The Playgoer: September 2005

Custom Search

Friday, September 30, 2005

Trevor Nunn

(Ok, today is Guardian Day, I suppose...)

Here's a wonderfully balanced reflection from the modern master (and only occasional commercial sellout) Trevor Nunn on the state of Shakespeare production.

First, let's get the authorship stuff out of the way. Sir Trevor hardly dwells on it, but I'm grateful he supplies the following counterweight to those who insist Shakespeare would not have been up to the extensive learning and knowledge in his plays:

...he was never bothered by anachronisms. Cleopatra playing "billiards"; an ancient Briton mocked as a "base football player"; Pistol, living in early 15th-century London, characterised as a regular at the Playhouse - these were all part of Shakespeare's preference to keep his audience colloquially involved and in a state of spontaneous recognition rather than satisfied scholarship.

In other words- he gets a lot of things wrong! Just like a middle class writer might if he were fudging the research, or just didn't care about scholarly and historical accuracy. (I find that easier to explain, at least, than how the presumably much more educated Earl of Oxford would make so many mistakes.) Funny how Shakespeare revisionism & denial seems to depend on a kind of Bardic Infallibility that is just not there.

But I digress. Nunn's subject is not the damage done to Shakespeare by ill-informed attempts to take his name off his work, but by the glut of directorial super-concepts which have drowned out any foundational or "traditional" sense of the original texts:

For many years now, as post-modernism came to dominate every European opera house and revival came to mean deconstruction, I have felt a pang of sympathy for young people or students who may be seeing a play for the first time and have no idea what conventional representations are being rebelled against. I wonder how many exam answers in recent years have discussed Shakespeare's "swimming pool scene" in Romeo and Juliet (courtesy of Baz Luhrmann), or (mea culpa) his cabaret scene in The Merchant of Venice?
As with everything else, there is a balance to be struck. I love the story of the great George Devine defining his belief that the Royal Court must have the "right to fail". "Absolutely," said a critic friend, "so long as the right doesn't become an obligation." In the same way, just as I insist that every theatre company should have the right to respond to classic plays in the light of modern society, I am uncomfortably aware that we must avoid this becoming a knee-jerk reaction.

To me the model of a smart, modern, and still utterly "faithful" rendering of an overexposed Shakespeare classic is still Nunn's minimalist "Macbeth" from the early 1980s. Thankfully, the tv version of this intimate in-the-round "chamber" staging is now available on DVD. No set, no gimmicks. Just Ian McKellen, Judy Dench, Roger Rees, and a bunch of other prime RSC actors telling the story as clearly and convincingly as I've ever seen. (See above).

Theatre Architecture

An interesting piece in the Guardian about how much contemporary theatre architecture...well, sucks. Actually, a "love/hate relationship" is probably the more faithful way to render what is described here about the negotiations between theatre artists and architects. I feel this kind of discussion is long overdue in American (let alone New York). The question of what our theatres should look like in the 21st century might very well emerge as the most crucial topic of how theatre will survive.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Defending Will

The Shakespeare Authorship debate rages on over at Spearbearer Down Left, with the blogger's answer to my comments there, and my own subsequent rant. (Which I'll spare Playgoer readers more of, but if you're a junkie on the issue, please do follow the link.) Blogger Parabasis (his own blog is here) gets in on the act, too, joining my side of the fray.

Incidentally I have emailed the "Public Editor," Byron Calame, over at the Times about the whole Niederkorn issue (drawing attention especially to Ron Rosenbaum's attack in the New York Oberserver), hoping he'll take an interest. He is supposed to be the watchman over there at the Times and keep of journalistic integrity. If he could get the paper to actually print a semi-retraction on the Geraldo story, he can do anything! Let's see if he takes up the cause of integrity in cultural journalism.

(If you feel strongly about this, too, please pile it on and write Calame yourself at The more folks he hears this from, maybe he won't consider it just a fringe issue.)

Keep a' commentin'

Playgoer, for the record, does like reader comments. If you're put off by the number of comments seemingly "removed by the blog administrator" rest assured, your humble administrator has not just gone cranky. And neither has he been receiving uncontrollable hatemail from Margo Jefferson, William Niederkorn, the creative team of Lennon and the entire Tony Awards committee.

