Park Ave. Armory
643 Park Ave. at 67th St.
Sunday, April 14, $25, 3:00
In December, Cuban artist and activist Tania Bruguera was arrested in Havana for protesting Decree 349, which criminalizes public and private art that the Ministry of Culture deems unpatriotic or does not receive government permission for commercialization. “Before there was censorship, you could play around. Now you go to jail, now they take your house. It’s not a joke. There are no more games to play,” Bruguera told the Guardian in February. “What we want is to eliminate the decree and work together to find regulations that are based on the needs of the artists and what will protect them, not only the government.” Bruguera, an artist-in-residence at Park Avenue Armory, will be at the armory on April 14 for the Sunday Salon discussing a place to seek refuge: The presentation, part of the Interrogations of Form series, is entitled “Museum as Sanctuary.” The salon kicks off at 3:00 with an introduction by Bruguera and “Make Sanctuary Not Art,” a ritual gathering on safe spaces led by Luba Cortes, Geoff Trenchard, Jackie Vimo, and Abou Farman. From 4:30 to 5:30, the pop-up exhibition “You See Me?!?” displays work by undocumented LGBTQ Mexican American artist Julio Salgado and the collective Emulsify, including the video installation “Con Cámaras y Sín Papeles.” The afternoon concludes at 5:30 with “Institutions as Sanctuary in Times of Exclusion,” a conversation with Alexandra Délano Alonso, Camilo Godoy, Sonia Guiñansaca, Bitta Mostofi, and Verónica Ramírez, moderated by Bruguera.
Park Ave. Armory, Wade Thompson Drill Hall
643 Park Ave. at 67th St.
Tuesday - Sunday through April 20
The prospect of sitting through a nearly three-and-a-half-hour play about the history of Lehman Brothers performed by a mere three actors might not necessarily be your idea of fun, but the US premiere of Ben Power’s adaptation of Stefano Massini’s Italian original is an epic masterpiece, must-see theater at its finest. Running in the massive Wade Thompson Drill Hall at the Park Ave. Armory through April 20 — advance tickets are sold out but a limited number of $45 rush tickets are available day of show — The Lehman Trilogy begins with a prologue in 2008 as a man packs boxes following the Black Thursday stock market crash on Es Devlin’s breathtaking set, a large, revolving transparent cube with several office-like rooms. Video designer Luke Halls projects geographic scenes onto the huge semicircle at the back of the stage and onto the floor around the cube, from the vast sea and plantation estates to cotton fields and the New York City skyline.
The first act, “Three Brothers,” quickly shifts to the past, to September 1844, with the arrival of twenty-one-year-old Henry Lehman (Simon Russell Beale) from his native Rimpar in Bavaria. He opens a small fabric store in Montgomery, Alabama, amid the plantations and is determined to live the American dream. “He left with an idea of America in his head / and got off the boat with America before him: / no longer in his mind but there in front of his eyes. / AMERICA. / Baruch HaShem,” Henry says about himself. Much of the play is related in poetic language spoken in the third person, interwoven with dialogue. Through it all, Candida Caldicot plays the piano just offstage, adding atmosphere and playful humor.
Henry is joined three years later by middle brother Emanuel (Ben Miles), who was twenty at the time, and then by nineteen-year-old Mayer Lehman (Adam Godley) in 1850; Henry is considered the head, Emanuel the arm, and Mayer the potato, an unequal partner sent to mediate any disputes between his older siblings. Henry has a brilliant mind for adapting to evolving market conditions, including inventing them in order to help the company flourish as it goes from selling fabrics to raw cotton, coffee, and coal to, ultimately, trading money itself once they move to New York City, setting up shop at 119 Liberty St. With each advance, they change their business sign, represented by writing the company’s new name on the glass wall. In the second act, “Fathers & Sons,” the next generation grows up and enters the organization: Emanuel’s son, Philip (Beale), and Mayer’s son, Herbert (Miles), who continue to expand the family’s holdings while getting further away from their heritage. “He was born in New York: / in his blood, not even a drop / of Germany or Alabama. / New Herbert. / Very new Herbert. / Son of New York, Herbert,” Mayer says. Act three, “The Immortal,” starts with a harrowing depiction of the suicides that came with the crash of 1929 as the more flashy Robert “Bobby” Lehman (Godley), Philip’s son, becomes the face of the company. Eventually, the firm runs out of Lehmans, instead being led by Pete Peterson (Beale) and Lewis Glucksman (Miles) as the 2008 mortgage crisis awaits.
