Monthly Archives: June 2018

THE LOST STORY OF JAMES JOYCE’S DAUGHTER AS A PARISIAN DANCER ·

(Deirdre Mulrooney’s article appeared in The Irish Times, 6/21.)

James Joyce’s daughter Lucia was a remarkable dancer – something that has been buried in her troubled historye

Lucia Joyce, born to James Joyce and Nora Barnacle in Trieste in 1907, has captured the imagination of many writers and artists as tragic muse. Film-makers, dramatists and novelists have projected everything from Mills & Boon-style narratives where the real protagonists are famous male writers – Samuel Beckett, one of Joyce’s many boyfriends; and her father – for whom she is just a bridge, to unfounded stories of incest and child abuse, to comic-strip extravaganzas.

How did Lucia get to be such a supine, empty space? Apart from Carol Loeb Shloss’s groundbreaking and controversial 2003, biography Lucia Joyce: To Dance in the Wake, you don’t hear much about the facts of Joyce the dancer, who once declared in exasperation, “C’est moi qui est l’artiste,” or “It’s me who’s the artist.” I’m most intrigued by Lucia Joyce the artist in her own right, of whom the Paris Times remarked, in 1928: “When she reaches her full capacity for rhythmic dancing, James Joyce may yet be known as his daughter’s father.”

With her impressive avant-garde dance training, Joyce would have had a lot to contribute to the Abbey Theatre Ballets

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TUNES WITH NO SHOW: THE SONGS CUT OUT OF MUSICALS, FROM FOLLIES TO HAMILTON ·

(Chris Wiegand’s article appeared in the Guardian, 6/19.)

Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamildrops project gives his leftover lyrics a new life. What happens to other songs dropped from musicals – and how do their creators feel about them?

 ‘Good songs find a way’ … Trevor Dion Nicholas as the Genie in Aladdin; Lin-Manuel Miranda in Hamilton; and Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, starring John McCrea. Composite: Deen van Meer/Getty Images/Johan Persson

When Hamilton opened in London last year, many in the audience already knew its songs inside out. The 2015 Broadway recording of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s smash hit – about the US founding father who will not throw away his shot – had long since gone triple platinum. With 46 tracks, it boasts more songs than most musicals; the off-Broadway track list was even longer. But Miranda still had leftover lyrics – and the feverish love for his show means new Hamilton material is still being released three years after its New York debut.

Remixes, covers and demos appeared on the Hamilton Mixtape in 2016 and this year Miranda has been putting out fresh Hamilton-related tracks every month as part of his Hamildrops series, which he kicked off with a song – and character – he cut from the show. He had written “Decemberists-esque lyrics” to be sung by Ben Franklin but that founding father was deemed superfluous to the story. Miranda later sent the lyrics to Decemberists frontman Colin Meloy and they collaborated on Ben Franklin’s Song (opening line: “Electricity … Yeah, you can all thank me”). Hamilton fans were duly electrified.

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BOOK RAVE: ‘FIELD OF BLOOD, A MODERN WESTERN’ BY WAYNE ALLENSWORTH, ENDEAVOUR MEDIA (REPRESENTATION: MARIT LITERARY AGENCY) ·

Chilton Williamson Jr., at Chronicles Magazine writes:

Field of Blood is one of the best new novels I have read in many a yeara superbly written book by a Russian scholar and analyst who is also a careful artist, a stylist, and a poet in prose and in form who has accomplished what few essayists and nonfiction authors ever succeed at: mastering, with apparent effortlessness, the craft of fiction. . . .

“The novel is a considerable literary achievement as well as an appalling prophetic vision of contemporary America, and of the modern world.  I can think of no more pessimistic view bound between covers, yet the pessimism compels the reader and pulls him in rather than putting him off. . . .

This is a true, and terribly beautiful, novel by an artist of considerable ability. . . worthy of comparison with some of the best American works of fiction in recent times.. . .”  

