Category Archives: Books

ANNA DEAVERE SMITH ON ‘BLACK PANTHER’: WAKANDA FOREVER! ·

(Smith’s article appeared in The New York Review of Books, 5/24.)   

Black Panther

A film directed by Ryan Coogler

April 1992: buildings burned, stores were looted, people were killed. An all-white jury in a suburb of LA had just acquitted four white police officers who had been captured on a camcorder brutally beating Rodney King, a black motorist, the year before. When the verdict was announced, no one could believe it. What ensued, depending on whom you talked to, was “a riot,” a “social explosion,” “a revolution.” Some politicians and academics, waiting to see how the dust settled, chose to call it “the events in LA.” People stood on rooftops watching the fire and smoke, terrified for their property or lives, estimating how long it would take for the violence to get to them. But the destruction stayed pretty much in South Central and areas immediately surrounding it—Koreatown and the lower Wilshire area. It never got to the shops in Beverly Hills. The cry and anthem in the street was “No Justice—No Peace!”

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BROADWAY ‘MOCKINGBIRD’ IS BACK ON TRACK, AS COURT DISPUTE ENDS ·

(Michael Paulson’s and Alexandra Alter’s article appeared in The New York Times, 5/10; via Pam Green.)  

Atticus Finch is coming to Broadway. But how closely he will resemble the iconic figure from Harper Lee’s novel “To Kill a Mockingbird” remains a mystery.

The highly anticipated stage production of “To Kill a Mockingbird” is proceeding after a blistering pair of federal lawsuits over a $7 million stage adaptation of “To Kill a Mockingbird” were settled on Thursday, according to a statement from the parties.

That settlement means that the play, with a new script by the prominent Hollywood screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, will be allowed to go forward. The production, with Jeff Daniels starring as the heroic lawyer Atticus Finch and Bartlett Sher as its director, is scheduled to begin rehearsals in September, with previews starting in November and the show opening in December at the Shubert Theater.

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Photo: Famous Biographies

JOAN ACOCELLA ON BOB FOSSE: CROTCH SHOTS GALORE ·

(Acocella’s article appeared in the 5/24 issue of The New York Review of Books.)

Big Deal: Bob Fosse and Dance in the American Musical

by Kevin Winkler

Oxford University Press, 350 pp., $29.95

All That Jazz: The Life and Times of the Musical “Chicago”

by Ethan Mordden

Oxford University Press, 260 pp., $29.95

 

When people think of the work of Bob Fosse, Broadway’s foremost choreographer-director in the 1960s and 1970s, what they are likely to see in their minds is a group of dancers, in bowler hats and white gloves, standing in a stiff configuration and bobbing up and down in a cool sort of way. The dancers may rotate their wrists or splay their fingers, but they don’t stick out too many parts of themselves at one time, and they generally don’t travel around the stage much. They are often dressed in some combination of panties and garters and sheer silks; and even in the live shows, not to speak of the films, they offer you crotch shots galore. Not that they’re planning to do much with their crotches. Most of them would as soon knife you as go out with you. The sex is not sexual but satirical. It’s there to show us that every word we speak is a lie, that every promise will be broken.

That is what Fosse came to think about life, but even he was a child once. He was born in Chicago in 1927, the son of a salesman and a housewife, and he wandered into dance in what, for boys of the period, was the usual way, or the way they later claimed: his sister went to dance lessons, and he accompanied her. She quit; he stayed and became a star.

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INSIDE AN ARGENTINE TRANSLATION OF ‘HAMLET’ PAIRED WITH SURREALIST ILLUSTRATIONS ·

(Marianne Hewitt’s article appeared in Shakespeare and Beyound, 4/27; via Pam Green.)

The poet and critic Rafael Squirru (1925-2016) and the artist Juan Carlos Liberti (1930-) collaborated to create Argentine translations of Shakespeare’s plays, illustrated with captivating surrealist images.

The Folger’s vaults contain a copy of the duo’s Hamlet (1976)signed and donated by Squirru himself. This Argentine translation updates Luis Astrana-Marin’s Spanish translation of the play, published in Madrid in 1949. Squirru adapts the text specifically to suit ‘the Latin American ear’, as he writes in the introduction, since the Spanish spoken in Spain and the Spanish of Argentina are distinct in accent, vocabulary, and rhythm.

Juan Carlos Liberti’s paintings include colorful scenes of tango dancers and musicians in Buenos Aires, as well as surrealist Shakespearean illustrations. The following illustration is included in the front matter of Hamlet:

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Photo: Folger Shakespeare Library

CAESAR BLOODY CAESAR ·

Richard Johnson as Cassius, John Gielgud as Julius Caesar, and Jason Robards as Brutus in Stuart Burge’s film Julius Caesar, 1970

(Josephine Quinn’s article appeared in The New York Review of Books, 3/22.)

