This Week in New York Insider's Guide to Arts & Culture in New York City Since 2001

COVID-19 & NEW YORK CITY ARTS AND CULTURE

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Since May 2001, twi-ny has been recommending cool things to do throughout the five boroughs, popular and under-the-radar events that draw people out of their homes to experience film, theater, dance, art, literature, music, food, comedy, and more as part of a live audience in the most vibrant community on Earth.

With the spread of Covid-19 and the closing of all cultural institutions, sports venues, bars, and restaurants (for dining in), we feel it is our duty to prioritize the health and well-being of our loyal readers. So, for the next several weeks at least, we won’t be covering any public events in which men, women, and children must congregate in groups, a more unlikely scenario day by day anyway.

That said, as George Bernard Shaw once noted, “Without art, the crudeness of reality would make the world unbearable.”

Some parks are still open, great places to breathe in fresh air, feel the sunshine, and watch the changing of winter into spring. We will occasionally be pointing out various statues, sculptures, and installations, but check them out only if you are already going outside and will happen to be nearby.

You don’t have to shut yourself away completely for the next weeks and months — for now, you can still go grocery shopping and pick up takeout — but do think of others as you go about your daily life, which is going to be very different for a while. We want each and every one of you to take care of yourselves and your families, follow the guidelines for social distancing, and consider the health and well-being of those around you.

We look forward to seeing you indoors and at festivals and major outdoor events as soon as possible, once New York, America, and the rest of the planet are ready to get back to business. Until then, you can find us every so often under the sun, moon, clouds, and stars, finding respite in this amazing city now in crisis.

WE’RE GONNA DIE

(photo by Joan Marcus)

Young Jean Lee’s We’re Gonna Die has been gloriously remounted by Raja Feather Kelly at Second Stage (photo by Joan Marcus)

2econd Stage Theater, Tony Kiser Theater
305 West 43rd St. between Eighth & Ninth Aves.
Tuesday - Sunday through March 22, $69-$125
2st.com/shows

“There’s a very good chance you’re not going to die,” President Trump said when news about the coronavirus crisis was first spreading. While that might be true when it comes to Covid-19, it’s not true in general, as mightily declared by Young Jean Lee in Raja Feather Kelly’s glorious remounting of her one-act play with music, We’re Gonna Die, continuing at Second Stage’s Tony Kiser Theater through March 22. The sixty-five-minute work consists of stories about loneliness and death that Lee collected from friends and relatives and transformed into a series of monologues delivered by one woman, as if all these awful events happened to her. Lee first presented the show at Joe’s Pub and then at Lincoln Center’s Clare Tow Theater, where she was the lead, backed by her rock band, Future Wife.

Janelle McDermoth now takes over, and she is dazzling as she relates poignant tales and blasts out songs both gentle and fierce across David Zinn’s calming, antiseptic set, a kind of hospital waiting room with a vending machine, lots of empty chairs and a central spiral staircase that goes through the ceiling and the floor, evoking a way station. As you enter the theater, a large-scale neon sign of the title moves slowly back and forth in front of the stage, a reminder of what is going to eventually happen to each and every one of us. Guitarists Freddy Hall and bandleader Kevin Ramessar, keyboardist and dance captain Ximone Rose, and bassist Debbie Christine Tjong enter and sit down, while drummer Marques Walls plays in a separate room off to stage left. As the show continues, balloons occasionally drop from above, accumulating in a far corner, telling us that even though this might be about the inevitability of death, it doesn’t mean we can’t have some fun.

The stories are told chronologically, as if belonging to one life, beginning with the presenter as a little girl trying to understand her weird uncle and why her two best friends shunned her, then considering dating and partnering relationships with men and caring for her ailing father. The songs, which pour forth from a wide range of genres — the arrangements are by Remy Kurs, with orchestrations by Cian McCarthy — relate directly to the tales, beginning with the opening number, “Lullaby for the Miserable,” in which the singer remembers something her mother told her when she was unable to get to sleep as a child: “When your brain’s had enough / And your body gives up / You will sleep / By and by / By and by / You will sleep / By and by / You are not the only one / You are not the only one / You are not the only one / You are not the only one.” That repetition serves as a leitmotif for the rest of the show, which emphasizes that no one is spared from life’s problems and, eventually, death itself.

