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Photo: Todd Heisler

BROADWAY REVIEW: Love Letters

Love Letters

September 18, 2014: The dying art of putting pen to paper to exchange news is being celebrated on Broadway this fall. Love Letters, A. R. Gurney’s durable epistolary play, in which two actors sit on comfortable chairs onstage and read from the lifelong correspondence between a man and a woman from the East Coast upper crust, has made it to the big time, commercially speaking. A rotating cast of stars, beginning with Brian Dennehy and Mia Farrow, will be taking the stage of the Brooks Atkinson Theater, where the production opened Thursday night under the expert direction of Gregory Mosher, to remind us that before emails and texts, before emoticons and emojis and Facebook and Instagram, people communicated their fondest hopes, their casual observations and their lame jokes on paper, with pen or pencil or perhaps a typewriter, and then stuffed the results into quaint things called mailboxes.

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: Rock Bottom

Rock Bottom

September 18, 2014: You’ve heard it before. Maybe you’ve said it before. New York is so over. It’s just a big shopping mall for the hyper-rich. Luxury apartment towers are sprouting like crystalline fungi all over the formerly funky East Village. A vibrant street culture has given way to wall-to-wall carpeting by Duane Reade and Citibank and Starbucks. As a bracing antidote to this prevailing attitude, check out the raw and riotous new Bridget Everett show, Rock Bottom, a Public Theater production that opened at Joe’s Pub on Wednesday night in a blast of brash vulgarity and true rock ’n’ roll transgression. Who says the city no longer produces artists who challenge, provoke and even, on occasion, dare to disgust? Ms. Everett, a downtown cult figure, has a big voice, a big body and a mighty capacity for testing boundaries — both her own and the audience’s. Now she’s hitched herself to some more uptown folk: the songwriters Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, whose credits include Hairspray and the backstage-on-Broadway television series Smash.

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: To The Bone

To The Bone

September 17, 2014: Olga, Reina and Juana spend their days in an upstate factory, knifing breasts from chicken carcasses. At night they eat and pray and take Motrin to soothe their aching arms, still wearing layers of sweaters. After the factory’s chill, they can’t get warm. It’s difficult and sometimes dangerous work, disgusting too, but as Lisa Ramirez’s To the Bone at the Cherry Lane Theater suggests, these immigrant women have little choice. When Olga (Ms. Ramirez), a legal resident, suggests that they defend their rights, Reina (Annie Henk) dismisses her. “Not all of us are as lucky as you,” she says. “It’s easy to say no when you have a green card.” As part of this year’s Theater: Village festival, Ms. Ramirez has created a play about women hoping for a better life, but too cowed to ask for even a morning bathroom break. A distaff answer to Elizabeth Irwin’s My Mañana Comes, which centers on busboys and finishes its run at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater on Saturday, To The Bone explores the toll low-wage work exacts from the spirit. The play observes how this houseful of women — which includes Olga’s daughter, Lupe, and Reina’s niece Carmen — support and betray, protect and harm one another.

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: Ndebele Funeral

Ndebele Funeral

September 17, 2014: Daweti (Zoey Martinson), a former university intellectual moldering in a Soweto shack, takes an unusual approach to home décor. She calls the dirt and trash littering her floor essential elements of feng shui, and used some government-supplied wood to build a coffin. “I deserve a good coffin while I’m dying,” she tells her friend Thabo (Yusef Miller). “You deserve a good roof while you’re living,” he urges her. But Daweti, with AIDS but refusing medication, has given up on life. Ms. Martinson’s vigorous and disturbing Ndebele Funeral, at 59E59 Theaters, presents a grim portrait of contemporary South Africa, a place of false hopes and bleak realities. Neither Daweti, once a hotshot debater, nor Thabo, who hoped to become a writer, nor even the clerk from the Department of Housing (Jonathan David Martin), are living lives anything like those they’ve dreamed. Indeed, dreams are the only solace Daweti finds.

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: The Fatal Weakness

The Fatal Weakness

September 16, 2014: Sometimes a play is more interesting in the future than in its own time. The Fatal Weakness, a domestic comedy with a drama at its core, was apparently unloved in its day; its 1946 Broadway premiere ran for only 119 performances despite having Ina Claire, a prominent stage actress, in the lead role. But here in 2014, the Mint Theater Company is making this George Kelly work an amusing, affecting reminder that the institution of marriage has been under siege for much longer than we tend to think. Kristin Griffith channels Katharine Hepburn as she brings to life the skittish central character, Ollie Espenshade. Ollie is a bundle of upper-middle-class nerves in a daffy opening scene in which she and a confidante, Mabel (Cynthia Darlow), review the evidence that Ollie’s affable husband, Paul (Cliff Bemis), might be having an affair. Today Ollie would fit into any reality TV show with “Housewives” in the title. The couple’s daughter, Penny (Victoria Mack), might be the creator of another breed of reality show, the kind that exploits alternate forms of courtship (Naked Dating) and couplehood (Sister Wives). With marital issues of her own, Penny spouts unorthodox theories on love, marriage and child-rearing that remind us the questioning of male-female dynamics did not begin in our time or even with Gloria Steinem.

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: Solitary Light

Solitary Light

September 16, 2014: You might think an hourlong musical is an inadequate vehicle for capturing the Triangle garment factory fire of 1911, a horrifying and shameful episode in American history involving the deaths of 146 garment workers, most of them female immigrants. And you might be right. But Randy Sharp’s Solitary Light, playing at Axis Theater as part of the Theater: Village festival, offers inadequate evidence either way: though ostensibly focused on the devastating conflagration that helped galvanize the labor movement, this production is, in actuality, only vaguely moored to that event. And that’s fine, I suppose. Truth in advertising only gets you so far in the arts. But what exactly is Solitary Light about? A difficult question to answer, but here are some elements: lots of singing about light and love and flying away, and lots of bodies roving about a relentlessly underlit stage, muttering intensely to themselves like the people you avoid in the subway. Talk of fireflies, beautiful girls and the romance of the big city at night.

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