Monthly Archives: February 2020


(Norman Lebrecht’s article appeared on Slipped Disc, 2/10.)

Message from HKAF:

We regret to inform our friends and supporters that the February and March performances and events of the 48th Hong Kong Arts Festival have been cancelled as a result of the novel coronavirus outbreak, the resultant closures of venues across the city, and concerns for the health and safety of our participating artists and audiences. The HKAF team is deeply saddened by these unprecedented circumstances, and our thoughts are with all those affected by the virus.

The cancellations will affect all performances of the 48th HKAF and its related events in February and March, including Young Friends activities, HKartsFestival@TaiKwun programming and most PLUS events (excluding PLUS films). The “No Limits” project will also not be held as scheduled. Ticket refund and donation details are available at

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(Ellen Gutoskey’s article appeared, 2/4, on; via Pam Green.)

One of the many reasons Geoffrey Chaucer’s 14th-century magnum opus The Canterbury Tales is considered a groundbreaking collection of stories is because he chose to write it not in a highbrow language like Latin or French, but in the common tongue of the people: Middle English. Since colloquial English has changed quite a bit over the past seven centuries, The Canterbury Tales that you might have encountered in high school looks and sounds significantly different than it did when Chaucer first created it.

To give us a chance to hear The Canterbury Tales in its original, lyrical glory, an international team of researchers based at the University of Saskatchewan developed an app that reads it aloud in Middle English.

“We want the public, not just academics, to see the manuscript as Chaucer would have likely thought of it—as a performance that mixed drama and humor,” University of Saskatchewan English professor Peter Robinson, who led the project, said in a press release.

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(Released On: 05 Feb 2020, BBC 3.)


Lisa Dwan tells Philip Dodd what playing Beckett taught her about herself and feminism; playwright Mark Ravenhill, arts editor Jan Dalley & sp!ked author Alexander Adams discuss the proposition that the arts are increasingly expected to be uplifting and inspirational and to confirm identities. Where do the pessimism and shattered identities of Beckett’s work fit into this view of culture?

Beckett Triple Bill is at Jermyn Street Theatre, London until 8th February starring Lisa Dwan, Niall Buggy, James Hayes and David Threlfall. Endgame runs at the Old Vic in London until March 28th starring Daniel Radcliffe, Alan Cummings, with Rough for the Theatre II with Jane Horrocks and Karl Johnson.

Culture War: Art, Identity Politics and Cultural Entryism by Alexander Adams is published by Societas

Producer: Torquil MacLeod


(Robert Berkvist’s article appeared in The New York Times, 2/2; via Pam Green.)

Kirk Douglas, one of the last surviving movie stars from Hollywood’s golden age, whose rugged good looks and muscular intensity made him a commanding presence in celebrated films like “Lust for Life,” “Spartacus” and “Paths of Glory,” died on Wednesday at his home in Beverly Hills, Calif. He was 103.

His son the actor Michael Douglas announced the death in a statement on his Facebook page.

Mr. Douglas had made a long and difficult recovery from the effects of a severe stroke he suffered in 1996. In 2011, cane in hand, he came onstage at the Academy Awards ceremony, good-naturedly flirted with the co-host Anne Hathaway and jokingly stretched out his presentation of the Oscar for best supporting actress.

By then, and even more so as he approached 100 and largely dropped out of sight, he was one of the last flickering stars in a Hollywood firmament that few in Hollywood’s Kodak Theater on that Oscars evening could have known except through viewings of old movies now called classics. A vast number filling the hall had not even been born when he was at his screen-star peak, the 1950s and ’60s.

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(Marc Malkin’s article appeared in Variety, 2/4.)

Liza Minnelli is getting ready to be photographed for the cover of Variety. She’s wearing an off-the-shoulder black beaded shirtdress and perched on a director’s chair. As she adjusts herself, trying to find the right position to extend her bare legs, she screeches, “I’m getting f—ed by a chair!”

As if on cue, the room goes silent. But before anyone can blink, Minnelli’s distinctive throaty cackle bounces off the walls. It’s the permission everyone in the room needs to howl at what they can’t believe they just heard.

At 73, Minnelli is still the consummate entertainer, taking an awkward moment and turning it into a bawdy joke about getting intimate with a piece of furniture.

Minnelli isn’t a Hollywood icon — she’s a show business legend. Over the course of her career, she’s won four Tonys, two Grammys, an Emmy and an Oscar. But even before she danced her first step, sang a single note or memorized a line of script, she was famous.

“I was born and they took a picture,” Minnelli says.

That’s what happens when your mom is Judy Garland and your dad is Vincente Minnelli.

A few days before the shoot, Liza is settling in for a rare interview. She’s sitting on the couch in the living room of her modest Los Angeles-area apartment. The room is cozy, with a grand piano squeezed into the corner. Her Oscar for “Cabaret” sits on a low table alongside a copy of a 1972 Time magazine with Minnelli on the cover. On a table next to the couch are her Tonys, while a collection of additional awards crowd a sideboard near the entryway.

Hanging on one wall are reproductions of iconic Warhol paintings of Minnelli and her parents. The unending fascination with Garland continued last year with the release of “Judy.” Renée Zellweger is the favorite to win the Oscar for her transformation into Garland during the last months of her life. Minnelli has no interest in seeing the film. All she will say right now is “I hope [Zellweger] had a good time making it.”

Minnelli is wearing her signature black turtleneck and leggings, a look that originated out of comfort rather than fashion. “It’s what I’d wear to dance class because it was easy,” she explains.

