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Regina Robbins

Regina Robbins

Articles (1)

Antigone in Ferguson brings protest theater to Harlem

Antigone in Ferguson brings protest theater to Harlem

Theater of War Productions has brought classical drama to some very tense and sometimes dangerous places: Rikers Island, Guantánamo Bay, Fukushima. Using texts that range from the ancient Greeks to modern writers such as Tennessee Williams and Eugene O’Neill, the New York City–based company engages audiences that are coping with trauma, such as veterans, the incarcerated and survivors of natural disasters. But artistic director Bryan Doerries hesitated when he was approached about taking his troupe to Missouri in the aftermath of Michael Brown’s 2014 death, which sparked days of civil unrest. “Nothing intimidated me more than the idea of going to Ferguson,” Doerries says. The resulting production, Antigone in Ferguson, premiered there in 2016 and has since traveled nationally and globally. It’s been seen by New York audiences, too, but only in brief engagements. (A one-night staging last year at a basketball court in Brooklyn drew more than a thousand people.) If you missed those performances, now may be your chance: Starting on September 13, Antigone in Ferguson will run at Harlem Stage for five weeks. All tickets are free, and Theater of War Productions is making sure the house is full every night. “We’re sending transportation to pick people up, and we’re providing dinner for them,” says Doerries. “We’re trying to reverse the flow of culture.”  “We’re trying to reverse the flow of culture." Before black teenager Brown was killed by a white police officer, Doerries says, h

Listings and reviews (22)

¡Americano!

¡Americano!

2 out of 5 stars

Theater review by Regina Robbins  Based on the life story of Tony Valdovinos, who tried to enlist in the Marines at the age of 18 only to discover he was not an American citizen, ¡Americano! is full of lessons about community, family, love and resilience. This new musical’s good intentions are obvious. Unfortunately, so is a lot of the writing. You’d have to be heartless not to feel for high school senior Tony (Sean Ewing), who watched the Twin Towers collapse on TV from his Arizona home and vowed to join the military armed forces when he grew up. His best friend, Ceci (Legna Cedillo), also intends to enlist, but they are confronted by issues that could complicate their plans, including the troubled home life of their friend Javi (Pablo Torres) and romantic longings of their own. And when Tony tells the local recruitment center that his Social Security number is “in process”—the excuse he has been given by his father (Alex Paez)—he is turned away. At first he is despondent: He can’t even afford community college, since Arizona has recently voted to charge undocumented residents at out-of-state tuition rates. But he finds a new purpose in politics, working to motivate Latinx voters so that some day, the DREAM Act might finally pass.  Valdovinos’s story really is inspirational, and it might have inspired a successful musical. But ¡Americano! feels more like a long campaign ad. The righteousness of the message can’t overcome undistinguished melodies and awkward lyrics (“How coul

On Sugarland

On Sugarland

4 out of 5 stars

Theater review by Regina Robbins  In Aleshea Harris’s sprawling new work On Sugarland, young Sadie (KiKi Layne) can “make the dead talk”—or so she claims. Her female forebears tell stories about how they stood up to bigotry, misogyny and violence, but they don’t tell Sadie what she really wants to know: What happened to her mother Iola, a soldier who went to war long ago and has never returned. Her neighbor Saul (Billy Eugene Jones), a veteran himself, might have answers to Sadie’s questions, but painkillers have dulled his memory. Are Sadie’s exchanges with her ancestors real or are they just fantasies of a grief-stricken child? Is Saul’s forgetfulness the side effect of drugs or a guilty conscience? On Sugarland is a freewheeling adaptation of ancient Greek tragedy, mainly Sophocles’ Philoctetes with a hint of Antigone, but its subject—the history of Black soldiers serving a country that has never done right by them—is distinctly American. Sadie and Saul’s unnamed town is recognizable as one of many across the South where Black kids grow up in the shadow of the recruiting center. Everyone here not only knows but has lost someone to a war that never seems to end. When a loved one comes back in a box, their neighbors “holler” for their spirit and add a keepsake to a community memorial tended by Tisha (Lizan Mitchell), who is both the daughter and the mother of fallen warriors. The parallels Harris draws between the religious rituals of the Greeks and those of African-American

