Music Box Theatre
239 West 45th St. between Broadway & Eighth Aves.
Tuesday - Sunday through January 31, $37 - $159
In the 2006 film The Queen, writer Peter Morgan and director Stephen Frears imagine what went on behind closed doors as Queen Elizabeth II (an Oscar-winning Helen Mirren) and Prime Minister Tony Blair (Michael Sheen) debate how to publicly handle the tragic death of Princess Diana. In the 2015 Broadway drama The Audience, writer Morgan and director Stephen Daldry re-create private weekly meetings Queen Elizabeth II (a Tony-winning Mirren) has had with prime ministers going back to Winston Churchill, imagining what they talked about in the sitting room. Both of those productions looked back at the past; in the Olivier Award-winning drama King Charles III, writer Mike Bartlett and director Rupert Goold delve into the near future, imagining an England in which the queen has just died and her son, Prince Charles (Tim Pigott-Smith), finally ascends to the throne. “I never thought I’d see her pass away,” Kate Middleton (Lydia Wilson) says, to which Charles drolly replies, “I felt the same.” Charles almost immediately flouts tradition when, at his first weekly audience with Prime Minister Tristram Evans (Adam James), he refuses to merely listen to what Evans has to say but instead decides to use his royal authority to seriously question the efficacy of a bill that would severely limit freedom of the press. Evans is especially upset at Charles’s response given what happened to Princess Diana. “I would have thought of all the victims you’d feel the strongest something must be done,” Evans boldly declares. “As a man, a father, husband, yes I do. But that’s not who we are when sat with you,” Charles answers. “In here, not just am I defender of the faith but in addition I protect this country’s unique force and way of life.” Charles also chooses to meet with opposition leader Mark Stevens (Anthony Calf) on a weekly basis as well, causing the two men to cross the aisle and strategize together, since every bill must be signed by the king in order to become the law of the land, and Charles is opting to use this ceremonial right to keep the monarchy relevant. Meanwhile, the wild Prince Harry (Richard Goulding) has fallen for Jess (Tafline Steen), a young radical he met at a nightclub. It all makes Charles’s longtime press secretary, the rather stoic and old-fashioned James Reiss (Miles Richardson), more than a bit frustrated. “What am I?” Charles wonders now that he is king.
King Charles III arrived at the Music Box Theatre from across the pond with much fanfare (befitting royalty), but it turns out to be rather dry and ordinary, with a stiff upper lip that often gets in the way. As a tribute to old-time England, much of the dialogue is recited in blank verse, with Charles occasionally delivering brief soliloquies to the audience, but the Shakespearean elements (there are ghosts as well, among references to Macbeth and Hamlet) feel out of place, even on Tom Scutt’s medieval-style set, a castle room circled by fading portraits of previous kings. Perhaps part of the problem is that we are too familiar with the characters involved, which also include Camilla Parker Bowles (Margot Leicester); none of the actors completely capture who they are portraying, and the story is overly simplistic, particularly in its depiction of Charles’s sons, who have been real-life tabloid fodder since birth. Bartlett (Cock, Bull) and Goold (American Psycho, Macbeth) keep things too direct, not letting their imaginations go far enough, and they offer nothing new to the main argument over questions of personal and professional privacy when it comes to matters of the press. And Charles’s choice over whether to sign the bill is not exactly Paul Scofield’s Sir Thomas More searching his conscience over whether to sign the Oath of Supremacy to Robert Shaw’s King Henry VIII in A Man for All Seasons, but what is? The most interesting character is Jess, perhaps because she is fictional; maybe Bartlett and Goold would have fared better had they turned this into a roman a clef instead. Pigott-Smith (Educating Rita, Enron) is at his best when Charles is trying to figure out just where his responsibilities now lay, to both the royal family and England itself, but the story ultimately lets him down. King Charles III was an intriguing idea, but the execution, much like the real Prince Charles’s public persona, turns out to be rather dull and unsurprising.
