The Playgoer: May 2007

Custom Search

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Deep Thoughts

...for playwrights.

New Dramatists Dramatists' Guild Exec. Dir. Gary Garrison, via blogger Patrick Gabridge

1. Be aware of your own strengths as a writer (we're all well aware of our own weaknesses).

2. Beware of jealousy that comes from comparing yourself to peers who are at different places in their careers from you. You need to set your own milestones.

3. Find a theatre hero, a playwright whom you admire. Read all of her work and all about her, so that you really have someone that you know in depth and can use as inspiration.

4. Don't expect your loved ones to read your mind, in terms of supporting you and your art. Let them know how to best support you.

5. Stop trying to get an agent. When you need one, they'll come to you.

6. No one asked you to be a writer.

Correction: I meant Dramatists Guild, not New Dramatists.

Raw Numbers

The League of American Theaters and Producers (aka the B'way Lobby) released its annual season report this week. You're going to hear (and are already hearing) lots of headlines about "best season ever." (What, again?) Indeed, when you start selling $500 "premium seats" it certainly does wonder for those "all time grosses," don't it?

Sounds like good news when they say

Thirty-five new productions opened on Broadway during 2006-2007, including 12 new musicals, 11 new plays, 5 musical revivals, and 7 play revivals.
But then, let's not forget 17 of those 35 (yes, half) either played or originated at nonprofit companies (including in the UK). Perusing the included list also reveals that a majority of the 35 (by my count) either tanked or are tanking.

And as Crain's pointed out in their summary:
Twenty years ago, it took a Broadway show an average of 30 weeks to recoup its investments. Now the average is closer to 2 years.
Meanwhile, I can't help noticing the comic irony in the latest BO receipts showing "Jersey Boys" still selling at over 100% capacity at the "August Wilson Theatre," while August Wilson's "Radio Golf" down the street at the Cort is barely holding at 50%.

Such is the way we honor our great playwrights, I suppose...

Live Nude Blogging

As in exposed, of course...

So if you're in or around Williamsburg this Sunday night and have always wondered what people typing at computer keyboards looks like, please come to the Brick Theatre for their "Impending Theatrical Blogging Event." Yes, for some crazy reason, the Brick has invited yours truly and a bevy of boisterous bloggers to sit and do our thing in front of a live audience.

And with your help, there just may be a live audience.

One can only pray alcohol will be involved.

And it's free! Or a $2 reservation fee on Theatermania, if you wanna be extra, extra sure you beat out the massive throng that will no doubt turn out.

The Brick is at: 575 Metropolitan Avenue, btw Union Ave. and Lorimer. It's an "intimate venue."

I have no idea what we'll be blogging about. I understand there will be one big screen and audience members will be invited to chime in.

Of course, there's already blog for the event. So if you can't (or just don't want to!) come Sunday, bookmark that site and--voila--you can play along with the home version. This site will be what we're blogging on I'm assuming.

Why do I feel this is someone's secret plan to get all the theatre bloggers in a room and eliminate us?

In thanks to the Brick, let me plug their current Pretentious Festival, of which this event--not surprisingly--is a part. They have a blog, too!

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

"Special" Events

Arts institutions who assume they need bloated development departments that plan more events than the mainstage may want to check out arts-management blogger Andrew Taylor and the report he's found on "special events." Money quote from the report:

On average, the charities we studied spent $1.33 to raise $1 in special events contributions, compared to an average overall fundraising rate of $.13 to raise $1. Only 15% of the charities that held special events were more efficient when using special events to fundraise than they were in their regular fundraising activities on the whole.
Adds Taylor:

To make matters worse, the reported costs used in the study (from IRS tax documents) don't include the person-hours, board time, volunteer effort, and staff distraction that such events require -- suggesting the true cost of each dollar raised is much, much higher.

Of course that won't stop jaw-droppers like this.

(As for those raffle prizes, are they sure they want to prompt the question: what does American Idol and New York Theatre Workshop have in common?)


Quote of the Day

"One of the 7,000 producers of 'Spring Awakening' jokes that when the show is named Best Musical at the Tonys on June 10, 'The entire orchestra section of Radio City Musical Hall is going to come onstage to accept the award.' "

-Michael Riedel, offering a different kind of Tony prediction.

(No need to read the whole column today, unless you're interested in the tryout of Pete Townshend's new musical.)

REVIEW: Karol Wojtyla's "The Jeweler's Shop"

In today's Voice, my review of a play by Pope John Paul II, in a previous life.

Ok, I wasn't impressed. But it's certainly an interesting footnote--to both religious and Polish modern drama. A couple of analyses I've read liken the sensibility here--if not the poetic gifts--to Eliot's, and there's something to that. It's part of a 3-play festival of Wojtyla's plays at the Storm Theatre, in midtown.

And now--sorry, but I must--the top 5 lines that did not make it into my review of the Pope Play:

5) Kiss the ring! (see"Jeweler's Shop")
4) Even Sophocles became a priest of Asclepius, the god of healing, of course. (True)
3) "Sometimes human existence seems too short for love," says one character. Yeah, and yet not short enough to spare me this play!
2) The lovers' first scene recounting how they met may seem like some 1930's Catholic E-Harmony ad, but...
1) This Pope-Mobile ain't goin' nowhere.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The Olivier Centennial

Olivier backstage:Titus Andronicus, 1955 (Directed by Peter Brook).

The Guardian celebrates Larry at 100 with a nice photo spread and some powerful testimonials, such as that from Michael Billington:
As man and actor, Olivier was obviously not without flaws; he was fiercely jealous of his pre-eminent status and, when tired, could lapse into a tenor bark. But, to those who never had the luck to see him on stage, I would warn against the facile temptation of dismissing him as the supreme ham. Acting inevitably changes with each generation. Olivier is still the benchmark for his combination of intuitive intelligence and outrageous physical daring...
One of Billington's main points is that since Olivier effectively retired from the stage in the early 70s, an entire generation now has only seen him on film.

Check out this story from another tribute. It's a story I've heard before, about Olivier doing "Long Day's Journey" (a performance now on DVD) toward the end of his stage career:
The Guv'nor, as Olivier was sometimes called, was not a man to avoid taking physical risks in the pursuit of theatrical magic. In O'Neill's text, there is a moment when the father (played by Olivier) "gets heavily and a bit waveringly to his feet, climbs up onto the table and gropes uncertainly for the lightbulbs ... he turns out the third bulb and sits down again heavily".

Pretty straightforward - just an ordinary stage direction. Not for Olivier.

He mounted the table with some difficulty and slowly unscrewed the bulbs, burning his fingers quite painfully. Then he looked for a way to get down. Eventually he decided on a route and moved backwards to the edge of the table. Once there he started to totter, so he steadied himself by bending forward to place his forefingers on the tops of two whisky bottles. How was he to extricate himself from this impossible position without either stopping the play, injuring himself or both?

With a mighty effort, he rose from the bottletops and tried to steady himself. Just as one could bear the suspense no longer, he stepped back, launched himself into mid-air, and landed with a backward run of three or four steps to regain his balance. At every performance the audience responded with gasps of relief, involuntary laughter and spontaneous applause.

But it very nearly wasn't so. In one rehearsal, the moment came for him to do the table business. The first part went well enough, but when it came to the backward recovery, a chair was directly in his path. Olivier went right over the top of it and somersaulted across the room, his momentum halted by his head coming into contact with a desk at the far right of the rehearsal space. He lay under the desk, deathly still. For a full 10 seconds, nobody moved.

