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The Public Theater

The Public engages one of the largest and most diverse audiences in New York City in a variety of venues—including the Delacorte Theater; its landmark downtown home, which houses five theaters and Joe’s Pub; and the Mobile Shakespeare Unit, which tours Shakespearean productions for underserved audiences throughout New York City’s five boroughs.
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Manahatta

December 14, 2023

Mary Kathryn Nagle’s "Manahatta" now at The Public Theater, just blocks from where most of the story takes place, is a fascinating combination of American history and recent events. Nagle who is a Native American has written a play that combines the Dutch purchase of the island of Manhattan in 1626 from the Delaware Lenapes with the Wall Street home-mortgage crisis of 2008 where many disenfranchised people lost their homes. She also includes the contemporary Lenape community living today in Anadarko, Oklahoma, after they had been evicted from their Texas reservation. While the three time-frames of the play run concurrently, they all come together in a devastating ending that indicts the capitalist system as well as how Native Americans have been treated in this country. [more]

Hell’s Kitchen

November 29, 2023

"Hell’s Kitchen" is both ambitious and noble in its intentions. However, as of now the show on the stage of The Newman at The Public Theater is not there yet. With very few characters developed and too many unanswered questions, the show’s book needs a simple rewrite. The Alicia Keys' score which too often sounds the same could use a reshaping to find some climactic moments other than the drama in the story. The plot lines need to come together more, rather than as disparate elements that take us in new directions all the time. Ultimately, Hell’s Kitchen has great potential when these problems are addressed. [more]

The Tempest (Public Works)

August 31, 2023

Visually, the show is not as effective as it might have been considering the play usually includes a great deal of magic. Here there is very little in the way of scenic illusions or legerdemain. Alexis Distler’s setting which makes use of some elements of the design for Hamlet, the previous staging on the Delacorte stage, a falling down mansion seemingly off its foundation, adds little to the production’s visuals. Except for the stunning harpy costume for Ariel by Wilberth Gonzalez, the rest of the designs are more than bland. The all-black leather creations for the Europeans give the production a contemporary look that feels out of place. The dozens of community partners dressed in matching blue and yellow outfits have been given little to do besides stand around as witnesses or hum to the large-scale musical numbers. [more]

shadow/land

May 14, 2023

"shadow/land" by Erika Dickerson-Despenza is a play about the August 2005 disaster, Hurricane Katrina. It is the first episode of a ten-part magnum opus. "shadow/land," though, is more than a play.  It is a painfully rich vision of what hundreds and hundreds of stranded rooftop denizens, so touted in the media, must have gone through behind the waterlogged walls of New Orleans.  It is the rare theatrical work that recreates the agony and frustration of a natural disaster that transcends the fourth wall, seemingly without artifice, so involving is the entire endeavor. [more]

Plays for the Plague Year

April 26, 2023

While the playlets seem too slight to have much dramatic weight as they are mainly about one minute long, they do have a cumulative effect summing up a year that was like no other in recent memory. Often the scenes feel like they want to go and continue, but Parks keeps them short. Periodically, we have a one sentence scene telling us how many people have died from Covid as of that date. Beginning on March 13, 2020, the first full day of the shutdown, the playlets continue until April 13, 2021, a year and a month from when Parks started. An electronic sign above the stage states the date of each scene and its name which include such titles as “Home,” “Broadway Is Closed,” “The City at 7 PM,” “Who’s Gonna Pay For This?,” and “Hiatus 4 Months: Holding It Together Together.” [more]

Fat Ham

April 19, 2023

When it comes to modern adaptations of Shakespeare plays, many theatergoers tend to treat them like a test, mentally annotating plot and character correlations as if their high school English teachers were going to tap them on the shoulders and ask, "Did you catch that one?" If you suffer from this same hang up, then consider James Ijames' Pulitzer Prize-winning "Fat Ham" therapy, not only encouraging its audience to break free from fawning fidelity to the Bard but also, more poignantly, tragic endings. Simply put, for Ijames' insightfully idiosyncratic take on Hamlet, we're not in Elsinore anymore, and that's a good thing. [more]

The Harder They Come

March 31, 2023

Celebrating the 50th anniversary of its original film release, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks has turned "The Harder They Come," the cult Jamaican film that starred later reggae legend Jimmy Cliff, into an exuberant stage musical now at The Public Theater. Led by British stage star Natey Jones and American Caribbean actress Meecah, the large cast does full justice to the new score which includes the ten songs used in the movie plus 26 other Jamaican and traditional songs, additionally interpolated ones by Cliff and others, and some with additional lyrics by Parks. There are also three original songs by Parks herself who when she is not involved with one of her plays fronts her own rock band. [more]

