Irish Repertory Theatre, Francis J. Greenburger Mainstage
132 West 22nd St. between Sixth & Seventh Aves.
Tuesday - Sunday through March 15, $50-$70
In 1992, influential printmaker Mary Farl Powers died of breast cancer at the age of forty-three. Shortly after, her partner, Irish poet Paul Muldoon, wrote Incantata, an exquisite long-form poem about the Minnesota-born artist, who spent most of her life in Ireland. Director Sam Yates and award-winning actor Stanley Townsend transformed Muldoon’s work into a wholly original sixty-minute one-man show that continues at the Irish Rep through March 15.
In the program, Muldoon recalls about writing the poem, “I was in the state of ecstasy in which almost all my poems are written — that’s to say I was standing outside myself in ‘mystic self-transcendence’ — but this particular state of ecstasy was somehow more pronounced than usual.” Yates and Townsend capture that ecstatic feeling throughout Incantata as Townsend whirls around the claustrophobic set, delivering Muldoon’s words at a glorious operatic scale, his voice deepening at certain moments, hitting you right in the gut.
Early on, he says, “I thought again of how art may be made, as it was by André Derain, / of nothing more than a turn in the road where a swallow dips into the mire / or plucks a strand of bloody wool from a strand of barbed wire / in the aftermath of Chickamauga or Culloden / and builds from pain, from misery, from a deep-seated hurt, / a monument to the human heart / that shines like a golden dome among roofs rain-glazed and leaden.” Like several stanzas, Townsend repeats it as he moves across Rosanna Vize’s set, a studio with three walls onto which he tapes sheets of paper he has imprinted with squiggly red images he creates using carved potatoes and dye, evoking Powers’s abstract “Emblements” etchings, which he refers to as “army-worms.” The stage represents Dublin’s Graphic Studio, where Powers was director for more than a decade. Potatoes are piled in one corner, a boombox plays cassettes, and Townsend, in a painter’s jumpsuit (his costumes are also by Vize), uses and repurposes a chair and table in Beuys-ian ways while often speaking directly into a camera on a tripod, as if it’s Powers herself. His face and body are projected onto the back wall, like he’s some kind of gigantic force; when he looks into the lens, his larger-than-life image is gazing straight at the audience, which can be imposing, especially as we decide whether to look at his cinematic image or his actual self. The video design is by Jack Phelan, with lighting by Paul Keogan and sound by Sinéad Diskin.
Muldoon’s (The Dead, 1904) structure was inspired by W. B. Yeats’s In Memory of Major Robert, which itself was influenced by Abraham Crowley’s seventeenth-century On the Death of Mr William Hervey, placing it firmly within the canon of Irish literary elegies. His writing also contains a tour-de-force of pop-culture, mythological, and historical references, from Van Morrison, Rembrandt, Burt Lancaster, Emily Post, Frankie Valli, Samuel Beckett, and Enrico Caruso to the Shirt of Nessus, Thomism, Lugh of the Long Arm, Dr. John Arbuthnot, Jean-Paul Sartre’s La Nausée, Brecht, and the Red Hand Commandos; please don’t Google them during the show (but you might want to afterward).
Townsend (All About Eve, Jerusalem) is extraordinary as he hunkers about the stage with an intense, intricately choreographed physicality; be sure to get to the theater early in order to watch him creating his art, which begins as soon as the doors open. He resembles a beguiling mix between William Kentridge, Christopher Hitchens, Gerard Depardieu, and Stephen Bannon, with piercing eyes and unkempt hair. Yates (The Starry Messenger, The Phlebotomist) illuminates the text with a keen understanding of its potency.
The late John Kelly, Powers’s predecessor as head of the Graphic Studio, said, “Mary Farl Powers never took an ordinary image. She always had a fantastic reason for making an image and the image gained from her intelligent approach. It set her aside. You’d see a real character behind the image. She had a very high technique, very high finish.” That description applies as well to this ingenious production of Incantata, an audacious, uncompromising elegy and love story poetically reimagined into a unique and unforgettable theatrical experience.
