Category Archives: Commentary

IRELAND: ALL THE WORLD IS A VAN: SHAKESPEARE IN A TIME OF COVID ·

(Patrick Freyne’s article appeared in the Irish Times, 5/5; King Lear in a Van: Arthur Riordan as King Lear with Karen McCartney as Cordelia and Matthew Malone as Kent. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw.)

King Lear in a Van is a clever way of bringing theatre and drama to the masses

If you were loitering around Ely Place in Dublin recently you may have heard some worrying bellowing from the car park/loading bay of the Royal Hibernian Academy (RHA). Don’t worry, it was just King Lear, sitting on a yellow Ikea throne in the back of a converted van having it out with his daughters Cordelia, Regan and Goneril.

“Where we’re rehearsing today is the first time we have had good acoustics,” says Matthew Malone who plays Goneril, Regan, Gloucester and Kent in this production of King Lear in a van. “And Arthur is booming.” King Lear is played by Arthur Riordan. “It’s been a while since I’ve heard that. It’s like the Abbey, this car park.”

King Lear in a Van is the new offering from Festival in a Van which was devised at the outset of the pandemic by regular Irish Times contributor Gemma Tipton. King Lear is on the Leaving Cert this year and the team are available to perform at schools with help from the Bank of Ireland/Business to Arts Begin Together grant. Tipton has form with festivals. She ran the Kinsale Arts Festival and the Backwater Opera Festival. “I’d been writing about festivals closing down, talking to people who didn’t know when they were going to work again,” she says. “I thought, well, is there a way to do live performance safely?”

She had an epiphany and woke in the middle of the night saying: “Festival in a Van!” She enlisted production manager Rob Furey and production manager and health and safety expert Pete Jordan and, with financial support from Creative Ireland, they bought a van, hired two more vans and built sets that could be unfolded from them in just 10 minutes. “To start with,” she says, “I thought, ‘Oh, people won’t want to be in a van.’”

She hadn’t reckoned with how hungry performers were to perform and how hungry audiences were for live performance. They’ve worked with storytelling group Candlelit Tales, opera singers like Gavin Ring and drag performers like Avoca Reaction and arranged performances at schools, care homes, direct provision centres and housing estates. “One of the things that’s been good about Covid is the forgotten spaces have been looked at again,” says Tipton. “Who cared about care homes and direct provision centres?”

‘Heartbreakingly gorgeous’

She is now aware of a “map” of isolated care homes scattered all over the country and thinks there could be scope for projects like this to continue beyond the pandemic, bringing art and music to people that don’t always have access to it. Some of the experiences they’ve had, she says, have been “heartbreakingly gorgeous”. Furey recalls an 84-year-old former session musician moved to tears experiencing live music from the van. Tipton tells me about a letter she received from a woman who runs a care home after a performance by Gavin Ring. “She wrote saying ‘This is the only nice thing that’s happened in 12 months’, which also makes you realise how shitty it’s been for them.”

(Read more)

 

TWITTER’S MOST HEARTFELT LIZA MINNELLI TRIBUTE ·

(Rachel Syme’s article appeared in the New Yorker, 5/1 Photo: Illustration by Ohni Lisle; Source photograph by Ken McKay / Shutterstock.)

The superfan behind @LiZaOutlives says, “I will always consider it my duty to look out for her.”

In the past year alone, Liza Minnelli has outlived the Copacabana, Christopher Plummer, and Robert F. Kennedy’s Instagram account. She has outlived Larry King, Mary-Kate Olsen’s marriage, and the blockage of the Suez Canal. She has outlived Queen Elizabeth II’s dachshund-corgi mix, Vulcan, and the Queen’s husband, Prince Philip. She has outlived the Pacific Theatres and ArcLight Cinemas, Century 21, the search for Lady Gaga’s kidnapped French bulldogs, and the Manhattan restaurateur Sirio Maccioni, at whose now-defunct French eatery Le Cirque she once performed an impromptu version of “New York, New York,” during the birthday party of the gossip columnist Liz Smith. (Smith died in 2017, so Minnelli has outlived her, too.)

