In March 2016, Japan Society presented an English-language reading of Suguru Yamamoto’s Girl X (Yojo X). Now the fully staged, original Japanese version will be making its North American premiere at Japan Society, with three performances February 16-18 at 7:30. Written and directed by Yamamoto and performed by his theater collective HANCHU-YUEI, the black comedy takes place in Shinjuku in 2013, focusing on the after-effects of the March 11, 2011, earthquake. Kazuki Ohashi and Sachiro Nomoto play all the parts, primarily a young man with a hammer, his ex-girlfriend, and her younger brother, interacting with projections on a screen, casting giant shadows amid changing colors and text from other family members as Yamamoto (I Can’t Die without Being Born) explores communication between people and technology in contemporary society. The opening-night presentation will be followed by a reception with members of the cast and crew.
BAM Howard Gilman Opera House
30 Lafayette Ave. between Ashland Pl. & St. Felix St.
February 15-19, $24-$80
Cape Town’s Isango Ensemble specializes in adapting Western works with a South African sensibility; since 2000, director Mark Dornford-May and music director Pauline Malefane have presented such classics as A Christmas Carol, The Magic Flute, La bohème, and Aesop’s Fables. The troupe has now teamed up with the Young Vic for A Man of Good Hope, based on Jonny Steinberg’s book about Asad, a young man who becomes a refugee because of the civil war in Mogadishu in the early 1990s. “I felt a whim rising. A man who can break a twig and take me with him to another world, I thought, is a man about whom I ought to write a book,” Steinberg explains in a program note about meeting Asad. The protagonist is played by Ayanda Tikolo, Siposethu Juta, Phielo Makitle, Zoleka Mpotsha, and Luvo Tamba at different stages of his life. Directed by May, with musical direction by Malefane and Mandisi Dyantyis, movement by Lungelo Ngamlana, and lighting by Mannie Manim, the show features music and dance built around the marimba. A Man of Good Hope runs February 15-19; on February 18 at 5:30 ($20), Ethiopian American writer Dinaw Mengestu will join Steinberg and Iranian American writer and moderator Roya Hakakian for the PEN America panel discussion “Reflecting on the Refugee Crisis” at BAM Fisher’s Fishman Space.
British playwright Robert Holman finally makes his New York City debut with Jonah and Otto, an involving, splendidly acted drama with palindromic elements that opened last night at the Lion Theatre at Theatre Row. The story takes place over one day on the East Sussex coast, where Otto (Sean Gormley), a proper, well-dressed vicar, is rubbing himself against a stone wall. The much younger, slovenly Jonah (Rupert Simonian) enters through a door, startling Otto. “So what if I am. So what if I do feel lonely. I’m not saying I do,” the immediately defensive Otto declares. Otto assumes that Jonah is a thief, and the younger man does indeed need money. “It’s a disgrace to be poor. Is it my bloody fault?” Jonah, who considers himself an entertainer and magician, says. For the next ninety minutes, the two men play a kind of psychological cat-and-mouse game, discussing love, suicide, poshies and muckies, God, doubt, and family as each slowly faces his inner demons. Otto and Jonah might seem like opposites — the former a tall, well-spoken, well-off man of the cloth, the latter a less-educated, shlumpy dude with no money; even their ages are inverses, Otto sixty-two, Jonah twenty-six — but it soon becomes apparent that they are more alike than they realize, or are willing to admit. Both men are fathers — Otto is married with four daughters, while Jonah has an infant girl in the grocery cart he pushes around with all his belongings, but they both also are deeply lonely souls disappointed in what their lives have become. “There’s something sweet about loneliness; I had promises to keep,” Otto explains. “I failed miserably. Life? It’s just one more thing to keep clean.” Meanwhile, Jonah says, “I know I’m useless. I’m worthless. I’m very small.” The play gets bogged down by a pair of health-related melodramatic subplots that further link the two men. “What would you think if we was the last two people on earth?” Jonah asks. Otto responds, “I’d think how unlucky I was to end up with you.”
