Monday, December 13, 2004

Resident Companies A Thing of the Past?

The Cleveland Plain Dealer talks about how the regional theatres aren't holding up their end of the bargain for actors.

Trinity Rep and the ART held their own on this point for a long time, but now we are seeing the regulars less frequently.

I know that one of my goals in starting a company was to use not only the same actors again and again, but also the same writers. I think this resulted in better writing and good material for actors to work with.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Why we should strive for the truth..

Emerson in his essay Experience... (Damn these Geniuses.)

The child asks, 'Mamma, why don't I like the story as well as when you told it me yesterday?' Alas, child, it is even so with the oldest cherubim of knowledge. But will it answer thy question to say, Because thou wert born to a whole, and this story is a particular?


Yay! A Critic Finally Gets The Price Right...

Iris Fanger, reviewing in the Phoenix, didn't seem to like the Merrimack Rep's production, but...

Arthur Miller’s 1968 drama The Price touches many universals: the relationship between brothers, the inescapable taints of the past, and the difficulties of the ties that bind men and women. But most of all, it’s an evening of American history, an illustration of the effects of the Depression on everyone who lived in those times.

and

He’s also a commentator on the national obsession with money: getting it, keeping it, using it to enhance one’s self-esteem. It’s a theme that connects many of his characters, from the Kellers of All My Sons to the Lomans to Walter, Victor, and Esther Franz.

Good, Good, Good. The Price really takes a beating from critics, I think mostly out of the highbrow insistence that Arthur Miller cannot possibly be an important dramatist if not a genius.


Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Pales...In Comparison

Frank Rich, reviewing the original production of Burn This, hit the nail on the head when he mused that Lanford Wilson’s play, for all people have tried to make of it, is essentially a Romantic Comedy. I have now seen four productions of Burn This in my life and I am convinced it is not a great play, but rather an amusing night at the theatre. It just happens to have the good fortune of containing one of the best characters ever written for the stage.

It is interesting to see the play done in two different styles, and with two different sets of actors, so close together. Devanaugh’s production at the Piano Factory last spring sizzled due to the yoeman’s performance of Josh Rollins as Pale. The production also had the advantage of the intelligence and observation of the of the supporting cast, and a sensitive director. However, the total of that whole evening was less than the sum of its parts and it missed the mark because it is incredibly hard to see the play as the overall moody and turgid piece that Devanaugh presented.

The Huntington Production, playing at the BU Theatre right now is staged as a romantic comedy, with a much brighter loft space, and a simply fabulous Larry played by Nat DeWolf. I once heard Peter Kelley say, "You have to understand the difference between a set for La Boheme and set for Barefoot in the Park."

I was excited to see how this production would play out, but once again I ran into the problem of that brick wall of a first scene. Burn This, for those who are not familiar, starts with an overlong first scene which contains the worst kind of exposition, meaning the kind that reveals itself without any conflict. I have never had the experience of seeing this scene work in any sort of meaningful way, and anyone who knows the play secretly admits to a desire to skip right to the banging on the door which starts the second scene and heralds the arrival of Pale.

Once Pale, the hurricane force of a working class alpha male arrives everybody breathes a little easier, and Michael T. Weiss, of The Pretender fame, looks and struts the part. However, after seeing Josh Rollins tear it up at Devanaugh last year, I was a little disappointed in Weiss’s performance. Josh had a force and diction that perfectly caught the spirit of somebody whose mind works ten times too fast even when he is not on cocaine. He was fast, furious, dangerous and chose just the right moments in the speech patterns to punch up the comedy. Alas, Josh ‘s only drawback was not his fault. His only shortcoming was his age and his youthfulness.

But where Weiss is more physically suited, and a little more mischievous, he doesn’t get the manic down enough. And so the "Paleisms" that had the audience roaring with laughter at Devanaugh, only illicit mere giggles from the Huntington crowd .("I have spent half of my adult life looking for a parking space.") Weiss spits off the lines as if they are ingrained in Pale’s regular patter of conversation. Rollins, also a talented playwright and therefore understanding of the merge between character and dialogue , would toss them off as if Pale’s machinegun mind was making them up on the spot. Never quite sure what was to come out of his mouth, Rollins' Pale would create these gems, and the effect would be a transformation from a search for words to a truly witty, satirical comment, ("One half of my brain knows that and the other half…..drinks." )

It is not just the laughs that suffer in the Huntington Production though. This shortcoming extends further into Weiss's performance, making Pale's blindsides, ("So, are you f***ing him too.") seem forced.

Weiss definitely has the charm all over Josh’s more edgy performance though, and I think that may be an effect of the director’s move towards a lighter treatment of the work. It definiteley helps us to understand the romance end of things. Devanaugh went the heavy wounded birds route, which is a perfectly legitimate way to interpret it, although neither way can save the play.

Were it possible to merge Josh’s and Weiss’s performances, I believe we would have something truly blazing. But there I go again, talking all about Pale. And I don’t feel that bad because I know the play places the other characters/actors in difficult positions. I think the lead female role is one of the biggest traps for an actress ever laid by a serious dramatist since Willy Loman’s wife eulogized at the graveside. I mean Blanche Dubois at least had a few tricks up her sleeve for a wounded bird.

Without a Hurricane Pale, Nat DeWolfe’s Larry, walks away with the show in his back pocket. He is very funny, just as he was in Betty’s Summer Vacation.

There are more insidious problems inherent in the insistence of forcing Burn This into canonical repertory, but that is a story for another post.

No Man is an Island Entire of Himself...

The Globe reports on some of what has been bubbling beneath all the "good news" of theatre openings in Boston. Apparently the Merrimack Rep and The Wang are going through some tight times that seem to mirror much of the bad news that that has been appearing in the opening pages of American Theatre.

"We're undergoing a transition from being supported by a few key individuals to really broadening that support to the whole community and the institutions and the audience members," Towers said. The theater has 5,000 subscribers, 80 percent of whom live outside of Lowell.


The laugh out loud line for me, however, was in regards to the Wang Center....Hold on...let me cry for a second...

The Wang Center announced its own setback. It cancelled the planned run of an original production of Sam Shepard's "True West." The play, scheduled for the Shubert Theatre Jan. 25 through Feb. 6, would have been the first produced from
the "American Voices" reading series started by the Wang last year. Steve Maler, the Wang's vice president of artistic programming, had been set to direct.

True West in the Wang Center? Wait for the punchline though:

Josiah A. Spaulding Jr., president and CEO of the Wang, wasn't available for comment. He did release a statement that read, in part: "This soft economic climate does not support this type of risk, and although we heard from many audience members of their interest in the production, the ticket sales are not strong enough for us to move ahead at this time."


Soft Economic Climate? For whom? Is this the same Josiah Spaulding of the $536K salary, talking here?

I feel bad for the MRT and will probably send them a check, but the Wang is like the Death Star for the theatre arts here in Boston. If I had a dime for every suburbanite I have heard complain because they got stuck in the Mir Space Station they call the Balcony in that cavernous crater, I would be able to mount and produce my own Roadshow of Some Like It Hot.


Sunday, November 14, 2004

Thomas Garvey Does It Again!

Garvey was the critic I brought up when he snuck in the "nice white liberal" line into his otherwise dead-on Joe Turner Review.

This time he put in a strange little comment once again into his Well of the Saints review. Apparently, by getting too much into the spirit of Synge's reputation of contempt for the poor Irish Folk, Garvey has this to say at the end of his review:

The Sugan, in effect, is at a crossroads. As other small companies make the jump to larger stages (such as SpeakEasy, which appeals to both straight and gay audiences), the Sugan seems stuck in its Gaelic ghetto, with no clear sense of how to extend its mission. Certainly the company has had small-scale triumphs, but if it can't stretch as far as Synge, how can it hope to reach the wider audience its material deserves?

"Gaelic ghetto"? The Sugan is not only providing a crucial mission to the Boston theatre scene, but they are also practicing sound business sense at the same time. The Sugan has a niche market sewed up nicely, and it is a little unfair to be comparing the Sugan's production to the Abbey's Playboy, (although I was not all that impressed with Abbey at all.)

Short Column space should not be an excuse for potshots without significant elaboration.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Highbrow Radicalism Succeeds in Hanging Synge with His Own Rope

Highbrow Radicalism Succeeds in Hanging Synge with His Own Rope

It was only a matter of time. The Highbrow radical fundamentalists have waited for almost one hundred years, and they have succeeded in warping Highbrow values into a surreptitious subversion of a form of theatre which they detest. The Abbey Production of Playboy of the Western World, concludes with Peg, under a dying shaft of light, proclaiming the last lines as if they were from an early O’Neill melodrama. More importantly though, she is saying the lines to a much thinner house than she had when she appeared two and half hours earlier. Poor Peg, you were never much for us to feel sorry for you. But, man, look what they have done to you, your town, and Christy.



