Category Archives: Commentary

CAROL HALL, ‘BEST LITTLE WHOREHOUSE’ COMPOSER, IS DEAD AT 82 ·

(Neil Genzlinger’s article appeared in The New York Times, 1012; via Pam Green.)

Carol Hall, who helped turn an unlikely inspiration into one of the biggest Broadway hits of the 1970s when she wrote the music and lyrics for “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas,” died on Thursday at her home in Manhattan. She was 82.

An announcement from her family said the cause was logopenic primary progressive aphasia, a rare form of dementia.

Ms. Hall was enjoying moderate success as a singer and songwriter when, developing an idea first hatched during a dinner party conversation, she, Peter Masterson and Larry L. King created “Best Little Whorehouse,” a comedy based on an article Mr. King had written in 1974 for Playboy. It concerned the moralistic efforts to close down a real-life Texas brothel known as the Chicken Ranch (because some customers paid in chickens) that had operated for years.

The show drew mixed reviews — Walter Kerr, writing in The New York Times, called it “an erratic and ambling, if sleekly produced, business.” But the reviews didn’t seem to matter much to audiences. The provocative title, the down-home humor and Ms. Hall’s amiable songs made for a winning package.

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Photo: Theatermania

 

IS SHAKESPEARE HISTORY? THE ROMANS (BBC RADIO 4) ·

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In the second of two programmes marking In Our Time’s 20th anniversary on 15th October, Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Shakespeare’s versions of history, continuing with the Roman plays. Rome was the setting for Titus Andronicus, Julius Caesar, Coriolanus and parts of Antony and Cleopatra and these plays gave Shakespeare the chance to explore ideas too controversial for English histories. How was Shakespeare reimagining Roman history, and what impact has that had on how we see Rome today?

The image above is of Marlon Brando playing Mark Antony in a scene from the film version of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, 1953

With

Sir Jonathan Bate
Provost of Worcester College, University of Oxford

Catherine Steel
Professor of Classics and Dean of Research in the College of Arts at the University of Glasgow

And

Patrick Gray
Associate Professor of English Studies at Durham University

Producer: Simon Tillotson

‘IN THE TUNNEL’ FROM GESHER THEATRE (ISRAEL) AND ‘I WAS MOST ALIVE WITH YOU’ AT PLAYWRIGHTS HORIZONS ·

By Bob Shuman

Leon Hadar has written, in the Spectator, that, generally, Israelis like Trump more than American Jews do. They also prefer him to Obama, with young Israeli voters favoring the political right, “raising the prospects for growing tension between Israel and America’s liberal elite and its large Jewish component.”  Hadar  explains further, “in contrast to the so, so smart and metrosexual Obama, the tough and unpolished Trump talks doogri—straight in-your-face,” and he is a “not-politically-correct kind-of-guy. What is there not to love about him?” Trump, many will recall, had tweeted that he had heard Hamilton was “overrated,” in 2016, after Mike Pence visited and had been lectured, at a curtain call, by Brandon Victor Dixon–who played Aaron Burr–as a representative of the cast. The president–apparently not uninterested in theater; he was a producer of the doomed comedy Paris Is Out! featuring Yiddish theatre star, Molly Picon, in 1970–might like In the Tunnel, from Tel-Aviv’s Gesher Theatre, however,  not only because of its Jewish bent.  The show, a political satire from the Cherry Orchard Festival, written by Roy Chen and  inspired by Danis Tanovic‘s film No Man’s Landand which played at the Gerald W. Lynch Theatre at John Jay College on October 6 and 7–as part of its North American tour, unlike so many politically correct evenings of American Theatre, also talks doogri.

Performed in Hebrew with English and Russian subtitles, the evening becomes compelling because it not only recognizes how much bull there is in society—from entertainment to advertising and politics, for example–but also because it acknowledges that the fakery has to be there.  Israelis have to be acquiescent to the nonsense of being able to get along because it’s part of the insulation that helps prevent the country from an escalation in the Israeli-Palestinian War; the deception is futile, though, because the positions can’t be negotiated.

