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

COVID-19 & NEW YORK CITY ARTS AND CULTURE

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Since May 2001, twi-ny has been recommending cool things to do throughout the five boroughs, popular and under-the-radar events that draw people out of their homes to experience film, theater, dance, art, literature, music, food, comedy, and more as part of a live audience in the most vibrant community on Earth.

With the spread of Covid-19 and the closing of all cultural institutions, sports venues, bars, and restaurants (for dining in), we feel it is our duty to prioritize the health and well-being of our loyal readers. So, for the next several weeks at least, we won’t be covering any public events in which men, women, and children must congregate in groups, a more unlikely scenario day by day anyway.

That said, as George Bernard Shaw once noted, “Without art, the crudeness of reality would make the world unbearable.”

Some parks are still open, great places to breathe in fresh air, feel the sunshine, and watch the changing of winter into spring. We will occasionally be pointing out various statues, sculptures, and installations, but check them out only if you are already going outside and will happen to be nearby.

You don’t have to shut yourself away completely for the next weeks and months — for now, you can still go grocery shopping and pick up takeout — but do think of others as you go about your daily life, which is going to be very different for a while. We want each and every one of you to take care of yourselves and your families, follow the guidelines for social distancing, and consider the health and well-being of those around you.

We look forward to seeing you indoors and at festivals and major outdoor events as soon as possible, once New York, America, and the rest of the planet are ready to get back to business. Until then, you can find us every so often under the sun, moon, clouds, and stars, finding respite in this amazing city now in crisis.

WE’RE GONNA DIE

(photo by Joan Marcus)

Young Jean Lee’s We’re Gonna Die has been gloriously remounted by Raja Feather Kelly at Second Stage (photo by Joan Marcus)

2econd Stage Theater, Tony Kiser Theater
305 West 43rd St. between Eighth & Ninth Aves.
Tuesday - Sunday through March 22, $69-$125
2st.com/shows

“There’s a very good chance you’re not going to die,” President Trump said when news about the coronavirus crisis was first spreading. While that might be true when it comes to Covid-19, it’s not true in general, as mightily declared by Young Jean Lee in Raja Feather Kelly’s glorious remounting of her one-act play with music, We’re Gonna Die, continuing at Second Stage’s Tony Kiser Theater through March 22. The sixty-five-minute work consists of stories about loneliness and death that Lee collected from friends and relatives and transformed into a series of monologues delivered by one woman, as if all these awful events happened to her. Lee first presented the show at Joe’s Pub and then at Lincoln Center’s Clare Tow Theater, where she was the lead, backed by her rock band, Future Wife.

Janelle McDermoth now takes over, and she is dazzling as she relates poignant tales and blasts out songs both gentle and fierce across David Zinn’s calming, antiseptic set, a kind of hospital waiting room with a vending machine, lots of empty chairs and a central spiral staircase that goes through the ceiling and the floor, evoking a way station. As you enter the theater, a large-scale neon sign of the title moves slowly back and forth in front of the stage, a reminder of what is going to eventually happen to each and every one of us. Guitarists Freddy Hall and bandleader Kevin Ramessar, keyboardist and dance captain Ximone Rose, and bassist Debbie Christine Tjong enter and sit down, while drummer Marques Walls plays in a separate room off to stage left. As the show continues, balloons occasionally drop from above, accumulating in a far corner, telling us that even though this might be about the inevitability of death, it doesn’t mean we can’t have some fun.

The stories are told chronologically, as if belonging to one life, beginning with the presenter as a little girl trying to understand her weird uncle and why her two best friends shunned her, then considering dating and partnering relationships with men and caring for her ailing father. The songs, which pour forth from a wide range of genres — the arrangements are by Remy Kurs, with orchestrations by Cian McCarthy — relate directly to the tales, beginning with the opening number, “Lullaby for the Miserable,” in which the singer remembers something her mother told her when she was unable to get to sleep as a child: “When your brain’s had enough / And your body gives up / You will sleep / By and by / By and by / You will sleep / By and by / You are not the only one / You are not the only one / You are not the only one / You are not the only one.” That repetition serves as a leitmotif for the rest of the show, which emphasizes that no one is spared from life’s problems and, eventually, death itself.

Later, the singer recalls, “About a year ago, I went back home for a younger cousin’s wedding, and while I was at home, I found my first white hair. Now, I had never been a person who worried at all about getting older or losing my looks — I just never thought about that stuff. So it all just kind of hit me in this one moment. . . . I had reached the point in my life where everything from here on out was going to be a downward decline towards deterioration and sickness and death. And this had never occurred to me before, so I was really traumatized.” She follows that up with a funky, funny number about something her grandmother told her mother: “When you get old / You will lose your mind! / And everything will hurt all the time! Uh-huh / Uh-huh / . . . / When you get old / All your friends will die! / And you will be a burden to the world! / Uh-huh / Uh-huh.” Among the other songs, whose titles sum things up pretty clearly, are “I Still Have You,” “Comfort of the Lonely,” and “Horrible Things.” Even the Korean-born Lee’s full name, Young Jean Lee, seems relevant, suggesting a youthfulness even though the “Young” is an Americanization of her surname.

