Monthly Archives: January 2012


(Michael Billington’s article appeared in the Guardian, 1/10.)

Watching Paul Hart's fine revival of Jean-Paul Sartre's infernal triangle, I was struck by the play's far-reaching influence. Written in 1943, it not only encapsulates Sartre's existentialist philosophy, but left its indelible mark on Beckett's Waiting for Godot and Harold Pinter's hothouse dramas.

Sartre ushers us into a Second Empire drawing room, given a nice air of dusty dilapidation in Lucy Osborne's design, which turns out to be a chamber of hell. Of the room's three occupants, Garcin is a pacifist coward, Ines is a man-hating predator and Estelle is a flighty murderess. Sartre's point is that they are defined by their past actions and that their particular torment is to be chained together for eternity. But he was also at pains to explain, in later years, exactly what he meant by the famous line, "L'enfer, c'est les autres": not that we should cut ourselves off from other people, but that hell lies in our excessive reliance on their judgment.



(Charles Isherwood’s article appeared in The New York Times, 1/8.)

The Susan Sontag of the skunk-striped hair and the illustrious reputation as a public figure looks back on another Susan Sontag, a precocious but insecure young woman hungering for experience, in “Sontag: Reborn,” a touching, exquisitely rendered portrait of the artist (and thinker) in the process of self-creation at the Public Theater as part of the Under the Radar festival.

A production of the Builders Association, the show has been adapted from the first volume of Sontag’s journals (covering the years 1947 to 1963) by Moe Angelos, and directed with a delicate touch by Marianne Weems. Ms. Angelos, best known as a member of the Five Lesbian Brothers troupe, portrays the title character in her late teens and early 20s onstage, and as the established woman of letters via video projected on a scrim that fronts the simple set, designed by Joshua Higgason. For most of the play Ms. Angelos is seated at a desk piled high with the books — Tolstoy, Gide, Mann — that Sontag devoured throughout her life, the nurturing food that fueled her ambition and fed her soul.


(Dolan’s review appeared on The Feminist Spectator, 12/19; ‘Once’ begins previews on Broadway, 2/28/12.)

When you enter New York Theatre Workshop’s space on E. 4th St. to see Once, the musical adaptation of the 2007 Irish indie film (see my 2007 blog post on the film), the well-worn theatre suddenly feels like a party hall.  The stage has been transformed into a bar, replete with distressed old mirrors and sconce lights, and a low counter that serves double-duty as a place for spectators to get a pint before the play proper starts and as a secondary acting platform for the considerable talents of this musically distinguished and emotionally empathetic cast.

In Irish playwright Enda Walsh’s faithful adaptation, the Dublin community on which the story focuses is bound by its music making.  The cast is small by musical theatre standards, since the "community here," usually represented by dozens of supernumeraries, is the close-knit one of Dublin street buskers and musicians who remain soulfully devoted to music as an expression of their pining spirits.

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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. In previews. (BAM’s Harvey Theatre, 651 Fulton St., Brooklyn. 718-636-4100.)



Interart Theatre and Royal Family Productions present the U.S. première of a play by Gary Duggan, about a trio of young people who hang out at a bar in Dublin. Starring Anthony Rapp, Dee Roscioli, and James Kautz. Chris Henry directs. In previews. Opens Jan. 12. (Interart, 500 W. 52nd St. 800-838-3006.)



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. Previews begin Jan. 13. (59E59, at 59 E. 59th St. 212-279-4200.)



Audra McDonald, Norm Lewis, and David Alan Grier star in the musical by George and Ira Gershwin and DuBose and Dorothy Heyward, about the denizens of Catfish Row in Charleston, South Carolina, in the nineteen-twenties. With a revised and shortened book by Suzan-Lori Parks. Diane Paulus directs. In previews. Opens Jan. 12. (Richard Rodgers, 226 W. 46th St. 800-745-3000.)



The Living Theatre premières a play by Judith Malina, who also directs, in which the audience participates in an interactive exploration of history. In previews. Opens Jan. 12. (21 Clinton St. 212-352-0255.)



Creation Production Company presents a new play by Matthew Maguire, in which four epidemiologists who live together try to prevent an outbreak of a contagious disease. Michael Kimmel directs. Previews begin Jan. 13. (Lion, 410 W. 42nd St. 212-279-4200.)



Circle of Eleven presents this physical-theatre spectacle, starring Tobias Wegner. Daniel Brière directs the production, which won the Carol Tambor Best of Edinburgh Award in 2011. In previews. Opens Jan. 15. (Clurman, 410 W. 42nd St. 212-239-6200.)



