Monthly Archives: July 2009


(The following article appeared in Nikki Finke's Deadline Hollywood Daily, July 23)


Go Inside 'The Wanda Sykes Show' Packet


I'm told writers are miffed that Fox's new Wanda Sykes show coming Saturday nights is asking prospective scribes to do a lot of free writing in order to try out for a job there. It's a WGA show, which is not supposed to ask writers to create new material as part of a submission packet. Now, in truth, most shows do it, whether it's Letterman asking for a sample Top Ten list, Conan asking for some sample monologue jokes, etc. But writers tell me they've never seen one with the nerve to ask for this much for free.


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 (Jason Blake's review appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald, July 17, 2009.)


Belvoir St Theatre, July 15

Until August 23

FOLLOWING Simon Stone's sensational take on Spring Awakening in the Downstairs Theatre last year, you might expect some similarly flashy directorial choices to inform his mainstage debut. Not so. His production of Russian writer Alexei Arbuzov's Khrushchev-era drama is a model of straightforward, sober playmaking with the focus squarely on the actors.

The Promise opens during the World War II Siege of Leningrad, 872 days in which a million or more people were blown to bits, starved or frozen to death. It is during the darkest days of that blockade that teenaged Lika (Alison Bell) encounters Marat (Ewen Leslie) in what is left of his family's apartment. Amid crashing artillery shells, they fall gently and rather chastely in love.

Then Leonidik (Chris Ryan) stumbles in, half dead. Lika, whose mother is a Red Army doctor, coaxes him back to health. Together they dream of a future they share no great faith in seeing: Lika imagines eliminating all disease by the end of the century; Marat wants to build bridges; Leonidik sees himself as a poet. Act two reconvenes the triangle after the war is over. Lika is a medical student. Leonidik and Marat will always be comrades, but now they are rivals, and only one of them can stay. Act three takes place a decade later, again in the same room. Have they fulfilled the promise of their youth? Have they honoured the sacrifice of others? Does the possibility for change remain?


(David Smith's article appeared in the Guardian, July 21.)

Letter from Africa: a place for theatre in post-apartheid South Africa

"I have a great idea for a play," I told Malcolm Purkey, the director of Johannesburg's internationally renowned Market Theatre. "A play about the forced removal of families from Sophiatown by the apartheid government."

He replied: "I wrote it 20 years ago. Look it up."

I tiptoed past Purkey and other theatre folk last week to take my seat at the Cinema Nouveau in Johannesburg. The red carpet had been rolled out for a special kind of premiere. The National Theatre in London's production of Phèdre, starring Helen Mirren, was shown in high definition on the big screen. The performance had been broadcast live last month to British cinemas, but took a few weeks to reach the southern hemisphere.

The poor relation after football and arms, theatre nonetheless provides a stage for a country exploring its new identity . . .

(Read more or listen via audio link):


What follows is the last scene of END ZONE, a play by Bob Shuman; the first four scenes were serialized on Stage Voices on  June 23, June 30, July 7, and July 14; they can also be read in the blog’s archives under: Full-length Plays: Drama Serial).


The play was first developed at Hunter College and then given readings at The Lark Play Development Center and Second Stage Theatre. It is excerpted in two anthologies from Applause Theatre and Cinema Books.


In the following scene, LUCIAN is alone with ARTHUR. 




A Play by Bob Shuman



A motel. It’s about a mile down the road from a prep school in the Northeast.



A while back, in November. Before dinner.




LUCIAN “LUCE” TRAINER: A legendary prep-school football coach and former dean of the Masters School.  Late 70s.


ARTHUR TRAINER: LUCIAN’s  youngest son. A freelance composer and percussionist who emphasizes environmental sounds in his work.  Late 30s.


NORM TRAINER: LUCIAN’s oldest son. A sporting goods salesman in his late 40s. He has a slight Southern accent.




6:50 A.M. LUCIAN’s motel room.  Both ARTHUR and LUCIAN have slept in this room during the night (what little sleep they’ve gotten).  The door between the two rooms is closed. The trophy box has been placed near the door.  It’s raining and we can hear it.  During the course of the scene—which takes place over several hours in stage time–both LUCIAN and ARTHUR will get dressed and pack.                             



ARTHUR:   I’m trying to get out of here.


LUCIAN:  Throw him in the shower, get him moving.


ARTHUR:  I’m not the one who’s late.


LUCIAN:  You better do what  I say.


ARTHUR:  (Acquiescing.) . . .   But then you two are on your own! 


(Silence. ARTHUR pulls on his pants.)


LUCIAN:  (Finding a note.)  What’s he got here?


ARTHUR:  (Looking at the heavy rain.) You two go–probably going to cancel the game anyway—look at it . . .


(ARTHUR exits and we hear him banging on the outside door.)


LUCIAN:  What does he have here?




LUCIAN:  (Reading) “. . . No way of knowing.”


(We hear ARTHUR banging on the door outside.)




LUCIAN:  “No way of saying.”


ARTHUR:  (Outside calling to NORM: ) GET UP, WILL YA?  


LUCIAN:  “Let me go now."


ARTHUR:  Gotta take him over the breakfast.


