Category Archives: Commentary

THE DELIGHTS OF SEA-CHANTEY TIKTOK ·

(Amanda Petrusich’s article appeared in The New Yorker, 1/14.  Photo: After nearly a year of solitude and crushing restrictions, chanteys are providing a glimpse into a more exciting way of life, a world of sea air and pirates, of people singing in unison.Source: jonnystewartbass / TikTok.)

In late December, Nathan Evans, a twenty-six year old singer from Scotland, posted a TikTok of himself performing a multi-part sea chantey titled “The Scotsman.” Evans sang the piece a capella, in a rich, trembling baritone, while pounding his fists and clapping his hands. “The Scotsman” nails the essential gist—Girls! Booze! Travails!—of the sea chantey, a style of traditional folk song that, historically, was sung in unison by sailors, either to pass the time or synchronize their labor. “The Scotsman” has since racked up 2.7 million views (and counting). Evans posted another chantey performance a few days later, this time of “The Wellerman,” a piece more than a century old that likely originated with the small-boat whalers of New Zealand in the mid-nineteenth-century (a Wellerman was an employee of the Weller Brothers, which operated a whaling station on Otago Harbor, and paid its fishermen with “sugar and tea and rum”). The video presently has 4.1 million views, and has inspired imitations, remixes, homages, and the recording of ever more chanteys. According to Google Trends, “sea shanties” has been searched more now than at any other time in Google’s history. “I don’t really know what happened,” Evans told CNET.

It feels worth pointing out (particularly if you are accustomed to a more sly and mocking youth culture) that TikTok’s sudden embrace of the chantey is not ironic, exactly. In one especially popular reaction video, two young men drive while “The Wellerman” plays. The guy on the left knows all the words, and is singing along; soon, the guy on the right is doing it, too. “Now we lit,” a caption reads. There appears to be genuine pleasure on both of their faces.

It seems possible that after nearly a year of solitude and collective self-banishment, and of crushing restrictions on travel and adventure, the chantey might be providing a brief glimpse into a different, more exciting way of life, a world of sea air and pirates and grog, of many people singing in unison, of being free to boldly take off for what Melville called the “true places,” the uncorrupted vistas that can’t be located on any map. But it’s also not unusual for something to gain purchase on TikTok simply because it is unexpected. TikTok runs on an engine of chaos and unpredictability; users of the app are not expected to make logical sense of its offerings. Instead, TikTok is a narrative-free zone, which means it can work as a kind of psychic balm if you are prone to exhausting yourself by scouring art or media for meaning. On TikTok, there is no meaning beyond what is visceral and immediate. For me, at least, that can sometimes feel nice. As my colleague Jia Tolentino wrote back in 2019, “I found it both freeing and disturbing to spend time on a platform that didn’t ask me to pretend that I was on the Internet for a good reason.”

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TIM RICE: ‘EVITA WAS A BONKERS IDEA’ ·

(Rob Walker’s article appeared in the Guardian, 1/14; Photo: Dynamic duo … Tim Rice, right, and Andrew Lloyd Webber in 1970. Photograph: Hulton Deutsch/Corbis via Getty Images.)

As the great songwriter prepares to take Jesus Christ Superstar on a 50th birthday tour, he talks about penning hits, his idea for a new musical – and drinking from Lloyd Webber’s Georgian wine glasses

 Tim Rice had a hunch the Oscar was in the bag. After all, he and Elton John had been responsible for three of the five nominations in the best song category. But, as he walked on stage that night in 1995, after Can You Feel the Love Tonight from The Lion King won, the tall, slightly awkward-looking English lyricist had no idea what he was going to say. So he drew a breath then decided, on a whim, to thank his childhood hero, Denis Compton. No one in the Hollywood audience had heard of the England and Middlesex cricketing all-rounder and his words were greeted with a bemused silence.

Rice laughs at the memory and puts on a throaty American drawl to recount the scene back stage when reporters swarmed. “What movies was this guy Compton in?” “Oh, I said, he was in The Final Test.” “But what part did he play?” “Well, he played Denis Compton – and frankly, I thought he captured the character very well.”

He chortles away, still roguish at 76 and ever the raconteur. But then Rice is at his best telling stories. They’re the key to his craft. “A good story always inspires good words,” he says. And, over the past six decades, Rice has written some very good words for the biggest names in music, from Freddie Mercury to Madonna. Mention his name, though, and people are likely to think of him as part of a duo alongside – or even eclipsed by – Andrew Lloyd Webber. Yet as a lyricist, Rice has won three Oscars, two more than Lloyd Webber.

