Category Archives: Bob’s Theatre Reviews


By Bob Shuman

The aesthetic issue being explored in Orson’s Shadow (Austin Pendleton’s own play now celebrating its 25th Anniversary) might best be expressed if I show you a picture of the Little Tramp (or the Little Fellow, as Charlie Chaplin and Laurence Olivier might call him). 

My question to you is the following:  Are you viewing a character from Hollywood’s golden age or are you looking at an actor from a Beckett play, 1949 (advertising shot)?  The one was invented during an artistic gold rush, in the early 1900s, and the second, after the devastations of a world war; the first possibility represents the popular entertainment establishment and the second existentialism, socialism or anti-authoritarianism.  The roles of the famous thespians, in Pendleton’s excellent comedy, now playing at Theater for the New City until March 31, are considering the Rorschach, too, with their own bankability at stake, just as the audience, likewise, notices incongruous elements, such as contemporary folding chairs in a play set in 1960, the breaking of the fourth wall, actors seen readying for their entrances, and the disregard of a culminating confrontation with the words: “don’t plead” (and no one is pleading).  Are these characters the same, as before theatre seemed to be changing beneath their feet, are their techniques any different than what they had been, and, if so, why do they feel so lost in the shadows of a theatre rehearsal room?  These are but a few examples.

Examining the film Citizen Kane, critic Pauline Kael noticed also the overlap between commercialism and modernism in her essay “Raising Kane,” from The Citizen Kane Book, and she took sides on the ironies regarding Welles’s film: “The formal elements themselves produce elation; we are kept aware of how marvelously worked out the ideas are.  It would be high-toned to call this method of keeping the audience aware “Brechtian . . . ” (it would also be too early in this review to tell you the point she then makes).

Orson’s Shadow is about the collaboration between Orson Welles, Laurence Olivier, and Joan Plowright (and tangentially, Vivien Leigh), in which the great auteur, Welles, is recommended by one of his friends, the English critic Kenneth Tynan, to work with Olivier—a mega star of the ‘40s and beyond–at London’s Royal Court Theatre.  The idea is to have Welles, the pariah, hired as director, for a production of Ionesco’s Absurdist play Rhinoceros (which will also give him a chance to gain funding for a Shakespearean film Chimes at Midnight). Just like today, Ionesco is a hard sell, but his vision is a legitimate and historically critical artistic reaction to World War II (as is Beckett’s) and his empty and little characters illuminate the path to increasing societal conformity.  Ionesco’s revenge is that his insight was valid and, by the ’70s, the hit musical A Chorus Line emphasized the mainstream acceptance of the societal ideal of machine-like uniformity. Brecht, whose characters, for oppositional German theatre, included criminals, sex workers, and the guilty and unapologetic displayed productions that  incorporated machine apparatus, along with film ideas from silents and ‘30s movies: “in the talkies the heroes were to be the men who weren’t fooled, who were smart and learned their way around.”  That’s why Orson’s Shadow is ambiguous—because what appear to be Brechtian ideas are comparable to what was appearing on movie screens, in the early years of the medium. The subject matter of a behemothic Orson Welles and prima dona Laurence Olivier is out of old Broadway, Hollywood central casting, and maybe Warner Brothers cartoons (Brecht would show up there, too, before the House of UnAmerican Activities could decide to kick him out of the country).  Pendleton’s script is not consciously or unconsciously reflecting the captivity of defeated Europe, in either weirdness or depravity.  His characters are too busy and hopeful to be caged in barbed wire. Not gigantic modernism or proto-fragmenting post-modernism, the writing is witty, rat-a-tat-tat typewriter music, with literary repetitions and foreshadowing. Forget Beckett—at its heart this is Hecht and MacArthur, Dorothy Parker, George S. Kaufman, Ring Lardner, Moss Hart, Edna Ferber, and dozens of other smart, “wisecracking, fast-talking, cynical-sentimental” screenwriters and literati, to quote Kael, as well as Herman J. Mankiewicz, the man who wrote Citizen Kane, suggesting that Randolph Hearst’s mistress couldn’t sing and who made Welles, the genius, into a roving, homeless, Odysseus.

Patrick Hamilton as Kenneth Tynan, Luke Hofmaier as Sean, the Stage Manager. Photo by Jonathan Slaff.

Pendleton can make you think he’s known you all of your life—you can feel immediately comfortable with him, even if he can enter a room without being noticed, which, oddly, is a descriptor also mentioned in his play. For many he is not a playwright (although two friends and I have loved and laughed with and over this play since 2008) but, of course, a consummate actor and director who acted, as only one example, in Billy Wilder’s 1974 version of  The Front Page, the 1928 newspaper comedy by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur; Pendleton was praised by Pauline Kael for his performance.  In the New York theatre world, everyone will have their stories, but I have known about him since 1972 when my mother came home from teaching in central New Jersey to explain that she had taken her history class to see Nicholas and Alexandra, a movie about the Russian Revolution, at the Criterion Theatre in New York City, on its last day.  Instead, the film had changed and the movie What’s Up Doc? premiered, starring Pendleton—the class was exultant.  Today, at Theatre for the New City, he is sitting two rows in front of me, in a blue sweatshirt and hoodie and blue ski jacket, occasionally chewing an orange-handled toothbrush.  Many will be watching his directing, whether he is part of the casts or not.  From the outside, he seems to allow his companies, often made up of new and unknown talent, to develop their roles from their own insides, in memorable, inhabiting, and complete ways. This is true for Orson’s Shadow, where the roles are luscious, because of the characters we think we know and the aligning interpretations of them.  The actors are facsimiles of who they say they are, handling subtext and rhythms adroitly:  an Olivier who can’t help being prissy and over-balletic (Ryan Tramont); a sane Vivien Leigh holding on and counting before she spirals out of control–a Sondheim line that might apply for her: “Clutching a copy of Life Just to keep in touch” (Natalie Menna); a young, down-to-earth, and, regrettably overshadowed Joan Plowright (Kim Taff); a reticent, stuttering (a difficulty Pendleton knew from his own youth) in-person and bold in-prose Kenneth Tynan (Patrick Hamilton); a compliant stage manager, holding it in (Luke Hofmaier), and, of course, the brilliant, untrustworthy, hammy, eternally damned Welles himself (Brad Fryman). You’d want Hirschfeld to draw them. The mood of the room is cozy.

