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    Denzel Washington and Jake Gyllenhaal to Lead Broadway ‘Othello’

    Kenny Leon will direct a starry revival of Shakespeare’s tragedy in the spring of 2025.Denzel Washington and Jake Gyllenhaal will star in a Broadway production of “Othello” next year, setting up what is sure to be one of the hottest tickets of the 2024-2025 theater season.Kenny Leon, who won a Tony Award in 2014 for directing a revival of “A Raisin in the Sun” that starred Washington, will direct the production — the 22nd Broadway staging of “Othello” since 1751, according to the Internet Broadway Database. Leon also directed Washington’s Tony-winning performance in a 2010 production of “Fences.”Washington, an enormously successful film actor with two Academy Awards, for “Glory” and “Training Day,” has starred in five previous Broadway plays, most recently a 2018 revival of “The Iceman Cometh.”Gyllenhaal, also best known for his film career (“Brokeback Mountain,” the upcoming “Road House” remake), has starred in three previous Broadway shows, most recently a 2019 monologue called “A Life,” which was paired with “Sea Wall” for an evening of one-acts.In “Othello,” one of Shakespeare’s great tragedies, Washington, 69, will play the title character, a general driven mad by jealousy. Gyllenhaal, 43, will play Iago, the story’s villain, who persuades Othello to question his wife’s fidelity. The role of Othello’s wife, Desdemona, has not yet been cast.The revival will be produced by Brian Anthony Moreland (“The Wiz”); the show is scheduled to open in the spring of 2025 at an unspecified Shubert Theater.The last Broadway production of “Othello” was in 1982, and starred James Earl Jones as Othello and Christopher Plummer as Iago. More

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    Thornton Wilder’s ‘Our Town’ to Return to Broadway Next Fall

    A new production, directed by Kenny Leon, will feature a diverse cast and will aim to speak to contemporary America.“Our Town,” one of the most revered and enduring American dramas, will return to Broadway next fall in a new production directed by Kenny Leon.Leon has become among the more prolific directors working in New York. Just this year he has directed a revival of “Purlie Victorious,” currently running on Broadway, as well as the summer production of “Hamlet” at Shakespeare in the Park and the spring Off Broadway basketball-fan drama “King James” for the Manhattan Theater Club. He directed two Broadway revivals last season, the Tony-winning “Topdog/Underdog” as well as “Ohio State Murders,” and he has another one coming next spring, “Home.”Leon said he had long wanted to direct a Broadway production of “Our Town,” a 1938 play by Thornton Wilder. He has tackled the play twice in Atlanta, where he lives, first in 2010 with a full production at the True Colors Theater Company, which he co-founded, and then in 2017 with a one-night reading, starring Scarlett Johansson and the cast of an Avengers movie, to benefit hurricane victims in Puerto Rico.“I grew up thinking it wasn’t a play for me, but later in life I thought, ‘If you just include more people, it’s a play about our time and our planet and each other,’” he said in an interview.“The cast will not be all Black and it will not be all white and it will not be all famous,” he said. “I want all of us to feel included, and I want the play to speak to each and every heart in America.”The lead producer is Jeffrey Richards and no cast or theater has been announced. This will be the sixth production of “Our Town” on Broadway; the last one opened in 2002. More

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    ‘Purlie Victorious’ Review: Leslie Odom Jr. Shines in Revival

