Cherry Lane Mainstage Theatre
38 Commerce St.
Last performance July 6; closing announced July 14
Four women gather in a Paris apartment to mourn the death of the hundred-year-old love of their lives in Israel Horovitz’s hilarious comedy Out of the Mouths of Babes. (The show’s very successful run had been extended at the Cherry Lane through July 31 but abruptly closed after one of its stars, Estelle Parsons, fell ill on July 6. Parsons was later declared to be in good health but was advised by her doctor not to continue in the show.) Eighty-eight-year-old Evelyn (Parsons), sixty-eight-year-old Evvie (Judith Ivey), and fifty-eight-year-old Janice (Angelina Fiordellisi) arrive one by one at the elegant Paris apartment where each used to live with the never-named Don Juan, a professor at the Sorbonne, and are soon joined by thirty-eight-year-old Marie-Belle (Francesca Choy-Kee), who was his current lover. As the funeral approaches, Evelyn and Evvie lace into each other in a skillful heavyweight verbal boxing match while the dour, depressed Janice considers jumping out the window again and the bright and cheery Marie-Belle claims that the deceased keeps visiting her, plying her with kisses and tickles. “Uh uh. Never got married,” the perpetually single Evvie says, to which Evelyn responds, “Nobody ever asked?” Evvie: “That’s kinda bitchy, don’t you think? Or did you mean it in a bitchy way?” Evelyn: “No, I meant it in a bitchy way.” The four women share various stories about their relationships with the dead man, which get a wee uncomfortable since Evvie had a long-term, on-and-off affair with him during his marriages to both Evelyn and Janice; meanwhile, his first wife, whom he called Snookie, his nickname for Evvie as well, committed suicide after finding out that he was cheating on her with Evelyn. Evelyn, Evvie, and Janice want to hate him, but they just can’t, especially with all of the positive energy emanating from Marie-Belle. “I’m getting zero sleep! What is this screaming match?” Evelyn cries out at one point. “I didn’t fly halfway around the world to die from no sleep before his funeral! This is a funeral I plan to enjoy!”
Out of the Mouths of Babes was commissioned by Cherry Lane founding artistic director Fiordellisi and written specifically for Ivey (Hurlyburly, Steaming) and Parsons (Bonnie and Clyde, Miss Margarida’s Way), who have an absolute field day hurling biting insults at each other. (Two-time Tony winner Ivey was also nominated for her performance in Horovitz’s Park Your Car in Harvard Yard, while five-time Tony nominee and Oscar winner Parsons starred in Horovitz’s 2014 play My Old Lady, which with Babes forms the first two parts of a trilogy about Americans in Paris.) Longtime Horovitz director Barnet Kellman wisely just stands back and lets the two stars go at it, and it’s a joy to behold, which makes it even sadder that the production had to close early. Choy-Kee’s (Disgraced) and Fiordellisi’s (Zorba, Nunsense) characters tend to veer into caricature, not feeling quite as real as Evelyn and Evvie. Neil Patel’s Paris apartment set is filled with competent artwork by some relatively famous people, including Rosie O’Donnell, Joel Grey, Tina Louise, Billy Dee Williams, Clive Barker, Eve Plumb, and Patel himself (as well as two pieces by noted French artist Sonia Delaunay). A bit of physical comedy involving Evelyn and Evvie holding Marie-Belle out a window doesn’t quite work, but just about every other moment is utterly delightful, from Joseph G. Aulisi’s costumes to the loud French rap music that blasts out between scenes. The play also has an intriguing subtext about doubling, from character names and nicknames to subtle parallels (involving suicide, twins, and mirrors), as if everyone has another side that they keep hidden. It’s no coincidence that the first Snookie wrote a popular book called The Voice Inside. Now seventy-seven, Horovitz (The Indian Wants the Bronx, Sunshine), who lives in New York City but spends a lot of time in Paris, does not present many plays here anymore, preferring the less-hectic pace out of town, so it’s unfortunate that this fabulous world premiere, one of the best, and funniest, new plays of the year, had to cut short its run. “We love Estelle and want her to have the rest and peace of mind she needs,” Fiordellisi said in a statement about the closing. We couldn’t agree more.
161A Chrystie St. between Rivington & Delancey Sts.
