Unmasked Man

photo by theater-words


I met a friendly usher last week at Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark.

“Having fun?” Andy inquired as I stretched my Intermission Legs.

“Sure am!”

Several short exchanges later, Andy brandished the ultimate Spidey coup de théâtre: the words “RISE ABOVE” freshly tattooed along the inside of his forearm. Why the lyric, I asked? Turns out he’d been inspired by the resilience of ensemble member Chris Tierney. So much for Tierney’s much publicized near-death stage tumble–Andy told me Tierney planned to be back in the show by opening (March 15, i.e., The Ides of March). He had attended recent performances, and was “dancing in the aisles to show people how well he was doing.” “RISE ABOVE,” then, was a tattoo of solidarity. My usher-informant also had a “LiveStrong”-style rubber wristband that the whole company was sporting in support of theirbackbreaking cast mate. He couldn’t have been more clear: “Chris is my frikkin hero.”

photo by theater-words

“Rise Above” — one of the show’s several anthems — isn’t just a tattoo, a popish refrain, or a declaration of theme, it’s a reference to “Spider-Man’s” most exhilarating component part: flight.

You know it’s coming, you’ve read about the casualties, and the pre-show safety advisory (“DON’T TOUCH SPIDEY!”) has you all nervous, but hell — I dare anyone not to stupidly gawk when those actors crouch far upstage then pounce to the upper balcony. There is a palpable feeling of space breaking and theater transcending itself in these inspired moments. The nightly thrill of these maneuvers surely explains some of my usher’s enthusiasm.

As for the actual plot? Spidey fights shiny mutants, has an aerial make-out session, and proposes over canned pears– you know the drill. It’s mythic, if sometimes cryptic stuff. One wonders about the narrative integrity of a character’s descent “from the astral plane” via an arachnid ensemble shoe-ganza. (Zappos time!) And I’m still trying to figure out where that Nazis chorus came from. And where did it go?

But all this is really beside the point. It’s really all about the flight.

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Birneys Horizons

"See me, feel me, touch me, heal me!" Michelle Pawk and Reed Birney; photo by Joan Marcus


Reed Birney in “A Small Fire” at Playwrights Horizons.


After a heartbreaking turn in last year’s “Circle Mirror Transformation” (postmodernism’s theater games take on “A Chorus Line”) Birney is back at Playwrights Horizons in Adam Bock’s “A Small Fire.” Birney plays the husband of a woman who slowly loses her sense of smell, taste, sight, and hearing. (She can have sex we discover. Them’s some brave actors!)

Birney isn’t the center of the piece, but as always, he’s overflowing with heart, empathy, humor, and spontaneity. He effortlessly replicates the thoughts, gestures, and emotions that ultimately define us as regular people. You just feel for the guy.

I’m a fan, and you should be too! Thankfully, Birney seems to be constantly employed. Look for him in Roundabout’s “Dream of the Burning Boy” starting in February.


Playwrights Horizons seems to have misplaced an apostrophe – has anyone seen it? That menace behind the film “Two Weeks Notice” is probably to blame. Until then, the playwrights won’t have any horizons, they’ll just, y’know, be stationed next to them. Such a shame.

Peace, Love, and Belarus

In a gesture of solidarity and dissent, we’re gathering today to protest censorship. “Free Belarus,” a theater company performing in downtown’s Under the Radar Festival, has temporarily escaped suppression by fleeing Belarus for New York. Their play, “Being Harold Pinter,” is the runaway hit of the moment.


Today’s demonstration has been organized via text message: “PROTEST JAN 19@12P. RAIN OR SHINE. WE WILL NOT BE DETERRED. SPREAD THE WORD.” The Public Theater (which runs Under the Radar) is producing the event with Amnesty International. At noon, the scheduled starting time, about 200 very prompt people have gathered on East 67th and Lex. Some signs are homemade but most bear the trademark diagonal, block lettering of all Public Theater advertising. (Am I a cynic for thinking that this marketing continuity makes the whole protest look like an exercise in brand expansion?)

We’re a docile lot, we protestors. We file carefully onto our patch of sidewalk on the southern side of the street while photographers take their place to our north. It’s worth noting that we’re actually a whole block away from the Belarusian mission to the UN — permit shenanigans mean we can only shout to that most political of sites, the Hunter College Bookstore.

Still, the event has a feeling of urgency. Public Theater interns lead chants:

Intern: “What do we want?”

Us: “Human Rights!”

Intern: “When do we want it?”

Us: “Now!”

When we tire of this call and response, we’re told to shout something that sounds like “Jeevay Belarus! Jeevay Belarus!” This is Belarusian, I guess; most of us just skip the “Jeevay” part and join in on “Belarus.” (Note to self: learn Belarusian for next year’s protest.)

The Police are out, and, ever to form, we all politely defer and go where we’re told. We don’t want to crowd the sidewalk, do we?

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