Monthly Archives: August 2020


(Ben Brantley’s article appeared in The New York times, 8/28; Clockwise from top left: Bill Pullman, Carol Kane, Amy Madigan, Juliet Brett and Ed Harris in “The Jacksonian;” via Pam Green.)

This streamed reading of Beth Henley’s slice of Southern noir offers scorching portraits of bad faith from Ed Harris, Amy Madigan and Bill Pullman.

Fred Weber, a proud son of Mississippi and one very scary bartender, is said to have astoundingly acute peripheral vision. Watching the immensely enjoyable (and equally disturbing) reading of Beth Henley’s “The Jacksonian,” which streamed live on Thursday night as part of the New Group Off Stage series, you don’t doubt that Fred — played by a priceless Bill Pullman — can detect whatever’s beside him, behind him or above him.

It’s a gaze that penetrates straight through the screen that separates you from this human reptile. When his eyes narrow, but never quite close, into razor slits, Fred gives the impression that he’s also looking through all the kinks and corners of his own twisted interior.

Does he like what he sees? Surely not. But he can live with it. And though he lies with cavalier smoothness, he is probably the most honest person you’ll meet in the shabby hotel that gives its name to this cockeyed murder mystery, a twisty study of the discontents of living in the racist South in 1964.

When I first saw “The Jacksonian” in its New York premiere in 2013, one of the great, spooky treats of Robert Falls’s interpretation was watching Pullman — an actor I had long admired for his scrupulous portraits of conflicted Edward Albee characters — cross over to the dark side. And I am happy to report that seven years later, confined to an isolating box on a split screen, he is, if anything, even more compellingly creepy.

As for his starry, first-rate fellow cast members — Ed Harris, Amy Madigan and Juliet Brett, who all originated their parts, and Carol Kane, who is reading the role created by the wonderful Glenne Headly, who died in 2017 — they too are frighteningly vital. Each offers a testament to the notion that being trapped in a certain place at a certain moment in history can cause even the freshest soul to rot. They may have scripts in front of them, but they’re not just reading; they’re being, in ways that can feel too close for comfort.

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(Alex Clark’s article appeared in the Guardian, 8/29; Ingmar Bergman with his daughter Linn Ullmann during the filming of Autumn Sonata (1978). Photograph: Arne Carlsson © AB Svensk Filmindustri.)

When Linn Ullmann’s father was well into his 80s, he began to refer to the life that he was now experiencing as “the epilogue”. Lying in bed in the mornings, he would tot up his ailments, allowing himself one per decade: if there were fewer than eight, he would get up; if there were more, he would stay put. But these strategies denoted realism rather than appeasement, and his determination to continue work remained largely unshaken.

Ullmann’s father was the great Swedish film director Ingmar Bergman, and the work that he fixed on in his last years was a collaboration with his daughter, a book that would capture something of his life and thoughts as he approached the end. Recalling the beginnings of the project as she talks to me from Oslo, Ullmann emphasises the centrality of the creative process to Bergman’s life. “When it’s work, you know, then we know what we do. We’re working: good. We had so much fun discussing when we were going to write the book, how, what form it would take.” His preferred title, he joked, was “Laid & Slayed in Eldorado Valley”, a phrase that he’d always hoped to use for the name of a film.

Instead, what emerged, over a decade after his death in 2007, was Ullmann’s sixth novel, Unquiet, a powerful and unsettling hybrid of memoir, fiction and meditation, braided together in a fragmentary structure that reflects, among other things, Bergman’s love of Bach’s Cello Suites.

It is, she tells me, a work built on “the ruins of a book that I didn’t write”. As father and daughter delightedly planned their project in numerous letters, phone calls and meetings, Bergman “kept getting older”. By the time work began in earnest, in the spring and summer before his death, physical frailty had been joined by something else: “Things had changed very much; just in a few months, his language had changed, the memory loss was now very obvious to him and to me. It was as if all the windows of his mind had opened up so that things that were real and things that were imaginary or dreamlike – he didn’t always have the capacity to see the difference.”

The six conversations between them, recorded at Hammars, Bergman’s home on the Swedish island of Fårö, form a vital strand of Unquiet but for many years Ullmann didn’t even listen to them, believing them to be part of the “huge fiasco” that the unfinished project had become: “It was physically painful, almost, to listen to those tapes. So I just put away the tape recorder … I mean, I should have started earlier, I should have insisted that we do it earlier, I should have asked different questions when we sat there, I should have had a better tape recorder because the tape recorder was lousy. I shouldn’t have been so high pitched.” It was her husband, the writer Niels Fredrik Dahl, who prodded her into retrieving the recorder from the attic: “Don’t you want to just listen to it now that you’re writing this book? And then I listened to it. And I transcribed it. And I translated it from Swedish to Norwegian. And it was just delightful.”

