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

THE DHARMA OF THE PRINCESS BRIDE: RELEASE PARTY

dharma of the princess bride

Who: Ethan Nichtern, Dani Shapiro
What: Book release party for The Dharma of the Princess Bride: What the Coolest Fairy Tale of Our Time Can Teach us about Buddhism and Relationships (North Point Press, September 12, $25), featuring a talk and book signing
Where: Deepak HomeBase, mezzanine, ABC Carpet & Home, 888 Broadway at Seventeenth St.
When: Tuesday, September 19, $30 (includes copy of book), 7:00
Why: “Hello. My name is Ethan Nichtern. The Six-Fingered Man was my father’s best friend. Prepare to read.” So begins author and Buddhist teacher Ethan Nichtern’s fourth book, a unique exploration of one of the most beloved films of the 1980s, Rob Reiner’s The Princess Bride. Based on William Goldman’s novel, the cult classic begins with a grandfather (Peter Falk) reading his grandson (Fred Savage) the best bedtime story ever. The romance fantasy adventure stars Cary Elwes as Westley, Robin Wright as Buttercup, Chris Sarandon as Prince Humperdinck, Mandy Patinkin as Inigo Montoya, Christopher Guest (a close friend of Nichtern’s father since childhood) as Count Rugen, Wallace Shawn as Vizzini, and André the Giant as Fezzik, along with appearances by Billy Crystal, Carol Kane, and Peter Cook. Although the film is not a Buddhist parable, Nichtern, a husband and new father whose previous books, including The Road Home and One City, combine serious philosophy with humor and pop-culture references, examines the Buddhist nature of life, especially his own, through the lens of his favorite film. In the book’s introduction, “Fairy Tales, the Real World, and True Love,” Nichtern writes, “As for the movie’s relation to Buddhism — it may be correlation rather than causation, but here’s the truth: almost everything I know about relationships, I learned over the past thirty years of doing two things that seem to have very little to do with each other — loving The Princess Bride and practicing Buddhism.” Among the chapters in the hardcover are “Find Your Inner Fezzik: The Practice of Friendship,” “Fred Savage Is a Jerk, and I Am Fred Savage: Gratitude for Your Lineage,” and “Have Fun Storming the Castle.” Nichtern will be at ABC Carpet & Home on September 19 to launch the book, in conversation with writer Dani Shapiro (Family History, Devotion) and signing copies of The Dharma of The Princess Bride.

PROJECTS 107: LONE WOLF RECITAL CORPS LIVE PERFORMANCES

(photo by Scott Shaw)

Special live performance celebrated opening of Terry Adkins exhibition at MoMA (photo by Scott Shaw)

Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53rd St. between Fifth & Sixth Aves.
Through October 9
212-708-9400
www.moma.org

Washington-born multimedia artist Terry Adkins died in 2014 in Brooklyn at the age of sixty. MoMA is paying tribute to his legacy with the small but intimate exhibition “Projects 107: Lone Wolf Recital Corps,” consisting of film, sculpture, instrumentation, paraphernalia, and live performances. Adkins founded the Lone Wolf Recital Corps collective in Zurich in 1986, collaborating with a wide range of artists in numerous disciplines while honoring such figures as Matthew Henson, Bessie Smith, John Coltrane, George Washington Carver, Zora Neale Hurston, and John Brown. The exhibit, which continues through October 9, features such works as “Methane Sea,” constructed of rope, steel, wood, and tape and evoking something that could be found aboard a slave ship; “Omohundro,” an unusual brass and copper instrument; “Upperville,” concrete in which African porcupine quills emerge; a banner that reads “A Man Was Lynched Yesterday,” a replica of the flag the NAACP used to hang out their window on Fifth Ave. after such tragedies; “Amulet,” an almost noose/whip-like black wall hanging made of rubber, rope, electrical wire, tape, and steel; four eighteen-feet-long akrhaphones (the “rha” in the middle of the name is an homage to Adkins’s father); “Sus Scrofa (Linnaeus),” a contrabass covered by a boar hide and skull; and a trio of performance videos, The Last Trumpet from Performa 13 in November 2013; Facets: A Recital Compilation from Skidmore College the previous year; and, also from 2012, Atum (Honey from a Flower Named Blue), in which Clifford Owens puts on the wolf skin that is on view under the abovementioned banner. There is also background on Adkins alter ego and Lone Wolf mystery member Blanche Bruce, named after the first elected African American politician and only former slave to serve a full term in the Senate. “My quest has been to find a way to make music as physical as sculpture might be, and sculpture as ethereal as music is,” Adkins said in a 2006 interview with Dana Roc. In conjunction with the exhibition, there will be a series of live performances, held in the gallery space, the downstairs theater, and the education center next door; advance tickets are recommended.

