The Playgoer: March 2007

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Saturday, March 31, 2007

Bad Enough in English?

We're now lucky enough in NYC to have "I Love You, You're Perfect" in not one, but two languages.

Billed as the first time in American theatre history that a foreign production of an American musical will play in the United States, the 23-performance run is a co-production of Shanghai Dramatic Arts Centre and Broadway Asia Entertainment and will play six shows weekly in rep with the long-running American production on West 43rd Street.

The Chinese company will perform the show entirely in Mandarin, with English supertitles projected above the stage. Given New York City's large Chinese population, it's safe to say a new demographic will be heading to the Off-Broadway hit by composer Jimmy Roberts and playwright-lyricist Joe DiPietro.

Ok, I shouldn't make such fun of the "I Love You, You're Jewish, Let's Have a Big Fat Italian Wedding" shows without seeing them. But here are three quick responses to this headline.
  • I really hope the future of the theatre does not depend on this kind of show. But they sure are successful. (Low overhead and cheap actors must be a big part of it.)

  • On another note, I wonder if in our new age of multiculturalism and a polyglot New York, might we have a return to the old days of the early 20th century when foreign-language theatre (driven by imigrants) flourished. I hope so! A lot of great theatre came out of that. (Like the Yiddish Theatres.)... And I've also a fan of one of NY's last outposts of bi-linguilism, Repertorio Espanol, whose AD Rene Busch does some interesting productions. Plus, a great chance to hear Lorca, Calderon, and Lope de Vega in the original.

  • There's probably some Chinese trade-gap joke to make about all this, but it's Saturday and I'm tired.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Colonial Williamsburg?

Blogger Rocco comes to the defense of Adam Rapp--and a certain Burg.

I am absolutely done with Charles Isherwood. I find it ridiculous that he would even mention that [Adam] Rapp "spends a lot of time posing in funky bars in Williamsburg, Brooklyn". What the hell is that? Just like when JZ [Jason Zinoman?] wrote off all the plays of Elizabeth Meriwether as "merely stunts dreamed up in a half-serious bull session at a party in Williamsburg". Sure there are lots of things about Williamsburg to make fun of, but I don't see why the locale should be a hindrance to anyone's artistic merit. Especially when Manhattan has priced-out probably most playwrights under the age of Guare or Albee. I seriously take this type of attack as discrimination on young artists (whether they live there or not).
Indeed, I suppose if we are concerned with making theatre for a younger audience, then is it not appropriate for said theatre to address the sensibilities of the borough that younger audience happens to live in...?

Warning: Naughty Bits

Maxie at the Guardian gets it right:

the Independent reported that a number of spectators [at the new Ian McKellen/Trevor Nunn King Lear] were "dismayed by the incident and said they had received no prior warning" that the staging contained full nudity. I would love to know who these people are and what kind of dainty world they live in....

A spokeswoman for the RSC has said that when the play officially opens on April 3 there will be warning notices in the foyer if the nudity, which is under discussion, is kept in. But should punters be babied in this way? I wonder whether the RSC's management will also be pointing out for those who haven't bumped into King Lear before that it features adultery, murder and eye-gouging? Or whether they will, in future, be posting signs informing audiences that Hamlet stabs an old man or that two horny teenagers get it on in Romeo and Juliet? Do warnings, somehow, make these things more palatable?....

The RSC met earlier this week to discuss whether parents and school groups should be warned about the content of King Lear. Isn't this just pandering to a Victorian primness about nudity? Sorry, but if children are old enough to understand the play, then they are old enough to see what people look like naked without going into shock.

And isn't it about time certain media outlets stop throwing a hissy fit (even if a more arch and above-it-all hissy fit) whenever actors strip down and stop running titilating feature articles on "why are people getting naked in the theatre"? You'd think we're still in the 60s.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Boring by Reason of Insanity

For some reason Justice Anthony Kennedy has gotten his jollies over the years by presiding over a mock trial of Hamlet. As in, the guy, not the play.

I observed Kennedy do one of these myself back in 1996 when I was working as an AD on a "Hamlet" at the Huntington Theatre in Boston, and so it made for a convenient fundraiser. And I guess it doesn't take much to entice a bunch of lawyers to relish such a pointless exercise.

So he's still at it, recently in DC. Where you'd think there'd be enough real criminally insane princes to prosecute these days.

Basically, the premise is Hamlet is on trial for the murder of Polonius (as if that's the worst thing he does) and two lawyers debate whether he is legally responsible for the crime.

Yes, this is why it's a great play, I suppose.

And between the Freudianism and the twinky-defense, the whole thing is more dated than, well, most productions of Hamlet.

The only part I do like is how lawyers end up referencing lines from the play as evidence, but need to refer to it as "the record." Something nifty about that.

REVIEW: Propeller's "Twelfth Night" (Time Out)

Twelfth Night at BAM photo: Sara Krulwich

David Cote and I split duties this week on covering the visiting Propeller Company at BAM for Time Out New York. He went to Taming of the Shrew. I to Twelfth Night.

Propeller is an all-male Shakespeare ensemble run by Edward Hall (son of Sir Peter). I was mildly impressed with their Midsummer Night's Dream a couple of years ago, missed their recent Winter's Tale, and now was underwhelmed by Twelfth Night, though some aspects were admirable.

For my money, Declan Donnellan's 1994 As You Like It (with Adrian Lester as Rosalind) set the bar pretty high for modern all-male stagings. Propeller, by contrast, feels like very smart Drama School work, but, so far, rarely exciting or very different from what I've seen before of these plays.

Still, nice photo, eh?

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Gilman Memorial

While I regret I couldn't make the Richard Gilman memorial on Monday at Symphony Space. at least someone from NYT did. A thin write-up, but something.

Anyone else go?

When Norm is the norm?

"The voice came from the middle of Row F in the orchestra section at Sacramento's Community Center Theater during a recent matinee performance of 'Twelve Angry Men' — rather loudly, in fact:

'Can you look at him and not think of "Cheers" ' ?"

- Read on for more from the LA Times, on the road with "Twelve Angry Men," starring George Wendt and Richard Thomas.

Joking aside, Wendt and Thomas are decent enough actors. Even decent stage actors. (Thomas particularly, has admirably devoted himself to playing The Great Roles over the years, and enabling plays to be done at various regionals, thanks to, "celebrity." Yeah, I don't see how "The Waltons" counts anymore. But the "celebrity" bar in theatre is pretty low.)

And the fact that bona fide plays like "Twelve Angry Men" and "Doubt" are touring at all... is a good thing.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Hare vs NYT

I found myself a bit embarassed last night at the SPF Salon theatre bloggers panel (thanks to all who came!) for being the only person in the room who had not heard about this very public David Hare spat with the Times' Managing Editor, Jill Abramson, at a recent social function.

The story made the NY Post's gossip report, Page Six, apparently sourced by Michael Riedel.

The nut of it:

Abramson was seated next to Hare and immediately launched into a speech about the supposed superiority of the Times' theater coverage.

Hare - whose "Vertical Hour" with Julianne Moore was a hit despite a scathing pan by Times chief drama critic Ben Brantley - snapped, "You must be kidding. The Times has contempt for the theater, especially Broadway, and especially plays."

Witnesses told The Post's Michael Riedel that Abramson replied: "Listen, it is not our obligation to like or care about the theater. It's our obligation to arbitrate it. We are the central arbiter of taste and culture in the city of New York."

Hare: "What are you talking about? If you believe that, you are even more out of touch than your newspaper appears. You have a critic who despises the theater."

While I'm all for people chewing out the NYT theatre coverage, and taking them down a peg, there are a few things about this story to be skeptical about. First, Abramson is too big a wig at the paper to monitor or be well informed about the arts coverage. (She strikes me as more of a Washington type.) Second, say what you like about Ben Brantley, but... "hates the theatre"??? Not the words I'd choose. Hates David Hare's plays, maybe.

