PUTTING OUT THE BROADWAY WELCOME MAT IN SONG ·

(Joanne Kaufman’s article appeared in The New York Times, 12/13; via Pam Green.)

With tickets to certain musicals going for sums in the high three figures — and don’t forget the long, snaking lines even to get in the door — Broadway audiences surely deserve a little extra acknowledgment.

Something that says, “We’re glad you’re here” — maybe in song. And shows like “Come From Away,” “The Band’s Visit” and “SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical” are obliging nightly.

“You’re asking people to spend two-plus hours,” said Kyle Jarrow, the “SpongeBob” book writer. “That’s a big ask. There’s something appropriate about a song that basically says, ‘Welcome — we’re going to be here together for a while.’”

Such songs — the classic of the genre may be “Willkommen,” from “Cabaret — are part of a tradition that dates back at least to Shakespeare. What’s a prologue if not a welcome?

(Read more)

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/13/theater/putting-out-the-broadway-welcome-mat-in-song-come-from-away.html

CHRIS JONES: TOP 10 CHICAGO STAGE PERFORMANCES 2017 ·

(Chris Jones’s article appeared in The Chicago Tribune, 12/21.)

Lists are fun. More importantly, they represent a chance to celebrate excellence. Hence my annual look at the 10 best performances in homegrown Chicago theater in 2017. (Sorry, Nick Cartell in the touring “Les Miserables,” you were superb.) I make due acknowledgment both of all the great work omitted and the utter absurdity of any such ranking.

Still. The formidable 2017 work that appears below was something to experience. We hope you also had the pleasure.

Bri Sudia, “Sweeney Todd” at the Paramount Theatre: Playing Mrs. Lovett in “Sweeney Todd” is highly intimidating. Musically and comedically demanding, Mrs. L is fiendishly difficult to get your teeth into. Plus look at the comparisons you invite: Angela Lansbury, Helena Bonham Carter, Patti LuPone. But despite her abiding youth, Sudia’s killer take on the famous Stephen Sondheim bakeshop proprietress truly was world-class. Neither too coarse nor too mealy, here was work drier than an oven, cleaner in technique than that of a Royal Marine, and as thoroughly tasty as a shepherd’s pie peppered with actual shepherd.

Cruz Gonzalez-Cadel, “Lela & Co.” at Steep Theatre: This Argentina-born Chicago actress had to carry “Lela & Co.” pretty much on her back. This was a formidable feat not just for the size and scope of the title role but for the toll that it takes on a performer to so deeply and truthfully inhabit a woman whose experience is of objectification, agony and abuse. All that said, Lela remains an inveterate and optimistic storyteller, and that was captured by Gonzalez-Cadel, who offered up herself in service of the emancipatory power of telling your own story.

(Read more) 

http://www.chicagotribune.com/entertainment/theater/ct-ott-best-performances-jones-1222-story.html

***** MURPHY/ROBERTSON:  ‘THE JUNGLE’ (SV PICK, UK) ·

(Lyn Gardner’s article appeared in the Guardian, 12/17.)

How did you survive?” asks a young British volunteer of a refugee in the migrant camp that sprang up out of the mud like a small city near Calais. “We didn’t,” comes the reply. “We are different now.”

The migrant camp known as the Jungle housed thousands of refugees and hundreds of unaccompanied minors from 2015 until it was bulldozed in late 2016. The journey to Calais was always a long and difficult one for everyone who came, and there were many kinds of death along the way. Yet these living ghosts are vibrant and vivid, full of life and resilience in this teeming play written by Joe Murphy and Joe Robertson, the founders of Good Chance, a theatre company that sprang up in the camp alongside the shops, the school and the Afghan restaurant run by Salar (Ben Turner). The late AA Gill paid a visit and reviewed it favourably.

Miriam Buether’s design places the audience in the restaurant, a ramshackle place of plywood tables, ill-matching chairs and benches, and a patchwork roof fashioned from flimsy material. Bread is handed around: even amid the arguments and disagreements, the struggle to survive from day to day, the hopes raised and dashed over and over, there is always bread and hospitality.

