Monthly Archives: August 2020


** ADVANCE FOR SUNDAY FEB. 12 ** “Lord of the Rings” cast member Brent Carver is photographed during dress rehearsal in Toronto, Oct. 28, 2005. Carver, the Tony-winning star of “Kiss of the Spider Woman,” will portray the majestic wizard Gandalf. (AP Photo/Aaron Harris)

(Greg Evans’s article appeared on Deadline, 8/6; via Pam Green.)

Brent Carver, a stage and screen actor who won the 1993 Tony Award for his performance in Broadway’s The Kiss of the Spider Woman, died Tuesday at his home in Cranbrook, British Columbia, his family has reported. He was 68.

A cause of death was not specified.

“Our family is sharing news of Brent Carver’s passing on Aug 4 at home in Cranbrook, BC, his birthplace and favourite place on Earth,” read a family statement. “Blessed with many talents and a natural love of theatre, Brent was always known as a first-class performer, unique in the presentation of his craft, delighting audiences through film, TV, stage and concert performances.”

Chita Rivera, Carver’s Kiss of the Spider Woman co-star who also won a Tony that year, said today, “My heart is broken at the loss of my great friend and amazing artist, Brent Carver. I shall miss him more than I can say.”

Carver began his stage career in 1972, with a performance in Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris at the Vancouver Arts Club. He segued to television four years later with a costarring role on the CBC sitcom Leo and Me opposite a pre-stardom Michael J. Fox, although the series would not air until 1981.

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(Alexandra Guzeva’s article appeared in Russia Beyond the Headlines, 7/31; Photo: Russia Beyond the Headlines.)

You won’t find another period in Russian literature with such a concentration of talented poets and their brilliant use of the Russian language. Who were these literary geniuses of the early 20th century, and what did they write about?

What is the Silver Age of Russian poetry?

In an attempt to research or at least explain this topic, Russian scholars write heavy tomes and dedicate their whole lives. But we took upon ourselves this brave task in order to give a brief summary to those of you who are interested in Russia. 

The Silver Age of Russian poetry is an artistic period that dates from the very late 19th century and ends in the 1920s. It implies a wide range of poets, genres and literary styles. There is even a broader notion of the Silver Age of Russian culture that includes avant-garde art, theater, cinema, photography and sculpture – which very frequently were created in artistic groups that consisted of people from different spheres. 

The concentration of genius poets found during the Silver Age never existed at any other time in Russian literature.

Was there a Golden Age?

Yes, there was a Golden Age of Russian poetry! And it dates to the first third of the 19th century. In simple terms we call them “poets of the Pushkin era”, because Alexander Pushkin was for sure one of the greatest Russian poets of all time and the most remarkable of that era – and he is still very relevant today. Besides such big names as Pushkin and Mikhail Lermontov, the Golden Age includes Eugene Baratynsky, Peter Vyazemsky, Vasily Zhukovsky and other poets who are less known nowadays. Later, scholars started to classify all the 19th century ‘classic’ prose authors to the Golden Age, including Nikolai Gogol, Leo Tolstoy, Fyodor Dostoyesky, Ivan Turgenev, and Nikolai Nekrasov. The 19th century was marked by the development of literary movements: from sentimentalism to romanticism and then to realism and naturalism.

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(Michael Billington’s article appeared in the Guardian, 8/2; Photo: Unnerving questions … Leon Quartermaine and Fay Compton in Mary Rose at the Haymarket theatre, 1926. Photograph: Sasha/Getty Images.)

The Peter Pan author caught Hitchcock’s eye with a Hebridean ghost story about the intensity of mother-son relationships

I have neglected Scotland so far in this series, though I was tempted to include one of the great working-class dramas such as Joe Corrie’s In Time O’ Strife (1927) or Ena Lamont Stewart’s Men Should Weep (1947). I have plumped for this strange, sinister ghost story, partly as a reminder that there was more to Barrie than Peter Pan and partly because the play has much to say about the anguish of mother-son relationships and the universal grief for loss.

Barrie knows how to make one’s flesh creep. His play starts with a young soldier looking over a shuttered Sussex mansion and forbidden access to an empty room. As he falls asleep by the fire, the past history of the house and its inhabitants comes to life. We see how Mary Rose, daughter of the Morland family, twice disappeared during a visit to a remote Hebridean island: once briefly when she was a girl and then for 25 years when she was a married woman with a young son. Each time, she reappears mysteriously unchanged but, at the play’s climax, she is a ghostly revenant still pining for the son she has lost and searching for her place in the universe.

