(Laura Cappelle’s article appeared in The New York Times, 10/30; Photograph: Kaori Ito in “The Damask Drum” during the abbreviated “A Week of Art in Avignon.” Credit…Christophe Raynaud de Lage; via Pam Green.)
Delayed from the summer, France’s biggest stage celebration was further curtailed as restrictions again hit the country. That made the moments of grace that were possible all the more powerful.
AVIGNON, France — Festivalgoers who cross the medieval ramparts of Avignon are used to being greeted with a riot of activity. Every July, thousands of posters cover the city’s walls to advertise stage productions as the official Avignon Festival and its Fringe compete for attention. Seemingly every street corner brings hopeful performers ready to pitch their work to passers-by, day and night.
Not this year. Like so many other events, France’s biggest theater celebration was canceled because of the pandemic, leaving the city and local businesses with a major revenue shortfall. As some consolation, the director of the festival, Olivier Py, rescheduled seven of the productions originally planned for the 2020 edition over a week in late October.
The name he picked for this surrogate festival had historical resonance: “A Week of Art in Avignon” was the event’s original moniker upon its inception in 1947. At the time, its founder, Jean Vilar, staged just three productions around the city. While many of this year’s attendees could be heard complaining about the dullness of Avignon in the fall, the low-key atmosphere was certainly much closer to Vilar’s vision than the juggernaut — over 1,500 Fringe productions were presented last year — that usually overwhelms locals.
Still, looking back, Py and his team are likely to curse their timing. With confirmed Covid-19 cases surging again in France, a 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew was announced in the region of Avignon the day before the Week of Art was to start. Like most theaters in Paris and other major cities, the festival opted to work around the regulations. All start times were simply moved forward by three hours, to allow audience members time to get home before curfew started.
It wasn’t enough for some shows. First, one production, Yngvild Aspeli’s “Moby Dick,” was canceled when a case of coronavirus was confirmed in the creative team. Then, midway through the week, the French government announced a new nationwide lockdown, meaning that the festival was cut short.
Yet some live shows did happen, across multiple venues in Avignon. Perhaps any review should include a mention of the herculean amount of planning, precautions and uncertainty that getting to the stage currently involves. Critics would be remiss to ignore the wider theater landscape: When an industry is fighting for survival, the aesthetic shortcomings of a lighting choice start to seem less consequential.
(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.”
(via John Wyszniewski at Blake Zidell & Associates; Ofarim is not involved in the new production.)
Tony-Nominee Austin Pendleton Directs First New York Revival in 35 Years
The Pearl Theatre Company presents A Taste of Honey By Shelagh Delaney Directed by Austin Pendleton
Preview Performances: September 6, 8, 13–15 at 7pm; 7, 11, 17 at 2pm; 9, 10, 16, 17 at 8pm Opening Night: Sunday, September 18 at 7pm Regular Performances: September 20, 22, October 3, 4, 10, 12, 13, 16 at 7pm; 21, 24, October 2 at 2pm; September 23, 24 at 8pm
The Pearl Theatre (555 West 42nd Street) $59 regular, $79 premium ($49 previews, $40 members, $20 Student Rush) pearltheatre.org; 212.563.9261 2 hours and 15 minutes with one intermission
The Pearl Theatre Company is pleased to present A Taste of Honeyby Shelagh Delaney. Directed by Tony-nominee Austin Pendleton, the production, running September 6–October 16, marks the first Off-Broadway revival of this landmark play in 35 years.
Delaney rocked the theater world when, at 18, she wrote a play that both defined and defied her generation. A Taste of Honey is the clever, passionate, and poignant story of a young woman facing an uncertain future in a hostile world—and learning to trust that love, in its every heartbreaking and messy form, will see her through.
Director Pendleton said, “When I saw A Taste of Honey, on Broadway, I was unmoored. I'd never seen anything like it. The energy of this play is absolutely unique. It's so buoyant, and it's so frightening, it's so funny, it's so dark, and it seems to have been written in one joyous, troubled exhalation. I'm so happy the Pearl has asked me to take this on.”
The Pearl’s Artistic Director Hal Brooks said, “All of us at The Pearl, and all of us in New York Theater are grateful to have Austin back in our fold. Like his work past work at The Pearl, (William's Vieux Carre and Hellmann's Toys In the Attic), I expect Austin will bring incredible sensitivity and nuance to each character and each actors' performance. Austin has a strong personal connection to A Taste of Honey and I know the production will be at once honest to the original as well as inventive and richly textured.”
