Monthly Archives: January 2013



Quiara Alegria Hudes’s Pulitzer-winning drama, Water by the Spoonful (now playing at Second Stage Theatre/Tony Kiser Theatre through February 10), is about the wrong character, of the wrong ethnicity, talking about the wrong issues, in the wrong play.  Hudes challenges the assumptions of everyone from Aristotle to Chekhov, Broadway producers to instructors of playwriting and breaks standardized rules regarding the fourth wall and overlapping dialogue. She does this by invoking the spirit of John Coltrane and the dissonance of his music, but her thorough, full-bodied, complete play is all hers. It’s a progression the American theatre has needed, even if her visions of drug addicts aren't blurred or intense enough to equate with those of O’Neill or Williams or Gelber.  Hudes isn’t angry enough, oppressed enough, or disturbing enough, to make us think that she isn’t a mainstream, commercial writer who still has something to learn about the ravaged.  Nevertheless, she is not superficial.   

The structure of the play, which so interests her, begins as that of a rather routine two-hander, whose story doesn’t seem especially fresh.  It isn’t new to watch the course of events that lead up to spreading the ashes of a deceased loved one—plays by Terrence McNally and Lanford Wilson, among others, have done that.  Water by the Spoonful, expands and develops, though, and it refracts—it put me more in mind of looking at the facets of a jewel.  The principle lines we follow are those of a loser, a Hispanic mami, Odessa (Liza Colon-Zayas)—and we watch her as she crashes into her online friends and estranged family. Yet, the babysitter who became an addict is, privately, trying to make a difference, as well as save her soul—and, toward the end of the drama, she plays a powerful, wordless scene, which hauntingly gives the work its title.  

One criticism of Water by the Spoonful, might be that Hudes’s “good girl” Yaz (Zabtyna Guevara)—who comes off as a stand-in for the playwright and becomes the center for the onstage family—doesn’t deserve the illustrious company of the sinners who surround her.  A.A. would probably ask the music professor to sit outside.  However, Sue Jean Kim would be welcomed, playing an American addict of Japanese descent who lives in Japan.  She spreads the muck of life over herself in the naked awareness of the damned that Stanislavskians will relish.  Hudes is too calculated a playwright to give the others quite as much room; her lines are far too crisp and clean (but satisfying performances are given by the entire cast).  She can also craft good sound-bytes, for example: “Life is short. You can only live in mediocrity so long” or, for our educators: “What does adjunct even mean?”).  Sometimes, she can seem one step away from stereotype—until she allows the Iraq war vet Elliot (Armando Riesco) to play nasty on the computer, we’re watching what seems to be a docile, kind-hearthearted, if misguided, mostly unelectric bunch.  Yet, like with her play Elliot, A Soldier’s Fugue, Hudes, like David Hare, David Margulies, Rajiv Joseph, among others, is disallowing our Mideast wars to slip into societal amnesia. Besides the interest in structure, this is another reason to see her work.  It’s as close as our slick Broadway playwrights can get to exposing the wounds of our society, so credit must be given for what can be accomplished in such a hostile environment.  Hudes confronts the flashbacks, the ambivalence, and the drug use of Iraq: Commercially, this should have spelled disaster.

As the writer Jim Marrs has discussed, there are plenty of reasons for soldiers to want drugs after America’s enduring conflicts.  The issues not only involve injury, but PTSD, where more suicides (349) took place in 2012 than combat deaths (admittedly the wars are ending).  Others include the relative ease of gaining and trading drugs, and the lack of support here at home—quite different from the parades and gratitude, which welcomed those after WWII.  Elliot, himself, only finds a low-wage job in a sandwich shop; others, according to Marrs, “end up on the street, are vilified, or are thrown into prison.”

If it takes a while for the work to find white heat, Hudes does keep us guessing—and there may be a moment when you feel a chilliness, her incomprehension at what people can become, about what they might turn into. After so many plays about the sufferings of worthiness, the superiority of the all-knowing artist, the emptiness of upward mobility, or the need to steal the spotlight, theatregoers might actually appreciate the fact that contemporary anti-heroes are re-emerging. Hudes stops short of making Water by the Spoonful a tragedy, but you’ll be glad that she’s done just about everything else . . . wrong.


With Frankie Faison, Bill Heck, and Ryan Shams.

Directed by Davis McCallum.

Set Design: Neil Patel.

Press: The Hartman Group.

For further information, please visit:

© 2013 by Bob Shuman. All rights reserved.      


