The drug-addict mother, the fictional son, the defective airplane parts: Secrets are at the core of many great American plays. Sometimes they are secrets kept by one character from the others, or from the outer world; the drama is in the revelation of what the audience already knows. Other times, though, the audience is the dupe, the playwright springing his secret like a sex toy to juice up the proceedings. (I’m looking at you, Neil LaBute.) One of the mysterious achievements of Sam Shepard’s 1983 play Fool for Love, only now having its Broadway debut, is the way it combines these two seemingly incompatible modes of withholding in a story whose point is the huge damage caused by a lack of information. When the withholding and revelation are handled as adroitly as they are in Daniel Aukin’s terrific staging for the Manhattan Theatre Club, Fool for Love acquires the force of Greek tragedy — one Greek tragedy in particular.
“We’re the only ones who come out here on visitors’ day,” says James Earl Jones in a farm-bred accent several notches folksier than the voices of CNN, Mufasa, and Darth Vader. He and Cicely Tyson are seated across a card table and surrounded by the accoutrements of old age — crutches, wheelchairs, and other flotsam. None of it belongs to Jones, who is 84, or Tyson, who doesn’t give her age but is reportedly 90. These are only props, strewn across the back half of a large rehearsal room on 42nd Street. Flynn Earl Jones, James’s son and assistant, is sitting in a far corner of the room, looking over notes.
Harold Pinter wrote Old Times (which opens tonight at the Roundabout) in 1971, only eight years before Caryl Churchill wrote Cloud Nine (which opened last night at the Atlantic). Though both are English plays about sex and subjugation, the two revivals demonstrate just how differently classics can fare as time laps around them. Cloud Nine has grown larger, almost as if it had predicted and made room for its future relevance. Old Times, on the other hand, seems to have contracted, especially in a production that makes too much of a case for its cosmic importance.
“Come on, mother,” Keira Knightley jokingly says as she helps Judith Light to her feet in a quiet room at the Studio 54 theater. It’s the day before previews begin for Knightley’s Broadway debut as the title character in an adaptation of Zola’s dark romantic novel Thérèse Raquin. (Light plays Thérèse’s aunt and caretaker.) “She’s so free,” Light raves of Knightley. “She’ll interrupt rehearsal to say, ‘Wait, what are we doing here?’ It gives the rest of us permission to do that too. She’s fearless.” Knightley bursts into laughter: “Am I giving that impression?”
It’s only fitting that Atlantic Records is releasing its recording of Hamilton in a variety of formats that, like the hit musical itself, rewind history. The download went on sale September 25; the CD comes out October 16. According to a tweet from Lin-Manuel Miranda, the show’s author, there will also be an actual LP, that throwback medium embedding the topography of a score in warpy spirals of vinyl. The LP, should it happen, would return us nearly to the dawn of the original-cast-album era, when Decca managed to fit not quite all of Oklahoma! on six ten-inch double-sided 78-rpm platters.
The first American production of Cloud Nine opened off Broadway on May 18, 1981, a few weeks before the Times ran its first account of what would later be known as AIDS. That’s pure coincidence, of course; Caryl Churchill’s play about the necessity and cost of all kinds of liberation had already been produced in England, two years before. But one way of understanding what might be meant by a great work is to look not only at what it offers as a reflection on its immediate past (which is the way we judge most new plays) but also at what it anticipated and what it continues to anticipate decades later. Many timely dramas shrink and buckle with age, their laudable politics as passé as their loud clothes. But Cloud Nine, now in a superb revival at the Atlantic, has only grown fuller, meatier, sadder, funnier, sexier, and more provocative — more theatrical, too — as the conditions from which it arose have changed radically, and have not.
