Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Boston Theatre - Lopez On The Move

For those Bostonians who don't know already, Melinda Lopez's Gary opens this week at the Boston Playwrights Theatre. Get your tickets fast, there aren't many seats there.

Lopez has an incredibly busy time ahead of her as she is gathering commissions from such places as Laguna Playhouse and South Coast Rep.

Louise Kennedy has a very nice profile of the talented and lovely playwright in the Globe.

In the interview, Kennedy asks about how Lopez is handling balancing all of this success:

"I think balance is overrated," she says. "I think you have to do what
you are doing, and other things will suffer. If I can't write this week I can't write this week because of family commitments or my teaching schedule is heavier, and God forbid I exercise. I don't even try to balance things anymore. I think it's totally impossible."


Upon further reflection on the notion of "balance," Lopez sends an
e-mail: "How the hell is a passionate person supposed to live in balance? Balance is colorless and dull - and I much prefer to do what I am doing - cooking dinner or crafting dialogue - at 1000 percent - and fix everything else later," she writes. "Balance is just another thing we are told we need to strive for - and women especially get told this - I am already striving for other things, and trying to manufacture balance is too much work. In the arts, you are
either working or you are not working. That's balance. Plus: (My friend has four little kids. Ask her about balance.)"



Lopez's observation about how women are especially expected to embrace balance, made me recall a similar interview question to a fictional character recently.

Tilda Swinton, Oscar Winner for her role as a corporate counsel in Michael Clayton, had one of the best moments in the film when her character is being interviewed by a Television crew. The character has received the questions beforehand and we see her struggling in her hotel room beforehand, trying to formulate an answer to a question about " work/life balance." (This speaks to Lopez's observation that successful women are probably asked about this way more than men.)

Swinton's answer, during the actual interview is the following:

“Who needs balance? When you really enjoy what you do . . . . there’s your balance.”

Of course, unlike Lopez's answer, Swinton's character has thrown herself 1000 percent only into her job. Her moorings come loose very quickly, and when she suddenly finds herself with access to the power over human life her internal scales, we find, are wildly inaccurate from disuse.

Snark from the Vaults

Frank Rich, in 1992, on the Broadway Musical Metro:

The evening has a little bit of everything, including break-dancing, a
love story, gymnastics, laser-light displays, a tap routine and for a socko finish, a suicide. The spare black set is dominated by a large
post-Constructivist staircase that rotates on a turntable and by subway signs that spell out the alluring word Exit in a wide variety of languages. Periodically the cast pushes forward en masse and at the edge of the stage vehemently delivers a song that is the "Metro" answer to "Let the Sun Shine In." Though lyrics like "We are the children!" and "We are the people!" are repeatedly punctuated by loud cries of "Freedom!" the number does not significantly alter the audience's impression that it has landed in jail.


As Janis Joplin once sang, freedom's just another word for nothing
left to lose. You have to feel sorry for the kids in "Metro," who work extremely hard, singing and dancing with unflagging energy in pursuit of starry-eyed dreams. If only New York City had a heart, someone might treat them to a steak dinner and maybe even tickets to a Broadway show.



The Butcher could be very nasty. (But I love the "alluring" exit signs.)

Play Development Blues - Brustein on Nelson

Richard Nelson the now outgoing head of playwriting at Yale Drama wrote an address last year that went around the blogosphere and to points beyond. Nelson talked about how the playwright was being shoved to the side under the current system of play development.

Robert Brustein, in the Huffington Post wrote a response, (I don't rember seeing it at the time):

Still, while he describes this unhappy development with accuracy,
Nelson sometimes seems to confuse theatre companies with publishing houses. There is a difference between giving a manuscript to a group of editors responsible for improving your grammar or correcting your facts, and contributing a play to a producing organization responsible for staging your script. The publishing house may suggest modifications in an author's text, but its ultimate function is to convert type into print. To convert a script into a
production, by contrast, takes an army of actors, directors, designers, technicians, literary directors, and composers, who also bear responsibility for the play's life on stage. This is called collaboration. It is the process of a collective, and it has all the failings, but also all the advantages, of an egalitarian democratic system.


Nelson wants none of this. He believes the function of his ollaborators is to "solve" the play, not to "help" it. Longing for those halcyon days when the play was the thing and the playwright the king, Nelson
deplores the fact that the most creative figure in the theatre now stands at the bottom of the ladder, hounded with requests for revisions of his original script. "What other person is viewed in this way?" asks Nelson. "Imagine hiring say a director with the assumption that he couldn't do the work himself?" But all theatre artists are hired on that assumption. The actor, for example, must
answer to the director (and also to the playwright), who must answer to the artistic director, who must answer to the managing director, who must answer to Board members, who must answer to their money managers. All the work artists do in the theatre is subject to editing and revision. And what about those imaginative theatrical artists, the designers, whose superb creations are always
at risk of being modified to suit the whims of directors, artistic directors, actors, and even actors agents (who might have complaints about their clients' wigs and costumes). Kicked around by the entire theatre world, the designer has no one to kick but the cat.


