The free summer arts & culture season is under way, with dance, theater, music, art, film, and other special outdoor programs all across the city. Every week we will be recommending a handful of events. Keep watching twi-ny for more detailed highlights as well.
Monday, August 20
Movies on the Waterfront: Black Panther (Ryan Coogler, 2018), Astoria Park Lawn, 8:30
Tuesday, August 21
Movies Under the Stars: Singin’ in the Rain (Gene Kelly & Stanley Donen, 1952), Poe Park, Bronx, 8:30
Wednesday, August 22
SummerStage: Mr. Gaga (Tomer Heymann, 2017), preceded by a performance by Gallim Dance, with a preshow Gaga/people class taught by Omri Drumlevich (advance RSVP required), Rumsey Playfield, Central Park, 8:00
Friday, August 24
Shakespeare: Macbeth, Fridays and Saturdays through September 8, no tarps allowed, Bryant Park Picnics, Bryant Park, 7:00
Saturday, August 25
Summer Concert Series: Joan Caddell & the Midnight Choir, Karlus Trapp, with wine and beer tastings and lawn games, chairs and blankets encouraged, Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Garden, Staten Island, 7:00
Sunday, August 26
Staten Island Philharmonic in High Rock Park: Woodwinds Ensemble, High Rock Gate, Staten Island, 3:00
West 135th St. between Malcolm X Blvd. & Frederick Douglass Blvd.
Saturday, August 18, and Sunday, August 19, free, 12 noon – 10:00 pm
Festival continues through August 25
The theme of the 2018 Harlem Week festival is “Women Transforming Our World: Past, Present & Future,” along with the subtheme “The Community within the Community,” saluting LGBTQ rights. The festivities continue August 18 with “Summer in the City” and August 19 with “Harlem Day,” two afternoons of a wide range of free special events along West 135th St. Saturday’s programs include Harlem Senior Citizens Synchronized Swimming, the NYC Children’s Festival in Howard Bennett Playground (with a parade, exhibits, games, arts & crafts, live music and dance, health testing, and sports clinics), the Harlem Week Higher Education Fair (with more than fifty colleges and universities), “Dancing in the Streets” with live performances and WBLS DJs, the International Vendors Village, the Fabulous Fashion Flava Show, the “Uptown Saturday Concert” (with Sarah Vaughan National Competition winner Ashleigh Smith, Bishop Marvin Sapp, Raheem Devaughn, and the Jeff Foxx Band), and the Imagenation Outdoor Film Festival in St. Nicholas Park. Sunday’s “Harlem Day” celebration features live performances on three stages, the International Vendors Village, the Upper Manhattan Auto Show, Our Health Village, the Upper Manhattan Small Business Expo & Fair, USTA Children’s Tennis Clinics, and the second day of the NYC Children’s Festival (with a Back to School theme).
Tuesday-Sunday through August 19, free, 8:00
“Shall we set about some revels?” Sir Toby Belch asks in Twelfth Night. “I do delight in masques and revels, sometimes altogether,” responds Sir Andrew Aguecheek. There is much to revel in at the Public Works presentation of William Shakespeare’s 1601-2 comic romance, continuing at the Public Theater’s Delacorte through August 19. Since 2013, the annual Shakespeare in the Park summer festival has concluded with a musical version of a classic tale, performed over Labor Day weekend following the two main productions. Adapted by either Todd Almond (The Tempest, The Odyssey) or Shaina Taub (The Winter’s Tale, As You Like It with Laurie Woolery) and under the leadership of Public Works founder and director Lear deBessonet, the shows feature top-tier actors (Laura Benanti, Christopher Fitzgerald, Lindsay Mendez, Brandon Victor Dixon, Norm Lewis) joined by some two hundred men, women, and children from community organizations across all five boroughs. In 2016, Taub staged Twelfth Night, which is now back for an ecstatic full run in Central Park, spreading Joe Papp’s belief that theater is for all people. This production is totally committed to that vision; before the show starts, the entire audience is encouraged to hang out onstage and interact with members of the enormous cast and crew, playing checkers and other games, sitting for caricature sketches, eating free popcorn, singing with a small band, and posing for pictures in front of the set. (Yes, that man handing out glow sticks is Shuler Hensley, the Tony-winning star of Young Frankenstein, Les Misérables, and Oklahoma!)
