The National Catholic Review

Theater

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  • December 5-12, 2016

    The action of a play is always happening now, no matter when it is set. The actors may be wearing 18th-century periwigs, as they are in “Les Liaisons Dangereuses,” or 1920s suits and frocks, as in “The Front Page,” or 1980s workout garb, as in “Falsettos.” No matter how transporting their performances, the actors are irreducibly human beings, living through the same moment we are.

    Maybe that’s why, when world events become pressing,...

  • November 14, 2016

    Ben Jonson will forever live in Shakespeare’s shadow. The recent production of Jonson’s best-known work, The Alchemist, by the Royal Shakespeare Company, inadvertently demonstrates why. First performed in 1610 and full of then-topical political references, it is hard work for an audience today. Although few of Jonson’s surviving works compare well with the Bard’s, this one probably does so best. That the R.S.C. put on this show at the Barbican...

  • October 24, 2016

    The gulf between African-American church traditions and those of the white, Christian majority in the United States often is more than a mere difference in style or denominational nomenclature. The distinction can run deep, and to understand why we need look no further than the fact that these distinct racial traditions exist at all within an allegedly universal faith. For if the Bible can be read as a story of deliverance from bondage—first the...

  • Jayne Houdyshell is ecumenical, at least on stage. Born and raised as a Congregationalist, she has portrayed a Jewish mother several times and is now playing an Irish Catholic mother in the play that won this year’s Tony Award for Best Play and earned her a Tony for Best Supporting Actress. “The Humans,” written by Stephen Karam, has just transferred to a larger Broadway house for the upcoming theater season.

    In “The Humans,” Ms. Houdyshell combines the humor and sarcasm typical of...

  • September 26, 2016

    In the searing and timely play Sinners , by the Israeli playwright Joshua Sobol, a man piles up rocks for the stoning of a woman. She was convicted of adultery. He was her lover. She is next to him, covered in a white cloth and buried in the ground up to her chest.

    The setting is an unnamed Muslim country; both characters are punished for their affair. She is sentenced to execution. He is condemned with preparing...

  • On May 23, 1921, “Shuffle Along” opened in New York and made history. It was the first show to have an all-black cast, playwright, composer and lyricist present an honest-to-goodness musical—not a minstrel show or a vaudeville performance, but a show with a plot and, even more shockingly, a romantic couple in the lead, in the style of the operettas of the day. During its debut, the show was not booked into one of the standard Broadway theaters around the Times Square area, but in...

  • American theater has nothing to prove on the world stage; the 20th century saw to that. After languishing in the shadow of its European forebears, our young country’s theater had a definitive flowering in the so-called American century, as playwrights found a native language in the nation’s bustling vitality and heedless striving, common pleasures and modern anxieties. From Arthur Miller to August Wilson, we had playwrights not only worthy of our national dialogue but who are able...

  • June 20-27, 2016

    Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, William Congreve once (almost) wrote, but on Broadway currently, it is young women, especially, whose spurning reaps a virtual whirlwind. In two productions—a revival of Arthur Miller’s 1953 classic The Crucible, and a 2005 play called Blackbird by Scottish playwright David Harrower—intimate transgressions among unevenly consenting partners have world-shattering consequences. And while both plays ultimately generate more heat than light...

  • April 18, 2016

    The playwright Danai Gurira so assiduously resists the easy binaries that might seem inevitable in her work—African versus American, white versus black, colonialism versus nationalism—that it almost feels like a disservice to harp on the sharp contrasts between the two fine plays she recently has run on New York stages. But the contrasts are there, and they are striking. If you happened to walk from a matinee of Eclipsed —her searing drama about Liberia at...

  • February 29, 2016

    Apart from tales of the incarnation in the person of Jesus, God makes few appearances in our drama. God’s appearances on stage often are as the subject of a debate or a presence who acts and speaks through others. In this context, God becomes a kind of backstory and the ultimate existential answer to the oft-parodied actor’s question, “What’s my motivation?”

    In two current Broadway musical revivals, God is also the ultimate...