Holman’s other plays, which date back to 1972, include The Overgrown Path at the Royal Court, Bad Weather at the Royal Shakespeare Company, and A Thousand Stars Explode in the Sky at the Lyric Hammersmith, written with David Eldridge (The Knot of the Heart, In Basildon) and Simon Stephens (Heisenberg, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time) and featuring Simonian. Presented by Lost Tribe Theatre, which specializes in producing works by underappreciated British and American playwrights, Jonah and Otto, despite a few bumps, is a cogent, analytical tale, ably helmed by actress and first-time director Geraldine Hughes (Jerusalem, Belfast Blues). Irish Rep veteran Gormley (The Weir, A Day by the Sea) is solid and caring as the stiff-upper-lipped Otto, who is at a crossroads in his life, while Simonian (Peter Pan, To Kill a Mockingbird) is engaging as the odd Jonah, who is smarter than he lets on. The two have an instant chemistry that has you rooting for them. Holman’s dialogue is constantly surprising and wonderfully layered, with funny insults and clever insight, particularly in a somewhat surreal scene in which the similarities between the two men are crystallized with a touch of playful magic. “Why did you have to find me?” Otto asks Jonah. You’ll be glad he did.
August Wilson’s Jitney, the first play he wrote in the American Century Cycle, also known as the Pittsburgh Cycle, is the last of the ten plays to reach Broadway, and all one can ask is, What took so long? Jitney is another masterpiece from the Pittsburgh-born playwright, whose cycle comprises ten plays, each set in a different decade of the twentieth century, capturing the black experience in America over one hundred years with grace, honesty, dignity, humor, and a soul-searching reality. Coincidentally, the film version of Wilson’s second play to hit Broadway, the Tony- and Pulitzer Prize-winning Fences, was released in December; the first movie based on a Wilson play, Fences garnered Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Best Actor (director Denzel Washington), Best Supporting Actress (Viola Davis), and Best Adapted Screenplay (Wilson). A Manhattan Theatre Club production at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, Jitney takes place in a ramshackle car service office in 1977 in Pittsburgh’s Hill District, where taxis won’t go. The gypsy cab company is run by the soft-spoken, straightforward Becker (John Douglas Thompson). His motley group of drivers consists of Turnbo (Michael Potts), a confrontational gossip who can’t stay out of other people’s business; YoungBlood (André Holland), an angry Vietnam vet trying to provide for his wife, Rena (Carra Patterson), and baby; Fielding (Anthony Chisholm), an aging, stumbling alcoholic who’s been separated from his wife for twenty-two years; and the practical, sensible Doub (Keith Randolph Smith), who is a kind of den father, keeping the peace while spouting such sage phrases as “Time go along and it come around.” Stopping by often is the sharply attired Shealy (Harvy Blanks), who takes phone calls at the station for his numbers racket, and Philmore (Ray Anthony Thomas), a regular customer who drinks himself into oblivion and then needs a ride home. Tensions rise when Becker eventually lets everyone know that the city will be tearing down the building soon, leaving them all jobless, and Becker’s son, Booster (Brandon J. Dirden), arrives after spending twenty years in prison, desperate to reestablish a relationship with his estranged father.
