Category Archives: History

OUTDOOR SHAKESPEARE: THE PIONEERS OF A SUMMER TRADITION ·

(Georgianna Ziegler’s article appeared in Shakespeare & Beyond, 7/9; via Pam Green.)

Shakespeare by the sea, on the river, in the park or garden, on the common – in the summertime Shakespeare’s plays are everywhere outdoors! High-profile shows in New York’s Central Park or at Ashland’s Oregon Shakespeare Festival may come to mind for active theatergoers today, but the inspiration for this kind of outdoor performance actually came from semi-amateur theatricals, often led by women, in England and America in the late 19th century.

Lady Archibald Campbell, Agnes Booth, and As You Like It

One of the earliest and most influential of these productions was organized by Janey Seville Pastoral Players. In 1884 and 1885, they put on productions of As You Like It at the Coombe Warren estate in Surrey, with proceeds going to charity. (The Folger Shakespeare Library owns an archive of ima Callander, better known as Lady Archibald Campbell.

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LORCA (IN OUR TIME, BBC RADIO 4–LINK BELOW) ·

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LORCA

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Spanish poet and playwright Federico Garcia Lorca (1898-1936), author of Blood Wedding, Yerma and The House of Bernarda Alba, who mixed the traditions of Andalusia with the avant-garde. He found his first major success with his Gypsy Ballads, although Dali, once his close friend, mocked him for these, accusing Lorca of being too conservative. He preferred performing his poems to publishing them, and his plays marked a revival in Spanish theatre. He was captured and killed by Nationalist forces at the start of the Civil War, his body never recovered, and it’s been suggested this was punishment for his politics and for being openly gay. He has since been seen as the most important Spanish playwright and poet of the last century.

With Maria Delgado Professor of Creative Arts at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, University of London

Federico Bonaddio Reader in Modern Spanish at King’s College London

And Sarah Wright Professor of Hispanic Studies and Screen Arts at Royal Holloway, University of London

Producer: Simon Tillotson

HAMILTON CLANCY ON THE ROAD: SitPL’S ARTISTIC DIRECTOR TALKS NYC’S DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION (DOT), 90% CHUTZPAH, AND THE MOST DYNAMIC ASSOCIATION OF ARTISTS IN THE WORLD ·

Hamilton Clancy (producer/director/actor/theatre (producer/director/actor/theatre maker) has been making theatre in and around Manhattan for the last 25 years and is the current/founding artistic  director of The Drilling Company where he oversees both Shakespeare in the Parking Lot as well as Bryant Park Shakespeare. Additionally Mr. Clancy is the artistic director of the Chekhov International Theatre Festival in Ridgefield, CT.  Mr. Clancy began working with Wynn Handmann at The  American Place Theatre in the early 1990’s and was an original member of the interactive experimental Offerings, also at The  American Place Theatre. After working regionally and with several  other  downtown troupes, Mr. Clancy founded the Drilling Company in 1999.  With The Drilling Company Mr. Clancy has commissioned and developed over 350 new short plays,  producing 21 projects over the past 15 years, celebrating playwrights of  social conscience.  Brian Dykstra, P Seth Bauer, Eric Henry Sanders, C. Denby  Swanson, Trish Harnetiaux, Will Eno, and Vern Theissen are a few of the outstanding writers Mr. Clancy has had the privilege to commission, produce, and direct. Additionally Mr. Clancy has developed and produced 9 world  premieres, including the 2013 NY Times Critic’s Pick, The  Norwegians, which was originally produced and developed by Mr. Clancy, and now published by DPS.  Mr. Clancy is responsible for FREE Shakespeare in the Parking Lot, in Lower Manhattan, offering full productions of Shakespeare plays in a parking lot on the Lower East Side.  Additionally Mr. Clancy is responsible for inaugural and current productions of Bryant Park Shakespeare, and for seven years, oversaw the  development of new works at The Drilling Company Theatre for New Plays  on 78th Street, in Manhattan.  Mr. Clancy has written and received  grants  from the New York State Council on the Arts, the Department of Cultural  affairs, Brad and Melissa Coolidge Foundation, Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, and Select Equity Group.

His feature  film and  television credits include HBO’s Wizard of Lies (2016), Billions (2016), Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies (2015), Coen Brothers’ Burn After Reading, American Gangster, The Better Angels, and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.  Hamilton can be seen as Kowalski in Orange Is the New Black on Netflix, among many others. He was raised in New Orleans, LA and is the  proud  father of Joseph and husband to the  remarkable Karen Kitz-Clancy.

