Monthly Archives: December 2014



(Ben Brantley’s article appeared in The New York Times, 12/14; via Pam Green.)

Even the most dry-eyed among us get weepy in December. There’s something about short, dark days piling up toward another year’s end, while carolers trill about comfort and joy, that brings out the Niobe in men and women of stone. Put one of them in front of a television with James Stewart on the brink in “It’s a Wonderful Life,” and you’ll need mops to wipe up the tears.

If you’ve finally had your fill of that movie but are still in search of seasonal catharsis, might I suggest a very charming alternative, one that offers sentimentality without shame? It’s called “Every Brilliant Thing,” and it’s pretty much guaranteed to keep your eyes brimming.

Granted, you may have to restrain yourself from out-and-out bawling. You see, even though it’s advertised as a one-man show, it’s quite possible that you’ll be asked to become a cast member of this production, which opened on Sunday night at the Barrow Street Theater. And you wouldn’t want to let down its ingratiating star, the British comedian Jonny Donahoe, by blubbering.



(Michael Paulson’s article appeared in The New York Times, 12/10; via Pam Green.)

A prominent but polarizing director of Jewish theater has been fired from his longtime perch at the Jewish Community Center in Washington after several productions that raised challenging questions about Israel.

Ari Roth, a 53-year-old playwright who had served as artistic director of the Jewish Community Center’s Theater J for 18 years, was removed on Thursday. He plans to start an independent theater company, called Mosaic, also in Washington.

Under Mr. Roth’s leadership, Theater J has periodically produced work that has tested the Jewish Community Center. This year, the agency scaled back a production of “The Admission,” which depicted a disputed incident of Israeli soldiers killing Palestinians in 1948, and canceled a Middle East festival; in 2010 the theater scuttled a production of a play about Bernie Madoff after objections from Elie Wiesel, the Holocaust survivor and writer; in 2009 there was controversy over a play by Caryl Churchill that some saw as anti-Semitic.


(Feingold’s article appeared on Theatermania, 12/19.)

This is part II of Michael Feingold's latest "Thinking About Theater" column.
Click here to read part I.

At movies, comings and goings during the film are a frequent part of the experience. "The running time is 97 minutes," the critic Kenneth Tynan once said of a film. "The walking-out time is much earlier." The old days of "continuous performances" bred a habit of arriving late for a film, knowing that you could catch the beginning when the next show started. Even in today's more regulated world, departures and returns — for popcorn and soda, or for bathroom breaks — remain a constant, on a par with texting as a guaranteed irritant to those actually trying to pay attention to the film.

The theater, where you're discouraged from coming and going (as indeed from texting) during the performance, has different parameters: The actors in a film can't see you if you get up to leave during their performance, and they'll never notice the empty seats you vacate during an intermission. Actors onstage can't help but be aware of such things, which don't improve the spirit in which they approach their work.

The press, to which producers generally grant good seats in a noticeable section of the theater, has to take this reality into account, and feel a sense of obligation not only to the management as their hosts but to the actors as fellow human beings and, in a sense, colleagues. It's bad enough that, more often than not, you're likely to write something less than enthusiastic about a show — doing which is pretty much the equivalent of telling proud parents they've given birth to an ugly baby. To add the insult of leaving early to the injury of critical carping or negative reporting hardly makes sense.



“I’m not a prose actor,” one of the charged, young dancers tells us, in an aside, in Nella Tempesta, a physicalized meditation on Shakespeare’s The Tempest (the happening was presented at La Mama, from December 11-21).  The leading character, no longer the banished Prospero, is Ariel, waiting, in despair, for freedom.  Shakespeare’s language is largely gone, too.  Alternatively, we hear, in voiceover, “the storm . . . is the people. . . .  The people are the storm.  . . . Thoughts are power.  It’s the people that are the storm.  They can explode at any time.”  Should The Living Theater come to mind–during this 80-minute program of blinding strobe lights, camcorders recording us, committed youth action, interviews given by refugees, and blanket collections for the homeless and dispossessed—viewers will be happy to know that Judith Malina’s blanket is on hand.  We also hear her disembodied voice: “I think we are in a holding pattern.  It’s too static.  It has to blow up.” Whatever happened to American theatre of political action anyway? Why are there too many fake retreads on the downtown theatre scene? I wish I could hold up Motus Theatre Company as an antidote.  Unfortunately, the troupe is from Padua, Italy.  Perhaps the most unusual Christmas spectacular going—with a foul-mouthed Miranda and an Ariel of indeterminate sex–the play's anarchy can sometimes remind of Fellini. Another young actor sums up the zeitgeist: “Let’s occupy everything.”

When are you coming back, Motus?!

Nella Tempesta

By Motus Theater Company (Italy); conceived and directed by Daniela Nicolò and Enrico Casagrande; based on “The Tempest” by William Shakespeare and “Une Tempête” by Aimé Césaire; technical direction and sound, Andrea Gallo; lighting and moving-head design by Alessio Spirli; production manager, Lisa Gilardino. Presented by La MaMa Earth. In Italian, with English supertitles. At the La MaMa Ellen Stewart Theater, 66 East Fourth Street, East Village, 212-475-7710, Through Dec. 21. Running time: 1 hour 20 minutes.

