Let's Talk Off Broadway

Yvonne Korshak reviews Off-Broadway, Broadway, Film and Art

Tag: Atlantic Theater Company

Review | The Band’s Visit | Music & Lyrics by David Yazbek | Book by Itamar Moses | Atlantic Theater Company

…. cultural ambassadors …

A travel weary Egyptian ceremonial police band on their way to play a concert in the Israeli city of Petah Tikva get off the bus by mistake at the small town of Bet Hatikva (you can see how that mistake can be made). There won’t be another bus until morning.  Thank heavens for the mistake – or we wouldn’t have this wonderful musical!

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Review | The Purple Lights of Joppa Illinois | Written & Directed by Adam Rapp | Atlantic Theater Company

… holding on …

Purple Lights of Joppa Illinois is a tense, brilliant drama that takes you from the worst to the best.

From the first moment we see Ellis, a man in his 40’s in khakis and a plaid shirt, agonizing over deodorant and picking invisible dirt out of the rug, we know that he’s crazily over-anxious about expected visitors, erratically nutty, and trying to seem “OK” like other men.  When two teenage girls arrive, Monique, a Black, fast-talking self-defined “gangsta,” and Catherine, White, thin, on edge, who seems unable to look anybody in the eye, you think you’ve snagged it.  

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Review | Cloud Nine | By Caryl Churchill | Directed by James Macdonald | Atlantic Theater

… mix and match through time … 

Looking at first like a comedy of manners, Act I takes us to a British colony in Africa during Victorian times.  We soon learn that the characters – members of a nuclear family, some friends, servants and hangers-on – are embroiled in infidelity and/or non-conventional sexual arrangements, passions and longings in the context of stiff upper lip British Empire attitudes and a do-what-you-want-as-long-as-it-stays-discrete way of getting along.

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Review | Guards At The Taj | By Rajiv Joseph | With Omar Metwaly and Arian Moayed | Directed by Amy Morton | Atlantic Theater Company

Two guards are on duty at an outer gate in the walls surrounding the Taj Mahal on the day of its completion, Humayan, conservative and authority fearing and Babur, a free spirit with an inventive imagination.  Word comes out that Shah Jihan, who had the Taj built as a tomb for his favorite wife, has now ordered the amputation of the hands of all of those who worked on the Taj – including those of its great architect — to make sure that no building of equal beauty can ever be built.  

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Review | Posterity | Written and Directed by Doug Wright | Starring John Noble as Henrik Ibsen and Hamish Linklater as the sculptor Gustav Vigeland | Atlantic Theater Company

Posterity is an unexpected, fascinating and brilliant play performed by great actors.

It’s 1901 and as the end of life draws near for great Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen, the City of Oslo (Kristiana at the time) seeking to commemorate him with a portrait bust, awards the commission to the sculptor, Gustav Vigeland.   Thus begins a play of titanic struggle between and within – between the playwright and the sculptor, and within their souls.

Both have reasons to want the Ibsen portrait and to distrust it, to hate it.  They’re both opinionated, individualistic, and self-centered, and with their own set of agendas.  They enrage one another to a fury but respect each other’s intelligence, creating dazzling verbal wordplay.

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Review | Dying For It by Moira Buffini | A Free Adaptation of The Suicide by Nikolai Erdman | Directed by Neil Pepe | Atlantic Theater Company

… the arrow of disillusion …

Dying For It is an all-out, hilarious satire of life under the rigid Soviet regime with vivid characters and a fascinating turn of plot — but it’s not all funny.

Semyon Semyonovich, unemployed, lives drearily, supported by the pittance of money earned by his wife, Masha who’s also supporting her live-in mother.  No wonder Masha’s got a bitter streak, making Semyon’s miseries worse. Seeing no other way out, Semyon decides to commit suicide, and is all the more determined after a brief reprieve from despair:  raised hopes followed by utter failure to learn to play the tuba.  Like Molnar’s Liliom, but with an eye to the absurd, the play takes up the psychological import and strains on family life when a man is out of work.

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Review | Found: A New Musical | Directed by Lee Overtree | Based on the Found Books and Magazines by Davy Rothbart | Music and Original Lyrics by Eli Bolin | Book by Hunter Bell and Lee Overtree | Atlantic Theater Company

… found objects … 

Found is a charming, touching musical with lots of big laughs, beautifully performed.

