THE BLOODY BEGINNING
102 Norfolk St.
Saturday, October 25, $55, 5:00
For three years, Cynthia von Buhler’s participatory Speakeasy Dollhouse has been charming audiences on the Lower East Side, involving everyone in the lurid tale of the mysterious murder of her grandfather Frank Spano. As has become tradition, the immersive show will take a little detour for Halloween; instead of ticket holders showing up in period garb, on October 25 they can choose which side they want to be on: vampires, werewolves, or zombies. (VIP unicorns are already sold out.) The more you put into Speakeasy Dollhouse, the more you’ll get out of it, so just go crazy at this special Halloween edition.
108 East 15th St. at Irving Pl.
Tuesday - Sunday through November 23, $79-$100
During his more-than-half-century career in show business, writer, director, producer, and actor Garry Marshall has been behind some of the oddest, most beloved couplings on television, including Mork & Mindy, Laverne and Shirley, Me and the Chimp (well, maybe not so beloved, but certainly odd), and, well, The Odd Couple. Now the Bronx-born director of such films as The Flamingo Kid, Pretty Woman, and Beaches is back in New York with the sitcom-y Hollywood-set show Billy & Ray, about the tense, difficult collaboration between bombastic Viennese writer-director Billy Wilder (Mad Men’s Vincent Kartheiser) and hardboiled-detective author Raymond Chandler (Casa Valentina’s Larry Pine). Having broken up with his previous writing partner, Charlie Brackett, with whom he wrote Ninotchka, Hold Back the Dawn, and Ball of Fire, each of which was nominated for a screenplay Oscar, Wilder decides to go with the little-known Chandler, who turns out to be a mild-mannered, soft-spoken married professorial type who doesn’t like Wilder’s cursing, shouting, drinking, and womanizing but sneaks sips of whiskey while claiming to be a teetotaler. The two eventually dive into James M. Cain’s novel, which Chandler calls “creaky, melodramatic nonsense,” attempting to get the lurid story about lust, greed, and murder past Joseph Breen and the ridiculously stringent Motion Picture Production Code. Ambitious young producer Joseph Sistrom (Drew Gehling) tries to navigate the murky waters with the code office and the studio while Wilder’s dedicated assistant, Helen Hernandez (Sophie von Haselberg), does whatever’s necessary to keep it all from falling apart.
Although not quite the screwball comedy Marshall and playwright Mike Bencivenga (Single Bullet Theory, Happy Hour) want it to be, Billy & Ray is an engaging behind-the-scenes look at the creation of one of the greatest works in film noir history, a seminal, genre-redefining movie whose overall effect and influence had repercussions throughout Hollywood and the world. Pine is gentle and calm as Chandler, a henpecked writer initially in it just to make a buck, while a miscast Kartheiser overplays the unpredictable, iconoclastic Wilder, who fights the system despite being part of it. Gehling (On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, Jersey Boys) and von Haselberg, in her New York theater debut, offer solid support, playing their parts with an energizing gusto that serves as a much-needed break from the conflicts between the two protagonists. (If von Haselberg reminds you of Bette Midler, that’s no surprise, because she’s the daughter of the Divine Miss M; her only film appearance came as a five-year-old in Marshall’s Frankie and Johnny.) Charlie Corcoran’s set is so charming and welcoming, it’s worth checking out the model in the downstairs lobby, near some archival photographs of stills from deleted scenes from the film. (The Vineyard has also re-created part of the office with a typewriter, suitcase, and other related ephemera.) Though not nearly as taut and literate as James Lapine’s Tony-nominated Act One, the recent Broadway play about the first collaboration between Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman, Billy & Ray is a treat especially for fans of Double Indemnity, as the play reveals what went into some of the key moments of the classic noir. However, after Chandler and Wilder discuss changing the ending of the movie by cutting a scene, the play concludes with a wholly unnecessary coda that is a disturbing departure from the trusting relationship that had been built between the actors and the audience and will hopefully wind up on the cutting-room floor.
