Monthly Archives: October 2014


(Peter Crawley’s article appeared in the Irish Times, 10/30.)

Late in September, not long before the Dublin Theatre Festival began, the festival approached The Irish Times to discuss a collaboration. The idea was simple, ambitious and close enough to madness to qualify for inclusion in the programme. Laurence Mackin, the Arts and Ticket editor of The Irish Times, invited 10 playwrights to contribute a scene each towards a short play, passing it on like a baton. The finished result would then receive a rehearsed reading by a professional director and cast at the end of the festival. The entire project would come together in three weeks, with most of the writing done in just two weeks, leaving two days to rehearse. How hard could it be?

Such improbable undertakings require a sense of propulsion, and the fuel reserves of the festival, when several productions are opening daily, can be surprisingly easy to siphon. Other things are counter-intuitive: the busier playwrights are, the more inclined they are to agree to a tall order with a 36-hour deadline (most of the playwrights had recently seen a new work staged), as though creative momentum was better to sustain. But the most crucial aspect was getting the ball rolling.


(Chadwick Moore’s article appeared in The New York Times, 10/27; via Pam Green.)

On a dark morning in September 2006, Miguel Vargas arrived for work at a Brooklyn restaurant called Sweetwater. He unlocked and lifted the security gate, took two steps inside and saw a woman in profile walking across the dining room toward a basement stairwell.

She was middle-aged with gray hair and dressed in white, like a wedding dress, he said, but not one from this century. And she appeared corporeal, “normal,” Mr. Vargas said, not nebulous or translucent like on television.

“I knew it was a ghost when I saw it. I said, ‘O.K., that’s it.’ And I walked away.” For the next half-hour he stood outside, trembling. When Mr. Vargas, a porter at the restaurant, told his bosses, they laughed.



(Michael Billington’s article appeared in the Guardian, 10/20.)

After a spate of concept-driven classic revivals, this production of John Ford’s 1633 incest drama falls like manna from heaven. Even in this intimate, candlelit space you can appreciate that the play has been visibly directed by Michael Longhurst: at the same time, everything is driven by a desire to illuminate Ford’s text rather than exhibit the director’s ego.

Longhurst’s prime achievement is to preserve a balance between the incestuous siblings and the hypocritical society that surrounds them: he neither sentimentalises the lovers nor overdoes the Italianate corruption. He also makes a crucial distinction between the disingenuous Giovanni, who falsely claims the church has sanctioned sex with his sister, and his spirited sibling, Annabella, who simply follows the promptings of her heart. With comparable subtlety, Longhurst shows that not all clerics are cut from the same cloth. A papal nuncio is a murder-sanctioning brute, while there is a genuine moral urgency to the humble friar who conjures up a vision of hell – where “damned souls roar without pity” – that reminds one of Dante’s Inferno.


(from Russia Beyond the Headlines, 10/27; via Interfax.)

Today the website published a text of the letter that Tom Stoppard wrote to support a Moscow theater

In the letter, Stoppard said he was shocked by that the news that Teatr.doc was being turned out of its building. He went on to say that for the English-speaking world, the Russian theater culture has always been a source of inspiration and an object of adoration, but this culture could not appear out of nothing: "It grows out of new voices, new forms, new ideas, and new subject matter."

"In Russia Teatre.doc is currently the most important example of a theatre group which, quite apart from the quality of its work which has given it an international reputation, contains the seeds of a vibrant and relevant theatre of the future. It fulfills one of the prime functions of art in society, namely to reflect, interpret and offer a critique of the social environment it lives in," Stoppard said.

Source: Russia Beyond the Headlines –




(Vaibhav Vats’s  article appeared in The New York Times, Oct. 27, 2014.)

NEW DELHI — The Bollywood director Vishal Bhardwaj has made his name by adapting Shakespeare into film, using the plays to reflect the violence and vicissitudes of modern India. “Maqbool,” an adaptation of “Macbeth,” was set in the Mumbai underworld; “Omkara” transported “Othello” to the feudal badlands of northern India. His latest effort, a loose adaptation of “Hamlet” called “Haider,” which takes place in Kashmir during the turbulent 1990s, has become the most acclaimed and contentious Bollywood movie of the year.

The film, which opened internationally on Oct. 2, drew a fierce reaction on social media from Hindu nationalists, who called for a boycott. Kashmir, a disputed territory claimed by both India and Pakistan, remains a sensitive subject on the Indian subcontinent.