[Field of Blood: A Modern Western, by Wayne Allensworth (London: Endeavour Media) 213 pp., $7.99]

Allensworth has previously received the following quote:

“Wayne Allensworth provides a powerful and moving meditation on American modernity–part gritty action yarn, part compassionating polemic, part evisceration of spiritual emptiness. Across his grand, boldly-coloured landscapes, confused prisoners of circumstances kill or are killed, while republics and civilizations bleed in and out of each other, and everyone and everywhere is compromised”–Derek Turner, author of Sea Changes, Displacement, and A Modern Journey  

Visit Amazon: [Field of Blood: A Modern Western, by Wayne Allensworth (London: Endeavour Media) 213 pp., $7.99]

Visit Chronicles Magazine

Chronicles entire review

Credit: Wayne Allensworth photo (c) 2017 by Elizabeth Allensworth Merino.  All rights reserved.

TEA WITH TANIA FISHER: ACTOR, WRITER, PRODUCER ·

By Lori Beedsler    

As I look out to the glorious Manhattan skyline, watching the clouds and the sun play their own personal tug of war, I am sitting patiently in a semi-quiet midtown café, waiting to meet up with Tania Fisher.  It’s been years since we last saw one other in person.  We first met in an Italian restaurant in Melbourne, Australia, where, as a lowly British immigrant, I studied journalism and worked part-time as a waitress.  I recognized Fisher from popular TV shows (which made it to England) and TV commercials, daring to strike up conversation with her.  It turned out I needn’t have been so cautious.  She was courteous and generous with her time, despite my interrupting her meal with friends.

For those who don’t know Fisher, she’s been a familiar face on Australian TV for the past couple of decades.  Yet she struggled to make it. Her grandparents and parents immigrated to Australia from Italy after World War II, at a time when Australia was inviting Europeans to help their nation grow.  First generation Australian-born, she grew up in humble surroundings in the small town of Adelaide, in South Australia.  In her bilingual household, she grew accustomed to the immigrant mindset: “work hard, make money.”  Creativity and time for writing poetry, and putting on plays, was not encouraged.  Nevertheless, the sparkle of footlights and the words of Shakespeare and Oscar Wilde found their way into her heart.

She’s certainly not loud or brash, but heads turn as she casually pulls off her sunglasses and waves a hand over her hair to control some stray strands.  “You’re early!” she exclaims, giving away her Aussie accent.  I explain that I am neurotically early for everything, and she leans over to give me a warm hug.

Fisher blames her Australian upbringing for her frankness and her Italian heritage for her passion and hand gesturing during conversations. She also is not cagey about sharing her difficult upbringing:  the violence, abuse, and a general crushing of childhood dreams.  Perhaps her openness comes from the fact that she has been working on a play and a book to cathartically expel some of the hurts. Or, as she puts it, to “articulate the damage unbalanced family dynamics can have on a child, so that clarity can lead to knowledge, which in turn can lead to healing.”

She tells me she’s been “acting professionally for nearly thirty years.”  Then she winks and flashes a smile, whispering through her voluptuous lips, “which I know is impossible, given I’m only twenty-five.”  Yet, she has found time to work around the globe, having starred in Alan Bennett’s Kafka’s Dick at The Garrick Theatre in London.  As a film producer, Fisher has been to the Cannes Film Festival and acted in New York in theater and film.  She sits before me taking in the room and looking as impressed as I am by the view.  “My, ain’t she grand?” Tania exclaims.   

Her admiration for Jerry Lewis then comes up early in our conversation, as he always does. 

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CHEKHOV/FRAYN: ‘WILD HONEY’ WITH DAVID TENNANT (LISTEN NOW ON BBC RADIO 4—LINK BELOW) ·

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David Tennant stars in Michael Frayn’s brilliant adaptation of the riotous Chekhov comedy.

When Wild Honey was first produced at the National in 1984, Ian McKellan played Platonov at exactly the same age as David Tennant is now. It’s a rumbustious cornucopia of characters and themes covering sexual comedy, morality, melodramatics, the state of contemporary Russia and a hint of tragedy.

The play was famously discovered in a bank vault in 1920, sixteen years after Chekhov’s death – with the title page of the play missing, leading to its rather varied history of titles. The original piece was nearly six hours long and Michael Frayn has done a masterful job of turning the work into something quintessentially Checkhovian. Most critics agree that if it shows examples of Chekhov’s juvenilia – it also shows clear displays of what a genius he was to become.

