Monday, December 28, 2009

Best Sets? Lighting?

Time Out Chicago takes their "top" lists a step further, including Best Sets of the Decade.

Do any Mirror readers have suggestions for Best Sets in the last decade of Hub theatre?

What about lighting?

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Curtain Creep - A Growing Problem?

Don Aucoin, in his year end wrap up for the Boston Globe:

Let me close with a harrumph: During this four-month stint in the critic’s chair, I’ve been surprised by how often plays begin 10 to 15 minutes late. Really, what’s the deal, people? You are doing the on-time audience members a disservice by making them wait till the latecomers finally stroll down the aisle.

Tardy starts have become such a routine part of the Boston theatergoing experience that when I went to Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven earlier this month to see Athol Fugard’s “Have You Seen Us?,’’ I was startled when it actually . . . started on time. What a concept!

And Leonard Jacobs at The Clyde Fitch Report registers a very similar complaint:

No, I didn’t expect Love’s Labour’s to begin precisely at 8pm, given the fact that New York theater has been suffering more and more from a chronic case of CST — let’s actually dub it TST, or Theater Standard Time, given how widespread 8:12pm or even 8:15pm curtains are on Broadway of late. However, I did expect the performance to be underway no later than 8:10pm or so, given that the running time of this particular production is slightly less than three hours.

‘Twasn’t to be. First 8:05pm passed. Then 8:10pm. An announcement was made that, due to a sold-out house, the curtain would be held until 8:15pm. I don’t know what clock the house management at the Schimmel Center was going by, but my perfectly accurate Kenneth Cole watch zipped past 8:20pm and was heading right for 8:25pm when the play finally began.

Adaptations of Films for Theatre

A.O. Scott is an essay in today's New York Times looks at the differences between Bergman's source material, Sondheim's original production, and the current revival of A Little Night Music.

My own sense is that too many layers of prestige and nostalgia have been laid on to the story, like coats of bright paint. Bergman’s film, though set a half-century before it was made, nonetheless has a present-tense feeling to it, partly because Bergman’s sexual candor remains, at least to Americans, bracing and perhaps a little unsettling. “Smiles of a Summer Night” was his international breakthrough, winning him a prize at Cannes and a worldwide following after an early career of frustration and failure. It was also a touchstone for Americans discovering the worldly pleasures of foreign film.

“A Little Night Music,” when it was first performed on Broadway in 1973, partook of those pleasures and extended them into a new domain. Mr. Sondheim’s worldliness, his skepticism of romantic ideals he nonetheless refuses to abandon entirely, is not exactly congruent with Bergman’s fatalism. But they play off each other nicely, and the show uses period elements as both a distancing mechanism — how odd those people were, with their servants and their linen suits — and a sly way of connecting the past to the present, in how recognizable they are with their neuroses and indecision.

But the past evoked in the revived “Night Music” is less vivid and less specific. It is an era when a story like this, whether glimpsed at the movies or onstage, might have seemed invigorating and revelatory rather than a cultural duty. Which is not to deny its entertainment value, only to note that any other value it might have had is hard to locate.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Top Ten Time!

The year is ending, and so is the decade. Though most of the big guns have weighed in already, you can still dash off a top ten list that will have people tweeting their blue-feathered bottoms off !

Here are the Top Ten Tips for Creating a Kick-Ass Top Ten List:

1. No Apologies. Only wimps open with a paragraph about how these lists are really impossible to make with any fairness. But, of course, they then go on to demonstrate just how ruthlessly unfair they can be. Perhaps this type of apology is required if you have lots of writer friends who are slipping into irrelevance and depression. However, if you are a nobody, and you know nobody, be strong and remember that readers are looking for Christmas presents in crowded shopping malls and fairness is the last thing on their minds.

2. Title It Correctly. Don’t ever, ever use the title My Favorite ___________ of 200_. Please, leave that to the Facebook pages of 12 year olds and the blogs of unemployed English majors who are still wondering where the Dead Poet’s Society meets. Good Options: Most Important, Worst, Most Overrated, Most Underrated. But Best is still the ballsiest, and drives people bats**t crazy, especially if you rank the entries.

3. Don’t Worry If You Didn’t See, Read, or Attend That Much. If you only have read ten books since 2000, make them your Ten Best Books of the Decade. It will be a far more interesting list than most of those out there.

4. Include Celebrities and Harry Potter. You can easily do this if you title the list Most Important, (see number 2.) For instance, anybody not putting Sarah Palin’s Going Rogue on their list of Ten Most Important Books of 2009 would probably be happy tucking that list into a grade school report card and just delight in knowing it is sitting in the basement beside paycheck stubs from a first job at the hardware store. Harry Potter is not only a worldwide franchise, but is now taught in the literature departments of some colleges. The best part of including Potter on your list is that you get to be middlebrow and highbrow, and the very best part is that you don't have to do it by attending those ridiculous colleges.

5. Stay away from Live Performances. Nobody goes out of their house anymore, except to the mall, but in this economy even that is curtailed. In fact, people may geographically be out, but they have actually secreted their house away with them. Their abode fits in the palm of their hand, enabling frat boys to text with the boys back at the house while a woman is naked in front of them at a strip bar, and loopy teenage girls to chat with BFF’s while the Jonas Brothers existentially contort themselves into peach-fuzzed Peter Pans, inches from their eyes.

6. Visual is Best. People love to comment on things that don’t take a lot of their time to grasp. The best lists rank images - The 20 Best Movie Posters of the Last Decade. The 10 Best Book Covers is an excellent topic, especially during the Christmas season; everybody is at Border’s or Barnes and Noble, looking for crappy last minute gifts. This list has a two-fold effect: Your readers will experience the delightful freedom to finally judge a book by its cover AND they can feel like they know the first thing about graphic design. Avoid ranking viral videos until they start being taught at many colleges - probably next year.

7. Put a Surprise on the List. The best way to do this is to surprise yourself by including something you haven’t read, seen or heard! As a bonus, make it something nobody else has, or will, experience either. For a movie, you could scroll through the online programs of film festivals and just pick one.

8. Don’t Be Afraid to Kiss Up. For instance, in 2008 no reviewers or editors actually took the time to read all of Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust’s This Republic of Suffering, but many reviewers and editors do have children they believe should go to Harvard. So, should a Boston theatre blogger put Shakespeare Exploded on their Top Ten List? TRICK QUESTION! See Number 6.

9. Collage It Sexy. For your header image, find a hip, visual way to arrange your selections. The New York Times Book review always finds ways to photograph their top ten books of the year so that their bibliophile readers will immediately want to go to the bathroom. If you don’t have enough flesh on your list as it is, you could, say, put the top ten book covers onto t-shirts and then photoshop those shirts onto ten of Tiger Woods’ mistresses.

10. You Are Not As Smart or As Dumb as You Think. Don’t try to engage in actual criticism – you just aren’t that brilliant. Accepting this will be a great advantage in getting your list seen. Even some paid critics flinch when making a Best list, (see number one); this disability is brought on by the distracting voice in their head that reminds them that their sister or brother, who is a genetic scientist on a grant in Oslo, has always had more perceptive and frequent critical insights. However, you are far smarter than most of the celebrities and writers typing away on Open Salon and The Huffington Post.

