The Riverside Theatre
91 Claremont Ave.
Wednesday to Saturday through October 13, $25-$40
On August 27, 2017, Tony-winning playwright and New York City native Bernard Pomerance, a huge fan of the genre-redefining cop series NYPD Blue, died at the age of seventy-six. On April 1, 2018, New York City native Steven Bochco, the Emmy-winning television writer and producer of such shows as NYPD Blue and L.A. Law, died at the age of seventy-four. Sixty-nine-year-old award-winning actor and director and New York City native Ron Canada, who has nearly 150 credits in film and on television — including an appearance on NYPD Blue — brings it all full circle with the world premiere of Pomerance’s Spin Off, running at the Riverside Theatre through October 13. Canada is the director and one of the executive producers of the muddled drama, about a trio of characters from a police drama who seek to establish their own identities, becoming self-aware and breaking out from the constraints of the genre and their characters. A hooker named Rosie Ramirez (Megan McQueen) has apparently been shot and killed by Detective Jimmy Marks (Kevin Rico Angulo), who is being interviewed by Dr. Chloe Allen (Tricia Mancuso Parks) to determine whether it was a good shooting. But with the series facing cancellation, they don’t have much time, and things get more challenging when a gangster producer named TV (Chad Restum) and his right-hand henchman, Carlos (Thomas Hildreth), arrive, armed and ready to defend their turf.
Like so many spin-offs, Spin Off fails to live up to its promise. Pomerance (The Elephant Man) and Canada (The Invested, Lights Up on the Fade Out) touch upon such topical issues as immigration, racial profiling, fascism, gun violence, PTSD, and personal identity, but it all gets lost in a difficult-to-follow staging that includes a pair of monitors that are usually blank but occasionally show another character, Yara (Najla Said), watching from the wings as well as clips of a protest and Fascist leaders. Yara also hovers around Rosie in a fairly inexplicable way in one scene, pretending to smoke as she discusses “traces” of memory. There’s also a wacky wig, an odd workout bench, and a strange incest reference. The play, written in 2003 and revised in 2006, has some very solid ideas, but they get lost in the narrative fog; there’s a Twilight Zone quality to the plot, but unfortunately it turns out to be more like one of the TZ reboots rather than the Rod Serling original. (By the way, anyone remember Beverly Hills Buntz, the failed spin-off from Bochco’s Hill Street Blues?) Pomerance might have been addicted to NYPD Blue and looking for a metaphorical, metaphysical way to keep it going, but Spin Off is destined to be put on one of those shelves where failed pilots and spin-offs go to slowly fade away.
One Sheridan Sq. between West Fourth & Washington Sts.
Wednesday - Saturday through October 27, $10-$30, 8:00
Following its initial run earlier this year, Axis’s unique and imaginative theatrical adaptation of High Noon is back at the company’s Sheridan Square home for an encore engagement running October 3-27. Below is twi-ny’s original review from March 2018, with the new dates added.
Axis artistic director and founder Randy Sharp transforms a classic American Western into an existential purgatory in the world premiere of High Noon, returning to Axis’s Sheridan Square theater for an encore engagement October 3 to 27. This is a stripped-down High Noon, utilizing elements from both Fred Zinnemann’s 1952 Oscar-winning film and John Cunningham’s 1947 short story for Collier’s, “The Tin Star.” The sixty-five-minute drama takes place on Chad Yarborough’s sparse, all-white stage, with a horizontal saloon bar, a slightly raised platform in one corner, and white fencing along the walls; even the permanent stanchions are painted white. That brightness is more than offset by Karl Ruckdeschel’s costumes, nearly all of which are black; it not only references good and evil but also High Noon itself, which Zinnemann decided to shoot in black-and-white instead of color for aesthetic rather than financial reasons. In an unidentified small town, the marshal, Will Barnon (Brian Barnhart), has just married his sweetheart, a Quaker named Alice (Katie Rose Summerfield), and turned in his badge. Meanwhile, Guy Jordan, a man Will sent away for murder, has unexpectedly been released from prison and is believed to be coming back on the noon train to take his revenge on all those who’d done him wrong, primarily Will. Guy’s brother, Check (Nicholas McGovern), is already in town and looking for trouble. Will and Alice are preparing to start a new life together, minding her family’s store far away, but Will suddenly decides that he must stay and face Guy. “I’ll never know what’s behind me,” he tells Alice. “I’ve got to stay. That’s the whole thing. That’s the whole thing.” (The dialogue features a lot of purposeful repetition.)
