It’s a play,,,it’s a party…its’s hard to tell when you walk into the Linney Theatre to see Evening at the Talk House. You arrive through grand double doors looking at the set of a plush lounge with a huge crystal chandelier. There are comfortable arm chairs and sofas, and everyone is milling about. Servers offer you sweets and neon colored drinks, and the ushers urge you to “please mingle.” Charmed, curious, I took my seat. This was not what I was expecting from the NY Times article about Wallace Shawn’s latest play, “Drama as Protest: ‘Our Complacency is Dangerous.”
Do you love Kurt Weill? Don’t know Kurt Weill from Kurt Cobain? Doesn’t matter. If you’re interested in musical theater, quick get a ticket to Berlin to Broadway With Kurt Weill: A Musical Voyage. It’s playing a limited engagement only until February 19th as part of The York Theatre Company’s “Musicals in Mufti” Series.
If you’re a theater lover and you haven’t been to Lincoln Center’s American Songbook Series, the 2017 season should get you there. I know you don’t necessarily equate the American Songbook series with groundbreaking theatrical forms, but you’re wrong. The first place I heard the Hamilton Mixtapes was at the opening concert of the 2011 American Songbook series: Lin Manuel Miranda. While this season’s opener, American Songbook: Andrew Lippa & Friends, may not be breaking new ground musically, Lippa does not write your grandma’s musicals.
There’s an exciting new voice in the theater and it’s at The Atlantic Theater Company by way of Puerto Rico. Paola Lázaro, a young playwright with an MFA in Playwriting from Columbia University, is the Atlantic’s 2016/2017 Tow Foundation Playwright-in-Residence. She’s set Tell Hector I Love Him, her first play to be produced professionally, in her hometown of San Juan, Puerto Rico. A stark but empathetic love letter to her native land, Ms. Lazaro writes with humor and directness about the lives of the people there.
It takes a lot of guts to get up by yourself on a stage in front of an audience and try to entertain them for 5 minutes, much less an hour and 15 minutes. Marga Gomez has been doing it for a long time and has a lot of fans, as the packed house at her 12th solo show Latin Standards, proves. Part of The Public Theater’s Under the Radar Festival, Latin Standards is billed as a “solo play” about “fathers, entertainment, gentrification, drag, and café Cubano.”
As Marga describes herself at the top of the show, she’s Cuban, Puerto Rican, and lesbian, but she’s not into labels. She just wants to let us know in case there were any, you know, tourists, in the audience. In case, you know, maybe Mike Pence was in the audience. She doesn’t want anyone to be shocked when they find out during the show that she’s…wait for it….Latina.
She quickly tells us that this isn’t going to be a show about politics and the creature-elect but this is only her second day out of bed since November 8th. And this is her final farewell concert. Since she might be deported. But no, the real reason this is her final farewell concert is that she thinks she may have peaked in 1997. And then she shows us a clip of her 6 seconds of screen time in the movie “Sphere.”
But warm-up patter aside, the meat of Latin Standards is devoted to Marga’s father Willy Chevalier, a songwriter and comic performer in NYC in the 1950’s and 60’s. He performed with big acts like Tito Puente and Celia Cruz and, interestingly enough, the first famous transgender performer, Christine Jorgenson. Marga uses the lyrics of some of her father’s songs as the framework to tell stories about her father, her childhood, their relationship, the Latino club scene in NYC in its heyday and the parallels between it and the gay Latino club scene in San Francisco during Marga’s years there.
Although Marga claims not to speak Spanish, and not to be able to do a Spanish accent except under the influence of alcohol, her imitations of her father and his Cuban accent sound absolutely perfect to me. However, dressed in a gold lamé suit jacket, black pants, black shirt and shoes with her close cropped thick dark hair, the sturdy Marga looks much more butch than the pictures of her father projected on the screen in back of her. They show a slight man with a long, narrow face and a thin pencil moustache. Always wearing a light-colored suit jacket and slightly receding, slicked-back hair. She alludes several times to the fact that when she was a child she looked just like her father. Without the moustache. The pictures of her mother, Puerto Rican dancer, Margarita Estremera, a.k.a. “Margo the Exotic” look like a typical blond bombshell of the period. So I guess it’s clear that she takes after her father’s side of the family.
While the audience of fans is with her every step of the way, and there’s much to enjoy, the show is a little disjointed. It never quite settles into stand-up or into theater. As a result, it feels a little choppy, as if Marga were feeling her way through it for the first time. I kept thinking that she couldn’t remember what she wanted to say next, which made me a little anxious. I liked it, but I wanted to LOVE it.
