Category: NYC

Photo Courtesy of Joan Marcus

After a previously sold-out run off-Broadway, Lynn Nottage’s breathtaking play, Sweat, opened recently at the Studio 54 theater. The show, based in Reading, PA, focuses on deindustrialization and its lasting ramifications. In our current political climate, Sweat’s arrival could not be more timely. The show forces its audience to fully delve into the lives of blue-collar workers in America. In a country becoming increasingly divided, as evidenced through the 2016 Presidential Elections, Sweat explores and explains with breathtaking eloquence and clarity the malaise that has spread through many segments of the nation.

For those who have not seen the show, it focuses on the lives of friends working together at a local steel mill. Slowly, as jealousy flares and the workers realize their jobs–and the cultural status that came with them–are dwindling, they each begin to turn on each other. In trying so hard to save themselves and clinging to the work ideals many of their past family members have learned to expect, they are forced to find new work as the impacts of globalization and deindustrialization affect their town.

The show’s strong text is paired with skilled actors and a mundane yet detailed set. The play is primarily set in the local bar, where audience members watch the lives of these workers unfurl as if they were flies on the wall. In each interaction, one can see the close friendships of the characters. In particular, the show focuses on the close bond between two friends: Tracey (played by Johanna Day) and Cynthia (played by Michelle Wilson). In initial scenes, the two characters laugh and drink, jovially sharing stories about their students and their factory jobs, just like normal close friends do. However, after Cynthia is promoted to a role off the factory floor, jealousy flares as Tracey copes with not getting the promotion she truly wanted. As this jealously increases, tensions rise with conversations about race (as Tracey becomes convinced Cynthia was promoted solely for being Black) and the responsibilities of friendships.

To learn more about the show and how it came to be, we sat down with its playwright Lynn Nottage who–in addition to playwriting–is a Professor at Columbia’s School of the Arts. Nottage, originally from Brooklyn, studied at Brown University for her undergraduate degree and later studied and taught at the Yale School of Drama. She has won two Pultizer Prizes and received both the Guggenheim Fellowship and MacArthur Grant.

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Photo Courtesy of Jeremy Daniel.

The walls are falling apart, the floorboards are flying, and nothing seems to be going right in the show “The Play that Goes Wrong” on Broadway. This hilarious play is great for folks who loved “Noises Off” and just want a break from reality. It’s also the winner of London’s Olivier Award for Best New Comedy. What’s more is that it’s a play about a play being staged by amateurs – you can imagine the irony. The play plot is simple: a murder goes down at Haversham Manor – but who is the perpetrator? The characters embark on finding clues to figure out what occurred in the room where Jonathan’s corpse was found. The corpse does a terrible job at “playing dead,” adding to the hilarity of it all. An investigator is called and slowly the plot begins to develop as we try to figure out who the murderer is.

But, there is a plot twist. Jonathan’s fiancé was having an affair with her soon-to-be husband’s brother! Audiences observe many failed, awkward kisses, in addition to a character who seems to be very absorbed with applause from the audience (Max). Did she do it? Did he? Audiences are left guessing until the very end. Each character brings something to the stage, with their unique quirks and distinct expressions which had the audience gasping for breaths. Though the play is not for everyone, as the humor is certainly more for those who laugh at slapstick, it’s worth the watch for anyone who thinks it may suit their tastes.

With the wreckage of the set behind them, the cast of the show basks in the applause of the audience, which they definitely deserved after surviving the destruction of the set. Photo Courtesy of Joseph Marzullo.

With the wreckage of the set behind them, the cast of the show basks in the applause of the audience, which they definitely deserved after surviving the destruction of the set. Photo Courtesy of Joseph Marzullo.

Of course, the actors and actresses delivered fantastic performances – I even wonder how they held it together when the chaos of the stage falling apart was occurring. From the fainting fiancé who is always having “episodes” to the character mix-ups and stage that can’t seem to stay together, “The Play that Goes Wrong” is certainly a show that will make you laugh uncontrollably and makes for a great night out with friends. It’s whacky, it’s weird, but it’s also wonderful.

 

 

 

 

Tickets to “The Play that Goes Wrong” can be purchased here. For more information on how to get rush tickets to the show, message LionBot “How can I get rush tickets to The Play that Goes Wrong?”

Photo courtesy of Joan Marcus

There’s something fun brewing down on 52nd street. Opening April 17th, “Groundhog Day” is creating a comical storm on Broadway in the August Wilson theater. Based off the the 1993 movie, the show has been adopted into a two act musical with music and lyrics by Tim Minchin (known for his working in writing the music for Matilda).

Andy Karl as Phil Connors. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Andy Karl as Phil Connors. Photo by Joan Marcus.