In the Southern Breeze

In the Southern Breeze

3 out of 5 stars

Theater review by Regina Robbins In the Southern Breeze takes its title from “Strange Fruit,” the anti-lynching protest song made famous by Billie Holiday, and the specter of racist bloodshed haunts Mansa Ra’s new drama. Alone in his apartment, isolated by the coronavirus pandemic and his own anxiety, an unnamed Black man (Allan K. Washington) ponders whether such brutality is inescapable and whether, if so, he just should cut to the chase: “It is bad that sometimes I just want to rush the process?” he asks, imagining slipping his own neck into the noose. As he wrestles with his choice, mysterious figures from the distant and not-so-distant past appear: Black men running from danger or toward liberation, from shackles both literal and figurative. Despite their common goals, they engage one another warily, their well-founded fears as likely to drive a wedge between them as to bind them together. It’s a tantalizing setup, but director Christopher D. Betts hasn’t found a coherent tone for the piece; moments that reach for absurdism sometimes land as uneasy comedy, and the play’s resolution feels unearned. That’s a shame, because Ra’s writing is, at its best, thoughtful and poetic. Clocking in at just over an hour, In the Southern Breeze is only slightly longer than a group-therapy session, and in many ways it functions like one, with its characters modeling connection and catharsis. One suspects that a well-meaning desire to bring of-the-moment plays to the stage as quickly as p

Gnit

Gnit

4 out of 5 stars

Theater review by Regina Robbins  Questioned about his odd last name, the antihero of Will Eno’s Gnit shrugs and replies, “It’s a typo…but we decided to just go with it.” That no-big-deal energy is prevalent throughout Eno’s new play, whose characters grapple with the biggest of big questions—What is love? Is there a God? What is my purpose?—with almost pathological nonchalance, to both mournful and hilarious effect. Gnit is a reworking of Henrik Ibsen’s Peer Gynt, a verse epic based on Norwegian folklore and the playwright’s own tortured family life. For audience members who know the source text, Eno’s take will be a hoot; for those who don’t, it might well seem like a strange, jaunty trip through random dramatic tropes. Eno hews closely to Ibsen’s plot, following the self-absorbed protagonist, Peter (Joe Curnutte), as he leaves the miserable home he shares with his despairing mother (Deborah Hedwall), becomes a fugitive, recklessly woos several women and flees his homeland for exotic adventures abroad. There are a number of 21st-century updates—flirty dairy maids are now a trio of DTF grad students—but the play also keeps one foot in a simpler, semi-magical Scandinavian past, complete with trolls. Eno’s more substantial innovation is to substitute a deceptively breezy absurdism  for Ibsen’s romantic grandiosity. Director and frequent Eno collaborator Oliver Butler has cracked the code on the playwright’s comedies of existential dread; he expertly steers Gnit’s cast of six t

We're Gonna Die

We're Gonna Die

4 out of 5 stars

Theater review by Regina Robbins  Young Jean Lee’s We’re Gonna Die puts the most inescapable fact of human existence—and the very thing we spend the most time trying to escape—right there in the title. First performed in 2011 by the playwright herself as an intimate, partly autobiographical rock cabaret at Joe’s Pub (and later at Lincoln Center’s Clare Tow Theater), the show has now returned on a bigger stage, with Janelle McDermoth taking Lee’s place as the Singer. Staged by the up-and-coming choreographer Raja Feather Kelly in his directorial debut, We’re Gonna Die is set in what is normally a very depressing modern locale: a waiting room. But the space, equipped with an antique snack machine and retro plastic chairs, is bathed in soothing pink and purple light, and its inhabitants happen to be the members of an impossibly cool, casually diverse band. Without fanfare, the Singer picks up a mic and starts telling stories about moments in life when she may have felt like she wanted to die, from childhood frenemy drama to romantic disappointment to family tragedy. These episodes lead to musical numbers that put a positive spin on the trauma, either through humor (“If we got old / And we were strong and healthy / We wouldn’t wanna die! Oh no!”) or solidarity with others coping with existential anxiety—which, after all, is everyone. The show’s simplicity is its greatest innovation; its rejection of traditional notions of character and plot is of a piece with its general skeptici

