Category Archives: Bob’s Theatre Reviews

LIFE SKETCHES (SHORT SCENES AND MONOLOGUES): “AT THE DOG PARK” (6) ·

By Bob Shuman

SCENE: A dog park in the Bronx. 

NARRATOR:  As Mary Jane suspected, the dog park was closed, on 4/6/2020, along with all runs throughout the city.  Fearing Coronavirus infection, and a fine of one thousand dollars, if caught keeping a social distance of less than six feet from one another, people, out of home isolation, seemed to act silently and in slow motion. The public pathways, where Juno and Jasper were taken, were often uncrowded, especially in the April mists and rains, although this could change when there was sun.  Lantern was glimpsed, one morning, looking out a back window, rolled down, as Mary Jane’s car drove by the elementary school and slippery fallen magnolia blossoms, heading south. In the afternoons, Christie walked his dogs by the Hudson, and he recalled a little-known, sometime playwright of the archaic, who had composed, years before, a one-act on themes similar to those voiced now, during the pandemic.

 

TRAVELERS

 Based on and adapted from Shakespeare and Boccaccio, a companion piece to As You Like It

 

CHARACTERS:

DUKE SENIOR: His royal’s possessions included land in the Ardennes, where, after being exiled, he now lives in dense woods. (50’s) 

JAQUES:  A melancholy lord and follower of Duke Senior. (40’s)

FORESTER I:  A lord and follower of Duke Senior. (30’s)

FORESTER II:  Another of Duke Senior’s men. (40’s)

TOUCHSTONE:  A court fool of Duke Frederick, brother of Duke Senior.  The clown followed Rosalind and Celia to the Forest of Arden after banishment, although he knows little of country ways. (20’s)

AUDREY:  An unsophisticated country wench. (20’s)

MARTEXT:  A country vicar. (50’s)

The forest setting includes rough-hewn benches and a table—a stone ring to make a fire.

Suggestion for introductory music: Huun Huur Tu “Sixty Horses in My Herd.”

 

 

SETTING:  In the forest.

PLACE: Duke Senior’s encampment.

TIME: The plague years.

 

AT RISE: DUKE SENIOR and MEN are putting out a fire, preparing to hunt deer.  JAQUES enters with excitement.

 

JAQUES:

(Entering.) A fool, a fool!  I met a fool I’ the forest.

 

FORESTER I:

(About Jaques.) Must herbs need.

 

JAQUES:

A motley fool; a miserable—

 

FORESTER II:

Valerian.

 

HUNTER I:

Will only make him more melancholy.

 

JAQUES:

Drawing a dial from his poke.  And, looking on it with lack-lustre eye—

 

FORESTER I:

Perhaps saffron and . . . eye of newt.

 

JAQUES:

It’s ten o’clock says the fool very wisely; Thus we may see, ‘quoth he, ‘how the world wags; ‘tis but an hour ago since it was nine—

 

DUKE SENIOR:

Without jerkin?

 

JAQUES:

Without gabardine.

 

DUKE SENIOR:

Next to venison?

 

JAQUES:

On its path.

 

DUKE SENIOR:

Come shall be retrieved.

 

JAQUES:

And after one hour more ’twill be eleven, he says . . .

 

DUKE SENIOR:

Perhaps shall we see your clown.

 

JAQUES:

And so, from hour to hour, we ripe and ripe, And then, from hour to hour, we rot and rot.

 

(JAQUES laughs. Silence. A note of sadness—the joke is not as funny as Jaques intended.)

 

DUKE SENIOR:

Dost think that jocund?

 

JAQUES:

More there was.

 

DUKE SENIOR:

Doth not of patched amusement seem.

 

JAQUES:

If ladies be but young and fair, They have the gift to know it.

 

DUKE SENIOR:

‘Tis better.

 

JAQUES:

And hereby hangs a tale.

 

DUKES SENIOR:

(Ignoring.)  Now, my co-mates and brothers in exile . . .

 

JAQUES:

I am ambitious for a motley coat.

 

DUKE SENIOR:

Then you shall have it.

 

JAQUES:

I thought thou wouldst delight.

 

DUKE SENIOR:

(Returning to his speech.) Old custom hast made this life sweeter than painted pomp.

 

JAQUES:

(Thinking of the clown.) Oh, worthy fool.

 

DUKE SENIOR:

Are not these woods more free from peril than the envious court?

 

JAQUES:

As I do live by food.

 

DUKE SENIOR:

Like Robin of old England, who ’tis said we live like . . .

 

JAQUES:

Motley’s the only wear.

 

DUKE SENIOR:

From the rich he steals–givest to the poor.

 

JAQUES:

Grant me leave To speak my mind, and I will through and through Cleanse the foul body of the’infected world.

 

DUKE SENIOR:

(Noticing that JAQUES has not been paying attention.) I can tell what thou wouldst do.

 

JAQUES:

If they will patiently receive my medicine.

 

DUKE SENIOR:

Fie on thee!

 

JAQUES:

To expose the hypocrisy of the world.

 

DUKE SENIOR:

Most mischievous foul sin, in chiding sin.

 

JAQUES:

Why, who cries out on pride? 

 

DUKE SENIOR:

If you cans’t earn your keep and help our endeavor instead of souring.

 

JAQUES:

That can therein tax any private party?

 

DUKE SENIOR:

There are spies from the court!

 

(Silence.)

 

JAQUES:

He is but a coxcomb, my lord.

 

DUKE SENIOR:

Something more than that.

 

JAQUES:

A merry man of the woods.

 

DUKE SENIOR:

Thinkest he hast no objective?

 

JAQUES:

To give mirth.

 

DUKE SENIOR:

For thyself has been a libertine. As sensual as the brutish sting itself; And all th’embossed sores and headed evils.

 

JAQUES:

(About himself.) Hast been a traveler.

 

DUKE SENIOR:

(About Touchstone.) When you have robbed him, pillaged for our company, shall you find him and strip his clothes as demonstration!

 

(Silence.)

 

DUKE SENIOR:

Come, shall we go shoot us venison?

 

FORESTERS:

Yes, my Lord.

(Silence.)

 

DUKE SENIOR:

(Waving negative thoughts away, as he exits.) It irks me the poor dapple fools being native burghers of this desert city should in their own confine with forked head Have their round haunches gored.

 

(DUKE and HUNTERS exit.)

 

(Silence.)

 

JAQUES:

(Thinking of the deer that has been felled earlier.) Poor deer, thou makest a testament as worldlings do, giving thy sum of more to that which had too much.

 

(ROSALIND enters as a man, as if from a dream.)

 

ROSALIND:

They say you are a melancholy fellow.

 

JAQUES:

I am so.  I do love it better than laughing.

 

ROSALI ND:

Those that are in extremity of either are abominable fellows, and betray themselves to every modern censure worse than drunkard.

 

JAQUES:

Why, ‘tis good to be sad and say nothing.

 

ROSALIND:

Why then, ‘is good to be a post.

 

JAQUES:

‘Tis a melancholy of mine own, composed of many simples, extracted from many objects, and, indeed, the sundry contemplations of my travels, in which my often rumination wraps me in a most humorous sadness.

 

(Pause.)

 

ROSALIND:

Have you perpended tranquil canals in soft-hued Venice?

 

JAQUES:

Death.

 

ROSALIND:

The stately Nile on her course from south to north?

 

JAQUES:

Styx.

 

ROSALIND:

Woulds’t swim through the threadlike Hellespont?

 

JAQUES:

Drown.

(Silence.)

 

JAQUES:

Did’st not see the years wane, or calculate the height of waves.  Yet plagues I’ve seen . . . a pestilence so powerful that it attacked robust and vigorous strength–the way dry or oil close to fire will catch aflame.  Was’t living among the dead but dids’t not recognize it . . .  Just from the touching the clothes of those of the sick or anything felt or used by them.

 

ROSALIND:

(To herself.) Must pray harder think I often, if knowest how to.

 

JAQUES:

Fear filled us so complete that no one cared about the other.   Dost thou know what it’s like to in terror quake?—no, thou are still too young.  Brother abandoning brother, uncle abandoning  nephew, sister left brother and very often wife abandoning husband, and—even worse, almost unbelievable—father and mother neglecting to tend and care for their children, as if they were not their own.

 

ROSALIND:

You have great reason to be sad.

 

JAQUES:

Yes, I have gain’d my experience, boy.

 

ROSALIND:

I fear you have sold your own lands to see other men’s; then to have seen much and to have nothing is to have rich eyes and poor hands.

