New York City Center
130 West 56th St. between Sixth & Seventh Aves.
June 14-17, $45-$155
(June 13 Q&A, NYPL, 18 West 53rd St., free with advance registration, 7:30)
In 2016, Russia’s State Theatre of Nations presented Shukshin’s Stories, starring People’s Artists of Russia Chulpan Khamatova and Evgeny Mironov, at City Center as part of the Cherry Orchard Festival of the Arts. The troupe is now back for the sixth annual фестиваль, staging Anton Chekhov’s Ivanov June 14-17. The show, the first full-length Chekhov work to be performed, premiered in 1887 at the Korsh Theatre, which is now home to the State Theatre of Nations. “My goal is to kill two birds with one stone: to paint life in its true aspects, and to show how far this life falls short of the ideal life,” Chekhov wrote in a letter to poet A. N. Pleshcheyev in April 1889, and he certainly attempted to accomplish that in Ivanov, which he significantly revised two years after its initial run. Thirty-three-year-old Russian opera and theater wunderkind Timofey Kulyabin (Macbeth, Kill) directs, with Mironov as title antihero Ivanov Nikolai, who is trying to again become the man he once was, and Khamatova as his wife, Anna/Sarah; the cast also features Victor Verzhbitsky as Shabelskiy Matvey, Elizaveta Boyarskaya as Sasha, Alexander Novin as Borkin Mikhail, Igor Gordin as Lebedev Pavel, Natalya Pavlenkova as Lebedev Zinaida, Dmitriy Serduk as Lvov Evgeny, Marianna Schults as Babakina Marfa, and Alexey Kalinin as Dmitriy Kosykh. Oleg Golovko designed the sets and costumes, with lighting by Denis Solntsev and contemporary dramatic adaptation by Roman Dolzhansky.
Founded in 2012, the Cherry Orchard Festival seeks to “introduce and promote global cultural activity and exchange of ideas to enlighten and engage an inter-generational audience through entertaining and educational programs and events in all genres,” per its mission statement. Tickets for the nearly three-hour show, which was nominated for several Golden Mask National Theatre Awards and will be performed in Russian with English supertitles, are $45 to $155, with some sections having already sold out. In addition, on June 13 at 7:30, the 53rd St. branch of the New York Public Library will be hosting “Meet-the-Artists of the State Theatre of Nations,” consisting of a free discussion and Q&A with Mironov, Khamatova, Boyarskaya, Gordin, Novin, and Verzhbitskiy as well as festival cofounders and executive producers Maria Shclover and Irina Shabshis.
The free summer arts & culture season is under way, with dance, theater, music, art, film, and other special outdoor programs all across the city. Every week we will be recommending a handful of events. Keep watching twi-ny for more detailed highlights as well.
Sunday, June 10
Los Lobos family concert, Celebrate Brooklyn!, Prospect Park Bandshell, 3:00
Tuesday, June 12
New York Classical Theatre: Romeo & Juliet, Central Park, enter at West 103rd St. & Central Park West, runs Tuesdays - Sundays through June 24, 7:00
Wednesday, June 13
Yiddish Under the Stars, with Frank London and his Klezmer All Stars, Andy Statman, Pharaoh’s Daughter feat. Cantor Basya Schecter, Golem, Cantor Magda Fishman, Eleanor Reissa, Daniel Kahn & the Painted Bird, and Zalmen Mlotek, Central Park SummerStage, Rumsey Playfield, 7:00
Thursday, June 14
Savion Glover featuring Marcus Gilmore, BAM R&B Festival at MetroTech, MetroTech Commons at MetroTech Center, 12 noon
Friday, June 15
Drive-In Movie: Grease (Randal Kleiser, 1978), Astoria Park, Nineteenth St. & Hoyt Ave. North, 8:30
Who: Ensemble LPR
What: Tribute performance of David Bowie’s final album, Blackstar
Where: City Parks SummerStage, Rumsey Playfield, enter at 72nd St. & Fifth Ave.