11. Don’t Add a Bonus Slot. No ties, and no add-ons to the list. They aren't clever and they aren't necessary. Nobody will believe that anywhere in the landscape of a fully-functioning human mind could Up in the Air be tied with The Hurt Locker. Lists that are too long are annoying. Manohla Dargis's year-end movie wrap-up in the New York Times reads like a mind-numbing 5 year-old, in the back seat on a family Holiday sojourn, listing all the things she likes in the world. And the title Honorable Mention should be used only for contests where money is involved; this is an old capitalist trick used to rip the scales from the eyes of artists and make them want the prize money rather than the “honor.”

Hope these tips will help you create a great top ten list! Happy Holidays!

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Theatre of Dickens

From Adam Thirwell's New Republic review of the new Dicken's biography by Michael Slater:

Around 1843, when he was writing A Christmas Carol, Dickens changed the way he wrote. He developed a more performative system of punctuation: a musical notation of semicolons. And it was also in A Christmas Carol that Dickens allowed his prose to become an electric message between the novelist and the absent reader: “Scrooge, starting up into a half-recumbent attitude, found himself face to face with the unearthly visitor who drew them: as close to it as I am now to you, and I am standing in the spirit at your elbow.” When he came to give his famous performed readings, he chose to begin with A Christmas Carol--but he cut that passage, because at last there was no need to remind the absent reader of the absent novelist’s presence.

Before he became a novelist, Dickens had considered becoming an actor. With his assiduous precision, he had practiced “even such things as walking in and out, and sitting down in a chair.” His hero was Charles Matthews, who would come on stage as himself, in evening dress--and then play all the parts, culminating in a final bravura “monopolylogue.” It was an early form of stand-up. And this solo performance of multiple imitations formed the nucleus of Dickens’s style: a new form of prose, based on mimicry.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

A Blizzard of Santa Letters

100_6472, originally uploaded by arthennessey.

My Wife was in New York and took this photo of the Macy's window displays.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

How's It Going?

Playwright Paul Mullin from Seattle issued a challenge to the audience when he accepted the Stranger's Genius Award in 2008. As Mullin writes on his blog, at least one person is keeping score:

I began my acceptance by magnanimously allowing that Seattle was a pretty good theatre town. The crowd approved. Then I lofted my caveat: we were good, but we weren’t great. The crowd grew quiet, restless. I said I believed we had everything it takes to be great, but we weren’t great; and worse, we didn’t even seem to be moving in the right direction. More awkward noises. Then I said I believed we could be a world class theatre city within 5 years, but only if we wanted to. We had to want it. The crowd liked this. They clapped, they hollered. It felt great. Lots of toasts and backslaps afterwards. I made a self-congratulatory moment into a community-wide challenge. And every one seemed to slurp it with a spoon. Success, by any definition.

Since then, however, not many people have mentioned my acceptance speech, though there is one particularly notable exception. A month after that night I got an email from my sister Margaret. It said simply: “Just in case you were wondering. 9/13/13. Make it so!” Since odds are about even that you do not know my sister, allow me to unpack her cryptic note and translate it plainly into the words I know she intended. “Dear Brother, in case you were thinking that you could make that challenge publicly solely in order to arbitrarily raise stakes and thus add empty entertainment calories to your speech, hoping no one will remember, please think again. I will remember. I will hold you to it. I will publicly mock you if you fail. So deliver me a world class theatre town by the Fall of 2013, or prepare to face my undying scorn.” You see, I come from a very loving and supportive family.

Which kind of reminds me... How much do we hear anybody in Boston talking about the questions raised by the Stagesource conference two summers ago?

(H/T) naplwrimo

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

More on the BAM Streetcar

Jonathan Kalb makes four observations over at HotReview, below is one of them:

2. In all previous productions of Streetcar I'm aware of, the action as a whole was treated as a quasi-Darwinian struggle for survival between two opposing natures, a quietly epic showdown between rough and crude Stanley and refined and delicate Blanche that ended in a sort of sexual death-clutch. This is the legacy of Marlon Brando, who twisted Tennessee Williams's intentions by stealing the limelight for Stanley when the play was conceived as a portrait of Blanche, an exploration of her uniquely fascinating and fantastic nature.Blanchett restores that original profile to the play, playing a character whose complexity transcends description as a polar opposite of anyone or anything. There is nothing weak or unduly subordinate about Joel Edgerton's Stanley, mind you. Edgerton gives a marvelous performance, but it's clear at all times that his character is an instrument of the killing environment, not a co-equal antagonist to Blanche. This is her story, just as exclusively as if Williams had written it as an Expressionist drama with only one real character.

Any Mirror readers see this production? Is Kalb on the right track here?

Just A Comparison

Jason Robards was originally cast as the title character in Herzog's Fitzcarraldo. Here is footage of Robards, followed closely by Klaus Kinski, who went on to make this role one of the most indelible performances in screen history. (Yes, that is Mick Jagger - his role as Fitzcarraldo's assistant was completely cut from the story.)

File Under...Some Directors Should Just Write Their Own Play

From John Lahr's review of the much-lauded Streetcar Named Desire directed by Liv Ullman. It is playing at BAM and stars Cate Blanchette as Blanche DuBois.

Ullmann’s direction delivers so much pleasure that it’s a shame that, at the finale, she doesn’t deliver the play’s meaning. In her staging of the rape scene that drives Blanche over the edge, Blanche collapses on the bed, only to have her degradation prettified by an invented postcoital dumb show. When, some weeks later, the demented Blanche is taken to a sanitarium, she doesn’t, contrary to Williams’s stage directions, get herself up in the regalia of normalcy, a performance of dignity that, in other stagings, gives genuine pathos to her exit. Instead, still in her slip and bare feet, clutching the doctor with both hands, Blanche is led into the bright light of day like a loony Daisy Mae from “Li’l Abner” ’s Dogpatch. Ullmann’s reductive decisions build to vulgar sentimentality, with Blanche isolated in a spotlight and lost in her own internal music as the curtain falls. Although this doesn’t spoil the evening, it’s a woeful miscalculation. Williams’s play ends not with Blanche but with the Kowalskis’ sexual reconciliation. The final image—unseen on Ullmann’s stage—has, in a sort of Renaissance pictorial grouping, Stella holding her baby, while Stanley kneels at her feet. She sobs as he undoes the buttons of her blouse and murmurs, “Now, now, love.” Blanche has been sacrificed to the Kowalskis’ desire and collusion. The play ends with a line never heard in this production. “This game is seven-card stud,” one of Stanley’s poker-playing buddies says, dealing a new hand. The game of life, Williams is telling us, goes on at all costs.

Back to the Future?

Ray Bradbury wrote a futuristic musical for Richard Laughton in the 1950's. It is receiving its premiere this January in California.

The original plan in the mid-1950s was for Laughton and his wife, Lanchester, to perform the show, then titled "Happy Anniversary, 2116," as part of an evening of one-act musicals staged in London.

James Whale, who had directed Lanchester and Boris Karloff in the movie "The Bride of Frankenstein" (after making its precursor, "Frankenstein") and Laughton in " The Old Dark House," was going to stage the production. ( Ian McKellen portrayed the director in the 1998 film "Gods and Monsters.")

Veteran Tin Pan Alley songwriter Ray Henderson ("Bye, Bye Blackbird") was engaged to set Bradbury's lyrics to music.

But Whale's suicide in 1957 sidetracked those plans and Laughton's death in 1962 seemingly finished them.

Until, that is, Bradbury dusted the script off early this year as a potential project for his own stage troupe, Pandemonium Theatre Company, which last year offered a long-running, non-musical version of "Fahrenheit 451" at the Fremont Centre.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Thanks a lot...

The New York Times talks about Steppenwolf's penchant for creating their own stars with Broadway transfers, rather than replacing casts with Hollywood A or B listers.

