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    ‘Paradise Square’ Faces New Complaints Over Payments

    The shuttered show is facing legal action from the actors, stage managers and designers who worked on the production.A union representing the director and choreographers who worked on the recently closed Broadway musical “Paradise Square” is asking a federal court to enforce an arbitration award that was agreed upon in May, according to a lawsuit filed late last month.The Stage Directors and Choreographers Society asked the Federal District Court in Manhattan to confirm and compel payment of nearly $150,000 that is owed to the union; the show’s director, Moisés Kaufman; the choreographer Bill T. Jones; and a few others who worked on the production.The suit, filed on July 22, said the production company still had not “satisfied its obligations under the award.”The lawsuit names as defendants the limited partnership that produced “Paradise Square,” a musical set amid the racial strife of Civil War-era New York City, as well as Bernard Abrams, a producer who is a member of the Broadway League.The show, however, has been most closely associated with the producer Garth H. Drabinsky, who had a successful run as a theatrical impresario in the 1990s until he was charged with misconduct and fraud in the United States and in his native Canada, where he eventually served prison time.Drabinsky had hoped that “Paradise Square,” which ran at the Ethel Barrymore Theater from mid-March until July 17, would be his comeback. The show originated a decade ago as a musical called “Hard Times,” written by Larry Kirwan of the band Black 47 and leaning on the music of Stephen Foster, who wrote “Oh! Susanna” among other American standards. Delayed two years because of the coronavirus pandemic, it made its way to Broadway after out-of-town productions in Berkeley, Calif., and Chicago. The show received 10 Tony nominations but took home only one award, for the actress Joaquina Kalukango, whose performance was a signature of this year’s Tony Awards ceremony. The show struggled at the box office throughout its run, and it did not recover the $15 million for which it was capitalized.Richard Roth, a lawyer for the “Paradise Square” partnership, said on Monday, “My understanding is that everyone is going to be fully paid.”Abrams did not respond to requests for comment Monday.Through Roth — who pointed out that Drabinsky is not a member of the limited partnership — Drabinsky released a lengthy statement arguing that Covid had proved an insurmountable roadblock to the show’s sales and finances. He added that bonds worth nearly $450,000 that were put up by the producers should cover most of what the actors were owed.“Equity holds this bond security,” Drabinsky said, and “the lawsuits that have been filed by unions are simply to evidence the collection of amounts for which the partnership has previously consented. In this regard, I have never been a signing officer of the production, nor do I have any authority with respect to the signing of any bank instruments. Any delay in benefit payments was simply a function of available cash flow.”The Hollywood Reporter first reported the existence of the legal filing Monday.The unions representing actors and designers who appeared in or worked on the musical have also received arbitration awards for hundreds of thousands of dollars. In July, the United Scenic Artists’ local also went to federal court to seek confirmation and enforcement of its award. In the spring, the Actors’ Equity fund trustees went to court to enforce an arbitration award.The unions have also placed Drabinsky on their “do not work” lists. The directors and choreographers union automatically placed the producers on a similar list until the outstanding arbitration award is paid, according to a union official.The president of the local union of the American Federation of Musicians, Tino Gagliardi, said through a spokesman that “Local 802 and the musicians’ benefit funds are taking every legal action needed to recover wages and benefits that are due to the musicians.”Al Vincent Jr., the executive director of Equity, added in an email statement that the dispute was not over, saying, “Our process of getting our members appropriately paid for ‘Paradise Square’ continues with a number of outstanding grievances moving into arbitration.”Local 829, the scenic artists’ union, put Drabinsky on its “boycott list” because of “continued inaction and lack of communication regarding the significant payments and benefits,” said Carl Mulert, the local’s national business agent. “It is unfortunate that the legacy of this Broadway production, which includes the indelible contributions of our colleagues and kin on and off the stage, has been marred by a story of exploitation of and injustice for the many artists that have brought ‘Paradise Square’ to life.” More

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    Chicago’s Victory Gardens Is Again Mired in Turmoil

