Category Archives: Commentary

BRUSHING UP YOUR SHAKESPEARE, BY THE BOOK OR NOT ·

(Eric Grode’s article appeared in The New York Times, 7/27; via Pam Green.)

Gone are the days when a recorder and a few desultory “hey nonny nonnys” would suffice for the musical passages in a Shakespeare production. Shaina Taub took an ebullient, slangy approach with her score for the musical “Twelfth Night,” which is playing now at the Delacorte Theater, with Ms. Taub in the role of Feste.

As with other shows in the Public Works series, this “Twelfth Night” shifts from the original text to a modern vernacular in Ms. Taub’s songs. But, as these examples show, it’s entirely possible to put your own stamp on Shakespeare while still sticking to the original text (more or less).

Kiss Me, Kate

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A scene from the 1999 revival of “Kiss Me, Kate” at the Martin Beck Theater.CreditSara Krulwich/The New York Times

Until and unless the line “kick him right in the Coriolanus” shows up in an as yet undiscovered quarto of “The Taming of the Shrew,” Cole Porter’s “Kiss Me, Kate” score from 1948 is, shall we say, true to Shakespeare in its fashion. But “I’ve Come to Wive It Wealthily in Padua” dips in and out of the text, and Porter also took a crack at the monologue that gives contemporary “Taming” directors the most trouble, Kate’s abashed “I Am Ashamed That Women Are So Simple.”

Hair

The score of “Hair” found room for words from Allen Ginsberg, Abraham Lincoln, the Hare Krishna mantra and a Village Voice personal ad, so why not a bit of “Hamlet”? (The musical’s co-creator Gerome Ragni had previously appeared with Richard Burton in a Broadway revival of the play.) Two bits, actually: In addition to a few snippets in “Flesh Failures,” Galt MacDermot wrote a soaring — if occasionally mis-accented — take on “What a Piece of Work Is Man” for two tenors as they survey the carnage of war. In the score for his 1971 musical “Two Gentlemen of Verona,” Mr. MacDermot used more Shakespeare, even including an “Antony and Cleopatra” monologue to comic effect.

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Photo: The New York Times

50 SHOWS TO SEE AT THE EDINBURGH FRINGE 2018 ·

(Brian Logan’s and Christ Wiegand’s article appeared in the Guardian, 6/29.)

Superstar standups, daring dance, Brexit cabaret and a Bon Jovi musical … Dive into our guide to some of the shows at the world’s biggest arts festival

Rhod Gilbert

Gilded Balloon

As ever on the fringe, a handful of big hitters return to reconnect to their standup roots. The pick of this year’s crop – which includes Marcus Brigstocke, Nina Conti, David O’Doherty and Reg Hunter – must be Rhod Gilbert, who made his name (and narrowly missed out on a Perrier award) with his volcanically exasperated fringe shows in the mid-noughties. Now he’s back, for just a short run, performing his first live comedy in six years.

Sunshine Boy

Dance Base

The programme at Dance Base features work from 11 countries and includes the Grassmarket venue’s first full-scale ballet, Giselle by Ballet Ireland. But the eye-catcher on this year’s lineup is Sunshine Boy, Andy Howitt’s tribute to the extravagantly lipsticked Leigh Bowery – performance artist, designer, sitter for Lucian Freud, Clothes Show star and legend of London’s club world, whose signature act involved giving birth to his partner on stage.

Rose Matafeo

Pleasance Courtyard

Her 2016 debut made waves, her 2017 follow-up, Sassy Best Friend, was wonderful. This time out, the high-energy, highly-strung standup Rose Matafeo tackles horniness, of all things, and – in a year when Flight of the Conchords’ return has towered over live comedy – is part of a Kiwi invasion that includes “Lorde’s favourite comedian” Paul Williams, newcomer Alice Snedden and an all-new show from the big-hitting mime act Tape Face.

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JOE PINTAURO: ‘RAFT OF THE MEDUSA’ AT PLANET CONNECTIONS, NY ·

Raft of the Medusa
Hope would never be silent

By Joe Pintauro
Directed by Francisco Solorzano
Assistant directed by Bianca Puorto
Presented by Barefoot Theatre Company

Benefiting Planned Parenthood specifically their work with Connected Health Solutions  (Kenny Neal Shults, Principal Consultant) on creating digital video campaigns that informs their peers about PrEP, the ground-breaking drug that prevents HIV infection.

Barefoot Theatre Company’s revival of Raft of The Medusa is dedicated to the loving memory of longtime collaborator and Advisory Board Member, Joe Pintauro.