The Olivier Award-winning Jitney is a glorious play, a spectacular blending of poetic, incisive dialogue, powerful, soaring performances, and intimate, seamless staging by director Ruben Santiago-Hudson, who won a Tony for his role in Wilson’s Seven Guitars, later directed that work as well as the recent Signature revival of the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Piano Lesson (starring Dirden), and was Wilson’s personal choice to portray him in the playwright’s autobiographical one-man show, How I Learned What I Learned. As with virtually every Wilson play, the cast is exceptional, bringing the beautifully developed characters to life in ways that make them feel like they’re your friends or acquaintances. Most of the actors have appeared in previous Wilson shows, including Thomas, who played Becker in Jitney at the Cincinnati Playhouse, and Chisholm, who has been playing Fielding since 1996 and once toured the Hill District with Wilson, who died in 2005 at the age of sixty. So every Wilson show has a welcoming family aspect surrounding it, and Jitney is no exception. When the play ended, I felt a tinge of sadness, wanting to spend more time with every one of these characters. The appropriately musty, messy set, by Tony-winning designer David Gallo (Wilson’s King Headley III, Gem of the Ocean, Radio Golf, 2000 production of Jitney at Second Stage), features ratty chairs and couches, newspaper clippings of Pittsburgh sports teams, an old pot-bellied stove, and large windows across the back of the stage that tantalizingly reveal who’s coming into the station next. Originally written in 1979 and rewritten in 1996, Jitney is very much about taking control of one’s life and being part of something bigger, regardless of the odds. At one point, Doub questions why Becker took so long to tell him about the station being torn down. “That ain’t what I mean, Becker,” Doub says. “It’s like you just a shadow of yourself. The station done gone downhill. Some people overcharge. Some people don’t haul. Fielding stay drunk. I just watch you and you don’t do nothing.” “What’s to be done?” Becker responds, adding “I just do the best I can do,” to which Doub boldly replies, “Sometime your best ain’t enough.” Like the rest of the dialogue, those words hit hard, resonating loud and clear in this stunning triumph.
Jonathan Bank and the Mint Theater, specialists in reviving long-lost plays, have chosen a real gem for their latest, a 1933 “un-romantic comedy” by character actor, screenwriter, and playwright Miles Malleson. In this case, it’s actually not a revival at all but the world premiere of Yours Unfaithfully, which has never been produced and is not even listed on Malleson’s Wikipedia page. The play begins in the quaint country house of Anne and Stephen Meredith (Elisabeth Gray and Max von Essen), where they are having coffee with two friends, the married Dr. Alan Kirby (Todd Cerveris) and the recently widowed Diana Streatfield (Mikaela Izquierdo). Stephen, a writer, has just had yet another verbal battle with his father, a canon known as Padre (Stephen Schnetzer). They might share a love of playing cricket, but they don’t agree on much else. “He is exasperating!” Stephen says to Anne about his father. “Stephen is really very exasperating,” the canon says to Anne about his son. A moment later Alan tells Anne, “I wonder if you realise that among your friends you and Stephen are rather notorious as being the most successfully married couple we know,” but Anne surprisingly admits that they are not as happy as they once were. Left alone with her husband, Anne even goes so far as to seemingly give Stephen permission to cheat on her. “We must try and not be so dependent on one another,” she says. “Go and get into mischief, and then write and tell me all about it; or you needn’t tell me, if you don’t want to.” At first, Stephen is hesitant, but soon he is stroking Diana’s hair, and the two begin an affair that does not affect Anne the way she imagined. Quoting from George Meredith’s “Modern Love,” Anne recites, “‘In tragic life, God wot, / No villain need be! Passions spin the plot: We are betrayed by what is false within.’” Perhaps an open marriage is not what any of them had in mind when it comes to modern, free love, and certainly not in 1933.
As with all Mint productions, the sets, by Carolyn Mraz, are impeccable, from country house to London flat; the set change during the second intermission actually got a big round of applause. Directed with aplomb by Bank (Katie Roche, So Help Me God!), Yours Unfaithfully moves along at a good clip but takes its time with secrets and revelations, letting various mysteries unfold unhurriedly as Malleson (The Thief of Baghdad, adaptations of three Molière plays) skewers social convention with sharp humor. “The Padre is a vice-president of the Social Purity League,” Anne says after Stephen and the canon have a fight. “An unfortunate society to have a vice president,” Alan responds. “Why behave like a shower-bath one minute and a bath towel the next?” Stephen says to Diana when discussing a trip to Vienna. The cast is superb, led by Tony nominee von Essen (An American in Paris, Les Misérables), who inhabits his role with grace and charm, and Gray (Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Understudies), who nobly walks the fine line between jealousy and liberation. And Hunter Kaczorowski’s dresses on the women are simply to die for. The Mint has done it again, in this case unearthing a deserving, little-known play and presenting it in its usual exquisite manner, in its new home in the Beckett Theatre at Theatre Row, where it has been properly extended through February 18. (On February 13 at 7:00, the Mint will present a reading of Malleson’s 1925 play, Conflict, at the Beckett as part of its “Further Readings” programming.)
