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

TICKET ALERT: THE DARK MASTER

Kuro Tanino’s The Dark Master is a VR treat for the senses (photo © Japan Society)

Japan Society
333 East 47th St.
June 23-27, $45
212-715-1258
www.japansociety.org

As the lockdown ends and venues start reopening, theaters are dealing with limited admissions, socially distanced seating, and protocols for the health and safety of the cast and crew. Several companies have come up with unique presentations that feature no performers and a sparse audience. In Simon Stephens’s Blindness, people sit in pods of two inside the Daryl Roth Theatre and listen to the narrative unfold through binaural headphones. In Social! at the Park Avenue Armory, fewer than a hundred people were marched into the Wade Thompson Drill Hall and danced in their own colored circle for nearly an hour as a DJ in the center spun tunes and the disembodied voice of David Byrne offered movement suggestions. For the Byzantine Choral Project’s Icons/Idols: In the Purple Room, two people at a time follow the narrative over their phone as they wander through creepy downstairs rooms at the New Ohio Theatre. And for En Garde Arts’ A Dozen Dreams, pairs make their way across twelve separate installations at the Winter Garden at Brookfield Place, each one containing a dream from a woman playwright.

Japan Society is entering the actorless arena with the latest iteration of writer-director Kuro Tanino’s The Dark Master, running for only sixteen performances from June 23 to 27, with a maximum of ten people at each show. A sculptor, painter, and former psychiatrist, Tanino (Frustrating Picture Book for Adults, Fortification of Smiles) created the immersive forty-five-minute piece for his experimental theater company, Niwa Gekidan Penino, but they will not be at the East Forty-Seventh St. institution; instead, the story, about the relationship between a Japanese diner and the owner-chef of a restaurant and inspired by an indie manga and first-person video games, takes place through Virtual Reality headsets and headphones, along with live onstage cooking to add smell and taste to hearing and seeing. The work was first presented in 2003 with a full cast and audience and has now been reimagined for the pandemic.

The Dark Master takes place for only ten people at a time at Japan Society (photo © Keizo Maeda)

“Niwa Gekidan Penino generated significant buzz in their 2014 U.S. debut at Japan Society with The Room Nobody Knows,” artistic director Yoko Shioya said in a statement. “With this new presentation, I hope to further their status and reputation in this country. We are extremely happy to welcome audiences back into our building for Kuro’s innovative and immersive in-person VR performance. From its intimate scale to the sensorial nature of the piece — along with its haunting and thrilling plot — this one-of-a-kind theater event seems tailor made for our return to live, onsite theater.” With only 160 total tickets available, you better act fast if you want to experience what should be a wild and special show.

AFROFEMONONOMY / WORK THE ROOTS

AFROFEMONONOMY / Work the Roots
Performance Space New York and other locations
150 First Ave.
May 15 – June 27, free with RSVP
performancespacenewyork.org
www.instagram.com/afrofemononomy

A multidisciplinary collaboration by some of today’s preeminent Black women creators, “Afrofemononomy / Work the Roots” features live theater, music, discussion, and installation, inspired by the career of activist, author, poet, playwright, editor, director, filmmaker, educator, and mother Kathleen Collins (Losing Ground, Whatever Happened to Interracial Love?), who died of breast cancer in 1988 at the age of forty-six.

According to the collective, “‘Afrofemononomy / Work the Roots’ is an affirmation of how we, as Black women, expected to maintain the world’s health, can restore and not imperil our own. Black women absorb disproportionate stress and often develop a variety of risk factors, including higher early mortality rates with cancer and other diseases. Working inside the unsustainable economy and time structures of theater-making are often depleting for us. ‘Afrofemononomy / Work the Roots’ is a Black femme reclaiming of time and space, a model for restoration, a continuation of the lineage of our foremothers’ formative presence in the downtown avant-garde. We claim our health and sovereignty, prioritizing our human needs, and translate the ease, free expression, and non-compulsory ethos of our informal gatherings to our working conditions and aesthetic.”

