THE CORDELIA DREAM
Irish Rep Online
Daily through August 8, suggested donation $25
Summer theater in New York City is dominated by outdoor Shakespeare presentations, including Shakespeare in the Parking Lot’s Two Noble Kinsmen, the Classical Theatre of Harlem’s Seize the King, the Public Theater’s Merry Wives of Windsor at the Delacorte and the Mobile Unit’s Shakespeare: Call and Response, and NY Classical’s King Lear with a happy ending.
One of the best productions is taking place indoors, but not in a theater with an audience. I wouldn’t be giving anything away if I told you that there is no happy ending in the Irish Rep’s virtual revival of Marina Carr’s The Cordelia Dream, streaming online through August 8. The brutal, relentless two-act, ninety-minute play was commissioned by the Royal Shakespeare Company and debuted in 2008 at Wilton’s Music Hall in London. Charlotte Moore and Ciarán O’Reilly of the Irish Rep, in association with casting director and producer Bonnie Timmermann, enlisted director Joe O’Byrne to helm a new version filmed at the New Theatre in Dublin, as part of the innovative company’s continuing onscreen works made during the pandemic.
The play takes place in a dark, eerie room where an elderly man (Stephen Brennan) lives alone, drinking by himself and playing his piano. He is visited one day by his long-estranged daughter (Danielle Ryan); they have not seen each other in many years, and their discomfort and hostility are immediately apparent in their initial exchange.
Woman: Yes. Me.
Woman: It wasn’t easy . . . seeking you out.
Man: Wasn’t it?
Woman: I stayed away as long as I could.
Man: You think I’m going to die soon?
Man: You want to kiss and make up before the event?
Woman: Some people visit each other all the time.
Man: I’m not some people. You of all people should know that.
Woman: Can I come in or not?
There is no love lost between father and daughter; it’s as if an older Cordelia has come to see her aging father, both filled with resentment, no reconciliation in sight. “Love needs a streak of darkness. The day is for solitude. Morning especially. Morning is for death,” he says. “And afternoons?” she asks. “At your age they’re for transgressions, at mine they’re for remorse,” he replies. “You know about remorse?” she wonders. “I’m an expert on it,” he answers.
Both characters are revealed as cold and cruel as details of their lives emerge in the corrosive conversation. He is an extremely talented but failed composer attempting to create his magnum opus before he dies, while she is a famous composer who has not been able to enjoy her success. He accuses her of wasting her gifts, claiming his superiority, unashamed of his hatred of her. He is glad that none of her children are named after him; he even criticizes the wine she brought. “You are very mediocre,” he declares. “Does mediocre need ‘very’ in front of it?” she asks. “When talking about you. Yes, it does,” he replies with bitterness.
She is there to say her piece, not about to cower from him. “You haven’t left me alone,” she says. “You’ve retreated to this sulphurous corner to gather venom for the next assault. You? Leave me alone? You haunt me.”
She has also come to tell him about a dream she has had, about their life and death, about the four howls and the five “never”s in Shakespeare’s grand tragedy. “You think you’re Cordelia to my Lear. No, my dear. You’re more Regan and Goneril spun,” he spits at her. “And you’re no Lear,” she shoots back, soon leaving.
She returns five years later, but it is not quite the same. His mental faculties are decreasing, not unlike the mad Lear’s, thinking her to be the goat-faced, dog-hearted dark lady of his nightmares, a reference to the character Shakespeare addresses in Sonnet 130 and others, whom he loves but cannot outright compliment, disparaging her instead. He recalls moments from his past but is foggy. “Your self-delusion is complete,” she says. “Men should not have daughters,” he opines. The acerbic cat-and-mouse dialogue continues as they eviscerate each other till nothing’s left.
Fiercely directed by Joe O’Byrne (McKeague and O’Brien present “The Rising,” Frank Pig Says Hello), The Cordelia Dream is a merciless, unyielding depiction of an unredeemable relationship between a father and daughter. With biting language, Carr (Woman and Scarecrow, Marble) brilliantly compares the creation of a work of art to the birth of a child and all the responsibilities that are supposed to accompany it. The play is intimately photographed and edited by Emmy winner Nick Ryan, with ghostly set design by Robert Ballagh and sound and original music by Emmy nominee David Downes, the actors naturally lit by a few lamps and a window that offers brief reprieves from the enveloping darkness that makes it feel like it is all a dream.
