Who: Janet Biggs, Vinson Fraley, Earl Maneein, CERN-IARI,
What: Livestream multimedia performance
Where: Cristin Tierney Gallery
When: Thursday, April 8, free with RSVP, 7:00
Why: A performance from multidisciplinary artist Janet Biggs is always something special — and something hard to define. For last summer’s Augmentation and Amplification for Fridman Gallery’s “SO⅃OS: a space of limit as possibility” series, the Brooklyn-based Biggs brought together singer and dancer Mary Esther Carter; machine learning program A.I. Anne; composer and music technologist Richard Savery; drummer Jason Barnes, who lost an arm in an accident and now uses a robotic prosthesis; marathon runner Brian Reynolds, a double (below-knee) amputee who is fitted with carbon fiber running prostheses; and violinists Earl Maneein and Mylez Gittens, to explore artistic connections between humans and technology.
On April 8, Biggs and Cristin Tierney Gallery will present another unique and fascinating collaboration, the virtual Singular Value Decomposition, featuring dancer Vinson Fraley, violinist, violist, composer, and arranger Maneein, the Seven)Suns String Quartet, and CERN video footage mathematically manipulated using quantum mechanics and linear algebra. The multimedia “research and development” performance is part of Biggs’s work with Arts at CERN, which is part of the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), and the Integrated Arts Research Initiative (IARI) at the Spencer Museum of Art at the University of Kansas; also involved are KU associate professor of mathematics Agnieszka Międlar, high-energy nuclear physicist and KU associate physics professor Daniel Tapia Takaki, Spencer Museum research curator Joey Orr, and IARI research fellows Clint Hurshman, a KU graduate philosophy student, and Olivia Johnson, a KU undergraduate studying mathematics and dance. Got that? It might not exactly be easy peasy, but it will blow your mind all the same.
Through April 18, $37-$65
I’ve had several opportunities to see Mike Bartlett’s play Cock, which ran at the Duke on 42nd St. as well as a Spanish version at the Producers Club, but for one reason or another I passed. I’m sorry I did, now that I’ve seen Studio Theatre’s sizzling virtual adaptation, streaming through April 18.
Originally staged by James Mcdonald at the Royal Court Theatre in 2009,
Cock uniquely approaches questions of identity by exploring personal responsibility, love, and sexuality. John (Randy Harrison), a nice guy who lacks the inner strength to make important decisions, is living with M (Scott Parkinson), an acerbic, irritable stockbroker, but has surprisingly fallen for W (Kathryn Tkel), a sweet-natured young divorcee. While M endlessly belittles John, W appreciates him for exactly who he is, even if John’s not exactly sure what that is. When M and W meet, neither one is about to give up, ready to fight to be with John. John is soon put into a position where he must choose either M or W, so his longtime partner enlists the help of his father, F (Alan Wade), a working-class man who wants the two men to stay together.
Directed by David Muse (The Remains, The Effect), the play was filmed with three cameras in one day following Covid-19 protocols by video director Wes Culwell at Studio Theatre, on a large dirt-filled circle surrounded by a rope, evoking a wrestling ring where the four characters, barefoot, wearing everyday clothes, engage in conversation and do verbal battle. Scene changes are indicated by a dimming of the octagonal light fixture dangling above and a sharp sound, as if another round in a championship fight has concluded; the lighting is by Colin K. Bills, with sound by James Bigbee Garver. Bartlett was inspired to write the play after watching Mexican cockfights; the title refers to roosters, the male organ, and several other American and British usages, from moving a part of one’s body to getting a gun ready to fire to a slang term for a friend and nonsense.
The actors remain at least six feet apart at nearly all times. There are no props, no costume changes; activities such as eating, drinking, and removing clothes are mimicked by the actors. Culwell often uses split screens, putting characters in their own vertical boxes, which can be confusing, since they are acting together onstage at that moment, not Zooming in from wherever they are sheltering in place. It takes us out of the rhythm of the play, which is otherwise brilliant. Early on, when John is telling M that their relationship might be ending, he tries to keep them physically apart. M reaches out, but John rebuffs him. “No. Don’t. Just stand over there,” John says, motioning for M to stay away. M walks a few feet back, then says, “An illustration, showing me the distance between us. . . . But you’re not showing me the distance. You’re creating it. You put me over here, put that thing there between us.”
