‘Slave Play’ Theater Review: A Twisty Play That’s One Giant Trigger Warning

Jeremy O. Harris’ “Slave Play,” which opened Sunday at Off Broadway’s New York Theatre Workshop, is a giant trigger warning in three acts. This is an ambitious, at times uneven satire about race and sex and power and politics that seems designed to provoke.

It begins with the surprisingly graphic onstage couplings of three interracial couples on an antebellum Virginia plantation. A white overseer named Jim (Paul Alexander Nolan) hooks up with a broom-wielding slave named Kaneisha (Teyonah Parris, “If Beale Street Could Talk”) — though not before forcing her to eat cantaloupe off the floor. A white mistress (Annie McNamara) orders an educated mixed-race slave, Phillip (Sullivan Jones), to play the violin before penetrating him with a dildo. And a black overseer (Ato Blankson-Wood) brings himself to orgasm when he makes a white indentured servant (James Cusati-Moyer) lick his boots.

But since we first meet Keneisha twerking to Rihanna’s “Work” and Phillip picks out an R. Kelly tune on his fiddle, things are not quite what they seem. Indeed, Harris — a student at Yale Drama School who has two shows opening Off Broadway this season — has a very big twist up his sleeve. (No spoilers here.)

Also Read: ‘The Jungle’ Theater Review: A Vital, Necessary Journey Into a Modern Refugee Camp

Harris’ intentions become clearer in the middle section of his three-act, intermissionless play, with the introduction of two modern-day academics-cum-therapists (Chalia La Tour and Irene Sofia Lucio) who use terms like “heteropatriarchal” and “positionality” in an attempt to help people to “process” their feelings.

That processing does not seem to go well for anyone, including the well-intentioned therapists themselves who seek to impose in-vogue theory on the messy reality of American race relations. Nor does it bolster the white (or paler) people, who seem surprised to get no credit for good intentions.

“You’re the virus,” one character tells them at one point, recalling the decimation of indigenous peoples by the arrival of Europeans to the American continent. “Your mere presence was biological warfare.”

Also Read: ‘The Hard Problem’ Theater Review: Tom Stoppard Is Soft on Brain Science

“Slave Play” can be saggy; each of the three acts would benefit from some trimming. And the third act, which reunites one of the couples in an encounter that is both intimate and humiliatingly raw, seems more designed to shock than illuminate.

At no point do we believe that these are flesh-and-blood humans who might have chosen to be together in a relationship; they seem more like props — or in this case, agitprops — for Harris’ provocative message about the dreadful state of race relations, which seems to have hobbled everyone, white and black.

In Harris’ view, patterns of oppression have become so ingrained that even African Americans fail to recognize its footprints — even when they are clearly marked on their backs. “Slave Play”  recalls the work of Thomas Bradley and Robert O’Hara (who directs this production, sometimes too broadly) and it announces the arrival of a bold and challenging new voice in theater.

Related stories from TheWrap:

‘The Jungle’ Theater Review: A Vital, Necessary Journey Into a Modern Refugee Camp

‘The Hard Problem’ Theater Review: Tom Stoppard Is Soft on Brain Science

‘Downstairs’ Theater Review: Tyne Daly and Tim Daly Play Siblings Plagued With Demons Past and Present

Jeremy O. Harris’ “Slave Play,” which opened Sunday at Off Broadway’s New York Theatre Workshop, is a giant trigger warning in three acts. This is an ambitious, at times uneven satire about race and sex and power and politics that seems designed to provoke.

It begins with the surprisingly graphic onstage couplings of three interracial couples on an antebellum Virginia plantation. A white overseer named Jim (Paul Alexander Nolan) hooks up with a broom-wielding slave named Kaneisha (Teyonah Parris, “If Beale Street Could Talk”) — though not before forcing her to eat cantaloupe off the floor. A white mistress (Annie McNamara) orders an educated mixed-race slave, Phillip (Sullivan Jones), to play the violin before penetrating him with a dildo. And a black overseer (Ato Blankson-Wood) brings himself to orgasm when he makes a white indentured servant (James Cusati-Moyer) lick his boots.

But since we first meet Keneisha twerking to Rihanna’s “Work” and Phillip picks out an R. Kelly tune on his fiddle, things are not quite what they seem. Indeed, Harris — a student at Yale Drama School who has two shows opening Off Broadway this season — has a very big twist up his sleeve. (No spoilers here.)

Harris’ intentions become clearer in the middle section of his three-act, intermissionless play, with the introduction of two modern-day academics-cum-therapists (Chalia La Tour and Irene Sofia Lucio) who use terms like “heteropatriarchal” and “positionality” in an attempt to help people to “process” their feelings.

That processing does not seem to go well for anyone, including the well-intentioned therapists themselves who seek to impose in-vogue theory on the messy reality of American race relations. Nor does it bolster the white (or paler) people, who seem surprised to get no credit for good intentions.

“You’re the virus,” one character tells them at one point, recalling the decimation of indigenous peoples by the arrival of Europeans to the American continent. “Your mere presence was biological warfare.”

“Slave Play” can be saggy; each of the three acts would benefit from some trimming. And the third act, which reunites one of the couples in an encounter that is both intimate and humiliatingly raw, seems more designed to shock than illuminate.

At no point do we believe that these are flesh-and-blood humans who might have chosen to be together in a relationship; they seem more like props — or in this case, agitprops — for Harris’ provocative message about the dreadful state of race relations, which seems to have hobbled everyone, white and black.

In Harris’ view, patterns of oppression have become so ingrained that even African Americans fail to recognize its footprints — even when they are clearly marked on their backs. “Slave Play”  recalls the work of Thomas Bradley and Robert O’Hara (who directs this production, sometimes too broadly) and it announces the arrival of a bold and challenging new voice in theater.