 

JAQUES:

I have neither the scholar’s melancholy, which is emulation; nor the musician’s, which is fantastical; nor the courtier’s, which is proud; nor the soldier’s, which is ambitious; nor the lawyer’s which is politic; nor the lad’s which is nice; nor the lover’s, which is all these.

 

(ROSALIND has exited; TOUCHSTONE enters.)

 

TOUCHSTONE:

Come apace, good Audrey; I will fetch up our goats, Audrey.  And how, Audrey, am I the man yet?  Doth my simple feature content you?

 

JAQUES:

Shh, shh.  The jig-maker.  It is him.   (Jaques believes that Rosalind is still nearby.)

 

AUDREY:

Your features! Lord warrant us! What features!

 

TOUCHSTONE:

I am here with thee and thy goats, as the most capricious poet, honest Ovid, was among the Goths.

 

JAQUES:

(Aside.) O knowledge ill-inhabited, worse than Jove in a thatched house!

 

TOUCHSTONE:

When a man’s verses cannot be understood, nor a man’s good wit seconded with the forward child Understanding, it strikes a man more dead than a great reckoning in a little room. Truly, I would the gods had made thee poetical.

 

AUDREY:

I do not know what ‘poetical’ is: is it honest in deed and word? Is it a true thing?

 

TOUCHSTONE:

No, truly; for the truest poetry is the most feigning; and lovers are given to poetry, and what they swear in poetry may be said as lovers they do feign.

 

AUDREY:

Do you wish then that the gods had made me poetical?

 

TOUCHSTONE:

I do, truly; for thou swearest to me thou art honest: now, if thou wert a poet, I might have some hope thou didst feign.

 

AUDREY:

Would you not have me honest?

 

TOUCHSTONE:

No, truly, unless thou wert hard-favoured; for honesty coupled to beauty is to have honey a sauce to sugar.

 

JAQUES:

(Aside.) A material fool!

 

AUDREY:

Well, I am not fair; and therefore I pray the gods make me honest.

 

TOUCHSTONE:

Truly, and to cast away honesty upon a foul slut were to put good meat into an unclean dish.

 

AUDREY:

I am not a slut, though I thank the gods I am foul.

 

TOUCHSTONE:

Well, praised be the gods for thy foulness!  Sluttishness may come hereafter. But be it as it may be, I will marry thee, and to that end I have been with Sir Oliver Martext, the vicar of the next village, who hath promised to meet me in this place
of the forest and to couple us.

 

JAQUES:

(Aside.) I would fain see this meeting.

 

AUDREY:

Well, the gods give us joy!

 

TOUCHSTONE:

Amen. A man may, if he were of a fearful heart, stagger in this attempt; for here we have no temple but the wood, no assembly but horn-beasts.

 

JAQUES:

(Aside.) I must have liberty withal, as large a charter as the wind, To blow on whom I please, for so fools have.

 

TOUCHSTONE:

But what though? Courage!

 

JAQUES:

They that are most galled with my folly.  They most must laugh.

 

TOUCHSTONE:

As horns are odious, they are necessary. It is said, ‘many a man knows no end of
his goods:’ right; many a man has good horns, and knows no end of them.

 

JAQUES:

He that a fool doth very wisely hit Doth very foolishly, although he smart,

Not to seem senseless of the bob.

 

TOUCHSTONE:

Well, that is the dowry of his wife; ’tis none of his own getting. Horns?
Even so.

 

JAQUES:

If not, The wise man’s folly is anatomized

 

TOUCHSTONE:

Poor men alone?

 

JAQUES:

Even by the squand’ring glances of the fool.  Invest me in my motley.

 

TOUCHSTONE:

No, no; the noblest deer hath them as huge as the rascal. Is the single man
therefore blessed?

 

JAQUES:

By how much defence is better than no skill, by so much is a horn more precious than to want.

 

TOUCHSTONE:

No: as a walled town is more worthier than a village, so is the forehead of a
married man more honourable than the bare brow of a bachelor; Here comes Sir Oliver.

 

JAQUES:

Doth pride not flow as hugely as the sea Till that the wearer’s very means do ebb?

(SIR OLIVER MARTEXTenters.)

 

TOUCHSTONE:

Sir Oliver Martext, you are well met:

 

JAQUES:

(Aside.)What woman in the city do I name When that I say the city-woman bears

The cost of princes on unworthy shoulders?  Who can come in and say that I mean her. . . .

 

TOUCHSTONE:

(To Martext.) Will you dispatch us here under this tree, or shall we go with you to

your chapel?

 

JAQUES:

When such a one as she such is her neighbor? Or what is he of basest function That savest his bravery is not on my cost, Thinking that I mean him—But therein suits his folly to the mettle of my speech?

 

SIR OLIVER MARTEXT:

Is there none here to give the woman?

 

JAQUES:

Then he hath wron’d himself; if he will be free.

 

SIR OLIVER MARTEXT:

There then!  How then?  What then?  Let me see where in

My tongues hath wrong’d him: if it do him right

 

TOUCHSTONE:

I will not take her on gift of any man.

 

SIR OLIVER MARTEXT:

Truly, she must be given, or the marriage is not lawful.

 

JAQUES:

(Advancing.)  Proceed, proceed I’ll give her.

 

TOUCHSTONE:

Good even, good Master What-ye-call’t: how do you,  sir? You are very well met: God ‘ild you for your last company: I am very glad to see you: even a
toy in hand here, sir: nay, pray be covered.

 

JAQUES:

Will you be married, motley?

 

TOUCHSTONE:

As the ox hath his bow, sir, the horse his curb and the falcon her bells, so man hath his desires; and as pigeons bill, so wedlock would be nibbling.

 

JAQUES:

And will you, being a man of your breeding, be married under a bush like a beggar? Methinks you’re more than that.

 

TOUCHSTONE:

(Aside, but AUDREY overhears.) I am not in the mind but I were better to be
married of him than of another: for he is not like to marry me well; and not being well married, it will be a good excuse for me hereafter to leave my wife.

 

JAQUES:

Dost not intend to stay?

 

TOUCHSTONE:

Now am I in Arden; the more fool I; when I was at home I was in a better place.

 

JAQUES:

This fellow will but join you together as they join wainscot; then one of you will
prove a shrunk panel and, like green timber, warp, warp.

 

TOUCHSTONE:

By my troth, we that have good wits have much to answer for.

 

JAQUES:

Go thou with me, and let me counsel thee.

 

TOUCHSTONE:

‘Come, sweet Audrey: We must be married, or we must live in bawdry.
Farewell, good Master Oliver: not,– O sweet Oliver, O brave Oliver,
Leave me not behind thee: but,– Wind away, Begone, I say, I will not to wedding with thee.

(Exit AUDREY.)

 

SIR OLIVER MARTEXT:

‘Tis no matter: ne’er a fantastical knave of them
all shall flout me out of my calling.

(MARTEXT exits.)

 

JAQUES:

Brazen enough to wear motley among bumpkins?

 

TOUCHSTONE:

My weeds, sir.

 

JAQUES:

Think they wouldst not suspect thine purpose?

 

TOUCHSTONE:

To be married.

 

JAQUES:

Wilt see the duke again?

 

(Silence.)

 

TOUCHSTONE:

Doth thou know him?

 

JAQUES:

What wilt thou tell him of a rustic’s life?

 

 

TOUCHSTONE:

If thou never wast at court thou never saw’st good manners; if thou never saw’st good manners, than thy manners must be wicked; and wickedness is sin, and sin is damnation.  Thou art in a parlous state.

 

JAQUES:

Why wouldst examine?

 

TOUCHSTONE:

It is a good life, in respect of itself; but in respect that it is a shepard’s life, it is nought.  In respect that it is solitary, I like it very well; but in respect that it is private, it is a very vile life.

 

JAQUES:

Must be companion to others from the court.

 

(Silence.)

 

TOUCHSTONE:

Come Audrey, let us make an honorable retreat.

 

(But AUDREY is gone.)

 

JAQUES:

Are you not solitary?

 

TOUCHSTONE:

Single, to this day.

 

JAQUES:

A base, countryman and wife.

 

TOUCHSTONE:

Am here to wed.

 

JAQUES:

Courtiers in disguise.

 

TOUCHSTONE:

Wouldst not presume–

 

JAQUES:

Methinks you know something more.

 

TOUCHSTONE:

Nothing, Sir.

 

JAQUES:

Know thou the look of informants?

 

TOUCHSTONE:

I’m looking for naught.