We're all kicking ourselves for not seeing Broadway's latest darling, Hamilton, while it was still in previews at the Public Theater — since the move, tickets are almost impossible to get. But last night at the New Yorker Festival, Lin-Manuel Miranda, writer and star of the hit show, offered a glimmer of hope: Fear not, Broadway nerds, they are filming Hamilton! "You-couldn't-make-it-up filmmakers have been coming to the show," Miranda said. "I have talked to producers about filming this cast before this cast moves on." He said they will definitely film the production before June, but the team is still undecided about what the format will look like. Fingers crossed for a telecast à la . While you dream about that, scope out more highlights from his talk below:
Theater composers seem to have a thing for “beloved” novels about ambitious girls, usually orphaned, making their way in an unwelcoming world. There’s a good reason for it, too: Such novels are typically in the public domain. Certainly it’s not because Jane Eyre (1847) and Little Women (1868) and Anne of Green Gables (1908) and The Secret Garden (1911) have made good musicals; only the last, which opened on Broadway in 1991, is bearable. Something about the very belovedness of these works makes them resistant to adaptation, perhaps because they encourage a worshipful approach to a process that benefits more from benign disrespect.
The fall Broadway season unofficially begins tonight with the opening of Spring Awakening, the first of six revivals in a row. It’s not surprising that with so many déjà vus, and more to come, people are asking whether we really need to have Fiddler on the Roof for the sixth time, or The Gin Game ever again. Didn’t The Color Purple just close? And it’s true that, too often, old shows are remounted merely because some stars are available to squeeze the last juice out of them. But other times the motives are purer, if never pure: We get revivals not because we “need” them but because artists do, or because a perfect alignment of interests provides a unique opportunity. Occasionally — and Deaf West Theatre’s production of Spring Awakening is a superb example — something latent in the material meets the mood of the time to make a revival not just a necessity but a great pleasure.
The Belgian director Ivo van Hove almost always has the term avant-garde attached to his name, but with four major New York productions this season, including two on Broadway, he probably needs a new adjective. Not that he’s completely abandoned the techniques and tics that make the style so recognizable, and thus faintly ridiculous, to regular theatergoers. Murky video, drony music, indeterminate or clashing settings are all still part of the vocabulary. His production of Sophocles’s Antigone, now at BAM, takes place both in a desert outside ancient Thebes and, downstage, on a lower level of the set, in some sort of contemporary municipal office, with a leather sofa and file cabinets. The costumes, mostly black of course, would not be unwelcome in a Soho shop window, and look particularly terrific on his star, Juliette Binoche.
Most plays about religion are really about politics or psychopathology. In Saint Joan, Agnes of God, and Doubt, for instance, it’s not dogma that gets dramatized — how could it be? Theology is glacial. Instead, we are shown real-world consequences of intense belief, including damage done to innocent bystanders. But in his extraordinary new play The Christians at Playwrights Horizons, Lucas Hnath grapples directly with dogma itself. There’s no pedophilia, no stigmata, no financial shenanigans with the collection plate; the fate of France is not involved. There’s just a question for a congregation to answer: How do we change and yet remain faithful?
Richard Maxwell’s Isolde, opening the season at the Theatre for a New Audience, belongs to the Mad Libs school of dramaturgy, in which various more-or-less random elements are fitted together to fashion something absurd. Ideally, the way the elements fit or don’t should produce sparks of emotion along the seams, or at least, as in Mad Libs, peals of laughter. Isolde doesn’t do much of the former or any of the latter; it just sits there, complacently making no sense.
Art for art’s sake is sometimes a diet too rich to maintain, yet art that sets out single-mindedly to feed a political agenda almost always fails to satisfy. The Public Theater, whose mission is, in essence, to search for ways of resolving that paradox, never succeeds better than in its Public Works program: a year-round collaboration with community groups in all five boroughs that culminates in a work of participatory theater in Central Park. This year’s production, a 100-minute musical-pageant version of The Odyssey conceived and directed by Lear deBessonet and written by Todd Almond, involves five Equity actors and about 200 nonprofessionals representing youth arts programs, domestic workers organizations, post-incarceration social-service societies, and just about any other kind of group not normally represented onstage. Did I mention the bikers?