The ninety-minute show is a pure delight. After a shipwreck in which she believes her twin brother, Sebastian (Troy Anthony), must have been killed, Viola (Tony winner Nikki M. James) winds up in Illyria, where the grief-stricken Countess Olivia (Nanya-Akuki Goodrich) is mourning the loss of her own brother. Disguising herself as a man named Cesario, Viola gets a job working for the lovesick Duke Orsino (Ato Blankson-Wood), who has the hots for Olivia, but she wants no part of him. In fact, Olivia is attracted to Cesario, while Viola has fallen for Orsino. The absurdly proper steward Malvolio (Andrew Kober) is also in love with his ladyship, Olivia. Through it all, Olivia’s uncle, the drunken wastrel Sir Toby Belch (Hensley), and his bestie, Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Daniel Hall), flit about Illyria, getting drunk, making jokes, and causing trouble, including teaming up with Olivia's gentlewoman, Maria (Lori Brown-Niang), to pull off a rather mean-spirited prank. As Sebastian and his friend, Antonio (Jonathan Jordan), enter Illyria, the mistaken identity, screwball love triangles, and general mayhem ratchet way up.
In addition to writing the music and lyrics for the show, which she conceived with Kwame Kwei-Armah (the new artistic director of the Young Vic), the Vermont-raised, New York City–based Taub (Old Hats; Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812) introduces it, portrays Feste the fool, and leads the band at her piano. She’s sort of like a sprite, prancing about with her accordion; even when she accidentally tripped, she declared her instrument fine and continued the scene in excellent form, wearing a huge smile. The songs not only propel the plot and deepen character development but also relate wonderfully to Shakespeare’s language; the opening number is “Play On” (“If music be the food of love, play on!”), and Kober has a blast chewing up the showstoppers “Count Malvolio” (“I could be Count Malvolio! / Lord of the estate / Dressed in all the finest silk and master of my fate / I’d summon all my minions in a most majestic tone / Then once they all arrived / I’d tell them, ‘Leave me alone!’”) and “Greatness” (“If some are born great / And some achieve greatness / And some have greatness thrust upon them / Then I can’t help that I was born great! / I didn’t ask to be the best / Things would be much easier being average like the rest”). Feste kicks off “You’re the Worst,” in which Fabian (Patrick J. O’Hare), Sir Andrew, Sir Toby, and Feste roast one another (“You try too sincerely to please every crowd / You play the accordion, for crying out loud! / So let me tell you first / That you are the worst!”) before ganging up on poor Malvolio. The score also features “If You Were My Beloved,” “Is This Not Love?” and “Word on the Street,” as Taub and her band go from New Orleans jazz and pop to R&B and hip-hop.
For Twelfth Night, the Public has partnered with Brownsville Recreation Center, Casita Maria Center for Arts and Education, Center for Family Life in Sunset Park, DreamYard Project, Fortune Society, Military Resilience Project, Children’s Aid Society, and Domestic Workers United, with cameos from people from COBU, Jambalaya Brass Band, the Love Show, New York Deaf Theatre, Ziranmen Kungfu Wushu Training Center, and even the US Post Office. Every participant, regardless of theatrical experience, is given equal billing both on the official poster and in the Playbill. Public Theater artistic director Oskar Eustis has taken the helm from Kwei-Armah, directing the rather large cast on Rachel Hauck’s welcoming, carnivalesque set, which is backed by the facade of Olivia and Orsino’s homes. Eustis and choreographer Lorin Latarro do a superb job, avoiding having everyone just run into each other everywhere, keeping the narrative flowing as more and more folks enter and leave. Andrea Hood has a field day with the costumes, ranging from Elizabethan dress to modern-day summer wear; at one early point the night I went, when Sebastian and Antonio approach the edge of the stage, nearly in the audience, a man and woman in blue nurse’s clothes slowly got up right in front of them and started pushing a man on an extended gurney-like contraption to the right. I closely watched their path, expecting them to go up the ramp and onto the stage, but it turned out that it must have been a real emergency as they headed out of the Delacorte with their patient. It was an unexpected turn of events, but it also proved how unpredictable this production is, where anything can happen. As Fabian says, “If this were played upon a stage now, I could condemn it as an improbable fiction.”
