Friday, May 30, 2008

Too Much Hamlet Makes the Critic Go Blind

Leonard Jacobs, writing in the New York Press laments that he can't bring himself to see the Hamlet in the Park this summer.

Not that it doesn't appear to hold promise, but after an amazingly Hamlet-rich theatrical diet as of late, it appears he must push himself away from the all-you can eat buffet.

Here is just a little quote:

My friends, I must take my leave of the Globe’s revival of Hamlet
before I suffer a thousand natural deaths from overindulgence in the play—rich gifts, it is said, wax poor when givers prove unkind. While this admission shall position me the object of fuming derision and scathing scorn, I am, of course, a theater critic. ’Tis therefore to be expected.


Shall I compare Hamlet to a summer’s day? No, I mustn’t, for I have
withstood far too many Hamlets in my lifetime: Hamlet in the dark, Hamlet in the light; Hamlet in the heat, Hamlet in the cold; Hamlet in the theater, Hamlet in the square; Hamlet by the sun, Hamlet by the Moon; clothed Hamlet, nude Hamlet, all-male Hamlet, all-woman Hamlet; the all-nun habit-wearing Hamlet.


No, for me to see Hamlet this summer I would be taken for a fool—and the fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool. No, ’tis I who hath seen far too much of Shakespeare’s fine play; ’tis I, I fear, who hath become more sinned against than sinning. Yes, I hear your cries: “The critic doth protest too much, methinks!” But ’tis Hamletitis the malady I suffer—abstinence it’s only cure.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

You Can't Judge a Theatre Town by Its Critics

The Seattle Post Intelligencer just lost Joe Adcock, its drama critic of 26 years.

Here is Brandon Kiley, critic for The Stranger:

Critics aren’t anybody’s favorite people. Last weekend, standing
outside a theater during intermission, I mentioned Adcock’s departure to a prominent local artistic director. He replied in song: “Ding-dong, the witch is dead!”


Then I told him the P-I hadn’t just lost Adcock: They’d also
eliminated his job, and won’t hire another full-time theater critic, due to a hiring freeze. The artistic director’s face fell: “Oh. That’s
terrible.”


In just a few years, Seattle has gone from four full-time theater
critics (one for each of the dailies and each of the weeklies) to two: Misha Berson at the Seattle Times and me. “Does that mean theater in Seattle is shriveling up and dying?” my editor asked when I told him about Adcock.


Um, no. It’s a sign that newspapers are shriveling up and dying.
Seattle still has its Tony Awards, its growing reputation as the best place to premiere pre-Broadway musicals, and its habit of hemorrhaging talent to other cities (congratulations, by the way, to former Seattle actress Heidi Schreck, who moved to New York and just won an Obie Award).


But the newspapers—with their hiring freezes, layoffs, and forced
early retirements—are f****d.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Man on the Run


Alfred Hitchcock's Saboteur contains some grating dialogue and plot holes the size of, well, the whole country. Which is appropriate since that is where the movie takes place.



It starts in Los Angeles and makes its way, to Ellis Island, stopping along the way to admire the Hoover Dam and some ranch country. Like Humbert and Lolita, making their way through the motels of the United States, Hitchcock's framed man meets the working class guy, the intellectual, the high-fashion model and a band of circus freaks.

The protaganist drives, runs, swims, rides a horse, takes a boat and even waltzes his way through the dangerous trap that the country has become for him.

Hitchcock, of course, knows all of this is ridiculous, just watch some of his other films. But the major miscalculation he may have made in the film is the casting of the lead. Without the witty and charming resourcefulness of the hero of the 39 Steps, the movie all but collapses under the weight of its excesses. Robert Cummings is no Carey Grant either.



Many people will cite the famous Statue of Liberty climax as the notable sequence from the film. Or the tense scene where the hero and heroine hide out with a band of side show freaks and sit helpless as the oddities debate and vote as to whether or not to give the couple up to the police who are searching the stopped circus caravan. The shootout in Radio City Music Hall, while a movie shootout plays on the big screen, is another favorite.

But two scenes stand out for me, and they actually survive Robert Cummings', (the aforementioned lead,) performance fairly well. There is a long sequence in a society woman's fashionable home that ratchets up the tension little by little until you are so absorbed in what is going to happen next that you completely lose yourself. Like Hitchcock does so well, he has surrounded the young couple with witty, charming characters. In fact, the whole sequence if filled with actors, (like the great Otto Kruger,) who wouldn't be that out of place in an Oscar Wilde comedy on stage. However, underneath the charm, the stakes are incredibly sinister. The heroes are trying to escape a charity ball, filled with people, but at every turn, they find they are thwarted, and with every escape avenue that is shut down, we feel more dread.


