OFF-BROADWAY REVIEWS

OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: Golem

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July 27, 2016: Who, or what, is really in charge of our destiny? We like to believe that our will, our imagination, our reason are meticulously clicking away, taking hold of the future and shaping it to our desires. But what about that little companion in our pocket we consult so regularly, with its innumerable little helpers that we refer to dozens if not hundreds of times a day, attending to their chirps and beeps and rings as if to a relentless taskmaster?

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: The Pirates of Penzance

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July 26, 2016: PITTSFIELD, Mass. — It’s hard to imagine more ideal summer entertainment than the exhilarating production of “The Pirates of Penzance” swashbuckling across the stage — and often tumbling merrily off it — at the Barrington Stage Company here. Rarely have I felt an audience and a cast coming together in such a happy communal bear hug. And we could all use one right now, no? This superbly realized production is directed by John Rando and choreographed by Joshua Bergasse, who teamed up for “On the Town,” which was first seen at Barrington Stage before moving to Broadway. It embraces an anything-goes spirit that is both in keeping with the distinctive silliness of Gilbert and Sullivan at their best, and establishes its own brand of inspired goofing. (There’s even a little “Brexit” joke at the finale.) The production uses the revised version of the operetta originally presented by the Public Theater in Central Park, back in 1980, before moving to Broadway, with Linda Ronstadt, Rex Smith and Kevin Kline in the central roles, and directed by Wilford Leach. On this occasion, for more modest star power, we have Will Swenson (“Hair” and “Priscilla Queen of the Desert,” among other Broadway shows), perhaps never better cast than he is here as the Pirate King. Mr. Swenson’s swarthy good looks are matched here with a sexy pirate swagger, but he’s also in possession of a powerful baritone. Most important, he has such an assured natural comic flair that even the raising of an eyebrow — or, in one delightful bit, the donning of an eye patch — becomes the stuff of belly laughs. A few audience members are seated onstage, and Mr. Swenson’s jovial joshing with them (including a reference to his “pirate booty”) is handled with just the right smiling lewdness. While they may not be as familiar, the rest of the principals are equally terrific. Where has the fabulous Scarlett Strallen, who plays the ingénue, Mabel, been hiding herself? She hasn’t really been pining in obscurity, but has been performing mostly in her native Britain, although she also appeared in “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder” on Broadway. A lyric soprano with a voice as flexible as it is rich, she is also a fine actress whose instinctive feel for the Gilbert and Sullivan ingénue idiom — play it straight with just a sly wink peeking out from the batting eyelashes — makes her every scene and song a joy. One of two numbers interpolated from other Gilbert and Sullivan shows, “Sorry Her Lot,” from “H.M.S. Pinafore,” is a solo for Mabel. A half-dozen more could have been added — and the full mad scene from “Lucia di Lammermoor” (which is mildly spoofed in the score), for good measure — and I wouldn’t have complained. As the conscience-stricken pirate Frederic, apprenticed by mistake to the band of brigands by his adoring nursemaid (you’ll recall she was meant to put him in service to a pilot), Kyle Dean Massey, recently on the TV series “Nashville” but also in Broadway’s “Pippin,” has the square-jawed handsomeness and boyish virility that suit the role. His light tenor is not large, but it’s nimble and it suits the squeaky-clean nature of the good-hearted Frederic nicely, as does his throbbing earnestness as he switches his allegiance from his pirate crew to the bumbling bobbies trying to capture them, and back again. The veteran David Garrison imparts the Major-General, the father of a brood of capering lovelies, including Mabel, with a dithery pomposity. The litmus test for any actor in this part — and, in Gilbert and Sullivan in general to a degree — is an ability to twist the tongue around the dense lyrics set to beat-the-clock tempos in their dizzyingly fun patter songs. Perhaps the most famous of all is “I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General,” and Mr. Garrison passes with flags flying. Rounding out the principal roles with equal polish is another supremely good stage veteran, the British-born Jane Carr as Frederic’s devoted Ruth. (Ms. Carr was also in “Gentleman’s Guide.”) Ruth’s attempts at acting the demure would-be bride of her young charge are delightfully funny — a nice deadpan glance to the audience at the mention of her being “middle-aged” — but she also brings a bustling maternal warmth to the role that fits it snugly. Mr. Bergasse’s zesty choreography keeps the cast in almost constant, exuberant motion. Among the highlights are the dances for the policemen set to capture the pirates, led with aplomb by the excellent Alex Gibson. Clearly these fellows, who twitch and squirm at the thought of the dangerous duties before them, would much rather kick up their heels and risk a hamstring injury than scratch so much as a pinkie finger chasing seafaring miscreants. The staging, on a set by Beowulf Boritt that deftly switches from the deck of the pirate ship to the estate of the Major-General for the second act, takes full advantage of the auditorium. A narrow platform stretching into the audience brings us closer to the fun, as when the pirates steal upon the Major-General’s mansion, with their catlike tread, hissing “meow” and admonishing the audience to shush. Remaining silent, however, is not an option at this buoyant production, which had me giggling with delight more or less from silly start to silly finale. Mr. Rando, long an expert in comedy with a specialty in delirious zaniness, liberally sprinkles the staging with frisky bits of business that wouldn’t be fair to spoil. Any reviewer so foolhardy as to describe them in detail would deserve to walk the plank.

