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.’
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.
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 hats—literally—to 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.
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 brothers—and a happy ending, of course.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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).
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.
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
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.