(Michael Paulson’s article appeared in The New York Times, 8/29; via Pam Green.)
“Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812” is closing on Broadway after a racially charged and distinctly contemporary conflagration. CreditSam Hodgson for The New York Times
The young, flamboyant and unusually diverse collective of actors and musicians who brought “Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812” to Broadway enjoyed the giddy highs of theater’s most glamorous perch — a run at the grand Imperial Theater, a season-topping 12 Tony nominations, a spotlight shared with the pop star Josh Groban.
For most of the performers, it was their first time on a Broadway stage. Costumed as punkified peasants and aristocrats in a bold musical adaptation of Tolstoy, they danced down the aisles, handing out pierogies and creating an unusually immersive musical experience.
Now they are seeing the sharp edge of Broadway. The show is collapsing after a conflagration that was racially charged and distinctly contemporary: a social media uproar prompted by the financially motivated decision to bring in a white actor to replace a black actor who had succeeded a white actor.
The result: Investors will lose most of the production’s $14 million capitalization, and more than 100 people will be out of jobs after the final performance on Sunday.
Even in a flop-prone industry, the sudden crash of the musical stands out, reflecting competing challenges for commercial theater: the benefits of star power, the hunger for diversity and the high costs of producing on Broadway. Add in Twitter, and things can get messy.
(Brett Sokol’s article appeared in The New York Times, 8/21; via Pam Green.)
PROVINCETOWN, Mass. — “I don’t have a big angel collection, but …” the “Angels in America” playwright Tony Kushner insisted with an embarrassed laugh. After all, evidence to the contrary — via a sculpture’s outstretched wings — nearly smacked a reporter in the head as he entered Mr. Kushner’s home here. Suspended from the ceiling, just past the doorway, was an infant-size ceramic angel created by the Peruvian-born Philadelphia artist Kukuli Velarde — one of four such angels hanging in the house Mr. Kushner shares with his husband, Mark Harris.
The angels mesmerizingly invoke the symbolisms of Old World Catholicism, Peru’s indigenous culture, and, thanks to their malevolent European-looking faces, the clashes that resulted when these forces met. “I think the faces look like Eisenhower,” Mr. Harris playfully offered after nearly backing into one himself.
“Not everybody loves them as much as I do,” Mr. Kushner dryly countered. “I love their combination of fantasy and politics, their in-your-face, radical, anticolonial critique.” Which isn’t a bad way to summarize Mr. Kushner’s own plays, including the 1993 Pulitzer Prize-winning “Angels.” Mr. Harris, a cultural critic, is no less impassioned in his own writing, from his essays for New York magazine to his book-length deep dives into Hollywood.
Provincetown itself is an influence on their work. With its overlapping identities of a Cape Cod fishing village reborn as an art colony, a gay resort, and a nature preserve, it has become more than a getaway from New York, the couple explained.
“We were at a benefit for the Fine Arts Work Center in July 2012 and it hit us,” Mr. Kushner recalled, referring to Provincetown’s artist residency program, begun in 1968 to seed the town with fresh generations of talent. Looking around at the faces in the fund-raiser’s crowd and the cause they had all gathered for, “we realized we’d established roots.” That fall the couple bought a mid-19th-century house there with separate writing offices.
(Neil Genzlinger’s article appeared in The New York Times, 8/22; via Pam Green.)
Janusz Glowacki, a Polish playwright, novelist and screenwriter who mined the ferment of Communism and its collapse in his country to create darkly humorous works about totalitarianism and the émigré experience, died on Saturday while vacationing in Egypt. He was 78.
The exact cause was unclear, but his daughter, Zuza Glowacka, said he had experienced shortness of breath and was taken to a hospital, where he died.
Mr. Glowacki was already a well-regarded writer — his credits included the screenplay for Andrzej Wajda’s 1969 film “Hunting Flies” — when he traveled to London in December 1981 for a production of his play “Cinders” at the Royal Court Theater. While he was there, Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski, Poland’s Communist leader, cracked down on the country’s budding Solidarity trade union movement and declared martial law.
PTE’s 2017-18 season is dedicated to “The Charismatic”–why do we often quite unreasonably follow certain people, faiths or ideas. We start off with Moliere’s brilliant comedy! Tartuffe is a charismatic who has been touched by God. He is a visionary. He practices religious devotion and self-sacrifice. He has fits. He converses with the divine. He can be very scary. Orgon invites him home to live with his family and introduces him to his beautiful wife Elmire…. what could possibly go wrong? Join us for Moliere’s brilliant comedy….