In other words, everyone in the theatre fumes about being subject
to the whims of somebody else. And at some point everyone has the luxury of feeling disenfranchised. But when the system works, theatrical collaboration has enormous advantages.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Yazmina Reza - The Writer's Autonomy and on Being Anti-Intellectual

From the Financial Times:

When it comes to staging her plays, Yasmina Reza, one of the world’s most successful playwrights, leaves nothing to chance. She vets the actors, dissects the directors and prods the producers. It’s a way of working that she first devised more than 20 years ago when she wrote her first play, Conversations After a Burial, and continues with her latest, God of Carnage .


“I was an actress, you see, I knew bad actors would have spoiled
what I’d written,” says Reza, a delicate-boned 48-year-old, with large expressive brown eyes. “I write for virtuosos, otherwise what’s the point?”

(...)

Reza is quick to dismiss any notion that she’s an intellectual. “I’m not entirely sure if it’s typical of French artists or not, this fervent desire to be intellectual,” she says. “But for me as a writer what I do is anti-intellectual. That is, I see the world and talk about it with a maximum of subjectivity, with all the strong contradictions, even bad faith, that involves.”


Reza believes her refusal to adopt intellectual positions has alienated her from many French critics, who have never praised her in quite the same way as their American, British and German counterparts.
“My relationship with the French critics is complicated,” she says. “Being successful doesn’t win you many friends over here. When you have a popular success, there’s automatically the suspicion that because what you’ve done is commercial it’s not very good. Another thing the French didn’t like very much was that as soon as I could, I took my plays around the world. They thought that it was me being disdainful of France, which is untrue. Though, it is true I was always more interested in what was going on in New York or London than in Paris.”

Youch!

Lest the blogosphere have any doubt about how Mike Daisey feels about it:

Bloggers on the internet are not my peers; they may be nice or nasty, brilliant or banal, but this isn't where I find my peers.

My peers in the theater are found in the theater. I find them through our work, and our kindred spirits in that work. And I am a theater artist. And at the end of the day I will spend all I have to make work happen in those spaces, and bring it to the most people possible for whom I can make the deepest possible connection.

I feel strongly that if there's a weakness in the "theatrical blogosphere" it is this—a suffocating emphasis on systems and organization, on sniping and formal language, and little talk of actual theater—of works being produced, of choices that did and did not pan out, of the brutal lessons of the world of the stage.

I'm in a discussion now—it's a discussion with the culture at large, and I wrestle with every tool at my disposal to use theater as a resonant tool to create circumstances where deep conversations can happen about topics that aren't being addressed.

I remain an ardent geek, but the web is a cold and empty forgery of human connection...fascinating and compelling, but lacking the depth and richness of the human experience.

I take inspiration from those who contact me online, who share stories and with whom I begin conversations, but the goal always is the theater—the live moment, the spark.

There are more than a few theater bloggers who would be well served by stopping their picking and biting one another over syntax and nuance and turn their gaze to the living theater—and then find ways to bring that alive in their writings on the web. So, no, I will not "really" enter the discussion, not in such a reductive way.

Instead I'd invite more bloggers to be my peers by turn their work
toward...well, work. Performances. Theater in action. I'd encourage more of them to make more work that shakes up the status quo, and questions the assumptions our culture makes every day...and if the net is a tool to that end, use it.



For the record, I like Mike Daisey. I like his performances and though I don't know him personally I admire what seems to be his genuine passion and mission. From what I gather he has a deep care for how the personal relates to the larger environment and how our actions and experiences are deeply connected (whether we choose to admit it or not) to the machinations of history, big business, society, etc. For instance, in his show Invincible Summer, he had a long passage about the horrible waste in the budget of the MTA in New York City. He punctuated each increasingly absurd example of fraud by contractors and government employees by reminding the audience: "This has been reported and is known by EVERYBODY." Yet the waste continues.

It is hard to explain if you have never experienced a performance by Mr. Daisey, but by his particular talent of weaving in strands of intensely personal stories from his life he makes this sequence resonate far more than it would if separated and presented as a unit in itself. Honesty, in a way, begets honesty in his performances.

So the above post of his makes me sad because I think he is wrong about the theatrical blogosphere. And I think he knows it. He chooses, in the passage above, the lazy way out. He chooses a pat dismissal of voices that have been sounding the clarion long before his monologue How Theatre Failed America. But it is worse.

How does he go about his dismissal? By perpetrating a patent falsehood: That the theatrical blogosphere is a bunch of people who are not creating or engaging with theatre, or discussing that engagement in sort of practical or constructive way. (On this last part he may be half right, but I will discuss that later.)

