French Institute Alliance Française
Florence Gould Hall, 55 East 59th St. between Madison & Park Aves.
September 21-23, $35
Festival continues through October 15
Obie-winning, New York–based algorithmic performance artist Annie Dorsen often uses appropriated text in her pieces, drawing meaning out of an endless supply of information, logic, and language, and she’ll be doing so yet again in her latest work, The Great Outdoors, part of FIAF’s 2017 Crossing the Line Festival. She’s asked audiences to take the mic and recite snippets of famous and not-so-famous speeches in Spokaoke (CTL 2013), had actors use Shakespeare’s Hamlet as data in A Piece of Work (BAM Next Wave Festival 2013), and in Magical (Coil 2013) repurposed words and movement by Martha Rosler, Yoko Ono, Marina Abramović, and Carolee Schneeman, with the help of choreographer Anne Juren. In The Great Outdoors, Dorsen, who also cocreated and directed Passing Strange, transforms FIAF’s Florence Gould Hall into an inflatable planetarium, where every star is like a human being currently online, a countless number of seemingly anonymous blips seeking and supplying content and making connections, primarily commenting on reddit. Of course, the title is more than ironic, as so many people experience the great outdoors from the comfort of their computers at home. Kaija Matiss will read text taken live off the internet by programmers Marcel Schwittlick and Miles Thompson; Sébastien Roux does the sound and music, while the video programming is by Ryan Holsopple, who designed the starshow with Dorsen. Dorsen has been building a rather impressive resume; her collaborators have also included DD Dorviller (Pièce Sans Paroles), Questlove (Shuffle Culture), Stew (Passing Strange), Laura Kaplan and Jessye Norman (Ask Your Mama), and ETHEL (Truckstop). The Great Outdoors runs September 21-23; CTL continues through October 15 with such other presentations as Faustin Linyekula / Studios Kabako’s In Search of Dinozord, Nora Chipaumire’s #PUNK, and Alessandro Sciarroni’s UNTITLED_I will be there when you die.
September 25 - October 8
Tickets 2-for-1 with code OBWF2017
Broadway Week just concluded, offering tickets to most Broadway shows available for half price, and now it’s time for Off-Broadway Week to get in on the two-for-one deals as the fall season begins. Three dozen plays and musicals are participating, from the tried and true to the new and untested, with several highly anticipated works by major playwrights. We highly recommend both of Suzan-Lori Parks’s Red Letter Plays at the Signature, In the Blood and Fucking A, which take off from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, as well as Simon Stephens’s exquisite On the Shore of the Wide World at the Atlantic. There are such old mainstays as Stomp, Blue Man Group, Perfect Crime, Avenue Q, and Gazillion Bubble Show as well as such newcomers as A Clockwork Orange at New World Stages, MCC’s Charm at the Lucille Lortel, Brian Friel’s The Home Place at the Irish Rep, Anna Ziegler’s The Last Match at the Roundabout, Amy Herzog’s Mary Jane at New York Theatre Workshop, and Torch Song at Second Stage with Michael Urie.
With the recent success of its productions of Death of a Salesman, Waiting for Godot, and God of Vengeance, the New Yiddish Rep’s world premiere of Eugène Ionesco’s Rhinoceros in the rich, historical language promised a potential stampede. Unfortunately, Ionseco’s 1960 absurdist screed against the rise of Fascism creeps in more like a mouse in a surprisingly lackluster production. “Rhinoceros reminds me of the personal struggle of many of my current and former co-religionists who are trapped in their own skin,” translator and former Hasid Eli Rosen, who also stars as Jean, writes in a program note. He hopes the play “will penetrate the high walls of ghettos and sound the shofar of freedom to humans everywhere,” an apt metaphor as Rosh Hashanah and the Days of Awe approach, but the play falls well short of its admirable goals. Continuing at the Castillo Theatre through October 8, Rhinoceros takes place on director Moshe Yassur’s small, spare set, consisting of a few chairs and tables and walls from which further elements, such as a bed, emerge. The erudite Jean (Rosen) is waiting for Bérenger (Luzer Twersky) in a café run by a cheapskate proprietor (Amy Coleman) who regularly berates her waitress (Mira Kessler). Jean chastises Bérenger for his lack of dignity, decrying his penchant for alcohol, uncombed hair, and lack of a tie. But Berenger — Ionesco’s everyman who appears in several of his works — just wants to relax and take a break from what he considers his exhausting life. After a rhinoceros makes its way through the middle of town, the characters in the café — which also include the Logician (Alex Leyzer Burko), a housewife clutching her dear cat (Macha Fogel), the grocer (Sean Griffin), the grocer’s wife (Caraid O’Brien), a gentleman (Gera Sandler) with the hots for the housewife, and, eventually, Daisy (Malky Goldman), with whom Bérenger is smitten — start debating what they saw and what it means, even as the rhino, or perhaps a different one, marches back through town in the other direction. But when people begin actually turning into rhinos themselves, only Bérenger refuses to become part of the crash.
