PUTIN, CHEKHOV AND THE THEATER OF DESPAIR ·

(Matt Wolf’s article appeared in The New York Times, 7/21/22; via Pam Green.)

In London, a new play about President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia and a revival of “The Seagull” explore undercurrents of pain.

LONDON — There’s a chill in the air at the Almeida Theater, notwithstanding the record-breaking heat here. That drop in temperature comes from the coolly unnerving “Patriots,” a new drama whose look at power politics in Russia over the last quarter-century induces a shiver at despotism’s rise.

The gripping production, directed by Rupert Goold, runs through Aug. 20.

Written by Peter Morgan (“The Crown,” “Frost/Nixon”), “Patriots” surveys the sad, shortened life of Boris Berezovsky, the brainiac billionaire who died in 2013, age 67, in political exile in London. An inquest into Berezovsky’s mysterious death returned an unusual “open verdict,” but on this occasion, it is unequivocally presented as a suicide: The play ends with this balding man, bereft of authority, preparing to end his life.

An academic whiz-turned-oligarch who expedited the rise of the younger Vladimir V. Putin, Berezovsky later fell out with the onetime ally who enlarged his power base, according to the play, with promises of “liberalizing Russia,” yet proceeded to do anything but.

Morgan introduces Berezovsky, age 9, as a math prodigy whose mother hoped he might become a doctor. (A gleaming-eyed Tom Hollander plays the role throughout.) From there, we move forward 40 years to find Berezovsky an integral member of Russia’s moneyed elite welcoming to his office an obsequious Putin, then deputy mayor of St. Petersburg.

“Respected Mr. Berezovsky,” says an initially indrawn, ferret-like Putin, “one would have to live on another planet not to know you!” But it isn’t long before Putin has changed his tune, and his tone, as he rises from prime minister to president and consolidates power around himself. In one notably effective wordless scene, Putin tries out poses in front of a mirror to see which makes him look most impressive. His earlier hesitancy has given way to a man in love with his own heroism.

Berezovsky looks on at so dramatic a change in character appalled, urging the former K.G.B. operative to “know your place.” But Putin by this point simply won’t be sidelined. And besides, reasons Putin, why hold your enemies close when they can just as easily be destroyed?

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***** ‘BILLY ELLIOT THE MUSICAL‘ REVIEW – THE BOY WHO JUST WANTS TO DANCE IS BACK IN AN ELECTRIC NEW PRODUCTION ·

(Miriam Gillinsons’article appeared in the Guardian, 7/24.)

 Leicester Curve
Nikolai Foster’s new version is more like a play with dance and songs, giving ideas around love and loss, community and isolation, passion and violence room to breathe

In director Nikolai Foster’s unforgettable new version of Billy Elliot the Musical, all the lines have been blurred. When the miners strike, they run through the aisles and scream their protests just over our heads. Billy’s bedroom sits atop a portable mining shaft, the personal and political packaged as one. When Billy dances, it doesn’t really feel like a dance under Lucy Hind’s beautifully empathic choreography. It is a boxing match. A street fight. An angry conversation. Art isn’t an add-on luxury in Billy’s world. It is his life.

Where Stephen Daldry’s original production, which ran for 11 years, felt like Billy Elliot the Musical – with a capital Musical – Foster’s new version is more like a play with dance and songs. Lee Hall’s script is given plenty of room to breathe and rings with ideas around love and loss, community and isolation, passion and violence. The result is a musical of unusual depth that distils Hall’s play to its essence but also feels nuanced and truthful.

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‘Shut UP, Emily Dickinson’ AT ABRONS ARTS CENTER, JULY 28 – AUGUST 13 ·

(Via Andrea Alton/Alton PR; Photo: Tanya O’Debra and Gregg Bellón in Shut UP, Emily Dickinson. Photo by Molly Broxton.)

