Tipping Point: Our picks and pans ('Harlem Shuffle,' 'Nightmare,' 'The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe')
Colson Whitehead leaves behind the weightiness of his Pulitzer-winning novels “The Underground Railroad” and “The Nickel Boys” for this crime-caper lark. “Harlem Shuffle” is the story of a straight-arrow sliding into the world of unlawfulness but forever struggling with the internal conflicts of a dual life. In Harlem in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Ray Carney, who is Black, runs a legitimate and increasingly successful furniture store. But he ends up dragged into a heist by his ne’er-do-well cousin Freddie. That opens the door for Ray to make more money by illegal means. He fences stolen items at his business and eventually develops a revenge scheme against someone who has done him wrong. You really root for Ray in this tale that is framed by race. Whitehead’s writing remains superb, and he populates Ray’s world with memorable characters. His re-creation of that era and location, too, is wonderfully detailed and vibrant.
— Kristina Dorsey
This 13-minute music video, written, directed and produced by Groton resident Kolton Harris, the former creative director of Writer's Block Ink now serving as head of the outfit's board of directors, is a marvelous and clever homage to the groundbreaking Michael Jackson quasi-horror videos "Bad" and "Thriller." The title song is a moody, hypnotic ballad that effectively presents the ongoing plight of Black Americans through a quick-hit, repetitive chorus that takes on the quality of a meditative chant of sorrow. The video's plot concerns a woke coed moviegoer who says all the right things about race and social justice but, when she arrives in the theater and the film starts, she gets a completely unexpected experience. Harris throws in a nice, Hitchcock/Rod Serling-esque twist to guarantee she gets the message: Girl, you're about as far from Woke as you can get. Fortunately, the movie ends and she emerges ... enlightened? And, damn, Kolton, in addition your many talents as a writer, musician/songwriter and activist, you have one seriously sinister "on-screen" smile when you want to pull it out of your toolbox.
— Rick Koster
The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe
The Shed, New York City
I wasn’t sure if anyone could make “Signs” as funny and touching and thought-provoking as Lily Tomlin did. Tomlin had been the only person to star in the one-woman show, which was written by Jane Wagner and debuted on Broadway in 1985. But in a new revival of “Signs,” Cecily Strong does Tomlin and Wagner proud, bringing heart and humor to the proceedings and showcasing the range that she can’t always display on “Saturday Night Live.” She plays a homeless woman who thinks she communicates with aliens and tries to explain humankind to them. Strong slips into different characters, from an angry teen performance artist to a wealthy woman undone by a bad haircut. A long segment near the end follows a character through love, career, and motherhood, all while trying to be politically conscious; although the path the tale takes isn’t surprising, Wanger's writing and Strong's acting make it deeply affecting. While the show sometimes betrays its age (so much talk about the ERA), the themes are still relevant. The Broadway production of “Signs” is at The Shed in Hudson Yards through Feb. 6. Tickets range from $59 to $139.
— Kristina Dorsey