Monthly Archives: January 2010


Episode image for The Cherry Orchard


Written by Anton Chekhov and translated by Sasha Dugdale.

A new production of Chekhov's timeless study of a Russian aristocratic family forced to sell their house and beloved cherry orchard during the great social transitions of the 19th century.

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Madame Ranevskaia …… Sarah Miles
Gaev …… Nicholas le Prevost
Varia …… Anne-Marie Duff
Ania …… Susannah Fielding
Trofimov …… Gunnar Cauthery
Simeonov-Pishchik …… Roger Hammond
Lopakhin …… Matthew Marsh
Firs …… Malcolm Tierney
Duniasha …… Jill Cardo
Epikhodov …… Stephen Critchlow
Yasha …… Inam Mirza
Sharlotta …… Hannah Nicholson

Music composed and performed by Olga Thomas-Bosovskaya.

Directed by Peter Kavanagh.

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Every week the staff of Manhattan’s renowned Drama Book Shop undertakes the formidable challenge of helping actors find the best monologues for auditions and classes, answering hundreds of questions regarding the latest—and classic—plays from the U.S. and around the world; and recommending theatre craft titles–from lighting design to beating the pavement–which give best value. They even have a working theatre in their basement!

Here they are on Stage Voices, picking the best of published work to keep us up to date and aware of the little known—the next best thing to actually being in the shop, listening to their wise counsel and sage advice.   



Love Song by John Kolvenbach

I saw all this Living. …through my peephole I watched them skipping down the hall, and I wondered what kind of shoes they wore to want things so much… I didn’t understand them, playing hopscotch and writing formulas, building ships from kits and taking walks…They scared me, Harry…

Play of the Week is hard. Throughout the year hundreds of new plays from publishers around the world land first at the Drama Book Shop. Every month dozens of new titles overflow our celebrated wall of new plays. We’re also home to thousands of plays written over millennia. An entire art form wraps around our walls. To choose one can induce paralysis.

This is your lucky week. In his astonishing play, Love Song, John Kolvenbach investigates the subject of love through two couples and a waiter. The central character is Beane, an exile from life who lives alone with a cup and a spoon in a dim studio apartment where the walls are literally closing in. He’s the despair of his strident but loving older sister, Joan, and her too rational husband, Harry, who’ve amassed the trappings and attendant neuroses of successful professionals. Beane works in government—in a toll booth. One night he arrives home to be waylaid by Molly, a violent young woman whose bent for destruction attacks Beane’s defenses at fake gunpoint. As she attempts to kick- box Beane into sex and love, she’s like the life force on steroids. Molly plunges Beane, Joan and Harry into hilarious turmoil and chaos. These are characters you’d follow to the end of the earth.

Playwriting is hard. Yet Kolvenbach makes it appear effortless. He uses the elements of stagecraft with tremendous skill to create a world as authentic as it is fantastic. He shows rather than tells. The play unfolds with intense theatricality—the magical things that only theatre can do. A light cue can scare you to death. Simple objects reveal great complexity—a wine glass, turkey sandwich, stolen hotel bathrobe, take on layers of meaning, and at times, poetry.

Love is hard. The play is rich with meaning and the cultural provenance of the author’s unique imagination. Images abound from the Bible to Beckett and back. Love Song reveals almost infinite kinds of love—of siblings, couples, pets, strangers, self, life. Love begets tyranny, grace, lust, joy and loss. It lays siege to the senses and the self. Beane awakens to sensations and words he’s never before imagined—food, smells, water, light, heat, suffering, savagery. And love creates a river of language that surges forth when Beane finally discovers something worth articulation. Without an ounce of sentimentality, Kolvenbach’s razor wit and lack of cynicism combine to lacerate the heart.

To reveal the ending would be a felony. But who is Molly? Is she real? What must Beane sacrifice to join the human race? Love Song will hold you captive and leave you shaken. Hell may be other people but it’s not as deep as the hell that’s empty.