Power (Husbands and Sons, Medea) and Oscar-, Tony-, and Olivier Award–winning director Sam Mendes (The Ferryman, American Beauty) have streamlined Stefano Massini’s five-hour Italian original, which featured a much larger cast. Beale (Candide, Uncle Vanya), Miles (The Norman Conquests, Coupling), and Godley (Rain Man, Anything Goes) are a sight to behold, each onstage for nearly the entire play; they remain in Katrina Lindsay’s business-suit costumes, but it’s clear which of the many characters they are portraying at any given moment. Devlin’s cube is its own star, especially when, late in the show, it starts whipping around faster and faster, at speeds that will make you dizzy, never mind the three remarkable actors, who take it all in stride and as if they are one entity. The script doesn’t judge the Lehmans’ morality; it doesn’t mention that the Lehmans owned slaves in Alabama, and it avoids focusing on the ethical issues inherent in their rise to the heights of the financial world. “I don’t think I’m hated,” Bobby says, concerned about what his employees think of him. “No slave likes his master,” his wife, Ruth (Beale), says. “Am I the master?” Bobby asks.
The Lehman Trilogy also doesn’t turn the siblings into heroes or villains; each family member has his or her flaws and proclivities, and they become evident throughout the show, as does their genius when it comes to making money. It’s a riveting story of immigration and assimilation, with a particularly Jewish flavor as the Lehmans pave a path to fortune and wealth from a Bavarian shtetl to the cotton fields of the South and the golden streets of New York City. Henry touches the mezuzah and kisses his hand every time he enters and leaves his shop/office and often punctuates his desires by saying, “Baruch HaShem” (“Thank G-d”) — it’s as if his place of business is sacred ground, a holy temple — and the brothers sit shiva (a mourning ritual) whenever a family member passes. Although you know how it all ends in 2008, The Lehman Trilogy shines an absorbing light on just who the Lehman brothers were and how they made the most of their American dream.
249 West 45th St. between Broadway & Eighth Ave.
Tuesday - Sunday through November 24, $49-$189
Ain’t Too Proud — The Life and Times of the Temptations purports to tell the story behind the famed R&B group that recorded many of Motown’s most popular and successful songs. But director Des McAnuff, a veteran of such other Broadway jukebox bio-musicals as the misbegotten Summer: The Donna Summer Musical and the runaway hit Jersey Boys (as well as Jesus Christ Superstar and The Who’s Tommy), and book writer Dominique Morisseau, a rising playwright who has written the Detroit Trilogy (Detroit ’67, Skeleton Crew, Paradise Blue), never approach cloud nine in this standard show that goes by the numbers. The story is based on the memoir of Temptations founder Otis Williams (Derrick Baskin), who narrates the chronological tale, from his childhood to the present day. After serving a stint in prison, he is determined to go straight, making his way in the music world.
He puts together a talented group of singers he initially calls Otis Williams and the Distants, then the Elgins, and finally, following an “accidental” meeting with Berry Gordy (Jahi Kearse) in a men’s room, the Temptations: Williams, the deep-voiced Melvin Franklin (Jawan M. Jackson), band choreographer Paul Williams (James Harkness), and up-and-coming superstars Eddie Kendricks (Jeremy Pope) and David Ruffin (Ephraim Sykes). Gordy teams them first with songwriter Smokey Robinson (Christian Thompson) and later Norman Whitfield (Jarvis B. Manning Jr.) as they eventually tear up the charts. But success also brings a clash of egos, drugs and alcohol, womanizing, domestic abuse, and the inability to maintain family relationships because of the constant touring, resulting in a revolving door of Temptations except for Otis, who remains throughout.
Sergio Trujillo’s choreography captures the Temptations’ skillful movements, with Sykes eliciting shrieks of excitement from the audience for his spectacular moves, and Harold Wheeler’s orchestrations do justice to the Motown originals, from “My Girl,” “The Way You Do the Things You Do,” and “Papa Was a Rolling Stone” to “Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me),” “Ball of Confusion (That’s What the World Is Today),” and “I Can’t Get Next to You,” although some are condensed for time or broken up in the narrative. There are also hits from the Supremes, the Cadillacs, the Five Satins, and others that sometimes feel out of place as McAnuff and Morisseau try to provide musical context. The main group’s backup vocals are excellent, but the lead singers often fall short; it’s impossible to expect that the Broadway actors will reach the heights achieved by, for example, Kendricks and Ruffin, but several songs suffer for it. The story addresses the civil rights movement and the dire socioeconomic situation in Detroit in a bumpy manner, almost as if an afterthought, and the projections by Peter Nigrini are often repetitive and hard to figure out as they are shown on Robert Brill’s ever-changing set, which boasts a conveyor belt to help props and characters enter and exit.
