Monthly Archives: March 2022


(Chris McCormack’s article appeared in the Irish Times, 3/21; Photo: Niamh Cusack in Faith Healer at the Abbey theatre, Dublin. Photograph: Ros Kavanagh.)

Having been sanitised in the 2010s, recent productions have found hidden layers

Who is the art market for if not the morbidly curious? In that marketplace, the impact of an artist’s demise on the value of their works is sometimes referred to as the “death effect”.

The value of art – whether the artist is alive or dead – will always depend on demand, and people gravitating towards it. No one can predict what desire there will be for a given artwork in the future, but what is obvious is that when an artist’s life comes to an end, their creativity ends too. The supply-and-demand model that determined the value can go into flux.

For something scientific on the topic, check out The Economics of American Art by Robert B EkelundJohn D Jackson and Robert D Tollison. That book uses auction data and a sample of visual artists to learn more about the death effect. The research showed that prices tended to plummet the year the artist dies, probably because art owners are selling up, flooding the market. Then after a period, the value would rise again.

Friel’s achievement seems measureless compared with any native contemporaries

There isn’t an easy explanation for this rise. It might have as much to do with microeconomics as it does with media coverage of the artist’s death, the fathomless meditations of art criticism, and retrospective flashpoints such as exhibitions and documentaries.

It would be surprising if the death of an artist as eminent as Brian Friel did not impact how their art is perceived in some way. There was no question of Friel’s accomplishment before his death in 2015. The playwright, who had more than 30 plays produced, depicted 20th-century small-town life (in the fictional Ballybeg) – often a place of parochial oblivion and muted family emotions – with a surprising lightness of touch. A breakout play, 1964’s Philadelphia, Here I Come!, and a late-career hit, Dancing at Lughnasa, both made gainful transfers to Broadway, a distinction that’s less imaginable now, with the New York district dominated by musicals.

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(Loveday Morris’s and Annabelle Timsit’s article appeared in The Washingotn Post, 3/20; Photo: People dig a grave Sunday for victims of the fighting in the besieged port city of Mariupol, Ukraine. (Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters.)

DNIPRO, Ukraine — Ukrainian officials on Sunday accused Russia of bombing an art school in Mariupol where hundreds of people had been sheltering in recent days, but intense guerrilla warfare across the city hampered efforts to rescue survivors or count the dead under the rubble.

About 400 women, children and elderly people had taken refuge inside Art School No. 12 in the Left Bank district of eastern Mariupol before it was bombed by Russia on Sunday, according to Mayor Vadym Boychenko and the city council. The Washington Post could not independently verify the claim.

Hundreds might be dead, the mayor said, but some of those sheltering at the school could have fled ahead of the bombing along evacuation routes that have opened up. “We still have to work it out,” Boychenko said. “This is what we are hoping.”

The allegation came days after a suspected Russian airstrike hit a theater, where the city estimates that about 800 people might have been sheltering, and 10 days after a deadly attack on a maternity hospital. The port city, which was besieged for weeks before Russian forces broke through Ukrainian lines, is considered an important strategic target for Russia because it offers a land link between annexed Crimea and areas of eastern Ukraine held by Moscow-backed separatists.

Late Sunday, Moscow called for Ukrainian forces to surrender and leave the city. Russian state media said that Mariupol leaders must either concede before the early hours of Monday morning or be considered “with the bandits.”

Boychenko said Saturday that thousands of people who had been sheltering in a sports hall in Mariupol had been deported at gunpoint to Russia. A woman whose family was in the hall told The Washington Post on Sunday that Russian troops had entered and told people to leave. People fled in vehicles and on foot, she said. They were guided onto roads into Russian-held territory in Ukraine where her family remained, she said. She said nobody took their documents.

The city council said captured residents have been taken to “filtration camps” in the town of Novoazovsk where their phones and documents are inspected before they are sent on to remote Russian cities. The woman said their family’s documents had not been taken and they were in Novoazovsk but hoped to make it back to Ukrainian-held territory.