Classic Stage Company, Lynn F. Angelson Theater
136 East 13th St. between Third & Fourth Aves.
Tuesday - Sunday through March 15, $82-$127
In 1971, Al Adamson’s Dracula vs. Frankenstein movie pit the Transylvanian count against the lab-created Creature, both introduced to film audiences in 1931 in separate horror films that started long-running franchises. The pair of ghouls, along with the Wolf Man, also appeared together in Charles Barton’s 1948 comedy Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. And now Dracula and Frankenstein’s Monster are not face-to-face but back-to-back in Classic Stage’s creepy double feature, new adaptations of each running in repertory through March 15.
Kate Hamill, whose previous literary adaptations include wonderfully imaginative versions of Little Women, Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, and Vanity Fair, has had a helluva lotta fun with Bram Stoker’s 1897 Gothic horror novel. She calls it “a bit of a feminist revenge fantasy, really,” infusing it with a healthy dose of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and a somewhat Marxist view of class struggle while keeping the plot firmly in the bloodline of the original.
Dracula (Matthew Amendt) is put in the background of this version; in fact, all the men are secondary to the women. Hamill’s great invention is gender-switching the characters, beginning with the mad Renfield (Hamill) and most spectacularly with the vampire hunter Van Helsing (Jessica Frances Dukes); the first is now a husband-murdering woman in a lunatic asylum, the second a powerful, leather-clad female punk cowboy (think Faith from Buffy and Angel). The plot proceeds mostly according to Stoker, with a few condensations and sly alterations: Renfield is cared for by the boringly plain Doctor George Seward (Matthew Saldivar), who’s engaged to the mischievous Lucy Westenra (Jamie Ann Romero), whose BFF is the pregnant Mina Harker (Kelley Curran). Mina’s husband, solicitor Jonathan Harker (Michael Crane), has gone to Transylvania on business. The conversation sounds contemporary from the outset, albeit couched in semi-Victorian diction as when Lucy teases Mina that Jonathan probably has “some Bavarian hausfrau. Some Slovakian slattern. Some Czech chippy” there. “I cannot blame him, Mina. You have gone rather to seed,” Lucy says, poking at Mina’s belly. “That’s the baby, you cow,” Mina responds. “Excuses, excuses,” Lucy says. Mina: “I’ll remind you how amusing that is when you are in the same condition.” Lucy: “One step at a time, please.” Mina: “It happens faster than you think. One day, you’re a schoolgirl, the next —” Lucy: “A hideous bloated old broodmare —” Mina: “— condemned to a life with no greater excitement than visiting a horrible little trollop on the seaside!”
Dracula is essentially a minor character, dressed in white instead of the traditional black (the costumes are by Robert Perdziola), not as demonic as he is often depicted; rather, his strength is frankly sexual and class-based. He is protected by two henchwomen, the lustful vampires Drusilla (Laura Baranik), named after a Buffy character, and Marilla (Lori Laing), perhaps named after the spinster from Anne of Green Gables. As Dracula slowly turns Mina into the walking dead, Dr. Seward refuses to believe in any such nefarious doings, and intrepid vampire hunter Dr. Van Helsing arrives on the scene, ready to fight, quickly winning the formerly meek Mina to her side as they team up to rescue Jonathan and kill the count.
Directed by Sarna Lapine (Sunday in the Park with George, Little Women), this Dracula is a bit scattershot, all over the place as it investigates feminist themes from the Victorian era to today, as well as the emergence of working- and middle-class power versus the landed aristocracy. Renfield is a woman dealing with daddy issues, projecting her lust and religious zeal onto the unavailable Dracula, while the heroes are Mina, a twist on Buffy sweetly played by Curran (The Winter’s Tale, ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore), and Dr. Van Helsing, portrayed with fearless panache by Dukes (By the Way, Meet Vera Stark, Yellowman). Classic Stage artistic director John Doyle’s sparse set is often empty except for when beds are rolled onstage, keeping the focus on the characters themselves.
