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One Work of Dance, Theater and More to Experience This Weekend


CLASSICAL MUSIC

The saxophonist and composer Roscoe Mitchell is best known as a founding member of the Art Ensemble of Chicago. But even when operating outside that pan-stylistic group, his approach contains multitudes. When I reviewed Mitchell’s concerts at the Park Avenue Armory in 2019, I marveled at his solo-saxophone heroics and meditative chamber music designs.

The composer’s latest record, released this week on the Wide Hive label, affords us an even broader view. Most jaw-dropping is the 20-minute title track, “Distant Radio Transmission,” performed here by Mitchell and a 33-piece orchestra conducted by Petr Kotik. Like many of Mitchell’s recent orchestral opuses, this one has its roots in earlier, improvised trio recordings. (After the improvised version of this track was transcribed and partially orchestrated by associates of the composer, Mitchell completed the full orchestration in 2017.)

What was once sparely avant-garde is now luminously experimental. Electronics join with tart wind harmonies and resonant pitched percussion during the opening. The baritone Thomas Buckner — a veteran of Robert Ashley’s operas — brings abstract, ghostly exhalations to the mix, later on. Around the halfway point, when a stretch of Mitchell’s striated soprano-saxophone ornamentations gives way to jaunty patterns in the wider orchestra, there is a sense of a singular intelligence at work.

It never sounds like easy listening. Though when focusing on the finer details in this “Distant Radio Transmission,” it’s easy to be transported by the intensity of this broadcaster’s imagination.

SETH COLTER WALLS

THEATER/TELEVISION

The world of theater can be moving, soul-stirring and thought-provoking.

Also vain, backbiting and downright ludicrous.

“Slings & Arrows” captures all of these facets in all their glory. And the cult Canadian series has recently become available for streaming on Acorn TV, which just extended its free-trial offer from seven to 30 days (enter the code FREE30).

“Slings & Arrows,” which ran in 2003-2006, is not just the best show ever made about the stage: The insightful, bitingly observed and very funny series belongs in the television canon, period.

Each of the three seasons focuses on a different Shakespeare play produced at the New Burbage Theater Festival (loosely inspired by the real-life Stratford Festival, in Ontario). Created and scripted by Susan Coyne, Bob Martin (the co-book writer and star of the musical “The Drowsy Chaperone”) and former Kids in the Hall member Mark McKinney, the series brilliantly weaves backstage shenanigans — never underestimate the self-importance of actors and directors — with astute insights into the perils and joys of art-making. At heart, “Slings & Arrows” is a workplace comedy: A community tries to get through another op’nin’, another show while battling commercialism and egos run amok.

Bonus: Watch a pre-fame Rachel McAdams find her footing as an actress in the first season.

ELISABETH VINCENTELLI

DANCE

Tourist trips to Italy. Evenings at the ballet. Those could be random selections from the long list of unavailable pleasures right now. But I can recommend a way of virtually combining both, and it goes through Denmark. As a gift to the housebound, the Royal Danish Ballet is streaming “Napoli” on its website for free.

“Napoli” is a three-act ballet from 1842 by the great Danish choreographer August Bournonville. On the Royal Danish Ballet’s website, the company’s artistic director, Nikolaj Hübbe, explains the choice to stream “Napoli” now by calling it the “most life-affirming work” in the Royal Danish’s repertory. That’s an understatement: It’s one of the most life-affirming, joy-giving ballets in any company’s repertory.

Set in Naples, the tale is a standard one of poor young lovers overcoming obstacles — not just a mama after money but also a possessive sea god in the underwater second act. (There was a tradition, among Danish ballet regulars, of sitting out that second act in the theater restaurant; online, you can just fast-forward.)

This production, filmed in the 2013-14 season, is Hübbe’s 2009 update. He’s advanced the time to just after World War II, so there are cigarettes and mafia allusions and a Vespa. Essentially, he’s swapped one cartoon idea of southern Italy for another, and it’s vivid fun either way.

What’s preserved, in any case, is the really good stuff, the dancing in Bournonville style. With arms held low, the dancers shoot up like geysers, their legs crossing quickly underneath them. The combination of modesty and effervescence is the special tonic, and this cast delivers it neatly, especially the gorgeous, buoyant Alban Lendorf as the fisherman hero.

BRIAN SEIBERT

THEATER

New York City is in the midst of a forced slumber — even the subways are scaling back. Lucky for you, three of its lines, the N, L and 7, are the settings of the wondrous “Subway Plays,” a trilogy of site-specific audio plays by This Is Not a Theatre Company. The entire trilogy is available as a mobile phone app for less than $5.

