The Playgoer: August 2008

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Thursday, August 28, 2008

Plays on TV? WHAT??? There Was a Time...

by Abigail Katz


A few days ago, David Hare wrote an article on the "murder" of the television play (David Hare on how the BBC killed the TV play). Along with news of the death of Tad Mosel, who wrote for "Playhouse 90," "Studio One," and "Philco Television Playhouse," it made me wonder, what ever happened to the television play in America? And I'm not talking about the MTV broadcast of Legally Blonde (a musical whose days may be numbered incidentally, due to some incoming Jets and Sharks). I'm talking about shows like "Playhouse 90," "American Playhouse" and the like. I realize in the age of reality television and super successful shows with multiple spin-offs that the television play is hardly a money-maker, and therefore not very appealing to the networks. But even PBS has pretty much done away with any regular series where television audiences can experience the talent of American playwrights by viewing their plays on TV (as opposed to their TV shows, the way so many playwrights earn a living.) Yes there is "Live at Lincoln Center" which has broadcast some Broadway musicals, but it's not quite the same as having a regular series giving American theatre wider exposure through the far-reaching medium of TV. It makes me wonder, is there any commitment to American theatre on a larger societal and cultural level? Or does it all come from the theatre community itself? (and perhaps a few film studios who want to get into the theatre biz if they can build a money-making machine out of it.)

So I ask a hard question: what would be the value of bringing back a series like "American Playhouse"? I would like to suggest that it would benefit our playwrights and perhaps get theatre in this country back to a more prominent place on the cultural radar. I would love to see such a program return (hell who am I kidding, I would love to program it!) But would PBS or someone else be willing to take a chance on such a series simply because they believe in promoting American theatrical talent? And would we watch?

I put the question to you, readers.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Line Sitting

By Dr. Cashmere

If you missed this piece on the money to be made waiting in line for Hair tickets, it's worth a read.

While The Public gets credit for giving out some tickets online this year, its leaders make a couple of dubious statements in defense of the current system.

“If we see people over and over again on line and we don’t see them in the theater we get a little suspicious,” said Sonya LeBrun, the assistant manager. But how would they know, with some 1,800 seats in the theater? When handing tickets over to a familiar face, “we note the seat locations,” Ms. LeBrun said. If, more than a few times, they see someone other than the original ticket-holder in the seat, the staff tries to kick the line-sitter out of line the next time he or she shows up.
Right.

There's also this:
Free theater “means that your time and presence—waiting in line—matters more than your money,” Oskar Eustis, the Public’s artistic director, said to defend the theater’s position on line-sitters. “In our commodity-obsessed money culture, that’s a vital civic touchstone. Some things shouldn’t be measured in dollars.”
Okay. But Eustis is missing the point that the current ticketing systems allows for exactly the opposite to happen: Perhaps a hundred seats a performance are going to people who have paid someone else to wait in line.

(The article's line-sitting protagonist puts the number of "regular" line-sitters at 30. At two tickets per, that makes 60 seats. And there are bound to be plenty of part-timers sitters as well.)

Remember, that's in addition to the 500-600 seats per night that go to donors, and to the house.

That leaves perhaps 1,000 seats for the masses. And that's wonderful. But if the folks at The Public are as committed to making Shakespeare in the Park widely accessible as their words suggest, they need to continue to make modifications to the ticketing policy.

And that should include considering convenience for regular, working people--even if that diminishes the size of the Delacorte ticket line, and the publicity juggernaut that comes with it.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

You Are Not Me


by chris mills

Ah, the doppleganger. Since Hoffman (ha, E.T.A., not Dustin), it’s been a crackling staple of the uncanny. Perhaps the troubling double has been such a successful literary trope because it can work either in bona fide sci-fi modality, producing the terrifying, uncontrollable Frankensteinian other, or in a more nuanced Freudian rendition, as a passable explanation for “human nature” and the darkness contained therein, always waiting to bust out. This latter rendition is largely the underwriting logic in Tennessee Williams Summer and Smoke. Tlaloc Rivas is directing a new production of the 1948 play at the Clurman, staging the original version, rather than the later, revised The Eccentricities of a Nightingale, produced by The Actors Company Theatre in the spring. Rivas’s staging has some smart and fresh directing going on. One of the sparkiest overall moves was to cut as close to the bone as possible. The set is beautifully designed, and makes the simplicity of a platform and chairs seem sexy, tactile and rich with possibility, and the show is lit with both nuance and clarity. Without extraneous stage detail, we are still continuously sure as to our location in this almost stark—but never bleak— landscape. Just as blue plays across the costuming, providing a cool touch in the peek of a sock, a sweater trim or bit of lace, the details are right, reading when they should and still when they’re not. The actors, as a team, fill in the emotional landscape with technique similar to the design—smart, small details and determined movement, rather than broad or busy strokes.

All of these components were lovely, but, face it we must, if you’re gonna do Summer and Smoke, you need a powerful, subtle, energizing woman to emcee the proceedings. The actor playing Alma—“soul” in Spanish (a, might we say, religious version of the doppleganger?)—needs to perform that most difficult actor’s task: she must totally transform before our eyes. Because the story of a “spinster” with a long unrequited love for the boy next door is just the surface tale; it is the actual nature of love that is at stake. Is love sacrifice or indulgence? Is it generated by minute plotting or spontaneity, through passion or responsibility? Does it require dignity or soul-baring honesty? Mary Sheridan’s Alma Winemiller, needs to ask these questions for a repressed woman, operating in the history of women as both subject and object of repression, as written by a queer man in an era of deep sexual constraint, with punitive consequence for bad behavior. This, of course, is no easy task; it is, however, necessary, if the play is to deliver its force. The decision at which Alma arrives requires a total re-imagining of the method, purpose and function of love. Her risks need to be life threatening, literally. Her questions and decisions, like any act of primal transgression, need to take place on the rim of destruction; one which she arguably tips over—though this production pulls its ambiguous punch at the close. What we need as viewers is the terrible spectacle of someone crumbling into the future, repatching a facade in order to survive. Too often in this production, Sheridan seems brittle and petulant, like an aging girl playing dress-up, serving up a weak tea party. And, as the great Bette Davis warns, old age is no place for sissies.

I try to stick to the theater but the French Crime Wave series at Film Forum, drawing to its spectacular close, is so super that I can’t help mentioning it. Pierrot Le Fou was on this weekend, and lord, who can say no to Godard, Karena and Belmondo? Well, not me, and afterward, a brief walk will deposit you at ‘ino—making you remember how much better it is than its bigger, brasher, louder sibling, Inoteca—where you might try the summer tomatoes with delicious pesto, bright as a dewy field of basil, or end with mascarpone-topped, honey-soaked bread and fresh fruit. And if you’re lucky, your friend will point out that the movie was kind of like revisiting a crush, reminding you of how smart and sexy and generally terrific the object of your affection really is. That moment, happily, will help you (if you’re me) remember what it is that makes a classic—to return to last week’s thread. Whether a movie, a play, a sweetie or that aged sweater that you just can’t toss. Love brings us back and makes us want to share what we know of it with others. Like the high, thrilling rush of infatuation, the dark devotion that turns us into Mr. Hyde or the deep affection for known contours that still might hold surprises, the classics carry a history of love and for that alone, we must return to them.

Monday, August 25, 2008

What a Strange Season This Is...

by Abigail Katz

It appears the planets are out of alignment in the theatre universe. Each day seems to bring another story of a cancelled show, an actor replacement, a change of venue, and gloomy days ahead. At the same time there are several Broadway shows setting preview dates "at a theatre to be announced." On the Great White Way alone, we have dueling Mamets, the producers' battle for Hair, no available theatres, and no money.

With this kind of drama, who needs plays?

So what gives? Am I blowing this out of proportion, or are we actually in a very exciting time that could shake things up a bit?

Thoughts?

ISO ...

by Brook Stowe

Just got a look at the calendar and realized how rapidly my time here wandering the Hallowed Halls of Eisler is coming to a close.

I wanted to put out a word about the anthology I edit, the New York Theater Review -- specifically that I am still very much in search of a play. One more play. The right play. The play. And this seems like a splendid venue -- peopled as I'm sure it is with robust and wholesome apple-cheeked lads and lasses of the theater -- to put out the call.

The Review, should it somehow have escaped your attention thus far, is an annual collection of essays and plays and sometimes interviews that aims to capture the way we really live now south of 14th Street and over ever-widening swaths of Brooklyn and Queens.

