JAPAN: FAMILY DRAMA HITS CLOSE TO HOME FOR KEITO OKAMOTO ·

(Nobuko Tanaka’s article appeared in the Japan Times, 8/26; Strong bonds: Keito Okamoto (right) says his admiration for his father, Kenichi (left), drew him to the role of Nicolas in Florian Zeller’s play, ‘The Son.’)

When Keito Okamoto was offered the title role in French dramatist Florian Zeller’s latest work, “The Son,” he felt the play was written about him.

“It was completely astonishing,” he says. And what makes taking on the role more special is that he will be making his stage debut opposite his actual father, Kenichi.

“The Son,” which is set to open Aug. 30 at the Tokyo Metropolitan Theatre in Toshima Ward, centers on a fraught father-son relationship. An intense dissection of family dynamics, the play is mainly set in the apartment of the father, Pierre, whose deeply troubled teenage son, Nicolas, has been caught skipping school. Withdrawn and angry, Nicolas’ behavior baffles Pierre and his ex-wife, Anne (Mayumi Wakamura), who try to help their child while balancing their own personal lives. Despite their best efforts and those of Pierre’s girlfriend, Sofia (Kayo Ise), who has just given birth, nothing seems to draw Nicolas out of his gloomy world as he darkly repeats: “I don’t understand what’s happening to me.”

“The Son” is the final installment of Zeller’s family-themed trilogy, which began with 2010’s “The Mother,” whose middle-aged title character is beset with feelings that her life has no meaning, followed by “The Father” in 2012. Centering on an old man who begins to suspect his daughter is trying to steal his apartment as he grapples with dementia, “The Father” garnered numerous awards in France, Britain and the United States, in addition to a best actor prize from Japan’s prestigious Yomiuri Theater Awards for Isao Hashizume when it was staged by French director Ladislas Chollat at the Tokyo Metropolitan Theatre in 2019.

Chollat, one of Zeller’s closest collaborators, has now returned to Japan to present the last part of the trilogy. Rather than being concerned about a real father and son pair playing the lead roles in this edgy drama, Chollat says he was “so pleased” that the Okamotos accepted this offer — “despite it being quite risky casting due to their relationship.”

Kenichi, 52, is the former vocalist and guitarist for the Johnny & Associates pop group Otokogumi. After the group split in 1993, he immersed himself in theater as an actor and director, winning awards, such as a Yomiuri Theater Award for best actor, along the way. Keito, 28, has followed a similar path, spending most of the past decade in the Johnny’s boy band Hey! Say! Jump. In 2018, Keito decided to take a break for two years to study at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York, before leaving the group in April to dedicate himself to theater.

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‘WE ARE COUNTING ON MIRACLES’: L.A.’S SMALL THEATERS WORRY ABOUT HANGING ON ·

(Jessica Gel’s article appeared in the Los Angeles Times, 8/24; Photo: Johnny Clark, artistic director of VS. Theatre Company, left, and Circle X Theatre Co.’s Tim Wright on the stage of their new show, “Stand Up if You’re Here Tonight” on Aug. 19 at Atwater Village Theatre. They are testing the waters with an indoor show in the middle of a Delta surge.) 

On the night before Independent Shakespeare Co. was to stage its press preview for “The Tempest,” vandals snuck onto the Griffith Park set and destroyed it. They smashed the lights and cut all the cables, causing about $15,000 in damage.

Artistic Director David Melville got a call from the city the following morning and rushed to the site of the Griffith Park Free Shakespeare Festival. With the aid of volunteers, the set was resurrected and the show went on that evening — the first live performance the company pulled off in 18 months.

To riff on a viral meme about this perilous new phase of the pandemic: If the August opening of “The Tempest” represented the hopes, dreams and grand plans of L.A.’s small theater companies in the spring and early summer, when vaccinations soared and COVID-19 infections plummeted, then the park vandals represented the Delta variant.

Taking that analogy further: Melville’s stamina in the face of disaster, and the dozens of patrons who pitched in the money to cover losses from the incident, illustrate the tenacious mindset of vulnerable nonprofit theaters as Delta rampages across the country.

And so the question looms: How much longer can these companies stay afloat financially? With pandemic funding drying up, 99-seat theaters are scrambling to stay on track with reopenings that were planned during better days.

Rising infections in L.A. forced Independent Shakespeare Co. to work in tandem with the city to cap the park audience at 250.

In normal times the company would stage two festival shows over 10 or 11 weeks, often attracting more than 1,000 people a night and earning about $150,000 in donations. In the summer of Delta, ISC is staging one show for five weeks, and Melville estimates the effort will generate about $40,000 to $45,000 in donations.

