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Loney's Show Notes
By Glenn Loney, April 17, 2006
Caricature of Glenn Loney
by Sam Norkin.
Please click on " * " to skip to each subject in this index:
Plays New & Old: *
Martin McDonagh's THE LIEUTENANT OF INISHMORE [****] *
Mark St. Germain's THE GOD COMMITTEE [****] *
David Grimm's MEASURE FOR PLEASURE [****] *
David Hare's STUFF HAPPENS [****] *
David Eldridge's Dramatization of FESTEN [*] *
David Marshall Grant's PEN [**] *
Paul Weitz's SHOW PEOPLE [**] *
Mark Kassen's LITTLE WILLIE [**] *
Joe Roland's ON THE LINE [*] *
Joe Orton's ENTERTAINING MR. SLOANE [*] *
JOE ORTON POSTS A LETTER *
Lisa Kron's WELL [*****] *
John Guare's LANDSCAPE OF THE BODY [***] *
Richard Greenberg's THREE DAYS OF RAIN [****] *
Clifford Odets' AWAKE AND SING! [**] *
Sophocles' & Euripides' "Assembled" FRAGMENT [*] *
CAN THERE BE TOO MUCH IBSEN: Especially at BAM? *
Henrik Ibsen's HEDDA GABLER [*****] *
Henrik Ibsen's [& Robert Wilson's] PEER GYNT [*****] *
Music Theatre Old & New: *
RING OF FIRE [****] *
GREY GARDENS [***] *
[title of show] [****] *
SIDD: A New Musical [**] *
BERNARDA ALBA [*] *
GEORGE M. COHAN TONIGHT! [***] *
THE MUSIC TEACHER [*] *
THE THREEPENNY OPERA [*] *
FIDELIO [****] *
Other Entertainments: *
A SAFE HARBOR FOR ELIZABETH BISHOP [***] *
SANDRA BERNHARD: Everything Bad & Beautiful [***] *
Lifelong Learning with MARTA EGGERTH: Famed Opera, Operetta, Musical, & Cinema-Star at 93! *
Celebrating the Juilliard School's 50th Anniversary: CINEMA SERENADES: Hamlisch, Shire, Williams, Shore, & Orff *
At the NYPL's Lincoln Center Library for the Performing Arts: 60 Years of Tony Excellence! *
Plays New & Old:
John Patrick Shanley's DEFIANCE [****]
I was so impressed by Stephen Lang's power-house performance as Marine Lt. Col. Littlefield, in John Patrick Shanley's Defiance, that I found it difficult to believe that he had made a career-fatal misstep on an unseen, unscripted visit to off-base dependent-housing.
This apparently momentary dalliance with a poor Private's wife seemed totally out-of-character with the gung-ho, highest-standards, supercharged, personally and professionally-proud Commanding Officer of a Marine Base: with a racially-troubled and disaffected complement of troops in transition.
Of course, the charges of a priest's "interfering" with a Black student/altar-boy in a Roman Catholic parish-school: in Shanley's multi-prize-winning Doubt: are also never shown on stage. You may well doubt that anything occurred.
In Defiance, however, the audience: as well as an Evangelical Chaplain [Chris Bauer] and a Black Marine Captain [Chris Chalk], aide to Col. Littlefield: has the testimony of the sad-sack PFC [Jeremy Strong] himself. In fact, he's so destroyed by his wife's infidelity and his commander's adultery that he has asked to be sent into combat immediately. Suicide: Ordained by the Pentagon!
So the Colonel's crime-of-passion is not in doubt in the script. But I doubt it, based on the character as written by Shanley and played by Lang.
Nor did I quite understand the meaning of Shanley's title, Defiance. Who, exactly, was being Defiant?
The Marine Captain is only doing his duty in charging his Superior Officer. Nor is the Chaplain being especially defiant, even considering the snubs and digs he's had to endure from the colonel. In fact, Shanley allows him some Pearls of Wisdom, along with his Fundamentalism.
Of course, in America's Armed-Forces, fellow-officers are expected to cover-up for military and civilian mistakes at the higher levels of command. They have to maintain Respect for the Uniform and the stars, bars, and oak-leaves which identify it as belonging to the Officer Corps.
Margaret Colin is especially impressive as the long-suffering Officer's Wife, whose son fled to Canada to avoid Military-Service. The lad is now dead to his dad.