 

JAQUES:

What does the Duke want?

 

TOUCHSTONE:

I know not.

 

JAQUES:

Hey, fool?

 

TOUCHSTONE:

He wants his duchy peaceable.

 

JAQUES:

You know then.

 

TOUCHSTONE:

What else could he want?

 

JAQUES:

More!

 

TOUCHSTONE:

I know not more, I tell thee.

 

JAQUES:

Hast betrayed thyself.

 

(Jaques attacks Touchstone, tearing off his clothes.)

 

TOUCHSTONE:

No, sirrah.

 

JAQUES:

Live to be watched, not live to be free. Canst not tell woman from man?

 

TOUCHSTONE:

Thinkest so, Lord.

 

JAQUES:

Think we’re daft?

 

TOUCHSTONE:

Players is all.

 

JAQUES:

Spies.

 

TOUCHSTONE:

Conceit in lusting spring.

 

JAQUES:

Shalt show thine major-domo?

 

TOUCHSTONE:

Nothing is wrongly done.

 

JAQUES:

Give me thine garb.

 

TOUCHSTONE:

We’re travellers.  Travelers– young.

 

JAQUES:

Then thou shalt know the cost.

 

(Touchstone has been stripped naked, exhausted.)

 

(JAQUES flees with the clown’s clothes.)

 

(END OF SCENE)

(“Travelers”: (c) Copyright 2016  by Bob Shuman.  All rights reserved. This free adaptation of As You Like It includes material from Shakespeare and Boccaccio’s Decameron.

(c) 2016, 2020 by Bob Shuman.  All rights reserved.

LIFE SKETCHES (SHORT SCENES AND MONOLOGUES): “AT THE DOG PARK” 4 ·

(Photo of Jasper)

SCENE: A dog park in the Bronx.  Today, it is warmer—and there is sun.  

(MARY JANE, early 70’s, sits on a bench in the dog park. Using a launcher, SHE plays fetch with her spaniel, LANTERN. Today, CHRISTIE (male), late 50’s, is standing at the beginning of the scene, but because of social distancing, he will be sitting on a second bench in this part of the run. JUNO and JASPER are CHRISTIE’s two Jack Russell terriers.)                        

(LANTERN is digging a hole to lie in; JUNO and JASPER are at the far end of the run.)

 

MARY JANE:  What are these dogs eating? Mud?

CHRISTIE:  Jasper you come over here!

MARY JANE:  What are they eating? Lantern was eating mud yesterday.

CHRISTIE:  You come over here, Jasper.  You, too, Junie.

MARY JANE:   I don’t mind if he eats a little mud.

CHRISTIE: (Suspecting Jasper is going to eat poop.)  Jasper, you get away from there.  

MARY JANE:   If he’s eating a lot of it, I care.  Is it poop?

CHRISTIE: I don’t know what it is.

MARY JANE: (Standing.)   I’ve heard about a powder for dogs who eat their own poop—makes it taste bad and they stop. But that wouldn’t help your dogs, because they eat other dogs’ poop.

CHRISTIE: Probably mud. (CHRISTIE kicks the ground where Jasper has been.)

MARY JANE:  (About a small piece of dog poop on the ground.) See, that’s the kind of thing I wouldn’t normally pick up.

(CHRISTIE picks it up anyway.)

(Silence.)

MARY JANE:  Uh-oh.  Lantern’s going. (Lantern is pooping.)

CHRISTIE: (Moving straight into action.) JASPER!

MARY JANE:  Do you have a bag?

CHRISTIE: I have a bag. (Chasing Jasper.) No!

MARY JANE:  Come on, Jasper, you come up here by me.

CHRISTIE: (Yelling at Jasper, running after him, trying to get him away from the poop.) Drop it! You drop that! You drop that! You drop that, Jasper!  Drop that.

(Pause. JASPER does not listen.)

MARY JANE:  Did he get it?

CHRISTIE: I don’t think so.  Junie, you get up there, too.

(Silence.  CHRISTIE cleans up LANTERN’s poop.  JUNO sits by Mary Jane.)

MARY JANE:  Thank you for picking it up.

CHRISTIE: No problem.

MARY JANE:  I don’t think he’ll go again, but you never know–he’s been going a lot lately.

CHRISTIE: (To Jasper.)  No eating.  You know full well you’re not supposed to be eating that!  The last thing I need is a sick little dog.

(LANTERNsettles down with his ball and begins “woofing” seven or eight times.)

MARY JANE:  (About the barking.) Lantern.  Stop being so loud!

(MARY JANE coughs and uses her launcher to play fetch.)

MARY JANE:  I’ve been coughing for four weeks. (since) March 1.  I take my temperature every day—I’ve never had one.  Cuomo says this is going to peak in 21 days—he changed it from 45. 

(Pause.)

CHRISTIE: Prince Charles has Caronavirus. (CHRISTIE is throwing balls to the dogs, as well.)

MARY JANE:  He does?  That must have just happened.  I listen to the news when I’m getting ready in the morning.   

CHRISTIE: Junie, don’t you go down there.  I don’t want you eating mud. 

MARY JANE:  A lot of people around here say they’ve already had Coronavirus. Coughing, headaches, sniffling, diarrhea, they’ve been doing that all winter. They have chapped hands from washing so much.   They need to put hand cream in the bathroom, and use it. If not, they’ll forget. 

(Pause.)

MARY JANE:  This cold I have–I think it saved my life. My friend Jerome tested positive—after waiting two weeks to receive the results. He texted me he’s getting better, but he’s still in quarantine.  If I didn’t have this (cold) Jerome and I would have been going out a few times a week. He has money, doesn’t mind paying. Getting lunch at Smashburger, riding up to Dobbs Ferry for drinks on the water. I would have gotten it. 

(Silence.)

MARY JANE:  Jasper always puts the ball between feet, like croquet.  Lantern learned that from him. Now he does it too.  Is it the game called croquet where they aim the ball through a (she curves her arms and hands.

CHRISTIE:  (Seeing that JASPER has done this to CHRISTIE’s feet.) Yes.  Croquet.

MARY JANE:  (To LANTERN.) Now you want the orange ball.

CHRISTIE:  I don’t know what this is.  Last week everybody wanted the green ball.  Now it has to be orange.

MARY JANE:  (Lantern’s coloring is orange.) An orange ball for an orange dog.

CHRISTIE:  Trends can change at a moment’s notice.  Turn on a dime.  Everyone was fine with the green bacon ball until 11:17 this morning.  Then you couldn’t give it away. They got tired of it. No one will touch it. 

MARY JANE:  More and more I notice Lantern doesn’t like me leaving him.

CHRISTIE:  (Still talking about balls for dogs.) Jasper won’t even pick it up. Look at him. It’s right next to him. 

MARY JANE:  (About LANTERN.) He gets restless at night, can’t make himself comfortable.  Doesn’t want to be petted very long—and only when he’s lying down.  

CHRISTIE:  Lantern never likes to be petted.

(Silence.)

MARY JANE:  He has arthritis of the spine. He’s getting old fast.  He’ll be my last dog. He’s already eleven. 

(Pause.)

MARY JANE:  Uh-oh.

CHRISTIE:  (Yelling at Jasper, running after him, trying to get him away from the poop.) Drop it! You drop that! You drop that! You drop that!

MARY JANE:  Do you have a bag?

CHRISTIE:   (Running to pick up poop.) How long do you say you’ve been doing this?

MARY JANE:  I’ve had dogs since I was sixteen.  That’s when my father felt he could trust me to take care of one–when I wouldn’t mind cleaning up after them and taking them outside.  But I wanted one longer than that—I have the dog gene.

(End)

(c) 2020 by Bob Shuman.  All rights reserved.

LIFE SKETCHES (SHORT SCENES AND MONOLOGUES) “AT THE DOG PARK”3 ·

By Bob Shuman

SCENE: A wet dog park in the Bronx.  

(MARY JANE, early 70’s, sits on a bench in the dog run. Using a launcher, SHE plays fetch with her spaniel, Lantern—although CHRISTIE (male), late 50’s, is throwing most of the balls today (to LANTERN and one of CHRISTIE’S two Jack Russell terriers, JASPER. The other, JUNO, sits on the ground near MARY JANE. ) 

CHRISTIE: Come on, Lantern, come back.  Don’t go down so far.

MARY JANE: Lantern, come back.

CHRISTIE: Jasper got it.

MARY JANE: He knows not to go very far when I’m throwing the ball!

CHRISTIE: (To Lantern.)  I’m trying to get it to you.

