Free Off-Broadway Theater in Your Living Room

Christina Knight | November 22, 2016

Do theater curtains rise when you’re at work? Not quite organized enough to purchase tickets in advance or plan for a date? Is your entertainment spending maxed out? If you just don’t see as much theater as you’d like, Theater Close-Up — a unique collaboration between THIRTEEN and New York City area non-profit Off-Broadway theaters — removes any obstacles to seeing fantastic theater productions. Theater Close-Up captures live performances expressly for THIRTEEN audiences; after the television broadcast, performances are available for online viewing, too. THIRTEEN is using its unrivaled expertise in producing national PBS arts programming to provide New Yorkers with unparalleled access to one of the city’s greatest underexposed cultural assets.

December 5 at 10p: Buyer & Cellar

Theater Close-Up continues December 5 at 9pm with Jonathan Tolins’ comedy Buyer & Cellar, from the Westport Country Playhouse. Michael Urie (Ugly Betty) reprises his performance as Alex, an out-of-work actor. In a city overflowing with struggling actors waiting for their big break, Alex finds himself with one of the oddest jobs of all: working for a certain beloved lady of stage and screen named Barbra Streisand who has a mall in the basement of her Mailbu mansion. The estate’s basement space has been turned into a private gallery of shops, displaying the star’s lifelong accumulation of rare collectibles. Before long, Alex finds himself hired as the lone clerk for this most exclusive of shopping malls. One day, the lady herself comes downstairs to admire the merchandise, and an unexpected friendship begins. It seems to Alex like a real bond is forging, but will their relationship survive the move upstairs?

In addition to playing Alex, Michael Urie takes on an assortment of other characters in a delightful rollercoaster ride through fame, friendship and the outer limits of Hollywood celebrity. Michael Urie won the Drama Desk, Clarence Derwent, Lucille Lortel, and LA Drama Critics awards for originating the role of Alex. The Westport staging is helmed by Stephen Brackett, who also directed the Off-Broadway show, as well as the original artistic team. Urie is well known for the role of Marc St. James on the award-winning Ugly Betty television series, and is currently appearing in Homos, Or Everyone in America at Labyrinth Theater Company.

Author Jonathan Tolins’ plays, in addition to Buyer & Cellar, are The Twilight of the Golds, If Memory Serves, The Last Sunday in June, Secrets of the Trade, and The Forgotten Woman. He and his husband Robert Cary contributed additional material to the 2014 Broadway revival of On the Town. His films are The Twilight of the Golds and Martian Child, both co-written with Seth E. Bass. Television credits include Queer as Folk, The Academy Awards, The Tony Awards, Partners, Grease Live! (with Robert Cary), and BrainDead. Tolins has written articles for Opera News, Time, and The Huffington Post, and is a panelist on the Metropolitan Opera Radio Quiz. The original design and production team are reunited for the Westport production. They include Andrew Boyce, scenic design; Jessica Pabst, costume design; Eric Southern, lighting design; Stowe Nelson, sound design; Alex Basco Koch, projection design; Hannah Woodward, production stage manager; and Sam Pinkleton, musical staging.

Streaming Now: Buried Child, by Sam Shepard

The New Group production of Sam Shepard’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Buried Child debuts on Theater Close-Up Monday, November 28 at 9pm on THIRTEEN with an encore presentation on Friday, December 2 at 3:30am. The play will also air Sunday, December 18 at 10pm on WLIW21.

Directed by Scott Elliott, the play depicts a dairy farming family whose fortunes have greatly declined and for whom a dark secret looms. The actors include Ed Harris and Amy Madigan as the couple Dodge and Halie (Harris and Madigan are also a married couple), Rich Sommer and Paul Sparks as sons Bradley and Tilden, respectively, Nat Wolff as grandson Vince, Taissa Farmiga as Vince’s girlfriend Shelly, and Larry Pine as Father Dewis.

Buried Child — captured live on-stage during the March 30 BroadwayHD livestream –- was revived 20 years after its last major New York production. Dodge (Harris) and Halie (Madigan) are barely hanging on to their farmland and their sanity while looking after their two wayward grown sons (Sommer and Sparks). When their grandson Vince (Wolff) arrives with his girlfriend (Farmiga), no one seems to recognize him, and confusion abounds. As Vince tries to make sense of the chaos, the rest of the family dances around a deep, dark secret. This wildly poetic and cuttingly funny take on the American family drama gleefully pulls apart the threadbare deluded visions of our families and our homes.

Ben Brantley in The New York Times found the play “Thoughtful and absorbing. Ed Harris is splendid. Mr. Elliott’s production wants us to listen to Mr. Shepard’s characters as if they truly were members of our own family, so that (just like our own family) they can sucker-punch us when we feel most unguarded.”

Wilborn Hampton, The Huffington Post, said it was “A riveting revival that captures the symbolism and rich poetic imagery that makes Shepard so unique. This is vintage Shepard in the hands of masters.”

Among the other creative talent on the production are Derek McLane (scenic design), Susan Hilferty (costume design), Peter Kaczorowski (lighting design) and Jeremy S. Bloom (sound design).

The production played early in 2016 at The Pershing Square Signature Center, and reunited Sam Shepard with The New Group, following the company’s 2010 production of his play A Lie of the Mind. Ed Harris and Amy Madigan had appeared at the New Group in the acclaimed 2013 production of Beth Henley’s The Jacksonian. Buried Child had its New York premiere in 1978 and was revived on Broadway in 1996. Beginning this month, the production with Harris and Madigan reprising their roles will play at London’s Trafalgar Studios.

Ed Harris Interview with NYC-ARTS

NYC-ARTS co-host Paula Zahn speaks with Ed Harris, one of the most respected actors of our time, about his career and about his performance in The New Group’s recent revival of Sam Shepard’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play Buried Child.

Theater Close-Up Productions Online Now

Make the great acting and plays featured in Theater Close-Up your go-to for quality binge-watching (streaming is restricted to THIRTEEN viewing area).

The nine Season One episodes to watch are:

Looking at Christmas, The Iliad, The Vandal, Regular Singing, Sweet and Sad, Sorry, That Hopey Changing Thing, Hellman vs. McCarthy, and London Wall.

Season Two Theater Close-Up productions to watch now are:

Rasheeda Speaking from The New Group, Fashions for Men from Mint Theater, Wiesenthal filmed at the Acorn Theatre at Theatre Row, Repairing a Nation from Crossroads Theatre Company in New Brunswick, New Jersey, Incident at Vichy from Signature Theatre, and The Woodsman recorded at New World Stages.

After their broadcasts, Buried Child and Buyer & Cellar will be available online in the tri-state area with Season Two plays.