WHEN RUSSIA APPEARED IN WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE’S PLAYS ·

 (Ajay Kamalakaran’s article appeared in Russia Beyond the Headlines, 9/18.)

Despite Russia’s overwhelming passion for the bard’s works, few in the country are aware of Shakespeare’s mentions of the country in his plays.

 

Ever since Alexander Sumarokov translated Hamlet into Russian in 1748, Russian intelligentsia has been passionate about the works of William Shakespeare.  

The great English bard’s plays and sonnets have been Russianised to such an extent that they have left an indelible mark on the country’s cultural landscape. Shakespeare even inspired Alexander Pushkin, Anton Chekhov and Boris Pasternak. 

Vladimir Vysotsky as Hamlet (Moscow, Taganka Theater, 1971)

In the 1970s, it was incredibly difficult for a Muscovite to get a ticket to watch poet, singer and actor Vladimir Vysotsky play the role of Hamlet.  More recently, in 2016, a Moscow Metro train was decorated with quotes and images of characters from Shakespeare’s plays. Despite this love for the bard’s works, few in Russia are aware of the bard’s mentions of Russia in his plays. 

Ian McKellen rides Shakespeare train in Moscow metro.

In The Winter’s Tale, Hermione, the virtuous and beautiful Queen of Sicilia, who is falsely accused of infidelity by her husband Leontes, made these remarks when charged with adultery and treason: 

“The Emperor of Russia was my father:
O that he were alive, and here beholding
His daughter’s trial! that he did but see
The flatness of my misery, yet with eyes
Of pity, not revenge.”

The Winter´s Tale. Act V. Scene III

This reference to the Emperor of Russia in a play that was written in 1610 has puzzled scholars studying the works of Shakespeare. 

“Hermione seems to be the only Russian character in Shakespeare, and perhaps on this account, she is made of sterner stuff than many of his other heroines,” J. M. Draper wrote in an article for The Slavonic and East European Review in December 1954. “She threatens, albeit in jest, to keep her guest Polixenes a prisoner; she will not weep or let her ladies weep when she is sent to prison, and she pleads her cause as a ‘great king’s daughter’ preferring death to dishonour.”  Draper added, however, that there was no characteristic “unmistakably Muscovite” about her. 

In the 1995 autumn issue of the Shakespeare Quarterly, Daryl Palmer wrote that by evoking a Russian ruler, Shakespeare “encourages his audience to undertake a fleeting albeit bracing ‘passage from one sign system to another’, from English questions on kingship to Russian queries on the same theme.”  

Bears and sables 

Shakespeare’s Russian references go beyond people and extend to two animals that are symbols of Russia – bears and sables. In Hamlet, the Prince of Denmark tells Ophelia: 

“Nay, then, let the devil wear black, for I’ll have a suit of sables.”  

The play was set in Denmark, but it was through the country’s waters that sable furs reached Britain from Russia.  

There are references to the Russian bear in Macbeth and Henry V.  The Duke of Orleans mentions the bear in the third act of Henry V, when he tells Rambures: 

“Foolish curs, that run winking into the mouth of a 
Russian bear and have their heads crushed like 
rotten apples! You may as well say, that’s a 
valiant flea that dare eat his breakfast on the lip of a lion.” 

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THE NIGERIAN-BRITISH WRITER PUTTING BLACK JOY ON STAGE AND SCREEN ·

(Alison McCann’s article appeared in The New York Times, 9/18; Photo from The New York Times: Theresa Ikoko; via Pam Green.)

“There’s so much more that comes with being Black apart from dealing with racism,” says Theresa Ikoko, a Londoner whose movie “Rocks” opened this week.

LONDON — The first play Theresa Ikoko wrote wasn’t necessarily meant to be a play — not yet, anyway.

At that point it was simply a story she had written for herself after years of collecting characters and scenes in her head, all of them rooted in the communities she knew as a Nigerian-British woman. When she read parts of it over the phone to a friend several years ago, he was taken by the way she had captured the experience of being Black and British.

“After I finished, he said to me, ‘Theresa, there’s no difference between this and Shakespeare as far as I’m concerned,’” Ms. Ikoko said with a laugh while sitting on a park bench in East London.

It has since been a remarkable rise for the playwright turned screenwriter, who until last year was working as a case manager at a youth violence organization, pretending to compose long emails and writing scenes instead.

Ms. Ikoko eventually submitted her writing to the Talawa Theatre Company, Britain’s renowned Black-led theater group, which jumped at the chance to produce it as a play. The work, “Normal,” ran as a stage reading in 2014, and a year later she wrote “Girls,” a play about three girls abducted by a terrorist group. That earned her the Alfred Fagon Award for Best New Play of 2015 and the George Devine Award for Most Promising Playwright in 2016.