139-141 West 44th St. between Sixth & Seventh Aves.
Tuesday - Sunday through February 17, $35 - $274
Sir Philip Sidney’s 1590 drama The Countess of Pembroke’s Arcadia has been transformed into the giddy get-up-and-go musical Head Over Heels, running through next February at the Hudson Theatre. James Magruder has adapted the Shakespeare-like Elizabethan prose work, about forbidden love, patriarchal society, mistaken identity, and prophecy, into a bawdy, ribald tale, a modern-day celebration of gay and transgender culture that is neither didactic nor facetious. Oh, and it’s all set to classic songs and deep cuts by the Go-Go’s — Belinda Carlisle, Jane Wiedlin, Gina Schock, Kathy Valentine, Charlotte Caffey — whose tunes fit right into the story, with nary a word needing to be changed. In the land of Arcadia, King Basilius (Jeremy Kushnier) and Queen Gynecia (Rachel York) are leading the annual festivities paying tribute to “the beat,” their divine legacy that brings order to their lives. “We heed its rhythm and follow its form,” Pamela (Bonnie Milligan), the king’s older daughter, says. “It keeps us in line and dictates the norm,” adds Dametas (Tom Alan Robbins), the king’s viceroy. Shortly before a tournament in which eligible bachelors will parade for Pamela’s hand, Gynecia zeroes in on younger daughter Philoclea’s (Alexandra Socha) increasing closeness with the Eclogue-speaking shepherd Musidorus (Andrew Durand). The queen forbids her daughter from marrying the peasant, explaining, “Too many turns of the hourglass make / Us forget the unscripted pleasures of / Free-feeling youth and doth render us all / Conservative in thought and policy.” That conservative thinking is about to be upended when Pamela is wooed by Mopsa (Taylor Iman Jones), her maiden and Dametas’s daughter; Musidorus disguises himself as a female Amazon called Cleophila, attracting Basilius and Gynecia; and Pythio (Peppermint), the Oracle of Delphi who identifies as “a nonbinary plural,” warns the king and Dametas that “Arcadia is in peril,” delivering a four-part prophecy about the royal family and the future of the crown. As the riddle-like predictions start coming true, chaos threatens the kingdom amid an epidemic of 1960s-era free love.
Tony-winning director Michael Mayer (Spring Awakening, Hedwig and the Angry Inch) infuses Tony winner Jeff Whitty’s (Bring It On: The Musical, Avenue Q) splendid book with genuine heart and soul as the well-developed characters proceed to their fates. Pulitzer and Tony winner Tom Kitt’s (Next to Normal, American Idiot) orchestrations are at times so faithful to the Go-Go’s songs that it occasionally sounds like the actors are singing to the original recordings, but they are in fact played live by conductor and musical director Kimberly Grigsby on keyboards, Ann Klein and Bess Rogers on guitars, Catherine Popper on bass, and Dena Tauriello on drums. Emmy nominee Spencer Liff’s (Spring Awakening, Hedwig and the Angry Inch) playful choreography doesn’t overdo things, while Julian Crouch’s set design is fun and imaginative, with painted moving cardboard backdrops and a giant python’s heavenly descent. And the superb cast looks great in Arianne Phillips’s exuberant, eye-catching period costumes as the actors recite lines in verse and then belt out such Go-Go’s hits as “We Got the Beat,” “Vacation,” and “Our Lips Are Sealed” and Carlisle’s “Mad About You,” which becomes the show’s musical theme. In addition, at many a sudden romantic twist, a lightning-quick snippet of “Skidmarks on My Heart” comes and goes.Head Over Heels never gets bogged down in its welcoming message of diversity and the need for people to “reveal their authentic selves,” although neither is it shy about making its points. “Please ventilate the belfry of thy mind,” Pamela says to Mopsa. “How is gender germane to the discussion?” Pythio asks Basilius. It all comes together beautifully in a sensational production that is no mere jukebox musical but so much more. Curiously, Head Over Heels is having trouble selling tickets; hopefully it will find an audience, so get thee haste to the Hudson, where a fabulous time is to be had by all.