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

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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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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: War Paint

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July 19, 2016: CHICAGO — For a musical that covers so many years — and so many shades of lipstick — “War Paint” never really seems to move forward. This portrait of battling cosmetic titans, which opened on Monday at the Goodman Theater here starring a deliciously paired Patti LuPone and Christine Ebersole, doesn’t just show its whole hand from the get-go; it does so as eagerly as a debutante with a fabulous new manicure. Written by Doug Wright (book), Scott Frankel (music) and Michael Korie (lyrics), and directed by Michael Greif, “War Paint” lets you know exactly what it is and where it’s going (or not going) in a prologue, so you can decide right away if it’s your cup of skin toner. Seated on opposite sides of the stage at vanity tables are two middle-aged women in peignoirs appraising themselves in the mirror and applying the ritualistic goo of the show’s title — that is, their makeup. They are, it turns out, Helena Rubinstein (1872-1965) and Elizabeth Arden (1881-1966), two masters of self-invention who ruled the American beauty market during the mid-20th century. As embodied here, these glamorous gals look as joltingly different as, well, Ms. LuPone (playing Rubinstein) and Ms. Ebersole (Arden), marquee Broadway performers who have dominated many a musical, though in utterly dissimilar styles. (For the record, they are both in top form here.) But wait a minute. The Polish-born Rubinstein may have the exotic and imperious countenance of an aging silent movie vamp (crossed with Cloris Leachman’s Frau Blücher in “Young Frankenstein”), while the perky, blond Arden could pass as Beaver Cleaver’s mother. And throughout the show, David Korins’s set, which conjures period opulence with efficient minimalism, and Catherine Zuber’s luxe costumes (not minimalist at all) underscore the gap between its leading divas. Yet don’t these women have a lot in common, too? After all, they’re singing the same tune and sharing lyrics about the difficulty of being women who must put on masks to face the world. Though they may be born to clash, Rubinstein and Arden are, as the script has it, “sisters in suffering.” It will take them and two and a half more hours of similarly symmetrical scenes, usually played in direct, crosscutting counterpoint, to confess their bond to each other. (The show’s rhythms can be boiled down to: They’re totally different! No, they’re totally alike!) The production seems to have taken to heart one of Arden’s marketing mantras to her sales staff: “Remember girls! Repetition makes reputation.” The title of the opening number is “A Woman’s Face,” which also happens to be the name of a 1941 film directed by George Cukor and starring Joan Crawford. This is appropriate, since “War Paint” brings to mind many movies of that period, hen flicks (its stars were too regal to be chicks) like “The Women” and “Old Acquaintance,” in which female antagonists in to-die-for dresses did fierce battle with one another, tooth and clawed epigram. The creators of “War Paint” appreciate the pulpy appeal of such cinematic fare, in which exaggerated artificial surfaces and quippy badinage conceal ravenous ambition and broken hearts. But “War Paint” also pauses to question