Apr 30, 2010

What He Said

Matthew Yglesias steps outside the moment's immigration politics and, as usual, makes a heap of sense:
Relative[ly] little of the most intense suffering in the world takes place in the United States or other developed countries. And one of the very most useful things developed countries can do to alleviate intense suffering is to allow people to come live in our countries and do work in exchange for money. Developed countries are nice places with democratic politics and liberal rights and economic opportunity. It’s good for people to experience these things and it’s good to expand the number of people who have the opportunity to experience them. The right to move where you want is one of the most important rights a person can be granted, and it’s a shame that so few people have that right.

Cruel Irony Dept.


Last week, my hometown of Phoenix, Arizona opened an amazingly cool-looking new joint: The Musical Instrument Museum, billed as "the world's first global musical instrument museum." As someone who feels obliged to visit the Met's instrument exhibit every time we go there, this is great news, and another reason to look forward to a visit home.

I did happen to notice one unfortunate slogan on MIM's website, though: Their "MIM Music Theater" is teased with the line, "The World's Music. No Passport Required."

Ouch.

Apr 28, 2010

The Man Who Wouldn't Clap


Photo by Alex Ross

Critic Alan Rich was from the old school. The sad news of his death on Monday brought back a few warm memories: of his gracious befriending of me at the Ojai Music Festival (I think it was this extraordinary year), even though I was more general arts critic than music specialist (many forget he also wrote some theater criticism, alongside his prodigious output on music); of his kindly indulging a hearing of some of my compositions at his piano, and later his giving a once-over of some of my critical clips (he was polite about the former, encouraging of the latter); of his avuncular disapproval of my then-regular intermission cigarette ("Ah, the last of the red hot smokers," he once bellowed at me).

What I remember that's worth reporting here, though, is that Alan had a rule about not applauding. I don't recall him explaining why for me, but I understood it implicitly: People could wait for his applause, or his boo, in the form of his review; he wasn't going to tip his hand. Myself, I still avoid joining a standing ovation when I review a show, but I'm not averse to applauding, laughing, and otherwise expressing my apprecation. Alan, though, was a purist--so much so that when I took him to see L.A. Opera mezzo Stephanie Vlahos do one of her simmering Weill cabarets at the tiny Gardenia club in Hollywood, he not only abstained from clapping, he studiously avoided returning her eye contact when she sidled up to him seductively. I can still see Alan sitting there in the booth, looking stone-faced at me, while Stephanie, in fishnets and some kind of bustier, attempted to draw him out (and I still can hear her purring "J'attends un navire" inches from my ear). It turns out that Alan liked her interpretations of Weill plenty, but I guess he figured we'd all have to wait to read that in the LA Weekly the next week, not on his face.

For that combination of graciousness and stubbornness (some might say cussedness), he will be missed. Obits from those who knew him far better than I here, here, and here, and a blog/aggregator of Rich's writing is here.

Apr 27, 2010

Internet Nostalgia

What would this blog look like if it were hosted by 1995-era Geocities? Now you can find out. The New York Times theater page is here.

On the Fences Fence


Personally, I loved Kenny Leon's new revival, but critics were more divided--often confusingly so.

Apr 22, 2010

Best. Gallery. Ever.

Fans of Not Since Carrie, this is a page for you: posters of Broadway biggest flops. (h/t Matthew Murray)

The Juggler

I haven't linked to George Hunka in a while, but I was gratified and impressed by this post about his busy-busy life as a father/blogger/essayist/artistic director/dayjobber:
While the past three months or so have been exclusively devoted to my wife and my two daughters (as well as the day job that helps keep us all fed), the last two months or so of 2009 were spent writing, proofing and planning. And what I plant in winter blossoms in spring. My review of Marc Robinson's The American Play: 1787–2000 appears in the new May 2010 issue of PAJ: A Journal of Performance and Art: the tantalizing first page of the review is here (subscribers can download a .pdf of the full article). Also due in May 2010, my long essay "The Booking of the Play" will be published in Theater magazine from the Yale School of Drama; Hyperion: On the future of aesthetics will publish my talk about Samuel Beckett, Richard Foreman and Howard Barker, delivered at the University of Aberystwyth last summer; and I write a short piece about sex and the contemporary American drama for the upcoming issue of Contemporary Theatre Review. And the University of Hertfordshire Press has announced an October 2010 publication date for Karoline Gritzner's Eroticism and Death in Theatre and Performance, for which I wrote a chapter on German and Austrian music, film, theatre and prose between 1918 and 1933; other writers appearing in the book are David Rudkin, David Ian Rabey and Howard Barker. Last, but certainly not least, was the gratifyingly successful workshop reading of What She Knew in February...All this — and this blog, and a full-time job, and theatre minima's Howard Barker at the Segal Center event, and two daughters as well — without (much) pay, or an institutional theatre, academic or editorial affiliation either.
Given that George and I increasingly seem to occupy parallel aesthetic universes, I'm always gratified to see posts by him that drop the slightly forbidding professorial veil and show us the man in full.

