Greene Naftali Gallery
508 West 26th St. between Tenth & Eleventh Aves., ground floor
Wednesday - Saturday through February 10, free with advance RSVP, 718-622-0330, 7:00
Richard Maxwell’s New York City Players don’t just put on plays; the Brooklyn-based experimental company creates innovative works of art that defy convention. In such recent presentations as Isolde, The Evening, Samara, and their first-ever revival, Good Samaritans, they challenge theatrical standards in the way they tell stories, from basic narrative flow to the use of props and sets to how the actors deliver their lines. So it is fitting that their new show, Paradiso, is taking place at the Greene Naftali Gallery in Chelsea, which just copublished the first monograph of Maxwell’s plays, The Theater Years. Maxwell’s final response to Dante’s Divine Comedy — following The Evening and Samara — the sixty-minute Paradiso explores family, god, and country. The cast consists of Elaine Davis, Jessica Gallucci, Carina Goebelbecker, and Charles Reina, with production design by Sascha van Riel and costumes by Kaye Voyce. Admission is free, but you have to act fast to snag a reservation; there will also be a waitlist at every show.
Manhattan Theatre Club at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre
261 West 47th St. between Broadway & Eighth Aves.
Tuesday - Sunday through February 4, $60-$149
Amid all the splashy musicals, wacky comedies, and star-driven vehicles currently on Broadway, the British import The Children stands apart, a breath of fresh air in this winter season. Well, maybe that’s not the best way to classify this fiercely taut drama, which takes place shortly after a devastating nuclear accident on the East Coast of Britain. The fictional event appears to have even rattled the stage at Manhattan Theatre Club’s Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, which is severely tilted, creating a bit of an uphill or downhill climb when the characters move to the right or left. The play opens as Rose (Francesca Annis) pays a surprise afternoon visit to her old friend and colleague, Hazel (Deborah Findlay), who is living with her husband, Robin (Ron Cook), in a small cottage just outside the contaminated exclusion zone. “We heard you’d died!” Hazel announces; it’s been thirty-eight years since the two women, both nuclear engineers, last saw each other. While Hazel has settled into the domestic life of a retiree, with four children and four grandchildren, Rose has been gallivanting around the world, never settling down or getting married. When Rose asks Hazel why they haven’t moved farther away from the radiation, Hazel responds, “It’s just that little bit extra but it makes a world of difference to our peace of mind. . . . I would’ve felt like a traitor. Besides, retired people are like nuclear power stations. We like to live by the sea.” They are soon joined by Robin, who goes to their old farm every day, tending to the cows, even though it’s in the exclusion area. Where Hazel is very direct and to the point, Robin is more rambunctious and freewheeling, cracking jokes, asking Rose for a squeeze, and offering her some of his homemade wine. But when Rose reveals the reason she has returned — and secrets emerge — the trio has to reexamine their purpose in life and their future.
Originally produced at the Royal Court Theatre, The Children is brilliantly written by Olivier Award winner Lucy Kirkwood (Chimerica, Mosquitoes), who has created three complex characters who are genuine and unpredictable. The play takes a hard look at ageing and death, examining the responsibility the old have to the young. “How can anybody consciously moving towards death, I mean by their own design, possibly be happy? People of our age have to resist — you have to resist, Rose,” Hazel says. “If you’re not going to grow: don’t live.” It is also about blood, both literally and figuratively. When Rose first enters the house, a shocked Hazel turns defensively and hits Rose, giving her a bloody nose. One of Hazel and Robin’s children suffers from mental illness, thinking she is a bloodsucking vampire. And, of course, radiation poisons the blood. James Macdonald, who has directed numerous works by Caryl Churchill (Escaped Alone, Top Girls) and Sarah Kane (4.48 Psychosis, Blasted), among others, keeps things balanced even as the actors have to deal with Miriam Buether’s angled set, which is framed as if a tilted picture on a wall come to life. Olivier nominee Annis (Cranford, Troilus and Cressida), Olivier winner Findlay (Stanley, Coriolanus), and Olivier nominee Cook (Juno and the Paycock, Faith Healer) reprise their roles from the London production, all three delivering warm, heartfelt performances, with a special nod to Cook for having to ride a tricycle uphill despite a bad back. And Max Pappenheim’s sound design stands out as well, from a Geiger counter to church bells. Despite its title, The Children is the most adult show in New York City right now, a marvelously resonant, intelligent, and engaging play that continually defies expectations as the plot twists and turns while something threatening hangs just past the horizon.
