Category Archives: Commentary

‘THE MOORS’ REVIEW – DELICIOUSLY DARK BRONTË PASTICHE ·

(Arifa Akbar’s article appeared in the Guardian, 10/16/22; via Pam Green; Photo: Captivating … The Moors. Photograph: Steve Gregson Photography.)  

The Hope theatre, London
The characters might be the Brontës themselves or they might be from novels such as Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, mashed-up with wandering strays from a zombie movie

Agoverness arrives in a remote corner of the Yorkshire moors to find a household of oddballs. She has been wooed there by Branwell – the dissolute brother of the Brontë sisters – but there are only his sisters here and a house that creaks with creepy mysteries.

Inspired by the letters of Charlotte Brontë and boldly directed by Phil Bartlett, this black comedy by American writer, Jen Silverman, is a homage to the Brontës and a gothic pastiche in one.

The characters might be the Brontës themselves, stranded in Haworth and playing a sinister game of make-believe. Or they could be characters from several Brontë novels (most obviously from Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights), mashed-up with wandering strays from a zombie movie.

It takes a while to realise we are enveloped inside Sophia Pardon’s atmospheric set, sitting in the round with gravel beneath our feet. The charred walls of the house are behind us and the characters sit among us, staring dead ahead. Julian Starr’s sound design brings sometimes eerie, sometimes schlocky melodrama with screeching violins and organ music. The moor outside is evocatively conjured as a savage place of quicksand and endless wilderness.

Best of all, the actors captivate with lines that waver between humour and horror. Their performances are all the more astonishing given that they are recent drama school graduates.

Emilie (Meredith Lewis) is the callow governess with a beautiful singing voice; Agatha (Imogen Mackenzie) is the head of the household in lace and black lipstick with the dark allure of a Heathcliff figure. There is a fame obsessed sister, Hudley (Kenia Fenton), a hammily dead-eyed maid (Tamara Fairbairn) and a talking mastiff (Peter Hadfield), complete with leather collar and black nail varnish, along with a moorhen (Matilda Childs). They keep us hanging on their every word, even when the plot is pushed to the furthest edges of weirdness.

(Read more)

 

TOM STOPPARD’S ‘LEOPOLDSTADT’ (REVIEW FROM NEW YORK) ·

By Bob Shuman

Tom Stoppard’s Olivier Award-winning Best New Play Leopoldstadt—his 19th on Broadway–which opened October 2, at the Longacre Theatre, is epic, the English way, with huge scope  and significance, about the need to win,  and  to always find a way to win:  in relationships, in assimilation and even, as much as possible, against the ultimate horrors of the last century.  There is too short a glance at Eastern European absurdism that informs previous plays by the author, like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead and Dogg’s Hamlet, which may have been appropriate (some contend the form was a reaction to the existential effects of World War II), given his devastating theme:  the destruction of a Viennese and Galician family, from their lives in the Austro-Hungarian Empire to Austrian independence; from the Anschluss to immigration to new lands in the West.  Instead, in Patrick Marber’s first-rate production,  a measured cinematic approach seems to have been a guide, as if Freddie Young’s technically sharp, crystal-clear camera could be brought in for perfect scenic composition (the settings are by Richard Hudson, with Costume design by Brigitte Reiffenstuel and lighting design by Neil Austin; project design, using period photography,  is by Isaac Madge and sound  design and original music are by Adam Cork), with  allusions, in terms of writing,  to Anna Karenina, Chekhov,  Hedda  Gabler, Woyzeck, and probably more classic work–Brecht should be mentioned, as well, for some might conjecture that events of this scale, in the theatre,  may need to happen through one great Mother Courage figure, instead of a family.  The characters in the play—and there are 38 of them, including young actors—a number of whom are interested in Freud and psychoanalysis, are not necessarily likable or sympathetic, and many are cunning, perhaps due to the fact that the momentum of the story does not allow enough time with each—they’re opportunists overwhelmed by barbarity.

