The Playgoer: May 2011

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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Are Celebrities Good for the Tonys?

Former Playgoer guest-blogger Suzy Evans has graduated to the big time at Backstage and has an article out about questions over whether Hollywood folks hog the Tony Awards.

Does she interview and quote me? Yes. Is it a good article anyway? Absolutely!

(And what I say may surprise you...)

By the way, Walter Bobbie said in Saturday's Times (in a Nina Arianda profile) something similar to something I say in the piece about Broadway vs Hollywood--but better put. In Broadway casting it's no longer a question of are you a "star." It's: are you a celebrity.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

"Emperor Jones": Stage vs Screen

I have an article in the annual Eugene O'Neill Review about the 1933 film adaptation of The Emperor Jones starring Paul Robeson. Basically I answer the question many have asked upon watching the film-- why is it so different than the play?
With live productions relatively infrequent, it is chiefly in the form of its 1933 film adaptation that The Emperor Jones is seen today, especially now that it has recently been restored by the Library of Congress and reissued on DVD in 2003. But far from just a photographed play, the movie Jones is in large part its own original drama, the fruit of a totally separate collaboration between director Dudley Murphy and screenwriter DuBose Heyward.  Faced with the challenge of expanding O’Neill’s fifty-page one-act play into a feature-length film, Murphy and Heyward went far beyond the usual “opening up” of Broadway-to-Hollywood “adaptations” and created an original “backstory” of their own for the hero Brutus Jones that, while built upon elements hinted at by O’Neill, ultimately transforms his story significantly.  (It also makes up more than half the film’s running time.)  While the character of O’Neill’s “Emperor Jones” is introduced to us as a larger-than-life tyrant from the start, Murphy and Heyward’s “Brutus” is a common man, faced with the temptations of everyday life.  And while the 1920 play is a modernist allegorical fable, marked by Primitivist Negro stereotypes, the film aims instead for a more realistic depiction of the lives of everyday African Americans, as opposed to the “ignorant bush niggers” of the play.
For those of you who have only seen cheap VHS "public domain" copies, do take note of that bit about the Library of Congress restoration. Emperor Jones was a film badly in need of restoration since its original length of 80 minutes was almost immediately cut down upon release (by censors) to 72 minutes. A complete restoration may never be possible, but the new Criterion DVD has restored over three minutes of previously lost material, including several uses of the word "nigger." Some of the more subversive moments seem to be forever lost--such as O'Neill's famous "slaveship" sequence and a shot of Robeson physically clobbering a prison guard.

Ultimately, my point in the essay is to argue for the significance of the film as a very different telling of the story from O'Neill's but an equally valid one--and one that I believe overcomes some of the play's problems of race.

Overheard

"Is there a single familiar face here that we can shoot and make $5 off of?”


-Paparazzi not sure what to make of all the legit theatre folks on the Red Carpet for Monday's Drama Desk awards.


Star casting isn't just about selling tickets to shows. It's about getting into Page Six.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Quote of the Day

"I don’t think I can support myself as a playwright at this point."

-Tony Kushner

Find out what he means in this week's Time Out.

If he can't, geez....

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Regional Awards Roundup: Boston

Last night the Boston Theater Critics Association handed out the Elliot Nortons.

So here's a glimpse at some highlights from the season there. I also find it interesting to see the different categories different cities use. Note here, for instance the distinction between local and "visiting" as well as between large, small and "midsize" theaters.