    The esteemed Chicago theater’s artistic director is out, and artists and his supporters are upset with the company’s board of directors.CHICAGO — Victory Gardens Theater, a vibrant fixture here since 1974, had long prided itself on being a champion of diversity while also bringing new works to its audiences. In 2001, it received the Tony Award for outstanding regional theater for its role in “contributing to the growth of theater nationally.” The theater was jolted in the wake of the social-justice movement of 2020, when its board triggered protests and the mass resignation of its affiliated playwrights by appointing its white executive director to become the artistic director as well — a decision that was not communicated with the theater’s artists. After an upheaval, the executive director resigned, along with the board president, and by the spring of 2021, Black leaders had been appointed to three key positions: Ken-Matt Martin was named artistic director, Roxanna Conner acting managing director and Charles E. Harris II president of the board.But now, a little more than two years after that rebellion, Victory Gardens Theater is in turmoil again. Last month the Victory Gardens board told the staff that Martin had been placed “on leave” — he said in a recent interview that he had been dismissed — and Conner said she would depart at the end of July.That has led to a new uproar. The playwright Erika Dickerson-Despenza denounced what she described as the board’s “white supremacist capitalist patriarchal values” in a statement announcing that she had rescinded the rights to her play “Cullud Wattah,” about the Flint, Mich., water crisis, with nine days left in its run. Actors’ Equity intervened to ensure that the performers were paid for the canceled shows, saying in a statement: “It is deeply disheartening to see an organization that has very publicly wrestled with institutional racism in recent memory again be perceived as unable to support workers of color without whom Victory Gardens Theater could neither exist nor thrive.”Three resident theater companies that present work at Victory Gardens have pledged not to work there until the artists’ complaints are addressed. And the company’s resident directors and playwrights — a new ensemble brought in by Martin — have signed a petition announcing their departures from the organization and calling for “the immediate resignation of the Victory Gardens’ board of directors.”The theater’s remaining staff members took control of the theater’s Facebook and Twitter accounts in early July to post a statement: “We, the nine remaining full-time staffers of Victory Gardens, in solidarity with the resident artists, demand the immediate resignation of the board of directors and the reinstatement of Ken-Matt Martin as artistic director.”Harris, the board president, has declined to comment on any of these matters, referring to Martin’s situation as a personnel issue and releasing a statement on the board’s behalf.Ireon Roach, left, and Renée Lockett in the Victory Gardens Theater production of “Cullud Wattah,” which the playwright pulled from the theater.Liz Lauren“The Victory Gardens Theater board is grappling with the theater’s future, as are many other nonprofit theaters,” said the statement, which expressed regret over the resignation of the playwrights and the withdrawal of “Cullud Wattah,” and pledged that the perspectives of staff members had been heard. “We are committed to acting in the theater’s best interests in all matters.”During a recent video interview, Martin said he did not know why he was dismissed. “The board informed me that I was being released from my artistic director contract at Victory Gardens with cause,” he said, reading from a statement he later posted on his personal website. “I asked twice in the meeting what was the cause and was not given any.”He said he was asked to sign a nondisclosure agreement and give up all claims on future lawsuits. “I am declining the offer,” he said. “It is vitally important that I be able to speak truthfully about the needs of the artists and staff.”His removal was seen by his supporters as a betrayal, following what some saw as a lack of support for Martin and Conner. Victory Gardens has been without an executive director, the top job at the theater, since 2020, and though a search committee eventually interviewed candidates, the post remains vacant.“As somebody who has worked in the nonprofit sector for a long time and had a pretty close-up view of the relationships between boards and leadership and staffing structures, it seemed like operationally there were a lot of holes, and Ken-Matt and Roxanna were being relied on to plug all of them,” said Marisa Carr, whom Martin invited to join the playwrights’ ensemble in June 2021 and who resigned a year later. She cited creating the operating budget (a task an executive director would likely be involved in) and even cleaning the theater as duties that fell on their shoulders.Martin took the reins at Victory Gardens during the pandemic, and at a time when newly formed groups like “We See You, White American Theater,” a national coalition of theater artists, were demanding that antiracism and significant hiring of people of color become the industry standard. Martin supported such efforts, pushing for a pay equity plan at Victory Gardens.Just over a year later he has now joined a group of Black artistic leaders recently separated from the institutions they had been hired to lead. Elsewhere in Chicago, the House Theater closed its doors this summer after its new artistic director, Lanise Antoine Shelley, had presented just two shows; Jon Carr, the Second City executive producer, left his position in February after 14 months; and Regina Victor, artistic director of Sideshow Theater, resigned on July 20.Circumstances differ from case to case, and it remains unclear why Martin was let go, but some see a pattern, including Lili-Anne Brown, who directed the Victory Gardens production of “Cullud Wattah.” “Put a woman or person of color in charge but don’t support them at all and thereby push them off the glass cliff,” she said.Finances appear to be a flash point in this conflict, especially a proposed real estate deal. Victory Gardens occupies the historic Biograph Theater in Lincoln Park and also owns office space in an adjacent building. The board has been considering selling its office space so it can buy a former restaurant space located within the Biograph building with the aim of consolidating the theater’s real estate and possibly saving money over the long term. But Martin and others objected, saying that the purchase wasn’t supported by a broader plan or capital campaign, and that the money would be better used to repair the theater’s long-faulty heating and air conditioning system, among other needs.These disputes have alarmed theater professionals beyond the immediate Victory Gardens family. David Cromer, a theater director and Chicago native who is now based in New York, said he sent a concerned email to the board expressing his confusion and urging its members to resign “if you no longer wish to facilitate the creation of theater.”“Does a board owe legally an explanation for any of this?” Cromer said in a phone interview. “Probably not. But they have the stewardship of one of the foundational documents of Chicago theater, so what the hell? What answers have they presented?”The playwright Isaac Gomez, who posted the “We Resign” letter from the Victory Gardens playwrights’ ensemble and resident directors on his Medium page, said he has recruited 11 potential new board members while sending emails urging those currently serving to step down. One current member responded that the board intends to “stay the course,” Gomez said. Board members approached for this article referred all questions to Harris and the board’s statement.The board has maintained it is making decisions for the good of the theater, explaining in the statement that its members have “more than 100 years of experience with Victory Gardens, and we know well the delicate balance of managing the artistic well-being of the theater with our fiduciary responsibility.” It added: “We believe wholeheartedly in the powerful work of Victory Gardens Theater and are committed to finding a way to enable it to continue.”Could Victory Gardens survive if the board stays and Martin does not? “No,” Brown said. “I believe almost 2,000 people have signed that petition saying they won’t work there unless the board steps down and Ken-Matt is reinstated. So continue with what? Where are they even going to get the plays?”Dennis Zacek, who served as Victory Gardens’ first artistic director for 34 years, said he also is unsure about the theater’s future. “As far as I can tell, either the theater is going to be dissolved, or they’re going to have someone come to the negotiation table and find a way for these people to communicate with each other,” he said, endorsing the idea of Harris stepping down as board chairman. “It may not be enough, but come on, there must be some good people on that board. He may be a good person, too, but it’s on his watch.”David Kolen, an Actors’ Equity senior business representative who oversees contracts with Chicago theaters, said the union would support its members working in a reopened Victory Gardens Theater as long as it is “a safe and functional workplace.”As for Martin, he said that although he appreciates the unsolicited calls for him to be reinstated, he has decided “that I need to take a break from nonprofit theater administration and would not immediately return if asked.”The issue, he stressed, isn’t about him but the treatment of those who do creative work. “I am not a martyr,” Martin said. “I am not a victim. I am an artist and deserve to treated with respect.” More