In 2016, the Brooklyn-based Lee — a multitalented writer and performer whose previous plays include Straight White Men, Lear, The Shipment, and Untitled Feminist Show — and Future Wife released a DVD of readings and songs from the show with such special guests as Colin Stetson, Kathleen Hanna, Adam Horovitz, Sara Neufeld, David Byrne, and Laurie Anderson, but there’s nothing like seeing it with one singer, and McDermoth (A Bronx Tale, Soul Doctor) is a revelation. Dressed in cool yellow and black leather (the costumes are by Naoko Nagata), she struts around with an infectious determination and a nod and a wink, winning over the audience immediately and never letting go; she is us, and we are her. Kelly, who has choreographed such plays as Fairview, A Strange Loop, The House That Will Not Stand, and Girls, explodes We’re Gonna Die to the next level, transforming it from an involving song cycle to a more fully fledged theatrical production. There’s a clock onstage that depicts the real time, minutes and seconds ticking away not just in our lives but, more important, on the show itself. I found myself filled with sadness as the sixty-minute mark approached, knowing it would soon be over. But I was also energized and invigorated by the fantastic finale, in which everyone participates and caution is thrown to the wind. Yeah, so we’re all gonna die. That shouldn’t mean that we can’t make the most of every moment we’re still here.

FIRST SATURDAY: GEOGRAPHIES OF GENDER

Naima Green

Naima Green will discuss her feminist card game, Pur·suit, after which attendees can play with the decks (photo © Naima Green)

Brooklyn Museum
200 Eastern Parkway at Washington St.
Saturday, March 7, free (some events require advance tickets), 5:00 - 11:00
212-864-5400
www.brooklynmuseum.org

The Brooklyn Museum honors Women’s History Month for its free First Saturday March gathering with “Geographies of Gender,” programs dealing with issues of gender, queerness, and color. There will be live performances by Thelma, Christopher Unpezverde Núñez (the autobiographical Yo, Obsolete), Ushamami, DJ Sabine Blaizin, Brown Girls Burlesque (Black Femme Warrior, with Hoodoo Hussy, Chicava Honeychild, Dakota Mayhem, Skye Syren, Genie Adagio, Delysia La Chatte, and Burgandy Jones), Hanae Utamura (A Letter from Future Past [The Pacific]), and Sammus; an artist talk with Naima Green, Caroline Washington, Rin Kim Ni, and Sable Elyse Smith about Green’s Pur·suit, followed by card games using decks with portraits of queer women and trans, nonbinary, and gender-nonconforming people; teen apprentice pop-up talks focusing on gender themes in the Arts of Asia galleries; a curator tour of “Out of Place: A Feminist Look at the Collection” led by curators Catherine Morris and Carmen Hermo; a hands-on art workshop where participants can make textile collages inspired by “Out of Place”; a Belladonna* poetry reading with S*an D. Henry-Smith, Giannina Braschi, and Jesse Rice-Evans; and a night market of Brooklyn vendors with goods made by local women and nonbinary artists. In addition, the galleries will be open late so you can check out “Jacques-Louis David Meets Kehinde Wiley,” “Out of Place: A Feminist Look at the Collection,” “African Arts — Global Conversations,” “JR: Chronicles,” “Jeffrey Gibson: When Fire Is Applied to a Stone It Cracks,” “Climate in Crisis: Environmental Change in the Indigenous Americas,” and more.

HOMAGE TO CHANTAL AKERMAN

Chantal Akerman

Cellist Sonia Wieder-Atherton will accompany text and film by her former partner, Chantal Akerman, in special tribute at FIAF

French Institute Alliance Française, Florence Gould Hall, Tinker Auditorium
55 East 59th St. between Madison & Park Aves.
March 6-7, $7-$14 per event, $45 full weekend pass
212-355-6100
fiaf.org

