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

FREE SUMMER THEATER 2015

New York Classical Theatre holds its first read-through of THE TAMING OF THE SHREW, which they will bring to multiple parks this summer

New York Classical Theatre holds its first read-through of THE TAMING OF THE SHREW, which they will bring to multiple parks this summer (photo courtesy of New York Classical Theatre)

What can compare to free open-air Shakespeare in a New York park on a midsummer night? The annual season celebrating the Bard all around the city has just begun, with presentations from such companies and organizations as New York Classical Theatre, Smith Street Stage, Boomerang, the all-female Manhattan Shakespeare Project, Hudson Warehouse, Hip to Hip, the Public Theater, and SummerStage. All of the below events are free, but, as always, Shakespeare in the Park at the Delacorte requires same-day ticketing. Don’t miss out on this city tradition; otherwise, as Will wrote in Sonnet 65: “O, how shall summer’s honey breath hold out / Against the wreckful siege of batt’ring days, / When rocks impregnable are not so stout, / Nor gates of steel so strong, but Time decays?”

Friday, May 15
through
Saturday, May 31

Shakespeare in the Parking Lot: Two Gentlemen of Verona, by the Drilling Company, directed by Hamilton Clancy, Bryant Park, Fridays & Saturdays at 6:30, Sundays at 2:00

Tuesday, May 26
Wednesday, May 27
Thursday, May 28
through
Sunday, June 28

New York Classical Theatre: The Taming of the Shrew, Central Park, 103rd St. & Central Park West, Thursday - Sunday at 7:00

Wednesday, May 27
through
Sunday, July 5

Shakespeare in the Park: The Tempest, starring Jordan Barrow, Louis Cancelmi, Francesca Carpanini, Nicholas Christopher, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Chloe Fox, Rosharra Francis, Thomas Gibbons, Frank Harts, Sunny Hitt, Brandon Kalm, Olga Karmansky, Tamika Sonja Lawrence, Rico Lebron, Danny Mastrogiorgio, Tim Nicolai, Matthew Oaks, Charles Parnell, Chris Perfetti, Rodney Richardson, Laura Shoop, Cotter Smith, Sam Waterston, and Bernard White, directed by Michael Greif, Delacorte Theater, Central Park, 8:00

Wednesday, June 3
through
Sunday, July 26

Manhattan Shakespeare Project: The Taming of the Shrew, directed by Kate Holland, Central Park Summit Rock (June 3, 11, 25, 26, 28), Astoria Park (TBD), St. Nicholas Park (June 18, 20), Sunset Park (June 19, 21, 27), Morningside Park (July 9, 10, 11, 12, 23, 24, 25, 26), 6:00

Thursday, June 4
through
Sunday, June 28

Hudson Warehouse: Henry IV Part I, with Steve Guttenberg, directed by Nicholas Martin-Smith, Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument, Riverside Park, Thursday - Sunday at 6:30

Friday, June 5
SummerStage: Lemon Anderson ToasT, plus #LoveHustle with DJ Reborn and J. Keys, Red Hook Park, 7:00

The Nuyorican Poets Cafe will feature Elaine Del Valle’s BROWNSVILLE BRED in Betsy Head Park on June 13 (photo by Ron Marotta)

The Nuyorican Poets Cafe will feature Elaine Del Valle’s BROWNSVILLE BRED in Betsy Head Park on June 13 (photo by Ron Marotta)

Saturday, June 13
SummerStage: Nuyorican Poets Cafe featuring Elaine Del Valle’s Brownsville Bred, Betsy Head Park, 7:00

Saturday, June 20
through
Sunday, July 19

Boomerang Theatre Company: Cymbeline, Central Park (69th St. & Central Park West), Saturdays & Sundays at 2:00

Tuesday, June 23, 30
Wednesday, June 24 & July 1

New York Classical Theatre: The Taming of the Shrew, Prospect Park, enter at Grand Army Plaza, 7:00

Thursday, June 25, 4:00 (open dress rehearsal)
Friday, June 26, 4:00
Saturday, June 27, 2:00
Sunday, June 28, 2:00

River to River: Love of a Poet, by John Kelly, Arts Center, Governors Island, advance RSVP required

smith street stage henry iv

Tuesday, June 30
through
Sunday, July 19

Shakespeare in Carroll Park: Henry IV (Parts 1 & 2) by Smith Street Stage, directed by Joby Earle, bring your own seating, Carroll Park, 6:30 or 8:00

