To quote the sage Snap!, it’s gettin’ kinda hectic. With the presidential election mere weeks away (and already underway in most places), theatremakers are upping their game. Last week Broadway.com offered scenes from Angels in America; this week Playbill is offering the entire Brian Dennehy production of Death of a Salesman, Jeremy O. Harris is producing a Zoom encore of Heroes of the Fourth Turning, every major theatre in the country is co-producing a radio play version of Sinclair Lewis’s It Can’t Happen Here. There’s Heidi Schreck’s must-see What the Constitution Means to Me now on Amazon Prime, and a Chuck Mee premiere, Utopia, starting today courtesy of San Francisco’s Cutting Ball.
In these listings, both live and asynchronous, you’ll find a lot of relevance to our current political crisis; you’ll also find, we hope, some succor and escape, if that’s what you’re looking for.
It’s not just getting hectic out there, folks, it’s getting real.
Without further ado…
We’ve seen a lot of innovative approaches to online theatre, but this one seems genuinely new: Arlington, Va.’s Synetic Theater is presenting Christopher Rushing’s interactive, autobiographical exploration Joy in two “separate but parallel versions,” with two different directors and actors performing the piece live: One track features Vato Tsikurishvili under Paata Tsikurishvili’s direction, and the other features Maria Simpkins, under Katherine DuBois’s direction. Audiences are capped at 25 and the experience includes a “hand-selected prop box package” delivered via snail mail (though it can also be viewed minus the box). Showtimes begin Fri., Oct. 16 and run at various days and times through Sun., Nov. 8. Tickets range $39-69 (but for the very devoted, it’s just $10 more to see Joy: Maria if you’ve already seen Joy: Vato, and vice versa).
Also in the spirit of the election, Texas’s Austin Playhouse kicks off its season with Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins by Margaret Engel and Allison Engel. The play features Cyndi Williams as the sharp-witted Texan journalist, voicing her political and personal reflections. Williams will participate in live virtual talkbacks after each live performance. They are Fri.-Sat., Oct. 16-17 at 8 p.m. CT, and Sun., Oct. 18 at 5 p.m. CT. Tickets are offered on a sliding scale starting at $15.
California repertory theatre PCPA Theaterfest continues its Interplay live reading series with the West Coast premiere of Australian playwright Octavio Solis’s Grapes of Wrath sequel Mother Road, Fri., Oct., 16 at 7 p.m. PT and Sat., Oct. 17 at 1:30 p.m. PT. This series wraps with Kenneth Jones’s Civil Rights-era parable Alabama Story, Fri., Oct. 23 at 7 p.m. PT and Sat., Oct. 24 at 1:30 p.m. PT. Tickets are $5 per reading.
A beloved mainstay of New York City’s Central Park, the Swedish Cottage Marionette Theatre in New York City’s Central Park is taking its work virtual with an online open house, in partnership with the Open House New York organization, offering a look at the history of the puppet theatre, which journeyed from Sweden to Philadelphia and now resides in a former schoolhouse in Central Park. The program will also feature a number of puppet shows, including a Puppet Slam showcase. The open house will be available for free on the Open House New York website and City Parks Foundation YouTube channel on Sat., Oct. 17 and Sun. Oct. 18, 12 p.m. ET.
Philadelphia performance troupe the Bearded Ladies Cabaret are getting ready to party. Starting at Sat., Oct. 17 at 12 p.m. and running through Sun., Oct. 18 at 12 a.m., Late Night Snacks: Feast is billed as “an international celebration of music and performance,” featuring streaming acts from acclaimed international cabaret performers. Free reservations can be made here, but the event will stream on Twitch.
If that’s not sufficiently durational, you might try Love Story, The School of Hard Knocks is the latest chapter in Yoshiko Chuma’s ongoing multidisciplinary performance series, exploring ideas regarding national security, perceived dangers within borders, immigration, and war. This 24-hour livestreamed performance features an international cast of more than 50 artists from more than four decades of Chuma’s collaborations. Part of La MaMa’s Artist Residencies for its 2020–21 season, which are focusing on the creation of new works across the digital and physical theatre landscape during the coronavirus pandemic, Love Story will run Sat., Oct. 17 at 11 a.m. ET through Sun., Oct. 18 at 11 a.m. ET. Tickets start at $5.
Chicago’s American Blues Theater is offering two chances to catch a live reading of the play that won its 2019 Blue Ink Playwriting Award, Alma, by Benjamin Benne, as part of its series “The Room.” Alma follows a single mother who raised her daughter on tough love when she discovers her daughter isn’t at home studying the night before the SATs. The readings, directed by Ana Velazquez, will be live on Zoom on Sun., Oct. 18 at 3 p.m. CT and Mon., Oct. 19 at 7 p.m. CT, each followed by a discussion with the playwright and director. Tickets are pay-what-you-can, with a suggested donation of $10.
