Category Archives: Current Affairs

BYUNGKOO AHN: ‘13 FRUITCAKES’ (REVIEW FROM NEW YORK) ·

By Bob Shuman

Byungkoo Ahn’s distillation of the lives of Leonardo da Vinci, Alan Turing, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Hans Christian Andersen, among others, works so effectively—and is so different from other documentary biographies–because the director and author is more interested in high art than formulaic journalism or encyclopedic profiles.  His 13 Fruitcakes, which recently played at La MaMa for four days–June, 13-16–employs aria and poetry; couture and dance en pointe, never decadently, and always with understated, impeccable taste.  The show’s thirteen musical vignettes (a fraction of the material that could be chosen, of course) are replete with crisp original songs (typically classically oriented, with musical settings that can also recall Stephen Sondheim, Philip Glass, and even the American Old South), composed by Gihieh Lee–in a virtual embarrassment of riches, the  lyrics are by Lorca, Wilde, Whitman and other Queer poets. Intricate video arts, using period photographs and contemporary illustrations, are by Jui Mao, Julie Casper Roth, and Kevin Price; electronic music is from the Los Angeles Laptop Collective and the set designer is Jung Griffin; the lighting design is by Erin EarleFleming.

Watch the production’s care regarding color (the opulent costumes are by Leon Wiebers, and memorably include striking tunics–his luxurious palette contains deep green and muted orange, cream, and neon yellow–feather headdresses, punk wigs, top hats, and even angel’s wings.  The visual richness is never mindlessly flamboyant or even excessively sexualized—in fact, part of Ahn’s point seems to be that gay love, often stereotyped as jaded, is based on innocence, not lasciviousness. From a historical perspective, as opposed to a psychological one, he apparently finds LGBTQ+ love simply an alternate response to life.  Of course, a self-identifying Eleanor Roosevelt would be the best kind of validation of her passions,  as well as primary-source records for the others–simply an impossibility–but this has nothing to do with the injustices made against the communities, as a whole, in the ancient world, the Sixth century, the East and West or, of course, now. (13 Fruitcakes is performed in Korean with supertitles—but some of the wording can be missed because of length, timing, density, or even because what goes on elsewhere, on stage, seems more vital).

The performance, an object of rare, complex and dark beauty, which unfurls from a dressing room, presents the superbly talented leading South Korean drag artist, ‘More’ Zimin, a thin, muscular dancer-singer-follies girl-lip-syncher Christ figure, who plays the central character, named Orlando (it is no coincidence that Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West also enter the narrative). He “encourages people to start fighting against social injustice and oppression by telling them stories about great gay ancestors.” The impressive vocal talents of Jayoung Jeong are also on display, as well as a surprising, anachronistic modern nightclub singer.  The young supporting cast, of eleven, “the Fruitcakes,” include Jiung Kim, Kyungrok Kim, Gihyun Lee, Junghoun Jun, Nayeon Kim, Hyunhee Kim, Yoojung Park, Jieun Lee, Bookyung Chung, Daegwon Hong, and Joowon Shin.

The evening, part of the Stonewall 50 at La Mama, begins in 1969, after the death of Judy Garland, a time especially resonant in this reviewer’s mind, because he was drawn to begin reading The Wizard of Oz, days before her suicide; apparently, the time was also important to others: “I did research on the Stonewall Riots,” Ahn writes, “people say somehow the air that day was different from before, even though it was a routine police raid, and on this occasion they did not submit to the police.” Wanting to recreate that “different air” for the stage, perhaps the stirring winds of change, Ahn has stayed at La MaMa, a living museum to the avant-garde, for two short a time—yet his work and activism, will be remembered, in chiaroscuro.

© 2019 by Bob Shuman.  All rights reserved.

Photos: Theo Cote

13 FRUITCAKES

Director/Playwright: Byungkoo Ahn Composer: Gihieh Lee LA Laptop Collective Artistic Director: Martin Herman Music Director: Hanul Chae SARC General Director: Jayoung Jeong Associate Director: Kimun Kim Choreographer: Jaseung Won Open call curator/Video Arts Head: Inhye Lee Video Arts: Juyi Mao, Julie Casper Roth, Kevin Price Set Designer: Jung Griffin Lighting Designer: Erin EarleFleming Costume Designer: Leon Wiebers Production Assistant: Samara E. Huggins Orchestrator: Jiwon Hahn & Gihieh Lee Producer: Sujin Kim Gayakeumist: Rami SeoPianist: Yeseul Yoon, Eunbin Kim The Los Angeles Laptop Collective Martin Herman, Alysia Michelle James, Cameron Johnston, Tobias Banks, Glen Gray, Sean Martineau Jones, David García Saldaña, Seth Shafer

Tiger Party Interactive Agency Singing Actors Repertory Company Orlando: More Zimin Mighty Orlando: Jayoung Jeong Fruitcakes: Jiung Kim, Kyungrok Kim, Gihyun Lee, Junghoun Jun, Nayeon Kim, Hyunhee Kim, Yoojung Park, Jieun Lee, Bookyung Chung, Daegwon Hong, Joowon Shin

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ITALY’S ‘GENIUS’ FILM DIRECTOR FRANCO ZEFFIRELLI DIES ·

(Frank Iovene’s article appeared on AFP, 6/15.)