the social values of a system that forces women to conceal their imperfections. Or as a lyric from the end of the show asks: “Did we make women freer, or did we enslave them?” It is safe to assume that such sociological debate is not what will hold the attention of audiences for “War Paint,” which has been selling fast in Chicago and is possibly bound for Broadway. No, that would be the sight and sound of Ms. LuPone and Ms. Ebersole, both two-time Tony winners, as their characters pursue rigid parallel paths for four decades, never actually meeting but always emulously aware of each other. They are, as another character wildly describes them, “locked in a malevolent tango, sailing over a cliff.” Arden on Rubinstein: “Royalty? She’s as common as a cabbage.” Rubinstein on Arden: “Pedigreed? Ha! She — what? — stepped off the Pilgrim boat in her Chanel pumps? I know the truth, Harry. She’s Canadian!” (Ms. LuPone, as you may imagine, milks the comic potential of Rubinstein’s Polish accent and malapropisms for all they’re worth.) Such zingers — along with more accounts of the packaging and marketing of cosmetics than you surely ever expected from a musical — punctuate scenes in which both women face the same obstacles. These include congressional hearings on the misrepresentation of their products, social rejection, World War II (a sequence that flirts with bad taste), the advent of vulgar hard-sell advertising (rendered in a “Mad Men”-style production number snappily choreographed by Christopher Gattelli) and the cruel march of changing times. They also can’t hold onto their guys, who in this version are Arden’s husband (and business manager), Tommy Lewis (John Dossett), and Rubinstein’s business manager, Harry Fleming (Douglas Sills), who is gay, snarky and adoring. (You may draw parallels with part of this show’s target demographic only if you choose.) Played with hangdog miens by the gifted Mr. Dossett and Mr. Sills, these men soon betray their bosses and switch sides. Please note that though the musical was inspired by the biography “War Paint” by Lindy Woodhead and the documentary film “The Powder & the Glory,” the script by Mr. Wright (“I Am My Own Wife”) telescopes, rearranges and modifies history in the service of blunt thematic tidiness. As a study in contrasts, “War Paint” quickly turns monochrome. Fortunately, Mr. Frankel and Mr. Korie’s score plays knowingly to its stars’ respective strengths, with swirling, lyrical melodies for Arden and jagged, Kurt Weillian ones for Rubinstein. Ms. Ebersole — who collaborated previously with the “War Paint” team to Tony-winning brilliance in “Grey Gardens” — brings not just enameled chipperness but also a startling glimpse of genuine, self-surprising pain to her singing. Her climactic solo of reckoning, “Pink,” is a knockout. So is Ms. LuPone’s parallel number (you can imagine the show’s writers dividing up the star turns very carefully). Of course, these women each have their own sui generis approaches to a song. Ms. LuPone, an idiosyncratic belter, wrestles melodies to the mat in freestyle, while Ms. Ebersole is a sparkling precisionist. It is all the more surprising that on the occasions they sing together, their voices flow into a single powerful, poignant stream. Like the dominating women they portray, these actresses have more in common than you might think. That includes a blessed gift for finding emotional substance, and animating variety, in what is otherwise a frozen diptych. And no, that is not the name of a spa treatment.

