Category Archives: Commentary

WAYNE ALLENSWORTH’S AMERICAN SHOWDOWN II: THE AUTHOR OF ‘FIELD OF BLOOD’ ON THE EPIC, RUSSIAN INTELLIGENCE/WESTERN ASSUMPTIONS, AND CHARACTERS WITH HARD CHOICES ·

Wayne Allensworth worked as an analyst for the Foreign Broadcast Information Service from 1991 to 2002.  He is the author of The Russian Question: Nationalism, Modernization, and Post-Communist Russia, published by Rowman & Littlefield in 1998.  He is a Corresponding Editor of Chronicles magazine.  His short story, Man of the West, was nominated for a Western Writers of America Spur award. He has contributed to the following collections: Exploring American History (Marshall Cavendish, 2008); Peace in the Promised Land: A Realist Scenario (Chronicles Books, 2006); Immigration and the American Identity (Chronicles Books, 2008); and Russian Nationalism and the National Reassertion of Russia, edited by Marlene Laruelle (Johns Hopkins University). He lives in Ft. Worth, Texas. 

Read Part 1 of Wayne Allensworth’s interview:

http://stagevoices.com/2017/04/15/wayne-allensworths-american-showdown-the-author-of-field-of-blood-on-modern-westerns-frontier-situations-and-the-best-books-and-films-in-the-genre-including-his/

Wayne Allensworth saddles up with SV’s Bob Shuman to talk about writing, formal institutions, and informal structures, in the conclusion to his two-part interview.

Read the prologue to FIELD OF BLOOD at the end of this post.

You mentioned Lonesome Dove as an example of an epic Western.  What makes a Western an epic?  Is “Field of Blood” an epic?

Epic Westerns are poetic, heroic, and tragic in the way of the ancient epics. There is a Homeric quality about them. They have a sweeping scope, taking in a series of adventures on a long trek, like the cattle drives in Red River and Lonesome Dove.  The backdrop is the mythic West, Ford’s Monument Valley, for instance.  The narrative may take place over a long period of time, maybe years, as in The Searchers, both Alan LeMay’s novel and Ford’s film.  But all good Westerns, books and movies, carry the elements of the epic within them to some degree, the tragedy of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence, for example, the fatal last shootout, fatal both literally and mythically, in The Wild Bunch or The Shootist. Every good Western evokes mythic heroes and storied battles.  My Darling ClementineGunfight at the OK Corral, and Tombstone did that with the Earps and the Clantons.

My novel, Field of Blood, is an American epic, covering decades in time, encompassing wars, peacetime, and the new frontier situation the characters are confronted with. It’s about who we were, who we are, and what we are becoming. It is tragic, and in scope covers landscapes across the world and here at home. It’s a modern Western in the ways I’ve already covered, including a showdown very much in the vein of the old Westerns.  So I hope it might be thought of as an epic story.

 

 

 

 

 

 

How did you come to write the novel–what was its inspiration?  Why was it important to tell this story?

My professional life has been spent on following events in Russia and the former Soviet Union. In trying to explain that reality, I had to look closely at what had happened in a country that had collapsed, where the old structures had been swept away.  There was a crisis of identity, as well as an economic and social crisis.

When the formal institutions of a country cease to function, or function only at a minimum level, then informal structures arise to fill the vacuum.  Those informal structures often include organized crime, as well as economic and political “clans” that actually govern, and of course, family, a few close friends acting together. The circle of trust shrinks.  The world becomes smaller. Life outside that circle becomes precarious.

Elections, court proceedings, these are mostly surface formalities. The rules are informal and are enforced outside the law and courts.  It may not be the legal system or police who punish those who violate the rules, but the hit man, the enforcer, or the police acting on behalf of informal “clans” or the criminal world.  On the other side of the coin, defending yourself means either seeking the protection of those who have the will and the weapons to do that, or acting yourself.  Just look at vigilante groups in Mexico for an example of that.  Often, it’s either current or former police or military, acting informally, who fill the gap.

Men belonging to a self-defense group stand at a checkpoint in the town of Las Colonias, Mexico, Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2013. Two leaders of the main vigilante groups in western Michoacan state said Tuesday that they are pulling back from confronting the Knights Templar drug cartel because the Mexican government has promised to oust traffickers from the area. (AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills)

I found that a lot of Americans were quite naïve about how much, probably most, of the rest of the world operates. Americans have taken a law-based country, one with high levels of social trust, for granted, as the norm, when in fact it’s a very rare thing. 