Later, the singer recalls, “About a year ago, I went back home for a younger cousin’s wedding, and while I was at home, I found my first white hair. Now, I had never been a person who worried at all about getting older or losing my looks — I just never thought about that stuff. So it all just kind of hit me in this one moment. . . . I had reached the point in my life where everything from here on out was going to be a downward decline towards deterioration and sickness and death. And this had never occurred to me before, so I was really traumatized.” She follows that up with a funky, funny number about something her grandmother told her mother: “When you get old / You will lose your mind! / And everything will hurt all the time! Uh-huh / Uh-huh / . . . / When you get old / All your friends will die! / And you will be a burden to the world! / Uh-huh / Uh-huh.” Among the other songs, whose titles sum things up pretty clearly, are “I Still Have You,” “Comfort of the Lonely,” and “Horrible Things.” Even the Korean-born Lee’s full name, Young Jean Lee, seems relevant, suggesting a youthfulness even though the “Young” is an Americanization of her surname.

In 2016, the Brooklyn-based Lee — a multitalented writer and performer whose previous plays include Straight White Men, Lear, The Shipment, and Untitled Feminist Show — and Future Wife released a DVD of readings and songs from the show with such special guests as Colin Stetson, Kathleen Hanna, Adam Horovitz, Sara Neufeld, David Byrne, and Laurie Anderson, but there’s nothing like seeing it with one singer, and McDermoth (A Bronx Tale, Soul Doctor) is a revelation. Dressed in cool yellow and black leather (the costumes are by Naoko Nagata), she struts around with an infectious determination and a nod and a wink, winning over the audience immediately and never letting go; she is us, and we are her. Kelly, who has choreographed such plays as Fairview, A Strange Loop, The House That Will Not Stand, and Girls, explodes We’re Gonna Die to the next level, transforming it from an involving song cycle to a more fully fledged theatrical production. There’s a clock onstage that depicts the real time, minutes and seconds ticking away not just in our lives but, more important, on the show itself. I found myself filled with sadness as the sixty-minute mark approached, knowing it would soon be over. But I was also energized and invigorated by the fantastic finale, in which everyone participates and caution is thrown to the wind. Yeah, so we’re all gonna die. That shouldn’t mean that we can’t make the most of every moment we’re still here.

WOMEN ON FIRE: STORIES FROM THE FRONTLINES

(photo by Russ Rowland)

Chris Henry’s Women on Fire: Stories from the Frontlines is based on true stories about women in today’s America (photo by Russ Rowland)

Royal Family Performing Arts Space
145 West 46th St. between Sixth & Seventh Aves., third floor
Friday - Monday through March 16, $30-$250
www.royalfamilyproductions.org

Chris Henry’s Women on Fire: Stories from the Frontlines is meant to be an empowering call to action. Unfortunately, it too often resembles an intense Facebook thread in which the majority of the participants are firmly on the left, arguing with a couple of right-wing Trump supporters. But the eighty-minute work is terrifically acted by a diverse cast of fifteen actresses and features dynamic choreography performed by four powerful dancers who serve as a kind of Greek chorus of movement (and occasionally sound).

As you enter the Royal Family Performing Arts Space, yellow caution tape separates the audience from the set, a postapocalyptic scene with black plastic bags partially blocking exposed brick walls and lightbulbs precariously dangling from the ceiling. Women are sitting on chairs and benches in the dark. The caution tape is ripped apart as if declaring, “Here we come!” And one by one, the women walk front and center holding a piece of paper and delivering monologues about rape, misogyny, sexism, abortion, race, discrimination, sexual assault, and other hard-hitting issues. Each story is based on interviews Henry conducted. “I feel like I’m in The Handmaid’s Tale and I can’t get out,” Offred (Stephanie J. Block) says. “1, 2, buckle my shoe / 3, 4, close the door / 5, 6, pick up sticks / 7, 8, lay them straight / 9, 10, big fat hen. That’s how I got through sex,” Kara (Gina Naomi Baez) confesses. “Okay, here’s the deal. You don’t get to be a Roman Polanski fan anymore,” Lisa (Alysia Reiner) shouts. Julia rails against the philosophy behind Pretty Woman. Jo praises Hillary Clinton but lambasts Bill as a sexual predator. The most moving story comes from Maya (Gargi Mukherjee), who details a sexual assault at a threading parlor.