Bartlett’s (Love, Love, Love; King Charles III) writing is sharp and intuitive, sexy and funny. The cast is uniformly excellent; Harrison (The Habit of Art, Cabaret) displays a cautious, tender vulnerability as John. Parkinson (The 39 Steps, Our Town), who earned a Helen Hayes nomination for his performance in Studio Theatre’s original 2014 production, is a bundle of energy as M, his body, head, and hands in near-constant motion, while Tkel (An Octoroon, Jefferson’s Garden) is alluring and affecting as the positive-thinking W, and Wade (Choir Boy, Scenes from an Execution) is stalwart as a father who just wants his son to be happy. John — the only character with a full name but the one who least understands himself — isn’t really deciding on whether he’s gay or straight; his conundrum could be about any one of us, faced with choices about who we are and who we want to be. “Him and me, we must both be stupid,” W tells John, who is not necessarily such a great catch, for a man or a woman. “What is it about you?” It’s a question we’ve all asked at one time or another, and Bartlett and Muse are not about to offer any easy answers.
George Street Playhouse
Twenty-four-hour stream available on demand through April 11, $33
In my review of the 2016 Broadway premiere of Becky Mode’s Fully Committed at the Lyceum, in which Jesse Tyler Ferguson portrayed a struggling actor taking phone reservations at a hot New York City restaurant as well as forty other characters, I wrote, “It might work in small, intimate theaters, but on Broadway it feels more like an interesting comedy sketch that never ends.” The one-person show has now found just the right table setting in the George Street Playhouse’s tasty virtual adaptation, running online through April 11.
One of the most produced plays in America since its debut in 1999 at the Vineyard Theatre and subsequent long transfer at the Cherry Lane, Fully Committed requires an immensely talented, intrinsically likable actor, and director David Saint has found that in Maulik Pancholy, who embodies the protagonist, Sam, as well as dozens of other characters, including the hotheaded chef; Sam’s coworker, Bob, who is supposed to be helping him on the phones but is stuck in traffic; such demanding VIP customers as Bunny Vandevere and Carolann Rosenstein-Fishburn; Bryce, Gwyneth Paltrow’s assistant, who is arranging a special party with unusual requests; and his friend Jerry, who is often up for the same parts as Sam. He also portrays his own father, who desperately wants him to come home for the first Christmas the family will celebrate after the loss of Sam’s mother, although Sam is scheduled to work that day. For each character, Pancholy, wearing a headset and a blue zippered sweatshirt over a button-down shirt, adopts a different voice as well as body movement, shifting back and forth smoothly.
The ninety-minute show takes place in a cluttered, messy downstairs office filled with file cabinets, trashcans, a coat rack, a Boston Red Sox pennant, music posters, and Broadway memorabilia, which in 2021 reminds us what we are all missing. (The appropriately crowded art direction is by Helen Tewksbury.) It was shot by cinematographer and editor Michael Boylan in the basement of George Street Playhouse board member Sharon Karmazin’s home on a lake in New Jersey; the company also filmed its previous online play, Theresa Rebeck’s Bad Dates, in the house, as well as its next production, Nia Vardalos’s Tiny Beautiful Things, streaming May 4-23.
Boylan’s camerawork provides an intimacy and connection that was lost in the Broadway staging. Pancholy, who has appeared in such television series as 30 Rock and Weeds and on Broadway in Grand Horizons in addition to writing the award-winning middle grade novel The Best at It (for which I served as managing editor), is seen in closeup and longer shots that help define the claustrophobia and loneliness Sam is experiencing, from his mother’s death and his breakup with his boyfriend to his inability to snare a quality acting job and the abandonment of his colleague, Bob, who has left him all by himself to handle crisis after crisis. Although the play has not been rewritten to incorporate a much more significant crisis, the coronavirus, the pandemic hovers in the dank air, particularly at a time when restaurants are only just opening up for indoor dining and actors are hoping to get back to work now that some venues are beginning to experiment with limited-capacity in-person shows.
