Category Archives: Commentary

AT 11, I SAT IN SEAT D8. NOW I’M ONSTAGE IN ‘BEETLEJUICE.’ ·

(Rob McClure’s article appeared in The New York Time, 5/6; via Pam Green.)

When did “sentimental” become a bad word?

I’ve always felt the opposite. I became an actor because I enjoy being moved, and therefore strive to move others. I don’t know how one pursues a life in the arts without sentiment. And yet that word has been discredited, or even weaponized, to mean “cheap” or “trite.” It’s as if we don’t want to get caught feeling too much these days.

At the end of April, I opened my seventh Broadway show, “Beetlejuice,” at the Winter Garden Theater. I am immensely lucky. Yes, there are two decades of hard work behind me, thousands of “Nos” for every “Yes,” and I had the goods to stick with it.

But let’s be real. I’m also lucky. My successes are not wholly my own. I share them with those who provided me the millions of nudges, inadvertent and purposeful, that helped me. So when I noticed a small, sentimental moment of serendipity last week, I decided to celebrate it with a stranger.

(Read more)

SEAN O’CASEY: ‘THE SHADOW OF A GUNMAN’ AT IRISH REP–NOW THROUGH JUNE 22 (REVIEW FROM NEW YORK) ·

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Bob Shuman

In The Shadow of a Gunman (1923), now being splendidly revived at Irish Repertory Theatre, until June 22, Sean O’Casey describes his central character, a poet named Donal Davoren, as “attracted in thought towards the moon.”  The same might be said for director Ciarán O`Reilly, who has worked so well under cover of night—his 2009 production of The Emperor Jones was a revelation in pitch black, true to an experimental O’Neill, whom many had never envisaged.  The Shadow of a Gunman, set in Dublin in 1920 (one of O’Casey’s three early plays, collectively called the Dublin Cycle, all of which are being presented by Irish Rep this season), inhabits an overcrowded mise en scène, following daily life in a tenement, which does not allow for differentiation between “bombast and bombs,” to use a phrase from Kenneth Tynan. O’Casey also sees “ideological extremis” as a “spreading stain that distorts idealism and destroys individuals,” a point biographer Patrick McGilligan has made in comparing the overlapping themes of the playwright’s work and the late films of Alfred Hitchcock (the movie director’s early screen version of Juno and the Paycock–his roots were Irish–was made in 1930, and he continued to think highly of O’Casey’s characters, even if the two did not always get along). 

In the new production, there is excitement in seeing Michael Mellamphy playing the spoon peddler, Seumas Shields, the tenant who owes eleven weeks of back rent, a man caught in a country’s political mechanisms (which only allow for cowards or the annihilated).  He’s a roaring Bert Lahr (“[the Irish people] treat a joke as a serious thing and a serious thing as a joke”), an absurd Ionesco cipher, who perfectly matches O’Casey’s intentions: “a heavily built man of thirty-five . . . in him is frequently manifested the superstition, the fear and malignity of primitive man.” His roommate, a sensitive Shelley wannabe, writing in an ancient country of poets, now a radicalized population, is a strange selection for Shields to lodge with. Davoren (James Russell, a dead ringer for a young Sam Waterston, in both looks and voice) does not seem to be much of a bard—but, more importantly, he apparently does not have any money, either. They are Felix and Oscar at the revolution, an Odd Couple, on the way to a beheading. Their housing is packed, with singers and drunks and gossips and itinerants; their lives so slack and slovenly, there is no way of differentiating between minutia and danger, for the characters or the audience.  Such blurring might have been of interest to Hitchcock, in terms of precedent and suspense creation—North by Northwest, for example, is also the unclarified story of a misidentified innocent man involved with a compromised heroine. In The Shadow of a Gunman, the young working girl, Minnie Powell (an unpretentious Meg Hennessy), is romantic as well as mixed up;  confused enough to believe that one of the roommates is an IRA hit man.

