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

THE TWI-NY PANDEMIC AWARDS (SO FAR): PART II

EdgeCut and New York Live Arts offer new way to experience live events with other people

When I posted the first edition of the Pandemic Awards on July 4, I never expected that on January 1, 2021, we would still be at least six months away from opening venues for live, in-person entertainment. As I wrote then, it would be “the first of hopefully only two This Week in New York Pandemic Awards.” Well, here is the second round, with a third likely to come in July. Once again, there’s only one rule for eligibility: There must be a live facet to a performance — either the performance is happening at the minute one is watching onscreen or has an interactive element such as a live Q&A or live chatting.

We’ve come a long way since March, as creators have displayed remarkable ingenuity and forward thinking in coming up with innovative and exciting ways of developing virtual works, from dance, music, and art to theater, literature, and discussion, from all around the globe. Below is the best of the best, productions both big and small, that took the ball and ran with it. I can’t wait to see what will evolve over the next six months to keep us entertained online while we continue to shelter in place.

Happy 2021 to all!

BEST NEW PLAY ABOUT THE PANDEMIC
The Line, written by Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen, directed by Blank, the Public Theater. Blank and Jensen’s Coal Country had to be postponed because of the lockdown, so they turned their attention to the health crisis, teaming again with the Public Theater to present a harrowing look at what New York healthcare workers were experiencing as Covid-19 raged through the city, with Santino Fontana, Alison Pill, John Ortiz, Arjun Gupta, Nicholas Pinnock, Lorraine Toussaint, and Jamey Sheridan speaking the real words of doctors, nurses, EMTs, and others on the front lines of this dread virus.

BEST NEW PLAY NOT ABOUT THE PANDEMIC
Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, This Is Who I Am, written by Amir Nizar Zuabi, directed by Evren Odcikin. Amir Nizar Zuabi’s poignant livestreamed tale of an estranged father (Ramsey Faragallah) and son (Yousof Sultani) preparing a family dish together over Zoom is a warm and heartfelt look at loss, loneliness, and reconnection.

BEST NEW PLAY READING NOT ABOUT THE PANDEMIC
pen/man/ship, written by Christina Anderson, directed by Lucie Tiberghien, Molière in the Park. Brooklyn-based Molière in the Park went contemporary with Christina Anderson’s pen/man/ship, a smart, moving play that takes place in 1896 aboard a ship heading for Liberia shortly after the US Supreme Court decided in Plessy v. Ferguson to uphold the constitutionality of racial segregation under the concept of “separate but equal”; the solid cast features Crystal Lucas-Perry as Ruby, the only woman on board, Kevin Mambo as an unyielding minister named Charles, Jared McNeill as his son, Jacob, and Postell Pringle as Cecil, who is working on the ship, with interstitial animation by Emily Rawson, sea-shanty music by Victoria Deiorio, and green-screen set design by Lina Younes that mimic being on a real ship.

BEST LIVESTREAMED PLAY WITH AN AUDIENCE
Crave, Chichester Festival Theatre. Chichester presented a stirring, socially distanced revival of Sarah Kane’s brutal Crave, happening in real time as a masked audience watched Tinuke Craig’s fierce adaptation that was the closest thing yet to capturing the feeling of live theater online.

BEST FILMED PLAY
The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk, written by Daniel Jamieson, directed by Emma Rice, recorded at the UK’s Bristol Old Vic Theatre. The virtual tour of the Bristol Old Vic, Kneehigh, and Wise Children’s beautifully staged adaptation of The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk, about the romance between painter Marc Chagall (Marc Antolin) and Bella Samoylovna Rosenfeld (Audrey Brisson) amid some very difficult situations in the world, made its way to Skirball, where viewers were treated to its lush look, outstanding acting, and compelling, intimately told story.

BEST SHOCKING MOMENT IN A PLAY
Ali Ahn and William Jackson Harper, Outside Time without Extension, written by Ben Beckley, directed by Vivienne Benesch, Red Bull Theater. A few minutes into Ben Beckley’s Outside Time without Extension, part of Red Bull’s Tenth Annual Short New Play Festival, Ali Ahn and William Jackson Harper joined together in the same Zoom box, the first time I saw two actors in the same space. It turns out that they are partners living together; they would later appear in Matt Schatz’s two-character play The Burdens as a Jewish brother and sister.

BEST SOUND DESIGN OF A FILMEDJoshua D. Reid PLAY
Joshua D. Reid, A Christmas Carol, directed by Michael Arden. As good as Jefferson Mays’s mostly one-man version of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol looked, it sounded even better, immersing the audience in the more ghostly aspects of the story, including one moment that made my heart drop into my stomach.

BEST REIMAGINING OF AN IMMERSIVE PLAY
Inside the Wild Heart, Group.BR. In Inside the Wild Heart, New York–Brazilian company Group.BR ingeniously used the Gather.town digital platform to allow the audience to guide their avatar across various rooms and floors and interact with other viewers as they navigated through a recorded version of the multidisciplinary show about author Clarice Lispector and her writings.

Lilli Taylor tantalizes the audience during countdown to New Group reunion reading of Aunt Dan and Lemon

BEST OPENING OF A REUNION READING
Lilli Taylor, Aunt Dan and Lemon, the New Group. The New Group’s reunion reading of Wallace Shawn’s Aunt Dan and Lemon begins with three minutes of narrator Lilli Taylor getting ready by calmly looking around and making all kinds of facial gestures during the countdown to the start of the play.

BEST ACTOR IN A REUNION READING OF A PLAY
Edie Falco, The True, the New Group. Edie Falco gave a master class in Zoom acting as she re-created her role as the real-life Albany political mover and shaker Polly Noonan in Sharr White’s powerful play, alongside Michael McKean, Peter Scolari, John Pankow, and the rest of the original cast of this New Group production.

BEST ACTOR IN A REUNION READING OF A MOVIE
Mandy Patinkin, The Princess Bride. Mandy Patinkin was a hoot as the revenge-seeking swashbuckler Inigo Montoya in the reunion-reading benefit for the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, having trouble remaining in his Zoom box while joined by original costars Cary Elwes, Robin Wright, Carol Kane, Chris Sarandon, Wallace Shawn, and Billy Crystal, along with director Rob Reiner and Josh Gad as Fezziwig.

BEST INTERACTIVE READING
Read Subtitles Aloud, written by Onur Karaoglu and Kathryn Hamilton. Media Art Xploration and PlayCo teamed up for this thirteen-part series in which the viewer supplies half the dialogue, reading off the screen in response to the words spoken by the prerecorded actors onscreen.

BEST ACTOR IN A SHORT PLAY
LeeAnne Hutchison, Pigeon, written by Amy Berryman, directed by Amber Calderon, Eden Theater Company. LeeAnne Hutchison was mesmerizing as a conspiracy theorist dealing with the death of her husband from Covid-19 in Pigeon, one of Eden Theater Company’s “Bathroom Plays.”

