Friday, June 29, 2007

RCubed Braves Betrayal

Challenged by the Evening Standard's Fiona Mountepleasant, Mr. RCubed sees a revival of Pinter's Betrayal at the Donmar.

But first RCubed notes that critics seemed to be very scarce at recent production of We That Are Left by Gary Owen at the Watford:


Why this difference? Well, first, the Donmar is much easier to get to:
just five minutes walk from Leicester Square tube. Second, Betrayal has namey actors in the two roles: Toby Stephens and Sam West. This article has been written before R Cubed has received Theatre Record from which to compare the ratings for Betrayal from each member of the Cretinue, but we predict with confidence that it will be raves all round not because the play is special but because the tradition of admiring the Naked Emperor’s clothes is so firmly
embedded in the Cretinue’s psyche. Their descriptions of his clothes have been deep-rooted and perverse for half a century and they have come to believe their own propaganda.

Compare the two plays. We That Are Left is a beautifully crafted
four-hander. Betrayal is a three-hander into which Pintsized has thrown the pointless part of a waiter who appears for under five minutes, brings wine to two of the characters and is artistically redundant. Perhaps Pintsized created the part to understudy the two male characters. Perhaps as a former jobbing actor himself he was trying to help solve Equity’s perennial unemployment problem. At all events the waiter in Betrayal has no bearing on the proceedings
whatever though he does add to the management’s pay roll...


...Pintsized’s Betrayal is a modest play by an immodest writer and is far inferior to We That Are Left. True, it ranks well above such forgettable rubbish as Moonlight and The Dwarfs but it requires first rate actors to make it work. We That Are Left would still be a good play if acted by amateurs; Betrayal with its two-dimensional characters, pointless pauses and an utterly redundant waiter would sag.

Turning to the Fiona Mountpleasant’s charming challenge to R Cubed to reappraise Pintsized’s work in the light of Betrayal, her critical hat is off the menu and safe, just. One play built on the clever idea of reverse chronology suggests that perhaps the Naked Emperor wears underpants now and then.



To the naked eye, this would appear a trashing of the play, but anybody who reads Mr. Cubed regularly will realize what a big step this represents.

Clear Roads....To the GRAVE!!!

Just a quirky weird thing I noticed in this article about a new Traffic study:

Drivers in four lucky states enjoyed zero congestion: Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming.

The articles then goes on for a while about other statistics, (my own Massachusetts is, of course, the second highest in administrative costs per state controlled mile of road.)

Then the article ends with this little statement:

Massachusetts did best on the death scale, with only 0.797 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles. Connecticut came second at 0.865, followed by Vermont at 0.946.New Jersey was 5th with 1.013, followed by New York at 1.039. California took 19th place with 1.315 fatalities.

Montana was the deadliest, with 2.256 fatalities. South Dakota was 49th at 2.215; South Carolina was 48th at 2.211.

So I guess Montana and South Dakota drivers can beat us Bostonians to work... providing they don't die on the way.

Friday Boston Roundup

Terry Byrne has a pre-season chat with Dieago Arcineagas about the upcoming Publick Theatre Season. She mentions how Diego has a emerged as a "power player" on the Boston Theatre Scene. Having been fortunate enough over the last year to catch Diego as an Actor, (in Design for Living and Thom Pain) and also as Director (White People) I can't disagree with her.

There will be a memorial for Will Stackman tonight at the Puppet Showplace Theatre in Brookline. There are details at Larry Stark's Theatermirror.

Carolyn Clay has a buffet of bits about the Berkshire boards.

Speaking of the Berkshires if you are out that way for the Fourth of July, stop in to Shakespeare and Company and hear their Annual Reading of The Declaration of Independence. The reading is part of their Bankside Festival.

Edge Boston and In Newsweekly have some pre-show buzz about Queer Soup's upcoming Lost and Found Anniversary Series.

*As a folllow-up to my post a few days ago about Indian Ink...Bay Windows' Brian Jewell's review seems to back up Siegel's pronouncement.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

MEMED!

I apparently missed the fact that I was tagged by Patrick Gabridge over at Writing Lifex3 for the 8 Random Facts Meme.

A few other bloggers have tagged...well...the entire blogosphere:

Here are the rules of the house: Bloggers must post these rules and provide eight random facts about themselves. In the post, the tagged blogger tags eight other bloggers and notify them that they have been tagged.
  • I grew up a rabid fan of Stephen King's fiction, but over the past ten years I am getting the distinct feeling that I have outgrown him.

  • I voted for Chris Gabrieli in the last Massachusetts Gubernatorial Primary.

