Peter Pan Still Flying High at 70

For Peter Pan On Her 70th Birthday
by Wickham Boyle
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Monday Sep 11, 2017

For Peter Pan On Her 70th Birthday
“For Peter Pan on her 70th Birthday” is Sarah Ruhl’s third New York premiere at Playwrights Horizon, following “Dead Man’s Cell Phone” in 2008 and “Stage Kiss” in 2014. Ruhl, a two-time Pulitzer finalist and Tony-nominated writer, is a bit of a darling among the young thespian circle, and her plays rarely disappoint. Her newest is no exception.

The work opens with the ever-radiant and talented Kathleen Chalfant standing in front of the curtain speaking to the audience about her childhood playing Peter Pan in her hometown theater in America’s heartland. Honestly, for a few beats I didn’t know if this was a vamp-until-ready moment where the star comes out in a heartfelt way and connects to the audience.

Chalfant’s demeanor and her delivery is so easy, natural and warm that it was as if she was telling each of us, in a packed house, her personal tale. She was transported back to a girlhood where she flew across a stage, met Mary Martin, and was handed flowers by her usually taciturn father. We are charmed.

And then the curtain opens to reveal Chalfant as Ann, the eldest in a gaggle of five adult children, all nervously surrounding their father, as he lies dying in a hospital bed. The children are John, a wonderful Daniel Jenkins, Michael played strongly by Keith Reddin, and Wendy, the always luminous Lisa Emery (following the names as the Darling children in J.M. Barrie’s tale.) There is also another brother, Jim, who didn’t become a doctor but stayed home and took care of their father as he aged. He is wonderfully poignant as embodied by David Chandler.

The siblings take turns hovering. Wendy rubs and anoints her father’s feet; Michael and John both medical doctors read charts and kibitz about care and Ann tells stories and worries about every errant sound emanating from Ron Crawford, who plays the dying dad.

The kids discuss augmenting morphine to ease pain and also hasten death. They tell some stories about their youth and their parents. They miss their mom and the family dog. They sit in hospital chairs, or sleep fitfully on the floor. Behind them is a set that resembles what must be their childhood home.

When the father finally does pass, Ron Crawford rises from the bed and continues to act out some of the things being discussed, including playing with the long gone dog, the sparky and winsome Macy, a rescue dog from Oklahoma City.

This work unfolds in ninety minutes with no intermission, but there are breaks in the action where artfully the hospital furniture is wheeled to the side and the backdrop of the house becomes the home where after the wake the siblings sit and drink, except the youngest Wendy, who seems to be more sober in many facets of her life.

The range runs wildly from humorous recollections, to long held resentments, to confusions about their parents. This is the stuff of every family, but it is done well and we believe every speech and the actors are so suited to their characters, that it is as if we are eavesdropping on an actual family.

In and out of every recollection are specks of memory about Ann’s big role, which seemed to recur often, playing Peter Pan. As the third act opens the house has resolved itself, in a genius set by David Zinn and has become the Darling home in London and the adults we met earlier are in nighties and top hats, all the trappings of the beloved Darling children. Even Macy the dog returns as Nana for a glimpse into the reverie.

Ann has found an old trunk, and again in front of the curtain, she changes into her old Pan costume, allowing for time for the set to morph and for us to once again feel that intimate rush. It is this portion of the play that for this reviewer holds the meat and the emotional payoff. Again the siblings taunt and tease each other, but the gist is about how to fly, how to be buoyantly happy so that you rise into the air and also age.

We all struggle with the unresolved issues from childhood, last week, decades ago, or what we might do wrong tomorrow, so letting go, filling our hearts and minds with lovely and lovelier thoughts is a tall order. And yet on the stage of Playwrights Horizon in the middle of 42nd Street, we watch adults born aloft, swinging, flying across the stage because they could finally find their “lovely thoughts.” This play is well imagined and helmed by director Les Water’s, who also steers the artistry of the Actor’s Theatre of Louisville.

