‘WARS OF THE ROSES: HENRY VI & RICHARD III’, DIRECTED AND ADAPTED BY AUSTIN PENDLETON, AT HB STUDIO, 124 BANK STREET (REVIEW FROM NEW YORK) ·

By Bob Shuman

Although Queen Elizabeth, the unpretentious Johanna Leister in Austin Pendleton’s Wars of the Roses, now running at 124 Bank Street until August 19 (he co-directed with Peter Bloch), asks Richard III, “Shall I be tempted by the devil?” all the characters in this unbound adaptation of Henry VI, Part 3 and Richard III might wonder the same. Each of the characters plays with evil and, because of the widened scope of bringing the two plays together (both feature Richard), their choices are horrifying and riveting, despite the fact that the bravura role of the humpbacked king (passionately played by Matt de Rogatis, in a hoodie), allows room for smaller roles to pop. Pendleton himself portrays a reticent Henry, wearing a black t-shirt with a red cross, his hand to his mouth or hand to his face—even sitting on his hands at one point.  Such are his skills that he can appear relaxed on stage, while, at the same time destroying any illusion that he is playing a role at all. Of course, going to one of his productions, whether that be in a black box, church, Lincoln  Center, on Broadway, or even the National Theatre in London, means reflecting on acting, perhaps more seriously than with work shown by virtually any other current director.  Here he seems to want the audience to reach out to the work artistically, rather than be steered by it, which, after so many busy shows–with projections and music and politics and computerized scenery changes–can take a minute to adjust to. His set, perhaps like one in a company meeting room, is made up only of chairs, a table, and a white backdrop, spattered with red to suggest blood (there isn’t even a credit for the scenic designer in the program, although the lighting is by Steven Wolf); the costumes are largely dark street clothes (Maya Luz consulted on them); and this powerful distillation and fusion, lasting three hours, with intermission, disregards pomp, coronets, or even much in the way of any props or technology. 

Wars of the Roses doesn’t offer much in the way of role models, either, unless one wants to sharpen his or her Machiavellian skills. In The Stranger, Camus writes about cinemagoers leaving the theatre, after an American movie, walking like John Wayne. Here, because the characters are compromised, the reflection on them must run deep and does not encourage imitation. The ensemble of fifteen (some play multiple roles), examine the dark characters intensely.  Debra Lass’s Queen Margaret is a strong, almost Nordic or Teutonic, warrior queen, a “she-wolf,” wearing a studded motorcycle jacket, her hair in a braid down the back; Pete McElligott’s real tears, as the imprisoned Clarence, are indicative of the inner truth this production is striving to reveal—and, while discussing eyes, watch the mourning, mesmerizing ones of Carolyn Groves, playing the Duchess of YorkGreg Pragel delivers his lines with speed, pacing, and command—and he can be humorous, too—although his rebuff by de Rogatis, with a prayer book (into his face), is swift and malicious.  Michael Villastrigo has found the manner of an assertive young king (Edward) and Adam Dodway (Tyrell and Ratcliffe), because of his naturalness on the stage, makes an impressive appearance.  Rachel Marcus is a strong, intelligent actress, forced to make sense of Richard’s mystifying behavior, finally succumbing to him (like Ophelia must do with Hamlet).  Excellence is also seen in Jim Broaddus’s York, Milton Elliott’s Warwick and Murderer,  John L. Payne’s Backenbury and Catesby,  Tomas Russo’s Rutland and Dorset,  and  John Constantine’s Prince Edward and Murderer, twirling a chair. 

During intermission, one gentleman, several rows back, stood to describe Wars of the Roses as “intimate,” which seems appropriate but also recalls Strindberg’s theatre.  Because of this production’s smaller scale, lack of castle scenery, for example, military action, and smoky battlefields that playwright seems to be watching over The Wars of the Roses, maybe more closely than even Shakespeare. The three imprisoned women (Lass, Leister, and Groves) mourning their lives, turning into mummies, might be part of The Ghost Sonata—and even Richard has a counterpart in Hummel, the handicapped man in that chamber play.  Both works examine cycles of suffering in communities—one explosive moment of pain, for example, in Wars of the Roses comes with Richard’s shocking kiss of Elizabeth, who has been asked to make her daughter a queen.  She is being hounded by a recognizable devil: part Weinstein, part Moonves, part Spacey.

