Monthly Archives: September 2009


(Alistair Beaton's article appeared in the Guardian, September 30.)

Translating Bertolt Brecht and other house guests

When Alistair Beaton went to work on an English version of The Caucasian Chalk Circle, he felt the great playwright breathing down his neck – and found his arguments as relevant as ever

When you translate a play, you enter into a very intense and complex relationship with the playwright. Sometimes you feel as if you have invited them into your home.

It's not always an agreeable experience. When I was translating The Government Inspector, I used to find Nikolai Gogol roaming the house at night, patently half-mad, yet somehow endearingly welcome. He made me laugh, mostly because he made me look beneath the surface of things and see the normal in the grotesque and the grotesque in the normal. Even when he started banging on about Russia's mission to save the world, his own terrifically close relationship with God and the parlous state of my soul, I just couldn't bring myself to evict him.

When it came to translating The Arsonists, I would often find Max Frisch fussing around in the kitchen, tidying everything up and explaining in calm and reasoned tones (as he folded away the tea towels) why we have a moral duty to oppose evil. I agreed with almost everything he said, and I liked how he said it, but he did occasionally irritate me. I think it was probably something to do with the certainty and the precision of his moral clarity. He in turn accused me, of course, of merely being prejudiced against the Swiss.

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(Tim Teeman's article appeared in the Times of London, September 30.)

Gore Vidal: ‘We’ll have a dictatorship soon in the US’

The grand old man of letters Gore Vidal claims America is ‘rotting away’ — and don’t expect Barack Obama to save it

 A conversation with Gore Vidal unfolds at his pace. He answers questions imperiously, occasionally playfully, with a piercing, lethal dryness. He is 83 and in a wheelchair (a result of hypothermia suffered in the war, his left knee is made of titanium). But he can walk (“Of course I can”) and after a recent performance of Mother Courage at London’s National Theatre he stood to deliver an anti-war speech to the audience.

How was his friend Fiona Shaw in the title role? “Very good.” Where did they meet? Silence. The US? “Well, it wasn’t Russia.” What’s he writing at the moment? “It’s a little boring to talk about. Most writers seem to do little else but talk about themselves and their work, in majestic terms.” He means self-glorifying? “You’ve stumbled on the phrase,” he says, regally enough. “Continue to use it.”

Vidal is sitting in the Connaught Hotel in Mayfair, where he has been coming to stay for 60 years. He is wearing a brown suit jacket, brown jumper, tracksuit bottoms; his white hair twirled into a Tintin-esque quiff and with his hooded eyes, delicate yet craggy features and arch expression, he looks like Quentin Crisp, but accessorised with a low, lugubrious growl rather than camp lisp.

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(Roger Friedman's article appeared  September 27 on

 Streisand Admits At

Historic Show: “Singing ‘People’ Is Boring”

Barbra Streisand, perhaps the greatest performer of her generation, made history last night for her fans as she returned to her Greenwich Village roots after almost 50 years.

As a promotional effort for her latest album, “Love is the Answer,” the eternally youthful looking Streisand brought a four-piece jazz band into the Village Vanguard, a downstairs club in the West Village where she got her start almost five decades ago. Among the guests were fans who’d won a lottery for the available 78 seats.

But the other fans were also pretty remarkable: former president Bill Clinton and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton with daughter Chelsea and her fiancee, actor James Brolin (Streisand’s husband), Sarah Jessica Parker, Nicole Kidman, Donna Karan, famed theater actress Phyllis Newman who is also the widow of Adolph Green, lyricists Alan and Marilyn Bergman, mogul Barry Diller (solo — wife Diane von Furstenberg was away, he told me), the New York Times’s Frank Rich and Alex Witchel, Deborah Lee Furness aka Mrs. Hugh Jackman, Columbia Records chief Rob Stringer, and longtime Hollywood manager Sandy Gallin.

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(Jerry Tallmer's article appeared in The Villager, September 23-29.)