Where We Belong

November 17, 2022

Writer/ director/actress Madeline Sayet is an engaging performer. Directed by Mei Ann Teo, her one-woman show “Where We Belong” is an autobiographical tale of her Mohegan roots and her seeking her place in the world as she travels to London to pursue a PhD in Shakespeare. While much of the play contains information and stories that will come as a revelation to most New Yorkers, the play often feels like a lecture with an agenda. The most interesting parts are her own discoveries about her roots and her encounters with other people in which she plays both characters. [more]

Baldwin & Buckley At Cambridge

October 14, 2022

"Baldwin & Buckley at Cambridge" should stir up controversy as their 1965 topic is still relevant. Such a debate today would have a great deal more ammunition than either of these men had at the time. However, one can still hear both points of view today given by liberals and conservatives, respectively. The fact that the Baldwin/Buckley debate is still relevant can be witnessed from the rise of the Black Lives Matter Movement in 2013 as well as the 2019 publication of "The Fire Is Upon Us: James Baldwin, William F. Buckley, Jr., and the Debate over Race in America" by Nicholas Buccola. This is a question which has not been resolved in the intervening 57 years. [more]

Fat Ham

May 30, 2022

James Ijames’ "Fat Ham" (all puns intended) is the latest and most successful modern riff on the Bard turning Hamlet into an expression of the Black experience while at the same time having much fun at Hamlet’s expense. As one of the few comedies to ever win the Pulitzer Prize, we should be hearing more soon from this talented playwright whose "Kill Move Paradise" in 2017 appears to be his only other New York credit, also directed by Saheem Ali. Already an associate artistic director/resident director with The Public Theater, Ali has previously worked wonders with "Merry Wives," "Nollywood Dreams," "Shipwreck," "Fires in the Mirror," "The Rolling Stone," "Passage," and "Fireflies," among others at various theaters around town. As usual his casting choices are perfect to the nth degree. [more]

for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf

April 30, 2022

This Broadway production, a godchild of a recent 2019 production at The Public Theater (directed by Leah C. Gardiner), is directed and choreographed by modern dance luminary Camille A. Brown (who choreographed The Public Theater version, hence the pedigree).  Her take on Shange’s work is more matter of fact and streetwise than previous productions, her choreographic vision adding depth to the playwright’s vernacular, profane expressions of the consciences of a community of hard-pressed women. [more]

Suffs

April 30, 2022

Unfortunately, while Wells (Nikki M. James) and Mary Church Terrell (Cassondra James), another renowned Black suffragist, occasionally pop up to offer intersectional insights, they mostly come across as an addendum to the all-female and nonbinary musical's Paul-centric narrative. Taub knows Wells and Terrell obviously belong in the story she's trying to tell, but she hasn't figured out how to dramatize their inclusion yet. Other suffragists whose names should be much more well known today also receive paper-thin characterizations: Lucy Burns (Ally Bonino); Doris Stevens (Nadia Dandashi); Ruza Wenclawska (Hannah Cruz); Inez Milholland (Phillippa Soo). [more]

The Chinese Lady

March 29, 2022

Presentational flourishes abound in director Ralph B. Peña’s gorgeous physical staging which combines small-scale spectacle with humanity. Scenic designer Junghyun Georgia Lee provides a large gold frame through which we observe Afong’s act and an assortment of stylized pieces which evokes the past through clever artifice. That’s complemented by the shimmering artistry of lighting designers Jiyoun Chang and Elizabeth Mak and projection designer Shawn Duan. Sound designer and composer Fabian Obispo’s  original music and composition, ranges from delightfully jaunty to purposefully moody. [more]

Coal Country

March 18, 2022

Songwriter Steve Earle, a three-time Grammy Award winner, returns providing homey, twangy music and acting as an understanding host/narrator.  With charm that belies the depth of Coal Country’s horror, he pulls the audience into the sad story, sometimes musically underlining the confessions of those involved, most particularly the tale of the sole survivor of the disaster, Tommy, played with passion and an undertone of survivor’s guilt by Michael Laurence. [more]

Out of Time

March 5, 2022

Conceived and directed by Les Waters, his staging of Out of Time is of purposeful simplicity. The actors are seated, standing or in motion fulfilling the intentions of each author. The stage is set with scenic designer dots’ atmospheric assemblage of gauzy curtains and minimal furnishings which abstractly suggest different locales and tones. Reza Behjat’s clinical lighting design and Fabian Obispo’s modulated sound design successfully accentuate and realize each of the diverse works. Black, white and red are the colors of Mariko Ohigashi’s smart costume design. "Out of Time" is a fine opportunity to experience some stimulating new dramatic writing and uniformly superior acting. [more]

