Fall Off-Broadway Preview
by Peter Terzian, 09/28/2009
For some playwrights, the notebook and the digital recording device—the journalist's tools of the trade—have become a significant part of the creative process. Three of this new theatre season's Off-Broadway productions are constructed from interviews with friends, celebrities, athletes, medical patients and Iraqis. No one does this form of documentary theatre quite like Anna Deavere Smith, the writer and performer who won Drama Desk Awards for her plays Fires in the Mirror, about the Crown Heights riots, and Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992, a look at the aftermath of the Rodney King verdict. Let Me Down Easy, her new one-woman show about health care, is based on interviews Smith conducted with hundreds of subjects, some famous—cyclist Lance Armstrong, former Texas governor Ann Richards—and some civilians, such as a Christian teenager who'd had leukemia. Smith uncannily channels her subjects, switching costumes and adopting their voices and mannerisms as she recounts verbatim their musings on the strengths and fragilities of the human body.
For Aftermath, the husband-and-wife writing team Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen culled the transcripts from a 2008 trip they took to Jordan, where they interviewed 37 displaced Iraqis. Each subject was asked what they would say if given the chance to address a roomful of Americans. Directed by Blank, a cast of nine actors confronts the audience with the Iraqis' wrenching stories of life during and after the 2003 American invasion. On a lighter note, sisters Nora and Delia Ephron, who are by now a New York institution, were inspired to create a play based on Ilene Beckerman's book Love, Loss, and What I Wore, a memoir told through the author's wardrobe. The Ephrons asked friends to tell their own sartorial stories and turned the results into a sequence of monologues and vignettes. A rotating cast of actresses includes Kristin Chenoweth, Rhea Perlman, Natasha Lyonne, Rosie O'Donnell, Tyne Daly and Mary Louise Wilson. Bring your new and/or gently used purses and other accessories, whether they're memorable or not, and the theater will donate them to Dress for Success, an organization that helps provide low-income women with professional wardrobes and career-development support.
The season also includes three new works by up-and-coming playwrights. In Mahida's Extra Key to Heaven by Russell Davis, a young man visiting his mother's home encounters an Iranian college student (Mahida) abandoned by her fundamentalist brother. The situation turns explosive when Mahida's brother returns the next day. The cast includes Roxanna Hope (Frost/Nixon) and Michele Pawk, who won a Tony Award in 2003 for her performance in Hollywood Arms. Still Life, by Alexander Dinelaris (The Chaos Theories), follows a photographer whose career goes into free fall when she inexplicably shuts down and finds that she cannot pick up a camera. Meanwhile, she begins a whirlwind romance with a trend analyst whose future is also in an uncertain state. In Broke-ology , two African-American brothers—one an ambitious student, the other a struggling parent—decide who will assume the responsibility of caring for their ailing father in a poor neighborhood of Kansas City, MO. The play is the work of Nathan Louis Jackson, a 2009 Juilliard graduate who has already won numerous playwriting awards, and is directed by Thomas Kail, who helmed the Broadway musical In the Heights.
David Mamet co-founded the Atlantic Theater Company in 1985, and many of his most celebrated plays have run there. Mamet returns with Two Unrelated Plays: Keep Your Pantheon is a comedy about an ill-fated acting troupe in ancient Rome; School is described by the theater as "a brief comic discourse on recycling, poster design and the transmission of information. And finally, Charlayne Woodard's one-woman play The Night Watcher looks at the author's life outside of the nuclear family, as Woodard recalls the many young people she has mentored in her lifetime.