James Badge Dale is electrifying as a prisoner in 2019 telling his story to a historian in Robert Schenkkan’s gripping, of-the-moment Building the Wall, which opened last night at New World Stages. Dale is Rick, a white convict relegated to solitary confinement and facing possible execution. His lawyer advised him not to take the stand at trial, so he has now decided to share the details of his frightening tale with Gloria (Tamara Tunie), who is considering writing a book about him. Both in their forties, Rick and Gloria are in a small prison room, a table at the center separating them. (The claustrophobic set is by Antje Ellermann.) “Why are you here?” Rick asks. Gloria responds by remembering a racist incident from her childhood, on the Fourth of July when she was six and a white police officer said something deeply offensive to her. “Was he just a, a ‘man of his time,’ like the nose on his face, his racism so much a part of him that he wasn’t even aware of it anymore? Or did he know exactly what he was doing and there was a special thrill in taking this little black child’s racial innocence?” she says. It’s a microcosm of the questions surrounding Rick’s incarceration, as well as much of what is going on in America and around the world, particularly since WWII. Rick, a native Texan whose family moved around a lot because his abusive father was in the air force, wanted to be an architect, but he quit school early and eventually joined the army because of 9/11. As he describes the next events in his life, leading up to the horrific crimes he committed, he makes it clear that every step of the way he worked hard to avoid problems, never intending for things to go so wrong. “You had a situation that got out of control, obviously. Why?” he asks rhetorically in his defense. “Chaotic conditions resulted from a lack of infrastructure, absurd overcrowding, inadequate training, poor discipline, and confusion over mission goals. . . . [The brass] tossed a lotta little people into the trash and then congratulated themselves.” But Gloria refuses to let him get off so easy, making him confront the harsh realities of what he became involved in. “I’m just trying to understand, Rick, given what happened,” Gloria says, making him go over every detail. “I’m just a guy, all right, a regular guy in extraordinary circumstances trying to do the best he can with very limited resources,” Rick responds. But there’s no defense for what ultimately occurred.
Pulitzer and Tony winner Schenkkan (Lewis and Clark Reach the Euphrates, The Kentucky Cycle), who has also been nominated for two Emmys (The Pacific) and an Oscar (Hacksaw Ridge), wrote Building the Wall in a weeklong “white hot fury” shortly before the 2016 presidential election. The play touches upon numerous hot-button issues, from race, religion, and education to the privatization of prisons, false flags, and illegal immigration, from NAFTA, NATO, and attorney general Jeff Sessions to Benghazi, Muslim terrorists, and border security. Schenkkan, whose previous play, All the Way, was about President Lyndon Baines Johnson’s efforts to pass civil rights legislation — much of which was recently gutted by a Republican Congress — does not hide that his tale is a warning of what could happen under the Trump administration if people don’t push back, but he and director Ari Edelson slowly unfurl the narrative to make it all wholly believable rather than the ranting of a liberal sore loser. “What does a writer who has often turned to history to illuminate present political crises do when he finds himself living through a turning point in history?” Schenkkan explains in the introduction to the published edition of the play. “To those who say that it could never happen here in this country, I reply, maybe not, but that of course will depend entirely on what you do.” (With that in mind, Schenkkan is widely licensing Building the Wall, realizing it has a limited shelf life and hoping it will be frequently performed all over America.) Dale (The Walk, The Pacific) is intense and affecting as Rick, a bundle of nervous energy who moves around the room like a lost soul; from the very beginning, Dale is able to elicit a critical amount of sympathy for a skinhead in an orange jumpsuit whose next stop appears to be death row. Obie winner Tunie (Familiar, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit) cannot quite keep up with Dale, her delivery too static, unable to get past the expository nature of some of her dialogue, something that Dale pulls off in the meatier role. The play is reminiscent of Nicholas Wright’s similarly staged two-person A Human Being Died That Night, in which black psychologist Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela interviews convicted white torturer and assassin Eugene de Kock, who committed his crimes for South Africa’s apartheid government. The main difference, of course, is that Wright’s play is based on facts, involving real people and actual events; Schenkkan’s main goal in his latest political play is to ensure that his shocking story remains completely fictional.