These initial feelings, of course, are an acute form of the regrets that so often accompany death; the conviction that had we acted differently, we might somehow have mitigated our bereavement, or preserved something more tangible of our loved one. But in Ullmann’s case, there is a sense of something particularly heightened – almost primal – about the experience.

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Read the Stage Voices review of the book, 2/20/19



(Edited by Matthew A. McIntosh; this article appeared in Brewminate, 8/27; photo: Royal Opera; via Pam Green.)

Macbeth appears to have cleverly positioned Scotland between her more powerful neighbors yet he did not isolate Scotland either.


Mac Bethad mac Findlaích, (died August 15, 1057), was King of Scots (also known as the King of Alba) from 1040 until his death. He is best known as the subject of William Shakespeare’s tragedy Macbeth and the many works it has inspired, although the play is historically inaccurate. Shakespeare’ Macbeth immortalized the Scottish king but as a dark, tormented character driven all but insane by his own foul deed, the crime of regicide. Separating the man from the myth is a challenge for any historian. What can be deduced is that he is much more likely to have slain Duncan, his half-brother and predecessor, in battle than to have murdered him. He may well be credited with forging Alba into a viable state, transforming what had been a loose clan confederacy into a nation where people recognized common ties and loyalties across the sparsely populated and often inaccessible hills and vales. As did later Scottish kings, Macbeth appears to have cleverly positioned Scotland between her more powerful neighbors yet he did not isolate Scotland either. He encouraged trade, improved the kingdom’s infrastructure, entered a political alliance with the Holy Roman Empire and strengthened the Church by negotiating a direct relationship with Rome.

This legacy, one that later kings would make their own, informs a tendency for Scotland to see herself as a secure and stable base from which people can participate in a global community. For much of its history, Scotland struggled with Scandinavia and England to assert her freedom and right of self-determination. Under Macbeth, Scotland was free but not inward looking—her face was set towards the world. Increasingly, her commercial agents would travel throughout Europe. This desire for self-governance alongside commitment to participation in a global economy continues to characterize Scottish identity. When more people see themselves as members of an inter-dependent world, with common responsibilities for the welfare of all, people will shift from selfishly thinking about their own interests, to considering everyone’s needs.

Origins and Family

Macbeth was the son of Findláech mac Ruaidrí, Mormaer of Moray. His mother is sometimes supposed to have been a daughter of the Scottish king Malcolm II (Máel Coluim mac Cináeda). This may be derived from Andrew of Wyntoun’s Orygynale Cronykil of Scotland which makes Macbeth’s mother a granddaughter, rather than a daughter, of Malcolm.[1] Macbeth was probably Duncan’s half-brother.

Macbeth’s paternal ancestry can be traced in the Irish genealogies contained in the Rawlinson B.502 manuscript:

Mac Bethad son of Findláech son of Ruadrí son of Domnall son of Morggán son of Cathamal son of Ruadrí son of Ailgelach son of Ferchar son of Fergus son of Nechtan son of Colmán son of Báetán son of Eochaid son of Muiredach son of Loarn son of Eirc son of Eochaid Muinremuir.[2]

This should be compared with the ancestry claimed for Malcolm II which traces back to Loarn’s brother Fergus Mór.[2] Several of Macbeth’s ancestors can tentatively be identified: Ailgelach son of Ferchar as Ainbcellach mac Ferchair and Ferchar son of Fergus (correctly, son of Feredach son of Fergus) as Ferchar Fota, while Muiredach son of Loarn mac Eirc, his son Eochaid and Eochaid’s son Báetán are given in the Senchus fer n-Alban.[3] So, while the descendants of King Kenneth MacAlpin (Cináed mac Ailpín) saw themselves as being descended from the Cenél nGabráin of Dál Riata, the northern kings of Moray traced their origins back to the rival Cenél Loairn.[4]

Macbeth’s father Findláech was killed about 1020 – one obituary calls him king of Alba – most probably by his successor as ruler of Moray, his nephew Máel Coluim mac Máil Brigte (Malcolm, son of Máel Brigte).[5] Máel Coluim died in 1029; although the circumstances are unknown, violence is not suggested; he is called king of Alba by the Annals of Tigernach.[6] However, king of Alba is by no means the most impressive title used by the Irish annals. Many deaths reported in the annals in the eleventh century are of rulers called Ard Rí Alban – High-King of Scotland. It is not entirely certain whether Máel Coluim was followed by his brother Gille Coemgáin or by Macbeth.