138 West 48th St. between Sixth & Seventh Aves.
Tuesday - Sunday through January 24, $32 - $147
Some men, when they reach their midlife crisis, get a fancy car, while others have a fling with a younger woman. In A. R. Gurney’s light and fluffy Sylvia, Greg (Matthew Broderick) decides on something a little different: He dedicates his life to a stray dog he finds in Central Park. The only problem is, Greg’s wife, Kate (Julie White), wants nothing to do with the pooch, which is named Sylvia (and played by the very human and extremely adorable Annaleigh Ashford). The empty nesters have two kids in college and have moved into the city from the suburbs, but while Greg grows increasingly frustrated with his job, Kate is finally flourishing as an English teacher with a predilection for Shakespeare after putting her career on hold to raise the children. Greg has been skipping out on his job, angry at his boss who has promoted him to trading currencies. “I told him to put me in something real,” Greg tells Kate, who replies, “Real? What’s real?” “Sylvia’s real, aren’t you, Sylvia?” Greg says. “I sure try to be,” Sylvia eagerly responds, leaping into Greg’s arms. Later, Kate admonishes, “I’ll tell you what’s real, Greg. The mortgage on this apartment is real. The kids’ tuitions are very, very real.” The conceit in the play — and it doesn’t always work smoothly, becoming particularly confusing when other characters, all played with panache by Robert Sella, show up — is that Sylvia can talk. She tells Greg how much she loves him, asks if she can jump on the couch or go out for a walk, and verbally expresses the familiar needs and habits of a dog. The communication is presented in clever ways: Her barks when there’s someone at the door or when the phone rings come out as “Hey! Hey! Hey!” instead of “Ruff! Ruff! Ruff!” (In an inspired moment the night we saw it, a cell phone went off during the show, and Ashford, sitting on a bench with Broderick, looked into the crowd and let out an improvised “Hey! Hey! Hey!” that had the audience, and Broderick, in stitches.) But the closer Greg and Sylvia grow, the more concerned Kate becomes. “I’m worried, Greg. I’m worried about your job, I’m worried about you, I’m worried about us,” she says. “I’m worried about Sylvia at the moment,” he responds. It makes for a rather different kind of love triangle.
Greg soon meets Tom (Sella), a fellow dog walker who warns Greg of the dangers of anthropomorphizing Sylvia. “Always remember that your dog is simply a dog. Always keep reminding yourself of that fact,” Tom tells him. “Not a person. Just a dog. Force yourself to think it.” But Greg is well aware of what he’s doing, insisting he knows the difference between human and animal. “Maybe it’s just the anxieties of middle age. Or the sense of disillusionment which goes with late twentieth-century capitalism,” he says to Sylvia, who answers, “I wish I could contribute something here, but I just plain can’t.” Is Sylvia a replacement for something missing in Greg’s life? Is she a stand-in for a would-be lover, or another child? Or is she really just a dog to him, an energetic young canine who worships the ground he walks on and considers him a god? That’s the heart of what Gurney is getting at, and he keeps us wondering till the very end.
The main set, by David Rockwell (On the 20th Century, Hairspray), is a beautiful green section of Central Park, with the neighborhood skyline behind it. Greg and Kate’s apartment descends from above and glides in from the sides. Ann Roth (The Nance, The Book of Mormon) has a ball with Sylvia’s costumes, while Greg Pliska adds a trite, sitcom-like score. Tony-winning director Daniel Sullivan (Lost Lake, Orphans) keeps it all moving at a dog’s pace, from fast and furious, as when Sylvia runs down the aisles to commune with Tom’s dog, Bowser, to slow and easy, as when Greg seeks peace and comfort from her. Gurney (The Dining Room, The Cocktail Hour) has experienced a resurgence of late, with a three-play residency at the Signature Theatre (including the Drama Desk-winning revival of The Wayside Motor Inn) and the Broadway revival of Love Letters, but the Broadway bow (wow) of Sylvia might just be the pick of the litter; it’s certainly the most fun. Tony winners White (The Little Dog Laughed, Airline Highway) and Broderick (The Producers, It’s Only a Play) work well off each other as the middle-aged married couple, both filled with nervousness about the next stage of their life together, although White doesn’t quite get to strut her stuff (and the Shakespeare quotes told directly to the audience are completely unnecessary), while Broderick’s stiff-shouldered monotone remains steady throughout. Drama Desk winner Sella (Stuff Happens) excels as the aforementioned Tom, a gender-fluid therapist, and a friend of Kate’s from Vassar, but Tony winner Ashford (You Can’t Take It with You, Kinky Boots) is clearly Best in Show in a role originated off Broadway in 1995 by Broderick’s then soon-to-be wife, Sarah Jessica Parker (with Charles Kimbrough as Greg and Blythe Danner as Kate). Every so often Gurney tries to get deep, but it’s the lighthearted moments that make Sylvia a warm and cuddly charmer, a tasty kibble treat.
