Features Published 29 September 2019

Exeunt NYC Recommends: October 2019

From Tina Turner to Tony Kushner, there’s something to suit every taste this month.

Exeunt Staff

It’s October, y’all! The leaves are changing colors, the temperature is dropping, and Broadway is booming. In fact, theater in every corner of the city has something to offer this month, and Exeunt NYC’s critics are here to tell you what they’re excited to see. From Tina Turner to Tony Kushner, there’s a selection to suit every taste.

Adrienne Warren as Tina Turner and Kobna Holdbrook-Smith as Ike Turner in the London production of Tina: The Tina Turner Musical (Photo: Manuel Harlan)

BROADWAY

Tina: The Tina Turner Musical (Lunt-Fontanne Theatre) (Open run; previews begin October 12): If we’re going to get yet another jukebox musical on Broadway this season, it should be one that chronicles one of the most iconic Black rock & roll (YES ROCK & ROLL) musicians of this lifetime, Tina Turner. After the show was nominated for three Olivier Awards, including Best Musical, and continues a successful run on the West End, the musical’s leading lady Adrienne Warren will reprise her role on Broadway. After seeing the force that is Adrienne in Shuffle Along, I have complete faith that she and the entire cast will wow audiences this fall. (Ayanna Prescod)

Slave Play (John Golden Theatre) (Through January 5; currently in previews): Jeremy O.Harris’s Slave Play has stuck with me since I reviewed its Off-Broadway premiere at New York Theatre Workshop. At the time I found it troubling but exciting, upsetting and hilarious in the way that only the best theater can be. I had some reservations, but the rich complexity and elements of genius in Harris’s work, amplified by director Robert O’Hara, won out. It is also exciting in itself that a play as risky as this one is being moved to Broadway. (Alison Walls)

OFF-BROADWAY

Peter Dinklage and Blake Jenner in an earlier production of Cyrano (Photo: Diane Sobolewski)

Cyrano (The New Group) (October 11-November 24): So I’ve traveled all over the world to see the band The National. It was inevitable that I would travel to Goodspeed Musicals in Connecticut last year to see the “Work in Progress” production of Cyrano, where artists from The National (Aaron and Bryce Dessner, Carin Besser, and Matt Berninger) contributed music. This adaptation of Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac by Erica Schmidt is more than a play with music, but it also feels like it’s not following the rules of a musical per se. Peter Dinklage sings. I’m not sure that’s a good thing. Yet, there was a lot to like in the mishegoss of the WIP. The music is beautiful. It’s a story that benefits from heightened emotion, breaking into song, and ardency. Schmidt’s approach (as writer and director) made the material feel more relevant than I was expecting.  But sometimes it didn’t quite feel like the show knew what it wanted to do or where it wanted to go (some casting was poor on top of that). A welcome newcomer to the New York cast is Jasmine Cephas Jones as Roxane, which should help matters a lot. I am looking forward to seeing this again in its finished form.  (Nicole Serratore)

A Bright Room Called Day (Public Theater/Anspacher Theater) (October 29-December 8): A Tony Kushner renaissance on Broadway began last season with Angels in America and will continue this spring with Caroline, or Change. Both of those revivals originated on the West End — a somewhat odd confluence, considering Kushner’s status as a writer interested in uniquely American stories and perspectives. For a homegrown look at one of his seminal works, we can travel downtown this month to his longtime artistic home, The Public Theater, for a rare staging of the 1990 epic A Bright Room Called Day. Written on the eve of the USSR’s dissolution and in the wake of Ronald Reagan’s presidency, it weaves together threads of authoritarian politics and the power of art from several different historical periods. It will be interesting to see how the play has, and hasn’t, aged. Linda Emond, Michael Esper, Jonathan Hadary, and the tireless Estelle Parsons are in the cast. (Cameron Kelsall)

For Colored Girls… (Public Theater) (October 8-November 24): Ntozake Shange’s For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow Is Enuf premiered at the Public in 1976. It’s gone to have an extended life in many media (film, television, multiple published editions), but doesn’t actually get revived on stage all that often. It’s not an easy play–elliptical, poetic, non-narrative–but its themes of Black women’s identity, autonomy,  and struggles with misogyny and racism are sadly as relevant as ever. Does the play hold up? I’m certainly curious to find out, especially when it’s being done by a stellar cast, a creative team made up entirely of women of color, and choreographer Camille A. Brown. (Loren Noveck)

Round Table (59E59 Theater C) (September 27-October 20): The fantasy lover in me is excited to catch Round Table, written by and starring Liba Vaynberg at 59E59. The premise of a devout LARPer and a romance novel ghostwriter sounds like a fun stew of interaction. I am surprised I rarely hear about LARPing employed on the Off-Broadway stage and am glad Round Table took LARP to task. Its producing company Fault Line Theatre has a mission to produce socially relevant plays and to challenge theatergoers, and playing with LARPing is an interesting way to go about it. (Caroline Cao)