For theatregoers, Tom Stoppard means erudite fun at the most sophisticated levels, but although expert at keeping his play moving–with language more windy and literary than imitative of real speech (and with excellent monologues)–there’s not much intrinsically funny here, in a dark documentary-like work about survival skills, literal survival skills, probably more appropriately examined in film. There may be a comic joke about a cigar cutter, which promises to let loose mayhem, a Freudian slip or provocation to be found, a suppressed or false memory, which the Viennese doctor might find amusing, but the serious subject also forces the viewer to examine contemporary societal splits and abysses, discussed , for example, by John Murray Cuddihy in his The Ordeal of Civility (1974), whose thesis is expressed by Chilton Williamson, Jr. as:   “Jews and the modern West have been at odds with one another for [more than] the past 150 years, as a tribal and essentially premodern people confronted a civilization representing secularized Christianity . . . and . . . celebrants of the illusory “Judeo-Christian” civilization have deliberately disguised the schism . . .  prevent(ing it from) . . .  coalescing (157).”  The divide continues, in the public eye, from blatant antisemitism, where synagogues need to be monitored on holy days, to the mindless, escapism of social media chattering, chronicled as recently as the present, as celebrities like Kanye West, Candace Owens, and Whoopi Goldberg  express off-the-cuff opinion in cancel culture.  Antisemitism is an endless polarizing, immobilizing subject, in a country that, by all accounts, has been very good to and for Jews, but has never asked or expected them, to explain themselves, with self-reflection, before American society in the way that African-Americans have been asked to do, for example, in the Million Man March (and that may be a source of contention).  Yet, high profile cases, in the Jewish community, are not unknown and have profoundly upset the country, such as, in the recent past, those concerning Harvey Weinstein, Jeffrey Epstein, and Ghislaine Maxwell.  A playwright could choose to self-identify as “British,” instead of “coming out” as Jewish, for reasons, personal and myriad, but the irony is not lost, that a largely realistic, historical drama, like Leopoldstadt, is an example of what the ‘60s and a playwright like Tom Stoppard, helped drive out of fashion, only to be refound again, now, in the present day, perhaps like his heritage.  

Bluffing, as a theme, does come up in Leopoldstadt, from a card game, to counting numbers, to a family business, and the family’s definition of its religion.  Because of Stoppard’s stature as a major artist, as well as a character in the play, who apparently knew little about his own family, theatregoers might question how much subterfuge is being used about his past and what he knew about himself. “Mathematics is the only place where one can make yourself clear,” intones one of the scholars in the play, but theatregoers may still be perplexed about how Stoppard thought of himself and when, before his admission, and to which version of the self he is referring to (of course, being Jewish in the entertainment field is nothing unusual or stigmatizing—similarly, no one raised an eyebrow when Carol Channing exposed the fact that she was of African-American lineage, in her autobiography).  There is always a hide-and-seek game in fiction with real characters—are we watching fiction or autobiography? Also,  to what extent is the fiction protective, and can one have it both ways, or many ways, when readers or audience members might be asking for less rationalized alternatives to reality and more clarity? Nevertheless, assuming that authors will write more conservatively as they age, there are real reasons to admire Leopoldstadt, none the least to “never forget”—and for the ensemble work of the actors, including David Krumholtz, Faye Castelow, and Jenna Augen, to only choose three.  A work of this sheer expanse and literary quality is so hard to find anywhere, whether an author is young or old, Jewish, Buddhist, or a Christian Scientist:  Where else today could another script be found, for example, where one would actually want to have had a traditionalist, like David Lean, render it on screen?

Recommended.

Copyright © Bob Shuman; all rights reserved.

Press:  Michelle Farabaugh, Angela Yamarone, Boneau/Bryan-Brown

(Photo from the London production.)

John Murray Cuddihy’s book The Ordeal of Civility: Freud, Levi-Strauss, and the Jewish Struggle with Modernity is discussed in The Conservative Bookshelf by Chilton Williamson, Jr. (Citadel Press, 2004).

(via BBB, Adrian Bryan-Brown / Michelle Farabaugh / Angela Yamarone )

★★★★★

“Magnificent!

Sir Tom Stoppard’s masterpiece. GO!”

The Independent

Leopoldstadt,

Stoppard’s 19th Production on Broadway,

Previews Begin Wednesday, September 14

Opening Sunday, October 2

In a Limited Engagement at the Longacre Theatre

 LeopoldstadtPlay.com

*********************************************************************

Leopoldstadt, Tom Stoppard’s Olivier Award-winning Best New Play, is directed by two-time Tony Award nominee Patrick Marber and produced by Sonia Friedman ProductionsRoy Furman, and Lorne Michaels.