I lived in the Washington D.C. area for a number of years, and each time I visited my native Texas, I could see with my own eyes what was happening.  And I could read about the crime and corruption I was familiar with from my professional life gaining a foothold in a place and among people I cared very much about.  I could see what globalism meant for ordinary people.  And I could see that it was happening all over the country. Nobody had asked us about this.  People with power and influence were intent on creating a world they wanted, one in which our country and people were expendable. That explains where the premise for the book came from.

Do you consider yourself a political writer?

I didn’t set out to write a book about politics, but about people in a certain situation.  It carries my world view with it, of course.  Every writer has one.  I didn’t intend the book to be overly didactic, though I think the point or points made are pretty clear.  I think the situation we are in is plain to see now and all this is being talked about in a way it wasn’t when I started formulating this book and began writing back in 2010-2011. The story is about the characters and the choices they have to make. In the context of the story, what’s right or wrong and what can or should be done isn’t always clear.  That’s the way life is.

A good story puts its characters in situations that require them to make hard choices, situations that test them, that present them with a dilemma, or make them think about the most fundamental issues. Life, death, God, meaning, loyalty, identity, fight or flight.  Who is right, who is wrong, who the good guys or bad guys are isn’t always clear.  I was aiming for that kind of story.

Thank you so much, Wayne.

Read the prologue to FIELD OF BLOOD: Field of Blood Prologue

(c) 2017 by Wayne Allensworth (answers) and Bob Shuman (questions). All rights reserved.

Credits: Wayne Allensworth photo (c) 2017 by Elizabeth Allensworth Merino.  All rights reserved.

Photo Lonesome Dove: Cowboys and Indians Magazine.

Vigilante Group: Jammedup News

Texas: Free Creatives.

(c) 2017 by Wayne Allensworth (answers) and Bob Shuman (questions). All rights reserved.

BOOK: STEPHEN GREENBLATT ON ‘HAMLET GLOBE TO GLOBE TWO YEARS, 190,000 MILES, 197 COUNTRIES, ONE PLAY’ BY DOMINIC DROMGOOLE ·

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Greenblatt’s article appeared in The New York Times, 4/21; via Pam Green.)

HAMLET GLOBE TO GLOBE 
Two Years, 190,000 Miles, 197 Countries, One Play 
By Dominic Dromgoole 
Illustrated. 390 pp. Grove Press. $27.

It began, we are told, as a whim lubricated by strong drink. In 2012 the management of Shakespeare’s Globe — the splendid replica of the Elizabethan open-air playhouse, built on the bankside of the Thames in London — was considering possible eye-catching new initiatives. In the midst of the merry collective buzz, the theater’s artistic director, Dominic Dromgoole, impulsively said, “Let’s take ‘Hamlet’ to every country in the world.” No doubt even crazier cultural ideas have been proposed, but this one is crazy enough to rank near the top of anyone’s list. Yet it came to pass. An intrepid company of 12 actors and four stage managers, backed up by a London-based staff that undertook the formidable task of organizing the venues, obtaining the visas and booking the frenetic travel, set out in April 2014, the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth. They did not quite succeed in bringing the tragedy to every country — North Korea, Syria and a small handful of others eluded them — but they came pretty close. One hundred ninety countries and a series of refugee camps later, the tour reached its end in April 2016, the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death.

(Read more)

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/21/books/review/hamlet-globe-to-globe-dominic-dromgoole.html

HOW SIX DEGREES BECAME A FOREVER MEME ·

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Jennifer Schuessler’s article appeared in The New York Times, 4/19; via Pam Green.)

“Six Degrees of Separation” — John Guare’s play about a wealthy Manhattan couple whose lives are upended by a con artist claiming to be Sidney Poitier’s son — was the toast of the town when it had its premiere in 1990. A mere six months later, Frank Rich wrote in The New York Times that “its title has passed into the language.”

Mr. Guare did not invent the idea that everyone in the world is separated by only six other people, which emerged out of nearly a century of mathematical and psychological research. But it was the stickiness of his title — and the 1993 film version, starring Will Smith as the impostor — that blasted it “into the pop-culture stratosphere,” as the sociologist Duncan J. Watts put it in his book “Six Degrees: The Science of a Connected Age” (2003).

