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TONY KUSHNER: WHY I’M WRITING A PLAY ABOUT DONALD TRUMP ·

(Tim Teeman’s article appeared in the Daily Beast, 7/19; via the Drudge Report)

As the U.K. production of ‘Angels in America’ hits American cinemas, Tony Kushner reveals his plans for a Trump play—and talks about what Roy Cohn taught Trump.

From the summer home where he and his husband, Mark Harris, live in Provincetown, Massachusetts, the playwright Tony Kushner is speaking for the first time about the play he is planning to write about President Donald Trump.

It comes during a discussion of the much-praised London National Theatre production of Angels in America, Kushner’s defining AIDS-era masterpiece set in 1985 and first performed in 1991, which is being beamed into American cinemas this and next Thursday.

(Read more)

http://www.thedailybeast.com/tony-kushner-why-im-writing-a-play-about-donald-trump

Photo:  LGBT History Month

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‘THE GREAT GATSBY’ AT THE GATE: A MAGNIFICENTLY ENTERTAINING, DIZZYING PARTY (SV PICK, IE) ·

(Peter Crawley’s article appeared in the Irish Times, 7/13.)

The Great Gatsby ★★★★   
Gate Theatre Dublin 

There’s an old story in which the actor playing the doctor in A Streetcar Named Desire – a very minor character – was asked to describe the plot. “Well,” he said, “it’s about this doctor who takes this crazy lady off to an asylum.” From each perspective, everyone is the star of the show.

In The Great Gatsby, a riveting immersive production that sends F Scott Fitzgerald’s characters – major and minor – skittering throughout Jay Gatsby’s mansion, you may feel the same. In a bold bit of casting, the mansion is played by the full expanse of the Gate theatre, marvellously transformed in Ciaran Bagnall’s fastidious design.

Sheaved into groups between its shimmering jazz bar, speakeasy, and several lush private rooms, you might witness the poignant dreams of a tragi-comic Mr McKee (who barely get five pages from Fitzgerald) and decide from Raymond Scannell’s deft performance that the show is about this inebriated photographer who will never find focus.

(Read more)

https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/stage/the-great-gatsby-at-the-gate-a-magnificently-entertaining-dizzying-party-1.3153835

Photo: The Irish Times

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ROYAL SHAKESPEARE COMPANY TO MONITOR HEART RATES AT ‘TITUS ANDRONICUS’ ·

(Andrew R. Chow’s article appeared in The New York Times, 7/5; via Pam Green.)

Is a screening of a play just as powerful as the play itself? The Royal Shakespeare Company plans to use heart monitors to try to find the answer.

Starting Wednesday night, the company is to monitor the heart rates of 10 selected audience members at its blood-soaked production of “Titus Andronicus” in Stratford-upon-Avon, and then do the same for a cinema screening of the production in August. The theater’s aim is to measure the emotional experience of each viewing method and explore whether Shakespeare still shocks modern audience members, who are perhaps desensitized to violence onscreen.

Becky Loftus, the Royal Shakespeare Company’s head of audience insight, said that “Titus Andronicus” lends itself particularly well to this experiment, given the intensity of scenes showing the title character Titus’s hand being chopped off and the aftermath of the rape and mutilation of Lavinia, another character.

Continue reading the main story

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THE WOMEN WHO STAGED THE IRISH EASTER RISING (LISTEN NOW ON BBC RADIO 3—LINK BELOW) ·

 

(Listen at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b074z972 )

Broadcaster and journalist, Marie-Louise Muir, examines the role theatre played in radicalising the Irish women who fought in the 1916 Easter Rising.

As she pieces together their largely forgotten stories through archives at Dublin’s Abbey Theatre and visits key locations associated with the insurrection, Marie-Louise asks what happened to these women and their radical ideals.

Producer: Conor Garrett.

Illustrations: Maire Nic Shiubhlaigh (Irish Times)

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ITALY’S ELITE LA SCALA APPALLED AT OPERA GOERS TURNING UP IN T-SHIRTS, MINI-SKIRTS AND FLIP-FLOPS ·

(Nick Squires’s article appeared in the Telegraph, 7/14.; via the Drudge Report.)  

As one of the world’s most celebrated opera houses, La Scala in Milan expects a certain degree of decorum, but guardians of the elite institution have been appalled at the shabby state of audiences this summer.

Instead of donning jackets and evening dresses, ticket holders are turning up as if dressed for the beach, as temperatures reach 95F or more during one of Italy’s hottest summers for years.

The worst culprits are normally foreign tourists but even Italians, who are normally renowned for their stylish dress, are not averse to arriving in shorts, mini-skirts and sandals.

(Read more)

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/07/14/italys-elite-la-scala-appalled-opera-goers-turning-t-shirts/

 

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SHAKESPEARE’S CURE FOR XENOPHOBIA ·

William Shakespeare. Portrait of William Shakespeare 1564-1616. Chromolithography after Hombres y Mujeres celebres 1877, Barcelona Spain

(Stephen Greenblatt’s article appeared in The New Yorker, 7/10-7/17; via Pam Green.)

What “The Merchant of Venice” taught me about ethnic hatred and the literary imagination.

I attended university in a very different world from the one in which I now teach and live. For a start, Yale College, which I entered in 1961, was all male. Women were not matriculated until five years after I had received my B.A. degree. Among the undergraduates, there were only a handful of students from Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, and very few African-Americans, Asian-Americans, or Hispanics, unless one counted a couple of prep-school-educated heirs to grand South American fortunes.

The Yale that I attended was overwhelmingly North American and white, as well as largely Protestant. It was difficult for the admissions office to identify Catholics, but applicants with conspicuously Irish, Italian, or Polish names were at a disadvantage. For Jews, there was a numerus clausus, not even disguised by the convenient excuse of “geographical distribution.” And the whole system was upheld by a significant number of legacies, along with a pervasive air of privilege and clubbiness. To display too much interest in one’s studies or a concern for grades was distinctly uncool. This was still the era of what was called the “gentleman’s C.”