Friday, July 22, and Saturday, July 23, $15-$22, 7:30
If you thought the world was going to end on an August day in 2033, what would you do the night before? Performance artist Monstah Black decides to throw a truly strange farewell party in the chaotic but fun Hyperbolic! (The Last Spectacle). The centerpiece of Dixon Place’s twenty-fifth annual Hot! Festival: The NYC Celebration of Queer Culture is a pre-apocalyptic nightmare, possibly taking place completely in the dreaming mind of the blond-wigged Tucker (Joey Cuellar). As the audience enters the downstairs theater, there are five bodies on the floor and one on a bed; it’s difficult to tell if they are real or mannequins. Something truly awful has happened, as furniture and other objects pin the figures to the floor, glittering red fabric oozing off their bodies like blood. Eventually they rise and slowly get up and start prepping for the festivities, choosing their outfits, putting on makeup, and getting the food and drink ready. For a little over an hour, Tucker, Decay (Alicia Dellimore), Geez Louise (Shiloh Hodges), Dezi and Trigger (Johnnie “Cruise” Mercer), Bubbles (Benedict Nguyen), Goddess #1 (Marilyn Louis), Goddess #2 (Yuko “Uko Snowbunny” Tanaka), and Holiday Tahdah (Monstah Black) create themselves and construct their personas, working on makeup, striking poses, and primping in mirrors while also considering what the end means. Sprightly anarchic vanity is on glorious display: Dezi, for example, spends much of the early part of the show making love to his selfie stick, while Holiday frets: “I’ve been spending the last three days trying to figure out how I’m going to fit my shoes into my suitcase. How am I going to fit my shoes into my suitcase, Tucker? How? I know that sounds crazy considering the chaos and disorder we live in, but I have priorities.”
Chaos and disorder abound as the utterly confusing non-narrative piece of unique dance theater rages on, celebrating bodies, desire, glam fashion, cocktails, hair, style to the max, and Madonna-style voguing while evoking Jennie Livingston’s Paris Is Burning. And that’s all before the masks come out. Black is credited as conceptual designer, movement generator, costume designer, theatrical director and camera operator with Ashley Brockington, and music producer with his group, the Illustrious Blacks; his husband, Manchildblack, is musical consultant. (You can follow the couple’s adventures on their YouTube show, At Home with the Blacks.) Under his given name, Reginald Ellis Crump, Black wrote the script in addition to collaborating on the lyrics with Derek D. Gentry. In order to spread the word about Hyperbolic! Dixon Place encourages the audience to take photos and video and post them to social media; however, try not to film nearly the entire production, as the person sitting in front of me did, causing a major distraction, and don’t use your flash, as a man in the first row did. Instead, just let Black and his cast and crew lead you on one wild, unpredictable ride as doomsday approaches. The Hot! Festival continues through August 29 with such other works as Mike Nelson’s If You Want to See the Devil, Ry Szelong’s Interabang, and Dandy Darkly’s Myth Mouth!
Who: Tovah Feldshuh, Adam Kantor, Michelle Slonim, Jackie Hoffman, David Chack
What: Panel discussion
Where: Museum of the City of New York, 1220 Fifth Avenue at 103rd St., 212-534-1672
When: Monday, July 18, $25, 6:30
Why: Yiddish theater is on the rise again, with the successful revival of The Golden Bride by the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene, which is back at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, and the Drama Desk-nominated Death of a Salesman by the New Yiddish Rep. On July 18, Adam Kantor (Motel in the current revival of Fiddler on the Roof), stand-up comedian Michelle Slonim (Date Me!), Tovah Feldshuh (Golda’s Balcony), Jackie Hoffman (Once upon a Mattress), and moderator David Chack (past president of the Association for Jewish Theatre) will gather at the Museum of the City of New York to discuss “Yiddish Theater’s Legacy in American Performance,” being held in conjunction with the exhibition “New York’s Yiddish Theater: From the Bowery to Broadway,” which continues through August 14.
