Private institutions may sweep the Princeton Review’s “Best Colleges” lists, but there’s one list on which Brooklyn College gives the Ivy League a run for its money – and no, I’m not talking about the fabled “Most Asbestos” rankings. I’m talking about our brilliant theater department, which for the low, low price of $10 a ticket offers Brooklynites the chance to see some of the best theater that off-off-Broadway has to offer.
I counted recently, and I’ve seen 29 plays put on by the Department of Theater since 2015 (and that’s not counting the trio of plays performed during the annual One-Act Festival, in which case the number balloons to nearly forty). Of those thirty-ish plays, two of them were awful, and the rest ranged from good to brilliant. I’m a little biased, of course, having known dozens of people involved both on- and off-stage in the theater department, but my friends from off-campus agree that the average BC production is pretty damn solid. And if you can’t trust a 19-year-old NYU sophomore, who can you trust?
This semester, the campus is staging four plays by acclaimed playwrights of color, two of whom have Pulitzers and two of whom have Netflix shows. (Which is the higher accolade, I’ll leave up to you.) That’s a pretty high pedigree to begin with, and some of the actors involved in these productions have great track records at the college.
Maybe the only bad thing about this season’s crop of plays is the posters the college has seen fit to advertise them. “Posters” might be stretching it. “Scribbles” might be a better word here. They’re very “abstract,” which is a nice way of saying that they look like they were drawn in MS Paint by a five-year-old. Were they drawn in MS Paint by a five-year-old? I sincerely hope the answer to that question is yes. I cannot stress enough: what the Department of Theater lacks in graphic designers, it more than makes up for in literally every sort of creative talent.
Without further ado, the four plays we’ll be seeing this semester.
From Oct. 11 to Oct. 17, students can see Antoinette Nwandu’s “Pass Over,” directed by Cristina Duarte, in the Don Buchwald Theater. “Pass Over” is an allegorical play about racism and police brutality, taking just as many cues from “Waiting for Godot” as it does the murder of Trayvon Martin. Nwandu is the most obscure of the four playwrights, but that’s not the same as being the least talented. Spike Lee is a fan – he tapped her to write for the Netflix adaptation of his film “She’s Gotta Have It” – and as they say, “game recognize game.”
Just one week later, from Oct. 25 to Oct. 30, at the New Workshop Theater, students can see Brandon Jacobs-Jenkins’ play “Gloria,” directed by Michael Page. The play starts out like your average workplace comedy, set in a Manhattan magazine headquarters. But things take a dark turn when an employee shows up with a gun and hopes of revenge. And just if you were wondering, Jacobs-Jenkins wrote the play three years before the Capital Gazette shooting in 2018. (I would call it prescient, but at this point in America, writing about a mass shooting feels almost banal.)
The most well-known of the four plays coming to the Tow Center this fall is Lynn Nottage’s “Sweat,” which is playing in the Buchwald Theater from Nov. 15 to Nov. 23. The play centers around a Pennsylvania factory town on the brink of economic collapse, and the workers there who find their lives collapsing with it. Racialized resentment ensues. The play won the 2017 Pulitzer for Drama, beating out recent BC grad Sarah DeLappe’s “The Wolves” (which received an excellent on-campus production last year). I think DeLappe should have gone home with the prize – and bluntly, I think she would have gone home with the prize had Donald Trump not won the presidency, and American intelligentsia not felt the subsequent need to throw Middle America a bone. But Nottage is a playwriting heavyweight, and director Tara Elliott is a BC veteran with a rock-solid reputation.
Stephen Adly Guirgis’ “The Last Days of Judas Iscariot,” directed by Matthew Williams, finishes off the quartet of plays in the New Workshop Theater from Dec. 6 to Dec. 11. The play re-imagines the case of history’s most famous traitor, placing Judas on metaphorical trial in a metaphorical courtroom. Guirgis is a bit of an eccentric, and his earlier play “Jesus Hopped the A Train” was recently staged at Lehman to great effect earlier this year. Will CUNY go two for two? I’m excited to find out.
Tickets for all these plays are available online for $15 for current BC students, but there are further discounts if you buy tickets in-person at the box office, or if you buy for all four shows simultaneously. More info is available online at brooklyncollegepresents.org.