(Michael Feingold’s article appeared in the Village Voice, 11/14.)
In a sense, Chekhov had to invent his own peculiar method—"peculiar" meaning both distinctly odd as well as distinctively individual—that gives his work its lasting value. He clearly understood the rules of conventional playwriting, but, as his early play Ivanov (1887) demonstrates, he instinctively resisted obeying them. Ibsen, the playwright of highest stature in the period just before Chekhov, had found ways to adhere to the French "well-made play" form while infusing it with deeper psychology and higher meaning. Chekhov, in contrast, had to fragment it. In The Seagull and the three other masterpieces that followed it, he built mosaics of minute detail, under which the form's rigid outlines are only dimly glimpsed, like some half-buried memory, splintered and ironized beyond recall.
(Ben Brantley’s article appeared in The New York Times, 11/12; video from the production in the UK.)
The temperature never stops rising in Yael Farber’s “Mies Julie,” a play for which “scorcher” is way too mild a description. This inspired South African adaptation of Strindberg’s “Miss Julie,” which opened on Monday night at the newly relocated St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn, begins with smoke rising from the stage and a thrumming music that suggests the noise inside your head when you have a high fever.
(Charles Spencer’s article appeared in the Telegraph, 11/8.)
At 78, Alan Bennett has lost little of his mischievous wit and sense of the ridiculous. His eagerly awaited new comedy, People, may not be out of the top drawer of his work, lacking the emotional depth and sly subtlety of his best writing, but it is entertaining, funny and touching.
In his preface to the published text, Bennett describes People, with characteristic diffidence, as a “play for England, sort of”, and as so often he finds much to grumble about. He firmly fingers the Thatcherite Eighties as the period in which Britain took a wrong turning, when “everything had a price and if it didn’t… it didn’t have a value”. But he also has a pop at the National Trust, an institution I am sure many of his core audience revere. His highly sympathetic heroine characterises it as a “pretend England… so decent, so worthy, so dull”, and likens it to the Anglican Church with the “sacrament of coffee and walnut cake”.
Tuminas preserves every word of Chekhov's text. But nothing looks or sounds as we expect. The stage is free of clutter, although we glimpse a distant prospect of a stone lion symbolising Petersburg. Characters are also vividly redefined: the Professor and his young wife, Elena, whose rural visit causes so much havoc, are normally seen as tragically mismatched; here they clearly still enjoy an actively rumbustious sex-life and, when Vanya tries to shoot the old Prof, Elena is the first to interpose her body. And for all his ecological fervour, the visiting doctor, Astrov, is also a drunken buffoon who, in his cups, engages in a disastrous bit of DIY carpentry with the Chaplinesque Waffles. Meanwhile, Vanya's niece, Sonya, is no dowdy frump but a young girl whose passion for the doctor verges on hysteria.
(Ben Brantley’s article appeared in The New York Times, 11/7.)
I don’t know about you, but I spent election night with my family. I experienced that childlike need, which so often seizes us in fraught times, to be among like-minded folks as anxious and uncertain as I am about, oh, the presidency, the hurricane, the decline of American civilization, our own sorry selves.
The Apples are not, for the record, my blood kin. But after spending both Tuesday night and the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks with them, I have come to feel as closely related to them as if we had grown up under the same roof. They annoy, tickle and inspire me; and they make me feel wanted and generous and unkind and guilty — and about as comfortable and uncomfortable at the same time as anybody can. As I said, they’re family.
(Michael Feingold’s article appeared in the Village Voice, 11/7.)
Idaho borders no ocean. But the apartment where Charlie (Shuler Hensley) lives and works, as an online tutor in English comp, is haunted, day and night, by the sound of crashing waves. An eighth grader's essay on Melville's Moby-Dick, or the Whale is one of Charlie's pet preoccupations. And another theme that has shaped his life turns out to be the Biblical story of Jonah and the whale, on which Melville's hero, Ishmael, hears a sermon early in the novel.
