This Week in New York Insider's Guide to Arts & Culture in New York City Since 2001

THE YOUNG MAN FROM ATLANTA

(photo by Monique Carboni)

Aidan Quinn stars as Will Kidder in Signature revival of Horton Foote’s The Young Man from Atlanta (photo by Monique Carboni)

The Pershing Square Signature Center
The Irene Diamond Stage
480 West 42nd St. between Tenth & Eleventh Aves.
Tuesday-Sunday through December 15, $35
212-244-7529
www.signaturetheatre.org

In 1995, Horton Foote’s The Young Man from Atlanta premiered at the Signature Theatre as part of a season dedicated to the Texas native, which also included Talking Pictures, Night Seasons, and Laura Dennis. The play went on to earn the Pulitzer Prize and garner a Tony nomination for the two-time Oscar winner (who also won an Emmy in 1997). The Young Man from Atlanta is now back at the Signature, where it opened tonight at the Irene Diamond Stage in a revival directed by longtime Foote collaborator Michael Wilson that makes it hard to understand what all the fuss was about in the first place.

It’s the spring of 1950 in Houston, Texas, and sixty-one-year-old Will Kidder (Aidan Quinn) thinks he is living the American dream, rising from poverty to become a corporate success story who has just bought a large, expensive home. “There is no finer house in Houston. We have the best of everything,” he boasts to Tom Jackson (Dan Bittner), his handpicked protégé at the Sunshine Southern Wholesale Grocery. “I live in the best country in the world. I live in the best city. I have the finest wife a man could have, work for the best wholesale produce company,” he adds, but as it turns out, he and his wife, Lily Dale (Kristine Nielsen), are failing to face the reality that their carefully cultivated life is falling apart.

After thirty-seven years of dedicated service, Will is summarily dismissed by his boss, Ted Cleveland Jr. (Devon Abner), for being out of touch with the present. Six months before, Will and Lily Dale’s thirty-seven-year-old son and only child, Bill, drowned; while Will believes it might have been a suicide, the Bible-thumping Lily Dale steadfastly refuses to consider that possibility. The couple is being contacted nonstop by Bill’s Atlanta roommate, Randy Carter, who was a surprise visitor at Bill’s funeral. “He’s nervy. I’ll say that,” Will tells Tom early on. “He calls once a week to talk to me. God knows what he wants. Money, I suppose. Although he tells my secretary he just wants to stay in touch with Bill’s dad. Maybe next time he calls I’ll tell him just to keep the hell away from us.”

(photo by Monique Carboni)

Will (Aidan Quinn) and Lily Dale (Kristine Nielsen) are joined by her stepfather (Stephen Payne) as their American dream starts to crumble (photo by Monique Carboni)

Will is furious when he finds out that Lily Dale has been sending Randy money, especially now that he needs cash to start his own business. But what’s left unsaid by everyone — including Lily Dale’s stepfather, Pete Davenport (Stephen Payne), and Pete’s great-nephew, Carson (Jon Orsini), who stayed at the same YMCA as Bill and Randy — is that it is very likely that Randy and Bill were lovers, but the words “gay” and “homosexual” are verboten in the Kidders’ seemingly idyllic existence (as well as in 1950s America). Will also has old-fashioned views on slavery; he claims that the Civil War was fought primarily over states’ rights, and when their current black maid, Clara (Harriett D. Foy), brings over one of their former black maids, Etta Doris (Pat Bowie), for a visit, Will has no memory of her whatsoever, even though she played a key role in Bill’s upbringing.

Wilson, who previously helmed such Foote plays as The Orphans’ Home Cycle, The Old Friends, The Trip to Bountiful, and The Carpetbagger’s Children, can’t inject any energy into the droll proceedings, which feel stagnant and repetitive as the same themes are reiterated over and over again. Quinn (A Streetcar Named Desire, Avalon) underplays Will, while two-time Obie winner and two-time Tony nominee Nielsen (Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus) overplays Lily Dale; her trademark jittery, nervous style is out of place here, calling too much attention to itself. (Foote fans might recognize some of the characters, as they appear in several parts of the Orphans plays.) Meanwhile, Payne (Straight White Men, Superior Donuts) struggles with the rhythm of his line readings, and the talented Orsini (The Nance, The Whirligig) doesn’t have enough to do. The best part of the show is Jeff Cowie’s set, which begins as a narrow, claustrophobic office before opening up into the elegant living room in the Kidders’ new house, which is now filled with so much hurt and pain.

