Monthly Archives: December 2021


(from JAMnews, 12/14; Photo: Dmitry Muratov, editor-in-chief of Novaya Gazeta. Photo: “Novaya Gazeta”)

Russian Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Dmitry Muradov

Dmitry Muratov, editor-in-chief of the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, won the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize. At the award ceremony in Oslo, Muratov addressed the world with a speech in which he talked about the threat of war, problems with media and human rights in Russia.

“I am convinced that freedom of conscience, together with the other civic rights, provides the basis for progress.

I defend the thesis of the decisive significance of civic and political rights in moulding the destiny of mankind!

I am convinced that international confidence, <…> disarmament, and international security are inconceivable without an open society with freedom of information, freedom of conscience, freedom of speech <…>.

Peace, progress, human rights – these three goals are insolubly linked to one another.”

These words are a quote from the Nobel lecture of member of the Academy of Science Andrei Sakharov, a citizen of the world, a great thinker.

His wife Elena Bonner read it out here, in this place, on Thursday, December 11, 1975.

I felt an urge to repeat Sakharov’s words here, in this world-famous hall.

Why is it important today for us, for me?

The world has fallen out of love for democracy.

The world has become disappointed with the power elite.

The world has begun to turn to dictatorship.

We’ve got an illusion that progress can be achieved through technology and violence, not through human rights and freedoms.

This is progress without freedom?

It is as impossible as getting milk without having a cow.

The dictatorships have secured access to violence.

In our country (and not only) it is common to think that politicians who avoid bloodshed are weak.

While threatening the world with war is the duty of true patriots.

The threat of war

The powerful actively promote the idea of war.

Aggressive marketing of war affects people and they start thinking that war is acceptable.

Governments and their propaganda supporters are fully responsible for the militaristic rhetoric on state-owned television channels.

Today’s ideologues promote the idea of dying for your country and not living for your country. TV screens shall not fool us again. Let us remember what we saw on that little TV screen in the small room close to the railway cars filled with dead children.

Hybrid warfare and the tragic, ugly and criminal story of the Boeing MH17 have ruined relations between Russia and Ukraine, and I do not know if the next generations will be able to restore them. Moreover, in heads of some crazy geopoliticians, a war between Russia and Ukraine is not something impossible any longer.

But I know that wars end with identifying soldiers and exchanging prisoners. During the Chechen war, Novaya Gazeta and our observer, Major Izmajlov, managed to free 174 people from captivity. If I, in my new status, can do anything to bring home prisoners who are still alive, please say so. I’m ready.

Crisis on the Belarusian-Polish border

The events we see in the centre of Europe, in the Eastern Ukraine have been extended by a game, which is now turning into bloodshed, initiated by the the President of Belarus Lukashenko. His soldiers chase refugees who have come from the Middle East towards rows of guards armed with machine guns who protect the borders of the European Union. Both sides accuse one another, and the desperate people have literally come to a squeeze.

We are journalists, and our mission is clear – to distinguish between facts and fiction. The new generation of professional journalists knows how to work with big data and databases. By using these, we have found out whose airplanes are bringing refugees to the conflict area. The facts speak for themselves.

The number of Belarusian flights from the Middle East to Minsk has more than quadrupled this autumn. 6 flights in the period August-November 2020 and 27 in the same period this year. The Belarusian airline company brought 4,500 people to possible crossing of the border this year, and only 600 last year. The same number – 6,000 refugees – came with an Iraqi airline company.

This is how armed provocations and conflicts arise. We journalists have uncovered how it is all organized, our task is accomplished. Now it is up to the politicians.

(Read more)


(Chilton Williamson Jr.’s article appeared in the Spectator, 12/1; Photo: Sobran’s.)

A few philosophers since ancient Greece have been wise, scarcely any humble. None at all, to my knowledge, has had the hubris — or maybe courage — to tackle the foremost challenge in political philosophy facing Western democracies today: how to achieve a demotic political system with an elite culture resting on top of the popular one, and the subordinate problem of how to prevent bad culture from driving out good, or making it impossible.

Not even Tocqueville addressed the problem, which shows what a wise man the aristocratic Frenchman truly was. Yet the matter is of critical importance today, as no intellectual and artistic class, left or right, will ultimately be satisfied with a so-called civilization — such as our own — in which a cheap and unserious culture is the predominant culture.

