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Photo: Sara Krulwich

OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: The Boy Who Danced On Air

May 25, 2017:

Given enough intellectual muscle, any outré story can probably be pounded into a musical. For evidence, look no further than “Sweeney Todd,” “Fun Home” and “Hamilton,” three great shows of forbiddingly unlikely origin.

But the authors of “The Boy Who Danced on Air” have taken the challenge of difficult source material too far. Their troubling new musical, which opened Thursday in an Abingdon Theater Company production, was inspired by “The Dancing Boys of Afghanistan,” a 2010 documentary about, well, pedophilia.

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: Building The Wall

May 24, 2017:

How long should it take to write a political play? I don’t mean to ask how speedily it should be written — though if I did, Robert Schenkkan’s “Building the Wall” would surely win a prize. It was drafted, Mr. Schenkkan told The New York Times, in a weeklong “white-hot fury” after the election of President Trump in November, and has already been produced, or will be imminently, at theaters around the country. Here in New York, it opened on Wednesday at New World Stages, where I found it to be slick and dispiriting.

But put that aside for a moment. What I really mean to ask is how long it takes for a specific political situation to become ripe for dramatization. Eager critics, and audiences, too, now seem to be asking for a turnaround that all but prohibits introspection. Yet without introspection, how valuable is the result? It is a very rare political work that speaks directly to its time from its time, and also deeply and lastingly. “The Normal Heart” and “Angels in America” come to mind.

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: Can You Forgive Her?

May 23, 2017:

Feisty women trying to jump class are so 19th century; I’m looking at you, Jane Eyre. And so 20th century, too: Have you met Sister Carrie?

For the playwright Gina Gionfriddo, such characters are all too 21st century as well. Many of her plays, including the Pulitzer Prize finalists “Becky Shaw” and “Rapture, Blister, Burn,” feature heroines trying to escape the social immobility that locks them into dreary lives. In the smart but awkward “Can You Forgive Her?,” which opened on Tuesday at the Vineyard Theater, she introduces us to two such women, Tanya and Miranda, each using tools largely unavailable to Jane and Carrie to dislodge herself from the financial permafrost.

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: Hamlet (Waterwell)

May 22, 2017:

As if the poor guy weren’t conflicted enough, Hamlet has taken on an extra burden of ambivalence in the new Waterwell production of the play that bears his name. In addition to worrying about all the usual melancholy Dane stuff — whether to be or not to be, act or not to act, help or hurt his mom — he is now torn (to pieces) between cultural identities.

For this scrupulously reworked version of Shakespeare’s best-known tragedy, which opened on Sunday at the Sheen Center for Thought & Culture, the Prince of Denmark has become the Prince of Persia. Not that any proper names have been changed in Tom Ridgely’s streamlined production, which stars Arian Moayed (excellent in “The Humans” and a Tony nominee for “Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo”) and features the familiar Broadway faces of Sherie Rene Scott (as Gertrude) and Micah Stock (as Horatio).

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: Iphigenia in Splott

May 17, 2017:

Effie, the human firestorm raging through Gary Owen’s “Iphigenia in Splott,” at 59E59 Theaters, knows that if you saw her coming down the sidewalk, you would probably cross the street. A part of her resents this. But she also savors it; your discomfort confirms her strength.

You aren’t wrong to be afraid of Effie, the only character in this production from the Sherman Theater of Cardiff, Wales. As embodied by the dynamic young actress Sophie Melville, she combines incinerating contempt with the fierce, resilient hedonism that belongs to young adults for whom the day begins when the bars and the dance clubs open.

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: Venus

May 15, 2017:

Attention, please, those of you whose greatest ambition is to acquire the traffic-stopping body of Kim Kardashian. There is a less drastic alternative to costly and dangerous buttocks implants.

To wit: the fulsomely padded body stocking that is being modeled with flair and poignancy by Zainab Jah in the title role of Suzan-Lori Parks’s “Venus,” which opened in a patchy revival on Monday night at the Pershing Square Signature Center. It’s doubtful as to how comfortable such a stocking is as 24-hour wear. But it has the great advantage of not being permanent.

Ms. Jah is portraying a once-famous figure whose form was her fortune — and her ruin. That’s Saartjie (or Sarah) Baartman, a South African-born woman celebrated and reviled in early-19th-century Europe as Venus Hottentot, presented as a sideshow novelty guaranteed to “dazzle, surprise, intrigue, horrify and disgust.”

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