REVIEW: IN ‘THE LEHMAN TRILOGY,’ A VIVID TALE OF PROFIT AND PAIN ·

(Laura Collins-Hughes’s article appeared in The New York Times, 10/14; Photo:  From left, Adam Godley, Adrian Lester and Simon Russell Beale in “The Lehman Trilogy,” at the Nederlander Theater.Credit…Sara Krulwich/The New York Times.)

The play, tracing the rise and fall of the fabled financiers, finally opens on Broadway after

Much of what happens in “The Lehman Trilogy” is invisible to the eye, which is not the way prestige drama usually works onstage.

Directed by Sam Mendes, this British import, which reaches across 164 years of American history to trace the family saga behind the fallen financial powerhouse Lehman Brothers, was a scalding-hot ticket during a brief prepandemic run at the Park Avenue Armory. Yet it offers almost nothing in the way of spectacle, and only the slightest of costume changes: a top hat here, a pair of glasses there.

In the captivating production that opened on Thursday night at the Nederlander Theater, it relies largely on an unspoken agreement between actors and audience — to imagine together, and let fancy crowd out fact.

Sort of the way that heedless investors looked right past all warning signs in the faith-based run-up to the stock market crash of 2008. Illusion is illusion, after all, and financial markets, like the theater, require a certain suspension of disbelief — though when the fantasy bursts in theater, the fallout is less ruinous. When investors halted their collective game of make-believe 13 years ago, mammoth financial firms like Lehman Brothers met their swift demise, and the world’s markets suffered the aftershocks.

“The Lehman Trilogy,” though, is not actually a number-crunching play; reports that Jeff Bezos took in a recent performance should not cause you to infer otherwise.

Written by Stefano Massini and adapted by Ben Power, it is a vividly human tale, nimbly performed by three of the finest actors around: Simon Russell Beale, Adam Godley and Adrian Lester, who, in making his Broadway debut, has replaced the original cast’s Ben Miles. (I did not catch Beale, Godley and Miles at the Armory; it was too scarce a ticket, and too pricey.)

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RENA MATSUI TACKLES SHAKESPEARE IN AN ALL-FEMALE ‘JULIUS CAESAR’ ·

(Nobuko Tanaka’s article appeared in Japan Times, 10/16/21.)

Rena Matsui plays the pivotal role of Mark Antony, a general and follower of the charismatic leader of the Roman republic, in “Julius Caesar.” |

Rena Matsui always knew she wanted to enter the acting world, and launching her career by performing in idol-pop groups was all part of her plan.

She started out as a member of the Nagoya-based SKE48 in 2008 before joining Nogizaka46 in Tokyo, becoming one of the top stars of Japan’s many all-female singing and dancing troupes. In 2015, she left both groups to dedicate herself to acting.

“I was determined to be an actor, so I decided to be an idol in order to get that chance,” she says in a recent video call.

Growing up in Toyohashi, Aichi Prefecture, Matsui developed an early interest in stage performances through her mother’s love of the Takarazuka Revue, a long-running all-female musical theater company.

“Then, when I watched a DVD of (playwright and director) Koki Mitani’s musical ‘Okepi!,’ which shows the goings-on and gossip between musicians in an orchestra pit, I was amazed by how great it was to explore the entertainment world by focusing on people who aren’t always in the spotlight,” she says.

“I realized that theater has room for unconventional ideas, and I wanted to be an actor who uses their own rich imagination to express intangible things on stage.”

Now Matsui, 30, is taking her acting career to new heights by tackling her first Shakespeare play, an all-female version of the Roman tragedy “Julius Caesar.”

