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‘IONESCO SUITE’ AT BAM AND ‘GREY ROCK’ AT LA MAMA (REVIEWS FROM NEW YORK) ·

By Bob Shuman

Certain dramatists really can imprint their visions enough on audiences so that, after a play is over, the world seems reorganized.  Ibsen, in Peer Gynt, as directed by Ingmar Bergman, could do this and so can Beckett, who retreats to isolated settings and characters.  In  Ionesco Suite from the Théâtre de la Ville, Paris, which played at BAM Fisher, from to January 23-26,  the French playwright, whom The New Yorker correspondent Janet Flanner noted, started in Paris in the mid-‘50s, “as an unknown, penniless Romanian in the avant-garde little theatres” and was , ultimately seen at the Comédie-Français and internationally, reflects society in a circus mirror, or as the dramatist would accede, a puppet show (although some of his characters don’t want to be puppets!).  Flanner, who wrote about Ionesco’s Hunger and Thirst in Paris, in the ‘60s, found his work “stimulating” but “addling,” although adherents insist that Ionesco’s ouvre accurately depicts the human

Brooklyn, NY – 23 January 2019. The final rehearsal prior to the New York premiere of Director Emanuel Demarcy-Mota’s Ionesco Suite at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Fishman Space.

condition.  A first look at the work, when compared to conventional American or movie realism, can seem an unnecessary impropriety (Ionesco felt “our existence is unimaginable, unthinkable,” but his Absurdism helps define American downtown theatre, as well as many American playwrights, who have been influenced by him (Arthur Kopit, John Guare, Christopher Durang, Tina Howe, David Ives, Albert Innaurato, and more). The dramatist has not ascended to the level of Beckett (whom Ionesco considered “a great man”), which might have to do with his not writing in English (actually, the Tony Award-winning Irish director Garry Hynes may have made her recent production of Waiting for Godot more accessible by infusing it with Ionesco’s cartoonishness).  Presenting selections from Ionesco pieces is not a new idea, though–many of the plays are short and traditionally played together, such as The Bald Soprano and The Lesson, and aficionados will recall a 1974 musical called Ionescopade, revived in 2012 by the York Theatre Company, also  an anthology of the playwright’s work.  Ionesco Suite, however,  lets modern theatregoers see a French production (with English surtitles) of his work—under the direction of Emmanuel Demarcy-Mota, who, as an experiment,  “just sat listening . . . taking pleasure in rediscovering each one (of the pieces), letting [himself] be fascinated. . . .”

The first of the five texts in Ionesco Suite is Jack, or the Submission, where a young man, in a child’s birthday hat, is called, by his family, “ungrateful,” a monster,” and  “not worthy of his ancestors” (his sister, in red pigtails, is played by a man, gliding around the stage kneeling on a dolley).  Nevertheless this grave disappointment, “disowned,”  can challenge Beckett’s despairing existentialism. The costumes and makeup (by Fanny Brouse and Catherine Nicholas, respectively, in dark colors, with dangerous splashes of red or purple, are ghoulish, mime white.  The early pacing is intentionally slow, to purposefully allow for acceleration throughout the evening, in a production which is masterfully paced), and the actors, five men and two women: Charles-Roger Bour, Jauris Casanova, Sandra Faure, Sarah Karbasnikoff, Stephan Krähenbühl, Walter N’Guyen,  and Gérald Maillet) may deal directly with those in the audience.  The young man, awaiting his cake, observes the world in disbelief:  “Nothing else to do.” The theatre even begins reeking of urine.

Brooklyn, NY – 23 January 2019. Walter N’Guyen (seated) and Charles-Roger Bour in the final rehearsal prior to the New York premiere of Director Emanuel Demarcy-Mota’s Ionesco Suite at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Fishman Space.

Ionesco and Beckett have also both been said to show the breakdown and failure of language and communication.  In watching Ionesco Suite, however, primarily in Delirium for Two and The Bald Soprano (the fifth play in the evening is Conversation and French Speech Exercises) the dramatist seems to be commenting on the failure of logic. Ionesco, for instance, gives us a proof that a turtle and snail are the same animal and provides a syllogism for discovering who must be ringing a doorbell (and then disappearing when a front door is opened). Demarcy-Mota arranges the evening around  social conventions associated with meals—besides a birthday, a wedding, and family meals also become focal points, set  at a long banquet table, while his characters demand to be defined, sometimes even seeming to be deliver Yogi-isms: “The children my age were also little.”  The Lesson is played exceptionally well in this production, between two men, one as a young girl (now in a blonde wig) who can add, but not subtract, and her sadistic instructor.  Ionesco, who lied in occupied France during World War II, blamed “demi-intellectuals” for the rise of Nazism, fascism, and the Left (those who subscribe to sloganeering): “Writers, journalists, professors, and the like” are his rhinoceroses.

