Category Archives: Current Affairs

NOW ABOUT THESE WOMEN: STRINDBERG, POST-BERGMAN—FARBER/ALI/ CLARK/ULLMANNS/MORE  (REVIEWS FROM NEW YORK) ·

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Bob Shuman

The frantic sex in Yaël Farber’s adaptation of Miss Julie, directed by Shariffa Ali and retitled Mies Julie, now playing at Classic Stage Company (CSC) until March 10, provides a contrast to Liv Ullmann’s stately 2014 film version; but, in both, viewers are left staring at semen-stained underwear on the floor.  Other current Strindberg directors, like Victoria Clark and Arin Arbus, make Strindberg (1849-1912) conventional for our time—they can’t unleash him or really take him seriously, although Alf Sjöberg did so in his 1951 film on the daughter of a count who sleeps with a servant–a classic, which opens up the story, on the order of Birth of a Nation. Ullmann, who has directed A Streetcar Named Desire and can see Strindberg’s influence on Tennessee Williams, encloses her Miss Julie in an Irish castle, but her apparent lack of budget (this is really a filmed play) and two hour running time undermine Strindberg’s brevity and pace (Farber’s setting is a farmhouse in the Karoo of South Africa, and she relentlessly brings her inter-racial version in at 75 minutes; Strindberg timed the original at 90). 

Farber’s other changes include making the third character, Jean’s mother (Vinie Burrows, of the sheet-metal screech), instead of his intended, and giving the idea to start a hotel, to Julie, instead of Jean (James Udom).  Elise Kibler seems too young and unglamorous to be playing the title role, although a friend corrected me: “She’s not that young.”  She is a tomboy, though, who still seems imprinted from parochial school, and the audience is stunned by her voracious entry  into sex, not unlike when reading the reminiscences of Linn Ullmann in Unquiet (Norton, 2015, 2019), in which the author, daughter of  director Ingmar Bergman (1918-2017), himself no stranger to Strindberg (Americans may recall his production of Miss Julie, brought to BAM in 1991, starring Lena Olin  and Peter Stormare) pretends not to discuss the final part of the life of her father: as a teen, though, she describes wanting an older lover to keep “doing it” and when she comes, it surprises them both: “How sudden and violent it was, like shame, like betrayal.”

Ingmar Bergman in Stockholm, 1961

Udom kisses Kibler’s foot: “Kiss my foot; fucking do it!” (in The Dance of Death, also playing a CSC—the boot is kissed, the fetish Strindberg calls for in both scripts).  Udom continues up the lower leg, matching Julie’s boldness. Liv Ullmann, in her film, shows that Julie and Jean are really children, which is a point also repeated in Ingmar Bergman’s corpus; in fact, her Julie, Jessica Chastain, appears to be stunted in terms of her emotional growth, because of the early death of her mother:  Kibler and Udom, however, seem to be experimenting, “playing with fire” (they’ve known each other all their lives).  On the evening of the annual Freedom Day celebration, neither has ever been so fearless or unaware of the messiness of love.  Ali’s direction, at a kitchen table, with African drumming, music, and a ghost, however, may be one variation of Strindberg’s play that outdoes even the playwright, regarding misogyny: Farber’s reconstruction includes a death even more violent than that of the original. 

Although it does seem as though women artists trying to solve Strindberg, usually in their favor, are part of a current trend, the idea is actually not new.  The concept goes at least as far back as Trifles, the 1916 play, and curriculum staple,  by Susan Glaspell, which is an obvious riposte to Miss Julie, and also includes killing a canary; but here, the man in the relationship is killed, not the woman.  Arbus’s direction of The Father, in 2016, asked the audience to laugh at Strindberg, as she analyzed him in a multiracial context, rather than via the kind of homogeneous society he wrote in; nevertheless, Laurie Slade’s 2013 BBC production was compelling because it was brutal.  New York producers equate entertainment with comedy, but Strindberg, whose play The Dance of Death, about the death spiral of an aging couple—and which has influenced, in a hasty, incomplete tally, Bergman, Brook, O’Neill, Albee, and Ionesco–while not unfunny, poses an issue for casts, because without appropriate transitions (an actor has supplied the correct terminology), his sentiments can play like laff lines: “there are no real men today.” Actors may want the instant gratification of the audience response, but Strindberg is on to something deeper;  yet, this production’s vigorous actors, Cassie Beck, Richard Topol, and Christopher Innvar, using an adaptation by Connor McPherson, are only finding identifiable contemporary counterparts to Swedes of 1887; not essences.  Maybe a clearer way to say this is that they seem to be playing at their roles, but they haven’t become them yet. 