In writing Rhinoceros, Romanian playwright Ionesco (Exit the King, The Chair) was inspired by the fascism that was building in Romania and across Eastern Europe in the 1930s. Rosen makes clear parallels to what is happening now in America, as antifa battles white supremacists and neo-Nazis and President Donald Trump shows dictatorial tendencies. Rosen even uses the phrase “fake news” when Botard (Burko) declares that the whole rhino story is a hoax, propaganda perpetrated by journalists and university elitists. “An example of collective psychosis,” he tells Dudard (Griffin), “just like religion — the opiate of the people!” However, the translation is too obvious in making connections to contemporary America, and the staging is static and uninvolving. What could have been intimate — the audience is seated on two sides of the catty-corner set — instead separates the two parts of the crowd and creates a distance from the actors, who are often only several feet away. The surtitles, projected on the two perpendicular walls, contain a handful of typos and sometimes can’t keep up with the spoken dialogue; in addition, when the actors spoke out of turn or missed a cue, it was hard to follow what was going on. The play has a long, distinguished history; Laurence Olivier and Joan Plowright starred in Orson Welles’s original London version, and Zero Mostel won a Tony as Jean in the 1961 Broadway edition, with Eli Wallach, Anne Jackson, and Jean Stapleton. (Mostel also starred with Gene Wilder and Karen Black in the 1974 film directed by Tom O’Horgan.) But it’s not a big-name cast that is missing from New Yiddish Rep’s version; in 2012, Emmanuel Demarcy-Mota and Théâtre de la Ville brought their wildly inventive take to BAM’s Next Wave Festival. Yassur a Romanian who has previously directed Ionesco’s Jacques, or the Submission; The Bald Soprano, and The Future Is in Eggs, never finds the right balance between absurdity and reality, getting caught in the middle, as if blinded by the dust of the stampeding animals.
STAIRWAY TO STARDOM
145 Sixth Ave. at Dominick St.
September 12-23, $18-$45, 8:30
Before there was Star Search, American Idol, The Voice, and America’s Got Talent there was Stairway to Stardom, a no-budget New York City public access television show in which men, women, and children performed with big dreams in their heads, hoping to make it big. Writer, director, choreographer, performer, and “global paradigm architect” Amanda Szeglowski explores the American dream of reaching for fame and fortune in the vastly entertaining and ridiculously clever multimedia production Stairway to Stardom, which opened at HERE on September 12. The sixty-minute show features Szeglowski and her cakeface company, Ali Castro, Jade Daugherty, Ayesha Jordan, and Nola Sporn Smith, in glittery silver-sequined gowns and high heels singing, dancing, and sharing their successes and failures, their hopes and desires with a dry, wry mechanical delivery deliciously at odds with the spectacular longing for stardom that lies beneath.