Union Square Theatre
100 East 17th St. between Park Ave. S. & Irving Pl.
Tuesday - Sunday through February 22, $68-$88
The main poster image for Lennon: Through a Glass Onion shows a psychedelically colored John Lennon staring back at the viewer, with two huge white holes where his eyes would be. Too much of that round emptiness, unfortunately, can be found in the two-man musical play as well. British-born Australian actor and musician John R. Waters, who will turn sixty-six on December 8, the thirty-fourth anniversary of the murder of the Smart Beatle in New York City, and pianist Stewart D’Arrietta have been touring the stripped-down production for more than twenty years. For ninety minutes, Waters, dressed in jeans, a black T-shirt, and a leather jacket, does not try to imitate Lennon as much as embody his spirit in a kind of VH1 Storytellers manner, relating episodes from John’s life, told in the first person, to the songs he wrote. He also tries to get inside Lennon’s head, imagining what the musician and peace activist might have been thinking during some of those seminal moments, but these brief narrative vignettes often feel forced, especially when Waters is discussing the day of Lennon’s death, which open and close the show. (It’s more effective when Waters incorporates Lennon’s actual words, from interviews and writings.) The music, for the most part, is splendid; Waters lets Lennon’s skills as a wordsmith shine, the intelligent, intense lyrics reverberating throughout the hazy Union Square Theatre and inside your head. He wisely doesn’t even try to mimic Lennon’s singing voice or guitar playing, instead audaciously toying around with some of the music, reinventing such songs as “Help,” “Norwegian Wood,” “Crippled Inside,” and “Working Class Hero” in inventive, at times captivating ways, with a particular focus on the White Album.
In “How Do You Sleep?,” Lennon’s public attack on songwriting partner Paul McCartney, Anthony Barrett’s lighting casts Waters’s huge shadow on the back wall, highlighting the size of the boots Waters has dared to step into, but it also emphasizes one of the faults of the show; only a few times does it step out of its own boots, curiously using visual projections for just two songs (one of which, of course, is “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”). And the vast majority of the nearly three dozen tunes, from the Beatles and the Plastic Ono Band periods through John’s solo career, right up to Double Fantasy, are heard in snippets that merely tease. D’Arrietta, who has toured his own one-man show featuring the music of Tom Waits, is masterful at the keyboards, often sounding like an entire backing band, fleshing out the arrangements and contributing background vocals as well. Lennon: Through a Glass Onion is at its best when dealing with John’s relationship with Yoko, who many fans still insist was the cause of the Fab Four breakup; renditions of “Woman” and “Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)” are among the highlights of the evening. “I’m just a lad from up north,” Waters says as Lennon at one point. John, of course, was so much more than that, but Lennon: Through a Glass Onion, though heartfelt, doesn’t quite add anything new about the man or the legend.
428 Lafayette St. between Astor Pl. & East Fourth St.
Thursday - Sunday through November 1, Le Galerie $65, Le Court $105
Austin McCormick’s Company XIV is inaugurating its intimate new home along Colonnade Row on Lafayette St. with Rococo Rouge, a Late Baroque-inspired evening of dance, music, acrobatics, sexy humor, and classy cocktails. The two-hour extravaganza is hosted by bawdy and buxom chanteuse Shelly Watson, who never met a double entendre she didn’t like, or an audience member she wouldn’t want to caress and grab. Channeling Bette Midler and Mae West, Watson riles up the crowd, telling jokes and expertly working the interstitials between the extravagantly costumed and elegant yet unusual acts. Performers include Allison Ulrich teaming with Steven Trumon Gray on the aerial hoop known as a lyra while Watson sings Dvořák’s “Song to the Moon”; the mustachioed Courtney Giannone twisting around on the Cyr wheel while Watson sings Rossini’s “La Danza”; soprano Brett Umlauf performing Lorde’s “Royals” while Davon Rainey, Cailan Orn, and Gray get down and dirty; Ulrich swinging around a pole while Umlauf, who has a lovely, ethereal voice, sings Julie London’s “Go Slow” with six-string virtuoso Rob Mastrianni on guitar; and Laura Careless dancing a sharp, striking solo while Katrina Cunningham sings Britney Spears’s “Toxic.” (Careless was also a standout in Company XIV’s Lover. Muse. Mockingbird. Whore., a burlesque play about Charles Bukowski and two of the women in his life.) Yes, it’s not all exactly from the time of Louis XIV, although Zane Pihlstrom’s gorgeous costumes, mostly in red with some black and white, reference bustiers and bustles, but there’s just too much fun to be had to worry about historical anachronisms and narrative lapses.
There are two intermissions, and the audience can either head into the front bar area, where Giannone might sit down at the piano and play some classical music (followed by her father, going the jump-and-jive route), or remain in the theater, where Mastrianni will do the entertaining. Among the specialty drinks ($14-$16 each) are the Opera Diva, the Maria Theresa, the Guillotine, and the Revolution, along with the Fountain of Versailles ($120), for “four to six drunkards.” Choreographed, conceived, and directed by McCormick, Rococo Rouge is a refreshing frolic through another time and place, an engaging spectacle that is like a French version of the Kit Kat Klub from Cabaret (without the dangerous edge) mixed with the variety of La Soirée. And everyone’s invited to stick around after the show, when bands such as Mastrianni’s Beatbox Guitar take the stage. Rococo Rouge runs Thursday to Sunday through November 1 and will be followed by Company XIV’s popular seasonal romp, Nutcracker Rouge.