MARY JANE: I used to think he was smart.

CHRISTIE: I can’t throw it that far.

MARY JANE: Lantern, Christie’s wearing two pairs of gloves and has the ball in a plastic bag!

CHRISTIE: He missed it.

(Silence.)

CHRISTIE: Lantern, come back this way.

MARY JANE: A hospital ship is being sent to the East Coast.

CHRISTIE: (Explaining to Lantern.) Jasper will intercept it if you go too far downfield.

MARY JANE: Another one is going to the West Coast.

CHRISTIE:  I don’t have the arm for that.

MARY JANE: The problem is they only have 5,000 ventilators in New York.

CHRISTIE: How many do they need?

MARY JANE: 30,000.

(Pause.)

MARY JANE: Do they give one to the 40-year-old—or do I get it, with underlying conditions?

(Silence.)

CHRISTIE: (To Lantern.) Stay up here.

MARY JANE:  It used to be a disease would wipe out segments of the population—but we’re not used to that.  We got too smart in eradicating disease.

CHRISTIE: (To Lantern.) Forget it, Lantern—I’m not a professional quarterback!

MARY JANE: They were looking at the people who died in Italy.  The largest group had cases in the elderly population with three or four underlying conditions.  The second group had two–

CHRISTIE:  It’s like fires out West.

MARY JANE: Exactly. 

(The dogs suddenly begin to bark at children outside the fence.)

CHRISTIE: (To the dogs.) That’s enough, that’s enough. (About the dogs, to the children.

MARY JANE:  Lantern, stop barking.   

CHRISTIE: (To the children and nanny.) They’re just saying good morning.

MARY JANE: All the children are off from school.

CHRISTIE: (To the children, about the dogs.) They’re just saying hello.  You don’t have to be scared of them.  They’re just big talkers.

(The nanny and children move on and the dogs stop barking. Silence.)

MARY JANE: How is your son?

CHRISTIE: Still in Edinburgh. Going on lockdown.  He doesn’t want to come home. Says it’s as bad over here as it is there.

(Silence.)

MARY JANE: You know in Venice, without all the tourists there, the canals are like glass.  Crystal clear. Blue. You can see all the way to the bottom.

CHRISTIE: Lantern, you got the ball!

(End)

(C) Copyright 2020 by Bob Shuman.  All rights reserved.

‘THE MIKADO’ FROM THE NEW YORK GILBERT & SULLIVAN PLAYERS (NYGASP)—REVIEW FROM NEW YORK ·

By Bob Shuman

The New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players (NYGASP) brought their production of The Mikado to the Kaye Playhouse over the holiday season (12/27-1/5)—perhaps especially topical now since it is about a prince who runs away from his family.   The larger issue concerning the operetta is thornier than that, though, and has been since its premiere, in 1875, because of characterizations of the Japanese (a random list of role names is telling, and includes, Nanki-PooPish TushPooh-Bah, and Yum-Yum). The dramatist G. S. Gilbert, in defense, explained that “[The Mikado] was never a story about Japan but about the failings of the British government.” Even so, the work would be impossible to create today.  

Attempting to minimize the offensive, the NYGASP spoke to the Asian-American community in 2015, upholding “The Mikado’s musical score, setting, characters, storytelling, and most of its universal Satire”—you can see the difference in multi-racial, if primarily non-Asian, casting and costumes by Quinto Ott that make use of shoulder ornamentation and flow—even gowns with their backs cut out–but which are only suggestive of the East.  Director and choreographer David Auxier-Loyola, interprets the piece openly; how a Westerner would imagine Japan, in innocence and ignorance.  He has also penned a prologue—apparently based on an almost-true story, which gives a rationale for a departure into the make-believe.

New material elsewhere injects mention of the disastrous film version of Cats, presidential hopefuls, and even Trump, but the creators ensure that the cultural misinterpretation is never as outrageous as in Mel Brooks’s The Producers, for example.  NYGASP, which might be compared to a family of loving, ardent supporters, treats the work of Gilbert & Sullivan as treasure, not merely a gold mine. They may, in fact, be giving the team more accommodation than others would, as even contemporary writers, working sensitively, are typically not allowed to give voice beyond their own race and ethnicity, in the entertainment and publishing worlds.

Still, The Mikado is considered “the most popular piece of musical theatre of all time,” and today NYGASP is a needed outpost in the arts— important for students in understanding the range and history of theatre.  The organization also allows audiences to get away from cold, hyper-tech Broadway and, beyond it, stage work that is created without access to a repertory group. For those who find Gilbert & Sullivan’s Victorian sensibilities too eccentric and psychologically weightless (The Mikado actually has a stronger storyline than The Pirates of Penzance,  which relies on counting age by leap years), there is the music–which may, in part have influenced Frederick Loewe‘s score for My Fair Lady.   Tuneful, pleasant, and rousing, the songs, choruses, recitative, trios, quartets, madrigals, and more, are all ably performed by the NYGASP orchestra, ensemble, and principals, who include David WannenJohn Charles McLaughlinDavid MacalusoMatthew WagesDavid AuxierSarah Caldwell SmithAmy Maude Helfer, and Rebecca L. Hargrove.  Cáitlín Burke brings strong emotion to her role, as an elderly lady, in love with the prince—taking this Mikado from operetta to opera.

Conducted by: Albert Bergeret and Joseph Rubin.

Look for The New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players, at the Kaye Playhouse,  April 18-19 2020 with The Gondoliers.

Visit The New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Bob Shuman.  All rights reserved.

Photo: Carol Rosegg

Press: Sean Katz, Katz PR

‘MACBETH’ AT CLASSIC STAGE COMPANY–ONLY THROUGH DEC. 15 (REVIEW FROM NEW YORK) ·

By Bob Shuman

John Doyle’s production of Macbeth, playing through December 15 at Classic Stage Company (CSC), should fit into the current zeitgeist exactly.  In a world of 280-character tweets and multitasking, the story, enacted in this 90-minute version, demonstrates the kind of revenge corporate staff relish:  a power couple, who are promoted too swiftly—and need more on-the-job training–get their comeuppances.  Even seemingly sensible cutting can lose an article–or book or play, however.  What sometimes seems like arbitrary writing, pared away, may actually be necessary connective tissue, even if it isn’t very good—and especially if a magic spell has been placed on it.  Macbeth is no exception—the story can grow long, as any thirteen-year-old will tell you, especially after, say, Lady Macbeth’s handwashing scene. What most people probably like best, anyway, are the cauldron and witches; forests and ghosts; battle scenes and blood: the tragedy’s elements, instead of its telling. These are also areas known generally, which actors don’t always go much further into researching (so different from the way Stanislavski would approach work, sending a team into the very environments he was working on—to learn history, seek objects for sets and design, and talk to the people who knew something of the past, place, and people).

Corey Stoll and Nadia Bowers, in the doomed central marriage of the play, as well as the other characters, too, only refract the contemporary: points made in glossy magazines about gender roles and hair and better liberal politics. Doyle, extolled for his minimalism, seems to have given us a rehearsal for a production yet to come, although he ensures racial and gender balance, he hasn’t found the universal.  Perhaps he realized, in his streamlined, fast-paced Macbeth, in the round, that after he took everything away, the center wasn’t really there. And maybe that is an astute, frightening way to describe today.

 

© 2019 by Bob Shuman.  All rights reserved.