Artistic Director HAMILTON CLANCY tools through Bob Shuman’s SV interview, as Romeo and Juliet, directed by Lukas Raphael, premieres at Shakespeare in the Parking Lot, 7/11 (to play through 7/27).

What does the AD of Shakespeare in the Parking Lot–known for plays performed outside during the hottest days of summer–do during the winter?

For many years we’ve focused on new work during the winter months.  Last year, for example, we premiered Gabriel, by C. Denby Swanson. We also, customarily, sponsor new play readings.  We have a Bare Bard  series, too, in which we gather actors to read Shakespeare plays aloud,  without rehearsal.  Having developed an accomplished company over  some  seasons, Bare Bard serves as a winter rejuvenation, which can sometimes be revelatory and inspire our choices for the summer months.

Which came first:  Shakespeare in the Parking Lot or the Drilling Company? 

Shakespeare in the Parking Lot (SitPL) came first.  Shakespeare in the Parking Lot was begun by the legendary company Expanded Arts, which coined the term.  They ran a very active storefront theatre space on  the Lower East Side, for about eight years, in the early ‘90s.  When the  storefront lost its lease, the founder moved upstate, and it looked like  Shakespeare in the Parking Lot would be relegated to the distant  memory of Off-Off-Broadway, downtown.  But a group of intrepid actors decided they would continue SitPL.

The Drilling Company began in 1999. We began and thrived for many years producing short play projects.  In 2000, I was invited to be part of  the continuing Shakespeare in the Parking Lot.  The Drilling Company’s early and continuing mission was to bring diverse audiences together for a  common theatrical event.  SitPL perfectly connected to this mission.

We began coproducing SitPL in 2001, and, in 2006, we took over  producing it completely, despite a complicated gentrification process  transforming the  Lower East Side.

Describe the most significant challenge for Shakespeare in the Parking Lot.

In 2012, Seward Park Urban Renewal Area (SPURA) was approved  by the New York City Council, which meant that land was suddenly  available for development.  SPURA broke am almost fifty-five year stalemate between city government and developers, and a  feeding  frenzy began, which meant that the parking lot, at Ludlow and Broom Streets–where SitPL had been performing for twenty years–would be no more.

How did you find the Clemente Parking Lot, where the company is currently performing?

We  literally spent hours and hours and hours walking around the Lower  East Side looking for a parking lot. The only other possibilities were giant school yards and school parking lots.  In the first twenty years of Shakespeare in the Parking Lot, we always performed in a public parking lot.  Accent on public.  There were no gates.  No locks. (The biggest challenge, honestly, has been the lock on the gate.) All of our other options, since then, have been with institutions who are maintaining private property and, as such, our negotiations are more complicated than with the New York City Department of Transportation (DOT).  In  2015, however, we knocked on  the  door  of  the Clemente, and they welcomed us into their parking lot.

You also direct plays in Bryant Park.  How and when did that begin?                                                                                                     

Bryant Park came to see Shakespeare in the Parking Lot.  They dug it.  They read in The New York Times that DOT was hassling us to “pay” for  the parking spaces we were using, when performing.  So they wanted to reach out to us and invite us to begin performing Shakespeare at Bryant  Park.  Specifically, the visionary was a man named Ethan Lercher, who  had been with Bryant Park for many years.                    

Part of the history of Joseph Papp’s Shakespeare in Central Park deals with confrontations with the city of New York.  What has your experience been like, dealing with public authorities in Manhattan? 

That answer is part of an ongoing story, because we still don’t have our Delacorte  Theatre, and we are searching for our Robert  Moses (NYC Parks Commissioner).  I can say we’ve had the best of times and the  most ridiculous of times.  Financial challenges, of course, are ongoing, because the idea that something FREE for the public should also enjoy FREE occupancy cost is anathema.  Nevertheless, we have been very  fortunate on several occasions when city luminaries, such as  Council woman Margaret  Chinn and  former City Council speaker, Christine Quinn, jumped in to save us when we were imperiled.

At the end of the shows, a hat is passed—does your work need funding or do you prefer things as they are? 

Our work needs funding.

Over the years–and currently–it has survived on 90% artist chutzpah, 8% public contribution, and 2% government funding.  We have also been tremendously fortunate to add Bank of America to our list of supporters, which sounds as if we have entered some rarefied level of backing.  Really, our Bank of America sponsorship comes through Bryant Park Picnics–so we are the happy recipients of their generosity towards Bryant Park.