(Read more)

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/07/10/shakespeares-cure-for-xenophobia?utm_source=wordfly&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=ShakespearePlus12Jul2017&utm_content=version_A&promo=

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JAMES FRANCO SHUTS DOWN OFF-OFF-BROADWAY’S ‘JAMES FRANCO AND ME’ ·

(Joe Dziemianowicz’s article appeared in the Daily News, 7/12; via Pam Green.)

James Franco, the actor, Oscar nominee, author, poet and professor, is now a showstopper — and not in a good way.

“James Franco and Me,” a play set to run next month at the Peoples Improv Theater on E. 24th St., has been cancelled after getting a cease and desist letter from the 39-year-old star’s lawyers.

Kevin Broccoli, who wrote and acts in the two-character play seen last year in an Epic Theater Company run in Rhode Island, where the troupe is based, told Broadway World about the cancellation.

(Read more)

http://www.nydailynews.com/entertainment/theater-arts/james-franco-shuts-off-off-broadway-james-franco-article-1.3320677

Photo: TV Guide.

 

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FOR DISABLED ACTORS, MEMORIZING THE PART IS ONLY THE BEGINNING ·

(Erik Piepenburg’s article appeared in the 7/10 New York Times; via Pam Green.)

It’s not as rare as it used to be for disabled actors to play disabled characters, but they rarely are at center stage as much as in “Cost of Living,”Martyna Majok’s play at Manhattan Theater Club. Katy Sullivan, a bilateral above-the-knee amputee since birth, portrays the loudmouthed Ani, who loses her legs in a car accident. Gregg Mozgala has cerebral palsy, a condition he shares with his character, John, a testy Princeton graduate student.

Manhattan Theater Club needed only minor accommodations to mount the play, according to Stephen M. Kaus, the associate artistic producer. (There were “zero budgetary implications,” he added.) The theater installed two ramps backstage at City Center Stage 1 to help performers get from the house to backstage and from the green room to the stage level. By installing the ramps, the theater also anticipated understudies who might have different disabilities, and helped guests with disabilities who wanted to greet the cast.

(Read more)

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/10/theater/for-disabled-actors-memorizing-the-part-is-only-the-beginning.html

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SHERMAN YELLEN’S OWN LIFETIME (iii): WRITING TIPS FROM THE WINNER OF TWO EMMYS, DEALING WITH HARD KNOCKS IN SHOW BIZ, AND WHAT HIS MEMOIR ‘SPOTLESS’ IS REALLY ABOUT ·

(SHERMAN YELLEN WILL BE INTERVIEWED ABOUT “SPOTLESS,” BY DONNA HANOVER, ON CUNY TV IN THE “ARTS IN THE CITY” SHOW.  THE PROGRAM FIRST AIRS ON FRIDAY, JULY 14TH, AT 10 A.M.  THE EPISODE WILL SUBSEQUENTLY BE SHOWN SEVERAL TIMES DURING THE MONTH—THE OFFICIAL SCHEDULE IS: 2ND AND 4TH FRIDAYS IN JULY, AT 10 A.M., 3 P.M., AND 8:30 P.M. THE SHOW THEN CAN BE SEEN THE FOLLOWING SUNDAYS AT NOON.  SHORTLY AFTER THE FIRST AIRING, THE INTERVIEW WILL BE ONLINE AT WWW.CUNY.TV. CLICK ON ARTS, SCROLL DOWN TO “ARTS IN THE CITY,” AND THERE THE SHOW WILL BE.)

Sherman Yellen was nominated for a Tony Award for his book for the 1970 musical The Rothschilds, with a score by Fiddler on the Roof songwriters Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick, which he and Harnick have recently reimagined as Rothschild & Sons. Sherman wrote the libretto for the Will Holt and Gary William Friedman musical Treasure Island, winner of the Broadway World Best Regional Musical Award (2012). Among his many theater works is his satirical sketch “Delicious Indignities,” which appeared in the New York and London revue Oh! Calcutta! His straight plays on and off Broadway include New Gods for LoversStrangers, and December Fools.

Sherman was librettist and lyricist for Josephine Tonight, an original musical he wrote with the late composer Wally Harper, about the early life of Josephine Baker, which The Chicago Sun-Times called “a shining new musical” and which the D.C. press praised for being “so hot that it sizzles.”

In his youth he worked as a librettist with legendary composer Richard Rodgers. Together with Sheldon Harnick they recently revised the Rodgers-Harnick musical Rex about Henry VIII. This new version had a successful premiere in Toronto.  Yellen’s teleplays have won him two Emmy Awards and a Peabody Award, first for his John Adams, Lawyer in the PBS series The Adams Chronicles, and later for An Early Frost, a groundbreaking drama about AIDS in America broadcast on NBC, as well as an Emmy Nomination for his Hallmark Hall of Fame version of Beauty and the Beast starring George C. Scott. Sherman’s screenplay adaptations of classic novels range from Great Expectations to Phantom of the Opera. He has received awards in Arts and Letters from Bard College, and he is a frequent contributor of essays on the arts, literature, and politics to online publications such as The Huffington Post.

Sherman recently published his autobiographical novella Cousin Bella–The Whore of Minsk, available in a volume, which also includes his holiday short story A Christmas Lilly,” and a collection of three plays, December Fools and Other Plays (December Fools * Budapest * Gin Lane).  Sherman is married, the father of two sons, Nicholas and Christopher, and has three much loved granddaughters. He has lived in London and Los Angeles, worked in Berlin and Budapest, but home was, is, and always will be New York City.

Sherman Yellen talks, with SV’s Bob Shuman, about his new memoir Spotless: Memories of a New York City Childhood.  The final part, of this three-part interview, will appear, 7/5.

