The Pearl Theatre
555 West 42nd St. between Tenth & Eleventh Aves.
Tuesday - Sunday through October 30, $59-$79
The Pearl Theatre revival of Shelagh Delaney’s first play, A Taste of Honey, a British breakthrough written when she was eighteen, is a thoroughly engaging, bittersweet coming-of-age tale about a working-class mother and her peculiar daughter in dank, depressing postwar Britain — late-1950s Manchester, to be precise. Single mom Helen (Rachel Botchan) and her teenage daughter, Jo (Rebekah Brockman), are on the move again, settling into their new flat in a factory town. It’s a dreary, bleak apartment with a bathroom down the hall and a fine view of the gasworks. The two constantly bicker over just about everything, from money to men, furniture to booze. At one point Jo, who calls her mother “Helen,” notes, “You should prepare my meals like a proper mother,” to which Helen responds, “Have I ever laid claim to being a proper mother?” When one of Helen’s many male friends, Peter (Bradford Cover), a one-eyed playboy, starts talking marriage, Jo quickly falls for Jimmy (Ade Otukoya), a black male nurse and sailor who is about to ship out. In the second act, Jo finds herself in trouble and turns to the effeminate Geoffrey (John Evans Reese), creating a strange simulacrum of family after her mother has taken off with Peter. Through it all, the trio of trumpeter Max Boiko, guitarist Phil Faconti, and bassist Walter Stinson plays jazz and music-hall numbers, wandering around the set and even sitting on the couch with the actors, each acknowledging the others’ presence. Helen and Jo are also both aware of the audience, addressing them directly several times, trying to get the crowd on their side. “She’d lose her head if it was loose,” Jo says early on, while Helen asks, “Wouldn’t she get on your nerves?”
A Taste of Honey has quite a history. It debuted in London in 1958, where it caused a stir as a reaction to the Angry Young Men movement led by John Osborne and Kingsley Amis. (“I don’t like a too-knowledgeable woman,” Osborne said at the time. “I feel it is against her sex.”) The show moved to Broadway two years later, with Angela Lansbury as Helen, Joan Plowright as Jo, Nigel Davenport as Peter, Billy Dee Williams as Jimmy, and Andrew Ray as Geoffrey; a 1981 Great White Way revival featured Valerie French as Helen and Amanda Plummer as Jo. The story was also made into a 1961 movie by Tony Richardson, written by Delaney and starring Rita Tushingham in her first film. (The famous title song was written for the movie and is played at the start of this revival; Williams recorded his own take for a 1961 album.) The faithful Pearl version is directed by Austin Pendleton, whose fine A Day by the Sea has been extended at the Mint. Harry Feiner’s cluttered set captures the feel of a dingy working-class flat, while the large background charcoal drawing of the company town is a reminder of what might be Jo’s only real skill. “I thought you said you weren’t good at anything,” Helen says after finding Jo’s sketchbook. Jo answers, “It’s only a drawing.” Helen adds, “I didn’t realize I had such a talented daughter,” to which Jo boasts, “I’m not just talented, I’m geniused.” Pearl veteran Botchan and Brockman are naturals as Helen and Jo, fighting the way only mothers and daughters can; it’s a thrill watching them go for each other’s throats even as a little care and love trickle through.
There’s a timeless quality about Delaney’s writing that keeps A Taste of Honey fresh and poignantly funny, dealing with such issues as the economy, race, homosexuality, and broken families, led by two strong female characters who speak their mind. Delaney, who was immortalized on the covers of the Smiths’ Louder than Bombs compilation and “Girlfriend in a Coma” single — in 1986, Smiths leader Morrissey told NME, “I’ve never made any secret of the fact that at least fifty percent of my reason for writing can be blamed on Shelagh Delaney”; Morrissey also incorporated two lines from the play into the song “Reel around the Fountain” — went on to write several other plays and screenplays but never again achieved the critical success her debut work brought her; she passed away in 2011 at the age of seventy-two. But as the working class in America continues its own decline amid hard-fought struggles for economic equality for women, gay rights, increases in the minimum wage, an end to racism, and affordable housing, A Taste of Honey feels as relevant as ever.
