Dorothy Strelsin Theatre, Abingdon Theatre Company
Abingdon Theatre Arts Complex
312 West 36th St. between Eighth & Ninth Aves.
Tuesday - Sunday through January 29, $25
Jason O’Connell lets his inner geek rise in his intimate and entertaining one-man show, The Dork Knight, which opened last night at the Abingdon Theatre, where it runs through January 29 but deserves a longer engagement. O’Connell, who has appeared in such recent envelope-pushing Bedlam productions as Sense & Sensibility, Hamlet, and The Seagull as well as A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Pearl, shares his deep connection to the Batman superhero, which started for him as a child but really began taking off when Tim Burton’s Batman was released in 1989, starring Michael Keaton as the Caped Crusader and Jack Nicholson as the Joker. “That just seemed to combine everything I cared about at a very specific, formative moment in my life. And it was popular!” O’Connell, who was a high school senior in Commack when the film came out, says. “So for me, a kid who was never really on board with the popular thing — to suddenly see people loving something that I had always loved was . . . intoxicating. And from that moment on, for better or worse, the Batman movies became these touchstones in my life.” The Hofstra graduate shares personal details seen through the lens of Batman, Batman Returns, Batman Forever, Batman & Robin, the Dark Knight trilogy, and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, doing impressions of Michael Keaton, George Clooney, Val Kilmer, and Christian Bale as Batman, Nicholson and Heath Ledger as the Joker, Danny DeVito as Penguin, Arnold Schwarzenegger as Mr. Freeze, and Jim Carrey as the Riddler. “They say the world is divided into two groups: Superman fans and Batman fans. It’s kinda like cat people and dog people. You’re allowed to like both, of course, but usually you prefer one over the other, and that preference tends to say something true about you,” O’Connell explains. “Superman sees the good in all people. Batman distrusts everyone until they prove themselves worthy. Now, I try to keep a sunny disposition, I like to think I’m an optimist at heart, and yet . . . somehow . . . Batman has always exerted the stronger hold on me,” he adds, noting how Batman has no superpowers, that he is “just a scared little boy who transforms himself through the sheer power of his will. Batman could be anybody — with a billion dollars.”
The inaugural production in Abingdon’s Second Stage Series, The Dork Knight is playing at the tiny Dorothy Strelsin Theatre, where an audience of fifty-six sits on three sides of Jerry Marsini’s spare set, consisting of a chair and a table. O’Connell occasionally sits but usually stands, telling his story in a very personable way, making constant direct eye contact with the audience as if seeking its approval and understanding — which he receives, as members of the audience regularly nod in agreement, cathartically letting a little bit of their own inner geek out. There’s also a lot of laughter along with the self-deprecating and brutally honest O’Connell’s clever insight, which includes seeing plenty of Hamlet in Burton’s Batman. His Keaton impression is dead-on; with just a few facial gestures, he looks and sounds like the controversial Batman portrayer. His Ahnuld is excellent as well, faring better than some of his others. Directed by Abingdon artistic director Tony Speciale (The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey, Stet), The Dork Knight is a fun and involving eighty-minute confession about the effects pop culture has on us all. At one point, O’Connell discusses a would-be high school date in which he and “this beautiful athlete/artist/musician who drove a convertible and had long, blonde hair that smelled like strawberries” went to see Batman, and after the film, she declared, “‘That’s a classic. That’s our generation’s Star Wars. It’s our Wizard of Oz. This is, like, art.’ To which I said, ‘Marry me please we get married now!’ She didn’t. No one has yet. But that’s another one-person show.” Whenever that next one-person show is, we hope O’Connell sends out the Bat signal, because we’ll be there in a jiffy.