Cast: 2 men, 2 women. Beane and Molly, 20s; Joan and Harry, 30s, Harry doubles as the waiter.

Scenes/Monologues: Hilarious, touching, career-making scenes and monologues. Scenes: Joan, Harry and Beane; Beane and Molly; Beane and Joan; Joan and Harry. Monologues: Joan, Beane, Molly.

Recommended by: Helen 

The Drama Book Shop, Inc.
250 W. 40th St.
New York, NY 10018
Tel: (212) 944-0595
Fax: (212) 730-8739

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 Product Details

Publisher : Dramatists Play Service, Inc.
Published : 05/01/2008
Format : Paperback 
ISBN-10 : 0822222736
ISBN-13 : 9780822222736

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(Kate's Muir's interview ran in the Times of London, January 23.) 


Jez Butterworth and Mark Rylance on Jerusalem

The bad boys of British theatre explain how Es, whizz and the Home Counties inspired their state of the nation triumph, Jerusalem

If you call a play Jerusalem,” says Jez Butterworth, the English playwright, “you’ve got to know what you’re doing. It could easily go very badly wrong.”

But it has not. Jerusalem makes a victorious transfer to the West End next week, after opening at the Royal Court, where it scooped awards for best play and, for Mark Rylance, best actor. It is a three-hour comic epic that appears to deal with small beer and wastrels, but stealthily becomes a state-of-the-nation play. As Johnny “Rooster” Byron, its hero, supposedly says at birth: “Mother, what is this dark place?” / “’Tis England, my boy, England.”

Butterworth eviscerates the dark places of the English countryside with wildly eccentric humour. It’s that rare genre, savage pastoral, and Butterworth has worked on and off for a decade at getting the tone just right. Once he knew that Rylance would take the part, Butterworth moulded the script around him. The result is Large Hadron Collider theatre. As one critic said of Rylance as Byron: “Very occasionally, a performance is so charismatic, so mercurial, so complete and compelling that it doesn’t look like acting. Instead, it is a total embodiment of a character.”

(Read more)

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Pataphysics Anyone?




In Absurdist theatre the emphasis is placed on behavior—witness Ionesco's bourgeois dullards in The Bald Soprano, for example, or, in several of  Tina Howe's plays, characters fixated on making art. Lee Breuer, however, isn’t much interested in that (his stationary cast might be headed by a puppet or be used to play the back end of a farm animal). Unlike those of the other playwright’s mentioned, his characters’ communication faculties don’t fail either.  Animals they may be, but they’re articulate and cogent, even if what they’re examining–the monstrous  human soul–is a place where we're more likely to meet an anime figure rather than God. Breuer’s double bill of monologues, Pataphysics Penyeach, currently at New York Theatre Workshop through January 31, is an example of a rarely used style giving due to the space beyond the metaphysical ('Pataphysics, defined by Webster’s, is Jarry's notion—“expounded upon by other French absurdist writers as a parody of modern science").  Even if they’re only metaphors, though, these creations are free to formulate their own worlds. For example, if one were to conjecture that American society was inhabited by capitalist pigs (not so unusual a sentiment from the Left)–a character might turn out to be a literal swine, which is exactly the state of affairs in the second one act here, Porco Morto.  Given that it is 2010 and the U.S., with a collapsing newspaper industry, is in recession–it is not very strange that we’re presented with a depressed reader of The New York Times (Greg Mehrten), albeit one that stutters, as if Porky Pig had been sent to Harvard.  




In both monologues, Breuer is examining the cartoon within, or cartoon as soul—in the first, an academician, who happens to be a cow, and whose top-half is played with incise professorial hauteur by Obie winner Ruth Maleczech, tells us that the “psyche lives in limbus.”  She asks, “What is God’s action?” and tells us that “Reality is not real—it’s virtual." “If it works” she also contends, “it must be unreal.”  The plays are free-floating Rorschach tests–acted by performers of immense focus and stamina–where we analyze our responses to a daffy mindstream taken perfectly seriously. The mashed combination of scientific theory, acting technique, and Eastern thought may be profound or inconsequential: we decide.  I can tell you several places where I thought Breuer wasn’t playing with our minds, though.  One was where, bewildered, his character wonders why writers who go to the theatre see themselves as reviewers and not reporters.  And the other is the finality of his observation: “Truth is not beautiful.”