    Ossie Davis’s 1961 play is no period piece, as a blazing and hilarious revival starring Leslie Odom Jr. testifies.Two years before he made his “I Have a Dream” speech at the March on Washington in 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. attended the 100th performance of “Purlie Victorious” at the Cort Theater on Broadway. He knew the playwright, Ossie Davis, and his wife, Ruby Dee, from their work in the civil rights movement.Now the couple were starring in Davis’s raucous comedy about a stem-winding Black preacher from Georgia. It would not have been lost on the stem-winding King, likewise from Georgia, that he and “Purlie Victorious” had something in common. They were, after all, in the same fight against racism — in the play’s case by laughing it to death.And yet, did it die? If it did, why are we still laughing?The “Purlie Victorious” that opened on Wednesday at the Music Box — unaccountably its first Broadway revival — is every bit as scathingly funny as the 1961 reviews said it was. (In The New York Times, Howard Taubman called it “exhilarating,” “uninhibited” and “uproarious,” all in the first three paragraphs.) But even though times have surely changed — for one thing, the Cort Theater is now the James Earl Jones — everything dark in the play is still dark, and the lightness no less necessary. There’s a reason the setting, however old-timey it may appear on the surface, is still called “the recent past.”Kenny Leon’s thrillingly broad and warp-speed production aims to keep us in both time zones at once. To do so he begins on a note of contemporary welcome as the actors walk onstage companionably to don the jackets and aprons they’ll wear in the play, as if they’d just come from the street. Among them, Leslie Odom Jr. instantly stands out, not just for the spiffy suit he’s wearing (the terrific costumes are by Emilio Sosa) but also for his wolfish impatience to get going. His Purlie, we sense, will be more than a preacher: He will be a prosecutor.Two thefts are in his sights. One is perhaps a petty larceny: The $500 left to Purlie’s Aunt Henrietta by the white woman in whose home she worked has not come rightfully into his hands. Instead, with Henrietta and her daughter, Cousin Bee, both dead, the sum has been waylaid by Ol’ Cap’n Cotchipee, the owner of the cotton plantation on which Purlie grew up with his brother, Gitlow (Billy Eugene Jones). Though a pittance to the rich Ol’ Cap’n (Jay O. Sanders), the $500 is a fortune to Purlie, who plans to use it to buy and restore Big Bethel church, where his grandfather once preached. He wants his inheritance in both senses, the cash and the pulpit.Odom carries the play’s weight as it shifts genres, revealing further layers of character, while Young proves to be a daring comedian unafraid to go as far as the part takes her, our critic writes.Sara Krulwich/The New York TimesThe other theft, at the heart of the play’s power and yet also its comedy, is much larger: the theft of the freedom of generations of Black Americans.It was a practical yet risky choice to weld the outrage over one to the farce of the other. And make no mistake, starting with the subtitle (“A Non-Confederate Romp Through the Cotton Patch”), Davis’s farce is full-throttle, blending lowbrow physical humor straight out of vaudeville with traditions of Black satire and classic social comedy like “Pygmalion.” So when Purlie recruits “a common scullion” named Lutiebelle Gussie Mae Jenkins to impersonate the college-educated Bee and claim the inheritance, you know something will go vastly wrong. Indeed, bedazzled by the preacher’s attention and overwhelmed by the job, Lutiebelle starts to improvise, leading the plan cartoonishly awry.Originally played by Dee, and now by Kara Young, Lutiebelle is a rich creation, sweet and hungry, down-home and dirty. Young, a two-time Tony nominee known mostly for dramatic roles (“Halfway Bitches Go Straight to Heaven,” “The New Englanders,” “All the Natalie Portmans”), is also a daring comedian, finding in Lutiebelle a cross between Lucille Ball and Moms Mabley. That she is not afraid to go as far as the part can take her — with a gawky pigeon-toed gait and hilariously lustful line readings in a taffy-pulled Southern accent — is a sign of the freedom the play gives her (and everyone else) to represent a character instead of a race.As a result, some touchy old stereotypes, appropriated by whites and perverted as minstrelsy, are reclaimed and reframed. Gitlow’s shucking and jiving is, in Jones’s performance, very clearly a performance itself: a way of getting around the obtuseness of overlords. His wife, Missy, played by Heather Alicia Simms, turns classic one-dimensional stage sass into complicated warmth. Vanessa Bell Calloway’s Idella, a cook who works for Ol’ Cap’n and might in other contexts be framed as a Mammy figure, here has a freedom fighter’s acuity. And even Ol’ Cap’n himself, the snarling villain of the piece, is taken down gently: “Put kindness in your fingers,” Purlie instructs a pallbearer. “He was a man — despite his own example.”But it’s Odom who carries the play’s weight as it shifts from genre to genre and reveals further layers of character. Part of the freedom Davis took for himself, and that Leon emphasizes in his staging, is the right to be many things at once, not all of them reputable.Odom, with the angry intensity of his Burr from “Hamilton,” does not shy from Purlie’s scoundrelly side, his willingness to lie, even to loved ones, as a means of putting down a marker on eventual truth. And yet when it comes time to preach, watch out. The way he winds speeches into sermons and sermons nearly into songs makes it seem natural that “Purlie Victorious,” written partly in blank verse, would be turned into a musical. It nearly was one already.Was it also a loving dig at the great orator himself? Davis disagreed with King about nonviolence but could hardly dispute his silver-tongued leadership. And in “Purlie” he seemed to give Kingism a chance. After mercilessly mocking the trope of the Great White Savior, he allows Charlie Cotchipee, the weakling son of Ol’ Cap’n — a role played by Alan Alda in 1961 and Noah Robbins now — to save the day and redeem his race.“We still need togetherness; we still need each otherness,” Purlie preaches in the final, forgiving moments of this necessary revival, as Derek McLane’s set undergoes a miraculous transformation from shack to temple. And then Purlie adds, “Do what you can for the white folks.”Speaking as one, they did.Purlie VictoriousThrough Jan. 7 at the Music Box, Manhattan; purlievictorious.com. Running time: 1 hour 40 minutes. More

