WAS BRITISH SPY, NOVELIST, AND PLAYWRIGHT, SOMERSET MAUGHAM SENT TO KILL LENIN? ·

(Alexey Timofeychev’s article appeared in Russia Beyound the Headlines, 7/13.)

Everyone knows Maugham’s plays and novels, but his work for British intelligence in Russia in 1917 is less known. He had a daunting mission and was certain that if he’d had more time he could have averted the Bolshevik victory in the Russian Revolution.

The author of Theatre, and The Razor’s Edge was an agent of the British Secret Intelligence Service during World War I, and he was entrusted with a secret mission to Russia, the true nature of which remains a mystery even 100 years later.

The trip to Russia in 1917 was not Maugham’s first experience as a secret agent for British Intelligence. By then he had already worked a couple of years for what later would be known as MI-6. After his first mission in Switzerland in 1915 he wanted to quit for personal reasons – he had divorced and his male lover had been sent out of Britain. However, according to one of his biographers, Maugham was intrigued by the life of a secret agent because he liked pulling strings from behind the scenes.

Nevertheless, when he was approached with the chance to go to Russia, he was uncertain. As he recalled afterwards, he thought that he didn’t have the right qualities for the task. In the end, the desire “to see the country of Tolstoi, Dostoievski and Chekov” outweighed any doubts, and he accepted.

(Read more)

https://www.rbth.com/arts/history/2017/07/13/was-british-spy-somerset-maugham-sent-to-kill-lenin_800942

 

A BILL FUNDING ARTS AND HUMANITIES ENDOWMENTS PASSES HOUSE COMMITTEE ·

(Graham Bowley’s article appeared in The New York Times, 7/20; via Pam Green.)

Four months after President Trump proposed eliminating the cultural agencies altogether, a bill to continue to finance the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities won approval this week from the House appropriations committee.

The House bill, part of the process of thrashing out the federal budget for fiscal year 2018, includes $145 million for each endowment. The amounts represent a cut of about $5 million to each agency, but is a stark contrast to President Trump’s proposal to eliminate the endowments entirely as outlined in his first federal budget plan he announced in March.

That proposal was a political statement about the president’s wishes; Congress writes the federal budget, and those line items are now being thrashed out in the House and Senate.

The cultural funds — a small part of the broader interior and environment appropriations bill — may eventually receive a vote by the full House, perhaps as one part of a bigger omnibus bill after the summer recess.

(Read more)

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/20/arts/nea-neh-congress-budget-trump.html

***** MCPHERSON: ‘GIRL FROM THE NORTH COUNTRY’—DYLAN’S SONGS ARE DEPRESSION-ERA DYNAMITE (SV PICK, UK) ·

(Michael Billington’s article appeared in the Guardian, 7/26.)

This is the second time in a week I’ve seen an Irish writer create a remarkable fusion of text and music. Woyzeck in Winter at the Galway arts festival unites Büchner and Schubert. Now Conor McPherson has written and directed a play incorporating 20 diverse songs by Bob Dylan. Set in Dylan’s home town of Duluth, Minnesota, in 1934, the piece uses the songs to reinforce the mood of desperation and yearning that characterised America in the Depression era.

It was the Dylan team who approached McPherson with the idea and they knew what they were doing since his work, from The Weir onwards, has been marked by a sense of unfulfilled longing. Here, that is located in a run-down guesthouse where everyone is staring into a bleak future. Nick, the owner, has to deal with crushing debt, a wife with dementia, a layabout son, and he is trying to marry off an adopted, pregnant, black daughter to an elderly shoe salesman. His guests include a ruined family, a fugitive boxer, a blackmailing preacher-cum-Bible salesman and Nick’s lover, who is awaiting a legacy that fails to mature. Yet for all their failures they still manage, gloriously, to sing.

(Read more)

https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2017/jul/27/girl-from-the-north-country-review-bob-dylan-conor-mcpherson

TINA HOWE COPES WITH CAREGIVING AND OTHER LATE-IN-LIFE STORMS ·

(Laura Collins-Hughes’s article appeared in the New York Times, July 19; via Pam Green.)

By late afternoon, the weather was still sweltering, but in balmier conditions the playwright Tina Howe would have been hanging out a window of her 10th-story apartment on West End Avenue, shooting photos of the neighbors on their roof decks far below.

So she said the other day, and it was easy to envision. Dreamily thoughtful, with an angular, blue-blooded elegance, Ms. Howe at 79 has a disarming liveliness of spirit.

“I sort of want to set my next play on one of these decks, on Midsummer Night’s Eve,” she said, explaining that it would be “about a group of old people getting together and whooping it up. Because nobody does that. Dear Beckett has written about old age, but never a woman.”

This is the phase of life that Ms. Howe has reached: where an appalling number of sweet strangers offer her their seats on the subway, and where she sticks close to home because her 81-year-old husband, Norman Levy, has Alzheimer’s disease.

It is a phase of life that Ms. Howe is writing about in her new play, “Singing Beach.” Directed by Ari Laura Kreith in a production by Theater 167, it starts previews on Saturday, July 22, at Here Arts Center.

Continue reading the main story

Photo: The New York Times

 

ANDY BLANKENBUEHLER, ‘HAMILTON’ CHOREOGRAPHER, AT HOME IN HARLEM ·

(Joanne Kaurman’s article appeared in The New York Times, 7/21; via Pam Green.)

What I Love

Sofia Blankenbuehler, while out sick from school one day, heard a snippet of music coming from her father’s studio on the top floor of the family’s brownstone in Harlem. A few seconds later, there was that same tune again. And again (and again) for the next eight hours or so.