 

Leopoldstadt’s full 38-member company, which includes several members of the original West End company and 24 actors making their Broadway debuts, will feature Jesse Aaronson* (The Play That Goes Wrong off-Broadway), Betsy Aidem (Prayer for the French Republic), Jenna Augen* (Leopoldstadt in the West End), Japhet Balaban* (The Thing About Harry on Freeform), Corey Brill (“The Walking Dead,” Gore Vidal’s The Best Man), Daniel Cantor* (Tuesdays with Morrie off-Broadway), Faye Castelow* (Leopoldstadt in the West End), Erica Dasher* (“Jane By Design”), Eden Epstein* (“Sweetbitter” on Starz, “See” on Apple TV+), Gina Ferrall (Big RiverA Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum), Arty Froushan* (Leopoldstadt in the West End), Charlotte Graham* (The Tempest at A.R.T.), Matt Harrington (Matilda The Musical), Jacqueline Jarrold (The Cherry Orchard), Sarah Killough (Travesties), David Krumholtz (“Numb3rs,” Oppenheimer), Caissie Levy (The BedwetterCaroline, or Change), Colleen Litchfield* (“The Crowded Room” on Apple TV+), Tedra Millan (Present LaughterThe Wolves), Aaron Neil* (Leopoldstadt in the West End), Theatre World Award winner Seth Numrich (TravestiesWar Horse), Anthony Rosenthal (Falsettos), Chris Stevens*, Sara Topham (Travesties), three-time Tony Award nominee Brandon Uranowitz (Assassins, FalsettosBurn This), Dylan S. Wallach (Betrayal), Reese Bogin*, Max Ryan Burach*Calvin James Davis*, Michael Deaner*, Romy Fay* (“Best Foot Forward” on Apple TV+), Pearl Scarlett Gold*, Jaxon Cain Grundleger*, Wesley Holloway*, Ava Michele Hyl*, Joshua Satine*, Aaron Shuf*, and Drew Ryan Squire*.

* indicates an actor making their Broadway debut.

Leopoldstadt’s limited Broadway engagement begins previews Wednesday, September 14 ahead of a Sunday, October 2 opening night at the Longacre Theatre (220 West 48th Street).

Perhaps the most personal play of Stoppard’s unmatched career, Leopoldstadt opened in London’s West End to rave critical acclaim on January 25, 2020. A planned extension due to overwhelming demand was curtailed due to the COVID-19 lockdown seven weeks later. In late 2021, the play returned for a further 12-week engagement. Both runs completely sold out and Leopoldstadt received the Olivier Award for Best New Play in October 2020.

Leopoldstadt will mark Tom Stoppard’s 19th play on Broadway since his groundbreaking Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead opened 55 years ago. Stoppard has won four Best Play Tony Awards, more than any other playwright in history.

Set in Vienna, Leopoldstadt takes its title from the Jewish quarter. This passionate drama of love and endurance begins in the last days of 1899 and follows one extended family deep into the heart of the 20th Century. Full of his customary wit and beauty, Tom Stoppard’s late work spans fifty years of time over two hours. The Financial Times said, “This is a momentous new play. Tom Stoppard has reached back into his own family history to craft a work that is both epic and intimate; that is profoundly personal, but which concerns us all.” With a cast of 38 and direction by Patrick MarberLeopoldstadt is a “magnificent masterpiece” (The Independent) that must not be missed.

Leopoldstadt’s creative team includes scenic design by Tony Award winner Richard Hudson (The Lion KingLa Bête), costume design by Brigitte Reiffenstuel, lighting design by three-time Tony Award winner Neil Austin (Harry Potter and the Cursed ChildCompanyTravesties), sound and original music by Tony Award winner Adam Cork (RedTravesties), video design by Isaac Madge, movement by Emily Jane Boyle, and hair, wig & makeup design by Campbell Young & Associates. Casting is by Jim Carnahan and Maureen Kelleher, and UK casting is by Amy Ball CDG.

Co-producers of Leopoldstadt include Stephanie P. McClelland, Gavin Kalin, Delman Sloan, Brad Edgerton, Eilene Davidson, Patrick Gracey, Burnt Umber Productions, Cue to Cue Productions, No Guarantees, Robert Nederlander, Jr., Thomas S. Perakos, Sanford Robertson, Iris Smith, The Factor Gavin Partnership, Jamie deRoy / Catherine Adler, Dodge Hall Productions / Waverly Productions, Ricardo Hornos / Robert Tichio, Heni Koenigsberg / Wendy Federman, Brian Spector / Judith Seinfeld, and Richard Winkler / Alan Shorr.

TICKET INFORMATION

Tickets are on sale online at Telecharge.com or by phone at 212-239-6200.

For 10+ Group Sales information contact Broadway Inbound at broadwayinbound.com or call 866-302-0995.

# # # #

LeopoldstadtPlay.com

Follow Leopoldstadt on TwitterInstagram and Facebook

Follow BBB on TwitterInstagram, and Facebook

ANGELA LANSBURY, STAR OF FILM, STAGE AND ‘MURDER, SHE WROTE,’ DIES AT 96 ·

(Daniel Lewis’s article appeared in The New York Times,. 10/11; via Pam Green; Photo:  Angela Lansbury; Ms. Lansbury  as Madame Arcati in the 2009 production of “Blithe Spirit” with, from left, Jayne Atkinson, Christine Ebersole and Rupert Everett. The role won Ms. Lansbury her fifth Tony.Credit…Sara Krulwich/The New York Times.)