(Read more)

https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2017/dec/17/the-jungle-review-young-vic-london-calais-migrant-crisis

DELAYED BOLSHOI ‘NUREYEV’ TO PREMIERE WITH DIRECTOR UNDER ARREST ·

(Theo Merz’s article appeared on AFP, 12/8; via Pam Green.)

A Bolshoi Theatre ballet based on the life of Russian dance legend Rudolf Nureyev that was abruptly pulled in the summer will premiere Saturday, despite its director remaining under house arrest.

In a move unprecedented in the theatre’s modern history, the Bolshoi in July cancelled the world premiere of “Nureyev” just three days before opening night, after director Kirill Serebrennikov was questioned in a high-profile criminal inquiry.

Management cited an under-rehearsed cast but many suspected it had been pulled because of the investigation or the ballet’s treatment of Nureyev’s homosexuality.

Serebrennikov was placed under house arrest in August in a fraud case that has shocked the Russian arts community.

In September, the Bolshoi announced a premiere was scheduled for the end of the year.

“Sadly our request to the investigative committee that Kirill Serebrennikov be allowed to take part in rehearsals was not answered,” the Bolshoi’s general director Vladimir Urin said at a news conference ahead of a final run-through on Friday.

(Read more)

https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/world/delayed-bolshoi-nureyev-to-premiere-with-director-under-arrest/ar-BBGoSo8

AUGUST STRINDBERG REP: ‘THE BLACK GLOVE’–ONLY UNTIL 12/16 (REVIEW FROM NEW YORK) ·

Pilar Garcia as Tomte, Mary Tierney as Christmas Angel. Photo by Jonathan Slaff.

By Bob Shuman

Although audiences are aware of Strindberg’s Easter, many do not know of his rarely performed 1911 Christmas lyrical fantasy, The Black Glove, now in production from Strindberg Rep at the Gene Frankel Theatre, only through December 16.  A children’s holiday show by the stern Swedish master?  Yes, even with an elf and Christmas angel (butter cookies are also served at the door by director, Robert Greer).  Apparently, this fifth chamber play missed opportunities to be widely anthologized (the current verse translation is by Charlotte Hanes Harvey) because it opened after Strindberg’s Intimate Theater had closed. What this means is that there is a new, classic option for the holidays—an old-fashioned yule tale, cast today with women—a fact that may surprise, in performance), and led by the charming actress Pilar Garcia.  She’s so good, some will wonder why the art of mime is not, currently, taken more seriously, much less seen more.  Her work is specific, professional, and good-natured (she might even be compared to a Robin Williams): after seeing her, you can just start believing in the magic of Christmas again, and children will be enchanted.

Jo Vetter as Curator, Diane Perell as CaretakerPhoto by Kamoier Williams. 

All seven actors are strong, in fact, and include Jo Vetter, as a drowsy old professor; Diane Perell, as the caretaker of an apartment building that is falling apart; and the maids, Crystal Edn and Amy Fulgham, perennially in trouble with their mistress, Amber CrawfordMary Tierney is the Christmas angel, wearing a Santa Lucia crown (costumes are by Janet Mervin; lighting design is by Gilbert “Lucky” Pearto; production designer is Donna Miskend; sound design is by Giovanni Villari, and stage manager is Charles Casano).  Those who are studying Strindberg and drama may be reminded of A Dream Play and even a tad of Miss Julie—but really this is A Midsummer Night’s Dream for the dark half of the year, with Ms. Garcia as a sprightly Puck.

Visit August Strindberg Rep: http://www.strindbergrep.com/

Visit Gene Frankel Theatre: http://www.genefrankeltheatre.com/

Press: Jonathan Slaff

© 2017 by Bob Shuman.  All rights reserved.

THEATER PRODUCERS ACCUSE CASTING DIRECTORS OF FORMING ILLEGAL CARTEL ·

(Michael Paulson’s article appeared in The New York Times, 12/5; via Pam Green.)

