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BY SCOTT STIFFLER | COLOR Nobody’s a saint, all of the major players have a secret and almost everyone involved is willing to bend the truth to advance their agenda — in Gene Ruffini’s anything-but-black-and-white courtroom drama, “Color.” It’s the latest socially conscious production from director Elizabeth Ruf Maldonado, whose last production at Theater for the New City (“The Iron Heel”) gave an operatic treatment to Jack London’s dystopian novel.
This time around, Ruf Maldonado turns her attention to the ease with which racial attitudes can become entangled with politics and gender issues. In “Color,” an African-American seeking the Democratic Party presidential nomination has a profile that reads like a Republican operative’s dream. He’s got darker skin and far more progressive politics than Obama, he’s in a biracial relationship and he’s a Hollywood actor. After being accused of rape by a seemingly respectable white girl (who worked as an extra on one of his films), the ensuing trial seems to be all his enemies need to derail those White House ambitions. Ambition, it turns out, is behind every twist and turn in what Ruf Maldonado calls a “wake-up call to Americans who have been seduced by the corporate media to focus on the titillating and the superficial rather than issues of real import.”
Jan. 16-Feb 2. Thurs.-Sat. at 8pm and Sun. at 3pm. At Theater For The New City (155 First Ave., btw. 9th &-10th Sts.). For tickets ($15, $10 for students and seniors), call 212-254-1109 or visit theaterforthenewcity.net.
HANAFUDA DENKI (THE DANCE OF DEATH)
Dust this “Hanafuda Denki” for prints, and you’ll find a production that’s been under the thumb of everything from psychedelia to goth, manga and kabuki — all set to a soundtrack that draws from Japanese classical music, modern pop, 1920s American show tunes and Weimar Republic cabaret. Brought to the stage by Japan’s experimental Ryuzanji Company, this highly choreographed tale from the late avant-garde master Shuji Terayama was written in 1967 — and predicts, by several decades, our ravenous appetite for zombies and mashups (in this case, infusing a “Munsters” and “Beetlejuice” mentality onto Bertolt Brecht’s “The Threepenny Opera”).
The action takes place in a Tokyo funeral parlor during World War I, and concerns the dilemma of a dead funeral director Danjuro and his equally dead wife. Their daughter Kitaro, who’s also crossed the river into the land of the departed, upsets the family’s balance by falling in love with living a goth boy whose pulse makes him an unfit suitor. Satirical and boisterous yet tinged with sentiment, this meditation on life and death asks if love is enough to fill “incomplete cadavers” (playwright Terayama’s telling shorthand for humans).
Jan. 21-26. Tues.-Fri. at 8:30pm, Sat. at 4pm & 8:30pm and Sun. at 4pm. At HERE Arts Center (145 Sixth Ave., at Dominick St., one block south of Spring St.). For tickets ($25, $20 for students & seniors), call 212-352-3101 or visit here.org. Also visit ryuzanji.com.
THE TENNESSEE PROJECT
This collection of seldom-performed one-acts by Tennessee Williams recontextualizes the playwright’s themes of discovery and identity, as a way to explore “a fervently changing American society.” Helmed by resident director Daniella Caggiano, “Project” features Bedlam Ensemble company members Cassandra T. Seale, Catherine LeClair and Samantha Jane Williams as well as Alexander Miskin, Liam Cunningham, Jenny Hann, Thomas Wood, Helyn Rain Messenger, Christine Schisano, Tory Flack, Katie Henly, Giorgio Panetta, Txai Frota and Annie-Sage Whitehurst..
Through Jan. 26, at 8pm, at the Gene Frankel Theatre (24 Bond St., btw. Lafayette & Bowery). Additional matinee performances at 1pm on Jan. 18, 19, 25 and 26. For tickets ($20), visit tennessee.brownpapertickets.com. For more info, visit bedlamensemble.org.
PLATONOV, OR THE DISINHERITED
The last time Jay Scheib premiered a work at The Kitchen, his academia, sci-fi and Fassbinder-inspired computer simulation conspiracy tale (“World of Wires”) earned him a 2012 OBIE for Best Direction. Now, the multimedia designer returns to West Chelsea with a new theatrical event that doubles as a film — shot by the cast, live-edited and beamed to cinemas across the country while being projected onto screens integrated into the onstage set.