TICKETS

The Flamboyán @ The Clemente
Wednesday 8/1 @7:30pm-9pm
Saturday 8/4 @5:45pm-7:15pm

An explosive AIDS support group session, where the members discover the disease they share can divide as effectively as it conquers. The members of the group are a diverse lot, including homosexuals, heterosexuals, and bisexuals, conservatives and liberals, black, white and Hispanic, rich and poor.

CAST

Michael Billingsley*
Jeremy Brena*
Raiane Cantisano
Charles Everett
Czarina Mada
Robert Montana
Zac Porter
Delissa Reynolds*
Bobby Daniel Rodriguez
Gil Ron
Francisco Solorzano*
Christopher Whalen
Perri Yaniv*

*Member of Actor’s Equity Association.

PRESS

“The group dynamics are absolutely on target.  This is an author who understands human beings on the deepest level:  what a pleasure to be in his company.  The acting is uniformly excellent. Pintauro’s Raft of the Medusa is an outstanding theater experience.” – Let’s Talk Off Off Broadway

The excitement of “RAFT” is that you never know where it will go. It achieves extraordinary highs and lows.  Following it, I both laughed and cried several times. Several aspects resemble Tony Kushner’s “Angels in America,”  which came after “Raft”, but Pintauro’s dramaturgy is less schematic and his writing more sensitive to human feeling in all its peaks and troughs. The issues become unusually gripping here because Pintauro’s stage world is persuasive.  It is the finest AIDS drama I have seen. – ALISTAIR MACAULAY,  THE TIMES, LONDON.

Pintauro preaches positivism but not dumb optimism, realism rather than fatalism: and he affirms and celebrates love amid the acerbic banter.  It’s the detail in the performances and the witty, weepy impact of dialogue that triumphantly elevates Pintauro’s writing.  – NICK CURTIS,  THE EVENING STANDARD, LONDON.  Jan 19, 1995.

‘The question of forgiveness is angled here even more uncomfortably than in “Angels in America,”  Donald’s unforgiven ghost haunts the group session which Pintauro presents to us in all its heart-wrenching, recrimination ridden and blackly comical emotional messiness.”  – PAUL TAYLOR, THE INDEPENDENT, LONDON.

Joe Pintauro was born in Ozone Park (New York) on November 22, 1930. After studying at Manhattan College, he earned a degree in American literature at Fordham University, then a degree in Philosophy at Saint Jeromes College (Ontario), after which he attended for four years the Faculty of Theology at Niagara University. From the beginning, his books of poetry are published by Harper & Row also in collaborations with artists such as Corita Kent and Norman Laliberte. Pintauro has also written short stories and novels: it must be remembered the quartet called Rainbow Box. He worked for eight years as an advertisement executive for the Young and Rubicam.

His three-act plays about the life of Italian-Americans in New York, named Cacciatore, was his first critical acclaim. Snow Orchid, his first long work, was later produced with Olympia Dukakis, Peter Boyle and Robert Lupone at Circle Rep. The work was brought to London with Jude Law and Paola di Ognisotti. His fondness for the one-act has given birth to many works as American Divine, staged in Chicago, and Moving Targets, staged at Vineyard Theatre in New York.

Among the works in two acts it has to be remembered Beside Herself played by William Hurt, Lois Smith, Calista Flockhart and Melissa Joan Hart; Raft of the Medusa, which was staged at the Minetta Lane and then at the Gate (Notting Hill), London (with the title Salvation). Men’s Life is an adaptation of the book by Mattheissen, work chosen for the inauguration of the Bay Street Theatre in Sag Harbor. The Dead Boy on faith and trauma suffered today by the Catholic clergy, was a laboratory work for the Royal Court in London under the direction of Stephen Daldry and again with Ian McKellen. Pintauro has directed this work in the German version in the Netherlands with the title Dode Jongen, with Anton Lutz. The work was presented in its final form in 2004 with Roy Scheider and Mercedes Ruehl.

The collection of his 40 one-act plays called Metropolitan Operas (brought on stage in New York by Dramatists Play Service) was then shown around the world in various languages: also to be remembered the transposition in the form of Commedia dell’Arte, in Venice with Carla Poli.

The trilogy By the Sea, By the Sea, By the Beautiful Sea in collaboration with Terrence McNally and Lanford Wilson, was staged for The Bay Street Film Festival and later for The Manhattan Theatre Club. Heaven and Earth, a work on American rural life, is also produced by Bay Street and was directed by Jack Hofsiss.

