Category Archives: Commentary

CONSTANT STANISLAVSKI (48) ·

The prevalent mistake of beginning stage directors and actors is that they think that the heightening of tone is the quickening of tempo; that playing in full tone is loud and quick talking and strained action. But the expressions the “heightening of tone,” “full tone,” “quickening of tempo” have nothing to do with the actor and all with the spectator. (MLIA)

PLAY FOR TODAY: REWRITING ‘PERICLES’ ·

(Adam Smyth’s article appeared in The London Times, 10/24.)

Ben Jonson’s comedy The New Inn (1629) was, by all accounts, a theatrical disaster: ‘negligently played’ at the Blackfriars Theatre, according to its title page, ‘and more squeamishly beheld’. The actors were hissed off stage, but Jonson, possessed of what the Renaissance scholar Joseph Loewenstein has called a ‘bibliographic ego’, was not a man to walk away. The printed text of 1631 includes sustained criticism of the audience (Jonson prefers ‘fastidious impertinents’) and a verse with the title ‘The just indignation the author took at the vulgar censure of his play by some malicious spectators begat this following Ode to Himself.’ Here he takes aim at a variety of theatrical taste favouring plays that resemble, in Jonson’s judgment, undesirable organic matter (mould, leftover food, discarded fish).

 

No doubt some mouldy tale,
Like Pericles, and stale
As the shrieve’s crusts, and nasty as his fish –
Scraps out of every dish
Thrown forth, and raked into the common tub,
May keep up the Play-club:
There, sweepings do as well
As the best-ordered meal.

 

By the time Jonson wrote these lines, Shakespeare’s Pericles, Prince of Tyre – or, as almost everyone now agrees, Pericles, Prince of Tyre, co-written by Shakespeare and the nastiest man in Jacobean theatre, George Wilkins (a pimp charged in 1611 with kicking a pregnant woman in the stomach) – had been a hit for more than twenty years. The play is a series of episodes as much as a unified drama, spread over 14 years, a tale of flight, family separation and reunion scattered across the waters and cities of what Richard Halpern called ‘the decaying Hellenistic world’. At its core is the romance arc of a prince, Pericles (whose motto, In hac spe vivo, means ‘In this hope I live’), losing and then finding his wife and daughter: a wife seemingly buried at sea, but washed ashore at Ephesus to a life as a priestess of Diana; a daughter (‘My gentle babe Marina, whom,/For she was born at sea, I have named so’) apparently murdered, but captured by pirates and sold into prostitution, who wins escape through her rhetoric and virtue. The play is dramatically uneven – the early scenes, usually attributed to Wilkins, dispense couplets of stale political wisdom (‘Kings are earth’s gods; in vice their law’s their will;/And, if Jove stray, who dares say Jove doth ill?’) – but the Act 5 recognition scene between Pericles, broken by his losses, and Marina is a gripping performance of a kind of staggered anagnorisis, with Pericles terrified at the prospect of joy as he begins to perceive the possibility of reunion: ‘Give me a gash, put me to present pain,/Lest this great sea of joys rushing upon me/O’erbear the shores of my mortality/And drown me with their sweetness.’

 

(Read more)