Past editions have included new plays by Sheila Callaghan, Ping Chong & Sara Michelle Zatz, Quiara Alegria Hudes, Taylor Mac, August Schulenburg, Tommy Smith, Adam Szymkowicz, Ken Urban & Anne Washburn. We generally publish three new plays per edition, and I think I'm pretty much decided on two. But the third play is proving elusive, hence this call.

What am I looking for? Ah, that's when I go all Cheshire Cat on y'all. Not intentionally; there are no real firm parameters, no set guidelines, no theme-of-the-year to write to with this. All I can say is -- I know it when I see it. Or read it. So ... if any of you wonderful people out there in the dark are fans of any of the playwrights above -- or at least familiar with their work -- you'll know the street we walk down. And should you have seen a play on a downtown NYC stage this year you're just bursting to recommend (and yeah, it can be your own play), please get a hold of me. Probably better this way. (I haven't gotten very good at remembering to come back here and check for comments). Probably best to send a query first and let me get back to you. And if I don't get back to you right away, don't take it personally, my little beauties -- I am, among other things, in the process of moving from Manhattan to Brooklyn, and will be a bit of the gypsy, especially this coming week. Remember to tell me The Playgoer sent you.

More info on our past and current editions here, here and here, fyi.

Back at the end of the week with some kind of final something about all of this.

Til next ...

Friday, August 22, 2008

Two Questions


by chris mills

Former: What makes a classic? Yeah, that’s what I’m asking. You may say I’m remedial (hell, perhaps you already have), but that’s today’s query. BECAUSE I happen to be in a company that is doing a production off Death of A Salesman in the fall (Oct 22, 14th St. Y theatre—c’mon down), and I read yesterday that Avery Brooks is to star in a production at Oberlin, directed by Justin Emeka, a professor of theater and Af-Am studies. I, of course, both have and am developing a set of reasons as to why this particular Miller (not my favorite), why Miller (easier for me to answer) and what the particular joy is about entering into a space SO mapped out, SO well-trod, so known. And what it might mean for both maker and viewer to come out on the other side. What do we learn from investigating what's already been investigated?

It sounds like a loaded question, but I mean it with all honesty (and weird joy, because theater is so caught up in the resuscitation of what already been done).
Latter: Information. I mentioned Jake Hooker’s show, What We Should Judge When We Judge… to you and got a chance to see it last night. And it was a delightful take on the “performative lecture,” which is a form I love and think is developing as more and more people take up its concerns. For me, it’s kind of like the explosion of “performance art” (a term I hate to use as it became—deservedly so, in many instances—a catch-all for bad work) in the 80s. It was a moment in which there was a kind of power as artists and others decided that they were able, and had the right, to make live art. But, what’s interesting and different in this 2008 performance chapter, The Performance Lecture is that it often deals with some deep or arcane or philosophically dense subject. And the subject (last night’s started with Greek Lyric poetry—remember iambic vs. trochaic? Pindar, Sappho and Anacreon?) is important to the piece and well-examined but also functions (in the best use of the form) as a springboard to ruminations that range far and wide, frequently returning to questions about “the human condition.” It’s a different form than the well-made play, say, which shows these questions; the performance lecture instead asks/asks about these questions through a veil of information, rather than through a creation of detailed realism. And what is the query, Chris Mills (you might be asking)? My question to you is: What works for you?

Happy weekend....

S/he Said, S/he Said, Pt. 2

by Brook Stowe

If you met August Schulenburg at a party or struck up a conversation with him in the checkout line at D'Agostino's, you would probably take him to be an affable, unfettered fellow -- someone who perhaps delights the neighborhood children with his quirky balloon designs or spends weekends tinkering with his vintage panhead Harley out in the front yard. A brief exchange, a passing conversation might well leave you entirely unaware that Schulenburg is one of the most original, tormented and demanding playwrights working here -- or anywhere else, I'd wager -- today.

OK, so maybe he leaves the tormented part in his word processor, or just transfers it all upon the shoulders and into the psyches of his characters (and directors), but I am hard-pressed to think of any contemporary American playwright working so constantly and compellingly in the murky twilight of human consciousness, where dreams mingle with reality and the corporeal grazes the spiritual in contact both bruising and desirous.

Other Bodies, offered up by the Flux Theatre Ensemble as part of the 12th Annual NYIFF, is Schulenburg's latest exploration into why we exist. Continuing to explore some of the themes of last year's Fringe Audience fave, Riding the Bull -- deceptive money-making schemes, the desire/repulsion dichotomy between men and women, people and God; suddenly explosive, sexually-propelled cathartic violence -- Other Bodies offers a pungent new layer into the mix: gender switch. A man who plays women to get ahead sexually and professionally wakes up one day to find he has become one.

And then the party really gets started.

If you're thinking Ellen Barkin and Blake Edwards here, stop. Right now. The gender bender of Other Bodies just gives Schulenburg increased latitude to share his obsessions with us, those of deeply flawed, deeply longing individuals desperately seeking the acknowledgment if not the favor of a fickle and elusive God.

It's not easy going. On either side of the fourth wall. Other Bodies is the pure theater of language. Schulenburg crafts his work solely from weaving language together, layer upon layer, exchange upon exchange. No multimedia mashup here -- no, hey, that passage is a little thin -- I know! We'll fill it with a clip from "I Love Lucy" and chalk up whatever the hell that might mean to the vagaries of postmodernism!

No, no, ye blogolicious faithful. Not here. Not this time.

Other Bodies -- like all of Schulenburg's work -- demands you stay engaged or you get left behind, demands you participate intellectually, demands you think about what is happening before you as it is happening. Schulenburg's theater is the theater of the mind as well as the body, of the ephemeral moment as well as the timelessness of the pursuit.

And -- just because I used demand three times in the above graf, I'm going to just keep on and marvel both at the demanding task Schulenburg lays at the feet of his cast and director, and how well both rise to the challenge. Vince Nappo and Christina Shipp negotiate not only numerous characters, but numerous characters switching genders with nothing but themselves and Jason Paradine's minimalist set to work off of over an exhausting and, yeah, demanding 2-plus hours of performance, all under the confident guidance of director Heather Cohn.

OK, I'll stop being so demanding now.

But ... I will say ...

Any of you out there who may have actually been reading these dog days posts of mine know I never advise of anything too soon, and I continue to hew firmly to that policy here. If nothing else, I am consistent: Other Bodies has but one more performance as part of this year's Fringe, and that is today at 3:45 at CSV, 107 Suffolk St.

If you want to see the latest work of one of the best American playwrights working today, get on down there.

If you want to chat up the playwright later, look for the easygoing, affable guy out in the lobby.

Til next ...

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Revisionists

by Abigail Katz

Geoffrey Wheatcroft of The Guardian recently wrote an article that's been on my mind for the last few weeks. In "West Side Hyperbole" he asserts that West Side Story is not as great a work as many consider it to be, compared to other shows such as The Music Man and Pal Joey. His remarks include the following:



"The first problem is Leonard Bernstein's score...the simple diatonic melodies in West Side Story put him a long way below the true masters of the Broadway ballad: Jerome Kern, Irving Berlin, Richard Rodgers, and of course George Gershwin, the greatest American composer of the 20th century. If that seems harsh, try There's a Place for Us, and try it over and mind-numbingly over again."


He goes on to criticize the treatment:


"But isn't West Side Story set in another real world? Maybe - until you see the way it's treated, and by whom. Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim, Arthur Laurents and Jerome Robbins used their imagination to celebrate boy-meets-girl, but imagination faltered when they turned to poverty and violence; these prosperous bourgeois liberals conjuring up the life of teenage gangs have all of Steinbeck's little-man-where-art-thou condescension."



OK, now I can understand if "Maria" or "Somewhere" are not your favorite songs from WSS, but are we forgetting about the great opening of the show, with it's signature three-note call that introduces the relationship between the Jets and the Sharks? Or how about "The Dance at the Gym," performed by orchestras all over the world? And while it's a bit melodramatic, "A Boy Like That/I Have a Love" when done well, is very moving.

I certainly don't disagree with Wheatcroft about the other artists and shows that he's mentioned (I for one am very excited about the upcoming revival of Pal Joey, a show that isn't done enough), but I must take issue with his evaluation of the Bernstein/Sondheim/Laurents/Robbins great work. Is the score perfect? No, and what show (except maybe Guys and Dolls) has a perfect score? Are the lyrics the greatest ever? Perhaps not, but they are honest and serve the work. As for the treatment of the story and setting, how dare anyone use their imagination! It's a MUSICAL for heaven's sake! In the Heights is no more realistic about its setting, and this is 2008!