312 West 36th Street, third floor
Tuesday - Sunday through January 28, $18
Just a few minutes into the second act of the world premiere of Stuart Fail’s Consider the Lilies at the TBG Theatre, I imagined myself standing up, screaming out, “Stop! I can’t take anymore!” and storming out. It was only after the interminable play ended, more than two and a half hours after it had begun, that my companion told me that she had thought about doing the same, only during the first act. Either way, Consider the Lilies, despite the central presence of Tony-nominated director (Between Riverside and Crazy, The Little Foxes), actor (Fiddler on the Roof, Homicide: Life on the Street), and playwright (Booth, Orson’s Shadow) Austin Pendleton, is not worth considering. Pendleton, whose long career was justly celebrated in last year’s Starring Austin Pendleton, plays Paul, an aging artist trying to make a go of it in Paris, where he is coddled by his young agent, former actor David (Eric Joshua Davis). Paul, a bisexual alcoholic most famous for his decades-old iconic painting of lilies, is in love with David, who also loves Paul, but not in that way; instead, David is involved with Angela (Liarra Michelle), who is waiting for him back in New York City while he works with the nervous Paul, who is having a show in Paris at François’s (Joseph Hamel) gallery but desperately wants to be relevant again across the pond. Fail, who wrote and directed the work for House Red Theatre Company, which he runs with Davis — this play is the troupe’s first New York City production — also throws in several subplots about unwanted pregnancies and fathers and sons that pile one on top of another in a confusing mess. The play, which takes its name from a biblical verse from Matthew, devolves even further upon the arrival of hot young artist Zack (Peter Collier), while Alec Merced portrays three characters who appear to have walked onto the wrong set. Pendleton is fun to watch in the first act, all quirky and squirmy, but Paul, along with the story, grows more and more annoying and ridiculous after intermission. At one point, it was more exciting following the reflection from Davis’s watch dancing across the floor than what was happening onstage. And be advised that lilies can signify either fertility or death; you can consider that a warning.
VERTIGO (Alfred Hitchcock, 1958)
Rubin Museum of Art
150 West 17th St. at Seventh Ave.
Friday, January 20, $10, 9:30
Series continues Friday nights through April 28
The Rubin Museum Cabaret Cinema series “Perception” continues January 20 with Alfred Hitchcock’s 1958 mind-altering, fetishistic psychological thriller, Vertigo. Based on Boileau-Narcejac’s 1954 novel, D’entre les morts, the film delves deep into the nature of fear and obsession. Jimmy Stewart stars as John “Scottie” Ferguson, a police detective who retires after his acrophobia leads to the death of a fellow cop. An old college classmate, wealthy businessman Gavin Elster (Tom Holmore), asks Scottie to look into his wife’s odd behavior; Elster believes that Madeleine (Kim Novak) is being inhabited by the spirit of Carlotta Valdes, her great-grandmother, a woman who committed suicide in her mid-twenties, the same age that Madeleine is now. Scottie follows Madeleine as she goes to Carlotta’s grave, visits a portrait of her in a local museum, and jumps into San Francisco Bay. Scottie rescues her, brings her to his house, and starts falling in love with her. But on a visit to Mission San Juan Bautista, tragedy strikes when Scottie can’t get to the top of the tower because of his vertigo. After a stint in a sanatorium, he wanders the streets of San Francisco where he and Madeleine had fallen in love, as if hoping to see a ghost — and when he indeed finds a woman who reminds him of Madeleine, a young woman named Judy Barton (Novak), he can’t help but try to turn her into his lost love, with tragedy waiting in the wings once again.
Vertigo is a twisted tale of sexual obsession, much of it filmed in San Francisco, making the City by the Bay a character all its own as Scottie travels down Lombard St., takes Madeleine to Muir Woods, stops by Ernie’s, and saves Madeleine under the Golden Gate Bridge. The color scheme is almost shocking, with bright, bold blues, reds, and especially greens dominating scenes. Hitchcock, of course, famously had a thing for blondes, so it’s hard not to think of Stewart as his surrogate when Scottie insists that Judy dye her hair blonde. Color is also central to Scottie’s psychedelic nightmare (designed by artist John Ferren), a Spirographic journey through his mind and down into a grave. Cinematographer Robert Burks’s use of the dolly zoom, in which the camera moves on a dolly in the opposite direction of the zoom, keeps viewers sitting on the edge of their seats, adding to the fierce tension, along with Bernard Herrmann’s frightening score. Despite their age difference, there is pure magic between Stewart, forty-nine, and Novak, twenty-four. (Stewart and Novak next made Bell, Book, and Candle as part of the deal to let Novak work for Paramount while under contract to Columbia.) The production was fraught with problems: The screenplay went through Maxwell Anderson, Alec Coppel, and finally Samuel A. Taylor; shooting was delayed by Hitchcock’s health and vacations taken by Stewart and Novak; a pregnant Vera Miles was replaced by Novak; Muir Matheson conducted the score in Europe, instead of Herrmann in Hollywood, because of a musicians’ strike; associate producer Herbert Coleman reshot one scene using the wrong lens; Hitchcock had to have a bell tower built atop Mission San Juan Bautista after a fire destroyed its steeple; and the studio fought for a lame alternate ending (which was filmed). Perhaps all those difficulties, in the end, helped make Vertigo the classic it is today, gaining in stature over the decades, from mixed reviews when it opened to a controversial restoration in 1996 to being named the best film of all time in Sight & Sound’s 2012 poll to a recent digital restoration.
