CAROL CHANNING DIES AT 97; A LARGER-THAN-LIFE BROADWAY STAR ·

(Enid Nemy’s article appeared in The New York Times, 1/15; via Pam Green.)

Her performances as the gold-digging Lorelei Lee in “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” and the matchmaker Dolly Gallagher Levi in “Hello, Dolly!” made her a Broadway legend.

Carol Channing, whose incandescent performances as the gold-digging Lorelei Lee in “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” and the matchmaker Dolly Gallagher Levi in “Hello, Dolly!” made her a Broadway legend, died early Tuesday at her home in Rancho Mirage, Calif. She was 97.

Her death was confirmed by her publicist, B. Harlan Boll, who said she had two strokes in the past year.

Ms. Channing was bringing audiences to their feet night after night in a revival of “Hello, Dolly!” when she was 74, singing, “Wow, wow, wow, fellas, / Look at the old girl now, fellas,” resplendent in her scarlet gown and jewels, her platinum hair crowned with red plumage.

Ten years later she was still getting applause, this time for a cabaret act. Nine years after that, just a few days before her 93rd birthday, she appeared at Town Hall in Manhattan as part of a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the night “Dolly” opened.

“Performing is the only excuse for my existence,” she said during her last Broadway appearance, in the 1995 revival of “Hello, Dolly!” “What can be better than this?”

Ms. Channing was one of the most recognizable presences in the theater world. Her tousled hairdo, headlight-size eyes and exaggerated mouth were the subject of countless caricatures. For many years her real hair, damaged by bleaching, was covered by a wig.

Her false eyelashes, worn at a fantastic length since she was a teenager, posed a more serious problem. The glue that was used to attach them gradually pulled out her natural lashes, and Ms. Channing began painting on the long spikes.

By then her vision had become impaired, but she was philosophical about her somewhat hazy view of her fellow actors. “I know what they look like,” she said.

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Photo: ABC 7NY

‘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.

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© by Bob Shuman.  All rights reserved.   

Production photos: Carol Rosegg   

 

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.”

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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 

REVIEW: A BROADWAY ‘MOCKINGBIRD,’ ELEGIAC AND EFFECTIVE ·

(Jesse Green’s article appeared in The New York Times, 12/13; Via Pam Green.)

As this is a trial, let’s have a verdict: “To Kill a Mockingbird,” which opened at the Shubert Theater on Thursday, is not guilty.

Evidence shows that it does not deface the Harper Lee novel on which it is based, as the Lee estate at one point contended. And far from devaluing the property as a moneymaking machine, it has created an honorable stream of income that should pour into the estate’s coffers for years to come.

But as any reader of the novel knows, to say something is not guilty is not the same as saying it’s innocent. And this adaptation of “To Kill a Mockingbird” — written by Aaron Sorkin, directed by Bartlett Sher and starring Jeff Daniels — is hardly innocent.

How could it be? Every ounce of glossy know-how available at the highest echelons of the commercial theater has been applied to ensure its success, both on Lee’s terms and on what it supposes are ours.

It is, for one thing, gorgeously atmospheric, from the weathered barn-red siding that serves as the show curtain (the set design is by Miriam Buether) to Adam Guettel’s mournful guitar and pump organ music, which sounds like hymns decomposing before your ear. Mr. Sher has made sure that every movement, every perfectly cast face, every stage picture and costume tells the story so precisely that it would do so even without words.

Ah, but the words. As Mr. Sorkin has explained pre-emptively, he faced a dilemma in approaching the material. He could not alter the plot significantly lest he alienate audiences who grew up treasuring the 1960 novel or the 1962 film starring Gregory Peck. “To Kill a Mockingbird” still had to be the story of the widower lawyer Atticus Finch (Mr. Daniels) bravely standing up to racism in small-town Alabama in the mid-1930s. Defending Tom Robinson, a black man falsely accused of raping a white woman, he could not suddenly introduce DNA evidence to win the case.

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Photo: Vogue

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

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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. 

‘CHASING THE NEW WHITE WHALE’ AT LA MAMA AND ‘36 JUNIPER’ AT TEATRO CIRCULO  (REVIEWS FROM NEW YORK) ·

 

By Bob Shuman

Plays are such complicated mechanisms that they usually can never be gotten right, which gives pathos to the writer and heroism to those involved in any production.  There is always Romanticism in a theatrical endeavor, and there is probably no way that drama can’t fail on some level.  Realists might say that the Internet only speeds the futility, but it is unlikely that artists will stop trying to use it—the Web can put them together, act as a research tool, and quantify trends. Development, however, the labor, not the speed of thought, can not be rushed—and may insist on being slow-moving,  even with the foreknowledge that art rarely can inspire people to action.  Two recent plays, Chasing the New White Whale, at La MaMa until December 9, and 36 Juniper, next door at Teatro Circulo—the production closed December 8–suffer the conundrum of wanting to act fast and needing to work slow. The creators have taken issues of contemporary importance: one concerning the opioid epidemic, as seen in the New England fishing industry,  and the latter, on the effect of mass shootings on the millennial generation—but they are not fully explored plays and might be called hashtag shows; riveting concepts without the substance they need.