HISTORY OF VIOLENCE

(photo by Teddy Wolff)

Thomas Ostermeier’s complex multimedia adaptation of Édouard Louis’s History of Violence features inventive camerawork (photo by Teddy Wolff)

St. Ann’s Warehouse
45 Water St.
Tuesday - Sunday through December 1, $46-$56
718-254-8779
stannswarehouse.org
www.schaubuehne.de/en

Thomas Ostermeier is one of the world’s most ingenious and unique theater directors, able to take a narrative and shape and twist it into something wholly unusual and unexpected. In 2017, his Schaubühne Berlin company, where he has been resident director since 1999, delivered a literally electrifying version of Richard III, while last year they brought their self-reflexive, multilayered Returning to Reims, based on Didier Eribon’s 2009 memoir, to St. Ann’s Warehouse. Ostermeier and Schaubühne are now back at St. Ann’s with History of Violence, a radical, highly inventive multimedia interpretation of the 2016 nonfiction novel by Édouard Louis, a close friend of Eribon’s; the bestselling book is based on a brutal attack Louis suffered on a Christmas Eve and its traumatic aftermath.

As the audience enters the theater, Édouard (Laurenz Laufenberg) is seated on a chair up against a large wall with a screen, looking exasperated. The play begins with three characters (Christoph Gawenda, Renato Schuch, and Alina Stiegler) conducting an intricate forensic investigation of a crime scene, in full protective gear like astronauts on the moon, using a cellphone camera and electric duster to find fingerprints as Édouard watches and Thomas Witte plays the drums stage left. The camera images are projected in stark, often uncomfortable close-ups on the rear screen; the video design is by Sébastien Dupouey, the coldly efficient, multifaceted set by Nina Wetzel.

Over the course of two intermissionless hours, the dark tale of what happened to Édouard is told in flashback, with Édouard, his sister, Clara (Stiegler), Clara’s husband, Alain (Gawend), and Édouard’s attacker, Reda (Schuch), either re-creating real-life scenes or speaking directly to the audience in the present through microphones, in both first and third person. Édouard openly shares the violation he experienced and the fear that has built up inside him, which has left him with an intense animosity for humanity. “I hated everyone. / I thought: / how can you. / That morning after Reda left, / I woke up with a strange taste in my mouth. / With the knowledge that I’d never / be able to bear the slightest trace / of anything that looked like happiness. / I could’ve slapped the next / smiling person I saw. / I’d have grabbed them by their lapels, / shaken them as hard as I could, / even children, / the frail or the disabled, / I’d have liked to shake them / and spit in their faces, / scratched them until I drew blood, / scratched their faces off, until all the faces disappeared.”

The reaction of the police and hospital personnel to the events results in a certain consternation because Édouard invited Reda to his apartment, while issues of class, sexual orientation, and race come to the fore. “The question wasn’t: / is he going to kill me? But rather: / how is he going to kill me?” Édouard explains, adding, “Later on the police and Clara / congratulated me for my bravery. / Nothing seems to me more alien to that night / than the concept of bravery.” At the hospital, he says, “I waited. / But nobody came. / I sat there feeling like / I was an extra in a story that wasn’t my own, / but had happened to someone else / that I didn’t know.”

A coproduction with Théâtre de la Ville Paris and Théâtre National Wallonie-Bruxelles, History of Violence is another audiovisual stunner from Ostermeier, who deserves the kind of attention that is lavished on Ivo van Hove, the Belgian multimedia mastermind. The show is part of a series of Louis-related events that included the BAM Next Wave presentation of a work based on his 2014 memoir, The End of Eddy, which ran at the Fishman last week and also deals with sex and power. History of Violence, which continues at St. Ann’s through December 1, is a work for our time, telling a poignant, deeply intimate true story using cutting-edge twenty-first-century techniques with an innovative style, holding nothing back as it explores trauma in extraordinary ways.