The new theatre and media collective Fake Friends, led by Michael Breslin and Patrick Foley, will premiere Circle Jerk as a multi-camera livestream, Sun., Oct. 18 through Fri., Oct. 23 at 7:30 p.m. ET from Brooklyn’s MITU580. The queer comedy about white gay supremacy follows two right-wing internet trolls at a summer retreat and features three actors in nine roles. Breslin and Foley, along with Cat Rodríguez, take inspiration from Charles Ludlam’s The Mystery of Irma Vep and sci-fi genre films like Ex Machina for this show. Tickets are priced on a sliding scale from $5 to $50.
Theater in Quarantine—a pandemic performance laboratory from writer, director, and performer Joshua William Gelb and choreographer Katie Rose McLaughlin—will next present Notes from an Enumerator, or 1500 Rubles and a Revolver in partnership with Theater Mitu’s Expansion Works. This adaptation of Chekhov’s Sakhalin Island, written by Alex Falberg, will be performed live in two separate locations on Mon., Oct. 19 at 7p.m. ET and 9 p.m. ET. The two-person production will be performed by Eric Berryman and Joshua William Gelb, both current employees of the U.S. Census Bureau, and the performance—free to view via this site, though donations are encouraged—will coincide with the end of the U.S. 2020 census. Future productions in the new lab’s season include works by composer Heather Christian, Alex Falberg of PigPen Theatre Co., and playwright Madeleine George.
While a rather lopsided debate continues to rage over the status of the New York Public Library’s Theatre on Film and Tape Archives (go here for the definitive thread on the subject), it is heartening to see fully produced filmings of iconic stage productions coming out of the vaults. This week comes a big one, literally: Brian Dennehy’s towering star turn in the 1999 Broadway production of Death of a Salesman, directed by Robert Falls and based on his earlier Goodman Theatre production. I had every chance and reason to see this (it came to Los Angeles in 2000) but happened to miss it, so I know I’ll be tuning in to see what the fuss was all about (I have friends who consider it a formative production). Most excitingly, it’s getting a sort of mini-run rather than a one-off. I guess Willy Loman is well liked after all? It airs Wed., Oct. 21 at 8 p.m. ET, and Thurs., Oct. 22 through Sun., Oct. 25 at 7 p.m. ET on Playbill.com; Showtime, which originally aired the production in 2000, and the Actors Fund are partnering to make it free (though donations to the latter are encouraged).
What would the Catholic conservatives of Will Arbery’s Heroes of the Fourth Turning make of our current moment of crisis and, for them, Pyrrhic victory? We can’t know exactly, but we have a chance to hear the arguments of these five tortured souls anew with 5 live Zoom performances of the play, which reunite the original Playwrights Horizions cast and are produced by Jeremy O. Harris. They’re offered for free (but donations are encouraged) on Wed., Oct. 21 at 8 p.m. ET, Thurs., Oct. 22 at 4 p.m. ET, Fri., Oct. 23 at 8 p.m. ET, and Sat., Oct. 24 at 3 p.m. & 8 p.m. ET. The original Playwrights Horizons cast returns.
Center Theatre Group in Los Angeles, in partnership with Getty Museum, will virtually present readings of Luis Alfaro’s trilogy of Chicanx adaptations of Greek tragedies. The plays will be captured on the Kirk Douglas Stage as part of CTG’s free “Live from the KDT” series, and made available free and on demand here. First is Electricidad on Sat., Oct. 17, then Oedipus El Rey on Sat., Oct. 24, and finally Mojada on Sat., Oct. 31. They will available to view through Dec. 31.
Kane Repertory Theatre, in St. Charles, Ill., recently presented the world premiere virtual workshop of Such Small Hands, by Adam Szymkowicz, about a man’s desire to take his own life before cancer and dementia prevent him from feeling like himself, and his wife’s fight to prevent his suicide. BJ Jones directed Francis Guinan and Tony winner Rondi Reed in this reading as part of Kane’s New Play Lab. The reading, which took place will earlier this week, will remain available through Sun., Oct. 18 at 7:30 p.m. CT. The reading is free, with a suggested donation of $25, and will be available on YouTube.
The election is also top of mind for Houston’s Main Street Theater, which has selected RFK: A Portrait of the Life of Robert F. Kennedy by Jack Holmes as its first virtual production. Joel Sandel stars in the eponymous role, and Rebecca Greene Udden directs. The production can be streamed online through Oct. 25, with tickets ranging $15-40. Audiences can join a live virtual discussion with the artists on Sun., Oct. 18 at 3 p.m. CT.