But having responded to Weatcroft's criticism, there is one thing he fails to mention that I think is an essential part of why West Side Story deserves the revered place it has in musical theatre, and that's the choreography. This aspect of the form is rarely given enough credit for a show's artistic success (it's a huge factor in In the Heights- go Andy Blankenbuehler!) and in WSS it is as much a part of the storytelling as the music, lyrics and book (in fact, the show was Jerome Robbins' idea in the first place.) The combination of all the elements is what makes the show a great and complete work. You can pick apart any show and criticize it's individual pieces, but to really assess its artistic merits you need to look at it as a whole.


OK, I'll get off my soapbox now, and we'll let the audience decide about West Side Story when it gets it first Broadway revival in over 25 years this coming February.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Short Takes

By Dr. Cashmere

--American Buffalo with John Leguizamo and Cedric the Entertainer has bumped Speed-the-Plow out of the Belasco. So much Mamet, so little space. (Speed-the-Plow is moving to the Barrymore.)

--Isaac has a thoughtful post up about working with playwrights. Nice to see him recoil from the suggestion that writers who don't want their words changed are acting like prima donnas.

--You'll be glad to learn that the musical Spring Awakening plays a prominent role in early episodes of the new Beverly Hills, 90210 spinoff.

But will they give Jonathan Franzen equal time?

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Sad Kidstuff and Guitars.


by chris mills

It was almost like sad visitation or something. I was at work, feeling ill (some summer bug) and I logged onto my iGoogle. And there, under PS122 was a listing for The Lastmaker; I thought: who is doing a show with a title so related to Goat Island's final show? But, of course, it is not related, it IS the Goat Island show and it is happening in November and it means that the end is inevitable. Because, you see, The Lastmaker is the last performance that this Chicago-based performance copmapny will do and it will mean that one of the, truly, most interesting companies in the country—together for twenty years—is saying goodbye.

As one of the reviews (the work opened in England, toured to Germany and Croatia) describes “The idea of finality and endings runs through the piece, from excerpts of Lenny Bruce’s last performances to Bach’s Art of the Fugue and the music of Nick Drake.” Wrapped in the architectural inspiration of Instanbul’s Hagia Sophia, a building which has operated as a Byzantine church, a mosque and as a museum (where once, I stood in a dusty side aisle and watched as the most gigantic chandelier I’d ever seen—at least 30 feet in diameter with about 10 rings of candle holders (taper candles, mind you, no little votives here)—was lowered and lit by hand and then slowly rehoisted to the ceiling, providing the warmest, most alive, clearest light I think I’ve ever seen—that’s the way to see the sacred) offers the kind of deep readability that this group excels in excavating. Their work is underwritten with layered philosophical engagement and they are welcomed around the world, especially in Europe. In the 20 years they’ve been together, they have made NINE full-length pieces. Each one bright, vibrant, intellectually challenging and physically sharp and gorgeous. The show doesn't open until November, and I’ll have more about this sad development, but until then, you can check out the accompanying writing project, The Last Performance, helmed by Judd Morrisey, and involving, at last count, 136 writers.

What is weird is that after I was hit in the informational solar plexus and I went back to find it later, it was gone (gone! I tell you!) and still is. Perhaps the universe is giving me little lead time…which I pass on to you.

On a happier note, a new Edith Freni play is opening! Tickets are on sale for Kidstuff, directed by Erica Gould and presented by Partial Comfort. Freni’s writing is fast and funny, and she tackles the weird workings of interpersonal relationships like no one I know. And I don’t mean that in a chick flick way. Sardonic, smart and laced with a gritty, secret hope, her plays roll around in a range of emotion, and contemporary issues, leaving the audience wiser, which they won’t realize it until later, when they stop quoting the lines…

Last: three cheers to fellow New Yorkers who hunkered down under umbrellas, tarps, papers and any other rain-deflecting detritus last Friday night. We were all there for the Eight Hundred Years of Minimalism show, curated by the great Bill Bragin (of Joe’s Pub fame), which included the Rhys Chapman 200 guitars piece that I mentioned here (A Crimson Grail). All the wet waiting paid off as we got, eventually, to hear two thirds of the program and it was terrific. Alas, not the guitars. The amount of necessary electricity ran up against the leftover from that series of torrential downpours and guess what? The water won. Happily for me, I had the amazing joy to hear the sound check for the guitars that afternoon and it was truly breathtaking. Imagine a giant airplane, made of guitars, taxiing the runway, taking off and then flying around above you, doing loops and spins and dips. The sound was awesome (in traditional sense of the word) but also quite modulated and varied. Beautiful. So, keep your ear to the ground for this aborted world premiere, as I imagine it’ll resurface and when it does, I think you’ll wanna be there.

Monday, August 18, 2008

A Silver Lining?

by Abigail Katz


As Dr. Cashmere pointed out in his post, Michael Riedel (among others) is predicting dark times for Broadway "B'way Feels Money Slump." This gloomy outlook is supported by the slew of "postponements" and cancellations that have occurred in the last few weeks- Brigadoon, For Colored Girls, and the latest victim, according to Riedel, Godspell. The worst aspect of all of this is that people who thought they were going to have good-paying Broadway gigs suddenly find themselves out of work. Hopefully they'll find other gigs, but what a blow. But to be an annoying cock-eyed optimist (no I STILL haven't coughed up the money to see South Pacific, thanks for asking) could there be a positive side to all of this? Is it in the realm of possibility that creative solutions may lead to quality productions that don't require a capitalization of $15-20 million? Will producers and investors opt for more non-musical plays, which have dwindled on Broadway in recent years due to blockbuster musical hits? Will producers and investors just get more picky about what they produce? (of course that could be a good thing or a bad thing.)

These questions may be meaningless, as even the producers of Godspell, a known and favorite work by Stephen Schwartz, who has the current number one show on Broadway, fell short of raising the mere $4.5 million needed to mount the production (unless they've magically come up with $1 million over the weekend.) And there will always be big-budget musicals, like the upcoming $18 million Billy Elliot, which I will freely admit I would like to see. But what will Broadway look like as we make our way through challenging economic times? One thing is for certain, the ticket prices aren't going to get any lower. Lets hope producers are brave enough to weather this storm and don't resort to safe and boring choices.

A cock-eyed optimist indeed?

S/he Said, S/he Said, Pt. 1

by Brook Stowe

So far, I'm encouraged.

And not just from the shows I've seen a week + into the 12th annual NYIFF (I'll get to that in a moment). Walking across Bleecker Sunday morning from the #1 Houston stop, across Ave. of the Americas and Broadway to Lafayette, I was thinking what a freakily odd and perfect day this was, for mid-August in the City. The Fringe over six summers here has become about stacks of press kit folders warped and smeared from being pressed into service as emergency umbrellas during the obligatory pm thunderstorms; it's about stumbling gasping from theater to theater praying the next one will be air conditioned and that we'll all get through the performance without the circuits blowing.

But Sunday morning was gorgeous -- around 80, but with negligible humidity and a sky that was actually blue instead of the Summer standard-issue water-heavy white. Along Bleecker I did the math: late on an exceptionally beautiful Sunday Summer morning, all kinds of reasons to be out rather than in -- who would want to spend even part of it inside little dark rooms seeing strange shows no one has heard of?

Even from the other side of Lafayette I could see the answer to that question was a pleasantly surprising, quite a few. By 11:20am, lines had already formed for the two noon shows at the Lafayette Street Theater (former home of the Culture Project), lines that eventually merged and kind of pushed out into Bleecker itself by the time the doors finally opened.

I was encouraged also to find that whomever is now running the former Culture Project digs at #45 have retained the 45 Below space completely (as far as I could tell) unchanged. This is a good thing. 45 Below was always one of my fave spaces in town, and one I have been to many, many times since landing here permanently. I'm so glad it's not (yet) a neon sushi bar with rollerskating waitresses threading their way through lounge lizards and old Dean Martin tuneage. At least not yet.

Most encouraging of all was what was on the 45 Below stage Sunday at noon -- Brooklyn's Royal Jelly Entertainment's production of Ariel View, a picaresque, impressionistic "obsession" of the oft-examined, ever-enigmatic Sylvia Plath. Conceived and directed by Andrea Graugnard and Daniel LeBlanc, this Ariel burns outwardly from a hot central core that examines the myriad dismemberment of Plath's art and her subsequent commodification by various interests bent on repackaging her to champion their own agendas. This is, perhaps, inevitable when art meets fame in America. And, as a concept, it is certainly nothing new.