Doug Hughes tautly staged this production, artfully aided by designers John Lee Beatty, Catherine Zuber, and Pat Collins. Lang looks terrific, especially in his Marine formal-dress uniform! He's also very tough on the Troops: if not on some of their Dependents…
Martin McDonagh's THE LIEUTENANT OF INISHMORE [****]
Only when Davey began to paint Wee Thomas on a wooden-slat, intended as a grave-marker for a pet black cat, deliberately run over on a country road, did I suddenly remember that I'd already seen this production of Martin McDonagh's Lieutenant of Inishmore in London in another season. I couldn't have dreamt it all, could I…
Considering the random Irish violence, torture, and killing that make this show such a Black Comedy romp, you might well wonder how anyone could forget all this Blood & Gore in one wee Irish stone-cottage?
At the close, when Davey & Donny [Domhnall Gleeson & Peter Gerety] are sawing off the various limbs of the Splinter-IRA Corpses, with their severed heads strewn about, the thought came to me: If there were cast-changes between London and Points West, did they have to have Madame Tussaud make new heads? Are there back-up heads for Understudies?
And who has to clean up all this bloody mess between matinée-performances and evenings?
The point of the play seems to be that self-proclaimed Irish Freedom-Fighters: or at least some of them: would rather make their vicious, murderous fantasies of fighting English Oppression into realities by slaughtering anything that comes readily to hand. Rather than bombing Belfast. Or No. 10, Downing Street.
The Noble Idea that they kill now: shooting out the eyes of cows, as well: to make Ireland a better place tomorrow for their as-yet-unborn children & grandchildren is shown to be mere rhetoric.
Since 9/11, have you noticed the rather Low Profile taken by the IRA, the Basque Separatists, and even Louis Farakhan's Black Muslims in America? It is an Article of Faith for these local folks that the White Man Is the Devil. The Prophet Elijah told them so. And passed this perception on to Malcolm X.
Now, let's see Martin McDonagh take on the Taliban: or Osama bin Ladin and Hamas: with a similar Black Comedy of Muslim Revenge! If the Irish aren't yet up-in-arms at his horrifically funny satires, will the World of Islam be amused?
In fact, play-performances are prohibited the Islamic Pious. Turkish Muslims & Balinese can get away with Shadow-plays, as long as audiences do not actually see the puppets: only their shadows.
Mark St. Germain's THE GOD COMMITTEE [****]
Upstairs at the former Lambs' Club, the charming Moscow Cats are doing their stuff. If you've ever tried to train a cat to do anything on cue, you know how difficult this can be. Try jumping through hoops!
On the Main-floor, however, potential Heart-transplant Patients are metaphorically being pushed through the hoops by a committee of hospital-surgeons and other medicos. When a death: accidental or otherwise: makes a still living, beating heart available, doctors and staff not only have to be able to get that vital-organ into the operating-room on time.
They also have to choose the most deserving of the severely endangered & damaged patients awaiting new hearts. At least that's the multi-pronged dilemma of the doctors: and one lawyer/priest: on Mark St. Germain's so-called God Committee.
Ethical Considerations, one might think, would be Paramount. Even Decisive!
Would you give a heart to a heartless young millionaire Druggie? Or to a friendless, homeless, hopeless HIV-infected Failed Poet? Or to a man who has already outworn a new heart? Or to a seriously overweight older woman: who has done many a Good Deed?
But there are many other factors: some of them very personal: involved in this particular session. For which a dying surgeon has returned to duty, in hopes of funding a new Wing with his name on it…
This is: although seemingly formulaic in outline: an intensely riveting, occasionally amusing drama. Forget the Caine Mutiny Court-Marital… If you can…
Kevin Moriarty has directed an excellent cast, including Ron Orbach, Amy Van Nostrand, Larry Keith, Peter Jay Fernandez, Brenda Thomas, Maha Chehlaoui, and Michael Mulheren, as the widowed lawyer/priest.
Beowulf Borit's décor is essentially a conference-table, surrounded by chairs, and a blackboard for rating the heart-hopefuls. This taut drama could supplant 12 Angry Men in many a community-theatre or college.
David Grimm's MEASURE FOR PLEASURE [****]
No, that isn't a mis-printed title! Although this comedy-pastiche owes something to the Bard, it is more clearly a compound of Oscar Wilde and Restoration Comedy.
Nor is this one of Grimm's Fairytales, although there is some whiff of Homoeroticism and literal Cross-Dressing.
