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


(photo © Chad Batka)

Oberon (Ryan Wuestewald) looks down on his kingdom in unique take on Shakespearean dinner theater (photo © Chad Batka)

Café Fae
829 Broadway between Twelfth & Thirteenth Sts.
Monday - Saturday through September 7, $75-$200

To twist a Shakespeare phrase, “If food be the music of life, play on.” The Twelfth Night quote applies to Food of Love Productions, which last year scored a hit with Shake & Bake: Love’s Labor’s Lost, an interactive presentation of the Bard comedy that was first staged in an apartment, then in a repurposed vacant storefront on Gansevoort St., where multiple dishes were served during the show. Food of Love has now teamed up with immersive specialists Third Rail Projects, the company behind such innovative shows as Then She Fell and Ghost Light, on Midsummer: A Banquet, a delicious expansion on the idea of dinner theater, taking place in a reinvented space by Union Square Park that has been turned into the lavishly decorated Café Fae. (The name refers to the fairy world in A Midsummer Night’s Dream as well as, if you say it fast, a famous twitter word posted by the current president.)

(photo © Chad Batka)

A group of fairies toast Puck (Lauren Walker) in Midsummer: A Banquet (photo © Chad Batka)

The central room evokes an 1890s Paris café, filled with small, round tables, a bar, long banquettes, and tiny half tables that seem to require fairies to hold your food, as they offer almost nowhere to put your feet or plates. (These demi-tables are to be avoided unless being physically uncomfortable for two and a half hours is your thing.) The exuberant cast moves through the narrow space in the middle and on and around white pillars, one transformed into a tree stump. As they relate Shakespeare’s beloved tale of one fantastical summer’s evening, the actors occasionally turn into waitstaff, bringing food to you, including a forest picnic of harvest grains and market vegetables, fairy kebabs of applewood-smoked veggie skewers, and love bundles of fruit. There’s also wine and cheese, Prosecco, crudités, and dessert, but be careful when buying your tickets, because some seats don’t come with everything.

The play has been liberally streamlined by director and choreographer Zach Morris, the co-artistic director of Third Rail, and actress Victoria Rae Sook, the founder of Shake & Bake, focusing on the key moments of love gone wrong amid mistaken identity. “Awake the pert and nimble spirit of mirth,” Theseus (Ryan Wuestewald) tells the Philostrate (Lauren Walker). Theseus, the duke of Athens, is preparing to marry Hippolyta (Sook), queen of the Amazons. Egeus (Charles Osborne) comes to Theseus, insisting that his daughter, Hermia (Caroline Amos), marry Demetrius (Joshua Gonzales), but she wants to wed only her true love, Lysander (Alex J. Gould). And Helena (Adrienne Paquin) is madly in love with Demetrius, who brutally shuns her.

(photo © Chad Batka)

Theseus (Ryan Wuestewald) and Hippolyta (Victoria Rae Sook) are hunting for love in tasty take on A Midsummer Night’s Dream (photo © Chad Batka)

Hermia and Lysander run away into the forest, where fairy king Oberon (Wuestewald) rules with his queen, Titania (Sook). Messing with the power of love, Oberon asks Robin Goodfellow (Walker), better known as Puck, to use magic to make Demetrius love Helena, but things go awry and soon both Demetrius and Lysander are chasing Hermia, and Titania wakes up next to donkey-faced weaver Nick Bottom (Osborne), part of the Rude Mechanicals theater troupe that is putting on the tragicomic Pyramus and Thisbe with the tinker Snout (Gonzales), the bellows mender Flute (Gould), the joiner Snug (Amos), the tailor Robin Starveling (Walker), and the carpenter Peter Quince (Paquin).

As with Shake & Bake: Love’s Labor’s Lost, there is much merriment to be had, and much good food, curated by Emilie Baltz. The quarters are designed by Jason Simms with an Art Nouveau, Alphonse Mucha flair, while Tyler M. Holland’s costumes are sweet and dainty. There is live music by sound designer Sean Hagerty before and during the show, played by several cast members, most prominently Paquin on guitar. The acting can be hit or miss — Amos, Paquin, Wuestewald, and Walker excel, while Osborne chews up scenery faster than the audience munches away — but Midsummer: A Banquet is more about the experience as a whole, and it’s a tasty one to be savored.


