Monthly Archives: January 2012



Ethel Merman passed on the original Hello, Dolly! because she was tired of living her “life in a dressing room.”  Instead, for over 5000 performances, Carol Channing lived there.  If you are just catching up with the latest installment of her life, after Channing’s 2002 memoir Just Lucky I Guess, which took her four and a half years to write, you’ll find that at ninety plus, she has remarried and lost a husband (her birthday is also this month).  She tells us that she has just recently found out that her mother was Jewish (in the autobiography, we learned that her dad had African-American blood).  On talk shows, in the past, she usually discussed her parents with regard to their family life as Christian Scientists.  About her son, who was left in boarding schools—and for whom she made Ethel Waters an adopted grandmother (see yesterday’s blog for ‘Suppertime’)–or her previous husband, who had sex with her only twice in four decades–we don’t get much, not that you’ll hear her complain.  Debbie Reynolds, interviewed for the documentary, breaks down almost immediately (she also suffered a husband who left her with nothing); the Dolly “waiters” are devastated by the loss of one of their number to AIDs.  You might even find yourself becoming ridiculously nostalgic as you hear “Put on Your Sunday Clothes” or another Herman or Styne standard (interviews here include those with Loni Anderson, Tyne Daly, Betty Garrett, Jerry Herman, Angela Lansbury, Bob Mackie, Chita Rivera, Lily Tomlin, Tommy Tune, Barbara Walters, and JoAnne Worley, among others). Channing herself goes unfazed—she’s onto her next cue; the only analysis she’s interested in is how to play the moment, not the past.  Like Dolly herself, who continued to talk to her husband after his death, Channing isn’t much interested in tragedy. She’s better for theatre than for film (Marge Champion tells us that she was too “big” for the camera) or even life.  Somebody will undoubtedly provide a fuller assessment one day, but, for right now, console yourself with what’s on display here–like the classic joke about strawberries Channing tells TV host Gene Shalit, who is completely tickled pink.

Releases in LA, 1/20; opens in NY, SF, Expansion, 2/3  

© 2012 by Bob Shuman. All rights Reserved.        

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(Dominic Cavendish’s article appeared in the Telegraph, 1/12.)

Tolstoy claimed he wrote his novella The Kreutzer Sonata (1889) in order to show the way carnal passion – whether inside or outside marriage – distracts man from the higher things in life.

In Nancy Harris’s arrestingly fine adaptation, though, first seen at the Gate in 2009 – and now revived ahead of a New York run – you swiftly grasp why it was banned by the Russian authorities: whatever moral one might draw from its portrait of a man driven to murder his wife by obsession, jealousy and disgust, the dominant motif is the debauchery of male sexual appetites and the suggestion that there’s no release from their torments. Reaching into dark recesses of human behaviour, it draws a comfortless existential vision from a macabre case.

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(Sam Favate’s article appeared in the Wall Street Journal, 1/17.)

Two years ago, Arizona made headlines with its ban on ethnic studies in the state’s schools, and the Tucson school district in particular was under the spotlight for its Mexican-American Studies Program.

Turns out the ban also includes William Shakespeare’s The Temptest — about a banished duke who seeks revenge through magic.

Arizona’s new law prohibits courses and classes that “promote the overthrow of the United States government, promote resentment toward a race or class of people, are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group or advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.”

The Tucson Unified School District will end its 13-year Mexican-American program, after a judge in December found it to be in violation of  the law. The district plans to clear the books from all classrooms, box them up and store them in a depository, Salon reported.

Curtis Acosta, one of the former teachers in the program wrote: “I asked if I could start teaching Shakespeare’s The Tempest and was told no, due to the themes that are present and the likelihood of avoiding discussions of colonization, enslavement, and racism were remote.”

(Read more)

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(from the Irish Times, 1/14.)

We announce the shortlists for the Irish Times Theatre Awards, selecting the best productions, writing, acting, directing and design in 2011

The three judges saw 150 shows up and down the island, then had to narrow them down to a shortlist. Here they talk about what they saw in 2011, what impressed them – and what didn’t grab them so much

A good year? 

