Monthly Archives: September 2018


(Claire Brennan’s article appeared in the Observer, 9/9.)

It’s 1972. To the Oxford college rooms of the poet WH Auden comes an unexpected visitor, the composer Benjamin Britten, who is preparing an opera on the novella Death in Venice by Auden’s father-in-law, Thomas Mann. The two great artists have not met for 30 years. Also to the rooms (though not all at the same time) come two cleaners, a rent boy and a BBC interviewer, Humphrey Carpenter (subsequently to become biographer to both men), who narrates the encounter. Sound artsy-fartsy? It’s not. Alan Bennett sidesteps clever-clogsy-ness by presenting the action of his 2009 drama as a play within a play. The result is a take on life, sexuality, death and everything, that is witty, moving, laugh-aloud funny and understatedly profound.

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Photo: The Times


(Emily Manthei’s article appeared in the Daily Beast, 9/7; via the Drudge  Report.)

The city’s reputation as an epicenter for fetish and fantasy is part of what draws more than 12 million tourists per year; but locals know that hedonism is only the beginning.


Frederic Schweizer

Like most first-time visitors to Berlin, I came to the German capital in search of a party. Conjuring the Weimar spirit, an art-nouveau flyer for Boheme Sauvage led me to a pillared playhouse and group of flappers and dandies armed with a secret code. Inside was an evening of vaudeville, complete with cabaret piano man, an absinthe fairy serving green spirits, and a va-va-va-voom burlesque dancer removing layer after layer of costumed extravagance onstage until all that remained were be-tasseled pasties.

Berliners don’t party in half measures. They love costumes, historical and histrionic.

The city’s reputation as a European epicenter for fetish and fantasy is part of what draws more than 12 million tourists per year; but locals know that hedonism is only the beginning. Party performances like drag and burlesque are as political as they are entertaining, thanks to a culture of subcultures that champions queer, minority, women, and gender-non-conforming performers on safe stages and in party zones tightly controlled by discerning (or, some might say, discriminatory) bouncers. In this environment, anyone can feel empowered to express themselves.

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Photo: The Daily Beast


(Yulia Gorbunova’s article appeared in The Moscow Times, 9/7.)

Many of those who follow news from Russia have been counting down the days this summer with a sinking feeling. Now , autumn is here, bringing even closer the very real possibility that Oleg Sentsov, the Ukrainian filmmaker on hunger strike in a Russian prison since May, may die there.

Today is day 117 of Sentsov’s hunger strike. The condition of someone existing without food for that long is horrifying to imagine. 117 is also the number of days that Anatoly Marchenko, a Soviet dissident, spent on a hunger strike in 1986 to demand the release of all political prisoners in the Soviet Union. Marchenko was force-fed during most of his hunger strike through a tube in his stomach, an experience he described in his letters as pure torture. He died from heart failure a little under two weeks after he ended the hunger strike.

Many believe that Marchenko’s death was a decisive factor in pushing Mikhail Gorbachev to start releasing Soviet prisoners held on politically motivated charges.

Sentsov was sentenced by a Russian court to 20 years in prison in an unfair, politicized trial in 2015. An outspoken critic of Russia’s actions in Crimea, he was arrested on bogus terrorism charges in late spring of 2014, three months after Russian soldiers descended upon the peninsula. He is serving his sentence in a penal colony in Russia’s far north, above the Arctic circle. He is 42. He has two young children, who live in Crimea with his mother.

Sentsov started his hunger strike one month before the 2018 World Cup, hosted by Russia in June and July. He is calling on the Russian authorities to release over 60 Ukrainians held in Russia and Crimea on politically motivated charges. He is not asking for his own release.

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(Fionola Meredith’s article appeared in The Irish Times, 9/6.)


Lyric Theatre, Belfast

This stage version of Terri Hooley’s story makes the transition from film with style

When you hear the words “stage musical” you don’t tend to imagine a posse of young punks belting out a song so fiercely that the floorboards shake. But that’s what happens on Wednesday night at the Lyric Theatre in Belfast, at the opening performance of Good Vibrations. It is a glorious moment.