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    Pat Carroll, TV Mainstay Turned Stage Star, Dies at 95

    Tired of sitcoms and game shows, she reinvented herself in a one-woman show about Gertrude Stein — and, later, in a gender-bending Shakespeare role.Pat Carroll, who after many years on television as the self-described “dowager queen of game shows” went on to earn critical acclaim for her work on the stage, died on Saturday at her home on Cape Cod, Mass. She was 95. Her daughter Kerry Karsian, confirmed the death to The Associated Press. She did not specify the cause.Ms. Carroll broke into television as a sketch comedian in the 1950s and later became a fixture on “Password,” “I’ve Got a Secret” and other game shows. She was also seen frequently on sitcoms like “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and dramas like “Police Woman.” But a part she took in 1977, when she was 50, inspired her to change direction.In a 1979 interview with The New York Times, she recalled being cast as Pearl Markowitz, an overly protective mother, on the short-lived comedy “Busting Loose,” and asking herself, “Is this all there is left — playing mothers on TV?”Rather than sinking comfortably into that stereotype, Ms. Carroll provided a bold answer to her own question by commissioning Marty Martin, a young Texas playwright, to write a one-woman play for her about the poet Gertrude Stein.“Gertrude Stein Gertrude Stein Gertrude Stein” opened Off Broadway in 1979 and received glowing reviews. Ms. Carroll won Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle awards in 1980 for the performance, and in 1981 her recording of the play won a Grammy Award in the “best spoken word” category.“It was the jewel in my crown,” Ms. Carroll said in an interview for this obituary in 2011, recalling how the play came about. “I was recently divorced, I had gained a lot of weight, and the phone was not ringing. It was not the agents’ or directors’ or producers’ fault that the phone was not ringing. I thought, ‘I am responsible for creating some kind of work.’ And I began thinking of people to do.”Ms. Carroll in 1979 in the title role in the Marty Martin play “Gertrude Stein Gertrude Stein Gertrude Stein” at the Circle Repertory Theater. “It was the jewel in my crown,” she said of the play.Gerry GoodsteinA decade later, Ms. Carroll, still looking for challenging work, sought out the role of the conniving, overweight — and, obviously, male — Falstaff in a production of “The Merry Wives of Windsor” in Washington.“When Ms. Carroll makes her first entrance,” Frank Rich wrote in The Times, “a nervous silence falls over the audience at the Shakespeare Theater at the Folger here, as hundreds of eyes search for some trace of the woman they’ve seen in a thousand television reruns. What they find instead is a Falstaff who could have stepped out of a formal painted portrait: a balding, aged knight with scattered tufts of silver hair and whiskers, an enormous belly, pink cheeks and squinting, froggy eyes that peer out through boozy mists. The sight is so eerie you grab onto your seat.”“One realizes,” Mr. Rich continued, “that it is Shakespeare’s character, and not a camp parody, that is being served.”Patricia Ann Carroll was born on May 5, 1927, in Shreveport, La., and grew up in Los Angeles. Her father, Maurice, worked for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power; her mother, Kathryn (Meagher) Carroll, worked in real estate and office management.Ms. Carroll attended Immaculate Heart College in Los Angeles on an English scholarship but left before graduating. “I realized that what I was learning was not going to advance what I wished to do,” she said in 2011. “I always thought experience was the best preparation.”In 1947, Ms. Carroll left Los Angeles for Plymouth, Mass., where she worked at the Priscilla Beach Theater and, she said, ate, drank and breathed the theater. She made her professional stage debut there that year in “A Goose for the Gander,” starring Gloria Swanson. Soon after, she made it to New York, where, among other odd jobs, she shined shoes.She initially made her mark in the early 1950s as a comedian — first at Le Ruban Bleu, the Village Vanguard and other nightclubs, then on television, on “The Red Buttons Show” and other variety series.She was a regular on the Sid Caesar sketch show “Caesar’s Hour,” for which she won an Emmy in 1957, and, in the early 1960s, on “The Danny Thomas Show,” on which she played the wife of the Thomas character’s manager.Ms. Carroll made the first of her four Broadway appearances in 1955 in “Catch a Star!,” a revue written by Neil and Danny Simon. Her performance did not win the kind of notices that foreshadow stage success: Brooks Atkinson of The Times, for example, wrote that she did not have “a bold enough technique to come alive in the theater.”The response was different in 1959 when she played Hildy, the flirtatious cabdriver who tries to persuade a shy sailor on 24-hour shore leave to come to her apartment with the song “I Can Cook, Too,” in a revival of the Leonard Bernstein-Betty Comden-Adolph Green musical “On the Town” at the Carnegie Hall Playhouse. “If the evening has a star,” Arthur Gelb of The Times wrote, “it is Pat Carroll, a blue-eyed blonde with a genius for the deadpan and double take.”Ms. Carroll’s work at the Folger Theater garnered her three Helen Hayes Awards: outstanding lead actress for her roles in “The Merry Wives of Windsor” and Bertolt Brecht’s “Mother Courage and Her Children” and outstanding supporting actress for her role as the nurse in “Romeo and Juliet.”Ms. Carroll married Lee Karsian, a William Morris agent, in 1955. The couple, who divorced in 1975, had three children: a son, Sean, who died in 2009, and two daughters, Kerry Karsian and Tara Karsian, who survive her. Ms. Carroll played an Appalachian grandmother in the film “Songcatcher.” The role earned her an Independent Spirit Award nomination and a jury prize at the Sundance Film Festival.James Bridges/Lions Gate FilmsAlthough she spent most of her career on television (where her later work included appearances on “ER” and “Designing Women”) and the stage, Ms. Carroll also had some memorable roles on the big screen. In 1968 she played Doris Day’s sister in “With Six You Get Eggroll.” In 2000 she played an Appalachian grandmother in “Songcatcher,” a role that earned her an Independent Spirit Award nomination and a jury prize at the Sundance Film Festival.For many of her film and TV performances, Ms. Carroll went unseen: She provided voices for numerous cartoon characters, most notably Ursula, the menacing sea witch, in Disney’s “The Little Mermaid” in 1989. That role, she once said, was “the one thing in my life that I’m probably most proud of.”“I don’t even care if, after I’m gone, the only thing that I’m associated with is Ursula,” she added. “That’s OK with me, because that’s a pretty wonderful character and a pretty marvelous film to be remembered by.” More

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    Review: ‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof’ Knows Its Good Angles