WITH: Silvia Calderoni, Glen Caci, Ilenia Caleo, Fortunato Leccese and Paola Stella Minni (actors/dancers/performers).

(c) 2014 by Bob Shuman.  All rights reserved.



(Kevin Lawlinson’s article appeared in the Guardian, 12/21.)

The actor Billie Whitelaw, who was best known for her work with Samuel Beckett, has died aged 82, her son has confirmed.

Whitelaw spent her final years in Denville Hall, the retirement home for actors in north London, which was supported by Richard Attenborough. She was awarded a CBE by the Queen in the 1991 birthday honours list.

Her son Matthew Muller paid tribute to her on Sunday, telling the Guardian that, besides being a renowned actor, she was also “an incredibly loving mother”.

“I am going to miss her deeply. When I was five years old, she nursed me through meningitis and, in the last few years of her life, I was there for her as well.

“It is difficult to know what to say when your mum dies, I just want the theatrical world to know what happened.”

Whitelaw was well known for her roles in the 1976 film The Omen and the 2007 police comedy Hot Fuzz. But it was her theatre work – particularly her intepretations of the work of Samuel Beckett – for which she will be best remembered.

Muller said that his mother had not been well for about a year and had deteriorated quickly in recent months. He said that the pair were very close and said he visited regularly.



(Ben Brantley’s article appeared 12/12 in The New York Times.)

You can talk all you like about ideals and class resentment and visions of the future. But the ingredient most essential to getting a revolution off the ground is energy, the kind that incinerates as it moves. And the place you’ll find the highest concentration of that precious entity is in the restless bodies of the young.

Judged by these criteria, the Motus Theater Company of Italy is the most truly revolutionary troupe in town. Seen to scorching effect in 2012 with “Alexis. A Greek Tragedy,” which translated the rage of Sophocles’ defiant Antigone into the 21st century, Motus is now channeling the pent-up lifeblood of two slaves out of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest,” chafing at their bondage to an imperial magician named Prospero


(Feingold’s article appeared on Theatermania, Dec 12, 2014.)

Reflections on theatrical turkeydom in last month's Thinking About Theater had already started me recalling shows I'd walked out of, over the decades. And just when an article entitled "Confessions of a Broadway Bolter" appeared, occasioning a lot of online discussion. In it, an entertainment reporter admitted to having seen only the first act of a great many shows she was covering. The controversy peaked with a stinging reply from a theater publicist in which he complained, with some justification, about the waste of thousands of dollars in free tickets lavished on a person who treated them so cavalierly.

The author seems to have made a pretty extensive habit of leaving Broadway shows early, and the range of her mid-work departures was wide, encompassing musicals, dramas and comedies, homegrown work and prestigious imports alike, with zero regard for star power, degree of significance, or popularity. She notes virtuously that she stayed, enraptured, all through two exceptionally lengthy works, both of which I happen to regard as pretty paltry (though I stayed through both of them too), and boasts proudly of having remained on her feet through two entire performances of Here Lies Love (which I also enjoyed, though from a sitting position above the action).


(Nate Jones’s article appeared in Vulture, 12/18; via Pam Green.)

On Wednesday, Sony canceled the theatrical release of The Interview after hackers linked to North Korea threatened violent reprisals against any theater caught screening the film. It was an unprecedented step, made all the more bizarre by the fact that the film at the center of the mess was just a goofy comedy from the guys who made This Is the End. How did two stoner comedians end up at the center of a serious geopolitical incident? Here's a timeline:

Some emails have been edited for spelling and clarity.

Around 2010
Seth Rogen and his writing partner Evan Goldberg start knocking around an idea for a movie about a journalist who’s tasked with assassinating a foreign dictator. "I feel like it's a conversation a lot of people have," Rogen tells Rolling Stone later. "Like, 'Oh, Barbara Walters could have killed Bin Laden,' or whatever." Rogen and Goldberg eventually decide to set the film in North Korea, and hire former South Park writer Dan Sterling to work on the script. At this point, the team is unclear if the North Korean dictator in the film should be Kim Jong-il or a fictional counterpart called Kim Il-hwan.

December 17, 2011
Kim Jong-il dies in real life. (The culprit is a heart attack, not James Franco.) He's succeeded by his son Kim Jong-un; Rogen, Goldberg, and Sterling decide to table the dictator discussion until they can get a sense of the younger Kim's character.


(from Theatremania; via Pam Green.)

Watch the pair tunefully spar before catching them onstage at the American Airlines Theatre.

Kristin Chenoweth and Peter Gallagher are returning to Broadway in a revival of the classic Cy Coleman, Betty Comden, and Adolph Green musical On the Twentieth Century at the American Airlines Theatre. In anticipation of this production, which sees the pair following in the footsteps of Madeline Kahn and John Cullum as Lily Garland and Oscar Jaffe, TheaterMania was invited into the recording studio as Chenoweth and Gallagher laid down a promotional version of the great first-act number "I've Got It All." Check out their version of the tune in this video.