But RJE has found a fresh new way to take us down this well-trod road. The seven-actor ensemble is tight, well-disciplined and executes choreographer Justin Henry's acrobatically physical blocking with consistent grace and aplomb. Ariel View is a rare combination of sharp text and physical movement that works in balance throughout, without one overwhelming the other, which seems often the case when the physical meets the cerebral.

That's all for now, folks. Garrett said if I behaved myself I could post more than my twice-weekly allotment, so I might be back before Friday. I've been seeing a lot of stuff -- Fringe and beyond -- and they're starting to drop off before I can get word up even on the stuff I liked (Ariel, btw, has one more perf -- this Wed. at 9:45).

See how the week goes.

Til next ...

Friday, August 15, 2008

Dark Clouds?

By Dr. Cashmere

If you missed it, Michael Riedel's column makes the case that darker days may be ahead for Broadway. And he has the details to prove it.

In short, productions are being shelved and money is drying up.

August Rush


by chris mills

What's coming up to bring you some joy as the new season impends? Mark Tribe’s on his way to 44 ½! Creative Time has been curating a great series for one of the giant video screens there in the heart of Times Square (between 44th and 45th Streets), pushing hard against the Disney. The performer-creator, Mark Tribe, teaches at Brown and created rhizome.org (a terrific new media/art site, which is worth a visit). He will be (re)performing a 1971 speech by César Chávez. Now seems a perfect time to (re)see Chávez in motion. The work is called The Port Huron Project 4: We Are Also Responsible and you can, appropriately, watch it in the street.

Not to be repetitive, but...Ontological Hysteric. Not Richard Foreman, but instead the Lab, and its summer series. Now is a good time to see some new work on the Bowery. I'd suggest the new piece by...and perhaps you know him as the company manager of Big Dance Theater? Jake Hooker. Aside from possessing one of the world’s greatest names, Mr. Hooker will be performing:

[WHAT WE SHOULD JUDGE WHEN WE JUDGE...]
LONELINESS, LOSS, REGRET, REDEMPTION:FOUR (4) LECTURES ON THE RECALCITRANT HUMAN CONDITION,VIEWED THROUGH THE PRISM OF MODERN ART AS REFRACTED THROUGH THE AESTHETIC OF THE ANCIENTS...
on sensation

It sounds great and the series just started tonight, and his piece runs August 20-23.

Last, one of my favorite reading series is coming back with a bang. Red Bull’s Revelation Readings begin on September 15th, with a restoration comedy adaptation by Amy Freed. Leigh Silverman, David Greenspan Michael Urie and F. Murray Abraham are part of the draw here, but the real fun is the range of plays and treatments (including The Cenci and Doctor Faustus, as well as other rarely performed gems and almost-gems). They have a great list this year and, as a company, they know how to give good reads!

Last, I am loathe to announce this, for I don’t want to elbow my way through a crowd tonight, but the free Lincoln Center Out of Doors Festival will be featuring, among other works, the world premiere of Chatham Rhys’ A Crimson Grail for 200 Electric Guitars (Outdoor Version). And yep, there will be 200 guitars at Damrosch...pray it doesn’t rain!

Berned!



by chris mills

Well, friends, even in my very broad definition of theater, I probably would NOT have included this particular artwork. But, as Paul McCarthy has already been invoked (ok, by me, but also Dr. C), I could not help myself.

Because, you see, as the fine people of Bern were going about their daily routine—checking their watches, perhaps, or eating some very fine chocolate—a scourge was loosed in their city. Yes, a house-sized, inflatable pile of dog crap, one that had been dutifully installed outside the Zenrtum Paul Klee, overrode its safety controls and broke free, wafting and blowing, like Underdog breaking the leash of Thanksgiving Day parade, through the clean Swiss air. Entitled Complex Shit, this recent McCarthy work took it on the wing; the derring do(o) (yeouch) only traveled 200 meters but it did break a window and take out a power line, possibly plunging a portion of the population into the fecal dark?

Now, before you dismiss this as a funded, infantile prank (though I would never discount the beauty and worth of the prankster), I ask: have you been to Bern? Man, it’s serious and damn clean (if you've seen Martin McDonagh’s In Bruges, you get an idea). So much of the aesthetic life in that place works to enhance cleanliness and beauty, that something about the disruption of the pastoral beauty with a representation of its opposite pleases. And somehow, I can't help but think that Paul Klee (the eponymous painter--with over 400 of his works on display in this museum), with his sense of whimsy and play, might have approved. But, hey, I love disruption.

Where, are you wondering, did the blow-up crap land? I swear to you, it landed in the yard of a home for children, where I cannot imagine the joy it must have brought.

More uh, traditional news soon...

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Kitty Nibble

by Abigail Katz

Some food for thought. My friend and I were talking about theatre companies and their missions the other day (because that's what dramaturgs talk about in their spare time) and one question (among many) that arose was the concept of promoting and nurturing playwrights vs. promoting and nurturing plays. I can see the argument for either one. Playwrights deserve opportunities to have their work produced and to develop relationships with theatre companies and theatre audiences. On the other hand, the play's the thing, and the work itself should be the top priority when companies plan their seasons and decide what to produce. This all leads to the much larger question of the purpose of theatre in general. There is no one answer to this question as theatre means different things to different people. For some it is pure entertainment and escapism, for others it is an art form to be pondered and analyzed for its merits in terms of quality and cultural significance, and still for others it is a spiritual experience that has the potential to change individuals and society.


So having said all this, when theatre companies come up with their missions (often worded and designed to attract funders, which is totally understandable in the fierce competition for money) who are they serving? Are they serving themselves, the art form, or the audience? In the end does it really matter as long as the work is good? I believe there is room for many possibilities, and don't necessarily think one approach is more valid than the other, but I would be interested to know what others think about this. Or perhaps people don't think about it at all (unless you're a dramaturg) and they just go to the theatre. If you are one of those who has lost sleep at night pondering this issue, write in and get it off your chest so you can have a good night's sleep!

On another note, a shout out to my friend Tony Speciale, who has been named Associate Artistic Director of Classic Stage Company. Congrats Tony! They are currently rehearsing The Tempest starring Mandy Patinkin (and featuring another friend of mine, Nyambi Nyambi- congrats!) and will begin performances on September 3rd. For more info and tix go to www.classicstage.org.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Downtown Space: The Final Frontier

Or more like, the vanishing frontier....

Important Time Out piece on the real estate war being waged on what used to be the affordable downtown performance spaces. Leave it to a banker to remind us:

"A theater is a business, pure and simple,” says David Michonski, the CEO of Coldwell Banker’s commercial division, which handled the Mo Pitkin’s sale. “Unless steps are taken to make sure theaters can survive and prosper—either by public subsidies for their creation or zoning that requires they be part of the urban landscape—they risk being overwhelmed by other businesses.”
Hence the increasing popularity of the Fringe as a venue:
“It’s such a great financial bargain that many indie companies are quite content to produce their new work the Fringe [for a $550 fee] instead of seeking out costlier venues at other times,” [press agent Ron Lasko] says. “When a showcase costs $20,000 to $40,000 to mount, there’s little room for experimentation.”

I may not be blogging. But I'm still reading.

I (Don’t) Hate Theater

by chris mills


Remember my “more later” promise? In my experience, it’s a custom more honor’d in the breach than in the observance, but I’m a good promiser. And so…

Richard Foreman. The downtown director with the most longevity (running cheek by jowl with Mabou Mines’ Lee Breuer), driving the glorious, rickety Ontological-Hysteric truck through the streets, always has a lot to say. On this particular occasion, it was a part of the St. Mark’s Books Reading Series, and (as he has been doing for the last couple of years) Foreman stresses that he is through with theater. It was one of the threads of thought that wove through his conversation with the New Yorker’s Hilton Als (tho if you’ve ever seen RF interviewed, you’ll know that the interviewer is more a prompter for a multi-chapter lecture than an actual interlocutor). Another repeated claim concerned Foreman’s (thirty year) dislike of theater. He asserted repeatedly that his attraction—as a consumer—was always toward other art forms, especially avant-garde film, rather than theater, even though theater was the medium in which he worked. Now that makes sense to you or it doesn’t, and I realize the paradoxical sound of it, but I absolutely understood all he was saying about the lure of other art forms. I understood because my attraction to the other arts links directly to my love of theater. The allure of these forms comes from a desire to imbue theater with all of the rest of art’s possibility as well as its own. Like the Borgesian map of the world—drawn to scale—which encompasses all that is available and as much as possible.

