Category Archives: Commentary

DOES THE ROAD TO BROADWAY PASS THROUGH BEIJING?  ·

(Peter Marks’s article appeared in the Washington Post, 9/19.)

A week ago, Signature Theatre’s artistic director, Eric Schaeffer, flew to South Korea to stage the company’s hit revival of the musical “Titanic” in Seoul, with a Korean cast. And now, the Arlington-based, Tony-honored group is taking yet another step toward Asia as it dives into an ambitious project to help develop an original Chinese musical — in both Mandarin and English.

The hope for “Road to Heaven: The Jonathan Lee Musical,” says lead producer Ivy Zhong, founder and chief executive of China Broadway Entertainment, is to create the first piece of Chinese musical theater with global reach, starting with a Mandarin version in China and then a production in English in the United States and elsewhere. To that end, her company has recruited a group of American theater professionals, including Schaeffer as director, Richard Maltby Jr. (“Miss Saigon”) as lyricist and book writer John Dempsey (“The Witches of Eastwick”).

Their mission is to turn the songbook of Taiwanese-born singer-songwriter Jonathan Lee — known to fans in China and Taiwan as Li Zongsheng — into a jukebox musical, adapted from a novel by Li Xiuwen. That process began this week, with rehearsals in New York that are to lead to a full reading of the musical on Dec. 12 in Signature’s Shirlington complex, with production costs paid by Zhong’s company.

(Read more)

https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/does-the-road-to-broadway-pass-through-beijing/2017/09/19/c3b0c99e-9d47-11e7-8ed4-a750b67c552b_story.html?utm_term=.59eda2b41e55

ELEVATOR REPAIR SERVICE TACKLES SHAKESPEARE’S ‘MEASURE FOR MEASURE’ ·

(Jason Zinoman’s article appeared in The New York Times, 9/14; via Pam Green.)

Elevator Repair Service, one of the city’s few truly essential theater companies, has always delighted in a good problem, whether it’s how to dramatize oral arguments from the Supreme Court or stage the famously difficult-to-adapt novel “The Great Gatsby” without sacrificing a word. So it makes sense that when its artistic director, John Collins, decided to direct his first Shakespeare, he decided on “Measure for Measure,” perhaps Shakespeare’s most problematic of problem plays.

(Read more)

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/14/theater/elevator-repair-service-tackles-shakespeares-problem-play.html

Photo: Elevator Repair Service

MICHAEL FRIEDMAN, A MAN OF MANY VOICES AND A GIFT FOR PROPHECY ·

(Ben Brantley’s article appeared in The New York Times, 9/11; via Pam Green.)

“Populism, yea, yea…”

Sung with a snarl, and accompanied by twanging power chords, those words opened the floodgates to a wave of electric emotion — a compound of rage, restlessness and a disgust with a ruling elite whose days had to be numbered. “We’re gonna take this country back,” went the lyrics of this anthem for dispossessed Americans, “for people like us, people who don’t just think about things.”

I first heard that song more than eight years ago at the Public Theater in downtown Manhattan. It was the opening number in a concert productionof a show called “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson,” a musical portrait of the seventh president of the United States. It’s been playing in my mind a lot recently.

How prophetic it sounds now. How easily those lyrics, and the propulsive drive of discontent within that melody, might fit the supporters at a rally for Donald J. Trump, whose ascendancy to the American presidency few people anticipated. But in 2009, who knew?

(Read more)

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/11/theater/michael-friedman-appraisal.html

 

DUBLIN FRINGE FESTIVAL: OUR GUIDE TO THE BEST OF THE WEEKEND ·

(Peter Crawley’s article appeared in the Irish Times, 9/14.)

REVIEWS 

End Of

The Gutter Bookshop, Dublin

Sep 16-21/23-24 7.30pm €14/€12 fringefest.com

If, like me, your immediate response to the apocalypse would be to regret not having read more books, Sugar Coat Theatre’s new production is just the slap in the face you’ve been needing. Seanan McDonell’s new comedy, which will be performed in The Gutter Bookshop, is easily one of the loveliest venues of this year’s Fringe. Two friends working in a bookshop receive a mysterious package that may herald the end of the world as we know it. Sharp-eyed director Conor Hanratty works with Charlene CraigDamian Gildea and Will Irvine – as well as conjuring tricks – to flip through the beginning of the world’s last chapters.

 

Gladys and the Gutter Stars

Smock Alley Theatre Boys School, Dublin

Sep 11-14/16-17 6.45pm €14/€12 fringefest.com

Whatever happened to Gladys and the Gutter Stars? The musical duo, whom the press still write about in sensationalist, incredible and hyperbolic terms, are still universally regarded as the greatest creators of popular song since the dawn of measurable time. Word is their long-anticipated new album will be made available exclusively on floppy disk. Or that it will be composed exclusively of whale song. Either way, performers Rachel Gleeson and Cameron Macauley finally offer a sneak peek of the opus in this Fringe show. Could this be a stunning return to form or a shocking display of hubris? Gladys and the Gutter Stars are pretty sure it will be one of those things.