Austin Pendleton and cast of “Orson’s Shadow.” Photo by Jonathan Slaff.

Shadows are, of course, the central images for the play, and the murky Lighting Design is by Alexander Bartenieff,  incorporating ghostlight, spotlight, footlight, and sidelight; the Costume Design is by Billy Little. Sound Design, using music from the soundtracks of Welles’s films, is by Nick Moore. David Schweitzer is co-director. Mark Karafin is Assistant Director and Company Manager. Jose Ruiz is the Stage Manager.

Oh, yes.  Pauline Kael wrote, by way of Walter Kerr, that in the ‘30s, “A play was held to be something of a machine. . . . It was a machine for surprising and delighting the audience, regularly, logically, insanely, but accountably.  A play was like a watch that laughed.”  That is this play.

She also wrote: It would be wrong to call such a play Brechtian because it comes out of a different tradition.

I leave you to ponder the photo of the little tramp in conjunction with considering Orson’s Shadow.  

© by Bob Shuman.  All rights reserved. (Written without AI.)

WHERE AND WHEN: March 14 to 31, 2024; Theater for the New City, 155 First Ave. (at E. 10th Street) Presented by Theater for the New City in association with Oberon Theatre Ensemble and Strindberg Rep. Thursdays through Saturdays at 8:00 PM, Sundays at 3:00 PM. Wednesdays at 7:30: March 20 & 27. $25 general admission, $15 seniors & students. Pay what you can Thursdays. Box office (212) 254-1109, Runs two hours with intermission. Opens March 17.

Press: Jonathan Slaff


L-R: Sammy Rivas, Vit Horejs, Michelle Beshaw. Photo by Jonathan Slaff.

By Bob Shuman

The Czechoslovak-American Marionette Theatre (CAMT) has just finished dates at Theater for the New City (from February 1-18) with The Good Soldier Švejk (rhyme that last name with Blake: Schvake).  The company is expert with the wires and strings of their “dummies,” historic creations,  brought from the Old World (the adaptation and direction are by Vit Horejs, who also is an actor; he’s both inside and outside the action). Here,  puppeteers do more than feed lines for jokes or become invisible controllers; the puppets are actually stepping stones to accomplished, freewheeling, and daring performance. The eight thespians, who tell the story, may be in a rehearsal, with their props, within reach—we do know that contrary to the way Eddie Izzard recently inhabited twenty-three characters in Hamlet, they are all playing one hapless soldier    

Perhaps this can be done because Švejk is not of royal lineage and is not trying to stand out (he knows he’s cannon fodder).  He is amorphous, an everyman or every person—he’s rubbery, proletariat, and actors can make him their own. In one sense, the evening asks us to watch dueling stage work—and we are to decide who should play the character in performance. 

Ben Watts. Photo by Jonathan Slaff.

The story, based on a favorite 1921 Czech novel, by Jaraslav Hašek, which was originally written in serialization for newspapers, like works by Dickens were, for example.  Think of the character, too, as a kind of plebeian Don Quixote, on picaresque adventures). As does the gallant, senile would-be knight, also, Švejk has adventures enough for years of dipping into and reading (a current English edition is 752 pages, with classic illustrations by Josef Lada).  There is an acute difference, though, between the undistinguished mass man (he is not too smart, but dumb enough to stay alive, sometimes by stealing dogs to resell) and Don Quixote and many on a list of sentimentalized creations by Charles Dickens.  The distinction is that Švejk is not sentimental in any way; he is an amoral grunt and only knows about surviving in the present (actually, a lying, remorseless character from a Milan Kundera novel may come to mind, as a comparison, where lying is accepted and needed). Švejk does not have great higher aspirations and is not dreaming any impossible dreams; his leitmotif is that he may  be dead by five o’clock.  He is a dummy who has learned that the only way he can survive is by appeasement—which is why, when we meet him in his novel, and here, he confesses to the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, in an area of the Austro-Hungarian Empire he has never been to, in an incident he knows virtually nothing about.

Gage Morgan (with dog puppet) amd Rocco George (Lieutenant). Photo by Jonathan Slaff.

Adventures with Švejk may have to do with his dognapping and cleaning lady, the police, tavern, and army, Czech common people, and rule-makers and enforcers, even if they aren’t very good at their jobs. The character is the ultimate marginalized untermensch, living in a puppet world where a mop can become a dog; a white cape may become a snowstorm; images of coffins peer out of the set design, and, for the promise of a polka, a miniature stein of beer is not far away. Perhaps the evening could benefit from clearer work with plot, but it may be enough that this is a puppet play for the people, unruly, sometimes raucous, crass, and vital—its uncontainability is part of the experience. Tomorrow a new outrageousness will be pinpointed and need to be performed, spread out all over the floor.

The actors:  Michelle Beshaw, Deborah Beshaw-Farrell, Rocco George, Vit Horejs, Theresa Linnihan, Gage Morgan, Sammy Rivas, Ben Watts.

Production Design by Theresa Linnihan

Press: Jonathan Slaff

Visit The Czechoslovak-American Marionette Theatre (CAMT) 

Written without AI.


