Monthly Archives: October 2012



(Kerry Reid’s article appeared in the Chicago Tribune, 10/5.)

Some 163 years ago this month, Edgar Allan Poe died at age 40, though the cause of his premature death remains as shrouded in mystery as his famous tales. The theories floated have encompassed everything from alcoholism to rabies. But "The Madness of Edgar Allan Poe: A Love Story" suggests that the cause was a broken heart.

In David Rice's adaptation of Poe stories, poems and biographical details, which is enjoying its fourth seasonal outing since 2006 with First Folio Theatre in the suitably gloomy neo-Tudor mansion of coal baron Francis Peabody, the Poe we meet is torn asunder by a cascading series of losses. Ask not for whom "The Bells" (the Poe poem with which the evening begins) toll — they toll for him and his loved ones, including his mother, foster mother and, most famously, his young cousin and child bride, Virginia.,0,4350187.story 




“The world is going to be a better place, the world is going to be a better place,” two characters, one older, one younger—both in a bathtub–intone at the end of Adam Rapp’s Halloween/election spectacular, Through the Yellow Hour—it’s like going to see the Living Theatre and having them tell the audience to repeat a utopian mantra (believing they’re inducing us to say something deep and sacrilegious).  It also reminds of Lennon and Lenin in a naturalistic set (representing New York, an apocalyptic one, in an alternate history), but some might like to point out that there is absolutely nothing that could be construed as better about sexual promiscuity between a grownup and a fourteen-year-old, no matter their genders or races.   

Rapp, and his sometime collaborators (not in this case, though), the Amoralists, have never been ones to avoid controversy. The shocking 2010 production of Ghosts in the Cottonwoods opened with male frontal nudity (Nick Lawson) and Hotel/Motel, in 2011, had William Apps trudging around the stage in the raw (both of these actors are part of the Amoralists theatre group).  In Through the Yellow Hour, Rapp gives us naked women, as well—even if a recent mother of twins, the character in question, doesn’t show many stretch marks. The plot involves New York as taken over by Muslim terrorists, but, because that could be considered un-P.C., Rapp makes sure to add that the situation has probably been engineered via corporate financing—it’s always OK to blame a businessperson.  In this NYC, people only go outside during the so-called yellow hour early in the day, but even doing this could mean capture and placement in a work or extermination camp. One survivor, Ellen (Hani Furstenberg), is living on tins of peaches in a small apartment where she sells babies on the black market (stay with me) to an adoption agency, whose staff dresses in designer white, and which somehow remains insolated from the violence of a group called the Eggheads(!).

Rapp gets plenty of chances to gross us out with medical knowledge (his mother was a nurse) and refer to films, whose techniques he brings into the theatre—I’m specifically thinking of The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover; Alien; Pulp Fiction; and sci-fi and horror movies, but his understanding of cinema is probably encyclopedic.  With regard to theatre, Rapp seems to reference Blasted by Sarah Kane, even if he only delivers Blasted-lite or Margaret Atwood-lite. The externals are learned, the manipulations of our senses are able, this is clearly someone who has a practical knowledge, but, for all the interest in the horror of life, beyond a curio for the holiday, what, of serious import, besides its pretext, besides the sloganeering, is to be absorbed?  This is spin-art for the stage to me, rather than a war play.

That’s part of the realization about Rapp’s work—that he’s not as much interested in exposing the human condition as opposed to seeing it through the lenses of others (as if he was borrowing someone else’s vision to make controversial, according to the climate of the downtown art scene). He writes short stories for the stage and, in a play like this, you'll note the differences between the forms of fiction and drama. You'll also wonder if he is exposing us to a vocabulary of feeling that comes to us from film rather than reality. Some may not mind, because Rapp is wildly creative and imaginative and, for most of this play, you can get lost in his theatrical ease.  His directorial and visual sense is superb, aided here by designers Andromache Chalfant (set), Keith Parham (lights), and Jessica Pabst (costumes), to only name three of the team.  At one point, for example, the theatre is lit only by a single lantern–and, for this goofy horror tale, the dramatist can convince that we’re listening to a ghost story on a campout ready to be scared (albeit nothing more than that).  I think even Rapp knows he’s just riffing, explaining, as he does at one point, that a corpse lying on the stage has been left only for the atmospherics.   

