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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: 4:48 Psychosis

4:48 Psychosis

October 20, 2014: The basic strategy is as simple as it is devastating: Go ahead, open up that sealed room; let some light into the darkness. Then watch helplessly as the darkness devours the light. That’s the operating theory behind the TR Warszawa company’s stunning reinvention of 4:48 Psychosis, Sarah Kane’s sustained suicide note of a play, which opened on Sunday night at St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn. As adapted and directed by Grzegorz Jarzyna, this Polish-language (and language-transcending) production ropes its audience into unconditional engagement with a baleful, private spectacle of self-destruction. “See me,” says its unnamed heroine, fully and unflinchingly embodied by the brilliant Magdalena Cielecka. “Touch me.” The words are a taunt, since she is so far beyond our reach. The final work from Kane, a prodigiously gifted British dramatist who hanged herself in 1999 at the age of 28, 4:48 Psychosis would have seemed to be all but unstageable. It is written in fragments, in phrases of disgust and despair and recrimination, annotated with specific dosage numbers for prescription drugs used to treat depression.

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: Billy & Ray

Billy & Ray

October 20, 2014: Any given five minutes of the classic film noir Double Indemnity — I am tempted to say any single frame of the classic film noir Double Indemnity — packs more heat than the torpid two hours of Billy & Ray, a play by Mike Bencivenga about the combative collaboration between Billy Wilder and Raymond Chandler on the movie’s screenplay. Mr. Bencivenga’s slumberous drama, which opened at the Vineyard Theater on Monday night in a stolid production directed by the television veteran Garry Marshall, mostly takes place in the tony Paramount offices of Wilder, played by the Mad Men star Vincent Kartheiser. By this point, Wilder was an established writer-director who had just had a professional breakup with his favored screenwriting partner, Charles Brackett. (Noises suggesting their tumultuous parting are heard before the lights go up on Charlie Corcoran’s sleek set. The reason for their divorce has something to do with Wilder’s itch to film a certain pitch-black James M. Cain novel, which Brackett considered insufficiently uplifting. This is bad news for the producer Joe Sistrom (Drew Gehling), who paid a pile of Paramount’s money to option the book. But the pugnacious Wilder refuses to give in. “It’s time the movies grew up,” he scoffs. Scorning the stable of writers at the studio, he insists on finding the right guy for the material.

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: The Belle of Amherst

The Belle of Amherst

October 19, 2014: Emily Dickinson, that famously welcoming New England hostess of the 19th century, has thrown open her parlor doors to all comers at the Westside Theater, where a new production of William Luce’s biographical play The Belle of Amherst, starring Joely Richardson and directed by Steve Cosson, opened on Sunday night. Please note the sarcasm in that sentence. Although the posthumous publication of her extraordinary poetry made Dickinson a celebrated literary figure, during her lifetime, she was known in her hometown primarily for a reclusiveness bordering on pathology. The notion that she would confide her life story and her most deeply felt poems — or even her recipes for cake and gingerbread — to a couple of hundred strangers a night renders Mr. Luce’s play almost nonsensical from the get-go. Well, never mind. Mr. Luce dispenses with the anomalous conceit by having Dickinson announce in the opening moments: “Forgive me if I’m frightened. I never see strangers.” In any case, Dickinson idolizers are presumably not the target audience for this fluidly written solo play, which served as a durable vehicle for Julie Harris when it was first produced on Broadway in 1976.