The six-week celebration, produced by Performance Space New York with New Georges, kicks off this weekend with Collins’s 1984 Begin the Beguine: A Quartet of One-Acts, which is having its theatrical world premiere at Oakland Theater Project later this month. Part of the Downtown Live festival, Remembrance, a kind of personal séance starring Eisa Davis and Kaneza Schaal and with directorial consultation by Jackie Sibblies Drury, takes place at 85 Broad St. on May 16 at 6:30, May 22 at 1:30 and 4:00, and May 23 at 4:00, in an arcade next to the Stone Street Historic District. Those same days at 2:30 and 3:45, Lileana Blain-Cruz, Amelia Workman, Kara Young, Gabby Beans, and Jennifer Harrison Newman will present The Reading in the Courtyard at 122CC, Performance Space New York’s home, a tale set in a psychic’s waiting room with a white novelist and a Black fashion designer.

Begin the Beguine unfolds May 15 and 16 on a lawn in East Harlem, performed by April Matthis and Stacey Karen Robinson about an actress mother and her adult son and created with Charlotte Brathwaite, and The Healing is set in a Bed-Stuy park May 15-16 with Joie Lee, Schaal and Drury, as a white healer tries to help a Black woman with an unnamed illness.

In addition, Blain-Cruz’s installation “Last night, I dreamt I danced in the image of God” provides “a space for dance, rest and sustenance made for and in appreciation of Black women,” running May 15-16 and 22-23 from noon to 2:30 and 4:00 to 7:00 in the Courtyard at 122CC, and Davis’s audio-visual installation “The Essentialisn’t: Gold Taste” is open Thursdays to Sundays from May 29 to June 27 from noon to 6:00 at Performance Space New York’s Keith Haring Theatre and in the Courtyard, with occasional live sound interaction that asks the question “Can you be Black and not perform?” And finally, on May 15, “Afrofemononomy” will launch an online, international, interactive radio project. All events are free but require advance RSVP for timed tickets and because of limited space.

TALES FROM THE WINGS: A LINCOLN CENTER THEATER CELEBRATION!

Who: Jordan Donica, Rosemary Harris, Patti LuPone, Audra McDonald, Ruthie Ann Miles, Seth Numrich, Steven Pasquale, Paulo Szot, Ayad Akhtar, Lileana Blain-Cruz, Bartlett Sher
What: Benefit fundraiser for Lincoln Center Theater
Where: Lincoln Center Theater YouTube
When: Thursday, May 13, free with RSVP, 7:00 (available through May 17)
Why: With arts venues opening up across the city this summer and fall, Lincoln Center Theater takes a look back and ahead in its virtual fundraiser “Tales from the Wings.” Premiering on YouTube on May 13 at 7:00, the show will feature appearances by Jordan Donica, Rosemary Harris, Patti LuPone, Audra McDonald, Ruthie Ann Miles, Seth Numrich, Steven Pasquale, Paulo Szot, Ayad Akhtar, Lileana Blain-Cruz, and Bartlett Sher sharing stories about working at the Vivian Beaumont, the Mitzi E. Newhouse, and the Claire Tow. The evening will also include excerpts from previous productions and a sneak peek at the upcoming 2021-22 season. The benefit will be available on demand through May 17; admission is free, although donations are welcome.

TWI-NY AT TWENTY: ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATION

Who: Works by and/or featuring Moko Fukuyama, Joshua William Gelb, Gabrielle Hamilton, Jace, Elmore James, Jamal Josef, Katie Rose McLaughlin, Sara Mearns, Zaire Michel, Zalman Mlotek, Alicia Hall Moran, Patrick Page, Barbara Pollack, Seth David Radwell, Jamar Roberts, Tracy Sallows, Xavier F. Salomon, Janae Snyder-Stewart, Mfoniso Udofia, Anne Verhallen
What: This Week in New York twentieth anniversary celebration
Where: This Week in New York YouTube
When: Saturday, May 22, free with RSVP, 7:00 (available on demand through June 12)
Why: In April 2001, I found myself suddenly jobless when a relatively new Silicon Alley company that had made big promises took an unexpected hit. I took my meager two weeks’ severance pay and spent fourteen days wandering through New York City, going to museums, film festivals, parks, and tourist attractions. I compiled my experiences into an email I sent to about fifty friends, rating each of the things I had done. My sister’s husband enthusiastically demanded that I keep doing this, and This Week in New York was born.

Affectionately known as twi-ny (twhy-nee), it became a website in 2005 and soon was being read by tens of thousands of people around the globe. I covered a vast array of events – some fifteen thousand over the years – that required people to leave their homes and apartments and take advantage of everything the greatest city in the world had to offer. From the very start, I ventured into nooks and crannies to find the real New York, not just frequenting well-known venues but seeking out the weird and wild, the unusual and the strange.