Terry Adkins exhibition makes its points through sound and image (photo by twi-ny/mdr)

Terry Adkins exhibition makes its points through sound and image at MoMA (photo by twi-ny/mdr)

Monday, September 18
An Evening with Kamau Amu Patton, featuring restaging of Patton’s Amun (The Unseen Legends) with live electroacoustic improvisation to Patton’s Theory of Colors, screening of Patton’s 2008 performance Proliferation of Concept / Accident Tolerant, and discussion with Patton and Akili Tommasino, Roy and Niuta Titus Theater, $12, 7:00

Wednesday, September 20
A Living Space, with Sanford Biggers, Juini Booth, Demetrius Oliver, Clifford Owens, Kamau Amu Patton, and Dread Scott restaging passages from 2013 recital Postlude (Corpus Specere), exhibition space, $12, 7:00

Sunday, September 24
Envy of the World (A Blues for Terry Adkins), with Blanche Bruce on chordophone, Cavassa Nickens and Jamaaladeen Tacuma on bass, Kamau Amu Patton on banjo, and recitation by Arthur Flowers, Tyehimba Jess, and Rashid Johnson, exhibition space, $12, 7:00

Tuesday, September 26
A Visionary Recital (after Terry Adkins), with Charles Gaines on percussion, Jason Moran on piano, and Jamaaladeen Tacuma on bass, improvising new composition by Gaines based on scrolling projection of Lone Wolf text translated into music, Roy and Niuta Titus Theater, $12, 7:00

Wednesday, September 27
The Legacy of Terry Adkins and the Lone Wolf Recital Corps, panel discussion with Charles Gaines, Clifford Owens, and Kamau Amu Patton, moderated by Valerie Cassel Oliver and Akili Tomassino, Education and Research Building, Celeste Bartos Theater, $15, 6:00

Saturday, September 30
PopRally Presents: Twilight Brothers, with Sacred Order members Clifford Owens and Kamau Amu Patton and Da’Niro Elle Brown, Zachary Fabri, LaMont Hamilton, and Kambui Olujimi, followed by lobby reception and DJ set by Patton and Brown, exhibition viewing, and open bar, Roy and Niuta Titus Theater, $25, 9:00

RHINOCEROS

(photo by Pedro Hernandez)

Café denizens can’t believe what they see in New Yiddish Rep adaptation of Eugène Ionesco’s Rhinoceros (photo by Pedro Hernandez)

Castillo Theatre
543 West 42nd St. between Tenth & Eleventh Aves.
Thursday – Sunday through October 8, $45
212-941-1234
www.castillo.org
www.newyiddishrep.org

