Category Archives: Current Affairs

JERRY LEWIS, MERCURIAL COMEDIAN AND FILMMAKER, DIES AT 91 ·

(Dave Kehr’s article appeared in The New York Times, 8/20.)

Jerry Lewis, the comedian and filmmaker who was adored by many, disdained by others, but unquestionably a defining figure of American entertainment in the 20th century, died on Sunday morning at his home in Las Vegas. He was 91.

His death was confirmed by John Katsilometes, a columnist for The Las Vegas Review Journal, who spoke to family members.

Mr. Lewis knew success in movies, on television, in nightclubs, on the Broadway stage and in the university lecture hall. His career had its ups and downs, but when it was at its zenith there were few stars any bigger. And he got there remarkably quickly.

Barely out of his teens, he shot to fame shortly after World War II with a nightclub act in which the rakish, imperturbable Dean Martin crooned and the skinny, hyperactive Mr. Lewis capered around the stage, a dangerously volatile id to Mr. Martin’s supremely relaxed ego.

Continue reading the main story

Photo: NY Daily News.

TRUMP ASIDE, ARTISTS AND PRESERVATIONISTS DEBATE THE RUSH TO TOPPLE STATUES ·

(Robin Pogrebin’s and Sopan Deb’s article appeared in The New York Times, 8/18.)

Mark Bradford, the renowned Los Angeles artist, says Confederate statues should not be removed unless they are replaced by educational plaques that explain why they were taken away.

For Robin Kirk, a co-director of Duke University’s Human Rights Center, the rapid expunging of the statues currently underway needs to be “slower and more deliberative.”

And Lonnie G. Bunch III, the director the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, proposes that the dismantled statues be grouped together and contextualized, so people understand what they stood for.

In state after state this week, artists, museum curators, and historic preservationists found themselves grappling with lightning-fast upheaval in a cultural realm — American monuments — where they usually have input and change typically unfolds with care. Many said that even though they fiercely oppose President Trump and his defense of Confederate statues, they saw the removal of the monuments as precipitous and argued that the widening effort to eliminate them could have troubling implications for artistic expression.

“I am loath to erase history,” Mr. Bunch said. “For me it’s less about whether they come down or not, and more about what the debate is stimulating.”

Continue reading the main story

Photo: ABC News

 

A ‘NIGHT MUSIC’ OF HEIGHTENED HARMONY, AND PUB THEATERS THAT PUT ACTORS FIRST ·

(Matt Wolf’s article appeared in The New York Time, 8/10; via Pam Green.)

NEWBURY, England — Devotees of the love-struck Swedes who populate “A Little Night Music” may recall the cello solo in the song “Later,” played by the smitten depressive Henrik Egerman, who has fallen hard for the child-bride, Anne, of his father, Fredrik.

Now, along comes the perennially bittersweet 1973 Stephen Sondheim-Hugh Wheeler musical in an utterly beguiling production, directed by Paul Foster, that gives everyone an instrument, and sometimes two.

And if you associate that actor-musician approach to Sondheim (and others) with the Tony-winning British director, John Doyle, well, you’ve come to the right place. “Night Music” is running through Sept. 16 at the same entrancing theater — the Watermill Theater in Newbury, Berkshire, two hours’ drive west of London — where Mr. Doyle’s career-making “Sweeney Todd” was first performed in 2004. The West End and Broadway soon beckoned.

Whether this “Night Music” will follow the same path — and this Sondheim title has been revived recently on both sides of the Atlantic — it’s worth beating a path to this leafy address. The staging not only sounds different from any “Night Music” I’ve come across but also looks startlingly fresh. The burnished elegance of David Woodhead’s design makes cunning use of a two-way mirror and manages to couple distressed chic with a reminder of the theatrical environs that mark out the story of Desiree Armfeldt (a satin-cheeked Josefina Gabrielle) and her motley gathering of aristos and amours.

Continue reading the main story

Photo: Playbill.

BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN IS BRINGING HIS MUSIC AND HIS MEMORIES TO BROADWAY ·

(Ben Sisario’s article appeared in The New York Times, 8/9; via Pam Green.)

MetLife Stadium, in East Rutherford, N.J., can accommodate well over 50,000 people for a concert. The Walter Kerr Theater on Broadway is a fraction of that size, with room for just under 1,000.

