Fun Home Hits the Hudson Valley

The EDGE MEDIA
Theater Reviews

By WICKHAM BOYLE

Cast members from the Rhinebeck Theatre Society'a production of "Fun Home."

Cast members from the Rhinebeck Theatre Society’a production of “Fun Home.”  

“Welcome to our home on Maple Avenue… ” sings the excellent cast of “Fun Home” in the Hudson Valley’s Center for Performing Arts in Rhinebeck, N.Y. The Tony-winning musical is receiving its regional premier in a production by the Rhinebeck Theatre Society.

This musical reinvents a classic coming of age story seen through the eyes and pen of cartoonist Alison Bechdel. Her graphic novel of the same name is the inspiration for the transporting words and music of Lisa Kron and Jeanine Tesori. This transcendent work is something this reviewer saw in each iteration as it moved from tiny stages to Broadway glory. As a fan, I was worried that a small regional company might not do justice to this musically intricate work that combines nuanced themes of belonging with coming to terms with sexuality and suicide told with rollicking humor. But when the first song rolled over me and the beautiful set (by Andy Weintraub) unfolded, I was gob smacked.

The work chronicles Alison’s growing up with a closeted gay father, and her coming out to her parents during college, followed soon after by her father’s suicide and admissions of his latent and actual longings. The work intertwines Alison at three ages (small, played with a kind of vigor and impish pluck by Eliza Petronio, medium, comported and sung with bravery and bravado by Mary Kate Barnett, and adult, in the person of Alison, the grown woman cartoonist whose performance is full throated and glorious.

Add to this mix the very poignant and dulcet tones of Jared Allyn Decker as the conflicted father and Alex Heine as the soulful, long suffering mother of three and wife to a gay man. The other children, John, played joyfully by Molly Lyons, and Christian, brought to life forcefully by Jamison Fountain. There is also a bravura performance by Lisa Delia as Joan, the gal who wins Alison’s heart to such a degree that Mary Kate Barnett sings “I’m changing my major to Joan,” a wonderful first love song.

These amateurs, under the deft direction of Dot Luongo and the skilled orchestra led masterfully by Paul and Joanne Schubert, bring down the house with raw emotion and often-hilarious moments. The “Fun Home” (slang for the funeral home where everyone lives) gives rise to hijinks as well as a kind of confusion about the blurred lines of home and work, life and death, the sense of belonging and worldly expectations.

Alison Bechdel is the woman who coined the term “The Bechdel Test,” which asks whether a work of fiction features at least two female characters that engage in conversations about anything other than men. The test has become a litmus test for deciding if there is an active presence of women in films, drama, and literature. And this work certainly puts female characters front and center without minimizing the importance or thrust of the men in the story.

Rhinebeck Theatre Society states in their press release, “A 2015 report from the New York State LGBT Health and Human Services Network shows that LGBTQ people in the Hudson Valley also deal with limited or poor media representation, family estrangement, limited access to affirming healthcare, and severe social isolation. ‘Fun Home’s’ honest representation of LGBTQ narratives will be particularly impactful with a cast of nine local actors, many of whom identify as LGBTQ, especially for specially invited audiences of local high school Gay-Straight Alliances.”

This important work is a lyrical look at how we remember and how we resolve wounds in order to stitch together meaningful lives. The music, the lyrics, and the excellent production all weave together to produce an evening that will soothe and stimulate in equal measure. Bravo.

“Fun Home” continues through June 24 at The CENTER for Performing Arts at Rhinebeck, 661 Route 308 Rhinebeck, NY. Performances: Fridays & Saturdays at 8PM, Sundays at 3PM.
Ticket Prices: Adults $27; Seniors $25; $20 student tickets at the door. “Pay What You Will” Fridays (cash or check at the door)
For more information, visit the theater’s website or box office (845) 876-3080.

