St. Ann’s Warehouse
45 Water St.
Tuesday - Sunday through December 3, $81-$91
Denise Gough gives a career-redefining performance as an actress struggling through rehab in Duncan Macmillan’s People, Places & Things, which has been extended at St. Ann’s Warehouse through December 3. The broke Gough nearly quit the business before getting the role of Emma, a drug addict and alcoholic who checks herself into a rehab center; her riveting portrayal earned her an Olivier Award. The narrative arc is all too familiar: Emma’s addictions make it hard for her to keep a job, so she’s looking to “graduate” from a rehab to show she’s okay now. She proclaims, “I shouldn’t be here,” to the staff doctor (an excellent Barbara Marten), who replies, “It’s pretty obvious that you should. You came here for a reason. That was a good impulse.” As Emma’s hands shake, the doctor continues, “Your addiction will fight any progress. It’s a parasite and it will fight for its own survival until you’re dead. But progress is possible. I just need to hear you say that you are willing and motivated to make changes.” But Emma resists the twelve-step program, which requires mandatory group therapy. Emma, who at first goes by the name Nina — the play opens with a scene from Chekhov’s The Seagull in which Emma, as Nina, spins out of control — insists she is different from the other members of the group, which is led by a therapist (Marten) and includes Shaun (Himesh Patel), Laura (Laura Woodward), Charlotte (Charlotte Gascoyne), T (Jacob James Beswick), Jodi (Jacqui Dubois), Paul (Kevin McMonagle), Mark (Nathaniel Martello-White), and Foster (Alistair Cope), a former addict who completed the program and now works at the facility, helping others. Although she is an actress, Emma refuses at first to participate in role-playing exercises or share the details of her story; she is used to playing fictional characters onstage, so she steers away from the truth despite repeated admonitions that she must be truthful and hold nothing back. “Drugs and alcohol have never let me down. They have always loved me,” Emma says. “There are substances I can put into my bloodstream that make the world perfect. That is the only absolute truth in the universe.” But soon it is clear that if Emma doesn’t clean up her act, she is going to die.
A coproduction of the National Theatre and the British Headlong company, the play is superbly directed by Jeremy Herrin (This House, Wolf Hall) with a bold energy that never lets up, with scene changes indicated by loud noises and lightning-like flashes, evoking the ups and downs of addiction, as if synapses are firing wildly. Bunny Christie’s set is a rectangular white-tiled room with hidden doorways in the walls; the audience sits on opposite sides, able to see one another through the whole show. After intermission, the simple move of a desk makes it feel like the entire set has been turned around, like Emma’s life. As Emma seeks her real identity, she suffers hallucinations in which she is surrounded by multiple Emmas, threatening her sanity. Martello-White excels as Mark, a fellow patient who bonds with Emma — and shares the same name as the brother she claims is dead. McMonagle stands out as Paul, a paranoid addict who is first seen shirtless, the words “The End” on his stomach in what appears to be blood. And Marten gives a thoughtful, caring performance as the doctor and the therapist. “You look like my mother,” Emma tells the doctor, who claims that it is just projection. “No, you really fucking look like her,” Emma says. Indeed, later Marten plays Emma’s mother as well. Macmillan (1984, Lungs, Every Brilliant Thing) gets too caught up in religion and recovery; the play suffers when the characters espouse the program, becoming far too preachy and treacly. It works much better when it is more abstract, Emma’s problems relating to twenty-first-century ills that we all can understand. “Self-medicating is the only way to survive in a world that is broken,” she explains. Gough, who was born in Ireland and has been a longtime London denizen, had never been to New York before this show; she was determined to step foot in the city for the first time only as an actress in a play. She is now taking New York by storm, currently off Broadway at St. Ann’s, and next as Harper in the upcoming Broadway revival of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America. We are all fortunate that she stuck with the program, ultimately refusing to give up on her hopes and dreams.