Visit Classic Stage Company

Classic Stage Company (136 E. 13th St, New York)

Macbeth

John Doyle, Scenic Design
Ann Hould-Ward, Costume Designer
Solomon Weisbard, Lighting Designer
Matt Stine, Sound Designer
Tom Schall, Fight Director
Telsey + Company, Casting
Bernita Robinson, Production Stage Manager
Stephanie Macchia,  Assistant Stage Manager

 

Macduff, Captain………………………………………………………………….BARZIN AKHAVAN Malcolm ……………………………………………………………………………..RAFFI BARSOUMIAN Lady Macbeth …………………………………………………………………………… NADIA BOWERS Lady Macduff, Gentlewoman …………………………………………… N’JAMEH CAMARA Banquo, Old Siward…………………………………………………………….ERIK LOCHTEFELD Duncan, Old Woman……………………………………………………………….MARY BETH PEIL Macbeth………………………………………………………………………………………… COREY STOLL Ross …………………………………………………………………………………………..BARBARA WALSH Fleance, Young Macduff, Young Siward…………. ANTONIO MICHAEL WOODARD

Photos by Joan Marcus

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

 

“TONYA PINKINS’ TRUTH AND RECONCILIATION: WOMYN WORKING IT OUT!” AND “THE GLASS MENAGERIE” (REVIEWS FROM NEW YORK) ·


By Bob Shuman

Director Tonya Pinkins asked six American women of multi-cultural backgrounds to compose one-acts on the theme of women oppressing women—her seven actors are all women, too—a counterintuitive assignment given the age of #MeToo and #TimesUpNow, as contraindicated as hearing Meryl Streep observe, in May, that “women can be pretty fucking toxic.” While the unexpected results appeared as Tonya Pinkins’ Truth and Reconciliation: Womyn Working It Out! for three days, at The Tank in early October, concurrently, The Glass Menagerie, directed by Austin Pendleton and Peter Bloch, opened at the Wild Project–which some might conclude is a play about a woman oppressing her daughter (especially if the work is considered biographically). Both open a larger discussion about how men and women dramatists think about domination, even if each would recoil from the issue itself: for the women, the subject is considered in a social and political light, a topic which can—and should—be placed under authority and governance; noticeably, none of their plays take place in homes. For Tennessee Williams (and Ibsen, in Hedda Gabler, or Ingmar Bergman, in a film like Autumn Sonata, to name three—white men of different nationalities and sexualities) the issue is familial, taking place in the homestead; any oppressor, whether one has been exchanged for another, is too many, even if goals are esteemed necessary for the common good. The distinctions do not end there, though, because of the importance of political issues to the Arts today, where many have come to believe that theatre is politics—an idea which would have been anathema to the still highly relevant acting theorist Constantin Stanislavki (1863-1938), who in My Life in Art writes, “Everyday cares, politics, economics, the larger part of general social interests—these make the kitchen of life. Art lives higher, observing from the height of its birdlike flights all that takes place beneath it.” The idea is still alive in his Russia today, expressed by Evgeny Mironov, one of that country’s acclaimed contemporary actors, who agreed with the thought that art is above politics, while talking about his portrayal of Ivanov, in June 2018. Even at the time of the 1900 massacre in Kazansky Square, when he was playing Dr. Stockman in An Enemy of the People in St. Petersburg, Stanislavski felt, “We who knew the true nature of the theatre, understood that the boards of our stage could never become a platform for the spread of propaganda, for the simple reason that the very least utilitarian purpose or tendency, brought into the realm of pure art, kills art instantly.” If he is right, most of today’s Off-Off Broadway theatre is a parade of ghosts.

Stanislavki considered the subject of politics further when he was evaluating Gorky’s The Lower Depths, in 1902. He believed that the spectator could make his own conclusions . . . from what he receives in the theatre”—yet today’s world of clear, automatic, correct answers, from behind the proscenium arch and on social media, are didactic, even for those who have a tendency to agree with them. An example of this is apparent in, but not limited to, Jaisey Bates’s “To History,” in the Pinkins’ project, a presentational piece on the personal damage wrought by misappropriation of mascots, emblems usually based on power symbols. Even though female participants would probably wear a pink pussyhat to a reading of this play, if requested, the presentation of the work is timely given the response of St. Louis Cardinals rookie Ryan Helsley, who is part Cherokee, and needed to pitch after hearing the Atlanta Braves’ “Tomahawk Chop,” a chant he found to be “a disappointment” and “disrespectful,” as did the Georgia native tribes.  Subsequently, when it was announced that he would be playing again, plastic tomahawks were not placed on seats for fans.  Another example is Lucy Thurber’s retro and injured writing in “Bank,” about a teller, a Georgian, from the country, who never met a lesbian before. Pieces like these are faits accomplis, which do not allow contemplation within the safe confines of theatrical experience and seem strident to those who are not part of the communities involved—and who would be excluded from voicing opinions about them, in any event. There is something of the Living Newspaper, from the Depression’s WPA Theatre, in at least three of the evening’s plays, as well, perhaps acting as substitutes for disappearing History classes in colleges and schools. “Tierra De Las Flores,” by G. Kadigan, describes a hidden, vengeful solution for wife beating in St. Augustine, Florida, during the early 1800s; “Law 136,” by Carmen Rivera, chronicles forced sterilization of women in Puerto Rico, during the twentieth century, in a dramatic situation that is reminiscent of sickening moments in a Tennessee Williams play, and “The Grandmothers,” by Kristine M. Reyes, which confronts the legacy of comfort women in Korea during World War II–a subject this reviewer included in a 2009 scene book, in writing by Lavonne Mueller, because the horror of the subject had been going virtually uncovered. Two more one-acts make up Truth and Reconciliation—one, “The Proposal,” by Nandita Shenoy, about the legacy of sexual abuse re-emerging on a school campus after many years and a two-part piece by Jasmine McLeish, “Other,” on the dubious nature of racial characterization. Pinkins incorporates dance (Briana Reed is the choreographer), song (by Amanda Green and Shaina Taub), and whimsy into the show, which allows moments of lightness, but the point that emerges is that when women oppress other women, there is a man, institution, or government entity behind it, which a feminist like Camille Paglia would find unacceptable (“stop blaming men”). Males can be fired, devastated, and brutalized, too, and their careers shattered, but in dramatic terms, at least, they may respond differently than women, even if they have become universal scapegoats.

Amanda Wingfield is not afraid to say that she knows “all about the tyranny of women” in The Glass Menagerie, a drama that Pendleton and Bloch have not chosen to embalm, in their current production, which plays until October 20. Their Tom, Matt de Rogatis, is not playing a great artist-in-the-making, as some would perceive the role to be. Instead, he seems like someone who can actually work at a warehouse, even if he isn’t a very good employee—he may not even be able to write that well, either. Jobs, however, can dumb a person down, and they can be boring—and one would go to the movies, or drink, or find illicit sex, or yearn for adventure or the Merchant Marines. This is the only production of the play in memory where one might actually think, “I hope he sends money back to the family when he leaves.” Ginger Grace’s Amanda may be providing the least gothic interpretation, too—and, for once, you can actually believe that she was really a popular debutante. An interesting parallel, a kind of family resemblance emerged, by noting that just as Amanda does not go to her DAR meeting, Laura has not been going to Rubicam’s Business College. But the constructions, in this RuthStage production, want to be contemporary–Sean Hagerty‘s music refers to Mike Oldfield‘s score for The Exorcist. You can not believe that Amanda has never talked to Laura about finding a man to marry before, maybe in any production–and one wonders if history, the Depression, of older ways of being parents and children need to be informing the text more and causing rifts. If you want to see Stanislavski in motion, though, go. There is the restraint, there is the natural pace. Alexandra Rose makes a lovely, oversensitive Laura—and the directors’ concept of keeping her onstage while other actors are playing is arresting. Spencer Scott, as the Gentleman Caller stays in tune with the production’s naturalism.

Of course, Tom leaves St. Louis, and does not send money home, and it is naive of me to imagine that it could be any other way. Looking at the male dramatists, escape from oppression must be total.

(c) 2019 by Bob Shuman. All rights reserved.

 

Visit “The Glass Menagerie”: http://www.theglassmenagerieplay.com/

Visit The Tank: https://thetanknyc.org/

Photo Credits–Pinkins: (From top) ShowShowdown; SkinthePlay; The Tank; Menagerie: Chris Loupos; Wild Project 10/5/19, Shuman

 

Truth and Reconciliation: Womyn Working It Out! is a collective piece of theatre that includes multiple 10-minute plays and songs by and about womyn. Each play contains different ways womyn oppress each other and how we find ways to heal.
The performance will run approximately 90 minutes, with no intermission.
Directed by
Tonya Pinkins

Written by
Jaisey Bates
Glory Kadigan
Jasmine McLeish
Tonya Pinkins
Kristine M. Reyes
Carmen Rivera
Nandita Shenoy
Lucy Thurber
Choreography
Briana Reed

Featuring
Mary Teresa Archbold
Siho Ellsmore
Akiko Hiroshima
Tonya Pinkins
Lina Sarrello
Lili Stiefel
June Ballinger

The Glass Menagerie

The cast, led by Ginger Grace as the iconic Amanda Wingfield, consists of Matt de Rogatis as her son Tom Wingfield, Alexandra Rose as Laura Wingfield, and Spencer Scott as The Gentlemen Caller. Set designer Jessie Bonaventure, who was the assistant Set designer on the Broadway musical Hadestown, which garnered four Tony Awards, including Best Scenic Design, collaborates with lighting designer Steven Wolf to create a version of Tennessee Williams’ masterpiece that borders on horror.

