(Michael Billington’s article appeared in The Guardian, 5/31.)
Brian Friel’s 1980 play has long been regarded as a modern classic. In Ian Rickson’s flawless production, it seems to expand to fill the vast space of the Olivier. Friel’s multilayered study of what Colm Tóibín calls “the clash between language and culture” is set against the epic breadth of the mist-wreathed Donegal hills, beautifully lit by Neil Austin and punctuated, in Ian Dickinson’s sound design, by the sound of steadfast Irish rain dripping into a bucket.
What strikes one is Friel’s ability to find complex meanings in a simple story and to capture Ireland, in 1833, at a moment of historical transition. A rural hedge-school, where classes are conducted in Irish, is to be replaced by a national education system in which English is the official language. At the same time, British soldiers are engaged in an ordnance survey involving the anglicisation of Irish place names. Friel explores these radical changes through their impact on individuals: in particular, Hugh, the local teacher steeped in Latin and Greek; his bilingual son, Owen, who acts as interpreter for the occupying forces; and an English lieutenant, Yolland, who readily succumbs to the romance of Ireland.
(Miranda Sawyer’s article appeared in the Guardian, 5/26; via Pam Green.)
For anyone who looks toward their later years with trepidation, Sir Anthony Hopkins (“Tony, please”) is a proper tonic. He is 79, and happier than he has ever been. This is due to a mixture of things: his relationship with his wife of 15 years, Stella, who has encouraged him to keep fit, and to branch out into painting and classical composition; the calming of his inner fire, of which more later; and his work.
Hopkins loves to work. Much of his self-esteem and vigour comes from acting – “Oh, yes, work has kept me going. Work has given me my energy” – and he is in no way contemplating slowing down. You can feel a quicksilver energy about him, a restlessness. Every so often, I think he’s going to stop the interview and take flight, but actually he’s enjoying himself and keeps saying, “Ask me more! This is great!”
We meet in Rome, where he is making a Netflix film about the relationship between the last pope (Benedict) and the current one (Francis). Hopkins is playing Benedict, Jonathan Pryce is Francis. He is enjoying this – “We’re filming in the Sistine Chapel tomorrow!” – and we are both relishing the lovely view across the city from the penthouse suite in the hotel where he’s staying. Still, he declares that the film we are here to talk about, the BBC’s King Lear, filmed in England and directed by Richard Eyre, is the piece of work that has made him truly happy. “I felt, ‘Yes, I can do this.’ I can do this sort of work. I didn’t walk away. And it’s so invigorating, because I know I can do it, and I’ve got my sense of humour, my humility, and nothing’s been destroyed.”
In April 1962, Samuel Beckett sent a clipping from the French press to his lover Barbara Bray: a report of the arrest in Paris of a member of the Organisation armée secrète. The OAS was a far-right terror gang whose members were drawn largely from within the French military. It had carried out bombings, assassinations, and bank robberies with the aim of overthrowing the government of Charles de Gaulle and stopping the concession of independence to Algeria. Among its targets had been Beckett’s publisher and friend Jérôme Lindon, whose apartment and office were both bombed by the OAS.
Samuel Beckett; drawing by Siegfried Woldhek
The press clipping detailed the capture of an army lieutenant who would be charged with leading an OAS attack on an arms depot outside Paris and a raid on a bank in the city. His name was Lieutenant Daniel Godot. Sending it to Bray was a typical expression of Beckett’s black humor. But it also serves as a reminder that his work is not an exhalation of timeless existential despair. It is, as Emilie Morin’s groundbreaking study, Beckett’s Political Imagination, shows, enmeshed in contemporary politics.
That such a reminder should be necessary is one of the more remarkable facts of twentieth-century cultural history. Beckett, after all, risked his life to work for the French Resistance, even though he was a citizen of a neutral country, Ireland. The astonishing works with which he revolutionized both the theater and the novel—Waiting for Godot and the trilogy of Molloy, Malone Dies, and The Unnamable—were written immediately after World War II and the Holocaust. Vladimir’s question in Godot, “Where are all these corpses from?,” and its answer, “A charnel-house! A charnel-house!,” hang over much of his writing. Torture, enslavement, hunger, displacement, incarceration, and subjection to arbitrary power are the common fates of Beckett’s characters.