My next favorite moment is memorable more so for its weirdness. Cummings, who is pretending to be on the side of the bad guys, has a short conversation with one of the lead conspirators with whom he is about to drive cross country. The villian asks Cummings if he has children. Cummings answers that he does not. The bad guy then talks about his own children and his own childhood. Most thrillers might have a long, overdramatic monologue to show the depths of weirdness and the off-beat dangerousness of certain character. Saboteur accomplishes this effect with only a few short lines, which I won't even ruin for you by quoting them here. (I actually ran back the DVD immediately to play it again to see that I heard it right.)


The Universal DVD has a nice documentary that is centered around an interview with Norman Lloyd, (we all know him as Doctor Auschlander on Saint Elsewhere.) Lloyd played the mysterious saboteur the hero treks the country trying to find. And he gives an excellent breakdown of the technical background behind some of the sequences in which he was involved.
As a side note, the title sequence, shown at the top of the post is echoed later when a suspicious fire starts at the plant.
In that title sequence the figure of the sinister character walks slowly toward us and starts to fill that right side of the screen. Later, when Hitchcock is showing us that a fire is starting in the airplane factory he uses the same set-up to establish the sabotage.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Two Things That Made Me Chuckle

Laura Miller, writing in Salon about the Death of the Literary Critic:

I think of blogs not as alternatives to reviews or essays, but as a
forum for short items, news and remarks, as well as links and responses to longer pieces posted on the sites that commission them. I could be wrong, though, as I'm not really a reader of blogs.



And the following from an interview with Sarah Ruhl in TimeOut Chicago:

Interviewer:You’re part of a wave of playwrights interested in the
whimsical—less naturalism than surrealism. What do you make of that trend?


RUHL: I think people are bored of watching watered-down television onstage. I think playwrights are responding to that.

Interviewer: What do you mean by “watered-down television”?

RUHL: What I mean is family dramas that take place in a house with furniture, and there’s an issue at the center of it and a secret that is
ultimately revealed.


Interviewer:But couldn’t one say that this whimsy-playwriting—with its quick scene cuts, interior fantasy sequences, breezy dialogue—is influenced more by TV trends than by theatrical tradition?

RUHL: I don’t really watch TV, so I don’t know....

(Emphasis is mine.)

Boston Theatre - Friday Roundup

If you are looking for theatre this weekend, there is plenty to choose from:

Last Chance:

Ryan Landry's spoof of the Wizard of Oz closes this weekend. If you can work and angle and get tickets somehow, I don't think you will be disappointed. Whizzin' plays at Machine through the weekend.

The National Theatre of Allston, (what a great name,) continues their short works evening at the Boston Playwright's Theatre.

Opening:

She Loves Me, Nicholas Martin's big sendoff is getting big buzz and great word of mouth. (I have yet to see it.) The Globe, The Hubreview, and the Herald have their takes already.

Ongoing:

A ghostly, glamourous mom continues haunting her three dysfunctional daughters (one of them is my wife!) in Way Theatre Artists production of The Memory of Water at the Boston Center for the Arts. The Globe, Metro and Bay Windows have reviews.

The History Boys, Alan Bennet's hit play about teaching to the test continues at Speakeasy Stage. Reviews are here, here, here, here and here.

Oscar Wilde holds court at the Lyric stage in the comic Masterpiece, The Importance of Being Earnest. Brian Jewell, Thomas Garvey, Louise Kennedy, The Phoenix and Edge Boston all have their say.

Paper continues to be manipulated on the Wimberly Stage. Ennio runs through next week. Louise Kennedy, Thomas Garvey and Edge Boston weigh in.

Charles Mee and Stephen Greenblatt's Cardenio continues at the American Repertory Theatre. Louise Kennedy reviews in the Globe, Carolyn Clay in the Phoenix, and Kilian Melloy in the Edge.

Speaking of Shakespeare... The Bard's political potboiler, King John, is up at Actors Shakespeare Project. Reviews are here, here , here and here.

Stoneham Theatre still plays host to Jack Neary's gossiping North Shoar girls.
Terry Byrne reviews here.