It turns out there’s really a magazine, Found, that collects bits and pieces and scraps of writing — “love letters, birthday cards, kids’ homework, to-do lists, ticket stubs, poetry on napkins, receipts, doodles”  — and now there’s a totally delightful musical based on them. 

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Review | The Threepenny Opera | Book and Lyrics by Bertolt Brecht | Music by Kurt Weill | English Adaptation by Mark Blitzstein | Directed and Choreographed by Martha Clarke | Atlantic Theater Company

Mack the Soupspoon (… couldn’t resist …)

From the first moments of the overture, discordant and musical, played by superb musicians from the back of the stage, you know you’re experiencing something great.  The Threepenny Opera is one of the greatest pieces of musical theatre of the 20th Century — it’s up there with Porgy and Bess — and happily this production fulfills it.

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Review | The Night Alive | Written and Directed by Conor McPherson | A Donmar Warehouse Production | AtlanticTheater Company

 … author ex machina …

Never mind the hype – this is not a good play.  The characters and their problems are interesting, but their dire situations are resolved too easily.  

The setting is the junked up Dublin apartment of Tommy, and like the apartment that has the requisite parts – a sink, a bathroom, beds, chairs, the characters are recognizable but junked up, unable to engage fully with the regular world.  Tommy, whose ex-wife hammers at him for abandoning his kids, ekes out a living from odd jobs, employing Doc, a little guy who (we’re told) is slow witted and is wearing out his welcome at his sister's place.  Going out for a snack one night, Tommy comes home with a beaten and bleeding girl, Aimee, whose tight low jeans and sparse speech convey bottom of the social barrel.

Tommy’s Uncle Maurice, who owns the house where Tommy rents, is neat and well dressed:  a property owner and a “normal person” one thinks briefly, but he turns out to be an alcoholic.  

Tommy calls Doc "disabled" and these characters are all one way or another disabled, and yet in their various ways they're all kind, like Tommy who takes the battered, threatened girl into his home.

But there's nothing kind about Kenneth, Aimee’s pimp.  Evil incarnate – the Devil: as he clamps in vampire teeth, his face becomes a Devil's mask.  He wreaks brutal havoc, creating through his own acts and catalyzing others to commit what looks like irrevocable damage

Only the murderous results of Kenneth’s brutality are, as if by magic, repaired.  Through a series of unexplained and implausible leaps – largely off-stage — things turn out OK – even better than OK.  As the play moves along, there's more and more imagery of shining and light.

The characters' problems are solved, partly through the actions of an angelic Uncle Maurice.  Tommy works out with others the healthy relatedness that had been lacking in his life.  Doc gets a secure place to live.  So eventually does Aimee.  And the bad man gets his just deserts.  Yeay!  Never mind that to reach these good results we have to accept some disturbingly unpunished crime. In such a redemptive glow, it's square to even think about the law.    

Things happen not through consistent characters or effective plotting but because it's how the author wants them.  Tommy tells us that Doc “will always, always, be five to ten minutes behind everybody else,” but seen in action, Doc outfoxes Tommy to get the money he's owed, and elsewhere shows the wherewithal to get what he needs and wants.

What particularly annoys me about this play is that problems are resolved by a stroke of the author's hand rather than through struggles on the part of the characters that we witness or understand. Doc rambles in his idiot savant way about black holes and non-time but down-to-earth Tommy ignores him in favor of all that shining and light imagery. 

The author doesn’t allow arbitrary turns of events and downright implausibility to get in the way of redemption.  In my book, that’s a writerly sin.

The Night Alive plays at the Atlantic Theater in Manhattan's Chelsea district through February 2, 2014.  For information and tickets, go to http://www.AtlanticTheater.org

Yvonne Korshak

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Gabriel by Moira Buffini | Directed by David Esbjorn | Atlantic Theater Company

Review | Gabriel by Moira Buffini | Directed by David Esbjorn | Atlantic Theater Company

… archipelago …

There’s an archipelago in the English Channel, nearer to France than to Britain, that England felt it could not defend during World War II and so it fell under German occupation.  Gabriel takes place in February, 1943 on one of the small, occupied islands, populated by natives, the German occupiers, and slave laborers the Germans imported from Eastern Europe to construct fortifications. We never see the slave laborers but their presence is felt in the looming, bunker-like backdrop with its slit-eye.

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