Finally he stirred and the stage manager, Richard Mangan, ventured over. To our earnest enquires - "Are you all right, sir? How about some tea, sir? How about a brandy? How about both?" - there came no reply. After a pause, Olivier stirred and requested that Richard be so kind as to go to his office and look in the second drawer down on the left, where he would find a spare pair of spectacles.

As Richard hurried away, we noticed that Olivier's glasses were smashed and there appeared to be blood spattered about his nose and temple. Michael Blakemore suggesting that rehearsals cease, and that Larry take the rest of the afternoon off so that further medical attention could be arranged. Olivier was 64 years old and only recently recovered from a crippling thrombosis.

But, before there was any time to reply, Richard had returned with the glasses. Olivier put them on, remounted the table and went through the entire sequence again, this time perfectly executed. It was as fine a display of courage, professionalism and leadership as I've come across - and wholly typical of the kind of man he was.

Yes, it's a bit bravura. But not a bad way of dramatizing the irrational desperation of James Tyrone's penny-pinching.

Hopefully we can retire the Olivier=ham cliche that keeps resurfacing. Like all great actors, he had some outings not as well judged or as inspired as others. And despite some great, great film performances (from the easy charm of the early Divorce of Lady X to the middle-aged bitterness of Carrie to, yes, even that crazy old Nazi in Marathon Man!) maybe film was not his natural medium. And like many greats, he did some roles for the money. (Ahem, Clash of the Titans.)

But it essential to understanding him as a stage actor that more than anything he sought to actually overturn the rhetorical tradition of 19th century acting with an aggressively physical and psychological approach (whether or not you call it "method") that profoundly influenced the generation of classical stage actors that came after him.

If you're curious, his complete filmography is here.

South Coast Rep

Steven Morris has an interesting and critical behind-the-scenes piece in LA Weekly on that "swap meet" hub of new plays, South Coast Rep. It is indeed--along with Louisville's Humana Festival and the O'Neill Center--one of the elite generators of all the new plays you're likely to see headlining at the nonprofit theatres in the seasons to come.

Here's a succinct conclusion that is, alas, not unsurprising: "This festival underscores how the American theater in general employs a small circle of writers endorsed by 'the network,' writers who are well entrenched in the national pipeline."

Among the many cases he examines of the pros and cons of the complexities of playwright commissions at SCR, I found myself most perturbed by this whittling down of Donald Margulies' ambitious sounding new piece:

Donald Margulies based his play Shipwrecked! The Amazing Adventures of Louis de Rougemont (As Told by Himself) — An Entertainment on a turn-of-the-century controversy surrounding a Swiss storyteller who chronicled his three-decade travel adventures in a British periodical. His saga, which took him to the Australian outback, included being marooned on a Pacific island and marrying an Aborigine, with vivid descriptions of his riding on the backs of sea turtles and of “flying wombats.” Such details aroused suspicions at the Royal Geographical Society and led to his saga being discredited as a hoax.

The play was originally commissioned as a children’s story, but after it was first submitted, the theater decided that because of its sophistication, it shouldn't be so boxed in. Originally written for 12 actors, it was presented with nine in an earlier workshop. For the current festival, it was carved down to three. Two weeks earlier, director Bart DeLorenzo had told me that the plan was to read it with two actors, but in the intervening days, that strategy obviously proved unworkable.
Uh, "unworkable"? I'll say.

Morris then asks: "Were these changes made for the integrity of the play, or for the expedience of making the play economically viable to stage in multiple markets?" We hear often, don't we, of the compromise most American playwrights have to make from the beginning on this simple issue of cast size. Yes, we've seen all kinds of ingenious and creative "solutions"--from Paula Vogel's shape-shifting ensemble players to Doug Wright's complete restructuring of I Am My Own Wife once he found a chameleon star in Jefferson Mays. But these cases of "virtue out of a necessity" should not let our theatres off the hook. The sad truth is playwrights are constantly getting the message "think small, not big."

As for a theatre company injecting its budget and marketing concerns at even the early stages of the development process, Morris argues,
Perhaps what the theater needs is a standard of ethics similar to that used by newspapers to protect their integrity — a firewall between the publishing side, with its interests in marketing, and the editorial camp. What’s happening in these theaters is similar to a newspaper publisher stepping in — with the newspaper chain in mind — and consulting on the content of articles before they’re even completed. In newspapers, this would be considered an outrageous intrusion upon editorial liberty. Obviously, marketing interests still have subtle influences over the content of newspapers, but imagine what it would be like if that firewall were removed.
Looking to newspapers for ethics? My God man, has it come to that!

Paper Mill lives... but for what?

Yes, we were glad about the little regional theatre that could.

But on second thought...

The financially troubled Paper Mill Playhouse is in talks to present the musical Happy Days, based on the 1970s TV sitcom set in the 1950s....

The show would jibe with a new dedication to broad-based family shows that Paper Mill brass have indicated is a key to their future as a nonprofit.
Yes, their future as a nonprofit is to house tax-free tryouts for Garry Marshall (who is indeed directing).

Maybe we should redistribute those emergency bank loans to some other suffering NJ theatres?

Saturday, May 26, 2007

"Coram Boy" closing

"Coram Boy": Best Dead Baby Musical?
photo: Joan Marcus

Another British import bites the dust this weekend. The National Theatre's "Coram Boy" closes tomorrow, Sunday.



My own reaction to the show was peculiarly mixed. On one hand, as an admitted theatrical anglophile I found myself transported to some of that epic Trevor Nunn-"Nicholas Nickleby" spirit that stirred me as a teen playgoer. It's Nunn-lite, definitely, but some bold master strokes create a stage magic not to be found anywhere else in NY at the moment. (There's an underwater sequence in Act II that people who've seen it know what I mean.) Also the cast of 40 and the live bewigged pit musicians give everything a refreshing side.



Then again, I found the first act totally baffling and preposterous. And the script annoyingly thin. By which I mean, as a literary adaptation, it takes the frustrating approach of just skimming the surface of an elaborate plot and only giving us enough dialogue to jump from one episode to the next--as opposed to showing us a little first about who these characters are and why we should care. (It doesn't surprise me the adaptation of this UK Young Adult novel is by Helen Edmundson of the Shared Experience company--whose "Passage to Inida" I saw at BAM a few years ago did the same rush job with a much meatier book.) So as the first act speeds through every little thing that happens in the story--with way too many inconsequential characters--it can be rough going. But Act II surprisingly gains some focus, zooms in on the few personages who count, and the direction goes for depth over breadth.



Other highlights include the music--not just, as you might have been told Handel highlights es but an ingenious morphing of Messiah passages by composer Adrian Sutton. His extended Act I finale sequence of a minor-key "Unto Us a Child is Born" (as if the Satanists had co-opted the oratorio for the Antichrist) is the perfect ghoulish accompaniment to a curtain image of dead baby skeletons and swinging corpses from the gallows. (Yes, such is one of the many moments you may find yourself wondering aloud, "And who thought this would make a boffo Broadway musical???")