All of these testaments to Minnelli’s longevity come courtesy of a Twitter account called @LiZaOutlives, which sprang into existence, in February of 2020, with the declaration that “Liza Minnelli outlived the marriage of Jon Peters and Pamela Anderson.” I first became aware of the account a few months later, when someone I follow retweeted the update “Liza Minnelli has outlived Disney’s ‘Frozen,’ which will not reopen on Broadway.” With that news item and many others, whoever was running the account revealed themselves to be remarkably quick on the draw. They posted news of celebrity passings faster than some obituary sections and always seemed to have the scoop on divorces and bankruptcies. The updates, which came once or sometimes twice a day, sounded overly triumphant at a time when the coronavirus was claiming thousands of American lives every day. Wasn’t it glib, or even ghoulish, to celebrate the survival of one woman in the face of so many casualties? At the same time, @LiZaOutlives had a sly way of commenting on the times. It noted when Minnelli outlived the television program “Cops,” Mitch McConnell’s control of the Senate, the ban on transgender people serving openly in the military, and Scott Atlas’s employment as Trump’s special adviser on covid-19. The message was clear: old structures are crumbling, yet Liza persists, a bedazzled Energizer Bunny running on gusto and guile. The account was like a Twitter version of the famous “Follies” lyrics: “Good times and bum times, I’ve seen them all / And, my dear, I’m still here.”

I figured that the person behind @LiZaOutlives would be some Very Online millennial feeding social media’s appetite for the matriarch as meme—a form of homage that is dynamite for clicks but doesn’t always do its subjects justice. (See, for instance, the quippy Lucille Bluth clips that lit up the Internet after Liza outlived her “Arrested Development” co-star Jessica Walter, in March.) But when I got in touch I found someone different: Scott Gorenstein, a soft-spoken, middle-aged man who is not only a dyed-in-the-wool, lifelong Minnelli superfan but also her former employee. For more than a decade, Gorenstein worked as Minnelli’s press representative, and he told me that he still can’t resist doing unofficial publicity for her. “I will always consider it my duty to look out for her,” he said.

Gorenstein shares Minnelli’s compact stature and wears a studious-looking pair of round spectacles. The walls of his Jersey City apartment are covered in Liza Playbills, signed posters, and a framed copy of her 1987 Revlon campaign. He recalled, by phone, that he has worshipped both Minnelli and her mother, Judy Garland, since his childhood in Philadelphia—“ ‘Judy at Carnegie,’ to me, is the Bible,” he said. In junior high, he begged his parents to take him to the Shubert Theatre to see Minnelli’s 1979 concert tour. Gorenstein knew by then that he was gay, and he did not intend to come out to his family. He bonded with a childhood friend named Scott Schechter over their shared love of all things Liza, and the pair would spend hours listening to records and watching Liza and Judy on TV.

(Read more)

 

REDISCOVERING FRANCE’S EARLY FEMALE PLAYWRIGHTS ·

(Laura Cappelle’s article appeared in The New York Times, 4/28; via Pam Green.  Photo: From left, Marie Langlet, Julie Ménard and Marine Ségalen in a production of Madame de Villedieu’s “Le Favori” [“The Male Favorite”] directed by Aurore Evain. The play was written in 1665 and was first performed at Versailles.Credit…Pierre Majek.)

A growing movement within French theater is reclaiming the work of forgotten female artists, and reviving a lost concept: le matrimoine.

PARIS — How many women had professional careers as playwrights in prerevolutionary France, between the 16th and 18th centuries? Go on, hazard a guess.

The answer, according to recent scholarship, is around 150. Yet if you guessed the number was close to zero, you’re not alone. For decades, the default assumption has been that deep-seated inequality prevented women from writing professionally until the 20th century.