Dimly lit and surrealistic, the set itself will consist of props made of glass and the actors will live in a chilling, dreamlike world. Taking inspiration from The Exorcist soundtrack, Sean Hagerty writes the score for this “Wes Craven meets Tennessee Williams” production. Allison Hohman designs the sound for the Wingfield house of horrors.

Press, “Womyn”: Emily Owens; “Glass Menagerie”: Karen Greco

‘THIS IS WHY WE LIVE’ AND ‘OEDIPUS, SEX WITH MUM WAS BLINDING’ (REVIEWS FROM NEW YORK) ·

By Bob Shuman  

A cello stands at the center of This Is Why We Live, at La Mama, which closed September 29 and Oedipus, Sex with Mum was Blinding, at BAM Fisher, which also ended on that date, two international pieces—one based on the poetry of Wisława Symborska and the other after Sophocles, with a classical and jazz score by Tilemachos Moussas & Julia Kent.  Both are directed by women and focus, primarily, on women’s themes and talents, down to a string’s last pluck and bow. 

When she won the Nobel Prize in 1996, Symborska drew the attention, and hearts, of the world with something almost as small—the modesty of her Polish life (at the time, Edward Hirsh, writing for The New York Times, described the apartment where she lived: a fifth-floor walk-up, in “a nondescript building”; the living room, “where she writes, doubles as her bedroom”).  Today (Symborska died in 2012), twenty-one of her poems are acted earnestly, in Open Heart Surgery’s Canadian- and Polish-backed production (direction is by Coleen MacPherson, and the evening is performed by Elodie Monteau (France), Alaine Hutton (Canada) and Dobrochna Zubek (Poland/Canada) to music written by Zubek. Musical development and dramaturgy are by Tatiana Judycka and Dobrochna Zubek. Set and costume design are by Helen Yung.  Lighting design is by Rebecca Picherak.  The show is played in English, Polish, and French, using subtitles.

L-R: Alaine Hutton, Elodie Monteau, Dobrochna Zubek. Photo by Jonathan Slaff.

Men have contributed editorially, even if they are not in the show:  the French translation is by Piotr Kaminski; English translation is by Clare Cavanagh and Stanislaw Baranczak; Dramaturgy and translation support is by Viktor Lukawski—all of which might have confounded the poet: ”I think that dividing literature or poetry into women’s and men’s poetry is starting to sound absurd,” Symborska states in the Hirsh interview, ”Perhaps there was a time when a woman’s world did exist, separated from certain issues and problems, but at present there are no things that would not concern women and men at the same time.”  New Yorkers have been watching the crystallization of women’s theatre in the city’s arts scene, though, even when co-opting writers, such as Symborska, who might be philosophically opposed to such a conceptualization.  Her work, playful and ironic (“Don’t blame me for borrowing big words and then struggling to make them light”) does not find itself dramatically in the current production, despite the skill and dedication of the Butoh and Lecoq-trained theatremakers.  Yet her writing is reflective of the issues being explored today by women in the arts and nonfiction–eating disorders are alluded to in one segment of This Is Why We Live, for example, as one of the dancers stuffs herself with cake.  The self-deprecation, penetrating self-criticism is apparent in a piece like “Under One Small Star,” ideas which will reappear in Greek director Elli Papakonstantinou’s goth Oedipus.

My apologies to time for all the world I overlook each second /

My apologies to past loves for thinking that the latest is the first /

Forgive me, distant wars, for bringing flowers home /

Forgive me, open wounds, for pricking my finger /

I apologize for my record of minuets to those who cry from the depths /

I apologize to those who wait in railway stations for being asleep today /

Pardon me, hounded hope, for laughing from time to time . . .

Unless it is deeply, painfully ironic, laughter is not associated with Jocasta, the wife and mother of Oedipus. If Papakonstantinou (she also conceived and wrote the immersive opera) is to be believed, the ancient queen’s self-recriminatory behavior is also well-known in the lives of women today—and is an issue for men as well. ODC Ensemble’s Oedipus, Sex with Mum was Blinding is an intensification of Szymboska’s examination of women’s guilt, as well as a deep-dive into the psychology of the ancient queen (the seer Teireias also appears, who lived life both as a woman and a man). The grunge immersion—the often grainy cinematic environment is by Stephanie Sherriff–uses singing and technology, pop culture and neuroscience (advised by professor Manos Tsakiris), even an m.c., a keyboardist for the show, Misha Piatigorsky, who combines Joaquin Phoenix in Joker and Joel Grey in Cabaret.  Other men in the cast include Lito Messini as Oedipus, Elias Husiak, and Tsakiris. Papakonstantinou may seem indiscriminate, because she can pull from everywhere—she is unafraid of postmodernism, myth, and onstage cameras–the kind many Americans will recognize having seen work by Ivo van Hove—music (Kent plays the cello onstage)—including Philip Glass sounds and an excerpt from “Nature Boy”–languages, social media, and politics—“this country is based on racism.” Debatably, she shapes the work into the story of three women, an actor (Nassia Gofa) and two singers (Anastasia Katsinavaki, Theodora Loukas), one classical and the other jazz, who might seem to be refracting the same character, in guilt and trauma. Papakonstantinou is never exactly clear in her excursion through the subconscious—but she understands and elicits the feelings Symborska transcribes, in, as another illustration, the baldly titled poem:  “In Praise of Feeling Bad About Yourself”:

The buzzard never says it is to blame. /

The panther wouldn’t know what scruples mean. /

When the piranha strikes, it feels no shame. /

If snakes had hands, they’d claim their hands were clean.”

The poet finishes:  “On this third planet of the sun / among the signs of bestiality / a clear conscience is number one.”

Current women’s theatre explicates, however, that no human, at least, has one.

© 2019 by Bob Shuman.  All rights reserved.

Visit La MaMa 

Visit BAM 

THIS IS WHY WE LIVE

Design Assistant: Judie Plaza
Set Design Assistant: Kevin Yung
Lighting Design by Rebecca Picherak
Lighting Associate: Nic Vincent
Projection Design by Wesley McKenzie
Stage Management by A.J. Morra

Dramaturgy and Translation Support by Viktor Lukawski
Poetry by Wisława Szymborska
French Translation by Piotr Kamiński
English Translation by Clare Cavanagh and Stanislaw Baranczak
Artistic Support by Yearime Castel Barragan and Sallie Lyons

This project is funded by the Canada Council for the Arts, Polish Consulate (Canada) & The Polish Institute

Press:  Jonathan Slaff

OEDIPUS, SEX WITH MUM WAS BLINDING

ODC Ensemble (Athens, Greece) with
The Directors Company

OEDIPUS:
Sex with Mum Was Blinding

An Immersive Opera
Conceived, written and directed by
Elli Papakonstantinou

Original Music Composed by
Tilemachos Moussas
and Julia Kent

Cinematic Environments by
Stephanie Sherriff

Lighting design: Elli Papakonstantinou
Mask concepts, design and materialization: Maritina Keleri & Chrysanthi Avloniti
Costume Design: Jolene Richardson

Featuring
Nassia Gofa, Elias Husiak, Anastasia Katsinavaki, Theodora Loukas, Lito Messini, Manos Tsakiris, Julia Kent (cello), Misha Piatigorsky (piano), Hassan Estakhrian, Barbara Nerness (electroacoustic environments), and Stephanie Sherriff (live cinematic environment)

Scientific Advisor: Professor Manos Tsakiris

Press:   Michelle Tabnick

Photos–This Is Why We Live: Jonathan Slaff; Oedipus: Carol Rosegg

       

PTP/NYC (POTOMAC THEATRE PROJECT):  ‘HAVEL: THE PASSION OF THOUGHT’ AND STOPPARD’S ‘DOGG’S HAMLET’ AND ‘CAHOOT’S MACBETH’ (REVIEWS FROM NEW YORK) ·