What they have in common is Bruce Springsteen, who sold out MetLife three times last year and is coming to the Walter Kerr in October for eight weeks of solo shows that he wants to be “as personal and intimate as possible.”

“I chose Broadway for this project because it has the beautiful old theaters which seemed like the right setting for what I have in mind,” Mr. Springsteen said in a statement. “In fact, with one or two exceptions, the 960 seats of the Walter Kerr Theater is probably the smallest venue I’ve played in the last 40 years.”

The show, “Springsteen on Broadway,” will run five nights a week, Tuesday to Saturday, at the Walter Kerr, the rose-and-gold-decorated jewel box on West 48th Street that last housed the short-lived “Amélie: A New Musical.” The official opening is set for Oct. 12, and the run is planned through Nov. 26. Preview performances begin on Oct. 3.

In addition to his music, the show will feature Mr. Springsteen, 67, reading excerpts from his 2016 autobiography, “Born to Run,” and performing other spoken reminiscences written for the show.

Continue reading the main story

CHILTON WILLIAMSON AND THE STRENUOUS LIFE:  ‘CHRONICLES’ EDITOR AND AUTHOR ON WYOMING OUTBACK, HIS NEW NOVEL, ‘JERUSALEM, JERUSALEM!’, AND CHARACTERS WHO DON’T GO AWAY   ·

Author, columnist, and editor, Chilton Williamson, Jr. has published works of fiction, narrative nonfiction, and books on politics and history.  He was formerly history editor for St. Martin’s Press and literary editor for National Review.  For 26 years, he served as senior editor for books for Chronicles:  A Magazine of American Culture before being named editor in 2015.

Born in New York City, he was raised in Manhattan and on the family farm in South Windham, Vermont.  Since 1979, he has lived in Wyoming, except for two years spend in Las Cruces, New Mexico.

Besides Jerusalem, Jerusalem!, his fourth Chronicles Press book, Williamson is the author of four published novels and six works of nonfiction.  With his wife, Maureen McCaffrey Williamson, he lives in Laramie, Wyoming.

CHILTON WILLIAMSON talks with SV’s Bob Shuman, about his new novel, set in the contemporary West: Jerusalem, Jerusalem!  The final part, of this two-part interview, will appear, 8/28.

View ‘Jerusalem, Jerusalem!’ on Amazon: https://tinyurl.com/yb7o4x5c

Jerusalem, Jerusalem! is not only a novel that can be read on its own, it’s also part related books.  Could you tell us about it—and also give a background for the Fontenelle trilogy? 

The Fontenelle Trilogy began with my first novel, Desert Light (St. Martin’s, 1987, https://tinyurl.com/ycuutqjt), the story of a wealthy and successful New York City attorney who defended a murderer whom he got released from prison only to kill again. Disgusted with “civilization,” Caleb Richardson moves to southwestern Wyoming and becomes a breeder of Arabian horses near the coal, oil, and gas town of Fontenelle in the Green River Basin country.  Following a gruesome murder along the I-80 corridor, he agrees to help prosecute the three people charged with the crime, one of them a young Mormon woman.  After visiting her in jail, he becomes convinced of her innocence and withdraws from the prosecution team, led by a famous Jackson attorney, to defend her against it.

The middle novel, The Homestead (Grove Weidenfeld, 1990, https://tinyurl.com/ybr4fjap), continues to track Desert Light’s principals, while introducing new ones: Houston Walker, scion of a local rancher who moved to Africa to become a professional big-game hunter, who is summoned home to Wyoming to help his family after his brother is arrested on a charge of murdering an oilfield roughneck, and his incestuously inclined sister.

Was it always your intention to write a Fontenelle series?  

After finishing the first book, I had no intention of beginning a second connected novel, much less envisioning a third.  I discovered, however, that I couldn’t let the characters and the story drop, so I went ahead with a second installment.  The same thing occurred after The Homestead was finished.  In this final volume, Jerusalem, Jerusalem!, set in 1992, the Richardsons and the Walkers remain part of the story, while being joined by two other major characters, a Catholic priest who is involved in a minor car crash–when he is called out late one night after inadvertently drinking too much wine–and a parishioner of his, a quadriplegic woman kept alive in an iron lung.  She, nevertheless, coordinates people and events from her bedroom to resolve several conflicting situations, in a more or less satisfactory way, at the end of the book.

