Category Archives: Current Affairs

TINA HOWE COPES WITH CAREGIVING AND OTHER LATE-IN-LIFE STORMS ·

(Laura Collins-Hughes’s article appeared in the New York Times, July 19; via Pam Green.)

By late afternoon, the weather was still sweltering, but in balmier conditions the playwright Tina Howe would have been hanging out a window of her 10th-story apartment on West End Avenue, shooting photos of the neighbors on their roof decks far below.

So she said the other day, and it was easy to envision. Dreamily thoughtful, with an angular, blue-blooded elegance, Ms. Howe at 79 has a disarming liveliness of spirit.

“I sort of want to set my next play on one of these decks, on Midsummer Night’s Eve,” she said, explaining that it would be “about a group of old people getting together and whooping it up. Because nobody does that. Dear Beckett has written about old age, but never a woman.”

This is the phase of life that Ms. Howe has reached: where an appalling number of sweet strangers offer her their seats on the subway, and where she sticks close to home because her 81-year-old husband, Norman Levy, has Alzheimer’s disease.

It is a phase of life that Ms. Howe is writing about in her new play, “Singing Beach.” Directed by Ari Laura Kreith in a production by Theater 167, it starts previews on Saturday, July 22, at Here Arts Center.

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Photo: The New York Times

 

ANDY BLANKENBUEHLER, ‘HAMILTON’ CHOREOGRAPHER, AT HOME IN HARLEM ·

(Joanne Kaurman’s article appeared in The New York Times, 7/21; via Pam Green.)

What I Love

Sofia Blankenbuehler, while out sick from school one day, heard a snippet of music coming from her father’s studio on the top floor of the family’s brownstone in Harlem. A few seconds later, there was that same tune again. And again (and again) for the next eight hours or so.

“She finally told my wife, ‘I think there’s something wrong with Daddy,’” said Andy Blankenbuehler, a choreographer and sometime stage director.

Well, maybe. But such obsessive attention to the music that makes him dance helps explain why Mr. Blankenbuehler has three shows running on Broadway (“Cats,” “Bandstand” and “Hamilton”) and why he’s also in possession of three Tony Awards (for “In the Heights,” “Hamilton” and “Bandstand”), not to mention the two construction paper-and-cardboard facsimiles of the trophy made by Sofia, now 7, and her brother, Luca, 10.

But the stage isn’t all his world. Mr. Blankenbuehler, 47, has long stuffed boxes and file folders with photographs and illustrations of mirrors and tables and sideboards that catch his fancy. “I’ve always been very design-conscious, though my taste has continued to change,” he said.

(Read more)

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/21/realestate/andy-blankenbuehler-hamilton-choreographer-at-home-in-harlem.html

TONY KUSHNER: WHY I’M WRITING A PLAY ABOUT DONALD TRUMP ·

(Tim Teeman’s article appeared in the Daily Beast, 7/19; via the Drudge Report)

As the U.K. production of ‘Angels in America’ hits American cinemas, Tony Kushner reveals his plans for a Trump play—and talks about what Roy Cohn taught Trump.

From the summer home where he and his husband, Mark Harris, live in Provincetown, Massachusetts, the playwright Tony Kushner is speaking for the first time about the play he is planning to write about President Donald Trump.

It comes during a discussion of the much-praised London National Theatre production of Angels in America, Kushner’s defining AIDS-era masterpiece set in 1985 and first performed in 1991, which is being beamed into American cinemas this and next Thursday.

(Read more)

http://www.thedailybeast.com/tony-kushner-why-im-writing-a-play-about-donald-trump

Photo:  LGBT History Month

ROYAL SHAKESPEARE COMPANY TO MONITOR HEART RATES AT ‘TITUS ANDRONICUS’ ·

(Andrew R. Chow’s article appeared in The New York Times, 7/5; via Pam Green.)

Is a screening of a play just as powerful as the play itself? The Royal Shakespeare Company plans to use heart monitors to try to find the answer.