Rome (AFP) – The world of cinema was in mourning Saturday after Italian film and opera legend Franco Zeffirelli, feted for his lavish productions, died at home in Rome aged 96.

The Oscar-nominated director of movies and operas “died serenely after a long illness, which had worsened these last months,” Italian media said, citing family members.

“I never wanted this day to come. Franco Zeffirelli departed this morning. One of the greatest men in the world of culture. We join in the grief of his loved ones. Goodbye, dear Master, Florence will never forget you,” tweeted Dario Nardella, mayor of the Tuscan city where ZeffirelliZeffirelli was born.

“Deep emotion over the death of the master Franco Zeffirelli,” tweeted Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte after Zeffirelli died in the presence of adopted sons Pippo and Luciano along with a doctor and a priest.

Afflicted by pneumonia for some time, Zeffirelli received the last rites last week, media reports said.

He was, Conte said, “an Italian ambassador of cinema, of art, of beauty. A great film maker, scriptwriter, scenographer. A great man of culture.”

(Read more)

Photo: BBC

ROGER HENDRICKS SIMON – NEW YORK’S OWN ·

By Tania Fisher

Sitting down with Roger Hendricks Simon is always an interesting experience.  Director Oliver Stone put it most succinctly when he referred to Roger as “that wonderful actor and teacher in New York” after working with him on the 2010 film “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps.”

Indeed, anyone who has ever met, been taught by, or worked with Roger Hendricks Simon, would heartily agree with Mr Stone’s statement.  After working professionally in the industry myself for over 30 years, it’s refreshing to know one can still be impressed by people like Roger.  With The Simon Studio now in its 41st year, and a career that spans over some 50 plus years, this accomplished theatre and film actor, director, and teacher, has a packed schedule as ever, with June being a particularly busy month.

On Sunday June 23 the world premier screening of feature film “Love in Kilnerry” will be held at Village East Cinema, 189 2nd Avenue, in which Roger has a major role.  This will be the first of three new feature films coming out this year in which Roger appears in featured roles.  Then on Friday June 28, Roger directs his Simon Studio in their annual Shakespeare “Bard at the Bar” at the Players Club in Gramercy Park, and, as always, his classes continue in The Simon Studio.

Roger doesn’t pull any punches and his responses are always thoughtful and downright honest. After our lunch together he invites me to sit-in on one of his classes to watch him in action.

I gladly observe him mold and inspire his students who no doubt all aspire to become one of the famous names such as John Travolta, John Lithgow, Samuel L. Jackson, James Earl Jones, Debra Jo Rupp, and James Woods, to name only a few, who have been taught and/or directed by Roger in the past.

Roger’s own career started when he attended Yale as an actor, all the while harboring a desire to enter their directing program.  “By the end of the first year of a three year program, half of those directing students had flunked out, they were Phi Beta Kappa English majors, not theater oriented, so there were openings and I got in.” 

Roger of course enjoyed great success, and from the 60s through to the 90s was known across the globe as a theater director, only occasionally acting, as he says, “usually because someone remembered me from the old days.”

Roger explains, “It was really because of my son Dan that I got into film acting.”  Dan Simon was working as a cinematographer at the time on the 2007 feature film “Sublet,” when young newcomer Director, Georgiana Nestor, needed an older actor to play the lead and asked Dan if he knew anybody, suggesting, “What about your dad?”  Roger auditioned and got the role, citing, “I found it incredibly easier than I thought, because from all those years of teaching it was relatively easy to go right into getting back to acting.  The irony here is that now I’m known as an actor and no-one’s thinking of me as a director anymore!”

What’s refreshing to see is that there is still genuineness in Roger’s approach with his students.  He is always honest and truthful and never minces his words.  Students get current practical guidance in his Studio with Roger emphasizing that they are not there to merely perform a speech, or have a monologue down-pat, but to have a fully rounded experience, knowledge base, and sincere understanding of the life of any scene they’re working on.

Roger has always been adamant about instilling this kind of real-world truthfulness in his students.  “With The Simon Studio”, as it’s been said before, “you get Roger Simon, not a disciple.”  What that means for those students lucky enough to be under his personal training (although he has Associate Directors) is that they have direct access to his vast amount of global experience in the industry.  Roger’s students are privy to his sharing of impromptu, well worded explanatory advice that is both practical and relevant on just about every aspect of the industry.  There are no embellished stories or wistful memories here; Roger delivers good, clear cut advice to those learning or honing their craft.

