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

THE FERRYMAN

(photo © 2018 Joan Marcus)

The Ferryman is set during the height of the Troubles in Northern Ireland (photo © 2018 Joan Marcus)

Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre
242 West 45th St. between Broadway & Eighth Ave.
Tuesday - Sunday through July 7, $79 - $209
theferrymanbroadway.com

Winner of three Olivier Awards for Best New Play, Best Director (Sam Mendes), and Best Actress (Laura Donnelly), British import The Ferryman is a staggering achievement, everything a Broadway play should be and more. Jez Butterworth, whose three-hour Jerusalem dazzled audiences in 2011 and earned Mark Rylance a Tony, followed in 2014 by the underwhelming eighty-five-minute The River, returns to the Great White Way with a searing 215-minute tale set during the height of the Troubles in Northern Ireland in the late summer of 1981, while Irish Republican political prisoners are on a five-month hunger strike that has divided Great Britain. Quinn Carney (Paddy Considine) and his extended family are living on a farm in rural County Armagh — including his always ailing wife, Mary (Genevieve O’Reilly); their children, J.J. (Niall Wright), Michael (Fra Fee), Shena (Carla Langley), Nunu (Brooklyn Shuck), Mercy (Willow McCarthy), Honor (Matilda Lawler), and a nine-month-old son; Quinn’s elderly Uncle Patrick (Mark Lambert) and wheelchair-bound Aunt Maggie Far Away (Fionnula Flanagan); fierce IRA supporter Aunt Patricia (Dearbhla Molloy); and Quinn’s sister-in-law, Caitlin (Donnelly), and her son, Oisin (Rob Malone).

(photo © 2018 Joan Marcus)

Aunt Maggie Far Away (Fionnula Flanagan) and Uncle Patrick (Mark Lambert) have stories to share in Jez Butterworth’s masterful The Ferryman (photo © 2018 Joan Marcus)

They are all preparing for the harvest feast, with the help of their trusted farmworker, Tom Kettle (Justin Edwards), an addled, simple Englishman, and teenage cousins Shane (Tom Glynn-Carney), Diarmaid (Conor MacNeill), and Declan Corcoran (Michael McArthur), who know how to have a good time. Quinn has been trying to escape his IRA past, but it all comes hurtling back when the body of his brother, Seamus, Caitlin’s husband, is found in a bog and IRA strongman Frank Magennis (Dean Ashton) and leader Muldoon (Stuart Graham) show up unexpectedly at the house to send a very specific message. Caught in the middle is Father Horrigan (Charles Dale), who wants to do the right thing but is threatened by Magennis and Muldoon as well.

Tony winner Mendes (American Beauty, Cabaret) superbly navigates the play’s many complexities, making three hours and fifteen minutes virtually float by. Rob Howell’s crowded, busy set (he also designed the costumes), a kind of purgatory where various sins are revealed, is able to contain the large cast as the characters sing, dance, argue, cook, tell stories, love, and fight. Numerous cast changes have been made since it first opened at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre in October (and where it has been extended through July 7), but The Ferryman is an ensemble piece, not dependent on any individual performances, although a baby and a goose stand out. That said, it is a treat to see English actor Considine, who has starred in such films as Michael Winterbottom’s 24 Hour Party People, Edgar Wright’s Hot Fuzz, Paul Greengrass’s The Bourne Ultimatum, and Armando Iannucci’s The Death of Stalin, make his stage debut as Quinn, a proud man who just wants to go on with his family life but is pulled back into his past. “Let’s just stay like this. Let me just dream for a moment. Imagine what it feels like to have won. I just want to stay like this,” he tells Caitlin early on, before news of Seamus’s fate reaches them. Butterworth, who has cowritten screenplays for such films as Fair Game, Black Mass, and Spectre, was inspired to write The Ferryman by the true story of the murder of Donnelly’s uncle Eugene, who disappeared in 1981 and whose body was discovered three years later. Butterworth wrote the part of Caitlin specifically for Donnelly (Outlander, The River), his partner, who was pregnant during the initial London run. Donnelly gave birth to a daughter, while Butterworth delivered what is currently the best play on Broadway.

