Pas de Deux combines two one-act plays, one from New Zealand and the other from Canada, and they complement each other well. Gary Henderson’s Skin Tight and Daniel MacIvor’s 2-2 Tango are more physical than most plays, and they focus on the complexities of relationships. Both plays veer quickly from the highs to the lows of romance, and there is something universal about the way the playwrights deconstruct our notion of love. It’s inevitable that one play is better than another, yet they’re both striking and funny.
In his seminal stand-up special Bring the Pain, Chris Rock jokingly complains, “That’s all they ever teach you in school about black people: Martin Luther King.” Rock’s got a point – his influence and legacy overshadows other important leaders from the Civil Rights Movement – which is precisely why the play The Mountaintop is so refreshing. Set on the night before his death at the Lorraine Motel, playwright Katori Hall humanizes King while preserving what made him a great man. Her play is funnier than you might expect (a couple comic riffs had audiences roaring), and under the direction of Robert O’Hara, the dynamic production includes several fantastical sequences.
Myth and classical storytelling endure because of their ability to tap into our feelings, and no feeling is more primal than grief. Love, despite its supposed ability to conquer all, is elusive and so writers from Ovid onward use poetry to dance around its precise definition. But when we see grief, it is unmistakable. Metamorphoses, writer/director Mary Zimmerman’s modern update of Ovid’s classic text, shows grief and the beautiful, haunting mess that often comes with it. Still, her adaptation is never dreary because of innovative set design, a handful of strong performers, and a broadly appealing sense of humor.
The Motherfucker with the Hat is an excellent title for a play, and not just because it’s profane. Repeat the title aloud or in your mind, with a strong emphasis on “hat.” Has a nice cadence to it, right? Stephen Adly Guirgis’ new play is all about working-class New Yorkers for whom profanity is not vulgar, but part of their punctuation. They’re smart but uneducated, and while they’re in tune with their feelings, they’re self-destructive and occasionally thoughtless. Characters like this create opportunities for comedy and drama in equal measure, and the high-energy production never slackens.
The most fearless black comedies have a sense of inevitability about them. They lay out the off-kilter logic of their premise and take it to its nasty conclusion. Contractions, the new black comedy from English playwright Mike Bartlett, unspools with inexorable confidence, taking the audience into surreal, disturbing territory. The economy of his play, both in terms of character and setting, nonetheless leave ample room to explore how employees acquiesce to cold, corporate logic. It turns out the business world, not the military, is far more efficient at constructing a heartless catch-22.
In Lisa Peterson and Denis O’Hare’s An Iliad, a storyteller grapples with his conscience and the ugliness of human history. The indefinite article is important: rather than tell the definitive version of the Trojan War in all its heroics and death, the storyteller refines the tale so that we, his audience, can better feel what he feels. Through vibrant scene-setting and impressions of literature’s most legendary figures, the storyteller modernizes the war to the point where it could represent any conflict or tragedy. Peterson and O’Hare have an overtly political agenda, one that resonates even while preserving the core of Homer’s epic poem.