Monthly Archives: November 2019

JOHN SIMON, WIDE-RANGING CRITIC WITH A CUTTING PEN, DIES AT 94 ·

(Robert D. McFadden’s article appeared in The New York Times, 11/25; via Pam Green.)  

Prolific, erudite and caustic in his wit, he surveyed the entire cultural landscape

John Simon, one of the nation’s most erudite, vitriolic and vilified culture critics, who illuminated and savaged a remarkable range of plays, films, literature and art works and their creators for more than a half-century, died on Sunday in Valhalla, N.Y. He was 94.

His death, at Westchester Medical Center, was confirmed by his wife, Patricia Simon.

In an era of vast cultural changes, Mr. Simon marshaled wide learning, insights and acid wit for largely negative reviews and essays that appeared in New York magazine for nearly 37 years, until his dismissal in 2005, and in The Hudson Review, The New York Times, Esquire, National Review, The New Leader and other publications.

In a style that danced with literary allusions and arch rhetoric — and composed with pen and ink (he hated computers) — he produced thousands of critiques and a dozen books, mostly anthologies of his own work. While English was not his native language, he also wrote incisive essays on American usage, notably in the 1980 book “Paradigms Lost: Reflections on Literacy and Its Decline.”

Born in Yugoslavia and educated at Harvard, Mr. Simon was an imperious arbiter who, unlike daily press critics, foraged widely over fields of culture and entertainment at will, devouring the Lilliputians with relish. He regarded television as trash and most Hollywood films as superficial. His formula for an ultimate triumph on Broadway: “A loud, vulgar musical about Jewish Negroes.”

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Photo: Michael Tighe/Donaldson Collection, via Getty Images

MY FIRST PRODUCED PLAY? AH, I REMEMBER IT WELL ·

(Laura Collins-Hughes’s article appeared in The New York Times, 11/11; via Pam Green.)

The return of Tony Kushner’s “A Bright Room Called Day” prompted us to ask leading writers: How did it go for you? And what did you learn?

Tony Kushner was in his 20s when he wrote “A Bright Room Called Day,” on the graveyard shift at his job as a hotel switchboard operator.

Ronald Reagan had just been re-elected, and Kushner, political to the core, channeled his alarm into the play. When his theater company, Heat & Light, staged it in 1985, Oskar Eustis — now the artistic director of the Public Theater — was there. That’s how they met.

“There’s a scene where the characters sing ‘The Internationale,’” Kushner said the other day, “and someone in the audience started singing along with them. And that was Oskar.”

Eustis, who gave Kushner his professional debut two years later when he staged “Bright Room” at the Eureka Theater in San Francisco, is now directing a revival at the Public.

(Read more)

Photo: Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

 

DRUIDSHAKESPEARE: ‘RICHARD III’ (REVIEW FROM NEW YORK) ·

By Bob Shuman

Aaron Monaghan, as Richard III, in Ireland’s Druid Theatre U.S. production premiere of Shakespeare’s history–it plays until November 23 as part of Lincoln Center’s White Light Festival, at John Jay College’s Gerald W. Lynch Theater–appears like Mikhail Baryshnikov’s crippled twin, obsessively jerking forward, planning, always thinking.  Probably a delight to the Tony-winning director Garry Hynes–who apparently loves the low, comic staging of old Warner Brothers and Saturday morning cartoons, he can’t stand still, amid posing royals, played by working people—here, Richard’s deformity is pronounced in his lower half, instead of in a humpback and claw hand.  As the king, Monaghan is witty, sarcastic, and sadistic—as out of touch and privileged, as a Prince Andrew, who can’t sweat.  Shakespeare calls Richard a “hellhound,” but rarely do most audiences feel the banality of mundane murder, which can be overridden, in other productions, by pageantry and towering sets; a star turn.  Hynes is interested in the earthbound: smoke and weather (actually, she has brought her Richard III to New York, during our dull and rainy fall, which coincides with mention of All Souls’ Day in the text).  She rejects the pomp, like she is knocking over Civil War monuments, although, akin to another Irish director, Maria Aitkens, she and her set and costume designer, Francis O’Connor, fall for hats, thankfully foregoing the one that American men, at least, actually do over-wear:  the baseball cap.  There is plenty else on display, though: derbies, Beckett’s bowlers (especially relevant to Hynes, given her 2018 staging of Waiting for Godot), antique military wear, puff hats, hoods, veils, and mitres. Richard is one of her rare characters who does not wear headgear—his crown is so temporary. 

