512 West 19th St. between Tenth & Eleventh Aves.
Friday, March 23, and Saturday, March 24, $15-$20, 8:00
Nearly thirty years ago, writer and performance artist Constance DeJong and multimedia artist Tony Oursler performed Relatives at the Kitchen, a duet between a human being and a television set that explored questions of family and genealogy through spoken and visual text and various forms of technology. The work, which was commissioned by the ICA Boston, incorporated aspects of art, language, video games, and cinema in telling the story of the fictional McCloud family in words and images. DeJong and Oursler — the two also collaborated with Stephen Vitiello for the 1995 online project Fantastic Prayers, and DeJong portrayed Madam X in Oursler’s recent 5-D Imponderable film and installation at MoMA — are bringing the piece back for two special performances this weekend, Friday and Saturday night at the Kitchen, where it played in 1989, a few years after the video revolution spurred by the success of MTV, so it should be fascinating to see how it has aged in the iPhone generation. “After seeing me perform, Tony invited me to see his work and, almost immediately, he suggested we collaborate,” the Cleveland-born DeJong tells Rachel Valinsky in a new interview on the Kitchen blog. “I was using prerecorded audio in performance and wanted to introduce video in my live work. Tony was like no one. His video sensibility was unique, partly a generational difference: he was twenty-six and had made, in single-channel videos, a very compelling comingling of DIY methods (drawing, paint, cardboard, etc.) and time-based technology. That early Oursler aesthetic is in Relatives.”
Meanwhile, New York City native Oursler explains, “When constructing this work together we played with the idea of a dialogue between live and prerecorded characters and the duality and mutability of image and text. Relatives attempts to register these narrative relationships to a cast of bit players strewn across a vast history of mediums and technologies. As always, our memories have migrated in various forms to oil paintings, home movies and videos, snapshots, and social media, only to be reshuffled by successive generations. DeJong takes a circuitous route through this terrain, pointing out an unlikely family history while always returning to the dilemma of the relationship between the individual and the screen.” At one point in the show, DeJong, in character, looking at images on a small TV, says, “The emotive value of colors, of symbolic animals and plants, I am compelled to arrange my elements much as wind arranges leaves, as a magnet attracts from a pile of things. The number eleven, in this figure which attracts me like no other, my identity, Georgia McCloud, is revealed and yet concealed.” That duology is at the heart of Relatives, which is organized at the Kitchen by Matthew Lyons. “We were working in the dark in a way,” DeJong adds. “Neither of us had produced a performance like this, made of concurrent language and video.”
CinéSalon: JEALOUSY (LA JALOUSIE) (Philippe Garrel, 2013)
French Institute Alliance Française, Florence Gould Hall
55 East 59th St. between Madison & Park Aves.
Tuesday, March 20, $14, 4:00 & 7:30
Series continues through April 17
Nearly fifty years after the release of his first film, the short Les enfants désaccordés, post-New Wave auteur Philippe Garrel has made one of his most intimate and personal works, the deeply sensitive drama Jealousy. Garrel’s son, Louis, who has previously appeared in his father’s Regular Lovers, Frontier of the Dawn, and A Burning Hot Summer, stars as Louis, a character based on Garrel’s own father, essentially playing his own grandfather. As the film opens, Louis, an actor, is leaving his wife, Clothilde (Rebecca Convenant), for another woman, Claudia (Anna Mouglalis). A talented but unsuccessful actress, Claudia immediately bonds with Louis’s young daughter, Charlotte (Olga Milshtein). But soon jealousies of all kinds — professional, romantic, maternal, paternal, residential, and financial — affect all the characters’ desires to find happiness in life.
Shot in widescreen black-and-white by Belgian cinematographer Willy Kurant, who has photographed such films as Jean-Luc Godard’s Masculin Féminin, Agnès Varda’s Les creatures, and Maurice Pialat’s À nos amours during his glorious career, Jealousy is a subtle meditation on the many fears that can accompany love. Somewhat of an innocent, Louis doesn’t yet realize the consequences of his actions, thinking that he can slide through life and good things will just happen. But as his love for the secretive Claudia grows, so do the problems they all encounter. Philippe Garrel wrote the film, which is divided into two sections, titled “I Kept the Angels” and “Sparks in a Powder Keg,” with three collaborators, Caroline Deruas, Arlette Langmann, and Marc Cholodenko, who each took on different scenes, resulting in a choppiness that can be off-putting and disorienting at times, but the strong performances (featuring significant improvisation), tender pacing, quiet interludes, and melancholic score by Jean-Louis Aubert overcome that drawback. The film is very much a family affair — in addition to Philippe directing his son playing Philippe’s father, Philippe’s daughter, Esther Garrel, plays Louis’s sister — adding to the poignancy and intimacy of this very moving story. Jealousy is screening March 20 at 4:00 and 7:30 in the FIAF CinéSalon series “Louis Garrel: Love Songs & Heartbreak,” consisting of films starring and/or directed by Garrel, continuing with Valeria Bruni Tedeschi’s Un château en Italie paired with Garrel’s short La Règle de trois on April 3, Garrel’s feature Two Friends on April 10, and Christophe Honoré’s Love Songs and Garrel’s Little Tailor on April 17. All screenings will be followed by a wine and beer reception.