2011 ELLIOT NORTON AWARDS RECIPIENTS
 
OUTSTANDING VISITING PRODUCTION
August: Osage County (Broadway Across America)
OUTSTANDING VISITING MUSICAL PRODUCTION
Hair (Broadway Across America)
OUTSTANDING DESIGN (MIDSIZE/SMALL/FRINGE THEATER)
Cristina Todesco [sets], Bobby Frederick Tilley II [costumes], Aaron Mack [sound], Benjamin Williams [lighting] – The Aliens (Company One)
OUTSTANDING DESIGN (LARGE THEATER)
Marsha Ginsberg [set], Carol Bailey [costumes], Justin Townsend [lighting], Clive Goodwin [sound], Jim and Ruth Bauer [videography] – The Blue Flower (American Repertory Theater)
OUTSTANDING NEW SCRIPT
John Kuntz – The Hotel Nepenthe (Actors' Shakespeare Project)
OUTSTANDING CHOREOGRAPHY
Doug Elkins – Fraulein Maria (ArtsEmerson/Doug Elkins and Friends)
OUTSTANDING DIRECTOR (SMALL/FRINGE THEATER)
Shawn LaCount – The Aliens (Company One)
OUTSTANDING DIRECTOR (MIDSIZE THEATER)
Spiro Veloudos and Courtney O'Connor [Associate Director] – The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, Parts I & II (Lyric Stage Company of Boston)
OUTSTANDING DIRECTOR (LARGE THEATER)
Diane Paulus – Hair (Broadway Across America); Johnny Baseball (American Repertory Theater); Prometheus Bound (American Repertory Theater)
OUTSTANDING ACTRESS (SMALL/FRINGE THEATER)
Stacy Fischer – Hysteria, or Fragments of an Analysis of an Obsessional Neurosis (Nora Theatre Company)
OUTSTANDING ACTOR (SMALL/FRINGE THEATER)
Alex Pollock – The Aliens (Company One)
OUTSTANDING ACTRESS (MIDSIZE THEATER)
Anne Gottlieb – Frankie and Johnny in the Claire de Lune (New Repertory Theatre); In the Next Room (or The Vibrator Play) (SpeakEasy Stage Company)
OUTSTANDING ACTOR (MIDSIZE THEATER)
Johnny Lee Davenport – Broke-ology (Lyric Stage Company of Boston)
OUTSTANDING ACTRESS (LARGE THEATER)
Kate MacCluggage – The Merchant of Venice (ArtsEmerson/Theatre for a New Audience)
OUTSTANDING ACTOR (LARGE THEATER)
Thomas Derrah – R. Buckminster Fuller: The History (and Mystery) of the Universe (American Repertory Theater)
OUTSTANDING ENSEMBLE
The Hotel Nepenthe (Actors' Shakespeare Project)
OUTSTANDING MUSICAL PERFORMANCE
Uzo Aduba – Prometheus Bound (American Repertory Theater)
SPECIAL CITATION
Wheelock Family Theatre 30th Anniversary
OUTSTANDING PRODUCTION (FRINGE THEATER)
Mrs. Grinchley's Christmas Carol (The Gold Dust Orphans)
OUTSTANDING PRODUCTION (SMALL THEATER)
The Aliens (Company One)
OUTSTANDING PRODUCTION (MIDSIZE THEATER)
The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, Parts I & II (Lyric Stage Company of Boston)
OUTSTANDING PRODUCTION (LARGE THEATER)
Ruined (Huntington Theatre Company)
OUTSTANDING LOCAL MUSICAL PRODUCTION
The Blue Flower (American Repertory Theater)
NORTON PRIZE FOR SUSTAINED EXCELLENCE
Scott Edmiston

Monday, May 23, 2011

B'way More Wecloming of New Writing?

"Of the 25 plays that made it to Broadway for the 2010-2011 season, a robust 14 productions were new."

So says Mark Kennedy, in an article celebrating Broadway's sudden hospitality towards new plays this season. And not just British imports!

Even the modest success of a Lombardi perhaps bodes well for the willingness of audiences to pay Broadway prices to see something without singing and dancing and that isn't an already famous dramatic title.

Then again...

Lombardi is biography of a famous sports figure. And Bengal Tiger and Motherfucker feature A-list Hollywood stars.

And speaking of stars: it's easier to pull off star/stunt-casting in a play than in a musical where they would have to do more than learn lines and say them. (Daniel Radcliffe barely gets away--or doesn't, depending on your taste--with uncertain singing in How to Succeed, for instance.)

Moreover: I believe the rise in new plays opening directly on Broadway has a lot more to do with the demise of commercial Off Broadway than with any enlightened thinking on the Great White Way.  Motherfucker, for instance, was definitely slated for Off B'way, before the producers came to the same mathematical conclusions that many producers before them have--why mount a show at nearly the same expense as Broadway and only sell less than half the number of seats?

That play could weather the move-up thanks to Chris Rock's name on the marquis. But even Kathleen Turner (star from the eighties!) was not enough to elevate a mild exercise like High to a 1000-seat house. In the old days, many of these plays would thrive in smaller theatres at lower ticket prices. But now they must bulk up to Broadway size or pack it in.

By the way, interesting aside in Kennedy's piece that I hadn't realized about the hotness of the development program over at the Lark: "Last year, all three Pulitzer Prize nominees shaped their breakthrough plays at the Lark, including The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity by Kristoffer Diaz, In the Next Room or the vibrator play by Sarah Ruhl and Bengal Tiger." Get ready for that November submission deadline, playwrights...

Friday, May 20, 2011

What do we call "Avant-Garde"?

In this week's Voice (special Obie edition) Alexis Soloski surveys a bunch of downtown folk on what "avant-garde" theatre means to them today and how else they might classify their own work.

Indeed, is the term still appropriate? "Front ranks" of what? Are weirdo artists necessarily always "ahead" of everyone else? As for "experimental"--what's the experiment? (And what's the "result"?)

Many of those surveyed say it all basically comes down to taboos and norms--i.e. breaking them. But I'm not sure the main difference between something you see on Broadway and something at St Anne's Warehouse is that one might have more naked people or audience participation than the other.

And breaking one set of conventions doesn't mean you don't have conventions of your own. A performance at Dixon Place might ignore some taboos--but aren't there a different set of rules in their place?  A moment of unabashed sincerity or tearjerking sentimentality for instance, might be pretty "rule breaking" at a Radiohole or Wooster Group performance!

