Monthly Archives: April 2013


David Warner is Prospero, with Carl Prekopp as Ariel, Rose Leslie as Miranda and Don Warrington as Gonzalo. Shakespeare's play of magic, romance and revenge. Broadcast as part of the Shakespeare Unlocked season.

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Four hundred years after its first performance, Shakespeare's play still captivates audiences with its story of usurping brothers, monsters, magic and romance. Significantly it is also a world in which sound plays a crucial part, with Prospero's island being 'full of noises'. Prospero, the exiled Duke of Milan plots to restore his daughter Miranda to her rightful place, using illusion and skilful manipulation. A tempest brings Prospero's brother Antonio and Alonso, King of Naples to the island. Once there, Ariel and Prospero's machinations bring about the revelation of Antonio's evil cunning, the redemption of Alonso, and the marriage of Miranda to Alonso's son, Ferdinand.

Prospero…David Warner
Miranda…Rose Leslie
Ariel…Carl Prekopp
Caliban…James Garnon
Ferdinand…Al Weaver
Alonso…Paul Moriarty
Antonio/Boatswain…James Lailey
Sebastian…Peter Hamilton Dyer
Gonzalo…Don Warrington
Trinculo…Don Gilet
Stephano…Gerard McDermott
Ceres…Deeivya Meir

Music written and performed by The Devil's Violin Company
Sarah Moody, Luke Carver Goss and Oliver Wilson-Dickson
Sound production by Caleb Knightley
Adapted for radio and directed by Jeremy Mortimer

David Warner made his stage debut exactly 50 years ago, when he appeared in Tony Richardson's production of A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Royal Court. Three years later, in 1965, he played Hamlet at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford.

First broadcast in May 2012.

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Robert Brustein’s THE LAST WILL, starring Austin Pendleton (who also directed)–now playing at the June Havoc theatre as part of the Abingdon’s twentieth season–is an apologia, a projection onto William Shakespeare of what guilty theatre artists might and can think about art and aging.   The Shakespeare biography that is presented—it takes place just before his death in 1616–is the approved version: the plays are written by him (except when he was working in collaboration). Although the edges can be  a bit rough (trying to get around the fact, for example, that the bard’s will left his wife a hard, second-best bed), the work doesn’t go where academics like Jayne Archer at Aberystwyth University in Wales want to. She, and others, claim that there has been "a willful ignorance on behalf of critics and scholars who . . .—perhaps through snobbery—cannot countenance the idea of a creative genius also being motivated by self-interest."  Her contention is that Shakespeare was one tough business type, “hoarder, moneylender, and tax dodger”—more from Archer when her paper on the subject is published in May.

THE LAST WILL, however, assumes that Shakespeare was the artsy-fartsy, amoral, slack artist, we insist many contemporary theatre people are–all he really needed was a group hug, preferably on Oprah’s couch.  Shakespeare, however, in celebrity culture, would probably have been baffled–he didn’t even care how you spelled his name.  Because we feel that we can see ourselves in his characters and words, we think that he is ours for all time, forgetting that others have also created him for themselves, differently—Romantic Shakespeare, for example.  In THE LAST WILL, a character, lolling and lounging on a bed, mentions seeing a victim of the plague, set up as if she needs some downtime after taking flowers to someone at a nursing home. Boccaccio, writing before Shakespeare, said the following in The Decameron, written about 1351, “This pestilence was so powerful that it was communicated to the healthy by contact with the sick, the way a fire close to dry or oily things will set them aflame.  And the evil of the plague went even further: not only did talking to or being around the sick bring infection and a common death, but also touching the clothes of the sick or anything touched or used by them seemed to communicate this very disease to the person involved. . . . No one cared for his neighbor, and . . . relatives rarely or hardly ever visited each other—they stayed far apart. This disaster struck such fear into the hearts of men and women that brother abandoned brother, uncle abandoned nephew, sister left brother and very often wife abandoned husband, and—even worse, almost unbelievable—father and mother neglected to tend and care for their children, as if they were not their own.”