She was a Hollywood and Broadway sensation, but she captured the biggest audience of her career as the TV sleuth Jessica Fletcher.

Angela Lansbury, a formidable actress who captivated Hollywood in her youth, became a Broadway musical sensation in middle age and then drew millions of fans as a widowed mystery writer on the long-running television series “Murder, She Wrote,” died on Tuesday at her home in Los Angeles. She was 96.

Her death was announced in a statement by her family.

Ms. Lansbury was the winner of five Tony Awards for her starring performances on the New York stage, from “Mame” in 1966 to “Blithe Spirit” in 2009, when she was 83, a testament to her extraordinary stamina. Yet she appeared on Broadway only from time to time over a seven-decade career in film, theater and television in which there were also years when nothing seemed to be coming up roses.

The English-born daughter of an Irish actress, she was just 18 when she landed her first movie role, as Charles Boyer’s cheeky Cockney servant in the thriller “Gaslight” (1944), a precocious debut that brought her a contract with MGM and an Academy Award nomination for best supporting actress. She received a second Oscar nomination in 1946, for her supporting performance as a dance-hall girl in “The Picture of Dorian Gray.”

It was a giddy start for a young woman who at 14 had fled wartime London with her mother and had only recently graduated from New York’s Feagin School of Dramatic Art. Ms. Lansbury imagined she might have a future as a leading lady, but, she said in a New York Times interview in 2009, she was not comfortable trying to climb that ladder.

“I wasn’t very good at being a starlet,” she said. “I didn’t want to pose for cheesecake photos and that kind of thing.”

(Read more)

THE RELUCTANT SOLOIST: UKRAINIAN REFUGEE ROCKER KATYA GAPOCHKA FORGES A NEW FUTURE IN PRAGUE ·

(from Radio Free Europe) 

Oct 8, 2022 A Ukrainian rock singer who was forced flee Kyiv at the start of Russia’s invasion of her country has been embraced by audiences and musicians in the Czech Republic. Katya Gapochka was invited to open for the veteran Czech band Lucie on their European tour. As a refugee rocker, Gapochka has recorded a new solo album and is using her new-found fame to raise awareness of Ukraine’s urgent need for humanitarian aid.

TO BE OR NOT TO BE CANCELLED: HOW DIRECTORS DEAL WITH SHAKESPEARE’S PROBLEMATIC SIDE ·

(David Jays’s article appeared in the Guardian, 9/27; via Pam Green; Photo:  Swerving convention … Olivier Huband (Ferdinand) and Ferdy Roberts (Prospero) in The Tempest at Shakespeare’s Globe, directed by Sean Holmes. Photograph: Marc Brenner. )

Misogynist gags? Ancient puns? Unethical bed tricks? Theatre-makers discuss how they tackle the Bard’s trickier works

Earlier this year, I spoke to the actor Natasha Magigi, a regular at Shakespeare’s Globe. With the audience crowding close around the stage, she must know exactly when a play is or isn’t landing, I suggested. “One hundred per cent. You can see the whites of people’s eyes and you can also see when they start to zone out. You can’t pretend that you haven’t said something weird, especially if you catch someone’s eye.”

The conversation made me wonder where audiences and creatives stub their toes on Shakespeare’s plays. Unfamiliar language, outdated ethics, baffling behaviour? We’ve become used to sifting racism or sexism in these texts – but what other problems give people pause in rehearsal or performance?

Blanche McIntyre has been juggling problems in All’s Well That Ends Well, one of the gnarliest of the comedies, currently staged at the Royal Shakespeare Company. “It’s almost as though Shakespeare wrote an anti-romcom,” the director says. “Every time it seems to be progressing straightforwardly, there’s a sudden turn and everyone is left sprawling in the dust.”

Nonetheless, McIntyre explains, “intractable problems, both of situation and personality, make for juicy drama. You go to watch people going through things that you can’t imagine going through.” In All’s Well (“famously the play where you don’t like anyone”), the biggest stumbling block is a moral one – Helena, the heroine, beds her crush Bertram by convincing him he’s having sex with someone else. “The idea of a bed trick is ethically questionable,” McIntyre protests. “It’s essentially a sexual assault: Bertram can’t consent because he doesn’t know who he’s sleeping with. But the play has no problem with the bed trick. The play thinks it’s fine; it even cheers her on.”

