Monthly Archives: December 2020

MABOU MINES/BECKETT: ‘IMAGINATION DEAD IMAGINE’–DIRECTED BY RUTH MALECZECH (12/21-12/17) ·

MABOU MINES/BECKETT: ‘IMAGINATION DEAD IMAGINE’–DIRECTED BY RUTH MALECZECH (12/21-12/17)

Ruth Nelson (Voice) & Clove Galilee (Figure)
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Light, voice, hologram and music play against one another in undulating patterns. Beckett himself could have been describing the eerie effect of Miss Maleczech’s stage piece when he wrote in his text about the striking contrast between the ”absolute stillness and the convulsive light.” ‘Imagination Dead Imagine’ lasts only 14 minutes, but it is a paradigmatic example of the Mabou Mines mastery of technology in the name of art.

– Mel Gussow, NY Times 1

**Streaming access can be purchased between 12/21 and 12/27. Once your order is processed you will receive a viewing link to watch anytime through 12/27.**

SAMUEL BECKETT’S

IMAGINATION DEAD IMAGINE

DIRECTED BY Ruth Maleczech

WITH

Ruth Nelson (Voice)

Clove Galilee (Figure)

PREMIERE

The Performing Garage – NYC , 1984

Running time 17 min

See full production page here. 

BUY TICKETS

SAMUEL BECKETT’S

IMAGINATION DEAD IMAGINE

DIRECTED BY

Ruth Maleczech

” the equivalent of hearing poetry read to sculpture … “

MEL GUSSOW – NEW YORK TIMES

2020: A THEATER OF THE ABSURD FOR EUROPE’S PLAYHOUSES ·

(Matt Wolf’s article appeared in The New York Times, 12/17; via Pam Green; Photo: At the National Theater in London in September. The city’s theaters were closed and reopened twice in 2020, then closed a third time.Credit…Lauren Fleishman for The New York Times.)

The Times’s theater critics in London, Paris and Berlin reflect on a year of closures, reopenings, restrictions and curfews, in which the show somehow went on.

Theater of the absurd has nothing on the bizarre scenario endured by Britain’s playhouses during 2020. March 16 was the first of several doomsdays on which the coronavirus pandemic forced them to close their doors, bringing to a halt a theatrical economy worth billions of pounds.

Then came months of nothing, followed by the gradual emergence of outdoor shows, then indoor performances, when financially practical: no big musicals or Shakespeares, just bite-size plays, performed in auditoriums newly configured to meet government guidelines.

Several pioneering venues — the Bridge Theater, in London, pre-eminently — opened again at the end of the summer, but not for long. They, too, were shuttered again by a second lockdown, in early November — albeit a shorter one, which lifted on Dec. 2.

This was replaced by a tiered system of geographical restrictions, which meant that theaters in parts of the country were open, while others had to stay shut. In London, this critic’s diary was briefly filled with press night appointments that recalled the halcyon days of old. But now, as of Dec. 16, the city has entered the grim “Tier 3,” and that surge in activity has proved to be short-lived — at least for in-person performances, rather than events streamed via the internet.

Theaters have responded to these whiplash changes with a nimbleness that wasn’t in evidence this time last year. (Equally improbable back then was the notion of socially distanced seating, with legroom worthy of an airline’s first class.) Shows have learned to be readily adaptable for online distribution: That was the path taken by “Death of England: Delroy,” the production chosen to reopen the National Theater, in November. Its opening night turned out to be the closing one, too, when the second national lockdown was announced, but it went out on YouTube later that month. That brought Roy Williams and Clint Dyer’s fiery solo play to audiences worldwide, and confirmed the prevailing awareness that smaller was better in these corona times.

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AT THE MOVIES: MARLENE DIETRICH ·

(Michael Wood’s article appeared in The London Review of Books, 12/17.)

I had​ misremembered The Scarlet Empress (1934), one of the thirteen Marlene Dietrich movies currently showing at the BFI. Or rather, I remembered vividly its latter stages, when Dietrich, playing the future Catherine the Great, rides her horse up the steps of a palace dressed as a Cossack in white fur and uniform, and demonstrates a ruthless appetite for rule. I had retained only the vaguest notion of the long first part, when Dietrich is an innocent child, a sort of babe in the Russian woods by way of Prussia. Of course, my failed recall is more than a little overdetermined. How could Dietrich ever be innocent? Even when she is playing the child part she asks: ‘When I grow up, can I become a hangman?’