An ahistorical Shakespeare crashes on a slipperly slope, creating a treacherous emotional landscape. I’m going to say that both Brustein (in his eighties) and Pendleton (in his seventies) needed someone to guide them through it—further.  Brustein gives us outline and plot points—he stays away from physical action, character and plot development, and subtlety, too.  The compression is of interest, but, for all his information and imagination, there is a lack of intensity. Pendleton wants The Last Will to play fast—and it does, and the production feels truncated.  He also wants to play character actor, not human being—as an actor himself, he has never seemed very old anyway (he’s mercurial, coherent, surprisingly in motion—he is not someone who works only from the shoulders up).  Here, in bare feet and too much makeup—especially compared to the more natural playing of Stephanie Roth Haberle, as his wife Anne (she also doesn’t seem eight years his senior)–he seems like Ben Gunn, the stranded sailor in Treasure Island.  Shakespeare knew what age meant in his time—“shrunk shank; and his big manly voice/Turning again toward childish treble, pipes/And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,/That ends this strange eventful history,/Is second childishness and mere oblivion,/Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.” The Last Will can’t find the silences, the lapses, nor an Existential Shakespeare, either. 

Ingmar Bergman mentioned the problem, while he was making After the Rehearsal in 1984: “One frustration I felt concerned a scene with Ingrid Thulin, truly one of the great movie actresses of our time. . . . In this film, she couldn’t distance herself from her part.  When she would say the line, ‘Do you think that my instrument is destroyed forever?’ she would begin to cry. . . . I was upset with Ingrid because I was angry with myself.  ‘Is my instrument destroyed forever?’ The question seemed to concern me more than it did her.” See the movie again and decide whether Thulin nailed it.  See Brustein and Pendleton’s The Last Will and decide whether they are avoiding it, and detaching themselves from the expression of age, which Bergman, at least, later regretted.

We may never know the truth about Shakespeare (his assumptions about inheritances, marriage, sexuality, fatherhood, religion, to name five) but most will agree that he knew the truth about us. He was only 52 when he died (the average life span of an individual living in England at the time was 35).  After approximately 39 plays, he probably didn’t even think of himself as a playwright first.  Wouldn’t it be surprising to find out that after all society’s versions of Shakespeare, the definition most resonant for him was not as inventor of the human at all—but, rather, as an unscrupulous, unsympathetic business manager and accountant, with no interest in being forgiven for anything? 

With Jeremiah Kissel, Christianna Nelson, David Wohl, and Merrit Janson.

Off-Broadway performances of THE LAST WILL run April 5-May 5 in the June Havoc Theatre (312 West 36th Street, between 8th and 9th Avenues): Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays at 7pm; Fridays at 8pm; Saturdays at 2pm and 8pm; and Sundays at 2pm. Tickets are $60. For tickets call, 212-868-2055 or visit

© 2013 by Bob Shuman.  All rights reserved.


(Chris Jones’s article appeared in the Chicago Tribune, 4/10.)

Playwright Samuel Hunter's "A Permanent Image" is by no means the first play to tell the story of adult siblings returning from out of town for a parent's funeral.

The emotional tension of that ubiquitous human moment — which often involves booze, recriminations, guilt, money, shock, self-examination and sheer, unadulterated grief — has attracted scribes from Horton Foote on down.

And the two confused, angry, bereft siblings in this play — one the lesbian owner of a trucking company whose lover just left with their kid, the other a war-zone photographer with a penchant for gruesome photos — very much fall into the model of dysfunctional adults who can barely take care of themselves, let alone deal with a death in their estranged, pain-filled family,0,7195920.column


(Michael Billington’s article appeared in the Guardian, 4/17.)

Howard Brenton's most recent play, 55 Days, dealt with the imprisonment, trial and execution of Charles I. His new one could easily be called 81 Days since it covers the detention, interrogation and eventual release of the conceptual artist, Ai Weiwei, by the Chinese government in 2011.

Based on a book by Barnaby Martin, it is an eloquent piece of quasi-documentary theatre that raises any number of issues: chief amongst them the bafflement of the monolithic state in dealing with artistic freedom.

Any fear we might be in for a dour evening is quickly expelled by James Macdonald's production which has the excellent idea of treating Weiwei's story as if it were piece of installation art.



(Leslie Kaufman’s article appeared in The New York Times, 4/17.)

