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UNIVERSES: ‘PARTY PEOPLE’ AT THE PUBLIC THEATER (REVIEW FROM NEW YORK) ·

PARTY PEOPLE By UNIVERSES: Steven Sapp, Mildred Ruiz-Sapp, William Ruiz aka Ninja Composed by UNIVERSES with Broken Chord Choreography by Millicent Johnnie Developed and Directed by Liesl Tommy Featuring Oberon K.A. Adjepong (Blue); Michael Elich (Marcus, FBI Agent); Gizel Jiménez (Clara); Ramona Keller (Amira); Christopher Livingston (Malik); Jesse J. Perez (Tito); Sophia Ramos (Maruca); Robynn Rodriguez (Donna, Fina); Horace V. Rogers (Solias); William Ruiz a.k.a. Ninja (Jimmy “Primo”); Mildred Ruiz-Sapp (Helita); and Steven Sapp (Omar). Scenic and Lighting Design Marcus Doshi Costume Design Meg Neville Sound Design and Vocal Direction Broken Chord Projection Design Sven Ortel Wig Design Cookie Jordan

PARTY PEOPLE
By UNIVERSES: Steven Sapp, Mildred Ruiz-Sapp, William Ruiz aka Ninja
Composed by UNIVERSES with Broken Chord
Choreography by Millicent Johnnie
Developed and Directed by Liesl Tommy
Featuring Oberon K.A. Adjepong (Blue); Michael Elich (Marcus, FBI Agent); Gizel Jiménez (Clara); Ramona Keller (Amira); Christopher Livingston (Malik); Jesse J. Perez (Tito); Sophia Ramos (Maruca); Robynn Rodriguez (Donna, Fina); Horace V. Rogers (Solias); William Ruiz a.k.a. Ninja (Jimmy “Primo”); Mildred Ruiz-Sapp (Helita); and Steven Sapp (Omar).
Scenic and Lighting Design Marcus Doshi
Costume Design Meg Neville
Sound Design and Vocal Direction Broken Chord
Projection Design Sven Ortel
Wig Design Cookie Jordan

By Bob Shuman

The two young Black Panther wannabes, Malik (Christopher Livingston) and Jimmy (William Ruiz a.k.a. Ninja) in Party People, now playing at the Public Theatre through December 11, are “snowflakes,” the jargon used for those unprepared to deal with social or political realities.  Obnoxious, unfunny, and immature, they might be in need of–especially after the outcome of the presidential election–therapy dogs, disaster counseling, Play-Doh, and coloring books (to borrow language from Fox news).  Yet the black nationalist movement of the ‘60s, recruited from those younger than them—kids who were in their mid-teens.

Members of the Black Panthers line up at a rally at DeFremery Park in Oakland, Calif.

Members of the Black Panthers line up at a rally at DeFremery Park in Oakland, Calif.  Photo: Stephen Shames.

Maybe the musical is commenting on the fact that all youth can be rather puerile or perhaps it is bluntly saying that they don’t make revolutionaries like in the day. Party People, however, developed and directed by Liesl Tommy, is probably the best idea for a musical, or drama, or opera that never happened–one that could take us into the ‘60s U.S., like audiences have been drawn into Peronist Argentina (Evita) or Nazi Germany (Cabaret), although, of all musicals, Party People seems most comparable to Sondheim’s Follies. Besides lacking a riveting, intriguing or sympathetic central character–like an Evita or Sally Bowles–Party People hasn’t been tightly plotted (in fact, no credit is given for a specific book writer, although nonspecific work is attributed to Steven Sapp, Mildred Ruiz-Sapp, and William Ruiz a.k.a. Ninja). The show wants to mainstream and celebrate the Black Panthers, but, no surprise, not all people deem the group worthy of accolades, nor do they accede that its evolution into the newer movement Black Lives Matter, is all that praiseworthy either.