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    ‘Purlie Victorious’: Ossie Davis’s ‘Gospel to Humanity’ Returns to Broadway

    The stars Leslie Odom Jr. and Kara Young and the director Kenny Leon discuss the revival, and why its satirical take on racism is still so timely.Ossie Davis’s satirical play “Purlie Victorious” opened at the Cort Theater in September 1961 with Davis as the charismatic preacher Purlie Victorious Judson and Ruby Dee, his artistic collaborator and wife, playing Purlie’s green but soon-to-be-wise sidekick, Lutiebelle Gussie Mae Jenkins. Six decades later, Leslie Odom Jr. (“Hamilton”) and Kara Young (“Clyde’s,” “Cost of Living”) are stepping into those roles in the play’s first Broadway revival, directed by Kenny Leon at the Music Box Theater.Set in the 1940s on a plantation in the segregated South, the story follows Purlie’s return home to Georgia to claim a $500 inheritance, which he wants to use to buy and integrate the local church. To prevent Cap’n Cotchipee, the white plantation owner, from usurping his family’s birthright, Purlie has to trick Cotchipee — a plan that will also involve recruiting the unsuspecting Lutiebelle to stand in for his recently deceased Cousin Bee, who is the rightful inheritor of the money. In other words, Purlie’s strategy hinges on Cotchipee’s inability to differentiate one Black woman from another, and in so doing, the play uses comedy to expose racism as absurd, arbitrary and detrimental to Black life.That pointed critique of racism, and Davis’s clever use of language, is why the play was so well received. “Although his good humor never falters,” the Times critic Howard Taubman wrote at the time, Davis “has made his play the vehicle for a powerful and passionate sermon.” It ran for nearly a year, and the activists W.E.B. Du Bois, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and Malcolm X all saw it. A film adaptation, “Gone Are the Days!,” followed in 1963, and then came the 1970 Broadway musical, “Purlie.”Davis and Dee’s children, Nora Davis Day, Guy Davis and Hasna Muhammad, remember watching all of those versions. The siblings, who are the executors of their parents’ estate, had personal reasons for reviving the play. “It resonates with us because it is my dad’s specific language,” said Guy Davis, who composed the revival’s incidental music. “My sisters and I just wanted to revisit that part of our lives.”“This soars as a true work of art,” said Kenny Leon, the show’s director. “Everything about being American, definitely about being Black in America, you can find in his play.”Elias Williams for The New York Times“Purlie Victorious” itself was inspired by Davis’s childhood. “Dad grew up in the deepest part of Georgia, and had cause to be irate about the conditions there,” Day recalled. “He tried to write a play that was full of anger, vitriol, and righteousness, but it just didn’t work until he began to look at it and laugh and say, ‘This is ridiculous, that one group of people feels like they can control and own other people.’”But Dee had reservations about Davis’s use of satire.“She didn’t like it,” Muhammad said. “She thought it was stereotypical. How could he have these characters? And then he read it aloud to her, and then she was laughing and realized the power of the language and the value of the piece.”Now Leon, Odom and Young say they are excited to share a work that they consider a classic with new audiences. During an interview last month before a rehearsal, they discussed their history with the play, the power of its satire and what it means to stage this production today. These are edited excerpts from the conversation.The Davis-Dee children, from left: Guy Davis, Nora Davis Day and Hasna Muhammad, who together helped bring the revival to Broadway.Elias Williams for The New York TimesHow did this production come about?KENNY LEON Our producer Jeffrey Richards, whose mom [Helen Stern Richards] was the original company manager of the play and the general manager of the musical, began talking to me about this seven years ago. But I also spent time with Ossie and Ruby when they came to the rehearsals for my first Broadway show, “A Raisin in the Sun” [in 2004]. When Jeffrey approached me about possibly doing this on Broadway, I said, “I’m your guy,” because I love Ossie Davis. And I love this piece. I directed the musical [in 2008 at the Fox Theater in Atlanta]. It’s an exciting play and an outrageous comedy that is somewhere between rage and hope.LESLIE ODOM Somebody had shoved the script in my hand as a young theater student. It was one of those plays that you should look at for an audition or a scene study class. The musical was also done in Philly when I was a kid, at the Freedom Theater, where I started acting as a 13-year-old.LEON But Leslie is what made this production a possibility — being that anchor. I found out that he always loved the play, so to have him want to be in it and produce it with Jeffrey Richards made it a reality. KARA YOUNG I was really surprised that Ossie Davis wrote a play like this. At that time, and this is just my imagination, because “A Raisin in the Sun” was so prolific, he really had the chance to change the world and the way that people thought about Black life. [Dee starred in the original 1959 Broadway production with Davis joining the cast later that year.] He dissected the absurdity of the social and racial structures of this world, and America in particular, and the legacy of slavery in this country. It is Ossie’s gospel to humanity. There