Why isn’t he more of a national treasure? “I really don’t like people saying everything is wonderful,” Rice says, when I suggest that he may be a bit too, well, self-effacing for someone with three Academy awards. “I don’t want to completely put myself down – because there’s the frightening possibility that people might agree.” Is there anything he will say? “I think I’m quite good at judging my material, partly because it’s only half mine in most cases.”

He’s speaking to me from his six-acre country home near Henley-on-Thames in Oxfordshire, a leafy retreat he moved to three years ago. Outside, the afternoon light’s fading and his dog is impatient for a walk. Rice has spent the day organising all the songs he’s ever written – putting his house in order “in case I get hit by a bus next week”. He’s been struck by how many never appeared in films or shows: 145 in all. Most are pretty average, he says, particularly the early ones. “It’s made me realise just how much a show helps a song.”

I like a perfect rhyme. I don’t like time and mine, or girl and world

None more so than the hit musical Evita. A “bonkers” idea, he says, that came to him after hearing a radio programme about Eva Perón, the glamorous wife of Juan Perón, three times president of Argentina. The show made him drop everything and jump on a plane to Buenos Aires to do some research. “The best stuff I’ve written is when I have characters and I know what situation they’re in – and I think, ‘What would I say in that situation?’”

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ILLUSIONIST SIEGFRIED FISCHBACHER OF SIEGFRIED & ROY DIES ·

(Paul Davenport’s article appeared on the AP, 1/14; via the Drudge Report; Photo: Sigfried, left, with tiger: Reviewjournal.com.)

Siegfried Fischbacher, the surviving member of the magic duo Siegfried & Roy who entertained millions with illusions using rare animals, has died in Las Vegas, his publicist tells The Associated Press. He was 81.

Fischbacher died Wednesday at his home from pancreatic cancer, Dave Kirvin of Kirvin Doak Communications said Thursday. The news was first reported by German news agency dpa.

Fischbacher’s long-time show business partner, Roy Horn, died last year of complications from COVID-19 at a Las Vegas hospital. He was 75.

The duo astonished millions with their extraordinary magic tricks until Horn was critically injured in 2003 by one of the act’s famed white tigers.

In a statement announcing Horn’s death in May, Fischbacher said, “From the moment we met, I knew Roy and I, together, would change the world. There could be no Siegfried without Roy, and no Roy without Siegfried.”

He later told Germany’s weekly Bild am Sonntag newspaper his best friend would always stay by his side.

“For dinner, I will continue to have the table set for him, too. Like it always was the case. I’m not alone,” dpa quoted Fischbacher as telling the newspaper.

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CUOMO OUTLINES PLANS TO ‘BRING ARTS AND CULTURE BACK TO LIFE’ ·

(Sarah Bahr’s article appeared in The New York Times 1/12; via Pam Green Photo: “New York City is not New York without Broadway,” Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said on Tuesday in unveiling plans for the arts. Theaters have been closed since March because of the pandemic.Credit…Daniel Arnold for The New York Times.)

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said that New York urgently needs to bring the arts back — not only to help jobless artists, but to make sure that New York City survives.

Declaring that New York urgently needs to revive its arts and entertainment industry if it is to recover from the coronavirus pandemic, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Tuesday that the state would begin taking a series of interim steps to help to bring back some cultural events in the short term and put more unemployed artists back to work.)

“We must bring arts and culture back to life,” Mr. Cuomo said as he continued a weeklong series of policy addresses outlining his agenda for the state.

The governor said that bringing back art and culture was crucial — not just to help artists, who have suffered some of the worst unemployment in the nation, but to keep New York City a vital, exciting center where people will want to live and work.

“Cities are, by definition, centers of energy, entertainment, theater and cuisine,” Mr. Cuomo said, noting the threats the city is facing from the rise in remote work, crime and homelessness. “Without that activity and attraction, cities lose much of their appeal. What is a city without social, cultural and creative synergies? New York City is not New York without Broadway.”

Mr. Cuomo said that the state would begin a public-private partnership to offer a series of statewide pop-up concerts featuring artists such as Amy Schumer, Chris Rock, Renée Fleming and Hugh Jackman; begin a pilot program exploring how socially distant performances might be held safely in flexible venues whose seating is not fixed; and work in partnership with the Mellon Foundation to distribute grants to put more than 1,000 artists back to work and provide money to community arts groups.