An event with no rules is not necessarily "edgy" theatre--it's actually not theatre. What makes performance performance, I would argue, is precisely the set of conventions the performer establishes with that audience in that space on that particular night. (Or day, if they're being edgy about it.)

I prefer to see the difference between, say, the Roundabout Theatre Company and, say, PS122 as being that of two different subcultures. One no "advanced" or "vanguard" than the other. Each with their own set of behavioral expectations (on stage and in the audience). And, let's face it, each comprised of a different social class--by which I don't necessarily mean income level, but "class" in the sense of the social groups people live and work in and those they choose to associate with, which often manifest signs in artistic taste, eating habits, fashion, speech patterns, etc.

Anyway that's my two cents. Read Alexis's roundup. Some of my favorite lines are:

Qui Nguyen: I woulda loved to have gotten that call to give my Vampire Cowboys a crack at giving Spider-man some real theatrical superpowers."

Brooke O'Hara: "Larger cultural trends (the expense of NYC, real estate, deep cuts in funding organizations) have made it almost impossible to maintain a sustained collective practice." (i.e. the conditions necessary for a true movement to gel beyond any one particular artist.)

Nick Jones: "Anybody truly radical is probably working on the fringe. And by the fringe, I don’t mean Downtown; I mean outside of theaters entirely, in contexts where no one is pursuing a career, and there are no reviewers (and possibly no audience). There is a huge DIY culture of performance in the United States, and it’s probably the closest thing to avant-garde that exists."

Taylor Mac: "I get described as an avant-garde theater artist because I wear high-heels and use a heightened theatricality. The Greeks used to wear high-heels when they performed. I am a traditionalist and proud to be one"

And finally...


Richard Foreman: " Theater should dare to put average audiences to sleep."

To which I am tempted to respond: mission accomplished, RF, mission accomplished.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Intiman Mystery Continues

Kate Taylor takes a valiant stab at the Intiman-Fail story in today's NYT. But it still seems like nobody's talking out there in Seattle. Main point that emerges is that the problem was not as simple as a bad Managing Director, and that, in fact, the departed Mr. Colburn was very likely a convenient scapegoat for a negligent Board.

Boards, arghh......

Bottom line, according to Taylor: "a cauldron of bad feelings...may pose as great a hurdle to Intiman as its lack of money."

The Intiman story is starting to sound so much like a missing chapter from Mike Daisey's "How Theatre Failed America" that Daisey actually did a special benefit performance of the piece in Seattle last night. (A benefit for the ex-Intiman employees, that is.)

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

501(c)(3) Alternatives

Valerie Beaman at Americans for the Arts' ArtsBlog searches the inns and outs of the taxcode for variations on the standard nonprofit business model (that "501(c)(3)" code) that might help out smaller troupes.

For newer, smaller organizations or independent artists without nonprofit status, fiscal sponsorship can be a solution. Fiscal sponsorship is where a legally recognized 501(c)(3) provides limited financial and legal oversight for a project initiated independently by an artist or an organization. The sponsorship provides eligibility for the project to solicit and receive grants and tax-deductible contributions through the sponsoring 501(c)(3) organization.

The arts incubator is another service that existing 501(c)(3) organizations can provide for emerging artists. Instead of the ability to solicit funds, the legally recognized 501(c)(3) provides space, back office services and professional development.
And what about for-profit?

The next model is the low-profit, limited liability company, or L3C. It is a hybrid of a nonprofit and for-profit organization designed to attract private investments and philanthropic capital in ventures designated to provide a social benefit. The L3C has an explicit primary charitable mission and only a secondary profit concern, but unlike a nonprofit, the L3C is free to distribute the profits, after taxes, to owners or investors. This model is currently legal in Michigan, Vermont, Illinois, Wyoming, Utah, Louisiana, North Carolina, and Maine (August 2011).

Certified Benefit Corporations (B corporations) are a new type of corporation which uses the power of business to solve social and environmental problems. B Corporations must meet rigorous and independent standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency. Their legal structure expands corporate accountability so they are required to make decisions that are good for society, not just their shareholders. This format is available in Maryland, Vermont, New Jersey, Virginia, and on the books for nine more states in 2011.
I must say, I'm feeling stronger and stronger about finding a model for a theatre that doesn't require a Board of Trustees. If it's technically "profitable," all the better. But the point would be freedom not the relatively limited profit potential involved in such a venture.

(hat tip: American Theatre Magazine feed)

Quote of the Day

"Until the start of this century, the review was often the only detailed record of something that, by its nature, is ephemeral. The question now is whether the demise of writing about acting matters, when YouTube and video downloads let you see for yourself. They may make the need less pronounced, but they seldom capture for posterity the magic of a stunning performance in the way that great writing can."

