Monthly Archives: October 2020

BEN BRANTLEY ON SHUTTING THE STAGE DOOR BEHIND HIM ·

(Jesse Green’s and Ben Brantley’s article appeared in The New York Times, 10/13; Photo of Karen Finley: Credit…Dona Ann McAdams;  via Pam Green.)

After 27 years and more than 2,500 reviews, The Times’s co-chief theater critic reviews his own tenure and talks about why he’s (quietly) making an exit.

Critics look back for a living; that’s what it means to “review.” But healthy ones, focusing on each new play they see, don’t spend a lot of time on the old stuff. So before Ben Brantley put down his pen, I wanted to ask him (as I hadn’t had time to in the three years we’ve worked together) what his 27 years as a Times critic looked like in the rearview mirror — and what he saw ahead. These are excerpts from our final conversation as colleagues.

JESSE GREEN As far as I can tell, Ben, you made your first appearance in The Times in 1981, long before you became a theater critic here. You were then writing for Women’s Wear Daily, in which capacity William Safire quoted you in his On Language column as an authority on fashion-speak: the “big sweep” of shawls and the “Sir Tom Jones look.” Is there more of a connection than we might suppose between what you covered there and the shows you started covering in 1993, when you joined The Times?

BEN BRANTLEY Ah, I’m glad you brought that up, Jesse, as that misquotation still rankles. I said simply “the Tom Jones look.” As an English major, I would never have ennobled that foundling hero, and the misattribution made me suspicious of what I read in The Times for a good while. But yes, reviewing fashion — just out of college, with no background in the field — was great practical training for reviewing theater. You had to focus on a fleeting vision, which materialized on a stage (or runway) for a matter of seconds, commit it to memory, and instantly pass some sort of judgment as to its viability.

GREEN Your first review in The Times was of “Annie Warbucks,” the misbegotten 1993 sequel to the megahit “Annie.” I think we could call it negative: After ripping through the second-rate score and skeletal book and cheap sets and shimmying little girls, you wrote that even the dog who played Annie’s beloved Sandy was “rather wooden.” Be honest, did you love writing a pan, right from the get-go?

BRANTLEY I was pleased to have a show (a singing comic strip!) that demanded to be written about with pop flair for my debut. And the production wore its frailties so flamboyantly and desperately, it was a cinch to anatomize them. But, no, I wasn’t all that pleased to start off with a pan. The theater — the wonderful old Variety Arts, razed 15 years ago — was only a block away from where I lived in the East Village, so I knew that I would be living with the marquee’s reproachful image for however long “Annie Warbucks” ran.

GREEN Frank Rich, the chief theater critic at the time, had been known almost since he took the job in 1980 as the Butcher of Broadway for his scathing reviews of what was admittedly a lot of trash. Producers, and soon the public, believed he could make or kill a show, investing him with huge mythic juju. And when you became chief critic, in 1996, you soon found yourself the subject of a website — Did He Like It? — that hung on your every word. Did that sort of power, perceived or actual, appeal to you?

BRANTLEY Being powerful has never in itself been something I aspired to. I was probably more powerful at Women’s Wear Daily, which had outrageous weight in the fashion industry in those days. So in that sense, again being in a position of perceived power wasn’t all that intimidating. Years later, when I’d become The Times’s chief critic, I ran into Calvin Klein at a party, and when I stepped away, he told the friends I was with: “You don’t understand. He used to be really powerful.”

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7 FACTS ABOUT THE MARIINSKY THEATER IN ST. PETERSBURG ·

(Alexandra Guzeva’s article appeared in Russia Beyond the Headlines, 10/15.)

Long before the Bolshoi was founded in Moscow, this leading Russian theater was a favorite with emperors and empresses, and then in later years, also with Soviet leaders.

1. Russia’s main imperial opera and ballet theater

Today, the honor of the best-known Russian theater probably belongs to Moscow’s Bolshoi Theater. However, long before it, by decree of Catherine the Great, the Imperial Theater of Russian Opera and Ballet was founded in St. Petersburg in 1783. Russia had theaters before Catherine, but it was she who created the Directorate of Imperial Theaters. The theater belonged to and was subordinate to the royal court and was funded from the royal purse. Its repertoire included Italian opera and chamber music, ballet and ballroom music, as well as French and Russian drama productions.