What has really held Shakespeare in the Parking Lot back, though, is our  unwillingness to allow it to be anything else but FREE.  Corporate sponsors can be unsure of supporting something in a “Parking Lot”–which may not appear glamorous enough for a theatrical venture in Manhattan.

The professionals, who  grace  our  stage, however, are accomplished in  theatre, film, and television, even if Shakespeare in the Parking Lot seems  an unlikely arena for Hollywood scouts to prowl for new talent to put in  their next indie feature or new Netflix  series. That is not how our industry works, and I don’t know if it ever really did.

Our shows are a collective gift to the community.  One hundred percent  of  those who are sure about Shakespeare in the Parking Lot have felt our  magical nights of theatre, unfolding in the most ordinary of circumstances, where community, in the most simple of ways, comes together.

Always Shakespeare?

Always. Some have suggested we branch out. To me, though, Shakespeare  is a rock star who still rocks, whom we’re still catching up with, as a  culture.  Our business is to breathe life into the plays, some of the great wonders of mankind–but we don’t takes sides in the “Who was Shakespeare?” debate.  We leave it to others to fight over what’s controversial on the subject.

What do you find are the advantages of working in a parking lot?

Well, the first advantage is the lowered expectations.  People don’t think they will be touched.  It gives you the opportunity to make magic with very little.

Secondly, there is a surprising intimacy because the audience is so close. Lastly,  there is theatricality, because the actors have to speak out to be heard.

What was your first outdoor production, as an actor?

I was lucky enough to be cast as Orlando, in the Rakka-Thamm (RT) production of As You Like It, at Washington Square ParkGorilla Rep was an offshoot if RT.  They were the early “move-them-around-the-park” FREE Shakespeare.  In one scene, I would drop out of a tree and ask for food.  One night I was doing that, and before anyone could say the next line, a little girl raced onto the stage, grabbed an apple from the basket in front of us, and offered it to me.

That was 1991–and that’s why theatre is special.

How do you get used to working/rehearsing in a public space?

That’s an interesting question. I don’t think you ever really get used to it.

The challenge is to work on discovery in the early part of the process, so you can use the latter half to stage the play.

Do you rehearse outside, during the summer–how does that work?

We start inside, but after about ten days, we find an outdoor space.

How do you personally work with actors, since you are one yourself?

I give actors a lot of freedom.

And I try to listen.

Every actor we work is a famous movie star–to me.

Treat actors like movie stars, not puppets.

Do you think differently when casting Shakespeare in the Parking Lot than you would for a more traditional production?

Absolutely. You need warrior-actors. Big circuits with vocal equipment. But there is zero space for those who are cursed with pride.

When I was first asked to work in the parking lot, I called an actress who I knew had played Desdemona.  She told me to not do it.  There were no dressing rooms, too little rehearsal, and it was too hot.  She had a horrible experience.

Now I had done Baltimore dinner theatre, where you served drinks at intermission and worked for tips.  I was still working catering jobs at the time, as a sanitation captain.  All pretense of dignity had been stripped away, so the parking lot was an easy lift for me.

Our profession is a rigorous life, no matter anyone’s fortune in it.  It bruises the souls of so many.  A parking lot actor will know that, but have enough grit to go on.

Your favorite role as an actor?

Hamlet

Why?

It’s the greatest role ever written by a playwright for an actor to play.

Other than that, no reason.

Must good stage work be political? 

It’s difficult to bring oneself up against reality, in 2019, on the planet Earth, and not be political in some way.  Good stage work should reveal current reality–it should reflect the times.  I would propose that endeavors to not be political are just efforts to keep the patient  asleep.  There are many who have this interest, and it is, perhaps, more commercially viable to be an agent of anesthesia, rather than of awakening.  Our political gestures, in art, may not always succeed.  But our successes, as artists, are judged via many, many vectors and variables.  Wallace Shawn says in My Dinner with Andre, “I try to bring myself up against some bits of reality and to share  that with an audience.”  If we are attempting to awaken the sleeping patient, in  our audience, then we are, at least, working in a valid direction. 

Do you find yourself working with the same people—either with those who work on the stage or behind it?

Very purposely. It’s an always-evolving family. People come and go, but I’m interested in the products of associations that can last a lifetime, not the run of a play.  Here’s what I wrote on a napkin, a long time ago:  “The Drilling Company is the most dynamic association of artists in the world.”  

Those who attended Henry the Sixth, Part Three, in August, a few years back, would have seen you beating a drum during different sections of the play.  From a directorial point of view, why did you decide to do this?