LUCIAN:  “Love, Norman.”


(LUCIAN crumbles up the note.) 


(As ARTHUR re-enters, LUCIAN runs at the door between the two rooms; he hurls himself at it, a seventy-something slam dancer.)


(The next 2 lines overlap.)




LUCIAN:  (To NORM) THINK YOU CAN GET AWAY . . .                                                




(LUCIAN falls to the floor.  ARTHUR runs over to him.)


 (LUCIAN has a bloody nose; he remains on the floor; ARTHUR runs to get a wet cloth.)


ARTHUR:  (Running to get a cloth and end up using a shirt.)  MUST BE FALLING APART!  


(ARTHUR wipes LUCIAN's face.)


ARTHUR:  I have to wipe . . .  You have to let me, Coach . . .  


LUCIAN:  Don’t . . .


ARTHUR:   (Trying to look at LUCIAN's bloody nose.) Stop moving . . .  


LUCIAN:  Leave it!


(Silence as ARTHUR stays with LUCIAN.)


ARTHUR:  He must be out getting the paper.




ARTHUR:  Checking out . . .  


LUCIAN:  You think so, do you? 


ARTHUR:  . . . at the front desk.


LUCIAN:  He left.




ARTHUR:  Don’t be silly, he’s coming right back.


(ARTHUR goes to the window.)


ARTHUR:  See if I see the car.


(LUCIAN looks at the trophy, reading the inscription, running his fingers over it as if Braille.)


LUCIAN:  (Reading what's on trophy.) "Selfless dedication."


ARTHUR:  (Rationalizing) ( Look, he’s coming right back.   


LUCIAN:  (Reading what’s on trophy) “Teamwork.”


ARTHUR:  Oh, now, don’t be scared.


LUCIAN:  “Outstanding esprit de corps.”


ARTHUR:  Couldn’t have gone far, he wouldn’t have just left.




LUCIAN:  Packed the car last night.


ARTHUR:  Just went over to see about the limo.   


LUCIAN:  You know how mad he gets, probably went to breakfast.


ARTHUR:  He’s got a limo coming to pick you up.


LUCIAN:  We’ll just wait here.


ARTHUR:  Probably meet you at the game.




ARTHUR:  Really makes this . . .


LUCIAN:  Better this way.


ARTHUR:  . . . Rough . . .


LUCIAN:  Did this last night . . .


ARTHUR:   I want to catch a bus.


LUCIAN:  You don’t worry, Arthur.  He’ll be along.




LUCIAN:  You’ve got to get going.


ARTHUR:  Don’t know why he didn’t say anything.


LUCIAN:  . . . Get back to the city.


ARTHUR:  Don’t want to wait another hour . . .   


LUCIAN:  It’s fine, Arthur.


ARTHUR:  Norm will have gotten back by then.


(ARTHUR finds wallet, makes LUCIAN accept money.)


LUCIAN:  What's this?


ARTHUR:  Here.


LUCIAN:  I don't want . . .


ARTHUR:  . . . Take it, I was going to give it to you. 


LUCIAN:  I don’t need anything . . .


ARTHUR:  This is silly.


LUCIAN:  Keep your–! 




LUCIAN : Put that away I said.


ARTHUR:  Just take it. 




(ARTHUR packs.)


LUCIAN:  Nice to see you Art.


ARTHUR:  Socks, shirts . . .  Just get it done . . .  . . .


LUCIAN:  Sorry, we didn’t have more time . . .


ARTHUR:  Here, put this on. 


(ARTHUR wraps a sweater around LUCIAN. LUCIAN is         motionless.)


ARTHUR:  So you don’t get cold.




ARTHUR:  I’ll get your ties.               


(ARTHUR brings over ties.)




ARTHUR:  Get you ready . . . You’re going to have to pick which one you like.  I don’t know which ones you like . . .




ARTHUR:   . . .   All the people out there to see you . . . .


LUCIAN:   "Be not afeared . . .


ARTHUR:  Maybe you'll see Norm.


LUCIAN:   “ the isle is full of noises . . .


ARTHUR:  We’re on our own.




ARTHUR:  It’s been good to see you again.  I'm sorry. 


LUCIAN:  Go on now . . .


ARTHUR:  I should probably wait . . .  I’ve really got to go.




LUCIAN:  When we’re back in Georgia I’ll call. 




ARTHUR:  You have a good trip.


LUCIAN:  Thank you for coming. 


ARTHUR:  Get home safe.


(THEY shake hands.)                                        


(ARTHUR exits with his bag.)


(Silence. LUCIAN waits.   HE  finds several full bottles of pills hidden in his luggage.

Finally he begins taking them.  HE looks around the room, awaiting his death.)


LUCIAN:  (Praying to himself at first.) Pray for us sinners . . .    




(END OF PLAY)        



(END ZONE is excerpted in One on One:  The Best Men’s Monologues for the 21st Century and in          the upcoming Duo!:  The Best Scenes for Two for the 21st Century—both from Applause Theatre and     Cinema Books.)



