Category Archives: Events

‘IT’S HARD TO FIND A TEACHER FOR SWORD-SWALLOWING’: THE THRILLING SKILLS OF CIRCUS SHOWWOMEN ·

(Kate Wyver’s article appeared in the guardian 5.9; via Pam Green;  Photo: The stars of Showwomen: (left to right) Fancy Chance, Marisa Carnesky, Lucifire and Livia Kojo Alour. Photograph: Sarah Hickson.)

Pioneering female entertainers, including a 1930s clown and a Wall of Death stunt rider, are celebrated in a show by a fearless group of performers

Female performers in British variety acts have long been termed “showgirls”. For the illusionist Marisa Carnesky, this demeans them. “What happens when the showgirl grows up?” she asks.

A performance artist and creator of the interactive show Ghost Train – which was in residence at Blackpool for five years – Carnesky is using first-hand testimony, archival research and a healthy dose of guesswork to conjure the world of late 19th and early 20th-century female circus performers. The lives explored in her new production, Showwomen, include those of a sword climber, a clown, an aerialist and a daredevil. “The British seaside was always this extraordinary melting pot,” Carnesky says with glee. “Women weren’t just mute leg-kickers in a lineup.”

First: the women who work with swords. Making the show with Carnesky is sword swallower Livia Kojo Alour, who was naturally drawn to the story of the sword artist, crocodile charmer and glass-walker Koringa. Working in the 1930s, Koringa was rumoured to hypnotise farm animals on enemy lines so soldiers could cross unnoticed. “There’s this picture where Koringa climbs up a high ladder of swords,” Kojo Alour says. “I do the same. I have a ladder of swords. I swallow swords; I lay on beds of nails.” She moves her hands as she speaks, occasionally flashing an intricate tattoo of a sword from elbow to wrist.

In pictures, Koringa has dark skin, but it is uncertain whether she was an Indian performer, as touted by the Bertram Mills Circus posters, or whether she was encouraged to lean on a racist British fascination for the “exotic”. This is a term Kojo Alour has had to deal with often. “When I was starting out, I had a hard time. I was one of the very few Black performers on the London scene. I was constantly searching for something that made me stand out, and not in an exotic way, which is how I was described a lot back in the day.” She was drawn to extremities in performance. “The only way to carve my way was to do something dangerous that nobody else could do.”

Another of the show’s main characters is the pioneering 1930s clown Lulu Adams. Her act would have felt something akin to drag kinging, Carnesky suggests, as clowning was only done by men. Carnesky and Kojo Alour will also be performing with the self-taught hair hanger Fancy Chance, who will explore the 1880s aerialist Miss La La, whom Degas painted hanging from her teeth. In some shows, they will be joined by the fire artist Lucifire, who will look into the life of the 1920s stuntwoman and Wall of Death rider Marjorie Dare.

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‘THE LIDO IS FINISHED’: FAMED PARIS CABARET SET FOR FINAL CURTAIN AMID MASS LAY-OFFS ·

(from France24, 5/13; Photo: Dancers perform at the Lido cabaret in Paris on September 10, 2019. © Christophe Archambault, AFP.)

High-kicking showgirls and nightly cabaret shows at the famed Parisian Lido club on the Champs-Elysees are set to be a thing of the past after the venue’s new owner confirmed mass lay-offs on Thursday.

Created in the aftermath of World War II, the Lido has drawn fans for more than seven decades with its racy dance routines featuring towering women in feathers, high heels and little else.

But though it has sought to modernise its shows and adapt to the times, the venue has been losing money for years and changed hands at the end of 2021.

The new owner, French hotels giant Accor, told staff on Thursday it would lay off 157 of 184 employees, including its “Bluebell girls” troupe of dancers, according to several sources who spoke to AFP.

“The Lido is finished,” one trade union representative said on condition of anonymity, adding Accor intended to turn the prime real estate into a venue for other musical events.

“All the artistic staff, meaning around 60 people, will disappear,” the source added.

Cabaret dancing first appeared during France’s “Belle Epoque” at the end of the 19th century, when the French capital was a hotbed of artistic creation.

The Moulin Rouge remains the best-known show in the city and is still going strong, thanks largely to the publicity from the 2001 film of the same name by Baz Luhrmann.

