Category Archives: Commentary

‘THE CRADLE WILL ROCK’ AT CSC AND ‘FAUST 2.0’ FROM MABOU MINES (REVIEWS FROM NEW YORK) ·

By Bob Shuman

Theatre watchers may contemplate how two plays, both directed by Orson Welles for the Depression’s Federal Theatre, have devilishly reappeared, not during a period of high unemployment, but in time for the Mueller Report. The first is The Cradle Will Rock, at Classic Stage Company (CSC), which plays until May 19, a sung-through worker’s opera, whose score can seem a paint-by-numbers overlay on songs by Kurt Weill (with Brechtian lyrics), specifically “Surabaya Johnny,” from Happy End, and “Tango Ballad” from The Threepenny Opera. The show, from 1937, was famously taken into a commercial run by its director, after a delayed opening; its first performance was sung by company actors from the audience, while Marc Blitzstein played his score on an onstage piano. Political divides, erupting from unions and concerns regarding socialism, forced the standoff and provided an early example of Welles’s artistic marginalization, a pattern to be continued during his Hollywood years (a campy movie, Cradle Will Rock, based on these events, by Tim Robbins, was released in 1999, starring Vanessa Redgrave, Susan Sarandon, Cherry Jones, and Bill Murray, among many others).

Minimalist director John Doyle, who tends to use actors who can double on musical instruments (Patti LuPone demonstrated her abilities on the tuba, in his Sweeney Todd, in 2005, for example), surrounds Blitzstein’s piano with salvage drums, and his only props are wads of cold, hard cash. Doyle has gathered professional singers, actors, and musicians (dressed in dungarees–scarves for women– working unmiked and laterally, while the audience sits on three sides) for his Steeltown, U.S.A., the domicile of the powerful, corrupt, exploitive businessman, Mr. Mister.  Although Tony Yazbeck has an ultimate period look, perfect for casting by Elia Kazan, and goddess-sized Kara Mikula can make a surprising calisthenic move, this is a solid, professional, all-equals ensemble, which also includes the impressive talents of Ken Barnett, Eddie Cooper, Benjamin Eakeley, David Garrison, Ian Lowe, Lara Pulver, Sally Ann Triplett, and Rema Webb.

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There would probably be little reason to think about Welles now—after all, the Federal Theatre Project was active from 1935 to 1939, until political pressure closed it down–had Doyle and director Sharon Ann Fogarty (whose Faust 2.0 ran until April 14 at the newly opened state-of-the-art theater space for Mabou Mines on First Avenue) not seen an analogy between the evil characters in these artistic properties and Donald Trump.  The Mueller outcome may seem a shattering anticlimax (like the 2016 election results), in that the president has not been found to be an evil Mr. Mister or Mephistopheles.  Quite the reverse appears to be coming to light, where collectives, such as media organizations, and maybe even theatres, have chosen product which dovetails with the serial rating bids of network TV.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Playwright Matthew Maguire does not mind directly alluding to Trump as the “Real Estate magnate” in his dense reimagining of the Faust legend, which has a sci-fi vibe and wants to teeter into the Theatre of the Ridiculous. His work does not congeal or find much tension—although the inherent episodic plot has been updated to include various elements, such as fine singing and dancing, as well as staring into camera lenses, both live and recorded. Faust can be animated enough to entertain children (across the street, at Theatre for a New City, a puppet version was, in fact, presented in March and April) and in the eighteenth century and beyond, according to the BBC, Goethe’s and Marlowe’s dramas were produced as marionette plays to bypass censors.  What was agreed as incendiary was the theme of “challenging authority and the status quo, in fact, defying God.” A point which the Maguire script highlights is the idea that two souls can live in one body—one pulled to heaven and the other to hell, as well as the concept that those who strive will always be beautiful. The thought that God is a divine feminine might rankle prelates, but not Welles, who recommended Robert Graves‘s The White Goddess in order to understand his own work. Jim Clayburgh deserves accolades for his Mabou Mines set, based on the art of M. C. Esher, the most memorable design this reviewer has seen thus far in the year.