By Bob Shuman

In Act 3, Scene 2 of Hamlet, the melancholy, introspective Dane instructs the newly arrived players, who will be acting before his new father’s court, “to hold the mirror up to nature.”  For Eddie Izzard, whose one-person show (which runs approximately two hours and twenty minutes, with one intermission, now at the Greenwich House Theater, at 27 Barrow Street, extended through March 16), this means reflecting at least twenty-three characters and two genders. Throughout the performance, she wears black leather pants and beneath a matronly bosom, covered in low-cut black lace, a green-black patterned schoolgirl’s pouf dress.  To show the change between characters, she twirls in it (the costume stylists are Tom Piper and Libby da Costa).  The fashion ensemble’s center is a large button, silver or gold, depending on Tyler Elich’s, Lightswitch’s, lighting design, and the boots are platforms.  Her hair is dirty blonde and short–in a ruminative moment, Dame Judi Dench’s “look” (an actor she has starred opposite) may come to mind, as a comparison (albeit with the addition of extended false eyelashes and long blood red nails and lips).  In short, Izzard is not simply binary, or trans, or female–she can’t be held to any sex.  Instead, she is Shakespeare’s “theatre of others.”

Here, apparently, is what Izzard and her director, Selina Cadell, see when they hold their own mirrors up to reality at the Greenwich House: A solo show clearly makes economic sense, and working minimalistically is supported by the dislocation from unpredictable COVID variations, which can impact a cast and its audience. The set uses white and oatmeal-colored walls, which under certain lighting look weathered (for those who know it, compare  Piper’s set design with the way the BAM Harvey was remodeled, in Brooklyn).  Izzard, who had early experience in street theatre—and who was trained at the University of Sheffield, before receiving two Emmy Awards and Tony and Olivier Award nominations, makes use of a platform, walks and jogs among the audience, in the orchestra, and, inclusively, climbs the stairs to play in the balcony.  Yet she is also giving a streamlined summary of the tragedy, which is much more understandable than enduring multi-performer productions, overwhelmed by great acting (of course, we get the word “ham” from this play) and directorial visions and set pieces. Our sleek technological world has replaced highbrow experts, with the Web and AI, so academics, writers, visionaries, and auteurs now hold on to less power (think of the recent fates of the presidents of Penn, Harvard, and MIT, who weren’t allowed their academic condescension anymore); the questioner, with the right prompt, now holds sway—and is less confused and can be more fully informed. Likewise, Izzard’s Hamlet, won’t get away from you, and the audience will be surprised at how much of the play they really do know, that, culturally, they understand it so well that it can actually be looked at as a lineup of famous quotations. Whether you find that notion appealing or not, this is what democratization looks like, and it is the vision Izzard creates.

Current theatremakers must still battle enough old school obstacles, however, to make their work formidable—finding money and a theatre, dealing with the personalities in a company, complying with union rules, setting ticket pricing, the list goes on.  Izzard has attracted a trendy audience, in early stages of graying hip hair, to this production, pronounced by the naked light during intermission.  A jazz, instrumental version of “Autumn Leaves” helps surround the evening with sax, bass, trumpet, and piano, among other selections, and drinks from the bar are allowed in the auditorium.  Incidental music (by Eliza Thompson), sound effects, and lighting changes, punctuate the recitation. Consider that Stephen Sondheim only became a lyricist and composer because he could not, even in the 1950s, see himself battling to success, as a playwright, his original aim.  He also felt, in the current theatre environments, going back into the twentieth century, that all creators for the stage do not now have enough opportunities and time for commercial practice–and failure—which are required to learn and integrate the lessons of the craft. When those who love the stage feel stymied by the powerful forces at work:  the gatekeepers, swamp, and politics of its world, the bitter pill is that theatre is auxiliary, for everyone, not on a Great White Way or an exclusive vehicle of truth, as proclaimed so many years ago, when there were less diverse options in the arts. Perhaps that is why there is such an incessant cry to see its art as only entertainment, its powerful societal influence, like Hamlet’s real father, only a ghost.     

Izzard uses his opening and closing hands, as if she were playing with puppets, to portray Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, Hamlet’s old friends. The simplicity of the childhood activity is an example of what Peter Brook identified as the Theatre of the Rough. Izzard gets laughs from the pantomime—as she does with repeating the Bard’s perfunctory lines, “my lord, my lord,” which she throws away.  In fact the six deaths at the end of the play are staged with grimace and observation (Didi Hopkins choreographed the movement and J. Allen Suddeth is the fight director).  Making each character completely individual is impossible and a role like Marcellus, a soldier on the castle watch, is lost, although his famous line about Denmark is intact. Yet Izzard uses hand gestures and a variety of accents, such as cockney and a Scottish brogue to differentiate and offer variegation—perhaps you will never appreciate the Gravediggers as much as you will here. Recall that at over 4,000 lines Hamlet is Shakespeare’s longest play, and even skillfully edited, by Mark Izzard (just as a comparison a traditional version of the drama would last over three hours), the immensity of the current endeavor is worth every clap it receives at curtain.  The production is not for cheap laughs, just as the encompassing gender advanced is not synonymous with a drag performance. Hamlet is too pivotal, too entrenched in the Western Canon, for temporal standards of dramatic acceptability to dislodge it. What Izzard’s reflection shows, instead, is a forcible push, from culture to pop culture.

Visit Eddie Izzard Hamlet

© by Bob Shuman. Written without AI.  All rights reserved.  Photo credit: Carol Rosegg. PR: Jackie Green, BONEAU/BRYAN-BROWN.


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. 