Starting Wednesday night, the company is to monitor the heart rates of 10 selected audience members at its blood-soaked production of “Titus Andronicus” in Stratford-upon-Avon, and then do the same for a cinema screening of the production in August. The theater’s aim is to measure the emotional experience of each viewing method and explore whether Shakespeare still shocks modern audience members, who are perhaps desensitized to violence onscreen.

Becky Loftus, the Royal Shakespeare Company’s head of audience insight, said that “Titus Andronicus” lends itself particularly well to this experiment, given the intensity of scenes showing the title character Titus’s hand being chopped off and the aftermath of the rape and mutilation of Lavinia, another character.

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THE WOMEN WHO STAGED THE IRISH EASTER RISING (LISTEN NOW ON BBC RADIO 3—LINK BELOW) ·

(Listen at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b074z972 )

Broadcaster and journalist, Marie-Louise Muir, examines the role theatre played in radicalising the Irish women who fought in the 1916 Easter Rising.

As she pieces together their largely forgotten stories through archives at Dublin’s Abbey Theatre and visits key locations associated with the insurrection, Marie-Louise asks what happened to these women and their radical ideals.

Producer: Conor Garrett.

Illustrations: Maire Nic Shiubhlaigh (Irish Times)

ITALY’S ELITE LA SCALA APPALLED AT OPERA GOERS TURNING UP IN T-SHIRTS, MINI-SKIRTS AND FLIP-FLOPS ·

(Nick Squires’s article appeared in the Telegraph, 7/14.; via the Drudge Report.)  

As one of the world’s most celebrated opera houses, La Scala in Milan expects a certain degree of decorum, but guardians of the elite institution have been appalled at the shabby state of audiences this summer.

Instead of donning jackets and evening dresses, ticket holders are turning up as if dressed for the beach, as temperatures reach 95F or more during one of Italy’s hottest summers for years.

The worst culprits are normally foreign tourists but even Italians, who are normally renowned for their stylish dress, are not averse to arriving in shorts, mini-skirts and sandals.

(Read more)

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/07/14/italys-elite-la-scala-appalled-opera-goers-turning-t-shirts/

 

SHAKESPEARE’S CURE FOR XENOPHOBIA ·

William Shakespeare. Portrait of William Shakespeare 1564-1616. Chromolithography after Hombres y Mujeres celebres 1877, Barcelona Spain

(Stephen Greenblatt’s article appeared in The New Yorker, 7/10-7/17; via Pam Green.)

What “The Merchant of Venice” taught me about ethnic hatred and the literary imagination.

I attended university in a very different world from the one in which I now teach and live. For a start, Yale College, which I entered in 1961, was all male. Women were not matriculated until five years after I had received my B.A. degree. Among the undergraduates, there were only a handful of students from Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, and very few African-Americans, Asian-Americans, or Hispanics, unless one counted a couple of prep-school-educated heirs to grand South American fortunes.

The Yale that I attended was overwhelmingly North American and white, as well as largely Protestant. It was difficult for the admissions office to identify Catholics, but applicants with conspicuously Irish, Italian, or Polish names were at a disadvantage. For Jews, there was a numerus clausus, not even disguised by the convenient excuse of “geographical distribution.” And the whole system was upheld by a significant number of legacies, along with a pervasive air of privilege and clubbiness. To display too much interest in one’s studies or a concern for grades was distinctly uncool. This was still the era of what was called the “gentleman’s C.”

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http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/07/10/shakespeares-cure-for-xenophobia?utm_source=wordfly&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=ShakespearePlus12Jul2017&utm_content=version_A&promo=

JAMES FRANCO SHUTS DOWN OFF-OFF-BROADWAY’S ‘JAMES FRANCO AND ME’ ·

(Joe Dziemianowicz’s article appeared in the Daily News, 7/12; via Pam Green.)

James Franco, the actor, Oscar nominee, author, poet and professor, is now a showstopper — and not in a good way.

“James Franco and Me,” a play set to run next month at the Peoples Improv Theater on E. 24th St., has been cancelled after getting a cease and desist letter from the 39-year-old star’s lawyers.

