By Demetra M. Pappas
This “semester” on Broadway, there is serious examination of the interplay of race, gender and ethnicity – a veritable survey course in the introduction of sociology. Lydia R. Diamond’s Broadway debut, Stick Fly (Cort Theatre), presented by Alicia Keys (who also composes original music for the production) is a superb tri-fecta. This dramatic comedy of the LeVay family is set in David Gallo’s incredible set, a Martha’s Vineyard summer home for the wealthy African American family. Tony award winner Ruben Santiago-Hudson plays a flawed father, whose neurosurgery practice is emulated by his plastic surgeon son Flip (a prowlingly arrogant Mekhi Phifer) and Kent/Spoon (Dule Hill), whose first novel is about to be launched. An unimpressed Joe that “paid for law school, business school in a master’s in sociology,” and questions when Kent is “going to get a job.” Having gone to law school, graduate school and gotten an advanced degree in sociology, I felt for Kent when he “shrank,” according to his new fiancée Taylor, played with compassion and ferocity by Tracie Thoms, an earnest entomologist who is deemed still lacking, despite a background as a semi-acknowledged (but legitimate) daughter of a Pulitzer Prize winner. While the “surprise” of the weekend was supposed to be Flip’s white (no, Italian, no, WASP) girlfriend Kimber (Rosie Benton), a privileged woman who works with inner-city students, the truest surprise of this play (which is ultimately more about family dysfunction than anything else) is young Condola Rashad, as second generation housekeeper Cheryl. This young woman receives second billing to the more acclaimed and famed, who should watch out – Rashad’s Broadway debut follows on her acclaimed performance in Lynn Nottage’s Pulitzer Prize winning Ruined, and I predict she will someday soon bring a Tony to place on her own family’s mantle.
Theresa Rebeck’s Seminar (Golden Theater) is conducted by the superlative Alan Rickman as Leonard, who purrs, snarls, mocks, mimics and otherwise tortures four aspiring writers (Lily Rabe, Hamish Linklater, Jerry O’Connell and Hettiene Park), who have each paid $5,000 for the dubious privilege. Since Rickman first charmed and disarmed Broadway audiences in Les Liaisons Dangereuses, leaving all of the women wanting to sleep with him, it should come as little surprise that he has a similar effect on his seminar students, even as he trounces his way through their writing (shared brilliantly with the audience by oral rendition).
Chinglish (Longacre Theatre), is David Henry Hwang’s new comedy of manners, ethnic misunderstandings and the non-material culture or words and gestures, which we call language. With superscripts in English translating between Mandarin Chinese and English, Daniel Cavanaugh (Gary Wilmes) tries to explain how a bumbling sign-maker ties to forge a deal with a second city, dealing with unable translators, a corrupt government, a duplicitous intermediary (Stephen Pucci) and a very able second in command, Xi Yan (the superbly linguistic and comedic Jennifer Lim). Those who enjoy (or enjoy being frustrated by) signage will howl, as will those who appreciate superscripts (which have unabridged language).
For those who seek language and exploration through movement, rather than verbal communication, Parsons Dance returns to The Joyce Theater from January 10-22, 2012, with a program that includes two World Premieres, a new untitled piece by David Parsons as well as a new untitled work choreographed by emerging choreographer and former Parsons dancer, Kate Skarpetowska.