MARÍA IRENE FORNÉS: ‘MUD/ DROWNING’ FROM MABOU MINES—ONLY THROUGH OCT. 9—REVIEW FROM NEW YORK ·

By Bob Shuman and Marit Shuman

María Irene Fornés’s Mud/Drowning is playing for only 15 performances, September 28 to October 9, at Mabou Mines, in a double bill, directed by JoAnne Akalaitis, with new music composed by Philip Glass and produced by Mabou Mines and Weathervane Productions, in association with Philip Glass’ The Days and Nights Festival. The evening is not a return to the fantastical weirdness of previous outré Mabou Mines outings, although the first production of “Drowning,” in 1986, as part of an evening of one-acts called Orchards, unrelated to Mabou Mines, and inspired by Chekhov, cast her play with men dressed as potatoes. Today, the acclaimed director, Akalaitis, in an inclusive, intimate mood, offers her Fornés shows as hardly more than unaffected stationary rehearsal presentations.  The first, Mud, is set at a long table (with the actors widely spaced, presumably in adherence of Covid rules; the production’s original staging was in Carmel, California, in October 2019), and they are accompanied by a keyboardist, Michael A. Ferrara, and harpist, Anna Bikales.  White, russet, yellow, brown, blue:  potatoes can be of many colors, but Fornés, originally from Cuba, was an important champion of Latino voices and actors before the millennium, when a string of her works, self-directed, played at Theater for the New City with her oft-chosen star Sheila Dabney, who was flooded with emotion at her curtain calls, after having recreated the brutalized, downtrodden, and brown, who claimed and called for humanity.

If the color of potatoes doesn’t much matter, the color of the actors in the first piece, Mud, can, offering the radical view we assume when we see drama at this theatre.  If it doesn’t and one is producing the work of a Cuban playwright, in a play called Mud, and unearthing and tripping over pieces of Tennessee Williams and Sam Shepard lying across the page, why not do Orpheus Descending, instead? Perhaps Akalaitis is signaling the most radical possible solution for Off-Broadway:  a cease-fire on race issues and maybe ones concerning gender and age.   Next season, everything will have returned to normal but, after the weight of COVID-19, for a moment, Mabou Mines has a celebration, with  a white, blonde actress (Wendy vanden Heuvel) at the center (also in Mud are Paul Lazar, Sifiso Mabena, Tony Torn, and Autumn Angelettie) and old tenors and a countertenor, in fat suits, recalling an Orson Welles trio, dressed alike in loose jackets and scarves, one with a pork pie hat  (Tomas Cruz, Gregory Purnhagen, and Peter Stewart).   The mood is genial and marigold bright, unless you think the color is a reference to Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper,” a story about another trapped woman);  the lighting design is by Thomas Dunn and the scenic and costume design are by Kaye Voyce, using  blue and tan patterned linoleum, as if a background to a cozy cast party with wine, cheese, and sweet potato pie.  We need that vibe even if it is a very different one than the ones Fornes brought to many of her plays, roughly forty years ago. Then, the presentations could be aching, anguished, with pinpricks of matter-of-fact humor, artistically rendered sets by the author, and silences, sometimes long, perhaps to hear that small, quiet voice (like the author’s)–of what was human, among the bestiality allowed on the stage.  Signature Theatre’s production of Mud, at the turn of the millennium was unbearably intense and that is a vision probably close to what Fornés had in mind for the piece herself (Mud itself is reminiscent of a story by Zora Neale Hurston, specifically “Sweat”), but realize that Fornes, as a working playwright and theatremaker, did write comedy, as well as musicals.  What one of the reviewers here recalls first, from a class taken with Fornés in the 1980s, was the requirement that characters in plays never be made fun of or mocked, whether they were funny or not—their humanity was sacred.            