Also, the cast is pretty consistently strong--especially Bill Camp and Jan Maxwell, reminding us that in any country they would be celebrated classical actors instead of what the Broadway audience calls, "who?" Then again, I found Brad Fleischer's grating stage-retard "Meshak" an awful miscalculation of a performance--one I blame equally if not more so on director Melly Still--aiming for the poignant simplicity of Nickleby's Smike but resulting more in a road production of "Boys Next Door." Too bad since the character is supposed to be pivotal.



The disparate reactions to "Coram Boy" have been fascinating. It was huge in London--both at the National and the West End. But then Charles Isherwood summed up some of the problems of cultural translations by leading his unimpressed review with the blunt question: "What the heck is a 'Coram Boy'?" Pretty snide, eh? Still, he puts his finger on the mystery of why the producer's assumed a modest show with a strange title with no stars--not to mention huge overhead expenses--would last a week in today's Broadway market.



The show's had its champions here, too, though, like David Cote who signed off, "It’s enough to turn you into a wonder-struck kid all over again."



Another element of interest to me about the product is what National Theatre A.D. Nicholas Hytner has said about its genesis there in the first place--namely as a follow up their also-successful (and far more interesting sounding) epic adaptation of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials. (A show unfortunately not planning on coming here.) Hytner believes the "Young Adult" genre is a rich resource untapped by theatre snobs--mainly for cashing in on our stated wishes to attract younger audiences. Says Hytner:

As soon as we put His Dark Materials on stage, we could see there was a huge demand for this stuff. It wasn't being done. So, finding those stories for that audience that takes its parents, rather than vice-versa, was what I was really keen on.
Interesting phrase that, isn't it? "The audience that takes its parents." Or, young audience we should say. Not bringing grandpa to snore through Act II in his 3rd row aisle seat.



So what can I recommend about it? Well, I'm sure cheap tix abound. And if you're stuck in the city this holiday weekend, and you're interested in literary adaptation or epic staging, it may well be worth your while to check out. Even as a lesson in what to and not to do. The direction-design does definitely offer some visual treats for the patient. I would have wished for even more of an eyeful and earful. But in today's impoverished Broadway, I'll take what I can get.



(And sadly, where else can you see a cast of 40 with live music and a turntable stage than on Broadway.)

Friday, May 25, 2007

Friday Roundup

Sorry for the late posting today. I'm off to a good lazy start this Memorial Day weekend.

But it won't be a blogging-free weekend so keep tuning in, if you're not blog-free.

So, just a quickie round-the-horn.

First, more pre-Tony Tidbits from Riedel, including:

Yesterday, a Tony source said CBS was still pushing for more musical numbers, and that, if "Legally Blonde" does get on, it will be as part of a montage of all the shows from the season - Laura Bell Bundy in pink, Stephanie J. Block in a pirate hat, Twyla Tharp with her closing notice, Michael Cerveris and Donna Murphy doing their Boris-and-Natasha routine from "LoveMusik."

Then, check out the Guardian for the most fraught late-night parking lot encounter since Deep Thoat days--I'm talking Nick Hytner and "dead white male" Michael Billington. Billington reports, but I'm afraid Hytner gets off the real zinger:
"Look," he said bluntly, "our audience at the National is rapidly changing. But the critics are not changing with it. And that is the problem."

And don't miss the very amusing Guardian editor's accompanying photo choice.

Also in said Brit paper, that great actor-intellectural Antony Sher has a characteristically engaging essay on playing Kean while reflecting on other self-destructive thespians he has known.

Finally, you may recall our little bloggers' campaign for small-bore theatre fundraising, citing the worthy Contemporary American Theatre Festival in West Virginia. Well, it seems to have done some good and A.D. Ed Herendeen wanted to let me and other bloggers know, by leaving this comment on our sites:
Thank you for your kind words of support. On behalf of the entire 2007 CATF Company I want to personally thank you for supporting our passion and courage for producing My Name is Rachel Corrie. Our 2007 Repertory features four provocative new American plays. I believe that making art and supporting the arts is, especially in this moment, a form of social activism. It is a statement of belief in the power of community.I am awestruck by the power of the American voices writing for the theater. I assure you that their voices are loud, strong and vibrant. And I am listening.

That's all for today. Now go out and barbecue. Or, in my case, go see Frost/Nixon.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Speaking Congress' Language?

From the LA Times:

Nonprofit arts groups, including museums, orchestras, theaters and dance companies, contributed $166.2 billion and 5.7 million jobs to the U.S. economy in 2005, according to an advocacy group urging more funding for the arts.

The numbers undercut a common belief that spending on arts and culture comes at the expense of economic development, said Randy Cohen, vice president of policy and research at Americans for the Arts, which released the report Tuesday.

"Support for the arts isn't a black hole," Cohen said. "Arts organizations are businesses. They pay people. They purchase supplies and services. They pay utility bills. That spending supports jobs and generates government revenue."

[...]

The group is pressing Congress for an almost 40% boost in funding to the National Endowment for the Arts to reverse a cut made by Republicans after they took over in 1995. Last month, the group released a report saying arts organizations are "at risk" due to a drop in corporate giving and lack of growth in giving by foundations and individuals.

Defending arts on economic terms is not a universally accepted approach. The Wallace Foundation, which aims to expand the demand and appreciation for the arts, commissioned a 2004 Rand Corp. study that questioned the strategy. It found most research efforts to tie arts to economic growth fail to prove cause-and-effect and obscure more basic reasons to support arts.
Talk amongst yourselves.

Brook/Beckett

Saint Peter's at it again.

London's Young Vic has announced a new season that includes legendary director Peter Brook directing Beckett... In September, Brook's Paris-based theatre Bouffes du Nord company will present Fragments, an umbrella title for five little-known short plays by Samuel Beckett starring Complicite performers Marcello Magnim, Jozef Houben and Kathryn Hunter.

And Complicite? Cool!

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

REVIEW: Kraken (Village Voice)

My review of Len Jenkin's latest, Kraken, in the Voice.

A slow-going yet engaging fantasy of "When Harry met Nat." (Melville & Hawthorne, that is.)

This is a Kraken, btw. There's one in Tennyson, and even Pirates of the Carribean!

Of course I knew all this before doing research on the play. Of course.

Quote of the Day

"The country's in the mood for pink cotton candy, and we served them rare porterhouse."

-producer Bill Haber, taking a parting shot at Legally Blonde as he announces the expected closing of his Journey's End on June 10.

Still lots of discount tix to be had. (Playbill and TheatreMania for starters.) Not to mention guaranteed TKTS availability on that express "Plays only" line, so you can walk up at 7:30 probably. So if you're still at all interested in seeing this much beloved show, show them (and Broadway) someone cared to see the show. And give yourself a great evening of theatre, too.

Forget the Awards, What About the Airtime!

Riedel takes us behind the scenes today for yet more Tony Awards pre-show infighting--this time over a push to give more musicals--even those not nominated for Best--some of that precious free coast-to-coast advertising.

CBS pushed to include "Legally Blonde," a bouncy, middlebrow show, and the arty "LoveMusik," which features famous songs by Kurt Weill, because the network wants more musical numbers on the telecast.

Over the weekend, Howard Sherman, head of the Wing, signed off on CBS's decision.

Immediately, the producers of the nominated shows - "Mary Poppins," "Spring Awakening," "Grey Gardens" and "Curtains!" - cried foul.

So the offer was made, and then withdrawn due to pressure from the in-competition producers' block.

