Monday, March 31, 2008

Adminsitrative Note

Hi All,

If you are trying to correspond to me by e-mail:

I have been alerted by several people that e-mails I am sending out through the hotmail account I have for the mirroruptonature are being received as blank e-mails.

I am typing into the body of the e-mail, sending it, then getting responses from people that it is blank.

When I go to the sent file, the e-mails are, sure enough, blank.

If it doesn't correct itself soon I will make an alternate e-mail address.

Thank you for your patience.

Boston Theatre - Conservatory Students on Race

The Globe continues its profile of Stephanie Umoh, a Boston Conservatory student:

Stephanie Umoh and her roommate Anich D'Jae have a lot in
common.


They're both seniors at the Boston Conservatory, studying musical
theater. They're both from Texas. Umoh is biracial, D'Jae African-American. They're both crazy about Oprah and share the fantasy that she'll discover them one day and offer them a shortcut to fame.


And recently they both starred in the Conservatory's big spring
production. They played prostitutes in "The Life," a jazzy, edgy Tony
Award-winning musical about Times Square hookers, hustlers, and
scammers.Umoh, 22, played Queen, in love with one pimp and tyrannized by another. D'Jae, 21, was her friend Sonja, tired of servicing three dozen johns a week. They live in a world with "used-up rubbers on the ground," soliciting "horny freaks" by hawking their wares.


By all accounts, the show was a hit. The pair sang masterful solos,
loved their roles, and got standing ovations. They were able to act alongside their good friend and classmate Nic Rowe, who played one of the pimps, and their mothers flew in to see the show.


Still, it was not quite what they expected in answer to complaints
from some students that there weren't enough Conservatory productions featuring African-Americans.


"Of all the plays about black people," Umoh remembers thinking,
"this is the one you pick?"

Thursday, March 27, 2008

SlamBoston - A New Twist on The Ten Minute Play Festival


Brian Jewell has an interview with Lyralen Kaye in Bay Windows. If you haven't been to a Slam Boston play festival yet, you should check it out.


One thing many ten-minute play festivals run into is the creative way writers try to interpret ten minutes. For instance: the script is about ten to twelve pages long, but each character has large, paragraph sized chunks of dialogue. The play goes into rehearsal and suddenly it is apparent the play is really fifteen to twenty minutes long.


Now, the actors and the director can play fast and loose as well. A short and sweet script that is about 8 minutes on the page, can suddenly stretch to 18 minutes with long dramatic pauses and lots of stage business.


Well, not anymore:




An idea whose time has come?


Check out the Slam Boston this Tuesday, April 1st.

Exile in the Alley?

Scott Walters, in his last few posts, has taken on the New York Centrism of American Theatre Magazine. In one post, the Managing Editor, Sarah Hart has responded.

Today, Scott responds to some comments about his methodology of labelling articles that mention regional theatre, but are written by New York writers, New York Centric.

He says that it is all in the tone. As an example, he talks about a recent article profiling Edward Albee, written by a New York University professor. The article mentions the Alley Theatre in Houston Texas. but don't be fooled, cautions Walters:

In American Theatre, this surfaces in articles like the cover story about Edward Albee written by Carol Rocamora, a New York University professor, who refers to Albee's "distinguished 15-year teaching career at the University of Houston, where that city's Alley Theatre also gave him a home" as -- get this -- "critical exile." The Alley Theatre, founded by regional theatre pioneer and visionary Nina Vance, is one of the original flagship theatres of the regional movement. It should not be dismissed as a place of exile, least of all in American Theatre. Grinding salt into the wound, Rocamora lionizes the New York-based Off-Broadway Signature Theatre for doing the same thing the Alley Theatre did -- "giving the playwright a new home," and then she concludes the sentence by repeating the same insult: "after a decade of critical exile from New York." While Houston may seem like exile to a New York University professor, for those of us who believe in the value of the regional theatre movement, and who hold to the "anti-capital philosophy" of decentralization described by Zeigler, such throwaway insults are a slap in the face to everything regional theatre stands for.

(...)

The use of the word "exile" to describe fifteen years in Houston is an example of such condescension, which assumes a non-Houston audience that would share such an attitude. Poor Edward Albee, stuck in the fourth-largest city in the United States having all his plays performed at a nationally-recognized regional theatre with a 75,000 square foot state-of-the-art facility when he could be being performed in a 160-seat theatre on 42nd Street in New York City. Why, it's just tragic.


With examples like these, I believe that Professor Walters has the publication on the ropes, but to Ms. Hart's defense, she offers that they welcome articles from all over the country.

There are theatre writers everywhere. The blogosphere has shown that. There are probably graduates of Dramatic Theory or Criticism programs living all over the country. Perhaps part of Scott's tribe experiment should involve theatre writing as well. Issue a call for articles from freelancers living in Arkansas, Oklahoma, Houston, Austin, etc. Then, track the articles that have been submitted to American Theatre.

Boston Theatre - Elizabeth Peabody House IS Renting

Attention small theatre artists.

Doc Madison wrote a letter to Larry Stark's site. He wants people to know that the Peabody House is renting. It is not booked up or closed.

More details here at Larry Stark's Theatermirror, and here is a link to the rental information.
Geoff Edgers reports in the Globe about the Boston Ballet's complete exodus from the Wang Theatre (Citi Performing Arts Center.) They will be performing all their season at the Opera House going forward.

Here is the word from the bridge of the CitiCenter:


Josiah Spaulding Jr., president and chief executive of the Citi Center, said yesterday he was disappointed the ballet opted for the Opera House, but that he had tried to negotiate a new deal.

He said he offered to present "The Nutcracker" every other year, allowing him to also hold other holiday shows. In recent years, the Citi Center has produced a version of "Irving Berlin's White Christmas," alternating it with the Radio City show.