The governor said that the state could not wait until summer, when more people are vaccinated, to bring back performances.

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BELARUS THREATENS TO KILL TWO UK DISSIDENTS ·

  • “We will definitely find you … and we will hang you, side-by-side,” the main Belarusian government newspaper, Sovietska Belarus, wrote on 27 December 2020.reetheatre.com)

“Death threats were always part of our life … but this is the first time the main columnist of Sovietska Belarus is using such language,” she told EUobserver from London last week, where they have lived for almost 10 years after receiving asylum and UK nationality.

  •  British citizenship and international awards are not enough to make Belarusian dissident Natalia Kaliada and her husband Nicolai Khalezin feel safe after a high-profile death threat.

Kaliada, a former diplomat, and Khalezin, a journalist, are co-founders of Belarus Free Theatre, which puts on anti-Belarus regime plays around the world.

They also lobby for Western sanctions against regime financiers.

And these include Russian oligarchs, such as Mikhail Gutseriev, whose family also lives in London, and whose intimate links to Belarus president Alexander Lukashenko were recently exposed by British newspaper The Telegraph.

“Clearly, we’ve become a target … it’s getting more tense,” Kaliada said.

“We have British citizenship, so in that [Sovietska Belarus] column, they’re threatening citizens of other countries and the UK needs to take responsibility,” she told EUobserver.

“People somehow continue to be killed and poisoned here [in Britain],” she added, referring to previous Russian murders and attempted murders of Russian émigrés in the UK.

“The [British] government needs to understand the threat is also coming from smaller dictators than [Russian president Vladimir] Putin to citizens of their country,” Kaliada said.

A British foreign office spokeswoman told EUobserver: “The UK condemns the intimidation and persecution of Belarusian political opposition figures by Lukashenko’s regime,” in reaction to the Sovietska Belarus threat.

“We continue to call for a genuine and constructive political dialogue between the authorities, the opposition, and civil society to resolve this crisis peacefully,” she added, referring to pro-democracy protests in Belarus.

“I only hope the economy of Belarus is pretty weak, but if he [Lukashenko] previously found €1.2m for this type of thing, knowing that he has billions in his personal fortune, you never know,” Kaliada said.

She spoke after EUobserver revealed that Lukashenko, back in 2012, put a small fortune in a secret account to finance assassinations abroad.

“Knowing what Lukashenko already did to our friends … we feel like anything could happen,” Kaliada said, referring to the vanishing of four opposition activists in Belarus in 1999 and to what she called the “staged suicide” of eminent Belarusian journalist Oleg Bebenin in 2010.

Kaliada already came close to losing her life.

She was about to fly from Minsk to London to stage a play in the run-up to Belarus elections in December 2010 when it happened.

“It was 5AM when we got to the airport and some people dressed in black came over to me, just before boarding. They took away my passport and my boarding pass and said: ‘Do you understand you’re the leader of a terrorist group? Do you understand you’ll disappear now?’,” she recalled.

“They took me down several floors and into a dark corridor and I thought to myself: ‘They’re going to shoot me in the back of the head now, like they do with the death penalty [in Belarus]’. But I tried my luck and said: ‘Guys! It’s a bad idea to kidnap me on the way to London right before elections. If I vanish now, you’ll get into trouble and your boss, Lukashenko, will be in such deep shit, you’d better let me go’,” she said.

The men-in-black made some phone-calls, then let her board her flight, which had been held up for an hour over the incident.

But Kaliada has vowed to continue her opposition despite the risks. “It’s in my DNA,” she said.

She also paid tribute to pro-democracy protesters in Belarus, who have kept up demonstrations for over 150 days after rigged elections in August, despite police sadism and the onset of winter.

“I have no words to express how brave they are,” Kaliada told EUobserver.

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MORE THAN THE GIRL NEXT DOOR: 8 ACTORS ON EMILY IN ‘OUR TOWN’ ·

(Laura Collin-Hughes’s article appeared in The New York Times, 1/6; via Pam Green.  In a Broadway production of “Our Town,” Helen Hunt, right, played Emily Webb with Jason Gedrick, left, as George Gibbs and Don Ameche as the Stage Manager.Credit…Brigitte Lacombe, via Lincoln Center Theater.)