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: Small Mouth Sounds

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July 19, 2016: “Small Mouth Sounds,” a quiet gem of a play by Bess Wohl that was first seen Off Broadway at Ars Nova last year, has been restaged at the Pershing Square Signature Center with all its wit, compassion and sparkle fully intact. The sound of silence onstage has rarely made such sweet music. For much of the play’s 100 minutes, most of the characters do not speak. It takes place at a weeklong spiritual retreat where silence is enjoined, although Ms. Wohl’s ingenuity and the sympathetic direction of Rachel Chavkin allow us to read the bleeding hearts of the characters with a lucidity that no amount of dialogue could improve upon. The men and women assembling for a psychic tuneup are a nicely varied bunch. At the head of the class would seem to be the yoga rock star Rodney (Babak Tafti), handsome, bearded, decked out in Buddhist-flavored clothing and prone to twisting his body into elaborate poses. This mildly prickles his assigned roommate, the slightly insecure Ned, who alone among the characters is given a self-explanatory monologue. He deserves a chance to unload. A few years ago poor Ned, who is played with a plangent ache by the terrific Brad Heberlee, fell when rock climbing and shattered his skull. While he was in and out of the hospital, his wife began sleeping with his brother. And it got worse from there. Ned cannot even find peace at this retreat. He takes a quiet shine to the grumpy Alicia (Zoë Winters), who is perhaps the least spiritually evolved — or enthusiastic — of the participants. Reeling from a breakup, she taps out angry texts on her phone whenever she can find a signal. To Ned’s dismay, his attempts to cozy up to her are sidelined when Rodney, more obviously a candidate for hot rebound sex, gets in the way. Also hitting relationship speed bumps recently are Joan (Marcia DeBonis) and Judy (Quincy Tyler Bernstine), committed partners who nevertheless are feeling some understandable strains. Judy, we learn, has recently learned she has cancer. In one of the play’s most tender passages, she has a moment of communion with Jan (Max Baker); wordlessly, we learn that he is still mourning a painful loss. Although the stage at the Signature Center is modestly larger than the one at Ars Nova, there’s no diminishment of the play’s intimacy, which is enhanced by the staging. Most of the action takes place on a rectangular playing space, with the audience seated in a few rows on either side of it. Only when they are receiving instruction from the leader of the retreat — who remains unseen but is voiced with hilariously oily piety by Jojo Gonzalez — do the characters assemble on chairs at one end of the stage. Although Mr. Baker, Ms. Bernstine and Ms. Winters are new to “Small Mouth Sounds,” they inhabit their characters with the same full-hearted openness that marks the work of the actors who are returning to their roles. In a summer of disturbing discord and violence, it’s heartening to renew acquaintance with a play that leaves you moved, refreshed and, yes, maybe even a little enlightened.

