June Havoc Theatre, Abingdon Theatre Company
Abingdon Theatre Arts Complex
312 West 36th St. between Eighth & Ninth Aves.
Tuesday - Sunday through July 10, $51-$76 (pay what you can $5-$20 July 8)
You might expect Kim Davies’s STET, a play about campus rape and how it’s reported in the media, to be a didactic, pedagogic, and preachy piece of well-meaning, issue-driven propaganda. It was developed by Davies, new Abingdon Theatre artistic director Tony Speciale, and star Jocelyn Kuritsky, founder of the Muse Project, which calls for “a paradigm shift for female actors.” It has partnered with Take Back the Night, a nonprofit organization that “seeks to end sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, sexual abuse, and all other forms of sexual violence.” Several of the performances are being followed by discussions with journalists and survivors of sexual assault. And one of the characters in the play is spreading the word of One in Four, the all-male sexual assault peer education group at colleges and universities around the country that takes its name from various studies that show that approximately twenty-five percent of female undergraduates are victims of sexual assault. But it turns out that STET is a compelling, thought-provoking work that pulls no punches as it explores complex situations with intelligence and finesse. STET was inspired by the controversial Rolling Stone article “A Rape on Campus,” which led to a retraction that shook the world of journalism. Kuritsky stars as Erika, a reporter at a national magazine looking to get her first cover story. Her editor, Phil (Bruce McKenzie), suggests that she take a new angle on the topic, focusing on what it’s like for survivors long after the assault, whether they are able to get back to a more normal life in the aftermath, but Erika says, “I’m just — you know, I’m just kind of raped out? That’s all.” But she ultimately accepts the assignment and tracks down a college student named Ashley Young (Lexi Lapp), who describes in detail how she was raped at a fraternity party by seven pledges. However, she is terrified of using any real names or giving away any specifics that could lead to retaliation, so she is unsure if she wants to be part of the story. Erika also meets with Christina Torres (Déa Julien), a graduate of Ashley’s school who now works as project coordinator for the university’s sexual misconduct response and prevention initiative. “I’m here for people who are in pain, who are suffering, who need someone to help them be okay,” Christina says, “because literally everything else is about the perpetrator of the assault and that is just not my job.” Christina refers Erika to Connor (Jack Fellows), a current student who is cofounder of the school’s One in Four chapter and the vice president of the fraternity where Ashley was allegedly attacked. As Erika investigates further, she gets a better picture of the culture that has grown around campus rape. “I think Ashley has a very . . . um . . . it’s a very clear story for a reader to follow,” she tells Christina, who replies, “Yeah, it’s very easy to understand as rape.” Erika: “Yeah.” Christina: “But a lot of stories aren’t. But that doesn’t mean, you know, that they’re not, um, rape.” Despite telling Phil that she’s “not a sympathetic person,” Erika starts getting more personally involved in the story while trying to maintain her journalistic ethics.
STET, named for the term used to tell a typesetter to ignore a suggested change, takes place in Jo Winiarski’s conference-room set, surrounded by opaque walls through which shadows can occasionally be seen. The walls also serve as a backdrop for Katherine Freer’s projections, which include Skyping, text messages, a television interview, and a shower of words as the story takes off. Davies (Smoke) handles the tense subject with great care, avoiding platitudes for the most part while still making her point. “I just don’t see women as victims waiting to happen,” Connor says. Erika responds, “I don’t see women as victims. But don’t you think — isn’t it possible that someone could, you know, get pressured into doing something she doesn’t want to do?” to which Connor replies, “But she’s still choosing to do it, right?” It’s not an easy play to watch, and it does have its occasional lapses, but it’s very effective in its specific exploration of rape culture examined from multiple angles. Don’t be surprised if it has you reevaluating your thoughts on rape and the media long after the play is over. STET has been extended through July 10; the June 30 performance will be followed by a discussion with writers Amanda Duarte and Eliza Bent and activist Kathy Moran.