She refuses to skate over this “appalling” moment. “When the world of the play contains this poisonous central act, I cannot excuse it to the audience. It’s a play about incredibly flawed people who do awful things to each other, and this is the worst of many.” It nonetheless helps McIntyre and Rosie Sheehy, playing Helena, to reassess the heroine – her quest is “a romantic fixation that develops into an obsession. The first half is full of her soliloquies. She shares her thoughts and feelings – it’s very unguarded. At a certain point she stops talking to us, and that’s the point where she gets this idea. I hope the audience will go on a journey of separation.”

Much Ado About Nothing might seem a smoother ride. The romantic comedy is everywhere this year – Robert Hastie’s co-production for Sheffield Theatres and Ramps on the Moon follows other versions at the RSC, Globe and National Theatre. He cites Peter Brook’s description of Shakespeare’s plays being like planets with regular orbits: “There are times when certain plays swing closer to us.” With Much Ado: “I feel like I know these people. I feel like I’ve been these people on occasion.

“In our show,” he continues, “the actors largely identify as deaf or disabled, so the characters do as well. We are surprised by how much the text not only allows for that, but chimes with it and makes it a rewarding artistic experience.” Their lived experience informs a plot driven by being misheard or misconstrued. “It’s absolutely riddled with overhearing, spying and picking up information that you either misunderstand or misinterpret. We are striving for clarity, so we’re working with British Sign Language, captioning and audio description throughout. There’s an enjoyable dance about how we make things clear to the audience when we need the characters to swim in confusion.”

The most devastating mistake has young Claudio assume his fiancée Hero has betrayed him. “When he sees somebody having sex at a distance, why does Claudio believe that it’s Hero? Crucially, Shakespeare doesn’t stage that moment, leaving the actual witnessing to an audience’s imagination.” Claudio is duped by the play’s blatant villain, Don John. “You’ve got to ask yourself, what are the forces operating in this society that make what he suggests so readily accepted by other men?” Hastie asks. “He goes big with the lie, and it taps into something in the male psyche – none of the women believe him.”

A similar dynamic, says Sean Holmes, informs The Winter’s Tale, which he directs at the Globe in February and which also turns on accusations of female infidelity. “King Leontes has this insane attack of jealousy,” he explains. “Everyone says, you’re mad – but because of the monarchical system there is no way to properly challenge him.”

For Holmes, the dilemma is less what’s in the plays but what surrounds them: “Four hundred years of accrued assumptions around Shakespeare. You can’t ignore his dominance in our cultural life, even if you’ve never seen Hamlet. We’re trying to make it like a new play has dropped in our lap, and scrape the barnacles – the received ideas – off the hull of the boat.” With The Tempest, that means swerving conventions like “Prospero as an old guy with a white beard” – Holmes has cast Ferdy Roberts wearing only bright yellow budgie smugglers.

Holmes’ frequent designer Grace Smart notes that designers aren’t immune to received ideas. Of their recent Hamlet, she says: “I thought it was really clever and wicked to put him in a beanie and raincoat. Sean had to sidle up and go, that’s what they all do.” As McIntyre has found, it may be easier to rethink less familiar plays like Titus Andronicus or The Two Noble Kinsmen. “I would much rather have the difficult, thorny ones that are less well known,” she confirms. “You can surprise the audience better.”

Holmes and Smart similarly refreshed Shakespeare’s back-stabbing early history plays. “Grace had a brilliant idea,” Holmes says. “When we got into the wars of the roses they had football shirts with numbers and names on. We were in a weird, non-naturalistic world where they were not using swords but choking each other in the mud. When somebody suffocates somebody else with a plastic bag, that’s really unpleasant.”

If there’s one thing worse than Shakespeare’s gore, it’s his comedy. Who hasn’t endured the tumbleweed silence of an audience faced with ancient puns? Both Much Ado and All’s Well contain clown roles that are notoriously hard to animate. “On the page some of it is woefully uncomic,” Hastie concedes. Casting helps, he reckons, getting “a brilliant comic actor in the room” – in his case Caroline Parker, as the watchman Dogberry.

When I mention comedy to McIntyre, she sighs in frustration. She too lauds a “brilliant” actor, Will Edgerton as the jester Lavache in All’s Well, but his gags are “so misogynist, so dark, so angry – it’s hard to imagine how an audience today would have their funny bones tickled. There’s a strand in the play of male aggression about women – Lavache takes this to an extreme place and draws your attention to the fact that many other characters do that as well. So long as there are jokes elsewhere, I don’t mind if Lavache isn’t where the jokes live.”