In 1802, the French choreographer Charles Didelot arrived in St. Petersburg and headed the ballet troupe of the imperial theaters. In 1847, the ballet troupe was joined by another French choreographer, Marius Petipa, who trained several generations of professional dancers in Russia and staged more than 40 ballets, turning Russian ballet into one of the world’s best.

2. At first, Mariinsky was the Bolshoi

The Bolshoi Kamenny (Big Stone) Theater in St. Petersburg that no longer exists

The history of the Mariinsky Theater began with the construction of the Bolshoi Kamenny (Big Stone) Theater in St. Petersburg in 1784. It was the first permanent theater in the Russian Empire and one of the largest theaters in Europe. Incidentally, its historical building was similar to the future building of Moscow’s Bolshoi Theater, which was built in the 1820s. The future Mariinsky Theater was based in the Bolshoi Kamenny Theater, until 1886 when a new building was constructed. The Bolshoi Kamenny Theater was then rebuilt and handed over to the St. Petersburg Conservatory, which is still located there.

Pyotr Tchaikovsky's opera 'Eugene Onegin' premier, 1879

On the stage of the Bolshoi Kamenny Theater in St. Petersburg the Russian musical theater was born. In addition to French and Italian operas, it began to produce original Russian operas. That was where Mikhail Glinka’s A Life for the Tsar and then Ruslan and Lyudmila had their premiere. That was also where Petipa’s innovative productions – Le CorsaireDon QuixoteLa Bayadere, and Giselle – were presented to the public for the first time. There, Petipa, having become friends with Pyotr Tchaikovsky, staged the legendary Sleeping BeautyThe Nutcracker and Swan Lake.

3. It changed its name several times

Maria Alexandrovna Empress of Russia

The theater got its current name in 1886, after it moved from the Bolshoi Kamenny Theater to another building, where it is located today. It was called “Mariinsky” in honor of Empress Maria Alexandrovna, the wife of Alexander II, and who was a great admirer of the theater arts.

After the Bolshevik Revolution, the theater was stripped of its historical name, since all references to the tsarist heritage were being erased. In 1935, the theater was named after a revolutionary leader, Sergei Kirov, and became known as the Kirov Theater.

At the behest of its new artistic director, Valery Gergiev, after the collapse of the USSR the theatre’s historical name, Mariinsky, was restored in 1992.

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SONIA FRIEDMAN: I’VE CLOSED 18 SHOWS AND PAUSED 10. HERE’S MY CURE FOR THEATRE ·

(Friedman’s article appeared in the Guardian, 10/15; Photo: Chaotic and farcical … The Pin – Ben Ashenden, left, and Alex Owen – are coming to the West End. Photograph: Oliver Rosser/Feast Creative. )

The stage maestro says the magic of live performance is vital for our mental health. And now she’s bringing that alchemy back with comedy duo The Pin and their debut play The Comeback

It’s seven months since I shut my last show – and most theatres are still completely dark. It’s the longest prolonged closure since the days of Samuel Pepys. Theatre has endured war, riots, depression and, yes, even disease. Its absence is damaging this country and doing harm to the mental health of its people, and I’m determined to do anything I can to help bring it back.

Exactly two years ago, David Walliams took me to see a brilliant young double act called The Pin at the Soho theatre in London. Watching their hilarious sketch show, I cried with laughter. And I wasn’t alone. The whole audience lost it. It’s strange to think back on that evening now. I’m not sure I’ve laughed like that in months. You rarely do while watching TV, or surfing YouTube on your phone, do you? Not in that same sustained and unstoppable way. For that, a joke has to be shared. People have to set each other off. “I wasn’t alone” – that’s the key. There’s something about live comedy, live anything, that you can’t recreate at home. There’s a kind of alchemy to it. Everything’s enlivened.

Right now, we need that, maybe more than ever. This year has taken a huge toll on us all: mentally, physically and spiritually. We need the opportunity to let go. We’re craving connection and spontaneity. Live theatre – performance – offers that release, and has done for thousands of years. It lets an audience feed off each other’s emotions, whether laughter or tears, and share in a silence. It’s why Oscar Wilde called it “the greatest of all art forms, the most immediate way in which a human being can share with another the sense of what it is to be a human being”.

As social, emotional animals, we need that. Theatre’s vital to our collective well-being and mental health, and the overwhelmingly positive public response to the Palladium Panto and the Les Misérables concert announcement is testament to that.