The Chicago-born play A Steady Rain went on to box office success by casting megastars Hugh Jackman and Daniel Craig for the New York production.

But what about Randy Steinmeyer and Peter DeFaria, the Chicago actors who originated the two roles in Keith Huff's play?

They both said they were pleased for Mr. Huff, whom Mr. DeFaria calls “the most down-to-earth guy you’ll ever meet,” and that neither held a grudge against their megastar substitutes. They don’t mince words, however, in discussing how they were replaced.


Mr. DeFaria said he and Mr. Steinmeyer were aware that the producers wanted to get huge movie stars into the roles: “They were very upfront about it. I guess I just didn’t think it was a real possibility.”

Neither actor saw the play in New York. They might have, they said, if someone had invited them or sent them tickets. Instead, “They offered us house seats,” Mr. Steinmeyer said. “For $120 apiece.”

Increasing Accessibility

At a Stagesource Town Meeting a few years back, a representative from the Blind and Deaf community took to the microphone and told the theatre community, very politely: "We don't need free tickets, (we can pay for our own,) we need accessibility!"

Wheelock Family Theater here in Boston has been a pioneer in this area.

In this morning, the Globe's Joan Anderman has a piece about Broadway Across America increasing its accessibility for the blind with describers:

Enter Ruth Kahn and Willis. As the pre-show describer for “Fiddler,’’ Kahn, the former access coordinator for the Museum of Fine Arts who now works at Wheelock Family Theatre, began her work 20 minutes before the curtain went up.

Seated at a microphone on a platform at the back of the theater, she painted a vivid portrait in words of the theater - scantily-clad nymphs frolicking in the ceiling mural, mirrored panels lining the walls - as well as the show’s characters, their costumes, and each scene’s setting and set pieces.

“For a lot of people this will be their very first theatrical experience,’’ says Kahn, “so I’ll describe the fiddle: what it does, what it looks like, how the fiddler holds the fiddle. Some theaters are able to have tactile elements of the show incorporated into the pre-show, where we hand around props.’’

A critical part of a describer’s job is to withhold judgment, to not tell the visually-impaired audience how to think about something - but rather choose language that allows them to form their own opinions.

“Instead of calling someone ugly, I’ll talk about his wrinkled, jagged face,’’ says Willis, who started five years ago at WGBH creating descriptive narration for such projects as “Masterpiece Theatre,’’ the “Harry Potter’’ home videos, and two presidential inaugurations.

In the theater, describers must also be able to finesse the timing of their interjections, responding to the shifting rhythms of dialogue and songs so as not to speak over the actors.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

NEA Survey

The NEA's 2008 Public Participation in the Arts Survey is out.

You can read the whole thing here.

Percentage of US adults attending at least one non-musical play in 2008 - 9.4%. In 2002 the number was 12.3%. (Page 18.)

They have an interesting section on Participation of the Arts through Electronic Media.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Speaking of Critical Sobriety...

Timberlake Wertenbaker's latest, The Line, opened in London to mixed reviews. But there was the air...and in the blood at this particular opening:

Wertenbaker believes that the actors were not given a fair crack of the whip because many of the critics had spent the day being liberally wined and dined at the Evening Standard theatre awards – a four-hour affair at the Royal Opera House that involved a champagne reception followed by lunch and as much wine as they wanted to drink. She said some critics had had the grace to say they would come on a different night, but most came after the lunch.

Wertenbaker told the Guardian: "I've had bad press nights and bad reviews but I've never had the sense that the critics were too tired to engage. It is a complicated play, it's difficult, you have to pay attention to it.

"I just felt that the play didn't have a chance. The actors said they had a great night the previous evening and the atmosphere was very different. They did feel they were wading through something quite heavy. They weren't all drunk but it's hard to get through something like that [a long awards ceremony] without being tired. It was very unfortunate that our press night was after it."

Fill Every Seat!

The Globe tells us about the almost miraclous recovery of the Reagle Players in Waltham:

The problems began early this year, when a promised $100,000 state grant for the Reagle Players was slashed to $25,000 by budget cuts. Other donations and private grants also fell in the wake of the credit crisis. And while ticket sales for last season were up, receipts were down due to lowered prices.

By the end of the summer, Reagle, which has a $1.7 million annual budget, was carrying $100,000 in new debt, as well as a $150,000 long-term loan.
Along with a flood of donations from the community, another initiative is starting to turn things around:

Another good sign can be seen in the big red paper thermometer that hangs in the troupe’s Lexington Street offices, where it tracks ticket sales for Reagle’s annual holiday spectacular, “It’s Christmas Time,’’ which opens Friday in Waltham High School’s Robinson Theatre. The mercury is on the rise.

A push is on to fill every seat at all 10 shows - 10,820 tickets in all. Area businesses, including IKON Office Solutions, Johnson Compounding and Wellness Center, and Waltham Services Inc., are aiding the effort by offering discount tickets to employees. With more than a week to go before opening night, more than 7,000 tickets had been sold, and the goal was inching into reach.

What Standards, Intellectually, Should We Hold Critics To?

Don Hall takes in a production of The Mystery of Irma Vep, and it prompts some questions about its current incarnations as compared to its origins. He concludes this way:

There are those that will say that I'm taking a silly piece of theater, played for the laughs, too seriously.

Chris Jones, of the Chicago Tribune, wrote: "Despite all those portentous doctoral dissertations on the subversiveness of the Theatre of the Ridiculous, this is not dramatic profundity. Not any more. There is really one criteria upon which 'Irma Vep' now need be judged. Is it funny? Oh, yes. You will laugh your face off."

On the other hand, the origins of the play and the period in history that it came from are, I think, too important to simply dismiss. All those portentous doctoral dissertations, Chris? Gosh, and one would think that after eight years of a dumbed down government, theater critics would've kept a touch of intellectual integrity...

On a slightly similar note, Tom Garvey recently pointed out, as politely as he could, that Ed Siegel, the former lead drama critic for our own Boston Globe, had trouble identifying characters and dramatic elements in the ART's production of Punchdrunk's Sleep No More. This is Tom in the comments section:

This only makes hapless Ed's review all the more ridiculous - he was actually talking to someone from Rebecca, not Macbeth; he'd wandered into the "Hitchcock" side of Sleep No More without knowing it (or perceiving it). In that a central concern of "hypertheatre" is mimicking the interpenetrations of "hypertext," this is rather a large critical gaffe.

Then again, none of the Boston critics pondering Sleep No More seems to have considered its hyper-textual aspects - although btw, Siegel may have missed a secondary piece of hyper-script in the performance he witnessed. While he was wondering about whether or not poor Poornima Kirby was going to take her clothes off, she was whispering to him a tale that sounds a lot like a scene from Büchner's Woyzeck. Not that Ed should have recognized that, after all he's only a professional drama critic . . .

(Emphasis Mine in Both Quotes.)

Of course, Tom and Don are talking about slightly different things. Siegel seems to not be able to tell the players without a program, and Jones seems to be thumbing his nose at pretentious academia.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Endless Pleasures of Pull Quote Litigation

This time from the West End theatre production of The Shawshank Redemption:

It seemed the perfect way to draw in theatregoers: a sign outside Wyndham's containing a reviewer's quote, describing The Shawshank Redemption as "a superbly gripping, genuinely uplifting drama."

Unfortunately, the phrase was about the Hollywood film, not the West End stage production. And it turns out the reviewer didn't even like the play that much.