(photo by Russ Rowland)

Maddie Corman is part of rotating cast of incendiary Women on Fire (photo by Russ Rowland)

On the other side, Courtney (Maddie Corman) explains, “I think people get so worked up about silly things; I mean, boys will be boys,” Taty accuses the Democrats of being dangerously wrong on Cuba, and Charle (Cynthia Mace) doesn’t understand why Black Lives Matter is more important than Blue Lives Matter. After speaking their peace, the women put their paper into a mini-cauldron. Each segment is preceded by a ferocious interpretive dance by Samantha Butts, Emily Anne Davis, Erica Misilo, Samantha Warner, and/or Mariah Reive, who occasionally interact with the other performers. The effective set design, lighting, and costumes are by Cheyenne Sykes, with original music by Lars Jacobsen; Henry codirects the play with choreographer Lorna Ventura. The impressive rotating cast also includes Kathy Brier, Andréa Burns, Rosa Curry, Paige Gilbert, Judy Gold, Julie Halston, Simone Harrison, Cady Huffman, Steffanie Leigh, Rebecca Nelson, Olivia Oguma, Portia, Connie Ray, Laila Robins, Debra Jo Rupp, Constance Shulman, Lianah Sta. Ana, Desi Waters, and Ashley Williams.

“This play is not meant to be perfect. . . . This is just a pebble in a giant ocean of stories,” Henry explains in a program note. She’s more right than she realizes. Too many of the tales, though true, are clichéd and obvious, preaching to the choir, starting with the first monologue, when Margaret reads a long list of Donald Trump’s shameful deeds while campaigning and then as president. We are familiar with every one of them, so there are no surprises; it feels like we’re watching MSNBC or reading a social media post from Mother Jones. The night I went, the ritual finale did not catch fire because of a faulty lighter. But that did not stop the play’s inner fury, best represented by Rachel, who delivers a profanity-laced tirade against the treatment of women in today’s America.

72 MILES TO GO . . .

(photo by Jeremy Daniel)

A family bands together after the mother gets deported in timely 72 Miles to Go . . . (photo by Jeremy Daniel)

Laura Pels Theatre
Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre
111 West 46th St. between Sixth & Seventh Aves.
Tuesday - Sunday through May 3, $79-$149
212-719-1300
www.roundabouttheatre.org

Hilary Bettis puts a distinctly human face on the immigration crisis in 72 Miles to Go . . . , making its world premiere at Roundabout’s Laura Pels Theatre through May 3. But Bettis and director Jo Bonney don’t turn it into a political screed; instead, the story takes place between 2008 and 2016, before Donald Trump took office and ICE started tearing children away from parents and keeping them in cages. It’s a slice-of-life drama, concentrating on the little things that make up family life on a daily basis.

The show is bookended by the final sermon delivered by retiring Unitarian minister Billy (Triney Sandoval) to his flock in his Tucson church. “I spent months and months working on this sermon, trying to get every word just right. Hoping to leave this congregation I love so deeply with some words that’ll stick with you after I’m gone. But I’m standing here now, and none of those words feel right,” he says, adding after a pause, “That was a bit dramatic, but I couldn’t resist the theatrics of it.” It’s a poignant comment that not only sets the stage for the story but relates to Bettis’s process, which involves constant rewriting; at a recent talkback, she admitted making significant changes throughout the preview process, including to the opening sermon just a few days before I saw the play.