© 2018 by Bob Shuman.  All rights reserved.

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.  Tickets are $25 and can be purchased by visiting  www.proveavillain.com

Press: Glenna Freedman PR.

Photos: de Rogatis: Chris Loupos; Pendleton: Playbill.

 

REVIEW: HIT SONGS TO SIN BY IN A SMASHING ‘MOULIN ROUGE!’ (SV PICK, BOSTON) ·

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

BOSTON — The jukebox has exploded.

Its pieces zoom through the air like candy-colored shrapnel, whizzing by before the memory can tag them and making the blandly familiar sound enticingly exotic. I’m talking about the recycled pop hits, mostly of a romantic stripe, that make up the seemingly infinite song list of “Moulin Rouge! The Musical,” at the Emerson Colonial Theater here.

By the end of this smart, shameless and extravagantly entertaining production, adapted from Baz Luhrmann’s 2001 movie, you’ll think you’ve heard fragments of every Top 40 song of lust and longing that has been whispered, screamed or crooned into your ear during the past several decades. You may even believe that once upon a time you loved them all.

Part of the genius of Mr. Luhrmann’s original version — which starred Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor as doomed lovers in a Bohemian, fin-de-siècle Paris — was that it put mainstream, latter-day radio songs into the context of a verismo costume opera like “La Traviata.” Not for nothing was Elton’s John’s “Your Song” the ballad most memorably shared by the film’s leading lovers.

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Photo: Carpe Diem

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)

L.A. PRODUCTION OF ‘THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK’ REPLACES NAZIS WITH ICE AGENTS HUNTING FOR ‘LATINX’ ILLEGALS ·

(Ben Kew’s article appeared on Breitbart, 8/3; via the Drudge Report.)

A modernized theatrical production of The Diary of Anne Frank in Los Angeles will re-imagine the Jewish Frank family hiding from Nazis with Latino immigrants hiding from Immigration, Customs, and Enforcement (ICE) officials, its directors have revealed.

The production, directed by former Roseanne writer Stan Zimmerman and scheduled to run throughout September, “was inspired by the true story of a Jewish woman in Los Angeles who created a ‘Safe House’ for a Latina mother and her two daughters after her husband was deported by ICE.” The play’s characters in the attic will be played by a LatinX cast, according to a promotional website.

“Director Stan Zimmerman has cast his production of the classic play The Diary of Anne Frank, by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett and newly adapted by Wendy Kesselman,” the play’s promotional content reads.

(Read more)

Photo: Breitbart

AMERICAN SHAKESPEARE ·

(Ralph Berry’s article appeared in Chronicles, 7/12.)

Letter From England

Shakespeare contains the cultural history of America.  From first to last, Shakespeare is the graph of evolving American values.  He early made the transatlantic crossing: It is thought that Cotton Mather was the first in America to acquire a First Folio.  Richard III was performed in New York in 1750, and in 1752 the governor entertained the emperor and empress of the Cherokee nation at a performance of Othello in Williamsburg, Virginia.  The American revolutionaries seized on Julius Caesar as a parable of tyrannicide, with Brutus as the hero of liberty.  Shakespeare was always an honored presence, and became absorbed into the growing pains of the young nation.

The archetypal tourist was Washington Irving, whose charming sketches of visits to Eastcheap and Stratford-upon-Avon are still highly readable.  He thought he had seen Shakespeare’s dust, in a vault that laborers had dug adjoining Shakespeare’s.  But soon this kind of deferential tourism ran into the growing calls for cultural independence.  Whitman thought that “The comedies are altogether unacceptable to America and Democracy.”  These calls for an end to the cultural cringe marked a genuine American Renaissance.

American writers took the challenge to Shakespeare much further.  It is no accident (as Marxists used to say, and probably still do) that the land of bardolatry gave birth to serious anti-Stratfordism.  The first great heretic was Delia Bacon, a monomaniac who, seduced by the accident of her surname, strove to prove that the works of Shakespeare were written by Francis Bacon.  To this heresy Mark Twain and Henry James subscribed, with partial support from Nathaniel Hawthorne.  The same parricidal urge, linked with a nostalgic desire for aristocratic kinship, continued as Oxfordism into the 20th century—overcoming the objection that the Earl of Oxford died in 1604, 12 years before Shakespeare’s death.

