Lawrence Harbison, The Playfixer, brings you up to date with what’s hot and what’s not in New York. This week, Larry tells you about GIRLS IN TROUBLE, NEXT FALL, LENIN’S EMBALMERS, ALICE IN SLASHERLAND and CHING CHONG CHINAMAN.
Jonathan Reynolds, who has lately been making quite a name for himself as a proponent of right wing politics in the theatre, has outdone himself with his latest, Girls in Trouble at the Flea Theatre. As we all know, women have an inalienable right to choose abortion, and anyone who takes on that viewpoint is at best a crank and at worst The Enemy. Reynolds has done just that in Girls in Trouble, and has been fielding angry verbal brickbats tossed at him by audience members at talk-backs after the performance. Talk about daring to walk into the lion’s den!
The Flea likes to produce provocative plays. This one’s a doozy. It’s actually three inter-related one-acts. In the first a college student, whose father is a high official in the Kennedy administration, is driving a girl he has impregnated to get an (illegal) abortion. He gets lost, and when he finally arrives the abortionist, a black woman with a young daughter, has to rush things, with tragic consequences. In the second act, the abortionist’s daughter, now grown up, is performing at what appears to be a poetry slam, and reveals that she has gotten pregnant but plans to have an abortion just to stick it to her boyfriend, who has gone cold on her. The final act is the Main Event. In it, a TV chef who mixes politics in with her recipes finds herself confronted by a radical pro-life proponent, who gains entrance to her home by posing as the doctor who is performing an abortion for Our Heroine, who has too much going on in her life right now to deal with having and raising another child. The “doctor” turns out to be the woman from the poetry slam. What ensues is a knock-down drag-out debate about the ethics of abortion. Many people will consider the mere fact that this is even being debated onstage an outrage. Not me. I like a good argument. I only wish this part of Reynolds’ play were better— I found its resolution hard to believe. That said, Jim Simpson’s production is excellent, and the actors are terrific.
Geoffrey Nauffts’ Next Fall has transferred from Off Broadway to Broadway’s Helen Hayes Theatre. God bless Elton John and his “partner,” David Furnish, who put up a big chunk of the dough for this transfer. Next Fall is a beautifully-written play about a gay odd couple, Adam and Luke. Adam is 40; Luke’s in his early 20s. Nothing unusual about that. What is unusual is that Luke is a sincere Christian, whereas Adam’s an atheist. Whoever heard of a gay play which takes Christianity seriously?
When the play begins, Luke is in a coma after being hit by a car. His mother and father are at the hospital, along with friends Holly and Brandon. Adam’s there, too. Mom and Dad don’t know that Luke is gay. He never got around to coming out. While everyone waits for news about Luke, Nauffts takes us back in time to scenes which show when Luke and Adam met, when they fell in love, when they moved in together. These scenes develop the Christian vs. Atheist agon, as Adam finds much of what Luke believes hard to fathom.
Naked Angels’ Off Broadway production, beautifully directed by Sheryl Kaller, has transferred intact, sans stars (just really good stage actors like Cotter Smith as Luke’s Dad, Connie Ray as his Mom and Patrick Breen as Adam). It’s a don’t-miss. Support the American Play on Broadway!
For that matter, support the American play Off Broadway, too, where there have been several new openings of note, such as Vern Thiessen’s Lenin’s Embalmers at Ensemble Studio Theatre, a mordant farce (is that an oxymoron?) about the two Soviet scientists who came up with way to embalm the instigator of the Russian Revolution but who subsequently ran afoul of Stalin and wound up in the Gulag.
Billy Carden’s production starts out almost as pure Marx Brothers, and then proceeds to get darker and darker. It’s brilliant, as are Zach Grenier and Scott Sowers as the two embalmers, Richmond Hoxie as Stalin and Peter Maloney as Lenin, who’s dead but who pops up from time to time, often to tell pithy Soviet jokes.