The evening is fun and horrific, intellectual and sophomoric, coarse and rich—but what else would one expect when exposing the mind to the ridiculous?  It’s also rather freeing to disconnect from the patterns that the entire society has taken up as we toggle from Twitter to Facebook, the Drudge Report to blogs. Maybe this is where theatre can become relevant again—in its ability to circuit break virtual reality, which only seems to be making us more conformist. Society and our humanity have devolved and been reduced Breuer seems to be saying; more than ever, we’re all been dumbed down. On the freezing night I saw Pataphyscis Penyeach, the East Village was especially deserted. One of the waiters at Gandhi restaurant on East 6th Street, where several other Indian restaurants have recently closed, said, “Times are tough.”  Having just come out of the play, more reporter than critic, I extended the metaphor, “These are tough times for the American mind, too.”




© 2010 by Bob Shuman


Pataphysics Penyeach by Lee Breuer:


Summa Dramatica & Porco Morto

January 13-31, 2010




At New York Theatre Workshop’s 4th Street Theatre—83 East 4th Street, 1st Floor


MABOU MINES | 150 First Avenue, New York, NY 10009 | Phone: 212.473.0559 | Fax: 212.473.2410 |


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(Charles Spencer's review ran in the Telegraph 1/14.)

Every Good Boy Deserves Favour at the National Theatre, review

Tom Stoppard's black comedy was impressive when the NT revived it last year – now, it's even better. Rating * * * * *

Tom Stoppard's superb black comedy about Soviet dissidents has returned to the Olivier a year after it was first revived there, and watching it for the second time I was more convinced than ever that it is one of his greatest works.

It may last little more than an hour but in its ambition, its indignation and its wit, this dark piece of musical theatre, written in partnership with Andre Previn, strikes me as a model of political theatre at its best.

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By Theodore Mann

419 pp. Applause Theatre & Cinema Books. $16.99 (pbk).  With photos throughout and interview DVD. (ISBN: 978-1-4234-8155-3)

Theatre aficionados will like Journeys in the Night, Theodore Mann’s memoir of his life as a creator, producer, and director for Circle in the Square because it feels so much like our own lives, too.  Plays by O’Neill, Williams, and Odets—not to mention ones by Shaw, Coward, and Moliere, among many others—became relevant to American audiences because of Mann.  In fact, before his rescue, O’Neill was considered “long-winded, repetitious, and ponderous.”  If Mann hadn’t met Geraldine Page, Tennessee Williams’s Summer and Smoke also might still be considered a failure (and The Night of the Iguana would not have gotten the appreciation it deserves).  Without his gaining Carlotta O’Neill’s confidence, during the huge success of The Iceman Cometh, the world would have had to wait 25 years to see Long Day’s Journey into Night (who knows if the playwright’s reputation would have lasted long enough to qualify such a production?).  We owe significant pieces of the American canon of dramatic literature to Theodore Mann—without him, we might not understand the definition or recognize the richness of our inheritance.


Desolate after breaking up with a girlfriend, Mann came on the postwar theatre scene as a business manager for Jose Quintero. Fending off the city of New York’s building inspectors was much of the reason why they chose the offbeat and memorable name for the enterprise:  Circle in the Square. Whether they knew it or not, their work and theatre was integral to the formation of off-Broadway and probably regional theatre (later, of course, they would also have state-of the-art space on Broadway itself).  It was Mann who yearly called Jane Rubin, O’Neill’s literary agent, to ask if there was something they might produce.  She routinely answered, “No.”  Then, in 1956, she asked, “If you can choose any O’Neill play which one would you do?” It sent Mann, Quintero, and Leigh Connell into the scripts. I’m sure you know what play they finally chose and had approved—but if you don’t, it’s a good reason to read this book.     