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PUSSY RIOT MEMBER LEAVES RUSSIA DISGUISED AS DELIVERY COURIER ·

Maria Alekhina, a jailed member of the Russian punk band Pussy Riot, who was found guilty of hooliganism after a performance critical of President Vladimir Putin, poses for a photo in the Committee against Torture as she has been released from prison in Nizhny Novgorod, on Monday, Dec. 23, 2013. Alekhina, and two other band members, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Yekaterina Samutsevich, were found guilty of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred and sentenced to two years in prison for the performance at Moscow’s main cathedral in March 2012. Samutsevich was released several months later on suspended sentence. (AP Photo/The Committee against Torture) MANDATORY CREDIT

(By AFP-Agence France Presse, 5/11/22; via Drudge Report.)

Pussy Riot member Maria Alyokhina has left Russia, she said in an interview, after disguising herself as a food delivery courier to escape police.

Alyokhina joins thousands of Russians who have fled their country since President Vladimir Putin sent troops into Ukraine on February 24.

In September, Alyokhina was sentenced to one year restricted movement while protesting in support of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, but in April authorities moved to convert her sentence into real jail time.

In an interview with the New York Times late on Tuesday, Alyokhina, 33, described how she dressed up as a food courier to avoid the Moscow police that were staking her out and left her cellphone behind so she couldn’t be tracked.

Then a friend drove her to the border with neighbouring Belarus and a week later she managed to cross into EU member Lithuania after several attempts, according to the interview.

“I was happy that I made it, because it was an unpredictable and big ‘kiss-off’ to the Russian authorities,” she told NYT.

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‘FAT HAM’ WINS 2022 PULITZER PRIZE FOR BEST DRAMA (MORE)   ·

(Hillel Italie’s article for the Associated Press, appeared in USA TODAY, 5/9.)

Joshua Cohen’s “The Netanyahus” has won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction.

The work, titled in full “The Netanyahus: An Account of a Minor and Ultimately Even Negligible Episode in the History of a Very Famous Family,” is a comic and rigorous campus novel set around 1959-60 and based on the true story of the father of former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seeking a job in academia. The novel has been highly praised for its blend of wit and intellectual debate about Zionism and Jewish identity.

“It is an infuriating, frustrating, pretentious piece of work — and also absorbing, delightful, hilarious, breathtaking and the best and most relevant novel I’ve read in what feels like forever,” The New York Times’ Taffy Brodesser-Akner wrote last June.

The winners of seven arts categories were announced Monday afternoon at Columbia University, which administers the awards. This year’s Pulitzers recognize work done in 2021, and many of the winners in the arts were explorations of race and class, in the past and the present. 

The late artist Winfred Rembert won in biography for “Chasing Me to My Grave: An Artist’s Memoir of the Jim Crow South,” as told to Erin I. Kelly. Rembert, who survived years in prison and a near-lynching in rural Georgia in the 1960s, died last year at age 75.

In an interview Monday, Kelly spoke of the book’s long and unexpected back story. She is a professor of philosophy at Tufts University and had come across his work several years ago while working on a different project, on criminal justice. She contacted Rembert, who was living in New Haven, Connecticut, and found him so compelling that she wanted to make sure his life was properly documented.

“He was both charismatic and down to earth,” she said. “He had an incredible grasp of language and an incredible visual memory.”

Rembert had been in poor health and died before “Chasing Me to My Grave” came out, although he did get to see an edited manuscript.

“We both felt a great sense of urgency to get the book done,” Kelly said.

Andrea Elliott’s “Invisible Child: Poverty, Survival & Hope in an American City,” which builds upon her New York Times investigative series about a homeless Black girl from Brooklyn, received a Pulitzer for general nonfiction. Elliott’s book has already won the Gotham Prize for outstanding work about New York City.

Two prizes were awarded Monday in history: Nicole Eustace’s “Covered with Night: A Story of Murder and Indigenous Justice in Early America” and Ada Ferrer’s “Cuba: An American History,” which traces the centuries-long relationship between U.S. and its Southern neighbor.