Photos - Jeremy Daniel

Eva (Jacqueline Guillén) and her father (Triney Sandoval) soldier on after her mother’s deportation in Roundabout world premiere by Hillary Bettis (photo by Jeremy Daniel)

Billy lives with his three children, fourteen-year-old Aaron (Tyler Alvarez), a science lover who is entering high school; seventeen-year-old Eva (Jacqueline Guillén), who is preparing her valedictorian speech for her high school graduation, and twenty-three-year-old Christian (Bobby Moreno), an undocumented immigrant who is having trouble finding a job because he has no papers. Billy’s wife, Anita (Maria Elena Ramirez), has been deported and is in Nogales, Mexico, seventy-two miles away; Billy rescued Anita and Christian, who were both born in Mexico, when he found them in the desert, escaping their dangerous country for a new life in America. Billy and the kids communicate with Anita via cellphone as she tries to obtain legal status to return to the United States and Christian applies for the DACA program, ever on edge that he will be caught and deported at any moment. They are all dreamers in the midst of a nightmare. “I can’t sleep,” Aaron tells his sister. “I dreamed there was this huge flood and it poured into our house and no one could swim except me, but I couldn’t hold you and Dad and Mom and Christian and then we all drown.”

Rachel Hauck’s set is a standard-issue kitchen and living room, except the back wall is like a huge border with sky seen in the distance, as if they’re trapped from that outside world, large telephone poles a reminder of the only way they can remain in contact with Anita. Billy, Christian, Eva, and Aaron all make compromises and, at times, dangerous choices in order to get Anita back and live again as a complete family, free from the panic and dread that hover over them. Bettis (Alligator, The Americans), whose father is a minister and whose mother comes from Tucson, writes incisive, perceptive dialogue and Bonney (Cost of Living, Father Comes Home from the Wars) is a smart, wily director, but Bettis’s recurrent revisions might be why a few scenes still feel unfinished. Sandoval (The Thin Place, A Free Man of Color) leads a strong cast, emphasizing Billy’s essentially easygoing nature (and penchant for bad jokes) as he struggles to put his family back together and live without fear, his heart obviously aching. “The older I get, the more I realize that it’s not the grand events that give our lives meaning and purpose. It’s the small everyday moments we take for granted,” he says in his sermon. And that’s not too much to ask for.

BLUES FOR AN ALABAMA SKY

(photo by Carol Rosegg)

Pearl Cleage’s Blues for an Alabama Sky makes its New York premiere in Keen Company revival (photo by Carol Rosegg)

Theatre Row
410 West 42nd St. between Ninth & Tenth Aves.
Tuesday - Sunday through March 14, $28-$65
www.keencompany.org/blues

Keen Company’s revival of Pearl Cleage’s Blues for an Alabama Sky is set in Harlem in 1930, but it’s a tribute to the writing that it feels like it was written in 1930 as well, capturing the unique spirit of that moment in time when the Great Depression, Prohibition, and the Harlem Renaissance merged together. But Cleage actually wrote the play in 1995, and, surprisingly, this is its New York premiere, continuing at Theatre Row through March 14.

You-shin Chen’s effective period set is an open stage linking a pair of small Harlem apartments. Living in one is the openly gay Guy Jacobs (John-Andrew Morrison), a fashion designer trying to make it big by creating costumes for Josephine Baker in Paris, which might just be a pipe dream. His best friend, nightclub chanteuse Angel Allen (Alfie Fuller), moves in with him after her gangster boyfriend dumps her and she gets fired. Across the hall is the more traditional Delia Patterson (Jasminn Johnson), who is seeking the help of Rev. Adam Clayton Powell Jr. and the Abyssinian Baptist Church as she works with birth-control advocate Margaret Sanger to start a family planning clinic in the neighborhood, an uphill battle in a Christian community. She falls for Sam Thomas (Sheldon Woodley), a doctor at Harlem Hospital who delivers babies and has, in the past, performed illegal abortions. Meanwhile, after helping Angel home when she was in a drunken stupor, widower Leland Cunningham (Khiry Walker), a younger, narrow-minded man from Tuskegee, Alabama, who has only recently arrived in Harlem, takes a liking to Angel and becomes determined to make her his bride.

(photo by Carol Rosegg)

Guy (John-Andrew Morrison), Angel (Alfie Fuller), and Sam (Sheldon Woodley) toast to the future in Blues for an Alabama Sky (photo by Carol Rosegg)

The play resonates in today’s sociopolitical climate as it deals with racism, homophobia, unemployment, a woman’s right to choose, religion, and gun violence. “You can sing the blues,” Guy says to Angel early on. “Everybody in Harlem is singing the blues,” Angel retorts.