[There must be something strange stirring on the shelves over at Samuel French: At the recent Humana Festival, at Actors Theatre of Louisville, one of the popular plays involved small-town Male Mid-Westerners in a charity production of a parodic Period French Melodrama, complete with powdered-wigs and panniered-dresses!]
Michael Stuhlbarg: late of Pillowman: is both charming and hilarious as a kind of servant Master of Ceremonies. As Will Blunt: how Shakespearean a name!: he takes an interest in a Nell Gwynn-type actress/lady of pleasure, Molly Tawdry, played with energy & nuance by Euan Morton.
Introduced as a lady's-maid by Blunt into the lavish London town-house of Lady Vanity Lustforth [the estimable Suzanne Bertish], she soon adapts herself most winningly: and usefully: to the needs of Post-Restoration High Society.
The year is 1751, so the bawdiness of Restoration Comedy has been tastefully supplanted by the Sentimentalism of 18th Century Comedy, exemplified by Richard Brinsley Sheridan's School for Scandal and The Duenna.
Names like Captain Dick Dashwood will surely remind some theatre-connoiseurs of Sir Anthony Wilcock, Lady Wishfort, Vainlove, Lady Plyant, Lord Froth, Mirabel, Gavot, Fondlewife, Scandal, Tattle, Screw, Fainall, Petulant, Waitwell, Sir Wilfull Witwoud, and other comic-types.
But you do not have to be a Theatre-History or Dramatic-Lit major to enjoy this sparkling show, sure to be widely produced in the regions: at least those that are not dominated by Red State Prudes.
Peter DuBois staged the fine cast in the marvelous costumes of Anita Yavich. And Alexander Dodge deftly adapted the awkwardly columned-amphitheatre of what was once the Astor Library Reading-Room into semi-scenic-suggestions of London City & County Wealth over two-hundred-and-fifty years ago.
David Hare's STUFF HAPPENS [****]
David Hare has wisely revised his seminal script of Stuff Happens for the Public Theatre. Originally produced two seasons ago, at London's Royal National Theatre, over time the drama was rapidly becoming almost an Historical Artifact: as the Disaster of Iraq continued to unravel. And the inept lies of the President & His War-Party continued to be exposed…
Seeing the London production at its premiere, your scribe was astounded at Hare's courage in drafting this effectively satirical indictment of major political leaders of the United States and the United Kingdom. It also seemed daring of the National to mount it on a major-stage.
It then appeared highly unlikely that any New York commercial theatre-producer: or even one of the Institutional Theatres, like MTC or Lincoln Center: would dare to stage it. At that time, criticism of the Bush Administration was muted, when not muffled: "What are you: some kind of Commie?" "Why do you hate America?"
Now Hare has been able to update his original, to greater effect. President Bush continues to expose himself and his administration verbally, as do his cronies, Dick Cheney & Don Rumsfeld. The totally off-base Ideologue, Paul Wolfowitz, however, has been rewarded with the Presidency of the World Bank! Who's watching the gold-vaults?
As Stuff Happens was originally largely crafted from recorded utterances of George W. Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair, Hare seemed on safe-ground from Summary Imprisonment, Libel & Defamation-suits, if not from Wire-Tapping and Inland Revenue Audits.
Nonetheless, at that time, in order to animate his clockwork-script, he had to imagine important discussions & conversations in the Cabinet Room of No. 10 Downing Street, as also in the Oval Office. These were dramatically necessary as a counterpoint to the public statements of both Administrations. Blair and Bush were not about to share transcripts of their secret intrigues with David Hare.
Since then, however, not only have essentially incriminating Memos been leaked about political-manouvers and intelligence-estimates in Downing Street, but angry and disaffected Bush-Insiders have also begun publishing. Hare has been able to draw effectively on this new material.
Stuff Happens was mounted last season in Los Angeles, at the Mark Taper Theatre, but the production lacked the impact of the original at the National in London.
Now at the Public: staged by the estimable Daniel Sullivan, in a bare-bones production: the drama has more power than initially, especially because of all that has become nakedly clear in recent months.
Were this not essentially a Matter of Life & Death, Hare's dramatic indictment of the Principals and their Principles: with words out of their own mouths: would have the quality of Political Satire. It is way beyond that…
As Hare has structured his drama, Secretary of State Colin Powell [Peter Francis James] is clearly a quasi-hero, the sole voice of reason in the Oval Office. Nonetheless, it's also made clear how he destroyed his immense International Credibility, telling the United Nations delegates untruths about the presence of Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq: probably driven by his career-long habit of following orders, not least from his Commander-in-Chief.