Pintauro has also written the screenplay for Beautiful Dreamer, a film about the civil war and the only woman ever to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor. http://joepintauro.net/

Barefoot Theatre Company is a NY/LA based ACTOR DRIVEN theatre company dedicated to collaboration between Actor, Director, and Playwright. In 1999, Barefoot Theatre Company was founded by a multicultural group of artists determined to produce vital, thought-provoking plays, both new and lesser-known existing works. BAREFOOT THEATRE COMPANY is now in its 18th season, developing theater and film (via sister co. BAREFOOT STUDIO PICTURES) in New York and LA.  Founded by actor Francisco Solorzano, Producing Artistic Director since 1999. http://barefoottheatre.blogspot.com/ & http://facebook.com/barefoottheatreco/

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‘BRECHT ON BRECHT’ FROM POTOMAC THEATRE PROJECT (REVIEW FROM NEW YORK) ·

By Bob Shuman

Resisters who see a parallel between Trump’s America and Germany and Italy in the 1930s and ‘40s are making a misjudgment, even if they have grievances against the current administration.  Hitler and Mussolini were pursuing forms of Socialism, anathema to the Capitalist agenda of the president–and to the founding principles of this nation, for that matter.  But because some theatre professionals insist that the terror and evil of the Nazi period can be analogous to today’s burgeoning U.S. economy, Bertold Brecht (1888-1956) has found the renaissance he deserves, with recent New York productions of Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, The Good Person of Szechwan, Mother Courage and Her Children, and, currently, the anthology revue Brecht On Brecht, from Potomac Theatre Project (the PTP/NYC season runs until August 5 at Atlantic Stage 2).  In 1962, critic Harold Clurman’s discussion of the show, which includes music by Kurt Weill and Hanns Eisler, and has been adapted by George Tabori, noted the dearth of representation of the playwright on American stages—he described the work, which Ethan Mordden says “began as a special matinee one-off, that launched an open run,” as “a full evening, yet it offers only a smattering of Brecht’s scope.  Still, it is better to have a bit of Brecht than none at all—especially since we have had so much discussion of Brecht, while the production of his work is still largely confined to foreign shores.”

Brecht, the poet, playwright, and director, a Marxist, did not always write his theatre pieces, in part or in total, yet out of a political crucible of horror and poverty, Epic Theatre was birthed, an achievement provoking awe, even if its cost was far too great.  Clurman encapsulated the show as: “devoted to [Brecht’s] life, short poems, anecdotes, a recording of his testimony at the hearing before the Un-American Activities Committee (1947), passages from diaries, epigrams, quips, and the readings of several songs (in the first part).  “Part Two—is composed of speeches and scenes from plays (also some songs).” The current director, Jim Petosa, reminds us of some of the writer’s slogans in his program note: “Sometimes it’s more important to be human, than to have good taste”;  “Do not fear death so much, but rather the inadequate life”; “Art is not a mirror held up to reality but a hammer with which to shape it.” An uncanny thought that occurred to this reviewer, during the evening, was that Brecht might have gotten along with Saul Alinsky.   Yet the performers, in the current production, do not seem to be coming out of deep, radical experience.   Brecht On Brecht demands a knowledge of harsh life, his canon, as well as the ability to give oneself over completely to the discordant material—things one might not wish on anyone.  The young, well-trained cast, staged in front of a grand piano on oriental rugs (set by Hallie Zieselman), excel most in musicality (the music director and pianist is Ronnie Romano) and they are clear in voice (soloists are Christine Hamel, Carla Martinez, Harrison Bryan, and Jake Murphy–and the cast also includes Miguel Castillo, Sebastian LaPointe, Olivia Christie, and Ashley Michelle)–but the edge is largely missing. No matter the quality of the ensemble–and their diligence—however, there is a difference between the singer’s voice and an actor’s art—and adapting both to a production (despite Petosa’s clean direction) is no small challenge.  Adding to the dilemma is the fact that in its initial run, Lotte Lenya, star of Threepenny Opera, and wife of Brecht’s collaborator Kurt Weill, was part of Brecht On Brecht—she automatically gave the evening authenticity and authority.  

Clurman said that Brecht On Brecht recalls a time of “strong feeling, witty eloquence, high aspiration, struggle, and fortitude.” In 1962, he felt those qualities were absent in American society—and, ultimately, he thought the show offered a “note of nostalgia.”  Today, America seems to be playing out a fantasy, with less and less people who can even remember the toxic brew of World War II.  If Brecht were escapist, the evening might be a way to get away from it all—but he’s not; he is always more than that.  Even so, the audience is left, after a largely illustrative performance, with the merely incomparable:  “Barbara Song,” “Mack the Knife,” “Pirate Jenny,” “Surabaya  Johnny” to  only name  four of the songs.  Forget Rodgers, Loewe, Porter, Lloyd-Webber, and Sondheim.  The evening makes a rock-solid case that the finest of them all is Weill.    