IRANIAN FILM FESTIVAL NEW YORK: 3 FACES

3 Faces

Iranian auteur Jafar Panahi plays himself in gorgeously photographed and beautifully paced 3 Faces

3 FACES (SE ROKH) (Jafar Panahi, 2018)
IFC Center
323 Sixth Ave. at West Third St.
Sunday, January 13, 7:15
Series runs January 10-15
212-924-7771
www.ifccenter.com
www.irfilmfestny.com

One of the most brilliant and revered storytellers in the world, Iranian auteur Jafar Panahi proves his genius yet again with his latest cinematic masterpiece, the tenderhearted yet subtly fierce road movie 3 Faces. The film, which made its US premiere this past fall at the New York Film Festival and won the Best Screenplay prize at Cannes, is screening January 13 as part of IFC Center’s inaugural Iranian Film Festival New York. As with some of Panahi’s earlier works, 3 Faces walks the fine line between fiction and nonfiction while defending the art of filmmaking. Popular Iranian movie and television star Behnaz Jafari, playing herself, has received a video in which a teenage girl named Marziyeh (Marziyeh Rezaei), frustrated that her family will not let her study acting at the conservatory where she’s been accepted, commits suicide onscreen, disappointed that her many texts and phone calls to her hero, Jafari, went unanswered. Deeply upset by the video — which was inspired by a real event — Jafari, who claims to have received no such messages, enlists her friend and colleague, writer-director Panahi, also playing himself, to head into the treacherous mountains to try to find out more about Marziyeh and her friend Maedeh (Maedeh Erteghaei). They learn the girls are from a small village in the Turkish-speaking Azeri region in northwest Iran, and as they make their way through narrow, dangerous mountain roads, they encounter tiny, close-knit communities that still embrace old traditions and rituals and are not exactly looking to help them find out the truth.

3 Faces

Iranian star Behnaz Jafari plays herself as she tries to solve a mystery in Jafar Panahi’s 3 Faces

Panahi (Offside, The Circle) — who is banned from writing and directing films in his native Iran, is not allowed to give interviews, and cannot leave the country — spends much of the time in his car, which not only works as a plot device but also was considered necessary in order for him to hide from local authorities who might turn him in to the government. He and Jafari stop in three villages, the birthplaces of his mother, father, and grandparents, for further safety. The title refers to three generations of women in Iranian cinema: Marziyeh, the young, aspiring artist; Jafari, the current star (coincidentally, when she goes to a café, the men inside are watching an episode from her television series); and Shahrzad, aka Kobra Saeedi, a late 1960s, early 1970s film icon who has essentially vanished from public view following the Islamic Revolution of 1978-79, banned from acting in Iran. (Although Shahrzad does not appear as herself in the film, she does read her poetry in voiceover.) 3 Faces is gorgeously photographed by Amin Jafari and beautifully edited by Mastaneh Mohajer, composed of many long takes with few cuts and little camera movement; early on there is a spectacular eleven-minute scene in which an emotionally tortured Behnaz Jafari listens to Panahi next to her on the phone, gets out of the car, and walks around it, the camera glued to her the whole time in a riveting tour-de-force performance.

3 Faces

Behnaz Jafari and Jafar Panahi encounter culture clashes and more in unique and unusual road movie

3 Faces is Panahi’s fourth film since he was arrested and convicted in 2010 for “colluding with the intention to commit crimes against the country’s national security and propaganda against the Islamic Republic”; the other works are This Is Not a Film, Closed Curtain, and Taxi Tehran, all of which Panahi starred in and all of which take place primarily inside either a home or a vehicle. 3 Faces is the first one in which he spends at least some time outside, where it is more risky for him; in fact, whenever he leaves the car in 3 Faces, it is evident how tentative he is, especially when confronted by an angry man. The film also has a clear feminist bent, not only centering on the three generations of women, but also demonstrating the outdated notions of male dominance, as depicted by a stud bull with “golden balls” and one villager’s belief in the mystical power of circumcised foreskin and how he relates it to former macho star Behrouz Vossoughi, who appeared with Shahrzad in the 1973 film The Hateful Wolf and is still active today, living in California. Panahi, of course, will not be present at the IFC screening, as his road has been blocked, leaving him a perilous path that he must navigate with great care. However, Iranian writer, director, and producer Bahman Farmanara will be at the festival for Q&As following three of his films, opening night’s Tale of the Sea in addition to I Want to Dance and Tall Shadows of the Wind. Cofounded and coprogrammed by Godfrey Cheshire, the first Iranian Film Festival New York includes such other classic and cutting-edge films as Asghar Yousefinejad’s The Home, Abbas Amini’s Hendi & Hormoz, and Houman Seyedi’s closing night Sheeple, in addition to a tribute to Abbas Kiarostami, who passed away in 2016 at the age of seventy-six, pairing Seifollah Samadian’s 76 Minutes and 15 Seconds with Abbas Kiarostami with Kiarostami’s 2016 short Take Me Home.