    The Ruth Stage’s production understands the violence and identity crisis at the core of Brick’s character, but other elements fail to cohere.We know from his personal writing (and context clues) that Tennessee Williams was into trade: hypermasculine men who are just as likely to have sex with men as they are to break their necks. These seductive brutes are strewn throughout his work, just as essential and memorable as his fading belles. There is no Blanche without Stanley.Williams would probably love Matt de Rogatis’s Brick in Ruth Stage’s production of “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” which recently opened at Theater at St. Clement’s. The former football hero is still a depressive alcoholic whose drunken escapades earn him a cast, crutches and the growing contempt of his wife, Maggie. But de Rogatis, tatted up and ab-tastic from his backlit shower entrance, compellingly finds the violence and identity crisis at Brick’s core in this contemporary staging.With the character mostly a punching bag for his bellicose Big Daddy Pollitt (Christian Jules LeBlanc) and the talkative Maggie (Sonoya Mizuno) to explode onto, he is often somewhat of a handsome blank slate. De Rogatis, who also produces, convincingly hints at a torrid inner life, congealed into an imposing physique but betrayed by the anguish he voices at the mention of his ambiguously close relationship with a male friend who died by suicide.The performance matches the play, which like many of Williams’ works, is concerned with surfaces as much as its characters’ deeper worlds. A fine-tuned melodrama about a wealthy Mississippi family undone by its patriarch’s cancer diagnosis, the play melts down the characters’ kept-up appearances and oft-mentioned “mendacity” as they scramble for his inheritance.This production, the play’s first Off Broadway staging licensed by the Williams estate, has several excellent surfaces, though not all the elements rise to the occasion. Joe Rosario’s direction, for example, handles the soap opera-style histrionics well but doesn’t land much of Williams’s wicked humor. His characters can often seem aimless and airless, when they should be pointedly animated.The character of Maggie buckles most under this misfire, especially in the first act’s hourlong near-monologue, in which she breathlessly complains about the children of her snooty sister-in-law, Mae (Tiffan Borelli), then laments her own childlessness and the speculation it brings on. Mizuno, though game, lacks a clear focus in this key scene. Hers is not the determined, seductively self-assured feline immortalized onscreen by Elizabeth Taylor — a high bar, to be sure — but a frenzied kitten rattling against a cage. This does, intriguingly, transform her legendary voluptuousness into a believable portrait of an Ole Miss grad whose hard-won financial safety has started to crumble.Similarly, this production manages to make the bourbon-soaked setting feel like the actual South rather than a gauzy memory of the South. Matthew Imhoff’s set is the exact kind of faux luxury gilded Wayfair a contemporary Pollitt family would seize upon, and Xandra Smith’s costumes are exceptionally observed. Mae’s modern good-Christian-girl uniform — sleeveless top, colorful pants, sensible heel — is particularly inspired.Borelli leans into the fun of her recognizable outfit (and hair in a tight bun), tastily spewing Williams’s barbs to crank up his melodramatic flair. She is matched in this by Alison Fraser as Big Mama, marvelously attuned to the work’s tonal balances. Her big, vulnerable eyes, painted smile and full blond hair perfectly convey everything there is to love about the playwright and his addictive fixation on deceiving appearances.This “Cat” evokes most of that allure, give or take a few fizzles. For those looking to cool off on these scorching summer days with a Tennessee Williams classic, it’s a solid trade.Cat on a Hot Tin RoofThrough Aug. 14 at the Theater at St. Clements, Manhattan; ruthstage.org. Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes. More

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    Mary Alice, Tony Winner for Her Role in ‘Fences,’ Dies at 85

