“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 SLAVE PLAY, EINSTEIN’S DREAMS, FEAR, BRANDOCAPOTE and THE GREAT SOCIETY. 

Jeremy O. Harris’ Slave Play, at the Golden Theatre, is one of those plays where you think it’s one thing but then it turns out to be something quite different. In the first third of this two hour and 20 minute intermission-less drama, we are in the Old South, at a plantation. It starts off with a female slave and her sadistic overseer who, of course, rapes her. Next, we go inside the plantation house, with the randy plantation owner’s wife and a very handsome male house slave. She makes him strip butt-naked and get down in all fours, then takes out an enormous black dildo and sodomizes him with it. The third scene involves two men – one black, one white. The white guy plays the slave and the black guy plays his master. The master makes the slave lick his boot until he orgasms, which surprised the heck out of me as the black guy didn’t appear to even have a woody.

After these carryings-on, we go to the present. It turns out, what we have seen were fantasies of the contemporary mixed-race couples, participating in a sex-therapy workshop conducted by two women. What ensues is a lot of psychobabble, much of it incomprehensible.

The actors are fine, the direction’s fine; but the play is who-cares.

Einstein’s Dreams, at 59E59, is a musical about young Albert Einstein, a humble patent clerk, who falls asleep at his desk and dreams up the Theory of Relativity, inspired by a muse named Josette. The book by Joanne Sydney Lessner is sort of a Cliff Notes. Some of the songs by Joshua Rosenblum are pleasant, although one or two are not so. In “Now Backwards Moving in Time,” for instance, all the lyrics are sung backwards, to demonstrate how Time will eventually turn around and head back the other way.

Of the performers, Alexandra Silber is a standout as the Muse.

Fear, a new drama by Matt Williams at the Lucille Lortel Theatre, is a gripping cat and mouse game. At the start, a man (a plumber) drags a teenaged boy into a disused tool shed near a lake. An 8 year-old girl has gone missing, and he thinks the kid’s responsible. Another man, part of the search party for the girl, hears the ruckus and barges in to find the kid tied up and being choked. Turns out, he’s a college professor and the next door neighbor of both the kid and the guy choking him. He can’t call for help because he has no bars on his cell phone. Who’s telling the truth? Is the kid the culprit or, maybe, is it the plumber’s own son? And, what’s with the visits by the plumber to the professor’s house? Into this melodramatic framework, Williams grafts a brilliant examination of the all-consuming fear in which we all live in these dark times. 

Director Tea Alagić’s direction is taut, and there are terrific performances by Enrico Colantoni as the plumber, Obu Abili as the professor and Alexander Garfin as the scared-out-of-his mind kid. You won’t find better acting right now on a New York stage.

Don’t miss Fear.

As for BrandoCapote, by Reid and Sara Farrington, you could skip it unless you really like “experimental theatre” which here, as it usually is, is mostly imitation-Dada/surrealism. Inspired by an interview Truman Capote conducted with Marlon Brando in Tokyo during the filming of “Sayonara” the play, such as it is, uses the text of this interview to examine the similar troubled childhoods of both Brando and Capote. For some reason, most of Brando’s dialogue is heard as voice over done by the actor playing Brando, who makes no effort to sound like him, whereas much of Capote’s words are done live by Akiro Kumatsu, who does a killer Capote impression. All the actors are dressed in kimonos, and they spend a lot of time rolling up and then unrolling lengths of cloth, which they stretch across the stage.Why? Nobody knows. Sometimes, they pick up red mops and mop the floor furiously. Go figure.

BrandoCapote is only 60 minutes long, which I found blessedly brief.

Robert Schenkkan’s The Great Society, at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre, is a follow-up to his All the Way, which featured a towering performance by Bryan Cranston as LBJ. Here, Brian Cox assays the role. While he’s pretty good he’s hardly towering. 

The play focuses on Johnson’s attempts to pass the Voting Rights bill even as he is trying to get Congress to pass his Great Society agenda. The usual culprits, such as Governor Wallace and the Republicans stand in his way. Of course, the Vietnam quagmire eventually brings him down. Like All the Way, it’s a fascinating portrait of a brilliant politician pulling out all the stops. Bill Rauch’s direction is superb, as are all the actors – Richard Thomas as Hubert Humphrey, Bryce Pinkham as Bobby Kennedy and Grantham Coleman as Martin Luther King are particular stand-outs.

While The Great Society is not as great as All the Way, it’s still worth seeing even if you didn’t live through the events it dramatizes, as I did. 

 

SLAVE PLAY. Golden Theatre, 252 W. 45th St.

TICKETS: www.telecharge.com, 212-239-6210 or 800-543-4835

EINSTEIN’S DREAMS. 59E59, 59 E. 59TH St.

TICKETS: 646-892-7999

FEAR. Lucille Lortel Theatre, 121.Christopher St.

TICKETS: https://www.ticketoffices.com/venues/lucille-lortel-theatre-tickets?discount-tickets&gclid=EAIaIQobChMI9vjCw9r75QIVhJ-zCh0xjwXBEAAYASABEgJ32fD_BwE or 844-379-0370

BRANDOCAPOTE. The Tank, 312 W. 36th St.

TICKETS: www.thetanknyc.org

THE GREAT SOCIETY. Vivian Beaumont Theatre, Lincoln Center

TICKETS: www.telecharge.com, 212-239-6210 or 800-543-4835 

“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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