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


Halley Feiffer offers a new twist on an old story in Between the Two Humps

Who: MCC Theater
What: LIVELABS: One Acts
Where: MCC Theater online
When: Through January 17, $10 (free to subscribers)
Why: Playwright Halley Feiffer and director Trip Cullman, who previously teamed up on Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow, an uproarious version of Chekhov’s Three Sisters, return to MCC virtually with the eighteen-minute LIVELABS presentation Between the Two Humps, a different take on the story of Mary and Joseph. The Zoom production features Noah Robbins as Joseph, Kara Young as Mary, Peppermint as the angel Gabriel, and Portia as the voice of God. Instead of a reverent look at the birth of Jesus, in this case the foul-mouthed parents-to-be are dealing with teen pregnancy and questioning their faith as they make their way through the desert, accompanied by live set drawing courtesy of Clint Ramos. The show, which was written before the pandemic and has been reimagined for virtual viewing, also comes with a thirty-three-minute talkback with the cast and crew and is available on demand through January 17.


Ian McKellen is one of several luminaries celebrating theater in Oren Jacoby’s On Broadway

The Jewish Museum
Film at Lincoln Center
January 13-26, $12 per film, all-access pass $125

The New York Jewish Film Festival might not be celebrating its thirtieth anniversary in quite the style it was hoping, but it’s still hosting a stylish two weeks of fiction and nonfiction shorts and features as well as panel discussions and Q&As. Presented by the Jewish Museum and Film at Lincoln Center, the festival kicked off January 13 with Nir Bergman’s Here We Are (available through January 16), about divorced parents dealing with their grown autistic son; Bergman will participate in a free talk on January 14 at 2:00.

The 2021 centerpiece selection is Anders Østergaard and Erzsébet Rácz’s Winter Journey (available January 21), starring the great Bruno Ganz in his final role, playing flutist Günther “George” Goldschmidt, father of radio commentator Martin Goldsmith, who portrays himself in the film, based on his memoir, The Inextinguishable Symphony: A True Story of Music and Love in Nazi Germany. Østergaard and Martin Goldsmith will discuss the film in a free talk on January 22 at 2:00.

The virtual festival concludes with another family affair, Susan Fanshel and Veronica Selver’s documentary Irmi (January 26), about German Jewish refugee Irmi Selver, Veronica’s mother, with Hanna Schygulla reading narration from Irmi’s memoirs. There will be a free talk with the directors January 27 at 2:00.

Among the other films to look out for are Judith Helfand’s Love & Stuff and Absolutely No Spitting (January 22), about the director’s adoption of a daughter when she was fifty, followed by the death of her mother; Ruthy Pribar’s Asia (January 15), with Unorthodox breakout star Shira Haas playing a teenager living with her single mother (Alena Yiv); and Oren Jacoby’s On Broadway (January 22), honoring the Great White Way with archival footage and interviews with Ian McKellen, Helen Mirren, Hugh Jackman, Christine Baranski, John Lithgow, and others. (You can watch Jacoby’s On Broadway: Give My Regard to Broadway, a short about Covid-19’s impact on theater, for free here.)

In addition, the festival has teamed up with the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan for a special MLK Day event, a live Q&A on January 18 at 2:00 with Dr. Shari Rogers about her documentary Shared Legacies, part of the JCC’s Cinematters: NY Social Justice Film Festival, which runs January 14-18. The film can be accessed beginning January 16 at 10:00 am here. Keep watching this space for select reviews as NYJFF 2021 continues.

