Under the Radar Festival highlights: ‘How to Be a Rock Critic,’ ‘The Hendrix Project’

Since the harsh winter weather tends to discourage theater attendance, few shows open each year in January. An exception to the rule rests with three downtown festivals that celebrate experimental theater, performance and dance: the Public Theater’s Under the Radar Festival, Performance Space 122’s COIL Festival and American Realness at Abrons Arts Center.

Mark Russell, director of Under the Radar, gave us his own descriptions of six shows that are part of this year’s festival.


‘Re-Member Me’

“ Dickie Beau is a lip sync artist from England, but this not your Judy Garland lip sync. It focuses on Daniel Day-Lewis’ ‘Hamlet,’ where Lewis rather precipitously left the production and the man who took over for him was Ian Charleson, who is best-known for ‘Chariots of Fire.’ Charleson did an incredible interpretation, and everyone was talking about it, but unfortunately he died of AIDS only a few months after he finished the run.”


‘The Hendrix Project’

“Roger Guenveur Smith’s piece is about Jimi Hendrix and his ‘Band of Gypsys’ album, which was recorded New Year’s Eve 1969. You’re watching the balcony of the Fillmore East and listening to this amazing performance as the ’60s go down. I can’t imagine anyone trying to mimic Hendrix, but here we have a great way to sit and really listen to his music and hear it anew.”


‘Antigonón, un Contingente Épico’

“This is sort of the history of Cuba told onstage through the story of Antigone. Teatro El Público is one of the most adventurous companies to come out of Havana. It’s something we don’t get that much access to see in the United States.”


‘Thunderstorm 2.0’

“It’s our first time bringing a company over from Mainland China. [Cao Yu’s ‘Thunderstorm’] is kind of a classic in China. It’s their Ibsen. But Wang Chong, this amazing young director, has updated it to now, to the post-Tiananmen [Square] generation. It’s really powerful stuff. I think it gives us a peek into the regular lives of the Chinese today.”


‘How to Be a Rock Critic’

“Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen are the people who brought us ‘The Exonerated.’ Erik somehow got hold of some unpublished things by [rock music critic] Lester Bangs and got the OK of his estate and has put together a tour de force one-man show that encompasses Lester’s gonzo rock journalism.”


‘Pursuit of Happiness’

“The Nature Theater of Oklahoma hasn’t been seen in a while. This is their big homecoming. About five years ago, we did their ‘Life and Times,’ which was a wild marathon performance piece. [‘Pursuit of Happiness’] is just under two hours. It’s kind of about American Western machoism. They’re all sort of impersonating John Wayne.”

If you go: The Under the Radar Festival runs through Jan. 15 at the Public Theater and other venues. See undertheradarfestival.com for performance schedule.

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