 

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Admit it Josh Harmon’s “Admissions” is Important and Amazing

Entertainment » Theatre

Admissions

by Wickham Boyle
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Monday Apr 2, 2018
A scene from "Admission." Photo: Jeremy Daniel

A scene from “Admission.” Photo: Jeremy Daniel  

Let’s admit it, Joshua Harmon is a playwright to follow, stalk and revere. His previous plays “Significant Other” parsed the bumpy road of gay relationships, and “Bad Jews” one of the most produced recent plays in America, tackled religion. All of these garnered praise, guffaws, deep thought and great entertainment. His newest work, currently gracing the stage of the Mitzi Newhouse Theater at Lincoln Center, is called “Admissions.” And it covers the full range of what that word can mean: something divulged and maybe a tad secret, or the act of letting someone in, usually to a place that requires some standards and not just an open door policy.

This is Harmon’s most serious, and yet still giggleable play. He says he worked at it on and off for 12 years and it is obvious that he turned the idea of preferential admissions for people of color, as well as inborn white privilege, over and over and viewed it from inside out and upside down. In Harmon’s words, “I’d never seen a deep exploration of being a white liberal or white privilege. What does privilege look like?”

The premise of “Admissions” is that at a posh New England Prep School the Admissions Officer, Sherri Rosen-Mason, played with taut whining and good-hearted perfection by Jessica Hecht, is keen on increasing the percentage of students of color. It is perhaps her life’s mission. An elderly, long time school administrator, Roberta, is in charge of the school brochure, and she seems only able to find pictures of white students to include, thus thwarting Sherri in her mission. Ann McDonough plays Roberta with bumbling aplomb.

Sherri is married to Bill, The Head of School, given gravitas and fatherly humor by Andrew Garman. These two have a son, Charlie, a senior at Hillcrest Prep. Charlie’s best friend is Perry, a bi-racial kid who attends the school. Perry has a pastry toting, white woman mom named Ginny (Sally Murphy) who is often given to frantic, air headed dithering or proselytizing. Sherri and Ginny are also fast friends. Both boys, Perry and Charlie, apply early decision to Yale. Perry gets in; Charlie is wait-listed. The drama ignites and unfolds between December 2015 and April 2016.

A scene from “Admission.” Photo: Jeremy Daniel  

There are five characters in this tight hour and forty minute non-stop action satire. All of them Caucasian, by author’s design. Perry and his African American father are never seen, but referenced extensively. (In an interview with Harmon on NPR, he said he felt it was more genuine to write what you know, hence white characters and white privilege.)

Charlie, played by Ben Edelman, must be mainlining Red Bull as he has some of the most intense, energy infused monologues (along with endless stairs to run up and down) and still flip and flop like the hormonal teenager we are to believe he is. He delivers a rant on the issues of diversity. Is it fair how society decides who is a person of color? If Penelope Cruz is a person of color, why isn’t Sophie Loren? Charlie says his grades and SAT scores were better than Perry’s. If Charlie is half Jewish and his grandfather outran the Nazis, why isn’t he given preferential treatment? After all, decades ago, no Jews were admitted to Yale (or any women).

Then the rant veers to why some hapless girl named Olive was awarded the position of editor-in-chief of the school newspaper over Charlie. Charlie continues to run up the stairs, flop on the sofa, veritably foaming at the mouth and traversing the excellent set by Riccardo Hernandez, which serves both as Sherri’s office and the family home. This extended monologue wins actor Edelman applause as our heads are spinning. You can watch the audience wordlessly agree or squint as they parse the multitudes of positions presented on how diversity works or doesn’t work from the perspective of a well cared for, dare we say, privileged white boy. All of this action is given taut attention through the directing chops of Daniel Aukin who helmed “Bad Jews” and is scheduled to direct “Skintight,” the next Harmon play set to open later in the spring.

Following up on the monologue, Harmon allows the father to voice his thoughts. Garman’s character rises from his perch in the chair after his son has exhausted himself. He calls Charlie spoiled, says he has no gratitude. And chides him that he will always be fine, always ascend because he is a privileged white male from a prep school background who will no doubt go to an excellent university. He will always have a seat at the table, people like him built the table, and therefore a seat is saved.