Also--as Page Six notes--Hare happens to be in town directing the season's latest snob hit (now that "Vertical Hour" proved not to win that title) the Vanessa Redgrave/Joan Didion collaboration, "The Year of Magical Thinking." And the Times has certainly been, um, friendly to that project.

Look, the Times's problem is certainly not being not positive enough about Broadway. More arbitrating and more "contempt for Broadway" sounds like a good idea!

But still, ultimately what's important here is someone got Abramson's words on record about that "arbiter of culture." Hare's laughing incredulity was surely the only sane response. And it reveals the smugness and complaceny behind the increasing lameness and sellout decisions we see in the paper's arts coverage day after day. It comes from the fact that they have been the defacto "arbiters"--due to lack of competition. Lack of competition due to a collapsing media business, the downsizing of arts coverage, the laying off of real critics, etc. The fact the Time still has an arts section and a theatre staff of more than one, does kind of give it a crown by default.

But it doesn't have to stay that way. Down with the one-party state. Support the competition!

Personally, my own response might have been: So Jill, are things so bad that Brangelina, Paris Hilton and Pete Doherty are all your "arts" editors have left to "arbitrate" about?

Brits vs Yanks: take 2

Bay Area critic Chloe Veltman offers a bit of a riposte to Charles McNulty's essay from February examining why indeed the old saw may be true that the English actors are just better than Americans--on film, at least--and that the reason is their stage training.

Veltman--an expat limey, herself (and I mean that in the best possible way)--doesn't disagree so much as fill out the picture and make a stronger case for the current state of American acting. Money quote:

Performing in generally smaller films with more carefully crafted scripts and deeply developed characters, British actors prevailed at the Oscars this year for good reason. Unlike many U.S. performers, they actually got to act. To see a true performance by a great American actor often requires looking beyond the mainstream: Seeing Willem Dafoe do his Green Goblin impersonation in the “Spider-Man” franchise is one thing; watching him embody Smithers in the Wooster Group’s production of “The Emperor Jones” is quite another. I don’t have to tell you which is the more satisfying experience.

It’s unfortunate that Hollywood and Broadway have come to stand for American acting, when much of the real talent lies beyond, in nonprofit theaters like Berkeley Rep and Chicago’s Steppenwolf. From Liev Schreiber’s careening Hamlet at New York’s Public Theater to Steven Epps’s deliciously vile Harpagon in the Minneapolis-based Theatre de la Jeune Lune’s “The Miser,” American actors consistently match their British counterparts in the classics. Meanwhile, experimental and new play companies like New York’s Mabou Mines and San Francisco’s Campo Santo continue to nurture bold performance talent.
I think this is all absolutely right. The American entertainment industry does a disservice to the Art of American Acting. No news there, I guess...

PS. For Stephen Fry's own witty take on Americans mistaking British accents for good acting, see here. (Hat tip: J. Kelly)

Monday, March 26, 2007

Seattle Rep "Corrie" a hit?

Critically, at least. For a round-up, check out here, here, and here.

Interesting reactions, especially for the references to what remains of the controversy. But definitely a more hospitable response out west. Seattle is a serious theatre city. But, no doubt, without as vocal a Jewish presence (or as large a population) as New York. Still, the protests clearly got voiced, it seems.

Most notable might be Rep AD David Esbjornson's special program note, cited more than once, referencing the ad space they sold to anti-Corrie groups.

"[B]uying ads in our theatre publication to denounce the work on our stage is unprecedented. ... I acknowledge the right of these groups to their free expression. Similarly, presenting 'My Name Is Rachel Corrie' is a form of free expression that we should embrace and protect."

PS. Thanks to Joanna of Seattle Rep for leaving a comment, and I wholeheartedly recommend the Seattle Rep blog she points us to, featuring her own thoughts as well as "Corrie" actress Marya Sea Kaminski's own e-journal of her experiences rehearsing & performing the play.

Au Revoir, Cocteau

Although you may have thought the Jean Coctau rep folded already--with its leading players defecting to form their own company, with its production of The Maids shut down by the Genet estate last year, with its ill-conceived partnership with a New Orleans troupe--now it's for real.

The final nail was the rent doubling on that lovely old 1874 Bouwerie Lane space.

Technically, though the company itself claims to live on--as the newly christened "Exchange," renting out of Theatre Row.

And so another Off-Broadway house bites the dust?

Blogging Panel Tonight!

Just a reminder that the SPF Salon Series' "Blogging the Show: Theatre, the Media and Blogs" will happen tonight at 7:30, at Theatre Row (410 West 42nd Street, btw 9th & 10th)

The guests include some usual suspects, Mr. Hunka of Superfluities (note the new url), Mr. Butler of Parabasis, and a a fine theatre writer I'm just tuning into, Cara Joy David. David Cote, of Time Out (yes, an employer) and a blogger himself, shall moderate.

rsvp at: events [at] They want a head-count

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Saturday Night Fever

Intrepid NYT theatre reporter Campbell Robertson has a Sunday gem tucked inside the Week in Review today. Question: what's the wost night of the week to go to a Broadway show?

It’s Saturday night! Jill and Jack decide to hire a babysitter and take in a show. “Might as well make a night of it,” Jack says, so they go to a nice restaurant for a pre-theater dinner. Jack has a drink — it’s Saturday, after all! — and then a glass of wine with his steak. Oh, heck, how about another. Jill sticks to her glass of Chardonnay. Maybe two glasses. No more than three. (It’s Saturday!) They rush to the theater a few minutes before curtain time for the Serious, Well-Reviewed Play. Once in his seat, Jack promptly falls asleep, snoring loudly and forgetting to turn off his cellphone, which makes its presence known during a tragic death scene. Jill giggles uncontrollably throughout the first act. But you, sitting behind them, barely notice because half of the theatergoers around you are just as tipsy. The only thing you’re thinking is: why didn’t I come to the theater on Thursday?

Yet more evidence for moving curtain times. 5 o'clock matinee, anyone? Saturday or not, after- dinner is seldom the best time for a long serious play.

Plus, New York has now lost its once-great after-theatre social scene, with everyone rushing to get home at 10:30pm.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

HS Theatre & Theatrical Censorship

“If I had just done ‘Grease,’ this would not be happening.”

- Bonnie Dickinson, drama teacher at Wilton H.S., Connecticut.

Times Metro reports today on an unprincipled principal shutting down a student show against the war.

Principal's principal reason? "Questions of political balance and context."

Like protesting Iraq is even a controversial issue now? In Connecticut???

(Unless there's some military base nearby...?)

Friday, March 23, 2007

Plays & Playwrights 2007's Martin Denton (who's recently restarted his private blog here) provides a great service by publishing some of the more notable new plays that you're not hearing about in the Times or from the Pulitzer peeps. His latest edition, Plays & Playwrights 2007 is now out, and here is his TOC, featuring 11(!) new works:

LENZ by bluemouth, inc.
Office Sonata by Andy Chmelko
Kiss and Cry by Tom Rowan
They're Just Like Us by Boo Killebrew
Convergence by Bryn Manion
Red Tide Blooming by Taylor Mac
The Adventures of Nervous-Boy by James Comtois [yes, a blogger]
Another Brief Encounter by Stan Richardson
Corps Values by Brendon Bates
Diving Normal by Ashlin Halfnight
'nami by Chad Beckim

The volume also boasts a foreword by John Clancy and an "annotated Appendix of new American Plays produced in New York City during the 2005-06 season."

Publication, of course, really, really helps in giving plays a second life and, thus, reminding the public at large that there are still living and breathing playwrights at work.

You can buy it via the Amazon link down-right. From there you can also check out the companion volume Playing With Canons--featuring some of the more adventurous adaptations of classics seen on our local downtown stages over the last few years.

Denton publishes these books through the nonprofit arm of his enterprise devoted to promoting "indie" theatre, The New York Theatre Experience.

Revisiting "The Pillowman"

Some interesting thoughts on "The Pillowman" from Andrew Sullivan, who caught it at the Studio Theatre in DC. (With some vested interest, as you'll see.)