For those who have not seen the show, Groundhog Day centers around a shallow, arrogant weatherman named Phil Connor, played by Andy Karl. Connor, known for his weather reports, is once again sent to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania to cover the annual Groundhog Day event. Frustrated and disillusioned with being sent to a small town to report on a holiday that directly contradicts his own profession, Connor makes his disdain for being sent to report on the holiday abundantly clear. He irritably storms around the town, ignoring those around him and dismissing his cameraman and assistant producer Rita as they record

that the groundhog saw its shadow, meaning there’ll be six more weeks of winter. Later that day, he finally gets excited again — about leaving back for “anywhere but [Punxsutawney].” However, both weather and the local police overshadow his plans as the storm he predicted would not hit the town ends up dousing the small town with a heavy helping of snow and closing down all the roads and highways. Despite his best attempts to leave the town (portrayed with a miniature van circling around the stage), he is forced to spend one more night in little old Punxsutawney.

The cast of Groundhog Day. Photo by Joan Marcus.

The cast of Groundhog Day. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Upon waking up, however, Connor is confused as everyone in the town seems to be talking about Groundhog Day, even when it should be the next day. As he quickly realizes, he’s stuck in a loop — every morning he wakes up in the same bed and breakfast on Groundhog Day.

Throughout the show, Karl perfectly portrays Connor. As the days keep on repeating (marked with characters repeating lines and scenes happening again and again), even the audience can feel his frustration. Even when Connor goes to quite drastic measures to end the cycle, he fails. Eventually, Connor learns to use his “curse” for a greater good — he starts trying to improve the lives of others and is forced to finally think about those around him. Like he says in the show, no one realizes “how deep my shallowness goes.” But as his character develops, we see a new side of him as he learns to focus on being a better person and lifting up those around him — even if they won’t remember it the next day.

Andy Karl and Barrett Doss in Groundhog Day. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Andy Karl and Barrett Doss in Groundhog Day. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Likewise, his associate producer and later love interest Rita Hanson (played by Barrett Doss) is equally as splendid. Not willing to give into just any love interest coming her way, Hanson plays a strong woman who knows what she wants and refuses to settle for less. Hanson tells Connor, “You’re the lucky one–you get to try new things everyday,” when he tells her that he is stuck in a loop. It makes the audience think about what they would do if they could do anything without the consequences of facing tomorrow and the aftermath of a bad decision. Yet, sometimes you want to move forward in life, no matter the regrets you have. Time is a theme that the audience can’t seem to escape while watching the show: it leaves us with lingering questions about our own choices and how we use our time. Focusing too much on success or the future can make us ignore enjoying and contributing to the present.

“Groundhog Day” is a special show. Within two and a half hours, the audience watches the characters grapple with insecurities, rejection, love, and more in a show that is brilliantly hilarious and equally thought-provoking. With its mix of upbeat songs and an incredible story, this is a show that everyone should run and see. As Rita Hanson sings in the middle of Act II, “If I had my time again, I would do it all the same,” and when it comes to whether I would go back to see this show again, I’d have to agree.

Tickets to Groundhog Day can be purchased from here. The show also maintains a daily lottery for those interested in winning discounted tickets.

Graphic made by Laura Elizabeth Hand, CC’19

“I’m just too busy.”

“Can’t; got to go to Butler.”

“Just because you want me to come doesn’t mean I will.”

For most Columbia students, keeping track of the number of times their friends and classmates have “flaked” on them or turned down their offers to hang out because of their “busyness” is an impossible task. This can easily be seen in both conversations with peers and the stark difference between the number of people who sign up for events at Columbia versus the number of people who actually show up. As a student body, we are each obsessed with the idea that we do not have downtime. You always need to be working and getting ahead while also espousing the idea that you’re failing all your classes and cannot find enough hours in the day to sleep, let alone let loose and fun. Despite the constant Spec op-eds and Facebook rants bemoaning Columbia’s stress culture and lacking mental health resources, when it comes to us individually doing our parts to remedy the problems we continue to critique, we don’t because we value our own reasons for being stressed above others’ reasons.

“I need to get into medical school.”

“I care about my education.”

“I have to get a 4.0; I’m trying to get into a good law school.”

In each one of these sentiments, we create a metaphorical barrier, an us versus them mentality. We perpetuate the idea that there is a goal we need to constantly struggle to capture and that to a certain extent, those around us are trying to distract us from it.

But what does it mean to be busy? How can we both enjoy the benefits of being students living and learning in America’s busiest city while also capturing these goals? In many ways, we should look to the message encapsulated in Stephen Sondheim’s classic musical, “Sunday in the Park with George.”

For those who have not heard of the show before, it follows the artistic process of famous artist Georges Seurat as he creates and develops the painting, “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.” Throughout the first act, Seurat is completely fixated on drawing sketches of the people who are ultimately portrayed in his famous painting. As he works on the piece and obsesses over “Finishing the Hat”, he fails to consider the lives and feelings of those around him.