THE SIGN PAINTER (CITY ON THE RIVER) (Viestur Kairish, 2020)
Available January 19 (ticket comes with director Q&A)

Latvian theater, opera, and film director Viestur Kairish’s The Sign Painter is in some ways a miniature Little Big Man meets Forrest Gump, where the audience watches history unfold through the eyes of a person who doesn’t really take an active part in what’s happening around him. Dāvis Suharevskis stars as Ansis, a tall, thin, gangly young man who works as a sign painter in a small Latvian village during the tumultuous decade before and during World War II, a town that changes leadership and primary color from the green of authoritarian dictator Kārlis Ulmanis to the red of Stalin’s Soviet Union to the black of Nazi Germany. Ansis has steady work: Each time a new regime takes over, he has to update street names and symbols, and he does so with a calm expertise, avoiding any personal political involvement. However, his true love, Zisele (Brigita Cmuntová), the daughter of pharmacist Bernshtein (Gundars Āboliņš) and who is reading Alexandra Kollontai’s Free Love, does get caught up in the tumult, taking up with German soldier Andreas (Aidas Jurgaitis) while Ansis is pursued by Naiga (Agnese Cīrule), as blond and Christian as Zisele is brunette and Jewish.

Ansis (Dāvis Suharevskis) is ever on the lookout for the next regime in The Sign Painter

Early on, aboard the small boat the White Swan, Ansis asks the captain, “May I steer?” It’s the only time he actively asserts being in charge of his direction. He wants to be a fine artist, and he is extremely talented at landscapes and portraits, but he carries on with his sign painting as revolution swirls about him.

Kairish (aka Viesturs Kairišs), who has made numerous documentaries in addition to the features Leaving by the Way, The Dark Deer, and The Chronicles of Melanie, and cinematographer Gints Bērziņš shoot nearly the entire film at a skewed angle, as if the characters can just fall off the screen in this continually upended world. They frame each shot with an artist’s eye; in one scene, Ansis speaks with Bernshtein while holding an empty picture frame, a spatial void that Zisele walks into. The story combines forbidden romance with religious, political, and military upheaval as one man continues to survive in dangerous times essentially despite himself, reminiscent of Jack Crabb in Little Big Man and Forrest Gump, who keep on keeping on. Based on a novel by Finnish-Latvian writer Gunars Janovskis, The Sign Painter is a beautifully rendered film about European collaboration, true love, regime change, and simple, everyday life.

Available January 25-28

Jewish Austrian American auteur Edgar G. Ulmer is most well known for his atmospheric horror and crime films, including 1934’s satanic The Black Cat, which pits Boris Karloff against Béla Lugosi, 1944’s Bluebeard, with John Carradine as the multiple wife murderer, and 1945’s cult noir Detour, a genre favorite that was added to the Library of Congress’s National Film Registry in 1992. But Ulmer, who apprenticed with F. W. Murnau, also made a series of Yiddish shtetl films (Green Fields, The Singing Blacksmith) about life in poor Jewish communities in Eastern Europe, and the NYJFF is presenting the world premiere of one of them, the National Center of Jewish Film’s new 4K digital restoration of 1939’s The Light Ahead, beginning January 25.

The film is a heart-tugging melodrama about the fraught romance between a young blind woman, Hodel (Helen Beverley), and the lame Fishke (David Opatoshu), who earns a pittance by calling people to the baths in the tiny village of Glupsk. The town is thriving, with a fat surplus that the community leaders are deciding how to spend, but Reb Mendele (Izidore Cashier) and others have their own suggestions. The youngsters’ dream is to live in Odessa, the big city, but there’s not much chance of a bright future and times are dark, as is J. Burgi Contner and Edward Hyland’s cinematography, cast in a shadowy black-and-white.

Hodel (Helen Beverley) and Fishke (David Opatoshu) dream of a better future in The Light Ahead

The Light Ahead begins with a vaudeville-like comedy scene between Reb Mendele, Reb Alter (Leon Seidenberg), and Reb Isaak (Yudel Dubinsky) before turning serious. Most of the film depicts the people barely getting by as they deal with cholera, God’s will, prayer, and Galaganska chickens.