For a successful immersion into Strindberg-like characters, one might watch Bibi Andersson and Jan Malmsjo in Scenes from a Marriage, where Strindberg is quoted.  What the director, Victoria Clark, does bring to her production, which also plays until March 10 (this reviewer can recall an earlier production at CSC, in 1984) is an interest in movement, literally allowing the actors to present choreographed dances of death during the evening.

The mundane questions Linn Ullmann thinks to ask her father, Ingmar Bergman, during the end of his life, in Unquiet, A Novel, do nothing to illuminate an understanding of August Strindberg, by his foremost contemporary interpreter and literary inheritor.  Bergman only allowed Ullmann to see him for one month every summer–on a remote Swedish island, from which her mother successfully freed herself, in the sixties.  Unspoken depicts a daughter continuing to inhabit the isolated landscape, in an obsessively repetitive text, Joycean in some sentence lengths, and often banal in the points made, along with a bad copyedit (a lack of understanding of the difference between a comma and a semi-colon, is apparent, for example).  Nevertheless, her book (true in all of Linn Ullmann’s work) has been highly influenced by her father’s film techniques and writing, as well as her mother’s books, Changing and Choices.  Ullmann documents a man “vanishing,” as Bergman describes it, agreeing with Strindberg, in The Dance of Death, that “growing old is horrible,” passing his artistic legacy on to an observer, whom he might not even recognize.

Visit Classic Stage Company

View Unquiet on Amazon

Production photos: Joan Marcus

Linn Ullmann photo: Berliner Zeitung

Press: Blake Zidell/Adriana Leshko

© by Bob Shuman.  All rights reserved.

 

LANDMARK BROADWAY DEAL GIVES ACTORS A PIECE OF THE PROFITS ·

(Michael Paulson’s article appeared in The New York Times, 2/11; via Pam Green.)

Broadway is booming, and now more actors are going to share in the riches.

In a groundbreaking agreement Friday, the commercial producers who finance Broadway’s big hits have agreed to give a percentage of profits to performers who help develop successful shows.

The deal, reached between Actors’ Equity, a union representing 51,000 performers and stage managers, and the Broadway League, a trade organization for producers, is a milestone, marking the first time that the industry’s financiers have tacitly agreed to acknowledge that performers are contributing ideas, not just labor, to shaping new musicals and plays.

Hit shows already generate paydays for producers, directors and stars; many of them now will bring steady if modest paychecks to the supporting actors and dancers, some of whom still take survival jobs, like waiting tables, between shows.

“Creating a new show is hard,” said Mary McColl, the union’s executive director. “If we’re along for that ride at the beginning, for not much money, we think we should be able to share in the success once it has recouped its expenses.”

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ALBERT FINNEY, LEGENDARY STAR OF TOM JONES AND MILLER’S CROSSING, DIES AGED 82 ·

(Andrew Pulver’s article appeared in the Guardian, 2/8; via Pam Green.)

Albert Finney, who forged his reputation as one of the leading actors of Britain’s early 60s new wave cinema, has died aged 82 after a short illness, his family have announced. In 2011, he disclosed he had kidney cancer.

Albert Finney: the most almighty physical screen presence

A publicist told the Guardian that Finney died on Thursday of a chest infection at the Royal Marsden hospital, which specialises in cancer treatment, just outside London. His wife, Pene, and son, Simon, were by his side.

Having shot to fame as the star of Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, Finney received five Oscar nominations, but never won, and refused a knighthood.

Speaking to the Guardian, Daniel Craig – who starred in Skyfall, Finney’s final film, in which he played a gamekeeper from James Bond’s childhood – said:

“I’m deeply saddened by the news of Albert Finney’s passing. The world has lost a giant. Wherever Albert is now, I hope there are horses and good company.”

