Category Archives: Events

IN ‘THE CHINESE LADY,’ PREJUDICE AND EXPLOITATION, SEEN FROM A STAGE (BOSTON) ·

(Don Aucoin’s article appeared in the Boston Glober, 11/14; Photo:Jae Woo (left) and Sophorl Ngin in “The Chinese Lady” at Central Square Theater.NILE SCOTT STUDIOS.)

CAMBRIDGE — When it came to the craft of writing, E.B. White’s famous dictum was: “Don’t write about Man. Write about a man.”

That’s the path Lloyd Suh took with “The Chinese Lady,” and it has yielded a small gem of a play about a person who is seen and unseen at the same time.

After premiering in 2018 at Pittsfield’s Barrington Stage Company and then running at New York’s Public Theater earlier this year, “The Chinese Lady” is now at Central Square Theater under the sensitive and astute direction of Sarah Shin.

Suh’s play was inspired by a real-life figure, Afong Moy, who was brought from China to New York in 1834 at age 14 and put on display in a museum. At Central Square, Sophorl Ngin delivers an expertly shaded portrayal of Afong that traces her emotional arc while also signaling the slow-but-steady dawning of her consciousness. As Atung, her translator, Jae Woo delivers a note-perfect performance.

Over 90 absorbing minutes, with only occasional lapses into overly message-y territory, “The Chinese Lady” essentially distills the history of anti-Asian prejudice and exploitation in the United States — as well as the (very) dark side of the immigrant experience — within Afong’s story.

When we first meet her, Afong is heartbreakingly innocent and chipper. Seated on an upholstered chair at center stage and smiling brightly, she explains — as if there were nothing odd about the arrangement — how her family “sold me for two years of service” to two traders from an American import company. Now she is on display “for your education and entertainment.”

At each performance, Afong enacts various rituals: eating rice with chopsticks, brewing tea, walking around a room on her bound feet. She tells us that the terms of the deal that brought her to the United States were that she would return to her homeland and her family in two years. That does not happen. In “The Chinese Lady,” her servitude lasts for decades.

Those of us in the Central Square Theater essentially function as stand-ins for 19th-century spectators, implicating us in all we see and hear in “The Chinese Lady” — a notion shrewdly underscored by director Shin when Afong tears down upstage curtains to reveal a large, circular mirror. From then on, we watch ourselves watching.

Crucially, Shin avoids the kind of ham-fisted staging decisions that seriously marred the ending of the otherwise excellent Public Theater production. What Shin has devised for the ending at Central Square is less showy and comports better with the nature of the play.

At first, Afong is touchingly eager to make a connection with Americans (she speaks glowingly of “your first emperor, George Washington.”) Afong sees her role as that of cultural ambassador, a human bridge of understanding between China and the United States. Atung, the translator, clearly knows that the museum’s goal is nothing so noble as that.

Outside that room, history inexorably unfolds: the construction of the transcontinental railroad, starting in 1863 and using primarily Chinese laborers; the 1882 passage by Congress of the Chinese Exclusion Act, prohibiting Chinese migration to the US. Inside that room, Afong and Atung are growing older. “With each passing hour, I am less and less Chinese,” Afong says.

Their relationship evolves over time, defined by amusing byplay at the start. With the hauteur of a born star, Afong tells the audience several times that Atung is “irrelevant” to the show; his imperturbable responses, which she recognizes as passive-aggression, get on her nerves.

As years pass and they play their roles day after day, including a 40-week tour of the Eastern states, they achieve a certain solidarity, perhaps bolstered by a realization that they are both, in different ways, trapped. But are their fates as inextricably tied together as Afong believes they are?

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‘I THREW MY ARMS AROUND BECKETT!’ – ELECTRIFYING FIRST NIGHTS, BY CIARÁN HINDS, EILEEN ATKINS AND MORE ·

(Dominic Dromgoole’s article appeared in the Guardian 10/26; via Pam Green; Photo: A hallucinatory experience’ … Frances Barber with Amanda Abbington and Reece Shearsmith in The Unfriend. Photograph: Manuel Harlan.)

The author of a new book about the greatest openings in theatre history asks stars of stage to recall their most thrilling first nights – and the occasional disasters that befell them

History has no shortage of explosive first nights and openings. Moments in public art when the concerns of an epoch meet the truths of artists and catalyse a volcanic response. These are the nights when pins can be heard dropping, when time is stretched into unforeseen patterns, when success is grasped or failure faced. For artists they are electrifying. Here are some stories from the frontline.