 

Chasing the New White Whale, which appears the more authentically infused of the two is repetitive and simplistic—taking a Chicken Little approach, when there needs to be more dramatic situation and example.  The drug issues are real and devastating, as the evening clearly points out, but, artistically, Michael Gorman and Arthur Adair (the writer and director) can only see the alarm, instead of culling a kind of Uncle Tom’s Cabin on the issue.  Yeats might say that what the audience is viewing is wall paper: the ambiance is in place, with hard rock music and a fishing boat that comes onto the stage—but our exposure to the nautical context is too brief and the characters are types, stuck in a skeletal, updated version of Carousel.  Maybe flash agitprop, with passages from Melville to give the production weight, is all the creators have in mind, but is awareness their only goal? 

With Trey Adams, Khari Constantine, Chris Cornwell, Mark Daly, Mike Gorman, Rae Nelson, Alan Barnes Netherton, Meridith Nicholaev, Jim Reitz, Sabrina Fara Tosti, Victoria A. Villier

36 Juniper needs more documentary input—the real voices of those who have lived through mass shootings (here, the fictionalized story concerns survivors, who were part of such an event as teens).  In Britain, a writer like David Hare, Victoria Brittain, or Gillian Slovo would likely see this concept in terms of verbatim theatre.  Writers Jessika McQueen, Shannon McInally, and Alyssa Abraham seem to understand it in terms of celluloid—the space where their story is set might be the family room of a sitcom. They devolve into discussing teen crushes, weight issues, and marriage plans–a mishmash of Agatha Christie and The Big Chill, which doesn’t help anyone think about what seem like monthly murders today, in schools and other venues where young people meet.  In 36 Juniper, psychological examinations are not mentioned, gun control isn’t argued, and the lack of followup press stories, after the shootings, goes undiscussed, as well as the effects on the community and demands for protecting youth.  Of the six characters, only one offers a way for the audience to gain understanding of mass trauma—through a self-help book.  In the play, the most immediate death is left outside in a snowstorm and an obvious person of interest, to the police investigation, goes unexamined for years . . .   

Theatremakers want banner causes, but the path to rendering them may sometimes seem as harsh to the artists, as the subject areas they want to explore.  

Directed by Greg Pragel with  Brendan Byrne, Shannon McInally, Joe Reece, Jacob Dabby, Alyssa Abraham, Jessika McQueen  

 

© by Bob Shuman.  All rights reserved.

Photos: ‘Whale’:  Carlos Cardona; ‘Juniper’: AK47 Division 

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

 

HAROLD PINTER: ‘THE BIRTHDAY PARTY’ (LISTEN NOW ON BBC RADIO 3–LINK BELOW) ·

HAROLD PINTER: ‘THE BIRTHDAY PARTY’ 

Listen at:

The Birthday Party by Harold Pinter
Stanley, an erstwhile pianist lives in a dingy seaside boarding house run by Meg and Petey. He is comfortable there, like a surrogate son. Two sinister strangers turn up – Goldberg and McCann. They claim to know him from the past. They turn Stanley’s birthday party into a menacing and terrifying encounter. Franz Kafka meets Donald McGill in Pinter’s iconic comedy of menace.

Stanley ….. Toby Jones
Goldberg ….. Henry Goodman
McCann ….. Stephen Rae
Meg ….. Maggie Steed
Petey ….. Peter Wight
Lulu ….. Jaime Winstone

Director/Producer Gary Brown

An Irishman and a Jew walk into a seaside boarding house. And what? A parable about power and persecution? Or maybe it’s marginalised minorities taking their revenge against seedy Albion? Pinter’s slippery and sly black comedy has a huge resonance for today.

Harold Pinter was one of the writers championed by the Third Programme – and in the late 1950s commissioned one of his early plays before he had his first stage hit. Pinter himself acknowledged the role the Third had had in his own cultural education. For the 70th anniversary, Drama on 3 presents a new production of The Birthday Party, now considered a Pinter classic, but which on its first London opening only lasted a week.

Photo: BBC Radio 3