The second act, set under lighting designer Michael Gottlieb’s evocative moonlight (the scenic design is by Charlie Corcoran, with costumes by Linda Fisher and David Toser), is right for the Romantics, but piercing enough for the play’s stark militaristic underpinnings. When people say they like theatrical realism, this is what they are talking about—highly idiomatic writing, full and specific, even repeating.  O’Casey weaves in the mystical and paranormal, too, besides Catholic iconography, by the discussion of supernatural wall tappings (in Juno and the Paycock, one of the characters is involved in theosophy). David Lean, another famous director, also tried to juxtapose Ireland in dark and light, in romanticism and realism, in fantasy and tragedy, in a story set during the same historical period (an adaptation of Madame Bovary, really), only to produce a bomb of the cinematic kind (Freddie Young’s photography did win the Oscar, however).  Ryan’s Daughter (1970) was too expansive, too big for its story and went into filming without Marlon Brando, maybe someone who could have saved it.  Whether or not the movie has achieved greater estimation over the years, Lean, on reflection, thought it might have worked if he had added a single line for his young heroine, in Robert Bolt’s screenplay:  “Rosie, you’re looking at the world through rose-colored glasses now.”  Maybe a harsher insight to come by is that it is the rare Irish person who could ever see Ireland as rose-colored, even in love, given its history.  Although Casey explains, “The Irish people are very fond of turning a serious thing into a joke,” he refutes the idea in The Shadow of a Gunman, instead considering, along with O’Reilly, the dark costs of war and fervor.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE SHADOW OF A GUNMAN by Sean O’Casey

Directed by Ciarán O`Reilly

With

James Russell, Una Clancy,  Terry Donnelly,  Rory Duffy, Meg Hennessy,  John Keating,  Robert Langdon Lloyd, Ed Malone,  Michael Mellamphy, and Harry Smith

Scenic design by Charli e Corcoran, costume design by Linda Fisher and David Toser, lighting design by Michael Gottlieb, sound design by Ryan Rumery and M. Florian Staab, and properties by Deirdre Brennan.

Visit Irish Repertory Theatre 

Photos: (cast) Carol Rosegg; Tripadvisor.com

HOW THESE BLACK PLAYWRIGHTS ARE CHALLENGING AMERICAN THEATER ·

(Michael Paulson’s and Nicole Herrington’s article appeared in The New York Times, 4/25; via Pam Green.)

Jackie Sibblies Drury, Jeremy O. Harris, Antoinette Nwandu and Jordan E. Cooper, on influences, gatekeepers and helping “the young black theater nerd find work that looks like them.”

They are the talk of the theater world: a generation of black playwrights whose fiercely political and formally inventive works are challenging audiences, critics and the culture at large to think about race, and racism, in new ways.

With a mix of fury and outrageous humor, their work conveys concerns that have long challenged this nation, including persistent inequities and the legacy of slavery. Yet they are specifically informed by both the political whiplash of the Obama to Trump transition and the deaths of African-American men and women in encounters with the police.

Many of the plays also confront the white gaze prevalent in the theater world. Two works this season even invited white patrons to relocate, in the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Fairview,” by leaving their seats and being observed on the stage, and in “What to Send Up When It Goes Down” by leaving the auditorium during the final minutes of a work about black grief.

(Read more)

SHAKESPEARE: ‘THE TWO NOBLE KINSMEN’ (LISTEN NOW ON BBC RADIO 3–LINK BELOW) ·

 

Listen

This and the Two Gentlemen of Verona are the least performed of the Shakespeare cannon and I wanted to see the progression between the first and the last. It is for this reason that I have given this production a modern feel in terms of sound and music. I wanted to record them with the same actors entirely on location to give the sense of a strolling company, making the most of the countryside around enabling them to be as honest to the story as they possibly could be.

On the day planned for his wedding to Hippolyta, Duke Theseus of Athens is petitioned by three queens to go to war against King Creon of Thebes, who has deprived their dead husbands of proper burial rites. In Thebes, the ‘two noble kinsmen’, Palamon and Arcite, realize that their own hatred of Creon’s tyranny must be put aside while their native city is in danger, but in spite of their valour in battle it is Theseus who is victorious. Imprisoned in Athens, the cousins catch sight of Hippolyta’s sister, Emilia, and both fall instantly in love with her. Arcite is set free, but disguises himself rather than return to Thebes, while Palamon escapes with the help of the Jailer’s Daughter, who loves him. Meeting each other, the kinsmen agree that mortal combat between them must decide the issue, but they are discovered by Theseus who is persuaded to revoke his sentence of death and instead decrees that a tournament shall decide which cousin is to be married to the indecisive Emilia and which is to lose his head. The Jailer’s Daughter has been driven mad by unrequited love, but accepts her former suitor when he pretends to be Palamon. Before the tournament Arcite makes a lengthy invocation to Mars, while Palamon prays to Venus and Emilia to Diana – for victory to go to the one who loves her best. Although Arcite triumphs, he is thrown from his horse before the death sentence on Palamon can be carried out, and with his last breath bequeaths Emilia to his friend.

