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CRAIG SMITH ON ORTON—50 YEARS LATER: THE PRODUCING ARTISTIC DIRECTOR OF PHOENIX THEATRE ENSEMBLE AND ‘ENTERTAINING MR. SLOANE’ (ONLY THROUGH MAY 14), ADVANCING THE STORY, AND DIRECTING A MODERN CLASSIC ·

Craig Smith is Producing Artistic Director of Phoenix Theatre Ensemble.  He was an ensemble member of New York’s prestigious Jean Cocteau Repertory where he made his artistic home for more than 3 decades appearing in over 200 productions from Stoppard to Shakespeare and Sophocles to Williams. In 2004, Craig and four colleagues founded the award-winning Phoenix Theatre Ensemble.   Now under the direction of Mr. Smith and Artistic Director, Elise Stone,  Phoenix presents  3 to 6 productions of new and classical works annually, a reading and new play development series, and an arts-in-education program for NYC public schools.  He is the recipient of the President of the Borough of Manhattan’s Award for Distinguished Achievement in the Arts and Community Service.

Craig Smith talks with SV’s Bob Shuman about his new production at the Wild Project.

One question you’d ask Joe Orton if he was around?

Your work in Entertaining Mr.  Sloane has a tragic through-line that has the emotional impact equal to that of Arthur Miller.  You moved away from this with Loot and What the Butler Saw–why? 

One of the early reviewers of Entertaining Mr. Sloane called it a “dirty highbrow play.”  Is it? 

Orton was a 1960’s rebel–Ed and Sloane are in the words of critic Randy Gener, “rapacious bisexuals”–the play’s raw treatment of sexuality was new and titillating in 1964.  But the real dirt is the way family members treat each other–no one can inflict pain the way your family can.  “Highbrow”:  the language is sophisticated, like Wilde, Coward, and Pinter, such as “you superannuated old prat” coming from undereducated people who live in an isolated house, situated in a rubbish dump. This anachronistic use of selected words, here and there, is delicious. About the language:  It is a challenge to memorize in the way all really good language is—it does not come easily.  It is a singular voice.  When done well, it crackles. Language that is easy to memorize often comes off as ordinary and a bit uninteresting.

How would you describe what Entertaining Mr. Sloane is about?

A love story.  Four deeply wounded people in need of love.  It’s about a family–a family with very old wounds–hard facts that they have tried to ignore or forget.  But the introduction of Sloane to this family unit proves explosive.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What’s more interesting?  Joe  Orton’s plays or his life (and death)?

Very difficult to compete with the colorful—some would say the outrageous–life of Joe Orton.  The plays have order–even the chaos has a choreographed order to it–but Orton’s life was not choreographed.  

Your greatest satisfaction from being in the theatre?

Breakthroughs in the rehearsal room.

Biggest obstacle for theatre companies today?  

The extraordinarily entertaining work being done on cable television.

 

Tell us about the casting process:  What kind of actors were you looking for—and tell us who finally won the parts?

Good actors . . . I knew I wanted Elise Stone (my wife and Phoenix Theatre Ensemble Artistic Director) to play Kath and John Lenartz to play Kemp–both great, talented actors who I have worked with for decades.  Ed is the most challenging role in the play, and I asked PTE artist, Antonio Edwards Suarez, to play this complex man who struggles with his sexuality.  But . . . I did not have a Sloane.  Then we went to see some director scenes that friends were working on–and I saw this good looking, interesting young actor with very intense eyes.  We asked him to join a reading we were doing of Cocteau’s The Infernal Machine.  Once cast, I could see that he had excellent instincts, took direction, and was a really nice guy–so after that, I asked Matt Baguth to play Sloane. 

At Phoenix Theatre Ensemble do you typically work with the same artists?  Who are your current collaborators?

Yes, we have an ensemble of resident artists, but casting is not exclusive to that group.  Over time these artists have developed a creative shorthand and a knowledge and appreciation of each other.  It is a great way to work and btw, I won’t work with difficult people.  

Does the company look for a certain kind of play to produce?   How does the ensemble decide on a season?

Many think that you just sit down and pick out some favorite plays or playwrights that you might want to produce.  It is a very complicated process, though.  We have to consider budgets, performance rights, plays that complement each other–we like a mix of new works and classics—spaces to perform in, and the challenge the season will be to our actors and directors.

How much liberty do you believe a director can take with an established script?

In 30+ years of theatre work, this is my directing debut.  I’m enjoying it immensely.  I take more liberty with scripts than others do or would.  As an actor, I’m legend for paraphrasing–particularly with scripts in translation–perhaps this has given me a sense of entitlement, some would say a “false entitlement.”  I am not of the opinion that actors and directors are interpreters only.  As a jazz musician will riff on a piece of music, I encourage the same thing in theatre.  Lots of people disagree with this–some vehemently, but I don’t really care. 