CLASSIC STAGE COMPANY: MACBETH

(photo by Joan Marcus)

Married couple Nadia Bowers and Corey Stoll star as a sexy married couple with devilish ambitions in Classic Stage adaptation of Macbeth (photo by Joan Marcus)

Classic Stage Company, Lynn F. Angelson Theater
136 East 13th St. between Third & Fourth Aves.
Tuesday - Sunday through December 15, $82-$127
classicstage.org/shows/macbethcsc

Manhattan native and NYU grad Corey Stoll has quickly become a go-to Shakespearean actor in the city, playing Ulysses in Troilus and Cressida in 2016, Brutus in Julius Caesar in 2017, and Iago in Othello in 2018, all for Shakespeare in the Park at the Delacorte. His easygoing manner brings a compelling humanity to his performances, which also include runs in Law & Order: LA, House of Cards, The Strain, and The Deuce. And that humanity is again evident as he stars as the title character in John Doyle’s streamlined adaptation of the Bard’s Macbeth, continuing at Classic Stage through December 15.

Doyle’s spare set is a rectangular platform with a large wooden throne at one end; above it is a balcony. The actors are always visible, either onstage or standing in the back, watching and waiting. They are dressed in Ann Hould-Ward’s dark Tartan costumes, although it is difficult to tell the individual clans apart or when an actor is playing a different role, as several have multiple parts without costume changes. (The witches are played by most of the company, not a trio of actors.) Lady Macbeth is played by Nadia Bowers (Describe the Night, Life Sucks.), Stoll’s real-life wife, lending a sweet intimacy to their scenes together even as they plot murder most foul. Their sexuality heats up the stage, even as some sly jokes might be a bit much; for example, when Lady Macbeth says, “Come you spirits / That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here, / And fill me from the crown to the toe, top-full / Of direst cruelty. Make thick my blood, / Stop up th’access and passage to remorse,” Bowers, sitting on the floor, grabs her crotch in a rather un-Shakespearean manner.

(photo by Joan Marcus)

Erik Lochtefeld plays a contemplative Banquo in John Doyle’s Shakespeare adaptation (photo by Joan Marcus)

Barzin Akhavan is a fine Macduff, Erik Lochtefeld a touching Banquo, Tony nominee Mary Beth Peil a quietly regal Duncan, and Raffi Barsoumian a solid Malcolm; the cast also features N’Jameh Camara as Lady Macduff, Barbara Walsh as Ross, and Antonio Michael Woodard as Fleance, but it’s harder for them to establish their characters, who get lost in the shuffle. Tony winner Doyle (Sweeney Todd, Company), the Scottish director who went to school near Cawdor Castle, where much of the play takes place, has trimmed the show to a muddled hundred minutes, sacrificing too much of its necessary building energy as evil ambition overwhelms Macbeth. Even such a flourish as a bowl of water where Macbeth and Lady Macbeth wash the blood off their hands remains onstage too long, going impossibly unseen in front of others.

There are various versions of the Scottish play one can experience now or soon, including the Roundabout’s musical adaptation, Scotland, PA, at the Laura Pels through December 8, the long-running Sleep No More at the McKittrick Hotel, a return engagement of Erica Schmidt’s Red Bull schoolgirl version by the Hunter Theater Project starting in January, and Primary Stages’ Peerless, set in the world of college admissions, next spring. But you won’t go wrong with Stoll, who rises above Doyle’s messy confusion, delivering a compelling and even cathartic Macbeth, who could be any of us, lured in by power. When he says, “Is this a dagger which I see before me, / The handle toward my hand? Come, let me clutch thee,” we all see it, and consider reaching for its glittering promise.

THE HALF-LIFE OF MARIE CURIE

(photo by Joan Marcus)

Hertha Ayrton (Kate Mulgrew) and Marie Curie (Francesca Faridany) try to get away from the maelstrom in new Audible play at the Minetta Lane (photo by Joan Marcus)

Minetta Lane Theatre
18 Minetta Lane between Sixth Ave. and Macdougal St.
Tuesday - Saturday through December 22, $77-$87
thehalflifeofmariecurie.com

In 1911, Nobel Prize-winning scientist Marie Curie was in the midst of a scandal. Despite all her accomplishments, she was being chastised by the press, the public, and her colleagues for being a “homewrecking harlot” because she was having an affair with married French physicist Paul Langevin. Her good friend Hertha Ayrton, an award-winning electromechanical engineer and fierce suffragist, came to her rescue, whisking her off to Ayrton’s beachfront house in Highcliffe-on-Sea in England where Curie could recollect herself and get away from the nasty maelstrom. That true story is told in Lauren Gunderson’s cogent and compelling two-woman play, The Half-Life of Marie Curie, which opened Tuesday night at the Minetta Lane. Commissioned by Audible, which will release the audio version on December 5, the show features Kate Mulgrew as the staunch Ayrton, born Phoebe Sarah Marks in Hampshire in 1854, and Francesca Faridany as the doubting and uneasy Curie, born Marie Skłodowska in Poland in 1867.