On Friday, her first movie, “Rocks,” which she wrote with Claire Wilson, opened in Britain. It centers on the joy and resilience of young women of color — a group rarely given mainstream attention in British film — and positions Ms. Ikoko as a major new voice.

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IRELAND: DRUIDGREGORY REVIEW–CAPTIVATING PERFORMANCE ROOTED IN HISTORY ·

(Ciara L. Murphy’s article appeared in The Irish Times, 9/17; Photo: The Irish Times: Druid combines representations of raw sorrow, naked nationalism, and raucous humour to honour Gregory’s legacy.)

Revival of Lady Augusta Gregory’s neglected works is of vital importance

★★★★☆

At Coole, the collision of past and present is delivered through a collection of Lady Augusta Gregory’s neglected works. Druid combines representations of raw sorrow, naked nationalism, and raucous humour to honour Gregory’s legacy at her home, the historical site of Coole Park.

Gregory’s plays have been notably absent from Irish stages for far too long. This revival is of vital importance, not only for a canon in urgent need of revision, but also because, despite the common view, Gregory’s plays provide worthy and clever snapshots of an important moment in Irish theatre history.

The nationalism that underpins two of her best-known texts, The Rising of the Moon and Cathleen Ní Houlihan, can appear a blunt instrument in contemporary times. However, these political allegories bookend DruidGregory, highlighting the political significance of Gregory’s work.

The setting of The Rising of The Moon is perhaps the most effective of the entire series, drawing fully on its surroundings. In Cathleen, Marie Mullen is striking as The Old Woman, leaning into moments of stillness and silence, presenting this well-known character as a literal monument of significance.

Standout

Francis O’Connor’s light touch approach to set design allows the natural beauty of Coole Park to take centre stage across the five short plays. Augmented by Barry O’Brien’s simple yet exquisite lighting design, the entire performance places the audience along a porous boundary line between the historical and the contemporary. These threshold spaces hold the power of this performance.

Unexpectedly, the standout performance moves away from nationalist rigour and atmospheric mystique. Gregory’s raucous comedy, Hyacinth Halvey, is the ideal centrepiece of the production. Gregory’s humour is often overlooked, and Hyacinth Halvey rivals Synge for its considered parody of rural twentieth century Ireland.

Presented as a delightful farce, it delivers comic relief and a breadth of capable performances from the ensemble. Here, the set allows for a more ostentatious addition to the traditional setting, which only accentuates its high-energy delivery.

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FAUCI SAYS IT COULD BE A YEAR BEFORE THEATER WITHOUT MASKS FEELS NORMAL ·

Credit…David S. Allee for The New York Times; via Pam Green.)

Dr. Anthony Fauci said a vaccine would need to exist for nearly a year before people might feel comfortable returning to theaters unmasked, which he said would likely be mid- to late 2021.

As theaters look to see how they might reopen with safety accommodations including mask use, Dr. Anthony Fauci says it will likely be more than a year before people feel comfortable returning to theaters without masks.

“If we get a really good vaccine and just about everybody gets vaccinated,” he said in an Instagram Live interview with the actress Jennifer Garner on Wednesday, “you’ll have a degree of immunity in the general community that I think you can walk into a theater without a mask and feel like it’s comfortable that you’re not going to be at risk.”

He said that would most likely not be until mid- to late 2021.

But that doesn’t mean he is saying when it would be safe to go to the theater without a mask. Dr. Fauci, the country’s leading infectious disease expert, clarified in a phone interview on Friday that he was referring to when people could return to theatergoing at their pre-coronavirus comfort levels. “Words like ‘safe’ are charged,” he said. “I’m talking about the general trend of when we’ll start to feel comfortable going back to normal if we get a safe and effective vaccine.”

Dr. Fauci said that although a vaccine might be available as early as the end of this year or the beginning of 2021, it would most likely be well into next year before enough people were vaccinated to ensure broad protection.

But Dr. Fauci said that in green-zone areas — those with very low community transmission — indoor theaters may be able to return sooner if people wear masks. “As long as there is infection in the community, you do not want indoor spaces with crowds,” he said Friday. “But in states, cities or counties in the green zone with low levels of infection, I imagine theaters could maybe open at 25 percent capacity, with people wearing masks, sometime as early as next year.”

Experts said Dr. Fauci’s comments help set the expectation that the coronavirus will be around for some time. “We should not be thinking of the vaccine as a silver bullet,” Dr. Leana Wen, an emergency physician and public health professor at George Washington University who previously served as Baltimore’s health commissioner, said Friday. “It will take months to vaccinate hundreds of millions of people, and the vaccine may be, at best, 75 percent effective.”