Westminster Trading Standards is now looking at whether Wyndham's, in Charing Cross Road, has broken consumer protection legislation by using a "misleading" quote.

Back from the Dead?

Geoff Edgers has more on North Shore Music Theater's lifeline:

William Hanney, who owns Theatre By the Sea in Rhode Island as well as the chain of 10 New England multiplexes known as Entertainment Cinemas, has reached a purchase agreement with Citizens Bank, which acquired the Beverly theater last month.

“This theater is literally ready to reopen,’’ said Hanney, 40, who lives in Brewster. “The phone lines are still there, the computers are still humming.’’

Of course, the interesting questions are still to come. What will the management look like? What did they learn?

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year!

It seems everybody is under pressure these days. In London, Actor Ian Hart leapt from the stage to apparently attack an audience member:

According to a witness, Hart, 45, best-known for playing Professor Quirrell in the Harry Potter films, "exploded with anger" during the curtain call of Speaking in Tongues at the Duke of York's theatre in the West End. The focus of his ire was Gerard Earley, a 38-year-old web developer from south London, whom Hart believed had been talking through his performance.

Exactly what happened is difficult to work out. Earley, who went to see the play with his girlfriend and denies disruptive behaviour, told the Daily Mail that "a wild-looking" Hart definitely jumped from the stage – but he wasn't quite sure if he had been physically attacked. "He lost it and lunged forward. I don't think he hit me," Earley said. "One of the members of staff grabbed him and stopped him attacking me."

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Quote of the Day- On Writing by Committee

"One man wrote War and Peace. It took 25 screenwriters to come up with The Flintstones' movie."

- Joe Esterhas, The Devil's Guide to Hollywood

Broadway After Dark

After the closing of the rather traditional Neil Simon repertory of Brighton Beach Memoirs and Broadway Bound, all eyes will be watching Broadway's latest experiment, coming to us from the folks at Lincoln Center.

Ladies and Gentlemen, put the kids to bed, because things get a little blue in Times Square when you tune into Broadway After Dark!

Just look what the pre-show piece from AP promises about Sarah Ruhl's lates play In the Next Room (or the vibrator play.)

And so Catherine is finely dressed as a bored, ball of energy with inadequate breast milk for her infant. She's married to the zipped-up Dr. Givings (Michael Cerveris) who won't stop yammering about the potential of electricity -- a technology not at all lost on Catherine as she revels in her new lamps, befriends a couple of her husband's artistically bent patients and hires a wet nurse.

Drawn by noises coming from the office during treatment of one Mrs. Daldry (Maria Dizzia), Catherine allows curiosity to get the best of her and picks the lock on the magical door. Catherine and Mrs. Daldry use the machine on each other while Dr. Givings is out at his club one night.

I do admit, I was amused by this small snippet of the article:

Ruhl says she wasn't out to shock audiences with her play, including
the final act that leaves Dr. Givings completely without clothes as he gives
himself over to his wife.

Shocking! - know, we never see men naked on stage these days.

Poor Neil Simon, how could he ever compete when the advertising for his show looked like this:

Monday, November 16, 2009

People Flower, Boston, MA

People Flower, Boston, MA, originally uploaded by BradKellyPhoto.

My friend, photographer Brad Kelly, can even make the Hynes Convention Center interesting.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Boston Theatre - Friday Roundup

In case you were wondering if there is anything to see at the theater this weekend, the answer is yes!

Opening :

Paula Vogel's latest, A Civil War Christmas opens at the Huntington Theatre this weekend. The Globe's pre-show piece is here.

Speakeasy Stage Company opens Craig Lucas's Reckless, billing it as their Christmas show.

A band called the Hot Protestants is performing as The Angry Inch in Blue Spruce's production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch at the Arsenal Center for the Arts.

Last Chance:

Dead Man's Cell Phone powers down at the Lyric Stage.

Theatre Offensive will be wrapping up the Out on the Edge Festival this weekend at the Boston Center for the Arts.

At the Factory Theatre, Holland Productions will close the curtain on Kid Simple: a radio play in the flesh.

Maureen McGovern's A Long and Winding Road comes to an end on Sunday at the Calderwood Pavillion.

Petruchio and Kate fight their last round this weekend over at Actor's Shakespeare Project's Taming of the Shrew.


Zeitgeist's political parable Lady keeps hunting.

Geopolitics and genocidal madness continue with Company One's The Overwhelming.

Apollinaire Theatre Company in Chelsea continues taking audiences into The Wonderful World of Dissocia. (Photo Above: Philana Mia in the Apollinaire production.)

Homer's Odyssey gets the theatrical treatment at the Charlestown Working Theater.

At the Boston Playwright's Theatre, John Kuntz takes to the stage, by himself. His one man play, The Salt Girl is in its premiere run.

The American Repertory Theatre keeps running with Punchdrunk's Sleep No More and their roller-disco Donkey Show.

Ryan Landry and his Gold Dust Orphans are onstage at Machine with the latest sendup: Valet of the Dolls.

"It is the best of times..." at Wheelock Family Theater for a few more weeks as their production of Dicken's A Tale of Two Cities continues.

Trinity Rep's production of Steven Dietz's Shooting Star continues burning across the Providence sky for a few weeks.


Thursday, November 12, 2009

Beware the TalkWrite Gossip!

Back in September I posted a link to Rolando Teco's Extracriticum post on the open submission process at the O'Neill.

Nick at RatSass posts today about how, it would appear, these allegations have not had any journalism to back them up, and, yet, somehow made their way around very quickly. Even to the point of the O'Neill Center having to respond.

Nick sees a creeping danger in this:

Rejecting 800 playwrights each year will always create a rich environment for rumors about how the open submission at the National Playwrights Conference is administered. So transparency and facts alone will never completely counter rumor/opinion-based blog and e-newsletter posts. But this type of conversation once belonged almost exclusively to the informal chat of dinner parties. Now it has thoroughly permeated our written, public record. From the early theatre listservs to the blogosphere, our digital correspondence is ushering in a new generation of TalkWrite, and with it a new ethic of behavior in theatre as well.

But Nick's real question is: How do we treat gossip in the age of the internet?

Throughout history society has devised various ways for individuals to correct or atone for their wrong words. Sometimes the price has been stiff. Wrong words in the form of heresy or treason might even demand a death sentence. Our American founding fathers fought duels over the dishonor wrought by wrong words.

Today, wrong words about another individual generally demand no more than an apology. Or if the wrong words are placed in the public realm, then a public retraction or apology is offered. But is it now acceptable behavior to simply “de-publish” false words without assuming any responsibility for their wrongdoing?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Theatre's Responsibility

Matt Trueman, writing in the Guardian blog, talks about seeing an esoteric piece of theatre involving Gone with the Wind and Hurricane Katrina. He felt a little lost:

Even as I felt adrift in the piece, I was aware of the scalpel's presence, dissecting American history, culture and politics and holding up the innards for scrutiny. I knew it was saying something intelligent, but I couldn't find an entry point. It was like reading a doctoral thesis in a subject I stopped studying at 13: frustrating, baffling and, eventually, isolating.

My incomprehension led me to question how much theatre can expect of us, its audience. Ought it to presume nothing and explain everything? Should it treat us like idiots by playing to the lowest common denominator? Of course not. To insist on such mollycoddling would be to outlaw anything that does more than scratch the surface. However, theatre has a responsibility to be accessible. It is, after all, as much about the communication of ideas as it is about the ideas themselves. The best theatre allows us to share in the artist's unusual perspective and see the world differently.