When: Saturday, June 9, free, 7:00 - 10:00
Why: Ensemble LPR, a classical music assemblage based at (Le) Poisson Rouge on Bleecker St., will be at Rumsey Playfield on June 9 for “Bowie Symphonic,” a free performance of Blackstar, the surprise album David Bowie released on January 8, 2016, his sixty-ninth birthday, two days before his death from liver cancer. Ensemble LPR will be led by clarinetist Evan Ziporyn, joined by cello soloist Maya Beiser, a founding member of the Bang on a Can All-Stars, and the Donny McCaslin Group. Saxophonist McCaslin and his band played on Blackstar. “It was like a dream except it was something I never could have dreamed of,” McCaslin says of working with the Thin White Duke, which inspired his latest album, Beyond Now. “David Bowie was a visionary artist whose generosity, creative spirit, and fearlessness will stay with me the rest of my days. Beyond Now is dedicated to him and to all who loved him.” Doors open at six for the seven o’clock concert, which is part of (Le) Poisson Rouge’s tenth anniversary celebration, LPR X, which continues at the Greenwich Village institution with performances by Deerhoof, Of Montreal, the Horrors, Marc Ribot, Stew & the Negro Problem, Blonde Redhead, Bill Frisell, Justin Vivian Bond, and others.
David Byrne — no, not the American singer-songwriter, artist, activist, filmmaker, and bike enthusiast but the award-winning British artistic director of New Diorama Theatre — takes a deep dive into what makes our species what it is in the strangely fascinating, offbeat Secret Life of Humans, which opened last night as part of the annual Brits Off Broadway series at 59E59. Inspired by Yuval Noah Harari’s 2011 bestseller Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind and Dr. Jacob “Please call me Bruno” Bronowski’s 1973 book and BBC program The Ascent of Man, Byrne employs psychology and cultural anthropology to get inside our DNA. “In our minds we are these complex, rich, intellectual beings, full of nuance and philosophy, contradiction and politics, of science and art, of love and sadness,” Ava (an enticing Stella Blue Taylor) says at the beginning of the play. “We have gone from animals, to believing we alone were created in the image of gods. And now, finally, to where we are today, all powerful gods ourselves. Sitting in this lecture theatre, talking and listening.”
In her early thirties, Ava serves as a kind of host and narrator as well as a character, often speaking to the audience directly, supplying facts and providing transitions. Ava goes on a blind internet date with the slightly younger Jamie (a fine Andrew Strafford-Baker), who turns out to be the grandson of Dr. Bronowski (an excellent Richard Delaney), whom Ava has studied extensively. “He was like the first David Attenborough, wasn’t he?” she asks, a moment later offending Jamie by saying, “His view of the world is a little simplistic. For me. But he was groundbreaking. For the time.” The eighty-five-minute show then cuts back and forth between several narratives in multiple time periods: in the present, Ava goes back to Jamie’s parents’ house, where she wants to get a look into Bruno’s locked room; in the past, the doctor becomes involved in a secret project for the military in WWII with a soft-spoken, jittery mathematics graduate named George (a sensitive Andy McLeod); and, in between, Bruno is interviewed by Michael Parkinson on the BBC in 1974. (You can watch the full television discussion here.) Also making appearances is Bruno’s wife, Rita (a classy Olivia Hirst).
One of the central conflicts in the play is the historical ascent of man itself. While Dr. Bronowski ascribes to Rudolph Zallinger’s “The Road to Homo Sapiens,” the famous straight-line depiction of an ape evolving into a human that is also known as “March of Progress,” Ava believes in a more broken, crooked development, which is evoked in a nonlinear narrative that jumps around through time and space. “What I want to tell you, it starts now, some of it happened just a fortnight ago,” Ava says early on. “And some of it, it goes back thousands of years. Millions actually. And it’s about what makes us human. Of how we’ve progressed, but we’ve not changed. How our destiny as a species — in the same way a fruit holds a stone, its future, at its core — has been inside each one of us from the very beginning. About how this, our body, our animal body, is still layered with the footprints of those primitive ancestors. It’s still weak, analogue, vulnerable, and lonely. Often completely unfit for purpose.”
