Monthly Archives: November 2016

LONNY PRICE: ‘BEST WORST THING THAT EVERY COULD HAVE HAPPENED’ (DOCUMENTARY ON ‘MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG’ ·

(Stephen Holden’s article appeared in The New York Times, 11/17; via Pam Green.)

I was one of the few to see the original production of “Merrily We Roll Along,” which opened on Broadway in 1981 and, having received mostly catastrophic reviews, closed after 16 performances. On the night I saw it, the audience response was polite but halfhearted because by then it was already a certified flop.

The buildup to the opening of a musical that everyone expected would be a hit and the subsequent crash are movingly chronicled in Lonny Price’s documentary, “Best Worst Thing That Ever Could Have Happened.” The show, produced and directed by Harold Prince, had first-rate songs by Stephen Sondheim in the brassy mainstream Broadway tradition, and a clever book by George Furth, who had been the librettist for “Company.”

Expectations were especially high because “Merrily” was the follow-up to Mr. Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler’s “Sweeney Todd.” How could it fail? The abrupt letdown was a brutal shock to everyone involved, and resulted in the severing of the seemingly unbreakable Sondheim-Prince collaboration.

(Read more)

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/18/movies/best-worst-thing-that-ever-could-have-happened-review-stephen-sondheim.html?_r=0

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UNIVERSES: ‘PARTY PEOPLE’ AT THE PUBLIC THEATER (REVIEW FROM NEW YORK) ·

PARTY PEOPLE By UNIVERSES: Steven Sapp, Mildred Ruiz-Sapp, William Ruiz aka Ninja Composed by UNIVERSES with Broken Chord Choreography by Millicent Johnnie Developed and Directed by Liesl Tommy Featuring Oberon K.A. Adjepong (Blue); Michael Elich (Marcus, FBI Agent); Gizel Jiménez (Clara); Ramona Keller (Amira); Christopher Livingston (Malik); Jesse J. Perez (Tito); Sophia Ramos (Maruca); Robynn Rodriguez (Donna, Fina); Horace V. Rogers (Solias); William Ruiz a.k.a. Ninja (Jimmy “Primo”); Mildred Ruiz-Sapp (Helita); and Steven Sapp (Omar). Scenic and Lighting Design Marcus Doshi Costume Design Meg Neville Sound Design and Vocal Direction Broken Chord Projection Design Sven Ortel Wig Design Cookie Jordan

PARTY PEOPLE
By UNIVERSES: Steven Sapp, Mildred Ruiz-Sapp, William Ruiz aka Ninja
Composed by UNIVERSES with Broken Chord
Choreography by Millicent Johnnie
Developed and Directed by Liesl Tommy
Featuring Oberon K.A. Adjepong (Blue); Michael Elich (Marcus, FBI Agent); Gizel Jiménez (Clara); Ramona Keller (Amira); Christopher Livingston (Malik); Jesse J. Perez (Tito); Sophia Ramos (Maruca); Robynn Rodriguez (Donna, Fina); Horace V. Rogers (Solias); William Ruiz a.k.a. Ninja (Jimmy “Primo”); Mildred Ruiz-Sapp (Helita); and Steven Sapp (Omar).
Scenic and Lighting Design Marcus Doshi
Costume Design Meg Neville
Sound Design and Vocal Direction Broken Chord
Projection Design Sven Ortel
Wig Design Cookie Jordan

By Bob Shuman

The two young Black Panther wannabes, Malik (Christopher Livingston) and Jimmy (William Ruiz a.k.a. Ninja) in Party People, now playing at the Public Theatre through December 11, are “snowflakes,” the jargon used for those unprepared to deal with social or political realities.  Obnoxious, unfunny, and immature, they might be in need of–especially after the outcome of the presidential election–therapy dogs, disaster counseling, Play-Doh, and coloring books (to borrow language from Fox news).  Yet the black nationalist movement of the ‘60s, recruited from those younger than them—kids who were in their mid-teens.

Members of the Black Panthers line up at a rally at DeFremery Park in Oakland, Calif.

Members of the Black Panthers line up at a rally at DeFremery Park in Oakland, Calif.  Photo: Stephen Shames.