For my tenth anniversary, we packed Fontana’s, a now-defunct club on the Lower East Side, and had live music, book readings, and a comics presentation. I had been considering something bigger for twenty when the pandemic lockdown hit and lasted longer than we all thought possible.

At first, I didn’t know what twi-ny’s future would be, with nowhere for anyone to go. But the arts community reacted quickly, as incredible dance, music, art, theater, opera, film, and hybrid offerings began appearing on numerous platforms; the innovation and ingenuity blew me away. The winners of twi-ny’s Pandemic Awards give you a good idea of the wide range of things I covered; you can check out part one here and part two here.

I devoured everything I could, from experimental dance-theater in a closet and interactive shows over the phone and through the mail to all-star Zoom reunion readings and an immersive, multisensory play that arrived at my door in a box. Many of them dealt with the fear, isolation, and loneliness that have been so pervasive during the Covid-19 crisis while also celebrating hope, beauty, and resilience. I’ve watched, reviewed, and previewed more than a thousand events created since March 2020, viewing them from the same computer where I work at my full-time job in children’s publishing.

Just as companies are deciding the future hybrid nature of employment, the arts community is wrestling with in-person and online presentations. As the lockdown ends and performance venues open their doors, some online productions will go away, but others are likely to continue, benefiting from a reach that now goes beyond their local area and stretches across the continents.

On May 22 at 7:00, “twi-ny at twenty,” produced and edited by Michael D. Drucker of Delusions International and coproduced by Ellen Scordato, twi-ny’s business manager and muse, honors some of the best events of the past fourteen months, including dance, theater, opera, art, music, and literature, all of which can be enjoyed for free from the friendly confines of your couch. There is no registration fee, and the party will be available online for several weeks. You can find more information here.

Please let me know what you think in the live chat, which I will be hosting throughout the premiere, and be sure to say hello to other twi-ny fans and share your own favorite virtual shows.

Thanks for coming along on this unpredictable twenty-year adventure; I can’t wait to see you all online and, soon, in real life. Here’s to the next twenty!

BLESSED UNREST: TOUCH

Touch takes place on the sidewalk, with Madison Square Park in the background (photo by Maria Baranova)

TOUCH
Blessed Unrest; NYC Open Culture Program
Saturday, May 8, 7:00, and Sunday, May 9, 3:00 & 5:00
Admission: free with RSVP (suggested donation $25)
East 26th Street (between 5th and Madison Avenue, NYC)
www.blessedunrest.org
www1.nyc.gov

The Manhattan-based Blessed Unrest company explores our deep-seated need for physical and emotional connection in Touch, a dance-theater piece performed guerrilla-style just outside Madison Square Park. Part of the city’s Open Culture Program, the forty-five-minute work takes place on the sidewalk near the southwest corner of East Twenty-Sixth St. and Broadway, the park right behind them. Wearing masks, Michael Gene Jacobs, Tatyana Kot, Ariel Polanco, and Anna Wulfekuhle nimbly move across a long bench and interact with a lamppost, a circular bike rack, and a low railing around a tree as overlapping stories are broadcast from two small, portable speakers. The narratives, based on personal stories of isolation shared by the performers and edited and expanded by Keith Hamilton Cobb (American Moor) and Teddy Jefferson (One Inch Leather, The Insomniac), involve Oedipus, a horse, and a mysterious neighbor. The socially distanced audience, also wearing masks, stand or sit in the street, which is blocked off to vehicular traffic but not to pedestrians and bicyclists, who sometimes walk or pedal right through the performance, lending an unpredictable quality to the proceedings.

Performers make use of a bench, a bike rack, a lamppost, and more in site-specific Touch (photo by Maria Baranova)

“When we finished working on our 2015 show Body: Anatomies of Being, which was also built around personal testimonials from the performers, we felt strongly that the idea of touch hadn’t been explored fully in the final work,” director Jessica Burr (The Snow Queen, Eurydice’s Dream), who founded the company in 1999, said in a statement. “It seemed particularly fitting to revisit this subject now, as the months of detachment and related touch deprivation began to take a toll on all of us. When workshopping this piece remotely, each in our own isolated bubble, we spoke about research on mirror neurons and the emotional brain. That research suggests that our witnessing of the authentic corporeal experiences of others can stimulate the very same visceral response in our own brains, as though the experience were ours. It’s the forging of literal compassion through neural growth in our audiences.”

