Michael Crowley (as Beethoven) and Michael Rau (photo by Rick Ngoc Ho)

The elaborately named Song of a Convalescent Ayn Rand Giving Thanks to the Godhead (In the Lydian Mode) is a play constructed of twenty-four comic skits, self-consciously styled “variations,” that aspire to something like fugue structure. This is not a happy accident of “negative capability”: the show’s writer, Michael Yates Crowley, constructs the analogy between musical formalism and dramatic form explicitly and self-consciously throughout the performance. That analogy is, in fact, the grounds for the argument of the play, which is that Romantic art only gains transcendence when tempered by philosophical Stoicism.

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Though people like to say money is the root of all evil, you won’t find many who will refuse it to save their souls.

Loretta and Frances, two community care workers in Belfast, are paid by the state to take care of the old and infirm. Though their wages are low and the work is draining, they are the only two who stand between Davy, an old-age pensioner, and isolation. After they wipe his bum and put his meals-on-wheels in front of him, Loretta gets his weekly pension from the ATM, and Frances places his weekly five pound bet on the ponies.

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“Gee whiz Rocky! There’s too many of them!” says Chip Skipper, best pal and lieutenant cheerleader for the plucky crew of the X-1 rocketship. “Easy does it, Chip! We’ll get out of this,” says Rocky. (And they do. They don’t call him Rocky Lazer, Captain of Space for nothin’!)

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Tender Napalm, a new play by the East London playwright Philip Ridley, is as close as theater is likely to come to the Platonic Ideal of a Pure Play. Its set is a rectangle on the floor; the lights are static; there is no music; the costumes look like comfy clothes the actors chose themselves. And I hope they did! Because the real (only) visual element of this “theater” is the acrobatic athleticism displayed by Blake Ellis and Amelia Workman, who play “Man” and “Woman” respectively. The same artistic impulse forms the drama around two archetypes (note the characters’ names). You might categorize the dramatic conflict as a “battle of the sexes,” which would not be incorrect. But in truth, “sex” is just a way of saying “two complementary but diametrically opposed positions.” And Ridley makes a point of telling us Man and Woman can (and do) switch places very easily.

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Mrs. and Mr. Pontellier

The  Brooklyn Lyceum used to be a public bath house, one of those grand, old public works erected during the borough’s Gilded Age efflorescence. It was left derelict during the 70s, and now it is a cavernous, unfinished space with exposed brick walls, thirty-foot-high ceilings, and interior structures built of plywood and wood screws covered in cheap bluish primer. Functionally it’s like a page in a Medieval manuscript scraped clean of its original writing, though incompletely erased marks of its past peep through. The whir of the ceiling fans sounds like crickets, and the lights flicker like gas lamps.

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Erin Cronican and Brandon Walker in “The Lover”

In New York City it can seem like the audience is an accessory to theater. Plays with big name stars charge a king’s ransom to sit in the back row of a giant theater, and you had better bring your binoculars if you want to see that movie actor strut and fret his hour upon the stage. Every restaurant in Manhattan has a cast of waiter/actors ready to slip you a postcard with info on how to see a burlesque or magic show, a comedy club, an art installation, a theater festival, or a musical act in any genre that tickles your fancy. Usually when you get there the art is so high concept you want to scrub your brain with Kardashian reruns just to get back to normal. Did they create that work of “art” for you, or did you just pay $15 to bear witness to their artistic genius?

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Welcome guest reviewer Tom Jacobs!

We don’t really have a word for the ancient Greek arête — best translated as “virtue” — and it’s a damn shame.   The humble, ceaseless, and impossible but necessary pursuit to achieve something like earthly perfection or at least self-improvement.  This seems like a pre-modern term, but of course it isn’t.  A movie like Broke* provides a case study for thinking about it.  This is a story about the kind of virtue and grace necessary to avoid succumbing to the time-clocked, bottom-line, cut-to-the-quick efficiency that seems to be darkening the land at the moment.

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Miss Lilly praying for a bone from Heaven

What is it with playwrights and puns? Elaborate, mind-bendingly cute puns — they just love ‘em. In Bekah Brunstetter’s new play Miss Lily Gets Boned the biggest, most playwritingest pun is eleven feet tall and requires three adult men to operate. That’s how big it is. And you know the secret of big puns? If they get big enough they turn into metaphors.