Maybe the musical is commenting on the fact that all youth can be rather puerile or perhaps it is bluntly saying that they don’t make revolutionaries like in the day. Party People, however, developed and directed by Liesl Tommy, is probably the best idea for a musical, or drama, or opera that never happened–one that could take us into the ‘60s U.S., like audiences have been drawn into Peronist Argentina (Evita) or Nazi Germany (Cabaret), although, of all musicals, Party People seems most comparable to Sondheim’s Follies. Besides lacking a riveting, intriguing or sympathetic central character–like an Evita or Sally Bowles–Party People hasn’t been tightly plotted (in fact, no credit is given for a specific book writer, although nonspecific work is attributed to Steven Sapp, Mildred Ruiz-Sapp, and William Ruiz a.k.a. Ninja). The show wants to mainstream and celebrate the Black Panthers, but, no surprise, not all people deem the group worthy of accolades, nor do they accede that its evolution into the newer movement Black Lives Matter, is all that praiseworthy either.

Hillary Clinton lost the 2016 election after using the July Democratic convention to endorse BLM; Trump has proclaimed law and order and won—Party People comes at us on the wrong side of the historical moment and was probably counting on a more favorable political space to inhabit after rehearsals, even if it is playing in New York. It won’t get one based on its naïve attempt at revisionism, though. That’s part of the challenge—to make the evening less propagandistic. Audiences will have a hard time believing that the Black Panthers were not militants and that they did not arouse fear. It should be all right that the general public may not feel the same way about the Panthers as its creators do—but a partial reconciliation might have happened at Party People if  more conflict from opposing points of view were expressed within the crucible of the performance space (the show does incorporate the opinions of the movement’s elders, and, at the end of Act I, the wife of a dead cop finds her way into a celebration for interviewees of a Black Party documentary).

PARTY PEOPLE By UNIVERSES: Steven Sapp, Mildred Ruiz-Sapp, William Ruiz aka Ninja Composed by UNIVERSES with Broken Chord Choreography by Millicent Johnnie Developed and Directed by Liesl Tommy Featuring Oberon K.A. Adjepong (Blue); Michael Elich (Marcus, FBI Agent); Gizel Jiménez (Clara); Ramona Keller (Amira); Christopher Livingston (Malik); Jesse J. Perez (Tito); Sophia Ramos (Maruca); Robynn Rodriguez (Donna, Fina); Horace V. Rogers (Solias); William Ruiz a.k.a. Ninja (Jimmy “Primo”); Mildred Ruiz-Sapp (Helita); and Steven Sapp (Omar). Scenic and Lighting Design Marcus Doshi Costume Design Meg Neville Sound Design and Vocal Direction Broken Chord Projection Design Sven Ortel Wig Design Cookie Jordan

PARTY PEOPLE
By UNIVERSES: Steven Sapp, Mildred Ruiz-Sapp, William Ruiz aka Ninja
Composed by UNIVERSES with Broken Chord
Choreography by Millicent Johnnie
Developed and Directed by Liesl Tommy
Featuring Oberon K.A. Adjepong (Blue); Michael Elich (Marcus, FBI Agent); Gizel Jiménez (Clara); Ramona Keller (Amira); Christopher Livingston (Malik); Jesse J. Perez (Tito); Sophia Ramos (Maruca); Robynn Rodriguez (Donna, Fina); Horace V. Rogers (Solias); William Ruiz a.k.a. Ninja (Jimmy “Primo”); Mildred Ruiz-Sapp (Helita); and Steven Sapp (Omar).
Scenic and Lighting Design Marcus Doshi
Costume Design Meg Neville
Sound Design and Vocal Direction Broken Chord
Projection Design Sven Ortel
Wig Design Cookie Jordan