One commenter on the article has this response:

"However, theatre has a responsibility to be accessible."

Does it? Accessible to whom? This sounds like the argument that Abba are better than Mozart because more people like them. Do Chinese opera and Japanese Noh theatre have a responsibility to be accessible to a Western audience? Does contemporary dance have a responsibility to be accessible to people who've never seen any dance before? Does sculpture have a responsibility to be accessible to people who've never visited an art gallery?

Some works assume a higher degree of cultural capital in their audience than others; that doesn't make it better or worse, just different.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

A New Way of Reviewing?

Bill Marx at the ArtsFuse is trying a new type of reviewing system for Theatre:

He is calling the new feature: The Judicial Review:

The inspiration for the Judicial Review is the U.S. Supreme Court. Arts events will be evaluated by a local panels of “judges” who will post majority and dissenting opinions in the form of written reviews or via video- or podcasts. The panel will be made up of a combination of professional critics and non-professional observers.

Our goal is to introduce a supervised space for educational, passionate, and incisive conversation about the arts that draws on the strengths of various levels of expertise. By doing so, it is hoped that the judges will learn from each other as well as offer a variety of perspectives that will invite responses that will deepen readers understanding of the arts and the craft of criticism.

In any trial there is a place for a “Friend of the Court” brief. The Judicial Review will include a space for the artists themselves to have their say, to contribute to the respectful exchange. The arts organization under review will be invited to file opinions.

This idea is my response to the considerable challenges and opportunities that the web poses for criticism of the arts, as well as my belief, after 30 years of writing and reading arts criticism, that the verdict of a review, while essential, is not the most important part of a review. Criticism is at its most vital when it foster spirited dialogue, when critics help us take the arts seriously by connecting creativity with our thinking and feeling selves.

The first review, for Company One's The Overhelming is up now.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

What Type of Play Are You Writing? Part 4

Continuing to think about the types of plays we see on our stages.

Up to now, I think I am have been talking about generally recognizable types of plays and the comments have already included some excellent questions.

After laying out the categories of Actual People - Actual World, Boundary Breaker and Monologue, it is time to present the most difficult category.

5. Experimental

Some playwrights aren't satisfied to simply play with conventions and twist reality a bit. Some artists want to twist, re-define, or, in some cases, destroy the very idea of a "play."

Richard Foreman, Samuel Beckett, Young Jean Lee, Robert Wilson and many more have contributed to this genre. Some have remained in this realm for their entire careers.

This is a very slippery category. Ian Thal, in a comment on my post about Boundary Breaker plays, brought up the point that what are boundaries to one generation might not be boundaries to another. Similarly, what was experimental to one generation, may not be to another.

Here we also start reaching the blurred border between play and theatrical event or play and poetry. This is a ruthless no man's land where audiences, critics and artists watch with skepticism from the far foothills of either side, while bold, or crazy, adventurers try to chart a course through the middle.

What plays fall into this category? I'll admit, it is tough to say, but I know it when I read it, (to steal a phrase.)

There is usually no conventional structure to grab onto into the experimental play - I start to feel, more and more, that I am simply at the mercy of the playwright. When reading the text I find that my interest intensifies even though I am somewhat at sea, but a persistent thought keeps turning over in my mind: "I think I need to see this to get what is going on here." This is not really confusion as much as intrigue.

These types of plays that should never be subjected to the typical playwriting group or reading. Playwrights venturing in this direction desperately need fellow travellers - collaborators, patrons, mentors. I have trouble, for instance, imagining a young playwright creating a Richard Foreman-style play and submitting it for consideration at many of the "development" programs in our regional theaters.

An important thing to note: Many playwrights who work primarily in the Actual World -Actual People and Boundary Breaker genres will, from time to time, poach from the Experimental camp. This is why we will sometimes oberve a strange movement piece with found text inserted into a rather realistic play. Which is a good place to proceed to some new thoughts.

Tomorrow: When Types Collide!

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Brother Blue, Rest In Peace

Sad news. Brother Blue, a fixture here in Boston, and just a genuine, positive presence, has passed on.

CCTV has a post.

He will be missed.

What Type of Play Are You Writing? Part 3

The last couple of days I have been thinking/writing out loud about the "types" of plays that we see on our stages.

The first two types, Actual People - Actual World and Boundary Breaker, are most often created with multiple characters.

This does not have to be the case though. For instance, Krapp's Last Tape by Samuel Beckett is about an older man sitting alone in his flat on the evening of his birthday. He has a birthday tradition of recording himself on a reel to reel and also listening to a choice recording from an earlier time in his life. During the play, we hear a recording of Krapp at thirty nine and we hear Krapp recording his current installment.

There are no other characters - just Krapp and the recording of himself at thirty nine, and there are no boundaries broken. Although there is a bit of stage direction about Krapp kicking a banana peel into the pit.

The next type of play I would like to discuss is distinct from a play like Krapp, and it is a very popular type. Most regional theaters contain at least one of these plays a season.

3. Monologue Plays

One person, speaking a single monologue to the audience. One person telling the story, one person acting all the characters in the story, one person interacting with video projections, etc.

One person.

This is a very wide category and includes the monologues of Mike Daisey and Spalding Gray; works like The Good Thief and Saint Nicholas by Conor McPherson as well as Will Eno's Thom Pain (based on nothing). We also have autobiographical plays like Wishful Drinking or Confessions of Mormon Boy. Even Will Ferrell's on man show You're Welcome America, is in this category.

The main distinction in the category, I am thinking, is the awareness of the monologist/character/actor that he or she is telling a story to an audience, to a group of people.

While thinking about this category, some guestions arose.

Would the work of Spalding Gray or Mike Daisey be considered a play? These types of artsist work somewhat extemporaneously, but they do have a very sound structure.

What about, for instance, a play like Ronan Noone's The Atheist, in which the actor seems to be addressing the audience, but really the device Ronan uses is to have the character speaking into a camcorder, as if he is giving us his last "confession." This is a very popular way to present a monologue play as seeming more "real."

There are also "One Man/One Woman ____________" projects. For example, The One Man Star Wars, The One Man Gospel of Luke. A recent regional favorite is the one man It's a Wonderful Life.

The Monologue Play type has a twin:

4. The Multiple Monologue Play

Several characters tell distinct monologues that may or may not intersect dramatically, but usually at least follow a similar theme or sometimes track a story from different angles. The monologues can be in succession or interwoven. These monologues can be delivered by one person.

Most of Eric Bogosian's work and Anna Deveare Smith's plays are in this category, as are most documentary theatre projects like The Exonerated. This category also includes Molly Sweeney, Bash; the latter day plays, This Lime Tree Bower,Crave and Love Letters.

In some instances, separate characters may interact in a dramatic way on a limited basis. For example, A Steady Rain does this a little bit.

Tomorrow: "This Is A Play?"

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

What Type of Play Are You Writing? Part 2

Yesterday, I posted on plays which are populated by Actual People in the Actual World and which obey laws of time, space and emotion as we pretty much know and observe them to be in everyday life.

Today, I want to talk about plays that twist that type of play a bit.

2. Boundary Breaker Plays

These are plays in which characters and settings "break boundaries" between fantasy and reality; present, past and future; audience and actors, etc. In a Boundary Breaker play an element which violates our "realistic" understanding and expectation of how our world and universe works is put into the dramatic mix.

However, the important distinction here is that these boundary violations have a DIRECT IMPACT on the drama. (More on this a little later.)