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In the run-up to the 2020 election, Reagan Political Strategist John B. Roberts II looks back at 1984—only  to find a highly controversial president, a terrible economy, and mass protests in the streets.  The parallels go on . . .

Interview with Bob Shuman, Stage Voices

Where were you on New Year’s Eve 1983 and then on New Year’s Eve 1984? In what area of your life had you changed the most?

In 1983 I celebrated New Year’s Eve with my best friend and colleague, Tony Blankley.  He and his wife Lynda were great hosts and, while we looked forward to 1984, there was also a little trepidation about the coming election.  A year later, I was back working at The White House, but my mind was focused on making a change. In the seven weeks between the election and the year’s end, I’d grown determined to curtail my involvement in politics and spend more time writing. It took me ten more years to make that change, but I finally did it.     


As a political writer, you have looked at the contributions of first ladies to the country and CIA involvement in the escape of the Dalai Lama from Tibet, among other issues. What do you see as Ronald Reagan’s greatest contribution to the nation and could he have made it without winning in 1984?

It sounds corny, but his greatest achievement was rallying the country’s spirit and unifying it after the bruising decades of the sixties and seventies. Three presidencies in a row had ended in failure before Reagan, with Nixon, Ford, and Carter all serving only one full term in office. When he took his office, political polarization was high, and there were massive protests over his defense build-up and deployment of nuclear weapons in Europe. But his ability to forge broad-based political coalitions with bipartisan support set the stage for his three biggest accomplishments: restoring economic growth, ending runaway inflation and double-digit interest rates, and, through direct negotiations with Gorbachev, setting the stage for the end of the Cold War.  It took two terms for all this to come to fruition.      


 The first images or thoughts that come to mind regarding,

Roger Stone:

Sartorial splendor, the shiny veneer covering a hard-core political operative.

Walter Mondale:

Everyone’s prudent uncle.  A fundamentally decent man, who will never be the life of the party or probably ever have a hangover.   

Roy Cohn:

He had piercing blue eyes that looked to me like they concealed a thousand years of experiences.

Normandy, France:

Long rows of crosses decorated with tiny French and American flags.  A stark contrast, in their bone whiteness, to the lush green grass and blue skies of June. 


One person from the 1984 campaign who should be working on the Republican campaign today–and why?

Doug Watts.  He was in charge of advertising for the campaign and oversaw what came to be called the “Morning in America” theme, which emphasized the nation’s economic and spiritual recovery, with memorable television ads. Doug Watts not only helped Reagan win a landslide reelection, he set the stage for a period of national unity and bipartisanship that lasted well into the 1990s.


1984 is also an important year for dystopian fiction, a genre you have also written in.  How do you reconcile politics and literature?  

Growing up in one of Europe’s last Fascist dictatorships piqued my interest in the dysfunctional detours societies can take. I lived in Franco’s Spain at a time when no political opposition was tolerated:  the media was tightly controlled, and the Guardia Civil (whom the poet Garcia Lorca called “those patent leather men with their patent leather souls”) were virtually omnipotent and widely feared. 

On a vacation in London, during the time, I bought a copy of Mao’s Little Red Book from a Socialist Workers party street vendor.  I had to smuggle it like contraband into Madrid. Weirdly, such controls also created opportunities. Playboy magazine could be purchased, from American military personnel, for a dollar and twenty-five cents, and resold to Spaniards for a thousand pesetas–about a 1,500 percent profit!  Besides augmenting my allowance, differences between free societies and dystopian ones were usually dangerous. My father was in the military and we took a .22 rifle to Spain and registered it.  Every time Franco’s motorcade drove past our apartment to the airport, a Guardia Civil officer, with a machine gun, was stationed on the roof over our balcony. 

Of course, Orwell fought in the Spanish Civil War, and he wrote about it explicitly in Homage to Catalonia. I think that conflict also influenced 1984.  

What is the biggest misconception about the 1984 campaign that’s still with us today?