In costume, whether by convention or necessity, Hynes and O’Connor want to accentuate gender, as well as class.  Men wear half-kilts and robes—Clarence plays in white, but much of the design is in black leather–and women play men, or, at least, boys: those young princes taken to the tower.  Hynes’s theatrical revolt is larger than not wanting the audience to identify with a story or character, however—she is taking on, and extending philosophies, from Beckett and the Bard, as well as Brecht.  Her audiences are aware that they are alienated, as in Epic theatre, but she also wants viewers to understand that the situation is not limited, constrained, or contained. There are cycles of life surrounding the dead wood and industrial rust of her boards and proscenium, an issue men in the house may not think or even care about (Camille Paglia has brought this issue up, regarding Beckett)Hynes’s Godot insists on asserting life beyond confines—and Richard III emphasizes, of course, death.  The metaphor for her setting is too inspired and original to spoil for anyone who will see this work, especially for those who do not automatically identify it—when the pieces come together, the revelation is at once apparent and incisive. Viewers, however, may want to investigate Conor Linehan’s Celtic-tinged minimalist music.  

On the one hand, Hynes gives futurist punk costuming and Shakespearean oration, scraped clean, and on the other, she intersperses scenes with expressionist images and horror movie chills—such as a corpse being pulled on the train of Lady Anne’s gown.  There is an indebtedness to Strindberg, as well, who also knew of a pagan, agrarian cosmos, as Hynes allows her queens to crawl, like pigs, in the dirt.

© 2019 by Bob Shuman.  All rights reserved.

Directed by Garry Hynes

Produced by Druid

Starring Aaron Monaghan as Richard III

Francis O’Connor, set and costume design

James F. Ingalls, lighting design

Gregory Clarke, sound design

Conor Linehan, music             

David Bolger, movement and fight choreography

Doreen McKenna, co-costume design

 

With Marie Mullen, Jane Brennan, Ingrid Craigie, Garrett Lombard, Rory Nolan, Marty Rea, Bosco Hogan, Peter Daly, John Olohan, Siobhan Cullen, Frank Blake, Emma Dargan-Reid

Performance length: Three hours, including intermission

Visit Lincoln Center

Photos:  (from top)  Robbie Jack, Richard Termine

Press:  Michelle Tabnick

 

BACK ON CATFISH ROW ·

Eric Owens as Porgy and Angel Blue as Bess in Porgy and Bess at the Metropolitan Opera

(Geoffrey O’Brien’s article appeared in the New York Review of Books, 11/21.)  

Porgy and Bess

an opera by George Gershwin, DuBose and Dorothy Heyward, and Ira Gershwin, at the Metropolitan Opera, New York City, September 23, 2019–February 1, 2020

Summertime: George Gershwin’s Life in Music

by Richard Crawford

Norton, 594 pp., $39.95

Porgy and Bess opened on Broadway in 1935, to mixed reviews and insufficient box office receipts, but I am unable to disassociate it from the musical culture I grew up with in the 1950s, a decade when George Gershwin’s opera seemed to be everywhere. In 1951, at the dawn of the LP era, the first ostensibly complete recording was released by Columbia Masterworks.1 Earlier recordings had consisted only of hit songs from the show—“Summertime,” “My Man’s Gone Now,” “It Ain’t Necessarily So.” Columbia’s lavish three-record set offered more music than the original Broadway version, which had been shortened by at least thirty minutes before the New York opening. More crucially, it presented Porgy and Bess as an opera of densely interwoven parts, unlike productions that in the decade following Gershwin’s death in 1937 had made drastic cuts and replaced recitatives with spoken dialogue, turning it into something more like a musical.2

For my oldest brother, Robert, a precocious student of musical theater and orchestral arrangement, the Columbia recording became a constant object of study. At mid-decade, when he was fourteen and I was seven, I had the benefit of hearing many passages played repeatedly, along with a running commentary on fine points of harmony and instrumentation often beyond my comprehension. Robert’s ultimate concern being formal, he impressed on me the sense of an invisible architecture beyond words, delineated by the baton he sometimes waved in accompaniment.

No technical explanation was needed to grasp the tidal power of Gershwin’s music in the choral surges and Porgy’s final departure, especially at the volume my brother preferred. At the same time, an intimacy of feeling throughout suggested a community, almost a household, of voices running through all the possible levels of speaking, singing, crying out. To listen closely was to be pulled into an encompassing sonic environment within which lives were being lived under constant stress, in the imaginary but very real space around the record player.

