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Theater Review: Joshua Jackson Soars in Children of a Lesser God at Studio 54

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Theater Review: Joshua Jackson Soars in Children of a Lesser God at Studio 54

Matthew Murphy

Theater Review: Joshua Jackson Soars in Children of a Lesser God at Studio 54

On paper, Mark Medoff's 1979 drama Children of a Lesser God might sound like an outworn issue play, tackling the way the hearing impaired were treated in the Jimmy Carter era by their loved ones as well as institutional systems. For better or worse, however, it's still relevant, as revealed by its first Broadway revival (now at Studio 54), not only in regard to its portrayal of the deaf community, but also its more general depiction of people who challenge cultural norms and get encouraged to conform.

In the play, a deaf woman, Sarah, and a speech therapist, James, fall in love, get married, and break up. When they meet, he's teaching the deaf to speak and read lips at the institute where she works and studies, and she refuses to do either. James has outmoded ideals, about helping those who are different to adapt to the mainstream, while Sarah just wants to be herself. And these conflicts, between the hearing and the non-hearing, divide Sarah and James culturally and thus push them apart romantically, ultimately proving irreconcilable. Almost 40 years after its publication, Children of a Lesser God remains an excellent drama, with knottily human characters navigating realistic relationships amid complicated circumstances.

Theater Review: Edward Albee’s At Home at the Zoo at the Signature Theatre

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Theater Review: Edward Albee’s At Home at the Zoo at the Signature Theatre

Joan Marcus

Theater Review: Edward Albee’s At Home at the Zoo at the Signature Theatre

“I’ve been to the zoo.” This curtain-raising line from Edward Albee’s first play, 1959’s The Zoo Story, launched his legendary career. It could also serve as a reasonable response to much of his work over the next five decades, as beasts, wild or caged in privilege, were the playwright’s characters of choice. In The Zoo Story, the untamed Jerry strikes up a conversation with—and then violently strikes—a buttoned-up textbook publisher, Peter. When push inevitably comes to shove for Peter and most of Albee’s well-heeled characters thereafter, the animal within them gets unleashed.

Albee also wrote for four-legged creatures, who can be tender in comparison to their human counterparts. Two leading roles in his Pulitzer Prize-winning Seascape are lizards. And he won his second Tony Award, at the age of 74, for The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?: Its ruminant title character, who makes a brief and shocking appearance at the bloody climax, is revealed by a suburban patriarch on his 50th birthday to be the new love of his life.

Interview: Playwright Jordan Harrison on The Amateurs and Log Cabin

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Interview: Playwright Jordan Harrison on The Amateurs and Log Cabin
Interview: Playwright Jordan Harrison on The Amateurs and Log Cabin

If there’s a constant in Jordan Harrison’s body of work, it’s his ability to surprise. For more than a decade, the 40-year-old Brooklyn-based playwright has conjured an amazing range of theatrical worlds: a house that shrinks around the characters in the mystery thriller Finn in the Underworld; the seemingly serene 1950s gated community to which a stressed-out contemporary couple retreat in Maple and Vine; and the near-future world of the 2015 Pulitzer Prize finalist Marjorie Prime, where artificial intelligence has been harnessed to help overcome ageing and loss. For his latest, The Amateurs, currently at the Vineyard Theatre, Harrison ventures back to Europe in the Middle Ages. The play follows a valiant troupe of players as they tour medieval morality plays across a continent being decimated by the Black Death. We talked with Harrison recently about The Amateurs, as well as his forthcoming Log Cabin, which will premiere in New York this summer.

Interview: Peggy Shaw and Lois Weaver on Unexploded Ordnances (UXO)

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Interview: Peggy Shaw and Lois Weaver on Unexploded Ordnances (UXO)
Interview: Peggy Shaw and Lois Weaver on Unexploded Ordnances (UXO)

Since 1980, performance troupe Split Britches has been gifting the world with its unique brand of feminist political theater. Today, Peggy Shaw and Lois Weaver—original co-founder Deb Margolin is no longer with the group—are still devoted to their queer-eyed vision: a mix of vaudeville comedy, music, poetry, and pop-culture appropriations that draws incessantly from their personal lives and politics. Their latest work, Unexploded Ordnances (UXO), plays through January 20 at La Mama’s Ellen Stewart Theatre, ahead of a forthcoming tour to England, Ireland, and Wales. I recently sat down with Shaw and Weaver to discuss the production and why it remains so important for them to keep the spirit of the Split Britches alive.

Interview: Michael Urie on Bringing Torch Song to the Second Stage Theater

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Interview: Michael Urie on Bringing Torch Song to the Second Stage Theater

Joan Marcus

Interview: Michael Urie on Bringing Torch Song to the Second Stage Theater

When we last chatted with Michael Urie, the genial and charismatic actor was enjoying the success of Buyer & Cellar at the Rattlestick Playwrights Theater. Playing a fictional version of Barbara Streisand in that solo comedy, he now says, prepared him for his latest venture Off Broadway: the lead in Harvey Fierstein’s celebrated Torch Song Trilogy. Urie plays Arnold Beckoff, a drag queen in search of love and family life in New York City. Now re-titled Torch Song, the hit from the early 1980s is getting its first major revival at the Second Stage Theater (now through December 3). The production, directed by Moisés Kaufman, also stars Mercedes Ruehl as Arnold’s loving yet crushingly disapproving mother. We talked recently to Urie about the return of the seminal gay play and what it was like taking on the role originally made famous by the playwright Fierstein himself nearly four decades ago.