Brennan (A Life, The Pinter Landscape) commands the screen with an immense presence, his white-haired, white-bearded character skewering his daughter with relish, unafraid of any consequences. Ryan (Harry Wild, Wild Mountain Thyme), who made her professional debut in 2007 playing Cordelia and Brigitte in the Edinburgh Fringe award winner Food, portrays the lost woman with a graceful finesse as she tries to unburden herself of the many ways she claims he destroyed her life. The harrowing work hits even deeper at a time when loved ones are reuniting after the long pandemic lockdown, with hugs and kisses, smiles of relief and unabashed joy, none of which is evident in these two characters who harbor a disturbing, apparently unsalvageable history.
Jason Alexander is at his hysterical best as a selfish, greedy lawyer who survives a near-death experience in Pittsfield-based Barrington Stage Company’s hilarious online reading of Rob Ulin’s Judgment Day. The Zoom play premiered last August but is back for a well-deserved encore presentation July 26 through August 1 via the Stellar platform.
Alexander, a Tony and Emmy winner who stole the show as Mervyn Kant in a virtual production of Wendy Wasserstein’s The Sisters Rosensweig in May, stars as Sammy Campo, a ruthless lawyer with no moral compass, willing to do anything to get what he wants. In the opening scene, after he closes another shady deal, we learn all we need to know about him during this delicious exchange with his secretary, Della (Loretta Devine), who reads from a letter he just received.
Della: You’ve been called before the Bar Association again. They’re citing “abuse of process, suborning perjury, and obstruction of justice.”
Sammy: The deal is fully funded. This one’s gonna put me over the top!
Della: “Grand larceny, money laundering, forgery, witnesses tampering, witness intimidation.”
Sammy: Yeah, I was expecting that; they’ve got nothing. Did you hear me? The deal is done.
Della: “Consorting with known felons, drug and alcohol abuse, solicitation of prostitution, public nakedness, public urination, foul and unsavory language in the presence of children and the elderly.”
Sammy: Shush with that! Don’t wreck this moment. Do you know why this deal means so much to me?
Della: Because of the money.
Sammy: Wrong! It is not because of the money. It’s because the money will now belong to me. Money that used to be other people’s will now become mine. I came into this world a little speck of nothing. Unloved, unlaid. The world tried to beat me into a passive little milquetoast who would settle for a crumb, but do you know what I said to that offer?
Della: You said no.
Sammy: I said no! I demanded more, From the time I was a little kid, I defied the law of the playground, I defied the law of the pecking order.
Della: You defied the law.
But just as Sammy is bragging about how he played the game his way and won, he suffers a heart attack and is rushed to the hospital, where, as the doctors crack open his chest trying to save him, an angel arrives in the form of his dreaded Catholic school teacher. Sister Margaret (Tony and Grammy winner Patti LuPone) appears to have been waiting a long time for the day she can send Sammy to hell.
“I have come to deliver justice,” she announces. “Wow. So this means God is real,” Sammy suddenly understands. “Shit.” But when he realizes that the angel has snatched him too soon from the jaws of death — the doctors are still working on him — he negotiates his return to the living. “I may be a scumbag. But this isn’t about me. This is about the Law,” he explains. “Your legal sophistry will not work on me,” she says. “It might work on some archangel up the ladder who’s a hardass for the Immutable Laws of God,” Sammy answers. “Some seraphim might think an angel who bends the rules needs a job with less responsibility, like moving clouds around or wiping some cherub’s ass. Looks to me like you blew it, Sister.”
Proudly displaying his lack of a conscience, Sammy is soon making a deal with Father Michael (Tony winner Santino Fontana) to take a case in which elderly widow Edna Fillmore (Carol Mansell) has been denied her late husband’s insurance because she missed one payment. The Monsignor (Grammy winner Michael McKean) tells Father Michael not to work with Sammy, but Father Michael considers bending the rules in order to help Edna. “God cares what’s in your heart,” Father Michael says gently to Sammy, who responds, “Wrong. Angel Sister Margaret said, ‘We do not care how you feel or why you made your choices. Human beings are judged solely by their deeds.’ So I wanna figure out the rock-bottom least amount of good I need to do to get into Heaven.”