No, alas, Playgoer has only become the victim of really annoying "comment spam," a new disease afflicting susceptible blog sites. Thankfully, the folks at Google Blogger have offered a kind of screening process to prevent this: word verification. You've probably encountered this before (Ticketmaster, etc). So hopefully the extra step of typing a short random word won't deter you from continuing the kind of scintillating comments that keep the level of dialogue here on Playgoer so high.

In the words of two old wise men: Thank you for your continued support.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

"Well" on B'way

This just in: Lisa Kron's Well, one of the most acclaimed new plays of last year, is indeed going to open on Broadway. March, 2006.

This will be a fascinating test case, of so many things. A downtown "Lesbian Brother" moving uptown to Broadway, from non-profit to fully commercial. Of course, the play has succeeded so far as a "mother-daughter" story, even if the critical and academic elite has been more interested in its examination of gender- and race-construction and its Pirandellian frame.

I caught the play myself not at the Public in NY, but out at the ACT in San Francisco, a larger space--I dare say Broadway-sized. (Indeed, it turns out to have been a covert tryout.) The play struck me as fresh and disarmingly playful. But I did feel it was dwarfed by the big house (and the mike-amplification), and the 4th-wall breaking fell flat behind such an imposing proscenium.
So will Broadway (the industry and the audiences) embrace this newcomer? Or will the good intentions of yet another well meaning producer (Liz McCann, here) pave the road to the hellish mistreatment of yet another idiosyncratic playwright at the hands of tourist & group-sales ticket buyers. In short: what will non-New York audiences think of Well at $75-100 a pop? I don't begrudge Lisa Kron the right to a Tony and better royalty fees, of course. I just can't bear to see another original artist sacrificed on the anachronistic altar of the Great White Way.

time-lapse criticism?

Always interesting to see a critic experimenting with the form, even if in a different genre. In this case, food. Steve Cuozzo, the restaurant critic of the New York Post (now now, no jokes) is starting something of a revolution. Read about it here.

His assessment reminds me of the occasional call for theatre critics to plan "return visits," to reviews the growth of plays in addition to (or rather than) their opening nights. Not sure how I feel about that, or even how feasible it would be for the busy New York reviewer. But I'm for all creative thinking of our practices.

Meanwhile, consider these sample Cuozzo provocations and observe the parallels to the stage beat:

"Most reviews appear within two to six months after the opening. Once that was considered a fair amount of time to allow a new place to settle in. In fact, today, it's the worst time to take the pulse of a place."

"No wonder no reviewer today has one-eighth the influence Mimi Sheraton had 25 years ago. Zero-star drubbings in the Times the last few years didn't lay a glove on Hudson Cafeteria, Amaranth or Rosa Mexicano.(...)Meanwhile, recipients of three and even four stars fold with embarrassing regularity(...). Critics lost clout to the Zagat Survey, televised "rock star" chefs and the instantaneous omniscience of the Web."

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

New Voice Theatre Editor

For some inside baseball from the world of theatre journalism...

The Village Voice has named a replacement for the fine Charles McNulty, who has overseen for a few years now, the best theatre page in New York, for my money. (McNulty, again, is off soon to the LA Times.)

New York, N.Y. - September 27, 2005 -The Village Voice, the nation's largest
alternative weekly newspaper, is pleased to announce the appointment of Jorge
Morales as Senior Editor, Theater/Obies.
In addition to his editorial role, Morales will be responsible for administering the Village Voice Obie Awards, the Village Voice's annual award show honoring Off Broadway and Off-Off Broadway productions worthy of distinction.
Morales, who assumes his new responsibilities October 25, has written about theater, film, books, and culture for The Village Voice, where he was assistant editor and copy chief. Prior to joining the Voice in 2001, Morales was an online editor at The Industry Standard, and previously, news editor and arts editor at the Daily News website.
Morales' writing has also appeared in The Advocate, The Believer, Seattle Weekly, The Industry Standard, and the Daily News. He holds degrees from the University of Puerto Rico and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. Morales resides in Manhattan.
Morales discovered his passion for theater after making his stage debut at age 8, as an ant.

I wish Morales well, and I hope the great tradition of Ross Wetzsteon, John Lahr, Michael Feingold, and Charles McNulty has a secure future there. Even the Voice, that creature of the counter culture, has had much of its arts coverage cut back to blurbs, graphics, and ads like everyone else...