Before you jump to the conclusion that I am only addressing some type of contemporary movement towards "magical realism", let me point out the following titles I would include in this genre: Medea, The Tempest, Endgame, Angels in America, Midsummer Night's Dream, Seascape, Eurydice, Six Characters in Search of An Author, Our Town, Copenhagen,Blasted, and meta-plays like The Four of Us.

As I said yesterday, simply fracturing or playing with narrative does not automatically make a play a Boundary Breaker. However, if this time-play becomes the point of the play, or something the characters become aware of or have to deal with, then the boundary has been broken.

Let's take Michael Frayn's Copenhagen as an example. The play deals with actual people, (they even really existed ,) and gives us a recognizable event in which these people seem to act and react in understandable ways. So far, this is an Actual People - Actual World Play. Next, Frayn plays with the narrative a bit, he shows us the same event, several times with slight changes, but we are still in Actual People - Actual World territory.

Frayn decided to set the play in a kind of limbo, or afterlife. It is a strange place which allows the characters to question each other in ways they would not have been able to in "real" life. In other words, Frayn breaks the boundaries of time and place. This bold choice allows the characters to have a strange, almost omniscient existence, yet they retain gaps in their understandings of each other's motivations.

Another example of a Boundary Breaker would be the meta play. For example, a play where the characters suddenly become aware of the audience, or they become aware that they are characters in a play or watching a play.

This is not to be confused with the convention of "play-within-a-play," which goes something like this: We, the audience, watch a scene onstage between several actors, and just as we are getting involved we hear a voice from behind yell, "Cut!" We suddenly become aware that we have watching actors performing in a play. Throughout the evening we return to watching that original play, but we also follow the "real" actors and their drama.

I also talked a little about the chatty narrator yesterday. Many plays have a narrator, or even multiple characters that occasionally address the audience directly. This may appear to break the boundary, but it is often momentary and has no dramatic consequence with regards to the conflict. This technique can enrich the the drama or, more often, weaken it.

One last thing to expand upon from yesterday's post: Imaginary characters appearing in an otherwise Actual World-Actual People Play. Ghosts are a common example of this, but recently, historical characters have been all the rage.

When does this introduction of an imaginary character actually break the boundaries?

I'll use two plays as examples:

In the play Memory of Waterby Shelagh Stephenson, three Yorkshire sisters gather at their childhood home for the funeral of their mother, who has just passed away. The ghost of their mother appears to one of the daughters throughout the play. They converse, have conversations, and the daughter asks questions which the mother answers vaguely. Nobody else in the play sees this ghost, and, primarily, this device is used to deepen the emotional bond and layer the stakes for one character. The decisions revelations and actions of the characters are not particularly influenced by the appearance of this spectre, and there is a question if it is just a memory or a dream.

In Paul Rudnick's play I Hate Hamlet, a television actor, who has been cast to play Hamlet in Central Park, moves into John Barrymore's old apartment. The ghost of the eccentric and dashing Barrymore appears on the scene and proceeds to mentor, aggravate, motivate and complicate the actor's life. The swaggering spectre even appears to another character and dances with her.

In Memory of Water, the ghost is simply a device, but in I Hate Hamlet the ghost IS the play, and he is breaking boundaries and affecting outcomes all over the place.

Tomorrow, we will look at another distinct "type" of play.

Monday, November 02, 2009

What Type of Play Are You Writing? Part 1

Blogger 99 Seats wrote a post a bit ago that talks about "tricks" and conventions that go in and out of fashion with playwriting.

Others bloggers have brought up the topic of genres.

Screenwriters work within genres. Mastering or having knowledge of various genres is a very important part of their development. These categories are broken down like you would expect: Horror, Thriller, Detective, Comedy, etc.

Then, as discussion goes longer and deeper, sub-genres emerge. Screenwriting "guru" John Truby is often attributed this quote: "When people tell me they are writing a Comedy, my first reaction is to ask what kind?" In Hollywood and independent film the fusion of genres is still a popular way to present a story.

These particular genres, so important to the world of film, aren't all that helpful to playwrights. The film genres like Thriller and Detective have "story beats" that act as principles to help writers structure their action. However, writing for the stage is not as tied to action as the screen is.

David Mamet has said that a primary difference between film and stage is that film is mostly about what happens next whereas the theatre is more about how people deal with what has happened, is about to happen, or is happening.

In the world of playwriting, there are the arch genres of Comedy and Tragedy, then there are their respective lesser twins, Farce and Melodrama.

Important as it is to for a writer to understand those categories, I wonder if they really represent clearly the types of plays we see represented on our stages today? To go further, can we really break what we see into any type of categories?

I see a lot of productions, sometimes close to 150, and I read a good amount as well.
Of course, styles are very disparate when looking at the plays produced and premiered around the country every year, but, if you really think about it, certain "types" start to sort themselves out.

I'll start with the first category today, and then continue over the next couple of days. I am still thinking about all of this though.

1. Actual People - Actual World

Here are recognizable human beings acting in the physical world as we know it. Characters, motivations and actions can certainly be mysterious, but the consequences that loom are sensible and understandable. (Some may use the word causal.) In this type of play, if somebody is stabbed, they bleed, and if they don't get medical attention they will die. The characters generally understand this type of thing.

If a character is threatened in an Actual People - Actual World play, Joan of Arc doesn't pop out of the Frigidaire to whisk him or her away to 17th Century China.

This type of play does not have to take place in the contemporary world. Historical dramas and comedies can qualify, as well as plays set in the future.

There are a couple of sub genres here that end up being mixed and tweaked:

a. Limited Location, Limited Scenes

Usually this is the standard two act or three act, multiple character, one set or two set play. August Wilson and most of David Mamet for example. These plays usually unfold in longer time segments. For instance, two acts, each with two half hour scenes.

b. Multiple Scenes across Multiple Locations

One scene is in an apartment, the next scene is two days later in a Starbucks and the next scene is the next morning at an airport terminal. Usually this is played on a unit set that can stand in for multiple places or, depending on the budget, the sets can slide on and off. These plays can sometimes have 13,14 20 or more scenes.

c. Linear Narrative

Time unfolds in a straight line.

d. Fractured Narrative Or Parallel Narratives

Scenes take place out of order or cover two different time periods intermittently. (Stoppard's Arcadia or Pinter's Betrayal.)

Things to Note:

Actual People - Actual World plays can have imaginary characters in them. These characters and their actions just can't spill over into major dramatic conflict or consequences. Many of these types of plays feature ghosts, tangible memories, or limited effects -expressionistic or otherwise.

Here are some examples:

1. Hamlet is an Actual People - Actual World play. The ghost of Hamlet's father, while providing a catalyst for the story, does not really break boundaries to effect a dramatic change in the actual world. However, if the the ghost jumped in and killed Polonius in Gertrude's chamber we would talking about something completely different.

2. Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller wrote expressionistic sequences and imaginary characters into Streetcar and Salesman respectively. However, Ben, (Willy Loman's brother,) doesn't break the boundaries into the real world, and Blanche's visions are all internal - the other character's don't hear the music in her head.

Chatty Narrators Can Populate Actual World - Actual People Plays. Just because your protagonist, or another character, occasionally turns to address the audience does not mean your play is not still functioning primarily in the real world. This convention has become very, very common. (I'll be posting about this soon.) However, if this convention tips too far over into meta-territory, or starts to affect the drama then we are into another category. (Stay tuned.)

Tomorrow: Boundary Breaker Plays

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Back to the Future - Salem, MA

I got to sit in this DeLorean yesterday in Salem, MA. A couple is driving it cross country to raise Parkinson's awareness.