Remember while you're watching on June 10th, it's not an awards show, it's an infomercial.

Come to think of it... is that any worse than an awards show? Maybe they should give up the pretense altogether and just dazzle us for two hours with great performances. Much more fun than speeches from the American Theatre Wing and Oscar-reject jokes.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

My Night at the Obies (I)

Official OBIE site now complete and up, btw...

Some personal reflections on the proceedings last night and the shows/artists honored.

First I'd like to address Jason's complaints about the ceremony. Which I am largely sympathetic to, frankly. This was my first time, so I have no idea what the Webster Hall days were like, but obviously they must have been more fun. Plus, the Skirball Center is such a slick concert venue (and simultaneous boring NYU assembly hall) that it automatically dampens any of the inherent hipness and excitement of any downtown event. Not only would an open bar be nice. But also try keeping people (including the awardees, mind you) in their seats for 2 hours plus; such proper seating arrangements don't allow for easy flow of movement.

Still--even in this swanky setting it is definitely not the Tonys. And I thought to myself often last night how much nicer it is not to be at the faux-Oscars that TV event desperately tries to be. In fact, I appreciated how not for television the Obies still are. No musical interludes or dance numbers. (Unless you count André De Shields' impromptu The Wiz rendition.) Almost no statements or presentations outside of the awards themselves. And no embarrassing scripted "chatter" between the presenters. And the acceptance speeches? Untimed. No orchestral cutoffs or commercial cutaways.

All in all, it was a very dignified and classy event, even if too classy for some. And still, even in the formality, darkness, and stratified seating of that hall, it never lost the sense of being by and for the downtown theatre community. More precisely, it really felt like an actor's room. Many other kinds of artist were honored. But all actor jokes went down particularly well. Like the 82- year-old Alvin Epstein (Lifetime Achievement) breaking off midspeech to turn back to his presenter, 81-year-old Angela Lansbury to say "I think we did a reading together once, years ago."

Another pattern throughout the night to distinguish the proceedings from more commercial spheres--the number of acceptance speeches that included some version of the phrase, "I'm so glad some people saw this play" or "I know nobody saw this." Since the average life of the Off or Off-Off show is short, there's seldom hope of an award here translating into ticket sales. There's no Obie-bounce at the box office. Until your next show, perhaps...

Since there are no "nominees" for the Obies and no predetermined categories, there's also more than the usual suspense leading up to each announcement. Kinda fun. Not only do you get the normal tension of "the envelope please" (figuratively, not literally--no envelope) but you don't even know what the options are. So I found it fun to try to guess who the hell the presenters could be talking about when they start praising some unnamed actor or writer, describing the show, until you finally go "Aha! An office? It's The Thugs." "Revival of a play about a haggard matriarch of a 20s Midwestern family? Say no more, we're in William Inge country!" Or, of course, you get it wrong when they announce an alternative you never even considered, or saw. In short, good theatre.

So what about those awards?

I wasn't too far off in my predictions, actually. (Although I don't know why I said Wally Shawn, since The Fever was a revival and I'm sure he's won before.) And I should have guessed David Greenspan, who was indeed a devilishly entertaining Mephistopheles. I was very happy for Dark at the Top of the Stairs (citations for actress and for the company) and for The Voysey Inheritance, honored for Michale Stuhlbarg's lead performance. I realize I never got to write about Voysey but it was definitely a highlight for me, as a reminder of how contemporary the more adventurous old plays are when done with commitment and honesty. (A little trimming from Mr. Mamet probably didn't hurt, either.) Stuhlbarg was exactly the right moral center of the play--which in a Harley Granville Barker play actually means a bit of a prig, but ultimately one struggling to do the right thing. And I was especially pleased since I've been a fan of Stuhlbarg's ever since seeing his breakout role as Richard II at the Public, straight out of Juilliard in '94. One of the few actors of his generation with a true poetic sensibility, it's amazing no one has staged his Hamlet. (In NY at least)

I was off base in predicting something for the Mint, by the way, for their less spectacular staging of another Granville-Barker piece, The Madras House. Perhaps not as worthy, but still a great contribution in reintroducing (or just introducing) this Edwardian iconoclast into the NYC repertoire. (Kudos for that actually belong to Theatre for a New Audience for giving us Bart Sher's production of Waste back in '99, another Obie winner.) But I digress...

Interesting that the UK Propeller company's Taming of the Shrew got a nod, since I dissed their Twelfth Night which was in rep with it. I did hear this was the better of the two, so now I'm even more sorry I missed it....Another BAM winner was one I did like, but never wrote about--the Norwegian modern bourgeois take on The Wild Duck. It was indeed the very model of a modern minimalist Ibsen, making it fresh while simultaneously warm, and chilling. And what Ibsenite cred in sending the Norwegian consul to pick up the Obie! (Ok, Ibsen hated Norway, but no matter.)

I didn't go gaga over No Child as a show, but that Nilaja Sun is a force of nature and deserves something. Her story in her speech about making the commercial Barrow Street Playhouse accommodate Wednesday student matinees was quite a rallying cry, and a shaming of those theatres who don't do more to put kids' asses in the seats.

More to follow tomorrow...

Monday, May 21, 2007

OBIE winners

The ceremony just ended an hour ago, and the press release is out.

UPDATE: Was in a hurry last night. So here's the full list. (Saving you the click.)

And Soloski's full live blog is here.

PS. Jason Grote was there, too, and is up early today (or last night?) with a spirited dissent, lamenting the spirit of Obies past. (Too corporate, says he.)

PERFORMANCE




  • Betsy Aidem, Sustained Excellence of Performance
  • Donna Lynne Champlin for her performance in The Dark at the Top of the Stairs
  • Andre De Shields, Sustained Excellence of Performance
  • Ain Gordon for his performance in Stories Left to Tell
  • David Greenspan for his performance in Faust and Some Men
  • Nina Hellman for her performance in Trouble in Paradise
  • Ron Cephas Jones, Sustained Excellence of Performance
  • Nancy Opel for her performance in My Deah
  • Roslyn Ruff for her performance in Seven Guitars
  • James Saito for his performance in Durango
  • Michael Stuhlbarg for his performance in The Voysey Inheritance
  • Nilaja Sun for her performance in No Child
  • Harris Yulin for his performance in Frank's Home
  • Ensemble for their performance in Tale of 2Cities (Winsome Brown, Michael Ray Escamilla, Tracey A. Leigh, Leo Marks Diane Rodriguez, Ed Vassallo, Heather Woodbury)

    PLAYWRITING

  • Adam Bock for The Thugs

    DIRECTION

  • Lou Bellamy for Two Trains Running
  • Anne Kauffman for The Thugs
  • Matthew Maguire for Abandon
  • Eirik Stubo for The Wild Duck
  • Chay Yew for Durango

    MUSIC AND CHOREOGRAPHY

  • Michael Friedman, Sustained Excellence in Music
  • Bill T. Jones for his choreography of Spring Awakening
  • Lin-Manuel Miranda for his music and lyrics for In The Heights

    DESIGN

  • Beowulf Boritt, Sustained Excellence in Set Design
  • Robert Kaplowitz, Sustained Excellence in Sound Design
  • Rae Smith for the set and costume design of Oliver Twist

    LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD

  • Alvin Epstein

    EMERGING PLAYWRIGHT AWARD ($1,000 prize)

  • Young Jean Lee

    THE ROSS WETZSTEON AWARD ($2,000 given annually to a theatre that nurtures innovative new plays)

  • Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre

    SPECIAL CITATIONS

  • Daniel Beaty, writing and performance Emergence-SEE
  • Edward Hall & Propeller, Taming of the Shrew
  • Tim Crouch, An Oak Tree
  • The Living Theatre, Ensemble and director Judith Malina, The Brig (Ensemble: Gene Ardor, Johnson Anthony, Kesh Baggan, Steven Scot Bono, Gary Brackett, Brent Bradley, Brad Burgess, John Kohan, Albert Lamont, Peter Lester, Jeff Nash, Josh Roberts, Bradford Rosenbloom, Jade Rothman, Isaac Scranton, Morteza Tavakoli, Evan True, Antwan Ward, Louis Williams; Steve Ben Israel, ensemble director)

    GRANTS (Totaling $10,000)

  • Transport Group
  • Peculiar Works Project
  • Synapse Productions
  • The Play Company
  • OBIES tonight

    I'm off to the Obies right now--thanks to my gracious employers at the Voice.

