Monthly Archives: May 2011




Openings and Previews

Event: Cradle and All

Venue: City Center, Stage I

Sam Buntrock directs Daniel Goldfarb’s new play; Maria Dizzia and Greg Keller . . .

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Event: Desperate Writers

Venue: Union Square Theatre

Kay Cole directs a comedy by Joshua Grenrock and Catherine Schreiber, about . . .


Event: The Illusion

Venue: Signature Theater Company

Michael Mayer directs Tony Kushner’s adaptation of Pierre Corneille’s 1636 play “L’Illusion . . .


Event: Just Cause

Venue: Flea Theater

The Bats star in the directorial début of Zack Russell, who also . . .

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Event: Knickerbocker

Venue: Public Theater

Pippin Parker directs the New York première of Jonathan Marc Sherman’s play . . .

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Event: The Little Journey

Venue: Mint Theater

Rachel Crothers’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play from 1918 concerns a group of strangers . . .


Event: Lucky Guy

Venue: Little Shubert Theatre

Willard Beckham wrote and directs this musical, about aspiring musicians trying to . . .


Event: Lysistrata Jones

Venue: Gym at Judson

Transport Group presents Douglas Carter Beane’s musical, which transposes the story of . . .


Event: The Shaggs: Philosophy of the World

Venue: Playwrights Horizons

Playwrights Horizons and New York Theatre Workshop present a new musical, with . . .

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Event: The Sphinx Winx

Venue: Beckett Theatre

Matthew Hamel directs this musical spoof of the history of ancient Egypt . . .


Event: Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark

Venue: Foxwoods Theatre

The musical based on the Marvel Comics series, with a score by . . .

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Event: 10×25

Venue: Atlantic Stage Two

This festival presents ten-minute plays by twenty-five writers from the past twenty-five . . .


Event: Through a Glass Darkly

Venue: New York Theatre Workshop

Carey Mulligan stars in an adaptation of Ingmar Bergman’s 1961 film, about . . .

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Event: WTC View

Venue: 59E59 Theatres

As part of “Americas Off Broadway,” WTC View Onstage presents Brian Sloan’s . . .

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(Chris Hedges’s column appeared on Truthdig, 5/16. He “has been a foreign correspondent for nearly two decades for The NewYork Times, The Dallas Morning News, The Christian Science Monitor and National Public Radio. Hedges was a member of the team that won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Reporting for The New York Times coverage of global terrorism, and he received the 2002 Amnesty International Global Award for Human Rights Journalism. Hedges is the author of the bestseller American Fascists and National Book Critics Circle finalist for War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning. He is a Senior Fellow at The Nation Institute and a Lannan Literary Fellow and has taught at Columbia University, New York University and Princeton University.” He also wrote the foreword for Acts of War:  Iraq and Afghanistan in Seven Plays (above). View Chris Hedges’s new book from Nation Books: The World As It Is: Dispatches on the Myth of Human Progress at Amazon: Copy based on a Simon and Schuster bio.)

The moral philosopher Cornel West, if Barack Obama’s ascent to power was a morality play, would be the voice of conscience. Rahm Emanuel, a cynical product of the Chicago political machine, would be Satan. Emanuel in the first scene of the play would dangle power, privilege, fame and money before Obama. West would warn Obama that the quality of a life is defined by its moral commitment, that his legacy will be determined by his willingness to defy the cruel assault by the corporate state and the financial elite against the poor and working men and women, and that justice must never be sacrificed on the altar of power.




(Michael Billington’s article appeared in the Guardian, 5/17.)

Ibsen fanciers are in seventh heaven. In advance of the National's Emperor and Galilean, we get the British professional premiere of this 1869 prose comedy, although I did see it revived by the Guildhall School of Music and Drama 18 years ago with a young Damian Lewis in the lead. Then as now, I am struck both by the play's structural creakiness and its exuberant exploration of what were to become standard Ibsen themes.



Michael Grandage’s King Lear, starring Derek Jacobi, now playing at BAM’S Harvey Theater through June 5, seems as fresh as a new coat of paint (chalky white paint, actually, cliffs of Dover white!).  You’re not in a cave or at Stonehenge—the creators aren’t sinking us into the primordial mud of England again (although it might be smeared on someone’s face). You may even think this production is a playful subversion of Peter Brook’s dark and foreboding 1965 black-and-white film with Paul Scofield or Michael Elliott’s colorful 1983 TV movie starring Laurence Olivier. Instead, the residue of all those great performances, all that 400-year-old theatrical tradition–and pancake–is scrubbed and bleached away, as if somebody said—“Hold this play up, literally, to the light!”  What you’ll most likely discover, besides realizing that you’re awake at the end, is that your English teachers weren’t wrong–brutal King Lear deserves every accolade it has ever received, despite sometimes gloomy and sluggish interpretations.  