Japan Society concludes its “NOH NOW” series with Satoshi Miyagi’s unique, hypnotic adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Othello, which is also part of the Public Theater’s Under the Radar festival and Japan Society’s 110th anniversary. In Mugen Noh Othello, Miyagi and his Shizuoka Performing Arts Center apply traditional mugen noh narrative structure and Miyagi’s own innovative techniques to the Bard’s story of jealousy and betrayal, condensing and refocusing the tale so it feels both fresh and contemporary as well as age-old and sadly familiar. Mugen noh stories are often told by a departed spirit in flashback, confessing to a secondary character who is a stand-in for the audience, in the hopes of gaining release to the afterlife. Miyagi’s surprise is to have a single character performed by two actors: One moves on the stage, the other sits along the right side, delivering the dialogue. Miyagi and writer Sukehiro Hirakawa also twist genre conventions by having Desdemona (mover Micari, speaker Haruyo Suzuki) as the storytelling spirit, not Shakespeare’s protagonist, Othello (Kazyniru Abe). The set is a square, slightly raised wooden platform, with an angled walkway where characters enter and exit. In the back are musicians Sachiko Kataoka, Yukio Kato, Yoneji Ouchi, Yu Sakurauchi, Junko Sekine, and Ayako Terauchi, playing traditional noh percussive instruments. (The tense score is by Hiroko Tanakawa.) On the right of the stage are a row of women and a row of men serving as a kind of Greek chorus, chanting and performing many of the lines of the play, which are translated in English surtitles on two screens. When a traveling pilgrim (Maki Honda) from Venice arrives in Cyprus, he meets a trio of Italian women (Ayako Terauchi, Sachiko Kataoka, and Yu Sakurauchi, voiced by Asuka Fuse, Kotoko Kiuchi, and Fuyuko Moriyama, respectively) who tell him how Cyprus fell to the Ottoman Turks.
“But alas, how fickle is the hearts of men,” one says. “Cyprus has turned into an island of pagans.” The pilgrim wants to know the details and is soon joined by Desdemona, who declares, “Upon meeting you, a fellow Venetian, I yearn for the world of the living.” And so she relates what happened between her husband, Othello; his trusted right-hand ensign, Iago (Yuya Daidomumon); his loyal captain, Cassio (Yoneji Ouchi); Desdemona’s father, Brabantio (Soichiro Yoshiue); the Duke of Venice (Keita Mishima); and Iago’s unknowing henchman, Roderigo (Yukio Kato), a story that leads to murder most foul. (The Tokyo-born Miyagi has also directed versions of Hamlet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream for SPAC.) “I return to tell the tale of a man trapped in a delusion,” she explains. Mugen Noh Othello features very slow, deliberate movement, with relatively sparse dialogue. Facial expressions are often exaggerated, and some characters wear masks and fab hats. Kayo Takahashi’s costumes, which come in a wide range of colors and include long, elegant, and spare lines of Japanese writing, are extraordinary, particularly Desdemona’s elaborate ghostly white and golden kimono. The play has been condensed to eighty minutes, cutting out various characters, instead concentrating on the critical, emotional high points surrounding the commission or omission of sin. It’s a lovely production rich with tender, scary, and funny moments, emphasizing the art of storytelling itself. Shakespeare purists will not find all of their favorite lines here, but there is still much poetry to revel in.
