It’s hard to decide which is more thrilling: the harrowing revival of Athol Fugard’s powerful “Blood Knot,” staged by the 79-year-old author. Or the arrival of the Pershing Square Signature Center, a spectacular three-theater complex that “Blood Knot” inaugurates.
The play concerns two brothers living together in a Port Elizabeth shantytown in 1961, at the height of apartheid rule in South Africa. Morris is light-skinned enough to pass as white. Zachariah is ebony.
When Zach returns home from work each day as a guard at a whites-only park, Morris is there to bathe his ruined feet in Epsom salts and listen as his brother yearns for the normalcy of a different life, with the comforts of home and the love of a woman.
It’s not until Zach, against Morris’s stern admonition, commences a pen-pal relationship with a woman who turns out to be white, that we realize how horrifyingly dangerous such yearnings can be in a society that grants its majority population less freedom than animals.
The symbiosis that Scott Shepherd’s Morris and Colman Domingo’s Zach achieve has a seismic poignancy, building as we watch both the angels and the demons in their blood work their way through to the surface. No surprise that Fugard has only refined the swells and lulls of this sometimes bleakly comic drama, or that he has limned it with such a gently insinuating soundscape by Doug Wieselman.
Christopher Barreca’s memorably squalid setting -- a shredded mattress serves as one wall, corrugated tin another -- is meticulously lit by Stephen Strawbridge, and Susan Hilferty’s worn costumes remove any glimmer of hope we might imagine for these impoverished siblings.
In addition to the theaters, the inviting Frank Gehry-designed center has a free-flowing public space that includes a cafe and bookstore; it’s brilliant. “Blood Knot” is in the Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre. Jewel box really can’t be topped as a description for this intimate, enchanting room. (Jeremy Gerard)
Through March 11 at 480 W. 42nd St. Information: +1-212-244-7529; http://www.signaturetheatre.org. Rating: ****
Early in William Shatner’s one-man show on Broadway, he describes understudying Christopher Plummer at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival. When Plummer fell ill, a young, ambitious but unrehearsed Shatner stepped into the demanding role of Henry V.
The same industry isn’t apparent in “Shatner’s World: We Just Live in It.” Affability and comic timing go only so far in this 95-minute, inch-deep, survey of his nearly 81 adventure-filled years.
Even the opening is anti-climactic, as a beam of light appears and we hear the sound of a “Star Trek” transporter as he announces offstage that he won’t be beaming in. He walks on instead.
Wearing blue jeans, white shirt, gray vest and dark jacket, Shatner looks swell as he punctuates his life story -- from middle-class kid in Montreal to TV star to Internet pitchman and recorded-word performer -- with Borscht Belt humor.
Film and TV clips projected on a large round screen are funnier than anything onstage. One thoughtful touch: Purchasers of $251.50 premium seats are invited to meet Shatner after the performance. I bet he’s good company. (Philip Boroff)
Through March 4 at the Music Box Theatre, 239 W. 45th St. Information: +1-212-239-6200; http://www.telecharge.com. Rating: **
Playwright Gabe McKinley briefly worked at The New York Times, and his family has sent several venerable bylines to the “newspaper of record.” So it’s comforting to report that “CQ/CX” accurately recounts the essential facts of a scandal that reached into the paper’s highest ranks.
Jayson Blair was an ambitious young reporter who filed dramatic stories and caught the attention of higher ups interested in promoting talent from diverse backgrounds. Blair is black.
Only his immediate editor began to suspect that Blair’s work was too good to be true. It wasn’t until way too late that executive editor Howell Raines (who is white) and managing editor Gerald Boyd (who was black) realized that Blair’s stories -- hundreds of them -- were fiction. Both editors were soon gone from the Times’s hallowed halls.
Getting the story right does not compelling drama make. McKinley represents the Timesmen’s bombast and grandiosity without getting under the skin where their vulnerabilities lay. I kept wondering who could possibly be interested in two hours of inside baseball.
Every journalist knows you can get the facts right but the story wrong. The first clue that McKinley might just be writing for friends and family is in his title: Those letters refer to proofreaders’ marks, “CQ” meaning that a fact has been checked and should not be changed; “CX” meaning “Oops.” “CQ/CX” is both. (Gerard)
Through March 11 at 555 W. 42nd St. Information: +1-212-279-4200; http//www.ticketcentral.com. Rating: *1/2
What the Stars Mean: **** Do Not Miss *** Excellent ** Good * So-So (No stars) Avoid
(Jeremy Gerard is the chief U.S. drama critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)