Monthly Archives: June 2023


(Harrison Smith’s article appeared in the Washington Post, 6/30; Photo: Stage and screen actor Alan Arkin in 2018. His recent work included an Emmy-nominated starring role in “The Kominsky Method,” a Netflix comedy series with Michael Douglas. (Mario Anzuoni/Reuters.)

Alan Arkin, a wide-ranging stage and screen actor who delivered wry and surprisingly poignant performances in a career that spanned more than six decades, winning an Oscar for his role as a cranky but caring grandfather in the 2006 film “Little Miss Sunshine,” has died. He was 89.

His agent, Estelle Lasher, confirmed the death. Additional details were not immediately available.

Mr. Arkin began his career on the stage, performing with Chicago’s renowned Second City comedy troupe and winning a Tony Award for best featured actor in the 1963 play “Enter Laughing.” Three years later, he rose to stardom as a Russian lieutenant in “The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming,” a Cold War farce about a Soviet submarine that runs aground off the New England coast.

The film was nominated for four Academy Awards, including best picture and best actor for Mr. Arkin, who lost to Paul Scofield for “A Man for All Seasons.”

(Read more)



(David Smith’s article appeared in the Guardian, 6/27; Photo: The Guardian.)

Elizabeth Winkler’s controversial new book, Shakespeare Was a Woman and Other Heresies, investigates highly fraught theories around the beloved playwright

 “It’s a funny thing,” admits Elizabeth Winkler. “I don’t really like controversy. I don’t seek it out. There are some people that thrive on it and I don’t. I find it upsetting and distressing to see my work and my ideas misrepresented and twisted. It’s not fun. But you study the history of the subject, you know that’s how it goes.”

The subject in question is perhaps the final blasphemy of British culture: the theory that William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon might not have written Hamlet, Macbeth, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and other plays and poems that bear his name.

The doubters point to Shakespeare’s lack of higher education and aristocratic background and the scarcity of personal documents and literary evidence directly linking him to the works. Some suggest candidates such as Francis Bacon, Christopher Marlowe or Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, as potential authors of Shakespeare’s plays.

It would of course have been the hoax of the millennium: no need to fake a moon landing. The theory remains decidedly fringe, outside the mainstream academic consensus and, as Winkler puts it, “not permitted”. In her book, Shakespeare Was a Woman and Other Heresies, she writes that “it has become the most horrible, vexed, unspeakable subject in the history of English literature.

“In literary circles, even the phrase ‘Shakespeare authorship question’ elicits contempt – eye-rolling, name-calling, mudslinging. If you raise it casually in a social setting, someone might chastise you as though you’ve uttered a deeply offensive profanity. Someone else might get up and leave the room. Tears may be shed. A whip may be produced. You will be punished, which is to say, educated. Because it is obscene to suggest that the god of English literature might be a false god. It is heresy.”

This passage neatly captures Winkler’s lucid and light-footed approach to the subject. The 33-year-old American journalist and book critic, who holds English literature degrees from Princeton and Stanford universities, writes for the Wall Street Journal newspaper and the New Yorker magazine. While she categorises herself as a sceptic of the Stratford man (“There are so many gaps”), this is not a polemical book seeking to knock Shakespeare off his perch and push dubious evidence for an alternative.

Instead Winkler brings a journalist’s eye to the controversy, zipping between highbrow philosophical debates around the nature of knowledge – how can we be truly certain about anything? – to the more prosaic and petty squabbles of academics with skin in the game that might be plucked from a novel by Michael Frayn or David Lodge.

Her book makes three compelling arguments: tying the authorship question to the rise and fall of imperial Britain and its need for national mythmaking; exploring how Shakespeare was turned into a secular god, with theatre filling the vacuum left by the decline of the church; and challenging the basic human need to cling to belief when doubt might be the proper response.