View ‘Spotless’ on Amazon: https://tinyurl.com/y7hp725x 

Sherman Yellen was nominated for a Tony Award for his book for the 1970 musical The Rothschilds, with a score by Fiddler on the Roof songwriters Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick, which he and Harnick have recently reimagined as Rothschild & Sons. Sherman wrote the libretto for the Will Holt and Gary William Friedman musical Treasure Island, winner of the Broadway World Best Regional Musical Award (2012). Among his many theater works is his satirical sketch “Delicious Indignities,” which appeared in the New York and London revue Oh! Calcutta! His straight plays on and off Broadway include New Gods for LoversStrangers, and December Fools.  

Sherman was librettist and lyricist for Josephine Tonight, an original musical he wrote with the late composer Wally Harper, about the early life of Josephine Baker, which The Chicago Sun-Times called “a shining new musical” and which the D.C. press praised for being “so hot that it sizzles.”

In his youth he worked as a librettist with legendary composer Richard Rodgers. Together with Sheldon Harnick they recently revised the Rodgers-Harnick musical Rex about Henry VIII. This new version had a successful premiere in Toronto.  Yellen’s teleplays have won him two Emmy Awards and a Peabody Award, first for his John Adams, Lawyer in the PBS series The Adams Chronicles, and later for An Early Frost, a groundbreaking drama about AIDS in America broadcast on NBC, as well as an Emmy Nomination for his Hallmark Hall of Fame version of Beauty and the Beast starring George C. Scott. Sherman’s screenplay adaptations of classic novels range from Great Expectations to Phantom of the Opera. He has received awards in Arts and Letters from Bard College, and he is a frequent contributor of essays on the arts, literature, and politics to online publications such as The Huffington Post.

Sherman recently published his autobiographical novella Cousin Bella–The Whore of Minsk, available in a volume, which also includes his holiday short story A Christmas Lilly,” and a collection of three plays, December Fools and Other Plays (December Fools * Budapest * Gin Lane).  Sherman is married, the father of two sons, Nicholas and Christopher, and has three much loved granddaughters. He has lived in London and Los Angeles, worked in Berlin and Budapest, but home was, is, and always will be New York City. 

Sherman Yellen talks, with SV’s Bob Shuman, about his new memoir Spotless: Memories of a New York City Childhood in the interview’s final installment.

View ‘Spotless’ on Amazon: https://tinyurl.com/y7hp725x 

Best time of the day for you to write?

I rise at five or six and I write early in the morning.  Walk my dog at eight, and go back to work later that afternoon.   I love mornings when the world is beginning to awaken.  Living in NYC, the early mornings allow me to hear birdsong from the warbler who is sitting on the fire escape outside my window.   Stillness and quiet give me a blank page for thinking. 

Best piece of writing advice you can give someone?

To playwrights or memoirists?   Do not be afraid to produce a terrible first draft.  Be the totally driven writer, not the destructive self-critic when you start on a project.  Let the critic in you come out in your revisions, your subsequent drafts–but get that first draft down–and be generous with yourself as you start to work.  The ruthlessness can be put off for later.  And read–read plays–read Ibsen, read Dickens–just read during dry periods–and the company of a great book or a great writer will urge you to go on. 

What was the easiest part of writing Spotless?  The hardest?

The easiest part of writing Spotless was dealing with my mother’s early life on the Lower East Side, her life as a runway model, and her meeting with my father.  She had told me enough during my childhood to give me the material I needed.  And being a curious child I never stopped asking questions about the past.  As I note in the book she was an intelligent woman totally lacking in imagination–so she spoke the plain truth and although she had risen in the world from the worst poverty to affluence–mainly through her astonishing beauty–she felt no shame about her humble origins.   It was harder for me to write about my father.  I knew that I didn’t love him as a son should–because of his intermittent rages and the violence that often accompanied them, and I was afraid that I would demonize a man who was at his core decent and loving.   No, I did not love him in life and yet writing this book allowed me to look closely at his life and my own early years, so, strange as it may seem, I came to love him, if only posthumously.    Spotless also allowed me to live again with those I deeply loved, my late sister and my mother, and all the odd uncles and aunts who are long gone.  Although it is an intensely personal book ,so many readers of different backgrounds and religions tell me that they found their own past in mine, so it confirms my belief that the universal lives in the particular.  

You don’t seem to have been deeply religious, but how important is being Jewish, identifying as Jewish to you today?  Did it become more so as you wrote The Rothschilds?

I was raised as a cultural Jew.  That meant that in our house bacon had undergone a religious conversion together with milk accompanying meat, so that my mother’s two skinny children could put on some weight.   I had to do much research into Jewish life in the 18th and 19th centuries in writing The Rothschilds, since I decided only to use the first few pages of Fred Morton’s wonderful biography of the family as my material.   As readers of Spotless will discover in the last chapter, “An Italian Table Cloth” I came to understand the meaning of being born a Jew through life itself.   

How do you recover from failure?  Or the failure of not seeing your favorite works produced and embraced?  

The first answer is just keep working–you train yourself to live in the day and let go of the past failure, as best you can, or of the lost work that you loved.   Easy to say.  Hard to do. Not so sure I can ever do that with my musical Josephine Tonight or with my play Budapest–the best of my unproduced dramas –but I have the plays published in the book December Fools and Other Plays so if they do not reach the stage as I want them to do, they can reach the minds of readers.  

Spotless seems to be about New York, as much as its characters.   How hard would it be for you to leave it–or would that be easy for you to do?

For years NYC was my base.  I worked in London, Budapest, Berlin, but NYC was always my home.   Summers were spent in a ridiculously cheap farmhouse in Bridgehampton when it was a world of potato farmers and fishermen.  And there was a lost decade in Los Angeles when I worked in TV, writing the scripts that would allow me to pay for college for my sons.  But I am in love with my city and the people in it. Leaving it is inconceivable–certainly not at this stage of my late life.  Hell, I am eighty-five, still working, still hoping, still walking, still loving my family and friends and the world I inhabit. 