She is a dancer at heart. She insists that’s all she ever wanted to be, but she was raised on movie sets and in concert halls. Singing and acting were inevitable. In fact, a one-sentence report in Variety on May 7, 1947, reads, “Liza Minnelli, 14-month-old daughter of Judy Garland, makes her acting bow in Metro’s ‘The Pirate,’ which her father is directing.” The headline: “In Ma’s Footsteps.”

When she was 19, Minnelli became the youngest person to win the leading actress in a musical Tony for her turn in the 1965 Kander and Ebb musical “Flora the Red Menace.” Four years later, she received her first Oscar nomination for her performance in the romantic comedy “The Sterile Cuckoo.”

Then came “Cabaret” in 1972. The Bob Fosse-directed big-screen adaptation of the Broadway musical of the same name earned eight Oscars, including one for Minnelli’s work as American expat Sally Bowles in 1930s Berlin during the rise of Nazism.

Joel Grey, Minnelli’s “Cabaret” co-star, who took home an Oscar for his role as the Master of Ceremonies, first met her through Hal Prince when she made her nightclub debut at the Cocoanut Grove in Los Angeles. “She was this fresh, bursting, bright-eyed talent,” Grey remembers. “You could see that connection to her mother and father. You just knew that she was somebody that was going to happen. She was so tender and frail and fragile and strong at the same time.”

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(Chris Jones’s review appeared in the Chicago Tribune, 2/4.)

Like a sleeping Midwestern beast loosed from its cage of self-imposed timidity and graduate-school moralism, the old-school Steppenwolf Theatre came roaring back to life Monday night with the opening of “Bug,” Tracy Letts’ seminal, skin-crawling 1996 work about, depending on how you read the play, debilitating, delusional paranoia or the government’s ongoing tendency to experiment on its own citizens.

Once again, Chicago’s most famous theater has turned to Letts, its resident playwright with two shows this season on Broadway, including a transfer of “The Minutes,” which happens to be the last show at this theater to shock its audience like this one. But this time, Steppenwolf paired Letts (building on their New York collaboration with “The Man From Nebraska”) with the director David Cromer, a theatrical genius who emerged from the very same Off-Loop milieu as Letts and is always at his best when making like an emergency locksmith with revivals of profoundly observational plays ready to burst wide open. For those of us who are longtime students of Cromer’s work, “Bug” is a thrilling addition to the Cromer Chicago canon: this is his most spectacular piece of direction in this city since his seminal “Our Town,” one of the greatest Chicago productions of all time.

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Photo: Carrie Coon and Namir Smallwood star in the Tracy Letts play “Bug” at Steppenwolf Theatre. (Michael Brosilow photo)



I only had to assume the manners and habits [of the character], on the stage or off, and in my soul there were born the feelings and perceptions that had given them birth. In this manner, intuition not only created the image, but its passions also. They became my own organically, or, to be more true, my own passions became the [character’s]. And during this process I felt the greatest joy an artist can feel, the right to speak on the stage the thoughts of another, to surrender myself to the passions of another, to perform another’s actions, as if they were my own. (MLIA)



(Alexandra Guzeva’s article appeared in Russia Beyond the Headlines, 1/28.)

America in the early 20th century turned out to be an even more puritan country than Russia.

In the spring of 1906, Maxim Gorky, “the voice of the Russian revolution”, who would later become one of the Soviet Union’s greatest writers, arrived in America, accompanied by a lady whom the local newspapers initially referred to as Mrs. Gorky. However, the real Mrs. Gorky was back in Russia, looking after a terminally ill daughter, while the writer’s companion was Maria Andreyeva, an actress from the Moscow Art Theater, for whom the writer had left his wife and children. An extramarital affair of a public figure, albeit a visiting Russian one, was apparently not something that the U.S. public was prepared to tolerate.

Why did Gorky go to America?

A year before the writer’s trip, the tsar’s troops in St. Petersburg fired upon a peaceful demonstration of workers. That day, January 9, went down in history as “Bloody Sunday” and marked the beginning of the first Russian revolution. Maxim Gorky condemned the tsar’s actions and called for freedom of assembly, for which he was arrested and thrown into the Peter and Paul Fortress.

Under pressure from the public, including prominent foreign writers, Gorky was released. He joined the Social Democratic Labor Party, from which the Bolsheviks later emerged. However, in his homeland, Gorky’s political activity was not welcomed, so in order to avoid a new arrest, he decided to leave Russia.

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(Laura Collins-Hughes’s article appeared in The New York Times, 1/20; via Pam Green.)

There was blood on the floor as usual, and on the costumes, too, when “Oklahoma!” finished its Broadway run on Sunday night at the Circle in the Square Theater. During the long, raucous curtain call, Patrick Vaill’s white shirt was sodden with red as the director, Daniel Fish, pulled him in for a hug.

Vaill, 34, was a 21-year-old undergraduate when Fish first cast him as the farmhand Jud Fry in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Oklahoma!” at Bard College in 2007. Eight years later, when Fish morphed that show into a professional production for Bard SummerScape, Vaill got the part again, and kept it for the 2018 version at St. Ann’s Warehouse that would transfer to Broadway last spring and win the Tony Award for best musical revival. (His sassy Twitter feed captures some of the accompanying glamour, which included a trip to the Met Gala.)

In Fish’s contemporary staging, which plunged two scenes into near-total darkness, Vaill imbued Jud with extraordinary vulnerability, playing him as a sympathetic odd man out who loves the heroine, Laurey, but stands no chance against the hero, Curly.

Not long after his final bow, Vaill took a seat in the theater to talk about Jud, and defend him. Here are edited excerpts from that conversation.

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Photo: Krista Schlueter for The New York Times