Tell us about your background. How did you get started in the theatre and how has your career evolved?  

As a young man new to the city, I auditioned for Jean Cocteau Repertory and then attended a performance of Waiting for Godot, 10:00PM on a Friday night.  The play was at their 50-seat storefront theatre in a neighborhood that I considered the downtown “murder district.” It was indeed a pretty rough area. I had never seen anything quite like that performance before; I went back the next day and asked if they needed help sweeping the floor. I stayed with them for 30+ years.

Most unlikely problem you’ve faced during the rehearsal process—and how has it resolved or how is it resolving?

The pauses–I have worked on quite a bit of Pinter and Beckett–masters of the power of the pause.  Orton was a fan of Pinter, and the script is littered with “pauses” and “silences”–way too many of them. If he had written this later in his short career, I think he would have been more selective. But regardless, I thought I had a good handle on this–the non-filled pause–the power of nothingness hanging in the air—but it is a challenge.   We continue to work on them.

Most influential director, person in theatre, or mentor in your life? 

Eve Adamson and Elise Stone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Does knowing about the early ‘60s in England help in understanding Entertaining Mr. Sloane?  Or do you feel it’s not necessary to explain?

Well, young Matt, in rehearsal one night, referred to the time of Sloane as “way back then”–like it might have been an 18th-century play, which I found both humorous and sobering at the same time. There is a generation that doesn’t know who Orton is, who think that “edge” is only contemporary to the last few years.  In a way, this play could have only come out of that culture-changing decade–a decade I am so glad that I experienced. But the play is not stuck in that time period.  In my opinion, it is worthy of being considered a modern classic.

Does knowing about the current political or cultural environment in the U.S. inform your production in any way? 

I didn’t think it would.   We did Brecht’s Arturo Ui right over the election–it could not have been more timely, and we reaped the benefits.  I was relieved we were doing Sloane, because I thought it would be a break for us–and for our audience–from the overload of politics and the plethora of new works coming out in response to this U.S. administration.  But, in a very short time, we are now in a culture of repression and regression:  from the progressive victories of same-sex marriage to the horrors of Chechnya; from the rise of domestic hate crimes to the overall demise of compassion. So, unfortunately, we once again find our work being very, very relevant.

Give the answer to an essential question about yourself that you realize won’t be asked here.  

I find beauty in what others find to be gross and disgusting.

Best piece of theatrical advice you ever received? 

Don’t retreat–advance the story.   And also from a director, who gave me this note:  “it is, of course, complete hokum, but you must imbue with complete truth.”

Thank you very much.

Entertaining  Mr. Sloane by Joe Orton

When:   May 4–14; performances Tues-Sat @8:00 PM;  Wednesday and Saturday matinees at 2:00 pm; Sunday matinee at 3:00 pm.

Full Schedule: Thurs 5/4 @ 8pm; Fri 5/5 @ 8pm; Sat 5/6 @ 2pm & 8pm; Sun 5/7 @ 3pm; Tues 5/9 @ 8pm; Wed 5/10 @ 2pm; 8pm; Thurs 5/11 @8pm; Fri 5/12 @ 8pm; Sat 5//13 @ 2pm & 8pm; Sun 5/14 @  3pm.

Information: http://www.phoenixtheatreensemble.org/;  212-465-3446

Tickets:   Tickets are $30 each; Call 212-352-3101 or visit www.PhoenixTheatreEnsemble.org.

Where: The Wild Project @ 195 East 3rd Street (Avenue A and Avenue B)

Transportation: By Subway: F Train to 2nd Avenue; by Bus A14 to 4th Street and Ave A; 8th Street Crosstown. 

(c) 2017 by Craig Smith (answers) and Bob Shuman (questions). All rights reserved.

Phoenix Theatre Ensemble production of “Entertaining Mr. Sloane” photo credits: Gerry Goodstein.

MICHAEL MOORE TO TAKE AIM AT TRUMP, ON BROADWAY ·

Filmmaker Michael Moore attends the premiere of “The Hateful Eight” at the Ziegfeld Theatre on Monday, Dec. 14, 2015, in New York. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

(Michael Paulson’s article appeared in The New York Times, 5/1.)

Michael Moore has brought his zeal, his humor and his outrage to film, television and books. And now he’s bringing them to Broadway.

This left-wing provocateur is not shy about his agenda, made explicit on a preliminary poster for the production, which poses the question, in all capital letters, “Can a Broadway show bring down a sitting president?”