In September 2011, general artistic director Satoshi Miyagi and the Shizuoka Performing Arts Center sold out Japan Society with their international success, Medea, a unique reinterpretation of Euripedes’s classic tragedy. They now return with a retelling of Shakespeare’s Othello, being presented as part of the Public Theater’s Under the Radar festival and concluding Japan Society’s “NOH-NOW” series, which previously featured Luca Veggetti’s Left-Right-Left, Hiroshi Sugimoto’s Rikyu-Enoura, and Siti Company’s Hanjo. The Tokyo-born Miyagi, who has also directed versions of Hamlet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream for SPAC as well as Ibsen’s Peer Gynt and many Japanese dramas, including Mishima’s The Black Lizard, transforms the Bard’s tale of jealousy and pride into a mugen noh, a story told by a spirit, in this case Desdemona, the wife of Othello, a successful general deceived by his ensign, Iago, who seeks revenge on Othello for promoting Iago’s rival, the soldier Cassio. The ninety-minute show, performed in Japanese with English surtitles, is dark and ominous, with a script by Sukehiro Hirakawa, chanting, live music composed by Hiroko Tanakawa, beguiling costumes and masked figures designed by Kayo Takahashi, and lighting by Koji Osako. The company consists of Kazunori Abe, Yuya Daidomumon, Asuka Fuse, Maki Honda, Sachiko Kataoka, Yukio Kato, Kotoko Kiuchi, Micari, Keita Mishima, Fuyuko Moriyama, Yoneji Ouchi, Yu Sakurauchi, Junko Sekine, Haruyo Suzuki, Ayako Terauchi, and Soichiro Yoshiue. Also part of Japan Society’s 110th anniversary, Mugen Noh Othello is scheduled for only four performances, January 11-13 at 7:30 and January 14 at 4:00; opening night will be followed by a reception with the artists, while the January 12 show will be followed by a Q&A. In addition, SPAC will be teaching a Theater Technique workshop on January 13 at 1:30 ($45), focusing on body exercises required for its unique voice production.
111 West 44th St. between Sixth & Seventh Aves.
Tuesday - Saturday through March 25, $32 - $159
Over the last few years, British actor Mark Rylance has built up such an impressive resume that he now has a separate Wikipedia page just for all of his nominations and awards, which include an Oscar for Bridge of Spies, an Emmy nod for Wolf Hall, eight Olivier nominations and two wins, and four Tony nominations and three trophies (for Boeing-Boeing, Jerusalem, and Twelfth Night). He is now back on Broadway in Farinelli and the King, a showcase piece written for him by his wife, first-time playwright Claire van Kampen. Also a composer, Van Kampen made her directorial debut last year with Nice Fish, which was written by and starred her husband. Rylance was nominated for an Olivier for his performance in Farinelli as King Philippe V, the grandson of French king Louis XIV who became the Spanish monarch in 1700. The play, originally presented at Shakespeare’s Globe, is staged like the Globe productions of Twelfth Night and Richard III, with some of the audience seated onstage, actors getting into costume onstage and wandering into the audience, candelabras hanging from the ceiling with real candles supplying the majority of the lighting (designed by Paul Russell), and a live band playing baroque instruments in the balcony of designer Jonathan Fensom’s lush set.
The show, inspired by the real story of the Spanish king and a famous castrato, takes place in 1737, when Philippe’s unhinged behavior leads his doctor, José Cervi (Huss Garbiya), and chief minister, Don Sebastian De la Cuadra (Edward Peel), to believe he has gone mad and should abdicate the throne. However, Phillippe’s second wife, Isabella Farnese (Melody Grove), is not ready for him to give up the crown. In the opening scene, Philippe is in his pajamas and goofy evening cap, in bed and fishing in a goldfish bowl. “I know I am dreaming and they do not,” he says to the fish, named Diego. “Who would fish out of a goldfish bowl except in a dream! If I were mad, as they think I am, I would be fishing at noon when the sun’s the very devil,” he adds, the first of many references to the sun, moon, and stars. Later, the king, who knows more than he is letting on, gathers together several clocks indicating different times and tells La Cuadra, “You see how time lies? . . . What have you and these clocks got in common? . . . They’re showing me different faces, and I can’t tell which one is true.” When Isabella goes to London and hears the Italian castrato Farinelli (acted by Sam Crane and sung by countertenors Iestyn Davies or James Hall), she brings him back to the Spanish court in the hopes that his magical voice will lessen the king’s ills — which is exactly what happens, angering De la Cuarda. “To hear the king laugh!” Isabella declares. “I had forgotten the sound. How can a human voice change a man’s life?”