No, I do not leave NYC these days–not even for weekends.  The city has become one of my best late-life friends–and I assume that it would strongly object should I abandon Central Park and my surviving friends and family even for a weekend.  Spotless is more than about NYC–I think it is NYC.   At the end of the day it is not so much the story of a precocious child in an odd family but a love story between that child and the city of his birth. 

Thank you so much for this interview.

(c) 2017 by Sherman Yellen (answers) and Bob Shuman (questions). All rights reserved. 

Read Part 1 of this interview at: http://stagevoices.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=10594&action=edit

Read Part 2 of this interview at: http://stagevoices.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=10694&action=edit

Read Part 3 of this interview at: http://stagevoices.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=10782&action=edit

View ‘Spotless’ on Amazon: https://tinyurl.com/y7hp725x

Photograph permissions

Yellen photos courtesy of Sherman Yellen: (top to bottom) Sherman Yellen’s twin granddaughters; Sherman and collaborator Wally Harper; himself at age 40; Sherman’s wife, Joan.

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SUMMER IS THE TIME FOR STRETCHING ·

(Dave Itzkoff’s, Erik Piepenburg’s, LauraCollins-Hughes’s, and Sophie Haigney’s article appeared in The New Yok Times, 6/28; via Pam Green.)

Relaxing on the beach? Dozing by the pool? Not these writers and performers, who are using the warmer months to take some risks, test themselves and expand their talents onstage.

Brad Hall

Over a span of some four decades in which he helped found Chicago’s Practical Theater Company, with an ensemble that included his future wife, Julia Louis-Dreyfus; acted for two seasons on “Saturday Night Live”; created the TV sitcoms “The Single Guy” and “Watching Ellie”; and wrote comedy movies including “Bye Bye Love,” Brad Hall says he has few career regrets.

“That’s because I have a selective memory,” Mr. Hall joked in a recent phone interview. A bit more sincerely, he added: “Those regrets that I do have are, exclusively, not doing plays that I wish I had done. So now I decided to say yes when people ask me to do them.”

Among the opportunities that Mr. Hall has embraced in this more receptive mode is the Gloucester Stage Company’s summer production of “The Effect,” by the British playwright Lucy Prebble.

Continue reading the main story

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SIMON GODWIN’S ‘MEASURE FOR MEASURE’ AT THEATRE FOR A NEW AUDIENCE–ONLY UNTIL JULY 16 (REVIEW FROM NEW YORK) ·

By Bob Shuman

In his staging of Measure for Measure, from Theatre for a New Audience, now playing at the Polonsky Shakespeare Center until July 16, Simon Godwin takes his time in getting to the Bard. His production opens the problem play (Shakespeare places us in  a decadent Vienna), written circa 1603, with a brothel tour, one curated seriously, as if it’s part of a downtown gallery exhibit (the scenic and costume design is by Paul Wills; the light designer is Matthew Richards).  The director comes at us from a different direction, later, too, by placing the audience in a country-western bar, where an up-and-coming Linda Ronstadt might be singing. (Jane Shaw composed the music and designed the sound; the musicians are Drew Bastian, Robert Cowie, and Osei Essed.)  Whether he is laughing behind our backs or not, trying to prick the bourgeoisie, by letting subscribers peruse, among others, dildos, ben wa balls, S&M masks, handcuffs, and even a Donald Trump sex toy, Godwin is not merely a smooth, hip director. 

He also allows the audience to see the play’s confrontations with serious intellectual intent, as he explores Shakespeare’s scene work, as well as his language and storytelling—asking us to find our way into them, unrushed, almost in the way he might have asked himself and his actors to analyze and interpret during rehearsals.  Unpretentiously, they have found original, defensible characterizations, which may seem completely new.  Notable among them is the work of Thomas J. Ryan, who shows Angelo to be a boring, awkward bureaucrat (he may even be banal and evil)–yet his likes are found in thousands of offices every day—here, the character compulsively grabs for the Purell.  Jonathan Cake is not the partying jock he played as the lead in Antony and Cleopatra at the Public in 2014—now he is paler, a wild aristo before decline, hiding behind glasses that are too big.  Perhaps his character will remind of Hal in  Henry IV, Part 2–a work that is believed to be written earlier than this one, in 1596.   More recently, Prince Harry has stated, relevant to this discussion, that no one in his family really wants to be King, “but we will carry out our duties at the right time.”  That, of course, is the story of  the aforementioned Henry play and Measure for Measure—Cake does play his Duke as a modern British royal, one who is aware of what all his training and position mean (down to where and how to place his feet and hold his hands at the back); he also knows how to find the mellifluous meter of the Bard. Cara Ricketts makes an impressive Isabella because she concentrates on the character’s essence and heart (some consider the character cruel, but does anyone think a nun, the bride of Christ, would enter into the bargain Angelo is asking her to be part of?).

By taking his time with Shakespeare, walking with him and letting him take his own time, Godwin creates new interest in the play, even if he also shows the Bard’s warts and beauty marks.  For example:

  • Information can be repeated (Claudio’s execution)
  • One wonders why there is so much concern with this one criminal and crime, when there must be other, more dangerous activities happening in this depraved city
  • The Duke takes time to act on a problem that he is sympathetic to. Like Glinda in The Wizard of Oz, he could set everything right immediately, but he waits
  • Isabella seems to be allowed to stay away from her convent and keep her own hours, as if there are no internal rules for her order
  • There’s the obvious sexism of the bed trick
  • Among other issues.

Godwin must also deal with the problem of anachronism—Mariana (Merritt Janson) is introduced as a modern, independent woman, but, by the end of the play, she contorts into a submissive wife, as does Kate in The Taming of the Shrew or even Katharine Hepburn in many of her star vehicles. Whatever he can’t do to help Measure for Measure, however, Godwin should be commended for creating a true color-blind production.  Actors of different races may be used to show how progressive a company is regarding diversity, often in order to make a political point.  Although a more practical reason may be that actors of different backgrounds can help the audience keep characters straight, Godwin isn’t holding up casting choices as a shield or to telegraph his political correctness.

