Monthly Archives: May 2021


(Stuart Miller’s article appeared in The New York Times, 5/26; via Pam Green; Photo:  Lucie Tiberghien directing the staged reading of “Tartuffe” for Molière in the Park, the company she founded to bring free outdoor theater to Brooklyn.Credit…Sara Krulwich/The New York Times.)

Molière in the Park garnered praise for Zoom productions of “Tartuffe” and other plays. Putting on an outdoor show in Brooklyn has been another matter.

Sitting on a bench in Prospect Park recently as flocks of maskless Brooklynites passed by, Lucie Tiberghien reflected on the long, strange journey toward the first full production of Molière in the Park, the company she conceived to bring free theater with a diverse cast and crew to her home borough.

This weekend, after months of delays that radically reshaped her plans, she is on her way to fulfilling that dream, with a staged and costumed reading of “Tartuffe.”

Raised in France and Switzerland, Tiberghien has lived in New York since 1995, directing plays regionally and Off Broadway. Walking through the park a few years ago, she wondered to herself, “Why isn’t there a company dedicated to putting on theater here?”

She created a nonprofit in 2018 to fill that role. Since Shakespeare already has his own park gig, at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park, and since she is French, she chose Molière, whose works she has long admired. “I had been trying to be hired to direct Molière for years,” she said.

And since the plays mix comedy and drama, she added, “it’s great for an outdoor spring theater, because it can be subversive and biting but also festive and joyous.”

Garth Belcon, an executive producer of Molière in the Park, offered another reason: “His plays place their thumb ever so lovingly into the eyes of the establishment and glitterati of his day.”

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The words and wisdom of Constantin Stanislavski:

What torture it is to feel truthfully but to incarnify your true feelings falsely and in unworthy form. I bore these pains for two seasons in . . . [a] role beyond my strength. . . . What is important is that after this production I could say to myself: “I know that I know nothing.” (MLIA)


(David Brennan’s article appeared in Newsweek, 5/28; Photo: Newsweek.)

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko shocked the world when a fake bomb threat forced a passenger plane to divert to Minsk where security forces arrested prominent dissident journalist Roman Protasevich and his partner.

The operation was shocking in its brazenness, prompting condemnation from the international community and threats of additional sanctions against Lukashenko and his authoritarian regime, clinging to power in spite of mass protests that erupted after last year’s disputed presidential election.

Lukashenko has retained power through brutality and fear. Security forces, keen to suppress the simmering revolution, arrested and tortured thousands. Backed by Russian President Vladimir Putin, Lukashenko has resisted calls for fresh elections and dialogue and is now intensifying an assault on the country’s surviving free media.

But for all the harsh words, the European UnionNATO, and the U.S. have so far hesitated to apply the most stringent sanctions demanded by Belarusian dissidents and human rights groups. Lukashenko’s vicious reprisals saved his regime last year, and appear to have at least bought him some time in power.

Pro-democracy campaigners and dissidents told Newsweek that Lukashenko’s latest authoritarian stunt could act as a model for other dictators worldwide unless democracies take meaningful action.

“You are not safe anywhere,” said Natalia Kaliada, a Belarusian dissident and pro-democracy campaigner who has been living in exile in the U.K. for a decade.

Kaliada and her husband, Nikolai Khalezin, fled Belarus on New Year’s Eve in 2010, soon after Kaliada was accidentally released from prison by security services thanks to a clerical error.

The couple—who now run the Belarus Free Theater in London—still regularly receive death threats, including those published in the main Belarusian government newspaper, Sovietska Belarus.

Death threats have increased since the recent protests, Kaliada told Newsweek. Asked whether she felt more in danger after Protasevich’s arrest, she replied: “I never felt safe.”

Kaliada recalled how in the past, Belarusian protesters and dissidents would be arrested, abused, and killed “behind closed doors.” But Lukashenko has seemingly unleashed his security apparatus in the wake of the recent unrest.

“They are open to killing in front of the whole world,” Kaliada said. “They are open to hijacking an airplane in front of the whole world. They’ve been badly scared.”

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(Lan’s article appeared in the Guardian 5/26; Photo: Then, as now, theatre was in every sense political’ …David Lan. Photograph: Linda Nylind/The Guardian.)

The theatre director and writer looks back at the spirit of protest that fuelled daring dramas staged in South Africa 50 years ago

I grew up in South Africa during the bleak, violent, seemingly never-ending iron age of apartheid. In 1971, when I was studying acting at Cape Town University, the National Party government built a monolithic 1,500-seat theatre complex in a commanding position near the centre of the city. The Afrikaner Nationalists had an easy rule of thumb by which to distinguish between the value of white people and black people – we have culture and they don’t. The purpose of the monolith, with its elaborate stairways, fancy colonnades and picture windows, was to declare and celebrate this belief. White musicians, actors and dancers were to perform to exclusively white audiences.

