Category Archives: Commentary

UK PLAYWRIGHTS CONDEMN BOMBING OF GAZA THEATRE ·

(Oliver Holmes’s article appeared in the Guardian, 8/16.)

Caryl Churchill and National Theatre director bemoan ‘devastating loss’ after Israeli strike

Leading playwrights and directors in Britain have severely criticised the bombing of a major cultural centre in the Gaza Strip by Israel’s air force, calling it a “devastating loss for the already isolated community”.

In a letter to the Guardian, 14 figures from UK theatre, including the director of the National Theatre, Rufus Norris, and dramatist Caryl Churchill, condemned the “total destruction” of the Said al-Mishal Culture Centre.

We condemn the destruction of Gaza cultural centre in Israeli airstrike

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PARIS CABARETS: CAN WE ASK FOR MORE THAN THE CANCAN? ·

(Laura Cappelle’s article appeared in The New York Times, 8/9; via Pam Green.)

PARIS — There are a number of attractions that Parisians are happy to leave to tourists. These include the Eiffel Tower and the Champs-Élysées, as well as some of the city’s most popular shows: specifically, the cabarets.

Indeed, while out-of-towners flock to the Moulin Rouge, the Lido or the Crazy Horse, many of the capital’s theater buffs have never even been. The genre that was once the toast of Paris lost touch with the times in the last decades of the 20th century. Its theatrical revues remain as extravagant as ever, yet the stories they tell often feel stuck in the past.

These venues still marshal impressive resources. Patrons at the spacious Lido and the Moulin Rouge can drink and dine, with high-end service, before and during two performances every night. The Moulin Rouge’s current revue, “Féerie,” is seen by around 600,000 people every year, half of them foreigners. It comes with 100 performers, 1,000 heavily sequined costumes, five pythons — and a cost of 8 million euros, or around $9.25 million.

What, however, does this buy? Today’s cabarets require viewers to suspend not just modern theatrical expectations but irony, too. Dramaturgy is, at best, threadbare; old-fashioned exoticism and sexism are par for the course. The goal — the only goal — is to dazzle, be it with feathers, jewels, acrobats or naked women.

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Photo: Get Your Guide

LET’S GO: THEATRE FOR A NEW AUDIENCE PRESENTS “THE EMPEROR,” A PARABLE ABOUT POWER, FEATURING KATHRYN HUNTER AND TEMESGEN ZELEKE, SEPTEMBER 9-30 ·

THE EMPEROR

Adapted by Colin Teevan
From the book by Ryszard Kapuściński
Directed by Walter Meierjohann
Co-Produced by the Young Vic, HOME, and Les Théâtres de la Ville de Luxembourg

“A resonant and troubling metaphor for the great melancholy of power.” — The Guardian

Theatre for a New Audience (TFANA; Jeffrey Horowitz, Founding Artistic Director) kicks off its 2018-2019 season with the U.S. premiere of The Emperor, featuring virtuosic shape-shifting actor Kathryn Hunter and Ethiopian musician Temesgen Zeleke, founder of Krar Collective. Walter Meierjohann directs this parable about power in decline—an adaptation by Colin Teevan of Ryszard Kapuściński’s celebrated and controversial 1978 book of the same title, about the downfall of Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie. With two performers onstage,The Emperor explores political power by foregrounding the stories of those operating under it, from Selassie’s many servants (including his pillow-bearer, purse-bearer, and dog-urine wiper), to government bureaucrats, to students opposing Selassie’s rule. Performances of this co-production from the Young Vic, HOME, and Les Théâtres de la Ville de Luxembourg run September 9-30 at Polonsky Shakespeare Center (262 Ashland Place), TFANA’s home in the Brooklyn Cultural District.

The Emperor marks Hunter, Teevan and Meierjohann’s return to TFANA following their acclaimed Young Vic production of Kafka’s Monkey (based on Kafka’s “A Report to an Academy”), which came to TFANA in 2013. Once again, they present an engaging theatrical adaptation anchored by Kathryn Hunter’s riveting storytelling abilities.