Book by Sachi Oyama; Music by Nathan Wang; Lyrics by Aaron Coleman; Choreography by Reggie Lee
Directed by Tim Dang
A Pan Asian Repertory Theatre (Tisa Chang) presentation in association with East West Players (
Through October 18
At the Julia Miles Theater, 424 West 55th Street (9th/10th Aves.)
212-239-6200, or

Pan Asian Rep rips, reveals Marcos

Salty commentary, spoken and sung, gives ‘Imelda’ satirical sting

When the people of People Power — the masses of ordinary Filipinos who had finally had enough of the Marcos tyranny and his martial law — broke into the grandiose Malacañang Palace that President Ferdinand and First Lady Imelda Marcos had finally, hastily evacuated, what soon came to light was a beyond-belief treasure trove of Imelda’s finery.

Heading the count, according to many reports: 15 mink coats, 500 gowns, 1,000 handbags, 3,000 pairs of shoes. Yes, three thousand.

Imelda said it was all for the people’s good; to set an example, show them how they should want to live — and want their leaders to live.

“She certainly was controversial,” says Tisa Chang. “I think controversial figures are far more interesting than non-controversial ones, don’t you?”

Tisa Chang, Artistic Producing Director of the Pan Asian Repertory that she founded at La MaMa 32 years ago, has been the prime mover of bringing to New York the East West Players Los-Angeles-spawned production of “Imelda.”

Broadway had its “Evita.” Off-Broadway has its “Imelda.”

It has been “refined,” trimmed down from its West Coast launch, says Ms. Chang, and so has its cast, from 15 or 16 actor-singer-dancers to just a dozen. Trimmed down or not, it spells out — and I do mean spells out — every last detail in the up-from-poverty life and times of the Iron Butterfly (or Steel Butterfly; take your pick) who was once ranked among the most powerful women of her, or any, era.

“I thought it timely to bring to bring this work to New York,” says Tisa Chang. “First, because Imelda Marcos” — born July 2, 1929 — “has just reached her 80th birthday, over there in Manila, and then because Corazon Aquino died a month ago [on August 1] — the Corazon who was propelled by, yes, People Power to win the presidency over the Ferdinand Marcos who very probably had had her husband, democracy-minded candidate Nimoy Aquino, assassinated right before election day.

“Imelda” the musical indeed starts with Imelda Romuelduz of Leyte Island, in her early 20s, having been named “Miss Muse of Manila” in consolation for losing a Miss Manila beauty contest, pouring out her woes and dreams (someday…an Oscar!) to none other than the young journalist Nimoy Aquino she takes to be her boyfriend.

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'IMELDA' on YouTube:

Pan Asian Repertory Theatre: 


(Monika Bartyzel's article appeared September 24 on Cinematical.)


Mamet's 'Anne Frank' Too Dark for Disney


Not too long ago, we learned that David Mamet and Disney were coming together for a new take on The Diary of Anne Frank. The project was said to merge Frank's famous diary with the Tony Award-winning stage production and Mamet's own spin as — believe it or not — a "coming of age" story. Mamet + Disney + Frank — it sounded too strange to be real, and it looks like Disney agrees.

Just over a month later, The Wrap reports that the project has been thrown into turnaround. It seems that this wasn't exactly a film about Frank (thank god), but rather "a pro-Israel exploration of anti-Semitism set in contemporary times," about "a contemporary Jewish girl who goes to Israel and learns about the traumas of suicide bombing." According to sources, Disney said the spin was "too dark." (One can only wonder why it took Disney a month to come to this realization when we all suspected it from the beginning.) One executive said: "It's very intense, and dark and scary. It's not a film version of The Diary of Anne Frank."


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In the crowded Afghan refugee camps of northern Pakistan, just after the events of September 11, 2001, members of Bond Street Theatre came to bring a little joy to Afghan children and learn more about the conflict. There they met Exile Theatre, a dauntless band of Afghan actors who had formed in exile and dared to present live theatre despite all restrictions. The groups re-met in Afghanistan the following year as refugees from over 30 years of war began pouring back into the country after the fall of the Taliban.

After three decades of war, occupation, drought and constant displacement, Afghanistan is starting the long process of recovery. Beginning with the Russian invasion in 1979, followed by a decade of mujahideen-driven civil war, eight years of repressive Taliban rule, and US retaliation after September 11th, and an upsurge of violence in 2006, Afghanistan needs help more than ever.