(Ronnie Lee’s letter appeared in The New York Time, 5/14; via Pam Green.)
It has been just over 60 years since “West Side Story” opened on Broadway with me as one of the Sharks. I was 19 when rehearsals began.
I had already worked for Jerome Robbins in the original Broadway productions of “The King and I” (as Crown Prince Chulalongkorn) and “Peter Pan.” Working on “West Side Story” was the best of times and the worst of times — the most challenging choreography and, emotionally, the most ego-deflating, at the hands and tongue of that master torturer, Jerry Robbins.
Photo: Times Square Chronicles; Theater Pizzazz (Carol Lawrence and Ronnie Lee)
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss one of the most remarkable queens of the Middle Ages who took control when her husband, Henry VI, was incapable. Margaret of Anjou (1430-1482) wanted Henry to stay in power for the sake of their son, the heir to the throne, and her refusal to back down led to the great dynastic struggle of the Wars of the Roses.
The image above is from the Talbot Shrewsbury Book, showing John Talbot, 1st Earl of Shrewsbury, presenting Margaret with that book on her betrothal to Henry
(Steven McElroy’s article appeared in The New York Times, 5/17; via Pam Green.)
Selections from the warm-weather season, including Shakespeare, new plays and musicals in development. We also picked our favorite festivals in dance, classical music and pop.
Shaw and Stratford Festivals
NIAGARA-ON-THE LAKE, ONTARIO, THROUGH OCT. 28; STRATFORD, ONTARIO, THROUGH NOV. 4 Free will is the theme at the Stratford Festival this year, where productions of “The Tempest” (starring Martha Henry as Prospero), “Coriolanus” (directed by Robert Lepage) and Eugene O’Neill’s “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” (directed by Miles Potter) are among the dozen shows planned. Over at another Canada mainstay, the Shaw Festival, a new adaptation of C.S. Lewis’s “The Magician’s Nephew,” written by Michael O’Brien and directed by festival’s artistic director, Tim Carroll, will have its world premiere. Sarah Ruhl’s “Stage Kiss,” a reimagined “Henry V” and plenty of other productions are also planned for the Shaw’s three stages. stratfordfestival.ca; shawfest.com
Clubbed Thumb Summerworks
NEW YORK CITY, MAY 19-JUNE 30 As sure a sign of summer as Shakespeare in the Park, the Off Off Broadway company Clubbed Thumb, known for finding and nurturing unusual new works, will present its 23rd summer season of three world premieres. Prior summers have introduced theatergoers to new plays by Ethan Lipton, Sarah Ruhl, Jordan Harrison, Madeleine George and Erin Courtney — a list of Clubbed Thumb alums that also includes a lot of really good directors like Leigh Silverman and Lear deBessonet. The new plays in the 2018 lineup — and the new playwrights we’ll want to keep an eye on — are “Tin Cat Shoes,” by Trish Harnetiaux; “Wilder Gone,” by Angela Hanks; and “Plano,” by Will Arbery. clubbedthumb.org
Russia’s Theatre of Nations returns to New York with Anton Chekhov’s Ivanov, a dramatic play about an antihero, a melancholic upper-class man who is struggling to regain his former glory, on June 14-17 at New York City Center (131 W. 55th Street), as part of the VI Cherry Orchard Festival of the Arts, produced by its founders Maria Shclover and Irina Shabshis.
The prolific theater and opera director Timofey Kulyabin, best known for his controversial take on Wagner’sTannhäuserat Novosibirsk Opera and Ballet Theatre in 2014, directs an award-winning cast for Ivanov, led by Evgeny Mironov, Chulpan Khamatova, Elizaveta Boyarskaya, and Victor Verzhbitsky. Premiered in Moscow on December 23, 2016, the production was nominated for the prestigious Golden Mask National Theatre Award (the equivalent of the Tony Award) in multiple categories.
The State Theatre of Nations has a special connection to Anton Chekhov, who made his debut as a playwright with this play in 1887 at the request of Fyodor Korsh, founder of the very first private theatre in Moscow, which is now the home of the State Theatre of Nations.