Her central point is not the authorship question itself but the ecosystem of egos, vested interests, literary feuds and cultish bardolatry that has grown up around it. We meet Stratfordians who defend Shakespeare’s genius with religious intensity and zeal and anti-Stratfordians who respond with a contrarian ferocity worthy of atheist Richard Dawkins. This is one fight with little room for agnostics.

Winkler writes: “The authorship question is a massive game of Clue played out over the centuries. The weapon is a pen. The crime is the composition of the greatest works of literature in the English language. The suspects are numerous. The game is played in back rooms and basements, beyond the purview of the authorities.

“Now and then, reports of the game surface in the press, and the authorities (by which I mean the Shakespeare scholars) are incensed. They come in blowing their whistles and stomping their feet, waving their batons wildly.”

Winkler dived feet first into this melee four years ago with an essay in the Atlantic magazine under the headline “Was Shakespeare a Woman?”, floating the idea that Emilia Bassano Lanier, a 16th-century poet of Italian heritage, had a hand in the plays attributed to the man from Stratford. There was a fierce backlash that ran the gamut from lofty scholars to Twitter trolls.

Sitting outside the Washington national cathedral, a grand structure built in 14th-century English gothic style, Winkler tells the Guardian: “I was very quickly castigated as a conspiracy theorist and denialist – they’re invoking climate change denial or Holocaust denial, even though those things are not remotely equivalent. I was compared to anti-vaxxers and purveyors of disinformation. Very ugly comparisons. It was mortifying and shocking at first. I’d never been attacked like that as a writer.”

Why is a question about the authorship of 400-year-old plays getting people so riled up?

(Read more)



(Gagliano’s remembrance appeared 6/26.)

I met lyricist Sheldon Harnick (died Friday, 23 June, 2023: age 99) once, at the Eugene O’Neill Musical Theatre Conference. Composer Claibe Richardson and I were working on our musical, “From The Bodoni County Songbook Anthology.” Harnick (“Fiddler On The Roof,” “She Loves Me,” “Fiorello”) was working on a one-act opera, “That Pig Of A Mollette.” 1980’s sometime? I don’t recall much of those lunches (though I suspect we talked about Harnick writing operas (and he wrote many). 

But I do remember recognizing specifically his laugh, because I had heard a recording of an evening devoted to him and his career on the famous NYC  “Lyrics and Lyricists” series, 92nd Street Y, New York City, 2005. Harnick’s sense of delight and whimsey were apparent from the program’s beginning. He started off by singing many of his very early comedy songs: “The Suave Young Man In The Trench Coat,” (A Bogart homage) “They’re Rioting in Africa” (a funny take on man’s inhumanity to man),—“The Boston Beguine” (his first Broadway hit, from the musical revue, “New Faces of 1952”), Below: “The Basilica Of St. Anne” (“I kissed her under that nave/ At The Basilica of St. Anne./There in a scene celestial/ She acted clean/ And I acted bestial. . .”).


Researching Sheldon Harnick’s Oeuvre for the Facebook posting, I was amazed at the range of his lyric (and translating and adaptations) genius, and in so many disparate genres. For a Placido Domingo 1985 Special, he translated the Verdi Rigoletto aria, “Questa o Quella.”For Concerts: One of my favorite song cycles, the Canteloube, “Songs of the Auvergne.” For Bill Baird Marionettes: the Stravinsky Theatre Piece “L’histoire du Soldat” and “Alice In Wonderland.” Bach Cantatas, “The Contest between Phoebus and Pan.” Movie to stage: “It’s a Wonderful Life.”


And of course, we had the glory of the great —now classic— Theater songs. 

Now —more than ever —I would have welcomed more lunches with Sheldon Harnick.


RIP Mr. Harnick.



(Visit Frank Gagliano’s Web site)



[Above Attached: Mp3: Sheldon Harnick sings—“The Basilica of St. Anne” and “Garbage”— at the 2005 “Lyrics and Lyricists” series, 92nd Street Y, New York City, 2005.]