By Bob Shuman

Historians, looking back at contemporary American theatre, will have to evaluate whether our stages were reflections of society or partisan distortions. Were our artists “living in the truth,” as former Czech president Václav Havel would ask, or were they politically motivated, sold out, blindsided, outfinanced, or unable to speak due to silencing opinion-makers, the market, or even Google, facebook, or twitter.  A work like Rob Ackerman’s Dropping Gumballs on Luke Wilson, from The Working Theater, which played off-Broadway, during June and July, sees America’s employed as powerless and compliant–and the boss as original and supremely intelligent, even while he demonstrates only basic knowledge.  In Christopher Shinn’s Dying City, which ran at Second Stage this spring and summer, the highlight is the storytelling, although the characters are types—the smart, contemporary woman, the sensitive, uncloseted gay actor, and the disturbed soldier—all meeting progressive expectations.  What audiences may not be questioning, though, is to what degree the arts in the U.S. are really free—and this is where a writer like Havel, whose rarely performed Vanek plays (three of them here, of four; banned during communism), are now running at PTP/NYC (Potomac Theatre Project) until August 4, alongside two short pieces by Beckett and Pinter, in Havel: The Passion of Thought.  Even if most Americans can not know the horror of life in Czechoslovakia, in the last century, one of the short plays in the evening, a two-hander called “Protest” is a pros-and-cons checklist for the conscience, universally true for anyone who must challenge authority, in any of its guises–or even only intends to send a tweet.  America itself has powerful censoring mechanisms, despite the First Amendment, strongly expressed in 1978 by Russian Nobelist and Soviet labor camp survivor, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, whom Thomas Farnan, in Human Events, reminds us, wrote that the media, Western news reporting,  “[endorses] ‘fashionable trends of thought and ideas’ while suppressing ‘independent-minded people from giving their contribution to public life.’” Solzhenitsyn was severely criticized—in fact, told to go back where he came from, like “the Squad” today–but his observation regarding “fashionable trends of thought and ideas” is essential when thinking about American arts.

 

“The Protest” is set in Prague, outside a lovely garden home, marked by flowering magnolias and gladiolas–in thirty-two shades–of a television and film writer (played robustly by Danielle Skraastad), who admits that she is “pushing fifty.” She must make a decision on bold action, regarding a court decision, thinking aloud to an old theatrical friend, a dissident (a non-judging David Barlow): “When the rest of us want to do something of ordinary human decency, we automatically turn to you as though you were some sort of agency for the conduct of moral matters.  Perverse, isn’t it? Sickening, isn’t it?”  Her choice is to regain her self-esteem, lost freedom, and honor, even if it means losing her job—or to continue living on “the path of accommodation” and “shameful compromise.”  She realizes that she must be made an example of, and punished cruelly, if she chooses the first option.  She would be the bad conscience of people who do not act, and who will smear her, ultimately thinking her decision stupid, nothing more.  The dilemma is not simply Eastern European, of course, and must be made not only by the accommodating characters in Dropping Gumballs on Luke Wilson (also set in the television industry), but also in other contexts, such as teachers’ rooms in academia, validating disproven conclusions on Darwin’s theory, for example, the Hollywood of #MeToo, and at publishers and theatre companies, among various jobs throughout the country, adherent to the common wisdom, as opposed to critical, independent thinking.

“Interview” may remind of Chekhov’s short story, “Misery,” where the need to express thoughts, explain oneself, becomes so urgent that the central character begins confiding in a least likely figure.  In Chekhov, this is a horse.  In Havel’s short play, the character is Vanek, who is asked to inform on himself.  Havel’s plays can have elements of absurdism—as they drink and munch peanuts–but he is not whimsical, and his writing can even sound like O’Neill’s realism. It is not lost on viewers, at Atlantic Stage 2, that the playwright does not advocate socialism, part of the current U.S. national debate (what other son of a builder do you know who does not advocate socialism and became president of his country?).  Havel’s characters are bored and drunk, living futile lives, without work ethic and devoid of meaning: “What about me?” says the crass, tormented brewmaster (Michael Laurence), “I’m only good enough to be the shit on which your fucking principles can grow so you can be a goddamn hero. . . . You’re gonna show off  . . .  about the way you handled barrels in a brewery! But what about me?  What can I go back to?  Huh? What future have I got?  What?”  In the plays, Havel works full circle—climax and catharsis always lead back to stagnation, point zero; contradiction (Vanek, for example, is expected to make friends but not become “chummy”) and repetition. The characters can never progress psychologically, much less spiritually, which they appear to want to do, even if they can only make pretense to commercial mimicry.

In “Private View” a couple (Christopher Marshall and Emily Kron) looks toward the West for its cues on everyday life, such as food, art, sex, parenting, and purchase of consumer goods.  The ideas have not grown organically out of their own culture, however, and the characters come across as earnest and empty fakes.  Although the PTP/NYC season 2019 centers on four writers, known for their contributions to the subject of human rights, the chief among them are Havel and Tom Stoppard, both of Czech origin (although Stoppard, for much of his life, has been a British citizen).  In “Private View,” the playwright most invoked, in Havel’s one act, is Ionesco, another Eastern European (in this case, from Romania, who settled in France).  Students and readers can sometimes not understand why artists will speak figuratively–in symbol, for example (a rhinoceros) or metaphor (a cabaret to represent Nazi Germany—the sad news of the death of Hal Prince has just been announced), instead of being direct and exposing the thing itself.  The explanation is usually, “Because it would be too painful”; another reason may that it is too dangerous.  The Vanek plays may seem to talk around what’s really going in a Communist satellite fifty years ago, which had led  PTP’s Co-Artistic Director Richard Romagnoli, in 1991, to add two further short plays in creating Havel: The Passion of Thought, by Pinter and Beckett.  Yet, even so, you may be able to hear the screaming: “Life is hard and the world is divided. Our country has been written off by everybody, nobody’s going to help us, we’re in a very bad way, and it’s only going to get worse–and you can’t change it!”

Pinter’s sobering play, “The New World Order,” takes the audience into a torture room, where assumptions are dismantled, as a hooded man listens to his captor’s threats, spoken as banalities: “He hasn’t got any idea at all of what we’re going to do to him.” Although the assassins are about as bored as the brewery workers in “Interview”—in fact, one seems to maliciously echo the brewmaster’s monologue in Havel’s play: “Before he came here he was a big shot, he never stopped shooting his mouth off”—the leader explains that they are “keeping the world safe for democracy.”  Beckett’s play, “Catastrophe,” actually written in honor of Havel—a work in which Pinter had also played as an actor–has especial bite and edge at PTP/NYC (the consummate direction for the Havel evening is by Richard Romagnoli).  The play (here, the speaking roles are, nontraditionally, played by two women, Madeline Ciocci and Emily Ballou, whose forward-march pacing give the play a fascist edge)–seems to be questioning how the media distorts—and makes fashionable–human rights’ victims—Havel and Solzhenitsyn, for examples, and Natalia Kaliada and Nikolai Khalezin, from Belarus Free Theatre, and Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova of Pussy Riot, to only begin a listing—who might say that what they were doing had nothing to do with becoming celebrities.

Although this review is being finished, at the end of July, during the second night of the Detroit Democratic debates, it should be mentioned that people can be fearful of socialism, despite its current fashionableness in the United States. One need only look at Sir Tom Stoppard’s Dogg’s Hamlet (known for its 15-minute rendition of Hamlet) and Cahoot’s Macbeth, probably a director’s nightmare (ably undertaken here by Cheryl Faraone), a complicated mosaic of different languages (Early Modern English, Modern English, as well as one the playwright has completely made up), utilizing a large cast. Additionally, as if a new society is being constructed during the plays, there are different settings and shifting set pieces, including huge, brutalist alphabet blocks, created for a Stalinist era (the design is by Mark Evancho; the three costume designers for the evenings are Glenna Ryer, Chris Romagnoli, and Rebecca Lafon;  and Hallie Zieselman designed the lighting). Amit Prakash, visiting assistant professor, Middlebury College,  has written, “In a society dominated by ideology, words are completely untethered from their meanings, shared human experience is always up for debate, and truth is as evasive as a hunted animal.”

Stoppard seems to see dislocation and language reconstruction as occurring due to changing ideology, and these plays appear to be giving a Stoppardian mirror image of Czechoslovakia, during the 1970s and 1980s (Ed Berman, who worked with the playwright at Almost Free Theatre in London, has also been consulted for Potomac Theater Project’s Stoppard plays). Although based on Shakespeare, the work is also influenced by Beckett, Havel, Wiggenstein, Pavel Kohout, detective novels, Ionesco, and the Theatre of the Absurd, to start.  One setting for Cahoots Macbeth is a home, which can seem unusual, given that plays are being performed there, instead of at a theatre.  Faraone writes, “forbidden to practice their art in public, one survival strategy (for artists, in Czechoslovakia) became performing Shakespeare in ‘apartment theatre.’” Such playing areas affirm what Kaliada has said, in interviews about stagings in another Eastern European country, Belarus (performances are given in apartments or at birthdays or weddings, to elude authorities).  Havel discusses how to evade them in “The Protest”–by hiding in a department store:  “You mingle with the crowd, then at the moment when they aren’t looking, you sneak into the bathroom and wait for about two hours. They become convinced you managed to sneak off through a side entrance and give up.”

