Seat Filler: NYC Theater Guide for January 2011
The Importance of Being Earnest
Oscar Wilde's 1895 comedy of mistaken and hidden identities in upper-crust England gets its first Broadway revival since 1977 with the unparalleled comic timing of Brian Bedford, who directs the sparkling production and stars as the formidably judgmental Lady Bracknell. It’s not news for a gay actor to play the juicy role — Bette Bourne and Quentin Crisp famously wore her plumed hat — but Bedford does so with nary a wink.
American Airlines Theatre, through July 3.
Created by star Natalie Elizabeth Weiss and featuring soul-stirring electro beats by Machinedrum, this uplifting and endlessly impressive musical stars Marissa O’Donnell as Jana, a 13-year-old whose pious Christian beliefs get rocked by her unlikely romance with new camper Titi O’Malley, a slutty bulimic nailed by Krystina Alabado. Like Skins meets Saved!, it’s a smart, surprisingly respectful satire of sexuality and spiritual faith.
La MaMa E.T.C., through February 6.
The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore
Roundabout skims the cream off this 1963 Tennessee Williams flop in a haunting revival starring the inimitable Olympia Dukakis as Flora Goforth, a dying Southern woman dictating her memoirs in Italy. Mad Men’s Darren Pettie shows off his many assets as a parasitic poet who also kisses Flora’s gossipy friend, Witch of Capri, deliciously played by out actor Edward Hibbert as an homage to Noël Coward in the ’68 film version, Boom!
Laura Pels Theatre, through April 3.
Because I put it on my vision board, CollaborationTown’s stunning self-help satire has returned after winning a 2010 FringeNYC Award for Best Play. Directed by Lee Sunday Evans and created by TJ Witham with its three actors, Geoffrey Decas O’Donnell, Jordan Seavey, and Boo Killebrew, the gay-inclusive “seminar” culminates with moving second-person “how to” monologues about coming out, navigating heartbreak, and moving on.
Laurie Beechman Theatre, through February 16.
The Whipping Man
Matthew Lopez, a gay Puerto Rican playwright who resides in Brooklyn with his partner, doesn’t just write what he knows. Instead, he’s created a fascinating drama about a Jewish confederate soldier who celebrates Passover with two former slaves in their charred Virginia home at the Civil War’s end, likening the Egyptian exodus to their newfound freedom. A grisly leg-amputation scene alone begs for a Broadway transfer.
Manhattan Theatre Club - Stage I, through March 13.
The Road to Qatar!
After last year’s Yank!, the York Theatre Company stumbles with Stephen Cole and David Krane’s genial musical groaner based on their real-life Hope-and-Crosby-style road adventure as gay Jewish writers commissioned to create a musical spectacular for the Emir of Qatar. It’s a great story — think [title of show] meets Sex and the City 2 —and I’d love to hear every detail over drinks, but it makes for a hoary, amateurish show.
Theatre at St. Peter's, through February 27.
Gruesome Playground Injuries
In Nurse Jackie scribe Rajiv Joseph’s uniquely unsettling two-hander about a very unhealthy relationship, Dying City’s Pablo Schreiber and Dexter’s Jennifer Carpenter display great range as friends who measure their lives in stitches, scars, and hospital stints from ages 8 to 38. Eyes get burned, faces get split, and legs get sliced with box-cutters, but out director Scott Ellis bandages up all the unsightly pain with comforting grace.
Second Stage Theatre, through February 20.
The Flea’s young resident acting company, the Bats, are in top form, but the kids are not all right in Trista Baldwin's tense and disturbing play about four pot-smoking college kids camping at the Grand Canyon en route to Vegas. Satomi Blair and Nicky Schmidlein star as Lexi and Jessica, frenemies who mock-hump each other — and a blow-up doll — to titillate the guys, mask deep insecurities, and desperately indulge Lexi’s lesbian longing.
The Flea Theater Downstairs, through February 22.
Richard Skipper as Carol Channing in Concert
Backed by a lively three-piece band, celebrated cabaret star Richard Skipper reverently channels the Hello, Dolly! legend, beautifully crooning Channing classics — though the show could do with less of her 1967 novelty song “Widow’s Weeds” — and effortlessly ad-libbing with the audience as an expert on Channing’s career. Far from campy drag-show caricature, Skipper’s impersonation makes it easy to forget that he isn’t really her.
St. Luke's Theatre, open-ended.
Other Desert Cities
Lincoln Center’s slick, sophisticated dramedy by out Brothers & Sisters creator Jon Robin Baitz stars Elizabeth Marvel as a novelist readying to publish a memoir that details a shameful family secret. Out über-director Joe Mantello smoothes over familiar familial tropes like political dissonance with the strongest ensemble in town, led by Stockard Channing as the chilly matriarch and Linda Lavin as her quick-witted alcoholic sister.
Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater, through February 27.
Two years after doing Uncle Vanya, director Austin Pendleton reunites real-life couple Maggie Gyllenhaal and Peter Sarsgaard in this ebullient revival of Anton Chekhov's drama about a family — Jessica Hecht, who played lesbian Susan on Friends, shines as Olga the spinster school mistress — trapped in provincial Russian existences. But in Paul Schmidt’s vital translation, one expects these chicks might finally make it to Moscow.
Classic Stage Company, through March 6.
The New York Idea
Helmed by Mark Brokaw with a curiously reworked script by Proof’s David Auburn, Langdon Mitchell’s 1906 comedy about the impending marriage of two divorcees — scandalous! — and their meddlesome ex-spouses gets an attractive if uninspired revival by Atlantic Theater Company with Drop Dead Diva’s Jaime Ray Newman. Refreshingly, I was never sure which couple I was supposed to root for, but I also wasn’t sure I cared.
Lucille Lortel Theatre, through February 26.
Four stooges who look like peons from Mad Men — Mike Dobson, Danny Gardner, Joel Jeske, and Brent McBeth — make up quirky theater troupe Parallel Exit, who charmingly pay tribute to Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton in this slaphappy series of pantomimed sketches and darkly comic bits set in a random filing office. Some audience interaction halts this genial farce’s momentum, but a good game of musical chairs never hurt anyone.
59E59 Theaters, through February 6.
Blood from a Stone
Fitfully powerful yet ultimately unfocused and overlong, Tommy Nohilly’s promising debut stars Ethan Hawke as a pill-popping ex-Marine sucked back into a blue-collar Connecticut household that makes Roseanne look like Dynasty. Guided by New Group’s out artistic director Scott Elliott, the superlative cast includes But I’m a Cheerleader’s Natasha Lyonne and Rent’s Daphne Rubin-Vega, but the play favors realism over reward.
Acorn Theatre, through February 19.
What if Bernadette Peters covered “Worst Pies in London” as a torch song? With his twisted sense of humor and a cheap red wig, Cole Escola answered the query in his confident solo debut while his Jeffery & Cole Casserole costar is in Hollywood. Directed by Ben Rimalower, the gay Midas of Manhattan cabaret, Escola easily proved himself a wagon-unhitched star by regaling the crowd with drunken anecdotes and stripping to his undies.
Joe’s Pub, closed January 29.
The Walk Across America for Mother Earth
Taylor Mac dropped out of college at 18 to join a protest march from New York to a Nevada nuclear test site, and the spirited gender-fuck performance artist revisited this pilgrimage with a motley comic mediation on activist folly that included clowning caricatures of radical faeries, militant lesbians, and more. Unfortunately, Machine Dazzle’s ’90s club-kid costumes outshone the story, which soon meandered out of steam.
La MaMa’s Ellen Stewart Theatre, closed January 30.
Pants on Fire’s Metamorphoses
Winner of the Carol Tambor Best of Edinburgh Award, this ephemeral London import — adapted and directed by Peter Bramley with lovely original music by Lucy Egger — relocated Ovid’s epic tales of transformation to WWII Britain. Told with shabby chic stagecraft by a comely cast, the magically reimagined myths included that of Narcissus, here a matinee idol admired by gals and fellas, and stalked swimmer Hermaphroditus.
The Flea Theater, closed January 30.
A Small Fire
In this haunting literal metaphor — the third collaboration between out playwright Adam Bock and out director Trip Cullman — Michelle Pawk stunned as Emily, an earthy broad who loses four of her five senses before her daughter’s wedding. Victor Williams made an unexpected impact as Billy, a gay African-American construction manager in Emily’s construction firm, who races pigeons and laments the AIDS-related death of his partner.
Playwrights Horizons, closed January 30.
Jomama Jones: Radiate
If I hadn’t known she was actually the drag creation of performance artist Daniel Alexander Jones — credited in the program as “Jomama’s cousin” — I might’ve believed that Jomama Jones truly was an ’80s soul diva launching a comeback after years of self-imposed European exile. Though better suited to an intimate cabaret, Jomama’s jazzy grooves and spiritual-sassy banter were as tasty as her backup singers, the Sweet Peaches.
Soho Rep, closed January 15.
Out director Travis Chamberlain fearlessly staged the New York premiere of Tennessee Williams’s explosive 1970 one-act in a hotel room, transforming the intimate 14-seat space into a N’Awlins honeymoon hovel. Adam Couperthwaite and Erin Markey played with fire as a shell-shocked soldier and his combatively lascivious wife — a comment on heterosexual deviance as Williams came out publicly — and the audience felt the heat.
Hudson Hotel, closed January 30.