Monthly Archives: December 2016


(Hedy Weiss’s article appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times, 12/15.)

He calls himself an “Expert in the Field of General Merchandise.” And to watch him hawk second-hand brassieres to passersby on the Coney Island boardwalk — with his “shop” located inside his tattered overcoat, whose pockets are filled with other trinkets, and pieces of candy — is to see a master at work. True, he barely manages to make a nickel, but no one would argue with the fact that he is an artist — a salesman whose innate theatrical instincts are a wondrous combination of King Lear and Borscht Belt comic.

nd there you have it — Matty Selman’s exquisitely written one-man (three character) play, “Uncle Philip’s Coat,”  first produced in New York in 1998, and only now receiving a wondrous Chicago premiere. Why did it take so long? Probably because very few actors could pull this work off with the sort of brilliance and heart-wrenching truthfulness that veteran Chicago actor Gene Weygandt is now bringing to the story. The production, part of the ongoing Solo Celebration series at The Greenhouse Theater Center, is masterful in every way, and clearly Weygandt and his director, Elizabeth Margolius, felt a specially affinity for this tale, which is being told so beautifully.

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(Deborah Swift’s article appeared on English Historical Fiction Writers, 12/18; via Pam Green.)

In Shakespeare’s Day it was more usual to give gifts at New Year, but if you were lucky you might receive one at Christmas. Christmas gifts were known as Christmas Boxes and were usually given by a master to his servants, or an employer to his apprentices or workmen. They were a mark of appreciation for work done over the previous year.

New Year’s gifts were a more equal exchange between friends or relations.

So what might you expect in a Tudor christmas stocking?

Maria Hubert in her book “Christmas in Shakespeare’s England” suggests that Shakespeare might have enjoyed receiving paper as it was very expensive, a new quill pen, or a knife with which to sharpen it.

ell in Shakespeare’s “The Winter’s Tale” a pedlar is selling:

Lawn as white as driven snow,

Cyprus black as e’er was crow,

Gloves as sweet as damask roses;

Masks for faces and for noses,

Bugle bracelet, necklace amber,

Perfume for a lady’s chamber;

Golden quoifs and stomachers

For my lads to give their dears.”

Elizabeth herself had a liking for candies and sugar fruits. The Sergeant of the Pastry (what a great title!) gave her a christmas ‘pye of quynses and wardyns guilt’. In other words a gilded pie of quince and plums.

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(Susannah Clapp’s article appeared in the Observer, 12/18.)

Last year Robert Icke made Oresteia the most compelling drama in London. Now he stages Mary Stuart, written in 1800, to explosive effect. Schiller’s play has been stripped back, rewired. Icke’s adaptation is sculptural, rich and incisive. Hildegard Bechtler’s bare, round design creates an arena in which characters try to break out of circular arguments. Juliet Stevenson and Lia Williams are mighty.

The dare of these actresses. Mary Stuart deals with the relation between Mary and Elizabeth I, and centres on an imaginary meeting between them. Stevenson and Williams go on stage each night not knowing who is to be Mary and who Elizabeth. That is determined in front of the audience by the spin of a coin – presumably a sovereign.

Not a gimmick but an insight. There is nothing logical or inevitable about who ends up in power. And these queens are two sides of one coin: Catholic and Protestant; lover and virgin. Mary is in prison, but the crown is also “a prison cell with jewels”: it takes free will from the woman who wears it.

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Photo: TImeout


(Lyndsey Winship’s article appeared in the Guardian, 12/14.)

From the first swish of a lime-green, sequinned fishtail skirt to the megawatt smiles of ambitious girl group the Dreamettes and the shiny suits of their manager, a former Cadillac salesman, Dreamgirls is a musical full of sparkle. It’s less about the grit and sweat of the struggle to the top, more a fantastically entertaining ride on the showbiz rollercoaster, accompanied by some brilliantly belting voices.

Casey Nicholaw (Aladdin, The Book of Mormon) directs the UK premiere, 35 years after the original Broadway show by Henry Krieger and Tom Eyen, which was adapted for a 2006 film starring Jamie Foxx and Beyoncé Knowles. The story follows a wide-eyed trio hoping to harmonise their way to stardom. Their talented lead singer, Effie (Glee’s Amber Riley), is sidelined when pretty, pop-friendly Deena (Liisi LaFontaine) is chosen to front the group. It’s clearly inspired by the real story of Diana Ross and the Supremes. Its weakness, sadly, is that the songs are nowhere near as good as the Supremes’ hits. But what it does have is tremendous energy and pace, crammed with snappy numbers and tight, slick 60s routines.

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(Smith’s article appeared in the New Yorker, 12/14.)

I was born in Chicago on December 30, 1946, within the vortex of a huge snowstorm. My father had to help the taxi-driver navigate Lake Shore Drive with the windows wide open, while my mother was in labor. I was a scrawny baby, and my father worked to keep me alive, holding me over a steamy washtub to help me breathe. I will think of them both when I step on the stage of the Riviera Theatre, in Chicago, on my seventieth birthday, with my band, and my son and daughter.

Despite the emotionally wrenching atmosphere that has engulfed us during the Presidential election, I have tried to spend December immersed in positive work, tending to the needs of my family, and preparations for the new year. But, before Chicago, I had yet to perform a last important duty for 2016. In September, I was approached to sing at the Nobel Prize ceremony, honoring the laureate for literature, who was then unknown. It would be a few days in Stockholm, in a beautiful hotel, overlooking the water—an honorable opportunity to shine, contemplate, and write. I chose one of my songs that I deemed appropriate to perform with the orchestra.