Meanwhile, Sammy goes back to the wife he walked out on ten years ago, Tracy (Justina Machado), only to find a surprise: her troubled nine-year-old son, Casper (Julian Emile Lerner). Sammy might have a new lease on life, but that hasn’t changed him one bit. “Acting kind and generous is harder for folks like us who don’t mean it,” he teaches the boy. “There’s no trick to being compassionate if you’re born with compassion. It’s a much greater accomplishment to help your fellow man if you don’t give a shit about him.” Soon he’s negotiating with Casper’s principal (Bianca LaVerne Jones) and Edna’s insurance agent, Jackson (Michael Mastro), incorporating the help of the sexy Chandra (Elizabeth Stanley) when necessary. It appears that there’s no situation he doesn’t believe he can’t haggle his way out of, no matter how high the authority of the person — or angel — he is bargaining with, and he always believes he is in the right. “Without laws, we’d just be animals,” he tells Casper. “The big guy would always defeat the little guy. But in a world of laws, there’s a role for the wily guy. The big guy will always get to make the laws. But a wily lawyer can find ways around the laws so the little guy has a chance.”
Judgment Day is a nonstop eighty-two-minute treat as Ulin, a former Harvard Lampoon editor who has been a co-executive producer on such television series as Malcolm in the Middle, Rosanne, and Ramy, takes on such lofty issues as faith and belief and the rules of society, pitting religion and the law against each other with a wicked sense of humor. Sammy is a fantastic character, a smart-mouthed “scumbag” who actually has an intelligent outlook on the world, finding the cracks and exploiting them to his advantage without a second thought. When Father Michael tells him, “I am a priest. I don’t do blackmail,” Sammy quickly retorts, “Doing blackmail is your whole job! Every Sunday you guys stand in your pulpit and tell a billion Catholics, do what we say or burn forever.”
He doesn’t hide who he is or what he is after, and Alexander is brilliant in the role, smirking away with glee. Director Matthew Penn (Mother of the Maid, Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All for You) wisely lets Alexander and LuPone chew up the scenery — well, actually, there is no scenery, just plain Zoom backgrounds, save for simple line drawings by Melanie Cummings that announce the locations. Alexander and LuPone’s over-the-top energy is offset by the calm demeanor of Fontana, Devine, and McKean, with Machado playing it straight right down the middle. Be sure to stick around through the credits for some fun clips from the Zoom rehearsals.
THE GOLDEN RECORD
July 22-23, 29-30, $15
“If you’re real, then what are you?” Andrew (Joe DiNozzi) asks an AI (Darien DeMaria) in The Golden Record, adding, “Don’t tell me that you’re an alien. I have been out here for a long, long time and I ain’t seen aliens yet.” The AI responds, “I am alien from you in that I am a different entity, but I’m me.” Andrew replies, “And who is ‘me’?”
The Golden Record is an entertaining piece of live, interactive Zoom theater from writer Micah Kosstrin-Greenberg and director James Ellerby. Running Thursday and Friday nights through July 30, the sci-fi tale takes place in a far-off future where the AI, previously known as the human Rebecca and now stranded on a disabled spacecraft, is trying to figure who she is/was, attempting to access and acquire old and new memories.
The AI is occasionally sent back to when she was Rebecca, gaining bits of her human past that seems to be consumed by terrible loss. She thinks these are technical glitches that are failures of her neural network and so reviews her diagnostics, believing that everything is not right. “I am broken,” she tells us. “Have you ever been broken? I don’t know if what is broken can be fixed, but I would like to try. I can see all of you. I am glad for that. But I do not know what lies outside where I am. What is beyond or behind. It’s not so bad here, but I would like to know what’s around me. Are you able to look beyond yourself? Are you connected with what’s around you? Do you feel at peace, being a part of where you are? I would like to feel that.” Her fear of isolation is palpable as we emerge from the pandemic lockdown and return to what life (and theater) was like before, getting our own neural networks back in shape.
The audience contributes to this process by talking about specific items of their own with the AI; attendees are requested to bring a globe or map, a picture that makes them sad, a meaningful child’s toy, a wedding song, a letter, a photo of them in nature, or an object of aesthetic beauty to share onscreen. (You don’t have to participate, and you won’t be called on randomly.) The AI incorporates these stories into her memory banks as if they are hers, cleverly improvising them into the narrative. For example, the night I saw the show, a young man with MS brought an IV bag that he said was a “memento” from a difficult, painful time when he was unable to get his necessary medicine. Later, the AI says, “One can be hurt without being broken; my IV bag reminds me of that.”
Upon repairing her communications systems, the AI contacts Andrew, a bedraggled human consciousness who knows more than he is letting on as the AI asks him questions that he avoids answering. He’s been adrift for three thousand years, the last three hundred in total isolation aboard his ship, which has unraveled his sanity. “Records . . . Life . . . Relatively scant . . . Suppressed a number of works . . . Private . . . Tormented by a fear of old age, dread of old age, and fear of sadness,” he babbles, his greasy, stringy hair covering much of his face, which comes uncomfortably right up to the camera. The AI is thrilled to have someone to talk to, but Andrew does not want to proceed with their conversation, afraid of where it will go. Instead he invents a fairy tale about his life (unfortunately too long and overly facetious), filling it with pop-culture references. Ultimately, the audience is asked to make a fateful choice that leads to two disparate endings.
