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 AN ILIAD, TRIBES, THE BIG MEAL, THE SOAP MYTH, LIFELINE, TIN PAN ALLEY, MY OCCASION OF SIN, NO PLACE TO GO, GIVE ME YOUR HAND, NOW.HERE.THIS, DEATH OF A SALESMAN and LOST IN YONKERS. 

Imagine what it must have been like to sit around the camp fire listening to Homer sing of the wrath of Achilles, the fall of Troy. That’s what it’s like at New York Theatre Workshop where two actors, alternating performances, are giving a contemporary spin on Homer, An Iliad. Denis O’Hare and the director, Lisa Peterson, have adapted Homer’s epic, and O’Hare and Stephen Spinella take turns telling it. Both are very different, but both are extraordinary – sometimes funny, sometimes moving; always spellbinding. 

Don’t miss this one. 

Also on your don’t-miss list: Nina Raines’ Tribes, at the Barrow Street Theatre. This is a drama about a contentious family. Three adult children live at home. The youngest – and quietest – is Billy, who is deaf although he can speak. Billy has been raised not to view his deafness as a handicap – until he meets Sylvie who, it turns out, is slowly losing her hearing. Sylvia is active in the “deaf community,” and through her Billy comes to an understanding about himself which leads him to challenge his parents’ opinions about his deafness. 

David Cromer’s production is absolutely wonderful, as you would expect from this gifted director, and the cast is uniformly first-rate. My faves were Russell Harvard (who is himself deaf) as Billy and Susan Pourfar as Sylvia. 

Tribes is one of the high points of what has turned out to be an excellent season.

Dan LeFranc’s The Big Meal, at Playwrights Horizons, rips off Thornton Wilder’s The Long Christmas Dinner – but I mean that in a good way. LeFranc has borrowed Wilder’s structure, which showed several generations of a family at table over time. His play is set in a generic restaurant, and covers four generations as young people fall in love and grow old together. Sam Gold’s production is one of his best, although I felt that occasionally he lets it get a little languid – but his cast is terrific. 

Jeff Cohen’s The Soap Myth, produced by the National Jewish Theatre at the basement theatre of the Laura Pels and directed by that organization’s Artistic Director Arnold Mittelman, is a compelling about an elderly Holocaust survivor’s obsession with getting the truth out that the Nazis made soap from human beings. I always thought that this was a historical fact, but apparently there is no concrete evidence. When a Holocaust institute will not accept Milton Saltzman’s eye-witness testimony as proven fact, he enlists the air of a young journalist to get the word out and to put pressure on the institute. Greg Mullavey is all towering rage as Saltzman. He’s great, but so are the other actors. Highly recommended! 

Frank Tangredi’s Lifeline, at Abingdon, is an everything-is-not-it-seems drama. A man named Ken rents an apartment in Pete’s basement, where he licks his wounds over the breakup of his marriage. Pete befriends Kenny, helping him get over his anger and depression. Then Kenny’s mother arrives, and that’s when we see that a lot of what Kenny has told Pete about himself just may not be true. Jules Ochoa’s direction is excellent, and there are strong performances from Buzz Roddy (Pete), Brian Wallace (Kenny) and Caroline Monferdi (Phyllis, the mother). 

Tin Pan Alley, at the Actor’s Temple, is a revue of the American popular songbook circa 1890-1940, conceived and directed by Gene Castle who also performs in it. If you love this music, as I do, you’ll have a good time. The four performers are delightful, and Castle’s choreography is wonderfully goofy. 

My Occasion of Sin, at Urban Stages, by Monica Bauer, is an earnest drama set in the turbulent sixties, about a husband and wife who have a music store which is going under until they hire a Black jazz musician named Luigi Wells to change their inventory to drums and guitars and to give lessons in rock ‘n’ roll. Inevitably, racism rears its ugly head. Also in the mix is a spunky Black teenaged girl who comes in from time to time to talk about her life. The mystery is – who is she and what is her connection to the other characters in the play? Urban Stages’ Artistic Director Frances Hill has directed the play with a steady hand, getting fine performances from her cast. My faves were Royce Johnson as Luigi and Danielle Thompson as Vivian, the Black teenager. 