Legendary interdisciplinary artist Meredith Monk offers a brief prologue to her latest evening-length work, Cellular Songs, with an audiovisual installation in the lobby at the BAM Harvey Theater. Five small monitors, side by side and just about at eye level, show five women (the primary cast of Cellular Songs) uttering sounds as the camera cuts from facial close-ups to just their mouths and to X-rays of the human brain and hand. It serves as an aperitif to the main course, a gorgeous seventy-five-minute piece incorporating experimental sound, movement, video, and lighting. The show begins with a film by Katherine Freer of five enormous hands projected on the stage floor, touching and clutching fingers. Monk then walks out with four members of her Vocal Ensemble, Ellen Fisher, Katie Geissinger, Allison Sniffin, and Jo Stewart, all dressed in loose-fitting white and beige costumes by Yoshio Yabara, who also designed the environment, which features several chairs, a piano in one corner, and a small pile of white clothes near the back. Individually and as a unit, the five women vocalize sounds that form unique rhythms, complemented by their movement, which includes lying on the floor, gathering around the piano, and sitting in a circle, holding hands. Joe Levasseur’s lighting goes from individual and group spots to bathing the production in reds and blues. In the program, Monk explains, “Some of the pieces have much more dissonance and chromatic kind of harmonies, and the forms are almost like three-dimensional sculptures. Earlier, my music had much more to do with layering. Now you can almost see or hear the piece rotating as if it were a sculpture in space, though it’s just a musical form.”
Cellular Songs is a follow-up to the environmentally conscious On Behalf of Nature and was inspired by Siddartha Mukherjee’s Pulitzer Prize–winning book, The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer. The seventy-five-year-old New York City native has taken the concept of the cell as both healthy and unhealthy biological unit and applied it to music, as if each note is a cell. The majority of the utterances by the five performers are just sounds, although at one point Monk (Songs of Ascension, Vessel) sings the song “Happy Woman,” in which she repeats “I’m a happy woman” over and over again, along with some other adjectives replacing “happy.” The work is about transcendence and connection, about the life cycle of birth, life, and death, as revealed when the Vocal Ensemble is joined by ten members of the Young People’s Chorus of New York City; the fifteen girls and women split into three sets of five by age, each group in slightly different costumes. As Monk also explains in the program, “As artists, we’re all contending with what to do at a time like this. I wanted to make a piece that can be seen as an alternative possibility of human behavior, where the values are cooperation, interdependence, and kindness, as an antidote to the values that are being propagated right now.” Cellular Songs is a multimedia celebration of hope in a deeply troubled era, offering tired souls the opportunity to immerse themselves in a uniquely uplifting aural and visual landscape that is free of sentimentality or rage, instead a place for contemplation, harmony, and more than a little magic.
Ellen Stewart Theatre, La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club
66 East Fourth St. between Second & Third Aves.
Thursday to Monday, March 16 - April 1, $21-$26
Japanese playwright and director Takeshi Kawamura and Michigan-born Obie and Bessie–winning multimedia artist John Jesurun have collaborated on Distant Observer: Tokyo/New York Correspondence, making its world premiere March 16 to April 1 at La MaMa. In a cross-cultural theatrical conversation, Kawamura (Japan Wars, A Man Called Macbeth) and Jesurun (Chang in a Void Moon, Deep Sleep) alternated writing chapters involving a murderer seeking to reinvent himself in Japan’s Suicide Forest; they will share both writing and directing credit for the piece, which features Anastasia Olowin, Kotoba Dan, Claire Buckingham, Kyle Griffiths, and Samuel Im. The March 18 performance will be followed by a talkback with Kawamura, Jesurun, and Japanese theater scholar and journalist Kyoko Iwaki, moderated by CUNY’s Dr. Frank Hentschker.