(Victor Fiorillo’s article appeared in the Philly Post, 1/29.)

When was the last time you saw Uncle Tom’s Cabin in a theater? The answer is probably never. As far as I can tell, a theatrical version of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s controversial novel hasn’t been performed in the Philadelphia area for many decades, and that also appears to be true for the rest of the country, with the exception of a couple of attempts in New York City over the years. But one Philadelphia theater company says that it’s time to bring the story back to the stage, but with a twist.

EgoPo Classic Theater, a company that describes itself as “edgy, innovative, and inspiring,” is set to debut Uncle Tom in May at Delancey Place’s Plays & Players Theater. Auditions begin this weekend. The show will mark the end of EgoPo’s vaudeville-themed season, which started with their excellent all-female Assassination of Jesse James and continues in March with The Life (and Death) of Harry Houdini.


(from Newsweek, 1/29.)

Karl Marx summed up Communism as “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.” This is a good, pithy saying, which, in practice, has succeeded in bringing, upon those under its sway, misery, poverty, rape, torture, slavery, and death.

‘In announcing his gun control proposals, President Obama said that he was not restricting Second Amendment rights, but allowing other constitutional rights to flourish.’

For the saying implies but does not name the effective agency of its supposed utopia. The agency is called “The State,” and the motto, fleshed out, for the benefit of the easily confused must read “The State will take from each according to his ability: the State will give to each according to his needs.” “Needs and abilities” are, of course, subjective. So the operative statement may be reduced to “the State shall take, the State shall give.”

All of us have had dealings with the State, and have found, to our chagrin, or, indeed, terror, that we were not dealing with well-meaning public servants or even with ideologues but with overworked, harried bureaucrats. These, as all bureaucrats, obtain and hold their jobs by complying with directions and suppressing the desire to employ initiative, compassion, or indeed, common sense. They are paid to follow orders.

Rule by bureaucrats and functionaries is an example of the first part of the Marxist equation: that the Government shall determine the individual’s abilities.



(Charles Isherwood’s article appeared in The New York Times, 1/22.)

“God, this must be so boring for you!”

Thus runs a line from the libretto of “Life and Times: Episodes 1-4,” a postmodern pop opera from the Nature Theater of Oklahoma, a Soho Rep production that opened on Tuesday night at the Public Theater.

Hearing it, you may be sorely tempted to shout back, “God, yes it is!” Hearing it, you may be sorely tempted to shout back, “God, yes it is!”


The Physicists

Duration: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Samantha Bond stars as a psychiatrist in this classic European farce by Friedrich Dürrenmatt about three theoretical physicists who believe they are Einstein, Newton and Möbius. They are locked in a lunatic asylum and each gets tangled in vicious murders. Amidst all the jokes is a real relationship between a scientist who may or may not be mad and his nurse who wants to save him. The Physicists was first performed in 1962 at the height of the Cold War.

Listen at:

The serious subject behind the farce is what to do with the knowledge of weapons of mass destruction once let out of the genie's bottle. Who controls that knowledge? Can scientists remain free, even in the free world?

The music soundtrack is from Bernard Herrmann's less well known score to Fahrenheit 451.

Doctor Von Zahnd ….. Samantha Bond
Inspector ….. Geoffrey Whitehead
Möbius ….. John Hodgkinson
Newton ….. Thom Tuck
Einstein ….. John Bett
Nurse Monika/Mrs Rose ….. Madeleine Worrall
Head Nurse ….. Yonnie Fraser
Mr Rose ….. Andrew Watson

Producer, Matt Thompson.

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(Nataliya Vasilyeva’s and Lynn Berry’s article appeared via the Associated Press, 1/18.)

MOSCOW (AP) — A masked assailant threw acid at the artistic director of the Bolshoi ballet in an attack that colleagues said Friday could be in reprisal for his selection of dancers in starring roles at the famed Russian company.Sergei Filin, a 42-year-old former Bolshoi star, said a man threw the acid into his face late Thursday near the gate of his apartment building in central Moscow. The attacker wore a hood and either a mask or a scarf, so only his eyes were visible, he said."I got scared and I thought he was going to shoot me," Filin, his face covered with white bandages, told REN TV. "I turned around to run, but he raced ahead of me."Colleagues said Filin could be left partially blind.The Bolshoi's general director, Anatoly Iksanov, said he believes the attack was linked to Filin's work."He is a man of principle and never compromised," Iksanov said on Channel One state television. "If he believed that this or that dancer was not ready or was unable to perform this or that part, he would turn them down."Filin knew that someone was threatening him or trying to undermine his position, Iksanov said. He said Filin's car tires had been slashed earlier in the week and that he was targeted this month by hackers who posted his professional correspondence online.



