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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

 

Stage Addiction: Taking The Subway South

Mike Daisey's awesome new play, If You See Som...Bussel via FlickrBroadway may be falling apart in the current economic crisis, but don't fret, theatregoers...Off-Broadway has come through in the clinch, with four critical and commercial smashes ready to satisfy all uptown exiles (at recession-friendly prices, by the by). In addition to the two we've raved about frequently in this column -- the Vineyard's Wig Out! and Black Watch at St. Ann's in Brooklyn -- you can add some additional near-masterpieces to your must-see list.

First is The Grand Inquisitor, an adaptation of Dostoyevsky exceprts...which sounds dreadfully dull, until you learn its creator and driving force is the legendary director Peter Brook (The Mahabarata), making a long-awaited return to American stages. Essentially a monologue about the nature of faith and religion (and the vast differences between the two), it is brought to an elegant boil by one of the global superstars of experimental theatre, Bruce Myers. It's an astonishing performance, deft and brutal and seductive, triumphant and fragile in execution. The best performance of 2008? Quite possibly.

Another monologue, If You See Something, Say Something -- Mike Daisey's examination of homeland security and nuclear history -- is currently packing in SRO crowds at Joe's Pub tucked inside the Public Theater, and rightly so. Daisey gained widespread attention last spring with his stage treatise How Theatre Failed America; in Something/Something, he again blends societal concern with personal memoir, parsing American political history with his own biography. The piece uses humor like a scalpel, carving the path for a startingly intimate fascination with Los Alamos and the Manhattan Project; if Daisey dawdles a bit over the minutiae of nuclear testing, it still rings with truth and enthusiasm. In other sections, though, the piece brandishes the threat of terrorism with verve, revealing our government's post-9/11 paranoia for the shiny, distracting bauble it is. Daisey has been on "artists to watch" lists too numerous to count of late...and it's deserved. If You See Something, Say Something makes the unmistakable case that Daisey, like Eric Bogosian before him, has become America's leading town crier, shouting into the wind of our desperate times, hoping we can still hear.

And the most astonishing thing about Off-Broadway's stellar autumnal offerings? There's more to come. Downtown's first unqualified smash, Blasted, has just extended until Christmas, and a trio of buzz-heavy new plays are beginning previews: Farragut North at the Atlantic Theatre Company, Saturn Returns at Lincoln Center, and A Prayer For My Enemy at Playwrights Horizons. The most anticipated new musical of the season (Stephen Sondheim's Road Show) as well as the most entertaining (the hard-rock jukebox musical Rock of Ages) are both Off-Broadway as well. And the list of promising projects seems endless: Les Freres Corbusier's immersive piece Dance Dance Revolution at the Ohio, The Debate Society's Cape Disappointment, Complexions Dance Company at the Joyce, etc., etc., etc., etc. If this keeps up, the demise of the Great White Way won't hurt very much at all; it's the end of the theatre world as we know it, and I feel fine.

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