Richard Nelson, Tony-winning book writer, Obie-winning playwright and former Yale Drama playwriting chair, is today best known for his ongoing saga about the Apple family. Each year for four years, culminating this fall, he has brought a new play to the Public Theater about a close-knit, articulate, politically aware family from Rhinebeck, N.Y., each play premiering on a historically significant date and set on the day it debuts. (The final installment will open on Nov. 22, 2013, the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination.) These lauded plays, about the hopes and frustrations of liberal-leaning New Yorkers in the age of Obama, tend to unfold during a long family meal; there is well-wrought discussion, subtle revelation and layered character development, but typically little action. Read More
By Jesse Oxfeld 4/30/13 9:00pm
Leave your fields to flower, leave your cheese to sour. In her new revival of Pippin, which opened at the Music Box last week, director Diane Paulus really does have some magic to do (whether or not it’s just for you). And if you have any fondness for musical theater—in this case, deliriously joyful, gorgeously staged, unexpectedly moving musical theater—you’ll want to join her for this colorful, acrobatic, magical indeed interpretation of Roger O. Hirson and Stephen Schwartz’s anecdotic revue.
Doodle-ee-do. Read More
Tales of Sound and Fury: Here Lies Love Is Mesmerizing, Bountiful Has a Big Heart, Fiona Shaw’s Testament Is Riveting and Alan Cumming Gives a Tour de Force Macbeth
By Jesse Oxfeld 4/23/13 9:05pm
Bad news, Bette. Celebrity actors are bustin’ out all over the Theater District this spring, but it turns out the must-see event of the season is at the Public Theater, where Here Lies Love, David Byrne’s clubland pop opera on the life of Imelda Marcos, opened last night. Already twice extended, this is a show that will be bringing town cars down Lafayette Street till it closes.
Mr. Byrne, the erstwhile Talking Head, began with a song cycle about Mrs. Marcos, the ambitious and high-living wife of Philippine strongman Ferdinand Marcos. Hers is a compelling story, and an inherently theatrical one: a middle-class woman who reached the heights of wealth and power, a devoted political wife devastated by news of her husband’s adultery, an acquisitive Machiavelli who ran the country while her husband was ill. That the jet-setting Mrs. Marcos liked to hang out in disco-era hot spots provided a genre: Mr. Byrne’s album is inspired by ’70s and ’80s dance music. The producer Fatboy Slim provided beats, singers like Cyndi Lauper, Nellie McKay and Sharon Jones provided vocals, and Mr. Byrne’s Here Lies Love—the title is the epitaph Mrs. Marcos has requested for her grave—was released in 2009. It’s not a defense of Mrs. Marcos, an indictment or even a documentary; mostly, it’s an emotional record of her life. Read More
The Seagull Flies Again: Christopher Durang Brilliantly Brings Chekhov to Bucks County and The Mound Builders Exposes Some Uncomfortable Truths
By Jesse Oxfeld 3/19/13 10:05pm
“My life is empty,” moans a lonely, sad, aging Sonia. “And I forget something every day. I can’t remember the Italian for window or ceiling.”
“Window is finestra, ceiling is soffitto,” replies her equally lonely, not quite as sad, very practical brother, Vanya.
“That doesn’t sound familiar,” Sonia says. She twists her face with a quick, crazed glint of awareness. “I don’t think I know Italian.”
There isn’t a rim shot, but there ought to be. Read More
By Jesse Oxfeld 3/14/13 3:55pm
Hands on a Hardbody
Brooks Atkinson Theatre
Opens March 21
The weird, charming 1997 documentary about a group of Texans competing in an endurance contest to win a pickup has become a—hopefully—weird, charming Broadway musical. The creative team augurs well for charming weirdness: the book is by I Am My Own Wife author Doug Wright; the music is by Phish frontman Trey Anastasio. Even weirder: it ís by all accounts a sympathetic, insightful commentary on financially struggling contemporary Americans—and when do you ever see that on Broadway? Read More
Odd Couples: Led by Danny Burstein and Sarah Paulson, WWII-Era Love Story Talley’s Folly Is a Triumph
By Jesse Oxfeld 3/05/13 10:00pm
“If everything goes well for me tonight, this should be a waltz—one-two-three, one-two-three—a no-holds-barred romantic story,” Danny Burstein, as Matt Friedman, tells his audience soon after he wanders onstage, house lights still up, “and since I’m not a romantic type, I’m going to need the whole valentine here to help me: the woods, the willows, the vines, the moonlight, the band.”
Matt, not unlike the narrator in Our Town, is welcoming his audience and setting the stage in Talley’s Folly, Lanford Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize winner from 1979, which opened last night in a sweet, deceptively slight and remarkably well-acted revival at the Roundabout Theatre Company’s Laura Pels Theatre. Soon, the lights will shift and the object of his affection, Sally Talley, played by Sarah Paulson, will appear; Matt’s story will begin, and the play will become, if not quite as simple as a waltz, indeed a movingly romantic story. Read More
By Jesse Oxfeld 2/26/13 10:05pm
I’ve met Liz Flahive, author of the curious and compelling new drama The Madrid, having spent a dinner party once happily chatting with her, and I can report that she seemed entirely pleased and content with her husband, her child and her life. This is worth noting, because The Madrid, which opened last night in the Manhattan Theatre Club’s Off Broadway space at City Center, is a fantasy about a mother, a kindergarten teacher, who one day up and leaves. It’s a startling and disquieting portrait of cheerful abandonment, but it offers its audience only the subtlest of cues on how to react to this departure and its repercussions. As you’re thinking through the play and trying to piece together a response—and it’s well worth the effort—you should take solace, at least, that the playwright herself seems not to present a flight risk. Read More
By Jesse Oxfeld 2/19/13 10:05pm
Of course Zosia Mamet stars in Really Really.
I say this partially because Ms. Mamet, Shoshanna on HBO’s Girls, with her hard-set jaw and strategically vacant stare, is extraordinary in her role, as a poor girl who has made it to a tony college and is determined to consolidate her socioeconomic gains.
But I also say it because this engrossing, unsettling and mildly repulsive new drama, the New York debut of playwright Paul Downs Colaizzo, is unavoidably a 2010s version of 1990s David Mamet. It’s Oleanna with iPhones, Speed-the-Plow in a dormitory, and Ms. Mamet, daughter of the Pulitzer-winning provocateur, conveniently provides an actual genetic link in a play already borrowing so much dramaturgical DNA. Read More
By Jesse Oxfeld 1/22/13 5:36pm
Maggie the Cat doesn’t purr. She barks and snarls.
Scarlett Johansson’s top-billed and awkward turn as Maggie dooms the director Rob Ashford’s take on Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, the Tennessee Williams Pulitzer Prize winner that opened in revival at the Richard Rodgers Theatre last week. It’s a prettily staged production, almost dreamlike, and it features a handful of fine performances. But its central character is off, and so the entire production is adrift. Read More
By Jesse Oxfeld 1/08 10:00pm
Settling in to watch Water by the Spoonful, Quiara Alegría Hudes’s complicated but neat play about family, drugs, Iraq and a few other things, one must reckon with an unavoidable question: why did this win the Pulitzer Prize?
Ms. Hudes’s play won the prestigious award last spring for its 2011 debut at the Hartford Stage. The production that opened Jan. 8 at the Second Stage Theatre, directed, as in Hartford, by Davis McCallum, is Water by the Spoonful’s New York premiere. Read More