LET’S GO: ‘SHADOW OF HEROES’ BY ROBERT ARDREY AT METROPOLITAN PLAYHOUSE (NOVEMBER 9 – DECEMBER 9, 2018) ·

‘SHADOW OF HEROES’ BY ROBERT ARDREY

November 9 – December 9, 2018

How fragile is a dream?

Three friends and lovers in Budapest struggle to find freedom, from the liberation from the Nazis in 1945 to its invasion by the Soviet army in 1956. 

A story of devoted idealists fighting for their beliefs in the face of political opportunism, temptation, and betrayal, a chilling insight into the fragility of decency and conviction in the face of authoritarian power.

“If we haven’t done things for some greater good, Julia, then we’re common criminals and that’s all”


Idealists

Ideals remain ever beyond our grasp…hence the name.  And yet we uphold them: aspirations to which we may ever strive.  Should we?  When does devotion to an ideal beget an ideology? And if we cleave to it too tenaciously, blinkered creatures that we are, might we be doomed betray the very dream to which we aspire?

Robert Ardrey’s Shadow of Heroes begins here and plunges into thorny political, moral, and even epistemological quandaries.  The play does so with dramatic flair and heartfelt passion, showing historical movements through the lives and relationships of human beings in all their pathos, humor, frailty, and transcendence. The result is not only a philosophical confrontation, but exciting, moving, funny, and frightening theater.

Based on actual people and events, Shadow of Heroes is an American author’s account of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. We begin in a Budapest safe house in 1944, the eve of the Nazis’ defeat, as three resistance fighters plan to make contact with their Russian liberators.  The extraordinary stories of the three—committed Communist leader László Rajk, his wife and partner Julia, and his deputy János Kádár—unfold as they help to create a post-war government under Party directives from Moscow. The twisting history sees János, an obedient worker, ascend almost in spite of himself to party leadership; László, whose popularity threatens the state’s authority, convicted of treason one year, but rehabilitated seven years later; and Julia imprisoned, then released, and then embraced as a martyr who inspires the rebellion itself…as well as the Soviet tanks that crushed it.

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Photos: Metropolitan Playhouse

WHEN THE WRITERS TOOK POWER: DREAMS OF UTOPIA BEFORE THE NAZI NIGHTMARE ·

 

(William Cook’s article appeared in the Spectator, 11/15.)

Dreamers: When the Writers Took Power, Germany 1918 by Volker Weidermann reviewed

Today Munich is a prosperous and peaceful place — Germany’s most affluent, attractive city. Wandering its leafy avenues, lined with handsome apartments and shiny new BMWs, it’s hard to picture anything remotely revolutionary happening here. However, exactly 100 years ago this cosy bastion of conservatism was overrun by one of Europe’s most unlikely revolutions, led by an idealistic theatre critic called Kurt Eisner. For a British equivalent, imagine a socialist insurgency led by Kenneth Tynan. Of course, like all well-intentioned revolutions, it was doomed to fail.

For several chaotic months, Eisner’s Free State of Bavaria teetered between tragedy and farce, before succumbing to a vicious counter-revolution led by the Freikorps, the violent forerunners of Adolf Hitler’s brownshirts. Yet while Hitler’s unsuccessful Munich Putsch has become a staple of school history books, Eisner’s (briefly) successful power grab has been virtually forgotten. Volker Weidermann’s dramatic book brings the turbulent events — and, above all, the frenzied atmosphere — of that bizarre interregnum back to life.

Thankfully for the general reader, Weidermann is a journalist rather than an academic, and so this is a compact and colorful account, with the breathless pace of war reporting rather than the ponderous, long-winded prose one usually associates with German history books by German historians. Many of the proponents wrote extensively and eloquently about their experiences, and Weidermann draws heavily on these first-hand accounts to great effect. By favoring impressionistic reportage over background detail, his narrative is sometimes a bit confusing, but it gives the reader a vivid sense of what it actually felt like to live through this exhilarating and terrifying time.