IN PURSUIT OF BLACK JOY: KILL MOVE PARADISE
The National Black Theatre: Institute for Action Arts
2031 Fifth Ave. between 125th & 126th Sts. (National Black Theatre Way)
May 31 - June 2, $20; June 4-18, $35 ($25 with code RISE), June 18-25, $40
Award-winning actor and writer James Ijames (The Brothers Size, White) makes his New York City debut with the ripped-from-the-headlines Kill Move Paradise, about the plight of four black men after they have been killed by racist acts and are now in an otherworldly place. The world premiere closes Dr. Barbara Ann Teer’s National Black Theatre’s forty-eighth season, which is themed “In Pursuit of Black Joy” and featured such other works as Harrison David Rivers’s Sweet and Craig ‘muMs’ Grant’s A Sucker Emcee. Inspired by recent events, the play, which explores the “All Lives Matter” controversy, stars Ryan Swain (A Negro Writer, Black Nativity) in his New York City stage debut, Donnell E. Smith (Time: The Kalief Browder Story, Ugly Is a Hard Pill), Clinton Lowe (Bamboo in Bushwick, The Hustle), and Sidiki Fofana (Most Dangerous Man in America, Children of Killers) and is directed by Saheem Ali (Nollywood Dreams, The Erlkings). Maruti Evans is the scenic designer, with lighting by Alan Edwards, sound by Palmer Hefferan, and costumes by Ntokozo Fuzunina Kunene. “We wanted to flip the narrative surrounding the oppressive tropes that keep us feeling helpless and stuck as a community,” National Black Theatre theatre arts director Jonathan McCrory said in a statement. “With Kill Move Paradise, we are seeking to inspire our community to remember the power of joy as a tool of resistance, a mechanism forged as our sacred birthright to gain freedom in the midst of oppression.”
TICKET GIVEAWAY: Kill Move Paradise runs May 31 to June 25 at Dr. Barbara Ann Teer’s National Black Theatre, and twi-ny has three pairs of tickets to give away for free. Just send your name, daytime phone number, and favorite sociopolitical play or movie to firstname.lastname@example.org by Tuesday, May 30, at 3:00 pm to be eligible. All entrants must be twenty-one years of age or older; three winners will be selected at random.
252 West 45th St. between Broadway & Eighth Ave.
Tuesday - Sunday through July 23, $39 - $147
It’s the most famous door slam in theatrical history and a symbolic touchstone of the women’s rights movement. At the end of Henrik Ibsen’s 1879 play, A Doll’s House, Nora Helmer declares her freedom and walks out on her banker husband, Torvald, and their three young children, in order to figure out who she is and what she wants out of life. In his book From Ibsen’s Workshop: Notes, Scenarios, and Drafts of the Modern Plays, Ibsen wrote of A Doll’s House: “A woman cannot be herself in the society of the present day, which is an exclusively masculine society, with laws framed by men and with a judicial system that judges feminine conduct from a masculine point of view.” Playwright Lucas Hnath delves deeper into those rules of conduct between men and women in his audacious, decidedly contemporary follow-up, A Doll’s House, Part 2. It’s also extremely intelligent and very, very funny, more than worthy of its title. Hnath and director Sam Gold attack the story with relish, beginning with Miriam Beuther’s set, a large room with two high walls that meet at the back, while the front corner angles into the first few added rows; the feet of the audience members in the first row can actually reach under the stage. To the left is the door, big and brown and austere; a few chairs and a table are arranged around the room sparsely but neatly. A glowing yellow neon sign hangs from the ceiling, boldly announcing the name of the play, rising up and out of view shortly after the show starts, with a knock on the door; Nora (Laurie Metcalf) has returned. “Nora, I can’t believe it’s you!” proclaims an excited Ann Marie (Jane Houdyshell), the nanny who first raised Nora, then Nora’s children. “It’s good to see you,” Nora responds calmly, but she can’t wait to tell Ann Marie what she’s been up to these last fifteen years, during which she has had no contact whatsoever with anyone in the house. She proudly informs Ann Marie that she’s become a successful writer, using a pseudonym, publishing controversial books that argue against the institution of marriage and monogamy, which she calls “self-torture.” When Torvald (Chris Cooper) unexpectedly arrives, he doesn’t even recognize Nora. “Who’s your friend?” he asks Ann Marie before looking a little closer. “Are you . . . You aren’t . . . You are,” he says. “I am,” Nora responds. “I have to go to the bathroom,” Torvald declares, and leaves the room. It’s a scintillating exchange, 15 years in the making in the play itself, but 138 years since Ibsen first wrote Nora’s exit.