Now, thankfully, theatre’s making a tentative return – albeit in a limited, socially distanced form. The financial constraints of producing socially distanced theatre are seriously prohibitive and there’s no way our industry can survive like this long-term, but for now, so long as we are allowed, it’s incumbent on us to get our shows back on our stages somehow. It’s a big financial risk, but it’s one we have to take wherever we can follow the health and safety guidelines. Socially distanced theatre will never work financially, but it is vital – in every sense.

That’s why, this December, I’m producing The Pin’s debut play The Comeback in London’s West End. It’s a dizzying and delirious new comedy that tells the story of two double acts fighting for control of the most chaotic, farcical and high-stakes gig of their respective careers. It feels like the right show for right now. Some people say farce encapsulates the human condition: people clinging desperately to dignity as their world spins out of control. Others just see door slams and slapstick. Either way: bring it on. Following all of the government-approved performing arts working guidelines, I hope The Comeback gives theatregoers of all ages the great night out they deserve after this year.

It’s taken a lot to get here, but I have been determined to get back to work. Audiences need a chance to escape. Freelancers, many of whom have gone without financial assistance, need opportunities to return to work. From March to May, I was in shock and survival mode. Having shuttered 18 productions worldwide in two weeks, and paused another 10 in the pipeline, I tried to stay sane by focusing on the other side.

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TONY AWARDS 2020: FULL LIST OF NOMINATIONS ·

(Brent Lang’s article appeared in Variety, 10/15.)

Tony Awards

“Jagged Little Pill,” a ferocious reimagining of Alanis Morissette’s album of the same name, captured a leading 15 Tony Award nominations on Thursday. The show, which pulls back the curtain on a seemingly perfect suburban family to show their struggles with everything from sexual assault to drug addiction, was a hit with critics and audiences before the Broadway season was cut short by coronavirus.

“Jagged Little Pill” nabbed a best musical nod. To win the top prize, it must contend with “Moulin Rouge! The Musical,” an adaptation of the 2001 film that picked up 14 nominations. The show was a huge box office success before Broadway dimmed its lights in March, attracting sellout crowds and celebrities such as Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Nicole Kidman, star of the original movie.

“Tina: The Tina Turner Musical” was also nominated for best musical. “Slave Play,” Jeremy O. Harris’ searing look at race and sexuality, nabbed 12 Tony noms and set a new record for the most nominations for a new play. It was followed closely behind by Matthew Lopez’s epic “The Inheritance,” a two-part look at the legacy of the AIDS crisis, that scored 11 nods. Other best play contenders include Bess Wohl’s “Grand Horizons,” Adam Rapp’s “The Sound Inside,” and Simon Stephens and Nick Payne’s “Sea Wall: A Life.”

Best play revival nominations went to “Betrayal,” “A Soldier’s Play” and “Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune.” There were no best musical revival nominations. The cutoff for nominations was Feb. 19, which meant that several shows that would have been likely contenders such as revivals of “Company” and “West Side Story” either opened after that date or were still in previews when the pandemic hit. Due to the shortened season, categories had fewer nominees than normal or were skipped entirely, which explains why Aaron Tveit (“Moulin Rouge!: The Musical”) has the leading actor in a musical race entirely to himself.

The year’s acting contenders were sprinkled with some A-list Hollywood talent, including Jake Gyllenhaal (“Sea Wall/A Life”), Tom Hiddleston (“Betrayal”) and Laura Linney (“My Name Is Lucy Barton”).

James Monroe Iglehart, who won the 2014 Tony for best featured actor for his role as Genie in “Aladdin,” announced this year’s nominees on Thursday morning on the Tony Awards YouTube channel.

No date has been set for this year’s ceremony, but sources say organizers are tentatively planning for the first half of December. Most award shows have gone virtual this year due to social-distancing guidelines around the country, and sources say Tonys organizers intend to incorporate live or pre-taped performances of some kind.

See the full list of nominees

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CONSTANT STANISLAVSKI (96) ·

It is easy to dream and create theories in art, but it is hard to practice them. It would seem that there is nothing simpler than naked passion and nothing else. But the simpler the thing is, the harder it is to do. The simple must have a great deal of content. Bare of content it is as useless as a nutshell without meat. The simple, in order to become the most important and move itself forward, must contain in itself the entire gamut of complex life phenomena. (MLIA)

BEN BRANTLEY: WHY I’LL NEVER STOP BEING A THEATER CRITIC ·

(Ben Brantley’s article appeared in The New York Times, 10/13; via Pam Green.)