Gille Coemgáin’s death in 1032 was not reported by the Annals of Tigernach, but the Annals of Ulster record:

Gille Coemgáin son of Máel Brigte, mormaer of Moray, was burned together with fifty people.[7]

Some have supposed that Macbeth was the perpetrator. Others have noted the lack of information in the Annals, and the subsequent killings at the behest of King Malcolm II to suggest other answers.[8] Gille Coemgáin had been married to Gruoch, daughter of Boite mac Cináeda (“Boite son of Kenneth”), with whom he had a son, the future king Lulach.

It is not clear whether Gruoch’s father was a son of King Kenneth II (Cináed mac Maíl Coluim) (d. 1005) or of King Kenneth III (Cináed mac Duib)(d. 997), either is possible chronologically.[9] After Gille Coemgáin’s death, Macbeth married his widow, Gruoch, and took Lulach as his stepson. Gruoch’s brother, or nephew (his name is not recorded), was killed in 1033 by Malcolm II.[10]

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The actor must first of all believe in everything that takes place on the stage, and most of all he must believe in what he himself is doing. And one can believe only in the truth. Therefore it is necessary to feel this truth at all times, to know how to find it, and for this it is unescapable to develop one’s artistic sensitivity to truth. (MLIA)


PARIS, FRANCE – MARCH 20. (EDITORS NOTE: Image has been shot in black and white.
Color version not available.) American writer Gore Vidal poses during portrait session held on March 20, 1983 in Paris, France. (Photo by Ulf Andersen/Getty Images)

(Kitty Kelley’s article appeared in the New Yorker, 8/24.)

The contentious writer, who liked to say that, after fifty, litigation replaces sex, had very specific plans for his burial.

“Never offend an enemy in a small way,” Gore Vidal once wrote. The prickly writer, who thrived on making enemies, may soon be spewing venom from six feet under. Eight years after his death, he is scheduled to cast shade on his nemesis, William F. Buckley, Jr., in a new play by Alexandra Petri, called “Inherit the Windbag.” The play is in virtual rehearsals right now, at Washington, D.C.,’s Mosaic Theatre Company, but when a stage version opens, likely next spring, the groundskeeper at Rock Creek Cemetery would be well advised to keep an eye on Section E, Lot 293 ½, where Vidal’s ashes are buried. Vidal outlived Buckley by four years, but never forgave the man who called him a “queer” in a 1968 televised debate. When Buckley died, Vidal cheered, “RIP WFB—in hell.”

The odyssey that Vidal’s remains took before their interment was no less dramatic. The writer spent many hours negotiating the details of his grave. From his villa in Ravello, Italy, he stipulated that his ashes be placed near an Augustus Saint-Gaudens sculpture commissioned by the historian Henry Adams, in memory of his wife, who committed suicide. This monument is the most visited site in the eighty-acre park, just across the street from the former Old Soldiers’ Home, where President Lincoln summered during the Civil War. Vidal, who made millions in real estate, understood its first three commandments: location, location, location.

Vidal also instructed that he and Howard Austen, his partner of fifty-three years, be buried near the grave of Jimmie Trimble, a blond athlete whom Vidal met when both were students at St. Albans School. Trimble was killed at Iwo Jima, but he lived for the rest of Vidal’s life in fevered fantasies. By placing his own remains between those of Trimble and Adams—a descendant of two American Presidents, who was buried next to his wife—Vidal was, as he wrote, “midway between heart and mind, to put it grandly.”

Like a pharaoh gilding his tomb, Vidal continued making legacy preparations: he commissioned his biography to be written in his lifetime by Fred Kaplan, who accompanied Vidal and Austen to the cemetery in 1994, to complete their final interment papers. Kaplan signed as their witness and later published a well-received book (“Gore Vidal: A Biography”), but, when the Times dismissed Vidal as a “minor” writer in its review, Vidal fired off a letter to the editor, blaming Kaplan. He claimed, preposterously, that he thought he’d commissioned the biographer Justin Kaplan, not Fred Kaplan. (Kaplan was not the only writer to be pulverized by Vidal. The three saddest words in the English language, Vidal once said, were “Joyce Carol Oates.”)

