Give thanks for November Downtown theater


Castratos, cabins, electric sheep & Christmas among the meaty offerings


Autumn is upon us — with November offering a veritable cornucopia of Downtown theater delicacies. Let’s hope there are no turkeys in the basket!

The Atlantic Theater Company is starting the month off with an ambiguous bang by presenting two one-acts by the late Harold Pinter (“The Collection” and “A Kind of Alaska”). The pairing seems odd. The first is from his classic “comedy of menace” period (1961) and concerns a wife who may or may not have committed adultery — culminating in an onstage duel with kitchen knives. The second dates from 1982. Inspired by Oliver Sacks’ “Awakenings,” it tells of a woman who emerges from 30 years in a coma and is forced to confront all the changes that have happened since she was 16 years old. This enigmatic double feature will be presented at Classic Stage Company, running November 3 through December 12. Info: www.atlantictheater.org.

November 4 will be the first and last night of this year’s Crown Point Festival. This annual festival has run as long as three weeks — but 2010’s theme appears to be “big things come in small packages,” as 3 short films, 3 one-act plays, a music group, and something called “The SuperTroop” are the extent of the offerings. Now in its sixth year, the festival’s niche is that it mixes theater, film and bands together in the same bill in a sort of modern updating of vaudeville. The name hearkens back to the days of yore (Crown Point is what the British used to call the area we call the Lower East Side). It all takes place at Teatro La Tea. That’s in that big old schoolhouse at 107 Suffolk Street. For more info, go to www.crownpointfestival.org

November 4-6, Downtown folk monster Howard Fishman will be performing selections from his three new releases at the Abrons Arts Center. The records are “No Further Instructions” — a musical chronicle of his travels through Eastern Europe, “Better Get Right” — a brass-backed tribute to New Orleans (which is where the Connecticut native launched his career) and “The World Will Be Different” — an uncharacteristically personal break-up album. All three of them were released on the same day (October 26), which has to be some kind of RECORD! Get it? Howard’s always got a foot (or at least a toe) in the theater world — he’s got serious credits as an actor and a director and an expert of Eugene O’Neill. He’s the 21st century Burl Ives!

“Endurance,” at the Tank, tells the story of a Hartford insurance salesman reliving the trials of icebound Antarctic explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton. While it’s true I often think of the word “endurance” in relation to insurance salesmen, I usually ascribe the quality to the person they’re talking to, rather than the actual drummer himself. Be that as it may, the world premiere of this touring piece by movement-based troupe Split Knuckle Theatre will open November 4-7. Info here: www.splitknuckletheatre.org.

A group called Artist Collective NYC has organized an innovative mini-series at Joe’s Pub called “Preview of the Arts” — a live platform for coming attractions in Broadway, Off-Broadway and indie theater (as well as film and television). Taking place from November 5 through 7, the event looks fairly star-studded as such things go.

Opening night, for example, will feature a double header presentation of a section of American Place Theatre’s adaptation of Tim O’Brien’s Vietnam epic “The Things They Carried” back to back with an interview between John Patrick Shanley and the American Theatre Wing’s executive director Howard Sherman. The festival will close with a staged reading of Adam Rapp’s “Ghosts in the Cottonwoods” — which will also be presented at Theatre 80 St. Marks by the Amoralists (November 11-December 6). This is the first full-length play by Rapp, who won an OBIE for his play “Red Light Winter” and is well-known for several edgy young adult novels. For info and the schedule, go to www.joespub.com.

November 11 through 21, La MaMa E.T.C. will be home to “Broken Nails: Marlene Dietrich Dialogues” — a puppet play conceived and performed by Anna Skubik and written & directed by Romuald Wicza Pokojski in association with the Polish Cultural Institute. If you ever wanted to see a Polish woman play a German-American film star with a deep sexy voice, using a life-sized puppet, now’s your chance. If you catch me checking out her foam rubber legs, forgive me. I’m only…human. Schedule and tickets can be found at www.lamama.org.

On November 13, the folks at the Metropolitan Playhouse will do a brave thing by reviving the most popular American play of the 19th century, which happens to be “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” Considered the height of progressivism in its day, this anti-slavery problem play (adapted from the Harriet Beecher Stowe novel) was mightily punished in the 1960s for the portrayal of its submissive hero — thereafter making his name an insult. Done in the Metropolitan’s serious, almost archaeological fashion, the production will no doubt allow us to see both takes on this ultimate melodrama. Find out why folks say the Metropolitan Playhouse is growin’ like Topsy! The play is up until December 12. Learn more at www.metropolitanplayhouse.org.

