Dec 30, 2009

"To Grow as a Dramaturge"

Not a New Year's resolution you read every day, but it's one of my favorites at today's American Theatre fan page thread. Blogging will be slight through the holidays, but I must second Isaac's recommendation to read David Byrne's rant and I congratulate some extremely deserving fellow bloggers for this.

Dec 22, 2009

St. Nick's on an Off-Day

My niece Eavan, at right, with a Santa who might want to think about a new line of work--indeed, a Santa who looks like he is contemplating something far, far away from the cares of the day. Ho ho...ho?

Great Signature News

Just in time for the holidays: As if the reviews for the Signature Theatre's Orphans Home weren't good enough, here's news, at last, of a new Gehry-designed space for the company, to go up as part of a residential building and hotel on 42nd St. and 10th Ave. More details:
The building will provide more than 800 new housing units, including more than 160 that will be targeted to low-income families. The performing arts center will feature three intimate and distinct theatres, rehearsal studios, a café, bookstore and administrative offices and will allow Signature to more than double its audience, with anticipated attendance of more than 80,000.

Dec 21, 2009

Devil May Care

Posting is light and likely to remain so for a time; holidays and whatnot. So I pass this on with best wishes, from my favorite macabre New York puppeteers, Phantom Limb (Erik Sanko & Jessica Grindstaff), and Ping Chong & Company, who are joining forces for The Devil You Know, a new adaptation of The Devil and Daniel Webster for the Under the Radar festival, Dec. 30-Jan. 24.

Dec 17, 2009

A Lot of Meetings Today

...which means I had a few moments to kick around ideas for holiday play "titles" for a very, very serious upcoming project at work (hint: coming to a TCG twitter feed near you, a la this historic series).

A sampling...

12 Angry Menorahs
Three Days of Reindeer
Death of a Snowman
'nog, Mother
The Santasticks
Snow Angels in America
A Long Egg’s Journey Into Nog

Dec 15, 2009

E Pluribus Backstage

My old employer changes hands again. Not included in that news piece: the decision to shutter the venerable Editor & Publisher and Kirkus Reviews.

From the Samovar to the Wheelchair

So many gems in New York's Sondheim/Lansbury dialogue. One of my favorites is this, from Lansbury:
Now, I’m not a big audience-chaser. I don’t try to please them; I force them to pay attention to what I’m doing, and get them that way.

And there's this instructive insight into Gypsy's Rose:
I said to Arthur, “What you’re writing is so strong, I don’t know why it needs songs at all.” He said, “Oh, no, if I were writing this as a play, she’d be much more complex. When I write a musical it’s in broad strokes.”

The final Hermione Gingold anecdote is a corker, and there's also a great bit of trivia about the origin of the original Sweeney Todd illustration (pictured above, the British "Happy Families" card game).

Dec 11, 2009

Too Cute To Be

I met this little fellow (I think) a few years ago when I wrote this piece. Great to witness the quality of his parenting. I especially enjoyed Theo's "arrows" gesture.

What They're Seeing

American Theatre's Facebook fan page asks people every week what they're seeing before the weekend, then asks them what they've seen after the weekend. Catching up with the list from my absence, I'm again struck by its diversity (and enthusiasm--check all the exclamation points). For anyone reading the whole thing, there are also a few rewarding running gags and backtalk. From last week's what-I'm-going-to-see comments:
Makayla Machado Teatro Vivo's Petra's Pecado! Hilarious!
Joan Kane "Desdemona The play about a handkerchief " part of the New School for Drama's New Visions Directing Festival.
James Joseph O'Neil The Royal Family on Broadway
Aaron Heinsman [sic] at The Strand and Illuminoctem at Single Carrot, both in Baltimore
Rachel Grossman As You Like It... performed by students at Shakespeare Theatre Company
David Rowell The Social Issues Project at the School of Theatre at Florida State
Lara Dossett American Buffalo at Steppenwolf in Chicago!
Clay Ray West Alegria, Cirque Du Soleil
Charlene Smith Showboat in DC!
Jennifer Mefford Major Archibald Swelling's Salvation Salve Medicine Show. It's New Orleans goodness!!!
Jeffrey Cranor "Pale Horse..." at the Ontological
James Ozanich The Rocky Horror Show at the Masquers Playhouse, Pt Richmond, CA (with my high school buddies who used to sneak out of the house as teen agers to see the movie version)
Rena Heinrich I loved The Royal Family! On my list, Tree in Los Angeles
Linda Libby Picasso @ Lapin Agile in Carlsbad, CA at New Village Arts
Flavia Florezell Santaland Diaries done by the Boulder Ensemble Theatre
Rik Deskin Hot Babes in Toyland & Quiet Monkey Fight @ Odd Duck Studio in Seattle
Tracy Ray Reynolds The Freddy Wyatt Christmas Spectacular @ Actors Co-op Los Angeles
Malcølm Devine The new musical adaptation of A Christmas Carol at The Group Rep in LA! For the second time, because it's that awesome!
Akia Squitieri Naked Holidays by End Times in NYC and the FRIGID festival fundraiser
Megan Kate Ward The Lying Kind at Third Rail Rep in Portland, OR
Kerry Reid I actually just finished eight shows in a row, but may try to see some solo work in "The Happy Family Series" with the Magpies this weekend
Nicole Bournas-Ney OR, Liz Duffy Adams' new play @ Women's Project!
Lisa Wasserman Druid Ireland: "The New Electric Ballroom" at UCLA. Also, "Noises Off" at A Noise Within
Roger MacDonald I'm finishing and then celebrating the end of this grad school course on research methods and statistical modeling... zzz
Tracy Eliott In LA: ANTIGONE @ the Lyric and NOISES OFF @ A Noise Within
Michael Soloman "Spring Awakening" at the Buell in Denver! :o)
Monique Fisher "Baby It's You" at the Pasadena Playhouse
Debbie Hubbard "Yankee Tavern" at Actor's Theatre of Charlotte
Andrew Hawkins On Monday I'm seeing TOO MUCH LIGHT MAKES THE BABY GO BLIND by the Neo-Futurists at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company in DC
Carol Sutton Elvis People at The Warehouse, SC
Chet Leonard Molly Sweeney, The Son of Semmelle Theatre . L.A., CA

And from this week's what-they-saw comments:
Max Garner Tech'ed "Inspecting Carol" at MICA in Baltimore. It opens day after tomorrow -- great show! Directed by Brian Klaas, the A.D. from the original Seattle Rep production
Kerry Reid The Happy Family Series with the Magpies -- a rotating evening of solos. My night included terrific pieces by Barrie Cole, David Kodeski, Dave Buchen, Chris Bower and David Isaacson (it was Dave night!)
Heather BeasleyThe SantaLand Diaries in its first Boulder, Colorado production, done by the Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company. Snarky, charming fun!
Mark Lord Or, at The Womens' Project. Coming soon to a theater near you
Gwen Orel The Big Bupkis, which was cool!
Michael Soloman 'Spring Awakening' in Denver. It was amazing! :o)
Lisa Wolford Wylam DV8 To Be Straight With You in Toronto. Very compelling piece of verbatim theatre
Greg Paroff SISTER'S CHRISTMAS CATECHISM at The Booth Theater in Charlotte, NC
Jim Litzinger "Frosty" at Columbia Children's Theatre was hilarious & heartwarming...the perfect holiday kickoff!
Justin Tanner "Bob's Holiday Office Party" at Theatre Asylum in HOllywood. Melissa Denton is a freaking genius
Susan Stroupe Tanya, Tanya at Towson U in Baltimore--Russian interpretation of an American adaptation of one of the first contemporary women-written Russian plays! It was a mind-trip.
Roger MacDonald 'Nuthin' - I was surviving the end of this grad school class in research and statistics
Rik Deskin Hot Babes In Toyland at Odd Duck Studio in Seattle. Pretty funny!
Lisa Wasserman Druid Theatre's "The New Electric Ballroom" at UCLA. Wonderfully Beckett-like! Also saw a very good production of "Noises Off" at A Noise WIthin
Julie HaverkateThe Great Recession at The Flea was FANTASTIC. Or, Adam Rapp's piece was fantastic at least
Paul Birchall Heh, saw the Los Angeles SANTALAND DIARIES at the Blank. Snark is so very 1990s, isn't it?
Jamie Feinberg Premiere of 3. Wise. Men in Lowell, AMAZING, and an excellent production of Harvey too, despite some slow set changes. :)