After 27 years on the job, the writer Ben Brantley bids farewell with one last recommendation: Watch a show as if you were a reviewer.

 “Don’t you ever want to just sit back and enjoy it?”

That’s a question I’ve often been asked during my 27 years as a daily theater reviewer for The New York Times. And now that I’m leaving that position (my last day is Thursday), it comes up more frequently than ever, with the implication that I must be panting to be able to watch plays without having to think about them so hard.

But the short answer to that question is an undiluted “no.” One of the main reasons I never stopped loving this job is that I can’t sit back and go limp, like a passive slab on a massage table. It is a point of honor for me to avoid that state when, if the show is slow, my thoughts might drift to other matters: Where am I having dinner after? What if I left the air-conditioning on? Why is my date so grumpy?

Allow me to make a confession here. I do not like going to the theater. I love being at the theater, and I love writing about the theater. But what happens before and after and in between — the schmoozing, the mingling, the dining, the waiting in the rain for taxis — hasn’t given me a thrill in decades. People who regularly accompany me to plays have often heard me mutter, in a claustrophobically crowded theater lobby, “I don’t know why I’m still doing this.”

Such surly sentiments can persist right up to the moment the house lights dim. But once the curtain goes up, a switch flips on inside me. I feel nervous, expectant and palpably, exhilaratingly in the moment. In that sense, I imagine, I’m experiencing a milder version of what the performers onstage go through every single night.

This is live theater, after all. We’re in this together. Those people up there need us as much as we need them. And I’m being paid to participate, with all senses wide open, in this fraught, blessed exchange of energy. I’m being paid to pay attention.

This means that I am hyper-aware of all the moving pieces that make up a production, and that a part of my mind is assessing how successfully these elements cohere. While this might suggest a cold and clinical detachment, I find that it’s an approach that makes me feel more vital, more connected, more grateful.

Paradoxically, this “objective” assessing perspective enhances the pleasure of my unthinking self — the part that responds viscerally to a work’s beauty or fearful symmetry, and feels elation or pity and terror. When a show is really working, my gut eclipses my mind.

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DRAMA DESK AWARD-WINNING WORKING THEATER LEADS THE NEW DIGITAL AGE OF THEATER ANNOUNCING 2020-2021 SEASON ·

DRAMA DESK AWARD-WINNING

WORKING THEATER

LEADS THE NEW DIGITAL AGE OF THEATER

ANNOUNCING 2020-2021 SEASON

PRESENTING WORKS BY

LEILA BUCK, MICHAEL PREMO, RACHEL FALCONE

and LISA RAMIREZ

WORKING THEATER, the DRAMA DESK and AUDELCO award-winning Off-Broadway company – now in its 36th Season, under the leadership of Artistic Directors Mark Plesent and Tamilla Woodard – is pleased to announce its digital programming for 2020-2021 beginning late October. Opening with Leila Buck’s ‘AMERICAN DREAMS,’ which is currently on a national virtual tour, WORKING THEATER will also feature the audio immersive experience ‘SANCTUARY’ by Rachel Falcone and Michael Premo, with music by Broken Chord, and a benefit performance of ‘TO THE BONE’ by Lisa Ramirez, a Working Theater Commission.

“Tamilla and I have collaborated on projects for many years, but our 36th Season is the first that we are co-leading the Company as Artistic Directors.  And while the pandemic has been a blow to Working Theater and the theater community at large, that won’t stop us from serving the workers of New York and beyond – be it through a nationwide partnership on a live digital play about immigration or an intimate sound-walk inspired by the intersection of faith, sanctuary and social justice. Engaging our audience of working people and representing their hopes, dreams and challenges on stages, virtual and otherwise, remains the reason Working Theater was founded and continues to survive and thrive,” said Plesent.

AMERICAN DREAMS: October 20-25, 2020

Written by Leila Buck

Directed by Tamilla Woodard

Created and Developed by Leila Buck and Tamilla Woodard with Jens Rasmussen,

in collaboration with Osh Ghanimah, Imran Sheikh, and the Company

With Ali Andre Ali, Leila Buck, India Nicole Burton, Jens Rasmussen, Imran Sheikh, Andrew Aaron Valdez

This playful participatory production will be the first to launch the Working Theater’s Sliding Scale Ticketing Initiative which reflects the Company’s commitment to accessibility and the belief that theater should not be a luxury or a privilege, but available and accessible to all.