(photo by Jeremy Daniel)

The Rolling Stone explores the horrific treatment of homosexuals in Uganda (photo by Jeremy Daniel)

Lincoln Center Theater at the Mitzi E. Newhouse
150 West 65th St. between Broadway & Amsterdam Ave.
Tuesday - Sunday through August 25, $92

“No news is good news,” Joe (James Udom) says near the beginning of Chris Urch’s wrenching drama The Rolling Stone, which continues at the Mitzi E. Newhouse through August 25. The play is named after a short-lived paper in Kampala, Uganda, which in 2010 outed LGBTQ people, identifying them so that they would then be arrested, beaten, and/or murdered. A gutsy James Udom is Joe, a priest waiting to hear if he will be named pastor of his local church, which is filled with gossipers; he lives with his younger siblings, Dembe (Ato Blankson-Wood) and Wummie (Latoya Edwards), who are both preparing for admission exams that will allow them to attend medical school in London. In the wake of their father’s recent death, leaving them orphans, all three must make sacrifices. Joe gets the job, but he is beholden to church leader Mama (Myra Lucretia Taylor), who has her own agenda. Dembe, who has been expected to marry Mama’s daughter, Naome (Adenike Thomas) — who mysteriously hasn’t uttered a sound in six months — is hiding his relationship with Sam (Robert Gilbert), a doctor whose father is Irish and mother Ugandan. And Wummie is forced to work as a cleaning woman when it turns out their father did not leave behind the money they thought and Joe, who is fiercely antigay, decides that only Dembe can go to London. But as news and gossip spread about the gay outings, the siblings clash with one another as well as the church.

(photo by Jeremy Daniel)

Naome (Adenike Thomas) and Dembe (Ato Blankson-Wood) hope for a brighter future in The Rolling Stone at Lincoln Center (photo by Jeremy Daniel)

The horrific treatment of the LGBTQ community in Uganda has been well documented, in such films as Call Me Kuchu and the recent uproar over a fundraising campaign to open the country’s first LGBTQ center, which has been denounced by the government. The Rolling Stone focuses on the relationship between Dembe and Sam, which is problematic in that Blankson-Wood and Gilbert lack the chemistry necessary to lift the drama. The play works much better when director Saheem Ali (Fireflies, Nollywood Dreams) turns his attention on the siblings, especially once Wummie discovers Dembe’s secret, which she knows would turn Joe violently against him. Meanwhile, Naome’s silence is representative of the terror and hypocrisy experienced by Ugandans every day. Arnulfo Maldonado’s set consists of a wavy, weblike curtain in the back and a rectangular gray block that rises from below the stage to serve alternately as a rowboat, a bed, and a bench. “I hear two arrests have already been made,” Mama says, referring to another outing in the newspaper. “Not that I say anything. It’s not my place to say. I just humbly hope and pray. Pray for every living soul need prayer now.” But in a society where people are expected to turn in their brothers and sons, praying that homosexuals be harshly dealt with, there is little hope until systemic changes are made.


(photo by twi-ny/mdr)

Tim Conlon’s freight train is a highlight of “Beyond the Streets” (photo by twi-ny/mdr)

25 Kent Ave., Brooklyn
Thursday - Sunday through September 29, $25

“Beyond the Streets” is an aptly titled exhibition, a wide-ranging show, continuing in a multilevel space in Williamsburg through September 29 that features more than 150 artists who made their names tagging and writing on trains, buildings, water towers, and the like. Displaying rebellious art that originally arose from a disaffected community — pieces meant to be freely viewed outdoors by all — in a gallery setup can be problematic. Curator Roger Gastman includes ample documentation of earlier spray-can art and graffiti but mainly concentrates on artists’ more recent work, including paintings on canvas, sculptures, and installations. The centerpiece is “Facing the Giant: 3 Decades of Dissent,” Shepard Fairey’s thirtieth anniversary show, consisting of more than thirty framed pieces that follow his transition from a street artist posting stickers of Andre the Giant to making larger murals and posters that have entered the political zeitgeist, taking on such issues as racism, gender inequality, and the military industrial complex. “Beyond the Streets” began in Los Angeles, and the New York iteration is significantly different, focusing on a more local appeal, though the LA artists get their due as well.

