Things are liable to get even hotter when Tyler Ashley premieres his latest work, Kidnap Me, at the twenty-third annual HOT! Festival: The NYC Celebration of Queer Culture. Last summer, the Brooklyn-based choreographer and dancer shed his clothes for Swadhisthana: The Event at NYPAC; the multidisciplinary genderqueer artist has also presented pieces on the High Line and Times Square while also dancing with STREB, Walter Dundervill, and others. His first evening-length work, the ninety-minute Kidnap Me, is a durational performance, inspired by Béla Tarr’s 2011 film The Turin Horse and the music of the late African American composer and performer Julius Eastman, that examines hunger, family, and stardom, focusing on the creative process. In his artist statement for New York Live Arts, Ashley explains, “I conduct experiments in desire, endurance, vulnerability, and determination by creating image-based dances inspired by sport, nightlife, physical labor, and excessiveness. . . . I work to push myself closer to the audience, challenging what they may expect and unsettling the performance space. I exploit the chaos present in the search for resolution.” Kidnap Me premieres July 21 at Dixon Place and will be performed by Ashley, Aranzazu Araujo, Sarah McSherry, Diego Montoya, Shane O’Neill, Rakia Seaborn, and Gillian Walsh. HOT! continues at Dixon Place through August 5 with such other programs as Lucas Brooks’s Cootie Catcher, Vincent Caruso’s Clueless, Joe Castle Baker’s Just Let Go, Anna/Kate’s Fear City / Fun City, Jack Feldstein’s Three Months with Pook, and J. Stephen Brantley’s Chicken-Fried Ciccone: A Twangy True Tale of Transformation.
46 Walker St. between Church St. & Broadway
Through August 9, $40 ($65 Gyre ticket package with Enter at Forest Lawn)
Amoralists cofounder and associate artistic director Derek Ahonen pays homage to Blake Edwards’s Days of Wine and Roses in his latest play, The Qualification of Douglas Evans. “Alcoholism isn’t funny,” Cara (Samantha Strelitz) says to Douglas (Ahonen), who responds, “I know, but it is when it is.” A moment later, she adds, “So booze is tragic,” to which Douglas replies, “Except when it’s not.” Writer and star Ahonen, who appeared in last year’s Rantoul and Die and has previously written and/or directed such works as The Bad and the Better and The Pied Pipers of the Lower East Side for the always adventurous Amoralists, plays a kind of alternate-universe Marcello Mastroianni from Federico Fellini’s City of Women and 8½ in the two-and-a-half-hour tragicomedy about a wannabe playwright and his involvement with a series of women. Tormented by his mother (Barbara Weetman) and father’s (Penny Bittone) confusing relationship, Douglas first meets Jessica (Kelley Swindall), his sexually liberated acting-school classmate who has a fondness for oral sex. Next up is the cute and tiny Kimmy (Mandy Nicole Moore), his best friend’s (Bittone) girlfriend, who introduces Douglas to the bittersweet pleasures of alcohol. Third in the procession is Cara, who is playing Kimmy in Douglas’s first play, in which Douglas is starring as himself. The second act opens with Douglas on a blind date with the cheery and chipper Robin (Agatha Nowicki). And finally there’s Holly (Weetman), an agent played by the same actress portraying his mother. (Now, that’s casting.)
The Qualification of Douglas Evans takes place on David Harwell’s sparse stage, featuring a single object surrounded by doorways: a bed that swivels around and turns into a bench. Directed by company cofounder and artistic director James Kautz, the play roams between heightened levels of surreality and scenes of intense believability as Ahonen struggles through his alcohol-fueled life. The narrative delves further and further into the self-reflexive nature of art and the creative process, as playwright and actor Ahonen plays playwright and actor Douglas Evans, who at one point is playing himself in a play he wrote. Not everything works; Douglas occasionally experiences random, perplexing lightning flashes that scream through his head—but are never explained to the audience—and Ahonen and Kautz don’t know quite how to end the story, as the play goes on about twenty minutes too long. But Qualification is another triumph for the Amoralists, a unique and compelling look inside the bottle, love and sex, and theater itself, performed by an engaging cast. “You wrote a masturbatory play about your stupid relationship with some stupid girl and then you stupidly starred in it and were equally as bad at playing yourself as you were at writing about yourself,” Cara tells Douglas, continuing, “What do you want me to say? The truth hurts.” It’s all very funny, insightful, upsetting, freakishly weird, thought-provoking, and damn entertaining. Yes, the truth hurts. Part of “The Gyre” — “a two play repertory exploring man’s vicious cycles” — The Qualification of Douglas Evans is being performed in repertory with Mark Roberts’s Enter at Forest Lawn at Walkerspace through August 9.