Fuller (BLKS, Measure for Measure) is magnetic as the wild and woolly, utterly unpredictable Angel, a role originated by Phylicia Rashad and also played by Robin Givens, Jasmine Guy, and Crystal Fox, among others. She also looks fabulous in Asa Benally’s hot, slinky outfits, even when Angel is suffering from a terrible hangover. Morrison is shaky as the flamboyant Guy, appearing lost when other characters are talking, but the rest of the cast is solid under LA Williams’s (Rated Black: An American Requiem by Kareem M. Lucas, Measure for Measure) prudent direction.

Cleage (Mad at Miles: A Black Woman’s Guide to Truth, Flyin’ West), a playwright and novelist who was born in Springfield, Massachusetts, was raised in West Detroit, and has lived in Atlanta for several decades, was inspired to write Blues for an Alabama Sky while driving back from the Alabama Shakespeare Festival in Montgomery and gazing out the window, marveling at the stars filling the night and wondering what the sky was like in New York amid all the neon and skyscrapers. The play is very much about dreams, both individually and collectively, from people moving to the city to start over to others seeking to make a difference in their community. “I’m tired of Negro dreams,” Angel says. “All they ever do is break your heart.” If Blues for an Alabama Sky is anything, it is certainly heartbreaking.

INCANTATA

(photo by Carol Rosegg)

Stanley Townsend channels Joseph Beuys in one-man show by Paul Muldoon about his later partner, Mary Farl Powers (photo by Carol Rosegg)

Irish Repertory Theatre, Francis J. Greenburger Mainstage
132 West 22nd St. between Sixth & Seventh Aves.
Tuesday - Sunday through March 15, $50-$70
212-727-2737
irishrep.org

In 1992, influential printmaker Mary Farl Powers died of breast cancer at the age of forty-three. Shortly after, her partner, Irish poet Paul Muldoon, wrote Incantata, an exquisite long-form poem about the Minnesota-born artist, who spent most of her life in Ireland. Director Sam Yates and award-winning actor Stanley Townsend transformed Muldoon’s work into a wholly original sixty-minute one-man show that continues at the Irish Rep through March 15.

In the program, Muldoon recalls about writing the poem, “I was in the state of ecstasy in which almost all my poems are written — that’s to say I was standing outside myself in ‘mystic self-transcendence’ — but this particular state of ecstasy was somehow more pronounced than usual.” Yates and Townsend capture that ecstatic feeling throughout Incantata as Townsend whirls around the claustrophobic set, delivering Muldoon’s words at a glorious operatic scale, his voice deepening at certain moments, hitting you right in the gut.

Early on, he says, “I thought again of how art may be made, as it was by André Derain, / of nothing more than a turn in the road where a swallow dips into the mire / or plucks a strand of bloody wool from a strand of barbed wire / in the aftermath of Chickamauga or Culloden / and builds from pain, from misery, from a deep-seated hurt, / a monument to the human heart / that shines like a golden dome among roofs rain-glazed and leaden.” Like several stanzas, Townsend repeats it as he moves across Rosanna Vize’s set, a studio with three walls onto which he tapes sheets of paper he has imprinted with squiggly red images he creates using carved potatoes and dye, evoking Powers’s abstract “Emblements” etchings, which he refers to as “army-worms.” The stage represents Dublin’s Graphic Studio, where Powers was director for more than a decade. Potatoes are piled in one corner, a boombox plays cassettes, and Townsend, in a painter’s jumpsuit (his costumes are also by Vize), uses and repurposes a chair and table in Beuys-ian ways while often speaking directly into a camera on a tripod, as if it’s Powers herself. His face and body are projected onto the back wall, like he’s some kind of gigantic force; when he looks into the lens, his larger-than-life image is gazing straight at the audience, which can be imposing, especially as we decide whether to look at his cinematic image or his actual self. The video design is by Jack Phelan, with lighting by Paul Keogan and sound by Sinéad Diskin.

Muldoon’s (The Dead, 1904) structure was inspired by W. B. Yeats’s In Memory of Major Robert, which itself was influenced by Abraham Crowley’s seventeenth-century On the Death of Mr William Hervey, placing it firmly within the canon of Irish literary elegies. His writing also contains a tour-de-force of pop-culture, mythological, and historical references, from Van Morrison, Rembrandt, Burt Lancaster, Emily Post, Frankie Valli, Samuel Beckett, and Enrico Caruso to the Shirt of Nessus, Thomism, Lugh of the Long Arm, Dr. John Arbuthnot, Jean-Paul Sartre’s La Nausée, Brecht, and the Red Hand Commandos; please don’t Google them during the show (but you might want to afterward).