In the summer of 2011, Japanese multimedia artist Ryoji Ikeda dazzled New Yorkers with the immersive site-specific work the transfinite, which invited visitors to sit down in the Park Avenue Armory and merge with a two-sided monolithic wall, extended onto the floor, that came alive with a mind-blowing array of experimental digital music and mathematically based projections, as if welcoming people inside the mind of a cutting-edge computer. Things will be only slightly more contained for the U.S. premiere of superposition, Ikeda’s theatrical piece being presented October 17 & 18 in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Grace Rainey Rogers Auditorium. Ticket holders may be sitting in seats, but what’s happening onstage will take them through mesmerizing sound and visuals that combine art and science, mathematics and human behavior in unique ways, exploring technology, philosophy, probability, and the future of existence, zeroing in on a single subatomic particle. The work is being presented as part of the French Institute Alliance Française’s annual Crossing the Line Festival, consisting of multidisciplinary projects and performances at locations throughout the city. In conjunction with superposition, Salon 94 on East Ninety-Fourth St. is hosting a solo exhibition of Ikeda’s work October 20-31, and his black-and-white test pattern [times square] is being projected on nearly four dozen digital screens in Times Square nightly from 11:57 to midnight for the October installment of “Midnight Moment,” the monthly program organized and supported by the Times Square Advertising Coalition in partnership with Times Square Arts; on October 16, the visuals will be accompanied by an Exclusive Sound Experience, with limited headphones available beginning at 11:00. (If you’re attending the October 17 performance of superposition, be sure to arrive at the museum early, as Icelandic cellist Hildur Guðnadóttir will be playing a special pop-up concert at 6:00 in the Carroll and Milton Petrie European Sculpture Court (Gallery 548) inspired by the Costume Institute’s upcoming “Death Becomes Her: A Century of Mourning Attire,” which opens October 21.)
220 West 48th St. between Broadway & Eighth Ave.
Tuesday - Sunday (and some Mondays) through January 4, $37 - $152
Earlier this year, Lincoln Center presented the world premiere of Act One, James Lapine’s engaging Broadway adaptation of Moss Hart’s 1959 memoir detailing his beginnings in theater, focusing on his first collaboration with writer-director George S. Kaufman. One of the many fruits of that partnership is now back on the Great White Way, a rousing revival of the Pulitzer Prize-winning You Can’t Take It with You. Set in Depression-era New York City, the three-act madcap farce follows the trials and tribulations of the eccentric Sycamore family, led by patriarch and grandfather Martin Vanderhof (James Earl Jones), who has enjoyed the simple pleasures of life ever since he suddenly walked out on his job more than three decades earlier and now lives contentedly, refusing to pay income tax and raising snakes. His daughter, Penny Sycamore (Kristine Nielsen), a quirky, perpetually pleasant would-be playwright and painter, is married to Paul Sycamore (Mark Linn-Baker), a goofy, unemployed tinkerer who spends most of his time in the basement inventing different kinds of fireworks with the oddball Mr. DePinna (Patrick Kerr) and playing with his Erector set. Penny and Paul’s younger daughter, Essie Carmichael (Annaleigh Ashford), is a wannabe dancer in endless motion, pirouetting her way through the day in tutus and making candies that her amateur printer husband, Ed Carmichael (Will Brill), goes out and sells when he’s not playing Beethoven on the xylophone for her to dance to. Essie’s ballet teacher, Boris Kolenkhov (Reg Rogers), is a blustery Russian émigré obsessed with Stalin and the revolution. Despite having little money — the Sycamores regularly eat corn flakes for dinner — the family has a well-treated maid, Rheba (Crystal Dickinson), who really runs things around the house; Rheba is dating Donald (Marc Damon Johnson), who hangs around doing odd jobs. Finally, there’s older daughter Alice Sycamore (Rose Byrne), a prim and proper young lady who is desperate to have a normal life despite her crazy, mixed-up family. (Think Marilyn in The Munsters, for example.) Alice is in love with Tony Kirby (Fran Kranz), her very wealthy boss at the Wall Street firm started by his mogul father (Byron Jennings), who raises extremely expensive orchids in his spare time. When the two families are brought together to celebrate Alice and Tony’s engagement, mayhem erupts, jeopardizing the lovebirds’ future.
