The Siegel Column By Barbara & Scott Siegel
No one wants to spend their hard-earned money on a bad show, or even worse, spend two hours of your life you’ll never get back sitting through dreck. We’d like to offer a helpful solution to theatergoers who have had one too many such unhappy experiences. Simply put, pick a few theater companies that offer a bold assortment of consistently excellent work every season. If you don’t go to the theater with the kind of regularity that we do, we’d be happy to help you out with your choices.
Let’s start with the Godlight Theater Company, which generally works out of 59E59 Theaters. This company, which specializes in turning iconic novels into astonishingly theatrical adventures in stagecraft, rarely lets you down. Here are just some of the novels they have adapted to the stage: A Clockwork Orange, Slaughterhouse 5, and Deliverance. Under the direction of possibly the most imaginative director working Off-Broadway today (or at least the most underrated), Joe Tantalo, Godlight has blazed a unique trail by being both highly faithful to their source material while doing so with little more than piercing intelligence, and highly inventive lighting and sound design. In short, Godlight, stirs and inspires its audiences by creating theater almost literally out of thin air.
Most recently, Godlight created a ninety-minute adaptation of Cool Hand Luke (based on the original book, not the Paul Newman movie), that is playing at 59E59 thru May 31st. The show is a revelation. Less a battle between cruel prison overseers and a free-spirited man refusing to be broken, this fiercely directed, intense play, with Maruti Evans providing powerful lighting design, becomes a battle between man and God.
The point, here, is that whether you like this version of Cool Hand Luke or not, you cannot come away without being impressed with the vision and execution (no pun intended) of this company’s work.
The same can also be said about The Mint Theater helmed by Jonathan Bank who often directs the company’s plays but, even more importantly, chooses the plays to be produced and hand picks the other directors who work under his umbrella. It’s not overstating it to say that Mr. Bank is a genius at picking material and directors.
When it comes to revivals, The Mint Theater has no rival; this company is simply the best in the business. One can count on The Mint to choose exceptional, overlooked or inexplicably forgotten plays, and produce them with exquisite taste. Nary a season goes by without at least one of the company’s plays being singled out with end-of-year awards and honors. Just consider this short list of award-winning revivals they have produced in recent years: Wife to James Whelan, Rutherford and Son, London Wall, and Fashions for Men.
For anyone who loves the theater and revels in its great history, a subscription to The Mint is money well-spent.
Our third suggestion is Transport Group. This is a company that does work that is nothing if not eclectic. If there is one consistent characteristic that binds all of the disparate productions that have come under the umbrella of this sensational company, it’s theatrical boldness. They have put on some stunning revivals of plays including I Remember Mama with an all-female cast, the intensely intimate, site-specific The Boys in the Band, and the visually thrilling The Audience (not to be confused with the current Helen Mirren vehicle). On the musical side of the coin, Transport has given us Queen of the Mist that starred Mary Testa in the role of a lifetime, an entirely re-imagined Hello, Again, and wildly original See Rock City and Other Destinations. Under the artistic leadership of Jack Cummings III, Transport Group has become one of Off-Broadway’s most consistently exciting and original companies.
The above list of three “Sure Bet” theater companies is by no means comprehensive. There are other theater companies that do wonderful work that get plenty of attention: Manhattan Theater Club, The Public, Playwrights Horizons, etc., but we wanted to offer you a rich and diverse list of companies you might not be quite so familiar with. And we also wanted to give you a list of theater companies that will guarantee that you will be challenged and fulfilled. When you get your tickets torn at the theater, we don’t want your hears torn, too.