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!

An Unlikely Couple

Spotted over someone's desk here at TCG.

Craft Studies

I saw someone reading Mamet's True and False on the train the other day, and it reminded me of the coverage we gave it in Back Stage West when it came out, including a good Q&A with the author that I'm still proud of. I'm less proud of a sit-down I had some years ago with the British auteur Mike Leigh (I link to it somewhat sheepishly), which I thought of with some pain when I happened to read Chloe Veltman's in-depth, supremely craft-focused Q&A with Leigh in The Believer.

Oct 1, 2009

Cause for Celebration

What a pleasure that my first big feature for American Theatre since starting here full-time--one of four profiles of newish artistic directors doing interesting things all 'round the country--is of Michael Shepperd and the Celebration Theatre. It's been years since I've seen either in person, but writing this piece allowed me to conjure some fond Left Coast memories and talk to some exceedingly cool folks. Enjoy.

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