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: Privacy

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July 18, 2016: Grim tidings are spread with great cheer in “Privacy,” James Graham and Josie Rourke’s perky investigation into the consequences of living your life online. This London-born production from 2014 — which opened in an updated, Americanized version (“Brexit” jokes!) at the Public Theater on Monday night — stars a charmingly woebegone Daniel Radcliffe as a writer who has conflicted feelings about all his relationships, but especially the one with the internet. The presence of the man who played Harry Potter isn’t the only reason “Privacy” has become one of New York’s hottest tickets. Viewed as a play, it is neither as profound as it aspires to be nor even entirely cohesive. But it ingeniously recreates that most venerable of entertainments, the magic show, in a form ideally suited to the second decade of the 21st century. Like the work of celebrated prestidigitators (like David Copperfield, Penn & Teller) and mentalists (Derren Brown, the Amazing Kreskin), “Privacy” dazzles and baffles by seeming to know exactly what selected audience members are thinking — and who they are, what they’ve done and where they’ve been. And like such traditional fare, this show fully intends to make you say “wow!” again and again. But “Privacy” goes one painful, enlightening step further by always putting the “ow!” in “wow!” That’s because the secret-wranglers onstage — embodied by a vivacious supporting cast — are not relying principally on human intuition or hidden accomplices or bait-and-switch techniques. No, they can look deep into what passes for your soul these days because they have access to your smartphones. [ “Privacy” is part comedy, part documentary, part lecture-demonstration and part fourth-wall smasher ] In other words, Big Brother and company have replaced the dashing figures who pull rabbits out of hats. Though the play quotes the phrase “be not afeard” from Shakespeare’s “The Tempest,” the purpose of “Privacy” is to scare you silly, through only seemingly silly means. By the way, one of the folks who recites those words happens to be Edward J. Snowden — the exiled, whistle-blowing computer whiz and former National Security Agency contractor — whose appearance here is made possible by the double-edged technology that gives “Privacy” its style and substance. I think it’s O.K. to mention Mr. Snowden. (His videotaped appearance in “Privacy” has already been reported.) Like most magic shows, this one ends with a statement from its star (Mr. Radcliffe), asking that we not give away its manifold surprises for future audiences. Since one of the main points of the evening is that no secret is keepable anymore, this feels like a sadly quixotic request, a paradox that Mr. Graham’s script doesn’t exploit as dizzyingly as it might. But to avoid being stigmatized as a spoiler, I will honor Mr. Radcliffe’s plea. Which doesn’t leave me with a whole lot to talk about, except in abstract terms, and the coolest tricks in “Privacy” involve very detailed specifics. Like personal specifics. Like your personal specifics. There is a reason that, for once in a New York theater, you are encouraged to leave your smartphones on throughout the show. Heck, this production even provides free Wi-Fi for you. All the better to see you with, my dears. I’m making “Privacy” sound creepier and more compelling than it ultimately is. As written by Mr. Graham (the author of the terrific British Parliament docudrama “This House”) and Ms. Rourke (the artistic director of Donmar Warehouse in London, where “Privacy” originated), this production is respectful about never crossing certain lines with those watching it, though it promises that it could if it wanted to. The lost soul portrayed by Mr. Radcliffe, known simply as the Writer, is treated less gently. When the play begins, he has just ended a relationship with someone to whom he refers with the gender-neutral pronoun of “they.” Even speaking to his new psychiatrist, Josh Cohen (Reg Rogers), the Writer is coy about “they” — who appears to have walked out precisely because the Writer is so withholding of his innermost self. Being English, he says, he is an instinctively private person, with “a phobia of being known.” In an effort to break down those self-isolating walls, he crosses the Atlantic to New York City, where his ex now resides. (It turns out to be a he, for the record.) Little does the Writer know, at this point, how completely known he is already, simply because he uses his smartphone and laptop. On hand to edify him are a host of fantasy versions of real people who embody different sides of the argument on public versus private selves. Such academic cultural commentators as Sherry Turkle, Jill Lepore and Daniel Solove are introduced to debate the pros and cons of virtual communality. (The real Ms. Turkle, drolly played here by Rachel Dratch, will be participating in a “Privacy” forum at the Public on Aug. 1.) Retailing entrepreneurs and Silicon Valley executives; representatives of government surveillance agencies; politicians and journalists (among them, Ewen MacAskill, a reporter for the London publication The Guardian who helped break the Snowden story) — they also appear to explain how completely we expose ourselves every time we log on. They are brought to chipper, slightly cartoonish life by a cast appealingly rounded out by De’Adre Aziza, Raffi Barsoumian and Michael Countryman. The technical team — which includes Lucy Osborne (sets), Richard Howell (lighting) and Duncan McLean (projections) — adroitly conjures a world in which what we see on tiny screens seems to grow into three dimensions, even as so-called real life flattens out. The parts of the show I can’t talk about — the many audience participation sequences — are both its giddiest and most sobering. “Privacy” doesn’t provide much material that hasn’t been rehashed many times in newspaper and magazine (and blog and vlog) essays. It can feel rather like one of those middle school instructional films that use a likable animated creature (a talking dinosaur or skeleton, maybe) to keep its distractible young viewers hooked. The scene in which I felt most engaged, confused and affected involves little techno sleight of hand, just a very deft performer (that would be Mr. Radcliffe) treading water in an improvisational sequence. Or was it? I can say no more. But it’s a relief to be able to report that “Privacy” shines brightest when it comes down to a single actor plying centuries-old tricks of his trade.