[View New York Times obit./]



(Robert Berkvist’s article appeared in The New York Times, 6/23; Photo:  The lyricist Sheldon Harnick in 2015; via Ben Vereen/twitter.  He gave voice to a broad range of characters, including starry-eyed young lovers, corrupt politicians and struggling Jews in early-20th-century Russia.Credit…Chad Batka for The New York Times.)

His collaborations with the composer Jerry Bock also included “Fiorello!” — which, like “Fiddler,” was a Tony winner — and “She Loves Me.”

Sheldon Harnick, the lyricist who teamed up with the composer Jerry Bock to write some of Broadway’s most memorable musicals, including the Tony Award winners “Fiddler on the Roof” and “Fiorello!,” died on Friday at his home in Manhattan. He was 99.

His death was announced by a spokesman, Sean Katz.

Mr. Harnick’s lyrics could be broadly funny, slyly satirical, lushly romantic or poignantly moving. He gave voice to a broad range of characters, including starry-eyed young lovers, corrupt politicians, a quarreling Adam and Eve and, in “Fiddler on the Roof,” struggling Jews in early-20th-century Russia.

When three unmarried sisters in “Fiddler” confront the village matchmaker, two of them hopeful and the third cynical, they all end up having second thoughts:

Matchmaker, matchmaker, plan me no plans
I’m in no rush, maybe I’ve learned
Playing with matches a girl can get burned.
So bring me no ring, groom me no groom,
Find me no find, catch me no catch.
Unless he’s a matchless match!

When the leading man in “She Loves Me” is about to meet the woman with whom he’s been trading love letters for months, he practically sings himself into a nervous breakdown:

I haven’t slept a wink, I only think
Of our approaching tête-à-tête,
Tonight at eight.
I feel a combination of depression and elation;
What a state!
To wait
Till eight.

Mr. Harnick met Mr. Bock in the late 1950s, and the two quickly realized they could work together despite their different temperaments. “I tend to approach things skeptically and pessimistically,” Mr. Harnick told The New York Times in 1990. “Jerry Bock is a bubbling, ebullient personality.”

The team would break up after a dozen years over a dispute involving their musical “The Rothschilds.” But the combination worked extremely well while it lasted.

The late 1950s was a challenging time for newcomers to the musical stage. The decade’s hit Broadway musicals had included “Guys and Dolls,” “The King and I,” “Wonderful Town,” “My Fair Lady” and “Candide.” “In those days,” Mr. Harnick recalled in a 2004 interview, “lyricists were consciously trying to be more sophisticated and literate. Now we’re in the Andrew Lloyd Webber vein, trying to hit bigger, broader audiences.”

Mr. Harnick and Mr. Bock got off to a weak start in 1958 with “The Body Beautiful,” set in the world of prizefighting; it closed after a brief run. But they bounced back decisively the next year with “Fiorello!,” a breezy portrait of one of New York City’s most colorful politicians.

“Fiorello!,” which had a book by George Abbott and Jerome Weidman and was directed by Mr. Abbott, starred Tom Bosley as Fiorello H. La Guardia, the reformer who was mayor of New York from 1934 to 1945. Its score evoked a time when political corruption was rife.

The song “Little Tin Box,” for example, suggests how a crooked party boss (Howard Da Silva) might have responded when a judge asked him how he has managed to buy a yacht, given his modest salary. The boss replies:

I am positive Your Honor must be joking.
Any working man can do what I have done.
For a month or two I simply gave up smoking
And I put my extra pennies one by one
Into a little tin box
A little tin box
That a little tin key unlocks.
There is nothing unorthodox
About a little tin box.

“Fiorello!” ran for nearly 800 performances and won three Tony Awards, including the prize for best musical, which it shared with “The Sound of Music.” It was also one of the few musicals to win the Pulitzer Prize for drama.

(Read more)


(Silke Wünsch’s article appeared on DW, 6/19; Photo: The show was a trailblazer in how it portrayed sexual identity; Image: Imago/ZUMA Press)

It was 50 years ago that “The Rocky Horror Show” was first seen on stage in London. Despite its wild and enthusiastic audiences enticing rats and mice into movie theaters at one stage, the show has gone on.

