Theater

The Best of the Under the Radar Festival 2018

Downtown’s biggest festival devoted to global experimental work starts the New Year off with a bang.

On a “Pursuit of Happiness.” / Photo by Andrej Lamut

When you think January, what comes to mind? Post-NYE hangover? Yup. Cold-ass temps? Check. Renew the gym membership to burn off holiday fat? Been there. But for downtown theatergoers, the first month of the year is synonymous with a burst of global experimental work.

The Public Theater turns into a hub for Under the Radar, a theater festival that brings genre-defying, border-busting, cross-disciplinary work to its many venues during the first two weeks of January. Here, I shine a spotlight on some of the more intriguing offerings of the festival, now in its 14th year.

Octavia E. Butler’s Parable of the Sower

Once you’ve seen singer-songwriter Toshi Reagon perform, you never forget her. She’s a force of nature, even when just sitting and working the guitar. She joins forces with her mother, singer Bernice Johnson Reagon, to adapt the post-apocalyptic novel by late Afro-futurist and science fiction author Octavia E. Butler. The resulting musical theater piece will draw on two centuries of black music to tell a story about an empath named Lauren Oya Olamina, who travels north with others fleeing ecological disaster in Los Angeles.

under the radar festival
Postapocalyptic L.A. in Octavia E. Butler’s Parable of the Sower. / Photo by Paul Marotta

Details:
Newman Theater
Monday, January 8–Monday, January 15
$30–$35

Re-Member Me

Fans of local drag legend Lypsinka (né John Epperson), meet his younger, English counterpart: Dickie Beau. Dickie is a celebrated “drag fabulist” and lip-sync prodigy who brings his quicksilver meditation on Shakespeare’s Hamlet to NYC. Inspired by the moment when Dickie realized he would never be cast in a traditional take on the “melancholy Dane,” the piece samples audio snippets from famous actors (Jonathan Pryce, Peter O’Toole, et al.) who have assayed the role. Dressed in shorts and sneakers, Dickie channel-surfs through great Hamlets of the past. Those familiar with the classic know that ghosts and memory are central to the tragedy; Dickie takes his title from a command uttered by Hamlet’s father’s ghost.

under the radar festival
A drag-fabulist Hamlet in Re-Member Me. / Photo by Robin Harris

Details:
Newman Theater
Thursday, January 4–Sunday, January 14
$20-$25

Margarete

When Polish director Janek Turkowski found a cardboard box on the German-Polish border filled with 8mm reels and a film projector, he realized he’d found the raw material for his next show. This experiential multimedia piece seeks to reconstruct the life and times of one woman, Margarete Ruhbe, who lived in the Eastern Bloc during the 1960s and ’70s. Normally, you don’t think of watching a stranger’s holiday shots or home movies as dramatically engaging, but Turkowski is a first-rate theatrical alchemist.

under the radar festival
Lost tapes found in Margarete. / Photo by Konfrontacje

Details:
Classroom
Thursday, January 4–Monday, January 15
$20–$25

After

A couple of years ago, solo performer and techno-theater innovator Andrew Schneider had a mini-sensation with You Are Nowhere, a show in which he roamed a space (shirtless) triggering off and responding to a barrage of video and sonic effects partly activated by devices strapped to his arms and chest. Now Schneider is back, collaborating with Alicia Ayo Ohs, Alessandra Calabi, and Bobby McElver to explore what happens at the moment of death: Memory? Regret? Cosmic enlightenment? Expect virtuoso sound and light design and rapid-fire dialogue.

under the radar festival
What comes After. / Photo by Maria Baranova

Details:
Martinson Hall
Thursday, January 4–Sunday, January 14
$20–$25

How to Be a Rock Critic

Cowriters Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen take a dirty, beer-stained snapshot of legendary music journalist Lester Bangs, the man who first used punk to describe the demented music coming out of 1970s London and NYC. Bangs lived hard, wrote much, and died young (in 1982, at the age of 33). Jensen plays Bangs, and Blank directs. The brilliant rock critic sits on a filthy couch and recounts his favorite rock acts, whom he celebrated (and excoriated) in the pages of Rolling Stone and Creem.

under the radar festival
Pour one out for Lester Bangs at How to Be a Rock Critic. / Photo by Craig Schwartz

Details:
Martinson Hall
Friday, January 5–Monday, January 15
$20–$25

The Gates: An Evening of Stories With Adam Gopnik

You’ve read his breathtakingly smart and insightful essays and reviews in The New Yorker; now you can see Adam Gopnik live and in person. Standing before a microphone and exuding his usual urbane charm and intense, intellectual energy, Gopnik tells stories about his life in the early 1980s, raising his kids in Paris, and returning home to the best city in the world.

under the radar festival
Opening The Gates with Adam Gopnik. / Photo by Jason Falchook

Details:
Newman Theater
Friday, January 5–Sunday, January 14
$20-$25

Shasta Geaux Pop

Actress Ayesha Jordan’s alter ego is pop “star-tist” Shasta Geaux Pop, who brings her glitzy, glam fabulosity for a couple of special appearances in the Public Theater’s lobby. Billed as a naughty, uncensored basement get-down party, the concert offers retro charms from the early days of hip hop. The piece is written and performed by Jordan; directed and cocreated by Charlotte Brathwaite; and features music and mixing by DJ Average Jo and sound design by Justin Hicks. You may want to drink (or otherwise ingest) something fun before this one!

under the radar festival
#FBF with Shasta Geaux Pop. / Photo by Setty McIntosh

Details:
Public Theater Lobby
Wednesday, January 10, 10 p.m., and Friday, January 12, 11 p.m.
Free

We’re Only Alive for a Short Amount of Time

British-American solo performer David Cale uses hits by 1960s pop star Petula Clark (“Downtown,” “Don’t Sleep in the Subway”) as a kind of soundtrack to his parents’ rocky marriage and the way he coped by taking care of animals in an ad hoc veterinary hospital in a shed. Stories and observations alternate with special arrangements of the songs by Matthew Dean Marsh. If you grew up in an unhappy home and longed to break away from it and your dead-end town, you will relate. This is a work in progress, which means you get to be present at the creation.

under the radar festival
David Cale in We’re Only Alive for a Short Amount of Time. / Photo by Paula Court

Details:
Shiva Theater
Thursday, January 11, and Friday, January 12
$20–$25

Antigonón, un Contingente Épico

This piece from Cuba’s Teatro El Público could be one of Under the Radar’s most extreme and provocative. It’s inspired by the Greek tragedy Antigone, but explodes into weaponized shards by avant-garde director Carlos Díaz Alfonso and emerging Cuban dramatist Rogelio Orizondo. To tell the story of the titular princess who defied her tyrannical uncle and thus came to embody political resistance, the company uses nudity, stylized movement, eye-popping and absurd costumes, and in-your-face vocal attacks.

under the radar festival
In-your-face avant-garde in Antigonón, un Contigente Épico. / Photo by Lessy Montes

Details:
Martinson Hall
Wednesday, January 10–Sunday, January 14
$20–$25

Let us snag your tickets to Under the Radar before they sell out!