This one’s a don’t-miss.
As is Qui Nguyen’s latest, Alice in Slasherland, at Here. Nguyen specializes in campy send-ups of pop culture in the tradition of the Ridiculous Theatre Co., though Nguyen demonstrates time and again that camp doesn’t necessarily have to be gay. This is camp for straight people – young straight people, weaned on comic books and slasher and kung-fu films.
Director Robert Ross Parker perfectly captures Nguyen’s outrageous style, as does his talented cast, several of whom I have seen and enjoyed before in other Nguyen plays, produced by his company, Vampire Cowboys.
Alice in Slasherland is Great Fun. Even geezers like me can dig it.
Sadly, Lauren Yee’s Ching Chong Chinaman, produced by Pan Asian Rep at the West End Theatre, is not so much fun. It’s about a Chinese American family which has a Chinese immigrant living with them, imported by teenaged Upton to do his math homework so he can focus on an online video game he’s playing 24/7.
Lee’s style reminded me of Nguyen’s – very broad and campy. Unfortunately, May Adrales has directed the play as if it were a bad TV sitcom, when the outrageousness such as that employed by a Robert Ross Parker would have been more effective.
Pan Asian Rep is the granddaddy of Asian American theatre in New York. They’ve been around for over 30 years. Since then, other companies such as Ma-Yi and NAATCO have come along, and I would say their productions make Pan Asian’s look like amateur night – except that would give a bad name to the amateurs. There is a deep talent pool here of Asian actors. Howsacome Pan Asian Rep never seems to tap into it?
|GIRLS IN TROUBLE. Flea Theatre, 41 White Street.
TICKETS: www.theflea.org or 212-352-3101
NEXT FALL. Helen Hayes Theatre. 240 W. 44th St.
TICKETS: www.telecharge.com or 212-239-6200
LENIN’S EMBALMERS. Ensemble Studio Theatre, 549 W. 52nd St.
TICKETS: www.ensemblestudiotheatre.org or 866-811-4111
ALICE IN SLASHERLAND. Here, 145 Sixth Ave.
TICKETS: www.here.org or 212-352-3101
CHING CHONG CHINAMAN. West End Theatre, 263 W. 86th St.
“Who is this guy?”
For over thirty years Lawrence Harbison was in charge of new play acquisition for Samuel French, Inc., during which time his work on behalf of playwrights resulted in the first publication of such subsequent luminaries as Jane Martin, Don Nigro, Tina Howe, Theresa Rebeck, José Rivera, William Mastrosimone, Charles Fuller, and Ken Ludwig, among many others; and the acquisition of musicals such as Smoke of the Mountain, A…My Name Is Alice, Little Shop of Horrors and Three Guys Naked from the Waist Down. He is a now a free-lance editor, primarily for Smith and Kraus, Inc., for whom he edits annual anthologies of best plays by new playwrights and women playwrights, best ten-minute plays and best monologues and scenes for men and for women. For many years he wrote a weekly column on his adventures in the theater for two Manhattan Newspapers, the Chelsea Clinton News and The Westsider. His new column, “On the Aisle with Larry,” is a weekly feature at www.smithandkraus.com.
He works with individual playwrights to help them develop their plays (see his website, www.playfixer.com). He has also served as literary manager or literary consultant for several theatres, such as Urban Stages and American Jewish Theatre. He is a member of both the Outer Critics Circle and the Drama Desk. He has served many times over the years as a judge and commentator for various national play contests and lectures regularly at colleges and universities. He holds a B.A. from Kenyon College and an M.A. from the University of Michigan.
He is currently working on a book, Masters of the Contemporary American Drama.
“It requires a certain largeness of spirit to give generous appreciation to large achievements. A society with a crabbed spirit and a cynical urge to discount and devalue will find that one day, when it needs to draw upon the reservoirs of excellence, the reservoirs have run dry.”
—– George F. Will