Diane Seuss won in poetry for “frank: sonnets.” Her collection, a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Prize, draws in part on her roots in rural Michigan and features her fierce and lyrical reflections on gender, class and substance abuse among other subjects.

“My father died very young. My mom raised my sister and me. Young me came to poetry by instinct alone,” Seuss said Monday, also citing influences ranging from Frank O’Hara to Amy Winehouse. “I consider ‘frank: sonnets’ a collaborative effort — with the living and the dead.”

The music award Monday was given to Raven Chacon for his composition for organ and ensemble, “Voiceless Mass.” Chacon created “Voiceless Mass” specifically for the pipe organ at The Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist in Milwaukee, where it premiered in November 2021. Chacon is a composer, performer and installation artist from the Navajo Nation. His art work, currently on display at the Whitney Biennial, is inspired by protestors at the Oceti Sakowin near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North Dakota.

“This was my first time writing for a church organ and I wanted to make a statement about the space that this organ is housed in,” said Chacon, who is Diné, the Navajo word for “the people.” “I wanted to think about the church’s role in the forming of the country, particularly as it pertains to Indigenous people.”

His 2020 opera, “Sweet Land,” co-composed with Du Yun, was performed outdoors at the Los Angeles State Historic Park earned critical praise for its revisionist telling of American history using different narratives simultaneously. The opera was awarded best opera by the Music Critics Association of North America for 2021.

Chacon has been mentoring hundreds of Native high school composers in the writing of string quartets through the Native American Composer Apprenticeship Project since 2004.

Chacon told The Associated Press in an interview after learning of the Pulitzer win that he wants his work to stand as a reminder that Indigenous people are involved in chamber music and classical music.

“I am happy that this work was heard. I think overall chamber music is not something that can always be accessible to a broad audience,” Chacon said. “There’s an opportunity for anyone to listen to chamber music and I am happy I am able to contribute to that.”

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez congratulated Chacon, saying the artist exemplifies the tremendous potential of Navajos.

“His award showcases the talent, innovation and creativity of Indigenous people and shows our young people that anything is possible through hard work and prayer,” Nez said in a statement to the AP.

Chacon graduated from the University of New Mexico and the California Institute of the Arts and is scheduled to start a residency at the Pew Center for Arts and Heritage in Philadelphia in 2022.

His solo artworks have been displayed at the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Smithsonian Institute’s American Art Museum and National Museum of the American Indian and many more.

Drama finalists included “Selling Kabul” by Sylvia Khoury and “Kristina Wong, Sweatshop Overlord” by Kristina Wong.

The drama award is “for a distinguished play by an American author, preferably original in its source and dealing with American life.” Ijames is a Philadelphia-based playwright and Wilma Theater co-artistic director whose “Fat Ham” production was streamed last summer. 

The Pulitzers are considered the most prestigious honor in American journalism. Winners of each category get a prize of $15,000, except for the public service award, which comes with a gold medal.

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REVEALED: NOËL COWARD’S UNSEEN PLAYS AIMED TO DEAL WITH HOMOSEXUALITY ·

(Dalya Alberge’s article appeared in the Guardian, 5/8; Photo:  Noël Coward in 1953. Photograph: Haywood Magee/Getty Images.)

Playwright planned scenes on same-sex relationship at a time when it was illegal and British theatres faced strict censorship

Noël Coward worked on two plays that openly featured same-sex relationships at a time when homosexuality was still illegal in England, and strict censorship laws governed theatres, new research reveals.

The master playwright was planning to write about a homosexual triangle in one play and to confront homophobic prejudice in another, according to an unpublished letter of 1960 and an unknown scene for an unfinished 1967 drama.

The discoveries have been made by Russell Jackson, emeritus professor of drama at the University of Birmingham, who told the Observer: “I was surprised to find this evidence that Coward wanted to deal more frankly with homosexuality than he had ever been able to before in a play.”

It was not until 1967 that the Sexual Offences Act decriminalised private homosexual acts between men in England and Wales aged 21 and over, and 1968 when the Theatres Act repealed a law that had enabled the Lord Chamberlain’s Office to censor or ban any play.