The narrative follows the arc of a contemporary U.S. life in the arts, from what creative kids want to be when they grow up and what their parents expect of them to discovering their unique talent and then working odd jobs as they strive for artistic (and maybe even financial) success while also experiencing regrets. The performers are joined by Prism House — Brian Wenner and Matt O’Hare — who provide live video and music mixing, featuring excerpts from the original public access program. Szeglowski, who is also HERE’s marketing director, formed the all-female cakeface in 2008; their previous “linguistic performance art” projects include Don’t Call Me McNeill., Alpha Pups, and Harold, I Hate You. The new show continues through September 23; there will be a talkback following the September 20 performance, and September 15 and 19 are ’80s nights, in which the audience is encouraged to dress with their best retro flair. The show begins at 8:30, but HERE will be projecting clips from the original Stairway to Stardom in the lounge beginning at 7:00 every evening. Shortly after opening night, which kicked off HERE’s twenty-fifth anniversary season, Szeglowski found time to answer some questions about her own career trajectory.
twi-ny: As you were preparing for the opening of Stairway to Stardom, your native Florida — you went to high school in Tampa and college at USF — was being battered by Hurricane Irma. What was that experience like, balancing the two? Are your friends and family safe?
amanda szeglowski: Yes, thank you for asking. My family lives in West Tampa, so we were all watching the storm very closely. It was an incredibly stressful time to be in tech rehearsals all day and night approaching the culmination of a show I’ve been building for three years while this monster of a storm was creeping towards my family. I was checking in on them every chance I got and FaceTiming to see all the prep they were doing to their houses, going over the evacuation plans. . . . Being a part of that process helped me feel like I was with them. But growing up in Florida and having been through many hurricanes actually gave me some comfort as well. We know how to prepare and we take it seriously. That’s not to say that wine isn’t the first thing in the hurricane supply shopping cart — it is. But I felt better knowing this wasn’t my family’s first rodeo; they knew exactly what to do.
twi-ny: Were you ever a fan of such programs as Star Search, American Idol, The Voice, or America’s Got Talent?
as: I loved watching Star Search as a kid. As I got older and the shows got more scripted I lost interest. I think Idol changed the game by making the auditions part of the show, and then it became a gimmick of who could be the most outrageous. But I will occasionally watch clips from these shows when my parents call me and insist that they just saw the greatest thing.
twi-ny: What is it about the public access show that spurred your creative juices? You treat it with respect without getting overly kitschy or mean-spirited.
as: The TV show was so raw — so vulnerable. These weren’t people trying to become a character on a reality show; these were people really trying to make it. I respect that. There wasn’t any competitive aspect to the TV show; they were just performing and hoping to be seen. Sure, when you see clips from the TV show there are moments that you want to laugh, but I spent hours and hours interviewing people about their lives for my script, and a lot of it was pretty damn sad. At least these people were out there trying. I wanted to honor that drive and explore what happens to all of us along the way, because I think that fire is there for almost everyone in the beginning.
twi-ny: What kind of talent does someone have to display to become a member of cakeface? When someone is auditioning for you, are you more like Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul, Jennifer Lopez, Usher, or Miley Cyrus?
as: HAHAHA. I think I’m a Simon and Paula hybrid. I’m Simon because I have a crystal-clear vision of what I want, and if you don’t fit, I am not going to beat around the bush. I never want to waste anyone’s time. But Paula has a way of finding a spark in people and being respectful of their contributions, and I try to always do that. I’ve received many post-audition emails over the years from people that I didn’t hire saying the experience was really special. I’m proud of that.
twi-ny: Is anyone associated with the public access show still around? Did you have to go through any kind of permissions process to use some of the original footage?
as: The show was public access. But I did get the tapes directly from someone who was given them by the host of the show, Frank Masi, before he died. [Ed. note: Masi passed away in 2013 at the age of eighty-seven; you can watch a YouTube tribute to him and the show here.]
twi-ny: How amazing was it to perform in such great costumes, as well as high heels?
as: The costumes, which are by Oana Botez, are absolutely fantastic. It’s such a blast being able to sparkle head to toe on a downtown stage — very atypical for the scene. The heels are challenging, but anything else with those costumes would be absurd, right? And the performers are all pros, so they make it work. I wanted an over-the-top glamorous look that I could juxtapose with the stark reality of our words. Oana definitely achieved that.
twi-ny: What did you want to be when you were growing up?
