Dec 20, 2006

Happy Ho-Hos

Off to Valparaiso, Indiana to do Yule with one side of the family, then on to Irvine, Calif. (est. 1975) for the better half's side. Blogging will be even lighter than usual until my return. Till then, please enjoy some holiday tunes I cooked up special for the occasion. Merry merry!

Sleepwalk Noel
Christmas Time Is Here
Xmas Fugue

Dec 15, 2006

Planning My Trip Now

The scrappy L.A. Opera is the next place John Doyle will work his magic, in a February production of Brecht and Weill's Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny featuring Audra McDonald and Patti LuPone (not, I don't think, playing the tuba this time). The news takes me back; Mahagonny was one of the first things I wrote about for the Downtown News, in a 1989 production designed by Robert Israel, conducted by Kent Nagano, and directed by Jonathan Miller, who in a pre-show press conference memorably called Brecht "a great bully." (The translation was by Michael Feingold; I found an old NY Times review and even one in Time, which barely covers theatre in New York these days, let alone opera in L.A.) There's a good Variety bit from last June about the new production here; official link here.

Twigger's Holiday

Found this five-minute short on the site of a former Back Stage West colleague, Scott Chernoff, and it made me smile. (Scott's the one with the blonde wig and the fireman's hat; the short's creator and star is Rob Schrab of Heat Vision and Jack semi-fame.)

Dec 13, 2006

They Asked, I Answer

I never fail to find something interesting at Terry Teachout's blog. Here he directs us to the "musician's questionnaire" at the blog of the Bad Plus, a great NY-based jazz trio. And I can't help but play along.

GIVE US AN EXAMPLE OR TWO OF AN ESPECIALLY GOOD OR INTERESTING:

1. MOVIE SCORE. Pyscho, Entr'acte/Relache, The Grifters.
2. TV THEME. Johnny Quest, The Practice.
3. MELODY. Love theme from Vertigo, "I'll Follow the Sun," "Stardust."
4. HARMONIC LANGUAGE. Ravel, Radiohead.
5. RHYTHMIC FEEL. Hot Club of France, Silvestre Revueltas "Night of the Mayas," Tala Quintet.
6. HIP-HOP TRACK. Public Enemy "Fight the Power," Missy Elliott "Wake Up."
7. CLASSICAL PIECE. Beethoven's Third Symphony, "Rite of Spring," Janacek String Quartets.
8. SMASH HIT. Aerosmith "Sweet Emotion," Dell Vikings "Come and Go With Me," Bob Dylan "I Want You."
9. JAZZ ALBUM. Marcus Roberts, Deep in the Shed.
10. NON-AMERICAN FOLKLORIC GROUP. I have no idea precisely what this means...I do own a record by a Korean orphans choir and one by the Fiji National Police, but not for their musical, let alone their folkloric value.
11. BOOK ON MUSIC. Alec Wilder, American Popular Music.

Puttin' On the Ritz!


Among many other things, the late Peter Boyle gave a great interview.

Not Netty's!!!


Really, sometimes small things like the closure of an old favorite haunt can really unmake your day. (Tip to LA Observed.)

Dec 12, 2006

Jézus Krisztus!

That's Hungarian, in case you're rusty on your Slavic languages, and it's the way one key lyric will sound when the unstoppable boy-band juggernaut Altar Boyz goes to Budapest in March. The stars, according to a release I just received, will be "two well-established Hungarian musical theatre stars, Attilla Dolhai and Arpad Zsolt Meszaros, along with three new discoveries." There will be a cast recording in Hungarian, too, "marking Altar Boyz's first-ever foreign language recording to be released." (Are there recordings in other languages that haven't yet been released? Don't tease us!)

I caught the show at New World Stages last week for the first time and loved it. Maybe the pre-show drinks helped, but I think an adolescence spent among some very white teenagers in Arizona, some of whom tried to sell me on the virtues of Christian rock, was more pertinent preparation for the show's glorious, oddly sincere winking.

But will the irony translate? Attilla and Arpad's pictures provide a kind of answer.

"Urinetown" Bloodsuckers?

I haven't really been following this story (scroll down) about John Rando and John Caraffa, the original director and choreographer of Urinetown, suing regional productions of the show in Chicago and Akron because, they claim, those productions have copied their proprietary contributions with compensation. (Definitive updates and debates, as usual, can be found at Playgoer.) But a friend who just caught Dance of the Vampires in Germany, in the production originatd by Roman Polanski (based on his own film Fearless Vampire Killers) just wrote me to make an interesting point:
It's sort of ridiculous that John Caraffa and John Rando are suing the 'Urinetown' productions in Ohio and Chicago, since they stole every damn thing from the Roman Polanski production of 'Dance of the Vampires' for the Broadway production.

Stealing aside, that's a credit everyone involved would just as soon forget.

Dec 8, 2006

Weather Report


As the winter gets burningly cold here in Manhattan, Slava's Snowshow heads for Los Angeles. My piece on it for my old hometown paper is here. UPDATE: There's a weird cut that happened to Slava's penultimate quote, at least online. The original version is here (missing words in bold):
"As a child, you go to pick up one thing, and suddenly you get affected by another thing and you forget about the first one," Polunin explained. "So yes, we start the show with a suicide attempt, because the man feels that there is no escape. But he sees that life is so interesting, he just forgets about that first impression he had."

Kind of inverts the meaning minus those words.

Dec 7, 2006

Critical Condition

Well, this Time Out poll, critiquing New York's critics in several fields in often quite devastating, career-damaging terms, certainly got my attention. Some of these unattributed quotes read like the sour grapes of some very pissed-off artists (as gawker helpfully notes) and even publicists (as one preposterously named blogger/critic points out) more than happy to return the dubious favor of assessing their subjects' fitness for their chosen career. The spectacle of table-turning payback is about the only real satisfaction of this exercise, and though that's not a negligible pleasure, it's a rather guilty one. As an erstwhile theater critic myself, I'll go on the record and say that while I find valuable insights in the work of nearly all of my peers except Hilton Als, the theater critics I still enjoy (and envy) most are Eric Grode, Jeremy McCarter, and Charles Isherwood. They're the only ones whose writing has consistently made me think, Damn, wish I'd thought of/noticed/written that.