JAILER’S DAUGHTER ….. Lyndsey Marshal 
EMILIA ….. Kate Phillips 
PALAMON ….. Blake Ritson 
ARCITE ….. Nikesh Patel 
THESEUS ….. Ray Fearon 
HIPPOLYTA ….. Emma Fielding 
JAILER ….. Hugh Ross 
PIRITHIOUS ….. Daniel Ryan 
WOOER ….. Oliver Chris 
QUEEN 1 ….. Susan Salmon 
QUEEN 2 ….. Sara Markland 
QUEEN 3/DOCTOR ….. Jane Whittenshaw 
COUNTRYMAN 1/FRIEND ….. Sam Dale 
ARTESIUS/COUNTRYMAN 2 ….. Carl Prekopp 
COUNTRYMAN 3/BROTHER ….. Pip Donaghy

Music composed and performed by Tom Glenister and sung by Emma Mackey and Tom Glenister

‘TOOTSIE’: THEATER REVIEW ·

(David Rooney’s article appeared on The Hollywood Reporter, 4/23; via the Drudge Report.)

Santino Fontana steps into Dustin Hoffman’s Spanx in this contemporary musical update of the classic screen comedy about a gifted but unemployable actor who goes incognito as a woman to land a role.

Alongside a sparkling script and a situation that was pure comedy gold, the key element that made Sydney Pollack’s 1982 movie Tootsie such a warmly pleasurable farce was the fact that Dustin Hoffman’s frustrated actor Michael Dorsey doesn’t just slip on a dress, wig and heels and assume a female voice to pass himself off as actress Dorothy Michaels, he creates a three-dimensional character. She’s the fanatical actor’s greatest role. Sure, the insufferable perfectionist that blew a thousand auditions is still in there, but Dorothy also is a fully realized individual. She thinks and acts with her own instincts, experiencing the realities of working in a demoralizingly sexist industry in a way Michael never could.

(Read more)

Photo: The New York Times

 

GEORGIA ENGEL, GENTLE-VOICED ‘MARYTYLER MOORE’ ACTRESS, IS DEAD AT 70 ·

(Neil Genzlinger’s article appeared in The New York Times, 4/15; via Pam Green.)

Georgia Engel, whose distinctive voice and pinpoint comic timing made her a memorable part of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” on which she played Georgette Franklin, girlfriend and eventually wife of the buffoonish TV newsman Ted Baxter, died on Friday in Princeton, N.J. She was 70.

John Quilty, her friend and executor, said the cause was undetermined because Ms. Engel, who was a Christian Scientist, did not consult doctors.

Ms. Engel was twice nominated for an Emmy Award for her work on “Mary Tyler Moore,” which she joined in 1972, during the show’s third season.

“It was only going to be one episode,” she told The Toronto Star in 2007, “and I was just supposed to have a few lines in a party scene, but they kept giving me more and more to do.”

ADVERTISEMENT

She had a high-pitched, innocent voice that, as one writer put it, “sounds like an angel has just sniffed some helium,” and she used it expertly to contrast with the blustery Baxter (played by Ted Knight) and the usually levelheaded Mary Richards, Ms. Moore’s character.

(Read more)

 

 

ON ‘A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM’ WITH MELVYN BRAGG (BBC RADIO 4) ·

A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM

Listen 

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss one of Shakespeare’s most popular works, written c1595 in the last years of Elizabeth I. It is a comedy of love and desire and their many complications as well as their simplicity, and a reflection on society’s expectations and limits. It is also a quiet critique of Elizabeth and her vulnerability and on the politics of the time, and an exploration of the power of imagination.