Hillary Clinton lost the 2016 election after using the July Democratic convention to endorse BLM; Trump has proclaimed law and order and won—Party People comes at us on the wrong side of the historical moment and was probably counting on a more favorable political space to inhabit after rehearsals, even if it is playing in New York. It won’t get one based on its naïve attempt at revisionism, though. That’s part of the challenge—to make the evening less propagandistic. Audiences will have a hard time believing that the Black Panthers were not militants and that they did not arouse fear. It should be all right that the general public may not feel the same way about the Panthers as its creators do—but a partial reconciliation might have happened at Party People if  more conflict from opposing points of view were expressed within the crucible of the performance space (the show does incorporate the opinions of the movement’s elders, and, at the end of Act I, the wife of a dead cop finds her way into a celebration for interviewees of a Black Party documentary).

PARTY PEOPLE By UNIVERSES: Steven Sapp, Mildred Ruiz-Sapp, William Ruiz aka Ninja Composed by UNIVERSES with Broken Chord Choreography by Millicent Johnnie Developed and Directed by Liesl Tommy Featuring Oberon K.A. Adjepong (Blue); Michael Elich (Marcus, FBI Agent); Gizel Jiménez (Clara); Ramona Keller (Amira); Christopher Livingston (Malik); Jesse J. Perez (Tito); Sophia Ramos (Maruca); Robynn Rodriguez (Donna, Fina); Horace V. Rogers (Solias); William Ruiz a.k.a. Ninja (Jimmy “Primo”); Mildred Ruiz-Sapp (Helita); and Steven Sapp (Omar). Scenic and Lighting Design Marcus Doshi Costume Design Meg Neville Sound Design and Vocal Direction Broken Chord Projection Design Sven Ortel Wig Design Cookie Jordan

PARTY PEOPLE
By UNIVERSES: Steven Sapp, Mildred Ruiz-Sapp, William Ruiz aka Ninja
Composed by UNIVERSES with Broken Chord
Choreography by Millicent Johnnie
Developed and Directed by Liesl Tommy
Featuring Oberon K.A. Adjepong (Blue); Michael Elich (Marcus, FBI Agent); Gizel Jiménez (Clara); Ramona Keller (Amira); Christopher Livingston (Malik); Jesse J. Perez (Tito); Sophia Ramos (Maruca); Robynn Rodriguez (Donna, Fina); Horace V. Rogers (Solias); William Ruiz a.k.a. Ninja (Jimmy “Primo”); Mildred Ruiz-Sapp (Helita); and Steven Sapp (Omar).
Scenic and Lighting Design Marcus Doshi
Costume Design Meg Neville
Sound Design and Vocal Direction Broken Chord
Projection Design Sven Ortel
Wig Design Cookie Jordan

The context and historical specifics for the show are fuzzy—although the audience is dismissively told to “Google that shit.” The creators have not been brave enough to undertake a tougher accounting of the times (where are the assassinations of Martin Luther King, which accelerated Black Panther membership, or Bobby Kennedy?). Like the diarist in Simon Stephens’s Heisenberg, who forgot to write about the ‘60s, the chaos, the passion, the blood of the era, including the riots, political outrage, and the Vietnam War, aren’t spilling in. Party People, with atmospheric music, including rap and acapella songs, by Universes with Broken Chord and the strong work of invested performers, is more centered on Huey Newton’s social concerns than Eldridge Cleaver’s call for armed insurgency. The musical has scrubbed the intimidating radicalism of the Panthers and not put us on the ground and into the streets where challenging Brechtian solutions could have informed and electrified the audience, especially since the Anspacher Theater is equipped with all forms of theatrical technology, including multiple video screens. Such design elements are underutilized here, and the show, which is wary of history, yet wants to rewrite it almost as a pseudo-documentary, could have included a more intricate video immersion.  This would have let the audience see the era for themselves in real footage, words, and stills.  Part of the intent of Party People is to underline the fact that the Black Panthers were normal, ordinary people trying to improve lives through community outreach—to many, as well as J. Edgar Hoover, however, they were dangerous, secular Socialists.  Lorraine Hansberry—who wrote about police brutality in To Be Young Gifted and Black–Amiri Baraka, and Brecht aren’t around, of course—but instead of a continuation of the party line through agitprop theatre, Party People needs more specificity, more character work, more depth, and less self-approval.

