Fourth Street Theatre
83 East Fourth St. between Bowery & Second Ave.
Through April 1, $25-$45
Commissioned to write a theatrical adaptation of Albert Camus’s 1947 existential classic, The Stranger, playwright Betty Shamieh, the American-born daughter of Arab immigrants, chose instead to focus on what Camus didn’t write: the story of the nameless Arab man shot on the beach by the central character, Meursault, without reason or remorse. Continuing at the Fourth Street Theatre through April 1, The Strangest takes place in an Algerian storytelling café, where an audience of approximately forty to fifty people sit on cushions on benches or the floor, gathered around small tables where they can pour themselves cups of thick Turkish coffee. Umm (Jacqueline Antaramian), a woman in her early forties, has decided to share her personal tale, infiltrating the strictly all-male story competition. “I will show you three young men. You won’t know which son of Algeria would be shot until the end of the story. No magic carpets in the story either. Just an assassination of a child I bore, and the French man who shot him down will feel nothing before, during, or after. Strange, isn’t it?” she says. The tale Umm tells is a murder mystery with a sexy femme fatale, Layali (Roxanna Hope Radja), Umm’s niece, courted by Umm’s three sons: sensitive artist Nader (Juri Henley-Cohn), brutal thief Nemo (Andrew Guilarte), and meek shoemaker Nounu (Louis Sallan). Umm weaves many layers into her tale, including the fate of her village, her house, and her husband, Abu (Alok Tewari), a onetime master orator who is now a disabled mumbler; the flashback in which he tells a unique version of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves and declares his love for Umm is captivating and romantic. But when Layali brings home her fiancé, literally a French smoking gun (Brendan Titley), the rest of the family is disconcerted and upset, setting into motion a fast-unfolding series of ferocious events.
In researching Arab storytelling cafés, Shamieh (The Black Eyed, Roar, Fit for a Queen) went to Aleppo, Syria, in 2011, just as antigovernment protests were beginning there; sadly, the cafés she visited have since been destroyed, adding another sobering layer to the show, which already references racism, colonialism, rape, the current refugee crisis, and the shootings of black men, women, and children by white police officers. Director May Adrales (Vietgone, Luce) makes fine use of Daniel Zimmerman’s intimate, boxlike set; the actors, in Becky Bodurtha’s colorful costumes, enter and exit on two sides through wall curtains, the floor carpeted by numerous Oriental rugs. The uniformly strong cast is highlighted by the powerful acting of the three sons, particularly Henley-Cohn as Nader and Guilarte as Nemo, anchored by Tewari (The Band’s Visit, Awake and Sing!) and Antaramian (Dr. Zhivago, Mary Stuart) as the mourning mother; her pain is palpable as tears roll down her face. The play is filled with surprises, including a big-time, completely unexpected twist at the end. In the storytelling cafés, the audience votes on who tells the best story; with The Strangest, you won’t go wrong putting your money (a mere twenty-five dollars) on Shamieh and Adrales.
[An earlier version of this article misidentified Nemo as the shoemaker and Nounu as the thief; we regret the error.]
Interested in going to a Jewish wedding without worrying about seeing certain friends or relatives or having to write a big check for a couple you barely know? New York City klezmer six-piece Golem will be staging a fake wedding at DROM on March 23 with all the trimmings, including a chuppah, the hora, the always troublesome lifting of celebrants on chairs, the tossing of the bouquet, uncomfortable toasts, cake, and more. Tickets for “Golem Gets Married” are $20 in advance and $25 at the door of the Lower East Side music venue, which will be decked out in full reception regalia. You can expect anything and everything from the campy event, which was inspired by the end-of-season “mock weddings” that used to be held in the Catskills primarily for Jewish immigrants. Golem frontman Aaron Diskin will serve as the rabbi while leading the band — which also features founder, singer, and accordionist Annette Ezekiel Kogan, violinist and vocalist Jeremy Brown, trombonist Curtis Hasselbring, bassist Taylor Bergren-Chrisman, and drummer Tim Monaghan, with guitarist/banjoist Brandon Seabrook joining them for the festivities — through a wide-ranging set of original klezmer numbers, traditional Jewish faves, and wedding-approved covers. Hava nagila, bubbeleh!