In 2011 and 2014, Japan Society awarded grants to Japanese multidisciplinary artist Hiroshi Sugimoto for his ambitious Odawara Art Foundation, which is now open to the public and features indoor and outdoor stages for noh and bunraku productions, a large gallery, a tearoom, astronomical observation spaces, and more. Sugimoto, who is based in Tokyo and New York City, will now be presenting the first fruits of that collaboration with several special programs at Japan Society, beginning with the exhibition “Gates of Paradise” (through January 7), the noh play Rikyu-Enoura (November 3-5), and the lecture and book signing “Architecture of Time: Enoura Observatory, Where Consciousness & Memory Originate” (December 15). For more than forty years, photographer, sculptor, architect, and historian Sugimoto has explored history and science, the past and the future, time and memory while blurring the lines between fiction and reality. He has photographed dioramas at natural history museums (“Still Life”), captured electrical discharges on photographic dry plates (“Lightning Fields”), focused on the horizon line across the ocean (“Seascapes”), shot wax figures to look like paintings (“Portraits”), used long exposures to reveal the blinding soul of movie palaces (“Theaters”), and turned one thousand gilded wooden Buddha statues at Sanjῡsangen-dō (Hall of Thirty-Three Bays) in Kyoto into a dizzying film (Sea of Buddha.) He also curated the expansive and wide-ranging “History of History” in 2005-6 at Japan Society and designed the set and costumes for Sanbaso, divine dance, an ancient celebratory ritual dance with noh performers in the Guggenheim Rotunda in 2013. So Sugimoto was a logical go-to choice when Japan Society was putting together its “NOH NOW” series as part of its 110th anniversary. Sugimoto will be staging the world premiere of Rikyu-Enoura, about sixteenth-century tea master Sen-no-Rikyu, featuring a libretto by traditional-style poet Akiko Baba; a tea ceremony by Sen So’oku (a direct descendant of Sen-no-Rikyu); noh actors Kanze Tetsunojo and Katayama Kurouemon; noh musician Kamei Hirotada; and more. Each show will be preceded by a lecture by Wesleyan University assistant professor Dr. Takeshi Watanabe one hour before curtain.
“When State of Siege first opened in Paris, there was no dissenting voice among the critics. Truly, few plays have ever enjoyed such a unanimous slashing,” Albert Camus wrote in a 1958 preface to a collection of four of his plays, including State of Siege. “This is the more deplorable since I have never given up thinking that State of Siege, with all is shortcomings, is, of all my writings, the one that most resembles me.” He also insisted that the 1948 allegorical drama about the search for liberty amid a spreading plague was not an adaptation of his 1947 novel, The Plague. Regardless of what has come before, State of Siege is now in good hands with Théâtre de la Ville, Paris, which returns to BAM November 2-4 with a timely take on the play. The company was previously at BAM with its unique and inventive versions of Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of an Author in 2014 and Ionesco’s Rhinoceros in 2012. Serge Maggiani stars as the Plague, with Hugues Quester as the Man, Alain Libolt as the Judge, Valérie Dashwood as the Secretary, Jauris Casanova as the Alcade, Matthieu Dessertine as Diego, and Philippe Demarle as Nada. The inimitable Emmanuel Demarcy-Mota directs, with sets by Yves Collet, lighting by Collet and Christophe Lemaire, sound by David Lesser, costumes by Fanny Brouste, and video by Mike Guermyet. On November 3 at 6:00 in Wendy’s Subway Reading Room at the BAM Fisher, Demarcy-Mota will give a free lecture on the work and its relevance to what is going on in the world today.
Tony, Oscar, and Pulitzer Prize winner John Patrick Shanley was feeling down in the dumps about the state of the world, so he decided it was time for an old-fashioned Neil Simon-style romantic farce; the result is the hilarious, if bumpy, comedy The Portuguese Kid, which opened last night at Manhattan Theatre Club’s Stage I at City Center. Grieving widow Atalanta Lagana (Sherie Rene Scott) is in the Providence, Rhode Island, home office of her lawyer and childhood friend, Barry Dragonetti (Jason Alexander), reviewing the estate of her recently deceased second husband, Vinny, “a passive aggressive fascist” foot surgeon who voted for Donald J. Trump. ESP-obsessed Atalanta is wearing a sexy black mourning dress and sunglasses, pummeling Barry, who seems to have forced himself into a too-tight, too-blue business suit, with a barrage of brutal one-liners. They’ve been at odds for forty years, ever since ten-year-old Atalanta saved fifteen-year-old Barry when he was mugged by a Portuguese kid, leading to his lifelong horror of anything Portuguese. Atalanta slyly reveals that she’s now seeing Freddy Imbrossi (Pico Alexander), a twenty-nine-year-old carefree would-be poet and real estate agent — and the former passionate lover of Patty (Aimee Carrero), Barry's hot, sexy, and sensitive young Puerto Rican wife. “What is it? You got a problem with Freddy?” Atalanta says to a disgruntled Barry, who responds, “You got a problem. Freddy Imbrossi? You’d be better off with Lyme disease!” Atalanta then explains that she's been calling out Barry's name during sex for years (with both her deceased husbands), which confuses Barry but infuriates his nine-toed mother (Mary Testa), who has been listening in by the door. Barry recuses himself from Atalanta’s case, which fills Mrs. Dragonetti with glee. “I pray to God I never have to violate these eyes with the sight of you again,” she says to the two-time widow.