for all the women who thought they were  Mad

for all the women who thought they were Mad

4 out of 5 stars

Theater review by Regina Robbins  The cast of Zawe Ashton’s for all the women who thought they were  Mad comprises six black women, a black girl and one white man, and it’s the outsize influence of that one male figure—sometimes a boss, sometimes an amorous coworker or a concerned medical professional—that drives the drama. The play revolves around the ambitious Joy (Bisserat Tseggai), an African-born woman living in a western nation. Wholly focused on her corporate career, she is beginning to crack under the pressure of innumerable daily humiliations, from backhanded compliments about her hair to people barging into her office without knocking. The other women onstage confer about how to help her if it isn’t too late. Could their collective power counteract the toxic environment in which Joy finds herself trapped? “We speak with one voice or not at all,” declares the motherly Margaret (Sharon Hope). It turns out that’s not so easy. Actor-playwright Ashton, who is currently appearing on Broadway in Harold Pinter’s Betrayal, weaves her poetic text around an all-too-realistic scenario that slowly evolves into a full-on fever dream. Past, present and future converge as Joy finds memories of her mother country intruding on her thoughts—and sometimes her body—while she tries to prepare for a crucial business meeting. The other women try to throw her a lifeline, offering various forms of black female solidarity, but Joy stubbornly clings to her professional identity: sexless, child

Caesar and Cleopatra

Caesar and Cleopatra

4 out of 5 stars

Theater review by Regina Robbins Can George Bernard Shaw’s Caesar and Cleopatra, an old play about even older events, still make audiences laugh and think in the 21st century? Its plot centers on the relationship between an aging man and the teenage girl he “mentors,” and it unapologetically insists that the dissemination of classical culture and philosophy throughout the Roman Empire was, on balance, a good thing for the conquered. One scene features a prisoner of war declaring, “Only as Caesar’s slave have I found real freedom,” which is roughly the opposite of woke. But Shaw—who was, for the record, a fervent believer in socialism, vegetarianism and equal rights for women—had no use for moral or political absolutism; every radical idea in Caesar and Cleopatra is tempered by a profound cynicism about human nature. The friction produced is reliably funny and frequently poignant. In Shaw’s conception, Cleopatra (Teresa Avia Lim) is not the cunning seductress of legend but a credulous, high-spirited teenager with no parents, cared for and controlled—barely—by a stern nursemaid called Ftatateeta (Brenda Braxton). Caesar (Robert Cuccioli) finds her hiding from her enemies, including her own younger brother, in the Syrian desert; at first, he doesn’t believe her when she tells him she really is the queen of Egypt. But once he’s convinced, he sees great potential in the royal teen and, like a proto–Henry Higgins, sets out to prepare her to assume the throne. Cleopatra isn’t sure

HOUSE or how to lose an orchard in 90 minutes or less

HOUSE or how to lose an orchard in 90 minutes or less

3 out of 5 stars

Theater review by Regina Robbins The welcoming ensemble cast of Theater Mitu’s HOUSE or how to lose an orchard in 90 minutes or less greets you at the start of the show to help you test the headphones that you'll be wearing for the duration of the performance. This audio component, which features both live and prerecorded elements, puts you in a position of sharing an experience with your fellow audience members even as it isolates you from them—one of the many contradictions that characterize this appealing but vague production. HOUSE interpolates a number of texts—Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard, as well as vintage video, original music and transcripts of interviews—to examine the complex emotions involved in inhabiting, leaving and losing a home. In Chekhov’s play, aristocrats lament the forced sale of their family estate, the site of childhood joys and adult disappointments. The house and its grounds are suffused with personal memories, but they are also monuments to class privilege: the products of a lifestyle made possible only by the exploitation of the poor. HOUSE makes that theme of exploitation explicit by including testimony from people affected by the recent mortgage crisis in the U.S., in which families without means grasped—beyond their reach—at the chance to own their homes and, by extension, their histories. As HOUSE interrogates American history and Western culture, it also strives to create an inclusive environment with ethereal interludes of music and mo