Jack Gilligan It was a good year in that there was a huge amount of activity again. It goes to show in the times we’re going through how resilient the theatre sector is and how creative, and that people can still manage to stage shows, so many of them in the year. Not all of it was great. Maybe that’s something that needs to be looked at. I would be a great advocate of mentoring: it’s needed more and more. We saw some fantastic shows, and at the top level there was very keen competition and strong contenders for the awards, but maybe there’s a fairly large body of mediocrity

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



The Bridge Project, along with the Old Vic, BAM, and Neal Street, presents the Shakespeare play, directed by Sam Mendes, with Kevin Spacey in the title role. Opens Jan. 18. (BAM’s Harvey Theatre, 651 Fulton St., Brooklyn. 718-636-4100.)



A festival of works presented by HERE includes “The Strangest,” by Betty Shamieh, inspired by the Arab who was killed in Camus’s novel “The Stranger.” Opens Jan. 24. (145 Sixth Ave., near Spring St. 212-352-3101.)



InProximity Theatre Company presents this play by Joel Drake Johnson, in which a woman and her mother travel to an unfamiliar town in search of the truth about their family. Joe Brancato directs. Opens Jan. 18. (59E59, at 59 E. 59th St. 212-279-4200.)



Norbert Leo Butz and Elizabeth Reaser star in the Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Paula Vogel, from 1997, a dark story following the relationship between a girl and her uncle as she learns to drive. Kate Whoriskey directs. Previews begin Jan. 24. (Second Stage, 305 W. 43rd St. 212-246-4422.)



Michael Kimmel directs a new play by Matthew Maguire, in which four epidemiologists who live together try to prevent an outbreak of a contagious disease. Opens Jan. 18. (Lion, 410 W. 42nd St. 212-279-4200.)



York Theatre Company presents a revival of this 1974 musical, with music and lyrics by Mildred Kayden, a composite of the works of Eugene Ionesco in the form of music, playlets, and poetry. Bill Castellino directs. Previews begin Jan. 23. (York Theatre at St. Peter’s, Lexington Ave. at 54th St. 212-935-5820.)



Sam Gold directs John Osborne’s seminal play from 1956, set in England in the fifties, in which four working-class people face challenges while living together. Presented by the Roundabout Theatre Company. In previews. (Laura Pels, 111 W. 46th St. 212-719-1300.)



The Pearl presents this play by George Bernard Shaw, directed by Gus Kaikkonen. In previews. Opens Jan. 22. (City Center Stage II, 131 W. 55th St. 212-581-1212.)



Janeane Garofalo stars in a new play by Erika Sheffer, about a Russian family in Brooklyn that welcomes an uncle who has come to pursue the American Dream. Scott Elliott directs the New Group production. In previews. (Acorn, 410 W. 42nd St. 212-239-6200.)



Kate Fodor’s romantic comedy follows a woman who enters a drug trial for a pill that purports to end her depression and then falls in love with her doctor. Ethan McSweeny directs the Primary Stages production. Previews begin Jan. 24. (59E59, at 59 E. 59th St. 212-279-4200.)



Cynthia Nixon stars in Margaret Edson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play from 1995, about a poetry professor undergoing experimental cancer treatment. Lynne Meadow directs the Manhattan Theatre Club production. In previews. (Samuel J. Friedman, 261 W. 47th St. 212-239-6200.)



At the Rattlestick, Pedro Pascal directs a new play by Daniel Talbott, in which three siblings head to the Sierra Nevada in an attempt to outrun their past. In previews. (224 Waverly Pl. 212-868-4444.)




(Michael Billington's article appeared in the Guardian, 1/11.) 

"Our aim," says Mark Leipacher, director of the young Faction company, "is to create big, bold, bombastic theatre with limited resources." I'm not sure about bombastic; one of the many virtues of this exciting production is that it gives us an intimate, stripped‑down and mercifully unrhetorical version of Schiller's great 1800 romantic tragedy.

