Monthly Archives: December 2018

‘CHASING THE NEW WHITE WHALE’ AT LA MAMA AND ‘36 JUNIPER’ AT TEATRO CIRCULO  (REVIEW FROM NEW YORK) ·

 

By Bob Shuman

Plays are such complicated mechanisms that they usually can never be gotten right, which gives pathos to the writer and heroism to those involved in any production.  There is always Romanticism in any theatrical endeavor, and there is probably no way that drama can’t fail on some level.  Realists might say that the Internet only speeds the futility, but it is unlikely that artists will stop trying to use it—the Web can put them together, act as a research tool, and quantify trends. Development, however, the labor, not the speed of thought, can not be rushed—and may insist on being slow-moving,  even with the foreknowledge that art rarely can inspire people to action.  Two recent plays, Chasing the New White Whale, at La MaMa until December 9, and 36 Juniper, next door at Teatro Circulo—the production closed December 8–suffer the conundrum of wanting to act fast and needing to work slow. The creators have taken issues of contemporary importance: one concerning the opioid epidemic, as seen in the New England fishing industry,  and the latter, on the effect of mass shootings on the millennial generation—but they are not fully explored plays and might be called hashtag shows; riveting concepts without the substance they need.

 

Chasing the New White Whale, which appears the more authentically infused of the two is repetitive and simplistic—taking a Chicken Little approach, when there needs to be more dramatic situation and example.  The drug issues are real and devastating, as the evening clearly points out, but, artistically, Michael Gorman and Arthur Adair (the writer and director) can only see the alarm, instead of culling a kind of Uncle Tom’s Cabin on the issue.  Yeats might say that what the audience is viewing is wall paper: the ambiance is in place, with hard rock music and a fishing boat that comes onto the stage—but our exposure to the nautical context is too brief and the characters are types, stuck in a skeletal, updated version of Carousel.  Maybe flash agitprop, with passages from Melville to give the production weight, is all the creators have in mind, but is awareness their only goal? 

With Trey Adams, Khari Constantine, Chris Cornwell, Mark Daly, Mike Gorman, Rae Nelson, Alan Barnes Netherton, Meridith Nicholaev, Jim Reitz, Sabrina Fara Tosti, Victoria A. Villier

36 Juniper needs more documentary input—the real voices of those who have lived through mass shootings (the story concerns survivors, who lived through such an event as teens).  In Britain, a writer like David Hare, Victoria Brittain, or Gillian Slovo would likely see this concept in terms of verbatim theatre.  Writers Jessika McQueen, Shannon McInally, and Alyssa Abraham seem to understand it in terms of celluloid—the space where their story is set might be the family room of a sitcom. They devolve into discussing teen crushes and marriage plans–a mishmash of Agatha Christie and The Big Chill, which doesn’t help anyone think about what seem like monthly murders today, in schools and other venues where young people meet.  In 36 Juniper, psychological examinations are not mentioned, gun control isn’t brought up, and the lack of followup press stories, after the shootings, goes undiscussed, as well as the effects on the community and demands for protecting youth.  Of the six characters, only one offers a way for the audience to gain understanding of mass trauma—through a self-help book.  In the play, the most immediate death is left outside in a snowstorm and an obvious person of interest, to the police investigation, goes unexamined for years . . .   

Theatremakers want banner causes, but the path to rendering them may sometimes seem as harsh to the artists, as the subject areas they want to explore.  

Directed by Greg Pragel with  Brendan Byrne, Shannon McInally, Joe Reece, Jacob Dabby, Alyssa Abraham, Jessika McQueen  

 

© by Bob Shuman.  All rights reserved.

Photos: ‘Whale’:  Carlos Cardona; ‘Juniper’: AK47 Division 

NEW CUBA LAW THAT ARTISTS SAY AMOUNTS TO STATE CENSORSHIP WILL BE IMPLEMENTED GRADUALLY ·

(Mimi Whitefield’s article appeared in the Miami Herald, 12/7; via the Drudge Report.)

HAVANA 

A new law — reviled by many Cuban artists as another layer of censorship and control over artistic expression but promoted by the government as a defense against vulgarity, poor taste, mediocrity and low-brow cultural influences — went into effect Friday.

The new measure comes as artists and performers on the island continue to protest, and perhaps in response to those critiques, government officials said Friday that Decree Law 349 will now be rolled out gradually.

Ever since Decree Law 349 was first published in July in the government’s Gaceta Oficial , there has been plenty of pushback on the island and abroad and a flurry of meetings between government cultural officials and artists, who are still hoping for modifications. The law requires prior government approval for artists, musicians, writers and performers who want to present their work in any spaces open to the public, including private homes and businesses.

(Read more)

Photo: Miami Herald

 

HAROLD PINTER: ‘THE BIRTHDAY PARTY’ (LISTEN NOW ON BBC RADIO 3–LINK BELOW) ·

HAROLD PINTER: ‘THE BIRTHDAY PARTY’ 

Listen at:

The Birthday Party by Harold Pinter
Stanley, an erstwhile pianist lives in a dingy seaside boarding house run by Meg and Petey. He is comfortable there, like a surrogate son. Two sinister strangers turn up – Goldberg and McCann. They claim to know him from the past. They turn Stanley’s birthday party into a menacing and terrifying encounter. Franz Kafka meets Donald McGill in Pinter’s iconic comedy of menace.

Stanley ….. Toby Jones
Goldberg ….. Henry Goodman
McCann ….. Stephen Rae
Meg ….. Maggie Steed
Petey ….. Peter Wight
Lulu ….. Jaime Winstone

Director/Producer Gary Brown

An Irishman and a Jew walk into a seaside boarding house. And what? A parable about power and persecution? Or maybe it’s marginalised minorities taking their revenge against seedy Albion? Pinter’s slippery and sly black comedy has a huge resonance for today.

Harold Pinter was one of the writers championed by the Third Programme – and in the late 1950s commissioned one of his early plays before he had his first stage hit. Pinter himself acknowledged the role the Third had had in his own cultural education. For the 70th anniversary, Drama on 3 presents a new production of The Birthday Party, now considered a Pinter classic, but which on its first London opening only lasted a week.

Photo: BBC Radio 3

 

GERMAN PLAYS TACKLE THE WORLD’S WOES, CURRENT AND FUTURE ·

(A. J. Goldman’s article appeared in The New York Times, 11/21; via Pam Green.)

BERLIN — In Germany, with its lavish public support for the arts, going to the theater can seem like a civic duty.

In Andres Veiel’s “Let Them Eat Money. Welche Zukunft?!” at the Deutsches Theater Berlin, the audience showed its support with more than just its taxes: The play, a speculative look at a coming financial and political crisis that it predicted would hit Europe in the next decade, was created with input from the public.

“Let Them Eat Money. Welche Zukunft?!,” the last part of which means “Which Future?!” in German, is a collaboration between the Deutsches Theater and the Humboldt Forum, a new museum that will be housed in a rebuilt palace in the center of Berlin. The production grew out of a series of workshops and a symposium whose goal was to plot a credible path for European history to take over the next 10 years. Thirteen academics and 250 participants were invited to imagine that a global crisis would hit in the year 2026, and asked to construct a plausible chain of events to explain it — and, ideally, to work out how to avoid it.

In Mr. Veiel’s production, Italy’s departure from the European Union in 2023 leads the rest of Europe to introduce a basic universal income, a well-intentioned yet unsustainable measure that further plunges the continent into chaos as the euro loses its value and is replaced by shady cryptocurrencies.

(Read more)

 

Photo: Arno Declair