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AN AMERICAN WRITER FOR AN AGE OF DIVISION ·

(Alexandra Schwartz’s article appeared in The New Yorker, 9/14.  Photograph by Cole Barash for The New Yorker.) 

Ayad Akhtar’s autofictional novel cunningly entwines outrage and ambivalence.

The playwright and novelist Ayad Akhtar has never been afraid of provoking audiences. His latest work explores the origins of Trump’s toxicity, the tensions of Muslim identity, and the splintering of a family and a country.

Ayear after Donald Trump assumed office, Ayad Akhtar was at the American Academy in Rome, contemplating populism, the degradation of democracy, and ruinous civil strife. He had been mulling over the idea of a play about the brothers Gracchus, plebeian politicians in the century before Caesar whose defiance of the senatorial élite and championship of the poor led to an unhappy end. Akhtar wasn’t alone in consulting Roman history to gain perspective on the present. From his window, he could look out at the residence of the U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See, Callista Gingrich, whose husband, Newt, was studying Augustus, rumor had it, for pointers on how to counsel a President who fancied himself an emperor.

Akhtar, who is forty-nine, is an obsessive autodidact, with a mind like a grappling hook for any subject that attracts his interest. There are many. As a kid growing up in the Milwaukee suburbs, he studied the Quran with a rigor that flummoxed his secular Pakistani parents. As a theatre major at Brown, he taught himself French, attaining enough fluency in a year to direct his own translations of Genet and Bernard-Marie Koltès. When he was in his twenties, working in New York as an assistant to the director Andre Gregory, he spent his free time analyzing the prosody of Spenser’s “The Faerie Queene” and poring over Freud, which led to a years-long study of Jung, then Lacan, then Winnicott. Although he lost his faith in his teens, religion of all kinds continues to fascinate him. “He’s the only American I know who has read Meister Eckhart,” the German writer Daniel Kehlmann, a good friend of Akhtar’s, told me, referring to the medieval Christian theologian and mystic.

Success arrived late, but Akhtar has made up for lost time. His first novel, “American Dervish,” about the coming of age of an innocent Pakistani-American boy, was published in January, 2012, when he was forty-one, the same month that his first play, “Disgraced,” about the unravelling of a jaded Pakistani-American lawyer, premièred, in Chicago. After a buzzy run at Lincoln Center, where tickets were scalped for fifteen hundred dollars apiece, “Disgraced” won the Pulitzer Prize for drama, then moved to a sold-out run in London, and to the Lyceum Theatre, on Broadway.

In short order, Akhtar had three more plays première, including “The Invisible Hand,” a thriller about an American hostage in Pakistan who, to pay his ransom, teaches his fundamentalist captors how to manipulate financial markets, and “Junk,” another Broadway hit, which transformed the dry subject of high-yield bonds in the nineteen-eighties into unexpectedly riveting drama. “Ayad’s particular brilliance is that he makes systems kinetic,” Josh Stern, a producer who is working with Akhtar to develop a television show, told me. “He’s able to take this huge, complicated infrastructure and distill it down to visceral character drama in a way that is unique.” As arcane as his intellectual tastes can be, Akhtar is determined to appeal to a broad public. “Proust meets Jerry Springer” is how he described his work to me when I met him, earlier this summer.

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THEATER RESOURCES UNLIMITED: ANNUAL MEET AND GREET INTRODUCTION TO TRU VIA ZOOM ·

(via Michelle Tabnick Public Relations

 

Theater Resources Unlimited (TRU) presents its annual free Meet and Greet Introductory gathering, this year revamped for social distancing via Zoom and addressing the adjustments the organization has made during the current pandemic. You are invited to join us for Staying TRU in Tough Times, and What Our Community Can Offer You onTuesday, September 22, 2020 via Zoom. Reserve a spot on the event page at truonline.org/events/staying-tru/ or by emailing TRUStaff1@gmail.com – you will be put on a list to receive the Zoom link.

 

From Bob Ost, executive director of TRU: “Even at a safe distance, we have a strong, vibrant and creative community that we are honored to bring together virtually. We invite those who don’t know us to come meet some of our key players, learn about our programs, and most important of all, discover a welcoming environment that supports and nurtures artists and producers during difficult times. Stay positive, test negative, be safe!”

