7pm: The Man Who Wanted to Fly tells the irresistible story of 80-something bachelor farmer Bobby Coote from Cavan who has had a lifelong dream to fly a plane. Enlisting the help of his neighbor Seán, the two set out to build their own field of dreams, cutting out a runway in Seán’s farm and even building a hangar in this small rural community. Bobby will get no encouragement from his brother Ernie, another octogenarian in the Coote family home. Ernie thinks the whole thing is daft, but Bobby is determined to take to the skies if it’s the last thing he does. Capturing the wonder of one man’s dreams The Man Who Wanted to Fly is a unique journey into a disappearing border hinterland and is sure to delight audiences all over the world.
Directed by Frank Shouldice
Produced by Trisha Canning & Cormac Hargaden of Loosehorse Productions
7pm: Empress Mei Li Lotus Blossom Abingdon Theatre Company presents this short film written and directed by Christine Toy Johnson that tells the story of a Teaneck-born Asian American actress who poses as an exotic Hong Kong movie star so she can get her shot at Broadway. Reggie Lee moderates a talkback with the cast and creative team after the viewing that celebrates Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.
7:30pm: Borodin’s Prince Igor Absent from the Met stage since 1917, Borodin’s masterwork about an introspective prince’s military campaign against the invading Polovtsians returned in 2014 with a first-rate cast and an astonishing production directed by Dmitri Tcherniakov. Well worth the wait, the sets feature visually striking projections interlaced with lush flowering fields, and the first act delivers one of opera’s most exciting dance medleys, a portion of which went mainstream in the 1950s when Tony Bennett recorded “Stranger in Paradise.”
8pm: Stars in the House Here Lies Love with guest host Jose Llana along with Ruthie Ann Miles, Conrad Ricamora, Melody Butiu, Jeigh Madjus, Maria-Christina Oliveras, Kelvin Moon Loh, Jaygee Macapugay and Renee Albulario.
8pm: Caesar: A Surround Sound Experiment, an immersive listening experience based on William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, will benefit The Actors Fund.
Designed for headphones and lunar light (“no screens, no Zoom,” the production urges), the 95-minute production will be available on devices (with a dimmable screen) April 27–29 at 8 PM ET each night.
Adapted and directed by Joseph Discher, the presentation features Jacqueline Antaramian, Joel de la Fuente, January LaVoy, Sean Hudock, Mark H. Dold, Joseph Discher, Maurice Jones, Anthony Michael Martinez, Ryan McCarthy, Shane Taylor, Patrick Toon, Tony and Olivier nominee Scott Wentworth, and Derek Wilson.
8pm: BPN LIVE: SHO & Tell, The bwaySHO Podcast BPN Launch Party Shoshana welcomes theatre favorites Fergie L. Philippe, L Morgan Lee and Drew Gasparini for SHO & Tell: The bwaySHO Podcast BPN Launch Party.
Shoshana is a theatre reporter, photographer and podcaster. She’s covered the Tony Awards, Opening Nights on Broadway and has been called, “The Fan’s Reporter.”
This segment, which Shoshana coined on her live YouTube Series: The SHO Must Go On…line, guests will SHO something from a musical they’ve been a part of and Tell what makes it so special.
We’ll get to know bwaySHO and what makes her podcast unique, as well as hearing about the projects & podcasts from Fergie, L Morgan and Drew.
Brutal Imagination: Vineyard Theatre Artistic Directors Douglas Aibel and Sarah Stern announce the company’s second original cast benefit reading, reuniting renowned actors Joe Morton (“Scandal”) and Sally Murphy (August: Osage County) for Oppenheimer Award-winning playwright and poet Cornelius Eady’s (Vineyard’s You Don’t Miss The Water) play, Brutal Imagination. Directed by Joe Morton, this digitally-staged reading includes video design by Jared Mezzocchi and is available for on demand streaming through June 3.
The Zip Code Plays: Los Angeles Antaeus Theatre Company highlights the culture and history of six additional Los Angeles neighborhoods with Season 2 of its popular The Zip Code Plays: Los Angeles podcast series.
The latest installments will introduce audiences to the geographically, historically and culturally diverse locales of Echo Park (90026), West Hollywood (90069), Inglewood (90303), Pacoima (91331), North Hollywood (91601) and Monterey Park (91754).