Training at a reputable company such as The Simon Studio gives both experienced and novice actors the chance to stretch themselves in not only contemporary work, but also the classics such as Shakespeare.  The Simon Studio will once again perform its annual Bard at the Bar this coming June 28th giving students the opportunity to perform time honored pieces in front of an audience that contains industry professionals.  Roger believes; “There should always be a mix and balance between classical and contemporary, which is why the Studio presents Bard at the Bar annually; to emphasize that the classics are something you never give up and always goes hand in hand with contemporary film and TV work, as is mixing theater with on camera work.”

Roger Simon was born in Manhattan in 1942.  The family moved when he was 9 years old to Westchester County (Scarsdale. NY) and remained there for his formative years.  He was lucky enough to have John Hemmerly as his drama teacher who, as Roger recalls fondly, was the most influential drama teacher/director he’s ever had.

Roger expresses that even from his early days at Yale Drama School he felt a great pull to not just limit himself to acting, by taking on directing and teaching as well.  Roger explains that he felt the best teachers he had in college (Middlebury) and Yale were those who were also simultaneously working in the industry.  He believes the experience of working professionally and the sharing of knowledge through teaching go hand in hand and are beneficial to both the student and the teacher.

Roger lived and worked in London between 1968 and 1971 where he directed and acted at such prestigious venues as the Royal Court Theatre, Hampstead Theatre Club, Dublin’s Abbey Theatre, the Edinburgh Festival (Traverse Theatre) and across Europe at the Mickery Theatre and Dutch State theatres in Rotterdam, Amsterdam, and Arnheim, and the Nancy Festival du Monde in France.

Throughout 1978 Roger enjoyed directing and teaching assignments in India, Pakistan, Iran, Nigeria, and South Africa and it’s also the year he formed The Simon Studio.  In 1988 Roger moved to L.A. (along with his wife Sarah and three children) to become the Founding Artistic Director of L.A. Classical Theatre Lab and was also in residence at Paramount Pictures as a freelance producer/director.  Roger moved back to NYC in 1991 where he resumed teaching and directing at both The Simon Studio as well as other projects.

In 2003 his family made Poughkeepsie, New York, their permanent home and it’s also where Roger opened “Simon Studio North” and was concurrently acting and directing for the Half Moon Theatre Co.

Always a creative family who not only had their own individual skills and talents but also enjoyed working on fun projects together like the series of short films on opera and cooking designed for Emerging Pictures Opera in Cinema projects and a series of local historical plays funded by the city of Poughkeepsie and the TV series “Simon Studio Presents” for Time Warner Cable.  Never a person to be doing just one thing at a time, during all of this great work Roger was also commuting back and forth to NYC for work at The Simon Studio in Manhattan as well as theatre/film projects there and elsewhere around the country.

While listening to Roger list all his varied endeavors, it occurs to me that the fact that his life path has taken, and continues to take, so many interesting twists and turns, may indeed be as a direct result from the influence of his own wife and children.

His son, Dan Simon, is an intuitively skilled film director, screenwriter and actor.  His resume already lists an impressive body of work, including the feature film “Lonely Boys” 2016 (in which Roger has a small role) and his latest gem, “Another Year Together” 2019 in which Roger has a featured role.  When I asked Roger if he appears in Dan’s films as a fatherly gesture or favor, he vehemently denies this suggestion, then let’s out a light laugh letting me know he’s about to land a clever quip on me, expressing that “If you wait long enough, you get work from your kids!” which is followed by a sparkly smile that lets me know he’s fiercely proud.

Roger explains that all his children grew up in the industry and were always surrounded by it.  When referring to Dan, Roger says, “He grew up in the world, with the Studio, it was what he always did, he was always doing it.  It was never a surprise that he’s become such a great filmmaker.”  But in reality it is Dan who respects his father enough to actually ask Roger to appear in his films.

And the family talent doesn’t stop there.  Roger’s eldest son, Noah, is a designer/painter who graduated from Carnegie Mellon, and his only daughter Abigail is a professional ballerina, formerly with the American Ballet Theater and The Joffrey, and currently understudying the lead of Asia Broadway Group‘s “An American in Paris” touring China, Taiwan and Paris.

Speaking of dance skills, Roger doesn’t let that opportunity pass him by either.  A performance of “The Nutcracker” for the Chicago Ballet Conservatory saw Roger dancing the role of Drosselmeyer opposite daughter Abigail’s Sugar Plum Fairy and has been asked back for a repeat performance this December.

All this off-spring talent was no doubt a culmination of genes provided by Roger and his late wife Sarah Levine Simon who sadly passed away July 4 2017.  Sarah was an established opera/classical concert singer when she and Roger met in 1971.  Sarah studied at Juilliard and won a Katherine Long Fellowship to study at The Met right after.  She, like Roger, was also taking on multiple projects at the time involving herself in the extra chorus at NY City Opera and The Met.  In her later years Sarah focused her skills on writing, becoming both playwright and author.  Two of her plays, “The Portrait” (Theatre 54) and “The Dressmaker’s Secret” (co-writer Mihai Grunfeld, 59E59 Theaters) were developed and produced Off-Broadway by The Simon Studio between 2014 and 2017.  Sarah’s first novel, “Winged Victory” and her second novel “Locked Out” (recently posthumously released – www.blackopalbooks.com) are also enjoying great success. 

