Category Archives: Commentary

HIGH SCHOOL ‘ALIEN’ PRODUCTION WINS INTERNET RAVES ·

(Dave Itzkoff’s article appeared in The New York Times, 3/25.)

There are those perennial stage works that are perfectly suited to be performed in high schools across the country every year: say, “Our Town,” “The Crucible,” “Annie” or “The Wizard of Oz.”

And now, to this canon, you might add “Alien.”

A New Jersey high school has found itself the unexpected recipient of online acclaim and viral attention for its recent stage production of “Alien,” the 1979 science-fiction thriller.

“Alien: The Play,” presented last weekend by the drama club of North Bergen High School, starred a cast of eight students in the film roles originally played by Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt, John Hurt and Ian Holm.

Whereas the movie had a budget in the range of about $10 million, “Alien: The Play” had costumes, props and set designs made mostly from donated and recycled materials.

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Photo: Daily Mail

 

SEAN O’CASEY: ‘JUNO AND THE PAYCOCK’ AT IRISH REPERTORY THEATRE (REVIEW FROM NEW YORK) ·

By Bob Shuman

Sean O’Casey’s Juno and the Paycock is a hard and beautiful play, and Neil Pepe’s staging, at Irish Rep, is lovely, as one of its characters, Joxer (a Faginlike wingman, played by John Keating) might say. The production is a soft interpretation, though, right for an American moment, where long-term unemployment is accompanied by cell phones, flat screen TVs, and food stamps—not a fierce enough reflection on the devastation with which the playwright (O’Casey lived from 1880 to 1964) ruins his characters. 

The clashing colors and pristine, hanging laundry of Charlie Corcoran’s tenement setting, for the tragi-comedy, are reminders of gauche social class, but they don’t go far enough to artistically render the economic collapse of the Irish at the beginning of the twentieth century. Maybe producers and designers, who would never allow urine fumes to waft through the audience, as did a recent French production of Ionesco Suite at BAM, believe it’s too disturbing to present much beyond the bad taste of an underclass; but, nevertheless, the creators are manipulating history mendaciously.  A 1989 Juno and the Paycock, from the Gate Theatre, in Ireland, took a much harsher tack.  Frank Rich described the set in the following, and the audience could see why the characters would borrow to claw their way out:  “The tenement in O’Casey’s play belongs to the Boyle family of Dublin, during the Civil War days of 1922. The home’s crumbling walls are caked with slime, as if sewage had been flushed through the living room. The windowpanes, cracked and sooty, are framed by the cobweb remains of lace curtains, while the meager furniture has long since spilled its guts.” 

Pepe dilutes or Americanizes his Juno and the Paycock (the drama is being performed as part of its important Sean O’Casey Season, which runs until May 25) by treating the work as if it is a middle-class play, as opposed to a working-class one, or more directly, as one about abject poverty.  As ‘Captain’ Jack, the “paycock,” the loafer, the idler on the dole, Ciaran O’Reilly, with hand in his vest pocket, leaning back on his heels, appears too stolid in the role, perhaps, out of Ibsen; he’s not a bluffer or con or strutter, from which he gets his nickname.  The Paycock actually seems akin to Alfred P. Doolittle in Pygmalion–O’Casey and Shaw became friends—who is horrified at having been roped into joining the bourgeoisie. Juno (Maryann Plunkett) is a character who doesn’t make sense in the context of today’s society—if she was ever anything other than an ideal.  Feminism has made it clear that women are not saints or martyrs—she and her daughter (Sarah Street) can not even be said to be representative personae of Ireland anymore, after divorce and pro-choice legalization. These are strong characters (and characterizations) to be booed in the public square.

Fine work also comes from the Boyle’s severely injured son (Ed Malone)–Juno and the Paycock is a war play, written by a top-tier playwright, both facts often overshadowed. The suitors of Mrs. Boyle’s daughter create clear, tiny portraits of cowardice (James Russell and Harry Smith) and Terry Donnelly works to give a glimpse of art as it emerges from the school of hard knocks. Perhaps one of the finest roles in the play is that of a woman who loses her son to the revolutionary movement.  Hers carries an aching monologue, here performed, unsentimentalized, out of earth and sorrow, by Una Clancy.  Even in a production that normalizes despair, O’Casey’s keening shrouds the eyes in mist.

© 2019 by Bob Shuman.  All rights Reserved.

Production photos: Carol Rosegg

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SHAKEPEARE RECIPES: DID THE BARD EAT THAT? ·

(Marissa Nicosia’s article appeared on Folger.edu; via Pam Green.)  

Citrus and sugar: Making marmalade with Hannah Woolley

As our First Chefs recipe series continues, Marissa Nicosia writes about a 17th-century recipe for citrus marmalade. Nicosia is the author of the blog Cooking in the Archives: Updating Early Modern Recipes (1600-1800) in a Modern Kitchen, where you can find even more information about these adaptations.

Citrus and sugar: What could be more precious than marmalade? Oranges and other citrus cultivars come from the mountainous parts of southern China and northeast India. They were prized for their beauty, scent, and medicinal properties in this region long before Europeans saw, smelled, or tasted an orange. As Clarissa Hyman writes in Oranges: A Global History, “In India, a medical treatise c. AD 100 was the first to mention the fruit by a term we recognize today. Naranga or narangi derives from the Sanskrit, originally meaning ‘perfumed from within’” (10).

The three original citrus cultivars were the citron (prized for its thick, fragrant peel), the pomelo, and sour oranges, called China or Seville oranges in early modern England. Easily hybridized, these three cultivars are the origin of all modern citrus varieties. Soldiers returning from the Crusades brought citrons and sour oranges home with them. In the early modern period, sweet oranges, sour oranges, lemons, citrons, and exotic varieties like bergamot and blood orange were widely cultivated in Southern Europe and by wealthy gardeners who build special hot houses, or orangeries, further north.

Photo by Teresa Wood.

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ACTORS SHUT DOWN PARTS OF THEIR BRAINS TO TAKE ON ROLES, SCANS REVEAL ·

(Josh Gabbatiss’s article appeared in the Independent, 3/12.)

‘I got the idea that maybe acting was a bit similar to possession… when you’re acting you’re kind of being taken over by character,’ says scientist

To truly inhabit a role, actors must effectively turn off part of their brain, according to a new study based on brain scans of thespians. 

In a series of experiments, actors were placed in MRI machines and asked to respond to questions as if they were Romeo or Juliet during the “balcony scene” from William Shakespeare’s play.

Scientists were surprised to see that as the participants mused on concepts ranging from romance to religion, their brains were truly taken over by those of the famous star-crossed lovers,

They watched as brain activity dropped off, with a notable deactivation in a part of the frontal lobe.

This result suggested the portrayal of a fictional character goes far deeper than simply learning a script. 

(Read more)

Photo: The Independent

‘MOCKINGBIRD’ PLAY PUBLISHER DEMANDS $500,000 FROM HARPER LEE ESTATE ·

(Alexandra Alter’s and Michael Paulson’s article appeared in The New York Times, 3/8; via Pam Green.)

The set for “To Kill a Mockingbird” at the Kavinoky Theater at D’Youville College in Buffalo being taken down last month after several theaters were forced to cancel their productions.CreditLibby March for The New York Times

“To Kill a Mockingbird” is proving to be an eventful legal drama. And not just in the theater.

Last month the producer Scott Rudin, seeking to protect the financial future of a new stage adaptation of the novel now running on Broadwayforced at least eight theaters around the country to cancelproductions of a 1970 stage version. Now the publisher of the earlier script says he will seek compensation and legal vindication.

“We feel horribly for those affected by the shameful bigfooting coming from Mr. Rudin,” Christopher Sergel III, president of Dramatic Publishing Company and the grandson of the author of the first adaptation, said.

Mr. Sergel said he would ask an arbitration tribunal to protect the ability of local theaters to stage his grandfather’s adaptation and to award damages of at least $500,000. He accused the estate of the “Mockingbird” author, Harper Lee, acting in concert with Mr. Rudin, of causing financial losses to Dramatic Publishing by making “false statements” to local theaters.

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Photo: The New York Times

 

RUSSIA’S ANNA KARENINA MUSICAL TO BE SHOWN IN U.S. AND UK CINEMAS ·

(Alexandra Guzeva’s article appeared in Russia Beyond the Headlines, 3 /4.)

People living in America and the UK will be able to watch Russia’s best-selling musical, Anna Karenina, staged by Moscow’s Operetta Theater. The performance will be shown throughout this month (in Russian with English subtitles).

The musical premiered in 2016 and its producer Alexei Bolonin spent much of the noughties staging licensed Western musicals on Russian soil including Metro, Notre Dame de Paris, and Romeo & Juliette.