You Can’t Take It with You, which was first produced on Broadway in 1936 and turned into an Oscar-winning film in 1938 by Frank Capra (with Jean Arthur, Lionel Barrymore, James Stewart, Eddie Anderson, Ann Miller, and others), is a lovable romp about 1930s New York City, a fun and fanciful riff on the very serious growing gap between the rich and the poor, the haves and the have-nots. David Rockwell’s living-room set is breathtaking, every nook and cranny occupied by paintings, photographs, masks, sculptures, trinkets, tchotchkes, toys, and other, often loony, paraphernalia. Director Scott Ellis (The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Harvey) keeps it all moving at a wickedly funny pace, a nonstop barrage of wacky high jinks, rapid-fire non sequiturs and double entendres, and over-the-top physical comedy, while never letting the audience forget that these are very hard times indeed for families such as the Sycamores, who live in the shadow of such tycoons as Mr. Kirby and his stuffy, genteel wife (Johanna Day.) The cast is superb, led by the humble Jones (who actually makes mention of the “dark side,” eliciting titters from Star Wars fans in the audience), the always welcome Nielsen (Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, The Killer), the ever-dapper and pristine Jennings (Ten Chimneys, Arcadia), and theater doyenne Elizabeth Ashley as the hash-slinging Grand Duchess Olga Katrina. Some of the physical comedy does grow stale, particularly Brill’s (Tribes, Not Fade Away) twisting mannerisms, Ashford’s (Kinky Boots, Masters of Sex) never-ending spins and twirls, and an unnecessary appearance by Julie Halston (The Tribute Artist) as a drunk actress, but those excesses can be forgiven amid all the boisterous merriment to be had in a play that combines an obviously old-fashioned sensibility with some social, political, and economic observations that are still relevant today, more than seventy-five years after its debut.
After seeing the Broadway debut of Kenneth Lonergan’s 1996 black comedy, This Is Our Youth, I breathed a heavy sigh of relief, thankful that this was not my youth — although it could have been, since I’m the same age as two of the three characters and grew up in New York as well at the exact same time. It’s a lot funnier watching the antics onstage than having actually lived that life. It’s March 1982, and nineteen-year-old Warren Straub (Michael Cera) has arrived at the Upper West Side pad of his friend and drug dealer, twenty-one-year-old Dennis Ziegler (Kieran Culkin), with a suitcase stuffed with valuable collectible toys and records and fifteen grand in cash he stole from his abusive father. Dennis and Warren have an intense love-hate relationship, as the supposedly cool and calm dealer constantly insults his always nervous, twitchy buddy, who appears to suffer from ADHD and often thrusts his hands into his pockets to keep them from doing something strange as he tramps around the stage. “What kind of life do you lead?” Dennis says early on. “You live with your father — a psycho. . . . Nobody can stand to have you around because you’re such an annoying loudmouthed little creep, and now you’re like some kind of fugitive from justice? What is gonna happen to you, man?” Warren, who has a unique philosophical view of the world, replies, “What’s gonna happen to anybody? Who cares?” Dennis’s never-seen girlfriend, Valerie, and her friend, the fashionable Jessica Goldman (current It Girl Tavi Gevinson), are on their way over, so Dennis and Warren come up with a plan to lavish some of the stolen money — which Dennis insists Warren return to his father — on the two women, then make it back by reselling some coke. But nothing seems to go quite right for these two luckless losers.
Originally produced by the New Group in 1996 with Josh Hamilton as Dennis, Mark Ruffalo as Warren, and Missy Yager as Jessica (later versions have featured such young stars as Matt Damon, Jake Gyllenhaal, Hayden Christensen, Freddie Prinze Jr., Anna Paquin, Summer Phoenix, Heather Burns, and Alison Lohman), This Is Our Youth is a searing comic portrait of three college-age kids trying to find their place in a not-so-warm-and-cozy world. Culkin (subUrbia, Lonergan’s The Starry Messenger) plays the sleazy but lovable Dennis with broad strokes, channeling Robert Downey Jr. from Less Than Zero; in fact, This Is Our Youth is sort of an extremely stripped-down, more low rent East Coast version of the 1987 film based on Bret Easton Ellis’s bestselling novel, with smart, razor-sharp, free-wheeling dialogue from Lonergan (The Waverly Gallery, You Can Count on Me). Gevinson, the teen powerhouse behind Rookie magazine, starts off a bit mannered before settling into her character, an FIT student who is (wisely) suspicious of Warren and is the only one of the three who actually cares about her family. But Cera steals the show in a bravura performance as the unpredictable Warren, imbuing him with a fidgety apprehension and a tense, jittery anxiety that is mesmerizing. He’s so wound up, it’s nearly impossible for anyone to have a conversation with him. “So how you doing, Jessica?” he asks when she shows up at Dennis’s apartment. “You’re looking very automated tonight,” to which Jessica replies, “What the fuck is that supposed to mean?” Anna D. Shapiro (Domesticated, August: Osage County) directs this Steppenwolf production with a controlled recklessness where anything can happen on Todd Rosenthal’s (Of Mice and Men, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?) spectacular set, a walk-up studio surrounded by an apartment complex so realistic you’ll wonder why you’ve never noticed it in the Theater District before. Letting out another sigh of relief, I can again confirm that I am intensely glad to have experienced This Is Our Youth as an onstage drama instead of ever having to live this crazy kind of life myself.