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The Week in Arts: Idris Elba, Taking on War and José González

Category: Art & Culture,Theater

Through May 25, irishrep.org.

Walking into the main stage auditorium at Irish Repertory Theater during its Sean O’Casey season is like stepping into a museum diorama. Charlie Corcoran’s semi-immersive scenic design puts a dilapidated brick wall on one side of the orchestra seats; a neat facade opposite, windows aglow; and, up above, laundry hung on sagging lines. These are the tenements of Dublin, circa 1920s, where O’Casey’s tragicomic characters live and drink and pray and mourn in the midst of war.

Irish Rep’s overlapping three-play cycle, off to a well-received start with “The Shadow of a Gunman” (1923), continues with “Juno and the Paycock” (1924), in previews for an opening on Tuesday, March 19. Directed by Neil Pepe, it stars Ciaran O’Reilly, Irish Rep’s producing director, as the stubbornly work-averse Capt. Jack Boyle; Maryann Plunkett as Juno, his wife, who keeps the family afloat in spite of him; and John Keating as Jack’s delightfully named drinking buddy, Joxer Daly. The final play in the series, “The Plough and the Stars” (1926), starts April 20. LAURA COLLINS-HUGHES

March 17; topic.com.

“When I was 14, I spotted a peregrine falcon eating a pigeon on my windowsill in the Bronx,” Jason Ward says. “I never looked back.”

His steely stomach is our gain. In “Birds of North America,” debuting Sunday, March 17, on Topic.com, Ward — an educator for Zoo Atlanta and writer for the National Audubon Society — turns birding into an exceedingly charming team sport. First stop: Central Park, perhaps the best place to spot such migrating birds as Blackburnian Warblers, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks and Baltimore Orioles in North America.

It’s all so mellow — until you hear about how a rare Kirtland’s Warbler showed up last May and people lost their minds, prompting police to break up the resulting horde. In 13 five-minute episodes, Ward wanders through nature with the Feminist Bird Club, the comedian Wyatt Cenac and Jeffrey Ward, his brother, a guide with New York City Audubon and Jason’s toughest competitor: In 2018 they raced to see who could spot more bird species. (Jason won with 279; Jeffrey saw 239.)

And while birding can be high-energy, it’s the quieter moments that Jason Ward finds the most sublime. “Sometimes,” he says, “I have to remind myself: Stop. Slow down. Just let it all come around you.” KATHRYN SHATTUCK

March 15.

When he’s not weakening knees as the Sexiest Man Alive or swatting away rumors about being the next James Bond, Idris Elba spins tracks as DJ Big Driis. He even got the royals swaying at Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding.

Now he’s taking his obsession with the sound system to the screen. In “Yardie,” his reggae-rich directorial debut, Elba has adapted Victor Headley’s 1992 novel, veering between 1970s Jamaica and ’80s Britain, and the intertwined narcotics and music industries. Aml Ameen stars as D, a Kingston drug courier, still mourning the shooting death of his D.J. brother years earlier, who must deliver cocaine to a gangster in London’s Hackney section — where he discovers the murderer lurking.

And in “Turn Up Charlie,” Elba’s new Netflix series, he plays a one-hit wonder who’s intent on resurrecting his D.J. glory, but whose man-childish ways are tested when he’s hired to care for his famous friend’s precocious daughter (Frankie Hervey).

“Yardie” and “Turn Up Charlie” both debut on Friday, March 15. Want more? Dance along with Elba in April when he’s a D.J. at Coachella. KATHRYN SHATTUCK

Through Aug. 18; americanart.si.edu.

Martha Rosler used a morbid kind of irony in her 1967-72 photomontage “Red Stripe Kitchen,” showing a skewed but tasteful domestic scene with a broad stripe of blood on the wall. Dan Flavin, with his “monument 4 for those who have been killed in ambush (to P.K. who reminded me about death),” used the same alarming color, jamming four red fluorescent tubes into a corner. But of the 100-plus works by 58 artists in “Artists Respond: American Art and the Vietnam War, 1965-1975,” at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Chris Burden’s “Shoot” may be the deepest and most unnerving response to the war. In the 1971 performance piece, which was attended by a small audience and recorded on video, Burden asked another man to shoot him in the arm with a rifle — it was at once vulnerable, courageous and insane. WILL HEINRICH

March 21, 23 and 26, nyphil.org.

For 19 harrowing minutes, a singer intones Walt Whitman’s description of his experiences as a nurse in the Civil War, over of a bed of aching strings and winds: “The Wound-Dresser,” John Adams’s large-scale Whitman setting for baritone and orchestra, is one of the composer’s most powerful works. It was originally written for Sanford Sylvan, who died in January, and will be performed this week by the German baritone Matthias Goerne with the New York Philharmonic, under Jaap van Zweden. The program also includes Brahms’s Symphony No. 1 and Charles Ives’s “Central Park in the Dark.” After Saturday’s performance, Adams will curate an iteration of the Philharmonic’s new Nightcap series, featuring the composer-pianist Timo Andres and the Attacca Quartet. WILLIAM ROBIN

March 21 and 22; ticketmaster.com.

The singer-songwriter José González has long incorporated loosely classical sounds into his work, mostly via his signature virtuosic yet gentle acoustic guitar playing. Usually, it’s González alone, accompanying himself on heartfelt original songs as well as covers that strip songs by Joy Division and Kylie Minogue down to their essence. But in these two shows at the Apollo Theater, González will be joined by the experimental German and Swedish chamber orchestra the String Theory, which has already backed him on two separate European tours.

The effect, which can be heard on their just-released collaboration, the album “Live in Europe,” is seamless. González’s guitar playing still drives all the arrangements, but they’re given new dimension by the lush, subtle sounds of the musicians and backing vocalists. Instead of giving González’s songs a complete makeover, the new instrumentation just adds depth and richness to the acoustic simplicity that makes his work so appealing. NATALIE WEINER

March 21-24, horsesmouth.org.

For dancers who want to write about dance, who see these roles as complementary and not opposed, the critic Deborah Jowitt has always been an inspiration. With a background as a dancer and choreographer, she began regularly contributing to The Village Voice in 1967, in a column that looked at dance with the sensitivity and generosity of someone who knew its inner workings. Reading her, you enter an astoundingly attentive mind, focused less on judging than on seeing what’s in front of her. “The point is, in searching for what a dance may mean, not to lose sight of what it is, or appears to be,” she once wrote.

For its latest installment, the dance and storytelling series “From the Horse’s Mouth” celebrates Jowitt at the 14th Street Y in Manhattan. More than 30 of her colleagues — including the estimable dancers Carmen de Lavallade, Martine Van Hamel and Valda Setterfield — share memories and movement in her honor, offering rare insight into a multifaceted critic’s career. SIOBHAN BURKE


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