Thursday, July 2
through
Sunday, July 26

Hudson Warehouse: She Stoops to Conquer, directed by Ian Harkins, Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument, Riverside Park, Thursday - Sunday at 6:30

Thursday, July 2
through
Friday, August 7

Theatreworks USA: Skippyjon Jones Snow What (& the 7 Chihuahuas), Lucille Lortel Theatre, Sunday – Friday, times vary

Sunday, July 5
through
Sunday, July 26

SummerStage: The Tempest by Classical Theatre of Harlem, directed by Carl Cofield, Marcus Garvey Park, Tuesday – Sunday at 7:00

Wednesday, July 8
Friday, July 10
through
Sunday, July 12

New York Classical Theatre: The Taming of the Shrew, Teardrop Park, 7:00

Thursday, July 9
through
Saturday, July 26

Shakespeare in the Parking Lot: As You Like It, by the Drilling Company, directed by Hamilton Clancy, Clemente Soto Velez Cultural and Educational Center, 114 Norfolk St., 8:00

Thursday, July 9
through
Thursday, August 13

Broadway in Bryant Park, Bryant Park Lawn, Thursdays at 12:30

Tuesday, July 14
through
Sunday, August 9

New York Classical Theatre: Measure for Measure, Battery Park by Castle Clinton, 7:00

Friday, July 17
through
Sunday, August 2

Shakespeare in the Parking Lot: Romeo and Juliet, by the Drilling Company, directed by Dave Marantz, Bryant Park, Fridays & Saturdays at 6:30, Sundays at 2:00

Wednesday, July 22
through
Saturday, August 15

Hip to Hip Theatre Company: The Merry Wives of Windsor and The Merchant of Venice, performed in repertory in parks across the city, including Agawam Park, Crocheron Park, Cunningham Park, Forest Park, Gantry Plaza State Park, Socrates Sculpture Park, Sunnyside Gardens Park, and Van Cortlandt Park, preceded by Kids & the Classics, Wednesday - Sunday at different times

shakespeare in the park cymbeline

Thursday, July 23
through
Sunday, August 23

Shakespeare in the Park: Cymbeline, starring Hamish Linklater, Lily Rabe, Teagle F. Bougere, Kate Burton, Raúl Esparza, David Furr, Jacob Ming-Trent, Patrick Page, and Steven Skybell, directed by Daniel Sullivan, Delacorte Theater, Central Park, 8:00

Thursday, July 30
through
Sunday, August 23

Hudson Warehouse: Titus Andronicus, directed by Nicholas Martin-Smith, Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument, Riverside Park, Thursday - Sunday at 6:30

Friday, July 31
SummerStage: Mr. Joy by Daniel Beaty featuring Tangela Large, Clove Lakes Park, 7:00

Tuesday, August 11
Wednesday, August 12
Thursday, August 14
through
Sunday, August 16

New York Classical Theatre: Measure for Measure, Brooklyn Bridge Park, 7:00

Wednesday, August 12
SummerStage: The Wiz: A Celebration in Dance and Music, Rumsey Playfield, Central Park, 7:00

Thursday, August 13
and
Friday, August 14

SummerStage: The Wiz: A Celebration in Dance and Music, preceded by a Master Class led by Darrin Henson, Marcus Garvey Park, 7:00

Friday, September 4
through
Sunday, September 20

Shakespeare in the Parking Lot: The Taming of the Shrew, by the Drilling Company, directed by Alessandro Colla, Bryant Park, Fridays & Saturdays at 6:30, Sundays at 2:00

DINNER WITH THE BOYS

Charlie (Dan Lauria), Big Anthony Jr. (Ray Abruzzo), and Dom (Richard Zavaglia) have a dinner to remember in the wilds of New Jersey (photo by Joan Marcus)

Charlie (Dan Lauria), Big Anthony Jr. (Ray Abruzzo), and Dom (Richard Zavaglia) have a dinner to remember in the wilds of New Jersey (photo by Joan Marcus)

The Acorn Theatre at Theatre Row
410 West 42nd St. between Ninth & Tenth Aves.
Tuesday - Sunday through July 5, $75
212-560-2183
dinnerwiththeboysplay.com
www.theatrerow.org

