OFF-BROADWAY REVIEWS

OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: Evening at the Talk House

February 16, 2017: If you happen to hang out at Broadway watering holes like Joe Allen’s, you’ve probably overheard conversations much like those that babble through Evening at the Talk House, Wallace Shawn’s anxious excavation of moral cowardice in a fascist age, which opened on Thursday night at the Pershing Square Signature Center.

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: Escaped Alone

February 16, 2017: Fear festers, burrows and blooms in Caryl Churchill’s Escaped Alone, a short and wondrous play that plumbs the depths of 21st-century terrors, large and small. These range from the eccentrically personal (as in being uncomfortable around cats) to the sweepingly historic — as in, well, the end of the world as we know it. Now if you yourself are in an apprehensive state of mind these days (and I’d wager, somehow, that you are), you might think a show about what scares people would be the last thing you’d want as entertainment. Yet this British import, which runs through Feb. 26 at the Harvey Theater of the Brooklyn Academy of Music, has the effect of a restorative tonic, and you may find a new bounce in your step as you leave it.

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: Good Samaritans

February 15, 2017: More than a dozen years before the hit film La La Land set an everyday urban romance to song, another pair of star-crossed lovers were making oddly similar music together on a New York stage. Their names are Rosemary and Kevin, and they have returned to the city this month in Good Samaritans (first seen in Brooklyn in 2004), written and directed by the experimental theater auteur Richard Maxwell, at the Abrons Arts Center. Portrayed by performers named Rosemary (last name: Allen) and Kevin (Hurley), Rosemary and Kevin are not, it should be noted, in exactly the same mold as the couple played by Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling in La La Land. They’re older, for one thing, and not nearly as cosmetically perfect.

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: Man from Nebraska

February 15, 2017: Though its words are well chosen and artfully placed, Tracy Letts’s Man From Nebraska, which opened on Wednesday night at Second Stage Theater, has a radiant respect for what cannot be said. As directed with masterly force and delicacy by David Cromer, with a matching performance by Reed Birney in the title role, this beautiful drama of lost faith occurs amid a darkness that swallows language.

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: Life According to Saki

February 13, 2017: A chipper young troupe out of Britain is pulling sunshine from the dark in Life According to Saki, a bouncy adaptation of the elegantly macabre short stories of its title character. A hit at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe last year, this brisk entertainment bears the same relation to its source material as the 1964 Disney film Mary Poppins did to the novels that inspired it. That is to say, it’s perfectly enjoyable as a whimsy-splashed showcase for fresh-faced talent. But the distinctive perversity of the author it riffs upon ultimately eludes the talented creators of this hourlong production, which opened on Monday night at the Fourth Street Theater.

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: The Town Hall Affair

February 10, 2017: “I’m beside myself. I’m beside myself,” mutters an anxious and excited Jill Johnston at the beginning of The Town Hall Affair, the very timely and time-bending new mixed-media piece that’s churning up decades of sexual discontent at the Performing Garage in SoHo. Johnston (reincarnated by Kate Valk), the poetic polemicist whose works included Lesbian Nation: The Feminist Solution, sure isn’t alone in feeling that way. This, after all, is a production from the Wooster Group, those downtown masters of deconstruction and detonation whose perspective-muddling shows have a way of expanding the view of who and where we are. And The Town Hall Affair — which recreates one explosive night of public debate in Manhattan in 1971 — splits some very well-known identities by means theatrical and cinematic, so a number of real-life literary figures are literally beside themselves.

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: Georgie: My Adventures with George Rose

February 7, 2017: If you are a theater fanatic, you know who George Rose was. If you were alive and going to New York theater in the 1970s and ’80s, you may have even seen him radiating contagious joy in My Fair Lady, as the saucy Alfred P. Doolittle relishing the prospect of “a little bit of luck.” Or matching wits with Kevin Kline in The Pirates of Penzance. Or winning his second Tony Award as the M.C. in The Mystery of Edwin Drood, his final show.

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: The Liar

January 26, 2017: Dorante, the title character in Pierre Corneille’s 17th-century comedy The Liar, has a little problem with truth-telling. Even when it serves no discernible purpose, he compulsively and ceaselessly — er, how shall I put it? Makes false statements? Proffers unsubstantiated assertions? Presents alternative facts?

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: Othello: The Remix

November 16, 2016: Last time I checked, there were not a lot of laughs in Shakespeare’s tragedy about a Moorish general beset by the green-eyed monster. Yet giggles abound in “Othello: The Remix,” a clever and exuberantly performed hip-hop version of the play that opened on Wednesday at the Westside Theater. If the unlikely combination of hip-hop and Shakespeare rings a bell, it’s because the writer-composers, directors and stars of the show — known as the Q Brothers, GQ and JQ — have concocted this kind of madcap mash-up before. They had an Off Broadway hit back in 1999 with “The Bomb-itty of Errors,” adapted from — well, you can guess — and have written versions of several other Shakespeare plays.

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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.

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