The Landmark Julius Caesar: The Complete Works: Gallic War, Civil War, Alexandrian War, African War, and Spanish War

edited and translated from the Latin by Kurt A. Raaflaub

Pantheon, 793 pp., $50.00

Richard Johnson as Cassius, John Gielgud as Julius Caesar, and Jason Robards as Brutus in Stuart Burge’s film Julius Caesar, 1970

When Julius Caesar was thirty-one years old in 69 BCE, so the story goes, and serving as a junior Roman magistrate in Spain, he once stood lamenting before a statue of Alexander the Great because he had achieved so little at an age by which Alexander had already conquered the world.

He had good reason for concern. Although his recent election as a quaestor—one of the officials responsible for finances—had given him a lifetime seat in the Senate, Roman politics were more of a funnel than a ladder: twenty quaestors who had been elected at thirty years old could compete nine years later for eight praetorships, and then, three years after that, for just two annual consulships. To rise, you needed political friends, name recognition, and, in order to buy elections, a great deal of money.

Caesar was already admired as an orator, but he was best known for his debts, and he was good at making enemies, especially among the powerful conservatives in the Senate. Furthermore, while he had ably fulfilled the standard military duties of a young Roman nobleman, he had attracted attention only for his first assignment overseas at the age of about twenty: a trip to Bithynia in northern Anatolia, where he had become friendly—many said extremely friendly—with its king, Nicomedes. Whether or not the rumors were true, this was the first hint of a lifelong tendency to test the bounds of Rome’s unwritten moral and legal codes.

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TOLSTOY, GORKY, AND “THE LOWER DEPTHS” ·

(Pavel Basinsky’s article appeared in Russia Beyound the Headlines, 3/2.)

While the younger Gorky considered Tolstoy almost a god, the great Leo had a strong interest in the new writer, even on the verge of obsessive jealousy. Musings on the very nature of God became a passionate bone of contention between the two extraordinary writers.

This year, Russia celebrates the 150th birthday of one of its most important 20th century writers, the stormy petrel of the revolution, Maxim Gorky. Russia Beyond publishes a translation of an extract from a new book by Pavel Basinsky “The Passion According to Maxim. Gorky: 9 Days After Death,” which is about the complicated relations between Maxim Gorky and Leo Tolstoy. The book will be published this March in Russian by Yelena Shubina publications, AST publishing (link in Russian).

***

Tolstoy’s first diary entries about Gorky were favorable. “We had a good conversation,” “a true man of the people,” or “I am glad that I like both Gorky and Chekhov, particularly the first one.” But from about the middle of 1903 there is a drastic – and even whimsical – change in Tolstoy’s attitude to Gorky.

“Gorky – there is a misapprehension,” Tolstoy writes on Sept. 3, 1903, adding angrily: “The Germans know Gorky, but they don’t know Polenz.”

But Wilhelm von Polenz (1861-1903), a prominent German writer of the naturalist school, could not compete with Gorky, who by 1903 had become famous in Germany with his play, The Lower Depths, which premiered at Max Reinhardt’s Kleines Theater in Berlin on Jan.10, 1903 under the title, Nachtasyl (Night shelter). It was staged by the well-known director, Richard Vallentin, who himself played Satin, while Reinhardt played Luka. The success of the German version of The Lower Depths was so overwhelming that it had 300 (!) performances in a row, and in the spring of 1905 its 500th performance was celebrated in Berlin.

It is silly and ridiculous to suspect Leo Tolstoy of envy, but there was a certain element of writerlyjealousy in this entry, and it’s not accidental that, while calling Gorky a “misapprehension,” he refers to the Germans. The runaway success of The Lower Depths, not just in Russia but also in Germany, had already reached his ears. Tolstoy had heard The Lower Depths in Crimea read by Gorky himself in manuscript form, and already then thought the play strange and couldn’t understand why it had been written. If the play had not been such a success, Tolstoy would simply have concluded that the young author had made the wrong creative choice. Even before then, he had upbraided Gorky for the fact that his peasants talk “too cleverly,” and that much in his prose was exaggerated and unnatural.

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Photos: Russia Beyond the Headlines

 

SAMUEL FRENCH WILL OPEN THE BOOKSHOP AT LONDON’S ROYAL COURT THEATRE ·


(Ruthie Fierberg’s article appeared in Playbill Online, 2/13.)

The theatrical publisher opens the U.K. version of New York City’s Drama Book Shop.

The Royal Court Theatre in London’s Sloane Square is a landmark of the theatre scene across the pond. On February 13, the U.K. division of Samuel French announced there will be an addition to the theatre space: a theatre bookshop.

The Bookshop will be located in the theatre’s Balcony Bar and will open its doors March 5.

