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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

(Read more)

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.”

(Read more)

Photo: Channel 24

WARS OF THE ROSES: HENRY VI & RICHARD III, DIRECTED AND ADAPTED BY AUSTIN PENDLETON, AT HB STUDIO, 124 BANK STREET ·

AUSTIN PENDLETON DIRECTS AND ADAPTS A NEW STAGE VERSION OF SHAKESPEARE’s GREATEST VILLAIN IN

WARS OF THE ROSES: HENRY VI & RICHARD III

STARRING PENDLETON AS HENRY VI and MATT de ROGATIS AS RICHARD III

PERFORMANCES BEGIN AUGUST 1st at THE 124 BANK STREET THEATRE

OPENING SET FOR SATURDAY, AUGUST 4TH

Tony nominated theatre luminary Austin Pendleton directs and adapts a new stage version of Richard III, Shakespeare’s greatest villain, in WARS OF THE ROSES: HENRY VI & RICHARD III, which begins performances August 1st at the 124 Bank Street Theatre.  The play combines texts from William Shakespeare’s Henry VI Part 3 and Richard III, to create a version, which has never been seen before. The production stars Pendleton as Henry VI and Matt de Rogatis as Richard III, while giving a fascinating take on one of history’s most notorious villains. The opening is set for Saturday, August 4th at 7PM.  WARS OF THE ROSES: HENRY VI & RICHARD III will play a limited engagement through August 19th.  Tickets are $25, for tickets and further information visit www.proveavillain.com.

With the two texts combined, director Austin Pendleton’s WARS OF THE ROSES: HENRY VI & RICHARD III explains how Richard III evolved into the events that shaped his tyranny. In the text of Henry VI, Part 3, Richard performs the role of a subjugated good brother while secretly behaving with bloodthirsty abandon.  Killing Henry, Richard then declares himself severed from his family and brotherhood and stands alone in his quest for the crown.  In the text of Richard III he is now the central character of the play stopping at nothing to become king, while keeping his subjects and rivals under his thumb.

“What’s always fascinated me about Richard III is how he became to be the way that Shakespeare so brilliantly portrays him in the play named after him” says Mr. Pendleton.  “I believe the answer to all of this is clearly dramatized by Shakespeare in Henry VI, Part 3, the play that leads up to Richard III.   So when Matt de Rogatis, whose exciting Hamlet I’d seen a couple years ago, came to me with the idea of Richard III, my first thought was to align the two plays.  I am very excited about WARS OF THE ROSES: HENRY VI & RICHARD III.  With a great deal of judicious cutting we to managed to get a swift and compact script and thus we can track the development of this troubled and terrifying Richard from a young man searching for love and acknowledgement to the monster that became King Richard III,” he continued.

Joining Austin Pendleton and Matt de Rogatis in the cast are:  Jim Broaddus, John Constantine, Milton Elliott, Debra Lass, Johanna Leister, Rachel Marcus, Pete McElligott, John L. Payne, Carolyn Groves, Greg Pragel and Michael Villastrigo.

Lighting is designed by Steven Wolf and “Project Runway’s” Maya Luz is the costume consultant.