Limited Engagement:

At the Griffen Theatre in Salem tonight and tomorrow only, Inspired, A conversation with Nathaniel Hawthorne.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

A Defending Champion Takes on a Colossus

Blogger Rob Kozlowski just defended his title at the Drekfest. Two years running he has won the award for Worst Ten Minute Play!

He then turns to discuss the musical Wicked which is touring in Chicago (Here is just a section):


The musical is not terrible, and it's certainly less offensive than
tripe like Legally Blonde or The Wedding Singer, if only because the score is passable (albeit free of melody), the book plumbs unexpected depths, and it's certainly a beautiful-looking spectacle. But the rabid fan base completely perplexes me, especially those people who have spent hundreds and hundreds of dollars seeing the show multiple times.

One of the benefits we're supposed to see from a keen interest in this
musical is the idea that a new generation of audiences is becoming interested in theater because of it. But how do you explain comments like this:

I am a baby-boomer gal and I have seen Wicked five times so far, twice in Chicago, once on Broadway, twice on the national tour. I will be seeing it in Chicago again on July 1 and now that I see it is closing, I will definitely make a trip back up in the fall to see it before it leaves. Yes, Bob K, I have paid hundreds of dollars to see Wicked multiple times and would pay hundreds more and probably will to see it many more times throughout the country and perhaps London. It is an awesome, inspirational,powerful, electrifying show and in all my years have never seen anything like it, nor do I expect to. Your loss Mr. K.

My loss, I suppose, because I don't have the kind of money necessary to travel the country and the world to see the same musical multiple times? I get to spend that kind of money on food. I wonder if she's from Hinsdale...

I see comments like these from people, and I ask myself, has Wicked
really exposed people to the appeal of theater or has it merely exposed people to Wicked?

(...)

So, I ask you: how do we attract the suburbanite audiences who are
going to see Wicked multiple times?

The answer, I believe, is: We don't. We can't.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

No Farce Please, We're Americans



The Broadway transfer of the British hit revival Boeing Boeing, has given many critics a platform to ponder one of the gaps in British and American theatre culture: Bedroom Farce.


Here is Leonard Jacobs:



Here is Mark Heilpern:




Without Boeing-Boeing—or No Sex Please, We’re British; Run for Your Wife; or, best title of all, When Did You Last See Your Trousers?—England, I assure you, would not be England.

TRUE, BOEING-BOEING WAS written by a Frenchman. But only
originally. Which must be why it’s set in Paris. Nothing wrong with that. Some of the best Feydeau farces are set in Paris. Also, Molière.


Boeing-Boeing, by the Italian-sounding Frenchman Marc Camoletti,
proved so popular in its 1962 British version that it ran for a record seven years in the West End and made the Guinness Book of World Records. The reason it transferred so successfully to London is because it isn’t a clever farce in the French tradition. The British distrust cleverness, particularly in the bedroom: One does not shag wittily.


Americans, on the other hand, tend to treat farce as an acquired
taste. When Boeing-Boeing first came to Broadway in 1965, it lasted for 23 miserable performances. But then, it didn’t have Mark Rylance. (Nor did the deadly film version—also from 1965—starring Tony Curtis and Jerry Lewis.)


Puritan America has never quite appreciated the vast appetite of
the bourgeois British theatergoer for sex and silliness. Farce enables the traditionally reserved Brits to jettison their inhibitions and sexual guilt—and have a good belly laugh at themselves. The antic genre revolves round spiraling panic and embarrassment about being caught with your pants down.







Full Disclosure?

"The staging was amazing as usual, but I found the play itself a bit
fluffy and perhaps predictable."...


"The people who attended the play with my could see no reason, save
that Greenblatt is a member of the Harvard faculty, why the ART should have produced that play."


"It was the most contrived and artificial play I have seen in a long
time. The endless homages to Umbria, past and other things Italian were mind numbing."


These are all comments about the ART's new production of Cardenio. They are from audience members and they are posted, along with praise, on the ART's blog.

I remember attending a show once and the lobby had the usual reviews posted on a board. But this was different. The board was divided into three columns:

The Good
The Bad
The Ugly

The respective reviews were posted there for all to see. I am not sure if this was good, bad or ugly for the company members, (the ugly review was pretty ugly, but the bad were actually mixed,) but it was certainly a healthy dose of realism.

