Monthly Archives: October 2009


(Paul Taylor's review appeared in The Independent, October 29.)

Pains of Youth, National Theatre, London

Camus thought that, in philosophy, suicide is "the only problem". It may not be the sole preoccupation of the six bored, sexually entangled medical students in the 1920s Vienna of Ferdinand Bruckner's brilliantly odd 1923 play Pains of Youth. But it is seen as one of only two alternatives open to the young in a post-First World War Austria of widespread social disillusion and personal instability. The play receives a very rare revival now in a Cottesloe production by Katie Mitchell that will, I suspect, divide critics in the manner that is traditional with this controversial director's work. I thought the play blackly exhilarating in its ruthless (often mordantly amusing) anatomy of anomie. I thought the strategic take-it-or-leave-it stealth production (as usual with Mitchell, one might have chanced upon a tribe that is so mesmerically intent on its own practices that it has not noticed the "concealed" observer) arrestingly pivoted at that point where the different leylines of painful tragicomedy exruciatingly cross.


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(Mark Tapscott's article appeared in the Washington Examiner, 10/30/09.)

Newly disclosed emails link White House directly to NEA politicalization scandal

Former actor and present White House associate director of public engagement Kalpen Modi was directly involved in planning the controversial conference call hosted by a National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) flack to encourage tax-supported artists to create propaganda for President Obama, according to emails obtained by Judicial Watch via a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.

The emails reveal that Modi worked with now-former NEA national communications director Yosif Sargant in planning the August 10 conference call that was first revealed by Andrew Breitbart's Big web site. Participants in the conference call were encouraged to use their talents to generate public support for the Obama agenda in Congress. 

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(Charles Isherwood's article appeared in The New York Times, October 30.)

 A Pot of Sunny Gold in Those Green Hills

 Leaves are decaying in soggy piles in the city’s parks, and the first cold snap has come and gone, awakening anxiety about the prospect of a chilly winter. But permanent sunshine can confidently be predicted for the vicinity of the St. James Theater, where the joyous revival of “Finian’s Rainbow” opened on Thursday night.

Here is where you should head this fall to warm your soul amid the diversions of that ever-great and ever-endangered American art form, musical comedy. All the comforting pleasures of the genre — infectious song, exuberant dancing, jokes both lovably corny and unexpectedly fresh, and of course the satisfying pairing of a him and a her — are on abundant display in this thoroughly winning production, a welcome picker-upper in an uneven Broadway season.

The latest transfer from the beloved City Center Encores! series of musicals in concert, “Finian’s Rainbow” is also the most unlikely. Pretty much nobody expected to see this oddity cavorting beneath a Broadway proscenium again, although the original production was a solid hit that ran for a year and a half when it opened in 1947. Since then the show has come to be considered too corny, too confused, too tainted by misconceptions about its racial politics.

Consider, if you will, the recipe, seemingly cooked up by somebody hitting the whiskey bottle a little too hard. Among the primary cast of characters: one leprechaun, one mute young woman who dances her dialogue, one racist politician who turns from white to black and back again. Locale: Missitucky, a fictional state in the American South where black and white sharecroppers live together in friendly harmony, harvesting tobacco leaves when they are not raising their voices in song. Primary plot device: a purloined pot of gold bestowing the ability to make wishes come true.

But beautiful music has a way of binding together the most unlikely materials, and the score for “Finian’s Rainbow,” by the lyricist E. Y. Harburg and the composer Burton Lane, is itself an overflowing pot of memorable songs, by turns yearning and bouncy, mocking and sincere, soft as a rose petal and clever as a crossword.

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(Tanya Dean's article appeared in Irish Theatre Magazine, October 27.)

Reading between the headlines

New York's Origin Theatre Company has just produced Spinning the Tim es, five new monologues by Irish women playwrights, as part of the 2009 First Irish Festival. Tanya Dean went along to the 59E59 Theatres, Off-Broadway, and talked to the writers about the commission.

“Five Irish women Playwrights, Five New York News Stories” read the tagline for Origin Theatre Company's Spinning the Times, with a New York Times quote –"Stunningly written monologues" – emblazoned on the promotional flier (although an observant eye will note that this quote actually referred to Origin's 2005 production of Mark O’Rowe’s Crestfall). As part of the 2009 1st Irish Festival, which ran over five weeks in twelve different New York venues, Origin Theatre Company ("Where European Theatre Lives") offered five Irish female playwrights a commission to write a short monologue based on a news story they found in the New York Times.

The festival's rubric of "Irish theatre" covers theatre exported by Irish companies, such as Fishamble's The Pride of Parnell Street, as well as theatre of Irish origin produced by American companies, such as Blood Guilty by The Bronx Company. So what does it mean to further sub-categorize work under the heading of Irish female playwright? (It seems to be a trend of late: witness the Abbey's The Fairer Sex series, which commissioned six new twenty-minute plays by women writers for rehearsed readings in June of this year.)