Related stories from TheWrap:

'The Jungle' Theater Review: A Vital, Necessary Journey Into a Modern Refugee Camp

'The Hard Problem' Theater Review: Tom Stoppard Is Soft on Brain Science

'Downstairs' Theater Review: Tyne Daly and Tim Daly Play Siblings Plagued With Demons Past and Present

Neil LaBute Sets Off Broadway Debuts Of Three One-Act Plays

EXCLUSIVE: Neil LaBute will premiere three new one-act plays Off Broadway in January as the St. Louis Actors’ Studio returns to New York for its fourth theater festival named for the Reasons to Be Pretty playwright.
LaBute himself will direct the world…

EXCLUSIVE: Neil LaBute will premiere three new one-act plays Off Broadway in January as the St. Louis Actors' Studio returns to New York for its fourth theater festival named for the Reasons to Be Pretty playwright. LaBute himself will direct the world premiere of one of the plays: Unlikely Japan, starring Billions actress Gia Crovatin. The other two plays, written by LaBute, are the world premiere of Great Negro Works of Art, directed by John Pierson and starring KeiLyn…

‘Good Grief’ Theater Review: Ngozi Anyanwu Looks Back With Love and Hip-Hop

The promising playwright Ngozi Anyanwu, who made a striking New York debut earlier this year with “The Homecoming Queen,” returns to Off Broadway’s Vineyard Theatre with a memory play called “Good Grief” whose specificity is both its strength and one of its weaknesses.

Anyanwu also stars in the production as Nkechi, the daughter of Nigerian immigrants raised in suburban Bucks County, Pennsylvania, in the late ’90s, as she comes to terms with the sudden death of her childhood friend and young adulthood almost-lover in a car accident.

As played with easy-going charisma by Ian Quinlan, MJ is a light-skinned James Dean type who’s smart but unambitious, a smooth cat compared to the more academically driven Nkechi with her more rough-around-the-edges feline energy.

In a series of nonlinear scenes that span more than a decade, Nkechi tries to overcome her crippling period of mourning for MJ in conversations with various people in her life: her football-loving father (Oberon K.A. Adjepong), her psychiatric-nurse mother (Patrice Johnson Chevannes), her blunt-smoking, malt-liquor-drinking brother (Nnamdi Asomugha) and her high school crush (Hunter Parrish).

Also Read: ‘The Waverly Gallery’ Broadway Review: Kenneth Lonergan Remembers a Lost, Eccentric Life

Each is uncomprehending of just how stuck Nkechi seems to be over MJ’s death — or why she’s dropped out of medical school and holed up at her parents’ home, seemingly incapable of moving on with her life.

The play doesn’t shed much light on this question — nor does it gather much in the way of narrative momentum over the course of its 100-minute running time. And occasional efforts to elevate the material to the mythic seem like too big a stretch for what amounts to a slight, if well-observed story of loss.

Also Read: ‘The Ferryman’ Broadway Review: Jez Butterworth and Sam Mendes Unload on the IRA

But there is much to admire here, particularly in Anyanwu’s gift for dialogue and for depicting the experience of a second-generation African American growing up in lily-white suburbia when Tupac and Biggie were just as popular as The Incredible Hulk and “The Goonies.” (The snippets of hip-hop classics played on boomboxes, of course, add just the right touch.)

And both as actress and playwright, Anyanwu also has a gift for breaking the fourth wall to reshape her memories — sometimes following reimagined scenes with shorter takes of what “really” happened. Indeed, some lines are repeated verbatim by different characters in subsequent scenes, to further challenge our grip on what might be true.

Related stories from TheWrap:

‘Gloria: A Life’ Theater Review: Christine Lahti Channels Gloria Steinem

‘Mother of the Maid’ Theater Review: Behind Every Successful Child There’s a Glenn Close

‘The Waverly Gallery’ Broadway Review: Kenneth Lonergan Remembers a Lost, Eccentric Life

‘The Ferryman’ Broadway Review: Jez Butterworth and Sam Mendes Unload on the IRA

The promising playwright Ngozi Anyanwu, who made a striking New York debut earlier this year with “The Homecoming Queen,” returns to Off Broadway’s Vineyard Theatre with a memory play called “Good Grief” whose specificity is both its strength and one of its weaknesses.

Anyanwu also stars in the production as Nkechi, the daughter of Nigerian immigrants raised in suburban Bucks County, Pennsylvania, in the late ’90s, as she comes to terms with the sudden death of her childhood friend and young adulthood almost-lover in a car accident.

As played with easy-going charisma by Ian Quinlan, MJ is a light-skinned James Dean type who’s smart but unambitious, a smooth cat compared to the more academically driven Nkechi with her more rough-around-the-edges feline energy.

In a series of nonlinear scenes that span more than a decade, Nkechi tries to overcome her crippling period of mourning for MJ in conversations with various people in her life: her football-loving father (Oberon K.A. Adjepong), her psychiatric-nurse mother (Patrice Johnson Chevannes), her blunt-smoking, malt-liquor-drinking brother (Nnamdi Asomugha) and her high school crush (Hunter Parrish).

Each is uncomprehending of just how stuck Nkechi seems to be over MJ’s death — or why she’s dropped out of medical school and holed up at her parents’ home, seemingly incapable of moving on with her life.

The play doesn’t shed much light on this question — nor does it gather much in the way of narrative momentum over the course of its 100-minute running time. And occasional efforts to elevate the material to the mythic seem like too big a stretch for what amounts to a slight, if well-observed story of loss.

But there is much to admire here, particularly in Anyanwu’s gift for dialogue and for depicting the experience of a second-generation African American growing up in lily-white suburbia when Tupac and Biggie were just as popular as The Incredible Hulk and “The Goonies.” (The snippets of hip-hop classics played on boomboxes, of course, add just the right touch.)

And both as actress and playwright, Anyanwu also has a gift for breaking the fourth wall to reshape her memories — sometimes following reimagined scenes with shorter takes of what “really” happened. Indeed, some lines are repeated verbatim by different characters in subsequent scenes, to further challenge our grip on what might be true.