BEST DUO IN A TWO-CHARACTER ZOOM READING
Marsha Mason and Brian Cox, Dear Liar, Bucks County Playhouse. Marsha Mason and Brian Cox are deliciously wicked in Bucks County Playhouse’s Zoom reading of Jerome Kitty’s Dear Liar, about the longtime correspondence between George Bernard Shaw and actress Mrs. Patrick Campbell; Cox is so good as Shaw that even Mason has a ball watching him.

Brian Cox and family get involved in some playful high jinks in Melis Akers’s Fractio Panis for the Homebound Project

BEST FAMILY IN A SHORT PLAY
The Coxes, Fractio Panis, written by Melis Aker, directed by Tatiana Pandiani, Homebound Project 5: Homemade. Melis Aker’s Fractio Panis, part of the Homebound Project benefiting No Kid Hungry, took us inside the country home of Brian Cox, his wife, Nicole Ansari-Cox, and their children, Orson and Torin, as they have a ball baking bread and discussing rectal thermometers.

BEST ZOOM REVIVAL
The Wolves, Philadelphia Theatre Company. Sarah DeLappe’s 2017 Pulitzer finalist The Wolves felt more empowering than ever in Philadelphia Theatre Company’s Zoom version, with a terrific cast of young women in uniform in front of a green-screened practice field as soccer became a metaphor for what ails us and what brings us together.

BEST REVIVAL EXCERPTS
“The Great Work Begins,” amfAR. An amazing lineup performed moving scenes from Tony Kushner’s Angels in America AIDS epic, benefiting amfAR’s Fund to Fight Covid-19, with Andrew Rannells, Paul Dano, and Brian Tyree Smith as Prior Walter, Glenn Close as Roy Cohn, Jeremy O. Harris, Larry Ownes, and S. Epatha Merkerson as Belize, Laura Linney, Vella Lovell, and Lois Smith as Harper Pitt, and Daphne Rubin-Vega, Linda Emond, Nikki M. James, Patti LuPone, and Brandon Uranowitz in other parts, not in Zoom boxes but in well-designed backdrops.

MOST PASSIONATE SHAKESPEARE SPEECH
Ralph Fiennes, Antony and Cleopatra, Act 4, Scene 14, Shakespeare Everywhere. Shakespeare has been just about everywhere during the pandemic, but no one got into the heart of the Bard as much as Ralph Fiennes did at Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Shakespeare Everywhere gala, where he chewed up all of the desert scenery in his prerecorded soliloquy from Antony and Cleopatra, the camera getting up close and personal with his grizzled face; Fiennes portrayed Antony opposite Sophie Okonedo’s Cleopatra at the National Theatre in 2018.

MOST PASSIONATE SHAKESPEARE DISCUSSION
Patrick Page, RemarkaBULL Podversations, Red Bull Theater. Patrick Page delivers the “I hate the Moor” speech from Othello, then delves into the nature of the character, the play, and Shakespeare himself in an unforgettable discussion that will leave you exhausted and exhilarated.

BEST WALLPAPER IN A PLAY
Gore Vidal’s The Best Man, Tomorrow Tix. Discount ticket service Today Tix rebranded itself as Tomorrow Tix in streaming prerecorded Zoom versions of Broadway plays with all-star casts, including Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, Zachary Quinto, Vanessa Williams, Stacy Keach, Rashad, Reed Birney, Robert Sella, and Katie Finneran for Gore Vidal’s play about a vicious election, but the wallpaper around the tall, vertical Zoom boxes garnered plenty of attention itself.

BEST SCENIC DESIGN OF A ZOOM PLAY
The Irish Rep, A Touch of the Poet, written by Eugene O’Neill, directed by Ciarán O’Reilly. The Irish Rep has been among the most innovative of theater companies during the lockdown, each successive filmed production getting closer and closer to the real thing, and in its revival of A Touch of the Poet, director Ciarán O’Reilly incorporates props, costumes, and photographs and video of Charlie Corcoran’s set to make it appear that the actors are in the same room, sometimes even seated at the same table, even though they are Zooming in from different locations.

BEST PERFORMANCE WITH A CHILD IN THE BACKGROUND
Why Would I Dare: The Trial of Crystal Mason, directed by Tyler Thomas, Rattlestick Playwrights Theater. In Rattlestick’s Zoom staging of the transcript of the trial of Crystal Mason, an ex-con who was facing jail time for trying to vote in the 2016 election, Crystal Dickinson is electrifying as she and her lawyer (Shane McRae) battle with the judge (Peter Gerety) and the prosecutor (Peter Mark Kendall), but as gripping as the production is, it’s hard not to notice Dickinson’s six-year-old son playing in the background of the large living room where she is broadcasting from, a sign of better times to come.

Celine Song transports The Seagull to the Sims 4 for New York Theatre Workshop

BEST CASTING FOR A DIGITAL PLAY
The Seagull on the Sims 4, written and performed by Celine Song, New York Theatre Workshop. Playwright Celine Song busted down barriers with her spectacularly inventive adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull, re-creating the classic work live on the simulation game “Play with Life: The Sims 4,” chatting with the audience and several other theater creators as she molded Irina, Konstantin, Nina, Trigorin, Medvendenko, and others from scratch using the digital platform and then placed them in a virtual world where they had free will.

BEST THEATRICAL EXPERIENCE
“Here We Are,” Theatre for One. Theatre for One reinvented the solo show with “Here We Are,” a collection of eight microplays written by, starring, and directed by BIPOC women (except for one male actor), performed live for one person at a time, with their camera and audio on so each could see the other and, in some of the works, interact; a virtual lobby allowed attendees to communicate anonymously, as if in a real theater, waiting for the lights to go down and the show to begin.

BEST MUSICAL PERFORMANCE AT A GALA FUNDRAISER
The cast of The Amen Corner, “I’m Not Tired Yet,” and “Sonnet 69,” Biko’s Manna and Family, Shakespeare Everywhere. DC’s Shakespeare Theatre Company hosted one of the best gala fundraisers, including a pair of exciting musical performances, with the cast of The Amen Corner delivering a rousing Zoom version of “I’m Not Tired Yet” and Biko’s Manna and Family performing a lovely rendition of the Bard’s “Sonnet 69.”

BEST BIRTHDAY TRIBUTE TO A LATE ROCK STAR
The Flaming Lips, “Listen to Her Heart,” Tom Petty’s 70th Birthday Bash. Dozens of musicians sent in musical contributions to celebrate what would have been Tom Petty’s seventieth birthday, but it was the Flaming Lips’s herky-jerky take on “Listen to Her Heart” that warranted repeat viewing, in addition to Benmont Tench and Mike Campbell’s touching finale.

BEST LIVESTREAMED CONCERT SERIES
“Live Streaming at the Vanguard,” Village Vanguard. The legendary Village Vanguard began streaming live jazz concerts from its intimate stage, without an audience, with concerts by Ron Carter’s Golden Striker Trio, the Eric Reed Quartet, Joe Lovano’s Trio Fascination, and others.