A coproduction of New Diorama and Greenwich Theatre in London, Secret Life of Humans premiered in 2017 at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and now fits right in at the cozy main theater at 59E59. Jen McGinley’s set expands from a lone chair in the center to several bookcases rolled on and off the stage and rearranged to identify different locations. Zakk Hein’s projections include archival footage of Dr. Bronowski with Parkinson, cave drawings, mathematical equations, and ghostly apparitions. In 1986, the David Byrne of Talking Heads fame directed, cowrote, and starred in True Stories, a film that he referred to as “a project with songs based on true stories from tabloid newspapers. It’s like 60 Minutes on acid.” With Secret Life of Humans, which also deals with the nature of truth and mixes fiction and nonfiction, the British David Byrne and codirector Kate Stanley, who previously collaborated on Down & Out in Paris and London, have come up with a play that is like BBC America on shrooms: In addition to the shifting time and philosophical and scientific perspectives, there also are people walking on walls. A form of theatrical excavation, the play is extremely self-aware, with a wry sense of humor, though it is also repetitive and occasionally teeters dangerously close to resembling an institutional, instructional video teaching us about various aspects of the social contract as we seek to define who we are, why we are here, and where we are heading. However, despite talk of death and nuclear destruction, Secret Life of Humans is ultimately optimistic about our future, as well as the future of science, philosophy, and theater itself.
Argentina-born artist Tomás Saraceno — who “lives and works in and beyond the planet Earth” — creates ultracool installations that dazzle the senses and the mind — like his 2012 Met roof installation, Cloud City. But there are multiple dimensions of space and time to his work, as his sixth solo exhibition at Tanya Bonakdar, “Tomás Saraceno: Solar Rhythms,” demonstrates, immersing visitors into his unique view of the future of the universe. Although Saraceno is not a scientist, he has had residencies at the MIT Center for Art, Science and Technology and the French National Space Agency, resulting in his creation of environmentally sensitive pieces generated purely by sun and wind, with no need of fossil fuels, solar panels, or batteries. As he explains, “While enterprises to colonize other planets are put in place, this very same interface between us and the Sun and the atmosphere continues to be compromised: Carbon emissions fill the air, invisible radio waves develop in a hegemonic algorithm of finance, particulate matter floats inside our lungs. How would breathing feel in a post fossil fuel economy, and what is our response-ability?”
The centerpiece of the exhibit is “Aerocene Constellation 3/2,” a pair of large-scale inflatable orbs both reflective and transparent. Saraceno has declared that the current Anthropocene age will be followed by the Aerocene epoch, “one of atmospherical and ecological consciousness, where we together learn how to float and live in the air, and to achieve an ethical collaboration with the environment.” Several hanging sculptures — “Calder Upside Down 35/20/18/12/10/8/6,” “Aerosolar Lyra,” “Solar Eclipse” — surround the two inflatables, with lighting that extends the works through shadows and reflections on the walls, floor, and other pieces. Don’t miss the back room; the doorway is pitch black, so many people don’t realize they can enter and encounter “Sounding the Air,” an immersive sound and light project involving spider silk as a form of travel. (Do not walk in front of the stand with the small purple lights, as repeated sound emissions could damage the work.) Also downstairs are the Aerocene Float Predictor, an app that plots out Aerocene travel through wind and weather patterns, and the Aerocene Explorer, a floating kit for individual use.
The exhibition continues upstairs with a pair of short documentary films, Frederik Jacobi’s Aerocene and Diving into the Ocean of Air, which show some of Saraceno’s projects in action, floating above White Sands, New Mexico, and the Salinas Grandes salt lake in Jujuy, Argentina, respectively. In another room is a collection of fab objects, including hand-blown glass inspired by the Weaire-Phelan structure, filled with human breath and resembling soap bubbles that mimic constellations, and “RAY 1080,” which references the speed of light. Thus, every work in the exhibition incorporates some aspect of sustainability and our relationship with the environment, one that needs help, and fast. And Saraceno here presents some fascinating ways forward.
Madison Square Park
23rd to 26th Sts. between Fifth & Madison Aves.