TONYS '06: better & better...

That must have been some exciting meeting last week of the Tony Awards Administrative Committee (according to Playbill)First they created a new award for, basically, Rosie O'Donnell and three other cast replacements to be named later. Then they had to rule on "eligibility" for all Broadway shows so far. And what a season it has been...

The Committee also discussed the eligibility of the five shows that have opened so far this season: After the Night and the Music, The Constant Wife, Primo, The Blonde in the Thunderbird and Lennon. The one eligibility decision announced concerned the short-lived Suzanne Somers show, The Blonde in the Thunderbird. That production will be eligible for nomination in the Special Theatrical Event category.

Now, after they got done with Constant Wife and Primo, what do you think the "eligibility" discussion was like for these other shows. And how many motions to abandon the Tonys altogether?
And think about this: if Special Theatrical Event requires at least three nominees, The Blonde in the Thunderbird actually seems to have a lock on a nomination! Special indeed...

The New Culturally Ignorant Cultural Elite?

An astute and thought-provoking take on the eternal struggle to win (back) young audiences to the performing arts, from the enticingly named Apollinaire Scherr at Newsday. She surveys some innovative successes of some dance troupes and venues, which only highlight how much the "big" institutions just don't get it.

But my reading of her piece is not uncritical, at least about her beginning premise. Take her lede:

My friend K. is the hippest chick I know. She's worked at The New Yorker. She's
planned projects over drinks with the paint-by-numbers art satirist Alex Melamid. She's gotten help on essays for n+1, the Y generation's Partisan Review, from Benjamin Kunkel, the Y generation's J.D. Salinger. But until last winter, she'd never been to a Balanchine ballet
I have to pause just to ask--what defines cultural "hipness" now? So far, these are all literary credentials. In an article that expresses astonishment that the performing arts (ballet, in particular) is being left out of the young culturati's toolkit..maybe we should start by questioning the cache of the above name-dropping. Not to put Scherr's poor friend any more on the spot--but what has she actually done? "Gotten help"? "Planning projects"? Sounds like some out-of-control W Hotel cocktail-hour networking more than any art appreciation or cultural consumption.

But, still, there's something to the way Scherr phrases The Problem. She continues:
So we [Scherr & "K"] went: a triple dose at the New York State Theater. At the end of George Balanchine's windswept "Tchaikovsky Suite No. 3," a man in a tux joined the New York City Ballet dancers onstage for bows. K. leaned over and whispered excitedly, "Is that him?" She didn't mean Tchaikovsky.
It turns out that you can be a discerning citizen of America's cultural capital and not know the first thing about one of the world's greatest choreographers - like, for example, that he's been dead for 22 years.
Ok, I'll admit something here: I've never been to a Balanchine ballet either! (Though I have been to others.) For that matter I've also never heard of this "n+1" whatever that is. So what do we learn? Perhaps that the current cultural class is hopelessly fragmented? From literary cosmo-sippers or theatre-obsessives like myself, have we all become too myopic about our own fields to take an interest in the arts in general?

Anyway, now that that's out of the way, please do read her stimulating (and perhaps inspiring)account of what City Center and other innovators are doing about the poor K's among us.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Tony biz

Further signs of the bankruptcy of the Tonys. According to Michael Riedel today,

In response to all the cast replacements at long-running shows, the Tony Awards have added a new category: Best Re-creation of a Role. Too late for Harvey Fierstein in "Fiddler" but just in time for Rosie O'Donnell, his new goyische Golde!
Yes, I'm all for lavishing praise and awards a plenty on great performances. But make no mistake, this is a prodcuer's ploy to use Tony awards/nominations as a carrot to lure big name stars to their struggling long-run products. Namely, Hollywood stars for whom the salaries alone will not be enough.

And this, just when speculation was rife this year that the Best Revival categories (at least for Musicals) has outlived its purpose and might be scrapped. Recreating plays, out. Recreating people, in!

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Shakespeare in the Arab World

A fascinating piece from the Guardian (courtesy Arts Journal) by Kuwaiti playwright Sulayman Al-Bassam recounting the experience of opening his new play The Al-Hamlet Summit. He is also at work on "a Baghdad Richard III"...