(Charles Isherwood’s article appeared in The New York Times, 10/24; via Pam Green.)

“Bon appétit!” The festive phrase announcing the start of a meal sounds more like a bell signaling another round in a prizefight when it is chirped by Gretchen Mol, playing a hostess whose dinner party has become a verbal jousting tournament in Ayad Akhtar’s terrific, turbulent drama “Disgraced.”

By this point in the play, which opened at the Lyceum Theater on Thursday night, the nerves of everyone settling down to eat have been scraped raw. It’s hard to concentrate on your fennel and anchovy salad when the conversation over cocktails has descended into a fierce debate about the rise of Islamic terrorism and the basic tenets or the meaning of the Quran.



(Laura Barnett’s interviews appeared in the Guardian, 10/27.)

John Kander, composer

As I see it, I was part of the last generation that was allowed to fail. In 1965, my writing partner Freddie Ebb and I were about to open our first musical, Flora the Red Menace, in New York. Things were not going well, and Hal Prince, the producer, said: “Whatever happens with this show, we’ll meet at my house and talk about the next project.” Flora opened and it was a terrible flop – but the next day, we were at Hal’s house talking about the next show, just as he’d promised. That show turned out to be Cabaret.

The first thing I did was listen to all the German jazz of the 1920s that I could find, believing that somehow the music would seep into my body. I’ve done that several times since: when we were writing Zorba, I listened to lots of Greek music; with Chicago, it was American jazz. It’s like sitting on a pile of books, hoping that the information will sneak up into your body without you having to think about it. And it does.

Cabaret went down quite well in New York, but it was with the London production that things got really interesting. Lila Kedrova – a wonderful actress but wrong, I felt, for the part of Fraülein Schneider – got rave reviews. And Judi Dench, who was without question the best Sally Bowles I’ve ever seen in my life, got bad ones. She filled out the character in a way we have never seen, before or since. She was innocent and knowing, vulnerable and tough.




(Patrick Healy’s article appeared in The New York Times, 10/23; via Pam Green.)

When Emily Jean Stone was 9 years old — long before she became Hollywood royalty as Emma Stone — she and her mother went to see the 1998 Broadway revival of “Cabaret” during one of their regular theater jaunts from Arizona. The show’s dark portrait of pre-World War II Berlin didn’t faze Ms. Stone; her father had raised her on repeated viewings of the prison film “The Shawshank Redemption,” after all. But the singing changed the way she imagined her future as a performer.

“Listening to Natasha Richardson, I realized you could be an actor in a musical and not have the perfect voice I’d heard on cast recordings,” Ms. Stone recalled of the production’s star.


Openings and Previews


Classic Stage Company

John Doyle directs the musical by Rodgers & Hammerstein from 1947, about a Midwestern doctor who marries his high-school sweetheart and then becomes cynical. Previews begin Nov. 1.

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By the Water

City Center Stage II

Manhattan Theatre Club, in association with Ars Nova, presents a play by Sharyn Rothstein, about a family torn apart by the devastation of their home in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. Hal Brooks directs. Previews begin Nov. 4.

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A Delicate Balance


Glenn Close, John Lithgow, Lindsay Duncan, Bob Balaban, Clare Higgins, and Martha Plimpton star in a revival of Edward Albee’s play from 1966, in which a suburban couple living with the woman's alcoholic sister are visited by their daughter, fresh from the breakup of her fourth marriage, as well as their best friends. Pam MacKinnon directs. In previews.

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Lips Together, Teeth Apart

Second Stage

Tracee Chimo stars in Terrence McNally's 1991 comedy, in which two heterosexual couples spending a holiday together in a gay area of Fire Island discover that they have wildly different opinions and politics. Peter DuBois directs. Opens Oct. 29.



Lost Lake

City Center Stage I

Manhattan Theatre Club presents a new play by David Auburn, about a single mom who brings her kids to a shabby lakeside rental and encounters the down-on-his-luck property owner. John Hawkes and Tracie Thoms star; Daniel Sullivan directs. In previews.

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Major Barbara


George Bernard Shaw’s play is directed by David Staller, the artistic director of the Gingold Theatrical Group, which is co-presenting with the Pearl. Previews begin Nov. 4.

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Our Lady of Kibeho

Pershing Square Signature Center

Signature Theatre Company presents the world première of a play by Katori Hall, set in 1981 in Rwanda, about a young girl who believes she's seen a vision of the Virgin Mary, causing havoc in her village. Michael Greif directs. In previews.