“TONYA PINKINS’ TRUTH AND RECONCILIATION: WOMYN WORKING IT OUT!” AND “THE GLASS MENAGERIE” (REVIEWS FROM NEW YORK) ·


By Bob Shuman

Director Tonya Pinkins asked six American women of multi-cultural backgrounds to compose one-acts on the theme of women oppressing women—her seven actors are all women, too—a counterintuitive assignment given the age of #MeToo and #TimesUpNow, as contraindicated as hearing Meryl Streep observe, in May, that “women can be pretty fucking toxic.” While the unexpected results appeared as Tonya Pinkins’ Truth and Reconciliation: Womyn Working It Out! for three days, at The Tank in early October, concurrently, The Glass Menagerie, directed by Austin Pendleton and Peter Bloch, opened at the Wild Project–which some might conclude is a play about a woman oppressing her daughter (especially if the work is considered biographically). Both open a larger discussion about how men and women dramatists think about domination, even if each would recoil from the issue itself: for the women, the subject is considered in a social and political light, a topic which can—and should—be placed under authority and governance; noticeably, none of their plays take place in homes. For Tennessee Williams (and Ibsen, in Hedda Gabler, or Ingmar Bergman, in a film like Autumn Sonata, to name three—white men of different nationalities and sexualities) the issue is familial, taking place in the homestead; any oppressor, whether one has been exchanged for another, is too many, even if goals are esteemed necessary for the common good. The distinctions do not end there, though, because of the importance of political issues to the Arts today, where many have come to believe that theatre is politics—an idea which would have been anathema to the still highly relevant acting theorist Constantin Stanislavki (1863-1938), who in My Life in Art writes, “Everyday cares, politics, economics, the larger part of general social interests—these make the kitchen of life. Art lives higher, observing from the height of its birdlike flights all that takes place beneath it.” The idea is still alive in his Russia today, expressed by Evgeny Mironov, one of that country’s acclaimed contemporary actors, who agreed with the thought that art is above politics, while talking about his portrayal of Ivanov, in June 2018. Even at the time of the 1900 massacre in Kazansky Square, when he was playing Dr. Stockman in An Enemy of the People in St. Petersburg, Stanislavski felt, “We who knew the true nature of the theatre, understood that the boards of our stage could never become a platform for the spread of propaganda, for the simple reason that the very least utilitarian purpose or tendency, brought into the realm of pure art, kills art instantly.” If he is right, most of today’s Off-Off Broadway theatre is a parade of ghosts.

Stanislavki considered the subject of politics further when he was evaluating Gorky’s The Lower Depths, in 1902. He believed that the spectator could make his own conclusions . . . from what he receives in the theatre”—yet today’s world of clear, automatic, correct answers, from behind the proscenium arch and on social media, are didactic, even for those who have a tendency to agree with them. An example of this is apparent in, but not limited to, Jaisey Bates’s “To History,” in the Pinkins’ project, a presentational piece on the personal damage wrought by misappropriation of mascots, emblems usually based on power symbols. Even though female participants would probably wear a pink pussyhat to a reading of this play, if requested, the presentation of the work is timely given the response of St. Louis Cardinals rookie Ryan Helsley, who is part Cherokee, and needed to pitch after hearing the Atlanta Braves’ “Tomahawk Chop,” a chant he found to be “a disappointment” and “disrespectful,” as did the Georgia native tribes.  Subsequently, when it was announced that he would be playing again, plastic tomahawks were not placed on seats for fans.  Another example is Lucy Thurber’s retro and injured writing in “Bank,” about a teller, a Georgian, from the country, who never met a lesbian before. Pieces like these are faits accomplis, which do not allow contemplation within the safe confines of theatrical experience and seem strident to those who are not part of the communities involved—and who would be excluded from voicing opinions about them, in any event. There is something of the Living Newspaper, from the Depression’s WPA Theatre, in at least three of the evening’s plays, as well, perhaps acting as substitutes for disappearing History classes in colleges and schools. “Tierra De Las Flores,” by G. Kadigan, describes a hidden, vengeful solution for wife beating in St. Augustine, Florida, during the early 1800s; “Law 136,” by Carmen Rivera, chronicles forced sterilization of women in Puerto Rico, during the twentieth century, in a dramatic situation that is reminiscent of sickening moments in a Tennessee Williams play, and “The Grandmothers,” by Kristine M. Reyes, which confronts the legacy of comfort women in Korea during World War II–a subject this reviewer included in a 2009 scene book, in writing by Lavonne Mueller, because the horror of the subject had been going virtually uncovered. Two more one-acts make up Truth and Reconciliation—one, “The Proposal,” by Nandita Shenoy, about the legacy of sexual abuse re-emerging on a school campus after many years and a two-part piece by Jasmine McLeish, “Other,” on the dubious nature of racial characterization. Pinkins incorporates dance (Briana Reed is the choreographer), song (by Amanda Green and Shaina Taub), and whimsy into the show, which allows moments of lightness, but the point that emerges is that when women oppress other women, there is a man, institution, or government entity behind it, which a feminist like Camille Paglia would find unacceptable (“stop blaming men”). Males can be fired, devastated, and brutalized, too, and their careers shattered, but in dramatic terms, at least, they may respond differently than women, even if they have become universal scapegoats.