Hunter—who has also played at TFANA as a memorable Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream (directed by Julie Taymor) and in The Valley of Astonishment (directed by Peter Brook and Marie-Hélène Estienne)—is a remarkable artist. The first British actress to play King Lear in a professional production, she transforms to create the physical shapes and inner hearts of characters she plays—female, male, animal, or spirit. When the play made its world premiere at the Young Vic in 2016, the “tiny, nimble, crackle-voiced” Hunter was praised for “her particular mixture of gravity and irony” (The Guardian), and, in a tour-de-force performance of 10 characters in loyal service to the Emperor, for being “probably…genuinely the only performer alive who could possibly pull [her shows] off.” (Time Out) “Tremendous musician” (The Guardian) Temesgen Zeleke, a former student of legendary Ethiopian jazz artist Mulatu Astatke, was praised for “beautifully reinforc[ing] the shifts in mood with his krar and pedal-drum” (The Independent), and as an actor and singer embodying various aspects of insurgency.

Jeffrey HorowitzTFANA’s Founding Artistic Director, says, “The Emperor raises important issues that extend beyond the production. TFANA is presenting this extraordinary work of art in part as an invitation to our audiences to engage in the complex conversations that this parable of power elicits. Our hope is that the dialogue will be as illuminating as the artistry on stage.”

Kapuściński, who many considered a candidate for the Nobel Prize during his lifetime, cagily used The Emperor to illuminate corruption and avarice in his native country, communist Poland. Today, as adapted and performed by this acclaimed theatrical team, the material just as strongly illuminates our world’s continuing and disturbing fascination with despotism. A series of panels will contextualize the production and the questions it provokes, and will be held on September 15, 22, and 29.

The cast of The Emperor is Kathryn Hunter (Southwark Playhouse’s Cyrano de Bergerac; TFANA: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Young Vic’s Kafka’s Monkey) and Temesgen Zeleke (leader of Krar Collective). The creative team includes Walter Meierjohann, Director (HOME’s Artistic Director, Theatre; In the Red and Brown Water at the Young Vic, TFANA: The Young Vic’s Kafka’s Monkey); Colin Teevan, Adaptor (The Bee starring Kathryn Hunter, Duke of York’s Doctor Faustus, TFANA: The Young Vic’s Kafka’s Monkey); Ti Green, Design (RSC Swan’s Dido, Queen of Carthage, Watford Palace/Bolton Octogon’s I Capture the Castle); Imogen Knight, Movement (West End: The Birthday Party; Royal Court Theatre’sNuclear War, National Theatre’s AmadeusMike Gunning, Lighting (West End: Alice’s Adventures in WonderlandAlice’s Adventures Underground ); Paul Arditti, Sound (The Young Vic’s The Inheritance and The Jungle, National Theatre’s Macbeth); Louis Price, Video (HOME’s The Funfair, the Barbican’s Unleashed); Dave Price, Music (National Theatre’s From Morning to Midnight; Royal Shakespeare Company’s CymbelineA Soldier in Every Son); Kathryn Hunter, Creative Associate; and Cat Robey, Assistant Director.

Performance Schedule, Ticketing, and Other Information

Performances of The Emperor will take place in the evenings, September 9, 11-16, 18-21, 25-28, and October 2-5 at 7:30pm; matinees on September 22, 23, 29, 30, and October 6 and 7 will take place at 2pm.

Panels will be held Saturday, September 15 at 5:30 (before the evening performance), Saturday, September 22 (after the matinee performance), and Saturday, September 29 (after the matinee performance).

Theatre for a New Audience is committed to economically accessible tickets and offers tickets at a range of prices for The Emperor.

$20 New Deal: all Performances.  Age 30 and under or full-time students of any age.  May be purchased online, phone, or at the box office, in advance or day-of, with valid ID(s) proving eligibility required at pickup.

$20 Brooklyn Pass: all Performances. Members of local Brooklyn non-profit organizations through Brooklyn Pass program.

$28 TDF: selected performances. 

$60: all performances with a TFANA subscription.  

Special Discounts: TFANA offers special discounts available by joining TFANA mailing list at www.tfana.org.

$90-$100: all performances.

$125 Premium Seats: all performances.

Polonsky Shakespeare Center is located at 262 Ashland Place, Brooklyn.

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NICOLAI KHALEZIN: ‘GENERATION JEANS’ (SV PICK, AUSTRALIA) ·

(Cameron Woodhead’s article appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald, 8/12.)

A Belarusian call to arms

In our country, if jeans are proffered as a symbol of freedom you can be pretty sure someone’s trying to sell you something. But then, we didn’t grow up behind the Iron Curtain.

Co-founder of Belarus Free Theatre Nicolai Khalezin did, and with Generation Jeans he turns his life story into a kind of gonzo memoir, blending satire on authoritarianism with a fierce and urgent call to action in the ongoing struggle for human rights.