The mother, whose job it is to constantly assess and split the infinitesimal difference between deserving candidates, is now stuck realizing that her son may or may not have gotten into his childhood dream school because some dedicated admissions officer, just like her, gave an edge to a kid of color. Or the kid wrote a better essay, had more compelling recommendations, or a host of other marvelous attributes that would make him a fit for what the class would need.

There is a plot twist that allows Harmon to explore a further notion of how far do our scruples and morals extend when it comes to potentially allowing our children to harm themselves. I won’t divulge this, since it is a good one and unconsidered by this viewer until it popped up.

In the end, we the audience, who resemble the people of privilege the play is shaking its fist at, are left admitting that we have questions. When our children, whether of color or not, get into a program, or a school, or get a promotion, do we think they earned it outright? Or do we, will we, wonder what other factors went into their, or our, admission to the next level.

Harmon’s “Admissions” is the kind of work we need in profusion. It pushes us to think about our country and what is going on when a white racist president strips rights from immigrants, LGBTQ citizens, and women. When people of color are disproportionately shot and we have a Justice Department that turns a blind eye espousing that the rampant police killings are a “local matter.” This play is so powerful because it considers multiple facets of diversity and instead of bludgeoning the audience with statistics, and horrors, it allows us to laugh at our neighbors, our often very serious children, and ourselves. Bravo to Harmon and Lincoln Center for producing such an audacious work.

“Admissions” continues through May 6 at the Mitzi Newhouse Theater,
Lincoln Center ,150 West 65th Street, New York, New York. For further information, visit the Lincoln Center Theater website.

Nico Muhly Celebrates Philip Glass at Carnegie Hall

Entertainment » Music
Nico Muhly and Friends Investigate the Glass Archive/Carnegie Hall, NYC/February 8, 2018
by Wickham Boyle
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Monday Feb 12, 2018

Nico MuhlyNico Muhly  (Source:Associated Press)

The iconic American composer Philip Glass turned 80 this January and we who adore him and his music are lucky in that during his 80th year we will be feted with many different concerts in his honor.

 

I am sure one of the best was held February 8 at Carnegie Hall’s intimate Zankel space. It was an evening entitled “Nico Muhly and Friends Investigate the Glass Archive.” There could be no one more adept and intimate with Glass than Muhly, who as a teenager was an intern archivist in Philip Glass’ publishing and recording studio. According to program notes, “I am sure I was the worst archivist in the history of the discipline. Any semblance of efficiency went out the door when I realized how layered and shuffled the pages were, and how many gems were hidden there.”

For this evening Muhly arranged a selection of Glass work both known and a tad more obscure. In his opening remarks, with characteristic pluck and humor, Muhly announced that the works are not listed in the program ” Mostly to drive Carnegie Hall crazy, but also to allow us to find the best order for things. So I will announce the works from the stage.” This was wonderful as each announcement gave Muhly a chance to say why it had been picked from the extensive Glass archive.

Philip Glass  (Source:Associated Press)

Muhly’s “Friends” for this performance were the clear voice of Estelli Gomez, long time collaborator Nadia Sirota on viola, Lisa Kaplan on Piano, Chris Thompson on percussion and Caroline Shaw on violin and vocals. Muhly also played piano or keyboards and conducted the evening with nods and smiles to each performer. The works unfolded with a precision that would be admirable in a military environment, but instead, this was glorious modern music. The sounds, the drones, the nuanced change in scales and rhythms, for me all combine to create a true vibration of the spheres. All around one could see heads nodding, bodies swaying and New York City nerves unjangling by virtue of the magical sounds.

 

The evening began with what Muhly describes as “three little bits” from “Etoile Polaire:” “Are Years What,” “Étoile Polaire” and “Lady Day.” The next offering was from Monsters Of Grace, a work created in collaboration with Robert Wilson. It has texts by the mystic poet Rumi. These pieces are: “Like This,” “Don’t Go Back to Sleep” (link below) and “Boy on Fire.”