His plan, he said, is to perform a scripted (but also responsive to the news) one-man (more-or-less) show, called “The Terms of My Surrender,” eight times a week for 12 weeks, starting in July. He said that the show would simultaneously be entertaining and infuriating — not stand-up comedy, not a TED Talk, not a rally — but “a very developed piece of entertainment for people who like to think.”

(Read more)

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/01/theater/michael-moore-broadway-the-terms-of-my-surrender-donald-trump.html

CONVERSATIONS BETWEEN WARHOL AND CAPOTE TO BE ADAPTED INTO A PLAY ·

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(Andrew R. Chow’s article appeared in The New York Time, 5/1; via Pam Green.)

Andy Warhol and Truman Capote were famously friends: The artist depicted the writer in his work several times, and the pair spent hundreds of hours in conversation (some of it published). Now pieces of those conversations will be adapted into “Warhol Capote,” a new play opening this September at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, Mass.

All of the dialogue in the play will be drawn from recorded conversations between the two from the late 1970s, when they intended to create a Broadway play together. The tapes of these conversations were recently discovered and culled through by the director Rob Roth.

Mr. Roth hoped to take the play to Broadway in 2015. Instead, it will open at the American Repertory, which has hosted many recent Broadway-bound productions, including “Waitress” and “Finding Neverland.” Michael Mayer, a Tony Award winner for “Spring Awakening,” will direct.

(Read more)

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/01/theater/conversations-between-warhol-and-capote-to-be-adapted-into-a-play.html?_r=0

WAYNE ALLENSWORTH’S AMERICAN SHOWDOWN II: THE AUTHOR OF ‘FIELD OF BLOOD’ ON THE EPIC, RUSSIAN INTELLIGENCE/WESTERN ASSUMPTIONS, AND CHARACTERS WITH HARD CHOICES ·

Wayne Allensworth worked as an analyst for the Foreign Broadcast Information Service from 1991 to 2002.  He is the author of The Russian Question: Nationalism, Modernization, and Post-Communist Russia, published by Rowman & Littlefield in 1998.  He is a Corresponding Editor of Chronicles magazine.  His short story, Man of the West, was nominated for a Western Writers of America Spur award. He has contributed to the following collections: Exploring American History (Marshall Cavendish, 2008); Peace in the Promised Land: A Realist Scenario (Chronicles Books, 2006); Immigration and the American Identity (Chronicles Books, 2008); and Russian Nationalism and the National Reassertion of Russia, edited by Marlene Laruelle (Johns Hopkins University). He lives in Ft. Worth, Texas. 

Read Part 1 of Wayne Allensworth’s interview:

http://stagevoices.com/2017/04/15/wayne-allensworths-american-showdown-the-author-of-field-of-blood-on-modern-westerns-frontier-situations-and-the-best-books-and-films-in-the-genre-including-his/

Wayne Allensworth saddles up with SV’s Bob Shuman to talk about writing, formal institutions, and informal structures, in the conclusion to his two-part interview.

Read the prologue to FIELD OF BLOOD at the end of this post.

You mentioned Lonesome Dove as an example of an epic Western.  What makes a Western an epic?  Is “Field of Blood” an epic?

Epic Westerns are poetic, heroic, and tragic in the way of the ancient epics. There is a Homeric quality about them. They have a sweeping scope, taking in a series of adventures on a long trek, like the cattle drives in Red River and Lonesome Dove.  The backdrop is the mythic West, Ford’s Monument Valley, for instance.  The narrative may take place over a long period of time, maybe years, as in The Searchers, both Alan LeMay’s novel and Ford’s film.  But all good Westerns, books and movies, carry the elements of the epic within them to some degree, the tragedy of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence, for example, the fatal last shootout, fatal both literally and mythically, in The Wild Bunch or The Shootist. Every good Western evokes mythic heroes and storied battles.  My Darling ClementineGunfight at the OK Corral, and Tombstone did that with the Earps and the Clantons.

My novel, Field of Blood, is an American epic, covering decades in time, encompassing wars, peacetime, and the new frontier situation the characters are confronted with. It’s about who we were, who we are, and what we are becoming. It is tragic, and in scope covers landscapes across the world and here at home. It’s a modern Western in the ways I’ve already covered, including a showdown very much in the vein of the old Westerns.  So I hope it might be thought of as an epic story.

 

 

 

 

 

 

How did you come to write the novel–what was its inspiration?  Why was it important to tell this story?

My professional life has been spent on following events in Russia and the former Soviet Union. In trying to explain that reality, I had to look closely at what had happened in a country that had collapsed, where the old structures had been swept away.  There was a crisis of identity, as well as an economic and social crisis.

