Toby Zinman’s “Broadway Beat” rounds up news and notes from the NYC theater scene for Philly readers who like to get up that way for shows.
It’s fun to see your favorite screen stars on stage doing serious drama, and Broadway and off-Broadway theaters right now have a nice bunch of options to do that.
For this month’s column, I took in plays starring Mary-Louise Parker, Marisa Tomei, and Peter Dinklage — and two shows without marquee Hollywood names.
Next time, I’ll round up the holiday shows.
And, speaking of holidays, Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade will feature three Broadway stars: Billy Porter, Idina Menzel, and Lea Michele in addition to a jolly old elf with a long white beard who doesn’t have an Equity card, as far as I know.
The luminous Mary-Louise Parker is superb as a Yale creative writing professor in playwright-novelist Adam Rapp’s latest, and Will Hochman is compelling as her young student Christopher. We become utterly, wonderfully convinced of their characters’ reality.
The play makes you wonder: Are they, perhaps, characters in a novel that the play animates? Or maybe we’re watching Bella writing Christopher. Or, since Christopher is writing a novella which they read aloud, maybe Bella is his fiction.
There is allusive foreshadowing: Where does Dostoevsky’s violent and charismatic character, Raskolnikov, fit into all this? And what about the photograph of a “tiny” woman on Bella’s office wall?
Go and see for yourself.
It is to the credit of these two marvelous actors’ delicate, restrained performances — and to David Cromer’s quiet and unobtrusive direction — that this intimate, literary, nearly actionless play can hold a huge Broadway audience rapt.
Through Jan.12 at Studio 54, 254 W. 54th St.
The New Group’s off-Broadway production of Cyrano is awash in romantic longing, as it should be. This new musical, based on the play by Edmond Rostand, faithfully follows the original French story of Cyrano (Peter Dinklage — yes, yes, Game of Thrones), who is a poet and also a legendary swordsman. He is in love with the beautiful Roxanne (Jasmine Cephas Jones).
Cyrano assumes that his physical deformity makes him unlovable. Roxanne is in love with the tall, handsome soldier, Christian (Blake Jenner), who is not too bright and has no way with words. So Cyrano writes love letters in Christian’s name, and Roxanne is deliriously happy until Christian is killed in a battle led by the cowardly, privileged De Guiche (Ritchie Coster — a standout in the cast).
The dull music by The National’s Aaron Dessner and Bryce Dessner, with repetitious lyrics by Matt Berninger and Carin Besser, adds little to the emotional atmosphere. The most moving moments come when the entire cast sing together, “I’d give anything for someone to say/That they can’t live without me,” universalizing Cyrano’s longing.
Dinklage’s rich, natural baritone is a pleasure to listen to. Erica Schmidt (Dinklage’s wife) directs, making great use of the bare-ish stage; she also wrote the show’s book, adding nice touches of contemporary speech.
Through Dec. 22 at Daryl Roth Theatre, 101 E 15th St.
I wish I could say I liked Marisa Tomei’s current show as much as I liked the others. But Roundabout Theatre Company’s production of Tennessee Williams’ The Rose Tattoo is overripe, over-miked, and overacted.
Everything here is over the top, from a flock of about a million plastic pink flamingos to the extreme sexuality of the Sicilian immigrant Serafina (Tomei). Williams’ excesses find their match in Trip Cullman’s direction, and neither seems to have been able to decide if this 1950 play is a comedy.
Tomei’s star turn as the grieving widow who will be comforted by the bumbling Alvaro Mangiacavallo (Emun Elliott) is both fabulous and also slightly embarrassing; she struts and wiggles and pleads with the Blessed Virgin.
Her gestures are a whole vocabulary of desperation (Williams’ specialty), and her performance is a tour de force. But to what purpose? We laugh at her lusty carryings-on without really enjoying the laughing.
Through Dec. 8 at American Airlines Theatre, 227 W. 42nd St.
A transfer from a wildly successful off-Broadway run, Slave Play is a shocking show for Broadway.
Written by Jeremy O. Harris who gave us last season’s Daddy, it’s another analysis of the power struggle inherent in sexual relationships, especially when complicated by race. It is mostly a satire — funny, sometimes pointed, sometimes vicious.
The show, under Robert O’Hara’s provocative direction, begins as parody with a trio of antebellum sex scenes featuring a dildo, literal bootlicking, and Olympic-caliber twerking. We then discover this is all part of a therapy retreat; three interracial couples have come to repair their unsatisfactory sex lives.
Until the final scene, the characters are merely caricature. And then, when Slave Play finally turns serious, it turns profoundly bleak. Harris tells us that race relations are hopelessly mired in history, what James Joyce called, “the nightmare from which I am trying to awake.”
Our own complicity is underscored by the set: The back wall of the stage is a mirror.
Through Jan. 19 at Golden Theatre, 252 W. 45th St.
If you’ve seen a bunch of Broadway shows this season, Forbidden Broadway: The Next Generation will give you plenty of laughs. The legendary spoof is back after a five-year hiatus, and its creator Gerard Alessandrini pins nearly 20 shows to the wall.
He had me at “Woke-lahoma!” a parody on the current revival of this formerly cheery musical, now looking dark and grim under Daniel Fish’s radical direction.
Nobody’s safe: Pity poor “Evan Has-Been.” The lead song from Fiddler on the Roof morphs from “Tradition!” To “Translation!”
My favorite was the skit about The Ferryman. It begins with the song, “How are things in Irish drama?” sung to the tune of “How are Things in Glocca Morra?” from Finian’s Rainbow.
The lively cast of six makes this little-theater cabaret a romp, accompanied heroically by Fred Barton on the piano.