  • The worst Ass Chewing I ever received was for not putting enough sprinklers on the lawn of the Battalion Headquarters at Fort Lewis. I was on a twenty four-hour Staff Duty and I had followed the instructions left for us, set up the sprinklers, etc. Somewhere, something wasn’t relayed properly to me, and to this day I still don’t know exactly how we screwed up. At around 08:00 AM just before we were about to go off duty, we were summoned loudly to the BC’s office where I was screamed at, right in my face, for what seemed like an eternity. He threatened court-martial, along with holding us in the army, (I was getting out in a matter of two months.) Never heard anything about it after that morning. Being in the Army you get yelled at on a regular basis, but this elevated the art form, especially since it came out of nowhere.

  • I had two and half sacks and 11 unassisted tackles in a football game against Archbishop Williams High School.

  • I like Coke Zero. And now Diet Coke tastes like crap to me.

  • I carry Rosary beads and I pray the Rosary every day.

  • After I proposed to my wife, we returned from the beach to find that the US had just started the invasion of Afganistan.

  • I won’t underline or use a highlighter in any hardcover books I own. I will underline in softcover books, but not if they are fiction books. I have always transcribed quotes I like into separate notebook or typed them into a computer.
It seems like everybody has been tagged already, so I'll just throw it out to anybody who wants it.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Kill The Messengers?

I haven't seen the Small World Big Sky Production of Tom Stoppard's Indian Ink, (I did read the play years ago, and, well, I'm just not that excited about seeing it,) so I would probably have let Ed Siegel's review of the production pass by, but it seems to me that Mr. Siegel might be blaming the actors for what are shortcomings in the play and, (some would argue,) Stoppard's writing in general:

For the most part, though, the actors don't have the seasoning to capture the flavor of Stoppard's wry humor or to get at the heart of what the playwright is trying to say about assimilation. What Stoppard brings to the table is a fresher approach than Paul Scott or E.M. Forster about how the English-Indian experience played and plays into contemporary identity -- what makes someone British? Or Indian? The playwright himself is a Jewish Czech émigré, so this is
no mere intellectual concern for Stoppard.


It may be more than an intellectual concern for Stoppard the person, but before we start accusing the actors, it must be established whether or not that is successfully dramatized in Stoppard's play. This is a case where just a bit more elaboration is needed, with probably some textual and anecdotal support.

Don't get me wrong, Siegel gives credit to the company where he believes it is due. And another review, from Edge Boston, seems to support some of his claims about the acting, which is why I was a little hesitant about even mentioning this.

But if you can't read the whole play, read the description of the play in the Edge Boston review to get an idea of what I talking about. The actors may not have charisma, but think about what that says of Stoppard's play. It seems to me, from my experience reading Indian Ink, that there is not a whole lot that ragingly charismatic actors are going to bring to it, aside from making the three hour running time just little more pleasing.

You can't make a fire rubbing two icicles together.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Exception to the Ruhl?

There are basically two sides to what people call the Macarthur Genius Curse,( these are aside from the fact that nothing you do, at least for a while, will escape the mention of the Macarthur Grant which you have won. )

A. People will be gunning for you because you have the "genius" target on your back. They will be more than happy to point out failure, (as if any genius does not have failure.)

B. People will be more than happy to defend you from the A group, and to label the A group as "haters" or overreacters.

At least for a while, the reactions of both groups will sadly preclude any true critical engagement with the work.

At David Cote's Histriomastix site he wrote a brief post about how, after viewing several of Ruhl's plays, he is now ready to announce that it just isn't doing it for him:


I went in really hoping to like eurydice more than the sub-par production of The Clean House that marked her debut in NYC last season. I've tried and tried with Ruhl, but I find her work to be a tediously watered-down version of the sort of alienating, dramaturgical deconstructions infinitely better practiced by
writers such as Will Eno, Anne Washburn and Melissa James Gibson.


The key to the post is the comparison Cote makes with these other playwrights. I believe the comments section has started to open up a more critical analysis with regards to Ruhl's work. The discussion seems to keep veering towards the suggestion that perhaps certain productions could bring out something more in play.

The Clean House opened at Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theatre this week and Louise Kennedy had nothing but effusive and "Macarthur-worthy" praise for Ruhl. But what about the imbalance of tragedy and comedy that is in the production? Well...


That
makes it a wonderfully appropriate play for the Wellfleet gang, which brightens the Cape every summer with intelligent, entertaining productions of thought-provoking and artistically interesting new work. And here's hoping that over the course of its run, which ends July 21, artistic director Jeff Zinn's staging of "The Clean House" will find the tricky balance between humor and
tragedy that sometimes faltered Saturday night.