In 1985, BAM president and executive director Harvey Lichtenstein was looking for a special space where he could present Peter Brook’s extraordinary nine-hour epic, The Mahabharata, in Brooklyn. Two days after giving up, he suddenly saw the abandoned Majestic movie house, which he passed by on his way to BAM every day, and immediately summoned Brook. The two men climbed a ladder and got inside through a window, and they instantly knew they had found a home for the epic theater piece, which ran at what would become the BAM Harvey as part of the 1987 Next Wave Festival. Brook, who has also staged such works as The Cherry Orchard, The Man Who, and The Suit at BAM, will be back at the Harvey with Battlefield, a seventy-minute exploration of the central story of The Mahabharata. The collaboration with Marie-Hélène Estienne for their C.I.C.T. — Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord troupe runs September 28 through October 9, featuring music by Toshi Tsuchitori, lighting by Philippe Vialatte, and costumes by Oria Puppo. The ninety-one-year-old Brook will participate in a discussion following the October 6 performance. Based on the ancient Sanskrit text and the 1989 play written by Jean-Claude Carrière, the production is also part of the Paris-New York Tandem cultural initiative that highlights film, music, theater, dance, education, and more in the two cities.
The Shiva Theater at the Public Theater
425 Lafayette St.
Tuesday - Sunday through October 9, $20
After making stops at such locations as Rikers Island, the Brownsville Recreation Center, the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility, the Williamsbridge Oval Recreation Center, and the Lenox Hill Neighborhood House’s Women’s Mental Health Shelter at the Park Avenue Armory, the Public Theater’s Mobile Unit has come home to the Shiva Theater, where it will be presenting its stirring adaptation of Hamlet through October 9. The 105-minute streamlined version of the classic Bard tragedy is performed just as it was during its five-borough road trip, on a small center stage with very few props. The audience is seated on all four sides of the action, and costume changes are made in full view just behind the seats; the only concession to the more traditional theater setup at the Shiva is that the three rows of seating are on risers. Olivier Award winner and Royal Shakespeare Company associate artist Chukwudi Iwuji is both inspired and inspiring as Hamlet, the depressed son of the recently murdered king who is told by his father’s ghost (Timothy D. Stickney) that he was killed by his brother, Claudius (Stickney), who has since married Hamlet’s mother, Gertrude (Orlagh Cassidy), and assumed the throne. As Hamlet considers what a rogue and peasant slave he is, contemplates the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, opines on what a piece of work is man, and decides that the play’s the thing that will catch the conscience of the king, Claudius sends Hamlet’s school friends Rosencrantz (Natalie Woolams-Torres) and Guildenstern (Christian DeMarais) to spy on him. Meanwhile, Hamlet also reevaluates his relationship with Ophelia (Kristolyn Lloyd), the sister of the brave Laertes (DeMarais) and daughter of the king’s right-hand man, Polonius (Daniel Pearce).
Director Patricia McGregor (Hurt Village, The Mountaintop) takes fun liberties with the staging, infusing it with modern-day humor that works not only for an audience of underserved youth and adults who might never have seen a live Shakespeare play before but also for a more experienced crowd of regular theatergoers at the Public. DeMarais is a hoot as a white hip-hopper, Pearce is extremely funny as the stalwart Polonius (and the gravedigger), and Christopher Ryan Grant (the player king) provides an appropriately foreboding percussive soundtrack. Not everything works; the character of Ophelia nearly gets lost in all the drama, save for Lloyd’s overemotional singing of music by Imani Uzuri. Stickney is a bold, confident Claudius, Cassidy is a poignant queen, but this Hamlet, as the work requires, belongs to the lead, and Iwuji, who has never played the role before, jumps in feet first, giving his all, often making direct eye contact with the audience to bring them further into the story. He does a lot of shouting, but he balances that with beautifully rendered soliloquies that (almost) feel like they could have been written today. That feeling is enhanced by some of Montana Levi Blanco’s contemporary costume choices, including a hoodie worn by Hamlet. Other fresh touches include, yes, a cell phone. Katherine Akiko Day’s set is just about as basic as they come, a small square area about the size of a boxing ring, where characters bring chairs and roll multipurpose boxes on- and offstage, creating an intimate atmosphere. The Mobile Unit production of Hamlet is a must-see for both newbies as well as Bard enthusiasts, a playful adaptation highlighted by a superior performance by Iwuji.