The theatrical blogosphere is filled with (and this is just a sampling:)

Writers:
Superfluities
Adam
Freeman
Jason Grote
Jamespeak

Directors:
Parabasis
Jack Clancy
Nick

Producers:
Don Hall
Tony

Teachers:
A Poor Player
Scott Walters

Critics:
Leonard Jacobs
Thomas Garvey
Garret Eisler

(Some of the above cross multiple disciplines.)

All of the above, produce, create, direct, write, write about, teach and most of all care deeply and passionately about the theatre. They are involved in the active participation of the theatre culture and deal with the problems on a day to day basis. And almost none of them are involved in perpetuating the type of theatre system Mike seems to be diagnosing with both his monologue and his essay in the Stranger.

Almost all of them are trying to create challenging work, work out of the mainstream. They experiment with form, substance, marketing, design, atmosphere and theory.

They are also, at times, arrogant, pig-headed, jaded, unrelenting, long-winded, and ideological. I think almost every theatre blogger would have to agree.

Of course, there is no obligation to speak to anybody for any reason, especially if these people are not directly involved your daily work or have value in your plan. But Mike, if you are listening, do you really believe, after reading some of these blogs that the people writing them are not trying to create a better theatre or make a change? I suspect you don't read them regularly, or much at all. (I could be wrong.)

And I am going further on a limb and make statement that even many others bloggers might disagree with: The MAJORITY of the theatrical blogosphere is made up of the type of people I describe above.

The biggest irony is that Nick at Rat Sass, who is the real catalyst for the post at Mike's blog, is probably the epitome of Mike's prescription in the last paragraph.

All that being said...Mike has an excellent point about discussing post mortem of theatrical projects. This kind of goes hand in hand with his comment on his New Year's resolution to be honest about work he sees.

There is a tremendous hesitancy to discuss the aftermath and the reception theatrical projects in the blogoshphere. Don Hall seems to be the most straightforward I have encountered in this respect. If he embarks on a project, we can generally expect an after-action review at some point which will cover everything from the business and marketing angle to how the aesthetic goals came together to the clash of personalities. (Though we may wince sometimes.)

George Hunka and Isaac Butler, two of the Old Guard bloggers had ventures together as writer and director in the theatre minima. It did take some time, but we did get post-mortem. There are others too who are helpful in this regard.

But for the most part, there will be a big buildup, with a lot of talk about what the project is about, (including the usual pre-show publicity.) Then the show will open, a short post will be written about what a great experience it was, and then regular posting will resume.

I don't except myself. I haven't been all that forthcoming with any real details of the practical realities of my theatrical ventures, other than generalities.

So to Mike: I want you to know that you don't have to speak with anybody you don't want to. But I hope you won't hold it against me that, I'll consider you my peer.
Cintra Wilson in Salon, on the Oscars:

Hollywood executives were firmly convinced for the past several months that writers were worthless. So, all in all, the evening was sort of like "Romeo and Juliet," but without a script: a frictionless battle between the Montage-Yous and the Crapulets. They both lost. Actually, we all did.

Even though the event was way more lame than lamé, it feels wrong
even taking potshots at the Oscars now. It's like picking on Britney Spears, at this point -- it's so easy, it's not even sporting. Oscar is elderly, and in dire need of hipness-replacement surgery. In his dotage he is tiresome, dull and earnest, and employs a lot of doddering repetition about how movies "touch the soul" and "inspire others to dream."


(...)

After shaving its head and driving drunk around the globe with no
panties, calling itself the Antichrist, and finally abandoning its children, totaling its SUV and getting its ass kicked in the parking lot of the Persian Gulf, America is realizing that it is internationally loathed, broke, soulless, tasteless, fat, drunk, malicious, greedy and stupid, and has been generally behaving like a lousy excuse for a world superpower for long enough to lose all its friends and position.


So, since America hates itself this year, Oscar gave the biggest
trophies to foreigners...





I didn't really watch the Oscars, so I can't comment too much. But Wilson did have a sum-up of Michael Clayton which really, for me, touched the appeal of the film:

Glitz is meaningless. Greed is deadly. Vanity is overrated. But you can humbly, slowly accrue some virtue, some small but real heroism, by navigating the sometimes-invisible line between doing your job well and doing the right thing.

Despite having one of the best social diatribe screenplays
since "Network," what was interesting about "Michael Clayton" was the way it dialed your focus way down to the quiet private battles of the imperfect everyperson -- the unwitnessed, unrewarded slog of trying to amass good decisions and do some small immediate good day to day -- and failing sometimes, despite fighting the good fight, and winning sometimes in a way that goes largely unrecognized.

Monday, February 25, 2008

How Now, New Plays, Whither Wander Thee?

