Who: Charles Busch, Mary Bacon, Julie Halston, Keira Keeley, Carole Monferdini, Jonathan Walker
What: Virtual reading
Where: Primary Stages, 59E59
When: September 30 - October 4, $35 (opening night $50 with Zoom talkback and reception)
Why: In 2014, Primary Stages presented Charles Busch’s The Tribute Artist at 59E59. In my review, I wrote that the show “is a wonderfully entertaining homage to the classic screwball comedies and films noir of the 1930s and ’40s. . . . Busch is a hoot as Jimmy, chewing up the scenery in Gregory Gale’s fab costumes and Katherine Carr’s wacky wigs while mixing in the wacky slapstick of Lucille Ball and the grace of Katharine Hepburn, and Julie Halston has a field day as his loud, acerbic, quick-witted sidekick. Busch veteran Jonathan Walker supplies a big dose of testosterone to the proceedings, including a scene-stealing monologue late in the second act.” The original cast, which also features Mary Bacon, Keira Keeley, and Carole Monferdini, is back for six live readings, directed again by Carl Andress, from September 30 through October 4 via the renewed partnership between Primary Stages and 59E59; tickets are $35 except for opening night, when $50 also gets you into a Zoom talkback and reception with members of the cast and crew. Primary Stages is also hosting the online workshop “Seeing Between the Lines” (September 29, $40, 6:00) with associate artistic director Erin Daley. Busch previously reunited with the cast of The Confession of Lily Dare for a terrific Plays in the House one-time-only benefit reading for the Actors Fund; you can get a sneak peek at the Zoom edition of The Tribute Artist here.
Who: Tony Roberts, Jodie Markell, Stephen Schnetzer, Rex Reed
What: Live monthly readings online and in person
Where: Theatre 80, 80 St. Marks Place
When: September 29, free in person, Zoom $25, 646-366-9340, 2:00
Why: Food for Thought continues its twentieth anniversary season with a program that provides yet more food for thought. On September 29 at 2:00, the company, founded in 2000 to present one-act plays in intimate settings, with little or no sets or costumes, just actors reading well-known or less-familiar works, is performing a trio of tales, both online and in person at Theatre 80 at 80 St. Marks Place. Yes, a limited number of first-come, first-served free seats are available at the historic Village theater, following New York City guidelines with temperature checks, masks, and social distancing, and all attendees must have recently tested negative for Covid-19; you can also livestream the show over Zoom for $25. The matinee includes Tony nominee Tony Roberts reading excerpts from his 2015 autobiography, Do You Know Me?, and Jodie Markell, Stephen Schnetzer, and Rex Reed (yes, that Rex Reed) starring in Oscar, Tony, and Emmy winner Peter Stone’s Commercial Break (previously performed by Lauren Bacall and Robert Preston and initially written for Audrey Hepburn in Charade) and FFT creator Susan Charlotte’s Come On, directed by Antony Marsellis. A live Q&A will follow. The season began with Arthur Miller’s I Can’t Remember Anything, Robert Anderson’s I’m Herbert, and Daniel Rose’s Eichmann in Israel on July 13 (with Bob Dishy, Judy Graubart, Marilyn Sokol, and Schnetzer) and Christopher Durang’s Mrs. Sorken and Tennessee Williams’s I Can’t Imagine Tomorrow on August 17 (with Nathan Darrow, Delphi Harrington, Kristine Nielsen, and Schnetzer); next up for Food for Thought’s “Live Performances in a Safe Environment” series are Dorothy Parker’s Here We Are and excerpts from the work of Lynn Nottage on October 19, A. R. Gurney’s The Love Course on November 16, and Mel Brooks’s Of Fathers and Sons and Durang’s Wanda’s Visit on December 14.
Who: Denis O’Hare, Lisa Peterson, Roberta Stewart, Sonia Sabnis, Jeffery Robinson, more
What: Live, interactive performance/discussion series
Where: New York Theatre Workshop Zoom
When: Select Tuesdays through November 2, $10, 7:00
Why: The pandemic lockdown has forced theater companies to reinvent themselves without access to indoor venues where audiences sit and watch live performance. Amid benefit reunion readings, panel discussions, Q&As, master classes, workshops, and Zoom microplays, several troupes have established innovative online presences, including Red Bull, the Irish Rep, and the New Group here in New York City. Now downtown institution New York Theatre Workshop is expanding its programming for the upcoming fall season with the aptly titled “Artistic Instigators.” The project kicked off September 22 with the first episode of What the Hell Is a Republic, Anyway?, a live, interactive performance-discussion series comparing America with the Roman Empire and its notorious collapse. Republic is developed by Tony- and Obie-winning actor and playwright Denis O’Hare and two-time Obie-winning writer and director Lisa Peterson, longtime friends whose previous collaborations include An Iliad (NYTW, 2012) and The Good Book. The inaugural show, “Rome & America: Joined at Birth,” featured Dartmouth classical studies professor Roberta Stewart (there are two encore livestreams September 27 and October 5); the schedule continues October 6 with “Citizenship,” in which O’Hare (Take Me Out, American Horror Story) and Peterson (The Waves, Slavs) are joined by Reed College classics and humanities associate professor Sonia Sabnis, October 20 with “How Republics Fall Apart,” and November 2 with “The Election,” where they will speak with ACLU Trone Center for Justice and Equality deputy legal director Jeffery Robinson. (You can learn more about the series in this Token Theatre Friends interview.)