Afrikaans theatre was bursting with contradictions. The finest Afrikaans playwright was William Shakespeare. From the 1950s to the 70s, Afrikaans-language productions of the European modernists – Pirandello, Maeterlinck, Strindberg and especially Chekhov – toured to church halls all over the country. Uncle Vanya was a quintessential Afrikaans cultural experience.

Then, as now once again in the UK, the making of theatre was in every sense political. Every aspect was resonant and meaningful – how it was staged, where, by whom, for whom and, if it was subsidised, with what intention and to whose advantage. In the case of these tours to ultra-conservative farming towns of high-water mark creations of the liberal imagination, the state endorsed them and paid for them.

Of the productions scheduled for the new theatre’s opening, a play by the South African Bartho Smit, was banned by the official censor before it even went into rehearsal. The highlight was to be Koning Lear. The theatre’s artistic director, from a distinguished Afrikaans family, had been excited by productions he’d recently seen in Europe. He invited the German Dieter Reible to direct.

Lear was played by Cobus Rossouw, the beloved leading Afrikaans actor of his generation. My memory was that Edgar was played by a black actor. However, checking the cast list, I find the part was played by a white actor – in fact one who had only recently graduated from my own drama school. He certainly intended to convey that Edgar was a black South African. This, together with the bold, expressionist style of the production, was the cause of an ensuing scandal. Did he actually play the part in blackface? It’s unlikely but not impossible. Was he dressed in some version of royal Zulu or Xhosa apparel? No doubt someone will write in and let me know.

When Lear divided his kingdom among his daughters, it was made clear that each was being allocated an apartheid-style “black homeland”, one in the eye for the government’s divide-and-rule politics. In the last scene, with Lear lying dead on the war-torn stage, “black” Edgar climbed with dignity to the top of a revolving staircase – or was it Table Mountain or a giant anthill? The oppressive state had been violently destroyed and he was at long last entering into his kingdom.

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(Haley Bosselman’s article appeared in Variety, 5/25; Photo: Variety.)

Samuel E. Wright, the actor who voiced Sebastian in “The Little Mermaid,” has died. He was 74.

The news of his death was confirmed in a Facebook post on Tuesday by his hometown Montgomery, N.Y. It did not confirm his cause of death.

“Today, the Town of Montgomery mourns the loss of Sam Wright,” the post reads. “Sam was an inspiration to us all and along with his family established the Hudson Valley Conservatory. Sam and his family have impacted countless Hudson Valley youth always inspiring them to reach higher and dig deeper to become the best version of themselves. On top of his passion for the arts and his love for his family, Sam was most known for walking into a room and simply providing PURE JOY to those he interacted with. He loved to entertain, he loved to make people smile and laugh and he loved to love.”

Wright was born in Camden, S.C., eventually making his way into the entertainment industry when he landed on Broadway in the original 1971 cast of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Jesus Christ Superstar.” He went on to originate the roles of William in “The Tap Dance Kid” and Mufasa in “The Lion King,” both of which he was nominated for a Tony Award for best featured actor in a musical. In between, Wright made a slew of appearances on TV shows over the course of the ’70s and ’80s, which included his television debut on 1976’s “Ball Four,” “All My Children” and “The Cosby Show.”

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(Alastair Lockhart’s article appeared on Express, 5/25.)

The video released of arrested Belarusian journalist Roman Protasevich is a “hostage video,” a Belarusian exile has said.


The video released of arrested Belarusian journalist Roman Protasevich is a “hostage video,” a Belarusian exile has said. Natalia Kaliada, co-founder of the Belarus Free Theatre, told BBC Breakfast that the video also showed clear signs of torture. Mr Protasevich was due to meet Ms Kaliada when his Ryanair flight from Greece to Lithuania was “hijacked” and diverted to Minsk by Belarusian authorities where he was arrested on his arrival.

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(David Storey’s article appeared in the Guardian, 5/23; Photo: David Storey at home in Belsize Park, London, 1961, with his paintings in the background. Photograph: Courtesy of the Storey family. In 1963 David Storey was an acclaimed novelist – but away from the spotlight he was battling anxiety and writer’s block. In this extract, he describes how he found a new life as a playwright.)