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: Okina and Hagoromo

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July 14, 2016: Most art forms evolve and change radically over the years. A French painting created today is unlikely to resemble one created in the 18th century. But the genre of Japanese theater known as Noh has hewed to traditional texts and performance styles for centuries, so that a Noh performance you see today resembles, to a remarkable degree, a performance in the 14th or 15th century. This form, which combines dance, music and drama, is performed primarily by specialists from families who have been steeped in its traditions for generations. The Kanze Noh Theater, one of a handful of the remaining traditional Noh companies, is presenting six performances encompassing seven plays through Sunday at the Rose Theater as part of the Lincoln Center Festival. Each performance includes two classic Noh plays, and some also include kyogen, which are presented between plays as comic interludes. Immersing yourself in the slow rhythms of Noh can take some time; it’s best to prepare by setting aside your expectations of modern Western theater entirely; otherwise, boredom and puzzlement will await. Noh plays are spare and simple, performed on a bare stage traditionally made of Japanese cypress, with just an image of a pine tree adorning the back wall. (Missing from the presentation at the Rose Theater, perhaps for sightline reasons, is the roof that normally covers the main playing area.) Movement is stylized: The actors shuffle onstage in stockinged feet that seem to move by the smallest increments, sliding forward at a rhythmic pace that becomes weirdly hypnotic. The opening performance on Wednesday included “Okina,” one of the oldest extant Noh plays, and “Hagoromo” (“The Robe of Feathers”), about a fisherman who encounters a mysterious maiden after discovering a robe hanging from a tree. “Okina” is really more a ritual than anything else — minimalist in terms of drama, even by the spare standards of Noh. A black box is brought onstage, followed by the lead player, in this case Kiyokazu Kanze, the 26th “grandmaster” of the family that created the genre some 700 years ago. His character, after whom the play is named, eventually dons a mask removed from the box, becoming a god who performs a ritual dance that “invokes omens of longevity and prays for peace.” Or so the program indicates; it’s impossible for modern audiences to glean this from the performance alone. (Supertitles in English provide a basic synopsis.) Still, even if the performance communicates little in terms of literal meaning, one can admire the rigor with which Mr. Kanze and his fellow performers enact this peculiar rite, moving their limbs and flourishing fans with striking precision. Behind the central performers are seated musicians — four drummers, who also chant, and a flutist — as well as a chorus, which performs with a similar singular dedication. Music and movement are sometimes in sync, but mostly independent of each other. After Mr. Kanze has concluded his rite, another character, Sambaso, a “harbinger of good harvest” played by Yasutaro Yamamoto, performs a stomping dance and eventually dons his own black mask to continue the dance. “Hagoromo” bears at least a trace of plot. The fisherman who discovers the robe of feathers, played by Tsuneyoshi Mori, is actually a supporting player who mainly observes the action when he encounters the Angel, who explains that only if she retrieves the robe can she ascend once more to heaven. In return she performs an elaborate dance clad in the robe. As this character, Yoshinobu Kanze (female roles are still often played by men in Noh theater) moves with remarkable grace and delicacy, using the fabric of his elaborate costume almost as an extension of his body. Indeed the billowing, voluminous costumes of the principal performers, beautifully patterned and carefully folded around the body, are among the most alluring aspects of the art form. In the context of Noh’s rigorous minimalism, the care with which they are manipulated becomes part of the drama. The flipping of a sleeve over an arm takes on a sudden dramatic urgency. And during the intervals of Mr. Kanze’s dance in “Okina,” attendants seated behind him carefully and decorously rearranged the hem of his garment so it would hang in perfect scallops. What this signified, I couldn’t say, but small details like this leave a singular, mysterious afterglow in the memory.