When the formal institutions of a country cease to function, or function only at a minimum level, then informal structures arise to fill the vacuum.  Those informal structures often include organized crime, as well as economic and political “clans” that actually govern, and of course, family, a few close friends acting together. The circle of trust shrinks.  The world becomes smaller. Life outside that circle becomes precarious.

Elections, court proceedings, these are mostly surface formalities. The rules are informal and are enforced outside the law and courts.  It may not be the legal system or police who punish those who violate the rules, but the hit man, the enforcer, or the police acting on behalf of informal “clans” or the criminal world.  On the other side of the coin, defending yourself means either seeking the protection of those who have the will and the weapons to do that, or acting yourself.  Just look at vigilante groups in Mexico for an example of that.  Often, it’s either current or former police or military, acting informally, who fill the gap.

Men belonging to a self-defense group stand at a checkpoint in the town of Las Colonias, Mexico, Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2013. Two leaders of the main vigilante groups in western Michoacan state said Tuesday that they are pulling back from confronting the Knights Templar drug cartel because the Mexican government has promised to oust traffickers from the area. (AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills)

I found that a lot of Americans were quite naïve about how much, probably most, of the rest of the world operates. Americans have taken a law-based country, one with high levels of social trust, for granted, as the norm, when in fact it’s a very rare thing. 

I lived in the Washington D.C. area for a number of years, and each time I visited my native Texas, I could see with my own eyes what was happening.  And I could read about the crime and corruption I was familiar with from my professional life gaining a foothold in a place and among people I cared very much about.  I could see what globalism meant for ordinary people.  And I could see that it was happening all over the country. Nobody had asked us about this.  People with power and influence were intent on creating a world they wanted, one in which our country and people were expendable. That explains where the premise for the book came from.

Do you consider yourself a political writer?

I didn’t set out to write a book about politics, but about people in a certain situation.  It carries my world view with it, of course.  Every writer has one.  I didn’t intend the book to be overly didactic, though I think the point or points made are pretty clear.  I think the situation we are in is plain to see now and all this is being talked about in a way it wasn’t when I started formulating this book and began writing back in 2010-2011. The story is about the characters and the choices they have to make. In the context of the story, what’s right or wrong and what can or should be done isn’t always clear.  That’s the way life is.

A good story puts its characters in situations that require them to make hard choices, situations that test them, that present them with a dilemma, or make them think about the most fundamental issues. Life, death, God, meaning, loyalty, identity, fight or flight.  Who is right, who is wrong, who the good guys or bad guys are isn’t always clear.  I was aiming for that kind of story.

Thank you so much, Wayne.

Read the prologue to FIELD OF BLOOD: Field of Blood Prologue

(c) 2017 by Wayne Allensworth (answers) and Bob Shuman (questions). All rights reserved.

Credits: Wayne Allensworth photo (c) 2017 by Elizabeth Allensworth Merino.  All rights reserved.

Photo Lonesome Dove: Cowboys and Indians Magazine.

Vigilante Group: Jammedup News

Texas: Free Creatives.

(c) 2017 by Wayne Allensworth (answers) and Bob Shuman (questions). All rights reserved.

HOW SIX DEGREES BECAME A FOREVER MEME ·

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Jennifer Schuessler’s article appeared in The New York Times, 4/19; via Pam Green.)

“Six Degrees of Separation” — John Guare’s play about a wealthy Manhattan couple whose lives are upended by a con artist claiming to be Sidney Poitier’s son — was the toast of the town when it had its premiere in 1990. A mere six months later, Frank Rich wrote in The New York Times that “its title has passed into the language.”

Mr. Guare did not invent the idea that everyone in the world is separated by only six other people, which emerged out of nearly a century of mathematical and psychological research. But it was the stickiness of his title — and the 1993 film version, starring Will Smith as the impostor — that blasted it “into the pop-culture stratosphere,” as the sociologist Duncan J. Watts put it in his book “Six Degrees: The Science of a Connected Age” (2003).

(Read more)

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/19/theater/six-degrees-of-separation-meme.html

Photo: New Directions Books

MIKHAIL BARYSHNIKOV: ON THE STAGE IT’S JUST ME, AND BRODSKY’S POEMS ·

Mikhail Baryshnikov performs Brodsky/ Baryshnikov, based on the poems of Joseph Brodsky at BAC on March 8, 2016.
Photo Credit: ©Stephanie Berger

(Irene Kukota’s article appeared on Russia Beyound the Headlines, 4/17.)

Russian Art and Culture: How would you describe Brodsky/Baryshnikovin one sentence?