Escalating an acrimonious battle on Broadway, an association of commercial producers on Tuesday filed a federal lawsuit against the industry’s most powerful casting directors, accusing them of violating antitrust laws.

The lawsuit comes as casting directors in theater have been attempting to organize a labor union, and have faced strong opposition from producers.

The Broadway League, a trade association representing producers and theater owners, filed the lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. It alleges that, in their bid to unionize, casting offices have formed an illegal cartel and have raised prices in violation of laws designed to preserve competition.

“The casting companies have demanded that Broadway producers pay a surcharge of 29 percent on all currently negotiated fees, adding tens of thousands of dollars to the cost of putting on a show,” the lawsuit said. The lawsuit also alleges that the casting offices have recently begun boycotting new work.

(Read more)

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/05/theater/producers-lawsuit-casting-directors.html

INGMAR BERGMAN: ‘PRIVATE CONFESSIONS’ DIRECTED BY LIV ULLMANN (SV PICK, WASHINGTON, D.C.) ·

(Nelson Pressley’s article appeared in the Washington Post, 12/7.)

In “Private Confessions,” the late Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman applied his astringent style to the story of his mother’s marital infidelity. The story is scoured free of distractions; in a series of murmured discussions peppered with anguished outbursts, nothing comes between the audience and Bergman’s fundamental concerns of guilt and desire, love and God.

Longtime Bergman actress Liv Ullmann, Bergman’s romantic partner for a time, directed the film of the autobiographical script in 1996, and she’s scaled it up for the National Theater of Norway stage version that’s in the Kennedy Center’s Eisenhower Theater through Saturday. That’s not to say she’s pumped it up: the small cast is mic’d, so the one-on-one confessionals and confrontations, in Norwegian with projected English titles, are still acted as if the camera’s in tight.

[A close up with Liv Ullmann]

(Read more)

https://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/theater_dance/bergmans-private-confessions-portrait-of-the-artists-mothers-affair/2017/12/07/e2bddbdc-dadd-11e7-b1a8-62589434a581_story.html?utm_term=.331cbe9ad157

 

 

CLAIRE VAN KAMPEN: WRITING HER WAY FROM BACKSTAGE TO BROADWAY ·

(Roslyn Sulcas’s article appeared in The New York Times, 12/1; via Pam Green.)

LONDON — For more than two decades, Claire van Kampen spent her life backstage, one of those consummate theater artists who are highly respected among cast and crew but hardly well known.

From 1997 to 2007, Ms. van Kampen, 64, was the director of theater music at Shakespeare’s Globe Theater, overseeing and composing the music for its productions. She has also created original scores for Broadway (“Boeing Boeing,” “True West”) and film (“Days and Nights”), and is married to Mark Rylance, the Oscar- and Tony Award-winning actor.

But her life has taken a definitive turn from lower on the bill to the top — as a playwright. Her first produced play, “Farinelli and the King,” is coming to Broadway after an acclaimed run in the West End, following its initial season at Shakespeare’s Globe.

(Read more)

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/01/theater/farinelli-and-the-king-claire-van-kampen-play.html

Photograph: The New York Times

IVO VAN HOVE/AYN RAND: ‘THE FOUNTAINHEAD’ (REVIEW FROM NEW YORK) ·

By Bob Shuman

Part of the reason why Ivan van Hove’s living-book adaptation of The Fountainhead is so formidable (the last showing of the four-hour long  Toneelgroep Amsterdam  production at BAM was December 2,  performed in Dutch with English titles) is because no American theatrical company would have crossed the political divide to mount it—and, more frighteningly, Americans would not have seen its potential, despite the fact that the work has been in print since 1943. Grudgingly called a classic (the stage translation is by Erica van Rijsewijk and Jan van Rheenen; the dramaturgy is by Peter Van Kraaij), the novel, commercial and virtually a setup for Jacqueline Susann to come, contains a philosophy, as Uncle Tom’s Cabin does, or even in a more literary way, The Stranger by Camus.  Sales of Rand’s work have reached well over six million copies, and the book has been translated into dozens of languages—there was even a movie made of The Fountainhead in 1949 (here, the author, also a dramatist, wrote the shooting script). 

