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Off-Broadway MCC Theater Kicks Off Livestream Series With 'Beirut'

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

America's theater stages are still dark. But if you've got Wi-Fi and lights - flattering, we hope - the show can go on. There's "Sing Street," which was just about to open on Broadway when New York's theaters closed on March 11, so it became a musical revue on Facebook - Stephen Sondheim's 90th birthday celebrated online with a cast of well-wishers worthy of a Tony award show - and live readings. New York's off-Broadway MCC Theater has begun a series with "Beirut." Marisa Tomei starred in the MCC's 1987 production. And she's now reprised that role in a way opposite Oscar Isaac.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MARISA TOMEI: (As Blue) All I'm saying is it don't have to be a sin.

OSCAR ISAAC: (As Torch) You end up in hell.

TOMEI: (As Blue, laughter) Oh, my God. How will we handle it?

SIMON: So on-screen, you see Marisa Tomei in her apartment and Oscar Isaac in his. And we're joined now by Will Cantler, co-artistic director of the MCC Theater. Thanks so much for being with us.

WILL CANTLER: It's my pleasure.

SIMON: Tell us about "Beirut," which I gather was the first production of the MCC. But it's newly resonant, if you please, for these times.

CANTLER: Absolutely. Alan Bowne wrote it in 1986. We did it in 1987. And it was his response to the AIDS crisis at the time and imagined a world where the Lower East Side had been turned into a quarantine zone. And anybody who tested positive for an unnamed disease was quarantined there. And there is talk about how there is no stickball in the street. They just closed Central Park. It feels very, very present.

SIMON: You know, stage actors and big stars who returned to this stage say they - they do it because of the energy they get from the audience. And every performance is slightly different. Is there any equivalent online? Or is that just one of the adjustments you have to make?

CANTLER: Yeah. It's a great question. And I think although there isn't the response of the audience that Oscar and Marissa experienced, there was absolutely in the moment the terror of knowing that there was an audience out there and the thrill of working in that moment live in real time with each other, which was extraordinary.

SIMON: The MCC is going to go on - right? - doing one-acts every week starting in mid-May, I guess?

CANTLER: That is correct. Yes. We're going to do a series of Wednesday afternoon one-acts that I think will give people a chance to enjoy something digestible before dinner and (laughter) - or at least if you're on the East Coast, before dinner. And we're going to start with a series of five weekly readings. And we'll see where things go from there.

SIMON: And works that might particularly speak to these times?

CANTLER: I think we're looking really at both. The very first one we're doing - it's a play called "Frankie And Will" by to Tulia Monahan (ph). It was actually just freshly written and is directly a response to what's going on right now and imagines Will Shakespeare working during the plague in London.

SIMON: Boy.

CANTLER: Some of the others are not going to have anything to do with this at all. I don't think that's a requirement of it. I think the requirement is really that we were excited about the work. And we thought that there was a way for actors to take this on within this medium.

SIMON: Will Cantler, co-artistic director of the MCC Theater in New York City, thanks so much for being with us.

CANTLER: My pleasure. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.