The Scarlet Empress was the sixth film Dietrich made with Joseph von Sternberg. They made seven together between 1930 and 1935, the first in Germany, the others in the US. Sternberg said she attracted him with her ‘cold disdain’, her lack of interest in what she was supposed to be interested in. And it’s worth recalling the answer she once gave to a question about sex. Men demand sex, she said, and one has to comply from time to time, but ‘one can also do without.’ Man kann auch ohne. Do without men, that is, or without sex. The remark is interesting not so much for its truth or falsehood as for its bravura. It is a declaration of independence from a common form of unfreedom, what a song by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill calls ‘sexual bondage’. So, when we think of Dietrich’s films, innocence is not the first word that comes to mind. But there is something unmarked about her persona, as if the ironic wisdom her characters often express comes from an infinite experience that left no trace.

Partly this is an effect of the writing. In Shanghai Express (1932): ‘It took more than one man to change my name to Shanghai Lily.’ A pretty good line in itself – Jules Furthman’s – but Dietrich manages a further implication: if she hadn’t wanted to change her name, she wouldn’t have done, no matter how many men were involved. In the same film, when her companion Warner Oland says, avuncularly, that in time she’ll weary of him, she says: ‘I’m weary of you now.’

It all starts with The Blue Angel (1930). Lola Lola is a nightclub singer who drives an old schoolteacher crazy, but she can’t help it. At least that’s what she says in the song ‘Falling in Love Again’: ‘Men flutter to me like moths around a flame/And if their wings burn, I know I’m not to blame.’ In the original German version she doesn’t say anything about falling in love again, or even for a first time. She says she’s made of love from head to toe, meaning some combination of sex and lethal magic. When she first sings the song, she looks relaxed and amused. When she sings it again something harsher has entered the performance, a form of denial perhaps. She doesn’t want to think about what she can and can’t help. Dietrich was still singing ‘Falling in Love Again’ forty years later as part of her live act. She stopped performing in 1975 and died in 1992.

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THE WONDER OF WAGNER ·

(Chilton Williamson, Jr.’s article appeared in The Spectator, 12/13.)

Laramie, Wyoming

Nearly all the famous artistic controversies in the aesthetic history of the western world — the Battle of the Ancients and the Moderns in France and the contest between the rococo and neoclassical schools across Europe in the middle of the 18th century; the subsequent rivalry between the Classicists and the Romantics and the contretemps in the late-19th century between the Realists and the Impressionists — are as dead, irrelevant and forgotten today as the wars between the Guelphs and the Ghibellines. The sole exception, so far as I know, is the once bloody and bitter opposition between the Wagnerians and the Italian operatic school, which, though a good deal attenuated, continues to burble on among the critici and appassionati of the operatic world. I was reminded of its longevity when, a year or so ago, I read an essay in The Spectator of London by Michael Tanner claiming that, while Giuseppe Verdi’s centennial in 2014 passed almost unremarked, Wagner’s reputation remains immense. Mr Tanner clearly believes the implied judgment of the relative merits of the two composers to be a solid one.

From the beginning Richard Wagner has been the intellectual operagoer’s Held: the heroic composer who wrote his own libretti, poetic dramas to accompany his musical masterpieces. Nietzsche was his great friend and admirer for years before breaking with the maestro for personal and artistic reasons; Wagner’s music lacked rhythm and melody, he decided, and left him physically ill. And after Nietzsche came Shaw, the author of The Perfect Wagnerite: A Commentary on the Niblung’s Ring (1898), who wrote the pamphlet, he said, ‘for the assistance of those who wish to be introduced to the work on equal terms with that inner circle of adepts…[Its] dramatic moments lie quite outside the consciousness of people whose joys and sorrows are all domestic and personal, and whose religious and political ideas are purely conventional and superstitious.’ Shaw, being Shaw, understood The Ring in Marxist terms, an interpretation that Wagner, who had died 15 years before, was unavailable to protest. Giuseppe Verdi, Wagner’s artistic nemesis, who lived until 1901 and thus had three years in which to claim a similarly exalted interpretation for his own operas, nevertheless failed to do so, thus giving the Perfect Wagnerites an excuse to insist that, by comparison with their man, the composer of Aïda, Otello and Falstaff had been a Piedmontese hurdy-gurdyist.

Though Wagner was no Marxist, he did hold the bourgeoisie in similar contempt — the minority of it that patronized the arts, anyway. Thus he viewed the Italian, French, and popular German composers of his day as vulgar tunesmiths eager to please the Jockey Club in Paris and the cafoni in the provincial opera-houses of Italy. He himself, Wagner determined, would single-handedly lift opera into the musical, philosophical and even religious stratosphere. This ambition, however, involved a confusion of critical terms.