Spaulding said the ballet's decision to leave after next season will allow him to bring in potentially more profitable performances.

"There have been many shows that the Citi Center has turned down to support its resident companies," he said.


Just about sums it all up doesn't it?

What's It Like in Iceland?

David Cote gets an invitation to the Lokal festival in Iceland and gives us a preview of an article which will appear in the Yale Theater journal:

It was interesting. Farty-smelling water from sulphur. Wickedly expensive. Insular. Nordic. Beautiful people - if you like the translucent-skinned elvish type. Scary, depressing hard drinking on weekends. Local theater is both slick-Euro and about 15 years behind the avant-curve. Reykjavik is a small Scandy town with one main street full of overpriced boutique stores. Men who look like rugged, homicidal Vikings but turn out to be exceedingly polite. Four-dollar hot dogs with crumbled onion rings and three types of sauce…very popular. And delicious. Dank, cold, dark.

(...)

But globalization and the enduring appeal of American pop culture means that Reykjavik is no longer a quaint, hardscrabble town but a burgeoning, eco-sensitive, hip and highly commercial tourist destination. On weekends, its young residents pour onto the street and pack into bars in frightening displays of binge drinking after a week of hard work. Everyone speaks English, since so few visitors have mastered the ancient Viking tongue that natives speak. It’s the most sophisticated hamlet you’ll ever visit.

So the country is stable, affluent and educated. There is a healthy theatergoing culture, but a self-sustaining experimental scene still needs to be nurtured. Iceland has not produced its Robert Wilson, its Wooster Group, its equivalent of Off-Off Broadway, or even its own exportable mainstream playwrights. Its productions hardly ever make it to the Brooklyn Academy of Music or Le Festival d’Avignon.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Boston Theatre - Fort Point Battle Continues

From today's Boston Globe:

The city might use money from its affordable housing fund - contributed to by past developers - to encourage construction of housing that would accommodate resident artists, according to Boston Redevelopment Authority director John Palmieri.


Palmieri met with a group of concerned residents and artists from the area last week about the lack of housing. "They made some very strong points, to put it mildly," he said.

"We're in agreement," said Palmieri. Mayor Thomas M. Menino, he said, "clearly believes residential development is critical to the redevelopment of that district. It's in the plan."

City officials and residents of the area are faced with a strong commercial market that could leave the Summer Street corridor dominated by office and retail uses, shutting out families, and in particular artists who used to live in the neighborhood.

What is the Line?

Michael Haneke's film Funny Games has been getting quite a bit of critical reaction.

I was reading Jim Emerson's blog over at Roger Ebert's site and this passage especially caught my attention:

Funny Games is an experiment along the lines of the famous Milgram and Stanford Prison experiments. In other words, the movie is also an incitement to action. To politely and willingly submit to the movie's terms of authority is to sheepishly put yourselves in the same position as the captives in the movie, to accept its premise that "You brought this on yourself."

Once you buy into that, even a little bit, then you are trapped. The film demands something more than that you just sit there and take it, especially if you reject what you're seeing. If you passively "give up," then both you and the movie have failed the conceptual challenge. Maybe this is taking Haneke too seriously, but if he really means what he says he's attempting to do, he might well claim that fitting, healthy responses to the film would involve forms of protest and civil disobedience that... well, you'll have to figure out where to draw the line yourself. For me, free speech demands more free speech.


Emphasis mine. Maybe it is taking Haneke too seriously, but it is a perfectly legitimate question based on Haneke's own parameters and thesis, no?

Emerson also lists many blurbs, (positive or negative,) from critics around the country.
John Heilpern on how sometimes short plays, can make you come up, well...short.

Would $50 for 45 minutes (without intermission) make any difference had Ms. Churchill written a masterpiece? I say it would. And it wouldn’t. For a voluntary donation of 10 bucks, I just saw the Gustave Courbet exhibition at the Met, and I can tell you that if it comes to a choice between Ms. Churchill’s playlet and Courbet’s L’Origine du Monde, I know where I stand.

Look at it this way: A theatergoer usually likes to see a show with someone else, a spouse, a loving, patient partner, a date. That’s two tickets at $100 for 45 minutes right there. Then there might easily be dinner after the show. After all, there’s time. Make-a-night-of-it sort of thing. Compensate. Why not discuss the show with your loved one over a modest meal and a drink or two in a friendly atmosphere? Not to complain: That’s another $100-plus, unless you stick to first courses and pick.

You are now unhappy. Also, you finished discussing the extremely short play before you were even done with your insalata mista.

The night at the theater has left you dissatisfied. Traipsing home, you feel short-changed. You might think that you’ve been lectured by Ms. Churchill about lots of things you already know. You might even agree with David Mamet’s recent pronouncement in The Village Voice, titled “Why I Am No Longer a ‘Brain Dead Liberal.’” And it’s all because of the price-gouging, righteous anticapitalist Caryl Churchill.

DRUNK ENOUGH TO Say I Love You? is the least mature work I know of in Ms. Churchill’s considerable repertoire (which includes her 1983 Top Girls, to be revived at the Public later this season). Drunk Enough scarcely makes a play. It’s a stylized sketch, a sledgehammer rant, a glib political cartoon that arrives from London’s Royal Court Theatre much too late in the day

Don Hall Thinks Dante Missed Something

I believe......that there is a sub-level of Hell, between the third and fourth levels, that involves open auditions that request actors to do British dialects. And no matter how bad the accents are, everyone thinks they're good at them.


I think I need to make sure I keep up on my confessions.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Too Much Discussion

As the theatre season is into full swing, lots is being discussed now, both here and around the country.