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Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

ÉDOUARD LOUIS WOULD LIKE TO TALK ABOUT THEATER NOW ·

(Joshua Barone’s article appeared in The New York Times,  11/6; via Pam Green.)

The French wunderkind’s books have quickly become magnets for the stage. Adaptations of “History of Violence” and “The End of Eddy” will play New York simultaneously.

Édouard Louis was relieved to be talking about something else.

Journalists will often ask about politics, since Louis — a wunderkind of French literature who at 27 has already risen to the status of public intellectual — is seen as a firebrand of the left and a voice for the Yellow Vests movement. Or they’ll want to know about his life, which he has documented with fierce and unflinching honesty in three novels about sexuality, class and cruelty.

“People are always more interested in the biographical stuff,” he said, adding with a laugh, “but I’m constantly writing about my life!”

Hence his happiness at a change of subject. This conversation, with yet another journalist, would be focused on theater: one of his first and most enduring loves, even the wellspring of his creative life.

(Read more)

Photo: Benjamin Malapris for The New York Times

 

LET’S GO–DRUIDSHAKESPEARE: RICHARD III, DIRECTED BY GARRY HYNES (ONLY UNTIL 11/23) ·

The darker side of human nature is on display in DruidShakespeare: Richard III, a chilling story of power and ambition in a wickedly comic production from Ireland’s Druid theater company and director Garry Hynes, opening on November 9. The production stars Aaron Monaghan, who appeared as Estragon in Druid’s acclaimed Waiting for Godot in the 2018 White Light Festival.

In Richard III, Shakespeare depicts one of the world’s greatest villains in a chilling and darkly comic story of power and ambition. Richard, Duke of Gloucester, portrayed by Aaron Monaghan, sets about bending the world to his own desires, vanquishing his better angels in pursuit of the crown. The Bard’s ruthless monarch resonates through the ages in this award-winning production from Ireland’s Druid theater company and Tony Award-winning director Garry Hynes. A continuation of the company’s exploration of Shakespeare’s kings, the production reunites the creative team and members of the Druid ensemble behind the celebrated DruidShakespeare: Richard II, Henry IV (Pts. 1 & 2) and Henry V, which played Lincoln Center in 2015. Druid’s acclaimed run of Waiting for Godot, also directed by Hynes and starring Monaghan as Estragon, was featured in the 2018 White Light Festival.

White Light Festival: As in prior years, the 2019 White Light Festival will offer opportunities for audiences to delve further into the themes of the festival with pre- and post-performance artist talks, as well as a special panel discussion moderated by John Schaefer. White Light Lounges follow many performances: these receptions are exclusive to White Light Festival ticketholders and provide opportunities to mingle with artists and fellow audience members while enjoying a complimentary glass of wine or sparkling water.

Tickets for the 2019 White Light Festival/Richard III are available online at WhiteLightFestival.org, by calling CenterCharge at 212.721.6500, or at the David Geffen or Alice Tully Hall Box Office (Broadway and 65th Street).

The White Light Festival is one of many programs offered by Lincoln Center that annually activates the campus’s indoor and outdoor spaces across a wide range of the performing arts. Additional presentations include the Mostly Mozart Festival, Great Performers, American Songbook, Midsummer Night Swing, Lincoln Center Out of Doors, ongoing free performances at the David Rubenstein Atrium, and Live From Lincoln Center broadcasts that reach beyond the iconic campus. Lincoln Center also presents a myriad of education programs and presentations for families throughout the year.

DruidShakespeare:Richard III (U.S. production premiere)

Thursday, November 7, 2019 at 7:00 pm (preview performance)

Friday, November 8, 2019 at 7:00 pm (preview performance)

Saturday, November 9, 2019 at 7:00 pm

Sunday, November 10, 2019 at 3:00 pm

Tuesday, November 12, 2019 at 7:00 pm

Wednesday, November 13, 2019 at 7:00 pm

Thursday, November 14, 2019 at 7:00 pm

Friday, November 15, 2019 at 7:00 pm

Saturday, November 16, 2019 at 2:00 and 7:00 pm

Sunday, November 17, 2019 at 3:00 pm

Tuesday, November 19, 2019 at 7:00 pm

Wednesday, November 20, 2019 at 7:00 pm

Thursday, November 21, 2019 at 7:00 pm

Friday, November 22, 2019 at 7:00 pm

Saturday, November 23, 2019 at 2:00 pm

Gerald W. Lynch Theater at John Jay College

 