The audience, during In the Tunnel, is led into a superficial commercial setting, as all-encompassing and chilly as a shopping spree at Zabar’s.  After a mine explosion, two Israeli soldiers and a Palestinian are buried underneath building debris, forced to cooperate as they wait in the hope of rescue.  The setting is a metaphor for the depth of the struggle between Israelis and Palestinians, continually becoming more and more dangerous. The young Israeli photographer, seated next to me, laughed in acknowledgment of the humor, mostly male, often puerile, and sometimes out of the gallows (“the one who dies always loses, no matter what side he’s on”).  There can be an unpretentiousness that verges on the rude in the story, but In the Tunnel is straight and authentic; the acting robust and specific.  At the center of the drama are Miki Leon (an injured Israeli soldier), Ido Moseri (the son of a peace activist), and Firas Nassar (a Palestinian fighter), who work well with and off each other; Nassar, especially demonstrates skills as a comic and mime.  The direction is by Irad Rubinstein.   

Craig Lucas wants his characters to “bone up” on the Old Testament’s Job in I Was Most Alive with You, which closed at Playwrights Horizons on October 14.  Only to them does the story seem obscure, despite passages included in religious study, college world literature syllabi, and secular adaptations, allowing all kinds of Christians, as well as Jews, and beyond, to have familiarity with the devastating losses of an “upright” man.  (Actually cascading images and examples are emphasized more in the book, rather than complex, character-driven plot development.)  For Broadway, Neil Simon wrote a play, God’s Favorite, based on Job, in 1974. Like Lucas, he would not take steps to a final catastrophe, which is where the dramatic line heads (although, in the Bible, the Lord “blessed the latter end of Job more than his beginning”).  Here, the author, decides on a “have it your way” finish, which may be his solution for pleasing the audience. 

I Was Most Alive with You doesn’t seem authentic, like In the Tunnel, because, except for many Christians, it’s a big tent of a show and wants to be adulated so much: by Jews and women; minorities and gays; deaf people and those in recovery, for example.  It can both remind of Rose Marie and Morey Amsterdam on the old Dick Van Dyke Show, as well as Ingmar Bergman’s repeated monologue in Persona.  The Job role (played by Michael Gaston) is strangely unsatisfactory, in writing and execution–not the least of which because he doesn’t try to communicate with God–although the fine deaf actor, Russell Harvard, as his son, is able to lift the rendering toward tragic space; likewise Marianna Bassham, as his mother, has the power to concentrate an audience and Lisa Emery is likable as the family friend and writing partner.  If only Lucas had realized that less could be more. 

He can find it in himself to forgive drinkers and drug-takers, batterers and those promiscuous, but for the white male Christian demographic, he writes a flash tirade, spoken by Lois Smith, as family matriarch and producer:  “If someone got sick in our church, we shunned them.  Fired from a job, look away.  I don’t think my Dad would have crossed the street if you were on fire, he’d have hurried along.”  Such a horrible, if not offensive, view of Christians. 

After the play was over, this reviewer, who so memorably recalls Reckless, from the ‘80s at Circle Rep, felt drawn to dig out Joni Mitchell’s idiosyncratic, secular take on Job: “The Sire of Sorrow,” which helped her album Turbulent Indigo win a Grammy in 1994.  The same music was later recorded for her Travelogue (2002). Whether politically correct or not, doogri or not—she gets it right.

(c) 20018 by Bob Shuman.  All rights reserved.

I Was Most Alive with You

With Beth Applebaum, Marianna Bassham, Tad Cooley, Lisa Emery,  Kalen Feeney, Harold Foxx, Michael Gaston, Seth Gore, Russell Harvard, Amelia Hensley, Anthony Natale, Lois Smith, Alexandria Wailes, Gameela Wright

Directed by Tyne Rafaeli

In the Tunnel 

Written by: Roy Chen inspired by Danis Tanovic’s film No Man’s Land; Directed by: Irad Rubinstein; Set design: Michael Kramenko; Costumes: Oren Dar; Music: Roi Yarkoni; Lighting: Avi-Yona Bueno (Bambi); Sound: Michael Vaysburd; Movement: Amit Zamir; Assistant director (stage speech): Yonny Lucas; Assistant director: Yanna Adamovski; Executive Producer: Roman Kvetner

Cast – Tzlil: Ido Moseri | Iftach: Miki Leon | Hisam: Firras Nasser | Mansur/Josef, stage manager VO2/The Knesset MP: Assaf Pariente| Karnit, narrator of “Sunflowers” program: Karin Saruya | editor of the program VO/Thomas Handfiller, representative of the UN: Ori Yaniv | High-ranking politician: Alexander Senderovich | Nutrition expert in “Sunflowers” | program/Ricado Cabarel, sapper from UN: Paulo E. Moura | Dickla, border Guard official on a checkpoint/Hadassa/Mother of Tzlil/Daughter of Iftach : Noa Ar-Zion.