Fires in the Mirror (Signature Theatre) (October 22-December 1): Anna Deavere-Smith’s documentary play centers on the racial tensions that erupted in Crown Heights in the summer of 1991 following the deaths of a Black American boy and a young Orthodox Jewish scholar. It is one of the rare pieces of contemporary U.S. theater by a woman of color that has achieved near-canonical status. The verbatim performance of a string of interviews provides a compelling, complex, and human portrait of prejudice and its effects. Sadly, I doubt this will feel like a museum piece, but rather a necessary confrontation of long and deep-running threads of racial anxiety. I am excited by the opportunity to see a play I have read many times in performance, and the collaboration of Deavere-Smith with new artists (director Saheem Ali and performer Michael Benjamin Washington) is promising. (Alison Walls)

John Zdrojeski, Michele Pawk, and Jeb Kreager in Heroes of the Fourth Turning at Playwrights Horizons (Photo: Joan Marcus)

Heroes of the Fourth Turning (Playwrights Horizons) (September 13-October 27): Will Arbery’s Plano was somehow the most terrifying and hilarious play I’ve seen in a long time. Arbery’s voice wrapped itself around me in a way I have still been unable to shake. He played with time, structure, character, and countless other theatrical conventions. His new play tackles political conservatism–a topic scarier than the faceless man in Plano. The cast includes the great Zoe Winters, who seems like a perfect fit for Arbery’s style. (Lane Williamson)

Dr. Ride’s American Beach House (Ars Nova) (October 21-November 23): There’s a potential here for something radically new and different. See it for what you recognize if you like (cast includes the brilliant Erin Markey and Kristen Sieh), but this one probably won’t follow the new play “template,” given what I know about its writer, Liza Birkenmeier, who is rambunctiously experimental while staying true to her characters, and director Katie Brook, who in previous work has displayed incredible precision with distance, emotion, and atmosphere. (Dan O’Neil)

BAM NEXT WAVE FESTIVAL

Hamnet (BAM/Dead Centre) (October 30-November 3): I have been dying for the Dublin/London company Dead Centre to return to New York after their show Lippy played in 2014. Their experimental style, extraordinary sound design, and potent visual language all made for such a stunning introduction. I was swept away by Lippy. I wanted more! But I have been made to wait until now. Their show Hamnet has been touring internationally and finally arrives at BAM in late October. Hamnet is about Shakespeare’s son of that name who died at age 11, right before Shakespeare wrote a little play called Hamlet. Fathers and sons etc. It weaves together the life of this boy, his father’s work, grief, loss, and the complexities of all this through the eyes of a child. I’ve heard great things and I’m pleased to be able to see what Dead Centre have been up to.  (Nicole Serratore)

What if they went to Moscow? (BAM) (October 23-October 27): Halley Feiffer did a riff on Three Sisters last month with her Moscow x6 at MCC and a new version of Chekhov’s play, directed by Sam Gold, will open at New York Theatre Workshop in the spring. In between, Brazilian director Christiane Jatahy brings a trans-media adaptation to the BAM Next Wave Festival. The audience is divided in half with one group taking seats at the BAM Rose Cinema and the other in the BAM Fisher Theatre to watch the same performance–one live, one recorded. Later, the audience swaps sides. What if they went to Moscow? sounds like a cool look at the bridges and gaps between film and theater, at intimacy and distance. (Lane Williamson)

MODERN IRISH CLASSICS

Molly Sweeney (Keen Company) (October 8-November 16): The great Irish playwright Brian Friel was at his most lyrical in his monologue plays, Faith Healer and Molly SweeneyFail Healer is probably the stronger of the two, but Molly Sweeney is nonetheless startling in its storytelling and arresting in its language. Through three intersecting narratives delivered in monologues, we learn the story of our title character, a blind woman whose medical procedure to restore her sight has drastic and unexpected effects on her life and marriage. (Patrick Maley)

Dublin Carol (Irish Repertory Theatre) (September 20-November 10): One of Friel’s great successors in Irish drama is the regularly haunting and poignant Conor McPherson. Nobody in New York does his work better than the Irish Rep, where McPherson has been a mainstay in the past few seasons, often under the direction of Ciaran O’Reilly, who helms this production. Dublin Carol picks up many of McPherson’s favorite themes, as we learn about a life in ruins as a result of terrible choices, selfishness, and booze. This sounds dreadful, but McPherson has a startling ability to tell these stories with empathy and compassion. (Patrick Maley)


Exeunt Staff is a contributor to Exeunt Magazine