THE BLOODY BEGINNING
102 Norfolk St.
Saturday, October 25, $55, 5:00
For three years, Cynthia von Buhler’s participatory Speakeasy Dollhouse has been charming audiences on the Lower East Side, involving everyone in the lurid tale of the mysterious murder of her grandfather Frank Spano. As has become tradition, the immersive show will take a little detour for Halloween; instead of ticket holders showing up in period garb, on October 25 they can choose which side they want to be on: vampires, werewolves, or zombies. (VIP unicorns are already sold out.) The more you put into Speakeasy Dollhouse, the more you’ll get out of it, so just go crazy at this special Halloween edition.
108 East 15th St. at Irving Pl.
Tuesday - Sunday through November 23, $79-$100
During his more-than-half-century career in show business, writer, director, producer, and actor Garry Marshall has been behind some of the oddest, most beloved couplings on television, including Mork & Mindy, Laverne and Shirley, Me and the Chimp (well, maybe not so beloved, but certainly odd), and, well, The Odd Couple. Now the Bronx-born director of such films as The Flamingo Kid, Pretty Woman, and Beaches is back in New York with the sitcom-y Hollywood-set show Billy & Ray, about the tense, difficult collaboration between bombastic Viennese writer-director Billy Wilder (Mad Men’s Vincent Kartheiser) and hardboiled-detective author Raymond Chandler (Casa Valentina’s Larry Pine). Having broken up with his previous writing partner, Charlie Brackett, with whom he wrote Ninotchka, Hold Back the Dawn, and Ball of Fire, each of which was nominated for a screenplay Oscar, Wilder decides to go with the little-known Chandler, who turns out to be a mild-mannered, soft-spoken married professorial type who doesn’t like Wilder’s cursing, shouting, drinking, and womanizing but sneaks sips of whiskey while claiming to be a teetotaler. The two eventually dive into James M. Cain’s novel, which Chandler calls “creaky, melodramatic nonsense,” attempting to get the lurid story about lust, greed, and murder past Joseph Breen and the ridiculously stringent Motion Picture Production Code. Ambitious young producer Joseph Sistrom (Drew Gehling) tries to navigate the murky waters with the code office and the studio while Wilder’s dedicated assistant, Helen Hernandez (Sophie von Haselberg), does whatever’s necessary to keep it all from falling apart.
Although not quite the screwball comedy Marshall and playwright Mike Bencivenga (Single Bullet Theory, Happy Hour) want it to be, Billy & Ray is an engaging behind-the-scenes look at the creation of one of the greatest works in film noir history, a seminal, genre-redefining movie whose overall effect and influence had repercussions throughout Hollywood and the world. Pine is gentle and calm as Chandler, a henpecked writer initially in it just to make a buck, while a miscast Kartheiser overplays the unpredictable, iconoclastic Wilder, who fights the system despite being part of it. Gehling (On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, Jersey Boys) and von Haselberg, in her New York theater debut, offer solid support, playing their parts with an energizing gusto that serves as a much-needed break from the conflicts between the two protagonists. (If von Haselberg reminds you of Bette Midler, that’s no surprise, because she’s the daughter of the Divine Miss M; her only film appearance came as a five-year-old in Marshall’s Frankie and Johnny.) Charlie Corcoran’s set is so charming and welcoming, it’s worth checking out the model in the downstairs lobby, near some archival photographs of stills from deleted scenes from the film. (The Vineyard has also re-created part of the office with a typewriter, suitcase, and other related ephemera.) Though not nearly as taut and literate as James Lapine’s Tony-nominated Act One, the recent Broadway play about the first collaboration between Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman, Billy & Ray is a treat especially for fans of Double Indemnity, as the play reveals what went into some of the key moments of the classic noir. However, after Chandler and Wilder discuss changing the ending of the movie by cutting a scene, the play concludes with a wholly unnecessary coda that is a disturbing departure from the trusting relationship that had been built between the actors and the audience and will hopefully wind up on the cutting-room floor.
New York City zoos are celebrating Halloween with their annual Boo at the Zoo events, with special family-friendly weekend programs (as well as on Halloween itself at some locations). At the Bronx Zoo, you’ll encounter the Jack O’Lantern Illumination — Creatures of the Night in Somba Village, the Carnival of Extraordinary Animals puppet shows at the Asia Plaza Theater, 3-D carved pumpkin displays in Dancing Crane Plaza, costume parades led by the Alice Farley Dance Company, Creepy Crafts Workshops, such Creature Chats as “Birds of Halloween: Owls and Vultures” and “Batty About Bats,” magic shows in the tent at Grizzly Corner, a Music for Aardvarks Halloween sing-along at the Terrace Café, Broadway at Boo presentations by cast members of On the Town and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, a hay maze, treat stations, a dinosaur safari, and more. At the Prospect Park Zoo, there will be a scavenger hunt, Wildlife Witch magic shows, animal meet-and-greets, pumpkin treats for dingoes and baboons, costumed characters, storytelling, a Spooky Barn, and a parade and dance party. And at the Queens Zoo, Boo at the Zoo takes place October 31 – November 2, with trick-or-treat stations, costumed animal characters, a haunted habitat, pumpkin picking, face painting, arts and crafts, enrichment classes about pumas and Andean bears, and Halloween critter meetings. (Note: The Staten Island Zoo’s Spooktacular took place October 18-19, and nothing is scheduled for the Central Park Zoo and New York Aquarium.)
