Dorothy Strelsin Theatre, Abingdon Theatre Company
Abingdon Theatre Arts Complex
312 West 36th St. between Eighth & Ninth Aves.
Tuesday - Sunday through January 29, $25
Jason O’Connell lets his inner geek rise in his intimate and entertaining one-man show, The Dork Knight, which opened last night at the Abingdon Theatre, where it runs through January 29 but deserves a longer engagement. O’Connell, who has appeared in such recent envelope-pushing Bedlam productions as Sense & Sensibility, Hamlet, and The Seagull as well as A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Pearl, shares his deep connection to the Batman superhero, which started for him as a child but really began taking off when Tim Burton’s Batman was released in 1989, starring Michael Keaton as the Caped Crusader and Jack Nicholson as the Joker. “That just seemed to combine everything I cared about at a very specific, formative moment in my life. And it was popular!” O’Connell, who was a high school senior in Commack when the film came out, says. “So for me, a kid who was never really on board with the popular thing — to suddenly see people loving something that I had always loved was . . . intoxicating. And from that moment on, for better or worse, the Batman movies became these touchstones in my life.” The Hofstra graduate shares personal details seen through the lens of Batman, Batman Returns, Batman Forever, Batman & Robin, the Dark Knight trilogy, and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, doing impressions of Michael Keaton, George Clooney, Val Kilmer, and Christian Bale as Batman, Nicholson and Heath Ledger as the Joker, Danny DeVito as Penguin, Arnold Schwarzenegger as Mr. Freeze, and Jim Carrey as the Riddler. “They say the world is divided into two groups: Superman fans and Batman fans. It’s kinda like cat people and dog people. You’re allowed to like both, of course, but usually you prefer one over the other, and that preference tends to say something true about you,” O’Connell explains. “Superman sees the good in all people. Batman distrusts everyone until they prove themselves worthy. Now, I try to keep a sunny disposition, I like to think I’m an optimist at heart, and yet . . . somehow . . . Batman has always exerted the stronger hold on me,” he adds, noting how Batman has no superpowers, that he is “just a scared little boy who transforms himself through the sheer power of his will. Batman could be anybody — with a billion dollars.”
The inaugural production in Abingdon’s Second Stage Series, The Dork Knight is playing at the tiny Dorothy Strelsin Theatre, where an audience of fifty-six sits on three sides of Jerry Marsini’s spare set, consisting of a chair and a table. O’Connell occasionally sits but usually stands, telling his story in a very personable way, making constant direct eye contact with the audience as if seeking its approval and understanding — which he receives, as members of the audience regularly nod in agreement, cathartically letting a little bit of their own inner geek out. There’s also a lot of laughter along with the self-deprecating and brutally honest O’Connell’s clever insight, which includes seeing plenty of Hamlet in Burton’s Batman. His Keaton impression is dead-on; with just a few facial gestures, he looks and sounds like the controversial Batman portrayer. His Ahnuld is excellent as well, faring better than some of his others. Directed by Abingdon artistic director Tony Speciale (The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey, Stet), The Dork Knight is a fun and involving eighty-minute confession about the effects pop culture has on us all. At one point, O’Connell discusses a would-be high school date in which he and “this beautiful athlete/artist/musician who drove a convertible and had long, blonde hair that smelled like strawberries” went to see Batman, and after the film, she declared, “‘That’s a classic. That’s our generation’s Star Wars. It’s our Wizard of Oz. This is, like, art.’ To which I said, ‘Marry me please we get married now!’ She didn’t. No one has yet. But that’s another one-person show.” Whenever that next one-person show is, we hope O’Connell sends out the Bat signal, because we’ll be there in a jiffy.