 

Polar Night

The New Theatre, Dublin

Sep 14-16/20-23 1pm €12/€10 fringefest.com

A woman travels north in the winter to visit her ill mother, and her new husband. The performance – created by Nadine Flynn and Aaron Stapleton – combines theatre, film and visual art to evoke a cabin folding in on itself with licks of the supernatural and nudges of real concern. In a place where the daylight won’t easily reach, manipulation teems and high suicide rates chill the marrow. Rose, struggling to keep her sanity, must find the light to get free.

REVIEWS 

My Left Nut 
Bewley’s Café Theatre, Powerscourt Townhouse
★★★★

In Michael Patrick’s bittersweet comic solo performance, a young Belfast boy is having trouble with his manhood. In 1998, during the tentative steps of the Good Friday Agreement, the five-year-old’s father passes away, leaving an absence he comes to rue keenly in adolescence, when his left testicle inflates to the size of a grapefruit. In whom can a self-conscious teenager confide?

Written with his director Oisín Kearney, Patrick’s autobiographical coming-of-age tale strives for independence and intimacy through comedy, protected by a very sturdy solo-show formula, made more vulnerable with confessions of body horror and bereavement.

 

Patrick’s gang of mates, as charmingly sympathetic and well-informed as he is, take the bulge in his trousers to be a sign of his prowess. For his part, Patrick interprets it as punishment from God, “tangled up with wanking”. Unable to confide in his stoic mother he relies on excruciating discoveries via a dial-up internet connection.

The peace process would be a tempting metaphor to explore shifting authority and unguarded dialogue, but Patrick, you feel, is closer to a peace product: his preferred metaphor is a Sega video game.

Embarrassment, moreover, has been his trouble, now transformed to the source of his comedy. Like an ultimately unfussy procedure, that’s an encouraging reconciliation. – Peter Crawley
Runs until Sept 23

 

Gladys and the Gutter Stars
Smock Alley Theatre
★★★★

Gladys and the Gutter Stars

Can a band live on without their front-woman? In Cameron Macaulay and Rachel Gleeson’s wry comedy with songs, both are musicians debuting new material for a podcast. Their painful split from demented lead singer Gladys, of course, is unresolved.

Here, bitterness is barely suppressed under the polite exchanges of an interview. Gleeson sours into a scowl as Cameron gives an intelligible but winding answer for why he struggles with Arts Council applications. In turn, she talks seriously about spirituality and Kanye West.

Shane Daniel Byrne’s charming interviewer deals out thoughtful questions about imagery and lyrics, but his guests haven’t reflected much on a track-list that sounds like a string of second thoughts (Why Am I with You?, Pull Up the Blind, Betrayal).

The surreal arrival of Gladys herself rouses deeper anxieties. This could easily have been a vapid defence for naval-gazers but instead we get something more discreet, the trudge of a generation asked to work for free. With sparks of rock’n’roll, the Gutter Stars carry on. – Chris McCormack
Runs until Sept 17

(Read more)

https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/stage/dublin-fringe-festival-our-guide-to-the-best-of-the-weekend-1.3219710

Photo: Gladys and the Gutter Stars/No More Workhorse

CHEKHOV: ‘THREE SISTERS’ (LISTEN NOW ON BBC RADIO 3–LINK BELOW) ·

Listen at: www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0739rh4

Three sisters living in a garrison town in provincial Russia dream of the day that they will return to their home city of Moscow. Maybe then their lives will really start. But in Anton Chekhov’s poignant classic somehow real life keeps getting in the way.

Three Sisters was written in 1900 and is a meticulously observed play for an ensemble cast. In its wry portrayal of dreams and self-delusion, and of the folly of believing that life is always better elsewhere, Chekhov’s drama captures universal truths, joys and sorrows but his greatness as a writer of the human condition lies in his avoidance of either sentimentality or judgement.

With Peter Ringrose on additional piano

Sound: Nigel Lewis

Adapted for radio by D.J.Britton
Directed by Alison Hindell
BBC Cymru Wales production

WILL THE OLD GAY PLAY HAVE SOMETHING NEW TO SAY? ·

(Jesse Green’s article appeared in The New York Times, 9/7; via Pam Green.)  

Many of us who arrived in New York in the last decades of the last century, looking to the theater for news about what it meant to be gay, found ourselves serially disheartened.

Starting with Mart Crowley’s “The Boys in the Band” in 1968, and continuing with Harvey Fierstein’s “Torch Song Trilogy” about a dozen years later, we faced quite a fun house mirror of gay life. Or perhaps a house of horrors.

“The Boys in the Band,” daring in its forthrightness, situated its characters on a Kinsey scale from four to six and a psychological spectrum from damaged to desperate. Arnold Beckoff, the protagonist of “Torch Song Trilogy,” could have been one of them. Though sympathetic and sassy, he was still a drag queen in an era that did not valorize that.