One of my favorite colleagues remains in L.A. Here's Steven Leigh Morris's priceless recent bout of hand-wringing column, on how his despair over the art form was only amplified by his recent visit to New York (nice Little Dog Laughed slam in there).

Dec 5, 2006

Ignorance Is Relative

Kudos to Chris Jones, The Chicago Tribune's theater critic, for informing us that Borat goes after easy ugly-American targets. (I actually found the film a bit of a letdown after all the buildup, and tend to mostly agree with Ron Rosenbaum.) Apparently unaware of the character's history, Jones wonders indignantly: Why doesn't British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen go after his fellow Brits?
Let's see his Borat make some Cultural Learnings of his own smug world. It wouldn't be hard for him to chat up a racist in a London pub. He could go to any British soccer game and find a cacophony of anti-gay slurs.

Or why not talk up some fusty academics at Cambridge? Oh, wait. He did.

Andrew Bard Webber?

Timothy Noah has a nomination for "the single stupidest sentence" ever printed in The New York Times. It's hard to argue with his choice:
Mr. Lloyd Webber is often referred to as the Shakespeare of his time with musicals like Jesus Christ Superstar, Evita, Cats, and The Phantom of the Opera.

Gloriously wrong on so, so many levels.

Nov 29, 2006

Against the Dying of the Light

It's overly fawning and self-referential, but Daphne Merkin's NY Times Stoppard profile was worth reading just to get to this gobsmacking thought:
One of the questions that haunts me—it’s a question for philosophers and brain science—is, if you’ve forgotten a book, is that the same as never having read it?

Extrapolate that any number of questions of memory and identity—plays seen, love made, miseries endured, milestones passed—and, well, yes, it is a question for the philosophers. It reminded of a dispiritingly funny quote from the movie Slacker, which I can't find online but which went something like: "I don't like to travel, because later I can never remember if I was actually there or I just saw it on TV."

Nov 28, 2006

Beslubbering Fen-Sucked Pumpion

Stumped for just the right putdown? A friend sent me this handy Shakespeare Insult Kit.

Combine one word from each of the three columns below, prefaced with "Thou":

Column 1............Column 2............Column 3

artless.............base-court..........apple-john
bawdy...............bat-fowling.........baggage
beslubbering........beef-witted.........barnacle
bootless............beetle-headed.......bladder
churlish............boil-brained........boar-pig
cockered............clapper-clawed......bugbear
clouted.............clay-brained........bum-bailey
craven..............common-kissing......canker-blossom
currish.............crook-pated.........clack-dish
dankish.............dismal-dreaming.....clotpole
dissembling.........dizzy-eyed..........coxcomb
droning.............doghearted..........codpiece
errant..............dread-bolted........death-token
fawning.............earth-vexing........dewberry
fobbing.............elf-skinned.........flap-dragon
froward.............fat-kidneyed........flax-wench
frothy..............fen-sucked..........flirt-gill
gleeking............flap-mouthed........foot-licker
goatish.............fly-bitten..........fustilarian
gorbellied..........folly-fallen........giglet
impertinent.........fool-born...........gudgeon
infectious..........full-gorged.........haggard
jarring.............guts-griping........harpy
loggerheaded........half-faced..........hedge-pig
lumpish.............hasty-witted........horn-beast
mammering...........hedge-born..........hugger-mugger
mangled.............hell-hated..........joithead
mewling.............idle-headed.........lewdster
paunchy.............ill-breeding........lout
pribbling...........ill-nurtured........maggot-pie
puking..............knotty-pated........malt-worm
puny................milk-livered........mammet
qualling............motley-minded.......measle
rank................onion-eyed..........minnow
reeky...............plume-plucked.......miscreant
roguish.............pottle-deep.........moldwarp
ruttish.............pox-marked..........mumble-news
saucy...............reeling-ripe........nut-hook
spleeny.............rough-hewn..........pigeon-egg
spongy..............rude-growing........pignut
surly...............rump-fed............puttock
tottering...........shard-borne.........pumpion
unmuzzled...........sheep-biting........ratsbane
vain................spur-galled.........scut
venomed.............swag-bellied........skainsmate
villainous..........tardy-gaited........strumpet
warped..............tickle-brained......varlot
wayward.............toad-spotted........vassal
weedy...............unchin-snouted......whey-face
yeasty..............weather-bitten......wagtail

Nov 27, 2006

Did I Get Out Just in Time?

Linking to my much more diligent peers, each sounding a funereal note for arts criticism: George Hunka, quoting Eric Bentley, and Garrett Eisler, citing a blog by a Florida film critic. On the other hand, when I look at Terry Teachout, or consider Alex Ross, I see glimmers of hope.

Nov 22, 2006

That's Entertainment?

I hate comedy clubs. The overpriced drinks, the spectacle of comics dying, the Darwinian feeding frenzy which rewards the loudest and crassest voice in the room—what one comic once described to me as a competitive situation in which someone would gladly set themselves, or a colleague, on fire if it would get a laugh.

As part of the race to the bottom, which dictates that the darker and more misanthropic and outrageous you can be the better you'll fare, a particular and ancient form of ugliness is bound to surface. Michael Richards' "n"-word outburst wasn't, as far as I know, part of his prepared set. But the following was a well-honed bit by a Brooklyn comic named Freddie Rubino, whom I had the distinct displeasure of seeing last night at Gotham Comedy Club (I was there to support another friend). He started with some very old-school Jew jokes, then unleashed this tirade, to the delight of much of the crowd:
Jews are stereotyped as cheap, but that’s not really fair. Who here hasn’t hated Arabs for overcharging us for oil? It’s the 21st century, we should all be driving electric cars. Let's get all the gas out of this country. That way we can go back to hating Arabs because they smell bad.