Thomas Garvey recentley challenged Boston's larger theaters to pick up the slack on presenting new plays from our leading dramatists. And Bill Marx now picks up a similar prod to even the mid-zized houses regarding the work of dramatists like Howard Barker and Naomi Wallace:

Given the New York Times’s unenthusiastic review of an off-Broadway staging of Howard Barker’s A Hard Heart back in December – “Kathleen Chalfant can perform such miracles onstage that she has even found the lifeblood in Howard Barker’s bloodless essay question of a play” — the chances that the script would receive a Boston production didn’t look good, at least among the city’s cautious medium-sized and larger theaters.

For a contemporary straight play or comedy to be staged here a warm reception in New York is often a must. Unruly and dense, Barker has not been a favorite in the Big Apple, along with a number of other intriguing playwrights. But to its credit, Whistler in the Dark will be giving A Hard Heart a chance to beat in the Black Box Theatre at the Arsenal Center for the Arts (321 Arsenal St., Watertown, MA 02472) from April 11 through 26

Thom Garvey, meanwhile, responds to Ty Burr's recent column about theatre and film:

I know some will claim this is snobbery - but isn't that claim in itself a form of reverse snobbery? Indeed, I've all but given up trying to convince a lot of folks that I really like Shakespeare and Mozart - they're just too deep in denial. I'd only point out that it's hard to square their claims of snobbery with the fact that when real culture is presented at low prices, or for free - like the summer opera and Shakespeare programs on the Common, or the Met broadcasts at local cinemas - the public turns out in droves. They're hungry for the real thing - they by and large simply can't afford it!

Indeed, just indulge me in a little thought experiment - imagine, for a moment, that the tickets to local theatre productions - like The Clean House, The Tempest, or Some Men - were $10, and that Drillbit Taylor and 10,000 B.C. cost $50. Which do you think would be the hot tickets? And something tells me Ty Burr's blog would suddenly reverse itself - all at once, no doubt, the moviehouses would be full of catatonia-inducing sludge, while the theatres would be chock-a-block with lively, popular entertainment.

(...)

So my advice is to skip 10,000 B.C., College Road Trip, and Horton Hears a Who, and use the $30 you've saved to buy a half-price ticket at Bostix to Some Men or The Tempest, or even The Clean House or Shining City. You'll have a better time - and you'll be a better person, too.


Garrett Eisler at The Playgoer, talks about how the all-black Cat on Hot Tin Roof is laying the groundwork for possible all-black productions of Streetcar Named Desire and Death of a Salesman.

Hey, I'm not taking sides. I personally would never want to stand in the way of great actors playing great roles, whatever the appearance of their pigment or the DNA of their ancestry. And from what I hear the attraction of the current Cat is exactly that phenomenon.

I also am reminded of the story that Tennessee Williams himself blocked a proposed casting of the sensational African American stage actress (and later Matrix maven) Gloria Foster as Blanche DuBois in the 70s. I guess he had his reasons, too.

The issues are complex, especially when claiming to support some notion of "African American Theatre." The good thing here is that--like the Classical Theatre of Harlem, which has mixed the works of authors of color with radical reinterpretations of classics by Shakespeare, Beckett, and Genet--we have an expansive repertory for a community of actors sharing at least some threads of a common heritage. And anything that fosters such a "rep company" community among a troupe of actors doing great plays is a good thing.



I can hardly keep up with it all. (Garret has some good links at his site to some interesting stories.)

Friday, March 21, 2008

Boyz in the Hood Who Would Be Girls

Salon has one of their typically frustrating articles that pick up a hot topic, but don't go near deep enough to fully examine the many facets of the issue.

In this case, ther writer is talking about the mainstream prevalence of black comedians in drag, (Eddie Murphy, Tyler Perry, Martin Lawrence...)

Apparently not all black entertainers are amused. Chris Singleton and Dave Chapelle are cited as examples of celebrities who are outspoken about their opposition to the practice.

The article touches just briefly on the uncomfortable subject of gay acceptance in the black community, but then takes a sharp turn into analysis of black drag in relation to the minstrel tradition.

The worst type of black drag pays insufficient attention to the
humanity of black women. Wilson, by contrast, redeemed his garishly clad soul-sister Geraldine by making sure she always came out on top, especially in opposition to the church and in subverting machismo -- she even turned the king of braggadocio, Muhammad Ali, into a shrinking violet. The devil may have made Geraldine buy that dress, but she chastened her minister husband by reminding
him that the Evil One also kept him employed.

For his part, ( Tyler)Perry one-ups Geraldine by adding a bevy of down-home aphorisms to his portrayal of Madea. He also bolsters the character's complexity in his movies with a cast that counters her irreverence with melodrama. Ella, Madea's black female sidekick played by Cassie Davis, also helps to legitimize the character's status as a black woman. Not only is the joke never on Madea, but her tendency to whip out a pistol or two when things get out of hand
establishes her dominance over her home life. What makes Geraldine and Madea rise above caricature is that Wilson and Perry keep the audience on their side despite their characters' ridiculous behavior, always increasing their credibility as characters -- though not so much as women. Clearly, no one else can play Madea, but it's tantalizing to wonder how differently her role would read if Perry cast an actual black woman in it.


What Chappelle and Singleton may miss out on by refusing to
pimp those pumps is the dangerous fun of performing outside the constraints of race and gender. The desire to inhabit the lives and bodies of others doesn't necessarily make you a racist any more than sporting a double-D cup makes a man love men. Often it is inspired by a sense of play, and sometimes it is meant to increase understanding. Actors and writers, especially novelists, frequently do it (with words) to serve progressive political ends -- solo performers Danny Hoch and Anna Deavere Smith frequently channel characters regardless of ethnicity or sex.

Ty Burr thinks Ruhl Has Much to Teach the Movies

Ty Burr, our local film critic at the Globe sees hope for theatre and film in The Clean House:

I'm probably not the best person to trust on the subject of theater: I
watch movies for a living, and the Globe already has a critic who's more than up to the task of parsing, analyzing, condemning, appreciating. Plus, I have to admit I'm fairly sour on the Boston area theater scene - 20 years in New York followed by two subscription seasons at the Huntington that just about put me into a coma will do that.