With Brian Mendes, Danielle Slavick, Alok Tewari, Joanne Tucker, Matt Pilieci, and Vladimir Versailles.  Directed by the author. Through November 10 at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater.

Copyright © 2012 by Bob Shuman.  All rights reserved.

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Openings and Previews


Event: Annie

Venue: Palace Theatre

James Lapine directs a revival of the 1977 musical, with music by . . .

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Event: Bad Jews

Venue: Roundabout Underground

Roundabout Theatre Company presents this comedy by Joshua Harmon, about a Jewish . . .

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Event: Checkers

Venue: Vineyard Theatre

Set in 1952, this play by Douglas McGrath follows Richard Nixon as . . .

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 Event: The Freedom of the City

Venue: Irish Repertory Theatre

Irish Rep presents Brian Friel’s drama, set in Northern Ireland and inspired . . .

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Event: Glengarry Glen Ross

Venue: Schoenfeld Theatre

Daniel Sullivan directs David Mamet’s drama, in which a contest is held . . .

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Event: The Heiress

Venue: Walter Kerr Theatre

Jessica Chastain, DavidStrathairn, Dan Stevens, and Judith Ivey star in a . . .

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Event: House for Sale

Venue: The Duke on 42nd Street 

The Transport Group presents this play, adapted and directed by Daniel Fish . . .

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Event: Ivanov

Venue: Classic Stage Company

This production of the Chekhov drama stars Ethan Hawke, Joely Richardson, Glenn . . .

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Event: The Mystery of Edwin Drood

Venue: Studio 54

Roundabout Theatre Company presents a murder-mystery musical based on Charles Dickens’s unfinished . . .

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Event: Scandalous: The Life and Trials of Aimee Semple McPherson

Venue: Neil Simon Theatre

Carolee Carmello and George Hearn star in this biographical musical, about the . . .

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Event: A Summer Day

Venue: Cherry Lane Theatre

Karen Allen stars in this play by the Norwegian writer Jon Fosse . . .

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Event: The Whale

Venue: Playwrights Horizons

At Playwrights Horizons, the New York première of a comic drama by . . .




(Charles Isherwood’s article appeared in The New York Times, 10/14.)

“George and Martha: sad, sad, sad.”

Those keening words may never have cut so
deep or hurt so bad as they do in the shattering revival of Edward Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia
Woolf?” that opened on Saturday night at the Booth Theater, precisely 50 years to the day after this landmark drama
first exploded like a stealth bomb on Broadway, establishing Mr. Albee as the
most important American playwright of his generation and setting a brave new
standard for truth-telling — not to mention expletive-spewing — in the decorous
world of the commercial theater.


Flare Path


1 hour, 30 minutes

First broadcast:

Sunday 05 June 2011

Listen at:

Flare Path is a play by Terence Rattigan, written in 1941 and first staged in 1942. Set in a hotel near an RAF Bomber Command airbase during the Second World War, the story involves a love triangle between a pilot, his actress wife and a famous film star.

The title of the play refers to the flares that were used to light runways to allow planes to take off and land but the flare paths were also used by the Germans to target the RAF planes.
In writing the play, Terence Rattigan drew on his experiences as a tail gunner in the RAF Coastal Command.


Peter Kyle ….. Rupert Penry Jones
Patricia Graham ….. Ruth Wilson
Teddy Graham ….. Rory Kinnear
Doris Skriczevinsky ….. Monica Dolan
Mrs Oakes ….. Una Stubbs
Count Skriczevinsky ….. Tom Goodman-Hill
Dusty Miller ….. Justin Salinger
Swanson ….. Julian Wadham
Percy ….. David Hartley
Maudie Miller ….. Kelly Shirley.

Exec Producer: Catherine Bailey
Directed by Jeremy Herrin (Deputy Artistic Director of the Royal Court) For Catherine Bailey Ltd

First broadcast in June 2011.


(Michael Billington’s article appeared in the Guardian, 10/11.)

'It is a text written to come out of the dark," said Samuel Beckett of this radio play first broadcast by the BBC in 1957. But, although not conceived for the stage, it adapts perfectly to it in Trevor Nunn's production, which retains Beckett's orchestrated sound effects while giving the actors motion and visibility. And, in the case of Eileen Atkins as Beckett's heroine, it allows us not merely to hear but also to see a great piece of acting.