I got in a cab the other day, and I thought the guy had a monkey in there, it smelled so bad. Seriously, I was looking for a tail and a banana peel. I said, “Where’s the monkey? You have a monkey in here!” Later I found out that Ahmed had had a monkey sandwich for lunch that day. That’s what I was smelling.

Thanks for the stench, asshole.

UPDATE: By the way, Happy Thanksgiving!

Nov 21, 2006

It Don't Worry Me


Robert Altman, RIP. I had the honor of interviewing him some years ago. UPDATE: Great obit in the Guardian, though this sentence seems daft: "It is hard to see which filmmakers he has left his stylistic mark on." Um, how about Alan Rudolph, PT Anderson, Wes Anderson, Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu, Steven Soderbergh, Paul Haggis...for starters.

Nov 17, 2006

Friday Shuffle

On my very thoughtful iPod this morning

"Far Away Blues," Maria Muldaur and Tracy Nelson
"Bim Bom," Morelenbaum 2/Ryuichi Sakamoto
"La Vie," Manu Chao
"Baby Driver," Simon & Garfunkel
"Il Mio Tesoro Intanto," from Don Giovanni
"My Kind of Night," Kurt Weill (from one of those cheesy Ben Bagley CDs)
"Scenes From an Italian Restaurant," Billy Joel
"Dorothy's Oberek," Norm Dombrowski's Happy Notes
"Mama Liked the Roses," Elvis Presley
"Tango Calambre," Astor Piazzolla
"Raising Arizona," Carter Burwell
"Width of a Circle," David Bowie
"Wig in a Box," Polyphonic Spree

Nov 15, 2006

Print Valiant


Hmm. I can only wish this just-announced print publication covering commercial New York theatre all the best. It's set to debut in March, which indicates a focus on tourist audiences--the season will be heading toward the Tony countdown by then, after which the summer after-season cash-in typically occurs.

The publishers are nothing if not ambitious. Consider:
Combining original interviews, reviews and previews with the finest theatre writing first published in venues like The New York Times and The New Yorker

Really? That would be a historic copyright coup.
With an initial circulation of 150,000 copies per issue, BROADWAY MAGAZINE will debut in 2007 as the largest theatre-themed magazine in history

The cover price? 0$.

Maybe it's not theatre that's the cockroach, as Isaac has it--it's print. Or print about theatre.

Nov 14, 2006

TimesWeb?

I'm not sure how big a deal this is, but The New York Times seems to be venturing into new Web-vs.-print territory with two theatre reviews today, both marked "Web exclusive" (here and here). I don't read enough of the rest of the Times online to know if this is a new phenomenon, or if this is just a fluke--a way to run a few reviews that might otherwise have been axed due to space considerations. But it seems worth noting when the nation's preeminent print publication "prints" something you can only get online.

Nov 13, 2006

Telemarketers' Nightmare

Apologies if you've heard this before, but a friend just sent me this genius prank. It's sophomoric and snickery, like most phone-based gags, and I didn't think I'd ever hear something that made me feel for a telemarketer just trying to do his pathetic job. Definitely worth a listen.

Seeing Straight


I've been reading some classic Didion with relish lately (wish I could say "rereading," but alas this is pretty much my first exposure, after being told for years that I must). I came across this interview today, touching on the upcoming Broadway debut of The Year of Magical Thinking, which she's adapting from her book for a March opening. I was struck by this exchange:
Guernica: You’ve done quite a bit of screenwriting, mostly with your husband. Are there things that are transferable between screenwriting and playwriting?

Joan Didion: No, none. Once in a while there were things in screenwriting that taught me things for fiction. But there’s nothing in screenwriting that teaches you anything for the theater. I’m not sure I’ve ever fully appreciated before how different a form theater is.

Guernica: How would you distinguish screenwriting from playwriting or playwriting from fiction?

Joan Didion: Something I’ve always known and said and thought about the screen is that if it’s anything in the world, it’s literal. It’s so literal that there’s a whole lot you can’t do because you’re stuck with the literalness of the screen. The stage is not literal.

Nov 10, 2006

Too Much Information


You can't walk around New York these days without seeing this face (on posters for an exhibit at the Morgan Library of early Dylanania). It's an iconic photo from the cover of The Times They Are A-Changin' record, and it serves as a handy reminder that the casting of Cate Blanchett as one of a chorus of Dylans in Todd Haynes' upcoming I'm Not There makes an odd kind of sense (even if that multiple-Dylan thing sounds a little too close to the deadly premise of the musical Lennon, or Todd Solondz's Palindromes). This and other youthful photos definitely suggest a strong physical resemblance, but I've been wondering: Can Cate sound like him? According to costar Heath Ledger (also one of the film's Dylans), she goes even further than that:
"Cate Blanchett has done such an incredible transformation in this movie, it's gonna blow you away. She walks, talks, sings, smells like Bob Dylan."
(emph. added)
No word on how Heath's musky scent measures up to the original. Meanwhile, not to be outdone, Bobby Z. is trying to play Cate Blanchett himself, or at least borrow her hair color.

Nov 9, 2006

Holiday Cheer

The Boston run of David Hare's Stuff Happens has added a very timely line. It begs the question, though: Will Hare have to keep tweaking this play as long as he's alive and it's done? At what point can he lock it? I'm among those who preferred the L.A. version to the NY version, mainly because I thought Hare's tweaks in the interim had weakened it (though the cast here was in some key ways sharper). Or maybe reality had gotten less dramatic?

Packing It In


My last review for the foreseeable future, of the unfortunate Mimi LeDuck, is here.

