Season's Treatings

New York Theater Folks Gaze Back at the Off-Broadway Year

Carl Hancock Rux, playwright-performer

"Topdog/Underdogwas an incredibly personal and profound experience for me. I'm obsessed with notions of bloodlines and mythology. Because I grew up in foster care and wasn't adopted until I was 15, there was always a sense of myth about who my father was, who my mother was. Suzan-Lori Parks's play looks at our relationship to the country we live in and our blood relationships at the same time. She creates her own polyglot vernacular in such a brilliant way. And that language has to be handled very carefully, has to be nurtured by the performer. That's what Jeffrey Wright did. He was not only bringing us a character, he was a musician performing a composition of language.

"Lipstick Traceswas phenomenal. The book [by Greil Marcus, on which the play is based] is so far-reaching, making this direct line from Dadaists to punk rock, and it fails and succeeds in attempting to resolve this thesis. I think the play did the same, and that's the point. A theater of ideas can't have a real resolution—it has to be imperfect, as imperfect as what we have left of Socrates, of Jesus. It's incredibly imperfect, fallible, but it's ripe with deliciousness, it's ripe with danger, it's sexy. That's what the play was, so perfectly flawed, so beautifully done. "

Wurst (Take It and Eat It!) (I Mean . . . Take It and Keep It): Siegfried goes to heaven.
photo: Hiroyuki Ito
Wurst (Take It and Eat It!) (I Mean . . . Take It and Keep It): Siegfried goes to heaven.


Jonathan Kalb, theater scholar and critic

"The first act of Homebody/Kabul was a masterpiece. And what about Linda Emond? That was one of the most specific and interestingly invested performances I saw all year. She, as much as Tony Kushner, made that a marvelous experience. It was worth the rest of the four hours to see it. Kushner didn't solve the problem of his slash mark between the Homebody and the Kabul, what one had to do with the other, but the Homebody was a play in itself and a very substantial one. I loved it.

"I just detested First Love at New York Theater Workshop. But then I went to see Big Love and True Love and started gaining respect for what Charles Mee was doing. I loved the production, by Daniel Fish, of True Love. It was not the strongest Phaedra adaptation I'd seen, though it did have its own power. And Big Love, I really enjoyed the whole production, the fun that was brought to it. We have a terrible problem trying to figure out what tragedy has to do with us. A playwright who figures out a way it can touch us has my attention."


Amy Huggans, actor

"Maggie Hoffman is an amazing performer. I couldn't keep my eyes off her in anything she did last year: Zero Mark Zero, Wurst, Bender. I could watch that woman clean her toenails. Zero Mark Zero, which Joe Silovsky created and produced, was this wacky and crazy show. Joe made a submarine/boxing ring thing that was startling and fun and silly. I love it when artists are willing to make a big, bold mess—knowing that some things are going to work and some things are going to totally fall on their face.

"Rinne Groff in Highway to Tomorrow was amazing—with those plastic eyeballs over her eyes. She was playing Agave, and watching her slowly realize that this mountain lion she thought she'd devoured, which was represented by that big picnic cooler, watching her realize it was in fact her son—she was the best Agave ever. Truly tragic and hysterical at the same time."


Jessica Hagedorn, playwright

"I loved Christopher Donahue's performance in Monster. It was poignant and scary. He's one of those actors who finally got a role he deserved. Frankenstein's monster has been done by many people, but what Christopher did was really make us care about him. I believed his pain: It was tragic and human, not cartoonish but monstrous.

"I really enjoyed Talk, though it was too long. The actors were just marvelous, very intelligent. I think they handled complicated material very well, that dense verbiage. The media was beautiful, especially the video. And Carl Hancock Rux's emergence as a playwright is really exciting."


Bob McGrath,director

"Witch Mountain/Black Tarantulaby Collapsable Giraffe—there's just a new voice there. There's something illegal about it. It's sloppy and sophisticated at the same time. It was a cool mess, it was great. It was about pirates and treasure maps and death. And I like how drunken the whole thing was.