Townsend (All About Eve, Jerusalem) is extraordinary as he hunkers about the stage with an intense, intricately choreographed physicality; be sure to get to the theater early in order to watch him creating his art, which begins as soon as the doors open. He resembles a beguiling mix between William Kentridge, Christopher Hitchens, Gerard Depardieu, and Stephen Bannon, with piercing eyes and unkempt hair. Yates (The Starry Messenger, The Phlebotomist) illuminates the text with a keen understanding of its potency.

The late John Kelly, Powers’s predecessor as head of the Graphic Studio, said, “Mary Farl Powers never took an ordinary image. She always had a fantastic reason for making an image and the image gained from her intelligent approach. It set her aside. You’d see a real character behind the image. She had a very high technique, very high finish.” That description applies as well to this ingenious production of Incantata, an audacious, uncompromising elegy and love story poetically reimagined into a unique and unforgettable theatrical experience.

DRACULA / FRANKENSTEIN

(photo by Joan Marcus)

Kate Hamill wrote and stars in gender-flipping Dracula at Classic Stage, playing Renfield (photo by Joan Marcus)

Classic Stage Company, Lynn F. Angelson Theater
136 East 13th St. between Third & Fourth Aves.
Tuesday - Sunday through March 15, $82-$127
classicstage.org

In 1971, Al Adamson’s Dracula vs. Frankenstein movie pit the Transylvanian count against the lab-created Creature, both introduced to film audiences in 1931 in separate horror films that started long-running franchises. The pair of ghouls, along with the Wolf Man, also appeared together in Charles Barton’s 1948 comedy Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. And now Dracula and Frankenstein’s Monster are not face-to-face but back-to-back in Classic Stage’s creepy double feature, new adaptations of each running in repertory through March 15.

Kate Hamill, whose previous literary adaptations include wonderfully imaginative versions of Little Women, Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, and Vanity Fair, has had a helluva lotta fun with Bram Stoker’s 1897 Gothic horror novel. She calls it “a bit of a feminist revenge fantasy, really,” infusing it with a healthy dose of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and a somewhat Marxist view of class struggle while keeping the plot firmly in the bloodline of the original.

Dracula (Matthew Amendt) is put in the background of this version; in fact, all the men are secondary to the women. Hamill’s great invention is gender-switching the characters, beginning with the mad Renfield (Hamill) and most spectacularly with the vampire hunter Van Helsing (Jessica Frances Dukes); the first is now a husband-murdering woman in a lunatic asylum, the second a powerful, leather-clad female punk cowboy (think Faith from Buffy and Angel). The plot proceeds mostly according to Stoker, with a few condensations and sly alterations: Renfield is cared for by the boringly plain Doctor George Seward (Matthew Saldivar), who’s engaged to the mischievous Lucy Westenra (Jamie Ann Romero), whose BFF is the pregnant Mina Harker (Kelley Curran). Mina’s husband, solicitor Jonathan Harker (Michael Crane), has gone to Transylvania on business. The conversation sounds contemporary from the outset, albeit couched in semi-Victorian diction as when Lucy teases Mina that Jonathan probably has “some Bavarian hausfrau. Some Slovakian slattern. Some Czech chippy” there. “I cannot blame him, Mina. You have gone rather to seed,” Lucy says, poking at Mina’s belly. “That’s the baby, you cow,” Mina responds. “Excuses, excuses,” Lucy says. Mina: “I’ll remind you how amusing that is when you are in the same condition.” Lucy: “One step at a time, please.” Mina: “It happens faster than you think. One day, you’re a schoolgirl, the next —” Lucy: “A hideous bloated old broodmare —” Mina: “— condemned to a life with no greater excitement than visiting a horrible little trollop on the seaside!”