Nov 7, 2006

Plink, Plonk

David Cote has a thread on what he calls Cutesy Incidental Curtain-Raising Music at New Plays." My two cents on the matter are here. (Does this count as a post?)

Nov 2, 2006

Stuck Inside a Theater With the Jukebox Blues Again


Actually that headline’s not fair. I liked The Times They Are A-Changin’, Twyla Tharp’s circus-land take on the Bob Dylan song catalogue, a lot, lot more than I thought I would—which is to say, I never felt the urge to poke out my eyes with my pen and run screaming down 47th Street.

It’s a failure, no question, but its central disappointment is not just that it doesn’t succeed as a Dylan show but that it even fails on its own extremely odd terms—which, as you've probably heard by now, involve stringing Dylan tunes into a sort of carny fable of multigenerational conflict or whatever. With clowns. What’s so frustrating about this is, unlike the songbooks of so many other fine writers of the same era—Johnny Cash, John Lennon, Burt Bacharach, Brian Wilson et al—who have been sullied or overblown by Broadway treatments, Dylan's songs often contain a crucial seed of drama—they’re not simply static mood pieces or straight-up narratives. The best ones—“The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll,” “Idiot Wind,” “Dark Eyes”—move; they have a sense of journey and arrival. What startled me most, even moved me, about Tharp’s bungled, often cutesy, but entirely sincere half-vision of a show is that it actually fitfully demonstrates the theatrical potential of Dylan’s best work.

Two examples struck me hard: First was a spooky, low-lit, somber rendition of “Desolation Row,” which, yes, has a literalized Cinderella figure “sweeping up” and a patient twisting under Dr. Filth’s sinister care (I’m so thankful the verse about “Einstein disguised as Robin Hood” was cut). But unlike the hideous God-on-stilts who starts off the throwaway rendition of “Highway 61 Revisited,” the images of “Desolation Row” are shadowy, half-glimpsed, suggestively gestural, and they cohere into a jaundiced, surreal tableau that I didn’t think the song could bear (again, lyrical trims certainly help here).

The other knockout is “Simple Twist of Fate,” whose sophistication on every level I’ve always taken for granted, but which rings home here with a force nothing else in the show approaches. That descending bass line, rising melody, and final crashing, graceful cadence—it's brutal and beautiful, and to my eyes and ears almost felt like the germ of the whole show. For once the show’s ostensible love triangle “story” sets the scene and gets out of the way.

It's not coincidental that both of these renditions come courtesy of the fortysomething Thom Sesma, a magnetic, Tom Waitsian figure who gives Broadway flash and volume its due without skimping on grit and intimacy. Not only that, but he trusts the songs; he does a lot less of the kind of actory pop restyling that bedevils the singing of young, ardent Michael Arden, who delivers both lighter and preachier numbers (“Mr. Tambourine Man,” the title song) with a self-consciously offbeat, I’m-not-going-to-sing-the-melody-in-time-even-once-'cause-that-would-be-too-easy phrasing. The one song he sings more or less straight, “Masters of War,” is all the more powerful for it. And I mostly admired the way Lisa Brescia, all charm and professionalism as the obligatory female love interest, solves the intriguing problem of what notes you sing exactly, and how, over Dylan’s often-sketchy, elusive original melodies. She and Arden handle this problem quite nicely on the deceptively simple-sounding but quite challenging country romancer, “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” (just try singing those last three syllables right, let alone the "mockingbird" bridge).

That last song shows another side of Dylan that’s remarkably suited to the stage: the smiling showman. Some of his tunes fit eerily well into the slick pop-Broadway stylings of today (“Just Like a Woman,” “I Believe in You”). Ultimately this troubled Times, with its moments of outright desperation (“God Gave Names to All the Animals”?), its almost irrelevant choreography and tumbling, its junky Cirque-du-Soleil-in-the-dumpster aesthetic (I kind of almost liked that, actually), and its offensively shiny-happy ending, feels less like a travesty of sacred texts than a huge missed opportunity for a ripping good entertainment. Dylan and dance may not be a good marriage, but Dylan and musical theater—I wouldn’t count it out.

Nov 1, 2006

Boston Commoners


My review of Daisy Foote's Bhutan is here. Coincidentally, the appealing Sarah Lord starred in Walk Two Moons (pictured below), which I reviewed as my first published piece in New York more than a year ago. This is one of my last reviews in New York for the foreseeable future. Plus ça change, and all that.

Church Singin'


I'm among the small but powerful bass section of the New York City Master Chorale (pictured above, in our March debut at Alice Tully Hall), and our fall concert is shaping up well. If you like choral music, come on uptown next Saturday, Nov. 11, at 8 p.m. to the Riverside Church, 490 Riverside Dr. at 120th Street. We'll be singing Mozart's iconic "Requiem" and Dvorak's delightful "Te Deum." More here.

Oct 31, 2006

Conflict of Interest Files

It would be presumptuous to say that Isaac Butler takes the words out of my mouth with this open letter to the Times re: its not running my review of In Public by playwright George Hunka, which Mr. Butler directed. Suffice to say I wish I'd written it, and I hope it clears the air. I'm still mortified by the impasse, both as a particular instance of all-around unfortunateness and for its larger implications for the alternately fluid and barbed-wired lines between criticism and theatre practice. As a sometime theatre artist and performer myself, this is pause-giving food for thought, indeed. And it's not exactly a pause that refreshes.
UPDATE: Playgoer has more and more.

Oct 30, 2006

Commuted Sentences


My review of Cormac McCarthy's The Sunset Limited is here.

Oct 27, 2006

Gate "Godot"


My review of the Gate's more-or-less definitive production of Waiting for Godot, now on a tour stop in New York but soon making its way West, is here. I've had the privilege of writing about it twice before: With last year's production at the Theatre at St. Clement's, and the historic production at L.A.'s Matrix Theatre in 2000, directed by Andy Robinson and starring David Dukes, Greg Itzin, John Vickery, Robin Gammell, Tony Amendola, and JD Cullum, among others.