By Bob Shuman

Who is this Shakespeare who needs to be banned in Florida public schools, who dared to write a play called Romeo and Juliet?  Was he decadent?  Was he warped?  Has he really been infecting others with degenerate thought for over four hundred years?  The 2023 Little Shakespeare Festival, now playing at the tiny underground theatre, with bright red seats, UNDER St. Marks (94 St Marks Pl, New York, NY 10009) answers with a resounding, “Yes,” in shorts awash in cross dressers, wigs, effeminate tea-stirring parties, and grotesque morbidity, ad infinitum (there are 74 onstage deaths in the so-called playwright’s works, some count 75—the pyramid death scene, from Antony and Cleopatra takes place in both of the one acts, recurring many times).  The good news is that you can see them all in fifteen minutes (if you must—the entire production takes an hour), in First Flight Theatre Company’s presentation, directed by Frank Farrell, of Shakespeare’s Ladies at Tea or I Thought You’d Never Asp, written by Kathleen Kirk, and Shakespeare’s Deaths, by the Free Shakespeare Theatre Company of Chicago.  The production continues to play on Friday, 8/18 at 6pm and Saturday 8/19 at 7pm

There is always something with which to offend in each Shakespeare play—and, truth be told, this reviewer would not relish revisiting the horrors of Titus Andronicus (although one still wants to have seen Olivier play it).  To “cancel” the work, however, to not believe that people can simply close their eyes, would mean not knowing Shakespeare’s first Black character and one of the first in the language.  Can we actually think of more boring writing than that approved under the totalitarian gaze of thought police, and now being penned by A.I. robots?  Who ever said you have to like every second of a piece of writing, anyway?  Wasn’t there a certain enticement to knowing on what pages the “good parts” were in Lady Chatterley’s Lover?  Perhaps the more we clean up, the more we leave ourselves open to seeing problems appear again and, oh, the provocation we lose.

If it would be helpful to know the kind of language that this banned playwright actually uses, Shakespeare’s Ladies at Tea gives highlights—at a bar, sometimes with a disco beat–you might even find yourself knowing a good number of the lines, which does not say much for the culture.  If providing the titles of the blasphemous works would be helpful, for future banning, here is a partial list:  Hamlet; A Midsummer Night’s Dream; King John; Richard II; Othello; Antony and Cleopatra; Henry IV, Part 1; Henry IV, Part II; Henry VI, Part 1; Henry VI, Part 2; Henry VI, Part 3; Richard III; Romeo and Juliet.

Overzealous societal control takes power out of the hands of the individual, and leaves the gratification to the influencer, whether they be adherents of the left or right.  American theatre can only define itself in terms of politics, demonstrably of the left, but small work has a chance to not see itself in terms of powerful, dominant agendas.  Instead of hand-wringing over Romeo and Juliet, though, why not let students experience it?  Enough of them have disliked it over the years to decide, for themselves, whether they will study it or not.  That’s called democracy.

Although the content is in question, much can be said for the lively direction of Farrell and the spirited performances, in multiple roles, of Stella Berrettini, Joseph Bowen, Danny Crawford, Claudia Egli, Frank Farrell, Imogen Finlayson, Marsha-Ann Hay and Jennifer Kim with Stage Managing by Thomas J. Donohoe II.

As debauched as it all is, some might even call it fun.


(c) By Bob Shuman. All rights reserved.

Press: Emily Owens PR.

Photos: Conor Mullen/First Flight; Bob Shuman.


First Flight Theatre Company


Shakespeare’s Ladies at Tea or I Thought You’d Never Asp

Written by Kathleen Kirk

Shakespeare’s Deaths

Written by the Free Shakespeare Theatre Company of Chicago

Directed by Frank Farrell

Presented as part of the 2023 Little Shakespeare Festival

August 3- 20 at UNDER St. Marks


performances on Thu 8/10 at 9pm, Fri 8/11 at 10pm, Sat 8/12 at 5pm, Fri 8/18 at 6pm & Sat 8/19 at 7pm. Tickets ($25 in person) are available for advance purchase at www.frigid.nycThe performance will run approximately 55 minutes.



By Bob Shuman

Iceland, both the title and central metaphor for an opera by O-Lan Jones (director) and Emmet Tilley (music)–now playing at La MaMa through April 2–is like this year’s slow crawl out of winter in New York, as well as the country’s measured reawakening after COVID.  The show portrays heterosexual constraint,  the difficulties of forming social and physical relationships, oft standard musical theatre fare, to be sure, except that it gets stuck, like Stevie Nicks realizing that she has been singing the same song all night, at practice with Fleetwood Mac, none willing to finalize a song cut. Iceland, similarly, like the glaciers, echoes at the same emotional level for much of its 90 minutes; Act II does not evolve from the previous, where a young architect (Nancy McArthur), whose luggage is lost in a flight from Oslo, meets a mountaineer in Iceland (Oliver Demers), who has been caught in an avalanche (which might be more dramatic if it happens within the frame of the drama, instead of before it). All signs would point to a Rose-Marie or a hippy musical, set in the tundra (if not a show like Brigadoon; the cast includes characters of Icelandic legend, the hiddenfolk and landvaettir); here, though, the lyric is, “Come to me–I need your open arms” instead of “Come to me, Bend to Me.” The score is classically inspired, making use of four trained opera singers, as well as a chorus, with an eleven-piece live orchestra (music direction/conducting is by Robert Kahn).  Additionally, Iceland offers folk-pop songs, which may be reminiscent of the early music of Galt McDermot, Stephen Schwartz, Webber and Rice, and even Crosby, Stills & Nash.  Our time is clearly not that era, though, or the ‘40s and ‘50s and classic Broadway musicals, or of ‘20s operetta, but theatre-crafting, for now, despite incredible technological means, still must authentically find the wherewithal to figure itself out.