The blog at the American Repertory Theatre follows a model that many other companies adopt. Posts are usually done by artists directly involved in the show that is currently up. (New Rep follows this model.) This can result in some nice insights into the work of the artists. The Actors Shakespeare Project blog is usually written by permanent company members and talks specifically about the process of translating the play to the stage, including rehearsals, etc.

This model seems to be dependent on the blogging talents or motivation of the specific member of the specific show.

The Huntington Blog is a little different. Run by Todd Williams, the blog is always active with new posts, is not afraid to link to outside blogs, and occasionally Todd will get involved in other blog discussions. He posts video and great production photos. The Huntington blog keeps you up to date, in a dynamic way, about everything that is going on there. Having a consistent, permanent blogmaster can help this regard.

It will be interesting to see, as we proceed into the future, how theatre companies will continue to develop their web presence.

Out of Many I's -There Can Only Be One

Mrs. Mirror and I watched Rebecca last night.


The Criterion DVD has an interesting extra in which you can watch the screen tests for about five of the actresses who were vieing for the role of the Second Mrs. DeWinter, identified as "I".


You can also read, subsequently, Producer David O. Selznick's and Director Alfred Hitchcock's comments on the various actresses.


Vivien Leigh auditioned and she was so not right for the role, but she got to screen test with Olivier, so you get the bonus of seeing how Olivier's performance changed from this preproduction reading to the actual film.

Anne Baxter and Joan Fontaine, (Scarlet Johanssen is such a ringer for her that it is almost distracting,) are cleary the best in the readings, and it did come down to those two. Baxter was only 16 or 17 at the time, but she really nailed the overwhelmed nature of the character, I think she was Hitch's and Selznick's favorite, but Fontaine actually got the role. (That's Fontaine to the left with Olivier.)
Don't worry about Baxter though, she went on to star in Orson Welles' The Magnificent Amberson and acheived screen immortality with role as Eve Harrington in All About Eve.

Another bonus to watching the screentests is seeing how the scene changed from the test to the shooting. The screenplay was by playwright Robert E. Sherwood and it shows a little. The screentest scene is a little prolonged with dialogue and plays out with the beats of a stage drama. In the finished film some of this dialogue is trimmed down. And the direction of the scene is changed slightly.

Hitchcock was fond of saying that in film the dialogue is not as important as on the stage. For instance, in the scene to pictured to the left you can see, (even just by the still,) that what the characters are saying is almost superfluous. He was asked once if he had considered directing for the stage and he said that on the stage the writer is the authority but in film the director is the authority.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Awards and Coverage

Talking about theatre awards seems tiring before you even start. Better, usually, to just congratulate everybody.

Both Thom Garvey and Bill Marx, each in their own way, wonder about the IRNE's and Elliot Norton Awards. (Boston's two sets of theatre awards.)

One thing that unites both Mr. Garvey and Mr. Marx is Man of LaMancha.

Here is Thom Garvey:

The recent Norton Awards only reminded me of the wayward nature of award committees. Not that the IRNEs are any less error-prone - I mean seriously, Man of La Mancha? (I didn't even see it, btw - I hate that fucking show.)

Here is Marx:

As for the Independent Reviewers of New England (IRNE) Awards, best production nods went to “Man of La Mancha”!!! and “A Streetcar Named Desire.” The Williams is a great but weary-to-the-bone warhorse and who under 60 years of age is excited to see how “To Dream the Impossible Dream” holds up? Harold Pinter’s “No Man’s
Land,” which premiered in 1975 and won IRNE’s Best Play award, looks cutting edge in comparison.


Each poses questions that are interesting:

Garvey asks if there might not be room for an new award?

Marx says it is fair enough for theaters to program geriatric fare or boomer safe offerings in order to survive economically, but should awards be given for that programming?

I'm tired already.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Ralph Waldo Emerson - By Way of Frank L. Baum?

The Atlantic Monthly has an article written by an anonymous adjunct university professor who teaches required composition and English literature classes far from the "idylls" of the Ivy League or even the US News and World Report's list of colleges. His article is sobering and wickedly funny. (Although it seems as if he needs a sabbatical, or may be burned out permanently.)

He has to fail over 50% of the students who take his classes, not because they don't work hard, but because they are in way over their heads.

