Monthly Archives: August 2018


(Richard Sandomir’s article appeared in The New York Times, 8/22.)

Barbara Harris, who was a founding member of the Second City improvisational theater and went on to win a Tony Award for her lead role in the musical “The Apple Tree” and to appear in films like “A Thousand Clowns” and “Nashville,” died on Tuesday in hospice care in Scottsdale, Ariz. She was 83.

Charna Halpern, a friend and a founder of the Chicago improv theater iO, said the cause was metastatic lung cancer.

Ms. Harris was part of a revolution in improvisation in Chicago — first with the Compass Players, whose members also included Mike Nichols, Elaine May and Ed Asner, and then with the Second City, which Paul Sills, her husband at the time, helped start in 1959.

She was the first performer seen onstage at the Second City’s opening night, singing “Everybody’s in the Know” while framed by a spotlight.

“It all began with Barbara Harris,” the Second City said on its website on Tuesday.

When a revue called “From the Second City” opened on Broadway in 1961, Ms. Harris was lauded by Howard Taubman of The New York Times for her “unusual and varied

talents.” He cited a “hugely diverting encounter” in a sketch in which she played an introverted girl and Alan Arkin played a guitar-playing beatnik spouting nonsensical lingo.

(Read more)

Photo credit: Leo Friedman, via Photofest


(Boyd’s article appeared in the Guardian, 8/20.)

In 1902, as he pondered The Cherry Orchard, Anton Chekhov had another question on his mind: who was the father of his wife’s unborn child?

On 25 May 1901, Anton Chekhov, aged 41, married the actor Olga Knipper, eight years his junior. The marriage provoked great surprise and consternation among his friends and family. In Russia at the time, Chekhov was as famous a writer as Tolstoy and, in addition, a passionate and amorous man who had enjoyed more than 30 love affairs. He was also a regular visitor to brothels. And, even more significantly, he was the ultimate commitment-phobe. Many women had fallen in love with him and wanted to marry him but he always quickly backed away. Then suddenly, clandestinely, he married.

Knipper was a second-generation Russian, of German Lutheran stock. She came from a bourgeois family that had hit hard times, and she had audaciously and tenaciously decided to become an actor, driving herself to rise out of genteel penury. At the time she met Chekhov she was an original member of the famous, radical Moscow Arts Theatre. She caught his eye in 1898 when she was playing Irina Arkadina in The Seagull. Many of his lovers were far more beautiful and beguiling than Olga. She was petite and vivacious, and the fact that she’d had to struggle so hard to make her way in the world gave her an energy and near-ruthless determination that Chekhov responded to.

Their affair began in 1899 but it was shadowed by Chekhov’s terminal illness, tuberculosis. He was a doctor and knew exactly the inevitable, fatal potency of his malady. As it grew more severe, he sensed the end of his life nearing: perhaps this was what spurred him finally towards matrimony.

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Photo: Getty Images


(Jesse Green’s article appeared in The New York Times, 8/15; via Pam Green.)

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Theater seasons rarely have a theme; they come together too haphazardly for that. But there’s something in the Berkshires air right now, even aside from humidity. Last weekend, I saw three productions that all dealt, at least in part, with the life-destroying effects of prejudice. Together, they seemed to be engaged in an accidental conversation with our own time and world.

Two were at the Williamstown Theater Festival here. On the smaller Nikos Stage, I attended a matinee of Jen Silverman’s “Dangerous House,” a harrowing play about violence against lesbians and gay men in South Africa. That evening, on the larger Main Stage, I caught the festival’s revival of “The Member of the Wedding,” in which, as my colleague Ben Brantley has noted, Roslyn Ruff’s uncompromising performance shifts the center of the classic Carson McCullers story from a white girl’s tween anxiety to a black woman’s unanswerable sorrows.

The night before, 20 miles south in Pittsfield, Mass., I saw the Barrington Stage Company’s solid and satisfying, if slightly bumpy, revival of “West Side Story,” the classic 1957 musical about gang warfare between self-proclaimed Americans and recent Puerto Rican migrants. (As Stephen Sondheim’s lyrics point out, the Puerto Ricans are American, too.) Its familiar pleasures — like those of “The Member of the Wedding” — heightened the unexpected ache of its continued relevance.