The director of that film, Sam Mendes, added: “It is desperately sad news that Albert Finney has gone. He really was one of the greats – a brilliant, beautiful, big-hearted, life loving delight of a man. He will be terribly missed.”

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Photo: Mumby at the Movies

ECLIPSES GROUP THEATRE NEW YORK:  ‘HERCULES:  IN SEARCH OF A HERO’ (REVIEW FROM NEW YORK) ·

By Bob Shuman

Eclipses Group Theatre New York (EGTNY), a nonprofit that “serves as a cultural bridge between Greece and The United States,” is presenting  Hercules:  In Search of a Hero, inspired by EuipidesAlcestis and Hercules until February 10 at Abrons Arts Center.  The evening offers singing, dancing, film sequences, and two plays, by the “the most tragic of all poets,” translated by Demetri Bonaros, edited, and spliced together.  The texts present Hercules as he, first, makes the decision to bring back Alcestis from Hades (she has sacrificed herself for her husband) and, second, as the demigod inadvertently kills his own family, which may remind of The Bacchae.  But is the audience meant to interpret the latter act as retribution for the former?

As a cultural project for Greek artists, as well as others, Hercules appears a worthy locus for investigation and experiment, but talking beyond the community, to a larger audience, without the knowledge base of the company, viewers need ballast to stay centered in a cold theatre, in winter. According to director, Ioanna Katsarous, Hercules: In Search of a Hero is asking what heroism is in our times:  “Is an act heroic if it involves violence?  Where is the place of women in the modern mythology of heroism, and do we need to create new mythologies and eventually a new concept of the world?”  These inquiries may or may not be critical to considering Euripides, but would many actually reject the idea that women display acts of heroism? Was not Athena a warrior Goddess? Sometimes revisionism can seem only a caterpillar sentenced for not being a butterfly. Purely from a nonacademic, nonfeminist standpoint, though, the evening’s clarity, linearity, and meaning are what are at stake: we are in the past and present, as well as in the worlds of two plays. Aristotle would probably look at this piece and say that unity is lacking.  What’s a quick fix for that?  Study the ancient Greeks.

‘HERCULES:  IN SEARCH OF A HERO’

The cast includes Luisa Alarcón (Lonely Leela at HERE), Demetri Bonaros (The Caucasian Chalk Circle at Theatre at 45 Bleecker), Luke Couzens (Macbeth at Stages on the Sound), Helena Farhi (what she found at Frigid Festival), Alexandra Skendrou (Carnegie Hall, Bruno Walter Auditorium) and Taj Sood.

The production team includes Christos Alexandridis (Set Design), Christina Watanabe (Lighting Design), Marina Gkoumla (Costume Design), Alex Agisilaou (Video Design), Ioanna Katsarou (Dramaturge) and Anastasia Thanasoula (Production Stage Manager).

Performances are Thursdays – Saturdays at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2:30pm with an added show on Sunday, January 27 at 6pm. Tickets are $25 and $20 (students and seniors). Purchase at http://www.AbronsArtsCenter.org or by calling 212-598-0400. The running time is 75 minutes. For more info visit https://www.egtny.com, Like them on Facebook at /egtny (https://www.facebook.com/egtny), and follow on Twitter (https://twitter.com/EclipsesGTNY) and Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/eclipsesgtny) at @eclipsesgtny.

Photos by Selim Cayligil: Luke Couzens as Hercules.

Press: David Gibbs | DARR Publicity

© by Bob Shuman.  All rights reserved.

KAYE BALLARD, INDEFATIGABLE COMEDIAN AND ACTRESS, DIES AT 93 ·

(Neil Genzliner’s article appeared in The New York Times, 1/22; via Pam Green.)

Kaye Ballard, whose long career as a comedian, actress and nightclub performer included well-regarded runs in “The Golden Apple” and “Carnival!” on Broadway and a classic turn as a television mother-in-law, died on Monday at her home in Rancho Mirage, Calif. She was 93.

Her death was announced by her lawyer, Mark Sendroff.

Ms. Ballard wasn’t a top-flight singer, an Oscar-caliber actress or a drop-dead beauty — she once played one of Cinderella’s ugly stepsisters — but she made up for any shortcomings with determination and a sheer love of performing.