The context and historical specifics for the show are fuzzy—although the audience is dismissively told to “Google that shit.” The creators have not been brave enough to undertake a tougher accounting of the times (where are the assassinations of Martin Luther King, which accelerated Black Panther membership, or Bobby Kennedy?). Like the diarist in Simon Stephens’s Heisenberg, who forgot to write about the ‘60s, the chaos, the passion, the blood of the era, including the riots, political outrage, and the Vietnam War, aren’t spilling in. Party People, with atmospheric music, including rap and acapella songs, by Universes with Broken Chord and the strong work of invested performers, is more centered on Huey Newton’s social concerns than Eldridge Cleaver’s call for armed insurgency. The musical has scrubbed the intimidating radicalism of the Panthers and not put us on the ground and into the streets where challenging Brechtian solutions could have informed and electrified the audience, especially since the Anspacher Theater is equipped with all forms of theatrical technology, including multiple video screens. Such design elements are underutilized here, and the show, which is wary of history, yet wants to rewrite it almost as a pseudo-documentary, could have included a more intricate video immersion.  This would have let the audience see the era for themselves in real footage, words, and stills.  Part of the intent of Party People is to underline the fact that the Black Panthers were normal, ordinary people trying to improve lives through community outreach—to many, as well as J. Edgar Hoover, however, they were dangerous, secular Socialists.  Lorraine Hansberry—who wrote about police brutality in To Be Young Gifted and Black–Amiri Baraka, and Brecht aren’t around, of course—but instead of a continuation of the party line through agitprop theatre, Party People needs more specificity, more character work, more depth, and less self-approval.

Malik and Jimmy aren’t prepared to be unfollowed on Twitter, much less face a liberal loss in the election.  They’re puff-piece propagandists, trying to revise and water down the history and legacy of black nationalism through social media hashtags and technology, scarily reinforcing reports of the dishonored and dishonest New York Times showcasing positive articles on Hillary Clinton and her candidacy, not negative ones.  Facebook, additionally, was not checking for fake news during the 2016 election cycle.  While propaganda might be impossible to separate from theater, or journalism, or media, general audiences may be more attracted to different elements in drama—like character, plot, deep human meaning and connections. That’s the sobering truth.

black-panthers-crowd-1000x679

Press: Julie Danni, Laura Rigby, the Public Theater.

Visit the Public Theater: http://www.publictheater.org/

Text (c) 2016 by Bob Shuman.  All rights reserved. 

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AT A BROOKLYN HIGH SCHOOL, PLENTY OF DRAMA BEFORE THE CURTAIN GOES UP ·

highschool

(Helene Stapinski’s article appeared in The New York Times, 11/11; via Pam Green.)

John Lavigne, a teacher in Brooklyn, has a problem, but it’s a good problem for a teacher to have: He must force his students to leave school at the end of each day.

“They’re here even on weekends and free periods,” said Mr. Lavigne, who teaches technical theater at Edward R. Murrow High School in Midwood. “They’re here all the time. It’s like pulling teeth getting them to go home.”

As a new wave of students drifted into the auditorium, Mr. Lavigne, a small man with a large beard, told them to grab some brushes and start painting the base coat on the newly constructed stage set for “Into the Woods,” one of the high school’s two big annual musicals. The basic set is a library, from within which the play’s fairy tales will unfold when the show has its premiere in mid-December.

(Read more)

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/13/nyregion/at-a-brooklyn-high-school-plenty-of-drama-before-the-curtain-goes-up.html?_r=0

Photo: New York Times/Emon Hassan

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MIKE BARTLETT: ‘KING CHARLES III’ (LISTEN NOW ON BBC RADIO 3, DRAMA ON 3) ·

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(Listen at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b061fmty )

After a lifetime of waiting, Charles ascends the throne. A future of power. But how to rule? Mike Bartlett’s ‘future history’ play won the 2015 Olivier Award for Best New Play. The production, directed by Rupert Goold, premiered at the Almeida Theatre before moving to the West End in a co-production with Sonia Friedman Productions and Stuart Thompson Productions.

This “bracingly provocative and outrageously entertaining new play” (The Independent) explores the people underneath the crowns, the unwritten rules of our democracy, and the conscience of Britain’s most famous family.

KING CHARLES III was first produced by the Almeida Theatre and subsequently co-produced at the Wyndham’s Theatre in the West End of London by Sonia Friedman Productions and Stuart Thompson Productions in association with Lee Dean & Charles Diamond and Tulchin Bartner Productions. The sound designer for the theatre production was Paul Arditti.