Apparently, the audiences for the show's original production would cause an incredible disturbance to the point where the actors could do little more than just walk through their scenes. Initial reports said that the audience seemed to be rioting more about the language in the play rather than any political content. But it became apparent something larger was in play after sustained rioting at performances followed the company across the Atlantic to Boston and Philadelphia. Nationalistic movements had apparently seized on the play as an example of denigrating the good and pure heart of Ireland.

In the past year we have all learned at least a little something about radical factions and their movements. The arts are no different than the society at large, with lots of factions fighting for their piece of the pie. Highbrow criticism is not the problem, some of my best friends are highbrows…" not that there’s anything wrong with that." But like any movement, highbrow criticism goes off the rails with a strict ideology. Robert Brustein’s endless railing away at Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman is a perfect example. I am sure that one hundred years from now, at the moment Mr. Brustein’s visage is being unveiled on a plaque at 64 Brattle Street, one hundred productions of Death of Salesman will be going on in seventy different countries, including Iraq and Afgahnistan. (Although I shudder with the realization that the same will be true of Cats or Phantom Opera, so maybe that point might not mean anything.)

The Abbey Theatre’s production of Death of an Irish Playwright’s Work, is populated by talented actors who do their best with the minimalist and Serbanian Shakespearizing of the grit of this play. (Will Stackman is dead on in his quote, "Habitues of the ART will be aware of the forces at work…") Would the directors do this with the Beauty Queen of Leenane? Probably in a generation or so.

They deliver Synge’s introduction to his play, which is a poetic apology for the language of the people in the play, but utilizing the character of the Bellman. And I couldn’t help thinking that we may someday see Arthur Miller’s essay "Tragedy and the Common Man," delivered by the "Waiter." However, the conceptual team behind the show doesn’t realize that Synge is not apologizing for the people themselves. I don’t believe he ever felt he had too. The introduction gives the highbrow radicals the tools with which to pull the words from the breathing, hot-blooded characters’ mouths and wedge them into the mouths of stylistic caricatures, ( O’Neill would be clawing his eyes out for fear his father was back "parading" around in the Count of Monte Christo.) The production can’t even generate any heat from a choreographed horse race number in which Christy is supposed to gain his total manhood. The cast looks awkward and strangely non-sexual as they gyrate, bump hips and change places. Where is MTV when you need it?

I have always been a little leery of Synge’s "love" of these people, and I have suspected that he has taken a little liberty to poeticize their vernacular. But I’m afraid in trying to elevate the language to center stage, the Abbey’s Centennial Production falls into the trap the protesters long ago started setting for it. Indeed they may even be repeating the ultimate effect of those noisy protesters by closing it down for the audience and not allowing them to actually see what Synge is doing. This way, the play ends up with Stage Irishmen falling all over it, and though the wound on Christy’s father’s head is quite convincing, not a drop of blood can be smelled in the house. Why do they do this? Because the radical faction of Highbrow ideology sees no place for the method.

They despise realism for its complicity in the rise of our film culture and the destruction of the fine arts. They fear the heat on stage because they fear the power of emotion. The film culture IS complicit in this because its ability to bring the powers of light and sound to bear on us in order to jerk our tears has been abused constantly. However, Emotion, Intellect and will must function together and the method has brought a great bearing on the power of the emotion on stage.

Believe me, I hold no illusions that the radical factions of the Method can hijack art as well. The perfect examples are teary-eyed versions of The Glass Menagerie with all of the cast emoting all over the place and completely missing the contempt Tennessee Williams had for the people populating his own background. Or productions of Three Sisters in which all the sisters sit crying bitter tears at the end, hoping to wring them from the audiences eyes as well, but not for the right reasons.

Highbrow criticism, (not the radical factions,) understands the workings of a play like Playboy, and they will always be up for a good romp with the non-trustfunders and be able to come away with some idea of what is going on. It is the difference between a Highbrow who attends or watches a Sox game now and then , and one who reads George Will’s Men at Work as a substitute. However, when Highbrow Ideology becomes radicalized, they seek to stamp out what they feel is making the popular culture think themselves to be so smart. Preconceived notions travel in with the reviewer litmus tests are applied. The ultimate conspirators are the producers and directors who coopt the Highbrow Radical Manifesto, and instead of developing new works and authors they prod and poke existing works, ("Let’s see how the language stands on it’s own," "Let’s isolate the concept of jealousy in this text.") They do this all in the name of "preserving the Classics/Canon.)

Marlon Brando is dead. Isn’t that enough for them? His pitiful end, his sorrowful selling out, his inability to walk away from the money Hollywood provided was sad enough. However, they felt need to kick him the ass as he was lowered him into the ground. Before one week had gone by, articles appeared blaming Brando for the "unforgiveable" damage he had done to American acting.

Synge, in making his apology for the language gave them the rope, and in one hundred years time, they were able to hang him with it. What we have on stage now is the "Intellectual" Synge, and it doesn’t quite work that way. With emotion and raw power drained from the production, what is left leaves us scratching our heads, and creates quite a lot of rolling eyeballs at intermission.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Sonia Flew Reviews are all in...

Carolyn Clay weighed in on Sonia in today's Phoenix. She was delighted and has not a bad word to say. Her conclusion:

Still, this second act brings more than just the backstory. There is also, at last, the opportunity to pry open that window to the past. Slipping through it with sorrow and grace, Sonia flies. And so does Melinda Lopez.

I would say that most all critics treated Sonia Flew with grace and care, In fact, it may have been treated too softly. I loved about 96% of Sonia Flew. My own, personal opinion was that the ending of the play subverted much of the fantastic groundwork Lopez laid during the first two hours. (I'll go into more of my feelings once the run is over.)

Otherwise, the play is thoughtful and deftly structured, with even the concept of actors doubling for the roles helping to layer meaning. Really the only thing I could say is to second Will Stackman's notion in his review:

In "Sonia Flew", for once a newly developed script doesn't need pruning or rewritten scenes, but perhaps only a bit more detail, a slight loosening here and there. The force of the action would not be diminished by taking just a bit more time, which could be well spent contemplating this drama.

Agreed. Some of the isolated monologues for Sonia are incredibly awkward. She turns quickly to the audience, right in the middle of a scene, to talk about...Snow? More breathing room could integrate these passages more smoothly. I sensed that even the actress seemed a bit uncomfortable with the transitions. And there are some transitions of emotion that happen far too quickly. In certain spots people fly off the handle or make pronouncements that really should have some time to build.

The Wimberly is fantastic. I sat in the Mezzanine and, (Thank You God,) the seats are designed with enough room for ex-linemen like myself. I set out to the production wanting to write a little post about the experience of coming after a day's work into the city and trying to find parking, etc. However, I was lucky enough to pull up and find a metered spot right on Tremont!

It was sad to see the Leland Center all dark though. Ahhh memories, (good and bad.)

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

New Eugene O'Neill Posts....
"If those sweethearts won't face German bullets, they'll take French ones! "

With regard to the Reservists who refused orders in Iraq this past week:

I was watching Stanley Kubrick's brilliant Paths of Glory, and I think that everybody should see that film if they are pondering about the dilemna that the Reservist action presents.

The movie was playing on AMC and John McCain was actually co-hosting the presentation. I remember seeing the film a long time ago, before I served in the US Army.

There are many instances where there are corollaries, but the one that most stands out is the scene where the General orders an artillery sergeant to fire on their own troops. The Sergeant tells the General over the phone that he cannot fire on friendly coordinates without a signed written order. The General screams and screams, but the sergeant will not relent.

These reservists had deadlined equipment, allegedly. "Deadlined," for those of you without service background means that the vehicle or equipment is not supposed to go anywhere. Now, we all know that in combat you have to move whether the equipment is 100% or not, but the point is...if the convoy got into to trouble, because of the deadlined equipment, who would have taken the brunt of the blame. The officers who ordered them to go? Wrong. The Sergeant who deadlined the equipment? Yes. I know it seems messed up, but just read Catch 22 to try to understand.

The platoon of Reservists proved a valuable point, but one of the first things they say in basic is "Ours is not to reason why, but to do or die."

Should they be punished harshly? There is a horrifying logic that would say that they should.


What Is Next - The ART Audience will be called "flip-floppers."

Globe Reviewer Thomas Garvey is dead on about the earlier works of August Wilson in his review of Up You Mighty Race's production of Joe Turner.

My own preference is Ma Rainey's Black Bottom as the playwright's highest achievement. Ma Rainey is controlled craft bursting with the looseness of experimentation and jubilation of a playwright finding his unique voice. Joe Turner moves toward the tipping point of losing dramatic thrust and true conflict in the search for spiritual roots.

Though Ma Rainey's singing is not quite the par of the fire breathing theatrical coup of Herald Loomis's vision; Levee the trumpet player's situation and dramatic arc, which finishes in a stunning look at the truth of the situation of black americans in the 1920's, far overshadows Herald Loomis' arrival at the end of the play.

