public theater

New Podcast on ‘American Psycho’ and ‘The Total Bent’

Sara and Mariaisabel wonder why American Psycho didn’t receive more acclaim, and discuss all the ways race, religion, and sexuality intersect in Stew’s new musical ‘The Total Bent.’

Mobile Shakespeare Unit Presents “The Comedy of Errors” with Substance and Style

Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors is an odd gem of a play. As one of his earlier comedies, it’s rife with MacGuffins, mistaken identities, and slapstick comedy. It also has far too many rhyming couplets and a set up so complex and over-the-top that it resulted in the longest monologue Shakespeare had ever written. Still, The Comedy of Errors is one of my favorite of Shakespeare’s plays, and I’ve seen more productions of it than any other play.

… And I may have done it in college. Sue me.

The Comedy of Errors is the latest of Shakespeare’s offerings that is now playing at the Public Theater, courtesy of its Mobile Unit program. After spending three weeks touring correctional facilities, shelters, and community organizations all over the five boroughs, the Mobile Unit finishes its run with a residency at the Public. It’s important to keep in mind the Mobile Unit’s mission, as it’s inherent in every part of the production. A cast of seven actors change hatsliterallyto play more than double the amount of characters. Props and costumes are vibrant and detailed, but still minimal and portable enough to change from scene to scene… and performance to performance. (In some cases, certain items, like wigs or a tube of lipstick, don’t even make it past prison security for those stops on the Mobile Unit’s tour.) The cast itself is diverse, with performers of different sizes and shades, resembling a typical New York City street more than, say, that all-white Wars of the Roses revival that just finished playing in London. Though all of these elements are tweaked and trimmed to fit the nature of Mobile Unit’s production, Shakespeare’s narrative still shines through.

Twinning. ( ◀ ▶ X Lucas Caleb Rooney and Bernardo Cubría Photo Credit: Joan Marcus. Matthew Citron, Bernardo Cubria, Flor De Liz Perez, Christina Pumariega, Lucas Caleb Rooney, David Ryan Smith and Zuzanna Szadkowski. - See more at:
Twinning. (Lucas Caleb Rooney as Dromio of Syracuse and Bernardo Cubría as Antipholus of Syracuse. Photo Credit: Joan Marcus.)

The Comedy of Errors follows two sets of twins as they are separated at sea. Each Antipholus (Bernardo Cubría), accompanied by his servant Dromio (Lucas Caleb Rooney) end up in different citites; one in Ephesus, and one in Syracuse. When Antipholus and Dromio of Syracuse enter Ephesus, they are mistaken for their Ephesian counterparts, causing all kinds of confusion for Adriana (Christina Pumariega), Antipholus of Ephesus’ wife, and Luciana (Flor De Liz Perez), Adriana’s sister. The Antiphol-i and Dromio’s are not exempt from the resulting chaos, encountering a scheming courtesan (Zuzanna Swadkowski), a strange abbess (also Zuzanna Swadkowski), and a debt-collecting goldsmith (David Ryan Smith) before they finally discover their brothersand a happy ending, of course.

(Photo Credit: Joan Marcus)
But first: mistaken husbands. (Photo Credit: Joan Marcus)

Like I mentioned earlier, The Comedy of Errors isn’t a perfect play. But it’s a delightful one, and director Kwame Kwei-Armah taps into that fun in this production. Ephesus and Syracuse are now border towns not unlike the southwestern cities along the United States/Mexican border. Leather belts and denim work shirts are staples for the Antiphol-i and Dromio’s, while Adriana and Luciana are visions in turquoise. I was especially amused by Adriana’s Real Housewife-esque styling, complete with a bright orange dress, a bouffant wig, and a bedazzled wine glass. The border town placement is not just a fun design element, though. As the Duchess of Ephesus delivers her ruling on an errant border-crosser, she does so wearing a baseball cap that coyly reads, “Make Ephesus Great Again” and waving a fan that has Donald Trump’s face on it. I don’t think the intent was to make a huge statement on a political issue, but I found it to be a clever way to contextualize the Ephesus/Syracuse conflict with a knowing wink to the audience.