By taking away the slow, Beckettian tempo of Fornés scenes, an awareness of melodrama and comedy can emerge (Akalaitis uses humorous physical parallelism, of hands and body placements, as examples, pronounced in the Mabou Mines production, and has a clown in Tony Torn as Henry, a man who can barely read).  Actually, such an approach displays Fornés’s writing technique, which calls for randomization and displacement (the playwright Robin Goldfin typed and compiled many of Fornés’s exercises, and apparently there are more.  Hopefully, INTAR has them and they are in safekeeping, a rare treasure). What the method allows Glass, however, are clearly defined sections to compose for, which is why the evening can feel like being at a silent film, where music is played at clear demarcations (Fornés’s script actually calls for freezes to last eight seconds at the end of each scene, which will “create the effect of a still photograph,” amplifying the idea of the filmic and sectioned).  Glass’s post-minimalist music for the opera does not (and probably should or could not) feel particularly specific to a rural America, in Mud, or to potatoes reading a tabloid at a diner, whatever that would sound like (Gabrielle Vincent’s anatomically accurate  makeup for the bloated bald-headed men may be a reference to actual victims of drowning).  Glass seems to take a generic, or maybe unobtrusive, route through the absurdity, giving ambiance in minor-keyed arpeggios, relying on sung text, without, for instance, configuring arias, duets, and trios.

Part of the allure of this Mud/Drowning may, in fact, be the decision to have extreme visionaries take themselves less seriously, less adventurously, less singularly, and be tempted to put down their own visions.  Instead, they offer what is possible:  non-intimidation, non-attachment, an informal feel of the home, and an appeal to camaraderie, after a very long two years of the arts being at sea.

© by Bob Shuman and Marit Shuman

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Photos: I. Fornes (Mabou Mines); cast of ‘Mud’ (Credit…Julieta CervantesNY Times); Cast of ‘Drowning’ (Credit…Julieta Cervantes, NY Times); J Akalaitis (Mabou Mines); P. Glass (Famous Composers.net)

REVIEW: IN LEA MICHELE, ‘FUNNY GIRL’ HAS FINALLY FOUND ITS FANNY ·

(Jesse Green’s article appeared in The New York Times, 9/29/22; via Pam Green; Photo:  Yes, Lea Michele (with Ramin Karimloo) lights up like a light as the new Fanny Brice on Broadway. Credit…Matthew Murphy.)

Funny Girl

Though it can be a great vehicle, “Funny Girl” has rarely been a great ride. Even its first-rate Jule Styne songs — “I’m the Greatest Star,” “People” and “Don’t Rain on My Parade” among them — are problematic. Not only are the lyrics, by Bob Merrill, often inane (“I’ll light up like a light”?) but the challenge of the vocal writing that made Barbra Streisand a star in 1964 makes casting anyone else now a nightmare.

And let’s not get started on the book, by Isobel Lennart, which in telling the (mostly fictional) story of the early-20th-century comic Fanny Brice, and her disastrous love affair with the gambler Nick Arnstein, seems to have been assembled from a warehouse of used musical-comedy parts. They do not work well together, however well they work individually.

The revival that opened in April at the August Wilson Theater — its first on Broadway — only made matters worse. Harvey Fierstein’s meddling with the confusing book confused it further by giving Nick (Ramin Karimloo) more to do; nobody cares what Nick does. And Fanny, whom we do care about, was just too much of a reach for Beanie Feldstein, offering a pleasant performance in a role that shouldn’t be. “Without a stupendous Fanny to thrill and distract,” I wrote at the time, “the musical’s manifold faults become painfully evident.”

Lea Michele, who took over the role on Sept. 6, turns out to be that stupendous Fanny. Yes, she even lights up like a light. Both vulnerable and invulnerable, kooky and ardent, she makes the show worth watching again.

She can’t make it good, though. Michael Mayer’s production is still garish and pushy, pandering for audience overreaction. A confetti cannon tries to put an exclamation point on a dud dance. Many of the minor players overplay. The lighting by Kevin Adams would make a rat clap, and the unusually ugly set by David Zinn seems weaponized against intimacy. It looks like a missile silo.