Will They Never Learn?

Yes, a John Denver musical just opened in the Bay Area. Has the suffering of Lennon been in vain...SF Chronicle reviewer Robert Hurwitt does introduce a nifty neologism here for this genre, what others have called the "jukebox musical"--popsical.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

August Wilson update

A moving article here from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (the leading source on this so far--where's the Times!) confirming and amplifying the early reports of August Wilson's terminal illness.

For those especially interested and concerned there's info in the article about a listserv, believe it or not, his niece has organized. Presumably, it will be the prime source of health updates, but it's not a premature memorial, just building a network of people celebrating his work. To subscribe write to: and include in the body of the email "subscribe AW-L" followed by your email and your name.

For some Wilson reading, there are of course the plays. But I'm choosing to highlight this week his provocative essay "The Ground On Which I Stand," his famous (infamous, in some circles) address to the TCG conference some years ago advocating for an autonomous (not necessarily "separatist") African American theatre culture. (This was the talk that led to his contretemps with Brustein, etc.) I've always found it a powerful argument and a great read, no matter what you make of its conclusions. See the Amazon link up right for more.

Update (9/22): another fine article here in the LA Times, about the upcoming production there of Radio Golf--sadly being billed already as Wilson's "last" play. Which might be a shame if he truly did not have time to tinker with it, as per his usual routine, from production to production.

The Making of a Modern Major Musical

Disney rolls out its new product: Tarzan. Read Riedel for the eyewitness account.

Highlight: " 'The Disney marketing machine is the best there is,' [an] agent says. 'Who else could produce Phil Collins for a group-sales presentation? They've got us eating out of their hands.' " And who else could care? Broadway today in a nutshell.

Other money quote: "By this time next year, Disney should have four of Broadway's top musical houses all locked up....Not since Cameron the 1990s has one producer controlled so much Broadway real estate." The Mouse has won.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Art vs Commerce

I'm very grateful to the reader yesterday who posted a rejoinder to my plea for distinguishing theatre art from theatre biz. But I gladly take up the challenge of the main argument:

Part of what makes theatre (and any commercial art form) so vital is that it has to succeed commercially as well as artistically. How far out can the playwright or director go without losing too large of a chunk of his/her audience?... The delicate balance between commerce and art, in an ideal world, should create better work.

I print this not to praise it, but hardly to bury it, either. It's a commonly held view, that the stamp of popular appeal is necessary to ratify a piece of theatre's value. But do we really hold the same view of all other artforms? Would people feel just as comfortable saying this about novel like, say, Moby Dick, which took a long time to be recognized? I'm not sure I buy how theatre must be held to a different standard, namely that of commercialism, just because it plays before paying patrons. (Publishing seems to me a more commercially driven--and profitable!--industry than even Broadway.) Yes, theatre must engage its audience, but can't we find a language for talking about this "connection" that is different than that of a marketing department?

The audience is always a necessary participant. But let's ask ourselves what may sometimes "lose" an audience--dirty words, naked people, other offenses to contemporary morals and manners. Is the audience always "right" in these cases?

Also, before you "lose" an audience you gotta find one! The factors that go into who buys tickets to what and when go way beyond aesthetics alone. What plays people go to has a lot more to do with judgements they're making before not after seeing it.

Anyway, thanks for the provocation, mystery reader and I hope you'll come back for more. Others, feel free to join the fray on either side.

Monday, September 19, 2005

I find myself nodding vigorously at these wise words from Jill Dolan, addressing a common confusion over the nature of "criticism" when it comes to theatre (emphasis added):

My initial posting on Oedipus at Palm Springs also raised questions from some readers about how blog writing enters public conversations differently than more conventional publication or information-sharing....
Some readers, for instance, have remarked that I didn't "like" Oedipus at Palm Springs very much (and many of them say they liked it a great deal). On the contrary, I enjoyed the performance I saw quite a lot. I meant my critical engagements to offer ways of thinking about the production that might put it in a different light, not to suggest that it wasn't "good." I'm struck by how limited is our critical vocabulary for talking about performance, if we remain caught in that good/bad binary. I can enjoy a performance, feel supportive of its creators, and still want to talk about the range of things it made me think and feel, some of which might be polemical.
Yet I'm struck by how much I, too, worry that what I write will be read as condemnation or disparagement of an artistic project I admire very much. How can I (how can we) work to shift the limitations of such critical discourse?