Today's what-are-you-gonna-see list is already heating up...

Dec 10, 2009

Unsilent Night, West Coast Edition

Another bicoastal post, with a bonus shout-out to a former Back Stage West colleague and friend, Behnoosh Khalili, who imported the musical-crowd happening "Unsilent Night" to L.A. when she moved back there from N.Y. Now it's part of Downtown L.A.'s arts walk:
People bring their portable tape players to a designated meeting place, they're given copies of [Phil] Kline's "Unsilent Night" piece recorded on cassette, and everyone gambols down the street for 45 minutes, rain or shine, boomboxes doing their job in the gentlest way imaginable. Because of the inherent quirks of different tape players, the Doppler effect and various collisions with other ambient noises native to the greater metropolitan area, Kline's work moves and changes and comes alive as an entirely unique sonic organ.

They've sinced added CD and MP3 players to the mix. L.A.'s Unsilent Night is tonight; in New York, it will go down on Sat., Dec. 12 at the Washington Square Park Arch at 7 p.m. National listings here.

New World Theatre

Written like all his plays (and his emails) ALL IN CAPS, this dialogue between L.A. playwright Michael Sargent and Unknown Theatre jack-of-all-trades Chris Covics, on the occasion of Sargent's Mapplethorpe-themed new play Black Leather, is engaging enough on its own, but this exchange popped out especially:


Rings true, and it got me thinking. Sargent, like Justin Tanner, would seem to be one of the underground treasures that LA Times critic Charles McNulty refers to in this very welcome recent piece, in which he stood up for L.A. theater's quantity and diversity. Except that McNulty hardly ever spends any ink actually writing about the best work on this underground scene. This is puzzling; his NY Times colleagues Brantley and Isherwood, for instance, cover the best work at HERE, PS 122, LaMama, etc., or plays by Foreman, Maxwell, the Woosters et al, alongside their Broadway and Off-Broadway reviews. But it seems to me that McNulty largely consigns shows at the 99-seaters to other fine critics at the LA Times (David Ng, D.C. Nichols, Kathy Foley, Charlotte Stoudt). That's fine, as far as it goes, but I don't get the sense that McNulty is really on the case, smoking out the scene's under-sung finds. By contrast, I remember Michael Phillips, very early in his tenure at the Times, reviewing Reefer Madness! at the Hudson Backstage, and before him, Laurie Winer enthusiastically taking up Tanner's banner. Maybe this shouldn't be the case, but the endorsement, or even the critical attention, of a newspaper's lead critic can make a big difference in how a local market, and its various scenes and sub-scenes, are perceived. And to too many who should know better, in L.A. sub-100-seat is synonymous with subpar.

Don Shirley has some related thoughts here, specifically on the matter that inspired McNulty's defense of L.A.: a New York Times travel piece extolling Seattle's theater scene, and quoting former Pasadena Playhouse managing director Brian Colburn, now at the same post at the Intiman, to the effect that it was better and more vibrant than L.A.'s. Two fascinating things hit me about that: Colburn surely has something to do with the fact that Damaso Rodriguez, of the excellent L.A.-based Furious Theatre, will direct Odets' Paradise Lost at the Intiman in March.

On a more personal note, I first saw Colburn play Horace Robedeaux in a lovely, haunting production of Horton Foote's Lily Dale at the Little Victory Theatre in Burbank. (I reviewed it for Back Stage West but the review's not online.) If anyone should know how much good theater happens in L.A.--albeit for what tiny compensation and acclaim--it would be Colburn.

First Round of FY2010 NEA Grants... Additional info here.


Having brought it up, I feel duty-bound to report that my son is fine and we all made it back to the mainland only slightly worse for wear. The extra time at Kapi'Olani Hospital gave us a chance to walk around the modest Makiki neighborhood, which reminded me of a lot of parts of L.A. I used to roam. And yes, we did our own self-guided Obama tour. Blogging is likely to remain light-ish for a while, but it's good to be back.

Dec 6, 2009

Light Blogging Just Got a Lot Lighter

Apologies for the intrusion of the personal, but the post-Thanksgiving family vacation has taken an unfortunate turn. The bad news is that my five-month-old son has a nasty virus with pneumonia symptoms; the good news is that he's got a nice room to recover in style at the Kapi'Olani Children's Hospital (yes, where Prez was born). Prayers/thoughts welcome for a quick recovery and a safe flight back to Brooklyn.

Dec 1, 2009

Race on Broadway

The December issue of American Theatre is out, and while I can highly recommend any number of great features worth your time this time out--many in the print-only edition, including a fascinating, you-couldn't-make-it-up piece by the late Dale Wasserman about collaborating with W.H. Auden on an early draft of The Man of La Mancha--I feel duty-bound to point out some fine features in the online edition (comments now enabled): a look at the legacy of Grotowski, a profile of Theatre for a New Audience's dogged leader Jeffrey Horowitz, and my own Critic's Notebook on how Broadway is handling race in the Obama era.

Nov 28, 2009

Typo of the Day

A tiny oops in an email from friends of mine who did a "rock camp" in my neighborhood this past summer:
The Havens and BEA Rock Camp want to invite you to celibate with us at our Volunteer Appreciation Party!

Sounds like fun!

Nov 27, 2009

Herzog's Burglars

I'm on vacation but I felt I had to post a line I read this morning. It's from a Q&A with Werner Herzog in my hometown newspaper, and it's an indelible and fitting image of a kind of artistic inspiration:
Q: Your movies are so diverse. Where do your ideas come from?

A: I'm always wrestling with the burglars that sneak into my home in the middle of the night. I've never planned a career, what would I do next, should I acquire the rights of a bestselling book and write a screenplay and make a film out of it? It's never occurred to me like this. It's always been like home invasion.

Nov 23, 2009

Quote for the Day

"There’s nothing better than an amazing musical, but an okay musical can be one of the worst times you’ve ever had." Laura Benanti in New York

Nov 18, 2009

I Have No Words


Glengarry, Hedwig, and Maria

A close competition over at the American Theatre Facebook page, where today's question is: What's the best film adaptation of a play or musical?

UPDATE: My favorite answer so far, from Tim Doyle:
My pick would have to be "Saving Private Ryan" (1998) based on the 1949 Yip Harburg/Burton Lane musical "Normandy, Schmormondy."