Adapted from the award-winning film, Good Vibrations is the story of Terri Hooley, who, with a mixture of reckless abandon and unquenchable hope, opened a record shop on “the most bombed half-mile in Europe”, Great Victoria Street in Belfast, in the 1970s. There he discovered the underground punk scene and its joyous, anarchic ability to transcend tribal boundaries and bring people together, even as the city burned. Hooley became an unlikely impresario, putting on gigs and producing records in defiance of the bombers, the police and the snooty attitude of the mainstream music industry in London.

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Photo: Irish Times


(Laura Collins-Hughes’s article appeared in The New York Times, 8/31.)

Halftime was ticking down at a marathon performance of Shakespeare’s “Henry VI” when the guys in front of me returned to their seats and I fell a little in love with them. Riffling through plot points and names of characters they vaguely remembered were coming up (“Who’s Edmund? Or am I thinking of ‘King Lear’?”), they were like soap opera fans preparing to dive back into an engrossing serial.

That’s the kind of hold that the National Asian American Theater Company exerts on spectators with its oxygenated “Henry VI” at A.R.T./New York Theaters. It’s a production that asks nearly six hours from your life (yes, you can see its two parts on different days), but it repays you handsomely.

Fast-paced and gripping, this is an unusually lucid staging of a bloody history play, whose surfeit of schemes and villainy could make a daytime-drama writer blush. Yet for all the battles and beheadings in Stephen Brown-Fried’s handsomely designed production, never does it take death lightly. That’s one of the remarkable things about it.

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Photo: William P. Steele


(Chris Jones’s article appeared in the Chicago Tribune, 9/4.)

They’ve impressed us at TimeLine. Knocked us out at Victory Gardens. Made us chortle at Second City. Blown us away at the Lookingglass. They’re a diverse crew but they all are into truth and creativity, ensemble and commitment, theater and Chicago. And every one is a charmer. Late each summer, the Tribune picks the Hot New Faces of Chicago theater. Come meet our Class of 2018, picked for potential greatness on Chicago-area stages in the year ahead. Photos are by Tribune photographer Erin Hooley.

Isa Arciniegas

This talented 26-year-old actress came to Chicago, via Houston, from Caracas, Venezuela, when she was 18 years old. By 2014, she had graduated from Roosevelt University and, this spring, she was an impressive part of the ensemble cast of “The Wolves” at the Goodman Theatre, where she played a character known as No. 25, the captain of the girl’s soccer team chronicled by the play. Before that, Arciniegas impressed critics with her work in Young Jean Lee’s “We’re Gonna Die” for Haven Theatre. “I want to give voice in the theater to those who do not have voice,” Arciniegas says. “I want to present brown women on the stage and I want to make my family and my country proud.” She’s well on her way. Up next: Appearing in “Such Things as Vampires,” a new musical at the People’s Light Theatre Company in Malvern, Pa.

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Photo: The Chicago Tribune


(Michael Billington’s article appeared in the Guardian, 9/2.)

Caryl Churchill at 80: theatre’s great disruptor

She has made every theatre trip an adventure into the unknown, with a relentless urge

Caryl Churchill, who will be 80 on 3 September, was once compared by a fellow writer to Pablo Picasso. At first, it seems a bizarre coupling: a bull-like Spanish painter-sculptor and an intellectual British dramatist. But, as you think about it, the comparison makes sense. Like Picasso, Churchill has an active political conscience, has had a big influence on succeeding generations and is a restless experimenter with form. That last quality is, for me, the key to an extraordinary career that has yielded close to 40 plays and made Churchill an iconic figurehead.

Given the surge in plays by women in recent years, one forgets just how isolated Churchill must have felt when she set out. She began writing at Oxford but, while raising a family in the 1960s, focused exclusively on short plays for radio. She had her first stage play, Owners, put on at the Royal Court Theatre Upstairs in 1972 at a time when there were scarcely any role-models for women dramatists. Ann Jellicoe, another experimental dramatist, was the only major woman writer to have emerged from the Court’s chauvinist culture, Shelagh Delaney had flared like a rocket with one hit and then fizzled out and Agatha Christie had her secure niche in the West End. Otherwise, that was just about it. To whom was a young woman dramatist to turn for inspiration?

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Photo: The Guardian


(Erik Piepenburg’s and Jason Bailey’s article appeared in the New York TImes, 8/26.) 

A look at the work of Neil Simon over the decades reveals a prolific chronicler of New York City life who examined angst, romance and ambition through a comic lens, whether for the stage, film or television. Critics, like audiences in general, were mixed in their response to Mr. Simon’s comedy, which tended toward shticky one-liners and heart-squeezing monologues. Here is a look at his most notable works, how The New York Times reviewed them and (when available) where you can stream them.

