January brings the doldrums to the New York theater world. The glitzy Broadway openings of the autumn are over; the spring’s pre-Tony-deadline frenzy has not yet begun. Critics have summed up the previous year in top-ten lists, which have been yawned at and recycled. Tourists go home; locals stay indoors; and producers attempt to bolster their box office with bargain-ticket deals.
This January, though, Off-Broadway’s sophisticated Classic Stage Company (CSC) braved the gloom-and the perennial bah-humbug climate of secular New York-to launch a remarkable production. Directed by CSC’s new artistic director Brian Kulick-who staged Twelfth Night in Central Park with Julia Stiles and Jimmy Smits in 2002-The Mysteries fused medieval mystery play with contemporary revisionist retellings of the Christ story. The show’s first half, relating Old Testament stories like Noah and the flood and Cain and Abel, drew from the York and Wakefield mystery cycles-biblical plays staged by medieval English craft guilds. The second half of Kulick’s production showcased part of the Pontius Pilate section from Soviet writer Mikhail Bulgakov’s masterpiece The Master and Margarita, besides a dramatized scene from the novel Time of Miracles by Serbian dissident Borislav Pekic, and two scenes from the play Mistero Buffo by the Nobel Prize-winning playwright Dario Fo, whose works have scandalized the Vatican.