Category Archives: Events

CAN GREEK TRAGEDY GET US THROUGH THE PANDEMIC? ·

(Elif Batuman’s article appeared in the New Yorker, 9/1; photo: In Sophocles’ “Oedipus the King,” staged via Zoom by Theater of War Productions, the city of Thebes is in the grip of a terrible epidemic.Photograph Courtesy Theater of War Productions.)

A theatre company has spent years bringing catharsis to the traumatized. In the coronavirus era, that’s all of us.

In Sophocles’ “Oedipus the King,” staged via Zoom by Theater of War Productions, the city of Thebes is in the grip of a terrible epidemic.

“Children of Thebes, why are you here?” Oscar Isaac asked. His face filled the monitor on my dining table. (It was my partner’s turn to use the desk.) We were a couple of months into lockdown, just past seven in the evening, and a few straggling cheers for essential workers came in through the window. Isaac was looking smoldery with a quarantine beard, a gold chain, an Airpod, and a black T-shirt. His display name was set to “Oedipus.”

Isaac was one of several famous actors performing Sophocles’ “Oedipus the King” from their homes, in the first virtual performance by Theater of War Productions: a group that got its start in 2008, staging Sophocles’ “Ajax” and “Philoctetes” for U.S. military audiences and, beginning in 2009, on military installations around the world, including in Kuwait, Qatar, and Guantánamo Bay, with a focus on combat trauma. After each dramatic reading, a panel made up of people in active service, veterans, military spouses, and/or psychiatrists would describe how the play resonated with their experiences of war, before opening up the discussion to the audience. Since its founding, Theater of War Productions has addressed different kinds of trauma. It has produced Euripides’ “The Bacchae” in rural communities affected by the opioid crisis, “The Madness of Heracles” in neighborhoods afflicted by gun violence and gang wars, and Aeschylus’ “Prometheus Bound” in prisons. “Antigone in Ferguson,” which focusses on crises between communities and law enforcement, was motivated by an analogy between Oedipus’ son’s unburied body and that of Michael Brown, left on the street for roughly four hours after Brown was killed by police; it was originally performed at Michael Brown’s high school.

Now, with trauma roving the globe more contagiously than ever, Theater of War Productions had traded its site-specific approach for Zoom. The app was configured in a way I hadn’t seen before. There were no buttons to change between gallery and speaker view, which alternated seemingly by themselves. You were in a “meeting,” but one you were powerless to control, proceeding by itself, with the inexorability of fate. There was no way to view the other audience members, and not even the group’s founder and director, Bryan Doerries, knew how numerous they were. Later, Zoom told him that it had been fifteen thousand. This is roughly the seating capacity of the theatre of Dionysus, where “Oedipus the King” is believed to have premièred, around 429 B.C. Those viewers, like us, were in the middle of a pandemic: in their case, the Plague of Athens.

The original audience would have known Oedipus’ story from Greek mythology: how an oracle had predicted that Laius, the king of Thebes, would be killed by his own son, who would then sleep with his mother; how the queen, Jocasta, gave birth to a boy, and Laius pierced and bound the child’s ankles, and ordered a shepherd to leave him on a mountainside. The shepherd took pity on the maimed baby, Oedipus (“swollen foot”), and gave him to a Corinthian servant, who handed him off to the king and queen of Corinth, who raised him as their son. Years later, Oedipus killed Laius at a crossroads, without knowing who he was. Then he saved Thebes from a Sphinx, became the king of Thebes, had four children with Jocasta, and lived happily for many years.

That’s where Sophocles picks up the story. Everyone would have known where things were headed—the truth would come out, and Oedipus would blind himself—but not how they would get there. How Sophocles got there was by drawing on contemporary events, on something that was in everyone’s mind, though it doesn’t appear in the original myth: a plague.

In the opening scene, Thebes is in the grip of a terrible epidemic. Oedipus’ subjects come to the palace, imploring him to save the city, describing the scene of pestilence and panic, the screaming and the corpses in the street. Something about the way Isaac voiced Oedipus’ response—“Children. I am sorry. I know”—made me feel a kind of longing. It was a degree of compassion conspicuous by its absence in the current Administration. I never think of myself as someone who wants or needs “leadership,” yet I found myself thinking, We would be better off with Oedipus. “I would be a weak leader if I did not follow the gods’ orders,” Isaac continued, subverting the masculine norm of never asking for advice. He had already sent for the best information out there, from the Delphic Oracle.