Opening November 17 at Walkerspace is The Play Company’s world-premiere of Eliza Clark’s “Edgewise.” A writer on the new AMC series Rubicon, Clark here offers a serious tale of three fast food workers whose mundane world is suddenly turned into a bloody battleground. Directed by Trip Cullman, the show runs through December 4. Full info can be found at: www.playco.org.

Many show titles inspire me to cross my legs, but probably none more so than “The Last Castrato” — which, as the press release informs us, is “inspired by true events.” The play purports to tell the story of one Alessandro Moreschi, the last of those unfortunates who involuntarily made the ultimate sacrifice for their art. All kidding aside, the show promises to feature some authentic liturgical music sung by men with very high voices. Okay, that was no kidding aside. But I will say the cast looks excellent. It includes Frank Anderson, who was terrific in Metropolitan Playhouse’s “The Return of Peter Grimm” (for which he won an Innovative Theatre Award) and Abe Goldfarb (better known to some as burlesque host Bastard Keith). At any rate, I heard this piece was originally much longer, but they had to cut it down. “The Last Castrato” opens November 16 at the Connelly Theatre. More info: www.lastcastrato.com.

On the international front, P.S. 122 will be hosting the German company Ballhaus Naunynstrasse — a troupe that specializes in communicating the Turkish immigrant experience. We might not have many Turks to assimilate in the U.S., but we’ve got practically everyone else — so it will be interesting to look at familiar tensions through another pair of eyes. The group will be presenting two pieces: “Klassentreffen — The 2nd Generation,” which gives the perspective of the children of Turkish immigrants, will be presented November 17-18. “Ferienlager — The 3rd Generation” (November 20-21) is from the point of view of the grandchildren. Both works are so-called “documentary theater” — real people telling their own stories. For more info, www.ballhausnaunynstrasse.de.

The Incubator Arts Project at St. Mark’s Church is fast becoming my favorite theater development series — the one forum I’ve consistently found where the artists seem freed from all commercial restraint and let their hair down to do truly interesting things. (In the last show I saw there, the cast moved a sofa into the audience.) Coming up next in the series is “Timberbrit,” an opera about Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake that was workshopped at the Tank back in 2008. The collaborators are careful to warn that their versions of the two pop stars are completely fictionalized. And the music is played at a fraction of the original speed, so any recreational drugs you might have otherwise considered taking are clearly superfluous! Performances are November 18 through the 20. Tickets and info: www.timberbrit.com.

On November 19, the self-proclaimed “Coolest Band Ever” — The Maestrosities — will be bringing their shenanigans to Dixon Place. The tuneful sextet plays marching band instruments with a repertoire embracing everything from Tin Pan Alley to 80s pop music, pausing only to bicker periodically and otherwise make fools of themselves (did I mention they’re clowns?). I’ve never been in so cranky a mood The Maestrosities couldn’t laugh me out of it. I recommend this engagement highly. Incidentally, Maestrosities’ member Glen Heroy will be prominently featured in the new PBS series “Circus” (premiering November 3). See www.dixonplace.org and www.maestrosities.com for more info.

Over at the Flea, you can get your first taste of holiday action with Stephen Banks’ “Looking at Christmas.” Banks is not only head writer of “SpongeBob SquarePants” but is also well known as “Billy the Mime” from the 2005 documentary “The Aristocrats.” But don’t be deceived by cuddly credentials. The Flea warns that “This offbeat holiday comedy is recommended for audiences age 15 and over.” What could it possibly contain that’s more warped than “SpongeBob”? Well, the premise is something about the Christmas displays in Fifth Avenue shops coming to life. It’s directed by Jim Simpsons (the Flea’s artistic director himself) and stars their in-house repertory company The Bats. “Looking at Christmas” opens November 20 and runs through December 30. Savvy timing! More info: www.theflea.org.

Last but not least, I hope you’ll see Untitled Theatre Company #61’s adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” at 3LD. This is the same novel that became the movie “Blade Runner” and it’ll be making full use of 3LD’s high-tech video and other electronic bells and whistles. But the real reason you should see it is that it features ME in an uncharacteristic role as a shallow, insincere show biz journalist! Can you believe it? It’s so important to stretch. The show runs November 18 through December 11. For info on tickets, please go to: www.untitledtheater.com.