46 Walker St. between Church St. & Broadway
July 14 - August 9, $40 ($65 Gyre ticket package with The Qualification of Douglas Evans)
Last year, playwright Mark Roberts and director Jay Stull teamed up with the Amoralists for one of 2013’s best shows, the outrageously funny black comedy Rantoul and Die, which we called “a brilliantly conceived and executed play that examines the darker side of human nature in beautifully bizarre ways.” Pretty much the same can be said about their latest collaboration, Enter at Forest Lawn, which opened at Walkerspace on July 14, kicking off the Amoralists’ (HotelMotel, The Bad and the Better) eighth season as part of “The Gyre,” which is being billed as “a two play repertory exploring man’s vicious cycles.” (The second work is Derek Ahonen’s intricately self-reflexive and complex The Qualification of Douglas Evans, which opens July 15.) In Enter at Forest Lawn, Roberts delves into something he knows rather well, network television — he is the creator of the CBS comedy Mike & Molly — starring as Jack Story, the show runner for a hit comedy on the verge of a major syndication deal. But the program’s star, Uncle Danny, a Charlie Sheen-like madman prone to violence, drugs, alcohol, and underage women, is out of control, turning publicist Stanley (David Lanson) into a whimpering fool. Jack sends his mousey assistant, Jessica (Sarah Lemp), to get Danny’s signature on the syndication contract, giving her explicit instructions on how to approach him. Meanwhile, Jack’s former assistant, Marla (Anna Stromberg), now a network executive, wants Jack to find a job for her nephew, Clinton (Amoralists cofounder and associate artistic director Matthew Pilieci), which turns out to be a little more complicated than expected, leading to a surprising conclusion for all involved.
Roberts and Stull (The Capables) pack a whole lot into seventy edge-of-your-seat minutes, highlighted by the actors’ heavily stylized, exaggerated movements that define their characters. Roberts, a former stand-up comedian, is sensational as Jack, dancing around David Harwell’s spare set — essentially an odd desk surrounded by doors — like a herky-jerky boxer, ready to throw proverbial punches at every chance, willing to do whatever it takes to get the syndication deal done. The rest of the cast also works with oversized physical presentation and quirky motion: Stanley is bent over protecting his balls and looking like he has to go to the bathroom; Jessica holds her hands like little paws, evoking a frightened forest creature, and occasionally twirling like a young innocent; Clinton is stooped as if ready to pounce at any moment; and Marla sinuously winds about the set, a strong sexual being who knows the power her body holds and is not afraid to use it. Enter at Forest Lawn is a biting, cynical behind-the-scenes look at Hollywood, confirming some of our worst nightmares about what really goes on backstage. “Stanley, I have been in this business, man and boy, for over twenty-five years,” Jack says early on, “and one of the few undeniable facts I’ve learned is that if it ain’t on the screen, it never fucking happened.” Thankfully for those of us not in the business, Roberts, Stull, and the ever-adventurous Amoralists have brought this frantic craziness to the stage for all of us to experience.
THE LONG SHRIFT
Rattlestick Playwrights Theater
224 Waverly Pl. between Eleventh & Perry Sts.
Thursday - Tuesday through August 23, $20-$30
It would be easy to give short shrift to The Long Shrift, the latest project in James Franco’s seemingly endless though admirable quest to rule the world. The play was written by one of his grad school professors (Robert Boswell) and stars a former girlfriend (Ahna O’Reilly) as well as a pair of longtime collaborators (Scott Haze and Brian Lally); Franco, who is currently portraying George in Anna D. Shapiro’s powerful Broadway revival of John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men at the Longacre, is even on the Long Shrift promotional poster, joining the cast and Boswell. But there’s much to appreciate in the Rattlestick world premiere, which opened July 13 and runs through August 23, and not just its price, which tops out at a mere thirty bucks. Novelist, short story writer, and playwright Boswell’s (The Heyday of the Insensitive Bastards, The Geography of Desire) intermissionless hundred-minute drama takes too many unnecessary detours, leaving Franco to scramble, but the heart of the work is deeply compelling and involving. The story begins in 1999 as Vietnam veteran Henry Singer (a soft-spoken Lally) and his younger wife, Sarah (an underutilized Ally Sheedy), are moving into a small, disappointing new home in Houston so they can be closer to their son, Richie (Haze, who is solid if one-note here but gives a remarkable performance in Franco’s Cormac McCarthy adaptation Child of God,), who has recently begun serving a ten-year sentence for raping and beating one of his high school classmates, Lizzie (O’Reilly). While Henry is convinced that his son is innocent, Sarah is not so sure and, deeply conflicted, chooses not to visit Richie. After Richie’s been in prison for five years, accuser Lizzie (who’s now calling herself Beth, seeking escape from her notoriety) suddenly recants her testimony, becoming a town pariah. On the day of their tenth high school reunion, Beth unexpectedly shows up at Richie’s house, accompanied by giddy current student body president Macy (Allie Gallerani), who is determined to get Richie, whom she considers a local celebrity, to be the star of the reunion she’s in charge of, which she sees as a real resume builder. But the bitter Richie doesn’t want anything to do with Beth, until he comes up with a plan that is not about to make everything right.