as: The opening text, which I call a monologue (even though it’s delivered by five voices), is basically a run-on sentence ticking off all of my childhood dreams. It includes a mermaid, grocery store checkout clerk, princess, trapeze artist, restaurateur, and movie star. Of course, I always wanted to be a dancer, but that’s obvious, and our unfulfilled dreams are so much more interesting.
twi-ny: What’s the worst job you’ve ever had?
as: I’ve had a slew of them. The story in the show about working in the housewares department at Burdines was my life at age fifteen. I had no idea how to sell kitchen appliances and would literally walk away from customers and kick back in the stock room. That was pretty awful. There’s another story about a boss with revolting coffee breath; that was my first job in NYC. But another horrific experience was telemarketing. In high school I worked at a call center selling satellite broadcasting to elderly people in rural areas. I had to convince them they needed HBO. It was super sleazy, plus I got sexually harassed by my boss. I’d say fifteen was not a banner year for my career trajectory.
twi-ny: What would you like audiences to take away from the show?
as: I’d like them to be reminded of our often-naive notions of success and talent, reflect on the choices they’ve made, and leave with a glimmer of hope.
Atlantic Theater Company
Linda Gross Theater
336 West 20th St. between Eighth & Ninth Aves.
Tuesday - Sunday through October 8, $65-$85
British playwright Simon Stephens has been making quite an impact on the world of New York theater recently, with the MCC production of Punk Rock, the Atlantic Theater Company’s stagings of Bluebird and Harper Regan, and the Broadway versions of Heisenberg and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, all since 2011. He’s now back at the Atlantic with his 2005 Olivier Award winner, On the Shore of the Wide World, a tightly wound, exquisitely written story of family and fidelity involving three generations of couples in Stephens’s hometown of Stockport, a working-class suburb of Manchester. Ellen (Blair Brown) and Charlie Holmes (Peter Maloney) are the old-timers, living out their golden years, but Ellen suddenly wants more. “We could buy something. Do something unusual. . . . Sell up and go somewhere we’ve never been to before,” she says. “Why?” an incredulous Charlie asks. “Just because we can,” Ellen replies. Their son, Peter (C. J. Wilson), a house restorer, is married to Alice (Mary McCann), who appears ready for a change now that their children, Alex (Ben Rosenfield) and Christopher (Wesley Zurick), are getting older. Alex, who is eighteen, is bringing home his new girlfriend, Sarah (Tedra Millan), whom the younger Christopher, who might be on the autism spectrum, instantly falls in love with. “Is he a little bit mentally ill?” Sarah, who does not have much of a filter, asks Peter, who is taken aback by the question. When tragedy strikes, the characters — which also include Paul Danzinger (Odiseas Georgiadis), Alex’s drug-dealing friend; Susan Reynolds (Amelia Workman), a pregnant woman who hires Peter to restore her house; and John Robinson (LeRoy McClain), a married man who pays an unexpected visit to Alice — reevaluate what they desire out of life as all three main couples face new crises, whether they want to or not. “You have no right to call me a coward. Nobody has any right to call another person a coward,” Charlie tells Alex. “We’re all of us cowards. All of us.”
Originally called Helsinki as a tribute to the bleak films of Finnish director Aki Kaurismäki, On the Shore of the Wide World — named for a quote from a Keats sonnet that is cited in the play — is intricately directed by Atlantic Theater artistic director Neil Pepe (Speed-the-Plow, Celebration). Christopher Akerlind’s lighting alerts the audience as to which part of Scott Pask’s all-in-one set, comprising an abandoned hotel, Peter and Alice’s kitchen, and Charlie and Ellen’s living room, the action will be taking place next. The excellent cast of American actors all speak in Mancunian accents that only seldom feel a bit strained. Wilson (Hold on to Me Darling, The Lady from Dubuque), one of our best, most dependable actors, excels as Peter, the house restorer who suddenly loses control of his own home. Rising star Millan (Present Laughter, The Wolves) is quirkily compelling as Sarah, who calls them as she sees them, while McCann (Ghost Stories: The Shawl, Harper Regan), who is Pepe’s wife, brings a soft vulnerability to Alice. Old pros Brown (Copenhagen, Orange Is the New Black) and Maloney (Dying for It, Outside Mullingar) rise above a few awkward moments in the script. And Workman (Tender Napalm, The Death of the Last Black Man in the Whole Entire World) is tantalizingly sexy and flirtatious as the pregnant Susan; it’s no accident that the story occurs over the course of nine months. At its core, On the Shore of the Wide World, is very much about the concept of marriage and monogamy, the idea that two people dedicate themselves to each other as they grow old together. “I think it’s repressive. I think it fucks people up,” Sarah says of wedlock. “I think it stops people doing what they want to do. Shouldn’t let it. Should just live, I think.” In the end, the characters all do exactly that, on the shores of the wide world, looking out from within the house of marriage and family.