    A former Chicago schoolteacher, she appeared on TV in ‘A Different World’ and ‘I’ll Fly Away,’ winning an Emmy in 1993.Mary Alice, an Emmy- and Tony-award winning actress who brought a delicate grace and a quiet dignity to her roles in Hollywood blockbusters (“The Matrix Revolutions”), television sitcoms (“A Different World”) and Broadway plays (“Fences”), died on Wednesday in her home in Manhattan. She was 85, according to the New York City Police Department.The death was confirmed by Detective Anthony Passaro, a police spokesman, who said officers responded to a 911 call and found Ms. Alice unresponsive.A former Chicago schoolteacher, Ms. Alice appeared in nearly 60 television shows and films. In 2000, she was inducted into the Theater Hall of Fame.She first gained widespread attention in the Broadway production of August Wilson’s “Fences” in 1987. She earned a Tony Award for best featured actress for playing Rose Maxson, a housewife in 1950s Pittsburgh forced to balance duty with anger toward a philandering husband (played by James Earl Jones, who also won a Tony), who is filled with rage after a promising career as a baseball player devolved into a grueling life as a garbage hauler.“Ms. Alice’s performance emphasizes strength over self-pity, open anger over festering bitterness,” Frank Rich wrote in a review for The New York Times. “The actress finds the spiritual quotient in the acceptance that accompanies Rose’s love for a scarred, profoundly complicated man.”The role had deep resonance for Ms. Alice, who based her performance on memories of her mother, her aunts and her grandmother, women “who were not educated, living in a time before women’s liberation, and their identities were tied up in their husbands,” she said in an interview with The Times that same year.“I decided very early that I did not want — well, not so much that I did not want to get married, but that I did want to find out about the world,” she added. “I did that through college, through learning, through books and travel.”Ms. Alice, left, with Ray Aranha, center, and James Earl Jones in “Fences.” Ron ScherlMary Alice Smith was born on Dec. 3, 1936, in Indianola, Miss., one of three children of Sam Smith and Ozelar (Jurnakin) Smith. When she was a small child, the family moved to Chicago, where they lived in a house on the Near North Side that was later demolished to make way for the Cabrini-Green housing project.No immediate family members survive.Viewing teaching as a path to a stable, middle-class life, she graduated from Chicago Teachers College (now Chicago State University) in 1965 and took a job teaching at a public elementary school.Even so, she aspired to be an actress. “It was escapism,” she told The Chicago Tribune in 1986, adding: “We never lacked for anything. But my parents got up before the sun rose and worked all day. My father was tired. My mother had to cook. When I went to the movies, those people on the screen didn’t have to work.”Dropping the surname “Smith” and moving to New York City in 1967, Ms. Alice trained at the Negro Ensemble Company, landing in an advanced acting class taught by Lloyd Richards, the artistic director of the Yale Repertory Theater who went on to direct “Fences.” Ms. Alice, left, and Beatrice Winde in “Sparkle,” a 1976 film loosely based on the singing group the Supremes.Everett CollectionThroughout the 1970s and the early ’80s, she made numerous appearances in sitcoms like “Good Times” and “Sanford and Son,” while carving out a film presence in “Sparkle,” a 1976 musical loosely based on The Supremes, and “Beat Street,” the 1984 break-dancing film that helped nudge hip-hop culture into the mainstream.She earned praise onstage in a 1980 Off Broadway production of “Zooman and the Sign,” featuring Frances Foster and Giancarlo Esposito, as well as a 1983 Yale Rep production of “Raisin in the Sun,” featuring Delroy Lindo.After her success with “Fences,” she played Lettie Bostic, a resident director at a historically Black college who has an intriguing past, in “A Different World,” a spinoff of “The Cosby Show.” A year after that, she drew praise as the mother of Oprah Winfrey’s matriarch character in “The Women of Brewster Place,” a television mini-series based on the Gloria Naylor novel about a group of women living in a run-down housing project.By the 1990s, she had become a familiar face in film. She had roles in Charles Burnett’s “To Sleep With Anger” featuring Danny Glover, and in Penny Marshall’s “Awakenings” featuring Robin Williams and Robert De Niro, in 1990; and in Spike Lee’s “Malcolm X,” with Denzel Washington in the title role, two years later.She also appeared in “The Bonfire of the Vanities” as the mother of a teenager struck by a car in a hit-and-run accident.Ms. Alice, right, and Jasmine Guy in a 1988 episode of the NBC sitcom “A Different World.” NBCU Photo Bank/GettyIn 1992, she was nominated for an Emmy award for outstanding supporting actress in a drama series for her role in “I’ll Fly Away,” a series starring Sam Waterston and Regina Taylor and set in a fictional Southern town in the 1950s; she won the award for the same role the following year.Ms. Alice nearly took home another Tony in 1995. She was nominated for best actress for her performance as the fiery Bessie, one of two centenarian sisters looking back on a century of life, in “Having Our Say,” Emily Mann’s Broadway adaptation of the best-selling 1994 memoir by Sarah (Sadie) L. Delany and her sister Annie Elizabeth (Bessie) Delany, written with Amy Hill Hearth.Ms. Alice replaced Gloria Foster as the Oracle in the third installment of the Matrix film series in 2003, and continued acting until 2005, when she appeared in a television reboot of the 1970s detective show “Kojak.”“Acting has been a big sacrifice,” she told The Tribune in 1986. “I sometimes think that if I had continued to be a teacher, I would be retired already. The income would have been constant. But I didn’t feel about teaching the way I do about acting. It’s my service in life. I’m supposed to use it.” More

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    ‘Happy Life’ Review: Ghosts in the Studio