TICKETS NOW ON SALE or call 212-352-3101 Low Price Previews: 10/21, 10/24-26; NO TDF for This Show
Alicia Marie Beatty
Adapted by David Ball; Directed by Craig Smith; Costume Design by Debbi Hobson; Music and Sound Design by Ellen Mandel; Video Design by Attilio Rigotti, Stage Management by Meghan McVann, Assistant Director Karen Case Cook.
(Dave Kehr’s article appeared in The New York Times, 8/20.)
Jerry Lewis, the comedian and filmmaker who was adored by many, disdained by others, but unquestionably a defining figure of American entertainment in the 20th century, died on Sunday morning at his home in Las Vegas. He was 91.
His death was confirmed by John Katsilometes, a columnist for The Las Vegas Review Journal, who spoke to family members.
Mr. Lewis knew success in movies, on television, in nightclubs, on the Broadway stage and in the university lecture hall. His career had its ups and downs, but when it was at its zenith there were few stars any bigger. And he got there remarkably quickly.
Barely out of his teens, he shot to fame shortly after World War II with a nightclub act in which the rakish, imperturbable Dean Martin crooned and the skinny, hyperactive Mr. Lewis capered around the stage, a dangerously volatile id to Mr. Martin’s supremely relaxed ego.
(Robin Pogrebin’s and Sopan Deb’s article appeared in The New York Times, 8/18.)
Mark Bradford, the renowned Los Angeles artist, says Confederate statues should not be removed unless they are replaced by educational plaques that explain why they were taken away.
For Robin Kirk, a co-director of Duke University’s Human Rights Center, the rapid expunging of the statues currently underway needs to be “slower and more deliberative.”
And Lonnie G. Bunch III, the director the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, proposes that the dismantled statues be grouped together and contextualized, so people understand what they stood for.
In state after state this week, artists, museum curators, and historic preservationists found themselves grappling with lightning-fast upheaval in a cultural realm — American monuments — where they usually have input and change typically unfolds with care. Many said that even though they fiercely oppose President Trump and his defense of Confederate statues, they saw the removal of the monuments as precipitous and argued that the widening effort to eliminate them could have troubling implications for artistic expression.
“I am loath to erase history,” Mr. Bunch said. “For me it’s less about whether they come down or not, and more about what the debate is stimulating.”
(Matt Wolf’s article appeared in The New York Time, 8/10; via Pam Green.)
NEWBURY, England — Devotees of the love-struck Swedes who populate “A Little Night Music” may recall the cello solo in the song “Later,” played by the smitten depressive Henrik Egerman, who has fallen hard for the child-bride, Anne, of his father, Fredrik.
Now, along comes the perennially bittersweet 1973 Stephen Sondheim-Hugh Wheeler musical in an utterly beguiling production, directed by Paul Foster, that gives everyone an instrument, and sometimes two.
And if you associate that actor-musician approach to Sondheim (and others) with the Tony-winning British director, John Doyle, well, you’ve come to the right place. “Night Music” is running through Sept. 16 at the same entrancing theater — the Watermill Theater in Newbury, Berkshire, two hours’ drive west of London — where Mr. Doyle’s career-making “Sweeney Todd” was first performed in 2004. The West End and Broadway soon beckoned.
Whether this “Night Music” will follow the same path — and this Sondheim title has been revived recently on both sides of the Atlantic — it’s worth beating a path to this leafy address. The staging not only sounds different from any “Night Music” I’ve come across but also looks startlingly fresh. The burnished elegance of David Woodhead’s design makes cunning use of a two-way mirror and manages to couple distressed chic with a reminder of the theatrical environs that mark out the story of Desiree Armfeldt (a satin-cheeked Josefina Gabrielle) and her motley gathering of aristos and amours.
(Ben Sisario’s article appeared in The New York Times, 8/9; via Pam Green.)
MetLife Stadium, in East Rutherford, N.J., can accommodate well over 50,000 people for a concert. The Walter Kerr Theater on Broadway is a fraction of that size, with room for just under 1,000.