Mikhail Baryshnikov:. A poetic journey

What made you say “yes” to participating in Brodsky/Baryshnikov project staged by Alvis Hermanis?

M.B.: Alvis Hermanis invited me to do it, and I was honored to work with such a remarkable director. I couldn’t say no! I prefer live theater. The immediacy, the terror; it’s the ultimate challenge

Did you take part in the writing of the performance script? 

M.B.: There was never a script. The director, Alvis Hermanis, selected a range of poems including very early and very late ones. To explain the staging of this show would take a long time. We lived with this text for some time and it was a fascinating process for both Alvis and me.

It is frequently said that this show is about death, powerlessness against time and age. Do you also see it this way?

M.B.: I think that’s up to the audience to decide. They are the main participant after all. The goal is always to stay true to the director’s original vision. The set is a beautifully decrepit glass winter garden from the turn of the 20th century. I think it captures the quiet introspection and pensive mood of the play perfectly and Joseph would have loved it. It can be lonely out there, speaking of the ultimate challenge, but I love it.

(Read more)

http://rbth.com/arts/literature/2017/04/17/mikhail-baryshnikov-on-the-stage-its-just-me-and-brodkys-poems_742825

Photo Observer.

INGO SWANN: ‘A LIFE GONE WILD’ AT THE PHILIP K DICK FILM FESTIVAL IN NYC, MAY 25TH TO 30TH ·

 

(via Marty Rosenblatt)

 

“The Estate of Ingo Swann is excited to announce “A Life Gone Wild” the short film is part of the official selection at the Philip K Dick Film Festival in NYC, May 25th to 30th. 

 

Directed by Maryanne Bilham-Knight, Editor Albert OH, Produced by Swann-Ryder Productions LLC, Robert M Knight, Nick Cook and John Stahler.

 

The film screening is followed with a prestigious panel of scientists and practitioners including: 

 

Jacques Vallee, high-tech investor, noted for his works on the early Internet, who served as the “French researcher “in Steven Spielberg’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”; 

 

Harold Puthoff, theoretical and experimental physicist and creator of the government’s Stargate Remote Viewing Program;

 

Tom McNear, former Stargate Remote Viewer;

Blynne Olivieri, Head of Special Collections at the University of West Georgia.

 

For more details go to: http://www.thephilipkdickfilmfestival.com/program_17_2.html

Block Four”

Photo: Higher Journeys

READ THE REVIEWS FOR BETTE MIDLER IN ‘HELLO, DOLLY!’ ·

(Ryan McPhee’s and Olivia Clement’s article appeared in Playbill, 4/20; via Pam Green.)

The Broadway revival of Hello, Dolly!, starring Bette Midler in her return to the musical theatre stage, celebrated its official opening night at the Shubert Theatre April 20. The Jerry Zaks-helmed production began performances March 15.

Midler takes on the iconic role of Dolly Gallagher Levi; among those sharing the stage with her are Tony winner David Hyde Pierce as Horace Vandergelder, Kate Baldwin as Irene Molloy, and Olivier winner Gavin Creel as Cornelius Hackl.

(Read more)

http://www.playbill.com/article/read-the-reviews-for-bette-midler-in-hello-dolly

Photo: Showbiz411

PIONEERING PILOT, A BROADWAY SHOW AND A LIFE-CHANGING BOND ·

(Michael Paulson’s article appeared in The New York times, 4/16; via Pam Green.)

She was a girl who dreamed of flying. A woman who broke barriers in commercial aviation. And then a pilot ordered to divert a trans-Atlantic jet to Gander, Newfoundland, during the unfolding terror of Sept. 11, 2001.

Beverley Bass had an unusual story to tell when a pair of dramatists started researching the encounter between stranded air travelers and small-town Canadians in those days after the attacks. And now she has another unusual story, as she stares over and over again into a heart-tugging piece of musical theater, and sees her own life mirrored back.

The pioneering pilot and the actress who portrays her in the Broadway musical “Come From Away” have developed a bond over the last two years, ever since they first met, at a restaurant in San Diego, when Ms. Bass jocularly said to the actress, Jenn Colella, “I think you’re playing me.”

Ms. Colella is both playing Ms. Bass, and, frequently, playing to Ms. Bass, who has seen the show 61 times. Using her free-flying privileges as a now-retired pilot, she has followed the musical’s developmental journey from La Jolla to Seattle to Washington to Gander to Toronto to New York, often with other female pilots in tow. Ms. Bass is both watching the show and reliving the events, clutching her husband’s hand as the emotions return.

(Read more)

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/16/theater/come-from-away-jenn-colella.html