June Havoc Theatre, Abingdon Theatre Company
Abingdon Theatre Arts Complex
312 West 36th St. between Eighth & Ninth Aves.
Tuesday - Sunday through April 2, $57
On March 5, 1968, revolutionary artist Marcel Duchamp and revolutionary composer and musician John Cage sat down for a game of chess for the performance Reunion at the SightSoundSystems festival in Toronto. As a bonus, each of the squares on the board was wired with a unique sound. Duchamp had previously said, “I have come to the personal conclusion that while all artists are not chess players, all chess players are artists.” Art and chess, as well as everyday life itself, blend together in unique ways in SITI’s world premiere of Chess Match No. 5, which opened Sunday at the Abingdon Theatre. In the ninety-minute work, conceived and directed by SITI Company cofounder Anne Bogart, He (Will Bond as a stand-in for Cage) and She (Ellen Lauren) meet in a relatively spare room to play a few games of chess. They also discuss art and life using text adapted from actual Cage conversations, adapted by Jocelyn Clarke. “I wouldn’t say that we are interested in destroying the barrier between art and life or even blurring it,” the man tells the woman early on. “I would say that we are interested in observing that there is no barrier between the two.” Through cleverly choreographed staging (there’s even a little dancing), the dialogue, so much of which is dry and didactic (as well as often being revelatory and very funny), never bogs things down; in fact, it all becomes rather playful. “I think life, when we have it, is the paying of attention,” the man opines, as if making sure the audience is listening closely. “Some people pay attention with their eyes and some pay attention with their ears. I enjoy paying attention with both my eyes and my ears, and I think that as a result my work has a theatrical quality – or ‘character’ is a better word – because theater is the use of both eyes and ears.” Brian H Scott’s lighting features several dozen hanging bare bulbs of different shapes and sizes; the man occasionally calls out a number and the lighting suddenly changes. Meanwhile, Tony, Obie, and Drama Desk Award winner Darron L West’s superb sound design is like a character unto itself.
At the front of the stage is a large, old-fashioned Lloyd’s transistor radio, at the rear a table with bread, a toaster, and coffee. When the man uses the items, he makes a series of sounds that recalls Cage’s “Water Work,” which the composer performed with everyday household objects. Other participants in the sound landcape include a chess timer, a rotary phone, and traffic. As they play chess and wander around James Schuette’s set, the man and the woman talk about Erik Satie, the sound of silence, multiplicity, Zen, anarchy, Mozart, the role of the artist, and sleep and even tell a few existential jokes. They also are fully aware of the audience, occasionally addressing them directly. Bond’s fluid, sometimes tongue-in-cheek delivery and calm manner keep the dialogue from becoming boring (although he does note, “Boredom is not so bad and not really boring, you know.”) But if you’re looking to make sense of it all, you’re out of luck. “I’m on the side of keeping things mysterious, and I have never enjoyed understanding things,” the woman explains, offering guidance to potentially confused onlookers. “If I understand something, I have no further use for it.” Always innovative Obie and Bessie Award winner Bogart (Room, No Plays No Poetry But Philosophical Reflections Practical Instructions Provocative Opinions and Pointers from a Noted Critic and Playwright) directs with a sly smile, enjoying the play’s — and the characters’ — many idiosyncrasies. If you submerse yourself in the concepts and ideas being espoused by the man and the woman (as well as the outstanding sound and lighting), you’re likely to enjoy Chess Match No. 5, which is the anchor of a larger SITI project called Theater Piece #1; however, if you need your shows to have a more straightforward narrative in which traditional things actually happen, well, this just might not be your kind of game, which would be a shame. “This is an odd way to have a conversation,” the man says. It sure is. Check and mate.
April 17-23, all treatments $50
Booking opens March 20
Building on more than a decade of success, Spa Week is back for its annual spring event, with hundreds of spas offering top-of-the-line full-length health, wellness, and beauty treatments, including massages and facials, manicures and pedicures, microdermabrasion, peels, waxing, laser hair removal, and more, for $50 each, for one week only. Appointments go fast; booking starts today, March 20, online, and nailing the best times and treatments means signing up on spaweek.com and reserving services now. This year sees the return of favorites Essential Therapy, Skin Spa, L’Institute Sothys, GemVie, and Serene Max — all of which twi-ny has personally tried — as well as new services like Smooth Synergy’s Fanny Facial, for, that’s right, the tuches. A sculpting treatment that starts with an exfoliating scrub and then zaps the butt and upper thighs with microcurrents to tone and lift, the facial gives new meaning to “smooth as a baby’s . . .” Men aren’t left out; KUR Skin Lab offers the Bearded Boss Men’s Facial, while sensitive folks might want to try the organic, vegan, and allergen-free treatments from VMV Hypoallergenics and the Organic Pharmacy. NOTE: It’s important to remember not to schedule a treatment via the spa’s website; you must register on the official Spa Week site (a matter of entering your email address) and book from there in order to receive the special deals.
BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA (John Carpenter, 1986)
136 Metropolitan Ave. between Berry St. & Wythe Ave.
Tuesday, April 18, and Wednesday, April 19, $75, 7:15
When Nitehawk Cinema first announced that John Carpenter’s Big Trouble in Little China would be its next Film Feast presentation on April 18, in which a special movie-related menu accompanies the screening, tickets sold out in an hour. But there are still a few seats left for an added show on April 19. In the fourth collaboration between Carpenter and Kurt Russell (Elvis, Escape from New York, The Thing), Russell stars as truckdriver Jack Burton, who gets into a bit of trouble with the Lords of Death as well as green-eyed Gracie Law (Kim Cattrall) and the evil and mysterious David Lo Pan (James Hong). The cult fave cemented Carpenter’s future as an indie king; he said, “The experience [of making Big Trouble] was the reason I stopped making movies for the Hollywood studios. I won’t work for them again. I think Big Trouble is a wonderful film, and I’m very proud of it. But the reception it received, and the reasons for that reception, were too much for me to deal with. I’m too old for that sort of bullshit.” The Nitehawk screening will feature food by one of Chinatown’s best, Nom Wah Tea Parlor, paired with beers from Lagunitas. The five-course meal, each timed to a specific scene, consists of steamed chicken and shrimp siu mai with Lagunitas IPA, Taiwanese fried pork chop sandwich with Lagunitas Undercover Investigation Shut-Down Ale, fiery dank shank lo mein with Lagunitas Waldo Triple IPA, veggie broth with Lagunitas Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’ Wheat Ale, and fried matcha sesame balls with Lagunitas Aunt Sally Sour Ale. As Burton says in the film, “Everybody relax; I’m here.”
Ellen Stewart Theatre, La MaMa
66 East Fourth St. between Bowery & Second Ave.
Thursday - Saturday through March 26
In 2015, New York City native Stephen Adly Guirgis won the Pulitzer Prize for his off-Broadway hit Between Riverside and Crazy. In January, he was named a Residency One Playwright at the Signature Theatre, for which he will produce a series of old and new plays for the 2018-19 season. So the time is ripe for a look back at some of his earlier work, beginning with his time as coartistic director of the LAByrinth Theater Company. As part of its “Theatre and Social Justice” series, the Actors Studio, in conjunction with La MaMa, is presenting a rare revival of Guirgis’s The Last Days of Judas Iscariot, which debuted in 2005 at the Public Theater, where it was directed by Philip Seymour Hoffman and starred Eric Bogosian as Satan, Stephen McKinley Henderson as Pontius Pilate, John Ortiz as Jesus of Nazareth, Deborah Rush as Henrietta Iscariot, and Sam Rockwell as Judas. The cast of the revival, made up of members of the Actors Studio, might not be quite so well known, but Oscar winner Estelle Parsons directs this new version with a dynamic unpredictability and an intimate edge as Judas’s lawyer appeals his conviction for betraying Jesus and being sentenced to Hell.
“No parent should have to bury a child . . . No mother should have to bury a son,” Henrietta Iscariot (JoAnna Rhinehart) says in the prologue, standing under an umbrella, the sound of rain cascading through the Ellen Stewart Theatre. “I buried my son. In a potter’s field. In a field of Blood. In empty, acrid silence. There was no funeral. There were no mourners,” she adds, immediately humanizing a figure who has been considered the worst of all villains through the centuries. The stage then becomes a makeshift courtroom (the set is by Peter Larkin) in a place called Hope in downtown Purgatory ruled over by cynical judge Frank Littlefield (Jay Johnston), who has little patience for his young bailiff, Julius of Outer Mongolia (Liana Jackson), or with the proceedings in general. Defense attorney Fabiana Aziza Cunningham (Suzanne DiDonna) seeks mercy and forgiveness for Judas (Gabriel Furman), who is catatonic, unable to speak for himself. The prosecutor is butt-kissing blowhard shyster Yusef Akbar Azziz Al-Nassar Gamel El-Fayoumy (Daniel Grimaldi), who, when given permission to approach the bench, declares, “It is a lovely bench! Splendid and sturdy like the great derriere that rests upon it!” Among the witnesses called to testify are Pontius Pilate (Leland Gantt), Caiaphas the Elder (Count Stovall), Simon the Zealot (Gabe Fazio), Mother Teresa (Bob Adrian), Sigmund Freud (Timothy Doyle), and Satan (Javier Molina) as the jury looks on, headed by foreman Butch Honeywell (Stephen Dexter). Saints such as Matthias of Galilee (Lash Dooley) and Peter (Con Horgan) chime in from the rafters, while Jesus (Michael Billingsley) wanders around seriously but quietly, carefully observing the trial.