At times, an audience can only see how hard a show is trying and not its realization as dramatic art. Part of the issue, which may be affecting Iceland is that the tried-and-true boy-meets-girl formula does not automatically lend itself to the way life is being lived currently.  The show’s soulful self-seriousness is also reinforced by an October article in Psychology Today, by Greg Mattos, “Why Are So Many Young Men Single and Sexless,” which highlights Pew Research, indicating that “over 60 percent of young men are currently single, whereas only 30 percent of young women are.  Women, additionally, have prioritized “academic, professional, and financial goals” more firmly, solidifying men’s “generational inclination toward avoidance and withdrawal.” La MaMa has traditionally championed physical over language-based theatre, but here plot and story have been eclipsed by generalization, with lyrics that don’t automatically register. When they do, they seem sentimental, too generic, as if from a radio tune, on which anyone can be projected, and not from a character’s history and identity.  Yet, the setting, the movement and spiral dancing are well staged, with imaginative earth-toned costumes (Matsy Stinson) sets, lights, and stage pieces (Matthew Imhoff) and animation (Kayla Berry), even if they remain apart from accumulating, dramatic action. Trying to get so much right about a generation, the theatre-makers have not allowed themselves to be wrong enough to tell a specific human story.

Copyright © 2023 by Bob Shuman. All rights reserved.


Ariel Andrew, Marieke de Koker, Oliver Demers, Perri di Christina, Clayton Matthews, Nancy McArthur, A.C. “Ace” McCarthy, Matthew Moron, Matt Mueller, Carlos Pedroza, Isabel Springer, Andrew Wannigman, Angela Yam, Daiyao Zhong

Creative Team:

Composer/Librettists: O-Lan Jones and Emmett Tinley

Director: O-Lan Jones

Music Director: Robert Kahn

Assistant Director: Livia Reiner; with production support from BARE opera

Lighting and Scenic Design: Matthew Imhoff

Costume Designer: Matsy Stinson

Projection Content Design: Melody (Mela) London

The piece is arranged for two leads with a contemporary singer-songwriter sound, four classically trained operatic vocalists, and an SATB ensemble. It is orchestrated for Violin, Viola, Cello, Bass, Harp, Keyboards, French Horn, English Horn/Oboe, Flute, Guitar and Percussion.

Visit La MaMa

Publicity: Michelle Tabnick PR

Photo credits, from top: Bronwen Sharp (1, 3), Stacia French (2, 4)


by Bob Shuman

Visit La MaMa

Translated and Directed by Vít Hořejš
Performed by Vít Hořejš & Theresa Linnihan
Production design: Alan Barnes Netherton
Marionettes: Milos Kasal, Jakub”Kuba” Krejci, Theresa Linnihan
Costumes, Vaněk and Brewmaster puppets: Theresa Linnihan  
Pre-show video: Suzanna Halsey
Producer of GOH: Bonnie Sue Stein/GOH Productions
Presented by: La MaMa in association with GOH Productions and Vaclav Havel Library Foundation

Václav Havel’s conceptualization of a self-informing citizen and employee, set during Czechoslovakia’s communist era, loses its absurdly comic and ironic sting in Audience, now playing at La MaMa through February 19.  The reason has nothing to do with the quality of the Czechoslovak-American Marionette’s puppet version, directed by Vít Horejš (puppetry is a practiced art form in Central and Eastern Europe), where Theresa Linnihan locates the desperation of a coarse, destructing Brewmaster with the intensity of exposing an O’Neill character (and the show includes a growing puppet; marionettes by Milos Kasal and Jakub “Kuba” Krejci; surveillance cameras; and an important historical overview on Havel and the fall of Czech authoritarianism, by Suzanne Halsey, which goes by too fast).  Instead, the issue lies with American culture’s acceptance of privacy incursions, whether from, among others, TikTok, the NSA, computer hackers, the IRS, Facebook tracking devices, and Chinese spy balloons (which the government recently seemed conflicted about shooting down, like wavering about giving out a phone number). 

Havel (1936-2011) was known for never being much good at giving an interview, as the president of the Czech Republic and statesman (he went from being jailed to Kafka’s castle in Prague), much less as a playwright, dissident, and prisoner.  Apparently, he could not look into the eyes of investigators or T.V. hosts, for fear of giving himself away and being punished.  A second-nature revulsion to self-disclosure might even be a reason why his Vaněk character (the role is thought to be a reflection of the author, which Havel denied), in the three one-acts in which he appears, remains a passive construction.  Certainly, in Audience, the Brewmaster is more a full profile than a dramatic character in conflict with an evenly matched opponent (Havel, apparently, sees his creation as the “audience” for his boss, not as an adversary).  Vít Horejš, as Vaněk, offers a generous, comedic performance for a largely mild, passive role and, with his associates in the production, he meets the complex demands of the tightly choreographed dance of puppetry—an under-rated technically challenging craft, on top of the acting involved.  Horejš’s  translation offers a harsher, perhaps more dramatically right, ending than has been seen before (Vaněk, typically, tries to sneak out of the office without being heard). Unlike many modern American theatremakers, and others around the world—Havel, apparently, learned not to reveal himself in his art–that may help to explain pauses in his texts, which the author hoped would cause audiences to think about why they are there; other “freer” dramatists might have taken the opportunity to fill out the roles autobiographically.  

Written in 1975, Audience (sometimes translated as Interview) is set in a Czech brewery boss’s office—an arena which Havel knew about first-hand. He was forced to be re-educated—to disregard his bourgeois background and presumptions and learn how to put in “a real day’s work.”  Some might see his “dumbing down,” for the common good, as relevant to privacy issues in the U.S. now.  Even in the Covid age, how often is one asked to meet for a beer with those in the office, or after a Zoom meeting, provide gossip on other employees, deal with an office snitch, bully, or self-appointed rule enforcer, or give a self-evaluation?

