Category Archives: Interviews

A FIRST LOOK AT STEVEN SPIELBERG’S WEST SIDE STORY ·

(Anthony Breznican’s article appeared in Vanity Fair, 3/16; photo: Vanity Fair; via the Drudge Report.)

The director talks about reimagining the musical that riveted him as a child.H 16, 2020

Steven Spielberg has been making West Side Story in his head for a very long time. As a boy in Phoenix in the late 1950s, he had only the soundtrack, and he tried to picture the action and dancing that might accompany it. “My mom was a classical pianist,” says the filmmaker. “Our entire home was festooned with classical musical albums, and I grew up surrounded by classical music. West Side Story was actually the first piece of popular music our family ever allowed into the home. I absconded with it—this was the cast album from the 1957 Broadway musical—and just fell completely in love with it as a kid. West Side Story has been that one haunting temptation that I have finally given in to.”

The film, out December 18, is both a romance and a crime story. It’s about dreams crashing into reality, young people singing about the promise of their lives ahead—then cutting each other down in bursts of violence. It’s about hope and desperation, pride and actual prejudice, and a star-crossed couple who find love amid it all on the streets of New York.

West Side Story became a global sensation when it hit Broadway in 1957, with a book by Arthur Laurents, music by Leonard Bernstein, and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim that made generations swoon, snap, and gasp. The show was both dazzling and gritty, layering a Romeo and Juliet romance between Tony and Maria over a contemporary story of street gangs, racism, and violence in the shadows of rising skyscrapers. When director Robert Wise and choreographer Jerome Robbins adapted it into a film in 1961, West Side Story broke the box office record for musicals and dominated the Oscars, winning 10 awards, including best picture. Six decades later, the stage show has toured the world and been revived repeatedly. (A new production, directed by Ivo van Hove, opened on Broadway in February.) Of course, it’s also so commonly performed at high schools and community theaters that if you haven’t seen it, it’s probably because you were in it.

Threaded throughout the story is the question of who has the right to call a place home and why people who are struggling look for reasons to turn on each other. “This story is not only a product of its time, but that time has returned, and it’s returned with a kind of social fury,” Spielberg says. “I really wanted to tell that Puerto Rican, Nuyorican experience of basically the migration to this country and the struggle to make a living, and to have children, and to battle against the obstacles of xenophobia and racial prejudice.”

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DRUID, CHEKHOV AND THE POLITICS OF POWER ·

(Gemma Tipton’s article appeared in the Irish Times, 2/15.)

Garry Hynes directs The Cherry Orchard, a play she says that’s still of the moment

Power comes in many forms. There is physical power, inherited power, seized power. There is the extraordinary and frequently unexpected power of strong feelings, and the insidious power of unhealthy ways of being that drag us into decline. Add to that the power of tradition, and its counterbalance, the power of violent change, and you have quite a cocktail.

Speaking with Garry Hynes and Derbhle Crotty, in a chilly room painted in various shades of brown and purple, I’m also almost hyper-aware of the power embodied by these two very different women. At first, Crotty draws your attention. She has taken a break from rehearsals for Druid’s forthcoming production of Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard, and I have just been watching her pace the stage, not yet in costume, but clad instead in baggy cream pants and a cosy, sloppy green jumper. She wears them like a queen.

I get a look from Hynes that could freeze boiling water, or wither a strong plant in an instant

Tall, or more exactly, statuesque, she’s one of those rare people who makes, and maintains unabashed eye contact; and she smiles and laughs frequently as we talk. I find myself wanting to see things as she does, to believe what she projects, which is, of course, one of the enchantments of a really good actor. Beside her, Hynes is smaller, quieter, more measured, and yet when she speaks, which she does quietly, you feel the world around you pausing to pay attention.

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IVO VAN HOVE ON ROUGHING UP WEST SIDE STORY:  “THE VIOLENCE SHOULD BE TANGIBLE” ·

(Alexis Soloski’s article appeared in the Guardian, 2/27; via the Drudge Report.)

Ivo van Hove likes it in America. Broadway rarely warms to avant-garde Belgian directors, but it has embraced this one, first for his blood-drenched A View from the Bridge, then for his unorthodox Crucible, which starred a large dog, and then for his adaptation of Network, complete with a working onstage restaurant that audiences could eat at. Now he and Belgian choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker are refashioning West Side Story, that quintessentially American dance musical – a rare story of juvenile delinquency and fatal love that you can hum along to. It will be, says Van Hove, “a West Side Story for the 21st century”.