Jeans first appear as a motif through serio-comic anecdotes about smugglers and bootleggers in the former Soviet Union. Under communism, Western goods were prized, and Khalezin wasted no time dabbling in the black market as a young man.

True, the stylish and strapped-for-roubles could and did try to fudge it: bleaching the bejesus out of state-issued denim pants until they cracked, trying to get that deliberately distressed look, but they were fake jeans everyone knew were fake (a bit like the fake democracy that seized Belarus after the Soviet collapse).

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JOE PAPP AND SHAKESPEARE IN THE PARK (SHAKESPEARE UNLIMITED) ·

(from the Folger Shakespeare Library; via Pam Green.)

Shakespeare Unlimited: Episode 103

Joe Papp was responsible for some of modern American theater’s most iconic institutions: New York City’s free Shakespeare in the Park. The Public Theater. The whole idea of “Off-Broadway.” We spoke with Los Angeles Times film critic Kenneth Turan about Papp’s life and works, from his hardscabble childhood, through the frightening era of Joe McCarthy, to the founding of Shakespeare in the Park and The Public.

Published in 2009, Turan’s epic oral history of the early years of the New York Shakespeare Festival and The Public Theater is called Free for All: Joe Papp, the Public, and the Greatest Theater Story Ever Told. To create that book, he spent untold hours with Joe Papp and also talked with New York politicians, Broadway producers, and seemingly everyone else who helped Papp make Shakespeare in the Park a reality, including performers like James Earl Jones, George C. Scott, Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline, Colleen Dewhurst, Tommy Lee Jones, and a Staten Island car-wash employee who would go on to play Romeo under the stage name of Martin Sheen. Turan is interviewed by Barbara Bogaev.

Visit Folger Shakespeare Libary

Want more? Browse our full list of Shakespeare Unlimited episodes.

Listen on iTunesGoogle PlaySoundCloudSpotifyStitcher, or NPR One. 

From the Shakespeare Unlimited podcast series. Published August 7, 2018. © Folger Shakespeare Library. All rights reserved. This podcast episode, “This Green Plot Shall Be Our Stage,” was produced by Richard Paul. Garland Scott is the associate producer. It was edited by Gail Kern Paster and Esther Ferington. Ben Lauer is the web producer. We had technical help from Lauren Cascio and Nick Bozzone at Formosa Commercials recording studio in Santa Monica, California.

Photo: Hamlet at the Delacorte Theater in 1961. Credit: NYC Parks.

AT SALZBURG FESTIVAL, HIGH PASSION AND REDEMPTION ONSTAGE ·

LEADING TEAM, “Jedermann”
Michael Sturminger, Regie
Renate Martin, Andreas Donhauser, Bühne und Kostüme
mathias rüegg, Komposition und Musikalische Leitung
Harald Kratochwil, Choreografie
Hubert Schwaiger, Stefan Ebelsberger, Licht
Thomas Egger, Sounddesign
Constanze Kargl, Dramaturgie

(A. J. Goldman’s article appeared in The New York Times, 8/2; via Pam Green.)

SALZBURG, Austria — The Salzburg Festival may nowadays be synonymous with classical music, but this venerable summertime event, founded nearly 100 years ago, has drama in its DNA. For the first festival, in 1920, two if its founders, the director Max Reinhardt and the playwright Hugo von Hofmannsthal, joined forces for a legendary production of “Jedermann” (“Everyman”), Hofmannsthal’s 1911 drama based on a medieval mystery play.

Staging “Jedermann” has become one of Salzburg’s enduring traditions. For nearly a century, the work, subtitled “The Play About the Death of the Rich Man,” has been preaching (in rhyming couplets) against avarice and exhorting the festival’s well-heeled audiences to do a charitable deed.

The highly allegorical drama centers on the prosperous and dissolute character of Jedermann, whose callousness and appetites have offended heaven. When Death pays an unexpected visit, Jedermann scrambles to find a companion for his journey to the afterlife. Deserted by his friends and lover and confronted by the paucity of his good deeds, he turns to faith in God, accepts the will of heaven and dies happy.

Over the decades, many of Austria’s leading actors have been attracted to the virtuoso title role, including Maximilian Schell, Klaus Maria Brandauer and Peter Simonischek. Since 2017, Salzburg’s Jedermann has been the stage and screen star Tobias Moretti. From the first moment, Mr. Moretti makes the wealthy man despicable, although not entirely without charm. After Death (a melancholy and intense Peter Lohmeyer, skeletal and tattooed) pays his visit, Mr. Moretti registers the panic and terror of a man who realizes too late that he has lived the wrong life. The psychological transformation from sinner to penitent is an extremely tricky one to pull off, but Mr. Moretti’s performance has the dramatic and psychological scope required to make it convincing.

