Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Gambling is Coming to Boston. What Does It Mean for the Arts?

Rendering of one of the casino proposals for outside Boston.

This is an important date in the future of the Bay State's cultural landscape.

 Today is the deadline for casino developers to submit proposals for the three possible casino development licenses in Massachusetts.

Gambling is coming.

What does it mean for the culture makers and performance artists of the Commonwealth?

Almost on cue, Chris Jones has written a column in the Chicago Tribune addressing this very topic. Chicago faces a similar situation as the Hub, a large gaming facility is on the very near horizon.

 Jones suggests a proactive approach:
Any Chicago casino must, first and foremost, not be seen as a Chicago casino at all. Instead, it should be viewed as a major new cultural hub, which happens to have a little gambling going on alongside its many other attractions. And that won't happen unless Chicago's creative professionals — its architects, entertainment executives, chefs, artists, actors, music promoters, cultural officials — hold their noses and overcome, as did the former street performers of the Cirque du Soleil more than two decades ago, whatever qualms they may have about becoming involved with gambling, which will arrive with or without them. They must grab hold of this civic debate right now, before the chance is lost for good.
The main energy of a Chicago casino should have everything to do with experiencing architecture, watching spectacular shows, eating at world-class restaurants, interacting with thrilling technological art and the like, and as little as possible to do with gambling.
Is this an approach for Boston or any of the other possible casino locations? Could ArtsEmerson have a stage over at the old Suffolk Downs?

Monday, January 14, 2013

Side by Side by Side Reviews of Sondheim

 Phil Tayler and Erica Spyres in MARRY ME A LITTLE.
Photo by Andrew Brilliant/ Brilliant Pictures.
The critical waters in Boston are growing shallower by the year, as evidenced by Tom Garvey's recent post comparing word counts at the various cultural outlets.

I've always been of the mind that it is helpful to have various voices on stage and off.

I was looking over three recent reviews of the New Rep's production of Marry Me a Little, a musical revue of Stephen Sondheim tunes.

I was struck by how different the focus was in each review.  While all of them at least touched on several of the same points, each reviewer keyed in on an aspect that would form the spine of their criticism.

Writing in New England Theater Geek, Craig Idlebrook focuses on Sondheim's music and how it frustrates, and never so much as in a revue format:

Listening to Sondheim’s repertoire in the musical revue Marry Me a Little, currently being staged by the New Repertory Theatre, is like taking a master class in songwriting with Sondheim, with melodies that feel both familiar and haunting, easy on the ear and flat-out wrong. Lovers clash musically with competing versions of a fairy tale or declare their undying devotion as long as it doesn’t cost too much. All this musical discomfort can be overwhelming musically without dialogue to temper it; even a Dear John letter has familiar words for the hurt heart to find refuge. In the revue, there is nowhere to hide. 
Meanwhile, Tom Garvey sees a revelation in the cast director Ilyse Robbins has brought together:

 Which brings me back to my first point - once again I've found myself watching a cast that easily negotiated issues and funny twists that would have sent Boston's best pros spinning only a decade ago. The quartet here - Aimee Doherty, Phil Tayler, Erica Spyres and newcomer Brad Daniel Peloquin - all have delightful voices and acting chops to spare. Peloquin, often perched on the top level of a sprawling set, sometimes had a projection problem (the actors were wearing mikes, but the amplification, if it was there at all, was blessedly subtle) - but in general the singing was wonderful, and the vignettes accompanying the songs ran the gamut from haunting to hilarious. 
And, at the Boston Globe, Don Acouin's review is more woven around the concept, or hook, of the production:
Now, nearly a decade after Massachusetts led the way nationally by legalizing same-sex marriage, the New Repertory Theatre is staging a production of Stephen Sondheim’s “Marry Me a Little’’ that broadens its scope to include gay relationships. It works, and beautifully, too. Directed and choreographed by Ilyse Robbins, the New Rep’s “Marry Me a Little’’ is an appealingly understated gem of a revue. Melancholy and uplifting by turns — but mostly melancholy; this is Sondheim we’re talking about, after all — the show underscores the necessity and difficulty of human connection, gay or straight.

Three different takes on the joys and challenges of the New Rep production.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Boston Theater - Friday Roundup

2013 is getting into full swing with a lot of openings 

Here are some of the shows you can see in and around the Hub this weekend: 


  • A variety of Boston's best actresses are on the boards at the Lyric Stage for 33 Variations
  • Ralph Ellison's iconic novel Invisible Man is brought into theatrical view at the Huntington Theater Company. (Photo above.) 
  • Whistler in the Dark, (fresh off their triumph with Tales from Ovid,)presents the seldom produced Caryl Churchill play Vinegar Tom at the Calderwood Pavilion. 
  • Anne Hathaway may win an Oscar this year, but previously that name was most commonly associated with Shakespeare's wife. The Bard's spouse is brought to life in a one-woman play Shakespeare's Will at the Merrimack Repertory Theater. 
  • For those who want to start the theatrical New Year with a little Sondheim, New Rep presents Marry Me a Little, a revue of the composer's music. 
  • Flat Earth Theater Company dashes off A Memorandum at the Arsenal Center for the Arts. The play, by Vaclav Havel, is satire of bureacracies. 
  • Christmas season may be in the rear-view mirror, but Imaginary Beasts are back with their annual winter panto, this year is Legend of Sleepy Hollow.