Meanwhile Roger is as busy as ever.  With an eclectic mix of big budget feature films as well as independent features and shorts, he explains that although he likes to keep working doing what he loves, he never takes on roles as favors for x-students or associates, but that he chooses projects very selectively based on the role, script, and Director.

Case in point; the short film, “When Father Went Biking” directed by an extraordinary young Czechoslovakian student out of NYU, Zuko Garagic.  It’s an intimate look at what happens to an older man who lives with his daughter and whose mind is disintegrating. Roger expresses his thorough enjoyment of this project and can’t say enough great things about Garagic’s skills and talents.

Roger is also excited about the upcoming premier of the feature film “Love in Kilnerry” written and directed by Daniel Keith, on Sunday June 23rd.  Roger came across this project when it was intended as a play a few years ago and after some initial readings at The Manhattan Theater Club, funding was eventually sourced and “Love in Kilnerry” was made into a feature length film.  Its IMDb page describes it as being about elderly people in a small town exposed to a chemical plant leak that increases their libido, which makes it sound like a frolicking romp along the veins of the British “Carry on” movies. But more so, it is a tribute to older/senior people who perhaps don’t have the respect from people who think they’re not capable of doing certain things.  Through the circumstances in the film, the characters are encouraged to take some huge chances from which they grow and end up enjoying more than they thought they would.  Roger calls it “uplifting, emotionally moving, and funny.” 

I guess Roger just can’t help himself when it comes to filling his days with extra-curricular activities, such as playing softball.  The Simon Studio even had their own team that played in Central Park until the early 90s.  Somehow, these “outside” interests were clandestine to circle back to his skills as a Director and film maker with his extremely successful short documentary film, “The Boys of Late Summer” (2019) about the Senior’s Softball League in Poughkeepsie.

“Some of these players travel as far as two hours away to be a part of the League; men between the ages of 60 and 88 who are still playing and still taking it very seriously” says Roger.  An initial outsider’s condescending perception might be “old guys getting outside and getting fresh air” – but in fact these men are extremely competitive.  Roger quickly realized this League made it evident that people over 60 hadn’t “packed it in” and were in fact creating a newfound respect for the older generation, which was Roger’s main reason for making this film along with his Co-producers Pedro Padilla and Davis Northern.  This touching, human, and entertaining short documentary has been so well received that it was selected for screening at the 2019 Newport Beach Film Festival earlier this year and is quickly gaining momentum with audiences across the country.

All this current ongoing experience provides invaluable inside-industry information for Roger’s students of The Simon Studio and for those of us lucky enough to know him personally.  In my opinion, it’s a testament to his students to take their career into their own hands by following Roger’s example of actively finding work for themselves, creating their own projects, and applying to audition notices on sites such as Playbill and Actors Access.  It is my belief that the younger generation in particular are conditioned to expect instant gratification and many acting students new to the world of film, TV, and theater, may have such unrealistic expectations about the industry, and would do well to realize that having an agent doesn’t mean standing still and waiting for the phone to ring.  Continuing to source their own projects the way Roger does often leads to meeting amazing directors and writers, and taking on satisfying roles that they might otherwise not have the chance to play, let alone audition for.

Indeed, Roger Simon sets a high standard and is a living tribute to the mantra that work and training go hand in hand all throughout one’s career, no matter what stage that career might be in.  His energy and lust for the industry are both inspiring and rewarding for all those who are lucky enough to work or train with him.

Bard at the Bar at The Players Club, Friday June 28th, 8pm

For $10. ticket reservations Email: :rhsstudio@gmail.com 

or ‘phone: 917-776-9209.

More info:  www.thesimonstudio.com

 

LET’S GO: ’13 FRUITCAKES’ AT LA MAMA ·

2018 Tony Award-winning

LA MAMA

PRESENTS

13 FRUITCAKES

WRITTEN & DIRECTED BY

BYUNGKOO AHN

AS PART OF STONEWALL 50 AT LA MAMA

JUNE 13 – 16, 2019

 

‘MOre’ Zimin from 13 Fruitcakes
Photo by: Ki Seok Cho

LA MAMA – the 2018 Tony Award winning theater – will present the world premiere music drama from South Korea, 13 FRUITCAKES, written and directed by BYUNGKOO AHN, as part of the STONEWALL 50 festival at the Ellen Stewart Theater (66 E. 4 St.) in Manhattan, June 13-16. BYUNGKOO AHN returns to La MaMa having previously directed a Korean adaptation of HAMLET in 2011, described by The New York Times critic as “Intense. The production creates a delicious mood of menace and is beguiling to watch, a reinterpretation with a dark mind all its own.”

