Ethan Hawke

Letter from NY: Broadway report

What's been lighting the lights on the Great White Way? A Choir Boy, a Mockingbird, Sam Shepard, and a Prom.

By MISHA BERSON

NEW YORK – Somewhere between the dead of winter and the rebirth of spring, Broadway takes a breath. It’s before a stream of shows hoping to vie for Tony Awards take up residence near Times Square.  And it’s after a lot of productions, including really great stuff like last year’s Tony Award for best original musical, The Band’s Visit, prepare to depart.

Yet for a Broadway-bound visitor to New York there is still enough to attract your attendance, if you choose wisely.

During a recent East Coast journey I was able to put together a smorgasbord of shows that included a riveting contemporary drama,  an engrossing play revival, a play based on an American literary classic and – oh, right – a new musical.  (And it wasn’t Cher.)  I watched several screen stars in live action, revisited an old favorite script, and witnessed the flowering of a young African-American writer who is helping revitalize serious American drama on Broadway.

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Tarrell Alvin McCraney’s “Choir Boy.” Photo: Matthew Murphey

LET’S START WITH THAT LAST ONE: Choir Boy, by Tarrell Alvin McCraney. Though it debuted Off Broadway in 2013, this adrenalin- and music-fueled play set in a black all-male prep school made its Broadway debut only this year, after some revision.  If its author sounds familiar, maybe that’s because McCraney collected an Oscar for his screenplay for the valuable film Moonlight. He also wrote the touted new Netflix baseball drama High Flying Bird.

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FilmWatch Weekly: Wrestling with God now and then

Veteran filmmaker Paul Schrader's "First Reformed" arrives just as an Ingmar Bergman retrospective kicks off

On the off chance that you have managed to maintain an optimistic perspective on the fate of the human species, Paul Schrader is here to bring you back to Earth. Or maybe it would be more accurate to say that he’s here to lift you up into a position where a God’s-eye view of our species’ grand folly leads to a sensation more akin to disappointment than anger.

So, obviously, Schrader’s new film, “First Reformed,” is not a feel-good summer hit. It’s not going to be a hit of any sort, frankly. But it is a towering return to form from the man who wrote and/or directed “Taxi Driver,” “Raging Bull,” “The Last Temptation of Christ,” “Mishima,” “Blue Collar,” “Affliction,” and more. Although Schrader intends to continue making films, this would serve as a fitting capstone were it to be the 71-year-old’s final feature.

“First Reformed” is also a triumph for Ethan Hawke, who brings all the hangdog weariness he exuded in “Before Midnight” and “Boyhood” to a midlife crisis of a much more existential bent. He plays Reverend Ernst Toller, the parish priest at a small Dutch Reformed church in rural upstate New York. The church is preparing to celebrate its 250th anniversary, but continues to exist only due to the somewhat condescending patronage of a nearby mega-church headed by Pastor Jeffers (Cedric Kyles, a/k/a the comedian Cedric the Entertainer, in a very effective dramatic role).

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