FIAF is paying homage to the life and career of filmmaker Chantal Akerman with five special programs this weekend. Friday night at 7:00, FIAF will screen Akerman’s 2011 film, Almayer’s Folly, which was based on Joseph Conrad’s first novel, followed by a conversation with actor Stanislas Merhar and French journalist Laure Adler. On Saturday at 1:00, Akerman’s 2002 film, From the Other Side, about Mexican immigration in California, will be shown. The tribute continues at 3:15 with the unique documentary Chantal Akerman by Chantal Akerman, made for French-German television in 1997. At 4:30, the panel discussion “Chantal Akerman’s Legacy” brings together cellist Sonia Wieder-Atherton (Akerman’s former partner), screenwriter Leora Barish (Desperately Seeking Susan, Basic Instinct 2), writer-director Henry Bean (Noise, Basic Instinct 2), actor, director, writer, and Akerman student Andrew Bujalski (Computer Chess, Support the Girls), and moderator Adler, with a toast at 6:00. The celebration of Akerman, who died in 2015 at the age of sixty-five, concludes Saturday night at 7:00 with “Chantal?,” a live performance by Wieder-Atherton, with works by Bartók, Janáček, and Prokofiev and originals set to Akerman’s written words and her 1968 short Blow Up My City, followed by a Q&A with Wieder-Atherton, Merhar (La Captive, Almayer’s Folly), and Adler. “I wanted to play along with her, her every move, her silences, her dancing at once burlesque and deadly serious, her anxiety as she is humming little tunes,” Wieder-Atherton explained in a statement.

CITY WINERY PRESENTS: A CELEBRATION OF THE LIFE AND WORK OF HARRY BELAFONTE AT THE APOLLO

harry belafonte apollo

Apollo Theater
253 West 125th St.
Sunday, March 1, $58-$128, 7:00
citywinery.com
www.apollotheater.org

It should be a great night-o in Harlem when an all-star lineup of musicians gathers at the Apollo on March 1 to wish a happy ninety-third birthday to Harry Belafonte. Born Harold George Bellanfanti Jr. on March 1, 1927, in Harlem, the actor, singer, and activist will be feted by Maxwell, Common, Talib Kweli, Sheila E, Aloe Blacc, Alice Smith, John Forté, Gaël Faye, Mighty Sparrow, and the Resistance Revival Chorus, among others. Belafonte is best known for such films as Carmen Jones, Uptown Saturday Night, and BlacKkKlansman and such hit tunes as “Banana Boat Song” (in which he warbles, “Day-O”), “Matilda,” and “Jump in the Line.” All proceeds will go to the Popular Democracy Movement Center and the Harry Belafonte 115th St. Library. “The Popular Democracy Movement Center will give leaders, from the artist to the activist community, the forum to discuss, debate, and come to concrete actions that will direct national mobilization efforts,” Belafonte said in a statement about the organization. General admission tickets for “City Winery Presents: A Celebration of the Life and Work of Harry Belafonte” run from $58 to $128, with VIP packages starting at $350 and going up to $5,000 for VIP seating plus admission to the day-of rehearsals, backstage access during the performance, an exclusive after-party with the artists, and a signed poster.

PERFORMANCES INSPIRED BY ALFRED JARRY

DJ Spooky (photo courtesy Subliminal Kid Inc.) and Tony Torn and Julie Atlas Muz (photo by Max Basch) will pay tribute to Alfred Jarry at the Morgan on February 28

DJ Spooky (top, photo courtesy Subliminal Kid Inc.) and Tony Torn and Julie Atlas Muz (bottom, photo by Max Basch) will pay tribute to Alfred Jarry at the Morgan on February 28

Morgan Library & Museum
225 Madison Ave. at 36th St.
Friday, February 28, $25, 7:00
212-685-0008
www.themorgan.org

In conjunction with its current exhibit “Alfred Jarry: The Carnival of Being,” the Morgan is hosting a special event on February 28, bringing together a wide range of performers celebrating the vast influence of Jarry, the French Symbolist who died in 1907 at the age of thirty-four, having left behind an important legacy of plays (Ubu Roi), novels (Exploits and Opinions of Dr. Faustroll, Pataphysician), essays (The Green Candle), illustrations, and more. The evening includes musical excerpts from actor Tony Torn and Julie Atlas Muz’s Ubu Sings Ubu, a mashup of Ubu Roi and songs by Cleveland art-punk provocateurs Pere Ubu; a screening of British speculative sculptor Lawrence Lek’s two-minute 2010 film The Time Machine, “a translation of surrealist science fiction into physical form” based on Jarry’s 1899 essay “How to Construct a Time Machine”; “Reading Jarry,” a collaboration between DJ Spooky and Belgian actor and producer Ronald Guttman; and live scoring by DJ Spooky to clips from the late Polish graphic designer and cartoonist Jan Lenica’s 1979 film, Ubu et la grande Gidouille. The program begins at 7:00, but ticket holders are invited to check out the exhibition, which continues through May 10, beginning at 6:00.