BEST INTERACTIVE OPERA
The Threepenny Opera, City Lyric Opera. Audience members were sent advance instructions so they could take part in City Lyric Opera’s extremely fun virtual production of Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht’s opera for the people, with Justin Austin as Macheath, Philip Kalmanovitch as Mr. Peachum, Rachelle Pike as Mrs. Peachum, Sara LaFlamme as Polly Peachum, Michael Parham as Tiger Brown, Sara LeMesh as Lucy Brown, Shanelle Valerie Woods as Jenny, and Kameron Ghanavati as Filch, with live and prerecorded scenes ingeniously staged at HERE Arts Center in individual rooms and boxes terrifically lit by Karina Hyland and designed by Anna Driftmier.

BEST POP OPERA
Is This the End? Part One: Dead Little Girl, libretto by Éric Brucher, music and lyrics by Jean-Luc Fafchamps, directed by Ingrid Von Wantoch Rekowski, La Monnaie. FIAF streamed Jean-Luc Fafchamps’s frantic “New Pop Requiem,” Is This the End? from the Brussels company La Monnaie, in which Sarah Defrise plays a teenager on the run through La Monnaie’s labyrinthine buildings, with Amaury Massion as the man and Albane Carrère as the woman in a futuristic nightmare scenario.

The virtual opera Alice in the Pandemic takes place down an alternate New York City rabbit hole

BEST USE OF TECHNOLOGY IN A VIRTUAL OPERA
Alice in the Pandemic, libretto by Cerise Lim Jacobs, music by Jorge Sosa, art by Anna Campbell, White Snake Projects. Boston’s White Snake Projects incorporated cutting-edge digital animation in its livestreamed production of the one-act opera Alice in the Pandemic, as the title character (Carami Hilaire) traverses a lonely city in search of her ill mother (Eve Gigliotti) with the help of the White Rabbit (Daniel Moody).

BEST SERIOCOMIC TRIPPY SCI-FI OPERA SERIES
Only You Will Recognize the Signal, libretto by Rob Handel, music by Kamala Sankaram, directed by Kristin Marting, video design by David Bengali, virtual stage design by Liminal, HERE Arts Center. HERE’s seven-part, seventy-minute space opera, Only You Will Recognize the Signal, will shake you out of your therapeutic hypothermia and blast you off into another dimension, where a cast of pseudo-astronauts and a humanlike AI system (Paul An, Christopher Burchett, Hai-Ting Chinn, Adrienne Danrich, Joy Jan Jones, Joan La Barbara, Jorell Williams) share their fears amid kaleidoscopic imagery, melting wallpaper, video of Cambodia and NYC, high- and low-tech computer graphics, and a fab score.

BEST OUTDOOR CHAMBER OPERA CONCERT
Speaking Truth to Power / Egmont, Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. Orpheus Chamber Orchestra went to the Beechwood Park bandshell in New Jersey to perform a socially distanced version of Beethoven’s Egmont, Op. 84, with a new English translation by Philip Boehm, featuring soprano and activist Karen Slack and narration by Liev Schreiber.

BEST MULTIMEDIA OPERA
Marina Abramović, 7 Deaths of Maria Callas, Bayerische Staatsoper. Performance artist Marina Abramović died seven times as she reenacted death scenes from seven operas in which Maria Callas had played the lead, accompanied by dancers onstage in masks and Willem Dafoe onscreen.

BEST DANCE SCORE
Michael Wall, Brown Eyes, BalletX, Works & Process at the Guggenheim. Penny Saunders’s haunting black-and-white Brown Eyes, danced by Andrea Yorita and Zachary Kapeluck, among the first pandemic pieces to feature dancers touching each other, is set to Michael Wall’s propulsive percussive score that features ventilator-like breathing and a constant knocking that evokes a clock running out of time.

BEST LONG-FORM ZOOM DANCE
Rooms, Sokolow Theatre/Dance Ensemble. The New York–based Sokolow Theatre/Dance Ensemble was preparing to present Anna Sokolow’s 1955 Rooms when the pandemic hit, so it adapted the forty-five-minute work, with such aptly titled sections as “Alone,” “Escape,” “Going,” “Desire,” and “Panic,” for online viewing, with dancers filming themselves from wherever they were sheltering in place, both indoors and outdoors, set to Kenyon Hopkins’s groovy jazz score.

BEST REIMAGINED DANCE MASTERPIECE
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Revelations Reimagined. For its winter virtual season, Alvin Ailey presented an exuberant sixtieth anniversary outdoor version of its signature masterpiece, retitled Revelations Reimagined, weaving together old footage with new scenes shot at Wave Hill, directed by Preston Miller.

Sara Mearns appears in triplicate in L.A. Dance Project work

BEST SOLO DANCE AS A TRIO
Sara Mearns, Sonata for Saras, choreographed by Janie Taylor. New York City Ballet principal dancer Sara Mearns has been a star during the pandemic, appearing in Joshua Bergasse’s Storm for Works & Process at the Guggenheim, Molissa Fenley’s State of Darkness for the Joyce, and Justin Peck’s Thank You, New York for NYCB’s Festival of New Choreography, but in Janie Taylor’s Sonata for Saras, we get three versions of Mearns, in a cute, short red dress, dancing together against a white background, flipping her long hair for six delightful minutes.

BEST SOLO DANCE SEEN SEVEN TIMES
Molissa Fenley, State of Darkness, JoyceStream. Molissa Fenley revisited her 1994 epic solo, State of Darkness, for the Joyce, where it was performed by Jared Brown, Lloyd Knight, Sara Mearns, Shamel Pitts, Annique Roberts, Cassandra Trenary, Michael Trusnovec, and Peter Boal, displaying how the same choreographic movements are interpreted by difference dancers.

BEST USE OF TECHNOLOGY IN A ZOOM DANCE
Continuous Replay / Come Together, Bill T. Jones / Arnie Zane Dance Company, New York Live Arts. Bill T. Jones reimagines his partner Arnie Zane’s Continuous Replay in a glorious reinvention featuring a large, wide-ranging cast spanning four decades and four continents performing in Zoom boxes that video editor Janet Wong turns into a futuristic digital architectural landscape in constant motion.

BEST EXPERIMENTAL DIGITAL DANCE FILM
Untitled (perfect human), Danspace Project. Dean Moss’s Untitled (perfect human) offered a kaleidoscopic, nearly scientific exploration of the human body, inspired by Jørgen Leth’s 1967 The Perfect Human, while commenting on our epic loneliness.

BEST SHORT ZOOM DANCE
“...it’s okay too. Feel,” Hope Boykin, BalletX, Works & Process at the Guggenheim. Savannah Green and Ashley Simpson dance separately in Hope Boykin’s “...it’s okay too. Feel,” which includes poetic narration wondering what comes next for all of us.

BEST LIVESTREAMED DANCE
Yoann Bourgeois, I wonder where the dreams I don’t remember go, Nederlands Dans Theater. Streamed live from NDT’s Zuiderstrandtheater in front of a limited audience, Yoann Bourgeois’s I wonder where the dreams I don’t remember go is a mesmerizing, meditative, awe-inspiring, gravity-defying piece about identity and personal relationships that uniquely captures the emotional and physical ups and downs of life during this age of Covid-19 and quarantine.