The show is not one that either had seen on stage, though each had watched the 1961 movie version in the 70s or 80s. “I liked it,” De Keersmaeker says, seated in the mezzanine of the Broadway theatre before a preview performance of their new production, which opens later this week. “The dancing. The clarity and efficiency. The long lines.” She gets up from her chair to demonstrate.

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Above: Isaac Powell and Shereen Pimentel as Tony and Maria. Photograph: Julieta Cervantes

TOM STOPPARD INTERVIEW: ‘I ASPIRE TO WRITE FOR POSTERITY’ ·

(Douglas Murray’s article appreared in The Spectator, 1/27.)

Tom Stoppard talks about inspiration, growing older and his new play, Leopoldstadt

Sir Tom Stoppard is Britain’s — perhaps the world’s — leading playwright. He was born Tomas Straussler in 1937 in Zlin, Czechoslovakia, which his family left as the German army moved in. The Strausslers were Jewish. In adulthood he learned that all four of his grandparents had been killed by the Nazis. His father was killed by the Japanese on a boat out of Singapore as he tried to rejoin his wife and two sons in Australia. In India his mother married again, to an English army officer who gave his stepchildren his last name.

Stoppard has lifted the lid on his early life only once before, in a 1999 piece for Talk magazine. He said there that in the 1990s, following his mother’s death, his stepfather asked him to stop using his name after feeling some imagined ingratitude in his famous stepson. ‘Don’t you realize I made you British?’ seemed to be his resentful message.

Today, at the age of 82, Stoppard lives in an old rectory in the south of England with his third wife, Sabrina Guinness, whom he married in 2014. After lunch together in the kitchen and a walk around the rectory gardens, the famously private author agrees to talk about his life and work, including his new play, Leopoldstadt, which opened in London at the end of January.

We talk in the drawing room with a log fire roaring beside us. In his still unmistakable Mitteleuropean drawl he explains that the right subject for a play ‘is not that easy to find’. Perhaps it is only now, towards the end, that Stoppard feels ready to go back to the world which produced him?

‘This one actually was hiding in plain sight. I’d been circling it for quite a long time without quite admitting that I was writing a play about it. It’s a Jewish family — 1900 to 1955 — and the main reason that they’re Viennese is that the latter part of the play impinges on my own experience, this mental experience, and I didn’t want it to be about me because it wasn’t supposed to be about me. But it was about… yes, it was about part of myself.’

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Photo: The Spectator

200 YEARS OF EXPERIENCE, AND STILL LEARNING ONSTAGE ·

(Laura Collins-Hughes’s article appeared in The New York Times, 12/18; via Pam Green.)

Lois Smith, Estelle Parsons and Vinie Burrows on age, agility, perseverance and steering clear of “self-pitying old” roles.

“I am rarely cast as an ingénue anymore,” Lois Smith was saying on Monday afternoon. It was a joke, obviously, and her fellow actresses — Estelle Parsons, 92, and Vinie Burrows, who recently turned 95 but rounds that up to 96 — burst into laughter.

At 89, Smith was the baby of this bunch. Between them, they have more than 200 years of performance experience, including the film “Lady Bird” and the title role in “Marjorie Prime” (Smith), the movie “Bonnie and Clyde” and the sitcom “Roseanne” (Parsons), the American premiere of Jean Genet’s “The Blacks” and experimental work with the director Rachel Chavkin (Burrows).

They’re still busy adding to their résumés: Parsons currently at the Public Theater in Tony Kushner’s “A Bright Room Called Day,” as a character whose name translates to “The Old One”; Smith on Broadway, with a talky role in Matthew Lopez’s “The Inheritance”; Burrows back Off Broadway next month in “Chekhov/Tolstoy: Love Stories,” at the Mint Theater Company.

In the room with them, you’d never guess their ages from their appearance, only from the discussion’s vintage details — as when Burrows and Smith tried to figure out what they might have worked on together, and the closest they got was a play each of them did on Broadway with Helen Hayes. (Burrows was in the original 1950 production of “The Wisteria Trees,” Smith in the 1955 revival.)

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Photo: Celeste Sloman for The New York Times

JONATHAN MILLER, BOLD DIRECTOR OF THEATER AND OPERA, IS DEAD AT 85 ·

(Benedict Nightingale’s article appeared in The New York Times, 11/27; via Pam Green.  Listen to a BBC interview with Jonathan Miller.)

Known for his radical restagings of classic works, Mr. Miller was also a doctor who periodically left the stage to practice medicine.

