Ms. Rebeck’s compelling new play explores in depth Sarah Bernhardt’s struggles with playing “Hamlet” and her compassion for being a “thinking” actor who works her craft with “feeling.”Read More
- Chief New York Theatre Critic
- Outer Critics Circle/Drama Desk Member
Present, past, and several possible futures collide with the biblical story of Job in Craig Lucas’s “I Was Most Alive with You” currently playing at Playwrights Horizons Mainstage. And within each time frame and tale exist a multitude of layers of complexity and contingency about the human condition, particularly its vulnerability and resilience in the face of elucidated and unexplained suffering. As in all attempts to parse why bad things happen to good people, there are no “answers”in the play – perhaps only richer and more enduring questions raised by the First Testament mythos of Job “one blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.”
Job’s alter ego in “I Was Most Alive with You” is Knox (a vulnerable and self-deprecating Russell Harvard) the thirty-something adopted Deaf son of Ash (a deeply flawed yet sensitive Michael Gaston) and Pleasant (a damaged but highly resilient Lisa Emery). At the beginning of the play and in real time, Knox is at home alone for the first time since his car accident that left him missing a hand and unable to sign. Ash, having left Knox at home, arrives at his workroom to continue work on a teleplay with his partner Astrid (an energetic and omnipotent Marianna Bassham). After reviewing seven basic ideas sketched out at Ash’s place earlier, they decide on a narrative dealing with the Thanksgiving dinner that precipitated Knox’s leaving with his boyfriend Farhad (a conflicted and distressed Tad Cooley) and getting into the accident. This narrative, according to Astrid, will be a“two-pronged narrative, what one didand what one mighthave done, should’ve.”
As Astrid and Ash begin to explore their idea, the events of that Thanksgiving, all that led up to it, and the events that followed the accident begin to exist in flashback in precise counterpoint to the action in the present. This challenging convention includes a shadow cast that not only signs the dialogue but also “acts out”what is being “said.” All members of the shadow cast work on a level above the main playing area. This allows the hearing and the d/Deaf to explore the action in a variety of ways – including the occasional use of projections of dialogue. Director Tyne Rafaeli’s staging is brilliant. She moves the cast into and out of the present and past with clarity and a seamless majesty. Arnulfo Maldonado’s scenic design, Annie Wiegand’s lighting design,and Jane Shaw’s sound design further enhance the fluidness of the transitions from scene to scene.
It is in both the present and the past that the audience experiences the depth of despair in Knox’s life – the same depth of despair that eventually led Job to curses the day he was born.His addiction, loss of love, loss of family, and loss of limb catapult Knox and his family into a chaotic examination of relationship, faith, and future. Scenes ofworking on the teleplay collapse into the concomitant scenes from the past with the logos, ethos, and pathos needed to make both dimensions believable and cathartic. Knox learns that his grandmother Carla (an animated and thoughtful Lois Smith) is dying, that his mother summons the courage to leave his father who is in love with Astrid, and that Carla’s Jehovah’s Witnesses friend Mariama (a caring and distraught Gameela Wright) is more than someone to help with the ASL signing at Thanksgiving – she has been the one assisting Carla cope with her illness.
“I Was Most Alive with You” explores the complex ways we communicate with or without speaking and hearing. Whether our language is English or ASL, how we insinuate, describe, perceive, interpret, parse, and understand the world around us is rehearsed with authenticity and believability. The play also explores how humankind deals with tragedy and deep despair. In the final scene – back in the present – Astrid and Ash are finishing the teleplay with Knox making a decision that threatens to explode life as his family knows it.Has Knoxdecided to end his life? Will Farhad intervene? How will the real and the fictional end? Astrid asks an emotionally distraught Ash whether he can accept an ending that includes rescuing Knox or whether he can live with “whatever happens.” Perhaps that is the only question available to the bereft, the wounded, the distraught, the suffering. And if it is, can we accept that choice?