BEST BEACH DANCE
iyouuswe II, White Wave Dance. Young Soon Kim took her company’s name literally for iyouuswe II, a short dance film with Mark Willis, Katie Garcia, and Joan Rodriguez in the water and on the sand at Jones Beach, with music by Greg Haines and cinematography by Alexander Sargent.

The Love Space, the New Harmony Project. Gabrielle Hamilton, Janae Snyder-Stewart, Zaire Michel, and Jamal Josef join hands in Jace’s The Love Space, with text by Mfoniso Udofia and choreography by Josef, part of the New Harmony Project’s digital Sunrise Gallery series.

BEST ZOOM BIRTHDAY DANCE
“Event2 for Jasper Johns,” Whitney Museum of American Art. Seventy former members of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company celebrated the ninetieth birthday of artist and Cunningham friend and collaborator Jasper Johns with excerpts from more than three dozen Cunningham works, filmed by the dancers at lovely outdoor locations, hitting the bull’s-eye.

BEST DURATIONAL DANCE
Lee Mingwei and Bill T. Jones, Our Labyrinth, Metropolitan Museum of Art. Taiwanese-American contemporary artist Lee Mingwei and American choreographer, director, dancer, and activist Bill T. Jones collaborated on Our Labyrinth, a trio of four-plus-hour meditative, hypnotic performances recorded at the Met’s Great Hall consisting of a dancer sweeping a sand labyrinth and a vocalist, including one iteration with the indefatigable Sara Mearns and Alicia Hall Moran.

MOST EXUBERANT DANCE
A Jam Session for Troubling Times, choreographed by Jamar Roberts, music by Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, narration by Max Roach, directed by Emily Kikta and Peter Walker, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Jamar Roberts’s Cooped was the most explosive, fierce five minutes of dance of the first part of the pandemic; his twelve-minute Jam Session for Troubling Times, which premiered at AAADT’s virtual winter season and features seven dancers reveling in newfound freedom — even though they never touch one another — is a celebration of the nightclub scene of the 1940s and ’50s and the glorious sounds of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, at a time when New Yorkers are still wondering when they’ll be allowed back in jazz and other music venues.

BEST WEB SERIES
The Gaze: No_Homo. Larry Powell’s twelve-part series follows the fictional Evergreen Theatre Festival as young actor Jerome Price (Galen J. Williams) fights for his personal beliefs and battles institutional racism with director Miranda Cryer (Sharon Lawrence); TC Carson stands out as the wise and experienced Buddy DuBois.

FUNNIEST FICTIONAL FAMILY ZOOM CALL
Jordan E. Cooper, Mama Got a Cough. Jordan E. Cooper’s laugh-out-loud hysterical Zoom call was actually posted in the first half of the year, but I only saw it recently and so am including it here, the funniest sketch I saw in 2020, with Amber Chardae Robinson, Brittany Inge, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Dewayne Perkins, Juanita Jennings, Marcel Spears, and Danielle Brooks meeting up online to discuss the health of the family matriarch.

BEST TELEPHONE PRODUCTION
Woolly Mammoth, Telephonic Literary Union’s Human Resources. Woolly Mammoth takes listeners down an audio rabbit hole in Human Resources, a choose-your-own-adventure play on the telephone, offering the chance to acquire the super-secret happiness access code.

BEST MEMORY AT A ZOOM CAST REUNION
Marilu Henner, Taxi, Stars in the House. While it was great to watch Juddy Hirsch, Danny DeVito, Carol Kane, and Christopher Lloyd reminisce about their Taxi days, it was Marilu Henner, who played Elaine Nardo in the 1977-83 hit sitcom, who stole the show, not only for looking a generation younger than the other actors but for displaying an unbelievable level of recall for names, dates, places, and dialogue because of her highly superior autobiographical memory, a rare condition that only about a hundred people in the world have.

BEST CAST REUNION OF A FILM SERIES / STREAMING SHOW
Reunited Apart, The Karate Kid and Cobra Kai. Josh Gad keeps serving up fun cast reunions for his Reunited Apart series, including a dual reunion of the stars of the 1984-94 Karate Kid movie franchise and the actors of the current YouTube/Netflix sequel, Cobra Kai, which brings back Ralph Macchio, William Zabka, and others.

MOST EMOTIONAL MOMENT AT AN AWARDS SHOW
Eugene Levy, Newport Beach Film Festival. When Eugene Levy was presented with the Lifetime Achievement Award at the virtual 2020 Newport Beach Film Festival, he was surprised with Zoom tributes from Martin Short, Andrea Martin, Steve Martin, Jason Biggs, and his entire Schitt’s Creek family, resulting in lots of tears and laughter.

MOST FUN HAD BY THE CAST DURING A NON-REUNION BENEFIT READING
The cast of Fast Times at Ridgemont High, CORE. The all-star cast assembled for a live table read of Amy Heckerling’s 1982 fave Fast Times at Ridgemont High — including Brad Pitt, Morgan Freeman, Jennifer Aniston, Ray Liotta, Jimmy Kimmel, Julia Roberts, John Legend, Dance Cook, Matthew McConaughey, and Sean Penn not as Spicoli — was having an absolute blast watching their fellow actors as they made their way through the script, especially Shia Lebeouf as Spicoli in this fundraiser for CORE’s COVID-19 relief efforts.

BEST LIVE CHATTING WITH THE ARTIST DURING A WORK-IN-PROGRESS SCREENING
Raja Feather Kelly, Any Given Wednesday, New York Live Arts. Half the fun of watching director and choreographer Raja Feather Kelly’s sneak peak at his upcoming documentary, Any Given Wednesday, about the making of his show Wednesday, a unique take on Sidney Lumet’s Dog Day Afternoon, was following the live chat, in which Kelly excitedly interacted with friends, collaborators, and just plain audience members, sharing insight into his thought process while having a grand old time.

BEST DEBATE RE-CREATION
Baldwin vs. Buckley, BRIC. BRIC restaged the famous February 1965 debate between James Baldwin (Teagle F. Bougere) and William F. Buckley (Eric T. Miller) at Cambridge, which asked the question “Is the American Dream at the expense of the American Negro?,” an inquiry that feels just as relevant today as it did then.

BEST OPEN REHEARSALS
The Commissary, “Lessons in Survival,” Vineyard Theatre. A group named the Commissary, with such actors and directors as Marin Ireland, Peter Mark Kendall, Tyler Thomas, and Reggie D. White, re-created important speeches and interviews involving such Black creators and leaders as James Baldwin, Nina Simone, Angela Davis, Maya Angelou, Nikki Giovanni, Bobby Seale, Muhammad Ali, and others, but as striking as those reenactments were, it was their open live rehearsals that were revelatory, regarding not only the works to be performed but the genuine, infectious pleasure they were experiencing in being able to collaborate with others during the pandemic.