 

One of your characters, in Jerusalem, Jerusalem!, Father Hillary, a Catholic priest, says, “For an Easterner, Wyoming does take some getting used to, but I find myself feeling more at home here all the time.”   What takes getting used to in the West—and what starts to make the priest feel at home? 

The American West, in many ways, is still the frontier.  It has, of course, been considerably urbanized in the past several decades, and the numerical majority of “Westerners” live in cities.  But the cities are very far between, and separated by vast stretches of nearly empty country, much of which is, indeed, wilderness.

In addition to the physical isolation are the extremely harsh weather (60-75 mph winds that subside but never quit, often stalling at a constant 20 mph or so, which will still carry your Stetson away), temperatures as low as 50-75 degrees below zero, and heavy snows and ground blizzards that make travel impossible for days at a time. Take all this into account and you will begin to understand what Father Hillary had in mind when he spoke of the need to accustom oneself to the West, after life in Paris and New York. 

The priest in Jerusalem, Jerusalem!  also encounters the desert, a Biblical image in the New Testament that represents a healing, cleansing, inspiring, and mystical withdrawal from the distractions of the “real” world, although by the end of the novel Hillary is only beginning to come to terms with it, with the help of a native priest, Fr. Bonney.

How have you acclimated to Laramie, as an Easterner yourself?  You note that Teddy Roosevelt thought that Wyoming was “the strenuous life, and he had Oyster Bay to go home to.”  Tell us about the most strenuous thing you’ve done in the last week—and when do you find time to write novels?

I moved first to Kemmerer, Wyoming, population about 3000, and arrived 20 years later in Laramie for a number of reasons, the chief one being that property here is both affordable and holds its value on account of the presence of the University of Wyoming.  (Kemmerer, founded in 1897 by a New York family with interests in the coal business, is a classic Western boom-or-bust town that fell into the bust pit 20 years ago and has never climbed out of it–it’s the model for Fontenelle in the books.)  As for Wyoming, I saw the place first in 1977, came out here two years later, and never looked back. (I did continue to commute every couple of months to Manhattan, where I worked as the literary editor for National Review.)

Out here, people drive 120 miles roundtrip to see a movie (it won’t be something you’d see at Cannes) and think nothing of it.  If comfort, convenience, availability, cosmopolitan culture, and lots of people are what you crave, the West is not for you.  You have to like to hunt and fish, ride horses, and camp in the outback, 50 or 60 miles from the nearest small town.  If you want “activities,” dislike solitude, and self-sufficiency; if hundred-mile vistas with “nothing” in sight but sagebrush and antelope desert buttes, rugged mountains, and lonely plains make you “want  to cry” (as a woman from New York once told me it did her), then drive as fast as you can across I-10, I-40, I-70, I-80, and I-90 until your reach the comfort and safety of the West Coast.

Life on the frontier is always strenuous, whether you’re a rancher, an outfitter, a lumberman, a miner, an oilfield roughneck (as I was for a year), and so on. Just now it is summer, and life is relatively easy here.  I explore on foot and on horseback, camp in the outback, climb in the mountains to fish.  Fall is the really vigorous time, when I go into winter camp and slog through a foot of new snow in wilderness country to track, shoot, field dress, dismember, and pack 700-pound elk out of the mountains with horses.

How did you decide on the title, Jerusalem, Jerusalem!?

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem” are Christ’s words, as He stands gazing down upon the city before His Passion:

“still murdering the prophets, and stoning the messengers that are sent to thee, how often have I been ready to gather thy children together, as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings; and thou didst refuse it!  Behold, your house is left to you, a house uninhabited.  Believe me, you shall see nothing of me henceforward, until the time when you will be saying, Blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord.”

In this novel, some of the characters refuse to be gathered, and others–the fewer of them—accept the invitation.  This is pretty much the theme, in fact, of the trilogy, each volume of which commences with an epigraph taken from Dante’s Commedia Divina: the Inferno, the Purgatorio, and the Paradiso

The novel seems to have a mosaic-like structure, perhaps comparable to a film like Nashville by Robert Altman.  Did you realize you were dealing with a complex structure, while you were writing—and how do you keep so many intersecting characters in perspective, while still telling the story?