But it was “Dangerous House,” the play set furthest away, that spoke most urgently. In 14 swift scenes, Ms. Silverman deftly explores, from several perspectives, the horrifying practice of “corrective rape,” in which lesbians and gay men are sexually assaulted, tortured and sometimes murdered with the stated goal of “fixing” their homosexuality. That this is happening in the first African country to legalize gay marriage makes the subject almost cosmically ironic.

(Read more)

Photo: Samira Wiley is a South African lesbian who provides refuge for victims of sexual violence in Jen Silverman’s “Dangerous House” at the Williamstown Theater Festival.Credit Sarah Sutton


(Bridget Minamore’s article appeared in the Guardian, 8/19.)

In Freeman’s first five minutes, six figures on stage grapple with one another in the low light. Their bodies twist and turn, they climb on each other, they are flung over shoulders and thrown from one person to the next. There’s a violence in their movements: at one point, a performer looks as though he is hanging from a tree. At the end of the sequence, the five black cast members lie on the floor, the sole white performer sitting on a crate. There’s a sense they’ve all been killed, died in a traumatic way. Soon we find out they have.

A collaboration by writer Camilla Whitehill and Strictly Arts, Freeman is a revelation, a piece of stunning physical theatre that deftly looks at deaths in police custody, institutional racism and mental health.

Focusing on six real-life people, including Michael BaileyDavid Oluwale, and Sarah Reed, the cast leap and tumble their way through each of their often painful stories. Danièle Sanderson’s slickly directed, fast-paced hour sometimes feels unrelenting. Projected images and music are subtle but strong, complemented by sounds made by the performers’ bodies. Claps, punches and slaps all begin to sound sickening, and the horror of being tasered or treated with electroshock therapy is not shied away from.

(Read more)

Photo: Strictly Arts


(James P. Pinkerton’s article appeared in American Conservative, 8/15.)

The musical portrays him as a hip Master of the Universe. But there was much more to him than that.

So how does the musical Hamilton hold up, three years after its debut? That is, from its beginnings in the Barack Obama-Hillary Clinton era to today, in this Age of Trump? As we shall see, things have changed.

The historical Alexander Hamilton, of course, is timeless. As aide-de-camp to George Washington during the Revolution, as the most prolific author of TheFederalist Papers, as our first treasury secretary—indeed, the most influential figure in President Washington’s cabinet—as the face on the $10 bill, and, more broadly, as the thinker who gave his name to a whole tradition of economic and political thought, Hamilton has always been a bold-print name.

Yet the debut of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton off-Broadway in February 2015 proved that there was yet more oomph in the Hamilton brand. The show was an immediate hit; later that year, it moved to Broadway, where it has established itself as a seemingly permanent ticket- and T-shirt-selling phenomenon. Since then, Miranda, author and original star of the show, has seen his opus win 11 Tony Awards, while he himself has won the Pulitzer Prize.

At the time of its opening, observers were startled and intrigued by four things about the show.

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(Mesfin Fekadu’s and Hillel Italie’s article appeared on the AP, 8/16; via Pam Green.)

NEW YORK — Aretha Franklin, the undisputed “Queen of Soul” who sang with matchless style on such classics as “Think,” ”I Say a Little Prayer” and her signature song, “Respect,” and stood as a cultural icon around the globe, has died at age 76 from pancreatic cancer.

Publicist Gwendolyn Quinn tells The Associated Press through a family statement that Franklin died Thursday at 9:50 a.m. at her home in Detroit. The statement said “Franklin’s official cause of death was due to advanced pancreatic cancer of the neuroendocrine type, which was confirmed by Franklin’s oncologist, Dr. Philip Phillips of Karmanos Cancer Institute” in Detroit.

The family added: “In one of the darkest moments of our lives, we are not able to find the appropriate words to express the pain in our heart. We have lost the matriarch and rock of our family. The love she had for her children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, and cousins knew no bounds.”

