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  • Posted 2/11/16 at 2:11 PM
  • Theater

Theater Review: Encores! Tries to Renovate Cabin in the Sky

One of the many useful and fascinating things the Encores! series has done over the years — last night’s opening of Cabin in the Sky marks the start of its 23rd season — is to highlight, and in many cases restore, the rich history of black musicals on Broadway. By “black musicals,” I mean musicals with largely black casts or with stories of largely black life: works like St. Louis Woman, Golden Boy, House of Flowers, Purlie, The Wiz, and Lost in the Stars, all of which Encores! has already produced.

It's also what you'd call "problematic." »

J.K. Rowling Is Releasing Another Harry Potter Book (It’s the Script to the Play You Already Knew About, But Still)

On July 31, you'll be able to buy a new Harry Potter book — sort of. Rowling announced on Wednesday that the script for the upcoming Potter stage play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child will be available in bookstores the same day as the play's premiere at the Palace Theatre. The script is not technically written by Rowling; its by Jack Thorne, from a story by Thorne, Rowling, and John Tiffany. The version that goes on sale in July will be the one used in the preview performances; any changes before the official opening will be reflected in a later edition. So ... that's basically the same thing as a new Potter book, right? No one complains that Harold Pinter scripts aren't real books, and Harold Pinter isn't the former 122nd-richest person in Britain, so there.

Aaron Sorkin Adapting To Kill a Mockingbird for Broadway, Which Is Really Quite Something

Aaron Sorkin is returning to Broadway with a stage adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird, producer Scott Rudin announced on Wednesday. The production will be directed by The King and I's Bartlett Sher, with no word on a premiere date or location. Harper Lee's novel was previously adapted for the stage by Christopher Segel, in productions in New Jersey and London, but the West Wing creator's version will be Mockingbird's Broadway debut. Sorkin is a perfect match for the iconic novel, which is, of course, the story of an older man explaining liberal values to a young woman.

  • Posted 2/9/16 at 11:59 PM
  • Theater

Theater Review: John Patrick Shanley’s Wayward Prodigal Son

A playwright enters dangerous territory when he attempts to dramatize his struggle to become an artist: a struggle that is supposedly resolved, or at least justified, by the artistry he now puts before us. When the play turns out to be less than thrilling — as was the case, for instance, with A.R. Gurney’s What I Did Last Summer — the disproportion between the setup and the result risks bathos, if not ridiculousness. John Patrick Shanley has often seemed on the verge of this sort of self-parody even in nonautobiographical works, like Doubt, that take dramatic fiction as close to the electrified fence of narcissism as possible without getting electrocuted. But that propinquity to danger is also where his power lies, a tricky problem that animates and partly defeats Prodigal Son, the latest of 11 plays of his to be produced by Manhattan Theatre Club. Telling the story of the two teenage years he spent at the Thomas More School in Harrisville, New Hampshire, years that confirmed him in his artistic path, it displays all of his mature talents for moral inquiry, rich dialogue, and compelling scene-making — and not incidentally creates a role that the 20-year-old actor Timothée Chalamet is able to knock out of the park. But Prodigal Son, like its biblical namesake, is also a mopey and vexing testament to the confusions of self-regard. Trying to climb that electrified fence has apparently shorted some of Shanley’s circuits.

Testing new identities, and new doubts. »

Your First Look at the Cover of Tig Notaro’s Memoir, I’m Just a Person

Tig Notaro's upcoming memoir I'm Just a Person, published by Ecco, will detail the very bad year when she was hospitalized for an intestinal disease called C. diff, lost her mother to an unexpected accident, went through a breakup, and was diagnosed with bilateral breast cancer — all in the matter of four months. A few days after her cancer diagnosis, Notaro did one of the most important stand-up sets in modern comedy, at the Largo, when she opened, "Good evening. Hello. I have cancer." That tumultuous year has inspired a wellspring of creative work from Notaro, who joined Vulture for a conversation last year at the Vulture Festival to talk about her tour and HBO special, Boyish Girl Interrupted, her Showtime documentary, Knock Knock, It's Tig Notaro, and a short film, "Clown Service." That didn't even include her upcoming Amazon show, One Mississippi. I'm Just a Person is available for preorder now and will be available for purchase June 14.