Yes, intelligent educated people can explore endlessly the complexities, contradictions, and even weaknesses of a great novel, but when it comes to a play, all that matters is the show biz. Do I buy a ticket or not? Are our discussions of Picasso or Jackson Pollock ruled by such criteria? (Am I assuming too much in saying we talk about them at all?) I know that when I take students to the theatre, the discussion about the performance always descends into "thumbs up/thumbs down" in a way they would never think about getting away with in an English class.

Can theatre ever be detached (liberated?) from commerce? from the status of commodity?

The Rise & Fall of Clear Channel

I realize I have been linking a lot lately to Michael Riedel, and I also realize he may be considered by theatre snobs as a somewhat lowbrow source. And, yes, I think his WNET "Theatre Talk" show is often empty blather (despite some occasionally surprising guests). But what can I say--good gossip cannot be underrated. Especially when it's as well sourced and clearly reported as Riedel's. And I'll take honest gossp any day over that which poses as journalism--and I dare say criticsm--in other more esteemed papers which shall remain nameless...
Anyway, read Riedel here about some interesting developments at Clear Channel, the corporate juggernaut who tried to take over Broadway, only to discover what a bad bet it is.

About Those "Viewpoints"...

After the Times' glowing profile of Tina Landau at work, one might be shocked to read the lede from Helen Shaw's review in the Sun today:

In a misguided bid for "magic realism," Kirsten Childs populates her piece with
talking, shape shifting, time-traveling dolphins. Dramaturgically, the thing is an ad hoc mess of shoddy plot points. Musically, it's repetitive, forgettable, and lyrically lame. And this production directed by Tina Landau isn't even funny. This is a musical about homoerotic dolphins doing martial arts, and it isn't funny.

(To read the rest you'll have to get a Sun subscription.) I'll wait for someone to defend the show as a bold experiment. But meanwhile... ouch!

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Niederkorn Outrage Goes Nuclear least in the small world of people who care.

At last, a major exposee. Go read Ron Rosenbaum's fantastic essay in the New York Oberserver. Once again, one of the alternative cultural pages in the city (first The Sun, now the weekly Observer) shames the Times, by example, for its intellectual sloppiness (at best) and (at worst) pandering to tabloid-level sensationalism in promoting the mysterious William Niederkorn as an objective Shakespeare expert.

Rosenbaum--admittedly a cultural journalist, not a professor--is as good as it gets when it comes to non-academic Shakespeare studies. His command of the literature and the issues is more than apparent in this article. He is now the most prominent journalist to take on this issue (Niederkorn and Shakespeare authorship in general) and my hope is that finally an article of this visibilty will wake up the rest of the cultural elite (provided anyone still reads the Observer!).

I look forward to posting some excerpts and comments about the piece a little later, once I've really sat down with it. So far, Rosenbaum seems emminently fair and tempered. (He even faults Greenblat--and, perhaps implicitly Playgoer!--for crossing that line into invoking Holocaust denial.)... But for now let me add to his case just this: Rosenbaum quotes Niederkorn as swearing he is not an Oxfordian and "just trying to keep an open mind." Well how, pray, does Mr. Niederkorn explain this, a prime speaking slot at the 2004 Oxfordian conference. (Scroll down the page to the "Friday 11:30" event, shortly before the "Oxfordian Jeopardy.")

In the world of Shakespeare Studies, and New York Times arts coverage...this is big, folks. Hold on to your hats.

Update 9/16: here's another Niederkorn appearance at a pro-Oxfordian conference. (Hat tip, Dan A.)

impact on New Orleans theatre

By way of contrapositive, here is a moving letter from the head of the Southern Rep there, formally cancelling their season, and documenting the company's continued woes (first flooding, then fires). Nice to see some other theatre communities as far flung as NYC, Atlanta, and Tuczon helping out...

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

All Shook Down?

For your morning dose of schadenfreude, Michael Riedel tells how an empty "jukebox musical" and its eccentric, misguided producer gets their comeuppance in the unforgiving world of commercial theatre...

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Penguins for Bush?