Oct 26, 2006

Scenes From Marriages


Reviews of two extremely different plays about disintegrating couples: John Epperson's My Deah and Philip Kan Gotanda's Yohen.

Oct 25, 2006

A Private "In Public" Review

For a variety of complicated reasons, my review of George Hunka's In Public, assigned by the Times, will not appear in the Times. So here it is. Just imagine the Times font and the newsprint ink on your fingers.

Lesson for accused philanderers: Don’t look the man you may be cuckolding in the eye and lecture him on the nature of honesty and guilt. “The history of the world is a history of the attractive, imaginative lie triumphing over the truth,” says Drew (Daryl Lathon), a sleek art history professor, over drinks with Arthur (Abe Goldfarb), an anxious bartender who suspects Drew of taking an unacademic interest in his wife, Lila. Drew adds, reasonably but not helpfully: “If you can ever know what that is.”

Poor, precious Drew can’t help himself: Throughout George Hunka’s insinuating, meditative new play “In Public,” this impeccably dressed tenure-tracker with a specialty in Weimar-era German art oozes smiling, sardonic superiority, as if the tawdry details of daily discourse, not to mention the finer points of who might be doing what with whom, were a trifling annoyance. Drew’s wife Linda (Jennifer Gordon Thomas), a careworn teacher, is fully equipped to keep up with his rarefied game, but why should she have to work so hard? As for Lila (Ronnica V. Reddick), she shares Drew’s Weimar fixation, but that’s not the fire that lights up their coy confab about aesthetics and the tango.

Director Isaac Butler’s production gathers strength in freighted, misdirected silences and supple, rippling subtexts. The way Mr. Lathon and Ms. Thomas play an acrid face-off, ostensibly over an art treatise he’s written, is a masterful demonstration in infusing a heady argument with a lethal dramatic edge.

Not every scene crackles with this tension, and the distracting comic asides of Brian Sillman, playing a series of waiters and bystanders, belong in another play. But a final, full-cast scene of tentative conciliation, with the couples chastened back into their married selves, has a bite of resignation worthy of Pinter. Who needs privacy when our public masks give us away?

“In Public” runs through Oct. 28 at manhattantheatresrouce, 177 Macdougal St., Manhattan. (212) 868-4444.

Clocking the Water Level


Getting in as many as I can before I leave the beat: Reviews of Dan Clancy's lovely The Timekeepers and Peter Mills' and Cara Reichel's lovely but hollow The Flood.

Oct 24, 2006

Welcome to the Working Week

When I arrived in New York a little over a year ago, I came looking for full-time work in editorial and/or publishing. That this is a theater capital, and that much of my writing has been about theater, was definitely a plus, and I've had a good run freelancing for any number of esteemed institutions.

Last week I was offered the job of online editor (official title pending) for Theatre Development Fund, the folks who bring you TKTS and other audience-access programs. If you go to that site you'll see there's not much there in the way of content—and that's what my job will be, to create original content for the site. It's an exciting opportunity to serve a venerable nonprofit with a mission to make theater more accessible to more people by supporting the audiences of today and helping to create the audiences of tomorrow.

Theater criticism will be a conflict with the new job, though, so this means for the time being that I'll be signing off as a critic. It's been an inspiring and edifying job with odd hours and scraping-by pay, and I know I'm going to miss the chance to consider, and reconsider, the work I see rather than simply letting it wash over me. That's a privilege, and a responsibility, I realize I've taken for granted. My body of work as a critic has been a valuable record for me of my own tastes and insights, and I can only hope it's been of some value to readers, as well.

Since my so-called blog has lately been little more than an aggregator of my published writing, I'm not sure what will become of the Wicked Stage as we know it. It will probably be a lot less wicked, for one. But I do look forward to being put to work supporting this art form more directly than I ever have before. Not having to sweat next month's rent, or health care, or withholding taxes, is also a relief.

As one of my high school teachers, a Jesuit priest, used to say with an encouraging wink: Onward and upward.

Letting Go


Reviews of two very different solo shows, Julia Sweeney's Letting Go of God and Daniel Beaty's Emergence-SEE!.

Oct 21, 2006

New iPod

Big life changes on the horizon—more on that soon–but in a kind of celebration I did the obvious thing: upgraded to one of those 80mb iPods that can play video (not like I'll use that) and hold almost all of my 25,000 tunes. The first 10 randomly selected tunes it graced me with this morning:
XTC, "The Mayor of Simpleton"
The Police, "Once Upon a Daydream"
Lyle Lovett, "Bears"
Tammy Wynette & George Jones, "Will You Travel Down This Road With Me"
Monty Python, "Argument Clinic"
Mose Allison, "Your Molecular Structure"
Shostakovich, Moderato from Violin Concerto No. 1
Django Reinhardt, "Minor Swing"
Debussy, Andantino from his String Quartet in G
Beethoven's Rondo in C. Op 51, played by Gerhard Meinl's Tuba Sextet

Machines have odd taste, don't they?

Oct 20, 2006

Oct 17, 2006

All at Sea


I so wanted to love the Dan Fogler vehicle Voyage of the Carcass. My mixed feelings are registered here.

Oct 12, 2006

Economy and History


Two reviews today: Of the New York premiere of Nickel and Dimed and of Tanya Barfield's Blue Door.

Oct 11, 2006

Meet the Replacements

Broadway.com unveils its new panel of critics. Can't wait to hear what Clark says about Coast of Utopia.

The Apeman Cometh


While the controversy at the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center seems to have died down (hat tip to new blogger Trey Graham), a revival of the playwright's seminal Hairy Ape just opened at Irish Rep. My take here.

Oct 10, 2006

Warhorse? Try Racehorse


My review of the Classical Theatre of Harlem's ripping King Lear is here.