Mann didn’t survive over fifty years in the theatre because he was unafraid to roll the dice.  He had faith, a true passion for the stage, and he could do the math.  He also had enormous curiosity and energy—in fact, it’s something of a challenge to read this book and not believe that you, too, might also be able to become a producer, no matter how far-fetched that idea may seem.  For the playwright, the advice is pragmatic: Take your career into your own hands as Roger Stevens did when he joined with other scribes to create the Playwright’s Company—it’s “a lesson for  . . . [all] today who carp about the paucity of serious plays on Broadway, namely their own!”  Mann also sees a hole in the market: There is . . . an odd shortage of American playwrights writing in the farce form.  Why this is, I can't say.  A farce with its furious slamming of doors and other sonic action is not a "sit-down" comedy.  It engages an audience in a very different way from a drama or musical.  The farce form seems to have flourished only in American films.  I think it is up to the American writers to lead the way–if they write good farces, the American theatre audiences will come.”  For reviewers, Mann has advice as well: “A good motto for a critic would be, ‘Put your enthusiasm first and your reservations last.'  Otherwise the reader moves on to another article without realizing that in the latter part of the review the critic was affirmative."   


Although he does tell us that “conflict is an essential part of theatre,” Mann’s book isn’t about settling scores. Actually, it’s a celebration of acting triumphs (George C. Scott in Death of a Salesman, Colleen Dewhurst in Mourning Becomes Electra, Salome Jens in The Balcony, James Earl Jones in Othello, Raul Julia, Kevin Kline, and John Malkovich in Arms and the Man to name a very few.  Mann has a deep appreciation for the actor’s art (the book includes a bonus DVD with scenes from his productions and interviews with, among others, Mann, Dewhurst, Scott, Vanessa Redgrave, and Jones talking about their work):  On Geraldine Page in Summer and Smoke he writes, "She was in her late 20s, but as an actress, it was her body and her voice that told us her age and her pain.  In other plays which I saw Gerry in over the years, there was always this physical transformation she achieved.  You'd swear she was short, tall, fat, or thin, just as the character was supposed to be.  Of course she didn't change physically but this was the art of her acting.  All of this came out of her unrelenting journey for the truth of the character." Mann was also unafraid to champion the thespian.  Witness his aid to Dustin Hoffman for whom he found a play for the actor to star called Eh?  The only problem was . . .  there were problems.  Elizabeth Wilson, part of the cast and one of the few people who ever called Mann by his full name–people usually used ‘Ted’–pulled him aside and said: “Theodore, the production is not going right.” Even the director of record was unhappy:  “What’s wrong with the production is Dustin.”  Mann quickly responded, “’The reason I’m going this play is because of Dustin!’  There was not much more conversation.  I advised him [the director] that we were going ahead and sticking with Dustin.’” Alan Arkin replaced to direct, the actors started having fun, the comedy began working—and on opening, Walter Kerr of The New York Times compared Hoffman to Chaplin.  Soon “Dusty” would be filming The Graduate.   


The plethora of plays and actors, writers and productions is so overwhelming—such a challenge to reign all in–and the material amassed so good in Journeys in the Night that it seems strange to want to end this article with a discussion of someone who wasn’t involved with Circle in the Square productions. Yet, Mann’s writing on O’Neill’s daughter Oona is deeply compelling.  After 1939 she never saw her father again, was proclaimed dead by him (she actually died in 1991) and, ultimately, she married Charlie Chaplin.  Mann believes that O’Neill wrote his last plays—works stripped to the bone . . . deal[ing] forthrightly with the issues of the lives of the characters”–for Oona and her brother Shane in order to explain “the truth of himself and his family.” In 1942, O’Neill “completed A Touch of the Poet, in which the father finally reconciles with his daughter, whom he has berated throughout the play. . . . Was this O’Neill trying to come to terms with his own daughter?” Sadly, it is a mystery as to how much of their father’s work his children knew, but O’Neill believed in Ibsen’s life lie: "a man no matter how low must have companionship and at least one hope or pipe dream to survive." The story of Circle in the Square is the story of a pipe dream that ignited the culture.