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NEWS FROM THE WOOSTER GROUP: THE B-SIDE AVAILABLE FOR STREAMING THROUGH SEPTEMBER 14 ·

(from Jim Byk/Kelly Guiod, the Press room, 9/1)

NEWS FROM THE WOOSTER GROUP: 
THE B-SIDE AVAILABLE TO STREAM ONLINE,
CAPPING SUMMER OF OPENED ARCHIVES

European tour of The Mother,
postponed early in pandemic,
will resume in 2021

The Performing Garage,
reconfigured to accommodate
COVID-19 guidelines,
reopens for in-person rehearsals

$500,000 fundraising campaign
enables company to complete
two new productions

 
New York (September 1, 2020) — The Wooster Group’s acclaimed 2017 production of The B-Side: “Negro Folklore from Texas State Prisons,” A Record Album Interpretation is now available to stream for free on the company’s website (thewoostergroup.org) through Monday, September 14.
 
Named one of the best theatrical productions of 2017 by The New York Times’ Ben Brantley, The B-Side, directed by Kate Valk, is a collaboration between The Wooster Group and Eric Berryman.  Berryman introduced the company to the show’s source material, a 1965 LP of work songs, blues, and spirituals recorded live by inmates in Texas’ then-segregated state prison farms. “… featuring the remarkable Eric Berryman as a sort of transcendental disc jockey, this was conceptual theater at its purest and most precise,” Brantley wrote in his recap of the year’s best theater.

The B-Side is the latest online offering of The Wooster Group, which, since postponing touring and in-person rehearsals due to the COVID-19 pandemic, has made much of its historic work available for free on its website. Recordings of such groundbreaking works as House/LightsTo You, the Birdie!; and Hamlet have been celebrated by The New York Times and Time Out New York, among other outlets. 
 
Development of a new collaboration with Berryman is also underway called Untitled Toast Project. The new piece is based on a collection of narrative poetry from Black oral tradition edited by Bruce Jackson, the folklorist who recorded Negro Folklore from Texas State Prisons in 1964.
 
The Mother Returns: In-person rehearsals resume at The Performing Garage in advance of 2021 Vienna premiere
 
The Wooster Group’s production of Bertolt Brecht’s The Mother, directed by Elizabeth LeCompte, is set to have its world premiere at the Vienna Festival in June 2021. The timing lends a new resonance to Brecht’s play about social and spiritual revolution, whose 1932 premiere in Berlin marked the writer’s last theatrical premiere before the Nazis seized power in Germany.
 
The Wooster Group’s production of The Mother had been scheduled to premiere in Vienna earlier this year, but was postponed due to the pandemic. The new production is being developed to respect and reflect health guidelines. In-person rehearsals of the show resumed August 31 at The Performing Garage, the company’s historic home and primary performance venue.
 
SOS Fund Successful: $500,000 will help sustain the company 
 
The Wooster Group launched a Campaign to create the SOS Fund in April, after the postponement of The Mother’s premiere and tour eliminated the company’s primary earned revenue sources. The fundraising effort yielded an enormous outpouring of support, raising $500,000, enough to sustain the company through the end of the year.
 
The fund enables The Wooster Group to pay the salaries and health benefits of its 14 full-time company members, as well as to cover the costs of maintaining and rehabilitating The Performing Garage, to ensure that the space is safe for in-person rehearsals and performances.
 
Development continues on Memoirs of My Nervous Illness

The success of the campaign to create the SOS Fund has also made it possible for The Wooster Group to continue making new work during the pandemic. Since March, members of the company have remotely rehearsed an audiovisual adaptation of Daniel Paul Schreber’s classic 1903 book Memoirs of My Nervous Illness. Originally commissioned by Hauser & Wirth, the production, now envisioned as a Wooster Group spin on an audiobook, will feature company member Ari Fliakos, named Audible’s Narrator of the Year for 2017, Maura Tierney, and Frances McDormand.
 