What they have in common is Bruce Springsteen, who sold out MetLife three times last year and is coming to the Walter Kerr in October for eight weeks of solo shows that he wants to be “as personal and intimate as possible.”
“I chose Broadway for this project because it has the beautiful old theaters which seemed like the right setting for what I have in mind,” Mr. Springsteen said in a statement. “In fact, with one or two exceptions, the 960 seats of the Walter Kerr Theater is probably the smallest venue I’ve played in the last 40 years.”
The show, “Springsteen on Broadway,” will run five nights a week, Tuesday to Saturday, at the Walter Kerr, the rose-and-gold-decorated jewel box on West 48th Street that last housed the short-lived “Amélie: A New Musical.” The official opening is set for Oct. 12, and the run is planned through Nov. 26. Preview performances begin on Oct. 3.
In addition to his music, the show will feature Mr. Springsteen, 67, reading excerpts from his 2016 autobiography, “Born to Run,” and performing other spoken reminiscences written for the show.
Author, columnist, and editor, Chilton Williamson, Jr. has published works of fiction, narrative nonfiction, and books on politics and history. He was formerly history editor for St. Martin’s Press and literary editor for National Review. For 26 years, he served as senior editor for books for Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture before being named editor in 2015.
Born in New York City, he was raised in Manhattan and on the family farm in South Windham, Vermont. Since 1979, he has lived in Wyoming, except for two years spend in Las Cruces, New Mexico.
Besides Jerusalem, Jerusalem!, his fourth Chronicles Press book, Williamson is the author of four published novels and six works of nonfiction. With his wife, Maureen McCaffrey Williamson, he lives in Laramie, Wyoming.
CHILTON WILLIAMSON talks with SV’s Bob Shuman, about his new novel, set in the contemporary West: Jerusalem, Jerusalem! The final part, of this two-part interview, will appear, 9/6.
Jerusalem, Jerusalem! is not only a novel that can be read on its own, it’s also related to other books. Could you tell us about it—and also give a background for the Fontenelle trilogy?
The Fontenelle Trilogy began with my first novel, Desert Light(St. Martin’s, 1987, https://tinyurl.com/ycuutqjt), the story of a wealthy and successful New York City attorney who defended a murderer whom he got released from prison only to kill again. Disgusted with “civilization,” Caleb Richardson moves to southwestern Wyoming and becomes a breeder of Arabian horses near the coal, oil, and gas town of Fontenelle in the Green River Basin country. Following a gruesome murder along the I-80 corridor, he agrees to help prosecute the three people charged with the crime, one of them a young Mormon woman. After visiting her in jail, he becomes convinced of her innocence and withdraws from the prosecution team, led by a famous Jackson attorney, to defend her against it.
The middle novel, The Homestead (Grove Weidenfeld, 1990, https://tinyurl.com/ybr4fjap), continues to track Desert Light’s principals, while introducing new ones: Houston Walker, scion of a local rancher who moved to Africa to become a professional big-game hunter, who is summoned home to Wyoming to help his family after his brother is arrested on a charge of murdering an oilfield roughneck, and his incestuously inclined sister.
Was it always your intention to write a Fontenelle series?
After finishing the first book, I had no intention of beginning a second connected novel, much less envisioning a third. I discovered, however, that I couldn’t let the characters and the story drop, so I went ahead with a second installment. The same thing occurred after The Homestead was finished. In this final volume, Jerusalem, Jerusalem!,set in 1992, the Richardsons and the Walkers remain part of the story, while being joined by two other major characters, a Catholic priest who is involved in a minor car crash–when he is called out late one night after inadvertently drinking too much wine–and a parishioner of his, a quadriplegic woman kept alive in an iron lung. She, nevertheless, coordinates people and events from her bedroom to resolve several conflicting situations, in a more or less satisfactory way, at the end of the book.
One of your characters, in Jerusalem, Jerusalem!, Father Hillary, a Catholic priest, says, “For an Easterner, Wyoming does take some getting used to, but I find myself feeling more at home here all the time.” What takes getting used to in the West—and what starts to make the priest feel at home?
The American West, in many ways, is still the frontier. It has, of course, been considerably urbanized in the past several decades, and the numerical majority of “Westerners” live in cities. But the cities are very far between, and separated by vast stretches of nearly empty country, much of which is, indeed, wilderness.