Comedy of Errors Public Mobile Unit Matthew Citron, Bernardo Cubria, Flor De Liz Perez, Christina Pumariega, Lucas Caleb Rooney, David Ryan Smith and Zuzanna Szadkowski. - See more at:
Border Patrol. (David Ryan Smith, Christina Pumariega, Zuzanna Swadkowski, and Flor De Liz Perez. Photo Credit: Joan Marcus)

The performances are also top-notch. Bernardo Cubría as the Antiphol-i has a constant charisma coursing through his characters, along with a constant state of wide-eyed befuddlement. Christina Pumariega’s Adriana is one of the best I’ve ever seen, combining the reality-show worthy hysterics we typically see in her character with a grounded sense of self that was refreshing to see. Zuzanna Swadkowski is the MVP of playing more than one character, giving every role an amusing specificity.

If these aren’t enough reasons for you to check out The Comedy of Errors (though they should), it’s worth a visit just to hear Shakespearean verse done in a Southern accent. Now that’s an odd gem in of itself.

The Comedy of Errors is now playing through November 22nd. For more information, click here.

Summer 2015 Off-Broadway Round Up: Part I

While Broadway has been spending the last few weeks anticipating whether their most recent productions will make it or break it under the Tony Awards chopping block, Off-Broadway theatre companies have begun to premiere their exciting new shows for the summer season. Here are two productions that should make you keep your eyes open for the theaters beyond Broadway’s bright lights:

Mobile Shakespeare Unit Presents Macbeth at the Public Theater. 

The Public Theater is famous for their free Shakespeare in the Park performances at the Delacorte Theater every summer, but they produce Shakespearean productions year-round. Their Mobile Shakespeare Unit, which continues to spread Public Theater founder Joseph Papp’s mission that Shakespeare is for everyone, performs Shakespeare’s plays for the public in nontraditional venues, such as shelters, prisons, and elderly care centers, throughout the five boroughs of New York City. Every Mobile Shakespeare Unit production ends its NYC tour with a run at the Public Theater. This year the Mobile Shakespeare Unit tackled Macbeth, and their production is just as revelatory as the Public’s more lavish presentations of Shakespeare’s work.

If you don’t know the plot summary, I’ll Spark Notes it further for you: Macbeth, a Scottish nobleman, meets three witches who make prophecies of his growing power. Lady Macbeth, his wife, is loving this supernatural development, and encourages Macbeth to murder the King. The body count only rises from here.

Macbeth and the Weird Sisters go grunge. Photo by Joan Marcus.

This production, directed by Edward Torres, has a practicality befitting both its genesis as a touring show and the world of the play itself. Macbeth’s Scotland was one of thanes and kings, but it was also one of war and bloody takeovers. Wilson Chin’s set design, cleverly composed of small movable pieces, and Amanda Seymour’s utilitarian, grey-toned costume design created an aesthetic that is efficient for the cast to use and the audience to absorb. The fight sequences were effective, their choreography and execution being athletic and brutal. And Rob Campbell’s performance as Macbeth imbued the character with a rugged charisma that allowed me to see the character in a more nuanced way.

With this compact but emotionally rich production of Macbeth, it is clear that the Mobile Shakespeare Unit’s work would do Joe Papp proud.

What I Did Last Summer at the Signature Theatre.

Charlie (Noah Galvin) and Anna (Kristine Nielsen). (Photo: Sara Krulwich)

Signature Theatre’s revival of What I Did Last Summer takes audiences back to a familiar time and place. Set in the summer of 1945, fourteen-year-old Charlie (Noah Galvin) is summering with his mother and sister on the shores of Lake Erie. When Charlie, sick of avoiding his mother’s chores and wondering about his father serving overseas, sees a flyer for a summer job, he leaps at the chance to make some pocket change and impress his friends. But his employer, Anna Trumbull (Sara Krulwich) is notorious in the town for her part Native American heritage and affair with a well-known doctor. She has been dubbed the “Pig Woman” by locals, and her art teaching and leftist point of view are both strange and exhilarating for Charlie. But the summer must come to an end, and Charlie’s mother (Carolyn McCormick) is determined to restore order and bring her son home.

At first glance, What I Did Last Summer seems like a play that is covering well-trodden territory. There is no shortage of coming-of-age stories about young white boys in America’s nostalgic past, and I wondered what A.R. Gurney’s play could say that hasn’t already been said before. As it turned out, quite a bit. Anna’s mentorship of Charlie is a unique element of the play, as I don’t recall many stories about a young man who was inspired by an older woman in an unromantic way. As Charlie asserts his independence (which has decidedly mixed results), he does so in a way that shows that he is growing up–but is still a boy who must fall back in line with his family’s values.

What I Did Last Summer is also not afraid to state it’s a play, with projections of stage directions, direct addresses by the characters stating who the play is and isn’t about, and a drummer clad in forties garb who provides sound effects, incidental music, and an omniscient presence of his own. John Narun’s projection design is especially moving, as the set directions and dialogue, in the ubiquitous typewriter font, became breathtaking and evocative backdrop images that set the scene both on page and on the stage.