David Storey was an extraordinary literary figure: an acclaimed playwright and a Booker prize-winning novelist who was also an outstanding artist. Yet he began his adult life as a professional rugby player in the austere and gritty world of northern rugby league. The third son of a coal miner, he was born in Wakefield in 1933 and grew up on one of England’s first housing estates. Having signed, aged 18, to play for Leeds rugby league club, his talent as an artist then took him to the Slade. Early success as a novelist came with This Sporting Life, which was made into an Oscar-nominated film starring Richard Harris. There followed a string of literary successes capped by Saville, the 1976 Booker winner. Storey also spent a heady period writing plays for the Royal Court in its radical heyday, where he forged close friendships with Lindsay Anderson, Ralph Richardson and Jocelyn Herbert. Despite his achievements, he struggled with anxiety and depression all his life. He died in 2017. In this extract from his memoir, A Stinging Delight, he recalls those years at the heart of British theatre, which came about almost by accident.

When my third novel, Radcliffe, was published in 1963 (the same year that the film of This Sporting Life was released) it was decided by one commentator that it established me as “the leading novelist of my generation”. Its creation was likened to that of an English Dostoevsky and a rekindling of the grand tradition extinct since the death of DH Lawrence.

Yet the more successful I became, the more ill I felt. Despite marriage, fatherhood, the realisation of much of what I had aimed for, things, if anything, had only got worse. The previous year, I had embarked on a new novel: my magnum opus, the definitive postwar British novel for which This Sporting LifeFlight into Camden and Radcliffe had been the ranging shots. However, the morning overtures of terror continued. By the summer of 1965 I had convinced myself that I had taken on something I had neither the ability nor the time to achieve. All I had produced was silence – silence masking desperation and a depression that, in the first place, it had been the purpose of art to hide.

The following summer, when this was at its height, I received a letter from the artistic director of the Traverse theatre in Edinburgh, Gordon McDougall. Several years before, while working as an assistant at the Royal Court, he had taken down a manuscript from a shelf and, blowing off the dust, read with interest a play entitled To Die With the Philistines. If it were still unperformed, he would like to do it.

It had, by this time, been rejected by every repertory company in the UK, by all the subsidised theatres in London and by every West End producer to whom it had been submitted, as well as by the BBC. Relieved to be distracted, I rewrote the play, retitled it The Restoration of Arnold Middleton and sent it off to my correspondent.

[My wife] Barbara persuaded me to go and see the play and it went well: a crowded basement in an ancient part of the town. I enjoyed the audience’s laughter and though conceived with little knowledge of the theatre, much of it, I was surprised to discover, worked.

At this point, we no longer had a car. We had four children. Food began to be rationed. Stews succeeded stews: vegetables procurable from the gutters of the Inverness Street market, bones from the butcher, a move ahead of the dogs. We were once more on the breadline, the “leading novelist of his generation” leading his family nowhere.

A transfer of the Edinburgh production of Arnold Middleton to the Royal Court in London was suggested. An assistant at the Court, Robert Kidd, had been home on holiday in Scotland and had seen the last night of the Traverse run and, on returning to Sloane Square, had recommended the play to the Court’s artistic director, Bill Gaskill.

Apart from two preliminary meetings with Gaskill and Kidd, who was to direct, plus the auditions of the principal actor, Jack Shepherd, and actress, Eileen Atkins, I wasn’t involved. I first saw a performance at a dress rehearsal where, beforehand, the perspiring Eileen told me she couldn’t remember a line. Moments later I watched her walk on to the stage and, throughout the next two hours, scarcely miss a word.

If the play hadn’t been submitted to the theatre at the suggestion of Lindsay Anderson [director of This Sporting Life], seven years before, if Gordon McDougall hadn’t read it one rainy afternoon, if Bob Kidd hadn’t been home on holiday the previous autumn – if Karel Reisz [producer of This Sporting Life] hadn’t introduced me to Lindsay in the first place – it’s possible I would never have written for the theatre again.

It was the womb-like interior of the Royal Court place – red-plushed, warm, contained – that prompted my response. What it reminded me of was not any previous visit to a theatre (I’d been to fewer than a dozen) but of the paintings I’d done during the last two years at the Slade: my attempt to move away from the surface of the canvas into something visually more dramatic. Animated on the stage in the most sensational manner was a picture-framed interior, a box into which objects and figures could be inserted, no longer static, no longer abstract, indubitably real.

The response to the play was equally direct. Reviewed enthusiastically by Harold Hobson in the Sunday Times (“The best first play produced by the English Stage Company since Look Back in Anger”), its run was extended and the production was transferred to the Criterion theatre in the West End. At the end of the year it shared the Evening Standard award for the most promising playwright with another theatrical unknown, Tom Stoppard.

Despite its complexity, my new play – The Contractor – took only five days to write: the erecting, the arranging and the dismantling of a marquee around the narrative of a family wedding. It was followed by a play about family life. In Celebration only took three days to write: three educated sons returning home to celebrate their working-class parents’ 40th wedding anniversary – and to face the inevitable conflicts of familial life. Arnold Middleton, conceived in despair 10 years before in the back streets of King’s Cross, had unblocked a dam.