As the siblings argue in the Peter Pan dreamscape, including a masterful appearance by Peter Pan played by David Chandler, about who has grown up, who hasn’t and why not, we all confront and imagine the places where we have missed being an adult, or might relish a tad more childishness. In the end we are all inching toward a certain ending, the alarm clock is ticking, and that either prompts buckling down or cutting loose. For some it is a mixture of flight, fancy and seriousness. Sarah Ruhl mixes an excellent concoction.

“For Peter Pan on her 70th Birthday” runs through October 1 at Playwrights Horizons’ Mainstage Theater, 416 West 42nd Street in New York City. For information or tickets, call 212-564-1235 or visit http://www.playwrightshorizons.org

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Charles Busch and Tom Judson, My Kinda SIxties

Charles Busch: My Kinda ’60s
by Wickham Boyle
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Wednesday Sep 6, 2017

Charles Busch

Charles Busch teamed up with Tom Judson to heat up the stage at Helsinki in the Hudson Valley with “Charles Busch: My Kinda ’60s.” Busch, whether in drag or not, with Tom Judson at the piano occasionally crooning along or taking a song himself, make an astonishingly charming, heartwarming evening. And we certainly all could use that right now.

Judson makes a piano trill and vibrate with his individual arrangements, crafted to both suit Busch’s song styling and his ability to pluck at our heartstrings while tickling our fancy. This evening was designed as a look at the songs of the sixties, and even though as Busch expounded often, “We have never performed this song!,” the duo was marvelous. It was a triumph of an evening.

Busch enters in an emerald green brocade suit with rhinestone buttons all aglitter, then asked the crowd, “Too butch?” We all adore Busch whether in drag or as in this case, “with a little mascara, maybe a false eyelash and this new suit.” He kicked the evening off with a mélange of “Your Zowie Face” and “Look at that Face, ” and it made for a raucous, happy start.

Club Helsinki is located in the now bustling and chic Hudson, New York, a two-hour train ride up the Hudson, which seems to have become the darling of New Yorkers and international visitors. The club is in a wonderfully remodeled industrial building that has great acoustics and features table service of Cajun-inspired dining or a large bar serving good drinks and snacks.

From the perch at a table center stage, the view was perfect and the evening exploded with Burt Bacharach’s “Anyone Who Had a Heart,” which Busch rendered in heart wrenching sadness. He then segued to The Beatles because, as Busch’s banter suggested, there is nothing more ’60s for him and many of us, than the Beatles. Again, Judson’s arrangement of “Here There and Everywhere” was pitch-perfect.

The evening rolled along with songs by Alan Jay Lerner, Leslie Bricusse, Sondheim, Peggy Lee, and a stunning version of “Surabaya Johnny” by Brecht and Weill. A highlight was a duet that had a rocky start, as Judson’s mike clicked in and out and so the solution was for Busch to move over to the piano bench and they shared a mike for Mancini’s “Two for the Road.” Squished together at the piano, they unleashed a joyful rendition that brought down the house and finally gave the techie a chance to figure out the sound situation.

The evening consisted of 15 numbers, a full album of songs that ended with an arrangement of Bob Dylan’s, “The Times They Are a Changin.” In this version, Judson explained that he morphed each stanza to modulate the monotony of Dylan’s original release where it was exactly the same for the many stanzas of what we now know are Dylan’s Nobel Prize-winning poems. The way the song was presented, in song styling and musically, allowed the poignancy of the music and lyrics to shine through. And although bittersweet for those of us who heard the anthem in the ’60s and thought we were changing the world, it is still a rallying call never to forget that we must continue to be vigilant and believe.

There was as, Busch called it, a fake encore, as they didn’t leave the stage and we all would have called them back for as much as they would offer. That encore was Raskin’s “Those Were the Days,” where the audience can be rallied to clap and cheer.

Busch and Judson are off to Spain for their next tour; for more information, visit charlesbusch.com.

“Charles Busch: My Kinda ’60s” was held on September 2 at Club Helsinki, 405 Columbia St., Hudson, NY, 12534. For information on upcoming shows, call 518.828.4800 or visit https://helsinkihudson.com/

Oslo For these TImes

Oslo

by Wickham Boyle
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Friday May 19, 2017
Jennifer Ehle and Jefferson Mays.

Jennifer Ehle and Jefferson Mays.  