Another playwright concerned with “mass mind” is Amir Nizar Zuabi, whose Grey Rock examines the effect of occupation on the lives of contemporary Palestinians.  Like Ionesco, or perhaps because of him, Zuabi, who also directed the play, finds his way to absurdism, as his characters work to launch a rocket to the moon. The society he characterizes is consumerist, and not politically violent, which may challenge assumptions about the Occupied Palestinian Territory—the lives are mundance, “only able to react to the present.”  Then an Ionescian-like line helps the characters find their bearings:  “Stop thinking like a clerk; like a victim!”  Grey Rock, commissioned by Remote Theater Project, was presented at La MaMa from January 3-7 and was played with determination by its Palestinian actors:  Khalifa NatourIvan Kevork AzazianFida ZaidanAlaa Shehada, and Motaz Malhis. The creative team included Tal Yarden (set & video design) and Nicole Pearce (lighting design). They ask us to dream, use our curiosity and imagination, for even in America (a land which helped inspire Grey Rock), it has taken almost fifty years to decide to walk on the lunar surface again.

Ionesco said that theatre “must be simplified and grotesque” and that “comedy is more tragic than tragedy.”  Perhaps he would agree that when correctly staged, Ionescian writing can scramble the brain—and produce an “alternative fact”; as an instance, take trying to find the number 2 train at the Atlantic Avenue/ Barclays Center station after watching Ionesco Suite at BAM.   The scene is a cold night, the day the Shutdown has ended. The feeling one gets is vertigo.

Visit: BAM Fisher

Visit: http://lamama.org/

Photos: ‘Grey Rock’: Carlos Cardona; ‘Ionesco Suite’: BAM

© 2019  by Bob Shuman.  All rights reserved.

 

 

‘THE PIRATES OF PENZANCE’ FROM GILBERT & SULLIVAN PLAYERS (REVIEW FROM NEW YORK) ·

By Bob Shuman

Culturally, winter holidays and families may be more important to Arts curriculum than what is taught in schools.  During the recess, children can be exposed to The Nutcracker or Hamilton, see a movie, receive a book, or listen to show tunes—and something in them may open up.  Hopefully, they will feel surprise at what they discover, and suddenly, have a memory to savor for a lifetime.  The occasion can give a student special definition or identification, which has nothing to do with grades or societal programming, expectations or approval.  Some may even believe that such a turning point has the potential to turn the young into future ticket buyers, but that is too crass an estimation.   Building this secret place might begin with Rodgers and Hammerstein, The Lion King, or learning about the settling of New Amsterdam  or Winston Churchill.  The subject might be old-fashioned or quirky, like first reading Alice in Wonderland, going to the circus, or listening to a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta. What is important is that, in a nation where most people do about the same things during a day, the mundane is broken and  individualism can emerge.

Cleverly directed, as well as conducted, by Albert Bergeret and choreographed by Bill Fabris, with ballet, comic marches, and even a nod to A Chorus Line, The Pirates of Penzance, from New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players (which ran at the Kaye Playhouse at Hunter College from December 27-30) strikes this reviewer as a production with ingredients to inspire—coming from the kind of theatre company you always hoped was out there and getting supported. The cast, on the evening of December 28, included David Macaluso, Mathew Wages, James Mills, Carter Lynch, David Auxier, Katie Dixon, Hannah Holmes, Abigail Benke, Merrill Grant, and Angela Christine Smith, among other well-trained singers in an ensemble of pirates, police, and wards, working with good humor and high spirits. The set, an old-fashioned painted backdrop with rainbow lighting—including a Celtic ruin and the dangerous clifftops of Cornwall, England–was by Lou Anne Gilleland (scenic design) and Benjamin Weill (lights)—the period costumes come from Gail J. Wofford & Quinto Ott W.S. Gilbert’s libretto is nonsensical, using Queen Victoria as a deus ex machina, but there are moments in Shaw and Shakespeare that seem about as contrived, as well.

What is noticeable, however, is how well the tuneful music continues to captivate and flow–and here its orchestration is superior to the rather tinny, electronic hurdy-gurdy sounds used for the Joseph Papp production of 1980, starring Kevin Kline and Linda Ronstadt.  Maybe this is all a way of saying that this reviewer had something of an epiphany himself regarding Gilbert and Sullivan, after assuming that such a piece would be rather moldy.  But the presentation, played at a human scale, glistens like the bright, sparkling earrings worn by Dixon’s Mabel. Tell someone about the integrity of this company and perhaps recommend it to a young person looking for purpose—maybe he or she will ask the artists what they did over their holidays as kids.