Tocqueville, in fact, did touch upon the question in the second book of Democracy in America, where he explains how the democratic principle “not only tends to direct the human mind to the useful arts, but… induces the artisan to produce with greater rapidity a quantity of imperfect commodities, and the consumer to content himself with these commodities.”

This situation has been compounded immeasurably since the first third of the nineteenth century, first by the industrial and now by the digital-technocratic society that makes mass culture in every form so easy to create, to advertise and to sell to the nearly complete exclusion of the superior sophisticated variety. It is elementary that a market for anything of quality, from fine porcelain and Chippendale furniture through noble architecture and landscaping, painting and sculpture, music and literature, to high fashion and refined conversation, requires the existence of a highly educated, sophisticated and generally superior class of people to patronize — and pay for — it.  In the absence of a Brahmin class, any civilization worthy of the name is impossible, and society is nothing more than an unstructured and disordered aggregation of affluent human savages endowed with cheap but shiny toys and expensive gadgets so technically complex that the science from which they are developed is wholly incomprehensible to ninety-five percent of the scientific ignoramuses who use and amuse themselves with them. In a democratic age, of course, Brahmins must be tolerant of the demos, prepared to accept its power at the polls and the principle of democratic social equality that will not tolerate aristocratic privilege, and willing to acknowledge that it owes its survival to the ability of the political class to recognize the value to society of a civilized minority. Conversely, in a political democracy the demotic majority must be prepared to tolerate a culturally and intellectually superior class that, taken as a whole, enjoys the economic and material advantages that permit it to fulfill the cultural and intellectual role of the old haute bourgeoisie and the feudal aristocracies. This, of course, goes directly against the progressively socialistic spirit of the postmodern, ultra-democratic age, and the envy, anger and resentment that accompany it.

It is evident, in fact, that politics in the democratic republics of the Western world — the United States in particular — is going in precisely the opposite direction, as the ideological crusade against the hated One Percent widens to include the wealthy, defined by President Biden and the Democrats as anyone sitting on the princely sum of $400,000, and beyond that the inheritors of a sizable family estate. Liberals (in particular those who neither enjoy such a windfall, nor expect to) as well as downright Reds are keen to prevent the rise of new family fortunes, after having busted the old ones. Their stated aim is to reduce, and finally abolish, inequality. Thus old families must be financially and socially reduced, and nouveaux riches ones prevented from maturing and ripening to form an educated, cultivated and enlightened class on the model of historic aristocracies. “Retrograde” is a principal cussword among liberals and anyone to the left of them, yet no social and political policy could be more backward than the plan to destroy old and new wealth alike in a society where vulgarity in every form and at every level has replaced creeks and rivers, fields and plains, mountains and deserts, lakes and forests as Americans’ natural environment. Indeed, the republic’s only hope for survival is that wealth, a superior education, the habit of traveling widely and intelligently, honest and disinterested public service, and the development of a civilized habit of command will in time produce a new aristocracy worthy of the name, yet one that also respects political and social democracy by refusing the snobbery of class and of a long and illustrious pedigree, and with it the expectation of social deference.

(Read more)


(Peter Bradshaw’s article appeared in the Guardian, 12/9; Photo: Mordant and subversive … Lina Wertmüller. Photograph: Camilla Morandi/AGF/REX/Shutterstock.)

Lina Wertmüller dies aged 93

The director was a film-maker with mordant and subversive things to say about the postwar Italian soul, particularly in Seven Beauties

I last saw Lina Wertmüller on the stage of the Buñuel auditorium at the Cannes film festival in 2019, surrounded by cheering fans: a tiny, fiercely alert and beaming figure in her early 90s. She was there because Pasqualino Settebellezze, or Seven Beauties (1975), her strange, serio-comic masterpiece was being shown; this famously made her the first woman to be nominated for an Academy Award as best director.

Seven Beauties is an absurdist anti-war satire, starring her favourite leading man Giancarlo Giannini – a roguishly handsome but unsettling presence who was to her movies, perhaps, what Marcello Mastroianni was to Federico Fellini, and Wertmüller started out as assistant to Fellini. Fellini was her mentor and friend, and she, in turn, was his lifelong passionate admirer as a creative life force – and yet it was arguably Wertmüller who had more mordant and subversive things to say about the postwar Italian soul.