Under the Licensing Act of 1737 and the Theatres Act of 1843, it had been a legal requirement for all plays intended for public performance to be submitted to the Lord Chamberlain’s Office for licensing. Plays deemed indecent or offensive could be rejected or censored, although by the end of the 1950s, playwrights sensed new freedoms.

Jackson said: “As a gay man, Coward exercised discretion in his public persona. And as a playwright, until the last decade of his career, he was constrained by the theatrical censorship of the Lord Chamberlain’s Office from directly addressing homosexuality.”

He continued: “A number of Coward’s published and performed plays had included identifiably – if not explicitly – gay or lesbian characters. The emphasis in A Song at Twilight in 1966 would not be on the central character’s homosexuality in itself, but the subterfuges by which he had managed to pass as heterosexual.”

Coward, a playwright, actor and composer, died in 1973, aged 73. He was the son of an unsuccessful piano salesman and was raised as a working-class boy in the south-west London suburb of Teddington.

Making his name in 1924 with a serious play, The Vortex, about a drug-addicted son and dissolute mother, he became one of the foremost playwrights of the 20th century, best-known for classic comedies including Hay Fever, Blithe Spirit and Private Lives and as the co-writer of David Lean’s classic 1945 film, Brief Encounter.

The 1960 letter was written by his much-loved assistant Lorn Loraine, who had worked for him since the 1930s and whose opinions he greatly valued. It reveals that Coward had created a love triangle between three men – called Owen, Trevor and John – one of whom appears to be married.

“Darling master,” Loraine wrote, “I have thought a lot about this play outline and I feel strongly that [it] must be treated entirely psychologically and with restraint and no sign of melodrama.

“I have been wondering whether it would be a good idea for Trevor to have had an affair with Owen Fletcher but to be really, all the time, deeply and jealously in love with John – a love which John has never returned and which has therefore turned sour.”

Jackson said that in 1967 Coward started writing a play called Age Cannot Wither, some of which has been published: “But there’s a part of it that’s not – the second scene.”

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AP EVIDENCE POINTS TO 600 DEAD IN MARIUPOL THEATER AIRSTRIKE ·

(Lori Hinnant’s, Msyslav Chernov’s, and Vasilisa Stephenko’s article appeared on the AP, 5/5; Photo: GMToday.com.)

LVIV, Ukraine (AP) — She stood in just her bathrobe in the freezing basement of the Mariupol theater, coated in white plaster dust shaken loose by the explosion. Her husband tugged at her to leave and begged her to cover her eyes.

But she couldn’t help it — Oksana Syomina looked. And to this day, she wishes she hadn’t. Bodies were strewn everywhere, including those of children. By the main exit, a little girl lay still on the floor.

Syomina had to step on the dead to escape the building that had served as the Ukrainian city’s main bomb shelter for more than a week. The wounded screamed, as did those trying to find loved ones. Syomina, her husband and about 30 others ran blindly toward the sea and up the shore for almost five miles (eight kilometers) without stopping, the theater in ruins behind them.

“All the people are still under the rubble, because the rubble is still there — no one dug them up,” Syomina said, weeping at the memory. “This is one big mass grave.”

Amid all the horrors that have unfolded in the war on Ukraine, the Russian bombing of the Donetsk Academic Regional Drama Theater in Mariupol on March 16 stands out as the single deadliest known attack against civilians to date. An Associated Press investigation has found evidence that the attack was in fact far deadlier than estimated, killing closer to 600 people inside and outside the building. That’s almost double the death toll cited so far, and many survivors put the number even higher.

The AP investigation recreated what happened inside the theater on that day from the accounts of 23 survivors, rescuers, and people intimately familiar with its new life as a bomb shelter. The AP also drew on two sets of floor plans of the theater, photos and video taken inside before, during and after that day and feedback from experts who reviewed the methodology.

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***** STEPHEN SONDHEIM’S ‘OLD FRIENDS’ REVIEW – A GLORIOUS ALL-STAR MEMORIAL SERVICE ·

(Mark Lawson’s article appeared in the Guardian 5/4; via Pam Green; Photo:  A vast cast for a huge talent … the curtain call for the gala performance. Photograph: David M Benett/Getty Images.)