I’ve never met Dan Lauria, best known for his role as the grumpy, put-upon father in The Wonder Years, but I get the impression that he’s a heckuva nice fella, the kind of a guy you wouldn’t mind sitting down and having dinner with. Lauria does just that in Dinner with the Boys, a slight but sweet mob comedy that he has written and is starring in at the Acorn Theatre at Theatre Row. Lauria, who has appeared on Broadway in the title role of Lombardi, playing the legendary Green Bay Packers coach, and as narrator Jean Shepherd in A Christmas Story: The Musical (no, the big lug doesn’t do any singing or dancing in the holiday show), wrote Dinner with the Boys as a vehicle for his friends Dom DeLuise, Charles Durning, Peter Falk, and Jack Klugman, but with those four no longer with us, the show is now a three-actor, four-character piece, featuring Lauria, Richard Zavaglia (Donnie Brasco), and Ray Abruzzo (The Sopranos). In a very suburban kitchen and small connected garden in the wilds of New Jersey (the set is designed by Jessica Parks, complete with a painting of the Last Supper and a framed photograph of Frank Sinatra), Charlie (Lauria) and Dom (Zavaglia) are living almost like husband and wife, cast off there after a mob hit went wrong. (Their names are tributes to Durning and DeLuise, spelled De Louise on the poster outside the theater.) Waiting for mob boss Big Anthony Jr. (Abruzzo), they talk over old times and wonder what the future holds, arguing like Felix and Oscar in The Odd Couple as longtime mob cook Dom prepares a very special dish. When Big Anthony Jr. arrives, Charlie turns into a pathetic, scared little boy as the boss, an angry man with a short fuse and a violent temper, rages on about the state of things — and what his plans are for the two men, which doesn’t exactly make them happy. But they’re not about to just sit back and let themselves get whacked.

Dom and Charlie dream about their future in DINNER WITH THE BOYS (photo by Joan Marcus)

Dom and Charlie dream about their future in DINNER WITH THE BOYS (photo by Joan Marcus)

Originally presented by NJ Rep in Long Branch, Dinner with the Boys is an intimate little story that gets lost in the Acorn. While plenty of the silly jokes and slapstick moments fall flat — oh, that poor zucchini — plenty of clever, funny exchanges that deserve bigger laughs end up buried like Charlie’s former partner, Leo. While it’s fun watching the interplay between the lovable Lauria and the adorable Zavaglia, Abruzzo is a disaster; director Frank Megna (Leather Heart) should have whacked his bombastic, cringe-worthy overacting, as Abruzzo devours a whole lot more than just the scenery. (His character would actually fit a lot better in another current mob tale, the very loud A Queen for a Day, which features a trio of Sopranos veterans.) It’s too bad, because somewhere in Dinner with the Boys is a tasty play, but only morsels satisfy in its current incarnation. On Tuesday nights, VIP packages ($129) include a postshow dinner with the cast at Tony’s Di Napoli, while Wednesday matinees (“Nonna’s Day”) come with a bottle of the Original Jersey Italian Gravy ($45-$55 with the code TRNONNA).

THE KING AND I

Kelli O’Hara and Ken Watanabe get to know each other in Bartlett Sher’s wonderful revival at Lincoln Center (photo by Paul Kolnik)

Kelli O’Hara and Ken Watanabe get to know each other in Bartlett Sher’s wonderful revival at Lincoln Center (photo by Paul Kolnik)

Vivian Beaumont Theater at Lincoln Center Theater
150 West 65th St. between Broadway & Amsterdam Ave.
Tuesday - Saturday through January 3, $97-$172
212-362-7600
www.lct.org