Despite her appeal to traders on Wall Street, however, Rand has become a pariah, approaching popular art from the wrong side of the culture wars–the entertainment industry, at least in America, the compromised, left-wing, “give ‘em what they want” escapism industry, too readily exhibits the kind of thinking this author warns against in her novel.  Originally entitled Second-Hand Lives, she is referring to the pleasers and incompetent hanger-ons of the workaday world.  Not that the writing is great literature, except, perhaps, in its plot:  it’s uneconomically penned, inflated trash—a blunt, teeming, tawdry projection onto Americans of European ideas, such as ones by Freud, Marx, and von Mises—and now van Hove.  These distill into cinematic character types—the Dutch actors can have fun enunciating the melodramatic-sounding Hollywoodized names like Howard Roark (Ramsey Nasr) and Ellsworth Toohey (Bart Slegers) because they are fake, a step away from being allegorical, encased in polarizing thought—“Ayn Rand” is also a made-up name: her surname comes from a popular typewriter of the day, and an anachronistic typewriter figures in van Hove’s version). 

The director and the adapter Koen Tachelet, however, have not changed Rand’s words for the stage, but they have added, reordered, and emphasized so that The Fountainhead now focuses on two characters of the many; men who have known each other since college and become architects in New York City:  one, a rugged individualist and wild creative and the other, a born bureaucrat and lesser talent.   Of course, they both fall for the same woman—the writer can be an abuser of her women and actually one, the masochist, Dominique Francon (the beautiful and mature young actress Halina Reijn), is a character Rand has said is herself “in a bad mood.” The director may not even have understood the reactions he would elicit, by choosing the theatrical property, although the Netherlands was faced with a populist far-right political candidate, Geert Wilders, making international headlines, at about the time of the play’s inception—Atlas Shrugged, Rand’s later work, took years to find financing in Hollywood and when it opened, in 2011, was panned; dead on arrival.  

 

The author is so heavily associated with the American right, libertarianism, and then the Tea Party that some can’t believe that she was once considered a popular writer, albeit one with ideas idiosyncratic enough to attract former Chairman of the Federal Reserve Allen Greenspan  and psychoanalyst and writer Nathaniel Branden into her circle—nevertheless, a theatre friend this reviewer invited to see the play, refused on hearing the title.  To believe that Rand is foremost among conservative writers of fiction is an overstatement, however, despite the notoriety (in that area look toward Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor, and Cormac McCarthy—not that there aren’t others, but mainstream publishers dismiss them, overall).  In an interview with The Brooklyn Rail, van Hove describes how he came to the text, in 2007, and couldn’t put it down: “I read the whole novel in two or three days. For me, it was like a page-turner.”   Inevitably criticism arose regarding his choice of project, in Holland—although he does not “idolize them,” he also does not avoid “right-wing thoughts” in his production.  The Fountainhead is logical for a director to want to undertake, though, because Rand’s philosophical theme, according to her biographer Barbara Branden, is “the rights of the individual versus the claims of the collective. . . . the crucial role of the creator, the thinker, the initiator. . .” 

Van Hove’s stage is a flexible workshop (set and lighting design are by Jan Versweyveld), at once the offices of the architects in the story, as well as  stage technicians, one wearing a headset.  Musicians man the stage and talk, joke, and drink coffee—they, as well as the cast, may simply stare into the audience.  Toward the rear an artist is playing the marimba—throughout the evening, onstage music, composed for The Fountainhead by Eric Sleichim, will be played on gongs, hanging metal sheets, and pianos, among other instruments.  Recordings by Nina Simone, Frank Sinatra, and the Timo Lassy Band are also heard—poignantly, one selection recalls John Cage’s “In a Landscape”; other music is classical, ambient or even reminiscent of Owl City.  Those who have seen van Hove’s work previously will notice the large, segmented video screens placed first at the front, stage left, and later, deep in the back, on the right, which, recalling Erwin Pistcator, can be used as a way to provide real-time close-ups or pre-recorded footage and still photographs of the dramatic or mundane—including the Chrysler Building and the New York skyline, beckoning the ‘40s (the video design is by Tal Yarden).  At the edge of the proscenium—BAM’s Howard Gilman Opera House is cavernous, with a surprising slope toward the orchestra–is an architect’s mechanical table, where the story begins.