Though What I Did Last Summer takes us to often-visited places, like Charlie and Anna, it forges its own path–and audiences are all the better for it.

Podcast #8 on Hamilton at the Public Theater!

Sara and Norma FINALLY talk about Hamilton and prep for the Broadway transfer! Fangirling ensues.

Sara refers to an American Theater article in her discussion of hip-hop in theater. The article is “Sure, ‘Hamilton’ is a Game-Changer, But Whose Game?” by Danny Hoch.

UTR Review: O Jardim, A Supposedly Fun Thing, and Ike At Night

Photo by Otávio Dantas

Created by Brazil’s Companhia Hiato and written and directed by Leonardo Moreira, O Jardim playfully experiments with theatrical structure with vibrant and emotionally stirring results. At the play’s opening, the cast dissect the stage into three spaces, lined with large cardboard box structures which, along with an expansive grass turf, perform the function of set. The spaces form a diamond-like shape, each side facing a different section of the audience. Three scenes are performed simultaneously, one in each of the spaces, and rotate so that by the end, we’ve seen all three scenes albeit in different order. Each scene depicts one generation in a Brazilian family struggling to preserve its legacy and its past ideals about love, family, success, and youth. Continue reading “UTR Review: O Jardim, A Supposedly Fun Thing, and Ike At Night”

Our Picks for the Public Theater’s Under The Radar Festival

The Under the Radar Festival, which recruits the best new theater projects from around the world and houses them at The Public Theater for two event-filled weeks, is officially underway and we are thrilled to be covering some of the festival’s most anticipated shows. For theater artists and non-practitioners alike, the festival is a chance to discover new styles and structures being explored outside our community’s borders and fuel our local creative momentum. It’s an exciting chance to see international artists exchange their work and even to discover what ties the global theater community together. This is the third year that we’ve covered UTR, and we are always delightfully surprised to find how much we can learn about our own life and culture from foreign artists.

Tickets for UTR’s events are only $20-25. Learn more about these works and other offerings at UTR’s Program.

Photo by Ligia Jardim

O Jardim (Brazil’s Companhia Hiato )

Many of this year’s shows are experimenting with structure and style to playfully reflect on memory and its effects on history, identity, and relationships. O Jardim is perhaps the most innovative of the works, using a complex and thrillingly exact trio of scenes which play simultaneously to three separate sections of the audience. Each scene portrays a different generation of one family and how subsequent generations experience the recollected lives of their elders.

Photo by Mitch Dean

The Orpheus Variations (Deconstructive Theatre Collective)

We reviewed this piece back when it premiered at HERE Arts Center and were frankly astounded by it. It accomplishes a magnificent feat– it films the play as it is performed and project the astounding and quite unexpected results on a screen behind the actors. A beautiful, simple, and smart adaptation of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth, Deconstructive Theatre Collective manages to create a multi-layered piece that uses the modal differences between live performance and film to reflect on memory, loss, and love. Catch it tonight (1/10) at La MaMa. It’s sure to be worthwhile!


The Triumph of Fame (Switzerland’s Marie-Caroline Hominal)

Choreographer Marie-Caroline Hominal creates an individual theatrical piece, bringing an audience of one to a discreet backstage location with a piece that blends the boundaries between spectator and performer. Each encounter lasts only 15 minutes and incorporates various performance mediums surrounding the text of Petrarch’s “i Trionfi.” If you ever wanted more out of the one-on-ones in Sleep No More, The Triumph of Fame should definitely be on your list.

Photo Courtesy of JACK

Ike at Night (USA’s Ikechukwu Ufomadu)

Late-night talk show hosts are a dime a dozen (aren’t they all white men named Jimmy at this point?). Which is why Ufomadu’s take on the talk-show format, straight from a sold-out run in Brooklyn,  should be a fascinating, fresh, and entertaining phenomenon to watch!

Photo by Graeme Braidwood

Stan’s Cafe (UK’s The Cardinals)

Three cardinals travel the world on a mission to broaden biblical knowledge using puppet theater. But when their puppets go missing, they must improvise their own show, comically covering biblical scenes and Middle East relationships dating from the Crusades. Given the fact that world-Muslim relationships are constantly in the news (most recently under the microscope of the Charlie Hebdo attacks), we’re sure this piece will only gain relevancy and humor with time.