Apr 21, 2010

The Heat of Shame

Two more reasons to be ashamed of my home state of Arizona: this, and now this. On the plus side, Bruce Babbitt and the Meat Puppets are also from there.

How Not To Respond To Your Critics

Seems Rufus Wainwright wasn't happy with Lynn Walker's Independent review of his opera Prima Donna in Manchester last year. As he tells it to New York magazine:
"You could tell that she was jealous of my situation,” Wainwright says. “The way she said, ‘Oh, he comes in and everybody’s bowing and clapping and he’s dressed ridiculously.’ It was probably just mass jealousy or something that happened to her as a kid. Her mother didn’t let her play with anybody.” While he allows that “she had every right not to like the piece,” Wainwright says, “she said, ‘I’m going to be as negative and mouthy as possible so that people quote my review,’ which is what happened.”

The result: A song on his yet-to-be-released All Days Are Nights: Songs for Lulu album, titled “Give Me What I Want and Give It to Me Now” (crappy live YouTube of it here) in which he calls Walker a “greedy sow” and sings, “I will eat you, your folks and your kids / For breakfast,” adding the helpful qualifier, “I would never wish / Death upon you, your cats and your throw cushions / On Christmas.” The cats and throw cushions are a nice touch, and hey, whatever inspires him to do what he does is fine by me. But leaving aside the song's amusing excesses, this old trope about critics' jealousy of artists is beyond tired.

What's more, in the same New York article, Wainwright ventures that if he does become a great opera composer (nice to know he doesn't already consider himself to be there yet), he'd be "kind of the first" American to do it. His interlocutor challenges him:

What of the other American opera composers? “Samuel Barber, Bernstein,” he recites dismissively, “but no great one. They always fell short."
Hey, Rufus, ever heard of John Adams, George Gershwin, Marc Blitzstein, Virgil Thomson, Carlisle Floyd, and Douglas Moore?

Georgia Arts Council Saved (Though Slashed)

Qualified good news:
At 2 p.m. April 20, MusicalAmerica.com received word that the Georgia Arts Council's budget has been reinstated. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that its allocation will represent "a steep cut from the $2.52 million it received in fiscal 2010, but the agency will not be eliminated, as the House had intended."

Apr 20, 2010

Memory Lane

Today on American Theatre's Facebook page, the question is a hoary one, but the answers are choice: "What is your first theatrical memory, and was it enough to hook you?"

I have a few favorites. Kerry Reid tells of an early production of Oklahoma! in which "my brother got so excited during The Cowhand and the Farmer that he yelled 'Charge!' " Terrence Mosley reports that a production of Indian in the Cupboard marked a crucial milestone: "I had behavioral problems and it was first time I stood still."

There are quite a few memories in which small details brought home to then-young theatergoers the juxtaposition of theatrical magic and ordinary reality, which as we all know elevates both alchemically into a unique realm that's between the worlds of real and imaginary (and that's what we call the theater). Two vivid examples relate this realization to hands: Farah Sanders recalls that after a Berkeley Nutcracker she got to take pictures with the "Rat King afterwards and I remember being fascinated by his human hands," and Jo Howarth Noonan says she remembers her "sister melting into the stage as a 10-year old Wicked Witch of the West. I was only 6, but I noticed that she failed to hide her hand under the cloak. In the years that followed, I've made other mistakes on stage but if my hand is supposed to be hidden--it's hidden."

And nothing sticks like the combination of accident and audience participation. Recalls Heather Beasley of a seminal West Side Story: "One of the prop knives landed in my lap during the big fight scene! Completely hooked."

Because I'm the moderator on the Facebook page, identified there merely as American Theatre magazine, I don't tend to weigh in with my own personal anecdotes. So I feel moved to note here that my first theatrical memory, outside the stray Sunday school Bible story, was my 2nd grade birthday gift: tickets for me and my best friend, Paul Kaiser, to see a Phoenix Little Theatre production of Oliver!. Was that enough to hook me, dear reader? Hard to say, except to add that when it came time to choose a name for my son, I didn't choose Paul.

Oh, and another lively post today asks, "What space near you would be ideal for a site-specific performance?"

Hot Playwright-on-Playwright Action

Most of us just talk; Gus Schulenberg does. Can't wait to see the results.

Apr 19, 2010

Smokin' at the Supremes


My employer comes out forcefully in favor of the right to smoke onstage. I have to confess as a former smoker that I'm ambivalent about this. Though I'm not one of those theatergoers who goes into a dramatic coughing fit the second a stage cigarette is lit, the smell of smoke, even in a larger theater, has a particular headache-y effect on me--the kind of ache that a former addict like me could only soothe by having one myself. The further away in time I get from my last smoke (not as long ago as I would have liked), the more I have what I assume is the typical non-smoker's reasonable aversion to the stink. But there's still that twinge.

But I think some of my discomfort relates to something Playgoer pointed out months ago: that anything that breaks the artifice of the theater, that seems too identifiably "real" (nudity, gunfire, smoking, danger, live animals), can risk taking us out of the moment. The only solution, of course, is to acknowledge that the stage is artificial, and also to put the burden on the director and actors to create a world in which no behavior seems "too real" or takes us out of the world of the play. I'd put the violent, disturbing Bug in that category. And obviously, in a Noel Coward play, to use an obvious but unavoidable example, it takes more of a suspension of disbelief to accept that his characters have all gone on the nicotine wagon than it does to accept the reverse.