In a recent RSC podcast, David Tennant describes negotiating As You Like It’s often mirthless Touchstone with the voice guru Cicely Berry: “She encouraged me to use the rhythms, which are those of a standup comic. If you phrase something in the right rhythm you can make an audience laugh even though they clearly don’t understand the joke. You can trick people.”

Hastie argues that clowning blooms in “a strong context. Much Ado is structured around a series of parties – you go from welcoming party to masked ball to wedding to funeral to another wedding, so we’re making Dogberry and his crew sort of wedding planners. I nick a couple of lines from another play to pull it together. It’s like the reconstruction of dinosaurs in Jurassic Park, where they’re missing a couple of the strands of DNA so fill in with frog DNA. King John is our frog DNA.”

Editing the text is standard modern practice. On Hamlet, Holmes worked with the dramaturg Zoë Svendsen, who “noticed that the speeches are so densely put together that they’re quite hard to cut. Whereas it’s very surprisingly easy to move a scene, if you keep the narrative.”

(Read more)

 

MARÍA IRENE FORNÉS: ‘MUD/ DROWNING’ FROM MABOU MINES—ONLY THROUGH OCT. 9—REVIEW FROM NEW YORK ·

By Bob Shuman and Marit Shuman

María Irene Fornés’s Mud/Drowning is playing for only 15 performances, September 28 to October 9, at Mabou Mines, in a double bill, directed by JoAnne Akalaitis, with new music composed by Philip Glass and produced by Mabou Mines and Weathervane Productions, in association with Philip Glass’ The Days and Nights Festival. The evening is not a return to the fantastical weirdness of previous outré Mabou Mines outings, although the first production of “Drowning,” in 1986, as part of an evening of one-acts called Orchards, unrelated to Mabou Mines, and inspired by Chekhov, cast her play with men dressed as potatoes. Today, the acclaimed director, Akalaitis, in an inclusive, intimate mood, offers her Fornés shows as hardly more than unaffected stationary rehearsal presentations.  The first, Mud, is set at a long table (with the actors widely spaced, presumably in adherence of Covid rules; the production’s original staging was in Carmel, California, in October 2019), and they are accompanied by a keyboardist, Michael A. Ferrara, and harpist, Anna Bikales.  White, russet, yellow, brown, blue:  potatoes can be of many colors, but Fornés, originally from Cuba, was an important champion of Latino voices and actors before the millennium, when a string of her works, self-directed, played at Theater for the New City with her oft-chosen star Sheila Dabney, who was flooded with emotion at her curtain calls, after having recreated the brutalized, downtrodden, and brown, who claimed and called for humanity.

If the color of potatoes doesn’t much matter, the color of the actors in the first piece, Mud, can, offering the radical view we assume when we see drama at this theatre.  If it doesn’t and one is producing the work of a Cuban playwright, in a play called Mud, and unearthing and tripping over pieces of Tennessee Williams and Sam Shepard lying across the page, why not do Orpheus Descending, instead? Perhaps Akalaitis is signaling the most radical possible solution for Off-Broadway:  a cease-fire on race issues and maybe ones concerning gender and age.   Next season, everything will have returned to normal but, after the weight of COVID-19, for a moment, Mabou Mines has a celebration, with  a white, blonde actress (Wendy vanden Heuvel) at the center (also in Mud are Paul Lazar, Sifiso Mabena, Tony Torn, and Autumn Angelettie) and old tenors and a countertenor, in fat suits, recalling an Orson Welles trio, dressed alike in loose jackets and scarves, one with a pork pie hat  (Tomas Cruz, Gregory Purnhagen, and Peter Stewart).   The mood is genial and marigold bright, unless you think the color is a reference to Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper,” a story about another trapped woman);  the lighting design is by Thomas Dunn and the scenic and costume design are by Kaye Voyce, using  blue and tan patterned linoleum, as if a background to a cozy cast party with wine, cheese, and sweet potato pie.  We need that vibe even if it is a very different one than the ones Fornes brought to many of her plays, roughly forty years ago. Then, the presentations could be aching, anguished, with pinpricks of matter-of-fact humor, artistically rendered sets by the author, and silences, sometimes long, perhaps to hear that small, quiet voice (like the author’s)–of what was human, among the bestiality allowed on the stage.  Signature Theatre’s production of Mud, at the turn of the millennium was unbearably intense and that is a vision probably close to what Fornés had in mind for the piece herself (Mud itself is reminiscent of a story by Zora Neale Hurston, specifically “Sweat”), but realize that Fornes, as a working playwright and theatremaker, did write comedy, as well as musicals.  What one of the reviewers here recalls first, from a class taken with Fornés in the 1980s, was the requirement that characters in plays never be made fun of or mocked, whether they were funny or not—their humanity was sacred.            