In his latest one-man show, The New One, Mike Birbiglia shares intimate information about his relationship with a piece of furniture. “I love my couch,” he says. “It’s the first big thing I dropped money on in my life.” I love my couch also. It was one of the first “adult” pieces of furniture I shopped for and purchased with my wife. We got it at Bloomingdale’s, and I remember being heartbroken when it turned out that the delivery people couldn’t fit the couch into the elevator in our building (even though they claimed they were sure it would fit when we bought it). They had to take this majestic item apart, then put it back together once inside our apartment. That couch has been with us a long time, through several colonizing cats, but now we might have to get rid of it because it’s too soft and comfortable for my back. Why am I telling you all this? Well, the couch, which Birbiglia calls “a bed that hugs you,” plays an integral role, along with a cat, in the show, which continues at the Cherry Lane through August 26. Like at such previous Birbiglia confessionals as Sleepwalk with Me and Thank God for Jokes, audiences leave the theater feeling the need to share aspects of their own life while still brushing away the tears brought on by Birbiglia’s tales, both from laughing at his perceptive musings on human nature and crying at his deeply personal revelations. He doesn’t hold anything back, getting as graphic as, um, let’s just say he gets pretty graphic. It’s a unique kind of cathartic experience that helps explain why his shows sell out so quickly.
In The New One, the Massachusetts-born Birbiglia, who recently turned forty and, as he states, looks like a cross between Matt Damon and Bill O’Reilly, talks about how, after ten years of marriage, his wife, Jen — whom he regularly refers to as Chlo — suddenly decided she wanted to have a baby, something they had previously agreed they did not want. So Birbiglia spends most of the show discussing his current and past sex life, explaining how babies destroyed his brother’s once-happy life, and delving deep into his various health problems, several of which are extremely serious and quite frightening, including the dangerous sleepwalking that was the focus of his breakthrough performance. “There are details in my life that are both setups and punchlines,” he says after describing what he has to do to prepare for bed in order to try not to sleepwalk. He also lists reasons why he never wanted to have a kid in the first place, including: “I don’t think there should be children anymore.” At one point he also says, “I’m telling you this long, embarrassing story to make the point that I consider myself ‘decent.’”
Birbiglia, who won a Lucille Lortel Award for My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend and wrote, directed, and starred in the 2016 film Don’t Think Twice, certainly comes off as decent in The New One, which is executive produced by Ira Glass (This American Life). Birbiglia freely admits his failings, as well as his successes, making us consider our own as well, like soldiers comparing battle scars. He’s just a regular, soft-spoken guy — his delivery grows stronger as the show goes on — with trials and tribulations that we all can relate to. Not that we’d want to have any of his illnesses, which are pretty horrific. Director Seth Barrish (Pentecost, The Tricky Part) and Tony-winning set designer Beowulf Boritt (Act One, Come from Away), who have both worked with Birbiglia before, keep things simple, save for one cool surprise. And the wooden slats, like window blinds, around the Cherry Lane make it feel as if the audience is within Birbiglia’s psyche, which is a comfortable place to be for seventy-five minutes. Kind of like a bed that hugs you.