  • Theatre and all of the arts were decimated by the eight years of strict Taliban law. Most children under the age of 10 had never seen a performance of any kind, nor a painting, nor seen a dance.
  • A generation of Afghan women and girls have gone without an education.
  • The excessive violence and instability of the last decades in Afghanistan has created a population with disrupted coping skills, compounded by inconsistent schooling, work, recreation and voice in civic affairs.


“We welcome your work as an educational theatrical method for our students, especially for our young generation who has been involved in war and conflict.” – Prof. Farooq Faryad, Dean of Fine Arts, Kabul University

Our long-term goal is to introduce culturally responsive, theatre-based educational programs into Afghan schools, especially targeting girls who have few outlets for creative physical expression, and to help revitalize the arts after years of cultural repression.

In the Spring of 2007, three members of Bond Street Theatre conducted a performance and workshop program in Kabul and Mazar-i-Sharif. The group offered theatre programs in partnership with Aschiana, an organization that provides basic education and meals for street-working children. Bond Street presented a comedic show for children in orphanages, schools, and at Aschiana where they also conducted special training sessions for their vocational students. In turn, these students helped lead the theatre workshops for the children and may continue the program. The workshops focused on games to encourage self-confidence, physical expression, and group cooperation.

In 2003, four members of Bond Street Theatre traveled to Afghanistan to collaborate with Exile Theatre, and to bring their healing, uplifting work to refugee families that were pouring back into the country. In partnership with Afghanistan-Schulen, they reached 25,000 children in the rural north, focusing especially on girls who were returning to school after four years of Taliban ban on education for girls.

In 2005, Bond Street Theatre actors made two journeys to Afghanistan, with residencies at Kabul University, to teach students and to prepare a collaborative production Beyond The Mirror with Exile Theatre. The visual-physical production depicted the decades of war in Afghanistan. The production premiered in Kabul and toured in Japan and the US with glowing response from audiences and media.

“The first collaboration between an Afghan and an American theatre company, [the play] has a quiet authority, even delicacy, that is truly powerful.”– Margo Jefferson, The New York Times

YouTube Bond Street Theatre in Afghanistan:


YouTube ‘Beyond the Mirror’ Excerpts:


Bond Street Theatre Web Site: and



“The performance has a quiet authority, even delicacy that is truly powerful.” – Margo Jefferson, The New York Times

“The most stirring, affecting and significant event of the theatre season.” – Martin Denton,

“A sharply observed and heart-wrenching portrayal of Afghanistan’s recent history.” – Josselyn Simpson, Time Out New York

“The collaboration has yielded lyrical imagery of almost aching beauty.” – Jorge Morales, Village Voice

“An inventive piece based on the true stories of Afghans who survived three decades of cruelty and hardship.” – Vibhuti Patel, Newsweek

“The Best Performance at the Festival, ‘Beyond the Mirror’ utilized a unique, creative and stylistic method.”ISAF News – Afghanistan

“That this piece exists at all is a form of triumph and its own best example of international cooperation.” – J.Wynn Rousuck, Baltimore Sun

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(The following article from Ingmar Bergman Face to Face appeared 9/11.)

Recently a small book of Max von Sydow was published in French, La leçon de comédien, where he, as the title says, gives a lesson in acting. The 50 pages book is a transcription of a lecture given by von Sydow in the grand amphitheatre at the Avignon Festival in July 9, 2005.

Max von Sydow starts by giving a brief background to his acting career, from Stanislavsky to his early fascination in attending the rehearsals at the Royal Dramatic Theatre in Stockholm, where he spent most of his free time, studying the progress of the actors.

Von Sydow particularly admired the actor Lars Hansson, who had made all the great parts on the repertoire, and who had "a quite extraordinary presence". "They said that Mr. Hansson had full control of himself on stage; that he didn't leave any room for the intuition of the moment, and I literally believe that. And I decided to be just like him: 'an intellectual actor'."

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Interview on YouTube: (Part 1) (Part 2)


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(Ben Smith's column ran on Politico, 9/24.) 

NEA communications director resigns

The National Endowment for the Arts said Thursday that its communications director, Yosi Sergant, has resigned.

