Archive for December, 2015

Culture Vulture: the year in review

December 30, 2015

Top Theater of 2015:


  1. A View from the Bridge – Ivo van Hove’s intense Broadway revival of Arthur Miller’s, staged within Jan Verseweyveld’s evocative stark set and lighting, an excellent cast headed by Mark Strong, Michael Gould, and Nicola Walker
  2. Between Riverside and Crazy – I’m thankful that Second Stage brought back the Atlantic Theater Company’s production of Stephen Adly Giurgis’s deep, dark well-deserved Pulitzer recipient, full of amazing performances (Stephen McKinley Henderson and Liza Colon-Zayas – pictured below — with Ron Cephas Jones and Victor Almanzar) directed by Austin Pendleton.


  1. An Octoroon – the kind of big, messy, important, risk-taking production that keeps me engaged with theater. Playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins had key collaborators in director Sarah Benson, eight brave actors, smart producers (Theatre for a New Audience extended the life of the show that began at Soho Rep), and a design team at the top of their game (especially Mimi Lien, who certainly deserves the MacArthur Foundation fellowship she won this year).
  2. John (Signature Theatre) – Annie Baker’s long astonishing play staged by Sam Gold on Mimi Lien’s hyperrealistic set with four terrific performances: Georgia Engel, Lois Smith, Christopher Abbott, and Hong Chau.

    GhostQuartet3(Ryan Jensen)

  3. Ghost Quartet – a sweet and haunting chamber piece from Dave Malloy (above, plaid shirt), composer of Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812, performed in the cozy setting of the bar at the McKittrick Hotel.
  4. And That’s How The Rent Gets Paid – Jeff Weiss (below) and Ricardo Martinez’s East Village epic revived at the Kitchen featuring a cast of veteran and emerging downtown stars under director Brooke O’Harra’s fine-tuned cat-herding.
    7-14 jeff weiss
  5. iOW@ (Playwrights Horizons) — playwright Jenny Schwartz gave herself an amazing amount of freedom with this piece, one of the most aggressively odd-shaped plays I’ve ever seen in how information is delivered, how characters are introduced, how the story advances, the use of music (gorgeous and scrupulously unpredictable score by Todd Almond), etc. Kudos to director Ken Rus Schmoll and a super-game cast.
  6. Composition…Master-Pieces…Identity (Target Margin Theater) – I don’t know how he does it but David Greenspan again inhabited Gertrude Stein’s prose with effortless genius.
  7. Gloria (Vineyard Theatre) – another fine example of Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ gift for merging social commentary, shrewd humor, and extraordinary performance opportunities; Evan Cabnet directed the fantastic six-member cast, among whom Jennifer Kim and Ryan Spahn stood out for me.
  8. Hamilton (Public Theatre) – I had my reservations about the most acclaimed musical of the year (the hiphop score is monotonous, the staging is theatrically square, and author Lin-Manuel Miranda’s performance struck me as charmless) but there’s no denying that this retelling of early American history by black and Latino performers is smart, conceptually ambitious, and fiendishly well-written.
  9. Steve (New Group) – Mark Gerrard’s smart, hilarious gay comedy about sad stuff, impeccably directed by Cynthia Nixon with a fine cast and a seriously great performance by Matt McGrath.

Honorable Mentions:

Eclipsed (Public Theatre)– Danai Gurira’s original play about the experience of women during Liberia’s civil war with an exceptional all-female ensemble directed by Liesl Tommy

Ada/Ava (3Legged Dog) – unusual, inventive, emotionally absorbing shadow puppet play created by the Chicago-based Manual Cinema

Spring Awakening – DeafWest Theatre’s revelatory revival of Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater’s musical adaptation of Frank Wedekind’s play with a cast full of impressive Broadway newcomers directed by Michael Arden, noteworthy set by Dane Laffrey.

Grounded (Public Theater) – Julie Taymor brought her theatrical magic to this small honest play starring Anne Hathaway (below) as a disillusioned and war-damaged drone pilot


Preludes (LCT3) – another exceptional eccentric musical event from the team of composer Dave Malloy and director Rachel Chavkin starring Gabriel Ebert (below, with flowers) on another dazzling Mimi Lien set.