‘Beckett stood there like a stone but I carried on’

Eileen Atkins, attending Beckett’s Play, 1964
There were three figures on the vast Old Vic stage, all encased in jars. They did the same script twice through. Mad about Beckett anyway, I was overwhelmed by the cleverness and what it did to my brain. It was extraordinary the difference in effect when done at first one pace, then an entirely different one. The whole meaning shifted. Later I was in a car when I saw the director George Devine walking along with a man. I leapt out and shouted: “George, George, I just saw your amazing play.” “Well, say hello to the author,” he said and there was Samuel Beckett. I threw my arms around him and he stood like a stone. I wasn’t going to let him make me feel abashed, so I carried on.

‘The silences that night were spellbinding’

Anne Reid, The York Realist, Royal Court, 2003
I had no idea this was such a good play. The first time I read it, I thought: “Oh no, not another northern mother. Boring.” I was 64 and I’d never worked in London before. Peter Gill directed it so beautifully. Everything was specific in its choreography: this is the height to hold a teapot, this is how to take off and hang a coat. Whatever the action, he said if you take your time and present it, the audience will find it interesting. And he was so definite about pace: play the first scene legato, the second pizzicato – he really knew the music of a scene. The silences in the theatre that night … spellbinding! Later, we went to the Royal Court bar and as Peter walked down the stairs everyone burst into applause.

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‘CAT’ BACK FOR UNPRECEDENTED OFF BROADWAY RE-ENGAGEMENT–FROM RUTH STAGE ·

“(Tennessee) Williams would probably love Matt de Rogatis’ Brick.” – Juan Ramirez, The New York Times

“Brilliant…intense…funny!” – Dave Carlin, CBS

“An innovative Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.” – Harry Haun, The Observer

Ruth Stage Sets Dates For Unprecedented Off Broadway Re-Engagement

 

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof By Tennessee Williams Directed by Joe Rosario

 

Previews Begin February 24th Opening Night March 5th Must Close March 31st
 

Theatre at St. Clement’s

423 W 46th Street – NYC

 

Limited 42 Performance Re-Engagement www.ruthstage.org

 

On the heels of a 35 show run this past summer, Ruth Stage has announced that their provocative and controversial modern staging of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof will return to New York City in early 2023.

Directed by Joe Rosario, the Off Broadway premiere of the Tennessee Williams masterpiece, concluded its run on August the 14th playing to sold out audiences and standing ovations.

“Very happy” with the Off Broadway premiere production, the Tennessee Williams estate has yet again given their blessing to the maverick theater group, Ruth Stage, and an unprecedented re-engagement license has been issued. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof will play at the Theatre at St. Clement’s (423 W 46th St.) for an additional 42 performances with previews beginning on Friday February 24th 2023. Opening night is scheduled for Sunday March 5th, 2023. The production will close on Friday night March 31st, 2023.

Tennessee Williams’ sultry, southern storm of a play about greed, deceit, self-delusion, sexual desire and repression, homophobia, sexism, and the looming specter of death won the Pulitzer Prize in 1955. Ruth Stage’s modern and haunting interpretation is set in an estate in the Mississippi Delta of Big Daddy Pollitt, a wealthy cotton tycoon. The play examines the relationships among members of Big Daddy’s highly dysfunctional family, primarily between his son Brick and Maggie the “Cat”, Brick’s wife.

Matt de Rogatis will reprise his critically acclaimed role as “Brick” in the new production.

Further casting and design team announcements will be made in the coming weeks. Tickets, priced between $39 and $125, are on sale now and can be purchased at either www.ruthstage.org/cat or www.telecharge.com.

Matt de Rogatis (Brick) Some previous New York City credits for Matt de Rogatis (Brick) include “Frederick Clegg” in the United States premiere of The Collector at 59E59, “Richard III” in Austin Pendleton’s Wars of the Roses (124 Bank Street Theater), “Tom” in The Glass Menagerie (Wild Project) and “Roy” in Lone Star (Triad). He was last seen on stage as “Brick” in Ruth Stage’s summer 2022 Off Broadway premiere of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (Theatre at St.