Playwright Belinda McKeon admitted to some mixed feelings about the general heading of "women playwrights". “I have to be honest here and say that I didn't know (or perhaps, through selective hearing, didn't hear), when taking the commission on in the very first instance, that the five monologues were going to be presented as five monologues by female playwrights – it was only later that this element of the show sank in for me. I'm never that keen on this kind of categorising, and I have to admit… I've never become more comfortable with it, with the sense of having these plays thought about first and foremost as plays by women, or plays somehow with a female perspective.

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(Michael Billington's article appeared in the Guardian, October 27.)

Spring Storm/Beyond the Horizon

Royal and Derngate, Northampton

This is a momentous event: the European premiere of a Tennessee Williams play written when he was an Iowa student in 1937, and a rare revival of Eugene O'Neill's first Pulitzer prize-winning play, a Broadway hit in 1920. Intelligently cross-cast and brilliantly directed by Laurie Sansom, they are not only a huge feather in Northampton's cap, they also offer the exciting spectacle of young dramatists mapping out their territory.

Williams's Spring Storm could be described as a southern love story. On the Mississippi delta, the well-born Heavenly Critchfield finds herself torn between two admirers: the earthy, restless Dick Miles and the spineless, moneyed Arthur Shannon. Despite occasional melodramatic flourishes, you can hear Williams finding his own voice. The highly sexed Heavenly, reared in a decaying mansion, is an early sketch for Blanche Dubois. The destructive power of Eros, described as "the biggest guy of them all", is memorably shown in a repressed librarian's tragic love for Arthur. And Williams's gift for social satire emerges in his devastating portrait of Heavenly's mother, played with towering snobbery by Jacqueline King. This is a play in which the dialogue soars, and the central trio of Liz White as the reckless Heavenly and Michael Thomson and Michael Malarkey as her suitors here do it rich justice.

Clearly, Williams knew Eugene O'Neill's Beyond the Horizon and had absorbed much from it. In both plays you see two men, the materialist and the poet, in love with the same girl. But O'Neill's speciality is a sense of doom that hangs over the characters; it informed all his later work. Here, the division is between two brothers: Robert, who dreams of a world beyond the Connecticut hills, and Andrew, a land-loving farmer. When their neighbour, Ruth, declares her passion for Robert, the two siblings fatally swap roles.

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(Michael Feingold's article appeared in The Village Voice, October 27.)

Cromer Darkens Simon's Memoirs; Marber Misdates Miss Julie; Ordinary Days are Just That 

Honesty, dignity, and Neil Simon. No, I know what you mean: I didn't expect to be writing those three terms in sequence any more than you expected to read them in this column. But you also already know the invisible fourth term that connects them: David Cromer. Among Broadway's money folk, Cromer has apparently become the new buzzword in directing. This is a pity: Artists shouldn't be reduced to buzzwords; the buzzing makes people lose sight of the many other fine directors around; and Cromer's future would probably be more exciting if he could generate his own projects instead of being blitzkrieged with commercial offers. But meantime, he has directed the revival of Neil Simon's Brighton Beach Memoirs (Nederlander Theatre), contiguous with his Off-Broadway productions of Our Town and the musical Adding Machine in that it gives an old work a new look that reaffirms its value.

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If you are a playwright, or know a playwright, please note that there are still openings for one-act plays in the lineup at Where Eagles Dare's studio theatre: 347 W. 36th St. (13th floor).


The deal is that the playwright/producer must produce the play (casting and rehearsing the actors, among many other tasks), including provision of a board operator (we can help you find one). Where Eagles Dare will provide the theatre, box-office services, and some promotion. THERE IS NO FEE. Tickets will be $15. Where Eagles Dare keeps the door.


Plays must be 45 – 60 minutes, on any subject. There are various dates and times available throughout December 2009 and January 2010. Each show will receive 3 slots in 1 week. Producers who succeed in this format are often invited back to produce under a door-deal arrangement.


We're looking for experienced producers with a script ready to put on its feet and a wide base of potential audience. Production requirements must be kept to a minimum, as the amenities of the studio theatre are spartan. But Off-Off-Broadway, sometimes two boards and a passion are all it takes!


Please send scripts, in standard playscript format* (and in MS Word), to Queries welcome.


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John Chatterton,

Executive producer, Midtown International Theatre Festival
Proprietor, Where Eagles Dare rehearsal studios
Editor, OOBR ("the off-off-broadway review")
Publisher, Playwrights' Press


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(Richard Morrison's article appeared in The Times of London, October 23.)

Porgy and Bess at the Millennium Centre, Cardiff

The only full-time opera company in Africa, Cape Town Opera, has never before toured the UK. On the strength of its glorious Gershwin it should be invited back — soon and often. At a time when Sir Willard White and others are setting up long-overdue projects to persuade young British black and Asian musicians that you don’t have to be white to make a career in opera, this ten-year-old company is a stunning exemplar — especially coming from a country where, only three decades ago, non-whites couldn’t even buy a ticket.