This American Wife on demand May 29. Michael Breslin and Patrick Foley are returning to the world of live internet theatre with their deep dive into the world of reality TV—and America’s obsession with them. This American Wife, first seen at New York Theatre Workshop’s Next Door series in 2018.
Presented by FourthWall Theatrical, in association with Fake Friends and Jeremy O. Harris, the latest iteration is a multi-camera, live-streamed, dark comedy investigation into the obsession, idolization, and all-consuming-hunger sparked by the women of The Real Housewives franchise.
In addition to the co-conceivers, the production will also feature Jakeem Dante Powell (Slave Play). This American Wife escapes from the real world to play out scenarios, texts, and choreographies from the massively popular and endlessly memed franchise. As the boys travel deeper into the dark walk-in closets of their minds, they are forced into crises of desire, repulsion, identity, and autobiography.
Herding Cats Starring Jassa Ahluwalia, Greg Germann, and Drama Desk nominee Sophie Melville, Herding Cats by Lucinda Coxon is a chillingly funny play about a generation negotiating intimacy and independence in the 21st century.
Meeting the demands of modern life is as impossible as herding cats for Justine, Michael and Saddo. To deal with work, Justine talks—a little too much—to her roommate Michael who earns a living by chatting with strangers like Saddo. But all three will soon find that in a cold, disconnected world, words may not be enough.
Directed by Anthony Banks, this revival of Coxon’s play uses the technical feats that adventurous theatre artists have discovered during the pandemic and combines them with the raw intimacy of in-person performance. This first-of-its-kind, transcontinental event features Ahluwalia and Melville performing for an in-person audience on Soho Theatre’s London stage with Germann performing live via video from the United States.
This production contains distressing themes of sexual abuse. If needed, you may seek help from the RAINN National Sexual Assault Hotline. (Click here to access their website.)
Christiane Noll: Coming Alive Again TheaterWorks Hartford and Goodspeed Musicals announced today present Christiane Noll: Coming Alive Again.
Fourteen months of quarantine, a Broadway shut down, a roller coaster of good news and bad news, but Tony-nominee Christiane Noll is optimistic. With a little caution and a lot of hope, she’s ventured out of her home to share an intimate cabaret. A thoughtful, moving and funny (virtual) concert experience exploring themes of motherhood and complex women, through the lens of a Broadway artist navigating a crazy COVID-paralyzed world.
Broadway, the Maye Way Cabaret legend Marilyn Maye celebrates her 93rd birthday with a new streaming concert at Feinstein’s/54 Below. Filmed live at the venue, audiences can enjoy the show through May 29.
Carry On Tony nominee Jeremy Jordan This event is being streamed online through BroadwayWorld Events. There will be no in-person audience.
Broadway’s Jeremy Jordan, known for his powerful voice and provocative storytelling, returns to the stage with his most ambitious and personal performance to date. Equal parts humor and heartache, Carry On takes us deep into Jeremy’s new life as a father. Unpacking and attempting to reconcile his own complicated childhood, Jeremy soon discovers there is more to being a parent than he could have ever imagined. Featuring an array of musical styles, as well as some never-before-heard songs, Carry On has been thoughtfully reimagined for the virtual stage after winning multiple awards for its premiere at Feinstein’s/54 Below just over a year ago. Featuring musical direction by Benjamin Rauhala.
Black Beans Project Huntington Theatre Company presents Black Beans Project, a world premiere digital work by Huntington artist-in-residence Melinda Lopez and Joel Perez.
In the play, created specifically for a virtual presentation, Lopez and Perez play siblings who reconnect online to share a secret family recipe that forces them to reveal secrets of their own.
Black Beans Project is available for on-demand streaming May through 30.
The Waves in Quarantine: A Theatrical Experiment Begins Raúl Esparza leads a star-studded cast, including Alice Ripley, Carmen Cusack, Nikki Renée Daniels, Darius de Haas and Manu Narayan, in this musical adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s The Waves for Berkeley Repertory Theatre. Watch through May 28.
Twelve remarkable singer actors and eleven musicians are creating a wholly original, completely Pastiche way of bringing you back in time with our latest technology.
Diverse and distanced, gorgeous and witty, liberating talent from Canada to Israel and all over the US, for Austen, Beethoven and musical theater fans all over the world. Ludwig calls the tune as we celebrate Jane Austen, and her ability to create happy endings in her stories, when real life so often sadly disappoints.