At one point he talks about handing back an "F" to a middle aged woman student who had returned to school, "probably needing the degree to advance in her career." The professor had spent extra time working with her, talking to her about her topics and explaining how to do research. When she receives the paper back, she is stunned at the grade:

“I can’t believe it,” she said when she received her F. “I was so proud
of myself for having written a college paper.”


She most certainly hadn’t written a college paper, and she was a
long way from doing so. Yet there she was in college, paying lots of tuition for the privilege of pursuing a degree, which she very likely needed to advance at work. Her deficits don’t make her a bad person or even unintelligent or unusual. Many people cannot write a research paper, and few have to do so in their workaday life. But let’s be frank: she wasn’t working at anything resembling a college level.



And, in this paragraph, the writer sums up the weird puzzle box of the degree-centric culture:

One of the things I try to do on the first night of English 102 is relate the literary techniques we will study to novels that the students have already read. I try to find books familiar to everyone. This has so far proven impossible. My students don’t read much, as a rule, and though I think of them monolithically, they don’t really share a culture. To Kill a Mockingbird? Nope. (And I thought everyone had read that!) Animal Farm? No. If they have read it, they don’t
remember it. The Outsiders? The Chocolate War? No and no. Charlotte’s Web? You’d think so, but no. So then I expand the exercise to general works of narrative art, meaning movies, but that doesn’t work much better. Oddly, there are no movies that they all have seen—well, except for one. They’ve all seen The Wizard of Oz. Some have caught it multiple times. So we work with the old warhorse of a
quest narrative. The farmhands’ early conversation illustrates foreshadowing. The witch melts at the climax. Theme? Hands fly up. Everybody knows that one—perhaps all too well. Dorothy learns that she can do anything she puts her mind to and that all the tools she needs to succeed are already within her. I skip the denouement: the intellectually ambitious scarecrow proudly mangles the Pythagorean theorem and is awarded a questionable diploma in a dreamland far
removed from reality. That’s art holding up a mirror all too closely to our own poignant scholarly endeavors.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Boston Theatre - Weekend Openings


Opening:


Way Theatre Artists who just picked up an Elliot Norton Award for Best Fringe Production for The Kentucky Cycle, co-produced with Zeitgeist Stage, present The Memory of Water with a great cast: Michael Steven Costello, Marc Harpin, Liz Brunette, Lyralen Kaye, Shauna O'Brien, Elizabeth Brunette, and Amanda Good Hennessey, (Full Disclosure: One of these people lives in my house.)


Local playwright Jack Neary opens at the Stoneham Theater with his North Shore based comedy The Porch.


For the bard obsessed, you can check out Will Shakespeare's King John at the Actor's Shakespeare Project, they are doing the play downtown this time. The play has had a resurgence over the last few years, but will probably disappear from the standard repertory again soon, so you may want to catch it while you can. It has some great actor moments and a few tense scenes. Don't expect too much of the Bard's top-flight poetry, although there are some brief verses that have endured. Seeing or reading King John is kind of like watching early Hitchcock, the themes and the craftsmanship that will be developed over the course of the artist's life are illustrated very clearly.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Boston Theatre Marathon Wrap-Up - And Some Unsolicited Advice

Larry Stark provides probably the most comprehensive coverage of the Boston Theatre Marathon. He attends pretty much the whole day and takes copious notes.

I was there for a few hours, and to be honest Larry jogged my memory about a two plays that I had watched, but completely forgot about. It is fun way to spend an afternoon, but it can all go by in a blur.

However, I am think I am over my days of trying to stay for the whole thing, (I've done it several times in the past.)

Once you are there, settled into your seat though, the experience can be addictive. You almost always find yourself anticipating the next play. There are a several reasons:

1. The last play was so good, you want to see another.
2. The last play was so bad, you want to end on a good note.
3. You look in the program and see that an actor, director or playwright you like or that you know personally is in the next show.

In my experience only one thing can break the spell, and I think Jenna Scherer hits on it in her recap of this year's festival:

What I was expecting was some serious variety. Playwrights on the bill ranged from first-timers to living legends such as Ed Bullins and Israel Horovitz, and troupes from the fringey and newish (Orfeo Group, Gurnet Theatre Project) to the firmly established (the Huntington, the American Repertory Theatre).

What I saw was a whole lot of sameness. With certain notable
exceptions, most of the plays were overwhelmingly safe. Each time the lights came up on another living room set, another cafe table, another bedroom, another contemporary middle-class potboiler, my heart sank a little more. It leads one to believe that the next crop of local playwrights are grounded in realism, in the now, in the theater of coffee-table exchanges and buried feelings. I kept hoping for something different, something strange and new - a period piece, a
sci-fi yarn, a metaphysical lark - but these were few and far
between.