Seven Beauties, for which she wrote the original screenplay, is something to be compared to Günter Grass’s The Tin Drum. Giannini plays Pasqualino Frafuso, a fool – though not an innocent or a holy one – who is to reveal himself as an egotist, a coward and even a rapist as he careens across the strife-torn landscape of the second world war, motivated by a pompous macho concern for protecting the supposed honour of his seven sisters, who are far from bellezze in any sense. Pasqualino gets sent to an insane asylum for killing the pimp with whom one sister has taken up (and dismembering the body and despatching the portions all over Italy in suitcases) but is finally released to serve in the army – in which capacity he is sent to a Nazi concentration camp where he grotesquely attempts to seduce the female commandant and is made to undergo horrifying ordeals which resemble a bad-taste horror panto version of Sophie’s Choice. When he finally returns home to Naples, he naturally finds that all seven of his sisters and his mother have succumbed to exactly that dishonour which horrified him in the first place.

(Read more )




In Our Time

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the British phase of a movement that spread across Europe in the mid-19th and early 20th centuries. Influenced by Charles Baudelaire and by Walter Pater, these Decadents rejected the mainstream Victorian view that art needed a moral purpose, and valued instead the intense sensations art provoked, celebrating art for art’s sake. Oscar Wilde was at its heart, Aubrey Beardsley adorned it with his illustrations and they, with others, provoked moral panic with their supposed degeneracy. After burning brightly, the movement soon lost its energy in Britain yet it has proved influential.

The illustration above, by Beardsley, is from the cover of the first edition of The Yellow Book in April 1894.


Neil Sammells
Professor of English and Irish Literature and Deputy Vice Chancellor at Bath Spa University

Kate Hext
Senior Lecturer in English Literature at the University of Exeter


Alex Murray
Senior Lecturer in English at Queen’s University, Belfast

Producer: Simon Tillotson



Great reads for Christmas and the holidays 2021, represented by Marit Literary Agency:


by John B. Roberts II

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Reagan’s Cowboys is something of a memoir of Robert’s career with the 40th president, and as such, it’s a time machine back to the days of typewriters, hard-line telephones, and Marlboro cigarettes…be grateful to Roberts for giving us history as it actually happened, uncensored and un-politically corrected. …Roberts gives us glimpses of a huge cast of characters in Reaganworld”―Breitbart

When rumors about Geraldine Ferraro–the first woman vice-presidential nominee by a major party in U.S history–reached First Lady Nancy Reagan during the 1984 presidential election, a secret operation was launched to investigate her. It revealed Ferraro’s ties to organized crime and the extent to which she would have been subject to pressure or blackmail by the Mafia if elected. Written by an insider responsible for running the investigation, this never-before-told story goes behind the scenes as an incumbent president’s campaign works to expose a political opponent’s mob connections. Part detective story, part political thriller, the narrative features all the major players in the Reagan White House and 1984 reelection committee, with revealing anecdotes about Ronald and Nancy Reagan.


by Joe Kinnison


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Tips to become a bass fishing pro!

While many people catch fish, even the occasional lunker, few actually acquire bass fishing proficiency. The popular view is that anglers who achieve such prominence do so through a collection of vices. These afflictions range from luck, to fraudulence, to worst of all, patience. Few, however, talk about the true qualities that lead to angling success. That’s what Joe Kinnison, himself a sportsman, gathered in Next-Level Bass Fishing: the tips, options, strategies, and winning methods, to allow those who fish recreationally to employ the knowledge base of a pro.

Five professional anglers work with Joe to identify distinctive characteristics that elevate the best in the field. Bassmaster Elite pro Tyler Carriere illustrates a structured approach to fishing. Six-time Ladies Bass Anglers Association (LBAA) Angler of the Year, Pam Martin- Wells explains versatility as she takes readers on a tour of her favorite waterways. Brandon, Palaniuk, two-time 2020 tournament champion and one of the leading money winners on tour, discusses details such as hormones and sensory ranges of his quarry. Christiana Bradley teaches focus, and Destin Demarion provides an example of productive originality. When qualities are translated into lure selections and lake terrain targets, the results are far superior to those of the average angler reminiscing about how one got away.