The sages remind us often of George Santayana’s wisdom when he wrote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Often the word ‘past’ is replaced with ‘history,’ reminding us that knowing and studying the past is a mighty tool.

It seems we are roiling right now in an era where history, the rule of law, and compromise are tossed and trashed. So it is comforting, to some small degree, that through J.T. Rogers’ excellent play “Oslo” we witness, in vibrant detail, the midwifery and birth of the unlikely 1993 Oslo Peace Accords between the Palestinians and the Israelis.

The playwright informs us in a note, that the play’s genesis came from drinks after a viewing of his play “Blood and Gifts.” Rogers sat down with a Norwegian diplomat, whose tongue I imagine was loosened by many rounds of drinks. Here at a local bar, light was shed on an unusual diplomatic saga, one that culminated in the famous photograph of Prime Minister Rabin and Chairman Arafat shaking hands with Bill Clinton beaming in between them in the rose garden. Playwright Rogers took this information and ran with it.

“Oslo” lays bare in exquisite detail and often unexpected humor, the gut-wrenching details of the endless negotiating, dining, copious drinking, and eventual camaraderie that predated and thus created the historic signing.

“Oslo” was wisely moved upstairs to the capacious Vivian Beaumont Theater with its thrust-stage jutting into the house and seats that provide a bird’s eye view for every ticket holder, albeit ones a bit tight on space.

For this production, the open set with an upstage scrim used ingeniously to project images from the brutal Arab/Isreali conflict, all add to the understanding of the times. The set design is by the very talented Michael Yeargan. It utilizes traps that open and shut, whisking furniture out of site to provide scene changes. And although there is very little décor, every piece is precise and contributes to the sense of a Norwegian diplomat’s home, or a dark forest, or a negotiating space.

It is upon is a mutable canvas that the story unfolds. Bartlett Sher’s most deft direction takes what could be a confusing morass of facts, figures, and characters and lays them bare at our feet where they entertain and enlighten.

The key to this is the extraordinary undertaking is the ineffable Jennifer Ehle, who plays Mona Juul, an official in the Norwegian foreign ministry. Mona often comes downstage and shares with us the essence of characters, and how they fit into this complicated jigsaw puzzle.

She is married to Terje Rod-Larsen, played with a wonderful rectitude capable of melting into giddy humor by the always-talented Jefferson Mays. Larsen runs a foundation for applied social sciences and the married couple’s partnership, and ability to plot and deal in back channels is what precipitates the final accord.

The initial four at the negotiating table and dining table are Abu Ala, an incredible Anthony Azizi, and his truculent partner Hassan Asfour, the actor Dariush Kashani who brings a gut-wrenching gusto and Marxist energy to the role. The Israelis are Yair Hirschfeld, an economics professor at the University of Haifa, played with a wonderful rumpled intellect and humor by Daniel Oreskes; and his junior colleague Ron Pundak, brought to life by Daniel Jenkins.

These four are simultaneously attempting to reach a written accord and also testing Larsen’s theory on the idea of “gradualism” as a tool to reach an agreement. At the initial meetings, it is stressed that when the four men leave the negotiation table, and they are in there alone with no mediator, they emerge into the salon and everyone, including the inspired chef, Toril who radiates and is played by Henny Russell, must call each other by first names. There are to be lots of storytelling, massive consumption of alcohol and piles of waffles, herring, salmon, but never roast pork. The gaggle becomes close, even though there is a multitude of issues upon which they disagree.

These meetings continue in secret, as the group is especially wary of the meddling Americans, who we are reminded always seem to grab control and tend to muck things up. Ahh, yes. So the negotiations rumble forward and we are reminded that in life, in war, in politics, “Sometimes we are the pigeon, sometimes the statue.”

At the next stage of negotiation, the Israelis send a formal government official and things start to ramp up. Uri Savir was a director-general of the foreign ministry, and as played by Michael Aronov, he is a blast of humor, energy, and explosions when he bounds on stage. There are jokes and impressions of Arafat and Peres, and the agreement lurches and careens until we are shown the final moments when it was signed.

The large cast assumes multiple roles, including hapless German tourists who blunder into the villa where talks are being held, security men, assorted diplomats and even Shimon Peres. The switching of roles is as seamless as the furniture gliding and disappearing.