Nomad Motel

Nomad Motel

3 out of 5 stars

Theater review by Regina Robbins  A kooky slice of California life, Carla Ching’s Nomad Motel focuses on two families who have lost their bearings, if they ever had any to begin with. Teenager Mason (Christopher Larkin) has lived in the U.S. for four years; his super-intense dad, James (Andrew Pang), sends him money from their native Hong Kong, expecting him to get straight A’s and acceptance to Harvard, but the kid is a musician at heart. Mason’s classmate Alix (Molly Griggs) is a SoCal native who lives in a cheap motel with her little brothers and her flaky mom, Fiona (Samantha Mathis), because they have lost their house. Alix yearns to flee to college in New York, while Mason can’t manage to draft an application essay. Teamed up for a class assignment, they are drawn closer together as their respective parents screw up on monumental levels.   Ching’s script, which veers from dark comedy to heartfelt drama to borderline farce, contains some truly lovely moments; a scene between Alix and her earnest ex, Oscar (Ian Duff), is especially poignant. But Nomad Motel has a few too many plot threads—panic attacks, a rescued baby bird, a Chinese crime syndicate—and after setting up an admirably diverse cast of characters, it settles for a conflict in which two young men of color vie for the affection of a cute white girl. Director Ed Sylvanus Iskandar stages the action without blackouts or breaks, which lets lighting designer Jeanette Oi-Suk Yew and set designer Yu-Hsuan Chen display

Passage

Passage

5 out of 5 stars

Theater review by Regina Robbins  About two-thirds of the way through Christopher Chen’s extraordinary new play Passage, ensemble member Lizan Mitchell acknowledges that some in the audience may be experiencing a kind of déjà vu. Based on—but in no way bound to—E.M. Forster's A Passage to India, Chen’s text takes colonialism out of any specific racial or temporal context in order to examine power, exploitation and resistance as nakedly as possible. And yet, Mitchell admits, context is everything: Everyone in the room, onstage and off, brings their own life experiences to this moment. Still, she says, “I am trying to bring us all to the same page. Even though…that’s impossible.” She pauses. “Right?” Passage begins with Q (Andrea Abello), a citizen of Country Y, travelling to join her fiancé in Country X, where he has relocated for “opportunity.” On the way, she encounters F (Linda Powell), another Country Y-er moving to X for work, who is also in search of something deeper that she can’t find in her country of origin. After arriving, F meets B (K.K. Moggie), a Country X doctor who, despite her stellar reputation, is obliged to take orders from her Country Y superiors at the hospital where she works. The trio embark on an excursion to mysterious local caves; there, in darkness, fears and prejudices are exposed and lives are turned upside down. Stripped of names and nationalities, the characters in Passage (portrayed exclusively by actors of color) are nevertheless totally cons

Hatef**k

Hatef**k

3 out of 5 stars

Theater review by Regina Robbins  Hatef**k is more complex than its provocative title suggests. Rehana Lew Mirza’s play begins at a party, where college professor Layla (Kavi Ladnier) approaches bestselling novelist Imran (Sendhil Ramamurthy) to scold him for trading in Muslim stereotypes in his work: He has a responsibility, she argues, to create a more nuanced portrait of their shared cultural and religious heritage. The cocky Imran is unrepentant, insisting that he's an individual first and a member of the "brown" community second. This so infuriates Layla that she…offers to screw him until he begs for mercy. Thus begins an affair in which religious belief, cultural identity and personal ambition combine to draw this passionate couple together even while threatening to pull them apart. The two actors trade barbs and come-ons at a breakneck pace, with director Adrienne Campbell-Holt taking a cue from classic Hollywood screwball comedy—though we never saw as much of Cary Grant’s unclothed body as we do of Ramamurthy’s well-trained physique. Layla and Imran’s hookup-turned-romance is fun to watch. (When was the last time you saw two people argue about the Quran in their underwear?) But ultimately, Hatef**k is another example of a genre that has become too familiar: The “play about art,” in which well-educated people debate the role and responsibility of the artist in society. Granted, it’s an important debate, especially when the artist is a member of an often-stigmatized gro