Presented by Wall Break Productions in collaboration with Blue Owl Films, The Golden Record is named after NASA’s time capsules, twelve-inch gold-plated copper phonograph disks on board Voyager 1 and 2 that provide information about humanity to intrepid extraterrestrial travelers. The concepts of isolation and connection — and fear of madness — are central to the work, which was written for Zoom during the pandemic. Lead designer Kenneth Oum and tech supervisor Joshua Shuey create visuals that make it appear that the AI and Andrew are actually traveling through space, lending it the feel of an MST3K episode.
DeMaria and DiNozzi are both excellent, interacting with each other and the audience to deliver a more intimate experience, utilizing their well-honed improvisational skills to keep us directly involved, as every performance is unique based on who is watching and what they have brought with them. Stick around for the talkback with the cast and crew — many of whom met at Renaissance Faires — to learn some behind-the-scenes secrets.
LINES IN THE DUST
New Normal Rep
Available on demand through August 8, $25
In his 1963 inaugural address upon being sworn in as governor of Alabama, Democrat George Wallace declared, “In the name of the greatest people that have ever trod this earth, I draw a line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny, and I say, segregation now, segregation tomorrow, and segregation forever.”
Actress and playwright Nikkole Salter uses part of that quote for the title of her potent three-character work about racism, residential districting, and school residency fraud, Lines in the Dust, streaming through August 8 in a potent virtual version from New Normal Rep. The 110-minute play feels like it was written yesterday, but it actually debuted at Luna Stage in New Jersey in 2014. In a short video about the world premiere, Salter explained, “I think we’re at a critical moment of national reflection,” referring specifically to the sixtieth anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education ruling that declared school segregation unconstitutional. She continues, “This play becomes poignant now because we find ourselves as segregated, if not more segregated in certain places, than we were in 1954 when we look at our education system.” Among the many difficult lessons we’ve learned since March 2020 is that America still has a major segregation problem in education, among other institutions, amid another critical moment of national reflection.
The play begins in the spring of 2009 at an open house in Millburn, New Jersey, where Dr. Beverly Long (Lisa Rosetta Strum), the married mother of a teenage son, and Denitra Morgan (Melissa Joyner), the single mother of a teenage daughter, are talking about the local district. “If you want a good school, you have to pay property taxes or private school tuition, pick your poison. I say, at least with the former, you get some equity,” Beverly explains. “Gotta pay if you wanna play,” Denitra replies. Beverly: “At least we can. Imagine if we were stuck in other, worser — if we couldn’t afford to pay —” Denitra: “Yeah.” Beverly: “I don’t know what those parents do. ‘Hope’ it works out? Pray?” Denitra: “Beg, borrow, lie; they’ll cheat their way into . . .” Beverly: “Of course they do. Wouldn’t you?” Denitra: “Yeah, I guess I would.” Beverly: “I definitely would. What parent wouldn’t?”
A year and a half later, Beverly is the interim principal at a prestigious public high school in Essex County, where Denitra is illegally sending her daughter, Noelle, since they can’t afford to live in that district. In her office, Dr. Long meets with Michael DiMaggio (Jeffrey Bean), a private investigator hired by the board to weed out these illegal students, seeking to expel them and make their family pay restitution. A thirty-five-year veteran of the Millburn Police Department, DiMaggio doesn’t exactly hide his racism and anti-Semitism, determined to rid the school of these unwelcome elements, using dog-whistle phrases that he insists are not biased, claiming merely to be following the law. While Dr. Long is uncomfortable with his language, methods, and personal beliefs, she also wants to keep her job, so she attempts to find that line in the dust, especially when DiMaggio starts going after Denitra and Noelle.
Preparing a slide presentation for the board, DiMaggio gives Dr. Long an advance run-through. “Now, you’ve got a good thing goin’ here in Millburn,” he states. “And I tell ya, they’re gonna come and try and take it.
It’s easier to take than to build your own. I ask you, are you gonna take this opportunity to do everything you can to fight to keep Millburn? Or are you going to let it go to a bunch of people who don’t even live here? The choice is yours.” It is clear who that “bunch of people” are, but the interim principal is worried about criticizing the PI, concerned about her position at the school and conscious of her responsibility to the Black community.
