Monthly Archives: November 2011



(from the Associated Press in Bali via the Guardian, 11/29.)

Mexican mariachi music, Chinese shadow puppetry and poetic duelling from Cyprus were among the cultural traditions which have been identified by the United Nations as in need of protection.

Also added to the intangible cultural heritage list – now in its second year and nearly 250-strong – were French-style horseback riding, which celebrates harmony between beast and man, the fado songs of Portugal and Jultagi tightrope walking from Korea.

The Unesco intergovernmental committee – wrapping up its week-long meeting in Bali, Indonesia – was looking at oral traditions, art forms, and rituals handed down from one generation to the next.



(from the Telegraph, 11/22.)

Hastings was only 18 in 1956 when Don’t Destroy Me, a gritty drama about the emotional sufferings of a teenage boy in a working-class Jewish family, was staged at the New Lindsey theatre club in Notting Hill, a few weeks after the premiere of Osborne’s Look Back in Anger. Within a year, a second play, Yes — And After, about a 14-year old girl sexually abused by an older man, was staged at the Royal Court.

However, it was not until 1966 that a Hastings play, Lee Harvey Oswald (Hampstead Theatre Club), a docudrama about the life of President Kennedy’s assassin, won critical recognition and commercial success. In 1978 he had his first West End hit with Gloo Joo (Criterion), which starred Oscar James as an illegal immigrant from the West Indies who dreams up a series of cunning stratagems to avoid deportation. The play struck The Daily Telegraph’s critic as “a refreshingly lighthearted farce about colour prejudice” and won the Evening Standard Comedy of the Year Award in 1979.


(Michael Feingold’s article appeared in the Village Voice, 11/20.)

'She's a big star in musical comedy," says the love-struck young man, showing his mother a photo of his sweetheart. "Ain't that a shame!" his mother exclaims. "Such a nice girl, too!" Yes, the battle lines are clearly drawn in Samson Raphaelson's 1925 play, The Jazz Singer (the Connelly Theater). But where those lines would once have separated society blue bloods from raffish stage folk, in plays like Pinero's Trelawny of the 'Wells' (1898), Raphaelson redraws them to mark, for Americans, the border an ethnic minority must cross to assimilate.

The love-struck young man (Justin Flagg) is The Jazz Singer's hero, once Jakie Rabinowitz but now calling himself Jack Robin. Descended from five generations of Jewish cantors, Jack desperately wants to cross over; his American-born instincts inherently combat his father, Yossele (Charles E. Gerber), hero of the Orchard Street synagogue. And like his goyish sweetheart, Mary Dale (Christine Bullen), who does come from the landed gentry, Jack has located the crossover point where America's classes and ethnic groups meet: the musical theater. Having discovered that the cantorial sob that his father trained into his voice enables him to put over "jazz" songs, Jack blots out his Jewishness, at least onstage, by donning blackface.


In August Wilson's Pulitzer Prize-winning play set in Pittsburgh in 1936, an ancient upright piano carved with African faces dominates the parlour of Doaker Charles. Boy Willie and his partner Lymon have come up from the south to sell watermelons. Boy Willie has just got out of prison and he wants to buy the land his ancestors once worked as slaves but his sister is not about to sell the piano.

Listen at:

Boy Willie…John Earl Jelks
Berniece…Roslyn Ruff
Doaker…Stephen McKinley Henderson
Lymon…Chris Chalk
Wining Boy…Anthony Chisholm
Grace…Marsha Stephanie Blake
Avery…Leland Gantt
Maretha…Zadshire Dupuis

Creative consultant Ricardo Khan,
Pianist Ernie Scott
Director Claire Grove

Playwright Kwame Kwei-Armah has curated new radio productions of three 20th Century plays for Radio 3's Drama on 3, The Piano Lesson is the first in the series and will be followed by The Plough and the Stars by Sean O'Casey on December 4th and: Skyvers by Barry Reckord on December 11th.
The three broadcasts will be introduced by Kwame Kwei-Armah, who will talk about how each of the writers, and the plays, influenced his own development as an actor and playwright. Kwame is currently based in Baltimore where he is Artistic Director of Center Stage Theater.

"The glow accompanying August Wilson's place in contemporary American theatre is fixed." Toni Morrison .
August Wilson (1945 – 2005) is America's foremost black playwright. This production was recorded at Tony Award winning Crossroads Theatre New Brunswick, New Jersey, with the support of August Wilson's widow, and an outstanding cast which includes actors like Stephen Henderson and Anthony Chisholm who worked extensively with August Wilson. Anthony and Stephen were both in the Olivier award winning production of Jitney which took London by storm ten years ago and Stephen and Chris Chalk were both in the Broadway Tony award winning production of August Wilson's Fences starring Denzel Washington. Stephen Henderson has just finished working on Spike Lee's new film which will be released next year and he is currently working on a new film with Steven Spielberg.

