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.

Aug 3, 2006

Negotiations and Love Songs


My review of the new lo-fi, apostrophe-dropping musical Everythings Turning Into Beautiful here.

A Year in the Life

Some celebration, or at least a footnote, is in order: It was one year ago today that I alighted for good or ill in the borough of Brooklyn to make my way as a writer/journalist/editor etc. in the city where these fields are still, despite the tectonic shifts in the business, thick with opportunity. The full-time gig has eluded me as yet, but I've managed to piece together a self-employed living as a freelancer and part-time copy editor at many and sundry companies. I still chafe at the schedule but the work has been, for the most part, stimulating and rewarding.

And yes, it was inhumanly hot a year ago, too—a nice introduction to the city, as it served as a kind of index for subsequent days: i.e., this one is better than, as bad as, or worse than that first sweltering day. I've cherished the good ones.

Tonight I'll go hear one of my favorite guitarists, Bill Frisell, accompany some silent films in Prospect Park. Celebrate Brooklyn, indeed.