Monthly Archives: October 2023


(Arifa Akbar’s article appeared in the Guardian, 10/24; Photo:  Pamela Rabe (left) and Eryn Jean Norvill in The Confessions. Photograph: Christophe Raynaud de Lage.) 

National Theatre, London
Alexander Zeldin’s profoundly moving play grew from his parent’s reflections, which he uses to conjure an epic struggle for love and freedom

A reluctant protagonist stands at this drama’s centre: Alice, diminutive and white-haired, enters before the curtain is raised to insist: “I’m not interesting.”

She becomes bifurcated into young Alice (Eryn Jean Norvill) and old (Amelda Brown). But for all the diffidence on her part, writer and director Alexander Zeldin knows exactly what he is doing and why he is doing it. He spent time recording his mother and her peers to create this tight, searing sweep across a generation of women who fought to make themselves seen and heard. The result is a drama that captures heart and mind, brimming with emotional delicacy and quietly dazzling in its ambition.paper, Alice’s life might perhaps be deemed uninteresting, beginning in Australia in 1943 and involving a move to Britain, one bad marriage and another good one. We see her shelved ambitions to become a writer and her struggle towards a self-fashioned freedom within the bounds of her time.

There are snapshots rather than the full chronology: the nervy first meeting between boyfriend Graham (Joe Bannister) and her parents; a car crash dinner party some years into her marriage with him; the evening she meets a poet and realises she could be living a different life.

These life-changing moments unfold in kitchens that are conspicuously constructed on stage. Zeldin is Paris-based and this play feels distinctly European in its sensibility and style, not only in its deftly psychoanalytic exploration of the mother and child bond but also its Brechtian elements.

There is a constant dismantling of the set and blurring of art/life boundaries but remarkably, even with these distancing techniques, we are drawn closer to Alice. Yannis Philippakis’s musical accompaniment brings its own booming, bass, depths and it enters our body just as drama seems to do.

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Bob Shuman

I can add colours to the chameleon, Change shapes with Proteus for advantages, and set the murderous Machiavel to school.  Can I do this, and cannot get a crown?  Tut, were it farther off, I’ll pluck it down.Richard III

Patrick Page’s solo show is a straightforward performance piece of Shakespearean monologues and scenes, in largely chronological order.  The Tony-nominated actor (also writer and editor here) has scrubbed off a good deal of embossed New York political trappings—I would imagine it took muriatic acid—and what remains is an unhacked compilation, with commentary, of the Bard’s villains (including the words of Lady Macbeth), almost in a 19th century arrangement:  a matinee star, howling wind, and low lights and fog (the sound design is by Darron L. West and the lighting design comes from Stacey Derosier).  Page might act the roles in a different manner, should be actually be playing them in specific productions–and he’d no doubt have less quick changes and props–but here he is the consummate pro.  The direction is by Simon Godwin, who probably has a taste for such shadow realms, having once presented a Measure for Measure, which included a tour through a sex club that would make de Sade blush.

Page calls the presentation a séance, and the mood may remind of a setup not only for the swan of Avon but also for a Sweeney Todd or Roderick Usher. Choosing the Halloween season to start All the Devils Are Here: How Shakespeare Invented the Villain is right—and it does not hurt that students might have a chance to see the actor during the school year, while they still may be quizzed and tested for the semester (the title of the play is a quote from The Tempest). The actor is the son of an arts educator, who played at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and he grew up exposed to and reveling in the Bard’s language.  That works for today’s learners, too—and Page knows it.  His first gig for his show was in front of a thousand high schoolers—and the writing held them:  less texting, boredom down.  The show runs at the DR2 Theatre until February (a convenient venue, near the subway, at 103 East 15th Street), but the evening will still be viable as long as the dead walk the earth.  He probably knows that too.

