OFF- AND OFF-OFF-BROADWAY STRIKE BACK
Despite the tragic and frustrating strike that exists between Broadway producers and Local One, the stagehands union, shuttering most shows on the Rialto, there are plenty of shows off- and off-off-Brodway for those willing to skip big budget musicals and experience some of New York’s finest—though overshadowed–theatrical talent.
At the Flea Theatre (www.theflea.org), the resident acting company The Bats, which so impressed a few seasons back with the Elizabeth Swados musical Jabu, about the life of absurdist playwright Alfred Jarry, has produced a mesmerizing gut punch of a production with Adam Rapp’s Bingo with the Indians. In a rundown New Hampshire motel, angry lesbian director Dee (Jessica Pohly) has assembled her cokehead, pansexual, foul-mouth performer Stash (Cooper Daniels) and pathological liar tech director Wilson (Rob Yang) to rip off a bingo parlor in her hometown to fund an experimental play back in Manhattan. But tragically desperate teen Steve (Evan Enderle) and his mother, Mrs. Wood (Missel Leddington), the owner of the motel, enter the hellish, sometimes hilarious fray. Rapp the writer goes for the uncomfortable and ultra-dysfunctional and Rapp the director shows an expert hand at steering his repugnantly endearing players, all equally adept. A surreal interloper at play’s end takes the work to another level, showing Rapp’s growth as a writer, in comparison with his play Finer Noble Gases, seen last year at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
Speaking of that selfsame Fringe, the group The Civilians (www.thecivilians.org) had performed their offbeat musical (I Am) Nobody’s Lunch, and like Rapp, they too have developed a more focused work, this time with the musical Gone Missing at the Barrow Street Theatre (www.barrowstreettheatre.com) in Greenwich Village. Director-writer Steve Cosson and composer-lyricist Michael Friedman use the abilities of The Civilians in text and song to tell various tales of loss, from everyday items to human life. Friedman’s clever and sprightly songwriting is the standout here and this work, based on interviews with New Yorkers, elicits laughs, as with the woman who relentlessly uses the Internet and phone calls to try and recover one lost shoe. It is not until the very end that Gone Missing deals with a more profound theme, the idea of remembrance alleviating grief, ending on an elegiac and thought-provoking note.
Not all of Broadway, thankfully, is shut down and Theresa Rebeck’s Mauritius, presented by the Manhattan Theatre Club and the Huntington Theatre Company at the Biltmore, boasts a deliciously wicked portrayal by F. Murray Abraham as a violent yet charming financier who wishes to buy an invaluable stamp off of a young and crafty woman, played by Alison Pill. Dylan Baker is wonderfully watchable, as well, in a less showy role as a disgruntled stamp collector. Rebeck’s play has an unfortunate, tacked-on, upbeat ending that rings false, and Pill and co-star Katie Finneran seem stilted as warring stepsisters. But Bobby Cannavale, as a street-smart facilitator for the dangerous exchange of stamps for megabucks, rounds out a terrific male ensemble, directed with the usual aplomb by Doug Hughes (Doubt).
Rounding out the week of theatre events was the opening night of the performance series A Question of Impeachment: Trial by Theater at the Culture Project (www.cultureproject.org). Director Darrell Larson has assembled a stellar lineup for poetry, dramatic readings, music and more, which included Phoebe Snow’s stunning a cappella rendition of “Amazing Grace,” a wonderfully smart and bitter poem on the “Wal-Mart-ization” of America by Alix Olson and other guests including Annabella Sciorra and Harper’s editor Lewis Lapham. Future shows will include Vanessa, Lynn and Corin Redgrave reading poetry from Guantanamo detainees on December 9 and a stellar closing night, December 16, that will feature Sam Shepard, Naomi Wolf and the Spring Awakening team of Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater. It is a stirring and entertaining way to remind audiences that there is righteous and effective redress for the criminal acts that have been perpetrated in Washington D.C. by our government. While we all urge a resolution to the Broadway stagehands strike, there is not now, nor has there ever been, a lack of stimulating theatre to attend away from the Great White Way.