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(Ben Brantley’s article appeared in The New York Times, 12/7.)

Whenever a certain flicker — of curiosity, recognition and bone-deep affinity — lights up the gaze of the woman who calls herself Sugar, brace yourself for a good (and good is the word) cry. You can first spot that wakening flame in the opening minutes of “Tiny Beautiful Things,” the handkerchief-soaking meditation on pain, loss, hope and forgiveness that opened on Wednesday night at the Public Theater.

At that point, a professional writer who is also a mother of two has just agreed, via phone, to be the agony aunt for an unpaid online advice column called “Dear Sugar.” Portrayed by Nia Vardalos, the newly anointed Sugar finds her toy-cluttered kitchen and living room invaded by a multitude of voices, embodied by three performers who circle her like wandering satellites.

Questions pour out of them, about being seasick and about being spied on (by the widow next door), about needing money and about having an eighth-grade science class partner who picks his nose. But it’s the guy who identifies himself as “Confused” who causes Sugar to open her eyes wider and really, really focus.

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(James Barron’s article appeared in The New York Times, 12/7; via Pam Green.)

“I’m a pretty good detective,” Jane Klain said, but she is no badge-wielding, revolver-packing gumshoe. She is in charge of research services for a museum.

The latest product of her sleuthing was playing on a computer on the desk behind her — a 104-minute performance of “The Glass Menagerie” starring Shirley Booth, Hal Holbrook and Barbara Loden that was broadcast 50 years ago. As far as anyone knew, the master videotape was lost.

Ms. Klain, who works for the Paley Center for Media, formerly the Museum of Broadcasting and the Museum of Television and Radio, is always on the lookout for lost programs that are sought by scholars and biographers. Late last year, she noticed a one-line listing that led to four forgotten reels of videotape at the University of Southern California — the raw footage from which the original master tape of “The Glass Menagerie” was assembled.

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Previews begin Dec. 22. Opens Dec. 25.

God of Vengeance

New Yiddish Rep revives Sholem Asch’s controversial drama, which ran on Broadway in 1923 and inspired the new Paula Vogel play “Indecent.” In Yiddish, with English supertitles.


La Mama



In previews. Opens Dec. 13.

His Royal Hipness Lord Buckley

Jake Broder wrote and stars in this tribute to the mid-century comedian, who drew on bebop rhythms to create an outré countercultural persona.




In previews. Opens Dec. 11.

In Transit

This new a-cappella musical, directed by Kathleen Marshall and written by Kristen Anderson-Lopez, James-Allen Ford, Russ Kaplan, and Sara Wordsworth, traces the intertwining lives of New York commuters.


Circle in the Square



Opens Dec. 14.

Martin Luther on Trial

Fellowship for Performing Arts presents this play by Chris Cragin-Day and Max McLean, in which Luther’s wife defends him against the Devil, and the witnesses include Hitler, Freud, and…





In previews. Opens Dec. 12.


David Oyelowo plays the title role in Sam Gold’s production of the Shakespeare tragedy, opposite Daniel Craig’s Iago.


New York Theatre Workshop


In previews.

The Present

Cate Blanchett and Richard Roxburgh star in the Sydney Theatre Company production of Andrew Upton’s play, based on an early Chekhov work (known as “Platonov”) and directed by…


Ethel Barrymore



In previews. Opens Dec. 13.

The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart

The National Theatre of Scotland stages this immersive musical fable at the home of “Sleep No More,” transforming its speakeasy space, the Heath, into a Scottish pub.


McKittrick Hotel


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(Ben Brantley’s article appeared in the  New York Times, 12/12.)

“I am your own forever.” When these words are uttered in the electrifying new production of “Othello,” which opened on Monday night at the New York Theater Workshop, you feel you’ve heard the most frightening vow ever spoken. It is delivered at the end of the first half of a performance that is drawn in lightning. 

The speaker is a soldier, Iago by name, played by Daniel Craig; the object of his ardent declaration is his general, Othello, portrayed by David Oyelowo. Their faces are as close as clasped hands, foreheads pressed hard together as if in some ungodly mind meld. 

By that moment, you have come to know these men intimately. You understand exactly how they’ve arrived at such a moment of communion and exactly where they’re headed. As presented by two actors at the top of their game, in a marriage made in both heaven and hell, the story of Othello and Iago could not possibly end otherwise than it does.

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(Anthony Gockowki’s article appeared in Campus Reform, 12/12.)

Students at the University of Pennsylvania removed a portrait of Shakespeare from a prominent location in the school’s English department after complaining that he did not represent a diverse range of writers.

In fact, the chair of the department confirmed in a statement that the portrait was stripped from the wall by his students as “a way of affirming their commitment to a more inclusive mission for the English department,” The Daily Pennsylvanian reports.

Additionally, Department Chair Jed Esty explained that the portrait was “delivered” to his office and replaced with a photograph of Audre Lorde, a celebrated African American feminist and author, in a move that was intended to send a message to Esty, whose department agreed to replace the portrait several years ago.

Esty went on to confirm that the portrait of Lorde will remain in Shakespeare’s place until he and his colleagues can reach an agreement on what to do next, announcing the establishment of a “working group” to help monitor the process.

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