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Photo: Carol Rosegg

OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: Sense of an Ending

Sense of an Ending

August 26, 2015: “All I want is the truth.” That’s what Charles (Joshua David Robinson), a discredited New York Times reporter, tells a potential source. “You have come to the wrong place,” the interviewee says. That place is Kigali, Rwanda, and the time is 1999, five years after the genocide that left approximately 800,000 dead. In Ken Urban’s “Sense of an Ending” (not related to the Julian Barnes novel), Charles, a black journalist dogged by a plagiarism scandal, has arrived to speak with two nuns set to stand trial for crimes against humanity. Sister Justina (Heather Alicia Simms) and Sister Alice (Dana Marie Ingraham) claim to have been sent away from their church well before Hutu mercenaries set upon dozens of Tutsis seeking sanctuary there. But Belgian prosecutors argue that they were present and perhaps complicit in these deaths. While Charles at first sympathizes with the nuns, particularly the girlish Sister Alice, he begins to doubt their story.

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: Hamlet

Hamlet

August 25, 2015: He is, he complains sulkily, “too much in the sun.” That is correct on so many levels. When the title character of “Hamlet” offers this self-diagnosis early in the highly pictorial production that opened on Tuesday night at the Barbican here, the image matches the word. For the Prince of Denmark is at that moment standing at the exact center of a lavishly appointed banquet table. And while it is presumably nighttime, the sun’s rays seem to have followed him there, and haloed him. It’s not just that he’s the only one wearing black, or scowling, that sets this guy apart. He is cocooned in his own special (and literal) radiance, the celestial equivalent of a spotlight devised by the lighting designer Jane Cox. He looks, for all the world, like a saint in an old-master painting, embracing both martyrdom and apotheosis. Well, what better way to frame an actor whose appearance in Shakespeare’s best-known tragedy has turned the Barbican into an international shrine? That actor, of course, is Benedict Cumberbatch, star of stage, screen and “Sherlock,” and the object of a vast, worshipful cult whose raison d’être I have never quite fathomed. (I think you might have to be female to fully understand.)

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: FringeNYC

FringeNYC2

August 25, 2015: The tall young man in the baseball cap was upwind of me, which should have made me cautious, but my attention was a bit divided. It was Monday night and I was at a play, part of the New York International Fringe Festival. I was also standing at a railing on the Staten Island Ferry as it churned toward Manhattan, and the actor Tom Nelis was speaking into my ear. In his soothing, mesmerizing voice, he encouraged me to be present, so I took in the scene: the hazy moon, the glittering water, my fellow passenger leaning over the side of the boat to — oh, ick — let loose a gloppy wad of spit straight down into the waves. Except for a drop of saliva the breeze caught. That landed, wetly, on my lower lip. It was, for me, the unscripted low point of “Ferry Play,” a spirited, meditative audio performance conceived and directed by Erin B. Mee, with text by Jessie Bear. You bring the recording with you, on an app on your phone, listening to the first act on the way to Staten Island, the second on the return. You are instructed to regard each person on the ferry as an actor in the play. The good news: Spitting Guy probably won’t be on your boat.

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: Love & Money

Love & Money

August 24, 2015: The money is vividly apparent as soon as the lights go up on “Love & Money,” the slender new play by A. R. Gurney that opened at the Pershing Square Signature Center on Monday. The sumptuous but tasteful set, by Michael Yeargan, depicts the parlor floor of a brownstone on the Upper East Side, stocked with expensive-looking furniture, paintings and books. And one expensive-looking person, Cornelia Cunningham (Maureen Anderman), who owns the townhouse and all those mouthwatering goodies. After you’ve sighed at the glory of it all, or perhaps clucked disapprovingly at the luxurious manner in which the elites live, you may notice that many of the furnishings have colored tags dangling from them. Although she has not been motivated by the clutter-go-away movement, Cornelia is preparing to divest herself of her handsome possessions, and indeed her entire, sizable estate. If you were one of the cluckers, you might be surprised to learn that Cornelia supports your team. When Harvey Abel (Joe Paulik), her new young estate lawyer, arrives to discuss the dispersal of her fortune, she tells him she’s in the process of “making amends.” In her view, she has “committed the major crime of having too much money,” and is firing off checks to worthy charities — Amnesty International, the International Rescue Committee — because her manner of wealth “becomes a crime when millions of people elsewhere in the world have hardly a plug nickel.”