  • Posted 2/8/16 at 9:30 PM
  • Theater

Theater Review: The Woodsman Gets You Home Before Dark

Ed. note: The Woodsman opened in a limited run on January 15, 2015, at 59E59. Because the production reopens tonight at New World Stages, where it will run indefinitely, we're republishing Jesse Green's earlier review.

Like “humanistic Judaism,” the term “imaginative theater” ought to be a redundancy. (Shouldn’t all theater be imaginative?) Still, some troupes seek to differentiate themselves from the mainstream with the homespun, less literal storytelling techniques the term seems to imply: puppetry, shadow play, choral speech, mime. It’s no coincidence that these techniques are also cheaper than the ones you find on Broadway; imaginative theater exists in reaction against spectacularism, and often in reaction against the kinds of narratives that invite it. Though it’s a commercial run, The Woodsman, now playing at the 59E59 theater complex, is thus a perfect example of the genre, not only offering a marvelous, minimalist staging but also taking as its text the backstory of the Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz books, a tale steeped in dawn-of-the-machine-age anxiety. The production, by the young troupe Strangemen & Co. — mission statement: “to simply honor what is truthful one story at a time” — looks like what might happen if Shakers put on Wicked

"But sad is not the same as meaningful." »

  • Posted 2/5/16 at 4:53 PM

Samuel L. Jackson, Mad Max, and Susan Sontag: My Road Trip With A.O. Scott

One day in the spring of 1998, I tagged along with a friend of mine who was making a covert pilgrimage to the New England headquarters of the Church of Scientology. Her purpose was research. She was writing a paper on its then-disputed legal status as a religion. I was along on a lark. We both took the Scientology personality test, which I sensed was meant to measure some combination of self-confidence and non-fuck-up-ness, and presumably to find some exploitable deficit. I’m proud to say that, in all but one column, my scores were very high. In that column, I hit near rock bottom.

Read More  »

  • Posted 2/4/16 at 8:00 PM
  • Theater

Theater Review: Sense & Sensibility & Speediness

My Kindle tells me that it takes an average reader some ten hours to get through Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility. The delightful Bedlam stage version, which had a successful run in 2014 and is now being revived at the Gym at Judson, takes about two. (Saving extra time, the and in the title has been replaced by an ampersand.) Naturally, with 80 percent less eyeball engagement, there’s going to be some depth lost; Austen’s prose is hilarious and penetrating but not especially theatrical. Long stretches go by with no dialogue, and in shaping climactic moments she often lets the reader’s imagination do a lot of the work. Not so Kate Hamill, who wrote the adaptation and stars as one of the Dashwood sisters, Marianne. Like that character, her gloss on the masterpiece is sometimes too dramatic for its own good: bug-eyed where Austen merely lifts an eyebrow, its high points wanting only organ music to tip them into old-style soap opera. Still, it’s robust fun throughout, which is more than one can say about poor Marianne.  

A few too many modern gimmicks. »

8 Books You Need to Read This February

Each month, Boris Kachka offers nonfiction and fiction book recommendations. You should read as many of them as possible.

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The Hamilton Cast Will Perform a Song at the Grammys, So You’re 1/46th of the Way to Actually Seeing It

It is a truth rarely acknowledged that some of the world's most fervent Hamilton fans have not actually seen Hamilton. (Those ticket prices!) To help us poor souls, the Grammys today announced that the cast of the hit Broadway musical will perform during the February 15 telecast, finally giving us some visuals to accompany the cast recording that plays in our minds 24 hours a day nonstop. According to Lin-Manuel Miranda, the cast will perform the show's opening number, "Alexander Hamilton," from their stage at the Richard Rodgers Theatre. If it's anything like past Grammy performances, they'll be joined onstage by Eddie Vedder, Steven Van Zandt, Bono, Jack White, and John Mayer, with Keith Richards making a special guest appearance as George III.