Clever, witty, and, sometimes a little roughly, the next three scenes in this intermissionless one-act move from Atalanta’s corny but lush bedroom to Barry’s well-appointed backyard, where Patty and Mrs. Dragonetti go at it next, no holds barred, leaving Barry torn between his fiery young wife, who remembers fondly how they met and fell in love, and his hotheaded, nasty mother, who thinks no one is good enough for her baby. The final scene takes place in Atalanta’s garden, where all of the characters gather for a lunch they’ll never forget.
The Bronx-born Shanley (Doubt, Moonstruck, Prodigal Son,) wrote and directed The Portuguese Kid, making changes to the second and fourth scenes up to the very last minute during previews, and it unfortunately shows; those scenes are more chaotic and unformed than the fabulous first and third scenes, in which the characters are well developed, the actors get to strut their stuff, and the plot thickens in wonderfully acerbic ways. Alexander (Seinfeld, Merrily We Roll Along) excels in a role written with him in mind, all pent-up anger waiting to explode, while three-time Tony nominee Scott (Everyday Rapture, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels) is simply fab as the unpredictable, tough-talking Atalanta (loosely inspired by the virgin huntress in Greek mythology), who regularly admits to having “a darkness.” And there’s little left of the scenery after Drama Desk Award winner Testa (First Daughter Suite, Queen of the Mist) gets through with it; her physical presence is the center of gravity around which her galactic verbal barrages fly. Alexander (Punk Rock, What I Did Last Summer) and Carrero (Young & Hungry, What Rhymes with America) have their moments, but their roles are not as fully fleshed out as Jason Alexander’s and Scott’s; in some ways, the quartet evokes Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? The snazzy production features a movable set by John Lee Beatty, fun, colorful costumes by William Ivey Long (Scott’s dresses are too die for), and original music and sound by MTC stalwart Obadiah Eaves. “You underestimate women,” Atalanta tells Barry, who answers, “I’m glad you think so.” In The Portuguese Kid, Shanley most certainly does not underestimate women — or his audience.
Jean-Luc Godard’s Alphaville meets the ASMR phenomenon in Shaun Irons and Lauren Petty’s multimedia futuristic sci-fi noir, Why Why Always, continuing at Abrons Arts Center’s Underground Theater through October 29. The prescient 1965 man vs. machine film starred Eddie Constantine as secret agent Lemmy Caution, who leaves the Outerlands and enters Alphaville posing as reporter Ivan Johnson in order to find out what happened to fellow agent Henry Dickson and to track down mysterious scientist Professor Von Braun. Irons and Petty reimagine the story using multiple monitors and cameras, live feeds and prerecorded scenes, overlapping dialogue, disembodied voices, mirrors and scrims, and more, in black-and-white and color. Longtime New York City Players member Jim Fletcher (Isolde, The Evening) stars as Caution, driving through darkness and moving through Alphaville in his trench coat, gun at the ready. Natacha (Elizabeth Carena), the professor’s daughter, is assigned to accompany him, making sure he doesn’t break any of Alpha 60’s rules, while a pair of seductresses (Laura Bartczak and Marion Spencer) hover around to take care of his more private needs. Wooster Group and Elevator Repair Service veteran Scott Shepherd (who currently can be seen in Measure for Measure at the Public) appears with Madeline Best on video, and Irons and Petty (Keep Your Electric Eye on Me, Standing By: Gatz Backstage) handle the technological aspects and live processing, including going onstage to reposition the cameras as necessary.
Meanwhile, Carena, Bartczak, and Spencer occasionally break out of character and engage in ASMR (Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response), slow, repetitive movements that have little to do with the plot but create both calm and stimulating atmospheres. Christina Campanella does the narration, with voiceovers by Olivier Conan and Irons, additional music by the Chocolate Factory’s Brian Rogers, costumes and props by Amy Mascena (clothing changes are made at front stage right, visible to some of the audience), complex sound design by Irons and Petty and implemented by Ian Douglas-Moore, and moody lighting courtesy of Jon Harper, referencing Raoul Coutard’s cinematography from the film. The production style of Why Why Always evokes such works as Reid and Sara Farrington’s Casablancabox and Big Dance Theater’s Comme Toujours Here I Stand, tech-heavy, complicated re-creations of Casablanca and Cléo from 5 to 7, respectively. What does it all mean? “That’s always how it is,” Caution says. “You never understand anything. And in the end, it kills you.” It won’t kill you, but it will keep you calmly stimulated and entertained throughout its ninety-minute running time.