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: Drop Dead Perfect

Drop Dead Perfect

August 24, 2015: In a sweet 1950s peach crocheted dress and matching bolero, Everett Quinton has never looked lovelier. As Idris Seabright, a lonely and overwrought spinster growing old in the Florida Keys, he laments a storm’s having wreaked “havoc on my African hibiscus — and my poor bougainvillea,” hitting each syllable with that posh Eastern accent that 1930s actresses favored. When a chord of ominous movie music plays, Idris strikes a terrified pose, and we could easily be downtown at the Ridiculous Theatrical Company, where Mr. Quinton and Charles Ludlam starred in the original “The Mystery of Irma Vep” 30 years ago. Mr. Quinton is a genius. It is absolute rapture to see him in his element in “Drop Dead Perfect,” a Peccadillo Theater Company production at the Theater at St. Clement’s that began at Penguin Rep in Rockland County, N.Y.

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: Pericles

Pericles

August 21, 2015: Even among the beleaguered heroes and heroines of Shakespeare’s late romances, the title character of “Pericles” stands out for the weight of strange misfortunes that chase him around the Mediterranean, and more than once dump him in it when the ships he’s traveling aboard founder. (A favorite stage direction: “Enter Pericles, wet.”) He’s forced to flee his home country, Tyre, after he divines the secret of the temperamental ruler of Antioch — namely that he has been sleeping with his own daughter — and fears violent retribution. Later blows include the deaths of his wife and his daughter, although this being a romance, those disasters ultimately prove to be illusions. In a new production of the play at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, directed by Joseph Haj, Pericles’ trials are given a glossy sheen that soothes the impact of his reversals — for us, at least, if not for him. Mr. Haj, recently appointed the artistic director of the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, stages this tumultuous play on a clean-lined, simple set by Jan Chambers, featuring tiers of stone cut in contrasting shapes that suggest waves lapping at a shore, or maybe the sharp jabs of fate that Pericles faces. (The production will travel to the Folger Theater in Washington and the Guthrie.)

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: Mercury Fur

Mercury Fur

August 19, 2015: Even those who binge on apocalyptic splatter movies are going to be rattled by “Mercury Fur,” Philip Ridley’s pitch-dark portrait of the day after tomorrow in the big city. Granted, this blistering production from the New Group, which opened on Wednesday night at the Pershing Square Signature Center, doesn’t have the big-screen special effects associated with cinematic gore fests about the end of the world. So, no, there are no exploding heads or melting cars, no meteoric balls of fire or giant mutants devouring human beings like candy. Mr. Ridley is working on the relatively small canvas of a derelict living room in an abandoned apartment. Yet he still manages to provide searing panoramic views of a blasted landscape overrun by monsters. I mean monsters like you and me — vulnerable human beings whom you might, under other circumstances, want to take into your arms and cuddle protectively. “Mercury Fur” has been unsettling people since it was first staged in Britain in 2005 (with a young Ben Whishaw in the cast), when it divided critics and theatergoers with a vehemence that brought to mind the appalled reception to “Blasted,” Sarah Kane’s 1995 account of a British city under siege. In The Telegraph, Charles Spencer described “Mercury Fur” as the work of a writer “turned on by his own sick fantasies,” and Mr. Ridley’s publisher, Faber & Faber, declined to publish the text.

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: Informed Consent

Informed Consent

August 18, 2015: In “Informed Consent,” a thoughtful and engrossing play by Deborah Zoe Laufer, a research scientist specializing in genetic diseases finds herself embroiled in controversy when her fierce dedication to her work, and her deeply personal reasons for pursuing it, lead her into murky ethical waters. Jillian, played with take-no-prisoners intensity by Tina Benko, is a genetic anthropologist whom we first meet in a rare moment of repose. She’s writing a letter to Natalie, who we soon learn is her young daughter. Trying to cast what she has to say in child-friendly terms, she begins on a storybook note: “Once upon a time ... There was a mother. Who had a monster sleeping inside her.” Realizing that this is perhaps a little too scary, she discards the idea and, at the urging of voices inside her head, tries a softer approach. (The voices are provided by the rest of the play’s cast of five.) “There was a mother who loved her little girl so much,” she writes, “that she would do anything to save her.”

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