Platonov himself is half Hamlet, half Benedict. A sharp and witty tongue – but somehow incapable of decision. Comedic with an underpinning of the tragic.

“I love everyone – and everyone loves me. I insult them, I treat them abominably – and they love me just the same!”

Village schoolmaster Platonov has it all – wit, intelligence, a comfortable and respectable life in provincial Russia, and the attentions of four beautiful women – one of whom is his devoted wife. As summer arrives and the seasonal festivities commence, the rapidly intensifying heat makes everyone giddy with sunlight, vodka and passion.

Platonov – What’s going to become of us all?
Anna – You seem just a tiny bit less married
Platonov – How are we going to survive our lives?
Anna – First of all by enjoying the fireworks.

And fireworks is what follows…..

Adapted by Michael Frayn

Produced and Directed by Clive Brill
A Brill production for BBC Radio 4.

Photo: BBC Radio 4

 

DE NIRO AND THE 2018 TONY AWARDS/‘IVANOV’ FROM MOSCOW’S STATE THEATRE OF NATIONS (REVIEW FROM NEW YORK) ·

By Bob Shuman

In a week where Robert De Niro’s curse out of Donald Trump received a standing ovation at the 2018 Tony Awards, Russian actor Evgeny Mironov, who immerses himself in the title character of Anton Chekhov’s Ivanovat New York City Center from June 14-17–notes, in a Playbill interview with Katie Labovitz, that “Art is above politics.” The two actors, who were not reacting to one other’s comments, emphasize a cultural distinction between the aesthetics of the two countries and raise a tortuous, ugly subject for both—the degree to and ways in which censorship is employed.  American theatre, where politics is a marketing hook (Trump as Julius Caesar at the Delacorte last summer, for example) does silence through marginalizing and ignoring even important work and artists, admonishing or condemning them for mistakes in liberal thinking—recall the careless lack of perspective in the title for The New York Times review of the Pearl’s 2016 A Taste of Honey; “She’s Having the Baby.  How Quaint.” Or consider the roughly half of American voters who would not concur with Mr. De Niro or even want their children to have to listen to him on such a subject on a night which largely celebrates musicals.  Maybe Russians are more accustomed to abrupt changes in the political climate than those in the West, which may help explain why De Niro has had trouble accepting a free election that happened over a year and a half ago.  Or is he just emissary of the unofficial censorship from the left?  Here’s a simple observation:  Why do reviews of plays, books, art, concentrate so heavily on divining an author’s politics, real or imagined—and passing judgment on them, instead of discussing the work itself?  Have we become a nation not of art aficionados, but of inspectors patrolling the slippery slope of political correctness?  Within the last year the BAM production of the Flemish director Ivo van Hove’s conflicted dramatic interpretation of Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead, a novel he shamefully admires—but without him, without his standing in the artistic community, without his being native to another country, where would Objectivism, akin to Conservatism, have a chance to be contemplated on stage in this country?  Chekhov, of course, talks about the need to shift cultural perspectives through his character Konstantin, in The Seagull.  Perhaps, he is right to impute that a cultural collision is necessary to shake up prevailing artistic norms.

Ivanov (Mironov), the title character in the new Theatre of Nations production, brought to the U.S. as part of the Cherry Orchard Festival, would never be deemed politically correct, much less producible, if written by an American playwright, although the current settings and costumes are contemporary. This may upset the paradigm of understanding the playwright’s work in terms of needing to see him as part of Old Russia: fading, if grandiose; but Ivanov himself, plagued by financial crises and alcohol abuse, a dying wife he doesn’t love (Chulpan Khamatova), and a young woman he is attracted to (Elizaveta Boyarskaya) would also not win him much sympathy with the #MeToo Movement or raise much interest in the shrinking men’s market (a work with similar themes by Derek Ahonen of the Amoralists, The Qualification of Douglas Evans, did not make much impact in 2014).  Such a character is not unknown in the American vernacular, however; he’s just more akin to others who have had their day, like those in the writings of John Updike and John Cheever.  All of the actors—part of Ivanov’s family and social circle–need mention, though, because of their stamina throughout the evening (three hours and ten minutes, performed in Russian with English surtitles) and the complexity of their performances: Viktor Verzhbitskiy, Igor Gordin, Natalya Pavlenkova, Dmitry Serdyuk, Alexander Novin, Marianna Shults, Olga Lapshina, Aleksey Kalinin, Ilya Orshanskiy, Irina Gordina, and Andrey Andreev