I WAS MOST ALIVE WITH YOU
The cast of “I Was Most Alive with You” features Marianna Bassham, Tad Cooley, Lisa Emery, Michael Gaston, Russell Harvard, Lois Smith, and Gameela Wright. The shadow cast includes Beth Applebaum, Harold Foxx, Seth Gore, Amelia Hensley, Christina Marie, Anthony Natale, and Alexandria Wailes.
The creative team includes Arnulfo Maldonado (scenic design), David C. Woolard (costume design), Annie Wiegand (lighting design), Jane Shaw (sound design), Alex Koch (projection design), Daniel Kluger (original music), and Brett Anders(Production Stage Manager)
“I Was Most Alive with You”runs at Playwrights Horizons (416 West 42nd Street) through Sunday October 14th on the following performance schedule: Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 7:00 p.m., Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m., and Sundays at 7:30p.m. Matinee performances take place Saturdays and Sundays at 2:30p.m. Tickets start at $59.00 and are available at https://www.playwrightshorizons.org/. Running tine is 2 hours and 15 minutes with one 15-minute intermission.
Photo: Russell Harvard (Knox) and Tad Cooley (Farhad) in “I Was Most Alive with You” at Playwrights Horizons. Credit: Joan Marcus.
Tennessee Williams’ 1979 play “A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur” connects deeply with all (individuals, governments, nation-states) suffering the malaise of loss or lack of identity and the quest for independence that sometimes results in broken hearts. Perhaps there is a mercy-seat for all who languish with wounded hearts.Read More
We could have had an exciting portrayal of these congressional hearings, as there is no doubt that these performers (Dracyn Blount, Alexander Chilton, Shayna Conde, Nick Daly, and Georgia Lee King) would have all excelled at telling that story; they were excellent. Instead, we get part history and mostly art, and frankly, this wasn’t advertised and not what I signed up for.Read More
Currently playing at Walkerspace, The Pond Theatre Company’s “The Naturalists” is a compelling look at how one’s “secret” past can suddenly and unexpectedly encroach on the present and delay one’s progress into the future. Brothers Francis Sloane (a thoughtful and tender John Keating) and Billy Sloane (a defiant and burdened Tim Ruddy) enjoy an uneventful present in their mobile home in a rural hamlet of County Monaghan, Ireland in 2010. Their lives might not be described as idyllic; however, they get along most of the time, and the income from their cattle farm seems to provide a comfortable albeit spartan existence.Read More
For many adults, dealing with an aging parent and ensuring that they are cared for can be a challenging issue. More specifically, the dilemma of moving a parent out of the place they’ve called home for many years, and into a living home or community for the elderly, can be a hard one for both sides of that relationship. It’s a topic that is delved into on a very human and intimate level in In the Bleak Midwinter, the new play from Emmy award-winning actor/writer/director Dorothy Lyman, which has been receiving constant praise during its run at Theatre 54 at Shetler Studios.Read More
New York Contributing Critic
A new translation of a Russian classic has made a home off-Broadway and into the thoughts of any audience member lucky enough to snag a ticket before the end of its run. Presented by Double Decker productions, Meshahnye (sometimes translated as “The Philistines”) was the premiere play by socialist realism founder Maxim Gorky. It follows a family who’s bond rapidly deteriorates as the characters wrestle with a shifting socio-economic climate all while the Russian Revolution and subsequent aftermath looms outside their window.
A piece that primarily focuses on the generational divide between parent and child. Most of the conflict derives the weight that comes because of this generation gap. Gorky (only 33 upon the play’s publication) made the choice not to blame either party and instead present the flaws in both groups’ ideologies whilst keeping both elder and child in an empathetic light. This all too relatable conflict is aided by Jenny Sterlin’s new translation and direction which manages to breathe new life into a revered classic. While a strong and capable cast pulls off a marathon of a play (clocking in at two and a half hours) which on its own is an impressive feat. Though I should note that the strength of both the text and the cast is so great that you barely notice the length.