Kevin Broccoli, who wrote and acts in the two-character play seen last year in an Epic Theater Company run in Rhode Island, where the troupe is based, told Broadway World about the cancellation.

(Read more)

http://www.nydailynews.com/entertainment/theater-arts/james-franco-shuts-off-off-broadway-james-franco-article-1.3320677

Photo: TV Guide.

 

FOR DISABLED ACTORS, MEMORIZING THE PART IS ONLY THE BEGINNING ·

(Erik Piepenburg’s article appeared in the 7/10 New York Times; via Pam Green.)

It’s not as rare as it used to be for disabled actors to play disabled characters, but they rarely are at center stage as much as in “Cost of Living,”Martyna Majok’s play at Manhattan Theater Club. Katy Sullivan, a bilateral above-the-knee amputee since birth, portrays the loudmouthed Ani, who loses her legs in a car accident. Gregg Mozgala has cerebral palsy, a condition he shares with his character, John, a testy Princeton graduate student.

Manhattan Theater Club needed only minor accommodations to mount the play, according to Stephen M. Kaus, the associate artistic producer. (There were “zero budgetary implications,” he added.) The theater installed two ramps backstage at City Center Stage 1 to help performers get from the house to backstage and from the green room to the stage level. By installing the ramps, the theater also anticipated understudies who might have different disabilities, and helped guests with disabilities who wanted to greet the cast.

(Read more)

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/10/theater/for-disabled-actors-memorizing-the-part-is-only-the-beginning.html

SHERMAN YELLEN’S OWN LIFETIME (iii): WRITING TIPS FROM THE WINNER OF TWO EMMYS, DEALING WITH HARD KNOCKS IN SHOW BIZ, AND WHAT HIS MEMOIR ‘SPOTLESS’ IS REALLY ABOUT ·

(SHERMAN YELLEN WILL BE INTERVIEWED ABOUT “SPOTLESS,” BY DONNA HANOVER, ON CUNY TV IN THE “ARTS IN THE CITY” SHOW.  THE PROGRAM FIRST AIRS ON FRIDAY, JULY 14TH, AT 10 A.M.  THE EPISODE WILL SUBSEQUENTLY BE SHOWN SEVERAL TIMES DURING THE MONTH—THE OFFICIAL SCHEDULE IS: 2ND AND 4TH FRIDAYS IN JULY, AT 10 A.M., 3 P.M., AND 8:30 P.M. THE SHOW THEN CAN BE SEEN THE FOLLOWING SUNDAYS AT NOON.  SHORTLY AFTER THE FIRST AIRING, THE INTERVIEW WILL BE ONLINE AT WWW.CUNY.TV. CLICK ON ARTS, SCROLL DOWN TO “ARTS IN THE CITY,” AND THERE THE SHOW WILL BE.)

Sherman Yellen was nominated for a Tony Award for his book for the 1970 musical The Rothschilds, with a score by Fiddler on the Roof songwriters Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick, which he and Harnick have recently reimagined as Rothschild & Sons. Sherman wrote the libretto for the Will Holt and Gary William Friedman musical Treasure Island, winner of the Broadway World Best Regional Musical Award (2012). Among his many theater works is his satirical sketch “Delicious Indignities,” which appeared in the New York and London revue Oh! Calcutta! His straight plays on and off Broadway include New Gods for LoversStrangers, and December Fools.

Sherman was librettist and lyricist for Josephine Tonight, an original musical he wrote with the late composer Wally Harper, about the early life of Josephine Baker, which The Chicago Sun-Times called “a shining new musical” and which the D.C. press praised for being “so hot that it sizzles.”

In his youth he worked as a librettist with legendary composer Richard Rodgers. Together with Sheldon Harnick they recently revised the Rodgers-Harnick musical Rex about Henry VIII. This new version had a successful premiere in Toronto.  Yellen’s teleplays have won him two Emmy Awards and a Peabody Award, first for his John Adams, Lawyer in the PBS series The Adams Chronicles, and later for An Early Frost, a groundbreaking drama about AIDS in America broadcast on NBC, as well as an Emmy Nomination for his Hallmark Hall of Fame version of Beauty and the Beast starring George C. Scott. Sherman’s screenplay adaptations of classic novels range from Great Expectations to Phantom of the Opera. He has received awards in Arts and Letters from Bard College, and he is a frequent contributor of essays on the arts, literature, and politics to online publications such as The Huffington Post.