On Saturday, Boychenko said the Russian actions were “familiar to the older generation, who saw the horrific events of World War II, when the Nazis forcibly captured people,” according to the Mariupol city council’s official Telegram channel.

“It is difficult to imagine that in the 21st century people will be forcibly deported to another country,” he said. “Not only are Russian troops destroying our peaceful Mariupol, they have gone even further and started deporting Mariupol residents.”

With communications cut and street fighting preventing rescue efforts at both the Mariupol Drama Theater and the art school, information on how many people might be trapped under the rubble is likely to remain scant until there is a lull, officials said. They said Russian forces are now present across the city.

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(Michael Billington’s article appeared in the Guardian, 3/16; Harold Pinter as Lenny with Jane Lowe as Ruth in a 1969 production of The Homecoming at Watford Palace theatre. Photograph: Tony Prime/ANL/Rex/Shutterstock.)

Criticised for moral ambiguity on its premiere, the 1965 drama – about a woman in a masculine world of aggression and pretence – is back to provoke and disturb

Call a play a “modern classic” and you give it a veneer of respectability. But, although the term is widely applied to Harold Pinter’s The Homecoming, I suspect it has lost none of its power to provoke and disturb. The proof will come when Jamie Glover’s revival of Pinter’s 1965 play, now with a cast headed by Keith Allen, Mathew Horne and Shanaya Rafaat, opens at the Theatre Royal Bath before going on a national tour.

So what is it about The Homecoming that upsets people? When I wrote a biography of Pinter in 1996, I discovered that the play was triggered by the experience of one of Pinter’s oldest Jewish friends who went to live in Canada and for 10 years never told his Hackney dad that he had married a Gentile girl and had a family of his own. But Pinter always denied that The Homecoming was either a specifically Jewish play or a transcription of reality. What the play shows is Teddy, now an academic in the US, returning to his north London roots to introduce his wife, Ruth, to his father, his uncle and his two brothers.

The action hinges on the choice confronting Ruth: whether to go back to America with Teddy or to settle in London with her rumbustious in-laws. You might ask where the offence is in that: ever since Ibsen’s A Doll’s House wives have been turning their backs on husbands and children in a bid for independence. The difference in The Homecoming – as most spectators will know – is that Ruth will not only be expected to minister to her new family but will apparently be set up in business by Lenny, her pimping brother-in-law.

In 1965 many people were shocked by Pinter’s refusal to offer any moral condemnation of this animalistic family. In today’s world – where the #MeToo movement has led to heightened awareness of female exploitation – I suspect The Homecoming will once again trigger fierce debate. Even those who accept that Ruth escapes a sterile marriage and acquires new agency at the play’s conclusion argue that she does so at humiliating cost.

But reading the play again, I was struck by a blindingly obvious fact: that Ruth is the only realist in a house of male fantasists. Max, the foul-tongued patriarch, talks palpable nonsense about being a racetrack wizard and consultant to a group of continental butchers. Lenny, the seemingly sophisticated pimp, is reduced to a quivering wreck by his first encounter with Ruth where she achieves dominance through a glass of water. Joey, the would-be professional boxer, has, as his father admits with rare honesty, only one problem: “You don’t know how to defend yourself and you don’t know how to attack.”

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(Tim Lister’s, Olga Voitovych’s, Tara John’s, and Paul P. Murphy’s article appeared on CNN, 3/16; Photo: The Drama Theater in Mariupol, where hundreds were taking refuge, sustained heavy damage in a bombing on Wednesday, authorities said.)

Lviv, Ukraine (CNN)A theater where hundreds of people had taken shelter in Mariupol was bombed on Wednesday, according to local authorities, as hundreds of thousands of people remain trapped in the coastal Ukrainian city that has been encircled for weeks by Russian forces.

Mariupol City Council, who shared an image of the destroyed building, said Russian forces had “purposefully and cynically destroyed the Drama Theater in the heart of Mariupol.”

“The plane dropped a bomb on a building where hundreds of peaceful Mariupol residents were hiding,” it said.