Latin Standards Written and performed by Marga Gomez, Directed by David Schweizer
Set design by Caleb Wertenbaker; lighting design by Jimmy Lawler; projection design by Driscoll Otto; stage manager, William Carlton. Additional support for Marga Gomez’s Latin Standards is provided by Howl Arts. The Public Theater, Under The Radar Festival, 425 Lafayette Avenue, through January 15th. Tickets at the box office, or by calling 212-967-7555 or online at undertheradarfestival.com
I knew very little about Hundred Days at The Public Theater’s Under the Radar Festival when I went to see it the other night. I knew it was a concert-musical by The Bengsons, a folk-rock duo, about how they met and fell in love. When I got myself to the theater on the night of the first snowstorm of the season, and found out it was General Admission seating, I was not in a good mood. But there’s no doubt about it, Abigail is charming and Shaun is adorable. I defy anyone, even a grumpy critic, not to be moved by their curious and exhilarating blend of otherworldly folk and rousing rock music.
What’s tackier, using the phrase “Please refrain from wearing bright colors or bold patterns” on your same-sex wedding invitation, or ignoring the instructions as a guest? You won’t be able to leave the theater after seeing Drew Droege’s one man show Bright Colors and Bold Patterns at the Barrow Street Theater, without having answered the question for yourself.
Nina Conti: In Your Face, currently at The Barrow Street Theater, is like nothing you’ve ever seen before. It’s also like nothing Nina Conti has ever seen – or done – before. Every night is different because it’s all improvised. And then there’s the monkey. The very cheeky monkey named, well…Monkey.
“The Band’s Visit” is a modern Middle-Eastern fairy tale of a musical. Based on the 2007 Israeli film by Eran Kolirin, the stage version has a book by Itamar Moses and music and lyrics by David Yazbak. Directed by the brilliant David Cromer, it’s being presented by The Atlantic Theater Company at their newly renovated Linda Gross Theater. These days it’s hard to find a quiet little spark of hope and humanity reflected at us from any direction, let alone the Middle East. So, I was delighted to find my tight muscles relaxing, and my smile growing as “The Band’s Visit” unfolded.
“This Day Forward” by Nicky Silver at The Vineyard Theater starts out more in “I Love Lucy” sitcom land, but winds up in dysfunctional family “August: Osage County” world. Which is a place most of his work at least visits, if not lodges in firmly. And it’s directed by Mark Brokaw who is a frequent navigator of the Silver waters.
I was intrigued by the premise of Paula J. Caplan’s play “Shades” currently making its NYC debut at The Cherry Lane Studio Theater. About a family with veterans from different wars, and non-veterans, the play asks the questions “how do people who love each other keep their differences from tearing them apart?” And “what does it mean to be a patriot, and can you be one if you don’t agree with what your government is doing?” The press release says it has been described as “a cross between Eugene O’Neill meets ‘All in the Family’ – because of its combination of drama and humor.” I know, I know, it’s a press release, It’s supposed to sell me.
“My Name is Gideon: I’m Probably Going to Die Eventually” is a charming and entertaining evening. It’s a solo show by, you guessed it, Gideon Irving, who invites us into what he claims is his home. Sure, I’ll play. I know it’s the stage of The Rattlestick Theater, but I believe that a lot of the stuff up there belongs to him personally. It’s looks like a crammed studio apartment, and Gideon plays the gracious host and shows us around. It’s clear from the beginning that he’s kooky and irreverent which is just what we’re here for. We’ve been promised music and laughter and a different take on the world from someone who has performed 504 shows in living rooms on 6 continents. No heavy lifting after the last couple of weeks sounds like just what the doctor ordered.
The Oregon Shakespeare Company has an exciting project they’ve been working on since 2008, a 32-play series they’re commissioning in association with various theaters around the country: “American Revolutions: The United States History Cycle.” UNIVERSES (Steven Sapp, Mildred Ruiz-Sapp, and William Ruiz aka Ninja), was commissioned by OSF to create “Party People” in collaboration with Director and Developer Liesl Tommy (Tony win for “Eclipsed”). It’s opening on November 15th and has been extended one week through December 11th. Another offering from this OSF cycle, “Sweat” by Lynn Nottage is also currently playing at The Public Theater. After seeing them both, I’m tempted to book a ticket to Oregon and see the rest.
I saw “Among the Dead” by Hansol Jung, a production of the Ma-Yi Theater Company performed at HERE Arts Center last night and it left me frustrated. I admit, my expectations were high. The play is billed as “a dark comedy about a family broken apart by betrayed promises, and finding each other through SPAM, journals, and Jesus. Mostly Jesus.” Which sounds promising, and the company has garnered quite a name for itself developing and presenting works by Asian-American artists.
The Labyrinth Theater Company is presenting a new play by Jordan Seavey at The Bank Street Theater “Homos, Or Everyone in America.” As the title suggests, more than a boy meets boy story, it’s a universal love story for our culture and times. Hey, if it’s two humans in a relationship, it’s SSDD.