Nov 17, 2009

Freeman at Last

In a Time Out Q&A about his new meta-play Exposition, the indispensable Matthew Freeman seems lukewarm on the blogging:
I’m increasingly wary of blogging because I am a playwright first, and feel no particular urge to piss off literary departments or get caught saying unkind things about Charles Isherwood or whatever. As I’ve become aware that people actually do, in fact, read what I write, I’ve become a lot more careful. Which is a good thing and a bad thing. I can’t imagine I’m alone in that. I used to think that new bloggers would show up and enliven the conversation. They may yet. But now with status updates and Twitter and whatever, I think that dilutes the need to become a major content creator of your own. So, theater blogging may sort of fizzle out, or it may be just waiting for a new Rachel Corrie scandal or something interesting to happen. Because I think bloggers can still drive conversation; they just need something to chew on and fight about.

Ragtime Revisited

Marcia Mitzman Gaven and John Dossett

Critics are mostly warmish to the new Broadway revival of Ragtime. I saw it in a very early preview (for an essay I've written about race on Broadway for the December American Theatre), and am thus duty-bound not to say too much about the current production.

But I can't keep mum about one thing. Many critics, most prominently Ben Brantley at the Times, have less than loving memories of the original production--i.e., the one that opened in January, 1998 at the Ford Center (now the Hilton). But that's not the "original" I remember, and with perhaps overweening fondness: The show's U.S. premiere was at L.A.'s Shubert Theatre in June, 1997, and that production--starring Marcia Mitzman Gaven, John Dossett, LaChanze, John Rubinstein, and Brian Stokes Mitchell (and later the incomparable Kingsley Leggs, as the best Coalhouse I've yet seen)--was a knockout on every level. I still remember the sound in the house when the show's opening night audience witnessed the opening number's tripartite climax: WASPS, immigrants, and African-Americans in triangles facing off on the stage, then turning and belting out that final, ringing chorus. An ecstatic buzz of recognition would be one way to describe it. Some members of the cast later confirmed to me the specialness of that moment; they said that after doing a tryout in Toronto, in L.A. the show had its first all-American audience, black and white and every other shade, and the response was galvanizing.

It was puzzling for me, then, to hear the muted reception of the 1998 Broadway production--that is, until I saw it. It just wasn't as good at the Ford Center. It did feel overproduced; the theater space itself was over-produced. (And now we understand a little bit why.) Was that L.A. Ragtime, which I went back and lapped up four more times after that opening, just lightning in a bottle? Because Livent had recently produced a triumphant Show Boat, was I seeing Ragtime in perhaps too rosy a light? Was it really a musical for the ages, fit for a place on the shelf with Guys and Dolls and My Fair Lady and Fiddler and Gypsy and Cabaret and Sweeney, or was it just a happy convergence of hype and circumstance?

Well, I saw it again in 2003 at the Civic Light Opera of South Bay Cities, in a production that was a carbon copy of Frank Galati's and Graciela Daniele's original (right down to the Model T and the casting of Leggs), and at Musical Theatre West, where I saw the best Tateh yet (Eric Anderson, currently appearing in South Pacific). I also caught the tour when it came back to Orange County. Each production only burnished my appreciation of the show, and confirmed my basic first impression that Ragtime was not just the music of something beginning but of something lasting.

I desperately wish I'd seen the February production in Astoria, which sounds like it successfully rendered the show as a chamber piece. (There was a similar production in L.A. just last year.) And here's where I will offer my central criticism of Marcia Milgrim Dodge's sturdy, affecting new Broadway production: that it is stripped back in the direction of a chamber version, with accordingly salutary focus on words, music, and character over spectacle, but that because it's still on a big Broadway stage, with huge girders that hint at Eugene Lee's original set, it feels like a certain grandeur is missing. Without a sense of sweep, the show's second act, in particular, just feels like all book. And the casting, for my taste, is a little on the bland side. And so I do fear that this new version--though it's making a strong case for a show I love to some audiences and critics who didn't "get it" last time--doesn't make the absolute best case possible for the show's merits, which to my mind that initial L.A. bow amply did.

I'm willing to concede that I may be holding on a little too tightly to that memory, but then, what are we critics made of if not our theatregoing memories? The silver lining, in any case, is that the popularity of this new revival may be enough to insure that it will come around again, possibly in another generation--and with any luck, thoroughly reimagined.

RELATED: I liked Peter Filichia's confident closer today:
Ragtime will be one of the six musicals that first lost the Best Musical Tony but eventually won the Best Musical Revival Tony. (Sweet Charity, Gypsy, Chicago, Into the Woods and Hair are the others.) I’d say it’s the revival of the century, but there are 91 years to go. Nevertheless, I hope that it’s still running in seven years so that its original producer Garth Drabinsky can get to see it, too.

Nov 13, 2009

What People Are Seeing

Our weekly question on American Theatre's fan page, as usual, yields an odd, fascinating cross section of theater of all sizes and shapes nationwide.

This weekend, folks are seeing:

On the Town at Paper Mill Playhouse, Millburn, NJ
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead in NYC
Post No Bills at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater NYC
Esperanza Rising @ Emerson
Tree @ [Inside] the Ford
The End of Civilization @ Sidewalk Studio Theatre
Sweeney Todd @ Chandler Theatre
The Winterling by Paragon Theatre in Denver
Playback @ McDaniel College in Westminster, MD
Dog Act at
Blackbird at City Theatre in Pittsburgh
A New Brain at Dark Horse Company Theatre (SLC)
Taylor Mac's The Lily's Revenge
Inside Out at BAM
Americana Kamikaze at PS122
Tiny Kushner at Berkeley Rep
Saturn Returns by Noah Haidle and South Coast Rep
Dwarfman at Lane Community College
I Love My Wife at Montgomery Theatre
Slasher at Luna Theatre

Nov 12, 2009

Alive and Welles

I just saw a brand new movie with Orson Welles in it. I swear to God: Christian McKay, in the new Richard Linklater movie Me and Orson Welles, is so good as the young Welles it's uncanny, almost occult. I don't think I've ever seen anything like it--Geoffrey Rush's Peter Sellers and Robert Downey's Chaplin were good but they never made you feel, My God, that is the man himself.

The movie as a whole is soft slice of period pie, nothing too special. Through the eyes of a callow, starstruck teen played by Zac Efron, it portrays Welles on the eve of the Mercury's fascist-styled Caesar--arguably a more crucial milestone for him and his theatrical career than the famous voodoo Macbeth or the Blitzstein musical. (It's a rich career, however brief, to have that much to argue about.) There are welcome turns by Claire Danes and Zoe Kazan, and the historical casting is genius top to bottom--you'll have no trouble identifying who's supposed to be Norman Lloyd, John Houseman, Joseph Cotten, etc. And there are a lot of tiny references Welles fans will enjoy (to Chimes at Midnight, Touch of Evil, even The Third Man). But the main reason for any of us to see it is the privilege of spending a few hours in the virtual presence of that booming voice, those cocked eyebrows, that rolling gait and expressive arms. I'm told it will hit theaters Nov. 25.

Nov 11, 2009


Worth playing to the end--there are two parts to this possessed Peter Pan.