Disgraced – Ayad Akhtar’s play superbly directed on Broadway by Kimberly Senior.

Living Here (Foundry Theatre) — Gideon Irving’s one-man musical performed in living rooms all over NYC (including mine)

Raul Esparza in Cymbeline in Central Park

1-8 keith abronsKeith Hennessy’s bear/SKIN in the Abrons Arts Center’s American Realness Festival

Bob Crowley’s sets and costumes and Robert Fairchild’s performance in An American in Paris

Daniel Oreskes, Cameron Scoggins, and Tom Phelan in Taylor Mac’s Hir at Playwrights Horizons with a set by David Zinn that screamed “toxic America”

Other Culture Vulture High Points:

South African photographer Zanele Muholi’s show Isibonelo/Evidence at the Brooklyn Museum

Anna Teresa de Keersmaker’s Partita in the White Light Festival

The new Whitney Museum

Habeas Corpus, Laurie Anderson’s collaboration with Guantanamo Bay detainee Mohammed el Gharani at the Park Avenue Armory

Love and Mercy, Bill Pohlad’s harrowing, arty, moving, thrilling biopic of Brian Wilson with an incredible performance by Paul Dano – my favorite film of the year

Quote of the day: INITIATION

December 4, 2015


Initiation is a lot about knocking on pain’s door and introducing yourself so that when it shows up later, unannounced, you’re not shocked, insulted and unable to cope. If you don’t consciously engage in rituals of initiation, don’t worry — life will bring you pain, and when it does it’s good to recognize your experience as initiatory. Courage is not letting fear of pain overwhelm you. Wisdom (adulthood) is knowing that pain is coming.

–Jules Beckman
jules beckman


December 3, 2015

OK, friends, I’m making a serious ask here. Three years ago, after the shootings at the elementary school in Newtown, CT, activists engaged a roster of familiar faces from the world of entertainment to make a public service announcement that went viral on YouTube urging citizens to contact their elected officials to “Demand a Plan to End Gun Violence.” You probably watched this video, agreed with it, thought “Good idea”…and, like me, put it on a list of Things to Do that you’ve never gotten around to.

Since then, mass murders by gun-wielding maniacs have accelerated at a horrifying pace. I’m urging you to take time this week and write to both of your senators and to your representative in Congress DEMANDING A PLAN to end gun violence.

I’ve done this today — sent letters by both email and postal mail. Here’s the text of my letter.

I am a constituent of yours residing in midtown Manhattan. I admire and respect you tremendously and consider you to be one of the most visionary and enlightened legislators in our country at a time when clear and progressive vision and genuine enlightenment are in short supply. I am writing you today because I am outraged and heartsick at the epidemic of senseless shooting rampages that we are witnessing day in and day out. I demand a plan to do something to bring these attacks to an end. No other country in the world has such an accelerating history of citizens getting mowed down in public by deranged individuals toting weapons that should never be sold in stores in the first place. I know it’s asking too much to ban all private weapons entirely, but something MUST be done NOW to stem the tide. Automatic weapons should absolutely not be available to any nutjob with a driver’s license. New York State actually has some of the most sane gun legislation in the country. I call on you to exercise leadership to write, endorse, pass, and enforce legislation to curb the abuse of deadly weapons without delay. What do you plan to do, Senator, to end gun violence?

Feel free to copy and paste. If you don’t live in Manhattan, you may need to adapt the text to reflect your feelings about your representatives. To find out how to contact your senators, go here. To find out how to contact your representative in Congress, go here.

People have the power. Let’s do this.

Photo diary: Thanksgiving in suburban Minneapolis

December 2, 2015

(click photos to enlarge)

11-27 nathan turkey hat11-26 tony turkey fade11-29 photobomb avery boost11-27 don and ruby11-29 wally11-29 andy brooke becky wally11-26 nerdboy at play11-29 avery bedroom11-29 snowy suburb11-27 ioof temple excelsior11-27 dock cinema excelsior11-29 masonic storefront11-29 don andy11-29 crazyface family11-29 family best

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