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Photo: Panorama Tours

 

 

‘WARS OF THE ROSES: HENRY VI & RICHARD III’, DIRECTED AND ADAPTED BY AUSTIN PENDLETON, AT HB STUDIO, 124 BANK STREET (REVIEW FROM NEW YORK) ·

By Bob Shuman

Although Queen Elizabeth, the unpretentious Johanna Leister in Austin Pendleton’s Wars of the Roses, now running at 124 Bank Street until August 19 (he co-directed with Peter Bloch), asks Richard III, “Shall I be tempted by the devil?” all the characters in this unbound adaptation of Henry VI, Part 3 and Richard III might wonder the same. Each of the characters plays with evil and, because of the widened scope of bringing the two plays together (both feature Richard), their choices are horrifying and riveting, despite the fact that the bravura role of the humpbacked king (passionately played by Matt de Rogatis, in a hoodie), allows room for smaller roles to pop. Pendleton himself portrays a reticent Henry, wearing a black t-shirt with a red cross, his hand to his mouth or hand to his face—even sitting on his hands at one point.  Such are his skills that he can appear relaxed on stage, while, at the same time destroying any illusion that he is playing a role at all. Of course, going to one of his productions, whether that be in a black box, church, Lincoln  Center, on Broadway, or even the National Theatre in London, means reflecting on acting, perhaps more seriously than with work shown by virtually any other current director.  Here he seems to want the audience to reach out to the work artistically, rather than be steered by it, which, after so many busy shows–with projections and music and politics and computerized scenery changes–can take a minute to adjust to. His set, perhaps like one in a company meeting room, is made up only of chairs, a table, and a white backdrop, spattered with red to suggest blood (there isn’t even a credit for the scenic designer in the program, although the lighting is by Steven Wolf); the costumes are largely dark street clothes (Maya Luz consulted on them); and this powerful distillation and fusion, lasting three hours, with intermission, disregards pomp, coronets, or even much in the way of any props or technology. 

Wars of the Roses doesn’t offer much in the way of role models, either, unless one wants to sharpen his or her Machiavellian skills. In The Stranger, Camus writes about cinemagoers leaving the theatre, after an American movie, walking like John Wayne. Here, because the characters are compromised, the reflection on them must run deep and does not encourage imitation. The ensemble of fifteen (some play multiple roles), examine the dark characters intensely.  Debra Lass’s Queen Margaret is a strong, almost Nordic or Teutonic, warrior queen, a “she-wolf,” wearing a studded motorcycle jacket, her hair in a braid down the back; Pete McElligott’s real tears, as the imprisoned Clarence, are indicative of the inner truth this production is striving to reveal—and, while discussing eyes, watch the mourning, mesmerizing ones of Carolyn Groves, playing the Duchess of YorkGreg Pragel delivers his lines with speed, pacing, and command—and he can be humorous, too—although his rebuff by de Rogatis, with a prayer book (into his face), is swift and malicious.  Michael Villastrigo has found the manner of an assertive young king (Edward) and Adam Dodway (Tyrell and Ratcliffe), because of his naturalness on the stage, makes an impressive appearance.  Rachel Marcus is a strong, intelligent actress, forced to make sense of Richard’s mystifying behavior, finally succumbing to him (like Ophelia must do with Hamlet).  Excellence is also seen in Jim Broaddus’s York, Milton Elliott’s Warwick and Murderer,  John L. Payne’s Backenbury and Catesby,  Tomas Russo’s Rutland and Dorset,  and  John Constantine’s Prince Edward and Murderer, twirling a chair. 

During intermission, one gentleman, several rows back, stood to describe Wars of the Roses as “intimate,” which seems appropriate but also recalls Strindberg’s theatre.  Because of this production’s smaller scale, lack of castle scenery, for example, military action, and smoky battlefields that playwright seems to be watching over The Wars of the Roses, maybe more closely than even Shakespeare. The three imprisoned women (Lass, Leister, and Groves) mourning their lives, turning into mummies, might be part of The Ghost Sonata—and even Richard has a counterpart in Hummel, the handicapped man in that chamber play.  Both works examine cycles of suffering in communities—one explosive moment of pain, for example, in Wars of the Roses comes with Richard’s shocking kiss of Elizabeth, who has been asked to make her daughter a queen.  She is being hounded by a recognizable devil: part Weinstein, part Moonves, part Spacey.