13 FRUITCAKES depicts the story of Orlando, a fictional character, who inspires and encourages people to start fighting against social injustice and oppression by telling them stories about great gay ancestors, highlighting 13 noteworthy LGBTQ+ figures and their impact throughout history:  from Eleanor Roosevelt to Hans Christian Andersen to Alan Turing to Leonardo da Vinci. The music drama is performed by a cast of Korean actors – including ‘More’ Zimin, the most prominent drag performer in Korea.

13 FRUITCAKES is comprised of 13 musical vignettes, with beautiful original songs composed by Gihieh Lee, lyrics by Lorca, Wilde, Whitman and other Queer Poets and Electronic Music by Los Angeles Laptop Collective.

“I am very excited to come back to La MaMa . . . with this new production. When I did research on the Stonewall Riots, people say somehow the air that day was different from before, even though it was a routine police raid, and on this occasion they did not submit to the police.  I wanted to create what the ‘different air’ that day might have been. I am very attached to this project more than any I have worked on before,” states creator BYUNGKOO AHN.

BYUNGKOO AHN’S first directorial work ‘Cavalleria Rusticana’ was presented at the National Theatre of Korea as part of the Young Theatre Festival when he was 20.  Since then his opera, theatre and dance productions have been seen in the US, Korea, Italy, and Czech Republic for over 20 years. His recent New York production, Hamyul/Hamlet at La MaMa ETC, New York City, was well received by The New York Times, NYTheatre.com, The Villager, etc.  Also, his own experimental musical vignettes, which integrate German art songs, visual images, movement and a laptop computer orchestra, were presented in Korea, Germany, and Italy. He is a board member and resident artist at La MaMa.  As a full-time professor, he currently teaches Directing, Acting and Voice at Hongik University in Seoul, Korea.

13 FRUITCAKES, is presented as part of La MaMa’s pride programming, STONEWALL 50 AT LA MAMA, a festival of LGBTQ+ artists from NYC, Philadelphia, Paris, Italy, and South Korea being presented at the Tony Award-winning theater (66 E. 4 St.) in Manhattan, from May 23-June 30 as part of WORLD PRIDE. La MaMa Squirts (May 31-June 2), Global Gay (June 6-9), and Contradict This (June 20-30) are among other highlights during the month-long pride celebration.

TICKETS:

$25 General Admission; $20 Student/Senior (plus $1 facility fee); La MaMa also offers 10@$10, these are the first ten tickets for every performance at 10 each, first come first served, advance sales only, with code: 10AT10.

To purchase tickets, please call OvationTix at: 212-352-3101; or to buy online visit:

http://lamama.org/13_fruitcakes/

About La MaMa

La MaMa is dedicated to the artist and all aspects of the theatre. La MaMa’s vision of nurturing new artists and new work remains as strong today as it was when Ellen Stewart first opened the doors in 1961. La MaMa has presented more than 5,000 productions by 150,000 artists of all nations, cultures, races and identities. Cultural pluralism and ethnic diversity are inherent in the work created on our stages. Here, artists find a supportive environment for artistic exploration, and audiences are part of the development of an artist’s work over time.

A recipient of the 2018 Regional Theater Tony Award, and more than 30 Obie Awards and dozens of Drama Desk, Bessie, and Villager Awards, La MaMa has been a creative home for thousands of artists, many of whom have made lasting contributions to the arts, including Blue Man Group, Ping Chong, André De Shields, Adrienne Kennedy, Harvey Fierstein, Diane Lane, Warren Leight, Michael Mayer, Tadeusz Kantor, Bette Midler, Meredith Monk, Peter Brook, David and Amy Sedaris, Julie Taymor, Kazuo Ohno, Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman.

TONYS 2019: “HADESTOWN” THE BIG WINNER (FULL LIST) ·

(CBS News, 6/10.)

“Hadestown,” the brooding musical about the underworld, had a heavenly night at the Tony Awards, winning eight trophies Sunday night including best new musical and getting a rare win for a female director of a musical.

Playwright Jez Butterworth’s “The Ferryman” was crowned best play.

In the four lead actor and actress categories, Bryan Cranston won his second acting Tony, but theater veterans Elaine May, Santino Fontana and Stephanie J. Block each won for the first time.

The crowd at Radio City Music Hall erupted when Ali Stroker made history as the first actor in a wheelchair to win a Tony Award. Stroker, paralyzed from the chest down due to a car crash when she was 2, won for featured actresses in a musical for her work in a dark revival of “Oklahoma!”

The Tony Awards More 

Rachel Chavkin, the only woman to helm a new Broadway musical this season, won the Tony for best director of a musical for “Hadestown.”

She told the crowd she was sorry to be such a rarity on Broadway, saying, “There are so many women who are ready to go. There are so many people of color who are ready to go.” A lack of strides in embracing diversity on Broadway, she said, “is not a pipeline issue” but a lack of imagination.

Broadway’s biggest night was hosted by Ja​mes Corden of “The Late Late Show.”

