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Photo: Norman Blake

OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: Jack and the Beanstalk

December 11, 2017:

America has an acute case of Anglophilia, but it’s a highly selective one. We love “Downton Abbey,” Shakespeare and John Oliver but studiously ignore prawn-cocktail-flavored crisps, Cliff Richard and pantomime. The new Off Broadway show “Jack and the Beanstalk,” presented at the Abrons Arts Center, may help rectify the situation regarding panto, a vaudeville-derived, proudly lowbrow genre that happily endorses an anything-goes approach.

In Britain, pantos are beloved Christmas staples delighting children and adults alike thanks to a cartoonish mix of slapstick, drag, clowning, recycled pop songs, groan-inducing puns and active audience participation; suggestive double entendres are also included for the parents’ benefit.

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: Glass Guignol

December 11, 2017:

Blow out your candles, Laura. And close your eyes. You might not want to see this.

“Glass Guignol: The Brother and Sister Play” sutures together several of Tennessee Williams’s dramas, using his relationship with his sister, Rose Williams, as the thread. The first production at Mabou Mines’ purpose-built theater in the East Village, it is a Southern Gothic creation, minus the Southern — part literary exegesis, part horror show, part psychotherapy session. With gorillas.

In childhood, Tennessee and Rose enjoyed what their mother called a “wild intimacy,” but the bond frayed in adolescence as Rose’s behavior grew more erratic. After she threatened to kill her father, she was committed to a mental institution where she received a diagnosis of schizophrenia and later underwent, to Tennessee’s enduring guilt, a bilateral prefrontal lobotomy.

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: Today Is My Birthday

December 10, 2017: Like sadomasochists, playwrights sometimes seek freedom through peculiar restraints. Beckett’s experiments in deprivation — his monodrama “Not I” stars a pair of lips — explore how much can be removed from the theatrical experience and still leave theater. Other recent one-arm-tied challenges have included epistolary plays, plays performed in darkness and plays spoken in invented languages. Bess Wohl’s marvelous “Small Mouth Sounds” is set at a silent retreat. The charming dramedy “Today Is My Birthday,” which opened on Thursday evening in a Page 73 production, gives this tradition a contemporary twist. As Susan Soon He Stanton explains at the start of her script, the play “entirely takes place on the telephone, live radio, voice message, and intercom.” (Butt dials and accidental FaceTime calls also figure in.) As a result, no characters are ever in the same location as the protagonist, Emily, a 29-year-old Columbia J-school graduate who has returned to her native Hawaii having “failed in every single way” at life in New York.

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: Home

December 7, 2017: Geoff Sobelle knows where you dream. Even more unsettlingly, he knows that territory you inhabit on the edge of dreams — when you’re suddenly half-awake in the middle of the night and aren’t sure where you are. You’re home, right? Or so you try to reassure yourself, as you squint to make out familiar objects in the dark. But which of the many homes and way stations you’ve slept in is this one? Before your real location has come into focus, you’ve taken mental inventory of a whole succession of beds, occupied by different versions of you, at different ages, perhaps in combination with different partners.

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Show REVIEW: A Room in India

December 6, 2017:

Funny how four hours doesn’t feel so long when you are given the whole world in exchange.

And that’s what’s on offer in the Théâtre du Soleil’s boundary-busting production of “A Room in India,” which opened Tuesday night at the Park Avenue Armory: The whole awful, silly, disturbing, mystifying, contradictory world in one sitting.

Perhaps that bounty is to be expected from a theater collective whose 100 members, representing 26 nationalities, each get a say in the proceedings (and identical portions of meals at their Paris base). And yet even in comparison with other Soleil productions — including “Les Éphémères,” which appeared at the Amory in 2009 — there is something especially anarchic and encompassing about “A Room in India.” It sometimes feels like watching a chicken dance with its head cut off.

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