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IN GERMANY, SHAKESPEARE GETS REVERED, REWRITTEN … AND EATEN ·

Schaubuehne am Lehniner Platz. ‘’SHAKESPEARE’S LAST PLAY”. Von Dead Centre nach »Der Sturm« von William Shakespeare. Regie: Bush Moukarzel und Ben Kidd, Buehne: Chloe Lamford, Kostueme: Nina Wetzel, Video: Jose Miguel Jimenez Gonzalez, Musik: Kevin Gleeson. Mit: Thomas Bading, Moritz Gottwald, enny Koenig, Nina Kunzendorf, Mark Waschke. Premiere am 24. April 2018.                                             (A. J. Goldmann’s article appeared in The New York Times, 11/2; via Pam Green.)                                                                                                                                                                                                         MUNICH — As befits the world’s most famous playwright, William Shakespeare has had his work translated into over 100 languages, including Klingon. But long before he was the international superstar we know today, he was adored by the Germans with a fervor that led August Wilhelm Schlegel, the poet and critic who masterfully translated his complete works in the early 19th century, to claim him as “ganz unser” — “entirely ours.”

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, this country’s most revered writer, compared his experience of discovering Shakespeare at age 22 to “a blind man given the gift of sight by some miraculous healing touch.” Roughly a century later, in 1864, the world’s first Shakespeare Society was founded in the city of Weimar. It survived the Cold War divide and is still going strong, with roughly 2,000 members. In 2010, Shakespeare’s Globe in London held a season of events to acknowledge Germany’s special relationship with the playwright. (He is performed more frequently here than in his native land, the theater said.)

So far this season, the highest-profile Shakespeare production here has been a new “King Lear” that reopened the Deutsches Schauspielhaus in Hamburg in October, after the theater underwent a major renovation.

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ANTHONY TURNAGE OPERA: ‘THE SILVER TASSIE’ (AFTER THE PLAY BY SEAN O’CASEY) ·

Listen on BBC Radio 3

Live from the Barbican Hall, the BBC Symphony Orchestra presents Mark-Anthony Turnage’s The Silver Tassie. Ryan Wigglesworth conducts an all-star British cast and the BBC Singers. Presented by Andrew McGregor Live from the Barbican Hall, London Mark-Anthony Turnage: The Silver Tassie (Libretto by Amanda Holden after the play by Sean O’Casey) Act I Act II 8.05 Interval 8.25 Act III Act IV Harry ….. Ashley Riches (baritone) Susie ….. Sally Matthews (soprano) Croucher….. Brindley Sherratt (bass) Mrs Foran….. Claire Booth (soprano) Teddy ….. Marcus Farnsworth (baritone) Barney ….. Alexander Robin Baker (baritone) Jessie….. Louise Alder (soprano) Mrs Heegan …..Susan Bickley (mezzo-soprano) Sylvester ….. Mark Le Brocq (tenor) Dr Maxwell/Staff Officer ….. Anthony Gregory (tenor) Corporal ….. Benedict Nelson (baritone) BBC Singers Finchley Children’s Music Group Kenneth Richardson (Director) Ryan Wigglesworth (Conductor) Sean O’Casey’s provocative 1928 play The Silver Tassie pries open the wound of the First World War and peers unblinkingly into its horrifying depths. The futility of war and its painful human cost is conveyed with even greater intensity in Mark-Anthony

Turnage’s beautifully crafted operatic adaptation, which explores what happens when young, football-mad Harry comes back from the war in a wheelchair. An all-star British cast has been assembled including Susan Bickley, Sally Matthews and Louise Alder, with rising young baritone Ashley Riches as Harry, for this long-overdue revival of the opera, premiered in 2000 at ENO. SYNOPSIS The Silver Tassie, Turnage’s second acknowledged opera, is on a much larger scale than his first, Greek.

