February 10 and offers theater lovers a chance to get two-for-one tickets in advance to see new and long-running productions on the Great White Way. Two dozen shows are participating, but two are already sold out — Dear Evan Hansen and Come from Away — so you need to act fast. You can still grab seats, however, for Aladdin, Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, Anastasia, The Band’s Visit, The Book of Mormon, The Cher Show, Chicago, Choir Boy, The Ferryman, Frozen, King Kong, Kinky Boots, The Lion King, Mean Girls, My Fair Lady, The Phantom of the Opera, Pretty Woman, The Prom, True West, Waitress, The Waverly Gallery, and Wicked. You can also get $20 upgrades for better seats.

THE FERRYMAN

(photo © 2018 Joan Marcus)

The Ferryman is set during the height of the Troubles in Northern Ireland (photo © 2018 Joan Marcus)

Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre
242 West 45th St. between Broadway & Eighth Ave.
Tuesday - Sunday through July 7, $79 - $209
theferrymanbroadway.com

Winner of three Olivier Awards for Best New Play, Best Director (Sam Mendes), and Best Actress (Laura Donnelly), British import The Ferryman is a staggering achievement, everything a Broadway play should be and more. Jez Butterworth, whose three-hour Jerusalem dazzled audiences in 2011 and earned Mark Rylance a Tony, followed in 2014 by the underwhelming eighty-five-minute The River, returns to the Great White Way with a searing 215-minute tale set during the height of the Troubles in Northern Ireland in the late summer of 1981, while Irish Republican political prisoners are on a five-month hunger strike that has divided Great Britain. Quinn Carney (Paddy Considine) and his extended family are living on a farm in rural County Armagh — including his always ailing wife, Mary (Genevieve O’Reilly); their children, J.J. (Niall Wright), Michael (Fra Fee), Shena (Carla Langley), Nunu (Brooklyn Shuck), Mercy (Willow McCarthy), Honor (Matilda Lawler), and a nine-month-old son; Quinn’s elderly Uncle Patrick (Mark Lambert) and wheelchair-bound Aunt Maggie Far Away (Fionnula Flanagan); fierce IRA supporter Aunt Patricia (Dearbhla Molloy); and Quinn’s sister-in-law, Caitlin (Donnelly), and her son, Oisin (Rob Malone).

(photo © 2018 Joan Marcus)

Aunt Maggie Far Away (Fionnula Flanagan) and Uncle Patrick (Mark Lambert) have stories to share in Jez Butterworth’s masterful The Ferryman (photo © 2018 Joan Marcus)

They are all preparing for the harvest feast, with the help of their trusted farmworker, Tom Kettle (Justin Edwards), an addled, simple Englishman, and teenage cousins Shane (Tom Glynn-Carney), Diarmaid (Conor MacNeill), and Declan Corcoran (Michael McArthur), who know how to have a good time. Quinn has been trying to escape his IRA past, but it all comes hurtling back when the body of his brother, Seamus, Caitlin’s husband, is found in a bog and IRA strongman Frank Magennis (Dean Ashton) and leader Muldoon (Stuart Graham) show up unexpectedly at the house to send a very specific message. Caught in the middle is Father Horrigan (Charles Dale), who wants to do the right thing but is threatened by Magennis and Muldoon as well.