Tanya O’Debra’s award-winning play Shut UP, Emily Dickinson, will be performed at Abrons Arts Center as a part of the @Abrons Series – c

“I found myself admiring O’Debra’s wild balancing act that captures Dickinson’s odd soul… you’ll find yourself laughing guiltily.” – CityBeat

“Part comedy roast, and part celebration of Dickinson and her work.” – Daily Hampshire Gazette

Award-winning playwright Tanya O’Debra’s dark comedic play Shut Up, Emily Dickinson will be performed at Abrons Arts Center as part of the @Abrons Series. The limited run plays July 28 – August 13. This two-hander features O’Debra as the title character with Gregg Bellón playing additional characters such as Master, Cats and Pizza Delivery Guy. Sara Wolkowitz serves as director. O’Debra and Wolkowitz are longtime collaborators who first worked together at Dixon Place in 2012 on the play The Ultimate Stimulus.

Shut Up, Emily Dickinson won the 2018 Jill Cummins MacLean Prize and the Ada Comstock Magic Grant at Smith College. The play was previously produced at the Orlando Fringe and Cincinnati Fringe Festival. This production marks the play’s New York Premiere.
 
O’Debra discussed what drew her to write the play, “A friend gave me a book of Emily Dickinson’s poetry many years ago, and I had a sense that she would have been a deeply annoying person. I got to Googling and sure enough I found a quote from her editor, Thomas Wentworth Higginson: “Without touching her, she drew from me. I am glad not to live near her.” The character “Emily Dickinson” grew from there. I went on to study her work and life and ultimately came to adore her, but I was fascinated by the way people seemed to see whatever they wanted in her.”

Emily Dickinson: poet, recluse, a**hole. Loosely based on her Master Letters, Shut UP, Emily Dickinson is a pseudo-historical, quasi-biographical, hysterically existential, sadomasochistic psycho-romance about America’s most brilliant and annoying poetess. Holed up for all eternity in the bedroom of our minds, “the woman in white” stretches into a projection screen for truths, half-truths, truthiness, and truth-less-ness.

The creative team includes original music by Andrew Moreyellow, lighting design by Vadim Ledvin, and sound/projections design by Gregg Bellón.

Shut UP, Emily Dickinson runs July 28 – August 13; Wednesday – Saturday at 7:30pm at Abrons Arts Center, 466 Grand Street at Pitt Street, NYC, NY 10002. Running time: 75 minutes. Tickets are $20 (students), $30 (general) and are available at www.abronsartscenter.org.


Tanya O’Debra (Playwright, Emily Dickinson)
 is a New York City-based playwright, performer, and MFA candidate at NYU Tisch School of the Arts’ Department of Dramatic Writing. Off-Off Broadway: Fuck You (Excellence Award in Overall Production at Fringe NYC); Radio Star (published by Original Works, Best of the San Francisco Fringe, nominations from the Montreal Fringe & NYIT Awards); The Secrets of Avondale Falls, written by The O’Debra Twins (Cincy Fringe Festival). A graduate of Smith College, she won The Denis Johnston Playwriting Award, The Elizabeth Wanning Harries Prize, and The Elizabeth Drew Prize. Other theater credits include Patrice O’Debra in Straight Up Vampire (Joe’s Pub), The Evil Queen in Snow White (The New Acting Company), and Amanda McCloud in The Ultimate Stimulus (Dixon Place, The Brick), as well as being one half of the long-time comedic sister duo, The O’Debra Twins. www.tanyaodebra.com

Sara Wolkowitz (Director) is an independent filmmaker and theater director. New York theater credits include Silent Sky (Hudson River Planetarium), The Ultimate Stimulus (FringeNYC 2014, Dixon Place, Under St Marks), Really Rosie (The Mint Theater), Eleanor Is Sibling Challenged (The Magnet Theater), War Crimes (Planet Connections Festivity), and Brooklyn Labyrinth (the BoCoCa Arts Festival). Her film/TV credits include Still On The Road (PBS, Lincoln Center), Lightning Bugs in a Jar (Short Corner at Cannes Film Festival), and Never After (starring Gillian Anderson). She has a BA in Film from Vassar College. www.sarawolkowitz.com

The @Abrons Series Program is a subsidized theater rental program that provides access to our spaces as well as production services at subsidized rates. While @Abrons is not curated, priority is given to shows and events that align with our mission and that are committed to anti-oppression. For shows, events or artistic projects working to build community projects that are socially or civically inclusive – yet have very small budgets – there is an application for an extra–subsidized rate.