In December 1977, my parents took the whole family to Broadway to see a revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The King and I, with Yul Brynner returning as King Mongkut of Siam and Constance Towers playing Anna Leonowens, a British schoolteacher hired by the royal leader to teach English and Western culture to his children as he tries to modernize his country, later known as Thailand. It was my introduction to the Broadway musical in person, not a bad way to begin. So it was with fond memories that I entered Lincoln Center’s Vivian Beaumont Theater recently to see this latest revival, and I’m happy to report that everything you’ve heard about it is correct; it’s a memorable experience from start to finish, a delightful staging loaded with charm and elegance. Based on Margaret Landon’s 1944 novel, Anna and the King of Siam, a fictionalized version of actual events, the musical gets under way with a lovely overture; the small orchestra, under the direction of Ted Sperling, is in the pit, visible below long wooden slats stretching out in front of the stage. But at the end of the fanfare, the stage floor extends over the musicians, the curtain opens, and a nearly impossibly large, spectacular ship approaches the audience, carrying Anna (six-time Tony nominee Kelli O’Hara) and her young son, Louis (Jake Lucas), as they pull into Bangkok. Captain Orton (Murphy Guyer) warns Anna not to anger Kralahome (Paul Nakauchi), the king’s prime minister, but the widow immediately shows that she is not afraid of anything, speaking her mind when she learns that she and Louis will be staying at the palace instead of the separate house she was promised. And upon meeting the king (Ken Watanabe), who has a vast number of wives and children, she quickly demonstrates that she is a strong, fearless woman, not about to tolerate treatment as a second-class citizen. In addition to giving lessons to the kids, including the crown prince, Chulalongkorn (Jon Viktor Corpuz), Anna is soon teaching the king a thing or two as well as he seeks to make tiny Siam a major player in the modern world. Meanwhile, the newest member of his harem, Tuptim (Ashley Park), a gift from the king of Burma, is secretly in love with Lun Tha (Conrad Ricamora), a clandestine romance that could get them both killed.

Rodgers and Hammerstein’s THE KING AND I dazzles in every way at the Vivian Beaumont (photo by Paul Kolnik)

Rodgers and Hammerstein’s THE KING AND I dazzles in every way at the Vivian Beaumont (photo by Paul Kolnik)

Director Bartlett Sher, who helmed Lincoln Center’s celebrated 2008 production of South Pacific — which earned seven Tonys, including Best Director of a Musical and Best Revival of a Musical, as well as a nomination for O’Hara’s featured performance as Nellie Forbush — has done another sparkling job with The King and I, inviting the audience to bask in the glow of Richard Rodgers’s glorious music and Oscar Hammerstein III’s exquisite book and lyrics. Once the ship departs, Michael Yeargan’s sets are much more spare yet graceful, allowing Catherine Zuber’s sumptuous costumes to shine. The songs are, well, as wonderful as ever, from “I Whistle a Happy Tune,” “Hello, Young Lovers,” and “Shall We Dance?” to “Getting to Know You,” “A Puzzlement,” and, natch, “Something Wonderful.” “The March of Siamese Children,” in which the king’s progeny from his favorite wives bow to him, one at a time, then greet Anna, as their mothers watch closely, hoping their children don’t do anything to hurt their status, is particularly effective, not only in its stellar execution but in displaying the old-fashioned ways of the king, which he must overcome if Siam is to thrive internationally. The issue of slavery is raised quite specifically in the second-act ballet “The Small House of Uncle Thomas,” a special presentation, based on Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, for an important British diplomat (Edward Baker-Duly) who is interested in Anna. The show manages to sidestep issues of colonialism and ethnocentricity as Anna criticizes many of Siam’s traditions and her relationship with the king grows more intimate.

Lady Thiang (Ruthie Ann Miles) and Anna Leonewens (Kelli OHara) come together despite living very different lives (photo by Paul Kolnik)

Lady Thiang (Ruthie Ann Miles) and Anna Leonewens (Kelli O’Hara) come together despite living very different lives (photo by Paul Kolnik)

O’Hara (The Light in the Piazza, Nice Work If You Can Get It) is enchanting as Anna, a role previously played by the likes of Celeste Holm, Hayley Mills, Faith Prince, Maureen McGovern, and Marie Osmond, giving her a fierce, determined edge while letting her vocal cords soar. (Irene Dunne played Anna in John Cromwell’s 1946 film, Anna and the King of Siam, which also starred Rex Harrison as the king and Lee J. Cobb as Kralahome.) Watanabe (Letters from Iwo Jima, Inception) is a certifiable triumph in a role that might be associated with one actor more than any other role — Brynner played the part more than 4,600 times onstage over the course of thirty-four years, winning two Tonys, while also earning an Oscar for the 1956 film and starring in the 1972 television series Anna and the King with Samantha Eggar. Bare-chested and with a shaven head, Watanabe is utterly engaging as the king, his choppy English adding a nice touch to his depiction of the complex ruler, whether declaring that life is a puzzlement, gleefully exclaiming, “Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera,” or sweeping across the floor with Anna. (Just for the record, among the other actors who have portrayed the king in various incarnations, both musical and not, are Farley Granger, Lou Diamond Phillips, Zachary Scott, Herbert Lom, Darren McGavin, and Rudolf Nureyev.) Christopher Gattelli’s choreography, based on Jerome Robbins’s original, keeps things flowing beautifully, accompanying Robert Russell Bennett’s lush orchestrations. The original production won all five of the Tony Awards it was nominated for back in 1952 — Brynner as Best Featured Actor, Gertrude Lawrence for Best Leading Actress as Anna, Best Costume Design, Best Scenic Design, and Best Musical — while the revival I saw as a kid earned Drama Desk nominations for Brynner, Angela Lansbury as Anna, and Outstanding Musical. Lincoln Center’s revival is another runaway hit, garnering nine Tony nominations and two Drama Desk nods. It’s an absolute treat getting to know The King and I all over again.