These mental rumblings were prompted as I taught (in the spring) a class on Gertrude Stein and Mac Wellman, for which I was mulling over theater’s unique ability to stretch and fragment the bounds of representation, even as it produces clearly readable worlds. Theater can reconfigure or undo everything—setting, language, character—and still allow everyday behavioral tonalities to function, which in turns ask us to question behavior in the “real” world, our world. Into this pile o’ thinking the Playgoer—the real dude—dropped a Voice article by Alexis Soloski, in which she celebrates the contemporary state of US (esp. downtown NYC) playwriting. She writes about Adam Bock, Rinne Groff, Young Jean Lee, Rob Handel, Jordan Harrison, and Anne Washburn, among others, writing “All of these writers display an interest in the workings of language, its potential for communication and obfuscation…”

Unlike past greats such as Eugene O'Neill, Arthur Miller, and Tennessee Williams, these writers don't emphasize plot or character. Rather, they hew toward another tradition of American drama. This school—which begins with Gertrude Stein, and includes Maria Irene Fornés, Richard Foreman, and more recently David Greenspan and Suzan-Lori Parks—doesn't place primacy on plot or character; instead, it questions the very devices and means by which we create theater.

And, I’d like to add, the way we create life. That might sound aggrandizing, but ritual is the stuff of life. Which leads me to one of my quibbles: while Soloski’s article is insightful and celebratory about these writers, and the experimental use of both language and theater, I’d like to suggest that the experiments are deeply connected to questions more philosophically forceful than theatrical process alone. They are asking how we do or might live in the world, asking, in the true Aristotelian sense: how does one live the good life? Young Jean Lee’s Church does “toy with formal conventions,” but it is also rooted in ethical questions about spirituality and its performance, Jordan Harrison’s Amazons and Their Men wants to know how Leni Reifenstahl could live inside her skin and Jenny Schwartz’ God’s Ear is most profoundly about the consequences of loss. Soloski writes that the play “nearly lost its emotional vigor to its verbal playfulness,” but the verbal play allows the emotional freight of loss to atomize. It plays out over a landscape of verbal tics and Freudian substitutions; it is the emotional medium. The litany of cliché in this piece, as it pulls language from context, reveals the true non-sense of the content. Language lay like a skin—or an abstract expressionist canvas—over the deep roiling emotions of the work. In the play, Schwartz shows language functioning precisely as an ambivalent gift that we give each other…over and over again.

I second Soloski’s celebratory tone, but see the move in contemporary playwriting as cartographic; these writers are making the world more visible, mapping it by making it strange (in Pound’s shadow), so that we might imagine ourselves living in it.

Are there tickets left for Headlong Dance Theater’s Hotel Pool (performed in a pool on Rector Street)? I don’t think so, but the reservation policy is liberal, so people'll cancel at the last nminute and there will be a waiting list…might be worth investigation?

Monday, August 11, 2008

I Can Dream, Can't I?

by Abigail Katz


So, as usual, Charles Isherwood got me thinking, this time about musicals for film and stage. In his article "Singing! Dancing! Adapting! Stumbling!" from this Sunday's Times he considers the successes and failures of Broadway musicals that have been adapted for musicals on the big screen. He concludes that the best film musicals were those that were specifically created for that medium, such as "Singin' in the Rain" (one of my all time favorites, and I guess one of everyone else's too). I would like to add to that list "Gigi," "An American in Paris," "Meet Me in St. Louis" and "All That Jazz." Yes, a couple of these were based on previous underlying material, but adapted as musicals specifically for film.



Of course this isn't what I really wanted to write about in response to Isherwood's article. He also addresses his journey with the musical "Mama Mia!"-from London to Broadway to Vegas to film- and it got me thinking about that bastard child of musical theatre genres- the jukebox musical. I know. Enough has been written about this. No one wants to hear it anymore. But considering this genre has had widely varying degrees of success ("Jersey Boys" and "Mama Mia!" on the blockbuster side, "Good Vibrations" and "All Shook Up" not so much) I thought I would offer some ideas of my own to enrich a formula that is apparently here to stay. So for you creative teams and producers out there, here it goes:


A Bruce Springsteen musical called (what else?) "Born to Run." Admit it, you've been dreaming about it too.


A Pete Seeger musical (a bio-musical if you will, much like "Jersey Boys") called "Waist Deep in the Big Muddy." Because he's Pete Seeger, he's awesome, and he deserves a musical.


A stage adaptation of The Beatles' animated classic "Yellow Submarine." Julie Taymor, are you available?


Another screen to stage adaptation- "What's Love Got to Do With It?" accompanied by a reality TV show to cast Tina Turner.


And what I think is kind of a stroke of genius, "The One Hit Wonder Musical", featuring show-stopping numbers like Toni Basil's "Mickey" (complete with dancing cheerleaders), "Don't Put Another Dime in the Jukebox" (a little jukebox musical humor?) by The Flirts, and the grand finale featuring the greatest one-hit wonder of all time, "Come on Eileen" by Dexy's Midnight Runners.


It's a copyright nightmare, but just think how much fun it would be. If anyone has more suggestions (or is aware of any of the above that are already in the works) please write in. Let's keep the jukebox musical alive!

Blogging We Can Believe In

By Dr. Cashmere

Is Isaac kidding when he writes that he's, "been asked to be a member of Barack Obama's Arts Policy Committee"?

He doesn't seem to be.

But will he press the Democratic nominee on why it's kosher for MTC to ask playwrights for 40% of their future income on scripts the company produces? I hope so.

Do I smell a windfall, er, non-profits tax?

Carded

by Brook Stowe

It begins with postcards. Big, fat pack of them in the mail. And I know it is that time again.

And though the pack is substantial -- maybe around 100 or so cards -- it's still less than half the total number of performers participating. Is it a random sampling, I wonder? Postage considerations? A lot of folks missed the deadline? One of those divine summer mysteries.

And though the mad abandon with which I attacked my first full Fringe Fest here five years ago has been tempered not insignificantly by an inordinate percentage of rampant, rattleheaded silliness and just plain BAD theater each year, hope springs anew with every early August when that pack of postcards arrives.

I like sorting through them. I like to see how each performer(s) represent themselves on a single, double-sided slab of slick, 4x6" card stock. Or not. The Redheaded Man -- to deal from the top of the deck -- offers a rather clinical diagram of a human brain whilst promising a "darkly funny" tale about a man with a "unique mental illness," which actually sounds a lot like my day-to-day life here in Gotham. The Home for Wayward Girls and Fallen Women promises "Thrilling Tassles, Flying Underpants and a Swell Time!" (I know, I know, I was just getting snarky about too much silliness, but done right, with the appropriate lack of good taste and, hey, airborne underwear ... ) The same might be said about The Gay No More Telethon where they aim to "get one thing straight ... YOU!"

Not that there won't be some meat to chew on this year, I hope I hope. Please, God, I hope. Imported from Baghdad by the Bay is Jennifer Jajeh's I Heart Hamas and Other Things I'm Afraid to Tell You and the Raptor Pack's Extraordinary Rendition -- which, from their blurbs and site links, look promising.

Almost all the cards have a URL. Most have a brief blurb. Present Tense Productions (no, not these folks) has neither. No blurb. No URL. Just a guy with red-ribboned blonde pigtails sucking a lollipop and a street address in Brooklyn. Minimalist. And probably my new neighbor.

I like to divide the cards into groups. I have this organizational thing, this earnest if ultimately futile desire to bring some semblance of order to an insistently chaotic world. I look for similarities and contrasts. Personal quirks and eccentricities (I systematically and with extreme prejudice rip all cards threatening "audience participation!" or "you decide the ending!" into toast crumbs lest I wander into my worst nightmare by mistake.) I look for ways I can write about groups of plays in one piece. Similarities. Differences. A glimpse, perhaps, into the way we really live, now.

And it's all underway! Now! And none of the plays and performances I'm either sure to see or already have seen (yes, my beauties, I have already partaken and shall share with you soonsoonsoon) -- none of these were represented in my postcard packet -- for whatever that might be worth -- but ones that were I hadn't yet heard of, ones like Carol Lempert's That Dorothy Parker, Rob Florence's Mirrors of Chartres Street and David Stallings' Anais Nin Goes to Hell, instill a fragile yet ardent desire within me to once again soldier on into the Fringe Binge.

And while I'm on the subject of shameless namedropping, here's a collective thanks to all who responded to my email of last weekend -- or whenever that was -- the one where I asked for suggestions of stuff to write about here. I kept up for awhile with individual thanks, but the response grew so overwhelming, I shrank away into a dark corner and sobbed uncontrollably.