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: Oslo

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July 11, 2016: The Aaron Burr of the musical “Hamilton” — who stews over being shut out of pivotal closed-door conferences — isn’t the only person who wants to be in the room where it happens. It’s hard not to envy the witnesses to history in the making and to imagine attending conferences, Zelig-like, in Versailles, Vienna or Potsdam. J. T. Rogers shares that instinct. Unlike most of you, he has acted on it. Having combined investigative zeal and theatrical imagination with insider access, Mr. Rogers now invites you into the chambers where the Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization were forged during nine fraught months in 1993. Even if you never thought about traveling to Norway, you’ll probably want to visit the inevitably titled “Oslo,” the absorbing drama by Mr. Rogers that opened on Monday night at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater at Lincoln Center. At a very full three hours, with many international stops, this play is long and dense enough to make you wonder if you should have packed an overnight bag. Yet what Mr. Rogers and the director, Bartlett Sher, have created is a streamlined time machine, comfortably appointed enough to forestall jet lag. Centering on one Norwegian couple who improbably initiated the diplomatic back channel that led to the epochal meeting of the Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and the P.L.O leader Yasir Arafat at the White House, “Oslo” affectingly elicits the all-too-human factor in the weary machinations of state policy. That couple is Mona Juul, then an official in the Norwegian Foreign Ministry, and her husband, Terje Rod-Larsen, who was director of the Fafo Institute for Applied Social Sciences. They are friends, as it happens, of Mr. Sher, who in turn introduced them to Mr. Rogers, who interviewed them extensively before writing this play. You might expect “Oslo” to have a self-servingly limited perspective. But as he demonstrated in his earlier plays about international politics, including “The Overwhelming” and “Blood and Gifts,” Mr. Rogers doesn’t traffic in superheroes. His well-intentioned interventionists in foreign lands often turn out to be ambivalent fumblers in the manner of Graham Greene’s protagonists. “Oslo” doesn’t have the layers of complexity (and the respect for what we can’t know) of Michael Frayn’s great, similarly speculative you-are-there dramas “Copenhagen” and “Democracy.” But it’s a vivid, thoughtful and astonishingly lucid account of a byzantine chapter in international politics. Mona and Terje are (spoiler) more successful in their endeavors than Mr. Rogers’s previous versions of such characters, at least in terms of immediate goals. But as embodied by (hooray!) Jennifer Ehle and Jefferson Mays, they are complicated beings in a less-than-perfect marriage with a sometimes faltering grasp of the international time bomb they have set ticking. Well, perhaps not Mona, who always keeps her head and manages repeatedly to pluck victory from the jaws of disaster. But Mona has the advantages, as well as the disadvantages, of often being the only woman in the room; and she has the unqualified advantage of being played by the irresistible Ms. Ehle (the definitive BBC version of “Pride and Prejudice,” the 2000 Broadway revival of “The Real Thing”), who manages to be practically perfect without turning into Mary Poppins. It is Mona who serves as our wryly neutral narrator, sliding briefly and fluidly out of the action to place us on timelines and annotate references. She and Terje have been ingeniously conceived as perpetual, generally gracious hosts to the play itself and to the social encounters within, pouring drinks, moving furniture and overseeing the seating arrangements on Michael Yeargan’s elegant, minimalist set. Of course, the gatherings they preside over have astronomically higher stakes than those of an average cocktail party. When the play begins, a dinner at Mona and Terje’s home is interrupted by a phone call — two, actually, and simultaneous. It’s Israel on one line and the P.L.O. on the other. The couple’s guests, the Norwegian foreign minister Johan Jorgen Holst (T. Ryder Smith) and his wife, Marianne Heiberg (Henny Russell), are not pleased when Terje explains his goal of secretly bringing irreconcilable adversaries to the bargaining table. “The world is cracking open,” says the blazing-eyed Terje, who has a habit of sounding like Tony Kushner in “Angels in America” when he is excited. (Mr. Mays, a Tony winner for “I Am My Own Wife,” expertly elicits the brazen but uneasy showboat in Terje.) Holst is skeptical and alarmed. That’s a response that Terje and Mona will continue to encounter in many forms. And the play’s rhythms are dictated by the couple’s repeated overcoming of resistance. I leave it to historians to confirm or dispute the accuracy of Mr. Rogers’s portrayals. But he has done a fine job of mapping the lively, confusing intersection where private personalities cross with public roles. The supporting ensemble members, some of whom are double-cast, create credibly idiosyncratic portraits, right down to the two-man security detail (Christopher McHale and Jeb Kreager) that arrives in the show’s second half. Only occasionally does the script resort to the telegraphic shorthand of cute, defining quirks. The relationships that emerge from within and between the opposing camps are steeped in a poignant multifacetedness, as sworn enemies find themselves tentatively speaking the language of friendship. This is most eloquently embodied by Uri Savir, an Israeli cabinet member portrayed juicily by Michael Aronov as an exuberant rock-star dignitary, and Ahmed Qurie , the P.L.O. finance minister played with a careful balance of wariness and warmth by Anthony Azizi. The cast also memorably includes Daniel Oreskes and Daniel Jenkins as a pair of Rosencrantz-and-Guildenstern-ish academics from Haifa; Adam Dannheisser as an Israeli foreign minister with digestive problems; Joseph Siravo as a hard-line Jewish lawyer; and Dariush Kashani as a hard-line Marxist Palestinian. Mr. Oreskes also shows up as Shimon Peres. But the most famous power players in this drama, Rabin and Arafat, never appear, at least not in the flesh. However, at various points, different characters do imitations of the more famous politicians who remain in the wings. The ways in which these impersonations evolve, and the responses they provoke, create some of the play’s tensest and funniest moments. It’s no secret that politicians have to be actors, which the characters in “Oslo” well know. Their understanding and re-creation of the signature styles of allies and enemies make for unexpected moments of personal catharsis and illumination. They also happen to be the stuff of crackling theater.