Oleg Golovko’s settings for the play also inadvertently recall the American 1970’s—his decor is at first heavy, unmatched patterns and drywall, perhaps brutalist, reminiscent of paneling and prefab, pre-Martha Stewart. Elsewhere he recreates a dacha lit by candlelight (and sparklers), a utilitarian doctor’s office devoid of personality, except overseen by a large kitschy painting of a German Shepherd, and the back room of a wedding hall—the amplified lighting, using fluorescents, is by Denis Solntsev. Chekhov shows that Ivanov is despondent (“When I’m depressed, I fall out of love with you”), but that seems like a bad excuse for his transgressions.  Audiences are not asked to ascertain a minimal production, though; a current, cost-effective mode. The cast has also apparently been given time to move beyond telegraphing and shortcuts, to think past the next line or plot point.  They work naturalistically to achieve independent characters, arriving at fullness: the condition of entropy just before chaos.  Whether the credit should be given to the actors or to the director, Timofey Kulyabin, or all, the emphasis rests on accumulations of behaviors, quite detailed. Examples include the twirling of a plate on a tabletop or clapping the hands of a partner in a birthday dance, or doing chin-ups, or kissing hands—the depth of specific touches may be missed by the audience and some might never be known.  Whether they have been improvised or consciously blocked, Stanislavski is noting them.

Evgeny Mironov’s appraisal of art as above politics registers with a purity to American ears who have come to believe that art is only politics.  Internationally, there is much to be learned regarding fine art from other cultures, beyond the American status quo.  Domestically, though, art is not politically balanced and has been appropriated propagandistically.  There is work to see, but the American theatremaker has largely been abandoned by the right—to the point where his or her art can be demonized, if it can even be visualized at all.  During the time of year where lists are compiled about winning dramatic works, accolades are one-sided and incomplete.  Theatre does not have a Regnery, the publisher of Conservative books, to provide any kind of balance.  To a liberal, that may come as a relief on different levels, but it does not show the world the true range of possibilities for finding our own Chekhov, no matter his or her political affiliation.  One way Americans can start to confront this matter, as the #MeToo Movement raises its voice, is to allow someone, like Jon Voight, who, incidentally, played Trigorin in The Seagull on Broadway, to be part of the Tony ceremonies next year.  Part of becoming nonpartisan regarding the arts–and coming to a reckoning with the past–is to acknowledge how partisan they actually are.  

Update, 6/18:  In an apparent answer to Robert De Niro’s Tony performance,  Chris Perez, in The New York Post reported, on June 18, that a Trump supporter tried to disrupt the curtain call of the musical Bronx Tale, directed by Mr. De Niro, on June 16, by standing to display a  Trump 2020 campaign flag.

© by Bob Shuman. All rights reserved.

(Photos by Sergei Petrov–from top: Ensemble;  l. to r. Chulpan Khamatova and Dmitry Serdyuk; Elizaveta Boyarskaya and Evgeny Mironov; Ivanov Evgeny Mironov at table.)

 

***** ROTIMI BABATUNDE: ‘THE SECRET LIVES OF BABA SEGI’S WIVES’ REVIEW – A SWAGGERING SPECTACULAR ·

(Arifa Akbar’s article appeared in the Guardian, 6/14.)

Nuanced, charismatic performances … Marcy Dolapo Oni and Patrice Naiambana in The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives. Photograph: Tristram Kenton for the Guardian

“Sir, you will deposit your sperm inside,” a hospital nurse instructs Baba Segi as she hands him a beaker. He – a polygamist and paradigm of chauvinistic braggadocio – insists he does not need a fertility test and that it is his fourth wife who needs to be examined, for “barrenness”.