The cast of Taste of Honeyfeatures Rebekah Brockman as Jo, John Evans Reese as Geoff; Rachel Botchanas Helen, Bradford Cover as Peter, and Ade Otukoya as Jimmie.The creative team includes Harry Feiner (sets), Barbara A. Bell (costumes), Eric Southern (lights), Jane Shaw(sound) and April Ann Kline (production stage manager).
Performances of A Taste of Honeywill take place September 6 – October 16 at The Pearl Theatre (555 West 42nd Street, NYC). Critics are welcome as of September 14 for an official opening on Sunday, September 18. Tickets are $59 regular, $79 premium ($49 previews, $20 Student Rush) and can be purchased by visiting pearltheatre.org or calling 212.563.9261.
Austin Pendleton(Director) is currently represented in New York by the Mint Theatre production of A Day By the Sea, at Theatre Row. His other recent productions as a director in New York include Between Riverside and Crazy by Stephen Adly Giurgiu, Hamlet with Peter Sarsgaard at CSC, where he also directed three Chekhov plays (Ivanov, Three Sisters, and Uncle Vanya), Nora at Cherry Lane and Orpheus Descending at St. John's Lutheran Church in the West Village. He has also directed, in New York, The Little Foxes with Elizabeth Taylor and Maureen Stapleton, Spoils of Warby Michael Weller with Kate Nelligan, and Shelter, a musical by Gretchen Cryer and Nancy Ford, all Broadway shows, all Tony-nominated. As an actor he has worked on and Off and Off-off Broadway, including such recent appearances at the Public Theatre as Straight White Men, written and directed by Young Jean Lee, Mother Courage with Meryl Streep, and Romeo and Julietwith Oscar Isaac and Lauren Ambrose. He apprenticed, acted and directed extensively at the Williamstown Theatre Festival and is a member of the Ensemble at Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre. He has written three plays (Orson's Shadow, Uncle Bob,and Booth), all published and all produced in New York and around the country and, in the case of Uncle Bob, internationally. He has acted in over 200 movies and in many TV shows, most often inOz, Homicide,and Law & Order. He teaches acting at HB Studio, in New York.
Shelagh Delaney(Playwright, 1938 – 2011) was a British playwright and screenwriter. She is best known for her debut workA Taste of Honey, which premiered at the Theatre Workshop in 1958, when Delaney was only nineteen, and later opened on the West End in 1959. Joan Plowright won the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play for her performance as Jo in the original Broadway production, which also featured Angela Lansbury as her mother and ran for over 300 performances. The play, set in Delaney's native Salford, an industrial neighbor of Manchester, was inspired by a dislike for Terence Rattigan's genteel Variation on a Theme. Though Delaney was often grouped by critics with the “angry young men” like John Osborne and Alan Stillitoe who were challenging the traditional reserve and gentility of British high culture that Rattigan epitomized, she insisted that the comparison overlooked those writers' individual styles and that her writing was motivated not by anger but honesty. She wrote, she said, to record life as she saw it in urban Northern England, where “people are not usually shown as they are. For in actual fact they are very alive and cynical. I write as people talk.” Delaney followed A Taste of Honey with another portrayal of working class life in the play The Lion in Love, which did not achieve the former's critical acclaim. She subsequently published a well-received collection of short stories, Sweetly Sings the Donkey(1963), and several screenplays – including The White Bus and Charlie Bubbles(1967) and Dance with a Stranger(1985) – and radio plays – including Tell Me a Film (2003) and Country Life (2004). Her screenplay for the 1961 film adaption of A Taste of Honey, which she co-wrote with director Tony Richardson, won the BAFTA Award for Best British Screenplay and the Writer's Guild of Great Britain Award in 1962. Delaney was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1985.
(Bee Wilson’s article appeared in the London Review of Books, 5/19.)
In 1957, six years before her death, Edith Piaf added a new song to her repertoire, ‘La Foule’ (‘The Crowd’). It wasn’t actually new, having been composed in 1936 in Spanish by Angel Cabral, an Argentinian, using the form of a vals criollo, a dance favoured by the Peruvian working class. Piaf heard it and asked one of her librettists, Michel Rivgauche, to compose new French lyrics. It isn’t hard to see why it appealed to her, musically and thematically. She had always been good at milking nostalgia – ‘chanson’ itself is a wistful genre – and the plaintive, rhythmic accordion and piano introduction recalls her prewar youth, when she sang in the Paris cabarets. The song is about a woman whose destiny is in the hands of the crowd – Piaf had been making a living out of crowd hysteria since she was a child in the 1920s, singing in Belleville and Pigalle. The heroine of ‘La Foule’ is jostled by a jubilant crowd celebrating a feast day. She is pushed into the arms of a stranger, with whom she falls in love, only to be dragged away from him again by the crowd, ‘who dance a mad farandole’ that drowns out the sound of her beloved’s voice. She ‘clenches her fists’ and curses the crowd for having stolen her love.