Gertrude and Irving Dimson Theatre
108 East 15th St. between Union Square East & Irving Pl.
August 9-11, 16-18, $15-$25, 7:00
For nearly twenty years, Developing Artists has helped nurture young actors, providing them with the freedom necessary to share their diverse voices. In 2001, the organization founded Rebel Verses, in which company members stage original works. This year’s Youth Arts Festival takes place August 9-11 and 16-18 at the Vineyard Theatre, with an all-star lineup of special guests working with the young troupe, which consists of thirteen-to-nineteen-year-olds from all five boroughs of New York City and elsewhere. The first week will feature presentations by the Door, the Alumni Theatre Company, and the Brotherhood/Sister Sol, with two-time Tony nominee Daphne Rubin-Vega (Rent, Anna in the Tropics) on August 9, poet, singer, and actor Flaco Navaja (East WillyB) on August 10, and Kevin Mambo (Ruined, Fela!) on August 11. The second week includes the MCC Youth Company, Epic Next, 6th Borough Slam, and Girl Be Heard, with Laura Gómez (Orange Is the New Black, The House of the Spirits) on August 16, Emmy, Grammy, and Tony nominee Brandon Victor Dixon (Hamilton, The Scottsboro Boys) on August 17, and Emmy winner Joe Morton (Scandal, The Brother from Another Planet) on August 18.
“There is a void in our community that Developing Artists fills by establishing a creative home for young people and instilling in them a sense of confidence and freedom of expression. Growing up in the New York public school system, I wished for an artistic outlet that would give voice to my culture and experience,” Developing Artists Advisory Board member Rubin-Vega said in a statement. “The positive impact Developing Artists has on both the performing arts community and our city as a whole is immeasurable. Rebel Verses Youth Arts Festival is a hotbed of new forms of learning through the arts, empowering young people to become successful artists and allowing them to recognize that their stories are a part of the fabric of this world.” Tickets ranging from five to twenty-five dollars are going fast to see this important collaborative program that is an important part of the next generation of theater.
The Hayes Theater
240 West 44th St. between Broadway & Eighth Ave.
Tuesday - Sunday through September 9, $69 - $149
Through brilliant bits of added stagecraft, Young Jean Lee and director Anna D. Shapiro have taken Lee’s 2014 Public Theater presentation, Straight White Men, to the next level, transforming it into a more relevant, much funnier Broadway success. The first Asian-American woman to have a play on the Great White Way, Lee, who has previously explored such issues as race, ethnicity, gender, religion, sexual orientation, and body size and image, chooses the setup of an all-straight, all-white, all-male family gathering to celebrate Christmas together — but this time around she has some key twists. As you enter 2nd Stage’s Hayes Theater, which features a glittering shimmer curtain lit by many colors that instantly makes you question what you’re about to see, two flashily dressed people are walking through the crowd, stopping to talk to audience members, asking them whether they like the loud, female rap music or whether it is making them feel uncomfortable. They are known in the script as Person in Charge 1 and Person in Charge 2, played, respectively, by Kate Bornstein and Ty DeFoe. “In case you were wondering, neither of us is a straight white man,” Bornstein, who identifies as a nonbinary Jew from the Jersey Shore, says. DeFoe explains, “I’m from the Oneida and the Ojibwe nations. My gender identity is Niizhi Manitouwug, which means ‘transcending gender’ in the Ojibwe language.” Bornstein and DeFoe form a great comic duo playfully raising issues of comfort and privilege. “Tonight Kate and I are here to try something a little tricky,” DeFoe says. “As foreign as they are to us, we’re gonna try to find some understanding for straight white men. That’s what we wish everyone would do for us.” Lee is not out to skewer straight white men, which has become easy target practice these days, but nor is she out to praise or defend them.