Nov 10, 2009

Shirley Unleashed

From his new position at the LA Stage Blog--resuming, one hopes, the essential coverage he once did for the LA Times' Stage Beat--Don Shirley takes on his old employer's New York-besotted theater coverage (full disclosure: It's a tendency from which I've occasionally personally benefited since I moved east). He has a particularly juicy target: film critic Kenneth Turan, who's taken to hawking his long overdue new Joe Papp bio, Free for All, with the arguable encomium that Papp "made theater in America both accessible and essential.” Without taking anything away from Papp's tremendous achievements, what we have here is a very common conflation of "theater in America" with "New York theater." (Another classic case here.)

Turan misunderstands what “made theater in America both accessible and essential” during Papp’s lifetime. That task was performed not in New York, where theater was already quite “accessible and essential,” thank you very much. It happened in Los Angeles and elsewhere outside New York.

Those were the decades when professional, non-profit companies appeared throughout America. Although these companies are often labeled “regional,” which carries a whiff of condescension, they deserve most of the credit for making American theater ”accessible and essential.”

It should be obvious that this decentralization of American theater was more responsible for increased “accessibility” of the art form than the actions of any single New York-based producer.

Tell it, Don.

UPDATE: 99 Seats chimes in with (mostly) praise of Papp's efforts and legacy, and some important qualifiers to the above. I do think that just as it's possible to overstate the extent to which New York theater is synonymous with American theater, it's quite possible to go too far in the other direction. Of course New York is a theater capital, and what happens here has huge, even disproportionate influence throughout the U.S. and the world. That's a self-evident, and self-perpetuating, fact of life, and it's been true for at least a century. What did change in the 1960s--and I forget who put it to me this way exactly but it stuck with me because it makes a lot of sense--is that while American theater was once centrifugal, with New York power essentially rippling outward to the rest of the nation, American theater is now more centripetal, with theatrical power more evenly distributed throughout the country but still rotating around the validating stamp of New York's theater biz. Papp was at the center of that business just as the rules were changing, and it's inarguable that just as he knocked down barriers within the city proper, he knocked them down between the city and the nation at large, and while he deserves credit for the theater he made here that poured out into the world, he obviously can't take credit for the vital theater that poured inward over those broken-down walls.

All that said, I welcome Don's post, because while it's theoretically just as possible to overstate the importance of the regional theater movement vis a vis New York theater as it is to do the reverse, in reality that almost never happens, even--perhaps especially--in the hometown papers of said regions.

Objectify This

Caught this interesting juxtaposition of posters at an 8th Ave. garage last night. Apologies for the terrible cellphone camera image...

Here's a closer look at the more distant one:

The poster does refer to a crucial costume and, er, incident in Mamet's play. And the faceless booty on the Fela! poster is hardly a misrepresentation of that show's charms. I mean, it's nice to see women of color on Broadway posters but--I'm not sure this is progress.

Nov 9, 2009

Radiohole Gets Cute

As a new father myself, I was moved to donate to Radiohole to support their latest tour of Whatever. Heaven Allows (Walker Arts Center in Minneapolis, Jan. 14-16; The Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, Feb. 12-13; PS122 in NYC, March, and UCLA Oct. 13-17). Why? Here's why:
Radiohole has just enough money to pay our artists a small stipend. So what about child care costs? At each of these stops we must raise money for the babies & the Baby-Mamma & Daddies to join us on the road. That means plane tickets, car-seats, sippy cups, the works!! This family-style tour will cost us an extra $3500!

Can you say no to these faces?

Left to right: Tallulah May McRae Silovsky, Mia Pearl Fliakos, and Zapata Huber Hoffman Enriquez.

UPDATE: Found a revelant link.

Nov 6, 2009

Over-and-Out Links

What Are You Seeing This Weekend?

Apart from "what showtune is stuck in your head," that's been the favorite question on American Theatre's Facebook fan page. The answers this week (and every Friday, since I think we're going to make it a regular feature) are an illuminating cross-section of, well, American theatre: from Walworth Farce at UCLA to Narnia in Memphis, from Labute's This Is How It Goes in Richmond to Angels in America in Philly...It's a fascinating (and growing) list.

The Undeciders

I don't get up to much straight-up theatrical criticism these days, but here's my bundled-together take on three current Broadway offerings: Hamlet, A Steady Rain, and Superior Donuts. All of them star vehicles, in a sense, but in only one case is the star in question the playwright.

Riedel: Times Ad Deal Killed Brighton Beach

Well, that's interesting.

Nov 5, 2009

Who's Google-Reading Who

I'm behind the times, I know, but I started to add some blog subscriptions to my Google Reader and discovered some interesting stats along the way. To wit:

Playgoer, with an average of 9.6 posts a week, has 1,503 Google Reader subscribers.

Parabasis, with an average 15.4 posts a week, has 231 GR subs.

Theatre Ideas, with 1.6 post a week on average, has 180 GR subs.

Time Out's Upstaged blog, with an average of 8.2 posts a week, has 137 GR subs.

99 Seats, with an average 5.6 posts a week, has 129 GR subs.

On Theatre and Politics, with an average of 4.9 posts a weeks, has 108 GR subs.

Yours truly averages 6.8 posts a week and claims 101 GR subs.

The Clyde Fitch Report, with an average of 20.3 posts a week, has 88 GR subs.

The Hub Review, with an average of 10.3 posts a week, has 59 GR subs.

Sign of Rain

Ripley Grier rehearsal studios are in my building, and I've recently become a fan of their well-stocked snack bar (today's soup is carrot ginger, mmm). I've become used to sharing the elevator with Jerry Zaks, John Kander, Chris Fitzgerald, Cady Huffman, and assorted leg-warmer-clad gypsies; once while rehearsing at R-G myself I ran into John Leguizamo, Haley Joel Osment, and Cedric the Entertainer, heading off for their lunch break. Today while collecting my soup I happened to notice, on the board reporting what shows are in what room, between La Cage and Billy Elliot, a room reserved for Steady Rain. Now what would a two-character show, cast with stars, that's been open for a month, want with a rehearsal room? Replacements? Understudies? A tour? Just askin'.

Idiolect Savant

Back when I was editor of Back Stage West, I used to flag stories in other magazines that would go into an informal stories-we-shoulda-done file (or, if I was more grumpy about it, the why-didn't-we-do-this-story file). The New Yorker's excellent, unassuming profile of dialect coach Tim Monich would have been at the top of the pile.

Hunka Alert

An academic sentence generator.

Nov 3, 2009

Behn There

My Time Out piece about Liz Duffy Adams' new play about Aphra Behn, Or, starring Maggie Siff (pictured), is already up.

Nov 2, 2009

A Link List

Time is tight, to quote Booker T and the MGs. A quick glance around the Internets:

  • Simonized: Proof again why Playgoer is indispensable; a good take from the LA Times; and an uncharacteristic aside from Broadwaystars' aggregator.
  • The Nov. issue of American Theatre is out, with pieces on Ivo van Hove, Ten Chimneys, Faye Armon, Victor Lodato, and the gender gap. And this is new: for a few online stories, comments are enabled.
  • Tracy Letts loose.
  • Holiday shows and Christopher Lloyd a bad match.
  • At the top of my Christmas list.
  • Halloween postmortem.

Oct 30, 2009

Such Stuff as Nightmares Are Made On

Over at the American Theatre Facebook page (become a fan today, won't you?), for Halloween I asked folks to tell us their worst theatrical nightmare, real or imagined. A sampling of my favorites:
Opening scene of Carousel: One of the horses fell off the Carousel with our Juilie Jordan on it... The curtain immediately closed. To this day, I'm haunted by a horse head resting at my feet, chorus members scrambling and Julie screaming "Why, why..."