THE SOPRANOS FILM FESTIVAL: NOT FADE AWAY

The British Invasion changes the life of a suburban New Jersey high school kid in David Chase’s Not Fade Away

NOT FADE AWAY (David Chase, 2012)
IFC Center
323 Sixth Ave. at West Third St.
Thursday, January 10, 7:15
Series runs January 9-14
212-924-7771
www.notfadeawaymovie.com
www.ifccenter.com

Inspired by his brief stint as a suburban New Jersey garage-band drummer with rock-and-roll dreams, Sopranos creator David Chase made his feature-film debt with the 2012 musical coming-of-age drama Not Fade Away. Written and directed by Chase, the film focuses on Douglas (John Magaro), a suburban New Jersey high school kid obsessed with music and The Twilight Zone. It’s the early 1960s, and Douglas soon becomes transformed when he first hears the Beatles and the Stones — while also noticing how girls go for musicians, particularly Grace (Bella Heathcote), whom he has an intense crush on but who only seems to date guys in bands. When his friends Eugene (Jack Huston) and Wells (Will Brill) ask him to join their group, Douglas jumps at the chance, but it’s not until he gets the opportunity to sing lead one night that he really begins to think that music — and Grace — could be his life. Not Fade Away has all the trappings of being just another clichéd sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll movie, but Chase and musical supervisor (and executive producer) Steven “Silvio” Van Zandt circumvent genre expectations and limitations by, first and foremost, nailing the music. Van Zandt spent three months teaching the main actors how to sing, play their instruments, and, essentially, be a band, making the film feel real as the unnamed group goes from British Invasion covers to writing their own song. Even Douglas’s fights with his conservative middle-class father (James Gandolfini) and his battle with Eugene over the direction of the band are handled with an intelligence and sensitivity not usually seen in these kinds of films. Not Fade Away does make a few wrong turns along the way, but it always gets right back on track, leading to an open-ended conclusion that celebrates the power, the glory, and, ultimately, the mystery of rock and roll.

The film is being shown at IFC Center on January 10, with Chase, Magaro, and Van Zandt in attendance, as part of the Sopranos Film Festival, six days of screenings, related works, and discussions in honor of the twentieth anniversary of the HBO series, which debuted on January 10, 1999, to instant acclaim. The festival, programmed by Matt Zoller Seitz, coauthor with Alan Sepinwall of The Sopranos Sessions, kicks off January 9 at the SVA Theatre with “Woke Up This Morning: The Sopranos 20th Anniversary Celebration,” featuring clips and conversation with Chase, executive producers/writers Terence Winter and Matthew Weiner, executive producer Ilene S. Landress, and cast members Edie Falco, Lorraine Bracco, Michael Imperioli, Dominic Chianese, Van Zandt, Tony Sirico, Vincent Pastore, Robert Iler, and Jamie-Lynn Sigler, moderated by Zoller Seitz. Also on the schedule are Nicolas Roeg and Donald Cammell’s Performance, Kristian Fraga’s My Dinner with Alan, Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon, Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas, Steve Buscemi’s Trees Lounge, Roman Polanski’s Cul-de-Sac, Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow-Up, William A. Wellman’s The Public Enemy, and such key Sopranos episodes as “The Knight in White Satin Armor,” “Proshai, Livushka,” “Pine Barrens,” and “The Test Dream,” paired with Bugs Bunny and Three Stooges shorts as well as Luis Buñuel’s Un Chien Andalou, placing the series, which garnered 111 Emmy nominations and 21 wins during its six seasons, in rather wide-ranging context.

AMERICAN REALNESS: EVERYTHING IS IMAGINABLE

Jack Ferver

Jack Ferver collaborates with Reid Bartelme as well as James Whiteside, Lloyd Knight, and Garen Scribner in the world premiere of Everything Is Imaginable at New York Live Arts (photo by Jason Akira Somma)

New York Live Arts
219 West 19th St. between Seventh & Eighth Aves.
January 7-12, $15-$35, 8:00 or 10:00
212-924-0077
americanrealness.com
newyorklivearts.org

Jack Ferver’s Everything Is Imaginable returns this week to New York Live Arts as part of the multidisciplinary American Realness festival. Below is our review of the work’s world premiere in April 2018; don’t miss this second chance to catch this extraordinary piece.

