The Playgoer: December 2011

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Monday, December 19, 2011

"Speaking Theatre"

That's what the Chinese call our drama of sittin' & chattin' on stage. Makes sense when you come from a tradition of highly physical and visual performance.

Nevertheless, they're warming to it:

Western-style “speaking theater,” as it is known here, isn’t indigenous to China, where opera and other forms have long dominated the theater scene. But that is now changing. Festivals, like the one in Chengdu, are part of a national drive to bring a new kind of theater to smaller cities in China. Today, established festivals in Shanghai and Beijing are complemented by new ones opening almost yearly in second-tier, though still very large, cities like Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province, where theater has been scarce. 
Naturally, there's a little censorship to deal with.  But another problem turns out to be audiences:
[A]udiences outside the major centers of Shanghai and Beijing are still unused to Western-style theater, Ms. Liao said. Fengchao Theater, the company founded by Ms. Liao and her husband, the director Meng Jinghui, recently toured the cities of Dalian and Shijiazhuang. “The audiences were terrible,” she said. “They talked and made and received phone calls all the way through the performance."

Uh, have they been to Broadway lately?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Drama on Broadway

Remember all the buzz around Lisa D'Aamour's Detroit after its Steppenwolf premiere last year? It was a Pulitzer finalist, was published in American Theatre and was being prepped for a high profile Broadway transfer this season. Expectations were high that this would be the great August: Osage County follow-up.

Well, someone's had second thoughts:

Though at one point talked up for Broadway, Lisa D’Amour’s “Detroit,” a finalist for the 2011 Pulitzer Prize in drama, will open the 2012-13 season at Playwrights Horizons, officials at the Off Broadway theater said on Monday. After positive reviews for Austin Pendleton’s production at Steppenwolf Theater last fall, “Detroit” was announced for Broadway. Instead, Playwrights will put on a new production of the five-character comedy, which zooms in on the adjacent backyards of two recovering addicts and their anxious middle-class neighbors. Anne Kauffman...will direct.
Now before anyone laments (yet again) the paucity of serious drama on Broadway, let me congratulate whoever is behind this decision with coming to their senses!

Perhaps someone looked at last week's box office figures and saw that David Henry Hwang's favorably reviewed Chinglish is playing to an only 39% house. And that Private Lives with Kim Cattrall--a "name" title with a "name" actress--is closing at the end of this month, two months earlier than previously announced. (This despite the co-starring of Canadian master thespian and Slings and Arrows star Paul Gross!  I mean, come on people!)

So this may just be the best thing for playwright D'Amour, to feel like a successful playwright in a nice sold-out run instead of having your commercial producers breathe down your neck while you watch from a half-empty theatre.

My only regret is, knowing Playwrights Horizons' pricing policies and limited press/blogger invites, this will now be a much harder and/or more expensive show for me to see than it would if I could walk up to TKTS a half-hour before curtain and get a $40 ticket no questions asked, since they would be dying to fill the house. But hey that's just me.

The other possible downside is that the play's star at Steppenwolf, Laurie Metcalf, may not be able to do the new production. Perhaps she wouldn't be willing to either, given it's a new director, new cast, and totally new staging of the show. But at least with Anne Kauffman there is a formidable director indeed.

All in all, just another reminder that the real American theatre is not happening on Broadway and the gulf between the two gets wider and wider. There might as well be a sign above Times Square for non-dead, non-British playwrights: "Abandon All Hope Ye Who Enter..."

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Dramatic Play Meets the Graphic Novel

Toronto's Kelly Nestruck writes up Robert Lepage's innovative idea to publish his latest play as a comic book:

Instead of publishing the script of his recent play, The Blue Dragon, Lepage's theatre company Ex Machina decided to take an entirely different route, commissioning Quebec City-based artist Fred Jourdain to transform it into a graphic novel. Now published in English by Toronto's House of Anansi Press, Jourdain's gorgeous mise en images of the play ...includes every word of dialogue spread over 176 pages of comic-book panels and cinema-inspired paintings.
Perhaps Lepage's visually driven devised pieces are uniquely suitable to the medium in a way other plays aren't. Still Nestruck also makes a case for more playwrights (and play publishers) to consider it, given how reading conventionally formatted scripts requires powers of imagination and visualization the common reader is perhaps not used to:
For all but the most dedicated theatre enthusiasts, deciphering a script can be a difficult task – trying to keep track of which character is which and remembering the location in which a scene is set, all without losing track of the plot.
Indeed, in this age of diminishing sales of theatre books--and publishing industry panic in general--might such an approach help at least generate some sales, or even more general interest in the theatre?

Graphic-novel Shakespeare has already been done, right? Why not Shepard!

Sample panels from the Lepage/Jourdain Blue Dragon book here. As you'll see, the artist has taken the liberty to flesh out and "open up" the play in ways that don't reflect necessarily how it was staged. But that doesn't have to be the way. Even photographs of the play with captions and/or bubbles could be cool.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Aristophanes in Times Square

“Nothing we do sells a ticket...People on the TKTS line can’t pronounce the title, and if you can’t pronounce the title, you’re not going to see the show.”

-A producer for...Lysistrata Jones.

(via Riedel)

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Review: "The Man Who Came to Dinner"

My latest for Time Out: Peccadillo's revival of Kaufman and Hart's The Man Who Came to Dinner. (Online only.)

Photo: Carol Rosegg

The current lead, Jim Brochu, is fine. But as you'll see I suggest Alan Rickman as the ideal Sheridan Whiteside. Any others in today's theatre?

Monday, December 05, 2011


If you have already subscribed to the Playgoer Twitter-feed, you'll notice I've been sending out more "bonus content" lately and plan to do more of that. More links, random political thoughts, and, hell, maybe even some 140-character reviews!

And of course, live updates and links to all blog posts as they happen.

So sign up! Blogging is just so 2000s...