“We are thrilled to reopen a bookshop in London, especially at the iconic Royal Court Theatre. When we closed our shop in Fitzroy Street last year, we were overwhelmed by messages of support,” said managing director of Samuel French U.K. Douglas Schatz in a statement.

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AN ORAL HISTORY OF ‘ANGELS IN AMERICA’: TELL US 5 THINGS ABOUT YOUR BOOK ·

(John Williams’s article appeared in The New York Times, 2/4; via Pam Green.) 

When “Angels in America” premiered on Broadway in 1993, The New York Times’s Frank Rich called it “the most thrilling American play in years.” Tony Kushner’s two-part epic about American life, set against the AIDS crisis and Ronald Reagan’s presidency, quickly became, by consensus, one of the 20th century’s most essential works of theater. (The play is coming back to New York, at the Neil Simon Theater, beginning previews this month and opening in March.) In 2016, Slate published an oral history of the show, in which Mr. Kushner and more than 50 others talked about the production’s long and often difficult road to success. Now the authors of that history — Isaac Butler, a theater director himself, and Dan Kois, an editor and writer for Slate — have published a new book that expands on it: “The World Only Spins Forward: The Ascent of ‘Angels in America.’” The book covers the development and life of the play, as well as Mike Nichols’s adaptation of it as a mini-series for HBO in 2003. Below, Butler and Kois talk about the influence of the political climate on their book, a film adaptation of “Angels” that never came to pass and more.

 

When did you first get the idea to write this book?

 

DAN KOIS Isaac and I were conducting interviews for the Slate story in spring 2016. We kept getting so much amazing stuff. Every single person we talked to would tell us the kind of story you tell about the defining artistic and intellectual moment of your life. No one was like, “Oh yeah, it was great. I don’t remember much about it.” One week, we each interviewed members of the original cast. I interviewed Kathleen Chalfant … 

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Photo: Newsweek

SIMON CALLOW: THE EMPEROR ROBESON ·

Paul Robeson as Othello, 1944; photograph by Carl Van Vechten

(Callow’s article appeared in the New York Review of Books, 2/8.

Paul Robeson: The Artist as Revolutionary

by Gerald Horne

Pluto, 250 pp., $18.00 (paper)

No Way But This: In Search of Paul Robeson

by Jeff Sparrow

Scribe, 292 pp., $19.95 (paper)

Paul Robeson as Othello, 1944; photograph by Carl Van Vechten

When I was growing up in Britain in the 1950s and 1960s, Paul Robeson was much in evidence, on records, on the radio, on television. His name was haloed with the sort of respect accorded to few performers. The astonishing voice that, like the Mississippi in the most famous number in his repertory, just kept rolling along, seemed to carry within it an inherent sense of truth. There was no artifice; there were no vocal tricks; nothing came between the listener and the song. It commanded effortless attention; perfectly focused, it came from a very deep place, not just in the larynx, but in the experience of what it is to be human. In this, Robeson resembled the English contralto Kathleen Ferrier: both seemed less trained musicians than natural phenomena.

The spirituals Robeson had been instrumental in discovering for a wider audience were not simply communal songs of love and life and death but the urgent cries of a captive people yearning for a better, a juster life. These songs, rooted in the past, expressed a present reality in the lives of twentieth-century American black people, citizens of the most powerful nation on earth but oppressed and routinely humiliated on a daily basis. When Robeson sang the refrain of “Go Down Moses”—“Let my people go!”—it had nothing to do with consolation or comfort: it was an urgent demand. And in the Britain in which I grew up, he was deeply admired for it. For us, he was the noble representative, the beau idéal, of his race: physically magnificent, finely spoken, fiercely intelligent, charismatic but not at all threatening.

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CHILTON WILLIAMSON AND THE STRENUOUS LIFE (ii): AUTHOR OF ‘JERUSALEM, JERUSALEM!’ ON LIONS AT THE DENVER ZOO, HIS CHILDREN’S NOVEL SET IN KENYA AND AT THE PLAZA HOTEL–AND ONE BOOK HE’D GIVE TO DONALD TRUMP ·

Author, columnist, and editor, Chilton Williamson, Jr. has published works of fiction, narrative nonfiction, and books on politics and history.  He was formerly history editor for St. Martin’s Press and literary editor for National Review.  For 26 years, he served as senior editor for books for Chronicles:  A Magazine of American Culture before being named editor in 2015.

Born in New York City, he was raised in Manhattan and on the family farm in South Windham, Vermont.  Since 1979, he has lived in Wyoming, except for two years spend in Las Cruces, New Mexico.

Besides Jerusalem, Jerusalem!, his fourth Chronicles Press book, Williamson is the author of four published novels and six works of nonfiction.  With his wife, Maureen McCaffrey Williamson, he lives in Laramie, Wyoming.