Thom Garvey and Louise Kennedy both smell something in the air.

Don Delillo's Love Lies Bleeding received its Boston Premiere by the small company Way Theatre Artists. Kennedy gave the production and the play a very positive review, not quite a rave, but close. Thomas Garvey, at his Hubreview, had reservations about the production in his review.

Both reviews pointed out the strange situation of a play by a major talent like Delillo being premiered in Boston by smaller company. Garvey elaborates on what he sees as problem in the direction the theatre scene here in Boston may be going.

I posted some of my reactions to Thomas's post. And Ronan Noone, a local playwright who has received premieres at the Huntington, has also chimed in.

I encourage people to read Thomas's post and the comments.

(In the interest of fairness, I know and am friends with many people involved with Way Theatre Artists and my wife performed with them.)

Basically, Louise Kennedy's review began this way:

On the smaller of two stages at Boston Playwrights' Theatre, a young fringe company is presenting the regional premiere of Don DeLillo's
"Love-Lies-Bleeding" . . . This is a strange commentary on the state of our large local theater companies, if you consider that two earlier DeLillo plays were commissioned and premiered by the American Repertory Theatre.


Thomas Garvey picks up on the point:

A "strange commentary," indeed. One wonders why Kennedy can't simply say aloud what I've been saying for some time: Boston's major theatres are failing to bring us the news from our playwrights. The A.R.T. continues to pretend that directors are more important than writers, while the Huntington has become focused on developing talents in-house - which means, unfortunately, that
said talents are often genuine but minor. Meanwhile, we've had to turn to the Lyric Stage to see Albee's The Goat, Boston Theatreworks to see Kushner's Homebody/Kabul, Zeitgeist Stage to see The Kentucky Cycle, and Company One to see Mr. Marmalade.


Garvey uses Love Lies Bleeding and the Way production as a case study of sorts, saying that it deserved the resources of our larger theaters. He elaborates in the comments section:

The A.R.T. and the Huntington - and even the New Rep, the Lyric, and SpeakEasy - have ignored a huge amount of work that should by now have been done professionally in Boston. We still haven't seen Albee's latest, or Caryl Churchill's, or anything, really, from Howard Barker. Plays from such lesser lights as Adam Rapp still haven't been produced in Boston. Perhaps what I'm really arguing for is more commitment to the actual writing of our time from the university theatres that are supposed to be bearing some kind of intellectual
standard. Trust me, if each of them simply committed to producing ONE GODDAMN PLAY a year by one of our greatest living playwrights, there would still be plenty of gravy left over for the small theatres.


Here is my latest response in the comments section:

Thom,

Back to the theatre scene.

I understand your reasoning, but I just can't agree.

The system you are proposing is the system that has been driving new voices too far to the fringe to have an impact. Your own examples, in a way, demonstrate the chicken/egg element: Remember, Adam Rapp was made important BY his PREMIERES at the ART. Now, you wish you saw more of his SECOND productions there?

I find it a refreshing change, the idea of seeing new voices reach larger audiences.

I wouldn't discount the part of Mr. Noone's argument about building a following, building an audience for new voices. (Of course, I am also a playwright as well, so we may be in a genuine George Lakoff conundrum here.)

As you say though, better work should be the ultimate goal of us all. I was enthralled by Nocturne, but Rapp's Animals and Plants, and Stone Cold Dead Serious led me almost to madness, (I confess to now sharing one New York critic's point of view that he will start seeing Rapp again once theaters stop producing his first drafts.)

However, just as you rightly point out that ticket sales don't equate to quality, I would point out that neither does budget or production values.
Remember that the Lead Actor of the Goat, (which I think was a late replacement,) was a bona-fide New York Actor who had played the role in the New York production. He was just the type of person who would have been cast by a larger house.

By the way, I do know that you have always been an advocate for local talent versus the fly-by lead, so I don't mean to suggest otherwise. However, Mr. Noone is right to point out that you would have been deprived of Mr. Gill's performance.

The Lyric has great local actresses lined up for Albee's Three Tall Women. Is it sad that more people won't see it than if it were shown to larger subscriber base at the Huntington? Well, it is sad that more people won't see it, but if it is good then the critics should at least try to point that out to the public, no?

As both you and Mr. Noone suggest, the theatre community is a complex organism. There are benefits to be had by all. Also negatives to suffer.

I don't think we are in any type of Golden Age. Sadly, many new companies that are starting up are choosing to do Neil Labute, Kenneth Lonergan, Brian Friel, etc. Rather than new playwrights or original work.

William Donnelly, a local playwright who produced himself for many years,(as I did,) has been absent the scene for a while. He is now receiving a full regional production of his new play this spring....at Portland Stage Company.