312 West 36th Street, third floor
Tuesday - Sunday through January 28, $18
Just a few minutes into the second act of the world premiere of Stuart Fail’s Consider the Lilies at the TBG Theatre, I imagined myself standing up, screaming out, “Stop! I can’t take anymore!” and storming out. It was only after the interminable play ended, more than two and a half hours after it had begun, that my companion told me that she had thought about doing the same, only during the first act. Either way, Consider the Lilies, despite the central presence of Tony-nominated director (Between Riverside and Crazy, The Little Foxes), actor (Fiddler on the Roof, Homicide: Life on the Street), and playwright (Booth, Orson’s Shadow) Austin Pendleton, is not worth considering. Pendleton, whose long career was justly celebrated in last year’s Starring Austin Pendleton, plays Paul, an aging artist trying to make a go of it in Paris, where he is coddled by his young agent, former actor David (Eric Joshua Davis). Paul, a bisexual alcoholic most famous for his decades-old iconic painting of lilies, is in love with David, who also loves Paul, but not in that way; instead, David is involved with Angela (Liarra Michelle), who is waiting for him back in New York City while he works with the nervous Paul, who is having a show in Paris at François’s (Joseph Hamel) gallery but desperately wants to be relevant again across the pond. Fail, who wrote and directed the work for House Red Theatre Company, which he runs with Davis — this play is the troupe’s first New York City production — also throws in several subplots about unwanted pregnancies and fathers and sons that pile one on top of another in a confusing mess. The play, which takes its name from a biblical verse from Matthew, devolves even further upon the arrival of hot young artist Zack (Peter Collier), while Alec Merced portrays three characters who appear to have walked onto the wrong set. Pendleton is fun to watch in the first act, all quirky and squirmy, but Paul, along with the story, grows more and more annoying and ridiculous after intermission. At one point, it was more exciting following the reflection from Davis’s watch dancing across the floor than what was happening onstage. And be advised that lilies can signify either fertility or death; you can consider that a warning.
Brooklyn Academy of Music
BAM Harvey Theater
651 Fulton St.
Through February 5, $35-$110
Galway’s Druid Theatre Company is celebrating the twentieth anniversary of one of its biggest successes, Martin McDonagh’s Olivier- and Tony-nominated The Beauty Queen of Leenane, with a searing revival running at the BAM Harvey through February 5. Written in a week and a half when the playwright, who was born and raised in London to Irish parents, was twenty-four, Beauty Queen is set in a ramshackle house in rural Connemara, where disillusioned forty-year-old virgin Maureen Folan (Aisling O’Sullivan) takes care of her bitter, nasty seventy-year-old mother, Mag (Marie Mullen). The two are at each other’s throats constantly, fighting like married couple George and Martha in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and sisters Jane and Blanche Hudson in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? “You’re oul and you’re stupid and you don’t know what you’re talking about. Now shut up and eat your oul porridge,” Maureen says to her mother, who spends most of her day sitting in a rocking chair, waiting for the news to come on the television, surviving on lumpy porridge, biscuits, and the nutritional drink Complan. Early on, Maureen, after being called a “whore” by Mag, tells her mother about a daydream she has about her mother’s death, which would free her to finally have a life of her own and find a man who loves her. “Not at all is that a nice dream. That’s a mean dream,” Mag says, to which Maureen replies, “I don’t know if it is or it isn’t. I suppose now you’ll never be dying. You’ll be hanging on forever, just to spite me.” Mag: “I will be hanging on forever!” Maureen: “I know you will!” Mag: “Seventy you’ll be at my wake, and then how many men’ll there be round your waist with their aftershave?” Maureen: “None at all, I suppose.” Mag: “None at all is right!” But when Ray Dooley (Aaron Monaghan) invites Maureen to a party and she comes home with his older brother, Pato (Marty Rea), who spends the night, both women up the ante as Maureen thinks Pato, who just got a job in Boston, is her way out while Mag is determined not to be left alone to rot away.