The statement continued:

“We have been deeply touched by the incredible outpouring of love and support we have received from close friends, supporters and fans all around the world. Thank you for your compassion and prayers. We have felt your love for Aretha and it brings us comfort to know that her legacy will live on. As we grieve, we ask that you respect our privacy during this difficult time.”

Funeral arrangements will be announced in the coming days.

(Read more)

Photo: BBC


(Oliver Holmes’s article appeared in the Guardian, 8/16.)

Caryl Churchill and National Theatre director bemoan ‘devastating loss’ after Israeli strike

Leading playwrights and directors in Britain have severely criticised the bombing of a major cultural centre in the Gaza Strip by Israel’s air force, calling it a “devastating loss for the already isolated community”.

In a letter to the Guardian, 14 figures from UK theatre, including the director of the National Theatre, Rufus Norris, and dramatist Caryl Churchill, condemned the “total destruction” of the Said al-Mishal Culture Centre.

We condemn the destruction of Gaza cultural centre in Israeli airstrike

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(Laura Cappelle’s article appeared in The New York Times, 8/9; via Pam Green.)

PARIS — There are a number of attractions that Parisians are happy to leave to tourists. These include the Eiffel Tower and the Champs-Élysées, as well as some of the city’s most popular shows: specifically, the cabarets.

Indeed, while out-of-towners flock to the Moulin Rouge, the Lido or the Crazy Horse, many of the capital’s theater buffs have never even been. The genre that was once the toast of Paris lost touch with the times in the last decades of the 20th century. Its theatrical revues remain as extravagant as ever, yet the stories they tell often feel stuck in the past.

These venues still marshal impressive resources. Patrons at the spacious Lido and the Moulin Rouge can drink and dine, with high-end service, before and during two performances every night. The Moulin Rouge’s current revue, “Féerie,” is seen by around 600,000 people every year, half of them foreigners. It comes with 100 performers, 1,000 heavily sequined costumes, five pythons — and a cost of 8 million euros, or around $9.25 million.

What, however, does this buy? Today’s cabarets require viewers to suspend not just modern theatrical expectations but irony, too. Dramaturgy is, at best, threadbare; old-fashioned exoticism and sexism are par for the course. The goal — the only goal — is to dazzle, be it with feathers, jewels, acrobats or naked women.

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Photo: Get Your Guide



Adapted by Colin Teevan
From the book by Ryszard Kapuściński
Directed by Walter Meierjohann
Co-Produced by the Young Vic, HOME, and Les Théâtres de la Ville de Luxembourg

“A resonant and troubling metaphor for the great melancholy of power.” — The Guardian

Theatre for a New Audience (TFANA; Jeffrey Horowitz, Founding Artistic Director) kicks off its 2018-2019 season with the U.S. premiere of The Emperor, featuring virtuosic shape-shifting actor Kathryn Hunter and Ethiopian musician Temesgen Zeleke, founder of Krar Collective. Walter Meierjohann directs this parable about power in decline—an adaptation by Colin Teevan of Ryszard Kapuściński’s celebrated and controversial 1978 book of the same title, about the downfall of Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie. With two performers onstage,The Emperor explores political power by foregrounding the stories of those operating under it, from Selassie’s many servants (including his pillow-bearer, purse-bearer, and dog-urine wiper), to government bureaucrats, to students opposing Selassie’s rule. Performances of this co-production from the Young Vic, HOME, and Les Théâtres de la Ville de Luxembourg run September 9-30 at Polonsky Shakespeare Center (262 Ashland Place), TFANA’s home in the Brooklyn Cultural District.

The Emperor marks Hunter, Teevan and Meierjohann’s return to TFANA following their acclaimed Young Vic production of Kafka’s Monkey (based on Kafka’s “A Report to an Academy”), which came to TFANA in 2013. Once again, they present an engaging theatrical adaptation anchored by Kathryn Hunter’s riveting storytelling abilities.