Baskin (Memphis, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee) is amiable and warm as Otis, a charming, principled man who chooses fame over family — Baskin is so comfortable in the role that he sweetly replied a few times to a woman in the audience who called out like she was at a church service — with a superb Rashidra Scott (Beautiful, Sister Act) as his wife, Josephine, and Shawn Bowers as his son, Lamont. Jackson (Motown: The Musical) is lovable as Franklin, a big man whose impossibly deep voice resonates through the theater and rattles in your bones. Also in the cast are Saint Aubyn and E. Clayton Cornelious as replacement Temptations Dennis Edwards and Richard Street, respectively; Nasia Thomas as Motown star Tammi Terrell, Florence Ballard of the Supremes, and Franklin’s stern mother; Joshua Morgan as the Temptations’ longtime manager, the white and Jewish Shelly Berger; Candice Marie Woods as Diana Ross; and Taylor Symone Jackson as Mary Wilson and Otis’s first manager. Paul Tazewell’s costumes and Charles G. LaPointe’s hair and wig design are right-on. Ain’t Too Proud looks and sounds good, but it fails to dig deep enough under the surface of one of R&B’s most beloved and seminal groups.
333 East 47th St. at First Ave.
Friday, April 12, and Saturday, April 13, $30, 7:30
Wisconsin-born, Tony-nominated choreographer Karole Armitage follows up Art of the In-Between, which debuted last October at National Sawdust in Brooklyn in the Celebrate Mexico Now festival, with the world premiere of You Took a Part of Me at Japan Society this weekend with her company, Armitage Gone! Dance. Loosely inspired by the fifteenth-century noh play Nonomiya, the kazura-mono piece features Lady Rokujō, a character from The Tale of Genji, and deals with memory, obsession, and love. Created in collaboration with MIT Media Lab and part of Carnegie Hall’s Migrations: The Making of America festival, You Took a Part of Me features a live score by Reiko Yamada played live by multi-instrumentalist Yuki Isami; longtime Armitage dancer Megumi Eda will perform the lead role. The set includes a bridge known as a hashigakari that extends into the audience. The April 12 show will be followed by a meet-the-artists reception, while the April 13 program will conclude with an artist Q&A.
Flea Theater, the Sam
20 Thomas St. between Broadway & Church St.
Thursday - Monday through April 18, $15-$50
The Flea’s 2018-19 “Color Brave” season, comprising plays examining race by Todd Solondz, Geraldine Inoa, Idris Goodwin, Kristiana Rae Colón, and Nick Gandiello, comes to an incendiary close with a reboot of Thomas Bradshaw’s Southern Promises, which premiered in 2008 at the IRT in Greenwich Village. Bradshaw has updated the show, including changing the ending, for this run, which continues at the Sam through April 18. The cast consists of twelve nonwhite members of the Bats, the Flea’s resident company. “People of color in America don’t really have a tradition where we confront and investigate the legacy of slavery on our own terms. This legacy is the root of all societal racism in this country, and we as a society are just starting to dig our way out,” one actor explains in a prologue in which several of the Bats share an aspect of personal history involving race. Another says, “I’m just as much slave owner as I am slave. Both the oppressor and the oppressed. This contradiction is an essential part of who I am, and I choose to embrace it all. Every character in this show is me. Every one of these characters are my ancestors.”
Inspired by the book The Great Escapes: Four Slave Narratives, which tells the story of fugitive slaves Daphne Brooks, William W. Brown, Henry Box Brown, and William and Ellen Craft, Southern Promises is set on a Virginia plantation in 1848, where Isaiah (Darby Davis), the master, is on his deathbed and tells his slave Benjamin (Shakur Tolliver) that all the slaves will be emancipated when he passes. “You know, Ben, I’ve always thought of you as a brother. I want you to know that,” Isaiah says. “I’m honored, massa. I’ve always loved you,” Benjamin responds. But when Isaiah dies, his widow, Elizabeth (Brittany Zaken), whom he told about his plan to free the slaves, changes his will so that none of the slaves will be given their freedom. “It always seems to me such a cruel thing to turn ni--ers loose to fend for themselves, when there are so many good masters to take care of them,” she complains to Isaiah’s brother, David (Jahsiah Rivera), who was aware of Isaiah’s final wish. “I care nothing for the ni--ers, on my own account, for they are a great deal more trouble than they are worth; I sometimes wish that there was not one of them in the world, for the ungrateful wretches are always running away.” Also entering the fray is Elizabeth’s brother, John (Marcus Jones), a preacher who believes that the widow should now marry David. A toxic mix of greed and unholy desire ensues, and David becomes a vicious taskmaster, as both he and Elizabeth abuse Benjamin and his wife, Charlotte (Yvonne Jessica Pruitt), leading to a surprising, tragic finale.
Jason Sherwood’s set is dominated by a mounted large-scale photograph of the front of the plantation estate, tilting forward as if it is about to fall over and crush everyone. Tables and chairs are moved on- and offstage as lighting designer Jorge Arroyo illuminates individual windows to indicate where a scene takes place. At moments his lighting casts shadows on the facade that resemble Kara Walker’s silhouettes of slave owners raping and torturing black men, women, and children. (The play’s marketing image, which includes the tagline “We’re Finally Free,” uses silhouetted art by Walker as well.) In between scenes, snippets of southern rock songs by such superstars as Bob Dylan, the Band, Janis Joplin, the Allman Brothers, Neil Young, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and others play. In such works as Intimacy, Mary, and Burning, Bradshaw makes audiences feel uncomfortable as he explores issues of race and sex, and Southern Promises is no exception.