You can still catch many of NYTW’s previous online presentations here, including fireside chats with playwright Doug Wright, scenic designer Rachel Hauck, playwright Celine Song, Penny Arcade, Thaddeus Phillips, playwright Martyna Majok, director Rebecca Frecknall, actor, director, and playwright Ruben Santiago-Hudson, and Peterson; master classes and talks with playwrights Jeremy O. Harris and Mfoniso Udofia, directors Whitney White and Lileana Blain-Cruz, scenic/costume designer Adam Rigg, and actresses Celia Keenan-Bolger and Elizabeth Marvel; jam sessions with Martha Redbone and Aaron Whitby and Daniel & Patrick Lazour; the “How to Grab Your Audience without Even Touching Them” cabaret workshop with performer Dito van Reigersberg; and discussions dealing with contemporary sociopolitical issues. NYTW has also announced that the fall season will consist of The Seagull on Sims 4 by Song; Victor I. Cazares’s Pinching Pennies with Penny Marshall, Redbone and Whitby’s work-in-progress The Talking Circles, Ayad Akhtar’s solo piece Trump Is Just the Name of His Story, The Cooking Project, and Theater Mitu’s remnant, with the hope that some of these will happen in person, live onstage, with some kind of audience.
Who: Andre Ali Andre, Leila Buck, India Nicole Burton, Jens Rasmussen, Imran Sheikh, Andrew Valdez
What: Live interactive production of American Dreams
Where: Multiple sites online
When: September 26 - November 15, free - $30
Why: Since January 2017, America has been led by a reality TV host, a man obsessed with ratings. So it’s more than fitting that Leila Buck’s 2018 play, American Dreams, which is set up as a game show, is being reimagined for an interactive, online experience now that theaters are closed because of the pandemic. First staged at the Cleveland Public Theatre two years ago, the work is going virtual, with live performances streaming September 26 to November 15 through Working Theater, Round House Theatre, Salt Lake Acting Company, Marin Theatre Company, HartBeat Ensemble, the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, and University of Connecticut’s Thomas J. Dodd Center, each one setting its own prices, from free to $30. Co-commissioned by ASU Gammage and Texas Performing Arts, the seventy-five-minute work is directed by Tamilla Woodard (Men on Boats, Yellow Card Red Card) and will be performed by Andre Ali Andre, India Nicole Burton, Jens Rasmussen, Imran Sheikh, Andrew Valdez, and Buck, with video design by Katherine Freer, virtual performance design by ViDCo, scenic design by Ryan Patterson, costumes by Kerry McCarthy, sound by Sam Kusnetz, and lighting by Stacey Derosier. “American Dreams is a play that needs to happen now as we are approaching an election,” Working Theater co-artistic director Mark Plesent said in a statement. “I think that the American Experiment is failing on so many levels. American Dreams offers us a safe opportunity, full of humor, to experience our individual complicity in the dangers facing our nation, and also points to ways to change course, beginning with ourselves.”
It is strongly advised that you watch on your computer, not your phone or tablet, and you can choose your own level of participation, with trivia and polls as you decide which of three immigrants gets to win American citizenship over the course of five rounds; there will also be live discussions about the play and immigration throughout the nation. “Though our theater buildings may be closed, the need to gather around provocative storytelling is still present,” Working Theater co-artistic director Woodard said in a statement. “With this unique partnership we get to do something we most certainly wouldn’t have been able to do before — create a national collaboration with nine institutions and theaters across the country to activate audiences in local conversations about immigrants rights, the power of the vote, and what it means to be a citizen. The agility all of the producing partners are able to bring to this collaboration is truly remarkable. Their appetite for innovation and invention is inspiring. This is the power of theater that makes room for radical access, radical inclusion, and a new model of collaboration.” Woodard knows of what she speaks; in 2013 she directed the powerful La Ruta, in which a small audience sat in the back of a truck, where they were made to feel like they were being transported illegally over the Mexican border and into the United States, danger at the ready. American Dreams might be more fun, but it’s no less relevant or important.