are just so many amazing lines here that are the voices of a million people and a million spirits.LEON I don’t want people to shortchange Ossie Davis’s craftsmanship and his writing an outrageous comedy that embraced different styles, like vaudeville, broad comedy, and a little bit of the drama from “A Raisin in the Sun.” Look at this penmanship, poetry, movement and song. Many times, I think for an African American work, they have a different set of rules to gauge its greatness. But this soars as a true work of art.In addition to Young and Odom Jr., the cast includes Vanessa Bell Calloway, far left, and Heather Alicia Simms, far right. Elias Williams for The New York TimesHow do you think it will land at this moment?ODOM I’m curious, too. When I think about the last incredible experience I had in this town with a piece of work [“Hamilton”], and I think that if that piece of work had been written five years before, it might not have done the thing. So, I am excited to discover why now, and I am along for the ride.YOUNG I feel like the timing is almost perfect.LEON We were talking earlier about how every generation has to fight for democracy. We have to fight for true freedom and beauty, and what better time to be reminded of that than right now as we engage in the 2024 election? As we think about those things that Ossie Davis talks about, we got to stay in truth.YOUNG And remember our history.LEON What’s that line Purlie says? “Give us a piece of the Constitution.”ODOM “We want our cut of the Constitution and we want it now: and not with no little teaspoon, white folks. Throw it at us with a shovel.”How do you balance the play’s humor and its politics?ODOM It’s a romp. It’s a real hoot. We’re having a ball. As joyful and as light-filled as this experience is, he realized it was too painful to ask an audience to sit through it. It’s already an act of great generosity and grace that he decided to put it together in this way. He wanted us to be able to witness these people that he grew up with, this country that he grew up in, this farm that he knew so well, but he wanted you to be able to stand it and to tolerate it. LEON We’re telling it in a joyous way and dealing with some real stuff.YOUNG There are just so many gems about the violence of our just existing. There is a line I said the other day that reminds me of gentrification. Lutiebelle says, “The whole thing was a trip to get you out of the house.” I’m a Harlemite, and I’ve been feeling the violence of gentrification for years. I know that’s not what the play is about, but these things are dropped in the story, and because it is so dramaturgically sound, they can live on their own.LEON That’s so beautiful because that, to me, is what artists are supposed to do. We’re supposed to revisit the work from the previous generation and say, “How does that relate to me now?” I treat revivals like they’re new plays. Everything about being American, definitely about being Black in America, you can find in his play.Is that why you changed the structure from three to two acts, without an intermission?LEON I read plays five times to inform me of what I will do with them. After the fifth reading, I came away with the idea that it is about getting to that last page and scene. And getting to that last scene meant it’s about the rhythm of what’s happening onstage and people in the audience not thinking about time. I don’t want the outside world to come in. I just want them to get lost in this world.Kara and Leslie, what is it like to invoke the spirit of Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis onstage?YOUNG I’m a huge fan of Ruby, oddly also as a Harlemite. Ruby and Ossie are great examples of what it means to be organizers and activists and to be a force of change. But what it means to step into a role that Ruby Dee originated, I can’t quite put that into language. But this is also a role about a young woman and her journey, about finding a sense of self and her importance in the world for the first time and standing in that. It feels like a very universal story for a Black girl.ODOM The thing about these drama schools around the country is that they train you in the classics. My training prepared me for this. But I think my responsibility as an artist is to choose the projects that I’m a part of thoughtfully, collaborate with people that I respect, and work on things at the highest level. That’s what I’m supposed to be doing. It takes a while to get there. We’re doing this play as written in 1961, but people will be so surprised at how hip it is and how much it stands up. The more we learn, the more we build trust with Mr. Davis and his words. It rises to support us. How do you want people to feel after leaving “Purlie Victorious”?LEON That this feels like a new play. I think that’s what Ossie would want: us to introduce this to live human beings whose lives are affected daily.YOUNG The irony of racism. When you really break it down, the construct of racism is just really absurd. But, even in those power structures, these characters need each other. We need each other.ODOM Recently, I read Clint Smith’s book “How the Word Is Passed.” He paints a more honest picture of chattel slavery and the truth of that in this country. “Nostalgia is a fantasy about the past using no facts,” he says. “And somewhere in between is memory, which is kind of this blend of history and a little bit of emotion.” Man, did that strike me. I want this “Purlie” to feel like a memory. I hope that it feels like the facts need emotion. More