But they were sobs of gratitude, and it didn't go on for too long. So if you sent in some 411 and I haven't gotten back to you, I hope this communal thanks will suffice, and please know I have saved everyone's responses in a "Playgoer" folder, which I am referring to often. August t'ain't all about the Fringe, y'know.

And while I'm on the subject of me, look what finally came my way today. Nine months later. Sheesh, that's time enough to hatch one of these.

Til next ...

Friday, August 08, 2008

Love, Suicide and the Flu




How often do you see Chikamatsu performed these days? Not too. But the wonderful and inventive Lucas Hnath (do you know him? You should!) has been adaptating Love Suicides at the Women’s Temple. The show has taken different forms, but the most recent is advertised as a “SAKE TASTING WITH A SEANCE TO FOLLOW.” How could you say no? Working through the conventions of:

-the work in progress as a form
-the open rehearsal
-the séance
-magic/illusionism/sleight of hand

the show becomes an inspirational look at both theater (in its best, broadest sense) and the ideas that we carry about what—and how far—we can imagine. It’s a bright and fresh piece and I predict you’ll hear more about it, so keep your ears open.

As the nostalgic pangs of autumn begin to tingle, perhaps you’re getting ready to abandon summer blockbusters and snuggle up with some tasty play-reading? Well, then be glad you are reading so that I can write: The Flu Season and other plays. TCG recently assembled three of Will Eno’s plays—The Flu Season, Intermission and Tragedy: A Tragedy—into one great read. It was published at summer’s start, but I just got to it on Wednesday, thanks to an on-it former student (thanks HJS!). Eno’s generous and incisive humor are on display in this collection, together with his love of the small, telling detail. For me, it is the absurd but perfectly sensible turns of phrase that really makes the reading so enjoyable and able to be heard while reading--“Well, we’ll be tossing and turning with you, staying right here on top of things, trying to get to the bottom of all this, to find some lesson leaned...” The plays work within a tight structure that develops a language fluid enough to embrace the illogical reason that underwrites human experience. It’s grand and good and winning.

Last, St. Mark’s Books reading series happily brought together Richard Foreman and Hilton Als at Solas bar last eve. It was quite a talk, more about it later…I hope!

Until then, and as the weekend approaches, follow Will Eno’s advice:
“Quit asking why it’s so dark and be glad it ever got light in the first place…”

Snooze Alarm

by Brook Stowe

My greatest challenge with this guest blogging thing so far has been getting the right font size. Seems all my colleagues have the right font size but me. I guess I just have to be different, no matter how hard I try to conform. Or maybe I missed class that day. The font/size class. In any event, I'm going with Arial Medium this time, which sounds about as conformist as you can get.

A few words today on a show that just closed. As it seems most everyone else writes about shows when they open, I'll write about them when they close, just to be different. OK, not really. But I do want to say a few words about David Ian Lee's Sleeper, which stopped in for a cup of coffee at the Manhattan Theatre Source -- a mere six performances spread over two weeks -- the last of which was Tuesday night.

Sleeper is a mad kaleidoscope of a play, a mirrored reflection of America under Bush II that playwright Lee slams his fist into, then reassembles the jagged shards into a fractured national portrait of self-destruction, profound loss and, yes, even hope. Using the kidnapping of an American civilian in Afghanistan as its core, Sleeper spreads outward in an interconnected web that covers London, New York, Wisconsin, Arizona, Los Angeles and the south of Florida. All upon a playing space the size of a large shoebox.

American plays about America's presence in the Middle East -- especially since the invasion of Iraq in 2003 -- have been popping up for some time now. By and large, they've grabbed either for the immediate, red meat of revulsion (count the times Lynndie England has made an appearance around town), and/or indulged in hand-wringing indignation and binary agitprop (as a play, Betrayed was a great New Yorker article).

What I found extraordinary about Sleeper was playwright Lee's dissection of the effect of Bush's wars on the collective American psyche, his examination not of the headlines, but of the legacy of those headlines -- how we have become a country that is, as one character puts it, "eating itself alive." Moving beyond the self-flagellation of re-enacting specific American atrocities and incompetence, Lee slices open the very viscera of contemporary America, splaying the effect of eight years of treacherous foreign policy across individual lives as disparate yet interconnected as an HMO director in LA, a talk show host in Miami, and jihadists in Jalalabad.

Writing with admirable confidence and a strong grasp of theatricality and language, Lee doesn't pause to explain or instruct. You either know what's going on in the world, or you get left behind. In scope and execution, Sleeper is a journey into Kushner country, and one I'm hoping will find another, much longer run here in town soon.

Back on Monday ...

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Simon Gray

Popular 70s & 80s British playwright Simon Gray (Butley, The Common Pursuit) has died. He was 71.

Billington assesses, here.

One way I recommend remembering him is reading of his least flattering works--his brief memoir, Fat Chance, an unabashed rant against actor Stephen Fry for suddenly and weirdly walking away from a hit play of his mid-run. (Hint: the title's an insult.) Cruel, yes. (Fry was apparently suffering suicidal depression.) But every playwright who's ever felt at the mercy of his or her collaborators will sympathize at some point.

More News, Osagely

by chris mills

File Under: It Hadda Happen...

from the Times:
The award-winning Broadway play “August: Osage County” will become a movie, Playbill has reported. The film will be produced by Jean Doumanian Productions and the president of Jam Theatricals, Steve Traxler, lead producers of the play. The play's other two lead producers, Jeffrey Richards and Jerry Frankel, will be executive producers on the film version. Mr. Letts will write the screenplay.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Katzeye Report

by Abigail Katz


There's been lots going on in the theatre world this last week- some big news, some activities that might not make it onto many people's radar.  Of the latter- MCC Youth Company's Fresh Play Festival, taking place at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater at Playwrights Horizons.  The Youth Company is a fantastic opportunity for young playwrights and actors to develop their skills and present their work.  Established artists such as Lucy Thurber, Jackson Gay, Stephen DiMenna, Courtney Baron, Maria Goyanes and Donya Washington work with these talented up and comers who are the next generation of American theatre.  I attended last night's performance and I must say I was very impressed with the writing and acting.  This youth theatre is a brave one indeed that encourages its artists to take risks.  You have three more opportunities to catch the festival, Thursday-Saturday at 7pm.  Call 212-727-7722 for reservations.  It's only $10!

Atlantic's Loss is The Public's Gain
Yes, the Playgoer broke the big news- Andy Hamingson will be leaving Atlantic Theater Company to replace Mara Manus as Executive Director of The Public Theater.   I have been wondering who would be filling this position since Manus announced her departure. Hamingson saw the Atlantic through a period of enormous expansion that included a new second stage on 16th Street, the Broadway transfer of Spring Awakening, and the preparation for the badly needed renovation of the Linda Gross Theater on 20th Street.  I have no doubt he will be a great partner to Public Theater Artistic Director Oskar Eustis.   It's certainly a loss for the Atlantic, but he's leaving the Chelsea based company in better condition than when he entered it.

Brigadoomed
Much was made of the announcement that the upcoming Broadway revival of Brigadoon had cancelled its out of town dates and that its appearance on the Great White Way for the '08-'09 season would be "postponed" due to "lack of an appropriate Broadway theatre."  Now I like Brigadoon as much as the next person, but was anyone really waiting with great anticipation for this production?  Even with Rob Ashford choreographing and directing? (I happen to be a big fan of his work.) And as for "lack of an appropriate theatre," I heard through the grapevine that the real reason for the "postponement" was because the show would face enormous competition from major commercial productions like Shrek, and furthermore, there were no stars attached to the Lerner and Loewe classic.  But let's be honest, in the current climate of rock musicals aimed at the younger crowd and the slew of screen-to-stage adaptations, would a commercial production of Brigadoon stand a chance? Wouldn't it fare better at theatre like Lincoln Center? Just think how gorgeous the wedding scene would look on the stage of the Vivian Beaumont. OK, I know the venue won't be available for like ever, but I'm just saying...

That's it for now. Until Monday.

Just In: Public names new Exec Director

Looks like the Public just poached the Atlantic's top manager. Andrew Hamingson will move into Mara Manus' old job, working alongside Oskar Eustis.

Back to you, garrulous guest bloggers!

McCarthy Again

By Dr. Cashmere

We're big Paul McCarthy fans in the Cashmere household. So, at the risk of diverting the blog further from its theatre focus, I wanted to second Chris' post.

Of course, McCarthy isn't really off-topic: As Chris suggests, he brings a wonderfully theatrical sensibility to his art. His videos, especially, tap into the spirit of a certain kind of experimental theatre.