One consideration for Grandage was probably how to make the audience last through Lear, a mammoth journey of at least three hours. The light, the brightness, that chalky whiteness of this production, is one of those facilitating ideas.  So is the minimal, conceptual set—a chair, stocks, and a stool are about all the props there are—there’s no place for mold and moss to grow because all the historical clutter is gone.  The director is also keenly aware of the pacing, from the very first beat (which he delays!). Then, suddenly, we’re in.  Whether this trend started with Bergman voicing that his productions were like music, or whether we get it from Albee saying that if we wanted “to learn something about the structure of a play, listen to Bach”—or whether we go all the way back to Shakespeare hammering out the feet of his iambic pentameter: plays are timing, and maybe all great directors of any age know that.  Their thinking is probably most like a conductor and a choreographer—not simply like people who ask the actors to run their lines faster.

Lear is a dangerous part, of course, even on a superficial level, because if he’s portrayed as too old and “worn out,” the play drags; if he’s too energetic you question why he can’t put off dividing his kingdom.  Derek Jacobi takes a very interesting tack by showing us that there’s still energy left (which is good for the audience) but the emotions can no longer be controlled—he keeps flying off the handle.  I would take the position that Lear makes exactly the right executive decision by dividing his kingdom—he knows he’s burnt out, losing it, and can’t take the pressure any more. His real problem is his succession plan (he keeps pretending that there isn’t evil backing him up).

When Jacobi says “how sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless child,” to his oldest daughter Goneril (Gina McKee), you believe he might be finding these words suddenly and spitefully. It’s because this actress is rail thin and has a Faye Dunaway, snakelike, merciless look. She, this daughter, this ghoul, owns the stage, as she manipulates and controls her family (you might even think she’ll get along perfectly in an office job in midtown Manhattan with all the games she’s playing). You’ll appreciate the abilities of this production’s Regan, too, the second daughter (Justine Mitchell), who discovers that she is able to win, to be more than her older sister, when she draws blood during the blinding scene.  In a second, we see how she’s up for more.

Could Shakespeare ever have suspected, ever really have thought how good the acting might be in his plays? Listen to Jacobi as he adds sound modulation to the pitch-perfect elocution of the famous speech on the heath, which he starts in a whisper:     

“Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow!
You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout
Till you have drench'd our steeples, drown'd the cocks!
You sulphurous and thought-executing fires,
Vaunt-couriers to oak-cleaving thunderbolts,
Singe my white head! And thou, all-shaking thunder,
Smite flat the thick rotundity o' the world!
Crack nature's moulds, an germens spill at once,
That make ingrateful man!”

Gwilym Lee, as the banished Edgar, works precisely, finding the beat when asked where he’s been:

“A serving-man, proud in heart and mind; that curled my hair; wore gloves in my cap; served the lust of my mistress' heart, and did the act of darkness with her; swore as many oaths as I spake words, and broke them in the sweet face of heaven: one that slept in the contriving of lust, and waked to do it: wine loved I deeply, dice dearly: and in woman out-paramoured the Turk: false of heart, light of ear, bloody of hand; hog in sloth, fox in stealth, wolf in greediness, dog in madness, lion in prey.”

After this evening of theatre, you may decide to let the actors contend with showing behavior and emotions, but playwrights actually should be writing poetry.  The structural lines of King Lear, too, are not muddled at all—the play seems so well ordered in this production, it feels predestined, rather than existential.  Hamlet may be more of a play in a quandary about where to end up—but Lear is doomed from the start.

Gideon Turner and Alec Newman are the sexy bad boys holding the stage: Newman, as Edmund, is cunning, conniving, packaged as a beef cake, meat marketed as a boy toy—I don’t even want to know how they pour him into the tight pants every night. This actor has presence, a very wide set of teeth, longish hair: see if you don’t think he’s charismatic playing the bastard. Following the villains is part of Lear’s grip, but the less barbarous characters are also very well played:  Ron Cook, in actual clown white; Michael Hadley, disguised in a hood; Pippa Bennett-Warner; Michael Hadley; Paul Jesson; Amit Shah; Ashley Zhangagha; Stepfano Braschi; Harry Attwell; and Derek Hutchinson are the casts’ names.

Good, current British acting can be so laser-like in its clarity, so un-nostalgic. Although it has authority, the work doesn’t seem to be carrying the flab of the past; it doesn’t seem to be showing you the right way to do it (even if we love the way Laurence Olivier played Lear). The characters, as directed by a Grandage, Gregory Doran, or Rupert Goold aren’t pre-approved or pre-assumed–we discover them through the actors, beat by beat, through the rhythms of the text. The fact is that these directors don’t treat Shakespeare like a very old man only ripe for ripping off, for our cultural literacy, for our cultural heritage, for the celebritizing of acting, either.  We’re taken further into his imagination, instead.

