October 18, 2016: Given how the objectification and exploitation of women has become an ugly but central topic in the presidential campaign — I trust I don’t need to remind you of any details — “Sell/Buy/Date,” the newest show from the gifted writer and performer Sarah Jones, seems eerily timely. In this absorbing solo show, a Manhattan Theater Club production that opened on Tuesday at City Center, Ms. Jones peers into the future to explore how a sociology professor examines the lives of sex workers in the first decades of the 21st century. More broadly, the show also discusses how women of our era are conditioned to conceive of themselves — or how others conceive of them — as sexual beings.




October 12, 2016: A vintage video game opens a portal into a fractured family’s past in “The Dudleys!,” a meandering, quirky comedy-drama by Leegrid Stevens presented by the Loading Dock Theater. In one corner of the set at HERE Arts Center is squeezed a facsimile of a typical teenager’s bedroom, complete with an old-style tube television and a game console. As the play begins, a character referred to only as the Gamer enters and fires up the controls. Or rather is ordered to by the zombielike figure who stumbles onstage: Dead Tom (Joe Burby), who we will soon learn is the Dudley clan’s father. He’s now, as his nickname suggests, dead, but somehow still able to manipulate his family from beyond the grave. Soon scenes from the family’s past are springing to life in the center of the stage, mostly a blank space against the back wall on which elaborate video projections race by. The chronology is rather fuzzy, but much of the play takes place in the immediate aftermath of Tom’s death. He is survived by his wife, Clara (Erin Treadway), who chirpily discusses over dinner who will pick up his ashes. She’s working today — and, oh, she’s decided to convert from the family’s Mormon religion to Judaism. “I have found that I really like the people,” she explains. “They’re good thinkers.”




October 9, 2016: Though Dante cataloged many forms of diabolical torture in his “Inferno,” a guided tour of hell, he somehow missed out on what could well be the most excruciating eternal punishment of all. I mean (ominous organ chords, please) the staff meeting that never, ever ends. You’ve surely been a part of such sessions. They’re those gatherings in which people waste time by talking about how to be more productive, with algebraic visual aids and a corporate jargon of uplift that turns sensitive souls suicidal. Still, it is a fundamental law of art and entertainment that other people’s discomfort can make for deeply satisfying comedy. The meeting from hell has been deliciously dissected on television satires like “The Office” and “W1A,” BBC Two’s blissful fictional portrait of life at the BBC. Now “Miles for Mary,” which opened on Saturday night at the Bushwick Starr in Brooklyn, asserts its claim to belong among such painfully pleasurable company.




October 5, 2016: For the women in Horton Foote’s “The Roads to Home,” which opened on Wednesday night at the Cherry Lane Theater, talking is close kin to breathing, and almost as essential to their survival. The three female characters in this plaintive, meandering trilogy of short plays are all displaced persons of a sort, uprooted from the Texas or Louisiana towns where they grew up and where they still live in their thoughts. If they can just keep chattering about events that took place there, even things that happened before they were born — why, then, they’ve never really left, have they? Reheated gossip — replete with animated genealogy charts and catalogs of place names — is their lifeline, while silences are scary vacuums. Home, it would seem, is where the tongue wags. Gabbiness as an existential force is as central to the genteel Southerners of Foote (1916-2009), one of the great American chroniclers of small-town angst, as it is to David Mamet’s foulmouthed urbanites. Directed by Michael Wilson and featuring the wonderful Hallie Foote, the playwright’s daughter, the Primary Stages production of “The Roads to Home” offers as clear a portrait as you’re likely to find of the significance of loquacity in Foote’s world.




October 2, 2016: Important public service announcement: There are no scary clowns in the latest show from Cirque du Soleil, “Kurios,” which is being staged in a grand, old-school big top on Randalls Island. Absence of delightful or, depending on your particular phobias, alarming fellows in whiteface wandering around notwithstanding, the company does essentially go back to basics for its latest show. Of course, for this French Canadian entertainment behemoth — this production is its 35th since 1984 — the basics are elaborate: a dazzling parade of acrobats and gymnasts, jelly-limbed contortionists, singers warbling in indecipherable tongues and sets that swamp those of most Broadway shows. But lately Cirque du Soleil has tried its hand, off and on, at narrative material, notably the current Broadway production “Paramour,” a more or less traditional musical spliced with circus-style entertainments. (I didn’t feel the love.)


OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: All the Ways to Say I Love You


September 28, 2016: When a subway rumbles under the Lucille Lortel Theater these days, audiences assembled there for Neil LaBute’s “All the Ways to Say I Love You” may assume that it’s just Judith Light’s thundering pulse. Portraying a schoolteacher with a secret (or rather, A Secret) in a self-flagellating monologue that could have been written only by Mr. LaBute, she gives palpable force to a buried guilt that keeps clawing its way to the light, like some prematurely entombed figure out of Edgar Allan Poe. Her performance in this MCC production, which opened on Wednesday night under the assured direction of Leigh Silverman, is a model of modulated transparency. It’s an artful “now you see her, now you don’t” presentation of character that almost makes you believe that the story being told on stage may wind up surprising you after all.


OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: Spamilton: An American Parody


September 8, 2016: Though the juggernaut musical “Hamilton” is bursting with facts and figures from the American Revolution, there’s a whole other, less obvious history that underlies its every performance. No, I am not hinting at the existence of coded conspiracy messages involving the Illuminati. (But apparently, if you play the song “The Reynolds Pamphlet” backward. …) What I’m talking about is a war that has been waged tirelessly for more than a century: the fight to be perceived as the sole musical left standing tall in the battlefield called Broadway. And if you hope to understand the role of “Hamilton” within this epic struggle, you are earnestly advised to attend the (highly) animated dissertation on the subject, titled “Spamilton,” which opened on Thursday night at the Triad.


OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child


July 25, 2016: Oh, for a wizard’s spell that would allow me to tell you everything, and then erase it completely from your memory. But though I paid rapt attention during the afternoon and evening I spent at “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,” which opened in a blaze of outrageous enchantment on Monday night at the Palace Theater here, I failed to pick up on any recipe for inducing post-tell-all amnesia in Muggles, which is Potter-speak for nonwizards like you and me. This eagerly anticipated, two-part, five-hour-plus sequel to J. K. Rowling’s best-selling, seven-volume series of “Harry Potter” novels is the kind of play that you want to describe in detail, if only to help you figure out how it achieves what is does. That would be a kind of magic that is purely theatrical yet somehow channels the addictive narrative grip of Ms. Rowling’s prose. Unfortunately, those who have scored tickets to this two-part production, which is sold out through May, are given buttons as they leave the theater that admonish “#KeepTheSecrets.” And I do not want to antagonize Potter fans, who tend to be as vigilant and vengeful as the army of Death Eaters that polices the evil empire of He Who Must Not Be Named, Lord Voldemort. Voldemort is now long gone, of course. Or is he? The story of “The Cursed Child” — conceived by Ms. Rowling with its playwright, Jack Thorne, and director, John Tiffany — makes such questions impossible to answer, and I’m not just being coy because of my pledge of silence. This is a work in which the past casts a distressingly substantive shadow. The past, as Faulkner would say, isn’t even past. Photo Anthony Boyle, left, and Sam Clemmett in this play. Credit Manuel Harlan This point of view saturates “The Cursed Child,” which seems to occur in a land of hypnotically luminous darkness that should mesmerize adults as effectively as children. By even existing, this play is destined to fight against the gravitational force of the memories of young readers. I mean the ones whose coming of age paralleled that of Harry Potter (who advanced from 11 to 17) in the books and the eight blockbuster films they inspired and who may want the Boy Who Lived to stay frozen forever as he was when they last encountered him. As a character in “The Cursed Child” says, “Playing with time — you know we can’t do that.” But playing with time, both gleefully and earnestly, is exactly what this show’s creators are doing. (The production’s memorable images include the most dazzlingly disturbing clocks since the heyday of Salvador Dalí.) Its plot is built on a fantasy that most of us indulge from early childhood: What if we could rewrite our own histories? That premise has been the basis for works as different as the “Back to the Future” film franchise and Nick Payne’s recent physics-infused boy-meets-girl play, “Constellations.” But the notion is singularly well suited to the purposes of “The Cursed Child,” which unfolds as a sort of multiple-choice narrative, allowing Potter fans to encounter various might-have-been, might-yet-be paths for characters they already know intimately and for the new ones introduced here. Continue reading the main story Related Coverage And yes, the old gang is back, or at least the members of it who survived Ms. Rowling’s final Potter novel, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.” The first scene of the play is identical to the last one in that novel, and uses much of the same dialogue. Ask Ben Brantley a question about the London theater scene. * Continue By submitting to us, you are promising that the content is original, does not plagiarize from anyone or infringe a copyright or trademark, does not violate anyone’s rights and is not libelous or otherwise unlawful or misleading. You are agreeing that we can use your submission in all manner and media of The New York Times and that we shall have the right to authorize third parties to do so. And you agree to our Terms of Service. Harry (Jamie Parker, who does Potter pain beautifully), now on the edge of middle age and an employee of the Ministry of Magic, and his wife, Ginny (Poppy Miller), are found at King’s Cross railroad station in London, seeing two of their sons — James (Tom Milligan) and Albus (Sam Clemmet) — off to his alma mater, Hogwarts, the academy of magic that provided him with an especially enlightening, if punishing, education. It will be the anxious Albus’s first year, and like his dad, he is a proud, prickly and sensitive plant. Joining Harry and company are his old chums and allies in the fight against darkness, the goofy Ron Weasley (Paul Thornley, delightful) and the perpetual A-student Hermione Granger (Noma Dumezweni, a black actress whose casting provoked controversy but who is perfect in the part), now married and the parents of a Hogwarts-bound girl, Rose (Cherrelle Skeete). Harry’s former archrival, Draco Malfoy (Alex Price), is there, too, with his son, Scorpius (Anthony Boyle). Like Albus, Scorpius is a Hogwarts newbie and the two boys seem destined to become best friends, along with an amiable young woman with blue-tipped hair, Delphi Diggory (Esther Smith). It is a triumvirate that will prove dangerous for, well, pretty much the entire world. Fraught, yearning relationships between fathers and their progeny shape both the play’s form and its content. Who is that cursed child, anyway? More than a few of this story’s many, many characters (the adeptly multifarious cast numbers 42) might fit the description. Like the novels that preceded it, “The Cursed Child” is stuffed with arcana-filled plots that defy diagrams and baldly wrought sentimental life lessons, along with anguished dives into the earnest, tortured solipsism of adolescence. By rights, such a combination should try the patience of any grown-up. But like Ms. Rowling’s books, the play vanquishes resistance. Photo From left, Alex Price, Paul Thornley, Noma Dumezweni, Jamie Parker and Poppy Miller. Credit Manuel Harlan I reread “The Deathly Hallows” on the flight to London from New York, and I was amazed at how naturally what I saw on the stage seemed to flow from the page. Mr. Thorne, Mr. Tiffany and their movement director, Steven Hoggett, and set designer, Christine Jones, collaborated previously on the chilling adolescent vampire play “Let the Right One In,” and they are all expert in mapping the intersection of the uncanny and the everyday. Along with a team that includes Katrina Lindsay (costumes), Neil Austin (lighting) and Imogen Heap (music), Mr. Tiffany and his cast conjure the self-contained world(s) of Ms. Rowling’s books with imagistic wit, precision and, occasionally, stark terror. A convocation of wizards is evoked through the simultaneous swirling of black capes; an otherworldly, xenophobic and unsettlingly topical-feeling Fascist brigade materializes and multiplies out of yawning darkness; and staircases, bookcases and suitcases assume varied and miraculous lives that propel both themes and story. This production captures Ms. Rowling’s sensibility even more persuasively than did the special-effects-driven films. True, the movies were blessed with an unmatchable stable of idiosyncratic British character actors like Alan Rickman and Maggie Smith and, as Voldemort, Ralph Fiennes (now safely ensconced across town at the Almeida Theater, embodying another avatar of evil, Richard III). But in “The Cursed Child,” everyone onstage has direct, present-tense responsibility for the story being told. And most of them play many parts. That includes the show’s principals, though I won’t reveal how and why they do so. Suffice it to say that these transformations become haunting, funny physical reflections of our desire to connect with the people we only think we know well, with the dead who linger in our lives and with the selves we once were and will be. The word for these imaginative leaps of faith is empathy. That’s the magic practiced so affectingly and entertainingly in “The Cursed Child,” and it turns everyone in the audience into a sorcerer’s apprentice.


OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: White Rabbit Red Rabbit

White Rabbit Red Rabbit

March 9, 2016: For all I know, as I write these words, Nathan Lane is lying dead on a chaise longue on the stage of the Westside Theater. Probably not. You would have read the obituary by now. But Mr. Lane, who gave the first New York performance of “White Rabbit Red Rabbit,” a playful, enigmatic and haunting solo show by the Iranian writer Nassim Soleimanpour, was lying supine on that chaise when I left the theater as strictly instructed Monday night, the only night of the week the show is being presented. The play concludes with the ominous suggestion that — well, perhaps I shouldn’t say any more. The novelty — or gimmick, or both — of “White Rabbit” is that the actor performing the show does not have a chance to read it before arriving at the theater. He (or she) is handed the script onstage, before us, with no prior knowledge of its contents (unless, of course, he or she has already Googled it and got a general sense of what is in store). Every week, a different actor will perform the 75-minute piece. The list of upcoming performers, a diverse and distinguished lot, includes Whoopi Goldberg, Patrick Wilson, Brian Dennehy and Cynthia Nixon. (Check the show’s website to see who is performing when.)




December 28, 2015: The lights in the theater’s entryway turn us all blue as soon as we walk through the door. That’s kind of charming, and so is the ridiculously upbeat song playing on speakers in the lobby bathrooms. The main lyric is the word bathroom, over and over. And over.