Off-Broadway’s acclaimed Red Bull Theater and Mint Theater Company are goldmines for the unearthing of little-known rarely-produced plays of the past that are deserving of greater recognition. This week, Red Bull premiered its reading of a 17th-century English classic and the Mint debuted a recording of one of its previous full-stage productions of a 1940s American romantic comedy of manners. Both are still available for viewing, so if you’re an aficionado of theater history and would love to discover these two forgotten works, be sure to catch them while you can.
Red Bull Theater continues its series of pay-what-you-can benefit readings with Ben Jonson’s epic tragedy Sejanus His Fall. First performed in 1603, it recounts the ancient Roman story of Lucius Aelius Sejanus (3 June 20 BC-18 October 31 AD) – Emperor Tiberius’s ambitious Prefect of the Praetorian Guard, who, after becoming the most powerful man in the Roman Empire, was summarily arrested and executed for his suspected treason against his leader.
Adapted and directed for Red Bull by Associate Artistic Director Nathan Winkelstein, the presentation, starring Denis O’Hare in the titular role, Laila Robins as Tiberius, and featuring Shirine Babb, Grantham Coleman, Keith David, Manoel Felciano, Matthew Rauch, Liv Rooth, Stephen Spinella, Emily Swallow, Raphael Nash Thompson, Tamara Tunie, and James Udom, offers an incisive exploration of politics and tyranny that still remains relevant today.
Sejanus His Fall premiered live on Monday, May 17; a recording of that livestream will be available until Friday, May 21, 7:00 pm, on the Red Bull website and YouTube channel. Along with the reading, viewers can watch a video introduction, download the program book and character map, and read the program notes. You can also join an interactive livestream BullSession conversation on Thursday, May 20, at 7:30 pm, with director Nathan Winkelstein, scholar Henry S. Turner, and members of the company. To register for free tickets, go online.
Closing out the Mint Theater Company’s “Silver Lining” streaming season of archival three-camera HD recordings of past productions (in honor of its silver anniversary) is The Fatal Weakness, the last produced play by actor, writer, and director George Kelly (1887-1974). Presented live on stage by the Mint in 2014, and starring Kristin Griffith (who received a 2014 Drama Desk Award nomination for Best Actress), the production was the first NYC revival of the play in 68 years, since its New York opening in 1946.
Central character Ollie Espenshade is still an incurable romantic after twenty-eight years of marriage. But when she discovers that her husband is a lying cheat, will the cost of adultery take its toll on her upper-crust wedded bliss and cure her of her eponymous weakness? Featuring Cliff Bemis, Cynthia Darlow, Sean Patrick Hopkins, Patricia Kilgarriff, and Victoria Mack, the insightful comedy about romance, marriage, and commitment is directed by Jesse Marchese, with scenic design by Vicki R. Davis, costumes by Andrea Varga, lighting by Christian DeAngelis, original music and sound design by Jane Shaw, and props by Joshua Yocom.
The Fatal Weakness streams free and on demand through Sunday, June 27, direct from the Mint Theater website. No password is required; closed captioning is available. Following the play, you can watch the post show “EnrichMint” discussion with guest speakers Dr. Kristin Celello (Chair of the History Department at Queens College) and Dr. John Clum (Professor Emeritus of Theater Studies at Duke University).