“On the Aisle with Larry”

Lawrence Harbison, The Playfixer, brings you up to date with what’s hot and what’s not in New York. In this column, Larry reports on HAMILTON, RASHEEDA SPEAKING, EVERYTHING YOU TOUCH, CHURCHILL and THE EVENTS.

I am, to put it mildly, not a fan of hip-hop, which I consider doggerel set to noise. Still, I always go to the theatre hoping that what I see will be wonderful, as I did when I went to Hamilton, at the Public Theater, even though I had heard it was mostly in the hip-hop idiom. This new musical, with book, music and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda (he of In the Heights fame) tells the story of Alexander Hamilton. Yes, a lot of it is hip-hop. All of it is absolutely brilliant.

Thomas Kail’s staging of this wonderfully witty and ultimately very touching work is epochal, the best direction of a new musical this season, and Miranda is wonderful in the eponymous role. Also great are Phillipa Soo as Hamilton’s wife, Eliza, and Leslie Odom, Jr. as his nemesis, Aaron Burr.

Unfortunately, the entire run at the Public Theater is sold out, except for a handful of tickets sold by lottery for every performance. I went on a weekend matinee, and there were about 100 people waiting in the lobby, hoping their names would be called. Fortunately, Hamilton is almost certainly moving to Broadway. When it does, don’t miss it.

I also enjoyed Joel Drake Johnson’s Rasheeda Speaking, produced by the New Group at the Signature Center, about two clerical workers in a doctor’s office. Ileen, who has been there for several years, is white; Jaclyn, there for six months, is black. Jaclyn has quite an “attitude problem,” which concerns the doctor, who wants to get rid of her. In this day and age, though, that can be a real problem if the problematic employee is black, so he enlists the very reluctant Ileen to keep a record of all the problems Jaclyn causes. In a climactic monologue, though, Jaclyn brings home the root cause of her “bad attitude,” and what emerges is a thoughtful examination of what it means to be black in what is still a white man’s world.

Tonya Pinkins is, to put it mildly, sensational as Jaclyn; but she is matched by Dianne Wiest as the namby-pamby, go along to get along Ileen. These are two of the finest performances in any play this season.

Sheila Callaghan’s Everything You Touch, produced by Rattlestick at the Cherry Lane Theatre is a fascinating, surreal look at the fashion industry. Victor is an enfant terrible designer whose muse, Esme, pushes him to get more and more outrageous with his designs. Two women come into his world – Jess, a plain-Jane type and Lonella, a refugee from the Midwest, who influence him to begin designing clothes that women might actually wear. There is a chorus of models who move through the play, wearing Victor’s designs.

The actors, under Jessica Kubzansky’s fluid and inventive direction, are just plain wonderful. Everything You Touch is sometimes hard to figure out, but stick with it. Sheila Callaghan is a true visionary, that rare non-realistic playwright who manages to make it all cohere. And Jenny Feldenauer’s costumes are spectacular!

Churchill, at New World Stages, written by and starring Ronald Keaton in the eponymous roles, is a standard-issue biographical monodrama. Sir Winston is in his study, talking to us. Who “we” are is never made clear. Most of it covers Churchill’s military and political careers up until World War Two, and his fall from power after the war was won. Keaton looks a little like Churchill, but he lacks his stentorian growl. He seems more like your jolly uncle than one of the pivotal figures of the 20th Century. Still, his is a fascinating story. If you don’t know much about Churchill, here’s your chance to learn something.

Every year, philanthropist/producer Carol Tambor spends a month at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, sees a gazillion shows, and chooses what she considers to be the best of them all, which she then produces off Broadway. This year’s Tambor Award winner is David Greig’s The Events, at NY Theatre Workshop. It’s about a female cleric who runs the choir at her church. At every performance, a different choir participates. I saw/heard the Lafayette Inspirational Ensemble. There’s also a man who interacts with the minister, appearing to play various roles – but you’re never sure who he’s supposed to be at any given time. I think the play is about a mass shooting, but it’s so murky and confusing it’s hard to tell. The Events is interminable. It has no interval, and several audience members ditched in the middle of it, including half my row. Ah well, at least the music was enjoyable. 

HAMILTON. Public Theater, 435 Lafayette St.

TICKETS: The entire run is sold out.

RASHEEDA SPEAKING. Signature Center, 480 W. 42nd St.

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

EVERYTHING YOU TOUCH. Cherry Lane Theatre, 38 Commerce St.

TICKETS: 212-989-2020

CHURCHILL New World Stages, 340 W. 50th St.

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

THE EVENTS. NY Theatre Workshop, 79 E. 4th 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