She tells DiMaggio, “We all should be concerned about the future of our schools. But what I don’t think we should feel is afraid. And right now, those pictures, they make me feel like you want me to be afraid —” “No —,” DiMaggio begins, but Dr. Long cuts him off. “Afraid in a very specific way. The images are very —” DiMaggio: “I’m not trying to scare anybody.” Dr. Long: “They’re very biased.” DiMaggio: “You think I’m biased?” No, I didn’t say you — I think the pictures you chose, and how you present them, create a very biased look —” DiMaggio: “These are real pictures.” Dr. Long: “I’m sure, but the way you present them —” DiMaggio: “What way? In a slide show?” Dr. Long: “No. Back to back and in juxtaposition to — it makes it seem as if the thing they should be afraid of is the ghetto.” DiMaggio: “Yeah.” Dr. Long: “Yeah?” DiMaggio: “Aren’t you afraid of that?” Dr. Long: “Excuse me?” The battle comes to a head as DiMaggio starts following Noelle and the official presentation approaches.
Lines in the Dust was directed over Zoom by Awoye Timpo (The Loophole), with multimedia green-screen design by Afsoon Pajoufar, taking us from the open house to Dr. Long’s office to Denitra’s home, with costumes by Qween Jean, sound by Stan Mathabane, and original music by Alphonso Horne. The cast is outstanding, led by Joyner’s (Maids Door, Mrs. America) heart-wrenching turn as Denitra, a woman willing to go to extreme lengths to get her daughter a quality education that can make a difference in her future. You can feel her desperation even though watching her performance on a computer. Strum (Pipeline, the solo project She Gon’ Learn) portrays Beverly’s painful dilemma with poise and self-assurance, while Bean (The Thanksgiving Play, About Alice) brings an understated refinement to DiMaggio, a white man who represents so much of what is wrong with the current system.
Salter — an award-winning playwright and actress who wrote Here We Are and starred in Lydia R. Diamond’s Whitely Negotiations for the extraordinary two-way “Here We Are” solo theater project held online during the pandemic lockdown — was partly inspired by the career of onetime Newark resident, NAACP lawyer, and federal judge Robert L. Carter, which included work on such cases as Sweatt v. Painter, in which Heman Marion Sweatt sued the University of Texas Law School in 1950 because he was rejected for being Black, and Brown v. Board of Education. The play gets to the emotional core of such legal precedents, focusing on the human element. It all feels particularly pertinent in 2021 in regard to ongoing arguments across the US about teaching critical race theory in schools and the battle over voting rights. Somewhere up there, Wallace is smirking down on all of us.
Who: Bob Dylan
What: Prerecorded streaming concert film
When: Available on demand through July 25 at 11:59 pm
Why: “What was it you wanted / Tell me again so I’ll know / What’s happening in there / What’s going on in your show / What was it you wanted / Could you say it again / I’ll be back in a minute / You can tell me then,” Bob Dylan sings on “What Was It You Wanted,” one of thirteen tunes that make up his first-ever livestreamed performance, the fifty-minute prerecorded concert film Shadow Kingdom: The Early Songs of Bob Dylan, available on the online veeps platform through July 25 at 11:59 pm. There was much speculation and little information in advance as to what the stream would be, although a brief trailer gave a hint of what to expect, a clip of Dylan playing a rollicking blues version of 1971’s “Watching the River Flow” in a smoky speakeasy, filmed in black-and-white.
For decades of the Never Ending Tour, fans have learned to have no expectations when seeing Bob live; he’ll play whatever he wants, continually reinventing tracks from his extensive catalog in fascinating ways, often almost to the point of unrecognizability, but that’s all part of the excitement. The veeps chat lit up with naysayers, complaining that the show was not actually live, with a handful arguing that Dylan wasn’t even really singing, that he and his band — who were wearing masks even though the crowd, which included a number of smokers in the small, claustrophobic space, was not — were lip syncing and miming with their instruments. Some of the grumblers demanded their money back, whereas other Dylanheads declared it was the best twenty-five bucks they’d spent since music venues were shuttered back in March 2020.
The closing credits say Bob was accompanied by Janie Cowen on upright bass, Joshua Crumbly on electric bass, Shahzad Ismaily on keyboards and accordion, and Buck Meek on guitar — many in the chat wondered where regular bassist Tony Garnier and guitarist Charlie Sexton were — but online hypotheses are making the case that not only are they not actually playing the music, but it was prerecorded by a different group of musicians. What’s the truth? We’re certainly not going to get it from Dylan, who filled his must-read memoir with falsehoods that we ate up despite knowing that.
