QUICK TAKES: 4 SHOWS TO SEE RIGHT NOW

Every Brilliant Thing

Jonny Donahoe in Every Brilliant Thing

In my two most recent posts I’ve presented a sneak peak at some Broadway plays and musicals that are on the horizon. While we’re waiting for Spring to arrive—both inside and outside the theatre—here are four terrific plays, (2 on Broadway and 2 off Broadway) that are currently playing and are highly recommended. Go see them now, before they’re gone.

Every Brilliant Thing. Barrow Street Theatre, 27 Barrow St.

This is a show with a simple message: Life, despite its challenges and disappointments, is a beautiful thing, if you just take the time to notice the small joys all around you. British actor/writer/comedian Jonny Donahoe stars as a man who, as a young boy and continuing throughout his life, creates a list of “every brilliant thing” in the world to convince his suicidal mother to keep on living. Sounds depressing, right? It is anything but. The show is both inspiring and fun, as Donahoe (who also co-wrote with Duncan Macmillan) enlists the participation of the audience in enumerating life’s small pleasures. He hands out numbered slips of paper before the show begins, asking audience members to read each paper aloud when he mentions its number. For example: 1. Ice cream, 2. Water fights, 3. Things with stripes, 4. Christopher Walken’s voice. As the boy matures into a man, the brilliant things evolve into more adult choices: Starting a new book; Falling in love. At 65 minutes with no intermission, the show is a short, sweet, and thoroughly satisfying brilliant thing, well worth the trip down to Barrow Street.

Every Brilliant Thing continues through March 29.

Disgraced. Lyceum Theatre, 149 W. 45th St.

The mise en scene in Ayad Akhtar’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play is a familiar one: the dinner party. Amir, an up-and-coming attorney, and his artist wife Emily are hosts to Emily’s art dealer, Isaac and his wife Jory, a colleague at Amir’s law firm. They are of diverse ethnic backgrounds: Amir is a lapsed (some might say, self-loathing) Muslim, Isaac is Jewish, and Jory is African American. It’s been said that to keep the peace at social gatherings, two potential powder keg topics should be avoided: politics and religion. Unfortunately for Amir (but fortunately for the dramatic tension of the play), the play’s characters ignore that advice—and by the end of the evening, no one emerges unscathed. This is a thought-provoking, engaging evening at the theatre that will provide ample material for your own post-theatre dinner conversation.

Read the complete Shari on the Aisle review.

Disgraced continues through March 1.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Barrymore Theatre, 243 W. 47th St.

Olivier Award-winning British playwright Simon Stephens has adapted Mark Haddon’s best-selling novel about an autistic boy’s investigation into the murder of a neighborhood dog into an incredibly moving and dazzling work of theatre. What makes the play so remarkable is how, through innovative stagecraft that includes grid-like projections, lighting, and audio, we experience what it’s like to be Christopher, the play’s young protagonist. We feel the almost unbearable pain of sensory overload that afflicts an autistic child. The brilliant staging, along with a remarkable performance by Alex Sharp (a recent Julliard grad wowing audiences in his Broadway debut) in the lead role, creates a theatrical experience that is incredibly moving and unique. Sharp, along with the play, are sure to be on the list of 2014/15 Tony nominees.

Performances of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time are ongoing.

Between Riverside and Crazy. Second Stage, Tony Kiser Theatre, 305 W. 43rd St.

On the surface, Stephen Adly Guirgis’s Between Riverside and Crazy looks like another play about a dysfunctional family. Pops (veteran actor Stephen McKinley Henderson) is a 60-something cop who was shot while off duty a few years back. A recent widower, he shares his rent controlled Riverside Drive apartment with an assortment of younger, troubled characters—all of whom call him Pops or Dad (whether related to him or not). His son Junior, fresh from jail, is selling hot merchandise out of his bedroom. Junior’s friend Oswaldo is struggling to stay clean. And Junior’s girlfriend announces she’s pregnant. Pops, who refuses to settle his lawsuit against the NYPD, may lose the apartment. But look beneath the surface, and nothing is as it seems. The ensemble, especially Henderson, does a fine job in this restaging of an Atlantic Theatre production.

Between Riverside and Crazy continues through March 22.