Oct 6, 2006

Shepard's Play

My review of LaMama's new revival of The Tooth of Crime is here.

Oct 3, 2006

Bill's Oregon Trail


My in-depth Q&A of former Cornerstone artistic director, now Oregon Shakes AD Bill Rauch is here.

Oct 2, 2006

Small Deal


My review of David Folwell's new play Drug Buddy is here.

White Out


My final review for the New York Musical Theatre Festival, of the provocative, wish-it-weren't-so-entertaining White Noise, is here.

Sep 30, 2006

Lookin' Ahead

An Off-Broadway preview, circumscribed by Newsday's word count, is here.

Sep 29, 2006

Old School


My review of Jay Johnson: The Two and Only is here. And I've got a coupla New York Musical Theatre Festival reviews on Broadway.com's festival blog: J.O.B. the Hip-Hopera (shout out to L.A. homie Stefan Novinski), Night of the Hunter, and The Man in My Head.

Sep 27, 2006

Why I Don't Blog More

These aren't actually good excuses (considering what some colleagues are doing in their non-blogging hours), but I'm currently singing with these folks and composing with this scrappy troupe, plus I've got new product. La-di-dah.

Sep 24, 2006

A Blow to the Center

The teaching moment has arrived, and the LA Times' McNulty steps up in a big way, surveying the Michael Ritchie reign at CTG thus far and saying exactly the sort of thing only a disinterested critic has the authority, and frankly the responsibility, to say. McNulty's best and sharpest line:
The Taper built its reputation on little-known playwrights, but there's not much in the new season that can be characterized as a Ritchie discovery. The theater should be in the business of nurturing original material rather than shopping for it.

Bravo--and may the criticism prove constructive to an institution that still matters too much to be mishandled.

Sep 22, 2006

Raised in Arizona

I'm back in my hometown of Phoenix for a high-school reunion, won't be seeing any theater here. Been a little buried in finishing up the Brian Cox piece—he's an infinite subject, it seems, with a career that spans everything from Titus Andronicus to the X-Men to this (if you're even remotely familiar with his work, you won't regret checking this out).

I have to say the man was definitive in Stoppard's Rock 'N' Roll, and I confess I was somehow both left cold and blown away by the play, an ambitious but very singular reckoning of the author's prickly entente with the Western left—at least that segment of it, represented by Cox's character, Max, an unreconstructed Marxist don at Cambridge, which apologized for the Soviet Empire and dismissed its dissidents as distractions at best, traitors at worst. Largely due to Cox's conviction in the role, Max holds his own. And there's something about Stoppard's intellect that seems to repel direct emotional involvement, that somehow creates the expectation that he's working on a Shavian level of discourse and we're not supposed to feel for his characters, when in fact that's just a front, a mask, worn as much by the characters as by the playwright. What dawns on you, particularly upon later reflection—and this is a play I hope comes to New York, so I can see it again—is that for all its highbrow chatter, this is sweeping, old-fashioned, deeply emotional storytelling. For some reason I thought of Spielberg, an artist who's tried to trade up from his popcorn showman's origins, with results that have similarly both stirred and confounded our responses; under his literate trappings, Stoppard is essentially as much a ripping good showman. Reportedly Mick Jagger has the film rights to the play. If they don't get Milos Forman, Mr. E.T. would make a fantastic choice.

Sep 15, 2006

Across the Pond

In London briefly to interview the estimable Brian Cox. Caught Frayn's Donkey Years tonight. I'd been looking forward to it, as he's written both the last word in contemporary farce (Noises Off) and the era's greatest political play (Democracy), and this promised to be a sort of combination of both, about an Oxbridge college reunion headed by a pompous government minister (Thin Blue Line's David Haig). Alas, no; I'm a bit jetlagged, admittedly, but the show seemed like tiring piffle to me (especially given how it might have resonated, as I've got a high school reunion in Phoenix next week). Tomorrow: Stoppard's Rock 'N' Roll. Tried to dip into the script of his Coast of Utopia on the flight over; I'm finding it brittle and overpopulated. More anon.

Sep 13, 2006

Sep 12, 2006

Changes of the Season

Two new bloggers on the scene, both at established entities: David Cote, theater editor at Time Out New York, with the intriguingly named Histriomastix, and Paul Wontorek, editor-in-chief of Broadway.com, with Stage Notes.

Speaking of the latter site, which has been my main reviewing home for a year now: It is discontinuing reviews. Though I'll be covering a few shows for the site's New York Musical Theatre Festival blog, my review of Eve Ensler's The Treatment, which should be posted later tonight, will be my last full review for Broadway.com. It's been a good ride. The future now gapes as uncertainly, and I hope as promisingly, as the darkened silence before the play begins.

Sep 8, 2006

Purpose-of-Art Quotes

From Bob Christgau's 1991 review of R.E.M.'s Out of Time:
And though in theory it's true that I would have preferred something that spoke more directly to how shitty I feel about Iraq, in fact this is one of those alternate worlds that music is supposed to create for us—one of those worlds that makes peace worth fighting for. If I hear a better American album all year, I promise to stop wondering what it would be like to live in New Zealand.

From a Slate round-up of luminaries asked what piece of art has helped them "make sense of 9/11," I was struck by author George Saunders' thoughts:
I can't say that anything has helped me make sense of the attacks. I suspect they were just what they felt like they were—namely, a reminder that chaos and hatred sometimes rear their heads and, temporarily, are ascendant. But one work of art that has helped me in a more general way is John Adams' symphonic work "On the Transmigration of Souls"; it has "helped" me in the sense that I've been able to use it, periodically and sacramentally, to move myself to tears remembering that day just as it was. Every time I listen to it, it re-attunes me to the real sadness of that day, the sense of ordinary lives suddenly and horribly interrupted. That, I'd say, is the real purpose of art: to sweep away the mold that conceptual and habitual thought allows to grow over even the most raw experience. And Adams does it—it's a great and courageous piece of music.