BEST SOLO LITERARY READING
Paul Giamatti, “Bartleby, the Scrivener,” by Herman Melville. Emmy-winning, Oscar-nominated actor Paul Giamatti gives a wonderfully spry reading of Herman Melville’s classic story, “Bartleby, the Scrivener,” along with an in-depth analysis of the tale and the author with scholar Andrew Delbanco.

BEST VIRTUAL REIMAGINING OF A SHORT STORY
Theater in Quarantine, Footnote for the End of Time. Joshua William Gelb’s endlessly creative use of his closet continued with this retelling of Jorge Luis Borges’s short story “The Secret Miracle,” in which Gelb narrated the tale of Jewish writer Jaromir Hladik as the Nazis take over Prague, with live black on white and red drawing by Jesse Gelaznik, music by Alex Weston (performed by Rob Walker on clarinet, Alex Weill on violin, Susan Mandel on cello, and Weston on piano) inspired by Olivier Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time, and movement by Katie Rose McLaughlin, directed by Jonathan Levin

BEST POETRY READING
Theater of War, “Poetry for the Pandemic.” Theater of War moved away from its virtual readings of classic works to bring together established poets and National Student Poets for an evening of readings in which each young poet read a piece by an older poet and vice versa, with both onscreen to watch and listen, along with contributions from Bill Murray and Tracie Thoms, followed by a discussion.

BEST VIDEO POEM
The Baptism, written and performed by Carl Hancock Rux, directed by Carrie Mae Weems. Commissioned by Lincoln Center, Carl Hancock Rux’s tribute to John Lewis and C. T. Vivian, a sharecropper’s son and the boy from Boonville, features lush videography of scenes from nature by Herman Jean-Noel, James Wang, and Ermanno de Biagi, music by Brian Eno, and such text as “The lifeblood of transition, one city to the next city, story upon story, house upon house, our wanting always cleaning the air, nourishing the soil of insistence. Every being is a building with music — grace upon grace upon grace.”

BEST TWO-STAGE BOOK LAUNCH
Chuck Palahniuk, The Invention of Sound, Garden District Book Shop. New Orleans’s Garden District Book Shop had difficulty getting Chuck Palahniuk to join the Zoom launch for his latest novel, The Invention of Sound, so the first try turned into a gossipfest with fans talking amongst themselves, displaying singed copies, treats won at the author’s famed in-person events, and Chuck tattoos; the rescheduled evening was a fascinating journey inside the mind of Palahniuk, who has also written such books as Fight Club and Invisible Monsters.

BEST MUSEUM GALA
“Frick on the Move,” the Frick. In addition to appearances by Rosanne Cash, Maira Kalman, Nico Muhly, Aimee Ng, Simon Schama, and others, the Frick’s virtual gala was highlighted by a new edition of “Cocktails with a Curator” with Xavier F. Salomon and a sneak peek behind the scenes of the Frick Madison with director Ian Wardropper.

BEST ARTS MARATHON
Yoshiko Chuma, Love Story, the School of Hard Knocks, La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club. Yoshiko Chuma celebrated the fortieth anniversary of her collective with an extraordinary live, twenty-four-hour virtual presentation incorporating dance, film, discussion, music, art, and just about anything else you could think of.

BEST SOCIOCULTURAL MULTIDISCIPLINARY PROGRAM
Unfinished Live. Host Baratunde Thurston led audiences through unique explorations of “Economy & Justice,” “Democracy & Voice,” “Technology & Humanity,” and “Questions, Culture & Change,” with contributions from Abigail Disney, Julián Castro, Yo-Yo Ma, Carrie Mae Weems, Hank Willis Thomas, Alfredo Jaar, Andrew Yang, Nadya Tolokonnikova, Lynn Hershman Leeson, Alicia Garza, Hans Ulrich Obrist, Anna Deavere Smith, Bruce Springsteen, and others, along with a live, interactive chat.

BEST FUTURISTIC INTERACTIVE EXPERIENCE
“EdgeCut,” New York Live Arts. In “Captivity” and “Sanity,” EdgeCut used the Nowhere platform, placing each attendee in an oval pod they steer through fantastical landscapes to watch short presentations (dance, art installations, experimental technology demos, music videos) and talk to other viewers and the creators themselves; I’ve tried just about every form of online entertainment while we’re all sheltering in place and arts venues are closed, and nothing else comes close to this one, even given various hiccups that require patience.

WALLY WORLD

Wally World features a large cast playing employees in a superstore on Christmas Eve (photo courtesy Steppenwolf Theatre Company)

WALLY WORLD
Steppenwolf NOW
December 16 - August 31, $75 for six-play subscription
www.steppenwolf.org

One of my best friends has a habit of shopping for all his holiday presents on Christmas Eve. This year, because of the pandemic lockdown, he chose to stay out of stores and, like so much of America, bought everything online. But for him and everyone else who missed the joy of wandering through aisles of chains and indies, fighting off other customers for that last coveted item on that quickly emptying shelf, Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre Company has gifted us with Wally World, a two-part audio-play soap opera that takes place in a big-box store on a long December 24. “Everybody’s happy on Christmas Eve,” not-so-nice manager Andy (Sandra Marquez) insists. Well, maybe not.

Wally World offers that last-minute-shopping experience as we eavesdrop on Andy, co-managers Amy (Audrey Francis) and Mark (Cliff Chamberlain), assistant managers Estelle (Jacqueline Williams), Ariadna (Sydney Charles), Jax (Kevin Curtis), Janie (Karen Rodriguez), Miguel (Marvin Quijada), and Dan (Danny Bernardo), and sales associate Karla (Leslie Sophia Perez), who get involved in all sorts of intrigue, from secret liaisons to juicy gossip, from karaoke Christmas songs to sexual harassment and a seizure. Writer-director Isaac Gómez and codirector Lili-Anne Brown take us around every nook and cranny in the store as the employees discuss personal and professional disappointment, their ancestry, a shooting at another location, vibrators, and how to correctly stack palettes. They also make some funny and unfortunate announcements over the PA system. “I fucking hate Barbies,” Andy admits accidentally. “If you need to defecate, please do so in one of our two bathrooms,” Mark points out. An accompanying guide helps identify each character, including their name, age, position, ethnicity, and zodiac sign; several are from US-Mexican border towns, as is Gómez (La Ruta, I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter).

Originally commissioned and developed through the Sideshow Theatre Company Freshness Initiative and presented in a developmental workshop at a Texas festival in 2018, Wally World may not be about the pandemic, but it’s right for this moment, capturing that feeling we are all missing: Being around other people, whether random strangers or essential workers, during the holiday season. Shopping online and seeing family over Zoom is not quite the same thing. To maintain the holiday spirit, Christmas music can be heard throughout the show; you can listen to the Spotify playlist here, with songs by the Vince Guaraldi Trio, Michael Bublé, Ariana Grande, Sara Bareilles, Eartha Kitt, Kelly Clarkson, Sia, Kacey Musgraves, John Legend, and Mariah Carey. To get the audio just right, sound designer Aaron Stephenson visited a superstore with a recorder and, wearing a mask, taped different places and sound sources, from the bathroom and the checkout counter to walkie-talkies and the overhead speakers, making it feel like you’re moving through distinct spaces, which he describes in “Hearing the Snow Falling: A Glimpse into the Sound Design in Wally World.