No Place to Go, at Joe’s Pub, is a revue/musical by Ethan Lipton wherein Lipton talks about what he decided to do when the company he worked for decided to move its operation to Mars. This whimsical premise allows Lipton to make many humorous observations about the tenuousness of employment in These United States. He’s sort of a Mose Allison/Woody Guthrie kind of singer – more of an actor than a singer – but his  songs are mordantly witty. Recommended. 

I also enjoyed Give Me Your Hand, at Irish Rep, wherein two wonderful Irish Actors perform the poetry of Paul Durcan, which consists of whimsical riffs on paintings in London’s National Gallery. Dermot Crowley and Dearbhla Molloy are charming, and hearing them made me want to get Durcan’s poetry and read it – it’s delightful. 

Now.Here.This., at the Vineyard, is a new musical by the team who gave us (title of show). Here, Our Heroes again basically play themselves. They start off ruminating about The Cosmic Meaning Of It All, then go to the Museum of Natural History where they make jokey observations and talk about themselves. These four actor/writers have turned self-referential/reverential into an art – but just not a very interesting art, because these just aren’t very interesting people. The show’s a hit and has been extended – but I found it a dud. 

Mike Nichols’ production of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre, is very strong. I had my doubts about Philip Seymour Hoffman as Willy, but Hoffman quickly dispelled them. His is a beautifully-modulated, touching performance; but everyone’s terrific. Linda Emond, as Willy’s wife Linda, will break your heart. 

Nichols has used the iconic Jo Mielziner set from the original production, so influential on scenic design ever since, to beautiful effect. Don’t miss this fine production. 

Another don’t miss: TACT’s lovely production of Neil Simon’s Lost in Yonkers, at the Samuel Beckett Theatre. Director Jenn Thompson has gotten superb performances from her cast all around. Particularly good are Finnerty Steeves as addled Aunt Bella, Alec Beard as shady Uncle Louie, Cynthia Harris as mean ol’ Grandma Kurnitz and Matthew Gumley and Russell Posner as the two hapless boys left in Grandma’s care. As you would expect from a play by Simon, this is often quite funny; but it is often quite poignant too. I love the play, and loved this production. 

AN ILIAD. New York Theatre Workshop, 79 E. 4th St.

            TICKETS: www.ticketcentral.com or 212-279-4200

TRIBES. Barrow Street Theatre, 27 Barrow St.

            TICKETS: 212-868-4444

THE BIG MEAL. Playwrights Horizons, 416 W. 42nd St.

            TICKETS: www.ticketcentral.com or 212-279-4200

THE SOAP MYTH. Basement Theatre, Laura Pels, 111 W. 46th St.

            TICKETS: 212-352-3101

MY OCCASION OF SIN. Urban Stages, 259 W. 30th St.

            TICKETS: www.smarttix.com or 212.868.4444

TIN PAN ALLEY. Actors Temple, 339 W. 47th St.

            TICKETS: www.telecharge.com or 212-239-6200

LIFELINE. Abingdon Theatre Co., 312 W.36th St.

            TICKETS: www.abingdontheatre.org or 212-868-2055

NO PLACE TO GO. Joe’s Pub, 425 Lafayette St.

            TICKETS: 212-967-7555

GIVE ME YOUR HAND. Irish Repertory Theatre, 132 W. 22nd St.

            TICKETS: 212-727-2737

NOW.HERE.THIS. Vineyard Theatre, 108 E. 15th St.

            TICKETS: 212- 353-0303

DEATH OF A SALESMAN. Ethel Barrymore Theatre, 243 W. 47th St.

            TICKETS: www.telecharge.com or 212-239-6200

LOST IN YONKERS. Samuel Beckett Theatre, 410 W. 42nd St.

            TICKETS: www.telecharge.com or 212-239-6200 

For discount tickets for groups of ten or more, contact Carol Ostrow Productions & Group Sales. Phone: 212-265-8500. E-Mail: ostrow1776@aol.com

“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

 

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