I still dream of my college's performance of Sweeney Todd, and in this particular nightmare it's just a play for everyone else, but somehow real for me, and so when I sit down in that barber chair for my "shave", I wake up screaming when I plunge down the trapdoor...thanks, Sondheim!

I was in a production once where we were all seated at the dinner table eating and I cut my thumb WIDE OPEN! I didn't even realize it until I looked down at my plate and blood was every where! I did wonder, however, why everyone else was looking at me funny through out the scene. LOL!

I frequently have dreams that the theater has burned down and we have to stage the production elsewhere. Best so far: THE ROVER in the produce aisle of a grocery store.

A recurring nightmare where I am in a production of "Macbeth" and keep murdering the cast backstage so I can take over the show.

A Trick and a Treat

It's no mistake that Bob Dylan released his new alleged "Christmas" record in time for Halloween. I just heard some snippets in Ken Tucker's contrarian NPR review, and all I can say is: Ouch! I'm a huge Dylan acolyte, and I love his singing on 2001's Love and Theft, which is handily among his top five albums ever, so I have no illusions about the endearingly raggedy state of his voice. And I have a weakness for this kind of kitsch (up to a point): Leonard Nimoy's "Bilbo Baggins," George Burns doing "Fixing a Hole," Sinatra's "What Time Does the Next Miracle Leave?" That kind of thing. Dylan doing "Here Comes Santa Claus" should have fit on my Christmas mix right between Bing/Bowie and the Muppets, right? Don't think so. Tucker is just wrong: What he calls Dylan's "imperfect vocal instrument" sounds so God-awful here it's kind of frightening. I'd love to hear Dylan do a bona fide standards record of songs he dearly loves. Instead, with Christmas in the Heart, he's unleashed a certifiable horror show.

For another kind of horror, I leave you with an MST3K classic. Happy holiday!

Oct 29, 2009

Pre-Halloween Links

  • Theatre review metrics via Twitter?
  • "Playwrights should try to get people to read their work, that's the important thing, and they shouldn't care if it doesn't get produced." Who said it?
  • Who knew ibdb went back this far?
  • Download-able theater?
  • Brief plug for my mag: David Savran's in-depth look at Kushner's latest is a must-read. (PDF link to most of it here, though it's better on the printed page, natch.)
  • Better late than never: This is a great post. (h/t)

Yip Yip Hooray

The great new Broadway revival of Finian's Rainbow kept reminding me of the Roundabout's The Pajama Game revival of a few years back: Not just for the score's similarly odd mix of faux-bumpkin Americorn and jazz-standard-ready showtunes, or for both books' surprisingly lefty bent, but because the flawless, idiosyncratic cast, as in Pajama Game, handily destroys the notion that today's performers just can't do the old Broadway shows justice anymore. Put Cheyenne Jackson or Chris Fitzgerald in a wayback machine, and I think it's inarguable they'd have given John Raitt or Phil Silvers a run for their money.

Whether the old shows are worth the candle is another matter; in the case of Pajama Game, I was less than convinced, while the new South Pacific, for instance, makes a beautiful, irrefutable case for its place in the canon. I guess I'd situate Finian's Rainbow's revival-worthiness somewhere uneasily between those two: Yip Harburg's impish lyrics and flakily plotted but sneakily moving book, hitched to Burton Lane's competent, crafty, occasionally bold music (check the changes in the last eight of "That Old Devil Moon"), and delivered as they are here by this brilliant cast--it's a curious artifact, no question, but ultimately it's as irresistible a package as this inimitably Harburgian lyric:
We could be oh, so bride and groomish
Skies could be so bluish blue
Life could be so love in bloomish
If my ishes could come true

Gratuitous Gore

In the competition for most disgusting comment in the Atlantic's new Gore Vidal Q&A--and there's some stiff competition--I'd nominate this:
Atlantic: What is Ted Kennedy’s real legacy?

Vidal: It’s nothing.

Remind me again why Tim Robbins likes this guy?

Oct 28, 2009

Bloomberg, Pro and Con

From two of the smartest pundits anywhere, a freewheeling chat about NY (and NJ) politics. (Their exchange about Turkish politics, earlier in the same diavlog, is scarcely less fascinating.)

Oct 27, 2009

Indie B.O.

A great idea from Matthew Freeman: box office stats for off-Off-Broadway.

Nottage at Drama Book Shop

This Friday, Oct. 30 at 5:30 p.m., Lynn Nottage will be on hand to discuss the play of the year (and not just because it won a Pulitzer), Ruined, with Saidah Arrika Ekulona, who originated the central role of Mama Nadi. Time Out's David Cote will moderate. Nottage will sign copies of all of her plays, but to put in a special word about TCG's new edition of Ruined: It includes the play's three original songs and portraits of the Congolese women whose stories inspired Nottage's play. More info here.

When Woody Met Ingmar

It was almost a romantic moment, according to Liv Ullmann:
Ingmar opened the door and said welcome. That’s all he said. And the two of them looked at each other. Two geniuses met. We sat down at the table — and this is the honest to God truth, Ingrid was sitting there, I was sitting there, Ingmar there, and Woody Allen there — and they did not talk. They just looked at each other, almost lovingly.

And then they talked meatballs.

Contributing to the Dialogue (and Not)

Scott Walters, no stranger to bloggy contretemps and passionate disagreement, puts theater blogging in historical context and pronounces the dialogue healthy. The comments more or less make his point. UPDATE: One of the less circumspect voices in this exchange has begun to purge a recent post of its most over-the-top invective. Lest we ever forget what Leonard Jacobs, Editor in Chief of the Clyde Fitch Report, looks like when he's in full ad hominem fury, the original is here.

Oct 26, 2009

Photo of the Week

Photo by Ed Krieger from Theatre 40's production of Jeffrey Hatcher's Jekyll and Hyde. Cheesy but effective.

Oct 23, 2009

Chutzpah Watch

Directly below a new post alleging that David Mamet is a gynophobe, Thomas Garvey alleges that--well, let me quote him:
Why is it that when there's a really obnoxious infringement of theatre etiquette with cell phones, the perpetrator always seems to be female? What is UP with that?

Stay classy!

Lahr's Foote, and His Achilles Heel

I've had my issues with him in the past, but when John Lahr is on, no one can touch him. As with his recollection of Pinter or his profile of August Wilson, his recent profile of Horton Foote (alas, available only to subscribers) is a model of economy, grace, empathy, and insight--indeed, what's best and most astonishing about Lahr's piece is that its very qualities, its unruffled warmth and care, evoke the playwright's work at its best. It's hard not to note as well another quality Lahr shares with Foote: His lovingly handcrafted and felicitous prose is in part the product of a lifetime of observation and percontation. This is profile as performance, though not as a gonzo showpiece but an act of extraordinary interpretive sensitivity and subtlety. I just can't think of anyone else who does it this well.