Despite its nearly three-hour length (with intermission), the play flies by, anchored by several stirring monologues, including a sensational bit by Delissa Reynolds as Saint Monica, speaking in hip-hop, who proclaims, “I was axed to look into the case of Judas Iscariot by this Irish gypsy lawyer bitch in Purgatory named Cunningham. She wanted me to do some naggin’ to God on Judas’ behalf, and, quite frankly, I was impressed by her nagging abilities — cuz that bitch nagged my ass day and night for forty days . . . But I don’t nag for juss anybody, and I definitely don’t nag for no mothafuckah I don’t know, so I went down to check out Judas for my own self — he looked fuckin’ retarded.” The night we saw the play, two of the main actors stumbled over too many lines, but in general the cast, which also features Burnadair Lipscomb-Hunt as Mary Magdalene, Richarda Abrams as Gloria, and Beth Manspeizer as Loretta, a young woman on life support, is strong; many of them will also appear in the next Guirgis revival, Our Lady of 121st Street, as the Actors Studio plans to remount most of his plays. In The Last Days, Guirgis explores blasphemy, faith, selling out, abortion, anti-Semitism, a New York City overrun by “violent devil-worshipping cannibals,” the crucifixion, justice, and personal responsibility that is addressed in a long, heartfelt, and melodramatic monologue by Honeywell about remorse and regret. The play examines why, at least in theory, Jesus offered forgiveness to everyone except Judas, his onetime bestie, while also holding out hope that he will indeed grant atonement to us all.
PASSING FANCY (DEKIGOKORO) (出来ごころ) (Yasujirō Ozu, 1933)
209 West Houston St.
Sunday, March 19, $20, 4:30
Yasujirō Ozu might not have been keen on the latest technology — he made silent films until 1936, and his first color film was in 1958, near the end of his career — but there’s nothing old-fashioned about his mastery of camera and storytelling, as evidenced by one of his lesser-known comedy-dramas, Passing Fancy. On March 19 at 4:30, Film Forum is screening a 35mm print of the 1933 masterpiece, accompanied by a live benshi performance by Ichiro Kataoka and composer and pianist Makia Matsumura. Takeshi Sakamato stars as Kihachi, a character that would go on to appear in such other Ozu works as A Story of Floating Weeds, An Inn in Tokyo, and Record of a Tenement Gentleman. The film opens at a rōkyoku performance, where the audience is sitting on the floor on a hot day, mopping their brows and fanning themselves; Kihachi has an ever-present cloth on his head, looking clownish, a small boy with an injured eye who turns out to be his son, Tomio (Tokkankozo), sleeping by him. Foreshadowing Bresson-ian precision, Ozu and cinematographers Hideo Shigehara and Shojiro Sugimoto follow a small, lost change purse as several men inspect it, hoping to find money in it, then toss it away when it comes up empty. The scene establishes the pace and tone of the film, identifies Kihachi as the protagonist, and shows that there will be limited translated text and dialogue; in fact, Ozu never reveals what happened to Tomio’s eye. After the performance, Kihachi and his friend and coworker at the local brewery, Jiro (Den Obinata), meet a destitute young woman named Harue (Nobuko Fushimi). An intertitle explains, “Everyone years for love. Love sets our thoughts in flight.” Kihachi, a poor, single father, helps Harue get a place to stay and a job with restaurant owner Otome (Chouko Iida), hoping that Harue will become interested in him, but she instead takes a liking to the younger Jiro, who wants nothing to do with the whole situation, believing that Harue is using them.
Ozu follows them all through their daily trials and tribulations — with hysterical comic bits, including how Tomio wakes up Kihachi and Jiro to make sure they’re not late for work — but things take a serious turn when the boy becomes seriously ill and Kihachi cannot afford to pay for the care he requires. Winner of the 1934 Japanese Kinema Junpo Award for Best Film — Ozu also won in 1933 for I Was Born, But . . . and 1935 for A Story of Floating Weeds — Passing Fancy is filled with gorgeous touches, as Ozu reveals the stark poverty in prewar Japan, focuses on class difference and illiteracy, and displays tender family relationships, all built around Kihachi’s impossible, very funny courtship of Harue and his bonding with Tomio, since love trumps all. And yes, that man on the boat is Chishū Ryū, who appeared in all but two of Ozu’s fifty-four films. For the special Film Forum screening, Kataoka will provide narration in Japanese; the event is sold out, but a standby line will start at 4:00 for this very rare and special experience.