Hamill’s sense of humor shines through as she toys with genre conventions across two hours and twenty minutes with intermission. When Jonathan first meets the count upon arriving at Dracula’s deserted mansion, he says, “I was beginning to think there wasn’t a soul in the place!” This Dracula also is more aware of class warfare than usual, telling Jonathan, “If control is shifting to the masses, than I must be of the masses. I must not rule from the castle on the hill anymore. Instead, I must become a common man, anonymous; — welcomed everywhere, and remembered nowhere. A man — rather — like you.” It’s a battle of the sexes in which men, whether supernatural or human, don’t stand a chance.
Tristan Bernays is far more faithful to the original story in his stark adaptation of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s anonymously published 1818 epistolary novel Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus. The streamlined production features two actors, Stephanie Berry as Victor Frankenstein and the Creature, and Rob Morrison singing songs, playing guitar, contributing sound effects, narrating sections, and moving around the furniture, which includes a long table, a large mirror, and several small pails. (This set also is designed by Doyle.) As with Hamill’s Dracula, Bernays’s Frankenstein plays with gender identity as it explores issues of God versus man as creator. Shortly after being brought to life, the Creature starts learning language and finding its place in the world, like a child quickly growing into adulthood. But the more it understands, the less it likes.
The narration is taken directly from the source material, with added dialogue. “What if — What if I failed to speak to him in gentle tongue? What if though blind he sensed withal my horrid shape? What if his children came back swift and ruined all my plans? What if — What if —” the Creature says as he enters the home where a blind man lives. Shortly after leaving the house, the Creature looks up at the stars and screams out, “Why? Why did you mould me but for misery? Am I to never feel a friendly touch? A kindly look? Love? Compassion? Why did you make me so? Why?” The Creature ultimately confronts Dr. Frankenstein, his wife, Elizabeth, and their son, William, and declares his need for a companion, leading to a tragic conclusion.
Even at a mere eighty minutes, the play, directed by Timothy Douglas (Radio Golf, Etiquette of Vigilance), drags on. The scenes don’t flow easily into one another, feeling ragged and disjointed. Berry (Gem of the Ocean, For All the Women Who Thought They Were Mad) has some fine moments as the Creature, but the story and pace can get confusing, while Morrison (Avenue Q, Nevermore), clearly an excellent musician, seems mostly unnecessary. It ends up being more of a curiosity, which is not enough to sustain it, whether seen as a Gothic tale or a contemporary parable.
200 Eastern Parkway at Washington St.
Saturday, March 7, free (some events require advance tickets), 5:00 - 11:00
The Brooklyn Museum honors Women’s History Month for its free First Saturday March gathering with “Geographies of Gender,” programs dealing with issues of gender, queerness, and color. There will be live performances by Thelma, Christopher Unpezverde Núñez (the autobiographical Yo, Obsolete), Ushamami, DJ Sabine Blaizin, Brown Girls Burlesque (Black Femme Warrior, with Hoodoo Hussy, Chicava Honeychild, Dakota Mayhem, Skye Syren, Genie Adagio, Delysia La Chatte, and Burgandy Jones), Hanae Utamura (A Letter from Future Past [The Pacific]), and Sammus; an artist talk with Naima Green, Caroline Washington, Rin Kim Ni, and Sable Elyse Smith about Green’s Pur·suit, followed by card games using decks with portraits of queer women and trans, nonbinary, and gender-nonconforming people; teen apprentice pop-up talks focusing on gender themes in the Arts of Asia galleries; a curator tour of “Out of Place: A Feminist Look at the Collection” led by curators Catherine Morris and Carmen Hermo; a hands-on art workshop where participants can make textile collages inspired by “Out of Place”; a Belladonna* poetry reading with S*an D. Henry-Smith, Giannina Braschi, and Jesse Rice-Evans; and a night market of Brooklyn vendors with goods made by local women and nonbinary artists. In addition, the galleries will be open late so you can check out “Jacques-Louis David Meets Kehinde Wiley,” “Out of Place: A Feminist Look at the Collection,” “African Arts — Global Conversations,” “JR: Chronicles,” “Jeffrey Gibson: When Fire Is Applied to a Stone It Cracks,” “Climate in Crisis: Environmental Change in the Indigenous Americas,” and more.