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    Review: This ‘Hamlet’ Under the Stars Is No Walk in the Park

    The Public Theater’s alfresco production has plenty to offer audiences who know the play already. But it may not be so easy for newcomers.For those who remember the 2019 Shakespeare in the Park production of “Much Ado About Nothing” — as I do, fondly — the sight that awaits them at this summer’s “Hamlet” in the same location is disturbing.Entering the Delacorte Theater, you are immediately faced with what looks like a copy of the earlier show’s set, which depicted the handsome grounds of a grand home in a Black suburb of Atlanta. But now it is utterly ruined. The facade is atilt, the S.U.V. tipped nose-first in a puddle, the Stacey Abrams for President banner torn down and in tatters. The flagpole bearing the Stars and Stripes sticks out of the ground at a precipitous angle, like a javelin that made a bad landing.For the director Kenny Leon and the scenic designer Beowulf Boritt, both returning for this “Hamlet” — the Public Theater’s fifth in the park since 1964 and 13th overall — it’s a coup de théâtre, if an odd one. However smartly the setting provokes a shiver of dread in those who recognize it, and dread is certainly apt for a play in which nine of the main characters die, it can only produce a shrug from anyone else. An approach that had been designed to welcome audiences to a new way of looking at Shakespeare in 2019 now seems destined to exclude them.I’m afraid the same holds for the production overall: It is full of insight and echoes for those already in the know, and features lovely songs (by Jason Michael Webb) and a few fine performances that anyone can enjoy. (Ato Blankson-Wood brings a vivid anger to the title role.) But this “Hamlet” has been placed in a frame that doesn’t match what the production actually delivers, leaving me glad to have seen it but wishing for something more congruent.Part of the problem is that the frame — both Black and military as in Leon’s “Much Ado” — is so prominent at the start and irrelevant thereafter. Instead of beginning the play as written, with the ghost of Hamlet’s father, Leon stages his funeral as a prologue, with Marine Corps pallbearers, a praise team singing settings of Bible verses and Ophelia (Solea Pfeiffer) channeling Beyoncé.Only after this welcoming opening do we get the awful scenes in which the dead king, appearing to Hamlet, urges revenge on the brother who murdered him and then married his wife. As his giant funeral portrait comes to life through psychedelic special effects, Hamlet confusingly lip-syncs his beyond-the-grave voice, provided by Samuel L. Jackson in Darth Vader mode.But don’t be misled by that martial tone, any more than by the set, the Marines and the military cut of Jessica Jahn’s costumes for the men. (For the women they are colorful and gorgeous.) The war story they seem to promise is not in fact told in this production, as almost all the material concerning Denmark’s beef with Norway, and the consequent need to assure the royal succession, has been cut.Well, something had to be. Uncut, “Hamlet,” the longest of Shakespeare’s plays, would likely run more than four hours without an intermission; here it’s two hours and 45 minutes with one. How different directors make the trims is, in effect, their interpretation. Is the play a dysfunctional family melodrama? A moral inquiry into suicide and murder? A satire of royal courts and courtiers? All are in there.Leon focuses on the interior drama of Hamlet himself, inevitable when you cherry-pick the famous soliloquies. Blankson-Wood delivers them well, if not yet with the easeful expression that turns them into free-flowing thoughts-as-actions instead of words, words, words to be worked on.Still, because the soliloquies follow each other so closely, giving the staging the herky-jerky feeling of a musical without enough book, we get a clear sense of his Hamlet as someone whose interiority and sullenness precede the excuse of his father’s murder. You are not surprised when he turns Bad Boyfriend on Ophelia after (accidentally) killing her father. Ophelia herself is hoist with the same petard. Her descent into insanity, never clearly delineated in the text, is even more sudden with the cuts taken.Something similar happens to many of the other characters, like the interchangeably bro-y Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, who make a first impression then all but disappear. The Players are similarly reduced, their version of “The Mousetrap,” with which Hamlet intends to “catch the conscience of the king” now a mime show. And Horatio barely seems to show up in the first place, even though he’s the character Shakespeare leaves standing at the end: enjoined, as Hamlet says dying, to “tell my story.”The show recreates the set from the 2019 Shakespeare in the Park production of “Much Ado About Nothing,” which depicted the grounds of a home in a Black suburb of Atlanta, but now utterly ruined.Sara Krulwich/The New York TimesIf that story is a bit foggy in this production, others are absolutely clear. As Claudius, John Douglas Thompson brings his usual grave authority to bear but also a fascinating note of insecurity that helps explain the character’s ruthlessness. Daniel Pearce makes of Polonius a hilariously pedantic desk jockey and bad idea bear. (The downside: You don’t mind when he gets knifed.) In Nick Rehberger’s rendering of Laertes, the character’s grief, fury and forgiveness all ring true, even though, as cut, they are nearly simultaneous.And Lorraine Toussaint is an exceptionally subtle, emotionally intelligent Gertrude, grieving her husband’s death but alert to the necessity of loving his killer. For me, she is the center of this production’s tragedy, giving fullest expression to Claudius’s observation that “When sorrows come, they come not single spies,/But in battalions.”That’s an unusual path to cut through the play, but having seen it so many times, I’m happy to go for a ride on its less-traveled roads. Throughout this production I heard arresting poetry I’d somehow missed before (“a pair of reechy kisses”) and saw old ideas revivified by bright new details. (When Polonius sends Laertes off with his tired advice, he also slips him an N95 mask, as other fathers might slip their child condoms.)Yet I worried that those less familiar with “Hamlet,” let alone those more invested in a traditional rendition, would be left unanchored on its heaving sea of meaning. Though performed, and often well, under the open sky of Central Park, its thoughts (as Claudius says) “never to heaven go.” They’re atilt like the house, and, like that javelin, too strangely angled.HamletThrough Aug. 6 at the Delacorte Theater, Manhattan; publictheater.org. Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes. More

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    ‘King James’ Review: We’ll Always Have LeBron