By taking away the slow, Beckettian tempo of Fornés scenes, an awareness of melodrama and comedy can emerge (Akalaitis uses humorous physical parallelism, of hands and body placements, as examples, pronounced in the Mabou Mines production, and has a clown in Tony Torn as Henry, a man who can barely read).  Actually, such an approach displays Fornés’s writing technique, which calls for randomization and displacement (the playwright Robin Goldfin typed and compiled many of Fornés’s exercises, and apparently there are more.  Hopefully, INTAR has them and they are in safekeeping, a rare treasure). What the method allows Glass, however, are clearly defined sections to compose for, which is why the evening can feel like being at a silent film, where music is played at clear demarcations (Fornés’s script actually calls for freezes to last eight seconds at the end of each scene, which will “create the effect of a still photograph,” amplifying the idea of the filmic and sectioned).  Glass’s post-minimalist music for the opera does not (and probably should or could not) feel particularly specific to a rural America, in Mud, or to potatoes reading a tabloid at a diner, whatever that would sound like (Gabrielle Vincent’s anatomically accurate  makeup for the bloated bald-headed men may be a reference to actual victims of drowning).  Glass seems to take a generic, or maybe unobtrusive, route through the absurdity, giving ambiance in minor-keyed arpeggios, relying on sung text, without, for instance, configuring arias, duets, and trios.

Part of the allure of this Mud/Drowning may, in fact, be the decision to have extreme visionaries take themselves less seriously, less adventurously, less singularly, and be tempted to put down their own visions.  Instead, they offer what is possible:  non-intimidation, non-attachment, an informal feel of the home, and an appeal to camaraderie, after a very long two years of the arts being at sea.

© by Bob Shuman and Marit Shuman

Visit Mabou Mines

Photos: I. Fornes (Mabou Mines); cast of ‘Mud’ (Credit…Julieta CervantesNY Times); Cast of ‘Drowning’ (Credit…Julieta Cervantes, NY Times); J Akalaitis (Mabou Mines); P. Glass (Famous Composers.net)

REVIEW: IN LEA MICHELE, ‘FUNNY GIRL’ HAS FINALLY FOUND ITS FANNY ·

(Jesse Green’s article appeared in The New York Times, 9/29/22; via Pam Green; Photo:  Yes, Lea Michele (with Ramin Karimloo) lights up like a light as the new Fanny Brice on Broadway. Credit…Matthew Murphy.)

Funny Girl

Though it can be a great vehicle, “Funny Girl” has rarely been a great ride. Even its first-rate Jule Styne songs — “I’m the Greatest Star,” “People” and “Don’t Rain on My Parade” among them — are problematic. Not only are the lyrics, by Bob Merrill, often inane (“I’ll light up like a light”?) but the challenge of the vocal writing that made Barbra Streisand a star in 1964 makes casting anyone else now a nightmare.

And let’s not get started on the book, by Isobel Lennart, which in telling the (mostly fictional) story of the early-20th-century comic Fanny Brice, and her disastrous love affair with the gambler Nick Arnstein, seems to have been assembled from a warehouse of used musical-comedy parts. They do not work well together, however well they work individually.

The revival that opened in April at the August Wilson Theater — its first on Broadway — only made matters worse. Harvey Fierstein’s meddling with the confusing book confused it further by giving Nick (Ramin Karimloo) more to do; nobody cares what Nick does. And Fanny, whom we do care about, was just too much of a reach for Beanie Feldstein, offering a pleasant performance in a role that shouldn’t be. “Without a stupendous Fanny to thrill and distract,” I wrote at the time, “the musical’s manifold faults become painfully evident.”

Lea Michele, who took over the role on Sept. 6, turns out to be that stupendous Fanny. Yes, she even lights up like a light. Both vulnerable and invulnerable, kooky and ardent, she makes the show worth watching again.

She can’t make it good, though. Michael Mayer’s production is still garish and pushy, pandering for audience overreaction. A confetti cannon tries to put an exclamation point on a dud dance. Many of the minor players overplay. The lighting by Kevin Adams would make a rat clap, and the unusually ugly set by David Zinn seems weaponized against intimacy. It looks like a missile silo.

But at least “Funny Girl” now has a missile: a performer who from her first words (“Hello, Gorgeous”) shoots straight to her target and hits it.