Photo Credit: Kevin Yatarola

A 24-Decade History of Popular Music: 1900s-1950s (USA’s Taylor Mac)

Taylor Mac is something of a theater prophet. His performance in Good Person of Szechwan first turned us on to his glorious message of a theater of inclusion, community, and gender-bending elegance. This concert is only part of a 24-hour concert series presenting music from every decade in the United States’s history as a nation. Mac’s experimentation with long-form theater aims to bring audiences together with a uniquely vulnerable physical experience. Not only should it be a great experiment in long-form theater, but also it should be incredibly fun to see Mac’s joyous celebration of music.


‘Father Comes Home From the Wars’ Is a Classic Work on a Modern Issue

The hero of of Suzan-Lori Parks’ new trilogy of plays, Father Comes Home From the Wars, is Hero (Sterling K. Brown), a slave on a small Texas plantation at the cusp of the Civil War. He has the makings of a hero in both character and physique– a tall, strong, young man with industrious energy and an acute sense of responsibility to his community. And yet, Hero’s heroism wavers precariously throughout the trilogy, which sees Hero off to fight alongside his master in the Confederate army and make good on his promise to return to his friends, family, and almost wife Penny (Jenny Jules).

Cast of Father Comes Home photo by Joan Marcus
Cast of Father Comes Home photo by Joan Marcus

Parks’ play, the first of three planned trilogies reflecting on race and freedom in America, evokes classical tragic structures and dynamically modernizes them for contemporary audiences. There’s a chorus comprised of four “less than desirable slaves” on Hero’s plantation. There’s a character named Homer, another named Ulysses, and Penny surely fills in for the faithful Penelope. The first and third parts most closely stick to the verse style of ancient theater, the second part veering off dramatically in structure for an intense and fascinating confrontation between Hero, his drunk, maniacal master, and a captured Union soldier with outspoken feverish ideas about the worth of black men in America. The Public’s Anspacher Theater makes the perfect home for this trilogy; its grecian columns flank a marble balcony and make the stage feel like a ancient temple.

Parks’ Hero faces many of the same ideological struggles as his classical counterparts. The first part is especially valuable as a study of a man raised in the institution of slavery, who knows nothing else beside it, and who is suddenly being asked to rebel against all he has ever known with only the hope of an unsure future of freedom ahead of him. Hero turns on his friends and family in his cowardice, he is repeatedly complicit in his master’s tyrannical rule, and he proves gullible for his master’s empty promises.  Hero is no hero, but he is human, and it is truly cathartic to see Hero’s fearful honesty processed. The second part is a more intellectual study of the condition of slavery and the psychologies produced in master, slave, and outsider. It’s a climactic and stimulating scene. It flashes in lightning speed and its insight comes like stormy gust of wind. The third part is by far the weakest point of the trilogy, a little contrived and too slowly paced, but it looks at freedom with new perspective, particularly for the play’s only main female character Penny.

Louis Cancelmi and Sterling K. Brown, photo by Joan Marcus
Louis Cancelmi and Sterling K. Brown, photo by Joan Marcus

Sterling K. Brown is a judicious and intuitive Hero. He is steadily reliable as the emotional center for the play, and his restraint is made all the more important when Hero’s pain present itself. The chorus actors, Russell G. Jones, Julian Rozzel Jr., Tonye Patano, and Jacob Ming-Trent, make for a diverse and lively group. As Hero’s master, Ken Marks is delightfully unpredictable and focused, and Louis Cancelmi is a moving portrait of hope for our disillusioned protagonist.

Father Comes Home From the Wars plays at the Public Theater through November 16

Fun Home The Musical

Hey everyone! The latest incarnation of Fun Home opened yesterday at the Public Theater. We reviewed it back when it was a Public Lab production. Of course, there are bound to be certain changes, but from the recent reviews I’ve read, much of it has remained the same.

Fun Home... The Musical

Fun Home… The Musical.

via Fun Home… The Musical.

The Comedy of Errors at Shakespeare in the Park

When I took a Shakespeare class in college, The Comedy of Errors was the first play we read. I remember gearing up, collecting all my English major prowess, ready to tackle probably the best writer of the English language.

Well, Comedy of Errors ain’t no Hamlet. This fact can be a little frustrating (especially if you dived into the play expecting roaring soliloquies and poignant cultural critique) but for the most part, it’s amazingly refreshing. Errors pretty much allows you to sit back and enjoy the ride, which comes complete with lots of laughs and a happy ending.

