feat. Black debutantes, irreverent Shakespeare, gentrification, and punk
Quick note: you may have noticed that I often haven’t seen the productions I recommend when I send out the newsletter. That’s because plays don’t run for very long, and if they blow up and become hits, tickets become hard to get. Plus, I’m busyand I can’t always see shows at the beginning of their runs. I want to highlight work that I’m confident will be worth seeing at a point when you can still get tickets!
🗽 NYC: THE COTILLION, written and directed by Colette Robert with music & lyrics by Dionne McClain-Freeney, presented by New Georges and The Movement Theatre Company
As six high-achieving debs interrupt their preparations to peek into the shimmering ballroom, The Harriet Holland Social Club’s esteemed Madam President does her damnedest to ensure it all goes well. She needs no stumbles tonight. No teary-eyed smudges, no unraveling lace, no unraveling ANYTHING. Because if she can’t control these girls, whatever will they think over at Table 4? Featuring an all-Black-women company and creative team, down to its three-piece band!
I am an absolute sucker for a play with a long title, and this play’s full title is The Harriet Holland Social Club Presents the 84th Annual Star-Burst Cotillion in the Grand Ballroom of the Renaissance Hotel. Magnificent! Colette Robert spent months interviewing debutantes from all over the country to create the play. The result is a very smart, very funny, often devastating play about young Black elites trying to find their places in a society in which they still have to be twice as good to get half as much.
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The design and acting are impeccable, and the music—from a three-piece band and four outstanding singers—comments brilliantly on the increasingly unhinged happenings at the cotillion. I love a play that pulls you in and then turns the tables on you, and this one does just that. Catch it before it closes on Saturday!
🚶🏽watch in person at Mezzanine Theater at A.R.T./New York, 502 W 53rd Street, New York
💰 Tickets $30+
🤑 As part of New Georges and The Movement's commitment to making the show accessible to all, 10 tickets will be offered as "pay-what-you-can" for each performance. Sign up begins at the theatre 1 hour prior to the performance and is available in person only at the theatre.
😷 masks highly encouraged
‼️ 📆 through May 27. A Wednesday matinee has just been added.
🗽 NYC: ROMEO AND JULIET in a modern verse translation by Hansol Jung, directed by Hansol Jung & Dustin Wills, presented by NAATCO in partnership with Two River Theater
This play is part of the Play On! initiative, kicked off by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in 2015, which commissioned 36 playwrights to “translate” Shakespeare’s plays in contemporary English. The project naturally provoked some serious pearl-clutching. Why translate Shakespeare, when so much of the pleasure of his work is the language? But the project never intended to displace Shakespeare’s texts—it’s about revitalizing them and inviting more people in. If we’re happy to sanction Ten Thing I Hate About You, why not continue playing in that space, but even closer to the canonical text? I haven’t gotten to see any of these “translations” yet, so I’m very excited for this one. Hansol’s writing is electric, smart, and lively, and I loved her previous collaboration with director Dustin Wills on Wolf Play.
NAATCO’s mission includes producing adaptations of American and European classics by Asian American playwrights with all Asian American casts. They are known for rigorous, thoughtful productions that illuminate classic plays through their interpretation by artists who often don’t get to apply their craft to Western classics. I always learn something from this kind of work. Plus, it’s exciting to see actors get to work on plays they’re often prevent from working on! There’s an energy there that you can feel.
🚶🏽watch in person at 136 East 13th Street New York
💰 Tickets $43.50, including fees
📆 through June 3
🏛️ DC: GOOD BONES by James Ijames, directed by Psalmayene 24, presented by Studio Theatre
Aisha’s moved back to the block, but the neighborhood’s changed. She’s an urban planner, returning to her hometown, renovating a townhouse that’s seen better days. Aisha tries to convince her husband to spring for crown molding and endures the noise that blares from the street all night. But when their contractor is caught up in an act of violence a block away, Aisha’s homecoming becomes more complex than she expected. Good Bones explores gentrification and belonging, displacement and upward mobility, and being haunted by a legacy you’re only just beginning to understand.
Plays about gentrification are always fascinating at Studio Theatre, located in the one of the most gentrified areas of DC. I remember seeing August Wilson’s Radio Golf, which tackles Black-led neighborhood “revitalization” in Pittsburgh, and walking out of the theatre to see all of the businesses mentioned in the play as markers of area wealth. We often don’t get to see stories of Black gentrifiers onstage, or, at least, higher-income Black people moving (back) into gentrifying neighborhoods. I’m curious to see what James Ijames, whose brilliant riff on Hamlet, Fat Ham, is currently playing on Broadway, has to say on the subject.
🚶🏽watch in person at Studio Theatre 1501 14th St. NW, Washington DC
💰 Tickets $60+ with discounts available - see here.
📆 through June 18
🗽 NYC: GOOD VIBRATIONS by Colin Carberry and Glenn Patterson, directed by Des Kennedy, with musical direction by Katie Richardson and choreography by Jennifer Rooney, presented by Lyric Theatre, Belfast at the Irish Arts Center
Based on the BAFTA award-winning film by Glenn Patterson and Colin Carberry, Good Vibrations chronicles the story of Terri Hooley, a radical, rebel, and music-lover in 1970s Belfast. When the Troubles shut down his city and his friends take sides, Terri opens a record shop and becomes the unlikely leader of a motley band of kids who join his mission to create a new community, an alternative Ulster, and bring his hometown back to life.
An adaptation of the film, Good Vibrations comes to IAC direct from Belfast. In my opinion, there’s not enough punk in theatre, either literally or in spirit, so I’ve been excited about this show for a while. Punk is the anti-theatre in many ways—high-energy, rule-breaking, anti-establishment, loud, and irreverent—while theatre can often be stuffy, rigid, and aesthetically conservative. Confession: I love seeing concerts more than plays, because they have the liveness that I love in theatre, but often with more energy and freedom for movement among the audience. Walter Pater’s maxim that all art constantly aspires towards the condition of music has always felt very true to me—music is pure emotion in a way that text often can’t come close to. So I’m eager for more theatre with the energy and fervor of live music, and Good Vibrations promises to be just that.
🚶🏽watch in person at the Irish Arts Center, 726 11th Avenue, New York
💰 Tickets $25+
😷 masks encouraged but not required, with the exception of afternoon matinee performances
📆 June 14 - July 9
Go see Fat Ham if you can. And if you’re not in NYC right now, the play will be produced by theatres all over the country next year—stay tuned.
Rewatched this recently—it’s still great!