St. Luke’s Theatre
308 West 46th St. between Eighth & Ninth Aves.
Wednesdays at 2:00, Thursdays at 8:00, Sundays at 1:00 through September 21, $39.50-$59.50
In 1936, U.S. Olympic runners Marty Glickman and Sam Stoller were unexpectedly removed from the 4x100-meter relay team the day before the event. Glickman, who went on to have a Hall of Fame career as a sports broadcaster, always claimed that the move was due to anti-Semitism, made to to appease the German furor over Jesse Owens’s having already won three gold medals. (The victories by the African American Owens infuriated Adolf Hitler, who had planned to use the Olympics to show off the dominance of the so-called master race.) However, Glickman’s claim was denied by U.S. Olympic Committee president Avery Brundage and head coach Lawson Robertson. Playwright Samuel J. Bernstein investigates the controversy in Olympics Über Alles, a two-hour debacle that is part didactic history lesson, part Purim shpiel, minus the humor. Glickman’s compelling story, which was recently told in an excellent HBO documentary, gets buried within a simplistic, heavy-handed exploration of centuries of anti-Semitism as Professor Steve Feinstein (Tim Dowd) attempts to convince college museum employee Kate McCarthy (Amy Handra) that the organization should mount his exhibition about Glickman (played by Michael Engberg in his younger years and Stewart A. Schneck as an adult) and the 1936 Nazi Olympics as part of its minority initiative. Director and dramaturg Debra Whitfield (The Banana Monologues, Trifles) cuts back and forth between various moments in the lives of Glickman and the Irish Catholic McCarthy, giving far too much time to the latter as Kate deals with a violent, alcoholic, virulently anti-Semitic father (Jim DiMunno) who refuses to allow her to have any Jewish friends.
Dowd and Handra are the only two members of the cast who portray one person; the six others take on multiple roles, but it’s not always clear who is who, and accents are primarily used only for Germans (although there is some Brooklynese as well). Glickman had a very distinctive voice, but neither Engberg nor Schneck attempt to re-create it. (Only one all-too-brief snippet of Glickman’s golden vocal cords is heard over the loudspeaker.) The stage includes six vertical screens that remain static for the first act — which ends with a mind-boggling performance of “HaTikvah,” the Israeli national anthem — but are moved around in the second half fairly randomly. Bernstein (Yank, Immortal Journey: Ponce de Leon and the Spring of Life), a Northeastern professor of English, collaborated on the play with coauthor Marguerite Krupp, who is officially credited with “bring[ing] the Catholic perspective to Olympics Über Alles,” although we’re not sure what that means. At one point, an influential Jewish businessman named Edelman (DiMunno) tries to convince Professor Feinstein that his exhibition will not be good for the Jews; unfortunately, the same thing can be said about the overly earnest Olympics Über Alles.
Pershing Hall, Governors Island
September 10, 13, 14, 20, 21, $18
A little bit of Wall Street has ferried over to Governors Island for HERE’s new site-specific participatory production, Trade Practices. Conceived by David Evans Morris, who also designed the sets, and created by Morris with HERE artistic director Kristin Marting, who serves as director, the show takes place in several rooms in historic Pershing Hall, Governors Island’s administrative headquarters. It’s a treat just to go inside the usually off-limits building, which boasts terrific Federal Art Project murals in the lobby depicting Teddy Roosevelt going up San Juan Hill, Robert E. Lee surrendering to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox, Zachary Taylor falling on his horse at the end of the War of 1812, and scenes from other battles that hint at what’s about to come. Upon entering the building, each participant is given a colored ticket that assigns them to a story line, as Trade Practices follows Tender Inc., a successful family-owned paper company perhaps gearing up to go public in the early 2000s. The different episodes go behind the scenes with four sets of characters organized under Management (written by Robert Lyons), Communication (KJ Sanchez), Owners (Chris Wells), and Workers (Qui Nguyen) as the audience follows lots of infighting and backstabbing, from sexy public relations head Patricia Silver (Jenniffer Diaz), Odyssey-loving employee leader Franklin (Daniel Kublick), competing managerial fast-trackers Brenda McCall (Megan Hill) and Circe Boudreaux (Mariana Newhard), and the extremely ambitious and musical Polly Tender (Mary Rasmussen). The firm, loosely inspired by the actual, prestigious history and products of Crane & Co. (the contentiousness and market wranglings are all fiction), with more than a few hints of Dunder Mifflin, is at a crossroads, trying to evaluate its strengths and weaknesses, including those of its current CEO, the stiff-shirted Jim Tender (Peter McCabe). After the first scene, everyone gathers on the trading floor, a room with a digital stock ticker and numerous televisions tuned to a cable business channel, where Smith (Mike Iveson Jr.) and Jones (Daphne Gaines) share some intimate tips about the company (in skits written by Elisa Davis), and then everyone invests in the characters and story line they’d like to follow, using play money and certificates; trading floor meetings after each episode allow audience members to buy and sell stock to change story lines for succeeding vignettes.