Some chatters were mad that the show was not in color; others were furious about the cigarettes, as if the smoke were coming through their screens; while others were more interested in the wedding ring Dylan was suddenly wearing. Far, far more fans were overjoyed to see Bob with a guitar in his hands — arthritis has prevented him from picking up a six-string for a bunch of years, concentrating instead on piano — and sounding better than he has in a long time, his voice clearly rested from a year and a half off the road. (But was he really singing or playing the guitar and harmonica?) The best way to experience the show is to forget about all that and just sit back and watch the music flow, like you were hanging out in Greenwich Village in the 1960s. (Unfortunately, the chat was only available during the initial stream, so when you watch it, you’ll have “to be alone with” Bob, not interacting with a rabid online audience.)
Dylan reached relatively deep into his past, pulling out new versions of such favorites as “When I Paint My Masterpiece” (masterful!), “Queen Jane Approximately” (majestic!), and “Forever Young” (eternal!) alongside such less-familiar cuts as “To Be Alone with You” from Nashville Skyline, “The Wicked Messenger” from John Wesley Harding, and “Pledging My Time” from Blonde on Blonde. Some of the tunes hadn’t been performed live in more than ten years; “What Was It You Wanted” last made a setlist in 1995.
Dylan began toying with the lyrics right from the opening number, as if adapting them to the pandemic, changing “Gotta hurry on back to my hotel room / Where I got me a date with a pretty little girl from Greece [also sung as “Botticelli’s niece”] / She promised she’d be right there with me / When I paint my masterpiece” to “Gotta hurry on back to my hotel room / Gonna wash my clothes, scrape off all of the weeds / Gonna lock the doors and turn my back on the world for a while / I’ll stay right there till I paint my masterpiece.” A few songs later, he changed “To be alone with you / Just you and me / Now won’t you tell me true / Ain’t that the way it oughta be? / To hold each other tight / The whole night through / Ev’rything is always right / When I’m alone with you” to “To be alone with you / Just you and I / Under the moon / ’Neath the star-spangled sky / I know you’re alive / And I am too / My one desire / Is to be alone with you.”
As at his live shows, the Bobster — who turned eighty this past May, when the film was shot in a fictional Santa Monica nightclub over a seven-day period (not, as mentioned in the credits, at the nonexistent Bon Bon Club in Marseille) — does not talk to the audience; he doesn’t introduce songs or include any concert patter. When I saw him at the Prospect Park Bandshell in 2008, the crowd nearly flipped out when he said he was glad to be back in Brooklyn, surprising us that he knew where he was. My only quibble with the stream is that the name of each song appears onscreen in big, bold letters before it is played; much of the fun at Dylan shows is trying to figure out what the next song is as it starts. I’ll never forget my best friend asking me at a 1978 concert on the Street Legal tour, “When is he going to play ‘Tangled Up in Blue’?” I had to tell him that Bob had just played it.
Each song in Shadow Kingdom is its own set piece, with Dylan in a different position on the stage, wearing one of several outfits. Regardless of where he is sitting or standing, the old-fashioned microphone blocks most of his mouth, furthering the chat conspiracy theory that he is lip syncing. It also prevents us from getting a better view of his extraordinary vocal phrasing, a technique that for him only improves with age, whether on his originals or standards; Dylan can shape a word like nobody else. He never moves around much during songs, but he does show off a few teeny gestures in “Queen Jane Approximately” and “Most Likely You Go Your Way,” (barely) swaying his shoulders and legs (his feet appear to be nearly glued to the floor) while making fists, pointing, and raising his arms a bit. (That’s probably not part of Dom McDougal’s choreography.) The close-knit, intimate production design is by Hannah Hurley-Espinoza and Ariel Vida, with cinematography by Lol Crawley, whose camera remains still when it is on Dylan but does occasionally pan through the band and the crowd. (By the way, just who are those people who got into the show?)
