Private Fears in Private Places

Towards the end of Arrivals & Departures, Alan Ayckbourn’s seventy-seventh play (the author is seventy-five), the military handler Ez (Elizabeth Boag) tells Barry (Kim Wall), the man she is handling, that they have nothing in common.  “We’ll never know now, will we?” Barry asks, a line that epitomizes Mr. Ayckbourn’s central concern.  In the main action of Arrivals & Departures, a terrorist named Cerastes (Ben Porter) is being cornered by the Strategic Simulated Distractional Operations by diverting his train to an empty station and catching him when he exits.  In order to succeed, members of the S.S.D.O. must dress up as regular commuters—as mothers and sons, as confused foreigners—to create the illusion for Cerastes that he is walking through an ordinary crowd.  In other words, they must put on a play.  Barry is a provincial traffic warden who tried to ticket Cerastes several days ago, and thus he is there to identify their man.  Ez is a sensitive soldier who was date raped by her fiancé and whose subsequent lashings out have lead to her dismissal from the army.  But Barry will never know this, just as she will never know that his ingenuousness caused the downfall of his father-in-law’s company and gave his wife the opportunity to conduct a long lasting affair with his best man.  As the two engage in an initially cold but successively warmer conversation, their memories are performed in flashback on stage: in the first act, we see how Ez’s mind responds to what is going on and in the second, we delve into what Barry is thinking in the same space of time. Continue reading “Private Fears in Private Places”

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California Love on Broadway

In recent years, jukebox musicals have been some of Broadway’s most durable and successful productions. Mamma Mia! repurposed ABBA’s Swedish pop and Jersey Boys has been running for nine years on the strength of 60s rock ’n’ roll nostalgia. However, there hasn’t been a great hip hop musical yet—how could there be? With hip hop’s vulgarity and counter-cultural orgins, it would be hard to incorporate that sound into a show that satisfies both Hot 97 listeners and Times Square tourists. Enter Holler If Ya Hear Me, a new show that takes legendary rapper Tupac Shakur’s hits and threads them together into a big-time musical. Continue reading “California Love on Broadway”

Everything You Need to Know About Shakespeare in the Park 2014

“Like one swallow,” wrote John Simon when reviewing the premiere of The Mystery of Edwin Drood, “one Shakespeare does not make a summer.”  Fortunately, for the first time since 2011, Shakespeare in the Park is eschewing musicals for two revivals from the Bard.  This year, they are presenting Much Ado About Nothing (June 3 – July 6) and King Lear (July 22 – August 17).  Here, I have tried to cover everything you need to know in order to get in. Continue reading “Everything You Need to Know About Shakespeare in the Park 2014”

It’s Just Decor

Berenger (Michael Shannon), the everyman who stars in Eugène Ionesco’s later plays Rhinoceros, Exit the King, and A Stroll in the Air, made his first and perhaps most devastating appearance in The Killer, one of the purest expressions of the Theatre of the Absurd.  In the first act (during which the set is almost always bare, the white scratches on the black stage burning our eyes), he accidentally finds himself in the Radiant City, a miracle of modern technology: the sky is always blue and the grass always green; it never rains, though “all the roofs are waterproofed automatically … out of respect for an old tradition.”  The Architect (Robert Stanton) responsible gives him a tour and Berenger basks in euphoria of a kind he hasn’t felt in centuries—or maybe only in years—a youthful, glowing euphoria that was crushed by cities that exist in “a climate unkind to living things.”  Berenger, however, is quickly deflated when he hears that a Killer has been stalking the streets of the Radiant City, while all its inhabitants have either fled or locked themselves up indoors.  Miserable, he returns home to his friend Edward (Paul Sparks), who is mysteriously in possession of all the Killer’s belongings.  The ingenuous Berenger insists they must report this to the police, but after a series of holdups, including a traffic jam and a fascist political speech, he is alone, without the evidence, on a nightmarish walk that leads him not to the authorities but to the Killer, who only laughs repeatedly during his exhaustive (and tour-de-force) monologue covering every possible philosophical, social, and ethical reason not to murder.

Continue reading “It’s Just Decor”

Any Tom, Dick or Bertolt

Tom Stoppard’s Dogg’s Hamlet, Cahoot’s Macbeth skirts very close to the kind of acting exercise you might find practiced by an improv group: in the first half, which is largely in gibberish (which is subtitled in the script but untranslated here), a builder who speaks English arrives to construct a set for actors about to perform Hamlet.  However, they speak “Dogg,” a meticulous reassigning of words and word meanings.  Thus, for example, “Undertake sun pelican crash frankly sun mousehole?” in fact means, “Swap you one cream cheese for one egg?”  Everything is eventually sorted out and a very condensed Hamlet (in the original language) commences.  (The premise was inspired by Wittgenstein’s concept of language games.)  In the second act, a woman hosts a production of Macbeth in her home as her Soviet-like government has banned all art perceived as hostile to the state.  Macbeth easily falls into this category, since “when you get a universal and timeless writer like Shakespeare, there’s a strong feeling that he could be spitting in the eyes of the beholder.” Continue reading “Any Tom, Dick or Bertolt”