Tony winner Mendes (American Beauty, Cabaret) superbly navigates the play’s many complexities, making three hours and fifteen minutes virtually float by. Rob Howell’s crowded, busy set (he also designed the costumes), a kind of purgatory where various sins are revealed, is able to contain the large cast as the characters sing, dance, argue, cook, tell stories, love, and fight. Numerous cast changes have been made since it first opened at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre in October (and where it has been extended through July 7), but The Ferryman is an ensemble piece, not dependent on any individual performances, although a baby and a goose stand out. That said, it is a treat to see English actor Considine, who has starred in such films as Michael Winterbottom’s 24 Hour Party People, Edgar Wright’s Hot Fuzz, Paul Greengrass’s The Bourne Ultimatum, and Armando Iannucci’s The Death of Stalin, make his stage debut as Quinn, a proud man who just wants to go on with his family life but is pulled back into his past. “Let’s just stay like this. Let me just dream for a moment. Imagine what it feels like to have won. I just want to stay like this,” he tells Caitlin early on, before news of Seamus’s fate reaches them. Butterworth, who has cowritten screenplays for such films as Fair Game, Black Mass, and Spectre, was inspired to write The Ferryman by the true story of the murder of Donnelly’s uncle Eugene, who disappeared in 1981 and whose body was discovered three years later. Butterworth wrote the part of Caitlin specifically for Donnelly (Outlander, The River), his partner, who was pregnant during the initial London run. Donnelly gave birth to a daughter, while Butterworth delivered what is currently the best play on Broadway.

THE CHER SHOW

(photo by Joan Marcus)

Teal Wicks, Stephanie J. Block, and Micaela Diamond all portray Cher at different points in her career in Broadway jukebox musical (photo by Joan Marcus)

Neil Simon Theater
250 West 52nd St. between Broadway & Eighth Ave.
Wednesday - Sunday through June 9, $59-$229
thechershowbroadway.com

Stephanie J. Block will blow your mind as Cher in the new Broadway musical The Cher Show, capturing the very essence of the diva in looks, attitude, and voice. Bob Mackie’s over-the-top costumes are appropriately dazzling, eliciting oohs and ahs from the audience. And Ashley Blair Fitzgerald brings down the house in a scintillating modern dance performance of “Dark Lady.” Unfortunately, everything else about this biographical tale is misguided and disappointing, beginning with its central device: The glittering icon is played by three actresses who talk to one another about their career(s): Micaela Diamond as Babe, the young Cher; Teal Wicks as Lady, the middle-years Cher; and Block as Star, the more current Cher. It’s a conceit that never works, and not only because it’s hard to believe they are all the same person but because it’s at the heart of a production that can’t stop interrupting itself. Born Cherilynn Sarkisian in California in 1946, Cher was determined to be a success from an early age. “I know what I’m going to do! I’m going to sing! I’m going to sing and act and be famous like in the movies!!” six-year-old Babe declares. After Cher complains that the other kids laugh at her at school for being different, her mother, Georgia Holt (Tony nominee Emily Skinner), tells her, “Now you listen to me, young lady. You may not be the prettiest, or the smartest, or the most talented. But you’re special, and one day the whole world will know it! You’re going to grow up to be somebody.” With that deep insight out of the way, the tale proceeds.

(photo by Joan Marcus)

Sonny Bono (Jarrod Spector) and Cher (Micaela Diamond) get groovy in The Cher Show (photo by Joan Marcus)

Jukebox musicals are supposed to celebrate the songs, but book writer Rick Elice (Jersey Boys, The Addams Family) and director Jason Moore (Shrek, Avenue Q) continually stop the action in the middle of tunes to add bits of narrative and jokes. Moore and Elice — the latter was handpicked by Cher, who was intimately involved with the show’s development — include only snippets of some of the biggest songs; very few numbers are performed in their entirety, which, combined with the other two Chers often intervening with the one onstage at any given moment, results in an extremely choppy and annoying pace. They also leave out large chunks of important detail as Cher and first husband Sonny Bono (Tony nominee Jarrod Spector) start with nothing, take over London, host a big-time television variety program in Hollywood, have a kid, break up, reconnect, etc. We also get to see her longtime costume designer, Mackie (Tony nominee Michael Berresse); her second husband, musician Gregg Allman (Matthew Hydzik); her younger boyfriend Rob Camilletti (Michael Campayno); music impresario Phil Spector (Michael Fatica); and others who played parts in her life, but it’s all very superficial.