© 2011 by Bob Shuman. All rights reserved.

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King Lear

Part of the 2011 Spring Season

Apr 28—Jun 5, 2011: Tue—Sat at 7:30pm; Sat at 2pm (Apr 30 and Jun 4 only); Sun at 3pm

US Premiere

Presented by the Donmar Warehouse and BAM

By William Shakespeare
Directed by Michael Grandage

The New York Times calls King Lear at once "beautiful and devastating" and "terrifically entertaining." Read the full review here.

“One of the most keenly awaited Shakespearean performances of recent times…” —The Guardian (UK)

Sir Derek Jacobi is King Lear. Known to American audiences for his Broadway (Uncle Vanya, Much Ado About Nothing), film (Hamlet, Dead Again), and television work (I, Claudius), the legendary British actor takes on one of Shakespeare’s greatest roles in a major new production from director Michael Grandage and the brilliant team behind six-time Tony Award-winning Red, the renowned Donmar Warehouse (Creditors, 2010 Spring Season).

An aging monarch. A kingdom divided. A child’s love rejected. Lear’s world descends into chaos, and all that he once believed is now threatened. Unrivaled theatrical partners, Tony and Olivier Award winners Jacobi and Grandage (The Tempest, Don Carlos, and Twelfth Night) bring the drama’s grand themes to vivid life in a production that unites one of the great actors of our time and one of England’s most revered directors.

BAM Harvey Theater
195min with intermission

Subscription & Theater Package Tickets:
$28—76 Sat night & Sun mat
$20—64 All other performances

(Full price: $35—95 Sat night & Sun mat
$25—80 All other performances)

Prices are subject to change.

Set and costume design by Christopher Oram
Lighting design by Neil Austin
Composition and sound design by Adam Cork

PAM GEMS, REST IN PEACE (1925-2011) ·


(Lyn Gardner’s article appeared in the Guardian, 5/16.)

In her best-known work, Piaf, the playwright Pam Gems, who has died aged 85, developed a new form somewhere between the musical and a play with music to tell the story of the celebrated French singer. Produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1978, Piaf transferred to the West End and Broadway, bringing Gems mainstream success. Jamie Lloyd's revival at the Donmar in London in 2008 gave new life to Piaf with an astonishing lead performance by Elena Roger.

Gems's long association with the RSC included Queen Christina (1977), in which she explored a filmic style of writing and the sadness of childlessness through the life of the Swedish monarch, who was raised as a boy. Camille, produced by the RSC in 1984, echoed Piaf's storyline of a woman seeking sexual and economic independence, with Gems rescuing Alexandre Dumas's story from romantic mythology and serving it up as a desperate tale of the high price women pay for love. Her RSC productions included The Danton Affair (1986) and The Blue Angel (1991), a version of the story made famous by Josef von Sternberg's classic film starring Marlene Dietrich.



(From the AP, 5/17.)

Three one-act plays by Woody Allen, Ethan Coen and Elaine May are being bundled together and heading to Broadway this fall.

Allen is no stranger to the format, having collaborated with May and David Mamet for "Death Defying Acts," three effervescent one-act comedies that debuted in 1995.

The new mini plays, titled "Relatively Speaking," will be directed by John Turturro, who has appeared in several films by Coen and his brother Joel, including "The Big Lebowski."




(Via Gail Parenteau, 5/16.)

The 56th Annual Obie Awards were given out at a ceremony tonight at Webster Hall in Greenwich Village. The event was co-hosted by S. Epatha Merkerson and David Hyde Pierce, and the awards were presented by Alec Baldwin, Andrew Rannells, Arian Moayad, Frank Wood, Jim Parsons, John Larroquette, Liev Schreiber, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Mamie Gummer, Margaret Colin, Nina Arianda, Patina Miller, and Rose Hemingway. Anthony Rapp, of the original cast of the Obie Award-winning musical RENT and his band from the musical WITHOUT YOU performed at the ceremony.

The Obies were judged by a committee of six, chaired by Michael Feingold, chief theater critic of  The Village Voice. Joining him were Voice critic Alexis Soloski and four guest judges: Critic Hilton Als of The New Yorker; playwright David Henry Hwang, a three-time Obie Award winner for his plays F.O.B., Golden Child, and Yellow Face; director Evan Yionoulis, an Obie award winner for her production of Richard Greenberg’s Three Days of Rain; and critic Andy Propst, of TheaterMania (also a frequent Voice contributor), who served as secretary to the committee.