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. Previews begin Jan. 13. (Laura Pels, 111 W. 46th St. 212-719-1300.)



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



The Negro Ensemble Company presents a new play by Cate Ryan, directed by Charles Weldon, about a young black man who travels from the South to Long Island and becomes a pivotal figure in the life of a little girl. In previews. Opens Jan. 15. (Beckett, 410 W. 42nd St. 212-239-6200.)



Roundabout Theatre Company presents the 1987 play by Athol Fugard, set in South Africa, in which an elderly woman becomes a sculptor following the death of her husband, and a local pastor fights to move her to a retirement home. Rosemary Harris, Carla Gugino, and Jim Dale star; Gordon Edelstein directs. In previews. Opens Jan. 17. (American Airlines Theatre, 227 W. 42nd St. 212-719-1300.)



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. Previews begin Jan. 17. (Acorn, 410 W. 42nd St. 212-239-6200.)



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.)


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After a performance of the aggressively original Samuel & Alasdair: A Personal History of the Robot War, now playing at the New Ohio Theatre through 1/21, a couple, whom had not seen the show–and who were sitting next to me on the One train–began talking about robotics at Texas A&M University.  It was a continuance of strange and dreamlike synchronicities found in and around this play from the Mad Ones, “a New York City-based theater company that devises new work through a combination of automatic writing, in-depth dramaturgical research, and structured improvisation.”  Their press agent, David Gibbs, e-mailing before the performance, warned that there was a heating problem at the bunkerlike theater on Christopher Street (now presumably fixed) in a show that takes place in a bunkerlike radio theater (which probably would have heating and power problems). The characters themselves are caught relating a story of nuclear annihilation in Iowa while confronting the continuance of their own invasion and environmental disasters in Irkutsk, Siberia. The writers, Marc Bovino & Joe Curnutte (the work is directed by Lila Neugebauer; co-creators Stephanie Wright Thompson and Michael Dalto also star), are the actors playing the roles, adding to the Pirandellian blurring of illusion and reality (if you feel like you’ve heard about the work earlier, it played at The Brick, in Brooklyn, last spring). Why this play–and these seemingly nonsensical particularities–is important is because we are not watching conformist artists trying to write a hit (although, hopefully, it will become one). Instead, we are seeing something different, maybe even an inching of the Drama forward (if you look at the work as an extension of Strindberg’s chamber plays).

The seminal playwright told us, in his introduction to A Dream Play, that he “attempted to imitate the inconsequent yet transparently logical shape of a dream.”  He wrote, “Everything can happen, everything is possible and probable.  Time and place do not exist; on an insignificant basis of reality the imagination spins, weaving new patterns; a mixture of memories, experiences, free fancies, incongruities, and improvisations.  The characters split, double, multiply, evaporate, condense, disperse, assemble.  But one consciousness rules over them all, that of the dreamer; for him there are no secrets, no illogicalities, no scruples, no laws.  He neither acquits nor condemns, but merely relates. . . .”  How the creators of Samuel & Alasdair: A Personal History of the Robot War have gone further is that in Strindberg we understand that we are watching an artistic rendering of a dream (there is a feeling of artificial heightening from flowering castles to talking mummies to goddesses coming down from heaven). What this team does, which neither Strindberg nor all those who tried to imitate him–directly or indirectly–did, is to create the plausibility of a dream. Bovino, Curnutte, and Neugebauer keep the proceedings decidedly earth-bound, untidy, and low tech—they incorporate the unmeaningfulness, the trash of dreams (from trivia to the news to old songs). It may take until you are riding home to realize that you were even in a dream–or could be living in one in the present moment.  

Dress warmly.

Samuel & Alasdair: A Personal History of the Robot War: Recommended.

© 2012 by Bob Shuman.  All rights reserved.

Strindberg translation © by Michael Meyer.

Photo:  (L-R): Stephanie Wright Thompson as Anastasia Volinski and Joe Curnutte as The Host in Samuel & Alasdair: A Personal History of the Robot War. Credit: Ian Saville.

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(Terry Teachout’s article appeared in the Wall Street Journal, 1/6.)

Sixty-one years ago last September, Wolcott Gibbs, the drama critic of the New Yorker, did something that by all rights should have earned him a place in the annals of chutzpah. He wrote a play—and it was a hit.