200 Eastern Parkway at Washington St.
Saturday, July 2, free, 5:00 - 11:00
The Brooklyn Museum honors America’s 240th birthday with an evening of free programs dedicated to free speech and social change on July 2. The monthly First Saturday events will feature live performances by Pablo Helguera’s project El Club de Protesta (the Protest Club), Bread and Puppet Theater (Underneath the Above Show #1), Dennis Redmoon Darkeem (smudging ritual, interactive Good Trade), and DJ Chela; a screening of Judd Ehrlich’s Keepers of the Game (followed by a talkback with cast members Louise and Tsieboo Herne); highlights from the “LGBTQ New Americans” oral history project (followed by a talkback); storytelling with percussionist Sanga of the Valley; a pop-up gallery talk for “Agitprop!”; a curator tour of the American art collection with Connie Choi; a hands-on workshop in which participants can make their own personal flag using cloth collages; and interactive “Legislative Theatre” with Theatre of the Oppressed NYC. In addition, you can check out such exhibitions as “Disguise: Masks and Global African Art,” “Tom Sachs: Boombox Retrospective, 1999–2016,” and “Stephen Powers: Coney Island Is Still Dreamland (to a Seagull).”
407 West 43rd St. between Ninth & Tenth Aves.
Tuesday – Sunday through July 17, $79-$89
“Now, I know that many of you folks out there do read the paper. But I wish you would read all the papers. You just read some of the papers — where they callin’ me the Negro Lenny Bruce. You gotta’ read those Congo papers where they callin’ Lenny Bruce — the white Dick Gregory!” Dick Gregory (Joe Morton) declares near the beginning of Turn Me Loose, Gretchen Law’s smart, essential play about the life and career of the comedian, activist, and self-described wellness guru born Richard Claxton Gregory in St. Louis in 1932. The Emmy-winning, Tony-nominated Morton is riveting as Gregory, going back and forth between club gigs and interviews from the 1960s to the present day, when he addresses the audience directly as an old man, looking back at his failures and accomplishments. (Fortunately, the play avoids his numerous forays into conspiracy theories.) Gregory talks about his life with his wife and children, his goals for financial success and social change, and his friendships with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Medgar Evers. In fact, the title is taken from Evers’s final words: “Turn me loose.” As Morton ambles across Chris Barreca’s stripped-down set, consisting of a microphone, table, stool and phone, the play gets to the heart of what Gregory was and is about. “I’m out to find the truth. Expose the tricks,” he says. Discussing the ongoing battles between black and white, Muslims and Christians, Jews and Palestinians, and liberals and conservatives, he admonishes, “When you accept injustice, you become injustice. When you coexist with filth? You become filth. It’s all of those myths you’re buyin’ into.” Other gems include “Bein’ white ain’t got nothin’ to do with color,” “My tongue . . . was my switchblade. My humor was my sword,” “I believe that information is salvation,” and “When I grew up in St. Louis, I thought that poverty was the worst disease on the earth. I soon learned that racism is the worst disease on the face of the earth.”
Law (The Adventures of a Black Girl in Search of Her God, Al Sharpton for President) and director John Gould Rubin (Hedda Gabler, Playing with Fire) zero in on the key moments of Gregory’s career: being invited by Hugh Hefner to perform at the Playboy Club in Chicago in 1961, where he faced a harsh crowd of white southerners, and demanding that if Jack Paar wanted him to do stand-up on the Tonight show, he had to be allowed to sit on the couch and speak with Paar afterward, something no black entertainer had done before. He also makes brilliant use of the word “n-gger.” He celebrates the way Mark Twain employed it (“Mark Twain was so brilliant! He gave a n-gger a name! ‘N-gger Jim.’ And then white folks had to read about a black man with a name. A person.”) and confronts the audience with it. After being heckled at the Playboy Club, he turns to the Westside Theatre audience and says, “How about you all out there? Anyone out there care to stand up and call me a n-gger? Come on now. Don’t miss out on a great opportunity. Stand up! Come on. Stand up! Go ahead. Get on up. Get on up and call me — a n-gger! It’s only a word.” Of course, at that moment you could hear a pin drop, aside from some nervous laughter. (The night I went, the crowd was about half white and half black.) Morton, who has starred in such films as The Brother from Another Planet and Lone Star, such television series as Scandal and Eureka, and the Broadway plays Hair, Art, and Raisin, does not go into full impersonation mode but effectively captures Gregory’s unique spirit in his every movement. However, Turn Me Loose is not quite a one-man show; John Carlin, who is white, also appears in bit parts as various hecklers and a comic. In addition, coproducer John Legend contributes an original song. At one point, Gregory declares, “Nobody makes it out alive when they make a real change that has to do with race. Nobody!” As he often has done over the course of his life, Gregory defies convention yet again.