A complex practitioner of grafting multiple themes, genres and technologies onto his source material, the home base for Scheib’s current project — The Kitchen’s bare bones black box theater — is a fitting location for a production that adds its own body and soul to the skeletal remains of Anton Chekhov’s first play. Found in a safe-deposit box after his death, Scheib’s take on the unfinished work is billed as “Platonov” on the stage, and “The Disinherited” in its cinematic form.
Although the funny/gloomy Russian playwright thought his “Platonov” unfit for public consumption (hence the lockbox treatment), many familiar Chekhovian elements are here — from unrequited love to gunshots to the dark cloud of a family home in danger of being lost. With much of the action unfolding at the countryside home of Sasha and Platonov, tempers flare when the title character gravitates towards his old college flame, in an effort to carve out a new life. That choice proves ill-advised, setting off a chain of events whose consequences include attempted murder and suicide, lynching, double crosses and heart attacks.
Scheib’s adaptation centers around the tragic irony of its young, yet doomed characters — whom, he notes, “could have just gone to bed and continued along in their semi-prosperous yet semi-boring lives — but instead stayed up and got more drunk and chose a destruction they knew somehow was coming anyway.” On the bright side, they did get to be in a play… and a movie!
Wed. through Fri., Jan., 15-17 & 22–24 at 8pm. At The Kitchen (512 W. 19th St., btw. 10th & 11th Aves.). For tickets ($25), call 212-255-5793, x11 or visit thekitchen.org. Screens at 8pm, Jan. 22, at AMC Empire 25 in Times Square (234 W. 42nd St., btw. Seventh & Eighth Aves.) and Jan. 16 & 23 at BAM Rose Cinemas (Peter Jay Sharp Building, 30 Lafayette Ave., Brooklyn). For screening tickets, visit bam.org or amctheatres.com. Visit jayscheib.com, and follow The Kitchen at twitter.com/The KitchenNYC and facebook.com/TheKitchenNYC.
Larry Kirwan — lead singer of the Irish-American rock band Black 47 and a playwright who penned the music and lyrics to “Transport” (debuting next month at the Irish Repertory Theatre) — is already on the boards of another Chelsea performance space. Following its acclaimed 2013 premiere, Kirwan’s Stephen Foster musical has returned to 23rd Street’s the cell for a run that commemorates the 150th anniversary of Foster’s death (at age 37, on January 13, 1864).
Drawing from the Foster songbook (“Oh! Susanna,” “Camptown Races,” “Beautiful Dreamer”), this re-imagining of his still-popular work integrates new material by Kirwan to create “a modern musical and dramatic sensibility.” Set in Lower Manhattan’s crowded and violent Five Points, the action unfolds in a saloon — where locals (including Foster, who lived in the neighborhood) converge, as ethnic, racial and political frictions explode into the Draft Riots of 1863.
Thurs., Fri., Sat. at 8pm and Sun. at 3pm, through Feb. 2 (no Jan. 19 performance). At the cell (338 W. 23rd St., btw. Eighth & Ninth Aves.). For tickets ($18), call 800-838-3006 or visit thecelltheatre.org.
I COULD SAY MORE
Outside, the bitter sting of winter will be felt for two more months — but in the Hudson Guild Theatre, a group of nine is chilling out at a Long Island summer beach house. In “I Could Say More,” frustrated writer Carl (married to Drew, and father to adopted son Jason) complicates his two-week vacation by inviting the object of his true affection: his husband’s brother, who arrives with a new boy toy in tow. When two equally conflicted straight couples join the group, liquor flows — uncorking old rivalries, unrequited love and full-tilt neurosis. Foolish dreams of seaside serenity give way to fork-in-the-road decisions about life, love and commitment. Written and directed by Chuck Blasius, this world premiere is the latest from Other Side Productions — whose 2011 production of “Accidentally, Like a Martyr” was a critical and popular success.
Through Feb. 7, every Mon. and Thurs., Fri, Sat. at 8pm and Sun. at 7pm (except Jan. 20) at 8 and Sundays at 7. At Hudson Guild Theatre (441 W. 26th St., btw. 9th & 10th Aves.) For tickets ($18), call 212-352-3101 or visit othersideproductions.org. For info on the playwright and a video preview featuring interviews with the cast, visit chuckblasius.com.