(END ZONE, © 2008, before being revised, was entitled GLORY DAYS © 1994 and then DEDICATION. All rights, including but not limited to professional, amateur, motion pictures, recitation, lecturing, public reading, all forms of mechanical or electronic reproduction, including information storage and retrieval systems and photocopying, and the rights of translation into foreign languages, are strictly reserved.  Permission for the use of END ZONE or any portion thereof must be secured in writing prior to such use from the Author’s agent, Marit Literary Agency, 3801 Hudson Manor Terrace, Suite 6I, Bronx, New York 10463;; 646-667-8512; ATTN, Bob Shuman.)




(Robert Hurwitt’s review appeared on SFGATE, 7/15/09.)

The tension ebbs and flows with pregnant comedy as we wait for the woman on the train to open a book. Expectancy reaches almost excruciating levels in the richly elongated moments before her male fellow passenger realizes what she's reading.

Ken Ruta and Abigail Van Alyn play Yasmina Reza's "The Unexpected Man" with virtuosic brio in the Spare Stage production that opened Friday at Exit Theatre . . .


(Benedict Nightingale's article appeared in The Times of London, July 16, 2009.) 

Jerusalem at The Royal Court, SW1

In his recent Parlour Song, Jez Butterworth defined suburbia as a mix of the boring, the inane and the quietly desperate. Now he turns his attention to the countryside and isn’t more comforting. From the start, in which a fairy appears beneath a tacky English flag to recite Blake’s Jerusalem, you know that he’s worried about what the bureaucrats, the lookalike housing estates and, not least, the confused and alienated country people themselves are doing to our pleasant pastures and mountains green.

His Jerusalem is a bold, ebullient and often hilarious State-of-England or (almost) State-of-Olde-England play. At the stage’s centre is an American-style trailer, surrounded by discarded furniture and trees, and at the evening’s centre is its inhabitant. Mark Rylance’s Rooster Byron is an anarchic maverick, a Wiltshire lord of misrule, mythologised by his shambolic retinue of underage girls and male layabouts, among them Mackenzie Crook as a forlorn, gangling loser called Ginger. No, Rooster didn’t manage to jump Stonehenge on a motorbike, but he tells a tall story, fights a wild fight, and has stuck up two fingers at authority for aeons.


(Jeremy Gerard's commentary appeared in Bloomberg Online, July 17.)

Broadway’s Tony Cronies Oust Stars, Press; Who Else? Commentary

In recent weeks, the folks who run the Tony Awards have defriended future Will Ferrells and Liza Minnellis, along with several score journalists, including me. I take this bird-flipping personally.

In an email Tuesday, Tony Award Productions informed the 100 or so journalists who cast ballots for the annual prizes that our voting privileges had been canceled.

This dictat came hard on the heels of a ruling that shed “Special Theatrical Event” from the awards. That’s the category in which Minnelli was a surprise Tony winner in June over Will Ferrell, both of whom had lucrative, popular limited runs on Broadway last season.

So Carrie Fisher’s highly anticipated solo show, “Wishful Drinking,” which arrives in the fall, will have to compete for Tony recognition against full-scale, well-populated new plays like Tracy Letts’s “Superior Donuts” and David Mamet’s “Race.” Poor Carrie won’t stand a chance.

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(Alison Flood's article appeared in The Guardian, July 17, 2009.)

Vatican embraces Oscar Wilde

Holy See's official newspaper praises writer with 'deep knowledge of the of the mysterious value of life'

In a week in which the Vatican made its peace with that dangerous consorter with witches Harry Potter, the Holy See has also revealed an unexpected soft spot for Oscar Wilde.

Earlier this week the Vatican's official newspaper L'Osservatore Romano, which had previously described JK Rowling's books as presenting a "vision of the world and the human being full of deep mistakes and dangerous suggestions", praised the film adaptation of Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince for making it clear that good must overcome evil "and that sometimes this requires costs and sacrifice".

Despite the Catholic Church's condemnation of practising homosexuality, the newspaper has now run a glowing review of a new book about the famously doomed lover of Lord Alfred Douglas. Wilde was "one of the personalities of the 19th century who most lucidly analysed the modern world in its disturbing as well as its positive aspects", wrote author Andrea Monda in a piece about Italian author Paolo Gulisano's The Portrait of Oscar Wilde.

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(Henry Hitchings article appeared in the Evening Standard, 7/14/09.)

There can be few English institutions more mysterious to the uninitiated than the public school (now a misnomer), and Terence Rattigan’s The Browning Version evokes its creaky protocols and ruthlessness in a manner that, against expectation, seems no less trenchant today than it must have done when the play premiered more than 60 years ago.

Andrew Crocker-Harris is a senior master on the brink of leaving his job at a smart boarding school to go and teach in a crammer. Afflicted with a heart condition, goaded by a viciously snobbish wife, who is dallying with one of his junior colleagues, and oppressed by the memory of having once been a stellar classical scholar, he is the epitome of the teacher whose unappreciated efforts have led to pedantic self-loathing.

Crocker-Harris is doomed to mediocrity by nothing more than a couple of bad choices and a stoical sense of duty. But his relegation to the Siberia of pedagogy is there for all to see: his colleagues can commend him on little except his planning of the school timetable.

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