Related stories from TheWrap:

'Gloria: A Life' Theater Review: Christine Lahti Channels Gloria Steinem

'Mother of the Maid' Theater Review: Behind Every Successful Child There's a Glenn Close

'The Waverly Gallery' Broadway Review: Kenneth Lonergan Remembers a Lost, Eccentric Life

'The Ferryman' Broadway Review: Jez Butterworth and Sam Mendes Unload on the IRA

‘Gloria: A Life’ Theater Review: Christine Lahti Channels Gloria Steinem

In recent years, post-show talk-backs have become a mainstay of theater — allowing audiences to discuss and debate what they’ve just seen on stage with cast, creators or topic-related experts brought in for just that purpose. But the phenomenon takes a new form in “Gloria: A Life,” a biographical tribute to feminist legend Gloria Steinem that opened Thursday at Off Broadway’s Daryl Roth Theatre.

In this show, the talk-back has been elevated to an actual Act 2, described in the script as “audience discussion in the spirit of a talking circle.” Helpfully, the audience is already seated in the round, in a stadium-like setting with giant pillows.

And at the performance I attended, the discussion was led by a very special guest: Gloria Steinem herself, looking as tall and svelte at 84 as the woman who portrayed her for the previous 100 minutes or so. (“It takes a lot of courage to follow myself,” she joked.)

Also Read: ‘Mother of the Maid’ Theater Review: Behind Every Successful Child There’s a Glenn Close

Emily Mann’s well-crafted play — which is equal parts biography, history lesson, TED talk and call to action — encourages just the sort of cathartic engagement that was on display with audience members. (One said it was her second time seeing the show, another vowed to return with her father and brothers so they could hear from other women the kinds of stories she had tried to share with them.)

And Lahti bears a striking resemblance to the younger Steinem, with her model-like good looks, mop of straight blond hair and a voice that is forceful without ever turning shrill. She’s accompanied on stage by a diverse ensemble of six women who play multiple roles from Steinem’s life and career, from her long-suffering mother to congresswoman Bella Abzug to Coretta Scott King.

Mann’s script covers all the usual biographical bases: Steinem’s undercover article posing as a Playboy bunny, the founding of Ms. magazine, the marriage to Christian Bale’s dad (cut short by his sudden death to brain lymphoma).

Also Read: ‘Apologia’ Theater Review: Stockard Channing and Hugh Dancy Recall What Went Wrong

But it also serves as a kind of corrective to received history about what was once called the women’s liberation movement, spotlighting the role played by women of color like Flo Kennedy and Wilma Mankiller, on the one hand, and details that might have been relegated to footnotes. (It turns out that no bras were actually burned at the Atlantic City demonstration that gave rise to the term “bra-burners” because “we couldn’t get a fire permit!”)

The show’s real power, though, comes in Steinem’s — and Lahti’s — ability to give voice to the deep-seated feelings of powerlessness and frustration and exploitation that many women feel — and to channel those feelings into meaningful action.

Hers is a plainspoken voice borne of her Midwestern upbringing, and one that manages to make even the most aphoristic statements (“Don’t worry about what you should do, just do whatever you can do“) ring absolutely true. Bromides, it seems, are for bros.

Related stories from TheWrap:

‘Mother of the Maid’ Theater Review: Behind Every Successful Child There’s a Glenn Close

‘Apologia’ Theater Review: Stockard Channing and Hugh Dancy Recall What Went Wrong

‘Sakina’s Restaurant’ Theater Review: Aasif Mandvi Explores the Many Faces of Indian Americans

In recent years, post-show talk-backs have become a mainstay of theater — allowing audiences to discuss and debate what they’ve just seen on stage with cast, creators or topic-related experts brought in for just that purpose. But the phenomenon takes a new form in “Gloria: A Life,” a biographical tribute to feminist legend Gloria Steinem that opened Thursday at Off Broadway’s Daryl Roth Theatre.

In this show, the talk-back has been elevated to an actual Act 2, described in the script as “audience discussion in the spirit of a talking circle.” Helpfully, the audience is already seated in the round, in a stadium-like setting with giant pillows.

And at the performance I attended, the discussion was led by a very special guest: Gloria Steinem herself, looking as tall and svelte at 84 as the woman who portrayed her for the previous 100 minutes or so. (“It takes a lot of courage to follow myself,” she joked.)

Emily Mann’s well-crafted play — which is equal parts biography, history lesson, TED talk and call to action — encourages just the sort of cathartic engagement that was on display with audience members. (One said it was her second time seeing the show, another vowed to return with her father and brothers so they could hear from other women the kinds of stories she had tried to share with them.)

And Lahti bears a striking resemblance to the younger Steinem, with her model-like good looks, mop of straight blond hair and a voice that is forceful without ever turning shrill. She’s accompanied on stage by a diverse ensemble of six women who play multiple roles from Steinem’s life and career, from her long-suffering mother to congresswoman Bella Abzug to Coretta Scott King.

Mann’s script covers all the usual biographical bases: Steinem’s undercover article posing as a Playboy bunny, the founding of Ms. magazine, the marriage to Christian Bale’s dad (cut short by his sudden death to brain lymphoma).

But it also serves as a kind of corrective to received history about what was once called the women’s liberation movement, spotlighting the role played by women of color like Flo Kennedy and Wilma Mankiller, on the one hand, and details that might have been relegated to footnotes. (It turns out that no bras were actually burned at the Atlantic City demonstration that gave rise to the term “bra-burners” because “we couldn’t get a fire permit!”)

The show’s real power, though, comes in Steinem’s — and Lahti’s — ability to give voice to the deep-seated feelings of powerlessness and frustration and exploitation that many women feel — and to channel those feelings into meaningful action.

Hers is a plainspoken voice borne of her Midwestern upbringing, and one that manages to make even the most aphoristic statements (“Don’t worry about what you should do, just do whatever you can do“) ring absolutely true. Bromides, it seems, are for bros.