Multiple community gardens on the Lower East Side
Saturday, September 24, and Sunday, September 25, free
More than fifty community gardens on the Lower East Side are participating in the fifth annual LUNGS (Loisaida United Neighborhood Gardens) Harvest Festival, a weekend of free special events, including music, dance, film screenings, walking tours, workshops, art, poetry, karaoke, meditation, and more. Below are only some of the recommended events for Saturday and Sunday; there are also activities at the M’Finda Kalunga Garden, Fireman’s Garden, Liz Christy Garden, Secret Garden, El Sol Brillante, Doroty Strelsin Suffolk St. Garden, East Side Outside Garden, Umbrella House Rooftop Garden, Creative Little Garden, Lower East Side People Care Garden, Kenkeleba House Garden, Children’s Magical Garden, Green Oasis, Elizabeth St. Garden, Toyota Children’s Garden, Sam & Sadie Koenig Garden, and many others. The festival is a great way to become familiar with and support these small gems that can be found all over the Lower East Side.
Saturday, September 24
Permaculture tour with Ross Martin and Marga Snyder, La Plaza Cultural, Ave. C at Ninth St., 12 noon
Live music with Elizabeth Ruf, Ben Cauley, Avon Faire, Tammy Faye Starlight, Witch Camp with Amber Martin & Nath-Ann Carrera, Salley May, and Val Kinzler, DeColores Garden, East Eighth St. between Aves. B & C, 1:00 – 5:00
Guided meditation, with Matthew Caban and Jaquay Saintil, the Lower East Side People Care Garden, Rutgers St. between Henry and Madison Sts., 2:00
Collaborative poetry workshop with Rhoma Mostel, La Guardia Corner Gardens, Bleecker & Houston Sts., 3:00
“The Bride” performance piece by Theresa Byrnes, La Plaza Cultural, Ave. C at Ninth St., 4:00
Dance performance with Heidi Henderson and students from Connecticut College, Kizuna Dance, John Gutierrez, Sheep Meadow Dance Theater, Rina Espiritu, Lauren Kravitz, and Shantel Prado, Cornfield Dance, Rod Rodgers Teen Dancers, El Jardín del Paraíso, Fourth St. between Aves. C & D, 4:00
Dimensions of Ecology panel discussion, with Stuart Losee, Felicia Young, Anna Fitzgerald, and Chloe Rosetti, La Plaza Cultural, Ave. C at Ninth St., 5:00
Sunday, September 25
Pysanky workshop: How to Make Ukrainian Easter Eggs, with Anna Sawaryn, 6B Garden, Ave. B at Sixth St., 11:00 am – 2:00 pm
“Garbagia Island” Creatures Performance and Fashion Show, El Jardín del Paraíso, Fourth St. between Aves. C & D, 1:00
Vangeline Theater’s “Wake Up and Smell the Coffee,” contemporary Butoh dance, El Jardín del Paraíso, Fourth St. between Aves. C & D, 2:00
“Garden to Table Nutrition,” with Vanessa Berenstein, La Guardia Corner Gardens, Bleecker & Houston Sts., 3:00
Fountain installation: “Jeux d’Eaux” by Nicholas Vargelis, Le Petit Versailles, Second St. between Aves. B & C, 4:00
Laughter Yoga, with Sara Jones, La Guardia Corner Gardens, Bleecker & Houston Sts., 5:00
Photography show: George Hirose’s “Midnight in the Garden,” Campos Garden, Twelfth St. between Aves. B & C, 6:30
Dance party with Ray Santiago Band, Campos Garden, Twelfth St. between Aves. B & C, 7:30-9:30
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 22 - November 3, free - $55
We can’t help but get excited for FIAF’s annual multidisciplinary fall festival, Crossing the Line, now celebrating its tenth anniversary. Every summer, we eagerly await the advance announcement of what they’ll be presenting, then scour the lineup for the most unusual events to make sure we see them. This year is another stellar collection of cutting-edge international dance and theater, beginning September 22 and 24 with screenings of concluding episodes seven, eight, and nine of Nature Theater of Oklahoma’s epic Life and Times at Anthology Film Archives ($11), along with a Thursday night party in FIAF’s Florence Gould Hall ($10) that begins with a screening of the eighth chapter of Kristin Worrall’s rather ordinary life, with the artists themselves serving up PB&Js. The festival features a special focus on French choreographer Jérôme Bel, who will be involved in four programs, beginning October 17 (free with RSVP) with a screening of his short biographical film on Paris Opera dancer Véronique Doisneau, followed by a discussion with Bel and Ana Janevski. Bel’s award-winning The Show Must Go On will go on at the Joyce October 20-22 ($36-$46), with Bel hanging around for a Curtain Chat after the 2:00 show on October 22. Bel will present the New York premiere of his controversial eponymous 1995 signature work at the Kitchen October 27-29 ($20) while also moving over to the Museum of Modern Art October 27-31 (free with museum admission) for Artist’s Choice: MoMA Dance Company, a site-specific piece for MoMA’s Marron Atrium that will be performed by members of the MoMA staff.