© 2018 by Bob Shuman.  All rights reserved.

The playing schedule for THE ROSES: HENRY VI & RICHARD III is as follows: Wednesdays through Saturdays at 7PM, with Sunday matinees at 3PM through August 19th.  Tickets are $25 and can be purchased by visiting  www.proveavillain.com

Press: Glenna Freedman PR.

Photos: de Rogatis: Chris Loupos; Pendleton: Playbill.

 

REVIEW: HIT SONGS TO SIN BY IN A SMASHING ‘MOULIN ROUGE!’ (SV PICK, BOSTON) ·

(Ben Brantley’s article appeared in The New York Times, 8/5; via Pam Green.)

BOSTON — The jukebox has exploded.

Its pieces zoom through the air like candy-colored shrapnel, whizzing by before the memory can tag them and making the blandly familiar sound enticingly exotic. I’m talking about the recycled pop hits, mostly of a romantic stripe, that make up the seemingly infinite song list of “Moulin Rouge! The Musical,” at the Emerson Colonial Theater here.

By the end of this smart, shameless and extravagantly entertaining production, adapted from Baz Luhrmann’s 2001 movie, you’ll think you’ve heard fragments of every Top 40 song of lust and longing that has been whispered, screamed or crooned into your ear during the past several decades. You may even believe that once upon a time you loved them all.

Part of the genius of Mr. Luhrmann’s original version — which starred Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor as doomed lovers in a Bohemian, fin-de-siècle Paris — was that it put mainstream, latter-day radio songs into the context of a verismo costume opera like “La Traviata.” Not for nothing was Elton’s John’s “Your Song” the ballad most memorably shared by the film’s leading lovers.

(Read more)

Photo: Carpe Diem

WINSTON NTSHONA, TONY-WINNING SOUTH AFRICAN ACTOR, DIES AT 76 ·

(Richard Sandomir’s article appeared in The New York Times, 8/5; via Pam Green.)

Winston Ntshona, a renowned black South African actor whose performances on Broadway in two short anti-apartheid dramas earned him a Tony Award in 1975 with his co-star, John Kani, but led to their imprisonment the next year, died on Thursday in New Brighton, a township near Port Elizabeth, South Africa. He was 76.

His death was announced by the South African State Theater in Pretoria. His son, Lawula, told the local media that he had been ill for several years.

Mr. Ntshona’s theatrical career was inextricably connected to Mr. Kani’s. Both were factory workers in the mid-1960s when they joined the Serpent Players, a mixed-race troupe that the white playwright Athol Fugard had helped form. South African blacks could not be employed as “artists” at the time, so Mr. Ntshona and Mr. Kani were classified as servants to Mr. Fugard in the identification passbooks that blacks were required to carry.

“South Africa was a strange place,” Mr. Ntshona recalled in an interview with The Globe and Mail in Toronto in 2001. “Everyone was totally oblivious to the need to express the plight of the black people. Everybody wanted to forget there was pain — they just wanted to be entertained.”

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Photo: Channel 24

EDINBURGH INTERNATIONAL FESTIVAL, 2018:  ‘FIVE TELEGRAMS’ ·

Full versions below (from Edinburgh)

(BWW News Desk, 8/4/18.)

The Edinburgh International Festival 2018 opened tonight with the Aberdeen Standard Investments Opening Event: Five Telegrams.

15,000 free tickets to the epic outdoor digital and live performance were snapped up by audiences joining the International Festival for its annual opening event.

Anna Meredith composed the 25 minute work structured in five movements, each one focused on an aspect of communication during World War One, with some surprising similarities drawn to contemporary communication. Collaborating closely with Meredith, Richard Slaney of 59 Productions created and directed the multi-media show with spectacular light and projections mapped onto the façade of Usher Hall.

The first movement Spin, explored the disparity between reality and public communications and the impact of that distorted reality during the First World War. Vivid colours created ribbons which spiralled over the building fusing into a hypnotic clock ticking away to the relentless building score by Meredith. The words Brave, Magnificent, Success and Increase flashed up faster and larger before spiralling out of control.

Performers emerged scattered among the audience in the second movement, Field Postcards, echoing the voices of the young men writing home from the Front. The movement opened with strands of fiery light running up the front of Usher Hall flowing in a rich and gentle wash of voices and music into words from telegrams – I am well, I am wounded – layered across the building to the emotional and poignant score.

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