Mr. Gibbs's "Season in the Sun," a fluffy comedy that ran for 367 performances, is the last nonmusical play by an American drama critic to have opened on Broadway. Part of what made its success so surprising was that Mr. Gibbs, who covered theater from 1933 until his death in 1958, was one of the cattiest critics ever to sit on a Broadway aisle. Among other things, he suggested that the stars of a flop called "Anybody Home" "ought to be arrested for disturbing the peace." The fact that he then had the nerve to write a play of his own inspired Life magazine to run a story called "A Critic Awaits His Critics" whose anonymous author reported that "a highly expectant swarm of first-nighters, whiffing blood like spectators at a Roman circus, were on hand to watch Gibbs come to grief or glory."



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It’s probably impossible to talk about the New Stage Theatre Company’s production of Hypnotik, now playing at Theater for the New City through January 15, without referencing Bob Fosse’s Cabaret or Chicago or even Ingmar Bergman’s The Magician or The Serpent’s Egg (which also owes a debt to Fosse).  Today, when we think about the great films of the ‘70s, we usually hear more about The Godfather movies or Chinatown than Cabaret.  Perhaps, because it was a stage musical first, it has had the option of going back to the theater for further exploration and incarnations (with the benefit of standing on Fosse’s shoulders).  We also may fail to recall the power of its  vision.  Instead, we may see the brilliance of its creative team–Liza Minnelli, Joel Grey, Michael York, and Fosse himself, who would all never surpass the work they did here.  (Some might say Kander and Ebb never did either: the title song, “Willkommen,” “The Money Song,” the chilling “Tomorrow Belongs to Me.”)  The film, about addictions to vice and evil, also contains a message about giving into temptation that even Minnelli has learned to disavow; Cabaret (1972), the great movie musical, which spoke for its time, set in Weimar, is a hard sell for people who love movie musicals today: the young, those who want uplift, and people who just say no.  Another Fosse musical, Pippin (1972), which has a similar theme, is perplexing to British theatergoers, currently (and might be to us, too). Despite the fact that it had Ben Vereen as a star, why did this musical ever mean anything? Did we really want to try everything? There was a time, before AIDs and an intractable national drug problem, when we believed the answer might be yes. 

Not that the swirling acids of Cabaret’s mise en scene can’t still be compelling—Hitler’s Berlin has now captured the imagination of the Hungarian director Ildiko Nemeth, as well as her cowriters Colm O’Shea and Marie Glancy O’Shea (and, apparently, a few goth kids in the audience with multi-colored plumage).  The creators introduce us to their own consideration of Dante’s hell, which, in the show’s opening number also includes Kit Kat Girls: “Fools never understand: life is pain; the secret sauce in our show is raw shame; The doctor sees your wounds and sores; He’ll make you crawl down on all-fours.”  In Cabaret, Sally isn’t simply her masochistic choices, however.  We understand her enough to think that she is more than her drives. In Hypnotik, the premise is that that’s all we really are—and the characters suffer because we’re not allowed to believe less.

I think the issue is story.  As dramatic as the unbridled subconscious minds of the socially prominent characters in Hypnotik are, we don’t get to know them enough when they aren’t hypnotized; we need to understand more about their behavior outside of Hanussen’s Palace of the Occult.  It’s like a showing of only the nightclub (or Id) scenes in Cabaret–the same kind of issue that happens when friends play show music all the time.  Those who don’t know the movie or work would probably never think of wearing out an old LP by listening to the tracks of Joel Grey’s singing over and over again.


Hypnotik assumes that we only want the shocks, the mashup, not the reasons or behavior leading up to why we’ll be startled by them.  Not that this isn’t a lot to ask for.  Besides the similarities to Fosse, Bergman, and Dante, the material is also working with a character that has had several motion pictures made about him (one, by Istvan Szabo, which was nominated for the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 1988).  Hanussen is clearly a formidable character, absolutely one to think about theatrically: According to Sheila Ostrander and Lynn Schroeder, in Psychic Discoveries Behind the Iron Curtain, “Under Hitler, [he] gained wealth and power as a psychic and astrologer.  In the 1930s, Hanussen was assassinated by the Nazis because he could clairvoyantly see the Nazis’ many secret projects and this seemed dangerous and inopportune to the Fascist hierarchy.” What has been made more widely known recently, in the book Erik Jan Hanussen by Mel Gordon, is that he was also Jewish.  Many, of course, believe Hanussen was a sham, despite amazing predictions, which included Hitler’s rise to power (Americans typically bow to Big Science on matters of mentalist capabilities—but, as Nemeth would likely explain, that changes the farther east you go in Europe. The Serbian director Emir Kusturica would also probably resonate with this). Whether the center of a work—or another character is—there’s plenty more to investigate regarding Hanussen and his world beyond Expressionism (even if a work is executed Expressionistically).  Can we see Hypnotik as a draft?

