Features Published 28 November 2018

Exeunt NYC Recommends: Winter

Broadway and music and festivals — oh my! New York has it all this winter, and our critics share their top picks for December and January.

Exeunt Staff

December and January bring Oscar winners and movie stars to Broadway, a slew of popular return engagements, and the launch of festival season in New York. Our critics recommend a little bit of everything!

Choir Boy makes its Broadway debut. (Image courtesy of Boneau/Bryan-Brown)

BROADWAY

Choir Boy (Samuel J. Friedman Theatre) (December 12-February 17): After garnering rave reviews Off-Broadway in 2013, Academy Award winner Tarell Alvin McCraney (Moonlight) is bringing his highly acclaimed play with music to the Broadway stage. Featuring a predominately black male cast, Choir Boy tells a story with a positive message and features several up-and-coming stars. Given the lack of stories on Broadway about the black male experience, it is exciting to see an inspiring story “dedicated to the education of strong, ethical black men.” (Ayanna Prescod)

True West (Roundabout Theatre Company/American Airlines Theatre) (December 27-March 17): Productions starring celebrities can be bad or mediocre – which is somehow even worse. This revival of Sam Shepard’s play about sibling rivalry seems more intriguing than some of the other typical star-laden shows on Broadway right now. Ethan Hawke and Paul Dano are fantastic movie actors. Watching them spar and examine the complexities of sibling relationships on stage is bound to be entertaining. Hawke plays older brother Lee, who is a volatile lowlife, and Dano plays the younger brother, Austin, who’s a successful screenwriter. There’s also a dueling production of this show happening in London, starring Kit Harington and Johnny Flynn, so it’ll also be interesting to see which version is better received. (Alicia Kort)

Heather Raffo in Noura. (Photo: Scott Suchman)

OFF BROADWAY

Noura (Playwrights Horizons) (November 27-December 30): Did you think Lucas Hnath was the only playwright wrestling with Ibsen? Think again. Acclaimed dramatist and actor Heather Raffo brings her Middle Eastern riff on A Doll’s House to Playwrights Horizons, under Joanna Settle’s direction. Nora and Torvald are now Noura and Tareq, Iraqi Christian refugees who find their new life in America unsettled by a surprise visitor from the past. As someone who found A Doll’s House, Part 2glib and self-satisfied – not to mention awash in straight white male cluelessness – I am eager to see how a feminist writer of color approaches Ibsen’s landmark play. Raffo also stars in the title role. (Cameron Kelsall)

Jack and the Beanstalk (Abrons Arts Center) (December 14-30): Although actor Matt Fraser and burlesque artist Julie Atlas Muz are known for their more risqué work (this husband-and-wife team created an X-rated Beauty and the Beast which they performed), they created this radically inclusive family-friendly pantomime for the 2017 holiday season. Fraser writes, Muz directs. New Yorkers may not be familiar with the panto tradition, but we get another chance to give it a try this year with an encore holiday engagement. Audience participation is de rigeur at panto – cheer for the hero, boo the villain, sing the songs. It’s a mix of vaudeville, slapstick, and drag, and with Fraser and Muz involved I imagine a little bit of an edge…while staying PG. This sounds like it could be devilishly fun treat. I’ve interviewed Fraser about his radical politics and efforts to shake up theater, TV, and film for disabled performers like himself. And I expect he and Muz will whip up something really unique and remarkable. (Nicole Serratore)

Clueless, The Musical (The New Group) (November 20-January 12): There are a lot weightier and doubtless worthier shows coming up in December – and I want to see them too – but as a lifelong Austen fan, 90s child, and recent convert to musicals, I find it hard to resist Amy Heckerling’s adaptation of her cinematic adaptation of Emma (yes, I have a strong interest in adaptations also). The film has proved over time, like the novel on which it is based, to hold greater staying power and greater depths than its frivolous exterior suggests. The American musical at its best also excels at threading sharp social observations into bubbling numbers, so this seems like a good fit. (Alison Walls)

The Head and the Load (Park Avenue Armory) (December 4-15): At the other end of the highbrow/lowbrow musical spectrum is William Kentridge’s The Head and the Load. I honestly can’t decide whether I want to see this one or not, but I’m certainly interested. Kentridge is a stunning visual artist and the story of the nearly 2 million African porters and carriers used by the British, French, and Germans who bore the brunt of the casualties during the First World War in Africa is obviously a neglected part of history that deserves to come to light. Kentridge’s work often illuminate the beauty of dramatic narratives with compelling and fresh visuals, but his productions sometimes miss the mark as theater. This production is billed as a synthesis of the diverse elements of his artistic practice, so it may be best to approach it as poetic, visual storytelling, more than theater. (Alison Walls)