Visit New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players 

© by Bob Shuman.  All rights reserved.   

Production photos: Carol Rosegg   

 

LET’S GO: ‘NOURA’ BY HEATHER RAFFO (THROUGH DECEMBER 30) ·

Visit Playwrights Horizons 

Photo: Joan Marcus

PlaywrightsHorizons (Artistic Director Tim Sanford,Managing Director Leslie Marcus) presents the New York premiere of Noura, a new Americandrama from 9 Parts of Desire playwright and actor Heather Raffo,continuing her longtime collaboration with director Joanna SettleNovember27-December 30, in the Mainstage Theater at PlaywrightsHorizons (416 W 42nd St, New York, NY 10036). Produced in associationwith Shakespeare Theatre Company, Noura wasdeemed by The Washington Post the “best premiere of the Women’sVoices Theater Festival” when it made its world premiere in Washington,D.C. Noura isset in the home of its titular character, a former architect from Mosul. Sheand her husband now have a successful life in New York, and, eight years afterhaving fled their home in Iraq, they’ve finally gained citizenstatus—which Noura, as anIraqi Christian, is celebrating by planning the perfect Christmas dinner. But when the arrival of a visitor stirs up long-buried memories, Nouraand her husband are forced to confront the cost of their choices, and retrace the past they left behind. With compassion and startling clarity, Raffo’s play considers a woman’s options across two nations and exposes the fragility of the structures—nationalities,marriages, mores—in which we consider ourselves at home.

Heather Raffo (Playwrights Horizons: The Profane; other Off-Broadway: 9 Parts of DesireIn Darfur) gives an “impassioned” (The Washington Post), “brilliant” (Theatermania) performance as Noura, in a cast that includes Dahlia Azama (Veil’dI Call My Brothers) as Maryam, an Iraqi Christian refugee who fled ISIS, and is being sponsored by Noura and her husband in the United States; Liam Campora (“The Blacklist,” “Blue Bloods,” The Dictator) as Yazen/Alex, Noura’s son; Matthew David (GlampingA Streetcar Named DesireBoeing, Boeing) as Rafa’a, Noura’s childhood best friend from Mosul, an Iraqi Muslim OB-GYN living in New York; and Nabil Elouahabi (OsloA Tale of Two Cities, “The Night Of”) as Tareq/Tim, Noura’s physician husband, who longs to have a second child. (Nabil Elouahabi is appearing with the permission of Actors’ Equity Association. The Producers gratefully acknowledge Actors’ Equity Association for its assistance of this production.) The creative team includes Andrew Lieberman (scenic design), Tilly Grimes (costume design), Masha Tsimring (lighting design), Obadiah Eaves (sound design), and Laura Smith (Production Stage Manager).

Raffo was inspired to write Noura—whosetitle and certain themes nod to Ibsen’s A Doll’s House—after leading theaterworkshops with Middle Eastern women in New York and seeing the feminist drivein their responses to Ibsen’s play as well as their many harrowing stories ofleaving home. Raffo’s new play is the story of a woman’s restless mind pushingagainst the confines of her home life and her past.

Raffo was born in Michigan to an American mother and Iraqi Christian immigrant father from Mosul. At the start of the 2003 War, she had around 100 immediate family members living between Baghdad and Mosul. Over the last decade, particularly in the aftermath of ISIS overtaking Mosul in 2014, all but two have fled the country. In Noura, Raffo keenly explores the spiraling results of America’s invasive presence in Iraq, and Iraq’s presence in the American imagination—all from within the intimacy of a family home. Her characters are pulled as strongly by the American pursuit of rugged individualism as they are by their need to maintain a collective cultural identity.

The production of Noura exhibits the power of collaboration between two artists who have been in sync for 15 years. Raffo and Settle (Sky on Swings, TheTotal BentIn Darfur) began their collaboration and friendship with 9 Parts of Desire, first produced in 2003. Conceived between the First Gulf War and the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and performed after the latter began, that play was an “impassioned theatrical documentary” (The New York Times) that offered a kaleidoscope of perspectives of contemporary Iraqi women characters—composites of women Raffo spent a decade interviewing throughout Iraq and its diaspora. (Incidentally, when Settle was a college student during the First Gulf War, she had moved to D.C. to interview people involved in the military—and their families—around that intervention, for her theatrical thesis project.) As 9 Parts of Desire made its way coast to coast across America over the course of two years, and as the war progressed, Raffo and Settle got to have pressing conversations with audiences—gauging the perceptions of the relationship between the U.S. and Iraq at every stop, reworking the play in each place.

