‘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

 

GERMAN PLAYS TACKLE THE WORLD’S WOES, CURRENT AND FUTURE ·

(A. J. Goldman’s article appeared in The New York Times, 11/21; via Pam Green.)

BERLIN — In Germany, with its lavish public support for the arts, going to the theater can seem like a civic duty.

In Andres Veiel’s “Let Them Eat Money. Welche Zukunft?!” at the Deutsches Theater Berlin, the audience showed its support with more than just its taxes: The play, a speculative look at a coming financial and political crisis that it predicted would hit Europe in the next decade, was created with input from the public.

“Let Them Eat Money. Welche Zukunft?!,” the last part of which means “Which Future?!” in German, is a collaboration between the Deutsches Theater and the Humboldt Forum, a new museum that will be housed in a rebuilt palace in the center of Berlin. The production grew out of a series of workshops and a symposium whose goal was to plot a credible path for European history to take over the next 10 years. Thirteen academics and 250 participants were invited to imagine that a global crisis would hit in the year 2026, and asked to construct a plausible chain of events to explain it — and, ideally, to work out how to avoid it.

In Mr. Veiel’s production, Italy’s departure from the European Union in 2023 leads the rest of Europe to introduce a basic universal income, a well-intentioned yet unsustainable measure that further plunges the continent into chaos as the euro loses its value and is replaced by shady cryptocurrencies.

(Read more)

 

Photo: Arno Declair

ISRAEL UNVEILS RARE AND ANCIENT MASK ·

(From France 24, 11/28; via the Drudge Report)                                                 

JÉRUSALEM (AFP) – The Israel Antiquities Authority on Wednesday unveiled what it said was a rare 9,000-year-old stone mask linked to the beginnings of agricultural society.

The pink and yellow sandstone object was discovered in a field at the Jewish settlement of Pnei Hever, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, said the IAA.

The artefact was handed in to authorities in early 2018.

“The mask is very naturalistic in the way it was made,” said IAA archaeologist Ronit Lupu. “You can see the cheekbones, you can see a perfect nose.”

“It’s a rare mask,” she told AFP. “The last one that we know was found 35 years ago. It’s an amazing find, archaeologically speaking.”

(Read more)

Photo: Times of Israel

‘NETWORK’ IN AN AGE OF FAKE NEWS AND FURY ·

(Dave Itzkoff’s article appeared in The New York Times, 11/21; via Pam Green.)

Even the cast and creators are working out what the stage adaptation of the prescient 1976 film means right now.

One recent Friday afternoon, Bryan Cranston came bounding through the downstairs lounge of the Belasco Theater wearing little more than a bathrobe. He broke character briefly, offered a genial smile and calmly declared, “I have to go get crazy.”

Then he dashed up the stairs and onto the stage and sat behind a desk there. Resuming the role of a television news anchor who is coming apart at the seams, Mr. Cranston prepared to deliver a fiery monologue in which he urges his viewers, who are as angry and frustrated as he is, to stick their heads out their windows and scream, “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore!”

This is the most potent moment in “Network,” the prescient, Academy Award-winning 1976 film, written by Paddy Chayefsky, about a fictional last-place television station that has lost its moral compass and staked its future on a deranged anchorman named Howard Beale.

(Read more)

[Bryan Cranston Wants More of Us to Get ‘Mad as Hell’]

Photo: New York Times

LET’S GO: ‘SHADOW OF HEROES’ BY ROBERT ARDREY AT METROPOLITAN PLAYHOUSE (NOVEMBER 9 – DECEMBER 9, 2018) ·

‘SHADOW OF HEROES’ BY ROBERT ARDREY

November 9 – December 9, 2018

How fragile is a dream?

Three friends and lovers in Budapest struggle to find freedom, from the liberation from the Nazis in 1945 to its invasion by the Soviet army in 1956. 

A story of devoted idealists fighting for their beliefs in the face of political opportunism, temptation, and betrayal, a chilling insight into the fragility of decency and conviction in the face of authoritarian power.