Scherer admits that she did not attend for the whole day, but I have in the past and I can second her observation. Now part of this perception is a result of logistics: anybody who has been involved the Marathon, or in any short play festival, knows that if there are two plays with a kitchen setup, or a bar setup, it is better to have them back to back to facilitate a quicker set change. This logistical decision can have the effect of things looking the same, but, (if the plays are different enough,) it can also be inspiring. Seeing how many different ways playwrights can stage events around a park bench can be a hoot.

But the sameness can be crushing. Lots of things can keep you there in your seat, but have a run of three or four mediocre, kitchen sink plays that are about five minutes too long each, and suddenly you find yourself thinking about whether you can navigate out of the Wimberly's continental seating rows during a set change.

There is rarely anything really "out there" or really risky. Although a run of several wacky, anti-structured and baffling pieces that are also mediocre would probably engender the same flight response as the more realistic ones.

I really enjoy Whistler in the Dark's Fever Fest every year, but once it is over, I am usually ready to go home and watch a few episodes of 24, or watch something like The Devil Wears Prada.

Just one more note, (playwright to playwrights:) I know nobody asked, so just consider it a friendly comment:

Remember, your play doesn't HAVE to be ten minutes. It can be six or seven minutes, Heck, it can be five. If you have covered everything you want to cover, and your play is ending on the bottom of page 6, there is nothing that says you have to keep going all the way to page 10.

I only say this because I saw many, many plays in the past few years that are, believe it or not, way overwritten for ten minutes. Most of these plays are in the sketch, or joke category. In other words, the play seems to have been written on the premise of one, sometimes very slim, idea or joke. The playwright seems to be so enamored of their idea, or joke, that they keep repeating it over and over and over again for ten minutes.

A ten-minute sketch is simply too long. If you want empirical evidence, go and look at some of the most influential and funny comedy sketches of all time, from Abbot and Costello to Monty Python to Saturday Night Live to Mad TV and beyond. They are rarely anywhere near ten minutes long.

Somebody said there can be a big difference between a play that is 3 hours long and a play that is 3 hours and ten minutes long.

In the world of ten minute plays we should remember that there can be a difference between a play that is 8 minutes long and a play that is 10 minutes long.

And in blogging there is a difference between a post that is one paragraph and a post in which you're babbling, so I'll stop now.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Brand Loyalty?

Yvonne Abraham has an article that asks the question: So, with all the stress on corporate accountability, and emphasis on responsibility in MBA programs, what kind of corporate citizens are our top schools turning out?

The answer is...perfect corporate citizens.
After a "homophobic" e-mail was sent out out MIT's Sloane School, an investigation was launched and a punishment handed down to the offending student. (The student was not expelled.) Abraham continues:
As the incident became public, there was some soul searching among members of the class of 2008.

Not over tolerance and justice, mind you. About public relations and
the Sloan "brand."

After all, publicity about a homophobic threat, and complaints about
the administration's response, might make prospective students think twice before dropping $44,556 a year to study there. Which in turn might lower the school's top-flight reputation, making a Sloan MBA less impressive to employers.

After a news story appeared May 5, a Sloan student sent out a group
e-mail saying: "I really wonder who benefits from speaking to the press . . . One thing is sure - no one in our community benefits from causing damage to our school brand."

Members of the LGBT Club defended themselves.

"It is a delicate balance," wrote one. "How do we . . . have a public
dialogue about this issue yet avoid negative media coverage and damage to the Sloan brand?"

Talking about the incident would actually help the brand, he continued. By "helping to focus the story on the positives (such as how we plan to move on from this) we hope to demonstrate that Sloan will not stand for such acts."

You've got to admire that optimism. But even this student was fretting about his school's image when he should have been telling the résumé protectors to buzz off because there are bigger principles at stake.


Protect the Brand!

Friday, May 09, 2008

Boston Theatre - Friday Roundup

One Time Only!

It's That Time of Year Again. The Boston Theatre Marathon invades the Wimberly Theatre at the Boston Center for the Arts on Sunday, May 11.

The day-long marathon of ten minute plays features directors, playwrights and actors from all corners of the Boston theatre community.