Even after she became well known, Ms. Ballard was not above taking parts in touring shows and regional theaters, and she rode the nightclub circuit for years, though she found the pace exhausting. In 2000, in her mid-70s, she brought a cabaret show to Arci’s Place in Manhattan called “Another Final Farewell Appearance,” but there was nothing final about it: Later in the decade she was still hard at work, including in tours of “The Full Monty” and “Nunsense.”

For the last 40 years or so of her performing career, wherever she was appearing people would mention one particular item from her lengthy résumé: “The Mothers-in-Law,” an NBC sitcom in which she and Eve Arden played neighbors whose children married, turning the newly minted mothers-in-law into partners in meddling.

Ms. Arden’s character was a haughty upper-crust type; Ms. Ballard’s was brassy and very Italian. The show made its debut in 1967, and, as with many sitcoms in that era of only three networks, its characters seared their way into the public consciousness with a disproportionate vigor: The series lasted only two seasons, but the mother-in-law personas acquired a certain immortality.

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KATHRYN HUNTER ON JERZY GROTOWSKI ·

(Chris Wiegand’s interview appeared in the Guardian, 1/14.)

They never met but the brilliant Polish theatre-maker and theorist had a huge influence on Kathryn Hunter. On the 20th anniversary of his death, she celebrates his radical methods

When I left Rada, some of the other actors went straight into West End plays but I couldn’t have been happier that I worked with an extraordinary lady called Chattie Salaman. Chattie ran the theatre company Common Stock. She knew Jerzy Grotowski’s work thoroughly and trained us in his vocal and physical exercises, which were really demanding on the body. It meant forgetting this notion that the actor stands upright and delivers lines. It was more about exercises like finding the shapes and sounds of different animals, in order to bring out a more ancient part of ourselves.

We performed mainly in community centres and small-scale theatres. The thing I remember very strongly is the idea that a performance is more than delivering a set of words – albeit by a very talented playwright – but that there is a sense of ritual to it. Sometimes we performed in really grubby places but it didn’t matter – the preparation remained the same. Once you began and committed to a piece of work, you did so totally. I’ve carried that with me always.

Grotowski believed that theatre can be a vehicle to access another level of perception of the world. For him, the “poorer” the style of theatre the better because it falls back on the actors and what they have to bring, rather than sets or costumes or designs. It’s going back to the original instrument, which is the actor.

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Photo: Alexander Street

ON PARIS STAGES, GAY ARTISTS LOOK BACK ·

(Laura Cappelle’s article appeared in The New York Times, 1/17; via Pam Green.)

PARIS — Two related scenes are currently playing out in theaters here. In “Les Idoles” (“The Idols”), at the Odéon — Théâtre de l’Europe, the actress Marina Foïs recounts in detail the death of the philosopher Michel Foucault, in 1984, of an AIDS-related illness. At the Espace Cardin, Foucault’s homosexuality is seen through the eyes of his first biographer, the sociologist Didier Eribon, in “Retour à Reims” (“Returning to Reims”).

In both productions, prominent French gay artists reclaim their pasts with striking honesty. “Retour à Reims,” staged by the German director Thomas Ostermeier, is based on Mr. Eribon’s 2009 memoir-cum-essay about his working-class roots, while the writer and director Christophe Honoré looks back at the artistic heroes — those “idols” — he lost to AIDS in his youth.

Mr. Honoré may be better known for films including “Love Songs,” but his theater work is in some ways more ambitious and original. His recent plays have brought real individuals back to life and imagined, with the benefit of hindsight, how they might have interacted: “Nouveau Roman,” in 2012, focused on the 20th-century French literary movement of the same name; “Les Idoles” brings together six writers and filmmakers who died between 1989 and 1994.

Extensive research clearly went into the play, but Mr. Honoré doesn’t strive for truthfulness. He isn’t preoccupied with physical likeness, for starters, and regularly casts women in male roles onstage. In “Les Idoles,” Ms. Foïs plays Hervé Guibert, whose autobiographical novel “To the Friend Who Did Not Save My Life” evoked Foucault’s last days, while the part of the filmmaker Jacques Demy is taken with gusto by Marlène Saldana, in a fur coat and heels.ADVERTISEMENT

Some of the characters in “Les Idoles” enjoy more public recognition than others. Mr. Demy is one of them, and the playwrights Jean-Luc Lagarce and Bernard-Marie Koltès are both revered names on the French stage. A creation about them might easily have turned into a series of reverential obituaries, but Mr. Honoré gives “Les Idoles” a welcome lightness of touch.