Kennedy does have a comparison. She thought the Trinity Rep production was perfect, she labeled the play a "masterpiece," and she said of its failure to win the Pulitzer:


No wonder the play was a finalist for the 2005 Pulitzer Prize -- how
could the nominating panel have failed to recognize its brilliance? And no wonder it didn't win (no prize for drama was awarded that year) -- how could the Pulitzer committee have had any clue at all what to make of it?


I like Louise Kennedy's reviews. And, as I will mention below, I do not question Ruhl's talent. But at this point, after reading Charles Isherwood's and Louise Kennedy's effusions, (which threaten to exhaust the thesaraus,) I have resigned myself to the fact that, when it comes to Sarah Ruhl, they may be as critically reliable as a fansite for Eli Roth.

As a reminder, I had this to say about Eurydice when I saw it at Yale. There was much to like in the production, but the issues I had were more about craft and workmanship:


The visual feast this of this arrival and the brilliant soundscapes of the later journey of the doomed lovers out of Hades bookend what for me, (in what I am guessing will be a dissenting opinion,) a relatively mushy center. Ruhl becomes sure of her clever conceit, but then chooses to revel in the more lyrical and melodramatic aspects of it for far too long. I am stealing this line (from Carl Rossi, a critic here in Boston,) but it seems that Ruhl has created in Eurydice's father, just the sort of parent that all of us would like to preserve from death forever.

The running time of the play is approximately 90 minutes and the first 20 – 25 and the last 20 or so minutes are full of the inventiveness that has been heralded of Ruhl’s work, but the center 40 minutes are the textbook example of “second act problems.” We are held in the reminiscence of trees with swings and lovely pastoral images of home life as Father and Daughter reconnect. This is rich territory, but as we watch father and daughter in their little cubbyhole of the afterlife, we realize that what we have to learn from this, we get within five minutes. And to make things more awkward, we are treated to painfully quick scenes of Orpheus mourning or plotting on the other side as he races on and off the stage.

There is a brief shot of energy about midway through this period when the Lord of the Underworld (Zeisler againg) appears, played as a spoiled young child, complete with tricycle. But the brief, intermissionless, running time allows for no development , and the overall feeling I had during all of these scenes was of marking time. Ruhl has figured out an impressive way into the myth, and there is much too see and experience in this production, but a mind that thinks in such a wonderful collage of references should either explore themes to a greater extent, or have the discipline to cut them.


When I say issues with craft I mean just that. The comparison Cote makes of Ruhl to Will Eno and Melissa James Gibson is interesting. From my experience, they seem to be be on two sides of a coin. Eno and Gibson want to shoehorn in sometimes unearned emotional catharsis into an overly structured system. Ruhl tries to jury rig an unearned structure to contain a big blob of emotion.

I am not sure I agree with Cote that that in the case of Eno and Gibson their structure is inseperable from the content. I find their work to be "conspicuously repressive" of anything truly joyful or sad. And aside from Eno's Thom Pain, I haven't been completely sold on any of their individual works yet. But plenty of others have. And I am interested in seeing more from them.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

One Person's Trash...

A few weeks ago my wife brought home a few old books she had found lying out with other items for trash pickup. The books were in really good shape and they were theatrical in subject.

One of them was titled, Life Among the Playwrights; Being Mostly the Story of the Playwrights' Producing Company, Inc. by John Franklin Wharton.

The book is a real gem that has all of the inside scoop on how several playwriting talents of the 1920's and 1930's teamed together to produce their own work, and, to that end, founded the Playwright's Producing Company in 1938.

Robert Sherwood, Maxwell Anderson, Elmer Rice and others produced their own work and the work of other playwrights until 1960, (including the premieres of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Gore Vidal's The Best Man.)

It is an exciting chronicle of that period, including frank discussions of how, sadly, some of these great talents would start to lose their edge. At one point Wharton writes of how they would all tremble when some of the aging writers would give a draft of new play.

I will post some great quotes and anecdotes over the next few months, as I also will discuss some of the work of these playwrights.

I guess it will be my summer reading. If anybody can recommend biographies or books about these men and this period in American Drama I would be grateful.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Kubrick's Trailers

In the theatreosphere there is some talk lately about marketing.

On Ross Douthat's blog on the Atlantic Monthly, he talks about the effectiveness of the trailer for the new Will Smith movie I Am Legend.

I don't go to the movies much anymore, but I have a secret love of movie trailers. Two of my favorites of all time are both from Stanley Kubrick. First up is The Shining:




And second is the trailer for another Stanley Kubrick film Full Metal Jacket.



Though I always felt the Full Metal Jacket trailer should end with the "Ann Margaret" line.