(photo by Joan Marcus)

Jonathan Harker (Michael Crane) has no idea what’s in store for him from Drusilla (Laura Baranik) and Marilla (Lori Laing) in new Dracula adaptation (photo by Joan Marcus)

Dracula is essentially a minor character, dressed in white instead of the traditional black (the costumes are by Robert Perdziola), not as demonic as he is often depicted; rather, his strength is frankly sexual and class-based. He is protected by two henchwomen, the lustful vampires Drusilla (Laura Baranik), named after a Buffy character, and Marilla (Lori Laing), perhaps named after the spinster from Anne of Green Gables. As Dracula slowly turns Mina into the walking dead, Dr. Seward refuses to believe in any such nefarious doings, and intrepid vampire hunter Dr. Van Helsing arrives on the scene, ready to fight, quickly winning the formerly meek Mina to her side as they team up to rescue Jonathan and kill the count.

Directed by Sarna Lapine (Sunday in the Park with George, Little Women), this Dracula is a bit scattershot, all over the place as it investigates feminist themes from the Victorian era to today, as well as the emergence of working- and middle-class power versus the landed aristocracy. Renfield is a woman dealing with daddy issues, projecting her lust and religious zeal onto the unavailable Dracula, while the heroes are Mina, a twist on Buffy sweetly played by Curran (The Winter’s Tale, ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore), and Dr. Van Helsing, portrayed with fearless panache by Dukes (By the Way, Meet Vera Stark, Yellowman). Classic Stage artistic director John Doyle’s sparse set is often empty except for when beds are rolled onstage, keeping the focus on the characters themselves.

Hamill’s sense of humor shines through as she toys with genre conventions across two hours and twenty minutes with intermission. When Jonathan first meets the count upon arriving at Dracula’s deserted mansion, he says, “I was beginning to think there wasn’t a soul in the place!” This Dracula also is more aware of class warfare than usual, telling Jonathan, “If control is shifting to the masses, than I must be of the masses. I must not rule from the castle on the hill anymore. Instead, I must become a common man, anonymous; — welcomed everywhere, and remembered nowhere. A man — rather — like you.” It’s a battle of the sexes in which men, whether supernatural or human, don’t stand a chance.

(photo by Joan Marcus)

Stephanie Berry and Rob Morrison star in Tristan Bernays’s Frankenstein at Classic Stage (photo by Joan Marcus)

Tristan Bernays is far more faithful to the original story in his stark adaptation of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s anonymously published 1818 epistolary novel Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus. The streamlined production features two actors, Stephanie Berry as Victor Frankenstein and the Creature, and Rob Morrison singing songs, playing guitar, contributing sound effects, narrating sections, and moving around the furniture, which includes a long table, a large mirror, and several small pails. (This set also is designed by Doyle.) As with Hamill’s Dracula, Bernays’s Frankenstein plays with gender identity as it explores issues of God versus man as creator. Shortly after being brought to life, the Creature starts learning language and finding its place in the world, like a child quickly growing into adulthood. But the more it understands, the less it likes.

(photo by Joan Marcus)

The Creature (Stephanie Berry) grows more and more curious in Classic Stage adaptation of Gothic novel (photo by Joan Marcus)

The narration is taken directly from the source material, with added dialogue. “What if — What if I failed to speak to him in gentle tongue? What if though blind he sensed withal my horrid shape? What if his children came back swift and ruined all my plans? What if — What if —” the Creature says as he enters the home where a blind man lives. Shortly after leaving the house, the Creature looks up at the stars and screams out, “Why? Why did you mould me but for misery? Am I to never feel a friendly touch? A kindly look? Love? Compassion? Why did you make me so? Why?” The Creature ultimately confronts Dr. Frankenstein, his wife, Elizabeth, and their son, William, and declares his need for a companion, leading to a tragic conclusion.

Even at a mere eighty minutes, the play, directed by Timothy Douglas (Radio Golf, Etiquette of Vigilance), drags on. The scenes don’t flow easily into one another, feeling ragged and disjointed. Berry (Gem of the Ocean, For All the Women Who Thought They Were Mad) has some fine moments as the Creature, but the story and pace can get confusing, while Morrison (Avenue Q, Nevermore), clearly an excellent musician, seems mostly unnecessary. It ends up being more of a curiosity, which is not enough to sustain it, whether seen as a Gothic tale or a contemporary parable.