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The mind is its own place, and in itself
Can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven

Paradise Lost Book I, 254-255

In Seth Panitch’s hilarious new play Hell: Paradise Found, a satirical send-up of conventional religion and  morality, Simon Ackerman (Thomas Adkins) walks into an office to find himself in an interview with the devil (played by the playwright Seth Panitch). Simon is confused and a little indignant. After all, he never broke the rules at any time during the span of his completely predictable life. He got a respectable job, a wife, a 401(K). He should spend his golden rest-of-eternity years on the golf links in the sky, playing everlastingly on soft greens at three under par.

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Do androids dream of electric sheep? Or to put the question the other way, are humans just extremely complex machines? If we are machines, is the ability to manipulate others (i.e. politics) a purely technological problem? More importantly, is there something outside technology? Theater Reverb’s new show initium / finis poses these questions through a pastiche of classic sci-fi noir movies and cabaret style performance framed by a mash-up of Hindu and Christian myth. But rather than plumbing the depths of the mystery to find its bottom, they multiply it, refracting it through stagecraft, creating an atmosphere mixed with the angst of modernity or/and the awe of religion.

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Brian, Quinn, and Stu in the Man Cave

Three guys, three drinks, three acts: Virilia, Virility, Visectomy; beer, schnapps, whiskey; Brian, Stu, and Quinn. Three dudes, buds, bros from the old skool, do what bros do best — torture each other in a never ending test of masculinity and boner bona fides.
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Anarchist Occupiers and The Hipster Cop

It is proverbial to say the city is naked and filled with eight million stories. The Bad and the Better, playing at The Peter Jay Sharp Theater on 42nd street, is detective noir set in contemporary New York City that tries in scope and imagination to reach that magic number. Twenty-six (count ‘em) actors from the downtown theater troupe The Amoralists tell a story of corrupt cops, corrupt politicians, corrupt revolutionary anarchists, and more than one moll with a heart of gold, making you feel as though eight million isn’t actually all that many storylines.

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Hannah Cheek as Ronnie Regina

2012 is half over, and so far it looks like the apocalypse has been averted. In typical human fashion we have invited our destruction to sit with us at the table; and just at the last minute, just when it looked like destruction was going to have us for dinner, we trixy rabbits slip out of its noose and high tail it to the mountains, forests, and deserted places to do what bunnies and humans do — repopulate the earth.

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Trescante receives a letter from the government

Michael Bradford’s play Olives and Blood is a memorial, a testament to the aftereffect of Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca who was allegedly assassinated near his childhood home in Granada by fascist militiamen in 1936. It is a hymn to the power of dramatic poetry to endure and overcome the prosaic power of angry men and sclerotic social conventions. Garcia Lorca’s favorite word for that power is duende: that which “gives you chills, makes you smile or cry as a bodily reaction to an artistic performance that is particularly expressive.” In Olives and Blood Garcia Lorca himself is closer to the original meaning of duende — a goblin, elf, or imp. He is a spirit, a ghost of the creative energy that operates through perfect metaphor, shaping formless experience into memory and then art.

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Contributed by Robin Elisabeth Kilmer

Modern renditions of Romeo and Juliet aren’t rare, but remakes set in a taxi garage are. Such a setting puts Empirical Rogue Theatre Company’s rendition in the same borough as the West Side Story and Bhaz Llurmann’s movie version of the Bard’s most popular play. There are glaring differences, however, that place it in a neighborhood of its own.

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Cultural Capitol welcomes our guest columnist Keith Meatto! Check out is other work at Frontier Psychiatrist.

Beethoven and Quasimodo team up to write a musical interpretation of a cryptic stage direction in Anton Chekhov’s play The Cherry Orchard, but both men are deaf and near death, Beethoven is senile, and the project ends in failure. Such is the setup of The Hunchback Variations, based on Mickle Maher’s play with music by Mark Messing, a “chamber opera” that had a successful run in Chicago and opened June 1 at 59E59 Theaters in New York.

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Slim and Cavale observe the lobster boy’s ablutions

“I hope I die before I get old.” – Roger Daltrey

Slim and Cavale are holed up in an apartment in the East Village. If you want to find them, ask the lobster boy standing on the corner of 1st Ave and 2nd street. He’ll give you a fortune cookie with directions to their lair.