Kinnison explores the key relationships, the innovative techniques, and the special places that have elevated the world’s best anglers to the top of their craft. Next-Level Bass Fishing is the next-best thing to touring with the pros.


by Robert Dwyer & Austin Wright

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Sheriff John Donovan is fighting to maintain his grip on Three Chop, Texas, the town he built and has ruled with an iron fist for twenty years. But as the twentieth century looms, Donovan faces a host of new challenges: powerful business interests, religious schism, and the budding women’s rights and Prohibition movements. As he navigates these changing times, making friends of enemies and enemies of friends, a twist of fate brings to Three Chop a gang of fearsome outlaws looking to wrest new riches and settle old scores. How else could such a struggle end but with bloodshed? A final showdown forces the residents of Three Chops to take sides, to choose between the town’s past and future.

Called “one of those rare modern Western fiction classics” by New York Times best-selling author Jeff GuinnThe Sheriff pays loving homage to the Western genre while brilliantly puncturing the myths of the Old West.


by Wayne Allensworth

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A modern Western…

In a small Texas town, the fallout from a globalized world tests the boundaries of loyalty and identity and the deepest attachments of the human heart. Parmer, Texas is a casualty of a clash of cultures and peoples, as the Mexican drug war opens a front in a town that has sent its men to far-flung battlefields. The town’s veterans, “the soldiers”, face a fight for the very existence of the place they call home, while the fate of one man may determine the future of Parmer and the fates of the soldiers themselves.

Field of Blood confronts the human tragedy playing out on America’s southern border.

“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, tragic landscapes, confused prisoners of circumstances kill or are killed, while republics and civilisations bleed in and out of each other, and everyone and everywhere are compromised” Derek Turner, author of Sea Changes

“This is a true, and terribly beautiful, novel by an artist of considerable ability. Wayne Allensworth has written a fine novel worthy of comparison with some of the best American works of fiction in recent times.. . .” Chronicles Magazine

Wayne Allensworth worked as an analyst for the Foreign Broadcast Information Service from 1991 to 2002. He is the author of The Russian Question: Nationalism, Modernisation and Post-Communist Russia. He lives in Keller, Texas.


by Nancy Nelson

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Charming, witty, effortlessly debonair, and elegant, Cary Grant was the ultimate leading man, a silver screen icon who seemed to embody all that a movie star should be. But beneath the glamour was a real and complicated man–a surprisingly vulnerable, unabashedly romantic, and often exacting perfectionist, who rose above a traumatic childhood and failed marriages to become an incomparable Hollywood legend. In this sublimely truthful and candid portrait biographer Nancy Nelson draws on interviews with Grant, as well as material from his personal papers, along with loving revelatory reminiscences from some of his closest friends and loved ones, including Katharine Hepburn, Gregory Peck, Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor, Sophia Loren, Quincy Jones, James Stewart, and many more to reveal the vaudevillian, actor, lover, and father. With a treasury of both well-loved and rarely seen photographs–and a foreword by Grant’s wife Barbara and daughter, Jennifer–this is the definitive biography of one of the screen’s greatest stars


by Phyllis Wheeler

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Winner of a 2021 Moonbeam Children’s Book Award!

Anti-prejudice, anti-racist middle grade Christian fiction: The Long Shadow by Phyllis Wheeler (ranked #1 new release Teen & Young Adult Christian Social Issue Fiction (6/8/21 ranked #1 new release Teen & Young Adult Christian Social Issue Fiction; #3 on Amazon, regarding Children’s books about Prejudice and Racism; #18 in Children’s Self-Esteem and Self-Respect books; #1  (6/4/2021)

Aunt Trudy never wanted kids. Now that she’s Richie’s guardian, she makes his life miserable. Richie just wants to escape, so he seeks refuge in the deep Missouri woods he loves so much.

Suddenly it’s not summer, but late fall. How did that happen? Did the trucker who just gave him a ride somehow whisk him back fifty years in time?

The woods aren’t for Richie the haven they used to be. After a freak storm, he finds himself at the mercy of Morris, a mysterious black man who also calls the woods home. Is Morris a savior? Or someone to fear?

“Searching for a new favorite book? Look no further than The Long Shadow by Phyllis Wheeler. This is a great book for fans of To Kill a Mockingbird but with a time-travel twist. Richie grabs your attention and doesn’t let go until the very end.”—Elsie G, age 13. 

“Sometimes we need to escape our own time and place to walk a few miles in someone else’s shoes. Phyllis Wheeler’s The Long Shadow will open your eyes, rend your heart, and take you on an invaluable journey.” —Wayne Thomas Batson, bestselling author of The Door Within Trilogy.