Heading this unit is the family patriarch Bessemenov (portrayed by John Lenartz). Lenartz manages to garner sympathy from the audience by bringing humanity to what is on paper and in the hands of a less capable performer a crotchety curmudgeon. At his side is the phenomenal Isabella Knight portraying Akulina, the matriarch of the family clan. Knight brings a dignified desperation to her character’s feeble attempts at making peace between her husband and children. Her pleas for peace fall upon the deaf ears of her children, the perpetually miserable Tatiana (Annie Nelson) and the often angst-ridden Peter (Thomas Burns Scully). Despite the picture both Gorky’s dialogue and Jenny Sterlin’s translation paint of Tatiana’s mental state, Nelson finds her strongest moments in Tatiana’s silence rather than in her declarations of misery. While Scully’s take on Peter is earnest and endearing with more than a fair share of humor sprinkled in, making what could very easily be an unlikable character charming. Watching the familial chaos unfold is their tenant Teterev (Zenon Zeleniuch) Zeleniuch portrays Teterev with a near devilish glee often deriving pleasure from the family’s plight. But if Teterev is the devil on this family’s metaphorical shoulder than Perchikin the drunken bird-seller serves as their angel. Kenneth Cavett’s Perchikhin is jovial and brings levity to the often grim subject matter. His speeches about his birds as well as requests for connection from the children who once admired him are rapturous and tragic. As these requests are often brushed off or unheard. Another beacon of positivity in an otherwise miserable household is Perchikhin’s daughter Polya (Ninoshka De Leon Gill) who portrayed with a childlike naivete and plucky determination.
Overall Meshahnye is a riveting revelation and sure to strike a chord with anyone who has gone home winter break after spending a semester abroad. Playing at the Theatre for the New City until September 30th this is new interpretation of an all too relevant classic is not one to miss.
Last summer, I had the chance to see many of the shows that were participating in the 10th annual Planet Connections Theatre Festivity. There were many intriguing selections, not all of which I had the chance to see, unfortunately. Among such shows which I had been hoping to see, at the time, was Girl Inside the Mirror, a new theatre-dance piece from writer/director Nicoletta Mandriotti. Thankfully, however, I recently had the chance to see it during its second run at Theater for the New City – as part of their annual Dream Up festival – upon being invited to review the show.Read More
There’s a lot of impressive history behind the Duplex Cabaret Theatre. I remember when I first went there to see a friend perform in her own show this past summer, and seeing and hearing about all the past legends – from Joan Rivers to Woody Allen – spent their early careers in this legendary venue. Of course, like any venue that has so many guest performers, it’s fair to assume that for all the good performers, there are also the bad ones. Every so often, however, there are also the performers who aren’t bad, but aren’t phenomenal, either, which is what I was treated to this past weekend.Read More
Last month, I had the opportunity of seeing All the Kings Horses, a relatively short but brilliant drama at Shetler Studios’ Bridge Theatre which revolved around the highly important issue of domestic violence. It was just the most recent work from the prolific writer/director Pamela Scott, who is clearly keeping busy this summer, as she immediately followed it up with the return of a previously produced, critically acclaimed one-act, now playing at the Hudson Guild Theatre as part of the New York Theatre Festival’s 2018 NYSummerfest.Read More
In recent years, an increasing trend I’ve noticed in independent theatre is one of artists taking the short stories of legendary writers from the 19th and early 20th centuries, and adapting them for the stage, in the hopes of re-introducing these stories to new generations. Some of these adaptations have generally been more impressive than others. However, In the Penal Colony – based on the short story by Franz Kafka of the same name – certainly stands out, in that goes further than other such works, in terms of how creative they are with the way they depict the story.Read More
When you think about it, we’re not all that different as human beings. We love, we argue, we solve problems, we grow and evolve, we may feel jealous occasionally, the list goes on and on. For anyone reading this review, I have a hard time believing how that would be a disagreeable assessment of the human race. Less certain, however, is whether these feelings are also felt universally among insects, such as larvae and butterflies. Yet in the new play Larvae, the clear and definitive answer is “yes”.Read More