Whistler, Gurnet, Way, AYTB, and others are very strong companies, but they are replacing companies like Donnelly's, The Bridge, Rough and Tumble, etc. (I'll include my old company, Essayons in that mix.) While Another Country and Brian Tuttle's 11:11 continue the new work mantle, (Centastage seems to be back in the mix too,) it appears that many new companies are providing stellar acting directing and management, But are, for the most part, doing established works by known talents.

And the larger companies like the Huntington, New Rep, Merrimack, are moving towards world premieres by newer talent. So, to that extent, I see your point: Once the hip, young talent becomes the maturing, mid thirties, early forties talent who will do their work if the smaller, fringe companies are doing standards or epics?

As for Louise Kennedy's statements, which started this whole discussion. I read them much different from you. I read them as the words of a theatre critic fearing the complexity of more dynamic theatre scene.

She seemed to be impressed with the production of Love Lies Bleeding. Way more so than you, but I respect your contextual comments more because they are more germaine to your criticism. Her comments seemed at a right angle to her experience.

Yes, she liked the production. However, this presents problems. Can the lead critic ignore the Boston Premiere of the new Delillo? Not really, especially not if there is hot talent involved. But what if it is taking place at the Piano Factory? There was an unintentional backhandedness to the comment.

Combine Kennedy's opening comments of the LLB review with her admission that she was nervous upon hearing that BTW was going to take on Angels in America, (several other critics said this as well,) and you get a chilling air.
While Homebody was not a perfect production, (what is?) It was a powerful, and professional staging of that work. In fact, though sometimes I like BTW productions, and sometimes I don't, I have to admit, I never entertained the thought that they would utterly fail in presenting Kushner's epic.
I think the iconic Broadway production of Kushner's play has obscured the fact that the play was originally produced on much smaller stages like the Eureka and the Mark Taper Forum.

The power of the critic is smaller than people give credit, I know. You don't have to read many memoirs or collections of people like Kerr, Rich, Brustein, or Tynan to see that they all have instances where they really tried to get audiences to see a show they thought exceptional. In some cases going beyond just the the notice or daily review, they would write follow-up think pieces, mention the show in other reviews...only to see the show close because of 1/4 capacity houses.

But part of the job of the critic is to illuminate beauty whether it is in a garage or at the Met.

Your opinion at least can start a discussion, whether Mr. Noone and I agree with you or not.

Ms. Kennedy's comments, I think are a bit more dangerous: There is great work going on by this smaller theatre company, I really enjoyed the production, but really we should be seeing it somewhere else?!!!

That is something I just can't get down with.

*******

The discussion may or may not continue at Hubreview.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Jack Clancy - Steppenwolf Must Die

Actually, he is talking about the spawn of Steppenwolf, those companies that try to emulate a type of go-for-broke style and end up being quite silly and meaningless.

If the SteppenFetchits were emulating Steppenwolf for the fierce tenacity of their early days, their insistence on an ensemble dynamic and their ability to attract and foster great new writers, I’d say Godspeed. But when you strive to emulate their style, or worse, a dumbed-down, third-hand understanding of their style, I say enough, already. You can break all the furniture you want and never create anything more meaningful than firewood onstage if there is no thought, poetry or craft behind the wreckage. If you want to create the next Steppenwolf Theatre, then do what they did. Commit to ten years with the same core of people and spend every night arguing and agreeing and thrashing around in a basement somewhere until you have your own aesthetic and vision to share. Stop wearing
hand-me-downs. They don’t fit and they’re out of style anyway.


Hat Tip to Isaac Butler at Parabasis.

Boston Theatre - Friday Roundup

Way Theatre Artists has one more weekend left for Don Delillo's Love Lies Bleeding. The novelist's rumination on end of life issues is filled with good performances and, (as is the style of many novelists writing for the stage,) piles on interesting metaphors on top of each other. Edge Boston has a review here. Louise Kennedy's take is in the Boston Globe, and Jenna Scherer's review went up in the Herald earlier in the week.

Brecht Unplugged, a program of short pieces from Bertolt Brecht's ouevre is being presented by Roxbury Repertory at Roxbury Community College.

Centastage keeps Plays On Tap at the Boston Center for the Arts. It is an evening of short plays by local playwrights.

The Lyric Stage is presenting a fantastic cast, under Scott Edmiston's direction, for the Boston Premiere of Theresa Rebeck's latest play The Scene.

The American Repertory Theatre's Julius Caesar continues at the Loeb Drama Center.

Speed-the-Plow is at The Factory Theater in the South End.