-Lyn Gardner, The Guardian

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

2010-2011 Awards: NYC Outer Critics

Outer Critics Circle handed down their awards Sunday.

Who and/or what is the Outer Critics Circle, you ask?

Outer Critics Circle is the organization of writers covering New York theatre for out-of-town newspapers, national publications and other media beyond Broadway. Celebrating its 61st season, the members of the Outer Critics Circle are affiliated with more than 90 newspapers, magazines, radio and television stations, and theatre publications in America and abroad.

And the winners, both Broadway and "Off" were...
OUTSTANDING NEW BROADWAY PLAY
War Horse

OUTSTANDING NEW BROADWAY MUSICAL
The Book of Mormon

OUTSTANDING NEW OFF-BROADWAY PLAY
Other Desert Cities

OUTSTANDING NEW OFF-BROADWAY MUSICAL
The Kid

OUTSTANDING NEW SCORE
(Broadway or Off-Broadway)
The Book of Mormon

OUTSTANDING REVIVAL OF A PLAY
(Broadway or Off-Broadway)
The Normal Heart

OUTSTANDING REVIVAL OF A MUSICAL
(Broadway or Off-Broadway)
Anything Goes

OUTSTANDING DIRECTOR OF A PLAY
Marianne Elliott & Tom Morris, War Horse

OUTSTANDING DIRECTOR OF A MUSICAL
Casey Nicholaw & Trey Parker, The Book of Mormon

OUTSTANDING CHOREOGRAPHER
Kathleen Marshall, Anything Goes

OUTSTANDING SET DESIGN
(Play or Musical)
Neil Murray, Brief Encounter

OUTSTANDING COSTUME DESIGN
(Play or Musical)
Tim Chappel & Lizzie Gardiner, Priscilla Queen of the Desert

OUTSTANDING LIGHTING DESIGN
(Play or Musical)
Paule Constable, War Horse

OUTSTANDING ACTOR IN A PLAY
Mark Rylance, Jerusalem

OUTSTANDING ACTRESS IN A PLAY
[a tie!]
Nina Arianda, Born Yesterday
Frances McDormand, Good People

OUTSTANDING ACTOR IN A MUSICAL
Josh Gad, The Book of Mormon

OUTSTANDING ACTRESS IN A MUSICAL
Sutton Foster, Anything Goes

OUTSTANDING FEATURED ACTOR IN A PLAY
Brian Bedford, The Importance of Being Earnest

OUTSTANDING FEATURED ACTRESS IN A PLAY
Elizabeth Rodriguez, The Motherf**ker With the Hat

OUTSTANDING FEATURED ACTOR IN A MUSICAL
Adam Godley, Anything Goes

OUTSTANDING FEATURED ACTRESS IN A MUSICAL
Laura Benanti, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown

OUTSTANDING SOLO PERFORMANCE
John Leguizamo, Ghetto Klown

JOHN GASSNER AWARD
(Presented for an American play, preferably by a new playwright)
Matthew Lopez, The Whipping Man

SPECIAL ACHIEVEMENT AWARDS
Ellen Barkin for her Outstanding Broadway Debut in The Normal Heart

Adrian Kohler with Basil Jones for Handspring Puppet Company
Puppet Design, Fabrication and Direction for War Horse

Monday, May 16, 2011

2010-2011 Awards: OBIES

This just in...this year's OBIES!


Best New American Play
The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity by Kristoffer Diaz
(This award is accompanied by a $1,000 check.)
 
Lifetime Achievement
Repertorio Espanol and its co-founder and artistic director, René Buch

Performance
F. Murray Abraham, sustained excellence of performance

André Braugher, The Whipping Man (Manhattan Theatre Club)

Michael Chernus, In the Wake (Public Theater)

Ethan Hawke, Blood from a Stone (The New Group)

Hamish Linklater, The School for Lies (Classic Stage Company)

Laurie Metcalf, The Other Place (Manhattan Class Company)

Thomas Sadoski, Other Desert Cities (Lincoln Center Theater)

Scott Shepherd, Gatz (Elevator Repair Service / Public Theater)

Brenda Wehle, The Intelligent Homosexual's Guide to Capitalism and Socialism With a Key to the Scriptures (Signature Theatre / Public Theater)

Charlayne Woodard, The Witch of Edmonton (Red Bull Theater)
 
Playwriting
Samuel D. Hunter, A Bright New Boise (Partial Comfort Productions)
Jonas Hassen Khemiri, Invasion! (The Play Company)
 
Direction
Austin Pendleton, Three Sisters (Classic Stage Company)
Roger Rees and Alex Timbers, Peter and the Starcatcher (New York Theatre Workshop)
Leigh Silverman, In the Wake (Public Theater) and Go Back to Where You Are (Playwrights Horizons)
 
Design
Jill BC Du Boff, sustained excellence of sound design
Donyale Werle, sustained excellence of set design
 