“You’re nothing but a pack of wolves. Do you know whose house this is? Do you have any idea who this great woman is?” Ayrton yells at a rabble outside Curie’s home in Sceaux, France, following two monologues that introduce the characters. “While you’re running as a herd of teethy rats, she’s changing the goddamn world. Also there are children in this house and if you frighten them any more than you already have I swear to a god I don’t believe in that I’ll come to each one of your houses and SHAKE THEIR FOUNDATIONS.” Curie, who believes her career is over, has practically locked herself inside, unable to face the uproar. “Don’t you see the severity of this,” she tells Ayrton. “This country hates me, they’ll take my funding, they’ll take my students, the Radium Institute will vanish, the Academy will never let me in.” Ayrton quickly responds, “Yes, but the Academy is full of men who were never going to let you in anyway.”

(photo by Joan Marcus)

Marie Curie (Francesca Faridany) glows in the dark as Hertha Ayrton (Kate Mulgrew) watches in The Half-Life of Marie Curie (photo by Joan Marcus)

Once at Highcliffe-on-Sea, the two brilliant women, both widows with children, discuss love and sex, happiness, the male-dominated scientific community, nature, the secrets of the universe, the supportive Albert Einstein, poet Algernon Swinburne, and Curie’s constant pain, which concerns Ayrton. “I just need to be still for a moment. It passes. I don’t know what triggers it but it passes,” Curie explains. “Well, that’s a very general analysis for the foremost scientist in Europe,” Ayrton says. Curie: “Stress doesn’t help. That I know.” Ayrton: “Ah. Well. That’s what this summer is entirely about. Rest, my friend. You’re safe here. You’re free.” But Curie is having a difficult time with it all. “There is no wonder left in me, there’s nothing, I feel nothing because they’ve stripped me of myself to the point that I do not know who I am. I don’t know. I don’t know,” she says. She also doesn’t know that the vial of Radium she wears around her neck is not helping her ill health.

Obie winner and Emmy nominee Mulgrew (Tea at Five, Orange Is the New Black) and Faridany (Manifest, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time) have a terrific, dare I say, chemistry, the former playing Ayrton with a bold determination and a wry sense of humor, the latter portraying Curie with a soft vulnerability and a surprising frailty. Ayrton, in a splendid high-necked dress by costumer Emilio Sosa, is just the friend Curie — or anyone — would be lucky to have. Riccardo Hernandez’s comfortable set, consisting of an elegant couch with chairs and small tables, doesn’t change between the two locations, lending a familiarity to the proceedings, while Lap Chi Chu’s lighting is particularly effective when the women deliver brief soliloquies. Meanwhile, Elisheba Ittoop’s sound design is highlighted by the offstage ticking of a Geiger counter, warning us of the true import of Curie’s discovery. Director Gaye Taylor Upchurch (The Year of Magical Thinking, Animal) and writer Gunderson (I and You, The Book of Will), one of the most-produced playwrights of the decade, won’t allow the show to slip into melodrama, instead focusing on Ayrton’s resolute bravado to lift Curie from her doldrums, then adding a brief coda that wraps it all up with a bittersweet touch.

WHITE LIGHT FESTIVAL: RICHARD III

(photo by Richard Termine)

Aaron Monaghan is magnificent as a darkly comic Richard III in Druid production (photo by Richard Termine)

RICHARD III
Gerald W. Lynch Theater at John Jay College
November 7-23, $40-$100
www.lincolncenter.org
www.druid.ie

Act I, Scene II of William Shakespeare’s Richard III is one of the most psychologically complex and critical scenes in the entire Western canon. Richard, the Duke of Gloucester of the House of York, woos Lady Anne of the House of Lancaster after having killed her husband, Edward of Westminster, the Prince of Wales, along with her father-in-law, King Edward IV. As she stands over the dead king’s body, he states his intentions, but she is having none of it. He has his work cut out for him; she calls him “hedgehog,” “beast,” “devil,” and “villain,” but he is determined to win her in his devious plot to become ruler. “And thou unfit for any place but hell,” she spits out at him. “Yes, one place else, if you will hear me name it,” he says. “Some dungeon,” she declares. “Your bedchamber,” he boasts.