(photo by twi-ny/mdr)

Graffiti goes off the streets and onto gallery walls in “Beyond the Streets” (photo by twi-ny/mdr)

Among the artists represented are Barry McGee, BAST, BLADE, Charlie Ahearn, CRASH, Dash Snow, DAZE, Dennis Hopper, Fab 5 Freddy, Gordon Matta-Clark, Guerrilla Girls, INVADER, Keith Haring, Kenny Scharf, LADY PINK, Mark Mothersbaugh, Ron English, SWOON, TAKI 183, and TATS CRU, the first major graffiti collective to create commercial work. Street art is, by nature, temporary, so photographs by Martha Cooper, Glen E. Friedman, Maripol, Henry Chalfant, and Jane Dickson depict classic tags. LEE Quiñones re-creates his “Soul-Train” wall piece, adding such quotes on a pizza box as “Running out of paint just as I did back in ’75.” Takashi Murakami and MADSAKI collaborate with snipe1 and TENGAone on a room that includes a text-laden, colorful sculpture that declares, “Hollow.” Craig Costello takes over a corner with two canvases and a pair of mailboxes dripping in white paint.

Takashi Murakami makes a hollow declaration in Brooklyn (photo by twi-ny/mdr)

Takashi Murakami makes a “hollow” declaration in Brooklyn (photo by twi-ny/mdr)

C. R. Stecyk III repurposes old, rusted spray cans. Bill Barminski invites visitors into an interactive world made out of paper. DABSMYLA offers a respite with a panorama bouquet. A special section is dedicated to the Beastie Boys’ street sense. Tim Conlon paints a large-scale model freight train. John Ahearn’s “Smith vs. the Vandal Squad” depicts an incognito graffiti artist giving the finger. Jenny Holzer’s “Truisms” posters are filled with thousands of statements, such as “Any surplus is immoral” and “Awful punishment awaits really bad people.” The visual theme of the presentation is Kilroy Was Here’s half-hidden man peeking out from various places. Overall, it’s a celebration of a revolutionary art form and its immense cultural influence, showing how so many of these artists continue to create today.


An undocumented Mexican family faces problems in Queens in Mojada (photo by Joan Marcus)

An undocumented Mexican family faces problems in Queens in Mojada (photo by Joan Marcus)

The Public Theater, LuEsther Hall
425 Lafayette St. by Astor Pl.
Tuesday - Sunday through August 18, $60

A pair of hard-hitting plays by queer Latinx writers involving crises at the US-Mexico border are currently running in the Village through August 18; Luis Alfaro’s Mojada, a modern-day take on Euripides’s Medea, is at the Public’s LuEsther Hall, while the Audible-produced the way she spoke, by Alfaro’s friend and protégé, Isaac Gomez, is at the Minetta Lane. In Mojada, which translates as “wetback,” Alfaro, who was born in 1963 in Los Angeles, follows a Mexican family as it makes the harrowing journey over the border and into America, finally settling in Queens. Medea (Sabina Zúñiga Varela) works tirelessly as a seamstress, scared to leave the house for fear of being caught as an undocumented immigrant, while Jason (Alex Hernandez) has gotten a promising construction job with a boss, Tita (Socorro Santiago), who has big plans for him. Medea and Jason have a young son, Acan (Benjamin Luis McCracken), and an opinionated housekeeper, Pilar (Ada Maris), who introduces Medea to Luisa (Vanessa Aspillaga), a vibrant, upbeat street vendor. Medea is haunted by the horrible things the family experienced during its escape from Mexico, which are shown in flashbacks. As Jason starts leaving his heritage behind, eager to be more American in order to succeed in business, Medea retreats into a shell, her only release a ritual that calms her.

Mojada takes place in the backyard of a ramshackle home, designed by Arnulfo Maldonado. Director Chay Yew, who previously collaborated with Alfaro on Oedipus El Rey at the Public, seamlessly flows the action between past and present, with the assistance of moody lighting by David Weiner and atmospheric sound design by Mikhail Fiksel. There’s a sharp reality to the story that is halted whenever Medea performs her healing rituals, which involve two large, green guaco leaves. Aspillaga nearly steals the show as the fast-talking, unfiltered Luisa, who asks Medea to alter a dress for her so she can titillate her husband, and Maris adds dark humor as the suspicious Pilar, who doesn’t trust Jason or Tita. MacArthur Genius Award recipient Alfaro (Delano, St. Jude) avoids preaching as he delves into the many obstacles illegal immigrants face as they struggle to make a safe life for themselves in America.

