Ink by the Carload

I tend to shy away from biographical readings of texts.  But consider: David Mamet’s new play, The Penitent, is about a psychologist, Charles (Chris Bauer), who treats a patient who goes on to murder ten people.  In his manifesto, this patient, frequently referred to as “the boy,” accuses Charles of homophobia, and a newspaper covering the case piles on by adding that he once wrote an essay that considered the question of homosexuality as “an aberration.”  When he points out that he wrote “an adaptation,” the newspaper issues a half-hearted retraction.  He complains to his lawyer, Richard (Jordan Lage), that they’ve “destroyed his reputation.”  Richard replies, “They’re a newspaper, that’s what they do.”  Charles refuses to testify at the trial or to break his oath of client confidentiality, which threatens both his marriage and his livelihood.  An interview with the defense attorney (Lawrence Gilliard, Jr.) indicates that Charles, who has recently returned to Judaism, might suffer religious persecution, or, as he calls it, an inquisition.  Incidentally, Charles wears a short, trim, salt-and-pepper beard and round, orange glasses. Continue reading “Ink by the Carload”

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I Only Am Escaped Alone to Tell Thee

Four older women chat idly in a garden as the afternoon wanes.  Sally (Deborah Findlay) discusses her fear of cats.  Vi (June Watson) is grateful to still receive phone calls form her children.  They reflect on their past lives, which include middle-class jobs and, in one case, mariticide.  A conversation about punchlines in jokes touches on national boundaries and our desire to cast difference on others.  Vi asks, “Did Abel make jokes about Cain being stupid and that’s why he killed him?”  Later, they will all sing The Crystals’ “Da Doo Ron Ron,” elongating the vowel in “Ron” as is done when pronouncing the name.  The lighting is bright enough that I can see the smudges on my glasses. Continue reading “I Only Am Escaped Alone to Tell Thee”

Let Us Be Sort of Your Managers with Regards to All Things Existential

At each turn, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ Everybody is designed to get its audience members to project themselves onto its characters.  The house lights are up about half the time, preventing us from relaxing into the darkness.  Many of the actors begin the play among us, only joining their co-stars fifteen minutes into the show as a reminder that we too play these parts.  And the first scene, featuring an usher (Jocelyn Bioh) announcing a very strict cell phone policy—”Also, interesting fact: if your phone is on ‘Do Not Disturb’ or ‘moon mode,’ it is actually not off”—erases the typically-sharp distinction between play and real life. Continue reading “Let Us Be Sort of Your Managers with Regards to All Things Existential”

The Power to Remember, the Power to Forget

Around the corner from where it debuted in 1907, Sholem Asch’s God of Vengeance is being revived by the New Yiddish Rep.  When the play transferred to Broadway in 1923, the cast and crew were arrested and convicted on charges of obscenity.  But the drama, about the Russian brothel proprietor Yankl (Shane Baker) who wants to buy his way into respectability and marry his daughter, Rifkele (Shanya Schmidt), to the son of a rabbi, is relatively tame by today’s standards.  Rifkele shows more interest in one of her father’s employees, Manke (Melissa Weisz), and their second-act, same-sex kiss (the first for two women on Broadway) is what triggered all the hoopla almost a century ago. Continue reading “The Power to Remember, the Power to Forget”