Curious Incident

With Curious Incident’s Alex Sharp

For ticket information on all of these shows, check out the show’s websites, playbill.com, TKTS, and Broadway Helper.com

A LOOK BACK AT SOME FAVORITE 2014 BROADWAY SHOWS

Shari HedwigHedwig and the Angry Inch: This show has become a cult favorite, with many fans returning to see the show time after time, despite (or perhaps because of) the rotating cast of Hedwigs. I admit that I am somewhat obsessed with the show, a condition precipitated by Neil Patrick Harris’s memorably heart-breaking performance as the original Broadway Hedwig. (I called it “the performance of a lifetime”). I saw the show a second time, with the talented Andrew Rannells (Tony nominated for The Book of Mormon) who created an angrier, less vulnerable, Hedwig. And yes, I have my ticket for an upcoming third performance, when John Cameron Mitchell (who starred in the original off-Broadway and film versions of Hedwig and wrote the show’s book), will once again don gold platform boots and step into the role. (Stay tuned). Lena Hall, a Tony winner for her role as Hedwig’s husband Yitzhak, remains in the show.

Disgraced: This is probably the best new play I saw in 2014, and fortunately for theatre-goers, it still graces the stage of the Lyceum Theatre. Ayad Ahktar’s tale of an upwardly mobile Pakistani/American attorney’s rapid fall deservedly won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. The 5-person cast that includes Hari Dhillon, Gretchen Mol, and “How I Met Your Mother’s” Josh Radnor, does a splendid job, but here, “the play’s the thing.” Ahktar’s daring and insightful writing creates moments that both illuminate and shock, providing much food for thought and post-performance discussion.

Side Show PlaybillSide Show: Critics adored this revamped production of the 1997 original. Yet somehow it just never found its audience (or enough of an audience to satisfy the Jujamcyn organization). Like its predecessor, Side Show closed too soon, giving its final performance on January 4, just 7 weeks after opening night. I thought it was brilliant, touching, and riveting, with amazing performances by Erin Davie and Emily Padgett as the Hilton sisters. I called it “the best show you’ve never seen,” and I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to see it.

A Raisin in the Sun: The 2014 Broadway revival of Lorraine Hansberry’s much-reprised and greatly admired play was as fine a staging as we’ll ever see. Although the cast member with the most star power was Denzel Washington (as Walter Lee Younger), it was the women (LaTanya Richardson Jackson, Sophie Okonedo, and Anika Noni Rose) who shined the brightest. All three were nominated for Tonys, and when I saw the play, my feeling was, “Give LaTanya the Tony right now!” (But who can compete with the genius Audra McDonald? (See below).

Lady DayLady Day at the Emerson Bar & Grill: While Lanie Robertson’s play depicts jazz legend Billie Holiday at a low point in her career, Audra McDonald’s performance in Lady Day shows us a great talent at the height of her powers. McDonald won a record-setting sixth Tony Award (for Best Actress in a Play) for her unforgettable performance in this show, where, in contrast to the performance she reenacts, she played to sold-out audiences night after night. It was painful to witness the portrayal of decline and despair of a singular talent like the Billie Holiday at Emerson’s Bar & Grill, but at the same time it was uplifting to witness the brilliance of the gifted performer Audra McDonald in remembering and honoring the late great Lady Day.

Also Memorable: All the Way, Casa Valentina, Cabaret, Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Love Letters, Rocky, Honeymoon in Vegas (Opens January 15)

Worst Shows of the Year: The Realistic Joneses, Bullets Over Broadway, Somewhere Fun (Off-Broadway)

See you on the Aisle in 2015!

Erin Davie

DISGRACED

Disgraced

Lyceum Theatre, 149 W. 45th St.

Aspiration, Assimilation, and the American Dream

Lead Cast: Hari Dhillon (Amir), Gretchen Mol (Emily), Danny Ashok (Abe), Josh Radnor (Isaac), Karen Pittman (Jory)

Playwright: Ayad Akhtar

Director: Kimberly Senior

In a nutshell: Ever since the Pilgrims set foot on Plymouth Rock, a steady wave of immigrants have left the familiar surroundings of their homelands for a better life in the “land of the free and the home of the brave.” Some are determined to forget their lives in the old country and to assimilate as quickly as possible to their adopted American homeland. Others cling fiercely to their traditions.