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CONSTANT STANISLAVSKI (128) ·

The words and wisdom of Constantin Stanislavski:

Much in creativeness is incumbent upon us all, the young and old, men and women, the gifted and giftless. All men are forced to put food in their mouths, to hear with their ears, to see with their eyes, to breathe with their lungs, and all actors without exception must receive creative food according to the laws of nature, must treasure what they receive in their intellectual and emotional memory, must rework the material in their artistic imagination, according to the well-known laws that are incumbent upon all, must give birth to the image and the life of the human spirit, and having lived them over, incarnify them naturally. (MLIA)

FORTY DAYS A SLAVE: SUZAN-LORI PARKS ON HER INCENDIARY NEW PLAY ‘WHITE NOISE’ ·

(Alexis Soloski’s interview  appeared in the Guardisn, 10/12; Photo:  ‘I was basically ripping the face off of civilisation’ … Ken Nwosu as Leo and Helena Wilson as Dawn in White Noise. Photograph: Johan Persson.)

In a drama that taps straight into these angry, anguished times, a Black artist responds to a police beating by becoming his white friend’s ‘enslaved person’. Pulitzer-winner Parks explains why she rewrote sections to make it even harder-hitting

In the summer of 2020, following the murder of George Floyd, protests began in Washington Square Park, a pigeon’s flight from Suzan-Lori Parks’s New York apartment. Parks and her son went almost every day, marching and chanting and waving signs, helping America along in its overdue racial reckoning.

Parks, 58, a Pulitzer-winning playwright and in-demand screenwriter, has been doing this for decades, though rarely with so much cardboard and poster paint. Her work – lyrical, incantatory, bleak and bright – digs into what she has called, in her 1993 drama The America Play, “the great hole of history”, the exploitation and exclusion of Americans of African descent. So it’s no surprise that Parks has written precisely the play for this anguished moment, White Noise, which had its UK debut at the Bridge theatre in London this month. The surprise is that she wrote it years ago.

In 2014, Parks found herself in the audience at New York’s Public theatre, watching performances of her 1860s-set play Father Comes Home from the Wars (Parts 1, 2 & 3). In one scene, the play’s protagonist, named Hero, wonders about life after slavery. When white patrollers stop and ask him who owns him, what will he say? Parks knew that her next play would try to find an answer.

She finished White Noise two years later. Her most realistic work to date, it centres on four friends – two are Black, Leo and Misha, and two are white, Ralph and Dawn. One night Leo, who suffers from debilitating insomnia, goes for a walk. Police stop him and shove him to the ground before letting him go. Leo, an artist, has freedom. But he doesn’t feel free. And he no longer feels safe. So Leo comes up with a radical proposition: he wants Ralph to own him, for 40 days, and to offer him the security that a well-connected white man can provide.

‘Why do you have to go there?’ … Suzan-Lori Parks with the cast. Photograph: Johan Persson

“So, Ralph, bro, in exchange for this protection I’m talking about, I will be your enslaved person,” Leo says.

It’s one hell of a provocation, which Parks knows. “I was basically ripping the face off of civilisation!” she says, punctuating the words with an exultant, “Ha, ha!” White Noise strips away the well-meaning lies we may tell ourselves about freedom, about equality, about justice. It pushes its audience to ask how we can live with ourselves and each other when our current systems fail so many of us.

I meet Parks at a cafe near her apartment. She bounces up in boots, miniskirt and fuchsia hoodie, with the thick black glasses associated with brutalist architects and the energy of a stadium-packing motivational speaker. Erudite and irrepressible, she is a figure of great moral suasion.

White Noise namechecks Afro-pessimism, a philosophical orientation that sees anti-Black violence and exclusion not as an accident of civil society, but as one of its underpinnings. The drama traffics in this discourse, but pessimism has clearly never been Parks’s thing. She sees her plays as acts of Afro-optimism, not necessarily for their content but for how they may affect their audiences.