NYU Skirball Center for the Performing Arts
566 La Guardia Pl.
Sunday, March 8, free, 1:00 - 10:00
NYU Skirball is facing its own Kafkaesque drama in its attempt to stage a Polish version of Franz Kafka’s The Trial. Krystian Lupa’s adaptation was scheduled to come to the Washington Square theater March 7-8, but the show was canceled when the Adam Mickiewicz Institute (AIM) cut off its funding. “Kafka’s The Trial is the story of political corruption, government censorship, and social malevolence — a story that mirrors our current global realities,” Skirball director Jay Wegman said in a statement. “Sadly, and ironically, the Polish government has pulled its funding in an attempt to silence Krystian Lupa, making this North American premiere impossible.” In a revealing Theatermania article, Wegman went toe-to-toe with AIM acting director Barbara Schabowska, arguing over what really happened, whether it was censorship, sloppiness, or incompetence.
Instead, Skirball is hosting a panel discussion and marathon reading of The Trial, presented in conjunction with the Public Theater, New York Theatre Workshop, PEN America, and CUNY’s Segal Center. The free March 8 program begins at 1:00 with “Art in Danger, Artists at Risk,” a panel featuring Monika Fabijanska, Holly Hughes, Felix Kaputu, André Lepecki, Julie Trébault, and Lupa, moderated by Catharine R. Stimpson, as they explore issues of artistic freedom, particularly amid the global populist movement. “The declaration of Minister Gliński is clear,” Lupa said in a statement. “Artists who do not sympathize with the current leadership’s cultural policy, who criticize its values, decisions, and actions, will be treated as enemies of Poland and will not be supported by the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage in any form.” From 3:00 to about 10:00, there will be a marathon reading of Kafka’s posthumously published 1925 novel, with such special guests as Salman Rushdie, Kathleen Chalfant, Zadie Smith, and Kwame Anthony Appiah. Advance RSVP is recommended but not required; there will also be limited spots available to the public the day of the event. “Someone must have been spreading lies about Josef K, for without having done anything wrong he was arrested one morning.” And so it begins.
383 Troutman St., Bushwick
Wednesday - Sunday through October 31, $95 - $265
Company XIV founder and artistic director Austin McCormick outdoes himself with his latest baroque burlesque sensation, the decadently delightful Seven Sins. It’s so tailor-made for the extremely talented troupe that the only question is, what took them so long?
The company has previously staged outré cabaret adaptations of such fairy tales as Pinocchio, Cinderella, Snow White, and Queen of Hearts in addition to Paris! and the seasonal favorite Nutcracker Rouge. They now turn their attention to the original fairy tale itself, the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Serving as host for the evening is the Devil (a fab Amy Jo Jackson), all glammed out in horns, sequins, and heels. Shortly after Adam (portrayed alternately by Scott Schneider or Cemiyon Barber; I saw the former) arrives on Earth, he is joined by Eve (Danielle Gordon or Emily Stockwell; I saw Gordon) through a bit of magic, leading to a lovely duet that incorporates contemporary dance and classical ballet to Dean Martin’s rendition of “If You Were the Only Girl in the World.” Temptation threatens in the form of a long snake carried aloft by several performers; Adam and Eve are offered a glittering red apple, feel shame in their (near-)nakedness, and cover their naughty bits with fig leaves to Paul Anka singing “Adam and Eve.”
