The Siegel Column:What’s Going on Off-Broadway During the Tony Season?

Derren Brown: Secreet



By Barbara & Scott Siegel




We’re now in that time period when it seems like almost everyone is obsessed with all the new Broadway shows that opened just in time to get in under the wire for the Tony cut-off date. But in the mad scramble for attention, there are shows that are sometimes lost because they are opening Off-Broadway when the media – and audiences – aren’t paying them enough attention. So, this column is just a modest attempt on our part to level the playing field a bit and throw a spotlight (for good or ill) on some shows that have been playing in smaller theaters during the last several weeks…


Let’s begin with Derren Brown: Secret at The Atlantic Theater Company. Bless the Off-Broadway subscription theater that can weather the Broadway storms of April and May. And it doesn’t hurt that they have programmed a presumably inexpensive one-person show just in case. However, it looks like they have a hit on their hands. This show, by a clever and charismatic mentalist is wildly entertaining.


In the tradition of Marc Salem, who performed similar feats of immaculate surprise, Derren Brown pulls off one stunning, impossible trick after the other. And his second act culminates into an almost operatic series of interconnecting tricks that will leave you slack-jawed.

As the audience – and critics, alike – are asked not give away what Mr. Brown does, we will honor that embargo and simply urge you to see this mind-twisting piece of theatrical flim-flam (and we mean that in the nicest way).

And don’t be put off by the two-and-a-half hour running time for a one-person show; the time absolutely flies by!

The Whirligig


At the Signature Center, the highly successful theater company, The New Group, has given actor Hamish Linklater an opportunity to put on a new play that he’s written titled The Whirligig. The title comes into view when the play’s lead, the father of a young woman who is dying, is referred to as suffering a “whirligig of grief.”


As a rather famous young actor, Linklater has the connections to attract a truly top-notch, Broadway level cast, including Norbert Leo Butz as the show’s star (who is, as always, exceptionally real, present, organic, and terrific). Linklater, himself is not performing in the play. Other notable stars include Jon DeVries and Jonny Orsini.


As a beginning playwright, Linklater shows considerable promise even if his play suffers from some heavy-handed plotting. In fact, the plot threads are so interconnected that even as the story begins to seriously strain credibility you kind of have to admire the sheer act of creation.


The play is dark and full of misery, but to Linklater’s credit, despite the play’s ever present gloom, he manages a light, comic tone that keeps the action afloat and moving forward. In short, this is a flawed but certainly worthy effort.

Building the Wall


Speaking of heavy-handed, at New World Stages you will find Building the Wall, a political play that isn’t so much preaching to the choir as it is hitting the choir over the head with a baseball bat. This two-hander, starring James Badge Dale as a high level prisoner being interrogated by a history professor (Tamara Tunie) is very well-acted. But that’s as far as it goes because the playwright, Robert Schenkkan, best know as the Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize winning playwright of All the Way, obviously felt the need to make a statement about the Trump era and did so rather artlessly.


In a prison interrogation format, the playwright plants the premise that we are in the future, looking back after a “Reichstag Fire” event in the United States that allowed President Trump to declare martial law. We learn that the prisons were privatized and illegal immigrants were rounded up by the millions but their countries of origin would not take them back. So the prisons became chaotically overcrowded leading to shocking events. And bad playwriting. Building the Wall crumbles; don’t expect it to be around for very long.


Finally, just a brief note about a show that just recently closed: The Roundabout at 59E59, a J.B. Priestly play that was first produced in the UK in 1932. If you weren’t aware that you were watching this play on the East Side of New York, you would think you were at The Mint Theater on the West Side; the production had all the highly lauded attributes of a Mint production: fine acting by a well-cast retinue of performers, attention to detail, and a very-much admired willingness to leave the play alone and not try to artificially update or make it more “relevant.” Issues of class, ideology, feminism, et al were much on early display in this fascinating piece of theater history. High marks for 59E59 for putting it on as part of its Brits Off Broadway festival.


In other words, life goes on in the world of Off-Broadway whether we’re watching or not. And maybe we should be watching a little more closely, even at this time of year.