Mar 31, 2011

Who Wears the Pants?

If theater is supposedly a writer's medium, why are writers more materially empowered in television than in theater? Provocative questions from the Magic Theatre's Jayne Benjulian here:
...playwrights who demand to be equal partners with their directors...are known as “difficult.” Now that I have met several of these writers and know their work, I challenge that assumption. “Difficult” in this context means a playwright questions the authority of the director about specific choices. Here is what playwright Bill Cain would call “the cognitive dissonance of theater”: On the one hand, the playwright is told that theater is uniquely a writer’s medium; on the other, he is told to sit in the back and shut up because the actors may be confused by conversation with both the playwright and the director. Theresa Rebeck reminds us in her book Fire Free Zone, “in the rehearsal hall, the playwright is often asked not to speak directly to the actors because that could ‘confuse’ them—in other words, it might undermine the director’s authority.” That caution rests on a supposition, Cain says, that actors should not be confused. Might confusion serve as a productive force early in rehearsals? Might actors be more engaged in the process of the play’s meaning? Typically, the playwright makes comments in sanctioned moments during rehearsals or to the director during breaks or over drinks at night, and then, the playwright goes back to his hotel to rewrite, sends fresh scenes in the early hours of the morning (and for fast, overnight rewrites, the playwright receives kudos), and so on and so forth with infinite variations on the process.
RTWT, as we say.

Mar 28, 2011

Another John Simon Pearl

In the midst of his rave for the new How To Succeed revival, John Simon includes this aside:
It is also indicative that [Finch] derives his manipulative progress from a self-help book about how to succeed in business (its jesuitical advice is heard out loud in the fruity voice of Anderson Cooper).
Cooper's voice sounds plenty butch to me, but then I don't have Simon's piercing gaydar.

Mar 26, 2011

The Wheel's Still in Spin


I somehow knew this happened but had filed it away until Josh Marshall just posted it. It's a moving, tectonic moment--and I couldn't help noticing that the song specifically calls out "Senators, Congressmen" but not the head of state. Though I can't imagine Bob had any idea when he wrote it who he would play it for one day, it gives the whole thing an air of eerie inevitability. Reminded me of this intriguing interview. Don't block up the hall, indeed.

Mar 25, 2011

In Honor of Tom

A moment of drama almost worthy of a Tennessee Williams drama, at a centennial celebration of same:
The crowd at the Thursday, March 24, night Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival gala celebration at Le Petit Theatre du Vieux Carre were served up a slice of unexpectedly delectable drama. Maybe it was iconic theater observer Rex Reed’s wonderfully wicked behind-the scenes anecdotes, or his use of an incendiary expletive in a punch line, but something he said apparently angered one of the guest speakers, Broadway star Zoe Caldwell.

When, late in the spirited program, it was time for panelists Louise Hirschfeld Cullman (wife of celebrity cartoonist Al Hirchfeld), Shirley Knight, Carroll Baker, and Caldwell to present brief prepared performances, Caldwell refused. She informed the audience that she’d planned to read a pair of especially precious poems by Williams, … but not on the same stage with Reed.

Reed, an utterly charming host, who radiated enthusiasm for the event, seemed naturally nonplussed. Thus ensued a jagged moment in which the players on the stage seemed to be irreconcilably alienated and at the same time strangely drawn closer together. Everyone in attendance who’d ever felt offended at one time or another or bewildered by coy human behavior was magnetized by the moment.

Somewhere, Tennessee was smiling.
Or laughing, in that inimitable way of his (skip to 8:30 to hear a small sample).

Mar 24, 2011

Quote for the Day

"I’d rather be an alcoholic than be on the computer as much as I am." -Nellie McKay

Mar 23, 2011

Mar 22, 2011

Tanya's Turn


(Sally Ryan for the New York Times)

The breakout star of last year's TCG conference in Chicago, with a Time Out cover and a closing-panel conversation slot opposite Theresa Rebeck, was local hero Tanya Saracho. Few folks from out of town had seen her work (it has yet to travel), but the buzz was off the charts, and she was impressive in person--an irresistible mix of wide-eyed/humble and confident/opinionated.

I've since had the pleasure to read a number of her plays and chat with her at length, and she is definitely the real thing. Though she has given many colorful interviews over the years (this one would have to be my favorite for sheer dish), I'm proud to have penned a piece on her for the paper of record (it will appear in next Sunday's print edition, I believe).

A Muse Under Fire


In an unlikely theatrical link to current events, one of the four New York Times reporters/photographers recently captured in Libya, then released, was Lynsey Addario, whose photo of combat in Iraq appears on the cover of the published script of Time Stands Still, and whom both playwright Donald Margulies and actress Laura Linney interviewed as background for their work on their play.

Mar 10, 2011

Tony & Steve

I'll be on vacation for the coming week or so, but I can't think of anything better to leave you with than this excerpt from a chat between two theatrical giants, Kushner and Sondheim. (h/t Upstaged blog)

Mar 8, 2011

Sometimes Even Silly?

Worthwhile interview with Tracy Letts and Pam MacKinnon re: their production of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, now at the Arena in D.C. Letts makes the obvious link between his own academic family upbringing and that of George and his guests. But leave it to a fellow playwright to use an adjective for Albee that isn't the first that pops into my mind:
"Mr. Albee has a way of dramatizing very mundane moments, making them dramatic, making them pop, making them interesting and especially humorous for an audience. He has a great, wry sense of humor, sometimes even silly but almost always very smart."
Love that "almost always." Letts is nothing if not precise.

Mar 7, 2011

Like a Bullet


So this is why we haven't seen Molly around TCG for a while. Actually, it's no surprise to us here in the offices of American Theatre; we've known for some time that Molly Smith Metzler is about to debut at Humana in Louisville, and we're all excited for her--not least because her play, Elemeno Pea, is awesome (and because her possibly even better next play, Close Up Space, is likewise headed for an auspicious future, which is all that can be said at this juncture).

Among the things I learned from the Courier Journal story was this biographical gem:
A native of New York's Hudson Valley and the daughter of schoolteachers, Metzler attended the State Univeristy of New York-Geneseo and had every intention of starting a doctoral program in comparative literature after graduation — until a playwriting course she took on a whim during her senior year derailed her plans. Determined to become a playwright, Metzler loaded up her car after graduation and moved to Martha's Vineyard, that storied playground of American old money, to work at a yacht club and observe.

“I think I was on an unofficial research mission. I wanted to see that world up close and personal, because I didn't get to experience that in college,” she said. “I ended up working at Red Lobster all through college while all my friends from high school were at Yale putting ascots on. The idea of class in America is fascinating to me. It's something you can change, and it's something that can be taken from you.”
Red Lobster on Martha's Vineyard--there's got to be play in that, too. This quote seems like a good takeway, as well: "You have to be patient as a playwright. You have to hold your own hand.”

For now, though, Molly will have her hand outstretched for congratulatory shakes. Mine, for instance--I'll be at Humana Apr. 1-3.

Mar 4, 2011

Quote for the Day

"I don't want to play Gertrude. I want to play Hamlet."
Helen Mirren, on the paucity of parts for women in Shakespeare

Mar 2, 2011

Happy 111th


To celebrate Kurt Weill's birthday, an obvious but inarguable choice.