Directed by Garry Hynes

Produced by Druid

Starring Aaron Monaghan as Richard III

Francis O’Connor, set and costume design

James F. Ingalls, lighting design

Gregory Clarke, sound design

Conor Linehan, music             

David Bolger, movement and fight choreography

Doreen McKenna, co-costume design

Performance length: Three hours, including intermission

***

Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts (LCPA) serves three primary roles: presenter of artistic programming, national leader in arts and education and community engagement, and manager of the Lincoln Center campus. A presenter of thousands of free and ticketed events, performances, tours, and educational activities annually, LCPA offers a variety of festivals and programs, including American Songbook, Avery Fisher Career Grants and Artist Program, David Rubenstein Atrium programming, Great Performers, Lincoln Center Emerging Artist Awards, Lincoln Center Out of Doors, Lincoln Center Vera List Art Project, LC Kids, Midsummer Night Swing, Mostly Mozart Festival, White Light Festival, the Emmy Award-winningLive From Lincoln Center, which airs nationally on PBS, and Lincoln Center Education, which is celebrating more than four decades enriching the lives of students, educators, and lifelong learners. As manager of the Lincoln Center campus, LCPA provides support and services for the Lincoln Center complex and the 11 resident organizations: The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, Film at Lincoln Center, Jazz at Lincoln Center, The Juilliard School, Lincoln Center Theater, The Metropolitan Opera, New York City Ballet, New York Philharmonic, The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, School of American Ballet, and Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. 

Lincoln Center is committed to providing and improving accessibility for people with disabilities. For information, contact Accessibility at Lincoln Center at access@lincolncenter.org or 212.875.5375. 

***

The White Light Festival 2019 is made possible by The Shubert Foundation, The Katzenberger Foundation, Inc., Mitsui & Co. (U.S.A.), Inc., Mitsubishi Corporation (Americas), Laura Pels International Foundation for Theater, The Joelson Foundation, Sumitomo Corporation of Americas, The Harkness Foundation for Dance, J.C.C. Fund, Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Industry of New York, Great Performers Circle, Chairman’s Council and Friends of Lincoln Center.

Endowment support is provided by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the Blavatnik Family Foundation Fund for Dance.

Public support is made possible by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature

NewYork-Presbyterian is the Official Hospital of Lincoln Center

Photo: RICHARD III/Druid–Siobhán Cullen-Aaron Monaghan, credit: Robbie Jack

Press:  Michelle Tabnick

NEW BROADWAY “WEST SIDE STORY” TO KICK UP A FUSS: NO INTERMISSION, FAMOUS SONG AND BALLET CUT, VIDEO PROJECTIONS FOR SETS ·

(Roger Friedman’s article appeared on Show Biz 411, 11/10; via the Drudge Report.)

Last year, director Ivo von Hove brought his hit London production of “Network” to New York and caused a lot of talk: his show was full of video projections, people walking around in headsets, and an actual real restaurant on the stage that made absolutely no sense. On top of that, two of the characters went outside the theater and walked around with a cameraman. Oblivious New Yorkers just walked around them. Not realizing what he was doing on West 44th St. one night, I actually tapped on the insideof the window of Cafe Un Deux Trois and waved at Tony Goldwyn out on the sidewalk while he waited for his cue. He motioned to me that he was working!

Now von Hove is coming with the one of the all time great musicals of our time, “West Side Story.” I told you some time ago that his choreographer, Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, is replacing the famous Jerome Robbins choreography with her own… stuff. It does feel like “West Side Story” is going to be done very “Sprockets”-esque. The difference, of course, was that “Network” was new, and von Hove’s to play with. “West Side Story” is canon on Broadway, never to be trifled with.

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TANIA FISHER INTERVIEW BY LORI BEEDSLER ·

Interview with Tania Fisher, Author of Children’s Book, “Grandma’s Garden”

By Lori Beedsler

 

Briefly, what’s the book about?

To a grown up all that happens in this book is that a child takes a five minute walk in Grandma’s backyard, but you know, I wrote this for children not for grown-ups, and to the child taking that walk, they see it as a special secret adventure.  It’s theirs and they own it.  It’s private; dad has to stay behind inside and drink his tea and it’s just the child and grandma.  The child points out the same items; the broken pot, the bucket with the worms, and loves hearing Grandma tell them where they got it or how it came to be there and hearing her tell those stories over and over again.

Is this story taken from your own personal experiences?

