Friday, October 17, 2014

Theater Close-Up: Home Theater on PBS


I was late to the party in discovering Richard Nelson's Apple Family Plays. I caught only the last two during their Off Broadway runs at the Public Theater. So I was delighted to hear that one of New York's PBS stations, WNET, taped all four as part of a TV series called Theater Close-Up, attempting to do for the city's Off Broadway theaters what National Theatre Live has done for theaters in the United Kingdom: expose their work to larger audiences that might not otherwise have a chance to see theater, whether due to money, location, time or other factors.

NT Live does things on a larger scale, broadcasting to movie theaters, and their camerawork is sharper, but I found Theater Close-Up's Oct. 16 third offering, and the first featuring the Apple Family, That Hopey Changey Thing, as fun, insightful and moving as the other installments. All are set on or around election night in the last four years. Hopey Changey takes place on the night of the 2010 midterm elections, when the Democratic-leaning Apple siblings are assembled in upstate Rhinebeck, N.Y., after voting and before the polls close.

Nelson, who also directed the quartet, brilliantly captures their mood, and by extension, the mood of a certain segment of the U.S. population two years into President Obama's first term: disillusion, determined and at various points in between. Both he and his cast — Jon DeVries, Stephen Kunken, Sally Murphy, Maryann Plunkett, Laila Robins and Jay O. Sanders (pictured) — manage to do that while still creating characters that are beautifully real and compelling in their faults as well as their virtues, and that you want to spend time with.

I went to WNET's website today to check the schedule for the remaining three plays — Sweet and Sad, Sorry and Regular Singing — and noticed that while the first two are scheduled to air in the next two weeks, nothing is slated for the 10 p.m. time slot on Nov. 6. There's just a blank space after an Endeavour rerun. Which has me wondering if ratings haven't been good and the station has decided to air something else at that time. I found this schedule posted in another area of the website that has Regular Singing slated for Nov. 6 and lists other broadcasts each Thursday through Thanksgiving. But it doesn't include London Wall, the Mint Theater show that launched the series Oct. 2, so I'm not sure how accurate the rest of it is.

I emailed WNET to find out more. I'll see what I learn next week.

UPDATE: And the very efficient viewer-relations department got back to me: Regular Singing is scheduled for Nov. 6 at 10 p.m.; it just hasn't been entered into the online listings yet. Hamish Linklater's play The Vandal follows on Nov. 13.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Is Religion Your Thing?


Religion isn't really my thing, but that didn't prevent me from thoroughly enjoying
Renee Calarco's The Religion Thing, currently on the boards at the Cell thanks to Project Y Theatre, originally base in Washington, D.C.

I went with a longtime friend who happens to be an interfaith minister, and we took a roundabout route to the subway after the show, so that we could discuss the play. Not just what we thought of it (we both loved it), but characters and the choices they make and they ways they respond to each other. No character is easily forgiven or roundly condemned -- not even the "formerly gay" character now married to a woman.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Slow-Going for Donogoo


The Mint Theater strays from its usual diet of British and Irish drama with a French curiosity from 1930 called Donogoo, about a South American land scheme.

But comedy doesn't always translate well, whether from a foreign language or a historical period. Although the first act is mostly setup and the post-intermission payoff amuses, this production, which I reviewed for Time Out New York, isn't sturdy enough to turn decent satire into trenchant theater.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Kingston Plays the Queen


One advantage to doing an interview via Skype is that I was so worried about technology possibly failing me that I didn't have time to be nervous about what I was going to ask Alex Kingston about playing Lady Macbeth, working opposite Sir Kenneth Branagh or a potential future on Doctor Who.

As you can see, it went well. Perhaps because I rather surprised her at the beginning of the interview when she told me the company had been rehearsing at Alexandra Palace in London, and I said, "Oh, you're in Crouch End." She seemed rather impressed that an American had heard of both those places. They're not in too many London guidebooks, certainly, and had I been conducting this interview a year earlier, I would have been clueless. But I had the pleasure of staying with friends in Crouch End during my visit to London in January, and took a walk up to Ally Pally.


Looking forward to experiencing Macbeth tonight.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Scene-stealing Rivals


Memorable performances sometimes pop up where you don't expect them. Sheridan's The Rivals is best known as the play that features the word-misusing Mrs. Malaprop, but the best performances of the Pearl Theatre's perfectly respectful revival come from other members of the ensemble.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Lotta Lear-ing Goin' On


There's been some kvetching about the number of King Lears treading the boards of New York theaters this season, but I don't mind at all. Maybe it's because it takes me awhile to fully process complex ideas and language, but I find something new in every good production of Shakespeare that I see.

So far I've loved Frank Langella's Lear at BAM this past winter, and liked the current Theatre for a New Audience production starring Michael Pennington. I'm not overly excited about John Lithgow's at Shakespeare in the Park this summer or Joseph Marcell's at the Skirball Center in the fall, though I hope they'll both be very good. I am eager for Simon Russell Beale's, which is at London's National Theatre, but will be broadcast to the U.S. in May courtesy of NT Live.

Critics may get weary, but the more opportunities audiences have to see (hopefully great) Shakespeare the better.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Object of Adulation


Cuban playwright Eduardo Machado usually writes about his heritage, but Worship is about the often unhealthy, tumultuous relationship between students and the mentors they, well, worship. It's impossible to watch this problematic play without wondering how Machado's own interactions with his mentor, Maria Irene Fornes, influenced it.