    Alexis says she'll be blogging it. So see if she keeps to that. (And I expect the awards might be up here as early as tonight.)

    I myself will leave the laptop behind. But will report on the highlights tomorrow, so tune in.

    Meanwhile...predictions? Hard to say. One of the fun things about the Obies is not even knowing who's nominated! Not that I have any inside knowledge at all, but some names, plays, and companies I expect to hear mentioned include:

    In the Heights, Bill T. Jones, The Voysey Inheritance, LABrynth Theatre Company, Durango, Emergence-See, The Transport Group, Jack Goes Boating, The Wooster Group, Eisa Davis, Wallace Shawn, The Mint Theatre, and the Signature Theatre August Wilson series.

    Again, that's just my guess. Not inside dope. And not even necessarily my own preferences.

    Paper Mill follow up

    This is a week old already, but in case you're curious whatever happened to the almost doomed Paper Mill Playhouse, they're hanging on.

    The plan is a mixed bag that includes administrative restructuring, a sizable bank loan and help from the government of Millburn, N.J., where the theater is situated.
    Loans from the gov't! Maybe a new way to go for state funding? At least for emergency "stopgap" measures.

    Wilson: Pro and Con



    on the left: Ben Brantley

    on the right: Hilton Als







    Two very different takes on August Wilson in the past week from two prominent critics.

    In one corner, Ben Brantley's thoroughly unpolitical aesthetic appreciation of the oeuvre this Sunday.
    Mr. Wilson’s most important and most innovative contribution to theater is in how he applied the principles of African-American music, from gospel and the blues to jazz and swing, to playwriting. The ever-shifting world that Mr. Wilson’s struggling characters inhabit demands improvisation, the constant adjustment of tone and tempo of a jazz master.
    Arguing against is the New Yorker's Hilton Als:
    Wilson is the worst kind of moralist. He uses black people—which is to say, “real” or poor black people—as the barometer by which all others must be judged; anyone who doesn’t fit the bill is just plain evil. (As one character tells Roosevelt, “You a Negro. . . . I’m a nigger. Negroes are the worst thing in God’s creation. Niggers got style. Negroes got blindeyetis. . . . A Negro don’t know he’s a Negro. He thinks he’s a white man. It’s Negroes like you who hold us back.”) This essentially Puritan strain in Wilson’s thinking makes his characters reductive, simple silhouettes projected onto an even simpler backdrop. Near the end of the play, we discover that Harmond is related to one of the very people he wants to displace. (To highlight the symbolic nature of this coincidence, Leon has cast a light-skinned actor as Harmond, and the dark-skinned Anthony Chisholm as his truth-telling bum of a relative.) For Wilson, all blacks are brothers, whether clad in rags or Armani suits. But life doesn’t work this way—at least no lives spent under the yoke of this country’s astonishing and still prevalent racism. In the nineteen-sixties, academic philosophers and sociologists alike tried to address “the Negro problem”—the economic and racial disadvantages inherent in black life. Wilson came of age in that era, and was clearly influenced by the sanctimonious air of their reasoning. With his own lyrical-sounding agitprop, he, unfortunately, adopted the belief structure of the “concerned” oppressor, while claiming to speak for the oppressed.

    I myself embrace Wilson's passionate and highly idiosyncratic political agenda, including his "unreconstructed" black power mentality of the 60s. But Als' critique reminds us how inseparable this is form his work and cautions us (especially white audiences) against assuming Wilson's place speak for "Black America." What Als reveals--intentionally or not--is a generational rift among African Americans on the legacy of the 60s and civil rights, whether we are post-identity politics, and whether a worldview like Wilson's "essentializes" blackness at the cost of speaking to the African American experience as it is really lived.

    All valid points for debate. Still--wow, that's quite a statement to appear in the pages of the New Yorker (whose other critic, John Lahr, has spent a fair amount of space lionizing Wilson). Why have I not heard more about this?

    As for Brantley, it's a nice overview of Wilson's aesthetic and narrative themes, as far as it goes , but quite a retro bit of "New Criticism" even. For all its negativity, Als at least takes on the central engine of the writing of a man who proudly called himself "a Race Man."

    Sunday, May 20, 2007

    Live German Farming!

    Talk about site-specific...

    My pal David Levine and his Cine group are up to some hardcore environmental theatre in the farmlands of Deutschland. (more on the project here)

    Friday, May 18, 2007

    Welcome to the Theatre Bitchosphere?

    Kudos to Mac Rogers--resident theatre blogger for NY Mag--for re-christening us all...

    Ronald Bryden

    Heard of him? I hadn't.

    But Charles Marowitz has sold me on this British-Canadian dramaturg/critic, whose collected works have recently been published.

    Critics heart Fantasia

    Yes, put aside your American Idol jokes for a moment and check out the raves--absolute raves--today for Fantasia in "The Color Purple." (Like Isherwood and Barnes.)

    (PS--and Rooney in Variety)

    Turns out to have been a smart, smart move to cast her. Advantage, Oprah?

    On an uncynical note, though....

    Here's a theory. Sometimes it takes an "outside" talent to re-energize the American musical, especially when true "star" presence is required. Watching Reba McEntire in "Annie Get Your Gun" a few years ago (in which, remember, she was a replacement for Bernadette Peteres) was one of the greatest musical theatre performances I'd ever seen. Because she both sang and acted with utter truthfullness and artlessness, and created a perfected mesh with the role. (The character and actor were one.)

    I have no idea how good Fantasia is. But if she's anything like I'm reading this morning, maybe it's a caution against our cookie-cutter Broadway machine and training system, which molds musical theatre talents into bland road-copy material. Make no mistake, I'm not talking about hiring amateurs. Both Fantasia and Reba are proven singers (the latter, of course, much more seasoned). And in the right kind of role, in a show with a lot of songs, what they bring from the pop world can really matter.

    After all, no one says the relatively untrained Ethel Merman was that impressive an "actress."

    Thursday, May 17, 2007

    "Jouney" Ends

    The inevitable closing notice is up. Funny enough, they've hung on all this time, gotten the Tony nominations they wanted (6), and are closing June 10, the same day of the Tony Awards. What gives?

    I guess they're holding out so as many voters as possible can see it, so as to increase their chances of winning something. For pride, at least.