Animal Wisdom Heather Christian’s Animal Wisdom will unfold on screen rather than on stage. The writer-performer’s show originally debuted at The Bushwick Starr in 2017 but now gets a film adaptation.
In Animal Wisdom, singer-songwriter-soothsayer Christian lays to rest the souls that haunt her, shape-shifting between rock star, folklorist, and high priestess, as she conjures a constellation of souls in an effort to confront her family’s mythologies.
Amber McGinnis directs the film, with stage direction by Emilyn Kowaleski. The cast also includes Sasha Brown, Eric Farber, B.E. Farrow, and Maya Sharpe.
The film is presented by Woolly Mammoth Theater Company and American Conservatory Theater.
Capricorn 29 The Tank and Post Theatrical present Capricorn 29 by Alex Hare and Julia Izumi. The show is directed by Hare and co-produced with Sami Pyne.
On the eve of her 29th birthday, a Very Online millennial stumbles upon a curious conspiracy theory: the powers-that-be have initiated a new capitalist plot to eliminate unsuccessful 30 year olds. What sounds at first like the byproduct of someone watching too many dystopian films from the 1970s quickly proves harder to dismiss. And as the countdown to 30 begins, surviving and saving a generation may be the opportunity one young-ish adult needs to finally fulfill her rapidly fading potential.
The Destruction of Jane Edgar Rice Burroughs will be spinning in his grave this spring. A new seven-part miniseries, inspired by the infamous film Tarzan the Ape Man, debuts this month.
The Destruction of Jane is an unauthorized parody of the King of the Jungle is told from the point of view of Miss Jane Parker.
Weekly installments premiere on Thursdays.
The miniseries stars stars Paul Pecorino and Rob Eco as Jane and Tarzan, respectively, and features special cameo appearances by Mario Cantone and Randy Rainbow. The show is written by Paul Pecorino and directed by Drue Pennella.
Set in the current COVID-19 pandemic, this comedy follows Jane to the African jungle where she meets and falls in love with the spectacular specimen we all know as the legendary Tarzan. The 1981 Tarzan film became a massive financial hit due to its dizzyingly unintentional bad taste, and screenwriter Paul Pecorino has set out to push these offensively vulgar boundaries even further.
The creative team includes director of photography Erik Paulsen, composers Drew Fornarola and David Nehls, musical arranger Paul Doust; costumes & wigs designer David Mitsch; makeup & wig styling designer Vera Stromsted and Donanyely Mejia and Marty Thomas; and specialty costumes designer Gail Baldoni. The Destruction of Jane is presented by Pure Motion Pictures.
Back to the Future: From Screen to Stage Ahead of the Back to the Future musical opening in the Adelphi Theatre on August 20, BFI at Home presents an online discussion with members of the cast and crew about how the hit film became a full-fledged stage musical.
Romeo & Juliet Jessie Buckley and Josh O’Connor star in a film of London’s National Theatre’s Romeo and Juliet. It premieres on PBS as part of the Great Performances series.
The Woman’s Party Clubbed Thumb presents the world premiere of The Woman’s Party. Originally slated to premiere as part of the 2020 Summerworks Festival, the piece will now premiere virtually.
Written by Rinne B. Groff and directed by Tara Ahmadinejad, The Woman’s Party has been divided into three 30-minute episodes.
1947 is the year that the savvy politicos of the National Woman’s Party will finally get the ERA passed once they quash that insurgency—or oust the old guard. The Woman’s Party takes place 27 years after the ratification of women’s suffrage, when the Equal Rights Amendment was poised for passage.
The cast includes Rosalyn Coleman, Alma Cuervo, Laura Esterman, Marga Gomez, Marceline Hugot, Emily Kuroda, Lizan Mitchell, Socorro Santiago, Rebecca Schull, and Connie Winston.
Cheyenne Jackson, Ted Sperling, More Sing Adam Guettel’s Myths & Hymns (Episode 3) By MasterVoices The central project of MasterVoices’ 2020-2021 season will be a virtual rollout of award-winning composer Adam Guettel’s theatrical song cycle, Myths and Hymns, in an online staging conceived by Ted Sperling.
Shadow/Land Michelle Wilson, Te’Era Coleman, Lizan Mitchell, Lance E. Nichols, Lori Elizabeth Parquet and Sunni Patterson star in the world premiere of Erika Dickerson-Despenza’s audio play. The drama is set amidst the devastation of Hurricane Katrina and is part of the Public Theater’s digital stage.