Perhaps one of the larger problems the director encountered with Measure for Measure, is the fact that the play insists that every character is obstructed and must be hyper-alive to choices that cannot be postponed.  There is no normal in the drama (perhaps this is what the Duke is trying to figure out)—and there is no one who can be identified as normal either (to put the dilemma in terms of Hamlet, there is no Horatio in this play). What was once considered status quo is no longer, as the Austrian laws have changed for the whole citizenry.  Meeting only those living on the edge, the audience may decide the work oddly reflects the current state of the U.S. and the West, whether they are flag-waving or not (and those who see this Measure for Measure will be able to actually do this if they want).  The play is such a perennial for simplified, unnuanced summer stages that viewers may have become inured to its complexities, dissonances, and differences: Measure for Measure, for example, is Shakespeare where a male spends most of the play in disguise. Godwin, treats the work as unusual, intellectual, suitable only for an unusual production, underplayed and stimulating, sexual or not.  

© 2017 by Bob Shuman. All rights reserved.

Visit Theatre for a New Audience: http://www.tfana.org/?gclid=CJnqv7zu8NQCFc1XDQodOtEDpQ

Press: Blake Zidell at Blake Zidell & Associates, Rachael Shearer.

MEASURE FOR MEASURE BY WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE

The Cast

OBERON K.A. ADJEPONG (Provost)

JONATHAN CAKE (Duke Vincentio) 

 KENNETH DE ABREW (Froth/Abhorson/Friar Peter) 

 ZACHARY FINE (Friar Thomas/Elbow/Barnardine, Gentleman). 

 LELAND FOWLER (Claudio) 

 MERRITT JANSON (Mariana)

JANUARY LAVOY (Mistress Overdone/Escala/Francisca) 

CHRISTOPHER MICHAEL MCFARLAND (Pompey)

SAM MORALES (Juliet)

CARA RICKETTS (Isabella)

THOMAS JAY RYAN (Angelo)

HAYNES THIGPEN (Lucio)

DREW BASTIAN (Musician)

ROBERT COWIE (Music Director/Musician) 

OSEI ESSED (Musician) 

 

Creative Team

SIMON GODWIN (Director) 

 BRIAN BROOKS (Choreographer) 

PAUL WILLS (Scenic & Costume Designer)

MATTHEW RICHARDS (Lighting Designer)

JANE SHAW (Composer & Sound Designer)

ALISON BOMBER (Voice & Text Coach) 

 ERIC REYNOLDS (Properties Supervision)

JONATHAN KALB (Production Dramaturg) 

MEGAN SCHWARZ DICKERT (Production Stage Manager)

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JOE ORTON DOUBLE-BILL: ‘THE ERPINGHAM CAMP’ AND ‘THE RUFFIAN ON THE STAIR’ (LISTEN NOW ON BBC RADIO 3—LINK BELOW) ·

(Listen at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b08wn0lm)

Crimes of Passion, a double-bill of Joe Orton plays to mark the 50th anniversary of his death, plus an interview with Kenneth Cranham, a close friend of Orton’s who played several key roles in his plays. The two plays are The Ruffian On The Stair, a Pinteresque radio play about a couple whose lives are disrupted by a young visitor and The Erpingham Camp, Orton’s rambunctious State-of-England farce, set in a 1960’s holiday camp.

The Erpingham Camp:
Erpingham ….. Robert Daws
Riley ….. Jonjo O’Neill
Lou ….. Kerry Gooderson
Ted ….. Samuel James
Kenny ….. Charlie Clements
Eileen ….. Sarah Ridgeway
W.E. Harrison ….. Tom Forrister
Jessie Mason ….. Sanchia McCormack
Padre ….. Simon Ludders
Accordion Player ….. Colin Guthrie

The Ruffian On The Stair:
Mike ….. Gerard Horan
Joyce ….. Sophie Thompson
Wilson ….. Jack Rowan

Producer ….. Mary Peate

The Ruffian On The Stair was Orton’s first play, commissioned by BBC Radio and later adapted for the stage. The Erpingham Camp started life as a TV drama. Both plays were later presented at the Royal Court Theatre as a double bill with the title Crimes of Passion, which marked the beginning of a turn of fortune in Orton’s career as a playwright after the poorly-received first production of Loot. Both the radio and the stage productions of Ruffian on the Stair starred the young Kenneth Cranham, who went on to play Hal in Loot and Sloane in Entertaining Mr Sloane and became a friend of Orton’s. As part of this evening, Matthew Sweet interviews Kenneth Cranham about his friendship with Orton.

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POCKET UNIVERSE: ‘JULIUS CAESAR’ NEXT ON THE STAGE VOICES CALENDAR ·

Shakespeare’s epic tale of jealousy and betrayal is re-imagined as a modern-day coming-of-age story in Pocket Universe’s all-female production.

The Bard’s play is reset in an all-girls high school where psychological warfare is unyielding. Six young women portray all the roles in this tragedy, which follows a group of teenagers through their first taste of power, the desire to seize it, and the life and death battle to keep it. 

For information: https://www.caesarbeware.com/

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SHERMAN YELLEN’S OWN LIFETIME (ii): THE AWARD WINNER ON HIS FATHER AND FAMILY, FRIENDSHIPS WITH RICHARD RODGERS AND NORMAN ROCKWELL, AND WHAT THE DRAMATIST HAS TAUGHT THE MEMOIRIST IN ‘SPOTLESS’ ·

Sherman Yellen was nominated for a Tony Award for his book for the 1970 musical The Rothschilds, with a score by Fiddler on the Roof songwriters Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick, which he and Harnick have recently reimagined as Rothschild & Sons. Sherman wrote the libretto for the Will Holt and Gary William Friedman musical Treasure Island, winner of the Broadway World Best Regional Musical Award (2012). Among his many theater works is his satirical sketch “Delicious Indignities,” which appeared in the New York and London revue Oh! Calcutta! His straight plays on and off Broadway include New Gods for LoversStrangers, and December Fools.  

