Looking through theatre listings lately, Gothamist has noticed an abundance of biographical shows. A passing fever or a much-needed assertion by at least one artistic camp that thoughtful history matters? You be the judge: go immerse yourself in someone else's life at one of these soon-to-open or recently opened works:
Do Not Go Gentle, which is being produced by the Mirror Repertory Company, stars Geraint Wyn Davies in Leon Pownall’s play about the poet Dylan Thomas, who had an unhealthy obsession with Shakespeare. Thomas had his humorous side, but his alcoholism kept him teetering on the edge for a long time before the inevitable crash, so you may want to shy away from this if you like your history heavy on the hope. Mirror Rep’s current season theme may be one of the reasons for the proliferation of biography-as-play pieces; the company is highlighting shows that “focus on unique aspects of great writers’ work,” and in that spirit they have another member of this genre on the boards right now: Clurman. Ronald Rand wrote and acts in this life story of Harold Clurman, the famous theatre director and writer and (probably not coincidentally) one of the inspirations Mirror Rep cites for the company’s establishment in 1983. This sensitive but not adulatory portrayal of Clurman, a giant in Broadway’s history, was first produced a few years ago.
The Aviator lost out at the Oscars, but with Flight, Garth Wingfield bets on people’s interest in the era and subject and takes on another pioneer of the aviation industry, Charles Lindbergh. Unlike the first two shows, this is not a one-man deal; it also doesn’t follow Lindbergh’s entire life, but just the stretch between his trans-Atlantic crossing and his descent into anti-Semitism with the onset of WWII (something people are more familiar with after Philip Roth’s latest book, which imagines Lindbergh as President). The mind- and morality-distorting pressures of fame are not, it wouldn’t seem, a recent phenomenon.
Florence Kelley was never anywhere near as famous as Lindbergh, which is probably why her name doesn’t ring many bells these days, but she was an important advocate for children’s welfare around the turn of the 20th century. In Children’s Crusader, Arthur Pennino brings Kelley’s life to life, from her genteel upbringing to her tireless work both in the field and behind the scenes to improve children’s lives and tighten laws protecting them. The subtitle of the play, which stars Melanie Rey as Kelley, is “A Parable of the Progressive Age,” and it seems likely that, although the government isn’t exactly relaxing child labor laws, Kelley would still today be presented with a daunting task in trying to secure the needs of workers.
Finally, if you want to ride the biographical theatre trend but don’t think you can stomach something very serious this weekend, check out Lypsinka’s new show, The Passion of the Crawford. John Epperson inhabits the persona of Lypsinka performing as Joan Crawford in a “fantasia” on the actress’ life, which also features The Amazing Russello. No heavy research or plodding analysis here, just good ol’ glam, gossip and a re-creation of one of Crawford’s last interviews.
Details: Do Not Go Gentle and Clurman are both showing at the Arclight Theatre, 152 W. 71st St. DNGG runs until June 13, playing Mon. & Wed.-Sat. 8pm, Sun. 3pm. Clurman runs until May 21, with performances Sat. at 2pm, Sun at 7pm.
Flight begins previews May 8, and opens May 16 to run until June 19 at the Lucille Lortel Theatre, 121 Christopher St. Showtimes are Mon. & Wed.-Sat. at 8pm, Sat. at 2pm, Sun. at 3pm.
Children’s Crusader will be at the Metropolitan Playhouse, 220 E. 4th St., until May 21. Shows are Thurs.-Sat. at 8pm, Sun. at 2pm.
The Passion of the Crawford is at the Zipper Theatre, 336 W. 37th St., until May 14. Shows are Thurs.-Sat. 8pm.