The play was about war–the build up to it and the excitement of it.  The drum was a blessed Indian (First People’s) drum.

I wanted the rhythm of war to never leave the audience.

Most important event or influence that prepared you for your work?

Wynn Handmann. I’m definitely a disciple–and, occasionally, I like to hope I’m one of the apostles, but Wynn (Artistic Director of the American Place Theatre) doesn’t think or talk that way.

I would have done nothing, in my  life or career, if I had not had the good fortune to stumble into his  class.  I was fortunate, as a young  actor, to score a role in a play at  The American Place–actually surprising Wynn himself.

Honestly, Wynn never did  anything for me, personally, except to welcome me into that classroom.  But I listened.  And I met a core of extraordinary artists.  I saw that the key to creating extraordinary things was the collection of a group of extraordinary people, seeking a common goal, in a single room or pocket of time.

So, I don’t think I myself am particularly exceptional, other than to have been fortunate enough to have had the gift of the others–who  have  worked with me on our shows.

What’s the worst job you ever took to keep yourself afloat as an artist? 

If  you work in catering it becomes more a question of which catering job  forced you to swallow your dignity the most.

So I have  stories I can tell, but  everyone who  works in catering has them.

It’s a psychotic industry that is as addictive to the struggling artist as crack  cocaine or meth.

And I don’t think you beat it. You endure it .

But my personal mantra  is, “All Good Comes  From Catering.”

And in point of fact, The Drilling Company got its original 501(c)(3) status  through a generous grant from The Great Performances Catering  Company, run by Liz Neumark.  So, back to  you, Liz Neumark.  Their generosity helped me learn how to fish.

One piece of advice that you would give an artist trying to break into the business today?

It’s about who you work with.  So find people who you can work with well–and work with them, not the others, if you can help it.

Don’t be too disappointed by nonacceptance.

You’re not good or bad.  You’re who you are–and trying to get better.  If you’re up for doing that for your whole damn life, you’re okay.

Best play you’ve seen in the city in the last year, besides one of your own?

The Ferryman. Hands down.

Irish Rep’s O’Casey Trilogy was the most impressive feat of  producing  and theatre I’ve seen Off-Broadway in years.  Remarkable excellence.

What’s different about being a professional in the Arts than you ever suspected during your training?

The hopelessness of it all.

It’s just how it is.  Once you get comfortable with that–and you never really  do–but once you make peace with that, well, it’s just something that is  antithetical to training.

Why would you train to do something that is hopeless?

I don’t know, but we do.

It’s just that very, very, very few trainers ever, ever say the truth out loud.

One production you were associated with, whether from Shakespeare in the Parking Lot or elsewhere, that you didn’t want to see end.

The Norwegians.

168 performances.

We could still be running that play.

What’s the first play you ever saw—how old were you and where did you see it?

Peter Pan.  I saw it in the gymnasium of Ursuline Academy in New Orleans.  I believe I was seven years old.  My aunt, who was a senior in high school at the time, was playing Peter Pan.  I didn’t know it then, but  my father was backstage (her brother-in-law) pulling a rope and making  her fly.

Magic!

(c) 2019, 2017 by Hamilton Clancy (answers) and Bob Shuman (questions). All rights reserved.

Visit Shakespeare in the Parking Lot 

Visit the Drilling Company 

Clancy bio:  The State of Shakespeare

Photos (from top): This Week in Shakespeare, The New York Times; Shakespeare in the Parking Lot/The Drilling Company (Jonathan Slaff, Aifric Chriodain); Shuman; TimeOut; WynnHandmanStudio.com; Lee Wexler; Rob Wilson

Press: Jonathan Slaff

Shakespeare in the Parking Lot will present “Romeo and Juliet,” directed by Lukas Raphael, July 11 to 27 at La Plaza @ The Clemente Parking Lot, 114 Norfolk Street. This popular New York summer institution is now in its 25th year. Its concept–presenting Shakespeare plays with a “poor theater” aesthetic in a working parking lot–is now widely imitated around the US and around the world, with productions as far away as New Zealand. The Drilling Company, Artistic Director Hamilton Clancy, has produced the attraction since 2005.

“Romeo and Juliet” will be performed July 11 to 27, Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:00 PM. All admission is free. Seats are available on a first come first served basis, with audience members often arriving early to secure a place. Audience members are welcome to bring their own chairs. Once seats are gone, blankets are spread out. No one has ever been turned away and there’s never a wait for tickets.