But at least “Funny Girl” now has a missile: a performer who from her first words (“Hello, Gorgeous”) shoots straight to her target and hits it.

It has been a tortuous path to this obviously right and seemingly predestined casting, with decades of false starts involving Lauren Ambrose, Debbie Gibson, Sheridan Smith and others. Feldstein was just another in the long list of misfires; after she ditched the show in a cloud of apparent acrimony — a cloud everyone denied — her standby, Julie Benko, took over.

Benko, who is still the Thursday night Fanny, sings the role very well, so you never worry, as you did with Feldstein, that she might not make it through the songs. Then too, Benko gets closer to the dark heart of the comedy, backfilling its shtick with something like anger. Still, good as she is, her voice and the rest of her performance don’t yet match; she even has a different accent when acting the role than when singing it.

(Read more)

CONSTANT STANISLAVSKI (142) ·

The words and wisdom of Constantin Stanislavski:

(Think) about the inner side of a role, and how to create its spiritual life through the help of the internal process of living the part. You must live it by actually experiencing feelings that are analogous to it, each and every time you repeat the process of creating it. (AP)

‘MUD/DROWNING’: PERFORMANCES LIVE NOW ·

MUD/DROWNING

 

 

ONLY 15 CHANCES TO SEE THIS NYT CRITIC’S PICK!
LIMITED AVAILABILITY!
 
GET TICKETS NOW!
MABOU MINES AND WEATHERVANE PRODUCTIONS 
IN ASSOCIATION WITH THE DAYS AND NIGHTS FESTIVAL PRESENT
MUD/DROWNING
WRITTEN BY
MARÍA IRENE FORNÉS

Playwright Maria Irene FornŽs photographed at the Golden Gate Theater building on December 20, 1986.

DIRECTED BY
JOANNE AKALAITIS
WITH NEW MUSIC COMPOSED BY
PHILIP GLASS
 
GET TICKETS NOW!
PERFORMANCES
September 21 – October 9, 2022
Wed – Sat at 7:30 PM
Sun at 2:00 PM
Additional show on Tues Sept 27 at 7:30 PMMABOU MINES
150 First Ave. Second Floor, NYC 10009

TICKETS $25 | NOW ON SALEPLEASE NOTE: Mabou Mines requires masks, a proof of a complete COVID-19 vaccination, and a valid ID to enter the building and attend performances.
 

Mabou Mines and Weathervane Productions, in association with Philip Glass’ The Days and Nights Festival, present a celebration of legendary playwright and director María Irene Fornés, featuring Philip Glass’ transformation of her five-page play Drowning into an opera and Fornés’ acclaimed play, Mud. This exciting double-bill marks the show’s triumphant return after a sold-out run at Mabou Mines in 2020, where its New York premiere was called “a notable new work” and designated a Critic’s Pick by The New York Times. 

JoAnne Akalaitis directs these two intimate productions (both with new music composed by Glass), which offer New York audiences an opportunity to experience the work of a singular writer at close range. Akalaitis explains, “The program is intended to express that world of Irene’s, which is about the terribly poignant and unfulfilled longing for some kind of emotional accomplishment in life that often gets dashed—that’s what both of these pieces are about. We hope this evening offers a glimpse into the range of Irene’s rich theatrical landscape and the heart of an artist who never soothes and continues to astonish.”

Documentary Film Screening from director Michelle Memran

THE REST I MAKE UP

A Film About María Irene Fornés And Her Unexpected Friendship With Filmmaker Michelle Memran.

Monday, October 3, 2022 at 7:30 PM | Mabou Mines Theater

Don’t miss Mabou Mines’ companion event to Mud/Drowning: a free screening of The Rest I Make Up, the 2018 documentary about María Irene Fornés and her unexpected friendship with filmmaker Michelle Memran. The screening will be followed by a talkback with Memran. 