LONDON — Jonathan Miller, the British theater and opera director known for his radical restagings of classic works, died on Wednesday at his home in London. He was 85.

His death was confirmed by his son William Miller, who said his father had had Alzheimer’s disease.

Although he was best known as a director, Mr. Miller was a man of many talents and regularly called a Renaissance man, although he disliked the term, which he said was almost invariably used “by people unacquainted with the Renaissance.”

He first achieved fame as an actor in the anti-establishment revue “Beyond the Fringe,” a hit in both London and New York. He went on to win acclaim on both sides of the Atlantic for his productions of Verdi’s “Rigoletto,” Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Mikado” and other works. He also produced and hosted television shows.

Most unusually, he was a medical doctor, with a special interest in neurology; he occasionally left the theater to practice medicine. But his absences — as, for instance, a research fellow in neuropsychology at the University of Sussex in 1983 — never lasted long.

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Photo: The New York Times

 

POWER PLAYS: THEATRE AND EAST GERMANY, 1989 (BBC RADIO 3) ·

POWER PLAYS

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As East Germany crumbled in 1989, actors were centre stage. Andrew Dickson discovers how had theatre had survived under communist rule, with its censors and secret police spies. Focusing in particular on the playwright Heiner Mueller he explores the brilliant creativity and unique relationship with audiences that made theatre so important. But there were compromises and setbacks too. And after the end of communism actors and writers struggled for relevance – though Mueller’s work on global themes is enjoying a revival today.

Producer: Chris Bowlby

Editor: Penny Murphy

 

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN EXTREME ACTION MEETS ELUSIVE LANGUAGE? ·

(Gia Kourlas’s article appeared in The New York Times, 9/20; via Pam Green.)

In Elizabeth Streb and Anne Bogart’s “Falling & Loving,” dancers and actors share the stage with the Guck Machine, which emits a waterfall of food and other objects.

MONTCLAIR, N.J. — The choreographer Elizabeth Streb has found herself in foreign territory. First, she is collaborating, which is not her usual way of making art. And in teaming up with Anne Bogart, a director of the theater group SITI Company, she has something else to contend with: words.

“I don’t really work with words,” she said between rehearsals at the Alexander Kasser Theater at Montclair State University here. “I don’t know how to do that.”

Ms. Streb has built a repertory and a reputation creating action works that strive to defy gravity. Give her and her company, Streb Extreme Action, a platform 30 feet in the air to leap off, a sheet of plexiglass to crash into, or a mat to land on, face forward, with a splat, and they’re right at home.

But in “Falling & Loving,” which begins on Tuesday as part of the series Peak Performances, Ms. Streb isn’t the only one in charge. She has teamed with Ms. Bogart to direct the production, which features six SITI actors and six Streb dancers, who do not speak.

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Photo: The New York Times

SUSAN SONTAG’S AGAINST INTERPRETATION ·

Listen on BBC Radio 3  

Lauren Elkin, Lisa Appignanesi and biographer Ben Moser debate Susan Sontag’s life and ideas with presenter Laurence Scott, focusing in on her 1966 essay collection, which argued for a new way of approaching art and culture. Ben Moser is the author of Sontag: Her life and work which is out now. Lauren Elkin teaches at the University of Liverpool and is the author of Flâneuse: Women Walk the City. She is researching Sontag’s time in Sarajevo in 1993 when she staged Waiting for Godot during the Siege following the declaration of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s independence from Yugoslavia. Lisa Appignanesi is a Visiting Professor in the Department of English at King’s College London and Chair of the Royal Society of Literature Council . Her books include Everday Madness, Simone De Beauvoir, Freud’s Women. You can hear more from Lisa including her BBC Radio 3 interview with Susan Sontag if you search for the Sunday Feature

Afterwords: Susan Sontag

Producer: Luke Mulhall

 

FIONA SHAW AND KIRSTEN SHEPHERD-BARR ON ELEONORA DUSE (BBC RADIO 4) ·

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Fiona Shaw, BAFTA award-winning star of Killing Eve, joins Matthew Parris to explore the life of one of history’s most remarkable actresses whose name has slipped from public memory. She inspired Stanislavski’s ‘method’, changed Chekhov’s mind about acting, and took Chaplin’s breath away – the nineteenth-century performer, Eleonora Duse. Kirsten Shepherd-Barr, professor of English and Theatre Studies at St Catherine’s College, Oxford, helps Fiona and Matthew uncover the drama of Duse’s life, both on and off the stage. Producer: Camellia Sinclair.