Consider:



Richard Foreman after one too many afternoons watching cartoons, maybe?

In any event, footage of what looks to be the Bang Bang Room discussed by Chris can be found here.

If A Bell Rings In A Forest...

By Dr. Cashmere

Abigail brings up the subject of the Broadway imprimatur, and what it even means anymore.

Whatever else it means, I'd venture this: I bet no one was signing up the [title of show] cast to ring the opening bell at NASDAQ when the musical was playing off-Broadway.

On the other hand, I always thought NASDAQ was invisible. Or ethereal. Or something. So maybe off-Broadway gets the last laugh.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Anon is Now (Or, Terrible Raging Joy)



by chris mills

And I said, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, what a feeling…”

Friends (and enemies, too, who knows who’s reading?), I feel remiss, already on my very first guest blogger day, that I did not provide you with Berlin’s possibility until the last day it was playing. It was worth the trip and also provided, to return to the ‘live or memorex’ thread, the one feeling that good documentation of live events almost always evokes in me: regret. Regret that I wasn’t there watching the high-wire, the real McCoy, the goods get made, y’know? When you’re all there in the room. Rehearsal is one thing, but this moment, the moment when audience meets stage picture, and everyone’s breathing the same damn air…well, that’s somethin’ else.

The joy available for rent at Film Forum today brought that home viscerally. Because it was not the lyrics for, though I love me some Reed, it is not always dramaturgical drive that draws one to the Lou. There were, of course, the guitars—o man, meaty tones and long, dirty, muscled grindings of layering sound. There was the thrumming undercurrent of Tony Thunder Smith, drumming us into the sound and holding us hostage—whether through joyous pounding or, especially in one instance, with a tinkling high hat to set a pace for Reed to lyrically bounce around in. And there was the delectable Schnabelian (o yeah) stage design and cinematic labor that filled the screen with layers of abstracted and impressionistic imagery. Faces and seashores and birds on the wing that underwrote and/or sometimes undercut the actual stage picture—a mise en scene of 15 aging makers together and in sync. All of these aspects were swingingly in place.

But, gentles, it was more. Because the film offered the full throttle (if mediated) experience of a large group of people at the top of their game, and in love with what they were, at that very moment, making together. It sang. Those players played through a kind of terrible, raging joy that felt like art. Or like life when lived well. And Reed, at the center, was director and lead, patriarch and ingénue, lover and beloved. His tiny head movements and finger flicks read like novels to the folks on stage and they followed him like colts. Not since I saw George Clinton—when P-Funk were at their glorious height (with Bootsie Collins on stage in full bridal regalia, only to strip down, by show’s end to a gleaming man diaper) and there were at least 20 musicians on stage following the minute movements of Clinton’s shoulder rolls, winks and guitar tics—have I seen one performer so confident and in control of the stage and its nuances. And yet, he’s also thrilled to watch.

The amazing Antony, of “and the Johnsons” fame, sings the first encore number, “Candy Says” (as part of a slightly predictable, yet still dazzling, trio that also included “Rock Minuet” and “Sweet Jane”), and Reed watches his inimitable style. Antony’s face wheels through expressions while his hands buttterfly the air, discomfort and delight at battle and he seems a fleshly cherub to Reed’s rail stiff, almost expressionless, Marlboro man. But Reed has some expression up his sleeve. As the song ends, Schnabel closes in on his face as he looks to Antony—to check in, “are we done?”—and a look of pure admiration crosses his countenance like light. Antony’s performance has clearly moved him and it’s a dark heart that isn’t moved by the raw delivery of emotion. We see Reed see Antony and the vision is lovely.

So when you dance hard, slow dancing
when you dance hard, slow dancing
When you dance hard, slow dancing
when you dance to the rock minuet.

So, look for the film, and be filled with regret.
And on Friday, I promise, there will be some theater to discuss!

Rambling Towards Bethlehem


by chris mills

Hello Playgoer Reader and welcome to the Tuesday & Friday leg of your guest blogger sojourn. While we shall miss the stylings of the real Playgoer, we may be able to suffer through together.

While I love theater and plays proper, I’ll also be thinking aloud about some things adjacent as well, though I’ll try to limit the rambling. The two things that I adore as much as good live performance, but will try to not write to much about are:

-Food, though this will be difficult (as I’d love to discuss the quite nice zucchini-ricotta pie made recently from my Brooklyn-roof grown zuchs)(Or if you know a good place to get preserved radicchio locally, I’d love to hear…).

-My bike, even though the joy of riding around this city in summer really often feels boundless—breezy, people-watch-y, healthy and free—the best summer theater ever! For instance, yesterday, around 5, I caught whiff of celery being sautéed in butter. Unmingled with onion. Or garlic. Just green, bright butter and celery for no reason, there on 10th Street. I had to stop and sniff, and mention to a passerby who also seemed olfactorily satisfied with the wee sniffy gem. I was on my way to see Lou Reed’s Berlin which I’m sure many of you know is Julian Schnabel’s documentation of the rock opera that Reed wrote in ’73, which tanked and then was never performed entirely again…until now (dum dum dummm). Perhaps some of you saw the performance at St. Ann’s Warehouse? I was, however, misled by a friend on a goose-chase to hunt up Schnabel’s crazy, grand, faux-palazzo, since it was such a lovely evening…and so, more on Berlin anon. (If you’re interested GO TODAY, as it is the last day…Then we can fire up that old chainsaw of the live vs. the documentation for fun!)

The true, theater-adjacent subject of this post (for we are at last headed there) is Paul McCarthy. For what I urge you to see is not a play (for mayhaps you need no urging?), but rather a terrific installation at the Whitney, entitled Central Symmetrical Rotation Movement: Three Installations, Two Films. Now, you will be delightfully lucky because the price of admit also includes the spectacular Buckminster Fuller show—the reason we’ve been lucky enough to hear his ideas bandied about so much this spring/summer. So give yourself some time for the Dymaxion car, of course. But, there, on the second floor, is another real delight.

Curatorially linked to the Fuller show, but much more emotionally resonant, this grouping of McCarthy’s work combines new, old and previously conceived but never before realized, work. What will pull you, if you’re at all like me, immediately into the show, is one of the most troublingly evocative sounds ever: the slamming door. The largest component of the show (aside from the installed mirror wall, which bisects the space and really provides a vertiginous, fun-house feel to the proceedings), Bang Bang Room (1992) involves a room, briefly put, that opens and closes. Imagine a smallish room, whose walls all hinge open, and close, like gull wings. When in motion, you can stand on the “floor” of the room and watch the walls close in on you or stand outside and watch the folks inside disappear and be surrounded by room (go here for images). But before the piece begins its claustrophobic shape shifting, four doors, one in each wall/wing, begin to madly slam. The sound refuses to be ignored and is full of childhood fears, lovers’ spats, tearful exits and desire for solitude.

The theater of this work (something I’d mention even if not at the Playgoer...) performs in exactly the way I admire: it presents a clear economy of idea and feeling, with the least amount of pretense or unnecessary obfuscation (even if the concept concerns the ways things and people are obscured and unearthed within the domestic sphere). If you don’t know McCarthy’s work, you mightn’t realize that his other domestic investigations are often more viscous (with gallons of functioning fluids) in their material and perhaps more heavy-handed—though still very powerful—in their imagery. But this show’s architectural precision and conceptual clarity link it forcefully to the history of McCarthy’s investigations and make it worth the trip uptown.

Sorry so lengthy—but hey, I had to introduce my peripatetic self. More on Friday...or perhaps sooner....

Monday, August 04, 2008

What Does "Broadway" Mean Anyway?

by Abigail Katz

So I had the pleasure of seeing [title of show] last week, a delightful, clever little musical that began in the New York Musical Theatre Festival and made it all the way to Broadway. Now I'll admit that I paid considerably less than full price for my ticket, but while I was watching the show, I thought to myself, "would I pay $100 or more to see this show?" To be completely honest, I wouldn't. I would pay $50, but not $100. Then I had to ask myself why. Does the fact that the show is on Broadway somehow create a different set of expectations that tells me I better get my $100 worth? Is a thoroughly entertaining experience enough? Does it matter that it has a cast of only four (plus the keyboardist) with a simple set and the same costumes throughout the show? This led me to consider the question that many people are asking these days, what does "Broadway" mean?