With the recent success of its productions of Death of a Salesman, Waiting for Godot, and God of Vengeance, the New Yiddish Rep’s world premiere of Eugène Ionesco’s Rhinoceros in the rich, historical language promised a potential stampede. Unfortunately, Ionseco’s 1960 absurdist screed against the rise of Fascism creeps in more like a mouse in a surprisingly lackluster production. “Rhinoceros reminds me of the personal struggle of many of my current and former co-religionists who are trapped in their own skin,” translator and former Hasid Eli Rosen, who also stars as Jean, writes in a program note. He hopes the play “will penetrate the high walls of ghettos and sound the shofar of freedom to humans everywhere,” an apt metaphor as Rosh Hashanah and the Days of Awe approach, but the play falls well short of its admirable goals. Continuing at the Castillo Theatre through October 8, Rhinoceros takes place on director Moshe Yassur’s small, spare set, consisting of a few chairs and tables and walls from which further elements, such as a bed, emerge. The erudite Jean (Rosen) is waiting for Bérenger (Luzer Twersky) in a café run by a cheapskate proprietor (Amy Coleman) who regularly berates her waitress (Mira Kessler). Jean chastises Bérenger for his lack of dignity, decrying his penchant for alcohol, uncombed hair, and lack of a tie. But Berenger — Ionesco’s everyman who appears in several of his works — just wants to relax and take a break from what he considers his exhausting life. After a rhinoceros makes its way through the middle of town, the characters in the café — which also include the Logician (Alex Leyzer Burko), a housewife clutching her dear cat (Macha Fogel), the grocer (Sean Griffin), the grocer’s wife (Caraid O’Brien), a gentleman (Gera Sandler) with the hots for the housewife, and, eventually, Daisy (Malky Goldman), with whom Bérenger is smitten — start debating what they saw and what it means, even as the rhino, or perhaps a different one, marches back through town in the other direction. But when people begin actually turning into rhinos themselves, only Bérenger refuses to become part of the crash.

(photo by Pedro Hernandez)

Jean (Eli Rosen) and Bérenger (Luzer Twersky) argue about logic, demeanor, and rhinos in Ionesco’s absurdist classic (photo by Pedro Hernandez)

In writing Rhinoceros, Romanian playwright Ionesco (Exit the King, The Chair) was inspired by the fascism that was building in Romania and across Eastern Europe in the 1930s. Rosen makes clear parallels to what is happening now in America, as antifa battles white supremacists and neo-Nazis and President Donald Trump shows dictatorial tendencies. Rosen even uses the phrase “fake news” when Botard (Burko) declares that the whole rhino story is a hoax, propaganda perpetrated by journalists and university elitists. “An example of collective psychosis,” he tells Dudard (Griffin), “just like religion — the opiate of the people!” However, the translation is too obvious in making connections to contemporary America, and the staging is static and uninvolving. What could have been intimate — the audience is seated on two sides of the catty-corner set — instead separates the two parts of the crowd and creates a distance from the actors, who are often only several feet away. The surtitles, projected on the two perpendicular walls, contain a handful of typos and sometimes can’t keep up with the spoken dialogue; in addition, when the actors spoke out of turn or missed a cue, it was hard to follow what was going on. The play has a long, distinguished history; Laurence Olivier and Joan Plowright starred in Orson Welles’s original London version, and Zero Mostel won a Tony as Jean in the 1961 Broadway edition, with Eli Wallach, Anne Jackson, and Jean Stapleton. (Mostel also starred with Gene Wilder and Karen Black in the 1974 film directed by Tom O’Horgan.) But it’s not a big-name cast that is missing from New Yiddish Rep’s version; in 2012, Emmanuel Demarcy-Mota and Théâtre de la Ville brought their wildly inventive take to BAM’s Next Wave Festival. Yassur a Romanian who has previously directed Ionesco’s Jacques, or the Submission; The Bald Soprano, and The Future Is in Eggs, never finds the right balance between absurdity and reality, getting caught in the middle, as if blinded by the dust of the stampeding animals.

TWI-NY TALK: AMANDA SZEGLOWSKI / STAIRWAY TO STARDOM

(photo by Maria Baranova)

Writer, director, choreographer, and performer Amanda Szeglowski dreams of fame and fortune in Stairway to Stardom (photo by Maria Baranova)

STAIRWAY TO STARDOM
HERE
145 Sixth Ave. at Dominick St.
September 12-23, $18-$45, 8:30
212-647-0202
www.here.org

Before there was Star Search, American Idol, The Voice, and America’s Got Talent there was Stairway to Stardom, a no-budget New York City public access television show in which men, women, and children performed with big dreams in their heads, hoping to make it big. Writer, director, choreographer, performer, and “global paradigm architect” Amanda Szeglowski explores the American dream of reaching for fame and fortune in the vastly entertaining and ridiculously clever multimedia production Stairway to Stardom, which opened at HERE on September 12. The sixty-minute show features Szeglowski and her cakeface company, Ali Castro, Jade Daugherty, Ayesha Jordan, and Nola Sporn Smith, in glittery silver-sequined gowns and high heels singing, dancing, and sharing their successes and failures, their hopes and desires with a dry, wry mechanical delivery deliciously at odds with the spectacular longing for stardom that lies beneath.