HOW DO I GO TO SHAKESPEARE IN THE PARKING LOT? 

* Performances are at: Parking Lot of The Clemente, 114 Norfolk Street (E. side of Norfolk St. between Delancey and Rivington). 
* Shows are Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:00 PM and admission is FREE
* Seats are available on a first come first served basis, with audience members often arriving early to secure a place. You are welcome to bring your own chair. Once seats are gone, blankets are spread out.
* We’ve never turned anyone away and there’s never a wait for tickets.
* Subways to The Clemente: F to Delancey Street, M to Essex Street. MAP

WHERE AND WHEN:
July 11 to 27, 2019
La Plaza @ The Clemente Parking Lot, 114 Norfolk Street
FREE
Subways: F to Delancey Street, M to Essex Street.
Presented by The Drilling Company
Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:00 PM
Running time 100 minutes

TONYS 2019: “HADESTOWN” THE BIG WINNER (FULL LIST) ·

(CBS News, 6/10.)

“Hadestown,” the brooding musical about the underworld, had a heavenly night at the Tony Awards, winning eight trophies Sunday night including best new musical and getting a rare win for a female director of a musical.

Playwright Jez Butterworth’s “The Ferryman” was crowned best play.

In the four lead actor and actress categories, Bryan Cranston won his second acting Tony, but theater veterans Elaine May, Santino Fontana and Stephanie J. Block each won for the first time.

The crowd at Radio City Music Hall erupted when Ali Stroker made history as the first actor in a wheelchair to win a Tony Award. Stroker, paralyzed from the chest down due to a car crash when she was 2, won for featured actresses in a musical for her work in a dark revival of “Oklahoma!”

The Tony Awards More 

Rachel Chavkin, the only woman to helm a new Broadway musical this season, won the Tony for best director of a musical for “Hadestown.”

She told the crowd she was sorry to be such a rarity on Broadway, saying, “There are so many women who are ready to go. There are so many people of color who are ready to go.” A lack of strides in embracing diversity on Broadway, she said, “is not a pipeline issue” but a lack of imagination.

Broadway’s biggest night was hosted by Ja​mes Corden of “The Late Late Show.”

“Hadestown” had 14 nominations going in — the most of any production this year,

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AMERICAN REPERTORY THEATER WILL MOVE TO BOSTON WITH HELP OF $100 MILLION GIFT ·

(Michael Paulson’s article appeared in The New York Times, 2/28; via Pam Green.)  

The American Repertory Theater, one of the nation’s leading regional theaters, is planning to move from Cambridge, Mass., to Boston, Harvard University said Thursday.

The university, which houses the theater, said it had received $100 million from the hedge fund manager David E. Goel, who is a Harvard alumnus, and his wife, Stacey L. Goel, to begin fund-raising and planning for what it is calling a “research and performance center” in Allston, a section of Boston just across the Charles River from Harvard Square. The center will include a new home for the A.R.T.

Allston is already home to Harvard’s business school, as well as a planned science and engineering complex and some arts facilities.

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IN ‘GREY ROCK,’ A PALESTINIAN PLAYWRIGHT TACKLES THE ORDINARY ·

(Alexis Soloski’s article appeared in The New York Times, 12/20; via Pam Green.)

 “Grey Rock,” which starts performances on Thursday at La MaMa in Manhattan, is about a Palestinian man who decides to build, in a shed, a rocket to the moon. A play performed by Palestinian actors — they all identify as Palestinian, though some passports say Israel and one says Jordan — and co-produced by the Remote Theater Project, its journey to New York was not exactly nonstop.

“Almost as nerve-racking as the M.T.A. system,” Mr. Zuabi said with a deadpan on a recent afternoon. “Almost.”

While Israeli companies and plays are a common presence in New York, plays by Palestinian companies or on Palestinian themes are rarer and often a source of controversy. In 1989, the Public Theater canceled a Palestinian play, with then-artistic director Joe Papp claiming, “I didn’t want to make a statement at this particular moment by presenting a play dealing with the Arab-Israeli world from a Palestinian point of view.”

In 2006, New York Theater Workshop effectively canceled a production of “My Name Is Rachel Corrie,” a play about an American activist killed in the Gaza Strip. In 2017, when New York University staged “The Siege,” reportedly destined for the Public Theater at one point, the Anti-Defamation League and the World Jewish Congress protested.

“Grey Rock,” a simple and somewhat allegorical story, is less overtly political than any of these pieces. “It’s an invitation to peek into who we really are,” Mr. Zuabi said.