Part of a trilogy with A Skull in Connemara and The Lonesome West, The Beauty Queen of Leenane is a sizzling black comedy, with nary a word or movement out of place. Original director Garry Hynes, who cofounded the Druid in 1975 with Mullen and Mick Lally, once again does a spectacular job with McDonagh’s (The Cripple of Inishmaan, The Pillowman) sharp, focused writing, which was inspired by American films; there’s a cinematic aspect to the play, as if the audience can visualize the scenes that are only referred to in the dialogue, occurring outside Francis O’Connor’s run-down kitchen set, its sides torn off as if psychologically ripped away from reality. (McDonagh has also written and directed several movies, including In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths.) In addition, the set features metal rods hanging from above like crosses and depictions of Mary and Jesus, which stand in sharp contract to mother Mag and daughter Maureen, neither of whom is a saint. The 1998 Broadway production was nominated for seven Tonys, including Best Play and nods for all four actors, and won four awards, for Best Leading Actress (Mullen as Maureen), Best Featured Actor (Tom Murphy as Ray, who beat out costar Brían F. O’Byrne as Pato), Best Featured Actress (Anna Manahan as Mag), and Best Director (Hynes, the first woman to win a Tony in that category). The four cast members of this blistering revival, who appeared together in Druid’s 2014 production of Dion Boucicault’s The Colleen Bawn, also directed by Hynes, give award-worthy performances as well. O’Sullivan is magnificent as Maureen, a nearly beaten woman who suddenly comes to life when potential love walks through the door; even her outfits, by O’Connor, are spectacular, from a sexy black dress to a slim slip. Mullen, who portrayed Maureen in the original production, is phenomenal now as Mag, who is no mere grumpy old hypochondriac. Rea is gentle and touching as Pato, wonderfully delivering the long, beautiful letter-soliloquy that opens the second act, while Monaghan serves up fine, frantic comic relief as Ray, whose wacky ramblings actually are realistic interpretations of contemporary Ireland. The heart of the story might be the relationship between mother and daughter, but Ray adds references to the state of the nation, referencing unemployment, emigration, the financial crisis, the media, and other current events that still ring true today, as does the age-old struggle for dominance in the never-ending mother-daughter battle.
On March 6, 1923, between acts of God of Vengeance, which had begun its Broadway run at the Apollo Theatre on February 19, detectives informed the twelve actors and the producer that they had been indicted for “unlawfully advertising, giving, presenting, and participating in an obscene, indecent, immoral, and impure drama or play.” The cast of the show, which was written by Sholem Asch in Yiddish in 1906 but performed in English at the Apollo following a downtown engagement at the Provincetown Playhouse, included Morris Carnovsky, Sam Jaffe, and director and star Rudolph Schildkraut, who had originated the role of Yankl in the 1907 German version; the producer was First Amendment lawyer Harry Weinberger, who fought the charges and ultimately won on appeal. God of Vengeance is currently running at La MaMa, in a fine, if bumpy, New Yiddish Rep production that continues through January 22. One of the main reasons the play is being revived now is that the controversy that swirled around it almost a century ago is the subject of Rebecca Taichman and Pulitzer Prize winner Paula Vogel’s Indecent, which is transferring to Broadway in April after playing the Vineyard Theatre last spring. It also feels necessary as anti-Semitic rhetoric increases around the world; in fact, there is often debate whether the play itself contains anti-Semitic sentiment. Performed in Yiddish with English supertitles, God of Vengeance is a tale of family and responsibility in a Jewish Orthodox community. Yankl (Shane Baker) operates a brothel out of his basement, which makes him nervous about the future of his teenage daughter, Rifkele (Shayna Schmidt), so the less-than-virtuous businessman decides to pay for a new Sefer Torah for his daughter, believing the deed will protect her innocence and help find her a good husband despite what goes on downstairs, which is no secret. Even rabbi and matchmaker Reb Eli (New Yiddish Rep artistic director David Mandelbaum) knows what goes on below, but as long as there’s money in it for him and the Torah scribe (Eli Rosen), he is willing to look the other way. At a party for some local destitute people, Yankl declares, “Poor or rich, let the whole town know! What I am, I am. What she is, she is. It’s all true — everything. But if they say a word against my daughter . . . I’ll split their heads with this bottle!” Later, when pimp Shloyme (Luzer Twersky) suggests that Rifkele would “do good business” as a prostitute, Yankl explodes, crying out, “If you mention her name, I’ll slit your guts. She doesn’t know you, and you don’t know her!” Yankl is also upset with his wife, Sarah (director Eleanor Reissa), who has encouraged Rifkele to become friendly with one of the prostitutes, Manke (Melissa Weisz). “I don’t want my home mixing with downstairs! Keep them separate from each other. Like kosher and treyf!” he demands. But the friendship grows into something more when Rifkele and Manke declare their love for each other in a beautiful, heartwarming scene that leads to a lesbian kiss. It’s an unforgettable moment, gorgeously staged — and the one that resulted in the indictments and arrests back in 1923.