Highlighted by The New York Times as ‘thought provoking,’ the production of American Dreams, is presented by Working Theater in an unprecedented national partnership alongside eight esteemed partners — Round House Theatre (Bethesda, MD), Salt Lake Acting Company (Salt Lake City, UT), Marin Theatre Company (Mill Valley, CA), HartBeat Ensemble, The Bushnell and University of Connecticut (Hartford, CT), Arizona State University’s ASU Gammage (Tempe, AZ) and Texas Performing Arts (Austin, TX). American Dreams is written by playwright Leila Buck, and takes a page from America’s favorite game shows by asking audiences to vote on who will be America’s newest citizen.

Kicking off Working Theater’s week of performances are several surround events including a free Town Hall featuring artist, activist and policy makers in conversation about Citizenship and the American Dream. The evening will include a keynote by Broadway/ TV/ Film actor Carlo Alban, followed by a moderated panel with Nura Elgmagbari (Portland Refugee Support Group) Richard Lujan-Valerio (The Latino Network), Juanita Sarmiento (Rural and Migrant Ministry) and actor/ playwright/ advocate for native communities DeLanna Studi (Cherokee).

SANCTUARY: November 16- December 5, 2020

A Soundwalk for the Cathedral of St. John the Divine

Created by Michael Premo & Rachel Falcone

Developed with & directed by Rebecca Martinez

Music Director Broken Chord

Commissioned by Working Theater

Believers and nonbelievers from all walks of life and faith traditions are welcome at St. John the Divine. In the community of this magnificent cathedral, many people have found home and sanctuary, but in a world of chaos and injustice, what does that mean? In this aural exploration, featuring the majestic Cathedral, audiences are invited to put on their headphones and take a walk that weaves together the aural landscape of New York City and the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, and to reflect on the intersection of faith, sanctuary and social justice.

Sanctuary is part of Working Theater’s Five Boroughs/One City Initiative and is developed in partnership with the community at St. John the Divine.

Rachel Falcone and Michael Premo (Photo of  Michael Premo by Kisha Bari Horiz)

TO THE BONE: December 7, 2020

By Lisa Ramirez

Directed by Lisa Peterson

Commissioned by Working Theater

With Dan Domingues, Liza Fernandez, Annie Henk Paola Lazaro-Munoz, Lisa Ramirez, Gerardo Rodriguez, Xochitl Romero and Danny Wolohan

Inspired by actual interviews with immigrant workers in the poultry processing plants of upstate NY, To the Bone examines the very nature of equality and justice in contemporary America. Featuring the original cast from the acclaimed Cherry Lane Theater production, this virtual reading of To the Bone will benefit Sullivan County migrant farm workers and their fight for a farm workers’ Bill of Rights.

Photo of Lisa Ramirez: David Green

TheaterWorks! with members of 32BJ SEIU: February 22, 2020

TheaterWorks! is a signature adult education program of Working Theater, which teaches playwriting and performance skills to working New Yorkers. Offered this fall to building service workers at the union 32BJ SEIU, the 16-week course is led by teaching artist Joe Roland, and will culminate in a final performance on February 22, 2021.

BIOS:

Leila Buck is a Lebanese American playwright, actor, facilitator and educator. She has performed and developed her work at the Public, NYTW, Culture Project, BRIC Arts, Brooklyn Museum, Cleveland Public, Cal Shakes, Mosaic Theater at Arena Stage, and the Wilma (Barrymore Award), and performed and taught theatrical tools for literacy, conflict resolution, and intercultural engagement to youth, educators, aid workers, UN delegates and others across the U.S., Europe, China, Australia and 11 Arab countries. She is a member of the Public’s inaugural Emerging Writers Group, a Usual Suspect with NYTW, and teaches Creation and Representation in U.S. Theater at NYU.

Michael Premo is an artist, journalist, filmmaker, and civic engagement strategist. He is Executive Producer of Storyline, a production company building power with story and strategy. Recent projects include the multi-platform exhibit 28th Amendment: Housing is a Human Right, the participatory documentary Sandy Storyline, the short film and exhibit Water Warriors, and the PBS series Veterans Coming Home. Sandy Storyline won the first ever Storyscapes Award at Tribeca Film Festival. Water Warriors has won ten awards and is currently touring film festivals and communities. Premo has produced projects with the Hip-Hop Theater Festival, the Peabody Award-winning StoryCorps, The Foundry Theater and The Civilians, and was an Impact Producer for Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything. He is an affiliate facilitator with the Interaction Institute for Social Change, a board member of A Blade of Grass and the Center for Story-Based Strategy, and a recipient of a 2019 Creative Capital Grant.