(photo by Joan Marcus)

Dancer Ashley Blair Fitzgerald steals the show in “Dark Lady” scene (photo by Joan Marcus)

When Star auditions for Robert Altman (Berresse) for her professional stage debut, not only does the audience never hear the name of the show (Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean) but they also never learn what ultimately happened, that she was in both the off-Broadway play and the film. Meanwhile, Christine Jones’s and Brett J. Banakis’s sets, Darrel Maloney’s projections, and Christopher Gattelli’s choreography are surprisingly bland and unimaginative, save for the “Dark Lady” scene, which also includes a strange face-off between Bono and Allman.

Oddly, the songs are not listed in the Playbill, which is unusual for a musical, but the hits all make an appearance, though usually not in full: “Half-Breed,” “Gypsies, Tramps & Thieves,” “I Got You Babe,” “Bang Bang,” “Strong Enough,” and “If I Could Turn Back Time,” which is the theme of the show. The musical also focuses on Cher’s impressive determination to pick herself up when things are down, which has occurred throughout her life and career, although the critical moments aren’t depicted onstage. Block (Falsettos, The Mystery of Edwin Drood) is an absolute knockout, nearly enough to make The Cher Show worth your time and money. If you really need to see the genuine diva herself, perhaps you’re better off checking out her 2019 Here We Go Again tour, which comes to the Barclays Center on May 2 and the Pru on May 3. Because on Broadway, the beat just doesn’t go on.

AMERICAN SON

(photo by Peter Cunningham)

Kendra (Kerry Washington) and Scott (Steven Pasquale) reflect as they await important news in American Son (photo by Peter Cunningham)

Booth Theatre
222 West 45th St. between Broadway & Eighth Ave.
Tuesday - Sunday through January 27, $59 - $169
americansonplay.com

Christopher Demos-Brown’s American Son is a blistering, explosive play, a searing deep dive into systemic and institutionalized racism in contemporary America. The story takes place in real time in a Miami police station as a storm rages, torrents of water pouring down outside tall glass windows, mixing with ever-threatening thunder and lightning reminiscent of a horror movie. (The set is by Tony-winning design master Derek McLane, with sound by Peter Fitzgerald and lighting by Peter Kaczorowski.) It’s 4:12 in the morning, and Kendra Ellis-Connor is desperate to locate her eighteen-year-old son, Jamal, a solid kid who has not come home and is not answering his phone. She is frustrated with police officer Paul Larkin, who insists that Kendra wait until the public affairs liaison officer arrives for his shift at 8:00 to find out anything. Kendra’s estranged husband, Scott Connor, shows up and tries to force further information out of Larkin regarding Jamal’s whereabouts, but he is only mildly successful. Ultimately, the liaison officer, Lt. John Stokes, comes in early, but things don’t get any easier for Kendra and Scott, who are getting angrier by the minute, but not just at the cops.

(photo by Peter Cunningham)

FBI agent Scott Connor (Steven Pasquale) has some choice thoughts for Officer Paul Larkin (Jeremy Jordan) as Kendra (Kerry Washington) looks on in scintillating play at the Booth (photo by Peter Cunningham)

Color-blind casting might (deservedly) be all the rage on Broadway, but the color of each character’s skin is critical to the narrative in American Son as Demos-Brown and director Kenny Leon investigate ripped-from-the-headlines issues of identity, societal perceptions, stereotyping, racial profiling, ingrained prejudice, and cultural biases. Kendra (Kerry Washington) is a black psychology professor who says, “I don’t know I’ve had a sleep-filled night since that boy was born,” constantly fearful that something bad will happen to Jamal because of his race. Scott (Steven Pasquale) is a white FBI agent who wants his son to follow him into law enforcement, putting him on a path to attend West Point, but, not being black, Scott doesn’t share the same worries as Kendra, hoping, “This is just some frivolous nonsense. He probably just had his music cranked up too loud.” Officer Larkin (Jeremy Jordan) is white and has not been properly trained to handle this kind of incendiary situation, assuming that a black teenager out for the night must be part of a posse looking for trouble. “I completely understand your concern,” Larkin tells Kendra, who responds, “Respectfully, Officer — I don’t think you do.” Larkin adds, “Ma’am — I have kids too, OK?” “Any of ’em black?” Kendra says. And Stokes (Eugene Lee) is black, a seasoned officer who is not so quick to see things from Kendra’s or Scott’s points of view; “Settle down now. Settle down,” Stokes declares, but instead of calming the situation, he, well, continues to stoke the fire.