This is a history play. And like Shakespeare’s plays in that genre, this play requires copious work on the part of the audience. It is nearly three hours long, it is dense with fact and fast moving action as well as moments when it slows to a crawl and we await the next scene.

“Oslo” is a work peppered with humor and constant gobsmacking acting. In times when so much of what we sift through our sieve of social media is pablum, it is crucial that we remember the lessons of history and hard work that created actual if fleeting strides.

“Oslo” runs through July 2 at The Vivian Beaumont Theater at Lincoln Center, 150 West 65 Street in New York City. For information or tickets, cal 212-239-6300 or visit www.lct.org/shows/oslo-broadway

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Politics Abounds, Threatens to Swamp Art

Julius Caesar

by Wickham Boyle
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Tuesday Jun 13, 2017

Julius Caesar

It is a rite of passage to be privileged to attend Free Shakespeare in Central Park through the auspices of the Public Theater. For decades more than 5 million audience members sat under the stars and marveled at Shakespeare.

This season the offerings are “Julius Caesar” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” These two plays couldn’t be further apart in spirit, and after the political walloping we have been facing as a country, and this is evinced in the very modern, Trumpian Julius Caesar gracing the Delacorte stage, we will need the light lift brought by “Midsummer.”

The current “Julius Caesar,” is a fast-paced, uber-modern version wrought by the Public’s artistic director, Oscar Eustis. It features a diverse cast and non-gender specific casting that continues to blow the walls out of any other producer’s idea of what these concepts might be. Bravo Public.

The physical presentation also brings the audience into modern time, as there are placards and posters plastered on the walls of the set by David Rockwell. Before the show begins, the audience is welcome to sign large petitions whose headings read: I Mourn For and I Hope For.

As the play begins, the petitions are ripped off and Caesar enters as Donald Trump, blond hair blazing and a tie well below his belt. At his heels is the faithful wife, Melania, oops, I mean Calpurnia. She is dressed in an outfit seemingly plucked, by costume designer Paul Tazewell, from Ivanka Trump’s spring collection. These costume choices set the scene, so we are aware that although the language is Shakespeare’s, the political turmoil is as modern as the hearings filling our airwaves.

As Oscar Eustis tells us in his excellent director’s notes, when Caesar was killed on March 15, 44 B.C., democracy vanished and it would be two millennia before it was resurrected by colonists in the new America. “Julius Caesar is about how fragile democracy is. The institutions that we have grown up with, that we have inherited from the struggle of many generations of our ancestors, can be swept away in no time at all,” said Eustis.

So we have Caesar, played with excellent swagger (and in one scene buck-naked) by Gregg Henry, known to many as the villainous senator in TV’s “Scandal.” He is flanked by Tina Benko who does a too-exact imitation of Mrs. Trump.

The senators surrounding Caesar and plotting to overthrow him are Casca, the superlative Teagle F. Bougere, Corey Stoll as a blundering, well-intentioned Brutus, and Marc Antony played by the very Southern-sounding Elizabeth Marvel. There is a bevy of other soldiers, acolytes, and rabble rousers who cheer from the audience and swarm the stage in explosions of gunshots and fog. All of this creates the very real sense of political protests and upheavals that we have witnessed up close, or at the very least, seen nightly, hourly, daily on the news.

Director Eustis states that he began to foment this production the day after Trump was elected president and it is not a stretch to see how the underhanded, double dealings in Shakespeare play are now not metaphors, but as actualities. When we witness and weigh former FBI Director Jim Comey’s testimony as an attempt to coerce a loyalist into submission, we are watching Julius Caesar.

This is politics, and Shakespeare does it so very well. I did, however, find the constant referencing to modern times, including the insertion of the line by Caesar “I could stand in the midst of Fifth Avenue and shoot people, and I wouldn’t lose any supporters,” as a kind of artistic bludgeoning that proved unnecessary. The Trump stomping and muttering at times as well became a distraction to the excellent, complicated poetry that is the original text.

Yet all said, this is a production that deserves to be heralded and supported because perhaps after two swift hours we can take cold comfort in knowing that we should be vigilant in defending our democracy. If not, it is predestined to fail.