While I myself was not as equally sold on the political coherence or relevance of the play on Broadway a couple of years ago, I appreciate the seriousness with which Sullivan treats it as a real contribution to our debate over justice. Who knows, perhaps the play speaks louder two more years into this mess than McDounagh even intended.

(And perhaps not casting a light comedian like Jeff Goldblum as your chief torturer helps, too.)

And it's encouraging to see theatre indeed still capable of contributing to public debate--on a national political blog, no less. Maybe there's something in the air of a political play performed in the nation's capital that encourages more social engagement than in NYC.

UPDATE: Interesting follow up on Sullivan here, from a reader. Dare I venture, a Playgoer reader???

Thursday, March 22, 2007

"Journey's" End?

"As you may know, I have been doing a play on Broadway for the past few months called Journey's End. I told many of you I would let you know if I heard anything about the play closing prematurely. Well, our executive producer Bill Haber called an impromptu cast meeting after the show last night, to congratulate us on having the best reviewed show on Broadway, but also to let us know that the way ticket sales look now, he doesn't see the show lasting the whole run. Specifically, he said that we would definitely make it to the end of March, but he 'doesn't see it lasting until May...' He also gave us his word that we would get 2 weeks notice. So I'm not sure if that means it will end in mid-April or what-- apparently all the nominations come out in April, which could give us a second wind, but you never know.

So I guess this was our early warning. I will also send out an email when I get that official 2-week notice. Just wanted everyone to know what I know, when I know it. Hope everyone is well, and if any of you are coming out to NY and want to get tickets, get ahold of me and I will help."

-actor Stark Sands on his blog, leaking a little inside prognosticating on his show, the fine "Journey's End." I better get my review up soon!

Meanwhile, go! Discounts galore, I'm sure, on Playbill, TheatreMania, etc. And it's always at TKTS.

Not that what we need to save most on Broadway is more Anglophilia and classy old plays. But this is just serious drama, really well done and well acted--by a mostly American cast by the way. The fact that it still hovers at 40% capacity does not in this case signal that audiences are not appreciative. If it folds like this, it will be yet another bellweather on the possibilities for serious non-movie-star-driven drama on Broadway.

(hat tip: contrapositive)

Quote of the Day

"We've been boring audiences for decades now, and they've responded by slowly withdrawing their patronage. I don't care that the recent production of The Seagull at the Royal Court was sold out. To 95% of the population, the theatre (musicals aside for now) is an irrelevance. Of that 95%, we have managed to lure in maybe 10% at some point in their lives, and we've so swiftly and thoroughly bored them that they've never returned. They're not the ones who broke the contract. They paid their money and expected entertainment; we sent them back into the night feeling bored, bullied and baffled. So what are we doing wrong?

The most depressing response I encounter when I'm chatting someone up and I ask them if they ever go to the theatre is this: 'I should go but I don't.' That emphatic 'should' tells you all you need to know. Imagine it in other contexts: 'I should play Grand Theft Auto'....That 'should' tells you that people see theatre-going not as entertainment but as self-improvement, and the critical/ academic establishment have to take some blame for that."

-London playwright/director Anthony Neilson, venting in the Guardian.

The argument gets a bit know-nothing, and, no, I don't think we need to compete with Grand Theft Auto to have a vibrant theatre again. But he does makes it forcefully. Worth reading the whole thing.

Incidentally, I don't think the solution to the theatre's problems lies in playwrights just writing better plays. I'm sure there are just as many good plays and bad plays out there as there's ever been. At least potentially. A bigger question for me is what does it take to get the better work on and out there.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Playwrights on TV, cont.

"The Writers' Guild of America minimum for an hour-long teleplay is over $20,000; that sure beats many a playwriting commission, which can be less than half of that sum."

TheatreMania tells us more about the migration of playwrights to TV.

"Less than half"??? Try 10%! (if that)


  • A Fox vice-president got her division behind her on the line: "I know where the best writers are. They're in New York and they're working Off-Broadway."
  • "Getting notes like 'can you find a way to get the actresses naked this week?' can make you feel like you've sold your soul," says one dramatist.
  • Catch Marsha Norman--head of Juilliard Playwriting Division by night, "Criminal Intent" writer by day--basically saying theatre is finished, on to TV.

REVIEW: Bouffon Glass Menajoree (Time Out)

My review of the Tennessee Williams clownshow parody "Bouffon Glass Menajoree" in this week's Time Out New York.

No one was more surprised at my favorable response than I. And there's a lot that's annoying about this show. But I can't deny it succeeded in what it set out to do, and that it made me laugh. Definitely some funny in-jokes for Williams fans.

I also have to say it's an ideal show for Williamsburg's Brick Theatre. This was my first time at the Brick, and it really reminded me of little those North Side cabaret theatres in Chicago, where lots of young-ish people actually turn out to see theatre for a good time. And who are not necessarily theatre people, but just live in the neighborhood. I guess it helps that you can buy a drink at the box office and take it to your seat. (In fact this show might be impossible without alcohol.) While the casual atmosphere in the confined space may not work for, say, Ibsen, it can bring the welcome energy of a comedy club to a piece of theatre that needs such a vibe.

And, yes, I know the Brick is the conclave of blogger Ian Hill. But honestly I never met Ian before showing up for this show. He also did do the lighting, it turns out, but did not produce. And I didn't reference his design in the review.

I disclose, you decide.

Giving a Damn about Scarlett

Michael Riedel swears today by his scoop last week that the estimable Andre Bishop and Bartlett Sher are really, truly considering little Scarlett Johansson to star in their Lincoln Center revival of "South Pacific" next season.

I'll turn it over to the chatrooms for the heavy-duty griping on this. But all I can say is: is this what it takes to justify those $100+ tickets now? One would think that any A-list revival of R&H by a well-respected director at a reputable company would sell well. So why is this necessary?

Am I being unfair to Johansson sight unseen? Perhaps. But I also know no matter how surprisingly-not-terrible she may be (and "a musical-theater fan since childhood," we are reassured) that does not qualify you to carry off one of the greatest female roles in the MT repertory 8 times a week. Opposite a leading opera star, no less. Even Reba McIntyre--an actual singer whose "Annie Get Your Gun" was one of the greatest MT performances I've ever seen--was not fully up to the dramatics of the part in the Carnegie Hall concert version. To say "Mary Martin, she ain't" about Ms. Johannson, barely scratches the surface of what seems to be wrong here.

I'm assuming she's at least auditioning. Let's see if Riedel can confirm that.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

"authorized auction sites"

The "eBay Box Office" just came one step closer to being born.

According to the Post yesterday and the Times today, Governor Spitzer has won over the one consituency getting in the way of his plan to overhaul the current ticket scalping laws: the League of American Theatres and Producers.

The Gov claims the free market should rule here, and that it makes no sense to try to price-control scalping "the secondary market" (i.e. scalping) without regulating the "primary." Obviously, regulating the primary makret (i.e. the box office) is not at issue here.

So the producers have finally come around. Why? Says Shubert man, Gerald Schoenfeld: "In the case of Broadway theater, the illegal secondary market deprives creative personnel and other risk-takers from their rightful share of the ticket price." By the way, those "other risk-takers"? Formerly known as--producers.

Basically this is a surrender. LATP knows that in the age of the internet nothing is going to stop the scalpers. And so, if you can't beat 'em... well over to you, Gerry:

[I]n the statement, Mr. Schoenfeld said that the effect of the current law “has been to penalize primary ticket sellers (who are not currently allowed to resell via auction sites, etc.) while rewarding the secondary marketplace, much of which is unregulated.” That problem could be turned into a solution, he said, “by allowing authorized auction sites for ticket resale” that would provide additional consumer protections, like refunds for cancellations.

Or to put it another way,
“They essentially want to set up their own auction sites,” said Russ Haven, the legislative counsel for the New York Public Interest Research Group, which opposes lifting the caps. He said that consumers “will see higher ticket prices, with no other benefits.”