  • David Cromer's landmark production of Thornton Wilder's Our Town continues at the Huntington Theater Company. 
  • The Broadway bound Pippin keeps tumbling at the American Repertory Theater. 

 (Photo Credit: Teagle F. Bougere in the Huntington Theatre Company's production of INVISIBLE MAN. Photo by T. Charles Erickson)

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

New York Centrism - Critic Says, We're All In the Same Boat

Michael Feingold, writing in the Village Voice, takes in the latest Pulitzer Prize winning play to have originated at a regional theater outside of New York City. Water by the Spoonful, last year's winner, had its premiere production at Hartford Stage.

Feingold notes that such plays are usually greeted "sniffily" by the New York critics:

New Yorkers like making the nation's taste, not vice versa, and they're not famous for approving of plays coronated elsewhere—a stance that the Pulitzer's Drama committee has increasingly tried to combat in recent years. 
Like New York's haughty preference for being the determining factor when prizes are dispensed, the committee's insistence on hunting elsewhere for a prizewinner may strike one as silly and arbitrary, a well-meaning attempt to resist a bias that hardly exists any longer. The theater's shrinkage as a cultural force in our society has so entangled New York with resident theaters nationwide that we are all, in effect, stuck in the same storm-tossed little boat. The sooner we stop squabbling over precedence and start figuring out practical ways to keep the damn thing from sinking, the better off we're likely to be.

Boston Playwright Gets Mellon Grant - Melinda Lopez Will Take Residency at the Huntington

More great news for Boston theater.  One of our playwrights, Melinda Lopez, has been chosen for one of the Mellon Foundation's residencies for playwrights, which will provide salaries and benefits for three years to the recipient..

Melinda is currently onstage at the Roberts Theatre in the Huntington's production of Our Town, which was directed by David Cromer. (Photo above.)

An article in the Boston Globe covers the details of the Mellon initiative:

The Mellon money is designed to enable the writers to focus more fully on their writing without scrambling to make ends meet, but under the initiative they will also shoulder duties that could include taking part in planning sessions for theater companies’ upcoming seasons, providing a writer’s voice at board meetings, and participating in playwright development programs. A total of $245,000 will cover Lopez’s salary and benefits at the Huntington for the three-year residency. She will also be eligible to apply each year for an additional $10,000 from the Center for the Theater Commons to cover travel and research expenses. Lopez said she plans to finish “Becoming Cuba,’’ a historical drama set on the eve of the Spanish-American War, and also write two additional full-length plays during the residency.
However, this is not to be confused with a MacArthur Fellowship which is a direct gift to the recipient. The Mellon grant is a bit more admin heavy:
Playing a key role in the Mellon Foundation initiative is the Center for the Theater Commons, a research center based at Emerson College. The center will receive a $760,000 grant, of which more than half will be distributed to the playwrights for travel and research expenses, according to the center’s director, Polly Carl. The rest will fund a project to hire freelancers who will closely track the residencies to see how well they are working and what difference they are making for the playwrights, the individual theaters and the communities where they are located, as well as, potentially, the American theater in general.
Congratulations to Melinda Lopez, who is breaking ground for Boston playwrights once again!

Back in 2004 when the Boston Center for the Arts opened the Calderwood Pavillion, Melinda's play Sonia Flew was chosen by then Huntington Theatre Company Artistic Director Nicholas Martin to christen the Wimberly Theater, which was to serve as the Huntington's second stage. 

  (Photo Credit: Melinda Lopez and Derrick Trumbly in the Huntington Theatre Company's production of Thornton Wilder's OUR TOWN. Photo by Charles T. Erickson.)

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

The Year of the Critical Discussion

Over on Salon, Laura Miller interviews literary critic Daniel Mendelsohn, who has just published Waiting for the Barbarians, a collection of his criticisms.

The short interview ranges through many of the arguments about the state of literary criticism that appeared during 2012, including memoir, non-fiction versus fiction, positive reviews, social media cheerleading, etc. Many of these arguments were crossover hits into the world of theater and film as well.

Here Laura Miller brings up the eternal accusation of the critical agenda:
MILLER: Another form that takes is the author’s response to a bad review. Before, you might complain about it with your friends on the phone or over coffee. Now, that sort of angst often gets expressed on Facebook or Twitter. Or a writer’s friends will take up the cause in those forums and drop sinister remarks about the reviewer’s ulterior “agenda.” 
MENDELSOHN: They always say that! Of course, if you’re talking about a professional assignment, no good editor would allow that to happen. I don’t think it’s Pollyanna-ish or naive to say that if you were given an assignment and you had some personal gripe against the author, you would recuse yourself. I’ve done that. But people always instantly assume that you had it in for that person when you’ve written a negative review. It’s a pernicious myth. Of course, we do have agendas that are aesthetic. That’s different. That’s a legitimate agenda.People also have the idea, especially if you’re not liking something very popular, that you’ve been gunning for it the whole time. In my experience, that’s never the case. You always go to a movie or open a book hoping that you’re going to like it. You don’t say, “Oh, everyone loves ‘Mad Men,’ so I’m going to knock it down!” Because why would you put yourself through that? This is actual work. I don’t want to sit through something I hate, knowing that I’m going to have to criticize it strongly. You always start out with an open mind.