My favorite things for the month of November aren’t on the Great White Way at all, but in some of the smaller theaters around Broadway. Oh sure, Broadway can offer “American Buffalo”, “Dividing The Estate”, “Billy Elliot”, “White Christmas”,and “A Man For All Seasons”, and I’ll get to some of these next month, but there are myriad pleasures to be found at lower prices in smaller houses. My chief favorite right now is “Clay.”
It’s billed as a Hip Hop Musical, but don’t let that moniker dissuade you. “Clay” is a powerful explosion of talent in the lithe extraordinary body of its creator, Matt Sax. Who? Matt Sax? Yes, Matt Sax, who grew up in a suburban household, whose family secrets and lies come tumbling out in this extraordinary one man musical currently inhabiting the Duke Theater on 42nd Street. Mr. Sax has written, scored, and performs this piece and it is a knockout. Sax plays a range of characters that include his mother, father, stepmother, mentor and of course, himself, and he is a talent to be reckoned with. I was completely captivated by this piece and, wonder of wonders, the audience was a mix of young and old, all races, all ethnic groups and all of it touching everyone there the night I saw it. It’s a worthy effort by Lincoln Center Theater/LCT3, a new program from directors Andre Bishop and Bernard Gersten. Please give “Clay” a shout-out while it’s still running, it’s a noble effort that needs your support and response. Ok, then. The best part – tickets are only $20 a pop!!
Over at Playwrights Horizons, that august group has erased the memory of its first serious misfire this season by presenting Adam Rapp’s “Kindness” starring Annette O’Toole and Christopher Denham. They are a midwestern mother and son visiting NYC for the weekend to take in a Broadway musical about “hope and survival” that sounds suspiciously like the musical “Rent”, but isn’t. Mother is dying, and wants this last outing with her child, but child isn’t playing along and refuses to accompany her to the show, so she manages to enlist the aid of a friendly cab driver who goes as her guest instead. Meanwhile, Son has taken up with a very odd young woman who has sashayed into his hotel room looking for company. It’s a disturbing and thoughtful meditation on life and suvival, directed by the playwright and played to the hilt by a terrific cast. Katherine Waterston, daughter of “Law and Order”‘s Sam Waterston, gives a fresh, unique performance as the young lady, but this is Annette O’Toole’s show all the way. O’Toole, whose husband is actor Michael McKean, gives a scarily precise performance as the dying mother, a physical performance that is terrifically chilling to watch. Her body seems to fold in on itself as the play progresses; she has the walk and talk down pat. It’s one of the best performances to be found on a New York stage currently. I’ve been a fan of Mr. Denham’s work since I first saw him in Rapp’s “Red Light Winter” a few years back, and he doesn’t disappoint here. He’s quirky actor who’s a perfect foil for O’Toole. His final moments on stage leave you all goose-bumpy. Definitely a piece worth seeing.
Finally, a major mention to the Soho Rep for presenting a deeply disturbing vision of civilization, “Blasted” by the late Sarah Kane, directed by Sarah Benson. This is far from a pretty evening at the theater, in fact, I suggest you have a strong constitution and an open mind before attempting this one. It’s a bleak tale of people at the end of their tethers, people who would seem to have nothing left to live for, yet, despite all the cruelty and violence on view here, still find the strength to go on by play’s end. A brilliant trio of actors play this one out on a cramped stage in a tiny theatre, adding to the claustrophobic nature of the play. Major mention must be made of the superb, extremely brave performance by actor Reed Birney, who should be canonized for what he’s made to endure in the course of the evening, and consequently gives a shattering performance in the process. It seems odd that over 30 years ago, I saw Mr. Birney play one of the juvenile leads in the Broadway play, “Gemini”, and here he is, years later, still doing stellar work on New York stages without a major movie or television role to his credit. Or does Headmaster Prescott on “Gossip Girl” count? Whatever. I raise my glass to Reed Birney, a theater stalwart if there ever was one, a major talent who continues to prowl the Broadway and off-Broadway stages because it’s what he does best and we are all the better for it. Thank You, Mr. Birney!