Malik and Jimmy aren’t prepared to be unfollowed on Twitter, much less face a liberal loss in the election.  They’re puff-piece propagandists, trying to revise and water down the history and legacy of black nationalism through social media hashtags and technology, scarily reinforcing reports of the dishonored and dishonest New York Times showcasing positive articles on Hillary Clinton and her candidacy, not negative ones.  Facebook, additionally, was not checking for fake news during the 2016 election cycle.  While propaganda might be impossible to separate from theater, or journalism, or media, general audiences may be more attracted to different elements in drama—like character, plot, deep human meaning and connections. That’s the sobering truth.

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Press: Julie Danni, Laura Rigby, the Public Theater.

Visit the Public Theater: http://www.publictheater.org/

Text (c) 2016 by Bob Shuman.  All rights reserved. 

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HOW A RURAL THEATER GROUP FIGHTS FOR TURKISH WOMEN’S RIGHTS ·

(Menekse Toyay’s article appeared on Al Arabiya English, 12/7.)

Born in 1957 to a family with 10 siblings in a small village in Turkey’s southern city of Adana, Ummiye Kocak had to drop out of formal education after primary school due to her family’s limited financial resources.

But, such hindrances never stopped her from expanding her knowledge. During her childhood, she began reading books and started with Maxim Gorky’s 1906 novel “The Mother” which tells the story of revolutionary factory workers.

Reading books in a village that had no library, for a lady whose name “ummi” means “illiterate” in Arabic, required great effort including asking people to lend her books.

Then she got married and moved to a small remote village on the outskirts of the southern city of Mersin in the midst of the Taurus mountains. One day, a mobile theatre group stopped by the village. After the play ended, she asked an actor his name and she was surprised to realize that his real name was not the same as his stage name.

(Read more)

http://english.alarabiya.net/en/life-style/art-and-culture/2016/12/07/How-a-rural-theater-group-fights-for-Turkish-women-s-rights.html

Photo: Yeni Marmara Gazetesi

MAXWELL ANDERSON: ‘WINTERSET’ (SV PICK, CHI) ·

ct-winterset(Hedy Weiss’s article appeared in The Chicago Sun-Times, 11/30.)

Before anything can be said about Griffin Theatre’s ambitious production of Maxwell Anderson’s rarely revived 1935 play, “Winterset,” a bit of background about the case of Sacco and Vanzetti — often seen as an example of the American justice system at its most flawed and prejudicial — is essential.

Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were Italian-American anarchists and immigrants who were convicted of murdering a guard and a paymaster during the armed robbery of a Massachusetts shoe company in 1920. Their case attracted international attention, for despite appeals in which recanted testimony, conflicting ballistics evidence, a prejudicial pre-trial statement by the jury foreman, and a confession by an alleged participant in the robbery all suggested the accused men were innocent, the two were sent to the electric chair. The question at hand: Did the social and political prejudices of the time result in the miscarriage of justice?

(Read more)

http://chicago.suntimes.com/entertainment/winterset-a-tale-of-guilt-innocence-and-justice-denied/

(Photo: Chicago Tribune)

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ARENA STAGE (D.C.) UNVEILS A 25-PLAY HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES ·

NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 07: Actress and V-Day Founder Eve Ensler speaks onstage at the 3rd Annual One Billion Rising: REVOLUTION at Hammerstein Ballroom on February 7, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Paul Zimmerman/WireImage for V-Day)

NEW YORK, NY – FEBRUARY 07: Actress and V-Day Founder Eve Ensler speaks onstage at the 3rd Annual One Billion Rising: REVOLUTION at Hammerstein Ballroom on February 7, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Paul Zimmerman/WireImage for V-Day)

(Joshua Baron’s article appeared in the New York Times, 12/1; via Pam Green.)