The distinction the producers cling to is the difference between selling properly obtained tickets and illegally obtained tickets. But what's an "illegally obtained" ticket, you ask? Well, they mention some scalpers bribing box office workers to siphon off the top. But other than that, it seems like a fine line in this day and age.

Anyway, lots more economics embedded within. But note this: such a major shift in lobbying agendas must signal a very changing industry indeed. And one that forecasts no cheaper tickets on Broadway any time soon.

UPDATE 3/21: Gordon Cox at Variety weighs in, too. And tells it like it is:

But the League's new stance is part of an ongoing shift in Rialto ticketing. Premium-price seating, originally controversial when it was first introduced by "Th Producers" in 2001, has become the norm.

Those high prices, which hit $480 for "The Producers," have allowed producers to muscle in on the broker biz, scoring for them and the show's creators a cut of the market-driven value of tickets to a hot show at an in-demand time of year.

"Corrie" in Seattle

"To provide the venue or time for anyone who has a differing point of view to what a particular playwright puts forth in their work would be ... an overwhelming and impossible task."

-Seattle Rep, getting it right on their production of "My Name is Rachel Corrie."

As Misha Berson's Seattle Times article shows, there's been some of the usual objections raised, but in a quieter fashion than in NY. The ads taken out in the program by anti-Palestinian groups strike me as a totally appropriate venue for "the other side."

Rep AD David Esbjornson--a high-profile director with a reputation to protect--also stands by the choice in clear and utterly sensible terms.

This is about a native daughter of our area....I wanted to do it because it has really wonderful observations, and some really beautiful language, and real heart. But the bigger motive is for us as a culture to engage in a dialogue. We have to open this subject up for discussion.
Sometimes handling controversy can be civilized.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Wooster Group

Well I guess I won't be seeing the Wooster Group's "Hamlet". It's sold out!

But for those of you playing at home then, some extra insight into them can be found in David Cote's feature and his blog exclusive supplement: an interview with WG expert--and one of my professorial mentors--David Savran.

Quote of the Day

"If you like eight out of 10 shows that you review, you should be in a different business," he said. If you like six to eight, you might be aware enough to write "puff pieces" about shows. If you like five out of 10, "then you don't exist. You're too perfect." If you like two to four of those 10 shows, you might be able to be a reviewer, and if you like zero to two, "you may be a critic, but there's no guarantee."

-John Simon at the American Theatre Critics Association.

Hey, I don't agree. But appropros of some comments to my post on "Dying City," I do want to reassert my strong belief that the critic's job is ultimately to criticize, not to be a supportive teacher or cheerleader for the theatre.

If more than 2-4 out of 10 shows rise to the high standards a critic should hold for the theatre then, yes, one should praise them. Otherwise there is great value to what the late Richard Gilman deliberately called "Destructive [ as opposed to Constructive] Criticism." No, not to "destroy" the artist or his of her feelings. But to continue pointing out whatever gap there is between our theatre as it exists before our eyes and what its ideals should be.

That doesn't mean, though, one has to be a creep to do that.

By the way, go see this exhibit at the Lincoln Center library. Among the random memorabilia is a very limited-issue roll of toilet paper with John Simon's photo on it.

Sunday, March 18, 2007


Campbell Robertson's Sunday Times piece on The Cult of Enhancement Money is an excellent primer and starting point for any conversation on the topic.

Basically we all have known it goes on. But it's been a while since NYT reported on it and good for those readers to be aware.


Good question.

Personally I don't think it necessarily damns nonprofit theatres to enter into partnerships with producers whereby the producer effectively becomes a donor in exchange for a kind of "first refusal" on any commercial producing options. I don't see anything sneaky about this, as along as it's transparent. Also, it's clear there's risk involved. The producer is throwing money at a show on just the hunch it will get buzz, reviews, and sales enough to make a go at Broadway. I say they're entitled to take that risk. And as long as the nonprofit company gets to do work they believe in anyway, and even take in more ticket revenue, then good for them.

As the Atlantic's AD Neil Pepe says in the article: “There are years when we went a whole season without enhancement money and did fine....And there are years when I don’t know if we could have gotten by without enhancement money.”

Then again, the greyer areas, artistically, are evident in cases where we suspect a company starts doing work other than the work they'd normally do in order to get said enhancement. Look at what the head of the small Urban Stages company bluntly told Robertson:

Frances Hill, the artistic director of Urban Stages, said she had no misgivings about it. She had a good working relationship with the producers, the production got an upgrade, and the play got an afterlife. The fiscal situation has become so bleak, Ms. Hill said, that she would consider producing a script she might not otherwise if it came with enhancement money.

“It would depend upon what financial shape the theater was in at that moment,” she said. “It might be a challenge to say, ‘How can we make this into something fantastic?’ ”

But, again, let's keep in perspective how many times and under how many circumstances a theatre company may compromise on artistic selection for financial gain--whether that's to lure a certain star actor or playwright, or to please a certain donor or constituency. Or to do work merely acceptable aesthetically as long as it has low overhead. (Lots of one-man shows in our resident theatre companies lately, aren't there?)

So I don't see any sense in somehow "banning" the practice. (Although I'm sure some would be happy to see some companies' nonprofit tax-free status looked into.) We should just, as always, hold companies accountable for their programming decisions. If you think someone has really sold out to do lame material, cancel your subscription. Write a letter. Those complaints do get noticed.

I'll tell you, my main concern is actually that nonprofit theatre don't get enough recognition for the work they shepherd to Broadway. I would hope that every tourist who enjoys a Spring Awakening, a Grey Gardens--or a Rent or a Hairspray--would become an NEA convert for life! They should be hit over the head repeatedly with the fact that their tax dollars helped such a show happen. (Like, in the program.)... Now of course that risks backlash when they hate the show. But like all patrons of the arts they need to get used to the fact having Broadway theatre means taking the good with the bad. That without funding all of it, then you're less likely to get any shows you like.

(Likewise, programs for Les Miz and History Boys should give thanks to the British taxpayers and show us how much more they freely donate to what ultimately becomes our entertainment.)

One commercial producer is quoted in the piece as saying: “We don’t have out-of-town tryouts anymore....This is the way we do it.” This new reality needs to be acknowledged continually and emphatically. The nonprofit sphere has stepped into the vacuum left by the commercial near-impossibility of theatrical excellence. (And I say "excellence" purely in the sense of pursuing excellence.)

The term "research and development" gets bandied about here and in other conversations about this topic. To take that analogy further, just imagine the importance university laboratories hold in the world of commercial technology. If university science departments started to fold, there'd be some rescue money pretty quick--from all kinds of "sectors."

Put simply: The American Theatre is the nonprofit theatre, for better or for worse. This is just further evidence for that.

PS. Do take note of the chilling funding statistics Robertson cites. Both federal and state arts funding have been clearly worse than stagnant over the last 30 years. And not getting better.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Shakespeare in the Park cutback

Kate Taylor in the Sun today reports back on the campaign NYC's "Cultural Institutions Group" (our bigger-wig nonprofits) are waging against the new Bloomberg arts funding reforms--which basically cut back on their allotments.

So far the biggest impact on theatre is at the Public, where Shakespeare in the Park is losing a week of shows, down to nine from ten. The fallout of that could be even bigger lines.

Then again, I personally don't need another week of "R&J" and "Midsummer", as is the program.

the Synergy of "Magical Thinking"

According to Riedel today, Vanessa Redgrave's one-woman show of Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking is turning out to be the surprise "producer's dream" of the season:

The Redgrave-Didion combination - Redgrave is starring in Didion's "The Year of Magical Thinking," now in previews - is especially potent, with advance ticket sales nearing $4 million, an impressive number for a dramatic play. There have been $10 million musicals this season that haven't sold as many tickets.

I suspect the reason is not just Redgrave's draw, but the turning out of New York's literary set--those educated cultured crowd that normally takes little interest in theatre that isn't Tom Stoppard or The History Boys. It's the perfect "snob hit" by taking a very popular highbrow book title and merging it with the cachet of a four-star British actress.

