By Catherine Wagley
By Catherine Wagley
By Wendy Gilmartin
By Jennifer Swann
By Claire de Dobay Rifelj
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Catherine Wagley
By Zachary Pincus-Roth
Showtime in Gotham
For sheer gravity and word of mouth, no New York theater event last week could match the pomp and lachrymose circumstance of the city‘s 911 memorials -- tributes that dominated local news coverage and darkened most stage venues on the 11th. Even without the anniversary ceremonies, the stage was in a twilight period, with summer shows either over or ending, and with big-ticket Broadway shows about to preview. (The latter include a Michael Crawford golf cart, Dance of the Vampires; the Billy Joel--juked Movin’ Out; and the Sally Field--Bill Irwin recasting in Edward Albee‘s The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?) Still, September and October hold some new and old must-sees for out-of-towners, along with shows that go clunk in the night. Here are a few.
TAKE ME OUT Richard Greenberg’s play about a gay baseball player‘s coming out is everything such a work could be, which is to say, nothing we would expect -- politically incorrect where it hurts, whimsically reverential toward our fallen national pastime and, ultimately, a gruesomely funny tale of arrogance confronting ignorance. When mixed-blood superstar Darren Lemming (Daniel Sunjata), a handsome demigod who knows he’s a handsome demigod, offhandedly outs himself during an interview, it throws his New York Empires teammates and adoring fans for a loop -- “You‘ve introduced the Billy Budd thing,” explains Darren’s erudite teammate and confidant, Kippy (Neal Huff). The popular Darren‘s admission hardly gets him tied to a fence, but when a late-season slump requires the Empires to call up a John Rocker--type redneck pitcher (Frederick Weller), the innings roll toward Greek tragedy. Greenberg has refreshingly created a play with both great roles and supercharged dialogue, along with acerbic observations about baseball and American society. He has also written it in three acts with not just one narrator, Kippy, but also with a secondary commentator (Denis O’Hare as Darren‘s nebbish accountant). Against all expectation the structure works, thanks to Joe Mantello’s crisp direction and a tight technical matrix that effortlessly shifts the action between a locker room, bar and playing field. There are few wasted lines in Take Me Out, and even its nude scenes are as essential as a seventh-inning stretch. Public Theater, 425 Lafayette St., (212) 239-6200.
THE DONKEY SHOW Talk about That ‘70s Show. This disco-injected take on A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which has become an institution near N.Y.‘s Chelsea Docks and a hit at London’s Hanover Grand, will finally plant its flag in L.A. this spring when the show opens at the Roxy on the Sunset Strip. Written and directed by Diane Paulus, Donkey isn‘t a typical update of Shakespeare’s romantic comedy of delusions and mistaken identities, so don‘t expect the Bard’s poetry to trip off the tongues of classically trained actors wearing polyester and razor-blade medallions -- although David C. Woolard‘s costuming is painfully authentic. Staged in a real nightclub with cabaret table seating, the play’s not so much the thing as it is the thang, a libidinous inspiration for a malarial dream facilitated by cocaine and a magisterial DJ. The action occurs at Club Oberon, where Oberon (Lauren Rubin), Titania (Heather Lee Sturzl) and a host of scantily clad fairies frolic, while Puck (Mark Wilson) glides about on roller skates. Audience members boogie beneath the big mirrored ball as cross-gendered dancers climb up balconies and clamber atop patrons‘ tables. The performers, strapped with remote mikes, writhe and conspire as a giant coke spoon gets cooked up with the magic potion that turns Titania into an ass-chasing party girl. While it lasts only about an hour, the show with its supercharged energy, memorable barrage of ’70s hits and even more memorable costumes (check out Titania‘s butterfly pasties) is worth a visit to this Studio 54--on--Avon. Club El Flamingo, 547 W. 21st St., (212) 307-4100.
HARLEM SONG George C. Wolfe’s musical, which combines new tunes with standards, is less an uptown biography than an all-dancing, all-singing Chamber of Commerce brochure. Filmed interviews of longtime residents and newsreel footage lead us into Harlem, from its ragtime beginnings as the spiritual capital of African-Americans through its decline from drugs and disastrous urban-renewal projects. Most of the evening is justifiably concentrated on Harlem‘s Renaissance period of the Roaring ’20s -- a wicked number called “Doin‘ the Niggerati Rag” recalls the cheekier jabs of Wolfe’s The Colored Museum. To be fair, this spectacle (original music and arrangements by Zane Mark and Daryl Waters, choreography by Ken Roberson) is breezy and entertaining. But it can‘t make up its mind who the narrator is. Is it Miss Nightingale (B.J. Crosby), a well-dressed guide to style and attitude, or is it the evolving series of characters played by David St. Louis? Ultimately we’re left with a beautifully tailored historical travelogue (costumes by Paul Tazewell) that mentions Harlem‘s heroes (Marcus Garvey, Joe Louis, Malcolm X, Adam Clayton Powell Jr.) without ever hinting at the forces that ultimately made them fallen sons. Likewise, when it comes to Harlem’s decline, Wolfe is never eager to point fingers, only to snap them. Apollo Theater, 253 W. 125th St., Harlem, (212) 307-7171.
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