While Henry (Phil Gillen), who runs the local hotel, can’t wait to see Will get his comeuppance, Judge Mettrick (Spencer Aste) is packing his things and thinks Will ought to do the same, as does Will’s deputy, Senator (Jon McCormick), who wants to become the marshal. Caught in between is Helen Rivera (Britt Genelin), who went from being Guy’s lover to Will’s and then Senator’s — and she does not want to be around when Guy arrives. Will might have cleaned up the town, but nearly all his supposed friends, including Senator, Helen, Mettrick, Baker (George Demas), Sam (Andrew Dawson), and stationmaster Oliver (Brian Parks), are turning their back on him, preferring that he leave immediately; their community might have been more dangerous when Guy ran things, but there was also much more business and cash flowing in. Through it all, Will is stalwart, refusing to sacrifice his principles, even if he has to face Guy Jordan and his gang alone.
Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot meets Clint Eastwood’s High Plains Drifter in Sharp’s involving staging. All of the actors are onstage through the entire production as if trapped; their words move the tale from the hotel and the depot to the court and the prairie. In writing the High Noon screenplay, Carl Foreman was influenced by the House Un-American Activities Committee investigation into communism in Hollywood; Cooper had refused to name names when he was summoned before the committee in 1947, and Foreman was later blacklisted. Sharp steers clear of that angle, instead situating High Noon in a kind of way station where there are no genuine heroes and everyone has to face their sins, both individually and as a community. The stationmaster is like St. Peter, waving his white flag as if surrendering to the murderous Supreme Being on board the coming train. “My God, it is the end of the world. Holy Jesus,” he says. A few moments later, Mettrick repeats, “By God. This is the end of the world.” Barnhart portrays the icy Will as more of an everyman than a hero, talking in old-fashioned Americana. “Alice, I’m going to try and be the best man you think I am. I’ll do my best,” he tells his new bride. Wearing his badge like a halo, Will tries to put together a posse of apostles, but no one is going to join him on what they consider a suicide mission; he is even spurned by his wife and Helen, his Mary Magdalene, as his execution awaits. High Noon is famous for, among other things, the building tension leading to the action-packed finale, but Sharp chooses another path there as well, providing a surprising, subtle twist. The key to Sharp’s (Last Man Club, Dead End) cunning plot lies in the words of Helen. Early on, she says, “Things’ll go straight back to before. They’ll be the same. The same way. The same story.” Later, she adds, “I want a different ending.” She doesn’t quite get what she desires in this uncompromising morality tale about mid-twentieth-century America — and today.
Brooklyn Academy of Music
BAM Harvey Theater
651 Fulton St. at Ashland Pl.
October 3-7, $40-$75
Anne Bogart and SITI Company return to BAM’s Next Wave Festival with their new interpretation of Euripides’ classic tale of gods and mortals, religion and the state, the earthly and the divine, The Bacchae. “More than any other play in Western civilization, Euripides’ is probably the one that most directly addresses the art of theater,” Bogart explains in a program note. “We are aware, for example, that we are looking at an actor or at a precisely lit staging and scenery, but at the same time we allow ourselves to enter into another world that is merely suggested by what is actually present.” The work, which premiered at the Getty Villa in California last month, is translated by Aaron Poochigian, with set and lighting by Brian H Scott, sound by Darron L West, and music composed by Erik Sanko. The cast features Ellen Lauren as Dionysus, Barney O’Hanlon as Tiresias, Stephen Duff Webber as Cadmus, Eric Berryman as Pentheus, and Akiko Aizawa as Agave. In conjunction with the show, the talk “Speaking Truth to Power: On Fear and Governance” will take place October 5 at the BAM Fisher’s Hillman Studio ($15, 6:00), with Anne Bogart and Monica Youn in conversation with Corey Robin, and BAM and the Mark Morris Dance Group are teaming up for “Introduction to Suzuki & Viewpoints,” a master class with SITI, on October 10 ($25, 12 noon) for theater artists, actors, dancers, performers, and directors.