“She finally told my wife, ‘I think there’s something wrong with Daddy,’” said Andy Blankenbuehler, a choreographer and sometime stage director.

Well, maybe. But such obsessive attention to the music that makes him dance helps explain why Mr. Blankenbuehler has three shows running on Broadway (“Cats,” “Bandstand” and “Hamilton”) and why he’s also in possession of three Tony Awards (for “In the Heights,” “Hamilton” and “Bandstand”), not to mention the two construction paper-and-cardboard facsimiles of the trophy made by Sofia, now 7, and her brother, Luca, 10.

But the stage isn’t all his world. Mr. Blankenbuehler, 47, has long stuffed boxes and file folders with photographs and illustrations of mirrors and tables and sideboards that catch his fancy. “I’ve always been very design-conscious, though my taste has continued to change,” he said.

(Read more)

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/21/realestate/andy-blankenbuehler-hamilton-choreographer-at-home-in-harlem.html

TONY KUSHNER: WHY I’M WRITING A PLAY ABOUT DONALD TRUMP ·

(Tim Teeman’s article appeared in the Daily Beast, 7/19; via the Drudge Report)

As the U.K. production of ‘Angels in America’ hits American cinemas, Tony Kushner reveals his plans for a Trump play—and talks about what Roy Cohn taught Trump.

From the summer home where he and his husband, Mark Harris, live in Provincetown, Massachusetts, the playwright Tony Kushner is speaking for the first time about the play he is planning to write about President Donald Trump.

It comes during a discussion of the much-praised London National Theatre production of Angels in America, Kushner’s defining AIDS-era masterpiece set in 1985 and first performed in 1991, which is being beamed into American cinemas this and next Thursday.

(Read more)

http://www.thedailybeast.com/tony-kushner-why-im-writing-a-play-about-donald-trump

Photo:  LGBT History Month

‘THE GREAT GATSBY’ AT THE GATE: A MAGNIFICENTLY ENTERTAINING, DIZZYING PARTY (SV PICK, IE) ·

(Peter Crawley’s article appeared in the Irish Times, 7/13.)

The Great Gatsby ★★★★   
Gate Theatre Dublin 

There’s an old story in which the actor playing the doctor in A Streetcar Named Desire – a very minor character – was asked to describe the plot. “Well,” he said, “it’s about this doctor who takes this crazy lady off to an asylum.” From each perspective, everyone is the star of the show.

In The Great Gatsby, a riveting immersive production that sends F Scott Fitzgerald’s characters – major and minor – skittering throughout Jay Gatsby’s mansion, you may feel the same. In a bold bit of casting, the mansion is played by the full expanse of the Gate theatre, marvellously transformed in Ciaran Bagnall’s fastidious design.

Sheaved into groups between its shimmering jazz bar, speakeasy, and several lush private rooms, you might witness the poignant dreams of a tragi-comic Mr McKee (who barely get five pages from Fitzgerald) and decide from Raymond Scannell’s deft performance that the show is about this inebriated photographer who will never find focus.

(Read more)

https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/stage/the-great-gatsby-at-the-gate-a-magnificently-entertaining-dizzying-party-1.3153835

Photo: The Irish Times

ROYAL SHAKESPEARE COMPANY TO MONITOR HEART RATES AT ‘TITUS ANDRONICUS’ ·

(Andrew R. Chow’s article appeared in The New York Times, 7/5; via Pam Green.)

Is a screening of a play just as powerful as the play itself? The Royal Shakespeare Company plans to use heart monitors to try to find the answer.

Starting Wednesday night, the company is to monitor the heart rates of 10 selected audience members at its blood-soaked production of “Titus Andronicus” in Stratford-upon-Avon, and then do the same for a cinema screening of the production in August. The theater’s aim is to measure the emotional experience of each viewing method and explore whether Shakespeare still shocks modern audience members, who are perhaps desensitized to violence onscreen.

Becky Loftus, the Royal Shakespeare Company’s head of audience insight, said that “Titus Andronicus” lends itself particularly well to this experiment, given the intensity of scenes showing the title character Titus’s hand being chopped off and the aftermath of the rape and mutilation of Lavinia, another character.

Continue reading the main story

THE WOMEN WHO STAGED THE IRISH EASTER RISING (LISTEN NOW ON BBC RADIO 3—LINK BELOW) ·

(Listen at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b074z972 )

Broadcaster and journalist, Marie-Louise Muir, examines the role theatre played in radicalising the Irish women who fought in the 1916 Easter Rising.

As she pieces together their largely forgotten stories through archives at Dublin’s Abbey Theatre and visits key locations associated with the insurrection, Marie-Louise asks what happened to these women and their radical ideals.

Producer: Conor Garrett.

Illustrations: Maire Nic Shiubhlaigh (Irish Times)

ITALY’S ELITE LA SCALA APPALLED AT OPERA GOERS TURNING UP IN T-SHIRTS, MINI-SKIRTS AND FLIP-FLOPS ·

(Nick Squires’s article appeared in the Telegraph, 7/14.; via the Drudge Report.)  

As one of the world’s most celebrated opera houses, La Scala in Milan expects a certain degree of decorum, but guardians of the elite institution have been appalled at the shabby state of audiences this summer.

Instead of donning jackets and evening dresses, ticket holders are turning up as if dressed for the beach, as temperatures reach 95F or more during one of Italy’s hottest summers for years.

The worst culprits are normally foreign tourists but even Italians, who are normally renowned for their stylish dress, are not averse to arriving in shorts, mini-skirts and sandals.

(Read more)

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/07/14/italys-elite-la-scala-appalled-opera-goers-turning-t-shirts/