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Punk Rock

Lucille Lortel

MCC presents a play by Simon Stephens (“The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time”), set in a private school near Manchester, England, which follows a group of well-educated teen-agers. Trip Cullman directs. In previews.

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The River

Circle in the Square

Hugh Jackman, Laura Donnelly, and Cush Jumbo star in a new play by Jez Butterworth, in which a man brings his new girlfriend to a remote cliffside cabin. Ian Rickson directs. Previews begin Oct. 31.

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N.Y.U. Skirball Center

New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players kick off their fortieth-anniversary season with this musical, also known as “The Witch’s Curse.” Nov. 1-2.

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Side Show

St. James

Bill Condon (“Chicago,” “Dreamgirls,” “Gods and Monsters”) reconceived and directs this musical, based on the true story of Daisy and Violet Hilton, conjoined twins who were the highest-paid act on the vaudeville circuit in the nineteen-twenties. The show, which premièred on Broadway in 1997, has new music by Henry Krieger and a book and lyrics by Bill Russell. Previews begin Oct. 28.

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Six Characters in Search of an Author

BAM's Harvey Theatre

Théâtre de la Ville, of Paris, presents this 1921 play, by Luigi Pirandello, in which characters break in on a theatre troupe's rehearsal in order to complete their story. Translation by François Regnault; Emmanuel Demarcy-Mota directs. In French with English supertitles. Oct. 29-Nov. 1.

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Tamburlaine, Parts I and II

Polonsky Shakespeare Center

John Douglas Thompson stars in the first major production of this Christopher Marlowe play in fifty-eight years. Michael Boyd directs, for Theatre for a New Audience. Previews begin Nov. 1.

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Karin Coonrod’s production of Shakespeare’s Tempest, at the Ellen Stewart Theatre until November 2, is clear and accessible, but its reimagining of the play isn’t bold enough and, at times, it seems slightly silly.  A feminist statement might have been in the making, but even a Cub Scout can tell you that it’s not a good idea, for either men or women, to wear high heels on a desert island, after a shipwreck.  Costume designer, Oana Botez, has an eye for Renaissance ruffles and shaded, patterned fabrics—and their first appearances remind of Dali.  The surrealist interpretation feels soft, however, because this version seems indebted to Julie Taymor’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (that show, too, included surrealism, especially in its hard and nightmarish second act–which was itself indebted to the writings of critic Jan Kott).  Tempest’s opening also uses a rising pin-pricked globe, a simple, yet fantastical lighting effect, which is perfect for Shakespeare—but, perhaps, it’s too close to the opening of the Taymor production, which used a levitating Puck.

Elizabeth Swados is so important to theatre—and La Mama—that one longs for a real, new musical from her, not just an assemblage of sound scraps (this reviewer has not seen La Mama Cantata).  Her violin bows on glass are intriguing and her mandolins are reminiscent of Prokofiev’s “Morning Serenade” from Romeo and Juliet, but the score feels as if it’s a freelance gig, and too ADD (as did her work for Federico Restrepo’s Urban Odyssey). That said, it’s always intriguing to have a cast member intoning behind your ear, for stereophonic effect.

Reg E Cathey makes a fine Prospero, the deposed Italian duke, but the show is not complex enough to allow him to illuminate all of the facets of his character.  You’ll probably feel this way about other talented cast members, working on various frequencies, from Miriam A. Hyman (Miranda) to Slate Holmgren (Caliban). Joseph Harrington’s Ariel, an evolved Puck in Russian peasant wear, dances his part, which might be too arty for some—and which can slow the pacing. (The Tempest may be an evolved A Midsummer Night’s Dream, in fact.) At its best, the production comes across as fun, loose, do-your-own-thing Shakespeare—but it’s larger vision and meaning seem small.  Coonrod can stage for three sides of a long playing area; she does not require an elaborate set; and she makes use of everyday objects (she probably squirts too much water with her clowns, but her chalk circles, drawn around the characters, are a tiny surprise).

Ellen Stewart herself might have had questions about this Tempest—she so clearly did not want a theatre of language.  The talents involved here would, of course, know of her preference for the visual. Likewise, with Shakespeare: to simplify the play, to iron out its mystery, is like declawing a lion.  What kind of brave, new world is that?

© 2014 by Bob Shuman.  All rights reserved.