CNN has geolocated the image and confirmed it is of the theater in the southeastern port city. The word “children” was spelled out on two sides of the theater before it was bombed, according to satellite images.

Videos of the aftermath showed a fire raging in the theater’s ruins. The number of casualties is unknown, authorities said.

“It is still impossible to estimate the scale of this horrific and inhumane act, because the city continues to shell residential areas,” the council wrote on Telegram. “It is known that after the bombing, the central part of the Drama Theater was destroyed, and the entrance to the bomb shelter in the building was destroyed,” it added.

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(Michael Paulson’s article appeared in The New York Time, 3/9; via Pam Green; Photo: The Tony Awards ceremony will return to Radio City Music Hall on June 12, after being presented at the Winter Garden Theater in 2021.Credit…Sara Krulwich/The New York Times.)

The 75th ceremony, honoring plays and musicals staged on Broadway, resumes its traditional calendar after a few years of pandemic disruption.

This year’s Tony Awards will take place on June 12 at Radio City Music Hall as the theater industry seeks to settle in to some sort of new normal following the enormous disruption of the coronavirus pandemic.

The ceremony — like the one last September that coincided with the reopening of many theaters after the lengthy lockdown — will be bisected, with one hour streamed by Paramount+, followed by a three-hour broadcast on CBS that is likely to be heavy on the razzle-dazzle.

The Tonys, which honor plays and musicals staged on Broadway, are an important moment for the theater community because the awards are valued by artists and because the event serves to market the art form and the industry. The awards, formally known as the Antoinette Perry Awards, are presented by the Broadway League and the American Theater Wing.

This year’s ceremony — the 75th since the Tonys were established in 1947 — will honor shows that opened between Feb. 20, 2020, and April 28, 2022. That unusually long eligibility window includes the 15 months when all theaters were shut down to protect public health. (Last year’s Tony Awards ceremony was a much-delayed event that considered only the reduced slate of shows that managed to open before the pandemic cut short the 2019-20 theater season.)

The nominators, for the first time since 2019, will have a robust slate of options to consider in all categories.

This season features nine new musicals, including the fan favorite “Six”; the critical darling “Girl From the North Country” (which opened one week before theaters shut down); the Michael Jackson jukebox musical, “MJ”; and the Pulitzer Prize-winning “A Strange Loop” (which arrives next month).

In the play category, this season brought a record number of works by Black writers, the best reviewed of which were “Clyde’s,” by Lynn Nottage; “Pass Over,” by Antoinette Chinonye Nwandu; and “Skeleton Crew,” by Dominique Morisseau. They will face stiff competition from “The Lehman Trilogy,” a widely hailed exploration of the rise and fall of Lehman Brothers written by Stefano Massini and adapted by Ben Power.

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(Arifa Akbar’s article appeared in the guardian, 3/13; Photo: A necessary affront … Aliaksei Naranovich and Raman Shytsko in Dogs of Europe. Photograph: Linda Nylind/the Guardian.)

Barbican, London
Fairytale imagery is mixed with absurdist humour in this prescient political thriller in which Russia has become a dictatorial superstate

Given the political history of the Belarus Free Theatre and its overt references to the war in Ukraine in this production, Dogs of Europe cannot be seen as theatre alone. It is art, activism and theatrical disruption, at once.

Having been performed clandestinely in garages and warehouses in Minsk, it feels released on this large-scale stage. Like a genie escaping from a bottle, there is a magnificent eruption of sound and spectacle. Big, haunting, discordant songs and music by Mark and Marichka Marczyk of Balaklava Blues expand to fill the auditorium. Maria Sazonova’s choreography is arresting in its acrobatic drama, with movements like orchestrated military exercises or assaults, and containing a fierce, fulminating physicality. A back screen for projections (with video design by Richard Williamson) begins as a roving camera from a computer game, which gives the show an unstable, lurching quality and seems designed to discombobulate its audience.