Anti-Stratfordism yielded to, and was marginalized by, the immense pressures to create a Shakespeare of anterior superiority.  Wealthy individuals (Huntington, Folger) acquired the sacred texts for their libraries.  These texts—quartos and folios—became an asset class like impressionist paintings.  Across America, Shakespeare was staged with persistent success.  The all-embracing doctrine was “He is ours as he is yours, by common inheritance.”

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Photo: Big Think

BRUSHING UP YOUR SHAKESPEARE, BY THE BOOK OR NOT ·

(Eric Grode’s article appeared in The New York Times, 7/27; via Pam Green.)

Gone are the days when a recorder and a few desultory “hey nonny nonnys” would suffice for the musical passages in a Shakespeare production. Shaina Taub took an ebullient, slangy approach with her score for the musical “Twelfth Night,” which is playing now at the Delacorte Theater, with Ms. Taub in the role of Feste.

As with other shows in the Public Works series, this “Twelfth Night” shifts from the original text to a modern vernacular in Ms. Taub’s songs. But, as these examples show, it’s entirely possible to put your own stamp on Shakespeare while still sticking to the original text (more or less).

Kiss Me, Kate

Image

A scene from the 1999 revival of “Kiss Me, Kate” at the Martin Beck Theater.CreditSara Krulwich/The New York Times

Until and unless the line “kick him right in the Coriolanus” shows up in an as yet undiscovered quarto of “The Taming of the Shrew,” Cole Porter’s “Kiss Me, Kate” score from 1948 is, shall we say, true to Shakespeare in its fashion. But “I’ve Come to Wive It Wealthily in Padua” dips in and out of the text, and Porter also took a crack at the monologue that gives contemporary “Taming” directors the most trouble, Kate’s abashed “I Am Ashamed That Women Are So Simple.”

Hair

The score of “Hair” found room for words from Allen Ginsberg, Abraham Lincoln, the Hare Krishna mantra and a Village Voice personal ad, so why not a bit of “Hamlet”? (The musical’s co-creator Gerome Ragni had previously appeared with Richard Burton in a Broadway revival of the play.) Two bits, actually: In addition to a few snippets in “Flesh Failures,” Galt MacDermot wrote a soaring — if occasionally mis-accented — take on “What a Piece of Work Is Man” for two tenors as they survey the carnage of war. In the score for his 1971 musical “Two Gentlemen of Verona,” Mr. MacDermot used more Shakespeare, even including an “Antony and Cleopatra” monologue to comic effect.

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Photo: The New York Times

50 SHOWS TO SEE AT THE EDINBURGH FRINGE 2018 ·

(Brian Logan’s and Christ Wiegand’s article appeared in the Guardian, 6/29.)

Superstar standups, daring dance, Brexit cabaret and a Bon Jovi musical … Dive into our guide to some of the shows at the world’s biggest arts festival

Rhod Gilbert

Gilded Balloon

As ever on the fringe, a handful of big hitters return to reconnect to their standup roots. The pick of this year’s crop – which includes Marcus Brigstocke, Nina Conti, David O’Doherty and Reg Hunter – must be Rhod Gilbert, who made his name (and narrowly missed out on a Perrier award) with his volcanically exasperated fringe shows in the mid-noughties. Now he’s back, for just a short run, performing his first live comedy in six years.

Sunshine Boy

Dance Base

The programme at Dance Base features work from 11 countries and includes the Grassmarket venue’s first full-scale ballet, Giselle by Ballet Ireland. But the eye-catcher on this year’s lineup is Sunshine Boy, Andy Howitt’s tribute to the extravagantly lipsticked Leigh Bowery – performance artist, designer, sitter for Lucian Freud, Clothes Show star and legend of London’s club world, whose signature act involved giving birth to his partner on stage.

Rose Matafeo

Pleasance Courtyard

Her 2016 debut made waves, her 2017 follow-up, Sassy Best Friend, was wonderful. This time out, the high-energy, highly-strung standup Rose Matafeo tackles horniness, of all things, and – in a year when Flight of the Conchords’ return has towered over live comedy – is part of a Kiwi invasion that includes “Lorde’s favourite comedian” Paul Williams, newcomer Alice Snedden and an all-new show from the big-hitting mime act Tape Face.

(Read more)