Clement’s). Find Matt on social media @themightydero and www.mattderogatis.com

Joe Rosario (Director) is a writer, producer, actor and director from the New York City area. As an actor he has appeared on The Sopranos, Ed, Law and Order, Sex and the City, Law and Order SVU, Oz, 100 Centre St, Hope and Faith, and the original pilot Thunderbox. Joe has also appeared numerous times on The Chappelle Show and The View in various comedic skits and was a re-occurring character on the Late Show with David Letterman. He has also appeared in over 50 commercials. Rosario is also an award winning filmmaker and producer. His films and scripts have been official selections at over 50 festivals including Cannes, Barcelona and the New York International Film Festival. His feature length drama, Snapshot, starring Zach McGowan of Shameless, was one of his winning submissions. A resident of New Jersey, Joe is also an accomplished acting teacher and he coaches many actors seen on TV and film. Rosario directed the summer 2022 Off Broadway premiere of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof at the Theatre at St. Clement’s in New York City.

Tennessee Williams (1911-1983) explored passion with daring honesty and forged a poetic theatre of raw psychological insight that shattered conventional proprieties and transformed the American stage. The autobiographical The Glass Menagerie brought what Mr. Williams called “the catastrophe of success,” a success capped by A Streetcar Named Desire, one of the most influential works of modern American literature. An extraordinary series of masterpieces followed, including Vieux Carre, Sweet Bird of Youth, The Rose Tattoo, Orpheus Descending and the classic Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

(Production logo and photo: Ruth Stage)

 

EDDIE IZZARD RETURNS TO NEW YORK WITH CHARLES DICKENS’ ‘GREAT EXPECTATIONS’ (12/9-1/22) ·

(via Kenya A. Williams, BoneauBryanBrown)

EDDIE IZZARD RETURNS TO NEW YORK WITH

CHARLES DICKENS’ GREAT EXPECTATIONS

Performances Begin December 9 

Opening Night December 15

Limited Engagement Ends on January 22 

 

Six Weeks Only at The Greenwich House Theater 

 

New York – Eddie Izzard will return to the New York stage this December for six weeks only playing 21 characters in Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, a classic tale of convicts, mystery, friendship, rivalry, unrequited love, revenge, and redemption for six weeks only at The Greenwich House Theater (27 Barrow Street).

 

Performances begin on December 9 with a December 15 opening. The strictly limited engagement ends on January 22, 2023. Tickets are now on sale at www.eddieizzardgreatexpectations.com.

 

Dickens’ novel was adapted for the stage by Mark Izzard and is directed by Selina Cadell. The design team is Tom Piper (set), Tyler Elich/Lightswitch Inc. (lighting), Tom Piper and Libby da Costa (costume stylists), and Didi Hopkins (Movement Director).  It is produced by WestBeth Entertainment and Mick Perrin Worldwide.

 

Actor, comedian, and multi-marathon runner Eddie Izzard’s boundary-pushing career spans all of these with record-breaking comedy tours and critically acclaimed film, TV, and theatre performances.  But few know that acting was her first love. This show offers the chance to see Eddie in a solo performance of the master storyteller’s beloved epic, Great Expectations.

 

Eddie, who is dyslexic, had never read a great work of literature, but knowing that she was exactly 150 years younger than Dickens (7 Feb 1812 to 7 Feb 1962) decided to start by reading Great Expectations. She was then inspired to develop it as a solo performance for the stage.

 

Eddie said, “Charles Dickens loved performing his own works in America, and so I thought it would be a wonderful idea to launch Great Expectations here. I always feel at home in New York, and I believe if Charles Dickens were alive today, he would feel at home too.”

 

Director Selina Cadell said, “I find the combination of Eddie Izzard’s idiosyncratic wit and Charles Dickens’ ingenious storytelling irresistible and am looking forward to sharing it with New York audiences.”

 

Great Expectations is the 13th novel by Charles Dickens. Published in 1861, it depicts the education of an orphan nicknamed Pip. The novel was first published as a serial in Dickens’s weekly periodical, All the Year Round. Set in Kent and London in the 1820s to 1830s, it contains some of Dickens’s most celebrated scenes, starting in a graveyard, where the young Pip is accosted by the escaped convict Abel Magwitch. Great Expectations is full of extreme imagery – poverty, prison ships and chains, and fights to the death – and has a colorful cast of characters who have entered popular culture. These include the eccentric Miss Havisham, the beautiful but cold Estella, and Joe, the unsophisticated and kind blacksmith. Dickens’ themes include wealth and poverty, love and rejection, and the eventual triumph of good over evil. Great Expectations has been translated into many languages and adapted numerous times into various media. Upon its release, the novel received near-universal acclaim. During the serial publication, Dickens was pleased with the public response to Great Expectations and its sales; when the plot first formed in his mind, he called it “a very fine, new and grotesque idea”.

 

Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations running time is approximately two hours including an intermission. 