THE ELABORATE ENTRANCE OF CHAD DEITY, by Kristoffer Diaz, received the Obie Award for Best New American Play, which is accompanied by a $1000 check. Repertorio Espanol and its co-founder and artistic director, René Buch, received the Obie Award for Lifetime Achievement. A complete list of awards is given below.


F. Murray Abraham, sustained excellence of performance

André Braugher, THE WHIPPING MAN (Manhattan Theatre Club)

Michael Chernus, IN THE WAKE (Public Theater)

Ethan Hawke, BLOOD FROM A STONE (The New Group)

Hamish Linklater, THE SCHOOL FOR LIES (Classic Stage Company)

Laurie Metcalf, THE OTHER PLACE (Manhattan Class Company)

Thomas Sadoski, OTHER DESERT CITIES (Lincoln Center Theater)

Scott Shepherd, GATZ (Elevator Repair Service / Public Theater)


Charlayne Woodard, THE WITCH OF EDMONTON (Red Bull Theater)



Samuel D. Hunter, A BRIGHT NEW BOISE (Partial Comfort Productions)

Jonas Hassen Khemiri, INVASION! (The Play Company)



Austin Pendleton, THREE SISTERS (Classic Stage Company)

Roger Rees and Alex Timbers, PETER AND THE STARCATCHER (New York Theatre Workshop)

Leigh Silverman, IN THE WAKE (Public Theater) and GO BACK TO WHERE YOU ARE (Playwrights Horizons)



Jill BC Du Boff, sustained excellence of sound design

Donyale Werle, sustained excellence of set design


Special Citations:

design and choreography, SLEEP NO MORE (Punchdrunk Theatre)

Felix Barrett, Livi Vaughan, Beatrice Minns, Maxine Doyle, Stephen Dobbie, Euan Maybank, and David Israel Reynoso

Young Jean Lee, WE’RE GONNA DIE (13P / Joe’s Pub)

debbie tucker green and Leah C. Gardiner, BORN BAD (Soho Rep)


Obie Grants    ($2,500 to each theater):





The Ross Wetzsteon Award (includes $1,000 check):



Best New American Play (includes $1,000 check):

THE ELABORATE ENTRANCE OF CHAD DEITY by Kristoffer Diaz (Second Stage)


Lifetime Achievement Award:

René Buch and Repertorio Espanol


Village Voice CEO Jim Larkin, president and COO Scott Tobias, publisher Josh Fromson, editor-in-chief Tony Ortega, arts and culture editor Brian Parks, the entire marketing and promotion staff of The Village Voice, and the outside staff and volunteers for the 56th Annual Obie Awards all joyously congratulate the winners.




(Dennis Hevesi's article appeared in The New York Times, 5/15.)

Doric Wilson, a playwright whose satirical, wisecracking works are considered bricks in the foundations of the Off Off Broadway and gay theater movements, died May 7 at his home in Manhattan. He was 72.

He died of natural causes, said Barry Childs, administrative director of Tosos, the gay theater company that Mr. Wilson co-founded. (The letters stand for The Other Side of Silence.)




(Ngaujah's article ran in the Guardian, 5/15.) 

The air was humid and thick; a constant wind blew in from the sea, sponging up every sweat bead on our skin. A cacophony of sound permeated the air – revving and idling engines, okada motorcycle taxi horns, heavy bass lines and people talking loud. Posters bearing the faces of various smiling politicians were plastered on every inch of space.

In New York and London, our task was to recreate Fela Kuti's world in the Nigeria of the 1970s, viewed from within his club, the Africa Shrine. Now we were entering Nigeria to bring Fela back to his own people, to recreate the Shrine of the 70s at a big theatre built by his children and called the New Africa Shrine.



(Aida Edemariam’s article appeared in the Guardian, 5/14.)

Jez Butterworth was in the Wendy house at the bottom of his garden, playing with his two-year-old daughter Gracie, when he heard his play Jerusalem had been nominated for a Tony on Broadway.

Which, in a way, was entirely appropriate. Butterworth wrote Jerusalem in 2003. It took a read-through at the Royal Court for him to realise that it was "hopeless. It was awful. It was dismantling itself before my eyes. It was so less than the sum of its parts." A 2004 read-through was worse. He finished the session with his head in his hands, walked out, put it in a drawer, and forgot about it – until Mark Rylance, also now nominated for a Tony, came across a copy and declared an interest in the main character, Johnny "Rooster" Byron. Embarrassed into action, and hassled, every other day, by the director Ian Rickson, he rewrote it entirely in under five weeks. It garnered superlative reviews, had people queuing for tickets from 3am when it transferred to the West End and received a standing ovation every night.


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