Based on the play by Sean O’Casey written in 1927, it is set at the time of the Great War (World War I) and its title, referring to a footballing trophy, comes from a Scottish song text by Robert Burns ‘Go fetch to me a pint o’ wine, an’ fill it in a silver tassie; that I may drink before I go, a service to my bonnie lassie’. Harry Heegan (23) is a local hero – a soldier on leave from the Great War, and a renowned footballer. An only child, he lives with his parents (both in their 60s), having grown up close to the girl next door, Susie. In the flat above is a volatile young couple, Mrs Foran and her husband Teddy. The other main roles are Harry’s glamorous girlfriend, Jessie, and his best friend, Barney. Triumphant after a footballing success and winning the cup (‘The Silver Tassie’) for his team, he leaves for the front. The second act, a darkly expressionist vision of war, is cast for male voices (boys and men) only. In the second half of the opera, Harry is in a wheelchair, Teddy is blind and Jessie has deserted Harry for Barney. The final act, in which dance music plays almost continuously, brings the tragi-comedy to a poignant and moving conclusion, as Harry and Teddy set off to face the future.

FINTAN O’TOOLE: TESTING PATERNITY–COLM TÓIBÍN ON THE FATHERS THAT SHAPED WILDE, JOYCE AND YEATS ·

(O’Toole’ s article appeared in The New Statesman, 10/24.)

How the complicated relationships between three writers and their fathers left its mark on Irish literature.

“All women become like their mothers,” says Algernon in The Importance of Being Earnest. “That is their tragedy. No man does, and that is his.” Left hanging there, of course, is the implication that the son’s tragedy is that he becomes like his father instead. In Oscar Wilde’s own case, that might not have been such a terrible thing, at least for his creative productivity. Colm Tóibín’s sparkling little book on Sir William Wilde, WB Yeats’s father John and James Joyce’s father John Stanislaus, seems originally to have been called “Prodigal Fathers” – the phantom title appears on the inside flap of the cover. It may have been dropped because of Sir William, for whom the word – with its implications of wasted talent – is a poor fit. But it certainly works for John Butler Yeats and John Stanislaus Joyce. And yet the joy of Tóibín’s erudite, subtle, witty and often deeply moving biographical essays is that one generation’s paternal prodigality can become the next generation’s powerhouse of neurotic energy.

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EDITH WHARTON: ‘THE SHADOW OF A DOUBT’ (HER NEWLY DISCOVERED PLAY–LISTEN NOW ON BBC RADIO 3) ·

Listen  

World premiere of a newly discovered play by Edith Wharton from 1901, starring Phoebe Fox, Francesca Annis, Paul Ready, David Horovitch and Don Gilet.

Introduced by Laura Rattray, Reader in American Studies, University of Glasgow
Adapted for radio by Melissa Murray
Directed by Emma Harding

Long before she achieved fame with her novel, ‘The Age of Innocence’, Edith Wharton wrote a number of plays. But they were all believed lost until two academics, Laura Rattray and Mary Chinery, discovered the complete manuscript of ‘The Shadow of a Doubt’ in 2017. Wharton’s play – which pivots on the issue of assisted suicide – was about to be staged in New York in early 1901, before the production was abandoned for unknown reasons.

Kate, a former nurse, has recently married above her class to John Derwent, whose first wife Kate had nursed following an horrific accident. But others are suspicious of Kate’s social ascent. And others have knowledge that could destroy her.

Kate Derwent…..Phoebe Fox
John Derwent…..Paul Ready
Sylvia Derwent…..Rosie Boore
Lord Osterleigh…..David Horovitch
Lady Uske…..Francesca Annis
Dr Carruthers…..Don Gilet
Clodagh Nevil…..Alexandra Constantinidi
Bobby Mazaret…..Cameron Percival
Footman…..Lewis Bray
Mrs Fullerton…..Emma Handy

Photo: WBUR

MARÍA IRENE FORNÉS, WRITER OF SPARE, POETIC PLAYS, DIES AT 88 ·

(Bruce Weber’s article appeared in The New York Times, 10/31; via Pam Green.)

María Irene Fornés, a Cuban-born American playwright whose spare, poetic and emotionally forceful works were hallmarks of experimental theater for four decades, died on Tuesday in Manhattan. She was 88.