Apr 13, 2010

Who's Coming?

...to the TCG conference in Chicago in June, I mean.

Well, it's quite a list so far.

Apr 9, 2010

Publish or Perish

Things are getting weird in the L.A. theater blogosphere. The Weekly's Steven Leigh Morris uses a recent incident, in which the blog Bitter Lemons had mistakenly reported the death of local critic Harvey Perr, to muse pointedly about the definitional gray area between bloggers and journalists. It's worth a read, as SLM always is, but what struck me most was the inciting evidence that led Bitter Lemons' Colin Mitchell to presume the critic to be dead:
Harvey hadn’t posted any reviews – as far as I knew – in months.
A word of warning to you intermittent bloggers! Keep the feeds fed or you may be thought dead.

Apr 8, 2010

A Big F'in Deal


L.A. treasure Justin Tanner will make his New York debut next month with Voice Lessons at Theatre Row, opening May 22. I couldn't be happier. I wrote a little bit about why here. This is nearly two decades overdue, but better late than never.

Apr 7, 2010

Bloody Bloody Barry O

You might think it would be a stretch to see similarities between our 7th president, the subject of the impish new musical Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, and our 44th, the subject of an apparently lame German musical hagiography, Hope: The Obama Musical. But Matthew Murray of Talkin' Broadway is up to the task (shorter version: He's a big fan of Bloody Bloody, a big non-fan of Obama).

A Dark Chapter


I have friends from L.A. whose parents were in the camps, but I did not know that Sulu himself was among their ranks. He's part of a musical about it, of course.

Apr 3, 2010

Easter Horror


Happy Easter from my niece Eavan and her terrifying friend.

Apr 2, 2010

Hear, Hear

(reposted from 3/31/10)
David Cote makes an excellent and seemingly simple point: Why don't playwrights review theater the way authors commonly review books? I have to note, though, that as Time Out New York's theater editor, he's in a position to lead on this issue. Hire Mac Wellman to cover Radiohole! Kushner to cover Ruhl! Moses to cover Rapp! And so on. UPDATE: Here's a decent recent example. UPDATE UPDATE: I've posted at length on the same topic over at TCGBlog.org, and J. at 99 has an illuminating response here. I've got my share of "pop in the nose" anecdotes--but from the other side, cases where I ended up at a bar or an intermission smoke break with a playwright I'd dissed. I've lived to tell. FINAL UPDATE: How could I forget the playwright/critic whose dual career I helped complicate (or clarify, depending how you look at it)? George Hunka's comments on my TCGBlog.org post allude to an unfortunate chapter summed up well here and discussed even more here. Well-trod territory, this.

Kitchen Theater


Remember how I said those recipe cards are available only in the print edition of American Theatre? Well, here's a taste of one of them, with reporting by me and kitchen-testing by my colleague Randy Gener.

Apr 1, 2010

In Print This Week


In addition to the aforementioned Time Out piece on Green Day's American Idiot musical, I've got a few other writings in print this week.
  • On newsstands today is American Theatre's first-ever "food" issue, which has lots of goodies: a great essay by Tina Howe, an illuminating Q&A with Jonathan Reynolds (yes, that Jonathan Reynolds), Nicole Estvanik Taylor's round-up of food-and-theater mash-ups, Mark Blankenship's survey of companies that have explored food as both social glue and theatrical theme, and Eliza Bent's look at what Stolen Chair Theatre Company has learned from community-supported agriculture. My contributions include a Q&A with William Pullinsi, founder of America's first dinner theatre (the Candlelight Playhouse), and, rather improbably, a series of tearout recipe cards (available in the print edition only), culled from plays that served real food onstage (I happily home-tested the lamb osso buco from Humana's premiere of Omnium Gatherum).
  • I reviewed the Broadway A Little Night Music for this month's Sondheim Review (I was disappointed but not entirely dismissive) and interviewed star Catherine Zeta-Jones (over the phone, alas). What I'm most happy about, though, is that to honor Sondheim's 80th birthday, the Review asked contributors to write about their formative experiences with the composer/lyricist's work, and I eagerly took the opportunity to talk up a series of great small-theater productions of his work I saw in L.A. in the 1990s (Into the Woods at Actors' Co-Op, Sweeney Todd at East West Players, Company at West Coast Ensemble, Assassins at L.A. Rep, culminating with EWP's Pacific Overtures in Little Tokyo). Those un-star-studded, intimate stagings are the ones that sold me on the man's genius (along with the cast albums, of course), and I feel I was privy to a crucial truth about his work that it's taken the rest of the world years to catch up with.
  • I reviewed three recently closed Broadway shows (View From the Brdige, Time Stands Still, The Miracle Worker) for the Catholic weekly America.
Not in print: A new post at the brand-spanking-new TCGBlog.org.