© 2018 by Bob Shuman.  All rights reserved.

BRECHT ON BRECHT

Directed by Jim Petosa

Harrison Bryan, Christine Hamel, Carla Martinez, Jake Murphy, Miguel Castillo, Olivia Christie, Sebastian LaPointe and Ashley Michelle.

The production team for BRECHT ON BRECHT includes Ronnie Romano (Music Director and Pianist), Hallie Zieselman (Set Design), Joe Cabrera (Lighting Design), Annie Ulrich (Costume Design) and Alex Williamson (Production Stage Manager).

Brecht On Brecht photos:  Stan Barouh

Press: David Gibbs, DARR Publicity

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STILL DREAMING: SHAKESPEARE WITH SENIORS (SHAKESPEARE UNLIMITED) ·

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(via Pam Green)

In 2011, Ben Steinfeld and Noah Brody, co-directors of New York’s Fiasco Theater, were invited to an assisted living facility and nursing home just outside New York City to work with its residents on a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Because it was the Lillian Booth Actors Home—a facility filled with retired singers, actors, dancers and musicians—Ben and Noah expected to work with a group of seasoned Broadway professionals. While there were some, the cast they finally assembled was largely anything but. Ben and Noah were invited on this adventure by filmmakers Jilann Spitzmiller and Hank Rogerson, who turned the process into a documentary called Still Dreaming. We talk about the experience with Ben Steinfeld and Hank Rogerson.

Hank Rogerson is a filmmaker who, with Jilann Spitzmiller, produced Still Dreaming. Ben Steinfeld is co-artistic director of Fiasco Theater. He co-directed, with Noah Brody, the Lillian Booth Actors Home’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Hank and Ben are interviewed by Barbara Bogaev.

TAMING ‘THE TAMING OF THE SHREW’ UNDER A TENT (SV PICK, NY) ·

(Jesse Green’s article appeared in The New York  Times, 7/19; via Pam Green.)

GARRISON, N.Y. — When last we dropped in on Kate, Petruchio, Bianca and the gang, they were contestants in some kind of surreal beauty pageant, riding around on bikes and making no sense. That’s what “The Taming of the Shrew” had come to in a 2016 Shakespeare in the Park production directed by Phyllida Lloyd.

To be fair, those were end times for “Shrew”; no one knew what to do anymore with a comedy that turns on the humiliation, torture and probable rape of an “irksome brawling scold.” (In Anne Tyler’s novel “Vinegar Girl,” released that same summer, Kate tames herself.) Ms. Lloyd evidently hoped that an all-female staging — the men were played by women in drag — would pluck the stinger from the wasp, to paraphrase Petruchio. Instead, the sweaty desperation of the effort exacerbated the problem and made it look intractable.

Two summers later, with the #MeToo movement having exploded in the interim, it seemed time to say that “Shrew,” for all its perverse pleasures, should be left alone, in either of that phrase’s meanings. Do it as written and live with it, or don’t do it at all.

I’m happy to see that in adapting the play for the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival, the director Shana Cooper felt differently. Her “Shrew,” playing through Aug. 24 under a tent on the grounds of the Boscobel House and Gardens here, finds an exhilarating new way to look at the comedy through modern eyes while remaining true to its language and, arguably, its intent.

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ACTOR CURED AFTER SETTING UP THEATER AT PSYCHIATRIC HOSPITAL ·

(Anna Sorokina’s article appeared in Russia Beyond the Headlines, 7/17.)

Have you ever watched a staging of Chekhov where all the roles are played by patients at a psychiatric hospital? In the Russian city of Samara, it’s possible.

Those who have seen people with mental disabilities on stage claim that it’s an incredible experience. Although the difference between these actors and “normal” people is noticeable in only a more sensitive feeling of each role, there’s more to the story.

In the Happy Accident art studio at the Samara Psychiatric Hospital (700 miles south of Moscow), they stage positive and cheerful performances because doctors believe that such plays give maximum therapeutic benefit for even those patients with the grimmest diagnosis. In fact, four of the 11 actors at the studio have already left the hospital. 