Trade Practices is often too goofy and amateurish, but if you stick with the shaky premise and the purposeful overacting and invest yourself in it, you’ll certainly get your money’s worth, especially if others in the audience choose to get involved as well and don’t just hoard stock or hide in the background. As goal-oriented intern Darlene Tender (Brooke Ishibashi) warns early on, you will not be able to see everything during the two-hour indoctrination, so completionists, beware. In general, some scenes work much better than others, so your overall enjoyment is likely to be affected by the paths you choose, just as in life and business; we were partial to Patricia’s hot and fiery temperament and Franklin’s penchant for the unexpected, while musical theater enthusiasts would probably prefer Polly’s tale. It’s all rather low rent, which is part of its charm but also a drawback. The show doesn’t really shed much light on economics or business, but it’s still fun if you let yourself go and get immersed in the action. Trade Practices continues September 10 at 3:15, September 13 at 12:15, and September 14 and 20-21 at 12:15 and 3:45; tickets are eighteen dollars (cash only at the door; you can’t use real money to purchase stock), and the ferry is either free or two dollars depending on when you go.
Unfortunately, the best thing about Revolution in the Elbow of Ragnar Agnarsson Furniture Painter is its awesome title. The rest is just a well-intentioned but convoluted mess. Inspired by Jesus Christ Superstar and Tommy, Icelandic author, musician, and former journalist Ívar Páll Jónsson (book, music, lyrics) and his businessman brother Gunnlaugur (executive producer) collaborated on a story about the devastating 2008 economic collapse in their home country, turning it into a rock opera about a town living in the elbow of a grungy couch potato furniture painter named Ragnar Agnarsson, whose personage is projected onto the back wall of the stage prior to the show and during intermission. In Elbowville, Peter (Marrick Smith) has invented a prosperity machine that prints promissory notes, allowing him, Mayor Manuela (Tony winner Cady Huffman), and her right-hand man, Kolbein (Patrick Boll), to get rich in a pyramid scheme that eventually comes tumbling down. Meanwhile, Peter cruelly steals Brynja (usually played by Jesse Wildman, but we saw a fine Karli Dinardo in the role) from his shy brother, Alex (Graydon Long), and the third brother, Stein (Brad Nacht), gets caught up in all the money madness with his wife, Asrun (Kate Shindle). “If you act like you know what you’re doing, they will think you know what you’re doing,” Peter tells himself as his carefully created world starts falling apart, but that saying doesn’t apply to the brothers Jónsson, who act like they know what they’re doing in their first production but clearly need a lot more experience.
The live band, under the leadership of bassist Matt Basile (Mother Feather), plays decent indie rock, but the lyrics to such songs as “Midas Reborn,” “All We Need Is Confidence,” and “We Play the Game” are flat and emotionless, letting down a talented cast. Edda Gudmundsdottir’s costumes, following a black, red, and white color scheme, range from very funny to way over the top, while Lee Proud’s choreography comes and goes, then throws in an inexplicable tap number just for the heck of it. Bergur Þór Ingólfsson’s choppy direction doesn’t quite know what to do with Petr Hloušek’s cool set, consisting of stairs and a balcony, with projections that allude to Agnarsson’s insides. Perhaps the strangest decision was to strip the show of all references to Iceland itself, so it turns out there is nothing Icelandic about this production, save for the people behind the scenes — and a seemingly endless supply of visual and spoken lobster jokes. Revolution, which has just posted an early closing notice, has the feel of a bunch of friends getting together to put on a show but not really knowing how to really do that.