The folks at One Old Crow Productions have transformed a studio apartment into a studio theater for their production of Sam Sheppard and Patti Smith’s 1971 one act Cowboy Mouth. Stepping through the door is very nearly like stepping through a forty-year time warp into the gritty, mythical, heroin soaked New York of punk rock lore. Alas, the Mars Bar may be no more, but the smell of the Ramones lingers in the peeling paint above Lucky Cheng’s.

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Glamor! Intrigue! Vicious passions and overwhelming venality! Picture the scene: a beautiful boy plays with the hearts of three proud, handsome ladies. This isn’t “The Bachelor,” or “The Real Housewives of Orange County,” though the characters in this show hail from nearby the ancestral lands of the Kardashians. This reality show took place thousands of years ago on the hills in the shadow of Mount Ida, and instead of a “first impression rose” this Ganymede has a golden apple for the fairest of them all.

“Judge Me Paris” is Austin McCormick’s take on “The Judgment of Paris” (1700 anno domini scriptum) a courtly masque in the tradition of Ben Jonson and Inigo Jones with libretto by William Congreve and music by John Eccles and John Weldon. Congreve, who penned the famous phrase “Heav’n has no Rage, like Love to Hatred turn’d, / Nor Hell a Fury, like a Woman scorn’d” in 1697, was the English master of “manners” comedy – a genre that emphasizes courtly intrigues and affairs of the heart. Eccles and Weldon’s music is high baroque, trilling and aristocratic. The neoclassical subject matter evokes an age when allegory, history, and rich symbolism were employed to celebrate and exalt sexuality.

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Christopher Fahmie as hard-boiled private eye Kit Marlowe

What do you get when you take film noir, throw in a heaping helping of classical mythology, and top it off with a dollop of Jacobean conceit? Words that sound like poetry, a trip to the underworld, the brink of salvation, and the depths of despair.
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David Harrower’s play A Slow Air aims to evoke the feeling of an old song, one that a bar full of drunks will sing in the wee hours. To do that he puts us in the moment when the song becomes meaningful: that smoky local (you know the one) late night, after the bad feelings have come up and been spit out like bile, after the accusations and recriminations, the years of disappointment and confusion, after watching your dreams modified into hopes, and even those hopes contracted to a desire to be left alone.

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AL Pearsall, Becky Byers, Alisha Spielmann, Nancy Sirianni and Felicia Hudson give birth to a revolution in “Blast Radius”

Blast Radius, the second installment in Mac Rogers’s Honeycomb Trilogy, opens seventeen years after Bill Cooke, All-American Spaceman, returned from a fateful journey. A secret government cabal sent Cooke to scope Mars for terraformation, for they knew our planet was on the brink of environmental collapse and our species on the brink of extinction. But instead of gathering data for a human exodus, Cooke and company discovered an alien race who offered to save the Earth – for a price.

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Scars are an aide-mémoire for Riti Sachdeva. As metaphor they fix a truth in our collective memory by fusing two apt objects. The scar etches on the body a trace of its trauma; Parts of Parts & Stitches is a raised embroidery on the fabric of history, a trace of the scar of left by the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947.

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Rachel Rouge, a.k.a. Lucy Johnson

What is more fun than having sex? Talking about sex.

By far.

Thank Eros (the porn god) that we live in an age of discourse and technology, where folks from the middle classes can get their jollies amplified and fine-tuned into art.

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Paul Nugent at The (Irish) Cell

Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with two one act plays at The Cell theater.

Larry Kirwan’s “Blood” is based on the actual disappearance of James Connolly for three days in January of 1916, some months before the Easter Rising. Connolly’s three day trip “through hell” (from the program notes) should ring some church bells for the literary minded theatergoer. Like Dante, Connolly makes his trip through the Inferno of revolutionary Irish politics before ascending on Easter to participate in the (re)birth of the Irish nation.

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Henry (Aidan Redmon) and Annie (Synge Maher) share a moment

Tom Stoppard has been keeping it real since 1982 when “The Real Thing” premiered in the West End. Now you can catch the realness courtesy of the Boomerang Theatre Company at The Secret Theater in Long Island City.

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In The Seeing Place Theater’s production of Chekov’s Three Sisters the birch trees, rendered abstractly on a back wall of the dilapidated ATA Sergeant Theater on 53rd Street, are uncanny sentinels, observers whose angular geometry comments on the gap between the characters’ hopes and the shifts they are forced to accept to cope with life’s capricious freaks. The company strives for a similar effect in the props and staging. The first thing you notice when you take your seat are labels in the place of theatrical property: a piece of paper with “Book” in black marker, a wooden bench labeled “Olga’s Bed” and a wooden block tagged “CLOCK.” Director Brandon Walker amplifies these Brechtian touches by requiring the stage manager to sit upstage from the actors and give cues to a tech sitting in the booth throughout the performance.