Friday, June 15, 2007

A Great Blog Post

Congrats to Theatreforte for putting together all the links and key grafs in the recent Tony discussions into an essay. (Complete with a Witty Title.)

Friday Boston Roundup

The famous Mabou Mines runs their work Lucia at the Charlestown Working Theatre this weekend. The Phoenix has a little pre-show stuff here.

And Now Ladies and Gentlemen Judy Garland is playing at the Lyric and you can get a full bodied take on Thomas Garvey's Hubreview, or you can settle for the more condensed takes by the ink stained wretches here, here and here.

There are Memorials for the Late Will Stackman taking place tomorrow. The details can be found on Larry Stark's Theatermirror.

Many people think Kiki and Herb were robbed by the Tony's. Bostonians can judge for themselves as the duo storm the Calderwood for a few weeks.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Anything Goes?

John Logenbaugh, in the Seattle Weekly talks about how the high school musical is reaching a new level of proficiency around the country. This paragraph from the article shows how hard serious arts education will become in the near future:

This popularity hasn't come without controversy. Some schools feel that they don't have the support of their school boards and parents to properly fund such elaborate shows. And even at Roosevelt (which has produced a steady stream of musical-theater alumni), the acclaimed drama department head, Ruben Van Kampen, says there's closer scrutiny of material than there was when he began teaching in the '70s. "I got a call not too long ago from a school, and the teacher asked how we got Anything Goes past our school board. 'You mean Cole Porter's Anything Goes?' I asked? 'The one from 1934?'" (Apparently Reno Sweeney, the show's evangelist-turned-nightclub singer, raised concerns.) Van Kampen received complaints from audience members about an unlit cigarette, fake firearms, and a comical drunk in Guys and Dolls, which suggests that anything resembling real life on a theatrical stage is an affront to someone or other.

When Guys and Dolls and Anything Goes are controversial will Cabaret stand a chance?

And though the following story out of Kentucky may point to what some parents are worried about, I really don't think Cole Porter's proverbial stockings will always lead to this type of behaviour:

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - A high school teacher has resigned during the middle of an investigation in which he allegedly used his teeth to remove the garter of a student during the prom.

"Plymouth Rock would land on them!"

Our New Repertory

The Globe has the preshow hype for B.D. Wong's tour de force performance in Herringbone at the Williamstown Theatre Festival. Wong plays 11 roles in the show.

Along with the recent local production of Love's Labour's Lost at the Actors Shakespeare Project, (6 actors play all the parts,) this article got me thinking about how we are probably witnessing a miniaturization of the old repertory experience.

I remember experiencing a kind of pleasant vertigo after watching Almost, Maine at Speakeasy Stage this past winter, a play in which we see many short scenes involving dozens of characters. I almost literally rubbed my eyes when only four actors emerged to take their applause.

These experiences are becoming more common, and instead of spreading out an actor's metamorphoses over a season, we are now, through the force of economics, seeing them throw themselves from one character to another in one evening.

I wonder how many playwrights approach writing a work, or rewriting a work, with the idea of doubling or tripling specifically in mind. I don't usually have that vision in mind, but I think that is because I write many of my plays with specific people in mind for specific roles.

As a funny side note, I wrote a play once for two specific actors. I know them really well and they had acted in my plays before. At the time the play came up for production, both actors just weren't available. For a short time I wondered how I would do the production without them, but we went ahead and cast two really great guys and the play went on to great reviews and got me my first IRNE Nomination for Best New Play here in Boston.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

I Would Give What I Have...

On Saturday, July 30, Dr. Johnson and I took a sculler at the
Temple-stairs, and set out for Greenwich. I asked him if he really thought a knowledge of the Greek and Latin languages an essential requisite to a good education.


JOHNSON. ‘Most certainly, Sir; for those who know them have a very great advantage over those who do not. Nay, Sir, it is wonderful what a difference learning makes upon people even in the common intercourse of life, which does not appear to be much connected with it.’

‘And yet, (said I) people go through the world very well, and carry on the business of life to good advantage, without learning.’

JOHNSON. ‘Why, Sir, that may be true in cases where learning cannot possibly be of any use; for instance, this boy rows us as well without learning, as if he could sing the song of Orpheus to the Argonauts, who were the first sailors.’ He then called to the boy, ‘What would you give, my lad, to know about the Argonauts?’

‘Sir, (said the boy,) I would give what I have.’

Johnson was much pleased with his answer, and we gave him a double fare. Dr. Johnson then turning to me, ‘Sir, (said he) a desire of knowledge is the natural feeling of mankind; and every human being, whose mind is not debauched, will be willing to give all that he has to get knowledge.’


James Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D.

Where We Need To Start

Back in May, I mentioned the Mass Cultural Council's alarm over the proposed MassCore requirements.

James Rappaport in the Boston Globe points out this:

The Commonwealth has the weakest arts education requirements of all the New England states, several of which have specified high school graduation requirements in the arts. In many Massachusetts school districts, including Springfield and Boston, there are students who graduate from high school without ever having a single arts course taught by a licensed arts educator.


I'll say we're the weakest. We are, at least, years behind the State of Rhode Island. The Governor of the Ocean State recentley mandated that public schools start hiring arts teachers.

Constellation Center Moves a Step Closer

The Constellation Center proposal in Cambridge, which would add much needed performance space to the Boston area, moves a step closer to reality.

This from the Cambridge Chronicle:

The City Council is expected to approve plans for the Constellation Center, a four-theater hall performance center for a range of artistic genres. Construction on the center is expected to start next year and the hall could open its doors in three years. The center is part a 10-acre research and residential park development in Kendall Square.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Flyover

The ArtsJournal launches a new blog called, appropriately, Flyover.

The blurb reads as follows: "Flyover is a blog about art in the American Outback -- the people and places usually given less attention by those hopping from coast to coast."

What I found interesting is the appearance of The Decemberists in one of the first posts. The Decemberists is that oh so hip band mentioned by Peter Birkenhead in his now famous screed. (Which the Clyde Fitch report dissects mercilessly here.)

How The Fizzy Drink Set Sees Shakespeare

It is the season for open air Shakespeare, and Dominic Dromgoole, Artistic Director of Shakespeare's Globe has a word for those who think the Bard, when done among the frolicing park patrons, isn't gloomy enough...

"There's a very unwarranted Puritanism in English and Scottish theatre," he says, "that suggests theatre can't be something that's pleasurable. There's a sense of aggression against pleasure from elements that think theatre should purely be gritty and dour and instructive. I think that's nonsense, personally.

"Strawberries and cream are pleasant. Sitting on the lawn in the sun is pleasant, and I welcome that. So audiences can bring strawberries and cream if they want. As long as they bring whatever they bring in the spirit of pleasure, I don't mind."

Saturday, June 09, 2007

The Golden Voice

Blind though she was to his faults, Mme Verdurin was genuinely irritated, though she continued to regard him brilliantly clever, when after she had invited him to see and hear Sarah Bernhardt from a stage box, and had said politely: "It's so good of you to have come, Doctor, especially as I'm sure you must often have heard Sarah Bernhardt; and besides, I'm afraid we're rather too near the stage." the doctor, who had come into the box with a smile which waited before affirming itself or vanishing from his face until some authoritative person should enlighten him as to the merits of the spectacle replied, "To be sure, we're far too near the stage and one is beginning to get sick of Sarah Bernhardt. But you expressed a wish that I should come. And your wish is my command. I'm only too glad to be able to do you this little service. What would one not do to please you, you are so kind." And he went on, "Sarah Bernhardt - she's what they call the Golden Voice, isn't she? They say she sets the House on Fire. That's an odd expression isn't it?" in the hope of an enlightening commentary which, however was not forthcoming.

In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Salon Hits Back As Well

Salon's Peter Birkenhead in his Open Letter to the Theater World. (Yikes. Maybe we shouldn't wish for Salon and Slate to cover theatre more often.)

If you keep doing shows like that, keep producing plays that sound like they were written by people who might read Michael Chabon, or listen to the Decemberists, or watch "Weeds," I promise you, more of those people will come to the theater.

But right now they're more likely to see plays that sound as if they
were written by the light of a candle in a Chianti bottle. Plays filled with cringingly unconfident writing that muddies the waters in order to make it all appear deep; writing full of insufferable name dropping and artless declaiming of Big Ideas, with a campy, brittle sense of humor right out of 1959, performed in a teeth-gratingly earnest, over-enunciated style that has become a parody of itself. Richard Greenberg's insistent assertion of his bona fides as a collector of intellectual arcana in "Three Days of Rain," the late August Wilson's dogged refusal to trim his character's verbal output to a level that would articulate their inner lives rather than the playwright's high regard for his own ideas in plays like "Joe Turner's Come and Gone" and Jon Robin Baitz' determined obtuseness in plays like "A Fair Country" are symptoms of a theater community that has been too cloistered for too long.

Hasn't our culture moved on a bit since, say, William Inge, and don't
we all kind of take it for granted, for instance, that sexual repression is bad? Why do we need to see yet another sexual awakening story, even if it's by Terrence McNally ("Some Men") or Jon Robin Baitz ("The Paris Letter")? A lot of the better television shows, even back in 2003 or 2004, were weaving what was happening in the world into their stories in subtle, surprising, even funny ways, like it is in life, but the theater gave us two David Hare plays solemnly breaking the news that war is bad and George Bush is an idiot.