Who: Jack Ferver, Carling Talcott-Steenstra, Barton Cowperthwaite, Reid Bartelme
What: ADI/NYC Incubator residency program
Where: The Kitchen, 519 West 19th St. between Tenth & Eleventh Aves., 855-263-2623
When: June 30 - July 2, $25
Why: Wait, what! You still haven’t gotten tickets to see the inimitable Jack Ferver’s latest show, I Want You to Want Me? Are you out of your mind? We’ve been telling you for years about Ferver, a genuine New York City treasure who is a storytelling marvel, mixing humor and melodrama, pathos and bathos, fiction and nonfiction, fantasy and reality in works that examine the state of our fame-obsessed world through a wacky and wild pop-culture sense and sensibility. Part of the American Dance Institute’s NYC Incubator program, I Want You to Want Me runs June 30 through July 2 at the Kitchen and features, alongside writer, choreographer, and star Ferver, Carling Talcott-Steenstra as Ann Erica Rose, Barton Cowperthwaite as Bartholomew, and longtime Ferver collaborator and costume designer Reid Bartelme as Reid in what is being billed as a “horror play/goth ballet.” Ferver, whose previous works include Chambre, Rumble Ghost, and All of a Sudden, explains, “I thought I would try to make something for everyone. You know, like ballet or a good subscription audience kind of play. I consider myself a populist, but some people really hate my work. They even hate me they hate my work so much. So I thought: ‘Well, why don’t I make a really pretty ballet or a play about a straight couple and their issues?’ So that’s what I’m going to do. Oh, I also just wanted to say that not everyone is going to make it. I don’t mean make it to the show. I mean make it out of the show alive.” The Incubator program continues in September with Zvi Dance and Steven Reker / Open House and in October with Morgan Thorson and Kate Weare Company.
Through June 26, free, 8:00
William Shakespeare, protofeminist? Well, not exactly. But in the hands of Tony-nominated director Phyllida Lloyd, Bard fans are offered a new way to look at Shakespeare’s troubling play about women’s submission at the hands of devious men. Lloyd, who previously helmed all-woman versions of Julius Caesar and Henry IV at St. Ann’s (as well as Mamma Mia! on Broadway), now takes the same route with The Taming of the Shrew, continuing at the Public’s Delacorte Theater in Central Park through June 26. Mark Thompson’s set and costumes create a kind of traveling circus atmosphere as a Donald Trump sound-alike introduces beauty-pageant contestants, instantly demeaning women in multiple ways. The women, who come in all the shapes and sizes that the presumptive Republican nominee for president would clearly not approve of, sing and dance, wearing giant smiles on their faces. But Katherina (Cush Jumbo), whose sister is the beautiful, ditzy blonde Bianca (Gayle Rankin), wants no part of this sideshow, demanding to make her own decisions and refusing to kowtow to any man.
Her words are so harsh and brutal that the men in Padua treat her as a kind of laughingstock, wanting nothing to do with her. But when her wealthy father, Baptista (LaTanya Richardson Jackson), declares that until Katherina, his eldest daughter, is wed, his younger daughter, Bianca, an object of sexual desire among all the men, is off limits. So several of Bianca’s suitors, including Gremio (Judy Gold), Lucentio (Rosa Gilmore), and Hortensio (Donna Lynne Champlin), get involved in an elaborate scheme of lies, deception, and mistaken identity to convince Petruchio (Janet McTeer) to wed and bed the untamable Katherina so Bianca becomes fair game. But Kate is not about to fall for their tricks, until she has little choice, resulting in some very difficult scenes as Petruchio essentially starves and tortures Kate to force her to become his obedient sex slave. But Lloyd has a surprise in store that provides a conclusion that might not sit well with either Shakespeare or Trump.
The cast, which also features Adrienne C. Moore as Tranio, Teresa Avia Lim as Biondello, Stacey Sergeant as Grumio, Candy Buckley as Vincentio, Leenya Rideout as a wealthy widow, and Morgan Everitt, Anne L. Nathan, Pearl Rhein, Jackie Sanders, and Natalie Woolams-Torres, has an absolute ball, seemingly enjoying every second of the show. Jumbo (Josephine and I, The River) stomps and shrieks around with fiery glee as Kate, while Tony-winning, Oscar-nominated British actress McTeer (God of Carnage, Tumbleweeds) channels a dirtbag Crocodile Dundee as Petruchio. Gold (The Judy Show — My Life as a Sitcom, 25 Questions for a Jewish Mother) stands tall as Gremio, replacing what she calls a boring speech with a brief stand-up routine that, the night we attended, referenced a raccoon that was sneaking around backstage. And Moore (Black Cindy on Orange Is the New Black) is delightful as Tranio, firmly entrenched right in the middle of all the shenanigans. Lloyd infuses the festivities — which actually do nearly fall apart during the wedding scenes and when Petruchio is “taming” Kate — with a feminist energy that nearly explodes to songs by Pat Benatar and Joan Jett. Of course, this production of an outdated, sexist play — which inspired the Cole Porter musical Kiss Me, Kate — comes along at an opportune moment in American history, as Hillary Clinton has a legitimate chance to become the first woman U.S. president, violence and discrimination against the LGBTQ community remain prevalent, and even discussions over bathroom usage have resulted in fear and loathing. In the program, Public Theater artistic director Oskar Eustis notes that Shrew “is the only major Shakespeare play which I have never produced or directed. . . . The reason is simple: I have never been able to get behind the central action of the play, which is, well, taming a woman. . . . But then I listened to Phyllida Lloyd.” We are all very glad that he did.