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Claudio: Benedick, didst thou note the daughter of Signor Leonato?
Benedick: I noted her not, but I looked on her.

Much Ado About Nothing is a joke. That is, the title is a pun. It’s like the episode of Seinfeld where Jerry and George pitch a show to some TV execs, who ask what the show is supposed to be about. Nothing?! Who would watch that? In Shakespeare’s day matters of the heart (and the comedies that represent them) are trivial, light, ephemeral business that don’t deserve too much attention. Somebody sings, there are dancers — and yet when kids are in love they get so serious about it! Romeo and Juliet is tragic precisely because the play started out as a comedy, but rather than getting over the teen-angst, high school drama and getting on to getting it on, the characters end up killing each other. It’s like My So Called Life all of a sudden morphs into The Wire.

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Mel House, Joel Nagle, and Mariko Iwasa in "Rabbit Island"

What would you do to prove your bona fides as a New Yorker? You might say, yo! Jerk face! I was born here! Uhv course Ahm a New Yowkah! You, sir, have nothing to prove. But what about those of us who moved here? Particularly those of us who moved here from The Sticks, the Great Flyover, or, worse yet, the wilds of the Great White North?

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Why should politics be left to politicians? If they had their way we’d all be waving flags and buying crap on credit, while the corporate-government revolving door does enough RPMs to power a generator that could light up Manhattan. On the other hand, if the unwashed masses had their way we’d all be burning flags and sharing watery vegan gruel in the mess halls of our workers’ collective. I propose that politics should be handled exclusively by playwrights. If you check out Created Equal at The Theater at the 14th Street Y anytime from now until February 12th, you’ll know why. This collection of six short plays will entertain you, outrage you, inspire you, and give you debating points for weeks to come.

Created Equal is the second production this season for The Red Fern Theatre Company, whose mission is “to provoke social awareness and change through its theatrical productions and outreach.” The six plays that comprise the show are by exciting, young New York playwrights J. Holtham, Kristen and Luanne Rosenfeld, Anna Moench, Rob Askins, Jen Silverman, and Joshua Conkel, who took the assignment to write on inequality in America seriously.

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Isaiah Tanenbaum, Matt Archambault, and Sol Marina Crespo in "Menders"

“Instant ardentes Tyrii: pars ducere muros / molirique arcem et manibus subsolvere saxa…” Aeneid I, 423-24

The toiling Tyrians on each other call
To ply their labor: some extend the wall;
Some build the citadel; the brawny throng
Or dig, or push unwieldly stones along.         (Dryden)

In pre-modern times cities of any respectable size had walls. If you have ever been to York, Barcelona, Carcassonne, Istanbul, Rome, or Jerusalem, you have seen their skeletal remains, like the spines of long-dead dinosaurs bleaching in millennial sunlight. These days there isn’t much point in putting a wall around your city, what with transcontinental missiles, stealth bombers, drones and such. That doesn’t mean walls have gone out of style though. Bin Laden thought walls would protect him. Ditto for KimDotcom. Rich people from Johannesburg, South Africa to Briar Ridge, Indiana build neighborhoods with walls and walled estates within those neighborhoods. One is tempted to say with Frost, “Before I built a wall I’d ask to know / What I was walling in or walling out.” Is the disparity between rich and poor so great that it has to be protected and reinforced by a wall?

This certainly seems to be the case in Erin Browne’s new play Menders. The play is set sometime in the future when the United States is no more, but a few communities have survived to build protective walls. These walls serve the same purpose as pre-modern walls: they keep out the barbarians. Inside the walls two young people, Aimes and Corey, just graduated from the academy, are field training with Drew, a veteran who is about to retire. The Menders are the professional fence tending force that monitors and maintains the stone border between us and them. In the hierarchy of Browne’s futuristic American police state, they rank second only to Investigators and well above civilians. Corey is an idealistic, patriotic young woman who sees the Menders as a social ladder she will take pride in climbing. Aimes is her cousin. He is nervous and excitable. For him the Menders are a uniform he must put on because he fears what people might think if he doesn’t.

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