Love the World You’re In
As the curtain rises in Stephen Adly Guirgis’s “Our Lady of 121st Street,” a pantless man exclaims, “What kinda [expletive] world is this?” That sensational line established Guirgis as one of the most exciting voices of his generation when the play opened in 2002, and in 2020 it’s a question we might find ourselves repeating on a daily basis.
On Saturday, members of the original Off Broadway cast will reunite for an online reading of “Our Lady” to raise funds for the Labyrinth Theater Company, where Guirgis made his mark as an actor and co-artistic director. The performance will be streamed live on the company’s website at 8 p.m. Eastern time and will remain available for 24 hours.
Guirgis won the Pulitzer Prize for “Between Riverside and Crazy,” and his ability to combine take-no-prisoners social commentary with screwball humor is never better than in “Our Lady,” which features a motley crew gathered to pay their respects to their late teacher, the terrifying Sister Rose, whose body has been stolen.
Elizabeth Rodríguez directs the all-star cast, which includes Liza Colón-Zayas from the original production, as well as Bobby Cannavale and Laurence Fishburne. With this bittersweet farce, Guirgis makes a case for celebrating life, regardless of the kind of world we’re stuck in at the moment. Pants or no pants.
The Grand Ole Opry Marches On
Dependability is a hallmark of the Grand Ole Opry. For nearly a century, the world’s longest-running radio show has hardly deviated from its weekly, Saturday night broadcast schedule. Even a pandemic couldn’t shutter the institution: Since mid-March, the show has continued broadcasting bare-bones sets — produced by smaller crews and with performers stationed six feet apart — from its famed stage in Nashville.
Support for the troops is similarly written into the show’s history. During World War II, Opry personnel organized tours of United States military bases, and its current members, including Trace Adkins, Carrie Underwood and Craig Morgan, have upheld the tradition by performing in U.S.O. concerts.
The Opry’s patriotism will be on view Saturday, when its annual “Salute the Troops” Memorial Day special airs. This year the honoree list includes essential workers as well as members of the military. Morgan, an Army veteran and a country music long-timer who scored a minor hit last year with “The Father, My Son, and the Holy Ghost,” will perform, as will the “American Idol” alum Kellie Pickler and Steven Curtis Chapman, a contemporary Christian musician.
Since 1989, when Congress designated Bill Robinson’s birthday, May 25, as National Tap Dance Day, tap dancers have gathered for classes, performances and jam sessions on or around that date. This year, of course, such gatherings of glorious noise must happen only online.
Also on Sunday from noon to 4 p.m., tap’s top entrepreneurial sisters, Chloe and Maud Arnold, are hosting a Tap-a-Thon on Instagram; leading hoofers from the around the world will perform, soliciting donations to help their out-of-work colleagues.
The show was created by three of today’s greatest tap dancers — Derick K. Grant, Jason Samuels Smith and the incomparably elegant Dormeshia — as a demonstration of the jazz rhythm and spirit sometimes missing from tap today. The format is old-school, but the technique is up-to-date, and the make-it-look-easy artistry is deep. These three can do anything, and still they will swing.
For tap dancers, there’s no better master class. For everyone else, there’s no better opportunity to enjoy how the past of this great American art lives in the present.
Americana in Its Raucous Glory
Charles Ives (1874-1954) was one of the first classical composers to embrace the clamoring contrasts of American life. When one of his gently unfolding pastoral melodies takes a turn into dissonant thickets, it can sound as if Ives is diagraming the American landscape — geographically and psychologically. These varied traits, and Ives’s breakneck transitions, can be heard in his orchestral work “Decoration Day” (named for the holiday that preceded Memorial Day and commemorated soldiers who died in the Civil War).
Though eventually included as the second movement in the composer’s “New England Holidays” Symphony, Ives confirmed that “Decoration Day” could stand on its own. A 2017 recording by the Seattle Symphony presents the work in all its complex splendor.
The grave opening has an appropriately elegiac air. Near the midpoint, a striding rhythm briefly interrupts the overall sense of solemnity. After seven minutes and 15 seconds have passed (in Seattle’s rendition), Ives quotes “Taps” — an explicit testimony to the country’s wartime fallen. Before long, a raucous celebration of Americana parades through the music. It sounds like a nation trying to turn a page. Yet this composer’s talent for placing moods in counterpoint ensures that mourning never fades entirely from view.
SETH COLTER WALLS
Healing Wounds With Laughs
To support members of the military as they coped with the aftereffects of injuries they sustained in the line of duty, the director John Wager and the film producer Ray Reo partnered with Wounded Warrior Project to pick five afflicted veterans for a program that helped them turn their personal tragedies into stand-up fodder. The four men and one woman received coaching from Lewis Black, Bob Saget, B.J. Novak, Zach Galifianakis and others, and then performed at the Hollywood Improv and the Laugh Factory. Wager documented their experiences in the 2013 film “Comedy Warriors: Healing Through Humor.”
Two participants, the Army Sgt. Joe Kashnow and Army Staff Sgt. Bobby Henline (both retired), have continued to perform after completing the program. Kashnow, who lost a leg in an explosion while driving a truck in Iraq, toured in 2019 with Marc Price. Henline, who suffered burns over almost half of his body in a roadside bombing in Iraq and enjoys letting audiences take in his appearance before quipping, “You should see the other guy,” appeared in an episode of Showtime’s “Shameless.” You can see his new material through videos he posts on TikTok and Instagram.
If you want to see how it all started for Kashnow and Henline, “Comedy Warriors” is available to stream free on Tubi; you can also buy or rent it on YouTube, iTunes, Vudu and Amazon Prime Video.
SEAN L. McCARTHY
Stripes and Little Stars
This Memorial Day weekend may have less marching and baton twirling than usual, but it will still offer an opportunity to join in some jubilant steps.
Alexa Maxwell, a company dancer, will lead the event, which is part of Ballet Breaks, a free series through May 31 for ages 3 to 8 (though older children will enjoy it, too). During last weekend’s program, devoted to “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” I watched participants learn a few basic ballet positions and movements, then gleefully incorporate them into a brief passage from the dance.
Maxwell will start with a warm-up, explaining that Balanchine intended “Stars and Stripes” as a balletic parade. Moving to live piano music from the dance’s finale, children will master a simple combination of steps. According to an email about the session, which requires registration at City Ballet’s website, “there will be a lot of marching, saluting and skipping.”