Sep 7, 2006

In the Zone


My piece on 3-Legged Dog's new space on Greenwich St. is here (reg. req'd).

Sep 1, 2006

NYMF-O-Rama

My preview feature on the New York Musical Theatre Festival is here.

Blue Times

I grew up with the New Times in Phoenix; I still have a ratty grey T-shirt for "the Valley's News and Arts Journal," which I won in some back-of-book picture-ID contest. I remember enjoying the film critic Michael Burkett, so much livelier than the lead critic at the Arizona Republic. The New Times was my first introduction to the alternative-weekly template: the studied irreverence and contrarianism, uthe ncensored language, the gushing reviews of music I'd never heard of, the "personal" ads. When I first moved to L.A. and picked up the LA Weekly, my head practically exploded with a mere glance at the cultural listings. But I recognized the format.

Little did I know the bitter, incestuous tangle those two media outlets, and another one I'd dimly heard of called simply "the Voice," would one day get into. By the time I arrived in NY last year, I wasn't much of an alt-weekly reader anymore, largely thanks to the Web, and the Village Voice I've encountered since hasn't given me many reasons to change my readings. But with the news that New Times Media, from its base in my swingin' hometown, is gutting the New York staff of the Voice, particularly in the arts department, it may be time to retire that T-shirt.

Aug 29, 2006

Gotta Have One


In the wish-I-were-there file: Yellowman author Dael Orlandersmith will star in the California premiere of her six-character solo play The Gimmick at Hollywood's Fountain Theatre, where a knockout production of Yellowman ran last year.

This Just In: Ashland, Itzin Good

Gratified to see some favorite people and institutions get some props: Oregon Shakes with a feature in the NY Sun (tip to Garrett Eisler), and Gregory Itzin with a New York Times profile. I wrote a similar piece about Oregon Shakes a few years back, and I can agree that as pretty much the only remaining resident repertory company in the nation, the place deserves aesthetic and institutional kudos galore. And though I've never seen a frame of 24, I have no doubt that Itzin is a joy to watch, having followed his career not only in The Kentucky Cycle but at L.A.'s tiny, excellent Matrix Theatre, where I saw him tear up the boards in The Homecoming, The Birthday Party, Waiting for Godot, and an odd, tough play called Yield of the Long Bond, in which alternated with another up-and-comer named Ian McShane and acted along with such newbies as Byron Jennings and David Dukes (some if not all of these plays I reviewed). It seems that talent will out, sometimes.

Love and "Courage"

One must bow before Michael Feingold's erudition and precision, even when one differs. I thought this passage, from his Mother Courage review in the Voice, is especially fine:
Made by some of our most serious artists out of a sincere love for Brecht, the production reveals again the difficulty American theater people often have in knowing just how to express that love. The impulse to follow Brecht slavishly, to do everything that the stage directions and the images and the received notion of the theories tell us, is matched by the impulse to help the beloved author along, to Americanize and showbiz-ize—and underscore and explain. Pulling in opposite directions, the two often cancel each other out, leaving the audience to gaze at the nondescript static muddle in the center.

I know what he's saying, but for myself I felt that the love and investment he refers to paid huge dividends. And far from leaving a "nondescript static muddle in the center," for me the tension between these impulses made the play electrifying, alive, even in its lulls. (Feingold found Austin Pendleton's tuneless, impassioned rendition of "Song of the Hours" excruciating, for instance, while I found it extremely moving.)
I'm with Jeremy McCarter: This production will stay with me, whether I want it to or not; and frankly it's one of only a handful in my experience that I'd like to see again.
All we're waiting for is New York Observer's John Heilpern, and then we can wheel our cart on.

Aug 27, 2006

Discouraged

So Garrett Eisler takes a big dump on Mother Courage, adding another diss to my scorecard. At least he tells us what he'd have preferred to see:
Imagine if Wolfe & co. devised a 90-minute "riff" on Courage—fully updated to reference Iraq (instead of the safe, pussy-footing winks Kushner drops into the current script). Now that would have been an "event."

To which I'd respond: So you didn't really want to see Mother Courage at all.

The other point I'd make about Eisler's slam is that there's no reasonable way to defend a show against rubrics like "safe," "respectable," and "bland" without looking a conservative fool—in effect to say, "But I was positively shocked, I tell you!" You can always set the bar for what's sufficiently daring, experimental, or challenging far beyond your clueless, stultified, sentimental peers. I can't say I was shocked by this Mother Courage but I was shaken, stirred, and moved. I know one isn't "supposed" to feel at a Brecht show, but I'm so over being told how Brecht should be done and what he would have wanted. Expectations and orthodoxy are straitjackets and critics shouldn't be pedants, but something about Brecht brings out the cultural commissar in us. Perhaps it was Brecht's tendency to these faults himself that accounts for this, which is why I find Eric Bentley's clear-eyed admiration and contextualization of Brecht the playwright and poet vs. Brecht the man to be crucial to separating the riches this artist still has to offer us from the doctrinaire chaff some of his apostles seem to peddle in his name.

I will only add this: What other playwright's work inspires this much passionate kerfuffle? If I may speculate myself, I think the disputes would please him.

Aug 25, 2006

Not T.S. Eliot's Cats

And now for something completely different...