What is remarkable about the play is its ability to preserve what George Steiner in The Death of Tragedy called "the exact balance of doom". Mary Stuart is the prisoner of her regal cousin, Elizabeth, but also the victim of her guilty conscience and of the various plots, led by the impulsive Mortimer and the double-dealing Leicester, to secure her freedom. But, if Mary is physically confined, Elizabeth is metaphysically trapped by the byzantine intrigues of court life and the isolation of monarchy. Schiller's heart may go out to Mary, but his head fully understands the disillusion and despair of Elizabeth.



(Chris Jones’s article appeared in the Chicago Tribune, 1/12.)

A little time in Las Vegas, or the symbolic equivalent thereof, is good for all of us, I always say. It worked for Frank Sinatra, who knew to spend a whole lot more time at The Sands than The Plaza.

And a Sin City makeover has transformed Twyla Tharp's “Come Fly Away” from an intriguing but uneasy Broadway show into an artful, yet devil-may-care sensual romp that fully reveals Tharp's singular gifts in the creation of populist, narrative dance and that now richly and explicitly captures the many sides of the iconic voice that has inspired this great American choreographer for decades.,0,2532508.column


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As the GOP primaries head to South Carolina, Gallup has released 2011 statistics, regarding political ideology, showing that for the “third straight year. . . conservatives have outnumbered moderates” in the country (the percentages actually are: “40% of Americans  . . . describe their views as conservative, 35% as moderate, and 21% as liberal.”  Village theatremakers can read this as too much information, maybe irrelevant data to their work and art, but How the World Began, Catherine Trieschmann’s poised dialectic, now playing at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater through January 29, is notable because, in New York, it attempts to take a stream of conservative thinking seriously.  The story of a high school science teacher, named Susan Pierce, who runs up against young-earth creationist beliefs in a rural Midwestern community, is patient and searching.  The characters also include a troubled young accuser and a well-intended gossip, acting in loco parentis

Real strength and discipline is needed for a writer to dramatize such contending Red and Blue cultural forces (especially given a climate where writers must tell liberal stories without being overtly political).  The lead, a feminist single-mom-to-be and ex-New Yorker, is an outsider to Plainview, Kansas (reverse such propositions, and you’ll get an idea of what Glenn Beck and Andrew Breitbart were probably feeling as they encountered liberal media blackballing).  Trieschmann, who has written a likeable central character–played by the fine Heidi Schreck (with strong support by Justin Kruger and Adam LeFevre)–tries to be as evenhanded and nonjudgmental as possible, for as long as she can, which is noteworthy–and rare.

David Hare, the leftist English playwright, did include a neoconservative interventionist in The Vertical Hour (one of his plays about Iraq), as portrayed by a liberal actress, Julianne Moore (she will also be playing Sarah Palin in a movie called Game Change).  We know Palin has also been mocked by Tina Fey, a liberal comedienne.  Meryl Streep, yet another liberal thespian, has recently opened in the film The Iron Lady as Margaret Thatcher (most definitely not a liberal).  One day, a conservative actress is going to ask why these parts couldn’t go to someone who doesn’t have to do so much research–it’s not that artists can’t portray the feelings or positions that aren’t their own, however.  The larger question is: Where are the conservative artists in today’s drama (beyond David Mamet); if they are being represented, where is it being nurtured and in what incubators is this being accomplished?  In playwriting circles, we hear about how works by women may not receive the attention that those by men do; we question whether there is enough minority representation, too (groups largely seen as being part of the Democratic base).  A John Updike of theatre or a Flannery O’Connor, staples of American literature (and conservatives), we don’t hear a lot about.