Sherman recently published his autobiographical novella Cousin Bella–The Whore of Minsk, available in a volume, which also includes his holiday short story A Christmas Lilly,” and a collection of three plays, December Fools and Other Plays (December Fools * Budapest * Gin Lane).  Sherman is married, the father of two sons, Nicholas and Christopher, and has three much loved granddaughters. He has lived in London and Los Angeles, worked in Berlin and Budapest, but home was, is, and always will be New York City.

Sherman Yellen talks, with SV’s Bob Shuman, about his new memoir Spotless: Memories of a New York City Childhood.  The final part, of this three-part interview, will appear, 7/5.

View ‘Spotless’ on Amazon: https://tinyurl.com/y7hp725x 

Sherman Yellen was nominated for a Tony Award for his book for the 1970 musical The Rothschilds, with a score by Fiddler on the Roof songwriters Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick, which he and Harnick have recently reimagined as Rothschild & Sons. Sherman wrote the libretto for the Will Holt and Gary William Friedman musical Treasure Island, winner of the Broadway World Best Regional Musical Award (2012). Among his many theater works is his satirical sketch “Delicious Indignities,” which appeared in the New York and London revue Oh! Calcutta! His straight plays on and off Broadway include New Gods for LoversStrangers, and December Fools.  

Sherman was librettist and lyricist for Josephine Tonight, an original musical he wrote with the late composer Wally Harper, about the early life of Josephine Baker, which The Chicago Sun-Times called “a shining new musical” and which the D.C. press praised for being “so hot that it sizzles.”

In his youth he worked as a librettist with legendary composer Richard Rodgers. Together with Sheldon Harnick they recently revised the Rodgers-Harnick musical Rex about Henry VIII. This new version had a successful premiere in Toronto.  Yellen’s teleplays have won him two Emmy Awards and a Peabody Award, first for his John Adams, Lawyer in the PBS series The Adams Chronicles, and later for An Early Frost, a groundbreaking drama about AIDS in America broadcast on NBC, as well as an Emmy Nomination for his Hallmark Hall of Fame version of Beauty and the Beast starring George C. Scott. Sherman’s screenplay adaptations of classic novels range from Great Expectations to Phantom of the Opera. He has received awards in Arts and Letters from Bard College, and he is a frequent contributor of essays on the arts, literature, and politics to online publications such as The Huffington Post.

Sherman recently published his autobiographical novella Cousin Bella–The Whore of Minsk, available in a volume, which also includes his holiday short story A Christmas Lilly,” and a collection of three plays, December Fools and Other Plays (December Fools * Budapest * Gin Lane).  Sherman is married, the father of two sons, Nicholas and Christopher, and has three much loved granddaughters. He has lived in London and Los Angeles, worked in Berlin and Budapest, but home was, is, and always will be New York City. 

Sherman Yellen talks, with SV’s Bob Shuman, about his new memoir Spotless: Memories of a New York City Childhood in the interview’s final installment.

View ‘Spotless’ on Amazon: https://tinyurl.com/y7hp725x 

Best time of the day for you to write?

I rise at five or six and I write early in the morning.  Walk my dog at eight, and go back to work later that afternoon.   I love mornings when the world is beginning to awaken.  Living in NYC, the early mornings allow me to hear birdsong from the warbler who is sitting on the fire escape outside my window.   Stillness and quiet give me a blank page for thinking. 

Best piece of writing advice you can give someone?

To playwrights or memoirists?   Do not be afraid to produce a terrible first draft.  Be the totally driven writer, not the destructive self-critic when you start on a project.  Let the critic in you come out in your revisions, your subsequent drafts–but get that first draft down–and be generous with yourself as you start to work.  The ruthlessness can be put off for later.  And read–read plays–read Ibsen, read Dickens–just read during dry periods–and the company of a great book or a great writer will urge you to go on. 