Related stories from TheWrap:

'Mother of the Maid' Theater Review: Behind Every Successful Child There's a Glenn Close

'Apologia' Theater Review: Stockard Channing and Hugh Dancy Recall What Went Wrong

'Sakina's Restaurant' Theater Review: Aasif Mandvi Explores the Many Faces of Indian Americans

Saints & Sinners No Match For Glenn Close In ‘Mother Of The Maid’: Off-Broadway Review

So maybe Joan of Arc plays second fiddle to few saints in history, but on stage even she’s no match for Glenn Close. As the title character in Mother of the Maid, Jane Anderson’s eccentric and startlingly play opening tonight Off Broadway a…

So maybe Joan of Arc plays second fiddle to few saints in history, but on stage even she’s no match for Glenn Close. As the title character in Mother of the Maid, Jane Anderson’s eccentric and startlingly play opening tonight Off Broadway at the Public Theater, Close takes on history and wins. Mother of the Maid reunites the actress, as good here as you’ve seen her, with Anderson (the two most recently collaborated on feature film The Wife) and Damages director Matthew…

Dove Cameron Set For Lead In Off Broadway’s ‘Clueless: The Musical’

EXCLUSIVE: Dove Cameron, a 2018 Daytime Emmy winner for Disney Channel’s Liv and Maddie, will take the lead in the upcoming Off Broadway production of Clueless: The Musical.
Cameron, sources close to the production say, will play Cher, the role t…

EXCLUSIVE: Dove Cameron, a 2018 Daytime Emmy winner for Disney Channel’s Liv and Maddie, will take the lead in the upcoming Off Broadway production of Clueless: The Musical. Cameron, sources close to the production say, will play Cher, the role that made a star of Alicia Silverstone back in ’95. The new musical version, with a book by the original’s screenwriter and director Amy Heckerling, direction by Kristin Hanggi (Rock of Ages) with choreography by Kelly Devine (Come…

‘Girl From The North Country’ Review: Bob Dylan Songs Haunt Remarkable Off Broadway Musical

Mining Bob Dylan’s unrivaled songbook – even if he’d never written a tune beyond the 20 or so included in Off Broadway’s Girl From The North Country, his contribution to popular music would be assured –  and wandering his …

Mining Bob Dylan’s unrivaled songbook – even if he’d never written a tune beyond the 20 or so included in Off Broadway’s Girl From The North Country, his contribution to popular music would be assured –  and wandering his spiritual map of a mythic Americana that conforms to no historical boundaries but feels undeniably true to the bone, Conor McPherson’s radiant musical is as eccentric and unclassifiable as any fellow traveler of Dylan should be. A remarkable piece of thea…

‘What the Constitution Means to Me’ Theater Review: A Timely Blend of the Political and Personal

Heidi Schreck, a writer and performer who’s worked on shows like “Nurse Jackie” and “Billions,” has delivered a show that seems to be ripped from the headlines — despite being a work in progress for the better part of a decade.

In “What the Constitution Means to Me,” which opened Sunday at the New York Theatre Workshop, Schreck recounts her experience as a 15-year-old in Wenatchee, Washington, competing for prize money at American Legion halls across the country in speech contests about the U.S. Constitution. “I was able to pay for my entire college education this way,” she says. “Granted, it was a state school. And a really long time ago.”

Faster than you can say Brett Kavanaugh — a name that surprisingly never crosses her lips all evening — Shreck jumps between embodying her teenage self (and her previous obsession with everything from the Salem witch trial to Patrick Swayze) and the modern fortysomething. It’s the latter who’s able to reflect on her accumulated knowledge of both her family history (with women surviving both domestic abuse and abortion) and her more grown-up understanding of American history (particularly how constitutional protections often did not extend to women and minorities).

Also Read: ‘Bernhardt/Hamlet’ Broadway Review: Who’s More Divine, the Bard or Janet McTeer?

And she gradually begins to show how her girlhood ideas about the Constitution have evolved over time. “Maybe we shouldn’t think of the Constitution as a crucible in which we are all fighting it out, because if it’s a battle then the people who have always been in power — men, white people — will continue to dominate and oppress,” she says at one point. “Maybe instead, we could start thinking of the Constitution as a kind of ur-mother, whose job it is to look out for the most vulnerable among us.”

Schreck is an engaging storyteller with a delivery that seems improvised even when she is sticking to her winding but always-focused script. Again and again, she manages to imbue her exploration of the politics of constitutional rights from the lens of the personal. And of the individuals left out as Americans saw their rights expand.

Mike Iveson, an Elevator Repair Service alum who plays a Legionnaire, also sheds his persona late in the show to reveal more about himself — and his own anxieties about the American experiment despite his status as a white man.

Also Read: ‘The True’ Theater Review: Edie Falco Gets Stranded in Albany

Director Oliver Butler, working with set designer Rachel Hauck, re-creates an American Legion Hall on the wide NYTW stage — including walls of portraits of men, all white, who both judged those contests and shaped our understanding of American history and the stutter-step advancement of our rights and liberties.

Even those cold, watchful eyes might perk up toward the show’s end, when Schreck brings out a young New York City high schooler for a brief, formal debate with her on whether we should scrap the U.S. Constitution and start from scratch.

The wonderfully composed 14-year-old Rosdely Ciprian astonished at my performance (she alternates with Thursday Williams). Despite the depressing state of the news (and our Twitter feeds) about the fragility of our democracy, Ciprian sends the audience out with an almost buoyant hope for the future.

Related stories from TheWrap:

‘I Was Most Alive With You’ Theater Review: Making a Case Against the Book of Job

‘The True’ Theater Review: Edie Falco Gets Stranded in Albany

‘The Nap’ Broadway Review: Nobody Takes a Rest in This Outrageous Comedy

‘Bernhardt/Hamlet’ Broadway Review: Who’s More Divine, the Bard or Janet McTeer?

Heidi Schreck, a writer and performer who’s worked on shows like “Nurse Jackie” and “Billions,” has delivered a show that seems to be ripped from the headlines — despite being a work in progress for the better part of a decade.

In “What the Constitution Means to Me,” which opened Sunday at the New York Theatre Workshop, Schreck recounts her experience as a 15-year-old in Wenatchee, Washington, competing for prize money at American Legion halls across the country in speech contests about the U.S. Constitution. “I was able to pay for my entire college education this way,” she says. “Granted, it was a state school. And a really long time ago.”

Faster than you can say Brett Kavanaugh — a name that surprisingly never crosses her lips all evening — Shreck jumps between embodying her teenage self (and her previous obsession with everything from the Salem witch trial to Patrick Swayze) and the modern fortysomething. It’s the latter who’s able to reflect on her accumulated knowledge of both her family history (with women surviving both domestic abuse and abortion) and her more grown-up understanding of American history (particularly how constitutional protections often did not extend to women and minorities).