Who: PTP/NYC (Potomac Theatre Project)
What: Zoom plays
Where: PTP/NYC YouTube channel
When: Thursday, September 24, October 1, October 8, October 15, free (donations accepted), 7:30 (each show streams through the following Sunday)
Why: Every summer we look forward to the arrival of PTP/NYC (the Potomac Theatre Project) at the Atlantic’s Stage 2 in Chelsea. For thirty-three years, the troupe has been presenting works in Maryland and New York and at Middlebury College, where it was founded in 1987 by Cheryl Faraone, Richard Romagnoli, and Jim Petosa. The company specializes in revivals of shows by the inimitable Caryl Churchill and Howard Barker as well as Anthony Minghella, Sarah Kane, Neal Bell, Snoo Wilson, Harold Pinter, Vaclav Havel, Tom Stoppard, and others. But because of the pandemic lockdown, PTP/NYC’s thirty-fourth repertory season is going virtual, running online September 24 through October 18, with a new Zoom show streaming every Thursday night at 7:30 on YouTube and available for viewing through the following Sunday. The season begins September 24 with Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, directed by Faraone and featuring a female and nonbinary cast from Middlebury College: Em Ballou, Ellie Bavier, Becca Berlind, Olivia Blackmer, Nuasheen Chowdhury, Catie Clark, Maggie Connolly, Molly Dorion, Meili Hwang, Charlotte Katz, Wengel Kifle, Emily Ma, Peyton Mader, Gabi Martin, Sara Massey, Wynn McClenahan, Madison Middleton, Gabby Valdivieso, and Daphne West.
On October 1, PTP/NYC will stage Barker’s Don’t Exaggerate (desire and abuse), directed by Romagnoli and starring Robert Emmet Lunney as a WWI soldier who comes back from the dead. On October 8, Dan O’Brien’s intimate The House in Scarsdale: A Memoir for the Stage will be performed by O’Brien and Alex Draper, directed by Christian Parker. And on October 15, PTP/NYC revives Churchill’s Far Away, directed by Faraone — who previously helmed the British playwright’s Serious Money, The After-Dinner Joke, Vinegar Tom, and Top Girls for PTP — with Ro Boddie, Nesba Crenshaw, Caitlin Duffy, and Lilah May Pfeiffer. “These four plays, stretching across centuries, wholly different in form, structure, and plot, are nonetheless alike in distrust of structures both public and private, mordant humor, and at times a chilling view of the world we inhabit,” the company said in a statement. “This season recalls a founding tenet of the company — to present work which reflects ‘the nightmares and hoaxes by which we live.’” Tickets are free but donations to PTP/NYC are accepted, with ten percent going to the National Black Theatre.
Who: Angel Desai, Debra Jo Rupp, Kurtwood Smith
What: Livestreamed benefit reading
Where: Barrington Stage Company Vimeo
When: Wednesday, September 23, $25, 7:30 (link available through September 27 at 7:29)
Why: Perhaps a funeral parlor is not the ideal setting for a play during the pandemic lockdown, as more than two hundred thousand Americans have died from the coronavirus and too many of us have unfortunately experienced Zoom wakes and funerals. But that is where Three Viewings, Jeffrey Hatcher’s three-part tale, takes place, in a funeral home in a small midwestern town. Barrington Stage in the Berkshires was scheduled to perform the work live on the on the Boyd-Quinson Mainstage but has repurposed it for Zoom for a benefit reading on September 23 at 7:30, after which it will be available for ninety-six hours. (The plan is to present it live once the theater is legally allowed to open with audiences.) The show features actress, musician, and jazz vocalist Angel Desai (Company, Angel Desai/Oscar Perez Quartet), Debra Jo Rupp (The Cake, Barrington’s Dr. Ruth — All the Way), and Kurtwood Smith (RoboCop, Green Grow the Lilacs); for Rupp and Smith, it is an online reunion, as the two starred as Kitty and Red Forman, the parents in the hit turn-of-the-century sitcom That ’70s Show, which introduced us to Topher Grace, Mila Kunis, Ashton Kutcher, and Laura Prepon. Three Viewings consists of Tell Tale, in which a mortician (Smith) falls for a real estate broker; Thief of Tears, about Mac (Desai), who has a thing for corpses’ jewelry; and Thirteen Things about Ed Carpolotti, in which a widow (Rupp) learns unfortunate secrets about her late husband.
Hatcher has also written such plays as Ten Chimneys and Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde and such films as Stage Beauty and The Good Liar; Three Viewings, which was recorded for audio by L.A. Theatre Works with Bruce Davison, Laura San Giacomo, and Rue McClanahan, will be directed for Barrington by artistic director Julianne Boyd. Next up for the company is Mark St. Germain’s Eleanor: A Virtual Reading of a New Play on October 3 and 4, starring Tony winner Harriet Harris (Thoroughly Modern Millie, Desperate Housewives) as Eleanor Roosevelt in a performance recorded live onstage without an audience and directed by actor Henry Stram.