Sondheim theatre/Prince Edward theatre, London
Judi Dench, Rob Brydon, Imelda Staunton and Bernadette Peters joined the cast for this superb tribute to a genius

A vast cast for a huge talent … the curtain call for the gala performance. Photograph: David M Benett/Getty Images

Stephen Sondheim was so vast a talent that London on Tuesday night required two theatres to remember him, after his death in November aged 91. Produced by Cameron Mackintosh and staged by Maria Friedman  longtime collaborators who personify the title Old Friends, from a number in 1981’s Merrily We Roll Along – the show at the Sondheim (named in tribute in 2019) was simulcast on the Prince Edward stage, a version of technology developed for the NT Live theatre-cinema hybrid, though not usually used between venues 0.17 miles apart.

Caused by ticket demand (proceeds to the Stephen Sondheim foundation), this arrangement bestowed immediacy in the eponymous auditorium but the overspill audience gained greater detail from closeups and cutaways.

This was a glorious memorial service, each of the tunes a eulogy, every eulogist either a current star (Judi DenchBernadette Peters, Imelda Staunton, Clive Rowe) or a likely future one (the cast swelled by young actors and drama school students.)

In anthology shows, as in sport, selection is central. Some of the 41 songs demanded inclusion. Friedman brings piping hot comedy and vocal clarity to Mrs Lovett’s lethal recipes, A Little Priest, from Sweeney Todd. Written for a woman in early middle age, Send in the Clowns, as reprised by Dench at 87, becomes hauntingly valedictory, lines such as “this late in my career” now echoing those in I’m Still Here, in which Petula Clark, two years Dench’s senior, confirmed Sondheim’s genius in writing songs that fit a show but a standalone performer can make their own.

There are also surprises, such as Live Alone and Like It (written for the movie Dick Tracy), performed by Michael Ball, whose version of Could I Leave You?, a female heterosexual song from Follies, makes the character explicitly male and gay, thus, as the show often subtly does, acknowledging Sondheim’s life while respecting his art.

Typical of astute curation is including the spoof Bossa Nova song The Boy from …, in which a young woman holidaying in Rio laments the romantic inaccessibility of a young man from a 62-word village in Brazil who later emigrates to a 58-word town in Wales, these athletically tongue-twisting locations sadistically repeated. Sondheim regarded this song, from an obscure off-Broadway revue, as an amusing curiosity. But Mackintosh popularised it through his 1976 anthology Side By Side By Sondheim, and it showcases the astonishing lyrical dexterity and, triumphing over its challenge to a singer’s breath control, Janie Dee threatened to raise both roofs.

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***** ‘AN OCTOROON’: THEATRE’S PAST CRIMES REWRITTEN AS A MAGNIFICENT MASTERPIECE (REVIEW PICK, IE) ·

(Chris McCormack’s review appeared in the Irish Times, 4/27; Photo:  Patrick Martins as M’Closky in Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ An Octoroon. Photograph: Ros Kavanagh.)

Centuries of obscene caricature, is delivered as both confrontational and comedic

AN OCTOROON

Abbey Theatre, Dublin
★★★★★

What does your taste in theatre say about you? Early in Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’s magnificent play, we see a version of the playwright who, answering a therapist’s questions, reveals that he most admires the 19th century impresario Dion Boucicault. Jacobs-Jenkins is struggling with what it means to be a black artist, so the fact that he enjoys Boucicault, who wrote an ambivalent slave-era melodrama titled The Octoroon, could be seen as a bleak comment on artistic inspiration.

 

Jacobs-Jenkins (played by an impressively suave Patrick Martins) has decided to write a new version of The Octoroon as a therapeutic exercise. Sitting at an actor’s dressing table, he lists off the demands of representativeness, the pressure to write black characters warped by trauma and addiction. He is literally depressed by an artform, the history of which gets summed up by the arrival of a bad-tempered version of Boucicault (Rory Nolan). “You really save on make-up”, he says, observing how blackface has disappeared since the Victorian era.

An ingenious transformation, dressing him in whiteface make-up, allows Martins not simply one nimble performance in Boucicault’s story but two. He plays both George, a blindingly blonde and easily upset heir who has arrived to a cotton plantation up for sale, as well as his bidding rival M’Closky, a tongue-slithering, moustachioed villain with a reputation for whipping slaves. Whiteness, Jacobs-Jenkins knows, also has its share of cringe representations, which are fair game here, such as Maeve O’Mahony’s sublime performance as an airheaded southern belle.