“What, I ask you, is the Jew’s life, anyway? An old story repeated over and over,” Mendele soliloquizes. “The form changes in every age. But the story remains the same. All the calamities, adversities, hardships, curses. All the troubles, afflictions, miseries, disasters. Every village has its rich, its paupers, its wise men, scholars, fools, ignoramuses, its stirrers of pots, its leading citizens, its innocent lambs and insolent ruffians. But always it’s the same old story.” It’s a story — inspired by a tale by Mendele Mokher Sforim, the Grandfather of Yiddish Literature — that Ulmer tells in charming, bittersweet ways, with intimate camerawork that sometimes makes it feel like a silent film.

The Light Ahead was made just before the start of WWII and the Holocaust, which destroyed so much of Eastern European shtetl life, so to watch it now is to experience a piece of erased history. The cast, made up of members of New York’s Artef and Yiddish Art Theaters, is led by Opatoshu in his first film; he would go on to appear in dozens of movies and television shows as well as on Broadway, including memorable TV roles on The Twilight Zone, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, Star Trek, and The Outer Limits. There will be a members-only discussion about the film with J. Hoberman and Dan Sullivan on January 26 at 6:00; you can find out more here.


Museum of the Moving Image
January 13-31, $5 per program ($12 for Film About a Father Who), $30 all-series pass

For more than three decades, experimental documentary filmmaker Lynne Sachs has been shining an intimate light on our hearts and minds in poetic works that explore who we are and our place in the world. The Memphis-born, Brooklyn-based auteur is being celebrated this month with the Museum of the Moving Image virtual festival “Lynne Sachs: Between Thought and Expression,” being held in conjunction with the release of her latest work, Film About a Father Who. From January 13 to 31, MoMI will screen nineteen of Sachs’s films, from 1986’s four-minute Still Life with Woman and Four Objects, in which a woman goes through daily routines like preparing lunch, to the world premiere of the four-minute Maya at 24, comprising scenes of Sachs’s daughter, Maya, at six, sixteen, and twenty-four.

The festival is organized into five programs: “Early Dissections,” “Family Travels,” “Time Passes,” and the feature-length Your Day Is My Night and Tips of My Tongue. Each ticket comes with access to a new interview between Sachs and assistant curator Edo Choi delving into Sachs’s career and her unique, unconventional style, which evokes such avant-garde filmmakers as Chantal Akerman, Bruce Conner, Maya Deren, Bruce Naumann, and Martha Rosler. Sachs will also participate in the live, free “Discussion with the Sachs Family” on January 19 at 7:00 with her brother, Ira Sachs Jr., and documentarian Kirsten Johnson (Cameraperson, Dick Johnson Is Dead), introduced by MoMI curator Eric Hynes.

Chinese immigrants take stock of their lives in Lynne Sachs’s Your Day Is My Night

Sachs’s films invite us into her personal life as well as the life of others. Which Way Is East (1994) takes us on her trip to Vietnam with her sister Dana, who says when Lynne gives her the camera, “Lynne can stand for an hour finding the perfect frame for her shot. It’s as if she can understand Vietnam better when she looks at it through the lens of her camera. I hate the camera; the world feels too wide for the lens, and if I try to frame it, I only cut it up.” Lynne’s framing is extraordinary, unfurling in a calm, hypnotic pace that can be claustrophobic in its immediacy. In 2013’s Your Day Is My Night, Sachs documents a group of Chinese immigrants crammed into a closetlike apartment in Chinatown, where they ponder the differences between their lives in America and their native country and wonder if they made the right choice in coming here. There’s a fascinating kind of intervention when a young Puerto Rican woman moves in with them. And in 2007’s The Small Ones, Sachs shares the story of her Hungarian cousin Sandor Lenard, who during WWII in Italy was tasked with “washing, measuring, and cementing the bones of American dead.” His straightforward narration is accompanied by abstract images of war and slow-motion home movies of children at a birthday party.

In an essay Sachs wrote about the four-minute 1987 silent short Drawn and Quartered, depicting a naked man and woman divided into four frames, exploring the tacit nature of the human body, she explained how she felt at the film’s San Francisco premiere: “Within those few painful minutes, the crowd went from absolute silence, to raucous laughter, and back to an exquisite quiet. I was shaking.” That’s how you’re likely to feel as you experience Sachs’s work all these years later.