Yet security cameras in public spaces for protection, such as in subway stations, may fail in New York City and the United States Supreme Court finds itself unable to pinpoint a 2022 leaker, regarding an abortion draft, from a limited number of potential suspects. Some could question how the general population is benefiting by accepting its own deep scrutiny–through so many offices and algorithms, which, basically want to pinpoint taxpayer mishandling or assert control–and to what extent someone should have the privilege of knowing someone else’s personal information (without reciprocal transparent terms). At the same time, hiring managers may question the need for a college education, where critical thinking can be learned.  The future is uncertain as to whether AI will carve out white-collar jobs, in any case. 

Which brings theatregoers back to Havel, Kafka, and bureaucracy: Personal data can be extracted so automatically and benignly, and the fear of interrogation, the way Havel had come to know it, through breaches in human rights (Havel maintained he was not tortured), is largely dismissed. 

Audience is a play about a terrifying reality, that has already happened here and is becoming more and  more noticeable—and will swell more. 

Be aware. 

© 2023 by Bob Shuman. All rights reserved.

Photos: Jonathan Slaff; Publicist: Jonathan Slaff.


By Bob Shuman

Tom Stoppard’s Olivier Award-winning Best New Play Leopoldstadt—his 19th on Broadway–which opened October 2, at the Longacre Theatre, is epic, the English way, with huge scope  and significance, about the need to win,  and  to always find a way to win:  in relationships, in assimilation and even, as much as possible, against the ultimate horrors of the last century.  There is too short a glance at Eastern European absurdism that informs previous plays by the author, like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead and Dogg’s Hamlet, which may have been appropriate (some contend the form was a reaction to the existential effects of World War II), given his devastating theme:  the destruction of a Viennese and Galician family, from their lives in the Austro-Hungarian Empire to Austrian independence; from the Anschluss to immigration to new lands in the West.  Instead, in Patrick Marber’s first-rate production,  a measured cinematic approach seems to have been a guide, as if Freddie Young’s technically sharp, crystal-clear camera could be brought in for perfect scenic composition (the settings are by Richard Hudson, with Costume design by Brigitte Reiffenstuel and lighting design by Neil Austin; project design, using period photography,  is by Isaac Madge and sound  design and original music are by Adam Cork), with  allusions, in terms of writing,  to Anna Karenina, Chekhov,  Hedda  Gabler, Woyzeck, and probably more classic work–Brecht should be mentioned, as well, for some might conjecture that events of this scale, in the theatre,  may need to happen through one great Mother Courage figure, instead of a family.  The characters in the play—and there are 38 of them, including young actors—a number of whom are interested in Freud and psychoanalysis, are not necessarily likable or sympathetic, and many are cunning, perhaps due to the fact that the momentum of the story does not allow enough time with each—they’re opportunists overwhelmed by barbarity.

For theatregoers, Tom Stoppard means erudite fun at the most sophisticated levels, but although expert at keeping his play moving–with language more windy and literary than imitative of real speech (and with excellent monologues)–there’s not much intrinsically funny here, in a dark documentary-like work about survival skills, literal survival skills, probably more appropriately examined in film. There may be a comic joke about a cigar cutter, which promises to let loose mayhem, a Freudian slip or provocation to be found, a suppressed or false memory, which the Viennese doctor might find amusing, but the serious subject also forces the viewer to examine contemporary societal splits and abysses, discussed , for example, by John Murray Cuddihy in his The Ordeal of Civility (1974), whose thesis is expressed by Chilton Williamson, Jr. as:   “Jews and the modern West have been at odds with one another for [more than] the past 150 years, as a tribal and essentially premodern people confronted a civilization representing secularized Christianity . . . and . . . celebrants of the illusory “Judeo-Christian” civilization have deliberately disguised the schism . . .  prevent(ing it from) . . .  coalescing (157).”  The divide continues, in the public eye, from blatant antisemitism, where synagogues need to be monitored on holy days, to the mindless, escapism of social media chattering, chronicled as recently as the present, as celebrities like Kanye West, Candace Owens, and Whoopi Goldberg  express off-the-cuff opinion in cancel culture.  Antisemitism is an endless polarizing, immobilizing subject, in a country that, by all accounts, has been very good to and for Jews, but has never asked or expected them, to explain themselves, with self-reflection, before American society in the way that African-Americans have been asked to do, for example, in the Million Man March (and that may be a source of contention).  Yet, high profile cases, in the Jewish community, are not unknown and have profoundly upset the country, such as, in the recent past, those concerning Harvey Weinstein, Jeffrey Epstein, and Ghislaine Maxwell.  A playwright could choose to self-identify as “British,” instead of “coming out” as Jewish, for reasons, personal and myriad, but the irony is not lost, that a largely realistic, historical drama, like Leopoldstadt, is an example of what the ‘60s and a playwright like Tom Stoppard, helped drive out of fashion, only to be refound again, now, in the present day, perhaps like his heritage.  

Bluffing, as a theme, does come up in Leopoldstadt, from a card game, to counting numbers, to a family business, and the family’s definition of its religion.  Because of Stoppard’s stature as a major artist, as well as a character in the play, who apparently knew little about his own family, theatregoers might question how much subterfuge is being used about his past and what he knew about himself. “Mathematics is the only place where one can make yourself clear,” intones one of the scholars in the play, but theatregoers may still be perplexed about how Stoppard thought of himself and when, before his admission, and to which version of the self he is referring to (of course, being Jewish in the entertainment field is nothing unusual or stigmatizing—similarly, no one raised an eyebrow when Carol Channing exposed the fact that she was of African-American lineage, in her autobiography).  There is always a hide-and-seek game in fiction with real characters—are we watching fiction or autobiography? Also,  to what extent is the fiction protective, and can one have it both ways, or many ways, when readers or audience members might be asking for less rationalized alternatives to reality and more clarity? Nevertheless, assuming that authors will write more conservatively as they age, there are real reasons to admire Leopoldstadt, none the least to “never forget”—and for the ensemble work of the actors, including David Krumholtz, Faye Castelow, and Jenna Augen, to only choose three.  A work of this sheer expanse and literary quality is so hard to find anywhere, whether an author is young or old, Jewish, Buddhist, or a Christian Scientist:  Where else today could another script be found, for example, where one would actually want to have had a traditionalist, like David Lean, render it on screen?