I will agree with Thomas Garvey that both represent better work than the current, but still powerful, Gem of the Ocean.

However, Mr. Garvey seems to have been watching too much Fox News and appears to want to pick political fights in the arts review section of the globe:

"Turner" feels like "community" theater in more ways than one. The audience on the night I attended was almost entirely black -- which never happens at the Huntington -- so for once it didn't feel as if I were watching Wilson under glass, with all the other nice white liberals. Instead, a direct connection between actor and audience slowly built to the play's riveting final scene. (Italics Mine)


WTF! While his observation of the ethnic makeup of the Huntington's normal audience base is on target, I think we all could have done without the white house talking points. "Nice White Liberals," are fighting words during this election period. I know that he is probably using the word in its pure definition which derives from the Latin root: liber. However, I hope that Mr. Garvey would be aware of how politically charged that word is in the current state of public discourse.

His positioning of the white audience of the Huntington being a safe distance from the black players on the stage is the classic structure for the "limousine liberal" tag we have heard played over and over through this campaign season.

It is an irresponsibly flip comment that indicts a great amount of people who make the development and commissioning of August Wilson's work possible.
I do applaud Mister Garvey's attempt to convey the communal experience he had while watching a play that is usually seen with predominantly white audiences. And he is right to point it out for two reasons. First, it is the truth. Second it is informing his readers that they can experience great theatre beyond the ART and the Huntington.
I think Mr. Wilson would agree that Up You Mighty Race would be the ideal place to see his work performed.



Tuesday, October 19, 2004

New Post on the O'Neill Project.

With Gem of the Ocean going on around town, along with Jo Turner's Come and Gone being performed by Up You Mighty Race, I can't help thinking about that time period. 1908-1911. Especially as I read O'Neill's early plays.

O'Neill was a young man during the time period of Gem and Jo Turner and he would shortly be writing plays.

Of course the Curse of the Bambino took hold after 1918, and so all sorts of goings on are forcing me to reflect on and experience that time period.

Friday, October 15, 2004

Sonia Flew Reviews Coming In...

Nothing sneaky going on here. I have a vague suspicion that if Sonia Flew was imported from New York or the South Coast Rep that some of the structural flaws would be overlooked and Lopez would be hailed a little more strongly. However, I have no evidence from these reviews to support that suspicion.

I am waiting to see what the Mirror and IRNE Reviews Look Like, but for now it is on to the Big Dogs...

Ed Siegel liked the performances and gives Martin props for the direction and goes on to say...

"But it's Lopez who deserves the primary credit for the presentation of such an intriguing slice of life. I don't know that "Sonia Flew" is a play for the ages, but it's certainly a play for our age. The first act is in keeping with several recent novels about immigration and assimilation, such as Gish Jen's "The Love Wife" and Jhumpa Lahiri's "The Namesake." "Sonia Flew" is more artful than either of those highly touted books.In Lopez's earlier work you can sense a struggle over her Cuban roots versus her American upbringing. She is still raising questions about ethnocentrism and assimilation, about Castro and capitalism, but it all seems more integrated now -- the writing, the voice, the sense of structure."

I have to say that I have not heard of Gish Jen or Jhumpa Lahiri. I have heard of the American Repertory Theatre though and Mr. Seigel provides his signature trademark by putting a little ART reference in...

"LeBow's comic timing almost always lights sparks at the American Repertory Theatre, and he provides the same service here."

WBUR's Bill Marx congratulates the Huntington, makes a call for more Boston premieres, gives some praise, but had problems with the depth and the structure a little:

Here Lopez is content to present rather than dig into larger themes: the clash between immigrant and mainstream America, the past and the present, parent and child. The ending in particular fizzles because Lopez does not bother to explore the inner lives of Sonia and Zak, to let them articulate what they have learned through pain.

Terry Byrne also liked the play but she also had more quibbles with the structure and the ending:

"But Lopez asks us to make a leap of faith that she hasn't quite earned. In the end, Lopez offers Sonia a kind of redemption that is a relief, but not as satisfying as it should be."


My Own Private Eugene O'Neill Project

When I was in the Army I set about one year reading all of Shakespeare.

I am starting an attempt at the complete Eugene O'Neill now. And if you would like, you can follow along. I will mention when I post updates and I will keep a link to the blog on the right hand side.

My Own Private Eugene O'Neill Project


Thursday, October 07, 2004

Make sure you read Heilpern's column about Rose Rage

Great words here:
Nothing can begin to capture the merciless killing that’s actually happening in the Henry cycle—except the words, the one living, eternal thing, the power and beauty of the language....Far from telling us how battle scenes should be staged, Shakespeare takes great care to instruct us not to stage them. The prologue to Henry V is an inspired, ironic apology: "O for a Muse of fire, that would ascend / The brightest heaven of invention! / A kingdom for a stage, princes to act / And monarchs to behold the swelling scene!"


Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Shakespeare Hitting the Conservative Mainstream!...
Oh...wait a minute...

It's not often that Drudge links to something truly cultural, but he did have a link to this Sun Article under the heading "Billy Bob Thornton: Shakespeare is Bulls**t."

All right, all right. I'll admit I am a fan of Bill Bob's understated acting turns and I still think Slingblade will survive the test of time as a great movie. So perhaps I clicked through thinking that maybe Billy Bob had an actual thesis.

However, I think I may have been seduced by the ever popular notion that intelligent actors are always well-read and culturally literate individuals.

Billy Bob really does apparently think Shakespeare is...well... bulls**t. And he goes on about it for a little bit. Here is just one of the choice passages:

“It’s not that I don’t understand it. But people think if you speak with an
English accent it somehow makes you smarter...I don’t believe in all the flowery language — all of his plays are just a series of soap operas."

No, ....ah...actually ,Mr. Thornton, I think you don't understand it. Perhaps the English accent thing is just a subtext of jealousy since
Angelina Jolie has had so much success as Lara Croft.

Why would Drudge link to it? Maybe if you close your eyes you
could see the President saying just such a thing.

It's settled, let us have a Town Hall type debate between Harold
Bloom
and Billy Bob to settle this Shakespeare thing once and for all.

It should be a saucy event, since both debaters have sordid
histories with younger females. Billy Bob's tempestuous liason with Angelina Jolie is well documented on E! Entertainment, almost nightly. However, Bloom's alleged sexual advances toward Naomi Wolf, the bombshell of the 90's-cool-to-feminist-movement, remains largely unmined for both literary and news potential.

Like Billy Bob said, "it's like a soap opera."

Monday, October 04, 2004

AMEN!

This from Susannah Clapp in the Observer:

The startling diversity of the things you can see on the stage is worth stressing in the face of the frequent attacks on the theatre in the press. When some one announces - often with an air of quiet pride - that they hate the theatre, they treat it as if it were one homogeneous thing. Go to see a crummy play which could have been produced anytime within the last 40 years (as could,
unfortunately, Cloaca last week at the Old Vic) and the cry goes up that 'the theatre' has had it. No one would think of condemning all movies because they thought Godard was pretentious or saying that they didn't like reading, because
Jeffrey Archer's novels aren't all that hot.


Bill Marx wrote me an e-mail about my Moomtaj posting. He rightly pointed out that my barb regarding his review of Moomtaj was off base in that it didn't reference anything he really wrote in his actual review.

My main point of the posting was to look at how the three critics addressed the riskiness of the New Rep. The barbs at the contents of the reviews were more of blogger's license.

In Marx's case I actually was more trying to caricature highbrow ideology, but his criticism is fair. I guess my humor needs work.





Friday, September 24, 2004

Did Critics Put Their Money Where Their Moomtaj Is?

In the last Mere Opinions on Larry's Theatermirror, I linked to the Globe, Herald, and WBUR theatre columns about risky business on the stages around town. The concerns raised by all three were clustered around the paucity in productions of Boston, Regional, or World Premieres in the area.

Well, New Rep snagged the World Premiere of Michael Weller’s new play Approaching Moomtaj. while the Theatre Mirror crew, (Larry, Carl Rossi, and Will Stackman,) all appear to have had slight reservations along with a good time at the theatre, some of the Elliot Norton Critics found it a little more tedious.

The important thing to me though is…How did the Guardians of The Theatrical Canon address the New Rep’s endeveaor.

HERALD

Terry Byrne, who chastised us all for not being risky enough to mount Beauty and the Beast, found herself so disconnected from the play’s theme that she seemed a little detatched through the whole review. (Not quite as harsh as her Tommy review, which after its printing probably prompted some to send condolence cards to the musicians.)

Aside from the obligatory World Premiere moniker in her introduction to the play, she doesn’t go out of her way to address New Rep’s riskiness in mounting this production. This seems odd since she praised them for their courage in mounting Sweeney Todd, (a project with a built in cult audience.)

http://theedge.bostonherald.com/artsNews/view.bg?articleid=45181

*Note: Terry is the best friend small theatre has right now in the mainstream press. She really is going out of her way to mention fringe and small theatre companies in her columns. (Rough and Tumble, Company One, Mill Six, Etc.) In fact, she even went so far as to list, in detail, where people can see theatre at out of the way spaces.