Breakdance world champion Anne Nguyen is making her U.S. debut with a pair of works: the free Graphic Cyphers will take place September 23 at Roberto Clemente Plaza in the Bronx at 2:00 and in Times Square September 25 at 2:30 and 4:30, while Autarcie (....): a search for self-sufficiency has its American debut September 29 to October 1 ($20) at Gibney Dance. “I seek to reconcile the peculiarities of hip-hop with demanding theatrical performance to question the place of human beings in the modern-day world,” Nguyen says; you can hear more from her at the October 1 artist talk “Towards Cultural Equity: The Artist’s Perspective” (free with RSVP) with fellow panelists David Thomson, Mohamed El Khatib, and Rokafella, moderated by George Emilio Sanchez. The UK’s Forced Entertainment, which is “interested in confusion as well as laughter,” will likely dish out a healthy portion of both at the New York premiere of Tomorrow’s Parties in Florence Gould Hall September 28 and 30 and October 1 ($20). From September 30 to October 2 ($35-$55), Venice Biennale lifetime achievement award winner Romeo Castellucci will deliver the one-man show Julius Caesar. Spared Parts, making the most of Federal Hall’s marble columns. This past June, dancer-choreographer Maria Hassabi gave an informal preview of her latest work, Staged, on the High Line; she will now bring the final piece down to the Kitchen, below the High Line, where it will be performed by Simon Courchel, Jessie Gold, Hristoula Harakas, and Oisín Monaghan October 4-8 ($20).
On October 6-8 and 13-15 ($35), drag fabulist Dickie Beau will conjure up Marilyn Monroe, Judy Garland, and Richard Meryman at Abrons Arts Center for Blackouts. Also on October 13-15 ($20), Lora Juodkaite and Annie Hanaeur will perform the U.S. premiere of Rachid Ouramdane’s Tordre (Wrought) at Baryshnikov Arts Center; CTL veteran Ouramdane will take part in the October 15 artist talk “Towards Cultural Equity: The Institutional Perspective” (free with RSVP) with keynote speaker Patrick Weil, panelists Firoz Ladak and Zeyba Rahman, and moderator Thomas Lax. On October 25 (free with RSVP), Aaron Landsman will host Perfect City, in which a group of young people from the Lower East Side will gather at Abrons Arts Center and discuss what the future holds in store for them, particularly in their neighborhood. The festival ends on November 3 with My Barbarian’s Post-Party Dream State Caucus at the New Museum (free with RSVP), held in conjunction with the exhibition “The Audience Is Always Right.” Throughout the festival, you can check out Mathieu Bernard-Reymond’s “Transform” art exhibit in the FIAF Gallery, and Tim Etchells’s multichannel video installation “Eyes Looking” will be projected at 11:59 each night in Times Square as October’s Midnight Moment.