Whenever I see a play promote itself as a “serious comedy”, I admit that my gut reaction is almost always half enthusiastic and half skeptical. Enthusiastic because I love plays that make me think about serious issues just as much as I love a good laugh, but skeptical because of how challenging it can be to pull off the perfect balance of being hysterical without being too serious, and vice versa. As I was watching the so-called “serious comedy” Suicidal Life Coach, one of several new plays being presented at the Hudson Guild Theatre this summer, I was reminded of why this is how I often react that way.Read More
For the past few years, there’s been an ongoing debate throughout the United States and Europe over whether or not to accept refugees from Syria and other Middle Eastern nations in turmoil, and if so, how many. Often, those who support either barring or limiting the welcoming of these refugees cite the need to put the care of their home nations first and foremost, above all others. However, when watching a show such as HAK – a new one-act drama from Berkay Ates, which recently completed its residency at HB Studio – it’s only harder to see how anyone could argue that failing to care for refugees is anything but terrible for humanity.Read More
In 2016, a small theatre company in New York made waves when they presented an all-female production of William Shakespeare’s The Tempest in Central Park and Prospect Park. For the most part, the attention it received had little to do with it being an outdoor performance, or even that it was an all-female cast. Rather, it was because the entire cast performed the show sans clothing. The following summer in 2017, Torn Out Theater would return with an all-male production of Hamlet, also performed outdoors and in the nude. This year, however, the company decided to take things in a slightly different direction, with a mixed-cast nude performance of a play by history’s first recorded professional playwright.Read More
Mental health and suicide prevention are issues of vital importance, and I’ve long believed that artists in theatre needed to do more to explore these issues, and to fuel a conversation around them. So naturally, as I was reading about Bryan Williams’ new musical Alex and Eugene, I had high hopes and high expectations. Unfortunately, while not a terrible show, much was left to be desired.Read More
One can only imagine how hard it would be to enter into the Witness Protection Program. Having to leave behind your old life, your true identity, your family, and anything else that may have been part of your past. The pain is only made worse, if the person with whom you’re stuck in the program with is a lifelong criminal and a domestic abuser. That’s exactly what we see with our own eyes in All the King’s Horses, a short but potent drama from award-winning playwright Pamela Scott playing at the Bridge Theatre at Shetler Studios.Read More
It’s basically an open secret that the NYC club scene can be a very gritty and intense world. It’s arguably like the rest of this city, in that it can be full of fun, but also full of danger and risk. If you’ve never been to a club like the one I’m describing, then perhaps the next closest thing to knowing what it’s like to be there, in the middle of the action, is seeing Death of a Bottle Girl, the brand new autobiographical solo show from Sydnee Washington.Read More
Most statistics show that the vast majority of marriages today end in divorce. While many kids with divorced parents ultimately grow up to become very happy and successful adults, the fact of the matter is that it still isn’t a pleasant experience, while growing up. So what do you do about it? Make a few jokes about it, of course! At least, that seems to be one of the lessons from Serpent’s Tooth, an event of various featured storytellers – revolving around the theme of memorable awkward events, when they were younger - on the last night of The Tank’s highly successful Speak Up, Rise Up festival.Read More
The revival of Grammy-Award-Winning “Smokey Joe’s Cafe: The Songs of Leiber & Stoller,” having headed south from its recent engagement at the Ogunquit Playhouse in Maine, has landed at Stage 42 in New York City to positive notices from the press – including this one! Forty iconic Leiber and Stoller hits in ninety minutes would be glorious enough, but hearing those songs delivered by a cast of nine extraordinary singers and dancers backed by a powerhouse eight-member band is an experienced not to be missed. “Smokey Joe’s Café” currently running at Stage 42 delivers more that might expect from any musical revue.Read More