The Pershing Square Signature Center
The Irene Diamond Stage
480 West 42nd St. between Tenth & Eleventh Aves.
Tuesday - Sunday through November 19, $30 through November 12, $45 after
With the U.S. incarceration system under increasing scrutiny and as talk of closing down the infamous Rikers Island jail grows, the time is ripe for the first New York City revival of Stephen Adly Guirgis’s 2000 play, Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train, and a blistering version opened last night at the Irene Diamond Stage at the Signature Theatre. The play is not an activist exposé of the penal system as much as a searing journey into the battle for the soul of humanity, set in Rikers, pitting good vs. evil, light vs. dark, God vs. the Devil, and guard vs. inmate. Edi Gathegi is electrifying as Lucius Jenkins, a serial killer whom we see only during his one outdoor hour a day, caged in the prison yard, where the sun beats down on him as he madly exercises and spouts off like a man in heat, with an opinion about everything, from television to cookies to the surgeon general. But soon friendly, sympathetic guard Charlie D’Amico (Erick Betancourt) is replaced by the more vicious and condescending Valdez (Ricardo Chavira), and Lucius gets a new neighbor.
“People think everything is replaceable. Everything is not replaceable,” Valdez explains. “People believe they go through life accumulating things. That is incorrect. People go through life discarding things, tangible and intangible, replaceable and priceless. What people do not understand is that once they have discarded an irreplaceable item, it is lost forever.” Joining Lucius for the daily sixty minutes away from their twenty-three-hour lockdown is Angel Cruz (Sean Carvajal), a thirty-year-old man arrested for shooting the Reverend Kim in the butt; he believes the minister is a cult leader who kidnapped and brainwashed his best friend. Angel is not initially cool with his court-appointed public defender, Mary Jane Hanrahan (Stephanie DiMaggio), but she takes an interest in his case even after he admits to her that he did it, setting up a potential serious ethical violation. With Angel’s trial and Lucius’s extradition to execution-happy Florida looming, the characters discuss faith, the existence of God, the law, and time, which is running out on both of them.
Without getting pedantic or simplistic, Pulitzer Prize winner Guirgis (Between Riverside and Crazy, The Little Flower of East Orange) explores many basic dichotomies in Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train, from the names of the two men in prison, Angel (a celestial being) and Lucius (the son of the devil), to a brief discussion of two kinds of Oreos, chocolate fudge and vanilla fudge. (Also, while Lucius worships the sun, Angel shot a man based on the Reverend Sun Myung Moon where the sun don’t shine.) Obie winner Mark Brokaw (Heisenberg, The Lyons) directs with a strong but understanding hand, giving room for the actors to intersect with Guirgis’s sharp language. Riccardo Hernandez’s set, boldly lit by Scott Zielinski, features a pair of cells a few feet apart, surrounded by concrete blocks, the cages open at the front not only to give the audience a clearer view inside but to imply that anyone can end up there. In his off-Broadway debut, Gathegi (Two Trains Running, Superior Donuts), stepping in for the originally announced Reg E. Cathey, is a whirlwind of energy as Lucius, constantly on the move, exercising, climbing up the cage, lifting his arms defiantly, and throwing matches and cigarettes over to Angel; he doesn’t just speak his lines but he lives every word. Carvajal (Seven Spots on the Sun, Tell Hector I Miss Him), who took over for Victor Rasuk just before previews began, still needs to find his sea legs as Angel, who spends much of his time sitting in a chair or on a bucket or kneeling in prayer; his emotional shifts from scared to brazen jump around too much, as if he is playing two different characters, but when he hits the right stride, he nails it.
Chavira (A Streetcar Named Desire, Guirgis’s The Motherf**ker with the Hat) portrays Valdez with just the right amount of high-minded privilege because he’s not the one behind bars. When Lucius starts talking about the vibe of these daily workout sessions, Valdez responds, “Oh . . . well, let me, if I may, tell you now about my vibe, my feel. My ‘vibe’ is: Step away from that cage before I come in there and club you to death.” Chavira delivers the lines in a way that makes everyone in the audience lean back in their seat and take notice. DiMaggio (A Free Man of Color, Exile) and Betancourt (Julius Caesar, Guirgis’s The Last Days of Judas Iscariot) each gets to deliver a soliloquy at opposite sides off the stage, their characters the only ones not tied down to Rikers. Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train, which was originally directed by Philip Seymour Hoffman in 2000 with a cast consisting of Elizabeth Canavan, Salvatore Inzerillo, Ron Cephas Jones, John Ortiz, and David Zayas, is an exciting beginning to Guirgis’s Signature Residency, which continues next May with his 2002 play, Our Lady of 121st Street, directed by Anne Kauffman, followed in 2018-19 by a new work.