Her death, at the Amsterdam Nursing Home, was confirmed by the playwright Migdalia Cruz, a friend and former student of Ms. Fornés’s. She had had Alzheimer’s disease for some time.

A favorite of many critics, theater scholars and fellow playwrights, who often declared that her achievements far outstripped her fame, Ms. Fornés came to playwriting relatively late — her first artistic pursuit was painting — and never earned the popular regard of contemporaries like Edward AlbeeSam ShepardJohn Guare and Lanford Wilson.

Her plays earned eight Obie awards, the Off Broadway equivalent of the Tonys, and she was given an Obie for lifetime achievement in 1982. But her only work to appear on Broadway, a 1966 comedy called “The Office,” directed by Jerome Robbins, closed in previews.

Still, over a long career during which she wrote dozens of plays, many of which she directed herself, and fostered the high-minded idea of the sovereign playwright by producing experimental plays and teaching a generation of younger playwrights, Ms. Fornés gained a reputation within the theater world as an underrecognized genius.

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Photo: The New York Times

 

A GENDER SWAP MAKES SONDHEIM’S ‘COMPANY’ SOAR ·

(Matt Wolf’s article appeared in The New York Times, 10/25; via Pam Green.)

LONDON — At last, “Company” has a human pulse and a proper dramatic core. And for that to happen, it took a woman.

The Stephen Sondheim-George Furth musical from 1970 long ago entered the canon with its tale of a commitment-phobic Manhattan bachelor named Bobby who ricochets among multiple couples while searching for a soul mate of his own.

Now enter the twice Tony-winning English director Marianne Elliott, who has replaced Bobby with a female equivalent called — what else? — Bobbie. (I sense a trend afoot: The forthcoming film of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical “Cats” will feature Judi Dench cast in the male role of Old Deuteronomy.)

The result is entirely transformative: This production is the commercial theatrical event of the year to date. And the Gielgud Theater — where the show and its resplendent leading lady, Rosalie Craig, are on view through March 30 — is not likely to be its final resting place. (It’s just one measure of the intense interest in the show that it has already doubled the length of its run, originally announced through Dec. 22.)

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REVIEW: ‘SEARCHING FOR INGMAR BERGMAN,’ A MISUNDERSTOOD ARTIST ·

(Glenn Kenny’s article appeared in The New York Times, 11/1.)

This year marks the centennial of Ingmar Bergman’s birth. The Swedish playwright, theater director and filmmaker, who died in 2007, remains one of the most praised and, to a certain extent, most misunderstood 20th-century artists. The praise stems from his cinematic mastery and treatment of profound themes; the misunderstanding, from the conventional wisdom that because Bergman treated profound themes, his work must be a slog.

But Bergman was a gripping storyteller. You could even call him an entertainer. The German director Margarethe Von Trotta makes that clear in the opening of her new documentary, “Searching for Ingmar Bergman,” in which she breaks down the opening scene of Bergman’s 1957 classic “The Seventh Seal.” This picture, she says, both engrossed her as a viewer and made her want to be a filmmaker. Her analysis reveals the formal elements that make the oft-parodied “Seal” so potent.

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Photo: The New York Times

 

 

ON KAREN FINLEY IN:  ‘GRABBING PUSSY/PARTS KNOWN’ AT LA MAMA (REVIEW FROM NEW YORK) ·

By Bob Shuman

Karen Finley’s set design for Grabbing Pussy/Parts Known is made up of flowering plants of pink and white and pastel colors—and for an early section of one of her monologues (three are read today: one a poem, written in the hours before curtain), she speaks as a film of time-elapsed lilies and orchids break into bloom behind her.  Blown-up, they appear comic and sexual and too fragile,  which, of course, is part of what Finley is, too, but on Saturday, October 27, she finds she is someone else, as well: an artistic first responder, to the eleven deaths at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh.  She is playing at La MaMa, as part of the Call to Action weekend, a gear-up for the midterms and an opportune moment to publicize her new book, from which proceeds will be given to Planned Parenthood.  People who don’t believe that all actors must be liberals, as if it’s in their DNA, instead of it being more convenient or concessionary for their careers, do believe Finley’s activism, even if they disagree with her politics. They know that, famously, she has been attacked by the right, as part of the NEA4—and she still can be brought up derisively, as “the chocolate-smeared woman,” in Ann Coulter’s writing (Finley’s Tawana Brawley-inspired monologue actually goes way back to the ‘80s, however; probably a signal that the conservative columnist needs fresh material). 