There’s a wedding on the screen: Moviegoers throw rice in the theater.

In the film, a blonde woman gets out of her car. She holds a newspaper over her head to protect herself from the rain. Meanwhile, in the cinema, water guns spray water all over while others hold newspapers over their heads too.

The woman then starts singing. When she sings, “there’s a light,” hundreds of cigarette lighters are held up by the audience.

The woman and her boyfriend then enter a castle where a party is taking place. On screen, people are dancing the “Time Warp”: moviegoers join in.

When Dr. Frank N. Furter’s creature Rocky is unwrapped from its bandages, moviegoers throw around toilet paper while singing the film’s songs. 

After the movie, the theaters always look like a mess. Still, the next screening will start soon enough.

No other film has been accompanied by such cult rituals. No other film has been known to attract mice to the cinema either. After a few months, vermin started invading theaters because of the rice thrown during the screenings.

In the early 1980s, people were crazy about “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” They loved the characters, the music and the happenings in the theaters. They dressed up as Frank N. Furter or as the maids, Magenta and Columbia.

The film still runs in a movie theater in Munich, which found its way into the Guinness World Records for exactly that reason.

Breakthrough as ‘midnight movie’

The cult musical’s beginnings were more humble. “The Rocky Horror Show” premiered to 63 people on June 19, 1973, at London’s Royal Court Theatre. 

Actor Richard O’Brien wrote the script while he was bored, waiting for a job in his London apartment. He wanted to create a parody of trashy American B-movies of the 1950s such as those directed by Jack Arnold, the master of monster, horror and sci-fi classics, including “Tarantula” and “It Came From Outer Space.”

Although the budget of the production was very tight, audiences and critics loved it.

Originally planned to run for five weeks, it was shown for seven years without interruption.

Fans started to turn the theater show into a happening. The musical was also presented by other theaters, including one in New York. It kept attracting more and more people in costumes, who’d throw around rice and other props.

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(Keith Weir’s article appeared on Reuters, 6/19; Editing by Andrew Heavens; Photos: Reuters; via: msn; Drudge Report.)

The archaeological area of Largo Argentina reopens to the public after restoration

The archaeological area of Largo Argentina reopens to the public after restoration© Thomson Reuters

ROME (Reuters) – History buffs will be able to stroll close to the spot where legend says Julius Caesar met his bloody end, when Rome authorities open a new walkway on the ancient site on Tuesday.

The archaeological area of Largo Argentina reopens to the public after restoration

The archaeological area of Largo Argentina reopens to the public after restoration© Thomson Reuters

Accounts, embellished by William Shakespeare, tell how the Roman dictator was stabbed to death by a group of aggrieved senators on the Ides of March – March 15 – in 44 BC.

According to tradition, he died in the capital’s central Largo Argentina square – home to the remains of four temples.

They are all currently below street level and up until recently could only be viewed from behind barriers close to a busy road junction.

The archaeological area of Largo Argentina reopens to the public after restoration

The archaeological area of Largo Argentina reopens to the public after restoration© Thomson Reuters

From Tuesday, visitors will be able to move through the site at ground level on the walkway and see the structures up close.

Italian fashion house Bulgari funded the work at a site that was first discovered and excavated during building work in Rome in the 1920s.

(Read more)


The words and wisdom of Constantin Stanislavski:

Sheer imitation . . . has nothing to do with creativeness. . . . [Instead] assimilate the model. . . . You study it from the point of view of the epoch, the time, the country, condition of life, background, literature, psychology, the soul, way of living, social position, and external appearance; moreover, you study character, such as custom, manner, movements, voice, speech, intonations. All this work on your material will help you to permeate it with your own feelings. Without all this you will have no art.

When, from this material, a living image of the role emerges, the artist of the school of representation transfers it to himself.