Leave it to the crazy folks over at the Amoralists to come up with something as unique and different as ’Wright Night, a playwriting workshop like no other. On November 18 at the Clarion Theatre, the Amoralists, one of the city’s most adventurous and creative troupes, will host its inaugural ’Wright Night, a battle to the finish between two one-act plays as part of their new ’Wright Club. Andrew Rincón will present a work directed by Matthew Kreiner and featuring Ramon O. Torres, Analisa Velez, and Andres Pina. They will be taking on a work by D. L. Siegel, directed by Dina Epshteyn and starring Kana Hatakeyama, Alessandro Colla, Evangeline Fountain, and Justin Anselmi. After the shows, the two playwrights will participate in an open debate and discussion with each other and the audience. The experiment continues January 13, March 2, April 13, May 25, and July 13 with such other ’Wright Club authors as Keelay Gipson, Sander Gusinow, David Haan, and Lindsay Joy. As far as we know, the first rule of ’Wright Club is not “You do not talk about ’Wright Club,” but with the Amoralists, who have staged such smashing productions as Rantoul and Die and The Bad and the Better, you never know.
ME & Mr. JONES: MY INTIMATE RELATIONSHIP WITH DAVID BOWIE
The Slipper Room
167 Orchard St. between Orchard & Allen Sts.
Monday, November 16, $15-$20, 8:00
It’s a particularly good time to be a David Bowie fan. After a long hiatus, the Thin White Duke has been busy of late, releasing new albums, composing music for Broadway and off-Broadway shows, and even writing a television series theme song. That especially makes Raquel Cion happy. The New York songstress, whose alter egos include cabaret performer Cou-Cou Bijoux and a city librarian, included Bowie tunes in her previous one-woman show, Gilding the Lonely, but her latest work is dedicated exclusively to music by the artist formerly known as David Jones. In Me & Mr. Jones: My Intimate Relationship with David Bowie, Cion explores deeply personal aspects of her life through the lens of Bowie and his long career, from his days as Ziggy Stardust to his acting in films and onstage and ultimate transformation into an international icon. Wearing a series of glittering glam gowns that would make Iman proud, Cion tells stories and sings hits and deep cuts with a crack live band, all while projections of both her life and Bowie’s pop up behind her. Cion is taking the ever-evolving show, previously performed at Judson Church and the PIT Loft, to the Slipper Room on November 16. As she prepared for this latest iteration of Me & Mr. Jones, twi-ny talk returnee Cion discussed the making of the show, sex, drugs, and rock and roll, and having her mother in the audience amid all the raunchy revelations.
twi-ny: You’ve performed Me & Mr. Jones at several venues in the past, including Judson Church and the PIT Loft. How has it evolved over time? For people who might have seen it before, how will it be adapted for the Slipper Room?
Raquel Cion: The response to the show has been amazing. The previous two shows were standing-room only and now at the Slipper Room, which is just such a beautiful venue, we have the room for our audience. Big, gorgeous high ceilings, it’s part club, part jewel-box proscenium with really good acoustics. The band is going to sound fantastic since there’s a great backline and sound system to support them. This band freakin’ rocks! We have Bill Gerstel on drums, Jeremy Bass on guitar, John Brodeur on bass, Chris DeAngelis on piano, and on vocals DM Salsberg and Matt Cleaver. They’re amazing. We can’t wait to fill that space. We’re gonna really be able to kick out the jams!
The projections by Dusty Childers and video edited by Jason Speenburgh will be much more visible since they’re above the band. Not to mention that my coat and gowns, designed by David Quinn, will look fab in the Slipper Room.