(...)

What Ruhl is about in "The Clean House" is surprising us - crossing the audience's wires and leading us from what we know to a consideration of everything we don't. The plot is nominally a marital comedy, but it keeps getting sidetracked into a philosophy of laughter (really; the cleaning lady wants to discover the perfect joke), and Carroll's dreamy clean freak goes from the play's goat to its Zen master. The actors ride these rollercoaster twists with the grace that comes from giving oneself up to fate (or to the whims of a
playwright), and when in one scene the doctor finds herself laughing and sobbing simultaneously, "Clean House" reaches the limits of language itself.

The movies simply don't play that. Perhaps because of their illusion of greater realism, films tend to conservatism when it comes to tonal monkeying about, and they're always less about language than image - about what is shown, rather than what is said. What begins as a heist movie ends as a heist movie; a drama is a drama is a drama. To imagine the cinematic equivalent of Ruhl's gift would be to confront a film that allows itself to grow organically, so that what begins as an ordinary shrub keeps flowering and sending off different shoots until it looks like a Dr. Seuss tree, with a swing on it for the audience to sit in.






Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Around the Critical Horn...

Thomas Garvey on Speakeasy's production of Terrence McNally's Some Men:


"Only connect," of course, is another gay mantra, by another gay writer (E.M. Forster), and it's interesting to consider the connections gay life has actually afforded despite its constant backbeat of casual sex. McNally's achievement in Some Men is to give a sense of how those connections gradually amounted - like his many vignettes - to something like a revolution, even if he sidesteps such main events as Stonewall (again, that slight distance). Instead, he lightly sketches what amounts to a Proustian timeline (I know, stop me before I go too far): over the course of Some Men, sandwiched in between the hustlers and the backroom sex inheritance and a home change hands, and one straight family collapses, only to be reconstituted as a new, gay one; at the finale, we suddenly realize that, like Proust's Gilberte, gay men are now wandering around the halls of the heterosexual ancien régime, where we were once officially excluded. Of course what all this means for gay identity remains a tantalizingly open question, which McNally never really attempts to answer.

Bill Marx on Avenue Q:

The show’s advertisement sums up the adolescent approach: “60% adult material, 40% rubber foam.” Not too adult, of course: overgrown cookie monsters and other puppet retreads from Sesame Street and human residents sing about how much they adore porn, pay robust homage to the Internet and masturbation, and warble tunes with ‘shocking’ titles such as “It Sucks to be Me” and “Everyone is a Little Bit Racist.”

The gimmick, worked with sadistic relentlessness over two hours, is to make showbiz hay with the silly hilarity generated by the sight of marionettes saying nasty things and making mad whoopee. The device wears thin because Avenue Q’s creators thump the same dumb punch lines without, a la South Park, moving to inspired extremes or making a discomforting point; they don’t use the imaginative freedom offered by puppets to venture into fresher, friskier territory than jokes about beating off and Canadian pussy.


The result is that Avenue Q is not 60% adult but 90% addled adolescent: a slick puppet show ground out by an unimaginative child who has an eye on the mainstream market.

Brian Jewell in Bay Windows on Metamorphoses:

Mary Zimmerman’s Metamorphoses, adapted from Ovid’s anthology of Greek and Roman myths, was a surprise hit Off-Broadway a few years ago and was eventually transformed into a Broadway success. The production had a marvelously graceful cast and a beautiful central image: the stage was dominated by a shallow pool of
water, its shifting surface a metaphor for the stories of lovers turning into birds or literally dissolving in tears. Or perhaps it represented the origins of life, or the unconscious, or ... come to think of it, the concept was a little vague. But it was beautiful and that was enough. There is no such potent imagery in the humble Black Box Theater at The Boston Center for the Arts, where Boston Actor’s Theater is staging the play’s local professional debut, and the lack of theatrical fireworks makes it easier to spot a strange diffidence in the script.


(...)

The play’s first act takes for granted the relevance of these fables, but that straightforwardness gives way to a strange self-consciousness in the second act, as Zimmerman sets up a winking lecture from a psychiatrist about the Freudian underpinnings of mythology and enacts the story of Cupid and Psyche in dumb show while a narrator tells us that myths totally matter, dude. Ironically, this distances us from the material.


Larry Stark on Julius Caesar at the ART:

The biggest, clearest, boldest word on my ticket to "Julius Caesar" last night at the Loeb Drama Center was this one:

REAR

That made sense when I noticed it after enduring this chilly abstraction to the bitter End. At that point in this turgid monotone, visiting director Arthur Nauzyciel asked the entire fifteen-member A.R.T. cast to line up across the cavernous stage, back to the audience, and thus bow toward designer Riccardo Hernandez's drop-curtain representation of an enormous Cow Palace of empty seats. That gesture, making serious actors all show their asses to the paying public, is the perfect symbol of the A.R.T.'s "Mission" here in Cambridge --- their utter contempt for the people gullible enough to pay money and take these self-indulgences seriously.

A late, rushed insert to the program has a footnote in which Director Nauzyciel tried to justify his flat, pause-heavy, stultifying and ridiculously over-long reading of the play. Forced to remember the show, I found none of his assertions obvious on the stage. But then, any performance that needs a Footnote to become comprehensible is not worth the money nor the time wasted in seeing it.


I'm told I dozed occasionally in Act One. I could have slept better at home...

Monday, March 17, 2008

Back to Business

I was acting in a film for a BU Graduate Student this past weekend. I got to play opposite my wife as we played a married couple who are having a rough day.


It was fun and tiring. Long days, but we got all of the shots and I even got to be in a chase scene on the Public Gardens.