Washington, D.C., already the nexus of political theater, will be the home of a new series of 25 plays that tell the history of politics and power in the United States.Arena Stage, one of the country’s leading regional theaters, will commission and develop 25 plays — one for each decade of American history — over the next 10 years in an initiative it calls “Power Plays.”

(Read more)

https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/#search/Pam+Green/158cc6c577d624ba

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‘THE NEW YORKER’ THEATRE LISTINGS, 12/12 PLAYDECK ·

In previews. Opens Dec. 5. Closing soon

The Babylon Line

Richard Greenberg’s new play, set in 1967, follows a Greenwich Village writer (Josh Radnor) who connects with a student (Elizabeth Reaser) while teaching an adult-ed class in Levittown.…

READ MORE »

Mitzi E. Newhouse

Uptown

 

In previews. Opens Dec. 8. Closing soon

The Band’s Visit

David Cromer directs a new musical by David Yazbek and Itamar Moses, based on a 2007 Israeli film about an Egyptian orchestra that gets stranded in the Negev Desert.

READ MORE »

Atlantic Theatre Company

Chelsea

In previews. Opens Dec. 8. Closing soon

The Dead, 1904

Kate Burton stars in Paul Muldoon and Jean Hanff Korelitz’s adaptation of the Joyce tale; the Irish Rep’s production roams three floors of a historic town…

READ MORE »

American Irish Historical Society

Uptown

 

In previews. Opens Dec. 4.

Dear Evan Hansen

Ben Platt plays an antisocial teen-ager who finds himself in a moral quandary after a classmate’s death, in a new musical by Benj Pasek, Justin Paul, and Steven…

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Music Box

Midtown

 

Opens Dec. 7. Closing soon

Elements of Oz

The Builders Association’s multimedia piece, written by James Gibbs and Moe Angelos, uses augmented-reality technology to tell the stories behind the film “The Wizard of Oz.”

READ MORE »

3LD Art & Technology Center

Downtown

 

In previews. Opens Dec. 13.

His Royal Hipness Lord Buckley

Jake Broder wrote and stars in this tribute to the mid-century comedian, who drew on bebop rhythms to create an outré countercultural persona.

READ MORE »

59E59

Midtown

 

Opens Nov. 25. Closing soon

The Illusionists: Turn of the Century

The magicians’ showcase returns, this time with performers including Thommy Ten and Amélie van Tass, of “America’s Got Talent,” and the theme of magic’s early-twentieth-century golden age.…

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Palace

Midtown

 

In previews. Opens Dec. 11.

In Transit

This new a-cappella musical, directed by Kathleen Marshall and written by Kristen Anderson-Lopez, James-Allen Ford, Russ Kaplan, and Sara Wordsworth, traces the intertwining lives of New York commuters.

READ MORE »

Circle in the Square

Midtown

 

Through Dec. 11. Closing soon

Longing Lasts Longer

The downtown fixture Penny Arcade performs a piece about the gentrification of New York City and the effects of capitalism on creativity.

READ MORE »

St. Ann’s Warehouse

Brooklyn

 

In previews. Opens Dec. 12.

Othello

David Oyelowo plays the title role in Sam Gold’s production of the Shakespeare tragedy, opposite Daniel Craig’s Iago.

READ MORE »

New York Theatre Workshop

Downtown

 

In previews. Opens Dec. 6. Closing soon

Rancho Viejo

In Dan LeFranc’s comedy, directed by Daniel Aukin, the residents of a Southwestern suburb gossip and fret over the separation of an unseen married couple.