Special Citations
Design and choreography, Sleep No More (Punchdrunk Theatre) Felix Barrett, Livi Vaughan, Beatrice Minns, Maxine Doyle, Stephen Dobbie, Euan Maybank, and David Israel Reynoso

Young Jean Lee, We're Gonna Die (13P / Joe’s Pub)

debbie tucker green and Leah C. Gardiner, Born Bad (Soho Rep)
 
Obie Grants ($2,500 to each theatre)
Metropolitan Playhouse
Wakka Wakka
 
The Ross Wetzsteon Award (includes $1,000 check)
Belarus Free Theatre
I would just like to add my special pleasure in seeing two of my longtime faves, Metropolitan and Repertorio Espanol get some props, as well as Wakka Wakka, who I discovered more recently. Three excellent (and very different!) companies.

Kushner Speaks

...to the paper probably that's had the best coverage of the Kushner/CUNY spat: the CUNY Advocate student paper!

They've also been running a day-by-day blog of the fracas here and they've run some notable letters on the subject. The one from super-Zionist Ed Koch was probably most helpful in getting the Board to reverse.

Now that the infamous decision to "table" Kushner's honorary degree has effectively been reversed, there's been a move at CUNY to now go further and seek the removal of Board-Bully Jeffrey Wiesenfeld, who started the whole thing. But I actually don't join my CUNY peers in this goal. While I find his tactics (ambushing the board with lies about Kushner) and some of his opinions (like saying Palestinians are "not human" ) reprehensible, I don't believe the remedy to free-speech suppression is yet more free-speech suppression. Why turn the man into a free-speech martyr, which is clearly how he and his right-wing supporters would play it. ("Israel-Hating CUNY Fires Righteous Jew.")

I actually lay more of the blame for this incident not on the sole man who raised his highly biased objection at the board meeting--but on those others on the board who just blindly went along with it. And I chiefly hold responsible the Chair himself, Benno Schmidt who--while later repenting--clearly was either asleep at the wheel in letting a vote go forward or just let himself be intimidated by a madman.  Wiesenfeld is just one vote on a twelve-member board. He can't do much damage if other, hopefully more sensible folks, decide not to be cowed by him.

I understand the campaign to oust him as a statement. (And to let him feel some heat for a change, after all the flames he's thrown at Kushner and others all these years.) But the guy's only got two more years left
on his term. I say we show we're better than he is, let him stay on in a shamed, impotent capacity and then not renew him.

In brief, we can't just eliminate, or brush under the rug partisan hacks like Wiesenfeld. Just neuter them by refusing to take them seriously.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Headline of the Day

UK THEATRE'S TONY SUCCESS NOT POSSIBLE WITHOUT SUBSIDY
From UK's The Stage. In re: the boffo NY success of Royal Court's Jerusalem and National Theatre's War Horse.

At least the latter is still being performed here by the nonprofit Lincoln Center. (Although it's hardly "subsidized.")

The article is also aimed more at criticizing UK cuts, than here.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

New AD's

Two prominent companies just announced new Artistic Directors...

Playwright Chay Yew will run Chicago's Victory Gardens.

Director Darko Tresnjak will be at Hartford Stage.

Congrats, guys. Just make sure you check the accounting books on your first day to make sure they don't pull an Intiman on you mid-season.

And in related news, the new head of American Theatre Wing is... Heather Hitchens. (No relation to Christopher, as far as I can tell)

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

2010-11 Awards: NY Drama Critics Circle

The top NYC critics have had their annual lunch and issued their typically select citations for the season:

Best Play: Good People, by David Lindsay-Abaire
Best Foreign Play: Jerusalem, by Jez Butterworth
Best Musical: The Book of Mormon, by Trey Parker, Matt Stone and Robert Lopez
Special Citations: The Broadway revival of The Normal Heart; Mark Rylance for La Bête or Jerusalem; and the direction, design and puppetry of War Horse.
As always, the best part of NYDCC is the full-disclosure of the multiple ballots. Those guys really have to take a stand!  (or two, or three...)

Monday, May 09, 2011

Roundup

-"Arts and culture is losing its market share of philanthropy." National Arts Index report, via Americans for the Arts.... Dare we say: good riddance? Bring art back to the people!

-WSJ declares Cleveland's new Playhouse Square complex a winner as a model for downtown development.

-Ibsen's comedies?

-If you can't afford to get to New York to see Book of Mormon--or just can't afford a ticket period--they're offering a free listen to the CD and a lottery for a totally free performance.  Guess they can afford it...

Quote of the Day

"If you want to know something about the structure of a play, listen to some Bach preludes and fugues.... I think I learnt something about the nature of dramatic structure from the nature of the music I was listening to."