Grey Rock (La MaMa) (January 3-7): Playwright and director Amir Nizar Zuabi had success last year with Oh My Sweet Land, a show staged in apartment kitchens all around New York that looked at displacement, Syrian refugees, and immigrant stories. It was smart, funny, and political. I expect a similar approach but with it a bit more whimsy from his world premiere play, which again he directs. It involves a cast from Palestine telling the story of a Palestinian man who watches the moon landing on TV in 1969 and then plans to build his own rocket. (Nicole Serratore)

The Making of King Kong (Target Margin Theater/The Doxsee) (Nov 29-Dec 15): Lisa Clair only delivers fever dreams, in the very best of ways. The show is described as “the strangest adventure drama this thrill-mad world has ever seen,” which is probably not hyperbole. Skip the Broadway version and see this one instead. (Dan O’Neil)

Melissa Gilbert and Rufus Collins in The Dead, 1904. (Photo: Carol Rosegg)

RETURNING FAVORITES

The Hard Nut (BAM/Gilman Opera House) (December 14-23): I was a ballet kid – never a very good dancer, mind you, but I had big dreams, and my affection for The Nutcracker has long outlasted my ability to do a pirouette. The Hard Nut, Mark Morris’s take on the story, somehow manages to keep the magic of the original music and the charm of the story, while adding subversive wit, investigations of gender, modern dance, and a lot of sheer fun. It comes around every year, but it never gets old. (Loren Noveck)

The Dead, 1904 (Irish Repertory Theatre/American Irish Historical Society) (November 17-January 13): I try to avoid truisms, but whenever some says that James Joyce’s “The Dead” is the greatest short story ever written, I can’t help but agree. The anchoring work from Dubliners has been adapted many times, including John Huston’s superb 1987 film, and Richard Nelson & Shaun Davey’s musical, which played Broadway in 2000. For the past three winters, Irish Repertory Theatre has presented an immersive adaptation (by Paul Muldoon & Jean Hanff Korelitz) at the American Irish Historical Society, a stately townhouse on 5th Avenue that stands in for the Morkan Sisters’ Dublin home. The audience follows the action throughout the space and sits down for a catered meal with the cast. I’ve been curious about this production since it first opened in 2016, but it’s been uber sold out and expensive (basic tickets starting at $150). But this year, I plan to finally bite the bullet and claim a place at the table for the Feast of the Epiphany. (Cameron Kelsall)

Lola Arias’s Minefield comes to New York as part of the Under the Radar Festival. (Photo: Tristram Kenton)

FESTIVAL SEASON

4.48 Psychosis (PROTOTYPE Festival/Baruch Performing Arts Center) (January 5-12): Many of the most exciting new operas in recent memory (Breaking the WavesFellow Travelersanatomy theater) have come to New York courtesy of the PROTOTYPE Festival, presented in venues around the five boroughs during the first two weeks of January. Nearly everything on this year’s roster sounds promising, but I’m particularly interested in Philip Venables’ opera-theater hybrid adaptation of Sarah Kane’s 4:48 Psychosis, making its American premiere after a sold-out run at the Royal Court in London. Kane’s output as a leading voice of the In-Yer-Face theater movement may seem grungy on the surface, but nearly every work she created her in short life brims with operatic grandeur, so it seems a natural fit for a musical setting. Richard Baker will conduct the NYC-based new music ensemble Contemporaneous. (Cameron Kelsall)

Minefield (Under the Radar/NYU Skirball) (January 11-13): London critics raved when Argentinian writer-director Lola Arias’s political play premiered in 2016 at the Royal Court. Working in collaboration with Argentinian and British veterans from the Falkland/Malvinas wars, Arias workshopped the concept around the survivors and their war memories. These nonprofessional actors – the veterans – star in the play. The process of their storytelling and playmaking is part of it, as well as documents and documentary footage from the war. It is performed in English and Spanish, as language is also political. Basically anytime I mention this play on Twitter, someone tweets at me that it was amazing. So I’m starting to believe them. (Nicole Serratore)

Manual Cinema’s Frankenstein (Under the Radar Festival at the Public) (January 4-13): It’s hard to describe Manual Cinema’s work without making it sound either twee or like really low-budget children’s theater, but they work magic with silhouettes, shadow puppets, and of all things, overhead projectors. Their shows are filled with indelible, dreamlike images, and storytelling that is no less emotionally powerful for being virtually wordless. Frankenstein, with its stark landscapes and the unforgettable silhouette of the monster, seems like a great match with their methods. (Loren Noveck)

Cowboy  (Exponential Festival/The Doxsee) (January 17-20): Playwright Gracie Gardner has been making quite a name for herself. She won the Relentless award for her delightfully named play, Pussy Sludge. I raved about her Athena, a work set between two teenage fencers who aren’t quite friends. Her new play Cowboy is on a mixed bill at the Exponential Festival and this video from it made me laugh out loud. She’s one of those artists whose work I want to keep seeing, so I’m gonna check it out. (Nicole Serratore)


Exeunt Staff is a contributor to Exeunt Magazine