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

ON THE ROOF: A LOOK INSIDE FIDDLER ON THE ROOF IN YIDDISH BOOK PARTY

Joel Grey, Samantha Hahn, Stephanie Lynne Mason, Zalmen Mlotek, Rosie Jo Neddy, Bebe Neuwirth, Raquel Nobile, Jana Robbins, and Rachel Zatcoff will take part in Yiddish Fiddler book celebration

Who: Joel Grey, Samantha Hahn, Stephanie Lynne Mason, Zalmen Mlotek, Rosie Jo Neddy, Bebe Neuwirth, Raquel Nobile, Jana Robbins, Rachel Zatcoff
What: Virtual book launch party
Where: National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene
When: Sunday, May 2, free, 2:15
Why: In the summer of 2018, the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene unleashed a phenomenon on the New York City theater world, a mind-blowing production of Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish. At the time, I wrote, “I’ve seen numerous Fiddlers over the years, but this Yiddish version, which could have felt dated and old-fashioned, instead is very much of the moment in the wake of the immigrant and refugee crisis currently going on in America and around the world. It’s chilling watching the final scenes in light of what is shown on the news night after night.” Samantha Hahn, who played Beylke, the youngest of Tevye and Golde’s five daughters, documented the making of the show, regularly talking to cast and crew, and now takes us behind the scenes — through auditions, rehearsals, mishaps, and more — in On The Roof: A Look Inside Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish. She writes in the book, “I went home that night and took a shower, put on my pajamas, turned out the lights, and crawled into bed. A minute later I got out of bed, turned on the lights, took the pillow case off of my pillow to wrap around my head like a shmata, and practiced the ‘Tradition’ choreography. Even in my little bedroom, wearing my ‘Yertle the Turtle’ hand-me-down pajama shirt and my blue pillow case around my head — it felt like I was doing something special.”

On May 2 at 2:15, Hahn, an actress, singer, voiceover artist, and author, will do something special at a virtual book party, reuniting with her four stage sisters, Stephanie Lynn Mason (Hodl), Rosie Jo Neddy (Khave), Raquel Nobile (Shprintze), and Rachel Zatcoff (Tsaytl), as well as director Joel Grey, producer Jana Robbins, NYTF artistic director Zalmen Mlotek, and Fiddler fan Bebe Neuwirth, who was at the Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust for opening night. (The musical later moved uptown to Stage 42.) The party will include backstage video footage, a panel discussion, a live chat, and a Q&A. To get in the mood, you can check out Fiddler’s Stars in the House reunion here.

ALL THE DEVILS ARE HERE: HOW SHAKESPEARE INVENTED THE VILLAIN

Patrick Page explores the history of villainy in Shakespeare’s plays in captivating one-man show for STC

Shakespeare Theatre Company
Available on demand, $25
www.shakespearetheatre.org

I can’t think of a better way to celebrate William Shakespeare’s 457th birthday — and honor the 405th anniversary of his death — by watching Patrick Page’s extraordinary one-man show, All the Devils Are Here: How Shakespeare Invented the Villain, in which the award-winning actor makes the case that no one has ever created bad guys quite like the Bard.

Shakespeare Theatre Company’s streaming presentation begins with an introduction by Page from his home, explaining why he wrote a play about scoundrels and malefactors. “My aim in doing so is to show how Shakespeare’s two-decade exploration of evil actually made him a more humane and sophisticated writer. In creating an entirely new kind of villain, Shakespeare rejected the prejudices of his age and became a writer for all of us.”

In the eighty-minute show, filmed at STC’s Sidney Harman Hall without an audience, Page traces the history of villains in the Bard’s plays chronologically, from 1590 to 1611, adding in a nod to a theatrical experience from young Will’s childhood. “Do you believe in evil spirits? Do you believe in evil? Did Shakespeare?” Page asks. “It’s an important question because Shakespeare, for all intents and purposes, invented the characters we now call the villain. You’ve likely seen Shakespeare’s influence everywhere and not even recognized it.”

Page, who is one of theater’s greatest Shakespearean actors and teachers, portrays Richard III, Sir John Falstaff from Henry IV, Part 2 (referring to him as “a walking compendium of the Seven Deadly Sins”), Malvolio from Twelfth Night, Claudius from Hamlet, Prospero from The Tempest, Lady Macbeth from Macbeth, and Iago from Othello, who he identifies as a sociopath. Talking about playing Iago in an STC production (opposite Avery Brooks), Page explains, “And so began a year of research and study that changed my view of my fellow human beings and opened my eyes to the reality of the evil hidden in plain sight all around us.” (Page has also played Macbeth, Claudius, Prospero, and Coriolanus at STC.)