No matter how many times I see the play, I marvel at these moments. Richard is the embodiment of pure evil, a deformed creature with no soul. Yet we root for him to win Lady Anne’s heart, though we know how horrible that is; but the success of the rest of the play depends on Richard winning the audience as well. And I’m not sure I’ve ever been so in awe of the scene as in Druid’s current production at the Gerald W. Lynch Theater as part of Lincoln Center’s White Light Festival, with a sensational Aaron Monaghan taking charge as the titular character. Tony-winning director Garry Hynes (The Beauty Queen of Leenane, The Cripple of Inishmaan) has Lady Anne (Siobhán Cullen) enter the stage wearing a long train on which she slowly, agonizingly drags the murdered king, wrapped tightly in white cloth. The Machiavellian Richard (Monaghan), dressed all in black, walking with two canes that make him move like a venomous six-limbed spider, admits to the killings and yet she still acquiesces to his romantic desires. It’s a thrilling scene that gets me every time, marveling at how the actor is going to pull it off. And Monaghan is magnificent, eliciting spontaneous applause at the end of the scene, which is as funny as it is frightening. “But then I sigh; and, with a piece of scripture, / Tell them that God bids us do good for evil: / And thus I clothe my naked villainy / With old odd ends stolen out of holy writ; / And seem a saint, when most I play the devil,” he tells us later.

(photo by Richard Termine)

Lady Anne (Siobhán Cullen) drags in the corpse of the dead king in Druid’s Richard III (photo by Richard Termine)

Last year, Druid staged a very funny version of Beckett’s Waiting for Godot at the Gerald Lynch, with Monaghan as Estragon and Marty Rea as Vladimir, directed by Hynes, who ratchets up the comedy in Richard III as well. (Druid also brought The History Plays to the Lincoln Center Festival in 2015, also with Monaghan and Rea.) Rea again is Monaghan’s right-hand man, this time as the ever-loyal Sir William Catesby, who serves as executioner, dispatching his victims using a nail gun with a ridiculously long and colorful extension cord. Francis O’Connor’s set is a vast, empty industrial space covered in soft dirt, with high louvered metal walls and barred windows, the only props the nail gun and a metal barrel. O’Connor also designed the majestic costumes, which get dragged through the dirt, probably resulting in a big-time cleaning bill. At the front of the stage is a rectangular hole in the shape of a cemetery plot where the deceased are tossed in to rot; it is also where Richard emerges from at the beginning, as if rising straight out of hell. Dangling from the ceiling throughout is a Perspex box containing a smiling skull (inevitably recalling Damien Hirst), the specter of death and ambition threatening all.

(photo by Richard Termine)

Queen Margaret (Marie Mullen) curses Richard (Aaron Monaghan) in DruidShakespeare presentation at White Light Festival (photo by Richard Termine)

The rest of the cast is splendid, including Marie Mullen as the witchlike Queen Margaret, Jane Brennan as the regal Queen Elizabeth, Ingrid Craigie as the Duchess of York, Garrett Lombard as Hastings and Tyrrel, Rory Nolan as Buckingham, Peter Daly as Rivers (making a great bald joke) and Brakenbury, Bosco Hogan as King Edward IV, and Frank Blake as the Earl of Richmond. However, following Act III, Scene V, when Richard convinces the Lord Mayor (Mullen) that he is worthy of wearing the crown — while making one of the silliest gestures I’ve seen in a Shakespeare show — the play, of course, turns, as Richard becomes less funny and more deranged and purely evil, and he is not in as many scenes, affecting the pacing and the audience’s involvement. The less Richard addresses us directly, the more removed we are from the action. It’s a facet of the play itself, but you’ll just have to slag through it until the climactic battle scene at Bosworth Field. And then the three-hour production is over, and Monaghan emerges for his curtain call from Richard’s dirt grave, emerging from hell one last time, although we know manipulative, conniving, power-hungry rulers like him will continue to rise all around the world, over and over again, but with a lot fewer laughs.