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TENNESSEE WILLIAMS/MABOU MINES LIVE, IN REHEARSAL: ‘THE TWO-CHARACTER’ PLAY (FRIDAY, 10/22 AT 7:30 PM ONLY) ·

the two-character play
by tennessee williams
____________________________
OCTOBER 22 at 7:30
an open rehearsal
with
Greg Mehrten and Maude Mitchell
directed by Dana Greenfield, sound design by Gavin Price
 “… It is a cri de coeur, but then all creative work, all life, in a sense is a cri de coeur.
–  Tennessee Williams
FREE TICKETS HERE
Visit Mabou Mines Web site 
MABOU MINES
150 First Avenue, 2nd Floor
New York, NY 10009 

“The Two Character Play (Out Cry)” is presented by arrangement with Concord Theatricals on behalf of Samuel French, Inc. www.concordtheatricals.com. “The Two Character Play (Out Cry)” is presented by special arrangement with the University of the South, Sewanee, Tennessee.

This program is made possible by the New York City Artist Corps. 
Support is provided through the City Artist Corps Grants program, presented by The New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA) and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs (DCLA), with support from the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment (MOME) as well as Queens Theatre.

STORYTELLING MAKES HEARTS BEAT AS ONE ·

(Susan Pinker’s article appeared in The Wall Street Journal, 10/9; Illustration by Thomasz Walenta; via the Drudge Report.)

Research shows that listening to the same narrative leads our heart rates to rise and fall in unison

A human heart is so much more than an organ. No one says they left their pancreas in San Francisco, for example, or that two kidneys beat as one. Yet most of us believe that two hearts can beat as one, and that the heart reveals our unedited emotions. Now there’s some evidence that such folk wisdom is true.

When people listen to the same story—each alone in their own home—their heart rates rise and fall in unison, according to a new study published last month in Cell Reports. “The fluctuations of our heart rates are not random,” said Lucas Parra, a professor of biomedical engineering at City College of New York and a senior author of the study. “It’s the story that drives the heart. There’s an explicit link between people’s heart rates and a narrative.”

This finding aligns with a mountain of research showing that our brains sync up when we interact in the same location, participate in the same activity, or simply agree with each other. The new study goes one step further; it tests whether our heart rates become synchronized while taking in the same narrative—even though we’re not in the same room nor even listening at the same time as other listeners.

How faithfully do our hearts clock our mental lives?

The paper describes four small studies, each one with approximately 20 to 30 participants. In all four, subjects’ heart rates were monitored via EKG while they listened to or watched various types of stories, which included short audio segments of Jules Verne’s “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea,” excerpts from educational videos, and prerecorded children’s fables.

The goal was to see how much heart rate coordination there was among participants within the same study, all of whom had listened to the same type of content, though at different times. Did the peaks and valleys of their heart beats match up on the EKG? How faithfully do our hearts clock our mental lives—while we are reading a book, or listening to the radio or a podcast, or watching video content on our phones?

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JOURNALISTS FROM RUSSIA AND THE PHILIPPINES WIN NOBEL PEACE PRIZE ·

(Jake Cordell’s article appeared in the Moscow Times, 10/8/21; Photo: Maria Ressa and Dmitry Muratov, BBC.)

The editor of the independent Novaya Gazeta newspaper won the prestigious award with journalist Maria Ressa from the Philippines.

The editor-in-chief of one of Russia’s leading independent newspapers, Novaya Gazeta, has won the Nobel Peace Prize.

The awards committee, based in Oslo, Norway, handed the prestigious prize to Dmitry Muratov, 59, for the paper’s reporting on human rights, freedom of speech and other politically sensitive topics.

“Muratov has for decades defended freedom of speech in Russia under increasingly challenging conditions,” Berit Reiss-Andersen, chair of the Norwegian Nobel Committee said during the presentation on Friday.

Muratov said the prize was completely unexpected, and that he initially thought the incoming phone call, from a Norwegian number, was spam.  He said the prize is a recognition of the increasing pressure being placed on journalists inside Russia.

“Russian journalism is being suppressed right now. We will try to help people who are now recognized as ‘foreign agents’ and who are being attacked and expelled from the country,” he told the Podyom news site.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov congratulated Muratov as “courageous” and “talented,” following the announcement of the award.