“Julius Caesar” runs through June 18 at the Delacorte Theater, (enter at 81st Street and Central Park West). For information on how to get free tickets, visit https://publictheater.org/Programs–Events/Shakespeare-in-the-Park/Free-Ticket-Distribution-in-the-Park/

Through June 18th

Hudson Valley escape at Summerscape

Bard Summerscape 2017

by Wickham Boyle
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Tuesday Aug 22, 2017

The cast of 'Dimitrij'

The cast of ‘Dimitrij’  

Summer theater and festivals abound. They take place in reconfigured barns, in parks and in small theaters up and down the coast, but only one festival is housed in a miraculous Frank Gehry building nestled in the Hudson Valley’s rolling hills. And that is the Bard Summerscape.

Summerscape in not a light hearted straw-hat kind of festival. No, since its inception in 1990, what began as a pure music festival, conceived by long time Bard president and conductor Leon Botsein, has grown to be a premier multi-arts festival. Summerscape encompasses an often intense music program dedicated to one composer, this year Chopin, as well, an opera, and theater, dance and film offerings. As a topper it offers the crazy, joyful Spiegeltent, returning for its 12th year. Under the bowers of this hand made pavilion revelers dance and dine until the wee hours.

The Gehry building, dubbed the Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts, houses multiple theaters. Some are best suited for intimate work, while an expansive stage was home to Antonin Dvorak’s “Dimitriji” (1882) directed by the vaunted experimentalist Anne Bogart. The house was packed and there were few deserters to this four plus hour opera sung in Czech, with well designed subtitles.

This opera was touted as “the first fully staged American production of this Dvorak opera”. And there might be good reason. The work is dense, as it depicts 17th century Russian struggles for power, leaving off where the more often seen “Boris Gudunov” by Mussorgsky begins. There are glorious uses of enormous choral passages and some disturbing interactions, which smack as wildly sexist, as the lead tenor Clay Hilley jettisons his wife for a younger model.

Even though the work was well staged and updated to modern times by Bogart’s stellar direction, the echoes to modern political climate could not undo the often sloughing pace and the incredible length when a summer afternoon or evening beckons from the hillsides.

A remarkable work by the Wooster Group called “A Pink Chair (In Place of a Fake Antique),” a world premier, provided an exciting look at the work of maestro Tadeusz Kantor. Kantor was a trail blazing visionary whose work this reviewer had the honor of working on at Lamama Theater. I know Kantor’s work very well and I found this piece with its insertion of video and repletion to shore up key elements in Kantor’s theatricals to be a very moving, short theatrical excursion. This new work disembowels memory and nostalgia and pays perfect homage to Kantor. It is directed by founding Wooster Group member Elizabeth LeCompte.

I was completely beguiled by an all Chopin program in the Sosnoff Theater. The evening was made more interesting by the preconcert talk by Jonathan Bellman a scholar in residence at the University of Northern Colorado. This talk helped place the intricacies of the works and where they fit into the history of music during Chopin’s very short life.

The piano etudes, the Polonaise, the sonata and the mazurka all swirled around the wonderful theater with its perfect acoustics creating an absolutely magical evening. Even a trip to the loo in the Fisher Center sets a visitor in front of the swirling edges of Gehry’s polished metal that undulates and catches late light and never fails to delight.

After, the concert goers were released into the dark, humid air, and a majority trekked the path lit up with colored lights, to enjoy dancing and cocktails at the Spiegeltent.

Bard Summerscape runs through August 20 at Fisher Center, 60 Manor Ave, Annandale-On-Hudson, NY 12504. For information or tickets, call 845-758-7900 or visit www.bard.edu/fishercenter

 

The Lion ROARS: what a great piece of theater.

The Lion
by Wickham Boyle
Contributor
Wednesday Feb 11, 2015

Ben Scheuer (Source:www.broadwayworld.com)
A 5 p.m. matinee on a snowy Saturday seemed like a punishment, when all I wanted was tea and comfort, but two minutes into Ben Scheuer’s “The Lion” at the Culture Project, was the only place I could imagine being. What a joy, a wild unexpected ride and a heart-opening experience.