    Two men’s kindred obsession with a basketball player is the scaffold for Rajiv Joseph’s examination of male friendship at the Manhattan Theater Club.It takes a while to figure out if Rajiv Joseph’s latest play, “King James” — centered on two fans of the N.B.A. legend LeBron James — is actually about basketball.This coproduction between Steppenwolf Theater, in Chicago, and Center Theater Group, in Los Angeles, arrives at the Manhattan Theater Club after runs in both of those cities. Similarly, like an imperfect play on the court, the plot travels quite a bit before making its shot. But with two emotionally precise performances agilely directed by Kenny Leon, Joseph’s latest rebounds from its initial inertia, revealing a touching examination of male friendship and the powerful social currents beneath it.In 2004, Matt (Chris Perfetti), a Cleveland bartender, is trying to unload his season tickets to the Cavaliers’ home games after a bad investment leaves him needing cash fast. Despite not knowing how to check for texts on his Motorola Razr — one of the production’s clever pleasures is the way Rob Milburn and Michael Bodeen’s sound design and Todd Rosenthal’s scenic design trace time through evolving cellphones and ringtones — he manages to arrange a meet-up with Shawn (Glenn Davis), a fledgling writer who’s just sold his first story.Shawn offers Matt much less than the asking price, but, sensing a kindred devotion to the team’s then-rookie LeBron James, the two strike a deal and strike up a friendship — a wobbly one that the story checks in on over the course of James’ career. In 2010, when James left for the Miami Heat, a decision the friends see as treason, even as Shawn considers his own move. In 2014, with James’s prodigal return to the Cavs — news which Matt, now working at his family’s furniture store following another financial mistake, takes with more contempt than Shawn might like. And in 2016, with the team’s first championship win, worlds away from the friendship’s Bush-era beginnings.A two-hander will almost always let the meat (be it sports, play dates or Idina Menzel obsessions) fall off as its thematic bones reveal themselves and, across those four scenes, James eventually takes his place as the catalyst for the duo’s deeper bond. But, however well acted, the interactions Joseph creates for them during the first act (2004 and 2010) are just a little too slight in their significance, leaving most of the show’s heft to the sturdier second act.The inclusion of Khloe Janel as a D.J. — posted up by the audience, away from the stage — playing requisite jock jams and period-appropriate Usher hits during transitions, hypes up the love of the game but obscures the play’s core. Luckily, the perfectly cast Davis and Perfetti, whose physicality keenly conveys the toll of time passing, are intensely watchable, whether they’re discussing foul shots or failed ambitions.At first, it doesn’t seem relevant to mention that Shawn is Black and Matt is white, because Joseph excels at letting this distinction inform the characters in a play where race doesn’t factor much, until it does. For the most part, Matt’s casual use of Black lingo can be chalked up to awkward passes at the basketball culture to which he wants to belong. And his pontifications on what he views as “the problems with America” — which he proposes are not reflected in professional basketball — are mostly just the vaguely righteous rumblings of an angry young white guy.When tension does bubble up, during the play’s final encounter, it appears inevitable and is astutely observed without feeling writerly, showcasing Joseph’s mastery over the way everyday conversation can belie or reveal social realities. His work here is a strong analysis of friendship dynamics built along, but not hinged upon, the issues that divide them. King JamesThrough June 18 at New York City Center Stage I, Manhattan; nycitycenter.org. Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes. More

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    Danny and Lucy DeVito Head to Broadway With Roundabout Theater Company’s New Season