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F  A U  S T   2 . 0

ADAPTED FROM GOETHE BY

Matthew Maguire

DIRECTED BY

Sharon Ann Fogarty

CAST

Faust: Benton Greene*
Mephistopheles: Paul Kandel*
Helen of Troy: Angelina Impellizzeri*
Panthalis/Mary: Andrea Jones-Sojola*
Euphorion: Oliver Medlin
Paris/Gravdigger: Chris Rehmann

APPEARING ON VIDEO:
Greg Mehrten* (EMPEROR), Bill Raymond* (GOD/ARCHBISHOP), Jim Findlay (GENERAL), Terry O’Reilly (TREASURER), Karen Kandel* (CARE), Black-Eyed Susan (NEED), Gloria Miguel* (DEBT), Ching Valdez-Aran* (WANT), Rosemary Fine* (MOTHER), Molly Heller (DAUGHTER) Maude Mitchell* (BAUCIS), Arthur French* (PHILEMON), Sam Balzac and Jason Weisinger (GARDENERS), Chloe Worthington, Carina Goelbelbecker, Gabrielle Djenné, and Britt Burke (FLOWER GIRLS), Bella Breuer, Ruma Breuer, Julia Da-In Patton and Zani Jones Mbayise (GIRLS).

PRODUCTION

Set & Lighting Design – Jim Clayburgh
Costume Design – Marsha Ginsberg
Video Design – Jeff Sugg
Sound Design – Fitz Patton
Original Music – Eve Beglarian
Choreography – Kristi Spessard
Stage Manager – Gina Solebello*
Production Manager – Jørgen Noodt Skjærvold
Technical Director – Matthew Mauer
Assistant Director – Molly Heller
Assistant Stage Manager – Sam Gibbs
Associate Video Designer – Robin Ediger-Seto

Hair and Makeup Design – Mara Schiavetti
Associate Costume Design – Kat Jeffery
Assistant Set and Lighting – Eleanor Bryce
Sound Engineer – James Kogan
Production Assistant – Rebecca Tyree
Lighting programmer- Kent Sprague
Assistant Sound Designers – Sun Hee Kil & Bradlee Ward
Wardrobe – Crystal Kovacs

*Member of Actors’ Equity Association

Photos: “Cradle”: Joan Marcus; “Faust”: Mabou Mines

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

BIBI ANDERSSON, SWEDISH ACTRESS AND MUSE OF INGMAR BERGMAN, DIES AT 83 ·

(Harrison Smith’s article appeared in the Washington Post, 4/14.)

Bibi Andersson, a Swedish actress whose portrayals of chaste schoolgirls, beguiling young women and tortured wives made her a muse and frequent collaborator of filmmaker Ingmar Bergman, most notably in “The Seventh Seal,” “Wild Strawberries” and “Persona,” died April 14 in Stockholm. She was 83.

Her death was confirmed by Jan Goransson, head of media at the Swedish Film Institute, who said she had been receiving medical treatment since suffering a stroke in 2009. Additional details were not immediately available.

Easily recognizable by her short blonde hair, button nose, slim figure and wide smile, Ms. Andersson appeared in more than 100 film and television productions through the years, often playing luminous characters whose warm demeanor masked past traumas or intense self-doubt.

Although she starred in Hollywood movies such as “I Never Promised You a Rose Garden” in the 1970s, working with American directors such as John Huston (“The Kremlin Letter”) and Robert Altman (“Quintet”), she never attained the spectacular success she found in Sweden, where Goransson called her “one of the greatest stars we ever had.”

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CHRISTOPHER HAMPTON: ‘A GERMAN LIFE’ REVIEW – MAGGIE SMITH SHINES AS GOEBBELS’ SECRETARY ·

(Michael Billlington’s article appeared in the Guardian, 4/12.)

Absent from the stage for 12 years, Maggie Smith returns in triumph. But this is no barnstorming performance. She plays, with just the right verbal hesitancy and moral evasiveness, a woman who worked in Joseph Goebbels’ ministry of propaganda during the second world war.

Based by Christopher Hampton on a German TV documentary shot when the woman in question, Brunhilde Pomsel, was 102, the play is a record of a life rather than a form of judicial enquiry.

Pomsel found herself at the centre of events almost by chance. Through her shorthand skills, she quickly moved from work with an insurance broker to a job at the German Broadcasting Corporation before becoming part of Goebbels’ propaganda machine.

What comes across is her apolitical naivety. Instructed by the radio company to become a member of the party, she takes a Jewish female chum along to the requisite office. Even when she was a secretary in Goebbels’ office, she suggests that she had no notion of the horrors being perpetrated by the Nazis.