A few weeks before the world premiere of Everything Is Imaginable, New York City treasure Jack Ferver tore his calf while preparing a piece for Reid Bartelme and Harriet Jung at the Guggenheim. But leave it to the Wisconsin-born actor, writer, dancer, choreographer, teacher, and director to incorporate the injury into the narrative of the two-act, seventy-minute show. As the audience enters the theater at New York Live Arts, the curtain is down, a rarity at the venue, upping the growing sense of anticipation that accompanies every Ferver work. The curtain soon opens on Jeremy Jacob’s playful set, consisting of four white cardboard columns with drawings of leaves on them, along with a central cardboard chandelier hovering at the top of a screen in the back. It immediately immerses the crowd into the wonders of Ferver’s imagination while exposing the artifice behind staged productions in general. The first act features four queer men in sheer, butt-revealing outfits dancing solos inspired by their childhood memories and one major role model: American Ballet Theater principal James Whiteside, in a short, glittering dress of silver sequins, pays tribute to Judy Garland, dancing to Garland’s version of Cole Porter’s “I Happen to Like New York”; Martha Graham principal dancer Lloyd Knight honors Graham, moving to a recording of the legendary choreographer speaking about dance; dancer and actor Garen Scribner slides across the stage in socks and does spins like his hero, champion skater Brian Boitano, to the sound of ice skates being sharpened and gliding across the ice; and longtime Ferver collaborator Bartelme, a former ballet dancer and current costume designer (as part of Reid and Harriet Design, who made the costumes for the show), wears a long orange mane and dances with horse movements, since his idol is My Little Pony. Each solo combines humor with beautiful movement, taking advantage of each dancer’s strengths while adding the charm and whimsy that are mainstays of Ferver’s choreography. The four star turns are followed by a solo about sunglasses and then an ensemble piece danced to “club music,” including a Martha Graham–esque sexualized orgy that is uproariously funny.

After a ten-minute intermission (with the curtains closed), the second act begins with Ferver (Chambre, Night Light Bright Light) by himself onstage, standing over a miniature version of the set from the first act, evoking Stonehenge from This Is Spinal Tap. In a sheer bodysuit recalling Michelle Pfeiffer’s garb as Catwoman in Batman Returns, the compact Ferver towers over the tiny columns and chandelier, emphasizing his power as a creator while also poking fun at it. Ferver talks about his calf injury, explaining how that limited his ability to dance — his doctor advised him not to move forward, which is not part of his vocabulary, literally or figuratively — and forced him to reimagine the work, and discusses his difficult childhood, friendless and bullied for his overt homosexuality; growing up gay is a regular theme in his oeuvre. As always, his stage persona is that of a devilish cherub, wild and wacky one moment, making the audience roll around their seats with laughter, and then deadly serious the next, raising disturbing elements from his life that may or may not be true, causing everyone to reconsider their reactions. He’s joined by Bartelme, who looks lovely in a fringe dress, and the two dance together to heartbreaking effect while Ferver, soldiering on despite his injury, goes on to describe his process of writing a memoir, which took place alone, terrified, in a strange house, in the dark. Ferver is no longer friendless or alone, as evidenced not only by the crowd response to the supremely personal show but by the long line of well-wishers who waited to hug and congratulate him for giving them yet another unique, meaningful, and vastly entertaining experience, shining a light on his life, and ours, as only he can.

COMPLETE CUARÓN: GRAVITY

Space debris from a Russian satellite threatens an American shuttle crew in GRAVITY

Space debris from a Russian satellite threatens an American shuttle crew in Gravity

GRAVITY (Alfonso Cuarón, 2013)
Film Society of Lincoln Center, Walter Reade Theater
165 West 65th St. at Amsterdam Ave.
Saturday, January 5, 9:00, and Monday, January 7, 7:00
Series runs January 4-8
212-875-5601
www.gravitymovie.warnerbros.com
www.filmlinc.org

Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity is a breathtaking thriller that instantly enters the pantheon of such classic space fare as 2001: A Space Odyssey, Alien, and The Right Stuff. While medical engineer Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) is fixing a computer glitch outside the shuttle Explorer, veteran astronaut and wisecracker Matt Kowalski (George Clooney), on his final mission before retirement, is playing around with a new jetpack and Shariff (voiced by Paul Sharma) is having fun going on a brief spacewalk. But disaster strikes when debris from a destroyed Russian satellite suddenly comes their way, killing Shariff and the rest of the crew and crippling the shuttle, leaving Stone and Kowalski on their own in deep space, their communication with Mission Control in Houston (voiced by Ed Harris, in a nod to his participation in Apollo 13 and The Right Stuff) gone as well. Kowalski is cool and calm, listening to country music as he tries to come up with a plan that will get them to the International Space Station, but the inexperienced Stone is running out of oxygen fast as she tumbles through the emptiness, Earth in the background, so close yet so far. Written by Cuarón (Y Tu Mamá También, Children of Men) with his son Jonás, Gravity is spectacularly photographed by Emmanuel Lubezki, the master behind numerous works by Cuarón and Terrence Malick (The New World, The Tree of Life), among others. Lubezki and his team even created a new LED light box to increase the film’s realism, which is nothing less than awe-inspiring and mind-bending as it takes place in real time. Despite the vastness of space, Gravity often feels claustrophobic, particularly as Stone struggles to get a breath or attempts to operate a foreign module.

GRAVITY

Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) and Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) try to remain together in Alfonso Cuarón’s masterful space epic

Close-ups of Stone and Kowalski reveal reflections of the shuttle and Earth, emphasizing the astronauts’ dire situation as they engage in a very different kind of pas de deux. Gravity also succeeds where directors like James Cameron often fail, as a solid, relatively unsentimental and unpredictable script accompanies the remarkable visuals, which evoke both harrowing underwater adventures as well as dangerous mountain-climbing journeys. (Cuarón also manages to bring it all in in a terrifically paced ninety minutes.) Cuarón and Lubezki favor long takes, including an opening shot lasting more than thirteen minutes, immersing the viewer in the film, further enhanced by being projected in IMAX 3D, which is not used as merely a gimmick here. Stephen Price’s score increases the tension as well until getting melodramatic near the end. Clooney is ever dapper and charming and Bullock is appropriately nervous and fearful in their first screen pairing, even though they only make contact with each other through bulky spacesuits, their connection primarily via speaking. Cuarón, who also edited Gravity with Mark Sanger, has made an endlessly exciting film for the ages, a technological marvel that should have a tremendous impact on the future of the industry. Winner of seven Oscars including Best Director, Best Cinematography, and Best Editing, Gravity is screening January 5 and 7 in the Film Society of Lincoln Center series “Complete Cuarón,” comprising all eight of his movies (Y tu mamá también, Children of Men, Sólo con tu pareja, Great Expectations, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban) in conjunction with the success of his latest, Roma.

WINTER PERFORMANCE FESTIVALS: ORIGIN’S 1st IRISH THEATRE FESTIVAL

Ann Blake

Ann Blake’s The Morning After the Night Before is part of eleventh annual Origins 1st Irish Theatre Festival

ORIGIN’S 1st IRISH THEATRE FESTIVAL
Multiple venues
January 9-28
www.origintheatre.org

The Origins 1st Irish Theatre Festival, now in its eleventh year, is dedicated to presenting works by Irish playwrights from around the world, both in and out of competition. This year’s schedule boasts seventeen events from Belfast, Derry, Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Queens, and Manhattan, at such venues as Scandinavia House, the Playroom, the Irish Consulate, the cell, and NYU’s Glucksman Ireland House.

Alone It Stands, written and directed by John Breen, with Chase Guthrie Knueven, Ed Malone, Rob McDermott, David O’Hara, Henry Raber, and Sarah Street, 59E59, January 10-27, $35

On Blueberry Hill, by Sebastian Barry, directed by Jim Culleton, with Niall Buggy and David Ganly, 59E59, January 8 – February 3, $35

The Smuggler, by Ronan Noone, directed by David Sullivan, with Mick Mellamphy, the cell, January 14-21, $30

The Morning After the Night Before, by Ann Blake, directed by Paul Mead, with Ann Blake and Lucia Smyth, the cell, January 20-27, $30

Irish Women Lighting Up Broadway, with Geraldine Hughes, Fionnula Flanagan, and Dearbhla Molloy, moderated by Patrich Pacheco, American Irish Historical Society, $10 with RSVP, 1:00

THE HARD PROBLEM

(photo by Paul Kolnik)

Spike (Chris O’Shea) and Hilary (Adelaide Clemens) discuss altruism, God, and the prisoner’s dilemma in latest Tom Stoppard masterpiece (photo by Paul Kolnik)

Lincoln Center Theater at the Mitzi E. Newhouse
150 West 65th St. between Broadway & Amsterdam Ave.
Tuesday - Sunday through January 6, $92
212-362-7600
www.lct.org