Lynne Sachs takes a revealing look at her dad in Film About a Father Who

Lynne Sachs takes a revealing look at her dad in Film About a Father Who

FILM ABOUT A FATHER WHO (Lynne Sachs, 2020)
January 15-31, $12

“We’re pretty candid about who Dad is, and we’ve seen him through a lot, but we’re also able to shift what we might recognize as who he really is to what we want him to be,” experimental documentarian Lynne Sachs says in Film About a Father Who, a revealing look at the patriarch of her seemingly ever-expanding family, her dad, Ira Sachs Sr. Inspired by Yvonne Rainer’s seminal 1974 work A Film About a Woman Who . . . , a cinematic collage exploring sexual conflict, and Heinrich Boll’s 1971 novel Group Portrait with Lady, Sachs’s movie consists of footage taken over a period of fifty-four years, beginning in 1965, using 8mm and 16mm film, VHS, Hi8, Mini DV, and digital images, edited by Rebecca Shapass. Now eighty-four, Ira Sachs Sr. was a sex-loving, pot-smoking minor-league hotelier, a neglectful, emotionally unavailable husband and father, both selfish and generous, carefully guarding secrets that Lynne, her sister, journalist and author Dana Sachs, and her brother, filmmaker Ira Sachs Jr., discuss with their six half-siblings, children their father had with other wives and girlfriends, some of whom they did not know about for many years.

Ira Sr.’s mother, Rose Sachs, known as Maw-maw, who left him when he was young, says of his womanizing, “I can’t stand that way of life.” His first wife, Lynne’s mother, Diane Sachs, speaks about what an easy decision divorcing him was. “Marriage was just a lot of being up at night, going to the window, wondering when he was coming home,” she explains. His second wife, Diana Lee, says through tears, “He’s a mistake.” Yet nearly all the women in his life, relatives and companions alike, profess their undying love for the long-haired, bushy-mustached man who was able to cast a spell over them despite, at least outwardly, not appearing to be a particularly eloquent Don Juan type and never remaining faithful. But there’s also more than a hint of psychological abuse he suffered at the hands of his mother. “She treated me as an enemy,” he says.

Perhaps it’s not surprising that the first three children of such a secretive man all went into the storytelling arts, mixing fiction and nonfiction in film and literature; Ira has won awards for such films as Forty Shades of Blue and Love Is Strange, Dana’s books include the novel If You Lived Here and the Vietnam memoir The House on Dream Street, and Lynne’s documentaries range from Investigation of a Flame and Sermons and Sacred Pictures to Your Day Is My Night and States of UnBelonging. There are numerous shots of family members filming other relatives; at one point, Lynne is filming Ira Jr. filming Ira Sr. while watching home movies on the television. A Film About a Woman Who . . . , which features music by sound artist Stephen Vitiello, is a striking portrait of an unusually dysfunctional family, a true story that has been in the making for more than a half century and even now provides only some of the answers. Perhaps you can find out more when it begins streaming January 15-31 in the Museum of the Moving Image festival “Lynne Sachs: Between Thought and Expression”; Sachs will participate in a “Discussion with the Sachs Family” on January 19 at 7:00 with her brother Ira and documentarian Kirsten Johnson, introduced by MoMI curator Eric Hynes.


Still from Lynn Hershman Leeson’s The Electronic Diaries (1984–2019) (courtesy the artist and Bridget Donahue, New York)

Who: Lynn Hershman Leeson
What: Special screening and conversation
Where: The New Museum online
When: Tuesday, January 12, free with RSVP, 8:00
Why: In advance of her upcoming “Twisted” exhibition at the New Museum, which opens June 30, Cleveland-born, San Francisco–based artist Lynn Hershman Leeson will present a free screening of her video The Electronic Diaries, which she has been compiling since 1984, examining her life in such segments as “Confessions of a Chameleon,” “Binge,” “First Person Plural,” and “Shadow’s Song.” Part of Rhizome and C-Lab Taiwan’s “First Look: Forking PiraGene,” the screening will be followed by a conversation with the artist.