I knew this was coming. Turns out conservatives (especially religious conservatives) have enlisted that cute little summer antiblockbuster "March of the Penguins" in service of their agenda. It's in the Times. Who knew this National Geographic film actually makes "a strong case for Intelligent Design"! (Not to mention the passing reference to an "unborn chick" who dies in the egg.) And according to the always-reliable-for-an-awful-quote, Michael Medved:

Speaking of audiences who feel that movies ignore or belittle such themes, [Medved] added: "This is the first movie they've enjoyed since 'The Passion of the Christ.' This is 'The 'Passion of the Penguins.' "

You can't help wonder if this also explains the Bush Administration's lazy heartlesness over the victims of New Orleans. If Penguins can migrate for miles and miles on their own little waddling claws, why can't you! To them, the movie must reinforce that forced migration ("winged" or otherwise) is all part of nature's plan. Maybe the better "adapted" ones just have SUV's? Oh wait--that would be Darwinian now, wouldn't it...

some reading...

Here are my picks for some interesting theatre and arts-related readings lately (from the last few days of Arts Journal)...

- The always must-read-able John Lahr weighs in on the London Globe's "original pronunciation" staging of Troilus and Cressida. His verdict? "Thirty percent comprehensible."

-In the classical music world, Fred Kirshnit in the NY Sun has a scathing indictment of that prodigy factory known as Juilliard.

-Former Columbia Arts Journalism director Andras Szanto speaks out about the lack of "cultural policy".

-Who woulda thunk, Alfred Nobel (yes, that Nobel) was also an amateur playwright whose luridness rivaled Strindberg's! (Even if the director reviving him admits the writing is crap.)

-And finally, here's a bit of cultural diplomacy: the British Arts Council sponsoring Shakespeare in Kabul! Performed by and for Afghanis. (Would you have guessed Love's Labor's Lost? It's even adapted to the local setting.) Not to be outdone, I suppose, "The US Agency for International Development has even started using roving troupes of actors to stage plays in rural areas to educate people about forthcoming elections." It's a start, at least...

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Shakespeare debate goes on...

Fellow theatre blogger "Spearbearer Down Left" has kindly linked to my anti-Shakespeare conspiracy posts (which you can revisit here, here, here, and here) and come back with some of his own Oxfordian-sympathetic thoughts. He's right that we "Stratfordians" (ugh) are wrong to ignore the clamor in the name of "not dignifying"--and so, in suit, I have posted my rebuttals there under "Comments." So feel free to click over and continue the debate there, until something occasions my further thoughts here.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Quote of the Day

In a random Google search, I came across an old posting from Dean of Theatre Bloggers, Terry Teachout.

...arts blogging is a phenomenon waiting to happen, in much the same way that political blogging gradually built up to a critical mass, then suddenly mushroomed in the wake of 9/11. The difference, of course, is that arts bloggers can’t count on a cataclysmic event to stimulate interest in what we’re doing. We’ll have to publicize ourselves, not only by linking to one another (though that’s important) but also by reaching out to potential readers who don’t yet know what a blog is. That’s why I always include the URL in the shirttails to the pieces I write for the print media. That’s why I remind you each morning to tell someone you know about this site. People who come here will go elsewhere, too.

I believe that serious arts journalism in America is destined to migrate to the Web. If you’re reading these words, you’re part of that migration. Don’t keep it to yourself.
From two years ago (8/29/03). Amen brother...

Thursday, September 08, 2005

"Resurrection Blues"

Interesting news from across the pond... Kevin Spacey has hired Robert Altman to direct Arthur Miller's late play Resurrection Blues for the Old Vic (where Spacey, you'll recall, now runs). Read about it here. The play didn't get a great reception at its premiere at the Guthrie a few years back. But Miller apparently revised it. And just the thought of Arthur Miller in his 80th year taking on US imperialism on an epic scale, being directed by Robert Altman... well, piques my interest at least.

Also in the season, Spacey continues to stalk the Robards legacy with Moon for the Misbegotten.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Actors Studio in exile

In case you were worried about the fate of everyone's favorite public starfucking, Bravo's "Inside the Actor's Studio" after the New School summarily dumped the Studio from its Drama program, rest assured. The show will be taking up residence instead at downtown Pace University, taping in their Michael Schimmel Center theatre. You can read the details here.