Photos (top to bottom):   Representative of the UN (Ori Yaniv), Israeli soldier Iftach (Miki Leon) and Hisam, Palestinian Hamas member (Firras Nasser); the cast of  I Was Most Alive with You (Joan Marcus)

 

 

 

HAROLD PINTER ON POLITICAL DRAMA: ‘ALL I’M DOING IS USING MY IMAGINATION’ ·

(Michael Billington’s article appeared in the Guardian, 6/30/01.)

Pinter’s political plays tell the world things it would prefer to forget about the prevalence of torture and tyranny. Michael Billington meets him as he prepares to play a sadistic interrogator in One For the Road

What exactly is political theatre? It can be a means of debating public issues, as in the case of David Hare and David Edgar. It can be a source of information, as with the Tricycle’s docudramas including, unforgettably, The Colour of Justice. But it can also, as Harold Pinter has shown, be a means of creating resonant images of suffering; of checking our tendency, in Pinter’s phrase, “to shovel the shit under the carpet” when it comes to the abuse of human rights.

Pinter’s political plays are enjoying a sudden revival. Mountain Language and Ashes to Ashes are showing at the Royal Court. Pinter is at the New Ambassadors next week playing Nicolas, a brutal government interrogator, in One For the Road. All three shows then head for New York’s Lincoln Center as part of a two-week Pinter festival, one that includes the Dublin Gate’s productions of The Homecoming, Landscape, and A Kind of Alaska, Pinter’s own Almeida versions of Celebration and The Room, and a rare revival of Monologue.

When you consider that in October Pinter will direct No Man’s Land at the National with Corin Redgrave and John Wood, that he’s written a film version of King Lear, which Tim Roth hopes to direct, is the subject of a BBC Arena profile and next spring picks up the European Theatre Prize in Taormina, it’s clear that, at 70, he’s not exactly subsiding into slippered serenity.

But, despite the punishing schedule, when I meet Pinter for an early evening tipple in his Holland Park study, he seems perfectly relaxed. Only the well-thumbed copy of One For the Road on his drinks table reveals the actor still anxiously getting to grips with his lines: Pinter wryly admits that just because he wrote them, it doesn’t mean he automatically knows them. But although this 1984 play about interrogation and torture is produced worldwide, doesn’t it pose an aesthetic problem? If we accept from the outset that torture is evil, doesn’t that kill the dramatic tension?

“I agree,” says Pinter, “it’s often difficult to make political drama dramatic. I believe that Nicolas in One For the Road should be, as it were, hung, drawn and quartered. Equally, the system of linguistic censorship I’m writing about in Mountain Language is an act of palpable oppression. I can’t find a way of apologising for either the man or the system. I can only hope to describe what happens accurately. But where Mountain Language is a series of brutal images, One For the Road is, I think, more complex. When I get up on that stage, I won’t be acting a monster, although he is certainly monstrous – but a man. Nicolas is a desperate man who seeks validation from his male victim, talks about his love of God, country and nature, and is always trying to find a philosophical basis for his actions.

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Photo: Blouin Artinfo

IS SHAKESPEARE HISTORY? THE PLANTAGENETS (BBC RADIO 4) ·

Listen: Is Shakespeare History?  

 In Our Time

In the first of two programmes marking In Our Time’s 20th anniversary on 15th October, Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Shakespeare’s versions of history, starting with the English Plantagenets. His eight plays from Richard II to Richard III were written out of order, in the Elizabethan era, and have had a significant impact on the way we see those histories today. In the second programme, Melvyn discusses the Roman plays.