(Barbara Browning’s article appeared in BOMB, Winter, 2012.)

(Barbara reads out loud.) About five years ago, I went with my son, who was 13, to see Richard Foreman’s Zomboid!—we both thought it was terrific. There was a big stuffed ass on the stage, and periodically, a booming voice would inexplicably intone: “Donkey!” In the program notes, Foreman emphatically rejected the notion of a unified meaning to the piece. When the play was over, we walked out, and I said excitedly to my son, “I think the donkey is the beast of burden, which is language, and meaning is the heavy load we keep trying to make it carry!” My son said, “I don’t think the donkey was supposed to mean anything.” Of course he was right. It was an “Aha!” moment rapidly followed by a “D’oh!”

I had precisely this problem when I heard that Radiohole—the brilliant, wacky, and irreducible Brooklyn-based experimental theater company—was working on a production called Frankenstein. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein seems to be tailor-made for Radiohole; a parable of what could be the defining features of their aesthetic: the mash-up and the unorthodox (and seemingly out-of-control) use of technology. The monster’s odd-lot mix of body parts could seem to evoke the company’s collaborative creative process, in which all members’ thoughts, obsessions, and associations become part of any project. Their productions also regularly slam together high and low—a tendency perfectly suited to a Romantic novel that, at this point, is inextricably linked in our imaginations to the 1931 film, not to mention the Mel Brooks remix.



Openings and Previews 

Event: Clive

Venue: Acorn

The New Group presents a new play, by Jonathan Marc Sherman, about . . .

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Event: Family Happiness

Venue: Baryshnikov Arts Center

Theatre-Atelier Piotr Fomenko presents a drama based on the Tolstoy novella, with . . .

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Event: Manilow on Broadway: Live at the St. James

Venue: St. James Theatre

Barry Manilow performs a songbook of his hits. In previews. Opens Jan . . .

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Event: The Red and the Black

Venue: Theatre at St. Clements

Deloss Brown wrote and directs this play, based on Stendhal’s 1830 novel . . .

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Event: The Vandal

Venue: Flea Theater

Hamish Linklater wrote this play, in which a woman and a boy . . .

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Duration: 2 hours

First broadcast: Sunday 13 January 2013

Benedict Cumberbatch, Greta Scacchi and Simon Russell Beale star in Michael Frayn's award-winning play about the controversial 1941 meeting between physicists Bohr and Heisenberg, part of a joint Radio 3 and Radio 4 series of three Michael Frayn dramas for radio – including new adaptations of his novels, 'Skios' and 'Headlong'.

Listen at:

Copenhagen, Autumn 1941. The two presiding geniuses of quantum physics, Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg meet for the first time since the breakout of war.

Danish physicist Bohr and his wife, Margrethe, live in Nazi-occupied Denmark; their visitor, Heisenberg, is German. Two old friends, now on opposing sides, who between them have the ability to change the course of history.

But why has Heisenberg – Bohr's former protégé – come to Copenhagen?

Michael Frayn's Tony award-winning play imagines the three characters re-drafting the events of 1941 in an attempt to make sense of them. A powerful exploration of the uncertainties of human memory and motivation.

This new version of Copenhagen is adapted for radio and directed by Emma Harding


Margrethe Bohr …. Greta Scacchi
Niels Bohr ….. Simon Russell Beale
Werner Heisenberg ….. Benedict Cumberbatch. 



(Daisy Bowie-Sell’s article appeared in the Telegraph, 1/11.)

Tom Hooper seems relaxed when I meet him. As he lounges on a huge squashy sofa, he has a genial smile on his face. He’s very softly spoken, which is surprising, perhaps, for a director who spends a lot of his time being assertive on a film set. But there may be a reason for all this: his adaptation of Les Misérables has proved a success.

The film opened in the US on Christmas day, shot to number one in the box office and has just been nominated for a string of awards including best picture Oscar and Bafta. “I'm feeling very relieved,” he says, “It is difficult having a film released on Christmas day, because it’s a time you normally associate with not working. But you’re glued to your phone.”

You can understand why he may have been a little jittery. Adapting one of the most popular, longest-running stage musicals of all time for screen was always going to be a gamble. But Hooper took even more of a risk by having the actors sing live on set and having barely any spoken dialogue.