We all miss going to the theater, but there are distinct pleasures to be had experiencing theater in the comfort of your home. Besides being able to pour a glass of wine or beer at your leisure and not have to plunk down a king’s ransom for a night out with all the attendant costs, I’m starting to think we have a new, and to an extent equally satisfying, way to enjoy the performing arts, at least for now. Of course it doesn’t replace the up-close-and-personal of the live stage, but in some ways, platforms like Zoom are giving us a closer and perhaps even more personal connection to the performance.
I recently saw two Zoom events - a play reading of “Sundogs” and “Reconnected: A Virtual Experience with Mentalist Jason Suran.” “Sundogs” is a compellingly powerful work by Howard Emanuel, featuring Armie Hammer, Jenn Gambatese, Jordan Bridges, Maurice Jones and Tobias Segal, with direction by Heather Arnson.
It concerns the plight of Army recruits on leave in working class Pennsylvania. One of them was seriously wounded in action. And the plot revolves around the fraught dynamic between them as we see how raw emotions have a way of drawing out the truth at the expense of happiness.
Technically, there were some neat tricks with images moving in and out of frame. It helped focus attention on the action while allowing the peripheral activity to lose emphasis in much the same way that lighting on a traditional stage directs your attention. And of course, the camera gives us the close-up which should be an advantage, though trained stage actors need to be mindful that less is best in these conditions or the effect is overblown.
Look for “Sundogs” on Broadway when the COVID-19 smoke finally clears.
While “Reconnected” is not quite theater, I had an absolute thrill over the weekend in the virtual company of Jason Suran along with some two dozen fellow audience members hosted by Alan Cumming over a very engaging one hour.
Suran is a self-described mentalist with a bag of mind-bending “tricks."
I’ve been to several other shows featuring similar astonishing stunts but what separates “Reconnected” at home is the virtue of intimacy. He interacts with everyone he can see on that Zoom gallery and though I’m too much of a skeptic to believe that he actually has the power to read minds, there were a few instances in which there truly was no explanation. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself wondering if some element of mind control was at play.
I’ve always thought that in the theater it’s easy to plant people for these psychic displays, but doing a show via Zoom it’s hard to hide the strings. Is it possible that everyone except me was in on the act? Hopefully you can trust me when I tell you I came into this totally oblivious.
I have to give a big hand to Jason Suran who’s managed to utilize the existing technology to his advantage. I swear he must have thrown some kind of psychic ray right through the screen. His stage show was converted via Zoom into a unique hybrid entertainment. And now seeing the potential that technology affords both these productions, a new art form appears to be born…and that’s no mean trick!
“Reconnected With Jason Suran” runs Fridays and Saturdays. Here’s a link to more information: jasonsuran.com/reconnected
Today in Theater History
“On the Town” opens on November 19, 1998. This revival of the 1944 musical ran for 101 total performances, and served as the Broadway debut for Modern Family's Jesse Tyler Ferguson. Here’s a look back at my review:
Broadway at Home: This week's theater events, available right on your computer or from a safe distance
November 19th at 8 p.m. EST: “Scenes from Sweet Lorraine The Play”
Sweet Lorraine is a dramatic interpretation of the final conversations between best friends Lorraine Hansberry and James Baldwin, one week before Hansberry’s passing from pancreatic cancer. This new iteration stars Tony-nominated actors Valisia LaKae, in“Motown the Musical” and Daniel J. Watts, in “Tina: The Tina Turner Musical."
It will be streamed live on Playbill’s YouTube page, with donations going to Stand Up to Cancer and the Brooklyn NAACP. There will also be an exclusive talkback afterwards.
For more information and to purchase tickets for the talkback, click here.
November 20th: Release of “If The Fates Allow: A Hadestown Holiday Album”
The 14 track album of holiday classics features the entire cast of the Tony Award-winning musical “Hadestown,” including André de Shields, Reeve Carney and Eva Noblezada. It also stars Jewelle Blackman, Yvette Gonzalez-Nacer, and Kay Trinidad as The Fates.
You can get your copy here.
November 20th and 21st at 7 p.m. EST: “Selena: A Live Drive-in Experience.”
Fans of Noblezada may also want to check out this event at Radial Park in Astoria, Queens. Guests will safely enjoy the film “Selena” as well as live performances with Noblezada and a six piece band, with an opening performance by Latin Grammy Award-winner Ella Bric.
Get tickets here.
November 22nd at 8 p.m. EST: The Seth Concert Series: Adam Pascal
Best known for his Broadway and movie portrayal of Roger in “Rent,” Pascal is this week’s guest on Sirius XM host Seth Rudetsky’s weekly concert series. The November 22nd concert is live, with tickets also available for an encore performance on the 23rd.
Get tickets here.
And finally, some fun for theater fans, each week we’ll share artwork from a Playbill cover minus the title and see if you can identify the show. We’ll have the answer the following week.
Last week’s Cryptic Playbill was “9 to 5." This stage adaption of the Dolly Parton film starring Allison Janney, Stephanie J. Block and Meghan Hilty opened in 2009 and ran for 172 total performances.