I'm curious to see what the Bravo crew will do to the space since the Pace theatre looks like a dumpy High School assembly. (Anyone who attended the final days of Tony Randall's National Actors Theatre there knows what I mean.) Sorely missed will be the New School's historic deco space (above)

The sententious James Lipton will remain a fixture, though, but will no longer be able to lord it over his New School charges. There's no word on whether he has an actual post at Pace, or whether students there will be involved at all. I guess Bravo now accepts that the odd Lipton (actor-turned-Broadway musical librettist-turned Soap Opera star) is now part of the draw (thanks to Will Ferrell, of course). Who will Jimmy fawn over this year? Sug Knight? The show long ago stopped being about anything to do with the Actors Studio or the American stage, per se. None of the guests seemed to have any Studio association or even are old enough to have heard of it! The highlight for me is when Lipton--upholding those rebellious ideals of the Actors Studio--looks up from his oversized index card to intone, "And then she was nominated for a Golden Globe," cuing thunderous applause, of course.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Greenblatt responds

Quietly buried in the Sunday Times "Letters" was a belatedly printed letter from Stephen Greenblatt, in response to Mr. Niederkorn's pseudo-essay. (The letter is dated the very same day as the article, August 30. One can imagine Greenblatt's urgency.)

Do you think maybe the Times will some day let Greenblatt have some "equal time" on the op-ed page one day? (Equal time for those who think Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare, who would've thought.) Meanwhile, since the letter is short (no doubt, heavily edited) it's worth quoting in its entirety. Like me, Greenblatt seems most concerned over Niederkorn taking a page from the Christian right playbook, suggesting English classes "teach the controversy."

To the Editor:
Re "The Shakespeare Code, and Other Fanciful Ideas From the Traditional Camp" (Essay, Arts pages, Aug. 30):
The idea that William Shakespeare's authorship of his plays and poems is a matter of conjecture and the idea that the "authorship controversy" be taught in the classroom are the exact equivalent of current arguments that "intelligent design" be taught
alongside evolution.
In both cases an overwhelming scholarly consensus, based on a serious assessment of hard evidence, is challenged by passionately held fantasies whose adherents demand equal time.The demand seems harmless enough until one reflects on its implications. Should claims that the Holocaust did not occur also be made part of the standard curriculum?

Stephen Greenblatt

The comparisons to Creationism and Holocaust denial are totally apt, to my mind, and it needs to be said. I do not mean that any individual who publicly speculates about the authorship question is morally equivalent to a genocidal anti-semite. But the methods of analysis used by all these camps are similar. As Brian Vickers says in his TLS piece of Scott McCrae's new book, The Case for Shakespeare:
In his final chapter, “All conspiracy theories are alike”, [McCrae] suggests that “denial of Shakespeare follows exactly the same flawed reasoning as Holocaust denial” in that it rejects the most obvious explanation of an event, and reinterprets evidence to fit a preconceived idea (“the ovens at Auschwitz baked bread”). Facts that contradict the theory are explained by conspiracy, but this ploy means that “conspiracy theories are really not theories at all”, but faiths, which cannot be proved false.

Of course, the other big question all three of these fringe movements raise is: is there not a threshold of acceptable scholarship below which the media is not obliged to recognize something as "scholarship"?

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Arts & Leisure watch: 9/4

Not much theatre coverage today. The big Fall Season edition must be coming next week.

Meanwhile, what do you make of this statement in the opening of the Tina
Landau profile:

With Off Broadway rehearsal schedules excruciatingly short - just two months for "Miracle Brothers," before its opening this month at the Vineyard Theater...
That's "short"??? If the writer here, Susan Dominus (or her editors!) botherered to ask around what the norm was, she'd hear more like 3 weeks! Perhaps the total pre-production (design meetings, casting) has been given two months, but if Landau was given two whole months with the actors, no wonder she has so much time for her "exercises." A small point in the journalism world, perhaps, but an essential one if readers are to understand the obstacles professional theatre faces.

At least the article makes a point of giving credit where it's due when it comes to the "Viewpoints" (to NYU's Mary Overlie, not just to Anne Bogart, who popularized it).

American Theatre Wing seminars online

Yes, those wacky American Theatre Wing roundtables, broadcast on basic cable CUNY-TV, which have helped while away so many tv hours for New York stage geeks...are now online! For free streaming video, go here.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Brustein on Mnouchkine

Here is a delayed review from Robert Brustein of Le Dernier Caravanserail in The New Republic (free online registration).