With

Helen Hackett
Professor of English Literature and Leverhulme Research Fellow at University College London

Tom Healy
Professor of Renaissance Studies at the University of Sussex

and

Alison Findlay
Professor of Renaissance Drama at Lancaster University and Chair of the British Shakespeare Association

Producer: Simon Tillotson

 

‘THE CRADLE WILL ROCK’ AT CSC AND ‘FAUST 2.0’ FROM MABOU MINES (REVIEWS FROM NEW YORK) ·

By Bob Shuman

Theatre watchers may contemplate how two plays, both directed by Orson Welles for the Depression’s Federal Theatre, have devilishly reappeared, not during a period of high unemployment, but in time for the Mueller Report. The first is The Cradle Will Rock, at Classic Stage Company (CSC), which plays until May 19, a sung-through worker’s opera, whose score can seem a paint-by-numbers overlay on songs by Kurt Weill (with Brechtian lyrics), specifically “Surabaya Johnny,” from Happy End, and “Tango Ballad” from The Threepenny Opera. The show, from 1937, was famously taken into a commercial run by its director, after a delayed opening; its first performance was sung by company actors from the audience, while Marc Blitzstein played his score on an onstage piano. Political divides, erupting from unions and concerns regarding socialism, forced the standoff and provided an early example of Welles’s artistic marginalization, a pattern to be continued during his Hollywood years (a campy movie, Cradle Will Rock, based on these events, by Tim Robbins, was released in 1999, starring Vanessa Redgrave, Susan Sarandon, Cherry Jones, and Bill Murray, among many others).

Minimalist director John Doyle, who tends to use actors who can double on musical instruments (Patti LuPone demonstrated her abilities on the tuba, in his Sweeney Todd, in 2005, for example), surrounds Blitzstein’s piano with salvage drums, and his only props are wads of cold, hard cash. Doyle has gathered professional singers, actors, and musicians (dressed in dungarees, as proles–scarves for women–working unmiked and laterally, while the audience sits on three sides) for his Steeltown, U.S.A., the domicile of the powerful, corrupt, exploitative businessman, Mr. Mister.  Although Tony Yazbeck has an ultimate period look, perfect for casting by Elia Kazan, and goddess-sized Kara Mikula can make a surprising calisthenic move, this is a solid, all-equals ensemble, which also includes the impressive talents of Ken Barnett, Eddie Cooper, Benjamin Eakeley, David Garrison, Ian Lowe, Lara Pulver, Sally Ann Triplett, and Rema Webb.

UPDATE, 4/23: CLASSIC STAGE COMPANY HAS ANNOUNCED TWO EXCITING POST-SHOW EVENTS (MAY 14 & 19) IN CONJUNCTION WITH TONY AWARD-WINNER JOHN DOYLE’S PRODUCTION OF MARC BLITZSTEIN’S LEGENDARY, RARELY-PERFORMED PRO-LABOR PLAY IN MUSIC THE CRADLE WILL ROCK

May 14: Post-Show “Classic Perspectives” Conversation with Steven Greenhouse (Award-Winning Former Labor Reporter for The New York Times) and Stefanie Frey (National Organizer for Actors’ Equity)

May 19: Final “Classic Conversation” for the 2018/19 Season Features the “Uniformly Excellent” (The New Yorker) Cast of The Cradle Will Rock—Ken Barnett, Eddie Cooper, Benjamin Eakeley, David Garrison, Ian Lowe, Kara Mikula, Lara Pulver, Sally Ann Triplett, Rema Webb, and Tony Yazbeck—Singing and Chatting with CSC Artistic Director Doyle

Visit CSC

There would probably be little reason to think about Welles now—after all, the Federal Theatre Project was active from 1935 to 1939, until political pressure closed it down–had Doyle and director Sharon Ann Fogarty (whose Faust 2.0 ran until April 14 at the newly opened state-of-the-art theater space for Mabou Mines on First Avenue) not seen an analogy between the evil characters in these artistic properties and Donald Trump.  The Mueller outcome may seem a shattering anticlimax (like the 2016 election results), in that the president has not been found to be an evil Mr. Mister or Mephistopheles.  Quite the reverse appears to be coming to light, where collectives, such as media organizations, and maybe even theatres, have chosen product which dovetails with the serial ratings bids of network TV.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Playwright Matthew Maguire does not mind directly alluding to Trump, “Life always leads to grief when a Real Estate magnate is king,” in his dense reimagining of the Faust legend, which has a sci-fi vibe and wants to teeter into the Theatre of the Ridiculous. His work does not congeal or find much tension—although the inherent episodic plot includes various elements, such as fine singing and dancing, as well as staring into camera lenses, both live and recorded. Faust can be animated enough to entertain children (across the street, at Theatre for a New City, a puppet version was, in fact, presented in March and April) and in the eighteenth century and beyond, according to the BBC, Goethe’s and Marlowe’s dramas were produced as marionette plays to bypass censors.  What was agreed as incendiary was the theme of “challenging authority and the status quo, in fact, defying God.” Points which the Maguire script highlights are that two souls can live in one body—one pulled to heaven and the other to hell–as well as the concept that those who strive will always be beautiful. The thought that God is a divine feminine might rankle prelates, but not Welles, who recommended Robert Graves‘s The White Goddess in order to understand his own work. Jim Clayburgh deserves accolades for his set, based on the art of M. C. Esher, the most memorable design this reviewer has seen thus far in the year.

