Features Published 2 December 2019

Exeunt NYC Recommends: Winter Edition

Broadway, opera, festivals, imports and more. Who says things have to slow down once the cold weather hits? Our critics have your winter theater-going plans covered.

Exeunt Staff

Things tend to slow down as the weather turns cold, but hibernation seems like the last thing on the collective mind of New York’s performing arts world this winter. December and January bring Broadway openings, festivals galore, and important productions imported from all over the world. Our critics shout out their recommendations just in time for you to make your winter wish list.

Laura Linney in “My Name Is Lucy Barton.” (Photo: Manuel Harlan)

BROADWAY & OFF-BROADWAY

My Name Is Lucy Barton (Manhattan Theatre Club/Friedman Theatre) (January 6-February 29): Fractious relationships between parents and children form the backbone of the theatrical canon. Do we really need another play that covers this well-trod ground? Well, if it involves Laura Linney, my answer is going to be yes. Based on a novel by Pulitzer Prize winner Elizabeth Stout, My Name Is Lucy Barton debuted in London last year, and comes to Broadway for an eight-week engagement starring Linney, its acclaimed original star. The chance to watch this invaluable actor work alone on stage is irresistible. (Cameron Kelsall)

Barber Shop Chronicles (BAM) (December 3-8): What a treat for us all that the National Theatre’s production of Inua Ellams’ hit play continues to tour the world since its world premiere in 2017. I saw a performance at Cambridge’s American Repertory Theatre last year and could not believe the theater world had not stopped conversation of anything else to focus on it; hopefully playing in New York will give it the boost it so deserves. With an electric ensemble that gains exuberance as it rearranges itself into barbershops across the African Diaspora, the play explores, challenges and celebrates several aspects of masculinity without devolving to finger-wagging or flat moralizing. Lively, insightful and essential, this one-acter is not to be missed. (Juan A. Ramirez)

The Thin Place (Playwrights Horizons) (November 22–January 5): I don’t know yet if I would recommend Lucas Hnath’s new play exactly, but I know I probably want to see it. The Thin Place, directed by Les Waters, promises to explore the fragile boundary between this world and “the other one” in an intimate theatrical “séance.” The Christians—the play that alerted the New York theater world to Hnath’s playwriting talent—was a revelation for me. I went in expecting an easy, enjoyable satire of megachurches and experienced instead a moving, unsettling exploration of what it means to “be good” in a production that embraced what theater, specifically, can do (as opposed to those perfectly good plays that would be better as films). I had high hopes, then for A Doll’s House: Part 2, Hnath’s Tony-winning Broadway debut that almost everyone loved—expect me (and a scattering of like-minded friends). The fact that it is skillfully written and was superbly performed made me even angrier at an interpretation of Ibsen’s famous character that felt so wrong and almost antifeminist to me. The Thin Place looks like a return, however, to the dilemma and potential of both metaphysical and metatheatrical boundaries that Hnath brought to life so well with The Christians. (Alison Walls)

One November Yankee (59E59 Theater B) (November 29-December 29): When I saw Joshua Ravetch’s One November Yankee at Delaware Theatre Company, I smugly assumed it would be a lightweight comedy built as a vehicle for a couple aging TV stars (in this case, Harry Hamlin and Stefanie Powers). I was smug and I was wrong. The play itself subtly and movingly explores three brother-sister relationships that intersect with America’s love of aviation. Hamlin and Powers, who both have plenty of stage credits under their belts, give unadorned and deeply affecting performances. DTC is transferring their production to 59E59 for a month-long engagement. Don’t miss it. (Cameron Kelsall)

Jennifer Zetlan in Ricky Ian Gordon and Frank Bidart’s “Ellen West.” (Photo courtesy of Opera Saratoga)

OPERA

Ellen West (ProtoTYPE Festival) (January 14-19): The ProtoTYPE Festival has made invaluable contributions to the landscape of contemporary opera over the last few years, and every January, I eagerly await the new works they bring to New York City. This season’s line-up includes the local premiere of Ricky Ian Gordon and Frank Bidart’s Ellen West, which opened to enthusiastic reviews at Opera Saratoga this past summer. Bidart adapted his own poem about a woman living with an eating disorder and her doctor into a chamber opera, and the intimate scale should communicate the devastating effects of such a condition. Check it out, along with the other offerings on view during the festival’s two-week duration. (Cameron Kelsall)

Der Freischütz (Heartbeat Opera) (December 4–14): Heartbeat Opera is reviving Carl Maria von Weber’s 1821 Der Freischütz in a newly conceived and rearranged production by Louisa Proske, co-directed by Chloe Treat. Opera has for a long time been in danger of being relegated to expensive museum pieces for an ever-dwindling audience of monied/aging/traditionalist subscribers. I support any effort to give the wonderfully expressive artform new life and to entice new audiences. Opera is, in fact, often brilliantly suited for radical reinterpretation—in this case, reimagining the dark German fairytale of the original to examine “the horrors of the American cultural unconscious,” including gun violence and toxic masculinity. I’m a little hesitant about the addition of electronic music and a Butoh dancer, but I’m hoping for a well-sung, boldly unconventional take on a rarely performed yet fascinating work. (Alison Walls)

JACK IS BACK

The Straights (December 5-29), Term of Art (January 3-18), and Slow Sound of Snow  (January 16-26) (JACK): The Clinton Hill indie theater space JACK is the kind of theater that barely exists in the five boroughs anymore—even tinier than its Brooklyn brethren like the Bushwick Starr and the Brick; artist-driven in a necessity-is-the-mother-of-invention kind of way; mixing performance with social activism and community-building. When they lost their original space last year, it seemed like that might be the end of the road, but they’ve relocated successfully, for which I am grateful. They’re running a full season in their new home, and the next three shows all sound like wild rides. The Straights, by the up-and-coming playwright T. Adamson and directed by the equally up-and-coming Will Detlefsen, takes us on a kaleidoscopic road trip through the rotten core of America. Term of Art, by Kate Kremer, part of the Exponential Festival, tackles U.S. drone policy, and Slow Sound of Snow (also part of Exponential) is the suspenseful English-language debut of two Iranian playwrights, translated and directed by Shadi Ghaheri and performed by a cast of Iranian and Iranian-American actors. I’m just happy to have JACK back. (Loren Noveck)

UNDER THE RADAR

Triple Threat (Under the Radar) (January 8-10): Here’s the thing. I’m not going to tell you anything about Triple Threat. You just need to trust me when I tell you that you should see it. Lucy McCormick performs the New Testament with a musical soundtrack of dance club hits. It is every bit as blasphemous as you might imagine and then some. But also it’s so dramaturgically sound that you might convert to Christianity. Or at least to the worship of McCormick. This is boundary-pushing work that reminds us that performance art can still shock. But I found myself deeply moved by it too. Okay, I’ve said too much. Just book this. (Nicole Serratore)

Grey Rock (Under the Radar) (January 8-19): When this played  La MaMa last January, I thought it was part of a festival…but actually it wasn’t. So I’m glad it’s getting a second life and a chance for more viewers. It is set around a Palestinian man’s dream of building a rocket to go to the moon and is written and directed by Palestinian artist Amir Nizar Zuabi. I described it as “A mix of physics, politics, romance, and absurdity. A little plot contrived but still darling. Poetry from grief and loss and hope. A lot of smart political metaphor somehow balanced with sentimentality.” (Nicole Serratore)


Exeunt Staff is a contributor to Exeunt Magazine