Posts Tagged ‘an octoroon’

Culture Vulture: the year in review

December 30, 2015

Top Theater of 2015:

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  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.

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  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).
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  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.

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  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.
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  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

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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.

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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

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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

Culture Vulture: February in NYC

March 1, 2015

The relentlessly brutal cold this winter has really gotten me down, to the point of contemplating some future when I spend winters somewhere warmer or even relocate permanently. What stops me? Among other things, I’m spoiled by the steady diet of rich, high-quality, and/or offbeat culture available in New York City. In the last three weeks, I’ve seen a motley series of nine extremely different live shows I could have seen hardly anywhere else:

Pretty Filthy, the Civilians’ docu-musical about the LA porn industry at the Abrons Arts Center;

Disgraced, Ayad Aktar’s Pulitzer Prize-winning drama on Broadway;

Pour Une Âme Souveraine—A Dedication to Nina Simone, Meshell Ndegeocello’s concert at Lincoln Center’s American Songbook series;

“Love, Hate, & Comics,” an evening with Matt Groening and Lynda Barry at BAM;

Ivan Turgenev’s A Month in the Country at Classic Stage Company, starring Taylor Schilling and Peter Dinklage;

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Stockhausen’s trippy, ritualistic Stimmung performed by Paul Hillier’s Theater of Voices at Zankel Hall (above);

Soho Rep’s production of An Octoroon, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’s saucy adaptation of a Dion Boucicault melodrama revived at Theater for a New Audience in Brooklyn;

a return visit to Hedwig and the Angry Inch on Broadway, with co-creator John Cameron Mitchell playing the title role wearing a knee brace after a recent injury, necessarily making the performance considerably quieter, less flashy, and more poignant than Neil Patrick Harris’s; and

All Our Happy Days Are Stupid, a banal play by Canadian novelist Sheila Heti overemphatically performed by Toronto’s Suburban Beast theater company at The Kitchen.

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Once upon a time I would have written detailed commentary on each of these performances, but that’s not really what I’m doing these days. I will say that much as I admired the writing and the performances and the staging and the terrific, tuneful score (by Michael Friedman) of Pretty Filthy, I couldn’t help feeling that the show (above) was regrettably tame, both in its content and in its theatricality. I wanted it to be darker and stranger. I wish this company felt freer to color outside the lines. My taste for that kind of theater was happily sated by An Octoroon, an inventive, ambitious, imperfect show (below) not quite like any other show you’re likely to see anytime soon. I highly recommend it.

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