The schedule of performances is Thursday, June 14, Friday, June 15, and Saturday, June 16 at 7:30 PM; Sunday, June 17 at 2:00 PM. Tickets for the performances are priced at $45. – $155. and are available at the New York City Center Box Office in person or by calling CityTix® 212.581.1212, by visiting http://www.nycitycenter.org/tickets or by visiting CherryOrchardFestival.org. Student discounts are available at the box office with valid ID. For group sales, please contact the Cherry Orchard Festival Foundation directly 800.349.0021 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
(Claire Dederer’s article appeared in The Paris Review, 11/20/17.)
Roman Polanski, Woody Allen, Bill Cosby, William Burroughs, Richard Wagner, Sid Vicious, V. S. Naipaul, John Galliano, Norman Mailer, Ezra Pound, Caravaggio, Floyd Mayweather, though if we start listing athletes we’ll never stop. And what about the women? The list immediately becomes much more difficult and tentative: Anne Sexton? Joan Crawford? Sylvia Plath? Does self-harm count? Okay, well, it’s back to the men I guess: Pablo Picasso, Max Ernst, Lead Belly, Miles Davis, Phil Spector.
They did or said something awful, and made something great. The awful thing disrupts the great work; we can’t watch or listen to or read the great work without remembering the awful thing. Flooded with knowledge of the maker’s monstrousness, we turn away, overcome by disgust. Or … we don’t. We continue watching, separating or trying to separate the artist from the art. Either way: disruption. They are monster geniuses, and I don’t know what to do about them.
We’ve all been thinking about monsters in the Trump era. For me, it began a few years ago. I was researching Roman Polanski for a book I was writing and found myself awed by his monstrousness. It was monumental, like the Grand Canyon. And yet. When I watched his movies, their beauty was another kind of monument, impervious to my knowledge of his iniquities. I had exhaustively read about his rape of thirteen-year-old Samantha Gailey; I feel sure no detail on record remained unfamiliar to me. Despite this knowledge, I was still able to consume his work. Eager to. The more I researched Polanski, the more I became drawn to his films, and I watched them again and again—especially the major ones: Repulsion, Rosemary’s Baby, Chinatown. Like all works of genius, they invited repetition. I ate them. They became part of me, the way something loved does.
(Kathleen Massara’s article appeared in The New York Times, 5/16; via Pam Green.)
The Spanish film star and theater director was known for taking chances in her politics, in her private life and on the stage.
Since 1851, obituaries in The New York Times have been dominated by white men. With Overlooked, we’re adding the stories of remarkable people that never found their way into the newspaper.
When Margarita Xirgu met Federico García Lorca in the summer of 1926 at a bar in Madrid, he was a fledgling playwright and a questionable investment for most producers.
But Xirgu, a Catalan actress and director who was also a lesbian and a political radical, was known for her willingness to take risks. She accepted the challenge, and staged Lorca’s “Mariana Pineda” in Barcelona the next year, with costumes by the artist Salvador Dalí.
The play was a hit, and it cemented a friendship between Lorca and Xirgu, who became instrumental in staging and exporting his work in the early years of the 20th century. Lorca went on to become one of Spain’s most admired writers.
“She took a big chance on him,” said Christopher Maurer, a Lorca scholar at Boston University. “He wasn’t a playwright; he was a poet.” Because of her left-leaning views, he said, “people called her ‘Margarita La Roja’ ” — Margarita the Red, a Communist threat to Gen. Francisco Franco’s right-wing dictatorship.
Maria Aitken takes the edge off overwrought Summer Shakespeare with a droll, whimsical Twelfth Night from the Acting Co. in a co-production with Delaware’s Resident Ensemble Players (REP), now playing until May 27, at the Polonsky Shakespeare Center in Brooklyn (an essential theatrical destination, which seems to transfigure for each new presentation). Her light surrealism sets Illyria in the Thirties, maybe in California, probably not on the Adriatic and far away from traditional England or Trump’s America. What matters to her is the hair, the wigs (which go uncredited): bouffants, bobs, punk dreadlocks, pageboys, coiffures piled high and on the verge of Versailles. The costume designer, Candice Donnelly, provides veils, tams, netting and curlers, party hats, berets, and kerchiefs; variegated livery, period golf wear, ruffles at the neck, asymmetrical gowns, and old-fashioned black swimsuits–she even makes an allowance for nothing at all. Some might surmise that to dwell on costumes is another way of saying that there isn’t much going for the show, but here, Shakespeare is what happens when the audience is looking the other way.