GLOBE

Now that Caroline or Change has closed on Broadway, Ed Siegel will have to wait anxiously to see who will pick it up here, but in the meantime he seems willing to patiently wait through arduous evenings of World Premieres of unkown plays.

Going a little farther than Terry Byrne, he mentions in the first graf, "The New Repertory Theatre has pulled off something of a coup in attracting the world premiere.." However, little else is mentioned with regards to this because Mr. Siegel has to save column space for his favorite pasttimes:

1. Plugging the American Repertory Theatre: "So enter, much to this production's benefit, Thomas Derrah as Wylie. Derrah's ability to get inside Wylie's irreverence and keep us guessing about the character's machinations and motives provides the spice of "Moomtaj." His Wylie is the kind of guy who reminds you what it was like to inhale, and then inhale some more, with or without "White Rabbit" playing in the background. The interplay between American Repertory Theatre veteran Derrah and New York actor Robert Prescott as Walker is terrific…"
and…

2. Comparing Theatre to the Movies: "When you compare the people and the metaphors of 'Approaching Moomtaj' to their counterparts in a similar exercise, 'The Singing Detective,' 'Moomtaj' seems like a landscape still in need of artistic development."

http://www.boston.com/ae/theater_arts/articles/2004/09/24/approaching_moomtaj_is_one_long_trip/
WBUR
Bill Marx, who made the strongest and clearest argument for " world" premieres, knows he has to spend some time addressing this and he does so by gritting his teeth and getting it over with in the first sentence:"The New Repertory Theatre kicks off its 20th season with something risky and that is to be congratulated. Not only is "Approaching Moomtaj" a world premiere production but it is also a play that deals with the reverberations of 9/11 in the American psyche."

However, the formalities end there. For even though Moomtaj is a World Premiere by a known playwright, it has three strikes against it: the playwright is American, the Play was written after George Bernard Shaw’s passing, and it tries to deal with technology as an impact on our lives. In other words, it already has three limbs cut off when starting the Highbrow steeplechase.


http://www.publicbroadcasting.net/wbur/arts.artsmain?action=viewArticle&

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Brain Drain?


I hitched a ride with a vending machine repairman
He said he's been down this road more than twice
He was high on intellectualism
I've never been there, but the brochure looks nice
- Sheryl Crow

In the past years the independent Journals have been tryingly frantically to figure out what is happening to the Intellectuals of the world.
Comment magazine had an article on the death of the New York intelligentsia. While based more on the the specific tradition of the Jewish Intellectuals, they see the vanishing of that movement to lie in its inability to bequeath itself to to any heirs. Instead, they argue, the New York Intellectual movement was taken up by more global interests Leading to the next article...

Now the New Statesman reviews a new book called Where Have All The Intellectuals Gone? The author of Where, Frank Ferudi seems to tilt his lance at the windmills of leftist culture which seem to stress, more and more, the openess of interpretation.

In other words, if we keep acknowledging that the world is too large and contains too many cultures for us to be objective, then what happens to the critical intellectual:

"Once society is considered too complex to be known as a whole, however, the idea of truth yields to both specialism and relativism."

The article then goes on to say that intellectualism, always concerned with truth, is then enslaved under the rigors of utilitarianism:

"With the decline of the critical intellectual, the thinker gives way to the expert, politics yields to technocracy, and culture and education lapse into forms of social therapy. The promotion of ideas plays second fiddle to the provision of services. Art and culture become substitute forms of cohesion, participation and self-esteem in a deeply divided society. Culture is deployed to make us feel good about ourselves, rather than to tackle the causes of those divisions, implying that social exclusion is simply a psychological affair. That to feel bad about ourselves is the first step towards transforming our situation is thus neatly sidestepped. What matters is not the quality of the activity, but whether it gets people off the streets. Extravagant justifications for culture are piously touted: it can cure crime, promote social bonding, pump up self-assurance, even tackle Aids. It helps to heal conflict and create community - a case, ironically, dear to the heart of that bogeyman of the anti-elitists, Matthew Arnold. As Furedi points out, art can indeed have profound social effects; but it rarely does so when its value as art is so airily set aside."


But the actual money shot of the argument is this:


"The feel-good factor flourishes in education as well. University academics are discouraged from fostering adversarial debate, in case it should hurt someone's feelings."

The idea that everybody is right, necessarily disqualifies argument or "talk," which the New York intellectuals of the Comment article seemed to treasure so highly.

Having somewhat of an inferiority complex I am fascinated with these highbrow concepts and I guess I view them with a wary eye because I find that the modern Highbrow standards can inevitably turn to credentialing. In other words, "What right do you have to make artistic or intellectual judgements?" Is there a certain time in service? Is it your degree? Is it your ability?

Mmmmm.

Friday, September 03, 2004

Ed Siegel Is Submitting His Takeout Menu as Well

Terry Byrne and Ed Seigel are becoming like cantankerous old Donor/Subscribers with their laundry lists of all of the shows they would like to see here in Boston. (See my letter to Terry Byrne post below.)

Ed Siegel, in his latest , wants to see Caroline or Change done here and that is admirable and needed. And perhaps our major critics are urging us in baby steps. Maybe getting the latest hot new plays from other places on a faster basis will build some sort of critical mass amongst the theatre culture here in Boston. Then, the wisdom would follow, you would build the up the hunger and soon other places won't be able to supply fast enough and it will have to come from within our own ranks.

My fears about this type of plan is our position as a third class theatre town being strengthened. In other words, it is not enough that the Colonial and the Wang are hosts to touring companies from the Great White Way, Ed and Terry want to turn our smaller companies and houses into touring receptacles for other cities artistic successes.

They should be pushing for new musicals and plays to be birthed here, so that they could then champion on to life in other cities, but their heart isn't it, and they don't trust their critical convictions.

I do admire Ed Siegel's acknowledgement that the musical theatre in Boston is doing a great job, and I guess it is merely a mild polite nudge he is giving.
Does Anybody Have Any Idea What Terry Byrne is Talking About?

Terry, Terry, Terry. Your recent tepid tirade at Boston Theatre has all the excitement and chastisement as Lynne Cheney's speech at the Republican convention. I read your article: "Hub Theatres Should Live More Dangerously" and I thought I would write you as a concerned outsider. I don’t want you to do anything to hurt yourself or those around you.

My inclination, after reading the article’s headline was to say, "Good for you!." "Look at our Terry asserting herself!" However, once I finished the entire article, I had second thoughts. Maybe, I pondered, Terry Byrne should learn to live more dangerously.

You open with a chastisement about 4 works that won't be premiering in Boston. Well, the following works that are opening at regional theatres from Chicago to LaJolla won't be playing in Boston either: Lost Land by Stephen Jeffreys (featuring John Malkovich), The Pain and the Itch by Bruce Norris, Finishing the Picture by Arthur Miller,(Adaptation) A Doll House by Rebecca Gilman, Brooklyn Boy by Donald Marguiles, Vesuvius by Lucinda Coxson, and On the Mountain by Christoper Shinn.

Terry, what is the point? What is your definition of "daring"? Or "living dangerously?" Do you want new plays that are premiering here, or do you want more award winners that have had success in other cities?
I cannot believe that a serious article with such a challenging headline would include the sentence: "North Shore Music Theatre has become the area's most daring programmer, combining artistically rewarding pieces (the brilliant ``Pacific Overtures'') with a commitment to world premieres of musicals." I am really hoping you were being sarcastic, but I don’t think the rest of the article supports that kind of interpretation.

I think North Shore is a fantastic regional musical theatre, but.... Beauty and The Beast? Chicago? Even Tom Jones, which you don't mention, was first workshopped at Theatre Royal York in 1998.

It gets better though. You follow up a couple of paragraphs later: "But it's primarily the smaller theaters in town that take the biggest risks. Sugan Theatre Company will stage `Gagarin Way,' which was a hit in London a few years back." Isn't that sentence a paradox of a sort. A risk is staging something that was a proven hit? Terry, I am trying to follow you, but it is a little hard.

Again, I mean nothing disparaging against the theatre companies mentioned in the article, all of them do top notch work. For instance, you mention Company One, and I agree that they present more daring offerings, but you use their production of plays by Stephen Guirgis as an example of their daring, (plays that garnered worldwide attention and extended runs in New York and London,). What you should have mentioned is their courage in producing A Clockwork Orange, for which they took massive critical lumps.

Terry, my point is, I don’t think you really believe your original thesis for the article. Indeed, for an article with such a tone of chastisement for the theatre community in general, you go on to praise just about every company in Downtown Boston. And in case you’ve forgotten someone, you end the article with your awards for "FOUR WHO DARED:" (which kind of sounds like a forgotten war movie starring John Wayne.)