Evelyn Waugh once urged a young novelist, “Go to the cinema. It’s the modern way to write a story.” Also, it’s a flexible way of handling many characters and subplots in an orderly and comprehensible fashion.

What are optimal conditions for your work?

When I had stepchildren I wrote in the mornings when they were at school.  Since then I’ve written between three and seven in the afternoon. That way, when I knock off work, I have no responsibility beyond shaking and drinking two stiff martinis for myself and my wife. Once I begin a book I almost never abandon it.  I agree with Raymond Chandler that if you start on a writing job, it was always for a good reason, and your job is to rediscover that reason. 

Thank you so much.  We’ll look forward to the second part of your interview.

View Jerusalem, Jerusalem! on Amazon: https://tinyurl.com/yb7o4x5c

Visit Chronicles Web site: https://www.chroniclesmagazine.org/

Read Part 1 of this interview at: https://tinyurl.com/ybpzyos4

(c) 2017 by Chilton Williamson, Jr. (answers) and Bob Shuman (questions). All rights reserved.

 

ACCLAIMED SINGER AND ACTRESS BARBARA COOK HAS DIED AT 89 ·

(from the Associated Press, 8/8; via the Wall Street Journal.)

NEW YORK — Barbara Cook, whose shimmering soprano made her one of Broadway’s leading ingenues and later a major cabaret and concert interpreter of popular American song, has died. She was 89.

Cook died early Tuesday of respiratory failure at her home in Manhattan, surrounded by family and friends, according to publicist Amanda Kaus. Her last meal was vanilla ice cream.

Throughout her nearly six decades on stage, Cook’s voice remained remarkably supple, gaining in emotional honesty and expanding on its natural ability to go straight to the heart.

 Read at: https://www.wsj.com/articles/AP59f517ab57704f3e893191a3d97ff3ed

THE LIFE AND TIMES OF ARTHUR MILLER  (LISTEN NOW ON BBC RADIO 4—LINK BELOW) ·

Listen at:  http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b06gqh7y

Arthur Miller would have been 100 years old on October 17th this year. To mark the centenary BBC Radio 4, LA Theatre Works, and a stellar American cast have come together to produce four new dramas by MikeWalker and Jonathan Holloway.

As a writer Miller felt that to create a character, you had to understand how family, circumstances and events had shaped that character. ‘The fish is in the water and the water is in the fish’, as he famously put it. These specially commissioned plays recreate some of the experiences that shaped Miller himself, throwing light on how he would become one of the most influential playwrights in American literature.

  1. Beginnings
    Arthur Miller is born in New York on the 17th of October 1915 to a prosperous family in the clothing business. A poor school student, he loves making things with wood and dreams of becoming a crooner. But when the stock market crashes and the Millers face ruin, Arthur contemplates a different future. By Mike Walker.

Producer for LA Theatre Works: Susan Loewenberg
Associate Producers: Anna Lyse Erikson and Myke D Wysekopf
Sound by Mark Holden, Wes Dewberry, and Catherine Robinson

A BBC/Cymru Wales and LA Theatre Works Co-Production, directed by Kate McAll

LA Theatre Works is a non-profit audio drama company based in Los Angeles that records classic and contemporary plays. They have been collaborating with the BBC for nearly 30 years, beginning with a production of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible that starred Richard Dreyfuss and Stacey Keach.

Photo: The Telegraph.

THE GENIUS OF SAM SHEPARD WAS RELENTLESS, WITHOUT A BREAK ·

(Isaac Butler’s and Dan Kois’s article appeared in Slate, 7/25; via Pam Green.)

Here’s how I discovered Sam Shepard:

In the ’90s, back before Giuliani and co. broken-windowed the last vestiges of seediness from Times Square, the Drama Book Shop lived above some kind of adult emporium. I was there, looking for plays. The highest honor in my high school was directing a one-act your senior year. It was the brass ring, and even though I was only in eighth grade, I was planning how I would clutch it.

