Reading a book is a solitary, intimate experience in which the reader sets the pace and imagines the characters as he or she sees them. Listening to a book is another way to appreciate a work, sometimes influenced by the narrator’s voice. Gatz, as created by Elevator Repair Service, uses an unprecedented approach, staging the book as it is read in its entirely. The performance begins when an anonymous office worker sits at a desk in a grungy office and, while waiting for his computer to boot, idly picks up The Great Gatsby and starts reading it aloud. The worker slowly takes on the character of Nick Carraway, the narrator of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic Jazz Age novel, who reads every word of the book including the “he/she saids” for a marathon six hours. Bit by bit, the other office workers assume the rest of the characters although the bulk of the effort falls to the staggeringly good Scott Shepherd.
“I wrote everything for Alice,” said Calvin Trillin about his wife, a remarkable woman who was, in addition to her many impressive credentials, his muse. Trillin recounted a great deal about his life with Alice in memoirs, articles and books but the transformation of his sentiments from written work to this two-character play has both up and downsides.
Rodrigo Nogueira, who is already well-established in his native Brazil as a major playwright, also active in cinema and television, introduced himself to New York audiences last spring with his play, The Ideal Obituary, which I reviewed enthusiastically. Now, just at the beginning of the new year, he is back, with another offbeat and absorbing creation, Real. In The Ideal Obituary Mr. Nogueira explored the stranger workings of the human mind. He showed us how the well-intentioned efforts of a loving husband to cure his wife’s severe depression ironically led the couple to a more functional and seemingly happier situation which eventually passed through the most basic laws of morality up to a life or death decision. The human mind and soul follow their own irrational logic.
Start with the title: Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde: A Comedy. Indeed, this production, based on Robert Louis Stevenson’s anything-but-amusing novella, has many funny (and even more quirky) moments beginning with the opening scene in which Jekyll and an unidentified woman watch a fumbled public execution. The particular, wacky charm of the show stems from the fine interplay between Burt Grinstead, playing Jekyll and Hyde and Anna Stromberg playing everyone else—Jekyll’s maid, Poole; a London Bobbie, Jekyll’s friend and many other characters, each identified by a single costume piece or prop. Grinstead and Stromberg also wrote the script that centers around duality and the nature of morality while Stromberg directed.
Technically The Hello Girls were the Signal Corps Female Telephone Operators Unit, telephone switchboard operators who were sworn into the U.S. Army Signal Corps during World War I. The corps was formed in 1917 by General John Pershing in hopes of improving the state of communications on the Western front. Over 7,000 women applied but only 230 of them, many former switchboard operators, all bilingual, actually went to France.
I’d be very much inclined to discuss this fascinating, moving, strange—and important—two hours of immersive theater, spread across some twenty spaces from the first to the third floor (as well as a mezzanine) of a townhouse not far from Gramercy Park, but it is supposed to close on November 18, and I feel I owe it to its creators and our readers to get the word out. This magical spectacle has been over three years in development, and I’m sure the organizers, Group.BR, led by Artistic Director Andressa Furletti would like as many people as possible to see the fruit of their hard work and curious imaginations.
If you’re going to take a tour of Broadway musical theater numbers, you could find no better guide than Sean Hartley. Hartley, the host of the performance, is the director of the Theater@Kaufman, the musical theater division of Kaufman Music Center. He knows the history and entertaining ins and outs of the genre and presented them with insight and wit. On top of that, he can sing as he ably demonstrated in Anyone Can Whistle from the show of that name by Stephen Sondheim.
Plays, which happen in real time amidst a live audience who have assembled at a specific time to experience the performance, are inextricably interwoven with events and ideas of the moment. Austin Pendleton, for example, devised his brilliant conflation of Shakespeare's Henry VI and Richard III (to return to the stage at the Theater for a New City, December 3, 4, 5) in the shadow of the botched U.S. election of 2016 and installation of criminal elements in the highest tiers of government. This kind of inspiration is anything but uncommon.