Many audience members want spectacle, stars, lavish sets and intricate costumes for their $100-$121.50 (if you're sitting in the orchestra or front mezzanine.) For others they look for the highest level of artistry with a good dose of gravitas- AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY if you will. Still others want a safe bet with a classic, and we've certainly had our share this season with outstanding productions of SOUTH PACIFIC, GYPSY, and SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE (although I have yet to cough up the cash for SOUTH PACIFIC, so I'm going with the buzz on that one.)


Having said all that, after my [title of show] experience I realized that I really needed to reconsider what I expect from a Broadway show. The landscape is certainly changing and becoming more adventurous, but does that mean anything goes? (sorry no musical theatre pun intended). One of my favorite shows this past season (and one of the best I've seen in quite some time) was PASSING STRANGE, hardly your typical Broadway show. It's too bad that audiences didn't quite embrace that show as they did SPRING AWAKENING and IN THE HEIGHTS, but it does show a willingness on the part of producers to take some risks.

[title of show] doesn't have a large band, a rockin' (or rappin') score, or large dance numbers with phenomenal choreography. Perhaps it's that "large" feeling that made me feel it was better suited for a smaller Off-Broadway theatre. But the show does have heart, and that's a big selling point. Much like the dancers in A CHORUS LINE, these characters are after the dream. A dancer/actress friend of mine said she cried during a good part of the show for that very reason (but have no fear for those who haven't seen it- the show is funny!) So it remains to be seen if audiences will buy (literally) into the dream and make [title of show] a commercial success, regardless of the insider nature of the show and the small scale feel. One thing is for certain, you can't help but root for these guys!

On another note, I also saw THURGOOD this last week- it has only one character (OK it is Laurence Fishburne, and he's a star) one set, and no music. I would have paid $100 for it. Go see his amazing performance before the show closes August 17th!

And Another One Gone

By Dr. Cashmere

Looks like Manhattan is losing another theatre space:

The 29th Street Rep, the Off-Off Broadway company where "brutal theatre lives," has lost its Manhattan theatre space.

In a letter to friends and fans...29th Street Rep artistic director David Mogentale cites building violations and the cost of updating and legalizing them as the determining factor in the departure from the company's current home at 212 West 29th Street.

The company will...now be forced to produce all upcoming productions at venues across the city.

Dog Days Dude

by Brook Stowe

Greetings, Playgoer Faithful.


Yes, the vacation help has arrived. Or, at least, one quarter of it. When Garrett asked me if I would like to help fill some space here for the month of August whilst he takes some well-deserved R&R, the offer fit oh so very well with my own sincere if oft-delayed desire to reconnect with the NYC theater experience. Not that I've become disconnected, really, just kind of ... predictable. Like a mad, bed-demolishing love affair that, over the years, has become propped against bedrests, watching Mad Men instead.

August marks my sixth year here in NYC, and those early years were just wall-to-wall with the constant wonder of discovery. Of the City. Of all the new theaters. And festivals. And writers. And actors. And the rush of the street when a show let out and suddenly you're in the middle of it


turn me out
and i'll wander baby
stumbling in the neon glow

the vibe -- the constant throb of just being here that made every subway ride an adventure of discovery of the various levels and interactions of this great tangled mass of humanity.

Somewhere along the line I lost the wonder. Not intentionally -- it just slipped away, like a small child you let go of for a moment on a crowded street. Somewhere along the line, subway trips became grim journeys of necessity, with force fields of obliviousness routinely activated before descending into the reeking caverns of aggravation and delay.

I don't know exactly when I lost it, but I do know I want to get it back. I want to try to get it back. And, thanks to Mr. Eisler's generosity, that's what I hope to do here in this space during these dog days of August.

All the little details ...

Yeah. Where the devil lives.

As to how all this might manifest itself and the degree of success I may have in recapturing something that perhaps is meant to occur but once ... I really have no idea. Above and beyond that, I have no idea what I will be writing about here twice a week, other than it will have something to do with theater here in NYC, or at least "the life of the drama," however I may interpret that at any given moment. Yes, Playgoer faithful! I stand before you naked and quivering with blogolicious anticipation, doubtlessly riddled with grammatical and spelling errors, yet sincere in my attempt to bring something worthy to these most worthy pages.

What that is, I dunno yet. But it's really about getting there. Together.

Right?

See you Friday.

Introducing...The Guest Bloggers!

Dearest Readers,

After three years-plus of more or less consistent daily blogging, I have decided it's time to take a serious break. Actually, the need is not for relaxation but for time to deal with a couple of big events in my off-line life. In a couple of weeks I face the daunting "Second Exam" in my Theatre PhD program at the CUNY Grad Center. Then, at the end of September, I'm getting married! Yes, there is a Playgoerette. (And you should buy her poetry anthology in the right margin here.)

But what better opportunity, I thought, than now to turn these virtual pages over to some of my smart and gifted theatre-loving friends and colleagues who have not yet had a web presence but have tons of interesting things to say about the artform. AND who have perspectives totally different from mine!

So, without further ado, for the month of August, please enjoy the blogging stylings of...

  • Abigail Katz: Dramaturg and Literary Associate for the award winning downtown theatre company, The Civilians, and a graduate of Columbia's MFA program in dramaturgy.
  • Chris Mills: Editor, dramaturg with Theater Mitu, and teacher at NYU.
  • Brook Stowe: Editor of the New York Theater Review and the initial founding director of the New York Theater Project, Inc.
  • ...and last but not least, frequent Playgoer commenter Dr. Cashmere, who prefers to be identified as "a theatre artist living in the New York area."
So I will just be sitting back and enjoying these four horsemen (and women) of the Playgoer Apocalypse with everyone else. No editing, no screening. The opinions expressed from now on do not necessarily reflect the official positions of Playgoer or Playgoer, inc. And I can't wait!

Sure, I may butt in from time to time in Comments, or even make a post here or there when the spirit (and the news) moves me. And I will still be reading all comments as well as my email at playgoer [at] gmail [dot] com. So feel free to contact me as usual. I will return for a bit after Labor Day, and then probably hand the reigns over to some new guests for September.

But otherwise, I am now officially on hiatus. I hereby hand over the keys to these brave four. Please welcome them and show them every courtesy you have to me. Scratch that--be nice!

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Poster of the Day

O'Neill's The Emperor Jones. 1926 Broadway production.

(Artist: Lew Parrish, of the Provincetown Players.)

The Emperor Jones
The Emperor Jones

Friday, August 01, 2008

Philip Weiss revisits NYTW

I've been meaning for a while to call attention to Philip Weiss's moving post back in June about attending an event at New York Theatre Workshop honoring the Palestinian youth organization, the Jenin Freedom Theatre.

Weiss wrote the definitive Rachel Corrie article back in '06 when that storm was brewing around NYTW. But now he has kind words for them.

The directors of the NYTW had invited the Jenin Freedom Theatre to reach out to the New York theater community for help—for drama teachers, singing teachers, speech coaches, writers, anything, to keep that theater in the refugee camp going...

I am writing with explosive feeling. That is because of where this appeal took place. In the New York Theatre Workshop, which censored the Rachel Corrie play two years ago. NYTW was ripped apart by that event. At that time I had no sympathy for the theater company. It was obvious that some one or other on the board had found the play objectionable and had overruled the artistic director, Jim Nicola, and so the case was seized upon, in the New York Times, in the Nation (where I wrote about it), and on playgoer. [Oy! -ed.] It was a shock: a live demonstration in New York of censorship that has since become a common occurrence inside the Jewish community.

Well the other night at the NYTW, hosting this Arab theater group they have met and worked with many times, there were two of the enemies. Jim Nicola wearing a green Ocracoke café tshirt, a big sweet warm man. And Linda Chapman, a skinny vigorous woman who buzzed from one guest to another welcoming them. I understood that this outreach is not some sudden or forced motion of their hearts. The New York Theatre Workshop has been active on the Arab-Israeli problem for years now, and it fulfills them to give a platform to Mervat Aiash, to talk about cultural revolution in Palestine....

The world has come a long way since Rachel Corrie was censored (though it happened again and again, in other cities). NYTW has instead of backing down in a climate of fear and censorship, doubled down. Its staff has brought in Nibras, the Arab-American theater company, and staged several Palestinian voices....

This is difficult terrain, Linda Chapman told me. She felt caught up in a media drama two years ago. As a journalist I know how easy it is to paint people as enemies. This doesn’t help.

I may take issue with whether the New York theatre world at large has indeed "come a long way" since '06 in dealing openly with the Arab-Israeli conflict. But I certainly would not begrudge NYTW's efforts since then to make amends and/or rectify the impression they gave back then. I know I didn't make any friends there either during those days, nor do I expect to now. But, basically...yeah, what Phil said.