Gōng xǐ fā cái! New York City is ready to celebrate the Year of the Rooster, or, more specifically, the Fire Rooster, this month with special events all over town. People born in the Year of the Rooster are trustworthy, responsible at work, talkative, loyal, thoughtful, and popular. Below are some of the highlights happening here in the five boroughs during the next several weeks of Chinese New Year.
Saturday, January 28
New Year’s Day Firecracker Ceremony & Cultural Festival, Sara D. Roosevelt Park, Grand Street at Chrystie St., free, 11:00 am – 3:30 pm
Chinese New Year Temple Bazaar, with live performances, martial arts, food, arts & crafts, and more, Flushing Town Hall, 137-35 Northern Blvd., $3-$5, 11:00 am and 2:00 pm
Sunday, January 29
Lunar New Year Celebration: Madison St. to Madison Ave., with the New York Eastern Chamber Orchestra conducted by Fei Fang, FJ Music, juggler Lina Liu, Chinese marionette puppet show, martial arts performance by American Tai Chi and Health Qigong Center, face painting, calligraphy, themed photo booth, and more, beginning at Harman store at 527 Madison Ave., free, 11:00 am - 3:00 pm
Lunar New Year Celebration, with live performance and brush and ink painting workshop sponsored by the New York Chinese Cultural Center, Staten Island Children’s Museum, 1000 Richmond Terr., $8, 2:00 – 4:00
Tuesday, January 31
Chinese New Year Celebration, with the New York Philharmonic performing works by Li Huanzhi, Adam, Saint-Saëns, Chen Qigang, Huang Zi (arranged by Bao Yuankai), Puccini, Li Qingzhu, and Ravel, David Geffen Hall, 10 Lincoln Center Plaza, $35-$110, 7:30
Friday, February 3
Pauline Benton and the Red Gate Exhibition Opening Reception, Flushing Town Hall, $5 suggested donation, 5:00
Saturday, February 4
Lunar New Year Celebration, with family-friendly arts and crafts, Queens Botanical Garden, 43-50 Main St., free, 1:00
Chinese New Year Celebration, with family workshops, dumpling making, storytelling, lion dance, live music, more, workshops $5-$20, party and performance $10-$20, China Institute, 40 Rector St., 1:00 – 7:00
Sunday, February 5
Eighteenth annual New York City Lunar New Year Parade & Festival, with cultural booths in the park and a parade with floats, antique cars, live performances, and much more from China, Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia, Singapore, and other nations, Chinatown, Sara D. Roosevelt Park, and Columbus Park, free, 1:00
Rooster Shadow Puppet Workshop, Flushing Town Hall, $8-$10 (free for teens with ID), 1:00
Lunar New Year Festival: Year of the Rooster, with live performances by Sesame Street puppeteers, Chinese opera by Qian Yi, lion parade, Balinese music by Gamelan Dharma Swara, the China Youth Orchestra, traditional music by Mingmei Yip, Vietnamese drums, drawing, paper folding, button making, tea gatherings, comics workshop, hand-pulled noodle demonstration with Chef Zhang, storytelling, collection chats, and more, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1000 Fifth Ave. at 82nd St., free with suggested museum admission, 11:00 am – 5:00 pm
Saturday, February 11
Lunar New Year Family Festival, with folk arts, live dance, food sampling, storytelling, a gallery hunt, a Nian monster mash-up, and more, Museum of Chinese in America, 215 Centre St., $12, 11:00 am – 4:00 pm
Lunar New Year 4715: Year of the Rooster Celebration, with costume contest, riddles, martial arts, live music and dance, rice balls contest, paper lantern arts and crafts, games, more, P.S.310, 942 62nd St., free, 11:00 am - 2:30
Year of the Rooster Celebration, with lion dancers, lion parade, live music and dance, martial arts demonstrations, theatrical players, and more, New York Chinese Cultural Center at Arts Brookfield, 230 Vesey St., free, 1:30 – 3:30
Saturday, February 11, and Sunday, February 12
Lunar New Year: Year of the Rooster, with puppet shows, scavenger hunt, calligraphy workshop, fortune cookies, and more, Prospect Park Zoo, 450 Flatbush Ave., $6-$8, 11:00 am – 4:00 pm
Friday, February 17
Lunar New Year Shadow Puppet Slam, hosted by Kuang-Yu Fong and Stephen Kaplin, adults only, Flushing Town Hall, $13, 7:00