@AbronsArtsCenter or #AbronsArtsCenter #shutupemilydickinson

 

The new two hander play Shut UP, Emily Dickinson opens on Thursday, July 28 at Abrons Arts. 

Performance dates:
Thursday, July 28 at 7:30pm (opening night)
Friday, July 29 at 7:30pm
Saturday, July 30 at 7:30pm
Wednesday, August 3 at 7:30pm
Thursday, August 4 at 7:30pm
Friday, August 5 at 7:30pm
Saturday, August 6 at 7:30pm
Wednesday, August 10 at 7:30pm
Thursday, August 11 at 7:30pm
Friday, August 12 at 7:30pm
Saturday. August 13 at 7:30pm 

EXILED ANTI-WAR PLAYWRIGHT WISHES FOR RUSSIA’S ‘CRUSHING DEFEAT’ ·

(from Radio Free Europe, 7/20/22.)

Influential Russian playwright Mikhail Durnenkov fled Russia for Finland shortly after Moscow’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine. Durnenkov’s opposition to Russia’s war against Ukraine has had severe personal consequences. Theaters in Russia have stopped showing his plays, and there have been calls to prosecute him for his anti-war position.

 

***** ‘CRAZY FOR YOU’ REVIEW – SPINE-TINGLING MUSICAL IS A GIDDY THRILL ·

(Arifa Akbar’s article appeared in the Guardian, 7/20.)

Chichester Festival theatre
Instantly infectious melodies, superb choreography and irresistible comedy are met with astonishing performances in this lovabl show

Centre of attention … Charlie Stemp stars as Bobby in Crazy for You at Chichester Festival theatre. Photograph: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian

A faithful revival of this 1992 musical could easily seem as dated as its backwater setting in Depression-era America. Based on George and Ira Gershwin’s Girl Crazy (1930), it has an added hodgepodge of songs from the Gershwins’ oeuvre, an old-fashioned showgirl aesthetic and a plot abounding in comic stereotypes and pratfalls.

Yet here is a spine-tingling production with instantly infectious melodies, irresistible physical comedy and punning wisecracks (Ken Ludwig’s book zings). The crowning glory is the choreography – a whirligig of tap, ballroom, chorus-line and balletic movement, all effortlessly athletic, which makes this as much a show of dance as song.

The production’s original choreographer, Susan Stroman, also directs and turns what might have been a long show with wooden characters into spectacular entertainment, oiled by astonishing performances from Charlie Stemp as the New York wannabe dancer Bobby and Carly Anderson as tough cookie Polly.

The storyline is straight out of vaudeville: Bobby goes to the tumbleweed Nevadan town of Deadrock (as lively as its name suggests) and falls for Polly, persuading her to resuscitate her family’s derelict theatre for a show that will bring the town back to life. The madcap plan is to lure Broadway producer Bela Zangler to its doors but that goes awry and disguise, double identity and high jinks ensue.

From the first song, Stemp brings an extraordinary physicality and energy, impeccably controlled – he even looks elegant in the gawky comic scenes. Anderson keeps up in their dances together but excels singing solo numbers such as I Got Rhythm. Neither of them, nor any other character, is particularly rounded but they become lovable nevertheless.

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CHILDREN’S BOOKS—AWARD FOR ‘THE LONG SHADOW’ BY PHYLLIS WHEELER ·

(via Phylliswheeler.com

Phyllis Wheeler’s novel The Long Shadow (Elk Lake Publishing), represented by Marit Literary Agency, has won a Purple Dragonfly Award!