-Edward Albee

Friday, May 06, 2011

CUNY Will Reconsider

From University Board Chairman Benno Schmidt today:

“I believe the Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees needs to reconsider the Board’s decision to table the motion to approve the award of an honorary degree to Tony Kushner.  I would not ordinarily ask for reconsideration of a decision so recently taken.  But when the board has made a mistake of principle, and not merely of policy, review is appropriate and, indeed, mandatory.

“Freedom of thought and expression is the bedrock of any university worthy of the name.  If it were appropriate for us to take politics into account in deciding whether to approve an honorary degree, I might agree with Trustee Wiesenfeld, whose political views on the matters in controversy are not far distant from my own.  But it is not right for the Board to consider politics in connection with the award of honorary degrees except in extreme cases not presented by the facts here.  The proposed honorary degree for Mr. Kushner would recognize him for his extraordinary talent and contribution to the American theater.  Like other honorary degrees, it is not intended to reflect approval or disapproval for political views not relevant to the field for which the recipient is being honored.  Any other view is impractical as well as wrong in principle.  Would we want it thought that we approve of the politics of everyone who receives a CUNY honorary degree?  Certainly I have moved the approval of honorary degrees for persons with whose opinions I differ.

“In addition, I am concerned about the procedural unfairness of our action.  The objection arose at the eleventh hour without any opportunity for research and preparation necessary for the presentation of a full and balanced appraisal.  Accordingly, the Chancellor and I agree that reconsideration of the motion to table the honorary degree for Mr. Kushner is not only the right thing to do, but is our obligation. I will ask the Secretary of the Board to convene an Executive Committee meeting to reconsider this matter.”
All well and good. And proof once again that the only effective response to unfair pressure is...counter-pressure!

But do note that phrase "not intended to reflect approval or disapproval for political views not relevant to the field for which the recipient is being honored." So, if Mr Wiesenfeld doesn't like Kushner's screenplay for the film Munich, for example, canceling the award is ok? Dangerous precedent...

(I'll put aside for the moment Schmidt's statement of solidarity with Wiesenfeld's extreme rightist views. Perhaps he's just trying to quell the firestorm on both sides.)

I maintain, though, that the key issue here is not free speech in the abstract (important thought that is) but the utter and deliberate distortion of Kushner's actual views.  Wiesenfeld characterized him in terms usually reserved for Holocaust deniers. So I agree with Kushner that someone owes him a direct apology (or at least retraction) for putting slanderous statements about him in the public record.

Let's save the "Israel-haters have free speech rights, too" for another time--when such a person needs defending. Here Kushner's own respectful record of nuanced dissent from Israeli-Likud military policy is defensible enough for to justify his not being academically blacklisted.

Quote of the Day

“I have no idea who Mr. Kushner is."

-CUNY Board Member, Valerie Lancaster Beal.

But to be fair, she's one of the ones there who supported the playwright!


Quoted today in NYT.

Spider-Man: "Reimagined!"

Check out the new marketing campaign:

"New Story!"  Ouch.

Meanwhile, look who's the big speaker at TCG's June conference in LA.  That'll be a hot ticket...

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Kushner/CUNY update

Following yesterday's news about the board of the City University of New York voting to "table" a proposed honorary degree for Tony Kushner...

Kushner has now vociferously responded in an open letter, posted on the site for Jewish Voice for Peace. Understandably, what upsets him more than being deprived of an honorary doctorate from John Jay College is the truly slanderous representation of his views on Israel that were carelessly (or just mendaciously) floated at the meeting by one Jeffrey Wiesenfeld--CUNY board member and neocon hatchet-man. Despite Wiesenfeld's sleazy charges, Kushner has in face (as he says in his letter) never supported a boycott of Israel and never denied Israel's right to exist.

Also today, Patrick Healy has written up the fracas in the Times.

So how does this happen? How could the board of the city's public university not know it would be controversial to so publicly diss one of the city's most famous and admired writers?

Maybe because these rich squares don't really know who he is. A partisan hitman like Wiesenfeld can march into a meeting waving printouts from boogeyman Norman Finkelstein's blog and ask, Why is John Jay giving an award to someone not a friend of Israel? And, as we're discovering, hardly anyone at the table attempted to refute that. (Or not enough people. Healy reports that Kushner was done in by falling two votes shy of the nine out of twelve required. Seven were ok with Kushner, five voted against.)Why? Maybe they were just lazy and wanted to end the meeting already.

Also: the Israel question has become so radioactive in respected circles that any whiff of controversy scares the board to death. (See "Corrie, Rachel.")

One wonders if a majority of the board understood that Tony Kushner is more than a commentator on Israel. And if they do know his literary and dramatic credentials, do they assume he's just one of those pinko gay theatre artists always asking for patronage from such illustrious board members?

Stay tuned....

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Quote of the Day

"I’ve heard stories of readings for artistic directors who 'don’t read.' How do foundations that support new work give so much money to an institution lead by someone who does not read plays?"

-Alex Kilgore, in a meaty and thoughtful meditation on Development Hell.