With a history of the Thornton Wilder classic coming soon, we talk with performers who found personal inspiration in the play’s beating heart.

Life is a quiet affair in Grover’s Corners, N.H. Its citizens don’t do drama or fuss. But Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town,” set amid the mountains there, is no folksy paean to simplicity. It’s a boldly experimental play about the beauty of the everyday, and human beings’ tragic propensity to look right past that.

When that realization lands, late and joltingly, it arrives by way of a character we may have underestimated: Emily Webb, the brainy daughter of the town’s newspaper editor. She vows that she’ll make speeches all her life, then falls in love with George Gibbs, the boy next door. If the storytelling Stage Manager is the play’s marquee role, Emily is its beating heart — and a rare complex canonical part for young actresses just starting out.

After “Our Town” made its premiere on Jan. 22, 1938, at the McCarter Theater in Princeton, N.J., it swiftly moved to Broadway, and won that year’s Pulitzer Prize for drama. In the decades since, it has gained a reputation for fusty sentimentality, a misperception that Howard Sherman’s new oral history, “Another Day’s Begun: Thornton Wilder’s ‘Our Town’ in the 21st Century” (out Jan. 28 from Methuen Drama), debunks through discussion of a dozen productions.

The New York Times chatted recently with eight actors who have played Emily: on Broadway and Off, in London and regional productions — two of them bi- or multilingual. Lois Smith, now 90, did “Our Town” a mere dozen years after its debut, on a college stage. Their thoughts on the role suggest just how capacious Grover’s Corners can be. These are edited excerpts from those conversations.

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FAUCI SUGGESTS THEATERS COULD REOPEN ‘SOME TIME IN THE FALL’ ·

(Julia Jacobs’s article appeared in The New York Times, 1/9; Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, right, speaking with Maurine Knighton, program director for the arts at the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, at an industry conference. Credit…via APAP/NYC; via Pam Green.)

Dr. Anthony S. Fauci told performing arts professionals that if the vaccination program was a success, performances could resume with relatively few restrictions.

At the conference, held by the Association of Performing Arts Professionals, Dr. Fauci sought to assure people in the industry that the end of their acute economic pain was in sight, while emphasizing that the timeline hinged on the country reaching an effective level of herd immunity, which he defined as vaccinating from 70 percent to 85 percent of the population.

“If everything goes right, this is will occur some time in the fall of 2021,” Dr. Fauci said, “so that by the time we get to the early to mid-fall, you can have people feeling safe performing onstage as well as people in the audience.”

The industry conference, which typically draws thousands of attendees and features hundreds of live performances, was moved entirely online this year because of the coronavirus pandemic, underscoring the seismic impact the outbreak has had on the performing arts. According to the results of a survey released this week by Americans for the Arts, a national advocacy group, financial losses nationally in the field are estimated to be $14.8 billion, more than a third of nonprofit arts and cultural organizations have laid off or furloughed their staff, and a tenth are “not confident” they can survive the pandemic.

Speaking to Maurine Knighton, the program director for the arts at the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, Dr. Fauci said that if vaccine distribution succeeded, theaters with good ventilation and proper air filters might not need to place many restrictions for performances by the fall — except asking their audience members to wear masks, which he suggested could continue to be a norm for some time.

 “I think you can then start getting back to almost full capacity of seating,” he said.

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ROBOT WARS: 100 YEARS ON, IT’S TIME TO REBOOT KAREL ČAPEK’S ‘RUR’ ·

(Michael Billington’s article appeared in the Guardian, 1/17.  Photo:  Satirical … a sketch for Karel Čapek’s RUR by Bedřich Feuerstein. Photograph: Dea Picture Library/De Agostini/Getty Images.)

The play Rossum’s Universal Robots clearly belongs to the 1920s but its satirical take on the meeting of humans and machines is all too relevant today

Not many plays introduce a new word to the language. One that did was Karel Čapek’s RUR: Rossum’s Universal Robots that had its premiere in Prague 100 years ago this month. Every time we use the word “robot” to denote a humanoid machine, it derives from Čapek’s play, which coined the term from the Czech “robota” meaning forced labour. But a play that was hugely popular in its time – its Broadway premiere in 1922 had a cast that included Spencer Tracy and Pat O’Brien as robots – has now fallen into neglect. Given our fascination with artificial intelligence, it’s high time we gave it another look.