“He is committed to his ideals. We congratulate him,” Peskov added.

Russia has launched a sweeping crackdown on independent media outlets over the last year, branding many “foreign agents” — a label critics say is designed to hamstring the ability of critical publications to continue operating.

Novaya Gazeta has not been named a “foreign agent,” unlike other leading critical outlets such as the TV Dozhd broadcaster, Meduza news site and investigative outlets iStories and The Insider.

‘For those who died’

The paper has been Russia’s leading investigative newspaper for decades and is known for breaking stories on the downing of flight MH17 and human rights abuses in the southern republic of Chechnya, including gay purges.

Muratov said the award was the achievement of the whole Novaya Gazeta team, including the six journalists who have been killed since the paper launched in 1993. 

“I can’t take credit for this. This is Novaya Gazeta’s. It is for those who died defending the right of people to freedom of speech,” Muratov was cited as saying by Russian news agency TASS. 

“It is for Igor Domnikov, Yura Shchekochikhin, Anna Politkovskaya, Nastya Baburova, Natasha Estemirova, and Stas Markelov,” he said, naming the slain Novaya Gazeta reporters. “This is for them.”

The murders are believed to be linked to the reporters’ investigative work, particularly in Chechnya in the cases of Politkovskaya and Estemirova. 

Politkovskaya, a fierce critic of Putin and the Kremlin’s wars in Chechnya, was shot dead on Oct. 7, 2006, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s 54th birthday, in the entrance hall of her apartment block in central Moscow. She was 48 years old. 

A 15-year statute of limitations to charge those who ordered the killing passed on Thursday, and human rights activists in Russia and around the world have slammed Russian authorities for not properly investigating the murder.

“I hope this prize will help us to protect ourselves against attacks from the authorities. This award is important not just for us, but the whole of the Russian journalism community,” said Pavel Kanygin, a veteran reporter at Novaya Gazeta.

Muratov won the award alongside journalist Maria Ressa of the Philippines.

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AGE OF ANTIGONE: SOPHOCLES’S ARRESTING TALE OF THE DEBT WE OWE THE DEAD ·

(Michael Billington’s article appeared in the Guardian, 10/4; In fatal thrall … Christopher Eccleston as Creon and Jodie Whittaker as Antigone in the National theatre’s 2012 production of Antigone. Photograph: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian.)

 

With three new versions on stage this month, the ancient Greek classic – and its reflections on authority and devotion – remains as compelling as ever

This October sees a rash of productions based on Sophocles’s Antigone. Given that the heroine defies the Theban king, Creon, by burying her dead brother, Polyneices, maybe the collective noun should be “a disruption of Antigones”. Both Merlynn Tong’s version at the Mercury in Colchester, which has a female Creon, and Hollie McNish’s at the Storyhouse in Chester emphasise the play’s modern relevance. But the most radical rewrite appears to be that by Freedom Studios in Bradford. Entitled Aaliyah (After Antigone), it shows two office cleaners challenging authority when they find their brother is being deported to Bangladesh by a recognisably vicious home secretary.

Before culture warriors start fulminating about desecration of a classic, one should point out that Antigone has always been open to adaptation. Jean Anouilh did a famous version, staged in occupied Paris in 1944, in which the heroine became a symbol of the resistance. Brecht’s adaptation, staged in Switzerland in 1948, showed Creon as a Hitlerian tyrant who finally takes Thebes with him down to destruction. And in The Island, memorably performed by John Kani and Winston Ntshona and co-written with Athol Fugard, we saw two prisoners on Robben Island using Sophocles’s play to express their opposition to apartheid. So, far from being theatrical graverobbers, today’s Antigone adapters are in distinguished company.