When the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and author David Mamet released his last book, “The Secret Knowledge: On the Dismantling of American Culture,” with the Sentinel publishing house in 2011, it sold well enough to make the New York Times best-seller list.

This year, when Mr. Mamet set out to publish his next one, a novella and two short stories about war, he decided to take a very different path: he will self-publish.

Mr. Mamet is taking advantage of a new service being offered by his literary agency, ICM Partners, as a way to assume more control over the way his book is promoted.



(Michael Feingold’s article appeared in the Village Voice, 4/16.)

Douglas Carter Beane's The Nance (Lyceum Theatre) has got what it deserves from Lincoln Center Theater: a first-rate production, handsomely staged by Jack O'Brien, with a gigantically fine performance by Nathan Lane in the title role. Beane's play deserves these splendid enhancements, not because it's perfect in itself—its premise and many of its smaller points are highly debatable—but because, like far too few plays seen in New York these days, it sets out to wrestle with a big subject, on a big scale, in a wide-ranging, spectacular style that will simultaneously entertain the audience and make it think.

Beane uses the work's value as comic diversion to enrich the dark matters he's dealing with, not to cover them up or distract from them. You must take his play, and argue with it, as a large, rich, substantive whole, not as a string of set pieces in which the fun can be disentangled from the sour realities.

Lane's performance as Beane's hero, the bitter, self-hating homosexual burlesque comedian Chauncey Miles, embodies the complexity perfectly: You constantly watch Chauncey drawing a sharp line between his offstage behavior and the "nance" routine that's made him the main draw at a seedy burleycue house on Irving Place circa 1937. At the same time, Lane, elegantly steered by O'Brien's direction, always shows you how Chauncey's private emotions bleed into his stylized stage business—and, more disconcertingly, how his act's stereotyped postures seep into and warp his offstage life. Having made the twinkle-eyed cartoon swish with the sissified hand-waves his professional specialty, Chauncey is his own dybbuk, a man possessed in life, thanks to his dismissive view of himself, by the role he plays onstage. He is not, you might say, a happy camper.




(from the Pulizer Prize Web site)

For a distinguished play by an American author, preferably original in its source and dealing with American life, Ten thousand dollars ($10,000).

Awarded to "Disgraced," by Ayad Akhtar, a moving play that depicts a successful corporate lawyer painfully forced to consider why he has for so long camouflaged his Pakistani Muslim heritage.


Also nominated as finalists in this category were: "Rapture, Blister, Burn,” by Gina Gionfriddo, a searing comedy that examines the psyches of two women in midlife as they ruefully question the differing choices they have made; and "4000 Miles," by Amy Herzog, a drama that shows acute understanding of human idiosyncrasy as a spiky 91-year-old locks horns with her rudderless 21-year-old grandson who shows up at her Greenwich Village apartment after a disastrous cross-country bike trip.

(Go to site)

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Openings and Previews

Event: The Assembled Parties

Venue: Samuel J. Friedman Theatre

For Manhattan Theatre Club, Lynne Meadow directs this play by Richard Greenberg . . .

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Event: Bunty Berman Presents . . .

Venue: Acorn

The New Group mounts a new musical comedy, directed by Scott Elliott . . .

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Event: The Dance of Death

Venue: Lucille Lortel Theater

Red Bull Theatre presents this play by August Strindberg, adapted by Mike . . .

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Event: Fragments

Venue: Baryshnikov Arts Center

A return of the 2011 C.I.C.T./Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord production. Peter . . .

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Event: Here Lies Love

Venue: Public Theatre

Alex Timbers directs a musical about Imelda Marcos, with a concept and . . .

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Event: I’ll Eat You Last: A Chat with Sue Mengers

Venue: Booth Theatre

Bette Midler appears on Broadway for the first time in thirty years . . .

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(Ben Brantley’s article appeared in The New York Times, 4/15.)

The blood runs warm in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s vibrant production of “Julius Caesar,” now at the Harvey Theater of the Brooklyn Academy of Music.  Experience has taught the inhabitants of the African country in which this Shakespeare tragedy has ingeniously been reset that life is tenuous and easily taken. Their fears lie close to the surface, quick to tumble into anger, despair and, on occasion, a joy that remains edged in apprehension.

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