The Wooster Group is funded by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council and the New York State Council on the Arts. It also receives lead funding from the Howard Gilman Foundation, Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, Fan Fox & Leslie R. Samuels Foundation, The Shubert Foundation, Harold & Mimi Steinberg Foundation, and Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation, with additional support from its Directors Circle and generous individual donors. 
 

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BELARUS FREE THEATRE’S REBEL TROUPES STAND UP TO THE LUKASHENKO REGIME ·

(Shaun Walker’s article appeared in the Guardian, 8/31; Svetlana Sugako in rehearsals for the Belarus Free theatre. Photograph: Misha Friedman.)

For 15 years, the acclaimed company has been a voice of dissent. Will it finally perform in a free country?

In the 15 years of its existence, the Belarus Free theatre has never had an ordinary season, being forced to perform in makeshift locations as it eked out a clandestine existence under Alexander Lukashenko’s authoritarian rule.

But the season due to start in a couple of weeks is the most uncertain yet, as massive protests against Lukashenko’s continued rule rock the country. Will the theatre, which has won increasing acclaim on tours abroad but puts on plays in a garage when in Minsk, finally be performing in a new, democratic Belarus? Or will Lukashenko launch a fresh crackdown that makes things even more unbearable for the arts?

Profile

Already, several members of the theatre have found themselves at the heart of the repression that followed the aftermath of Lukashenko’s declaration of victory in a flawed election three weeks ago.

Svetlana Sugako, one of the theatre’s administrators, was meant to spend much of August preparing for a planned tour to New York. That, along with a run at London’s Barbican earlier in the year, was postponed due to Covid, and instead, she spent five days in August in prison, caught up in a crackdown in which about 7,000 people were detained.

Sugako, her girlfriend and fellow BFT administrator Nadia Brodskaya and actor Daria Andreyanova were all arrested on 9 August, the night of the elections, while standing outside a polling station shortly after voting closed.

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REVIEW: CHLOROFORM, LIES AND RACISM FIRE UP ‘THE JACKSONIAN’ ·

(Ben Brantley’s article appeared in The New York times, 8/28; Clockwise from top left: Bill Pullman, Carol Kane, Amy Madigan, Juliet Brett and Ed Harris in “The Jacksonian;” via Pam Green.)

This streamed reading of Beth Henley’s slice of Southern noir offers scorching portraits of bad faith from Ed Harris, Amy Madigan and Bill Pullman.

Fred Weber, a proud son of Mississippi and one very scary bartender, is said to have astoundingly acute peripheral vision. Watching the immensely enjoyable (and equally disturbing) reading of Beth Henley’s “The Jacksonian,” which streamed live on Thursday night as part of the New Group Off Stage series, you don’t doubt that Fred — played by a priceless Bill Pullman — can detect whatever’s beside him, behind him or above him.

It’s a gaze that penetrates straight through the screen that separates you from this human reptile. When his eyes narrow, but never quite close, into razor slits, Fred gives the impression that he’s also looking through all the kinks and corners of his own twisted interior.

Does he like what he sees? Surely not. But he can live with it. And though he lies with cavalier smoothness, he is probably the most honest person you’ll meet in the shabby hotel that gives its name to this cockeyed murder mystery, a twisty study of the discontents of living in the racist South in 1964.

When I first saw “The Jacksonian” in its New York premiere in 2013, one of the great, spooky treats of Robert Falls’s interpretation was watching Pullman — an actor I had long admired for his scrupulous portraits of conflicted Edward Albee characters — cross over to the dark side. And I am happy to report that seven years later, confined to an isolating box on a split screen, he is, if anything, even more compellingly creepy.

As for his starry, first-rate fellow cast members — Ed Harris, Amy Madigan and Juliet Brett, who all originated their parts, and Carol Kane, who is reading the role created by the wonderful Glenne Headly, who died in 2017 — they too are frighteningly vital. Each offers a testament to the notion that being trapped in a certain place at a certain moment in history can cause even the freshest soul to rot. They may have scripts in front of them, but they’re not just reading; they’re being, in ways that can feel too close for comfort.

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LINN ULLMANN ON HER FATHER, INGMAR BERGMAN: ‘IT WAS AS IF ALL THE WINDOWS OF HIS MIND HAD OPENED’ ·

(Alex Clark’s article appeared in the Guardian, 8/29; Ingmar Bergman with his daughter Linn Ullmann during the filming of Autumn Sonata (1978). Photograph: Arne Carlsson © AB Svensk Filmindustri.)