As an incredible treat to those of us, especially who have followed Glass’ works for many decades, Laurie Anderson intoned the text to “The Civil Wars” in her signature style which always renders the most from spoken word since she launched her recording career in 1981 with “Oh Superman.”

The evening wrapped up with Muhly, in his self-deprecating way saying how difficult it is for composers to end pieces, but that Philip Glass seems to be so adroit and on point with his endings. And so we were treated with the endings to “Mishima” and marvelous 1980 opera “Satyagraha.” (www.youtube.com/watch?v=CHKUt5fDbH0)

Although this was a one-off concert, look to the immense and inspirational Philip Glass cannon that will be in performance throughout out the year.

Watch “Don’t Go Back to Sleep”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O5zvcgIQsYw)

Farinelli and the King

Farinelli and The King
by Wickham Boyle
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Monday Jan 8, 2018
Mark Rylance in "Farinelli and the King."

Mark Rylance in “Farinelli and the King.”  
Often what passes for holiday fare has a lackluster quality as if the mothballs were shaken off and some bits of tinsel applied to give it the luster of newly fallen snow, however “Farinelli and the King” is truly a wonderful show full of magic and dashes of wisdom.

 

The beyond marvelous Mark Rylance, who is a three-time Tony winner and an Olivier and Oscar winner, leads the cast in a work that began in London in 2015 at Shakespeare’s Globe. The work was written by Claire van Kampen, who should well be able to pen work that exhorts Mr. Rylance to his very best, as the two are married.

The very beautiful production, designed by Jonathan Fensom and transformed by the light of hundreds of candles, evokes the spirit of Baroque times. As the work opens Rylance, as King Philippe V of Spain, is plagued by insomnia and lies awake in his chamber fishing in a goldfish bowl and talking to the fish about the philosophy of going round and round and getting nowhere. Anything to divert himself from his fear that he is not up to the task of being King and that the world is whirling dangerously close to war around him. The Queen, played charmingly by Melody Grove, is desperate for a cure. She hears of Farinelli, who is a castrato with a voice so divine it has the power to ensorcelled all who hear it. In a great twist, Farinelli is double cast. He is well acted by Sam Crane and given voice by the glorious the countertenor Iestyn Davies, most recently seen at the Met in ” The Exterminating Angel.”

Philippe is astonished when Farinelli sings and begs him to stay. Here the plot thickens with agonies and ecstasies sung and acted as we watch Farinelli, one of the greatest celebrities of his time, decide between a life of solitude over fame and fortune in the opera houses of Europe.

The work is directed by John Dove and it seamlessly incorporates a Baroque orchestra on stage, dripping candles, Mark Rylance’s flights of fancy and humor and the interchange of actors who alternate between a sung or acted persona. The music is authentic Handel arias performed by Farinelli in the 1730’s, played live on Baroque instruments.

All of this misty beauty and glorious tones transport us for a time from our own very fractious “king,” who questions everyone as we question his sanity and hope that he can keep us from war.

“Farinelli And The King” continues through Sunday, March 25 at the Belasco Theatre, 111 West 44th Street. For more information, visit the show’s website.

“The Mother Of Us All” in marvelous Hudson New York

The Mother of Us All
by Wickham Boyle
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Tuesday Nov 14, 2017

“The Mother of Us All”

The Mother of Us All
“The Mother of Us All,” is composer Virgil Thomson’s second operatic collaboration with the avant-garde writer Gertrude Stein. It bowed at Columbia University in 1947, close after Stein’s death, and has often been performed in many smaller venues worldwide. Now it is gracing the newly renovated Hudson Opera House built in 1855, renamed Hudson Hall in upstate New York.

The simple, often melodic piece, embodying folk music and Protestant hymns as paeans to composer Thomson’s rural Missouri childhood, is a tribute to Susan B. Anthony who pioneered the American suffrage movement along with Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

Susan B. Anthony lectured at the Hudson Opera House in 1860 and 1898 as she stomped her way across America. Although she was a staunch abolitionist, she still eschewed tying the vote to full manumission for African Americans. Anthony believed in freedom from slavery, but not the right to vote. This is referenced in the opera in a rather oblique Steinesque approach, but still the point comes across. New York State celebrates the 100th anniversary of women getting the vote, and it is a tribute to mount this ambitious production.