(Read more)

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/19/theater/six-degrees-of-separation-meme.html

Photo: New Directions Books

MIKHAIL BARYSHNIKOV: ON THE STAGE IT’S JUST ME, AND BRODSKY’S POEMS ·

Mikhail Baryshnikov performs Brodsky/ Baryshnikov, based on the poems of Joseph Brodsky at BAC on March 8, 2016.
Photo Credit: ©Stephanie Berger

(Irene Kukota’s article appeared on Russia Beyound the Headlines, 4/17.)

Russian Art and Culture: How would you describe Brodsky/Baryshnikovin one sentence?

Mikhail Baryshnikov:. A poetic journey

What made you say “yes” to participating in Brodsky/Baryshnikov project staged by Alvis Hermanis?

M.B.: Alvis Hermanis invited me to do it, and I was honored to work with such a remarkable director. I couldn’t say no! I prefer live theater. The immediacy, the terror; it’s the ultimate challenge

Did you take part in the writing of the performance script? 

M.B.: There was never a script. The director, Alvis Hermanis, selected a range of poems including very early and very late ones. To explain the staging of this show would take a long time. We lived with this text for some time and it was a fascinating process for both Alvis and me.

It is frequently said that this show is about death, powerlessness against time and age. Do you also see it this way?

M.B.: I think that’s up to the audience to decide. They are the main participant after all. The goal is always to stay true to the director’s original vision. The set is a beautifully decrepit glass winter garden from the turn of the 20th century. I think it captures the quiet introspection and pensive mood of the play perfectly and Joseph would have loved it. It can be lonely out there, speaking of the ultimate challenge, but I love it.

(Read more)

http://rbth.com/arts/literature/2017/04/17/mikhail-baryshnikov-on-the-stage-its-just-me-and-brodkys-poems_742825

Photo Observer.

SHAKESPEARE, ECOLOGY, AND THE ENVIRONMENT ·

(Randall Martin’s article appeared on Folger’s Shakespeare & Beyond, 4/18; via Pam Green.)

What does Shakespeare say about ecology and its politically engaged cousin environmentalism? Neither term appears in his work—unsurprising since they hadn’t been coined yet. Nevertheless, we see Shakespeare thinking ecologically in ways that resonate with our own perceptions of the environmental challenges we face today.

He was writing when early capitalism, globalized trade, and colonialism were beginning to extend Western and masculine ideals of conquering nature around the world. Responding imaginatively to these developments, Shakespeare recognizes the limits nature imposes on human exploitation, the necessity of conserving the bio-integrity of ecosystems for human and non-human benefit, and the earth’s absolute power to overrule human attempts at domination.

(Read more)

http://shakespeareandbeyond.folger.edu/2017/04/18/shakespeare-ecology-environmental-earth-day/?utm_source=wordfly&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=ShakespearePlus19Apr2017&utm_content=version_A&promo=

(Photo: Legal Insurrection)

INGO SWANN: ‘A LIFE GONE WILD’ AT THE PHILIP K DICK FILM FESTIVAL IN NYC, MAY 25TH TO 30TH ·

 

(via Marty Rosenblatt)

 

“The Estate of Ingo Swann is excited to announce “A Life Gone Wild” the short film is part of the official selection at the Philip K Dick Film Festival in NYC, May 25th to 30th. 

 

Directed by Maryanne Bilham-Knight, Editor Albert OH, Produced by Swann-Ryder Productions LLC, Robert M Knight, Nick Cook and John Stahler.

 

The film screening is followed with a prestigious panel of scientists and practitioners including: 

 

Jacques Vallee, high-tech investor, noted for his works on the early Internet, who served as the “French researcher “in Steven Spielberg’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”; 

 

Harold Puthoff, theoretical and experimental physicist and creator of the government’s Stargate Remote Viewing Program;

 

Tom McNear, former Stargate Remote Viewer;

Blynne Olivieri, Head of Special Collections at the University of West Georgia.

 

For more details go to: http://www.thephilipkdickfilmfestival.com/program_17_2.html

Block Four”

Photo: Higher Journeys

READ THE REVIEWS FOR BETTE MIDLER IN ‘HELLO, DOLLY!’ ·

(Ryan McPhee’s and Olivia Clement’s article appeared in Playbill, 4/20; via Pam Green.)

The Broadway revival of Hello, Dolly!, starring Bette Midler in her return to the musical theatre stage, celebrated its official opening night at the Shubert Theatre April 20. The Jerry Zaks-helmed production began performances March 15.

