Lawrence Harbison, The Playfixer, brings you up to date with what’s hot and what’s not in New York. This week, Larry reports on THE SUBMISSION, THE WOOD, AFTER, MOTHEROOD OUT LOUD, LEMON SKY, THE BALD SOPRANO, THE INVESTED, SWEET AND SAD, DALLY WITH THE DEVIL, CIRQUE DE LÉGUME, CHARLES WINN SPEAKS, A NIGHT WITH GEORGE, NOĊTÚ, BOGBOY and THE INVESTED.
Danny, the hero of Jeff Talbott’s The Submission, at the Lucille Lortel Theatre, is a struggling young playwright who has had readings galore but never a production of one of his plays; until, that it, he is inspired by an incident which happened to him on the subway to write a play in which the characters are all black. Believing that no professional theatre will do a “black” play written by a white dude, he makes the author of his play a pseudonym which looks like the name of a black woman, submits the play to a major theatre, and then gets a production offer almost immediately. He hires a black actress as his front. There are many problems with this scenario, but the most glaring one has to do with the submission process of his play.
The Submission posits that it tells it like it is in the Real World of the theatre. It asks us to believe that this totally unknown playwright sends his play to Actor’s Theatre of Louisville, and they accept it almost immediately for the Humana Festival. I have attended the Humana Festival every year since 1980, and I know that Actor’s Theatre has not accepted unsolicited submissions for at least 15 years. Plays have to be submitted by agents, or as a result of a “professional recommendation.” ATL would, in fact, send Danny a form letter telling him this – not an offer to produce his play. The Submission starts in October and ends the following October. The playwright finishes his play, sends it to ATL – and they accept it immediately!?! This could never happen. In the Real World, theatres take months to respond to submissions – even when they are from agents. Also, Jeff Talbott thinks that the Humana Festival takes place in the spring. Actually, it starts in February, as Actor’s Theatre opens each play one by one, and culminates in late March or early April, when they present all the plays for two long weekends. By October, when The Submission begins, ATL has set the contents of the next Humana Festival, because they have to start hiring directors and casting. Also: they don’t require the playwright to make a curtain speech at the first preview or at any other performance, a crucial plot point in Talbott’s play. These things happen in the play because the playwright needs them to happen; but he makes no effort to make them credible. This is the classic hallmark of bad playwriting.
If you can accept this Basic Premise, which I find impossible to do, The Submission contains a lot of pithy observations about race and political correctness, both in the theatre and in Real Life. It is well-acted, and well directed. It’s just preposterous.
Dan Klores’ The Wood, at Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre, is a drama about the late NY Daily News columnist Mike McAlary, who won the Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of the Abner Louima story (Louima was falsely arrested and then brutally beaten by cops, a beating which included sodomization with a toilet plunger). McAlary died of cancer shortly after he won the Pulitzer. John Viscardi is giving a terrific performance as McAlary, and there is good work on display as well from the rest of the cast, most of whom play multiple roles. This is a play about an American hero, a man who was determined all his life to discover, and tell, the truth. I found it gripping.
Also gripping is Chad Beckim’s After, produced by Partial Comfort Productions at the Wild Center in the East Village. Last season, Partial Comfort’s production of Samuel D. Hunter’s A Bright New Boise put this small company on the radar. It was honored with three Drama Desk nominations and the playwright won an Obie Award. After is in this league.
Monty, a man in his mid-30s, has just been released after spending 17 years in prison. He has been exonerated by DNA evidence of the rape charge for which he was convicted, and now he is trying to put his life back together – tough going given all that he has been through. Alfredo Nasciso is heart-rending as Monty; but all the other actors are just plain wonderful too – with special kudos to Jackie Chung as a drugstore clerk who falls for Monty who has emotional scars of her own, and Denargo Sanyal as a co-worker at the pet store where Monty works who hates his job. Stephen Brackett’s direction is exquisite.
This runs a few more days. Catch it if you can.
Motherhood Out Loud, at Primary Stages, is a collage about, you guessed it, motherhood. Various playwrights, including Theresa Rebeck, Lisa Loomer, Leslie Ayvazian and Beth Henley, have written scenes and monologues, and the whole thing has been stitched together seamlessly by director Lisa Peterson. The four performers — Randy Graff, Mary Bacon, Saidah Arrika Ekulona and James Lecesne – are all funny when funny is needed, and poignant when it isn’t.