Benjamin Scheuer is tall and fit and so handsome with a shock of messy brown hair and fingers so fast on any of the seven guitars arrayed on stage that for the music and the visage alone you may be willing to surrender to his one-man show. His voice is never perfect, but so alluring, and even better than perfection is the story he has to tell. Scheuer is sharing with us, ever so generously, the tale of his coming to manhood. And we all know that voyage is full of trips, cracking voices, explosions, challenges, sadness and joys, but his is a gripping one.

Scheuer had a stern mathematician father who also harbored a desire and talent for music. He taught young Ben to play on a banjo constructed out of a pie pan with rubber bands and Ben and his dad played music on and off with his two younger brothers. The three boys comprised the lion pack inside the family’s pride. Scheuer’s father was mercurial, one day sweet and funny the next screaming and abusive. Ben caught his full wrath in the weeks leading up to his 14th birthday and then tragically his father died before there could be a denouement.

His British mother took young Ben and the other lion cubs back to England for boarding school and more strictness. Finally Ben headed back to America to be an erstwhile musician; along the way he falls in love, plays hard rock, falls ill and recovers. Well, we knew he would get better otherwise someone else would be telling the story, but knowing he ascends doesn’t in any way diminish this glorious, uplifting piece.

The stories are heartfelt and never maudlin, the music is sweet, or tangy or sad and sings and twangs to tug on our heartstrings. The piece moves with the well-paced direction of Sean Daniels and combines so seamlessly that at the end the tired, cold audience rose to its feet cheering.

The Lynn Redgrave Theater, one of the many spaces at Culture Project, is a clean theater, one that seems to accommodate many different kinds of work at varying levels of wonder and resonance. But the technical elements, the design, the sound, the lights are always so well wrought. In this instance the spare but alluring set design was by Neil Patel, light by Ben Stanton and sound, which worked so well by Leon Rosenberg. This is a great winter interlude.

“The Lion” runs through March 29 at The Culture Project, 45 Bleecker Street in New York City. For information or tickets, call 866-811-4111 or visit http://cultureproject.org/current/lion/

Wallace Shawn’s Talk House

Evening at the Talk House
by Wickham Boyle
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Friday Feb 17, 2017

I have seen many of Wally Shawn’s plays from the tiny to the monumental. I have attended them as I had friends and theater colleagues who were involved in the productions. I often felt I might not be bright enough to fully understand all the nuance, intellectual excursions, sexual innuendos and comedy that inhabited his plays like “Aunt Dan and Lemon,” “Our Late Night,” “The Designated Mourner,” “The Fever,” or “Marie and Bruce.” But I persisted, as I was always challenged and provoked. “Evening at the Talk House” is no different.

Jill Eikenberry, Larry Pine, Claudia Shear, Michael Tucker in Wallace Shawn's 'Evening at the Talk House'

Jill Eikenberry, Larry Pine, Claudia Shear, Michael Tucker in Wallace Shawn’s ‘Evening at the Talk House’  

 

The cast is stellar and the work opens with a cocktail party in progress. As we enter audience members are offered sweets and a cocktail resembling either Windex or a coral-colored weak version of Tang. We shuffle in, and are not given programs, (I usually like that as there it eliminates rustling, but sometimes as a reviewer I like to know who is doing what to whom.)

The actors amble off except Wallace Shawn, looking as if he’d been recently beaten, wearing pajamas and a tweed sport coat. He sits to the side and Matthew Broderick, in a too-tight velvet jacket, begins a very long monologue, basically telling us what will happen.

We are at an inn called the Talk House. We are there for a reunion of sorts to celebrate the tenth anniversary of a play written by Broderick’s character Robert. The speech is long and nearly mind-dulling. Again, is this the purpose; to lull us into thinking that the entire evening is about exploring the complaints and indulgent musings of another privileged, middle-age, white man?

The work continues with a discourse between Shawn’s character Dick, (honestly, no one can be named Dick without some sinister side to him, right?) and Robert. It seems at one point that the aging Dick was in Robert’s circle, but they haven’t seen each other in years. Robert abandoned theater work, bemoaning that as an art form it is nearly dead. This elicits titters from a live audience.