Midler takes on the iconic role of Dolly Gallagher Levi; among those sharing the stage with her are Tony winner David Hyde Pierce as Horace Vandergelder, Kate Baldwin as Irene Molloy, and Olivier winner Gavin Creel as Cornelius Hackl.

(Read more)

http://www.playbill.com/article/read-the-reviews-for-bette-midler-in-hello-dolly

Photo: Showbiz411

PIONEERING PILOT, A BROADWAY SHOW AND A LIFE-CHANGING BOND ·

(Michael Paulson’s article appeared in The New York times, 4/16; via Pam Green.)

She was a girl who dreamed of flying. A woman who broke barriers in commercial aviation. And then a pilot ordered to divert a trans-Atlantic jet to Gander, Newfoundland, during the unfolding terror of Sept. 11, 2001.

Beverley Bass had an unusual story to tell when a pair of dramatists started researching the encounter between stranded air travelers and small-town Canadians in those days after the attacks. And now she has another unusual story, as she stares over and over again into a heart-tugging piece of musical theater, and sees her own life mirrored back.

The pioneering pilot and the actress who portrays her in the Broadway musical “Come From Away” have developed a bond over the last two years, ever since they first met, at a restaurant in San Diego, when Ms. Bass jocularly said to the actress, Jenn Colella, “I think you’re playing me.”

Ms. Colella is both playing Ms. Bass, and, frequently, playing to Ms. Bass, who has seen the show 61 times. Using her free-flying privileges as a now-retired pilot, she has followed the musical’s developmental journey from La Jolla to Seattle to Washington to Gander to Toronto to New York, often with other female pilots in tow. Ms. Bass is both watching the show and reliving the events, clutching her husband’s hand as the emotions return.

(Read more)

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/16/theater/come-from-away-jenn-colella.html

KATE HAMILL: ‘VANITY FAIR’, DIRECTED BY ERIC TUCKER AT THE PEARL THEARE (REVIEW FROM NEW YORK) ·

By Bob Shuman

Eric Tucker’s fluid, physical production of Kate Hamill’s adaptation of Vanity Fair (now playing at the Pearl Theater Company, extended until May 14) will take some puzzling out, but both contemporary creators are trying to get underneath Thackeray’s certitude—unearthing worms and post-modern detritus.  Tucker is the director of the fabulous 2015 A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which also played at the Pearl, an interpretation that actually felt like an inchoate, ephemeral dream.  Thackeray is not as malleable as Shakespeare, though—in fact, he’s a steamroller–and so is his leading character, Becky Sharp, who doesn’t “blush” (Hamill plays her unabashedly, with brio).  Adapters may be at odds with what to do with this prodigious Victorian writer, who won’t budge, except to shut him up, as Stanley Kubrick did in his epic Barry Lyndon (1975), a candlelit masterpiece of cinematic composition , with Oscar-winning costumes and production design, cold to the ear—Marisa Berenson, as Lady Lyndon, spoke only 13 lines.  Kubrick had thought of directing Vanity Fair, too, but he felt that “the story could not be successfully compressed into the relatively short time-span of a feature film”—he also may have had difficulty reigning in characters who want what they want when they want it.  At the Pearl, Hamill and Tucker poke at the materiality of Vanity Fair, and along with using other techniques, can remind us of Modernists, not Romantics—O’Casey, Ibsen, Fitzgerald, or Williams come to mind (even Chekhov, for good measure)—and, perhaps, Joel Grey’s Expressionistic demon Emcee in the Kander/Ebb/Masteroff  Cabaret.  Regency England, during the Napoleonic Wars, is where the novel takes place, but Tucker, Hamill, and Co., do not convey the age in ways that remind of the cinema or Masterpiece Theatre—this is perhaps because, by compacting the work, they’ve arrived less at Thackeray’s cheerful facade—but at his malevolence.