FINDING NEVERLAND

(photo © Carol Rosegg)

Lord Cannan (Tyley Ross), Charles Frohman (Kelsey Grammer), and Mary Barrie (Teal Wicks) toast J. M. Barrie (Michael Morrison) in FINDING NEVERLAND (photo © Carol Rosegg)

Lunt-Fontanne Theatre
205 West 46th St. between Seventh & Eighth Aves.
Through December 20, $72-$147
findingneverlandthemusical.com

After nearly four years of heavy out-of-town tinkering, Finding Neverland has at last landed on Broadway, but it’s still lost, in desperate need of finding itself. Produced by a very hands-on Harvey Weinstein, whose Miramax company released the 2004 Oscar-nominated film starring Johnny Depp, Kate Winslet, Dustin Hoffman, and Julie Christie, the stage musical has gone through major cast, director, and composer changes before settling on the current Great White Way team: director Diane Paulus, Matthew Morrison as J. M. Barrie, music and lyrics by Gary Barlow and Eliot Kennedy, book by Jerry Graham, and choreography by Mia Michaels. Based on Allan Knee’s play The Man Who Was Peter Pan, the show follows Barrie, a successful playwright dealing with his first flop, as he teeters between two worlds: the high-society lifestyle preferred by his wife, Mary (Teal Wicks), and the more down-home, simple existence lived by the widowed Sylvia Llewelyn Davies (Laura Michelle Kelly) and her four sons, Peter, Jack, George, and Michael (played in various configurations by Alex Dreier, Hayden Signoretti, Noah Hinsdale, Aidan Gemme, Christopher Paul Richards, Sawyer Nunes, and Jackson Demott Hill). His producer, Charles Frohman (Kelsey Grammer), an American, needs him to write a hit, and ideas start percolating as Barrie spends more time with the Davies clan, discovering his inner child with an infectious glee. Little events become fodder for his work, the eventual Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up. But while Peter Pan is built around magic, Finding Neverland lacks any real spark.

(photo © Carol Rosegg)

J. M. Barrie (Michael Morrison) turns his experiences with the Davies family into PETER PAN in Broadway musical (photo © Carol Rosegg)

Whenever you see a show, you want to be completely invested in it, lured in by its magic, whether a comedy, a drama, or a glitzy musical. Early in the second act, when Frohman’s acting troupe is drinking together in a pub, its crabby erstwhile star, Mr. Henshaw (Paul Slade Smith), turns to Frohman and asks, “Do they say ‘cheers’ where you come from, mate?” The completely unnecessary reference to the television series that made Grammer famous brings Finding Neverland to a screeching halt; sure, many people in the audience explode in laughter — much as they do when Larry David throws in a gratuitous catchphrase from Curb Your Enthusiasm into the disappointing Fish in the Dark — but it takes you right out of the fantasy, which is what Peter Pan is all about, and the show never recovers. The ballads are drippy, the acting often goes too far over the top — Smith, Josh Lamon as his cohort Mr. Cromer, Tyley Ross as Lord Cannan, and Carolee Carmello as Mary’s mother are particularly annoying — and the way Paulus (Pippin, Hair) and Michaels (So You Think You Can Dance) depict flying is a supreme letdown. It does have its moments — there is a sweet energy between Morrison (The Light in the Piazza, Glee) and Kelly (Mary Poppins, Peter Pan), Grammer has several funny bits, and some of the staging is clever — but it’s all frustratingly inconsistent. Finding Neverland tries way too hard to be a feel-good experience but instead never takes flight.