My wonderful director, Cynthia Cahill, and I have streamlined the script. I’ve added a bit of research I’ve been doing on the brain, how listening to music affects us and our limbic system, which is the neurological seat of love in the brain. I feel that Bowie has very distinct neurological pathways in me.
At the PIT Loft we did a live request where the audience called out a song and me and our former bassist, Keith Hartell, played it on acoustic guitar. Since this venue is bigger and we want things to be fair(ish), we’ll be giving out ballots with seven images of Bowie from different eras (my director reined me in and kept me to seven), so each audience member will choose their favorite era. The seven choices cover eras that we don’t cover in the show. We’ll be doing an encore from the time/album that has the most votes for an encore. Majority rules. Maybe we can do the second and third or more runners-up if they’ll let me. The first time I did the show at Judson Arts Wednesdays’ Open Swim we toyed with the idea of having the audience call out Bowie songs and having me sing a little bit of said songs acapella. We ended up not doing it because it felt a little like a parlor trick. But, hey, if anyone wants to spend some time with me, I’ll gladly turn that DB catalog trick for you.
twi-ny: The subtitle of your show is My Intimate Relationship with David Bowie, and you indeed share some very intimate details about your personal life. Is that difficult for you, or is it more of a liberating experience? You really get into the whole sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll thing; what was it like to perform it in front of your mother and other relatives at the PIT Loft?
RC: Is it difficult or is it a liberating experience? My answer is yes. Ask anyone who knows me and they’ll tell you I love Bowie. I wanted this show to be based in that “soul love” for Bowie, but I really wanted to dive in and look at why we love who we love, the lengths we go to connect with that entity, whether they are someone who we are sleeping with or someone who we have relied on as our emotional touchstone for decades. My last show, Gilding the Lonely at Joe’s Pub, was about loneliness, and I wanted to examine and embrace another emotion. Maybe a more silver-lined emotion, and I thought “love.” When I think of what or who I love, who has been my most devoted, chosen relationship, I think of David Bowie. As I say in the show, “His is the voice I have heard the most in my lifetime.” Of course, when I began working on creating the show, what showed up but loneliness. Damned if you do. . . .
I’m actually a pretty private person. So revealing things about myself that are maybe a bit messy is difficult. It’s a risk to own your stuff, your quirks, your heartache, because we’re all in that together, “not alone” and “wonderful.” Having the structure of the script, the incredible songs, the presence of the band, it all creates such a safe space. I love performing this show; it is an absolute joy. Really revealing the depth of my love for Bowie and how it reverberates throughout my life is indeed liberating and difficult.
In terms of having my family there, well, they’re somewhat used to the fact that I’ll say some things that will make them a bit uncomfortable, but they also know that seeing me perform is where they’ll most likely find out that information. My family can handle it. They’ve known me a long while. My mom, she takes pride in both my and my sister’s creative work. Hell, we grew up in West Hartford, Connecticut, and she has one daughter who sings Balkan music for a living and me. I think she enjoys her moment in the show where I talk about her dropping me off at gay bars as a teenager. Oh, she’ll be there, along with lots of the mishpucha next Monday. Hopefully she doesn’t show up during tech, though.
twi-ny: There’s been a flurry of Bowie activity recent, with the surprise release of The Next Day in 2013, the new song “Sue (or in a Season of Crime)” in 2014, Lazarus at New York Theatre Workshop opening later this month, and his new album, Blackstar, due in January. How has all of this impacted your intimate relationship with Mr. Jones, both personally and in your show?
RC: Isn’t it great to be amidst a flurry of Bowie activity? There’s a section in my show about when he released “Where Are We Now?” and The Next Day (though I don’t name the album) in 2013. There was something in the last incarnation of the show about “Sue (or in a Season of Crime)” and “’Tis a Pity She Was a Whore” but they didn’t make this draft’s cut. There is, of course, a bit about Lazarus and the new single and Blackstar. Oh, I have so much to say.