    Unless it's a strategy to suddenly boost sales and then extend "by popular demand" if they think they'll win the Best Revival award.

    Then again, their capacity was down to 21% last week. Which, at an average of 200 people a night, would not even fill most Off B'way houses.

    If you missed it before, my review is here.

    Hytner vs the Critics: Round 2

    The London theatre scene is still riled up over National Theatre AD Nicholas Hytner's shot across the bow earlier this week at the critical establishment for being "dead white males" biased against experimental work, especially by women.

    Now some critics respond, over at the Guardian--one male (Michael Billington) one female (Lyn Gardner).

    Along the way Gardner makes a very important point, put it in a concise and compelling way:

    Critics come in as second strings, and many think that if they trawl the fringe for long enough, they may eventually end up as a first-string critic and never have to venture beyond the West End again. They forget that what is happening at the National begins outside of the mainstream, and that you can only do your job properly if you are seeing some of that work, because otherwise you never learn its vocabulary.
    Just substitute "Broadway" for "West End" and "downtown" for "fringe" and you have a very salient lesson for critics and audiences alike in New York.

    Gardner's wind-up to that passage, however, doesn't quite translate as easily. Will some of my UK readers (abroad and expats) please elucidate the following analogy?
    The trouble with theatre criticism is that it is like the fagging system at Eton.
    Now are we talking buggery, or cigarettes?

    Sherlock and the Case of the Policeman Playwright

    Here's a funny local interest theatre story for your morning...

    Turns out this cop, in Kent, OH has a soft spot for community theatre. He even has his own company, and puts on his own plays. Or at least plays under his name. He thought he hit the big time when a friend produced one of them in LA. From there word got back to a professional playwright in Canada, David Belke, that this cop's Sherlock Holmes play was a lot like his Sherlock Holmes play. Uh oh.

    Alas, the copyright infringing cop is not Inspector Lestrade.

    What a story! Theatre in the heartland (Ohio, community theatre), audience outreach (cops!), Anglophilia (Sherlock), intellectual property and an authorship controversy.

    And hey, at least one American was paying attention to new Canadian playwrights! And whaddaya know, he gets arrested for it.

    Wednesday, May 16, 2007

    NEA's Gioia: How's he Doin'?

    The Seattle P-I catches up with Dana Gioia, Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts.

    I suppose we should be glad the Republicans (and Gioia does go on record here as being "a Republican") bothered appointing somebody who actually wants to increase the NEA budget--not only increase but "Gioia said he intends to raise the NEA's budget back to its precultural wars level."

    Interesting stealth strategy he's pursued, though, to get it close.

    Gioia succeeded in refocusing the country's cultural conversation on an artist who has no enemies: Shakespeare.

    Gioia offered high schools across America teaching packets developed at the agency to prepare students for professional theater. Then he steered grants to professional companies and theatrical producers who were willing to work with high school audiences "in 3,000 high schools, 1,600 cities and serving 25 million American kids."

    So much for the philosophy that public funding is most necessary for the things wealthy individuals won't fund. Oh well, it's something I guess. And putting actors to work.

    I'll also give him props on a program for giving "returning soldiers [from Iraq] a chance to tell their stories" and getting $1 million from the Defense Department to do it. Let's just hope those "stories" are allowed to tell it like it is.

    As for Gioia's nonconfrontational style, I guess it's helped get the NEA the money it needs. But even though he's a poet, he talks like a total political hack:

    "I'm a poet," he said Monday before giving the keynote speech at ArtsFund's annual lunch in Seattle. "Metaphors matter to me."

    Friends told him to "fight the good fight," he said, but he thought the last thing the NEA needed was a fight.

    "It's the wrong metaphor. The right one is a conversation, and good conversations are always changing."

    "Conversations"? Ugh, so...Hillary.

    Oh, and how can I forget this: "Gioia does not agree that public funding for the arts in America lags behind Europe." Huh??? He explains:

    In fact, he said, he thinks ours is a superior model.

    "In Europe, arts funding comes from the government. In America, it's a partnership between private and public sources. That leads to greater diversity in arts" and a healthy focus on local communities.

    Virtue out of a necessity, Dana. Virtue out of a necessity.

    Isaac has more.

    Site Specific in the Halls of Power

    NY Sun previews an unusual performance by the Women's Project:

    "Word of Mouth," a series of seven short plays about women, work, and wealth being staged throughout the World Financial Center — in escalator banks, mezzanines, and abandoned office spaces....[It is] a way to address an issue both taboo and topical to women, particularly those who work in the theater world.

    "It's a topic very much on the minds of the 30 lab artists that we mentor," artistic director Julie Crosby said. "These are women who are committed to a career in theater, which even today offers only 20% employment opportunities to them. So how do you bring these young women into this business which doesn't offer a financially secure future?"

    For more see the WP site.

    UPDATE: Another profile in Thursday's NYT metro section.

    Tonys, Tarzan, and Tony

    Some fun reporting from Riedel on the reeling "pinkies" at Legally Blonde. Also the politics of Disney in the nomination process.

    the nominators did not want to slap (for the second time) Tom Schumacher, the Disney executive in charge of the company's Broadway shows.

    A popular figure in the small and insular theater world, Schumacher was embarrassed last year when "Tarzan," a $15 million show he practically created, failed to pick up a single Tony nomination.

    "I don't think anybody wanted to diss Tom again," one nominator said yesterday. "And 'Mary Poppins' is a lot better than 'Tarzan.'"

    Yes, "better than Tarzan." That would look good on the "Poppins" marquee, wouldn't it?

    Also in the Post: the Tony broadcast--famous for its anemic ratings--is in more trouble than ever. Sunday June 10 happens also to be the finale of The Sopranos. Good timing guys!...Ok, to be fair, Sopranos had originally been scheduled to wrap up in May. Still, I sure hope new League prez Charlotte St Martin gave some kind of "just kidding" signal when she told the Post, "I think the Tony family can take the Tony Soprano family any day."

    Tuesday, May 15, 2007

    Tonys in Context

    By my count, 37 productions opened on Broadway during the official Tony-defined season. Thanks to the current category rules, 16 of them (yes, just less than half) got to be cited as "Best" musical or drama, new or revival. (4 categories, 4 nominees for each.)

    And 3 of the 37 were "Coast of Utopia." Thankfully, Tony declared a Holy Stoppardian Trinity of "three yet one" to prevent a complete monopolizing of at least 3 of every 4 or 5 slots in the dramatic nominations. So that leaves 34 productions, really. Two of those were deemed "Special Theatrical Event" and thus nominated. (So, I guess this was your year to put up a one person non-narrative performance piece on B'way. You could have gotten a nomination!) Also, I believe the "Les Miz" revival was deemed not eligible for Best Musical revival, though actors could be nominated.) They weren't. So that leaves...31 productions eligible for Best something. Which means more than half automatically merited nomination.

    So I thought it would be fun to see just what wasn't nominated. As you can imagine, they weren't all memorable, so it required some looking up. And I don't know what it may or not prove, but take a look.

    (If you're still catching up on what was nominated click here.)

    Not nominated for Best Musical:
    Martin Short: Fame Becomes Me
    The Times They Are A-Changin'
    Dr Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas (not eligible?)
    High Fidelity
    The Pirate Queen
    LoveMusik
    *Legally Blonde

    Funny story about Martin Short: Fame Becomes Me, by the way--supporting actor Brooks Ashmanskas was nominated, but not...Martin Short!