RSVP HERE
DONATE

SUPPORT FOR MABOU MINES is provided by the National Endowment for the Arts, The New York State Council on the Arts, the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in Partnership with the City Council and Materials for the Arts, The NYC Women’s Fund by the City of New York Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment/The New York Foundation for the Arts, the Axe-Houghton Foundation, Foundation for Contemporary Arts, Howard Gilman Foundation JKW Foundation, The NYC COVID-19 Response and Impact Fund in The New York Community Trust, Emma A. Shaefer Charitable Trust, Shubert Foundation, the Tides Foundation and the W Trust.ation, the W Trust and Emma A. Shaefer Charitable Trust.

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‘THE PRINCE’ REVIEW – PLAYFUL ROMP THROUGH SHAKESPEAREAN ROLES ·

(Kate Wyver’s article appeared in the Guardian, 9/22; via Pam Green; Photo:  Exploration of transgression … Corey Montague-Sholay (Prince Hal), Joni Ayton-Kent (Sam), Mary Malone (Jen) and Abigail Thorn (Hotspur) in The Prince. Photograph: Tristram Kenton/the Guardian.)

Southwark Playhouse, London
YouTube philosopher Abigail Thorn moves offline and on to the stage with an ambitious exploration of identities and the performance of gender

Using the intelligent wit that makes Abigail Thorn’s YouTube channel so popular, The Prince playfully questions the performance of gender and the roles we are all assigned. Thorn is the host of Philosophy Tube, a channel discussing philosophy in creative, accessible ways. The writer swaps screen for stage in this ambitious if slightly feverish exploration of transgression and transition within Shakespeare’s plays.

The hilarious Jen, played radiantly by Mary Malone, is our comic tether to reality. When it’s revealed that she’s trapped inside a Shakespearean multiverse and is currently wandering around Henry IV Part One – a slightly stodgy but enthusiastic version – her response is to yell “I bloody hate Shakespeare” and attempt to call the police. Her innocence serves as an outstretched hand to the audience, helping us understand the motivations of the characters she’s reluctantly stuck with.

As she searches for an escape route, Jen is drawn to Henry “Hotspur” Percy, the warrior and Prince played with smouldering dignity by Thorn. Recognising Hotspur as trans, at odds with the male role she is playing, Jen begins interrupting the action. This is when the fun really starts, as she encourages the characters to question their written roles, and the matrix starts to crumble. Softer, free-wheeling voices replace the stoic verse, and queer punk aesthetic rips apart the period clothing.

(Read more)

‘PHANTOM OF THE OPERA’ CLOSING NEXT YEAR AFTER HISTORIC RUN ON BROADWAY ·

(from Eyewitness News 7, 9/16; via Drudge Report..)

NEW YORK (WABC) — “Phantom of the Opera,” Broadway’s longest-running show and an icon of New York City theater, will close early next year.

The show announced Friday it will commemorate its 35th anniversary Jan. 26, and then stage its final performance on Broadway on Feb. 18.

Mayor Eric Adams attended the show earlier this month, kicking off Broadway Week with an appearance to celebrate the theater district’s resilience in the wake of the pandemic.

Bottom of Form

Phantom has been the longest-running show in Broadway history for well over a decade.

On Broadway alone, the musical has played more than 13,500 performances to 19.5 million people at The Majestic Theatre on West 44th Street.

(Read more)

***** ‘MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING, REVIEW – HILARIOUS, HEARTFELT SHOW IS EVERYTHING ·

(Nick Ahad’s article appeared in the Guardian, 9/14; Photo: Compelling … Guy Rhys (Benedick) and Daneka Etchells (Beatrice) in Much Ado About Nothing at the Crucible, Sheffield. Photograph: Johan Persson.)