Michelle Dooley Mahon’s The Scourge tells of a woman reliving her mother’s battle with Alzheimer’s (photo by Carol Rosegg)

January 11-31, free - $10 per event

The thirteenth annual Origin 1st Irish Theatre Festival has been reimagined for its 2021 iteration, a three-week collection of theatrical dramas ($10), fiction and nonfiction films ($5), and free panel discussions shedding light on the current state of Irish theater. Curated by actors Mick Mellamphy and Sarah Street, the festivities kick off January 11 with the opening ceremony on Zoom and Fishamble’s Mustard, Eva O’Connor’s one-woman Edinburgh Fringe play about a woman who falls hard for a Tour de France competitor. “The cyclist knows nothing of the madness in my bones or the mustard in my mind,” the character says. The other plays are the Wexford Arts Center’s production of Michelle Dooley Mahon’s one-woman The Scourge, an Alzheimer’s story directed by Ben Barnes; Darren Murphy’s deeply moving The Gifts You Gave to the Dark, the Irish Rep tale told over a smartphone, one of the first live works dealing with Covid-19; Origin’s Under the Albert Clock, comprising monologues by five playwrights from Northern Ireland (Emily Dedakis, Gina Donnelly, Sarah Gordon, Fionnuala Kennedy, and Alice Malseed) set around the historic Albert Clock in Belfast in 2050; About Face Ireland’s Zoom presentation Transatlantic Tales, eight original works by Matthew Cole Kelly, Melissa Annis, James McLindon, Rachel White, Emily Bohannon, Krystal Sweedman, Seamus Scanlon, and Neil Sharpson, each pairing one actor in Ireland and one in America (Amie Tedesco, Kathleen Warner Yeates, Brandon Jones, Helena White, Kevin Collins, Darina Gallagher, Orlagh Cassidy, Mark Tankersley, Erin Healani Chung, Michael Rhodes, David Ryan, John Keating, Megan Day, Kate Grimes, Paul Nugent, Richard Topol, and Maureen O’Connell); and Origin’s Stay Home and Stay Safe, four short pieces by Geraldine Aaron, Honor Molloy, Derek Murphy, and Ursula Rani Sarma about domestic violence during the pandemic, with Angel Desai, Alan Kelly, Niamh Hopper, David Spain, and Jade Jordan.

Richard Topol and Maureen O’Connell star in one of five short Zoom plays that comprise Transatlantic Tales

In addition to three showings of each play, there will be two screenings of each film, which explore unemployed actors going on a camping trip (O’Connell’s Spa Weekend), a possible miracle (Aislinn Clarke’s The Devil’s Doorway), what happens when your horse comes in (Seanie Sugrue’s Misty Button), the 1998 Good Friday Agreement (Rory Duffy’s A Fragile Peace), an incident in the Irish War of Independence (Conal Creedon’s The Burning of Cork), and a 1905 journey across Connemara by John Millington Synge and Jack B. Yeats (Margy Kinmonth’s To the Western World). There will also be five panel discussions that will stream twice; the full schedule is below.

Monday, January 11
Opening Ceremony, 3:00

Friday, January 15
“Irish Redemption — An Irish Invasion into the World of Video Games,” with Roger Clarke and Penny O Brien, 8:00

Sunday, January 17
“Producing in a Pandemic,“ offering first looks at new works, with Aoife Williamson, Derek Murphy, Tim Ruddy, David Gilna, and Lorna Fenenbock, 8:00

Monday, January 18
“Black&Irish,” focusing on diversity and inclusion in Irish arts and culture, with Femi Bankole, Leon Diop, Bonni Odoemene, Jade Jordan, and Zainab Boladale, 8:00

Wednesday, January 20
“Casting and the Irish Perspective,” with Christine McKenna Tirella, 3:00