Let’s start with Lazarus. I have been losing my fucking mind over this since it was announced in April. New York Theatre Workshop is probably my favorite theater in New York. Ivo Van Hove is my favorite director. Enda Walsh is an incredible playwright, and, well, it’s Bowie. New music from him. Really, I haven’t stopped thinking about it since the announcement. They’re rehearsing now. He’s going to rehearsal. I’m beyond excited about it, and at the same time my heart is aching because, well, he’s right there. Right there. Doing the kind of work I love. I would give anything to be in that rehearsal room. Anything. Uh, so, yeah, that’s been my state of mind since April on that. I’m going to the show five times. And, uh, I don’t think five times is enough. I feel like I have to learn that show. Every piece of it.
I really could go on and on about the new music, which I really love. What I think is fascinating, though, about all of this is how brilliantly Bowie claimed his place in the psyches of his die-hard fans, new generations of fans and the media. He’s doing all of this on his own terms, creating because he is an artist and it’s ontologically necessary for him to create. I mean, there were whispers about new music coming over that near-decade of radio silence from him but two years of recording without it being leaked. It’s astounding in this age of constant “This is what I’m doing, eating, seeing . . . right now.” It’s a testament to the longevity of his brilliance and his relevance. He’s speaking only through his art. Not giving interviews. Not touring. We get the sound and vision through video, incredible short films he’s been making — hell, has always made — and the music. That’s it. He’s above the fray, and his work is unexpected. He’s working in different genres. Continually pushing boundaries. Please, put any of your readers in touch with me if they want to discuss any of the albums in detail. For real, I’d love to do that.
Obviously, I can’t wait for the new single. I’ve YouTubed the hell out of The Last Panthers opening credits to learn that song. Word on the street is the new album and single are gonna blow our minds. I’m all in.
Oh, you didn’t mention the song being written for the new SpongeBob SquarePants musical on Broadway. That’s happening too!
twi-ny: Yes, I did indeed skip that one. At the PIT Loft, you encouraged the audience to take photos and video. Will you be doing that again at the Slipper Room? Do you not find that distracting?
RC: I describe this show as a play disguised as a Bowie tribute show. Since it’s more toward cabaret or a tribute show, the phones come out anyway, so might as well embrace it. It’s kind of the way of the world right now and, well, it actually helps get the word out for the show. We do ask that the phone is silenced. Believe me, if I get distracted by someone’s phone, the whole audience will know about it.
twi-ny: Over the course of your love affair with Bowie, are there some songs you might have not liked at first but have since rediscovered, and are there others that you perhaps have grown tired of?
RC: Tired of, not really. Songs I’m not fond of, yes. This is another thing I’ve been investigating within this show. Why him? I get sick of pretty much everything but Bowie. I have an endless capacity for all things David. There are eras I don’t revisit much but I know all the music within those eras. I somehow always find a way in. It can be a certain melody, a quality of his voice within a song or even a note, a musical phrase or lyric. Once I’m in, I’m in. But I will say, as an example, “Never Let Me Down” let us all down. Hell, he’ll even say that.
twi-ny: When you’re not listening to Bowie, who are you listening to?
RC: I have very diverse taste in music. Lately I’m listening to a lot of Gladys Knight, Paul Weller, Dwight Yoakam, Lizz Wright, Prince — the list goes on and on. My musical choices are very driven by my mood and, well, I have Bowie for all of my moods, so he’s pervasive.
twi-ny: When you’re not onstage performing, you’re a librarian. Do you wear glitter at work?
RC: Ha! Once you’re glittered, it never ever fully goes away. Just ask any of my ex-boyfriends. I do love me some glitter, and there’s always a little residue.