Raffo says of her artistic and personal kinship with Settle, “Those conversations became so integral to our trusted intellectual relationship. That was when I had family members in Baghdad wondering if they were going to live and die in a war and through an occupation. Now my 100 family members are scattered across the world as refugees, and Joanna knows a lot of them. She danced with them at my wedding. And now she’s living and teaching in the Middle East [NYU Abu Dhabi]. The conversation has continued in how we each raised our kids; this in-depth way of understanding the stakes is very different than me coming in with a smart, kind, talented new director and saying, ‘here’s the history of my family and my people.’ Joanna lived the history with my family.”

Settle’s direction of Noura sensitivelymaterializes the psycho-emotional world Raffo creates in her script (which takesplace in the household of an architect and coalesces around her character’svivid mind). She says, “Heather and I have experienced so much together. I gotmarried, Heather got married; I got divorced, she stayed married. We’veexperienced loss. Creative choices are born out of intuition and instinct, andthe only thing I have to offer an audience is my subjective perspective.Heather and I have curated our subjective perspective together.”


Photo: Joan Marcus

Heather Raffo (Playwright; Noura/Nora). Raffo is an award-winning playwright and actress whose work has been seen Off-Broadway, in London, in regional theater, and in a film. Writing credits: Noura (Weissberger Award), 9 Parts of Desire (Lortel Award, Blackburn, Drama League, OCC, Helen Hayes nominations), Fallujah (librettist: NYC Opera, Long Beach Opera). Performing credits: The Profane (Playwrights). Other Off-Broadway: 9 Parts of Desire (Manhattan Ensemble Theater), Palace of the End (Epic Theater Ensemble), Food and Fadwa (NYTW), In Darfur (The Public), Macbeth (The Acting Co.), Over the River and Through the Woods (Houseman). Regional: 9 Parts of Desire (Arena, Geffen, Kennedy Center, Traverse, Bush). Film: Vino Veritas.

About Joanna Settle (Director)

Joanna Settle (Director). Playwrights debut. Off-Broadway: Heather Raffo’s Nine Parts of Desire (Manhattan Ensemble Theater, Geffen Playhouse, Berkeley Rep, and more); Stew/Rodewald’s The Total Bent,Winter Miller’s In Darfur, Suzan-Lori Parks’ 365 Days/365 Plays finale (The Public); Martha Graham Cracker’s Lashed But Not Leashed, Jaime Leonhart’s Estuary (Joe’s Pub). Regional: Noura (Shakespeare Theater Company, Abu Dhabi); Lembit Beecher’s Sky on Swings (Opera Philadelphia); Stew/Rodewald’s Family Album (Oregon Shakespeare Festival); Gina Gionfredo’s Rapture, Blister, Burn, Brandon Jacob-Jenkins’ An Octoroon (Wilma Theater). Settle is currently appointed to NYU Abu Dhabi as an Associate Arts Professor of Theater. 

About the Cast    

Dahlia Azama (Maryam). Playwrights debut. Off-Broadway: Veil’d (WP), I Call My Brothers (PlayCo). Regional: Noura (Shakespeare Theater Company). International: The School for Wives, Three Sisters, Taming of the Shrew (AUC, Egypt). Film/TV: “#WarGames.” Graduate Studies: The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama (London). Undergraduate Studies: The American University in Cairo (Egypt). Awards (Egypt): Winner of the Ahmed Zewail Prize for Excellence in the Sciences and Humanities. 

Liam Campora (Yazen/Alex). Playwrights debut. Broadway: Marvin’s Room (Roundabout). Film: The Dictator, The Black List. Portraying Yazen in Noura is a dream role and the pinnacle of Campora’s young theatrical career. He is also an accomplished dancer with a scholarship at Alvin Ailey.

Matthew David (Rafa’a). Playwrights debut. Off-Broadway: Glamping (East 13th Street Theatre). Regional: Noura (Shakespeare Theatre Company); A Streetcar Named DesireBoeing, Boeing, A Stone CarverEscanaba In Da’ MoonlightBest Of FriendsApartment 3A, Corktown, Bleeding Red, Consider The Oyster, Growing Pretty, White Buffalo (Purple Rose Theatre Company); American BuffaloDisgraced (Jewish Ensemble Theatre); Nuts (Vertigo Productions); Danny and the Deep Blue Sea, Much Ado About Nothing (Flint City Theatre). University of Michigan: BFA in Theater.

