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Review: generations at Soho Rep

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Review: <em>generations</em> at Soho Rep
Review: <em>generations</em> at Soho Rep

Soho Rep has developed a reputation for reinventing the interior of its theater space, at 46 Walker Street, for each production it hosts. But the transformation for its newest resident, playwright debbie tucker green’s poem-play generations, co-produced with the Play Company, might be the most elaborate yet.

Set designer Arnulfo Maldonado has covered the floor in an inch of burnt-sienna sand, and replaced the walls with corrugated metal slabs in many different colors, behind faded images evoking South-African national and musical culture. As audience members collect around the edges of the space, in the center stands a working kitchen and sink, an oven, a refrigerator, and a single round table, with supplies and foodstuffs piled throughout. The room is bright, pulsing, the central artery of a community far removed from the corporate commercialism of even the most well-meaning off-Broadway theater company. The transportation of a New York audience to the lifeworld of rural South Africa, at least as green and director Leah C. Gardiner have imagined it, is one of this production’s most welcome achievements. The songs of celebration and of mourning that fill this short play more than fulfill the promise of their setting.

Review: Marie Antoinette at Soho Rep

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Review: <em>Marie Antoinette</em> at Soho Rep
Review: <em>Marie Antoinette</em> at Soho Rep

In David Adjmi’s satirical Marie Antoinette, the titular royal doesn’t start using her head until she’s in danger of losing it. At first, without any desire to get a grip on reality, she’s presented broadly as a Real House Queen of Versailles. With valley-girl inflections and a grating mean-girl mien, the so-called Madame Deficit is only vaguely aware of the peasants’ rising anger and utterly clueless as to what to do: “The people aren’t happy. Or…I don’t know what they are. Maybe they are starving.” But she doesn’t follow through on this, or any, line of thought. Instead, she lets herself eat cake.

In a sly wink at the quote that’s poisoned her reputation for centuries, Marie (a formidable Marin Ireland) and her ladies-in-waiting (Jennifer Ikeda and Marsha Stephanie Blake) grab mouth-watering, brightly colored macaroons from towering mounds that stand beside them. When Ikeda’s Yolande, with her mouth full, admits she denies “junk food” like this to her children out of concern for their health, Ireland addle-pated monarch answers, “Aww, let them eat cake.” It’s an easy laugh, like many in the play’s early going, but Adjmi soon rewards audience members who’ve done their research by including a riff on the writer who actually coined the famous line, France’s literary lion Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Marie’s never heard of him: “Intellectuals, bleh. You know what I love? Mops!” She means the mop-topped poodles she keeps by the hundreds. Before we lose patience with the queen-as-ditz approach, Adjmi, Ireland, and director Rebecca Taichman direct our focus where the queen refuses to tread: on the life of her mind.

Melodrama for the Anti-Capitalist Crowd: A Public Reading of an Unproduced Screenplay About the Death of Walt Disney at Soho Rep

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Melodrama for the Anti-Capitalist Crowd: <em>A Public Reading of an Unproduced Screenplay About the Death of Walt Disney</em> at Soho Rep
Melodrama for the Anti-Capitalist Crowd: <em>A Public Reading of an Unproduced Screenplay About the Death of Walt Disney</em> at Soho Rep

Imagine that Gordon Gecko wrote a screenplay about the end of his life, cast himself in the mold of King Lear, and used it to gleefully lay bare his totalitarian fantasies and mythic failures. Then imagine him reading his creation aloud. That’s the setup for Lucas Hnath’s ambitiously titled A Public Reading of an Unproduced Screenplay About the Death of Walt Disney, now playing under Sarah Benson’s direction at Soho Rep. Instead of Gecko, devilish symbol of unfettered greed, Hnath offers Walt Disney, progenitor of the loveable characters and utopian theme parks that have raised generations of Americans. Making an antihero out of Disney lets Hnath twist the knife deeper in this searing and grizzly portrait of the pathology of the plutocrat. Contrary to certain left-populist stereotypes, members of Disney’s wealthy class aren’t just nihilistically cackling their way to the bank—in their minds, they’re saving the world from itself.

The Right Way: An Interview with Uncle Vanya‘s Reed Birney

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The Right Way: An Interview with Uncle Vanya’s Reed Birney
The Right Way: An Interview with Uncle Vanya’s Reed Birney

Just the mere announcement of a new production of Anton Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya at SoHo Rep, the venturesome Tribeca-based theater company, generated much excitement among New York theater aficionados; the quickly sold-out, initially six-week run is now extended through July 22. A century-old Russian classic is unusual programming for the Obie-award winning company best known as an incubator for contemporary work by emerging writers, but what makes this production noteworthy is the thrilling alignment of three of the brightest talents working in New York theater today: playwright Annie Baker, who adapted a new version of the text, director Sam Gold, and actor Reed Birney in the title role. The three previously worked together on Circle Mirror Transformation, Baker’s keenly observed and deeply felt 2009 drama about a group of people in an acting class. The 31-year-old playwright, whose work includes Body Awareness and Aliens, is one of the leading writers of her generation, while Gold, age 34, is one of the most sought-after directors in town. Birney may not be a marquee name, but he’s one of the finest actors working today in New York City theater. He started his career at age 22 playing the juvenile lead in Albert Innaurato’s Gemini, an Off Broadway hit which went on to enjoy a successful run on Broadway in the mid 1970s. More than three decades later, he experienced a career resurgence with his uncompromising performance in the 2008 New York premiere of Sarah Kane’s Blasted. In 2011, after a remarkable season in which he appeared in three new Off-Broadway plays (Kim Rosenstock’s Tigers Be Still, Adam Bock’s A Small Fire, and David West Read’s The Dream of the Burning Boy), the 57-year-old actor was awarded a special award from the Drama Desk for his body of work. We recently spoke with the actor about his career and his current role.

Exorcising the Dark Side: Playwright David Adjmi Talks Elective Affinities

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Exorcising the Dark Side: Playwright David Adjmi Talks Elective Affinities
Exorcising the Dark Side: Playwright David Adjmi Talks Elective Affinities

When a trio of edgy, downtown theater producing companies—Soho Rep, piece by piece productions, and Rising Phoenix Repertory—invite audiences to a tea party in an Upper East Side mansion, there must be something subversive afoot. One of this season’s hottest tickets is a site-specific theater piece entitled Elective Affinities. You take your seat in the parlor of a townhouse which doubles as the richly decorated living room of a well-heeled socialite, the rather grand Mrs. Alice Hauptman, played to the hilt by Tony-winning actress Zoe Caldwell. Caldwell regales her “guests” (30 theatergoers each night) with a witty and entertaining stream of consciousness. Soon enough, Alice’s oh-so-genteel soiree veers into perverse moral territory, leaving you wondering if indeed the choice to bestow love on select people in our lives, demands that we hate the others that don’t share our perspective. The author of this hour-long monologue is 38-year-old Brooklyn-born playwright David Adjmi, who first made his name in New York in 2009 with Stunning, a satirical tragedy drawn from his own Syrian-Jewish roots. We talked recently with Adjmi about his work: