Category Archives: Commentary

A GENDER SWAP MAKES SONDHEIM’S ‘COMPANY’ SOAR ·

(Matt Wolf’s article appeared in The New York Times, 10/25; via Pam Green.)

LONDON — At last, “Company” has a human pulse and a proper dramatic core. And for that to happen, it took a woman.

The Stephen Sondheim-George Furth musical from 1970 long ago entered the canon with its tale of a commitment-phobic Manhattan bachelor named Bobby who ricochets among multiple couples while searching for a soul mate of his own.

Now enter the twice Tony-winning English director Marianne Elliott, who has replaced Bobby with a female equivalent called — what else? — Bobbie. (I sense a trend afoot: The forthcoming film of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical “Cats” will feature Judi Dench cast in the male role of Old Deuteronomy.)

The result is entirely transformative: This production is the commercial theatrical event of the year to date. And the Gielgud Theater — where the show and its resplendent leading lady, Rosalie Craig, are on view through March 30 — is not likely to be its final resting place. (It’s just one measure of the intense interest in the show that it has already doubled the length of its run, originally announced through Dec. 22.)

(Read more)

REVIEW: ‘SEARCHING FOR INGMAR BERGMAN,’ A MISUNDERSTOOD ARTIST ·

(Glenn Kenny’s article appeared in The New York Times, 11/1.)

This year marks the centennial of Ingmar Bergman’s birth. The Swedish playwright, theater director and filmmaker, who died in 2007, remains one of the most praised and, to a certain extent, most misunderstood 20th-century artists. The praise stems from his cinematic mastery and treatment of profound themes; the misunderstanding, from the conventional wisdom that because Bergman treated profound themes, his work must be a slog.

But Bergman was a gripping storyteller. You could even call him an entertainer. The German director Margarethe Von Trotta makes that clear in the opening of her new documentary, “Searching for Ingmar Bergman,” in which she breaks down the opening scene of Bergman’s 1957 classic “The Seventh Seal.” This picture, she says, both engrossed her as a viewer and made her want to be a filmmaker. Her analysis reveals the formal elements that make the oft-parodied “Seal” so potent.

(Read more)

Photo: The New York Times

 

 

ON KAREN FINLEY IN:  ‘GRABBING PUSSY/PARTS KNOWN’ AT LA MAMA (REVIEW FROM NEW YORK) ·

By Bob Shuman

Karen Finley’s set design for Grabbing Pussy/Parts Known is made up of flowering plants of pink and white and pastel colors—and for an early section of one of her monologues (three are read today: one a poem, written in the hours before curtain), she speaks as a film of time-elapsed lilies and orchids break into bloom behind her.  Blown-up, they appear comic and sexual and too fragile,  which, of course, is part of what Finley is, too, but on Saturday, October 27, she finds she is someone else, as well: an artistic first responder, to the eleven deaths at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh.  She is playing at La MaMa, as part of the Call to Action weekend, a gear-up for the midterms and an opportune moment to publicize her new book, from which proceeds will be given to Planned Parenthood.  People who don’t believe that all actors must be liberals, as if it’s in their DNA, instead of it being more convenient or concessionary for their careers, do believe Finley’s activism, even if they disagree with her politics. They know that, famously, she has been attacked by the right, as part of the NEA4—and she still can be brought up derisively, as “the chocolate-smeared woman,” in Ann Coulter’s writing (Finley’s Tawana Brawley-inspired monologue actually goes way back to the ‘80s, however; probably a signal that the conservative columnist needs fresh material). 

Standing in front of her script, which rests on a music stand, now, in her stylish black-and-white performance shoes, pink top, black capri pants, and an academician’s glasses—her hair is loose and red–Finley seems taller than she appears in photos:  a distinguished Commissar of the left, like a Katarina Witt–not only because she also posed for Playboy.  As a veteran of the culture wars, the actress toes the party line—and she does so aggressively, fueled by the anger that has never left her, jumping on Trump’s “bleeding eyes” remark from the 2016 presidential campaign and bringing up, exasperatedly, “the obsession” with Hillary’s deleted e-mails—“30,000 of them,” should the number have been forgotten.  Unlike Camille Paglia,  Finley’s association, her alignment with the Democrat party—and mistrust of practically everything else–may not always serve her writing—which does not seem able to get above the political; above her politics–and which in Grabbing Pussy/Parts Known, could possibly be described as Beckettian punditry.  She knows how to pace a show, though—how to start and stop her work, how to move in and out of character, which may not always make for writerly, well-made theatre.   She works with tension that can explode—and she is superior as a performer and in improvisation–even as her own plays tend to invoke others, such as: Come Back, Little Sheba; Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf; or even her own previous work, for example We Keep Our Victims Ready.  Actually, it can be difficult to think of Karen Finley in a sustained role of length, although she should have been seen, when she was younger, as Katherine in The Taming of the Shrew–as long as she could change the ending.  Perhaps she’s  really an illusionist, always impatiently waiting to direct a new mirage, although now, she states, she has been moved to use “poetic” space, where she can keep her script with her and provide minimal movement–as opposed to playing on a traditional stage, theatrically.  

Don’t think she has gone too soft, though. She’s “one angry bitch,” she cautions, “never in a good mood and that’s on a good day.” In Grabbing Pussy/Parts Known, Finley goes off on, among others, Catholic priests, Harvey Weinstein, Brett Kavanaugh, and border separations: Her speech can be sarcastic, mocking, hysterical, overly hurt, decisively Midwestern, and even like that of a Southern preacher or witch hag. Yet the person she reminds one of most is . . . Rush Limbaugh.  She’s a shock jock, it’s true:  she doesn’t need to play off anyone, and she can rant and go into stream of consciousness: “It’s my body . . . not Sessions’s . . . not Jared’s . . . This body.  You’ll not own my body.  It’s my body.  Pussies speak out!”  In her public meltdown, amid free-floating anger, desperation, black comedy, anguish, outrage and outrageousness–on the day when it is learned that eight and then eleven have been slaughtered—she confides, as everyone must:  “I’m really trying to do something with this life.”

Looking at the vases and containers on the stage, the flowers seem funereal.   Yet the show must have been conceptualized weeks, if not months, ago.  This gathering couldn’t have been what was originally intended, but Finley has been working fast and doggedly to incorporate the new reality–leaving behind the remains of an event with an entirely different meaning: a memorial.  

© 2018 by Bob Shuman.  All rights reserved.

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Photo credits, from top: Notey;  La MaMa;  Shuman, Mandatory Credit: Photo by JARED WICKERHAM/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock (9948253an)
The Star of David memorials are lined with flowers at the Tree of Life synagogue two days after a mass shooting in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA, 29 October 2018. Officials report 11 people were killed by the gunman identified as Robert Bowers who has been charged with hate crimes and other federal charges .
Vigil for victims of synagogue shooting, Pittsburgh, USA – 29 Oct 2018Variety

ICONIC DRAMA BOOK SHOP PRICED OUT OF THEATER DISTRICT LOCATION ·


(from CBS Local,  October 26, 2018)

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – The curtain may be closing for good on a staple in the performing arts community as the Drama Book Shop in Manhattan’s Theater District is being priced out of its lease.

“This was the first place I ever went to when I moved to New York City,” said Lachlan Quertrnus. “Whatever you need is here.”

Like most actors just starting out, this shop is where he finds new plays and monologues for classes and auditions.

“I can’t even tell you how many people who have documented hours here,” he said. “It’s so important to the community.”

(Read more)

REVIEW: ELAINE MAY MIGHT BREAK YOUR HEART IN ‘WAVERLY GALLERY’ (SV PICK, NY) ·

(Ben Brantley’s article appeared in The New York Times, 10/25; via Pam Green.)

From the moment Gladys Green opens her mouth — which is the moment that the curtain rises on Kenneth Lonergan’s wonderful play “The Waverly Gallery” at the Golden Theater — it’s clear that for this garrulous woman, idle conversation isn’t a time killer. It is a lifeline.

An octogenarian New Yorker, former lawyer and perpetual hostess for whom schmoozing and kibitzing have always been as essential as breathing, Gladys operates on the principle that if she can just continue to talk, she can surely power through the thickening fog of her old age. That she has clearly already lost this battle makes her no less valiant.

That it’s Elaine May who is giving life to Gladys’s war against time lends an extra power and poignancy to “The Waverly Gallery,” which opened on Thursday night under Lila Neugebauer’s fine-tuned direction. Long fabled as a director, script doctor and dramatist, Ms. May first became famous as a master of improvisational comedy, instantly inventing fully detailed, piquantly neurotic characters who always leaned slightly off-kilter.

Her partnership with Mike Nichols is still considered the gold standard for such quick-sketch portraiture. And their appearance on Broadway together in the early 1960s is recalled by those who saw it as if they had been divine visitations, blazing and all too brief.

(Read more)

Photo: The New York Times

BREAKING DOWN SHAKESPEARE’S ‘KING JOHN’ ·

Secret deals. Threats of mass destruction. Shifting loyalties.
What a difference 800 years makes.

He may be king, but unlike his older brother Richard the Lionheart, John has no stirring nickname, and everyone from the Pope to his own court seems to think his crown is up for grabs. Taking his audience back to the time of the Magna Carta, Shakespeare slyly commented on the politics of his own day. Now director Aaron Posner brings us this toxic brew of ambition and indecision in this rarely staged but timely history. 

Running time for King John is approximately two hours, fifteen minutes plus a fifteen minute intermission.

The court of King John is transported to our stage through Andrew Cohen’s scenic design. Scroll down this page for a sneak peak along with a look at the costume designs by Sarah Cubbage.

By William Shakespeare
Directed by Aaron Posner
October 23 – December 02, 2018
Folger Theatre

TICKETS: 

$42-$79

 

Consider joining us for a special performance of King John to enhance your theater-going experience.

Visit Folger Digital Texts to view a detailed synopsis and download a free copy of the full Folger Shakespeare Library edition of King John.

Folger Theatre gratefully acknowledges the kind support of our sponsors. For a full list of sponsors for King John, please visit our Sponsors page.

GETTING WILDE IN AMERICA: OSCAR WILDE’S SEARCH FOR FAME AND HIMSELF ·

Oscar Wilde (1854 – 1900), Irish playwright, novelist, essayist, poet and wit. Original Publication: People Disc – HL0151 (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

(Jeffrey Meyers’s article appeared in the Spectator, 10/23.)

In January 1882, a still little known 27-year-old called Oscar Wilde began his year-long, coast-to-coast, 15,000-mile grueling lecture tour throughout America. The ostensible purpose was to publicise the US tour of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Patience, whose precious aesthete Bunthorne — ‘what a very singularly deep young man this deep young man must be!’ — was partly based on Wilde. The real motive was to advertise himself and become a celebrity while searching for his true sexual identity.

Victorian men had to hide their homosexuality, but Wilde found a way to flaunt his real feelings. Wearing a theatrical costume while behaving outrageously on stage, he used his ambiguous sexuality to provide entertainment. Marriage in 1884 and two sons with sissy names (Cyril and Vyvyan) as well as male lovers (Robbie Ross in 1886 and Lord Alfred Douglas in 1891) were still in the future. Wilde did not marry to ‘cure’ his homosexuality. He fell in love with an attractive woman, but discovered that his deepest erotic yearnings were for men.

(Read more)

 

KAREN FINLEY, PAMELA SNEED, AND YOU MATTER NATION: COME TO LA MAMA AND GET INVOLVED, OCTOBER 26-28 ·

La Mama invites you to a series of special events

Call to Action!
October 26 – 28

Historic, deeply important  midterm elections are right around the corner. Iconoclastic performance artist Karen Finley headlines a stellar lineup  of artists to inspire and activate the downtown community with a Call to Action weekend, anchored around her latest protest piece. 

WEEKEND SCHEDULE:

Friday, October 26th | Soapbox: Speak Up, Speak Out 
featuring Pamela Sneed and a lineup of powerful women and gender non-conforming artists, all proceeds will be donated to the ACLU.  (Free Event – Suggested Donation)

Saturday, October 27th | Grabbing Pussy/Parts Known by Karen Finley
A voice for the embodied rage that refuses to endure the authority and terror of bodies controlled and responding to the anguish of forced family separations at borders, all proceeds will be donated to Planned Parenthood. (Tickets: $20)

Sunday, October 28th | (Real) POLITICS 101 
A workshop by You Matter Nation that reveals systems and procedures that drive democracy which are often obscured from the view of the very people it’s meant to serve.  (Free Event – Suggested Donation)

For More Info Click Here


 

CAROL HALL, ‘BEST LITTLE WHOREHOUSE’ COMPOSER, IS DEAD AT 82 ·

(Neil Genzlinger’s article appeared in The New York Times, 10/12; via Pam Green.)

Carol Hall, who helped turn an unlikely inspiration into one of the biggest Broadway hits of the 1970s when she wrote the music and lyrics for “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas,” died on Thursday at her home in Manhattan. She was 82.

An announcement from her family said the cause was logopenic primary progressive aphasia, a rare form of dementia.

Ms. Hall was enjoying moderate success as a singer and songwriter when, developing an idea first hatched during a dinner party conversation, she, Peter Masterson and Larry L. King created “Best Little Whorehouse,” a comedy based on an article Mr. King had written in 1974 for Playboy. It concerned the moralistic efforts to close down a real-life Texas brothel known as the Chicken Ranch (because some customers paid in chickens) that had operated for years.

The show drew mixed reviews — Walter Kerr, writing in The New York Times, called it “an erratic and ambling, if sleekly produced, business.” But the reviews didn’t seem to matter much to audiences. The provocative title, the down-home humor and Ms. Hall’s amiable songs made for a winning package.

(Read more)

Photo: Theatermania

 

IS SHAKESPEARE HISTORY? THE ROMANS (BBC RADIO 4) ·

Listen

In the second of two programmes marking In Our Time’s 20th anniversary on 15th October, Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Shakespeare’s versions of history, continuing with the Roman plays. Rome was the setting for Titus Andronicus, Julius Caesar, Coriolanus and parts of Antony and Cleopatra and these plays gave Shakespeare the chance to explore ideas too controversial for English histories. How was Shakespeare reimagining Roman history, and what impact has that had on how we see Rome today?

The image above is of Marlon Brando playing Mark Antony in a scene from the film version of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, 1953

With

Sir Jonathan Bate
Provost of Worcester College, University of Oxford

Catherine Steel
Professor of Classics and Dean of Research in the College of Arts at the University of Glasgow

And

Patrick Gray
Associate Professor of English Studies at Durham University

Producer: Simon Tillotson