“If we haven’t done things for some greater good, Julia, then we’re common criminals and that’s all”


Idealists

Ideals remain ever beyond our grasp…hence the name.  And yet we uphold them: aspirations to which we may ever strive.  Should we?  When does devotion to an ideal beget an ideology? And if we cleave to it too tenaciously, blinkered creatures that we are, might we be doomed betray the very dream to which we aspire?

Robert Ardrey’s Shadow of Heroes begins here and plunges into thorny political, moral, and even epistemological quandaries.  The play does so with dramatic flair and heartfelt passion, showing historical movements through the lives and relationships of human beings in all their pathos, humor, frailty, and transcendence. The result is not only a philosophical confrontation, but exciting, moving, funny, and frightening theater.

Based on actual people and events, Shadow of Heroes is an American author’s account of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. We begin in a Budapest safe house in 1944, the eve of the Nazis’ defeat, as three resistance fighters plan to make contact with their Russian liberators.  The extraordinary stories of the three—committed Communist leader László Rajk, his wife and partner Julia, and his deputy János Kádár—unfold as they help to create a post-war government under Party directives from Moscow. The twisting history sees János, an obedient worker, ascend almost in spite of himself to party leadership; László, whose popularity threatens the state’s authority, convicted of treason one year, but rehabilitated seven years later; and Julia imprisoned, then released, and then embraced as a martyr who inspires the rebellion itself…as well as the Soviet tanks that crushed it.

(Read more)

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Photos: Metropolitan Playhouse

WHEN THE WRITERS TOOK POWER: DREAMS OF UTOPIA BEFORE THE NAZI NIGHTMARE ·

 

(William Cook’s article appeared in the Spectator, 11/15.)

Dreamers: When the Writers Took Power, Germany 1918 by Volker Weidermann reviewed

Today Munich is a prosperous and peaceful place — Germany’s most affluent, attractive city. Wandering its leafy avenues, lined with handsome apartments and shiny new BMWs, it’s hard to picture anything remotely revolutionary happening here. However, exactly 100 years ago this cosy bastion of conservatism was overrun by one of Europe’s most unlikely revolutions, led by an idealistic theatre critic called Kurt Eisner. For a British equivalent, imagine a socialist insurgency led by Kenneth Tynan. Of course, like all well-intentioned revolutions, it was doomed to fail.

For several chaotic months, Eisner’s Free State of Bavaria teetered between tragedy and farce, before succumbing to a vicious counter-revolution led by the Freikorps, the violent forerunners of Adolf Hitler’s brownshirts. Yet while Hitler’s unsuccessful Munich Putsch has become a staple of school history books, Eisner’s (briefly) successful power grab has been virtually forgotten. Volker Weidermann’s dramatic book brings the turbulent events — and, above all, the frenzied atmosphere — of that bizarre interregnum back to life.

Thankfully for the general reader, Weidermann is a journalist rather than an academic, and so this is a compact and colorful account, with the breathless pace of war reporting rather than the ponderous, long-winded prose one usually associates with German history books by German historians. Many of the proponents wrote extensively and eloquently about their experiences, and Weidermann draws heavily on these first-hand accounts to great effect. By favoring impressionistic reportage over background detail, his narrative is sometimes a bit confusing, but it gives the reader a vivid sense of what it actually felt like to live through this exhilarating and terrifying time.

(Read more)

IN GERMANY, SHAKESPEARE GETS REVERED, REWRITTEN … AND EATEN ·

Schaubuehne am Lehniner Platz. ‘’SHAKESPEARE’S LAST PLAY”. Von Dead Centre nach »Der Sturm« von William Shakespeare. Regie: Bush Moukarzel und Ben Kidd, Buehne: Chloe Lamford, Kostueme: Nina Wetzel, Video: Jose Miguel Jimenez Gonzalez, Musik: Kevin Gleeson. Mit: Thomas Bading, Moritz Gottwald, enny Koenig, Nina Kunzendorf, Mark Waschke. Premiere am 24. April 2018.                                             (A. J. Goldmann’s article appeared in The New York Times, 11/2; via Pam Green.)                                                                                                                                                                                                         MUNICH — As befits the world’s most famous playwright, William Shakespeare has had his work translated into over 100 languages, including Klingon. But long before he was the international superstar we know today, he was adored by the Germans with a fervor that led August Wilhelm Schlegel, the poet and critic who masterfully translated his complete works in the early 19th century, to claim him as “ganz unser” — “entirely ours.”