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JOSEPHINE BAKER BECOMES THE FIRST BLACK WOMAN GIVEN PARIS BURIAL HONOR ·

(from the Associated Press, 8/23.)

PARIS (AP) — The remains of American-born singer and dancer Josephine Baker will be reinterred at the Pantheon monument in Paris, making the entertainer who is a World War II hero in France the first Black woman to get the country’s highest honor.

Le Parisien newspaper reported Sunday that French President Emmanuel Macron decided to organize a ceremony on Nov. 30 at the Paris monument, which houses the remains of scientist Marie Curie, French philosopher Voltaire, writer Victor Hugo and other French luminaries. 

The presidential palace confirmed the newspaper’s report.

After her death in 1975, Baker was buried in Monaco, dressed in a French military uniform with the medals she received for her role as part of the French Resistance during the war.

Baker will be the fifth woman to be honored with a Pantheon burial and will also be the first entertainer honored.

Holocaust survivor Simone Veil, one of France’s most revered politicians, was buried at the Pantheon in 2018. The other women are two who fought with the French Resistance during World War II — Germaine Tillion and Genevieve de Gaulle-Anthonioz — and Nobel Prize-winning chemist Curie.

The monument also holds the remains of 72 men.

Born in St. Louis, Missouri, Baker became a megastar in the 1930s, especially in France, where she moved in 1925 as she was seeking to flee racism and segregation in the United States. 

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JULIET STEVENSON: ‘MY AGENT SAID: GO TO HOLLYWOOD. I THOUGHT: I JUST CAN’T DO THIS SH*T’ ·

(Donald Clarke’s article appeared in the Irish Times, 8/21. Photo: Juliet Stevenson: ‘The union was a big part of our lives. It seems absurd for a bunch of actors to be talking about the revolution. But we did that then.’)

She comes to Galway next month (kind of) in an adaptation of José Saramago’s Blindness

Juliet Stevenson has been a force in British acting for more than four decades. She landed at the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) in the late 1970s and, after a short period of spear carrying, triumphed as Isabella in Measure for Measure, Rosalind in As You Like It and Madame de Tourvel in the company’s legendary production of Les Liaisons Dangereuses. She was scientist Rosalind Franklin in the BBC’s terrific Life Story from 1987. We could go on.

For a brief moment there was, however, a possibility that she could have become something else. Anthony Minghella’s Truly, Madly Deeply, in which she played a cellist communing supernaturally with her late husband, was a critical and financial hit in 1990. 

“My agent said: ‘you have got to go to Hollywood’,” she says. “ ‘Go for the big stuff.’ I absolutely couldn’t manage that. I just didn’t feel that was my element at all. I thought: ‘I just can’t do this sh*t – schmoozing, swimming pools, wandering into casting directors’ offices? It is not my thing’.”

Rodeo Drive’s loss was Shaftesbury Avenue’s gain. She continued to boss the West End. She is immovable from high-end television. And now she is available to light up the Galway International Arts Festival in Simon Stephens’s adaptation of José Saramago’s novel Blindness. Or is she? Premiered last August in London’s Donmar Warehouse, the show, a timely tale of a pandemic, makes use of the actor’s recorded voice. The audience sit in spookily lit, isolated positions and listen as an unseen Stevenson, preserved in a binaural sound, drifts around them.

“No, I won’t be there,” she says. “I would give my eye teeth to be in Galway. I love it – one of my favourite places on earth, but no. I’m not saying this because I’m selling the show to you, but, when I went to it, I thought: ‘well, this is not going to be very immersive’. But lots of my mates said to me: ‘I honestly thought you were at the show because you knew I was coming today – that you decided to do it live.’ They felt that.”

Recorded on complex microphones shaped to emulate the human head, the sound replicates the experience of a source moving left, right, above and below. But does this still counts as live theatre. Stevens, the hugely prolific theatre maker best known for his adaptation of Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, has thought deeply about this.

But the assembling of strangers in one place for a shared experience is also a vital part

“I think it’s a fair question,” he says. “You know there was a time when we used semantics to suggest the opposite. Ha ha! When it was really clear that no piece of live theatre was legal in London. ‘It’s not theatre!’ It raises quite interesting philosophical questions. The form is predicated on two elements. One of the elements I think is inarguably missing: the live presence of a performer. I think it would be disingenuous to lie about that. But the assembling of strangers in one place for a shared experience is also a vital part.”