Standing in front of her script, which rests on a music stand, now, in her stylish black-and-white performance shoes, pink top, black capri pants, and an academician’s glasses—her hair is loose and red–Finley seems taller than she appears in photos:  a distinguished Commissar of the left, like a Katarina Witt–not only because she also posed for Playboy.  As a veteran of the culture wars, the actress toes the party line—and she does so aggressively, fueled by the anger that has never left her, jumping on Trump’s “bleeding eyes” remark from the 2016 presidential campaign and bringing up, exasperatedly, “the obsession” with Hillary’s deleted e-mails—“30,000 of them,” should the number have been forgotten.  Unlike Camille Paglia,  Finley’s association, her alignment with the Democrat party—and mistrust of practically everything else–may not always serve her writing—which does not seem able to get above the political; above her politics–and which in Grabbing Pussy/Parts Known, could possibly be described as Beckettian punditry.  She knows how to pace a show, though—how to start and stop her work, how to move in and out of character, which may not always make for writerly, well-made theatre.   She works with tension that can explode—and she is superior as a performer and in improvisation–even as her own plays tend to invoke others, such as: Come Back, Little Sheba; Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf; or even her own previous work, for example We Keep Our Victims Ready.  Actually, it can be difficult to think of Karen Finley in a sustained role of length, although she should have been seen, when she was younger, as Katherine in The Taming of the Shrew–as long as she could change the ending.  Perhaps she’s  really an illusionist, always impatiently waiting to direct a new mirage, although now, she states, she has been moved to use “poetic” space, where she can keep her script with her and provide minimal movement–as opposed to playing on a traditional stage, theatrically.  

Don’t think she has gone too soft, though. She’s “one angry bitch,” she cautions, “never in a good mood and that’s on a good day.” In Grabbing Pussy/Parts Known, Finley goes off on, among others, Catholic priests, Harvey Weinstein, Brett Kavanaugh, and border separations: Her speech can be sarcastic, mocking, hysterical, overly hurt, decisively Midwestern, and even like that of a Southern preacher or witch hag. Yet the person she reminds one of most is . . . Rush Limbaugh.  She’s a shock jock, it’s true:  she doesn’t need to play off anyone, and she can rant and go into stream of consciousness: “It’s my body . . . not Sessions’s . . . not Jared’s . . . This body.  You’ll not own my body.  It’s my body.  Pussies speak out!”  In her public meltdown, amid free-floating anger, desperation, black comedy, anguish, outrage and outrageousness–on the day when it is learned that eight and then eleven have been slaughtered—she confides, as everyone must:  “I’m really trying to do something with this life.”

Looking at the vases and containers on the stage, the flowers seem funereal.   Yet the show must have been conceptualized weeks, if not months, ago.  This gathering couldn’t have been what was originally intended, but Finley has been working fast and doggedly to incorporate the new reality–leaving behind the remains of an event with an entirely different meaning: a memorial.  

© 2018 by Bob Shuman.  All rights reserved.

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Photo credits, from top: Notey;  La MaMa;  Shuman, Mandatory Credit: Photo by JARED WICKERHAM/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock (9948253an)
The Star of David memorials are lined with flowers at the Tree of Life synagogue two days after a mass shooting in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA, 29 October 2018. Officials report 11 people were killed by the gunman identified as Robert Bowers who has been charged with hate crimes and other federal charges .
Vigil for victims of synagogue shooting, Pittsburgh, USA – 29 Oct 2018Variety