He also links to an interesting-sounding study of the problem by David Dower.

(Hat tip: Culture Future.)

Kushner Dissed by CUNY

Tony Kushner must be used to this by now.

Five years ago Brandeis University almost revoked their offer of an honorary degree to him. Now the board of the City University of New York (CUNY) has vetoed member college John Jay's similar plans to honor the playwright. Why?

The move took place at a meeting of CUNY's board of trustees Monday night after one of its members, Jeffrey S. Wiesenfeld, raised objections to plans to honor Kushner by John Jay College, one of the system's schools.....Wiesenfeld, a board member of several Jewish organizations and an activist in conservative circles, spoke out against plans to honor Kushner, who, like others receiving honorary degrees, may have spoken at the graduation ceremony. Wiesenfeld cited what he believed were some of Kushner's anti-Israel statements, all of which he said he found on the website of Norman Finkelstein, another figure known for his vehemently anti-Israel views. When people identify themselves with "these types of viewpoints," Wiesenfeld told his fellow trustees, "it's up to all of us to look at fairness and consider these things," especially when Israel sits in such a hostile neighborhood.
Yes, "fairness." Right.

Who knew. Tony Kushner used to only be controversial when Angels in America would get banned here and there by Christian homophobes.  Now Israel-supporters call him a Jew-hater. (Or, worse, an implied self-hating Jew.)

By the way, Kushner is hardly Norman Finkelstein. When even Kushner perfectly civil and rational questioning of Likud party policy is ruled out of bounds for discourse on a college campus--on a New York City college campus!--then free speech really is threatened.

Almost makes me ashamed to be CUNY student. Yet, there's still time for other board members to come to their senses and for John Jay College to stand up to the bullying by one man intimidating the public university which he claims to "serve."

For more on Wiesenfeld, scroll down to his CUNY profile here.

By the way, he was also in the news lately supporting Glenn Beck against charges of anti-Semitism.  So Tony Kushner: out of bounds. Glenn Beck: fine.  Glad we got that straight.

And here's even more disturbing background on who this man is and how he got on the board, from the CUNY student paper:
With Jef­fery Wiesen­feld on the CUNY Board of Trustees, CUNY seems to be pro­vid­ing sanc­tu­ary for yet another oppo­nent of mul­ti­cul­tural edu­ca­tion who seems unafraid to make inflam­ma­tory state­ments against cer­tain minor­ity groups to achieve his rad­i­cal ends. In his first con­fir­ma­tion hear­ing for CUNY Board, State Sen­a­tor Daniel Hevesi ques­tioned Wiesen­feld sharply about these reports, includ­ing alle­ga­tions from Com­mu­nity Advo­cate Isaac Abra­ham that he had called blacks “sav­ages.” As Hevesi remarked, “I don’t know what to believe, but if some­one calls blacks ‘sav­ages’ they have no busi­ness being on the CUNY Board of Trustees.”
Even though Hevesi went on to say, “I know this nom­i­nee does not have the char­ac­ter to sit on the CUNY Board,” Jef­frey Wiesen­feld was con­firmed by the full State Sen­ate in June, 1999, and then re-appointed by Pataki in a last minute “emer­gency” meet­ing of the state sen­ate, just before the end of Pataki’s term on Decem­ber 13th, 2006. For more on this see “Pataki Appoints Two Trustees in Last Minute Sen­ate Meet­ing” in the Feb­ru­ary, 2007 edi­tion of the GC Advocate.
Other highlights include "base­less charges that a new dual lan­guage Ara­bic Eng­lish pub­lic school, the Kahlil Gibran Inter­na­tional Acad­emy, would inevitably become a haven for ter­ror­ists and was already a rad­i­cal 'Madrassa' reli­gious school."

So much for "fairness."

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Tony Noms, 2010-2011

Yes, they're out there.

My first response was, "Will they say 'Motherfucker' on CBS television?"  The play is nominated for six Tony Awards, after all.

Secondary responses...

- Sister Act?  Really? Sister Act gets the fourth Best Musical slot and not Andrew Jackson? Really???

- Speaking of musicals, let us all remind ourselves (and everyone else who asks) that Spider-Man is not eligible this year. Why? Because they never "opened," silly! (Given the competition they're probably better off next year anyway.)

- Best Actor (Play): Will Al Pacino show up?  Only to lose to Mark Rylance? Or to a guy in a dress? Or to probable industry fave, part-time actor Joe Mantello?

- Best Actress (Play): Will this be the official coronation of Nina Arianda? Having just gotten out of her MFA program in 2009, followed by a smash Off B'way debut in 2010, Broadway may just embrace the prospect of newly minted royalty. (Tough contest, though, between her and Frances McDormand--movie star, Oscar-winner, but also Tony-less stage veteran who is starring in a big vehicle of a well-liked play practically written for her.)