The narrative follows the arc of a contemporary U.S. life in the arts, from what creative kids want to be when they grow up and what their parents expect of them to discovering their unique talent and then working odd jobs as they strive for artistic (and maybe even financial) success while also experiencing regrets. The performers are joined by Prism House — Brian Wenner and Matt O’Hare — who provide live video and music mixing, featuring excerpts from the original public access program. Szeglowski, who is also HERE’s marketing director, formed the all-female cakeface in 2008; their previous “linguistic performance art” projects include Don’t Call Me McNeill., Alpha Pups, and Harold, I Hate You. The new show continues through September 23; there will be a talkback following the September 20 performance, and September 15 and 19 are ’80s nights, in which the audience is encouraged to dress with their best retro flair. The show begins at 8:30, but HERE will be projecting clips from the original Stairway to Stardom in the lounge beginning at 7:00 every evening. Shortly after opening night, which kicked off HERE’s twenty-fifth anniversary season, Szeglowski found time to answer some questions about her own career trajectory.

twi-ny: As you were preparing for the opening of Stairway to Stardom, your native Florida — you went to high school in Tampa and college at USF — was being battered by Hurricane Irma. What was that experience like, balancing the two? Are your friends and family safe?

amanda szeglowski: Yes, thank you for asking. My family lives in West Tampa, so we were all watching the storm very closely. It was an incredibly stressful time to be in tech rehearsals all day and night approaching the culmination of a show I’ve been building for three years while this monster of a storm was creeping towards my family. I was checking in on them every chance I got and FaceTiming to see all the prep they were doing to their houses, going over the evacuation plans. . . . Being a part of that process helped me feel like I was with them. But growing up in Florida and having been through many hurricanes actually gave me some comfort as well. We know how to prepare and we take it seriously. That’s not to say that wine isn’t the first thing in the hurricane supply shopping cart — it is. But I felt better knowing this wasn’t my family’s first rodeo; they knew exactly what to do.

(photo by Maria Baranova)

Nola Sporn Smith, Jade Daugherty, Ayesha Jordan, Amanda Szeglowski, and Ali Castro reach for the stars in glittering show at HERE (photo by Maria Baranova)

twi-ny: Were you ever a fan of such programs as Star Search, American Idol, The Voice, or America’s Got Talent?

as: I loved watching Star Search as a kid. As I got older and the shows got more scripted I lost interest. I think Idol changed the game by making the auditions part of the show, and then it became a gimmick of who could be the most outrageous. But I will occasionally watch clips from these shows when my parents call me and insist that they just saw the greatest thing.

twi-ny: What is it about the public access show that spurred your creative juices? You treat it with respect without getting overly kitschy or mean-spirited.

as: The TV show was so raw — so vulnerable. These weren’t people trying to become a character on a reality show; these were people really trying to make it. I respect that. There wasn’t any competitive aspect to the TV show; they were just performing and hoping to be seen. Sure, when you see clips from the TV show there are moments that you want to laugh, but I spent hours and hours interviewing people about their lives for my script, and a lot of it was pretty damn sad. At least these people were out there trying. I wanted to honor that drive and explore what happens to all of us along the way, because I think that fire is there for almost everyone in the beginning.

twi-ny: What kind of talent does someone have to display to become a member of cakeface? When someone is auditioning for you, are you more like Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul, Jennifer Lopez, Usher, or Miley Cyrus?

as: HAHAHA. I think I’m a Simon and Paula hybrid. I’m Simon because I have a crystal-clear vision of what I want, and if you don’t fit, I am not going to beat around the bush. I never want to waste anyone’s time. But Paula has a way of finding a spark in people and being respectful of their contributions, and I try to always do that. I’ve received many post-audition emails over the years from people that I didn’t hire saying the experience was really special. I’m proud of that.

twi-ny: Is anyone associated with the public access show still around? Did you have to go through any kind of permissions process to use some of the original footage?

as: The show was public access. But I did get the tapes directly from someone who was given them by the host of the show, Frank Masi, before he died. [Ed. note: Masi passed away in 2013 at the age of eighty-seven; you can watch a YouTube tribute to him and the show here.]