The entirety of Hudson Hall is given over to the work. Campaign signs abound, the downstairs gallery space honors the work and the times, and there are many conversations and lectures scheduled to enhance eager audiences. This is a very exciting addition to the ever more artsy town of Hudson.

The production is directed and conceived by the young, much lauded and obviously not reticent to praise himself, director R. B. Schlather. Schlather is a Hudson resident, and he has culled and unearthed a trove of talent along the shores of the Hudson. The cast, crew, and musicianship in this work are top notch, which for this viewer made the over-active, nearly frantic direction and costuming seem like a distraction rather than an adornment for this jewel-like work.

Schlather utilizes the entire second floor including the half floor galleries and the proscenium stage, as well as, platforms within the thrust set up. The cast parades, wanders, marches forward and backward, as they sing the glorious music. Often the overly active motion obscures the melody and certainly the words. True, it is not a linear work, but words and music are meant to be heard and savored.

In an unusual turn, the program generously credits everyone including the carpet layer and the pop-up canteen, however, it leaves the Composer and Librettist off the list. Listed is the director, who credits himself as “brunch chef” and many great collaborators, from video to wardrobe, hair, and make-up.

Also in the program, Schlather admonishes the audience to experience theater where “There are no borders. We are free. Get up, move around, slow down, go get a snack, come back, create your own experience.” This was one of the busiest audiences I have ever seen. They took the exaltation to heart and marched freely in and out, between performers and back to their seats, stood up in the aisles or sat on the floor.

I am not uninitiated to immersive theater, environmental productions, or major international works where the audience is folded fully into the evening. I have been a longtime producer and audience member for this beloved genre. However, “The Mother Of Us All” I believe, is not one of those works.

This production has a vast and diverse cast of nearly 40, all of whom live or are associated with the Hudson Valley. This is remarkable and marvelous. Many must be singled out, including the extraordinary Michaela Martens, recently in the Metropolitan Opera’s production of “The Death of Klinghoffer,” who sings a full-throated Susan B. Anthony, Nancy Allen Lundy as Gertrude Stein, Teresa Buchholz as Anne (a constant companion and supporter of Susan B.) Dominic Armstrong, as Jo the Loiterer, whose diction and clarity were a gift, and the ever-alluring Robert Osborne as Daniel Webster. These all dazzle and fill the hall with glory.

Stay tuned when new executive director Tambra Dillon, recently of Bard and BAM takes over fully in January. Then I think we will see more productions that strive, in her words to “envelop and embrace our goal of bringing our city’s town hall back to life as a gathering place reflective of its unique and vibrant community.”

“The Mother Of Us All” runs through November 19 at Hudson Hall, 327 Warren Street Hudson, New York 12534
For information or tickets, call 518-822-1438 or visit http://www.hudsonhall.org

JUNK at Lincoln Center

EDGE MEDIA
Entertainment » Theatre
JUNK
by Wickham Boyle
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Monday Nov 13, 2017

JUNK

JUNK

  (Source:blouinartinfo.com)

 

The world has become an America-first place, a “me, me, me and the rest of the world be damned” kinda place, run by the orange egotist-in-chief. And so Lincoln Center’s “JUNK” is a natural place to begin the tale of an American downfall.

I loved this show. It was a delight to see a work that wrapped together with my disparate workplace understandings. Solipsistic yes, but I have worked both in theater and on Wall Street. Weird, I know, but this isn’t my story. Although in a way “JUNK” is an intensely personal story for all of us living in the modern day muddle, which is 21st Century capitalist America.

The year in 1985 and the locales are LA, NYC and Allegheny Pa. The characters are over two dozen, ranging from stockbrokers to money managers, brokers, a journalist, captains of industry, lawyers, coal miners, spouses, girlfriends, and waiters. The large cast plays them all flawlessly with a special mention to Ito Aghayere, who plays a journalist of squishy morals, Matthew Rauch as Izzy Peterman, and a favorite of mine Joey Slotnich playing Boris Pronsky.