MCC Theater at the Lucille Lortel Theatre
121 Christopher St. between Bleecker & Hudson Sts.
Sunday - Friday through October 7, $49-$125
For hundreds of years, the name “Betty” has been used to describe various types of women, from hot and stylish to relaxed and self-confident, from schoolteachers and the girl-next-door to wholesome and plain; it can also refer to a man who performs household duties, a gay man, and a light-skinned black man, according to Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang. The term has been linked to Betty Grable, Bettie Page, Betty Rubble from The Flintstones, Betty Cooper from the Archie comics, Betty Boop, and Betty Crocker and has been popularized in such films as Clueless and Encino Man. The word, with its wide range of meaning, can be a metaphor for the obscured individuality of women, one name covering the vast diversity and lack of sameness for a gender that has been treated as second-class citizens for millennia. But the second sex, as Simone de Beauvoir called women, has been fighting back in new ways in recent years, as depicted in Jen Silverman’s outrageously funny and perceptive play, Collective Rage: A Play in 5 Betties, an MCC production that continues at the Lucille Lortel through October 7. In the show, Silverman also reclaims the word “pussy,” which has multiple meanings too but has become a kind of feminist call to arms given its controversial usage by President Trump. The word appears about fifty times in the play, including in the subtitle: In Essence, a Queer and Occasionally Hazardous Exploration; Do You Remember When You Were in Middle School and You Read About Shackleton and How He Explored the Antarctic?; Imagine the Antarctic as a Pussy and It’s Sort of Like That.
Collective Rage features five characters from across the spectrum: Betty 1 (Dana Delany) is white and uptight, an erudite and elegant woman in a loveless marriage with the wealthy Richard; Betty 2 (Adina Verson) is white and unsophisticated, in a boring marriage with Charles; Betty 3 (Ana Villafañe) is a tough-talking bisexual Latinx who says what’s on her mind; Betty 4 (Lea DeLaria) is a heavily tattooed white butch lesbian who spends most of her time working on her truck and pining for Betty 3; and Betty 5 (Chaunté Wayans) is an African American boxing gym owner who self-identifies as a “gender-non-conforming masculine-presenting female-bodied individual.”
Betty 1 sets the tone in her opening monologue, in which she states after watching the news, “This world is terrible. This world is awful. / I am Very Very Concerned about the State of Things. / My husband Richard came home and I said to him RICHARD / I said RICHARD / I am Very Very Concerned About the State of Things. / My husband Richard is a calm person. / He is a logical and a rational person and He Wears a Suit. / And Richard said to me: BETTY / Richard said: BETTY / Richard said: Betty, Don’t Worry. / AND THAT DIDN’T MAKE ME FEEL BETTER.”
Each Betty busts female stereotypes; yet even as each is different, they all share a common loneliness, which is revealed at several women-only dinner parties. The intimate gatherings are not for men; in fact, the play itself was not written for the male gender, and in particular not straight white men. At one party, after Betty 3 raves about the first time she had sex with a woman, Betty 1 says, “That’s not good conversation for a dinner party.” Betty 3 says, “No?” Betties 1 and 2 answer in unison, “No.” Betty 3 asks, “How come?” Betty 1 says, “We don’t talk about sex at dinner parties.” Betty 3 responds, “What else you talk about?” Betty 2 replies, “We aren’t having sex, so we can’t talk about it.” Betty 3 offers, “Maybe you should start having it.” Betty 1 ends the discussion by saying, “We’re married.”
At another dinner party, Betty 3 gives Betty 2 and Betty 4 hand mirrors so they can look at their vaginas up close and personal. Betty 2 is terrified, claiming she has never done that before. “What if it’s ugly?” she says. “What if there’s teeth? What if it’s lopsided? What if it’s lumpy? Or flat? Or geometrically displeasing? Or what if I don’t have one at all and there’s just a small animal who lives there, like a lizard or a dwarf-hamster, and all I see are the gleam of its little eyes as it stares back up at me?” It’s a hysterically funny scene, but it also brilliantly depicts a woman’s fear of her sexuality and control of her own body. “Look at your pussy,” Betty 3 tells her. “Both eyes,” Betty 4 adds.
After Betty 3 goes to a play with a rich white woman — they see what she calls “Summer’s Midnight Dream” — Betty 3 decides to quit her job and stage her own piece of “Thea-tah”; entranced by the play-within-a-play narrative (of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream,), she is going to do the same thing, a sly reference to Collective Rage, which now also has a similar structure. All five Betties become involved in the venture, for different reasons, furthering their relationships with one another and cleverly developing their individual characters as Silverman explores their innermost desires and their sense of self, as well as their thoughts on theater. “I think a lotta things that seem like art are maybe actually just about pussy. And then also, things that are mostly about pussy might actually be about art,” Betty 4 tells Betty 3, getting right to the point.