Now a growing movement within French theater is reclaiming the work of forgotten female artists, and reviving a lost concept along the way: le matrimoineMatrimoine is the feminine equivalent of patrimoine — translated as patrimony, or what is inherited from male ancestors. In French, however, patrimoine is also the catchall term to describe cultural heritage. By way of matrimoine, artists and academics are pushing for the belated recognition of women’s contribution to art history, and the return of their plays to the stage.

Matrimoine is no neologism. “The word was used in the Middle Ages but has been erased,” said the scholar and stage director Aurore Evain. “Patrimoine and matrimoine once coexisted, yet at the end of the day all we were left with was matrimonial agencies.”

When Dr. Evain started researching prerevolutionary female authors, around 2000, she quickly realized that French academics were behind their American peers. In the early 1990s, Perry Gethner, a professor of French at Oklahoma State University, had already translated plays by Françoise Pascal, Catherine Bernard and other 17th- and 18th-century women into English, and published them.

(Read more)

OLYMPIA DUKAKIS DIES: OSCAR-WINNING ACTRESS FOR ‘MOONSTRUCK’ WAS 89 ·

(Bruce Haring’s and Erik Pedersen’s article appeared on Deadline, 5/1; via Pam Green. Photo: Olympia Dukakis in ‘Moonstruck’Everett Collection.)

Olympia Dukakis, who won an Oscar for her supporting role in the 1987 hit Moonstruck also starred in Away From Her, the three Look Who’s Talking films and Mr. Holland’s Opus, died today at her home in New York City. She was 89 and had been in ill health for some time.

“My beloved sister, Olympia Dukakis, passed away this morning in New York City,” wrote her brother Apollo, who confirmed her death on his Facebook page. “After many months of failing health she is finally at peace and with her [husband] Louis [Zorich].” The cause of death has yet to be determined.

Her other film credits include Steel Magnolias (1989) Look Who’s Talking (1989), Over the Hill (1992), I Love Trouble (1994), Picture Perfect (1997).

Michael McKean, Bradley Whitford, George Takei & More Pay Tribute To “Brilliant, Strong, Hilarious” Olympia Dukakis

Her television credits include the 1993 transgender drama Tales of the City and its 1998 sequel, which earned her an Emmy nomination. Dukakis also appeared in Netflix’s 2019 revival, titled Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City.

Dukakis was a theater veteran who struck gold in the film business later in life. She was 56 when she played Cher’s sardonic mother, Rose Castorini, in Norman Jewison’s classic romantic comedy Moonstruck. Her portrayal of a woman overly involved her daughter’s love life earned her an Academy Award, a Golden Globe, and a BAFTA nomination.

(Read more)

SONDHEIM MUSICAL, IN DEVELOPMENT FOR YEARS, LOOKS UNLIKELY ·

(Sarah Bahr’s article appeared in The New York Times, 4/27; via Pam Green. Photo: Stephen Sondheim, who had been working on developing “Buñuel” for the last decade or so with the playwright David Ives.Credit…Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times. )  

The 91-year-old composer told the Public Theater last year that he was no longer working on a show based on the films of Luis Buñuel.

One big lingering question for theater fans following the news that the prolific producer Scott Rudin will “step back” from his stage projects: What will happen to his shows in development, notably the Stephen Sondheim musical “Buñuel,” which at last report was slated to be produced Off Broadway at the Public Theater?

Rudin, who is facing a reckoning over decades-long accusations of bullying, had been a commercial producer attached to the musical.

But the Public now says: It isn’t happening.

In the wake of reports about Rudin, the Public on April 22 put out a statement saying it had not worked with him in years. Responding to a follow-up question, Laura Rigby, a spokeswoman for the Public, said last week that Sondheim had informed the theater last year that he was no longer developing the musical. (The Public clarified that its cancellation had nothing to do with Rudin.)

Sondheim, who turned 91 at the end of March, did not respond to emailed questions about the project’s status.

The work, which was based on the films of the Spanish surrealist Luis Buñuel, promised to be one of the last chances for theatergoers to see a new stage musical by musical theater’s most venerated composer. Sondheim had been developing it for the last decade or so with the playwright David Ives (“Venus in Fur”), who also did not respond to email requests for comment.