Lucille Lortel Theater
121 Christopher St. between Bleecker & Hudson Sts.
Select Mondays, November 16 - July 25, $42-$64, 7:30
The Red Bull Theater’s Obie-winning Revelation Readings series, in which the company brings back Jacobean treasures, is up and running November 16 at the Lucille Lortel Theater with John Marston’s early-seventeenth-century satire, The Malcontent. The all-star cast features Matthew Rauch, Marsha Mason, Kelley Curran, Christopher Innvar, and Christina Rouner, directed by Derek Smith. The series continues December 7 with Cyril Tourneur’s The Atheist’s Tragedy, starring Jeremy Bobb, Miriam Hyman, Whit Leyenberger, Bhavesh Patel, Raphael Nash Thompson, Alejandra Venancio, and Lisa Wolpe, with live music by Alexander Sovronsky, direction by Ben Prusiner, and a post-show discussion with Gail Kern Paster. On December 28, Carson Elrod and Jay O. Sanders are among the cast of Ben Jonson’s Every Man in His Humour, directed by Elrod. The 2016 readings include Thomas Middleton’s A Trick to Catch the Old One (directed by Craig Baldwin and starring Steven Boyer), Philip Massinger’s The Roman Actor (with Patrick Page, directed by Louisa Proske), Shakespeare’s Coriolanus (starring Chukwudi Iwuji and directed by Michael Sexton), Frances Burney’s The Woman Hater (directed by Everett Quinton and featuring Arnie Burton, Auden Thornton, and Nick Westrate), Shakespeare’s Hamlet (directed by Tom Ridgely and featuring Arian Moayed), William Congreve’s The Way of the World, and the sixth annual Short New Play Festival.
Laura Pels Theatre
Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre
111 West 46th St. between Sixth & Seventh Aves.
Tuesday - Sunday through January 3, $99
Stephen Karam, a Pulitzer finalist for his widely hailed 2011 play, Sons of the Prophet, should be up for the prestigious prize again for his follow-up, the beautifully told drama The Humans, running at the Laura Pels through January 3, after which it will be transferring to Broadway. The Roundabout commission is a gorgeous, bittersweet portrait of the fears and anxieties that ripple through the average American family in the twenty-first century. On Thanksgiving Day, the Blake clan has gathered at the duplex apartment in Chinatown just rented by Brigid Blake (Sarah Steele), a twenty-six-year-old composer and musician trying to make ends meet as a bartender, and her thirty-eight-year-old boyfriend, Richard Saad (Arian Moayed), a grad student who is preparing the holiday feast. Brigid’s parents, Erik (Reed Birney), who’s worked at the local Catholic high school for twenty-eight years, and Deirdre (Jayne Houdyshell), who has been the office manager at the same company for four decades, have driven into the city from their home in Scranton with Erik’s aged mother, Momo (Lauren Klein), who is suffering from severe dementia and is confined to a wheelchair. They are joined by Brigid’s older sister, Aimee (Cassie Beck), a Philadelphia lawyer who recently broke up with her longtime girlfriend and whose ulcerative colitis is acting up. Brigid and Richard are still in the process of moving in — the truck with most of their possessions is stuck in Queens — so there are some boxes on the floor, not much furniture, and no shades over the lone window, which looks out into a dark alley. But the members of the Blake family soldier on; they are a very close group that hide very few secrets as they talk about their lives, offer love and support, and take both playful and serious shots at one another, as one early exchange shows.
Erik: “I hate that you moved a few blocks from where two towers got blown up and in a major flood zone. . . . I hate that.”
Brigid: “This area is safe —”
Erik: “Chinatown flooded during the last hurricane — it flooded —”
Brigid: “Yeah, that’s why I can afford to live here — it’s not like you gave me any money to help me out.”
Erik: “Wow . . .”
Brigid: “Hey, I’m — sorry, just . . . Chinatown is safe — you saw my block, Dad —”
Deirdre: “Of course it is . . .”
Brigid: “— no one’s going to steer a plane into a, a fish market on Grand Street —”
Aimee: “Brigid . . .”
Deidre: “Let it go . . .”
Erik: “I liked you livin’ in Queens, alright? I worry enough with Aimee on the top floor of the Cira Centre —”
Aimee: “Well, stop, Philly is more stable than New York —”
Brigid: “Aimee, don’t make him more —”
Aimee: “I’m just saying — it’s safer . . .”
Brigid: “Yeah, ’cause not even terrorists wanna spend time in Philly. Philly is awful —”
Aimee: “Oh, ha ha . . .”
Erik: “You think everything’s awful, you think Scranton is awful, but it’s the place that —”
Brigid: “We think it’s awful?!”
Aimee: “Dad, it is!”