“Tolstoy’s novel like no other is suited for a musical because it has all the necessary ingredients, most importantly, a love story,” Bolonin said.

Turning the famous Russian writer’s masterpiece into a musical was a little risky because addressing the book’s philosophical themes on stage is no easy task. However, it includes many direct quotes from the novel and all the important moments are reflected in the lyrics.

(Read more)

A ‘TRADITION’ OMISSION: I HAD NEVER SEEN ‘FIDDLER’ UNTIL NOW ·

(Taffy Brodesser-Akner’s article appeared in The New York Times, 2/27; via Pam Green.)

At the relatively late age of 43 — though basically a toddler compared to much of a recent audience for the National Yiddish Theater Folksbiene production — I finally saw “Fiddler on the Roof.”

We all have our cultural blind spots. I’ve never seen an episode of “The Simpsons,” either, though I very much have always meant to. Some things just slip by. My failure to see “Fiddler” is only important in that it would be extremely on-brand for me to have seen “Fiddler” 35,000 times — to have “Fiddler” be the only show I’d ever seen. I grew up attending Jewish schools and in a home where my mother became Orthodox when I was 12, and where my mother’s full-time mission became to guide my sisters and me toward her enlightenment. This worked on my sisters. It still works for them.

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Photo: The New York Times

 

AMERICAN REPERTORY THEATER WILL MOVE TO BOSTON WITH HELP OF $100 MILLION GIFT ·

(Michael Paulson’s article appeared in The New York Times, 2/28; via Pam Green.)  

The American Repertory Theater, one of the nation’s leading regional theaters, is planning to move from Cambridge, Mass., to Boston, Harvard University said Thursday.

The university, which houses the theater, said it had received $100 million from the hedge fund manager David E. Goel, who is a Harvard alumnus, and his wife, Stacey L. Goel, to begin fund-raising and planning for what it is calling a “research and performance center” in Allston, a section of Boston just across the Charles River from Harvard Square. The center will include a new home for the A.R.T.

Allston is already home to Harvard’s business school, as well as a planned science and engineering complex and some arts facilities.

(Read more)

 

ANDRÉ PREVIN, MUSICAL POLYMATH, HAS DIED AT AGE 89 ·

(Susan Stamberg’s article appeared on NPR 2/28.)

André Previn, a celebrated musical polymath, died Thursday morning; he was a composer of Oscar-winning film music, conductor, pianist and music director of major orchestras. His manager, Linda Petrikova, confirmed to NPR that he died at his home in Manhattan.

Previn wrote a tune in the 1950s. In the vernacular of the day, he called it “Like Young.” His Hollywood friend, the great lyricist Ira Gershwin, was critical. “Don’t you know it should be “As Young?” asked Gershwin. Previn loved that story — from his jazz side.

Tim Page, a Pulitzer Prize-winning former music critic and professor of journalism and music at the University of Southern California, says that jazz was just one side of the multitalented artist. “He really seriously distinguished himself in a lot of different fields. He was not one of these people who came in and shook up one field forever and ever,” Page notes.

Previn began his musical life “like young.” Born in Berlin on April 6, 1929, as Andreas Ludwig Priwin, he grew up in Los Angeles. His family fled Germany in 1938 and first moved to Paris, and then New York, before landing in Hollywood. As a wunderkind teenager, he played piano at the Rhapsody Theatre, improvising scores at silent film screenings.

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PETER SHAFFER: ‘EQUUS’ (SV PICK, UK) ·

(Michael Billington’s article appeared in the Guardian, 2/26.)

I’ve often complained about the move towards a directors’ theatre. But directors can also renew a familiar work – which is precisely what Ned Bennett does in his exhilarating staging of Peter Shaffer’s modern classic. I was present at the first performance in 1973 but, without violating the text, Bennett’s production has enabled me to see the play through fresh eyes.

Shaffer shows a psychiatrist, Martin Dysart, attempting to discover what drove a teenage boy, Alan Strang, to blind six horses with a metal spike: it is not so much a whodunnit as a why-did-he-do-it? Dysart patiently explores Alan’s parental background – a puritanical father, an obsessively religious mother – and the boy’s preoccupation with horses. But, while Dysart envies the boy’s capacity for worship, he only gets to the truth when he tricks Alan into reliving the events of the night of the blinding.

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