 

This free-for-everyone seasonal kickoff and networking meet-and-greet is a chance to meet the program directors and illustrious board members of Theater Resources Unlimited who make it possible to bring you the range of programming we offer for producers and artists, and learn how we have adapted our programming for these pandemic days. Our confirmed lineup includes:

  • TRU Vice-President and co-founder Cheryl Davis, award-winning playwright, attorney, General Counsel for The Authors Guild, and feedback panelist for How to Write a Musical That Works
  • Board member Merrie L. Davis, producer (Company London revival, Dear Evan Hansen, Eclipsed, Gigi; off-Broadway Himself and Nora)
  • Board member Cody Lassen, producer (upcoming How I Learned To Drive, Indecent, Spring Awakening revival; producing team of Tootsie, What the Constitution Means to Me, The Band’s Visit, Significant Other)
  • Board member Neal Rubinstein (On the TownHedwig and the Angry Inch revival, upcoming Dangerous the Musical)
  • Board member Patrick Blake, producer (The 39 StepsThe Exonerated, Bedlam’s Hamlet/St. Joan, Play Dead), founding AD of Rhymes Over Beats, faculty for Practical Playwriting workshop
  • TRU Literary Manager Cate Cammarata, Faculty for Practical Playwriting and How to Write a Musical workshops)
  • Producer Jane Dubin (The Prom, Tony winning The Norman ConquestsFarinelli and the King, BandstandPeter and the Starcatcher, An American in Paris)
  • Ric Wanetik, producer (Tony nominated Twilight Los Angeles: 1992, Broadway’s Marlene, Off-Broadway’s Jolson and Company) who helps run our Director-Writer Communications Lab and is often a Speed Date producer. 
  • Plus two of the people who offer free consultations to new members: entertainment attorney Lee Feldshon and career consultant Joanne Zippel of Zip Creative. 

Learn about our programs, including our Producer Development & Mentorship Program, Raising Money for Theater, Essentials of Successful Self-Producing and other Producer Boot Camps, Writer-Producer Speed Date, Director-Writer Communications Lab, How to Write a Musical That Works workshop and more. And let us know what we don’t offer that you wish we did.

 

Doors open at 5:00pm for networking and refreshments, roundtable introductions of everyone in the room will start at 5:30pm – come prepared with your best half-minute summary of who you are, and what you need. Free for TRU members; usually $12.50 for non-members, but free for everyone for this season opener (with a pay-what-you-can if you’d like to support us). Please use the bright red reservation box on at truonline.org/events/staying-tru/, or call at least a day in advance (or much sooner) for reservations: 833-506-5550, or e-mail TRUStaff1@gmail.com

 

Theater Resources Unlimited (TRU) is the leading network for developing theater professionals, a twenty-seven-year-old 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization created to help producers produce, emerging theater companies to emerge healthily and all theater professionals to understand and navigate the business of the arts. Membership includes self-producing artists as well as career producers and theater companies.

 

TRU publishes an email community newsletter of services, goods and productions; offers a Producer Development & Mentorship Program taught by prominent producers and general managers in New York theater, and also presents Producer Boot Camp workshops to help aspirants develop business skills. Currently, TRU offers a Weekly Community Gathering on Fridays at 4:30pm to help maintain community spirit during this time of isolation. TRU serves writers through the TRU Voices Play Reading Series, Writer-Producer Speed Dates, a Practical Playwriting Workshop, How to Write a Musical That Works and a Writer-Director Communications Lab.

Programs of Theater Resources Unlimited are supported in part by the Montage Foundation and the Leibowitz Greenway Foundation.

For more information about TRU membership and programs, visit www.truonline.org.

***** RICHARD NELSON: ‘INCIDENTAL MOMENTS OF THE DAY’ REVIEW – A FEAST FOR COVID HISTORIANS (VIEW ON YOUTUBE UNTIL 11/5) ·

(Mark Lawson’s article appeared in the Guardian, 9/13.)

In the Guardian on Saturday, Martin Amis predicted it will be years before novelists can make sense of the pandemic. Theatre’s swifter turnaround – and technology allowing a form of live performance – have allowed Richard Nelson already to write and direct three Zoom dramas featuring the Apples, a liberal upstate New York family, first seen in four earlier stage plays.

What Do We Need To Talk About? and And So We Come Forth took them through aspects of infection, isolation and lockdown. In Incidental Moments of the Day, a character – with the shock of a bomb going off – meets a stranger outside. But now an election is coming.

Future historians will feast on this project for its reporting of extraordinary times

Future historians will feast on this project for its reporting of extraordinary times. Trainee playwrights will find it invaluable as an exemplar of negotiating staging restraints. Nelson’s uncannily naturalistic cast includes actors who live together in life but not art, and vice versa. Ingenious plotting has kept them in the medically permissible rectangles. With several actors simultaneously in vision, their constant subtle reactions are a new form of acting.

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