Erik: “. . . yeah, well, what I think’s funny is how you guys, you move to big cities and trash Scranton, when Momo almost killed herself getting outta New York — she didn’t have a real toilet in this city, and now her granddaughter moves right back to the place she struggled to escape. . . .”
Brigid: “We know, yes . . . ‘return to the slums . . .’”
No topic is off limits as they discuss finance and economics, bowel movements, cockroaches, the correct pronunciation of Andrew Carnegie’s last name, texting, the odd noises coming from the apartment above, and general quality-of-life issues, but most of all they are searching for a sense of fairness in a world where that ideal is getting harder and harder to come by. Both men, Erik and Richard, are having trouble sleeping, experiencing weird dreams they can’t explain. Momo spits out supposed gibberish that contains such phrases as “You can never come back” and “Where do we go.” Meanwhile, Deirdre is volunteering to help Bhutanese immigrants in Scranton who are mired in poverty, having left a country that measures its success in Gross National Happiness. Scranton native Karam (Speech & Debate, Dark Sisters) is delving into the very nature of the modern-day human condition, which is not very pretty. “There’s enough going on in the real world to give me the creeps,” Deirdre says, leading Brigid to point out Richard’s obsession with a comic book called Quasar. “It’s about this species of, like, half-alien, half-demon creatures with teeth on their backs,” he explains. “On their planet, the scary stories they tell each other . . . they’re all about us. The horror stories for the monsters are all about humans.” Karam’s highly literate script was influenced by Federico García Lorca’s A Poet in New York, which deals with the city’s response to the 1929 economic crash, Sigmund Freud’s 1919 essay, “The Uncanny,” about the strangely familiar, and Napoleon Hill’s six basic fears from his 1937 book, Think and Grow Rich — fear of poverty, criticism, ill health, loss of love, old age, and death — and all six can be found in The Humans.
Two-time Tony winner Joe Mantello (Take Me Out, Assassins) seamlessly directs the real-time story, which takes place on David Zinn’s two-floor tear-away set, like a dollhouse ripped open for us to witness the actual life going on inside. The exquisite cast is just as seamless, each character authentic and believable, led by the always wonderful Houdyshell (Follies, Well) as the excitable, nervous mother, rising star Steele (Slowgirl, Speech and Debate) as the prodigal younger daughter trying to make it on her own, and, front and center at both the beginning and the end of the play, a heartfelt Birney (You Got Older, Circle Mirror Transformation) as the steadfast patriarch, desperate to hold it all together even as things threaten to fall apart, with just a touch of the supernatural hovering as well to complicate matters and to heighten the many terrors of everyday existence. As laugh-out-loud funny as it is heartbreakingly honest, The Humans offers up a Thanksgiving to remember, two spectacularly thought-provoking and entertaining hours that encapsulate the state of the American family in this tough, fearful, post-9/11 world.
Who: Dylan Baker, Eric Bogosian, David Cale, Michael Chernus, Richard Kind, Anson Mount, Billy Crudup, Gaby Hoffmann, Danny Mastrogiorgio, Craig “muMs” Grant, Marin Ireland, Matthew Maher, and Jennifer Tilly
What: Eric Bogosian’s 100 Monologues
Where: The Players, 16 Gramercy Park South
When: Monday, November 16, and Tuesday, November 17, $122-$222, 7:30
Why: In his 2014 book, 100 (Monologues), Eric Bogosian writes, “I did not set out to write monologues, but the more involved with the form I got, the more interesting it became to me. I liked the energy and excitement of speaking directly to an audience. I liked arranging the portraits of characters to create a larger whole. I liked the difficulty of writing and performing such complex stuff.” On November 16 & 17, a prestigious group of actors will join Bogosian at the Players to perform many of his monologues, in a two-night benefit supporting PS122’s “Give Performance Space” campaign, raising funds as the ultracool downtown institution prepares for the grand reopening of its renovated space at First Ave. and Ninth St. next summer. Among those performing hand-selected monologues are Dylan Baker, Jennifer Tilly, Billy Crudup, Gaby Hoffmann, Richard Kind, Anson Mount, Marin Ireland, and Bogosian, directed by longtime Bogosian collaborator Jo Bonney.