The Week in Arts: ‘The Appointment,’ Robert Motherwell and Amanda Palmer
Theater: ‘The Appointment,’ From Lightning Rod Special
April 18-May 4; nytw.org
There will be singing fetuses. That’s one of the things you need to know about “The Appointment,” the new musical satire from the Philadelphia company Lightning Rod Special. Another vital bit of information: These are the people who brought us the searing, seriocomic “Underground Railroad Game,” an Obie Award-winning hit when it ran at Ars Nova in 2016.
As daring as that show is, with its painful saunter through the legacy of American slavery, the new piece may be even more incendiary — and no less socially relevant. Directed by Eva Steinmetz, “The Appointment” wades into the national abortion debate with a well-honed sense of absurdity, and firmly takes the side of abortion rights. Part of the Next Door at NYTW series, it starts performances on Thursday, April 18, at the Fourth Street Theater in Greenwich Village. (Bonus: Ars Nova is bringing “Underground Railroad Game” back for a limited run, May 30-June 15.)
The clue, it seems, is in the name of the troupe: Lightning Rod Special is all about charged material. LAURA COLLINS-HUGHES
Art: Abstractions You Look at With Your Body
Through May 18; kasmingallery.com
You don’t look at a painting like Motherwell’s “Hoppla, wir leben!” with just your eyes. The exuberant orange expanse, one of eight paintings by the titan of abstract expressionism in “Sheer Presence: Monumental Paintings by Robert Motherwell” at Kasmin Gallery’s skylit new flagship location on 27th Street, is just under nine feet tall. You can’t see the scribbly charcoal figure, an impulsive cross between a fence and a Cyrillic letter, in the canvas’s roiling, sky-blue canton without imagining him stretching up on his tiptoes to draw it — and it’s hard to imagine that without rising to your toes yourself. As for “The Grand Inquisitor,” an explosive riff on the Belgian flag more than 14 feet long, it may require a few balletic leaps. WILL HEINRICH
Classical Music: Iconoclastic American Masters, Celebrated
On April 14, New Yorkers have the chance to take in decades-spanning traversals of music by two American masters, George Crumb and Elliott Carter. At the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, Crumb’s 90th birthday will be feted with a two-evening celebration of his music; Crumb is still composing, and his early classics like “Vox Balaenae” will be heard alongside the premiere of a new percussion quintet. At the Morgan Library & Museum, the dependable JACK Quartet tackles Carter’s complete string quartets, five stunning works written over nearly a half-century.
When they first achieved renown — Carter won the Pulitzer in 1960, and Crumb in 1968 — these two figures represented opposite poles of the American avant-garde, the former concerned with densely calculated textures and the latter with mystically expressive theatrics. Today, they seem not too far from one another: iconic, iconoclastic voices very much worth hearing. WILLIAM ROBIN
TV: Growing Pains for Both Parent and Child in ‘There She Goes’
April 16; britbox.com
Self-expression can be cathartic when navigating uncharted terrain. And the British writer Shaun Pye (“The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret”) pretty much bares his soul in “There She Goes,” his semiautobiographical series debuting Tuesday, April 16, on the streaming service BritBox.
Inspired by experiences with his own daughter’s rare chromosomal disorder, Pye volleys between 2006 and 2015, as Simon (David Tennant) and Emily (Jessica Hynes) slowly realize that their baby has something undeniably wrong with her — after which they forge a path toward communicating with the headstrong Rosie (Miley Locke), who is unable to verbally express herself.
“There She Goes” can be squirm-inducingly comedic as Simon, who drinks away the first months of Rosie’s life as a noncoping mechanism, lets his very un-P.C. freak flag fly. It’s also candidly poignant as Emily, searching for any indication of a mother-child bond, wonders if she’ll ever be able to love her daughter.
And yet she does — profoundly, hilariously, realistically so. Which is where “There She Goes” excels, in a way you might expect from a show whose executive producers include Sharon Horgan of “Catastrophe” and “Motherland” fame: by shining a light on a perhaps more difficult kind of parenting without turning it into overly sentimentalized pablum. KATHRYN SHATTUCK
Dance: Chronicling Her Own History With Movement
April 18-27; chocolatefactorytheater.org
Mariana Valencia’s work springs from the particularities of her life. In “ALBUM” (2018), she played with the premise of leaving notes for a future biographer. In “Yugoslavia” (2017), she considered her connections to Eastern Europe, as someone raised in Chicago by a Guatemalan mother and Polish stepfather. The stories she tells — with dance judiciously interwoven — are personal, idiosyncratic, yet open up onto larger, broadly resonant themes. If we don’t chronicle our own histories, she seems to ask, who will?
In her new “Bouquet,” at the Chocolate Factory Theater in Queens, she continues in that vein, joined by her longtime collaborator Lydia Okrent, an equally compelling performer. Resurrecting parts of past experiments, in a space smattered with fake fruit and other items, Valencia reflects on her path as an artist in New York. The title may refer to the work’s many groupings — of objects, of dance phrases — as she samples from the artists and influences she carries with her. SIOBHAN BURKE
Pop Music: Amanda Palmer at the Beacon Theater
April 20; ticketmaster.com
Amanda Palmer is no stranger to controversy. The embattled punk cabaret artist became known for her unusual revenue model, which relies on crowdsourcing and subscription-based patronage. Though undoubtedly effective — Palmer’s 2012 album “Theatre Is Evil” is the most-funded original music project in Kickstarter history — the tactic has proved polarizing at best. Add to that a divisive TED talk and an ill-received poem in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing, and a thinner-skinned artist might want to remove herself from the public eye entirely.
But judging by her latest album, “There Will Be No Intermission,” Palmer is only emboldened by her critics. For a solo piano record, it makes a lot of noise: Palmer addresses topics from motherhood to abortion to global warming with empathy and nuance. Ahead of the album’s release, fearing negative critical reception, Palmer observed that, “There’s something very dangerous about being a woman loudly stating her opinion about anything.” At the Beacon Theater, Palmer’s sharply opinionated songs, performed alone at the keys, will ring loud and clear. OLIVIA HORN
Film: Two Stars Are Born, Sort of, in ‘Her Smell’ and ‘Teen Spirit’
April 12 and 19.
Becky Something is a mess of a monster: the brilliant, brash frontwoman for a ’90s riot grrrl band, spiraling like a demon from hell toward a monumental breakdown. The sum of which makes Alex Ross Perry’s “Her Smell” a rather brutal two-plus hours, as Becky — played by a wickedly fine Elisabeth Moss — unleashes torrents of unhinged verbiage and physical assaults. It makes sense, then, to learn that Perry drew inspiration from a Guns N’ Roses reunion tour and Shakespeare.
But the payoff, starting somewhere near the midpoint, is a journey of absolution astonishing in its ability to quell the throbbing clamor — but not the tension. And an aching rendition of Bryan Adams’s “Heaven” performed in stillness by Becky for her young daughter.
For a quieter foray into pop stardom, check out “Teen Spirit,” starring Elle Fanning as Violet, a farm girl from the Isle of Wight who enters a television singing competition with the help of a former opera singer, Vlad (Zlatko Buric). Cinderella-esque and E.D.M.-filled, with a nod to “Flashdance,” this confection hails from Max Minghella, who happens to star alongside Moss in Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale.”
“Her Smell” opens April 12 in New York and then more widely, starting April 19 in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago and other major markets. “Teen Spirit” opens on April 12 in New York and Los Angeles, and April 19 nationally. KATHRYN SHATTUCK