The whale imagery and its ghostly waves fit Charlie, the tragic hero of Samuel D. Hunter's vibrant, provocative new play, The Whale (Playwrights Horizons). Charlie himself is something of a whale. Weighing in at over 550 pounds, sleeping (and mostly living) on his couch because he can barely make his way into his bedroom, Charlie has been slowly eating himself to death for a dozen years, like a self-swallowing Jonah, or an Ahab who is the target of his own vengeance. His obvious love of literature, and of teaching, have become almost irrelevant, elements of a recurring dream that was meaningful back before Charlie's systematic move toward self-destruction.
(David Rooney’s article appeared in The New York Times, 11/6.)
It’s entirely in keeping with the infectious metatheatrical spirit of the Pearl Theater Company’s staging of “Figaro” that the actor Sean McNall blurs the line between the title character and this 18th-century comedy’s author, Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais, while blithely straddling the gulf separating pre-Revolution France from the present-day America.
“I took up my pen and wrote a book everyone admired that offered the modest suggestion that the rich should pay more tax than the poor, speculators should be responsible for their own losses and government ministers should not accept gifts from wealthy merchants,” Figaro explains toward the end of what he describes as “this dingy little farce.”
(Tim Walker’s article appeared in the Telegraph, 10/24.)
Rather in the way that Mohammed looked upon his mountain, Londoners tend to take the view that theatre, if it is any good, will, sooner or later, come to them. The corollary, of course, is that everything playing in the capital is touched by greatness. Suffice it to say that a show has opened in the city called Loserville.
A few days earlier, and without fanfare, the curtain went up in York on The Guinea Pig Club. It’s a new play by Susan Watkins about the pioneering plastic surgery and psychological support that the New Zealand-born physician Sir Archibald McIndoe gave to the RAF airmen who were horrifically injured during the war.
Damian Cruden’s production glows with fine, old-fashioned virtues: the story of the so-called “guinea pigs” is compelling, but also educational; it celebrates our country and the human spirit; and the members of the ensemble, while they may not be big star names, have, for the most part, good, solid stage backgrounds and are eminently believable in their roles.
It has the virtue, too, of a writer who is passionate about her subject, and with good reason. Sid Watkins – Susan’s husband, who died a couple of weeks after the play started rehearsals – was the neurosurgeon whose work with Formula One racing built upon what Sir Archibald had begun.
(O'Toole's article appeared in Bomb magazine, Spring 1998.)
Martin McDonagh, born in London of Irish parents, is one of the most startling and prolific contemporary playwrights. At 27, he has had four new plays open in Ireland and England in the last two years. His Leenane Trilogy—The Beauty Queen of Leenane, A Skull in Connemara and The Lonesome West—was staged together by the Druid Theatre of Galway, and at the Royal Court in London. The first play of another trilogy, The Cripple of Inishmaan, was produced by the British National Theater. One play from each trilogy—The Beauty Queen and The Cripple—is being produced in New York this spring at The Public Theater and the Atlantic Theater. Though McDonagh grew up in London, all of these plays are set in the west of Ireland and are written in an Irish idiom. The combination of a pastiche of rural Irish forms and a displaced urban sensibility gives his work a dark, violent, and very funny edge. This interview was done in February in a coffee shop in Manhattan. He had just returned from a trip to Australia, where the Druid production of the Leenane Trilogy had been on tour.
Fintan O’Toole You tend to avoid interviews. Do they make you uncomfortable?
Martin McDonagh It’s kind of scary to analyze my plays like this now, because I didn’t do it before I started writing. The whole premise of interviews frightens me. I’ve said that to you before, I didn’t do self-analysis before I started writing, I’m not doing it much now. I’m doing it more than I should, even though I don’t want to. And not because I choose to, but because this whole process of having to publicize something forces you into these kinds of situations. I’m never unhappy doing them. I’m not unhappy doing this, I’m just tired. You have to either not do it, or stop whinging about it. I’m not whinging about it now. (laughter) But the whole self-analysis, for me, goes against the grain of everything I want to do. I never thought about any of this stuff before I wrote the plays, and I think they’re quite good plays. I think just going on like that is the best way to achieve that process again, to go on without over analyzing.