Kate del Castillo plays an actress reading a hard-hitting script in the way she spoke (photo by Joan Marcus)

Kate del Castillo plays an actress reading an emotional script in the way she spoke (photo by Joan Marcus)

the way she spoke
Minetta Lane Theatre
18 Minetta Lane between Sixth Ave. and Macdougal St.
Tuesday - Sunday through August 18, $50

In Gomez’s tense one-woman show the way she spoke: a docu-mythologia, telenovela star Kate del Castillo (La reina del Sur) plays an actress who comes to an empty warehouse to read a new script by a friend of hers, a playwright and former roommate named Isaac Gomez who relishes her opinion. “You’re the only writer I know who actually wants to know what I think,” she says. The pages are waiting for her on a table with a few chairs; as she reads them, she circles words, makes notes, and looks out into the audience, where the unseen playwright watches her. The play is a graphic depiction of ongoing, decades-long femicide that is occurring in Ciudad Juárez in Mexico, just across the border from El Paso, Texas, where Gomez was born and raised. The play follows Gomez as he speaks with various men and women in Juárez to try to understand what is happening, and why so little is being done about it. “I never knew the truth about these women,” del Castillo says as Gomez. “And that embarrassed me. Everybody knew about it but me. And the more I read. The more I researched. The more I became obsessed. I needed to go back to Juárez and see if for myself.”

Del Castillo portrays all the characters: mothers of los desaparecidos (“the disappeared”), menacing men in a bar, a thirtysomething woman who talks about the constant level of fear that pervades the area, a fiftysomething father and activist, an ex-con who blames the police, a newspaper editor who can’t believe that some people want to bury the story, and la virgen, who explains how difficult it is to hear an endless stream of prayers from distraught mothers. “I can’t get to all of them. It’s impossible; there’s too many. And it kills me. It kills me,” she says. Obie-winning director Jo Bonney (Mlima’s Tale, Fucking A) keeps del Castillo active on Riccardo Hernandez’s sparse set; she occasionally gets up to take in the devastating things she is reading. At the center of it all are the women and children who were so brutally murdered, mutilated, and raped; Gomez names several dozen of them and details their deaths in a heartbreaking section that will make you both sad and angry. Gomez, at twenty-eight about half the age of his mentor, Alfaro, displays a sensitivity beyond his years. His other works include The Displaced and La Ruta, which also reveal his commitment to social justice and telling hard truths. Gomez and Alfaro are two playwrights to watch as they continue to bring unique, distressing, but necessary stories to light in their poignant dramas.


Battery Dance hosts thirty-ninth annual festival August 11-16 (photo by Claudio Rodriguez)

Battery Dance hosts thirty-eighth annual festival August 11-17 (photo by Claudio Rodriguez)

Robert F. Wagner Jr. Park, Battery Park City
20 Battery Pl.
August 11-17, free

The thirty-eighth annual Battery Dance Festival takes place August 11-17, featuring more than two dozen companies from around the world. Formerly known as the Downtown Dance Festival, the event is hosted by the New York City-based Battery Dance, which was founded by artistic director Jonathan Hollander in 1976. The free festival takes place Sunday through Friday in Robert F. Wagner Jr. Park at 7:00, followed by Everybody Dance Now at 9:00, beginning August 11 with Danuka Ariyawansa from Sri Lanka, Leah Barsky and Cristian Correa from Argentina, Mezopotamya Dans from Turkey, Dancers Seeking Refuge — Hussein Smko from Iraq, Battery Dance, and Music from the Sole. The August 12 lineup consists of Water Street Dance Milwaukee, Jon Ole Olstad, Mari Meade Dance Collective / MMDC, Laboration Art Company from France, Pony Box Dance Theatre, Mezopotamya Dans, and Emma Evelein Dance and Choreography from the Netherlands. On August 13, taking the stage will be Laboration Art Company, Janice Rosario & Company, Buglisi Dance Theatre, NVA & Guests, YYDC, and Ashlé Dawson — Breaking Conformity Productions. August 14 brings Ballet Nepantla, B-E from Lithuania, VIVO Ballet, Ballet Boy Productions, konverjdans, Chloe London Dance, Vanaver Caravana, and a world premiere from Battery Dance choreographed by Razvan Stoian.