 

BIOGRAPHIES

 

Eddie Izzard’s Broadway credits are A Day in the Death of Joe Egg (Tony Award nomination) and Race. Her London stage credits include The CryptogramEdward II900 Oneonta, and Joe Egg. She is currently developing a one-woman performance of Hamlet. Eddie’s film credits include Stephen Frears’ Victoria & Abdul opposite Dame Judi Dench, ValkyrieOcean’s Twelve, Ocean’s Thirteen, Julie Taymor’s Across the Universe, Mystery Men, Shadow of the VampireThe Cat’s Meow and Six Minutes to Midnight. TV audiences also saw her as Dr. Abel Gideon in Bryan Fuller’s series, “Hannibal.” Izzard starred in and served as an executive producer on the critically acclaimed FX Networks series, “The Riches.” Her other notable films for television include “Castles in the Sky,” “Treasure Island,” and the Emmy winning “Lost Christmas.” Izzard made her West End stage debut in 1993 in the solo show Live at the Ambassadors, for which she received an Olivier Award nomination for Outstanding Achievement. That was followed by a succession of critically acclaimed shows: Unrepeatable, Definite Article, Glorious, Dress to Kill, Circle, Sexie, Stripped, Force Majeure, and Wunderbar. Eddie is the recipient of two Emmy Awards (for Dressed to Kill) and an Emmy Award nomination for the documentary, Believe: The Eddie Izzard Story. Her autobiography Believe Me entered the top ten in the New York Times and Sunday Times bestseller lists. She performs her comedy shows in four languages and since 2009 has run 131 marathons to raise money for Sport Relief and her ‘Make Humanity Great Again’ fund.

 

SELINA CADELL (Director) is a director, actress and coach. Theatre directing includes Love for Love (RSC), The Life I Lead (West End), The Double Dealer (Orange Tree London), The Rivals (Arcola London), The Way of the World (Wilton’s London), The Rake’s Progress (Wilton’s London). Films include The Turn of the Screw (Best Opera Film 2021 Critics Circle Award). Acting/Theatre includes Top Girls (NYC) /Obie Award, Stanley (NYC), Madness of King George (NYC), Twelfth Night, Cherry Orchard (NYC), A Monster Calls (London). TV includes “Midsomer Murders,” “Queens of Mystery,” “Poirot,” “Doc Martin” (Mrs. Tishell). Selina runs an opera company with Eliza Thompson, Operaglass Works.

 

MARK IZZARD (Adapter). Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations is not Mark and Eddie’s first collaboration. In 1972 at Bede’s School in Eastbourne, UK Mark penned a play which might possibly have been called Hey! Watch That Fork! in which the all-boys cast donned jackets and ties over their pajamas and told a haunting story of death and cuisine. Serving as promoter and box office manager, Eddie (the younger sibling) sold tickets. Fast forward to recent years and the pair continues to work together including Mark translating Eddie’s shows into French, German and Spanish, as Mark is pretty fluent in those languages, being a qualified translator, and he speak it better than the other one.

 

DIDI HOPKINS (Movement Director) is one of the foremost practitioners of Commedia dell’Arte and works physically and visually in theatre. She worked with writer Richard Bean’s Broadway success, One Man, Two Guvnors, and has worked with director Selina Cadell at the Royal Shakespeare Company as movement director on Restoration Comedy. She was co-founder of Beryl and the Perils who were the ‘hottest thing part from the weather’ (Village Voice), performed at WOW festival, Central Park, TNC, the Mudd Club. The National Theatre made five films about her work in Commedia.

 

TYLER ELICH, LIGHTSWITCH (Lighting Designer). Tyler has always been drawn in by the energy an audience creates when sharing a live experience together. Since working in the theatre in high school he knew he wanted to be a part of that energy and turned that into a career when graduating from Ithaca College with a BFA in Lighting Design. That passion for creating a powerful shared experience has allowed Tyler to work in many different areas including rock concert touring, television broadcasts, corporate product launches, million square foot conventions, and special events. Tyler is a lifelong learner and treats every new project with enthusiasm and extreme attention to detail.

