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AUTHOR READING: “LORDS OF THE SCHOOLYARD” | Set in 1970s southern suburbia, long before kids would be driven to suicide by cutting remarks hurled into cyberspace, the merciless tormentors in Ed Hamilton’s debut novel get their results the old-fashioned way — through face-to-face intimidation, made all the easier by adults who look the other way. “We were doing part of their job for them,” says the narrator of his coaches and teachers, “by showing that difference and weakness were prohibited.” An indictment of suburban boredom and banality as well as the rush we get from grabbing power and being given attention, “Lords of the Schoolyard” is told in flashbacks by Tommy Donaldson in adult form — whose candid observations about cruelty, alienation, opportunism, and betrayal never quite confirm that the “classroom cop” has evolved to the point of rehabilitation and regret; only steely self-awareness. Released last week to coincide with October’s National Bullying Prevention Month, “Lords of the Schoolyard” follows Hamilton’s 2015 collection of short story sketches (“The Chintz Age: Tales of Love and Loss for a New New York”) and 2007’s true tales of living in an iconic NYC landmark (“Legends of the Chelsea Hotel: Living with Artists and Outlaws of New York’s Rebel Mecca”). Whether through non-fiction or pure flights of fancy, Kentucky native Hamilton’s knack for hurling gritty little details at the reader will leave lasting marks long after the final page has been turned. Get the vocal version of that sensation when the Chelsea resident reads from “Lords” at a Lower East Side venue, next Friday.
Sept. 29, 7pm at Bluestockings Bookstore, Café, & Activist Center (172 Allen St., btw. Stanton & Rivington Sts.). Free (donations accepted; $5 suggested). Visit www.edhamilton.nyc, bluestockings.com, and stompoutbullying.org.
“SAM’S TEA SHACK” | For the hard-partying, soft-spoken, rap-loving, storytelling shape shifter who presides over “Sam’s Tea Shack,” all roads, even the ancient ones, lead back to Queens. While serving up the titular beverage, your host recalls colorful tales of his youth (schoolmate of Lin-Manuel Miranda; guest of honor at a coke-flowing, adult-oriented, Studio 54-set bar mitzvah) while bringing all of the curiosity, albeit none of academic qualifications, of a genealogist, anthropologist, and psychoanalyst to his “Ashkenazi Jewish boy’s fantasy he is amongst his ancestors: central Asian nomads.” Throw in sizable side orders of pop culture punditry, food criticism, and fatherly anxiety, and you’re right back where we started — in that culturally diverse borough accessible along the F train. Whether connected to the past (his grandmother on her death bed “looked quite Chinese”), summing up the present (“If the city had a king there would be more order; but the city doesn’t have a king, and I don’t want more order”), or planning the future (he’ll book Tuvan throat singers for his son’s coming of age ceremony), Sam never met an observation he didn’t want to premise with “I’m just saying.” Beware of that phrase, because something big is about to drop. And if not, well, you can’t fault a show that keeps trying to ply you with rugelach.
Through Oct. 1; Thurs., Sept. 21/28 and Wed., Sep. 29 at 9:30pm; Tues., Sept. 26, Fri., Sept. 20 & Sun., Oct. 1 at 7pm. At The Tank (312 W. 36th St., btw. Eighth & Ninth Aves.). For tickets ($12, 1 drink minimum), visit thetanknyc.org. Written by Ben Gassman and Sam Soghor. Directed by Meghan Finn; featuring Sam Soghor with Design by Normandy Sherwood; special guest performances by Adam Leon (9/21), Eliza Bent (9/27 & 9/28), and Rebecca Patek (9/30).
“DEMONSTRATION OF A DRUNK DRIVING ACCIDENT” | Students stage a cautionary play about drunk driving while facing some sobering facts about themselves, in recent NYU Tisch graduate Jacob Grover’s first full-length production. Mr. Grover was seldom if ever asleep behind the wheel while taking the classes that earned him a BFA in dramatic writing, because “Demonstration of a Drunk Driving Accident” is, well, the hack phrase of choice that comes to mind is “remarkably assured.” Rest assured, the playwright doesn’t go down the easy road. The group of high school seniors who struggle to put on the play are a complex bunch, with the requisite amount of skeletons, rivalries, and anxieties that tend to come to a boil when a group of young people are put in a confined space and forced to bond. Compared to the library in “The Breakfast Club,” the gutted car body that serves as the set piece for their at-risk production seems positively claustrophobic — all the better for coaxing things to the surface.
Thurs./Fri., Sept. 21/22 at 8pm; Sat/Sun., Sept. 23/24 at 7pm. At the Alchemy Theater Laboratory (104 W. 14th St., btw. Sixth & Seventh Aves.). For tickets ($10), visit brownpapertickets.com. Artist info at jacobpgrover.com.
—BY SCOTT STIFFLER