Friday, October 17, 2014

Theater Close-Up: Home Theater on PBS

The cast of the Apple Family Plays: DeVries, Robins, Sanders, Kunken, Plunkett and Murphy.

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 take place in the last four years: two on election night, one on the 10th anniversary of 9/11 and one on the 50th anniversary of JFK's assassination. 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 — 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?

Katharine McLeod and Jamie Geiger in The Religion 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

Ross Bickell, George Morfogen, James Riordan and Mitch Greenberg in Donogoo.
The Mint Theater strays from its usual diet of American, 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

Branagh and Kingston in Macbeth.
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.

Alexandra Palace in London, where rehearsals took place.

Looking forward to experiencing Macbeth tonight.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Scene-stealing Rivals

Sean McNall and Carol Schultz, foreground, in The 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.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Games Grown Ups Play

Trudi Jackson and Mark Rice-Oxley in Playing With Grown Ups.

Although Playing with Grown Ups isn't entirely successful as a play, it's refreshing to see a completely unsentimental look at motherhood (not surprisingly, it comes from a Brit). Another interesting cultural contrast: The teenage girl that one of the 40ish characters is dating is listed as 16 in the script; for the New York production, her age was upped to 17. My Time Out New York review.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Lotta Lear-ing Goin' On

Bianca Amato and Pennington in King Lear.

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

Hugh Sinclair and Crystal Field in Worship.

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.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Political Extremes

What do Pussy Riot, Edward Snowden and Toronto mayor Rob Ford have in common? Aside from being extreme political figures, they're all subjects of new books rounded up in this Time Out New York article I coauthored with Matthew Love.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Modest Middle

Jonathan Hadary and Nicole Lowrance in Middle of the Night.

Similarities abound between Marty, Paddy Chayefsky's best-known work from the 1950s, and Middle of the Night, a less-familiar play from that same decade, now being revived Off Broadway by the Keen Company. Both are about lonely people longing to connect with a soul mate, yet despite a polished and well-acted production, I wasn't terribly touched by Jerry and Betty's relationship in the latter piece. It did call to mind last year's Talley's Folly revival with Danny Burstein and Sarah Paulson, but that was the more stirring piece.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Working Girls

Elise Kibler and Stephen Plunkett in London Wall.

Merriam-Webster dates the term sexual harassment back to 1973, but John Van Druten was aware of it decades earlier when he wrote London Wall, the latest forgotten play to be given a choice Off Broadway production by the Mint Theater Company. It's not the play's main focus, however. That would be the personal lives of four single women employed as typists at a British law firm. Think office life is hard now? It was even tougher for the working girl in 1931.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Sailing for Redemption

Emily Skeggs, Pearl Rhein, Jessica Grove and Terry Donnelly in Transport.

Irish Rep's new musical, about convicts bound for Australia, has a book by Thomas Keneally (Schindler's List), music and lyrics by Larry Kirwan (the group Black 47) and direction and design by Broadway veteran Tony Walton, but the results are pretty insubstantial. It seems to be aiming for a Les Miz-type story of hope and redemption for prisoners for women whose poverty has led them to prison, but it's populated with stock characters that never come fully alive.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Rosencrnatz and Guildenstern Are...Very Much Alive

Grant Fletcher Prewitt and Ian Gould in Rosencrantz.

I wasn't sure I was in the mood for two and a half hours of Tom Stoppard on the chilly night that I caught the Acting Company's production of his Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, but more than 40 years on, it proved to be a kind of chicken soup for the mind as well as the soul.