September 5-7, free, 8:00
The Public Theater’s high-profile outdoor summer season might have come to a close when King Lear starring John Lithgow and Annette Bening ended its run on August 17 (following on the heels of Hamish Linklater and Lily Rabe in Much Ado About Nothing), but there’s more free Shakespeare to be had this weekend when the Public Works community initiative program brings The Winter’s Tale to the Delacorte. Last year, the project was initiated with a musical version of The Tempest, directed by Lear deBessonet, choreographed by Chase Brock, and with music and lyrics by Todd Almond; that same trio is back with the Bard’s mysterious romance, featuring a wide-ranging cast that combines professional actors with members of community organizations from all five boroughs. “We believe that theater has a specific role to play; it always has,” Public Theater artistic director Oskar Eustis says in the above promotional video. “It’s a democratizing impulse, it’s an empowering impulse, it’s a participatory impulse, and what we’re trying to do is spread the glory of that so that everybody in the city has the chance to have that experience.” The musical, which will have some two hundred people onstage in total, stars Almond (Girlfriend, Melancholy Play) as Antigonus, Christopher Fitzgerald (Wicked, Young Frankenstein) as Autolycus, Isaiah Johnson (Peter and the Starcatcher, The Merchant of Venice) as Leontes, Lindsay Mendez (Wicked, Dogfight) as Hermione, and David Turner (Arcadia, Sunday in the Park with George) as the Clown, along with men, women, and children from the Children’s Aid Society, the DreamYard Project, the Fortune Society, the Brownsville Recreation Center, and Domestic Workers United. In addition, there will be group cameos by Sesame Street, the New York Theatre Ballet, DanceBrazil, Rosie’s Theater Kids, the Shinbone Alley Stilt Band, the Staten Island Lions, and AATMA Performing Arts. The show runs September 5-7, and free tickets are available the same day in Central Park and through the Public’s online virtual ticketing lottery or by advance donation of $75.
French Institute Alliance Française and other locations
Florence Gould Hall, 55 East 59th St. between Madison & Park Aves.
FIAF Gallery, 22 East 60th St. between Madison & Park Aves.
September 8 - October 20, free - $35
One of the best multidisciplinary arts festivals every year, FIAF’s Crossing the Line is back for its eighth season, featuring another exciting lineup of dance, theater, music, installation, exhibitions, and hard-to-describe events. Cocurators Lili Chopra, Simon Dove, and Gideon Lester explain it thusly: “This year’s edition of Crossing the Line brings together fifteen extraordinary international artists and companies, each of them offering unique perspectives on the world we all share. We invite New Yorkers to explore their meticulous and deeply considered work, both the familiar and the unknown, and find inspiration, provocation, and pure pleasure.” Hosted by the French Institute Alliance Française and taking place there as well as several other locations, CTL offers numerous opportunities to “find inspiration, provocation, and pure pleasure.” Palais Galliera director Olivier Saillard gets seven former supermodels to open up in Models Never Talk, a world premiere at Milk Studios. Trajal Harrell continues his Twenty Looks or Paris Is Burning at the Judson Church with a week of special performances at the Kitchen. Justin Vivian Bond is joined by special guest Miguel Gutierrez for the one-night-only Love Is Crazy, consisting of songs and stories about love and romance.
Patti Smith, her daughter, Jesse, and Soundwalk Collective examine the death of Nico in unique ways in Killer Road at FIAF. Swiss choreographer Gilles Jobin and German visual artist Julius von Bismarck use motion-sensor technology and lighting to delve into physics in Quantum at BAM Fisher. Jessica Mitrani and Pedro Almodóvar regular Rossy de Palma pay tribute to Nellie Bly in Traveling Lady at FIAF. The audience is encouraged to participate in Aaron Landsman’s free Republic of New York: Perfect City Discussions at Abrons Arts Center. Fernando Rubio’s Everything by My Side is a fifteen-minute rotating performance on seven beds in Hudson River Park. The works of French choreographer Xavier Le Roy will be re-created at MoMA PS1. Prune Nourry’s “Terracotta Daughters” exhibition at 104 Washington St. challenges gender roles in China and the world. Julie Béna’s site-specific “T&T Consortium: You’re Already Elsewhere” at the FIAF Gallery puts visitors into a fantastical setting. The star of the festival is Japanese electronic artist Ryoji Ikeda, whose Park Avenue Armory installation “The Transfinite” dazzled New York back in 2011; the mathematical mastermind will present the immersive, multimedia Superposition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, a gallery exhibition at Salon 94, and “Test Pattern [Times Square],” which can be seen on nearly four dozen screens in Times Square as part of the “Midnight Moment” program each night in October from 11:57 pm to midnight. CTL is also one of the most affordable festivals, with nothing costing more than $35, so you have no excuse not to check out at least a few of these ultracool events.