The play itself is Beckett at his most Irish and accessible. Springing out of memories of his native Foxrock, near Dublin, it charts the journey of an old woman, Maddy Rooney, along a country road to the railway station to meet her blind husband off a train. In the course of her travels, she meets a carter, a businessman, a racecourse clerk and a stiffly Protestant spinster. But the train she has come to meet is delayed. And, when it finally arrives and Maddy accompanies her husband home, we learn that a child fell out of a carriage in an accident for which Mr Rooney may have been responsible.


A Doll's House

Duration: 2 hours

First broadcast:

Sunday 07 October 2012

Listen at:

Tanika Gupta transposes the setting of Ibsen's classic play to India in1879 where Nora is an Indian woman married to Torvald, an English man working for the British Colonial Administration in Calcutta. Nora risks her own reputation in order to save her husband's and in the process discovers herself. This new version of A Doll's House takes a fresh look at the play shining a light on British colonial history and race relations as well as gender politics and class.

Niru ….. Indira Varma
Tom ….. Toby Stephens
Mrs Lahiri ….. Shaheen Khan
Kaushik Das ….. Shiv Grewal
Uma ….. Rani Moorthy
Dr Rank ….. Conrad Nelson
Bob ….. James Allen
Peter ….. Matthew Allen

Tabla Maestro, Shahbaz Hussain
Dancer, Anjum Malik

Directed by Nadia Molinari

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Marched across desert, trapped and suffocated in smoking caves, hacked apart with rudimentary farming tools, the massacres of 1.5 million Christian Armenians between 1915 and 1923 were unsystematic acts of gore. If not for a photo record, graphic and deeply disturbing, taken by a German witness, Armin T. Wegner, extreme situations of this magnitude might be trivialized, if not completely thrown onto the ash heaps of history.  The contemporary poet and author Peter Balakian does write in remembrance, however, continuing to tell the untellable, answering Hitler’s rhetorical question, written in 1939, “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?”  The playwright Alexander Dinelaris also attempts to tell one survivor’s story in Red Dog Howls at New York Theatre Workshop, starring Kathleen Chalfant, Alfredo Narciso, and Florencia Lozano. The history is so overwhelming that it keeps flooding the dramatic mechanism (I can see how Beckett or Pinter would do this by stripping away until universality or how David Hare might whisk us before international committees, Turkish officials, and D.C. hearings). Dinelaris gives us kitchen sink drama and Brechtian narration. He’s thinking of this in the terms we see in conventional movies and TV programs, but how much stronger this investigation of a family’s past would be if he followed his impulses to the ancient Greeks: for when Kathleen Chalfant screams late in the play, she’s not screaming for primetime, she’s screaming down the ages. Directed by Ken Rus Schmoll. Through October 18.

Copyright 2012 by Bob Shuman.  All rights reserved.

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(from the Wall Street Journal 10/5; via The Drudge Report)

Does art have a future? Performance genres like opera, theater, music and dance are thriving all over the world, but the visual arts have been in slow decline for nearly 40 years. No major figure of profound influence has emerged in painting or sculpture since the waning of Pop Art and the birth of Minimalism in the early 1970s.

Yet work of bold originality and stunning beauty continues to be done in architecture, a frankly commercial field. Outstanding examples are Frank Gehry's Guggenheim Museum Bilbao in Spain, Rem Koolhaas's CCTV headquarters in Beijing and Zaha Hadid's London Aquatic Center for the 2012 Summer Olympics.

What has sapped artistic creativity and innovation in the arts? Two major causes can be identified, one relating to an expansion of form and the other to a contraction of ideology.



(Charles Isherwood's article appeared in The New York Times, 10/3.)

The teenage boys bouncing around the stage with a soccer ball could be from almost any American town. Wearing shorts and T-shirts — one has a flashy purple Kobe Bryant jersey — they burn with the energy of youth and trade talk of Jay-Z and Beyoncé.

Then suddenly you’re brought up short by some of the words they sling back and forth in such cocky, jocular tones. The harmless trash talk has turned to boasting about how many victims their fathers slaughtered during the genocide that devastated Rwanda in 1994.