“It’s a play about my mom,” Gómez, who calls the show his “Walmart Chekhov,” says in the above conversation with Rodriguez and Steppenwolf artistic director Anna D. Shapiro. “My mom’s worked at Walmart for twenty-five years and has worked her way up from cashier to assistant department manager of lingerie to department manager of ladies wear to assistant manager to co-manager and to now store manager at one of the largest retail-focused Walmarts in the country, which is a huge deal. And her Walmart is situated right off of one of the border-crossing bridges, so the majority of her customers are not just from El Paso; they’re also from Juárez. I think there’s something prolific and beautiful and meaningful about these everyday people who had, and have, lives that are deeper beyond our understanding. . . . What brings them all together is a profound loneliness that I think so many of us share, and what connects them is that they feel less lonely when they’re together.”

An ensemble piece that feels like an inclusive group effort, that doesn’t feel like it was recorded with everyone facing separate cameras and showing up in separate Zoom boxes from wherever they’re sheltering in place, Wally World — named after the closed theme park that the Griswolds are driving to in National Lampoon’s Vacation — also takes us away from the screens we are all addicted to, especially during this health crisis, and encourages our imaginations to transport us into a public place where we are less lonely, making connections that bring us together. And that’s a present we all can use as 2020 finally comes to an end.

DON’T STAY SAFE

Nygel D. Robinson, Iris Beaumier, and Latoya Edwards star in Prospect Theater Company’s Don’t Stay Safe (photos by Lesley Steele)

Who: Prospect Theater Company
What: Final film in Vision series
Where: Prospect Theater Company YouTube channel
When: Wednesday, December 30, free, 7:00
Why: Prospect Theater Company concludes its Vision series, consisting of new musical theater pieces on film, with Don’t Stay Safe, a short work with book and lyrics by Cheryl L. Davis and music by Douglas J. Cohen, featuring Iris Beaumier, Latoya Edwards, and Nygel D. Robinson. A companion to Davis and Cohen’s full-length 2016 musical Bridges, about a multiracial family fighting for racial equality and LGBTQ rights from 1965 to 2008, Don’t Stay Safe follows three people as they deal with similar issues in 2020, when the world changed. The December 30 premiere of the fifteen-minute film, which was directed by Christina Franklin at the West End Theatre, with music direction by John Bronston and cinematography by Lesley Steele, will be followed by a live Q&A with members of the cast and crew.

UNDER THE RADAR 2021

Piehole’s Disclaimer will be livestreamed over Zoom July 7-11 and 14-17

UNDER THE RADAR
The Public Theater online
January 6-17, free with advance RSVP
publictheater.org

For sixteen years, the Public Theater’s multidisciplinary winter festival “Under the Radar” has been presenting cutting-edge, experimental works from around the world, in its four theaters and Joe’s Pub in addition to such satellite locations as Japan Society, La MaMa, BRIC, and other city venues. But the 2021 iteration will be virtual — and it’s also all free. This year’s festival has been trimmed down to eight shows, one panel, one symposium, and live Q&As, requiring advance RSVPs; donations beginning at $5 are requested for each production.

“The challenges facing cultural exchange is not limited to the pandemic; it includes the tightening reactionary world trying to suffocate alternative voices, combined with a climate crisis growing more threatening every day,” festival director Mark Russell said in a statement. “Under the Radar began as an answer to an isolationist government in 2005, trying to connect voices, not always heard on American stages, from communities not always invited. We continue to follow this path with both international and American artists.”

The 2021 UTR fest is actually already under way with 600 Highwaymen’s A Thousand Ways (Part One): A Phone Call, continuing through January 17. Written and created by Abigail Browde and Michael Silverstone, the piece is an hourlong phone call between you and another person, randomly put together and facilitated by an electronic voice that asks both general and intimate questions, from where you are sitting to what smells you are missing, structured around a dangerous and lonely fictional situation that is a metaphor for sheltering in place, even though the work began several years ago. It’s a great way to get connected to a stranger while looking inwardly at yourself — and there’s more to come, as the next two parts involve one-on-one in-person encounters and a group gathering once the pandemic lockdown is lifted.

Below is the rest of the schedule; note that some shows can be viewed on demand at any time, with specific dates for live Q&As, while others are available only during livestreams.

Inua Ellams shares his personal stories of immigration in livestreamed Borders & Crossings

CAPSULE (January 6-17, artist Q&As 1/6 and 1/11 at 8:00)
Written by Whitney White and Peter Mark Kendall and directed and produced by Taibi Magar and Tyler Dobrowsky, Capsule explores isolation and connection, race and film using original text and music. White and Kendall will also be the guests on the “Live at the Lortel” podcast on January 4 at 7:00.

ESPÍRITU (January 6-17, artist Q&As 1/8 and 1/14 at 8:00)
Teatro Anónimo’s Espíritu takes place over the course of one night in an unidentified city, dealing with such issues as consumerism and manipulation of desire. The thirty-five-minute piece is written and directed by Trinidad González and will be performed in Spanish with English subtitles.

INCOMING! (January 6-17, talkback following 1/10 and 1/17 shows at 8:00)
The Public Theater’s Devised Theater Working Group has collaborated on a specially commissioned program of short pieces about where we are here and now, with cohort members Savon Bartley, Nile Harris, Miranda Haymon, Eric Lockley, Raelle Myrick-Hodges, Mia Rovegno, Justin Elizabeth Sayre, and Mariana Valencia presenting a thirty-minute video including such brief works as “Edna’s Best Friend Jeans” and “What We Forgot.”

UNDER THE RADAR SYMPOSIUM: A CREATIVE SUMMIT (January 7, 10:00 am)
Livestreamed interactive half-day symposium with Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts vice president and artistic director Marc Bamuthi Joseph, showcase of future works by Tania El Khoury, Héctor Flores Komatsu, Anna Maria Nabirye / Annie Saunders, and Roger Guenveur Smith, breakout sessions, and the concluding “Artists and International Presenting” discussion.

BORDERS & CROSSINGS (January 7-10, talkback after each show)
Poet, performer, playwright, graphic artist, and designer Inua Ellams, who was born to a Muslim father and a Christian mother, shares his personal story of migration, from Nigeria to England to Ireland and back to London, in this hourlong livestreamed one-man show produced by Fuel Theatre, which hosted his in-person An Evening with an Immigrant in the fall.

The Public Theater’s Devised Theater Working Group’s Incoming! consists of short pieces by eight cohort members

RICH KIDS: A HISTORY OF SHOPPING MALLS IN TEHRAN (January 7-10, 14-17, talkback after each show)
The Javaad Alipoor Company’s Rich Kids: A History of Shopping Malls in Tehran is an experimental hybrid of live performance and social media that explores the growing separation between the wealthy and the poor, looking at income inequality through a kaleidoscopic mirror. Written by Alipoor and co-created by Alipoor and Kirsty Housley, the sixty-minute show, the second part of a trilogy following the multimedia The Believers Are But Brothers, won the 2019 Scotsman Fringe First Award.