CAMBODIAN ROCK BAND

(photo by Joan Marcus)

The actors double as a music group in Lauren Yee’sCambodian Rock Band at the Signature (photo by Joan Marcus)

The Pershing Square Signature Center, the Irene Diamond Stage
480 West 42nd St. between Tenth & Eleventh Aves.
Tuesday-Sunday through March 15, $55-$65
212-244-7529
www.signaturetheatre.org

Back when pop music was released on actual records, artists in the 1970s would often put their best songs on side one of their albums, knowing that many people would rarely get off the couch, go to the turntable, and flip the disc to hear the other side. In Cambodian Rock Band, Lauren Yee’s play with music about the second-generation immigrant experience and the Cambodian genocide of 1975–79, it’s side two that is much better, but not quite enough to save the overall proceedings at the Signature Theatre.

Cambodian Rock Band was inspired both by Dengue Fever, a 2000s California band that resurrected the lost Cambodian psychedelic sounds of the 1970s, and the true story of Kang Kek Iew, aka Duch (Francis Jue), a math teacher whom the Khmer Rouge turned into the coldblooded head of Tuol Sleng prison, known as S-21. The end of pop music in Cambodia and the rise of war criminals like Duch are, of course, related, and Duch serves as a kind of host/narrator in the show, jovially introducing several scenes, watching from the wings, and joining the band before becoming a key figure in the story’s second half. Yee focuses on the relationship between Neary (Courtney Reed), a young American of Cambodian descent who works for the International Center for Transitional Justice in Phnom Penh, and her father, Chum (Joe Ngo), a Cambodian immigrant who has returned to his homeland for the first time in decades in order to bring his daughter back to the United States. But Neary is on a big case, attempting to take down Duch as she searches for the eighth survivor of S-21, an eyewitness who can help put Duch away for life, to make him pay for his vicious crimes. Neary is working and living with Ted (Moses Villarama), a Canadian of Thai and Cambodian background; he is surprised when her father’s unexpected appearance on Cambodian New Year’s Eve causes her to doubt herself. “You’re working to convict the first Khmer Rouge official to be tried for crimes against humanity. You are a rock star, Near,” he assures her. But it all starts making sense when she figures out who the eighth survivor is and the action flashes back to S-21, highlighting both the torture and the bravery under Brother Number One Pol Pot’s brutal policies.

(photo by Joan Marcus)

Chum (Joe Ngo) is forced to admit secrets to his daughter (Courtney Reed) in play set in Cambodia (photo by Joan Marcus)

The show moves between 1975, 1978, and 2008; in 1975, Chum is the guitarist in a Cambodian rock band known as the Cyclos that specializes in psychedelic surf garage rock, with Villarama as bassist Leng, Reed as lead vocalist Sothea, Abraham Kim as drummer Rom, and Jane Lui as keyboardist Pou. (Kim and Lui also portray minor characters.) The music they play are Cambodian rock songs that were discovered in the 1990s, mostly from bands from the 1960s and ’70s that did not survive the genocide; one of the first things the Khmer Rouge did upon taking over was to kill artists. The Cyclos, named for the three-wheeled bicycle that is pervasive in Cambodia, perform numbers by Yol Aularong, Ros Serey Sothea, Sinn Sisamouth, and Voy Ho, who were all murdered, as well as originals by LA-based Dengue Fever. Most of the songs are sung in Cambodian without translation, about love and heartbreak, but some have more relevant lyrics, so it’s too bad there are no surtitles. “The windy season makes me think of my village / I think of the old people, young people, aunts and uncles / We used to run and play, hide and seek / But now we are far apart far apart,” they sing in one.

(photo by Joan Marcus)

Francis Jue portrays a math teacher turned vicious prison head in Cambodian Rock Band (photo by Joan Marcus)

Takeshi Kata’s effective sets range from a hotel bedroom with a view of the street (the sign about the piranha is purposefully misspelled, yes?) to one of the cells in S-21; Linda Cho’s costumes for the band are downright groovy, while Mikhail Fiksel’s sound design immerses you in the action. The music is excellent, but there’s too much of it; unfortunately, it makes you feel like you’re at a concert, which takes you out of the play. Yee (The Great Leap, King of the Yees) and director Chay Yew (Mojada, Low) have trouble establishing a rhythm; the setlist/narrative is a bumpy road that never quite comes together. Jue (Soft Power Kung Fu) has fun as the villainous Jue, and Reed shuttles smoothly between Neary and Sothea, but Ngo, whose parents are survivors and who helped develop the show with Yee, overplays Chum, who is often too goofy and too loud. A finalist for the prestigious Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, Cambodian Rock Band has an important story to tell, but it ends up like one of those albums in your collection that has some great songs on it that you rarely listen to all the way through.