Page compares the title character of Christopher Marlowe’s The Jew of Malta to Aaron the Moor from Titus Andronicus and does a deep dive into Shylock from The Merchant of Venice. “Shylock is the villain of the play,” he states. “But for the first time in history, he’s a villain whose motivation is so clear, whose psychology is so complex, and whose language is so rich and idiosyncratic that he changes the way we experience villainy itself.”

Directed by Alan Paul and shot by Ryan Risley, the play opens with Page walking onstage, looking out at an empty audience, an immediate reminder of the world’s current villain, the coronavirus, which has kept theaters closed for more than a year. Elizabeth A. Coco’s lighting is sharp and intense as Risley’s camera films Page from numerous angles, with appropriately ominous close-ups. Various props add further tension as well as comic relief; just wait until you see how Page portrays Falstaff. Gordon Nimmo-Smith’s sound design captures Page’s distinctive baritone as it resonates throughout the empty theater.

Patrick Page looks at the concept of evil in Shakespeare’s characters, including Richard III, in streaming presentation

Page knows what of he speaks; in addition to having portrayed his fair share of Shakespeare baddies, he has played Scar in The Lion King, Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, the Green Goblin in Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, Hades in Hadestown, and the Grinch in Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas, villains all in one form or another. His command of Shakespeare and the concept of evil is bold and impressive, but he is down-to-earth enough to throw in plenty of surprising modern-day pop-culture references to keep it fresh and relevant to those who might not know much about the Bard or Elizabethan theater. It’s a bravura performance that provides a much-needed level of comfort as theaters remain closed, albeit with legitimate hopes that they will be reopening in the very near future. In the meantime, we have Page and All the Devils Are Here to keep us company and scare the wits out of us, as he does with the following frightening excerpt from Macbeth:

“Make thick my blood. / Stop up the access and passage to remorse, / Let no compunctious visitings of nature / Shake my fell purpose, nor keep a peace between / The effect and it! Come, thick night, / and pall thee in the dunnest smoke of hell, / That my keen knife see not the wound it makes, / Nor heaven peep through the blanket of the dark / To cry ‘Hold, hold!’”

SHAKESPEARE’S BIRTHDAY BASH: SHAKESPEARE AND THE LANGUAGE THAT SHAPED A WORLD

Who: Shakespeare & Company
What: Virtual celebration of William Shakespeare’s birthday
Where: Online
When: Friday, April 23, free with RSVP, 7:00
Why: Massachusetts-based Shakespeare & Company is paying tribute to the Bard with “Shakespeare’s Birthday Bash,” taking place online April 23 at 7:00. The virtual party will feature a performance of Shakespeare and the Language that Shaped a World by the troupe’s Northeast Regional Tour of Shakespeare, which includes Courtney Bryan Devon, Devante Owens, Eliana Rowe, Emily Díaz, Kirsten Peacock, Madeleine Rose Maggio, and Nick Nudler. Written by Kevin G. Coleman in collaboration with the cast and reimagined for online viewing, the show is a fast-paced, family-friendly trip through the world of Shakespeare, delving into his life while presenting various scenes from his plays. This summer, Shakespeare & Company will be staging King Lear at the outdoors New Spruce Theatre, starring Christopher Lloyd as the troubled ruler, overlapping with Debra Ann Byrd’s Becoming Othello: A Black Girl’s Journey at the outdoor Roman Garden Theatre, followed by a workshop production of Measure for Measure, also at the Roman Garden.

SHAKESPEARE HOUR LIVE! ROMEO & JULIET PRESHOW CELEBRATION

Who: Claire Danes
What: Shakespeare Hour Live! discussion about Romeo + Juliet
Where: Facebook Live and YouTube Live
When: Friday, April 23, free, 8:00
Why: Twenty-five years ago, Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes starred as the title lovers in Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet, a modern-day adaptation of Shakespeare’s tragedy, pitting two business empires against each other, the Montagues and the Capulets, while using the the Bard’s original dialogue. On the night that PBS’s Great Performances presentation of the National Theatre’s Romeo & Juliet, which was filmed following Covid-19 protocols, is making its US premiere, Danes will talk about the movies and the play in the latest Shakespeare Hour Live!, the ongoing series hosted by DC’s Shakespeare Theatre Company, whose artistic director, Simon Godwin, directed the National Theatre production. Luhrmann’s 1999 movie features Brian Dennehy and Christina Pickles as Romeo’s parents, Paul Sorvino and Diane Venora as Juliet’s folks, John Leguizamo as Tybalt, Dash Mihok as Benvolio, and Miriam Margolyes as the nurse, while Godwin’s version, which makes full use of the National Theatre space, stars Jessie Buckley as Juliet and Josh O’Connor as Romeo, with Tamsin Greig as Lady Capulet, Lloyd Hutchinson as Lord Capulet, Colin Tierney as Lord Montague, David Judge as Tybalt, Alex Mugnaioni as Paris, Shubham Saraf as Benvolio, Adrian Lester as the prince, Fisayo Akinade as Mercutio, and Deborah Findlay as the nurse.