DISCLAIMER (January 7-11, 14-17, talkback following 1/17 show at 6:00)
Piehole’s Disclaimer is a live Zoom event in which a cooking class led by Chef Nargis incorporates Persian food, cultural misrepresentation, minimal audience participation, and murder. Disclaimer is written by Tara Ahmadinejad, who directed Japan Society’s livestreamed presentation of Satoko Ichihara’s Underground Fairy last month.

THE MOTOWN PROJECT (January 8-17)
Alicia Hall Moran reimagines the Motown songbook with opera in this recorded performance from Joe’s Pub, featuring Thomas Flippin on guitar, Reggie Washington on bass, and Steven Herring and Barrington Lee on vocals, with choreography by Amy Hall Garner.

INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS: THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW (January 9, 12 noon)
Livestreamed panel discussion and Q&A with MC93 director Hortense Archambault, MC93 director of productions Frank Piquard, performance artist, choreographer, and director of dance festivals Aguibou Bougobali Sanou, and Perelman Performing Arts Center producing director Meiyin Wang, moderated by LMCC artistic director Lili Chopra.

THIS IS WHO I AM

Ramsey Faragallah and Yousof Sultani play a father and son who are separated by more than just distance in This Is Who I Am (photo courtesy PlayCo and Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company)

WOOLLY ON DEMAND: THIS IS WHO I AM
Through January 3, $15.99 single, $30.99 household
www.woollymammoth.net
playco.org

Woolly Mammoth and PlayCo’s This Is Who I Am is the best play created during the pandemic that is not specifically about the pandemic. Presented in association with American Repertory Theater, Guthrie Theater, and Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Amir Nizar Zuabi’s poignant, exquisitely told seventy-minute Zoom work is a treat for all five senses while exploring such issues as love, loss, loneliness, grief, memory, and distance, so much a part of our life amid the ongoing coronavirus crisis.

Zuabi, who was raised in Palestine, was the associate director of Young Vic London for eight years, and is now artistic director of the ShiberHur theater in Haifa, set his 2013 site-specific show, Oh My Sweet Land, in kitchens in real apartments, where small audiences would cram in and watch a woman cook while telling stories about Syrian refugees; everyone was handed a delicacy she made on the way out. This Is Who I Am also takes place in real kitchens, but in this case belonging to two actors portraying an estranged father and son reconnecting over Zoom; you might not get a bite of the spinach-and-onion-stuffed dumpling-like peasant dish known as fteer that they make together, but you will feel as if you can touch, smell, and taste it, in addition to watching and listening to their intimate, heart-tugging conversation. (However, you will get the recipe so you can prepare it yourself in your own kitchen.)

The father (Ramsey Faragallah) is Zooming in from his home in Ramallah, while the son (Yousof Sultani) is in New York, having left the West Bank city years ago to become an art curator, a job his manly, hardworking father fails to understand. As they go step-by-step through the recipe of their late wife/mother’s favorite dish, they talk about the past and delve deep into their relationship, which changed drastically during her prolonged illness. “She used to make such incredible food. Why this, why fteer?” the son asks. “It was the first thing she prepared for me,” the father replies. “She said to me, ‘This is who I am. I am a pocketful of surprises.’”

As they add the ingredients, the differences between them are revealed not only through the dialogue but by how they are making the dish. While the son uses modern utensils and measures everything precisely, the father uses his fingers and judgment with the salt and the sumac, the onions and the yeast. “You were always a horrible cook,” the son says, as if referring to his role as a father as well. The father declares that his lentil soup is to die for, which leads the son to quip, “Death is definitely one of the consequences that can occur as a result of your lentil soup.”

Making fteer together leads them to “fill the gaps” of their lives. When they brush on the olive oil, they remember the olive trees of Ramallah; where the father waxes poetic about the beauty, culture, tradition, and sustenance they represent, the son recalls that the “trees are drenched in blood. They live in a land that had so many people claim it, so many people die for it. You walk around those trees and you feel the reverence of history; I walk around those trees and I hear the shouts of slaughtered men that had to sacrifice themselves to keep it.” When the son insists that water has to be lukewarm, considering it a “safe” temperature, the father interprets that as his son yet again taking the easy way out, not going for the extremes of hot and cold. As they reach the end of the preparation and get ready to place the food in the oven, their topics grow ever-more-serious, with accusations and condemnations being squeezed out like the juice of a lemon, tart and bitter.

Turkish immigrant Evren Odcikin (When My Mama Was a Hittite, Nine Parts of Desire), the associate artistic director at OSF, directs the show with a natural, realistic grace, keeping the actors onscreen the entire time, next to each other in static boxes without camera movement, close-ups, or cuts; we’ve all been part of so many Zoom calls with friends and family and watched a multitude of live, online cooking programs that it’s easy to forget that this is a play and that the two men are fictional constructions. Instead, you’re likely to feel that you’re eavesdropping on an intensely private moment between two complex individuals as they intimately discuss trust, fear, memory, choice, disappointment, and what makes a person a hero.

Ramsey Faragallah and Yousof Sultani rehearse Amir Nizar Zuabi’s This Is Who I Am (photo courtesy PlayCo and Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company)

LA-born actor, writer, and teacher Faragallah (The Profane, Homeland) and Northern Virginia native Sultani (Heartland, Photograph 51) are marvelous as father and son, fully embodying their characters just as the dish they are making brings their wife/mother to life. Faragallah portrays the strong and stalwart father with a tender vulnerability that is deeply affecting, while the handsome, hirsute Sultani is sensitive and authentic as the seemingly intractable, unyielding son who is harboring a critical secret. Just follow the movement of their eyes; they might not be in the same room, but their innate attachment is palpable.

In October, Woolly Mammoth’s Woolly on Demand season kicked off with Telephonic Literary Union’s fun Human Resources, which took place completely over the phone as a “choose your own adventure” series of prerecorded messages. This Is Who I Am comes to us live, in real time, via cameras in the actors’ homes in an honest, intrinsically human story that captures who we are and what we are facing without ever mentioning the pandemic we are suffering through; it’s a timeless story whose time is now, for people everywhere.

(This Is Who I Am continues through January 3; tickets are $15.99 for one and $30.99 for a household. On January 2, you can take part in a postshow community meetup hosted by A.R.T. with the Boston Palestine Film Festival by registering here. It’s also worth checking out the archived December 20 virtual panel discussion “Story as Resistance: The Joys, the Heartbreak, and the Food.”)