A Hollywood Ending for Stephanie Umoh

The Globe did a three part series on Boston Conservatory student Stephanie Umoh a few years ago. It was a great series, and now it appears to have to be a happy ending!

Today's Globe story begins with Umoh breaking down in tears at the meet and greet for the Broadway production of Ragtime.

There was a lot behind those tears - disbelief, elation, pride that her Broadway debut will not be just any role, but this one - Sarah, the martyred black girl at the emotional center of the show - the part she’d performed to acclaim at New Repertory Theatre in 2006. The part that made Audra McDonald, her idol, famous in the original 1998 Broadway production and earned her a Tony Award.

She was also feeling relief.

When Umoh entered the Conservatory six years ago, she was the long-shot hopeful from Texas in the school’s competitive musical-theater program. She didn’t know how to read music. She had so little formal vocal training her voice teacher described her as “clueless.’’ She’d never even seen a Broadway show.

Now, she has her own private dressing room with a window facing West 52d Street, prime Broadway real estate across from the “Jersey Boys’’ marquee.

Here, for me though, is the interesting part of the story:

Principals on Broadway get anywhere from $2,000 to $5,000 a week, says her agent; Umoh calculates that if the show runs for three years, she’ll be able to pay off her whole student loan.

How many conservatory students, and MFA graduates across the country will ever come close to earning 100K plus for three years straight? This happy ending is a little bittersweet if you think of it broadly.

You can read the whole series: The Education of Stephanie Umoh.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

In The Spirit of the Season

1_2_148, originally uploaded by jrnyfanraleigh.


A New York Times article about prompters and learning lines.

Seems an actor at Hartford Stage may have been caught using the Peter Brady method of remembering lines. (To be honest though, it appears there is a more to the story than is being reported.)

But now the use of prompts has become a matter of inquiry for the Actors’ Equity union, which is investigating a recent dismissal by the Hartford Stage theater of an actor who peeked at bits of dialogue that he had taped inside his character’s hat for a difficult scene.


In the Hartford Stage incident, the fired actor, Matt Mulhern, 49, was appearing in Horton Foote’s “Orphans’ Home Cycle,” a series of three plays over nine hours. Mr. Mulhern said he never received any warning from Hartford Stage that his job might be in jeopardy; “Orphans” is a co-production with Signature Theater Company in New York, where it is transferring next month.

In an interview, Mr. Mulhern described the prompt in his hat as a “crutch” that he relied on because of script changes during rehearsals. He said he had been “emotionally devastated” by his Sept. 22 dismissal, the first of his 27-year career. He also acknowledged he had “ruffled feathers” among colleagues for a variety of other reasons after rehearsals began in July.

Michael Wilson, the artistic director of Hartford Stage and director of “The Orphans’ Home Cycle,” declined to comment, saying the theater did not discuss employment issues. Maria Somma, a spokeswoman for Actors’ Equity, also declined to comment.

Hartford Stage has yet to give Equity a formal reason for firing Mr. Mulhern, according to the actor. Ms. Somma again would not comment on the matter.

“Actors being fired for this reason vary by the situation,” Harry Weintraub, general counsel of the League of Resident Theaters, which includes Hartford Stage, said in an interview. When asked if the production created hardships for actors because it spanned nine hours and included script changes, Mr. Weintraub said, “I wasn’t aware that Mr. Mulhern had nine hours of lines to learn.”

Friday, October 23, 2009

Can You Hear Me, Now?

Wall Street Journal article on miking actors in straight plays and using background tracks in musicals. (The end of the article contains some tracks for sound effects used in some Broadway plays.)

Many theatergoers have come to expect the miking effect. Microphones on stage allow actors to speak more naturally, emulating the more realistic performance style that audiences are used to from movies and television. Audiences also expect entertainment to be louder generally, after years of surround-sound in movie theaters. Sound designers say it's necessary to turn up the volume on actors as Broadway theaters themselves get louder, with automated lighting and set-moving equipment making a continual background noise. "There's very little true quiet in the theater anymore," says Tom Clark of Acme Sound Partners, which is designing the sound for "Bye Bye Birdie" and other shows this season.

Playwright David Mamet is known for refusing to use any mics at all in his plays. It may be a losing battle. At a recent performance of "Oleanna," his play about sexual harassment now on Broadway, an audience member complained at a "talk back" for theatergoers after the show. Dennis Sandman, a 56-year-old financial planner from East Brunswick, N.J., said he couldn't hear the play from the balcony. "The actors should've worn mics," he told the group. "It's important when you have one of these talkathons to hear it clearly."

I've been body-miked for straight plays in the past. The most interesting miking experience for me as an actor was performing in David Ive's Sure Thing. It was a very large theater that was selling pretty well out. At first I was a little skeptical. However, I found the mike allowed me to relax into what was probably a more nuanced comedic performance than I ever would have been able to achieve if I had to worry about reaching those near the back with my projection.

In that particular instance, I really felt the miking was a benefit for both me as a performer and for the audience. Although, during one performance, the battery pack that was under my sweater at my lower back began to slip. I could could feel it slowly coming loose as the skit continued. Fortunately, the play takes place in a coffee shop with the two characters sitting for most all of the action. However, at the end, our direction was to stand up for the last few lines. During the dialogue was able to manuever my upstage hand around to the battery pack. I held it in my hand and as we stood up I was able to quickly drop it into my pants pocket.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Don't Forget Private Epstein

David Edelstein makes some good points about Neil Simon, his popularity and his craft in a New York Magazine article.

Here he talks about how Simon's dialogue, full of kvetching and always containing throwaway one-liners, sometimes all but defeated his characters and the actors playing them.

Christopher Walken’s drill sergeant in the film of Biloxi Blues is a rare instance of an actor’s meeting Simon’s specifications and yet making the role his own. A trained stage actor, Walken keeps to the meter, but he’s Walken—he elongates words, steals beats from the end of one line and adds them to the next, and injects creepy little laughs at his own sadistic turns of phrase. The aforementioned Bella was Simon’s most compelling character (especially as played by Mercedes Ruehl in the stage and screen versions of Lost in Yonkers) precisely because her rhythms are all messed up, because there’s a disconnect between her thoughts and words that’s unprecedented in Simon’s work.

I logged onto the New York article to suggest another of Simon's compelling characters. Private Arnold Epstein in Biloxi Blues.

Private Epstein is certainly as compelling, if not more so than Bella. In fact, he contains so many wonderful and enigmatic contradictions and displays such a mysterious wisdom in his actions that he almost seems like an interloper from somewhere outside the Simon universe. (On loan from another play, so to speak.)

The masterstroke of providing Eugene Jerome, (the protagonist) with the benevolent, yet harsh twin in Arnold, gives the play a few moments of transcendence that I am not sure Mr. Simon ever matched, before or after. (Except, as Mr. Edelstein points out, in Lost in Yonkers.)

To Private Jerome, Epstein is familiar and alien; an ally and a liability; academic and earthly, scolding and reassuring.

When I went to comment, I saw that Barry Miller, the person who originated the role of Arnold Epstein on Broadway had left a comment on Mr. Edelstein's article.

I wrote a little about Simon's career and craft over a year ago.

The Shrew Can So Sew...

Carl Rossi looks at Actors Shakespeare Project's Taming of the Shrew.