So I have been a little blog neglectful lately. I hope to resume regular posting immediately.

If you rely on me to point you to theatrical writings, here are some you should take note of:

Thomas Garvey and Bill Marx are talking about the state of theatre culture in the comments of my post below.

Sarah Ruhl has a massive profile by John Lahr in the New Yorker.

Boston playwright Kirsten Greenidge's play The Gibson Girl opened this past weekend. The Globe has a profile of the playwright and the play here. And Louise Kennedy's review is here. I got a chance to see the play this past weekend and I hope to post on it in relation to the recent Sarah Ruhl talk.

A few people have started e-mailing that they are seeing the I-Party commercial running. I have yet to see it.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Playwright Makes a Small Request - Upsets Applecart

Theresia Walser, a well-received and emerging playwright in Germany writes:

It has seemed to me for some time now that directors have imposed an unspoken rivalry on their relationships with authors--as though the point of a performance is who will win the evening. It is as though the director feared nothing more than to disappear behind the author's play. When a director feels he has to layer his
own images over my text, I suspect he is trying to subject our relationship to a democratic principle, to win a battle that need never be fought. There is no question, of course, that the wonder of the moment belongs to the director! Without the magic of transformation, a play would never come to life--I often feel that interpretive choices that seem to contradict my plays are inspiring and, in the end, essential.


Some time ago I added the following clause to the contract for an upcoming premiere of one of my plays: "Music may only be added in consultation with the author." This wasn't meant as a threat; I had had a previous unpleasant experience regarding music and wanted to draw attention to the play as an independent score. The clause caused an outrage at the theater in question, as though I had
crossed a line that was not mine to cross, as though I wanted to shake the very foundations of theater. It wasn't merely that no author had ever demanded something so impudent. I was admonished that the clause represented an attempt to intervene in the artistic freedom of directors!


I didn't hesitate to remove the offending language. I didn't suffer or even feel that I was giving in. I secretly thought that the clause, having been forcibly excised, was even more dangerous in its absence. At the same time, I couldn't get the phrase out of my head. I had not heard the demand for artistic freedom in this manner in a long time, certainly not in connection with my plays.

Boston Theatre on Television

Joel Brown at HubArts points out that Emily Rooney will be discussing the Boston Theatre Scene with Louise Kennedy and Terry Byrne. Tonight on WGBH.

Details are here.

The Business of Titles

A new blog, penned by a Broadway producer, (hat tip to Adam,) looks at what he considers a terrible title: August: Osage County:

So there it is . . . arguably one of the worst titles since Flahooley
for one of the best plays of the last decade was the title of a poem that inspired the author.


This reminded of the origin of another title . . .

When I was negotiating for the rights to Somewhere In Time, I
discovered that the original title of the book was Bid Time Return, from a Shakespearean verse. I asked the author why he changed it when the book became a movie.


He looked at me like I had two heads and half a brain between
them.


"That's a big change," I said, "why did you do it?"

"Simple. The movie company tested the title. It came
back 100% negative. So we had to come up with something else."


The something else turned out to be Somewhere In Time, which was
suggested by the wife of the Producer.


Should someone have tested August before it opened?

Is it appropriate for a Producer to meddle in such matters that are
"artistic" in nature?


Should Broadway be as calculating and "cold" as Hollywood?

Should playwright deals mimic screenwriter deals to allow us
greater control, even though at a greater financial cost?


These are all questions that you'll have to answer as you develop
your own style.

Other Thoughts on Contextualizing

Garret Eisler at the Playgoer has some follow up thoughts about the presentation of My Name is Rachel Corrie.

In short, "context" is fine. But context should never be
cover.Besides--thinking about this again reminds me of what pretty much the only exciting thing was about
watching
My Name is Rachel Corrie Off-Broadway a year and a half ago: the experience of
being in an audience that has to deal with controversial, unpopular statements spoken from the stage, unopposed.


(...)

So by running for cover behind as many "diverse views" as possible, we deprive the theatre of that special frisson that can only come from confronting the unpleasant. Even if it is "wrong." Think of that ending from Wallace Shawn's Aunt Dan and Lemon, for instance, where the heroine leaves us with an atrocious monologue justifying Kissingerian ethics on warcrimes, assassination, and such. Now imagine someone coming out after the show having to explain to you, "Now boys and girls, that was just a play. We don't really think that."


His post is then expanded on by Nick at Rat Sass, who points out that Wallace Shawn did, in fact, do just that. After seeing how the audience was reacting, Shawn wrote a type of program insert note to be handed out at the play, the title of it: "Notes in Justification of Putting the Audience Through a Difficult Night at the Theater,"

Nick points out:

The politics of reception are complicated. Both playwright (Wallace,)Shawn and artistic director Nicola were similarly attempting to manipulate audience reception. Nicola’s action like Shawn’s should be labeled production dramaturgy, or perhaps even public relations, but not censorship. To do so trivializes the fact that real and dangerous forces of censorship do exist in the world.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Boston Theatre - Rachel Corrie Approaches

New Rep's production of My Name is Rachel Corrie is opening soon. The Boston Globe has the reactions of some to the Rep's decision to pair the play with another work that would balance the ideologies. This practice became known as "contextualizing" during the debate over the first New York production of the work.

Here are some of the reactions the Globe story reports on:

"I think there's a real danger in expecting balance out of art," says
Cindy Corrie, Rachel's mother. "I just don't think art works that way. People create art from their experience and their perspective, and then we get to respond to it. And then maybe someone creates other art that has another perspective. . . . In striving for balance, I think there's a danger in it becoming a kind of censorship, a control over how we communicate and talk about things."