The Gold Dust Orphans's Medea wreaks havoc this weekend at Machine.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Tynan on Godot's Fundamental Advantage

By all the known criteria, Mr Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot is a dramatic vacuum. It has no plot, no climax, no denouement; no beginning, no middle and no end. Unavoidably, it has a situation, and it might be accused of having suspense, since it deals with the impatience of two tramps waiting beneath a tree for a cryptic Mr Godot to keep his appointment with them; but the situation is never developed, and a glance at the programme shows that Mr Godot is not going to arrive. Waiting for Godot frankly jettisons everything by which we recognise theatre. It arrives at the custom house, as it were, with no luggage, no passport and nothing to declare: yet it gets through as might a pilgrim from Mars. It does this, I believe, by appealing to a definition of drama much more fundamental than any in the books. A play, it asserts and proves, is basically a means of spending two hours in the dark without being bored.

-Kenneth Tynan

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Onion Gets the Last Word

From the latest Onion:

Thousands Return To Unemployment Following End Of Writers Strike

Albee and Miller on Political Theatre

Arthur Miller:

My way of writing plays involves the birds coming home to roost. It's also the Greek way, and Ibsen's way. It's about challenges that were not met when they came up and so those challenges return and haunt people. History is of the essence in that form.

I'm so old now that it's appalling to me that people forget ninety-eight percent of what I remember. There seems to be no past in America except that we have to pledge allegiance. The current dramatic forms don't have much past; they are more like movies. In movies we rarely ask ourselves about the past of the character. A few quick references are enough. In the older forms, what I think of as the dramatic forms of theater, you spend a third of the work dealing with the past; whether it be Shakespeare's work or almost any you can mention. The past has gone out of the theater. We're writing films on the stage.

(...)

I cannot accept that each man is an island and that literature, theater, is something done altogether for the pleasure of the artist and altogether to divert people from real life. I think that there is a mission. It may be terribly subtle, it may be buried deep, but literature has a job that has to do with the way we live, the way we organize ourselves. That is why I find it inescapable that I should be involved in thinking about politics and thinking about society. I think that it is all one piece. In most of the history of literature this question would never even have arisen. It wouldn't have arisen for Shakespeare, whom we regard as the purest of artists. He was up to his neck in Elizabethan politics. After all, what are those kings fighting about?


Edward Albee:

"There is a misunderstanding about what political theater really is. That's why I object to people like Richard Schechner going back to the agitprop of the thirties. In 1968, I went around campaigning for McCarthy, and during my speeches I talked in specific political terms. But when I write a play, I'm interested in changing the way people look at themselves and the way they look at life. I have never written a play that was not in its essence political. But we don't need an attack on the specific or the conscious. We need an attack on the unconscious."I daresay I could write a play attacking Nixon. But we all hope that he will go away in '72, so it would be a play with no interest after '72. And why write a play about the shooting of Martin Luther King? Isn't it better to write about the mentality which allows that shooting to take place? When you've got a society that's so uptight that all it cares about is self preservation, it's far more important to write about that situation than to make specific attacks on Nixon and the ghettos. Nixon and the ghettos are particular horrors that have come about because people are so closed down about themselves. If we can get them to be open about themselves, the rest will come automatically.

Serious theater is meant to change people, to change their perception of themselves.

Put Your Money Where Your Blue Cross Is?

The New York Times Blog Reader's Room is discussing Tracy Lett's August: Osage County, complete with posts from Frank Rich and Marsha Norman. (Hat Tip to Rob Kowzlowski.)

Within the comments section, (yes, they allow comments,) is this statement by Jeffrey Sweet in response to Marsha Norman's observation that one way August is important is that it seems the pinnacle of the playwright company relationship:
I’d like to suggest pushing the relationship between playwright and
company one step further. In no company that I know is the playwright covered by health insurance unless that playwright also happens to serve another function in the company. If the American theatre wants to prove that it really cares about the playwright, some scheme for covering the dramatists’ insurance needs
should be created. It’s fine to offer mission statements about serving the American playwright, but when the playwright is the only person affiliated with a company who is not provided with such coverage, the mission statements strike me as a little hollow.

Quote of the Day

Being considered a "star" in regional theatre is kind of like
having the nicest jumpsuit in prison.

-Terry O'Quinn of the TV show Lost joking with Lewis Black about their days in the theatre.

I heard this on the Opie and Anthony radio show.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Sheffield Manor by Playmobil

One of my talented friends from the Army has arranged a tour of Sheffield Manor in England.

We start with a family portrait of George Talbot 4th Earl of Shrewsbury:



The steward, with some footnotes from "Heaven," guides us through the castle and introduces us to its inhabitants.



The rest of the tour can be enjoyed here.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Boston Theatre - Friday Roundup

CentaStage returns to the Boston Center for the Arts with a festival of short plays entitled Plays on Tap. Lots of local writers represented, including fellow blogger Patrick Gabridge.

BadHabit productions presents David Mamet's Speed-the-Plow at the Factory Theater in the South End. Glengarry Glen Ross overshadows this interesting Mamet work, which I suspect still suffers due to the fact that Madonna originated the female lead on Broadway.