The men are portrayed as witty, imperfect individuals rather than austere icons to be worshiped. They are as likely to launch into a dance number as they are to debate the attributes of the ideal lover: Ms. Saldana’s rendition of “Chanson d’un jour d’été,” from Mr. Demy’s musical film “The Young Girls of Rochefort,” is an unlikely highlight.

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Photo: From left, Marina Foïs, Youssouf Abi-Ayad and Marlène Saldana in “Les Idoles” at the Odéon — Théâtre de l’Europe.CreditCreditJean-Louis Fernandez

 

LET’S GO:  ‘IONESCO SUITE’ AT BAM (ONLY JAN 23—JAN 26, 2019) ·

Visit  BAM

Théâtre de la Ville, Paris
Based on texts by Eugène Ionesco
Directed by Emmanuel Demarcy-Mota

Cake, hilarity, and interpersonal follies abound in this feat of repartee and wordplay from acclaimed director Emmanuel Demarcy-Mota and Théâtre de la Ville, Paris. Seven actors enliven the tragicomic stylings of playwright Eugène Ionesco—who made light of life’s shadows as one of the leading figures of the Theater of the Absurd—in this mashup of five texts: The Bald Soprano; The Lesson; Frenzy for Two, or More; Jack, or The Submission; and French Conversation and Diction Exercises for American Students. Staged as an unruly dinner party, ensemble members don hats and wigs, debate over whether a snail and a tortoise are the same thing, and gradually lead one another quite astray.

Texts from Jack, or The Submission, Delirium for Two, The Bald Soprano, The Lesson, and Conversation and French Speech Exercises
Music by Jefferson Lembeye & Walter N’guyen
Set and lighting design by Yves Collet
Costumes by Fanny Brouste

Jan 23—Jan 26, 2019

Performance dates & times

LOCATION:

BAM Fisher

RUN TIME: 1hr 20min

LANGUAGE: In French with English titles

FULL PRICE TICKETS START AT  $25

Photo:  Jean Louis Fernandez

 

CAROL CHANNING DIES AT 97; A LARGER-THAN-LIFE BROADWAY STAR ·

(Enid Nemy’s article appeared in The New York Times, 1/15; via Pam Green.)

Her performances as the gold-digging Lorelei Lee in “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” and the matchmaker Dolly Gallagher Levi in “Hello, Dolly!” made her a Broadway legend.

Carol Channing, whose incandescent performances as the gold-digging Lorelei Lee in “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” and the matchmaker Dolly Gallagher Levi in “Hello, Dolly!” made her a Broadway legend, died early Tuesday at her home in Rancho Mirage, Calif. She was 97.

Her death was confirmed by her publicist, B. Harlan Boll, who said she had two strokes in the past year.

Ms. Channing was bringing audiences to their feet night after night in a revival of “Hello, Dolly!” when she was 74, singing, “Wow, wow, wow, fellas, / Look at the old girl now, fellas,” resplendent in her scarlet gown and jewels, her platinum hair crowned with red plumage.

Ten years later she was still getting applause, this time for a cabaret act. Nine years after that, just a few days before her 93rd birthday, she appeared at Town Hall in Manhattan as part of a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the night “Dolly” opened.

“Performing is the only excuse for my existence,” she said during her last Broadway appearance, in the 1995 revival of “Hello, Dolly!” “What can be better than this?”

Ms. Channing was one of the most recognizable presences in the theater world. Her tousled hairdo, headlight-size eyes and exaggerated mouth were the subject of countless caricatures. For many years her real hair, damaged by bleaching, was covered by a wig.

Her false eyelashes, worn at a fantastic length since she was a teenager, posed a more serious problem. The glue that was used to attach them gradually pulled out her natural lashes, and Ms. Channing began painting on the long spikes.

By then her vision had become impaired, but she was philosophical about her somewhat hazy view of her fellow actors. “I know what they look like,” she said.

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Photo: ABC 7NY