Disgraced is about Amir, a young, ambitious Pakistani-American attorney (Hari Dhillon) who embodies the American Dream. Amir appears to have it all: he is handsome, married to a successful and beautiful American artist (Gretchen Mol), and on the partnership track at a prestigious law firm. He drinks the finest whiskey and wears $600 Charvet shirts. Yet, despite his best efforts, over the taut 90 minutes of this riveting play, everything somehow goes wrong, and Amir loses everything. The perfect world he has so carefully constructed crumbles to dust.

Background: Disgraced won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. The play premiered in Chicago in 2012 (by American Theatre Company). It was produced Off Broadway by LCT3/Lincoln Center Theater in 2013 and Off West End in London earlier this year (also featuring Hari Dhillon and Danny Ashok). Kimberly Senior directed both productions, as well as the current Broadway production. The playwright, Ayad Akhtar, is also a novelist (“American Dervish”) and an actor. He co-wrote and starred in the film “The War Within” and starred as Neel Kashkari in HBO’s adaptation of “Too Big to Fail.”

The Plot: In an attempt to hide his Pakistani/Muslim roots, hot shot attorney Amir has created a new identity for himself. He has adopted the Indian surname Kapoor and, unbeknownst to his wife, he has even managed to change his social security number. However, as in a Shakespearian tragedy or Greek myth, once the die is cast, nothing can halt Amir’s rapid descent into chaos and loss.

In Disgraced, the precipitating event to Amir’s downfall is his decision, against his better judgment, to acquiesce to pleas from his liberal wife Emily and his idealistic nephew Abe (real name, Hussein) to help an imprisoned Muslim cleric whom they claim has been falsely accused of funding terrorism. Although Amir does nothing more than visit the Imam in jail, The New York Times mentions his name and law firm in an article about the Imam, making it appear that Amir is acting as his defense attorney. The firm (whose partners are Jewish) then discovers Amir’s true ethnic and religious background—and he becomes disgraced in their eyes.

The mise en scene in Disgraced is a familiar one: the dinner party. Amir and Emily are hosts to Emily’s art dealer, Isaac, and his wife Jory, a colleague at Amir’s law firm. They are of diverse ethnic backgrounds: Amir is a lapsed (some might say, self-loathing) Muslim, Isaac is Jewish, and Jory is African American. Liberal Emily glorifies the Islamic culture and incorporates its images into her art. She hopes to convince Isaac to launch a show of her work.

What’s Really Going On: It’s been said that to keep the peace at social gatherings, two potential powder keg topics should be avoided: politics and religion. Unfortunately for Amir (but fortunately for the dramatic tension of the play), none of Akhtar’s characters follow that advice. And no one emerges unscathed.

Although Amir denounces Islam’s ancient tenets as irrelevant in today’s modern world, in the play’s most shocking moment, he admits that, because of his upbringing, he felt a sense of pride for his people on 9-11. The audience, as well as the other characters on stage, let out a collective gasp at this revelation.

A lot more transpires in this intelligent, artfully acted play. But to divulge every plot turn would spoil the theatre-going experience.

Furthermore: As I left the theatre, I had three thoughts:

  1. You can change your name, you can deny your roots, but you can never escape who you really are.
  2. Racism exists all around us—sometimes in the most unexpected places.
  3. Civilization is a very thin veneer that can erode very quickly once things go wrong.

(Discuss amongst yourselves).

Should you go? Absolutely. This is a thought-provoking, engaging evening at the theatre. Plus, at only 90 minutes, you have the option of having dinner after the performance. That way, you and your dinner companions can launch your own discussion of the thorny topics Akhtar raises in Disgraced.

Keep in mind: Disgraced is a show for adults, covering provocative, complex themes. Leave the kids (under 16) at home.

Trivia: Like his Disgraced character Amir, playwright Akhtar is a first generation Pakistani-American. He has said that to write Disgraced he “had to turn and look over my shoulder at what I was running away from.”

TV fans will recognize Josh Radnor from his nine-season run as Ted Mosby on the hit show “How I Met Your Mother” and Gretchen Mol from her role as Gillian Darmody in HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire.” Broadway fans may have seen Karen Pittman in Good People at MTC or in Stew’s Passing Strange. Radnor previously appeared on Broadway in The Graduate, opposite Kathleen Turner, in 2002.

Ticket Tips: Although the play is a critical success, discounted tickets are readily available. You can visit Playbill.com, print out the offer, and take it to the Lyceum box office to choose your seats, or you can visit the TKTS ticket booth in Times Square, where I purchased my orchestra seat. The show is scheduled to run through January 18, 2015.

Show Website