Monthly Archives: February 2015



(Maria Ivanova’s article appeared in Russia Beyond the Headlines, 2/21.)

During the 20th century, the name of Russia became almost synonymous with that of the circus: Soviet trapeze artists, clowns and acrobats were renowned for their skill and artistry, and numerous circus acts toured the United States under the name “The Moscow Circus,” bringing Russian circus to global prominence.

Yet the history of the enduring love affair between Russia and the circus goes back almost a thousand years, to the appearance in the 11th century of the skomorokh, a kind of wandering minstrel-cum-clown: They sang, danced, did conjuring tricks and performed comical scenes.

Later, skomorokhy were replaced by show booths erected during fairs and other public celebrations. It was there that some of the routines that later became standard fare at latter-day circuses were first performed: strong men lifting weights, acrobats swinging on a trapeze, gymnasts walking on their hands



(Natalie Haynes’s article appeared in the Guardian, 2/27.)

It is a vintage time for those of us who like our theatre with multiple murders, suicides and the occasional enucleation. Greek tragedy is everywhere: in the last few months, Medea has ravaged the National Theatre, Electra has filled the Old Vic; the RSC will be producing Hecuba (the most popular Greek tragedy in Shakespeare’s time) later this year, and a condensed Oresteia will be at the Globe in September. But perhaps the most intriguing tragedy of them all is about to open at the Barbican, with Ivo van Hove directing Juliette Binoche in a new translation by Anne Carson of Sophocles’s Antigone, a play about a sister who values her dead brothers more than her life.

Antigone is the older daughter of Oedipus and Jocasta. A child cursed by her bloodline, she is both daughter and sister to Oedipus, daughter and granddaughter to Jocasta. Oedipus curses his offspring at the end of Oedipus the King. But he scarcely needs to bother – the curse is already flowing through all four of his children. His two sons grow up, expected to share the task of ruling Thebes. But they cannot: one brother refuses to give up the crown, the other masses a foreign army and declares war on his own city. They kill each other in single combat, leaving their uncle, Creon (Jocasta’s brother), to take over as king. This is where Sophocles’s play begins.


(Roslyn Sulcas’s article appeared in The New York Times, 2/13; via Pam Green.)

An exhibition celebrating 40 years of theater in London and New York will be shown in both cities in 2016, Boris Johnson, the mayor of London, will announce on Friday at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.

The exhibition, provisionally titled “Curtain Up!,” is a collaboration between the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, the Society of London Theater and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. The show will mark the 40th anniversary of the Olivier Awards, the British equivalent of the Tonys.

“Curtain Up!” will be designed by Tom Piper, who won accolades (and a Master of the British Empire honor from the Queen) for his recent installation of ceramic poppies at the Tower of London, as part of Britain’s program of World War I centenary tributes.


(Ron Charles’s article appeared in the Washington Post, 2/26.)

In the words of King Lear, today we learn “who loses and who wins; who’s in, who’s out.”

The Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington has selected the sites for its most ambitious exhibition ever: a traveling tour of First Folios that will stop in every state, Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico. Marking the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death (#SHX400), the 2016 tour has been designed in partnership with the Cincinnati Museum Center and the American Library Association.

Hundreds of hopeful libraries, museums, historical societies and other cultural venues submitted applications for a chance to host a free four-week display of a First Folio from the Folger’s incomparable collection. This morning, the winners, “chosen from above,/ By inspiration of celestial grace,” were announced. (See full list below. Exact dates for each stop will be announced this spring.) 


(Hedy Weiss’s article appeared in The Chicago Sun-Times, 2/25.)

Enter The Den Theatre, where director Halena Kays has staged a unique and wonderful production of Samuel Beckett’s “Endgame” for The Hypocrites, and you really have to wonder just what she and her uncannily gifted cohorts are up to.

The whole place has been turned into a French cabaret, complete with pop chansons playing in the background as the audience takes its seats at candy-colored counters. Delicate hanging dioramas, clotheslines of colorful banners, heart-strewn streamers and party hats decorate the space, creating a festive atmosphere that easily conjures a sense of  joie de vivre.




(Ben Brantley’s article appeared in The New York Times, 2/19; via Pam Green.)