This was my first ever visit to the Drama Book Shop, but it would become an annual pilgrimage, largely due to the moment when, after asking the clerk for some good one-acts, I was first told about Sam Shepard. A minute or two later, he had placed Fool for Love and Other Plays in my hands, and he was evangelizing about the bizarre virtues of a play called Suicide in B Flat. I remember thinking: Who is this gorgeous man on the cover, and how did he come up with a title like that?

I read Suicide in B Flat, entering Shepard’s be-bop nightmare in which a jazz musician may have killed himself, or may have committed murder. I didn’t get it, but I was beguiled by it. I immediately tore into Fool for Love, which opens with maybe the greatest stage direction of all time: “This play is to be performed relentlessly, without a break.”

He wrote without the brakes on, or perhaps he cut them.

Relentlessly and without a break is a pretty good way of describing both the feeling of Shepard’s work and his prolific genius itself. From 1964 to 2014, Shepard wrote more than 40 plays and 10 films. He wrote without the brakes on, or perhaps he cut them. The myth of Shepard has always been in part fueled by his writing some of his early plays under the influence and never revising them. But as his career went on, he became a meticulous craftsman of language, even while always experimenting with structure. He pursued the limits of the form, the limits of language, the limits of what the word could do on stage, and then he pushed these limits ever further out, creating an expanded imaginative space that the rest of us are lucky to be able to play in.

(Read more)

http://www.slate.com/blogs/browbeat/2017/07/31/the_genius_of_sam_shepard_dead_at_73_remembered.html?wpsrc=sh_all_mob_em_ru

CRITICS FOR THE NEW YORK TIMES ON SAM SHEPARD’S PLAYS, BOOKS AND MOVIES ·

(Joshua Barone’s article appeared in The New York Times, 7/31; via Pam Green.)

Sam Shepard, who died last Thursday at age 73, was a polymathic writer who collected acclaim and accolades as a playwright, actor and author. The New York Times has covered Mr. Shepard’s career since the mid-1960s. Below are highlights from our reviews.

“Buried Child” (1978) won the Pulitzer Prize for drama and remains Mr. Shepard’s best-known work. It arrived on Broadway in 1996 and has been revived many times since — the most recent staging, by the New Group Off Broadway in 2016, starred Ed Harris. Richard Eder reviewed the premiere, at the small Theater for the New City downtown:

Sam Shepard does not merely denounce chaos and anomie in American life, he mourns over them. His corrosive images and scenes of absurdity never soften to concede the presence of a lament, but it is there all the same.

Denunciation that has no pity in it is pamphleteering at best and a striking of fashionable attitudes at worst, and it is fairly common on the contemporary stage. Mr. Shepard is an uncommon playwright and uncommonly gifted and he does not take denouncing for granted. He wrestles with it at the risk of being thrown.

Mr. Harris also starred in the New York premiere of “Fool for Love,” in 1983. Here is what Frank Rich had to say:

(Read more)

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/31/arts/critics-for-the-new-york-times-on-sam-shepards-plays-books-and-movies.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Photo: ABC News

SAM SHEPARD, PULITZER-WINNING PLAYWRIGHT AND CELEBRATED ACTOR, DIES AT 73 ·

(from Variety, 7/31; via Pam Green.)

Sam Shepard, the acclaimed playwright who was also praised as an actor, screenwriter, and director, has died. He was 73.

He died on Thursday at his home in Kentucky following complications from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, a family spokesman confirmed to Variety.

Known for writing that suffused the fringes of American society with a surreal and brutal poetry, Shepard rose to fame when he won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1979 for his play “Buried Child.” He was also nominated for an Academy Award in the supporting actor category for his part in the 1983 film “The Right Stuff.”

Shepard was one of the leading figures of the Off Off Broadway movement that flourished in downtown New York beginning in the early 1960s. His often surreal early writings — including “Cowboy Mouth,” the 1971 work on which he collaborated with his romantic partner at the time, Patti Smith — eventually shifted toward an allusive not-quite-realism, beginning with “Buried Child” and continuing in plays like “Curse of the Starving Class” (1978), “True West”(1980) and “Fool for Love” (1983).

(Read more)

http://variety.com/2017/legit/news/sam-shepard-dead-dies-buried-child-the-right-stuff-1202510811/