Every member of the ensemble has spent time in jail and their orchestrated movements play out street protests, battles, rape and murder. Inert bodies are dragged off stage, time and again. Deliberately cartoonish violence shows characters shot at point-blank range and bouncing back up.

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(Brent Lang’s and J. Kim Murphy’s article appeared, 3/13, in Variety; Photo:  Rich Fury/Invision/AP.)

William Hurt, who became a top leading man in the 1980s,, winning an Oscar for 1985’s “Kiss of the Spider Woman” and starring in “The Big Chill” and “Body Heat,” died Sunday of natural causes. He was 71. Hurt’s death was confirmed to Variety by his friend, Gerry Byrne.

His son Will said in a statement, “It is with great sadness that the Hurt family mourns the passing of William Hurt, beloved father and Oscar winning actor, on March 13, 2022, one week before his 72nd birthday. He died peacefully, among family, of natural causes.”

Hurt was nominated for four Oscars over the course of his long career, scoring two best actor nominations for “Broadcast News” and “Children of a Lesser God” and a supporting actor nod for less than 10 minutes of screen time in “A History of Violence.” He was one of the most heralded performers of the 1980s, becoming something of a cerebral sex symbol and a reluctant, albeit bankable, movie star. Hurt later transitioned into character roles in the 1990s and successfully alternated between big screen projects and television, scoring Emmy nominations for his work as a whistleblower in “Damages” and his portrayal of Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson in “Too Big to Fail.”

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(Alex Marshall’s article appeared in The New York Times, 3/10; Photo:  A rehearsal for “Dogs of Europe,” which opens at the Barbican theater in London on Thursday.Credit…Jeremie Souteyrat for The New York Times.)

The Belarus Free Theater’s members fled repression at home. The company’s latest show imagines a nightmare future of authoritarian Russian rule.

ONDON — When the players of the Belarus Free Theater began working on “Dogs of Europe” three years ago, they thought it was a play about a dystopia.

Set in 2049, it imagines the continent cut in half by a wall. On one side sits a Russian superstate, where a dictator has eliminated almost all opposition, and where people cannot speak their native languages or even perform folk dances. On the other side sits a Europe that failed to realize the Russian threat, or stop it from absorbing Belarus, Ukraine, the Baltic States and beyond.

Yet at a rehearsal in London last month, the day before Russia invaded Ukraine, the play’s nightmare world didn’t feel so far-fetched.

Maryna Yakubovich, an actor in the production, which opens Thursday at the Barbican theater in London, said that rehearsing the play had sometimes felt like a premonition. “It’s, like, ‘Oh my God, it’s started to happen,” she said.

Natalia Kaliada, one of the Belarus Free Theater’s founders, said that when she and her husband, Nicolai Khalezin, decided to stage the play, they thought it would be a “warning shot” about the dangers of undemocratic leaders left unchecked. But planned performances in London and New York in 2020 were postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic. Now that warning shot appears to be too late.

As the war in Ukraine enters its third week, the Belarus Free Theater’s performance may seem accidentally timely. But it is only the company’s latest attempt in its 17-year existence to warn about rising authoritarianism in Eastern Europe.

The company knows those dangers all too well. Since forming in 2005, it has faced repression in Belarus, which is ruled by President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko, who is known as “Europe’s last dictator” in part for his government’s clampdown on opposition and its stifling of free expression. The troupe has long been effectively banned from performing in Belarus, but it continued to do so in secret venues in Minsk, the capital, even after Kaliada and Khalezin were forced into exile more than a decade ago. The couple settled in London — where they developed close ties to theaters including the Young Vic and the Almeida — but continued rehearsing with actors in Belarus via Skype.

Those clandestine shows, in venues including a converted car garage that once belonged to the American Embassy, also won the troupe high-profile supporters in the United States. In 2015, The New York Times’s chief theater critic, Ben Brantley, visited the company in Minsk, and praised its “spirit of defiant, exultant fraternity” adding that this was something “you rarely find among the young these days in money-driven, shockproof Manhattan.”