(photo courtesy of Amanda Szeglowski)

Amanda Szeglowski takes a well-deserved break from climbing the stairs to stardom (photo courtesy of Amanda Szeglowski)

twi-ny: How amazing was it to perform in such great costumes, as well as high heels?

as: The costumes, which are by Oana Botez, are absolutely fantastic. It’s such a blast being able to sparkle head to toe on a downtown stage — very atypical for the scene. The heels are challenging, but anything else with those costumes would be absurd, right? And the performers are all pros, so they make it work. I wanted an over-the-top glamorous look that I could juxtapose with the stark reality of our words. Oana definitely achieved that.

twi-ny: What did you want to be when you were growing up?

as: The opening text, which I call a monologue (even though it’s delivered by five voices), is basically a run-on sentence ticking off all of my childhood dreams. It includes a mermaid, grocery store checkout clerk, princess, trapeze artist, restaurateur, and movie star. Of course, I always wanted to be a dancer, but that’s obvious, and our unfulfilled dreams are so much more interesting.

twi-ny: What’s the worst job you’ve ever had?

as: I’ve had a slew of them. The story in the show about working in the housewares department at Burdines was my life at age fifteen. I had no idea how to sell kitchen appliances and would literally walk away from customers and kick back in the stock room. That was pretty awful. There’s another story about a boss with revolting coffee breath; that was my first job in NYC. But another horrific experience was telemarketing. In high school I worked at a call center selling satellite broadcasting to elderly people in rural areas. I had to convince them they needed HBO. It was super sleazy, plus I got sexually harassed by my boss. I’d say fifteen was not a banner year for my career trajectory.

twi-ny: What would you like audiences to take away from the show?

as: I’d like them to be reminded of our often-naive notions of success and talent, reflect on the choices they’ve made, and leave with a glimmer of hope.

EXTRAORDINARY ORDINARY PEOPLE

Sheila Kay Adams

Sheila Kay Adams is featured in new documentary and will perform live at two screenings opening weekend at Cinema Village

EXTRAORDINARY ORDINARY PEOPLE (Alan Govenar, 2017)
Cinema Village
22 East 12th St. between University Pl. & Fifth Ave.
Opens Friday, September 15
212-529-6799
www.firstrunfeatures.com
www.cinemavillage.com

With the future of such government agencies as the National Endowment for the Arts in jeopardy, documentarian and folklorist Alan Govenar celebrates the NEA’s National Heritage Fellowships in Extraordinary Ordinary People. Since 1982, the fellowships have honored “our nation’s master folk and traditional artists . . . recognizing the ways these individuals demonstrate and reflect our nation’s living cultural heritage and the efforts of these artists to share their knowledge with the next generation.” Govenar speaks with the program’s founder and first director, Bess Lomax Hawes, and former director Dan Sheehy, who explain the importance of nurturing a diverse group of artists who often live and work on the margins. New and archival footage feature more than two dozen figures, from such musicians and singers as Koko Taylor, Clifton Chenier, Wanda Jackson, Narciso Martinez, Sheila Kay Adams, “Flaco” Jiménez, John Lee Hooker, Chum Ngek, “Queen” Ida Guillory, Earl Scruggs, and B. B. King to such artisans as quilter Laverne Brackens, lace maker Sonia Domsch, and ceremonial regalia maker Clarissa Rizal. Govenar (The Beat Hotel, Stoney Knows How) previously documented the story of another of the film’s subjects, dancer and drummer Sidiki Conde, in You Don’t Need Feet to Dance. The film opens September 15 at Cinema Village; the 8:00 shows on Friday and Saturday night will be followed by a Q&A and mini-concert with Govenar, Adams, and Conde.

