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EntertainmentColumnistsLinda Winer

Kate Burton, Boyd Gaines help dish out a James Joyce staging

Boyd Gaines gets a full course of audience

Boyd Gaines gets a full course of audience attention in "The Dead, 1904" at the American Irish Historical Society. Photo Credit: Carol Rosegg

The unexpected attraction of tiny audiences continues in odd and interesting ways.

In the past month, audiences have been virtually able to rub shoulders with Jason Sudeikis in a 199-seat theater in “Dead Poets Society” and marvel at the extraordinary lack of perspiration on the dewy lip of Sutton Foster in the strenuous “Sweet Charity” in a space seating 222.

We don’t know yet how Daniel Craig and David Oyelowo might interact, or not, with audiences at the “Othello” that opens in a 199-seat house Sunday, Dec. 11. And this doesn’t even take into account a company called Theatre for One, in which one actor performs three 5-minute plays for a single audience member at a time. Until the run at the Signature Theatre closed last week, you could have had the best — that is, the only — seat in the house to hear the words of such playwrights as John Guare and Bill Irwin.


Through Jan. 7, 42 people a night can be paying guests at the re-creation of the Dublin holiday party described by James Joyce in his novella, “The Dead.”

What’s more, those in attendance will be expected to follow the actors — including Kate Burton and Boyd Gaines — around the rooms of a Victorian mansion on Fifth Avenue which, in its day job, is the American Irish Historical Society.

The play is the latest offering from the Irish Repertory Theatre. Titled “The Dead, 1904,” it is a new adaptation of Joyce’s most famous “Dubliners” story, the same one John Huston used for his 1987 elegiac final film and basis for an enchanting and unlikely Broadway musical, “James Joyce’s The Dead,” in 2000.

In that show, author-director Richard Nelson staged the action so we felt we were watching a Dublin Christmas through the window of the beloved home of two elderly sisters. In this one, directed by Ciarán O’Reilly, co-founder of the Irish Rep, audiences are instead invited in.

There will be music, dances, family arguments, ghosts and ghosts-to-be, a drunken relative and a meal said to be inspired by the menu in Joyce’s book — not to mention wine, stout and spirits. The only catch is the price — $300, or $1,000 if you want to be part of the flush crowd sitting at the main dining table with the characters. Still, tickets are likely to be easier to get than seats to “Hamilton,” and here you get to drink stout.

The American Irish Historical Society, 991 Fifth Ave., Manhattan,


The rediscovery and revival of interest in Yiddish theater revs up over the holidays, too, with offerings from New York’s two ambitious Yiddish companies. Then, in the spring, expect even more interest with the Broadway transfer of “Indecent,” Paula Vogel’s riveting musical play about the true events around the notorious 1923 Broadway debut of the Yiddish play, “The God of Vengeance,” in 1923.

But first comes New Year’s Day. Instead of watching football or just sleeping it off, the curious and the restless can hear newly discovered and restored music from before and after World War II by composers from the golden age of Yiddish theater.

Twice on Jan. 1, the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene presents the lost songs in a concert called “Light Up the Night.” Part of the company’s mission to find theater music that has been “lost, destroyed or left out of the historical record,” the concert is in Yiddish with supertitle translations — and a 16-piece orchestra.

And apropos of “Indecent,” the New Yiddish Rep is presenting a contemporary staging of Sholem Asch’s “God of Vengeance” at La MaMa. Previews begin Dec. 22, opening Christmas Day and running through Jan. 22.

This is the company that previously staged remarkable Yiddish-language productions of “Waiting for Godot” and “Death of a Salesman,” also with English supertitles.

Finally, Vogel’s “Indecent,” an Off-Broadway hit at the Vineyard Theatre last May, comes to Broadway in April in director Rebecca Taichman’s revelatory production. This musical play-about-a-play introduces new audiences — certainly it introduced me — to the story around Asch’s drama which, among other controversies, is said to have had the first lesbian kiss on Broadway.

The drama about a Jew who owns a brothel in his basement was an international success throughout Europe, but was closed for obscenity by the New York vice squad at its censored English-language premiere in 1923. Until now, the play and its surrounding story were forgotten by mainstream culture and consigned to the dustbin of marginal theatrical history. From tiny audiences back to Broadway, and it only took 94 years.

Light Up the Night,” 2 and 6 p.m., Jan. 1, $30, Museum of Jewish Heritage, 36 Battery Place,

“God of Vengeance,” in previews Dec. 22, opening Christmas Day, through Jan. 22, $36, La MaMa, 74A E. Fourth St.,

“Indecent,” April 18, Cort Theatre, 138 W. 48th St., ticket information not yet available.


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