Collective Rage unfolds over ninety riotous yet poignant minutes, in chapters with such descriptive names as “Betty 2 Acts Out Her Feelings with a Puppet Because She Has No Real Friends,” “Betty 1 Has More Rage, and Does Something About It,” and “Betty 4 and 5 Work on Their Trucks and Talk About Relationships, Which Is Just Another Word for Pussy,” the titles projected above the stage. Dane Laffrey’s relatively spare set, just a few chairs and a desk, constantly surprises as items fall down through open grids in the ceiling, from truck engines and a punching bag to other key props, like gifts from heaven. (Kudos to prop master Joshua Yocom.) Director Mike Donahue (The Legend of Georgia McBride, Silverman’s The Moors) lets the women strut their stuff, and Delany (China Beach, Dinner with Friends), DeLaria (Orange Is the New Black, The Rocky Horror Show), Verson (Indecent, The Lucky Ones), Villafañe (On Your Feet, In the Heights), and Wayans (50 Shades of Black, Hollywood Misconceptions) don’t disappoint, shining a light on gender identity, sexuality, lust, love, societal expectations, and power in the twenty-first century. It’s about how to be a Betty, and how not to be a Betty, whatever that means. “I feel like things are changing,” Betty 4 says to Betty 5, who responds, “I hope so.” Betty 4 adds, “But everything was good the way it was. Wasn’t it?” Betty 5 replies, “Change is exciting.” And Betty 4 opines, “Change is sad. Change is things getting forgotten. Change is people getting left behind.” Exactly.
STARS IN THE NIGHT
Multiple locations in DUMBO
Tuesday - Sunday through October 13, $125, 7:00, 7:30, 8:00, 8:30
Part of the fun of immersive theatrical productions is the opportunity to see unusual interior locations, from abandoned warehouses and hotels (Sleep No More, The Grand Paradise) and institutional facilities (Then She Fell) to navy yards (Doomocracy), churches (Beloved/Departed), and the otherwise off-limit areas of cultural institutions (Ghost Light, Hotel Savoy). But it’s always a bonus when an immersive show heads outdoors, offering another level of adventure; for example, The Great American Casket Company led the audience through Green-Wood Cemetery, while Empire Travel Agency took people four at a time through Lower Manhattan, including a subway trip and a car ride. The Firelight Collective’s dark and mysterious Stars in the Night combines the best of both types of immersive theater, shuttling up to twelve guests at a time through various indoor and outdoor spaces in DUMBO. It is a very adult story of separation and loss, of faded love and unfulfilled dreams, told in a time-twisting way that will have you attempting to decipher it all long after the one hundred minutes are up and you have been left on the street to your own devices.
A treat for all five senses, Stars in the Night begins on a rooftop with a beautiful view of the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges. The Man in the Orange Tie (Matt Brown) shares his tale of woe, kicking you off on a journey where you will meet a series of people who sometimes interact directly with you, sometimes carry out actions that you merely observe. You pick up important details through song, telephone conversations, dance, food and drink, and even touch, though you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to. The narrative does not make it easy to figure who is who and when is when, so you need to pay close attention. The extremely talented cast consists of Brown, Allison Byrnes, Benjamin Chase, Davonna Dehay, David Haley, Hannah Broderick Kraft, William Nicol, Jennifer Sacks, and Firelight Collective founding member Deanna Noe; to tell you who they play would be giving too much away. Writer-directors Stephanie Feury and Nathan Keyes, the artistic directors of the troupe, keep up the pace throughout, dropping in plenty of clues along the way, leading to a powerful finale that is simply mesmerizing.
One of the coolest conceits of Stars in the Night is the pause between every scene during which the audience is not sure who will arrive to take them to the next part of the expedition. For example, after the Man in the Orange Tie takes off, you’re left standing in Brooklyn Bridge Park, guessing which of the passersby might be your next guide. The Firelight Collective’s previous shows were all presented in Los Angeles, including Unexpected Winter, Nobody’s Darling, Echoes of Voices, Savage/Love, and the first iteration of Stars in the Night. Despite its West Coast history, the group has done a fine job sustaining a New York sensibility in this production, which takes several surprising twists and turns as characters examine their lives and don’t always like what they see. “I just kept thinking how I wanted to be free, free of the pain, free of everything,” Nicole says. She’ll break your heart.