Nothing shameful in mental illness

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Photo: Russia Beyond

AT AVIGNON FESTIVAL, LOTS OF IMAGINATION ON SHOW, BUT FEW WOMEN ·

(Laura Cappelle’s article appeared in The New York Times, 7/19; via Pam Green.)

AVIGNON, France — The biggest productions of the 2018 Avignon Festival did not skimp on dramatics. Thomas Jolly presented a mythological king who feeds his brother his own sons; Milo Rau recreated the murder of a gay man in Belgium in 2012; and the festival director Olivier Py cast three men in turn as violent prison inmates, as poets and as coldblooded bankers.

Amid the boundary-pushing moments, there was one glaring omission: women, both as directors and as protagonists. The lack of parity in French theater is nothing new, but Mr. Py unwittingly drew attention to his own blind spots with the overall theme he selected for this edition of the Avignon Festival: “Gender.”

Out of 28 directors or collectives in the theater division, there were just seven women in the lineup at Avignon, the most important event in the French theater calendar. Three of them were credited in tandem with a man; two presented their work in the small Chapelle des Pénitents Blancs, a venue Mr. Py has set aside for family-friendly productions.

Carole Thibaut, an experienced director who is at the helm of a National Dramatic Center in Montluçon, summed it up in an impassioned speech, her anger as potent as any of the stage performances on show. She was appearing as a guest during a series of daily performances and lectures directed by David Bobée that took place in the Ceccano Garden in Avignon and were called “Mesdames, Messieurs et le Reste du Monde” (“Ladies, Gentlemen and the Rest of the World”).

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Photo: The New York Times

 

IN CONSERVATIVE MUNICH, A THEATER TURNS RADICAL AND DEFENDS REFUGEES ·

(A.J. Goldmann’s article appeared in The New York Times, 7/13; via Pam Green.)

MUNICH — In the summer of 2015, the world watched in astonishment as Germans cheered crowds of refugees streaming into train stations throughout the country. Scenes from that unprecedented — and short-lived — moment of welcome form part of “What They Want to Hear,” one of two current productions about exile and its ordeals at the Münchner Kammerspiele, one of Munich’s, and Germany’s, most important theaters.

Since 2015, Matthias Lilienthal, the company’s artistic director, has turned the theater into a forum for creative experimentation, social engagement and political inquiry. The spotlight that these productions shine on the struggles of refugees seems especially urgent given that Chancellor Angela Merkel’s open border policy is under attack, especially here in the state of Bavaria.

One of Mr. Lilienthal’s recent initiatives has been the Open Border Ensemble, a group of five Syrian actors who have been invited to realize projects at the Kammerspiele. “What They Want to Hear,” a collaboration between Raaed Al Kour, a Syrian archaeologist, and Lola Arias, an Argentine director, is the ensemble’s second major production this season.

Mr. Al Kour arrived in Germany four years ago and has been caught in bureaucratic limbo ever since as he waits for his application for refugee status to be decided. Directed by Ms. Arias, he presents the story of his absurd saga in “What They Want to Hear.”

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Photo: Andrea Huber

IRISH THEATRE’S GENDER-EQUALITY REVOLUTION: “YES, WE DID” ·

(Deidre Falvey’s article appeared in The Irish Times, 7/14.)

Irish theatre came out blazing this week, proving that gender equality is ‘not hard to do, if you want to’

What a difference a couple of years can make. Some top players in Irish theatre are chatting in the Lir Academy of Dramatic Art in Dublin. Anne Clarke says “there’s a certain element of: just do it. Gender equality is not a hard thing to do, if you want to. This change came about because of a decision, to reverse inequality and give more opportunities to women.”

Lynne Parker observes that the situation “has changed so much already. And it’s still changing.” Sarah Durcan says: “When we started doing this, none of us knew about unconscious bias, dignity at work policies or anything. So that language and knowledge has passed not only into the theatre sector but wider. We always said we wanted this movement to be a catalyst for change everywhere.”

They – a top independent producer, Rough Magic’s artistic director and a Waking The Feminists (WTF) organiser respectively – are at the Lir for the launch, by Minister of Culture Josepha Madigan, of the gender equality policies of 10 major theatres and arts organisations who have led the way in changing the way they work.

Clarke says she had tears in her eyes reading the documents that morning, thinking about what was achieved in such a short time. There was a celebratory, we-can-do-it, atmosphere. Lian Bell, a key WTF leader, is working in Donegal, but her spirit is frequently invoked.

As Irish theatre people talk, you get the sense that, far from being an intractable challenge, what you need for gender equality in an organisation is awareness of the issue, and the will to change how things are done.

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Photo: Irish Times