Hunter—who has also played at TFANA as a memorable Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream (directed by Julie Taymor) and in The Valley of Astonishment (directed by Peter Brook and Marie-Hélène Estienne)—is a remarkable artist. The first British actress to play King Lear in a professional production, she transforms to create the physical shapes and inner hearts of characters she plays—female, male, animal, or spirit. When the play made its world premiere at the Young Vic in 2016, the “tiny, nimble, crackle-voiced” Hunter was praised for “her particular mixture of gravity and irony” (The Guardian), and, in a tour-de-force performance of 10 characters in loyal service to the Emperor, for being “probably…genuinely the only performer alive who could possibly pull [her shows] off.” (Time Out) “Tremendous musician” (The Guardian) Temesgen Zeleke, a former student of legendary Ethiopian jazz artist Mulatu Astatke, was praised for “beautifully reinforc[ing] the shifts in mood with his krar and pedal-drum” (The Independent), and as an actor and singer embodying various aspects of insurgency.

Jeffrey HorowitzTFANA’s Founding Artistic Director, says, “The Emperor raises important issues that extend beyond the production. TFANA is presenting this extraordinary work of art in part as an invitation to our audiences to engage in the complex conversations that this parable of power elicits. Our hope is that the dialogue will be as illuminating as the artistry on stage.”

Kapuściński, who many considered a candidate for the Nobel Prize during his lifetime, cagily used The Emperor to illuminate corruption and avarice in his native country, communist Poland. Today, as adapted and performed by this acclaimed theatrical team, the material just as strongly illuminates our world’s continuing and disturbing fascination with despotism. A series of panels will contextualize the production and the questions it provokes, and will be held on September 15, 22, and 29.

The cast of The Emperor is Kathryn Hunter (Southwark Playhouse’s Cyrano de Bergerac; TFANA: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Young Vic’s Kafka’s Monkey) and Temesgen Zeleke (leader of Krar Collective). The creative team includes Walter Meierjohann, Director (HOME’s Artistic Director, Theatre; In the Red and Brown Water at the Young Vic, TFANA: The Young Vic’s Kafka’s Monkey); Colin Teevan, Adaptor (The Bee starring Kathryn Hunter, Duke of York’s Doctor Faustus, TFANA: The Young Vic’s Kafka’s Monkey); Ti Green, Design (RSC Swan’s Dido, Queen of Carthage, Watford Palace/Bolton Octogon’s I Capture the Castle); Imogen Knight, Movement (West End: The Birthday Party; Royal Court Theatre’sNuclear War, National Theatre’s AmadeusMike Gunning, Lighting (West End: Alice’s Adventures in WonderlandAlice’s Adventures Underground ); Paul Arditti, Sound (The Young Vic’s The Inheritance and The Jungle, National Theatre’s Macbeth); Louis Price, Video (HOME’s The Funfair, the Barbican’s Unleashed); Dave Price, Music (National Theatre’s From Morning to Midnight; Royal Shakespeare Company’s CymbelineA Soldier in Every Son); Kathryn Hunter, Creative Associate; and Cat Robey, Assistant Director.

Performance Schedule, Ticketing, and Other Information

Performances of The Emperor will take place in the evenings, September 9, 11-16, 18-21, 25-28, and October 2-5 at 7:30pm; matinees on September 22, 23, 29, 30, and October 6 and 7 will take place at 2pm.

Panels will be held Saturday, September 15 at 5:30 (before the evening performance), Saturday, September 22 (after the matinee performance), and Saturday, September 29 (after the matinee performance).

Theatre for a New Audience is committed to economically accessible tickets and offers tickets at a range of prices for The Emperor.

$20 New Deal: all Performances.  Age 30 and under or full-time students of any age.  May be purchased online, phone, or at the box office, in advance or day-of, with valid ID(s) proving eligibility required at pickup.

$20 Brooklyn Pass: all Performances. Members of local Brooklyn non-profit organizations through Brooklyn Pass program.

$28 TDF: selected performances. 

$60: all performances with a TFANA subscription.  

Special Discounts: TFANA offers special discounts available by joining TFANA mailing list at

$90-$100: all performances.

$125 Premium Seats: all performances.

Polonsky Shakespeare Center is located at 262 Ashland Place, Brooklyn.

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