Congratulations, James Corden, You’re Hosting the Tony Awards This Year

In less than 18 months, James Corden has gone from "who?" to America's favorite karaoke singer, and now he's capped his ascent with a gig hosting this year's Tony Awards, which, like Corden's Late Late Show, will be broadcast on CBS. Corden is a past Tony winner, for Best Actor in a Play in 2012, for his role in One Man, Two Guvnors. He is also British, which means that if he doesn't come out dressed as King George III from Hamilton, we should all ask for our money back.

  • Posted 2/1/16 at 12:17 PM

Revisiting the Sleaziest O.J. Simpson Book: Our Critic Reviews O.J.’s ‘Exact Opposite of a Classic,’ If I Did It

In the annals of unreliability, there has never been a narrator less reliable than the I who governs the text of If I Did It. In fiction, an unreliable narrator is the product of an author’s design, a persona behind whose words the reader has to glimpse a deliberately obscured fictional state of things. In the case of O.J. Simpson’s 2007 memoir, we have instead an unstable mix of variously cynical narrative forces that combined to produce what was briefly a best seller and what is now a lost exact opposite of a classic.

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Bowie Collaborator Tony Oursler on the Icon’s Art-World Ties, Generosity, and Final Years

David Bowie was art’s hungry caterpillar, consuming everything in his path in order to transform himself aesthetically, again and again. Sometimes he drew the artists themselves into his orbit. One collaborator and friend was the prominent multimedia artist Tony Oursler. Within months of their meeting in 1996, Bowie was incorporating Oursler’s unsettling face projections into his Earthling tour and making cameos in the Oursler’s work. When Bowie made his 2013 comeback with the surprise release of The Next Day, Oursler directed the video of the first single, “Where Are We Now,” in which Bowie and Oursler’s wife appear in the artist’s studio as conjoined puppet heads. We spoke to Oursler last week in that studio, near the historic Henry Street Settlement on the far Lower East Side.

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  • Posted 2/1/16 at 11:20 AM
  • Tv

Grease: Live Is the First TV Musical to Feel Like Actual Theater

If theater is a hot medium, musical theater burns, making it a particularly bad match for the coolness of television. The three recent live musicals on NBC (The Sound of Music, Peter Pan, The Wiz) have been more or less successful — usually less — on their own terms but in no case came close to convincing a theatergoer of the worth of the attempted temperature translation. The cold silence of the studio, the absence of human connection, and especially the phenomenon of actors belting to an unblinking lens all contributed to their eerie, dead affect, even when those actors were excellent and the material fine. The resounding success of last night’s live production of the 1971 musical Grease on Fox was therefore a huge surprise, and a relief, even if it was the result of just a few relatively sensible innovations on the part of its producers and its director, Thomas Kail. It’s not too much to say that they may finally have cracked open this recalcitrant egg — though, sadly, what was inside it was still Grease

That's the way it should be. »

  • Posted 1/29/16 at 11:30 AM

Should Lower East Side Galleries Close Sundays?

As I made my way around the Lower East Side galleries two weeks ago, a disappointed dealer said to me, "I heard what your vote is." She wasn't referring to my recent "endorsement" of Hillary Clinton. She meant my position on a procedural question now being debated around that burgeoning gallery scene. Namely, should the galleries of the Lower East Side continue being open on Sundays? Or should they switch over to the conventional (Chelsea) schedule of Tuesday through Saturday? Maybe it's quasi-gossip, but the question resonates with an art world in flux. My vote: Stay open Sunday. You’re not quite ready.

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  • Posted 1/29/16 at 8:00 AM
  • Theater

Talking With Stephen Karam, the Brilliant Young Playwright Behind The Humans

Stephen Karam’s Chinatown apartment, which he moved into after the success of his 2011 play Sons of the Prophet, is a huge step up from his last place. Yes, the elevator is tetchy, and the door to the sixth-floor landing features a graffitied penis that someone has attempted to disguise with more scratches. The sort-of-one-bedroom layout is small and irregular, like a piece of a jigsaw puzzle that fell off a table. Still, it’s the kind of place a parent, noticing the scripts organized by color, the cheerful troll statuettes, and the light streaming in everywhere, might call “surprisingly nice.” No one would have ventured that phrase to describe his old place, the subterranean lower half of a duplex on the Upper West Side whose one window looked onto the bottom of an air shaft. “It was spooky,” he says, “in an effortless way.” There was no outer world except when it rained. Then, as the drain backed up, he could perceive in the darkness a rising lake of cigarette butts.