These awards are judged by Story Monsters Ink Magazine, focused on children’s literature. Wheeler’s award is in the historical category. This is significant in the indie publishing world.

Rejoice!

The Long Shadow is a time-travel adventure for upper middle grade, 13 and up. Click and see the new cover, too! Find out more.

THE LONG SHADOW 

by Phyllis Wheeler

View on Amazon

Winner of a Purple Dragonfly Award

Winner of a 2021 Moonbeam Children’s Book Award

Anti-prejudice, anti-racist middle grade Christian fiction: The Long Shadow by Phyllis Wheeler (ranked #1 new release Teen & Young Adult Christian Social Issue Fiction (6/8/21 ranked #1 new release Teen & Young Adult Christian Social Issue Fiction; #3 on Amazon, regarding Children’s books about Prejudice and Racism; #18 in Children’s Self-Esteem and Self-Respect books; #1  (6/4/2021)

Aunt Trudy never wanted kids. Now that she’s Richie’s guardian, she makes his life miserable. Richie just wants to escape, so he seeks refuge in the deep Missouri woods he loves so much.

Suddenly it’s not summer, but late fall. How did that happen? Did the trucker who just gave him a ride somehow whisk him back fifty years in time?

The woods aren’t for Richie the haven they used to be. After a freak storm, he finds himself at the mercy of Morris, a mysterious black man who also calls the woods home. Is Morris a savior? Or someone to fear?

“Five stars! A young teen finds himself propelled through time . . . –Susan K. Marlow, author of Andi Carter books

“Searching for a new favorite book? Look no further than The Long Shadow by Phyllis Wheeler. This is a great book for fans of To Kill a Mockingbird but with a time-travel twist. Richie grabs your attention and doesn’t let go until the very end.”—Elsie G, age 13. 

“Sometimes we need to escape our own time and place to walk a few miles in someone else’s shoes. Phyllis Wheeler’s The Long Shadow will open your eyes, rend your heart, and take you on an invaluable journey.” —Wayne Thomas Batson, bestselling author of The Door Within Trilogy.

“Heartwarming and heartbreaking, Richie’s story is a shining example of how taking a chance on unlikely friendships is the best way to break down the barriers we build.” —Jill Williamson, award-winning author of the Blood of Kings trilogy.

“A powerful message wrapped in a page-turner.” — Cherie Postill, author, speaker, and mentor for teens at the St. Louis Writers Guild. 

“I’ve read this book and enjoyed the characters in the story. I like the friendship that blossomed in the story and how the story came full circle in the end. It was a good history lesson without being offensive to anyone.”—LaShaunda Hoffman, sensitivity reader and author. 

“Part survival story, part exploration of racial justice in America, part journey of self-discovery, and wholly engaging and memorable.  A well done and powerful story.  It is certainly stuck in my head.”—Joe Corbett, school librarian, St. Louis.

CONSTANT STANISLAVSKI (137) ·

The words and wisdom of Constantin Stanislavski:

The very best that can happen​ is to have the actor completely carried away by the play.  Then regardless of his own will he lives the part, not noticing how he feels, not thinking about what he does, and it all moves of its own accord, subconsciously and intuitively. (AP)

A NEW SHAKESPEARE PLOT: GARDEN OF BARD’S DAUGHTER TO BE RECREATED ·

 

William Shakespeare. Portrait of William Shakespeare 1564-1616. Chromolithography after Hombres y Mujeres celebres 1877, Barcelona Spain

(Dalya Alberge’s article appeared in the Guardian, 7/17; via Pam Green.)

Remedies used by healer Susanna Hall and her doctor husband will be planted at Stratford home

In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Ophelia offers rosemary to boost memory, while in A Midsummer Night’s Dream Puck pours the juice of “love-in-idleness” on to the sleeping eyelids of Titania, making her “madly dote” on Bottom wearing an ass’s head.