DONN PEARCE’S COOL HAND LUKE

(photo by Jason Woodruff)

Boss Godfrey (Nick Paglino) tries to keep Luke Jackson (Lawrence Jansen) in line in COOL HAND LUKE (photo by Jason Woodruff)

59E59 Theaters
59 East 59th St. between Madison & Park Aves.
Tuesday - Sunday through May 31, $30
www.59e59.org
www.godlighttheatrecompany.org

The Godlight Theatre Company follows up its spare, Drama Desk–nominated staging of James Dickey’s Deliverance with another testosterone-fueled tale, Donn Pearce’s Cool Hand Luke. As with all of Godlight’s productions — which also include One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, In the Heat of the Night, Slaughterhouse-Five, Fahrenheit 451, and The Third Man — this latest work is based on the original novel, not the popular film, in this case Pearce’s 1965 book rather than Stuart Rosenberg’s 1967 movie, which starred Paul Newman and an all-star ensemble and earned four Oscar nominations. (Warning: The classic line “What we’ve got here is failure to communicate” is from the movie, so it is not in the play.) Lawrence Jansen stars as Luke Jackson, a smartass war hero with what would now be called PTSD who is serving time for having cut the heads off of parking meters. “Luke had the devil in him,” fellow inmate Dragline (Mike Jansen) explains in a short prologue. “Luke done some kinda deal somewheres along the line. Don’t know what. Thar’s no telling. But Luke was jes’ natcherly mad at God.” Luke becomes part of a roadside chain gang with Dragline, Curly (Lars Drew), Society Red (Brett Warnke), and Rabbit (Jarrod Zayas), who are closely watched by Boss Kean (Jason Bragg Stanley), collaborator Carr (Ken King), and the evil Boss Godfrey (Nick Paglino), who has it in for Luke from the start. But through it all, Luke keeps on smiling, as he faces off against Boss Godfrey, tries to eat fifty hard-boiled eggs in one hour, and won’t take the advice of his mother (Kristina Doelling) to put his faith in the lord. “Ain’t you scared a’ dyin’ and goin’ to hell?” Dragline asks him. “Dyin’? It’s livin’ I’m scared of,” Luke responds.

Lawrence Jansen plays a Jesus-like prisoner in Godlight Theatre adaptation of COOL HAND LUKE (photo by Jason Woodruff)

Lawrence Jansen plays a Jesus-like prisoner in Godlight Theatre adaptation of COOL HAND LUKE (photo by Jason Woodruff)

Once again, the staging is the star in this Godlight production. The story, adapted by Emma Reeves (Anne of Green Gables, Little Women), unfolds with no props or scenery in a tiny black box at 59E59, where the characters are cordoned off on the right and left by an angled row of lights on the floor, with Luke and Boss Godfrey almost always in the center, Luke in the front, Godfrey in the back, the latter watching everything from behind his dark sunglasses. Director Joe Tantalo (A Clockwork Orange, 1984), the artistic director of Godlight for more than twenty years, announces scene changes with sharp flashes of light, courtesy of set and lighting designer Maruti Evans, accompanied by the crack of a rifle loading. (The sound design is by Ien Denio.) Cool Hand Luke is filled with religious imagery, with Luke envisioned as a Christ-like figure and a saint, Boss Godfrey as the devil, the other prisoners potential disciples. In a scene from Luke’s past, he seeks help from a woman named Mary (Julia Torres, who also curiously sings a spiritual at the beginning and end of the play), while Doelling portrays a prostitute in addition to Luke’s mother, furthering biblical references. The show lacks the dramatic conflict inherent in previous Godlight shows; it is significantly more slight, a series of episodes in search of a fluent narrative as a whole. But the strong acting and expert, unique staging will keep you chained to your seats.

FOREVER

(photo by Joan Marcus)

Dael Orlandersmith shares intimate details of her dysfunctional childhood in FOREVER (photo by Joan Marcus)

New York Theatre Workshop
79 East Fourth St. between Second & Third Aves.
Tuesday - Sunday through May 31, $75
nytw.org