Rachel Falcone is an artist and filmmaker. Before starting the nonprofit production company Storyline, Rachel traveled across the United States with the award-winning national oral history project StoryCorps, worked as a producer with EarSay, Inc., and was associate producer on Incite Picture’s Young Lakota, broadcast on Independent Lens. She is co-director of the participatory documentary Sandy Storyline (winner of the inaugural Tribeca Film Festival Storyscapes Award) and the multi-platform exhibit 28th Amendment: Housing is a Human Right and a producer of the short film and exhibit Water Warriors. She has directed dozens of short films for organizations like AFSCME and The John. F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Rachel has also taught oral history and storytelling for movement building in collaboration with institutions like the Museum of the City of New York and Parsons The New School for Design. Rachel studied philosophy at University College London and Vassar College.

Rebecca Martinez is the BOLD Associate Artistic Director at WP Theater, an NYC-based director and ensemble member of Sojourn Theatre. Recent projects: I Am My Own Wife (Long Wharf Theatre); Mojada: A Medea in Los Angeles (Repertory Theatre of St. Louis), Miss You Like Hell (Baltimore Center Stage), Wolf at the Door (Milagro Theatre, NNPN rolling world premiere), Anna in the Tropics (Fine Arts Center, Colorado Springs, Henry Award for Outstanding Direction). Rebecca has worked with INTAR, Working Theater, Signature Theatre, the Lark, The Playwrights Realm, New Dramatists, the 52nd Street Project, Radical Evolution among others. Member of: Sol Project Collective, INTAR’s Unit52, SDCF Observer, Latinx Theatre Commons Advisory Committee, 2019 Audrey Resident, New Georges Affiliated Artist, 2018-2020 WP Lab, 2017 Drama League Directing Fellow, Member of SDC. Rebeccamartinez.org

Broken Chord has written music on Broadway for: The Parisian Woman, and Eclipsed. Off-Broadway credits include Toni Stone at Roundabout Theatre Company; The Lying Lesson at the Atlantic; OZET at Incubator Arts; Bull in a China Shop at LCT3; Party People at The Public. Selected regional credits are Angels in America at The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis; Enemy of the People, and As You Like It at the Guthrie Theatre; Ruined at Berkeley Repertory Theatre; Top Girls, and A Raisin in the Sun at the Huntington Theatre; UniSon at OSF; Macbeth, and Hamlet at Shakespeare Theatre Company. Film credits include Fall to Risewww.brokenchord.us

Lisa Ramirez Exit Cuckoo (nanny in motherland)- Working Theater, NYC world premiere. Art Of Memory – Company SoGoNo, world premiere at 3LD/NYC. Pas de Deux (lost my shoe)– Cherry Lane Mentor Project. To The Bone– Working Theater commission, world premiere Cherry Lane Theatre. Down Here Below – Oakland Theater Project commission and world premiere.  Currently working on All Fall Down– a dance theatre/memory play, joan (of arc)- an Oakland Theater Project commission and two original TV pilots.

Working Theater believes the transformative experience of live theater should not be a luxury, but a staple. Now in its 36th season, Working Theater continues its mission to produce theater for and about working people — the essential workers of any city or town — and to make play going a regular part of our audiences’ cultural lives. By making productions relevant, accessible and affordable regardless of geography or socio-economic status, Working Theater strives to always acknowledge the city’s diversity while seeking to unite us in our common humanity. Working Theater is under the leadership of Artistic Directors Mark Plesent and Tamilla Woodard, and Managing Director, Laura Carbonell Monarque. www.theworkingtheater.org

 

MANDY PATINKIN IS STILL SINGING ·

(Rachel Syme’s article appeared in The New Yorker, 10/11;  From his converted farmhouse, in upstate New York, the actor talks about his four-decade career and his social-media stardom in quarantine; Photograph by Tonje Thilesen for The New Yorker.)

