Continuing to share some of my favorite theatrical occasions of the year. Be sure to check out Part I
I took my seat for Lobby Hero, opened the Playbill and saw that slip of paper announcing that one of the roles would be played by an understudy. As it was a cast of only four, I had a brief concern that the rhythm might be off. But Michael Cera and Chris Evans were still on, so I wasn’t too bothered. The young man seated next to me was chatting with a few people seated in front of us and they were waving to people a few seats down. Then the young lady in front of me took a selfie with the program, pointing to that slip of paper. So I asked my seatmate, do you guys know the understudy? Turns out they had all recently graduated from NYU and their classmate was indeed making her Broadway debut that very night! I immediately went from disappointment to delight! How fortunate to be in the room for this exciting moment.
This was my first Kenneth Lonergan play. I knew his films (Manchester by the Sea, You Can Count on Me) and appreciated his slice of life storytelling. The play was engaging from the first moment, in no small part due to Michael Cera’s endearing portrayal of Jeff, a security guard in an apartment building who finds himself in possession of knowledge that could make a case but break a friend. It is the type of play that makes you question your own moral compass, makes you wonder. I love that.
The performances were all solid, and our understudy (Annie Fox) rocked it! At the curtain call, her castmate Brian Tyree Henry held up her arm like she was the champ, such a sweet gesture. The experience of the play was absolutely heightened by being in the company of young actors, cheering on their friend on one of the biggest nights of her life!
Part I: Plain
My friend Jennifer and I had tickets to see Come From Away on a Friday night and decided to go in early to spend the day. We had lunch and then walked from Tribeca to mid-town meandering in and out of galleries and shops along the way, never bothering to have dinner. So when we sat down for the show I was delighted when she pulled two bags of plain M&Ms out of her bag. A perfectly respectable dinner and my theatre treat of choice!
That little bit of satiation and chocolate assured we were alert and open to receive the gift that is Come From Away. This is a show that I would happily and confidently recommend to anyone on the planet. It tells the unbelievable story of what happens when planes are diverted to a town in Newfoundland on 9/11. This very small town is inundated with strangers who are in utter distress, their World in chaos. The acts kindness and humanity that follow are so touching and it is all true. The staging is like a dance and the actors play multiple roles seamlessly. There is much goodness in this World and this show reminds us what it looks like, in a most artful way.
Part II: Peanut
Having scored a $40 rush ticket in the Orchestra section for The Waverly Gallery, I was leaning against a wall during intermission munching on a bag of Peanut M&Ms, taking in the crowd. I had already spotted one well-known actress and overhead enough nearby conversations to know that there were industry folks all around. Also, plenty of hardcore theatergoers, just like me! People watching always fills me up and something about that particular moment brought a warmth to my soul: right place, right time. Then I spied Bernadette Peters walking my way and the moment got even sweeter. I love Bernadette Peters. I could have stopped her and said something, but no need. She has given me so much with her beautiful work, what more could I ask for? We shared a smile and then took our seats to continue our shared experience of the play.
And what a play! The Waverly Gallery tells the story of old age and family and the burden and the joys that we place upon the people we love the most. It examines the tapestry of emotions that come with watching the decline of a family member with dementia, showing the pain, frustration, and humor that is inevitable. This was my second Kenneth Lonergan play of the season, solidifying my fandom! My amazing seat allowed me to take in the nuances, depth, and quality of the acting by all five members of an all-star cast. Elaine May absolutely devastates in her performance. Don’t be surprised if there is a Tony Award with her name on it come June!
I Heart Mike Birbiglia
One night while browsing Netflix for stand-up comedy I came across Mike Birbiglia’s Thank God for Jokes. His name was familiar to me but I didn’t really know his work so I hit play and had my world rocked. It was everything I never knew I wanted from stand-up comedy. There was an arc to the show, I felt like I had been included in something, embraced even. I laughed yes, but also cried. Even though I was sitting on my couch the whole time I felt like I had gone somewhere. It was magical.
Thus began my love affair with Mike Birbiglia and his work, which I wouldn’t actually classify as stand-up. It is theatre and storytelling and comedy and more. When I learned he was coming to Broadway I felt so proud, and also thrilled that I would get to see him live!
In The New One, Birbiglia tells the story of fatherhood. Perhaps reluctant fatherhood would be more accurate, or maybe reluctance, in general, more accurate still. As always, he takes us on a journey of one event: fatherhood, by sharing many other stories that all tie in to serve the whole. He is willing to tell us about flawed moments and mistakes with such honesty that at times we collectively gasp. He assures us, yes he knows, it’s bad! But it is not self-deprecation, it is self-revelation. It is generous, the way he shares himself and in the process, we learn more about ourselves. It is artful and precise and smart and I love it!
The New One absolutely reaffirmed my affection for Mike Birbiglia. He achieves something very special with his performance. I could talk about him for days, but probably best you just go see for yourself!! (It runs through January 20th)
One of the greatest themes of my theatrical year was desire. There are so many quality plays on and off Broadway right now that I can hardly stand it. What a pleasure! Hot on my list are Torchsong (obsessed with seeing this before it closes Jan 6!), American Son, The Ferryman, What the Constitution Means to Me, To Kill A Mockingbird, The Prom … ack! Will I get them all in? I already have my tickets for Network and True West, thankfully. Next year promises to be a good one. Stay tuned! 😉