Last Chances

Merrimack Repertory's production of The Four of Us, the recent off-Broadway hit by Itamar Moses, closes. Reviews by Thomas Garvey, Louise Kennedy, Carolyn Clay. Catch it this weekend.

Robert William Sherwood's political play Spin ends its run at the BCA. Sandy Macdonald in the Globe, Carolyn Clay, Robin McGuire and Larry Stark at the Theatermirror, all weighed in.

Syllabus of Errors, from 11:11 Theatre Company closes up its short run at the Rehearsal Hall at the BCA.

David Lindsey Abaire won the Pulitzer a couple of years ago for his more muted Rabbit Hole, but Abaire's wacky, Durang-like style is in full effect in his play Fuddy Meers at the Piano Factory.

Opening:

The History Boys bows at the Roberts Theatre. Alan Bennett's play swept both sides of the Atlantic and spawned a film version, (surprisingly it didn't result in a TV series.) Speakeasy brings us the Boston Premiere, directed by Scott Edmiston. Louise Kennedy, Jenna Scherer, Carolyn Clay, and Thomas Garvey have reviews out.

Oscar Wilde, (the original History Boy), wrote one of the most enduring comedies the Western world has known. The Importance of Being Earnest opens at the Lyric Stage this weekend.

Cardenio opens at the American Repertory Theatre this weekend.

Ongoing:

Ryan Landry's Whizzin' skewers the Wizard of Oz with one of the hardest working productions you will see in Boston.

Dessa Rose has one more weekend at the New Repertory in Watertown.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Welcome to the Future - No Roadmaps Available

Tony Adams at Jay Raskolinkov posts a clip of a very positive review of his company's production of Pirandello's Henry IV on the centerstagechicago.com site.

Tony then reveals the following:

Here's the rub. Due to unforeseen circumstances, (a trip to the
emergency room) the critic was only able to see the first act. Which until now only The Wife and I, and the folks at centerstage know. So since it's a good review I could/should probably have kept shut.


The review still ran, even though the critic couldn't make the second
act. I've written before about that before. This case seems different. I don't know if it is better, but there are two differences. One, the critic had to take someone to the hospital, which is a pretty good reason to leave a show. Two, this was not a blogger free from an editorial board. As a part of the Sun-Times Media Group they have editors who, I'd assume, would have to okay anything being published. It it a unique case? (Or it is similar to Weiss' writing about partial shows a few years back.) Is it different? Or does it only seem different
because it was a good review and not a scathing one?


It has already run so there is little we can do about it.



Earlier in the week, I posted how Sinan Unel had set up a blog to discuss the disconnect between his play and a bad review he had received.

Here Tony Adams is using his internet voice to explain a disconnect in a good review he received.

The Internet, with regards to cultural journalism is definitely going to be an interesting world.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

What Was the New Rep's Rachel Corrie?

The whole idea of contextualizing performances, whether it be through post show, pre-show or programmed pairings of plays seems to be on the rise.

Thom Garvey, in three parts tries to tease out the success or failure of the New Rep's recent pairing of the controversial My Name is Rachel Corrie, and Pieces.

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Dirty Books?


A site termed Library Smut has this by way of introduction:


By “library smut” I am in no way referring to the photo books on native peoples, or the illustrated health manuals, or any of the other volumes which, in your childhood, you lurked about the library aisle to find with the sole purpose of sneaking guilty glances at naked bodies. Nor am I referring to the “risqué” novels by Miller, Cleland, Réage, or Lawrence you leafed impatiently through as a teenager. No. What I’m talking about here is the full-frontal objectification of the library itself. Oh yeah.


The gorgeous photos are from a book by Candida Hofer.

Theatre Blogging - Playwright's Appeal?

This may be a first, or maybe not.

But Sinan Unel, the playwright who wrote Cry of the Reed, which premiered at the Huntington Theatre last month, started a blog that basically was created for the purpose of gathering audience feedback in defense of a bad review received from the Globe.

Here is the introduction from his blog:

My play, THE CRY OF THE REED, opened at The Huntington Theater in Boston on April 9th, 2008. Two days after the opening, a review, which can only be described as vicious and personal, appeared in the Boston Globe.

Audiences continue to fill the house. For the most part, they're enthralled by the play's intelligence, emotional range, and its compelling plot. Many of us are mystified by this review. Some ask: did this reviewer see the same play that I just saw? Others stop actors after a performance or on the street and talk about how frustrated they are by the media and how they discourage people from going to the theater. Two ladies told me: We read the review and almost didn't come - but we're so glad we did!