Indeed, laughter abounds in the first act, primarily when director John Dove, who has previously collaborated with Rylance and van Kampen on several Shakespeare productions at the Globe, lets Rylance cut loose, muttering under his breath, walking on top of his bed, upping the slapstick, and seemingly ad-libbing at times as some of his fellow actors attempt to hold back giggles. The show’s primary conceit is sensational; whenever Farinelli is going to sing, Crane and the Grammy-winning Davies, whom I saw in the role, both appear onstage; Crane speaks the dialogue, and Davies does the singing, which is simply marvelous. Among the eight arias (seven by Handel, one by Porpora) that lift the spirit at the Belasco Theatre even as the play itself drags are “Se in fiorito” from Giulio Cesare and “Bel contento” from Flavio. But the second act is immediately confounding as the setting moves to the middle of the forest, where the king wants to live, and the cast suddenly recognizes the audience, believing us to be local townspeople there to watch a performance. “Who are they, Isabella?” Philippe asks. “I don’t know,” she replies. “This is turning public. Call it off,” La Cuadra demands, and he’s not wrong. The play doesn’t seem to know how to proceed, leaving the audience confused and itching for the much-swifter pace of the first act. “What are they doing, packed together like that? What do they expect?” Philippe asks Isabella, who answers, “A story. They’ve come for the story.” Philippe concludes, “Well, haven’t we all!” We did come for a story, but not such a convoluted one, which despite being based on fact ends up feeling unconvincing.
Martinson Hall, the Public Theater
425 Lafayette St. at Astor P.
January 4, 6, 7, 8, 11, 13, 14, $25
Andrew Schneider uses high and low tech to investigate what makes a life — and what might happen at death — in the mind-blowing After, having its New York City premiere as part of the Public Theater’s Under the Radar festival. The sequel to his mind-blowing, Obie-winning YOUARENOWHERE (which can be pronounced as “You are nowhere” or “You are now here”), After explores the construction of consciousness through perception and sensation, creating a kind of collective hallucination as two people, Schneider and Alicia ayo Ohs, discuss various aspects of existence amid flashing lights, electronic sounds, color shifts, near-complete extended darkness, and heavenly cloud cover. “Your brain is not reality,” ayo tells Schneider early on, calling into question what humans, and theater patrons, see and hear. The Milwaukee-born, Brooklyn-based Schneider wrote the text and directs the show in addition to handling the experimental lighting, projections, and set design, which essentially is a spare stage with a bright white floor; the lights quickly go on and off, joined by loud, sharp noises, as scenes change magically in mere seconds, reminiscent of Caryl Churchill’s Love and Information and Nick Payne’s Constellations. At one point, Schneider and ayo will be sitting in folding chairs, then will be lying on the floor, then will be leaning over a desk, the changes coming like firing synapses. Later the two performers are joined by a larger cast, including production coordinator Kedian Keohan and scenic coordinator Peter Musante, but it’s the relationship between Schneider and ayo that is at the heart of the eighty-minute show.
Throughout, the sound emerges from all over the theater, as if it has physical form; sound designers Schneider and Bobby McElver, who refer to the effects as auditory holograms, are employing the cutting-edge spatial audio technology Wave Field Synthesis, which was developed at the Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center (EMPAC) at Rensselaer. The piece is deeply theoretical as well as being super-fun and thought-provoking, balancing serious philosophy with an intoxicating playfulness and razor-sharp sense of humor. As the audience enters Martinson Hall at the Public, Irma Thomas’s heart-tugging “Anyone Who Knows What Love Is (Will Understand)” softly repeats over and over, the Soul Queen of New Orleans singing, “I know / to ever let you go / oh, is more than I could ever stand”; but the mood shifts when that is replaced by Starship’s tacky, and loud, “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now,” as Mickey Thomas (no relation) and Grace Slick warble, “And we can build this dream together / standing strong forever.” Former Wooster Group member Schneider (Field, Tidal, Wow+Flutter) and assistant director and script developer ayo (Faye Driscoll’s Thank You for Coming series), dressed in dark clothing and wearing microphones as well as electronic gadgets on each of their arms, don’t miss a beat as After delves into the nature of language and movement, of speech and human behavior, putting the audience through sensory overload and sensory deprivation to imagine the biochemical secrets of life and death.