Vertigo is screening January 20 at 9:30 at the Rubin as part of “Perception,” which asks the questions “Can the truth truly be trusted? Is it objective or rather tinted by our experience and memories?” The series, part of the museum’s always innovative Brainwave programming, continues through April 28 with such other mind-bending films as Spike Jonze’s Her, Michel Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and the Wachowskis’ The Matrix, with all shows introduced by a scientific expert. Brainwave, meanwhile, features such talks as David Nichtern, Ethan Nichtern, and Samantha Boardman discussing “Can there be such a thing as mindful politics?” on February 1, Walter Murch and Heather Berlin answering the question “How is movie magic made?” on February 4, and Khentrul Thokmeth Rinpoche and Gaëlle Desbordes wondering, “Can meditation change the world?” on March 12.
Brooklyn Academy of Music
BAM Harvey Theater
651 Fulton St.
Through February 5, $35-$110
Galway’s Druid Theatre Company is celebrating the twentieth anniversary of one of its biggest successes, Martin McDonagh’s Olivier- and Tony-nominated The Beauty Queen of Leenane, with a searing revival running at the BAM Harvey through February 5. Written in a week and a half when the playwright, who was born and raised in London to Irish parents, was twenty-four, Beauty Queen is set in a ramshackle house in rural Connemara, where disillusioned forty-year-old virgin Maureen Folan (Aisling O’Sullivan) takes care of her bitter, nasty seventy-year-old mother, Mag (Marie Mullen). The two are at each other’s throats constantly, fighting like married couple George and Martha in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and sisters Jane and Blanche Hudson in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? “You’re oul and you’re stupid and you don’t know what you’re talking about. Now shut up and eat your oul porridge,” Maureen says to her mother, who spends most of her day sitting in a rocking chair, waiting for the news to come on the television, surviving on lumpy porridge, biscuits, and the nutritional drink Complan. Early on, Maureen, after being called a “whore” by Mag, tells her mother about a daydream she has about her mother’s death, which would free her to finally have a life of her own and find a man who loves her. “Not at all is that a nice dream. That’s a mean dream,” Mag says, to which Maureen replies, “I don’t know if it is or it isn’t. I suppose now you’ll never be dying. You’ll be hanging on forever, just to spite me.” Mag: “I will be hanging on forever!” Maureen: “I know you will!” Mag: “Seventy you’ll be at my wake, and then how many men’ll there be round your waist with their aftershave?” Maureen: “None at all, I suppose.” Mag: “None at all is right!” But when Ray Dooley (Aaron Monaghan) invites Maureen to a party and she comes home with his older brother, Pato (Marty Rea), who spends the night, both women up the ante as Maureen thinks Pato, who just got a job in Boston, is her way out while Mag is determined not to be left alone to rot away.
Part of a trilogy with A Skull in Connemara and The Lonesome West, The Beauty Queen of Leenane is a sizzling black comedy, with nary a word or movement out of place. Original director Garry Hynes, who cofounded the Druid in 1975 with Mullen and Mick Lally, once again does a spectacular job with McDonagh’s (The Cripple of Inishmaan, The Pillowman) sharp, focused writing, which was inspired by American films; there’s a cinematic aspect to the play, as if the audience can visualize the scenes that are only referred to in the dialogue, occurring outside Francis O’Connor’s run-down kitchen set, its sides torn off as if psychologically ripped away from reality. (McDonagh has also written and directed several movies, including In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths.) In addition, the set features metal rods hanging from above like crosses and depictions of Mary and Jesus, which stand in sharp contract to mother Mag and daughter Maureen, neither of whom is a saint. The 1998 Broadway production was nominated for seven Tonys, including Best Play and nods for all four actors, and won four awards, for Best Leading Actress (Mullen as Maureen), Best Featured Actor (Tom Murphy as Ray, who beat out costar Brían F. O’Byrne as Pato), Best Featured Actress (Anna Manahan as Mag), and Best Director (Hynes, the first woman to win a Tony in that category). The four cast members of this blistering revival, who appeared together in Druid’s 2014 production of Dion Boucicault’s The Colleen Bawn, also directed by Hynes, give award-worthy performances as well. O’Sullivan is magnificent as Maureen, a nearly beaten woman who suddenly comes to life when potential love walks through the door; even her outfits, by O’Connor, are spectacular, from a sexy black dress to a slim slip. Mullen, who portrayed Maureen in the original production, is phenomenal now as Mag, who is no mere grumpy old hypochondriac. Rea is gentle and touching as Pato, wonderfully delivering the long, beautiful letter-soliloquy that opens the second act, while Monaghan serves up fine, frantic comic relief as Ray, whose wacky ramblings actually are realistic interpretations of contemporary Ireland. The heart of the story might be the relationship between mother and daughter, but Ray adds references to the state of the nation, referencing unemployment, emigration, the financial crisis, the media, and other current events that still ring true today, as does the age-old struggle for dominance in the never-ending mother-daughter battle.