Amanda Wingfield is not afraid to say that she knows “all about the tyranny of women” in The Glass Menagerie, a drama that Pendleton and Bloch have not chosen to embalm, in their current production, which plays until October 20. Their Tom, Matt de Rogatis, is not playing a great artist-in-the-making, as some would perceive the role to be. Instead, he seems like someone who can actually work at a warehouse, even if he isn’t a very good employee—he may not even be able to write that well, either. Jobs, however, can dumb a person down, and they can be boring—and one would go to the movies, or drink, or find illicit sex, or yearn for adventure or the Merchant Marines. This is the only production of the play in memory where one might actually think, “I hope he sends money back to the family when he leaves.” Ginger Grace’s Amanda may be providing the least gothic interpretation, too—and, for once, you can actually believe that she was really a popular debutante. An interesting parallel, a kind of family resemblance emerged, by noting that just as Amanda does not go to her DAR meeting, Laura has not been going to Rubicam’s Business College. But the constructions, in this RuthStage production, want to be contemporary–Sean Hagerty‘s music refers to Mike Oldfield‘s score for The Exorcist. You can not believe that Amanda has never talked to Laura about finding a man to marry before, maybe in any production–and one wonders if history, the Depression, of older ways of being parents and children need to be informing the text more and causing rifts. If you want to see Stanislavski in motion, though, go. There is the restraint, there is the natural pace. Alexandra Rose makes a lovely, oversensitive Laura—and the directors’ concept of keeping her onstage while other actors are playing is arresting. Spencer Scott, as the Gentleman Caller stays in tune with the production’s naturalism.

Of course, Tom leaves St. Louis, and does not send money home, and it is naive of me to imagine that it could be any other way. Looking at the male dramatists, escape from oppression must be total.

(c) 2019 by Bob Shuman. All rights reserved.

 

Visit “The Glass Menagerie”: http://www.theglassmenagerieplay.com/

Visit The Tank: https://thetanknyc.org/

Photo Credits–Pinkins: (From top) ShowShowdown; SkinthePlay; The Tank; Menagerie: Chris Loupos; Wild Project 10/5/19, Shuman

 

Truth and Reconciliation: Womyn Working It Out! is a collective piece of theatre that includes multiple 10-minute plays and songs by and about womyn. Each play contains different ways womyn oppress each other and how we find ways to heal.
The performance will run approximately 90 minutes, with no intermission.
Directed by
Tonya Pinkins

Written by
Jaisey Bates
Glory Kadigan
Jasmine McLeish
Tonya Pinkins
Kristine M. Reyes
Carmen Rivera
Nandita Shenoy
Lucy Thurber
Choreography
Briana Reed

Featuring
Mary Teresa Archbold
Siho Ellsmore
Akiko Hiroshima
Tonya Pinkins
Lina Sarrello
Lili Stiefel
June Ballinger

The Glass Menagerie

The cast, led by Ginger Grace as the iconic Amanda Wingfield, consists of Matt de Rogatis as her son Tom Wingfield, Alexandra Rose as Laura Wingfield, and Spencer Scott as The Gentlemen Caller. Set designer Jessie Bonaventure, who was the assistant Set designer on the Broadway musical Hadestown, which garnered four Tony Awards, including Best Scenic Design, collaborates with lighting designer Steven Wolf to create a version of Tennessee Williams’ masterpiece that borders on horror.

Dimly lit and surrealistic, the set itself will consist of props made of glass and the actors will live in a chilling, dreamlike world. Taking inspiration from The Exorcist soundtrack, Sean Hagerty writes the score for this “Wes Craven meets Tennessee Williams” production. Allison Hohman designs the sound for the Wingfield house of horrors.

