Mixed in with the calm piano music that plays prior to the start of The Loon, a new play that advertises itself as based in part on a 1980 Audubon Society record,* are periodic voice-over GPS directions guiding the listener out of New York City and northwards. This seems like an appropriate prelude, because The Loon packs quite a journey into its running time, from the midnight lakes of Maine, to the outer reaches of the solar system, to the inner workings of the human heart. Directed by Dan Safer, who co-created and co-choreographed the piece with the other members of Witness Relocation (Alexa Andreas, Kelly Bartnik, Sunny Hitt, Annie Hoeg, Eva Jaunzemis, Robert M. Johanson, Vanessa Koppel, and Trevor Salter), the play features Robert M. Johanson as the audience's guide on this journey, a well-dressed host for the evening who is, with a few exceptions, the sole speaking performer. Contrasting with his suit and earpiece, dancers in deconstructed, punk-inspired costumes perform behind, with, and around him.
NOW IS THE TIME. NOW IS THE BEST TIME. NOW IS THE BEST TIME OF YOUR LIFE., the world premiere play by Brooklyn's Little Lord theater company, takes its extensive title from "The Best Time of Your Life," written in 1974 as a new theme song for Walt Disney's Carousel of Progress attraction. The Disney portion of this allusion is, on the whole, less important to Now is the Time, which boasts a running time of 300 years, than is the contradiction inherent in the image of a historical progress that is also a circle, endlessly accumulating and endlessly vanishing. The accumulation is made concrete by the set, presided over at the beginning by soda jerks with pickles and slaw, the surfaces and cubbyholes of which are stuffed and stacked with papers, boxes, and other rubbish. Rubbish is history, and history is, or becomes, rubbish.
The last decade and a half has seen an interesting shift in popular stand up comedy styles. While all styles of stand up offer at least some representatives every decade, even the unfortunate genres of prop and insult comedy, there are particularly popular styles and tones that can define a generation. All through the nineteen seventies almost up to the end of the last millennium, many of our legendary comics like Richard Pryor, George Carlin, & Bill Hicks were filled with righteous indignation, poignantly attacking society's ills in an aggressive, outward manner from their own personal perspectives. Many of today's popular comics continue to speak out against those same human and societal flaws, but the manner of attack has shifted: instead of pointing the finger of blame outward, they partially point it at themselves.
They have been labeled Alternative Comedians but are so popular and prominent on today's stages and films that it's hard not to see them as potentially establishing a new normal.
Henrik Ibsen's dramatic critique of bourgeois domesticity, Hedda Gabler, which premiered in 1891, remains probably his most often revived work. Hedda is still going strong 125 years later, now reincarnated in a fleet, fluid refresh written by Matt Minnicino and directed by Joseph Mitchell Parks, who played Lucius in 2015's inventive and memorable Titus Andronicus for the New York Shakespeare Exchange. In a play in which the name that someone is called signals ownership (or independence) and degrees of intimacy, Minnicino has rendered the protagonist's unmarried, titular name a parenthetical: Hedda (Gabler). When the play begins, Hedda (Valerie Redd) is more properly known (propriety being another of the play's thematic touchstones) as Hedda Tesman, having married ernest historian George Tesman (Kyle Schaefer), a "paragon of acceptability." George's rival, professional and otherwise, is Eilert Lovborg (Quinn Franzen), who is the Romantic genius to George's meticulous collator, including in his inclination towards alchoholism (a word no one in the play ever speaks). Hedda also has a rival, in Thea Elvsted (Susanna Stahlmann), the former, in this production, icily blonde and the latter a brunette with, in Hedda's words, wounded doe eyes who has helped Eilert conquer his demons and publish an acclaimed history of the world. During this process, Eilert and Thea have become "companions" under her husband's roof, much in defiance of social mores. While Thea actually has the courage and conviction to forge her own path in despite of propriety and patriarchy, Hedda, with a bit of a Madame Bovary complex, longs for the sublime, describing her desire to, just once, pull the strings of another person's fate. To this end, Hedda tries to meddle in Eilert's new work and new self, and ends up caught in a trap that is partly social and partly of her own making.
The Black Crook, subtitled An Original, Magical and Spectacular Musical Drama, begins with playwright Charles M. Barras (Steven Rattazzi) stutteringly pitching the play The Black Crook to William Wheatley (Merlin Whitehawk), producing manager of Niblo's Garden, a theater that stood, in several incarnations, on Broadway near Prince Street from 1823-1895. This current production of The Black Crook adapts Barras's 1866 original and weaves throughout the adaptation a frame narrative that tracks the origins and success of what was a hugely influential piece of theater. Wheatley and his business partners combined Barras's melodrama with performances by a Parisian ballet troupe and other spectacular interludes, and the result, because of its single unifying plot, is often credited as the first book musical in American theatrical history (the program notes that the song "I Said to My Love," written by Giuseppe Operti for an 1870 revival, includes the male protagonist's name in an early effort to integrate song and plot). While some dispute the designation of first musical for The Black Crook, no one disputes the fact that it was a tremendous, unprecedented hit, running for 474 performances and in numerous revivals.