It must have been strange attending the show last summer. The uncertainty and unease were that bit greater than they are today.

“Sitting in the space with people I’d never met before, experiencing this piece together was as theatrical an experience as I’ve ever had,” he says. “In that sense I would strongly argue that there’s much which is very theatrical about this.”

Saramago’s 1995 novel concerns a city afflicted by an inexplicable epidemic of blindness. Stevenson’s character is spared and is thus able to talk us through the near-total breakdown of society. Noting that this is a “testimony of a survivor”, Stephens argues we are dealing with an optimistic text. Really? There are some grim messages here. At any rate, it feels like the ideal project for the pandemic years. And yet . . .

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CONSTANT STANISLAVSKI (126) ·

The words and wisdom of Constantin Stanislavski:

To the accompaniment of a pianist’s improvisations, the pupils lived for hours in rhythm, explaining in their actions how they felt the music. Relying on the same bases of the sensations of inner rhythm and action they learned to walk, to do gymnastics, plastic and other exercises in my system for the development of correct consciousness of self in which rhythm plays a great and important part. There was a whole series of exercises and classes for the development of the feeling for the word and speech, for an altogether exceptional amount of attention was paid to diction in the opera. (MLIA)

CHUCK CLOSE, ARTIST KNOWN FOR MONUMENTAL GRID PORTRAITS, DIES AT 81 ·

(from France 24, 8/20; Text: News Wires; Photo: In this December 3, 2008 photo, people examine a self-portrait by the artist Chuck Close at Art Basel Miami Beach in Florida. © Joe Raedle, AFP.)

Chuck Close, a painter, photographer and printmaker best known for his monumental grid portraits and photo-based paintings of family and famous friends, has died. He was 81.

His attorney, John Silberman, said Close died Thursday at a hospital in Oceanside, New York. He did not give a cause of death.

Close, whose professional highlights include a solo exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1973, was known for using a grid structure for the representation of an image in nearly all of his works, which he said helped him break the face down into “incremental units.”

Time consuming and labor intensive, he produced a plethora of paintings that dissect the human face of such luminaries as President Bill Clinton, composer Philip Glass and the artist himself.

His works have been displayed in museums, galleries and even the New York City subway.

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***** ‘CINDERELLA’ FROM ANDREW LLOYD WEBBER (REVIEW) – NOT SO MUCH A BALL AS A BLAST ·

(Chris Wiegan’s article appeared in the Guardian, 8/18;  Photo:  Rebecca Trehearn as the Queen, with Sam Robinson (Dorian), Vinny Coyle (Arthur) and Giovanni Spano (Gawain) in Cinderella. Photograph: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian.)

Gillian Lynne theatre, London

Bewitching melodies abound as Andrew Lloyd Webber’s terrifically OTT but warm and inclusive musical finally arrives

Delayed by a year because of the pandemic, and with last month’s opening night postponed at the 11th hour, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s new musical is finally up and running. It arrives late but in high fashion with outre gowns, bare-chested swordplay, brutal high heels and whip-smart humour. It’s worth the wait.

The original story and book by Emerald Fennell have heart and a torrent of barbed wit, exposing the faulty morals in traditional fairytales without scrimping on glittering trimmings. David Zippel’s crystalline lyrics are attuned to Fennell’s dialogue, cheekily satirical yet wistful and uplifting too. Lord Lloyd-Webber’s richly enjoyable orchestrations range from grand waltzes, courtly processionals and marches to deftly pastiched and deeply felt romanticism, power-balladry, a splash of chanson and rollicking guitar riffs. Bewitching melodies abound: some refrains are practically iridescent, revealing new tones from scene to scene.

Laurence Connor’s production starts with a salvo against fairytale bunkum: the shock news is that Prince Charming is dead. Moreover, someone has graffitied his memorial statue. Fennell is up to something similar as she defaces and rewrites myths about femininity, masculinity and heroism, with the keen eye for gender politics she showed in Promising Young Woman.

Our setting is the immaculately preened Belleville. “There’s no town that can compete – frankly if they could we’d cheat,” boast the well-honed citizens in an exuberant opener marked by fanfares and comically fussy staccato. Belleville is famed for sweet roses and creamy milk: a town buffed to perfection where hot buns are not solely the preserve of the bakery.

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BROADWAY ACTOR LAURA OSNES SAYS SHE QUIT SHOW OVER VACCINE REQUIREMENT ·

(Elisha Fieldstadt’s article appeared on ABC news, 8/18; Photo: Actress Laura Osnes at Universal Studios Hollywood on November 21, 2019 in Universal City, Calif.Paul Archuleta / Getty Images file.)