Way Theater Artists present the Boston Premiere of novelist Don Delillo's Love Lies Bleeding at the Boston Playwrights Theater.

Ryan Landry serves up a new offering starting this weekend: Medea. This is Landry's take on the classic character from tragedy. (My favorite line from the publicity: "After all, why should the A.R.T. have all the fun?!")

Speaking of the A.R.T. they are running Julius Caesar at the Loeb Drama Center right now.

One more weekend to catch Speakeasy's production of Douglas Carter Beane's The Little Dog Laughed.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Destroyer of the Gate





One of the very first things they taught us to say in Korean at the Defense Language Institute was "I am going to Namdaemun."


Namdaemun is the South Gate of the City in Seoul. It is about 600 years old. (At right is Namdaemun in 1904.)



So it was a little jarring to see these images around the net over the past few days:
They have caught the 70 year old man they believe is the arsonist. He has been setting fire to other national landmarks as well.

Below is the gate in its previous glory.




Korea has some of the most beautiful wooden temples and palaces in the world. Sad to see the destruction of this one.

If a Play Falls in The Woods?

Michael Feingold on a certain type of new play:

In earlier times, when naturalistic detail started creeping in, like
aesthetic kudzu, the theater either smacked it down or shied away from it toward some more abstract form. But in recent decades, television has been the visual center of most people's leisure lives, and it's bred a hypnotic form of watching, in which the image itself—usually an image full of "real" details—is the single source of interest. When people devoted to the theater complain about current plays being "too much like television," what they object to isn't just
the vapidity and oversimplification of the scripts. Vapidity and
oversimplification had ensconced themselves in playwriting centuries before network programming was even a gleam in David Sarnoff's eye. They may trivialize drama, or render it stupid, but they don't make it less dramatic. On the contrary: Very little onstage is more exciting than an air-headed, one-dimensional melodrama, no matter how nakedly factitious. The core problem is the hypnosis: Turn the set on, and we watch. What's on-screen doesn't particularly matter, as long as it's more or less representational.


Thus, we've come to the kind of play that, as a play, doesn't
exist, or at best barely exists; all it does is represent. Things happen, sort of. But how they happen and why they happen—the elements that make up the substance of drama—seem to have faded out of the script. Sometimes a dim reflection of a genre is present, just as you can find recollections of old stage genres in most current TV series, even in "reality" shows. Brooke Berman's Hunting and Gathering, at Primary Stages, is the remnant of an old-style romantic comedy about young couples struggling to pair off in New York. Mike
Leigh's Two Thousand Years is a London echo of that longtime Broadway staple, the Jewish family play. Neither play, as an act of writing, is particularly shameful or dishonest; both have patches of interesting writing, and both visibly stem from their writers' efforts to capture a reality truthfully. But as a play, neither one exists. The meager events that occur in them, portrayed by Berman as flukes of destiny and by Leigh as the repetitive tics of one family's dynamics, barely affect even the characters' lives. Both plays inhabit a world
so inconsequential that Ionesco, who can tell us that the clock strikes 13 and that Mr. and Mrs. Martin have been married for years without meeting each other, seems to have a firmer grasp on its vagaries.

Boston Theatre - IRNE Question -What's New?

The IRNE Nominations are out for this year!

Congrats to all the nominees. See the complete lists here.

I noticed one puzzling thing on this year's nominations so I sent to following e-mail to Larry Stark at the Theatermirror:

Hi Larry,

I was looking over the IRNE nominations for this year and I had a question about the criteria for the category of New Plays.

This has, by the way, nothing to do with the playwrights or the quality of the nominated works. In the category for Best New Play (Small Company) Christopher Shinn's play Dying City is nominated. In the Large Company division, Ronan Noone's The Atheist is nominated.

Dying City premiered at the Royal Court in London in 2006 and then had a subsequent production at Lincoln Center in New York.

The Atheist, while certainly developed locally at The Huntington, premiered in New York City, Off-Broadway in November of 2006.

I had always assumed that New Plays were classified as those receiving their world premiere or first full production in Boston. Or that they could be involved in something like the National New Play Network so that if they received their first production at a sister theatre in another city, the local co-production would count. Also, I know that plays that may have appeared in a festival setting like The New York Fringe, but then played a full, couple of weeks, run here locally could count.

There is no doubt that these are "New" plays, but what is the defining criteria? Or is does it go on a year to year basis?

Thanks,

Art Hennessey

************

Any other IRNE committee members who read this please feel free to comment as well.

Once again, these are both fine plays by fine playwrights, that is not the question.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

This Valentines Day - Love Lies Bleeding


No, that's not a teaser line for a new action movie.


Novelist Don Delillo's latest play, Love-Lies-Bleeding, produced to some acclaim by Chicago's Steppenwolf theatre is receiving its premiere here in Boston by Way Theatre Artists.