Press, “Womyn”: Emily Owens; “Glass Menagerie”: Karen Greco

CONSTANT STANISLAVSKI (45) ·

The Chekhov mood is that cave in which are kept all the unseen and hardly palpable treasures of Chekhov’s soul, so often beyond the reach of mere consciousness. The cave is that vessel in which is hidden the great riches of Chekhov. One must know how to find the place where it is hidden. (MLIA)

PETER HANDKE: AN ADVERSARIAL TALENT AND CONTROVERSIAL NOBEL LAUREATE ·

(Hugo Hamilton’s article appeared in the Guardian, 10/10.)

Since his 1966 debut The Hornets, the Austrian playwright and author has tested, inspired and shocked audienceshares

It was, undoubtedly, Peter Handke’s years as a law student in Graz that made him such an adversarial talent. Instead of pursuing those petty courtroom battles, he broke off his legal studies and began a literary career full of confrontation. His generation had so much to argue with. Unlike German language authors before him, such as Günther Grass and Heinrich Böll – the latter Handke vehemently spoke out against when he burst onto the scene with his 1966 debut novel The Hornets – Handke seemed to pick a fight with language itself. For him, and his contemporaries Elfriede Jelinek and Thomas Bernhard, the entire German language bore the stain of Nazi abuse and needed to be recovered, word by word.

Olga Tokarczuk and Peter Handke win Nobel prizes in literature

I still remember the experience of seeing his 1966 play Publikumsbeschimpfung, in Berlin in the seventies. In English translation it was called Offending the Audience – though the word “berating” seems more appropriate for a play made up of actors doing nothing but shouting at shocked and inspired audiences. He followed it up with Kaspar, a 1967 play based on the legend of Kaspar Hauser, the man who stumbled onto the streets of Nuremberg without any grasp of language. Handke’s characters attempt to speak, but their fight with words make them even more mute; it is as though they have become part of a post-Holocaust condition in which the world must rebuild everything, even linguistics, from scratch.

His striking titles have always pointed inwards at his own tumultuous, hugely original, and fearless literary force, like his more recent play, 2010’s Immer noch Sturm (Storm Still). His characters are often brought into the psychological laboratory to be tested for emotional inhibitors: like the central figure in 1972’s The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick, who descends into a traumatised moral vacuum to coldly murder a cinema cashier. (The novel was later filmed by Wim Wenders in 1975; Handke’s own film career would begin in three years after that, when he directed an adaptation of his own novel The Left-Handed Woman.)

(Read more)

REVIEW: ‘CAESAR & CLEOPATRA,’ DRESSED DOWN YET WISED UP (SV PICK, NY) ·

(Laura Collins-Hughes’s article appeared in The New York Times, 10/3; via Pam Green.)

George Bernard Shaw gets sensitively streamlined in a briskly entertaining production with winning performers at its center.

At first glance, Cleopatra seems every inch an ordinary teenager. In a ponytail and sneakers, her white pants rolled up below her knees, she’s hiding from Caesar’s approaching army. A stranger appears, and she urges him to save himself.

“Climb up here,” she says, “or the Romans’ll come and eat you.”

She has no inkling that the mild man before her is Caesar himself. In George Bernard Shaw’s “Caesar & Cleopatra,” adapted and directed by David Staller in a briskly entertaining, winningly down-to-earth revival for Gingold Theatrical Group, the young queen of Egypt is charming in her naïveté.

Of course she is, right? Much like Eliza Doolittle in Shaw’s later play “Pygmalion,” she’s raw female material, ready for molding by an expert male hand. Shaw liked that dynamic. But he also genuinely liked women as human beings, intellectual sparring partners and actors. The parts he wrote for them have real substance.

Teresa Avia Lim digs into this role with a vengeance, delivering a smartly calibrated comic performance. A blustering, artless kid as the play begins, Cleopatra is amused by her new mystery acquaintance, who stays mum about his identity as she mulls how to get the upper hand with the Romans.

(Read more)

Photo credit: Carol Rosegg