And she gradually begins to show how her girlhood ideas about the Constitution have evolved over time. “Maybe we shouldn’t think of the Constitution as a crucible in which we are all fighting it out, because if it’s a battle then the people who have always been in power — men, white people — will continue to dominate and oppress,” she says at one point. “Maybe instead, we could start thinking of the Constitution as a kind of ur-mother, whose job it is to look out for the most vulnerable among us.”

Schreck is an engaging storyteller with a delivery that seems improvised even when she is sticking to her winding but always-focused script. Again and again, she manages to imbue her exploration of the politics of constitutional rights from the lens of the personal. And of the individuals left out as Americans saw their rights expand.

Mike Iveson, an Elevator Repair Service alum who plays a Legionnaire, also sheds his persona late in the show to reveal more about himself — and his own anxieties about the American experiment despite his status as a white man.

Director Oliver Butler, working with set designer Rachel Hauck, re-creates an American Legion Hall on the wide NYTW stage — including walls of portraits of men, all white, who both judged those contests and shaped our understanding of American history and the stutter-step advancement of our rights and liberties.

Even those cold, watchful eyes might perk up toward the show’s end, when Schreck brings out a young New York City high schooler for a brief, formal debate with her on whether we should scrap the U.S. Constitution and start from scratch.

The wonderfully composed 14-year-old Rosdely Ciprian astonished at my performance (she alternates with Thursday Williams). Despite the depressing state of the news (and our Twitter feeds) about the fragility of our democracy, Ciprian sends the audience out with an almost buoyant hope for the future.

Related stories from TheWrap:

'I Was Most Alive With You' Theater Review: Making a Case Against the Book of Job

'The True' Theater Review: Edie Falco Gets Stranded in Albany

'The Nap' Broadway Review: Nobody Takes a Rest in This Outrageous Comedy

'Bernhardt/Hamlet' Broadway Review: Who's More Divine, the Bard or Janet McTeer?

Gina Gershon to Play Melania Trump in Off-Broadway Musical

Gina Gershon will take on the role of Melania Trump in the upcoming Off-Broadway musical “The 1st Annual Trump Family Special.”

Gershon, who is known for her roles in “Showgirls,” “Bye Bye Birdie,” and “Cabaret,” performed an impression of the first lady on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” in January. The production’s announcement described the show as a “hilarious send-up” where “Trump’s brood has gathered to perform in a live televised event for the new Trump TV network. But when the orange man-of-the hour runs late, host Ivanka stalls by interviewing the various family members, which leads to a wide array of clever character songs.”

The production was created by Danny Salles, with music and additional lyrics by Grammy nominated songwriters Tor Hyams and Lisa St. Lou and choreography by Benji Schwimmer.

Also Read: Melania Chooses Team LeBron Over Team Trump, Is ‘Open’ to Visit NBA Star’s New School

The show will run on Thursday nights from Sept. 13 to Dec. 6 at the Triad Theater in New York.

See Gershon’s performance on “The Tonight Show” below, starting at the 2:50 mark.



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Gina Gershon will take on the role of Melania Trump in the upcoming Off-Broadway musical “The 1st Annual Trump Family Special.”

Gershon, who is known for her roles in “Showgirls,” “Bye Bye Birdie,” and “Cabaret,” performed an impression of the first lady on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” in January. The production’s announcement described the show as a “hilarious send-up” where “Trump’s brood has gathered to perform in a live televised event for the new Trump TV network. But when the orange man-of-the hour runs late, host Ivanka stalls by interviewing the various family members, which leads to a wide array of clever character songs.”

The production was created by Danny Salles, with music and additional lyrics by Grammy nominated songwriters Tor Hyams and Lisa St. Lou and choreography by Benji Schwimmer.

The show will run on Thursday nights from Sept. 13 to Dec. 6 at the Triad Theater in New York.

See Gershon’s performance on “The Tonight Show” below, starting at the 2:50 mark.

Related stories from TheWrap:

'Glee' Casts Gina Gershon as Darren Criss' Mom Pam Anderson

Gina Gershon, Raquel Welch to Star in Lifetime's Versace Biopic

Melania Chooses Team LeBron Over Team Trump, Is 'Open' to Visit NBA Star's New School

Alec Baldwin Invites Melania Trump on 'SNL': 'Come Over to the Light'

Jim Carrey Rips Melania Trump and Her 'Really Don't Care' Jacket in New Artwork

‘Smokey Joe’s Cafe’ Theater Review: Rockin’ With Lieber and Stoller All Over Again

The songwriting duo Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller had a knackety-knack for melodies — and for elevating early rock ‘n’ roll and pop music in the 1950s and ’60s with a mix of musicianship and theatricality.

They also had a flair for novelty songs with call-and-response lyrics like “Yakety-Yak” (“Talk talk back”) and “Charlie Brown” (“He’s a clown”). And those elements made their song catalog a natural for theater producers, who mashed up dozens of their hits into a 1995 revue that ran for nearly five years.

“Smokey Joe’s Cafe” is now back in New York City, opening Sunday at Off Broadway’s Stage 42 in an elaborately staged new production that presents Lieber and Stoller’s tunes that wallows in nostalgia and old-fashioned showmanship.

Also Read: ‘The Damned’ Theater Review: Ivo van Hove Wrestles Luchino Visconti and Loses

A talented cast of five guys and four women segue from song to song without pausing for dialogue, and restrict dramatization to the characters in the songs themselves — from nightclub singer Pearl to hoochy-koochy dancer Little Egypt to the county jail inmate who narrates the Elvis classic “Jailhouse Rock.”

There’s not a weak link in the cast, though there are standouts: Nicole Vanessa Ortiz and Kyle Taylor Parker are classic belters who can let it rip on big notes. Jelani Remy and Dionne D. Figgins are the most spirited of the dancers, bringing a real energy to the often witty choreography of Joshua Bergasse, who also directs. (He turns “Dance With Me” into a comic gem with Figgins struggling through the left-footed male cast until she finds her true match in Remy.)