The reason why Nora has returned is brilliant; she has not come back to explain herself to Torvald or to see how her children are doing. Avoiding all sentimentality, Nora explains that Torvald never filed the divorce papers, so she desperately needs him to finally sign them, which will at last legally set her free of all attachments, allow her to sign contracts on her own behalf, and save her reputation as an anti-marriage crusader — all the dilemmas that ensue from women’s lack of the rights that men enjoy. “I think it’s to be expected that a person would think that after I left this house and my husband and my children that I’d have a very difficult time,” she tells Ann Marie, who says, “The world is a hard place.” Nora adds, “So we’re trained to think. I mean, I think there’s something in our time and place and culture that teaches us to expect and even want for women who leave their families to be punished.” It’s a statement that wittily comments on the audience’s own expectations, displaying how inequality remains very much in force today; Nora might be flaunting her independence and her career triumphs, but she has not yet broken free of society’s rules, many of which have continued into the twenty-first century. Over the course of the swiftly moving ninety-minute play, Nora goes one-on-one with each character, the next bout announced by a projection of that character’s name on the wall in huge sans-serif block letters by Peter Nigrini. The interactions are superbly staged, as Ann Marie gives Nora a piece of her mind, Torvald is not keen on granting her the divorce, and Emmy shows she has matured into a fine, albeit traditional, young woman. The dialogue in each scene is razor-sharp and unpredictable, as Hnath (Red Speedo, The Christians) explores the age-old battle of the sexes with surprisingly modern language. In researching the project, Hnath sought advice from numerous feminist scholars, including Carol Gilligan, Elaine Showalter, Toril Moi, Susan Brantly, and Caroline Light, resulting in a play that never is condescending or didactic and instead is illuminating and wholly believable.
The cast is divinely exquisite, all four earning Tony nods. Four-time Tony nominee Metcalf (The Other Place, Domesticated) is sensational as Nora, following in the door-slamming footsteps of Julie Harris, Claire Bloom, Jane Fonda, Dorothy McGuire, and Joan Crawford. Wearing a gorgeous art nouveau shirtwaist and ladies’ suit by costume designer David Zinn, she’s utterly magnetic as she moves around the stage, completely unafraid to face the realities of Nora’s situation, many of which she did not expect. Oscar winner and Tony and Emmy nominee Cooper (My House in Umbria, Adaptation.), last seen on Broadway in the short-lived 1980 drama Of the Fields, Lately, is gentle and understated as Torvald, who is not sure how to react when he abruptly has to confront something he has tried to put past him. Three-time Tony nominee Rashad (The Trip to Bountiful, Stick Fly) is adorably charming as Emmy, a confident woman who holds no grudges and has an infectiously positive view of life. And Tony and Obie winner Houdyshell (The Humans, Follies), who played the nurse to Rashad’s Juliet in David Leveaux’s 2013 Broadway version of Romeo and Juliet with Orlando Bloom, is, as always, a marvelous delight, holding nothing back as Ann Marie defends the choices she made and delivers the funniest, most direct, and totally un-Ibsen-like line of the play. Tony winner Gold (Fun Home, John) again proves he is one of the theater’s most inventive directors, allowing Hnath’s sparkling words to shine on a sparse but powerful set. One door closes; one door opens. Entrances and exits are the way of life, and the way of theater, and they come together beautifully in this electrifying and masterful production.
Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum and other locations in all five boroughs
Pier 86, 12th Ave. & 46th St.
May 24–29, pier activities free unless otherwise noted
The U.S. Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard will be pouring into New York City for Fleet Week, which takes place May 24-29 at the Intrepid and other locations. The annual celebration, which began in 1982, leads into Memorial Day weekend, reminding everyone that the holiday is not just about barbecues and beaches. Below are only some of the highlights; all pier events are free and open to the public. Admission to the museum is $17-$33 but free for all U.S. military and veterans.