If race representation is a minefield, the play pulls us into the blast zone and triggers its explosions

Most incendiary are the approaches to the play’s black characters, whose fates will be determined at an auction. Within Jolly Abrahamson’s extraordinary performance, dressed in blackface as different male slaves, are centuries’ worth of obscene caricature, delivered here as both confrontational and comedic.

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TONY AWARD NOMINATIONS POSTPONED BECAUSE OF CORONAVIRUS DELAYS ·

(Michael Paulson’s article appeared in The New York Times, 4/22/22; via Pam Green;   The Tony Awards ceremony will return to Radio City Music Hall on June 12, after being presented at the Winter Garden Theater in September 2021. Credit…Sara Krulwich/The New York Times.)

The nominations will now be announced May 9, but the awards ceremony will remain, as scheduled, on June 12.

This year’s Tony Award nominations will be delayed by nearly a week, administrators of the awards said Friday, because enough actors have been out with coronavirus cases that it has become difficult for awards nominators to see all the eligible performances.

The Broadway League and the American Theater Wing, who present the awards, said nominations would now be announced on May 9, instead of May 3. The awards ceremony itself will remain, as scheduled, on June 12.

The change reflects the extraordinary disruption the coronavirus pandemic has caused to this theater season. Multiple shows — on Broadway, Off Broadway, around the country, and in Britain, Canada and elsewhere — have been forced to cancel performances and shift schedules because of coronavirus cases.

On Broadway several shows have been scrambling to open before the eligibility deadline, which was scheduled to be April 28, but will now be May 4. Four shows — “Paradise Square,” “Macbeth,” “Plaza Suite” and “A Strange Loop” — canceled multiple performances because of coronavirus cases. (Among those testing positive were the “Macbeth” star Daniel Craig and the “Plaza Suite” stars Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick.)

Even now, when all shows are running, some actors are still out. That has made it hard for the nominators to see all the eligible shows with all eligible performers onstage.

There are six shows scheduled to open next week, including “Funny Girl,” “The Skin of Our Teeth,” “A Strange Loop,” “POTUS,” “Mr. Saturday Night” and “Macbeth.”

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JAMIE LLOYD’S MINIMALIST HIP-HOP “CYRANO DE BERGERAC”   ·

(Alexandra Schwartz’s article appeared in the New Yorker, 4/28/ 22; The mania and melancholy of James McAvoy’s Cyrano disguise a desperate rage.Illustration by Matt Williams.)

A new staging, starring James McAvoy, gives us rappers instead of rapiers.

A confession, and a sheepish one for a Francophile to make: my heart does not thrill to the prospect of sitting through “Cyrano de Bergerac.” This may be the fault of my Anglophone ear, which is too clumsy to pick up the rapid-fire panache of Edmond Rostand’s rhyming Alexandrine couplets as they fly by in the original, and English translations have a way of starching the esprit right out of the language. Fairly or not, I have come to associate the play with an aura of whipped-cream foppishness, heavy on swordplay, swishing capes, and swelling bosoms, like the ones in Joe Wright’s recent film adaptation of Erica Schmidt’s musical version. Wright, who cast Peter Dinklage in the title role, traded a big schnoz for small stature as his hero’s signature weakness, a fine idea, but not enough to make up for the general corniness.

I offer such prejudice as an overture to praise for the English director Jamie Lloyd’s dazzling, feral take on “Cyrano,” which has finally arrived at bam, after a celebrated pre-pandemic run in London. This is not Lloyd’s first Rostand rodeo. In 2012, he directed a production of the play on Broadway—a traditional affair of boots, bodices, and feathered hats. The balcony scene had a balcony; verisimilitude carried the day. Since then, Lloyd has converted to minimalism. The set for his 2019 production of Harold Pinter’s “Betrayal” basically consisted of two chairs. Now he has blasted away “Cyrano” ’s damask-draped tropes, and what’s left is little more than a bare stage lit by harsh white fluorescents, a fitting backdrop for a strictly formalist mise en scène, all lines and triangles.

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