Nabil Elouahabi (Tareq/Tim). Playwrights debut. Regional: Noura (ShakespeareTheatre Company); U.K.: Another World: Losing Our Children to IslamicState (National Theatre); Fireworks (RoyalCourt); Crossing Jerusalem, The Great Game – Afghanistan (Tricycle); Oslo (HaroldPinter Theatre); Oil (Almeida); A Tale ofTwo Cities (Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre), andmore.Film: Zero Dark Thirty, Charlie Wilson’s War, In This World, Ali G Indahouse,The Sum of all Fears. Television: “Dark State,” “The NightOf,” and more. 

NEW CUBA LAW THAT ARTISTS SAY AMOUNTS TO STATE CENSORSHIP WILL BE IMPLEMENTED GRADUALLY ·

(Mimi Whitefield’s article appeared in the Miami Herald, 12/7; via the Drudge Report.)

HAVANA 

A new law — reviled by many Cuban artists as another layer of censorship and control over artistic expression but promoted by the government as a defense against vulgarity, poor taste, mediocrity and low-brow cultural influences — went into effect Friday.

The new measure comes as artists and performers on the island continue to protest, and perhaps in response to those critiques, government officials said Friday that Decree Law 349 will now be rolled out gradually.

Ever since Decree Law 349 was first published in July in the government’s Gaceta Oficial , there has been plenty of pushback on the island and abroad and a flurry of meetings between government cultural officials and artists, who are still hoping for modifications. The law requires prior government approval for artists, musicians, writers and performers who want to present their work in any spaces open to the public, including private homes and businesses.

(Read more)

Photo: Miami Herald

 

ANTHONY TURNAGE OPERA: ‘THE SILVER TASSIE’ (AFTER THE PLAY BY SEAN O’CASEY) ·

Listen on BBC Radio 3

Live from the Barbican Hall, the BBC Symphony Orchestra presents Mark-Anthony Turnage’s The Silver Tassie. Ryan Wigglesworth conducts an all-star British cast and the BBC Singers. Presented by Andrew McGregor Live from the Barbican Hall, London Mark-Anthony Turnage: The Silver Tassie (Libretto by Amanda Holden after the play by Sean O’Casey) Act I Act II 8.05 Interval 8.25 Act III Act IV Harry ….. Ashley Riches (baritone) Susie ….. Sally Matthews (soprano) Croucher….. Brindley Sherratt (bass) Mrs Foran….. Claire Booth (soprano) Teddy ….. Marcus Farnsworth (baritone) Barney ….. Alexander Robin Baker (baritone) Jessie….. Louise Alder (soprano) Mrs Heegan …..Susan Bickley (mezzo-soprano) Sylvester ….. Mark Le Brocq (tenor) Dr Maxwell/Staff Officer ….. Anthony Gregory (tenor) Corporal ….. Benedict Nelson (baritone) BBC Singers Finchley Children’s Music Group Kenneth Richardson (Director) Ryan Wigglesworth (Conductor) Sean O’Casey’s provocative 1928 play The Silver Tassie pries open the wound of the First World War and peers unblinkingly into its horrifying depths. The futility of war and its painful human cost is conveyed with even greater intensity in Mark-Anthony

Turnage’s beautifully crafted operatic adaptation, which explores what happens when young, football-mad Harry comes back from the war in a wheelchair. An all-star British cast has been assembled including Susan Bickley, Sally Matthews and Louise Alder, with rising young baritone Ashley Riches as Harry, for this long-overdue revival of the opera, premiered in 2000 at ENO. SYNOPSIS The Silver Tassie, Turnage’s second acknowledged opera, is on a much larger scale than his first, Greek.

Based on the play by Sean O’Casey written in 1927, it is set at the time of the Great War (World War I) and its title, referring to a footballing trophy, comes from a Scottish song text by Robert Burns ‘Go fetch to me a pint o’ wine, an’ fill it in a silver tassie; that I may drink before I go, a service to my bonnie lassie’. Harry Heegan (23) is a local hero – a soldier on leave from the Great War, and a renowned footballer. An only child, he lives with his parents (both in their 60s), having grown up close to the girl next door, Susie. In the flat above is a volatile young couple, Mrs Foran and her husband Teddy. The other main roles are Harry’s glamorous girlfriend, Jessie, and his best friend, Barney. Triumphant after a footballing success and winning the cup (‘The Silver Tassie’) for his team, he leaves for the front. The second act, a darkly expressionist vision of war, is cast for male voices (boys and men) only. In the second half of the opera, Harry is in a wheelchair, Teddy is blind and Jessie has deserted Harry for Barney. The final act, in which dance music plays almost continuously, brings the tragi-comedy to a poignant and moving conclusion, as Harry and Teddy set off to face the future.