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Mike Bartlett’s radio play NOT TALKING won both the Imison and Tinniswood Awards in 2007. He has been Writer-In-Residence at the both the National Theatre and The Royal Court Theatre. His play LOVE, LOVE, LOVE won Best New Play in the 2011 Theatre Awards UK; COCK won an Olivier Award in 2010 for Outstanding Achievement in an Affiliate Theatre, as did BULL in 2015. As well as winning the Olivier Award for Best New Play, KING CHARLES III won the Critics’ Circle Award for Best Play of 2014.

Photo: The Times

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VP-ELECT MIKE PENCE BOOED AT ‘HAMILTON’ ·

(Micheal Kaplan’s and Chloe Kaplan’s article appeared in the New York Post, 11/19; via the Drudge Report.)

Vice President-elect Mike Pence was booed Friday night at a performance of the Broadway hit “Hamilton.”

Pence was walking to his seat at the Richard Rodgers Theatre when a few scattered claps turned into a thundering chorus of boos.

The crowd continued to mock Pence throughout the performance, including during the song “Yorktown,” when Alexander Hamilton and Marquis de Lafayette sang “Immigrants, we get the job done.” They high-fived each other as the audience cheered.

Brandon Dixon, who plays Aaron Burr, addressed Pence after the curtain call, saying the diverse cast is “anxious” about his administration.

(Read more)

http://nypost.com/2016/11/19/vp-elect-mike-pence-booed-at-hamilton/

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6 PLAYS THAT RECKON WITH AN ANXIOUS AMERICA ·

(Erik Piepenburg’s article appeared in The New York Times, 11/11; via Pam Green.)

Journalists and pollsters may have been caught off guard by the election of Donald J. Trump. Maybe they should have gone to the theater more.

Here’s a look at six recent plays — four you can see now in New York, two to read, and all of them favorites of our critics — that reckon with the lives of working-class Americans and others facing economic anxiety. (Many of the theaters are offering discounted tickets; check their websites for more information.)

‘Women of a Certain Age’

Public Theater (Through Dec. 4)

WHAT IT’S ABOUT Richard Nelson’s drama — the third in his “Election Year in the Life of One Family” trilogy — quietly follows the lives of the Gabriels, a middle-class family with deep roots in Rhinebeck, N.Y. The play unfolds on election night 2016, as members of a left-leaning family gather in the kitchen to make a meal and consider their diminished economic fortunes and the political landscape. Marathon performances of the trilogy will be held in December; a tour heads to Washington, Australia and Hong Kong beginning in January.

WHAT OUR CRITIC SAID Mr. Nelson “asks us to sit down in real time, in the kitchen of a close family for a casual meal. And as we listen to its members talk, even on trivial subjects like the decoration of cookies, we feel the far-reaching tremors of a scared country that has come down with a rattling case of identity crisis.” [Read the review]

TICKETS publictheater.org

(Read more)

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/12/theater/6-plays-that-reckon-with-an-anxious-america.html?_r=0

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WINNERS OF THE 2016 LONDON EVENING STANDARD AWARDS ·

(Jessie Thompson’s article appeared in the London Evening Standard, 11/16.)

The winners for the 62nd London Evening Standard Theatre Awards have been announced, with Billie Piper named best actress and Ralph Fiennes best actor. 

They received their awards at a star-studded ceremony at the Old Vic on Sunday evening, which was co-hosted by Sir Elton John and Evgeny Lebedev and presented by Rob Brydon.

Piper was recognised for her performance in Yerma at the Young Vic, which Evening Standard critic Henry Hitchings described as ‘devastatingly good’. The play sold out for its run, with queues around the block of those hoping to get their hands on a return ticket. 

She was presented with the award by James McAvoy and dedicated the win to her mum.

(Read more)

http://www.standard.co.uk/goingout/theatre/evening-standard-theatre-awards-2016-billie-piper-and-ralph-fiennes-take-home-top-acting-prizes-a3393611.html

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LOST CLASSICS OF GREEK TRAGEDY ·

greek

(Charlotte Higgins’s article appeared in the Guardian, 11/10.)