Sherman was librettist and lyricist for Josephine Tonight, an original musical he wrote with the late composer Wally Harper, about the early life of Josephine Baker, which The Chicago Sun-Times called “a shining new musical” and which the D.C. press praised for being “so hot that it sizzles.”

In his youth he worked as a librettist with legendary composer Richard Rodgers. Together with Sheldon Harnick they recently revised the Rodgers-Harnick musical Rex about Henry VIII. This new version had a successful premiere in Toronto.  Yellen’s teleplays have won him two Emmy Awards and a Peabody Award, first for his John Adams, Lawyer in the PBS series The Adams Chronicles, and later for An Early Frost, a groundbreaking drama about AIDS in America broadcast on NBC, as well as an Emmy Nomination for his Hallmark Hall of Fame version of Beauty and the Beast starring George C. Scott. Sherman’s screenplay adaptations of classic novels range from Great Expectations to Phantom of the Opera. He has received awards in Arts and Letters from Bard College, and he is a frequent contributor of essays on the arts, literature, and politics to online publications such as The Huffington Post.

Sherman recently published his autobiographical novella Cousin Bella–The Whore of Minsk, available in a volume, which also includes his holiday short story A Christmas Lilly,” and a collection of three plays, December Fools and Other Plays (December Fools * Budapest * Gin Lane).  Sherman is married, the father of two sons, Nicholas and Christopher, and has three much loved granddaughters. He has lived in London and Los Angeles, worked in Berlin and Budapest, but home was, is, and always will be New York City.

 

Sherman Yellen talks, with SV’s Bob Shuman, about his new memoir Spotless: Memories of a New York City Childhood.  The final part, of this three-part interview, will appear, 7/9.

View ‘Spotless’ on Amazon: https://tinyurl.com/y7hp725x 

What can playwriting teach a memoirist?

Plenty.  Playwrights learn to create a world onstage made up of scenes, comic and dramatic ones.   A memoirist, who has some experience as a playwright, can recreate the past in terms of scenes–and, just as a playwright must often choose to kill his favorite bit of dialogue, in order to advance the plot, a memoirist must know how to select from a full life of events, and select only those that are the most telling.  Although I have tried to adhere to the truth of the events in my life in Spotless, there are moments when I depended upon remembered dialogue to flesh out a character or an event.   I am about to become immodest but who cares?

Sheldon Harnick, after reading Spotless, wrote of it, “In Spotless, Sherman Yellen has brought his skill as a playwright to bear.  Reading his memoir is like watching a totally absorbing play: the characters come to vivid life and the event they experience registers as first-rate drama.  Bravo, Mr. Yellen! Bravo!”   I am not only kvelling inside, I am bowing.  

Your father suffered from depression–to what extent did you or could you understand him growing up? 

My father Nat’s depression was something I took for granted growing up.  It was simply part of the world, as I knew it.   As children we accept the most aberrant behavior as normal if we are faced by it daily.  Since he was also capable of euphoria and great generosity it was confusing as hell.  His was a world before tranquilizers, although his severe depressions ended in electroshock therapy–treatments that I took him to as a boy of fourteen.  As a small child I never knew who would walk into the room, that angry depressed man, or the loving, generous father.

My very calm mother kept the family together, despite the many tantrums of my father.  Divorce was not an option in those days. She balanced his instability; like many women of her time, she placed her children first, and protected us as much as she could–particularly when he became violent.   And despite having this unstable father, as the book reveals, there was so much laughter in the house. My sister and I grew up with a precocious sense of irony, an awareness of the ridiculousness of most human pretentions–and, later in life, I would try to bring that to my work.   As an adult I experienced some depression, that unwelcome guest who tells you he will only stay for a few days and always overstays his visit, but I managed to master it, and, for most of my life, I have been depression free–thanks, in part, to a life spent with a wonderful wife, great friends, and a loving family.   And a devotion to my work.

How did your father react to your going into the theatre?

My parents enjoyed my early success–I was one of the lucky few.  They saw my first TV show produced, when I was in my early twenties, and I was still relatively young when my plays were done.  They knew that I was living the life I wanted–and for all their concerns about my security (some of that justified)–they only encouraged my work.   My father loved theater and took my older sister, Simone, and me to theater every Saturday, from the time I was ten years old.  I am one of the few alive who saw the first NYC matinee of Oklahoma!, as well as the opening of Streetcar and Death of a Salesman.  Not appropriate for a kid?  Perhaps.  But I loved the truth that I saw in those plays on those stages. My father very much wanted us to enjoy our lives, but his demons often intruded on that enjoyment. 

You seem to have been witness to important people and events.  One of them is the crash of the Hindenburg–do you feel that there was a continuing impact because you saw that, or how do you think of it in terms of your own history? 

I don’t believe that my accidental viewing of the Hindenburg explosion–altered the course of my life.  These were not of my making, and even as a child, I knew that what was most interesting were not accidents but character.  I was, I suppose, remarkably precocious in my desire to study people and try to take them apart, like a clock, to see what made them work.  My first ambition was to be a fine artist, and I sketched everyone and everything I saw. As far as some of the notable people who came into my life–I can truly say I did not seek them out.  My friendship with Norman Rockwell, who provided a cabin in Vermont for my wife and I on our wedding trip, came from my friendship with his son.   Other notables, like Richard Rodgers and Sheldon Harnick, became friends because we worked together, in harmony. The experience of success or failure only drew us closer together.   It may seem odd to say this but I am a good friend–I care about the people in my life–and I learned early on that you do not abandon people in their difficult years–not if you wish to live comfortably with yourself, or your idea of yourself. 

You’ve worked with both Richard Rodgers and Eileen J. Garrett, two people from very different walks of life–but who would you say influenced you the most growing up?