“Finishing the Hat” performed by Jake Gyllenhaal

 

In particular, the audience is exposed to the romantic relationship between Seurat and Dot, the latter being the role played by Ashford. Gyllenhaal who plays his role perfectly as he time and time again dismisses and chides Dot as she complains about having to stand still under the hot sun while Seurat sketches her. Seurat’s goal is to develop a work of art completely like no other. He has had the idea and now is steadfast in achieving its completion. Despite listening to complaints from his love Dot, Seurat does not truly hear and process them as they conflict with his direct desires. Dot even tells him:

Yes, George, run to your work.
Hide behind your painting.
I have come to tell you I am leaving because I thought you might
care to know-foolish of me, because you care about nothing-

In being so passionate about his goal, he forgets the people in his own life. As the plot develops and Dot eventually moves on, after realizing she cannot stay with Seurat, he still fails to address it, instead retreating further into his work.

Like a Columbia student dedicating so much time to their specific craft, they lean on it as their excuse and crutch. Just as Seurat in the production cannot escape his work, we too cannot see beyond our work: our looming deadlines, upcoming exams, next club/board/committee/council meetings, impending fellowship and scholarship applications, and imminent job and internship interviews. The list of work we each have goes on and on, adding to our lists of reasons to skip that food truck fair in Brooklyn we talked with our friends about for months, or miss seeing that old friend who is visiting NYC over break, or cancel plans to go to that free (or extremely cheap) event that we RSVP’d to as going on Facebook. We look at the world and people around us in the same manner that Dot describes as being characteristic of George:

As if he sees you and he doesn’t all at once.

Instead of fully valuing those around us and the opportunities we have, we simply ignore them — out of sight out of mind — and obsess over our work. And while we did come here to learn, we need to really understand that there is more to a Columbia education than just mentally locking ourselves into libraries and priding ourselves in unhealthy sleep habits.

As students, we need to break out of using our work and goals as an excuse. Dedicate more time to trying something new, leaving Butler and going off-campus, finding the color and lights that can brighten our days rather than groveling. As much as having dreams and passions is great, so is being able to explore new topics and brighten the day of others by just listening to them and putting in the effort to get to know more about them and their passions.

Tickets to “Sunday in the Park with George” can be purchased here. Performances run until April 23rd, 2017.

Photo Courtesy of T. Charles Erickson.

“Don’t tell the Americans.” I sit laughing in the seat of the Beaumont Theater in Lincoln Center as I watch actors portraying different leaders discussing how to keep the negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians a secret from the Americans. Now certainly, political plays can be a hit or miss, especially because bias can permeate the play, leaving a bitter taste in one’s mouth. “Oslo” is far from this. “Oslo” presented the issue completely fairly, allowed for both sides to display their anger and wishes, and truly showed the magnitude of the conflict between Israel and Palestine. The play is about the secret meetings that led to the 1993 Oslo Peace Accords between the Israelis and Palestinians. Whether you are a history buff, you are active in discussions about the conflict, or you just want to know more, Oslo does the story complete justice, and I highly recommend it.

Photo Courtesy of T. Charles Erickson.

Photo Courtesy of T. Charles Erickson.

The actors were superb — giving every inch of their being to the emotional narratives both sides of the conflict feel. The pain they voice, the struggle they capture through every yell that reverberates through the theater makes you remember how very real and challenging this conflict is — for both sides. In the play, the 3rd party interventions and negotiations were referred to as “Dialogues of the Deaf.” Outsiders are painted as hardly being able to understand or alleviate tension that prolongs attainable peace, which is why Terje Rød-Larsen, the Norwegian Director of the Fafo Institute who was a key figure in the negotiations, claims the method of “gradualism” must be used. This means that both sides are in one room negotiating and then go to the other room as friends, where they talk about their families and lives over food. The parties gradually make progress through human-to-human connection and understanding.

The audience is immersed in both rooms at various points of the play, but more often than not we see the negotiations spill over into the room where they are supposed to be friends. The conflict runs deep and emotions on both sides find their way into the smallest interactions, but at the end of the play you see how the men negotiating not only warm up to each other and recognize the need for peace, but see each other as men and not just an “Israeli” or “Palestinian.” “Oslo” ends with a poignant scene of the actors and actresses listing out some of the events that followed the signing of the Oslo Accords, such at Prime Minister Rabin’s assassination, several terrorist attacks, the deaths of men involved in the process of the secret negotiations, etc. The audience is left wondering if everything we just witnessed was worth it. Was there ever really a chance for peace? Did those secret negotiations move us forward or backwards? These questions don’t seem to matter. Now matters.

Peace is right through the negotiation door. Do you see it?

 

Tickets to OSLO can be purchased here. For more information on how to get rush tickets to the show, message LionBot “How can I get rush tickets to Oslo?”