The Piano Lesson is the fourth of August Wilson's cycle of ten plays about the African American experience in the twentieth century. It opened at the Yale Repertory Theatre in 1987 and in 1990 on Broadway it won a Pulitzer Prize , a Drama Desk Award and New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Play. The play was inspired by Romare Bearden's painting of the same name. August Wilson saw its scene of a teacher and student as an allegory for how African Americans must learn to negotiate their history.




Please call the phone number listed with the theatre for timetables and ticket information.



Laura Osnes and Jeremy Jordan star in a new musical based on the story of the famous bank-robbing couple. Jeff Calhoun directs, with music by Frank Wildhorn, lyrics by Don Black, and a book by Ivan Menchell. In previews. Opens Dec. 1. (Schoenfeld, 236 W. 45th St. 212-239-6200.)



John Turturro and Dianne Wiest star in the Classic Stage Company production of the Chekhov drama. The cast also includes Alvin Epstein, Juliet Rylance, Josh Hamilton, and Katherine Waterston. Andrei Belgrader directs. In previews. Opens Dec. 4. (136 E. 13th St. 866-811-4111.)



David Hyde Pierce, Rosie Perez, and Michael Chernus star in this comedy by Molly Smith Metzler, about an obsessive book editor with an impending deadline. Leigh Silverman directs the Manhattan Theatre Club production. Previews begin Dec. 1. (City Center Stage I, 131 W. 55th St. 212-581-1212.)



SoHo Rep, Piece by Piece Productions, and Rising Phoenix Rep present the première of David Adjmi’s site-specific play, a look at life from the perspective of an eighty-year-old wisecracker. Zoe Caldwell stars; Sarah Benson directs. In previews. Opens Dec. 2. (For tickets and location, visit



Ethan Coen wrote this series of three one-act comedies, about a regular at a bar, a young couple, and a business traveller in a very ugly motel room. Neil Pepe directs, for Atlantic Theatre Company. In previews. Opens Dec. 5. (555 W. 42nd St. 212-279-4200.)



Michael Colgan directs John Hurt in the Gate Theatre production of Samuel Beckett’s one-act tragedy, about a sixty-nine-year-old man looking back on his life. Opens Dec. 6. (BAM’s Harvey Theatre, 651 Fulton St., Brooklyn. 718-636-4100.)



Douglas Carter Beane wrote the book, Lewis Flinn wrote the music, and Dan Knechtges directs this riff on the Aristophanes comedy, centered on a modern-day basketball team. In previews. (Walter Kerr, 219 W. 48th St. 212-239-6200.)



Peccadillo Theatre Company presents the 1939 play by Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman, starring Jim Brochu (“Zero Hour”). Dan Wackerman directs. In previews. Opens Dec. 4. (Theatre at St. Clement’s, 423 W. 46th St. 212-352-3101.)



Playwrights Horizons presents Jordan Harrison’s new play, starring Marin Ireland and Peter Kim, in which a couple exasperated by modern life moves in with a community of nineteen-fifties reënactors. Anne Kauffman directs. In previews. (Playwrights Horizons, 416 W. 42nd St. 212-279-4200.)



Enda Walsh wrote and directs this one-man play, starring Cillian Murphy, about a Christian man obsessed with sin. In previews. Opens Dec. 4. (St. Ann’s Warehouse, 38 Water St., Brooklyn. 718-254-8779.)



Alan Ayckbourn wrote and directs his seventy-fifth play, a dark comedy about suburban paranoia, presented as part of “Brits Off Broadway.” In previews. (59E59, at 59 E. 59th St. 212-279-4200.)



The 1965 musical, reconceived and directed by Michael Mayer, stars Harry Connick, Jr., as a psychiatrist who falls in love with a personality from a patient’s past life. With music by Burton Lane, lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner, and a new book by Peter Parnell, based on the original, by Lerner. In previews. (St. James, 246 W. 44th St. 212-239-6200.)



John Tiffany (“Black Watch”) directs a new musical based on John Carney’s film of the same name, with music and lyrics by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova and a book by Enda Walsh. In previews. Opens Dec. 6. (New York Theatre Workshop, 79 E. 4th St. 212-279-4200.)



Lydia R. Diamond wrote this new comedy of manners, about an affluent African-American family who gather for a vacation at their Martha’s Vineyard home. Kenny Leon directs a cast that includes Dulé Hill, Mekhi Phifer, Tracie Thoms, Ruben Santiago-Hudson, and Condola Rashad. Alicia Keys, a producer of the show, composed original music for the production. In previews. (Cort, 138 W. 48th St. 212-239-6200.)



Public Lab’s Shakespeare production, directed by Michael Sexton and starring Jay O. Sanders as Titus, the general of Rome, who comes up against the vengeful wrath of the queen of the Goths. In previews. (Public, 425 Lafayette St. 212-967-7555.)