But what kind of play is it exactly? A dystopian drama attacking science and technology? Up to a point, but it’s much more than that. It starts almost as a Shavian comedy with a do-gooding visitor, Lady Helen Glory, turning up on an island where robots are manufactured out of synthetic matter. She is amazed to discover that a plausibly human secretary is a machine and is equally astonished when the factory’s directors turn out to be flesh and blood creatures rather than robots. With time, the play gets darker as the robots prove to be stronger and more intelligent than their creators and eventually wipe out virtually all humankind. Only a single engineer survives who, a touch improbably, shows two robots transformed by love.

The late, great critic Eric Bentley called Čapek’s play “a museum-piece”. And it is true that it belongs to a 1920s genre of expressionist drama about the threat of dehumanising technology: in 1923 Elmer Rice wrote The Adding Machine about a repressed clerk who, when replaced by the instrument of the title, murders his employer. Kirsten Shepherd-Barr, in her excellent book Science on Stage also implies RUR may have had its day in that theatre now eagerly embraces science and technology.

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HOWLING IN THE DARK: LEE BREUER AND ‘THE GOSPEL AT COLONUS’, ‘PATAPHYSICS PENYEACH’, AND ‘LA DIVINA CARICATURA, PART 1: THE SHAGGY DOG’ ·

(Photos: Mabou Mines)

By Bob Shuman

Some of us had never seen Lee Breuer, who died January 3, working without a stocking cap—but what is probably most surprising is that we saw a playwright, this hands-on, at all.  In 2010, upon early audience entry, at New York Theatre Workshop, he clarified tech, behind a huge plywood board, for his double-bill of monologues Pataphysics Penyeach (Summa DramaticaandPorco Morto”).  In 2013, with La Divina Caricatura, Part 1: The Shaggy Dog, at La MaMa, there was a question as to whether he might even be seen, as press performances were canceled due to his illness.  He appeared, hustling through the impersonal subway tracks of the set, though, where a dog had been abandoned.  That animal, Rose, a puppet, also the star of the show, caused a visceral reaction, when she began eating “poop,” a polite way of naming the grotesque situation—one this reviewer categorized as an aberrant absurdist element, while still shuddering.  Much later, now the owner of two Jack Russell terriers, one who had been deserted on a highway in South Carolina, the truth of the writing emerged.  Although our dogs are now ensconced in Massachusetts during the pandemic, for several years, Breuer remained on my mind often, his visual observation about pets acute, disgusting, and pervasive.

He was part of the East Village zeitgeist—I should say he was our Peter Brook. Mabou Mines offered performance based on hard theatrical theory and experience, not simple propaganda, although clearly leftist. Breuer volunteered at the Berliner Ensemble, under Communism, worked with Grotowski, adapted Beckett, and more, to give his work an international edge. It’s impossible to think of the American avant-garde, without him.  Tracking our way back from the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, along Seventh Avenue to Forty-Second Street, in 1988, someone, talking about the chorus, was saying how you weren’t “going to ask those big, mature Black women to do a lot of choreography,” as we understood musicals then, when someone noted the stately stage progressions, in The Gospel at Colonus.  The voices moved the audience, and caused them to dance, instead.  Lee Breuer was, almost inarguably, America’s finest theatre practitioner at the end of the twentieth century and early twenty-first, mainstream or otherwise. His aesthetic was so fully formed, centered, and grounded, in fact, that it seems an injustice to say that he was an experimental director. It’s better to describe him as a seminal one.

In a July 2020 Zoom interview from Segal Talks, hosted by Frank Hentschker, with Maude Mitchell, Breuer macrocosmically talked about playwriting, music: 

“I wanted to get this feeling of everyone contributing their melody to a larger whole, and that there would be a form that would arise from it.  I think music is the key to it.  I think if we can feel that all the currents–political, aesthetic—are joining together to make a statement–and if you can discern what that statement is–that you will have achieved a tremendous revelation about what our times and what our lives now are all about.”

Breuer’s statements could expose internal horror about the American and human condition, combining humor with the monstrous, as he did with Pataphysics Penyeach, which used children’s storybook  and cartoon characters facing contemporary political and sociological existence.  Back in 2010, he seemed to pinpoint how we had been overwhelmed by the technological: “Reality is not real,” a distinguished professor, a cow, tells us “—it’s virtual.”  The play demonstrated a “spin” on French symbolist writer Alfred Jarry’s pataphysics (a “send up of metaphysics”). 