Christine Crouse’s vivacious staging is everything one had expected and hoped for. The Catfish Row of DuBose Heyward’s Charleston-based story has been transposed to another community with plenty of nuttin’: an apartheid-era Soweto township — although the rickety scaffolding, crumbling façades and corrugated shacks of Michael Mitchell’s set could be any shanty-town, any time.

What animates the stage are the epic crowd scenes, extrovert acting and the exuberant movement. Even in those great funeral chorales — heart-rending laments, with 50 voices weaving soulful improvisations over Gershwin’s chords and an on-stage blues trumpeter adding his anguished wail — the loose-limbed spirit of African dance is never far away. True, the production doesn’t exactly avoid cliché or sentimentality. There’s a raised-fist salute from the entire cast, for instance, as Xolela Sixaba’s great-hearted Porgy sets off at the final curtain to rescue Lisa Daltirus’s raddled Bess from degradation for the umpteenth time. But the show is done with such verve that you’d need a heart of concrete not to come out smiling.

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(Robert Hurwitt's article appeared in The San Francisco Chronicle, October 23.)

Tiny Kushner: Five one-act plays. By Tony Kushner. Directed by Tony Taccone. With J.C. Cutler, Kate Eifrig, Jim Lichtscheidl and Valeri Mudek. Through Nov. 29. Berkeley Rep's Thrust Stage, 2025 Addison St., Berkeley. Two hours, 15 minutes. $16-$86. (510) 647-2949, 

Two former first ladies, a trip to the moon, dozens of tax-evading New York cops, and variations on Hitler, Dostoyevsky, Nixon, George W. Bush, Thoreau and Shakespeare – Tony Kushner may be incapable of thinking small.

That broad reach and Kushner's eclectic, wicked wit make for a great deal of charm and excitement in "Tiny Kushner," an anthology of five short plays that opened Wednesday at Berkeley Repertory Theatre's Thrust Stage. It also weighs down the plays a bit too much to let the entire evening take flight.

Flashes of penetrating comedy and theatrical strokes light up the stage, fully exploited by director Tony Taccone and four versatile actors from Minneapolis' Guthrie Theater, where "Tiny" premiered in June. Hefty political and moral issues dance with buoyant shtick, and some lines jolt us with typical Kushner prescience (the aside, "Nixon was the last Republican president who believed in regulation" was written in 2001.)

In many respects, it's impressive how well the five plays fit together, because they were written at different times for different purposes. But some seams show. Three were occasional pieces, essays in dialogue in response to specific events. Though one of these allows Laura Bush to emerge as the evening's dominant dramatic force, the others get bogged down in a little too much information.

"Flip Flop Fly!" and "Dr. Arnold A. Hutschnecker in Paradise" were creative obituaries for the New York Times Magazine. "Fly" is the more entertaining of the two. Staged on Alexander V. Nichols' cleverly projected moonscape, it's a crisply performed vaudeville duet for a brash American self-promoter (Valeri Mudek), who claimed to have recorded an album while on the moon, and a self-important minor European royal, Queen Geraldine of Albania (Kate Eifrig).

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(John Lahr's review appeared in The New Yorker, 10/9.)

The Theatre

Swash And Buckle

A heroic “Hamlet” and musings on mortality.

At the finale of the last “Hamlet” to be seen in New York (the 2008 Public Theatre production in Central Park), Fortinbras called for a hero’s cannonade to honor the slain Prince of Denmark—“Go, bid the soldiers shoot”—only to have his lieutenant whip out a pistol and shoot Horatio. Horatio, you’ll recall, is the person whom Hamlet, with his dying breath, commands “to tell my story”; the jaw-droppingly ludicrous misinterpretation played almost like an unconscious wish to annihilate the brooding hero altogether—and, by extension, the whole damn Shakespearean canon. After this low-water mark, even mere competence would look like brilliance. Now, with Michael Grandage’s barn-burning “Hamlet,” imported from London’s Donmar Warehouse (at the Broadhurst, in a twelve-week engagement), New Yorkers can replace the memory of the recent fiasco with a truer, more exciting measure of Shakespeare’s unrivalled storytelling.

The slick, streamlined three-hour production stars Jude Law, who, at thirty-six, is genuinely “the glass of fashion and the mold of form.” There have been better postwar British Hamlets—such as David Warner and Jonathan Pryce—who put their fingerprints on the role for a generation. Law’s performance does not reach their level of inspired nuance, but it is admirable nonetheless, a sensation, if not a revelation. Whippet-thin and alert, Law is swift of foot and of speech. He has a sharp critical intelligence. He dexterously parses and shades Shakespeare’s poetry, making the words as clear, crisp, and compelling as his profile. For his soliloquies, Law comes downstage and, with his piercing almond eyes, draws us into his turbulent consciousness. It’s big magic.

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