On the other hand, in the same issue is Lahr's mixed-to-positive take on the roundly reviled new production of Bye Bye Birdie. While I cherish the priceless image of his father, Bert, having to pull the family Chevy off the road in hysterics the first time he heard Little Richard, I'm unpersuaded that the visceral kick of rock 'n' roll--the subject of Lahr's opening reverie--has anything do with Bye Bye Birdie, an enjoyable show at its best but not one with a score that anyone could mistake for rock 'n' roll. Let's just say that Charles Strouse's flimsy "rock" tunes make the synthetic score of the new Memphis, a musical also ostensibly about the siren song of early rock, sound positively rafter-shaking.

The downside, it seems, of Lahr's intimate familiarity with the world of mid-20th-century theater--the sort of facility that makes him capable of writing such great, fine-grained profiles--is that as a theatergoer he's got a huge soft spot for old shows, particularly musicals: He was almost alone in praising Des McAnuff's Guys and Dolls; he liked the Roundabout's Pal Joey more than many critics; he inexplicably adored the hash that Arthur Laurents has made of West Side Story (though to be fair, he was not as lonely in that view); and he famously claimed that the recent revival of The Pajama Game bested his memory of the original (that may be true, but why should we care?). That's not to say his show-review criticism doesn't also have piercing insights and flashes of uniquely Lahrian brilliance, but for me it's generally an unreliable barometer of a particular production's value.

Bottom line, it's a tradeoff I'll gladly accept: What Lahr lacks as an opening-night critic he more than makes up for as a positively irreplaceable longform critical reporter.

Oct 22, 2009

Rocco's World

"While I want to state in no uncertain terms that the NEA is not a political agency and that when art becomes propaganda I lose all interest in it, I also want everyone to know that the days of a defensive NEA are over."

New NEA chief Landesman sketches an encouraging agenda and addresses the challenges the org faces but downplays the danger of revived culture-war attack on arts funding in today's LA Times interview. The jury remains out, of course, but I'm prepared to give the man who cajoled a great musical out of Roger Miller the benefit of the doubt.

UPDATE: The full text of Rocco's speech at Grantmakers in the Arts National Conference is here. It's hard not to be stirred by the following excerpt, particularly the references to his own theater background:
I've been at the NEA eight weeks and already I have my own litany: the NEA is funding porn in California, the agency has become a propagandist for the Obama Administration programs, and to truly add insult to injury, we've been told, vis-ý-vis our share of the stimulus money, that we in the arts don't even work.

One congressman summed up this view perfectly when he stated, "How can we spend 50 million dollars on the National Endowment for the Arts when we could spend that money creating real jobs like building roads?" I should pause here to note that that $50 million is one six-thousandth of one percent of the money in the stimulus bill. But more importantly, if you are, say, a musician who through long study and practice and talent has risen to play first violin in a symphony orchestra, please understand that although you have two kids to put through college, you don't have a real job. Discouraging? Just a little.

But here's the thing. The rational and appropriate response is the wrong one. The right response is the irrational and inappropriate one: Optimism. I will elaborate.

My first interview in the White House for the job of Chairman of the NEA was with Valerie Jarrett. I did a rather odd thing. I brought to the interview a prop (I'm a theater guy), which I placed down on the table in front of me. It was a book written 3 decades ago by a zoologist, Lionel Tiger. The title was: "Optimism. The Biology of Hope." This book made what now seems to me to be an obvious point: that optimism is a core survival mechanism of the species. It may be unrealistic, misguided, maybe even irrational, but vital. It is hardwired into our DNA. Every day we make decisions because we assume--often foolishly and mistakenly--a positive outcome. We get married, have children, buy stocks, bet on horses, change jobs, you name it.

I'm a theatrical producer. Fewer than 20% of the shows that open on Broadway earn back their investment, it is an absolutely terrible business and the people who invest in it know that. So why do they do it? Because they're optimistic.

Which brings me to President Obama, our Optimist in Chief. He is a writer, an artist but we'll come to that later. His second book had a title that would resonate with Lionel Tiger: "The Audacity of Hope". This is much more than a felicitous phrase that he found in a sermon: it is the manifesto of this presidency and will lay the groundwork for the most arts-supportive administration since Roosevelt.

I'll revise what I said above: The jury is in, as far as I'm concerned. I think we've got the right man at the NEA. RTWT.

Oct 21, 2009

Blogger on Fire

Isaac is tearing it up today with two of his best posts in memory, on

1. Do theaters really want young audiences? Really?

2. The age-old how-close-should-critics-get-to-the-world-they-cover question, with a great example from the English punk scene.

Sometimes There's God

An interesting and utterly unexpected interview with the great Norwegian actress Liv Ullmann, who's directing the upcoming Streetcar with Cate Blanchett, in the Catholic weekly I occasionally write for, America. I liked and identified with this quote in particular:
In my work I have found God. It is a help that I am an artist because it is all so real—because God is bigger in life and in death than I would have ever been aware of. Doing art, reading other people, connecting to the audience, I know that we live in a higher dimension, and not just at the best of moments.

I like also the idea, which she connects to Blanche DuBois' famous quote about the kindness of strangers, that we embody God to each other. In somewhat related matters, I was very struck by this talk on Andrew Sullivan's blog.

Oct 19, 2009

Beckett, Pinter, Pop Culture

One of the more startlingly unlikely cultural legacies of mid-century drama is the line that runs from Beckett to Sanford and Son, with a crucial side tour through Pinter, but there it is. Given that strange genealogy, I'm inclined to keep an open mind about these things, but I'm less than convinced by a few other recent claims about the purported pop-cultural influence of the oft-paired Sam and Harold. The first was at Thomas Garvey's Hub Review, where, in trying to figure out why Pinter's work doesn't seem to pack the punch it used to, he theorizes:
Listening to The Caretaker, in fact, I was struck again and again by how his voice has become the lingua franca of so much pop culture. Saturday Night Live appeared just as his output began winding down, and its skits were often rife with light, dumbed-down riffs on his central trope of oblique threat. Then came Quentin Tarantino, whose dialogue is essentially a degraded, high-school version of Pinter's "comedy of menace," re-fitted with fresher pop references (and goosed along by literal threats of torture and rape). But a funny thing happened to the Theatre of the Absurd once Quentin Tarantino and Lorne Michaels got their hands on it: it went meta, and lost its powers of critique.

The irony-has-lost-its-sting critique is fair enough, even banal by now, but looking for traces of Pinter in SNL and Tarantino seems a stretch. Then along comes the Times' Jason Zinoman, whose review of the would-be horror play Ghost Light lays another trend at the feet of these two mid-century masters:
My advice for macabre theater artists is to...look to Beckett and Pinter, who were inspirations for the great horror boom of the 1970s. Roman Polanski wanted to film “Waiting for Godot”; and before William Friedkin shot “The Exorcist,” he adapted “The Birthday Party.” People say horror doesn’t work onstage, but trust me, if you dare to look closely at great 20th-century drama, it’s right there, hiding quietly, like a body buried in the basement.

That's some great trivia and good advice, but honestly, contemporaneity isn't causality. Pinter was a giant, but I don't think even he would claim that he invented menace, subtext, or suspense, let alone irony.

Oct 16, 2009

Most Produced (Updated)

You may be familiar with TCG's annual list of plays that will get the most productions in the coming season; this year Peter Sinn Nachtrieb's boom took top honors. But after going through season survey (in the October issue of American Theatre, I discovered that while Nachtrieb's play will certainly get the most productions of any single play, he's not the most produced playwright this coming season.