210 West 46th St. at Broadway
Tuesday - Sunday through November 18, $59-$169
Greg Garcia and Mike O’Malley do a phenomenal job adapting Jimmy Buffet’s songs into the rousing Escape to Margaritaville, which opened tonight at the Marquis Theatre. The television veterans and first-time book writers have created a show that was well on its way toward being one of the best new musicals on Broadway — until the last half hour or so rapidly devolved into saccharine, lowest-common-denominator fluff. But up till then, it’s a tasty buffet featuring a bright young cast, astute direction by Christopher Ashley, playful choreography by Kelly Devine, and a flurry of Easter eggs that will delight laid-back Parrotheads everywhere. The plot is about as basic as it comes. Tammy (Lisa Howard) is preparing to marry the doltish, beer-swilling, sports-obsessed Chadd (Ian Michael Stuart). The week before the wedding, Tammy and her best friend, Rachel (Alison Luff), jet off on a Caribbean bachelorette vacation. While Tammy is looking forward to partying and flirting, Rachel, an environmental scientist, is more interested in getting cell service and collecting soil samples from the top of a volcano. The adorable Rachel is immediately pounced on by the love-’em-and-leave-’em Tully Mars (Paul Alexander Nolan), a Buffett-like singer-songwriter and islander who is the primary entertainment at the not-quite-luxurious Margaritaville Hotel and Bar, where work is a dirty four-letter word. Tully’s best friend, Brick (Eric Petersen), is a clueless but lovable bartender who takes an instant liking to Tammy. The hotel is owned and operated by Marley (Rema Webb), with Jamal (Andre Ward) in charge of keeping the guests happy; both characters are colonialist leftovers that should have been more sensitively developed instead of merely being outdated stereotypes. While Rachel lets down her hard-shell exterior and warms up to Tully’s incessant advances, Tammy is having such a good time with Brick that she is reconsidering her situation with Chadd. But when the volcano threatens to explode, everybody is forced to reevaluate their lives and loves.
Garcia (My Name Is Earl, Raising Hope) and O’Malley (Survivor’s Remorse, Shameless) have done their homework, creating a tight book that is filled with myriad minor details that later pop up in the songs; Buffett fans might get an inkling of what’s to come, but even newbies will get a kick out of how it all comes full circle. For example, J.D. (Don Sparks), an older, one-eyed drunken pilot, is constantly misplacing the salt. When the company performs Buffett’s most famous tune, “Margaritaville,” J.D. takes the microphone when it comes time for the favorite line “Searchin’ for my lost shaker of salt.” Similarly, the diet that Chadd puts Tammy on, consisting of only carrot juice and sunflower seeds, is taken from “Cheeseburger in Paradise.” And if you’re wondering why Tammy and Rachel are from Cincinnati, just listen closely to the beginning of “Fins.” The show gets just about everything right, including inventive uses of wires to show characters snorkeling, until the last handful of scenes, when it degenerates suddenly into treacly Broadway clichés, turning its back on the risky plot choices that came before; to have really shaken up the genre and been a creative whole, it actually could have ended at intermission, or at least about halfway through the second act, and avoid the approaching shipwreck. Alas, the rest was so dreadful that I almost wanted to make my escape from Margaritaville, but I stuck it out.
The music, of course, is a helluva lot of fun. For the most part, Michael Utley’s orchestrations remain faithful to Buffett’s originals, only occasionally going over the top and becoming Broadway-fied; Buffett was involved in the song selection and tweaked some tunes for the show in addition to writing “Three Chords” for Tully and Rachel. Walt Spangler’s hotel set makes you feel like you’re in the Caribbean, partying with the tourists. (Yes, there are margaritas available for purchase; at an early preview the theater reportedly ran out of Triple Sec because demand was so high.) Howard (It Shoulda Been You, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee) has charm and energy to boot as Tammy, while Luff (Les Misérables, Matilda) is smart and sexy as Rachel. Petersen (School of Rock, Elf) provides plenty of comic relief, but Nolan (Bright Star, Doctor Zhivago) is a bit too smarmy as Tully, even as his heart warms up to unexpected possibilities. It’s a shame that the ending is so banal, running out of creative risks the way the theater bar ran out of Triple Sec.
Austrian native and SVA grad Erwin Redl writes in his artist statement, “Since 1997, I have investigated the process of ‘reverse engineering’ by (re-)translating the abstract aesthetic language of virtual reality and 3‑D computer modeling back into architectural environments by means of large-scale light installations. In this body of work, space is experienced as a second skin, our social skin, which is transformed through my artistic intervention. Due to the very nature of its architectural dimension, participating by simply being ‘present’ is an integral part of the installations. Visual perception works in conjunction with corporeal motion, and the subsequent passage of time.” Which is a rather complex way of saying he makes really cool things with light. Redl, who lives and works in New York City and Bowling Green, Ohio, is responsible for “Whiteout,” a dazzling kinetic light display continuing in Madison Square Park through March 25.