You mention my work as an editor for the medium Eileen J. Garrett.  She was never a real friend–just a boss at my first after-college job as an editor at Tomorrow magazine.  Later, she was a patron who made it possible for me to live in London and work on a Shakespeare study by giving me a grant from her foundation.  A great year in my early life.  She told me that I had a wonderful “aura”–God knows what that is–I think it is a halo that mediums can see–and in this I feel she was off course in her mystical declarations.   If I ever did have a halo, it has slipped off me or tarnished in my eighty-five years.   I believe that she was the inspiration for Madam Acardi in Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit.   And I was told that she also inspired the character of Auntie MamePatrick Dennis having worked at her publication, a few years before I did.  I do love eccentrics–not as much as I love dogs and cats–but they come in a close second.  She was imperious, generous, a tad frightening, but I feel fortunate in having known her.  Through her I met Aldous Huxley and Gloria Swanson and other notables–great fun for a very young man. 

My friendship with Richard Rodgers is one of the subjects of my next book, Absent Friends.  I met him late in his life, when his health problems were tragically debilitating, yet I found him wonderfully creative, generous in praise, a true creative collaborator, and a man who did not look to blame others when a musical play did not succeed.  Rex, the musical that we worked on together, was not a success at the time–although after forty odd years, Sheldon Harnick and I have revised and reimagined it so that it is now the fine show we always wanted it to be.   It is soon to be seen, this summer, in repertory at the Utah Festival of Opera and Musical Theater in Logan, Utah . . . and to my delight, it’s sold out for its run.   Rodgers was very much a man of his time, one who did not show emotion easily–he expressed it through his music–and how wonderful that music is.  There is some stunning music in Rex, and I take no small pride in that, hoping that it is was inspired by my libretto.  Rodgers was a brilliant, witty man, a political and social progressive who lived what he believed–and he influenced my life in one important way.   I learned from watching him how one survives illness, old age, and losses by continuing to work–to keep drawing from within, rather than looking to the world for pity or comfort.   After Rex my wife and I were frequent guests of Dorothy and Dick Rodgers, both in NYC and in Connecticut–they were gracious and so appreciative of our friendship.   Friendship is a talent like any other.  It requires the ability to look beyond the self and take a true interest in the lives of others. Many biographers have stressed the negative side of Rodgers–a view encouraged by his late daughter Mary.  My experience, however, as his friend was altogether different.  But I know, from my early life, that we are many things to different people.  My father employed the handicapped and minorities in his sweater factory–nobody did that at that time.  He had an understanding of suffering and, in his work, he acted on his best instincts–this man, beloved by his employees, was an altogether different man than the terror we faced at home.  That is part of the mystery of being human. 

Do you consider yourself lucky?  

Yes, in family and friendships.   Some days when I consider the plays I have written that I love, those which have yet to find a production, and the best of my musicals  Josephine Tonight, written with the late composer Wally Harper, one that received superb reviews in Chicago and in Alexandria, I get exasperated that my best work has never come to NYC–I feel unlucky about this musical but I get over it.  It takes so much energy and so much financing to get a play on in this city today that I am happy that I can now devote myself to my memoir writing, and see my work produced in regional theaters.  

Thank you so much.  We’ll look forward to next week.

Read Part 1 of this interview at: http://stagevoices.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=10594&action=edit

View ‘Spotless’ on Amazon: https://tinyurl.com/y7hp725x

Photograph permissions

Yellen photos courtesy of Sherman Yellen.

Sheldon Harnick and Sherman Yellen: The Forward.

Norman Rockwell: Saturday Evening Post.

 

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ROME STREET THEATRE:  THE MYTH OF PERSEPHONE ·

 

 

By Marit Shuman

There’s a fountain in the Piazza Trilussa, in the Trastevere, where people can sit and watch live performance. 

The fountain is called fontana di Ponte Sisto, which refers to the bridge right across from the piazza.

 

 

Generally, there is music being played at all hours or events like this one, which was filmed on Sunday, June 18, 2017.

 

The story of Persephone is being reenacted, using dancers on stilts and plenty of pyrotechnics.

 

The ancient story tells how Persephone is abducted by Pluto, the god of the Underworld.  

 

Her mother, Demeter, the goddess of agriculture, heartbroken at the loss of her daughter, plunges the world into darkness. 

 

Finally, Persephone is found and allowed to resurface on earth, bringing spring. 

But, because she has eaten the food of Hades, pomegranate seeds, she must return again every year, as the seasons change to winter.

 

 

Photos:  Fountain: Starhotels; Ponte Sisto: Wikipedia.

 

 

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SHERMAN YELLEN’S OWN LIFETIME:  THE AWARD-WINNING PLAYWRIGHT, LIBRETTIST, SCREENWRITER, AND LYRICIST ON OLD NEW YORK AND THE GOLDEN AGE OF HOLLYWOOD,  CENTRAL PARK NOW, AND BECOMING  JOHN ADAMS, MAYER ROTHSCHILD, AND THE OBSERVANT CHILD IN HIS NEW MEMOIR ‘SPOTLESS’ ·

 

Sherman Yellen was nominated for a Tony Award for his book for the 1970 musical The Rothschilds, with a score by Fiddler on the Roof songwriters Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick, which he and Harnick have recently reimagined as Rothschild & Sons. Sherman wrote the libretto for the Will Holt and Gary William Friedman musical Treasure Island, winner of the Broadway World Best Regional Musical Award (2012). Among his many theater works is his satirical sketch “Delicious Indignities,” which appeared in the New York and London revue Oh! Calcutta! His straight plays on and off Broadway include New Gods for LoversStrangers, and December Fools.  

Sherman was librettist and lyricist for Josephine Tonight, an original musical he wrote with the late composer Wally Harper, about the early life of Josephine Baker, which The Chicago Sun-Times called “a shining new musical” and which the D.C. press praised for being “so hot that it sizzles.”