The shimmer curtain parts to reveal a cozy living room with a couch, a small bar, wall-to-wall carpeting, and other standard elements, nothing fancy. Todd Rosenthal’s set is encased in a large frame, at the bottom of which is a gold plaque that reads: “STRAIGHT WHITE MEN.” It’s as if we’re looking at a human environment in a zoo or a modern historical painting. The inhabitants of this residence are widowed patriarch Ed (Stephen Payne) and his oldest son, Matt (Paul Schneider), a Harvard grad now doing part-time office work for a small charitable organization. Joining them for the holiday are sons Jake (Josh Charles), a divorced banker with kids, and Drew (Armie Hammer), a novelist and teacher who flits about from relationship to relationship. Boys will be boys, so they spend much of the ninety-minute intermissionless production acting out childhood rituals, good-naturedly razzing and annoying one another, and playing a board game called Privilege, adapted by their mother from Monopoly to teach them liberal values. When Jake draws an “Excuses” card, he reads, “‘What I said wasn’t sexist-slash-racist-slash-homophobic because I was joking.’ Pay fifty dollars to the Lesbian and Gay Community Services Center.” Drew next picks up a “Denial” card, reading, “‘I don’t have white privilege because it doesn’t exist.’ Get stopped by the police for no reason and go directly to jail.” All four men later sing Matt’s high school adaptation of the title song from Oklahoma!, which includes such KKK-related lines as “Where we sure look sweet, in white bed sheets / with our pointy masks upon our heads!” The song is delightfully choreographed by Faye Driscoll, who has proved she can energize an audience in such works of her own as the Thank You for Coming trilogy and There is so much mad in me as well as Lee’s Untitled Feminist Show and We’re Gonna Die.
The narrative makes a sharp turn when Matt suddenly starts crying as the men eat their Chinese-food dinner. His brothers and father debate why the prodigal son has broken down, whether it’s because he is depressed about his personal situation, the state of the world, or something else. Matt even refers to himself as a “loser,” that most Trumpian of words. At the heart of the discussion is whether Matt has failed to live up to his potential, whether he has not taken advantage of everything white privilege had to offer him, although that phrase is not used specifically. Knowing that Broadway audiences are primarily white, Tony winner Shapiro (August: Osage County, This Is Our Youth) and two-time Obie winner Lee (The Shipment, Songs of the Dragons Flying to Heaven) don’t skewer the title characters, nor do they ask for any judgment. They just lay it all out there, although the motto for Lee’s theater company (2003-16) was “Destroy the audience.” The manipulations that have been added for the Broadway run are meant to make attendees feel on edge. If an audience member expresses to Bornstein (Gender Outlaw, Kate Bornstein Is a Queer and Pleasant Danger) or DeFoe (Masculinity Max, Clouds Are Pillows for the Moon) that the entrance music is too loud or offensive, for example, one of the options for them is to be led out to the lobby until the show starts; the music is not going to be changed or lowered for anyone.
In addition, at the start of each of the three acts, Bornstein and DeFoe guide some of the actors onto the stage and put them into place, as if carefully re-creating the past, when white men were at the top of the chain. But now the people in charge are nonbinary, gender fluid, able to identify themselves however they want. It’s almost as if the four white men are pawns in their hands, the power dynamic completely reversed; it might come as no surprise that Lee has been a dollhouse maven since she was a lonely Korean-American child, unable to make friends. The Broadway stage has become her dollhouse, where she can design her own world, word by word, character by character, scene by scene. In their Broadway debuts, Charles (The Antipodes, The Distance from Here), Schneider (Bright Star, Goodbye to All That), and Hammer (Call Me by Your Name, Sorry to Bother You) are fully believable as the siblings, whether goofing around or getting serious, never feeling like stereotypes onstage just to make a sociopolitical point. Payne (Superior Donuts, August: Osage County) is about a half beat behind the others, and the role-playing scene is still awkward. But this iteration of Straight White Men feels right at home on the Great White Way, tenderly looking at how things were, how they are, and perhaps how they will be.