Having spent the late fall rehearsing in Ramallah, a Palestinian city in the West Bank region, Mr. Zuabi and his cast were now stumbling through the play on the fifth floor of a building on Great Jones Street: creaking floors, tin ceilings, windows streaming smudged winter sunlight. Mr. Zuabi’s last play, “Oh My Sweet Land,” centered on the making of savory kibbe, but here the snack table held mostly sweets, including two Bundt cakes to celebrate two different birthdays. A filter dripped coffee into a thermos. The cast complained it wasn’t strong enough.

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Credit: Michael Kirby Smith for The New York Times

 

FAVORITES: ‘WAITING FOR GODOT’ FROM DRUID, ‘THE PRISONER’ FROM BROOK, AND ‘NOURA’ AT PLAYWRIGHTS HORIZONS ·

By Bob Shuman

Camille Paglia has noted that Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot is part of the counterfeit legacy of the American sixties—it never belonged here, along with the academic poststructuralists, who gave it currency: “the work is shot through with callow wordplay and oafish low comedy, the defense mechanism of clammy, adolescent males squirming before the complexity of biology–the procreative realm ruled by woman.”  Paglia claimed 1960s Pop Art was the real inheritance, instead—“passionate engagement” with our art, borne out of sexual experience and emergent as: “Dionysian rock ‘n’ roll, based in African-American rhythm and blues . . . our pagan ode to life.”  Hers is not the only assessment, however—Cuban-American playwright Maria Irene Fornes, who died in November, had another—one many would like to have had. She said, “The first play that amazed me (I thought it was the most powerful thing of all—not only in theatre but in painting, film, everything!) was Beckett’s Waiting for Godot.  I saw the play in Paris and I didn’t understand a word of the French, but I left the theatre as if I’d been hit over the head.  I understood every moment of it.  That play had a profound influence on me.  When I returned from Europe, I started writing.  That was 1959.”  During the 1970s and beyond, Beckett was someone to be talked about later—after a painstaking and painful anesthetizing.  The film director, Todd Solondz, at a Beckett reading, from Mabou Mines in the 1980s, noted the similarity of the set design to an Excedrin tablet—one he wished he could have taken.

Waiting for Godot 

Maybe the Irish director, Garry Hynes, from Druid Theatre Company, who brought her production of Waiting for Godot to America in October and November, as part of Lincoln Center’s White Light Festival at John Jay College, can give helpful advice for those feeling similar distress (she apparently considered doing the project with trepidation): actually she recommends, not asking too much of yourself, as an audience member (realize that Beckett may be refusing to give more): simply witness.

(Listen to a BBC Garry Hynes interview on Beckett.)

Godot (here pronounced GOD-oh, not Good-oh, as is more common in the States) is perhaps a metaphysical name or even a curse word, linked to other informal, maybe even nonsensical names (some believe they represent nationalities): Gogo or Estragon (French), Vladimir or Didi (Russian), Pozzo (Italian; more specifically, a Mussolini), and Lucky (American)—here, played with long hair.  These can be important to the play because Waiting for Godot may reflect a state of consciousness resultant of WWII’s destruction. As noted on a BBC4 podcast on the play, Beckett, who was part of the French resistance, waited for the end of the war in France (where subsistence might have depended on the root vegetables noted in the play: “I’ll never forget this carrot.” He most likely left Ireland because of its conservativism and wrote this play in French (and also translated his work back into English) to distance himself from an overwhelming literary influence—for whom he also acted as an assistant and researcher:  James Joyce.   Hynes also contends that there is another Irish presence to be reckoned with regarding Godot, which is not reactionary:  A play by J. M. Synge called The Well of the Saints, which also includes beggars waiting in the elements for the miracle of having their sight restored (Pozzo has lost his sight in the second half of Godot).  Once it is, they see the ugliness of the world and wish they had never been able to see. 

Marty Rea is the taller Vladimir and Aaron Monaghan is Estragon, a Laurel and Hardy team (almost out of a T.V. cartoon) performing over the abyss. Instead of a vision of the cruelty of living, based on imagery of hanging, beatings, whips, killings, and humiliation, and for all the issues that the writer refutes—plot, as an example, as well as setting–Hynes discovers a warmer Godot, maybe one that can even be said to have charm.  She appreciates clever humor in the play and makes use of pantomime, mirroring and repetition with her actors, as they walk arm in arm, march, and pose melodramatically. Peter Brook, who knew Beckett and staged his pieces—including one close in subject and characters to Waiting for Godot, “Rough for Theatre I,” recalls Beckett as less severe than his public face—actually he “loved a drink, adored a joke, and loved women.” Hynes’s production  infuses the text with Beckett’s lost Irish legacy—the colors of the white-bordered set, by Francis O’Connor, are the earth tones of Irish ceramics (although the larger effect may remind of sculpture by Henry Moore or even Seurat’s paintings–from an American point of view, the costumes give an almost Amish look to the actors.  