Get ready to see Bikini Bottom reimagined for a real-life stage, because a SpongeBob SquarePants musical is gunning for Broadway next summer. Appropriately dubbed The SpongeBob Musical, the production will follow the titular sponge and feature original numbers by such big-time music names as David Bowie, Cyndi Lauper, John Legend, Aerosmith's Steven Tyler and Joe Perry, The Flaming Lips, and T.I. (What's right is right.) Theater vets will lead the project, including Tina Landau, who will direct; Kyle Jarrow, who's on book duty; and Tom Kitt, who will supervise music. "I was drawn to this project not only for its wild theatrical possibility, but also because I felt SpongeBob, at its core, is a layered and hilarious ensemble comedy," Landau said in a statement released by Nickelodeon, which is producing the musical. "We will present the world of Bikini Bottom and its characters in a whole new way that can only be achieved in the live medium of the theater. We're bringing the show's fabled characters to life through actors — not prosthetics or costumes that hide them."
Olivier Award–winning British actor Mark Strong — square of jaw, piercing of gaze — is known Stateside for playing elegant, slightly sinister supporting characters, but he’ll be center stage in his Broadway debut this November, as Red Hook longshoreman Eddie Carbone in the Young Vic’s production of Arthur Miller’s A View From the Bridge. He spoke about finding Eddie, working with suddenly-everywhere director Ivo van Hove, and the British tradition of being a bad guy.
If you fished Whorl Inside a Loop out of a slush pile and read only its précis, you’d probably cringe: A Broadway actress, described as the whitest person at her own Whitey McWhite party, teaches a class called Theatricalizing the Personal Narrative to a group of black men incarcerated for homicide at a maximum-security prison. You’d easily guess what’s next: Whitey McWhite will impart important lessons about taking responsibility through art, shed a tear for her own emotional imprisonment, and make the audience feel good about itself by proxy. But this is totally not how the drama develops in Dick Scanlan and Sherie Rene Scott’s new play, based to some extent on their experiences leading a similar group at Woodburn Correctional Facility in upstate New York. Or, rather, these things happen, but they are part of a story so much larger and more complicated that its liberal-orgasm outline can’t come close to doing it justice. And justice is the point.
The films David Edelstein can’t wait to see.
Peter Sarsgaard as Stanley Milgram, the Yale researcher who ordered test subjects to deliver shocks to a stranger, their semi-blind obedience suggesting the worst in human nature — as depicted by indie stalwart Michael Almereyda (Hamlet).
Our Brand Is Crisis
David Gordon Green directs a fictionalized version of one of the most penetrating docs of the aughts, Rachel Boynton’s tragicomedy of a South American election warped by newfangled Yankee image manipulation.
Saoirse Ronan as an Irish immigrant in what’s rumored to be an emotionally transporting portrait of a time and place — the Brooklyn of the ’50s.
Hopefully, you’ve had a few minutes to play around with our Fall Entertainment Generator. But if you’re looking for straight and simple lists of things to look out for by medium, we’ll be breaking them out separately. Here’s a look at fall theater.
What used to be called the straw-hat circuit is long gone, as is the customary summer haberdashery that gave it its name. Stars no longer caravan their Broadway hits, in stripped-down versions, from barn to tent to “music fair” for weeklong engagements from June through August. But out-of-town summer theater still thrives, in new formats that have turned some venues in Western Massachusetts and the Hudson Valley from consumers of New York City product to providers of it. At the Williamstown Theatre Festival and Barrington Stage Company, for instance, you’re less likely to see a musical that recently played on Broadway than a musical on its way there. (In the past few seasons, Williamstown has premiered Far From Heaven and The Bridges of Madison County; Barrington, the revival of On the Town.) Non-musicals, too. Partnerships with major New York institutional theaters have turned Williamstown, Shakespeare & Company, Bard SummerScape, and New York Stage and Film into incubators for drama: Off Broadway’s Off Broadway.
The Wrap reports that Forest Whitaker will take his first turn on a Broadway stage as one of the stars in Hughie, a revival of a two-character Eugene O'Neill drama. In the short play, according to the trade, the Oscar-winning actor will appear as Erie Smith, a hustler who lives in a midtown New York hotel and tells stories of the deceased, titular Hughie and his glory days. (In other words, it's kind of like A Long, Glorified, But Very Good Monologue Starring Forest Whitaker and Friend/Talented Listener.) Michael Grandage is reportedly set to direct the production, which will debut next spring at the Schubert Theatre. The other role has not yet been cast.
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