In the next two acts, they encounter Vanity, Wrath, Lust, Jealousy, Sloth, Greed, and ultimately Gluttony, each sin getting its own scene involving dance, acrobatics, and/or song, all bursting with an intense sexuality and a wicked sense of humor. The music includes original songs by Lexxe along with classical instrumentals, opera, and tunes by Cherry Poppin’ Daddies, Nancy Sinatra, Cab Calloway, Florence and the Machine, Cardi B, the Beatles, and others. Pretty Lamé lets loose with a pair of gorgeous arias, while the awe-inspiring Marcy Richardson struts her stuff in an aerial cage and on a swinging pole and Troy Lingelbach and Nolan McKew dangle over the audience on a double lyra.
There are multiple ways to see the show, which is staged in Théâtre XIV in Bushwick, where the sexy baroque motif extends to the two bars and every nook and cranny. There are bar chairs, petite chairs, couches, small tables, and deluxe tables where patrons are served food and drink by the performers within the narrative. The set and costumes are by the awesomely inventive Zane Pihlström, with sensual lighting by Jeanette Yew and mischievous makeup by Sarah Cimino. Conceived, choreographed, and directed by McCormick, who also curated the special cocktail menu, Seven Sins encompasses all the best parts of Company XIV, immersing the audience in a lush and lascivious fantasy world where anything can happen. It does lose a bit of its momentum with two intermissions — the total running time is about two hours and fifteen minutes — and there are no bawdy vaudeville-like acts during the breaks, as there have been at previous shows of theirs. But let him/her/them who is without sin cast the first stone. And don’t be surprised if you experience all seven sins yourself during this fantabulous evening.
Bronx Museum of the Arts
1040 Grand Concourse at 165th St.
Through March 8, free
In 1985, the MTA began its Arts for Transit and Urban Design program (now known as MTA Arts & Design), connecting art with public transportation. But before that, art and transit went together like oil and water; hence the name of a fab exhibit that continues at the Bronx Museum through March 8, “Henry Chalfant: Art vs. Transit, 1977–1987,” the title of which was also inspired by the late graffiti artist SHY147. After arriving in New York City from Pittsburgh in 1973 and beginning as a sculptor, Chalfant was quickly enamored with street art, train graffiti, and hip-hop culture and started documenting it. Since train graffiti was impermanent — in addition to the MTA relentlessly trying to clean trains, other taggers and writers would spray paint right over existing tags — his photographs often became the only evidence of the work, so much so that soon graffiti artists would call him up to ask him to take pictures of trains and buildings they’d tagged. Chalfant would go to aboveground stations such as Intervale Avenue and East Tremont on the 2 and 5 lines and take multiple photos with his 35mm camera as trains whizzed by; he would then develop the photos and splice them together to create panoramic shots of full trains.
This first US museum retrospective, which was curated by Spanish graffiti artist SUSO33 for the Centro de Arte Tomás y Valiente in Madrid, includes dozens of Chalfant’s long, rectangular photographs, hung on the walls one above another, from floor to ceiling, exploding in a glorious blaze of colors and shapes, with wild lettering and cartoonish characters. Among the artists whose work he preserved on film are Dondi, Futura, Lady Pink, Lee Quiñones, Zephyr, Blade, Crash, DAZE, Dez, Kel, Mare, SEEN, Skeme, and T-Kid, some of whom are interviewed for a short film made by multimedia, multidisciplinary artist, producer, and chronicler Sacha Jenkins. I was fortunate enough to watch the film, which is screened continuously within a re-creation of Chalfant’s SoHo studio, alongside a graffiti artist who added biting commentary about some of the figures in the film and pointed out one of his pieces as it passed by.
In the back room, a series of wooden structures are covered with full-length cloth murals to replicate spray-painted subway cars at actual size, while dozens of Chalfant’s photos are projected at the top of a wall at one end of the room, roaring into the station, then pulling out, complete with sound effects. Also on view are some of Chalfant’s notebooks and more than a hundred photographs of the burgeoning street hip-hop culture as well as newspaper and magazine articles and other ephemera. “The story of the neglected children of NYC, victims of poverty, racism, poor schools lacking art and music instruction who overcame their circumstances with creative expression, is a powerful and inspiring one,” Chalfant says in the beautiful bilingual catalog. “There are plenty of examples in the various cultures that emerged from the mean streets of New York that have been a powerful inspiration to youth everywhere. I’m happy and proud to be bringing it home.” The catalog also features essays by Jenkins, Sharp, SUSO33, and Carlos Mare.
