Off-Off the Beaten Path
Nine indie theater essentials
BY MARTIN DENTON (of nytheatre.com & indietheaternow.com) | I am always being asked which shows I’m excited about, especially at the beginning of a season. So here’s a quick roundup of some indie theater I’m looking forward to this winter/spring — mostly because of the artists involved.
Once you discover that a certain playwright, director, actor or designer is creating work that’s simpatico with your sympathies and worldview, you can’t wait to experience it again.
A Pair of Solos
More and more I find myself becoming a fan of the solo show. The intimacy that’s achieved between writer/performer and audience in a one-person performance often can’t be duplicated in a more traditional multi-actor play. Two solo performers whose work has always impressed me are back with new pieces this season.
Martin Moran’s “All the Rage” (begins January 27 at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater) is described as “a quest from West of the Rockies to South of Johannesburg” that “attempts to resolve an ancient riddle: How is it that in one moment we might reach out in compassion and in the next…kill?” Moran’s autobiographical play “The Tricky Part” was one of the most moving (and often harrowing) performances I’ve seen this century. I fully expect something similar here.
Tim Collins is not as well-known as Moran, though he deserves to be. He’s only performed a few times in New York City, working more frequently in the Midwest (he was based in St. Louis for the past several years). His one-man autobiography “A Fire as Bright as Heaven” was one of my favorite experiences at the 2008 New York International Fringe Festival, and I was very glad to see his newest piece, “On the Outskirts of Everything,” at United Solo last November.
Collins is bringing “On the Outskirts” to NYC for a full run at Stage Left Studio (begins March 8). About this solo, in which Tim plays five different contemporary American guys coping with 21st century life, I wrote, “His ability to crystallize much of what’s ailing the American psyche just now is both uncanny and invaluable.”
A Trio of Re-Imagined Classics
Edward Einhorn is probably best known for producing the first festival of the work of Vaclav Havel. He typically emphasizes relatively recent drama, like the plays of the late Czech playwright/statesman. But this spring, he’s reaching back to the Greeks with a new adaptation of Euripides’ “Iphigenia at Aulis.” The play will be designed in the style of graphic artist Eric Shanower. Einhorn’s collaborators — Jane Stein (sets, masks), Carla Gant (costumes) and Jeff Nash (lighting) — have demonstrated their exemplary talents in a variety of indie productions over the years, so look for this to be a visual feast.
“Iphigenia at Aulis” begins on Valentine’s Day at La MaMa. It tells the story of the beginnings of the Trojan War. “Electra” details events after the war is over and the House of Atreus has been torn asunder by all manner of treachery. Beginning on March 8 at The Wild Project, Phoenix Theatre Ensemble will present Sophocles’ tragedy as the final production in their ambitious — and thus far, truly compelling — triptych, including “Agamemnon” last season and their own take on “Iphigenia at Aulis” in 2011. The folks at Phoenix have a long history of excellence with the classics, and their renditions of these two plays offered me new insights and perspectives on drama I thought I knew well. So I am eager to see them wrap up the cycle with this tale of abuse, revenge, and murder.
Is it too soon to add Brecht to the pantheon of classic dramatists? Certainly in terms of influence on contemporary theater he’s high on anybody’s list of antecedents. His parable, “Good Person of Szechwan” — in a new production from The Foundry Theatre and featuring original live music by César Alvarez with The Lisps — arrives at La MaMa’s Ellen Stewart Theatre on February 1. Taylor Mac stars as the titular character, and the cast includes stalwart performers Lisa Kron, Mia Katigbak, Vinie Burrows and Annie Golden. Lear deBessonet directs.
A Timely Revival
If “Les Miserables” has whet your appetite for more Victor Hugo, then you’ll be delighted to learn that Stolen Chair Theatre Company’s masterful silent-film-for-the-stage adaptation of his later novel “The Man Who Laughs” (L’homme qui rit) is returning to NYC, starting January 31, at Urban Stages.
Written by Kiran Rikhye and directed by Jon Stancato, this play follows the sad history of a youngster taken under the wing of a carnival showman — who carves a permanent smile on his face, thus turning him into a star attraction.
One of the earliest of Stolen Chair’s signature “unholy hybrids” — wherein two contrasting artistic styles (in this case, French Romanticism and silent film) are mashed up — “The Man Who Laughs” prompted me to write (of its original production), “This bona fide tour de force of theater has the real capacity to tug at something inside of us and make us feel in a raw, spontaneous and very essential way.”
Three New Plays
Josh Koenigsberg is a young playwright who balances great humor and wit on the one hand with real wisdom and profundity on the other. Witness his two full-length plays: the hilarious farce “Al’s Business Cards,” (about a gaffer who accidentally gets the wrong business cards) and “Herman Kline’s Midlife Crisis” (in which an emergency room surgeon discovers narcotics on a patient’s body and tries to decide what he should do with them).
Koenigsberg’s new play has the best title of any coming up this year: “The Mnemonist of Dutchess County.” About a campus security guard with an amazing memory, it runs February 8 through March 2 at The Beckett Theatre.
A couple of hundred lucky theatergoers had a chance to catch the earliest version of Godlight Theatre’s new opus, “The Pilo Family Circus,” at Ice Factory last summer. Now the folks at Soho Think Tank are giving the rest of us a chance to see it, starting January 31 at the New Ohio Theatre. Adapted by Matt Pelfrey from Will Elliott’s novel of the same name, this brutal comedy has the memorable tagline “The Pilo Family Circus is recruiting and whether he likes it or not, Jamie is auditioning.” Director Joe Tantalo and Pelfrey have collaborated to stunning effect on “Winkie,” “In the Heat of the Night” and “An Impending Rupture of the Belly” — all of which were exquisitely suspenseful, insightful and intelligent. I expect nothing less from “Pilo.”
And finally, on March 20, Rattlestick Playwrights Theater is giving us the first Ken Urban NYC premiere in quite some time. Urban’s plays — “The Female Terrorist Project,” “I (Heart) Kant” and “The Happy Sad,” to name just three — have the uncanny ability to unsettle, untether and disquiet their audience with their portraits of seemingly ordinary people caught up in events they can’t quite control.
His new play, “The Correspondent” (presented in association with terraNova Collective), is about a grieving husband who hires a dying woman to deliver a message to his recently deceased wife in the afterlife.
Just the Tip of the Iceberg
So there it is: a list of nine plays to get you started as you navigate what looks to be a really busy and interesting season of theater. Much more is on the way, a lot not even announced or scheduled yet — so keep your eyes and ears and mind open as the rest of the winter and then the spring calendar unfolds. Check the Previews page on nytheatre.com for interviews with artists from the most intriguing indie shows heading to town.
See you at the theater!