READ MORE »

Playwrights Horizons

Midtown

 

In previews. Opens Dec. 13.

The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart

The National Theatre of Scotland stages this immersive musical fable at the home of “Sleep No More,” transforming its speakeasy space, the Heath, into a Scottish pub.

READ MORE »

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MICHAEL BILLINGTON: TOP TEN 2016 THEATRE U.K. ·

(Billington’s article appeared in the Guardian, 12/6.)

  1. The Flick
    National Theatre, London

Peter Brook once argued that the acid test of any play was the image it leaves behind. No question about the abiding memory of Annie Baker’s astonishing play: a run-down movie auditorium, rows of empty seats, a projection booth. But this was simply the setting for a play about the quiet desperation of three lonely people intoxicated by film. Sam (Matthew Maher) was a burly cleaner aching with unexpressed love for Rose (Louisa Krause), the wraith-like projectionist. She, in turn, was besotted with Avery (Jaygann Ayeh), a 20-year-old African American on a break from college.

For some, since it ran three-and-a-quarter hours, the triangle seemed eternal, but I loved everything about the play. The long silences. The way passion, as in the work of Racine, was constantly beating against the restraints of a decorous framework: at one point, Sam registered his sexual jealousy by quietly emptying a bag of popcorn for Avery to clean up. Above all, this was a play about work, about the fact that running an old-style movie house is as much concerned with sweeping away the debris as resisting the trend towards digitisation.

As one of the few theatre critics to have worked as a cinema usher, I could even vouch for the accuracy of a time-honoured scam concerning the resale of old ticket stubs. Sam Gold’s unhurried production, imported from New York, was a miracle and the acting was marvellous. But the main credit belongs to Baker, for making moving drama out of a trio of lost souls and for creating the year’s most unforgettable theatrical image. Read the full review

  1. Oil
    Almeida, London

Ambitious and bold … Oil. Photograph: Richard H Smith

In a breakthrough year for female dramatists – and a modest one for men – Ella Hickson’s play stands out. It spanned 150 years and covered a vast range of subjects: the exploitation and exhaustion of the world’s oil resources, the links between the energy industry and imperialism, the social progress made by women and the unresolved problems of parenting. It was a lot to cram in, but I was awed by the boldness of the conception. Anne-Marie Duff as the time-transcending May also caught brilliantly the pain that accompanied a pathfinding woman’s gain. Read the full review

(Read more)

https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2016/dec/06/top-10-theatre-of-2016-michael-billington

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SAM SHEPARD: ‘TINY MAN’ (FICTION) ·

Sam Shepard

(from the New Yorker, 12/5)

Early morning: They deliver my father’s corpse in the trunk of a ’49 Mercury coupe, dew still heavy on the taillights. His body is wrapped up tight in see-through plastic, head to toe. Flesh-colored rubber bands bind it at the neck, waist, and ankles — mummy style. He’s become very small in the course of things — maybe eight inches tall. In fact, I’m holding him now, in the palm of my hand. I ask them for permission to unwrap his tiny head, just to make sure he’s truly dead. They allow me to do this. They all stand aside, hands clasped behind their tailored backs, heads bowed in a kind of ashamed mourning, but not something you would question them on. It’s smart to keep on their good side. Besides, they seem quite polite and stoic now.

(Read more)

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/12/05/tiny-man

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ONG KENG SEN’S SPELLBINDING TAKE ON ‘RICHARD III’ (JAPAN) ·

(Mike Eglinton’s article appeared in the Japan Times, 11/22.)

He is one of Asia’s foremost theater directors, and Ong Keng Sen looked to be enjoying his latest challenge when we met in Tokyo in March during rehearsals for “Sandaime Richard,” Japanese dramatist Hideki Noda’s iconoclastic adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Richard III.”