Saturday, June 9, and Sunday, June 10, pay per plate, 11:00 am – 6:00 pm
Fast Pass: $125; Big Rig VIP Pass: $275
The immensely popular and ridiculously crowded Big Apple Barbecue Block Party is upon us, as pitmasters from around the country gather in Madison Square Park and serve up some damn fine BBQ. The sixteenth annual event, being held June 9-10, features some old favorites as well as some up-and-comers: Ash Fulk of Hill Country of Pleasant Hill, California (Brisket Sandwich with House Pickle & Coleslaw), Bill Durney of Hometown Bar-b-que in Brooklyn (Chopped Brisket & Jalapeño Cheddar Link Sandwich with Queso and Tater Tots), Chris Lilly of Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Que in Decatur, Alabama (World Championship Pulled Pork Sandwich with Spicy Mustard Coleslaw), Ed Mitchell & Ryan Mitchell of Ed Mitchell’s Que in Wilson, North Carolina (Eastern NC Whole Hog Sandwich with Slaw), New York City’s Erika Nakamura & Jocelyn Guest (Hot Dog with Kimchi & Mayo; Kielbasa with Mustard; Bratwurst with Kraut & Mustard), Garry Roark & Leslie Roark Scott of Ubon’s Barbeque in Yazoo City, Mississippi (Mississippi Chicken Wings with Bloody Mary Cucumber Salad), Jean-Paul Bourgeois of Blue Smoke in Manhattan (Fried Smoked Chicken with Tabasco Honey; Broccoli & Black-Eyed Pea Salad), Joe Duncan of Baker’s Ribs in Dallas (St. Louis Ribs with Jalapeño Cole Slaw), John Stage of Dinosaur Bar-B-Que in Manhattan (St. Louis Ribs with BBQ Beans), John Wheeler of Memphis Barbecue Co in South Haven, Mississippi (Baby Back Ribs with Mamma June’s Baked Beans), Jonathan Fox & Justin Fox of Fox Brothers Bar-B-Q in Atlanta (Brisket & Jalapeño Cheddar Sausage with Jalapeno Slaw & Pickles), Mike Mills & Amy Mills of 17th St. BBQ in Murphysboro, Illinois (Apple City Barbecue Baby Back Ribs with Tangy Pit Beans), Pat Martin of Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint in Nashville (West Tennessee Whole Hog Sandwich with Coleslaw), Rodney Scott of Rodney Scott’s Bar-B-Que in Charleston (St. Louis Ribs with Coleslaw), Sam Jones of Skylight Inn/Sam Jones BBQ in Ayden, North Carolina (Eastern NC Whole Hog Sandwich with Sweet Slaw), and Scott Roberts of Salt Lick BBQ in Driftwood, Texas (Brisket & Sausage with Sesame Coleslaw).
There will also be sweets and sides for $4 to $8 from Pies ‘N’ Thighs (Mac ‘N’ Cheese, Spicy Watermelon Salad, Biscuit & Gravy Sausage, Cornbread), Ample Hills Creamery (“Corn to Run” creamy corn ice cream with cornmeal crumble and blueberry swirls), Doughnut Plant, the Original Fried Pie Shop (Apple, Apricot, Blackberry, Cherry, Peach), and Sugaree’s. The lines can get extremely long, so the best way to enjoy the event is to go with a bunch of friends, get on different lines, and then gather somewhere in the park to devour your meal. The $125 FastPass gains access for you and one guest to the express lanes and $100 worth of food, drink, and merchandise; the $275 Big Rig VIP Package grants you that in addition to access to the VIP tent and private VIP area with open bar and snacks. The music lineup on Saturday features Ben Sparaco and the New Effect at 12 noon, Mo Lowda & the Humble at 1:30, Erin Harpe & the Delta Swingers at 3:00, and the Felice Brothers at 4:30, while Sunday’s roster consists of Cypher Music at noon, the High Divers at 1:30, the Vegabonds at 3:00, and Max Creek at 4:30.
Anthony Giardina’s Dan Cody’s Yacht has several gaping holes you could, well, pilot a luxury boat through. However, the Manhattan Theatre Club world premiere, which opened last night at City Center’s Stage I, still offers an intriguing ride despite the choppy waters it navigates through income and education inequality. The two-hour, two-act play begins in September 2014 in the suburbs of Boston, as smarmy financial wizard Kevin O’Neill (Rick Holmes) tries to bribe high school English teacher Cara Russo (Kristen Bush) to change his son’s failing grade on a paper on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, the book that altered the course of his own life. “Incorruptible Cara Russo. I’ve heard about it, now I’ve seen it for myself,” he says, clunkily establishing the core of the narrative. “Chosen by her peers to be the powerful voice of the teachers in our town’s current, ill-advised plunge into liberal American mediocrity. The proposal to meld the two school districts — depressed Patchett, thriving Stillwell. To join the drug addicted, poverty ridden, low achieving children of your little town to the drug addicted but still high achieving children of mine.”