(Read more)

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/07/theater/will-the-old-gay-play-have-something-new-to-say.html?rref=collection%2Fbyline%2Fjesse-green&action=click&contentCollection=undefined&region=stream&module=stream_unit&version=latest&contentPlacement=2&pgtype=collection

 

SIR PETER HALL, REST IN PEACE: POWERFUL FORCE IN BRITISH THEATRE ·

 

(Michael Billington’s article appeared in the Guardian, 9/12.)                                                                                                                                   

(Listen to BBC Radio’s 2001 interview with Peter Hall:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00nc8qb )

Sir Peter Hall, who has died aged 86, was the single most influential figure in modern British theatre. As a director of plays, especially Shakespeare, Pinter and Beckett, he was very fine. In the opera house he brought real musical understanding to the work of Mozart and Verdi. But it was through his creation of the Royal Shakespeare Company in the early 1960s and his stewardship of the National Theatre from 1973 to 1988 that he affirmed his passionate faith in subsidised institutions. If we now take their existence for granted, it is largely because of the pioneering battles waged by Hall and his visionary enthusiasm.

As a man, he was extremely complicated. To many in the theatre, he was seen as a consummate politician: someone who hid his manipulative skills behind a mask of public affability. And he certainly possessed the politician’s ability to get things done. But he also had the vulnerability of the artist and, on many occasions, I glimpsed the melancholia and wounded spirit that lay beneath the geniality. Far from being a consummate Machiavel, he always struck me as a candid, generous and open person who made little attempt to conceal either his euphoria or his disappointment.

(Read more)

https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2017/sep/12/peter-hall-obituary-british-theatre-rss-national

Photo: The Times of London

 

THE KITCHEN IS HER STAGE. (IT COULD ACTUALLY BE YOUR KITCHEN.) ·

(Ligaya Mishan’s article appeared in The New York Time, 8/30; via Pam Green.)

The rehearsal room smelled of onions slackening in a pan. They hissed on the stove, in the basement of a Lutheran church in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, as Nadine Malouf hacked at a slab of beef, her eyes fixed on her director, Amir Nizar Zuabi, and not the knife, which was closing in on her fingertips.

“I don’t want her to cut herself,” Mr. Zuabi said, seated in a folding chair nearby. “But I want her to make mistakes.”

It was the third day of rehearsals for “Oh My Sweet Land,” Mr. Zuabi’s 2013 play about a woman (Ms. Malouf) of Syrian-German descent whose search for a lost lover takes her from a sheltered life in Paris to the refugee camps of Lebanon and Jordan and finally into Syria, to confront the smoldering remains of her cultural inheritance. First performed in Lausanne, Switzerland, and then in London at the Young Vic, where Mr. Zuabi is an international associate, the one-woman show will have its United States premiere in New York on Friday, Sept. 8, presented by the Play Company.

But the location is a mystery — even to Ms. Malouf, 30, who won’t have a chance to see where she’ll be performing until half an hour before showtime almost every night. For Mr. Zuabi, displacement is integral to the narrative. Ms. Malouf will be forced to navigate unfamiliar surroundings again and again. “Every kitchen will have a new geography,” Mr. Zuabi, 41, said. “Every evening will be a new voyage.”

(Read more)

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/30/theater/oh-my-sweet-land-amir-nizar-zuabi.html

***** TAYLOR MAC: ‘HIR’ (SV PICK, OZ) ·

(Kate Hennessy’s article appeared in the Guardian, 8/5.)

Radical ideas should shine brightest of all. They should be exciting to learn, know and teach. They should be accessible to all the people they have the potential to lift up.

Yet most of the ideas that sparkle within feminist and queer theory, for example, are cloaked in academia, and translation comes at a cost.

Thanks to New York playwright Taylor Mac however, that cost is just the price of a ticket, to Belvoir Street theatre’s production of Hir.

Directed by Anthea Williams, Hir – pronounced “here”, the preferred gender pronoun of the play’s protagonist Max – reminds us of theatre’s potential: to be a brilliant conduit that makes ideas alive and accessible. Hir doesn’t merely explore themes of gender fluidity, queer theory and the subversion of toxic masculinity, because that would be dull. It lightens the weight of concepts that many find foreign or fraught, places them in a family setting and detonates them. Shrapnel flies everywhere.

(Read more)

https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2017/sep/05/taylor-macs-hir-is-more-than-a-comedy-about-gender-it-proves-the-potential-of-theatre

 

YEATS BY HEART: FIONA SHAW, JOHN BANVILLE, FINTAN O’TOOLE, PAUL MULDOON, PAULA MEEHAN ·

Listen at:  http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b05xq6b0

The Essay, WB Yeats at 150 

Winner of the Nobel Prize in 1923, William Butler Yeats is a commanding presence in 20th-century literature and has inspired, and occasionally infuriated, successive generations of readers, writers, and performers ever since.

Marking the 150th anniversary of his birth on 13th June 1865, five of Ireland’s leading cultural figures reflect on their relationship with his work. The authors include novelist, John Banville, writer Fintan O’Toole and poets, Paul Muldoon and Paula Meehan.

In this edition, celebrated actor and director Fiona Shaw explains the lasting impact of her childhood introduction to the work of WB Yeats.

Producer: Stan Ferguson.