Wednesday, January 22, 2014

My top 10 + plays for 2013

For me, at least, last year was a great year for theater in New York City--much of it in small venues off and off-off Broadway.

Here are 10 of my favorites--shows I'm hugely grateful for. Many are shows I'll remember for years--and will see again if I have the chance. (See my earlier posts about some of them.) In order from the beginning of the year:

Life and Times: Episodes 1-4 by the Nature Theater of Oklahoma, a Soho Rep production at the Public Theater. I look forward to parts 5-?

The Laramie Project Cycle by the Tectonic Theater Project at Brooklyn Academy of Music:

Part I: The Laramie Project
Part II: The Laramie Project: 10 Years Later

I'm a Stranger Here Myself by Mark Nadler, directed by David Schweizer at the York Theatre

Marcellus Shale by the Talking Band at La Mama

Arguendo by the Elevator Repair Service at the Public Theater

Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play, by Anne Washburn, directed by Michael Friedman at Playwrights Horizon

Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare, set at a women's prison, directed by Philippa Lloyd at BAM; a powerful production from the Donmar Warehouse

Iyom by Lou-Lou Igbokwe, directed by Jessica Creane at the Workshop Theater

Trouble in Mind by Alice Childress, a reading directed by Katrin Hilbe at the Workshop Theater.
In Childress's extraordinary play--daring for its time and still relevant now--a majority black cast with a white director rehearse a Broadway play about lynching. Childress was an African-American actress as well as playwright, and Trouble in Mind, her first professionally produced play, won an Obie in 1956. It never reached Broadway because Childress was unwilling to make the changes, including a new title and an upbeat ending that optioning producers wanted.

Why have I never until now heard of this woman or this play, I wondered, as I watched and listened. I hope to see a full production of it one day soon.

Saint Joan by George Bernard Shaw, staged and performed by Bedlam

Hamlet by William Shakespeare, staged and performed by Bedlam

Saturday, January 11, 2014

The Hamlet next door

Say there's a castle next door, and the prince is a guy you hang out with. Except for his title, about which he has no pretensions, he's just an ordinary guy--though an unusually smart, sensitive, and witty one. He's a great listener, a great storyteller. He's never been attracted to guns, but he enjoys fencing--with words or rapiers.

Meet Hamlet, as played by Eric Tucker, who also directs, in what is the most unusual production of the play I've ever seen. This Hamlet, the second production of the new Bedlam company, is pulled from the chilly realm of Elsinore to your town, your neighborhood, your living room. You know these people, they're part of your world, and at any moment one of them might be sitting next to you, addressing you. With four actors playing more than two dozen parts, this is Hamlet boiled down to the bone.

Four actors: Tucker spends most of his time as Hamlet, but also keeps watch as the soldier Francisco and may be glimpsed as the ghost of his dead father. Edmund Lewis, as Polonius, takes off his glasses, transforming himself into his son Laertes, and amazingly both characters are vividly alive for us, in the same moment. Andrus Nichols works similar magic with Gertrude and Ophelia, and Tom O'Keefe with Claudius and Osric.

The moving set, with coordinates changing at each intermission, amounts to little more than a few chairs and, beginning with the graveyard scene, dirt scattered on the floor, beneath the actors' feet and close to yours.

That dirt--and the powerful flashlights that probe the darkness at the beginning of the play--helped convey its essence.

For me, watching this Hamlet was almost like seeing it for the first time--at the very least, hearing the words anew, and seeing images that will stay with me always.

In repertoire with Shaw's Saint Joan, Hamlet is playing through March 9 at the Lynn Redgrave Theater, 45 Bleecker Street.

When you go: If the actors ask you to sit in a certain place, do it.