The "anti-theatrical" prejudice of American intellectuals is well-established and goes back a long, long way. I could complain about the lack of coverage of the more interesting homegrown theatre or the need to improve accessibility and scheduling of performances. (Ticket prices, of course, are not necessarily an obstacle for this demographic.) But at the end of the day, the silly truth is probably that a lot of hoity-toities still think theatre is fine for singing and dancing and witty Oscar Wilde quips, but otherwise a commercial wasteland just a notch above Vegas.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

eBay follow-up

A little item I found in an old Crain's NY Business (Jan. 29):

The internet makes it easier than ever for consumers everywhere to get Broadway show tickets. But the Internet also makes it easier for scammers to rip them off. That's why the League of American Theatres and Producers plans to launch a national ad blitz within the next two months urging showgoers to buy from authorized sources, insiders at the league say.

Though many tickets sold on sites like eBay are legit, more and more are turning out to be fakes. "It could ruin the theater experience for a lot of people," the insider says.
Yeah! Ruining the theater experience is already the job of... dammit, the League of American Theatres and Producers!

Village Voice joins the Blogosphere

I missed the launch, but the new Village Voice theatre blog, Sightlines, has been up for a little over a month now. So, time to blogroll it.

Basically it will be the bailiwick of Alexis Soloski there. So far, not so much reviewing per se (which she does plenty of in print) but some cool profiles, using that great Voice access. Also some inside OBIE scoops to come, as those awards approach in the spring.

In other news, even though I have freelanced for the Voice as of late, I didn't realize they just went through another Editor change. Their 5th in two years. Gulp. Read all about it on Gawker.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Tits & Ass & Wedekind

"The onstage seats at the Broadway hit Spring Awakening come in two types: the ass seats and the boob seats. For the bargain price of $31.25, two dozen lucky theatergoers each night get a unique view on not only the show itself, but also a serious gander (for those stage right) of actress Lea Michele's breasts, or a tasty gaze (for those stage left) of Jonathan Groff's rear end. Could this be why tickets for these seats aren't available until May?"

-Read on, as the Voice's Angela Ashman's spends a night with the ogglers on the bleachers.

For this and perhaps other reasons, it's clear from the piece that Spring Awakening ain't getting any less popular. And it's finding the youth audience.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

NEA: back to the 90s!

With a new, hopefully more arts-friendly congress, it's time to lobby for the NEA again. Reports Bloomberg:

Robert Lynch, head of the Washington-based advocacy group Americans for the Arts, said he will request at least $176 million for the NEA in the 2008 budget, up from $127 million in the current fiscal year. President George W. Bush has proposed $131 million for the NEA in 2008.

"Our feeling is, it ought to be $176 million minimally,'' Lynch said. "That's what it was a decade ago.''

You heard right. The NEA budget is now $50 million less than it was 10 years ago. And that's not even adjusting for inflation.

Oh, and remember all that talk about how the arts would benefit because the "private sector" would step in where government stopped meddling?
[Lynch] said charitable giving by corporations, foundations and individuals failed to offset the slash in government funding in the mid-1990s.
As any development office will tell you, what eggs the private sector on the most is federal and state funding. "Matching" gifts, etc. More money begets more money...Also, any sizeable arts org needs a healthy dose of both government & private funding to survive.


"Is Steven Spielberg helping to usher in Aaron Sorkin's return to Broadway?"

So asks Gordon Cox's Variety lede yesterday. Click here for the answer (hint: maybe) and the latest in the ongoing saga of the feted tv writer's tv play, "The Farnsworth Invention."

(Yes, that Farnsworth. As in Philo.)

Monday, March 12, 2007

Shanghai Surprise?

From Crain's NY Business (firewalled)

"Everybody is talking about Asia right now, especially China," says Broadway Asia Chairwoman Simone Genatt, who has been inundated with calls from New York producers who want to take their shows to Asia. "Given the rising costs in the U.S. market, producers are forced to figure out ways to make money in other places in the world."
Yes, you heard right. Socks ain't the only thing cheaper to make in China.

According to the story--from the excellent Miriam Kreinin Souccar--the Nederlanders are shooting to be the Marco Polos, if you will, of the "Great Wall" Way:
"We're going to be able to provide a sense of comfort and continuity for Broadway producers in China," says Bob Nederlander Jr., president of Nederlander Worldwide.
And they have gotten quite far along already:
Nederlander New Century is a joint venture of Nederlander Worldwide and Beijing Time New Century Entertainment. In the works for four years, it is the first such enterprise to be approved by China's Ministry of Culture since it opened its entertainment industry to foreign investors in September 2005. The firm is even helping the government design the new theaters in some cities.
Disney already scored big with "Lion King" in Shanghai (not to mention, in South Africa, too) and now the Nede's are bringing "42nd Street" there in the fall. It's time to get international fast, I guess. Especially since in the US, The Road is drying up in audience and rising in real estate.

Oh, and by the way--you thought there were union issues with non-Equity tours in this country?

Apologies for lazy use of negligible random movie title for a subject heading. Newspapers may do it. But I'm ashamed!

Directing for Beginners

"Mr. O'Brien — who, if you haven't heard, directed Tom Stoppard's 'The Coast of Utopia" trilogy at Lincoln Center — said he would encourage a young director to leave New York and find a home at a regional theater. Mr. O'Brien became the artistic director of the Old Globe in 1981, and 'for the next 20 years, I had the opportunity to literally direct everything,' he said. 'Quietly, outside of New York, I got all this exposure and experience that very few directors get.' "

- Jack O'Biren talking to NY Sun's Kate Taylor for her piece on what it takes to launch a directing career in America. (The "emerging" Pam McKinnon serves as her Exhibit A.)

Harder than it sounds, that "find a home" bit. But, "leave New York"--that'll be news to some folks.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Arts in Blair's Britain

The Guardian reports on Tony Blair's recent speech on the state of the arts in Britain:

The past 10 years had been a golden age for the arts. Imagine, he continued, Britain's cultural scene without the Labour government's doubling of cultural funding since 1997.

"Many of the finest regional theatres would have closed or would exist as shadows of themselves, on a diet of light drama. Many orchestras would have gone to the wall. There would be no new programmes for art education. Museums, far from being full, would have gradually diminished in importance as charging reduced the audience to the middle class. I'm not sure there would be a British film industry, or at least not one nearly so healthy, or the same huge success at the National Theatre."

Funny, but doesn't his "what if" scenario sound not a little like the US today?

And in case the thought of the head of state actually giving a major address on "the state of the arts" at all just fills you with anglophilic envy...apparently Blair hasn't been making exactly a habit of it either.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Latest from NYTW

Let it be known that New York Theatre Workshop has finally made true on their post-"Rachel Corrie" promise to program an Arab-American play. Their 2007-2008 season, Betty Shamieh's "The Black Eyed," opening this summer. The play "depicts four Arab women from across the ages who meet in the afterlife. As these women — who include the Biblical Delilah and a secular modern Arab-American — struggle to come to terms with their lives and their choices, this shockingly funny play skewers traditional views on sex, family, and terrorism."

Seriously, good for them. And I look forward to checking out Shamieh's work.

In other news, if Samuel Beckett balked at Joanne Akalaitis's infamous Endgame twenty years ago, good thing he's not alive to see what she'll get up to with Mikhail Baryshnikov and Philip Glass in the evening of one-acts they're planning for the fall. (Act Without Words, Eh Joe and Rough For Theatre I and II)

And, lastly--see photo.

What's up with this??? An anonymous one-million dollar donation, $2.5 mil in NYC capital funds, and a fancy architect are making this happen. A second space, you say, for even more of that emerging and challenging NYTW work?

Try a new scene and costume shop.

I mean, yeah, shop and storage space are crucial. And expensive. I'm sure they had appallingly little in their current digs. And it's a good use for the building acquisition. But is fixing it up like this really necessary?