The Thanksgiving Play Spotlight on Plays returns with Larissa FastHorse’s The Thanksgiving Play, directed by Leigh Silverman. The cast features Tony nominees Heidi Schreck and Bobby Cannavale, along with Keanu Reeves and Alia Shawkat.
Romeo y Julieta Lupita Nyong’o and Juan Castano star in this free bilingual audioplay of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, presented by the Public Theater and WNYC Studios.
Lights on the Radio Tower Originally developed at the Adirondack Theatre Festival and Bloomington Playwrights Project, this thrilling two-hander rock musical tells the story of Molly and Jesse, a brother and sister who, after eighteen years apart, reunite at their decaying childhood home following the death of their father. The estranged rock duo’s competing recollections of their childhood, their last night together, and their final gig force them to face the painful truth of their past.
La Femme Theatre Productions: The Night of the Iguana The show will feature Golden Globe winner and Emmy nominee Dylan McDermott (Netflix’s “Hollywood”) as Reverend Shannon, Emmy nominee and Tony Award winner Phylicia Rashad (Broadway’s Cat on a Hot Tin Roof) as Maxine, Roberta Maxwell (Broadway’s Summer and Smoke) as Judith Fellowes, Tony nominee, Obie and Drama Desk Award winner Austin Pendleton (Broadway’s Choir Boy) as Nonno, and Jean Lichty (Off-Broadway’s A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur, The Traveling Lady) as Hannah, with Keith Randolph Smith (Broadway’s Jitney, American Psycho) as Jake, Carmen Berkeley (Off-Broadway’s Our Dear Dead Drug Lord) as Charlotte, Eliud Kauffman (Roundabout Theatre’s 72 Miles to Go) as Hank, Julio Macias (Netflix’s “On My Block”) as Pancho, Stephanie Schmiderer (No Exit, The Human Voice) as Frau Fahrenkopf, Bradley James Tejeda (Broadway’s The Inheritance) as Pedro, and John Hans Tester (Amazon’s ”Hunters” ) as Herr Fahrenkopf.
Waiting for Godot Directed by Scott Elliott, the classic features Tony nominee Ethan Hawke as Vladimir, Tony recipient John Leguizamo as Estragon, Wallace Shawn as Lucky, rapper Tarik Trotter as Pozzo, and Drake Bradshaw as Boy.
In Waiting for Godot two wanderers wait by a lonely tree, to meet up with Mr. Godot, who they hope will change their lives for the better. Instead, another couple of eccentric travelers arrive, one man on the end of the other’s rope.
The creative team also includes production designer Derek McLane, costume designer Qween Jean, sound designer Justin Ellington, director of photography Kramer Morgenthau, editor Yonatan Weinstein, and associate director Monet.
The New York Pops Up Festival a thousand in-person performances throughout the state from now through June. Most events associated with NY PopsUp will be unannounced (and unticketed) and will be designed so that New Yorkers happen upon them in their everyday lives. (Since we can’t have large gatherings right now, we want to bring a lot of small things to the public where they are) NY PopsUp is a surprise that you happen upon, rather than an event or concert you are alerted to via a notification or a schedule.
Julius Caesar, Starring Patrick Page By Shakespeare@ Tony nominee Patrick Page (Hadestown) stars in the title role with Jordan Barbour (The Inheritance) as Brutus and Keith Hamilton Cobb (American Moor) as Cassius. West End Harry Potter and the Cursed Child performers Jamie Ballard and James Howard co-star as Mark Antony and Metellus Cimber, respectively.
The production is also be available on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Soundcloud, and Stitcher.
Produced by Jersey City’s Shakespeare@, this audio production is the third installment of the season, produced and adapted by Artistic Director Sean Hagerty.
Hagerty has crafted the production into four weekly parts and partnered with the Emmy-winning team at Sonic Designs to capture the lost art and thrill of radio drama all without leaving the confines of quarantine.
Julius Caesar features original music composed by Joan Melton with sound design by the Emmy-winning team of Dan Gerhard and Ellen Fitton of Sonic Designs. Justin Goldner is the music producer and supervisor, and casting is by Robin Carus. Sydney Steele serves as the associate producer.
Assassins Reunion: Original Off-Broadway Cast The original cast and creative team of the 1991 Off-Broadway debut of Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman’s Tony-winning Assassins will reunite virtually to celebrate the musical’s 30th anniversary.