WILLIAM KENTRIDGE: TRIUMPHS AND LAMENTS (Giovanni Troilo, 2016)
Film Society of Lincoln Center, Walter Reade Theater
165 West 65th St. at Amsterdam Ave.
Tuesday, January 17, 6:00, and Thursday, January 19, 4:15
New York Jewish Film Festival runs January 11-24
South African multimedia artist William Kentridge has made animated short films, designed and directed operas, performed one-man shows, delivered the Norton Lecture at Harvard, and exhibited works (including drawing, video, sculpture, and installation) around the world. Italian director and photographer Giovanni Troilo documents one of Kentridge’s grandest, most ambitious projects in William Kentridge: Triumphs and Laments, having its world premiere at the New York Jewish Film Festival this week. For more than a dozen years, Kentridge and site-specific artist and curator Kristin Jones were involved in planning “Triumphs and Laments: A Project for Rome,” a mural and live procession along a more-than-five-hundred-yard stretch of the Tiber River celebrating the history of the Eternal City. But Kentridge adds his own subtle sociopolitical twist, as he has done throughout his career with such works as his series of films about Soho Eckstein and Felix Teitlebaum. “The glories of imperial Rome were only possible through unbelievable and unbearable acts of cruelty, enacted on a massive scale,” he explains in the documentary, noting that he will link such disparate characters as Romulus and Remus with Pier Paolo Pasolini among the ninety figures. “Every colonial empire is there only through enormous acts of violence. The great things that were built, they’re always on the back of other people.” Part of Tevereterno, “a multidisciplinary cultural project for the revival of Rome’s Tiber River,” founded by artistic director Jones in 2001, “Triumphs and Laments” becomes enmeshed in a labyrinth of bureaucracy as an ever-more-emotional Jones fights for permits amid an ever-changing local government while Kentridge battles to get every detail just right, from the large-scale stencil drawings to the pacing of the procession. Wearing his trademark black pants and white button-down shirt, Kentridge is shown driving around his hometown of Johannesburg, describing his process in his studio, taking a boat ride along the Tiber, listening to longtime collaborator Philip Miller’s orchestration, and continually worrying about the potential realization of the project, up to the very last minute. At one point Jones and Kentridge bump into the mayor, who is riding his bike in the area; the chance meeting seems serendipitous until scandal forces the municipal head from office.
A fascinating theorist with an unpredictable sense of humor, Kentridge explains that his main goal is to “try to find the triumph in the lament and the lament in the triumph,” saying that “it only works if it’s possible to have an irreverence for the history.” Troilo also speaks with Miller, co-composer Thuthuka Sibisi, and others who offer their thoughts about working with Kentridge and the specifics of the project, one that will be temporary, since the procession is a one-time-only event and the stencils will eventually fade away, much like parts of Roman history. Kentridge, who was the subject of a major retrospective, “Five Themes,” at MoMA in 2010, is always a joy to watch, and that is as true as ever here in Rome, as he conducts another unique and unusual work as only he can. William Kentridge: Triumphs and Laments is screening on January 17 and 19 at the Walter Reade Theater, with producer Andrea Patierno participating in Q&As following each show. The twenty-sixth annual New York Jewish Film Festival, a joint production of the Jewish Museum and the Film Society of Lincoln Center, continues through January 24 with more than three dozen programs, from new fiction and nonfiction films to special tributes to Valeska Gert and the duo of Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder and a master class with Israeli documentarian Tomer Heymann.