I recall the beleaguered words of Eduardo Machado a while ago:

I decided that to raise 8 million dollars to build a theater had nothing to do with survival. A theater with a million dollar budget does not need a 500 thousand dollar flexible floor and it most definitely does not need to be in the basement of a Luxury Condominium.
With so little money for the arts going around, let's just hope it's going to the most urgent uses.

B'way, meet eBay

According to Riedel today, anticipating the sales for the eagerly awaited (though still not cast) Young Frankenstein musical,

Premium-priced seats are likely to be offered exclusively on eBay, which, according to industry insiders, has become a major clearinghouse for Broadway tickets.

Auctions??? Or just a convenient online venue?

If not now, auctions--"authorized" non-scalping bidding-- probably coming. The next step in "Premium Tickets." When you look in your crystal balls 30-40 years down the road, can't you just see Telecharge morphing into a veritable cattle auctions unrestrained bidding to see Leonardio DeCaprio play King Lear?

Thursday, March 08, 2007

PR (/) Offensive

From Crain's NY Business (firewalled) reports that those folks at the League of American Theatres and Producers are kicking the marketing up a notch. Going not only more corporate but more Hollywood, with this pr "dream team":

Manhattan-based marketing agency LaPlaca Cohen will manage strategy and media, while two California agencies will handle interactive marketing: Trailer Park, based in Hollywood and The Buddy Group, based in Lake Forest.

[I assume that's Trailer as in movie trailers? As in previews???--ed.]

The League is banking on the so-called "dream team" to help it develop new audiences for the future and to keep the current Broadway patron on board. "We already think that Broadway is a highly recognizable brand with great equity," said League spokesman Alan Cohen. "We're looking to expand our core audience and to increase the frequency of Broadway theatergoing."

I suppose that's "on board" as opposed to...jump ship? Sink with the Titanic?

Or "on board" as opposed to...dissent! And demand something different?

Oh, and in case you're wondering about the latest stats:
Broadway plays a critical role in New York City's economy, generating more than $4.8 billion a year for the city, according to the League. Almost 12 million people attended Broadway shows in 2006, generating $906 million in box office receipts. About 11% of Broadway's audience comes from overseas, Mr. Cohen said, with visitors from England, Japan and Central Europe among the leading markets.

Interesting fact: if you divide 906,000,000 dollars by 12,000,000 people you average ticket price of $75.50. Damn, these folks are rich!

Good luck with "expanding" that "core audience."

Rough "Translation"?

Here's something you may be reading about Friday.

An actor was just fired from Manhattan Theatre Club's production of "Translations" for "harsh physical contact" with his leading lady. This is the Irish actor Michael Fitzgerald's Broadway debut. His part, Doalty, is being filled in by the understudy, for the remaining few shows before closing Sunday.

Must have been pretty ugly backstage if they let him go with just five shows left.

Man, even with a successful show, the Curse of the Biltmore just won't let up!

I would actually like to see "Translations" since it's a beautiful play and Gary Hines is a great Irish director. But I probably won't get the chance....Anyone see it, with or without the fisticuffs?

REVIEW: Goodness (Time Out)

"Goodness" lead actor Gord Rand
(not me at "Goodness")
photo credit: Michael Cooper

My latest in Time Out is on "Goodness" an import from the Toronto company Volcano, by way of the Edinburgh Fringe, where they won some acclaim.

I definitely recommend reading my review in conjunction with the wildly different (i.e. positive!) notice from Honor Moore in the Times, which I must say is making me feel not a little defensive today!

I would say the truth may lie somewhere between our two extremes... but then again, we obviously have different tastes in political theatre. I mean, to call this "Brechtian"?

(I think we should all be more careful before using "Brechtian" as shorthand for just any bare-bones ensemble thetare that talks to the audience and acknowledges it's a play. "Title of Show," for instance, was not Brechtian, I'm sorry.)

I'd actually be very curious to hear more from others who've seen "Goodness"--perhaps up north or at Edinburgh if not here. Personally, I thought it amounted to far less "social significance" than it strove for. And I'm fully aware that the divorce subplot I briefly refer to in the review was supposed to connect thematically to genocide in that the hero thinks about the potential killer within himself. But that's it--he thinks about it. Such undramatic things happen sometimes when novelists write plays.

I also wish I had more space to comment all the singing in the show, since for others it's the main selling point. I feel that inserting some "world music" interludes into your show does not necessarily do the work of political commentary. Plus--nativist point, perhaps--but if the songs aren't in English, how does an english speaking audience even know what they're commenting on?* Just sounded like a lot of generic "nobility" on display..... So yes, it was pretty to listen to. But did it really do anything relevant? Especially since the world of the play on stage was hardly multicultural or even universal, but just plain white. (Except for one actress of color, whose younger self was played by a white actress. Color blind casting? or lame gesture?)

I should add, too, that I actually generally liked the cast of these visiting Canadian stage actors. Interesting types, good voices, physically graceful. They just were put in foolish situations and forced to say a lot of overwrought drama.

*Yes, there are some translated lyrics in the program...but who reads the program! Plus, they're not so special. "Your aunt is having a work party. It's time to start digging???" ... I can't tell if that's "inspiring" or some anitquated schoolyard taunt.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007


If the Russians can do it, why can't we!

St Petersburg's Alexandrinsky Theatre was built in 1756. It is the oldest in Russia and is where Chekhov's Seagull first debuted (and flopped) in 1896. They have now installed a not-so- super-secret cell-phone blocking system. They bought it on the internet.

The Guardian prices the device at £ 1000. So, you think any of our theatres have two grand to spare? Everyone's probably got one donor who can cough that up, right?

Or wait, here's a better idea--raise money for the device by assessing a fee on cell phone offenders! How will we know who they are? Simple: heat sensors.

The inciting incident?

The theatre said it was forced to introduce the measure after a ringing mobile phone wrecked a recent performance of Leo Tolstoy's The Living Corpse. The central character, Fedor Protasov, decides to kill himself after his wife accidentally marries someone else. "It was towards the end. Just as the hero was about to shoot himself someone's mobile phone started to ring."
Either someone forgot to set to vibrate or that's the lamest sound-cue fuckup ever.

hat tip: Rocco

"Dying City"

photo: Sara Krulwich
As a result of our correspondence over the "Rachel Corrie" affair I actually got to know Christopher Shinn as a person before as a playwright. I regretted not having the chance to see his first major works "Four" and "Where Do We Live." So I'm grateful to Chris' help in prodding Lincoln Center Theatre to arrange a "bloggers' night" for his latest, "Dying City," so that I and others in the blogosphere could see his work. And, of course, comment upon it.

Each of the bloggers (so far: Mark, the ringleader, George, James, Jaime, Rocco, Matt, Lucas, and Adam) may have their own similar "full disclaimer" disclosures. I myself would just like to say I am not treating this as a "review" but as reflections upon an interesting play I've just seen that happens to be written by a friend. Given that, I feel like approaching this as an analysis more than an evaluation.

To me the most outstanding quality of "Dying City" is how unsettling it is, emotionally. Anthony Ward's ingenious creepily rotating set (so ballyhooed in Ben Brantley's lede) only externalizes the deceptions and instabilities going on inside the characters all the time. Say what you want about it, but this is a play that confronts emotional pain nakedly, and head-on. Not with sentimentalizing speeches and solutions, mind you. The fact that the pain on display in each character never gets resolved--or even fully expressed--makes for not a pleasant 90 minutes of theatre.

So what I can honestly say I admire about Shinn's writing here is how--unlike a lot of new plays on the nonprofit circuit--this is not a script begging to be liked, in the sense of "enjoyed." The dialogue is not littered with bon mots to lighten its load, it doesn't invite undue spectacle or cheesy "magical" moments accompanied by lame pop-synth background music. It is an incredibly serious play, in all the best senses of that word (rigorous, passionate, consistent).