The free online event is part of the Studio Tenn Talks: Conversations with Patrick Cassidy series and will feature Studio Tenn Artistic Director Cassidy as well as other original cast members Victor Garber, Greg Germann, Annie Golden, Lyn Greene, Jonathan Hadary, Eddie Korbich, Terrence Mann, Debra Monk, William Parry, and Lee Wilkof plus Sondheim and Weidman, director Jerry Zaks, musical director Paul Gemignani, and orchestrator Michael Starobin.
The Things Are Against Us Susan Soon He Stanton’s The Things Are Against Us will be the next production in MCC’s LiveLab one-act digital reading series. Ellie Heyman directs the cast, which includes Juan Castano, Emily Davis, Susannah Flood, Babak Tafti, and Danny Wolohan, in tthe play set in a mysterious house with a mind of its own.
SoHo Playhouse Presents Typical Soho Theatre and Nouveau Riche present the world premiere of Typical, the film version of the stage play, released exclusively on Soho Theatre On Demand
Written by Ryan Calais Cameron and directed by Anastasia Osei-Kuffour, Typical uncovers the man and the humanity behind the tragic true-life events of Black British ex-serviceman Christopher Alder and the injustice that still remains twenty years since his story emerged.
The Manic Monologues Current Slave Play Tony nominee Ato Blankson-Wood, Rent Tony winner Wilson Jermaine Heredia, Accidentally Brave playwright Maddie Corman, and more stage favorites will explore mental health this winter in a new digital production from the McCarter Theatre Center.
Barry Manilow’s and Bruce Sussman’s Harmony Meets The Press Part 3
We told you how the cast and creative’s met the press. Then we played you some of the songs from the show. Today we’ll introduce you to the cast.
First up The Harmonists; Sean Bell, Danny Kornfeld, Zal Owen, Eric Peters, Blake Roman and Steven Telsey
The vocally winning Sierra Boggess was next on our list.
Chip Zien and director/choreographer Warren Carlyle shared insights.
Finally Julie Benko, Allison Semmes and Andrew O’Shanick.
Harmony begins previews at the Barrymore Theatre on Wednesday, October 18, ahead of a Monday, November 13 official opening night.
Shaw Festival Canada Announces 2024 Season
Melissa Etherridge My Window A Rock Goddess Spiritual Journey
Oscar and Grammy winner Melissa Etheridge’s autobiographical musical My Window is an informative, riveting, raw, intimate and musically thrilling alsmost 3 hours of entertainment. With 22 albums to her name, Etheridge is a female rock goddess and is on par with Aretha Franklin, Tina Turner, Ann Wilson, Grace Slick, Joan Jett, Pat Benatar, Stevie Nicks, Debbie Harry and the incomparable Janis Joplin.
I originally saw this show when it opened at New World Stages almost a year ago and Etheridge’s theatrical solo show has only gotten better and tighter. She invites theatergoers into an exhilarating evening of storytelling and music. Starting with her birth, we learn about her childhood in Kansas, groundbreaking career highlights, coming out, her lovers, the drugs she has taken, her spiritual journey, her wives, her kids, cancer and what makes Melissa who she is. She is charming, revealing, illuminating as she bares her heart & soul to all who attend.
In between learning about this bluesy warrior are her confessional lyrics, the raspy, smoky vocals and classics numbers like “Like The Way I Do,” “Twisted Off To Paradise,”“I’m the Only One,” “Come to My Window,” “I Want to Come Over”.
Winning a tiny trophy gave way to winning a Grammy for Best Female Rock Vocalist in 1998 and again in 1995. Before that in 1993 Etheridge came out publicly, early on in her career. In 2005 Etheridge took the Grammy stage after having cancer to join in a tribute to Janis Joplin. She appeared hairless. Etheridge also won an Oscar for Best Original Song in 2007 for “I Need To Wake Up” for the film “An Inconvenient Truth.”
It turns out Etheridge has always loved musical theatre, as she treated us to a wonderful rendition of “On Broadway.” She did make her Broadway debut in a weeklong stint as St. Jimmy in Green Day’s American Idiot in 2011, but she doesn’t talk about that.
Melissa Etheridge My Window, is wonderfully is written by Etheridge with additional material by Linda Wallem-Etheridge (“Nurse Jackie” showrunner, “That ’70s Show”). The direction by Amy Tinkham is succent and well done.