SANCTUARY: AN AUDIO IMMERSIVE SOUNDWALK

Working Theater’s Sanctuary takes visitors on an audio journey through the welcoming community of St. John the Divine (photo by P. Kevin O’Leary)

SANCTUARY
Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine
1047 Amsterdam Ave. at 112th St.
Through December 31, free
theworkingtheater.org
www.stjohndivine.org

“What is sanctuary? Is it a place? Is it a feeling? A state of being?” a narrator asks near the start of Sanctuary, an immersive audio soundwalk about the historic Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine. Working Theater’s Five Boroughs/One City Initiative began with Adam Kraar’s Alternating Currents in Queens and includes Liba Vaynberg and Dina Vovsi’s The Only Ones and Ed Cardona Jr.’s Bamboo in Bushwick in Brooklyn, Dan Hoyle’s The Block in the Bronx, and Chisa Hutchinson’s Breaking Bread in Staten Island. It returns to Manhattan with Sanctuary, a forty-eight-minute
piece that has been in progress since 2015 and is now available for free download through December 31. It is not a guided tour of the cathedral but instead is a spiritual (and secular) journey that you can experience at home. (In 2013, Working Theater staged La Ruta, an immersive play about illegal immigration, set in a truck outside the cathedral.)

Sanctuary was created by Michael Premo and Rachel Falcone of Storyline and developed with and directed by Working Theater associate artistic director Rebecca Martinez, with original devotional music by Broken Chord, recorded in the cathedral’s nave on the Duke Ellington grand piano. The soundwalk welcomes listeners into the diverse cathedral community, consisting of people who work there, visit regularly, have celebrated special occasions there, or turned to the cathedral at times of hardship or joy. Participants discuss immigration, a blue heron, 9/11, gay marriage, gardening, depression, letting go, healing, and rebuilding, accompanied by the sounds of footsteps, nature, a helicopter, sirens, and a door opening.

St. John the Divine has offered sanctuary to all since 1899 (photo courtesy St. John the Divine)

“We are unfinished,” one person says. A man adds, “The amount of grief that we have seems to be insurmountable. We mourn partly because so much of what we called normal is gone, and yet, we persevere.” The narrator asks, “Do we ever get where we’re going? If we arrive, are we here?”

The cathedral has been providing sanctuary since the late nineteenth century; construction by architects George Heins and Christopher Grant LaFarge began in 1892, and the first services were held there in a chapel of the crypt in 1899. The cathedral is an Episcopal church that doesn’t discriminate on any basis; in fact, it falls right in line with New York’s decision to become a sanctuary city in 2020, as delineated by Manhattan Community Board 10 here.

Sanctuary expounds on the cathedral being a revered safe space, both physically and psychologically, not only during the pandemic, but at all times. It is currently open for free to visitors; timed tickets are strongly encouraged. “What is the path you’re on?” the narrator asks. Any path leading to the historic Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine is one that is worth taking.

OLD VIC: IN CAMERA — A CHRISTMAS CAROL

Andrew Lincoln shines a light on a different aspect of Scrooge’s psyche in Old Vic adaptation (photo by Manuel Harlan)

A CHRISTMAS CAROL
The Old Vic, London
Through December 24, £10-£65
www.oldvictheatre.com

For its fourth “In Camera” presentation, the Old Vic has revived Jack Thorne’s 2017 reimagining of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, which moved to Broadway in fall 2019 and plans to return next holiday season. Thorne’s bold adaptation minimizes the traditional ghost story elements and instead develops a narrative that focuses on Ebenezer Scrooge’s childhood trauma (George Samuel Townsend plays him as a boy, Andrew Lincoln as an adult) and how it influenced his development into the greedy, heartless man he now is — revealing the psychological damage wrought by a demanding, overbearing father (Michael Rouse), never mentioned in Dickens’s original; the boy’s relationship with his adored sister, Fan (Melissa Allan), named only once by Dickens; and his one chance at love with Belle (Gloria Obianyo), the daughter of his employer, Mr. Fezziwig (Clive Rowe), who in this version runs a funeral parlor, although Dickens himself never elucidates Fezziwig’s business.

The heart-tugging Cratchit family — Scrooge’s clerk, Bob (John Dagleish), Bob’s wife (Maria Omakinwa), and their children, including the lame Tiny Tim (Rayhaan Kufuor-Gray, Lara Mehmet, Lenny Rush, or Eleanor Stollery) — is almost an afterthought in Thorne’s retelling, while Scrooge’s deceased partner, Jacob Marley (Rouse), is given more prominence, as is Scrooge’s nephew, Fred (Eugene McCoy). The Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future are portrayed by a trio of women (Julie Jupp, Golda Rosheuvel, and a surprise third character) who are not daunting spirits but rather have much more intimate connections with Scrooge.

Old Vic’s “In Camera” livestreamed production of A Christmas Carol follows Covid-19 protocols (photo by Manuel Harlan)

The Old Vic’s “In Camera” series, live plays streamed direct from its London stage, adhering to all Covid-19 protocols and performed without an audience, previously offered very short runs of Brian Friel’s Faith Healer with Michael Sheen, David Threlfall, and Indira Varma, Stephen Beresford’s Three Kings with Andrew Scott, and Duncan MacMillan’s Lungs with Claire Foy and Matt Smith. Helmed by Tony-winning artistic director Matthew Warchus (Matilda, God of Carnage), A Christmas Carol is riveting theater for most of its two-hour length. The action is filmed with multiple cameras that give tantalizing close-ups as well as long views, while the tech crew often utilizes split screens so expertly that it’s sometimes difficult to figure out whether actors are actually next to each other or are socially distancing, especially during several handshakes.

Lincoln (The Walking Dead, Parlour Song) is sensational in one of the most familiar roles ever written, playing Scrooge as a flawed human being rather than a brutally cold and unforgiving ogre. It’s a welcome change, as are the changes brought to other minor characters, with stand-out performances by Obianyo, Rowe, and Rosheuvel. The cast also features Rosanna Bates as Jess, Tim van Eyken as Nicholas, and Sam Lathwood as Ferdy. This is not your grandparents’ Christmas Carol.

The set by Rob Howell, who also designed the period costumes, is anchored by a slotted-wood floor, with frames without doors through which characters enter and exit and dozens of lanterns hanging from the ceiling. At the 2017-19 in-person shows, audience members received clementines and cookies; the Old Vic tries to maintain a level of interactivity by having an online quiz that begins about an hour before the play starts and by providing a family activity pack that can be downloaded for free here.

Which brings us to the ending. Throughout the show, Christmas carols are played by a masked band in the balcony, consisting of pianist and musical director Will Stuart, cellists Christopher Allan and Pedro Vieira da Silva, violinist Clare Taylor, and clarinetist Martin Robertson. The songs often get in the way of the narrative, especially with Thorne’s (Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, His Dark Materials) unexpected twists, but it all becomes particularly annoying when the music, acting, and staging all combine to go way over the top during Scrooge’s rethinking of what Christmas means. What was a gripping, tense tale instantaneously lapses into a tired traditional holiday finale, turning its back on everything that came before. It had challenged what we know about this classic story but then settled for the lowest common denominator for its conclusion, which is a shame. Or, of course, I’m just being a scrooge. Bah, humbug.