    The playwright Kathy Ng imagines a world where mortality, eroticism and Hello Kitty collide in a spirited, if sometimes muddled, contemplation of loneliness and loss.Urban real estate is flush with ghosts. How many people have lived and died alone, in apartments stacked toward the clouds? Cities thrive on fantasies of possibility, but the specter of suffering looms behind every door. Just ask the broker peddling a cleaned-up murder scene on the allure of its fresh lemon scent.The soon-to-be tenant of that cramped studio in “Happy Life,” which opened at Walkerspace in New York on Tuesday night, says she’s used to ghosts clinging to her shoulders. It’s a convenient match, because the two that haunt her new digs are not the type to go bump in the night and call it a day. They bicker like spoiled children, recollect the circumstances of their awful deaths and make impossible demands of the living.The playwright Kathy Ng imagines a world where the boundary between this one and the next is porous but sticky, and where everyone on either side wants a second chance. It’s a reasonable motivation to propel characters forward, but “Happy Life” does not chart a conventional path. Ng’s influences include gruesome true crime and manga pornography, such that mortality, eroticism and Hello Kitty collide into a spirited, if sometimes muddled, contemplation of loneliness and loss.The head ghost in charge (or H.G.I.C., as Ng’s characters, prone to coining acronyms, might say) was the victim of a brutal homicide. Ng borrows details from the killing in 1999 of Fan Man-yee, a Hong Kong woman who was abducted and tortured by three men, in a case that came to be known as the “Hello Kitty” murder. Billed as Cat Mermaid, and played with unbridled intensity by Priyanka Arya Krishnan, the H.G.I.C. has an iridescent tail that drapes off one leg and furry cat ears protruding from her tangle of hair (costumes are by Alicia J. Austin). Her claim to the site of her fatal ordeal is obvious, and she has every reason to be in a constant state of fury.The other lingering soul (Sagan Chen) hanged himself from the bathroom doorknob. His chest is bandaged from post-mortem top surgery, performed by his phantom co-tenant — the wounds of a self-actualization that came only in death. His hope lies in potential reincarnation options (or ROs), which are not looking great, and in the unlikely support of their new mortal roommate (Amy Chang), who is recently divorced and learning to live on her own.There’s a playful quality to Ng’s storytelling that encourages lighthearted engagement and the suspension of rationality. Can a ghost operate a phone sex line? Can everyone see dead people if they really try? The rules that govern Ng’s theatrical plane are expansive and unencumbered, allowing for freer association of impulses and ideas. A queer sensibility in both form and content is evident throughout. But “Happy Life” forgoes maintaining even its own internal logic, like when and why characters can communicate, whether they’re alive or dead.The production, directed by Kat Yen for the Hearth theater company, dials up rather than tempers Ng’s inclination toward maximal expression. The performances are each calibrated to a static frequency — the forceful and pitiless apparition, the relentlessly placid new occupant — curtailing the potential for more dynamic shifts in character. The shades-of-gray apartment, lined with plastic sheeting in place of drywall and designed by Lily Guerin, is aptly neutral but still hopelessly drab, as much a suitable crime scene as it is a blank slate for a new beginning.“Happy Life” seizes with an almost maniacal delight on the particulars of the “Hello Kitty” murder, more than once recounting the grizzly details of the case. It could make for arresting commentary on the ways in which women are infantilized, dehumanized and ultimately consumed by a culture obsessed with sex and death. But there’s an insular quality to the play that resists broader resonance beyond its prescribed confines. The call is coming from inside the studio, but who is on the other end?Happy LifeThrough Aug. 6 at Walkerspace, Manhattan; thehearththeater.com. Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes. More

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    Review: In ‘Bottom of the Ocean,’ a Deep Dive Into the Soul