59 East 59th St. between Park & Madison Aves.
Tuesday - Sunday through October 1, $20
BirdLand Theatre’s mounting of Irish playwright Conor McPherson’s 2009 adaptation of Daphne Du Maurier’s short story “The Birds” fails to soar at the small Theater C at 59E59, where it runs through October 1. It’s the same space where Joe Tantalo’s inventive Godlight Theatre Company has staged innovative versions of In the Heat of the Night, Deliverance, and Cool Hand Luke, all based on the original novels rather than the subsequent hit movies. McPherson, the author of such successful plays as The Weir and Shining City, similarly returns to Du Maurier’s original 1952 story, which was completely revamped by screenwriter Evan Hunter for Alfred Hitchcock’s 1963 film, but takes only its bare bones in creating a postapocalyptic nightmare where a kind of makeshift family is essentially trapped in an abandoned lake house that becomes threatened by killer birds every day during high tide. The story is set in New England in the near future, where two middle-age strangers, the calm, competent Diane (Antoinette LaVecchia) and the unpredictable, perhaps mentally unstable Nat (Tony Naumovski), who barrels into the theater in a literally naked fury, have taken refuge from sudden, unexpected vicious attacks by seagulls that have decimated the area — and perhaps the world. They are soon joined by a younger woman, Julia (Mia Hutchinson-Shaw), sporting a head injury. Running out of just about everything, they have to make very specific plans on when and where to go to scavenge for supplies in order to avoid encountering the killer fowl — or other humans desperate to survive. They also need to beware of each other as their cozy little surrogate family gets a whole lot more complicated.
The Birds, which had its world premiere at Dublin’s Gate Theatre in 2009 with Ciarán Hinds as Nat, Sinéad Cusack as Diane, and Denise Gough as Julia, bears little resemblance to the insightful original story and lacks the gripping suspense of the film. Director Stefan Dzeparoski (Wide Awake Hearts, Gruesome Playground Injuries) gets solid performances from the three actors, and Konstantin Roth’s set is intriguing, with the audience sitting at an angle in folding chairs in the four corners of the room, which features some scattered pieces of furniture. Ien Denio’s sound keeps the swarming birds ever-present, but David J. Palmer’s video projections are overly abstract and too difficult to comprehend. The projections inexplicably begin and end with the American flag, while the British Union Jack is represented by a pillowcase lying at the foot of the video wall. The narrative lacks any real bite; situations feel forced (and ultimately melodramatic), the threat of danger is existential at best (even if that is what McPherson was going for, it gets lost here), and most of the ninety minutes are far too uninvolving. At one point, Diane, a writer who is keeping a diary, thinks out loud, “I can’t help feeling that [Nat and Julia] communicate something to each other in the silence. But all I get is the silence. And the strange . . . hatred that consumes me isn’t just for them and their proximity and the claustrophobic pain of never having any privacy — it’s a hatred of myself too.” Those might be good lines, but Dzeparoski needs to show rather than tell those feelings within the drama of the play, which ends up being rather bland and strangely dull despite some promising elements. This time around, The Birds never takes flight.
Italian-born American actor Alessio Bordoni, who has previously adapted François Rabelais’s Gargantua and Pantagruel and has appeared in works by Diderot, Levi, and Dante, turns to The Tibetan Book of the Dead for his latest piece, Bliss, an eccentric, idiosyncratic, underwhelming, and woefully self-indulgent multimedia production continuing at the Flea through September 25. The audience enters the theater at the precise start time as “part of the experience,” scurrying around for seats (it’s general admission), perhaps noting that two performers are already onstage, lying on each other behind a scrim. Soon Charlotte Colmant rises slowly from atop Alessio like a spirit leaving a dead body; both are topless, with Alessio wearing Butoh-like white-chalk makeup. For the next sixty minutes or so, Alessio, in an overly bold and dramatic voice, recites lines about attachment, impermanence, aspiration, suffering, delusion, and enlightenment while veins pop out all over his taut body and Colmant dances beautifully yet ultimately repetitively. Meanwhile, Estella Dupree’s amateurish designs of fire, mysterious figures, and Spirograph lotuses are projected onto the scrim — at one point interrupted by a computer cursor trying to move to the next image — and Amaury Groc’s score drones on, from John Carpenter-like synth horror music to bland New Age melodies. Alessio’s character is in the bardo, the transitional state between death and rebirth, contemplating his past and future lives, but it’s hard to really care about his fate. Black Moon Theatre Company artistic director René Migliaccio (Fear and Misery of the Third Reich, Bordoni’s Ponzi, a Dollar and a Scheme) is a proponent of what he calls “expressionistic realism,” but he is unable to find “the intensity of emotion and the lyricism of the movement” that is the third tenet of that discipline. Finally, the show’s website features four pretty cool photos, including the one above, that actually look very little like the actual impression produced by the performance, so beware.