President Bush [Jay O. Sanders] emerges: not so much as a War-Lover: but as a truly befuddled, baffled man, in far over his head. Condi Rice [the excellent Gloria Reuben] really seems to be pulling-his-strings. Karl Rove is nowhere in sight!
The entire ensemble is good, with Byron Jennings, as Tony Blair; George Bartenieff, as Hans Blix; Robert Sella, as Dominique de Villepin, Jeffrey de Munn, as Donald Rumsfeld, very good indeed!
As David Hare's drama makes very clear, its Rumsfeld-Dismissive title: Stuff Happens: may become the Eternal Verbal Indictment of the entire Bush Administration, not just the Catastrophe of Iraq…
David Eldridge's Dramatization of FESTEN [*]
Those who have seen the Danish film on which the drama Festen has been based insist it is a Modern Classic. Those who had seen the London production of David Eldridge's dramatization insist it was much better there: not because of its text, but because of its outstanding cast.
Unfortunately, on Broadway, both its lackluster cast and its bare-bones visualization: not to mention its appalling script and its Dysfunctional Family Core-Horrors: do the memory of the film no service.
Those Horrors: so say those who admire the cinema-version: were thrown in even more sharp-relief in the film, set off against the glittering Festive Celebrations in progress in a great Danish Patriarch's great Mansion on the occasion of a Major Birthday.
At the Music-Box Theatre: what a name for the venue of such a grim, depressing theatre-event!: all the scenes seem to be taking place in a Tribeca Loft or a Queens Warehouse.
Just in case you missed this show: or avoided it entirely, or couldn't find a DVD of the film to rent: the centerpiece of the action is the revelation at the Birthday Party, by the Patriarch's eldest son, that his beloved sister's imperious father had raped them both as children. And that he was even discovered by his sister in the process of giving his father forced Oral Sex.
She has just been buried, an apparent suicide. She has also Left a Note, hidden in an overhead lampshade, so her surviving flake of a sister can easily find it.
The pre-production buzz about this show was largely the presence in its cast of Ali MacGraw!
Well, there she was! Right up there on stage, at the festive dinner-table, biting her lip, when not glowering on cue…
Rufus Norris staged, in the loft-space of Ian MacNeil.
David Marshall Grant's PEN [**]
The most interesting thing about David Marshall Grant's new script at Playwrights Horizons is the printed interview with the playwright, available free in the foyer. Grant made quite an impression some seasons ago as the sexually-baffled young Mormon Husband in Tony Kushner's Angels in America.
Since then: in addition to his acting-career: he has been teaching himself playwriting. This is a good backup position, still theatre-related, when the constant humiliations of Audition & Rejection begin to damage the spirit.
Grant has a real talent, and the first act of Pen has real power. Oddly enough, in his interview, he notes that he threw the first fifteen pages of his original script away, starting over again. Those pages are not missed: what remains is effective, especially the banter between an embittered and crippled mother and her witty: if effectually-trapped and emotionally-blackmailed: son.
At the close of the act, pushed to extremes by her nagging & goading, he commands his mother to get up out of her wheelchair and walk!
She slowly rises and takes her first steps in years! At which he immediately falls, his legs at once rendered useless.
This is quite a coup-de-théâtre, unbelievable to some of my colleagues. I was, however, struck by its aptness & power, having experienced something almost like this myself.
To make a Long Story Short, for a year-and-a-half I was in constant, excruciating Sciatic Pain, in my lower-back and left-leg. The right-leg had been initially immediately cured by a Christian Science Practitioner. Don't Ask…
After Orthopedic Surgeons and even my Chiropractor: "There's something wrong with your head!": had given up on me, Dr. John Sarno of NYU: Mind Over Back-Pain: had sent me to a psychiatrist. In the first five minutes of getting-acquainted, telling her funny stories about my Mother, she said: "I know what your problem is!"
Before she could speak, I knew as well: "It's my Mother!" In a flash, I was flat on the floor in the most awful pain I had ever experienced. I virtually crawled home. The next morning the pain was gone and has never returned…
Grant's second act does not now really work. Instead of throwing its first fifteen pages away, perhaps he should throw all of that act away and begin fresh. This play certainly does have something to say about Illness & Wellness!
Vide Lisa Kron!