As an artist, van Hove says in the Forward, “in a way I’m Howard Roark.  I’m not going to give in.”  However, to Rand, he probably already has, by advocating for a character she never liked: In The Brooklyn Rail, Van Hove states:  “I tried to balance Howard Roark and Peter Keating the two antagonists in the novel—and give them equal importance . . . I call The Fountainhead always a war of ideas.  The two opposite arguments, of course, are between Howard Roark, who’s an idealist who doesn’t want to give in to his clients—he wants to the make the building the way he thinks it should be made . . . . and on the other side there’s Peter Keating, his friend, who thinks that architecture is there to serve the people.”

Of course, they’re very different characters. . . . For Ayn Rand, Peter Keating (Aus Greidanus Jr.)—was “despicable.”   Specifically, he’s a “self-created mediocrity,” the conformist, a follower, a rising star who believes that someone must “always be what people want you to be.” He a plagiarist, in fact–and he believes in the wisdom of the crowd—art, for him, would be propaganda, not debate.  Greidanus sees him as affable, helpless, and nonthreatening—and for too long the audience is sympathetic toward him.  For Out, Van Hove has said, “As an artist I want to be an idealist—not pleasing but challenging the audience.  As a citizen, I’m not on Rand’s side,” although he acknowledges the deep thinking in the novel to the Forward: “[Rand’s view is that] people should take care of themselves; if you cannot take care of yourself, that’s a pity; you should work a little bit harder. . . .  [The Fountainhead is] very complicated . . . intellectually challenging, but also challenging on an emotional level.  Do we want a social society, or do we want a society of individuals. . . .? Van Hove says, “In Europe we are born to be aware that we have to pay also for the people that don’t have so much money.”  The director believes he has a bit of Keating in him.

Symbols are used by both artists, even if they do not both agree on meaning.  According to Barbara Branden, “Roark, Keating, Wynand, and Toohey, the major male protagonists, are symbols, they represent four distinct psychologies and ways of dealing with good and evil; but they may also be taken as realistically possible individuals engaged in realistically possible courses of action.  Only Dominique stands solely as a symbol—the symbol of idealism frozen in contempt.”  Perhaps this is why the characters seem remote, whether reading or watching them.  Rand sees Americans in terms of movie parts and characters in bestsellers and van Hove sees them as alternatives for people in a welfare state; for Rand, there are no alternatives—and she fought for her vision in her screenplay in Hollywood, nearly always successful. According to Branden: “The final courtroom scene began—and suddenly, like a knife cutting through her body, [Rand] saw that Roark’s most important line, the line that names the theme of the book and the total of its meaning—the line ‘I wished to come here and say that I am a man who does not exist for others’—had been cut.”  The real antagonists of van Hove’s production may finally be the writer and director—Rand , unapologetic ally, did not believe in taxation, much less funding for the arts.  For those who cannot provide for themselves, she, like former Texas Representative Ron Paul, would endorse charities.   Ayn Rand is not an aberration, though—all the way back to the Boston Tea Party there is a tradition in the United States regarding financial resistance.   Walt Whitman wrote of the U.S. worker in  “I Hear America Singing”:  “Each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else/The day what belongs to the day—at night the party of young fellows, robust, friendly.”