“Hadestown” had 14 nominations going in — the most of any production this year,

(Read more)

IN THIS ‘DEATH OF A SALESMAN,’ WILLY LOMAN IS BLACK ·

(Matt Wolf’s article appeared in The New York Times, 5/30; via Pam Green.)

LONDON — This city’s season-long love affair with Arthur Miller reaches an intriguing if emotionally muted conclusion with “Death of a Salesman,” the 1949 Pulitzer Prize winner running at the Young Vic through July 13. The same author’s “All My Sons” can be seen just minutes away at the Old Vic through June 8, and barely has a week passed this year without one Miller title or another on view somewhere in London.

The difference this time around is that the Loman family is black, thereby allowing a top-rank set of actors access to roles in which they wouldn’t usually be cast. As you watch the American actor Wendell Pierce (from “The Wire”) bring a wounded dignity to the hapless Willy Loman, you can only applaud the marriage of performer and part. It’s equally exciting to see this year’s mighty Olivier Award-winning best actress in a musical, Sharon D. Clarke, shifting into a quieter gear to play the eternally loving Linda Loman. (Their older son, Biff, is played by the fast-rising Arinzé Kene, who scored two Olivier nominations this year for his play “Misty.”)

Making the Lomans black changes the dynamics — several other cast members are white, as is one of the play’s two directors, Marianne Elliott (the other, Miranda Cromwell, identifies as mixed) — and it may seem curious that the issue of race isn’t directly explored. The obvious reason is that such discussions don’t feature in Miller’s text. But the script makes much of Willy’s desire to be liked, and you can’t help but wonder whether an African-American man in post-World War II Brooklyn wouldn’t worry more about being accepted.

There’s a telling, if fleeting, moment when a white waiter looks judgmentally at Willy, but race here remains the elephant in the room: Laudable in its embrace of talent across the board, the production, you feel, could dig a bit deeper still.

(Read more)

Photo: The New York Times

HOW KELLI O’HARA GETS READY FOR BROADWAY, NIGHT AFTER NIGHT ·

(Taffy Bodesser-Akner’s article appeared in The New York Times, 5/30; photos by Brenda Ann Kenneally; via Pam Green.)

THE TONY-WINNING ACTRESS TAKES US INSIDE HER DRESSING ROOM AND SHARES HER TWO-HOUR PRE-CURTAIN REGIMEN.

Kelli O’Hara kisses her children and husband goodbye, buys a salad and boards a train in coastal Connecticut eight times a week to star as Lilli/Kate in “Kiss Me, Kate,” the Tony-nominated revival at Studio 54 for which O’Hara herself was nominated this year, too, for Best Actress in a musical. It’s her seventh Tony nomination — she has one win, in 2015 for Best Actress in “The King and I” — and it’s her 11th Broadway show. She has been doing this for a very long time.

It’s a different crowd every night. That might seem obvious, but it doesn’t always make sense when it’s the same group of indistinct, shadowed faces. Once you’ve got the lines, the songs, the dance moves, the real work is in figuring out a way to deliver them to the people as if they were the only ones to ever receive them.

O’Hara’s dressing room is small, but big for Broadway. It’s filled with flowers sent over by people congratulating her for her nomination. But this year she is not nervous: She has what she calls the “Zen release” of already having won one. Plus, people love an underdog. The minute you’re not an underdog, yes, you won, but that’s not really the same as everyone loving you.

(Read more)

2019 DRAMA DESK WINNERS ·

(via  Scott Klein/Logan Metzler at Keith Sherman & Associates)                                                 WINNERS ANNOUNCED

Awards were presented Sunday, June 2nd at The Town Hall

www.DramaDeskAwards.com

(Sunday, June 2, 2019) – Winners for the 64th Annual Drama Desk Awards were announced this evening at The Town Hall.

The 2019 Drama Desk Awards full list of winners is available below and will be available at www.DramaDeskAwards.com.

In keeping with Drama Desk’s mission, nominators considered shows that opened on Broadway, Off Broadway and Off-Off Broadway during the 2018-2019 New York theater season in the same competitive categories.

About Drama Desk

The mission of the Drama Desk is to recognize outstanding achievement in New York theater and encourage discussion of issues significant to theater professionals. The organization accomplishes these goals by bestowing annual awards in more than 30 categories of theater arts and crafts, hosting the awards celebration, and presenting educational forums and panel discussions on theater topics.

The Drama Desk was founded in 1949 by New York Times arts reporter Sam Zolotow, Edith Oliver ofThe New Yorker, and New York Post critic Vernon Rice, among others. Six years later, after Rice’s untimely death, the organization initiated an award in his honor for outstanding achievement Off-Broadway. Subsequently expanded and renamed the Drama Desk Awards, they now recognize accomplishments on Broadway, Off-Broadway, and Off-Off-Broadway.