God of Vengeance also features Caraid O’Brien as Hindl, Rachel Botchan as Reyzl, and Mira Kessler as Basha, three other prostitutes, who share memories of what led them to sex work. Reissa sets the story in an indeterminate time period, which occasionally gets confusing, and the acting is inconsistent, although Schmidt, who played Miss Forsythe in New Yiddish Rep’s Death of a Salesman, and Weisz, in her off-Broadway debut, are both terrific, eliciting an exciting chemistry. Billy Martin’s music curiously lets the audience know when a new character is about to enter Vicki Davis’s crowded set. Neither Baker (NYR’s Waiting for Godot) nor O’Brien, who is also a playwright and author, is Jewish, yet they have appeared in numerous Yiddish productions; Twersky and Rosen are former Hasids, while Reissa is the daughter of Holocaust survivors. The play, known as Got Fun Nekome in Yiddish, was first presented to the public in a German version directed by Max Reinhardt and starring Schildkraut; in 2002, Donald Margulies wrote an English-language adaptation that starred Ron Leibman, Diane Venora, and Marin Hinkle. And in 2013, a production in Poland, where the play was originally banned, has an audience age restriction: No one under sixteen is allowed. Asch himself was ostracized from the Jewish community when, between 1939 and 1949, he wrote a trilogy about Christianity, The Nazarene, The Apostle, and Mary. Thus, God of Vengeance returns to New York City with quite a history. The New Yiddish Rep version is an admirable, if not wholly successful, revival, but one that is well worth seeing, especially for those theatergoers planning on going to Indecent when it arrives at the Cort Theatre in April.
This past Saturday afternoon, I trudged through the snowstorm to Gallery 151 on West Eighteenth St. for the world premiere of Yehuda Duenyas’s CVRTAIN, a Coil festival commission. A red carpet was laid out for participants, a stark contrast to the white-covered streets outside. CVRTAIN, which continues through January 15, wasn’t quite what I expected, a fun but emotionally unnerving experience, part interactive theater, part virtual reality game. Upon entering the gallery, timed ticket holders (the cost is $10) are led to one of several closed-off areas, where an operator sets you up with a VR helmet and plastic hands with buttons. A red curtain slides aside, and you are suddenly standing alone on a stage, facing a large crowd at a Carnegie Hall–like venue ready to cheer you. Meanwhile, in actual reality, a red curtain has indeed opened, and whoever is in that section of the gallery can watch you in your getup. For several minutes, the crowd responds to almost every move you make, clapping, cheering, whistling, and even booing as you carry out “les gestes de reverence,” including sweeping your hands, bowing, curtsying, lifting your arms, and blowing kisses, each motion eliciting a different reaction from the virtual audience. There are also “mystery gestures,” so you’re encouraged to try just about anything. I’m not a performer, and perhaps I’m not as narcissistic as I thought, because rather quickly, I was uncomfortable. I hadn’t done anything to deserve this outburst of love and affection; in fact, I took to one of the mystery gestures that earned me raspberries instead. What was only about five minutes felt like an eternity, so I was relieved when the operator told me my time was up. Feeling a little shaken, I then saw how my actions registered on a computer; once I realized how many recommended gestures I had forgotten about and hadn’t done, I felt even worse, as if I had failed not only myself but the game and its creator. I walked back out into the snow, disappointed by my lame effort.
