Best Bets

Red Emma and The Mad Monk

Co-created and written by Alexis Roblan; Co-created and directed by Katie Lindsay; Music by Teresa Lotz
Co-Produced by Emma Orme and The Tank

Off Off Broadway, Play with music
Runs through 9.1.18
The Tank, 312 West 36th Street


by Keith Paul Medelis on 8.20.18


TemplateMaybe Burke, Fernando Gonzalez, Jonathan Randell Silver, and Imani Pearl Williams in Red Emma and the Mad Monk. Photo by JJ Darling.


BOTTOM LINE: The Kushner-ian Red Emma and the Mad Monk is exactly what we need right now.

The setting of the massive endeavor that is Red Emma and the Mad Monk—“The United States of America, the Internet, 2017—where the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries exist side by side, online and in a theatre”—is just the kind of bonkers stuff to sell tickets. Happily it isn't just a marketing gimmick, but somewhat like Tony Kushner's masterpiece Angels in America, it's also a magical mash-up that we both deserve and need in a time when the Mueller investigation feels like our only hope.

Red Emma and the Mad Monk is a musical. Kind of. Though this musical is entirely aware of itself—both a musical and musical parody at once. The actors get in place as if finding their light. The lyrics are too spot on. And the choreography is ever-so-specific. It’s exactly right. Composer Teresa Lotz has created this magical thing by showing off without getting in the way. This is a compliment.

Diggle, our scenic designer, grounds us primarily in a child’s bedroom. There is a large screen framed center that streams manic headlines of the ubiquitous images of inauguration crowd size, tweets, and Kellyanne Conway’s face. But our only contemporary figure is Addison (Maybe Burke), wearing a “The Future is Female” t-shirt.

Writer Alexis Roblan gives us a play that is brilliantly complex and nuanced. With her careful examination of 1889 pre-Soviet Russian politics and turn-of-the-century American union rights placed alongside an investigation of the “failed American Experiment,” she is able to attack our present day in a wholly unique, un-recycled way.

Yes, this is a historical tale complete with a lurking Rasputin (the magical, maniacal Drita Kabashi) narrating as Addison navigates the story on the Internet for a class report. This is the story of anarchists Emma Goldman (Imani Pearl Williams) and Sasha Berkman (Fernando Gonzalez) and their plot to kill capitalist Henry Clay Frick (Jonathan Randell Silver, serving vintage realness).

No, this shouldn’t scare you into needing to crack a history book. Roblan will help you out, and with a deft flair that shows the necessity for radical acts, even violent ones, when the stakes are high. This history, paralleled alongside Addison’s decision to send a pizza to an online enemy (I guess the kids are calling this “doxing”), allows Addison to reach a radical conclusion that made this audience actually sigh with relief.

“So what if your ‘pizza’ was a threat? You don’t think some people deserve to be threatened? Why should a person feel safe while they make others feel small? Scared? Worthless? Why should they not fear for their lives if they make us fear constantly for ours?” We are relieved that co-creators Roblan and Katie Lindsay (who also directs) are saying what we want to say. Don’t we all want to “dox” the White House?

Red Emma and the Mad Monk is the theatre we need right now. Played against the backdrop of the Manafort trial, the Helsinki summit, and the generalized insanity, it is compelling to see this intelligent voice. I was worried about our direction as artists in this era of fact-less-ness. At the end of 2016, we resorted to liberal hand holding. Maybe that’s what we needed then. In 2018, Roblan and Lindsay have other plans. Please listen. Then take action. It's as easy as ordering a pizza.

(Red Emma and the Mad Monk plays at The Tank, 312 West 36th Street, through September 1, 2018. Running time is 100 minutes, no intermission. Remaining performances are Tue 8/28 and Wed 8/29 at 8, Fri 8/31 at 9:30, and Sat 9/1 at 2 and 8. Tickets are $20-$30. More information and tickets available at


Red Emma and the Mad Monk is co-created and written by Alexis Roblan. Co-created and directed by Katie Lindsay. Composer is Teresa Lotz. Assistant Director/Producer is Liza Couser. Musical Direction by Cassie Willson. Scenic Design by Diggle. Costume Design by Glenna Ryer. Lighting and Projection Design by Luther Frank. Sound Design by John Salutz. Choreography by Yael Nachajon. Production Stage Manager is Dara Swisher.

The cast is Maybe Burke, Fernando Gonzalez, Drita Kabashi, Jonathan Randell Silver, and Imani Pearl Williams.