By Ronald Hellman
I haven’t written many columns this year, in case you hadn’t noticed, but I have seen a lot of theater — 14 shows to date, usually in the company of my first wife, the former Lois Abramowitz. She is also my only wife, as we are about to celebrate our 54th anniversary on June 16 — which is also Bloomsday for you James Joyce readers.
So let me tell you what shows I saw, several in Manhattan and some in Queens, along with some suggestions to our local theaters as they consider their 2017–18 seasons.
“Jitney,” by August Wilson, one of America’s greatest playwrights, is part of the author’s series of 10 plays about the black experience, set in each decade of the 20th century. My theater company, now on a too-long hiatus, The Outrageous Fortune Company, produced “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone,” and it drew standing room-only audiences.
Another black-themed show was the musical “Raisin,” performed by the Astoria Performing Arts Center, based on the play “A Raisin in the Sun,” by Lorraine Hansberry. Check out a sequel of sorts, the contemporary “Clybourne Park,” by Bruce Norris.
A couple of good and meaningful plays we saw, wonderfully staged and acted, were “The Price,” by Arthur Miller, and the still-running “Oslo,” by J.T. Rogers, a potential Tony Award winner, at Broadway’s most comfortable theater, the Vivian Beaumont.
A must-see show, “The Play that Goes Wrong,” winner of the Olivier Award for best new comedy in London, is now playing at the Lyceum Theatre on Broadway. Somewhat reminiscent of “Noises Off,” this is physical comedy to the nth degree, with actors who deserve hazardous duty pay. The ads alone are worth the price of admission. And it’s kid-friendly — my 7-year-old granddaughter laughed her head off. Granted, our community theater companies would find it difficult to duplicate all the technical stuff, but it’s worth a try by such a stalwart as Kevin Schwab of the Parkside Players.
Speaking of Parkside, the long-lived group at the Grace Lutheran Church in Forest Hills, I took in their two most recent productions, the Agatha Christie mystery “Black Coffee,” and Noel Coward’s popular comedy “Blithe Spirit.”
At the Douglaston Community Theatre, Queens’ oldest company, I saw the contemporary drama “Other Desert Cities,” by Jon Robin Baitz, a worthy effort to do something different, but it failed to draw a crowd that would appreciate it. Out in Farmingdale, ex-firefighter Joe DiPietro and partner Eva Dolan initiated their Hardscrabble Theater with “Arsenic and Old Lace.”
Down in Washington, D.C., we enjoyed a new comedy, “Smart People,” by Lydia R. Hamilton, about race and relationships, at the Arena Theatre at the Mead Center — and why can’t we have a venue like that here in Queens?
Then there was “Macbeth” by the Shakespeare Theatre Company, set in modern-day Africa, a version that surely is unconventional.
Finally, since Lois prefers musicals, we saw revivals of “Finian’s Rainbow” at the Irish Rep, a show with one of the great scores of all time, and “Miss Saigon,” still playing at the Broadway Theatre. And “Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812,” at the Imperial, best described as immersion theater with action happening all over the place, and starring pop singer Josh Groban.
Well, that’s all 14, with more to come. In the meantime, let me hear from you.
Contact Ron Hellman at [email protected].