(Ezra LeBank, Cynthia Price & Taylor Casas )
A quest. A love story. A search for meaning and connection. In the sweetly uplifting Flight, three performers from the California-based company Curbside pay homage to Antoine De Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince. In this sequel of sorts to the classic but still timely fable, the Prince is a girl -- why not? -- cleverly evoked through a sleight of hand, and human bodies transcend the limitations of the physical universe, becoming zebras, cacti, airplanes, and the embodiment of past memory and future potential.
No one wants to hear the phrase "end-of-life decisions." Moments after being introduced to us via a daring act of heroism, James Blossom (voiced by Rowan Magee), is being advised by a doctor to make his as soon as possible. James, the eponymous Blossom of puppet artist, director, and filmmaker Spencer Lott's new play, developed with support from the Jim Henson Foundation, has just been diagnosed with Alzheimer's, and we follow James and his daughter Kathryn, a.k.a. Katy, a.k.a. Katy Bee (Jamie Agnello), as they do their best to navigate the practical, psychological, and emotional fallout of James's disease.
The advance of his Alzheimer's precipitates James's move into assisted living facility, against his wishes, of course. There, he meets fellow residents Maisey and Ronald. The symbolism around loss of control generated by all three of these elderly characters being embodied by puppets (while the puppeteers play the other various roles) may be intentional or accidental, but it is hard not to see. Just as Maisey was once a senator and Ronald a CEO, James, we discover, had a storied career as a painter in the film industry, a past to which he reconnects with the help of Kelly (Chelsea Fryer), a young volunteer who runs art classes at the nursing home.
Cloud Cuckooland is subtitled "a story about death," and it begins with its protagonist, the Girl (Cassandra Rosebeetle), at death's threshold, looking like a patient etherized upon a table as we hear her heartbeat and a voiceover that talks about the "blank space" underlying biology. The Jackdaw (Zahra Hashemian) picks up this thematic thread as she sings about dying being worse than being dead and compares ephemeral humanity to the eternal bird world. The Jackdaw and her companions, the Crow (Renata Bergen) and the Raven (Amanda Mottur), offer the Girl entrance to their avian empyrean, a chance for her to replace humanity's ungainly locomotion with feathered soaring. They present her with a contract (its terms an opportunity for some light comedy), something that any reader of fairy tales knows should be viewed with suspicion, especially when proffered by magical animals; the Girl must be dead and must embrace madness and reject her heart, and then she will ascend to the queenship of Cloud Cuckooland as the Phoenix. As in any good fairy tale, she makes the bargain, and we survey with her the birds' realm of madness and imagination. But is there only blank space under its surface beauty and apparent freedom, as implied by its denizens' avid hoarding of shiny objects set to the strains of a reimagining of Rossini's "The Thieving Magpie," and particularly when set against the depth of life associated with her heart, which continues to haunt her and by which she continues to be tempted?
"Welcome to the dress rehearsal/tech rehearsal/first performance of Happy Lucky Golden Tofu Panda Dragon Good Time Fun Fun Show!" says Kate Rigg of her bracingly funny performance platter of song, stand-up and tragicomic sketches. What follows is raw in the best senses of the word. Even the rough patches -- waiting for "the white people" to wrestle with skittish technology; a wardrobe malfunction that provokes a sweet, awkward encounter with an angelic staffer at the show’s East Village venue, then gets hilariously incorporated into a skit -- show off Rigg's quicksilver wit and willingness to take her captivated audiences anywhere.
In the opening minutes of Lindsay Joy's In the Event of My Death, directed in its current world premiere by Padraic Lillis, Peter (John Racioppo) and his friend Amber (Lisa Jill Anderson) clean the trash from the living room of his house, which once belonged to his parents, in preparation for a post-funeral gathering to commemorate Freddy, another friend, who has committed suicide. Unfortunately for them, the past, and its hold on the present, will not be so easy to tidy away; in fact, from then on, events will get far messier. In Peter's suburban Pennsylvania residence, as a small group of Freddy's friends and relatives struggle with death in the Facebook age, death at its most unexpected, and death as a deliberate choice, as well as the knowledge that "it gets better" didn't happen for Freddy, their coming together leads them into a much wider emotional archaeology, seemingly a current strong suit of Stable Cable Lab Co.