Wednesday, May 24
Parade of Ships, New York Harbor, 8:15 am - 1:00 pm
Fort Wadsworth Fleet Week and National Park Centennial Celebration, Fort Wadsworth Overlook, Staten Island, 9:00 - 11:30 am
U.S. Navy Divers, New York Aquarium, 10:00 am - 3:00 pm
Thursday, May 25
U.S. Coast Guard Silent Drill Team Performance, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 11:00 am
U.S. Coast Guard Silent Drill Team Performance, 9/11 Memorial Plaza, 1:00
Thursday, May 25
Friday, May 26
Public Tours of Visiting Ship Research Vessel Neil Armstrong, end of pier 86, 10:00 am – 12:30 pm
Thursday, May 25
Friday, May 26
Saturday, May 27
U.S. Navy Dive Tank in Times Square, plaza between 43rd & 44th Sts., 10:00 am - 5:00 pm
Thursday, May 25
Monday, May 29
General Public Ship Tours, Brooklyn Cruise Terminal, Homeport Pier in Staten Island, Pier 92 in Manhattan, 8:00 am - 5:00 pm
Friday, May 26
Movie on the Flight Deck: Top Gun (Tony Scott, 1986), introduced by former NASA astronaut and T-38 pilot Gregory C. Johnson, 7:00
Navy Band Concert, with Navy Band Northeast Rhode Island Sound, Military Island, Times Square, 8:00
Friday, May 26
Monday, May 29
Giant Leaps Planetarium Show, Intrepid, Hangar 3, Rotunda, 12:15 – 3:15
Saturday, May 27
Marine Day, with a formation run, military static displays, demonstrations, and a performance by the USMC Battle Color Detachment, 8:00 am - 4:00 pm
Broadway Showcase: Cats, Kinky Boots, School of Rock, Ernest Shackleton Loves Me, The Imbible: A Spirited History of Drinking, and Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812, emceed by The Play That Goes Wrong, Pier 86, Main Stage, 12 noon
U.S. Coast Guard Search & Rescue Demo, Homeport Pier, Staten Island, 12 noon
CAMMO Voices of Service, Pier 86, Main Stage, 1:30 & 4:30
American Military Spouses Choir, Pier 86, Main Stage, 3:30 & 5:00
Navy Band Concert, with Navy Band Northeast Rhode Island Sound, Military Island, Times Square, 6:00
Battle of the Big Bands, with Harlem Renaissance Orchestra, Glenn Crytzer Orchestra with guest vocalist Hannah Gill, Gunhild Carling with the Swingadelic Big Band, Jason Prover and the Sneak Thievery Orchestra, swing dancing lessons, the Bathtub Ginnys, the Intrepid Swing Dance Brigade, contests, MC Dandy Wellington, DJ VaVa Voom and Odysseus Bailer, Flight Deck, $55-$95, 7:00 pm – 1:00 am
U.S. Marine Corps Battle Color Detachment Performance, Father Duffy Square, Times Square, 8:00
Saturday, May 27
Sunday, May 28
Activities, displays, demonstrations, tours, and more, including “Dive into Density,” U.S. Coast Guard Silent Drill Team, SeaPerch Pool Demonstrations, antique military vehicles, “Signal Flags,” CEC/Seabee Historical Foundation’s STEM activity, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers North Atlantic Division, “Catch a Cable,” 10:00 am – 6:00 pm
Saturday, May 27
Sunday, May 28
Monday, May 29
Explosive Ordnance Disposal Navy Divers, New York Aquarium, Coney Island, $11.95 - $14.95
Meet the Author: Julia Maki, My Mom Hunts Submarines, Hangar 2, Stage, 11:00 am, 12 noon, 1:00
Sunday, May 28
Performance by Tap Life, Pier 86, Main Stage, 12:30
Performance by America’s Sweethearts, Pier 86, Main Stage, 1:00 & 3:00
Performance by Deployed: A New Musical, Pier 86, Main Stage, 1:30 & 4:30
Performance by the 78th Army Band, Pier 86, Main Stage, 2:00
Performance by Exit 12 Dance Company, Pier 86, Main Stage, 3:30
Navy Band Concert, with Navy Band Northeast Rhode Island Sound, Military Island, Times Square, 4:00
Monday, May 29
Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Memorial Day Observance, commemorating the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Battle of Midway, Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument, Riverside Dr. & 89th St., 10:00 am
Activities, displays, demonstrations, tours, and more, including Minus 5 Ice Sculpting Experience, CEC/Seabee Historical Foundation’s STEM activity, FDNY Fire Safety Experience, Dina Parise Racing 3,000HP Fallen Heroes Cadillac and Porta Tree display, Veterans Vision Project and Arizona State University, U.S. Air Force Auxiliary, Veteran Artist Program, Hudson Valley Paws for a Cause, Intrepid former crew members, “Dive into Density,” SeaPerch Pool Demonstrations, “Signal Flags,” “Catch a Cable,” “What Floats Your Boat?,” Pier 86, 10:00 am – 6:00 pm
Memorial Day Ceremony, Pier 86, 11:00 am
Search & Rescue Demonstration by the U.S. Coast Guard, end of Pier 86, 2:00
Bubble Garden by the Gazillion Bubble Show, Pier 86, 2:00 – 6:00
Who: Zach Grenier, Kathryn Erbe, Reg E. Cathey
What:Free performance of scenes from ancient Greek play, followed by Q&A
Where: Allison & Howard Lutnick Theater, Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum, Pier 86, West Forty-Sixth St. & Twelfth Ave.