    Not nominated for Best Play:
    Losing Louie
    another MTC Biltmore puzzlement

    The Vertical Hour
    yes, for those keeping score, Vertical Hour by Sir David Hare, directed by Sam Mendes, starring Julianne Moore was a big zero today. (Nothing even for Bill Nighy)

    The Year of Magical Thinking
    quoth the Riedel: "will not get in because nominators think it's 'a recitation' rather than a play."

    Coram Boy
    didn't help that it positioned itself as a drama/musical hybrid, where some of the music was eligible for score, the production itself is under "Play", and George Frederick Handel gets bupkis.

    Deuce
    The Tonys still fulfilled the only purpose for this show anyway, by nominating Ms. Murder She Wrote.

    Not nominated for Best Play Revival:
    Heartbreak House (Roundabout)
    Butley (starring Nathan Lane)
    Prelude to a Kiss (Roundabout)
    A Moon for the Misbegotten (Kevin Spacey, Old Vic)

    Not
    nominated for Best Musical Revival:
    nothing**

    Does this tell us anything?

    *CORRECTED: How could I forget Legally Blonde!!!
    **Okay that was wrong, too. Turns out (thanks to commenter) the Les Miz revival WAS eligible.

    The Committee

    Just so you know who you can praise or blame, here is the Tony nominating committee. I must say I was surprised by the strong presence of non-Broadway personnel.
    IBM - What Makes You Special?
    Learn MoreTony AwardsLaunch Video PlayerAmerican Theatre WingLive BroadwayVISAIBMSprintContinental AirlinesLearn more about our partnersHiltonOfficial PartnersOfficial SupportersAll CategoriesOverall ProductionPerformanceCraftSpecial AwardsAll AwardsOverall ProductionPerformanceCraftSpecial AwardsABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ

    Victoria Bailey – Executive Director, Theatre Development Fund
    **Joe Benincasa – Executive Director of The Actor’s Fund of America
    Susan Birkenhead – Lyricist
    Edward Burbridge – Scenic Designer
    **Robert Callely – Theatre Executive
    **Ben Cameron – Program Director for the Arts, Doris Duke Charitable Foundation
    Betty Corwin – Retired Director of the Lincoln Center Library for the Performing Arts
    **John Dias – Producer, Dramaturg, Educator
    Mercedes Ellington – Choreographer
    **Sue Frost – Producer/Company Manager
    **Joanna Gleason – Actor
    **David Henry Hwang – Playwright
    Andrew Jackness – Scenic Designer
    **Betty Jacobs – Script Consultant/Theatre Historian
    Robert Kamlot – Retired General Manager
    Todd London – Artistic Director, New Dramatists
    Brian Stokes Mitchell – Actor
    Jon Nakagawa – Producer of Contemporary Programming, Lincoln Center
    Lynn Nottage – Playwright
    Gilbert Parker – Retired Senior-Vice President of the William Morris Agency
    Jonathan Reynolds – Playwright & Screenwriter
    **Steven Suskin – Theatre Author
    Jac Venza – Retired Executive, WNET
    **Tom Viola – President, Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS
    Franklin Weissberg – Retired Judge of the New York State Court of Claims

    **New Committee Members Beginning a Three-Year Term


    So, I'm glad folks like Todd London, Lynn Nottage, and John Dias (former Publc dramaturg) are there...But who the hell is this "Retired Judge of the New York State Court of Claims"???

    In any case, this composition may help explain why the most explicitly commercial musical, "Legally Blonde," did not get a Best Musical nod--even though, as Riedel reported Friday, the "road" constituency were lobbying for it.

    Now they're going to have to root for "Poppins." Or hope "Spring Awakening" doesn't get banned across the country by Jerry Falwell--oops, scratch that.




    Tony Noms

    They're out.

    More commentary later, but here are the headlines:

    • "Legally Blonde" shut out, in favor of "Curtains" love fest (and submission to "Mary Poppins")
    • no to Kevin Spacey, but yes to his unknown co-star Eve Best
    • Leading Underdogs: Julie White ("Little Dog Laughed"), Boyd Gaines ("Journeys End")
    • "Utopian" Russians rule the supporting categories: Billy vs Ethan and Ehle vs Plimpton
    and

    Special Theatrical Event: it's Kiki & Herb vs the Dummy (the underperforming "Two and Only")

    The Regional Award is going to Atlanta's Alliance Theatre

    Monday, May 14, 2007

    Hytner: London Critics are Deceased Honkeys

    Speaking to The Times, Hytner [Royal National Theatre A.D. Nicholas Hytner] said, "They would be horrified by the accusation, but I'm afraid I'm making it. I think it's fair enough to say that too many of the theatre critics are dead white men. They don't know it's happened to them, but it has."

    Hytner pointed out that that some of London's critics were in their jobs when he was still at university and that many reviews by male critics are "misogynistic," especially for shows directed by gay women....

    Michael Billington, who has been The Guardian's critic since 1971, hit back at Hytner's comments, calling them "ballderdash and piffle."

    It's on! Playbill is at ringside. (Original Times of London article here.)

    The Brookmeister

    Photograph: Eamonn McCabe

    Nice profile in the Guardian this weekend of Peter Brook--who's at it again at 82 years old, with a new production of the 1972 Apartheid drama "Sizwe Banzi is Dead" by Athol Fugard, John Kani, and Winston Ntshona.

    Here's an, uh, eye-popping quote from Brook's reminiscence of another 70s Kani-Ntshona performance, by the way:
    "John Kani did the most extraordinary thing," Brook recalls. "When Winston got some imaginary dirt in an eye wound, John pulled out his cock, peed into his hand and cleaned his friend's eye. It was a moment of such tenderness and also such truth. There was no water in their prison yard, so how else could he do it? It was one of the greatest things I've ever seen in the theatre in terms of its relation between imagination and absolute truth."
    While you can glean a lot of his biography from his several books, it's interesting to read again of his intriguingly mixed origins, and of the importance of film to his early theatrical development:

    Brook was born in 1925, the second son of Ida and Simon Brook, whose Russian name Bryk had been anglicised by an immigration officer at Dover. He was sent to Westminster School, where he endured a certain amount of ribbing about his father's pharmaceutical company product: the laxative Brooklax. (Critics of a psychological bent noted that his experiences of this schoolboy cruelty didn't find true expression until his 1963 film version of Lord of the Flies.)

    An interest in performance was apparent from the beginning. He staged a now-legendary one-boy puppet version of Hamlet for his family when he was seven, complete with a programme entitled "Hamlet: By William Shakespeare and Peter Brook". His biographer, Michael Kustow, recounted that after the performance he wanted to start again with a different version of the play, but was instead sent to bed by his grateful yet exhausted parents. By the time he was 16, in an early version of a gap year, he worked as an intern at the Crown Film Unit, which was producing wartime propaganda. It gave him a practical knowledge of scripting and production, and when he went up to Oxford in 1942 he was an instant college star. Kenneth Tynan, a contemporary, later wrote that "it was as if he'd come up by public request. Rather like a high-pressure executive arriving to take over a dying business." Brook's most famous college production was Marlowe's Doctor Faustus, for which he recruited devil-worshipper Aleister Crowley to give advice on how to summon demons.