When Linn Ullmann’s father was well into his 80s, he began to refer to the life that he was now experiencing as “the epilogue”. Lying in bed in the mornings, he would tot up his ailments, allowing himself one per decade: if there were fewer than eight, he would get up; if there were more, he would stay put. But these strategies denoted realism rather than appeasement, and his determination to continue work remained largely unshaken.

Ullmann’s father was the great Swedish film director Ingmar Bergman, and the work that he fixed on in his last years was a collaboration with his daughter, a book that would capture something of his life and thoughts as he approached the end. Recalling the beginnings of the project as she talks to me from Oslo, Ullmann emphasises the centrality of the creative process to Bergman’s life. “When it’s work, you know, then we know what we do. We’re working: good. We had so much fun discussing when we were going to write the book, how, what form it would take.” His preferred title, he joked, was “Laid & Slayed in Eldorado Valley”, a phrase that he’d always hoped to use for the name of a film.

Instead, what emerged, over a decade after his death in 2007, was Ullmann’s sixth novel, Unquiet, a powerful and unsettling hybrid of memoir, fiction and meditation, braided together in a fragmentary structure that reflects, among other things, Bergman’s love of Bach’s Cello Suites.

It is, she tells me, a work built on “the ruins of a book that I didn’t write”. As father and daughter delightedly planned their project in numerous letters, phone calls and meetings, Bergman “kept getting older”. By the time work began in earnest, in the spring and summer before his death, physical frailty had been joined by something else: “Things had changed very much; just in a few months, his language had changed, the memory loss was now very obvious to him and to me. It was as if all the windows of his mind had opened up so that things that were real and things that were imaginary or dreamlike – he didn’t always have the capacity to see the difference.”

The six conversations between them, recorded at Hammars, Bergman’s home on the Swedish island of Fårö, form a vital strand of Unquiet but for many years Ullmann didn’t even listen to them, believing them to be part of the “huge fiasco” that the unfinished project had become: “It was physically painful, almost, to listen to those tapes. So I just put away the tape recorder … I mean, I should have started earlier, I should have insisted that we do it earlier, I should have asked different questions when we sat there, I should have had a better tape recorder because the tape recorder was lousy. I shouldn’t have been so high pitched.” It was her husband, the writer Niels Fredrik Dahl, who prodded her into retrieving the recorder from the attic: “Don’t you want to just listen to it now that you’re writing this book? And then I listened to it. And I transcribed it. And I translated it from Swedish to Norwegian. And it was just delightful.”

These initial feelings, of course, are an acute form of the regrets that so often accompany death; the conviction that had we acted differently, we might somehow have mitigated our bereavement, or preserved something more tangible of our loved one. But in Ullmann’s case, there is a sense of something particularly heightened – almost primal – about the experience.

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Read the Stage Voices review of the book, 2/20/19

 

KHALED NABAWY WILL BE A GUEST WITH DIRECTOR MOLLY SMITH ON MOLLY’S SALON THURSDAY, AUGUST 27 AT 7 P.M. ·

Adam Sullivan tells us that international film star Khaled ELnabawy will “be a guest with director Molly Smith on Molly’s Salon next Thursday 7:00 pm Washington D.C. Time and 1:00 am Cairo time.” 

Thursday, August 27 at 7 p.m.  https://bit.ly/3iXnX83  

Molly visited Egypt last November by an invitation from the Egyptian Star Khaled ELnabawy; Nabawy starred in D.C. in Camp David.

https://twitter.com/KhaledElNabawy/status/1297883283305443328

MOLLY’S SALON

A weekly Salon featuring artists and leaders of Arena Stage.

These half-hour long weekly conversations will include some of our best thinkers and creative firebrands.

Molly will sit down with a variety of artists and leaders to discuss new ideas they are excited about and glimmers of hope for the future.

Thursday, August 27 from 7:00 – 7:30 PM
Khaled Nabawy, actor, Arena’s Camp David
Michael Edwards, Artistic Director, Asolo Repertory Theatre
Jackie Reyes-Yanes, Director of the Mayor’s Office on Latino Affairs

This event is free, but if you feel you are in a position to donate to support Arena Stage programs, please go here: https://arenastage.org/donate

You can also donate to Arena Stage via Paypal at https://arenastage.org/paypal.