 

TOM PIPER (Scenic Designer/Costume Stylist) was Associate Designer at the RSC for 10 years and has designed over 30 productions for the company. He is Associate Designer at Kiln theatre London. Theatre work includes Medea (EIF/NTS); Girl on an Altar, White Teeth (Kiln); Faith (RSC/Coventry City of Culture); Nora: A Doll’s House (Young Vic); The Histories (RSC Olivier Award for Best Costume Design); As You Like It (RSC Armoury’s NY); Cyrano de Bergerac (NTS); Carmen La Cubana (Le Chatelet, Paris); Red Velvet Tricycle Theatre/St. Ann’s Warehouse NY); Orfeo (Royal Opera House); Tamburlaine The Great (TFNA, NY); The Great Wave (RNT). Turn of the Screw (Wiltons/OperaGlassworks film); Richard III, Tempest, As You Like It; The Bridge Project at BAM. Design credits: Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red at the Tower of London and received an MBE for services to Theatre and First World War commemorations. Exhibition credits: Alice Curiouser and CuriouserWinnie-the-PoohCurtain Up (V&A, Lincoln Center NY); Shakespeare Staging the World (British Museum).

 

LIBBY da COSTA (Costume Stylist) is a London based costume designer who trained at the prestigious London College of Fashion and Wimbledon College of Art. Over the course of her career, Libby has had the pleasure of working for a diverse range of clients, creating unique and powerful designs for television, film, commercials and now theatre! Libby recently designed the feature film Doctor Jekyll, the story of Jacqueline Hyde where Eddie played the lead role, Nina Jekyll. Whatever the brief or project, Libby combines her passion, insight and years of industry experience to realize any vision with imagination and flair. Libby has been seduced by the fast-paced, creative lifestyle involved in this line of work and is never afraid of a challenge. She is a storyteller and fantasist and through her costumes the characters are born. From contemporary through to period, Libby has worked with costumes that date back to as early as 1744.

 

WESTBETH ENTERTAINMENT (Arnold Engelman, Founder/President) has consistently delivered critically acclaimed, financially successful, groundbreaking productions for over 40 years. Beginning as The Westbeth Theatre Center and morphing into WestBeth Entertainment, developing and introducing artists and talent to North American audiences is a big part of WestBeth’s history. From Billy Connolly to Eddie Izzard, The Jim Henson Company to John Leguizamo and Trevor Noah to Hannah Gadsby, WBE has been the creative catalyst, partner and producer of some of the most innovative performances and productions on the continent in venues throughout North America including Madison Square Garden, The Hollywood Bowl, Toronto’s Massey Hall, Chicago’s Chicago Theatre and New York’s Radio City Musical Hall. WestBeth’s most recent productions include Professor Brian Cox’s Horizon‘ tour of North America, Eddie Izzard’s Wunderbar US and Canadian tours, Hannah Gadsby’s Douglas’ Off-Broadway run and Brian Henson’s Puppet Up! Uncensored for multiple runs in Los Angeles. Other productions include Eddie Izzard’s first US book tour for his memoir Believe Me, a New York Times Bestseller, North American debut of Australia’s comedy group Aunty Donna, Hannah Gadsby’s North American debut of Nanette, Dylan Moran’s Off The Hook North American Tour, Noel Fielding (of The Mighty Boosh and “The Great British Bake Off,”) North American debut tour An Evening with Noel Fielding, Eddie Izzard’s Force Majeure American tour performed in all 50 states; Billy Connolly’s High Horse tour, the Off-Broadway debut run of comedian Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime; Eric Idle’s What About Dick? Filmed for Netflix; John Leguizamo’s Ghetto Klown on Broadway, the West End, in Colombia, South America; and the national tour; off-Broadway, Australian tour, Edinburgh Fringe Festival and Las Vegas runs of Brian Henson’s Puppet Up! Uncensored.

 

MICK PERRIN WORLDWIDE (Producer). Mick Perrin is a UK based producer/promoter/agent with a company he began over 20 years ago. Mick spent his youth playing in various punk bands around the UK and was the original STOMP production/tour manager. A long career in tour management turned to promotion, with the first ever UK arena tour with Eddie Izzard’s Sexie Tour. Mick Perrin Worldwide currently tours over 50 artistes across 45 nations and is a major producer of comedy talent at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, first introducing the likes of Bo Burnham, Trevor Noah, Simon Amstell, and Brett Goldstein. Awards include an Emmy (Eddie Izzard’s “Dress to Kill,)” Olivier Award for La Clique, Olivier Award for La Soiree, and a Chortle Award for Off-Stage Contribution. www.mickperrin.com

 

Greenwich House was founded in 1902 with a mission to help New Yorkers lead more fulfilling lives through social and health services and cultural and education programs. Annually, nearly 15,000 people are served at their Senior Centers, Music School, Pottery, After-School and Summer Camp, Nursery School and clinics addressing behavioral health for seniors, adults overcoming addiction and for victims of child abuse. http://www.greenwichhouse.org.

 

www.eddieizzardgreatexpectations.com

‘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)

 

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.”

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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

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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)