What happens if you are caught?  Stoppard’s detective/government inspector (Tara Giordano, in a trench coat) explains:  “I must warn you that anything you say will be taken down and played back at your trial.”

For more info visit http://PTPNYC.org, Like them on Facebook at https://www.Facebook.com/pages/Potomac-Theatre-Project-PTP/32709392256, follow on Twitter at @ptpnyc (https://twitter.com/ptpnyc), and on Instagram at @ptpnyc.official (https://www.instagram.com/ptpnyc.official).         

The Atlantic Stage 2 is accessible from the A, C, E, L trains to 14 St./8 Ave. or the 1, 2, 3 trains to 14 St.

 © by Bob Shuman.  All rights reserved.  Production photos: Stan Barouh.

Press: David Gibbs, DARR Publicity

The cast for HAVEL: THE PASSION OF THOUGHT includes David Barlow (PTP: No End of Blame, Victory, The Castle), Emily Kron (PTP: The Europeans, Sweet Tooth at Cherry Lane), Michael Laurence (Broadway: Talk Radio, Desire Under the Elms, NBC’s “Shades of Blue”), Christopher Marshall (PTP: The Possibilities, The After-Dinner Joke, Pity In History), Danielle Skraastad (Broadway: All My Sons, Hurricane Diane with Women’s Project & NYTW, The Architecture of Becoming with Women’s Project), Emily Ballou and Madeline Ciocci (PTP: The After-Dinner Joke).

The production team for HAVEL: THE PASSION OF THOUGHT includes Mark Evancho (Set Design), Hallie Zieselman (Lighting Design), Glenna Ryer (Costume Design), Sam Tompkins Martin (Props Design), Peter B. Schmitz and Adam Milano (Movement) and Devin Wein (Production Stage Manager).

The cast for DOGG’S HAMLET, CAHOOT’S MACBETH includes Matthew Ball (PTP: Pity In History, Pentecost), Denise Cormier (Broadway national tour The Graduate, Showtime’s “The Affair”), Tara Giordano (PTP: The After-Dinner Joke, Vinegar Tom, Serious Money), Christo Grabowski (PTP: The After-Dinner Joke, Pity In History, No End of Blame), Christopher Marshall (PTP: The Possibilities, The After-Dinner Joke, Pity In History), Peter B. Schmitz (PTP: Lovesong of the Electric Bear, Therese Raquin), Lucy Van Atta (PTP: The After-Dinner Joke, Serious Money, Spatter Pattern), Olivia Christie (PTP: Brecht on Brecht), Will Koch, Emily Ma, Katie Marshall, Madeleine Russell (PTP: The After-Dinner Joke, The Possibilities), Lior Selve, Zach Varicchione and Connor Wright (PTP: Pity In History).

The production team for DOGG’S HAMLET, CAHOOT’S MACBETH includes Mark Evancho (Set Design), Hallie Zieselman (Lighting Design), Chris Romagnoli (Costume Design Dogg’s Hamlet), Rebecca LaFon (Costume Design Cahoot’s Macbeth), Sam Tompkins Martin (Props Design), Peter B. Schmitz and Adam Milano (Movement) and Alex Williamson (Production Stage Manager).

ROB ACKERMAN: ‘DROPPING GUMBALLS ON LUKE WILSON’–THROUGH JULY 6 (REVIEW FROM NEW YORK)  ·

By Bob Shuman

Rob Ackerman’s Dropping Gumballs on Luke Wilson is a cute fake out, with all the commercial patter of a Tootsie or Neil Simon–even David Ives—comedy, but on larger issues, it can only shadowbox: like the Advertising sales phrase, in the business where it is set, it serves the sizzle, instead of the steak.  The generic characters (audiences will recognize them from at least as far back as The Mary Tyler Moore Show) are trying to survive in the entertainment world herd, while making a dissing, nonsensical 2010 AT&T commercial, apparently now considered a classic.  The over-glorified director of the shoot (David Wohl) may be putting an actor at risk, though—and the crew could be deemed complicit, for employing what the play believes to be a startling concept:  Naturalism. The script, which provides more waffling than a presidential impeachment hearing, is indecisive regarding its ending, as well, like it’s Rashomon, yet the obvious solution, which is not done, is to grab the director and throw gumballs at him.  A comparable step would have been a no-brainer for a character like Dorothy Gale, in The Wizard of Oz (1939), who flings water at the Wicked Witch—and kills her.  Marlon Brando stands up against union bigs in On the Waterfront (1954), only to become badly beaten, bruised, and battered.  In 9-5 (1980), three women fantasize, slip up, and take action against their sexist boss. Only in contemporary America are workers, in the entertainment industry, so afraid of their shadows.

The play, from Working Theater, may have provided more insight into artist coercion—such as the car accident in Kill Bill (2003) from Tarantino and Weinstein (his trial is currently set to take place 9/9)—but Ackerman wants to present provocation without ever having to stop being clever.  Uma Thurman, against her better judgment, as many will recall, also performed naturalistically, in unsafe working conditions, from which she sustained neck, head, and knee injuries–never fully recovering: “I went from being a creative contributor and performer to being like a broken tool.”  In Dropping Gumballs on Luke Wilson, Ackerman can’t match such stakes:  his climatic event is too small (and maybe not so dangerous, given the amount of money the actor is being paid) and his dramaturgy slippery–he ends up seeming like an apologist for gross behavior on set. Where the evening succeeds, however, is in its timing and brisk pacing–the show is only an hour and fifteen minutes, a one act really, which can deliver on old-fashioned laughs, such as a pie throwing montage (the video design is by Yana Biryukova; sound design is by Bart Fasbender, costumes are by Tricia Barsamian, and the all-important properties, by Addison Heeren).  The likable comic actors, almost as recognizable as figures out of commedia dell’arte, include: the eager, young propman (George Hampe), the “pro” electrician (Dean Nolen); the fraught assistant director (Ann Harada), the narcissistic star (Jonathan Sale), and the genius demon manipulator (Wohl).  Watch them at the Mezzanine Theatre at the A.R.T./New York Theatres (502 W. 53rd Street), through July 6, because the smaller, open studio set (by Christopher Swader & Justin Swader; lighting design is by Mary Ellen Stebbins), allows good space for viewing vivid and lively acting (to be transparent, this reviewer attended workshops, at the Lark Play Development Center, where director Teresa Rebeck—also the playwright of Seminar and Bernhardt/Hamlet, among others–was one of the co-leaders, in the early 2000s). 

People will probably enjoy Dropping Gumballs on Luke Wilson–and be interested in the truth behind it–but, disappointingly, the script recedes to default cultural talking points (even the show’s advertising has the look of a blue Dem campaign poster), such as the need for feminism, disgust with white men (the spewing has gotten so bad an unlikely Meryl Streep has felt the need to come to the defense of boys: “Women can be pretty fucking toxic”), and realization that Verizon sucks.  Of course, in real life, proles aren’t so generic or innocent—position is cemented, in the competitive arts world, through talent and money, politics, legacy, or tribe.  Likewise, people can probably count on two hands the number of creators who are actually original and masters of their crafts.   Ackerman, who inflates the abilities of his fictional director–who does have power–sees the ineptness of the workers who don’t, simply preserving the status quo.  In another play (and movie), Network (2017, 1976), one more entertainment insider, also in TV (an anchorman), shouts, iconically, in exasperation and rage:  “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.”  Why will the characters in Dropping Gumballs on Luke Wilson?  What has happened in American culture, where people can’t say no?

© 2019 by Bob Shuman.  All rights reserved.

WORKING THEATER

WORLD PREMIERE OF

“DROPPING GUMBALLS ON LUKE WILSON”

BY ROB ACKERMAN

DIRECTED BY THERESA REBECK

Cast:  REYNA DE COURCY (Film: Wetlands), GEORGE HAMPE (MTC’s REGRETS; TV: “Madame Secretary”), ANN HARADA (Broadway’s CINDERELLA, AVENUE Q), DEAN NOLEN (Broadway’s MAMMA MIA!. NY: OMNIUM GATHERUM, TABLETOP), JONATHAN SALE (NY: HANDLE WITH CARE. TV: “God Friended Me”) and DAVID WOHL (Broadway’s FIDDLER ON THE ROOF, DINNER AT EIGHT).

Photos: The New York Times, Playbill