Monthly Archives: September 2010


(Hedy Weiss’s article appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times, 9/28.)

Extreme beauty and caustic wit. Outrageous comedy and total calamity. Lunatic rage and steely resolve. Rational thinking and absolute absurdity. Probing philosophical discourse alongside scathing religious satire. Endless debauchery and enduring romance. The extremes of optimism and pessimism (of course). And to top it all off, a grand tour of the globe — from Old World to New, and back again — with many hellish ports along the way, and one notable paradise populated by red sheep and people who care nothing for gold.


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(David C. Nichols’s article appeared in the L.A. Times, 9/28.)

As Eugene shares his secret writing ambitions and burning pubescent urges with preternatural aplomb and many one-liners, his real-life proxy makes pert observations about sibling rivalry, parent-child relationships and internecine charity. Despite a spate of over-tidy Act 2 resolutions and some too-easy Jewish-vs.-gentile zingers, the current environment lends Simon's plot turns a patina of relevance, from lost jobs and health crises to imperiled foreign kin and reckless enlistment.


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(Michael Billington’s article appeared 9/27 in the Guardian.)

Richard Bean is a brave man. In England People Very Nice, he raised merry hell by tackling immigration. Now, in this combative, compelling and far superior new piece, he offers a potted history of the Irish republican movement. But the wit and originality of the play lie in the fact that it examines the cause's factionalism from an American perspective.


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(Ben Brantley’s article appeared in The New York Times, 9/28.)

Walking on air, going head over heels, drowning in passion and, above all, falling, falling, falling in love: commonplace metaphors take on literal, revitalizing life in Emma Rice’s adaptation of the 1945 David Lean movie about a genteel, middle-class, almost adulterous couple. Once Laura (Hannah Yelland) meets Alec (Tristan Sturrock) in a train station, the laws of gravity are destined to be suspended. And two seemingly sensible, earthbound people will be, quite literally, swept off their feet and into the stars.


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Over and over at the end of act one of Ritter, Dene, Voss, we hear Ludwig (Jordan Pettle), a brother who has returned home, repeat futilely, “Lend meaning to life, lend meaning to life.” It’s an ironic statement because everything in the play, written by the esteemed Austrian dramatist and novelist Thomas Bernhard (1931-1989), is overtly meaningful and symbolic—and the character is nothing if not overanalyzed—he’s been long in a sanitarium. His life, nevertheless, is meaningless, and it is this contradiction which makes the play absurd, existentialist—Ludwig is an educated philosopher from a wealthy family who will never be able to use his personal insight to actually change.  Chronically ill (like the playwright himself, who had a lung ailment since his teens), he travels in an endless loop of unfulfillment.

His sisters, actresses for a family-owned theatre, are challenged less physically, but their own self-knowledge has hardly provided a cure in their own lives. So rigidly defined by their family and doctors, and themselves, they’re at a point of near immobility, still repressed, caught between the same forces that gave us both Freud and Hitler—we’re in Austria, remember. Ludwig provides the most memorable example concerning this conflict, however, in a scene where he stuffs crème puffs into his mouth, continuously forced to indulge because he had once said he enjoyed them.  It seems like a profoundly un-American notion to believe that one can’t reinvent oneself, that one can’t change, but Bernhard, the writer who doesn’t like much of anything, let alone anyone, can swing back: “Everything is ridiculous, when one thinks of Death.”

Ritter, Dene, Voss is more problematic to produce besides having a difficult outlook, though—its title, for example, has nothing to do with the play (instead, it employs the last names of the original actors who created the roles of the three characters–but its basis did not come out of their real lives).  Further, as written by this production’s director, Adam Seelig, in the program notes, Bernhard wrote here the way he did in all of his plays, “without a single mark of punctuation—only line breaks indicate cadence.”   Not allowed to be played in Austria, due to a provision by the author in his will (actually there have been exceptions), and populated by mature characters who are acquiescent to age (and flesh and perspiration if you view members of the original German-speaking cast on YouTube), there was absolutely no reason not to assume that the play would be cast into obscurity here.

Yet, we do now have the opportunity to see an example of Bernhard’s theatre and a kind of Germanic Absurdism—we’re probably much more used to French and British.  The jury may still be out on the American version, which can seem artificial, just look at the difficulties reviewers had with Edward Albee’s new Me, Myself & I.  We don’t carry the same baggage that gave rise to Ionesco and Beckett (winners in WWII, we did not fight or experience the war on our continental soil, we remain optimists).  Not so Bernhardhe’s got the lower registers covered; the history of his nation excruciatingly gives it to him. The density and construction of his play are very strong, too, despite the fact that Bernhard felt German “wooden and clumsy, disgusting . . . a terrible language that kills everything light and wonderful. The only thing one can do is sublimate the language with a rhythm to give it musicality.”  His characters are unmocking—the opposite of which is a pitfall any Absurdist from anywhere can fall into.  But he does agree with an essential point of the Absurdists, which is that the style best describes the human condition, “People are everything. Each individual is more or less everything. Sometimes he laughs and sometimes he doesn't.”

You’ll like the little-engine-that-could story behind this production. One Little Goat Theatre Company, from Canada, excavates this play from the archives and strips away much of the Germanic context, so it can be more objectively appreciated in its New York premiere.  The thin, hard-working actresses playing the sisters (Shannon Perreault and Maev Beaty) may belie the point Bernhard is trying to make about physicality, but they are just on the onset of showing “age,” the first wrinkles on their faces hint at mortality.  Pettle also seems youngish to be playing his role, but here’s the larger point: The group had the guts to do the play, remind us of Bernhard, demonstrate a different kind of Absurdism, and give our sometimes prefabricated theatre . . . meaning.