(photo by Peter Cunningham)

Kendra (Kerry Washington) and Scott (Steven Pasquale) listen intently to Lt. Stokes (Eugene Lee) in American Son (photo by Peter Cunningham)

A white civil trial attorney from South Florida whose previous plays (Fear Up Harsh, Wrongful Death and Other Circus Acts) have dealt with sociopolitical subjects involving different kinds of justice, Demos-Brown was inspired to write American Son — his Broadway debut — by real-life events and Ta-Nehisi Coates’s National Book Award winner, Between the World and Me, a letter the author pens for his adolescent son about what it’s like to grow up black in the United States. In fact, the script includes an epigraph from the book: “Race is the child of racism, not the father.” Black Tony-winning director Leon (A Raisin in the Sun, Stick Fly), a protégé of August Wilson’s, maintains a sizzling-hot pace, but he and Demos-Brown don’t take sides; all four characters are both guilty and innocent, and yet none of them are as well. The problem is bigger than just four people, each of whom gets to share their perspective. The audience, more racially diverse than at most Broadway shows, is also implicated, each person bringing his or her own personal history and biases with them; be prepared to hear laughs or gasps at certain times when you’re not reacting the same way as those sitting around you, the differences very much representative of the race of the audience member.

All four actors give dynamic, honest performances, led by Washington (Race, Scandal), a mother of two small children, a boy and a girl; at a postshow discussion the night I went, Washington talked about the fears black mothers have for their sons, something that brought even more intensity to her performance. (The play, which continues at the Booth through January 27 and boasts such producers as Nnamdi Asomugha, Jada Pinkett Smith, Shonda Rimes, Dwyane Wade, and Gabrielle Union-Wade, comes with a discussion guide from the Opportunity Agenda that addresses the concept of equal justice under the law, police-community relations, and racially motivated violence.) Pasquale (Junk, Rescue Me) finds just the right balance as Scott, who doesn’t get a pass just because he’s a white man who married a black woman and has a biracial teen. American Son wisely avoids clichés and melodrama, although there is some emotional manipulation, but it’s easy to look past that and immerse yourself in the onstage dilemma — and wonder what you would do if you were any of the four characters, or the most important missing fifth one, Jamal himself.

NETWORK

(photo by Jan Versweyveld, 2018)

Bryan Cranston takes on iconic role of madman Howard Beale in stage version of Network (photo by Jan Versweyveld, 2018)

Belasco Theatre
111 West 44th St. between Sixth & Seventh Aves.
Tuesday - Saturday through March 17, $49 - $399
networkbroadway.com

When it was released in 1976, Sidney Lumet’s Network instantly shocked audiences as it unmasked the approaching intersection of the corporatization of entertainment and news in the media, featuring a brilliant, prescient script by Bronx native Paddy Chayefsky that skewered the television industry and Americans’ obsession with “the tube.” It revealed a world dominated by ratings-hungry white men in suits, with two exceptional white female characters boldly asserting their own personal and professional power and independence at the height of the women’s liberation movement. Four decades later, the story is as relevant and shocking as ever in Ivo van Hove’s riveting yet dizzying stage production, which opened last night at the Belasco.

