Theater Close-Up brings off-Broadway plays into your home

The Public Theater will contribute four plays to the Theater Close-Up Series, all part of The Apple Family Plays: Scenes from Life in the Country.
The Public Theater will contribute four plays to the Theater Close-Up Series, all part of The Apple Family Plays: Scenes from Life in the Country.

Starting tonight at 9, a new weekly series called Theater Close-Up spotlighting off-Broadway plays hosted by Sigourney Weaver begins on PBS Channel 13 and continues through Nov. 22.

People mostly think Broadway when they think NYC theater. More people will see each one of these scheduled productions in one night than probably saw them for their entire run — not that there’s anything wrong with that. Plenty of Broadway shows were incubated off-Broadway.

The theaters represented here are:  The Public Theater, The Flea Theater, New York Theatre Workshop and Abingdon Theatre Company. Check local listings for times and air dates in your area.

The series begins tonight (Oct. 2) with the Mint Theater’s “London Wall” by John Van Druten. It’s about the lives and love affairs of the women employed as shorthand typists in a busy solicitor’s office in 1930s London.

Laura Collins-Hughes wrote in The New York Times,  “Watching Davis McCallum’s brisk, pitch-perfect production at the Mint Theater Company feels like stumbling across a lost film classic by Howard Hawks: How did this fresh and fizzy thing fall into obscurity?”

Also in the line-up are: Richard Nelson’s cycle “The Apple Family Plays, presented by The Public Theater; Hamish Linklater’s “The Vandal,” presented by The Flea Theater; Denis O’Hare and Lisa Peterson’s “An Iliad,” presented by New York Theatre Workshop; Brian Richard Mori’s “Hellman v. McCarthy,” presented by Abingdon Theatre Company; and an encore presentation of The Flea’s “Looking at Christmas” by Steven Banks.

List of Theater Close-Up scheduled off-Broadway shows

  • October 2: London Wall (Mint Theater Company) John Van Druten’s play explores the tumultuous lives and love affairs of the women employed as shorthand typists in a busy solicitor’s office in 1930’s London.  Pat Milligan, a naïve young typist, falls for the charms of a predatory junior lawyer.  Watching with concern is the firm’s senior secretary, her too-timid suitor and several others in the office.  Presiding over all is Mr. Walker, gamely trying to navigate a new kind of office where men and women must work side by side.  The 1931 play was acclaimed for its hyper-realistic depiction of office life as well as its soulful probing of the dreams and desires of its female characters.  Best known today for such Broadway hits as I Remember Mama and I Am a Camera (which inspired the musical Cabaret), John Van Druten wrote deftly observed, character-driven plays. Directed by Davis McCallum. With Matthew Gumley, Stephen Plunkett, Alex Trow, Julia Coffey, Elise Kibler, Laurie Kennedy, Christopher Sears, Katie Gibson, and Jonathan Hogan.

“This witty, glisteningly crafted tale of a quartet of working women and the benighted men for whom they work has a distinctly contemporary flavor, enough that you’ll come away wondering whether Van Druten might deserve credit for inventing the workplace comedy decades before it found favor on TV.” – Terry Teachout, The Wall Street Journal.

  •  October 9: Hellman v. McCarthy (Abingdon Theatre Company)

The greatest literary feud in modern American history began on January 25, 1980 when author Mary McCarthy appeared as a guest on “The Dick Cavett Show” and declared that “every word [playwright Lillian Hellman] writes is a lie, including ‘and’ and ‘the.’” Hellman went ballistic and sued McCarthy for libel, sparking a lawsuit that spanned more than four years. Brian Richard Mori’s Hellman v. McCarthy, a roller coaster ride filled with comedy and pathos, features Emmy Award-winner Dick Cavett, as he recreates his role in the actual events. Directed by Jan Buttram. With Roberta Maxwell, and Marcia Rodd.