Touch, which features music composition, arrangement, and sound design by Adrian Bridges and costumes by Sohn Plenefisch, continues May 8 and 9; admission is free with RSVP. (There is a suggested donation of $25.) Be sure to also take a walk through Madison Square Park, where Maya Lin’s Ghost Forest, consisting of forty-nine bare trees representing impending environmental calamity, is on view through mid-November.

REP ON-AIR: THE WAVES IN QUARANTINE

The cast of The Waves in Quarantine comes together over Zoom in Berkeley Rep live discussion on May 6

Who: Raúl Esparza, Alice Ripley, Nikki Renée Daniels, Carmen Cusack, Darius de Haas, Adam Gwon, Manu Narayan, Johanna Pfaelzer
What: Live discussion about six-part The Waves in Quarantine
Where: Berkeley Rep Zoom
When: Thursday, May 6, free with RSVP, 8:30 (presentation available on demand through May 28)
Why: In 1990, New York Theatre Workshop presented The Waves, a musical adaptation by director Lisa Peterson and composer and lyricist David Bucknam of the 1931 novel by Virginia Woolf about six friends, portrayed by Catherine Cox, Diane Fratantoni, Aloyisius Gigl, John Jellison, Sarah Rice, and John Sloman. During the pandemic lockdown, Berkeley Rep has taken a deep dive into the novel and adaptation, exploring the characters, the settings, Woolf’s life, and the making of the musical. Conceived by Esparza and Peterson and directed by Peterson, The Waves in Quarantine: A Theatrical Experiment in 6 Movements is streaming for free through May 28, with songs, reflections, recitations, and memories shared by actors Raúl Esparza, Alice Ripley, Nikki Renée Daniels, Carmen Cusack, Darius de Haas, and Manu Narayan in addition to Adam Gwon, who wrote additional music and lyrics for the show. The actors film themselves at home and outside and meet over Zoom over the course of ninety minutes, covering “Memory,” “Those We Love,” “The Female Gaze,” “Absence,” “The Sun Cycle,” and “Reunion,” paying special tribute to Bucknam, who passed away in 2001 at the age of thirty-two. On May 6 at 8:30 EST, members of the cast will reunite over Zoom for a live discussion about The Waves in Quarantine, moderated by Berkeley Rep artistic director Johanna Pfaelzer. Admission is free with RSVP.

SIGNATURE THEATRE 30th ANNIVERSARY GALA: THREE DECADES TOGETHER, ONE FUTURE FOR US ALL

Who: Anna Deavere Smith, Katori Hall, Samuel D. Hunter, Dominique Morisseau, Lynn Nottage, Dave Malloy, Abraham Kim, Jane Lui, Joe Ngo, Courtney Reed, more
What: Gala celebration and fundraiser
Where: Signature Theatre YouTube
When: Thursday, May 6, free with RSVP, 7:00
Why: One of the theaters I have missed the most during the pandemic lockdown has been the Signature, home to four unique spaces in addition to a bar with live music on far west Forty-Second St. Founded in 1991 by James Houghton, the Signature is a playwright-driven company, having dedicated seasons to a wide range of established and emerging writers, from Edward Albee, Horton Foote, Arthur Miller, Sam Shepard, August Wilson, and A. R. Gurney to Paula Vogel, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, Suzan-Lori Parks, Will Eno, María Irene Fornés, and Annie Baker. During the pandemic, Signature has been posting live discussions, behind-the-scenes videos, and clowning challenges by Bill Irwin. On May 6, the theater will host its thirtieth anniversary gala, paying tribute to resident playwright Anna Deavere Smith, who was in the midst of a season that included revivals of Fires in the Mirror and Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 when the coronavirus crisis shut down the city. Among those making appearances at the free event, titled “Three Decades Together, One Future for Us All” and directed by Lila Neugebauer, are resident playwrights Katori Hall, Samuel D. Hunter, Sarah Ruhl, and Lynn Nottage, with performances by Dave Malloy and members of the cast of Lauren Yee’s Cambodian Rock Band (Abraham Kim, Jane Lui, Joe Ngo, and Courtney Reed).