August 15 celebrates India Independence Day with Dancers and Drummers of Manipur, Darshana Jhaveri, Sanjib Bhattacharya, Sinam Basu Singh, Surbala Devi Bachaspatimayum, Monika Devi Kongengbam. Brojen Kumar Singha Thingom, Angousana Singh Oinam, Premkumar Singh Lourembam, Rajika Puri, and narrator Sutradhar. On Friday, August 16, the performers are SEAD’s Bodhi Project from Austria, Reuel “Crunk” Rogers from Curaçao, MATHETA Dance, Keerati Jinakunwiphat / DIVE, Battery Dance, and Annalee Traylor. The festival concludes August 17 with a ticketed indoor show at Pace’s Schimmel Center with SEAD’s Bodhi Project, Reuel “Crunk” Rogers, Dancers Seeking Refuge — Hussein Smko, B-E, and Battery Dance at 6:00 (general admission $10). In addition, there will be a series of workshops at Battery Dance Studios at 380 Broadway, with Laboration Art Company on Sunday, Battery Dance on Monday, Mezopotamya Dans on Tuesday, Emma Evelein Dance on Wednesday, SEAD’s Bodhi Project on Thursday, Manipuri Dance on Friday (all at 10:30), and B-E Dance on Saturday at 10:30 and Reuel “Crunk” Rogers on Saturday at 1:30.


(photo by Richard Hubert Smith)

Alex (Tom Sturridge) deals with tragedy in Simon Stephens one-act at the Hudson Theatre (photo by Richard Hubert Smith)

Hudson Theatre
139-141 West 44th St. between Sixth & Seventh Aves.
Tuesday - Sunday through September 29, $59 - $315

When I first saw Sea Wall / A Life at the Public’s Newman Theater this past March, I was profoundly moved by the deeply affecting show, a pair of thematically related monologues by two superstar writers, performed by two superstar actors. Seeing it again on Broadway, where it opened tonight at the Hudson Theatre, was a surprisingly different experience. There are some minor tweaks, particularly a beautiful coda along with new lighting choices by Guy Hoare and subtle sound design by Daniel Kluger, but it’s essentially the same presentation, still utterly involving and captivating, delicately directed by Carrie Cracknell on Laura Jellinek’s austere set, which features a piano on one side and a ladder leading to a large brick landing in the back on the other. But this time around I was sitting fourth row center, much closer than I did at the Public, and I was mesmerized by the eyes of the two men onstage. I usually do get great seats, but sitting so near the stage, I was awestruck by the way Tom Sturridge and Jake Gyllenhaal modulated their performances with just their eyes.

Be sure to arrive early, because as the crowd enters, Gyllenhaal sits at the piano, black-framed glasses on, looking out at the audience, making direct eye contact with as many people as he can. Shortly after he leaves, Sturridge wanders onto the stage, grabs a beer and a box of Polaroids, and takes a seat at the top of the ladder. The actors are making a clear, powerful connection that sets up what is to follow.

First is Simon Stephens’s Sea Wall, in which Tony-nominated British actor Sturridge is Alex, a photographer who shares a riveting story about his wife, Helen; their daughter, Lucy; and Helen’s father, Arthur, building up to an incident that occurred three weeks earlier. Much of the tale takes place in the south of France, where Arthur has a house. As Alex talks about how much he loves his family, his penchant for crying, his difficulty putting on a wetsuit, and the hole in the center of his stomach, Sturridge’s eyes move slowly, stopping and pondering, remembering, afraid to forget. Sharp humor is laced with a melancholia that hovers in the tense air as he walks across the stage and atop the landing, as if the brick wall is the sea wall itself, which is supposed to provide protection to humans and ocean life.