Atlantic Stage 2
330 West 16th St. between Eighth & Ninth Aves.
Tuesday - Sunday through February 19, $35-$60
Paola Lázaro’s debut play, Tell Hector I Miss Him, comes alive with the rhythms of real life, moving to the energy of salsa music. Inspired by actual events, Lázaro, who was born and raised in San Juan and has degrees from Purchase and Columbia, explores love and hope, machismo and girl power in a tight-knit Puerto Rican slum centered around a bodega run by the highly principled and old-fashioned Mostro (Juan Carlos Hernández) and his wife, Samira (Orange Is the New Black’s Selenis Leyva). As the play opens, an offstage couple is going at it heavily, the woman calling the shots. “Fuck me like I’m a trash bag. Like I don’t mean nothing to you. Like you don’t like me,” she cries out. “But you do mean something to me and I do like you,” the man responds. “But I don’t want you to like me! So fuck me like you don’t like me,” she demands again. The play follows twelve people as they go about their days, hitting various highs and lows. Sixteen-year-old Isis (a dynamic, scene-stealing Yadira Guevara-Prip) declares her undying passion for twenty-six-year-old Malena (OITNB’s Dascha Polanco), who is not gay but does not mind the unexpected attention. The not-too-bright Palito (Sean Carvajal) sells drugs with his hardheaded brother, Jeison (Victor Almanzar), while devoting himself to Malena’s best friend, Tati (Analisa veleZ), who is just using him. The simple-minded Toño (Alexander Flores), whose Mami (Lisa Ramirez) is a junkie, has been thrown out of high school for making the moves on a teacher. And the deeply depressed Hugo (Flaco Navaja), whose wife has moved out, develops an unusual friendship with El Mago (Luis Vega), a hippie magician who lives on the streets. Meanwhile, a mysterious young white woman called La Gata (Talene Monahon) roams around like an alley cat, saying nothing except “Meow.”
The play unfolds in a series of vignettes on Clint Ramos’s appropriately dank set, where the bodega is down the stairs of an old fort, between stone walls that form a kind of dungeon, trapping the residents of this community; above is a horizontal row of eight monitors showing the gentle waves lapping at the Puerto Rican shore, an effect that is both calming and representative of a bigger world outside that most of the characters might never get to know. Director David Mendizábal (Look Upon Our Lowliness, Locusts Have No King) pays heed to Lázaro’s stage directions in the script, which include such notes as “Fast as fuck” and “Fast, but not as fuck.” A protégée of Stephen Adly Guirgus’s, Lázaro, who is also an actress — she was nominated for a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play for Ramirez’s To the Bone in 2015 — leaves some of the dialogue in Spanish, without translation, but audiences will get the point; much of the English dialogue crackles. “That’s why I stopped shaving my ass. That shit itches,” Tati tells Malena. Commenting on Malena’s aroma, Isis says, “It smells like a walk through the most beautiful botanical garden in the most exotic place in the world. It smells like the whole world, all the races, united to create a floral scent and not because they were forced to by a government, but because they wanted to. The races wanted to unite and create the scent of the world.” At 140 minutes with an intermission, the play is probably about twenty minutes too long; a few scenes could use some trimming, and the ending could come sooner, but Lázaro thankfully never provides any easy answers while avoiding genre clichés, and the ensemble is solid throughout. Tell Hector I Miss Him, which has been extended at the Atlantic’s Stage 2 through February 19, introduces a vibrant, exciting new voice to New York theater.