Both she and Rachel's father, Craig, insist that they're speaking in
general terms and not making a judgment about New Rep's decision to contextualize the play. "I do think both plays need their own space. These are pieces of art - entities unto themselves," Craig Corrie says. Yet he acknowledges that the messages of the two plays could reinforce and complement each other, rather than contradict.


Playwright Christopher Shinn ("Dying City"), who was an outspoken critic of New York Theatre Workshop's decision to cancel "Rachel Corrie," says it does a disservice to artists to try to moderate their words by showing alternative perspectives.

"Audiences should be mature enough to see a strongly presented
point of view, and if they don't agree with it, to maintain their disagreement with it, perhaps even be galvanized by it into better articulating their objections," Shinn says.
"There's something disturbingly politically correct about the idea that any strong point of view has to be balanced by an opposing point of view - that we should never present one strong point of view in isolation, but to always make sure that it's balanced and contextualized."

Thursday, March 06, 2008

More on the Culture Crunch at Newspapers

Via Andrew Sullivan:

Lewis Segal, chief dance critic for the Los Angeles Times, learned Friday that the paper will no longer support a full-time dance critic. His position is being eliminated. This after a week in which he wrote three feature-length reviews, a Sunday piece and a long obit.

In a city where dance riddles the inner sanctums of churches, temples, community centers, clubs, gymnasiums and zocalos, to say nothing of the nearly 280 legit performance spaces in
mainstream theaters, large, mid-sized and small -- this signals a gigantic disconnect between the people and press.

Heilpern's Patience Wears Thin

With the discussion of The Clean House being a hot topic here in Boston, it has opened at the New Rep. I thought I would throw in the voice of John Heilpern at the Observer in New York. He writes this week about the latest Ruhl play Dead Man's Cell Phone:

Dead Man’s Cell Phone possesses such a fresh, intriguing premise that I was immediately prepared to retract every lousy thing I’ve ever said about the pretentiousness of her other plays. Forgive and forget the twee infantilization of her Eurydice (2003) with its Greek chorus of cutely anthropomorphic chanting stones; and the overwrought pseudo-poetry of The Clean House (2004), with its
lofty, bogus pronouncements such as “The perfect joke is somewhere between an angel and a fart.”


It is?

To ask how the wayward Ms. Ruhl came to be acclaimed a bona fide
genius by the good folk at The New York Times is to wonder why the earth isn’t flat. (It is, actually. But only on a Tuesday). There are more of the award-winning playwright’s typically wobbly aphorisms in Dead Man’s Cell Phone, and, at best, they’re eccentrically hit and miss: “Women are responsible for enlivening dull places like railway stations.” (Just okay.) “Hermia chose a Catholic mass for Gordon because she likes to kneel and get up.” (Could do better.) “I never wear a thong. It’s like having a tampon in your asshole.” (See teacher.)


Whatever flaccid witticisms would be in store for us during Dead
Man’s Cell Phone, however, Ms. Ruhl’s ghostly theme of cell life after death promised a timely, original play. (Coincidentally, I recently attended a reception in honor of the assassinated Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya. Dmitriy Muratov, editor in chief of Novaya Gazeta, was paying moving tribute to Politkovskaya when he suddenly produced her cell phone from a pocket and took
our breath away: It was no longer a cell but an eerie, intimate sign that she’d once lived, the modern relic of a saint. With its hundreds of numbers from all over the world, it was a tragic symbol of a network of global support, and of Politkovskaya’s immense courage. Was I alone in thinking, “What if her cell phone rings right now?”)

MS. RUHL DIDN'T intend to write a tragedy, but rather a “significant” fable. She trivializes her own potential.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Movie Quote Meme

I have been tagged by Isaac for this MEME.


Look up 15 of your favorite films on IMDb and take a quote from each. List them below. When someone guesses the quote correctly, I cross it off the list. (Mark it in red) NO CHEATING.



It was kind of fun:




1. Let's not bring race into this, Ahmad. We got enough problems as it is.



2. You're right, I did lose a million dollars last year. I expect to lose a million dollars this year. I expect to lose a million dollars *next* year. You know, Mr. Thatcher, at the rate of a million dollars a year, I'll have to close this place in... 60 years. Citizen KANE


3. Oh, yeah? If you would've had Rifleman hold the ball, then we would've won the game. We didn't quit. You quit!



4. This joint is mine. I own this joint!


5. See that cockroach? Tomorrow morning, we'll be dead and it'll be alive. It'll have more contact with my wife and child than I will. I'll be nothing, and it'll be alive.


6. It's a new wrinkle, to tell the truth... I never thought I'd make a killing on some guy's "integrity."


7. Blue horseshoe loves Anacot Steel.

8. They don’t throw out their garbage they save it and turn it into T.V. shows. (Annie Hall)


9. To show that they weren't totally insensitive to the plight of others, they hired local people to be human statues at the party.


10. I'm only doing my job. Some people are bullfighters, some people are politicians. I'm a photographer. (Blow Up)


11. Oh, well, I didn't have her long. My friends was a pack of river rats and she didn't crave their society so she up and left me and went back to her first husband who was clerkin' in a hardware store in Paducah. "Goodbye, Reuben," she says, "the love of decency does not abide in you!" That's a dee-vorced woman talkin' for you, about decency. Well, I told her. I said, "Goodbye, Nola, and I hope that nail-sellin' bastard makes you happy this time!"


12. Madam! I have born as long as mortal could endure the ill-treatment of the insolent Irish upstart whom you've taken into your bed. (Barry Lyndon)

13. Like, oh sure, he went to Harvard!

14. I suppose if I were you... I'd have to kill myself.

15. Houston on fire. Will history blame me, or the bees?



I tag Thom, Novel, Patrick, Riba and Mr. Word on the Street.


Mine are pretty easy, (I'll bet people get them pretty fast.)

Wait a minute, What?