    The actors will play a father and daughter in “I Need That,” a comedy written by Theresa Rebeck.Danny DeVito and his daughter, Lucy, will co-star in a new Theresa Rebeck play on Broadway this fall, presented by the nonprofit Roundabout Theater Company, which announced its 2023-2024 season on Tuesday.Roundabout said that its Broadway season would include two three-hander plays: “I Need That,” the new Rebeck play, as well as a revival of “Home,” a 1979 play by Samm-Art Williams.“I Need That” is a comedy about a widower, played by DeVito, struggling to let go of clutter after the death of his wife. Lucy DeVito will play the character’s daughter, and Ray Anthony Thomas will play his friend; the production, directed by Moritz von Stuelpnagel, will begin performances in October at the American Airlines Theater. Von Stuelpnagel also directed Rebeck’s last Broadway play, “Bernhardt/Hamlet,” in 2018; that show was also produced by Roundabout.Danny DeVito previously starred on Broadway in “The Price,” another Roundabout production, in 2017.“I had such a great time the last time I was there, and we’re chomping at the bit to do this one,” Danny DeVito said in a joint interview with his daughter.In 2021, when many theaters were still closed, Danny and Lucy DeVito collaborated on an audio play, “I Think It’s Worth Pointing out That I’ve Been Very Serious Throughout This Entire Discussion or, Julia and Dave Are Stuck in a Tree,” by Mallory Jane Weiss, for Playing on Air. That show was directed by Von Stuelpnagel, and led to this new venture: The DeVitos said they’d be open to working with Von Stuelpnagel again, at which point he mentioned their interest to Rebeck, who wrote the new play for them. They workshopped it with a staged reading at the Dorset Theater Festival in Vermont in 2022.“It’s a very humanistic, character-driven, slice-of-life story,” Lucy DeVito said. “The themes speak to loneliness and love, and the hardships you experience with your family while getting older.”“I Need That” will be her Broadway debut.Danny and Lucy DeVito have worked together on a variety of projects: Among them, last year’s “Little Demon,” an FXX animated comedy, as well as “Curmudgeons,” a short comedic film in 2016.“Home,” which Roundabout plans to stage on Broadway next spring, is about a North Carolina farmer who is imprisoned as a draft dodger during Vietnam, and then has a series of adventures in a big city as he tries to put his life back together. The play was first staged Off Broadway by the Negro Ensemble Company in 1979 and then transferred to Broadway in 1980.“The play itself is a freshet of good will, a celebration of the indomitability of man, a call to return to the earth,” the critic Mel Gussow wrote in the Times in 1979. “In all respects — writing, direction and performance — this is one of the happiest theatrical events of the season.”The revival will be directed by Kenny Leon, one of the most prolific directors on the New York stage and a Tony Award winner for directing the 2014 revival of “A Raisin in the Sun.”Roundabout, which only staged one show on Broadway this season (a revival of “1776” that ran for three months), said it hopes to stage three next season; the third has not yet been announced.Roundabout also announced Tuesday plans to stage two plays Off Broadway next season: “The Refuge Plays,” an intergenerational family drama written by Nathan Alan Davis (“Nat Turner in Jerusalem”), and directed by Patricia McGregor (she is the artistic director of New York Theater Workshop, and that theater is also associated with the production), next fall, and “Jonah,” a boarding school coming-of-age story written by Rachel Bonds (“The Lonely Few”) and directed by Danya Taymor (“Pass Over”), next spring. And it said it would produce “Covenant,” about a blues musician who may or may not have made a deal with the devil, written by York Walker and directed by Tiffany Nichole Greene and staged in its Off Off Broadway underground black box space in the fall. More