 (Charles Spencer’s article appeared in the Telegraph, 11/25.)

When it came to deciding which production should receive the prize for best musical at the Evening Standard Drama Awards this year, there was virtually no debate among the judges. It was crystal clear that the statuette should go to the RSC’s hilarious, moving and magical production of Matilda.

The show has now finally arrived in the West End, where I suspect it will delight audiences for years to come, as well as crossing the Atlantic to conquer Broadway, too. It is the best new British musical since Billy Elliot.

The show begins with a chorus of endearing kids singing a song called Miracle, and there is indeed something miraculous about the show.

Dennis Kelly, who has adapted Roald Dahl’s famous story for the stage, has previously been responsible for some of the most violent and depressing plays I have ever endured. Here, in a spectacular transformation, he has discovered joy, humour and tenderness, and his script actually improves and deepens Dahl’s original.



You don’t need to know anything about director Peter Brook to register his preoccupation with theatrical space at Fragments, a painless collage of five Beckett pieces presented by Theatre for a New Audience at the Baryshnikov Arts Center (he’s directed the programme with Marie-Hélène Estienne in a production from C.I.C.T. / Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord's in Paris).   As you enter, you’ll be considering the architecture, the steep descent to the stage, the minimalism of the set and a demarcated playing area.  “For something of quality to take place,” Brook has written in The Open Door, “an empty space needs to be created.  An empty space makes it possible for a new phenomenon to come to life, for anything that touches on content, meaning, expression, language and music can exist only if the experience is fresh and new.”    

You’ll feel the aliveness of this space, fresh and new, which can seem at odds with Beckett’s vision—the playwright wants to deaden and does so with a violin played badly at the top, rubbing our faces in the mundane.  The first play is Rough for Theatre I, a Godot clown show for a blind man and amputee, old friends to us, tender and brutal (it’s an interesting choice, too, because Brook, who is eighty-six, has, of course, written famously about the Theatre of the Rough). We know the kinds of work his compatriot, also from the British Isles who found a place to work in Paris, has written as well: The blind man admits to having had thoughts of suicide, but he’s rejected the idea, he says:  He is unhappy, “but not unhappy enough.”  The two players, Jos Houben and Marcello Magni, are physical actors who don’t act from “the neck up,” like movie actors, which is unappealing to Brook.  Instead, they’re the kind of working professionals we’ve read about in Brook’s writing who have “clear intention . . . intellectual alertness, true feeling and a balanced and tuned body.”  

Those expecting a Billie Whitelaw to present the second work of the evening, Rockaby, will be in for a surprise—there’s no physical or vocal resemblance between her and Kathryn Hunter, who has taken on the voice/role in a completely different way—no period costume, recordings, not even a rocker. Instead, the monologue is done very straightforwardly, ultimately, played in a four-legged chair—you’ll grasp the structure of the poetry here instead of being mystified by it; it’s not the spooky mood piece you always thought you knew, more interesting to talk about than to live through.  Spoken before death, “Rockaby” is masterly but tedious (and it’s supposed to be)—if your brow doesn’t grow heavy during this monologue (or “That Time,” for that matter) you’re not feeling what Beckett is getting at. Brook, contradictorily, has written about wanting his own work to be riveting at each moment—he’d even pack up his troupe and take them to perform in front of children at schools because he’d get immediate signals of interest or frustration.  I’m not sure kids will much like “Rockaby,” but it won’t be Hunter’s fault.     

When we think of Beckett we connect him to words first, probably because of his Nobel.  However, he worked precisely in image–toward the end of his life he was even creating films, without characters, that were all visual.  Houben and Magni re-enter Fragments with “Act Without Words II,” a play about the monotony of workaday life—the men can hold the audience, despite the purposely repetitive nature of the material.  I’m not sure we always think that Beckett must have terrifically strong actors, as long as there is name recognition—yet, when he gets them, as he does with the three artists here, who have also worked with Théâtre du Complicité–his plays, the ones that are rarely done, refract like small gems.  “Neither,” a short monologue performed by Hunter, may speak to Brook’s interest in inner and outer life—“This is necessary because it is life that we are showing, inner and outer life, each inseparable from the other.”  “Come and Go” is Beckett unleashed, free and funny, where we can laugh with all three actors, all wonderful with comedy, at once—and without feeling echoes of an existential curse. 

What I think Brook has done for Beckett in sixty minutes is humanize him—he's recharged the dramatist as a more approachable artist.  We know Beckett best as a writer eager to extinguish a love of living, no matter how valid we may believe his vision.  We also know that in certain circumstances, such as in a production of Endgame, performed in New York by Ireland’s Gate Theatre years ago, Beckett’s view of life can seem so true that it is transcendent.  What Brook tells us is that “in existence, below, around and above, another zone even more invisible, even farther from the forms which we are capable of reading or recording . . . contain(s) extremely powerful sources of energy. . . . In these little-known fields of energy exist impulses which guide us towards quality.”  It is this swirling miasma with which Brook surrounds and saturates Beckett in Fragments, giving him space, finding the ley lines, allowing conductivity, and energizing the darkness.

