Another Bite of the Apple Part I — New Plays

After an absence of several years, it was so good to be back in New York for six days of new theatre.   I saw four new Broadway musicals and three limited run new plays. (I also fit in the Whitney Biennial, two great restaurants — Esca and Butter, and a couple comforting bowls of matzo ball soup.)  Since  some of the plays are scheduled to end soon, I’ll start with them and tell you about the musicals (Dear Evan Hansen, Come From Away, War Paint and Groundhog Day) in my next post.

 

sundown

SUNDOWN, YELLOW MOON by Rachel Bonds at Ars Nova

Sundown, Yellow Moon.  I had been wanting to check out Ars Nova, the birthplace and nurturer of many a new work and emerging playwright, and I am an acquaintance and admirer of the playwright Rachel Bonds, so her new play beckoned.  Sundown, Yellow Moon is a play with music — music and lyrics by The Bengsons — about two twin sisters returning home to find their father in a moment of crisis.  The sisters have their own issues too, and this playwright’s trademark elegant and lyrical dialogue allow these complex characters to make you understand and ache for them.  The program calls this “a nighttime play with songs” and you can feel the hot and secretive summer night all around you.  In his glowing New York Times review ”Songs Say What a Family Can’t”, Ben Brantley said “Voices are seldom raised in Sundown, Yellow Moon, and big, confrontational truths mostly remain unspoken. Yet a whispering ominousness pervades this story, couched in fretful speculations and evasive references to earlier events, that suggests any one of its central characters might eventually implode.”  The play is so beautifully written there were times I wanted the play to stop so I could think about what they just said, or see a particular scene again. (If you’ve seen it: the first time Joey meets the poet — oh my.)   Unfortunately this run is only playing through April 1 but the play is such a gem I think it will be picked up and you will have another chance to see it.  Watch for it.

IF I FORGET at the Roundabout Theatre Jeremy Shamos, Kate Walsh and Maria Dizzia photo by Joan Marcus

IF I FORGET at the Roundabout Theatre
Jeremy Shamos, Kate Walsh and Maria Dizzia
photo by Joan Marcus

 

If I Forget.  This funny and painfully authentic play about three siblings was written by Steven Levenson, who is also the bookwriter of the brilliant musical Dear Evan Hansen.  That was one of the main reasons I chose to see it and it was totally engrossing and well-performed.  Here is The Roundabout’s website description of the play:

In the final months before 9/11, liberal Jewish studies professor Michael Fischer has reunited with his two sisters to celebrate their father’s 75th birthday. Each deeply invested in their own version of family history, the siblings clash over everything from Michael’s controversial scholarly work to the mounting pressures of caring for an ailing parent. As destructive secrets and long-held resentments bubble to the surface, the three negotiate—with biting humor and razor-sharp insight—how much of the past they’re willing to sacrifice for a chance at a new beginning. If I Forget tells a powerful tale of a family and a culture at odds with itself.

There’s a lot packed in to this play, but it’s the emotional truth behind the family dynamics that made it most compelling.  It also made me very grateful for my own relatively functional and highly supportive extended family.

Jennifer Ehle and Jefferson Mays in OSLO.  Photo: Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

Jennifer Ehle and Jefferson Mays in OSLO.
Photo: Sara Krulwich/The New York Tim

 

Oslo.  This play is harder for me to write about because the general consensus is it is a very good play;  I can understand that in a dispassionate, academic way but that wasn’t my experience. In fairness, I should say I was very tired that night and it is a long 3-hours of talk, without enough humor to leaven the heavy material. On another night, I might have been more engaged.  The play is about the secret Norwegian facilitation of the 1993 Middle East peace talks and there were moments of gripping drama.  Jennifer Ehle I would watch in almost anything and she was terrific, and joined by a strong cast.  If you see it, I advise you have some coffee at one of the two intermissions.  I think there’s a lot there if you’re paying attention.

Next post, I’ll tell you about the four new Broadway musicals I saw. Two were absolute must-sees!

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