Some entertainments let us check our brains at the door when we enter a theater, seeking mindless, feel-good entertainment to take us away from the drudgery and complications of modern life. However, thirty-two-year-old British playwright Nick Payne not only forces audiences to use their noggins but uses the human brain as the catalyst and centerpiece of his ingenious play Incognito, which has been extended at City Center through July 10. In such previous works as Constellations, If There Is I Haven’t Found It Yet, and Elegy, science plays a major role as Payne examines such topics as climate change, time, death, string theory, and the multiverse. Loosely inspired by several real stories, Incognito features four actors playing twenty parts built around three intertwining scenarios. Dr. Thomas Harvey (Spector) has performed the autopsy on Albert Einstein, cutting out his brain and bringing it home with him for further study. (Yes, this is based on fact.) “I got the professor in fronta me, I already opened him up and I’m looking at this . . . brain, and I’m thinking to myself: this could be the biggest moment of my life. So I took it,” the pathologist tells his incredulous wife, Elouise (Carr). Meanwhile, Dr. Victor Milner (Spector) is meeting with his patient, pianist Henry Maison (Cox), an epileptic who, following a brain operation to try to stop his seizures, now suffers from short-term memory loss, essentially restarting every forty-five seconds. His devoted wife, Margaret Thomson (Lind), is attempting to use musical therapy to help him, but Henry seems to have forgotten how to play the piano as well. In the third arc, Dr. Martha Murphy (Carr) is a divorced clinical neuropsychologist going on her first date with a woman, the free-spirited Patricia Thorn (Lind). Over the course of eighty-five breathless minutes, the stories overlap and intertwine either directly or conceptually as Payne explores love, grief, memory, identity, and time-and-space relativity.
Divided into three sections — Encoding, Storing, and Retrieving — Incognito takes place on Scott Pask’s essentially simple set, a circular platform with four chairs. The characters and multiple plotlines change instantly, like the firing of neurons in the brain, often in the middle of a conversation or sentence, the actors, wearing the same clothes throughout, using different accents and manners of speaking to indicate the sudden shifts in time and place, along with lighting cues from Ben Stanton. In addition, there is occasional abstract movement set to music by David Van Tieghem. It’s all seamlessly directed by Tony winner Doug Hughes (Doubt, The Father) and expertly acted by Carr, Cox, Lind, and Spector, who effortlessly slide from one role to another as the stories weave together in this Manhattan Theatre Club production. “Our brains are constantly, exhaustively working overtime to deliver the illusion that we’re in control, but we’re not,” Martha tells Patricia. “The brain builds a narrative to steady us from moment to moment, but it’s ultimately an illusion. There is no me, there is no you, and there is certainly no self; we are divided and discontinuous and constantly being duped. The brain is a storytelling machine and it’s really, really good at fooling us.” The same can be said for Payne’s marvelously constructed play, which makes audiences’ brains work overtime, but it’s well worth it. “Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world,” one of Martha’s patients, Anthony (Spector), tells her, quoting Einstein. Incognito is riveting theater, with knowledge and imagination to spare.
Jack Ferver’s I Want You to Want Me is a devastatingly funny and clever send-up of the classic Hollywood tale of a young woman chasing dreams of stardom — as if made by an Italian giallo master. A dancer who spends most of her time waitressing, Ann Erica Rose (Carling Talcott-Steenstra) is excited when she gets offered a chance to work with a prominent company (companie) in Europe, but her boyfriend (Ferver) doesn’t want her to go, spouting clichéd heterosexual platitudes that are all the more hysterical because Ferver, a local gay icon, plays the tough straight man with delicious relish. Ann Erica (from America) heads off to Paris, where she is taken under the wing of witchy dance legend Madame M (Ferver), who is assisted by the mysterious Reid (Reid Bartelme). Madame M guides Ann Erica, Reid, and another wide-eyed new dancer, Barth (Barton Cowperthwaite), who hails from Colorado, through a series of solos, duets, and trios that are consistently outrageous as Ferver plays with conventions of modern dance and classical ballet while the devious plot thickens, leading to a finale that would make fans of Mystery Science Theater 3000 shriek in delight.
I Want You to Want Me is set in a dance rehearsal studio, with two side mirrors in the corner and large mirrors against the back wall that reflect the audience. Both Madame M and Reid are able to magically turn the lights and fog machine on and off with the flick of a finger, lending an otherworldly nature to the proceedings. Talcott-Steenstra and Cowperthwaite are a riot as the Disney-esque couple from an alternate universe, and longtime Ferver collaborator Bartelme is a scream as Reid, who deadpans beautifully during extended dance sequences that feature some crazy-ass moves. Channeling such divas as Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, and Martha Graham, Ferver (Chambre; Mon, Ma Mes) feasts on his role as Madame M, gliding across the stage in an elegant dark costume, by Reid & Harriet Design (run by Bartelme and Harriet Jung), that can be rearranged for multiple purposes, from a devilish, hooded robe to a lovely off-the-shoulder gown to a sexy little frock. It’s no wonder Ferver spends much of the time looking at himself in one of the mirrors; he can’t take his eyes off himself, and we can’t either, especially as his thick makeup and ever-growing false eyelashes start to devolve. Part of the ADI/NYC Incubator residency program, I Want You to Want Me is another triumphant piece of thoroughly engaging dance theater as only Jack Ferver can create.
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).”