    Themes of change, death and rebirth abound in this peculiar production, a triumph of style and low-budget ingenuity.A spa day, a sound bath, a moving meditation and an initiation into strange and tentacled rites, “Bottom of the Ocean,” an immersive experience staged in a semifinished Brooklyn basement, ranks as the weirdest show in town right now, in a town that doesn’t lack for weird. How odd is it? Show me another work that hides baby octopuses (yes, OK, fake baby octopuses) in its communal bathroom.“Bottom of the Ocean” is the third production, following “Houseworld” and “Whisperlodge,” from Andrew Hoepfner, who runs a newish company, called Houseworld Immersive, dedicated to participatory theater. I had missed the two earlier shows, but over the last month or so, a couple of friends had recommended “Bottom of the Ocean” and I had heard it mentioned in conversation. Booking a ticket began to feel a little like destiny. And there are worse Tuesday-night fates than being delivered to the basement door of a 19th-century church across the street from a smoke and vape shop. Knock at the appointed time and a small window will open. Speak the password and a man in elaborate robes will play a xylophone, welcoming you into new worlds.Undersea motif: An installation of baby octopuses in a bathroom at “Bottom of the Ocean.”Jeenah Moon for The New York TimesI can’t really tell you what “Bottom of the Ocean” — which you can experience singly, doubly or in a group of five — is about. Probably I shouldn’t. Immersion depends on surprise, on not knowing what you will encounter around the next corner. More abstract than immersive hits like “Sleep No More” or “Then She Fell,” “Bottom of the Ocean” dilates, broadly, on themes of change, death and rebirth. There is often an undersea motif, though that evaporates in certain rooms.The show borrows, ecumenically, from ancient rites (the Eleusinian Mysteries seem to be a particular point of inspiration) and New Age practices. It invents some rituals outright. At one point I may have worshiped a jellyfish.Throughout, the performance insists on radical intimacy. During the preshow, you will be given a safe word that you can utter if touch is not your thing, though the touch provided is gentle and respectful and never delivered without consent. But not all intimacy is physical. The three actors (Hoepfner, Chia Kwa and Naja Newell on the night I attended) play characters, but you play only yourself. And in the course of the performance you will be asked to offer up your own regrets, desires and prayers.I am unaccustomed to making disclosures like these to strangers. I barely make them to my therapist. So if you pride yourself on privacy and personal boundaries, the show may induce some very squirmy feelings. (Maybe that squirminess is appropriate for a show with so many cephalopods.) Those, like me, with lousy night vision, should proceed with caution. The stairs are steep. And those, again like me, who don’t love to sing in public — well, do your warm-ups.Chia Kwa appears in a show that “privileges interiority and reflection over action, sending each participant on a private journey toward something like peace,” our critic writes.Jeenah Moon for The New York TimesI have sometimes thought about the politics of immersive theater, what it means to prefer individual experience over communal joining. And I thought of it again a few times during “Bottom of the Ocean,” at least when I wasn’t thinking of the jellyfish or whether the fire burning on the salver was maybe a little high or how to locate the emergency exit in the dark. But the aims of “Bottom of the Ocean” are strictly apolitical. The show instead privileges interiority and reflection over action, sending each participant on a private journey toward something like peace.Personally, the depths of my soul aren’t my favorite destination, but there is so much to enjoy along the way. Only two designers are credited — Laura Borys, who created the hallucinatory costumes, and the technical designer Howard Rigberg — but “Bottom of the Ocean” is a triumph of style and low-budget ingenuity, achieved through the simplest means: balloons, beans, wax, water. In the fewest square feet, it provides a sensory deluge. Each new room reveals a strange and distinctive environment.If I sometimes found the closeness uncomfortable (the closeness and the singing), discomfort is the trade-off for two hours spent in what can feel like a lucid dream. At the end I emerged, from one sort of warm, wet dark into another. My aura, if I had one, was definitively cleansed.Bottom of the OceanAt Gymnopedie, Brooklyn; boto.nyc. Running time: 2 hours. More