Austin Pendleton’s Broadway directing credits include Spoils of War, The Little Foxes  (Tony Nomination), John Gabriel Borkman, The Runner Stumbles and Shelter. Off-Broadway, he has directed Hamlet, Ivanov, Three Sisters (Obie Award) and Uncle Vanya (CSC), Vieux Carre, and Toys In The Attic (Pearl) Fifty Words (MCC) and Between Riverside and Crazy.  He directed the London production of Detroit at the National Theatre and has directed many productions regionally including Say Goodnight Gracie at Steppenwolf, and Fathers and Sons, Beach House, The Master Builder, Miss Julie and The Dance of Death at Long Wharf. As a playwright, he has written Orson’s Shadow, Uncle Bob and Booth. He has most recently appeared in New York in Dress of Fire, City Girls and Desperados, Delta in the Sky With Diamonds, The Workshop, Consider the Lilies, The Sea Gull and King Lear.  He made his NY debut in 1962 in Oh Dad, Poor Dad …, directed by Jerome Robbins, In 1964 he made his Broadway debut, again directed by Mr. Robbins, as Motel the Tailor in the original cast of Fiddler on the Roof.  Since then he has appeared on Broadway under the direction of Alan Arkin in Hail Scrawdyke (Clarence Derwent Award); Mike Nichols in The Little Foxes in a cast which included Anne Bancroft, George C. Scott, Margaret Leighton, Beah Richards, E.G. Marshall, Maria Tucci and Richard Dysart; Morton da Costa in Doubles; James Lapine in The Diary of Anne Frank with Natalie Portman and Linda Lavin.  Next season he will appear in Choir Boy at MTC on Broadway.  Off-Broadway he appeared in the title role in The Last Sweet Days of Isaac and won an Obie Award.  He has appeared in about 250 movies, including “My Cousin Vinny,” “What’s Up Doc,” “Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps,” “The Front Page,” “Catch -22,” “The Muppet Movie,” “Mr. and Mrs. Bridge” and “Short Circuit.”  He wrote the libretto for A Minister’s Wife.  Mr. Pendleton is the recipient of the 2007 Drama Desk Special Award as “Renaissance Man of the American Theatre”

Matt de Rogatis was most recently seen as Roy in the critically acclaimed Off-Broadway revival of James McLure’s Lone Star at the Triad.  Before that, he played Frederick Clegg in the American premiere of The Collector at 59E59 Theaters and the title role of Hamlet at the 13th Street Repertory Theatre. Other New York Credits include The Elephant Man in The Exhibition, Charlie Gordon in Flowers for Algernon, Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire, and Ken in Red, which was revived and uniquely staged in Chelsea at The Jim Kempner Fine Art Gallery.

The playing schedule for THE ROSES: HENRY VI & RICHARD III is as follows: Wednesdays through Saturdays at 7PM, with Sunday matinees at 3PM through August 19th.  There is one Saturday matinee on August 4th at 2PM.   Tickets are $25 and can be purchased by visiting  www.proveavillain.com

Photo: de Rogatis and Pendleton: Chris Loupos.

Press: Glenna Freeman PR.

EDINBURGH INTERNATIONAL FESTIVAL, 2018:  ‘FIVE TELEGRAMS’ ·

Full versions below (from Edinburgh)

(BWW News Desk, 8/4/18.)

The Edinburgh International Festival 2018 opened tonight with the Aberdeen Standard Investments Opening Event: Five Telegrams.

15,000 free tickets to the epic outdoor digital and live performance were snapped up by audiences joining the International Festival for its annual opening event.

Anna Meredith composed the 25 minute work structured in five movements, each one focused on an aspect of communication during World War One, with some surprising similarities drawn to contemporary communication. Collaborating closely with Meredith, Richard Slaney of 59 Productions created and directed the multi-media show with spectacular light and projections mapped onto the façade of Usher Hall.

The first movement Spin, explored the disparity between reality and public communications and the impact of that distorted reality during the First World War. Vivid colours created ribbons which spiralled over the building fusing into a hypnotic clock ticking away to the relentless building score by Meredith. The words Brave, Magnificent, Success and Increase flashed up faster and larger before spiralling out of control.

Performers emerged scattered among the audience in the second movement, Field Postcards, echoing the voices of the young men writing home from the Front. The movement opened with strands of fiery light running up the front of Usher Hall flowing in a rich and gentle wash of voices and music into words from telegrams – I am well, I am wounded – layered across the building to the emotional and poignant score.

(Read more)

STILL DREAMING: SHAKESPEARE WITH SENIORS (SHAKESPEARE UNLIMITED) ·

Listen 

(via Pam Green)

In 2011, Ben Steinfeld and Noah Brody, co-directors of New York’s Fiasco Theater, were invited to an assisted living facility and nursing home just outside New York City to work with its residents on a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Because it was the Lillian Booth Actors Home—a facility filled with retired singers, actors, dancers and musicians—Ben and Noah expected to work with a group of seasoned Broadway professionals. While there were some, the cast they finally assembled was largely anything but. Ben and Noah were invited on this adventure by filmmakers Jilann Spitzmiller and Hank Rogerson, who turned the process into a documentary called Still Dreaming. We talk about the experience with Ben Steinfeld and Hank Rogerson.

