James Wirt: From New York to ‘Phoenix’

Hey! I interviewed up-and-coming indie star James Wirt for Backstage! Check it.


Photo Source: Courtesy of Cherry Lane

There’s no other way James Wirt would rather be spending his summer than starring opposite Julia Stiles in Scott Organ’s “Phoenix.” Now playing Off-Broadway, the provocative romantic comedy was chosen specifically, says Wirt, from among 10 or 15 plays of which “Phoenix” was his favorite. “It resonated, it had a charming quality, it wasn’t cynical. It was a good play for the summer.”

“Phoenix” is one of several projects giving Wirt’s career some serious momentum after years of working on New York stages. “I got involved because I know the director [Jennifer DeLia]. I did her movie coming out in November called ‘Billy Bates,’ ” he says. “I had met Julia once at the premiere [at] the SoHo Film Festival, and she liked the movie and agreed to do a play with me.” Wirt and Stiles will be acting opposite each other again in the upcoming Mary Pickford film “The First.”

Wirt chats with us about his relationship with live audiences, the crucial advice he got a decade ago, and—full disclosure—his fondness for Backstage.

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Who’s In Charge of the Giant Bubble?

Check out my TDF Stages article on Fuerza Bruta WAYRA, and then go check out that wild, immersive and dazzling show!


Liam Lane in WAYRA

For performance art junkies and thrill-seekers alike, Fuerza Bruta WAYRA offers a breathtaking array of multi-sensory spectacles not found in an ordinary theatre. From the high-flying performers to the epic, Argentinian-influenced music—not to mention the massive, two-sided climbing wall and the pool of water hovering above the audience’s heads—this operation begs the question: who on Earth is running the show?

“Everyone is in communication with each other from the very start,” says stage manager Roumel Reaux, who also managed Fuerza Bruta‘s previous Off-Broadway incarnation. “The lighting engineer, sound engineer, automation, the riggers, the carpenters: every crew member is in touch.” So while WAYRA features an impressive cast of aerial singers and dancers, Reaux’s eighteen crew members are also stars in their own right.

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I reviewed a really terrific new Atlantic Theater Company play over at TheatreIsEasy.com – good luck getting tickets!

Between Riverside and Crazy

Stephen McKinley Henderson, Elizabeth Canavan, Michael Rispoli, Rosal Colón, and Ray Anthony Thomas in Between Riverside and Crazy. Photo by Kevin Thomas Garcia.

BOTTOM LINE: The New Yorkers in Stephen Adly Guirgis’ new play are vividly depicted with the help of a superb cast led by stage veteran Stephen McKinley Henderson.

“Everybody hates cops. Even cops hate cops.”

So says Walter “Pops” Washington, the besieged patriarch at the center of Stephen Adly Guirgis’ absorbing new play Between Riverside and Crazy, now playing at the Linda Gross Theater. Walter is played by the great Stephen McKinley Henderson, whose performance is so good it’s difficult to imagine anyone else taking on the part of this self-hating, much-maligned former cop. Yet the real star of this show may be the rent-controlled Manhattan apartment to which its title refers.

Walt Spangler’s scenic design is a marvel of specificity. From the ratty doormat to the cramped bathroom to the can of Goya beans on the counter, the set evokes the clutter of New York living in an almost unsettlingly real way. Anyone who has paid rent in this city can relate to the pile of pizza boxes in the corner of the kitchen, a cardboard explosion destined sometime soon for recycling. That the accommodations swivel on a revolving stage makes Spangler’s attention to detail all the more striking. Director Austin Pendleton has judiciously employed the effect to enhance rather than distract from the story’s intimate goings-on.

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Local Theater Is Keeping Austin Weird—and Inviting

Keep Austin Weird! And go there to make theater! Read my piece on the Austin theater scene over at Backstage.


In recent decades the population of Austin, Texas, has exploded almost as much as its craving for groundbreaking theater. Thanks to booming tech and entertainment industries, there is a higher demand for art than there are arts organizations producing it. If you’re an actor who marches to the beat of your own drum, pack up your wildest artistic impulse and take it to Austin.

“Austin has grown so much and so fast,” says Nathan Jerkins, associate artistic director of Penfold Theatre Company. “We need more places to produce, so if you can’t find it, you make it.” Many artists refer to Austin as a “maker’s town,” a breeding ground for emerging talent with a distinctly offbeat charm. Much like its renowned music scene, the city’s theaters—from the eccentric devised work of the Rude Mechanicals to ZACH Theatre, the state’s oldest continuously operating company—are fueled by a youthful, entrepreneurial energy. Many burgeoning artists find creative outlets in the city’s parks, warehouses, and bar basements.

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Smart Reads: Chris Jones on the Changing State of Journalism

  • Whether you’re interested in the rapidly shifting landscape of arts journalism, or curious about my time recently spent at the O’Neill Center’s National Critics Institute, check out Chicago Tribune theater critic Chris Jones’ interview over at Playbill. He digs into the inherent demands of criticism today and spouts little morsels of wisdom, like “the top of any mountaintop, perceived or real, is a very lonely place to be.” This is insightful stuff from one of the most insightful critics of them all.
  • If you’re a Harry Potter fan, drop whatever you’re doing and go read Daniel Dalton’s incredibly hilarious walkthroughs of his first time watching the Sorcerer’s Stone, the Chamber of Secrets, and the Prisoner of Azkaban. They’re full of irreverent tidbits like this:



Welcome to Haiku Reviews, a series of reviews dedicated to condensing and expressing productions of theater in seventeen-syllable poems. If you don’t have time for a 600-word lecture, click on the Haiku Review tab and chew on some bite-sized theater criticism.

Today’s installment is Lincoln Center Theater’s superb production of Anthony Giardina’s The City of Conversation, at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater.

The City of Conversation

Jan Maxwell in ‘The City of Conversation’

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