“The Irish Tunes of Tin Pan Alley,” with Mick Moloney and Larry Kirwan, 8:00

Friday, January 22
“Irish Redemption — An Irish Invasion into the World of Video Games,” with Roger Clarke and Penny O Brien, 3:00

Saturday, January 23
“Producing in a Pandemic,“ offering first looks at new works, with Aoife Williamson, Derek Murphy, Tim Ruddy, David Gilna, and Lorna Fenenbock, 3:00

Monday, January 25
“Casting and the Irish Perspective,” with Christine McKenna Tirella, 8:00

Wednesday, January 27
“The Irish Tunes of Tin Pan Alley,” with Mick Moloney and Larry Kirwan, 3:00

Saturday, January 30
“Black&Irish,” focusing on diversity and inclusion in Irish arts and culture, with Femi Bankole, Leon Diop, Bonni Odoemene, Jade Jordan, and Zainab Boladale, 3:00

Saturday, January 31
Closing Ceremony, 5:00


Costars and writers Brendan Hunt and Jason Sudeikis will discuss Ted Lasso at live Gold Derby webinar

Who: Jason Sudeikis, Hannah Waddingham, Brendan Hunt, Brett Goldstein, Tom O’Neil
What: Watch party and live Q&A
Where: Gold Derby
When: Monday, January 11, free with RSVP, 8:00
Why: One of the breakout hits of the pandemic has been Apple TV’s hysterical fish-and-chips-out-of-water comedy Ted Lasso. The show was expanded from a character Jason Sudeikis played in ESPN promos in 2013-14, an ever-positive Division II college football coach hired to run the flailing AFC Richmond soccer team in England, even though he knows nothing about the sport. You can learn more about the show on January 11 at 8:00, when executive producer, cocreator, writer, and star Sudeikis, Hannah Waddingham (team owner Rebecca), Brendan Hunt (producer and writer who plays the strange Coach Beard), and Brett Goldstein (writer who plays aging star Roy Kent) join Gold Derby founder and editor Tom O’Neil for a live webinar. But don’t expect to find out how the offside call works in soccer. “Will you explain to me how that was offside? No! I’m asking you. Seriously! Explain offside to me. It makes no sense,” Lasso admits in one episode.


Who: Red Bull Theater company
What: Livestreamed benefit reading of The African Company Presents Richard III
Where: Red Bull Theater website and Facebook Live
When: Monday, January 11, free with RSVP (donations accepted), 7:30 (available on demand through January 15 at 7:00); “Bull Session” Thursday, January 14, free with RSVP, 7:30
Why: As winters go, this one has been pretty chock-full of discontent. Thankfully, after a much-deserved holiday hiatus, Red Bull Theater is back with its next live benefit reading, Carlyle Brown’s 1994 play The African Company Presents Richard III, a tale of a battle of Shakespearean proportions. In 1821, the nation’s first Black theater troupe, the African Company of New York, started by William Henry Brown, was staging Richard III downtown, starring James Hewlett. Angry that the production was attracting Black and white audiences, Park Theatre manager and duelist Stephen Price produced a competing version while trying to stop the African Company’s.

“Exactly two hundred years ago, the real events that form the plot of The African Company . . . took place not much more than a stone’s throw from where I’m sitting typing these words at this moment in New York City, isolated. Carlyle's play gives us a personal and poetic window through which to look in on our ever-present racially charged past, helping us better understand our own times — and how we all might think about who gets to tell whose stories,” Red Bull founder and artistic director Jesse Berger said in a statement. The reading is directed by Carl Cofield and features Clifton Duncan, Edward Gero, Dion Johnstone, Paul Niebanck, Antoinette Robinson, Craig Wallace, and Jessika D. Williams. The reading will premiere live on January 11 at 7:30 and will be available on demand through January 15; on January 14 at 7:30, Red Bull will host a live “Bull Session” discussion with Brown, Cofield, scholar Marvin Edward McAllister, and members of the company. The two programs should help bring some of solace during this “weak piping time of peace.”