You include the following as examples of daring shows to have been mounted... Bat Boy, Bad Dates, and Sweeney Todd. No offense to the Huntington, Speakeasy, or New Rep, but the real daring parties were the original producers of those shows in other cities.

Maybe you should read up on excitement and daring. Want to read about daring? Check out this story about the House Theatre in Chicago:


What does Allen, the 26 year old Artistic Director of the house then do with his new fame? He stages a completely experimental and risky play. With the results being received very tepidly:
by
The Sun Times and…

The Chicago Tribune

Terry, maybe don’t try to be so inflammatory, it doesn't suit you. Deep in your heart, it would appear that you don't want to be controversial. And that is not a bad thing. Risky theatre and original work isn't for everyone, not even for some of those who produce it. And, most of it isn't really good either.

If you want a lesson in living dangerously go to Seattle or New York or Chicago for a season. I guarantee you won't like it. You see Terry, some people find going to see new work thrilling, but I doubt you really do. It sounds to me that what you are REALLY asking for in this article is for our theatre companies to do more of the plays you have heard about, but haven't been able to see. I don’t want to tell you that I know what’s best for you, but believe me, going to see "dangerous" work would make you irritable, you would start to hate it and then I am afraid you would take it out on everybody else.

As for dangerous theatre, step aside and leave it to those critics who really want to see us become a world class theatre town. Who really believe in us, and don’t just want to see our talents put to use solely by reproducing what has been hot last season in New York or London.

If you set the bar for living dangerously at producing Rebecca Gilman plays that have played in London, and New York then believe me, that is as high as people will reach.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

The Biggest Art News in Boston...is the Mayor of San Francisco

When I opened up the Globe to The Living Arts Section of the Boston Globe this past Tuesday, I was immediately curious as to what the large , above-the-fold picture and headline was all about. I was instantly feeling a bit of jealousy toward the local artist that had scored this unprecedented feature treatment. Was it about the new Actors Shakespeare Project? Mmmm. The gentleman in the photo didn't look like Ben Evett, or John Kuntz who will be playing Richard the II in their first production.

Unfolding the paper I saw 3 more color photos accompanying the article on that page. My heart sank a little bit as I realized that the Living/Arts section had been commandeered for neither Living nor Arts news, but instead was a massive article about Gavin Newsome, the celebrated Mayor of San Fransisco. Turning the pages I found that another whole half page was devoted to Mr. Newsome along with two more black and white photos, one of them reprinted from another magazine. I read the article, which was so substantial I felt as if I was reading the New York Review of Books.

In fact, the only thing getting in the way of the Newsome article taking over the whole section was one of the more thoughtful reviews Ed Seigel has written in a while. He compared Rondstadt's Cyrano De Bergerac to Checkov, using the productions at Barrington Stage and Williamstown respectively. (However, Mr Siegel could not resist his nice plug for the A.R.T.'s production of Uncle Vanya in 2002.)

Now, Gavin Newsome is news, I understand that. And I also agree with his statement that his actions this past year will end up on the right side of history. And, if I wanted to stretch for reasons for his inclusion in the Living Arts section I could maybe make a case for the act of his marrying of same sex couples being the ultimate performance art.

However, when was the last time a local arts group or artist received four color and two black and white photos and such an overwhelmingly positive story.

Banging the drum of more local arts coverage feels more and more like beating the dead horse, and I have to say that things have changed for the better. But, man we have got to break through at some point.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

High Brow Talking Points....Complete With Backhanded Compliments!
 
After Ron Reagan Junior gave his speech on Stem Cell Research at the Democratic National Convention, FoxNews Anchor Brit Hume noted that the Bush Campaign was already sending out e-mail missives to counter the points in Reagan's speech. It couldn't have been a few minutes after Reagan had stepped away from the podium when Mr. Hume said, "Already E-mail boxes are being inundated with the word that Federal Research Money for Stem Cells has increased from 10 Million to 20 Million under Bush."

Anybody who follows politics as either a serious endeavour or as a sport knows the idea of talking points. They are the things that need to be emphasised during a certain time period in order bolster a cause, or to defend an especially successful strike by the other side.

The High-Brow critics seem to be eerily on the same wavelength regarding the passing of the actor Marlon Brando. The retrospectives from two critics known to us would almost appear to have come out of the same strategy meeting.

I first read Bill Marx's column about Brando here. and just kind of shrugged it off as typical Hitchen's like contrarianism. (Read Hitchen's recent blasting of Ronald Reagan, Sr. while the corpse was still warm. Ick.)

Marx compares Brando to Eleanor Duse and though he begrudgingly acknowledges Brando's acting turns, he feels the need to stomp on the dead man's grave using a boot made from the life of a dead woman who has hardly given him permission. It is a weird analysis straight out of the "good-ole'-days-when-work-was-hard-and-death-was-harder," playbook.

The recent reporting on Brando's career have all included discussions of his shoddy work ethic and the fact that he never returned to the stage. However, Mr. Marx wants to blame Marlon Brando for the economic realities of life for the American actor. Perhaps if actors on the stage were paid enough to afford a decent living in the city, then a life of suffering through high-brow critical bashings of every work written after Shaw's passing, would be easier to take. While her childhood was spent fighting poverty, Eleanora Duse was eventually a celebrity who partied with the A-List set, had affairs, tried to burn down a house, (a la Lisa "Left-Eye" Lopes of TLC,) and left a husband and daughter in pursuit of her "art." (How’s that for contrarian?) Marx would have done better to come up with an example of somebody who suffered through extreme poverty to their last gasp in order to worship the works of the masters.

Ms. Duse was reported to have said something to the effect that she could not understand how American actors could play the same part night after night and how that must be deadening to the artistic inspiration. I agree with the deadening part, but I am at odds with her lack of understanding.
Besides the point of the weird comparison and his throwaway line about Brando's acting turns in On The Waterfront and Streetcar being "dated," Marx’s main thesis is contradicted by the recent influx of movie/theatre actors such as Liev Schreiber, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, John C. Reilly, Alec Baldwin, and Sigourney Weaver (From Aliens to an A.R. Gurney play to say the least.) Not to mention Anne Heche. Nathan Lane tried his hand at an offbeat Simon Gray play at the Huntington Theatre Company.

Like I said, I was prepared to let it go until I saw the recent post-mortem written by Robert Brustein:

Apparently the guardians of our culture have a meeting of the minds on this one. It is not enough to lament the the way that Marlon Brando personally squandered his talent, (you’ll get no argument from me,) but Brustein accuses Brando of "neglecting a crucial obligation of the actor, which is to preserve the great roles of the classical and modern repertory." He also names a bunch of actors such as Paul Newman, Steve McQueen, etc., as evidence that Brando ruined the acting gene pool in this country.

I am surprised at both Marx and Brustein, since they are both usually so good at wrestling with financial and governmental policies with regard to the Arts. (Marx's recent column on how corporate sponsorship of the arts might not be the blessing it would appear to be was dead on.) Shame on both of them for taking advantage of the passing of Brando to pin on him the death of American acting. Having attended more than one of the poor productions at the ART over the past decade I might make the judgement that Mr. Brustein let the inmates run the asylum far too many times. This resulting in such sloppy and disconnected acting that one could almost believe they were in the midst of a playschool imagination hour. Yet his theatre marketing proclaims...World Class Theatre!   

In a few weeks we will watch the Republican Convention and more talking points will fly from both sides.  Brustein's and Marx's attacks on Brando represent Art criticism as ideology. They are the George Wills to their cause, much as Dale Peck is the Michael Savage to their cause.

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Standing Headline.

Is Serious Drama Dying?


John Heilprin details, in the Observer, the downfall of the much-raved-about revival of The Normal Heart at the Public in New York.

Some of the highlights...

"It’s sobering to report that the critics who enthusiastically supported The Normal Heart—myself among them—had little or no influence. A spot check of all the critics of the play (newspapers, magazines, dot-com and radio) reveals this: Out of 42 reviews, seven were negative, 21 were positive and 14 were raves.

Among the thumbs-up were influential outlets as varied as The New York Times (a "gale force," “benchmark drama”—Ben Brantley) and Variety (“a defining work of theater,” “blisters with conviction and heart”—Charles Isherwood). John Simon of New York magazine—renowned for not being too easily pleased—concluded his rave review: “In the end you will hear fellow theatergoers weeping all around you, the sound muffled only by that of your own cathartic sobbing.”

Larry Kramer said, "Why didn’t the gays go to Normal Heart? I’ll tell you: They’re going to see Hugh Jackman instead."

When The Normal Heart opened at the Joseph Papp Public Theater in 1985, it ran for 10 months and attracted a crossover audience for what became the longest-running production in the Public’s history.


The current production played in the Public’s Anspacher, an intimate space with only 275 seats. But no performance ever sold out. In fact, box-office sales—including discounted tickets—were never higher than 58 percent, and in the final two weeks they were disastrously lower.




Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Fears of Fallout from Fahrenheit 911

An Ex Army Captain talks about his fears that the Baby Killer phenomenon will rekindle. He writes an essay in today's Salon. (Sorry, it is a paid site)


I believe Andrew Exum's fears, while definitely well-placed and well-said, betray every bit of the elitist and condescending attitude that he accuses the liberal audience of displaying in embracing Fahrenheit 911.

Without giving Moore credit for being half the intelligent and subtle thinker that he himself is, Exum frames as accidental Moore's depiction of the duality of the situation into which soldiers must assimilate, (wholly instruments of death and wholly human beings,) as accidental. But it gets worse.

It would appear that Mr. Exum thinks that films like Control Room and Fahrenheit 911 are dangerous, but not because of their ideology, partisan nature, or their convictions. No, Exum is fearful of Fahrenheit 911 because he thinks that the audience is incapable of understanding it.








Friday, July 09, 2004

Naeema White-Peppers lashes out at Will Stackman

Well, it looks as if Naeema couldn't take anything but glowing reviews any longer and lashes out at Will Stackman with an articulate letter about Stackman's preoccupation with her race. She sent it snail mail, but copied Larry Stark and he posted it it on Mere Opinions.

I have to admit, his little reference in his Popcorn review about Naeema being african-american did seem a little out of line at the time I read it.

Naeema does herself a little damage by misqouting Stackman. The whole quote from the quick-take review is..."Naeemah A. White Peppers, in her last Zeitgeist role for a while, doesn't fit the part of a Playboy centerfold/now actress and hasn't found a way to make being African-American add anything to the piece."

Naeemah quotes it as "Naeemah A. White Peppers hasn't found a way to make being African-American add anything to the piece." I have a feeling she left out the first half for reasons other than her wanting to focus on the second half. (Naeemah, darling, if you are going to parse quotes at least remember the ...'s.)

If you actually read Stackman's longer review on Aisle-Say, his paragraph about his feelings on this issue read as follows:

"The weakest part of the play begins when Bruce returns with Brook Daniels, a Playboy centerfold turned actress-- the show's stalest running joke--and a predictable seduction ensues, which includes an entertaining pantyhose stip-tease routine. It was inevitable that Zeitgeist regular Naeemah A. White-Peppers play this role. While there's nothing beyond her repertoire in the part, there's nothing in the script to capitalize on her African-American presence either, even when Brook draws a gun on Bruce to prove she can be scarey and should be in his next picture. It would have been more interesting to cast some pneumatic blond as this ambitious nude model and have White-Peppers play the avaricious wife. The part of Velvet could easily have been done by any one of several talented young local actresses of color."

Naeemah may have a point, because although Stackman seems to be advocating for the better roles for African Americans, he does seem to be overly preoccupied with the subject. It reminds me of the recent book, Redneck Nation, in which the author said that nowhere in the country is the color of people's skin so much a part of the dialogue than in the so called Liberal Northeast.

However, Naeemah then veers off in a strange direction. Her paragraph about Circle starts off OK, she is on message with the fact that African Americans should be able to play parts of hispanics, but then she goes sideways. She immediately channels August Wilson from the great Town Hall debates with Robert Brustein, and says that it is ridiculous for whites to be playing characters in plays written about the black experience.

Naeemah seems to adhere to "author's intention." If the author isn't specific about ethnicity, then it is all right to use color blind casting, but if the situation or the author's notes are indicative, then that is the law.

It is a legitimate viewpoint, but it is frighteningly limited when you expand it.

What does Naeemah think of the recent True West in New York where the brothers were played by two women? What does she think of black actors playing the majority of Shakespeare's parts?

Her criticism of Stackman is an interesting question, though.





Thursday, June 24, 2004

THE GUARDIAN CORONATES CHICAGO AS OUR NEW THEATRICAL HUB

I have long tried to tell my compadres here in Boston that you don't know what a real theatre town is, (and what we are missing,) until you have been there.

I experienced a little of the energy of a dynamic theatre town in Seattle in the Mid to Late Nineties. And in speaking to Chicago Theatre Alumni, they seem to have similar fond recollections.

Michael Billington is making the Chicago aura almost official in his column in the Guardian.

An interesting observation in the piece is that Chicago sits so far away from the two magnetic poles of New York and LA that they are, in a way, freer.

Thursday, June 17, 2004

LONG WHARF NETS 30MIL FOR A NEW SPACE FROM...GUESS WHO?

I must credit my wife with this link...

Read all the details here. Apparently this is something that has been in the works for years.

From the article:

"We have proven across the state that this formula for urban revitalization works. We are proud to be continuing our investment in the future and the people of New Haven. It is New Haven's time." - Connecticut Governor John G. Rowland


Friday, June 11, 2004

Ouch!

Those of you in the theatre community who don't follow Brendan Kiley of the Stranger in Seattle should really check him out now and then.

He is a strange amalgamation of critic and artist. Sometimes maddening, always truthful, and mostly entertaining.

Check out his experience in performing recently....with a group of theatre artists he had previously given bad reviews to. Read the column here.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

HONORING NON-EQUITY COMPANIES

Chicago has awards that honor "bold and productive" non equity companies...The Jeff Citations.

Baliwick Repertory Company, the creators of Sin; A Cardinal Deposed took home a number of awards.

Coverage is here in the Chicago Tribune

Caroline Ellis posted a quick Mere Opinions to Larry's site regarding Subscriptions.

She doesn't provide a link to the article she references in the Wall Street Journal but she does provide the data from the article.

She ends her entry by saying: "Anyway the research seems to indicate that the sacred cow of season subscriptions is not sustainable. I guess that means theaters might do better putting their resources into promoting single shows. (The promotion of "Three Penny Opera" at the New Rep this year comes to mind.) It's interesting. I know a lot of people would disagree with this."


Season tickets provide the steady influx of cash needed to support theatre. Marketing and banking on individual shows would destroy any hope of perpetuating new work or innovative theatre. Without subscriptions the theatre company is left to the harsh conditions of an entertainment and arts marketplace that is incredibly hostile to any risk, chance, or attempts at innovation.

Shows like Threepenny Opera, or Scapin at the New Rep can only come with a subscription audience. In an article in American Theatre about the Circle Rep (or maybe the Roundaboout?) in New York City, the artistic director said that his financial strategy is, "Screw the single ticket buyer." Basically, the philosophy is, "Why should I give you a discount, or go out of my way to please you if you are only coming to see this one show?" It is a simple strategy that comes from a confidence that you are doing good work. If the single ticket buyer likes your show they will want to see more, and the way to get discounts is to become a subscriber.

The serious problems arising from subscriptions seems to be the aging and conservative subscriber bases of some of the primary LORT theatres in the country. Younger ticket buyers are less likely to buy into a subscription series which contain 2 Warhorses, 2 Chestnuts, a "forgotten masterpiece", and maybe only one new play.
Bill Marx comes swooping down from his highbrow perch to slash the celebrating Ruby Sunrise.

Middelbrows Unite

I can't comment specifically because I haven't seen or read the play.

I think that highbrow critics such as Marx get a real charge out of thinking of themselves as the last bastion of defense against mediocrity. However, I think he has a point here. The corporate onslaught of popular entertainment faces its last hurdle..."critical acceptance"....before it takes over completely.

His article seems free of political ideology.

Thursday, June 03, 2004

NEW WORKS WATCH

In the past month or so I have been looking at some of the leading Regional Theatres around the country as they announced their 2004-2005 Seasons. Here is how much some of the larger and more influential Regionals are devoting to new work:

Steppenwolf Theatre Company

2 World Premieres

Lost Land by Stephen Jeffreys (featuring John Malkovich)
The Pain and the Itch by Bruce Norris

The Goodman Theatre

1 ½ World Premieres
Finishing the Picture by Arthur Miller
(Adaptation) A Doll House by Rebecca Gilman


Seattle Rep….
GOOSE EGG!

South Coast Repertory Theatre

4 World Premieres!

Brooklyn Boy by Donald Marguiles
Vesuvius by Lucinda Coxson
On the Mountain by Christoper Shinn
One World Premiere to be Announced

La Jolla Playhouse

4 World Premieres!

700 Sundays by Billy Crystal
Jersey Boys (Musical) Book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elise, Music by Bob Gaudio
The Scottish Play by Lee Blessing
Paris Commune (Musical) by Steve Cosson and Michael Friedman

Arena Stage (Washington)

GOOSE EGG!

Here is how the Major Boston Regionals are doing along the same lines:


Huntington Theatre Company
2 World Premieres

Sonia Flew by Melinda Lopez
Culture Clash in America – Collaborative Work


American Repertory Theatre
GOOSE EGG

Friday, April 30, 2004

A Round of Applause!?

Check out this column about A Raisin in Sun with Sean Combs.