The Pershing Square Signature Center
The Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre
480 West 42nd St. between Tenth & Eleventh Aves.
Tuesday - Sunday through October 1, $30
While canoeing about twenty years ago, Suzan-Lori Parks was randomly struck with the title of a play inspired by Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter: She wanted to write a show called Fucking A. It’s a great name for an ambitious work that turned out to be neither a reimagining of nor a response to the 1850 literary classic about adultery and punishment in 1642 Puritanical Boston but instead something wholly its own, with just a few key references to Hawthorne’s book. A fresh, stirring revival of that 2000 play opened last night as part of Parks’s Signature Theatre residency, running in tandem for the first time with its Hawthorne-related companion, 1999’s In the Blood, which together are known as the Red Letter Plays. Fucking A takes place in “a small town in a small country in the middle of nowhere,” where Hester Smith (Christine Lahti) works as an abortionist, an always-visible “A” branded into her skin. She is saving money so she can have a picnic with her son, Boy Smith, who has been in jail for thirty years for having stolen some meat from the very wealthy family he and his mother cleaned for. The rich girl who told on him is now the First Lady (Elizabeth Stanley), wife of the Mayor (Marc Kudisch). Furious that his spouse has been unable to give birth to his heir, the Mayor is having an affair with Canary Mary (Joaquina Kalukango), Hester’s best friend, who wants to marry the Mayor but in the meantime is more than willing to accept his money as payment for services rendered. Commenting on Canary Mary’s sexy yellow dress and high heels, Hester says, “It makes you look like a whore.” Canary responds, “I am a whore.” Hester counters, “Yr a kept woman,” to which Canary replies, “Im a whore. Yr an abortionist Im a whore.” Everyone in this unnamed place, in an unnamed time that could be the past, the present, or a postapocalyptic future, is just as direct, knowing exactly who they are and what they want out of this world, as indicated by the appellations Parks gives them, most of which describe their position and/or their inner nature. Hester is being courted by the kindhearted Butcher (Raphael Nash Thompson), who is not bothered by what she does for a living. (In a crafty touch, they wear matching bloodstained aprons.) Everyone is on edge when a convict, Monster (Brandon Victor Dixon), breaks out of prison and is on the loose, being tracked by a trio of Hunters (J. Cameron Barnett, Ben Horner, and Ruibo Qian) who can’t wait to capture and torture him, setting up a brutal conclusion.
In Fucking A, Parks, the first African American woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama (in 2002 for Topdog / Underdog), has created an updated classical tragedy fraught with contemporary societal issues. Despite the characters’ descriptive names, they go beyond mere caricature as they deal with systemic misogyny, racism, class conflict, financial and education imbalance, fearmongering, legalized abortion, rape, and general injustice. Determined to get vengeance, Hester declares about the Mayor’s wife, “When she was a little Rich Girl she thought she owned the world. And anything she wanted she could buy. Sent my son away to prison with a flick of her little Rich Girl finger. She cant buy a son or a daughter now but I can buy mine. Im buying mine back.” Hester has been paying into the Freedom Fund for years in order to just visit her son, but the cost keeps going up as his sentence keeps getting longer; as the fund’s motto says, “Freedom Ain’t Free!” The actors, many of whom also play musical instruments in the balcony, occasionally turn to Brechtian song, both serious and funny, to further their characterization and the plot, something that Obie-winning director Jo Bonney (Lynn Nottage’s Meet Vera Stark, Parks’s When Father Comes Home from the Wars) works in seamlessly. The Hunters sing, “With jobs so scarce and times so hard / Some folks have turned to crime / The law locks all the bad ones up / They lock em up all the time / When law locks em up, they make a fuss / But when they escape, it’s good for us! / Cause we hunt.” Referring to his semen and the loyalty he so craves, the virile Mayor proudly belts out, “Marching and swimming / And marching and swimming / Saddle up! / Take aim! / Atten-tion! / At ease! / Charge! Charge! Charge! Charge!” And in a duet Hester and Canary explain, “Its not that we love / What we do / But we do it / We look at the day / We just gotta get through it. / We dig our ditch with no complaining / Work in hot sun, or even when its raining / And when the long day finally comes to an end / We’ll say: ‘Here is a woman / Who does all she can.’”