Interview: Lear deBessonet on Directing Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the Park

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Interview: Lear deBessonet on Directing Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the Park

Matthew Murphy

Interview: Lear deBessonet on Directing Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the Park

Lear deBessonet’s passion for her work is infectious. Just listen to the 37-year-old director speak and you can sense how she’s been able to harness the disparate energies of 200-strong mixed casts of professional and non-professional performers for her vibrant community theater projects. The Louisiana native has also garnered acclaim for her Obie Award-winning production of Brecht’s Good Person of Szechwan, starring a transcendent Taylor Mac in the gender-shifting lead role, and this past spring, her exuberant revival of Suzan-Lori Park’s thought-provoking Venus at the Signature Theatre.

I recently sat down with deBessonet at the Public Theater to chat about her journey as a director and her latest project, the Shakespeare in the Park production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, starring, among others, Phylicia Rashad, Richard Poe, De’Adre Aziza, Annaleigh Ashford, and Danny Burstein.

Theater Review: Measure for Measure at the Polonsky Shakespeare Center

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Theater Review: Measure for Measure at the Polonsky Shakespeare Center

Theatre for a New Audience

Theater Review: Measure for Measure at the Polonsky Shakespeare Center

As the crowd waited in the lobby of the Polonsky Shakespeare Center for the curtain to rise on Simon Godwin’s production of Measure for Measure, a voice on the loudspeaker said that the bordello was now open. This isn’t the way Shakespeare productions typically begin, even in Brooklyn. Theatre for a New Audience built a passage from the lobby to the theater, with simulated acts of sadomasochism in the occasional opening on either side, separated by a hallway lined with rows of sex toys on small shelves, more boutique retail than museum. Guests were greeted at the entrance by a bored woman with a thick Slavic accent. “Nice to see you again,” she muttered to my wife.

Interview: Martin Sherman on Gently Down the Stream, Gay History, and More

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Interview: Martin Sherman Talks Gently Down the Stream, Gay History, and More

Walter Kurtz

Interview: Martin Sherman Talks Gently Down the Stream, Gay History, and More

It’s hard to pin Martin Sherman down. His work as a playwright ranges across a wide variety of styles and subject matter, and getting him to talk about this work isn’t exactly easy. As I learned from several conversations with him over the past two decades, Sherman can be friendly without being revealing. Now a sprightly septuagenarian, he hasn’t exactly changed his tune.

Sherman’s best-known work, of course, is Bent, arguably one of the most influential gay-themed plays in theatrical history. That 1979 triumph is in large part responsible for raising awareness of the persecution of gay men in Nazi-occupied Germany, and the adoption of the pink triangle as a symbol of gay activism may be traced to Bent’s cultural impact. The American-born writer made London his home nearly four decades ago, shortly after the 1980 Broadway debut of Bent. Today, as Sherman himself ruefully acknowledges, his subsequent plays are better known in London than in New York.

Among those plays that still managed to cross the pond and find success in America: When She Danced, a comedy about Isadora Duncan; A Madhouse in Goa, an apocalyptic satire about art and commerce; and Rose, a one-woman show (starring Olympia Dukakis) that chronicles the life of a European Jewish émigré. In addition, Sherman also wrote the book for the Broadway version of The Boy from Oz, the musical which starred Hugh Jackman as the Australian composer and entertainer Peter Allen.

Sherman was recently back in the United States for the world premiere of his latest work, Gently Down the Stream, which is currently in previews at the Public Theater in Downtown Manhattan. When we sat down to chat, I set out to draw him out enough to learn something about the current play, which is publicized as a funny and moving love story about Beau (played by Harvey Fierstein), an expat pianist living in London who meets an eccentric young lawyer, Rufus (Gabriel Ebert), at the dawn of the Internet dating revolution.

Theater Review: Martin McDonagh’s The Beauty Queen of Leenane at BAM

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Theater Review: Martin McDonagh’s The Beauty Queen of Leenane at BAM

Stephen Cummiskey

Theater Review: Martin McDonagh’s The Beauty Queen of Leenane at BAM

Martin McDonagh is best known for plays like The Pillowman and films like In Bruges, which mix over-the-top violence with laugh-out-loud banter. But he began his career writing very Irish plays about Ireland, starting with the first in his Leenane trilogy, The Beauty Queen of Leenane, a funny and crushing production of which is now at the BAM Harvey Theater (through February 5).

McDonagh famously drafted seven plays in nine months in 1994, which formed his entire oeuvre for the next decade (until his Oscar-winning short Six Shooter, in 2005). Since then, his work has dealt with other topics, especially the function of violence in art and society, but at first McDonagh’s Tarantino-reminiscent interest in the ways people hurt each other seemed pegged specifically to his heritage. (He was born and raised in London, but his parents were Irish immigrants who returned home after he was born.)

Review: Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812 with Josh Groban

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Review: Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812 with Josh Groban

Chad Batka

Review: Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812 with Josh Groban

I’ve never seen a Broadway theater look like the Imperial does now. For Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812, a catchy, silly and profound new(ish) musical, the 45th Street playhouse has been reimagined by set designer Mimi Lien as a lavish nightclub, in Metropolitan Opera style: There’s lots of red plush and Sputnik chandeliers—what you wish Tatiana’s in Brighton Beach looked like. It’s also multitiered, with stadium and counter seating, four-seaters, and end tables in the orchestra seats, all cut through with runway stages. There are at least three bars just in the orchestra.

This production recreates the spirit of the unique layout of the show’s Off Broadway runs, which were hosted for four years in small downtown theaters and a custom-built popup venue in the Meatpacking District. The biggest difference in the move to Broadway isn’t the scale of the production, the price of the ticket, or the demographics of the audience; it’s that Pierre, once originated by the show’s creator, is now played by a big star, adult-contemporary singer Josh Groban, making his Broadway debut.