Sondheim had previously said that the show would comprise two acts, the first based on the filmmaker’s “The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie” (1972), and the second on “The Exterminating Angel” (1962).

(Read more)

SPAIN: ‘NOVIEMBRE’: EXPLOSIVE MANIFESTO TAKES THEATRE TO THE STREETS ·

(Chris Wiegand’s article appeared in the Guardian, 4/24; Authentic and earnest … Óscar Jaenada in Noviembre. Photograph: Album/Alamy.)

Actors roam Madrid, springing provocative performances on passersby, in Achero Mañas’s vibrant faux-documentary

Can theatre change the world? Not, you suspect, if it’s a ticketed performance watched from a red velvet seat with a glossy programme and an ice-cream. The guerrilla theatre-makers in the 2003 Spanish film Noviembre, directed by Achero Mañas, have a 10-point manifesto for the revolution they’re staging on the streets. All their performances are free and available to all, they accept no private or public subsidies, and only original material is presented. If you’ve acted for TV or film then forget it – you’re banned from Noviembre.

The group is led by Alfredo (Óscar Jaenada), who arrives in Madrid from Murcia in the late 90s to attend drama school. Alfredo auditions with a piece he has created for a homemade marionette but comes to believe it is his fellow actors who are treated like puppets by their tutor, Yuta (played by veteran Argentinian theatre legend Héctor Alterio). He resents Yuta’s expectation that actors will divulge their most personal secrets in service of a performance. Damning that approach as group therapy, he drops out to seek a more spontaneous relationship with the audience, who he believes should interact with the performance, not sit in the stalls like statues.

Mañas presents the film as if it is a documentary, with older versions of the main characters appearing as talking heads, reflecting on the ups and downs of the company who live together in a squat that they aim to turn into a cultural centre. This is not a mockumentary – we are never invited to laugh at their exploits. If anything, the tone is earnest and the company’s performances are named, dated and shown in lengthy episodes with the older actors’ reflections alongside. The documentary format invites us to seriously appraise the art of their street theatre and implicitly suggests that the company has left a legacy.

(Read more)

BROADWAY’S CAPITALIST MODEL ISN’T PERFECT, BUT HERE’S WHY IT WORKS, AND WHAT CAN BE FIXED ·

(Chris Jones’s article appeared in the Chicago Tribune, 4/22; Photo:  Aaron Tveit and Karen Olivo during a shutdown. Olivo has since left the cast. (Matthew Murphy via AP/AP)

The anti-capitalists are gunning for Broadway.

In a recent article in American Theatre, the editor Rob Weinert-Kendt opined that regional theaters had “fallen short in a lot of ways by following a similar, Broadway-focused industrial model.” In the same online magazine, Brandon Ivie, the associate artistic director of the Village Theatre of Issaquah, Wash., wrote: “I’m looking ahead with an understanding that capitalism is the real enemy.”

And in a recent Instagram video announcing her departure from the show “Moulin Rouge!,” the Broadway artist Karen Olivo advocated for actors dropping their affiliation with Actors Equity, the traditional labor union for theater workers, as part of a decommissioning of what she sees as a corrupt system.

 “The dream of making art?,” Olivo said, referencing Broadway. “The moment we stepped into this capitalistic structure, that went away.”

Did it, though?

Consider, for example, the moment when the first Black president of the United States, Barack Obama, attended the Broadway revival of “A Raisin in the Sun,” with the lead role performed by Denzel Washington, the leading Black actor of his generation. For anyone there that night, it was a stunning example of the capitalist sector of the American theater heralding racial progress and become part of a transformation that the author of the play, Lorraine Hansberry, surely could not even have imagined. Nothing quite like that ever has happened in the nonprofit sector.

