New York Today: Theater in Odd Places


All the city’s a stage.

Michelle V. Agins/The New York Times

Good morning on this balmy Thursday, and Shanah Tovah.

In a tidy, off-white kitchen in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, the smell of burnt onions filled the room where Nadine Malouf was hurriedly preparing kibbe, a Middle Eastern fried ball made with bulgur, lamb and spices.

She was sobbing.

Not for the ruined recipe, but because she was telling a gut-wrenching story that took place amid the Syrian civil war, during a production of “Oh My Sweet Land,” which is currently being staged in private kitchens across the city.

In New York, performances in unusual spaces are not that unusual — during the next week you can catch productions inside apartments around town, at an old piano factory in Hell’s Kitchen, and even inside a shipping container at a recycling center in Brooklyn.

But staging a performance in a nontraditional setting can have its challenges — like interruptions, awful acoustics and hecklers — for actors and directors.

Yesterday, at the American Museum of Natural History, Jennifer Zetlan was practicing the lead role in the On Site Opera production of “Rhoda and the Fossil Hunt,” an opera staged among a Tyrannosaurus rex, Apatosaurus and human visitors in the Hall of Saurischian Dinosaurs.

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Playing the role of an 8-year old, she said: “I’m trying to capture the looser physicality of a kid. There’s a little more of a wiggliness, of loosey-gooeyness and bubbliness than an adult.”

While frolicking among the fossils and singing to unsuspecting visitors as she work-shopped the performance, she said, the thing she heard most was, “I don’t speak English.” Most of those she approached were tourists, she added.

But it’s not just communicating with foreigners or tiptoeing around priceless artifacts that the production company has had to consider.

At a 2012 production of “The Tale of the Silly Baby Mouse” at the Bronx Zoo, a piccolo player was asked to tone it down by the zoo’s staff: The noise from the high-pitched instrument was agitating a newborn camel.

For a Company SJ production of “Act Without Words II,” staged in a downtown alleyway, it was the vermin.


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