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Danielle Staub Has All the Receipts on Andy Cohen and She’s Publishing a Tell-All

The Sally Bowles of the New Jersey Turnpike, Danielle Staub, will go silently into that good night no longer. Staub took to Twitter to announce that her "silence" is over and she plans to spill all the details on Andy Cohen, Bravo, and Real Housewives of New Jersey's effect on her life. What becomes of a dream that has a table flipped at it? Does it dry up like being engaged 19 times? Does it fester like being called a "prostitution whore" on television — then run? Staub is a caged bird no longer; she's Nora Helmer and she's leaving Torvald behind and slamming that door defiantly.

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I Can’t Stop Thinking About This Drawing by a Man With No Hands or Feet

The first thing you’ll think while looking at the infinitely intricate art of Matthias Buchinger — possibly through extra-large magnifying glasses — will be Unbelievable. Consider the interlacing ornamentation, teeny-tiny penmanship, minuscule portraits, and other feats of drawing that dazzle on their own terms; then consider that Buchinger was born in Germany in 1674 without hands or legs and, with the help of brushes and tools attached to his stumps, became, in addition to a world-class illusionist and magician (part of the exhibition is drawn from the collection of Ricky Jay), among the greatest calligraphers of his time and a master of the art of micrography (drawing with words). Also, he could thread a needle, was a marksman, and worked in four languages all over Europe. And he fathered 14 children by four wives and was famous enough for his profligacy, in addition to his work, that in England “Buckinger’s boot” became a euphemism for vagina (since his only “limb” was his penis). At this point, you’re in some Borgesian twilight zone of trust, love, misgiving, and terrible queasiness: “Am I being duped? By the Met?”

Read More  »

  • Posted 1/27/16 at 8:54 PM
  • Theater

Theater Review: I and You and a Plot Twist, Too

Every year, American Theatre magazine publishes a list of the country’s most-produced playwrights. It makes sense that Ayad Akhtar topped the latest edition: His award-winning plays, many performed in New York and one (Disgraced) on Broadway, are compelling and topical and fairly easy to mount. Familiar names including August Wilson, Tennessee Williams, and Arthur Miller (in his centenary year) filled out most of the rest of the top ten — except for a writer, tied for seventh spot with John Patrick Shanley, I’d never heard of before: Lauren Gunderson. Based in California, Gunderson has several plays in active circulation; they’ve had a total of more than 70 productions around the country in the last few years, virtually none here. That anomaly has now been corrected with the arrival at 59E59 of her most popular work, the 2011 drama I and You, in a production from the Merrimack Repertory Theatre of Lowell, Massachusetts. I’m not sure which is more dispiriting: the play itself or what it says about the theatrical scene in the hinterlands. 

Two characters, one set. »

Diane Williams: Avant-Garde Master of Miniature Fiction

It’s hard to summarize any of Diane Williams’s stories, and it may be beside the point. But let’s try. “Greed” opens with mention of an inheritance from the narrator’s paternal grandmother: “a pile of jewels.” It’s claimed by her father, so her mother comes into possession of two gem-set rings that late in life she “amalgamated” into one: “the diamonds and the sapphires were impressively bulked together.” It’s a striking image; the narrator calls it a “phantasmagoria” and says she wanted the hybrid ring to be a reminder of her mother. Then comes the story’s last line: “It’s hard to believe that our affair was so long ago.” I’ve made an assumption here that could be incorrect: that the narrator is female. We don’t know, and we don’t know who the other half of that our is, and what the jewelry, or just the amalgamated rings, had to do with the affair. And that title — who is the greedy one? The father? The narrator? The narrator’s lover?

Read More  »

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