When: Sunday, May 28, free with RSVP, 7:00
Why: In conjunction with Fleet Week, Theater of War is presenting a dramatic reading of scenes from Sophocles’ Philoctetes, translated, directed, and facilitated by Brooklyn-based artistic director Bryan Doerries, author of The Theater of War: What Ancient Greek Tragedies Can Teach Us Today. The event, part of a project that “is designed to promote understanding, compassion, and positive action,” features Tony nominee Zach Grenier (The Good Wife, 33 Variations), Tony nominee Kathryn Erbe (Law & Order: Criminal Intent, The Speed of Darkness), and Emmy winner Reg E. Cathey (The Wire, House of Cards). The dramatic reading will be followed by a Q&A with community panelists.
The Mint Theater
The Beckett Theatre at Theatre Row
410 West 42nd St. between Ninth & Tenth Aves.
Tuesday - Sunday through July 2, $65
For his latest theatrical excavation, Jonathan Bank and his expert drama archaeologists at the Mint have resurrected Winnie-the-Pooh creator Alan Alexander (A. A.) Milne’s The Lucky One, presenting the first New York revival of the 1922 Broadway play at the Beckett Theatre through July 2. “The Lucky One was doomed from the start with a name like that,” Milne wrote in the introduction to a published volume of five of his plays written in 1916–17. “I see no hope of its being produced. But if any critic wishes to endear himself to me (though I don’t see why he should) he will agree with me that it is the best play of the five.” In 2004, the Mint brought back two other Milne works, Mr. Pim Passes By and The Truth About Blayds, and now is staging The Lucky One, which Milne wrote in 1917 while serving in WWI. It’s a slight but pleasurable tale of upper-class Edwardian desire and doom, featuring a compelling central plot but lacking any bigger scope. The first and third acts are set in the country home of Sir James Farringdon (Wynn Harmon) and his wife, Lady Farringdon (Deanne Lorette), where the golf-obsessed Tommy Todd (Andrew Fallaize) is bragging about a hole-in-one to dapper family friend Henry Wentworth (Michael Frederic). The Farringdons’ virtually perfect younger son, the tall, blond Gerald (Robert David Grant), handsome well spoken, and well placed in the Foreign Office, has just gotten engaged to the beautiful and charming Pamela Carey (Paton Ashbrook). But not everyone thinks he’s the bee’s knees. “The trouble with Gerald, Mr. Wentworth, is that he goes about expecting everybody to love him. The result is that they nearly all do,” says Gerald’s elderly spinster Great-Aunt Harriet, aka Aunt Tabitha. “However, he can’t get round me.” Miss Farringdon prefers Gerald’s older brother, “poor old Bob” (Ari Brand), a dark-haired, dour young man who regrets having been sent into the big bad city by his parents to work on the Stock Exchange. Bob is sore at Gerald, as Pamela was Bob’s girlfriend before he brought her home and introduced her to his brother. Bob is also embarrassed that he has to ask Gerald for help with a serious business problem; Bob’s partner has absconded with ill-gotten money and left him facing possible prosecution.
The middle act takes place in a Dover Street hotel in London, where the family discusses Bob’s situation. “I don’t want to be unfair to Bob; I don’t think that any son of mine would do a dishonourable action,” Sir James says, “but the Law is the Law, and if the Law sends Bob to prison I can’t help feeling the disgrace of it.” When Bob arrives, he has some terse words for his brother. “You could have saved me from this, and you wouldn’t help me,” he sternly tells Gerald. But soon there’s more than that coming between the siblings. One of the highlights of nearly every Mint production is the set, which is often deserving of its own applause (as well as oohs and aahs). In this case, Vicki R. Davis’s design is, like the play, rather pleasant but nothing more, an elegant main room with a few sofas and chairs, doors in the back leading outside, and a long, high two-sided staircase rising across the stage; at the top landing is a large photograph of Bob and Gerald as boys, a constant reminder of a more innocent time. The cast, which also includes Mia Hutchinson-Shaw as Letty Herbert, who provides comic relief with her bestie, Tommy, and Peggy J. Scott as Mason, the family’s longtime nurse and servant, is excellent — Grant (Merchants of Love, Clever Little Lies) is especially charming in his Mint debut — and Mint associate director Jesse Marchese (The Fatal Weakness, I Am a Camera) provides solid direction, particularly in the key scenes involving Bob, Gerald, and Pamela. But there’s not a whole lot of meat to the play, not enough for audiences to chew on. Milne rarely ventures past the well-groomed surface of the landed gentry and their actions. It all makes for a pleasant theatrical experience, but you’ll leave the Beckett wanting a little more — perhaps a few episodes of Downton Abbey.