Van Hove’s symbolism includes dressing Peter Keating’s abandoned fiancé, Katie (Helene Devos) in black and blue—a subliminal way to think about her emotional bruises (the costume design is by An D’Huys).  At another point, in an encounter between the weak Keating and Roark, the latter wears a belt that hangs like a phallus.  Blood will cover the mechanical table, a wedding dress is see-through,  and mist prefigures cataclysm.  Van Hove does not seem kind to sexuality, and admittedly this is also true for Rand.  One of the lines reads, “I want you like an animal”—in fact, Rand thought workers in a welfare state were sacrificial.  Van Hove’s nudity is intentionally boring, unarousing, graphic, cold, even painful. Dominique is apparently raped by Roark, but when asked about it, Rand answered, “If it was rape, it was rape by engraved invitation.”  Obviously, van Hove’s cast is not playing Americans.  They’re low-key and intellectual–they can’t find the drive for characters in a survival-of-the-fittest America, although van Hove once found them for O’Neill’s More Stately Mansions —in the 1997 production, there was a humiliating scene where a man had lost his job and had no idea how to support his family. 

Nasr, despite being surrounded by rock and clay–he’s asked to be a non-hero by van Hove and worthy of worship by Rand–seems more fetishistic than a diamond-in-the-rough entrepreneur or heart-throb (like Gary Cooper, who played Roark in the film. Rand was actually disappointed in his performance, although she wanted him for the part long before movie rights were sold). Ultimately, the issue may be generational:  Rand wrote her book in the age of Modernism—she writes about quarries and skyscrapers; industry, steel, weight, and strength. Van Hove is a Post-modernist working with highly intricate technology and digital cues; minimalist settings, open space, and streaming video. To the Modernist, his work can seem geeky, arty, decadent, and fatalistic. He wants his audience to think about the rise of the contemporary European right with the U.S. as a setting, but theatremakers in The Fountainhead barely register the pressure of Capitalism—the only time when the show feels like the U.S. is when it’s stopped and the audience must make a confused choice to go or remain—that’s Capitalism. ​The director uses New York as a stand-in, in The Fountainhead, like Brecht used Chicago in Arturo Ui, although with nothing cartoonish, and his work seems overly communal, with theatremakers in white and khaki operating in efficient lean teams, changing sets and working productively.  Rand herself was deeply fearful of Socialism and the Welfare State, having been raised in St. Petersburg:  In the 1930s, she thought that Americans “were not sufficiently aware of the menace and evil of communism . . . [She] took it for granted that no one could advocate altruism [but did not realize] the enormity of what had to be fought.”

Despite Rand’s contentiousness, her best message may be that “striving for excellence is important.”  Van Hove’s achievement is to have bravely re-asserted the ever-present dangers of the left before the artistic community of New York.     

The 2017 Richard B. Fisher Next Wave Award at BAM has honored Ivo van Hover and the production of The Fountainhead.

Visit BAM: https://www.bam.org/

© 2017 by Bob Shuman.  Additional information: Pam Green.  All rights reserved.

Photos: Richard Termine, Toneelgroep Amsterdam, BAM 

ACTING STUDIOS ARE STRUGGLING.  DOES IT MATTER? ·

(Hilary Howard’s article appeared in The New York Times, 12/1; via Pam Green.)

Schools that trained actors like Robert De Niro and Jessica Lange are facing rising costs, competition from colleges, and shifting cultural attitudes.

In the late 1950s, Robert Duvall was studying acting at the Neighborhood Playhouse, sharing a Manhattan apartment with Dustin Hoffman and going to parties at Gene Hackman’s place.

The three friends would all go on to win Academy Awards, helping to establish the classic blueprint for pursuing an acting career in New York: Move here, hone your craft at a gritty acting studio, do a handful of plays, conquer Hollywood.

hings have changed since the heyday of theater-trained movie stars and the independent acting schools that shaped them. Many small studios, threatened by rising rents, decrepit buildings, well-funded university programs, and instant internet stardom, are now struggling.

Just ask Mary Boyer, who moved to the city from the Midwest in 1973 to pursue an acting career. She eventually became a teacher and a director, opening her own school in 2003. But by 2008, Boyer’s 150 students had dwindled to about 50.

“The economy changed,” Ms. Boyer said, “and what actors and audiences wanted sort of changed all at the same time.” She noticed more students expecting “instant gratification.” Her “craft of acting” courses, what she felt most passionate about, were not filling up. Auditioning classes became her new staple.

(Read more)

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/01/nyregion/acting-studios-are-struggling-does-it-matter.html

Photo: The New York Times