Fully Committed might not satiate your hunger for food — the chef’s complicated “molecular gastronomy” doesn’t sound very appetizing — but the play will quench your thirst for high-quality theater in these difficult times.
RICHARD THOMPSON WITH ELVIS COSTELLO
Montclair Literary Festival
Tuesday, April 6, $20 ($35 with book), 8:00
“There is dust, and then there is dust. It’s thickest here, in my memory. This remotest room of my mind has been shut up for years, the windows shuttered, the furniture covered with dust sheets. Light hasn’t penetrated into some of these corners for years; in some cases it never has. If something is uncomfortable, I shove it in here and forget about it. When was the last time I dared look? I don’t want to remember, but now it is time to think back. The arrow is arcing through the air and speeding towards its appointed target.”
So begins British folk-rock legend Richard Thompson’s new memoir, Beeswing: Losing My Way and Finding My Voice 1967–1975 (Workman, April 2021, $27.95), written with Scott Timberg and illustrated with personal photographs. Thompson, who turned seventy-one last week, is one of the world’s finest guitarists and songwriters and a musicologist; he has made classic records with Fairport Convention, French Frith Kaiser Thompson, his then-wife, Linda Thompson, and as a solo artist. His project 1000 Years of Popular Music features tunes that go back to 1068. He peppers his extraordinary live shows with engaging patter with the audience, highlighting a snarky sense of humor and a wry smile. During the pandemic, he put on a series of living room concerts with his partner, Zara Phillips, from their home in Montclair, New Jersey, and released the six-track EP Bloody Noses, which he debuted from their house. So it is fitting that on April 6, he will be launching the book at the virtual Montclair Literary Festival, discussing it with Elvis Costello, who wrote his own memoir, Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink, in 2015. Tickets are $35 with a copy of the book, $20 without.
Thompson will be back online April 15 for the 92Y presentation “Beeswing: Richard Thompson in Conversation with David Fricke,” speaking with the longtime Rolling Stone journalist about the memoir, named for one of his most popular songs, an autobiographical tune about falling in love as a teenager. “She was a rare thing / Fine as a beeswing / So fine a breath of wind might blow her away / She was a lost child / She was running wild, she said / As long as there’s no price on love, I’ll stay / And you wouldn’t want me any other way,” he sings. Exploring his formative years, the book features such chapters as “Instead of Bleeding,” “Yankee Hopscotch,” “Tuppenny Bangers and Damp Squibs,” and “Bright Lights.” Thompson will be bringing his guitar with him to play a couple of songs as well.
As he writes in the afterword, “Like Fairport, like so many of my contemporaries, I don’t know when to stop — and hooray for that. There are more mortgages to be paid off and bills piling up, but more motivational than that, there is still an audience. It may be twenty thousand at a festival, a thousand in a theatre or ten in a retirement home, but the desire to communicate from my heart to their heart is the strongest pull, and the sweetest feeling.” If you’re not yet part of that audience, now’s the time. Hooray for that.
Who: Song Ming Ang, Melanie Kress
What: Live online artist talk
Where: The High Line Zoom
When: Tuesday, April 6, free with RSVP, 1:00 (exhibition continues through April 28)
Why: In the 2019 interview “A New Understanding of Place” for the High Line blog, associate curator Melanie Kress explained why video was part of the elevated park’s continuing celebration of site-specific public art. “When we think of public art, most of us think of murals and sculptures. But to fully showcase the range of mediums that artists are working in today, video is indispensable,” she said. “Video also has the ability to cross back and forth between many different worlds and forms at the same time — between advertising, social media, film, documentary, documentation, television, music videos, and more. It provides a really interesting place for artists to play with viewers’ expectations. In a public space, visitors aren’t necessarily expecting to encounter art — especially video art — so those lines can be blurred in all the more challenging and creative ways.”