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TRIPLE THREAT: ANN REINKING IN ‘OVER HERE!’ AND ‘ANNIE’ (1949-2020) ·

More than forty-six years ago, the Sherman brothers’ Big Band musical Over Here! (they had written the scores for Mary Poppins and The Jungle Book, and the song “It’s a Small World,” for the 1964 World’s Fair) opened on March 26, 1974, at Broadway’s Schubert Theatre.  Hoping to do for the ‘40s what Grease had done for the following decade (that ’50s-inspired show originally opened theatrically in 1971), Patty and Maxene Andrews starred (LaVerne, the third and oldest of the trio, died in 1967). Directed by Tom Moore, with choreography by Patricia BirchOver Here! is about a trip, by train, across the contiguous United States, as well as through America’s heart, memory, and consciousness, and its cast included stars, who had yet to break out: John Travolta, Treat Williams, Marilu Henner, and Samuel E. Wright.  From the distance of so much time, however, what was most bamboozling for me, as a suburban teenager, was a transvestite bride, dressed in white and carrying a bouquet, who sat toward the rear of the mezzanine with her groom.  (Whether related or not, one song in the vehicle, is called “Wartime Wedding”—and the Vietnam conflict would continue until 1975.)  Under the proscenium itself, a young dancer  appeared to be swimming across the stage, like Esther Williams–we could barely take our eyes off of her.  Ann Reinking was her name, and she died on December 12, at age 71.

My brother and I had actually seen the future Tony winner before, in  Pippin (1972)—and, at a Wyoming movie theatre, ten years later, she appeared on celluloid, as what’s best, in Annie—a movie that was too big for its story.  In an interview with The New York Times, in 1991, Reinking comments on what theatre was like in the late 1960s and 1970s—she called it “sophisticated and adult.”  And among the shows, flowering in Sondheim’s “city of strangers,” were: Cabaret, Pippin, A Chorus Line, Chicago, Company, Follies, A Little Night Music, Dancin’—five of which she appeared in. During that era, when we caught the theatre bug, dance was becoming a necessary part of the actor’s toolkit, as show people talked intimidatingly about triple threats—and Reinking was probably the best example of the breed, able to dance, act, and sing, with a smoky voice.  Before too long, we would be playing in those shows she helped define and create, in college and community groups. Performers were different then: tougher, alienating, and asocial, as was that transvestite. Theatre, was a societal revolt—and to Reinking, who could dance strong or elegant or shaded, every step was as meaningful as a word in a line of dialogue.

 

The superagent Robert Lantz told me a change occurred with the opening of Annie on Broadway (1977). The audiences would be younger now, the themes, in the work, less complicated.  Reinking’s talent is validated in that she could play in both spheres: the darker musicals, which the culture was moving away from, and those demarcating a new age (that would welcome the British theatrical invasion). Ironically, she might be remembered best for a movie that was antithetic to her most challenging roles (not unlike the actress Gloria Grahame, who today is best-known for being Ado Annie, in the film of Oklahoma!, rather than for her Oscar-winning role in The Bad and the Beautiful). Reinking probably bridged the genre gap better than the noir star, but the profound, hard cynicism and sarcasm of her working-class characters, may garner less understanding today.  Perhaps, for good reasons,we prefer comic escapism–and have lost too much of an affinity for Brecht.  Reinking’s likeable, balletic dancing in a “soft, floating” yellow dress in Annie, however, is a mirage.

Rest in Peace.

–Bob Shuman

(c) 2020.  All rights reserved.

‘SIX’ TRIES TO GET BACK ONSTAGE. AGAIN, AND AGAIN, AND AGAIN. ·

(Alex Marshall’s article appeared in The New York Times, 12/9; updated 9/14 : Photo: A security guard takes ticket holders’ temperatures before a performance of “Six” in London, on Dec. 5.Credit…Photographs by Suzanne Plunkett for The New York Times; via Pam Green.)

For nine months, the hit musical about the wives of Henry VIII has tried to keep the show going. But that’s not easy in a pandemic.

LONDON — At 3:15 p.m. on Dec. 5, a line of theater fans stretched outside the Lyric in London’s West End, all desperate to see the return of “Six,” the hit musical about Henry VIII’s wives.

The show was scheduled to start 45 minutes later, when it would become the first musical to be staged in the West End since theaters were shuttered in March because of the coronavirus pandemic.

But some in line were anxious that the curtain might not rise.

“All day, I’ve been, like, ‘Something bad’s going to happen,’” said Beth Donovan, 20. She worried that authorities might stop the performance at the last minute, she said, or — worse — that someone in the cast might have caught the virus.

She wasn’t the only one concerned. “On the way here, we said we wouldn’t believe it was happening until we were actually in our seats and the music was on,” said Lauren Bullen, 37, who was with her daughter Holly, 8.

Concerns like these might seem over the top, but “Six” has had a worse year than arguably any other theater production in Britain, highlighting just how hard it has been to put on a show during the pandemic.

Written in 2017 by Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss, two college students, “Six” reimagines the wives of Henry VIII competing in a song contest for the title of the king’s most unfortunate wife. (The two who were beheaded have an advantage.)