Or consider the night at “Hamilton” when an entire cast of supremely talented, diverse actors summoned up the courage to directly address Vice President-elect Mike Pence, their guts and the size of their capitalistic platform immediately making headlines around the world and infuriating Pence’s boss, Donald J. Trump, who was just learning the power of Twitter. For anyone interested in progressive reforms or the activism of people of color, this was a night to remember. And it was capitalist down to the tips of its toes.

Or think about the remarkable artist David Byrne telling a rapt Broadway audience to “say their name,” a reference to all the Black lives lost to police shootings. And many hearing that for the first time.

What about the cast of “Dear Evan Hansen?” Were they not making art when they dramatized the pain of being a teenager struggling with the micro-aggressions of everyday life? What about the cast of “Hadestown,” when they found the political potency in Anais Mitchell’s lyrics to “Why We Build the Wall?” What about the artists behind “Moulin Rouge!,” anticipating the losses we were all about to share in the pandemic?

What about playing Jasmine in “Aladdin” and making a young person smile? Can you not produce an artistic act while working for the huge publicly held company known as Disney?

Sure you can. It is one thing to call for reforms in an industry, which, in all fairness, was certainly Olivo’s intention given that she was responding to the allegations against the producer Scott Rudin, whom an article in the Hollywood Reporter alleged had been a harsh and injurious boss. But it’s another to decry the one sector of the American theater that truly can support its artists so that they may live the kind of middle-class life that come so much easier to others.

The antipathy for the commercial sector of the theater, especially from the inside and often fueled by envy or elitism, is far from new. It was common in the 1990s for academics to look down on great commercial playwrights like Wendy Wasserstein, arguing without much evidence that working in a marketplace blunted their potential radicalism. And artists from the nonprofit sector long have railed against what they saw as compromises for popularity: Joseph Papp of the New York Public Theater famously hated the soppy Marvin Hamlisch song “What I Did For Love” in “A Chorus Line” and wanted it cut. Had that happened, far fewer people would have better understood the struggles of the dancer’s life. It was an entry point. It put a lot of dancers’ kids through college.

(Read  more)

 

‘WEST SIDE STORY’: THE REMAKE OF THE 1961 CLASSIC HITS THEATERS DEC. 10. ·

(Aaron Couch’s article appeared in the Hollywood Reporter, 4/25; Photo: Twentieth Century Fox.)

The first trailer for West Side Story danced its way to the Oscars on Sunday night.

Steven Spielberg’s remake of the 1961 classic stars Ansel Elgort as Tony and Rachel Zegler as Maria.

Spielberg directed from a script by his Lincoln and Munich writer Tony Kushner. West Side Story, which draws inspiration from Romeo and Juliet, originated as a 1957 Broadway musical written by Arthur Laurents with music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and concept, direction and choreography by Jerome Robbins. It tells the story of star-crossed lovers torn between two gangs, the Jets and the Sharks.

The 20th Century film wrapped in October 2019 and has been awaiting release after being delayed a year by COVID-19. It is now due out Dec. 10.

(Read more)

 

RARE PHOTOS OF LEGENDARY BALLETS RUSSES ON TOURS ABROAD ·

(Anna Sorokina’s article appeared in Russia Beyond the Headlines, 8/24; Photos above, credit: E. O. Hoppé; A.Botkin; The New York Public Library.)

The world glory of the Russian ballet started with these performances by Serge Diaghilev’s dancers.

At the beginning of the 20th century, impresario Serge Diaghilev organized regular tours of Russian artists abroad. The first performances were held in 1907-1908 in Paris under the title of ‘Saisons Russe’ (Russian Seasons) and included the operas ‘Boris Godunov’, ‘Prince Igor’, ‘The Maid of Pskov’ and ‘Ruslan and Ludmila’. In 1909, Diaghilev also included a ballet program in Saisons Russe, in which the dancers of the Mariinsky and Bolshoi Theaters starred. 

Poster for the Saison Russe at the Théâtre du Châtelet, 1909.

The following year, he decided to show only ballet performances and, in 1911, the impresario turned the seasonal tours into the itinerant ‘Ballets Russes’ company, based in Monte Carlo.