The play has been called the finest of the bard’s comedies, and Aitken’s may be one director who can actually prove that, by insisting on lucidity–she does not clutter her stage, for example, for all her satirical idiosyncrasies, and the design, by Lee Savage, is white and clear, a little beat up, maybe a deck on a ship or the villa of a Hollywood star, a mystical swirl of eternity at the apex. The backdrop, virtually a map, is as vivid and impersonal as the screensaver of a Dell computer. As Viola, the page searching for her lost brother after a shipwreck, Susanna Stahlmann reminds of a young Isabella Rossellini—she’s giving a classic portrait, placing a knee up on a bench to intimidate or intimate virility or putting hands on hips to imitate manliness. At the other extreme is Michael Gotch, as Sir Andrew Aguecheek, a role typically seen as secondary—however, in this Alice-down-the-rabbit-hole incarnation, he is the one through which the audience realizes it can laugh. Gotch is thin and inventive, always in the moment, on, maybe like a Robin Williams. Aitken and her cast are looking at what’s really comic in a Shakespeare comedy, such a Sir Tobey Belch (Lee E. Ernst) line: “She’s a beagle,” insulting and whacked out at the same time.
The simplicity of the textual structure is allowed to be contemplated, without unnecessary stress from too much music, ham acting, and societal comment. The director’s specific detail in scene work, one including a fake pheasant, for instance, highlights the lunacy. By the end of the evening, she will have brought in the kazoos and ukuleles, even guns and terrorists; the cold white scenic design, sometimes like reflective tiles, with bright lighting, by Philip S. Rosenberg, can project fissures of red and blue. Shakespearean comedy is not often seen so unconventionally, with secrets of the interpretation, known only to the auteur, kept intact, yet a love of absurd eccentricity and lyricism on the verge of slapstick are apparent; very dry, of course. Elizabeth Heflin, as Olivia, seems Californian, an American with a pioneering spirit–a self-assured woman who might roll the dice for love in the city of angels or star in a silent-era two-reeler. Stephen Pelinski may be the one Malvolio who has found a way to recite his speeches without eliciting impatience. Others in the cast are also actors to take note of, if they are not known to readers already: Kate Forbes, John Skelley, Michael Stewart Allen, Hassan El-Amin, Mathew Greer, Mic Matarrese, Antoinette Robinson, Joshua David Robinson, and Mickey Theis. They add credence to the idea that the best way to enjoy Shakespeare is to not think about him . . . or Donald Trump . . . or the number 1 train on weekends . . . or the rain.
Founded in 1972 by John Houseman and Margot Harley, The Acting Company (Ian Belknap, Artistic Director; Elisa Spencer-Kaplan, Executive Director) is “the major touring classical theater in the United States” (The New York Times) and the only professional repertory company dedicated to the development of classical actors. The Company has reached 4 million people in 48 states and 10 foreign countries with its productions and education programs, and has helped to launch the careers of some 400 actors, including Kevin Kline, Patti LuPone, Rainn Wilson, Jesse L. Martin, Keith David, Frances Conroy, David Ogden Stiers, Harriet Harris, David Schramm, Jeffrey Wright and Hamish Linklater. Over a dozen commissioned new works and adaptations include plays by Lynn Nottage, Tony Kushner, John Guare, David Mamet, Beth Henley, Rebecca Gilman, Maria Irene Fornes, William Finn, Ntozake Shange, and more. The Company received a special Tony Honor for Excellence in Theater in 2003 for its contributions to the American theater.
About Resident Ensemble Players
The Resident Ensemble Players (REP) is a professional theatre company located at the University of Delaware, headed by Producing Artistic Director Sanford (Sandy) Robbins. The REP offers frequent productions of outstanding classic, modern and contemporary plays performed in a wide variety of styles that celebrate and demonstrate the range and breadth of its resident acting company. The REP is committed to create future audiences for live theatre by offering its productions at low prices that enable and encourage the attendance of everyone in the region, regardless of income.