Visit Mabou Mines

F  A U  S T   2 . 0

ADAPTED FROM GOETHE BY

Matthew Maguire

DIRECTED BY

Sharon Ann Fogarty

CAST

Faust: Benton Greene*
Mephistopheles: Paul Kandel*
Helen of Troy: Angelina Impellizzeri*
Panthalis/Mary: Andrea Jones-Sojola*
Euphorion: Oliver Medlin
Paris/Gravdigger: Chris Rehmann

APPEARING ON VIDEO:
Greg Mehrten* (EMPEROR), Bill Raymond* (GOD/ARCHBISHOP), Jim Findlay (GENERAL), Terry O’Reilly (TREASURER), Karen Kandel* (CARE), Black-Eyed Susan (NEED), Gloria Miguel* (DEBT), Ching Valdez-Aran* (WANT), Rosemary Fine* (MOTHER), Molly Heller (DAUGHTER) Maude Mitchell* (BAUCIS), Arthur French* (PHILEMON), Sam Balzac and Jason Weisinger (GARDENERS), Chloe Worthington, Carina Goelbelbecker, Gabrielle Djenné, and Britt Burke (FLOWER GIRLS), Bella Breuer, Ruma Breuer, Julia Da-In Patton and Zani Jones Mbayise (GIRLS).

PRODUCTION

Set & Lighting Design – Jim Clayburgh
Costume Design – Marsha Ginsberg
Video Design – Jeff Sugg
Sound Design – Fitz Patton
Original Music – Eve Beglarian
Choreography – Kristi Spessard
Stage Manager – Gina Solebello*
Production Manager – Jørgen Noodt Skjærvold
Technical Director – Matthew Mauer
Assistant Director – Molly Heller
Assistant Stage Manager – Sam Gibbs
Associate Video Designer – Robin Ediger-Seto

Hair and Makeup Design – Mara Schiavetti
Associate Costume Design – Kat Jeffery
Assistant Set and Lighting – Eleanor Bryce
Sound Engineer – James Kogan
Production Assistant – Rebecca Tyree
Lighting programmer- Kent Sprague
Assistant Sound Designers – Sun Hee Kil & Bradlee Ward
Wardrobe – Crystal Kovacs

*Member of Actors’ Equity Association

Photos: “Cradle”: Joan Marcus; “Faust”: Mabou Mines

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

BIBI ANDERSSON, SWEDISH ACTRESS AND MUSE OF INGMAR BERGMAN, DIES AT 83 ·

(Harrison Smith’s article appeared in the Washington Post, 4/14.)

Bibi Andersson, a Swedish actress whose portrayals of chaste schoolgirls, beguiling young women and tortured wives made her a muse and frequent collaborator of filmmaker Ingmar Bergman, most notably in “The Seventh Seal,” “Wild Strawberries” and “Persona,” died April 14 in Stockholm. She was 83.

Her death was confirmed by Jan Goransson, head of media at the Swedish Film Institute, who said she had been receiving medical treatment since suffering a stroke in 2009. Additional details were not immediately available.

Easily recognizable by her short blonde hair, button nose, slim figure and wide smile, Ms. Andersson appeared in more than 100 film and television productions through the years, often playing luminous characters whose warm demeanor masked past traumas or intense self-doubt.

Although she starred in Hollywood movies such as “I Never Promised You a Rose Garden” in the 1970s, working with American directors such as John Huston (“The Kremlin Letter”) and Robert Altman (“Quintet”), she never attained the spectacular success she found in Sweden, where Goransson called her “one of the greatest stars we ever had.”

(Read more)