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(Zoe Williams’s article appeared in the U.K. Guardian, 3/8; Photo: ‘I’m in a panic, I’m crying every day’ … Nadya Tolokonnikova at a concert in Tennessee earlier this month. Photograph: Paul A Hebert/LiveMusicToday/REX/Shutterstock.)

 The Russian artist – who spent two years in a Siberian jail for singing an anti-Putin ‘punk prayer’ – is using NFTs to fight the dictator, raising $7m in five days. At a time like this, she says, only activism will keep you sane

Nadya Tolokonnikova is in a geographically undisclosed location, speaking to me on Zoom, in a Pussy Riot T-shirt, looking purposeful, driven and singleminded. Her feminist protest art has been deadly serious since its inception, when she founded Pussy Riot in 2011. The watching world may have been entertained by its playful notes, the guerrilla gigs in unauthorised places, culminating in the event for which she was prosecuted, in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, when she sang Punk Prayer: Mother of God, Drive Putin Away.

But the consequences have always been seismic and severe. Tolokonnikova, along with two other members of Pussy Riot, were sentenced to two years in prison for hooliganism in 2012, separated from their very young children, went on hunger strike, endured unimaginably harsh conditions and were named prisoners of conscience by Amnesty International.

Tolokonnikova is “nomadic by nature”, she says. “This planet is my home. I’ve always been an anarchist. I’m not really a big fan of borders or nation states.” But beneath those abstracts there are concrete dangers. She was declared a “foreign agent” by the Kremlin in December, as was the independent news outlet she founded upon her release from prison, Mediazone.

 “Putin just signed a law that said you’re going to get 15 years in jail for even discussing the war in Ukraine,” she says matter-of-factly. “You cannot even call it a war, you have to call it a special military operation.” The jeopardy of being a known Russian dissident is greater now than it has been in decades, and nobody understands that more keenly than Tolokonnikova, who was born in 1989, too young to remember Perestroika.

Yet her focus is anything but self-protective. When Putin invaded Ukraine on 24 February, she and various collaborators from the world of cryptocurrency launched the Ukraine DAO (decentralised autonomous organisation). It was a 1/1 non-fungible token (NFT) of the Ukrainian flag, and the group invited people to bid for collective ownership of the image, raising $7.1m in five days.

“We felt, me and my friends in crypto, that we had to react somehow. I’m personally convinced that in situations like this, activism is the only thing that can keep you sane. Just looking at disasters and tragedies and not doing anything about it is really detrimental for the world, but also it slowly destroys you and makes you feel helpless.” The money has already been distributed to the organisation Come Back Alive, which has been mobilising support for the Ukrainian army since 2014 with medical care, ammunition, training and defence analytics.If you fight with a dictator like Putin, you have to show them that you are ready to die – and I was

Tolokonnikova is devastated by the invasion of Ukraine. “I’m in a panic, I’m crying every day. I don’t think it was in any sense necessary, I don’t think it was in any sense logical. It wasn’t something that had to happen, it’s a disaster that will end thousands of people’s lives. I’m freaking out.” Yet she never had the luxury of complacency about what Putin was capable of. “The global community was extremely complacent, and I see two reasons: hypocrisy, based on greed. People would make statements that they did not support Putin’s politics, and his oppression of the political opposition, and the wars that he started – this isn’t the first war by any means. But at the same time they would continue doing business with him.” Nobody was interested in following the money; asking how the oligarchs coming out of Russia, fetching up in Europe and Miami, had come upon their vast wealth.

“Stupidity,” she continues, bluntly. “This is the second reason. People underestimate how dangerous dictators are. In 2014, we spoke to the UK parliament, we spoke at the Senate in the US, we were asked by a lot of people how they should talk to Putin, how they should frame the conversation, and I always advised that they should be as strict as they could. You cannot play nice with Putin.” This wisdom was won, not so much by her arrest for offending the thin-skinned leader but during her time in prison. “Dictators act a lot like prison wardens. They treat kindness as weakness.”

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