Some of you seem to think the problem is with the audience, and that
the only prescription for what ails the theater is to redouble your commitment to doing work that is "important" and "ambitious." I've got news for you: People aren't staying away from the theater because it isn't ambitious enough. They're staying away because it's relentlessly "ambitious," because it keeps insisting on its own unique and righteous importance, despite all sad evidence to the contrary

(....)

Do any of you think that there have been enough theater productions of note in the last 10 years that achieve the creative unity, the complexity, the appreciation of moral ambiguity, the timely insight, humor and, most important, entertainment value, of "The Sopranos"? Or "Six Feet Under" or "Arrested Development" or "The Simpsons" or "The Wire," "The Larry Sanders Show" or "30 Rock" or "Deadwood" or "South Park" or "Prime Suspect" or "Curb Your Enthusiasm" or "ER" or "The Office"?


This is not accidental. It's because the theater has been hijacked. It's been commandeered by grant-proposal writers and dramaturges, by panel-discussion moderators and chin-in-hand bureaucrats, many of whom brook no more dissent than the Bush administration. To even suggest, at any of the endless symposiums that the theater community can't get enough of these days, that the problems facing the theater might be solved by respecting the audience more instead of less, that perhaps, instead of designing condescending "outreach" programs, the theater might try educating itself, and listening to the people it's been reaching out to, is to tempt the derisive wrath of a community whose motto might as well be "You're with us or against us."


This is why the theater many of us grew up with, that was so often moving, funny and fun, has been replaced by a bloodless, sexless, outdated facsimile.

Elect Better Actors

This from Ian Maxwell MacKinnon's Manifesto, "Elect Better Actors,":

Theatre exists somewhere between the talk people say they are sick of and the action people are demanding happen NOW. And theater can help us build a stronger state to deal with the massive problems the world is facing. The state is, in the words of philosopher F. R. Ankersmit, "the institutionalization fo our readiness to look at ourselves from the top down." If so, we are having trouble seeing ourselves. And theater is an institution for seeing.

Once we get started on this new road, the only way to stop us would be if government began to fund the arts the way President Nixon did when he tried to buy out artists by throwing money at the NEA. By now we should know that what is given can be taken away. We need to be elected not appointed.

More From Slate

This from Peter Filichia at the ongoing Slate Theatre Discussion:

"Am I wrong to be worried about American theater?" you ask. Of course not. But in the 46 years that I've been obsessively following this art form, there has never been a day when I've heard people say otherwise. It's always been "dying." But in the '50s, if I told you two of the following three things would disappear by the turn of the century—Broadway plays and musicals, the drive-in movie theater, and the TV western—you probably would have guessed the first item on the list. But it's the other two, once wildly popular, that have disappeared. People want the experience of sitting in a theater and seeing people enact, right in front of them, the stories they want to hear. Especially as they get older and wiser.

Friday Boston Roundup

Following my discovery of the Sonia Flew on Broadway website, I have heard nothing from either the contacts listed at the site, nor from others I have asked about it. It may be nothing, but I'll keep you updated.

Actors Shakespeare Project regular and longtime Boston theatre mainstay, John Kuntz's play Jump Rope opens at Urban Stages in New York this weekend. Local actor Bill Mootos (one of the founders of The Village Theatre Project,) is in the cast as well.

(As a side note to the above, John Kuntz will be appearing as the eponymous character in Company One's production of Noah Haidle's Mr. Marmalade this summer. My wife is also in the cast.)

Playwright's Platform has their 35th Annual Summer Festival this weekend. The Weekly Dig has an article here.

The memories of Will Stackman, and the details about upcoming memorials can be found on Larry Stark's Theatermirror.

Louise Kennedy looks fondly on the Gamm Theatre's premiere of Radio Free Emerson.

Sorry, I know I am not covering everything, but I don't have much time this morning.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Slate talks Theatre

Just thought I would point to the fact that Salon is running articles about Broadway, and Slate has a new dialogue between Peter Filichias and June Thomas about the Broadway Season.

One can only hope that these two online publications might actually start to cover theatre on a regular basis. But perhaps this key paragraph from June Thomas's first entry can shed some light on why theatre is kept out of the cultural coverage:

I did a quick survey of Slate's New York office staff and
found that for the most part, theater just isn't a core ingredient of the cultural diet of this hypereducated, au courant group of relatively affluent young people. They read prolifically, see all the new movies, and can identify the hip bands in four notes, but Broadway, or theater in general?—not so much. Accompanying out-of-town visitors seems to be the main reason for theatergoing. Otherwise, it's too expensive, stuffy, and tragically unhip. Surely that's a problem?