One reason why it matters is audience.  In a depression, can people concerned about a healthy, vibrant theatre be so choosy about who buys their tickets?  More philosophically, will a writer one day turn around and think that they had been writing propagandistically (maybe completely unintentionally but according to the dictates of the market and their times)? What would writing in the arts be like if conservative voices were heard? For example, it is not against the law to accept young earth creationism, even if it does seem rather dusty (many, from the past, believed in a version of it including Isaac Newton and maybe even Shakespeare).  It gets a little trickier to dismiss as we move to the wars between Intelligent Design and Darwinism (interestingly, How the World Began tells us Darwin “studied to become a clergyman in the Anglican Church”).  No matter about anyone’s political or religious affiliation, however, both theories have areas to contest (Intelligent Design–because we can’t prove an observable creator–and Darwinism–because the stages of species evolution can’t always be established). 

What Religion, Science, and Education can fail to acknowledge, as we move into the culture wars, is that some of their positions may not be true in all cases and over time.  The movement of atoms, based on Isaac Newton’s mechanics, for example, (he was also a Christian) is typically taught as electrons acting like planets, rotating around a nucleus (the sun).  Even though the current thought is that atoms and molecules function more as clouds, most people start their understanding the old, traditional, dusty way.  Currently, we are understanding that there may be a particle which moves faster than the speed of light, which would contradict Einstein—we don’t even know what kind of repercussions that would have because it hasn’t been discussed much lately (perhaps on purpose?). When people have invested years, careers, and lives in certain disciplines, it can be difficult to hear there’s more to a presumed answer.

It can be problematic to understand that conservatives could be part of the answer to theatre, too.  Even if you don’t picture your average New York theatergoer as a conservative, what about the people who visit New York and see a show?  What about the shows who might have a life around the nation (and elsewhere) after New York?  How is our theater becoming non-exclusionary?  How are we asking Americans of varying political affiliations to see much beyond musicals?  Maybe, just maybe, funding would be easier if people felt safer about how their beliefs appear on the stage.  In a play like How the World Began, the message may ultimately be that atheists can be more tolerant than Christian fundamentalists—but, if that’s the takeaway, we have to see the proposition proved through behavior, demonstrated through the text.  As it stands, we aren’t sure we’ve witnessed the last straw regarding Susan’s tenuous teaching position—and there is drama to be had as she is surrounded, stripped of her authority and isolated and stifled–no matter how painful the emotional territory.  As economically efficient as it is to have written the play as a three-hander, the audience can’t witness, participate in, and integrate the attempted path to justice–or lack thereof–in the situation.  We don’t know who Susan can go to for advisory protection and what her counter-plans might be to save her job.  From the opposing side, we don’t get a clear picture of who holds the power in the town regarding what we’ve come to believe is a trivial, if unintentionally biased, mistake from a good, new teacher.

How the World Began continues a strong tradition of commercial properties, such as Inherit the Wind, The Children’s Hour, The Bad Seed, and The Crucible.  You’ll want more happening beneath the surface of her work, but Trieschmann is a very clear writer; she works with precision and skill. The last scene is successful in describing how a person could see a God of retribution in the world today—but the teacher herself has become a gallant victim.  No matter where the country veers, or anyone’s commitment to accommodation–or the challenges to increased complexities in our drama–no one’s asking anyone to fold. Daniella Topol directs.

© 2012 by Bob Shuman.  All rights reserved.

Photo of Heidi Schreck; Credit: Carol Rosegg Photo.

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(Coveney’s article appeared in Prospect Magazine, 8/19/10; via Michael Billington’s article on Experimental Theatre in the Guardian, 1/10: Jerzy Grotowski interview is in Polish: press cc on the bottom YouTube toolbar for English translation.)

Not long ago, the audience in a theatre was there to watch a play. Nowadays, the audience is the play, or at least the protagonist in a production that is animated by the paying customer.

Recently I visited an abandoned electricity board building in Bethnal Green, east London, signing away my possessions and jacket on the door. My loafers were gaffer-taped to my socks; I was placed in a wheelchair; pushed through swing doors; and berated about the bad form of an American football team. Two seconds later, I was in a locker room, delivering a pep talk while 15 hunks glowered at me through facepaint and helmet guards.