In his first new play since 2006’s Rock ‘n’ Roll, octogenarian genius Tom Stoppard takes a deep dive into nothing less than human consciousness. The opening of The Hard Problem lets us know just what we’re in for: An attractive young tutor and his student hotly debate “the prisoner’s dilemma,” preparing her for a major job interview. We are going to watch characters onstage swim in a British think tank where the big questions are asked. The “hard problem,” of course, is how the biochemistry of organic matter gives rise to consciousness, the realization of a “self” able to reflect on its own existence and concepts of goodness, self-sacrifice, and altruism. Another hard problem, of course, is how to make this cerebral subject work as live theater. Stoppard, who has explored issues of science, chaos theory, philosophy, history, and other intellectual endeavours in such previous works as Arcadia, The Invention of Love, and The Coast of Utopia, achieves his goal this time via a somewhat predictable though cleverly chosen cast of characters: the male “quant” with impeccable academic and professional qualifications who may lack human emotion, the female researcher with a tender heart, strong mind, and wrenching personal history, the overeager postdoctoral assistant, and an old school friend who remains resolutely sensible and cynical.

“It’s about survival strategies hard-wired into our brains millions of years ago. Who eats, who gets eaten, who gets to advance their genes into the next generation,” Spike (Chris O’Shea) tells Hilary Matthews (Adelaide Clemens), who is up for a job at the prestigious Krohl Institute for Brain Science. He continues, “Competition is the natural order. Self-interest is bedrock. Co-operation is a strategy. Altruism is an outlier unless you’re an ant or a bee. You’re not an ant or a bee; you’re competing to do a doctorate at the Krohl Institute, where they’re basically seeing first class honours degrees and you’re in line for a second, so don’t be a smart arse, and above all don’t use the word ‘good’ as though it meant something in evolutionary science.”

(photo by Paul Kolnik)

Hilary (Adelaide Clemens) listens in as Amal Admati (Eshan Bajpay) and Dr. Leo Reinhart (Robert Petkoff) have quite a disagreement in The Hard Problem (photo by Paul Kolnik)

Hilary has just about everything going against her: She went to the wrong schools, didn’t do the expected internships, didn’t ace the proper tests, and has different ideas about the mind and consciousness than does Amal Admati (Eshan Bajpay), who is seemingly the perfect candidate for the job — but Dr. Leo Reinhart (Robert Petkoff) chooses Hilary for the position because of her rather unique and somewhat unscientific thoughts on the relationship between the brain and consciousness. It all comes to a head when the fiercely ambitious Bo (Karoline Xu) joins Hilary’s team and takes the lead on a complex project that doesn’t go quite as planned.

(photo by Paul Kolnik)

Bo (Karoline Xu) complicates things for Hilary (Adelaide Clemens) in New York premiere of The Hard Problem at Lincoln Center (photo by Paul Kolnik)

Despite all the talk of statistical tendencies, evolutionary behavior, moral intelligence, computer programming, binary operations, egoism, and other high-falutin’ terms, Stoppard is not so much interested in science than in personality; the characters in the play are splendidly drawn, from Jerry Krohl (Jon Tenney), who Spike describes as “a squillionaire with a masters in biophysics who decided to try hedge-funding,” and Jerry’s bright young daughter, Cathy (Katie Beth Hall), to Julia Chamberlain (Nina Grollman), a former classmate of Hilary’s who runs Pilates classes at the institute — serving the body in a place built around the mind — and Julia’s partner, Ursula Tarrant (Tara Summers), who doesn’t shy away from discussing panpsychism. Stoppard also explores the idea of a supreme being among all this science. “How does God feel about your model of Nature-Nurture Convergence in Altruistic Parent-Offspring Behaviour?” Spike asks Hilary, who prays every night before she goes to bed. But Hilary and Stoppard are concerned with more down-to-earth subjects. “Who’s the you outside your brain? Where? The mind is extra,” Hilary says.

Three-time Tony-winning director Jack O’Brien (Hairspray, Hapgood), who has helmed such other major Stoppard works as The Coast of Utopia and The Invention of Love, has a clear handle on the material, never allowing the play to get overly pedantic, keeping it all real on David Rockwell’s cool set, in which props and furniture are wheeled on or off or drop from the ceiling. Various cast members sit on a couch watching when they’re not involved in the action, taking in every poetic phrase just as we are. Clemens (Hold on to Me Darling, Rectify) is a revelation as Hilary, an unpredictable, fascinating woman who in many ways is representative of the average, regular person facing a changing world. “Explain consciousness,” Hilary says early on to Spike, who doesn’t have an answer. In The Hard Problem, Stoppard isn’t seeking answers but is asking all the right questions.

';