In addition to the physical isolation are the extremely harsh weather (60-75 mph winds that subside but never quit, often stalling at a constant 20 mph or so, which will still carry your Stetson away), temperatures as low as 50-75 degrees below zero, and heavy snows and ground blizzards that make travel impossible for days at a time. Take all this into account and you will begin to understand what Father Hillary had in mind when he spoke of the need to accustom oneself to the West, after life in Paris and New York.
The priest in Jerusalem, Jerusalem! also encounters the desert, a Biblical image in the New Testament that represents a healing, cleansing, inspiring, and mystical withdrawal from the distractions of the “real” world, although by the end of the novel Hillary is only beginning to come to terms with it, with the help of a native priest, Fr. Bonney.
How have you acclimated to Laramie, as an Easterner yourself? You note that Teddy Roosevelt thought that Wyoming was “the strenuous life, and he had Oyster Bay to go home to.” Tell us about the most strenuous thing you’ve done in the last week—and when do you find time to write novels?
I moved first to Kemmerer, Wyoming, population about 3000, and arrived 20 years later in Laramie for a number of reasons, the chief one being that property here is both affordable and holds its value on account of the presence of the University of Wyoming. (Kemmerer, founded in 1897 by a New York family with interests in the coal business, is a classic Western boom-or-bust town that fell into the bust pit 20 years ago and has never climbed out of it–it’s the model for Fontenelle in the books.) As for Wyoming, I saw the place first in 1977, came out here two years later, and never looked back. (I did continue to commute every couple of months to Manhattan, where I worked as the literary editor for National Review.)
Out here, people drive 120 miles roundtrip to see a movie (it won’t be something you’d see at Cannes) and think nothing of it. If comfort, convenience, availability, cosmopolitan culture, and lots of people are what you crave, the West is not for you. You have to like to hunt and fish, ride horses, and camp in the outback, 50 or 60 miles from the nearest small town. If you want “activities,” dislike solitude, and self-sufficiency; if hundred-mile vistas with “nothing” in sight but sagebrush and antelope desert buttes, rugged mountains, and lonely plains make you “want to cry” (as a woman from New York once told me it did her), then drive as fast as you can across I-10, I-40, I-70, I-80, and I-90 until your reach the comfort and safety of the West Coast.
Life on the frontier is always strenuous, whether you’re a rancher, an outfitter, a lumberman, a miner, an oilfield roughneck (as I was for a year), and so on. Just now it is summer, and life is relatively easy here. I explore on foot and on horseback, camp in the outback, climb in the mountains to fish. Fall is the really vigorous time, when I go into winter camp and slog through a foot of new snow in wilderness country to track, shoot, field dress, dismember, and pack 700-pound elk out of the mountains with horses.
How did you decide on the title, Jerusalem, Jerusalem!?
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem” are Christ’s words, as He stands gazing down upon the city before His Passion:
“still murdering the prophets, and stoning the messengers that are sent to thee, how often have I been ready to gather thy children together, as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings; and thou didst refuse it! Behold, your house is left to you, a house uninhabited. Believe me, you shall see nothing of me henceforward, until the time when you will be saying, Blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord.”
In this novel, some of the characters refuse to be gathered, and others–the fewer of them—accept the invitation. This is pretty much the theme, in fact, of the trilogy, each volume of which commences with an epigraph taken from Dante’s Commedia Divina: the Inferno, the Purgatorio, and the Paradiso.
The novel seems to have a mosaic-like structure, perhaps comparable to a film like Nashville by Robert Altman. Did you realize you were dealing with a complex structure, while you were writing—and how do you keep so many intersecting characters in perspective, while still telling the story?
Evelyn Waugh once urged a young novelist, “Go to the cinema. It’s the modern way to write a story.” Also, it’s a flexible way of handling many characters and subplots in an orderly and comprehensible fashion.
What are optimal conditions for your work?
When I had stepchildren I wrote in the mornings when they were at school. Since then I’ve written between three and seven in the afternoon. That way, when I knock off work, I have no responsibility beyond shaking and drinking two stiff martinis for myself and my wife. Once I begin a book I almost never abandon it. I agree with Raymond Chandler that if you start on a writing job, it was always for a good reason, and your job is to rediscover that reason.
Thank you so much. We’ll look forward to the second part of your interview.