It has been a tortuous path to this obviously right and seemingly predestined casting, with decades of false starts involving Lauren Ambrose, Debbie Gibson, Sheridan Smith and others. Feldstein was just another in the long list of misfires; after she ditched the show in a cloud of apparent acrimony — a cloud everyone denied — her standby, Julie Benko, took over.

Benko, who is still the Thursday night Fanny, sings the role very well, so you never worry, as you did with Feldstein, that she might not make it through the songs. Then too, Benko gets closer to the dark heart of the comedy, backfilling its shtick with something like anger. Still, good as she is, her voice and the rest of her performance don’t yet match; she even has a different accent when acting the role than when singing it.

(Read more)

CONSTANT STANISLAVSKI (142) ·

The words and wisdom of Constantin Stanislavski:

(Think) about the inner side of a role, and how to create its spiritual life through the help of the internal process of living the part. You must live it by actually experiencing feelings that are analogous to it, each and every time you repeat the process of creating it. (AP)

‘MUD/DROWNING’: PERFORMANCES LIVE NOW ·

MUD/DROWNING

 

 

ONLY 15 CHANCES TO SEE THIS NYT CRITIC’S PICK!
LIMITED AVAILABILITY!
 
GET TICKETS NOW!
MABOU MINES AND WEATHERVANE PRODUCTIONS 
IN ASSOCIATION WITH THE DAYS AND NIGHTS FESTIVAL PRESENT
MUD/DROWNING
WRITTEN BY
MARÍA IRENE FORNÉS

Playwright Maria Irene FornŽs photographed at the Golden Gate Theater building on December 20, 1986.

DIRECTED BY
JOANNE AKALAITIS
WITH NEW MUSIC COMPOSED BY
PHILIP GLASS
 
GET TICKETS NOW!
PERFORMANCES
September 21 – October 9, 2022
Wed – Sat at 7:30 PM
Sun at 2:00 PM
Additional show on Tues Sept 27 at 7:30 PMMABOU MINES
150 First Ave. Second Floor, NYC 10009

TICKETS $25 | NOW ON SALEPLEASE NOTE: Mabou Mines requires masks, a proof of a complete COVID-19 vaccination, and a valid ID to enter the building and attend performances.
 

Mabou Mines and Weathervane Productions, in association with Philip Glass’ The Days and Nights Festival, present a celebration of legendary playwright and director María Irene Fornés, featuring Philip Glass’ transformation of her five-page play Drowning into an opera and Fornés’ acclaimed play, Mud. This exciting double-bill marks the show’s triumphant return after a sold-out run at Mabou Mines in 2020, where its New York premiere was called “a notable new work” and designated a Critic’s Pick by The New York Times. 

JoAnne Akalaitis directs these two intimate productions (both with new music composed by Glass), which offer New York audiences an opportunity to experience the work of a singular writer at close range. Akalaitis explains, “The program is intended to express that world of Irene’s, which is about the terribly poignant and unfulfilled longing for some kind of emotional accomplishment in life that often gets dashed—that’s what both of these pieces are about. We hope this evening offers a glimpse into the range of Irene’s rich theatrical landscape and the heart of an artist who never soothes and continues to astonish.”

Documentary Film Screening from director Michelle Memran

THE REST I MAKE UP

A Film About María Irene Fornés And Her Unexpected Friendship With Filmmaker Michelle Memran.

Monday, October 3, 2022 at 7:30 PM | Mabou Mines Theater

Don’t miss Mabou Mines’ companion event to Mud/Drowning: a free screening of The Rest I Make Up, the 2018 documentary about María Irene Fornés and her unexpected friendship with filmmaker Michelle Memran. The screening will be followed by a talkback with Memran. 

RSVP HERE
DONATE

SUPPORT FOR MABOU MINES is provided by the National Endowment for the Arts, The New York State Council on the Arts, the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in Partnership with the City Council and Materials for the Arts, The NYC Women’s Fund by the City of New York Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment/The New York Foundation for the Arts, the Axe-Houghton Foundation, Foundation for Contemporary Arts, Howard Gilman Foundation JKW Foundation, The NYC COVID-19 Response and Impact Fund in The New York Community Trust, Emma A. Shaefer Charitable Trust, Shubert Foundation, the Tides Foundation and the W Trust.ation, the W Trust and Emma A. Shaefer Charitable Trust.

Facebook
Instagram
Website
Twitter
Copyright © 2022 Mabou Mines, All rights reserved.
You are receiving this email because you indicated interest in our programsOur mailing address is:

Mabou Mines

150 1st Ave # 2

New York, NY 10009-5782

Add us to your address book

Want to change how you receive these emails?
You can update your preferences or unsubscribe from this list