The Singaporean dramatist was preparing to stage the famously complex play two months later at the annual World Theatre Festival Shizuoka — where, he said, he was intent on pursuing his longstanding focus on what he calls “New Asia” by weaving its multiple realities and hybrid identities through Noda’s “machine-gun” Japanese script.

In practice, he was transforming Noda’s radical reworking of the Bard’s original into a multilingual, cross-cultural and hypermodern play involving Japanese, Singaporean and Indonesian performers trained in different disciplines and traditions.

As Ong — who is also artistic director of the performance company TheatreWorks (Singapore) and director of the Singapore International Festival of Arts — went on to explain, “With this year being the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, we’re putting him on trial via Noda’s illuminating work he wrote and first performed in 1990.”

(Read more)

http://www.japantimes.co.jp/culture_category/stage/

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CHAZZ PALMINTERI: ‘A BRONX TALE’, DIRECTED BY ROBER DE NIRO AND JERRY ZAKS (SV PICK NY) ·

 

(Charles Isherwood’s article appeared in The New York Times, 12/1.)

Sometimes plain old pasta with red sauce is just what the doctor ordered. “A Bronx Tale,” which opened at the Longacre Theater on Broadway on Thursday, might be called the musical-theater equivalent of that classic comfort food. It doesn’t break ground or dazzle with an unusual recipe — like, say, mixing rap and American history — but it delivers reliable pleasures with polished professionalism and infectious energy.

Chazz Palminteri wrote the book, which was adapted from his solo play. More may know the material from the movie version, starring Mr. Palminteri and Robert De Niro, and directed by Mr. De Niro, who shares that chore here with the veteran Jerry Zaks. All told, Mr. Palminteri, who revived his original 1989 solo show on Broadway in 2007, has made a profitable career, and provided much entertainment to audiences, repackaging (albeit loosely) his upbringing in an Italian-American enclave in the Bronx.

(Read more)

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/01/theater/a-bronx-tale-review.html?rref=collection%2Fsectioncollection%2Ftheater&action=click&contentCollection=theater&region=rank&module=package&version=highlights&contentPlacement=1&pgtype=sectionfront&_r=0

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IAN MCEWAN: ‘NUTSHELL’, BASED ON ‘HAMLET’, READ BY TIM MCINNERNY ·

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(Listen at:  http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b083n15p )

Nutshell by the acclaimed author Ian McEwan is read by the actor Tim McInnerny.

Ian McEwan’s latest novel updates the story of Hamlet to a townhouse in modern day London. As at Elsinore – betrayal and murder are rife. Trudy plans to poison her husband John and elope with her lover Claude. There is however a witness to the plot – Trudy’s as yet unborn child.

‘Bounded in the nutshell’ of Trudy’s womb, the foetus is forced to eavesdrop on his mother Ger(Trudy) and her lover, property-developer Claude, as they plan to murder his father, a hapless poet called John Cairncross. The ambitious but deeply banal Claude is of course brother to John and, consequently, villainous uncle to our unborn narrator. Claude and Trudy devise an elaborate facade involving anti-freeze and a great many props to cover their tracks and suggest that John’s death was suicide.

As witness to all these goings-ons, the nine-month old resident of Trudy’s womb keeps up a running commentary as he muses on his own future and decides how he can subvert their plan and avenge the murder. Nutshell’s Denmark is an elegant Georgian terraced house in London St. John’s Wood that has become shabby and dilapidated, but Claude has designs on it.

Tim McInnerny is known for his many roles on stage and screen appearing in films such Johnny English and TV such as Sherlock and the recent National Treasure. Early in his career he featured as Lord Percy Percy and Captain Darling in the Blackadder series.

Ian McEwan is a critically acclaimed author. His novels include The Child in Time, which won the 1987 Whitbread Novel of the Year, The Cement Garden, Enduring Love, Amsterdam which won the 1998 Booker Prize, Atonement, Saturday, On Chesil Beach, Solar and The Children Act.

Photo of Ian McEwan: Star Tribune

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