It seems fitting that in order to get to and from Transcend, a meditation by Kilusan Bautista on his experiences with gentrification and what he identifies as America's housing war on the poor, we walked down a St. Mark's Street scrubbed almost entirely of its grimy counter-cultural past and reborn as a corridor of gleaming ramen restaurants and Mac repair shops. Having debuted this past August at the New York Fringe Festival, Transcend has returned to New York after a run in California's Bay Area, another, perhaps even worse, hotbed of skyrocketing housing costs. Bautista's one-man show, his second, is an eclectic mix of narrative, spoken word, dance, and multimedia elements that focuses on his own experience of temporary homelessness as an exemplar of systemic inequalities.
Margaret Atwood famously wrote that men fear that women will laugh at them, while women fear that men will kill them. For Annie, the new play by Beth Hyland, is presented as a campus outreach event put on by members of the Beta Tau Alpha sorority at SUNY Onondaga in memory of their murdered sister, Annie Lambert, a victim of male-on-female domestic violence. Directed by Emma Miller, For Annie is the inaugural production of The Hearth, a company whose mission is to "nurture and celebrate female-identifying artists" and "develop plays that represent the complex and vast spectrum of womanhood." Annie's story ultimately concludes at an all-too-common point on that spectrum.
Lewis Carroll's novels Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There are mainstays of popular culture, having been reinvented in just about every medium imaginable. With Wonder/Through the Looking-Glass Houses, Arrie Fae Bronson-Davidson and KineticArchitecture Dance Theatre add a new, all-female vision of Alice to that lineage. This reimagining is as much the White Rabbit's story as Alice's, and when we meet the Rabbit (Arrie Fae Bronson-Davidson)--who is, of course, running late -- during an opening dance scored by David Bowie's "Time," she is something of a vixen with glittering ruby lipstick and nary a waistcoat nor a pocket watch in sight. In a bit of departure from the original novels, this Rabbit pauses occasionally for selfies with the audience, but soon we are off down the rabbit hole with Alice and back on familiar Wonderland terrain.
In a note in the program for Alligator, the world-premiere play opening New Georges' 25th season, Hilary Bettis describes writing it in "a fever dream of alcohol, death, violence, and poverty." Alligator, the first of a planned series of collaborations by The Sol Project with off-Broadway companies to produce new plays by Latinx playwrights, carries the audience into a similar space, embracing chaos in order to map the "pain and destruction," as Bettis's note puts it, caused by the unplanned, unpredictable intersections of people's lives. Against the backdrop of the Florida Everglades in 1999, Alligator's characters struggle, compellingly if often unsuccessfully, within and against this chaos for self-realization and human connection.
Given its focus on identity, race, and theatrical narratives, the new play No Man's Land could not be more timely, debuting as it did only a few days after Vice President-elect Mike Pence's, shall we say, controversial visit to Broadway's Hamilton. Created by theater company The Anthropologists and written and directed by Melissa Moschitto, the issues it interrogates have come increasingly to the fore of our national discourse over the past eighteen months and look to remain both pressingly and depressingly relevant for the foreseeable future. In the program, Moschitto discusses The Anthropologists' "unequivocal support" of the Black Lives Matter movement and its impact on the company's work and personal realizations, but suddenly, police brutality seems just one means of oppression among many when officials are using segregation-era tactics on protesters outside the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation and a neo-Nazi has been appointed as a top presidential adviser. Much to its credit, No Man's Land takes a wide perspective on the deeply entrenched systemic racism and the silencing of non-dominant voices that it examines. Select performances, listed on the show's website, further the dialogue after the play is over with "Re-Frame Your Reference," a series of events dedicated to "investigating privilege and systemic racism in the United States today by recognizing and challenging culturally embedded frames of reference."
Tennis, like any individual sport, isolates two people in a contest of focus and will, a push and pull of competition against one another but also against themselves. Andy Bragen's new comedy, Don't You F**king Say a Word, takes tennis as its structural conceit and thematic vehicle to great effect. Playing out on a white-lined, light blue set that evokes a tennis court folded up to create walls, Bragen's hilarious play creates a snapshot of two years in the friendship of a pair of New York City couples. After Kate (Jennifer Lim) and Leslie (Jeanine Serralles), who knew each other in college, have a chance encounter on the streets of New York, it does not take long before their respective boyfriends, Russ (Michael Braun) and Brian (Bhavesh Patel) are indulging their shared tennis obsession and machismo on the court with one another. Don't You F**king Say a Word begins at the end of the two years it covers, and the two women are our guides, addressing us directly, slipping in and out of the scenes with the men, which take place mostly in flashback. Kate and Leslie start by saying that they hope to make some discoveries about what makes men tick, about their "secret spaces," but they end up revealing at least as much about their own "deep wells that drive" them forward as women and their similarities to the male behaviors that they wish to dissect.
A recent article on Gothamist discussing strident local opposition to converting a hotel into a homeless shelter -- opposition based, according to one quoted resident, on the idea that shelters destroy communities with drugs, violence, and prostitution -- pointed out that New York City reached a record high in September of this year of 60,000 adults and children sleeping in shelters (a number, that article notes, that doesn't count certain kinds of specialized shelters). In the program for the new play Roughly Speaking, the playwright and founder of The Platform Group, Shara Ashley Geiger, admits that she herself regarded the homeless with a mixture of uneasiness and fear after first moving to the City. Volunteering at the Xavier Mission Welcome Table and hearing the stories of the other volunteers and the guests fostered a change in perspective, which in turn helped eventually to produce Roughly Speaking, a work born out of more than 200 interviews with homeless individuals.
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.