Update: Sorry, Readers. Yesterday, when reading the review I mistakenly thought it was written by Carolyn Clay. The review is actually written by Ed Siegel. I stand by the statements changed the following post to Ed Siegel.

So, Ed Siegel is reviewing The Clean House and, (like Louise Kennedy has intimated in the past,) she reveals that she thinks the play was deserving of the Pulitzer Prize:

There’s something awe-inspiring about watching an ensemble in which everyone is performing at the top of his or her game. The New England Patriots of the first half of the season come to mind — which makes that February 3 performance all the more painful.

But I have no painful memories associated with the New Repertory Theatre’s crack production of Sarah Ruhl’s 2005 Pulitzer finalist, The Clean House (through March 23). In fact, if the Pulitzer panel had seen this production, maybe Ruhl would have gotten the gold.



Great. But later in the review, Seigel has this to say though:

My one quibble with The Clean House is that it doesn’t stay with you as long as a great play should. This is the third time I’ve seen Ruhl’s work, and it’s always enjoyable to watch — never more so than in this incarnation — but not something I find myself thinking about much the next day.


I could say the same thing about The Bad News Bears with Walther Matthau, but I'm not sure I would suggest that maybe if the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences could have seen the remake with Billy Bob Thornton they might have nominated it for Best Picture. Although, Bears did win the Writers Guild Award for Best Screenplay. And, well, Rocky won Best Picture that year. Darn, thought I was making a good point.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

How Do Reviewers and Even Talk Shows Handle Memoirs

Last Friday I was listening to Tom Ashbrook on WBUR and he was interviewing a woman with a compelling story of growing up in the thick of gang besieged South Central, Los Angeles. She had recently published a memoir of the experience.

Mike Daisey had a link to the following story today:

In "Love and Consequences," a critically acclaimed memoir published last week, Margaret B. Jones wrote about her life as a half-white, half-Native American girl growing up in South-Central Los Angeles as a foster child among gang-bangers, running drugs for the Bloods.

The problem is that none of it is true.

Margaret B. Jones is a pseudonym for Margaret Seltzer, who is all
white and grew up in the well-to-do Sherman Oaks section of Los Angeles, in the San Fernando Valley, with her biological family. She graduated from the Campbell Hall School, a private Episcopal day school in the North Hollywood neighborhood. She has never lived with a foster family, nor did she run drugs for any gang members. Nor did she graduate from the University of Oregon, as she had
claimed.


I turned on the radio when I went out to lunch, and at the end of the 11 o'clock hour Tom Ashbrook apologized to listeners, but he also added a statement that is really pertinent:

"With the recent issues, going forward we will have to really take discuss the issue of how we deal with memoirs." He then added that really the entire industry will have to take a look at this.

I think the fault really lies with the publisher, but how are reviewers, or hosts like Tom Ashbrook supposed to deal with sketchy memoirists? Up to now, I guess they have been relying on some apparently non-existent vetting processes in some of these publishing houses. Are reviewers supposed to now become investigative reporters?

I probably wouldn't have posted about this, but having heard the author on the radio, talking and telling these stories, and then finding out that she was a complete fraud was a little weird.

We all build in a calculation for the bullcrap effect. We so deeply expect, for instance, that people exaggerate stories or embellish the edges of experience, that we don't even give it a thought. Why? I think it is because we have in our DNA something that so deeply loves a good story.

I once had a friend who told a story about how he was drunk one snowy night. After his girlfriend dumped him he was stupidly driving drunk when, on the way home, his car broke down. He started to walk down the road looking for help, but it was really cold. He spotted a fenced in lot with a fleet of school buses in it and he went in to seek warmth in one of the school buses. After getting inside, he saw the keys were in the bus. In his drunk and despairing state he decided he would drive the schoolbus to the nearest service station to get help. He started up the school bus and tried to ram down the gate, which he did and then drove out onto the snowy road. The bus got stuck about the same time the police arrived. They chased him through the snow and some backyards until finally subdueing him.

Now, I have told you the outline of his story, but to hear him tell it is an enjoyable experience. I am leaving out many details, and even some plot points that, well, pretty much seem to stretch belief. At these particular points in the story it is not uncommon for a member of the gathering to say: "No!" "No...they didn't!" or "You didn't?!"

These questions are not thrown out as accusations, but as almost joyful encouragements to continue.

Now, I am sure that my friend's actual experience was not as he had perfected it over numerous tellings. But would people really care that much if they knew that he never got the bus out of the parking lot before the cops showed up, and that his chase lasted about 50 yards before he stopped and let the burly cops wrestle him to the ground? Probably not. They might care though if they found out that all or some of the core facts were completely made up. Or that the incident never happened.

Then again, would some of those who loved hearing his tale even want it to be revealed as total falsehood? After all, we're all suckers for a good story.

Boston Theatre - What are the catergories?

Nick from RatSass posts a good point in the comments at Thomas Garvey's Hubreview:

The misnomer here is “fringe” theatre. The fringe once described a
species of art that was explored outside the constraints and ambitions of the mainstream. The fringe artists and their audience were small in number because their exploration was so specialized.


The fringe during the last decade or so has become synonymous with
small or under produced. And “fringe festivals” have become largely venues for artists to showcase their work in order to catapult themselves into the mainstream. For instance “Urinetown,” originally a fringe festival production, never had any ambitions other than finding its Broadway audience.


I can’t speak to the ambitions of artists of Way Theatre but are they
seeking and serving an audience significantly different than the audience at A.R.T. or the Huntington? And by extension, is the Huntington seeking and serving a regional audience significantly different than Broadway?


The Huntington Theatre’s PR explains well its ambition and the nature of audience it seeks and serves, “The Huntington has received three Tony Award nominations for productions transferred to Broadway.” This ambition is of course counter to the notion that the regional theatre should be seeking and serving a particular local theatre community and specialized to Boston artists and audience.


