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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: Animal Wisdom

October 13, 2017:

We who are gathered here tonight in an unconsecrated theater in Brooklyn have been asked to join in a holy invocation, beginning with “Oh, Lord,” as we raise cups filled with – not communion wine – but sacred Coca-Cola. Of course, if our faiths lean in other directions, we are told, we may substitute “Oh, goddess,” “Oh, goodness” or, if we believe in nothing, “O.K.”

This being hipsterfied Brooklyn, land of urban lumberjacks and secular beards, the “O.K.’s” dominate this particular call-and-response. Even agnostics, though, may find themselves almost believing in the spirits, holy and otherwise, who possess “Animal Wisdom,” Heather Christian’s truly one-of-a-kind opus at the Bushwick Starr through Nov. 4.

Ms. Christian, a singer and composer of blazing creative ambition, has set out to create nothing less than a bona fide, full-scale requiem for the dead in all our lives. Filling the roles of barefoot evangelist, séance leader, pianist, vocalist and stand-up memoirist, this willowy reed of a performer lends new credence to the term charismatic Christianity.

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: Richard III

October 12, 2017:

An unhinged nation gets the unhinged leader it deserves.

This nasty but tidy political equation pulses in every molecule of Thomas Ostermeier’s stunning production of Shakespeare’s “Richard III,” which runs through Saturday as part of the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Next Wave Festival. As dark jokes go, that one may not be your first choice as the basis for an evening’s entertainment, given the ways of the world these days.

But this production from Schaubühne Berlin, which fills the Harvey Theater with the pervasiveness of a slimy fog, could provide just the catharsis you need right now. After all, it’s the month of Halloween, when people find release in celebrating what scares them, laughing and shrieking in one breath.

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: Measure For Measure

October 10, 2017: In recent years, Elevator Repair Service has achieved the unexpected distinction of being the troupe that a discerning theatergoer would most like to read a book with. In its stage adaptations of classic American literature, this endlessly exploratory company has plied theatrical inventiveness to simulate the Every Reader experience of falling into — and in love with — a self-contained universe of words. The company’s interpretations of Faulkner’s “The Sound and the Fury,” Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises” and, above all, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby” — rendered in “Gatz” as a word-for-word, six-hour marathon — seemed to pulse dynamically in that fecund space between the written narrative and a reader’s imagination. So there was every reason to rejoice in the prospect of this company finally venturing into the land of William Shakespeare, where words have the quicksilver shimmer of thought itself. Yet its frantic interpretation of Shakespeare’s “Measure for Measure,” which opened on Tuesday night at the Public Theater, calls to mind Hamlet’s immortally jaded literary critique: “Words, words, words.”

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