- Too bad the two Mormon guys have to go against each other--they're both so excellent. (I give the slight edge to Andrew Rannells for sheer musical theatre power-chops.) So looks like Norbert Leo Butz again...

- Note: no Robin Williams, no Chris Rock nominations. I guess they're not so eager to please stars after all.  I haven't seen Williams yet (and Best Actor is one tight category this year), but Rock was certainly good enough to get a nod as "featured," but maybe he would have been insulted!  And what's Billy Crudup doing there in "Featured"? Isn't Nightingale basically the male lead in Arcadia?

-Speaking of Robin Williams... Not a lotta love here for Bengal Tiger. Just sayin'. Again, haven't seen either this or Normal Heart, but are you telling me Moises Kaufman's work on Bengal is less worthy than the last-minute tag-team job of Joel Grey and George Wolfe on Normal? (As successful as the latter apparently turned out to be...)

-Featured Actress (Play) has both Edie Falco and Ellen Barkin.  Aren't they the same person?

-Only two for Best Musical Revival this year? Were there any others that opened besides Anything Goes & How to Succeed? As for Best Play Revival, one would have thought Merchant of Venice had it all wrapped up, but it now seems so long ago, and Normal Heart has definitely had a late-entry surge.

-Best Play will be interesting. Good People seems to be the safe bet--Solid American Play. Haven't seen it yet myself, but I have seen War Horse which I absolutely loved. However, the script itself is not the best thing about it. Best Play is a funny category because technically it looks like you're voting for the "play" (i.e. the playwright), sometimes a play can win if it's just enjoyed more as an experience. Unlike with musicals, where one show can win all the component parts of book and score and another can win just overall "best show, the voters don't get to divide up plays like that. So if the voters were just swept up in the War Horse experience they may vote for it, even if they appreciated Lindsay-Abaire's writing more.

As for Best Musical, it's Mormon all the way, baby. Consider it the perennial Producers/Spamalot award for Broadway-novice comedians.  The question is: what number will they do for the broadcast? "Fuck you God in the Cunt" won't fly on CBS any better than "Motherfucker with the Hat." 

Then again, some F-Bombs are probably what that the Tony Broadcast needs to stay alive at this point.

See you on June 12!

Monday, May 02, 2011

2010-2011 Lortels

Awards season is now upon us in NYC, starting with the Lortels of Off Broadway.

Outstanding Play
The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity - Produced by Second Stage Theatre; Written by Kristoffer Diaz
Outstanding Musical
Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson - Produced by The Public Theater and Center Theatre Group in association with Les Freres Corbusier; Music and Lyrics by Michael Friedman, Book by Alex Timbers
Outstanding Solo Show
Mike Birbiglia's My Girlfriend's Boyfriend - Produced by Ron Delsener and Mike Lavoie; Written and Performed by Mike Birbiglia
Outstanding Revival
Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes/Part 1: Millennium Approaches, Part 2: Perestroika - Produced by Signature Theatre Company; Written by Tony Kushner
Outstanding Director
John Collins, Gatz
Outstanding Choreographer
Steven Hoggett, Peter and the Starcatcher
Outstanding Lead Actor
Christian Borle, Peter and the Starcatcher
Outstanding Lead Actress
Laurie Metcalf, The Other Place
Outstanding Featured Actor
Thomas Sadoski, Other Desert Cities
Outstanding Featured Actress
Kristen Schaal, The Coward
Outstanding Scenic Design
Donyale Werle, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson
Outstanding Costume Design
Gabriel Berry, The Coward
Outstanding Lighting Design
Ben Stanton, The Whipping Man
Outstanding Sound Design
Mikhail Fiksel, The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity

Special Awards
-Lifetime Achievement Award: Lynne Meadow
-Service to Off-Broadway Award: Gary Glaser
-Outstanding Alternative Theatrical Experience: Gatz

Axeman Cometh

More from The Onion's theatrical newsdesk:

Production Of 'Iceman Cometh' Canceled Due To Entire Cast Getting Called Back For Axe Body Spray Commercial
LOS ANGELES—An upcoming production of Eugene O'Neill's 1946 drama The Iceman Cometh, a complex meditation on the futility of the American Dream, was canceled Tuesday when every single cast member was called back for an Axe body spray commercial. "The character of Hickey is one of the finest-written roles in American drama, but Axe called and you can't pass that up," said actor Evan Weiss, who studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, has always wanted to play the lead in The Iceman Cometh, and has the perfect physique for the 30-second Axe spot. "This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."

Funny for so many reasons, of course. First, there's unfair (though funny!) perception of LA theatrical productions existing only as showcases for TV actors. Then, there's the fact that Iceman Cometh is not only a five-hour Nietzschean tragedy, but actually about a bar full of smelly boozehounds who could probably use some Axe. And to top it off, we have a chuckling shout-out to American Academy of Dramatic Arts!

Then there's the juxtaposed crudeness of the Axe spots, themselves, if you're not familiar with them...