Alysha Umphress, who last worked with Bergasse on the recent Broadway revival of “On the Town,” gets a substantial number of the story songs, and also does the most vocal runs of the cast — though with an always-in-control restraint that reflects her theatrical training rather than anything truly rock ‘n’ roll.

Also Read: ‘Fire in Dreamland’ Theater Review: Should Jeff Sessions Be Targeting Dutch Immigrants?

And there’s the rub for this production: It’s an enjoyable showcase of classic rock-pop tunes that seldom really lets loose, even when it occasionally sends the cast into the audience to encourage participation.

Bergasse & Co. also color within the lines in other ways too, invoking a nostalgia that probably seemed dated even in 1995.

“Teach Me How to Shimmy” sees Max Sangerman and a four-man chorus serenade (and objectify) Emma Degerstedt as she shakes her body and a fringey pink mini dress (designed by Alejo Vietti). And when fools fall in love in a production of 40 songs, it’s always, always with the opposite sex.

“Smokey Joe’s Cafe” isn’t just a throwback to a bygone era — it chooses to see the whole wide world through preserved-in-amber-tinted glasses.

Related stories from TheWrap:

‘The Damned’ Theater Review: Ivo van Hove Wrestles Luchino Visconti and Loses

‘Fire in Dreamland’ Theater Review: Should Jeff Sessions Be Targeting Dutch Immigrants?

‘Trainspotting’ Theater Review: The Needles Are Real, the Other Stuff Is Not

The songwriting duo Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller had a knackety-knack for melodies — and for elevating early rock ‘n’ roll and pop music in the 1950s and ’60s with a mix of musicianship and theatricality.

They also had a flair for novelty songs with call-and-response lyrics like “Yakety-Yak” (“Talk talk back”) and “Charlie Brown” (“He’s a clown”). And those elements made their song catalog a natural for theater producers, who mashed up dozens of their hits into a 1995 revue that ran for nearly five years.

“Smokey Joe’s Cafe” is now back in New York City, opening Sunday at Off Broadway’s Stage 42 in an elaborately staged new production that presents Lieber and Stoller’s tunes that wallows in nostalgia and old-fashioned showmanship.

A talented cast of five guys and four women segue from song to song without pausing for dialogue, and restrict dramatization to the characters in the songs themselves — from nightclub singer Pearl to hoochy-koochy dancer Little Egypt to the county jail inmate who narrates the Elvis classic “Jailhouse Rock.”

There’s not a weak link in the cast, though there are standouts: Nicole Vanessa Ortiz and Kyle Taylor Parker are classic belters who can let it rip on big notes. Jelani Remy and Dionne D. Figgins are the most spirited of the dancers, bringing a real energy to the often witty choreography of Joshua Bergasse, who also directs. (He turns “Dance With Me” into a comic gem with Figgins struggling through the left-footed male cast until she finds her true match in Remy.)

Alysha Umphress, who last worked with Bergasse on the recent Broadway revival of “On the Town,” gets a substantial number of the story songs, and also does the most vocal runs of the cast — though with an always-in-control restraint that reflects her theatrical training rather than anything truly rock ‘n’ roll.

And there’s the rub for this production: It’s an enjoyable showcase of classic rock-pop tunes that seldom really lets loose, even when it occasionally sends the cast into the audience to encourage participation.

Bergasse & Co. also color within the lines in other ways too, invoking a nostalgia that probably seemed dated even in 1995.

“Teach Me How to Shimmy” sees Max Sangerman and a four-man chorus serenade (and objectify) Emma Degerstedt as she shakes her body and a fringey pink mini dress (designed by Alejo Vietti). And when fools fall in love in a production of 40 songs, it’s always, always with the opposite sex.

“Smokey Joe’s Cafe” isn’t just a throwback to a bygone era — it chooses to see the whole wide world through preserved-in-amber-tinted glasses.

Related stories from TheWrap:

'The Damned' Theater Review: Ivo van Hove Wrestles Luchino Visconti and Loses

'Fire in Dreamland' Theater Review: Should Jeff Sessions Be Targeting Dutch Immigrants?

'Trainspotting' Theater Review: The Needles Are Real, the Other Stuff Is Not

Bob Dylan Musical Announces Off Broadway Cast: Stephen Bogardus, ‘The Affair’s Mare Winningham

The American cast of the London hit musical Girl From The North Country was announced by Off Broadway’s Public Theater today, with Mare Winningham (The Affair) taking the role that won Scottish actress Shirley Henderson a 2018 Olivier Award.
Broa…

The American cast of the London hit musical Girl From The North Country was announced by Off Broadway’s Public Theater today, with Mare Winningham (The Affair) taking the role that won Scottish actress Shirley Henderson a 2018 Olivier Award. Broadway veteran Stephen Bogardus will take the lead actor role of Nick Laine, which earned an Olivier nomination for Ciaran Hinds, and Glee‘s Samantha Marie Ware has been cast in the supporting role of Marianne Laine, which won…

Christine Lahti Cast As Gloria Steinem In Emily Mann’s Off Broadway Play

Christine Lahti has been cast as feminist icon Gloria Steinem in the previously announced Off Broadway production of Having Our Say playwright Emily Mann’s new play Gloria: A Life.
The play, to be directed by Diane Paulus (Waitress) and produced …

Christine Lahti has been cast as feminist icon Gloria Steinem in the previously announced Off Broadway production of Having Our Say playwright Emily Mann’s new play Gloria: A Life. The play, to be directed by Diane Paulus (Waitress) and produced by Tony-winning producer Daryl Roth (Kinky Boots) at the Daryl Roth Theatre on Union Square in Manhattan, will begin previews Tuesday, October 2 and open Thursday, October 18. "Gloria Steinem helped me find feminism, which has…

Public Theater Announces Season With Glenn Close, Jake Gyllenhaal, Tom Sturridge, Bob Dylan Musical

A new musical featuring the songs of Bob Dylan and productions starring Glenn Close, Jake Gyllenhaal and Tom Sturridge will be among the 2018-19 offerings of Off Broadway’s Public Theater.
The West End hit Girl From the North Country, written and…