Here is an incomplete list of the dramas Page uses to create real, if often flawed, charactersTitus Andronicus, Macbeth, Richard III, Romeo and Juliet, The Merchant of Venice, Twelfth Night, Othello, Hamlet, King Lear, The Tempest. Page has done reading on psychopaths and examined the behavior of those in his own life to enable his artistic creations: there’s no surprise that characters who have crossed to the dark side are usually more complicated, and fun, than heroes without warts. What’s surprising is Page’s idea that, in breaking stereotypes, writing such roles may have changed the kinds of parts Shakespeare wrote: they help reveal why the Bard’s evolution looks the way it does, and maybe they changed the dramatist himself. 

The red and black stage design, with a skull and large book of Shakespeare’s plays, is by Arnulfo Maldonado, and the entrance music, for the catalog, is almost every “devil” song you’ve ever heard, from The Charlie Daniels Band to The Rolling Stones.  At the end of the evening, the actor ritualistically cleanses the internal and external space where his villains have come to life—he says the twirling helped when acting in the doomed Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark.  But the play, like Macbeth (or so the theatre legend goes), needs such purification.  Whether it can also help students pass a random and gnarly exam may require further study—but it probably couldn’t hurt.  And older generations will be informed and entertained as well.

© by Bob Shuman.  Photo by Julieta Cervantes.  All rights reserved.

Visit All the Devils are Here

Run time is approximately 80 minutes with no intermission. 


The words and wisdom of Constantin Stanislavski:

There is far more bad taste in the world than good. In the place of nobility a sort of showiness has been created, prettiness in place of beauty, theatrical effect in the place of expressiveness. . . . The very worst fact is that cliches will fill up every empty spot in a role, which is not already solid with living feeling.

An actor must protect him/herself most conscientiously against such devices. (AP)


Dubbed “The villain of Broadway” by Playbill, Tony Award® Nominee and Grammy Award® Winner Patrick Page has never shied away from exploring his dark side. Now, with this tour de force show, he turns his attention to the twisted motivation and hidden humanity at the heart of Shakespeare’s greatest villains. Moving swiftly through the Shakespeare canon, Page illuminates the playwright’s ever-evolving conception of evil by delving into more than a dozen of his most wicked creations. Thrilling, biting, hilarious, and enlightening, what Page delivers is a masterclass on the most terrifying subject of them all: human nature.








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Visit the Daryl Roth Theatre Box Office at
101 E 15th Street New York, NY 10003

Box Office hours:
Tues 12-7pm, Wed 12-7pm, Thurs 12-7pm,
Fri 12-7pm, Sat 2-9pm, Sun 12-7pm



(Jennifer Ben Brahimim’s, Marion Chavali’s,  Aline Bottin’s,  Alison Sargent’s Loic Chalavoni’s, and Sonia Patricelli’s article appeared on France24, 10/10/2023.)

“A simple celebration of an ordinary life” – that’s how British playwright and director Alexander Zeldin describes his latest show, “The Confessions”. Based on hours of conversations with his own mother, the play paints an intimate portrait of one woman’s journey through her own life, from 1940s Australia to present-day London. Like Zeldin’s past work exploring social inequalities, it’s both personal and societal. He spoke to Alison Sargent about his approach to theatre and his desire to bring people closer to the intensity of their own lives.




(Veronika Fors’s article appeared on DW, 10/6;  Photo: The tragic play is still regularly restaged today. Shown here is a 2015 staging by Robert Wilson at the Berliner EnsembleImage: Maurizio Gambarini/dpa/picture alliance.)

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s classic drama continues to fascinate literature lovers. Why does the German play remain relevant today?

Goethe‘s “Faust,” one of the greatest works of German literature, is a tragic play that deals with various philosophical themes. Considering the fact that it can also be interpreted as a parable on the inevitable downfall of greed, it is perhaps ironic that its famous protagonists, Faust and Mephistopheles, now adorn a new €100 collector’s coin issued by Germany’s Federal Ministry of Finance.

The coin was designed by the artist Michael Otto from Redenbach, and is the first in an eight-part series called “Masterpieces of World Literature” dedicated to major German literary works.

From 2023 to 2030, a new coin with a literary theme will be issued each year.