TIME TO DIE

Time to Die

Juan Sáyago (Jorge Martínez de Hoyos) finds himself cornered in Arturo Ripstein’s Time to Die

TIME TO DIE (TIEMPO DE MORIR) (Arturo Ripstein, 1966)
Film Forum
209 West Houston St.
Opens Friday, September 15
212-727-8110
www.filmforum.org

The setup for the 1966 Mexican Western Time to Die is just about as standard as they come. But there’s little else that is standard for Arturo Ripstein’s startling debut, a tense, atmospheric tale that has been called a neo-Western, a chile-Western, and even a kreplach Western. The screenplay was written by Colombian film journalist Gabriel Garciá Márquez — whose breakthrough magical realism novel One Hundred Years of Solitude would be published the following year — assisted by Mexican novelist Carlos Fuentes (Terra Nostra, The Old Gringo), who focused on the dialogue. Ripstein was only twenty-one when he made the film and had already worked with Luis Buñuel, serving as his personal assistant on The Exterminating Angel; Ripstein’s father, Alfredo, was a major player in the Mexican film industry and produced Time to Die, known as Tiempo de Morir in Spanish, with César Santos Galindo. Shot in a lustrous black-and-white by Alex Phillips and featuring a poignant soundtrack by Carlos Jiménez Mabarak, the film is in many ways as much a noir as a Western. Jorge Martínez de Hoyos, who played Hilario in John Sturges’s The Magnificent Seven, stars as Juan Sáyago, a gunfighter who returns to his remote village after eighteen years in prison. He’s older, moves slower, and now needs reading glasses, but he wants to go back to the life he led, ready to reclaim his horse, his saddle, his house, and his fiancée, Mariana Sampedro (Marga López).

He tells the son of the late Don Diego Martín Ibañez that his father had told him, “Don’t worry, once you’ve paid your dues with the law, come see me. Your job will be waiting for you.” But Don Diego Jr. (Quintin Bulnes) alerts him that his life is in danger and to “take your fight somewhere else.” The two sons of the important and powerful man Sáyago killed, Pedro (Enrique Rocha) and Julián Trueba (Alfredo Leal), have been waiting for this moment for nearly two decades, prepared to avenge the death of their beloved father. The younger Pedro is not as hard-hearted as his older brother, who has convinced everyone in town, including Pedro’s girlfriend, Sonia (Blanca Sánchez), that Juan brutally murdered his father in cold blood, although there are rumblings that it was actually in self-defense and completely justified — and that Sáyago is bulletproof, unable to be shot and killed. Despite all the warnings to get out of town, though, he is not about to turn and run. “My grievance is not with them,” he tells the bartender. “It’s with the eighteen years I’ve lost.”

Time to Die

A behind-the-scenes look at Arturo Ripstein (center) on set of Time to Die

No surprise, Time to Die is an extremely literate tale, beautifully told with terrific set pieces, including Sáyago’s meeting with his old pal Casildo (Carlos Jordán), the sheriff jailing Sáyago for his own protection, and Sáyago declaring, “I don’t want to die” after being bloodied on the street. And he knits too, glasses hanging at the end of his nose. Like William Munny (Clint Eastwood) in Unforgiven, he doesn’t want to draw his gun anymore, but he is also a moral man who will do what’s necessary. The locations switch from narrow, claustrophobic passages to vast mountain landscapes as swirling winds beckon the final shoot-out. Ripstein would go on to become one of Mexico’s leading filmmakers, writing and directing such well-regarded works as Hell without Limits, The Beginning and the End, and The Virgin of Lust. (His most recent film is 2015’s Bleak Street.) A fiftieth anniversary restoration of Time to Die premiered at Cannes last year and is now having its inaugural American theatrical release, opening September 15 at Film Forum. Don’t miss this lost classic of Mexican cinema.