As summer slips away, it's worth reflecting on what was probably the event, theatrically, here in New York, like it or not. Brustein and Feingold remain the two major "dissents" I've read (there were plenty of other critics who didn't like it, but not as worth reading.) But even in reading their accounts, one is struck by how ambitious and provocative the piece was. The questions both raise--about whether this is activism posing as theatre, about the amorphous "devised" (i.e. no playwright) composition--get at the very hot button issues in today's theatre aesthetics.

For my take again, see this. (And for more about Mnouchkine, see Charles McNulty's profile here.) My thumbs-up/thumbs-down take on this is still mixed. But I will certainly remember it vividly and think about it often.

Shakespeare Denial continued: the "Guardian" weighs in

In case your Labor Day Weekend reading isn't complete without some more anti-anti-Shakespeareanism, here's a Guardian columnist's take on the recent spate of Shakespeare conspiracy books. To think that Mr. Niederkorn is still the best the Times can offer on this subject...

Money quotes:

All such Shakespeare conspiracies are built on imaginary mystery. They start with the premise that we know little about him. Many indulge the snobbish notion that he must have been an aristocrat: no mere Stratford grammar school could have nurtured such genius. Both these, say the scholars, are false. More is known about Shakespeare than most of his contemporaries, and his school curriculum, plus the popular texts circulating at the time, amply cover his breadth of reading. Prof [Stanley] Wells says not one academic has ever doubted the overwhelming evidence that the man who wrote the plays was the same actor/writer born and educated in Stratford.....

...Scholars conclude that no rebuttal about Shakespeare will put a stop to it. Fascination will forever breed wild invention. Most comes from the frame of mind that undermines reason and ignores the value of fact - dangerous, even in the gentle art of Shakespeare interpretation.
Yet the New York Times continues to side with the lunatic fringe on this one. One reader has called my remarks on Niederkorn "restrained" and "patient." Believe me, I'm neither. "Where's the outrage," I say! Let's all work together to call upon the Times to stop embarassing themselves and cease printing such misleading nonsense. I won't be mean enough to say fire the man, but at least put him on another beat.

Or will that only gratify already swelling martyr complex that is the mark of the conspiracy theorist...

The L.A. Times...

...has been without a theatre critics for over three years. But now, after this long embarassing vacuum (embarassing, that is, to those in L.A. who care), they have one! And it's Charles McNulty--the current theatre editor (and frequent contributor) for the Village Voice.

Check out this from LA Weekly to see how heated a drama-critic-search can get! (Link courtesy of Rob Kendt, critic, who helped break the story on his blog.) Based on my knowledge of McNulty--both personally and of his work--I take issue with the swipes taken at him by some in the piece. That is, I think he's a really good critic, not just "academic." (So what if his writing is not superficially stylish and glib--the current fashion.) And, as editor, he's maintained what I still consider the finest theatre page in New York, especially in a period when the Voice coverage has been cut back by its publishers. God help them now!

Julia & Rosie: Broadway's Sweethearts

Michael Riedel has a worthwhile piece here going further into the motivations behind stars like Julia Roberts venturing into Broadway. His account of the economics is especially illuminating, even if indirectly. (Julia's $35,000 a week may be slumming for her, but it's more than any true Broadway veteran will ever see.) He throws in Rosie O'Donnell's Fiddler appearance, too.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

the anti-Niederkorn

Further proof that the budding New York Sun has overtaken the Times in quality of Arts writing, compare to the aforementioned Niederkorn article, Carl Rollyson's review of some of the very same books:

...There is no scrap of paper with Shakespeare's writing on it, Mr. Anderson [author of Shakespeare by Another Name: A Biography of Edward de Vere] notes. But where, I ask, is the Shakespeare manuscript written in the earl's hand?
Tantalizing parallels between the plays and Oxford's life certainly exits--but, then, I find parallels between my own life and the plays. Could I be Shakespeare?
Meanwhile, we still await the sure-to-be incensed letters to the Times from Greenblatt & co. The question is, will they publish them? And will they publish them at all prominently? So far, nothing. (Ok, granted, there is other news going on now...)