The magical power of herbs and flowers that Shakespeare recognised is now inspiring the recreation of a 17th-century herbal garden in the historic 1613 house that his daughter Susanna shared with her husband, John Hall, a physician who is believed to have advised his father-in-law on medical ailments.

Documentary evidence shows that the vast majority of Hall’s patients were women, and the herb garden at his home, Hall’s Croft in Stratford-upon-Avon, will be filled with the sort of plants that he used in treating them. The site is overseen by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust (SBT), which is collaborating with the University of Brighton on a major research project focusing on Susanna.

As part of their research, they are drawing on Hall’s 400-year-old medical casebook which was recently translated from Latin into English. Between 1611 and 1635, he recorded symptoms and treatments for 178 cases.

Hall, who was educated at Queens’ College, Cambridge, emerges from its pages as a compassionate scholar-physician. Among his treatments was rhubarb, which helped sort out “constipation of the belly, melancholy, sleeplessness”, while borage, mallow and mugwort calmed “frenzy after childbirth”, now understood as postnatal mental health issues. Rosemary appears repeatedly, treating Susanna’s own scurvy, back pain and “melancholy”.

The project is headed by Dr Ailsa Grant Ferguson, principal lecturer in literature at the University of Brighton. “We’re going to create a garden with the plants that were actually used for women’s health, particularly reproductive health, looking at how that was treated and how we might treat it now,” she told the Observer.

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ELEANOR METHVEN: A SORCERER OF THE STAGE ·

(Sara Keating’s article appeared in the Irish Times, 7/16/22.)

For Methven, who stars as Prospero in Rough Magic’s The Tempest, the rehearsal room is the beating heart of a theatre production

It is late on a Friday afternoon, and Eleanor Methven is sitting in the production offices of Rough Magic Theatre Company in Dublin city centre, running her lines. It is the end of the first week of rehearsals for director Lynne Parker’s new production of William Shakespeare’s The Tempest, in which Methven takes the lead role of Prospero, the sorcerer hero now recast as a woman. It is a massive role, involving “pages and pages of these amazing speeches”, and with a highlighter pen Methven marks out the dense body of text she must learn.

Methven has been practising at home for weeks, “just sitting in my house, acting away, using what Prospero would tell me to — my imagination — to din it in. The neighbours must think I am mad.” So she is delighted and exhilarated to be finally in the rehearsal room. “Really what [an actor needs] is to learn their lines on the floor,” she says, “because the lines tend to be attached to your muscle memory. The more you repeat it, the more it goes in, the more natural it becomes. At the end of the day, you’re an actor, and what you are trying to do is create human beings [on the stage].”

For Methven, the rehearsal room is the beating heart of a theatre production. When other actors of her vintage — she has been acting professionally for 45 years — are asked about their dream roles, they have a list of great parts they would love to play. Methven doesn’t. She wants to know “whose production are you talking about? Who else is in it? You can have the role you want, but what about the other parts? It could be a complete failure if you don’t have everyone you need around you. Theatre is about a total ensemble and that begins in the rehearsal room.”

 

Methven has been thinking a lot about this in relation to The Tempest. “A lot of the play is about how you order society and how you lead; what the character of your leadership is? The way Lynne runs an ensemble is very democratic; very much a case of ‘I have chosen these people because I think they are the best people to help me to do the play’. It is obvious of course that she is in charge. She works out all the production aspects with lighting, set designers, and it is up to her to keep a hold on all the skeins of silk she has and weave them together. But it is very much up to each individual to bring what they can to the rehearsal room every day, because that is your job, that is why she cast you.”

The actor and director have a long relationship, dating back to the 1980s, when Parker directed several productions for Charabanc, the theatre company that Methven set up in Belfast in 1983 with a group of like-minded female theatre artists. As she explains, the venture was born out of “unemployment, but not just unemployment. There weren’t many roles for [female actors] and when there were, they were ‘someone’s wife’ or ‘someone’s mother’, ‘someone’s daughter.’ We thought ‘we would like to be the someones for a change”.

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