Chalfant, a Stanford grad whose 1984 collaboration with Martha Cooper, Subway Art, is the bible of the genre and who coproduced with director Tony Silver the seminal 1983 documentary Style Wars, did the world a great service by capturing these works of art, which turned drab silver train cars into canvases of free expression, where men and women on the margins could scream out for all to experience. Be on the lookout for such photos as “Dondi,” “EYE JAMMIE by AOne,” “Mad (by Seen),” “Style Wars by Noc 167,” and “Stop the Bomb.”
On March 6, the Bronx Museum will host a free screening of Chalfant’s award-winning 2006 documentary, From Mambo to Hip-Hop: A South Bronx Tale; advance registration is recommended here. Also at the museum is the eye-opening “José Parlá: It’s Yours,” a major solo show by the Miami-born, longtime Bronx resident and former street artist known as “Ease”; his dazzling paintings and collages require up-close viewing to fully experience his exploration of gentrification and systemic racism while also celebrating street art and the Bronx.
“There’s so much more to a book than just the reading,” Maurice Sendak is quoted as saying in D. W. Young’s wonderfully literate documentary The Booksellers, which opens at the Quad March 6. I have to admit to being a little biased, as I work in the children’s book industry in another part of my life, and I serve as the managing editor on Sendak’s old and newly discovered works. The film follows the exploits of a group of dedicated bibliophiles who treasure books as unique works of art, buying, selling, and collecting them not merely for the money but for the thrill of it. “The relationship of the individual to the book is very much like a love affair,” Americana collector Michael Zinman explains.
In the film, which features narration by executive producer Parker Posey, Young visits the Antiquarian Book Fair at Park Avenue Armory and speaks with a wide range of intellectual characters, including author and cultural commentator Fran Lebowitz, who relates her experiences in rare-book stores; bestselling writer Susan Orlean, who discusses her archives; leather-bound connoisseur Bibi Mohamed of Imperial Fine Books, who talks about going to her first estate sale; late-twentieth-century specialist Arthur Fournier; Nicholas D. Lowry and Stephen Massey of Antiques Roadshow, the latter of whom was the auctioneer for the most expensive book ever sold, Leonardo Da Vinci’s Hammer codex; sci-fi expert and author Henry Wessells; Justin Schiller, who worked with Sendak and other children’s book authors; Rebecca Romney of Pawn Stars; Jim Cummins, who owns some four hundred thousand books; Erik DuRon and Jess Kuronen of Left Bank Books; Nancy Bass Wyden of the Strand; and Adina Cohen, Naomi Hample, and Judith Lowry, the three sisters who own the Argosy Book Store, continuing the family legacy.
But times have changed, for both good and bad. Dealer Dave Bergman complains, “The internet has killed the hunt,” comparing the excitement of live auctions and the detective-like chase for a title to the boredom of automated online searches and bidding. However, diversity is on the rise, as explored with Kevin Young of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture; Caroline Schimmel, a leading collector of books by women; and hip-hop archivist and curator Syreeta Gates. “I think the death of the book is highly overrated,” Heather O’Donnell of Honey and Wax Booksellers declares. From her mouth. . . . The Booksellers, which is worth seeing solely for Antiques Roadshow appraiser and Swann Auction Galleries president Nicholas D. Lowry’s fab mustache, is screening in conjunction with the sixtieth anniversary of the New York Antiquarian Book Fair, taking place March 5-8 at Park Avenue Armory. The Quad is hosting a series of Q&As opening weekend, with Young and such guests as Posey, Wyden, Romney, O’Donnell, and Nicholas D. Lowry, moderated by Eugene Hernandez and Adam Schartoff.