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LET’S GO: ‘THE SHADOW OF A GUNMAN’ AT IRISH REP ·

THE SHADOW OF A GUNMAN

The Francis J. Greenburger Mainstage

by Sean O’Casey
directed by Ciarán O’Reilly

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With Una Clancy, Terry Donnelly, Rory Duffy, Meg Hennessy, John Keating, Robert Langdon Lloyd, Ed Malone, Michael Mellamphy, Adam Petherbridge, James Russell, and Harry Smith

**Critic’s Pick!** “The Shadow of a Gunman is a comedy that goes bang!” – The New York Times

“A stunning revival” – The Wall Street Journal

“a potent, moving mixture of comedy and tragedy, satire and polemics, cynicism and romance” – The New Yorker

January 30 – May 25, 2019

It’s 1920, and the Irish War of Independence rages on the streets of Dublin as Irish revolutionaries clash with British auxiliary forces. Aspiring poet Donal Davoren tries to avoid the conflict, but when Donal learns of a rumor that he is a gunman on the run, he cannot resist the curiosity it stirs in beautiful young Minnie Powell… and he cannot escape the attention of his other neighbors. As the rumor grows, the war outside moves closer to home with tragic consequences.

The Shadow of a Gunman premiered at The Abbey Theatre in 1923 to immediate success, selling out tickets for the first time in Abbey history, and establishing Sean O’Casey’s career as a playwright at age 43. The first of The Dublin Plays, this two-act work is written in O’Casey’s characteristic tragicomic style. Although it is widely considered a masterpiece, it is lesser-known than the later two Dublin Plays. Irish Rep is proud to open the O’Casey Season with this compelling work, last seen in our theater in 1999.

The Shadow of a Gunman (1923), along with Juno and the Paycock (1924) and The Plough and the Stars (1926) together make up Sean O’Casey’s Dublin Trilogy (or Dublin Plays), presented here in repertory as Irish Rep’s O’Casey Cycle, which established O’Casey as one of the major figures in modern drama. These masterpieces introduced O’Casey’s innovative playwriting style, which balances deeply comic and tragic elements in an atmosphere of stark realism. These plays premiered during a time of revolution and civil strife throughout Ireland, proving both provocative and popular, and establishing O’Casey’s legacy among the most influential and enduring playwrights in history. This spring, don’t miss this rare opportunity to see Sean O’Casey’s full Dublin Trilogy – subscribe to the O’Casey Cycle!

INGMAR BERGMAN, NOVELIST ·

(Daniel Mendelsohn’s article appeared in the New York Review of Books, 4/18.)

The Best Intentions

by Ingmar Bergman, translated from the Swedish by Joan Tate

Arcade, 298 pp., $16.99 (paper)

Sunday’s Children

by Ingmar Bergman, translated from the Swedish by Joan Tate

Arcade, 153 pp., $14.95 (paper)

Private Confessions

by Ingmar Bergman, translated from the Swedish by Joan Tate

Arcade, 160 pp., $16.99 (paper)

Toward the beginning of Ingmar Bergman’s autobiographical film Fanny and Alexander, a beautiful young boy wanders into a beautiful room. The room is located in a rambling Uppsala apartment belonging to the boy’s widowed grandmother, Helena Ekdahl, once a famous actress and now the matriarch of a spirited and noisy theater family. As the camera follows the boy, Alexander, we note the elaborate fin-de-siècle decor, the draperies with their elaborate swags, the rich upholstery and carpets, the pictures crowding the walls, all imbued with the warm colors that, throughout the first part of the film, symbolize the Ekdahls’ warm (when not overheated) emotional lives. Later, after the death of Alexander’s kind-hearted father, Oscar, who is the lead actor of the family troupe, his widow rather inexplicably marries a stern bishop into whose bleak residence she and her children must move. At this point, the film’s visual palette will be leached of color and life; everything will be gray, black, coldly white.

But for now, vivacity and sensuality and even fantasy reign. On a mantelpiece, an elaborate gilt clock ticks, its golden cherubs preparing their mechanized dance. Nearby, a life-sized white marble statue of a nude woman catches the boy’s eye. When he blinks, she seems, Galatea-like, to come to life, one arm moving as if to beckon him to pleasures he has not yet even imagined; he blinks again, and the statue is just a statue once more. At that moment a violent rattling wakes him from his reverie: the maid is pouring coal into a stove.

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***** WHAT THE CONSTITUTION MEANS TO ME REVIEW – A FIVE-STAR BROADWAY TRIUMPH ·

(Alexis Soloski’s article appeared in the Guardian, 3/31; via Pam Green.)

Shattering, galvanizing and very funny, Heidi Schreck’s What the Constitution Means to Me close reads an old text in new and breathlessly exciting ways.

When Schreck, a longtime off-Broadway actor and more recently a playwright, was a teenager, she traveled around American Legions Halls, winning money for college by delivering a speech called Casting Spells: The Crucible of the Constitution. In this mostly solo show (Schreck is joined by the actor Mike Iveson as a legionnaire and later by a teenage debater), Schreck, sunny in a daffodil blazer stands inside a re-creation of one of those halls. (The design is by Rachel Hauck.) Persuasively, she conjures both that brace-faced Patrick Swayze-swooning teenager, and the woman she became.