This is the world that many of us remember as the fertile ground for the birth of junk bonds. “JUNK” is a complex selling of parts of parts, leaving the whole in shambles because the financial value of the parts exceeds the valuation of the whole. That is unless one ascribes value to things like longevity, goodwill, employees, and rectitude.

The main character in the actual Greek drama of junk bonds was a man named Michael Milken, who wore a notoriously bad toupee, bilked millions out of colleagues and small clients alike and negotiated a prison sentence that allowed him to retain control over his millions. This Milken character is hilariously called Bob Merkin. For those of you who are not Shakespearean nerds, a merkin is a pubic wig. Hysterical. So a man who famously wore a bad wig is now in a drama about him, where his character is named after a long-forgotten wig worn on, in modern parlance, your junk.

You can revel in this play even if you don’t speak finance, Shakespeare or economics. This is the short of it. And no I don’t mean selling short because that is covered too, as are options, the nascence of the housing debacle, IPO’s, insider trading, whales, racism, sexism, and coercive language. If you have been an eager observer of the collapse of the housing market, the deregulation of the banks, the enormous disparity in wealth between the coal miners in Alleghany and the uber-rich, then this is a theatrical goldmine. But if you don’t like smart, edgy writing done by a master, then Ayad Akhtar’s play is not for you. However, you’ll be missing a hundred fifty minutes of non-stop intrigue, roguery, and just downright marvelous theater.

The thrust stage at the Vivian Beaumont has a set that is a huge grid onto which an enormous stock market crawl can be projected or bedrooms, restaurants and G Men can emerge to move the play seamlessly along. This setting designed by John Lee Beatty is a perfect foil for projections by 59 Productions, and original music by Mark Bennett and Ben Stanton’s evocative lighting.

Doug Hughes is a director with a glorious touch. The work moves, it provokes, and it enlightens all at a break-neck pace. This mirrors the speed of deals concocted and catapulted through the machinations of the lead, the Milken character, played by Steven Pasquale. Sadly, although I am a huge Pasquale fan, I feel he is too soft, too thoughtful, and too reflective to embody the ruthless men. Yes, it was nearly all men, I witnessed on Wall Street. These were mere manchildren getting sexual favors under desks, snorting coke in the men’s room and the boardroom, driving Ferraris that were purchased from a single month’s pay, and crashing these Italian beauties on drunken nights, only to replace them in another color the following month. I saw this.

Any of the depictions in films like “Wall Street” or the new blockbuster television drama, “Billions” are not understated. It was insane. The pace and the money moving was beyond heady, and I was an only a low-level broker opening same-sex couples in accounts that were questioned by the compliance officer as “impossible.” Even investments in mutual funds saw amounts double and triple at lightning speed. And just as quickly the plug was pulled, and all the value drained out leaving people penniless. It was a huge manipulation with the strings pulled by the likes of Milken, and Ivan Boesky — and these are just the two who did a modest amount of jail time.

“JUNK” shows the start of wild market manipulation and the alchemical creation of wealth from imaginings. The character Merkin is one among many who have reshaped the world to a nearly unrecognizable kingdom of the rich wallowing in troughs of capital while the bulk of humanity subsists on the same wages from decades ago and the sense that the world doesn’t care.

Or maybe it does.

“JUNK” runs through January 7, 2018, at Lincoln Center’s Vivian Beaumont Theater, 150 West 65th Street. For tickets or information, call 877-970-6893 or visit http://www.newyorkcitytheatre.com/theaters/vivianbeaumonttheater/tickets

Illyria, What country Friends is this?

THE EDGE
Entertainment » Theatre
Illyria
by Wickham Boyle
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Tuesday Oct 31, 2017

John Magaro and Fran Kranz  John Magaro and Fran Kranz   

 

“Illyria” and directed and written by the seminal American playwright, Richard Nelson, tells the story of the nascence of the now-acclaimed Public Theater.