A new musical featuring the songs of Bob Dylan and productions starring Glenn Close, Jake Gyllenhaal and Tom Sturridge will be among the 2018-19 offerings of Off Broadway’s Public Theater. The West End hit Girl From the North Country, written and directed by Conor McPherson and featuring music from Dylan’s songbook, will make its North American premiere in September, with an American cast. (The photo above was taken at the Old Vic Theatre in London last July). Also in…

Anonymous Content Taps Weinstein Co.’s Whitney Dilbo As Theater Scout

Anonymous Content has hired its first theater scout, Whitney Dibo, who most recently was working as director of development and acquisitions for The Weinstein Co.
Dilbo’s new title at Anonymous Content is Director of Theatrical Acquisitions. She …

Anonymous Content has hired its first theater scout, Whitney Dibo, who most recently was working as director of development and acquisitions for The Weinstein Co. Dilbo’s new title at Anonymous Content is Director of Theatrical Acquisitions. She will scout theater productions on and Off-Broadway, regionally, and in the UK and identify film and TV adaption candidates. She will also work closely with playwrights to develop film and television projects, and “act as a conduit…

‘Sweeney Todd’ Sets Date When It Will Bake Its Last Off-Broadway Meat Pie

Producers of the long-running Off-Broadway production of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street said the intimate, immersive rendering of the Stephen Sondheim masterpiece will close on August 26.
Sweeney Todd‘s original Broadway incarnati…

Producers of the long-running Off-Broadway production of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street said the intimate, immersive rendering of the Stephen Sondheim masterpiece will close on August 26. Sweeney Todd‘s original Broadway incarnation in 1979 remains one of the peak moments in musical theater history, but the current interpretation breathed a whole different life into the show. The Tooting Arts Club initially mounted the production in London in 2014, using…

‘Our Lady of 121st Street’ Theater Review: Stephen Adly Guirgis’ Symphony of Rage Revisited

In the opening moments of “Our Lady of 12st Street,” now in an explosive revival at Off Broadway’s Signature Theatre, playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis demonstrates a flare for firecracker dialogue that grabs our interest and underscores his beaten-down urban characters’ capacity for hair-trigger outbursts of anger and despair.

“What kinda f—in’ world is this?” shouts Victor (John Procaccino) beside the casket of Sister Rose, a beloved figure in the Harlem neighborhood where Guirgis’ 2003 drama is set. Victor delivers his epic rant of an opening monologue without pants — they have been stolen from him overnight, along with the corpse of the alcoholic nun who taught many of the play’s dozen or so characters.

Victor is not the only one to raise his voice in anger in “Our Lady of 121st Street,” which offers a kind of symphony of rage — much of it about the frustration borne of these well-drawn characters’ own shoddy life choices and the inevitable consequences.

Also Read: ‘Big Fish’ Creators Blast Pittsburgh Theater for Canceling Musical Over Gay Dads in Chorus

The now-delayed funeral of Sister Rose provides an excuse for both a reunion of these troubled souls, as well as a reckoning with old demons.

Flip (Jimonn Cole) is a successful attorney in the Midwest who decides to recloset himself for his return to the hood  — and lashes out at his longtime boyfriend (Kevin Isola), an aspiring actor who thinks he is better at passing as straight than he is, in the cruelest possible way.

Marcia (Stephanie Kurtzuba), Sister Rose’s asthmatic niece, delivers an over-the-top anti-smoking screed that belies her otherwise buttoned-up demeanor.

Rooftop (Hill Harper), a deejay in Los Angeles who bumps into the ex-wife he wronged long ago (the hilariously take-no-guff Quincy Tyler Bernstine), launches into a long-winded confession to Father Lux (John Doman) — who has a troubled history connect all his own.

Even the sweet-natured Edwin (Erick Betancourt) finally loses it by ripping into his mentally challenged brother (Maki Borden) — he feels responsible for Pinky’s head injury but also frustrated by the personal toll that caring for him has had.

Also Read: ‘Long Day’s Journey Into Night’ Theater Review: Lesley Manville and Jeremy Irons in Doped-Up Revival

Phylicia Rashad keeps most of the scenes tethered to a kind of heightened reality, allowing her uniformly talented cast to dig into the juicier disses without letting them lapse into the stuff of acting exercises. “You have to marinate before you can grill,” Rooftop tells Father Lux to explain his stall tactics before unburdening his conscience.

While the episodic nature of the play never grows tedious, it also never manages to gather much in the way of narrative momentum. There has been too much grilling, and not nearly enough marinating — or of bringing the disparate elements into a compelling whole.

“Our Lady of 12st Street” emerges as less a symphony than a collection of soliloquies that play almost like jazz solos of the loudest, most discordant Miles Davis variety. But it’s no less vital or goosebump-raising as a result.

Related stories from TheWrap:

‘Big Fish’ Creators Blast Pittsburgh Theater for Canceling Musical Over Gay Dads in Chorus

‘Paradise Blue’ Theater Review: A Visit to Detroit’s Black Bottom, Without Ma Rainey

‘Long Day’s Journey Into Night’ Theater Review: Lesley Manville and Jeremy Irons in Doped-Up Revival

‘Dance Nation’ Theater Review: Why No One Ever Really Escapes Adolescence

In the opening moments of “Our Lady of 12st Street,” now in an explosive revival at Off Broadway’s Signature Theatre, playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis demonstrates a flare for firecracker dialogue that grabs our interest and underscores his beaten-down urban characters’ capacity for hair-trigger outbursts of anger and despair.

“What kinda f—in’ world is this?” shouts Victor (John Procaccino) beside the casket of Sister Rose, a beloved figure in the Harlem neighborhood where Guirgis’ 2003 drama is set. Victor delivers his epic rant of an opening monologue without pants — they have been stolen from him overnight, along with the corpse of the alcoholic nun who taught many of the play’s dozen or so characters.

Victor is not the only one to raise his voice in anger in “Our Lady of 121st Street,” which offers a kind of symphony of rage — much of it about the frustration borne of these well-drawn characters’ own shoddy life choices and the inevitable consequences.