“Director Jan Buttram energetically blends the series of compact scenes in 90 fast-flying minutes. History and artistic license blur together with the real Dick Cavett…laughing along with the audience at his own hokey jokes.”–Jennifer Farrar, Associated Press

  • October 16-Nov. 6: The Apple Family Plays: Scenes from Life in the Country (The Public Theater)

Each year since 2010, Tony Award winner Richard Nelson premiered a new play about the fictional, liberal Apple family of Rhinebeck, NY.  These plays about family, politics, change, and the way we live today burst with immediacy.  Each of the four plays originally premiered on the night on which the action – a key national event in contemporary American history — is set. Directed by Richard Nelson. With Maryann Plunkett, Jay O. Sanders, Laila Robins, Jon DeVries, Stephen Kunken, and Sally Murphy.

  • October 16: That Hopey Changey Thing 

The Apples reflect on the state of their family and discuss memory, manners and politics as polls close on midterm election night 2010 and a groundswell of conservative sentiment flips Congress on its head.

  •  October 23: Sweet and Sad 

A family brunch stirs up discussions of loss, remembrance and a decade of change on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of 9/11.

  •  October 30: Sorry 

The Apples sort through family anxieties and confusion on the day of the re-election of President Barack Obama in 2012.

  •  November 6: Regular Singing 

The final play in the cycle takes place on the 50th Anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s assassination.

As Public Theater Artistic Director Oskar Eustis observes, “The election plays are filled with anxiety and uncertainty; the anniversary plays are suffused with mourning and loss. All four are leavened by the love and support the Apple Family give each other as they navigate family and country.”

“A rare and radiant mirror on the way we live – a deeply intimate drama with a superb ensemble! To my knowledge, no previous works of theater have been topical in the resonant and specific ways of The Apple Family Plays.”– Ben Brantley, The New York Times, 12/11/13

  •  November 13: The Vandal (The Flea Theater)

The playwriting debut of actor Hamish Linklater (“Music in the Moonlight,” “The New Adventures of Old Christine”). Set on a freezing night in Kingston, New York, a woman meets a boy at a bus stop. The play is about how we live and the stories we tell ourselves when we’re haunted by the people we’ve loved and lost. Directed by Jim Simpson. With Deirdre O’Connell, Zach Grenier, and Noah Robbins.

“[Hamish] Linklater demonstrates a Conor McPherson–esque way with spinning stories and a remarkable, all-too-rare willingness to take risks.” – Entertainment Weekly

  •  November 20: An Iliad (New York Theatre Workshop)

Co-adapted by Denis O’Hare and Lisa Peterson, based on Homer’s Iliad translated by Robert Fagles. A sprawling yarn based on the epic poem, An Iliad spins the familiar tale of gods and goddesses, undying love and endless battles told through an original and immediate voice.  An account of humanity’s unshakeable attraction to violence, destruction, and chaos. Has anything really changed since the Trojan War? Directed by Lisa Peterson. With Denis O’Hare (“Dallas Buyer’s Club,” “True Blood”).

“PURE THEATRE. Shocking, glorious, primal and deeply satisfying. …fills the eye with astounding sights – almost more than our hearts can bear.” –David Cote, Time Out New York

 November 27: Looking at Christmas (The Flea Theater)

From Steven Banks (head writer of “SpongeBob Squarepants”), the play takes place on Christmas Eve in New York City. A failed writer and a struggling actress meet while looking at the famous holiday windows and the windows come to life and look back at them, including a lecherous elf with eyes for Mrs. Claus, and an alien Scrooge arguing with an android Tiny Tim about reinterpreting classic Christmas stories. The Flea’s resident acting company, the Bats, star in this romantic comedy. Directed by Jim Simpson. With Michael Micalizzi and Allison Buck.

“Looking at Christmas” is a lovely, sweet, innocent, and most importantly, inspiring story about boy meets girl…” Kseniya Zaslavskaya, NY City Buzz Examiner