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TRANSFORMING THE TRADITIONAL WORLD OF KABUKI ·

TRANSFORMING THE TRADITIONAL WORLD OF KABUKI WITH KINOSHITA-KABUKI

(Nobuko Tanaka’s article appeared in Japan Times, 3/12.)

For many people, the mention of kabuki brings to mind images of exaggerated makeup on actors’ white-painted faces, beautiful kimono costumes and colorful sets with dramatic backdrops.

Then there are the distinctive standardized movements; classic poses (mie) expressing certain emotions; the precisely choreographed fights and swordplay (tachimawari); and styles of acting (kata), which are passed down through the generations of each family of performers.

In contrast, few people have likely heard of the Kinoshita-Kabuki company founded in 2006 in Kyoto, birthplace of the traditional performing art some four centuries ago.

Now attracting an ever-growing audience, the troupe adheres to almost none of kabuki’s myriad styles and rules — least of all the insistence on male actors playing the female roles.

Yet, despite its plays being staged by contemporary theater directors, often with simple sets and actors in modern clothes, Kinoshita-Kabuki’s works are invariably faithful to the essence of the dance-dramas and their stories. That same DNA remains, even amid high-tech lighting, sound and visuals — and modern jargon that helps to address current issues for today’s audiences.

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THE IRISH TIMES IRISH THEATRE AWARDS: AND THE 2019 WINNERS ARE . . . ·

(Published 3/31.)

Cillian Murphy and Sarah Morris win main acting awards

BEST PRODUCTION Richard III –A Druid Theatre production of Shakespeare’s play, in association with the Abbey Theatre

BEST OPERA PRODUCTION Il Bravo – A Wexford Festival Opera production of Saverio Mercadante’s work

BEST DIRECTOR Catríona McLaughlin for On Raftery’s Hill, an Abbey Theatre production

BEST ACTOR Cillian Murphy for his role as Dad in Grief is a Thing with Feathers, a Complicité and Wayward Production. Co-produced by The Barbican, Cork Opera House, Edinburgh International Festival, Oxford Playhouse, St Ann’s Warehouse and Warwick Arts Centre. In association with Landmark Productions and Galway International Arts Festival

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A MAGNIFICENT ROAD TO RUIN IN ‘THE LEHMAN TRILOGY’ ·

(Ben Brantley’s article appeared in The New York Time, 3/28; via Pam Green.)

In the beginning, there is nothing. And in the end, there is — nothing, once again.

Such is the way of all flesh, no? And, since the subject here is the accumulation of money, let’s say the way of all cash, too. But in this case, out of nothing there emerges such a heaving ferment of aspiration, energy, tenacity and audacity that you’re left reeling by the scope and vitality of it all.

That, in essence, is what the magnificent play “The Lehman Trilogy,” at the Park Avenue Armory, both is about and, more important, simply is. This genuinely epic production out of London, directed with surging sweep and fine-tooled precision by Sam Mendes, charts the history of the financial institution that would come to be known as Lehman Brothers, from its humble origins to its epical implosion, over a span of three centuries and many generations.

The script by the Italian playwright Stefano Massini, exquisitely adapted into English by Ben Power, follows the blossoming of a small Alabama clothing store in the 1840s, founded by three immigrant Jewish brothers from Bavaria, into an international powerhouse of the stock exchange, before its world-rattling collapse in 2008.

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HE’S THE STAR OF ‘TOOTSIE’ ON BROADWAY. WEARING HEELS IS THE EASY PART. ·

(Alexis Soloski’s article appeared in The New York Times, 3/20; via Pam Green.)

The actor Santino Fontana had his legs waxed for the first time last year. His chest, too. He mastered, mostly, how to walk in heels and riddled out which lipsticks flatter him. (He’s an autumn. Clearly.) Last spring, during a turn in “Hello, Dolly!” he brought Bernadette Peterspictures of himself in a variety of women’s wigs. “Pretty girl” she scrawled next to some of them. Beside others: “Not so pretty girl.”

“Like what even is a feminine side?” Mr. Fontana said recently, at a theater district bistro, as he pushed a pile of pear salad around his plate.

A Broadway veteran, Mr. Fontana, who turns 37 on March 21, is originating his first true male musical lead in “Tootsie,” which starts previews at the Marquis Theater on March 29. If you squint, it’s his first female lead, too. “He has created two very different characters who live in the same body,” Robert Horn, the show’s book writer said.

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Photo: The New York Times.