After “Faust,” the collector’s items will pay tribute to Heinrich von Kleist’s “The Broken Jug”; Joseph von Eichendorff “Memoirs of a Good-for-Nothing”; Annette von Droste-Hülshoff “The Jew’s Beech”; Bettina von Arnim’s “This Book Belongs to the King”; Thomas Mann’s “Buddenbrooks”; Else Lasker Schüler‘s “An Old Tibetan Carpet” and Franz Kafka’s “The Trial.”

‘Faust’: Goethe’s life work

Poet, playwright, novelist, philosopher and statesman Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) is a monument of German literature. His works, and particularly his philosophical drama “Faust,” contributed to immortalizing the author’s name and anchoring the international prominence of 19th-century German literature.

Goethe spent 60 years writing and reworking his tragic play in two parts.

Between 1772 and 1775, the author was already developing an early form of the work, known as “Urfaust.” The manuscript of this version was lost, but a copy of it was found more than a century later.

A first print version of the work came out in 1790, under the title “Faust, a Fragment.” Over the years, the playwright kept revising what is now known as “Faust, Part One.” The last published version to be edited by Goethe himself came out in 1828-1829. 

Goethe spent the final years of his life working on the second part of his magnum opus, known in English as “Faust, Part Two.” It was published in 1832, after his death, following his final wishes.

A German Renaissance alchemist turned myth

Goethe’s work centers on the figure of Doctor Faust, a depressed scholar who, after a failed suicide attempt, sells his soul to Mephistopheles, the Devil, for exceptional knowledge and pleasures.

Faust’s path of relentless quest also involves a love affair with Gretchen, short for Margarete. 

The play is loosely inspired by the story of a real person, Johann Georg Faust, who was a German Renaissance alchemist, astrologer and magician who was denounced by the Church as a blasphemer having made a pact with the devil.

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(Philip Oltermann’s article appeared in the Guardian, 10/5; Photo: A serious contender for a good decade … the Guardian.)

The critically acclaimed author is the first ever laureate in the prize’s history to write in Nynorsk and his win marks a further step in the Nordic state’s rise as a cultural powerhouse

 Jon Fosse wins the 2023 Nobel prize in literature

This year’s winner of the Nobel prize in literature, Norwegian author Jon Fosse, was one of the bookies’ frontrunners and has been considered a serious contender for a good decade.

Yet when the Nobel Committee’s permanent secretary Mats Malm read out Fosse’s name, it still came as a surprise. A day beforehand Swedish critic Agri Ismaïl said the possibility of a win for the Norwegian playwright and novelist would be: “Too obvious”. The Swedish academy had defied bookies’ predictions and wrongfooted critics too many times in the past, and if there was one consensus in the run-up, it was that the prize would not go to Europe, where six of the last ten winners had come from.

Yet in Fosse, the prize went not just to a European author but a deeply Nordic one. “A rather introverted and tricky writer,” literary critic Per Wirtén commented on Swedish broadcaster SVT. Fosse’s early novels were “kind of mumbling monologues, often from the fringes of society: alcoholics, poor people, outcasts. I think it’s a great choice.”

Fosse is not just the first playwright to win the world’s most prestigious literary prize since Harold Pinter in 2005, and the first Norwegian recipient since Sigrid Undset in 1928, but also the first ever laureate in the prize’s history to write in Nynorsk, one of the two official standards of the Norwegian language alongside Bokmål. While 85-90% of Norwegians today use Bokmål as their written standard, Nynorsk is only used by about 10-15% of the population. Fosse’s English translator Damion Searls says many Nynorsk speakers see him “as a kind of national hero” for his championing of the language.

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(Vinson Cunningham’s article appeared in The New Yorkers, 9/30; Odom plays each of Purlie’s notes with a musician’s tonal perfection. Illustration by Amrita Marino.)

Sophisticated comedic turns from Leslie Odom, Jr., and Kara Young guide Kenny Leon’s Broadway revival of Ossie Davis’s 1961 play.