***UPDATE: In the Fray (Comments Section) of the Slate piece, one of the authors has thrown out a question to the readers about Slate's coverage. Calling all interested parties to get in on the conversation.

Sarah Bernhardt From Beyond

All those books about Sarah Bernhardt got you overwhelmed? The New York Review of Books had an article that tries to guide you at least a little bit through the life of this most famous actress.

Robert Heffernan, in a letter to NYRB this month, points us to a couple of online locations where we can actually hear Bernhardt:

The Vincent Voice Library at Michigan State

The Cylinder Preservation Project at the University of California Santa Barbara

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Scoop? Sonia Flies To Broadway?

I haven't heard anything about this, though I am sure many people in Boston already know, but I did stumble across this website:

Sonia Flew On Broadway

The contact is Randall Wreghitt, who is a well-known Broadway Producer.

Big News for Boston Theatre if this is true. A homegrown product makes it to the Great White Way, with a straight play.

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Will Stackman RIP

Those who regularly read this blog from afar may not know exactly how much Will Stackman will be missed here in Boston.

Mr. Stackman's passion for theatre supplied him with an endless spring of energy which allowed him to continue seeing and reviewing theatre till the very night of his passing away.

I saw him at the Boston Theatre Marathon which he reportedly stayed for the entire time.

Will Stackman posted reviews to the following places online

On the Aisle

Larry Stark's Theatermirror

Aisle Say

And Will also had an archive of "quicktakes" on the various things he saw, along with his blog, which is found at And Then I Saw.

Thomas Garvey has an nice post about Will on Hubreview. Please take the time to read it. And also go to Larry's site as people send in their rememberances.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Will Stackman

Larry Stark is reporting that his friend and long-time Boston critic and teacher Will Stackman passed away last night.

I am sure Larry will have the details as he gets them.

Beehive or Boiler Room? Answer...neither.

The NYTimes online has a review of the newly opened bar Beehive at the Boston Center for the Arts, (hat tip Boston Theatre Is Alive.)

The hip new space is being lauded, but in the rush to praise it, the facts are getting a little skewed:

Local artists helped impart a bordello-meets-supper-club gritty opulence, with touches like stencil work on the walls, recycled wood for the bars and lush red curtains in the pit. Sparkly chandeliers hang from exposed pipes.

“I can’t believe they made a bar out of a boiler room!” said Charles
Fletcher, 35, an architect and interior designer. “It has such a bohemian attitude, which is much needed in Boston.”

To which I say, "That Was No Boiler Room, That Was My Theatre!"

The Leland Center was a cramped little 40 seat black box space that provided affordable space for small theatre companies with no budget. And some of the most indelible memories I have of Boston theatre happened in that space.

The Leland was closed a couple of years ago to make way for the coming transformation of the Boston Center for the Arts. The little space was closed to make way for Beehive. (A bit of trivia: My theatre company's production was the last one in there.)

The replacement for Leland Center is the much cleaner and more presentable Rehearsal Hall in the Calderwood Pavilion. But though the rehearsal hall is a better space, it is also more expensive.

The Calderwood opened to well deserved fanfare a few years ago, but lost in all the adulation was the true math of the situation. Almost every article written talked about how the Calderwood was adding three performance spaces to the Boston theatre scene.

At the time some of us did try to keep pointing out that the actual story was that there was only a net gain to the city of 2 spaces.

Meanwhile, at the Beehive, the dancing goes on.

Friday, June 01, 2007

... It has all subsided at last, and I sit as before at my writing-table and compose stories with untroubled spirit. You can't think what it was like! ... I have already told you that at the first performance there was such excitement in the audience and on the stage as the prompter, who has served at the theatre for thirty-two years, had never seen. They made an uproar, shouted, clapped and hissed; at the refreshment bar it almost came to fighting, and in the gallery the students wanted to throw someone out and two persons were removed by the police. The excitement was general.......

The next day after the performance there was a review by Pyotr Kitcheyev in the Moskovsky Listok. He calls my play impudently cynical and immoral rubbish. The Moskovskiya Vyedomosti praised it....

If you read the play you will not understand the excitement I have described to you; you will find nothing special in it. Nikolay, Shehtel, and Levitan--all of them painters--assure me that on the stage it is so original that it is quite strange to look at. In reading one does not notice it.


-A Letter of Anton Chekhov after the premier of his play Ivanov.