"This afternoon Yosi Sergant submitted his resignation from the National Endowment for the Arts. His resignation has been accepted and is effective immediately," said a spokeswoman, Sally Gifford, in a statement.

Sergant, who helped make artist Shepard Fairey's "Hope" image ubiquitous as an organizer of Obama campaign support from artists, had seemed to mix the NEA's work — essentially non-partisan politics — with the administration's legislative agenda on a conference call reported on by Andrew Breitbart's new conservative site, Big Government.

"I would encourage you to pick something, whether it’s health care, education, the environment, you know, there’s four key areas that the corporation has identified as the areas of service," Sergant told artists on the call, which he reportedly invited some of them to attend. "My ask would be to apply artistic, you know, your artistic creative communities utilities and bring them to the table," he said.

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(The following article by Jake Tapper appeared on ABC News, September 22.)  

After 'Inappropriate' NEA Conference Call, White House Pushes New Guidelines

An August 10, 2009 National Endowment for the Arts conference call in which artists were asked to help support President Obama's agenda — a call that at least one good government group called "inappropriate" — has prompted the White House to issue new guidelines to prevent such a call from ever happening again.

"The point of the call was to encourage voluntary participation in a national service initiative by the arts community," White House spokesman Bill Burton told ABC News. "To the extent there was any misunderstanding about what the NEA may do to support the national service initiative, we will correct it.   We regret any comments on the call that may have been misunderstood or troubled other participants.  We are fully committed to the NEA's historic mission, and we will take all steps necessary to ensure that there is no further cause for questions or concerns about that commitment." 

In the call, Yosi Sergant, then the NEA's communications director, seemed to encourage the listeners to create art to further the president's goals by promoting the United We Serve campaign and create art specific to areas of health care, education and the environment. 

"I would encourage you to pick something, whether it’s health care, education, the environment, you know, there’s four key areas that the corporation has identified as the areas of service," Sergant said on the call.

Buffy Wicks, Deputy Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement, was also on the call, and thanked the artists "for being on the call and just a deep deep appreciation for all the work you all put into the campaign for the two-plus years we all worked together.”

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(The following article by Ben Shapiro appeared on

At Least 6 Federal Laws and Regulations Violated By the NEA Conference Call

Yesterday, I posted about the NEA conference call’s clear and obvious violations of the Anti-Lobbying Act (19 U.S. Code §1913), which explicitly provides: “No part of the money appropriated by any enactment of Congress shall, in the absence of express authorization by Congress, be used directly or indirectly to pay for any personal service, advertisement, telegram, telephone, letter, printed or written matter, or other device, intended or designed to influence in any manner a Member of Congress, a jurisdiction, or an official of any government, to favor, adopt, or oppose by vote or otherwise, any legislation, law, ratification, policy, or appropriation, whether before or after the introduction of any bill, measure or resolution proposing such legislation, law, ratification, policy or appropriation …”  The Anti-Lobbying Act, according to government handbooks, prevents government employees from engaging in “substantial ‘grass roots’ lobbying campaigns … expressly urging individuals to contact government officials in support of or opposition to legislation …. Provid[ing] administrative support for lobbing activities of private organizations …”  

Violation of this law, in turn, violates 31 U.S. Code §1352, which, if read broadly, bans the use of federal funds for lobbying by the recipients: “funds appropriated by any Act [may not be] expended by the recipient of a Federal contract, grant, loan, or cooperative agreement to pay any person for influencing or attempting to influence an officer or employee of any agency, a Member of Congress, an officer or employee of Congress, or an employee of a Member of Congress in connection with any Federal action …”

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The performance also meant the very first stage opening of a Bergman text not directed by Bergman himself. The reviews were for the most part positive and the critics agreed on the relevance of the play as well as the high quality of the acting, represented by Livia Millhagen's Marianne and maybe above all, Jonas Karlsson's Johan. The direction by Stefan Larsson, actor in Bergman's own stage production of Mary Stuart, was also generally appreciated.

In Swedish Radio, the critic Maria Edström pointed out the humour of the production, containing an absudity that, according to her, was not present in Bergman's TV version. In evening daily Expressen, Margareta Sörenson reasoned that Bergman's Marianne is someone that today, more than ever, most people can relate to, and that the warmth and persistence of the text makes it universal.

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