Ballets Russes in Seville, Spain, 1916.

The most important of Diaghilev’s achievements was the discovery of new musical names. Among his troupe were the most famous dancers of Imperial Russia: Anna Pavlova, Tamara Karsavina, Vaslav Nijinsky, Yekaterina Geltzer. Michael Fokine accompanied the troupe as a choreographer. The costumes were created by Léon Bakst and Alexandre Benois and the composer for early programs was Igor Stravinsky.

Ballets Russes during the rehearsal: at the piano on the right is composer Igor Stravinsky, and standing is Michael Fokine. In the center is ballerina Tamara Karsavina.

The season of 1909 opened in the Parisian Théâtre du Châtelet with the five performances by Fokine: ‘Le Pavillon d’Armide’ (The Pavilion of Armide) with Pavlova and Nijinsky, ‘Polovtsian Dances’ (a scene from ‘Prince Igor’), dance suite ‘Le Festin’ (The Feast), romantic ballet ‘La Sylphide’ (The Sylph), and ‘Cléopâtre’ (Cleopatra) ballet. All the premieres were welcomed by the audience with great enthusiasm and Russian ballet became a world known brand. 

Serge Diaghilev and friends. // Ballets Russes in London.

The 1910 and 1911 seasons were also held in Berlin and Brussels. It started with Fokine’s new ballets: ‘Carnaval’, which the maestro considered his best work, ‘L’Oiseau de feu’ (The Firebird) with Tamara Karsavina, Scheherazade, Giselle, and ‘Les Orientales’ (dances from various ballets).

(Read more)

IRELAND: DRUID’S NEW PRODUCTION EXPLORES THE MIND AND IMAGINATION OF EAVAN BOLAND ·

(Deirdre Falvey’s article appeared in the Irish Times, 4/20; One of Frances Kelly’s paintings, a portrait of her daughter Eavan Boland as a young girl. It features in the poster for Druid’s Boland: Journey of a Poet.)

Performance piece edited by Colm Tóibín will livestream one year after the poet’s death

It’s morning in California for Colm Tóibín, with sun streaming in the window; Garry Hynes is in Dublin as the dullish day ends. Technology enabling the conversation will also allow streaming of Druid Theatre’s latest project, Boland: Journey of a Poet, a new theatrical production about poet Eavan Boland, edited by Tóibín and directed by Hynes, towards the end of April, one year after Boland’s death.

Their locations are serendipitously appropriate, as Boland’s life and work had one foot in Stanford and one in suburban Dublin. The production explores the mind and imagination of one of Ireland’s great poets, melds her life and her work, as she did herself, “in the large, uncharted space between the lyrical and the political” as Tóibín describes.

Hynes and Druid were “looking at poetry, at a time where I think there’s a great need for the people to connect” and asked Tóibín to curate a series of poems over the 20th century. What started as one production – Coole Park Poetry Series of 10 actors reading 10 poems, from Austin Clark to Paula Meehan, broadcast during St Patrick’s Festival and more outings to come – grew into a second project.

Tóibín talks about “the two volumes of autobiographical essays, which are remarkable, which throw extraordinary light on the poetry, and on the life”.

“Slowly it emerged that, actually you could make a piece from that, using the poems and using the prose, and that they could throw light on each other, and you could make a narrative.” You could do that, said Colm. Could you do that, asked Garry. They both laugh now.

He came at it from a point of knowing Boland, having spent two periods at Stanford (in 2006 and 2008), where she led the writing programme, as well as return visits and many events and festivals, including Kilkenny, together. In Stanford, “she would call my office and say Colm, can I come up for a minute. We just talked poetry. She had an astonishing knowledge of what was happening in American poetry, and in Irish poetry too”.

She knew the poets personally, knew each poem: “I got an education from her. Hearing the voice I knew from the radio, in different contexts. I really found her tremendously good company as well. Very, very funny. She ran the programme and had an astonishing amount of power, which she used judiciously and kindly.”

(Read more)