On March 6, 1923, between acts of God of Vengeance, which had begun its Broadway run at the Apollo Theatre on February 19, detectives informed the twelve actors and the producer that they had been indicted for “unlawfully advertising, giving, presenting, and participating in an obscene, indecent, immoral, and impure drama or play.” The cast of the show, which was written by Sholem Asch in Yiddish in 1906 but performed in English at the Apollo following a downtown engagement at the Provincetown Playhouse, included Morris Carnovsky, Sam Jaffe, and director and star Rudolph Schildkraut, who had originated the role of Yankl in the 1907 German version; the producer was First Amendment lawyer Harry Weinberger, who fought the charges and ultimately won on appeal. God of Vengeance is currently running at La MaMa, in a fine, if bumpy, New Yiddish Rep production that continues through January 22. One of the main reasons the play is being revived now is that the controversy that swirled around it almost a century ago is the subject of Rebecca Taichman and Pulitzer Prize winner Paula Vogel’s Indecent, which is transferring to Broadway in April after playing the Vineyard Theatre last spring. It also feels necessary as anti-Semitic rhetoric increases around the world; in fact, there is often debate whether the play itself contains anti-Semitic sentiment. Performed in Yiddish with English supertitles, God of Vengeance is a tale of family and responsibility in a Jewish Orthodox community. Yankl (Shane Baker) operates a brothel out of his basement, which makes him nervous about the future of his teenage daughter, Rifkele (Shayna Schmidt), so the less-than-virtuous businessman decides to pay for a new Sefer Torah for his daughter, believing the deed will protect her innocence and help find her a good husband despite what goes on downstairs, which is no secret. Even rabbi and matchmaker Reb Eli (New Yiddish Rep artistic director David Mandelbaum) knows what goes on below, but as long as there’s money in it for him and the Torah scribe (Eli Rosen), he is willing to look the other way. At a party for some local destitute people, Yankl declares, “Poor or rich, let the whole town know! What I am, I am. What she is, she is. It’s all true — everything. But if they say a word against my daughter . . . I’ll split their heads with this bottle!” Later, when pimp Shloyme (Luzer Twersky) suggests that Rifkele would “do good business” as a prostitute, Yankl explodes, crying out, “If you mention her name, I’ll slit your guts. She doesn’t know you, and you don’t know her!” Yankl is also upset with his wife, Sarah (director Eleanor Reissa), who has encouraged Rifkele to become friendly with one of the prostitutes, Manke (Melissa Weisz). “I don’t want my home mixing with downstairs! Keep them separate from each other. Like kosher and treyf!” he demands. But the friendship grows into something more when Rifkele and Manke declare their love for each other in a beautiful, heartwarming scene that leads to a lesbian kiss. It’s an unforgettable moment, gorgeously staged — and the one that resulted in the indictments and arrests back in 1923.
God of Vengeance also features Caraid O’Brien as Hindl, Rachel Botchan as Reyzl, and Mira Kessler as Basha, three other prostitutes, who share memories of what led them to sex work. Reissa sets the story in an indeterminate time period, which occasionally gets confusing, and the acting is inconsistent, although Schmidt, who played Miss Forsythe in New Yiddish Rep’s Death of a Salesman, and Weisz, in her off-Broadway debut, are both terrific, eliciting an exciting chemistry. Billy Martin’s music curiously lets the audience know when a new character is about to enter Vicki Davis’s crowded set. Neither Baker (NYR’s Waiting for Godot) nor O’Brien, who is also a playwright and author, is Jewish, yet they have appeared in numerous Yiddish productions; Twersky and Rosen are former Hasids, while Reissa is the daughter of Holocaust survivors. The play, known as Got Fun Nekome in Yiddish, was first presented to the public in a German version directed by Max Reinhardt and starring Schildkraut; in 2002, Donald Margulies wrote an English-language adaptation that starred Ron Leibman, Diane Venora, and Marin Hinkle. And in 2013, a production in Poland, where the play was originally banned, has an audience age restriction: No one under sixteen is allowed. Asch himself was ostracized from the Jewish community when, between 1939 and 1949, he wrote a trilogy about Christianity, The Nazarene, The Apostle, and Mary. Thus, God of Vengeance returns to New York City with quite a history. The New Yiddish Rep version is an admirable, if not wholly successful, revival, but one that is well worth seeing, especially for those theatergoers planning on going to Indecent when it arrives at the Cort Theatre in April.