The now-delayed funeral of Sister Rose provides an excuse for both a reunion of these troubled souls, as well as a reckoning with old demons.

Flip (Jimonn Cole) is a successful attorney in the Midwest who decides to recloset himself for his return to the hood  — and lashes out at his longtime boyfriend (Kevin Isola), an aspiring actor who thinks he is better at passing as straight than he is, in the cruelest possible way.

Marcia (Stephanie Kurtzuba), Sister Rose’s asthmatic niece, delivers an over-the-top anti-smoking screed that belies her otherwise buttoned-up demeanor.

Rooftop (Hill Harper), a deejay in Los Angeles who bumps into the ex-wife he wronged long ago (the hilariously take-no-guff Quincy Tyler Bernstine), launches into a long-winded confession to Father Lux (John Doman) — who has a troubled history connect all his own.

Even the sweet-natured Edwin (Erick Betancourt) finally loses it by ripping into his mentally challenged brother (Maki Borden) — he feels responsible for Pinky’s head injury but also frustrated by the personal toll that caring for him has had.

Phylicia Rashad keeps most of the scenes tethered to a kind of heightened reality, allowing her uniformly talented cast to dig into the juicier disses without letting them lapse into the stuff of acting exercises. “You have to marinate before you can grill,” Rooftop tells Father Lux to explain his stall tactics before unburdening his conscience.

While the episodic nature of the play never grows tedious, it also never manages to gather much in the way of narrative momentum. There has been too much grilling, and not nearly enough marinating — or of bringing the disparate elements into a compelling whole.

“Our Lady of 12st Street” emerges as less a symphony than a collection of soliloquies that play almost like jazz solos of the loudest, most discordant Miles Davis variety. But it’s no less vital or goosebump-raising as a result.

Related stories from TheWrap:

'Big Fish' Creators Blast Pittsburgh Theater for Canceling Musical Over Gay Dads in Chorus

'Paradise Blue' Theater Review: A Visit to Detroit's Black Bottom, Without Ma Rainey

'Long Day's Journey Into Night' Theater Review: Lesley Manville and Jeremy Irons in Doped-Up Revival

'Dance Nation' Theater Review: Why No One Ever Really Escapes Adolescence

Duncan Sheik To Set ‘Secret Life Of Bees’ Buzzing With New Music For Off Broadway Bow

The Secret Life of Bees, a new musical based on the best-selling novel and with music by Dunan Sheik, will make its world premiere next May at the Atlantic Theater Off-Broadway. The production will be directed by Tony winner Sam Gold (Fun Home).
The mu…

The Secret Life of Bees, a new musical based on the best-selling novel and with music by Dunan Sheik, will make its world premiere next May at the Atlantic Theater Off-Broadway. The production will be directed by Tony winner Sam Gold (Fun Home). The musical, with a book by Lynn Nottage and lyrics by Susan Birkenhead, based on the novel by Sue Monk Kidd, is part of the Atlantic’s 2018-19 season announced today, a roster that includes The Mother, a new play starring…

Gloria Steinem Bio-Play By Emily Mann Headed For Off Broadway Run

Gloria: A Life, a new play about Gloria Steinem written by Emily Mann and directed by Diane Paulus, will debut Off Broadway this fall at the Daryl Roth Theater. Roth is producing.
Previews will begin previews Oct. 2, with an official opening on Oct. 18…

Gloria: A Life, a new play about Gloria Steinem written by Emily Mann and directed by Diane Paulus, will debut Off Broadway this fall at the Daryl Roth Theater. Roth is producing. Previews will begin previews Oct. 2, with an official opening on Oct. 18. The play, which will have all-female creative and producing teams, will be structured in two acts: The first being a more traditional six-character play (other women depicted in the play include Bella Abzug and Flo…

Off Broadway Review: ‘Paradise Blue’

The scene of “Paradise Blue,” Dominique Morisseau’s black-and-bluesy play, is the Paradise Club, a drink and dance joint in Paradise Valley, the entertainment district of Detroit‘s black community known in 1949 as Blackbottom. The drinks are strong, th…

The scene of “Paradise Blue,” Dominique Morisseau’s black-and-bluesy play, is the Paradise Club, a drink and dance joint in Paradise Valley, the entertainment district of Detroit‘s black community known in 1949 as Blackbottom. The drinks are strong, the rooms are cheap, and you can hear live music by terrific jazzmen like Blue (lean, handsome and […]

‘Cost Of Living,’ ‘School Girls,’ ‘KPOP’ Lead Off-Broadway’s Lucille Lortel Awards

Cost of Living and School Girls; Or, the African Mean Girls Play tied for Best Play and KPOP captured Best Musical at the 33rd annual Lucille Lortel Awards for Outstanding Achievement Off-Broadway.
Mary Jane also captured three awards, including Best D…

Cost of Living and School Girls; Or, the African Mean Girls Play tied for Best Play and KPOP captured Best Musical at the 33rd annual Lucille Lortel Awards for Outstanding Achievement Off-Broadway. Mary Jane also captured three awards, including Best Director. The honors were handed out Sunday night at NYU Skirball Center, in a ceremony hosted by Meteor Shower co-stars Laura Benanti and Jeremy Shamos. As in past years, the event was a benefit for The Actors Fund. Many…

Vitaly Beckman, Illusionist Who Fooled Penn & Teller, Books Off-Broadway Run In Theater Where Duo Got Start In ’80s

Illusionist Vitaly Beckman, who fooled magicians Penn & Teller on their CW magic show Fool Us, will have an Off-Broadway run in the same theater where the duo launched their career in the 1980s.
Vitaly: An Evening of Wonders, produced by Daryl Roth…

Illusionist Vitaly Beckman, who fooled magicians Penn & Teller on their CW magic show Fool Us, will have an Off-Broadway run in the same theater where the duo launched their career in the 1980s. Vitaly: An Evening of Wonders, produced by Daryl Roth, will play the Westside Theatre on West 43rd Street from June 13 to September 30. Opening night will be Thursday, June 21. “Vitaly fooled us with his humor and amazing magic," Penn & Teller said in a joint statement. "We are so…