On the other hand, neither would anyone call it "preachy," I think. I mean, what "message" is there? Yes, he wanted to address the war and our post 9/11 culture, but his subject is the effect of all that on particular lives. He does not attempt to ventriloquize George Bush, or build the whole play around feelgood speechifying. The plot of "Dying City" is clearly not just a flimsy string to hang sermons on.

And the plot, or the dramatic situations of the play--as enacted by two magnetic actors emodying three intriguing characters--is why people will go, I think. I'm not normally a fan of "jumbled-chronology" plays. But Shinn's focus here is so dramtically disciplined: just back and forth between 2 pivotal nights in the characters' lives. One is the night before Kelly's husband Craig ships out to a military base en route to Iraq. The other (where the play starts from) is a year later, in the same apartment, when Kelly receives a surprise visit from Craig's twin brother Peter, who also was present the earlier night. The two parallel stories manage to intensify effectively without really much "happening" because what's changing is what we learn about the characters. Sturcturally it's an impressive feat.

Ok, so what's it all about? The play is set in NYC, and Kelly is a youngish therapist. Some may say it's unlikely in our experience that such a woman would find herself married to a military guy. (Ok, I found myself saying that to myself.) But who knows? I also questioned how many soldiers in Iraq are ex-Harvard literary scholars, just trapped by their ROTC obligations....Then again, all I'm saying is: I don't know anyone like that. It's become proverbial that one of the major factors that allows this war to go on is that--unlike in Vietnam--those living in or close to the seats of power and wealth don't know anyone in this draft-free war. Shinn does lay the groundwork in Craig's middle-American working class background (along with scholarships and a education-dreaming mom) to fill out the scenario. And I'm sure there are men like him out there. Just because they're not the majority doesn't mean their story can't be told. And is this a way of bringing the war home--"home" to Lincoln Center theatregoers, that is. Or at least to bring home the war's issues to a recognizable NYC way of life. (More on this later...)

As I said, though, the play does not intend to address Iraq directly but only obliquely--by way of its affects on lives on this side. And in the 3 lives we see on stage, it has, one way or another, fucked them up completely. Peter, the brother, a gay actor, had been enjoying his freedom in New York and Hollywood after escaping the confines of home. But the loss of his other half, Craig, has clearly blown a hole in his world. The whole "present" section of the play depicts his desperate, awkward, and downright unhealthy attempts to find in the resistant Kelly the love and bonding he needs--even if it means exposing her to the worst secrets of Craig's (and his own) past. (He even proposes having a child with her.) Kelly, so obviously still scarred from her loss, spend most of the present "coping" through her hurt, trying to put on a good face for Peter, but clearly underneath cutting off and rejecting him. Indeed rejecting, secretly, her whole past, which is what her whole conflict turns out to be about. In her last moments with Craig the year before, we see a much more vulnerable person and one losing control of a relationship that clearly had been her anchor.

I'm sensing divided opinion on Rachel Brooksher's performance as Kelly. There's Brantley who was blown away, but some of the bloggers and other critics found her cold. I can see the "cold" complaint, but it was clear for me from the outset this was a very calculated characterization. And she was certainly credible as a young over-responsible idealistic therapist who has to protect herself a bit for being a woman in such a risky profession. (The moment when, in the middle of her life falling apart, she has to call a patient to cancel his appointment is actually almost hilarious in how true and revealing it is.) By the end, though, I was totally sold on Brooksher. She pulls off an amazing unwinding as the character spirals into trauma--twice. (The two plotlines both rip her apart.) And the ending would not be nearly so affecting if she had not put up such a strong facade at the top.

As for Craig himself, he is embodied with striking severity by Pablo Schreiber, all the more strking since Shreiber also plays the more easygoing and affable Peter. Switching back and forth between these polar twins in alternating scenes is surely an actor's feat. But Schreiber and director James Macdonald are careful never to make it seem just a stunt. Shcreiber transformation is so total you're hardly concious of effort involved. And the fluid staging keeps forcing you to see one right after the other with nary a break. Shreiber's mutiple entrances and exits become eerie, not just because one of his roles is effectively a ghost, but because both characters, in scene after scene, are revealed to be not quite who you (or Kelly) thought they were....Schreiber as Peter, as I said, starts as a friendly presence to the audience. But when he's exposed as a serial liar, a keeper of secrets, and not necessarily out to do Kelly good, his presence becomes as menacing as the troubled Craig's.

I dwell on the acting so much since they're a major reason to see the show. Schreiber (who I had mixed feelings about in Awake and Sing) is giving a career-making performance. And not just because of the stunt. He is able to embody without words all that Shinn leaves out in these twisted deceiving/self-deceiving male psyches. In both cases there's something a little scary about him--his pumped up physique, his intense narrow eyes, and heavy brooding bearing. Both actors are classically beautiful, which, hey, doesn't hurt. But they're also incredibly reticent--no doubt the mark of director MacDonald, a Royal Court regular expert in Sarah Kane and Caryl Churchill. From what I know, Shinn fought to retain MacDonald for any NY production, since he directed the London premiere. I can see why. I've rarely seen an American play acted by American actors with such quiet inensity, and where so much was going on between the lines while yet so little was showing on the actor's faces.

This creepy aura is complemented by Ward's set, which is amazing not for its relatively low-tech revolve but for its minimalism, for all it doesn't do. Gutting out the LCT Mitzi Newhouse theatre like I've never seen before, "Dying City" is performed in the round, with one spare couch and television center stage on a small square section of the suggestion of a hardwood floor. One narrow walkway leads to a few kitchen items, two more lead off to exits. That's it. Credit also Pat Collins' lighting for making the world around these essentials vanish in dark, dark, darkness. To get lost in this ominous world for an uninterrupted 90 minutes is in itself riveting theatre.

So, again, what's it all about. "Dying City" may be an anti-war play, but not any typical kind. As written in Schreiber's strained calm demeanor, war is not just a policy, but a male psychosis. And that's to some extend what the play explores. It does so, by the way, very conscious of an American literary tradition exploring brothers vs brothers, fathers and sons. Craig's passions at school were Faulkner and Hemmingway. Peter's reason for being in New York is playing Edmund in a star-studded B'way revival(!) of "Long Day's Journey." The unnamed literary ghost hovering over "Dying City," though, is Arthur Miller, whose domestic warguilt drama "All My Sons" woke up a more victorious postwar audience in 1947, reminding them of the trauma they had all suffered and taken part in. In a recent interview Shinn fessed up to being an Ibsen man, no matter how unfashionable that may sound today. But to his credit, "Dying City" does pick up the mantel of Ibsen and Miller, addressing the polis through personal psychology in a very similar way.

When I said this is not a script that begs to be liked, I meant partly that people may very well not like it who don't like, say, Arthur Miller anyway. It won't be everyone's cup of tea. (And it certainly wasn't for the LCT subscriber ostentatiously coughing and moaning throuout.) I myself tend to like my political theatre more political than personal, even. But I couldn't deny that at the end of "Dying City" I was genuinely affected and disturbed, going places I didn't want to go. Note I don't say "moved" as in a "movie of the week." There's no "triumph over adversity" here.

Maybe one thing that got to me was what I'll just call the Jon Stewart stuff. I had heard about this in advance of the play and was intrigued. But not prepared for how challenging it was in the context of the play to those of us who depend on our irony and distance to deal with what we hate about the world. Basically, Shinn calls out the cynics among us. He himself admits to liking Stewart fine. And it's not a soapbox moment. But just enough to goad us all into thinking--as dramtized in one haunting image--are we helping either ourselves or the world by splaying out on the couch watching hours of Tivo'd "Daily Shows", laughing away while Rome burns? (One of the most revealing moments of the performance was hearing the guilt in the air while some coudln't help laughing at the clips of Stewart's jokes.)

In short, it doesn't address everything about this current mess we're in. But it speaks to the present moment more honestly than any other play I've seen recently. And for that alone it's worth seeing.

For more ticket info and more on Dying City see Lincoln Center Theatre website.

Quote of the Day

"My clients are Disneyed out."