The name of the show might have come from Robert E. Howard’s 1929 short story, “The Shadow Kingdom,” in which the Texas-born pulp fiction writer and Conan the Barbarian creator explains, “As he sat upon his throne in the Hall of Society and gazed upon the courtiers, the ladies, the lords, the statesmen, he seemed to see their faces as things of illusion, things unreal, existent only as shadows and mockeries of substance. Always he had seen their faces as masks, but before he had looked on them with contemptuous tolerance, thinking to see beneath the masks shallow, puny souls, avaricious, lustful, deceitful; now there was a grim undertone, a sinister meaning, a vague horror that lurked beneath the smooth masks. While he exchanged courtesies with some nobleman or councilor he seemed to see the smiling face fade like smoke and the frightful jaws of a serpent gaping there. How many of those he looked upon were horrid, inhuman monsters, plotting his death, beneath the smooth mesmeric illusion of a human face? Valusia — land of dreams and nightmares — a kingdom of the shadows, ruled by phantoms who glided back and forth behind the painted curtains, mocking the futile king who sat upon the throne — himself a shadow.” More clues from Dylan, perhaps, or yet another red herring? Does it matter?
Directed, produced, and edited by Alma Har’el, an Israeli American music video and film director who has worked with such bands as Beirut, Sigur Rós, and Balkan Beat Box and has made such films as Honey Boy, Bombay Beach, and LoveTrue, the presentation, too short at less than an hour, marvelously captures the mysterious enigma that is Robert Allen Zimmerman, the Minnesota-born folk-rock troubadour who has changed the planet with his music, reinventing himself umpteen times over his more than six-decade-long career. During the coronavirus crisis, he released the outstanding album Rough and Ready Ways, and he has now entered the streaming realm. What’s next? I certainly am not going to hold my breath waiting for a live Zoom concert or interactive Instagram talkback, but will there be a Shadow Kingdom: The Later Songs of Bob Dylan? Will the show ever be available again, on CD, LP, DVD, Spotify, etc.? Will the Never Ending Tour reemerge, after having not been seen since December 8, 2019? It’s Dylan, so it’s best not to expect anything — except something strange, something unusual, something wonderful. Whichever way he is likely to go, we worshippers are sure to follow.
Who: Brian Stokes Mitchell, Vanessa Williams, Daniel J. Watts, Marc Shaiman, Bernadette Peters, Kristin Chenoweth, David Hyde Pierce, more
What: Ticket giveaway for Crossovers Live! with Brian Stokes Mitchell
When: Premiering monthly July 26 - December 20, $15-$100 per show, six-show bundle $49-$500; use code BBS10 to save $10 on any six-show bundle through July 21 (benefiting the Actors Fund)
Why: Brian Stokes Mitchell was already a Broadway and television star when he reached a new stratosphere of fame for his nightly renditions of “The Impossible Dream” early in the 2020 pandemic lockdown in New York City. Delivered from the window of his Upper West Side apartment after the 7:00 pm clap for health-care workers, Stokes’s performances were part of his vocal retraining after a serious bout with Covid-19. He sang one of the hit songs from Man of La Mancha, a show that earned him a 2003 Tony nomination for Best Actor in a Musical, an award he had won in 2000 for Kiss Me Kate. The Seattle-born Mitchell, who has appeared in such other Broadway musicals as Jelly’s Last Jam, Kiss of the Spider Woman, and Ragtime and such TV series as Mr. Robot, Glee, and Trapper John, M.D. (in addition to a ton of voiceovers on animated programs), is now hosting his own online talk show, Crossovers Live!, which will stream live monthly July through December and be available on demand for a limited time.
In a promotional video, Mitchell — who has also been nominated for a Grammy, formed Black Theatre United in June 2020 with Audra McDonald, LaChanze, Billy Porter, Anna Deavere Smith, and others, and received the key to the city for his extensive work during the coronavirus crisis as chairman of the board of the Actors Fund — asks, “Do you like movies? TV shows? Miniseries? How about theater? Do you like theater? Like, really like theater? Do you like any medium that actors, composers, singers, writers, dancers could be on? We asked Vanessa Williams, Marc Shaiman, Bernadette Peters, Kristin Chenoweth, David Hyde Pierce, and more to talk about crossing over from stage to screen. And they all accepted because they love audiences, and audiences love them, and we all just love each other. You get it.” The show premieres July 26 with Williams (Soul Food, Kiss of the Spider Woman) and Daniel J. Watts (Tina: The Tina Turner Musical, The Last O.G.), followed August 30 with composer Shaiman (Hairspray, Mary Poppins Returns), September 27 with Peters (Annie Get Your Gun, The Jerk), October 25 with Chenoweth (Wicked, Glee), November 22 with Hyde Pierce (Spamalot, Fraser), and December 20 with a Holiday Finale. A minimum of ten percent of the net proceeds will benefit the Actors Fund.
TICKET GIVEAWAY: Tickets for Crossovers Live! with Brian Stokes Mitchell are $15 each, $25 for the show and access to the VIP chat room, and $100 for the Super VIP Livestream, which adds in signed merchandise. The six-show bundle is $49/$99/$500.