In his youth he worked as a librettist with legendary composer Richard Rodgers. Together with Sheldon Harnick they recently revised the Rodgers-Harnick musical Rex about Henry VIII. This new version had a successful premiere in Toronto.  Yellen’s teleplays have won him two Emmy Awards and a Peabody Award, first for his John Adams, Lawyer in the PBS series The Adams Chronicles, and later for An Early Frost, a groundbreaking drama about AIDS in America broadcast on NBC, as well as an Emmy Nomination for his Hallmark Hall of Fame version of Beauty and the Beast starring George C. Scott. Sherman’s screenplay adaptations of classic novels range from Great Expectations to Phantom of the Opera. He has received awards in Arts and Letters from Bard College, and he is a frequent contributor of essays on the arts, literature, and politics to online publications such as The Huffington Post.

Sherman recently published his autobiographical novella Cousin Bella–The Whore of Minsk, available in a volume, which also includes his holiday short story A Christmas Lilly,” and a collection of three plays, December Fools and Other Plays (December Fools * Budapest * Gin Lane).  Sherman is married, the father of two sons, Nicholas and Christopher, and has three much loved granddaughters. He has lived in London and Los Angeles, worked in Berlin and Budapest, but home was, is, and always will be New York City.

Sherman Yellen talks, with SV’s Bob Shuman, about his new memoir Spotless: Memories of a New York City Childhood.  The second part, of this three-part interview, will appear, 6/28.

View ‘Spotless’ on Amazon: https://tinyurl.com/y7hp725x 

How are the Yellens, the Rothschilds, and the Adamses the same; how are they different?

When I write about people I can only do so by connecting them to myself, my character, my beliefs, and my experiences.   All three: the Yellens, the Rothschilds, and the Adamses come from very different cultures, but what they share is a deep belief that the world must be better, and we must work to make it so.   It may sound foolish but, while writing these very different works, I became John Adams, Mayer Rothschild, and the little boy who inhabits Spotless, the saga of my family.  If we don’t bring ourselves to everything we write, there can be little truth or passion in the writing–it becomes a dry history rather than drama.   The trick is to find some part of yourself in every character you write, even the nasty ones.  For a while I had the joy of being John Adams, Mayer Rothschild, and, late in life, the observant child that I was.   

Did you ever believe that you would excel in writing about families–or how would you describe your new book?

I’ve always had a deep interest in families–what holds them together, what pulls them apart–probably flowing from the closeness of my own family– both my first family, the one in Spotless,  and the second, with my wife, Joan, which has lasted nearly 64 years.  I am deeply interested in how we remember those who are gone:  For me, Spotless was an attempt to recall and recreate what I had experienced as a child of the ‘30s and ‘40s–to go deeper yet into that world of my grandparents and parents: their journey, from European and Lower East Side poverty to affluence, and the cost of it, for everyone who traveled that very American path.   It is summed up by critic/novelist Christopher Davis who said, “Spotless is a story of family love trapped in the old world’s hurricane of desire to share in American dreaming.”

How did you decide on the title?  Tell us about it.

The title Spotless has several meanings–it certainly has little to do with that questioning, and somewhat judgmental, child on the cover of the book, a born observer:  indeed, the title has more to do with my mother’s use of the word to describe the character of a friend, a housekeeper, or the kitchen floor in our apartment.  In a sense it was her ideal.  She came from a world where half her family died of TB–spots on the lung were the sign of that disease.  To be Spotless was, for her, to be safe, healthy, and to be alive.  

You write that hardship “doesn’t often make people better, it just makes them harder.” You are referring to the Depression and the ‘40s.  Have you noticed other periods when people became harder–and have there been times when they seemed otherwise? 

My observation is a generalization, and, like most, it is only partially true.   There are people who rise up from their own despair to help others in the worst of times, but I have observed that many who have suffered are locked into their own cages of suffering, and they have not found a key to escape.  I do believe that we learn and grow more from kindness than from suffering.  Corny?  Maybe.  But I have found the truth in this over a long lifetime.

What do you miss most about the New York you grew up in (the book brings up cultural references, such as Baby Peggy, Olive Thomas, and Sonja Henie)? 

I miss so many of the old pleasures of the old NYC: the trolley cars in the Bronx, the double-decker buses on Fifth Avenue, the old Schrafft’s restaurants, where my parents took me for a Sunday lunch, and I miss the mom-and-pop stores that helped to create the New York of neighborhoods–I miss the old Reuben’s Restaurant, of the 1950s, which allowed my wife and I to dine with our schnauzer Gus seated beside us–before the health police took charge of the city.   I love the spirit of that city, before real estate became the King of New York, driving the small shopkeepers out and bringing in those ubiquitous banks and chain stores.  And I miss the affordable price of a theater ticket, and the smaller, more human scale of the city.  An example of that is the old MOMA.  I would go there with my friends and girlfriends, as a teenager at the High School of Music & Art–a kid who loved fine art–and it was a welcoming place.  Today, it is a glass palace, an expensive tourist spot, not the warm, second home for many art-loving city kids.  Needless to say, I loved the New York that didn’t have a Trump Tower and kept its Trumps sequestered in Queens.

I am not one who subscribes to the idea that the high cost of living in NYC is proportionate with the cost of living in the past.  Baloney!  The world was affordable for those who were not in the one percent.  It was there for most of the residents–even during the Depression.  I miss the courtesies that made for a gentler city, and oh Lord, do I miss those marvelous movie theaters–growing up, as I did, in the golden age of Hollywood.  Nothing short of heaven itself can replicate the grandeur of the old Loew’s Paradise, on the Grand Concourse, and its sister theaters throughout the boroughs.    I do not miss the bigotry of that time, but we may have traded it in for the repellant hard-nosed ambition that I often see today.   But oh, the beauty of Central Park now–almost nothing compares with it in the past–and the everyday mix of races and classes in NYC makes me proud to be a New Yorker.

View ‘Spotless’ on Amazon: https://tinyurl.com/y7hp725x

 

(c) 2017 by Sherman Yellen (answers) and Bob Shuman (questions). All rights reserved.

Yellen family photos: Courtesy of the Sherman Yellen. All rights reserved.

Central Park: Fodor’s Travel Guides.