With eerie prescience, on the eve of the 2016 election, California’s Berkeley Repertory Theatre produced a stage adaptation of Sinclair Lewis’s It Can’t Happen Here by Tony Taccone and Bennett S. Cohen, a cautionary satire about a demagogue leading the U.S. into fascism. Berkeley Rep has reprised the production as an audio drama starring David Kelly and David Strathairn; they’re now offering the production for free across the country, with 75 broadcast partners including American Conservatory Theater, Arena Stage, Center Theatre Group, La Jolla Playhouse, Roundabout Theatre Company, Seattle Repertory Theatre, South Coast Repertory, and many others. It’s free to stream on YouTube through Nov. 8.
Among the partners in that project, and one of the first large theatres to offer a stream of a COVID-cancelled show back in March, is New York’s Syracuse Stage, which continues its online theatre programming with A Gatherin’ Place, written and directed by Dr. Juhanna Rogers and performed by members of the Auburn, N.Y.-based community theatre the Harriet Tubman Troupe. Filmed by Black Cub Productions at Stage’s Archbold Theatre, A Gatherin’ Place is part of the theatre’s “Syracuse Stories” series, designed to highlight performances and events by and for the Central New York community. That’s available to stream for free Fri., Oct. 16-Sun., Oct. 25 via syracusestage.org; a talkback with the cast and creators is scheduled for Sun., Oct. 18 at 5 p.m. ET; the talkback is free but advance registration is required.
On another note (several notes, actually), New York City’s Orpheus Chamber Orchestra will present Speaking Truth to Power, an online performance of Beethoven’s “Egmont, Op. 84.” featuring the world premiere of a new English translation by Philip Boehm. The concert will be narrated by Liev Schreiber, and Karen Slack will perform the soprano role. Speaking Truth to Power will be available on the platform Idagio as part of Idagio’s Global Concert Hall, from Sat., Oct. 17 at 8:00 p.m. ET to Thurs., Oct. 22 at 11:59 p.m. ET. Tickets are $15.
The plight of theatremakers during lockdown is bad enough, but spare an extra thought for immigrant theatre artists who livelihoods, visa status, and ability to stay in the U.S. have been especially threatened by the COVID-19 crisis. Actually, don’t just spare a thought: Consider tuning into “Seeing the Ones We Love,” billed as “an intimate evening of carefully curated poetry, theater, music, and more…presented by a small but diverse cast of actors, activists, artists, and musicians,” planned to benefit See Lighting Foundation, a grassroots fund providing direct financial support to immigrant theatre artists. The event features performers Patrick J. Adams, Stephanie Beatriz, and Aimee Carrero, among others, as well as work by authors Jacob Tobia and Kalani Queypo and playwrights Heather Raffo and Bill Cain. This marks the launch of Small Offerings Salon, a planned series of benefit events for worthy causes. The creative director is Kate Bergstrom. Tickets are $10, and folks can stream the salon at their leisure any time the week of Fri., Oct. 16 through Fri., Oct. 23.
Mildred’s Umbrella Theater Company in Houston is offering a digital of production of Israeli playwright Anat Gov’s Oh My God, a dark comedy that imagines what might happen if God walked into a therapist’s office. This kicks of the company’s 2020-21 season in collaboration with the Evelyn Rubenstein Jewish Community Center. It’s available to stream for free now through Sun., Oct. 25, but registration is required here.
Haunted houses and trick-or-treating may be on pause this year, but First Folio Theatre in Oak Brook, Ill., plans to bring a spooky tale to your screen in time for Halloween. Madmen & Prisoners: Two Tales By Poe, adapted by David Rice, features excerpts from First Folio’s 2018 production of The Madness of Edgar Allan Poe, which was filmed at a haunted mansion. The recorded performance includes theatricalized versions of “The Tell-Tale Heart” and “The Pit and the Pendulum.” Tickets are available on a pay-what-you-can scale, and the show streams Tues., Oct. 20 through Sun., Nov. 1 on Vimeo.
California’s La Jolla Playhouse is also up for a scare with its “Listen With the Lights Off” program, a series of Halloween-inspired radio plays as part of the theatre’s WoW Festival. The fictional short plays, adapted from So Say We All’s literary horror anthologies Black Candies, feature ghosts, monsters, and magical realism. The first episode launched yesterday (Oct. 15), and the next two are out Oct. 21 and Oct. 28.
A new play by Bill Spring, I Elect: Power Every Four Years, will premiere live on YouTube, just ahead of the looming presidential election. The one-woman show stars Carey Brianna Hart as a woman in Miami from election night in 2016 to her virtual efforts to get out the vote during the 2020 pandemic. The free video will debut on Sat., Oct. 17 at 7 p.m. ET and will remain online up until the election on Tues., Nov. 3. Ricky J. Martinez directs.
Rob Weinert-Kendt (he/him) is the editor-in-chief of American Theatre. email@example.com
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