Vanity Fair, as a novel, is a tour de force of endless, damning opinion, led by a bossy, intrusive puppet-master, the author himself (he spends nearly 800 pages pulling rank on his characters—and his readers). Even if there is security in having everything spelled out, enjoying the book may have to do with how you can tolerate being told what to think and how to feel, while Thackeray’s pen compulsively chases the news of the day, scandal, and cliffhangers–even when his story loses tension or his characters aren’t focused. (Vanity Fair was originally written for serialization, illustrated by the author.) Becky Sharp is a charity case, who intends to rise in society—she’s honest and vulgar and the English class system will never let her through. Americans can accept her immediately because she’s willing to work and she’s willing to gamble and perhaps this is why Tucker and his designers, Sandra Goldmark (set) and Valérie Thérèse Bart (costumes) do not focus  obsessively on period detail.  Their conception involves placing Vanity Fair in a theatre, which corresponds with Thackery’s “Before the Curtain,” the prologue for his book. Hamill and Tucker radicalize this further by not placing this theatre in the early 1840s, when the book was written, or in the early 1800s, where the book is set.  Hamill’s and Tucker’s theatre, a surreal, contemporary theatre, is in the present day, or in the mind.  Soon, Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” plays, a song released in 1982, as actors dance with contemporary moves.  “In Heaven There Ain’t No Beer” (1956) and “A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody” (1919) are also used—much in understanding and rationalizing this stage version is negotiating the culture shock.  But it goes beyond that. At one point the excellent Joey Parsons, as Amelia, Becky’s champion and friend, pulls long string from her mouth—oddly reminiscent of Lavinia in Peter Brook’s Titus Andronicus (1955). Vanity Fair, in a primitive, feral, anachronistic production, has wed one of the English language’s most literal-minded writers with a director excavating the unconscious.

Hamill’s massive editing and adaptation of Thackeray work, ultimately, becomes two hours and fifteen minutes of stage time. By comparison Nicholas Nickleby, in 1980, involved two 4.5 hour performances to portray Dickens.  Both are exemplars of cutting-edge theatre of their times.  Now, however, audiences may be intent on shorter performances, or maybe they’ve gotten used to working with less.  Does post-modernism–the cuts, the chaos, the irrationality, the freewheeling, the confusion, and dreams– become more important than faithfulness to authors, including Thackeray? Maybe Hamill has made Becky so clear—the young woman wants money, pure and simple—that further discussion becomes unnecessary. Her characters transmute, furniture twirls; no one is locked into the inherent realism of a book or film.  The adapter focuses on the emotional stakes—and what the messy relationships leave behind.

The cast: Debargo Sanyal, who plays Miss Briggs, a cowed servant, has learned to hold his hands, as if he might unexpectedly need to protect his face.  In the next moment, we are watching the line of his legs, long, striding purposefully. Here he’s playing George Osborne, a young soldier, to the manor born—and about to have the rug pulled out from beneath his feet.  Zachary Fine plays, among other parts, the Manager of the theatre, as well as Miss Matilda Crawley, an aristocrat, who either needs to stop taking laxatives or requires them at once.  Thackeray is an interesting writer because he describes shy men, who wait a virtual eternally for love—two here, played well, are:  Brad Heberlee as Jos and Ryan Quinn as William Dobbin (most of the cast play multiple roles).   Rawdon Crawley—Becky’s husband, probably a bad choice to marry, given her goal,  is given appropriate nobility and dash by Tom O’Keefe.

Kubrick was doubtlessly right, that Vanity Fair cannot be done well in approximately two hours on screen—realism, which film demands, exclusively, needs time.  Theatregoers may wonder, however, how the stage can be so flexible—questions Tucker and Hamill can answer.  The two–important, serious, and informed–working untraditionally, have realized Vanity Fair,  the way Thackeray wanted it, not as a historical costume drama;   “not [as] a moral place, certainly; nor a merry one, though  very noisy.”

© 2017 by Bob Shuman.  All rights reserved.

Visit the Pearl Theatre Company:  http://www.pearltheatre.org/

Press: Shaunda Miles, John Wyszniewski, Rachael Shearer at Blake Zidell & Associates

William Thackeray Kate Hamill, directed by Eric Tucker

Scenic Design by Sandra Goldmark

Costume Design by Valerie Therese Bart

Lighting design by Seth Reiser

Original music composted by Carmel Dean

Director of Production Gar Levinson

Production Gar Levinson

Production Darmaturg Kae Farrington

Production Manager Katharine Whitney

Artistic Director Hal Brooks

Managing Director Jess Burkle

Actors Zachary Fine, Kate Hamill, Brad Heberlee, Tom O’Keefe, Joey Parsons, Ryan Quinn, Debargo Sanyal

Photos, top to bottom:  Kate Hamill (Guthrie); Eric Tucker (D.C. Theater Scene); Cast ((c) Russ Rowland); Thackeray.