“Heartwarming and heartbreaking, Richie’s story is a shining example of how taking a chance on unlikely friendships is the best way to break down the barriers we build.” —Jill Williamson, award-winning author of the Blood of Kings trilogy.

“A powerful message wrapped in a page-turner.” — Cherie Postill, author, speaker, and mentor for teens at the St. Louis Writers Guild. 

“I’ve read this book and enjoyed the characters in the story. I like the friendship that blossomed in the story and how the story came full circle in the end. It was a good history lesson without being offensive to anyone.”—LaShaunda Hoffman, sensitivity reader and author. 

“Part survival story, part exploration of racial justice in America, part journey of self-discovery, and wholly engaging and memorable.  A well done and powerful story.  It is certainly stuck in my head.”—Joe Corbett, school librarian, St. Louis.


(Harriet Sherwood and Andrew Roth in Moscow—their article appeared in the Guardian, 12/6; Photo: Some of the 16 Belarus Free Theatre members currently in London rehearsing for a production. Photograph: Linda Nylind/The Guardian.)


Members of Belarus Free Theatre say authorities ‘are more scared of artists than of political statements’

For 16 years, the Belarus Free Theatre has advocated for freedom of expression, equality and democracy through underground performances from ad hoc locations to audiences hungry for an alternative voice to the country’s repressive dictator, Alexander Lukashenko.

Now the banned company has taken the momentous decision to relocate outside Belarus, saying the risk of reprisals against its members is too great for it to continue its cultural resistance under the Lukashenko regime.

Sixteen members of the BFT ensemble in London rehearsing for a production at the Barbican next year, plus another nine family members, have decided they cannot return home for the foreseeable future. The BFT is the only theatre company in Europe to be prohibited on political grounds.

Its new base has not been established, but Poland and other eastern European countries are being considered. The troupe has ruled out applying for asylum in the UK as its members would be barred from working during the process, which could take more than a year.

Several members of the BFT were imprisoned amid widespread protests after Lukashenko declared victory in flawed elections in August 2020. The theatre group’s co-founders, Natalia Kaliada and Nikolai Khalezin, have lived in London since being forced into exile in 2011.

Kaliada said it was unprecedented in 2021 for a theatre company to be forced to relocate out of a European country “for fear of persecution and torture”. She added: “It is a disgrace that we allow not just artistic freedoms but basic human freedoms to be absolutely disregarded in a country that is a three-hour flight from London.

“The sheer existence of Belarus Free Theatre and our continued work, despite repression, is the greatest threat to dictatorship – the will of the people to continue telling the truth is the greatest show of power imaginable.”

As the regime cracked down forcefully against protests after the disputed 2020 election, “it became clear we needed to get our team out of the country”, said Kaliada. “There was very severe repression and people being arrested every day.”

The members of the company left Minsk in October, taking different forms of transport. Some were smuggled out of the country, she said. All left parents and other loved ones, and brought nothing apart from clothing and small personal items. “It is very painful for them to leave their families, and they have feelings of guilt,” Kaliada added.

(Read more)


(Jesse Green’s, Maya Phillips’s, Laura Collins-Hughes’s, Scott Heller’s, Alexis Soloski’s, and Elisabeth Vincentelli’s article appeared 12/3 in The New York Times; via Pam Green; Photo: From left, Sharon D Clarke in “Caroline, or Change,” Adrianna Hicks in “Six” and Deirdre O’Connell in “Dana H.” Their shows are among the year’s best.Credit…Photographs by Sara Krulwich/The New York Times.)

Digital innovation continued this year, but experiencing plays in isolation grew tiring. Then came an in-person season as exciting as a child’s first fireworks.


Months of Streaming, Then the Pleasures of Live Theater

Until the pandemic, I had never seen a play with my shoes off. Nor had I been able to see so many from all over the world at the click of an icon. Yet by the beginning of 2021, I was tiring of those novelties. Watching shows by myself, at my desk — or, more often, lolling on a sofa — no longer seemed liberating but its opposite. I began to feel imprisoned in my own experience, a sensation that was one of the reasons I gravitated to the theater in the first place.

Despite a few timid outings earlier in the year, two-thirds of 2021 would go by before I fully felt the pleasure of live theater again. Starting in August, and accelerating through the rest of the year, the world reopened, or should I say the worlds: not just the strange buildings dedicated to communal storytelling but also the stories being told inside them. Urgent ideas that had been pent up, in some cases not just for months but for years, were now released, making the fall season as exciting as a child’s first fireworks.