ON THE SHORE OF THE WIDE WORLD

(photo by Ahron R. Foster)

A British family tries to cope following tragedy in Atlantic production of On the Shore of the Wide World (photo by Ahron R. Foster)

Atlantic Theater Company
Linda Gross Theater
336 West 20th St. between Eighth & Ninth Aves.
Tuesday - Sunday through October 8, $65-$85
866-811-4111
www.atlantictheater.org

British playwright Simon Stephens has been making quite an impact on the world of New York theater recently, with the MCC production of Punk Rock, the Atlantic Theater Company’s stagings of Bluebird and Harper Regan, and the Broadway versions of Heisenberg and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, all since 2011. He’s now back at the Atlantic with his 2005 Olivier Award winner, On the Shore of the Wide World, a tightly wound, exquisitely written story of family and fidelity involving three generations of couples in Stephens’s hometown of Stockport, a working-class suburb of Manchester. Ellen (Blair Brown) and Charlie Holmes (Peter Maloney) are the old-timers, living out their golden years, but Ellen suddenly wants more. “We could buy something. Do something unusual. . . . Sell up and go somewhere we’ve never been to before,” she says. “Why?” an incredulous Charlie asks. “Just because we can,” Ellen replies. Their son, Peter (C. J. Wilson), a house restorer, is married to Alice (Mary McCann), who appears ready for a change now that their children, Alex (Ben Rosenfield) and Christopher (Wesley Zurick), are getting older. Alex, who is eighteen, is bringing home his new girlfriend, Sarah (Tedra Millan), whom the younger Christopher, who might be on the autism spectrum, instantly falls in love with. “Is he a little bit mentally ill?” Sarah, who does not have much of a filter, asks Peter, who is taken aback by the question. When tragedy strikes, the characters — which also include Paul Danzinger (Odiseas Georgiadis), Alex’s drug-dealing friend; Susan Reynolds (Amelia Workman), a pregnant woman who hires Peter to restore her house; and John Robinson (LeRoy McClain), a married man who pays an unexpected visit to Alice — reevaluate what they desire out of life as all three main couples face new crises, whether they want to or not. “You have no right to call me a coward. Nobody has any right to call another person a coward,” Charlie tells Alex. “We’re all of us cowards. All of us.”

(photo by Ahron R. Foster)

Ellen (Blair Brown) and Alice (Mary McCann) have some harsh words for each other in Simon Stephens’s Olivier Award winner (photo by Ahron R. Foster)

Originally called Helsinki as a tribute to the bleak films of Finnish director Aki Kaurismäki, On the Shore of the Wide World — named for a quote from a Keats sonnet that is cited in the play — is intricately directed by Atlantic Theater artistic director Neil Pepe (Speed-the-Plow, Celebration). Christopher Akerlind’s lighting alerts the audience as to which part of Scott Pask’s all-in-one set, comprising an abandoned hotel, Peter and Alice’s kitchen, and Charlie and Ellen’s living room, the action will be taking place next. The excellent cast of American actors all speak in Mancunian accents that only seldom feel a bit strained. Wilson (Hold on to Me Darling, The Lady from Dubuque), one of our best, most dependable actors, excels as Peter, the house restorer who suddenly loses control of his own home. Rising star Millan (Present Laughter, The Wolves) is quirkily compelling as Sarah, who calls them as she sees them, while McCann (Ghost Stories: The Shawl, Harper Regan), who is Pepe’s wife, brings a soft vulnerability to Alice. Old pros Brown (Copenhagen, Orange Is the New Black) and Maloney (Dying for It, Outside Mullingar) rise above a few awkward moments in the script. And Workman (Tender Napalm, The Death of the Last Black Man in the Whole Entire World) is tantalizingly sexy and flirtatious as the pregnant Susan; it’s no accident that the story occurs over the course of nine months. At its core, On the Shore of the Wide World, is very much about the concept of marriage and monogamy, the idea that two people dedicate themselves to each other as they grow old together. “I think it’s repressive. I think it fucks people up,” Sarah says of wedlock. “I think it stops people doing what they want to do. Shouldn’t let it. Should just live, I think.” In the end, the characters all do exactly that, on the shores of the wide world, looking out from within the house of marriage and family.

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