© 2011 by Bob Shuman. All rights reserved.

Photo:  Marcello Magni in “Act Without Words II” from Fragments : All rights reserved by Bruce Cohen Group LTD.

Brook quotations used in this article:  Brook, Peter.  The Open Door.  New York: Pantheon, 1993. Print.


Visit the Web site for the Baryshnikov Arts Center for tickets:

Theatre for a New Audience
In association with Baryshnikov Arts Center
NY Premiere of C.I.C.T. / Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord's
From the texts of Samuel Beckett
Directed By Peter Brook And Marie-Hélène Estienne
Previews Wed, Nov 9; Opens Sunday, Nov 13 at Baryshnikov Arts Center

NEW YORK, October 19 – Following acclaimed performances internationally, Theatre for a New Audience, in association with Baryshnikov Arts Center, will present the New York premiere of C.I.C.T. / Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord's Fragments from the texts by Samuel Beckett for only 29 performances at the Baryshnikov Arts Center, 450 West 37th Street.

Fragments assembles the five Beckett shorts: Rough for Theatre I, Rockaby, Act without Words II, Neither and Come and Go.

Beginning previews Wednesday, November 9, at 8:00pm for an opening Sunday, November 13, at 3:00pm (for a run through December 4), Fragments is directed by Peter Brook and Marie-Hélène Estienne and features Jos Houben, Kathryn Hunter and Marcello Magni, three artists who have worked extensively with Théâtre du Complicité. Lighting is by Philippe Vialatte.

In another of his exquisitely crafted, late-career creations, Mr. Brook and Ms. Estienne interpret the 20th century’s greatest playwright. Beckett was acclaimed in part for his incomparable concision, his unique mastery of the breathtakingly profound short work.

Box Office
Fragments performs Tuesday through Saturday evenings at 8:00pm with matinees Wednesday and Saturday at 2:00pm (no matinee Wednesday, November 9) and Sundays at 3:00pm

Tickets for Fragments are $75 and may be purchased via the web at or via phone at 866-811-4111.

$10.00 New Deal tickets for ages 25 and under or full-time students may be purchased in advance on a first come, first served basis, with code “NEWDEAL”. Valid ID listing proof of age or enrollment as a full-time student required.

Theatre for a New Audience is offering subscription packages that may be ordered from Theatre for a New Audience. To order or for more information visit



(Michael Billington’s article appeared in the Guardian, 11/22.)

No, this is not the Ödön von Horváth play of the same name. This is actually a retitled version by Mike Poulton of Ibsen's notoriously treacherous last play, When We Dead Awaken, written in 1899 and rarely revived. And, even if I have a few cavils about Poulton's translation, it makes for a powerful evening in James Dacre's highly concentrated, 85-minute production.

Ibsen's real subject in this symbol-heavy play is himself. He embodies his own guilt in the figure of Rubek, an aged sculptor who has achieved world fame at the expense of happiness. But returning to Norway after a long absence with his restless young wife, Maia, he is abruptly reclaimed by the mysterious Irena who was the model for his most famous work. Accused by Irena of sacrificing her love for him to the ideal of pure art, Rubek seeks redemption by suicidally ascending with her to the top of a mist-wreathed mountain.


(Chris Jones’s article appeared in the Chicago Tribune, 11/21.)

The brilliant central device behind Denis O'Hare and Lisa Peterson's radical new dramatization of the 15,693-line, 24-book Homeric poem known as "The Iliad," here dubbed "An Iliad," is thus: The story is told at great cost to the teller.

The Poet — Homer, we presume — who shows up all by himself at the Court Theatre, purloining and punishing the body of the remarkable Chicago actor Timothy Edward Kane, is a weary, lonely, Sisyphean man. He has been recounting the tale of the Trojan War across countless centuries. He tells us that, by now, he doesn't even remember some of the finer points of his own work.,0,1421902.column



(Charles Isherwood’s article appeared in The New York Times, 11/21.)

A serious case of whiplash hovers as a distinct possibility throughout “An Evening With Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin,” a concert performance and mutual lovefest from these veteran musical theater stars that opened on Monday night at the Ethel Barrymore Theater.

Watching these two inimitable talents reel through an eclectic program of theater songs is a bit like riding one of those wonderful old wooden roller coasters at a seaside resort. One minute you’re levitating with exhilaration, the next you’re clinging to your seat for dear life, terrified that disaster is imminent. I am glad to report that the exhilaration far outweighs the intimations of peril.