ON KAREN FINLEY IN:  ‘GRABBING PUSSY/PARTS KNOWN’ AT LA MAMA (REVIEW FROM NEW YORK) ·

By Bob Shuman

Karen Finley’s set design for Grabbing Pussy/Parts Known is made up of flowering plants of pink and white and pastel colors—and for an early section of one of her monologues (three are read today: one a poem, written in the hours before curtain), she speaks as a film of time-elapsed lilies and orchids break into bloom behind her.  Blown-up, they appear comic and sexual and too fragile,  which, of course, is part of what Finley is, too, but on Saturday, October 27, she finds she is someone else, as well: an artistic first responder, to the eleven deaths at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh.  She is playing at La MaMa, as part of the Call to Action weekend, a gear-up for the midterms and an opportune moment to publicize her new book, from which proceeds will be given to Planned Parenthood.  People who don’t believe that all actors must be liberals, as if it’s in their DNA, instead of it being more convenient or concessionary for their careers, do believe Finley’s activism, even if they disagree with her politics. They know that, famously, she has been attacked by the right, as part of the NEA4—and she still can be brought up derisively, as “the chocolate-smeared woman,” in Ann Coulter’s writing (Finley’s Tawana Brawley-inspired monologue actually goes way back to the ‘80s, however; probably a signal that the conservative columnist needs fresh material). 

Standing in front of her script, which rests on a music stand, now, in her stylish black-and-white performance shoes, pink top, black capri pants, and an academician’s glasses—her hair is loose and red–Finley seems taller than she appears in photos:  a distinguished Commissar of the left, like a Katarina Witt–not only because she also posed for Playboy.  As a veteran of the culture wars, the actress toes the party line—and she does so aggressively, fueled by the anger that has never left her, jumping on Trump’s “bleeding eyes” remark from the 2016 presidential campaign and bringing up, exasperatedly, “the obsession” with Hillary’s deleted e-mails—“30,000 of them,” should the number have been forgotten.  Unlike Camille Paglia,  Finley’s association, her alignment with the Democrat party—and mistrust of practically everything else–may not always serve her writing—which does not seem able to get above the political; above her politics–and which in Grabbing Pussy/Parts Known, could possibly be described as Beckettian punditry.  She knows how to pace a show, though—how to start and stop her work, how to move in and out of character, which may not always make for writerly, well-made theatre.   She works with tension that can explode—and she is superior as a performer and in improvisation–even as her own plays tend to invoke others, such as: Come Back, Little Sheba; Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf; or even her own previous work, for example We Keep Our Victims Ready.  Actually, it can be difficult to think of Karen Finley in a sustained role of length, although she should have been seen, when she was younger, as Katherine in The Taming of the Shrew–as long as she could change the ending.  Perhaps she’s  really an illusionist, always impatiently waiting to direct a new mirage, although now, she states, she has been moved to use “poetic” space, where she can keep her script with her and provide minimal movement–as opposed to playing on a traditional stage, theatrically.  

Don’t think she has gone too soft, though. She’s “one angry bitch,” she cautions, “never in a good mood and that’s on a good day.” In Grabbing Pussy/Parts Known, Finley goes off on, among others, Catholic priests, Harvey Weinstein, Brett Kavanaugh, and border separations: Her speech can be sarcastic, mocking, hysterical, overly hurt, decisively Midwestern, and even like that of a Southern preacher or witch hag. Yet the person she reminds one of most is . . . Rush Limbaugh.  She’s a shock jock, it’s true:  she doesn’t need to play off anyone, and she can rant and go into stream of consciousness: “It’s my body . . . not Sessions’s . . . not Jared’s . . . This body.  You’ll not own my body.  It’s my body.  Pussies speak out!”  In her public meltdown, amid free-floating anger, desperation, black comedy, anguish, outrage and outrageousness–on the day when it is learned that eight and then eleven have been slaughtered—she confides, as everyone must:  “I’m really trying to do something with this life.”

Looking at the vases and containers on the stage, the flowers seem funereal.   Yet the show must have been conceptualized weeks, if not months, ago.  This gathering couldn’t have been what was originally intended, but Finley has been working fast and doggedly to incorporate the new reality–leaving behind the remains of an event with an entirely different meaning: a memorial.  

© 2018 by Bob Shuman.  All rights reserved.