FOR COLORED GIRLS WHO HAVE CONSIDERED SUICIDE/WHEN THE RAINBOW IS ENUF

(photo by Joan Marcus)

Lady in Brown (Celia Chevalier) stands center stage in exhilarating revival of for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf at the Public (photo by Joan Marcus)

Martinson Hall, the Public Theater
425 Lafayette St. at Astor Pl.
Tuesday through Sunday through December 15, $85-$150
212-539-8500
publictheater.org

I remember as a kid being intrigued by a television commercial for an oddly named play — for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf. I even recall the precise, rhythmic elocution used by the female announcer pronouncing the title, which included a word I didn’t think you could say anymore on television. I was further fascinated when my parents came home from the show at the Booth and gave me the Playbill, which listed a cast of seven women by color (Lady in Brown, Lady in Yellow, etc.), with Lady in Orange portrayed by the playwright herself, Ntozake Shange. More than forty years later, I finally understand what the hubbub was all about after seeing Leah C. Gardiner’s stirring revival at the Public Theater, where the original production moved in 1976 after earlier iterations at smaller venues in Berkeley and downtown New York (and shortly before moving to Broadway).

(photo by Joan Marcus)

Seven women come together to share their stories and empower one another in Ntozake Shange’s brilliant choreopoem (photo by Joan Marcus)

Extended at the Public’s Martinson Theater through December 15, for colored girls is a breathtaking “choreopoem” with music, performed by seven women named for the colors of the rainbow, with the addition of one: Lady in Red (Jayme Lawson), Lady in Orange (Danaya Esperanza), Lady in Yellow (Adrienne C. Moore), Lady in Green (Okwui Okpokwasili), Lady in Blue (Sasha Allen), Lady in Purple (Alexandria Wailes), and Lady in Brown (Celia Chevalier). Over the course of ninety thrilling minutes, each actress takes center stage, sharing stories about the “dark phrases of womanhood,” including sex, racism, misogyny, gender bias, slavery, domestic violence, abortion, and rape. But these women refuse to view themselves as victims or even survivors. They each wear outfits that feature the face of their most beloved female relative (the dazzling costumes are by Toni-Leslie James), and they have taken their power back, controlling their personal narrative and identity as they openly support one another in an invigorating display of camaraderie and friendship through both good and bad times. Often the ensemble forms a semicircle of love and respect as they watch each other deliver their tales in turn. They are seven unique personalities with unique body types moving individually and in unison to choreography by Tony nominee Camille A. Brown and original music by Martha Redbone in addition to such familiar songs as Martha and the Vandellas’ “Dancing in the Streets” and the Dells’ “Stay in My Corner.”

They hail from Nashville, Washington DC, Strasbourg, Harlem, Havana, Brooklyn, and Delaware but are from anywhere and everywhere. “Are we ghouls? / children of horror?/ the joke? / don’t tell nobody don’t tell a soul / are we animals? have we gone crazy?” Lady in Brown asks, adding, “This is for colored girls who have considered suicide / but moved to the ends of their own rainbows.” But as exhilarating and potent as it all is, the women understand the reality of their daily existence. “We gotta dance to keep from cryin,” Lady in Yellow says. “We gotta dance to keep from dyin,” Lady in Brown adds. “I come in at dusk / stay close to the curb / round midnite / praying wont no young man / think i’m pretty in a dark morning,” Lady in Blue admits.

(photo by Joan Marcus)

Sasha Allen brings down the house as Lady in Blue in for colored girls revival (photo by Joan Marcus)

The cast is fantastic, highlighted by Allen (Hair, Ghetto Superstar) tearing down the house with a rousing number about satisfaction and an intimate solo dance by Okpokwasili (Poor People’s TV Room, Bronx Gothic), while Moore (Orange Is the New Black, The Taming of the Shrew) brings an infectious, unbridled enthusiasm to her role. Myung Hee Cho’s inclusive set features three rows of chairs along the back arch of the circular stage, in front of a large mirror, which reflects the audience so they appear right behind the cast, who enter and exit through three different doorways. Jiyoun Chang’s lighting is often very bright, so everyone in the theater is usually visible.

Obie winner Gardiner (If Pretty Hurts Ugly Must Be a Muhfucka, born bad) and her all-female crew have crafted an emotionally involving and stimulating work, anchored by Obie-winning, Oscar-nominated poet, novelist, playwright, kids’ book author, activist, and essayist Shange’s (Mother Courage and Her Children, Whitewash) gorgeous words, which resonate with truth and beauty; it’s a shame that the Trenton-born Shange did not get to see this triumphant revival of her play (which she updated in 2010 and was inspired by her own life, which included four suicide attempts), as she passed away last year at the age of seventy, leaving behind a wide-ranging and deeply powerful legacy.