The lyricist Lorenz Hart, a star-struck cynic on the subject of human coupling, regularly itemized the painful symptoms that accompany affairs of the heart, like “the sleepless nights, the daily fights/The quick toboggan when you reach the heights.” And as most of us can testify, love isn’t easy under the best of circumstances.

But few lovers-in-waiting (and waiting and waiting) encounter the kind of obstacles with which an assortment of knotty dramas, comedies and even musicals are blocking the path to happily bedded bliss this season. In recent months, we have encountered the problems posed to enduring love by immortality (as in the vampire-girl-meets-bullied-boy play “Let the Right One In” at St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn), mortal illness (in the wrenching two-character “Constellations”) and being part of a set of conjoined twins (in the musical “Side Show”).

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(Michael Billington’s article appeared in the Guardian, 2/26.)

“My method,” Bernard Shaw once said, “is founded upon music.” So it seems fitting that Simon Godwin’s modern-dress revival of this epic comedy should open with John Tanner, played by Ralph Fiennes, choosing a track from Don Giovanni on Desert Island Discs and end on a note of Mozartian ecstasy. What we see, in the intervening three-and-a-half hours, is akin to spoken opera.

At first, I had doubts about Godwin’s updating. The comedy of the first two acts depends heavily on Shaw’s exposure of social hypocrisy and reversal of theatrical conventions. He was, after all, writing in 1901-03 when Tanner’s revolutionary ideas, as well as the notion of an unmarried woman getting pregnant, might have seemed faintly shocking: today we take them in our stride. In the second act we see Tanner fleeing by car to Spain to escape the clutches of the pursuing heroine, Ann Whitefield. But the joke about the chauffeur who is wiser than his employer belongs to a period in which other comedies, including JM Barrie’s The Admirable Crichton, pointed up the helpless dependency of the rich.


(Peter Crawley’s article appeared in the Irish Times, 2/24.

It may be best to know as little as possible before going to Sea Wall, a play that, at its most profound, is about how little we know. Yet it will spoil nothing to say that Simon Stephens’ short and perfectly-formed play from 2008 is all held in one moment, related to us by its speaker in deceptively throwaway terms. 

On holiday in France, with his wife and his young daughter, Alex goes swimming with his father-in-law out to the sea wall: “This makes no sense to me at all. There’s a wall in the sea? It drops down. Hundreds of feet… I thought it was a gradual slope.” Floating over the abyss, the fall beneath “is as terrifying as anything I’ve ever seen”. It’s a small, life-changing realisation. The world can never be the same again. 

Fans of the great screen actor Andrew Scott, for whom the play was written, may be alarmed to discover that he has been replaced for this out-of-term Dublin Theatre Festival presentation – at short notice and with little warning – by Andrew Scott the extraordinary stage actor. They look quite similar, but they have fantastically different methods.


(Charles Isherwood’s article appeared in The New York Times, 2/22; via Pam Green.)

A show about the brutal murder of a 14-year-old boy should not, logically speaking, leave you beaming with joy. And yet that’s the paradoxical effect of “The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey,” a superlative solo show at Dixon Place written and performed by James Lecesne, himself a pretty darn dazzling beacon of theatrical talent.

Please, one-person-show haters — you know who you are, and you are legion — don’t stop reading. Mr. Lecesne, a young-looking 60, who has been “telling stories for over 25 years,” as his bio modestly puts it, ranks among the most talented solo performers of his (or any) generation. His is not one of those here’s-what-happened-to-me-and-isn’t-it-fascinating feasts of oversharing that proliferate on small stages.



(Alfred Hickling’s article appeared in the Guardian, 2/24.)

Anna Jordan’s Bruntwood prize-winning play takes place in a filthy flat where 16-year-old Hench and his 13-year-old brother Bobby live alone gawping at video games and violent porn while taking turns to wear the single T-shirt in their possession. There’s no adult supervision, though their mother occasionally shambles over from her latest boyfriend’s place and announces her arrival by passing out in a diabetic coma.

It’s the kind of grim, beneath-the-breadline scenario in which you think you know what you’re in for – until the transformative appearance of Jennifer, a practical, animal-loving Welsh girl who shows concern for the brothers’ neglected dog (named Taliban “because he’s vicious … and brown”). Bearing plastic toys, bargain buckets of fish fingers and a wisdom in excess of her years, she succeeds in taming both Taliban and his semi-feral owners.