Kind of.  Actually this story has been on my mind for over a decade, maybe longer.  It stemmed from my own relationship with my paternal grandmother.  She was about 60 when she immigrated from Italy to Australia and didn’t really speak any English.  She was about 80 by the time I was seven, so we didn’t do much together really, except that I remember sitting outside with her staring into the garden.  There was a language barrier, so we used to just sit there very quietly together.  It was kind of unusual but really awesome, it was almost like meditation.  I knew a few words in Italian; kind of enough to make small talk with her or ask if she wanted anything, but basically we stared at leaves and flowers together and sighed at the same time when a breeze lifted a leaf, or sometimes I realized that we were focused on the same flower stem that was bending.  It was really a peaceful and kind of a simple and clear way to connect.

What prompted you to write this experience in the form of a children’s book?

I sometimes babysit my neighbor’s children, one of whom is a very smart three year old.  One day her nanny asked that I take her outside so she could get her dose of “fresh air” for the day.  On that particular day I think the playground was closed or something, or maybe she didn’t really want to go out, but I suggested we “walk around the neighborhood and see what’s what.”  She agreed to this so we got outside her building and hand in hand walked the length of a block and back again. That is literally all we did.  This may have taken 15 minutes though, not just because kids at that age walk slow, but because we had such adventures along the way.  I would stop and point out the policeman, then comment on the little dog we passed, then maybe stop to see the children getting on the yellow school bus and talk about that.  A little further on we’d stop at a tree and check out the flowers at its base and talk about the colors and if they smell or not, then a little further on we saw a kitten dart across our path and hide under a parked car.  So on and so on; special red flowers, a tree with lights wrapped around it – but to this day, whenever she and I walk that same stretch of sidewalk, she comments to me about that little kitten and what we think it’s doing right now, and she points out where the red flowers used to be, and where the tree with the lights wrapped around it is, all the while asking me if I remember! It’s too cute!

But anyway, it occurred to me that this was that whole repetition thing that kids do – that gives them that sense of safety and security.  It’s also part of why they love having you read the same book over and over again, I’ve had that experience too.  Perhaps while reading I’ll make an effort to point out something in the illustration, and the next time we read that book together, the child makes sure to point out what I had pointed out previously, and then does it every single time we read that book!

The illustrations are wonderful.  How did you come to collaborate with Riley Hagan?

Like all things in life, little blessings are sent our way when we need them most!  I was discussing “what else I do” with a neighbor whose birds and plants I sometimes look after when she goes away and she had no idea that I was an actor and a writer and a theater reviewer and so on, and when I mentioned I was developing a children’s book, she told me that her step daughter Riley draws and then showed me some of her work that she had around the apartment.  So I contacted Riley and it just couldn’t have been a better match.

 

She’s an amazing woman, she really understood where I was coming from with this book and my motivation and message, and although I had some rough drawings of my own to show her what I was after, she came up with some absolute gems on her own that turned out to be my most favorite illustrations in the book – the hands in the worm bucket I especially love, and the details on the flowers are just amazing too.  Also Riley’s style is very sketch-artist, and I like the black and white strokes, but I insisted that when we got to the garden part of the story that there should be this burst of color.  Then it was Riley who came up with the absolutely ingenious idea of adding color on each illustration that had a nature/garden related item.  So the flowers for example that they bring for Grandma, you’ll see those are in color.  It was really smart of her, and it ties in with what we talked about earlier, about kids pointing things out in illustrations for themselves.  They totally do that when I read them this book.

I do also have to mention that the image of the child in this book is based on my very special friend, Benji Carvalho.  Riley wanted an image of a child to work from so I gave her photos of Benji and actually her first drawings looked so much like him that I had to ask her to manipulate them a little because I needed the child to appear non-gender specific.  I like all my books to have non-gender specific child characters so that any child can relate and not feel left out.  But when I read this book to Benji he could still tell it was him in the illustrations and that was a really nice moment for both of us.

“Grandma’s Garden” written by Tania Fisher, illustrated by Riley Hagan

Suitable for ages 3 to 6.

On sale now at Westsider Books 2246 Broadway New York NY 10024, and Shakespeare & Co bookstores, or online at: 

http://bit.ly/GrandmasGarden 

Interview by Lori Beedsler

CONSTANT STANISLAVSKI (53) ·

Doctor Stockman became popular at once in Moscow, and especially so in Petrograd. “The Enemy of the People” became the favorite play of the revolutionists, notwithstanding the fact that Stockman himself despised the solid majority and believed in individuals to whom he would entrust the conduct of life. But Stockman protested, Stockman told the truth, and that was considered enough. (MLIA)