Looking back, I find many reasons to hope streamed theater survives — and I tip my hat below to 10 of the best productions I experienced in that medium in 2021. But I’m otherwise filling my list with 10 live events that came later. Even if seeing them meant putting on shoes (and a series of itchy masks that fogged up my glasses), the eight plays and two musicals listed chronologically after the streaming highlights were more than worth the discomfort. If theater matters differently than television and film it’s not just because you have to leave your home to be part of it, but also because you have to enter someone else’s.

10 Streaming Highlights

Hymn,” a look at Black British manhood by Lolita Chakrabarti (Almeida Theater); “Myths and Hymns,” the Adam Guettel song cycle, trippily reimagined for MasterVoices; Jason Robert Brown’s two-hander “The Last Five Years,” beautifully rendered by Black hands; “What If If Only,” a new play by the indispensable Caryl Churchill, perfectly realized by the National Asian American Theater Company; “Honestly Sincere,” a sweet adolescent comedy by Liza Birkenmeier that got the play-in-a-closet Theater in Quarantine treatment; a radically foreshortened “Romeo and Juliet” for Britain’s National Theater, starring the chemically explosive combo of Josh O’Connor and Jessie Buckley; “Fat Ham,” James Ijames’s Southern barbecue “Hamlet” filmed by Philadelphia’s Wilma Theater; two dystopian diatribes by Wallace Shawn (“The Designated Mourner” and “Grasses of a Thousand Colors”) retuned for the ear alone; and “Three Short Plays by Tracy Letts,” in which Steppenwolf Theater served up the acidulous playwright in potent doses of 15 minutes or less.

‘Merry Wives’ by Jocelyn Bioh

In early August, two years since we last gathered at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park, Bioh’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s “The Merry Wives of Windsor,” directed for the Public Theater by Saheem Ali, opened with a joyful noise of welcome. Set in an African diasporic community in Harlem, the comedy underlined the human qualities of foolishness and forgiveness we know from our own households — or would like to know from others’. After all, whether from Ghana or Zimbabwe or Harlem or Stratford-upon-Avon, we are all, if you look back far enough, an African diasporic community. (Read our review of “Merry Wives” and our interview with Bioh and Ali.)

(Read more)


January 12-30, 2022
Tuesday – Saturday at 7:30 pm
Sunday at 5pm

150 First Ave. Second Floor, NYC 10009

Tickets, now on sale, are $25 and available through The Public Theater.

Mabou Mines’ and Weathervane Productions’ unique celebration of the legendary, late playwright and director María Irene Fornés—a pairing of Philip Glass’ transformation of her five-page play Drowning into an opera and a version of her acclaimed play Mud, both directed by Mabou Mines co-founder JoAnne Akalaitis —returns as part of The Public Theater’s Under the Radar Festival. These intimate productions, both with new music composed by Glass, were first presented at Mabou Mines in February, 2020.

For both works, Akalaitis and her collaborators have developed an aesthetic and philosophical framework to honor the homemade quality of many of Fornés’ own stagings—a “production style that understood just how profound stillness, sparseness, and playful humor could be” (Los Angeles Times).  Akalaitis describes these works as “a conversation between the actors, design, the music, the singers, and of course the primary conversationalist in all this is Irene. They are seemingly stylistically very different—with the quotidian atmosphere and language of Mud and the monstrosity of the characters and opaqueness of the poetry in Drowning—but the heartbeat of both these pieces is in the same body.”


SUPPORT FOR MABOU MINES is provided by the National Endowment for the Arts, The New York State Council on the Arts, the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in Partnership with the City Council and Materials for the Arts, The NYC Women’s Fund by the City of New York Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment/The New York Foundation for the Arts, the Axe-Houghton Foundation, Foundation for Contemporary Arts, Howard Gilman Foundation JKW Foundation, The NYC COVID-19 Response and Impact Fund in The New York Community Trust, Emma A. Shaefer Charitable Trust, Shubert Foundation, the Tides Foundation and the W Trust.ation, the W Trust and Emma A. Shaefer Charitable Trust.