Everything about this production is well done from the scenic design by Bruce Rodgers, lighting design by Abigail Rosen Holmes, fabulous projection design by Olivia Sebesky and the sound design by Shannon Salmon, which keeps this show clear and clean.
This is a must see show for anyone LGBTQIA. The message is positive and life affirming. This is a women who owns her talent, charisma and choices, which makes this a joy to watch.
Melissa Etheridge My Window: Circle In The Square, 235 West 50th Street. Closes November 19th.
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Topdog/Underdog Fires Up the Ring Magnificently for Canadian Stage Toronto
Round one begins with a ringing that transcends the boxing ring apartment over in the corner of Canadian Stage‘s spirited and raw revival of Topdog/Underdog now playing at their Berkeley Street Complex. “Follow the card,” we are told, numerous times (maybe a few too many, to be honest), yet whether it’s the red or the black card that is the winner, this play is most definitively the medicine we all need that doesn’t come in a bottle. Written most dynamically by the legendary Suzan-Lori Parks (Public’s Plays for the Plague Year; White Noise); the first African-American woman to receive the Pulitzer Prize for Drama unsurprisingly for this 2001 play, this vibrant exploration of sibling rivalry and resentment feels as powerful, tense, and engaging as ever. Even after seeing it brought to life most dynamically in the celebrated Broadway production last year. It’s still timely and explosive, particularly as we watch the world we inhabit uncomfortably gripped inside an increasingly violent war of hate and fear layered within the political landscape. Even here in Canada.
The play feels as ripe and raw with meaning as it must have felt some twenty years ago when it first hit the stage at the Public Theater in New York City. Maybe even more. Filled with energy and insight, the Canadian Stage production, directed with a serious intent for unpacking by Tawiah M’Carthy (Obsidian/Canadian Stage’s Fairview), unleashes numerous rounds of difficult troubling interactions between two brothers, fascinatingly (and cruelly) named Lincoln, solidly and magnetically portrayed by an upright Sébastien Heins (Outside the March’s No Save Points), and Booth, captivating and angrily embodied by Mazin Elsadig (Soulpepper’s Pipeline). Their given names send forth a profound message of conflict, both captivating and telling, that plays out a complicated and combative history before our very eyes. It’s a violent conflict in the making, unraveling a replay for us all to see, in close quarters, roped in without any support from the outside world. Especially their abandoning parents, long gone, yet painted with folklore and fantasy.
Heins’ Lincoln, the older of the two, sits straight, framed in a hat befitting his name, finding himself colliding with and crashing into and on his younger brother’s recliner, in need but without a lot of faith in the future. He is newly discarded; tense and separated from the wife we only hear about in a sideways kind of way. He goes to work daily and unapologetically, to a sit-down job with benefits that fits on his impressively tight frame as uncomfortably as that outfit he is made to wear for it. His brother, Booth; handsome, strong, and virile, steals his way through an existence that keeps him combustible, trapped in this rundown room with no running water and a single bed propped up with old porn magazines. Aching for something more grand, he exists, wanting more, even if it is through a con and a lie. And that’s only how the first card is played.
Designed with clarity by Rachel Forbes (Canadian Stage’s Choir Boy), the whole small roomed scenario seems lopsided and uncomfortable; delirious but without hope, shoved a little too claustrophobically in the far corner, when maybe a thrusting forward on an angle would have suited the intimacy more. Yet, Topdog/Underdog still radiates with a tense, angry energy that refuses to go down without a count of ten. With perfectly formulated costuming by Joyce Padua (Factory’s Vierge), detailed lighting by Jareth Li (Factory’s Trojan Girls & The Outhouse of Atreus), and a strong bell-ringing sound design by Stephen Surlin (Outside the March’s No Save Points), the room speaks volumes quietly as is unpacks itself before us. Determined and cluttered, it looks like a boxing-ring firetrap just waiting to be knocked out, and it is, in a way. The energy within this production is of a fight brewing, waiting and wanting, tightened by hardship and ignited jealous rage, and as written by Parks, sparks fly quickly as the two engage in a battle for who will sit on top at the end of the day. And who will be knocked out. Throwing cards in hopes of something more fulfilling, or more exciting, we are riveted and hypnotized by their historic reimagining, even as the play continues to repeat itself again and again. But we are never given an easy out, never quite sure where and when the sparks will land. And who will be counted out by an always-watching, invisible referee.