Pulitzer Prize finalist Dael Orlandersmith returns to New York Theatre Workshop with the searing Forever, a harrowing, deeply intimate one-woman show about the severely dysfunctional relationship between a daughter and her alcoholic mother. In the semiautobiographical work, Orlandersmith (Yellowman, Monster, The Gimmick) spends a gripping eighty minutes discussing her artistic influences while looking back at damaging scenes from her past as she walks through Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, paying tribute to Jim Morrison, Edith Piaf, Richard Wright, and other writers and musicians who helped her survive a brutal childhood in Harlem. “All of us have come / All of us who are seeking / have come to be with these people here in Pere Lachaise — who beyond our parents helped us give birth to ourselves,” she says. Statuesque and elegant in a long black dress, her braided hair falling over her shoulders and reaching toward her hips, she recalls a broken friendship with a local tomboy, being beaten by her mother over math homework, and how she felt when her mother tells her she is “fat / hateful / disgusting.” She shares her physical and psychological pain with the audience, making direct, lingering eye contact that is both soothing and uncomfortable. “I can’t believe I still can feel her slap. She’s been gone / dead / over twenty years but I can still see / feel / hear her laughing,” she says. Orlandersmith tells the story with a lyrical, poetic rhythm that is captivating and unique. She describes her Caesarian birth thusly: “October 29, 1959 / I was torn from blood/guts/water / Spanked into consciousness / Spanked into living.” Later she adds, “A scar I made a long time ago coming through you / I stare at it / Wondering how I could have been born from it / How I could have been born from you.”

(photo by Joan Marcus)

Dael Orlandersmith’s tale of her relationship with her mother is both harrowing and uplifting (photo by Joan Marcus)

About midway through Forever, which is calmly directed by Neel Keller, with excellent lighting by Mary Louise Geiger and sound by Adam Phalen, Orlandersmith relates a long, agonizing episode from her childhood in nerve-racking detail, one of the most powerful and frightening things you’re ever likely to experience from a show; it’s difficult to watch, but you won’t be able to avert your eyes from hers, finalizing an unbreakable bond between performer and audience that will stay with you long after you leave the theater. Ultimately, she tries to find closure as she revisits her mother’s death. Forever is both heartbreaking and uplifting, a shocking, poetic exploration of family, memory, and the ties that bind; it was particularly poignant the night we saw it, on the eve of Mother’s Day. Before and after the show, people are invited to write their own tributes to those they’ve lost on notecards they can tape to the long, narrow bulletin boards lining the side walls, and following the show, attendees can walk around Takeshi Kata’s central staging area and check out dozens of Orlandersmith’s family photographs on similar boards around the set. The notecards and photographs are a brilliant touch, a physical evocation of how the past embraces and surrounds both the audience and the performer’s emotional experience, providing yet more intimacy and reminding you of your own relationships. (The May 20 show will be followed by a discussion with photographers James and Karla Murray and NYU adjunct professor Cynthia Copeland, moderated by Alexander Santiago-Jirau, who will also lead a Shop Talk after the May 27 show.)

THEATRE FOR ONE: I’M NOT THE STRANGER YOU THINK I AM

Christine Jones’s mobile Theatre for One will present short plays by major playwrights in three locations May 18 - June 6 (photo by twi-ny/mdr)

Christine Jones’s mobile Theatre for One will present short plays by major playwrights in three locations May 18 - June 6 (photo by twi-ny/mdr)

Winter Garden at Brookfield Place, Zuccotti Park, Grace Building
May 18 – June 6, free, 12 noon – 7:00 pm
www.artsbrookfield.com
www.theatreforone.com

Theater can be an intimate experience, and it doesn’t get much more intimate than Christine Jones’s Theatre for One, which is exactly that: performances by one actor for one audience member at a time, inside a mobile four-by-eight-foot theater. TFO will feature new five-minute works by award-winning playwrights Craig Lucas (Prelude to a Kiss), Will Eno (The Realistic Joneses), Lynn Nottage (Ruined), José Rivera (Marisol), Thomas Bradshaw (Intimacy), Zayd Dohrn (Sick), and Emily Schwend (Take Me Back). The mobile theater is a collaboration between the architecture firm LO-TEK and the Tony-nominated Jones, who has designed the sets for such shows as Spring Awakening, American Idiot, and Coraline and is the director of the current immersive hit Queen of the Night. The short plays, which together are being called I’m Not the Stranger You Think I Am, will be performed by six actors and are directed by Jones, Rivera, Jenny Koons, and Brian Mertes; the mobile theater will be at the Winter Garden at Brookfield Place May 18-24; Zuccotti Park May 27-31; and the Grace Building June 2-6. Admission is first come, first served, and free, with each person able to see one of the plays, between 12 noon and 7:00 pm.