Comedian Kirill Sietlov, who was jailed earlier this year in Russia after claims he organized a protest rally, a charge he denied. He recently set up a Telegram channel for traumatized comedians to share their stories of persecution.
(Photo by Maksim Morozov)

(Robyn Dixon’s and Mary Ilyushina’s article appeared in The Washington Post, 12/2; via the Deudge Report.)

MOSCOW — A Russian video comedy troupe in a small provincial city was doing just fine. It clocked up millions of YouTube views with mischievous political satire.

Then the comedians did a gag in which a drunken political boss with a grenade launcher blows up an election poster for President Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party.

They each face up to eight years in jail, charged with “extreme hooliganism.”

“We’re not criminals. They’re trying to make us into criminals. We are not hooligans. We are just an ordinary film crew,” said director Andrei Klochkov in an interview with Russian independent media.

The team in Ussuriysk, north of Vladivostok, has since been barred by a court from speaking to media, said its lawyer, Alexei Klyotskin.

For years, Russian authorities have expanded their crackdowns: curbing freedom of speech, sweeping away activists, pressuring rights lawyers and jailing Putin’s opponents. Prosecutors last month called for the liquidation of venerable human rights group, the International Memorial Society, with roots in Soviet-era dissent.

Now they are arresting comedians — seeking to muzzle any edgy comedy that might offend Putin loyalists or be seen as mocking Russian patriotism.

Until recently, stand-up comedy and freewheeling Internet posts were refuges from censors, said comedian Kirill Sietlov, who was jailed earlier this year after claims he organized a protest rally, a charge he denied.

He recently set up a Telegram channel for traumatized comedians to share their stories of persecution.

 “It seemed that this was a truly free art form. Everything there was possible. There were no restrictions,” he said.

Now, however, Sietlov said the state “has launched a real campaign of fear — fear and hatred.” Besides the police and intelligence agencies, informers and snitches play their part, drumming up outrage, claiming that comedians offended someone’s beliefs or dignity.

Stand-up comedians are scrolling through their old online content, removing cheeky jokes. YouTube comedy creators are fearful. Police and suspected plain clothes agents turning up at stand-up comedy clubs. Comics are getting death threats.

Even harmless pranksters are targeted.

On an irreverent YouTube channel known as BARAKuda, a fictional character, Vitaly Nalivkin (the name is a play on pouring a drink), parodies a provincial official, slurring his words, issuing crazy orders and making local problems worse.

“This is a guy who thinks he always knows what to do, is very confident, who can never be wrong and is always right. He does whatever he wants. He’s funny because he is so recognizable to people,” said Andrei Ostrovsky editor of independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta in Vladivostok in Russia’s Far East.

He said the sketch mocks the fawning local TV coverage of Ussuriysk’s mayor, Yevgeny Korzh, a member of Putin’s party — although director Andrei Klochkov and the BARAKuda team insist it is not supposed to be political.

The episodes are based on real Ussuriysk problems.

One skit addresses the city’s public toilet shortage. So the fictional character Nalivkin orders up rickety wooden latrines with no internal walls to be installed on every street.

(Read more)


(Andrew Gans’s article appeared on, 11/28; via Pam Green; Photo:  Angela Lansbury and George Hearn in Sweeney Todd Martha Swope.)

The five-time Tony winner spoke exclusively to Playbill about the loss of the Pulitzer Prize-winning composer and lyricist.

Angela Lansbury, whose musical theatre career is book-ended by performances in two Stephen Sondheim musicals—Anyone Can Whistle in 1964 and the 2009 Tony-nominated revival of A Little Night Music—spoke exclusively to Playbill following the November 26 passing of the legendary composer-lyricist.

Five-time Tony winner Lansbury, who also sensationally created the role of Mrs. Lovett in Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler’s Sweeney Todd and played Rose in the 1974 Broadway revival of Sondheim, Jule Styne, and Arthur Laurents‘ Gypsy, told Playbill, “I was so sorry to hear about Stephen. I am so infinitely grateful because, as he liked to jokingly remind me, he was really responsible for launching my career in the theatre. The first show we did together was Anyone Can Whistle. Then, we did Gypsy, Sweeney Todd, and A Little Night Music.

“He was so brilliant and talented,” Lansbury added, “and not only did he have a great impact on my life, but also on the lives and careers of so many others that had the good fortune to work with him, while bringing joy to the countless number of people all over the world who saw his shows and listened to his wonderful music and lyric. I will miss his friendship and presence in my life.”

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