I decided to do my own calculations to find out which writers take the honors, and I found the results, while not entirely surprising, quite illuminating. I think they speak for themselves, but I should first note two caveats: These numbers are compiled from self-reporting TCG member theaters; there may be another Crucible out there somewhere that hasn't yet made its presence known. Oh, and in the case of the most-produced playwright, I added two productions off the top of my head (because they're Broadway productions and thus weren't tallied in the TCG list). Pop quiz: Which of the three (or is it four?) productions listed below are premieres? (You have to count co-productions that played first on the West Coast and are now coming to NY--otherwise the number of world premieres listed below is just two.*)

Without further ado, here they are: the most produced playwrights in America for the 2009-2010 season.

UPDATE: I've gone over the list again and added a few blind spots: some big ones (McNally, Simon, Coward) and a few less obvious ones (Sheinkin, Hatcher). Also, if my commenters are right, Steven Dietz might actually belong at the top of this list; to confirm, I've got to look to non-TCG sources. More anon. *I'd initially only said one; these addenda add precisely one world premiere to the tally.

David Mamet
19 productions: 5 of American Buffalo; 3 of Speed-the-Plow; 2 of November, Glengarry Glen Ross, and Oleanna; and one each of A Life in the Theatre, Two Unrelated Plays by David Mamet, Romance, Race, and The Voysey Inheritance (adaptation)

August Wilson
17 productions: 5 of Fences; 3 of Ma Rainey's Black Bottom; 2 of Jitney, Seven Guitars, and Radio Golf; and one each of The Piano Lesson, Two Trains Running, and Gem of the Ocean

Sarah Ruhl
17 productions: 8 of Dead Man's Cell Phone; 3 of Eurydice and The Clean House; and one each of Passion Play, In the Next Room (or the vibrator play), and Late: A Cowboy Song

Steven Dietz
17 productions: 7 of Yankee Tavern; 4 of Becky's New Car; 2 of Shooting Star and Go Dog Go (adaptation); one each of Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure and Honus and Me (adaptation)

Neil Simon
14 productions: 4 of Lost in Yonkers; 3 of The Odd Couple; 2 of Broadway Bound; and one each of Brighton Beach Memoirs, The Last of the Red Hot Lovers, Barefoot in the Park, Laughter on the 23rd Floor, Come Blow Your Horn

Terrence McNally
13 productions: 4 of Master Class and The Full Monty; 2 of Golden Age; and one each of Ragtime, A Perfect Ganesh, and The Lisbon Traviata

Arthur Miller
13 productions: 5 of All My Sons; 4 of The Price; and 2 each of The Crucible and Death of a Salesman

Tennessee Williams
13 productions: 7 of The Glass Menagerie; 4 of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof; and 2 of A Streetcar Named Desire

Jeffrey Hatcher
12 productions: 4 of Ella; 3 or Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde (adapt.); 2 of Tuesdays With Morrie (adapt. w/ Mitch Albom); and one each of Cousin Bette (adapt.), The Government Inspector (adapt.), Lucky Duck, and Mrs. Mannerly

Noel Coward
11 productions: 4 of Blithe Spirit; 3 of Private Lives; and one ach of Brief Encounter, Present Laughter, Design for Living, and Hay Fever

Donald Margulies
10 productions: 6 of Shipwrecked! An Entertainment; and one each of Dinner With Friends, Time Stands Still, Collected Stories, and Brooklyn Boy

Horton Foote
9 productions: 2 of Dividing the Estate and Trip to Bountiful, and one each of The Orphans Home Cycle (which is technically 9 one-acts over 3 programs, so special props to Horton), To Kill a Mockingbird, Valentine’s Day, The Carpetbaggers, and The Young Man From Atlanta

Conor McPherson
9 productions: 6 of The Seafarer, 2 of Shining City, and 1 of The Weir

Peter Sinn Nachtreib
9 productions of boom

Michael Hollinger
8 productions: 7 of Opus and one of An Empty Plate in the Cafe Du Grand Boeuf

Harold Pinter
8 productions: One each of No Man’s Land, Moonlight, Betrayal, The Collection, The Homecoming, and The Caretaker, and two anthology shows: Two by Pinter and Hearing Noise in Silence: A Six-Play Celebration

Rachel Sheinkin
8 productions: 7 of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee and one of Little House on the Prairie (adapt.)

Oct 14, 2009

Wednesday Matinee Links

Oct 13, 2009

New Newman

Great news for Randy fans, from the Taper:


Grand Finale of 2010 Season to Feature Music and Lyrics of Beloved Songwriter

The infectious music and lyrics of one of America’s most beloved songwriters will be featured as the grand finale of the Taper’s 2010 season, it was announced today by Michael Ritchie. The world premiere of Randy Newman’s Harps and Angels will be presented November 10 through December 19, 2010. Opening is November 21.

Harps and Angels, which has music and lyrics by Randy Newman, is conceived by Jack Viertel. A director will be announced soon.

Not to pile on South Coast Rep, but I hope it's better than The Education of Randy Newman.

Oct 10, 2009

"The Temple of His Own Narcissism"

One day, boys and girls, someone made the mistake of mentioning Burt Reynolds around Marlon Brando.

Oct 9, 2009


What a lost opportunity; Jude Law could probably be a great Dane, but the new Broadway production, like McKellen's King Lear, is so transparently constructed as a vehicle for a single star that it puts the rest of the play in virtual eclipse. Of all the reviews I find myself most closely in agreement with Teachout.

But my better half pointed out a couple of lines she'd never noticed before, which points to the logic of casting a smoking-hot Hamlet. Both are from a clearly insecure Claudius:
I have sent to seek him, and to find the body.
How dangerous is it that this man goes loose!
Yet must not we put the strong law on him:
He's loved of the distracted multitude,
Who like not in their judgment, but their eyes;
And where tis so, the offender's scourge is weigh'd,
But never the offence.

The other motive,
Why to a public count I might not go,
Is the great love the general gender bear him;
Who, dipping all his faults in their affection,
Would, like the spring that turneth wood to stone,
Convert his gyves to graces;
so that my arrows,
Too slightly timber'd for so loud a wind,
Would have reverted to my bow again,
And not where I had aim'd them.

My first Hamlet was not such a dreamboat: It was Derek Jacobi's 1980 TV version, which I'm not quite sure I want to revisit for fear it won't live up to my memory (I tried to watch a little of this and had to stop, though this is a bit better). The only others I've seen, if I recall correctly, are Mel Gibson's passable turn in the Bertolucci film (a.k.a. Giblet), Marco Barricelli's muddled take at OSF, Alina Phelan's in an odd, transfixing first-quarto rendering at Theatre of NOTE, and Branagh's film, which to my profound surprise I pretty much adored. Perhaps because my first exposure was to Jacobi's take, I tend to prefer a nerdy, bookish, too-clever-for-his-own good, dare I say effete Hamlet over a restless, alpha-male, thwarted-action-hero take on the role. In fact, I can almost imagine Jude Law embodying the best of both those polar opposites--but not in the show that's currently up at the Broadhurst.

Found this weird mash-up of Jacobi's respective takes on Hamlet & Claudius (dig the Mark Hamill hair on his young self):

Photo of the Day

photo by Sean Williams

Last Of My Species, The Fearless Songs of Laarna Cortaan by Chicago's Redmoon Theatre.