Copyright © Bob Shuman; all rights reserved.

Press:  Michelle Farabaugh, Angela Yamarone, Boneau/Bryan-Brown

(Photo from the London production.)

John Murray Cuddihy’s book The Ordeal of Civility: Freud, Levi-Strauss, and the Jewish Struggle with Modernity is discussed in The Conservative Bookshelf by Chilton Williamson, Jr. (Citadel Press, 2004).

(via BBB, Adrian Bryan-Brown / Michelle Farabaugh / Angela Yamarone )



Sir Tom Stoppard’s masterpiece. GO!”

The Independent


Stoppard’s 19th Production on Broadway,

Previews Begin Wednesday, September 14

Opening Sunday, October 2

In a Limited Engagement at the Longacre Theatre


Leopoldstadt, Tom Stoppard’s Olivier Award-winning Best New Play, is directed by two-time Tony Award nominee Patrick Marber and produced by Sonia Friedman ProductionsRoy Furman, and Lorne Michaels.


Leopoldstadt’s full 38-member company, which includes several members of the original West End company and 24 actors making their Broadway debuts, will feature Jesse Aaronson* (The Play That Goes Wrong off-Broadway), Betsy Aidem (Prayer for the French Republic), Jenna Augen* (Leopoldstadt in the West End), Japhet Balaban* (The Thing About Harry on Freeform), Corey Brill (“The Walking Dead,” Gore Vidal’s The Best Man), Daniel Cantor* (Tuesdays with Morrie off-Broadway), Faye Castelow* (Leopoldstadt in the West End), Erica Dasher* (“Jane By Design”), Eden Epstein* (“Sweetbitter” on Starz, “See” on Apple TV+), Gina Ferrall (Big RiverA Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum), Arty Froushan* (Leopoldstadt in the West End), Charlotte Graham* (The Tempest at A.R.T.), Matt Harrington (Matilda The Musical), Jacqueline Jarrold (The Cherry Orchard), Sarah Killough (Travesties), David Krumholtz (“Numb3rs,” Oppenheimer), Caissie Levy (The BedwetterCaroline, or Change), Colleen Litchfield* (“The Crowded Room” on Apple TV+), Tedra Millan (Present LaughterThe Wolves), Aaron Neil* (Leopoldstadt in the West End), Theatre World Award winner Seth Numrich (TravestiesWar Horse), Anthony Rosenthal (Falsettos), Chris Stevens*, Sara Topham (Travesties), three-time Tony Award nominee Brandon Uranowitz (Assassins, FalsettosBurn This), Dylan S. Wallach (Betrayal), Reese Bogin*, Max Ryan Burach*Calvin James Davis*, Michael Deaner*, Romy Fay* (“Best Foot Forward” on Apple TV+), Pearl Scarlett Gold*, Jaxon Cain Grundleger*, Wesley Holloway*, Ava Michele Hyl*, Joshua Satine*, Aaron Shuf*, and Drew Ryan Squire*.

* indicates an actor making their Broadway debut.

Leopoldstadt’s limited Broadway engagement begins previews Wednesday, September 14 ahead of a Sunday, October 2 opening night at the Longacre Theatre (220 West 48th Street).

Perhaps the most personal play of Stoppard’s unmatched career, Leopoldstadt opened in London’s West End to rave critical acclaim on January 25, 2020. A planned extension due to overwhelming demand was curtailed due to the COVID-19 lockdown seven weeks later. In late 2021, the play returned for a further 12-week engagement. Both runs completely sold out and Leopoldstadt received the Olivier Award for Best New Play in October 2020.

Leopoldstadt will mark Tom Stoppard’s 19th play on Broadway since his groundbreaking Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead opened 55 years ago. Stoppard has won four Best Play Tony Awards, more than any other playwright in history.

Set in Vienna, Leopoldstadt takes its title from the Jewish quarter. This passionate drama of love and endurance begins in the last days of 1899 and follows one extended family deep into the heart of the 20th Century. Full of his customary wit and beauty, Tom Stoppard’s late work spans fifty years of time over two hours. The Financial Times said, “This is a momentous new play. Tom Stoppard has reached back into his own family history to craft a work that is both epic and intimate; that is profoundly personal, but which concerns us all.” With a cast of 38 and direction by Patrick MarberLeopoldstadt is a “magnificent masterpiece” (The Independent) that must not be missed.

Leopoldstadt’s creative team includes scenic design by Tony Award winner Richard Hudson (The Lion KingLa Bête), costume design by Brigitte Reiffenstuel, lighting design by three-time Tony Award winner Neil Austin (Harry Potter and the Cursed ChildCompanyTravesties), sound and original music by Tony Award winner Adam Cork (RedTravesties), video design by Isaac Madge, movement by Emily Jane Boyle, and hair, wig & makeup design by Campbell Young & Associates. Casting is by Jim Carnahan and Maureen Kelleher, and UK casting is by Amy Ball CDG.

Co-producers of Leopoldstadt include Stephanie P. McClelland, Gavin Kalin, Delman Sloan, Brad Edgerton, Eilene Davidson, Patrick Gracey, Burnt Umber Productions, Cue to Cue Productions, No Guarantees, Robert Nederlander, Jr., Thomas S. Perakos, Sanford Robertson, Iris Smith, The Factor Gavin Partnership, Jamie deRoy / Catherine Adler, Dodge Hall Productions / Waverly Productions, Ricardo Hornos / Robert Tichio, Heni Koenigsberg / Wendy Federman, Brian Spector / Judith Seinfeld, and Richard Winkler / Alan Shorr.