I had about an hour to get to Gibney Dance near City Hall, where I was going to see Kimberly Bartosik / daela’s American Realness presentation, the twenty-four-minute, fifty-second duet Étroits sont les Vaisseaux, inspired by Anselm Keifer’s eighty-two-foot-long undulating mixed-media installation on long-term view at MassMoca. The precise length of the dance relates to the lunar day, which lasts twenty-four hours and fifty minutes as the moon affects the tide. Bartosik and her husband and designer, Roderick Murray, opened the doors to the small Studio A space, where chairs and cushions were set up against part of the walls and in a corner, all cordoned off by zigzagging white tape on the floor, indicating that the audience, consisting of about forty people, should stay within that boundary, a far cry from the red carpet that welcomed me to CVRTAIN. The shade on the far side of the room, which faces Chambers St., came down electronically, sealing us inside. For nearly twenty-five minutes, the amazing Joanna Kotze and Lance Gries moved around the room, avoiding eye contact with the audience, even when hovering directly over them, the only sound at the start the rhythmic pattern of their breathing. Things were so still that if either of them suddenly ran quickly past, you could feel the rush of the breeze they left behind. Kotze and Gries performed an emotionally intimate dance, occasionally coming together and exploring each other’s bodies, as if curious, indefinable objects. Soon the lights slowly went down as a stormlike drone could be heard in the distance. The shade then began going back up, revealing the falling snow, which melded well with the soundtrack. Kotze and Gries remained standing in the middle of the room, close together, barely moving, as Bartosik opened the door and gestured for the crowd to begin exiting. As I walked out, I looked back at the two dancers, who were still performing in what was about to become an empty room. I went outside and stopped by the partially frosted window on Chambers St., peering into Studio A, where Kotze and Gries had at last finished. I peered in and clapped for the two of them, who had received no applause from a crowd that was clearly thrilled by their duet. Kotze saw me and smiled, giving me a double thumbs-up, and then Gries smiled too. No longer was I rattled or bothered by what had happened at Gallery 151. I was back where I belonged, in the audience, not onstage, celebrating someone else’s performance. My world had returned to order.
BROADWAY WEEK: 2-for-1 Tickets
January 17 - February 5, buy one ticket, get one free
Tickets are on sale for the winter edition of Broadway Week, which runs January 29 to February 5 and offers theater lovers a chance to get two-for-one tickets in advance to see new and long-running shows on the Great White Way. Nineteen shows are participating, but two are already sold out — Dear Evan Hansen and Oh, Hello — so you need to act fast. You can still grab seats, however, for Aladdin, Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, A Bronx Tale, Cats, Chicago, Cirque du Soleil Paramour, The Front Page, In Transit, Jitney, Kinky Boots, The Lion King, Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812, On Your Feet! The Story of Emilio and Gloria Estefan, The Phantom of the Opera, School of Rock, and Waitress. You can also get $20 upgrades by using the code BWAYUP.
Muriel Schulman Theater
106 Calyer St. (enter on Banker St.)
January 5-8, $16-$20
Most of the winter performance festivals, such as Under the Radar, COIL, Prototype, and American Realness, consist of experimental works that have either already been performed elsewhere or will afterward. However, the nonprofit Triskelion Arts, which was founded in Brooklyn in 2000 to “foster the development and presentation of the performing arts,” has something very different in mind with its “Never Before, Never Again” festival, which consists of dance, music, comedy, theater, poetry, and other disciplines in improvisational performances that have never been presented before and never will again quite like they will be during the third annual event, running January 5-8. The improv celebration begins January 5 with the Lovelies; Alyssa Gersony; Judah Levenson, Hank Mason, and Shane Gertner; kamrDANCE; NOW ACCEPTING ALL OFFERS MADE; and Katelyn Halpern & Dancers. On January 6, the lineup features Schmidt / Keenoy Movement / Sound Lab; slowdanger; Jog Films; Debbie Z & Friends; and the Lovelies. Saturday’s roster boasts Mauri Connors and Mindy Toro; TanzKlub; the Shelburne Trio (bassist Kevin Farrell, dancer Rachel Mckinstry, and poet Josh Adler); stb x at; Sarah Foster / MoveWorks; and Boom Bat Gesture Performance Group. The festival concludes January 8 with Ali Perkins; Kirsten Schnittker; Jason Mears / Quentin Tolimieri; There’s No Law (Rachel Cohen, Michael Henry, Irene Siegel); and Lokasparsa Dance Projects / clyde forth. Tickets are $16 in advance, $20 at the door to check out these now-you-see-it, now-you-don’t performances.