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Photo credits, from top: Notey;  La MaMa;  Shuman, Mandatory Credit: Photo by JARED WICKERHAM/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock (9948253an)
The Star of David memorials are lined with flowers at the Tree of Life synagogue two days after a mass shooting in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA, 29 October 2018. Officials report 11 people were killed by the gunman identified as Robert Bowers who has been charged with hate crimes and other federal charges .
Vigil for victims of synagogue shooting, Pittsburgh, USA – 29 Oct 2018Variety

TENNESSEE WILLIAMS: ‘A LOVELY SUNDAY FOR CREVE COEUR’ (REVIEW FROM NEW YORK) ·

By Bob Shuman

Four years before his death in 1983, Tennessee Williams gave critics what they wanted:  a play that wouldn’t turn their stomachs.  Even Harold Clurman, reviewer and Williams’s director for Orpheus Descending, had noted his discomfort with the playwright’s “sexual obsession,” writing, “Since The Night of the Iguana (1961), I have not cared much for Williams’s plays, though all of them bear the marks of his ‘splendid gifts.’” A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur, now in a rare revival at Theatre at St. Clements until Oct 21, directed by Austin Pendleton, with a first-rate cast, is Williams as good citizen–he’s trying to clean up his act (although admittedly, the playwright confessed he had used the same characters, and some of the dialogue, for an unproduced teleplay, which he said he had forgotten about, a decade earlier). His writing concerns a Civics teacher, her scholarly discipline as obscure today as it must have seemed to the playwright then.  The drama itself is hardly more than a one act–the French translates as “bitter disappointment” and, beyond symbolism, refers to a suburb outside of St. Louis, which became known for its amusement park, as well as a nearby lake, in the shape of a broken heart.  Legend relates an Indian maiden plunged herself into the water here, after her love for a fur trader was rejected. In this novelty, only for four women, Williams is writing superbly, even if his rhythms can be off. Nevertheless, the structuring seems better than in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, a more powerful play—and  his controlled, recurrent setups for heartbreak, offer echoes of Blanche and Catherine and Laura and Tom. The characters, in A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur, are not exact replicas, though.  They’re on diets and doing calisthenics, discussing balanced grocery budgets and the stolid precepts of the Lutheran church–gone are the trademark booze and drugs; violence and sexual deviancy.  

Resetting the Native American lore in the middle to late 1930’s (at the time when The Glass Menagerie is also placed), Williams brought along the deplorables of the city:  the hardworking white lower-middle class teachers and store and brewery workers.  Transmuted, the legend had become what goes on behind the scenes in a workplace romance, concerning an aging woman (Dorothea) who lives in an “efficiency apartment” with her nearly deaf friend (Bodey), someone intent on dissuading the match.  Williams, however, was also signaling his behind-the-scenes surrender to theatrical convention,  despite the large aesthetic risks, which someone else might not even contemplate:  Did he really want his work to be seen as more directly comparable to that of William Inge, Horton Foote, N. Richard Nash, and Tad Mosel?   What would he lose by stripping away the elements of stifling family dynamics and sexual power, to please his detractors, albeit retaining the basic, recognizable “stranded woman” motif?  He was getting older,  68, but perhaps his theatre could not be the theatre of his time. Painfully, he decided to purloin virtually the same ending, for this play, that he had written for Summer and Smoke (1948) and its reworked companion, The Eccentricities of a Nightingale (1964)–which is even more amoral at its finish–although he would invert their hard-won meanings.  A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur has Dorothea subsumed into the homogeneous culture that looks down on her romantic dreams; she is socialized enough, however, to become part of the herd.  

In his 1975 Memoirs, William’s wrote: “To know me is not to love me.  At best it is to tolerate me and of drama critics I would say that tolerance seems now to be just about worn out.”  A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur was his attempt to do it their way, be conciliatory, and become socialized himself—but despite some respectable notices, including Harold Clurman’s in The Nation, the play ran for only a month in 1979, for the Hudson Guild, in New York:  Hardly worth the price of destroying a vision.

Jean Lichty plays the romantic Southerner, Dorothea, in the Theatre at St. Clements production, from La Femme, steely as a young Elizabeth Ashley.  Kristine Nielsen, impervious to a life beyond work, children, and God, is her roommate, who finds employment at a shoe factory, as did Tom Wingfield and Williams himself. Annette O’Toole hopes for upward social mobility and a clothes brush, no matter how rigid she must be to obtain them.  Polly McKie, virtually a character from Bergman, is an upstairs neighbor, unable to speak English, haunted by the “spooks” of her dead family. 

A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur may be the last time Williams wrote to please anybody or in a way so recognizably comparable to his acclaimed previous work—but perhaps, he also felt he must start renouncing himself. Two of the plays to follow would be A Recluse and His Guest, where the playwright gave up his voice to channel Isak Dinesen and the dark and disturbing The Remarkable Rooming House of Mme. Le Monde, which seems a rejection of his craft as we had come to know it, absurd and idiosyncratic; extreme and without compassion.  