That the outcome–Reagan’s reelection in a landslide–was inevitable because of the strength of the economic recovery.  The truth is our polling showed that Reagan was vulnerable to a Democratic ticket headed by U.S. Senator and former astronaut John Glenn, and even to a Mondale/Hart ticket.  When Mondale first named Ferraro as his running mate, our polls showed she had the potential to galvanize female voters across the party spectrum and change the outcome of the election.  After Reagan badly flubbed the first presidential debate, the age issue could have derailed his reelection.  In hindsight, the magnitude of Reagan’s victory makes it appear inevitable, but the truth is that it took many components of the campaign, working in synch, to create that landslide. The operation against Ferraro wasn’t the only factor in Reagan’s victory, but it was an important one.On Election Day, Reagan won 58% of the female vote.    

Thank you very much.

Reagan’s Cowboys by John B. Roberts II, available now from McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers 

View on Amazon  

Read Part 1 of this interview

Interview (c) 2020 by John B. Roberts II and Bob Shuman.  All rights reserved.




(Darin Strauss’s article appeared in The New York Times, 7/31; Photo: The New York Times;  via Pam Green.)

With her sitcom over and marriage finished, Lucille Ball fulfilled an old dream: a stint on Broadway. It did not go well.

Lucille Ball in the Broadway show “Wildcat.”Credit…Everett Collection

This is the story of how the most famous and talented sitcom star of her era — and maybe of all time — failed on Broadway.

The star was Lucille Ball. The year was 1960. And she was in a tough spot — in a “depressed state of mind,” as she later recalled.

“I Love Lucy” had just ended. Her marriage had too. The last kiss with Desi fell on the last moment of their last episode. His face in her hair; her blubbering through tears: “You’re supposed to say ‘Cut.’” The final clinch. The next day she filed for divorce.

When your marriage has been, in a way, America’s marriage, what do you do after the love crash dives? Lucille Ball didn’t know, at first. Biographers say she slept and cried on a friend’s couch. “What I do is so meaningless, so unimportant,” she sighed after slinking out to see a play starring Vivien Leigh. “Look what she can do.”

This envy pushed her off the sofa: a footlights career, as Ball put it in her autobiography, was the “ambition of my life.” This was an ambition Lucille-watchers could track. At 17 she’d left her upstate New York high school for Broadway, only to be told: “You just don’t have it. Why don’t you go home?” Later attempts had failed too; “I never made it,” she told a reporter in 1960, “and I want to prove myself.”

Lucille Ball was not only a superstar by 1960. (One measure of her popularity: The nation’s reservoirs dipped whenever “I Love Lucy” broke for a commercial. A whole country, flushing as one.) She was also a trailblazer, a female mogul. Desilu Productions, the business empire she split with Desi Arnaz, her ex, owned the most TV-studio space and was “the single biggest filler of television time” in the industry, as Life Magazine put it.

Now she just had to find a play to star in.

I LEARNED ABOUT BALL’S largely forgotten theater bid when putting together my book, “The Queen of Tuesday.” It’s a novel-memoir hybrid about Ball — and also about my grandfather, and the thorny romance between them. The affair is all speculation but most of the rest is verifiable. (It was family legend that my grandfather and she met at a kind of doom-swept party at which Donald Trump’s father had celebrities throw bricks at a beautiful Coney Island landmark, which is the book’s opening scene.)

Writing the book led me really to admire this powerful, brilliant woman. But in telling this next bit, even the most besotted Lucyian treads warily.

Ball wanted to shoulder a Broadway musical, starring in nearly every scene, dancing and belting a slew of difficult numbers. There were only two issues with that: she was not a good dancer and she was not a good singer. “Not even in the bathtub,” she recalled in that autobiography, “Love, Lucy.” And yet the show she chose, “Wildcat,” required that she both croon and “just about climb walls.”

Or it would require that. Eventually. A play can suffer all kinds of mutations when the most popular star in America joins (not to say hijacks) the production. The writer of “Wildcat,” N. Richard Nash, had conceived of it as a drama — the story of “a woman in dungarees” who swings into a Southwestern oil town with dreams of striking it rich. Unlike the heroines of other plays Ball had read and rejected, Wildcat “Wildy” Jackson, “the cat with more bounce to the ounce,” as she put it in her autobiography, was the kind of “rough-talking, and unbelievably energetic” character she wanted to play.

A phone call from Arnaz — I love this thing! — and, $400,000 later: “It was all packaged and literally taken out of my hands,” Nash told a writer. “The final product had nothing to do with my original intentions.”

