Plays You Should Not Miss – Before the Spring Onslaught
By Barbara & Scott Siegel
Soon, the winter will fade and a plethora of new plays will sprout in our little theater garden. But before we get entirely buried by new openings, let’s look at some of the wonderful plays that have already put down roots and have been blooming despite the cold and the snow. These are plays that should not be forgotten when we shed our parkas and the ink starts flowing about this and that new show. Two of them are Off-Broadway, and one of them started Off-Broadway and has since moved to Broadway.
First and foremost among this season’s earlier offerings, The Humans isn’t simply a gem, it’s a diamond mine of superior writing, craftsmanship, direction, and performance. Kudos to producer Scott Rudin for promptly moving this show from Off-Broadway’s Laura Pels Theater to The Helen Hayes on The Great White Way. A Tony Nomination, if not the prize, itself, is surely in the offing.
On the surface, The Humans is that familiar chestnut of a family get-together over a holiday and the unspooling of secrets that forever change everyone. It does all of that supremely well, but it does so much more. This is a story that creates a living and breathing metaphor of America (and Americans) in crisis, inspiring us with the tenacity and resilience – and ultimate goodness – of its movingly flawed characters.
Playwright Stephen Karam reveals himself to be a modern day Arthur Miller, taking on moral and political issues on a big canvas, but doing so with exquisite delicacy. Joe Mantello directs unobtrusively, but with exceeding subtlety, giving his superb cast the opportunity to give dimension and deep feeling to their characters. The show’s quietly breathtaking performances come from Reed Birney, Jayne Houdyshell, Cassie Beck, Sarah Steele, Lauren Klein, and Arian Moayed.
Another wonderful, moving play comes courtesy of Manhattan Theater Club with its production of The Prodigal Son, written and directed by John Patrick Shanley. His painfully honest, autobiographical version of Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man paints his teenage self as a troubled, yearning soul needful of help but not always sure if he can trust those who offer it. Written with sharp wit and a keen sense of character – most impressively of characters other than his own – the play is rich in period detail and emotional honesty.
At The Vineyard, Colman Domingo’s memory play, Dot, is perhaps the most conventional of the three mentioned in this column, but by virtue of being the concluding play in a trilogy about his mother, the accumulated warmth, wisdom, and sensitivity that has been put on display on New York’s stages over the last several years is worthy of considerable praise. In addition to being a gifted, versatile actor/singer, it is clear that Domingo is also a significant playwright with bright multiple career paths ahead of him.