The central crisis of what really happened behind closed doors a decade ago drives the overly talky show, which is hampered by inconsistent pacing and stretches credulity when it comes to the reunion subplot. Although Gallerani (My Children! My Africa!) is utterly delightful as Macy, all smiley, sexy, and full of hope, it feels like she’s walked in from a completely different play. A late reveal of a key part of the relationship between Harry and Sarah seems forced and needlessly detrimental, and the one scene that does not take place on Andromarche Chalfant’s effective home interior set (which closely resembles a cleaned-up version of Dane Laffrey’s set for the previous Rattlestick show, The Few) borders on the edge of cringeworthy. But when Boswell and Franco zero in on Richie and Beth as they explore their inner demons and try to deal with a complex and heartbreaking past, The Long Shrift rewards your attention.
Lincoln Center and other locations
July 7 - August 16, $45-$175
Although there are only five companies presenting at this year’s Lincoln Center Festival, there is plenty to see at this annual summer event that makes creative use of the otherwise vacated spaces usually inhabited by the Metropolitan Opera, the New York City Ballet, American Ballet Theater, and previously, the New York City Opera, in addition to other locations. The festival kicks off with the welcome return of Japanese Kabuki theater company Heisei Nakamura-za for the first time since the 2012 death of star actor Nakamura Kanzaburō XVIII, but the centuries-old family legacy continues with his two sons, Nakamura Kankuro VI and Nakamura Shichinosuke II, leading a rare revival of the nineteenth-century samurai ghost story Kaidan Chibusa no Enoki (The Ghost Tale of the Wet Nurse Tree) at the Rose Theater July 7-12 ($45-$175). To heighten the atmosphere, Josie Robertson Plaza will be home to a Japanese Artisan Village through July 13, selling such items as nihon ningyo (hand-painted dolls), tenugui (cotton towels), and kanzashi (traditional hair ornaments). Award-winning Belgian choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker looks back at her past with four of her earliest pieces, 1982’s Fase, Four Movements to the Music of Steve Reich, 1983’s Rosas danst Rosas, 1984’s Elena’s Aria, and 1987’s Bartók/Mikrokosmos, running July 8-16 at the Gerald W. Lynch Theater ($35-$75). Now in her mid-fifties, De Keersmaeker will dance in two of the shows; she will also participate in a talk-back following the July 8 performance, a book presentation with Bojana Cvejić and moderator André Lepecki on July 12 (free and open to the public), and a discussion with Anna Kisselgoff on July 15 in the Stanley H. Kaplan Penthouse (free with advance tickets).
The Houston Grand Opera sails into the Park Avenue Armory July 10-13 ($45-$250) with director David Pountney’s English-language adaptation of Mieczyslaw Weinberg’s The Passenger, the story of a former Nazi concentration camp overseer trying to escape her past; the impressive two-floor set consists of an ocean liner above and a prison camp below. Each performance will be preceded by a chamber concert by the ARC Ensemble playing works by Weinberg; in addition, there will be a special screening of Andrej Munk’s 1963 cinematic adaptation of Zofia Posmysz’s source novel on July 8 at 6:00 in the SHK Penthouse (free with advance tickets), followed by a discussion with Holocaust survivors and others. For the first time ever, the Bolshoi’s ballet, opera, orchestra, and chorus will appear together in New York City, beginning with Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Tsar’s Bride July 12-13 at Avery Fisher Hall ($35-$100) and continuing with Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake July 15-20 ($35-$125), Ludwig Minkus’s Don Quixote July 22-23 (with new choreography by Alexei Fadeyechev), and Aram Khachaturyan’s Spartacus July 25-27, all at the David H. Koch Theater. The festival concludes in a big way with the Sydney Theatre Company’s adaptation of Jean Genet’s The Maids, directed by Benedict Andrews and starring Cate Blanchett, Isabelle Huppert, and Elizabeth Debicki, playing August 6-16 at New York City Center ($35-$120, partial view seats still available).