There is certainly a disconnect between the audience's experience and what these reviewers wrote.

The play is certainly controversial. It touches on some uncomfortable themes: religion, faith, atheism, mortality, sexuality. Perhaps it's not surprising that some are angered by it while others find it fascinating.

I've created this blog as a forum for audience members (or those who've read the script) to post their thoughts. An audience's reaction, after all, is much more significant than the narrow views of a few critics.


(Hat tip to Todd at the Huntington Blog.)

Nicholas Martin - Says Bye to Boston

The Globe has a very honest interview with Nicholas Martin who will be leaving the Huntington Theatre Company at the end of this season,

Here is just a snippet:

MARTIN:What I'm getting to here is what [the Huntington] used to do is schedule a season, an August Wilson and a classic Shakespeare and a Restoration play and an American classic and you know, fairly programmatic. But I don't think enough attention was paid to the actors, and particularly to the Boston community, which was never let in here as far as I know. That's another thing I'm proud of, having used [BU] students in big parts frequently and opening this theater to the Boston acting community, which was substantial but not complete by any means.

Q. What do you mean when you say it's better but not complete?

MARTIN.The really, really good young people - you can have them when they're just in college and just after. They're quite right, they go to New York. I don't blame them, they have to make a living. A really hot theater town - which Boston wants to be so badly and may be someday but really isn't yet, if I may say so - in a really hot theater town, a good actor can earn his living doing theater. And when [celebrated local actor] Nancy Carroll has to work a day job, that's just wrong.

Q. Have budget changes over the years affected your vision?

MARTIN.Until now, the production budgets have never been cut in any way. On the other hand, a lot of staff has necessarily been cut, which makes existing staff work very, very hard. . . . I don't mean we're hurting badly, either, but the single ticket has become the event. [The purchase of a] subscription by and large is over.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

A Tale of Two Cities and Two AD's

Boston is going changing AD's for two of its large Regional Theatres.

Meanwhile, in Seattle David Esbjornson is leaving the Seattle Rep, while Bartlett Sher, (AD of the Intiman Theatre for the past nine years,) has signed for one more year, but seems as if he is destined for other places.

In the Seattle Weekly, John Longenbaugh, talks about some of the differences in the two AD's and the two theatre companies:

The difference, it seems to me, is that while Sher has been a director in Seattle, Esbjornson has worked mightily to be a Seattle director. He's shown this partly through his openness to working with local actors—an effort that builds an indigenous theatrical community, and, as a side benefit, is more economical than hiring and housing out-of-town talent. In artistic terms, Sher's most-lauded work in the last few years has been not here but in New York, while Esbjornson has primarily stayed in town, doing the unglamorous work required of an administrator. And though audiences haven't always agreed, I've been impressed with the Rep's choice of challenging and unconventional material, whereas Sher's seasons have often relied on a backbone of regional tried-and-trues. This season alone, two of Intiman's five shows—The Diary of Anne Frank and The Little Dog Laughed—are on the 2008 list of 10 most-performed productions by regional theaters. As a result, it's easy to feel that while Sher's been leaving us for a while, Esbjornson has just given up on us.

Craft and Creativity

From the Telegraph in London:

One could even say that the idea of creativity has become thoroughly debased; very few of us are creators in the pure sense of using our imaginations to make something significantly new, let alone useful. The medievalists were largely right: most of what gets called creative activity is more accurately described as copying or reflecting existing elements.

Meanwhile, as Richard Sennett's recently published book The Craftsman points out, the idea of craft has been subtly demoted to that of a sub-hippie fad or weekend hobby.

"Skill is a capacity that we develop and most people have it in them to become good craftsmen," says Sennett, but somehow this sounds like a drab matter of following inherited conventions and learnt rules - the successful throwing of a pot or the building of a wall doesn't have the glamour that surrounds a "created" novel or painting.

Yet "craft" is more essential to human existence than art: it is craft that keeps you alive on a desert island, it is craft that makes shelter habitable and food edible, it is craft that mends the boiler, car and computer.

Art, almost by definition, doesn't function: it may decorate our lives and enlarge our minds and provide spiritual pleasure and enlightenment, but does it really deserve the sacred status that its association with "creativity" gives it?