The film was nominated for ten Oscars, winning acting awards for the late Peter Finch, Faye Dunaway, and Beatrice Straight and Best Original Screenplay for Chayefsky, who wrote such other gems as Marty, The Hospital, The Americanization of Emily, and Altered States before passing away in 1981 at the age of fifty-eight. Despite Bryan Cranston’s mesmerizing lead performance and all of van Hove’s live-streaming technical wizardry — which can be breathtaking and exhilarating as well as overwhelming, distracting, anachronistic, and confusing — it’s Chayefsky’s words that steal the show, adapted here by Lee Hall like they are gospel, which in many ways they are. In the published version of the play, which debuted at London’s National Theatre in November 2017, Hall describes his adaptation as “keyhole surgery,” writing, “Hopefully my interventions are invisible to the untrained eye.” The only significant changes involve the treatment of terrorists by the media, which Hall and van Hove tone down here, and the addition of a coda following the climactic finale. (Hall was given access to Chayefsky’s archives, so he has noted that any and all changes were based on or inspired by the author’s notes, letters, drafts, etc.)

(photo by Jan Versweyveld, 2018)

Howard Beale (Bryan Cranston) is downtrodden as Max Schumacher (Tony Goldwyn) looks distraught in Ivo van Hove’s high-tech Broadway version of Network (photo by Jan Versweyveld, 2018)

Olivier, Emmy, and Tony winner Cranston (Breaking Bad, All the Way) takes on the iconic role of Howard Beale, portrayed so memorably by Finch in the film. Cranston immerses himself in the role with a careful abandon; he pays tribute to Finch while making the part his own, much as Hall and van Hove treat the movie. After twenty-five years with Union Broadcasting Systems, Beale is being put out to pasture because of low ratings. But he surprises everyone when he announces during a broadcast that he is going to commit suicide live on television the next week. His best friend and longtime colleague, news division president Max Schumacher (Tony Goldwyn), puts him back on the air quickly so he can apologize and restore his dignity, but Beale instead calls “bullshit” on the state of the world, sending everyone into a tizzy — except ruthlessly ambitious programming head Diana Christensen (Tatiana Maslany), who jumps on the unique opportunity and soon convinces executive producer Harry Hunter (Julian Elijah Martinez), network executive Nelson Chaney (Frank Wood), and network head Frank Hackett (Joshua Boone) to give Beale his own show, making him a kind of angry prophet of the airwaves, speaking for and to the common person. The contemporary of industry legends Walter Cronkite, Eric Sevareid, and Edward R. Murrow becomes a ranting and raving populist hero, although Schumacher believes Beale is being turned into a fool, but there’s little he can to do stop the momentum, which eventually falls apart all by itself.

The use of live video, something van Hove has done in such previous productions as The Damned at Park Avenue Armory and Kings of War at BAM, creates an ever-moving swirl of activity, akin to surfing the internet, except the equipment itself is very modern, digital in an analog era that featured big, bulky cameras. (The director did not employ that style in his 2016 Arthur Miller back-to-back Broadway adaptations of A View from the Bridge and The Crucible.) Depending on where you are sitting, the cameras, operated by technicians Gina Daniels, Nicholas Guest, Jeena Yi, and Joe Paulik, may also occasionally block your view. The footage is projected onto a large screen at the back, often turning Beale into a giant, his image repeating into the distance. Period news reports about Patty Hearst and old commercials — with Roy Scheider in a Folgers ad and Cranston himself pitching Preparation H — fly by on a wall of screens on one side, but don’t get too caught up in them or you’ll miss the magnificent dialogue. The set, by van Hove’s partner, Jan Versweyveld, includes a bar and nightclub-like tables and couches at stage left (where audience members who pay $299 to $399 enjoy dinner and drinks curated by former White House pastry chef Bill Yosses while watching the show and even interacting with the characters) and the glassed-in control room at stage right, where various executives, some of the tech crew, and the announcer (Henry Stram) can always be seen, as if everyone is both under surveillance and doing the surveilling.

