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Shows Worth Seeing:


The Good Body
By Eve Ensler
Booth Theatre
222 W. 45th St.
Box office: (212) 239-6200







This smart and funny new solo show is a sequel to The Vagina Monologues in which the subject has been expanded from genitals to general body image—the terrorism of fashion, thinness, all the harmfully narrow standards of female beauty promulgated by media and ad culture. As in The Vagina Monologues, Ensler has built the text partly out of wide-ranging interviews with women around the world, performed with a variety of accents and senses of humor, but this time there’s also a lot of storytelling in her own person. Her rage at finding herself obsessed about her stomach despite being “a radical feminist for nearly thirty years” is the thread that binds the evening together and makes it shimmer and burn. We hear from Bernice, an African-American teenager at a “fat camp,” who describes the way stores hide large clothing sizes in the back like porn, yet she also proudly revels in “chunky-dunking in the pool.” The 80-year-old founding editor of Cosmo, Helen Gurley Brown, says, “Don’t get things fixed, Eve. Don’t do it. If you do another thing always breaks down.” Soon after, Tiffany, a model, tells of marrying her Pygmalionesque plastic surgeon, who never stops working on her. There’s much, much more, and the material is powerful, fresh, and delightfully presented with Ensler’s inimitable blend of angry graciousness and intelligent charm. Never mind any sniffy reviews you may have read. Go see this show.


Death and the Ploughman
By Johannes von Saaz
Classic Stage Company
136 E. 13th St.
Box office: (212) 677-4210

Anne Bogart’s staging of this wonderfully bitter and indignant dialogue from 1401 Bohemia—never meant to be staged, originally—is a gorgeous study in stark contrasts. The subject matter is deceptively simple: a common ploughman rages against Death for stealing his beloved young wife, and Death, having never before heard such intemperate accusations, defends himself like an offended politician. The staging plays formal, geometrically mapped-out balletic movement off against less stylized, sudden seizures, cramps and grimaces. These choices, oddly enough, come off as both arbitrary and perfectly chosen, calling to mind both the vulnerability of the body and the indefatigable aspirations of humans to transcend their rotting and sinning flesh. This beautifully oblique physicalization of the play’s theme contrasts with grippingly direct acting by all three performers. Stephen Webber’s lugubriously unruffled performance as Death is not to be missed. Nor is Will Bond’s terrifically ruffled portrayal of the Ploughman. Ellen Lauren adds an interestingly complex third presence (Bogart’s addition) by seeming to embody the dead wife but often speaking as a surrogate for Death—a cruel and disorienting substitution. New Yorkers will be generally equipped to appreciate this production mainly as religious-flavored art, but Bogart should take it on the road to America, where its early-Renaissance theological provocations might actually offend or awaken a few of the right-thinking righteous.




People Are Wrong!
By Julia Greenberg and Robin Goldwasser
Vineyard Theatre
108 E. 15th St.
Box office: (212) 353-0303

There’s something wonderfully peculiar about this endearingly messy new rock-musical about a yuppie couple who move to the Catskills to escape urban insanity, only to find rural insanity in the form of a New Age cult leader whom they hire as their gardener. Instead of beautifying their property, Xanthus, the gardener, builds a runway and spaceship that he and his disciples may use to return to “the 6th dimension.” There are too many absurd plot twists to summarize. The show—a co-production of the Vineyard and Target Margin Theater—is loopy in the extreme, almost completely sung rather than spoken, and also satirical, though for long stretches you can’t tell what’s being satirized. Greenberg and Goldwasser have said that People Are Wrong! began as a bunch of disconnected humorous songs written by a bunch of friends sitting around a country house with no narrative initially in mind. The result is a show that, at its best, begins to acquire subject matter in the process of casting about for subject matter, and that (while thoroughly enjoyable) comes off as more conservative than its makers are probably aware. It begins on the Rocky Horror Show model, with the hapless couple set up for nightmarish victimization and Xanthus, the maniacal counter-culture figure, measuring them by crazy otherworldly criteria. That pattern is then turned upside-down, though, as the couple is left to flounder in their own boring ordinariness and Xanthus undergoes a self-examination and epiphany that no one treats as truly earth-shaking. If Rocky Horror parodied conventionalism and belief, People Are Wrong! parodies the pretentiously non-conventional and extols the redemptive power of sensibleness—truly a rock-and-roll offshoot for the post-rebellious, weekend-house-owning set. That doesn’t mean it’s not lots of fun, however. The songs are terrifically catchy, tuneful and 1960s-inflected with styles ranging from acid to bubble-gum to folk to funk, and the excellent band and the fabulous cast (starring John Flansburgh, half of the duo They Might Be Giants) perform with infectious exuberance. The director David Herskovits deserves much credit for finding and focusing the center of energy in this show, or maybe for making a virtue of its scatteredness.





Sakharam Binder
By Vijay Tendulkar
59E59 Theaters
59 E. 59th th St.
Box office: (212) 279-4200






This excruciating yet absorbing work by Vijay Tendulkar, India’s foremost living playwright, deals with a man who picks up other men’s discarded women—castoff wives who would otherwise be homeless, destitute or murdered with impunity—and takes them in as domestic servants and sex partners. Maria Mileaf’s rare American production is wonderfully clear and superbly acted. Anna George and Sarita Choudhury are impressively acute in opposed ways as Sakharam’s seventh and eighth “birds” (as his envious friend Dawood calls his women); one is shy, submissive and pious, the other brash, voluptuous and spoiled. Yet it’s really Bernard White’s extraordinary portrayal of Sakharam that gives the almost three-hour production gravity and tragic dimension. White vividly captures the strange, complex pathology of this man who seems to want to please his “birds” even as he bullies them, and who speaks like a freethinking crusader for women’s rights one minute and like a philistine scornful of their devotion to him the next.



Sin (A Cardinal Deposed)l
By Michael Murphy
Clurman Theatre
410 W. 42nd St.
Box office: (212) 239-6200




The action of Michael Murphy’s Sin (A Cardinal Deposed)--in this New Group production directed by Carl Forsman--consists of nothing more (or less) than the 90-minute lawyers’ deposition of an actor playing Bernard Law, the Boston Archbishop who resigned in 2002 at the height of the flap over child-sexual-abuse by priests. The deposition is occasionally accompanied by actors speaking aloud the contents of supporting letters from behind scrims. This is a documentary drama of sorts, rather unnecessarily static at times, constructed from Church records released to the public by the judge in two pertinent cases, and its claim to theatricality rests on its revelation of secrets. The playwright’s premise is that the facts surrounding the Church’s heinous policy of protecting and reassigning abusive priests cry out for wide dissemination and can be properly understood only by enacting something like the legal coercion that was necessary to secure them. That premise is a ultimately unconvincing, but Thomas Jay Ryan and John Leonard Thompson are excellent as the opposing lawyers, and John Cullum's extraordinarily nuanced performance as Cardinal Law offers a terrifically fine-featured and duly infuriating portrait of righteous self-justification and self-protection.




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