2019 DRAMA DESK WINNERS:

Outstanding Play

Fairview, by Jackie Sibblies Drury, Soho Rep

***The Ferryman, by Jez Butterworth***

Lewiston/Clarkston, by Samuel D. Hunter, Rattlestick Playwrights Theater

Usual Girls, by Ming Peiffer, Roundabout Theatre Company

What the Constitution Means to Me, by Heidi Schreck, New York Theatre Workshop andBroadway

Outstanding Musical

Be More Chill

The Hello Girls, Prospect Theater Company

***The Prom***

Rags Parkland Sings the Songs of the Future, Ars Nova

Tootsie

 

Outstanding Revival of a Play

Fabulation, or the Re-Education of Undine, Signature Theatre

Henry VI: Shakespeare’s Trilogy in Two Parts, National Asian American Theatre Company

Our Lady of 121st Street, Signature Theatre

Summer and Smoke, Classic Stage Company/Transport Group

***The Waverly Gallery***

Uncle Vanya, Hunter Theater Project

 

Outstanding Revival of a Musical

Carmen Jones, Classic Stage Company

***Fiddler on the Roof, National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene and Off-Broadway***

Kiss Me, Kate, Roundabout Theatre Company

Merrily We Roll Along, Fiasco Theater/Roundabout Theatre Companyc

Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!Bard Summerscape/St. Ann’s Warehouse andBroadway

 

Outstanding Actor in a Play

Jeff Biehl, Life Sucks

Edmund Donovan, Lewiston/Clarkston

Raúl Esparza, The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui

Russell Harvard, I Was Most Alive With You

***Jay O. Sanders, Uncle Vanya***

 

Outstanding Actress in a Play

Midori Francis, Usual Girls

Zainab Jah, Boesman and Lena

***Elaine May, The Waverly Gallery***

Laurie Metcalf, Hillary and Clinton

Heidi Schreck, What the Constitution Means to Me

 

Outstanding Actor in a Musical

Brooks Ashmanskas, The Prom

Andrew R. Butler, Rags Parkland Sings the Songs of the Future

Damon Daunno, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!

***Santino Fontana, Tootsie***

Steven Skybell, Fiddler on the Roof

Outstanding Actress in a Musical

***Stephanie J. Block, The Cher Show***

Beth Leavel, The Prom

Rebecca Naomi Jones,Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!

Anika Noni Rose, Carmen Jones

Stacey Sargeant, Rags Parkland Sings the Songs of the Future

(Read more)

https://www.dramadeskawards.com/2019-winners

Photos: The Ferryman; Thh Prom

SEAN O’CASEY: ‘THE PLOUGH AND THE STARS’ AT IRISH REPERTORY THEATRE (REVIEW FROM NEW YORK) ·

By Bob Shuman

The Plough and the Stars, by Sean O’Casey, is an inflammatory play, which insulted the families of those who died in the 1916 Easter Rising and started a riot at Dublin’s Abbey Theatre on February 9, 1926. Because of the upheaval, W. B. Yeats felt that theatregoers  had “disgraced themselves again,” recalling the Synge incitement during the Abbey’s 1907 production of The Playboy of the Western World, which offended public morals, with its theme of patricide and mention of female undergarments (Charlie Corcoran’s set design—costumes are by Linda Fisher and David Tosher; lighting design is by Michael Gottlieb –for The O’Casey Cycle, now playing at Irish Repertory until June 22, also makes use of hanging underclothing, as part of  its depiction of Dublin’s tenement life). What outraged the audience, in the O’Casey play, was a line, spoken by Rosie Redmond, a prostitute (Sarah Street), who states that “Bloodshed is a cleansing and a sanctifying thing, and the nation that regards it as the final horror has lost its manhood.”  Theatregoers might contest the sentiment even today, which is the antithesis of the point being made by one of the play’s leading characters, a young wife named Nora (Clare O’Malley), who has recently burned a private document (in his work, O’Casey freely references previous writers of drama, songs, poetry, and political thinking; in these cases, he is clearly alluding to Ibsen’s A Doll’s House and Hedda Gabler).  “There’s no woman gives a son or a husband to be killed,” Nora believes, “if they say it, they’re lyin’, lyin’ against God, Nature, an’ against themselves.”