Peter B. Schmitz plays Hanussen; Sarah Lemp is a woman of privilege; Kaylin Lee Clinton is an actress, Chris Tanner is a director, Markus Hinigel, the unmasker; Dana Boll, Adam Boncz, Denice Kondik, Laurence Martin, Brandon Olson, Fabiyan Pemble-Belkin, Peter B. Schmitz, Lauren Smith, Paula Wilson, and Kat Yew also star. Kudos to the fashion sense of designer Jessica Sofia Mitrani, working mostly in black, with Kate Janysn Thaw and Marguerite Lochard.

© 2012 by Bob Shuman

Photo (L-R): Peter B. Schmitz as Seer in and Kaylin Lee Clinton as Actress in Hypnotik: The Seer Will Doctor You Now.  Credit:  Lee Wexler/Images For Innovation.

Press Representative: David Gibbs/DARR Publicity

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Whether we’re hoping to champion a revival of Russian Naturalism or not, Stage Voices offers you more than the latest in theatre news, video, and writing—it also  serves up the best recipes from current shows in any hemisphere.  Today’s offering is soda bread inspired by Brian Friel’s play, extended at the Irish Repertory Theatre in New York until January 29 ( 

This probably isn’t the recipe that the character Maggie would make for her sisters, uncle, and nephew (we use parts whole wheat flour and honey and would eat it–according to principles of chronobiotic nutrition–in the late afternoon).  For a more authentic version, watch the video above—our rendition also has a basis in Grandma Clark’s Soda Bread from The Silver Palate Cookbook. If you find, like us, that you don’t go very far without thinking about theatre, here’s a chance to cogitate, inhabit, and, most importantly, celebrate, even when the curtain’s gone down.




6 tablespoons sweet butter (cut into thirds)

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1 cup whole wheat flour

1 ½ teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

3/4 cup honey

1 ¾ cups buttermilk

2 eggs, beaten

(1 1/2 cups raisins or currants; 1 tablespoon caraway seeds, if desired)        



  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 
  2. Soften 2 tablespoons of butter in a 10-inch cast-iron skillet (when melted, use a napkin and coat the bottom and sides of the skillet). 
  3. Line the skillet (bottom and sides) with waxed paper (fit it as best you can and then snip the excess above the pan rim–leave yourself a flap or two to help pull the cake out of the pan when the baking is done). 
  4. In a bowl, combine and mix the flours and baking soda and powder.  If you are using fruit and seeds, stir them in now. 
  5. Mix together the beaten eggs, buttermilk, honey, and the reserved melted butter.  Stir in to moisten all dry ingredients but do not overmix (or the bread will become hard). 
  6. Spoon the batter into the skillet and smooth. Top with pieces of the remaining butter. Cut a cross into the soda bread (all the way through—this will help it rise). 
  7. Bake for approximately 60 minutes, until golden. 
  8. Take out of the oven, eat after a few minutes or cool completely on a rack.

          6 servings


“Would you put some turf on that fire, Chrissie?  I’m going to make some soda bread.”


© 2012 by Bob Shuman. 


(Billington’s article appeared in the Guardian, 1/3.)

Director's theatre? "The very phrase in English," critic Kenneth Tynan once wrote, "has a pejorative ring." But that was back in the mid-1950s. Since then the landscape has changed; today we are confronted by a whole generation of powerful directors, many of whom aspire to the condition of auteurs: figures like Deborah Warner, Katie Mitchell, Simon McBurney, Declan Donnellan and Rupert Goold. But I am also aware of a counter-revolution in which it is argued that directors undermine the essential contract between the actor and the audience.



(Soloski’s article appeared in the Village Voice, 1/4.)

Picture a show with no video, no projection design, no treadmills moving scenery on and off the stage. Easy enough. But now imagine a theater without recorded music, without amplified sound, without electric lights. No simple feat. Actually, can you recall the last time you saw a play without any technical assistance, a show in which the media wasn't somehow multi?

In January, New Yorkers enjoy two major festivals—COIL and Under the Radar—as well as satellite events and individual productions, most of them described as experimental, many of them actively engaged in questions about the use of stage technology: Are new developments a way to enhance live performance, or does mediation interfere with the very idea of liveness itself?