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, this country’s most revered writer, compared his experience of discovering Shakespeare at age 22 to “a blind man given the gift of sight by some miraculous healing touch.” Roughly a century later, in 1864, the world’s first Shakespeare Society was founded in the city of Weimar. It survived the Cold War divide and is still going strong, with roughly 2,000 members. In 2010, Shakespeare’s Globe in London held a season of events to acknowledge Germany’s special relationship with the playwright. (He is performed more frequently here than in his native land, the theater said.)

So far this season, the highest-profile Shakespeare production here has been a new “King Lear” that reopened the Deutsches Schauspielhaus in Hamburg in October, after the theater underwent a major renovation.

(Read more)

 

ANTHONY TURNAGE OPERA: ‘THE SILVER TASSIE’ (AFTER THE PLAY BY SEAN O’CASEY) ·

Listen on BBC Radio 3

Live from the Barbican Hall, the BBC Symphony Orchestra presents Mark-Anthony Turnage’s The Silver Tassie. Ryan Wigglesworth conducts an all-star British cast and the BBC Singers. Presented by Andrew McGregor Live from the Barbican Hall, London Mark-Anthony Turnage: The Silver Tassie (Libretto by Amanda Holden after the play by Sean O’Casey) Act I Act II 8.05 Interval 8.25 Act III Act IV Harry ….. Ashley Riches (baritone) Susie ….. Sally Matthews (soprano) Croucher….. Brindley Sherratt (bass) Mrs Foran….. Claire Booth (soprano) Teddy ….. Marcus Farnsworth (baritone) Barney ….. Alexander Robin Baker (baritone) Jessie….. Louise Alder (soprano) Mrs Heegan …..Susan Bickley (mezzo-soprano) Sylvester ….. Mark Le Brocq (tenor) Dr Maxwell/Staff Officer ….. Anthony Gregory (tenor) Corporal ….. Benedict Nelson (baritone) BBC Singers Finchley Children’s Music Group Kenneth Richardson (Director) Ryan Wigglesworth (Conductor) Sean O’Casey’s provocative 1928 play The Silver Tassie pries open the wound of the First World War and peers unblinkingly into its horrifying depths. The futility of war and its painful human cost is conveyed with even greater intensity in Mark-Anthony

Turnage’s beautifully crafted operatic adaptation, which explores what happens when young, football-mad Harry comes back from the war in a wheelchair. An all-star British cast has been assembled including Susan Bickley, Sally Matthews and Louise Alder, with rising young baritone Ashley Riches as Harry, for this long-overdue revival of the opera, premiered in 2000 at ENO. SYNOPSIS The Silver Tassie, Turnage’s second acknowledged opera, is on a much larger scale than his first, Greek.

Based on the play by Sean O’Casey written in 1927, it is set at the time of the Great War (World War I) and its title, referring to a footballing trophy, comes from a Scottish song text by Robert Burns ‘Go fetch to me a pint o’ wine, an’ fill it in a silver tassie; that I may drink before I go, a service to my bonnie lassie’. Harry Heegan (23) is a local hero – a soldier on leave from the Great War, and a renowned footballer. An only child, he lives with his parents (both in their 60s), having grown up close to the girl next door, Susie. In the flat above is a volatile young couple, Mrs Foran and her husband Teddy. The other main roles are Harry’s glamorous girlfriend, Jessie, and his best friend, Barney. Triumphant after a footballing success and winning the cup (‘The Silver Tassie’) for his team, he leaves for the front. The second act, a darkly expressionist vision of war, is cast for male voices (boys and men) only. In the second half of the opera, Harry is in a wheelchair, Teddy is blind and Jessie has deserted Harry for Barney. The final act, in which dance music plays almost continuously, brings the tragi-comedy to a poignant and moving conclusion, as Harry and Teddy set off to face the future.