One recent afternoon, I picked up my cell phone to see that I had a missed call and voice mail from an unknown number. “Hey, Rachel, this is Mandy Patinkin calling,” a gruff, lyrical voice, not unlike that of Rowlf the Muppet, said when I pressed play on the message. Patinkin invited me to call him back to schedule our Zoom interview and concluded with “Look forward to hearing your voice,” as if his voice, a scraggly, gooey basso that can instantly vault upward into an angelic falsetto, were not the raison d’etre behind our conversation. There was a softness to the message—and a disarming familiarity. I’d figured his publicist would call me before he did; that’s how these things tend to go.

Patinkin has said before that the word by which he defines his entire life and career is “connect.” It’s a word he uttered repeatedly when he played a fictionalized version of the pointillist painter Georges Seurat (and Seurat’s artist great-grandson, also called George) in the Pulitzer Prize-winning 1984 musical “Sunday in the Park with George.” “Connect, George. Connect,” his character pleads with himself in the second act, lamenting his tendency to isolate himself from others in order to create works of art. “If I have a tombstone—I don’t know what I’m going to have or not. I’m leaving it up to the children. I can’t deal with that—but if there is anything written anywhere, I would like it to say ‘He Tried to Connect,’ ” Patinkin told me when our interview took place, over two and a half hours on a recent morning.

Patinkin’s own performances have connected so many times, and with so many different fandoms, over the course of his four-decade career. If you are a child of the nineteen-eighties, you may know him as the avenging swordsman Inigo Montoya from “The Princess Bride” (a role he recently revisited, with gusto, for a virtual cast reunion). If you are a fan of Barbra Streisand’s directorial work, you may know him as the hirsute love interest Avigdor from 1983’s “Yentl.” If you love television drama, you may know him as the kindly mentor Saul Berenson to Claire Danes’s unpredictable C.I.A. agent Carrie Mathison on Showtime’s “Homeland.” And if you are a musical-theatre buff, you may think of him as more or less a superstar, one of the most vibrant countertenors to ever grace the Broadway stage. After growing up on the South Side of Chicago and studying at Juilliard—alongside the likes of Robin Williams, William Hurt, and Patti LuPone—Patinkin had his breakout stage role as Che in “Evita,” for which he won a Tony Award, in 1980.

Still, Patinkin has to some extent flown under the radar as a show-business figure. He has been spending the pandemic at his small, converted farmhouse, in upstate New York, with his wife of forty years, the writer and actress Kathryn Grody, but he has lived on the Upper West Side of Manhattan since the nineteen-seventies, and he still maintains a low-enough profile there to shop at Barney Greengrass and Murray’s Sturgeon Shop without causing a stir. (This may be in part because, with his casual hiking clothes, rimless wire glasses, and bushy eyebrows, he blends into the dad-ish neighborhood aesthetic.) Over the past few months, though, Patinkin has fallen into a new, unexpected role: quarantine social-media star. In April, his son Gideon began broadcasting the idle banter between his parents as they puttered around the house, and two new boomer Internet stars were born. In an early video, Gideon asks Patinkin and Grody about popular web acronyms; LMAO, Patinkin guesses, stands for “let me alone, oaf.” The couple munch on matzo, slow-dance to old half-remembered songs, and, at one point, perform a Stooge-like comedy routine in which Grody breaks a bottle and an egg over Patinkin’s head. Patinkin stressed to me that he recognizes the power of his new platform. Between filming quirky home videos, Gideon has made it his “full-time job” to record political P.S.A.s, in which his parents talk about causes from Black Lives Matter to getting out the vote. Patinkin is still singing, too; he just does it alone, on long walks through the woods, sometimes running through his entire repertoire. Lately, when Grody accompanies him, she listens to podcasts instead.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

So, let’s just start with the quarantine videos. Whose idea was this?

It was Gideon’s. Let’s see. Kathryn’s and my first date was April 16, 1978, at the Black Sheep tavern, between Washington and Greenwich in New York, in the Village. So that’s our big anniversary. That’s even more important to us than our wedding date. So that date came, April 16th. The pandemic was somewhat new, about a month old. Gideon had come back from wherever he was, and he was quarantining for a couple of weeks, and we would take walks on the road. He asked us a question, and the question had to do with the anniversary or something, and then Kathryn started saying something. We were standing in front of the forsythia trees on the road and he taped. Then a few days later, he says, “This was really something I liked.” And he said, “Can we put it on your social media?” So he posts it and it gets this crazy amount of attention. And he’s like, “Dad, people just want more of this.”

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