“We’d clean up bro,” Booth says to the other, hoping Link will return to the cards and they will team up, “ranking in the money” but if history, their joke-namesake set-up, and Lincoln’s white-faced day job are any indication at all, the elder’s days are numbered, at the boardwalk arcade and beyond. Every day he sits down at his job, dressed up like Abraham Lincoln so tourists can walk in and shoot him in the back with toy cap guns. And we can’t help but feel the discomfort and the internalized shame that Link must feel with every trigger pulled. The idea, although historically accurate, feels just so messed up and complicated to comprehend. So it’s no surprise that the future looks dark and bleak to this man. Layoffs or not. And we can most definitely feel it in Heins’ very textured, magnificently tense, tight performance and frame.
Parks is a known admirer of Abraham Lincoln and writes about the legacy of the man and the meaning to those who descend from slaves. Topdog/Underdog, through the unpacking of complicated brotherly love and family identity, tries to explain that legacy inside the complicated textured story of two African-American brothers struggling to stay above water. Heins’ Lincoln lives with eyes stone cold, still but filled with unspoken discomfort, taking a job that is as disturbing as life must be for this man in that single room with no running water, reclining and waiting for something to save him from his situation. It’s clear he got the job because he accepted less than what the white man before him would take. And all one can say, watching the weight of that legacy on his frame is: “This shit is hard” to swallow, like the Chinese food he unpacks on a makeshift table for his angry brother and him to ingest. But Parks does not judge the legacy of Lincoln in this epic play but rather believes the man and his death have somehow “created an opening with that hole in his head.” She enjoys, through her poetic pulsating rhythm, pushing forth the discomfort into her rapt audience through her own Booth and Lincoln, challenging us to see what lies ahead and take note (and maybe some action).
In a way, we all have to pass through that historic hole in Lincoln’s head to understand the quest that lies ahead for us all as we watch world politics, particularly America’s, do collective damage to our psyche. Living large in their small slowly tightening story, the play drives forward, sometimes intensely, while other times, in between rounds, the energy gets stalled. I kept wanting the gathering tension to move forward more succinctly and tightly, like Tom Stoppard’s magnificent Leopoldstadt, gathering tension with each moment and each scene. Like a boxing match, never giving in to the need for too much rest for the boxers in between bells. Topdog/Underdog keeps giving us a bit too much space to fill in, losing its momentum here and there, allowing us the space to disconnect, during intermission and during those intuitive moments inside many of the scenes. But when it does aim its gun sharply, inward, upward, and with continued energy, the bullet, and the internal fire, find their form, sometimes in the beauty of music and guitar, scorching the ropes that surround this decrepit room with a heat that can’t be denied.
The two actors dominate the ring, taking full control of the scripted energy and tensions that enslave them, even if the play sometimes de-evolves into repetitive reenactments a bit too often. The actors play with the cards dealt, and pour out the medicine and morality that lives and breaths inside them with a level of uncomfortable anger that lingers. The messiness and jealousy carry the play forward, born out of their upbringing and family history with magnetic resonance. It’s a sharply constructed interaction, that stuffs dreams and love underneath the bed with such determination. It collides strongly with all that violence and unfairness that lives outside the door, including the Three-Card love and desire that will destroy them all. Reenacting that emotionally charged moment in history at Ford’s Theatre, Topdog/Underdog teases the dream of some sort of better connection for these brothers, but also gives rise to other darker conflicts that were born when a mother shoved her life into plastic bags and left. Inheritance or not, Topdog/Underdog illuminates a shift in position, resurrecting a larger sad family history that is forever steeped in abandonment and pain, that will never release them from its heavy burden. No matter how hard he tries to strut with confidence.
Haunted by a past that refuses to let go, the playing card poetry of the play lives and ignites a flame inside Lincoln’s legacy and his country’s enduring struggle with racism that hangs on the side curtains with a dangerous weight. Topdog/Underdog, brought to life by Parks twenty years ago and finds new life inside Canadian Stage’s Marilyn & Charles Baillie Theatre, raises all of those complex ideas that hang in the background waiting to engulf our world. Take notice of this production and this play, and find your way in so that it may live on inside you as intensely as it was intended. That flame burns strong in American politics and in our collective hearts these days, filling us with dread and fear of a possible chaotic future in the world at large. This play’s presence is needed here, and its legacy, with all the cards played, should not be forgotten or ignored.
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