IS THIS A ROOM

(photo by Carol Rosegg)

FBI Special Agent Justin C. Garrick (Pete Simpson) confronts Reality Winner (Emily Davis) in Is This A Room (photo by Carol Rosegg)

Vineyard Theatre
Gertrude and Irving Dimson Theatre
108 East 15th St. between Union Square East & Irving Pl.
Tuesday - Sunday through November 24, $45-$100
www.vineyardtheatre.org

In 2017, upon first reading the official FBI “Verbatim Transcription” of the initial interrogation of twenty-five-year-old linguist Reality Winner regarding leaked classified information, Half Straddle founder and artistic director Tina Satter knew she had her next play. She also knew she had her star, company member Emily Davis. The resulting show, Is This A Room, which debuted at the Kitchen before evolving into the production now running at the Vineyard through November 24, is a gripping re-creation of the event, a dramatic word-for-word account of the FBI’s fascinating methods of questioning and Winner’s uncertain answers, at least at the beginning.

Parker Lutz’s spare stage consists of a few raised platforms and posts that represent both the outside and the inside of Winner’s house in Augusta, Georgia. There is no furniture and no props other than stuffed versions of Winner’s dog and cat. (Amanda Villalobos designed the animal puppets.) There is also a row of twelve seats along the back of the stage where a dozen audience members sit, including me; I felt like part of a jury and a person under surveillance, watched by Winner, the FBI agents, and the crowd in the regular seats. Special Agents Justin C. Garrick (Pete Simpson) and R. Wallace Taylor (TL Thompson) arrive at Winner’s (Davis) house just as she has come home from shopping. The men are in plainclothes; Winner is wearing a white button-down shirt, cut-off jean shorts, and yellow high-top canvas sneakers without socks, her hair pulled back in a knot. (The costumes are by Enver Chakartash.) While Garrick is friendly with Winner, making conversation about pets, exercise, work, weapons, and perishables, Taylor is much more direct and in her face, engaging in a variant of the classic good-cop, bad-cop scenario. In addition, an unidentified male agent (Becca Blackwell) in battle fatigues, as if ready for any kind of possible trouble, keeps entering and leaving, helping out with the dog and cat and securing the interior and exterior spaces.

(photo by Carol Rosegg)

Special Agents R. Wallace Taylor (TL Thompson) and Justin C. Garrick (Pete Simpson) interrogate Reality Winner (Emily Davis) as an “unknown male agent” (Becca Blackwell) looks on (photo by Carol Rosegg)

“Okay, well, the reason we’re here today is that we have a search warrant for your house,” Garrick tells Winner, who responds innocently, “Okay.” Garrick: “All right. Uh, do you know what this might be about?” Winner: “I have no idea.” Garrick: “Okay. This is about, uh, the possible mishandling of classified information.” Winner: “Oh my goodness. Okay.” As the interrogation continues, everyone starts letting their hands show a little more as the truth slowly comes out in drips and drabs. However, even though we now know that the investigation dealt with Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, at that point those elements were still classified, so a crash of sound and instant darkness detonates at each redaction, excitingly jolting the audience. (The lighting is by Thomas Dunn, with sound by Lee Kinney.)

Satter (Straight White Men, House of Dance) casts no judgments on the characters, telling the story as it happened; your personal beliefs will help you decide if you think there are heroes or villains in the true story. Davis (Satter’s The Seagull [Thinking of You] and In the Pony Palace/Football) sublimely captures the essence of the nervous, jittery Winner, who spent six years in the Air Force, was employed by the military contractor Pluribus International Corporation, had NSA security clearance, speaks Farsi, Dari, and Pashto, and only wants to do what is right for her country; even though most of the audience knows the outcome, either by having followed the news or read the insert in the program, it is utterly compelling watching Davis as Winner is confronted with more and more evidence against her. The three actors portraying the FBI agents are all effective, with Simpson (Straight White Men, Gatz) standing out as Garrick, garnering sympathy despite his manipulative methods. Is This A Room is a riveting play that explodes with importance at a very specific moment in time when whistleblowers are harassed and threatened by people in power who are trying to cover up vital information.