The Trial of the Catonsville Nine

The Trial of the Catonsville Nine

4 out of 5 stars

Theater review by Regina Robbins  Government actions have led to the suffering and death of innocent people, both at home and abroad, but no one in Washington seems willing to take responsibility: It’s déjà vu all over again in the Transport Group’s revival of The Trial of the Catonsville Nine. In 1968, nine Catholic peace activists, led by priests (and brothers) Daniel and Philip Berrigan, were tried and convicted of destroying government records at a draft office in Catonsville, Maryland. Three years later, with the Vietnam War still raging and the group's members still serving their sentences, Daniel Berrigan’s play about the trial ran briefly on Broadway. This remarkable moment in political and theatrical history now comes roaring back to life with the fervor its subjects deserve. Berrigan’s text, based on trial transcripts, gets a postmodern retooling from director Jack Cummings III; cuts are balanced with new material providing 21st-century updates on the trial’s participants. But plenty of parallels to current events come straight from the original script. “Of course, even the President must obey the law,” says the presiding judge, before admitting that, if he doesn’t, there’s not much to be done about it. (Or is there? Ask the ghost of Richard Nixon.) It’s hard to know how to feel about these echoes from the past. Angry? Sad? Fired up? Yes, and then some. A coproduction with the National Asian American Theatre Company, Catonsville Nine is performed by three Asian-Amer

News (2)

The Fringe Festival is back, and it’s been completely revamped

The Fringe Festival is back, and it’s been completely revamped

The Fringe is dead. Long live the Fringe! After celebrating its 20th birthday in 2016, the New York International Fringe Festival decided to skip 2017 altogether, like a college student taking a gap year to gain some perspective. Now the annual showcase is back—with some major changes. It comes to us in cool October instead of sweltering August, and it has slimmed down from more than 200 shows to fewer than 90. Instead of occupying existing downtown venues, the festival is using unconventional spaces in the West Village that have never served as theaters before; audiences meet at the Fringe Hub at 685 Washington Street and are guided to the shows from there. (The Fringe has also embraced the outer boroughs, inviting companies outside Manhattan to join the new Bring Your Own Venue wing of the festival.) Even with fewer shows to choose from, however, navigating the Fringe can be daunting. The festival offers a head-spinning array of options, and the most exciting thing about it—wading into a sea of little-known artists—can also be its biggest challenge. Here are a few of the best bets. Go forth and Fringe, New Yorkers! 1. The Classical You’ll see familiar plots and characters at the Fringe, but they’ll have a unique spin. For example, Makbet shakes up Shakespeare by having actors switch roles mid-performance. There’s also the queer-themed Starcrossed, in which Mercutio and Tybalt replace Romeo and Juliet as the cursed couple; a kid-friendly version of The Odyssey; and AntiCone,

The Great White Way’s casting has become more inclusive in 2018

The Great White Way’s casting has become more inclusive in 2018

Jelani Alladin wasn’t expecting much when he auditioned for Frozen. “I assumed the powers that be would cast it as they did the movie,” he says—that is, with all white actors. To his surprise, the African-American Alladin is now making his Broadway debut as the lovable Kristoff. “I don’t take it lightly and will never take it for granted,” he says. So, is this story a one-off or a sign that the theater world really wants to be more diverse? By one standard—Tony nominations—this year looks better than last year. In 2017, only half of the eight acting categories included nominees of color (none of whom won), seemingly a step backward from 2016, when the cast of Hamilton all but swept the musical awards. This year, every one of those categories includes minority actors—one of whom, Children of a Lesser God’s Lauren Ridloff, is also deaf. RECOMMENDED: Complete guide to the Tony Awards Broadway producers created more opportunity for representation this season, too, by giving us Summer: The Donna Summer Musical, the Middle East–set musical The Band’s Visit and a revival of the Caribbean-themed Once on This Island. Plays were less fruitful, though revivals of Angels in America, Lobby Hero and M. Butterfly provided a few choice roles for black and Asian actors. John Leguizamo’s Latin History for Morons provided a choice role for—who else?—John Leguizamo. A number of actors of color also scored in roles that usually go to white actors. Some got there partly through star power, like D