Think of Greek tragedy and we tend to think of sad stories of the death of kings. Or, if not their deaths, then at least their comeuppances: Agamemnon killed in his bath by his wife; Ajax made mad and murderous by the gods; Oedipus blinded by his own hand; Jason destroyed after his wife, Medea, kills their children.

But only 32 complete plays survive, by just three playwrights – out of hundreds, or perhaps as many as 1,000 texts by around 80 authors. And, according to Matthew Wright, professor of Greek at the University of Exeter, the works we have by Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides are neither necessarily the best plays of their time, nor especially representative. Some of these lost works, he believes, were likely to have been masterpieces: “There is no evidence that quality played a part in the transmission of the surviving texts.”

(Read more)

https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2016/nov/10/the-one-where-medea-saves-her-kids-lost-classics-of-greek-tragedy

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DAVE MALLOY: ‘NATASHA, PIERRE AND THE GREAT COMET OF 1812’ (SV PICK, NY) ·

(Charles Isherwood’s article appeared in The New York Times, 11/14.)

The Imperial Theater, where the rapturous musical “Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812” blazed opened on Monday night, has never looked more imperial — or felt more intimate. Who would have guessed that Dave Malloy’s gorgeous pop opera, adapted from a slice of Tolstoy’s “War and Peace,” would land on Broadway with all its signal virtues intact, and in some ways heightened?

After all, it was born four years ago in the shoe box of Ars Nova, one of the most adventurous Off Broadway companies, before moving into a specially built cabaret-style space in the meatpacking district. I’ll cop to some trepidation about its arrival in a traditional proscenium theater.

Could the show, essentially a chamber opera with a small chorus, retain its emotional potency in a house that seats more than a thousand people? Would the immersive staging, including plentiful frisky interaction between performers and the audience, be jettisoned? Was the casting of the glossy pop star Josh Groban in the role of Pierre, a gloomy and none-too-dashing aristocrat, merely a cynical move to sell tickets?

(Read more)

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/15/theater/natasha-pierre-and-the-great-comet-of-1812-review.html?_r=0

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‘THE NEW YORKER’ THEATRE LISTINGS, 11/21 PLAYDECK ·

In previews.

The Babylon Line

Richard Greenberg’s new play, set in 1967, follows a Greenwich Village writer (Josh Radnor) who connects with a student (Elizabeth Reaser) while teaching an adult-ed class in Levittown.…

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Mitzi E. Newhouse

Uptown

 

In previews.

The Band’s Visit

David Cromer directs a new musical by David Yazbek and Itamar Moses, based on a 2007 Israeli film about an Egyptian rock band that gets stranded in the Negev Desert.…

READ MORE »

Atlantic Theatre Company

Chelsea

 

In previews.

A Bronx Tale

Robert De Niro and Jerry Zaks co-direct a musical adaptation of Chazz Palminteri’s semi-autobiographical one-man show, set in his native borough in the sixties and featuring a doo-wop…

READ MORE »

Longacre

Midtown

 

In previews.

The Dead, 1904

Kate Burton stars in Paul Muldoon and Jean Hanff Korelitz’s adaptation of the Joyce tale; the Irish Rep’s production roams three floors of a historic town…

READ MORE »

American Irish Historical Society

Uptown

 

In previews. Opens Nov. 17.

Dead Poets Society

Jason Sudeikis plays a nonconformist teacher at an all-boys school, in Tom Schulman’s adaptation of his screenplay for the 1989 film, directed by John Doyle.

READ MORE »

Classic Stage Company

Downtown

 

In previews.

Dear Evan Hansen

Ben Platt plays an antisocial teen-ager who finds himself in a moral quandary after a classmate’s death, in a new musical by Benj Pasek, Justin Paul, and Steven…

READ MORE »

Music Box

Midtown

 

In previews. Opens Nov. 13.

The Death of the Last Black Man…

Suzan-Lori Parks’s comedy, directed by Lileana Blain-Cruz, explores the archetypes of the African-American experience in absurdist vignettes.

READ MORE »

Pershing Square Signature Center

Midtown

In previews.