416 West 42nd St. between Ninth & Tenth Aves.
Tuesday - Sunday through October 14, $59-$99
Craig Lucas’s I Was Most Alive with You serves up a Thanksgiving setting, but it’s not a genuine turkey. Rather, it’s a turducken of a play, an overwrought melodrama stuffed with everything but the kitchen sink, as troubles inside troubles inside yet more troubles pile onto the characters in this otherwise well-staged New York premiere. The show, which opened tonight at Playwrights Horizons, was inspired by real tragedies in Lucas’s life as well as the Book of Job. (Lucas also wrote the play specifically for deaf actor Russell Harvard after seeing him in the Paul Thomas Anderson film There Will Be Blood and Nina Raine’s off Broadway play Tribes.) The narrative unfolds in flashback; in California in March 2010, longtime TV writing partners Ash (Michael Gaston) and Astrid (Marianna Bassham) are trying to come up with ideas for their next collaboration, and they decide to tell the story of what happened the previous Thanksgiving, how an accident changed the lives and fortune of friends and family. A recovering alcoholic, the Jewish Ash has a strained relationship with his wife, Pleasant (Lisa Emery), who hopes he is having an affair with Astrid. Their son, Knox (Harvard), a deaf recovering alcoholic and drug addict, is in love with Farhad (Tad Cooley), an angry, hearing-impaired, drug-using Muslim. Ash’s mother, Carla (Lois Smith), a Jewish convert, has been battling cancer, attended to by Mariama (Gameela Wright), a nurse who became a Jehovah’s Witness while recovering from drug addiction and who has a son on death row. The cast is lost amid the narrative mess, overplaying underdeveloped characters we don’t care about, speaking in sermonettes and platitudes, many straight out of the recovery playbook. For example, at Thanksgiving dinner, Knox says he is grateful “for two, no, three things I used to think weren’t gifts at all: Deafness. . . . Being gay. . . . Addiction. . . . They are gifts. . . . Each brought me to great clarity.”
The play examines how we communicate with one another — and how we don’t — in person, electronically, verbally, and nonverbally. Most of the characters are at least partially deaf, either involving the actual ability to hear or to listen to what people are telling them, and most also have at least some knowledge of sign language. (Sabrina Dennison serves as director of artistic sign language.) Words that are signed but not spoken are projected onto Arnulfo Maldonado’s effective, if workmanlike, set. Taking a page from Michael Arden’s outstanding Broadway revival of Spring Awakening with Deaf West Theatre, in which each speaking actor was shadowed by someone signing, in I Was Most Alive with You the shadows are on the second level, shadowing their characters from above. The shadow cast consists of Beth Applebaum (Astrid), Harold Foxx (Knox), Seth Gore (Ash), Amelia Hensley (Pleasant), Christina Marie (Carla), Anthony Natale (Farhad), and Alexandria Wailes (Mariama). Unfortunately, occasionally one of the shadows emits sounds while signing, which might be inevitable but is distracting. Two-time Tony nominee Lucas (Prelude to a Kiss, The Light in the Piazza) throws in so much dizzying conflict that director Tyne Rafaeli (The Rape of the Sabine Women, Actually) never has a chance to navigate through the confusion. Not even God would have made Job suffer through I Was Most Alive with You. Playwrights Horizons’ next production is the world premiere of Larissa FastHorse’s The Thanksgiving Play; hopefully turducken will not be on the menu.
MY PARSIFAL CONDUCTOR: A WAGNERIAN COMEDY
Marjorie S. Deane Little Theater at the West Side YMCA
10 West 64th Street
Tuesday - Sunday, September 25 - November 3, $67
The debates over whether German composer Richard Wagner was anti-Semitic have raged for more than a century, particularly since Adolf Hitler and the Nazis incorporated his music into their march for power. (Wagner died in 1883 at the age of sixty-nine.) One of his works that generates complaints of anti-Semitism is his final opera, 1880’s Parsifal, about the search for the Holy Grail. Writer, director, and producer Allan Leicht, who won a Daytime Emmy for Outstanding Writing for Ryan’s Hope and was nominated for a Primetime Emmy for the TV movie Adam, explores the topic in My Parsifal Conductor: A Wagnerian Comedy, which was inspired by the real-life situation in which King Ludwig II of Bavaria commanded that German Jew Hermann Levi, the son of a rabbi, will conduct the inaugural performance of Parsifal at the Bayreuth Festival in 1882. The cast features Eddie Korbich as Wagner, Claire Brownwell as Cosima, his wife, Geoffrey Cantor as Levi, Carlo Bosticco as King Ludwig II, Logan James Hall as Friedrich Nietzsche, Alison Cimmet as Dora, and Jazmin Gorsline as Carrie and Sophie. My Parsifal Conductor is directed by Robert Kalfin (Happy End, Yentl) and produced by Ted Snowdon (The Elephant Man, My Name Is Asher Lev).
TICKET GIVEAWAY: My Parsifal Conductor runs September 25 through November 3 (with an October 11 opening) at the Marjorie S. Deane Little Theater at the West Side YMCA, and twi-ny has two pairs of tickets to give away for free. Just send your name, daytime phone number, and favorite play involving opera to email@example.com by Friday, September 28, at 3:00 pm to be eligible. All entrants must be twenty-one years of age or older; two winners will be selected at random.