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: New York Spectacular

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June 24, 2016: Parents visiting Manhattan with their families, I implore you: Before arrival, formulate a plan of action in case you and the kids accidentally lose one another amid the dizzying urban whirl. If the shiny and dispiriting new Rockettes extravaganza, “New York Spectacular,” is any indication, failure to do so may result in your children crisscrossing the island in search of you, tracing a convoluted path that makes no sense logically or dramatically. On the plus side, they may come across an impressive kick line or two. All glamorous athleticism and martial precision, the Rockettes are the stars of this sensory-overload summer show at Radio City Music Hall, but the story woven through it like an excuse is about a teenage girl and her little brother lost on the town, encountering one famous landmark after another: Grand Central Terminal, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Wall Street, Central Park, and on and on. A reworking of last year’s “New York Spring Spectacular,” this version has the director and choreographer Mia Michaels (of TV’s “So You Think You Can Dance”) at the helm and a new script by Douglas Carter Beane. But everything about this ungainly show feels as if the creative team was engaged by Madison Square Garden Entertainment, which presents the “Spectacular,” to tinker with a template, fitting their contributions to a fixed idea — which seems to be, mainly, selling tickets to people who would rather sit back and watch a sanitized simulation of the city than engage with the real, messy thing. Hey, eyes are eyes, right? In the Times Square scene, the stage and the auditorium’s arched ceiling are plastered with the brightly lit logos of companies that have ads in the program. It’s a brazen and lifeless display of commercial synergy and a rare instance of imaginative failure in both set design (Patrick Fahey) and the otherwise striking video and projection design (Moment Factory). The show does have its rewards, most of them involving the Rockettes, majestic from the minute they stride powerfully out of a wall of fog in the opening number, the Taylor Swift song “Welcome to New York.” The high point is their delightfully splashy tap version of “Singin’ in the Rain,” performed in a downpour in eye-poppingly yellow skirted slickers with highly twirlable flower-blossom umbrellas (by Essa). Patience and Fortitude, the lions who flank the entrance to the New York Public Library’s flagship building on Fifth Avenue, have a quieter charm when they deliver a rap (written by AnnMarie Milazzo and Billy Jay Stein). With big blinking eyes, swatting tails and expressive paws, these giant puppets (designed by the Paragon Innovation Group) are two of several statues that come to life here. The Broadway actor Euan Morton (“Taboo”) makes a kindly Mercury at Grand Central, while Danny Gardner (“Dames at Sea”), as George M. Cohan, hoofs nimbly with the Rockettes in Times Square. But the whole enterprise is misshapen, its disconnected episodes strung together by a story that has no real reason for being and whose human scale feels utterly dwarfed on the gigantic Radio City stage. Mr. Beane is not to blame for that — even if only one line in the show, delivered by a giant sarcophagus at the Met, contains anything of his customary puckishness. “New York Spectacular” isn’t a musical in need of a great book; it’s a glittery pageant, where music, dance and design need to be paramount. Put those at the center, replace cynicism with celebration, and you might have entertainment worth watching.

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: The Effect

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March 20, 2016: How much do you love me? Do you love me as much as I love you? Are you happy that you love me? How happy? Children, testing their parents, aren’t the only ones who ask these childish questions; grown-ups do it ad nauseam, and never get satisfactory answers. Though our calculated use of emoji these days would seem to indicate otherwise, it remains an exasperating and thrilling fact of life that emotions cannot be quantified, particularly love. The irreducibility of love is the subject of “The Effect,” Lucy Prebble’s very clever — and ultimately more than clever — play, which opened on Sunday night at the Barrow Street Theater, artfully directed by David Cromer. Ms. Prebble, the British author of “Enron,” has come up with an ingenious variation on one of the more common romantic formulas in fiction: Put two attractive people in an unfamiliar hothouse environment, and see what blooms. Usually such a premise involves an exotic vacation, a sleep-away camp or perhaps enforced confinement due to war, natural disaster or zombie apocalypse. In “The Effect,” boy (name of Tristan Frey, played by Carter Hudson) meets girl (Connie Hall, portrayed by Susannah Flood) at a medical research center in which they are guinea pigs in a four-week pharmaceutical trial for a new antidepressant.

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