    When he entered the professional theatre, he searched hard among the escapist and romantic fare on show to find "anything that might bring some unexpected jolt of real life and excitement. I actually preferred the cinema at the time because at least it moved." In order to find the theatre he envisaged, he soon realised he'd have to do it himself.

    Yes, Brooklax. There's a joke for his detractors in there somewhere, but I won't go there.

    Okay, the maestro's last, "Tierno Bokar", was a pretty flimsy excuse even for "minimalism," and I've feared that his work may be fading and fading into empty gestures in an empty space...but the man clearly still has the potential for stage magic still in him.

    BTW, here's his "site officiel."

    Friday, May 11, 2007

    And the Tony goes to...the British taxpayer!

    New York Mag's Jeremy McCarter takes his case overseas to the Guardian, congratulating the UK on their continued domination over the American theatre's award seasons:

    We've just entered awards season here, and the lucky few are already pulling away from the jilted many. On Monday night, the New York Drama Critics' Circle gave its Best Play prize to Lincoln Center's production of Tom Stoppard's The Coast ofUtopia. The same night, the Lucille Lortel Awards, which honor the best of Off-Broadway, gave the Outstanding Play award to the Public Theater's production of David Hare's Stuff Happens. Last year's awards proved similarly lopsided, as The History Boys took home the Best Play award from the Drama Critics Circle, then cleaned up at
    the Tonys
    .

    These trophy magnets share a few obvious traits, the most important of which is that all three began life in London - specifically, at the National Theatre. I've long admired Nicholas Hytner's savvy leadership of the institution, and cravenly envied his revenues. Around 40% of the NT's budget comes from Arts Council grants, a number that strikes New Yorkers as completely preposterous. (By contrast, our three biggest nonprofit theaters - Lincoln Center, the Roundabout and Manhattan Theater Club - derive 0.5-1.2% of their budgets from government sources.) Thanks to plays such as this trio from the National, and Frost/Nixon from the Donmar Warehouse (which doesn't get as much support as the NT, but would still be the envy of many an American producer), a direct line runs from your wallet to award podiums all over Manhattan.


    One hates to get nationalistic about such things as artistic quality. And I admit to being as big a theatrical anglophile as any of our enablers here. But what are awards good for if not celebrating the contributions of your own artistic community?

    One more astute (and sobering) observation of McCarter's:
    It's often said that Arts Council support gives British playwrights the right to fail. That's true, but what really counts is that it gives them the right to fail spectacularly. Budget-conscious Americans, largely in thrall to stories about family squabbles, rarely attempt this kind of expansive public-minded play. Coram Boy and The Coast of Utopia have larger casts (40 and 44 actors, respectively) than every other straight play on Broadway combined (39) - if you don't count Inherit the Wind.

    Tony Prognostication

    ...from the well-sourced Michael Riedel. For those keeping score.

    Sample prediction:

    The producers of "Legally Blonde" are desperate for that fourth slot. If they get it, they're going to marshal the so-called "road vote" in an effort to topple "Spring Awakening."

    The "road vote" is made up of theater owners and presenters from around the country. The producers of "Blonde" are convinced the road will vote for their show because it will sell much better around the country than "Spring Awakening," which deals with teenage sexuality.

    The only things standing in their way are the Tony nominators.

    Some of the savvier ones are onto the plan, and I think they'll deny that fourth slot to "Legally Blonde" as a way of protecting "Spring Awakening," a musical everybody with a brain in this industry recognizes as a beautiful and important show.

    That fourth slot, then, will go to "LoveMusik," an arty show that stands no chance of winning, and the "Blonde" backers will see red instead of pink.

    To play at home, watch the nominations announced live Tuesday morning via podcast or NY1.

    PS. Oh, also this is interesting (and encouraging) too:
    "Journey's End" is a huge hit with the nominators. They know it's struggling at the box office, so they're planning to shower it with what they hope will be box-office boosting nominations.

    Thursday, May 10, 2007

    How Good is McKellen's "Lear"?

    Nobody knows. Officially, that is.

    RSC is keeping the London critics at bay as long as possible.

    But that won't stop Maxie at the Guardian from summing up the chatter.

    Hint: it's not overwhelmingly positive. The word "operetta" is even used. What was Trevor Nunn thinking?

    If you were planning on waiting till it gets to BAM this September, it's already sold out. As are the three performances of The Seagull where Sir Ian will make an appearance as Sorin.

    Tix still available for the Gandolph-less "Seagulls." But they're still at Sir Ian prices. (BAM is offering no subscriber discounts on these productions.)

    Henry Miller 's Theater












    So the Henry Miller's Theater has been demolished, even though the handsome 1918 facade (above left) remains thanks to Landmark protection. Bank of America is building a huge tower on the site (half the block, actually) but they were actually mandated by the city to keep that space a performance venue.

    Their solution is the photo on the right. And which needy theatre company is it going to? The Roundabout, of course.

    Of Todd Haimes, the president of Roundabout, Mr. Durst [Douglas Durst of the Durst real estate empire] said: “I’ve watched Todd, both as a part of Times Square and as a board member, and he’s just been so successful at the projects he’s undertaken that we thought the best way to go would be with Roundabout.”
    Success breeds more success, right?

    Actually, I should be clear that the prospect of giving a smaller company a home in this Broadway-size 1000-seat* space seems never to have even been on the table. Roundabout's competitors were not even nonprofits:
    The Shuberts, Nederlanders and the Jujamcyn theater chain all approached the Durst Organization about the theater, some interested in becoming owners or part owners, but were unable to make a deal. As a long-term tenant it was Roundabout that fit the bill, said Douglas Durst, a co-president of the Durst Organization.
    And as reporter Campbell Robertson adds parenthetically,
    (It can’t hurt that Mr. Durst sits on the Roundabout’s board.)
    Has the line between the theatre and real estate businesses just gotten that blurred?

    Mr. Haimes, I'll give you the last word:

    But what is the Roundabout, a nonprofit company whose official mission is to interpret “the masterpieces of the world’s great theatrical heritage” doing looking for a popular hit?

    “I have no problem producing something that I think is popular or commercial to make money,” Mr. Haimes said, “as long as the money goes for the not-for-profit purpose.”

    “The reality,” he added, “is that the only way we ever sort of get ahead of the game financially is to have some successful shows.”

    BTW, the Miller is where Urinetown played and the Roundabout's Cabaret first opened. It is not named after the writer Henry Miller, but instead this guy. But that will hardly matter once Haimes renames it "Chucky Cheese Performance Center" or something.


    ADDENDUM: More on the building project from Crain's:
    The city's Industrial Development Agency said Thursday that it approved $650 million in tax-exempt bonds to help refinance construction of the Bank of America tower at One Bryant Park.

    The refinancing assistance is part of about $900 million in incentives approved by the agency.

    IDA will issue $650 million in tax-exempt bonds to replace tax-exempt Liberty Bonds that were originally issued in 2004. The 2.1 million square foot Bank of America tower, which will serve as the bank's New York City headquarters, is expected to generate annual tax revenue of $4.88 billion for the city over the next 50 years.
    Yes, you heard that. $650 million tax-free bonds plus other "incentives." Incentives for Bank of America to make more millions and blot our landscape. Nonprofit is for suckers, man.

    *Correction: I have corrected my previous typo on the number of seats in the projected theatre. It's a thousand, not a hundred.