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    ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ Closes on Broadway as Creators Spar With Rudin

    The hit play, closed since January, was expected to reopen on Broadway this fall.“To Kill a Mockingbird,” a stage adaptation of the classic novel that in January announced a temporary shutdown after Jeff Daniels left the cast and the Omicron variant slammed into New York, will not reopen on Broadway.The play’s writer, Aaron Sorkin, and director, Bartlett Sher, emailed the play’s cast and crew late Thursday to inform them of the decision, and they blamed the original lead producer, Scott Rudin, who had stepped away from an active role in the show after being accused of mistreating collaborators. According to Sorkin and Sher, “At the last moment, Scott reinserted himself as producer and for reasons which are, frankly, incomprehensible to us both, he stopped the play from reopening.”Rudin, who continued to control the rights to the stage adaptation of the Harper Lee novel, sent his own email to Sorkin and Sher on Friday, attributing the decision to the economic situation on Broadway, where overall ticket sales have lagged behind prepandemic levels. Both emails were obtained by The Times.“The reason I opted not to bring back TKAM has to do with my lack of confidence in the climate for plays next winter,” Rudin wrote, using an acronym for “To Kill a Mockingbird.” He added, “I do not believe that a remount of Mockingbird would have been competitive in the marketplace.”The show continues to have a healthy life outside New York. A production in London’s West End opened in March, and a national tour in the United States opened in Boston in April. Those productions are unaffected by the Broadway closing.The play opened on Broadway in late 2018, and was a hit before the pandemic, regularly selling around $2 million worth of tickets a week, which is quite high for a play, and recouping its $7.5 million investment costs 19 weeks after opening.Broadway closed in March 2020 because of the pandemic, and “To Kill a Mockingbird” resumed performances last October, with Daniels returning to star as Atticus Finch, as he had done during the play’s first year. The play sold well until early January, with the exception of a week when breakthrough Covid cases forced performance cancellations; Daniels left the cast on Jan. 2, at a time when Broadway grosses were already plunging because of the resurgent pandemic, and the show’s grosses cratered.The play stopped performances at the Shubert Theater on Jan. 16, and Barry Diller, then functioning as lead producer, said it would resume performances on June 1 at the Belasco Theater. That did not happen, and according to the email from Sher and Sorkin the most recent plan had been for the play to restart performances on Nov. 2 at the Music Box Theater.Sher and Sorkin described themselves in the email as “heartbroken” and said they “mourn the loss of all the jobs — onstage, backstage, and front of house — that just disappeared.” Rudin, in his email to them, said, “It’s too risky and the downside is too great. I’m sorry you’re disappointed. It’s the right decision for the long life of the show.”Sher, Sorkin and Rudin all declined to comment, as did a spokesman for the play. The decision to not reopen the play was previously reported by the website Showbiz411. More