(photo by Jan Versweyveld, 2018)

Diana Christensen (Tatiana Maslany) and Harry Hunter (Julian Elijah Martinez) can’t believe what they’re seeing in Network (photo by Jan Versweyveld, 2018)

When Beale implores his television audience to open their windows and scream, “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore,” van Hove shows numerous people doing only the latter; instead of photographing men and women yelling out their windows, a procession of YouTube-like selfie videos follow, seeming out of time and place. The live video even extends outdoors when Max and Diana go for a stroll, but the scene takes you out of the play as passersby gawk at Goldwyn (Scandal, Ghost) and Emmy winner Maslany (Orphan Black, Mary Page Marlowe), who never quite catch the fire and passion of William Holden and Dunaway in the film, a critical relationship that literally puts the news and entertainment divisions in bed together. Goldwyn is otherwise solidly effective as Beale’s determined protector, and the pivotal showdown between Max and his wife, Louise (Alyssa Bresnahan), hits the right notes; however, Bresnahan looks so much like Dunaway that you can’t help but wonder if she should have played Diana. (Coincidentally, Dunaway just announced she will be returning to Broadway next year, portraying Katharine Hepburn in Tea at Five.) In a fine casting touch, Barzin Akhavan plays both Jack Snowden, the young anchor in line to replace Beale, and the warm-up guy for Beale’s circuslike show, a newsman transformed into carnival barker.

(photo by Jan Versweyveld, 2018)

News division president Max Schumacher (Tony Goldwyn) and programming head Diana Christensen (Tatiana Maslany) bring their work home with them in Network) (photo by Jan Versweyveld, 2018)

But it’s Chayefsky’s sparkling language that reigns supreme all these years later; Beale’s pronouncements ring as true now as they did in 1976. Take this speech, for example: “I don’t have to tell you things are bad. Everybody knows things are bad. Everybody’s out of work or scared of losing their job, the dollar buys a nickel’s worth, banks are going bust, shopkeepers keep a gun under the counter, punks are running wild in the streets, and there’s nobody anywhere who seems to know what to do and there’s no end to it. We know the air’s unfit to breathe and our food is unfit to eat and we sit and watch our teevees while some local newscaster tells us today we had fifteen homicides and sixty-three violent crimes, as if that’s the way it’s supposed to be. We all know things are bad. Worse than bad. They’re crazy. It’s like everything’s going crazy. So we don’t go out anymore. We sit in the house and slowly the world we live in gets smaller and all we ask is, please, at least leave us alone in our own living rooms. Let me have my toaster and my teevee and my hair dryer and my steel belted radials, and I won’t say anything, just leave us alone. Well, I’m not going to leave you alone. I want you to get mad.” When he mentions Russia, the audience laughs, but Hall isn’t making a cheap joke about current events; the reference is in the film.

In another Beale rant, it’s as if Chayefsky saw the coming of smartphones, the internet, and social media: “Because less than three percent of you people read books. Because less than fifteen percent read newspapers. Because the only truth you know is what you get on your television. There is a whole and entire generation right now who never knew anything that didn’t come out of this tube. This tube is gospel. This tube is the ultimate revelation. This tube can make or break presidents, popes, and prime ministers. This tube is the most awesome goddam force in the whole godless world! And woe is us if it ever falls into the hands of the wrong people.”

When Jensen makes his remarkably foresighted proclamation to Beale about power, international commerce, and “the primal forces of nature,” devilishly delivered by Wyman (Catch Me If You Can, A Tale of Two Cities), van Hove puts Jensen above everyone else on a heavenly platform, as if he’s a godlike figure who is the only one who understands what is really happening in the world — in 1976 as well as in 2018. Be sure to get to the Belasco early, as the actors are already traversing the stage, preparing for the evening news, as the audience enters the theater, and stay in your seats after the curtain call, as there’s a bonus that brings the visionary satire right up to the present moment, although that point has already frighteningly shone through over and over again.