The latest video art installation to screen on the High Line Channel at Fourteenth St. is Singapore-born artist Song-Ming Ang’s “Piano Magic,” which consists of 2014’s Backwards Bach, in which Ang, who is based in Singapore and Berlin, plays Johann Sebastian Bach’s C Major Prelude from Book I of The Well-Tempered Clavier on the harpsichord both forward and backward, and 2011’s Parts and Labour, in which he fixes a disused piano. On April 6 at 2:00, Ang and Kress will discuss the project, which continues through April 28, in a live Zoom Q&A. Ang is also represented at the Asia Society Triennial with the multimedia site-specific installation True Stories, twelve music stands with text and images that explore the demise of societal norms, which he detailed in the Instagram Live program “Talking Dreams: A Conversation with Artist Song-Ming Ang.”
Who: Red Bull Theater company
What: Conversation about William Shakespeare character Falstaff
Where: Red Bull Theater website, YouTube, and Facebook Live
When: Monday, April 5, free with RSVP (donations accepted), 7:30
Why: The last hand I shook was the large paw of Drama Desk Award–winning actor Jay O. Sanders, following his performance in the Broadway show Girl from the North Country at the Belasco on March 10, 2020, two days before the pandemic lockdown shuttered the city. With most theaters and the Great White Way still closed, Sanders will take part in Red Bull’s next online RemarkaBULL Podversation, “Exploring Falstaff,” on April 5 at 7:30. In the free virtual event, streamed live on Facebook and YouTube, the Austin-born actor and activist will perform an excerpt from Act 2, Scene 4 from Henry IV, Part 1, in which the bearish Sir John Falstaff tells Prince Hal at the Boar’s Head Tavern: “Shall I? content: this chair shall be my state, / this dagger my sceptre, and this cushion my crown. / Give me a cup of sack to / make my eyes look red, that it may be thought I have / wept; for I must speak in passion.”
After the speech, Sanders will discuss the character, who appeared in both parts of Henry IV and The Merry Wives of Windsor before being eulogized in Henry V, with Red Bull associate producer Nathan Winkelstein. The conversation will include several questions from the audience as well. Sanders (Uncle Vanya, the Apple Family plays) has portrayed such Shakespearean figures as Titus Andronicus, Marc Antony, Macbeth, Toby Belch, Caliban, Petruchio, and Bottom and has the record for most appearances at the Public’s Shakespeare in the Park presentations at the Delacorte, so he knows what of he speaks. Up next for Red Bull’s ambitious lockdown programming is a Zoom benefit reading of Paradise Lost on April 12 and 26; you can watch previous RemarkaBULL Podversations with André De Shields, Kate Burton, Patrick Page, Elizabeth Marvel, Michael Urie, Chukwudi Iwuji, Stephen Spinella, and others here.
Who: Emmylou Harris, Steve Earle
What: Livestreamed benefit concert
Where: CWTV from City Winery
When: Saturday, April 3, $15, 9:00
Why: City Winery is now hosting live concerts in its new space on Eleventh Ave. at Hudson River Park, including shows by Rhett Miller, Willie Nile, and Rufus Wainwright this month, but it is also still streaming performances on its CWTV platform from its locations in New York City and Nashville. Next up is “Woofstock at the Winery: Emmylou Harris & Steve Earle,” a benefit at City Winery Nashville for Bonaparte’s Retreat, a nonprofit dog rescue organization founded by Harris in 2004 to care for “the neglected and forgotten — senior dogs, large dogs, or dogs in need of imminent medical care or surgery,” and Crossroads Campus, which fosters “the healing power of the human-animal bond.” Earle and Harris are longtime friends and musical colleagues; on his 2019 tribute album to Guy Clark, Earle is joined by Harris (and Rodney Crowell) on “Old Friends,” on which they sing together, “Old friends / They shine like diamonds / Old friends / You can always call / Old friends / Lord, you can’t buy ’em / You know it’s old friends after all.” An early, in-person show at 5:00 Nashville time was added and sold out quickly, at $125 a pop; tickets for the one-time-only livestream at 9:00 New York time are $15.