© 2010 by Bob Shuman


(Continue watching Stage Voices in the next weeks for more writing regarding Circle in the Square.)


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HAPPY BIRTHDAY, CARY GRANT (born 1/18/1904) ·

(Peter Rainer's article appeared 1/5 on Bloomberg.)

Cary Grant Clings to Abe’s Nose in ‘Northwest’ Anniversary DVD

When asked to name my favorite movie, my answer is usually “North by Northwest,” Alfred Hitchcock’s exhilarating 1959 thriller. Warner Home Video recently marked the film’s 50th anniversary by releasing a remastered two-disc collection with oodles of extras.

The title may derive from “Hamlet,” but this is one of the least stage-bound movies ever made.

As a debonair Madison Avenue executive mistaken for a U.S. intelligence agent by James Mason’s gang of murderous foreign spies, Cary Grant is hunted across a compass-spinning array of locations. He scurries from New York’s Plaza hotel and United Nations headquarters to the plains of Indiana, the forests of South Dakota and, most memorably, Mount Rushmore, where he and Eva Marie Saint, playing a blond Mata Hari, cling for dear life from what appears to be Abe Lincoln’s nostril.

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(Excerpts from McKellen’s diary appeared 1/17 in the Times of London–thanks to Pam Green for the alert.)

Ian McKellen's Waiting for Godot diary

The celebrated actor has written a diary throughout the hit production of Waiting for Godot. Here he reveals all

End of August 2009

When I came off on the last night, we were all going to have a celebratory drink in the dressing room, and I couldn’t. I went into a side room and just started crying. Sky TV was following the production in the Haymarket, and Sean [Mathias], the director, came in with the company manager. They’d got microphones on, because they were part of this filming, and so, although the camera wasn’t in there, you could hear this sobbing. It had been an absolutely joyous job.

When we’d suggested doing it, the Theatre Royal management had said, “Nobody wants to see Waiting for Godot.” As it happened, every single ticket was booked for every single performance, and this confirmation that our judgment was right was sweet. Audiences came to us from all over the world. It was amazing.

(Read more)

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(Philip Boroff's article appeared on Bloomberg 1/16.)

Kennedy Center, Clooney, Madonna Lead Arts Response to Haiti

Mobilizing for Haitian earthquake relief, the U.S. arts and entertainment communities scheduled two major fundraisers for next Friday.

“Hope for Haiti” will be broadcast on CBS, ABC, NBC, HBO and others and feature musical performances and celebrities in New York and Los Angeles. Actor George Clooney will co-host the commercial-free, two-hour telethon presented by Viacom’s MTV Networks, along with Wyclef Jean, the Haitian-born singer, and CNN’s Anderson Cooper.

(Read more)

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(Charles Isherwood's article appeared in the New York Times, 1/14.)


Detailed Reflections, Verbal and Visual


The soapbox is fully present, in the form of a couple of nondescript wooden blocks, but the speakers are more like specters in “Ads,” a boundary-pushing curio from the theatrical auteur Richard Maxwell at Performance Space 122, a co-presentation of the Coil festival and the Under the Radar smorgasbord of forward-looking theater.

Mr. Maxwell, a downtown writer and director with a distinctive deadpan aesthetic, has been tinkering with the standard theatrical recipe throughout his career, creating plays that do not try to simulate “reality” by employing the usual naturalistic methods. He takes a leap further here, essentially removing the live performer from the equation in this odd, quiet and affecting work. We watch videotaped images of men and women who step up onto that soapbox — or rather appear to — to offer their musings on the state of culture, the state of their minds and any number of other subjects circling loosely around the notion of beliefs.

(Read more)

(Richard Maxwell's work is represented in DUO!:  THE BEST SCENES FOR TWO FOR THE 21ST CENTURY from Applause Theatre and Cinema Books.)

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