Who: Matthew Aughenbaugh, Michael Ruby, Graham Fawcett
What: Immersive theater piece
Where: The Old Stone House, Washington Park & JJ Byrne Playground, between Fourth & Fifth Aves. and Third & Fourth Sts., Park Slope, 718-768-3195
When: Friday, June 24, $15-$20, 8:00
Why: On June 24, Matthew Aughenbaugh will perform his one-man show, Song of Myself: The Words of Walt Whitman, at the Old Stone House in Park Slope, in the borough where the mighty poet was raised. “Crowds of men and women attired in the usual costumes, how curious you are to me! / On the ferry-boats the hundreds and hundreds that cross, returning home, are more curious to me than you suppose, / And you that shall cross from shore to shore years hence are more to me, and more in my meditations, than you might suppose,” Whitman wrote in 1856’s “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry.” Aughenbaugh, a Shakespearean actor who has also done musical theater, noted in a statement, “I was inspired to create a theater piece using only original text as a way to share my passion for our greatest American poet.” The immersive show, presented by London’s Upper Wimpole Street Literary Salon, will be followed by a Q&A with Aughenbaugh and Brooklyn poet Michael Ruby, moderated by British broadcaster, teacher, and translator Graham Fawcett. Tickets are $15 in advance and $20 at the door and come with wine and refreshments.
Fifth Ave. and 25th St., Brooklyn
Thursday - Sunday through June 26, $75, 7:00
In The Great American Casket Company, BREAD Arts Collective (Rise & Fall) takes full advantage of the opportunity to stage the first-ever site-specific multiperformance theatrical production in historic Green-Wood Cemetery. Every Thursday through Sunday in June, up to seventy-five “clients” come to Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn to hear the extensive, immersive sales pitch from “employees” of the Great American Casket Co. The evening kicks off with heavenly standards by Coriander Suede and the Tombstones (Owen Weaver, Lizzie Hagstedt, Eric Powell Holm, and composer and musical director Andrew Lynch), including “My Blue Heaven” and “Pennies from Heaven.” (Feel free to dance if you’d like.) The audience is introduced to seven characters identified only by number (in ascending order from one to seven: Mélissa Smith, Kelly Klein, Gregory G. Schott, Kate Gunther, Andy Talen, Ashley Winkfield, and Ben Lewis) who are awaiting the arrival of the President (Toni Ann Denoble), a heavily made-up steampunk leader pushing the company’s exclusive afterlife technology.
As the sun sets over the spectacular grounds, the clients are guided through various parts of the cemetery, encountering puppets (courtesy of puppeteers Matthew A. Leabo, Winkfield, and Rachael Shane, who is also an aerialist), jugglers, ghostly guitarists, and other entertainments. The show drags significantly in the middle when a subplot regarding one Agnes Butterfield (Lyndsey Anderson) begins, but it takes off again toward a sparkling and otherworldly conclusion. Written by Anderson and Lewis, charmingly directed by Katie Melby, and featuring costumes by Elizabeth May that range from skeletal to clownish to devilish to angelic, The Great American Casket Company is, above all else, a great way to experience Green-Wood Cemetery, which is the resting place of such “famous residents” as Jean-Michel Basquiat, Boss Tweed, Leonard Bernstein, Horace Greeley, Louis Comfort Tiffany, Charles Ebbets, and Rev. Henry Ward Beecher. Not all of the knots are tied at the end, and several elements will leave you scratching your head, but if you “buy the plot,” as the opening number says with clever double meaning, you’ll have a grand old time. The show concludes with a reception with members of the cast and crew, hosted by Brooklyn-based alternative event planners Modern Rebel, with free popcorn, s’mores, and Pixy Stix, wine and beer (with suggested donation), and a photo booth.