Rachel Hauck’s ramshackle set usually serves as the room where Hester cleans up after performing abortions but is swiftly turned into a local pub, Butcher’s shop, a bench by the ocean, and the Mayor’s house, with a dark open doorway and stairs in the back that harken to something more outside. When talking about abortions, sex, and their vaginas, the women often speak in a different language called Talk, which is translated in surtitles; the only male who can understand even a few words and sentences of the women’s Talk is the sensitive and caring Butcher. Emilio Sosa’s costumes further define the characters while maintaining the mystery of time and place; Hester’s blood-soaked apron and the Scribe’s (Kudisch) outfit seem to fit in the Middle Ages, while the Mayor’s suit and the First Lady’s and Canary Mary’s clothing is decidedly modern. Oscar, Obie, and Emmy winner Lahti (Chicago Hope, Swing Shift) is transcendent as Hester, her every gesture signaling the utter desperation she feels, trapped by her “stinking weeping” brand. Thompson (Black Codes from the Underground, Pericles) is sweetly touching as Butcher, who delivers an extensive monologue on all of the crimes his daughter has committed, listing just about everything under the sun, including at least several sins that every member of the audience knows only too well, tacitly implicating each one of us in the proceedings. Three-time Tony nominee Kudisch (Hand to God, Assassins) deliciously chews up whatever is in his path as the Mayor and the drunken Scribe while also playing the bass guitar, and Stanley (On the Town, Company), in her daringly red dress, and Kalukango (The Color Purple, Our Lady of Kibeho), in her bold yellow attire, are excellent as two very different women who are essentially after the same thing. Parks, whose Signature residency began with The Death of the Last Black Man in the Whole Entire World AKA the Negro Book of the Dead and Venus and continues with In the Blood, which opens September 17, is fierce in her writing, which sparkles with overt and subtle dichotomies that bring it all together beautifully. Lastly, in a time when color-blind casting is all the rage, the ethnicity of the actor playing Hester has a critical impact on the play. In the 2003 production at the Public Theater, S. Epatha Merkerson was Hester (with Bobby Cannavale as the Mayor, Daphne Rubin-Vega as Canary Mary, and Peter Gerety as Butcher); the entire power dynamic shifts depending on Hester’s color (as well as that of other characters), a thought that can send even more shivers down your spine than you’re already experiencing watching this superb revival. We can think all we want that we don’t see color, but it’s another key part of what makes Fucking A fucking awesome.
BROADWAY WEEK: 2-for-1 Tickets
September 4-17, buy one ticket, get one free
Tickets are on sale for the late-summer edition of Broadway Week, which runs September 4-17 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. Twenty-three shows are participating, with one already sold out — The Lion King, as usual — so you need to act fast. You can still grab seats, however, for 1984, Aladdin, Anastasia, Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, A Bronx Tale, Cats, Chicago, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, A Doll’s House Part 2, Groundhog Day, Hello, Dolly! Kinky Boots, Michael Moore: The Terms of My Surrender, Miss Saigon, The Phantom of the Opera, The Play That Goes Wrong, Prince of Broadway, School of Rock, Waitress, War Paint, and Wicked. You can also get $20 upgrades by using the code BWAYUP.