She said she and her husband have not gotten the shot because “there is so much that is still unknown.”

Broadway star Laura Osnes said she quit a one-night benefit concert because the theater required actors to be vaccinated against Covid and she has decided not to get the shot.

On Friday, The New York Post’s Page Six reported that Osnes was fired from the one-night preview of “Crazy For You” at the Guild Hall in New York’s East Hampton on Aug. 29.

Osnes and the theater did not respond to NBC News’ requests for comment Friday.

A representative for Guild Hall told Page Six that it is requiring staff and performers to be vaccinated or submit a negative Covid test.

Osnes, 35, denied that she was fired, and denied that she was offered the option to submit a negative Covid test.

Osnes wrote in a statement posted to Instagram on Tuesday that she withdrew from the production when she learned Guild Hall was requiring vaccinations.

“It was a drama-free and discrete transition,” Osnes wrote, refuting Page Six’s reporting that her co-star had “pressed her on the matter.”

An option to provide a negative Covid test “was never extended to me. I would have tested in a heartbeat — something I have been doing for months, and will continue to do, in order to keep working safely,” Osnes wrote.

She said she and her husband have not gotten the shot because “there is so much that is still unknown.”

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COALITION OF CHICAGO THEATERS, CSO AND LYRIC OPERA WILL REQUIRE VACCINATIONS AND OTHER COVID PRECAUTIONS THIS FALL ·

(Doug George’s article appeared in the Chicago Tribune, 8/17; Photo: Seats sit empty at Broadway in Chicago’s dormant James M. Nederlander Theatre in June 2020 in Chicago. The theater will reopen with “Paradise Square” in November. (Armando L. Sanchez / Chicago Tribune)

A large number of Chicago-area theaters, dance and performing arts companies, led by the League of Chicago Theatres, announced Tuesday morning they will require COVID-19 precautions including proof of vaccination or negative tests, and masks for audience members, at least through the end of 2021.

According to a statement from the League, a coalition of more than 65 theaters and arts producers will require proof of vaccination or in some instances a negative COVID-19 test for entry, as well as face coverings, though protocols will vary by theater. According to the statement, “the unified COVID-19 protection protocol” will go into effect Sept. 1 for all indoor productions, and will include Loop theaters run by Broadway in Chicago.

The coalition includes 16th Street Theater, A Red Orchid Theatre, About Face Theatre, Aguijón Theatre, Albany Park Theatre Project, American Blues Theater, Apollo Theater Chicago, Artemesia Theatre, Artistic Home, Aston Rep Theatre Company, Athenaeum Theatre, Auditorium Theatre, Babes with Blades, Black Button Eyes Productions, Bluebird Arts, Brightside Theatre, Broadway in Chicago, Chicago Danztheatre Ensemble, Chicago Humanities Festival, the Chicago Latino Theater Alliance (CLATA), Chicago Magic Lounge, Chicago Shakespeare Theater, Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association, Chicago Youth Shakespeare, Court Theatre, First Floor Theatre, First Folio Theater, Goodman Theatre, Greenhouse Theatre Center, Harris Theater for Music and Dance, Hell in a Handbag, Her Story Theatre, High Concept Labs, House Theatre of Chicago, International Voices Project, the Joffrey Ballet, Lookingglass Theatre Company, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Marriott Theatre, Midsommer Flight, the Neo Futurists, the New Coordinates, Northlight Theatre, Oak Park Festival Theatre, Oil Lamp Theater, Old Town School of Folk Music, Paramount Theatre, Piven Theatre Workshop, Pivot Arts, Playmakers Laboratory, Porchlight Music Theatre, Pridearts, Promethean Theatre Ensemble, Raven Theatre, Red Tape Theatre, Rivendell Theatre Ensemble, Saint Sebastian Players, Saltbox Theatre Collective, Second City, Shattered Globe Theatre, Skokie Theatre, Stage Left Theatre, Steppenwolf Theatre Company, Theatre Wit, Three Brothers Theatre, Timeline Theatre Company, UrbanTheater Company, Victory Gardens Theater, WildClaw Theatre, Williams Street Repertory Theatre and Writers Theatre.

Where negative tests are accepted, audience members must provide proof of a COVID-19 PCR test within 72 hours of the performance start time, or a negative COVID-19 antigen test taken within 6 hours of the performance start time. This includes accommodations for children under 12 and people with medical conditions or religious beliefs preventing them from being vaccinated.

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