The site-specific commissioned piece features nine hundred programmed white LED spheres that dangle in long rows from a grid of steel poles. Redl, whose other public art projects include “Seeing Spartanburg in a New Light” in South Carolina and “Saw Mill River Suspension” under the Van der Donck Park Bridge in Yonkers, is inspired by such artists as Robert Irwin, James Turrell, Doug Wheeler, and Fred Sandback. “I am intrigued by the park’s option of a large-scale installation that blurs the border between the virtual and the real,” he said in a statement. “The physicality of the swaying orbs in conjunction with the abstract animations of their embedded white lights allows the public to explore a new, hybrid reality in this urban setting.” The transparent white orbs hover just above the grass of the Oval Lawn, turning on and off in complex algorithms, moving with the wind like a silent dance in ever-shifting wave patterns. Redl has documented the development and installation of “Whiteout” and followed it through the fall and winter; you can see photos and videos here.
The New Group at the Pershing Square Signature Center
The Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre
480 West 42nd St. between between Ninth & Tenth Aves.
Tuesday - Sunday through April 15, $40 - $125
Right from the start, Tony-winning playwright David Rabe and director Scott Elliott make everyone in the Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre at the Pershing Square Signature Center equal in the New York premiere of Good for Otto. After the audience is seated and the doors are closed, several people enter the stage from the rear and sit in either one row of freestanding, umatched chairs on either side or two rows of fixed seats in the back. It’s a combination of the cast and audience members, sitting next to one another, with no separation. For the next briskly paced three hours, actors get up, share their joys and anxieties (mostly the latter) with one of two therapists at the Northwood Mental Health Center in the fictional town of Harrington near the Berkshire Mountains, then return to their seat. The central figure, part conductor, part stage manager a la Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, is Dr. Robert Michaels (a sweetly charming Ed Harris), a calm, good-natured psychiatrist who runs the clinic. He’s a poetic, positive-thinking counselor who explains in the beginning, “In spite of the bucolic countryside, in spite of the sky, the trails, the lakes, pain is plentiful here. Twenty-first century Americans in the land of plenty. But there’s money problems; family and work pressure. Autism. O.C.D. Alcohol and drug abuse, sexual abuse. Being young. Getting old. It all sits hidden in our little world of bright skies, bright lakes, and tall trees. And then finally, of course, there’s simply and always the problem of being human.” Dr. Michaels and his colleague, therapist Evangeline Ryder (Amy Madigan, Harris’s real-life wife), see patients who have trouble relating to others, whether they be friends, family (especially mothers), or strangers, while feeling out of place in contemporary society.
Timothy (Mark Linn-Baker) is a grown man who is a little too close to his pet hamster, the palindromic Otto. Jane (Kate Buddeke) can’t get over the horror of her son Jimmy’s (Michael Rabe, the playwright’s son) suicide. Barnard (F. Murray Abraham) is a married septuagenarian who would rather not get out of bed every day. Alex (Maulik Pancholy) is a young man trying to come to terms with his homosexuality. Frannie (Rileigh McDonald) is an abused teenage girl with a storm inside her and considering a new life with her foster mother, Nora (Rhea Perlman), who is afraid that both of them are already too broken. And Jerome (Kenny Mellman of Kiki and Herb) is a piano-playing hipster drowning in boxes and a mother (Laura Esterman) who doesn’t understand him. Meanwhile, Dr. Michaels has his own issues, often seeing and talking to his mother (Charlotte Hope), who killed herself when he was nine; he knows it’s all in his head, but he can’t stop it. A dedicated and caring therapist, he also has trouble with boundaries. “You can’t get involved,” Evangeline tells him. “Your feelings — my feelings — our baggage — we can’t let it leak into the work.”
In his fourth work produced by the New Group, following Hurlyburly, An Early History of Fire, and Sticks and Bones, Rabe is not digging deep into Sigmund Freud territory but merely exploring what ails everyone. “So many thoughts in our heads. In each of our heads,” Dr. Michaels’s mother explains. “Thoughts racing around, over each other, under each other. Thoughts hiding thoughts. Thoughts hunting for other thoughts that are hiding from the thoughts hunting them. And all of them doing it all at once. My goodness. What a madhouse.” The madhouse is inside us as we watch various characters deliver long monologues — and the rest of the excellent cast, which also includes Lily Gladstone as Denise, the clinic secretary, and Nancy Giles as Marcy, an insurance company case manager, watches as well. Oscar and Obie winner Abraham (Homeland, Amadeus) brings a Shakespearean flair to the proceedings, while Linn-Baker (My Favorite Year, On the Twentieth Century) balances humor and fear as the autistic man-child Timothy. Dr. Michaels’s penchant for singing old songs, which he introduces by playing a pitch pipe, feels frivolous, but otherwise Good for Otto hits its mark. Rabe (In the Boom Boom Room, Streamers) was inspired by Richard O’Connor’s 1997 book, Undoing Depression, which begins: “The essential question that patients and therapists ask themselves over and over is: why is it so hard to get better.” It is clear from the start that Good for Otto is not about anyone getting better. It’s about the pain of being human and the little quirks and imperfections we all have, from patients and doctors to actors and theatergoers, as we keep spinning our wheels like metaphorical hamsters in psychological cages.