VIEWPOINTS – UNDER THE RADAR 2018: A Festival Recap, Part 1

So far during the consistently fascinating, wonderfully-curated Under the Radar Festival – the Public Theater’s annual January festival for experimental theater – I’ve caught six “mainstage” offerings, not including shows that make up the festival’s “in concert” or “incoming” programming. As in past years, this iteration of the Under the Radar Festival proves to be expertly produced and efficiently run. New this year are assigned seating (seating was general admission in past years), which avoids having to make a mad dash from show to show, and the use of NYU’s expansive Skirball Center for the Performing Arts. Both relieve the mob scenes that previously made the experience of attending these typically sold-out performances, to say the least, interesting. Here are my thoughts on this year’s line-up, so far.



Motus's "Panorama"

Motus’s “Panorama”


At La Mama, Italy’s Motus, in collaboration with the irresistibly eclectic bunch of actors from the Great Jones’s Repertory Company – the wonderful Maura Nguyen Donohue, John Gutierrez,Valois Mickens, Eugene the Poogene, Perry Yung and Zishan Ugurlu – have put together a show which explores race and identity in terms more nuanced than simply, excuse the pun, black and white. Devised and directed by Enrico Casagrande and Daniela Nicolò, Panorama is a gloriously messy, multi-media collage of overlapping experiences that suggests that we are all so much more than what meets they eye. Despite being (necessarily) frustrating at times, Panorama makes its point loud and clear, and it’s one that unfortunately has yet to be accepted at large.




Dickie Beau's "Re-Member Me"

Dickie Beau’s “Re-Member Me”

(Dickie Beau)

Supremely skilled lip sync master Dickie Beau slays in Re-Member Me, a deliriously entertaining meditation on the theatrical reverberations created by those who have played the coveted title role in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Created and performed by Mr. Beau (in collaboration with director Jan-Willem Van Den Bosch), Re-Member Me fabulously animates, through Mr. Beau’s energizing lip sync performance, a cascading soundtrack of interviewed recollections of some of the most famous – and infamous – theater icons that have played the Danish prince. Voices heard include the likes of actors Ian Mckellen and John Gielgud, as well as director Richard Eyre (former Artistic Director of The Royal National Theatre). The piece pays homage to the titanic role and its portrayers, while simultaneously poking fun at the ridiculousness of the self-grandiosity of it all.




Adam Gopnik's "The Gates: An Evening of Stories with Adam Gopnik"

Adam Gopnik’s “The Gates: An Evening of Stories with Adam Gopnik”

(Adam Gopnik)

For me, one of the highlights of this year’s Under the Radar Festival was the theatrical memoir The Gates: An Evening of Stories with Adam Gopnik. It’s not the only show of its kind currently playing the boards of New York – David Cale’s worthwhile autobiographical solo show is also playing the festival, and John Lithgow is now lighting up Broadway with his warm, nostalgic trip down memory lane. However, it is Mr. Gopnik’s piece, which recounts his evolving relationship with New York City (first as a young, poor professional, then as an established family man), that moved me most. Exquisitely written and performed by Mr. Gopnik and calmly directed by Catherine Burns (Artistic Director of The Moth), The Gates is both genuinely touching and thoughtfully articulate in a way that’s rarely achieved in theater.




Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen's "“How to be a Rock Critic"

Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen’s ““How to be a Rock Critic”

(Jessica Blank and Eric Jensen)

Sometimes things are best left on the page. That’s the case for Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen’s one-man play How to be a Rock Critic, which is based on the writings of Lester Bangs. First the good news; as Bangs, Mr. Jensen gives an admirably committed performance. However, ironically, in translating Bangs’ musings on criticism and rock-and-roll (a proxy for art in general, really) to the stage, an element of authenticity has been left behind (the same problem can be said of the The Hendrix Project, which I’ll get to in the next set of festival write-ups). On stage, his steady stream of recollections, many of them relating to run-ins with some of rock history’s most influential bands, get repetitive surprisingly quickly. And frankly, many of Bangs’ observations and takeaways aren’t very enlightening, at least in a theatrical format.




Andrew Schneider's "After"

Andrew Schneider’s “After”

(Andrew Schneider)

Another highlight of this year’s festival was After, Andrew Schneider’s dazzling reflection, both physically- and metaphysically-minded, on life at the brink of death. The fact that I was so taken by Mr. Schneider’s latest effort is no surprise. His youarenowhere a few seasons back is one of the most brilliant performances I’ve ever seen. Like that previous piece, After  is consistently surprising and technically masterful. In the world of theater, the level of precision and attention to detail that Mr. Schneider and his expert team of designers (sound design is by Bobby McElver and Mr. Schneider; lighting, projection, and scenic design is all by Mr. Schneider) are able to pull off is unprecedented. Just as obsessive and breathtaking are Alicia ayo Ohs and Mr. Schneider’s performances. Together, technology, design, and performance come together to create a carefully constructed symphony that strips the artifice from theater. Simply put, After is an experience – fully immersive and virtually one with reality. It’s riveting, and another masterpiece from Mr. Schneider.




Théâtre du Rêve Expérimental and Wang Chong's "Thunderstorm 2.0"

Théâtre du Rêve Expérimental and Wang Chong’s “Thunderstorm 2.0”

(Théâtre du Rêve Expérimental and Wang Chong)

Over at NYU’s Skirball Center for the Performing Arts, I attended Théâtre du Rêve Expérimental production of Thunderstorm 2.0. Based on a popular Chinese drama from the early 20th Century, the production, directed by Wang Chong, has added a layer of cinema production and, therefore, Brechtian distancing from the proceedings on the stage (the text is by Cao Yu, and the script by Wang Chong, Yang Fan and Liang Anzheng). Although Thunderstom 2.0 is technically accomplished, it all seemed more like an exercise in execution – in which it wins top honors – than a theatrically, or even intellectually, satisfying experience.



The Public Theater, in association with other institutions
Through January 15

Categories: Off-Broadway, Theater

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