- Unnamed group-sales ticket agent, after seeing the closed preview presentation hype-up of the B'way bound "Little Mermaid." And giving good quote to Michael Riedel.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Strangest Ad Quotes Ever?

Okay, I know nothing about this show "Black/Jew/Love Technology" but between the title and the ad I just received in my inbox...I'm very, very confused.

"You two are Fabulous, very funny." -Joan Rivers

"Very Funny." -Jerry Stiller

"Brilliant, shades of Lenny Bruce." -Al Goldstein

"Hilarious." -Robin Quivers

"Hysterically funny, wowed by deft switch from Hustler raunch to Zen
sensitivity." -The Village Voice

"A funny, sexy show to heal the races and sexes." -Time Out New York

Et tu, my beloved Time Out & V Voice?

David Cote--are you proud to be quoted beside--nay underneath!--such luminaries as Quivers, Rivers, and Mr. "Screw Magazine"?

Well far be it from me to prejudge this night of "insight into relationships, politics, sex and race through BJL Technology." Normally, I even give free advertising in exchange for mocking. But their website link is broken.

Here's one more quotable, though: I predict this will be the "I Love You're Perfect" for the "Jewtopia"-meets-"Menopause The Musical"-meets-Culture Project crowd...

Monday, March 05, 2007


Looks like I've fallen behind on the theatre blogosphere volleys about some provocative quotes Edward Albee gave the LA Weekly.


We have no paucity of good young playwrights, and good older playwrights; we don’t have the happiest environment for them to work in. Like in the art world and in literature, the theater’s just as trendy, as dangerous and corrupt. The big problem is the assumption that writing a play is a collaborative act. It isn’t. It’s a creative act, and then other people come in. The interpretation should be for the accuracy of what the playwright wrote. Playwrights are expected to have their text changed by actors they never wanted. Directors seem to feel they are as creative as the playwright. Most of these changes are for commercial reasons. I know a lot about it because I’m on the council of the Dramatists Guild, but of course the pressures are on all of us. I’m in the lucky position where I just say, ‘Go fuck yourself; if you don’t want to do the play I wrote, do another play.’ The forces of darkness would back down if everybody said that. Theater wouldn’t go away and Disney wouldn’t go away. It’s all
because people believe that entertainment has to be superficial.

I'll let Isaac Butler respond on the merits of the demonization of the Director.

But I'll agree with Albee that we'd be a better theatre if more playwrights actually said Go Fuck Yourself when being pressured to give in on writing a different play than they've written.

Then again, it is easier for Mr. Albee to say that these days than most, isn't it?

The interview is also notable for implying that James Mason and Bette Davis were Albee's ideal imaginary George and Martha!

I msyelf was grateful to the interviewer Steven Leigh Morris for elucidating this particular insight of the playwright's, regarding what has changed on Broadway since 1962:
[Albee:] I don’t know what inflation has done in the past 40 years, but it hasn’t gone up as much as the cost of doing theater: Virginia Woolf cost $45,000 on Broadway in 1962. It just cost a million and a half in London last year. The cost of living hasn’t gone up that much.

[Then adds Morris, in an aside]

[Statistics compiled by the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis from the U.S. Bureau of Labor’s Consumer Price Index support Albee’s assertion: In 1962, a $1 bill had the purchasing power of about 12 cents today. At this rate, the $45,000 it cost to produce Virginia Woolf on Broadway in 1962 should translate to a budget of around $400,000 today. The $1.5 million budget for the London production represents more than triple our national rate of inflation in the years between 1962 and 2006.]

Morris doesn't go into what the current revival cost on Broadway in 2005. But we can only assume similar. Or worse?

Hytner: "Don't Give Our £ to the Olympics!"

I like how Nicholas Hytner lately has frequently used his post at the Royal National Theatre as a bully pulpit, to speak not just as an "arts leader" but a civic leader, representing not just an arts org but a big and important constituency in the scheme of gov't funding.

(He also made an opportunity of his last season announcement to editorialize a bit.)

Here he is in the Guardian last week, sounding the alarm over news of the Labor government's pressure to divert funds for the folly of the 2012 London Olympics. "The government could squander 10 years of cultural investment," as he bluntly puts it.

Also, a proud and unapologetic defense of Labor's strong record so far on the arts, rightly reminding all of the good results:

Ten years of Gordon Brown at the Treasury have been good for the arts. Subsidy has doubled. The theatre, in particular, has flourished. There is now a unique vibrancy about British performing arts that is universally recognised and envied.

Evidence emerged in a recent Italian study that surprised us more than it surprised the Italians. It revealed that far fewer Italians visit museums or go to the theatre than we do. The birthplace of opera and cradle of the Renaissance, Italy has intermittently subsidised its performing arts much more generously than we ever have. But arts patronage in Italy and the rest of Europe has historically been at the whim of the prince or the state, and for their glory. By contrast, arts patronage here has put at the top of its agenda the engagement of the widest possible public with the best possible art. As a result, nowhere are more people more often galvanised by the best their performing artists have to offer.

Notice how he smartly pitches this appeal both to artsy purists and to free-marketers. As he reminds readers, the combination of hucksterism + subsidy was always the winning model for the great English theatre tradition, even in "the old days." "The Globe," he says, was "reliant on the box office but uncompromising in its ambition. And, not incidentally, dependent on a degree of state patronage."

(Reminds me of a revealing anecdote Wendy Wasserstein used to tell of being forced into an awkward conversation with Newt Gingrich at the height of the NEA controversies. "Arthur Murray didn't need a grant to write Death of a Salesman," the self-styled professorial Newt asserted. After pointing out that the great American play was not the work of a dancing school entrepreneur, she added that Mr. Miller did begin on grants--when they were called the WPA.)

I hope Hytner can inspire our own AD's to start addressing more public audiences. It would be good for the theatre (not to mention--their theatres) to see more of Oskar Eustis, Andre Bishop, Tim Sandford, and--yes--Jim Nicola on our own op-ed pages more frequently.

Friday, March 02, 2007

B'way Dates Itself

Wax Dummy Attends B'way Singles Night!
photo: Joe Fornabaio for The New York Times

Well, the organizers of "Singles Night on Broadway"--at Madame Tousaud's!--have gotten themselves some coveted NYT coverage. Unfortunately for them, Campbell Robertson's wrap-up pretty much reflects the embalmed kind of fun I predicted.


The crowd looked a lot like — well, a Broadway crowd. The Broadway audience, according to the league, is a little more than 60 percent female. Same here. More than half the Broadway audience is between the ages of 35 and 64. Same here, if not more so.

“Some of these guys here look old enough to be my father, you know what I’m saying,” said Robin Frisch, 45, of Queens, who was later going to see “Stomp.”

And as if anything could make it less appealing...

The hosts were the perky people from the local Fox channel’s “Good Day New York and other “Fox 5 personalities”; scattered around the room were cast members from various Broadway shows, as well as the former “American Idol” contestant Constantine Maroulis, who is not currently in anything but tends to show up at most Broadway functions.

Raffle prize incentives, according to Roberston, included tickets to “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change.” As the old joke goes, if you win you don't have to go.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

A Day in Utopia?

Robert Simonson, in the Sun, has an amusing play-by-play account of the first "marathon" day at Coast of Utopia, all 3 parts.

In case you're wondering where to eat, or how to tell the different characters apart by their hair, there's that and more...

Personally, I remember everything at the National in '02 being pretty easy. They have great cafeteria stands! So I never had to leave the building all day.

And speaking of...

Mr. Feingold today has some fun engaging directly with Charles Isherwood's "I'm Bored" Sunday Times gauntlet. Does he agree? Yes, and no. And yes.

When Harry Met Charlie

I suppose watching Charlie Rose is always a Pinteresque experience.

But the two times I've seen Pinter himself on it have been fascinating trainwrecks of cringe- inducing painful fun. A clash of personalities, to say the least.

Surprisingly he's back for a third time tonight, and I'm sure it won't be a charm.

Check your PBS local listings....