You don’t have to be a mother to enjoy Motherhood Out Loud.
Keen Company has another fine revival up and running, of Lanford Wilson’s 1970 autobiographical drama Lemon Sky at the Clurman Theatre, featuring a wonderful performance by Keith Nobbs (still a credible teenager after All These Years) as a kid who goes to live with his father and his new family in California. Both father and son struggle to reconnect.
A lot of this play features narrative direct audience address, which ordinarily I dislike, but Wilson (who died recently) was such a great writer that ultimately I was won over. I liked Jonathan Silverstein’s sensitive direction, and all the actors are wonderful, with particular praise due to Kellie Overbey as Alan’s step-mom and Alyssa May Gold as his slutty half sister Carol.
This one’s a don’t-miss.
Pearl Theatre Co. has an outstanding revival of Eugene Ionesco’s The Bald Soprano up and running at City Center Stage II. This seminal comedy was, in its day, a fart in the face of genteel realism, and its playful use of language at times reminded me of the best of the Marx Brothers. Nowadays, the play seems rather quaint, though undeniably still funny. Fortunately, the cast under Hal Brook’s witty direction, captures Ionesco’s anarchic style perfectly. I particularly enjoyed Dan Daily as the Fire Chief.
If you’ve never seen The Bald Soprano, this would be a good opportunity to see it done well.
Also excellent is Sharyn Rothstein’s The Invested at the East 4th St.Theatre, a tale of financial skullduggery seemingly ripped from today’s headlines, featuring a wonderful performance by Christina Haag as a high-powered financial manager trying to avoid being blame for the collapse of a shady hedge fund run by her boss.
I’m way behind with my column. My bad. Several excellent shows have closed, includinl all of the 1st Irish Festival. My Irish faves were Bogboy, a beautifully acted about a woman struggling to put her life back together after addiction who befriends a strange man who, years ago, was involved as an IR member in the murder of a young man, Noah and the Tower Flower, a sort of Irish Danny and the Deep Blue Sea, also beautifully acted, and A Night with George, wherein a chatty middle-aged woman comes back from a night of pub-crawling toting a life-sized stand up cutout of George Clooney and proceeds to tell George her life story. Donna O’Connor was hilarious as Our Heroine. Cirque de Légume was a goofy clown show involving a lot of vegetables. I thought it was rather silly, but many in the audience were laffing their heads off. Noċtú was a terrific Irish dance show, a sort of New Age Riverdance.
Also worth seeing were Richard Nelson’s Sweet and Sad at the Public Theatre, a bittersweet meditation set on the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 tragedy which featured a terrific ensemble of some of NYC’s finest actors, among them Jay O. Sanders, Laila Robbins and J. Smith Cameron, C.S. Hanson’s fascinating Charles Winn Speaks at the Cherry Lane Studio, about a high-powered hedge fund guy who turns out to be a Russian émigré named Vlad, and Victor Cahn’s Dally with the Devil at the Beckett Theatre, which was about politics and spin and featured a wonderful performance by Elizabeth A. Davis as an advisor to a right wing candidate who’s trying to prevent a political internet columnist from publishing damaging revelations about her man.
THE SUBMISSION. Lucille Lortel Theatre, 121 Christopher St.
THE WOOD. Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre, 224 Waverly Pl.
TICKETS: www.smarttix.com or 212-868-4444
AFTER. The Wild Project, 195 E. 3rd St.
MOTHERHOOD OUT LOUD. Primary Stages, 59 E. 59th St.
TICKETS: www.ticketcentral.com or 212-279-4200
LEMON SKY. Harold Clurman Theatre, 410 W. 42nd St.
TICKETS: www.ticketcentral.com or 212-279-4200
THE BALD SOPRANO. City Center Stage II, 130 W. 55th St.
THE INVESTED. East 4th St. Theatre. Alas, closed.
For discount tickets for groups of ten or more, contact Carol Ostrow Productions & Group Sales. Phone: 212-265-8500. E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
“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
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who actually does strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement; and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”
— Theodore Roosevelt