What was the easiest part of writing Spotless?  The hardest?

The easiest part of writing Spotless was dealing with my mother’s early life on the Lower East Side, her life as a runway model, and her meeting with my father.  She had told me enough during my childhood to give me the material I needed.  And being a curious child I never stopped asking questions about the past.  As I note in the book she was an intelligent woman totally lacking in imagination–so she spoke the plain truth and although she had risen in the world from the worst poverty to affluence–mainly through her astonishing beauty–she felt no shame about her humble origins.   It was harder for me to write about my father.  I knew that I didn’t love him as a son should–because of his intermittent rages and the violence that often accompanied them, and I was afraid that I would demonize a man who was at his core decent and loving.   No, I did not love him in life and yet writing this book allowed me to look closely at his life and my own early years, so, strange as it may seem, I came to love him, if only posthumously.    Spotless also allowed me to live again with those I deeply loved, my late sister and my mother, and all the odd uncles and aunts who are long gone.  Although it is an intensely personal book ,so many readers of different backgrounds and religions tell me that they found their own past in mine, so it confirms my belief that the universal lives in the particular.  

You don’t seem to have been deeply religious, but how important is being Jewish, identifying as Jewish to you today?  Did it become more so as you wrote The Rothschilds?

I was raised as a cultural Jew.  That meant that in our house bacon had undergone a religious conversion together with milk accompanying meat, so that my mother’s two skinny children could put on some weight.   I had to do much research into Jewish life in the 18th and 19th centuries in writing The Rothschilds, since I decided only to use the first few pages of Fred Morton’s wonderful biography of the family as my material.   As readers of Spotless will discover in the last chapter, “An Italian Table Cloth” I came to understand the meaning of being born a Jew through life itself.   

How do you recover from failure?  Or the failure of not seeing your favorite works produced and embraced?  

The first answer is just keep working–you train yourself to live in the day and let go of the past failure, as best you can, or of the lost work that you loved.   Easy to say.  Hard to do. Not so sure I can ever do that with my musical Josephine Tonight or with my play Budapest–the best of my unproduced dramas –but I have the plays published in the book December Fools and Other Plays so if they do not reach the stage as I want them to do, they can reach the minds of readers.  

Spotless seems to be about New York, as much as its characters.   How hard would it be for you to leave it–or would that be easy for you to do?

For years NYC was my base.  I worked in London, Budapest, Berlin, but NYC was always my home.   Summers were spent in a ridiculously cheap farmhouse in Bridgehampton when it was a world of potato farmers and fishermen.  And there was a lost decade in Los Angeles when I worked in TV, writing the scripts that would allow me to pay for college for my sons.  But I am in love with my city and the people in it. Leaving it is inconceivable–certainly not at this stage of my late life.  Hell, I am eighty-five, still working, still hoping, still walking, still loving my family and friends and the world I inhabit. 

No, I do not leave NYC these days–not even for weekends.  The city has become one of my best late-life friends–and I assume that it would strongly object should I abandon Central Park and my surviving friends and family even for a weekend.  Spotless is more than about NYC–I think it is NYC.   At the end of the day it is not so much the story of a precocious child in an odd family but a love story between that child and the city of his birth. 

Thank you so much for this interview.

(c) 2017 by Sherman Yellen (answers) and Bob Shuman (questions). All rights reserved. 

Read Part 1 of this interview at: http://stagevoices.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=10594&action=edit

Read Part 2 of this interview at: http://stagevoices.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=10694&action=edit

Read Part 3 of this interview at: http://stagevoices.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=10782&action=edit

View ‘Spotless’ on Amazon: https://tinyurl.com/y7hp725x

Photograph permissions

Yellen photos courtesy of Sherman Yellen: (top to bottom) Sherman Yellen’s twin granddaughters; Sherman and collaborator Wally Harper; himself at age 40; Sherman’s wife, Joan.