Union Square Theatre
100 East 17th St. between Park Ave. S. & Irving Pl.
Tuesday - Sunday through February 22, $68-$88
The main poster image for Lennon: Through a Glass Onion shows a psychedelically colored John Lennon staring back at the viewer, with two huge white holes where his eyes would be. Too much of that round emptiness, unfortunately, can be found in the two-man musical play as well. British-born Australian actor and musician John R. Waters, who will turn sixty-six on December 8, the thirty-fourth anniversary of the murder of the Smart Beatle in New York City, and pianist Stewart D’Arrietta have been touring the stripped-down production for more than twenty years. For ninety minutes, Waters, dressed in jeans, a black T-shirt, and a leather jacket, does not try to imitate Lennon as much as embody his spirit in a kind of VH1 Storytellers manner, relating episodes from John’s life, told in the first person, to the songs he wrote. He also tries to get inside Lennon’s head, imagining what the musician and peace activist might have been thinking during some of those seminal moments, but these brief narrative vignettes often feel forced, especially when Waters is discussing the day of Lennon’s death, which open and close the show. (It’s more effective when Waters incorporates Lennon’s actual words, from interviews and writings.) The music, for the most part, is splendid; Waters lets Lennon’s skills as a wordsmith shine, the intelligent, intense lyrics reverberating throughout the hazy Union Square Theatre and inside your head. He wisely doesn’t even try to mimic Lennon’s singing voice or guitar playing, instead audaciously toying around with some of the music, reinventing such songs as “Help,” “Norwegian Wood,” “Crippled Inside,” and “Working Class Hero” in inventive, at times captivating ways, with a particular focus on the White Album.
In “How Do You Sleep?,” Lennon’s public attack on songwriting partner Paul McCartney, Anthony Barrett’s lighting casts Waters’s huge shadow on the back wall, highlighting the size of the boots Waters has dared to step into, but it also emphasizes one of the faults of the show; only a few times does it step out of its own boots, curiously using visual projections for just two songs (one of which, of course, is “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”). And the vast majority of the nearly three dozen tunes, from the Beatles and the Plastic Ono Band periods through John’s solo career, right up to Double Fantasy, are heard in snippets that merely tease. D’Arrietta, who has toured his own one-man show featuring the music of Tom Waits, is masterful at the keyboards, often sounding like an entire backing band, fleshing out the arrangements and contributing background vocals as well. Lennon: Through a Glass Onion is at its best when dealing with John’s relationship with Yoko, who many fans still insist was the cause of the Fab Four breakup; renditions of “Woman” and “Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)” are among the highlights of the evening. “I’m just a lad from up north,” Waters says as Lennon at one point. John, of course, was so much more than that, but Lennon: Through a Glass Onion, though heartfelt, doesn’t quite add anything new about the man or the legend.
More than thirty years after Faith McNulty’s book The Burning Bed, which was adapted into a powerful and influential 1984 film starring Farrah Fawcett, Private Violence shows that there is still a long way to go in dealing with the very real issue of battered women. In the moving, emotional documentary, director-producer Cynthia Hill tells the story of Deanna Walters, an abused North Carolina housewife working with advocates Kit Gruelle and Stacy Cox to try to put Deanna’s dangerous and abusive husband behind bars so she can have a life with her young daughter. It’s horrifying to see photos of Deanna’s severely beaten face and body, then hear that law enforcement agencies and the legal system still often regard such cases as minor domestic disputes that do not require arrests and imprisonment. At the center of the controversy is the prevailing attitude that it is somehow the woman’s fault for not simply leaving her abusive partner, instead returning again and again for more physical and psychological torture, a premise that is proved wrong in many ways. Hill (The Guest Worker, Tobacco Money Feeds My Family) concentrates on the main narrative, not talking heads and statistics, following the developments procedurally, while more is revealed about Kit as well, who suffered her own torment at the hands of an abusive husband.
Sharply shot by photojournalist and cinematographer Rex Miller (Behind These Walls, Hill’s PBS food series A Chef’s Life), the award-winning film opens with a gripping six-minute scene that brings viewers right into the middle of a harrowing situation. “I sometimes refer to restraining orders as a last will and testament because battered women are the experts in what’s happening in their relationship, and we need — society — we need to treat them like the experts that they are,” Kit says shortly thereafter in a radio interview. “When she says, ‘He is going to kill me,’ or ‘He’s going to kill my family,’ or ‘He’s going to kill my cousin if he can’t get to me,’ we have got to step on the brakes and slow down and take that whole thing seriously.” A presentation of HBO Documentary Films, Private Violence had its New York premiere in June at the Walter Reade Theater in the “Women’s Rights and Children’s Rights” section of the 2014 Human Rights Watch Film Festival and is now playing October 17-23 at the Quad.
Mystery location in East Bushwick
Friday, October 31, third tier $50, 10:00 pm - 6:00 am
Tickets are running out for BangOn!NYC’s Warehouse of Horrors, a Halloween extravaganza to be held in a mystery site in Bushwick. This year’s frightening musical lineup features Break Science on the Live/Bass/Glitch/Trap Stage, Random Rab inspired by Burning Man, Zebra Katz, Space Jesus, Sleepy & Boo, an “aural hallucination” DJ set by Twin Shadow, the U.S. debut of PurpleDiscoMachine, and other acts. The party, which begins on Halloween night at ten o’clock and continues through six in the morning, also includes a silent disco, cuddle puddle chill zones, 3D art, a haunted house, carnival rides, a demonic performance by Team Kitty Koalition, circus and freak-show surprises, and more.