Questions? Please contact onlineevents@arenastage.org

Aug 27, 2020 07:00 PM in Eastern Time (US and Canada)

 

BELARUS FREE THEATRE: VIDEO SHOWS ARMED BELARUS PRESIDENT AS PROTESTS ROIL CAPITAL ·

(Yuras Karmanau’s article appeared in the Mercury News, 8/23; photo: Thousands of people gather for a protest at the Independence square in Minsk, Belarus, Sunday, Aug. 23, 2020. Demonstrators are taking to the streets of the Belarusian capital and other cities, keeping up their push for the resignation of the nation’s authoritarian leader. President Alexander Lukashenko has extended his 26-year rule in a vote the opposition saw as rigged–AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky.)

 

 

Video shows armed Belarus president as protests roil capital

Thousands of people gather for a protest at the Independence square in Minsk, Belarus, Sunday, Aug. 23, 2020. Demonstrators are taking to the streets of the Belarusian capital and other cities, keeping up their push for the resignation of the nation’s authoritarian leader. President Alexander Lukashenko has extended his 26-year rule in a vote the opposition saw as rigged. (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky)

MINSK, Belarus — More than 100,000 protesters demanding the resignation of Belarus’ authoritarian president rallied Sunday in a vast square in the capital and later marched through the city, keeping up the massive outburst of dissent that has shaken the country since a disputed presidential election two weeks ago.

Sunday’s demonstration overflowed Minsk’s sprawling 7-hectare (17-acre) Independence Square. There were no official figures on crowd size, but it appeared to be 150,000 people or more. The demonstrators then marched to another square about 2.5 kilometers (1 1/2 miles) away.

Protesters say the official Aug. 9 presidential election results that gave President Alexander Lukashenko a sixth term in a landslide are fraudulent. The size and duration of the protests have been unprecedented for Belarus, a former Soviet republic of 9.5 million people that Lukashenko has ruled with an iron fist for 26 years.

Video from Belarus on Sunday showed the beleaguered president carrying a rifle and wearing a bulletproof vest as he got off a helicopter that brought him to his working residence amid the 15th straight day of protests.

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IN FRANCE, LIVE THEATER CALLS FOR MASKED ACTORS AND CREATIVE SOLUTIONS ·

(from The New York Times, 8/20; Photo: The New York Times; via Pam Green.)

PARIS — In countries where live performances have resumed, masked audiences have become a familiar — if still curious — sight. Face coverings for actors are another matter, however: How can performers project their voices and emotions, many theater professionals have asked, with more than half their faces obscured?

The itinerant company Les Tréteaux de France has taken up the challenge — and while performing a 17th-century verse play, no less. Last week, in Cergy, a suburb to the west of Paris, seven masked actors traded alexandrines in Racine’s “Britannicus,” a tragedy charting the Roman emperor Nero’s descent into violent lunacy after he abducts the fiancée of Britannicus, his half brother.

A verse prologue co-written by the cast and the director, Robin Renucci, attempted to explain the unusual costumes. Rome, they said in character before the show started, had been hit by a plague, and masks were a necessity.

The warning felt superfluous, since masks are a time-honored theater tradition. The main difference is that the current pandemic requires the mouth to be covered, whereas commedia dell’arte-style half-masks are typically designed to exaggerate the forehead, the eyes and the nose, leaving the mouth unobstructed.

In a phone interview, Renucci, who has been at the helm of Les Tréteaux de France since 2011, said that the cast of “Britannicus” started rehearsing with their new props in May, as soon as lockdown ended in France. Acting with a mask is not just a matter of habit. When a performer speaks a lot onstage, Renucci said, masks become damp and stick to the skin, so each cast member goes through four or five of them over a two-hour performance. They have experimented with different fabrics: While many wear cotton masks, one actress, Nadine Darmon (who plays Agrippine), switched to polyamide during the run in Cergy, to test the effect on the sound.