Tickets are on sale online at or by phone at 212-239-6200.

For 10+ Group Sales information contact Broadway Inbound at or call 866-302-0995.

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By Bob Shuman and Marit Shuman

María Irene Fornés’s Mud/Drowning is playing for only 15 performances, September 28 to October 9, at Mabou Mines, in a double bill, directed by JoAnne Akalaitis, with new music composed by Philip Glass and produced by Mabou Mines and Weathervane Productions, in association with Philip Glass’ The Days and Nights Festival. The evening is not a return to the fantastical weirdness of previous outré Mabou Mines outings, although the first production of “Drowning,” in 1986, as part of an evening of one-acts called Orchards, unrelated to Mabou Mines, and inspired by Chekhov, cast her play with men dressed as potatoes. Today, the acclaimed director, Akalaitis, in an inclusive, intimate mood, offers her Fornés shows as hardly more than unaffected stationary rehearsal presentations.  The first, Mud, is set at a long table (with the actors widely spaced, presumably in adherence of Covid rules; the production’s original staging was in Carmel, California, in October 2019), and they are accompanied by a keyboardist, Michael A. Ferrara, and harpist, Anna Bikales.  White, russet, yellow, brown, blue:  potatoes can be of many colors, but Fornés, originally from Cuba, was an important champion of Latino voices and actors before the millennium, when a string of her works, self-directed, played at Theater for the New City with her oft-chosen star Sheila Dabney, who was flooded with emotion at her curtain calls, after having recreated the brutalized, downtrodden, and brown, who claimed and called for humanity.

If the color of potatoes doesn’t much matter, the color of the actors in the first piece, Mud, can, offering the radical view we assume when we see drama at this theatre.  If it doesn’t and one is producing the work of a Cuban playwright, in a play called Mud, and unearthing and tripping over pieces of Tennessee Williams and Sam Shepard lying across the page, why not do Orpheus Descending, instead? Perhaps Akalaitis is signaling the most radical possible solution for Off-Broadway:  a cease-fire on race issues and maybe ones concerning gender and age.   Next season, everything will have returned to normal but, after the weight of COVID-19, for a moment, Mabou Mines has a celebration, with  a white, blonde actress (Wendy vanden Heuvel) at the center (also in Mud are Paul Lazar, Sifiso Mabena, Tony Torn, and Autumn Angelettie) and old tenors and a countertenor, in fat suits, recalling an Orson Welles trio, dressed alike in loose jackets and scarves, one with a pork pie hat  (Tomas Cruz, Gregory Purnhagen, and Peter Stewart).   The mood is genial and marigold bright, unless you think the color is a reference to Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper,” a story about another trapped woman);  the lighting design is by Thomas Dunn and the scenic and costume design are by Kaye Voyce, using  blue and tan patterned linoleum, as if a background to a cozy cast party with wine, cheese, and sweet potato pie.  We need that vibe even if it is a very different one than the ones Fornes brought to many of her plays, roughly forty years ago. Then, the presentations could be aching, anguished, with pinpricks of matter-of-fact humor, artistically rendered sets by the author, and silences, sometimes long, perhaps to hear that small, quiet voice (like the author’s)–of what was human, among the bestiality allowed on the stage.  Signature Theatre’s production of Mud, at the turn of the millennium was unbearably intense and that is a vision probably close to what Fornés had in mind for the piece herself (Mud itself is reminiscent of a story by Zora Neale Hurston, specifically “Sweat”), but realize that Fornes, as a working playwright and theatremaker, did write comedy, as well as musicals.  What one of the reviewers here recalls first, from a class taken with Fornés in the 1980s, was the requirement that characters in plays never be made fun of or mocked, whether they were funny or not—their humanity was sacred.            

By taking away the slow, Beckettian tempo of Fornés scenes, an awareness of melodrama and comedy can emerge (Akalaitis uses humorous physical parallelism, of hands and body placements, as examples, pronounced in the Mabou Mines production, and has a clown in Tony Torn as Henry, a man who can barely read).  Actually, such an approach displays Fornés’s writing technique, which calls for randomization and displacement (the playwright Robin Goldfin typed and compiled many of Fornés’s exercises, and apparently there are more.  Hopefully, INTAR has them and they are in safekeeping, a rare treasure). What the method allows Glass, however, are clearly defined sections to compose for, which is why the evening can feel like being at a silent film, where music is played at clear demarcations (Fornés’s script actually calls for freezes to last eight seconds at the end of each scene, which will “create the effect of a still photograph,” amplifying the idea of the filmic and sectioned).  Glass’s post-minimalist music for the opera does not (and probably should or could not) feel particularly specific to a rural America, in Mud, or to potatoes reading a tabloid at a diner, whatever that would sound like (Gabrielle Vincent’s anatomically accurate  makeup for the bloated bald-headed men may be a reference to actual victims of drowning).  Glass seems to take a generic, or maybe unobtrusive, route through the absurdity, giving ambiance in minor-keyed arpeggios, relying on sung text, without, for instance, configuring arias, duets, and trios.

Part of the allure of this Mud/Drowning may, in fact, be the decision to have extreme visionaries take themselves less seriously, less adventurously, less singularly, and be tempted to put down their own visions.  Instead, they offer what is possible:  non-intimidation, non-attachment, an informal feel of the home, and an appeal to camaraderie, after a very long two years of the arts being at sea.

© by Bob Shuman and Marit Shuman

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Photos: I. Fornes (Mabou Mines); cast of ‘Mud’ (Credit…Julieta CervantesNY Times); Cast of ‘Drowning’ (Credit…Julieta Cervantes, NY Times); J Akalaitis (Mabou Mines); P. Glass (Famous