By:Barry Bassis

Simon McBurney manages to expand the boundaries of theater while at the same time he returns to the simplest of forms. In The Encounter, he appears on stage in the one-man show while each member of the audience listens to sounds on headphones handed out before the show begins.The work deals with an American photographer, Loren McIntyre, who was stranded in the Brazilian rainforest, and his encounters with tribesmen. Neither speaks the other’s language but he develops a relationship with the head shaman, whom he calls Barnacle.

Through the remarkable sound design by Gareth Fry and Pete Malkin, the audience experiences insects, conflagrations and a number of other dramatic events. McBurney is a thoughtful writer and an expressive performer, but the work becomes wearing after a while. Perhaps video projections showing the jungle and its residents would have added to the dramatic effect. As the nation still struggles with issues of race, Nat Turner has suddenly become a center of interest on stage and screen. Nate Parker’s provocative The Birth of a Nation is in movie theaters, while the low-key Nat Turner in Jerusalem is at New York Theater Workshop.

 

Turner was the leader of the bloody slave uprising in 1831. Nathan Alan Davis’s play takes place the day before his execution. There are three characters: Turner, Thomas R. Gray (his lawyer, who published his client’s alleged confessions) and a sympathetic jailer. The Jerusalem in the title is not the one in the Holy Land but the town in Virginia, where the trial took place. Turner is a messianic character, who speaks in Biblical tones. He effectively sets forth the evils of slavery bu opposed it with extreme violence, including the slaughter of children.As Turner, Phillip James Brannon is impressive; Rowan Vickers, who plays both Gray and the guard doesn’t do enough to distinguish between the two.

 

 

Sister Rosetta Tharpe (1915-1973) was a groundbreaking artist, a singer-songwriter-guitarist, who mixed gospel music and jazz (a controversial combination at the time). Her life and art are celebrated at the Atlantic Theater in the entertaining two-character musical Marie and Rosetta.Marie Knight was a young gospel singer, whom Tharpe heard performing with Mahalia Jackson. Tharpe thought that the young woman’s voice would blend well with hers and so would their instrumental work, since Marie played piano.George Brant’s play takes place in a funeral home in Mississippi in 1946, where, because of segregation, the two women were forced to spend the night before their performance. The experienced and sharp-tongued Tharpe gives tips on performing and how to live in a racist male-dominated culture to the young woman.

 

Both Kecia Lewis as Tharpe and Rebecca Naomi Jones as Knight excel as singers and actresses. Though they appear to be playing their instruments, actually there are two men offstage who handle the instrumentals. Marie and Rosetta is well directed by Neil Pepe. In 1959, the 18-year old playwright Shelagh Delaney created a sensation with her first work, A Taste of Honey. Set in a working class neighborhood in northern England, the play deals with a teenage girl with an alcoholic mother, who abandons her. The girl is impregnated by a black sailor and is cared for by a gay man.

 

As beautifully directed by Austin Pendleton, The Pearl Theater revival of A Taste of Honey makes the play as fresh as ever. Rachel Botchan is convincing as the amoral Helen, Bradford Cover is the lout she takes up with, John Evans Reese is the sympathetic friend and, best of all, Rebekah Brockman is the resilient Jo. The on-stage jazz trio is another plus.

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