It’s unsettling to watch the play, directed with a poignant immediacy by Flea artistic director Niegel Smith (Take Care, A 24-Decade History of Popular Music) and featuring Timothy Park as a doctor, Adrain Washington as Emmanuel and an imaginary slave, Selamawit Worku as Sarah, and Adam Coy as Atticus; the actors are all of African, Latin American, or Asian descent. This revised version of Southern Promises is like a mini-Roots, going beyond the systemic racism that has been America’s shame for four hundred years to reveal how the concept of race and its power corrupts even the seemingly most well meaning of people. The night I attended, an awkward, uneasy moment at the curtain call uncovered society’s continuing pain, as most of the people of color in the primarily white audience did not applaud at all while several white people gave a standing ovation. But as we know, from the daily news to plays such as Southern Promises, no matter how woke many of us white people may try to be, this country still has a lot of work to do.
The English word “democracy,” and the concept of ruling by the common people, comes from Greek classical antiquity. The Public Theater, in partnership with Onassis USA, hearkens back to those origins in the 2019 Onassis Festival: Democracy Is Coming. From April 10 to 28, the Public and such other venues as La MaMa will present live performances, discussions, and more exploring the meaning and role of democracy from its early days to the present time, as fascism rears its ugly head in America and around the world. Below are only some of the many highlights.
Wednesday, April 10
Saturday, April 13
Relic, solo performance by Euripides Laskaridis, examining the current Greek crisis, Shiva Theater at the Public, $35, 8:00
Wednesday, April 10
Sunday, April 28
Socrates, new play by Tim Blake Nelson, directed by Doug Hughes, and starring Michael Stuhlbarg, Niall Cunningham, David Aaron Baker, Teagle F. Bougere, Peter Jay Fernandez, Robert Joy, Miriam A. Hyman, and others, Martinson Hall at the Public, $85
Saturday, April 13
Brunch, Tragedy & Us, book talk with Simon Critchley interviewed by Paul Holdengräber, the Library at the Public Theater, free with advance reservation, 11:30
Choir! Choir! Choir!, community singalong created by Daveed Goldman and Nobu Adilman, free with advance reservation, Public Theater lobby, 5:00
Sunday, April 14
Democracy Is the City, panel discussion with Alfredo Brillembourg, Karen Brooks Hopkins, and Kamau Ware and a live performance by Morley, Shiva Theater, 2:00
Monday, April 15
Public Forum: Of, by & for the People, featuring a conversation with Oskar Eustis, Suzan-Lori Parks, and Kwame Anthony Appiah and live performances by André Holland and Diana Oh, Shiva Theater, $25, 7:00
Thursday, April 18
Saturday, April 20
Antigone: Lonely Planet, Lena Kitsopoulou’s comic version of Sophocles’s tragedy, Shiva Theater, $35
Monday, April 22
Public Shakespeare Presents: What’s Hecuba to Him? Tragic Greek Women on Shakespeare’s Stage, commentary and readings from Euripides and Shakespeare with Professor Tanya Pollard, Isabel Arraiza, Tina Benko, Phylicia Rashad, and Ayana Workman, Martinson Hall, $35, 7:00
The hottest events of the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival are taking place on the Upper West Side at the Beacon Theatre, where screenings, discussions, and live performances will feature Wu-Tang Clan, Spinal Tap, Francis Ford Coppola, the Trey Anastasio Band, and Martin Scorsese with Robert De Niro. Tickets are going fast, so act now if you want to catch any of these special presentations.
Thursday, April 25
Tribeca TV: Wu-Tang Clan: Of Mics and Men (Sacha Jenkins, 2019), followed by a live performance by Wu-Tang Clan, $116, 8:00
Friday, April 26
Movies Plus: Between Me and My Mind (Steven Cantor, 2019), followed by a live performance by the Trey Anastasio Band, 8:00
Saturday, April 27
Anniversary Screenings: This Is Spinal Tap (Rob Reiner, 1984), followed by a discussion with Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, Harry Shearer, and Rob Reiner and a live performance by Spinal Tap, $46-$256, 8:00
Sunday, April 28
Directors Series: Martin Scorsese with Robert De Niro, 2:00
Anniversary Screenings: Apocalypse Now: Final Cut (Francis Ford Coppola, 1979), world premiere of fortieth anniversary 4K Ultra HD restored version, with special Meyer Sound VLFC, followed by a discussion with Francis Ford Coppola, $46-$116, 5:00