1654 Broadway at West 47th St.
Thursday - Tuesday through January 4, $67.75 - $184.25
The new musical Holler If Ya Hear Me might be based on the songs of Tupac Shakur, but it does not tell the life story of the controversial West Coast rapper who was shot and killed in a Las Vegas drive-by in 1996 at the age of twenty-five. Instead, book writer Todd Kreidler — introduced to Shakur’s music by friend and mentor August Wilson — uses Shakur’s lyrics to share a contemporary tale about life in a ghetto in an unnamed Midwestern industrial city. As the play opens, John (Slam star Saul Williams) descends from the heavens in a jail cell, evoking Shakur’s several stints in prison, while delivering the East Harlem native’s “My Block,” soon joined by the company, setting the mood with the posthumously released song about guns, crack, black-on-black crime, unemployment, economic hardship, and racism. After his innocent brother, Benny (Donald Webber Jr.), is shot and killed, Vertus (Christopher Jackson) is determined to get even with the members of the 4-5 gang who took out Benny, angering his mother (Tonya Weston), alienating his girlfriend, Corinne (Saycon Sengbloh), and energizing young Anthony (Dyllon Burnside), who wants revenge as well. Meanwhile, the moody, humorless John is looking to go straight, getting a job working in Griffy’s (Ben Thompson) car-salvage business, where Benny used to work, planning with the white Griffy to get out of the neighborhood together. Through it all, a decrepit old man (John Earl Jelks) calls for peace by writing on walls and preaching through a megaphone.
The first act of Holler If Ya Hear Me is a mess, with a confusing narrative and point of view, a kind of mishmash of West Side Story and In the Heights, but director Kenny Leon (A Raisin in the Sun, Stick Fly) brings things together in act two, focusing more on the individual stories of John, Griffy, and especially Vertus, with stand-out performances by Williams, Thompson, and Jackson. Daryl Waters’s orchestrations too often emphasize Shakur’s background use of R&B elements, Broadway-fying such songs as “I Ain’t Mad at Cha,” “Me Against the World,” “Dear Mama,” and “Unconditional Love”; Wayne Cilento’s (Wicked, Jersey Girls) choreography is almost nonexistent; and Edward Pierce’s set design is essentially a bare stage with stoops and a fenced-in salvage show occasionally, sometimes randomly, wheeled in, but Leon and the company still manage to pull it all off in the end while setting a new high for the use of the N-bomb on the Great White Way. The Palace Theatre itself has been transformed for the show, with stadium seating in the front of the tiny orchestra, while the rear has been turned into an interactive exhibition curated by the National Museum of Hip-Hop.
Five-time Tony nominee Cherry Jones follows up her breathtaking performance as Amanda Wingfield in the Broadway revival of The Glass Menagerie with another powerful turn in Sarah Treem’s When We Were Young and Unafraid, but the two-time Tony winner (Doubt, The Heiress) ends up being much better than the play itself. Jones stars as Agnes, a determined woman running a bed and breakfast in 1972 on a small island off the coast of Seattle. In addition to serving vacationing guests, Agnes and her teenage daughter, Penny (Morgan Saylor), also secretly house and help battered women, protecting them from their abusers while nursing them back to physical and mental health. One day a terrified Mary Anne (Zoe Kazan) knocks on the door, her face beaten to a bloody pulp. Agnes offers her temporary asylum as long as she promises not to contact her husband, and soon Mary Anne and Penny, a bookish girl who wants to go to the prom with the captain of the football team, are bonding, discussing life and love. That part of the play works extremely well, treating a difficult subject with tenderness and humor.
However, Treem, who has written such previous plays as A Feminine Ending and The How and the Why and for such television series as House of Cards and In Treatment, tries to do too much, losing focus, particularly by introducing the wholly unbelievable characters of Hannah (Cherise Boothe), a brash black lesbian spouting revolutionary platitudes, and Paul (Patch Darragh), a wimpy white singer-songwriter who is instantly attracted to Mary Anne. The Manhattan Theatre Club production, more than ably directed by Pam MacKinnon (Clybourne Park, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?), ultimately fails in attempting to examine the women’s rights movement from too many sides, getting lost in heavy didacticism and moralizing and losing its initial firm footing in reality. But Jones is still a marvel to watch, her every movement filled with nuance, eliciting solid support from Kazan (A Behanding in Spokane, The Exploding Girl) and Homeland regular Saylor in her affecting stage debut.