The Visitor

November 20, 2021

David Hyde Pierce taking off his suit trousers to practice on a drum in his boxer shorts is one of many hilarious bits that are meshed with drama in "The Visitor." It’s a faithful, resonant and well-done musical adaptation of the acclaimed 2007 independent film of the same title. Book writers Kwame Kwei-Armah and Brian Yorkey stick closely to director/screenwriter Thomas McCarthy’s original vision while skillfully translating it for the stage. [more]

Girl from the North Country (Broadway)

March 19, 2020

Set in a dark time, "Girl from the North Country" creates a community on stage as do the best plays and musicals. Its tale of lost souls attempting to keep their heads above water is universal in both its message and its approach. Conor McPherson has never written so accessible a play before for Americans, and Bob Dylan’s songs have never sounded so poignant. Girl from the North Country is both unforgettable and not to be missed. [more]

Coal Country

March 17, 2020

For "Coal Country," an investigation into the April 5, 2010 West Virginia disaster at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch coal mine which killed 29 men, authors Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen based their documentary play on first person interviews with the families of many of the victims, sons, brothers, fathers, husbands, nephews. Powerful in the piling up of evidence and malfeasance just as they had done in "The Exonerated," the play undercuts its dramatic power by revealing the end of the story at the very beginning so that the ultimate court decision comes as no surprise. Nevertheless, the individual stories told by seven actors speaking the real words of family members are very compelling. [more]

A Bright Room Called Day

December 1, 2019

Maddeningly alternating between being an absorbing historical drama and a grating exercise in self-indulgence,  "A Bright Room Called Day" is author Tony Kushner’s reimagining of his 1985 first play. “It never worked” states a character regarding the play. It still doesn’t, but parts of it are entrancing. In contrast to his gargantuan two-part opus, "Angels in America," this runs a tolerable two hours and 45 minutes including an intermission. [more]

Broadbend, Arkansas

November 15, 2019

Produced by Transport Group in association with The Public Theater and directed with precision, clarity and simplicity by Transport Group’s artistic director Jack Cummings III, this story of three generations of an African American family grappling with of racism, violence and inequality in the South is as moving and trenchant as a story by Harper Lee. Each act is a monodrama exquisitely acted, sung and directed for a very discerning audience. While there is dialogue in both halves, the extraordinary music makes it feel sung through. [more]

The Michaels

November 10, 2019

Richard Nelson’s latest play, "The Michaels" (subtitled a “Conversation During Difficult Times”) is a thing of beauty. Low-key like his "Apple Family" quartet and his "The Gabriels" trilogy, it is Chekhovian in the best sense of the word: very little happens but life passes by. The characters who sit in a Rhinebeck, New York,  kitchen (also the setting for the other seven plays) talk of life and death, love and desire, memories and accomplishments. They reveal secrets and ponder changes and ultimately make decisions. Not much takes place but then again all of life occurs in the course of the play’s two hours. [more]

Soft Power

October 29, 2019

Hillary Clinton wearing a glittery red pantsuit leading a Gene Kelly/Stanley Donen-style production number set in a Busby Berkeleyesque recreation of a McDonald’s with giant sparkling French fries is a highlight of the insipid and disjointed musical fantasia, "Soft Power." It’s just one of its many lame sequences including a "The Music Man"-type explanation of the U.S. electoral system led by a singing and dancing judge. We’re in for two hours of painfully unfunny self-indulgence. Holden Caulfield from "The Catcher in the Rye" pops up too. [more]

Coriolanus (Free Shakespeare in the Park)

August 6, 2019

While Shakespeare’s "Coriolanus" has a great deal to warn us about as a cautionary tale, it is also not as deep or as poetic a play as his major tragedies. Daniel Sullivan’s production for Free Shakespeare in the Park is fine with the surface values of this historical tragedy but less so with creating the subtext of the story. In his second time around as its titular hero, Jonathan Cake is excellent as the brutal warrior, not so accomplished as the public man wrestling with his own demons. [more]

Socrates

May 3, 2019

For all you philosophy junkies out there—and you know who you are—Tim Blake Nelson’s world premiere "Socrates" at The Public Theater, the shining light of The Public’s Onassis Festival, is a treasure trove of ideas bantered, tossed, shredded and otherwise analyzed by a stage-full of ancient Greeks, led by the title character played with dignity and passion by the phenomenal Michael Stuhlbarg (the father in the film "Call Me By Your Name") and a cast of 16 mostly playing multiple roles. [more]