Add to that persistent rain in Cergy, where “Britannicus” was performed under a tent at an outdoor activities center, and during the first few scenes, it took some effort to latch onto the solemn, deliberate rhythm of Racine’s verse. The actors’ voices sounded muffled, with duller consonants, and several performers were forced to regularly nudge their masks — sliding down their chins with every monologue — back into place.

Yet soon enough, my ear adjusted. We were seated on all four sides of the small stage, and this proximity between cast and audience helped alleviate the muffling effect. The actors betrayed very little discomfort — no small feat considering that breathing in Racine’s plays is tied to the ebb and flow of the alexandrines.

(Read more)

 

 

TIME IS RUNNING OUT FOR CHICAGO’S ARTS TO TAKE IT OUTSIDE. LET’S NOT WASTE THIS OPPORTUNITY. ·

(Chris Jones’s article appeared in the Chicago Tribune, 8/20; Photo: Chicago Tribune.)

We’re safer staying outside. But in Chicago, where summer is short, time rapidly is running out for the arts to take advantage of the warm, fresh air. What a missed opportunity.

This week, the Chicago Latino Theatre Alliance announced plans to take advantage of the giant outdoor screen that has been erected in the parking lot of Chitown Futbol in Pilsen (now also known as the ChiTown Movies) and, for one night only on Sept. 17, produce an epic, multi-format and multi-disciplinary event designed to celebrate this city’s Latino theater, film, music and art.

If you want to attend Destinos al Aire, all you have to do is pay $30 and show up with your car and (if you wish) lawn chairs to sit outside your vehicle. For that, you get up to six guests for an experience replete with live music, theatrical performances both virtual and in-person from stellar local groups like Aguijón Theater and Teatro Vista, along with dance, comedy, film and even food. (ChiTown Movies specializes in popcorn, tacos, wings and frozen mangos, served right to your car.)

What a fabulous use of this innovative venue at 2343 S. Throop St. I’ll wager it won’t take long to sell out the space for 140 cars, especially since Myrna Salazar, the executive director of CLATA, says the bywords here are “fun” and “celebratory.” I’ve seen how much space is available there and I don’t doubt for a second that the event will be safe and socially distanced.

With care, creativity, goodwill and advance planning, these things are very doable.

Elsewhere in the world, in fact, these outdoor stagings are not only proving to be very successful but they are being hailed as a positive force in the maintenance of collective mental and physical health. Instead of standing in their way like naysayers, city and national governments generally have been working with arts groups to help them follow regulations, maintain social distancing and mask use and ensure safety.

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SOME LIGHT IN THE DARKNESS FOR LONDON’S WEST END ·

(Matt Wolf’s article appeared in The New York Times, 8/13; Photo: Playgoers at the Donmar Warehouse for “Blindness,” a reimagining of José Saramago’s 1995 novel as a sound installation heard through headphones.Credit…Helen Maybanks; via Pam Green.)

The Donmar Warehouse is the first major playhouse in the city to reopen, with a socially distanced sound installation.

LONDON — Finally, some light in the darkness. The Donmar Warehouse has made stage history as the first playhouse here to open its doors to a paying public in the almost five months since the coronavirus lockdown began. Brave? Yes, and, even better, with a brilliant production.

The chosen title, running through Aug. 22, is a new and apposite adaptation of the Nobel laureate José Saramago’s 1995 novel, “Blindness.” The story of a society sent into free fall by a pandemic is having its premiere before socially distanced audiences that will find its message urgent.

Provocative, disturbing, yet with glimmers of hope near the end, this “Blindness” has been conceived by the Tony Award-winning playwright Simon Stephens and the director Walter Meierjohann as a sound installation heard via headphones. There are no actors present.

The result is a triumph, but possibly a challenge for Covid-weary listeners. Those wanting an escape from talk of plague must seek entertainment elsewhere. (Never fear, devotees of levity: There’s a musical version of the film “Sleepless in Seattle” scheduled to open here in September.)

“Blindness” is no ordinary theatrical experience, but then we live in extraordinary times. The audience lines up outside the venue, in the Covent Garden district, wearing masks and keeping distance. Inside, there is plenty of hand sanitizer, but no bar or playbills. The production is running four times a day, like a movie, enabling the Donmar to make up some of the revenue it’s losing by restricting numbers in the auditorium to about 20 percent of its usual capacity.

(Read more)