After agreeing to stage In Celebration at the Court, Bill Gaskill suggested inviting Lindsay to direct it. Since This Sporting Life, Lindsay’s working life and mine had drifted apart. The mentor and scribe, the aficionado and critic whom I had met nine years before, now had behind him a body of work that had achieved all he had promised, including his 1968 film, if….It facilitated casting: Alan Bates, James Bolam, Constance Chapman, Bill Owen, Fulton Mackay and, a relatively unknown actor, Brian Cox.

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(Michael Paulson’s article appeared in The New York Times, 5/19; via Pam Green; Photo:  The Drama Book Shop, in a former location. When it reopens next month, it will also have a cafe.Credit…Richard Perry/The New York Times.)

The quirky bookstore, which sells scripts and other theater-related work, was acquired by a team of “Hamilton” alumni after years of struggle.

The Drama Book Shop, a quirky 104-year-old Manhattan specialty store that has long been a haven for aspiring artists as well as a purveyor of scripts, will reopen next month with a new location, a new look, and a new team of starry owners.

Those new owners — the “Hamilton” creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, as well as the show’s director, Thomas Kail, lead producer, Jeffrey Seller, and the theater owner James L. Nederlander — said Wednesday that the store will have its long-delayed reopening on June 10.

The opening, at 266 West 39th Street, is a sign of the team’s confidence in Times Square, which has been largely theater-free since March 12, 2020, when the coronavirus pandemic forced Broadway to close. Broadway shows are not planning to resume performances until September, but the new store owners say they are ready for business.

The “Hamilton” team bought the Drama Book Shop, most recently located on West 40th Street, in early 2019 after years in which the store had struggled to survive the challenges of Manhattan real estate, e-commerce, and even a damaging flood. Kail had a particular passion for the bookstore, where he had run a small theater company in his early years as a professional; Miranda joined him there to work on “In the Heights,” a musical Kail directed. “In the Heights” has now been adapted into a film which is being released on June 11, the day after the bookstore opens.

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(Larry Getlen’s article appeared in the New York Post, 5/21; via the Drudge Report;  Photo: the New York Post.)

Before she became America’s sweetheart, Lucille Ball’s path to stardom was filled with gangsters, nude photos and even turning tricks, according to a new book.

In the late 1950s, Darwin Porter, student body president at the University of Miami, arranged “Lucy & Desi” Day at the school, a celebration of the country’s most popular entertainers and favorite couple, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz.

But when he arrived to take them to the event, the snide and bickering couple he found resembled anything but America’s sweethearts.

“She shouted denunciations at him, at one point calling him [an ethnic slur]. She accused him of having sex with two prostitutes the night before,” writes Porter in his new book with Danforth Price, “Lucille Ball & Desi Arnaz: They Weren’t Lucy & Ricky Ricardo,” (Blood Moon Productions, out now).

“He didn’t deny that, but claimed, ‘It doesn’t mean a thing, my fooling around with some hookers. Peccadilloes don’t count.”

The book, which is Volume 1 of the authors’ Ball/Arnaz bio, is 576 pages long and covers the years until the end of their marriage, documenting their careers, hardships, and many, many lovers in all their gossipy glory. Volume II is set for release later this year. Lucille Ball met Desi Arnaz in 1940 at RKO Pictures. While “I Love Lucy” showcased the fun-loving, madcap couple, behind the scenes, there were extramarital affairs and plenty of scandal.

Ball — born Aug. 6, 1911 in Jamestown, NY — yearned to perform from a young age. Taking acting lessons in New York City as a teen, she was overshadowed by fellow student Bette Davis, who she found “snobby and intimidating.” She also studied dance under Martha Graham for several days before Graham asked her to drop the class. “You’re hopeless as a dancer,” Graham told her. “You’re like a quarterback taking up ballet. Perhaps you could find work as a soda jerk.”

At 14, Ball wound up in a relationship with 23-year-old Johnny DaVita, who, the authors write, ran illegal booze in from Canada and functioned as the town gigolo. 

She later moved in with DaVita, who occasionally beat her, and shaped parts of her personality around his gangster ways.

“Living with DaVita catalyzed some personality changes in her,” the authors write. “She developed a foul mouth to match his own and those of his hoodlum friends.”

Later, while auditioning for roles in Times Square under the stage names Montana Ball and Diane Belmont before settling on her given name, she scrounged to survive, including partaking in nude modeling and turning the occasional trick. She often ate food left over by diners in local cafes, and brought a handbag with a plastic liner on dates so she could take home half-eaten steaks. 

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