CHILTON WILLIAMSON concludes his interview, with SV’s Bob Shuman, about his new novel Jerusalem, Jerusalem!, set in the contemporary West.

View ‘Jerusalem, Jerusalem!’ on Amazon: https://tinyurl.com/yb7o4x5c

Do you consider yourself a political writer?

I’m a political writer when I write about politics, which my job as a magazine editor requires me to do every month. As for fiction, I’m a political writer when I write that, too—but only in the sense of the Marxist idea that “everything is political,” which I deny.

Do you find mainstream publishing biased in the same way as television?  If you think it is, are there any options?

Certainly. Mainstream publishing is very biased toward the leftist view of the world. The alternative could be the much smaller, less commercial publishers—but most of them are leftist, too. They want the leftist politics even more than the big boys, while caring much less about profit.

David Mamet has said “the essence of drama is to follow the truth of human interaction where it leads.  You can’t do that while you’re also trying to promote a political agenda because you always end up with me and my tractor.  Anyone can mouth the essential verities.”  Do you agree with him? Can Western conservatism be incorporated into a novel and is there such thing as an American conservative novel—what would that be like? 

I do not know what “the truth of human interaction” could be. As for the possibilities for “a conservative novel,” I am increasingly uncertain that the words “conservative” and “conservatism” mean much, or even anything at all. They’ve been too much pawed over by academicians and theoreticians generally. Chesterton said the great question is not between conservatism and liberalism, but between right and wrong.  My own restatement of the opposition between “liberal” and “conservative” is “pre-modern” v. “modern.” Modern people are comfortable with secularist, industrialist, technocratic, mass market, and mass democratic society. Pre-modern ones are not. Naturally, if these happen also to be novelists, they are conservative ones. Thus, William FaulknerAndrew LytleFlannery O’ConnorJoseph ConradEvelyn WaughSolzhenitsyn, wrote “conservative” novels. So does Cormac McCarthy today. So do I.

Best Western novel, besides one of your own?

Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian (1985).

 

You have also written a novel for tweens about lions from Africa called The Greatest Lion.  When did you become interested in children’s literature?

I’ve read and enjoyed children’s literature since I was a child, and still do. For instance, I reread Kenneth Graham’s The Wind in the Willows recently, and Milne’s Pooh books are still a delight to me. So are Beatrix Potter’s delightful tales. And Kipling’s Just So Stories. And Booth Tarkington’s Penrod volumes.  And Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series. And Walter R. Brooks Freddy the Pig stories. I could go on all afternoon. Most children’s books should actually be written “children’s” books—if they are any good, at least. I believe that a child’s book that an adult cannot enjoy as well is a bad book, period. When I set out to write Lion, I was determined to make it a story that people of any age could enjoy. Hence, a careful reader who perceive quiet allusions in the text to Eloise at the Plaza by Kay Thompson and to Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, who like The Lion and The Lioness went swimming in the Plaza Fountain. There are probably many more such that I can’t recall now.

What was the inspiration for the book?

My love of cats, big cats, and lions especially—partly inspired by Joy Adamson’s Elsa books. I worked for five or six years as a docent at Denver Zoo, where lions were my specialty. I had to quit when I was made editor of Chronicles two years ago, no longer having the time to drive from Laramie, Wyoming to Denver and back once a week, a round trip of 258 miles. (See what I mean about distances out West.)

The Greatest Lion, by the way, is the story of The Lion and The Lioness who are kidnapped from Kenya and flown to a zoo somewhere in the Middle East where a war is being fought. They are granted refugee status in the U.S. and lodged temporarily at The Plaza, the authorities having no other place to put them. Eventually they find their way to Wyoming, where The Lion is arrested by a game warden for harassing the local wildlife, and jailed. After his release, he decided to write a book about himself and his adventures in order to make the money they need to fly back to Africa, which he succeeds in doing. My guess is the book will appeal to children between the ages of six and ten, or so.

One book of yours you’d give to the president and why?

‘After Tocqueville: The Promise and Failure of Democracy’ (ISI, 2012), which I believe is extremely relevant to the current debate across the Western world regarding democracy, populism, and elitism.

Thank you so much for talking with Stage Voices. 

View ‘JERUSALEM, JERUSALEM!’ on Amazon: https://tinyurl.com/yb7o4x5c

View ‘AFTER TOCQUEVILLE: THE PROMISE AND FAILURE OF DEMOCRACY’ on Amazon:  https://tinyurl.com/yabx8den

Visit Chronicles Web site: https://www.chroniclesmagazine.org/

Read Part 1 of this interview at: https://tinyurl.com/ybpzyos4

Read Part 2 of this interview at: https://tinyurl.com/yabx8den 

(c) 2017 by Chilton Williamson, Jr. (answers) and Bob Shuman (questions). All rights reserved.

Lions photo: The Denver Post.