SHAKESPEARE SONNET SLAM

Who: Gingold Theatrical Group
What: Virtual open mic Shakespeare birthday celebration
Where: Gingold Zoom and Facebook
When: Friday, April 23, free with RSVP, 6:00
Why: This month marks William Shakespeare’s 457th birthday as well as the 405th anniversary of his death, and New York City’s Gingold Theatrical Group, which specializes in works by George Bernard Shaw, will be paying tribute to the Bard with a free, virtual Shakespeare Sonnet Slam open mic on April 23 at 6:00. Among those who will be reading from Shakespeare’s writings are Stephen Brown-Fried, Robert Cuccioli, Tyne Daly, George Dvorsky, Melissa Errico, Alison Fraser, Tom Hewitt, Daniel Jenkins, John-Andrew Morrison, Patrick Page, Maryann Plunkett, Tonya Pinkins, Laila Robins, Jay O. Sanders, Renee Taylor, and Jon Patrick Walker — and the general public, who is invited to offer their own favorite pieces either by or inspired by Will, kept to less than three minutes. “We’re eager to celebrate as much as we can with whatever we can these days,” GTG artistic director David Staller said in a statement. “And since nobody has contributed more to the world of the theater than William Shakespeare, we’re going to celebrate like mad. He wrote more than 150 magnificent sonnets and I doubt we’ll get through them all but we’ll give it our best shot.” In order to be part of the interactive festivities, you must register by April 22 at 4:00.

YIDDISH WOMEN PLAYWRIGHTS FESTIVAL: THE BIRD OF THE GHETTO (DER FOYGL FUN GETO)

NYTF’s Yiddish Women Playwrights Festival gets under way with The Bird of the Ghetto

Who: Rachel Botchan, Rebecca Brudner, Spencer Chandler, Motl Didner, Kirk Geritano, Avi Hoffman, Maya Jacobson, Daniel Kahn, Lea Kalisch, Rebecca Keren, Avram Mlotek, Lauren Schaffel, Dylan Seders Hoffman, Tatiana Wechsler, Hy Wolfe, Mikhl Yashinsky
What: Inaugural production in NYTF’s Yiddish Women Playwrights Festival
Where: Folksbiene Live!
When: April 18-22, free
Why: At one point in The Bird of the Ghetto (Der Foygl fun Geto), a bird has fallen from a bathhouse roof. “A bird! Look, we found a bird, ” Falke exclaims. When she looks closer, she adds, “I think it’s sick.” Picking up the bird, Sholemke says, “It has broken wings. Look how it trembles. It’s frightened. Do you know how to heal sick birds, Yoyne?” Yoyne responds, “Ask Borukh, he might know.” Falke: “Do you know how to heal sick birds?” Shlemke: “Look, it can’t fly.” Yoyne: “You see, mister? A ghetto bird. You ought to pin the Star of David on it.” Borukh finally chimes in, “A real bird could fly in the ghetto too.” Sholemke: “You mean this is not a real bird? It’s alive. Look, it moves.” Borukh: “A bird should be able to fly. If it can’t fly, it’s not alive even if it lives.” Sholemke: “It’s sick.” Borukh: “So it is.” Falke: “Tell us what to do.” Borukh: “There isn’t much you can do. Be kind to itself, let it help itself.”

Written in 1958 by Holocaust survivor Chava Rosenfarb, The Bird of the Ghetto tells the true story of Jewish resistance fighter Itsik Vitenberg and the 1943 Vilna uprising. Although the play was written in Yiddish, it has never been performed in that language until now, in a virtual reading by the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene, directed by Suzanne Toren and translated by Goldie Morgentaler. The two-hour work is streaming for free April 18-22, in conjunction with the seventy-eighth anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. It features Rachel Botchan as Edzshe, Rebecca Brudner as Ester, Spencer Chandler as Vitenberg (commander of the United Partisan Organization, known as the FPO), Motl Didner as Shloyme, Kirk Geritano as Yoyne, Avi Hoffman as Judenrat head Yakov Gens, Maya Jacobson as Freydke, Lea Kalisch as Tea, Rebecca Keren as Dine, Avram Mlotek as Borukh, Lauren Schaffel as Falke, Dylan Seders Hoffman as Sholemke, Tatiana Wechsler as Sorke, Hy Wolfe as the doctor, and Mikhl Yashinsky as Yehude. Nearly all the characters wear a large yellow star on their clothing, identifying them as Jewish. The production kicks off NYTF’s Yiddish Women Playwrights Festival, which celebrates Yiddish plays by women writers. “As we commemorate the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, the true story behind The Bird of the Ghetto is a moving testament to the bravery and resilience of the Jewish resistance during the Holocaust,” NYTF artistic director Zalmen Mlotek said in a statement.