Each play is split into two parts, depending on where you decide to begin your journey, and tells stories connected to the subway line where they take place. But they also invite the listener to engage with the world beyond the ride using their imagination and senses. Quite appropriate given the current need to social distance.

Part history lessons, part urban travelogues, the plays written by Jenny Lyn Bader, Jessie Bear and Colin Waitt, are populated with New York archetypes, including lost tourists, annoyed locals and idiosyncratic passengers.

Besides being technical marvels (the director Erin B. Mee’s precise timing is impeccable, the city seems to be working with her at all times) the plays now feel like bittersweet phantasmagoria. Snapshots preserved in sounds and feelings, of a city that may never be the same.

JOSE SOLÍS

KIDS

In stressful times, children especially need a good laugh. But if you’re a parent who has already forbidden Comedy Central, you know that most adult stand-up is too coarse for kids.

Let me introduce Billy Kelly. A comic, singer-songwriter and dad, he specializes in humor that the generations can enjoy together. (No dumb knock-knock jokes.) Embracing a wry worldview that will be incomprehensible to preschoolers but delightful to audiences 8 to 12, Kelly has just released “This Is a Family Show,” a 90-minute special from Audible Stories, a new digital library of audiobooks and entertainment for young people that Audible is offering free during the public-health crisis. (The selections also comprise not-so-uproarious titles like “Jane Eyre.”)

Kelly’s comedy, which incorporates both stand-up and song — you can catch a Facebook Live set on Friday at 7 p.m. — evokes understated provocateurs like Steven Wright. A recurring riff, “Random Things I’ve Noticed in My Life,” includes observations on the honesty of the name Milk Duds and the absurdity of the term meteorologist. (Ever hear a forecast for meteors?) I laughed out loud at his bit about how Nature seemingly assembled bats from other animals’ leftover parts.

Never using profanity, Kelly is not above bathroom humor. Reflecting on restroom as a euphemism (“I don’t know who we’re trying to trick”), he mentions entering a public toilet. “There’s a sign out, says ‘wet floor,’” he recalls. “So I did.”

The horror genre is enamored of escaped lunatics and haunted sanitariums, so it’s rarely the place to turn for empathetic depictions of mental illness. That’s why “They Look Like People,” a 2016 low-budget indie feature on Tubi, written and directed by Perry Blackshear, is such a pleasant departure — it’s as tender as it is terrifying in its depiction of paranoia and its consequences.

The film begins as two old friends, Christian (Evan Dumouchel) and Wyatt (MacLeod Andrews), randomly reconnect in New York. Christian invites Wyatt to live with him, but soon Wyatt’s emotional state unravels as strange visions and unnerving voices turn his reality into a hellscape, and he begins making preparations for war with perceived alien antagonists. Blackshear depicts Christian’s response to his friend’s deeply unsettling emotional state with creeping alarm but also with a touching sensitivity that puts compassion on par with fear. The film culminates in a shocking — and shockingly affectionate — final scene that may have you covering your eyes with one hand and wiping a tear away with the other.

ERIK PIEPENBURG

Comedy

Instagram users undoubtedly have noticed a spike in live videos from their friends and accounts they follow, broadcasting into the void to keep connected during our collective coronavirus quarantine. The trend is particularly rampant among stand-up comedians, who need an audience to thrive.

Mike Birbiglia, with four stand-up specials to his credit — most recently filming his 2019 Drama Desk winning solo Broadway show, “The New One,” for Netflix — turned his IG account last week into a mouthpiece for his funny friends to riff on new material while raising money for those laid off from comedy clubs shuttered across America.

Tip Your Waitstaff began March 19 with Roy Wood Jr., a correspondent for “The Daily Show With Trevor Noah,” starting a GoFundMe for his hometown club, the StarDome near Birmingham, Ala., while Birbiglia supported the Comedy Attic in Bloomington, Ind., where he had been slated to headline. Each weekday afternoon he welcomes a new comedian and adds two new clubs, with IG Live shows available for viewing for 24 hours. “We started this up on a whim and thought, well, waitstaffs don’t have any cash coming in right now and the economy has, I think, stopped. Is that the technical term?” Birbiglia said during his broadcast Tuesday with Maria Bamford. “It’s been bungled,” Bamford replied.

By Wednesday morning, the GoFundMe campaigns had raised almost $52,000 for the staffs at 12 clubs, from Carolines on Broadway near Times Square to the Lyric Hyperion in Los Angeles, and, in between, clubs and theaters in Alabama, Indiana, Iowa, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, New York, Ohio and Washington, D.C.

SEAN L. McCARTHY



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