He is told to leave his deposit in the container anyway, and with that begins a masturbation scene of such epic and eye-wateringly Rabelaisian proportions that it becomes the definitive show-stopping moment in a production filled to the brim with sexual swagger and sensational daring.

Based on Lola Shoneyin’s bestselling 2011 novel, the play is set in an enclave of modern-day Nigeria where tribal custom and witchcraft still rub up against rationality and science. Ostensibly about polygamy in old Africa, it is a far more universal story of the shifting power-play inside a marriage and sexual envy between women. When the youngest and most educated wife, Bolanle (Marcy Dolapo Oni), enters the scene, the other three plot murderous schemes against her, like Macbeth’s witches. This adaptation by the award-winning writer Rotimi Babatunde captures the complicated gender dynamics: his rampant misogyny, their occasional misandry, and the quiet, subversive power they wield inside his household.

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ANTIOCH SHAKESPEARE FESTIVAL: JOHN LITHGOW, ROBIN LITHGOW, AND TONY DALLAS ·

(from the Folger Shakespeare Library; via Pam Green; Antioch Shakespeare Festival. Photo by Donald Hustler.)

Shakespeare Unlimited: Episode 99

Over the course of three summers  in the 1950s, Arthur Lithgow and a troupe of actors he’d gathered performed every single one of Shakespeare plays, in rep, at the Antioch Shakespeare Festival, also known as Shakespeare Under the Stars, at Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio.

These performances included the first professional Shakespeare productions of Troilus and CressidaPericlesTimon of Athens, and Titus Andronicus in the United States.

The festival, which Lithgow co-created with another young Antioch professor, Meredith Dallas, worked with Antioch students, local amateurs, and young professionals who came in on the train from New York, including Nancy Marchand, Earle Hyman, Laurence Luckinbill, Ellis Rabb, and Kelton Garwood.

This podcast episode brings together the children of the festival’s founders to talk about their fathers’ work and its legacy: 

  • Meredith Dallas’s son, Tony Dallas, an Ohio theater director
  • Arthur Lithgow’s daughter, Robin Lithgow, recently retired as the Coordinator for K-12 Arts Programs in the Los Angeles public schools
  • Arthur Lithgow’s son, John Lithgow, the Emmy, Grammy, and Tony Award-winning actor, who recently finished a Broadway run of a one-man show called Stories by Heart, largely about his father

John, Robin, and Tony are interviewed by Barbara Bogaev.

 

 

ANNA DEAVERE SMITH:  RATTLING THE CAGE–250 VIEWS OF AMERICA’S SCHOOL-TO-PRISON PIPELINE ·

(Oliver Laughland’s article appeared in The Guardian, 6/12.)

Compiled from three years’ worth of interviews, Anna Deavere Smith’s Notes from the Field confronts the criminal justice system and inequality in the US

Four storeys above the chaos of a blistering summer afternoon on Manhattan’s Eighth Avenue, Anna Deavere Smith sits in silence. The acclaimed American playwright and actor – who played Nancy McNally on The West Wing – glances at the rehearsal room floor, draws breath and begins the opening monologue of her one-woman show, Notes from the Field, assuming the voice of famed civil rights attorney Sherrilyn Ifill.

“It is impossible to talk about the criminal justice system, mass incarceration, without talking about education,” Smith says, capturing both the matter-of-fact exasperation and scholarly expertise you can imagine the NAACP Legal Defence Fund’s veteran president exuding.

The monologue is one of 19 speeches that make up the 90-minute show – all verbatim extracts from interviews Smith conducted herself or speeches made in public, which explore the uniquely American phenomenon of the school-to-prison pipeline.

The play is her first appearance in London for more than 25 years, and won critical acclaim when it was performed off-Broadway in 2016, including from President Barack Obama.

America incarcerates almost a quarter of the global prison population, with by far the highest rate of imprisonment in the world. The prison-industrial complex began during Nixon’s war on drugs and has continued to proliferate ever since, giving rise to a system that disproportionately punishes people of colour. Feeding into this dysfunction is a public school system, increasingly punitive and over-policed, that feeds the machine with young adults – disproportionately black and brown – abandoned by formal education.

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Photo: the Guardian