(photo by Richard Hubert Smith)

Abe (Jake Gyllenhaal) faces crises as a father and a son in Nick Payne’s A Life on Broadway (photo by Richard Hubert Smith)

Intermission is followed by Nick Payne’s A Life, in which Oscar-nominated American actor Gyllenhaal is Abe, a music producer whose father is ailing and wife is pregnant. He so seamlessly shifts between the two stories, one of impending death, the other of upcoming birth, that it’s sometimes hard to tell which one he is referring to. As each reaches its conclusion, the back-and-forth becomes rapid fire, life and death overlapping as Abe considers his existence as a father and as a son. Gyllenhaal spends nearly the entire fifty-five minutes in a large spotlight, so we are drawn to his expressive face and his eyes, which dart around faster and faster, seeking acknowledgment, encouragement, and understanding from the audience. It’s a bravura performance that I appreciated in a whole new way by sitting so close. That is not at all to say that you won’t be blown away if you are significantly farther away; it is just different, a theatrical experience that is well worth it no matter where you sit.

Gyllenhaal (Sunday in the Park with George, Brokeback Mountain), who was previously in Payne’s If There Is I Haven’t Found It Yet and Constellations, and Sturridge (Orphans, 1984), who was in Stephens’s Punk Rock and Wastwater, wanted to work together, and this is the project they decided on. Even though they do not act side-by-side, they form an intimately linked duo, developing a unique relationship with each other and the audience, as if the plays were written as a set piece, which they were not. Getting to the heart of both shows, Abe says, “I remember reading somewhere or maybe someone telling me about this idea that there are three kinds of deaths. . . . The first is when the body ceases to function. The second is when we bury the body, or I guess set it on fire. And the third is the moment, sometime way in the future, when our names are said, spoken aloud, for the very last time. I’m thinking to myself but I don’t say it, I wonder who’s gonna say our child’s name for the last time?” Alex and Abe are filled with the joy of life, but it’s the fear of death that can be overwhelming, to the characters as well as the audience as we consider that prophetic pronouncement.


(photo by Kjerstin Rossi)

Filmmaker Rodney Evans explores his increasing blindness in Vision Portraits (photo by Kjerstin Rossi)

VISION PORTRAITS (Rodney Evans, 2019)
7 Ludlow St. between Canal & Hester Sts.
Opens Friday, August 9

“In a lot of ways, I feel like I’m just looking for guidance in how to be a blind artist,” filmmaker Rodney Evans says in Vision Portraits, his remarkable new documentary opening August 9 at Metrograph. Evans follows three artists as they deal with severe visual impairment but refuse to give up on their dreams as he seeks experimental treatment for his retinitis pigmentosa. Manhattan photographer John Dugdale lost most of his eyesight from CMV retinitis when he was thirty-two but is using his supposed disability to his advantage, taking stunning photos bathed in blue, inspired by the aurora borealis he sees when he closes his eyes. “Proving to myself that I could still function in a way that was not expected of a blind person was really gonna be the thing,” he says. “It’s fun to live in this bliss.” Bronx dancer Kayla Hamilton was born with no vision in one eye and developed iritis and glaucoma in the other, but she is shown working on a new piece called Nearly Sighted that incorporates the audience into her story. “How can I use my art form as a way of sharing what it is that I’m experiencing?” she asks.

(photo by Kjerstin Rossi)

Dancer Kayla Hamilton is not about to let visual impairment get in the way of her career (photo by Kjerstin Rossi)

Canadian writer Ryan Knighton lost his eyesight on his eighteenth birthday due to retinitis pigmentosa, but he teaches at a college and presents short stories about his condition at literary gatherings. “I had that moment where I had a point of view now, like, I realized blindness is a point of view on the world; it’s not something I should avoid, it’s something I should look from, and I should make it my writerly point of view,” Knighton explains. Meanwhile, Evans heads to the Restore Vision Clinic in Berlin to see if Dr. Anton Fedorov can stop or reverse his visual impairment, which is getting worse.

Vision Portraits is an intimate, honest look at eyesight and art and how people adapt to what could have been devastating situations. Evans, who wrote and directed the narrative features Brother to Brother and The Happy Sad, also includes animated segments that attempt to replicate what the subjects see, from slivers of light to star-laden alternate universes. Metrograph is hosting several postscreening Q&As opening weekend, with Evans, Hamilton and cinematographer Mark Tumas, moderated by Sabrina Schmidt-Gordon, on Friday at 7:00; with Evans, moderated by Yance Ford, on Friday at 9:00; with Evans, moderated by Imani Barbarin, on Saturday at 7:45; and with Evans, moderated by Debra Granik, on Sunday at 4:00.