Oct 8, 2009

I've Got a Lovely Bunch of Links

Collaboration at the Top

Unsurprisingly, it's Ian David Moss at Createquity with his forward-looking advice for the NEA. A sampling that jumped out at me:
...It strikes me that the NEA and most of its followers have focused quite narrowly on the concerns of nonprofit arts organizations in the United States. In a perfect world, I would like to see the arts field work much more collaboratively and proactively with other fields. There are a myriad of ways in which the arts intersect with broader federal and societal priorities. As Chairman Landesman has recognized, the arts potentially have a gigantic role to play in the economic revitalization of neighborhoods and downtowns, particularly outside of major metropolitan areas where small investments can make a big difference. So why isn’t there more interaction with Housing and Urban Development? The arts are widely regarded as the linchpin of a broader creative economy, due to the space they provide for innovation for its own sake. So why are the arts so rarely a part of the discussion of the White House’s new Office of Social Innovation? Our world is rapidly becoming more integrated even as it becomes more complex. If the recent political brouhahas involving the NEA teach us anything, it should be that we can’t afford to stay in our silos for much longer.

Shrewd stuff, and an advised use of the economic-impact argument where it might make the most difference (as opposed to where it probably can't).

Oct 7, 2009

Wednesday Hot Links

You Know, For Kids

Spent the day yesterday at the New Victory's informative forum on children's theater, with special guests from Edinburgh's leading-edge Imaginate festival exchanging ideas and contacts with stateside artists and educators. I was struck above all by how the Scots' motivation was more toward artistic expression than education, a point beautifully proven by Andy Manley's deft, disarming show for under-threes, My House, and even more exquisitely demonstrated by Puppet State's The Man Who Planted Trees, which on its face couldn't be a more didactic environmental fable but which in performance plays like the best sort of three-dimensional story theater; the impulse to tell the story is inextricably bound up in its execution, and it doesn't feel like it's meeting any kind of externally imposed instructional mandate. It reminded of a Kurosawa quote I came across recently, in which he said of noh theater, "The style and the story are one." In short, I was enchanted, and if you've got a young one--the recommended age for Man Who is 7 and up--I'd hurry to the New Victory posthaste.

Oct 5, 2009

Denise Makes Good

(Denise Poirier and Paul Drinan)

One of my favorite actors from L.A., Denise Poirier, relocated to Maine around the turn of the millennium, and she's been acting up a storm ever since. Her latest turn: as Diane, the acerbic agent in Douglas Carter Beane's The Little Dog Laughed at Portland's Good Theatre. As the Boston Phoenix enthuses: "Who but Poirier to portray the imperious, caustic, and wickedly glib Diane?"

I can only imagine how Diane's most infamous line (to L.A. theater boosters, anyway) rings in Denise's ears: "We don't have a problem with cell phones in the theatre in this town. We've simply stopped doing theatre altogether." That's why they call it acting, I guess.

The Science of Remounts

In discussing the daunting challenges of moving Off-Broadway hits that seem to belong in their intimate birth spaces up into larger houses to cash in on wider demand, Bernard Gersten, writing in the Lincoln Center 50th Anniversary review, offers this beguilingly silly yet somehow persuasive flight of fancy:
We did move [House of Blue Leaves] up. And, of course, the lesson learned was the same lesson that I had learned some years earlier, when we moved A Chous Line, which was perfect in this three-hundred-seat configuration at the Public's Newman Theater. We wondered how it could possibly move to the Shubert Theatre with fifteen hundred seats.

The answer was: when you add a thousand people you add theatrons, which are the unit of theatrical energy. They're like electrons or ions or protons. They are given off by various theatrical things--actors, playwrights. Words give off theatrons. Words delivered add more theatrons. Actors with virtuosity add more theatrons. The room acts as kind of a magnifier--a reflector, like one of those orgone boxes of Wilhelm Reich. You release the theatrons, they bounce against the wall and then bounce back into the work onstage, and the energize it and give it sexual energy. The way orgasms worked for Wilhelm Reich. A theater without a roof is hopeless! All the theatrons escape through the open top!

I think he might have stopped before the Reich business, but hey--it's a metaphor, and it has a ring of truth.

Except, of course, for that roof-less business. Leaving aside the Delacorte and other outdoor venues where I've experienced as much or more theatrical magic as in any indoor space, just consider the actual meaning of theatron: a Greek theatrical arena.

Unconventional Wisdom

Two items caught my interest in ostensibly non-theater-related reading. First, Anthony Tommasini's piece about opera revisionism, successful and un-, he has this striking lede (emphasis mine):
ALTHOUGH opera might be healthier if die-hard fans were as intensely curious about new works as theatergoers are, you have to admire the passion with which opera enthusiasts defend the staples.

That's not something you hear very often, but he's got a point, at least comparatively speaking. And this response from a reader of CultureGrrl's ArtsJournal blog offered a point of view on the Times' arts coverage I've never considered:
There is a marked preference on the part of the Times' editors for coverage of performing arts over fine arts in the cultural pages.

So theatergoers love new works and there's plenty of performing arts coverage in the Times? Don't quote me on that.

The Medium, The Message

Corner of Milton & Franklin, Greenpoint.

Oct 2, 2009

Mosher's Pickle Jar

Director Gregory Mosher, now at Columbia after decades as an influential theater (and film) maker in Chicago, New York and London, will headline a chat about the uncertain future of the performing arts this coming Monday, Oct. 5, at 6 p.m. at the Picnic Market Cafe. Details here.

Funny thing, I was just reading Lincoln Center's 50th anniversary retrospective today, and in the story about the troubled history of the Beaumont, it's commonly acknowledged that Mosher is the A.D. who cracked the theater's secret code and turned the place around with the 1986 production of House of Blue Leaves, and a series of hits that included Anything Goes, Sarafina!, Our Town, and Six Degrees of Separation.

But, Helen Sheehy's article relates, he remains disarmingly modest about his success:

"Everybody had been trying to get the lid off the pickle jar for years," he said, "and the guy who finally does it doesn't deserve the credit."

Babelfish Strikes Again

Got this email today from a Russian theater in Chekhov's hometown, responding to a fact-checking question:
Expensive colleagues!

Festival in Taganrog the seventh under the account. The following festival is planned in September, 2010.

With pleasure we invite you to take in it part in quality of guests of honour!

"Expensive colleagues" is so much more attention-grabbing than "dear friends," don't you think?

UPDATE: One of the productions at that Russian theater's upcoming theater festival is something called "Five poods of love," which is not a mistranslation--it refers to a description Chekhov once offered of The Seagull, as detailed here:
In a letter to his friend Aleksei Suvorin as he was finishing The Sea Gull, Chekhov said that it contained 5 "poods" of love, along with four acts, a landscape with a lake, very little action, and a lot of talk about literature.2 A pood was a pre-metric Russian weight measure equivalent to 16 1/2 kilos or 36 lbs. So we have 180 pounds of love in the play, which I take as a lot.

It's About Time?

As I walked to A Steady Rain last night on 45th Street, I had a fleeting moment of exhilaration when I looked around and saw straight plays everywhere: God of Carnage, Oleanna, Superior Donuts, and the show I was headed to (no great shakes, by the way--it's a Lumetian/Lehanian act-off that the walrus-moustached Daniel Craig handily walks away with; more here). My excitement was a little tempered by the comment I heard as I left: "I like this whole 90 minutes thing," said one woman, and then I passed this sign in front of Oleanna:

Playgoer alert!