Its catchy songs, funny dialogue and message of female empowerment have won it a legion of fans worldwide, known as the “Queendom,” who dress up as its characters and spread its music across social media.

Before the pandemic, there was a production of “Six” in London’s West End, and touring versions in Britain, Australia and on several cruise ships. A Broadway show was in previews too, with a Chicago production that debuted in 2019 set to return and another in the Philippines in the works.

But then, in March, as coronavirus cases rose sharply in New York, the show’s Broadway opening night was canceled, just hours before curtain.

(Read more)

ANN REINKING, TONY WINNER AND STAR OF BROADWAY’S ‘CHICAGO,’ DIES AT 71 ·

(Eli Countryman’s article appeared in Variety, 12/14.)

Tony Award winner Ann Reinking, an actor, dancer and choreographer, died on Saturday night in Washington, her sister-in-law Dahrla Reinking told Variety. She was 71.

News of the actor’s death was first announced Monday on Facebook by dancer and choreographer Christopher Dean, who teaches Reinking’s niece.

“The lights on Broadway are forever more dim this morning and there is one less star in the sky,” he wrote. “The good news is that heaven has the very best choreographer on earth now.”

The star got her acting start in a Seattle Opera House production of “Bye Bye Birdie” in 1965. She soon found her way onto the Broadway stage when she was cast in the ensemble for the 1969 production of “Cabaret.”

She is perhaps best known for playing the role of Roxie Hart in 1977’s “Chicago,” replacing Gwen Verdon. She reprised the role when she returned for the 1996 revival of the famed production.

“The hope is that in rediscovering ‘Chicago,’ audiences will rediscover what theater was,” Reinking told the New York Times at the time of the show’s revival. “It was sophisticated, complicated, adult.”

Reinking’s other Broadway roles include “Sweet Charity,” “Over Here!” and “Goodtime Charley.”

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***** ‘OLEANNA’ REVIEW – BRUTAL AND BRILLIANT REVIVAL OF PRE-#METOO MASTERPIECE (SV PICK, UK) ·

(Arifa Akbar’s article appeared in The New York Times, 12/13. Photo:  Riveting … Jonathan Slinger and Rosie Sheehy in Oleanna by Mamet at Theatre Royal Bath. Photograph: Nobby Clark.)

Theatre Royal Bath
Rosie Sheehy and Jonathan Slinger are captivating in David Mamet’s 1992 two-hander about a university student and professor in a battle of power, privilege and consent

 An anxious university student meets her professor about her grades. It takes place in his room and ends up in a college complaint for his allegedly inappropriate behaviour. He believes he has done no wrong. She feels violated and seeks redress.

David Mamet’s combative two-hander might have reflected the issues and anxieties of the day at its premiere in 1992, but it is startling to see this revival following Harvey Weinstein’s watershed rape conviction. Could Mamet have written a #MeToo play long before #MeToo became a movement?

Not quite, though this brutal and brilliant production, directed by Lucy Bailey, gains new resonance in the light of all that has come to pass and perhaps says things now that Mamet did not mean it to say. There have been many recent powerful stories about sexual abuse and consent, from Cat Person to I May Destroy You. Maybe it is within the framework of these dramas that we hear current issues buzzing beneath the surface of Mamet’s script. (It is somewhat ironic that Mamet has more recently written a post-#MeToo drama, Bitter Wheat, that lacks even a fraction of this play’s complexities.)

The professor’s book-lined study has a desk at one end and a sofa at the other, the latter carrying queasy hints of a campus-style casting couch.

Like Philip Roth’s professor in The Human Stain, who feels aggrieved for his sacking over a single word carrying racial undertones, so Mamet’s professor, John (Jonathan Slinger), believes that Carol (Rosie Sheehy) is weaponising political correctness against him. But as he talks, promising her an “A” in exchange for her company, soothing her when she cries and later, questioning the veracity of her complaint even when it has been upheld by the tenure committee, his micro-aggressions and gaslighting are clear to see, though it is just this vocabulary of terms that John might today want to write off as political correctness.

Slinger plays him with such off-hand entitlement that he appears unaware of his own crimes, apparently enacting nothing more than a fantasy of paternalistic, platonic exchange in his own mind, with the under-confident Carol taking copious notes and becoming confused over his academic terms as he lectures and preens.

Though we are nudged to see his point of view – that she is mistaking avuncularity for sleaziness, taking words out of context, turning the metaphorical into the literal – it is this very reasonableness that contains the modus operandi of a stealth predator.

Sheehy reveals Carol’s powerlessness through her body language, first confused by the disappearing demarcations of the teacher-student dynamic and then subtly recoiling – tucking in her legs, wrapping her arms around herself – as he breaches the space between the desk to create new levels of intimacy.

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