Cara, a divorced single mother, lives in Patchett, where her teenage daughter, Angela (Casey Whyland), goes to school, but she teaches in Stillwell, where Kevin’s teenage son, Conor (John Kroft), is slacking off. Cara is an important member of the committee that will decide whether the merging of the two very different schools, one filled with the haves, the other the have-nots, will be put to a public vote. Cara’s friend Cathy Conz (Roxanna Hope Radja), a working mother whose daughter, Britney, has just made the Patchett debate team, is not so sure that the plan to combine the schools is a good one. “Our high school is our town. We lose that, what have we got?” she says. “We ship our kids over the river to become second class citizens, they come back, how do they respect anything here?” Kevin invites Cara to join his small investing group, where he and other Stillwell parents, Geoff and Pamela Hossmer (Jordan Lage and Meredith Forlenza) and Alice Tuan (Laura Kai Chen), meet monthly, pooling their money to play the market as they drink wine and eat sushi. Cara argues that she doesn’t have any excess cash to get involved in “financial chicanery,” but Kevin convinces her to give it a try, and it all goes well, until it doesn’t.
Giardina (Living at Home) and Tony-winning director Doug Hughes (Doubt, The Father), who previously collaborated on the Drama Desk–nominated Lincoln Center production The City of Conversation, which also featured Bush, steer the ship through an extremely bumpy first act with several key flaws. The discussion about getting Angela into Stillwell seems moot, as it is way too late for her to switch schools in time to affect her chances to go to a better college. There is a serious ethical question about Kevin, who works professionally in private equity, running an investment club, even though the prospect of illegally sharing inside information is brought up. And it seems impossible for Cara to make enough money to afford to move out of Patchett as quickly as she plans to. But the second act is stronger than the first, delving deeper into the characters’ motivations and what they want out of life, which is more complicated than just more money and better education.
“Nobody told us to care about ourselves first,” Cara tells Cathy as she explains why she joined Kevin’s club. “Nobody told us that. And say what you will about that man, that is what he is saying to me.” Later, she adds, “Tell me. Go ahead, say it. You don’t want this. You want mediocrity. You’re happy with mediocrity. You’re happy with this,” referring to their dreary lives in Patchett. Kevin treats finance like sex; when he talks about the opportunities that can open up for Cara, he is practically seducing her. Kevin himself was inspired by the section of The Great Gatsby when the protagonist, then known as James Gatz, rows out to a yacht owned by the much older Dan Cody and becomes his personal assistant; Kevin believes that Gatsby and Cody had a sexual relationship, something that might have ultimately influenced his own life and career. Meanwhile, Angela is reading a worn copy of Leon Uris’s Exodus, more than hinting at the potential exodus of Patchett students across the river to Stillwell. It is small touches like these that rescue the play from drowning itself in murkiness.
The main players, making their way across John Lee Beatty’s effective living-room, classroom, and kitchen sets, give solid performances, particularly Bush (The Common Pursuit, Taking Care of Baby), representing a middle class seeking to improve its lot in life against the odds. Holmes (Junk Matilda) manages to avoid being a completely unlikable villain, although Kevin says some very hurtful things without regret. Whyland, a 2018 NYU graduate, and Kroft, in his New York debut, are both sympathetic as the teens caught in the middle, not fully understanding, or caring, about the towns’ battle over their future. It also brings to light another central focus of the play: fear. Various characters express being afraid they haven’t done enough for their children (or they’ve done too much), being afraid of change, being afraid of believing they deserve better, even being afraid of money itself. “I am still a little afraid of missing something if I forget that, as my father snobbishly suggested, and I snobbishly repeat, a sense of the fundamental decencies is parcelled out unequally at birth,” Nick Carraway explains at the beginning of The Great Gatsby. In Dan Cody’s Yacht, Giardina attempts to explore that inequality specifically relating to the education gap in contemporary society, though emerging with decidedly mixed test results.