White Noise

April 18, 2019

After she won the Pulitzer Prize for "Topdog/Underdog," one approached a new play by Suzan-Lori Parks with great expectations--expectations that are strongly rewarded by her latest work, "White Noise." While the title refers specifically to the hissing sound made by sleep machines, meant to lull and keep you asleep, it also hints at the many racist issues this new, smart work traffics in. [more]

Ain’t No Mo’

April 14, 2019

Delving into black life and attitudes now, the play is hilarious - but not laugh-out-loud funny. Unfortunately, in Stevie Walker-Webb’s fine production at The Public’s LuEsther Theater, the sketches go on too, long, way past their due date and long after we have gotten the point of the satire. Of the talented cast of six African American actors, five are all in the majority of the scenes while playwright Cooper appears in three solo sketches. [more]

Sea Wall/A Life

March 8, 2019

Both plays deal with young husbands who are coping with new fatherhood as well as their new responsibilities and their relationships with the dominant male figures in their lives. In Stephens’ "Sea Wall," Sturridge speaks admiringly of his father-in-law, while in Payne’s "A Life," Gyllenhaal speaks with love of his own father.  Both men are madly in love with their wives who they could not consider living without. These plays are ultimately tragedies of the accidental kind, events that one has no control over and cannot see coming. The double bill is performed on a basically empty stage with a brick wall behind (designed by Laura Jellinek), on which Peter Kaczorowski’s poetic and atmospheric lighting is a kind of additional onstage character. Carrie Cracknell's assured direction pilots both plays. [more]

ON THE TOWN… with Chip Deffaa, January 6, 2019

January 6, 2019

No one loves Berlin's music more than I do. But the creators of this stage adaptation have tried to jam too many well-known songs into the show. I think that cutting a couple of the songs, and letting characters talk a bit more would give the show a more natural feel, and give it some needed moments to breathe. And help us bond more with characters. And if you want to add a song to express the characters' feelings, pick the very best songs for the scene--not just the best-known songs. [more]

Wild Goose Dreams

November 24, 2018

In offering a window on a world most New York theatergoers know little about, Hansol Jung’s Wild Goose Dreams is a fascinating look at Korean culture. On the other hand, what appears to be a Korean obsession with the Internet and smartphones often becomes tedious as it goes on so long without bringing us much that is new. Leigh Siverman’s busy production creates a world of its own but is often overwhelming rather than enveloping. The Public Theater staging, a co-production with La Jolla Playhouse, may be of more interest to Millennials addicted to their electronic devices than the rest of the theatergoing public. However, this may be the trend of the future and older theatergoers may just have to get used to it. [more]

Eve’s Song

November 19, 2018

Both a theatrical surprise and a very accomplished dramatic work, Patricia Ione Lloyd’s "Eve’s Song" is one of the best theatrical experiences to be had in New York at this time. With a cast led by De’Adre Aziza who is well known to Public Theater audiences, director Jo Bonney, totally attuned to the author’s unique style, delivers an exquisite and provocative evening in the theater. It is always a pleasure to herald the arrival of a new and talented writer, particularly one as masterly and sophisticated as newcomer Lloyd. [more]

Mother of the Maid

November 1, 2018

Jane Anderson’s "Mother of the Maid" would probably not be very compelling without Glenn Close’s Isabelle Arc as the play itself is following the dots in filling in the little that is known with mostly common historic and unsurprising details. (One exception is after Isabelle has seen the unicorn tapestries at the palace, she naively asks if there were any of the animals to be seen.) However, with Close who gives a constrained and moving performance the play becomes something else: a persuasive portrait of a mother and wife who has an awakening to the ways of the world based on what happens to her daughter. [more]

Girl From the North Country

October 12, 2018

Set in a dark time, "Girl From the North Country" creates a community on stage as do the best plays and musicals. Its tale of lost souls attempting to keep their heads above water is universal in both its message and its approach. Conor McPherson has never written so accessible a play before for Americans, and Bob Dylan’s songs have never sounded so poignant. "Girl From the North Country" is both unforgettable and not to be missed. [more]

The Gospel at Colonus

September 8, 2018

The complexities of this Greek tragedy are shoe-horned into a Gospel service with songs ranging from the thoughtful (“The Invocation”) to the formal (“Creon Comes to Colonus”) to the awe-inspiring (“The Descent of Oedipus”) and finally to the heartbreaking (“The Sermon” and “Closing Hymn”), all variations on the well-known Gospel/Blues/Christian Hymn musical repertory. [more]
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