Hank Rogerson is a filmmaker who, with Jilann Spitzmiller, produced Still Dreaming. Ben Steinfeld is co-artistic director of Fiasco Theater. He co-directed, with Noah Brody, the Lillian Booth Actors Home’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Hank and Ben are interviewed by Barbara Bogaev.

SIR ANTHONY HOPKINS: “MOST OF THIS IS NONSENSE, MOST OF THIS IS A LIE.” ·

(Miranda Sawyer’s article appeared in the Guardian, 5/26; via Pam Green.)  

For anyone who looks toward their later years with trepidation, Sir Anthony Hopkins (“Tony, please”) is a proper tonic. He is 79, and happier than he has ever been. This is due to a mixture of things: his relationship with his wife of 15 years, Stella, who has encouraged him to keep fit, and to branch out into painting and classical composition; the calming of his inner fire, of which more later; and his work.

Hopkins loves to work. Much of his self-esteem and vigour comes from acting – “Oh, yes, work has kept me going. Work has given me my energy” – and he is in no way contemplating slowing down. You can feel a quicksilver energy about him, a restlessness. Every so often, I think he’s going to stop the interview and take flight, but actually he’s enjoying himself and keeps saying, “Ask me more! This is great!”

We meet in Rome, where he is making a Netflix film about the relationship between the last pope (Benedict) and the current one (Francis). Hopkins is playing Benedict, Jonathan Pryce is Francis. He is enjoying this – “We’re filming in the Sistine Chapel tomorrow!” – and we are both relishing the lovely view across the city from the penthouse suite in the hotel where he’s staying. Still, he declares that the film we are here to talk about, the BBC’s King Lear, filmed in England and directed by Richard Eyre, is the piece of work that has made him truly happy. “I felt, ‘Yes, I can do this.’ I can do this sort of work. I didn’t walk away. And it’s so invigorating, because I know I can do it, and I’ve got my sense of humour, my humility, and nothing’s been destroyed.”

(Read more)

Photo: The Guardian

METROPOLITAN DIARY: A SHARK, 60 YEARS LATER ·

(Ronnie Lee’s letter appeared in The New York Time, 5/14; via Pam Green.)

Dear Diary:

It has been just over 60 years since “West Side Story” opened on Broadway with me as one of the Sharks. I was 19 when rehearsals began.

I had already worked for Jerome Robbins in the original Broadway productions of “The King and I” (as Crown Prince Chulalongkorn) and “Peter Pan.” Working on “West Side Story” was the best of times and the worst of times — the most challenging choreography and, emotionally, the most ego-deflating, at the hands and tongue of that master torturer, Jerry Robbins.

Photo: Times Square Chronicles; Theater Pizzazz (Carol Lawrence and Ronnie Lee)

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TOM MURPHY, REST IN PEACE (1935-2018) ·

(Peter Crawley’s article appeared in the Irish Times, 5/16.)

Murphy gave the Irish canon a series of masterpieces. Peter Crawley assesses his drama

In 2006, during a public interview, Tom Murphy enumerated the three most common questions asked of a playwright: How do you write a play? What’s your play about? Where did you get the idea?

In his meticulous manner of speaking, lending unhurried emphasis to each word, he chose to answer the list in reverse.

“Where did you get the idea?” he began. “I think you might as well say, ‘Somewhere between heaven and Woolworths.’ Which is quite true. What’s the play about? I’d say a reasonable answer is to say, ‘My life.’ It’s not just an autobiographical thing, but it’s how I would apprehend life and in the course of creating a play to transcend that self and move it into art.”

He turned again to the first question – How do you write a play? – and answered, without a trace of flippancy, “I don’t know.”

Over the course of his long and distinguished career, one that gave the Irish canon a series of masterpieces, Murphy found a different answer to the question each time. “The most distinctive, the most restless, the most obsessive imagination at work in the Irish theatre today is Tom Murphy’s,” said Brian Friel, in 1980, before Murphy’s career had reached its midpoint, and the achievements of these two distinctly different artists became comparable.

(Read more)

Photo: Irish Times