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 THE COMMON AIR, AS YOU LIKE IT, TIME STANDS STILL, HAPPY NOW? ReENTRY, BLACK ANGELS OVER TUSKEGEE and A CABLE FROM GIBRALTAR.

The Common Air, Alexander Lyras’ latest solo show at the Theatres at 45 Bleecker, is typical of this gifted performer’s work. Lyras, who co-writes his plays with Robert McGaskill, is a dark satirist, rather like Eric Bogosian. The Common Air is a series of interlocking monologues which buzz around a central event, in this case a purported terrorist attack on Kennedy airport which affects the days of disparate characters, from a manic middle-eastern cab driver with what he believes is a great idea for a reality TV show to a gay businessman to a war vet, etc., all of whose lives intersect in or near the airport. Lyras and McGaskill are brilliant writers, and Lyras is one heckuva performer.

The Common Air is several cuts above your usual one-man show.

And, Sam Mendes’ fascinating production of Shakespeare’s As You Like It, at BAM’s Harvey Theatre, is several cuts about your usual Shakespearean production. This is part of the Bridge Project, wherein a repertory cast of American and British actors play Shakespeare at BAM and then in London (next up: The Tempest). There seems to be a trend a-borning to find dark undertones in Shakespeare’s comedies. Theatre for a New Audience has taken a similar tack with its fine production of Measure for Measure, which I will be writing about next week. Shakespearean production is, at best, a reflection not only of Shakespeare’s time but also of our own. It’s the winter of our discontent, even in the Forest of Arden.

The Duke’s court, where the play begins, is a dark, sinister place. We feel we are in a totalitarian state. When the action shifts to the Forest of Arden, we find not a sylvan glade, but a wintry, seemingly impenetrable forest, where the exiles shiver in the cold. It’s a novel concept, which works well though it does tend to undercut the laughs sometimes.

Mendes’ cast is superb. I particularly enjoyed Juliet Rylance’s perky Rosalind, Christian Camargo’s well-spoken yet insecure Orlando and Stephen Dillane’s archly pessimistic Jacques. Thomas Sadosky is excellent, too as Touchstone, and Alvin Epstein is very touching as old Adam.

This one’s a don’t-miss

As is Donald Margulies’ TIME STANDS STILL, produced by Manhattan Theatre Club at the Friedman Theatre on Broadway. Laura Linney and Brian D’Arcy James star as a couple who come home from the war only to war at home. She is a photographer who was almost killed in an IED explosion which killed her Iraqi translator. He is a journalist whose career is floundering and who wonders, what is the point of reporting incessantly the suffering of the victims of war? Also in the play are a photo editor and his much younger girlfriend.

Linney and D’Arcy James are very compelling in their roles, as is Alicia Silverstone in hers. Eric Bogosian is, as always, excellent but here he is playing a solid, rather nice guy; in other words, he does a fine job in a role that many other actors could have played. He is rather wasted, I thought. Daniel Sullivan, who seems to be one of the few directors who gets to direct plays on Broadway these days, has done his usual excellent work.

Time Stands Still is a fine new play by one of our best playwrights, and not to be missed.

Also not to be missed: Lucinda Coxon’s trenchant comedy Happy Now? produced by the always-reliable Primary Stages at 59 E. 59 Theatres. Coxon is a hot, up and coming British playwright. This is, to my knowledge, the first British play Primary Stages has ever produced. Since this production is “In Association With,” I assume it has been enhanced by commercial producers. To whom we should be grateful in this case. This is a terrific play about a woman who has a good career, a loving husband and two children, who can’t stop asking herself the Big Question: Is this all there is? Is this my life, my one and only life?

Liz Diamond, a fine director who most likely will never get to direct plays on Broadway since apparently only Sullivan and Doug Hughes qualify for that, has done a superb job with Coxon’s funny/poignant play, and Mary Bacon is giving a breakthrough performance as Kitty, Our Anti-Heroine. Everybody in the cast is wonderful, though I enjoyed most particularly Quentin Mare’s performance as Miles, a friend of Kitty’s husband who is an alcoholic. Seldom have I seen a stage drunk so convincing.

Again, this one’s a don’t-miss.

Emily Ackerman and KJ Sanchez, two refugees from The Civilians, have a Civilian-esque documentary play, Re-Entry, up and running at Urban Stages. They have interviewed Marines and their families and have put together an evening, largely comprised of monologues, about the harrowing experience of war, and about the difficulties of returning to civilian life. Sanchez has directed this with a gifted hand, and the evening features performances which are very strong; particularly, that of Joseph Harrell, a career Marine now turned actor who really is The Real Deal.

Re-Entry helps us to understand the sacrifices our service men and women make. It is not a pro or anti-war play. It accepts war as a given, and examines its effect on the combatants. It is riveting.

Layon Gray’s Black Angels Over Tuskegee, at the Theatre at St. Luke’s, is also a military drama. It tells the story of the famed Tuskegee Airmen, a squadron of Black fighter pilots who served in North Africa and Italy during World War II. The first act gives us six men at a testing center in Utah, where they hope to pass the examination which will get them into the war as pilots. The second act shows them during the war.

It’s a compelling story, tied together by lengthy expositional monologues by a man who turns out to be a descendant of one of the six airmen. The device pays off at the end, but along the way it just serves to halt the play in its tracks; or, rather, to ground the planes, as do numerous stories Gray gives his characters to tell, about Important Events which happened in the past. Had Gray pruned much of this expositional material an overlong play would have been much better. What makes me give this one a thumbs-up though are the terrific performances by the cast.

Finally, I saw Daniel Meltzer’s dark comedy A Cable from Gibraltar, at the Medicine Show Theatre, directed by Robert Kalfin. This is a suite of three related one-acts which focus on a somewhat archetypal Man and Woman. When we first meet them they are newborns in a hospital ward who try to understand the difference between “M” and “F.” In the second act they become a couple while fishing, though they part when she receives a cable instructing her to travel to Gibraltar. In the final act they are two semi-senile generals on opposite sides of a conflict which has gone on forever, so long that no one remembers what started it.

The play is written in an arch, faux British style which makes it seem somewhat like Samuel Beckett as adapted by Noel Coward, or perhaps vice-versa, and Kalfin has perfectly captured this odd style in his staging. His actors are excellent, too.

This one is definitely worth checking out.

THE COMMON AIR. Theatres at 45 Bleecker, 45 Bleecker
TICKETS: 212-239-6200
AS YOU LIKE IT. BAM Harvey Theatre, 651 Fulton St.,
TICKETS: 718-636-4100
TIME STANDS STILL. Friedman Theatre, 261 W. 47th St.
TICKETS: 212-239-6200
HAPPY NOW? Primary Stages, 59 E. 59th St.
TICKETS: 212-279-4200
W. 46th St.
TICKETS: 212-239-6200
A CABLE FROM GIBRALTAR. Medicine Show Theatre, 549
W. 52nd St.
TICKETS: 212-868-4444

“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

“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