SOCIAL! THE SOCIAL DISTANCE DANCE CLUB

Park Ave. Armory, Wade Thompson Drill Hall
643 Park Ave. at 67th St.
April 9-22, $45 ($35 standby tickets available)
212-933-5812
www.armoryonpark.org

Twister is the most physical of board games. The more people come into contact with one another on the plastic mat — which contains colored circles that participants must touch with one of their hands or feet depending on what the spinner tells them to do — the more fun it is to play and to watch. The same can be said for dancing, a social activity that brings people together in numerous ways. In a 2015 study, Bronwyn Tarr, Jacques Launay, Emma Cohen, and Robin Dunbar explained, “All human cultures perform and enjoy forms of music and dance in a group setting. Dancing involves people synchronizing their movements to a predictable, rhythmic beat (usually provided by music) and to each other. In this manner, dance is fundamentally cooperative in nature, and may have served the evolutionary function of encouraging social bonds, cooperation, and prosocial behaviors between group members. To date, empirical support for this social bonding hypothesis is based mainly on a link between synchrony (i.e. performing the same movement at the same time) and bonding.” In a twist on both Twister and dancing, the Park Ave. Armory commission Social! the social distance dance club incorporates people, colorful circles on the floor, and synchronous bonding in an immensely boisterous evening of interaction that features no touching whatsoever.

The armory was supposed to kick off its Social Distance Hall series with Bill T. Jones’s Afterwardsness, but several positive Covid tests in the company led to its postponement until May, after Party in the Bardo, a collaboration between Laurie Anderson and Jason Moran running May 5-9. Conceived by choreographer Steven Hoggett (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child), Tony-winning set designer and solo show specialist Christine Jones (American Idiot, Here We Are: Theatre for One), and multidisciplinary artist David Byrne (Talking Heads, American Utopia), Social! takes place in the fifty-five-thousand-square-foot Wade Thompson Drill, where nearly one hundred ticket holders spend fifty-five minutes moving and grooving in their own private circle.

Audience members must arrive about an hour before showtime to have a Covid-19 shallow-swab rapid response test. While waiting for the results — anyone who comes up positive will need to immediately leave the building with the rest of their party (and will be refunded the $45 ticket price) — groups of about twenty-four waited in different locations in the historic armory, where monitors displayed quotes about dancing from a March 2021 Financial Times article, “Covid will not squash our deep-seated need to dance,” by Will Coldwell, who references the above study in his piece, along with YouTube videos of men, women, and children from around the world dancing with joy. (For example, “Dance provides us with a universal language — one deeper and more emotional than words — that helps us to bond with other, often unfamiliar, people.”) Eventually we audience members were marched into the drill hall in formation, and each was sent to an assigned spotlight, spaced at twelve-to-fifteen-foot intervals. (The lighting design, which includes the projection of abstract shapes and a disco ball, is by Kevin Adams; the above videos are © DBOX.) In the center, on a slowly revolving raised platform, is DJ Mad Love (Tony nominee Karine Plantadit), who spins tunes on two computers (mixed by DJ Natasha Diggs) while Byrne’s disembodied voice guides us, suggesting specific movements and encouraging self-expression. (His instructions were done in conjunction with choreographer Yasmine Lee.)

To songs by D-Train, Daft Punk, James Brown, Benny Goodman, Olivia Newton-John, Fatback, Byrne, and others, the former Talking Heads leader prompts us through various scenarios (hands waving in the air, weaving through a subway car, balancing at the edge of your circle, swaying slowly, etc., although some of it is hard to hear amid the thumping beats) before leading up to the grand finale, a unified dance that we were advised to rehearse in advance via a video in which Byrne demonstrates the moves.

The drill hall is a judgment-free space; no one is going to laugh at your dancing, and you’re not going to laugh at anyone else’s. It’s a time to kick loose and let it all go, immerse yourself in a worry-free hour of nonstop exhilaration. It’s not always easy — several people in my vicinity had to take rests, and one woman spent much of the show sitting in her circle — but the more you are able to put into it, the more you will get out of it. (Coldwell explains, “As we now know so well, it’s far easier to start dancing than it is to stop.”) And when you are taken back to your seat, a small, relevant little gift is waiting for you, one last reminder that even if we can’t be together in a physical way — Twister might not be on the menu for a bit longer — we can now gather safely and bond, as long as we’re tested, masked, socially distanced, and ready to have a blast.