Shakespeare in the Park’s Errors is perfectly cast. I’ve only seen Hamish Linklater in three roles but those three have shown me what a versatile and engaging actor he is. Jesse Tyler Ferguson also gets back to his theater roots, displaying his great comedic timing, nuanced delivery, and altogether fun presence (Let me take this moment to gloat that I saw 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee for my birthday several years ago and then saw JTF in a theater lobby a few months ago and I said hi and told him that he was awesome and he was really kind and okay I’m done now).

Together, Linklater and Ferguson have excellent chemistry as Antipholus and Dromio… or should I say, Antipholi and Dromios. You see, they play sets of twins– one from the play’s setting, Ephesus, and the other from nearby Syracuse. The Antipholi were separated in a shipwreck, along with their servants the Dromios. Antipholus of Syracuse arrives at Ephesus with his Dromio to search for his Ephesian brother. The Syracuse set are usually played as well-mannered and more civilized than their Ephesian counterparts, and this production plays along with the trope. It’s quite fun to see both actor get to play aristocrats as well as seedy bullies in the same play.

It also means that the duo are on stage for nearly the whole play. Scene changes are aided by swing dance interludes, some clever trap doors, and presumably a lot of running on Linklater’s and Ferguson’s parts.

While I praise the acting, I felt that there were a lot of strange choices in the show that were probably done with comedic intent but fell a bit flat. Every five or so minutes there would be a joke that felt stale, out-of-place, or just a bit uncomfortable to watch. Take for example, Egeon’s puppet and boat shtick during his expository monologue. As he describes his sons’ separation, he pulls out four dolls and a ship mast from his briefcase, and virtually acts out the shipwreck with puppets. I mean, I guess it was cute? The only way I felt it was funny was in a self-referential way– Egeon’s LONG monologue is notorious as evidence that Shakespeare was still getting the hang of things in this early work. Thus, a puppet show might have been kind of like saying “Yea, we know this bit is long and boring and we don’t really know what else to do with it *shake fist at Shakespeare*” But honestly, you’re Shakespeare in the Park. AND you’ve got Hamish Linklater and Jesse Tyler Ferguson waiting in the wings to come out which you guys do a puppet show? And you couldn’t figure out a more clever or creative way to get this done?

There are other jokes and gags that just felt inappropriate or unfunny. The gorgeous De’Andre Aziza has her comedic talent wasted by relegating her to shaking her boobs and making funny faces behind a nun’s back. Huh? Even JTF and Linklater had some lines that never really found their mark, not particularly because of their delivery but because of mismatched environments or missed set-ups. There were a few moments throughout the play when the actors interrupted the script with more contemporary interjections, which could have been funny but instead felt like pandering to a supposedly text-savvy contemporary audience.

Oh, and guess what? When you have one actor playing two characters, what are you supposed to do when those two characters finally meet on stage in the last scene? If you’re the Public Theater, you do something clever, something witty, something self-referential and pointed. You DON’T have two random cast members fill in for the missing characters, keep their backs turned to the audience, and give all their lines to their counterparts so they don’t have to speak. Honestly, everyone in the audience is waiting to see what the Public will do when the brothers finally confront each other. We know there’s only one actor, that’s part of the marvel of the rest of the play. The choice to step around the falseness of the last scene and ignore it instead of confronting it head-on with some hilarious new possibility (Think something along the lines of the ‘fifth actor’ in The 39 Steps)– that choice kills the tone of the play’s ending. Errors’s ending is supposed to inspire brotherhood and community. Brotherhood is not trying to get away with having faceless, voiceless actors play parts that the audience knows don’t actually belong to them.

To end on a positive note, though, much of Errors does hit its mark. You’ve got kitchen appliances, demonic possessions, a faux-Freud psychologist, a fat lady being compared to a globe in an epic extended metaphor, some Python-esque running around, nuns with guns, mobsters recitating Shakespeare with accents from The Sopranos, and tons more. Not to mention a bright, revolving set that is almost as entrancing as the actors on stage.

P.S. Even though Errors is most likely the lightest of Shakespeare’s comedies, there’s a lot of interesting themes to look into. In my Shakespeare class, we looked at the play as a troubled reflection on a rapidly industrializing and mercantile Elizabethan London, where citizens are surrounded by strangeness and can’t seem to find their way in the world. Also, does anyone else see a similarity between Joe Orton’s What the Butler Saw and Errors?  Plot-wise they’re pretty goshdarn similar, minus the cross-dresssing, and the ending is pretty interesting if you consider the role of the family in restoring the social status quo. I totally don’t miss school, if you can’t tell.

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