Mario Luraschi is a famous French horse trainer and stunt man. He and his horses have been key figures in many well known movies and grand stage shows. His horses also appeared in the viral commercial from OPI called “Instinct of Color“.
In the video below, Luraschi and one of his fantastically talented horses perform to “Singin’ in the Rain” in an arena to a packed audience. The dressage horse displays amazingly intricate footwork. Just look what he does at 1:10!
Share this playful performance with your friends and the horse lovers you know!
Stage Voices Publishing for archived posts and sign up for free e-mail updates: http 2015:// www.stagevoices.com/ . If you would like to contribute a review, monologue, or other work related to theatre, please write to Bob Shuman at Bobjshuman@gmail.com.
Clare Brennan's article appeared in the Guardian, 5/4.)
Director James Dacre flamboyantly follows old precedents in exploiting Shakespeare’s early history play for its potential effects. He splices the text with excerpts from its source material, inserts processions and dumb shows (as well as a topical, although non-authentic, reference to Magna Carta) and clothes everyone in splendid period costumes (Jonathan Fensom’s design). Sounds match sights: the air in the candlelit, pillared nave of this medieval church shimmers, shakes and trembles to the ecclesiastical choral chants, solo melodies, martial percussion and atmosphere-shivering horns of Orlando Gough’s music (“Like an opera!” was one interval exclamation).
Scenes sweep along the four arms of a cruciform-shaped playing area. Dacre uses the form cleverly to position oppositions (King John v papal envoy; King John v King of France; King John’s mother, Eleanor, v Constance, mother of Arthur, the child claimant to John’s throne; King John v nobles) and to highlight the seesawing shifts in alliances (as erstwhile opponents literally change sides). Characters are as clearly outlined as stained-glass images (especially, Barbara Marten’s Eleanor and Giles Terera’s Austria).
(Charles Isherwood’s article appeared in The New York Times, 4/12.)
The city of light is ablaze with movement in the rhapsodic new stage adaptation of “An American in Paris” that opened at the Palace Theater on Sunday, directed and choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon, a gifted luminary of the ballet world. This gorgeously danced — and just plain gorgeous — production pays loving tribute to the 1951 movie, to the marriage of music and movement, and to cherished notions about romance that have been a defining element of the American musical theater practically since its inception. Just about everything in this happily dance-drunk show moves with a spring in its step, as if the newly liberated Paris after World War II were an enchanted place in which the laws of gravity no longer applied. Even the elegant buildings on the grand boulevards appear to take flight.
(Emma Brockes’s article appeared in the New Yorker, 11/10.)
One afternoon in early October, Hugh Jackman strode around a rehearsal space near Times Square, dressed in black and with a scabbard on his hip. The knife in the scabbard was intended for a fish, which, every night from November 16th onward, Jackman will gut, fillet, and season onstage in Jez Butterworth’s new play, “The River.” Part of Jackman’s rightness for the role, Butterworth told me, is his understanding that the sea trout is in some ways the star. “He gets it.”
“The River” can be a tough play to get. It opened in London two years ago, for a limited run at the tiny ninety-seat theatre upstairs at the Royal Court, and is transferring to Broadway’s Circle in the Square, with the role that was played in London by Dominic West now filled by Jackman—“the biggest Broadway star in one of the smallest Broadway theatres,” Butterworth said. This marks a conscious downsizing from his last play, “Jerusalem,” first produced in 2009, and a huge hit. “The River” is a different beast: eighty minutes to “Jerusalem” ’s three hours and contemplative where the earlier play was raucous, turning on the intimacies of a couple rather than the carnival-like energy of a cast of fourteen. The first time I met Butterworth, in New York in the middle of the summer, it was in one of his natural environments, a cool, dark pub, which he entered, on a blazing hot day, wearing an unseasonably warm coat and a gray porkpie hat, with the shambling gait of a man on home turf. He ordered a pint of Guinness and removed his hat, revealing a jagged crest of dark hair streaked with silver, which, along with his black-and-white beard, gave him the look of an affable but vaguely diffident badger. (Butterworth finds the word “badger” hilarious; it crops up all over his plays. In “The Winterling,” for example: “I’m here to tell you, the badger bears a grudge.”)