Perhaps Godot always needed a transition from starkness to simplicity, as opposed to the concept of proving funny actors could demonstrate how unfunny the play actually is.  Hynes also seems willing to believe that there is a story and a setting, by letting the audience see the play’s pentimento–in a play that happens nowhere, outside of time and place, there are references to the Pyrenees, yoga-posture, and Rodin’s “Thinker”–which give a sense of a generalized living place.  She lets us know that the play takes place in a post-modern somewhere as opposed to a universal nowhere.  To put it in Paglia’s terminology, the work now takes place in a “procreative realm.”

Visit Lincoln Center

The Prisoner

Beckett’s tree for Godot is part of David Violi’s set for The Prisoner, which played at Theatre for a New Audience at the Polonsky Shakespeare Center, from November 24 to December 16, 2018—a woman at a December 8 talkback confirmed the impression, although Peter Brook would probably dispute the observation.  The text—the language is straightforward–by Brook and Marie-Hélène Estienne, concerns the punishment and repentance of a young man who must weigh his own physical crime against the moral one of his father.  

The stage is open and unhyped—and the barefoot actors and mimes (the cast is made of five:  Hiran Abeysekera, Hayley Carmichael, Herve Goffings, Omar Silva, and Kalieaswari Srinivasan) wear loose, unpretentious rehearsal clothing. 

Brook is theatre’s spiritual guru—a great artist and a fabulous promoter–who pays particular attention to simplification (perhaps he might prefer the word “elimination”) and international influence and casting. The cultural atmosphere around him has changed, however, and Americans have lost their religion—philosophical debate on theatrical themes tends to end up being about dollars and cents. Theoretically, he is essential, but Brook’s recent fables are examples of his theory, not so much daring experiments, like ones he made in his past: for example, The Tragedy of Carmen (1981), and The Mahabharata (1985).  Whether because he has made such an impact on theatrical culture (he is in his nineties) or because his storytelling methods can seem obvious today—Brook might say his work is renewing and deepening—one has to ask of the material: how differently would another director, with the same story–who never had access to Brook’s enormous experience and knowledge–actually stage it? 

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Noura

Henrik Ibsen did not see himself as a proto-feminist—he was concerned about the rights of all human beings.  This, however, has not stopped him, as well as other artists, from being employed to legitimize the writing of those less famous—and less talented.  Much of the new work around the city really should be credited to two authors—the contemporary one, owning the politics necessary for a positive review, and the older, who is considered classic. Recently, besides the dour Norwegian, Hermann Melville, Camus, Chekhov, an ancient scribe, Cocteau, and Stanley Kubrick have been featured.  The practice is not new, certainly, but it is unimaginative.  Although it is the fashion, Heather Raffo really doesn’t even need Ibsen to give ballast to her play—she has materials and options enough not to set Noura (which plays at Playwrights Horizons until December 30) at Christmas (the large tree and stunning wooden, cubby-holed set are part of Andrew Lieberman’s scenic design), with a visit from someone from her past, interjections from an ardent admirer, like a Dr. Rank, and the inclusion of others of Ibsen’s concerns—for example, early paternity. Noura is too educated, wise, and  of the world, to recall Nora, symbolically, really (Mrs. Helmer does not understand money, the law, or working in a profession—“a doll” whom, during the course of her ordeal, does not want to, and can not, play house anymore (closer, might be Ibsen’s haunted, orphanage story Ghosts). 

Noura, by contrast, is a refugee, who has lost the option of being a homebody, at least eight years before.  Yet, she continues to contribute money to a convent in Iraq.  Raffo keeps adding different colors to her tale, which don’t become muddy—she’s game to take on virtually any contemporary issue, even if she doesn’t do justice to Ibsen.  She’s a formidable actress, though (and a strong cast has been assembled around her: Dahlia Azama, Liam Campora, Matthew David, and Nabil Elouahabi), but there are holes in the script and maybe it is contradictory; Raffo also holds a tin cup for the understanding of second-wave feminists.  Ingmar Bergman thought differently about A Doll’s House, actually, and has demonstrated that the play is also Torvald’s tragedy, not just Nora’s, (and you’ll see a nasty moment from Fanny and Alexander replayed in Joanna Settle’s direction).