In Transit

This new a-cappella musical, directed by Kathleen Marshall and written by Kristen Anderson-Lopez, James-Allen Ford, Russ Kaplan, and Sara Wordsworth, traces the intertwining lives of New York commuters.

READ MORE »

Circle in the Square

Midtown

 

Nov. 17-20.

Memory Rings

At the Next Wave Festival, Phantom Limb Company stages a piece about five thousand years of environmental change, using puppetry, projections, and fairy tale.

READ MORE »

BAM Harvey Theatre

Brooklyn

 

Previews begin Nov. 9. Opens Nov. 13.

Mouse: The Persistence of an Unlikely Thought

The British comedian and existential raconteur Daniel Kitson returns, with a story about a rodent and a phone call.

READ MORE »

St. Ann’s Warehouse

Brooklyn

 

In previews. Opens Nov. 14.

Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of…

Josh Groban and Denée Benton star in Dave Malloy’s electro-pop adaptation of a section of “War and Peace.” Rachel Chavkin directs the immersive production, which originated at Ars Nova.…

READ MORE »

Imperial

Midtown

 

Previews begin Nov. 22.

Othello

David Oyelowo plays the title role in Sam Gold’s production of the Shakespeare tragedy, opposite Daniel Craig’s Iago.

READ MORE »

New York Theatre Workshop

Downtown

 

Opens Nov. 16.

Othello: The Remix

The Q Brothers (“The Bomb-itty of Errors”) perform their five-person, eighty-minute hip-hop retelling of the Shakespeare tragedy.

READ MORE »

Westside

Midtown

 

In previews. Opens Nov. 15.

Party People

The Universes ensemble stages this piece about the Black Panther Party and the Young Lords, based on interviews with veterans…

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Public

Downtown

 

In previews.

Rancho Viejo

In Dan LeFranc’s comedy, directed by Daniel Aukin, the residents of a Southwestern suburb gossip and fret over the separation of an unseen married couple.

READ MORE »

Playwrights Horizons

Midtown

In previews.

Ride the Cyclone

MCC Theatre presents a musical by Jacob Richmond and Brooke Maxwell, in which a chamber choir involved in a tragic roller-coaster accident meets a magical fortune-teller.

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Lucille Lortel

Opens Nov. 16.

The Servant of Two Masters

Theatre for a New Audience revives the 1745 Carlo Goldoni comedy, directed by Christopher Bayes and featuring Steven Epp as Truffaldino, the double-dipping servant.

READ MORE »

Polonsky Shakespeare Center

Brooklyn

 

In previews.

The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart

The National Theatre of Scotland stages this immersive musical fable at the home of “Sleep No More,” transforming its speakeasy space, the Heath, into a Scottish pub.

READ MORE »

McKittrick Hotel

Chelsea

 

In previews. Opens Nov. 3.

Sweat

Kate Whoriskey directs a new play by Lynn Nottage, about a group of friends from an assembly line who find themselves at odds amid layoffs and pickets.

READ MORE »

Public

Downtown

In previews. Opens Nov. 20.

Sweet Charity

Sutton Foster stars as a dance-hall hostess in the New Group’s revival of the 1966 musical, by Neil Simon, Cy Coleman, and Dorothy Fields. Leigh Silverman directs.

READ MORE »

Pershing Square Signature Center

Midtown

 

Opens Nov. 16.

Terms of Endearment

Molly Ringwald stars in Dan Gordon’s play, based on the Larry McMurtry novel and the 1983 film, which follows a mother and daughter coping with love and tragedy over…

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59E59

Midtown

 

In previews. Opens Nov. 21.

This Day Forward

Mark Brokaw directs a new play by Nicky Silver (“The Lyons”), in which a wife’s confession in a honeymoon suite has ramifications fifty years later.

READ MORE »

Vineyard

Downtown

 

In previews.

Tiny Beautiful Things

Nia Vardalos stars in a stage adaptation of Cheryl Strayed’s book, about her stint writing the advice column “Dear Sugar.” Thomas Kail directs.

READ MORE »

Public

Downtown

(Read more)

http://www.newyorker.com/culture

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