2005_09_arts_mason.jpg With the New York Musical Theatre Festival in its final week, we’ll say no more other than to encourage you to try to get to one of the shows if you haven’t already (or if you have!). Gothamist caught Karen Mason bringing Dorothy Parker back from the dead in You Might As Well Live, a solo performance comprised almost entirely of Parker’s words set to music (Norman Mathews did the music and adaptation). Mason was the first Tanya (whichever ABBA member that is, we always get confused) in Mamma Mia! on Broadway and has plenty of other major shows under her belt, so you go in expecting top-notch singing and she doesn’t disappoint; however, the storyline is a tad flimsy (Parker is on deadline, trying to find old bits of her writing to publish in a collection) and too often seems structured around nothing more than the aim to include Parker’s choicest epigrams (you can lead a horticulture…). Still, the atmosphere evoked by the set is pleasingly noirish, and while Mason’s voice has evidently not been roughed up the way Parker’s must have been, given the quantities of alcohol and cigarettes Parker used, that’s probably a good thing – it’s lovely to listen to her give life to Parker’s witticisms. Side note: Playbill.com has a good recent interview with Mason.

But let’s move on from festivals, shall we, even though there seems to be at least a small one opening just about every week these days. On stage right now there’s a glut of shows dealing with Middle East and terrorism-related issues, and for once, since images from Hurricane Katrina have so dominated recent news, maybe it won’t feel quite so much like sitting down in front of the TV to go to these. First is the improbably subtitled Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: A Romantic Comedy, which isn’t a strict play per se but rather more a sketch comedy by Negin Farsad and Alexander Zalben, a k a Madame Funnypants. Rather than the fractured fairytale/Romeo and Juliet-type story that we at first suspected, with a groan, that it would be, the show actually imagines the two sides in the saga as a troubled boyfriend and girlfriend, a characterization that doesn’t seem all that wacky when you think about it, at least if you have a sense of humor.

2005_09_arts_desert.jpg More serious is Desert Sunrise, a multidisciplinary show written by a former Israeli soldier, Misha Shulman. In it, an Israeli man and a Palestinian man bond after a chance encounter, but the Palestinian’s wife soon arrives and brings with her all the ancient baggage from the conflict between the two peoples. The performance uses music, dance, and puppetry, not to mention three languages (English, Arabic, Hebrew), actors from an array of different countries and portions adapted from different versions of the classic Greek tragedy Agamemnon. It should be quite interesting to see how Shulman uses the show to work through his own experiences on the front of that seemingly eternal Middle East battle; plus, there are going to be discussions held with peace activists from the region on some nights (see the show's website for the schedule of those).

Another person working through feelings dredged up unpleasantly by current events is Sharbari Ahmed, a Muslim Bangladeshi-American now based here in NYC. Her play, Raisins not Virgins, sounds at least semi-autobiographical, as it follows a woman named Sahar Salam who is Muslim by birth, but when her boyfriend gets caught up in radical Islam she begins to rebel in earnest against the religion’s strictures. From the looks of it, Ahmed’s play combines some of the humor from the Madame Funnypants sketch with the thoughtfulness of Desert Sunrise, and we’re quite curious to hear a Muslim woman’s take on the “New York dating angst” that is supposed to form the backdrop for the show.

We didn’t know we were keen to hear an 80-year-old’s views on the same subject, but Bob Morris’ Assisted Loving, which is about a frustrated single guy dealing with his father’s attempts to start dating again, sounds pretty funny. Morris writes the Sunday Age of Dissonance column in the Times, so for us that speaks well for the show in the first place, plus he knows whereof he speaks, after having lived with his elderly father for a year and going through all sorts of awkward/unpleasant-but-hilarious-in-retrospect situations. It’s a one-man show, with Morris doing the honors as is only appropriate, and you should definitely try to catch it and see how many quirky insights you can glean from it.

Details: You Might As Well Live plays twice more, on 9/30 at 8pm and 10/2 at 4:30pm. It’s at the 45th Street Theatre, 354 W. 45th St. Tickets are at Theatermania. The NY Musical Theatre Festival also closes on 10/2; see this PDF of the program for information on all the shows that are still playing.

The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: A Romantic Comedy is playing at Peoples Improv, 154 W. 29, through Oct. 14. Shows are Fri. at 8pm; tickets are available here.

Desert Sunrise opens on Thurs. and plays through Oct. 23, Thurs.-Sat 8pm, Sun. 3pm. Theatre for the New City, 155 First Ave. Tickets via Theatermania.

Raisins Not Virgins is at the WorkShop Theater, 312 W. 36th St., 4th Floor. Performances are Tues.-Fri. 8pm, Sat. 9pm except no performances this Thurs. or Fri. Tickets at Theatermania.

Assisted Loving is at the Lucille Lortel Theatre (121 Christopher St.) for 4 more performances after opening last night (it’s part of the MCC Theater for Thought series). They are 10/2, 10/10, 10/16, and 10/17, all at 8pm. Tickets via Ticket Central.