I don't think that I could really add anything to Peggy Noonan's comment about how the audience reaction to a major plot point has changed so much in a short amount of time.

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Jay Severin Celebrates A Retraction?….Just One Problem…….

The Globe did not print a retraction, or an apology. They printed a correction of what Jay actually said. A clarification. Once again, no retraction, and no apology.

I listen to Jay almost everyday, and I was shocked at his dancing and celebrating over this yesterday. I had thought that he would let it go and hope that the storm passes.

He sounds, I hate to say this, like a desperate man. He calls his audience his best and brightest, but it is clear to me that Jay is banking on his estimation that a large portion of his his audience does not read the paper, or at least not the Globe. But, the Herald published a follow up to the story today, so some of his strategy might fail.
The fact that WTKK will not release the transcripts is hurting Jay really badly.

In the end though he is a dynamic and interesting speaker. He is an entertainer and he has an audience. I like Howard Stern, and I am saddened that people who don't approve of his sexual references want him fired. My reaction to those people is, "if you don't like it, turn it off." I don't approve of what Severin says and I turn him off when I don't like it.

But here is the difference. While Severin has the right to say whatever he wants, he must own up to what he says and stand behind it, or try to explain himself if it is misconstrued. And apologize if it is necessary. Howard Stern stands up for what he says, he believes what he is saying is not wrong and he offers no apologies.

Therefore, with Severin, I really believe that in the case of his statement, "I think we should kill them," we are faced, logically, (as Jay would say,) with a limited number of options.

1. Jay didn't say it.
2. Jay said it, but didn't mean it the way it is perceived.
3. Jay really believes it and stands by it.

The transcripts of the broadcast disprove option #1.

I am satisfied that the articles in the paper show that he wants to make option #2 the answer, but I think Severin should do a better job on his show of proving #2 is true because...

Option #3 would mean that based on his statements, according to the transcripts, he truly believes in the genocide of Muslims in this country.

Whether he is entertaining or not. Nobody should be sponsoring or listening to somebody who advocates that.

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Jay Severin's Bold Gamble

Most people who listen to talk Radio in Boston at least know who Jay Severin is. Last week he got into some hotwater as an Islamic Group called for his firing because he allegedly said, "I have an idea, lets kill all the Muslims," during a broadcast. The Boston Globe published an article about it, saying that somebody had contacted Severin's employer.

I was listening to the radio when Severin said the comments last week. I read the Boston Globe article, but really I couldn't remember Severin's exact words, although I remembered the tirade was very edgy and uncomfortable.

I tuned in Monday because the Boston Globe stated something about Severin offering an apology. Severin took to the airwaves on Monday and rather than offer an apology, he ranted about the Globe misquoting him and not doing any due diligence and that he was possibly going to sue the Globe. However, Severin, would not read any transcript of what he said, nor would he play the tape of his diatribe.

I went online when I went home and looked at the Globe article again. The article frames all of the quotes as "alleged," and it seems as if somebody did contact his boss at the radio station. What was frustrating me about Jay's Monday broadcast is that he just kept hammering home that he did not say what they attributed to him, but he did not clarify what he actually said.

Well, the Globe published a follow up article today and they provided a transcript. Jay's actual comment, following a caller who was trying to explain that a lot of Muslims in this country seem to love freedom, was, "I have an alternative viewpoint. It's slightly different than yours. You think we should befriend them; I think we should kill them."

In the Globe article Severin is trying to spin and parse this six ways to Sunday, but, in the end, Severin was talking about Muslims in this country in his runup to that statement.

The arrogance he displayed by hiding behind the fact that he didn't say, "I have an idea, let's kill all the Muslims," is truly amazing.

My theory is that Jay is actually banking on some twisted belief that his "best and brightest," (a term he uses for his audience.) don't read a newspaper. He is lying straight to his listening audience hoping that:

A. The transcript won't surface.
B. It won't make anymore news than the Globe.
C. His audience are so racist, xenophobic, and facist that they just won't care.

Anybody who listens to Jay at all knows that he is all about strategy. And I believe that he is taking a risk of just outright lying to his audience in hopes that this will blow over.

An Islamic caller called in yesterday and said that he had heard the call last week as well. He asked Jay to clarify what Jay had said. Severin crushed him off of the air. But before he was off, the Islamic man said, to the best of my recollection, "Jay, this is going to be your demise, not telling the truth, here."

I can't wait to tune in today. My prediction is that Jay will not say anything at all, keeping his fingers crossed that the storm has passed.

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

My Mere opinions column on Larry Stark’s Theatre Mirror produced a host of responses. I do think we are doing a good job here, but it is not enough. I still remain convinced of that.

Recently, The Stranger, an alternative paper in Seattle interviewed 5 Artistic Directors in the Seattle Theater scene. Here is a quote from Allison Narver, Artistic Director of the Empty Space Theatre.

“Ten years ago there were a number of fringe theaters that produced all year long, like Annex. We produced 15 shows a year and we never stopped, so you had a bunch of non-equity actors really developing their chops.”

This was the time frame when I lived in the Seattle area. The experience energized me, thrilled me, inspired me. There was so much experiment going on, so much trying of new things, pushing boundaries and experimenting with what you could do with small spaces.

Think of it...a number of fringe theaters that produced all year long...15 shows a year.

Maybe Will Stackman has a point. Maybe we need to do some banding together and block out several months of the BCA to run repertory with several companies.


Thursday, April 15, 2004

Insurrections, Uprisings, and Revolutions.....Oh My!

The partisan political extremists are having a fun time parsing the current round of newspeak. The recent events in Fallujah are a tragic playing out of our worst fears about the military occupation of Iraq. When lives are being fed into the machine of war, it is my guess that pure outrage keeps coming up against language and the role of language in society.

Bill O'Reilly sounded off against the major media, as he always does, by taking them to task on their labeling of the events in Iraq last week as an "uprising." The popular newsman was a little perturbed to find that a number of newspapers were covering the violent struggle with cleric Sadr's militia by using the word uprising in the headlines of their stories. With his high school teaching background so firmly instilled in him, O'Reilly turned to the dictionary to make his case.

"Look in any dictionary," O'Reilly said on his radio show, "and in the definition you find for uprising you will see the word 'popular.'"

Indeed, he is correct. For instance, Mirriam Webster defines uprising the following way: "an act or instance of rising up; especially : a usually localized act of popular violence in defiance usually of an established government." A quick look at the American Heritage Dictionary will find this definition: "A sometimes limited popular revolt against a constituted government or its policies; a rebellion." A few isolated pockets of resistance around a large country like Iraq do not constitute an uprising goes O'Reilly's logic.

His solution? He claims that he would have no beef if the media had used the word "insurrection." O'Reilly did not go on to define insurrection, and so I had to do a little digging myself. I will confess that I had always thought of insurrection and uprising as almost interchangeable synonyms, but upon my investigation I grudgingly had to concede the difference. Though Webster's and American Heritage define the terms in just about the same way, the definitions of insurrection in both dictionaries are lacking conspicuously the word "popular." The American Heritage defines insurrection as, "The act or an instance of open revolt against civil authority or a constituted government."

Michael Moore, on the way left of the political spectrum, is also putting on his scholar's cap to weigh in on the language debate swirling around last week's firefights with his latest message on his website. He mentions Orwell and gives some blustery corrective vocabulary lessons. He corrects the use of the word “contractors” as putting a nice spin on the actual “soldiers of fortune,” who are doing “mercenary” work in Iraq right now. He also chides us for talking about Halliburton as a “company,” as he would rather we use the term “war profiteer.”

The jury is out about how right he is, although Salon.com has an interesting article on just what a lot of those “contractors,” we keep reading about in the news are doing in Iraq. However, I was most interested in the Moore’s statement, “The Iraqis who have risen up against the occupation are not ‘insurgents’ or ‘terrorists’ or the ‘Enemy’ they are the REVOLUTION, they are the minutemen and their number will grow.” I love Michael Moore, but I have to correct him. If he thinks that the militia of Sadr is the “Revolution” then it would hold that they should also embrace the title of “insurgents.” As we learned in our first partisan vocabulary lesson today, revolt is a part of the definition of an insurrection, which happens to be made up of “insurgents.”

The fulcrum of all of this parsing is popularity and we know from our last election in this country that popularity does not determine the outcome in governance, and looking at history it does not determine the outcome in revolutions either. After all, early reality shows on TV show learned quickly that if the audience was left to vote the participants off the shows didn’t turn out all that exciting.

Early in the Iraq war last year, I remember a great debate about whether or not the American forces were encountering “fierce,” resistance as reported by the major media outlets. The right wing was furious, saying that anybody reporting fierce resistance, “just wanted the war to go badly.” My thoughts were basically this: If I want to get down a street that I originally thought it would take me twenty minutes to go down and it now takes me two days to get down that street because people are shooting at me, I would call that fierce resistance. But hey, what do I know?