House Cat


Hip-Hop Cat


Metal Cats


Stevie Wonder Cat


Stoner Rock Cat


Techno Cat


iCat

The Courage Files

So Jeremy McCarter at New York mag has weighed in, with a kind of reverse take from many reviews, which have praised Streep but deplored the production. This play wouldn't be doing its job, in my opinion, if it didn't stir up this much dispute. (Garrett Eisler is right, though, that the review to look for will, if not the last word, be Feingold's.) The tally thus far, for those who care: In the thumbs-up column are the Post's Frank Scheck, Variety's David Rooney, New York Mag's Jeremy McCarter, Bloomberg's John Simon, USA Today's Elysa Gardner, and yours truly. The only thumbs way down are Eric Grode's at the New York Sun, but many of his criticisms are echoed in the mixed-to-negative reviews by Ben Brantley and Charles McNulty, of the respective Timeses and Linda Winer of Newsday. I should add that my Internet-only colleagues, Matthew Murray at Talkin' Broadway and David Finkle at Theatermania, both more or less echo the Streep-good-production-bad meme. UPDATE: As does Alexis Greene of The Hollywood Reporter and Back Stage's Leonard Jacobs. Two out-of-towners, Peter Marks of the Washington Post and Jeffrey-Eric Jenkins of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, are distinctly underwhelmed. Meanwhile, another pair of out-of-towners give top-to-bottom raves: The Philadelphia Inquirer's Toby Zinman and the Connecticut Courant's Malcolm Johnson. MORE: Andy Propst at American Theatre Web has a rave. And apart from a few quibbles, so does Time Out's Adam Feldman. By my count, that's nine positives vs. ten mixed-to-negative reviews. Not quite a rout, and far from a consensus. UPDATE: We can add another in the rave column, such as it is: The New Yorker's Hilton Als. Als is an odd bird who makes even odder claims and goes on private tangents with only passing relationship to the work at hand; plus he gives a cheap, unjustified slap to Jenifer Lewis as seeming like a "refugee from the chitlin' circuit." I was looking forward to seeing John Lahr parse this one, but then we wouldn't have seen a comparison between Streep and Candy Darling, or been privy to this doozy: "Streep almost single-handedly ended the era of the free-floating spoof, as she ushered in the kind of nuanced psychological and historical narratives that would define the American film industry from the seventies on." Hmmm. UPDATE: The Wall Street Journal's Terry Teachout doesn't much care for the production or for Streep, based on the excerpt on his blog. I dispute no critic's honest reaction to a work, but from the persistent chorus deploring the choices of Streep, Kushner, and Wolfe to make the play entertaining, funny, dazzling (to my mind they simply mined the potential of the play, according to their own native skills, and in that way were truer to Brecht than any pseudo-orthodox rendering), you'd think some critics would prefer to see Brecht done in pure white light, as at the Berliner Ensemble, with no laughs, no pathos, no "stars," and God forbid, no special effects. I think alienation and blunt pedantics are easy; you-really-like-me sentimentality is easy; the trick with Brecht, and this play in particular, is to hit both the pathos and the chill, which is in itself a jarring, not-smooth blend. I thought the production hit that balance better than any I've seen. UPDATE: The Siegels echo the Streep-great-production-bad chorus. And a fellow blogger, Joshua James, has a shoot-from-the-hip rave. For those keeping score, that's 11 positives, 12 mixed-to-negatives. Still awaiting the verdicts of The Observer's John Heilpern (did he drag Eric Bentley along this time, I wonder?) and the Voice's Michael Feingold. OOPS: Missed one daily review, Daily News' Joe Dziemianowicz, whose thumbs are mostly down. Make it an unlucky 13 disses.

Moving Trunk


My review of The Fantasticks, now relocated from the Village to the vicinity of Times Square, is here.

Aug 21, 2006

Margulies. Myers. Moon.

Somehow I don't think the movie poster will read that way. But who would have imagined these three figures together: playwright Donald Margulies, who's just finished writing a biopic of Keith Moon, to star Mike Myers? I can't figure out what the sensibility will be: genteel, erudite, yet crass and out-of-control? Literate but prone to destroy books once they're read? (Hat tip to Cris Gross.)

15 Minutes, $3-$50,000

This new Warhol Foundation arts writers grant program is pretty cool. Too bad there's not one for theater critics, too.

And...McNulty Takes the Lead!


And the first review of Mother Courage at the Delacorte Theatre in Central Park is...in the Los Angeles Times. I couldn't agree less, incidentally. My rave should be up in a few hours. UPDATE: Talkin' Broadway's Matthew Murray joins the slam chorus. And Newsday's Linda Winer is more mixed. UDPATE: Brantley, thoroughly mixed.

THE MORNING AFTER: VAriety's David Rooney is much more upbeat, as is Frank Scheck at the Post. Eric Grode at the New York Sun, whom I often but not always agree with, calls it "a damn mess and a damn shame. (Though this recollection by Matthew Gurewitsch of the role's originator, Therese Giehse, is an interesting tidbit for a right-leaning paper.) My Broadway.com review is still not up, for whatever reason. UPDATE: The review is up (link in post above); and here's John Simon, mostly positive. On the case with his own take is fellow blogger Garrett Eisler. (An anonymous commenter there led me to Elysa Gardner's rave in USA Today, and to the news that Time Out NY's Adam Feldman gave it five stars. The divide thickens.)

Aug 18, 2006

Goin' North


I couldn't be happier that Bill Rauch, founding artistic director of Cornerstone Theater Company, has been named artistic director of Oregon Shakespeare Festival. That's two of my favorite theater companies and one of my favorite people, all in one post. Look for a big Q&A with Rauch by yours truly in the October issue of American Theater.

Though I was in L.A. for about 24 hours to talk to Bill (and spend time with his son Liam, a fiercely competitive chess player), I'm selfishly hoping that his new post means I find excuses to go back to Ashland on some magazine or newspaper's dime—frankly, that was one of the best perks of working for Back Stage West back in the day. I have no great insights to offer into this thoroughly exciting partnership at this point (partly 'cause I'm snatching a moment here from a rather stressful copy-editing job), except to say: Congrats to both Bill and OSF. I can't wait to hear about, and if I'm lucky see, what blossoms from this felicitous match-up.

Aug 16, 2006

Kiki & the Fringe


Not a convert to Kiki & Herb, sorry to say. Here's my review. And I've spent a few nights at Fringe for Broadway.com, which is group-blogging the fest. My reviews are here.