Way was a co-producer with Zeitgeist Stage last fall on The Kentucky Cycle.


Delillo's last play seen here in Boston was Valparaiso in 1999 which tapped into the enormously rabid talk show culture that was gripping the country. (Strangely enough, it may have gained in relevance since then.)


This time Delillo has trained his eye on end of life issues. Think Terri Schiavo, although Delillo has stated that the play is written to isolate the decision to the family members, rather than expand it to the national political arena. (And the Schiavo incident actually leapt onto the national stage after this play was completed.)


The play runs at the Boston Playwrights Theatre for two weeks only.


It was originally written as a part of the Kennedy Center's Fund for New American Plays

Follow The Yellow Brick Road!

So we shot the commercial as a spoof of the Wizard of Oz, with Dorothy having a great time with her new friends at the client site, (that's Ursina Amsler below as Glinda.)

That's me as the Cowardly Lion and local actor Dan Grund as the Tin Man.




The makeup was top notch as always.

And that's Erik Rodenhiser as the Scarecrow.





Right below are some shots of us getting ready to film the finale scene "And you were there and, you were there..."



Some days its so much fun being an actor.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

If Chicagoans Want Some Male Nudity, Boston's Had Plenty

Here in Boston, the BCA has been like a Male Burlesque palace lately.

So check out this story in Chicago about how the nude scene in Douglas Carter Beane's The Little Dog Laughed, (a play being presented locally in Boston by Speakeasy Stage,) was played in underwear rather than fully nude as it is scripted. This was much to the dismay of the playwright it seems. But the director claims the playwright was fine with it in discussions they had previous to the production.

The playwright explains why he would not have agreed to it:

“It’s a crucial moment in the play. These two characters have been denying they’re gay for pages and pages,” Beane says. In the scene, said actor and the rent boy he ordered the night before strip down and get ready to pounce one another just as the actor’s piranha agent, Diane, interrupts them and immediately begins damage control on the client she desperately needs to be hetero.

When Little Dog opened in New York a year ago, the character of Diane was hailed by critics as the juiciest female comic role that had been written for the stage in ages, an embodiment of Hollywood’s cannibalistic PR practices. “[Removing the nudity] changes everything about Diane,” Beane says. “It makes her less ferocious. If she’s willing to break up something when both
of them are naked, she’ll do anything.”



Hat Tip to Storefront Rebellion, who has been blogging the story very closely.

Yet another Chicago Blogger points out the following strange fact regarding About Face Theatre, the producer of Little Dog:


What's particularly mind-boggling about this whole affair is that About Face Theatre produced Richard Greenberg's Take Me Out in the 04-05 season at the Steppenwolf Upstairs, a production that featured - as I'm sure it specified in the script -
a bunch of completely naked men showering in the locker room.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Every time a regional theater produces Nickel and Dimed, the play based on Barbara Ehrenreich's book about the working poor in America, I keep hoping the irony will reach up and bitch-slap the staff members as they put actors, the working poor they're directly responsible for creating, in an agitprop shuck-and-jive dance about that very problem. I keep hoping it will pierce their mantle of smug invulnerability and their specious whining about how television,
iPods, Reagan, the NEA, short attention spans, the folly of youth, and a million other things have destroyed American theater.


The numbers are grim—the audiences are dying off all over the
country. I know because every night I'm onstage, I stare out into the dark and can hear the oxygen tanks hissing. When I was 25, the Seattle Rep started offering cheap tickets to everyone under 25. When I turned 30, theaters started offering cheap tickets to everyone under 30. Now that I've turned 35, I see the same thing happening again, as theaters do the math and realize that no one under 35 is coming to their shows—it's a bright line, the terminator between day and night, advancing inexorably upward. A theater I'm working at this year is hosting a promotional event to coax "young people" to see our show. Their
definition of young?

Under 45.



-Mike Daisey in the Seattle Stranger

If you are already feeling depressed about the state of theatre, don't read the whole essay while you are alone.

Cowardly Lion Versus the Flu

Hi loyal readers.

I am slowly recovering from a virus or something that came in and knocked me flat. Started with a runny nose, proceeded to a cough, and before I knew what hit me I was in bed for almost two days straight.

I'm about 60% today and catching up on the day job.

Shortly after my last post I got to play the Cowardly Lion in a commercial! (Pictures will be up, I promise.)

I learned that doing the kick ball chain while you are off to see the wizard may look like a lots of fun, but when you are wearing a prosthetic lion mouth and sweating underneath lights in a fur suit it can feel a little like work too. I did have a great time with several friends on the shoot, and the makeup and costumes were fantastic.

We even replicated the famous "And you were there and you were there..." scene.

Hope you have been checking out some of friendly links off to the sidebar.

Thanks