In 1960 attendance on Broadway was starting to wobble. And Lucille Ball was the star of all stars. Celestial bodies of such magnitude pull things into their orbit, so why not the theater world? The posters went for the obvious: “Broadway Loves Lucy!” You can hear, even now, the whir of the old calculator, the swish of receipts.

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(Dalya Alberge’s article appeared in the Guardian, 8/2; Photo:  The Guardian.)

Experts find hundreds of errors in the writer’s works, mostly made by editors and typesetters

Ernest Hemingway’s published writings are riddled with hundreds of errors and little has been done to correct them, according to a forthcoming study of the legendary writer’s texts.

Robert W Trogdon, a leading scholar of 20th-century American literature, told the Guardian that Hemingway’s novels and short stories were crying out for editions that are “as accurate to what he wrote as possible” because the number of mistakes “ranges in the hundreds”. Although many are slight, he said, they were nevertheless mistakes, made primarily by editors and typesetters.

The majority of Hemingway’s manuscripts are held at the John F Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston, where Trogdon has pored over the originals.

He singled out, for example, the 1933 short story A Way You’ll Never Be, which mistakenly features the word “bat” rather than “hat” when the character Nick Adams is explaining catching grasshoppers to the confused Italian soldiers. Hemingway originally wrote: “But I must insist that you will never gather a sufficient supply of these insects for a day’s fishing by pursuing them with your hands or trying to hit them with a hat.”

Misspellings in one edition of The Sun Also Rises, his 1926 novel about disillusioned expatriates in postwar France and Spain, include the bullfighter “Marcial Lalanda” appearing as “Marcial Salanda”, an easy mistake to make because of the similarity of the author’s handwritten “L” and “S”, Trogdon observed. There is also a restaurant called “Ciqoque” when Hemingway meant the real-life Paris eatery Cigogne, again an easy mistake for someone unaccustomed to distinguishing the author’s “q” and “g”.

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(Chosen by Rosita BolandDonald ClarkePeter CrawleyMartin Doyle, and Hilary Fannin for the Irish Times, 8/1; Photo: The Irish Times.)



From The Plough and the Stars
Play, 1926
It befits an unsentimental classic like The Plough and the Stars that its heart resides in such an unlikely place. Bessie Burgess, the cantankerous, self-demolishing, crowing unionist (“Oh, youse are all rightly shanghaied now!” she spits at her revolutionary neighbours) is ultimately the spine of compassion, quiet heroism and genuine sacrifice amid all the posture and chaos of Seán O’Casey’s street-level view of the 1916 Rising.


From Oh My God, What a Complete Aisling
Book, 2017
For a modest, sensible twentysomething from Ballygobbard, Aisling has taken Ireland by storm. The first three books featuring her, written by Emer McLysaght and Sarah Breen, are the bestselling Irish fiction titles this century. Compared to “an Irish Bridget Jones”, Aisling is as much in the tradition of a Maeve Binchy or Marian Keyes heroine as she is a rival to Helen Fielding’s creation.


From Normal People
Book, 2018; TV drama, 2020
Despite being a young man both studying literature and writing it, Connell’s trademark characteristic is an inability to be articulate, especially with Marianne, his love. What Sally Rooney’s creation doesn’t, or can’t, say to her during their school and college years together is partly what makes his character so realistic, frustrating and engaging.


From Grace Notes
Book, 1997
In Scotland, Catherine, a composer, is trying to literally compose her life. She is a new mother, but her partner is abusive. She is estranged from her family back in Northern Ireland. Music and her career-changing composing commission both ground her, Bernard MacLaverty’s novel, and then lift her onwards from where she has been in a paralysis.


From The Twelfth Day of July
Book, 1970
Sadie, a Protestant teenager, is sassy and feisty. As we follow her love-across-the-divide relationship with Kevin, a Catholic, over five books, we grow with them. Joan Lingard’s young-adult-fiction series brought the Troubles home to generations of young people elsewhere and brought fiction home to young people in Northern Ireland.


From Cathleen Ni Houlihan
Play, 1902
“Did that play of mine send out / Certain men the English shot?” WB Yeats wondered about Cathleen Ni Houlihan. If so, they must have been as naive as the question. In 1798, a mysterious old lady disturbs a family dinner to sing of blood sacrifice, tell of her stolen “four beautiful green fields”, and lure a young man to join the Rebellion. Thus appeased, she transforms into a girl with “the walk of a queen” and struts away into several more Irish dramas.

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