The plays are the thing

One of my favourite things about being in New York is the range of theatrical experiences at your fingertips. Whether it’s a man in gothic get-up, face painted white for no apparent reason, strolling purposefully down Lafayette as if he were heading to a business meeting, or a fully ticketed performance in a traditional theatre space, there’s a lot of drama available in this city.

Aside from the daily smorgasbord of self-dramatisations I can observe on the street for free, I have paid to see three excellent, if disturbing, shows. One was a production of Harold Pinter’s The Homecoming, a production marking the 40th anniversary of the play’s Broadway debut. A visceral and savage play, in which the excellent acting and masterful use of language ultimately cannot – for me, anyway – disguise the bitter taste of Pinter’s hatred of women. Another was Conversations in Tusculum, a new play by Richard Nelson set in a bourgois enclave outside Rome (that era’s Hamptons, if you will), which charts the sad decline of empire and the plot to kill Caesar, with parallels to present-day politics that are obvious without being cliche. (So exciting to see Aidan Quinn, David Straithairn and Brian Dennehy in full spittle from my front row seat.) The third, Betrayed, was based on a New Yorker article by George Packer about Iraqi translators working for the US inside the Green Zone, and about how they were, in various ways, hung out to dry by the administration they were risking their lives for, just by turning up to work each day. Read more about the origins for the article and its theatrical adaptation here.

The next day I balanced my dose of politically charged drama with a new pair of shoes, and, while grateful for the opportunity to see these important works, wondered if they can ever do more than preach to the converted.

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