Nelson writes tales that transform and illuminate families in every ensemble he puts on stage. The Public has nurtured and mounted both “The Apple Family” plays and “The Gabriel” plays. These extended groupings gave Nelson a chance to work over time, to tell quintessentially American stories with groups of actors who morphed into theatrical families. This time he has turned his attentions to the founding of The Public Theater.

I fervently recall all the iterations of the Public theater from the little mobile stage, which was driven by my then boyfriend around the City, to the move, 50 years ago, to the glorious Astor Place site as an endowed gift from the City. In the early days it was called Joe Papp’s Public Theater, so it will come as no surprise to audiences that in the spring and summer of 1958 Papp’s prodigious ego was already in full view. He was a visionary who knew what he wanted and bucked the mighty to achieve it. This marvelous naturalistic work is perfectly cast and situated at the Public.

By this point in his life and career Papp was working as a stage manager for CBS, he was married to actress Peggy Papp and they had a daughter with the Shakespearean name of Miranda. Papp was already friends with and in a close working relationship to Stuart Vaughan, the talented John Sanders, who directed the first plays at the Public and then went on to be artistic director of the Phoenix Theater, a bone of contention between the two men. Also in the Papp orbit are Bernie Gersten, stage manager turned producer, Merle Debusky, a press agent, David Amram a composer, and Colleen Dewhurst, played wonderfully by Rosie Benton.

John Magaro really embodies Joe Papp and delivers beyond imagining. He has the gestures; the mercurial quick mood changes from saccharine to cutting, and the political chutzpa to take on the likes of Robert Moses. Moses had achieved a czar like eminence and was in the process of attempting to slice up the City further by inserting overhead highways bisecting Washington Square Park.

Entire neighborhoods, including Carnegie Hall, were slated for demolition. Much of the west side was razed to build Lincoln Center, dubbed the “Palace of Art.” Moses’ heavy hand is what is credited with dealing a death-blow to the fragile South Bronx as a huge highway cut the neighborhood in half. Papp, as well as visionary Jane Jacobs, vociferously opposed Moses and helped save much of what we prize as New York City. In the midst of the gentrification of the arts Papp and his coterie remained committed to free Shakespeare productions in Central Park and decades later this is still thriving.

The play unfolds in the thrust stage of the intimate Anspacher Theater on the second floor of the Public complex. The set, well conceived and designed by Susan Hilferty and Jason Ardizzone-West features a jumble of wooden furniture, coffee pot, tables and chairs which are reconfigured for each of the three scenes, which with little perceivable break mark the different moments.

A rehearsal room, a dinner party at Ms. Dewhurst’s and finally Central Park after the summer’s final show all unite to allow us in one hour and forty minutes to see the building blocks of the institution that brought us “Hair,” “A Chorus Line,” and “Hamilton,” among many.

The work fascinates as it also provides a window into a time of political foment where artists were still being summoned to the McCarthy tribunal and many in City government and beyond were bowing down to a kind of political cronyism and fear mongering the likes of which we are again being buffeted by.

The cast delights as it works seamlessly. Leading the pack are Debusky played by Fran Kranz, Emma Duncan playing Joe’s assistant with a wonderful understated steel spine (her character Gladys is also married to Papp nemesis Stuart Vaughan), and Kristen Connolly as Papp’s wife. The cohesiveness may emanate from the fact that in this premier version of the work, author Nelson, also directs, imbuing the play with an even greater intimacy.

According the author’s program notes Illyria is the country where Viola in “Twelfth Night” finds herself shipwrecked. Nelson unearthed a letter written by Papp to an actor who had been in his version of “Twelfth Night” where he wrote, “Illyria is a mythical country where strange and wonderful things happen…”

Yes, and so it is for theater as well. I, for one, hope that Nelson and the Public will continue this person history chronicle well into The Public’s magical history.

“Illyria” runs through December 10 at the Public Theater, 425 Lafayette Street at Astor Place. For information or tickets, call 212-967-7555 or visit http://www.publictheater.org/Ticketing-Info