Singing The Book

Thomas Garvey, in his relentless but necessary focus on the new, (or more rightly newish,) works on Boston stages, does a breakdown of the new musicals that have proliferated in the mid-sized theatre scene here in Boston. (Focusing on Brown's Parade, LaChiusa's See What I Wanna See, and Andrew Lippa's The Wild Party.)

But elsewhere Brown's music and lyrics failed to catch fire; like Lippa, he tends to write direct, almost banal recitative, and then tries to shape these flat statements into song, as in the following lyric to the murder victim:

Did you ever hear her laugh?
When she laughed, you swore you’d never cry again.
Did you ever see her smile?
Her smile was like a glass of lemonade.
And she said funny things,
And she wore pretty dresses,
And she liked to see the pictures at the VFW Hall,
And she loved ridin’ swings,
And she liked cotton candy,
But I think she liked the pictures best of all.

Or this bald statement of identity politics from Leo:

I'm trapped inside this life
And trapped beside a wife
Who would prefer that I'd say "Howdy!",
not "Shalom!"
Well, I'm sorry, Lucille,
But I feel what I feel
And this place is surreal,
So how can I call this home?

Is this sort of thing Sondheim's fault? Perhaps - or at least it's the
fault of those who too-easily buy into the idea that the musical should
"progress" into opera. There's no reason at all why the lines above shouldn't be lines in the book (except, of course, that they're not very good!).

Carl Rossi, reviewing Parade on writing on Larry Stark's Theatermirror, points out the following:

The problem with New Musicals --- apart from their being tuneless and for steering a genre that once celebrated the Life Force into darker and darker waters --- is that there is far too much music in them. ...A current example is PARADE at the SpeakEasy Stage: Alfred Uhry, writer of two celebrated plays about the Jewish Experience in the American South, tells the real-life story of Leo Frank, a Brooklyn Jew living in post-Civil War Georgia, accused of murdering a young girl who worked in his factory; Mr. Frank was tried, sentenced and lynched though his fate was apparently based on anti-Semitism, media hype and political strings being pulled. Perhaps I should say that Mr. Uhry tried to tell Mr. Frank’s story for his libretto constitutes but a quarter of PARADE’s running time; the rest is composed by Jason Robert Brown in that sung-through way that was once a novelty but is now a commonplace and his score is more noisy than passionate, more busy than memorable. Song and dance, when used well --- and appropriately --- can be an invaluable shortcut in illuminating human nature compared to spoken drama which takes longer; when overused, stage music --- being stylized expression ---
leads to mere skating over surfaces...


Both these reviewers seem to illuminate what some of the problem of Parade is. In combination with the above observations, I would suggest another possible solution as well:

Parade is one of those rare cases where an argument can be made that the play is far, far too short. Here, finally, is an idea that is worthy of a good, solid three hour-plus turning over of challenging ideas and interesting historical questions, along with human emotions and motivations. And to top it all off, the historical story comes complete with its own built-in Three Act Structure.

Act I: The Murder And Initial Investigation.
Act II The Trial And Sentencing
Act III The Investigation of the Trial and the Commutation of the Death Sentence.

What would be wrong with a good 50 Minute to one hour act for each of those? Expand the book a little, (after all, you have a Pulitzer Prize Winner writing for you,) and explore some of the idiosynchrosies of those involved.

In the First Act of Speakeasy's Parade, Timothy John Smith as Reporter Britt Craig, is truly first rate with, for my money, the evening's best number, "Big News." This boozy reporter sings about the lack of anything newsworthy happening in the slow, hot Atlanta summer. But suddenly, the reporter is sidelined quickly, and in the second act there seems to be a glancing acknowledgement that he has had some type of change of heart. Let's find out more about him. Let's also explore Prosecutor Hugh Dorsey, who was given the order to get a conviction, only to have it start to be overturned by the very man who ordered him to do it. The real Dorsey did eventually become Governor, but how did he feel about allying himself with the KKK supporters who took up his cause.

As well, there are all of the political and social issues that Thomas Garvey brings up in his review:

Alfred Uhry, of Driving Miss Daisy fame, simply failed to dramatize the fascinating crux of this case: why did Atlanta turn against the Jewish Frank and instead trust the testimony of African-American Jim Conley, who most likely committed the crime? Both were members of minority groups, after all, and if anything, one would imagine - to put it in the horrid calculus of bigotry - that Frank's religion would trump Conley's race (especially given the assimilation of Jews into Atlanta society at the time). Yet the opposite occurred - the mob sided with Conley; but why?

We need more time to examine these questions, and I am not sure that just cutting down on tunes would be able to get it done in 2 hours and 15 minutes.