Crucible, Sheffield
Daneka Etchells is the most compelling Beatrice you might ever see in an exceptional production of the romantic comedy

Post lockdown, theatres are looking for sure things and bets don’t come much safer than the wittiest of Shakespeare’s romcoms. Sheffield Theatres and Ramps on the Moon bring this production of Much Ado to the stage just a couple of days after the National Theatre brought down the final curtain on its own. If London audiences missed out, they should head to this exceptional and exceptionally moving version of a bulletproof piece.

A number of aspects elevate the production. One is the involvement of Ramps on the Moon, which aims to normalise the presence of deaf, disabled and neurodiverse people on British stages. Another is the most compelling Beatrice you might ever see: Daneka Etchells plays this script like a maestro, somehow finding new notes in lines that are four centuries old, even making some of it feel like it was written yesterday. When Beatrice’s shield of wit is pierced by heartbreak, Etchells, who is autistic, can’t suppress her – or the character’s – physical tics and watching her resolve to remain calm is deeply affecting.

(Read more)

ON STAGE AND WHEN WE MET AT THE THEATRE, THE QUEEN WAS A FIGURE OF QUIET WISDOM AND HUMOUR ·

(Michael Billington’s article appeared in the Guardian, 9/9; via Pam Green; Photo: Marion Bailey as the Queen in Handbagged at the Tricycle theatre (now the Kiln), London, in 2013. Photograph: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian.)

The monarch was sympathetically depicted by dramatists and at a 1999 production of Oklahoma! her eyes lit up when she recalled her own theatrical outings

“I’ve never been fond of the theatre.” So says Q (an older Queen Elizabeth II) in Moira Buffini’s Handbagged. Two things strike me about that statement: we have no idea if it is true and, if it is, the sentiment is certainly not reciprocated. Looking back at theatre over the last four decades, it is fascinating to see how often the late Queen was portrayed on the British stage and how sympathetically she was seen in contrast to the passing parade of politicians.

In Shakespearean drama monarchy is often equated with solitude. Richard II is aware of the vanity of ceremony and achingly cries that a king “needs friends”. Henry IV is racked by guilt and even Henry V, on the eve of Agincourt, dwells on the tragic isolation of kingship.

And it’s not just in Shakespeare. Elizabeth I in Schiller’s Mary Stuart is haunted by the responsibility for the death of her cousin, and Philip II in Don Carlos ruminates on filial treachery. Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown: it is a constant theme of world drama.

Even in the age of constitutional monarchy, that strain recurs. What is more striking is the way Elizabeth II was often seen as a repository of quiet wisdom. The first dramatist to treat her seriously was Alan Bennett in A Question of Attribution at the National Theatre in 1988. In one scene the monarch (played by Prunella Scales) confronts Anthony Blunt, who was both surveyor of the Queen’s pictures and a Communist spy.

With canny skill, she steers Blunt on to the subject of artistic forgery and suggests that it may sometimes be better not to express doubts about a painting’s provenance: “Stick to the official attribution rather than let the cat out of the bag and say, ‘Here we have a fake.’” Which is exactly what the monarchy did with the perfidious Blunt.

The scene is obviously Bennett’s invention but the Queen’s public reticence gives the dramatist poetic licence. That ability to recreate Elizabeth II on one’s own terms was exploited to great effect by Sue Townsend in her bestselling book and subsequent 1994 play, The Queen and I. Townsend’s premise was that, in a new republic, the whole Royal family had been transplanted to a Leicester housing estate. The play was clearly an attack on a world of inherited privilege. Yet even here the Queen emerged, in Pam Ferris’s performance, as a likable figure liberated from a world of cosseted ritual and able to discover her hidden talents.

(Read more)

CONSTANT STANISLAVSKI (141) ·

The words and wisdom of Constantin Stanislavski:

Aside from the fact that it opens up avenues for inspiration, living the part helps the artist to carry out one of his main objectives. His job is not to present merely the external life of his character. He must fit his own human qualities to the life of this other person, and pour into it all of his own soul. The fundamental aim of our art is the creation of this inner life of a human spirit, and its expression in an artistic form. (AP)