Yeats’s reaction (as well as Lady Gegory’s) to O’Casey’s next play, the horrific WWI, antiwar drama The Silver Tassie (1928), did not cite provocation as a reason for its rejection, after which O’Casey emigrated to England; Yeats called the work “wallpaper,” meaning that the plotline was too diffuse.  The structural trend, however, is already apparent in The Plough and the Stars, which argues for two central characters, among a large cast, in architecturally diverse settings (a directorial challenge, along with the inherent mayhem of the text and the simultaneous scene writing).  In John Ford’s 1937 film version (the director, who disowned the picture after RKO reshot scenes it claimed too political), focuses on a young wife (Barbara Stanwyck), whose husband  fights in the Irish Citizen Army (O’Casey is given screenwriting credit, along with Dudley Nichols, who also successfully adapted Liam O’Flaherty’s  The Informer for Ford). Aside from American stars Stanwyk and Preston Foster, original actors from the Abbey’s production of the play are used in the film, although the Protestant fruit seller, Bessie Burgess (Eileen Crowe), is reduced to a cameo. At Irish Rep, however, the role re-emerges with force. Theatregoers may not recognize Maryann Plunkett when she appears (she also plays Juno in Irish Rep’s production of Juno and the Paycock), but she burns with anger from her first words and is, in fact, a disrupter:  Perhaps you’ve even seen her today in a homeless person or drunk—someone you wouldn’t make eye contact with.  She knows the other characters are “Complainin’ about Bessie Burgess singin’ her hymns at night, when she has a few up,” but Plunkett rivets and takes viewers off guard because she can go so deep, so quickly, so unmercifully, brewing an emotional storm.  The experience may be like watching Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale for the first time, and realizing what an important role Paulina is, or perhaps like viewing Kari Sylwan at the start of Bergman’s Face to Face. The rest of the cast can take care of themselves, though, with special mention for Ed Malone as one of the wounded Irish Volunteers, Lieutenant Langon, and includes exciting names audiences may have been learning about for the first time, through the Irish Rep season.  Besides those already mentioned, the evening includes: Una Clancy, Terry Donnelly, Rory Duffy, Meg Hennessy, John Keats, Robert Langdon, Michael Mellamphy, Adam Petherbridge, James Russell, and Harry Smith.

 

Along with the power and technical accomplishment of Plunkett’s performance, American audiences and students of drama, who may not automatically think to attend Irish theatre, might contemplate how Ibsen influenced O’Casey (besides the two aforementioned works, The Wild Duck should also be included), as well as Strindberg and his Mummy from The Ghost Sonata , Shakespeare’s Ophelia and Lady Macbeth, and, Chekhov’s The Three Sisters (as an example of the importance of Russian Realism to the work), among other inspirations. Conversely, they might be intrigued also by how American theatre has been influenced by The Plough and the Stars. The director of this production, Charlotte Moore, would know better, but there seems to be something of the Tennessee Williams drama A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur here; a work she knows well, having been in the original 1979 production.  Although there has been mention of O’Casey’s impact on Williams previously, what seems concretely comparable are the settings, both in crowded apartment buildings among the lower classes, in two industrial cities:  Dublin and St. Louis (William’s play is set in the thirties, during the same time period as The Glass Menagerie). Both highlight the stories of two women, and interestingly, each features an invalid, a neighbor, who comes to be cared for.  Additionally, in the dramas, a young woman tries to hold on to a lover who is drifting away, and another is especially religious.  The Plough and the Stars, as well, reflects a swirl of contemporary American issues, such as Socialism, Nationalism, Pacifism and resistance—it should not be forgotten that the U.S. is currently involved in three wars, with fear that a fourth may break out with Iran, yet who is writing about them in a theatrical climate that values constant entertainment over art; in a theatrical climate that values identity politics over people? New York’s Irish Rep sees in O’Casey what Yeats did not—a talent who should never have been given the opportunity to get away.  Lady Gregory came to believe that.

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Copyright © by Bob Shuman.  All rights reserved.

Production photo: Irish Rep

QUENTIN TARANTINO: HOW SPAGHETTI WESTERNS SHAPED MODERN CINEMA ·

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(Tarantino’s article appeared in the Spectator, 3/30.)

The movie that made me consider filmmaking, the movie that showed me how a director does what he does, how a director can control a movie through his camera, is Once Upon a Time in the West. It was almost like a film school in a movie. It really illustrated how to make an impact as a filmmaker. How to give your work a signature. I found myself completely fascinated, thinking: ‘That’s how you do it.’ It ended up creating an aesthetic in my mind.

There have only been a few filmmakers who have gone into an old genre and created a new universe out of it. I really like the idea of creating something new out of an old genre. To some degree, Jean-Pierre Melville did it with the French gangster films. But those Italian guys — Sergio Leone, Sergio Corbucci, Duccio Tessari and Franco Giraldi — did it best. They mostly started off as critics and worked their way up to screenwriters. And then they became the second unit guys, the guys that deliver the action. You have to go to the French New Wave to find a group of men who loved cinema as much as they did — except Leone and the others had a thriving film industry they could work their way into.

Leone’s movies weren’t just influenced by style. There was also a realism to them: those shitty Mexican towns, the little shacks — a bit bigger to accommodate the camera — all the plates they put the beans on, the big wooden spoons. The films were so realistic, which had always seemed to be missing in the westerns of the 1930s, 40s and 50s, in the brutality and the different shades of grey and black. Leone found an even darker black and off-white. There is realism in his presentation of the Civil War in The Good, the Bad and the Uglythat was missing from all the Civil War movies that happened before him. Wild and grandiose as it was, there was never a sentimental streak. Every once in a while he would do a sentimental thing like when the Man with No Name would hand a smoke to a dying soldier in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, but that’s just about as close to sentimentality as he got.

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