Some people might know Daniel K. Isaac for his work as an actor in New York theater, and even more might remember him for playing Ben Kim in the Showtime series "Billions." Isaac is the only child of a Korean immigrant single parent, and his new play came out of a pretty simple question: essentially, why am I more well versed in Greek and Roman mythology, Shakespeare and Marvel Comics than Korean history, folk tales and music?
He answers his question grandly with Once Upon a (korean) Time, commissioned by Ma-Yi Theater Company, which is presenting it at La Mama's Ellen Stewart Theatre, located at 66 East 4th Street in the East Village. In just 95 minutes, Isaac twists together almost a century of Korean history with some of the country's most prominent myths and tales.
The history Issac covers is deadly serious: Korea under Japanese occupation, Korean women sexually exploited by Japanese soldiers, the civil war that split the country in the '50s, and the L.A. riots of 1992. The play is meant for adult viewers, and a few wartime scenes are graphically violent.
But the folk tales in his narrative sometimes veer toward absurdity, and part of the play's power is the way it shifts tone so seamlessly. The seven cast members are excellent in the way they shift among roles and modes, and director Ralph B. Peña and his crew perform wondrous feats in moving the audience through time and space within the physical and budgetary limitations imposed by a small venue. Through Sept. 18; ma-yitheatre.org
Michael Olatuja is an acoustic and electric bassist with an incredibly diverse resume — he's performed with Diana Ross, Stevie Wonder and Shakira, played in Broadway shows like Frozen and The Color Purple, and collaborated with Lin-Manuel Miranda on the score for tick, tick... BOOM!
Olatuja was born in London and came to New York to study music. But he spent his early childhood in Nigeria, and his West African heritage bubbles up throughout his most recent album, Lagos Pepper Soup. He calls his style cinematic Afrobeat, and he'll be showing it off with his band on Friday night at 5 p.m., on the Broadway Pedestrian Plaza between 43rd and 44th Streets in Times Square.
The show is presented as part of the Carnegie Hall Citywide initiative... it's free, and you can mark your calendars now for two more shows at the same time on the following two Fridays, featuring the a cappella vocal trio T.3 (Sept. 16), and brass quartet The Westerlies (Sept. 23). Sept. 9 at 5 p.m.; carnegiehall.org