© 2010 by Bob Shuman

Ritter, Dene, Voss
By One Little Goat Theatre Company
September 23 – October 10, 2010
First Floor Theatre
purchase tickets online

Ritter, Dene, Voss is a razor-sharp ‘misanthropic comedy’ by Thomas Bernhard, “Austria’s most provocative post-war writer” (New Yorker), about two sisters and their volatile brother, who is loosely based on the 20th century’s philosopher, Ludwig Wittgenstein.

Performed by Toronto’s One Little Goat, and directed by Adam Seelig, the production has enjoyed widespread acclaim for their Canadian and Chicago premieres.

(Sponsored by the Austrian Cultural Forum NY, Toronto Alliance for the Performing Arts, Weiss-Rohlig Canada.)

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Photo:  Dave Beckerman       

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(Nikki Finke’s story appeared 9/27 on Deadline Hollywood.)

Twentieth Century Fox is packing quite a marketing whallop behind the 45th anniversary of The Sound Of Music. (Gee, what's left to do for the 50th milestone?) First, the studio is returning the musical to theaters for the first time since 1973 and holding a two-night 'sing-along' event on October 19th and 26th in 498 locations. The five-time Academy Award winner including Best Picture will be broadcast for its run in high definition and is presented by NCM Fathom, Rodgers & Hammerstein: An Imagem Company, Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment, in association with Sony Music/Legacy, Trapp Family Lodge, South Pacific Tour, and Austrian Tourism. There'll also be an exclusive “I’ll Sing Once More: The Sound of Music Today” featurette to accompany the movie.


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Openings and Previews


Event: Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson

Venue: Jacobs Theatre

The Public transfers to Broadway this musical satire co-produced by Les Freres . . .


Event: la bête

Venue: Music Box Theatre

Mark Rylance, David Hyde Pierce, and Joanna Lumley star in David Hirson’s . . .


Event: Gatz

Venue: Public Theater

Elevator Repair Service presents its eight-hour marathon production of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s . . .


Event: The Human Scale

Venue: 3LD Art & Technology Center

Lawrence Wright wrote and performs this piece based on an article he . . .


Event: In Transit

Venue: 59E59 Theatres

Primary Stages presents the world première of a new musical, inspired by . . .


Event: Joey Arias in concert

Venue: Abrons Arts Center Henry Street Settlement

The performance artist sings Billie Holiday numbers and more. Opens Oct. 1.


Event: The Language Archive

Venue: Laura Pels Theatre

Mark Brokaw directs Julia Cho’s new play, a comedy about a linguistics . . .


Event: A Life in the Theatre

Venue: Schoenfeld Theatre

David Mamet’s play from 1977 focusses on two actors, one older and . . .


Event: Lombardi

Venue: Circle in the Square

Thomas Kail directs a new play by Eric Simonson, about the life . . .


Event: Microcrisis

Venue: HERE

Ma-Yi presents a satire by Michael Lew, about a Wall Street trader . . .

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Event: Mrs. Warren’s Profession

Venue: American Airlines Theatre

Cherry Jones and Sally Hawkins star in the George Bernard Shaw drama . . .


Event: Office Hours

Venue: Flea Theater

Jim Simpson directs the world première of a new drama by A . . .


Event: Tigers Be Still

Venue: Roundabout Underground

Roundabout Underground premières a play by Kimberly Rosenstock, about a woman with . . .


Event: Time Stands Still

Venue: Cort Theatre

Daniel Sullivan directs Donald Margulies’s play, about war journalists. Laura Linney, Christina . . .


Event: Wings

Venue: Second Stage Theatre

Second Stage presents Arthur Kopit’s 1978 play, about Emily Stilson (Jan Maxwell . . .


Event: Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown

Venue: Belasco Theatre

Bartlett Sher directs a new musical based on the movie by Pedro . . .

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(Anita Gates’s article ran in The New York Times, 9/26.)

“Run, black man, run,” Daniel Beaty says fiercely. “Run to your children — hold them tight.”

It’s not surprising that Bill Cosby is a fan of Mr. Beaty’s work. It brings to life everything that Mr. Cosby has spoken out about in recent years in terms of African-Americans’ taking responsibility for their own lives. And when Mr. Beaty takes up the topic, it’s not a speech. It’s a poem.


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Yerma by Federico Garcia Lorca
in a translation by Michael Dewell and Carmen Zapata

Listen at:

Or paste the following into your browser and press Listen Now on the BBC site:

The tragic tale of a woman's desperate yearning for a child that leads her to murder. Infused with poetic imagery and song this is one of Lorca's best known plays.

Yerma ….. Emma Cunniffe
Juan ….. Conrad Nelson
Victor ….. Declan Wilson
Maria ….. Rebecca Callard
Pagan Old Woman ….. Annette Badland
Dolores ….. Clare Benedict
Dolores' Neighbour ….. Kate Layden
Washerwoman ….. Debbie McAndrew
Washerwoman ….. Fionnuala Dorrity
Washerwoman/Girl 1 ….. Liz Carter
Female at the Pilgrimage ….. Helen Longworth
Male at the Pilgrimage ….. Kevin Harvey
Spanish Voice ….. Anna Castineiras

Composer, Tayo Akinbode
Musicians, Tayo Akinbode, Richard Arthurs, Chris Cruiks
Singers, Members of the cast and Leslie Pratt
Directed by Pauline Harris

Federico Garcia Lorca (1898 – 1936) is, with Cervantes, the best known figure in Spanish literature. Blood Wedding, Yerma and The House of Bernada Alba are often referred to as a 'rural trilogy', and are Lorca's most mature and characteristic works.

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