Larry Feiner’s design provides dappled lighting and clashing reds for the “fiercely bright colors of the interior” of A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur, and Beth Goldenberg‘s costumes show period fashions of poverty and acceptability.  Austin Pendleton continues in his championship of the work of Williams, who, despite an attempt like this, realized that “there is rarely a graceful way to say goodbye.”

© 2018 by Bob Shuman.  All rights reserved.

Tennessee Williams’s A LOVELY SUNDAY FOR CREVE COEUR

Theatre at St. Clements
423 West 46th Street
New York, NY 10036

Performances until Oct 21, 2018

Tickets 

Photos by Joan Marcus (top to bottom): Kristine Nielsen, Jean Lichty, and Annette O’Toole; Annette O’Toole, Jean Lichty, Kristine Nielsen, and Polly McKie; Jean Lichty, and Annette O’Toole.

Press: JT Public Relations

WILLIAM SAROYAN 110 ·

(from Armenia, 8/31/18.)

“Although I write in English, and despite the fact that I’m from America, I consider myself an Armenian writer. The words I use are in English, the surroundings I write about are American, but the soul, which makes me write, is Armenian. This means I am an Armenian writer and deeply love the honor of being a part of the family of Armenian wrtiters.”

August 31 marks the 110th birthday anniversary of Pulitzer Prize and Oscar-winning Armenian-American writer William Saroyan.

The writer’s anniversary will see the inauguration of his house museum in Fresno. The grand opening event will be open to the public and held on the campus of California State University of Fresno.  A documentary, musical performances of songs written by Saroyan, a recitation of his writings, and remarks by the founder and board members of the foundation will be part of the event.  Two of the songs will be a debut performance, having never been played for the public.

William Saroyan was born on August 31, 1908 in Fresno, California to Armenak and Takoohi Saroyan, Armenian immigrants from Bitlis, Ottoman Empire. His father came to New York in 1905 and started preaching in Armenian Apostolic Churches.

At the age of three, after his father’s death, Saroyan, along with his brother and sister, was placed in an orphanage in Oakland, California. Five years later, the family reunited in Fresno.

Saroyan decided to become a writer after his mother showed him some of his father’s writings. A few of his early short articles were published in Overland Monthly. His first stories appeared in the 1930s.

Among these was “The Broken Wheel”, written under the name Sirak Goryan and published in the Armenian journal Hairenik in 1933. Many of Saroyan’s stories were based on his childhood experiences among the Armenian-American fruit growers of the San Joaquin Valley or dealt with the rootlessness of the immigrant. The short story collection My Name is Aram (1940), an international bestseller, was about a young boy and the colorful characters of his immigrant family. It has been translated into many languages.

(Read more)

Photo: Williamsaroyanfoundation.org

UK PLAYWRIGHTS CONDEMN BOMBING OF GAZA THEATRE ·

(Oliver Holmes’s article appeared in the Guardian, 8/16.)

Caryl Churchill and National Theatre director bemoan ‘devastating loss’ after Israeli strike

Leading playwrights and directors in Britain have severely criticised the bombing of a major cultural centre in the Gaza Strip by Israel’s air force, calling it a “devastating loss for the already isolated community”.

In a letter to the Guardian, 14 figures from UK theatre, including the director of the National Theatre, Rufus Norris, and dramatist Caryl Churchill, condemned the “total destruction” of the Said al-Mishal Culture Centre.

We condemn the destruction of Gaza cultural centre in Israeli airstrike

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WINSTON NTSHONA, TONY-WINNING SOUTH AFRICAN ACTOR, DIES AT 76 ·

(Richard Sandomir’s article appeared in The New York Times, 8/5; via Pam Green.)

Winston Ntshona, a renowned black South African actor whose performances on Broadway in two short anti-apartheid dramas earned him a Tony Award in 1975 with his co-star, John Kani, but led to their imprisonment the next year, died on Thursday in New Brighton, a township near Port Elizabeth, South Africa. He was 76.

His death was announced by the South African State Theater in Pretoria. His son, Lawula, told the local media that he had been ill for several years.

Mr. Ntshona’s theatrical career was inextricably connected to Mr. Kani’s. Both were factory workers in the mid-1960s when they joined the Serpent Players, a mixed-race troupe that the white playwright Athol Fugard had helped form. South African blacks could not be employed as “artists” at the time, so Mr. Ntshona and Mr. Kani were classified as servants to Mr. Fugard in the identification passbooks that blacks were required to carry.

“South Africa was a strange place,” Mr. Ntshona recalled in an interview with The Globe and Mail in Toronto in 2001. “Everyone was totally oblivious to the need to express the plight of the black people. Everybody wanted to forget there was pain — they just wanted to be entertained.”

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Photo: Channel 24