However, twi-ny is giving away two standard six-show bundles ($49) and one VIP bundle ($99) for free. In order to be eligible, you must like Crossovers Live! on Facebook and Instagram and, in addition, send your name, phone number, and favorite play, television show, or movie with Brian Stokes Mitchell in it to firstname.lastname@example.org by Thursday, July 22, at 3:00 pm. All entrants must be twenty-one years of age or older; three winners will be selected at random. As Mitchell sings, “And the world will be better for this / Oh, that one man, scorned and covered with scars / Still strong with his last ounce of courage / To reach the unreachable, the unreachable / The unreachable star.”
“I hate my life,” Marcus (Kamal Angelo Bolden) says early on in the virtual one-man show Ride Share, a psychological thriller streaming from Chicago’s Writers Theatre through July 25.
Marcus believed he was on the right road, doing everything correctly. The thirty-three-year-old Black man had just married a lovely woman, Joselyn, at an $85,000 wedding and returned from their honeymoon in Aruba imagining only brightness in his future. He gets called in to work, expecting to be made partner after having put in twelve dedicated, difficult years. Instead, Craig, a white Yale grad who married the boss’s niece, informs Marcus that he is being laid off. “He tells me that I should . . . count this as a blessing, this leaves your path wide open for a great adventure ahead of you. Oh, and by the way, there’s a box waiting for [you] at the front desk.”
Devastated and desperate for money, Marcus becomes a driver for every ride-share company he can find. He shuttles passengers around Chicago in his white Kia from four to ten every morning and again from seven at night till past midnight, jeopardizing his relationship not only with his new wife but with his sanity. Standing atop his car, he details his preoccupation with his rating, like a day trader or a compulsive gambler:
“From the start, ratings have been the bane of my existence. In three months, I’ve earned the ranking of a platinum-level driver. I’ve driven 647 trips with a rating of 4.9, with 629 five-star reviews, 10 four-stars, 4 three-stars, 3 two-stars, and 1 one-star review. I watch these ratings like a hawk. It’s gotten so bad that now I tell people I’m gonna give them five stars in hopes that they do the same. I check these ratings after every ride. I check them again before I go to bed; my wife thinks that I’m obsessed with these ratings. She says, ‘You pay more attention to your ratings than you do to me.” I say, ‘Well, you’re not gonna downgrade me from platinum to blue. She laughed and then she said, ‘You better be careful because your ratings aren’t the only things that could turn blue.’ I love her so much. She’s my everything.”
He spends his down time trying to create better opportunities, learning Spanish by listening to Latin music and hanging out with the other drivers at the airport. “All of us waiting. Waiting for just one ride. Waiting to control our own destinies, waiting on the America dream, waiting.” As his disdain for his passengers grows, particularly for snarky businesspeople and young white women, so does information about a new disease, Covid-19. Then fate steps in when Craig enters his vehicle and Marcus admits to himself that he always has an additional passenger sitting next to him, which he calls his dark rider. “No one can see him but me, our eyes lock, ten generations of rage staring back at me, his mouth gaping wide, uttering nothing but yet I hear his whispers,” he says. Suddenly the road ahead is filled with sin and temptation.
Written by Reginald Edmund and directed by Simeilia Hodge-Dallaway, the cofounders of the activist Black Lives, Black Words International Project, Ride Share, part of BLBW’s Plays for the People series, is a tense and uneasy journey into the mind of a man who has been rejected by a society that refuses to see him for who he is as an individual, as a unique human being. When seen at all, he is judged by the color of his skin and the type of car he drives, representations of systemic racism and income inequality. Bolden (Jitney, Detroit ’67) effectively captures the angst and fear that so many Black men and other people of color have felt so acutely over the last sixteen months (not to mention the decades before), during a pandemic that has led to isolation and economic hardship, as well as a reckoning for racial injustice.
At times, cinematographer Tannie Xin Tang brings the camera right up to Marcus’s mouth, making palpable the years of anguish and torment, ready to emerge and explode at any moment. Edited by Lesley Kubistal, with music and sound by CHXLL Sounds and scenic design by Alexandra Regazzoni, the eighty-minute hybrid work is informed by an ever-threatening claustrophobia that envelops the viewer, sitting at home, where not everyone is always as safe as they think they are. Marcus often is shown looking into his rearview mirror, watching out for what is chasing him, while the road ahead becomes continually darker. The ride can get bumpy, but the ultimate destination is as startling as it is, unfortunately, all too believable.