Those who interpret the play usually pile on the husband, forcing the character to become a villain—in the ‘70s, Sam Waterston used a crutch to gain sympathy when he was playing the part. Certainly, Ibsen has been hijacked before, it is true, but perhaps without such poetic, or passionate force.

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Happy holidays from Stage Voices!

© 2018 by Bob Shuman.  All rights reserved.

Photo: Fornes, Playbill; Godot, The New York Times; Noura, Joan Marcus 

ISRAEL UNVEILS RARE AND ANCIENT MASK ·

(From France 24, 11/28; via the Drudge Report)                                                 

JÉRUSALEM (AFP) – The Israel Antiquities Authority on Wednesday unveiled what it said was a rare 9,000-year-old stone mask linked to the beginnings of agricultural society.

The pink and yellow sandstone object was discovered in a field at the Jewish settlement of Pnei Hever, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, said the IAA.

The artefact was handed in to authorities in early 2018.

“The mask is very naturalistic in the way it was made,” said IAA archaeologist Ronit Lupu. “You can see the cheekbones, you can see a perfect nose.”

“It’s a rare mask,” she told AFP. “The last one that we know was found 35 years ago. It’s an amazing find, archaeologically speaking.”

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Photo: Times of Israel

WHEN THE WRITERS TOOK POWER: DREAMS OF UTOPIA BEFORE THE NAZI NIGHTMARE ·

 

(William Cook’s article appeared in the Spectator, 11/15.)

Dreamers: When the Writers Took Power, Germany 1918 by Volker Weidermann reviewed

Today Munich is a prosperous and peaceful place — Germany’s most affluent, attractive city. Wandering its leafy avenues, lined with handsome apartments and shiny new BMWs, it’s hard to picture anything remotely revolutionary happening here. However, exactly 100 years ago this cosy bastion of conservatism was overrun by one of Europe’s most unlikely revolutions, led by an idealistic theatre critic called Kurt Eisner. For a British equivalent, imagine a socialist insurgency led by Kenneth Tynan. Of course, like all well-intentioned revolutions, it was doomed to fail.

For several chaotic months, Eisner’s Free State of Bavaria teetered between tragedy and farce, before succumbing to a vicious counter-revolution led by the Freikorps, the violent forerunners of Adolf Hitler’s brownshirts. Yet while Hitler’s unsuccessful Munich Putsch has become a staple of school history books, Eisner’s (briefly) successful power grab has been virtually forgotten. Volker Weidermann’s dramatic book brings the turbulent events — and, above all, the frenzied atmosphere — of that bizarre interregnum back to life.

Thankfully for the general reader, Weidermann is a journalist rather than an academic, and so this is a compact and colorful account, with the breathless pace of war reporting rather than the ponderous, long-winded prose one usually associates with German history books by German historians. Many of the proponents wrote extensively and eloquently about their experiences, and Weidermann draws heavily on these first-hand accounts to great effect. By favoring impressionistic reportage over background detail, his narrative is sometimes a bit confusing, but it gives the reader a vivid sense of what it actually felt like to live through this exhilarating and terrifying time.

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FINTAN O’TOOLE: TESTING PATERNITY–COLM TÓIBÍN ON THE FATHERS THAT SHAPED WILDE, JOYCE AND YEATS ·

(O’Toole’ s article appeared in The New Statesman, 10/24.)

How the complicated relationships between three writers and their fathers left its mark on Irish literature.

“All women become like their mothers,” says Algernon in The Importance of Being Earnest. “That is their tragedy. No man does, and that is his.” Left hanging there, of course, is the implication that the son’s tragedy is that he becomes like his father instead. In Oscar Wilde’s own case, that might not have been such a terrible thing, at least for his creative productivity. Colm Tóibín’s sparkling little book on Sir William Wilde, WB Yeats’s father John and James Joyce’s father John Stanislaus, seems originally to have been called “Prodigal Fathers” – the phantom title appears on the inside flap of the cover. It may have been dropped because of Sir William, for whom the word – with its implications of wasted talent – is a poor fit. But it certainly works for John Butler Yeats and John Stanislaus Joyce. And yet the joy of Tóibín’s erudite, subtle, witty and often deeply moving biographical essays is that one generation’s paternal prodigality can become the next generation’s powerhouse of neurotic energy.

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