Robert moved from theater to television and during this play everyone name-drops silly pretend shows like “Mouse Chatter” and the names of fictitious producers, writers, and actors, which must have been such a blast to invent. Dick begins his monologue revealing to Robert that his bruises are the result of a beating he received at the hands of his friends. He says that it wasn’t unpleasant and he enjoyed much of it.

They both keep intoning. “Where are the old days? They used to be great.” This is certainly a parody on the Trumpian notion of make anything great again, meaning, bring back the old days when straight white men were in power and held in a place of undeserved reverence.

As the two former colleagues banter, the rest of the party arrives. There is Tony, the always dry, witty Larry Pine who has been in Shawn’s work since the get-go and was an original member of Andre Gregory’s groundbreaking Manhattan Project. Tom is now a famous actor and a beloved TV star.

Jill Eikenberry and her actual husband Michael Tucker play Nellie the innkeeper and Bill, a well-heeled producer. The cast includes John Epperson as Ted, a composer from the play being feted. Many viewers know Epperson as his stunning drag character Lypsinka. It was a treat to see him with just a hint of eyeliner and his own lanky self, holding court both at the piano and doing some campy acting.

The cast is rounded out by Claudia Shear, a performer who wears many hats including a writer and actor; and finally the only young, non-white, cast member, Annapurna Sriram, who works with Jane the innkeeper and reveals plenty of secret talents as the party heats up.

At first the play seems like an investigation of sophomoric indulgence regarding older, white, privileged, rich folks assessing their lives as swathes of things gone marvelously well, or a tumble into heinous failure. But as the platters of shrimp cocktail and towering cheese trays are consumed and cocktails morph from scotch to champagne, a quiet dystopic trope invades and like a body snatcher appears, and slinks back into a candlelit discussion of who slept with whom, who is crazy and oh yes, by the way, who has signed up to be either a murderer or a “targeter.”

The admission by Annette, the former costume designer, that what she really does for her living is “target” those who should be eliminated. She believes she is making her country safe by having those she deems dangerous in Malaysia or Indonesia killed for the greater good. It is the biggest game version of collateral damage ever imagined and it is chilling. And if you dozed off, like some of the folks snuffling around me, you might have missed this first militaristic confession. You see the play then closes ranks and we again talk about TV shows and who is alive or dead.

And then the darkness descends. Ted the piano man announces that he too dabbles in working as a targeter and while it brings good money, he also feels he is helping his country. You don’t need, as Dylan, postulated, “a weatherman to see which way the wind blows.” This can easily be the intellectualized, dramatized extension of Trump’s exclusionary politics.

In reality we have: the wall, the travel ban, the ginning up of hatred of one group against another and the politics of fear of the brown people vs. the bring back the real America, white folks. We all see it everyday and it is augmenting.

So this play, written before the Trumpian rise and premiered in London in fall 2015, sensed what might be a plausible arc of fear leading to the murder of anyone we deem dangerous. And why wouldn’t regular underemployed folks not take up the mantle of murder in the name of protectionism and safety?

We learn that the only one in the group who actually has stuck targets with poison pins is the youngest member of the group. In a stage lit only by candles, we see young Jane and rich Robert huddled drunk on the couch talking about their affair, which seems as if it might have tended closer to rape. Robert recalls it as a wonderful interlude and yet Jane says it was horrible and she now only thinks about killing herself. They embrace. And Jane continues to ramble on about suicide.

Off stage we hear cries from Nellie. They are a rhythmic patter, which earlier we learned were the specific death rattle of a new disease attacking many in this thespian circle. The screams mount and yes of course we learn that right there in the very safe space of the Talk House, where the table is littered with crystal and a celebratory cakes, the ever kind and generous Nellie is dead. Lights out.

The cast takes a bow, each holding a votive candle and we walk out to be greeted by our programs. The evening is neither uplifting nor a place to forget about the horrible swirl that is our personal political caldron of late, but as usual Shawn’s work does provide grist for every brain cell you have and then asks you to look for a few more.

“Evening at the Talk House” runs through March 12 at The Signature Theater, 480 W 42 Street. For tickets or information, call 212-244-7529 or visit http://www.thenewgroup.org/evening-at-the-talk-house.html