The image above is of Richard Burton (1925 – 1984) as Henry V in the Shakespeare play of the same name, from 1951

With

Emma Smith
Professor of Shakespeare Studies at Hertford College, University of Oxford

Gordon McMullan
Professor of English at King’s College London and Director of the London Shakespeare Centre

And

Katherine Lewis
Senior Lecturer in Medieval History at the University of Huddersfield

Producer: Simon Tillotson

SIMON CALLOW ON:  MICHEÁL MACLIAMMÓIR AND HILTON EDWARDS ·

The Love that Wrote Its Name

The Boys

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In 1969 while the actor was performing his one man show in Belfast, a young Simon Callow was Micheál MacLiammóir’s dresser. Callow pays tribute to the 50 year relationship of Micheál MacLiammóir and his partner Hilton Edwards, who were the founders of Dublin’s influential Gate Theatre. Simon Callow is an actor, musician, writer, and theatre director. Part of Gay Britannia, a season of programming marking the 50th anniversary of The Sexual Offences Act 1967, which decriminalised homosexual acts that took place in private between two men over the age of 21. Writer: Simon Callow Reader: Simon Callow Producer: Simon Richardson.

 

TENNESSEE WILLIAMS: ‘A LOVELY SUNDAY FOR CREVE COEUR’ (REVIEW FROM NEW YORK) ·

By Bob Shuman

Four years before his death in 1983, Tennessee Williams gave critics what they wanted:  a play that wouldn’t turn their stomachs.  Even Harold Clurman, reviewer and Williams’s director for Orpheus Descending, had noted his discomfort with the playwright’s “sexual obsession,” writing, “Since The Night of the Iguana (1961), I have not cared much for Williams’s plays, though all of them bear the marks of his ‘splendid gifts.’” A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur, now in a rare revival at Theatre at St. Clements until Oct 21, directed by Austin Pendleton, with a first-rate cast, is Williams as good citizen–he’s trying to clean up his act (although admittedly, the playwright confessed he had used the same characters, and some of the dialogue, for an unproduced teleplay, which he said he had forgotten about, a decade earlier). His writing concerns a Civics teacher, her scholarly discipline as obscure today as it must have seemed to the playwright then.  The drama itself is hardly more than a one act–the French translates as “bitter disappointment” and, beyond symbolism, refers to a suburb outside of St. Louis, which became known for its amusement park, as well as a nearby lake, in the shape of a broken heart.  Legend relates an Indian maiden plunged herself into the water here, after her love for a fur trader was rejected. In this novelty, only for four women, Williams is writing superbly, even if his rhythms can be off. Nevertheless, the structuring seems better than in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, a more powerful play—and  his controlled, recurrent setups for heartbreak, offer echoes of Blanche and Catherine and Laura and Tom. The characters, in A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur, are not exact replicas, though.  They’re on diets and doing calisthenics, discussing balanced grocery budgets and the stolid precepts of the Lutheran church–gone are the trademark booze and drugs; violence and sexual deviancy.  

Resetting the Native American lore in the middle to late 1930’s (at the time when The Glass Menagerie is also placed), Williams brought along the deplorables of the city:  the hardworking white lower-middle class teachers and store and brewery workers.  Transmuted, the legend had become what goes on behind the scenes in a workplace romance, concerning an aging woman (Dorothea) who lives in an “efficiency apartment” with her nearly deaf friend (Bodey), someone intent on dissuading the match.  Williams, however, was also signaling his behind-the-scenes surrender to theatrical convention,  despite the large aesthetic risks, which someone else might not even contemplate:  Did he really want his work to be seen as more directly comparable to that of William Inge, Horton Foote, N. Richard Nash, and Tad Mosel?   What would he lose by stripping away the elements of stifling family dynamics and sexual power, to please his detractors, albeit retaining the basic, recognizable “stranded woman” motif?  He was getting older,  68, but perhaps his theatre could not be the theatre of his time. Painfully, he decided to purloin virtually the same ending, for this play, that he had written for Summer and Smoke (1948) and its reworked companion, The Eccentricities of a Nightingale (1964)–which is even more amoral at its finish–although he would invert their hard-won meanings.  A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur has Dorothea subsumed into the homogeneous culture that looks down on her romantic dreams; she is socialized enough, however, to become part of the herd.  

In his 1975 Memoirs, William’s wrote: “To know me is not to love me.  At best it is to tolerate me and of drama critics I would say that tolerance seems now to be just about worn out.”  A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur was his attempt to do it their way, be conciliatory, and become socialized himself—but despite some respectable notices, including Harold Clurman’s in The Nation, the play ran for only a month in 1979, for the Hudson Guild, in New York:  Hardly worth the price of destroying a vision.