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: Lippy

Lippy

October 19, 2014: Oh, for the comfort of a corpse that yields its secrets. That’s the premise and promise behind many a television crime series, in which forensic science quantifies irrational human savagery into rational codes that seem as readable as ABC (or N.C.I.S., or S.V.U.). Nary a scrap of alphabetical reassurance is on offer in Lippy, a very smart, very chilly play out of Ireland centered on four dead bodies that refuse to tell their tales. This production from the Dublin-based Dead Centre company, which runs through Nov. 2 at the Abrons Arts Center, is the antithesis of the classic detective story and its satisfying solutions. The clouds of mystery never part in this multilayered, multiform examination of the 2000 real-life suicide pact of three sisters and their aunt, who appear to have died by voluntary starvation in the house they shared in a small Irish town. If anything, the fog of confusion just keeps thickening, taunting our ultimate lack of insight into the lives of others. Sometimes, of course, there’s a cheap thrill in not knowing the answers to lurid mysteries. That’s why David Lynch’s Twin Peaks (soon to be disinterred for a sequel) was such a titillating anomaly for its first season.

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: Labyrinth

Labyrinth

October 17, 2014: What’s in the center of Mark Dendy’s Labyrinth? Maybe it’s the man dressed as a mechanical bull. Maybe it’s the “dea ex machina” in the see-through raincoat? Maybe it’s Mr. Dendy himself, sorting through decades of anxiety and injury. Mr. Dendy, 53, a Broadway choreographer who also creates and performs original work, structures this autobiographical piece around the myth of Theseus. This Theseus, played by Mr. Dendy, is on his way to create a new dance for the Rockettes when he has a psychotic break in the middle of Times Square. This seems like a sensible response to so many flashing lights and furry characters, but Theseus winds up on the psych ward, trying to navigate the labyrinth of his own whirling mind. Staged in the Abrons Arts Center’s grim underground theater (maybe Daedalus could do an upgrade?), Labyrinth combines Mr. Dendy’s confessional speeches with dance, video and Heather Christian’s feisty and imaginative songs. A dead transgender sex worker, Princess Pawnie Ariadne (also played by Mr. Dendy), shows up as a coke-addled spirit guide, but the real animating forces are Carl Jung, Joseph Campbell and the kind of performance work Mr. Dendy first encountered in the East Village 30 years ago. “Telling personal stories and dancing about them in public is so ’80s,” Stephen Donovan sneers, as Theseus’ shadow self.

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: Lennon: Through a Glass Onion

Lennon: Through a Glass Onion

October 17, 2014: Even after Broadway’s “Beatlemania” and the Fab Faux, it still takes some moxie to tackle a stage portrait of a giant like John Lennon. John R. Waters, in Lennon: Through a Glass Onion, wisely doesn’t attempt a complete impersonation. There are no glasses or beard or mop top here, just an evocative approximation of the voice and a deeply felt reflection of the man. The stage is occupied only by a piano (Stewart D’Arrietta accompanies Mr. Waters) and a mike stand. The gray-haired Mr. Waters, in black pants, T-shirt and leather jacket, steps up and describes the New York winter of 1980 and a guy waiting five hours across the street from the Dakota. The lights go dark, five shots are heard, and Mr. Waters, sometimes accompanying himself on guitar, begins a loose account of the singer’s life in the first person. Well-trod Beatle lore is addressed, including the rivalry with Paul McCartney; the visit to the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi; the breakup; and the resentment of Yoko Ono (“British Anglo-Saxon racism — that’s what it was”).

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BROADWAY REVIEW: On The Town

On The Town

October 16, 2014: And now, a show about sex that you can take the whole family to: the kids, the grandparents, even your sister the nun. That idea may sound kind of creepy, or (worse) dreary. But I assure you that the jubilant revival of On the Town, which opened Thursday night at the Lyric Theater, is anything but. On the contrary, this merry mating dance of a musical feels as fresh as first sunlight as it considers the urgent quest of three sailors to find girls and get, uh, lucky before their 24-hour shore leave is over. If there’s a leer hovering over On the Town, a seemingly limp 1944 artifact coaxed into pulsing new life by the director John Rando and the choreographer Joshua Bergasse, it’s the leer of an angel. The best-known song from this show — which has music by Leonard Bernstein, with book and lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green — describes its setting as “a helluva town.” But the town in question — “New York, New York,” if you didn’t know — feels closer to heaven here.

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