‘Barefoot in the Park’ (1963)

Elizabeth Ashley and Robert Redford starred on Broadway in this “bubbling, rib-tickling” comedy, as Howard Taubman wrote in his review, about the strains of marriage on a young couple living in New York City. The show, Mr. Simon’s first big Broadway hit, was nominated for four Tony Awards, including best play, with Mike Nichols winning for best director.

“Mr. Simon evidently has no aspirations except to be diverting, and he achieves those with the dash of a highly skilled professional writer,” Mr. Taubman wrote.

The play inspired a 1967 film adaptation starring Mr. Redford and Jane Fonda (a “carelessly knocked-together film” with “plenty of gross exaggeration of the embarrassments of callow newlyweds,” Bosley Crowther wrote); a 1970 ABC series with a black cast; and a 2006 Broadway revival with Patrick Wilson and Amanda Peet (and costumes by Isaac Mizrahi).

The 1967 film is streaming on Netflix and Starz, and is available for rental or purchase via Amazon Prime VideoiTunesVuduGoogle Play and YouTube.

‘The Odd Couple’ (1965)

This comedy about mismatched roommates Felix (the clean one, played by Art Carney) and Oscar (the messy one, played by Walter Matthau) was another Broadway smash for Mr. Simon. The play ran for 964 performances and received four Tony Awards, including for Mr. Simon (in the “best author” category) and Mr. Nichols for direction.

In his review, Mr. Taubman wrote of Mr. Simon: “His skill — and it is not only great but constantly growing — lies in his gift for the deliciously surprising line and attitude. His instinct for incongruity is faultless. It nearly always operates on a basis of character.”

The play was turned into a 1968 film starring Mr. Matthau, in a reprise of his stage role, with Jack Lemmon as Felix. In The Times, Renata Adler called it a “very funny, professional adaptation.” Mr. Matthau and Mr. Lemmon reunited for the 1998 sequel “The Odd Couple II,” written by Mr. Simon.

popular 1970s TV sitcom featured Tony Randall as Felix and Jack Klugman as Oscar. Matthew Perry and Thomas Lennon starred in a CBS remake that ran for two seasons from 2015 to 2017. “It’s an interesting experiment,” wrote Alessandra Stanley in her review.

A female version of the play, starring Rita Moreno and Sally Struthers, opened to mostly negative reviews on Broadway in 1985. “The comedy plants itself four square on the stage of the Broadhurst and defies its author, director and players to make it make sense,” Walter Kerr wrote in The Times.

Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick played Oscar and Felix in a 2005 Broadway revival that received mixed reviews. Ben Brantley said the play gave the impression “of one of those latter-day sitcoms in which the characters dream they’ve been beamed into an earlier, vintage television series. Which means that the talented stars of this ‘Odd Couple’ are indeed odd men out.”

The 1968 film is available for rental or purchase via Amazon Prime VideoiTunesVuduGoogle Play, and YouTube. The original 1970 series is streaming on Hulu, while the 2015 show is available on CBS All Access.

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(Alexandria Neason’s article appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, 8/31; via the Drudge Report.) 

THE VILLAGE VOICE IS SUSPENDING ALL EDITORIAL CONTENT and will lay off half its staff effective immediately, according to a member of the staff.

Peter Barbey, who bought the famed alt-weekly from Voice Media Group in 2015, announced the decision today in a conference call. CJR acquired audio of the call from a Voice staff member.

“Today is kind of a sucky day. Due to the business realities, we are going to stop publishing Village Voice new material,” said Barbey on the call. “About half the staff, it’ll be last day today. About half the staff staying on to wind things down and to work on the archive project.”

I worked at the Village Voice from June 2016 through August 2017, a tumultuous period of time that saw constant editorial change. Will Bourne, who was hired by Barbey in January 2016, was abruptly fired in August of the same year. The newspaper went months with no editor-in-chief, and in December 2016,Stephen Mooallem was hired from Harper’s Bazaar. He quietly left the company in May of this year, but not before Barbey last summer ended the print version of the Voice and subsequentlylaid off 13 of its remaining 17 unionized employees, who had for months been deadlocked in contract negotiations. (I was a member of the union negotiating committee.)

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