There is drama somewhere in all of this. And certainly comedy, but just the wordplay is not enough. I think is speaks somewhere to our deep desire, in a time of crisis, to either overstate, or understate the point. Hey, look at what we have done to the massacre, the murder, and the tragedy of the events of September 11, 2001. We call it 9/11, obfuscating into a numerical code because we cannot deal with its power. Or we call it the “World Trade Center Attacks,” it being better to think of an inert building being flown into. Also, we term all of the current events in the Middle East as a “War” and include 9/11 as the inciting even, thereby conveniently folding the death of all of those people into the collateral toll of a battle fought by volunteer forces.

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Will Stackman wrote a response to me on Theatre Mirror, so did Ronan Noone. I thought I should respond to Mr. Stackman because he kind of missed my point. Here is my response. (You can read his response on the Mirror's Mere Opinions section as well.)

Hi Larry,
In response to Will Stackman, I thought I would just send a follow up to my Mere Opinion.

First, a quote...
"Local theatre hasn't risen to the occasion, and probably won't. The Lysistrata reading--unfortunately held on the same night as the IRNE Awards-- was underattended earlier this month. Even Improv troupes seem to be shying away from political commentary. Maybe ISebastiani, the Commedia group which has been lurking in the background for the last decade, will find a way to work something into their upcoming shows. Their winter effort was a successful if uneven rendering of a potentially feminist scenario, but these traditionalists will probably stay mired in the 16th Century. Other's won't have the same historical excuse." - Will Stackman, Aisle Say 2003

It was a little strange to me that Mr. Stackman did not find any agreement with me, since he is partly one of the reasons I wrote my statement... but more on that later.

Please read my Mere Opinion again and see that I went out of my way to acknowledge that we have an extreme amount of talent in this town. I see the plays you are talking about, Will. I know they are out there. I know some of the playwrights. In fact, I am one of the playwrights. Like Dan Millstein and William Donnely, I am also one of the producers. I also think Boston Playwrights Theatre and Kate Snodgrass are the equivalent of Mother Theresa in this town.

I did not "ignore" the the dozens of new plays that were done here. That would be like me stating that Mr. Stackman's response leaves out the fact that the Huntington Theatre Company has commissioned three local playwrights including John Kuntz and Melinda Lopez. Or how about the new Devenaugh Theatre at the Piano Factory with their Dragonfly Festival in which a whole batch of new plays receive semi-workshop like stagings. And don't forget Ryan Landry and the Gold Dust Orphans. All of these are positive things.

His response suggests that the major media outlets, including Bill Marx, are not seeing enough of small theatre. I wholeheartedly agree and I have said so on the Theatermirror before. More specifically, I also think that one of the things lacking in this town is an alternative paper that would cover the smaller theatre scene seriously. The Phoenix just can't seem to bring themselves to do it. In Seattle we had the Seattle Weekly and The Stranger, both equivalents of the Phoenix here. However those papers were not above seeing all of the small theatre they could. Once again, they don't have to like it all, (and if the Stranger didn't like it...look out,) in fact some of it is not always good. But at least the Weekly provided an alternative to the weirdly anti-theatre Living Arts sections of the Times and the Seattle Post Intelligencer.

The web revolution is helping. Though critics often slam Theatermirror, it is obvious that they read it. One of the most exciting things to happen to the New York Times Theatre Section is the addition of Reader's Reviews. Check it out. Maybe the Globe will ad something similar. Although, I hope that they police it enough to keep it from turning into the joke that Amazon's reader reviews section has become.

Please everybody, don't read my previous call to action as what's wrong with us. Read it as how can we can possibly improve here.

Few of the scripts Mr Stackman mentions address current events. Or maybe he thinks that people shouldn't attempt that. However, a look at his critical writings over the past year would suggest otherwise. More than a few times over the past year Will Stackman has lamented on his Weblog, "And Then I Saw' and in his reviews in Aisle Say that theatre artists were not responding to the current political crisis or the war in Iraq. So here we have two very different critics....(Marx and Stackman,) each saying that they wish people would step up to the plate and tackle these issues. In fact, that was one of the reasons I was incited to write what I did.

Ronan Noone wrote that the Los Angeles Times mentioned "Lepers" as originating in Boston. And that is an incredible step in the right direction. But the media coverage around "Sin," would be the equivalent of the New York Times having covered the original Boston Playwrights Theatre production of the play. I do not remember that happening, but if it did, please correct me.

We are talking about a town in which the two anchor theatres, and the Boston Playwright's theatre would shrivel up and blow away without their university endowments and university owned theatre properties. We are also talking about a town where Speakeasy, Lyric, Sugan and others went into an outright state of panic when Equity came calling with demands that they start paying up about a year ago. Statements were made to the press about them not being able to continue.

Caroline Ellis seems to know what I am talking about in her response.
But, hey, if people think things are just groovy, then maybe I have to reexamine my thinking.
Because, after all, these are my mere opinions

Thursday, March 11, 2004

Time for a Rennaisance!!!

This is embarrising. The fact that a playwright and theatre company in Chicago have chosen to mount the first specific theatrical treatment (Ronan Noone's Lepers of Baile Baiste examined the scandal in Ireland,) of a massive scandal that happened right in our backyard disappoints me. And I am not making an illogical exception for myself.

My Brethren, let's get on the ball and start churning. At a playwright's talk back after Our Lady of 121st Street the other night, many people in the audience, and the moderator were begging the talented Stephen Adly Giurgis to come here to premiere his next play. There was even talk from him about writing a play involving the talented Vincent Siders whose amazing portrayal of Rooftop blew the roof off the theatre and then brought it down. It is hard for local playwrights, struggling to have their voice heard, and to keep perfecting theircraft to see such New York Worship. Mr. Guirgis is undoubtedly talented, and has extreme gifts, but I could not help but feel that a little New York gilding was going on. Our Lady is far from a flawless work, (which Mr. Giurgis I am happy to say agrees.)

Now, we have Sin, A Cardinal Deposed, opening in Chicago at a mid-sized theatre company. It is basically the text of the deposition of Cardinal Law during the Church Abuse Scandal. At the end of the New York Times article a woman who has flown in from Boston to Chicago to see the play states, "she would work to bring it to a theater in Boston." Now we can look forward to a talk back session with the "playwright," from California and we will all sit and lament how wouldn't it be great to be him or to be in the Chicago Theatre Scene or for them to come here.

So here we have The New York Times covering a hot new production in Chicago about something that has happened in our backyard! Maybe you don't feel jealous, envious, or have your self esteem hurt, but I do. In fact, I am so incensed that I am talking about it publicly. Please don't misunderstand me, I am not saying that we aren't writing or trying to write, or trying to create theatre. And I am not saying that capitalizing on a "hot social controversy" neccessarily creates the best art at the time. Masterpieces are usually borne out of at least a little reflection, but the fact is that a vibrant theatre scene needs to keep up with the fast age as well. I know we have great playwrights in this town. But until we in the theatre community start really believing that, it won't be true.

Think of all the rich material we have here;

Charles Stuart
Whitey Bulger raping girls in the back room of a bar in Southie
The Big Dig
The Swedish Nanny (Never solved.)
The first Female Governor pregnant and giving birth during her term.
The Movie Industry being financially pinched by the Unions.
The Airport where most of the hijackers flew out of.
The Shootings in broad daylight in Roxbury and Dorchester.
The Harvard/Fair Wage controversy.
The Deaths in the Fenway area after the sport riots
The Current Gay Marriage Debate!!!
The Vagina Monologues being done at at Ameherst High School
The Wealthy Society people who run the MFA
The art theft from the Isabella Stuart Gardner Museum
Two Catholic Schools having a rumble after a hockey game and one of them gets stabbed.
The Hockey Dad Killing
The Turnpike Controversy

But first let me go back to something here. People are, "flying to Chicago to see this show." This show has a built in audience that want to see this dramatized they want to experience the catharsis that theatre will bring to them.

My response is for us to do whatever is possible. Let's start producing theatre, on a shoestring, in odd places. Garages, apartments, basements. Don't charge admission. Just invite a few people to see what you are doing. Use what you can. Let's get creative! Get serious with actors, get to know the best talent. If vincent Siders doesn't have at least three playwrights writing a role for him right now, shame on us. Get inspired by them. Write things they would die to play. Workshop with a goal to performance. Be simple. Be complicated. Treat yourself as an artist, not as "somebody trying to make it."

For the next year let's be the most prolific city for theatre creation in the country. Not all of it is going to be good? Well, news flash, not all of it is good now! Not just the most prolific writing, but the most prolific creating!

Crash the gate. Do something edgy and then take a scene from it and perform it on the the sidewalk in front of the Colonial as everybody is going in to see The Graduate! And then hand out fliers! Does that sound desperate? Well guess what! We are desperate. SpeakEasy Theatre Company, in any other town, would have their own theatre! As would Sugan! What about Theatre Offensive?