Not long after Kaplan finished the book, Vidal moved his papers (almost four hundred boxes’ worth) from the University of Wisconsin’s Center for Film and Theater Research to Harvard University. Months before he died, at the age of eighty-six, he added a codicil to his will, leaving his entire thirty-seven-million-dollar estate to Harvard, which triggered a blizzard of lawsuits after his death and delayed his burial for years. “At the end, Gore was drinking bottles of Macallan Scotch around the clock, having hallucinations, in and out of hospitals and well into dementia,” his half sister Nina Straight said. She was the first to sue the Vidal estate, to recover a million dollars that she said she had loaned her brother to fund his lawsuit against Buckley.

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Adam Sullivan tells us that international film star Khaled ELnabawy will “be a guest with director Molly Smith on Molly’s Salon next Thursday 7:00 pm Washington D.C. Time and 1:00 am Cairo time.” 

Thursday, August 27 at 7 p.m.  

Molly visited Egypt last November by an invitation from the Egyptian Star Khaled ELnabawy; Nabawy starred in D.C. in Camp David.


A weekly Salon featuring artists and leaders of Arena Stage.

These half-hour long weekly conversations will include some of our best thinkers and creative firebrands.

Molly will sit down with a variety of artists and leaders to discuss new ideas they are excited about and glimmers of hope for the future.

Thursday, August 27 from 7:00 – 7:30 PM
Khaled Nabawy, actor, Arena’s Camp David
Michael Edwards, Artistic Director, Asolo Repertory Theatre
Jackie Reyes-Yanes, Director of the Mayor’s Office on Latino Affairs

This event is free, but if you feel you are in a position to donate to support Arena Stage programs, please go here:

You can also donate to Arena Stage via Paypal at

Questions? Please contact

Aug 27, 2020 07:00 PM in Eastern Time (US and Canada)



(Yuras Karmanau’s article appeared in the Mercury News, 8/23; photo: Thousands of people gather for a protest at the Independence square in Minsk, Belarus, Sunday, Aug. 23, 2020. Demonstrators are taking to the streets of the Belarusian capital and other cities, keeping up their push for the resignation of the nation’s authoritarian leader. President Alexander Lukashenko has extended his 26-year rule in a vote the opposition saw as rigged–AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky.)



Video shows armed Belarus president as protests roil capital

Thousands of people gather for a protest at the Independence square in Minsk, Belarus, Sunday, Aug. 23, 2020. Demonstrators are taking to the streets of the Belarusian capital and other cities, keeping up their push for the resignation of the nation’s authoritarian leader. President Alexander Lukashenko has extended his 26-year rule in a vote the opposition saw as rigged. (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky)

MINSK, Belarus — More than 100,000 protesters demanding the resignation of Belarus’ authoritarian president rallied Sunday in a vast square in the capital and later marched through the city, keeping up the massive outburst of dissent that has shaken the country since a disputed presidential election two weeks ago.

Sunday’s demonstration overflowed Minsk’s sprawling 7-hectare (17-acre) Independence Square. There were no official figures on crowd size, but it appeared to be 150,000 people or more. The demonstrators then marched to another square about 2.5 kilometers (1 1/2 miles) away.

Protesters say the official Aug. 9 presidential election results that gave President Alexander Lukashenko a sixth term in a landslide are fraudulent. The size and duration of the protests have been unprecedented for Belarus, a former Soviet republic of 9.5 million people that Lukashenko has ruled with an iron fist for 26 years.

Video from Belarus on Sunday showed the beleaguered president carrying a rifle and wearing a bulletproof vest as he got off a helicopter that brought him to his working residence amid the 15th straight day of protests.

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(from The New York Times, 8/20; Photo: The New York Times; via Pam Green.)

PARIS — In countries where live performances have resumed, masked audiences have become a familiar — if still curious — sight. Face coverings for actors are another matter, however: How can performers project their voices and emotions, many theater professionals have asked, with more than half their faces obscured?

The itinerant company Les Tréteaux de France has taken up the challenge — and while performing a 17th-century verse play, no less. Last week, in Cergy, a suburb to the west of Paris, seven masked actors traded alexandrines in Racine’s “Britannicus,” a tragedy charting the Roman emperor Nero’s descent into violent lunacy after he abducts the fiancée of Britannicus, his half brother.

A verse prologue co-written by the cast and the director, Robin Renucci, attempted to explain the unusual costumes. Rome, they said in character before the show started, had been hit by a plague, and masks were a necessity.

The warning felt superfluous, since masks are a time-honored theater tradition. The main difference is that the current pandemic requires the mouth to be covered, whereas commedia dell’arte-style half-masks are typically designed to exaggerate the forehead, the eyes and the nose, leaving the mouth unobstructed.