"The Wooster Group, they're just in a league of their own. The way all of To You, the Birdie!works together, the visuals with the sound. The sound was maybe the strongest element of it—I want to go again and just close my eyes. I liked how well it told the Phaedra story and how scatological it was at the same time. I saw the same [Paul Schmidt] translation at ART, a much more traditional production, but I felt the Wooster Group with all their bells and whistles actually told the Racine story more clearly. It was great seeing these older women lust after these young beautiful boys, too."


Tom Murrin, performer and theater writer for Paper magazine

"Wurst (Take It and Eat It!) (I Mean . . . Take It and Keep It) by Radiohole had all these wonderful, theatrical things in it. At the beginning, someone descended out of the flies, and at the end someone went up to heaven on a platform—it was magical. The show was based on the Siegfried story and had tremendous energy. I learned more about that story in this comical presentation than I'd ever learned before.

"The young director of Tumor Brainiowicz at La MaMa, Brooke O'Harra, was great. She had the cast taking down and putting up the set in between scenes—once they did it three or four times in a row, which perfectly fit the craziness of the play. It was a 1920s piece by Stanislaw Witkiewicz, but it seems like it could have come right out of the 1960s. There were six or seven people onstage playing violins—it was lovely."


Catherine Sheehy,dramaturge at Yale Repertory Theater

"Kia Corthron's Breath, Boom was the only piece of theater I haven't worked on that I went to see twice. Kia's always been interested in the juxtaposition of humanity and science, often social science, and this time it took her to this more poetic realm. Marion McClinton, directing, gave it a lyrical, inspirational lightness in contrast with the very dark subject matter. Enormously strong performances by Donna Duplantier, Yvette Ganier, and Caroline Clay.

"I really enjoyed the Cymbelineat BAM. Mark Rylance was wonderful, and I liked how the lights were up, how the audience had to work at creating the story with the actors. The women's performances were weak, and I wasn't so impressed with the white pajamas, but the imaginative life of the piece was very strong."


Brian Murray,actor

"Bartlett Sher's Cymbelineat Theatre for a New Audience was done in a timeless, universal fashion—there were Chinese bits and bits that were Wild West. It was irreverent. That's what the play really needs, because it's a fairy story—a shambles of different periods and ideas. And the fifth act is awfully silly—and Bartlett underlined that. It was charming and disarming and took away a lot of the boredom of the play.

"I didn't know what to expect from Helen, but I went because I admire Ellen McLaughlin, and my darling Marian Seldes was in it, and Donna Murphy is a huge favorite of mine. I found it so intelligent and so unexpectedly timely—being located in the Middle East and people going to war for the most pointless of reasons, for an illusion.

"The Carpetbagger's Children, by Horton Foote, was such a surprise. That form—the series of monologues—made me totally absorbed in the lives of the speakers. You walk into this beautiful little room with a glorious drop. A wonderful design—that room was like a blue dream. Roberta Maxwell starred and she wasthat woman. She had an elegance—you could just feel her as an aged Southern belle. She wasn't dressed as it, but the way she smiled and flirted. She was so subtle. They were all so subtle. I didn't expect to be so spellbound."


Daniel Mendelsohn, critic for The New York Review of Books

"The Harold Pinter Festival was interesting for two reasons, one negative, one positive. By being able to see tons and tons of Pinter all at once you got a sense of his limitations as a playwright. What had begun as a revolutionary way of writing for the stage had over the years ossified into almost a self-parody of what we think of as Pinter-esque. I'd gone to the festival quite excited and came out a bit disaffected—a lot of his overtly political plays were very strident and self-indulgent. But his most recent play, Celebration, was wonderful—it had a sort of humanity and historical breadth of vision about the 20th century and what it meant and how it failed that I thought was really quite moving.

"I was very taken with Charles Mee's Big Love at BAM. It was a model of how classical drama can be taken apart and put back together in a meaningful way. He's taken a lost trilogy of Aeschylus—we only have one play—and exploded it in this fun, vivid, and highly theatrical way. I teach classics and have a lot of classicist friends who were outraged at the bouncing, the irreverence of it, but Aeschylus was a master of special effects—women miscarried at his performances—so I think the more bouncing the better."

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