Patrytsia Svitsina (file photo)

(By RFE/RL’s Belarus Service; Photo: Radio Free Europe.)

Belarusian singer Patrytsia Svitsina, who in 2020 refused to accept a scholarship from authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka, citing her “moral principles,” is facing a charge of “actively participating in actions that blatantly disrupt social order.”

The Minsk-based Vyasna human rights center said on June 16 that Svitsina was placed in a detention center. If convicted, she faces up to four years in prison.

On May 18, Svitsina was shown on pro-government Telegram channels “confessing” to taking part in mass protests against the official results of the August 2020 presidential poll that proclaimed Lukashenka the winner, blocking public transportation operations, and publishing on social media “negative information” about Russia’s unprovoked

In 2020, Svitsina, who was then studying at the Ethnology and Folklore Department at Belarusian State University in Minsk, publicly rejected Lukashenka’s scholarship amid an unprecedented crackdown on dissent amid claims the election was rigged.

Vyasna also said on June 16 that the Minsk City Court sentenced a former employee of the capital’s Kastrychnik district administration, Svyatlana Bychkouskya, in late May, to 5 1/2 years in prison on charges of inciting hatred, illegal usage of computer data, illegal usage of personal data, and abuse of office.

The charges are linked to the online personal data of law enforcement officers who were involved in the brutal dispersal of the unprecedented rallies that lasted for several months against the official results of the 2020 election.

(Read more)


(Michael Coveney’s and Julia Langdon’s article appeared in the Guardian, 6/15; Photo: Glenda Jackson in 1984. At the height of her fame in the 1980s, she continued to appear in London stage productions of ambitious, difficult plays. Photograph: Jane Bown/The Observer.)

Actor who was a fearless, ferocious presence in theatre, cinema and television, then turned to politics as a Labour MP

Many leading British actors have mixed art and politics, but no great actor ever made such a decisive break from one to the other as Glenda Jackson, who has died aged 87, when she was elected Labour MP for Hampstead and Highgate in 1992.

For the previous 30 years, she had been an outstanding, ferocious presence in theatre and on screen, a leading light of the Royal Shakespeare Company in its most radical phase, and as memorable in film comedies with George Segal and Walter Matthau as she was in more tempestuous movies by Ken Russell.

She never had to prove a point about her politics: she was known for having concerns rather than ideas, and these were rooted in her background of Lancastrian working-class poverty, and her belief that the arts had both a higher purpose and a responsibility to educate and inform.

It is extraordinary that, at the height of her fame in the 1980s, she appeared in London stage productions of ambitious, difficult plays by Botho Strauss, Eugene O’Neill, Jean Racine, Bertolt Brecht, Federico García Lorca and Howard Barker. She evinced an uncompromised intelligence, and a scrubbed beauty that had nothing to do with makeup or vanity.

She was always strong, never sentimental, with a great aptitude for sarcasm and sourness. She was impatient with frivolity, except when it came to working with Morecambe and Wise. She first appeared on the great comedy duo’s TV show in 1971 as Cleopatra in a typically tawdry, but hilarious, cod-classical sketch – “All men are fools and what makes them fools is having beauty like what I have got” – and returned on four of their subsequent Christmas shows.

Jackson was as fearless in sending herself up as she was in going for the jugular on stage; she was totally without affectation. She did not think much of her looks, having been “an archetypal spotty teenager who suffered the tortures of the damned because I wasn’t like those girls in the magazines”, and she never tampered with her imperfectly aligned teeth; for her legion of admirers, such honesty redoubled her sensuality.

And there was a deep-seated unhappiness about her that she could always turn to dramatic advantage. “When I have to cry,” she once said, “I think about my love life. And when I have to laugh, I think about my love life.” The American director Charles Marowitz said: “It was always the sense of being close to elemental forces that accounted for Glenda’s fascination; the knowledge that she is capable of manifesting those potent inner states, that in most of us remain contained or suppressed.”

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