According to Breuer, in a 2007 video conversation at Towson University,  theatre only exists half the time on the stage; the other half takes place in the head.  The viewer is choosing the play’s message after “balancing the work’s thesis and antithesis.”  The synthesizing process is apparent in a work like Pataphysics Penyeach because, through the ridiculous and cerebral, one attempts to decipher the meaning, to make sense of the divergent inputs, holding on in the hope of unmasking the secret of the piece.  Steadily looking for metaphor, in “Porco Morto,” the second one act in the evening, Breuer turned the concept of “capitalist pigs” into a playlet about a piglet, who talks like Porky Pig.

For those drawn to the stage of Lee Breuer, part of its appeal must be his interest in the viewer as thinker, not simply as blank page—he was an intellectual theorist himself, not only a defender of theory, whether Marxist, Feminist, Market, or other.  Breuer’s is a formidable intelligence to be openly missed; irreplaceable, still to be reckoned with, and learned from. 

Don’t cover it up.

© 2021 by Bob Shuman.  All rights reserved.

Visit Mabou Mines.

 

Two Breuer Reviews from Stage Voices:

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LOST IN 2020: EPIC SHAKESPEARE, AND THE THEATER THAT PLANNED IT ·

(Maya Phillips’s article appeared in The New York Times, 12/29/2020 Photo: Brendan Edward Kennedy, center, in the title role of “Henry V” at Brave Spirits Theater in Virginia.Credit…Claire Kimball; via Pam Green.)

Brave Spirits Theater expected to mount an ambitious cycle of eight history plays. Instead it became yet another victim of the pandemic.

I’ve written several versions of this story. First it was supposed to be an account of a small theater company’s ambitious stage project, then a story about that interrupted project and the company’s plan to regroup because of the pandemic. Now it’s an elegy for a small theater that the coronavirus shut down.

On a bright but chilly Saturday afternoon in February, I hopped on a train to Alexandria, Va., just outside of Washington. I was visiting Brave Spirits Theater, which was presenting the first part of a bold endeavor: staging eight of Shakespeare’s history plays (the two tetralogies, from “Richard II” to “Richard III”) in repertory, over the course of 18 months, culminating in a marathon performance of all eight works.

I was there to see the first two plays in the series, beginning with a matinee performance of “Richard II.” On the car from the train station, I peeked at the quiet suburbs of Alexandria — brick houses with wraparound porches, American flags by the door — until I arrived at the theater, which channeled the small-town whimsy of a playhouse in a storybook. The space, a converted church building, had pale yellow columns out front and bright turquoise trim around the windows, with red accents throughout.

Charlene V. Smith, who co-founded Brave Spirits in 2011, told me that the idea for the project occurred to her in 2008, when she saw the Royal Shakespeare Company in London do a marathon performance of the histories. Brave Spirits was claiming to be making history by being the “first professional American theater company to mount full productions of Shakespeare’s two history plays tetralogies and perform them in repertory.”

A few feet away from where we were sitting, in one corner of the lobby, was a chalkboard. Four calendar months were neatly drawn in perfectly symmetrical boxes — January, February, March, April — with a color-coded schedule of performances of the first tetralogy, which the company named “The King’s Shadow”: Richard in bright red, the first Henry in clover green, the second Henry in yellow and the last Henry in a crisp, royal purple.

In a humble but well-done production, Brave Spirits had Richard II crowned and killed, and his successor, Henry Bolingbroke, a.k.a. Henry IV, was named the new king. After the audience left, the cast milled around the space, chatting in the kitchen, which doubled as the box office. “Is your bag of heads upstairs?” I heard someone call out from the hall. A few wore shirts that were being sold by the company, black tees with gray block lettering that read “Richard & Henry & Henry & Henry & Richard.” (Ever the Shakespeare nerd, I bought one.)

That evening I saw “Henry IV, Part I,” and every seat was filled. Older couples and families and a couple of teens gabbed and waved at one another; everyone was a local. I left on the train the next morning, still buzzed with the energy in that tiny converted church.

I wrote the article, but before it was published the pandemic shut down the performing arts across the nation, and the story of Brave Spirits changed. Like many other theaters, it was forced to cut short the histories project, which DC Metro Theater Arts predicted would be “one of the must-sees of the 2021 season.” April 19-20 was supposed to be a big weekend for the company, when all of the plays in the first tetralogy would be staged in repertory, ending in the capstone of the first half, “Henry V.”

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