In a phone interview, Renucci, who has been at the helm of Les Tréteaux de France since 2011, said that the cast of “Britannicus” started rehearsing with their new props in May, as soon as lockdown ended in France. Acting with a mask is not just a matter of habit. When a performer speaks a lot onstage, Renucci said, masks become damp and stick to the skin, so each cast member goes through four or five of them over a two-hour performance. They have experimented with different fabrics: While many wear cotton masks, one actress, Nadine Darmon (who plays Agrippine), switched to polyamide during the run in Cergy, to test the effect on the sound.

Add to that persistent rain in Cergy, where “Britannicus” was performed under a tent at an outdoor activities center, and during the first few scenes, it took some effort to latch onto the solemn, deliberate rhythm of Racine’s verse. The actors’ voices sounded muffled, with duller consonants, and several performers were forced to regularly nudge their masks — sliding down their chins with every monologue — back into place.

Yet soon enough, my ear adjusted. We were seated on all four sides of the small stage, and this proximity between cast and audience helped alleviate the muffling effect. The actors betrayed very little discomfort — no small feat considering that breathing in Racine’s plays is tied to the ebb and flow of the alexandrines.

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(Chris Jones’s article appeared in the Chicago Tribune, 8/20; Photo: Chicago Tribune.)

We’re safer staying outside. But in Chicago, where summer is short, time rapidly is running out for the arts to take advantage of the warm, fresh air. What a missed opportunity.

This week, the Chicago Latino Theatre Alliance announced plans to take advantage of the giant outdoor screen that has been erected in the parking lot of Chitown Futbol in Pilsen (now also known as the ChiTown Movies) and, for one night only on Sept. 17, produce an epic, multi-format and multi-disciplinary event designed to celebrate this city’s Latino theater, film, music and art.

If you want to attend Destinos al Aire, all you have to do is pay $30 and show up with your car and (if you wish) lawn chairs to sit outside your vehicle. For that, you get up to six guests for an experience replete with live music, theatrical performances both virtual and in-person from stellar local groups like Aguijón Theater and Teatro Vista, along with dance, comedy, film and even food. (ChiTown Movies specializes in popcorn, tacos, wings and frozen mangos, served right to your car.)

What a fabulous use of this innovative venue at 2343 S. Throop St. I’ll wager it won’t take long to sell out the space for 140 cars, especially since Myrna Salazar, the executive director of CLATA, says the bywords here are “fun” and “celebratory.” I’ve seen how much space is available there and I don’t doubt for a second that the event will be safe and socially distanced.

With care, creativity, goodwill and advance planning, these things are very doable.

Elsewhere in the world, in fact, these outdoor stagings are not only proving to be very successful but they are being hailed as a positive force in the maintenance of collective mental and physical health. Instead of standing in their way like naysayers, city and national governments generally have been working with arts groups to help them follow regulations, maintain social distancing and mask use and ensure safety.

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(Matt Wolf’s article appeared in The New York Times, 8/13; Photo: Playgoers at the Donmar Warehouse for “Blindness,” a reimagining of José Saramago’s 1995 novel as a sound installation heard through headphones.Credit…Helen Maybanks; via Pam Green.)

The Donmar Warehouse is the first major playhouse in the city to reopen, with a socially distanced sound installation.

LONDON — Finally, some light in the darkness. The Donmar Warehouse has made stage history as the first playhouse here to open its doors to a paying public in the almost five months since the coronavirus lockdown began. Brave? Yes, and, even better, with a brilliant production.

The chosen title, running through Aug. 22, is a new and apposite adaptation of the Nobel laureate José Saramago’s 1995 novel, “Blindness.” The story of a society sent into free fall by a pandemic is having its premiere before socially distanced audiences that will find its message urgent.

Provocative, disturbing, yet with glimmers of hope near the end, this “Blindness” has been conceived by the Tony Award-winning playwright Simon Stephens and the director Walter Meierjohann as a sound installation heard via headphones. There are no actors present.

The result is a triumph, but possibly a challenge for Covid-weary listeners. Those wanting an escape from talk of plague must seek entertainment elsewhere. (Never fear, devotees of levity: There’s a musical version of the film “Sleepless in Seattle” scheduled to open here in September.)

“Blindness” is no ordinary theatrical experience, but then we live in extraordinary times. The audience lines up outside the venue, in the Covent Garden district, wearing masks and keeping distance. Inside, there is plenty of hand sanitizer, but no bar or playbills. The production is running four times a day, like a movie, enabling the Donmar to make up some of the revenue it’s losing by restricting numbers in the auditorium to about 20 percent of its usual capacity.

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