The Reverend Purlie Victorious Judson (Leslie Odom, Jr.), the hero of Ossie Davis’s 1961 comedy, “Purlie Victorious: A Non-Confederate Romp Through the Cotton Patch”—revived on Broadway at the Music Box Theatre, directed by Kenny Leon—is, above all else, a hustler. You might know somebody like this: He blusters onto the stage of your life, pouring out plans before he’s properly introduced himself, energized toward some vista that only he can see. He puts an arm over your shoulder and tries to convince you that you’re on your way there together, as partners, but in his mind’s eye, you can tell, he’s up in the pulpit and you’re down in the seats. Half of what he says sounds cockamamie, but something about him—his personal history, perhaps, or a kind of animal endurance in his bearing—persuades you that, somehow, he’ll get what he wants.

In the case of this show, most of what Purlie wants is a fair shake for Black people. He’s an itinerant minister who has come back to the postbellum Georgia plantation where he grew up. He wants to rally the people there—who now work as sharecroppers for Ol’ Cap’n Cotchipee (the intensely funny Jay O. Sanders)—to take back their local church, Big Bethel. He cooks up a scheme that will, with one stroke, get them the deed to the church and free his family from their impossible debts to Ol’ Cap’n.

Purlie’s a benign enough con man whose con is social justice. He talks sonorously, in a nearly constant preacher’s cadence; he always seems to be skiing downhill, with great skill and heedless abandon, toward some grand, irrefutable point. When he gets really wound up, he adopts a half-sung, high-flown, heavily syncopated tone whose aim is less to emphasize an argument than to stoke a frenzy in a row of invisible congregants. At a peak moment, he rattles off this rhyming confection: “Let us, therefore, stifle the rifle of conflict, shatter the scatter of discord, smuggle the struggle, tickle the pickle, and grapple the apple of peace!”

It’s clear that the clergy isn’t his first racket, and it might not be his last. “Last time you was a professor of Negro philosophy,” his sister-in-law, Missy (Heather Alicia Simms), says, with a hint of acid in her voice. “You got yourself a license?” As the play unfolds, we watch Purlie oscillate between courage and cowardice, brilliance and haplessness, forthrightness and a penchant for telling tall tales. His plan is to pass off a girl whom he captivated via one of his sermons, Lutiebelle Gussie Mae Jenkins (Kara Young), as his long-lost cousin, Bee, and trick Ol’ Cap’n into handing over a five-hundred-dollar inheritance that he owes the family.

Purlie’s brother, Gitlow (the always impressive Billy Eugene Jones), works for Ol’ Cap’n and plays his role as the Good Negro, singing and shuffling, to a T. He’s been given the farcical title Deputy-for-the-Colored. Another Black member of Ol’ Cap’n’s household is Idella (Vanessa Bell Calloway), who has raised Ol’ Cap’n’s son, Charlie (Noah Robbins), as if he were her own. Purlie’s got to corral all these co-racialists—and their divergent loyalties—and lead them all toward reclaiming Big Bethel.

In creating Purlie, Davis took two long-lasting tropes of communal Black life and twinned them in a single body. On the one hand, Purlie is reminiscent of Father Divine, or, later, the Reverend Ike—a flashy, overconfident preacher who makes lofty promises of prosperity and wins wild, irrational allegiance from Black masses grown tired of living like the lowly Jesus. On the other hand, he’s decided on a career as a self-appointed, semi-professional spokesman for the race. He’s T. D. Jakes and Al Sharpton all at once, a study in the uses and abuses of oratory in Black life.

A creature like Purlie, made up of cultural memory and social satire, is often hard to play. Cliché and niche obscurity, the Scylla and Charybdis of in-group commentary, lie to either side of the role. But Odom guides his performance cannily, playing each of Purlie’s notes with a musician’s tonal perfection. Sometimes he’s an overbearing tuba, sometimes he’s an earnest flute. Odom makes plain at every impasse that, sure, Purlie cares about his image, about collecting disciples—but that he also wakes up each morning with his mind on real freedom for his people.

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