All that raises an obvious question: why is it that this particular play has acquired such mythic status and encouraged so many rewrites? George Steiner put his finger on it when he wrote: “Antigones proliferate in an age which has known live burial and the obscene refusal of sepulchre to enemies and victims.” Look around any modern warzone and you will find parallels with Sophocles. But this is also a play that raises fundamental questions about the conflict between civil and religious law, political expediency and common humanity. Hegel had a point when he described the play as “a collision between the two highest moral powers”.

Today our sympathy naturally lies with Antigone, the rebel and the martyr. But, in my experience, the play works best when Creon is also seen as a tragic victim: the embodiment of state power who ultimately sacrifices his wife and son to an inflexible principle. And Edmund Wilson raised a fascinating point in an essay in The Wound and the Bow when he suggested there was something pathological in Antigone’s excessive love for her brother.

Wilson seized on a famous passage in which Antigone says she wouldn’t have broken the law for a husband or a son; she’s willing to do it, however, for a brother. However much we admire Antigone, is there not something morbid about her sibling fervour? The best productions I’ve seen transcend moral melodrama – good versus evil – and recognise the play’s endless complexity. Polly Findlay, using Don Taylor’s translation, directed a modern-dress version at the National in 2012. Jodie Whittaker, long before she became Dr Who, was a compelling Antigone: a genuine subversive who believed nothing was more important than the debt we owe to the dead. But Christopher Eccleston, one of her predecessors as the time-travelling doctor, was a charismatic Creon dealing with a state in crisis: less a brutal tyrant than a figure fatally in thrall to the idea that authority is somehow sacrosanct.

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HERODOTUS (ON BBC RADIO 4) ·

(from BBC 4)

HERODOTUS

In Our Time

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Greek writer known as the father of histories, dubbed by his detractors as the father of lies. Herodotus (c484 to 425 BC or later) was raised in Halicarnassus in modern Turkey when it was part of the Persian empire and, in the years after the Persian Wars, set about an inquiry into the deep background to those wars. He also aimed to preserve what he called the great and marvellous deeds of Greeks and non-Greeks, seeking out the best evidence for past events and presenting the range of evidence for readers to assess. Plutarch was to criticise Herodotus for using this to promote the least flattering accounts of his fellow Greeks, hence the ‘father of lies’, but the depth and breadth of his Histories have secured his reputation from his lifetime down to the present day.

With

Tom Harrison
Professor of Ancient History at the University of St Andrews

Esther Eidinow
Professor of Ancient History at the University of Bristol

And

Paul Cartledge
A. G. Leventis Senior Research Fellow at Clare College, University of Cambridge

Producer: Simon Tillotson

(view on BBC 4)

VÁCLAV HAVEL, DISSIDENT PLAYWRIGHT TURNED STATESMAN, BORN 85 YEARS AGO ·

(from Radio Prague, 10/3/2021; Photo: Václav Havel|Photo: Filip Jandourek, Czech Radio.)

Born into a prominent wealthy family, Václav Havel came of age after the Communist coup of 1948, when to be “bourgeois” was to be part of a despised social class. As a young man, his criticism of the regime and status as a “dissident playwright” would soon land him in prison.

From those dark prison cells, Havel also gained prominence in international politics. He moved from a sort of private asylum at his country house in Hrádeček to the most important presidential and royal palaces in the world. The once-banned author saw his plays and essays published by the world’s most influential publishing house. Such was the life of Václav Havel. We will commemorate the 85th anniversary of his birth on 5 October 2021.

Few people have lived a more varied life than did Václav Havel. He was born into a privileged Prague family. What could have been good fortune soon turned to a burden. After the Communists came to power, inappropriate (i.e., “bourgeois”) origins became a major obstacle.

All his attempts to study the humanities at university were unsuccessful: without the recommendation of the local Communist Party branch, it was impossible. He was eventually accepted to the Czech Technical University, where he studied economics. It was also a small miracle at that time (1955). He was not admitted to the Academy of Performing Arts (AMU) until 1962; for distance learning, which was considered less valuable.

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