Everything pivots on Kate’s character. She is not a career-woman with a life of her own; she is the elder daughter in her father’s house, resentful (and scared?) from being hounded into marrying so that her beloved sister Bianca may pay court to her own suitors --- Kate may spit and hiss at her father’s entreaties, but she also clings to him since her power, paradoxically, comes from remaining his little girl. Rather than storming up and down the halls, all day, Kate runs her widowed father’s household; thus, she knows how to cook and sew and could “dwindle into a wife” should she set her mind and heart to it (why not, at auditions, ask actresses auditioning for Kate if they can sew?). (Also: does Kate know how to read and write?) Kate’s sharp tongue stems from intelligence, not an overflowing spleen --- as a Boomer would say, Kate tells it like it is regarding men and marriage (and her arguments are sound), but her words have long fallen upon deaf male ears --- the more the men dismiss her as a shrew, the louder Kate shouts to be heard (and, remember, Kate is a virgin: she will not give up her maidenhead to just any fellow) --- thus she is in full roar when Petruchio comes to call.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Black Playwrights - Tour Guides of the Theatrical Landscape

99 Seats talks a little about taking the temperature of the state of black theater in the United States. In an earlier post, he lamented how any discussion of this topic seems to immediately be perceived as complaining or a radical call to arms.

Here he tries to tell of his own experiences:

My story is this: I'm an extremely assimilated black playwright. I live in a world of many races, all living together. In theatre circles, I'm often the only black person in any given room, and more often than not, the only black man under 50. When I write, I think in terms of multiracial casting and productions, but often, find that my plays wind up being all or mostly white actors. I don't write plays about "the minority experience" or where a given character's race is important (often), but I do think about it when I write. I used to try to specify races, even when it didn't come up in the play, but then that only lead to the question of "well, why do you need a black/Asian/Latino actor for that role?" So I started trying to do it in casting, casting "blind" for the first reading in the hopes that the impression would be made. I know it's not always the case, but I tried.

I write what I know and, yeah, my plays do wind up being about upper-middle class problems. But I'm eager to show that black people have upper middle-class problems. That when races mix on stage, the minority one doesn't need to be a servant or employee to justify why they're there. But I've found that doesn't jibe with the space provided to black playwrights: tour guide. It seems to me that the expectation on me is that, as the Black Playwright, it's my job to bring some foreign experience into a white theater in a safe, easy to handle way. If I'm just writing love stories or whatever, they can get that from a white playwright.

On Pinter's Impotency

Thomad Garvey reviews the Nora production of The Caretaker and finds the menace missing; but after seeing several recent Pinter's, which have also failed to deliver the chills, he is hesitant to blame the productions.

But how to restore Pinter's former potency? Ah, there's the rub; the decline of "monoculture" may have dealt a greater blow to the absurdists and existentialists than it has to the bourgeoisie (which, in case you haven't noticed, is flourishing). And so far, at least, no one has managed to crack the carapace of self-satisfaction one senses in our Gen-Y "glibertarians" - they're not shivering in some Beckettian wasteland, struggling with the bleak truths of the absurdists; they are, instead, snug as bugs in their respective digital rugs. And the idea of using absurdity to attack their own assumptions strikes most them as, well, simply absurd; indeed, their strategy of simultaneous disconnection from, yet accommodation to, the social and political world may make them all-but-impervious to theatre as a mode of communal critique.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Generations Collide

Dame Judi Dench thinks young actors aren't paying enough attention to the older generations:

"Probably the majority of young actors want to make a big impression in television or film straight away,” she told the Cheltenham Literature Festival

"I wish that young people now — and it’s not very fashionable — learnt a bit about our fantastic heritage of theatre and the people who’ve gone before, learnt a bit about the history of the theatre, because it’s phenomenal. It is nowhere better in the world than here.”

Dame Judi, who appeared with her left hand in a bandage and a large plaster on the thumb of her right hand, added: “We have such a huge history of the most extraordinary performances and productions and directors and actors and designers, everything that I wish wasn’t forgotten.

“It is not forgotten by a lot of people but it is forgotten by most young people coming up."

Meanwhile, younger director Rupert Goold, (of the Patrick Stewart Macbeth fame,)thinks that too much defernce is already given to that genereation:

Britain's most sought-after stage director Rupert Goold, 39, hit back at Dame Judi's comments, rounding on staid, middle-aged audiences and critics. Goold, known for his bold production of Oliver!, said her views threatened to “strangle” innovation.

He said young actors and directors were already forced to limit their ideas because “most of the audience is middle-aged, the critics are middle-aged” and it feels like “you are seeking to win the approval of your parents all the time”.


He insisted that modern actors were in many ways more professional and spent less time getting drunk than previous generations.

He said: “They are less deferential in a good way than I gather was the case 40 years ago.” They are also in physically better shape and more technically proficient than previous generations, he added.

Benedict Nightengale at the Times Online thinks they both have a point:

The director is hugely gifted, but he’s surely guilty of Year Zero, clean-slate thinking.

For him, freshness is too often about imposing his own clever-clever ideas on plays, not in discerning and fulfilling an author’s aims and intentions. And that’s not a generational problem, as Goold must have discovered when members of his own cast rebelled against his reinterpretation of King Lear, with the result that it was a bit more Shakespearean when it moved from Liverpool to London.

On the other hand, he’s right to defend younger actors from any inference that they’re less able than their predecessors. He’s equally right to add that they’re more physically adroit than, say, many members of the Gielgud generation. One can only judge the quality of actors from their performances on stage and my own recent experiences tell me that the future of acting and therefore of the British theatre is very bright indeed.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Sarah Ruhl Tries to Answer Her Critics

Boston Globe has a profile of Sarah Ruhl in advance of the Lyric Stage production of Dead Man's Cell Phone:

Despite Ruhl’s success, she is not without her detractors. Some critics have accused her of an over-reliance on whimsical and idiosyncratic details that can come across as cloying. Others charge that her writing lacks reason and psychological depth. Ruhl shrugs off these criticisms with a frustrated but spirited defense.

“I do think psychological realism is a crock, because it makes emotions so rational. It’s not realism. I think it’s just a form,’’ says Ruhl, whose husband and sister are, ironically, psychiatrists. “Theater, from Shakespeare to the Greeks, has always been about irrationality, in some profound way. So I think to make it all linear and make it all causal is kind of weird. The rational unearthing of neuroses isn’t enough.’’

Well, then.

Ian Thal's Total War

Fellow blogger Ian Thal will have a reading of his play Total War tomorrow at 8PM.

This is a revision after Ian had another reading. You can read more about it on his blog. He is very open about the process feedback and decisions he has made.

Friday, October 09, 2009

"The eye was open! ... And I grew furious to gaze upon it."

"I resolved to open a little -- a very, very little crevice in the lantern. So I opened it -- you cannot imagine how stealthily, stealthily -- until at length a single dim ray like the thread of the spider shot out from the crevice and fell upon the vulture eye.

It was open, wide, wide open, and I grew furious as I gazed upon it. I saw it with perfect distinctness -- all a dull blue with a hideous veil over it that chilled the very marrow in my bones, but I could see nothing else of the old man's face or person, for I had directed the ray as if by instinct precisely upon the damned spot. "

That's me performing as the famous narrator of Poe's Tell-Tale Tale Heart.

I tell ghost stories every October up in Salem, MA during Chilling Tales, which is produced by Salem Theatre Company.

The three other tales in the evening are Poe's Manuscript Found in a Bottle, (told that story two years ago,) and Hawthorne's Wives of the Dead.

The shows run on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights. More information here. I am one of four different performers who tell the story in rotation throughout the month.

(NOTE: If you would like to see me perform, you can send me an e-mail and I will let you know the nights/times I am on.)