Jean Lichty plays the romantic Southerner, Dorothea, in the Theatre at St. Clements production, from La Femme, steely as a young Elizabeth Ashley.  Kristine Nielsen, impervious to a life beyond work, children, and God, is her roommate, who finds employment at a shoe factory, as did Tom Wingfield and Williams himself. Annette O’Toole hopes for upward social mobility and a clothes brush, no matter how rigid she must be to obtain them.  Polly McKie, virtually a character from Bergman, is an upstairs neighbor, unable to speak English, haunted by the “spooks” of her dead family. 

A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur may be the last time Williams wrote to please anybody or in a way so recognizably comparable to his acclaimed previous work—but perhaps, he also felt he must start renouncing himself. Two of the plays to follow would be A Recluse and His Guest, where the playwright gave up his voice to channel Isak Dinesen and the dark and disturbing The Remarkable Rooming House of Mme. Le Monde, which seems a rejection of his craft as we had come to know it, absurd and idiosyncratic; extreme and without compassion.  

Larry Feiner’s design provides dappled lighting and clashing reds for the “fiercely bright colors of the interior” of A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur, and Beth Goldenberg‘s costumes show period fashions of poverty and acceptability.  Austin Pendleton continues in his championship of the work of Williams, who, despite an attempt like this, realized that “there is rarely a graceful way to say goodbye.”

© 2018 by Bob Shuman.  All rights reserved.

Tennessee Williams’s A LOVELY SUNDAY FOR CREVE COEUR

Theatre at St. Clements
423 West 46th Street
New York, NY 10036

Performances until Oct 21, 2018

Tickets 

Photos by Joan Marcus (top to bottom): Kristine Nielsen, Jean Lichty, and Annette O’Toole; Annette O’Toole, Jean Lichty, Kristine Nielsen, and Polly McKie; Jean Lichty, and Annette O’Toole.

Press: JT Public Relations

LAURIE METCALF AND JOHN LITHGOW TO STAR ON BROADWAY IN ‘HILLARY AND CLINTON’ ·

(David Rooney’s article appeared in the Hollywood Reporter, 10/4; via the Drudge Report.)

Set during the 2008 Democratic primaries, the play about the complex workings of a marriage reunites Metcalf with producer Scott Rudin and playwright Lucas Hnath, whose ‘A Doll’s House, Part 2’ won the actress her first Tony.

Laurie Metcalf and John Lithgow, both two-time Tony Award winners, will team up on Broadway to play the power couple who have been a prominent part of the American political landscape for the past quarter-century in Hillary and Clinton.

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Photo: Newsmax

AN OSCAR WILDE TEMPLE HAS OPENED ITS DOORS IN NEW YORK CITY ·

(Jessica Marie Ruxton’s article appeared in buzz.ie, 9/20.)

The piece has been installed in a Methodist Church and will be open to the public until December 2.

The statue and shrine were installed to celebrate the Irish legend and to pay homage to the writer who was imprisoned and shamed for his sexuality.

The project was created by David McDermott & Peter McGough and is supposed to depict his two-year imprisonment.

The makers describe the project as a ”ritualistic space” that will be ”open through December 2 and be available to rent for gatherings both sacred (the aforementioned wedding, poetry readings, a planned discussion of queer theology) and profane (the temple’s curator, Alison Gingeras, jokingly suggested a séance to honor Wilde’s death day, November 30)”.

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Photo: Vox

 

ANSEL ELGORT TO STAR IN STEVEN SPIELBERG’S ‘WEST SIDE STORY’ ·

(Borys Kit’s article appeared in The Hollywood Reporter, 10/1.)

The ‘Baby Driver’ star has nabbed the male lead in the upcoming musical.

Baby Driver star Ansel Elgort has nabbed the male lead in Steven Spielberg’s upcoming take on West Side Story.

The actor will play Tony, a role first portrayed by Larry Kert in the original 1957 Broadway musical. Richard Beymer played the part in the classic 1961 movie.

Oscar-nominated screenwriter and Pulitzer Prize winner Tony Kushner has written the adaptation of the musical originally penned by Arthur Laurents and Stephen Sondheim with music by Leonard Bernstein.

Spielberg has spent the better part of the year looking for stars for his movie, with actors needing to be able to sing, dance, and, of course, act their hearts out for the story that transposes Romeo and Juliet into a 1950s New York setting featuring white and Puerto Rican gangs.

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