Even our critics here in Boston are extremely loose with the term "fringe." And, speaking to Nick's point, last year Zeitgeist Stage won the Elliot Norton Award for best "Fringe" production for their black box presentation of David Hare's Stuff Happens. Not to take anything away from the production, but it is what is called to mind by Nick's observation.

Seth Godin, on his blog, recently made the following observation:


Should you make stuff aimed at people who usually buy your product?

or

Should you make stuff aimed at people who rarely do?

The DaVinci Code became the bestselling book of the decade because it got bought by people who don't buy books. On the other hand, plenty of successful authors (like Dave Eggers) only write books for people who buy lots of books.

The advantage of mass is that it's big. The advantage of the devoted is that they are paying attention and have a desire to spend.

Most times, it's not obvious which one to pick. But you need to
pick.



Of course, Godin is speaking of product and markets and not aesthetics and artistic choices. But it relates, I think, in some way, to Nick's comment.

Leonard Jacobs on Louise Kennedy

New York Critic Leonard Jacobs writes a little bit about Louise Kennedy's recent article about the American Repertory Theatre.

He focuses most of his thoughts on this passage from Kennedy:

My frustration, I think, has some of the same roots as my admiration. Before becoming the Globe's theater critic, I spent nearly five years as an arts reporter, often writing preview features in advance of a show's opening. As it happened, many of these previews concerned the ART, so I've spent a lot of hours in the company's basement rehearsal space at Zero Church Street, in its offices
at the Loeb Drama Center, and in conversation with many of its staff members, directors, and actors, as well as in the audience at the Loeb and the new theater space at Zero Arrow.


Some might argue that that's too much inside information for a critic to have, and I'll admit that it's sometimes challenging for me to write a strong critique of work by people I have come to like as well as respect. (Of course, since becoming the critic I have no longer attended any rehearsals or other "backstage" events.) But I also know that having observed the process, not just the productions, at the ART has given me a deep appreciation of the company's passions, its vision, and its creative ferment. And that's why I know it could
be better than it often is.


Leonard Jacobs Responds:

Well, perhaps some might argue "that that's too much inside information for a critic to have," but I'd argue that Kennedy is doing ART, as well as her own profession, a disservice by refusing to continue attending such events. By erecting a wholly artificial wall between critics and artists, Kennedy neither helps her readers, nor helps ART, nor helps herself as a critic.

To be clear, I have no problem with Kennedy airing her concerns about ART within the public sphere. In fact, as a nonprofit that likely receives one or more forms of public subsidy (from the city of Boston, state of Massachusetts, or the federal government), one could easily argue that it's a matter of the public's right to know.

But Kennedy, like it or not, I believe has a moral responsibility to
act like the member of the theatrical community that the Boston Globe theatre critic must must must -- she is, indeed, an essential and irrevocable part of that community. By separating herself from artists, she loses the valuable insight she had gained as a result of her earlier interactions. That helps no one.



I think Mr. Jacobs has a good point. And it brings up all sorts of interesting questions. Leonard has more things to say about Kennedy's piece.

My own focus when I first read it went to this part of the article:

But I'm also moved to write by some recent experiences in other theaters, experiences that created the sense of excitement and vitality that are a huge part of why I go to the theater in the first place. In three fairly different venues - the Providence institution that is Trinity Repertory Company, the small back space at the Boston Playwrights' Theatre that was temporarily occupied by a
Way Theatre Artists production, and the sui generis Ramrod Center for the Performing Arts (in the basement of the Fenway nightclub Machine) that the Gold Dust Orphans call home - I saw three very different plays, but each of them left me feeling awake, alive, and lucky to have been there.

And each of them, I soon realized, was the kind
of play that the ART could be doing.




Congratulations to Way Theatre Artists and Ryan Landry . When, in the future, you have a struggles, I hope that the critics will write long teary-eyed articles that suggest people give you more money. Somehow though, I don't think that will happen. Actually, my real wish is that they would write them now.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Boston Theatre - They're Not Getting Older They're Working More

The Globe has a little profile of several of Boston's Middle Aged Stage Veteran's

Here is Steve Barkhimer who was just in The Misanthrope at New Rep and will be seen next in Spin at Zeitgeist:

Leaving New York more than 20 years ago: "I was 27. I was a chubby, white-bread, generic actor. I didn't have any distinguishing features. I was pounding the sidewalks, trying to make it."


Staying in the game: "Friends said, 'Oh Steve, don't give up. You'll get plenty of roles when you are 50.' And in the end it turned out to be true. If you are a 50-year-old male still in the business and you haven't wised up and gotten into something more lucrative, there are more roles. I am in a very blessed spot . . . and I thank God I have
other interests. That I'm not wasting my time trying to be the Papa Gino's pizza guy on a television ad or android number 163 on 'Battlestar Galactica.' "

The TOO Clean Room

Thom Garvey on the critical phenomenon of Sarah Ruhl:

Like Paul Thomas Anderson (whose There Will Be Blood I critiqued
below), she seems driven not by inner ghosts, or visions, or demons, but by a compulsion to better manage the culture she was born into. The Clean House, for instance, is more like a perfect mix tape than a play. What's weird is that I'm not sure Ruhl herself is aware she's a kind of multi-cultural drama jockey, spinning a sleek mix of high-end chick lit and arthouse hits. Does she realize she borrowed her joke-so-funny-it-kills from Monty Python, and her dirt-obliterating-a-white-living-room from Tommy, and her adulterous-apples-popping-up-in-other-people's-lives from John Updike, her chicks-bonding-over-chocolate from some Susan Sarandon movie, and her saucy Latin maid from too many 70s "foreign films" to count? Somehow I actually think she imagines this is all her own stuff. Which is a little scary.


What's scarier is that the critics seem only to happy to cooperate with her delusions.