In the updated, powerfully heroic and human, exquisitely mournful version of Tony Kushner’s A Bright Room Called Day, now at The Public Theater, finding a determinable, moored center is not always an easy thing to do. For one thing, the play itself, first produced in 1985, has been fiercely summoned to the present. “Things are so bad people want to do this play!” says Xillah (an endearing Jonathon Hadary), who acts as a sort of stand-in for the play’s author and who exists in the here and now, in 2019. Then there’s his counterpart, Zillah, who, according to Xillah, was the reason the original production was not entirely successful, or as she herself tells us, “I’m this author-surrogate interruptive-oppositional someone-or-other to whom the playwright neglected to give even a trace of a backstory…” Zillah (a charming Crystal-Lucas Perry) and Xilla hover over Bright Room, debating the characters’ choices and behaviors, and creating a palpable and fluid (sometimes teary, sometimes bloody) through line from the Berlin of 1931 and 1932, where the main action of the play is set, to our own country’s current, riven, portentous moment. When he first wrote Bright Room, Kushner saw parallels between the government of Ronald Reagan and Hitler’s storming of Germany’s Weimar Republic. Now, as the Public’s artistic director Oskar Eustis, who also directed Bright Room, puts it in his Playbill note, the “warnings that seemed apocalyptic in 1985 now look remarkably prescient.” Or as Zillah, nee Kushner, says, the “NAZIS ARE IN THE FUCKING STREETS.”
It may not be typical to come out of a Pinter play and have Sam Shepard on your mind. But it was Shepard—the recently deceased chronicler of a mythical but still resonant American West, whose plays used a violent poetry and choreography to tell dark, personal stories that seemed somehow to include everyone: cowboys and city people, fathers and their sons, and anybody who has ever loved not wisely but with foreboding, explosive consequences—I invoked to my companion as we exited the Jacobs Theater on 45th Street, where we had just been fortunate to witness director Jamie Lloyd’s new, bareboned revival of Pinter’s 1978 classic Betrayal.
Sophocles’ Antigone is a play written 2.500 years ago but in many ways relevant for today’s culture. In this performance, Greek tragedy and Japanese theater join forces to create a magical, mystic and spiritual experience of this tragedy in a show that combines Japanese culture and Greek drama. Twenty-nine actors and a director create an experience that deals with loss, memory, and duty—a performance that unites cultures, techniques and aesthetic types.
This program, subtitled “a 100-year survey of gay and lesbian writers and characters on Broadway from the 1920s to 2020,” was just as good musically but more emotionally-charged than similar “Broadway tributes” at this venue. The outpouring of feelings was probably due to the subject matter—the work of gay and lesbian music makers— along with coming out stories and brief, but necessary, references to the AIDS crisis. Even though this was the second performance, the emotions felt entirely genuine and often brought cheers from the audience. The program was designed to examine the history of closeted writers and coded imagery while detailing how more open and explicit the classification became starting in the 1970s.
Garry Hynes’ concept, which balanced respect for Shakespeare’s text with its many parallels with current events in the United States, Russia, and the UK, was, well, unimpeachable. Last year I enthusiastically reviewed a compelling, if rough and ready production directed by Austin Pendleton, which arose out of a feeling that Richard III—actually The Wars of the Roses, incorporating excerpts from Henry VI, Part 3—urgently needed to be put before an American audience for them to see the evils of contemporary politics reflected in it, no matter what limitations the situation placed on production values. The niceties of scansion and rhetoric were at times compromised by a passion to get the message across. Druid’s Richard III was impeccably, beautifully spoken, and costumed with an elegance which went against the contemporary trend towards plainness and recalled the sumptuous look of early twentieth century productions. Yet the messages were brought out with adroitness and eloquence.
Out-kafka-ing Kafka, this brisk, engaging play is a testimony to the ghastly bureaucratic nightmare surrounding the American immigration scenario. Syrian-born lawyer-to-be Amena has everything in order to become a U.S. citizen but, starting with a visit to the immigration office, things go badly.
Tony nominee and Emmy Award-winning singer and actress Liz Callaway hosted the evening, delighting the audience both with her presence and her acknowledgement that all of the evenings’ shows were written or co-written by women. Charming, unpretentious and funny, she launched into You Don’t Own Me, a 60s shout-out to women’s lib (although the movement didn’t hit its stride for another decade.)
Michael Miller's solo play "Transfiguration," winner of Best One-Man Drama at the 2018 United Solo Festival, will return to New York City on October 12th (7:30 pm) and 13th (2 pm) at the Metropolitan Playhouse as part of the 2019 New York International Fringe Festival. Gary Hilborn will repeat his award-winning performance, directed by Graydon Gund.