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    Leslie Odom Jr. Plans Return to Broadway in ‘Purlie Victorious’

    Kenny Leon will direct the revival of Ossie Davis’s 1961 play, which is expected to run this summer at an unspecified Broadway theater.Leslie Odom Jr., who won a Tony Award for his breakout performance as Aaron Burr in “Hamilton,” plans to return to Broadway this summer to star in, and co-produce, a revival of a 1961 comedy about a preacher trying to acquire a church in his hometown while challenging a local segregationist.The play, “Purlie Victorious: A Non-Confederate Romp Through the Cotton Patch,” was written by Ossie Davis, the actor and civil rights activist, who also starred in the original Broadway production alongside his wife and frequent collaborator, Ruby Dee. (The original cast also featured Alan Alda.) The play was quickly adapted into a movie, called “Gone Are the Days!,” and then into a musical, simply titled “Purlie.”The revival will be directed by Kenny Leon, who has had a lot on his plate lately: He directed this season’s Broadway runs of “Topdog/Underdog” and “Ohio State Murders,” and is directing an Off Broadway production of “King James” (about LeBron James fandom) this spring and “Hamlet” at Free Shakespeare in the Park this summer.“Purlie Victorious” is a satire of Southern stereotypes, and both Leon and Odom said they believe it will resonate with contemporary audiences. “It explores the truth in a way that we know and we can receive it,” Leon said. “To me, when I read this play, I don’t feel paralyzed, I feel joyous, and I say, ‘What can I do to make our country better?’”Odom, who gave his daughter the middle name Ruby after Ruby Dee, said he has been interested in the play for some time. “First and foremost, we want to make a kick-ass, entertaining, joyful revival production of this great play,” he said. “We want to make a seminal production of ‘Purlie Victorious,’ this thing that hasn’t been seen on Broadway for decades and that was so important to Mr. Davis.”In the years since “Hamilton,” Odom has had a thriving film and television career, with significant roles in “One Night in Miami” and “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery,” a guest starring role in “Abbott Elementary,” and he is now in Atlanta, filming a sequel to “The Exorcist.” Before committing to “Purlie Victorious,” which will be his first professional stage play, Odom said he test-drove the material, to reassure himself that it would still work, and that he felt comfortable in the role.“We did a small private reading just to begin the exploration, and what we found is that, absolutely, it holds up,” he said in a telephone interview. “Mr. Davis left us a road map to all the moments of magic that I’m looking for in this play, and it really is a matter of us committing this text to memory and letting it have its way with us.”The revival’s lead producer is Jeffrey Richards. The production said in a statement Wednesday that the revival would begin performances “in late summer 2023” at an unspecified Broadway theater. More