Grant's title refers to a pen taken from his mother. Don't Ask… I think it was Symbolic of Something…
J. Smith-Cameron was impressive as the Mother. Will Frears staged.
Paul Weitz's SHOW PEOPLE [**]
Paul Weitz is no Jean Anouilh, but then, these days, who is? And who now remembers Anouilh's Waltz of the Toreadors, with Eli Wallach & Anne Jackson?
The now very late & but still very great French playwright loved to write light and dark comedies about the theatre and theatre-people. The late, great John Clements scored a triumph at the Chichester Festival: and later in London: in Anouilh's Cher Antoine, a tribute to a fascinating French Leading-Man.
Your scribe's first encounter with the theatre-world of Jean Anouilh: which actually relates to Weitz's Show People in an odd way: was doing the stage-lighting for a UC/Berkeley Drama Department production of The Rendezvous at Senlis on the Wheeler Hall lecture-aud stage.
This was directed by Prof. Dr. Arthur Luce Klein, who later founded Spoken Arts Records. He had personal permission from Anouilh to translate the drama for UC. [Earlier, I had lit Prof. Klein's Berkeley staging of Odets' Awake and Sing.]
Later seen in London's West End and on Broadway as Dinner with the Family, Rendezvous' chief dramatic-conceit was the engagement by a young man of two older actors to impersonate his mother and father to impress his fiancée at a festive private dinner. Followed by complications…
It is entirely possible that Paul Weitz has never heard of Anouilh's play, though anyone writing for the theatre should surely know about the playwright himself. Unless young contemporary playwrights now derive their Sense of Theatre from watching: or writing for: Television. Weitz, in fact, writes film-scripts: American Pie, for instance.
Weitz not only "goes" Anouilh "one better," but three & four as well. Debra Monk is Marnie, the rented actress-Mother, with Lawrence Pressman as Jerry, the actor-Dad. They have both seen Better Days.
Judy Greer, the fiancée, is also a rented actress, and not a very good one, at that. She gets off-the-cuff acting-lessons from Monk. It is not easy to play Bad-Acting, especially if you are not Very Good. [The Brits call this style "Coarse-Acting": and with good reason…
The quixotic pay-off is that Ty Burrell: as the peremptory and over-intense Tom: is also an actor, or rather a bankrupt, failed actor/director/producer Wannabe, who took his troupe down into the subway to perform and received a summons for his efforts.
Fortunately, the worst he could expect at Eighth Avenue & 43rd Street: nexus of Second Stage's former Art Deco bank-building: is a ticket for parking illegally.
The handsome Post-Modernist vast glass-window-walled Montauk beach-house interior is the design of multi-prize-winner Heidi Ettinger, once married to producer Rocco Landesman, with and for whom she created some amazing settings. Peter Askin staged.
As with several current On & Off-Broadway productions, this show's set is its most admirable achievement. Several reviewers have remarked on the modern fireplace with a video of a cheery log-fire!
Mark Kassen's LITTLE WILLIE [**]
Mark Kassen's title is an obvious allusion to a Cockney Expression for Genital Deficiencies. It is especially apt: not only as it refers to the Führer Adolf Hitler's nephew, William Patrick Hitler, who seems to have had just such a problem.
But also because it was widely rumored that the commanding, even raging, Public Persona of Adolf Hitler himself was developed as a cover for his physical insufficiencies. Although he married his mistress, Eva Braun: shortly before their double-suicide in the Last Days of Nazi Berlin, in the Führer-Bunker: they had no children.
But Hitler certainly had relatives, of whom Little Willie was the only one to flee Germany to make a new life in New York City: of all places for a Hitler!
Kassen: who performs as Willie, assisted by an all-purpose actress: has spent time finding out as much as he could about William Patrick's life: Born in London, Willie initially tried to exploit the Family-Connection in Nazi Germany and, failing in that, decamped to New York. Where he continued to receive payments from Onkel Adolf!
Willie's Irish mother, Bridget Dowling, had married Hitler's half-brother Alois Hitler, who had opened a thriving pub in Berlin on Wittenbergplatz.
Unfortunately for Alois, he was married to two women at the same time, resulting in an embarrassing Bigamie-Process. Not a welcome news-item for the Führer. This: in addition to Willie's own business misfortunes in Berlin: may have been a spur for him to emigrate.
In America, William Patrick agitated against the Nazi Regime, as well as hawking American products, such as Beech-Nut Gum and vacuum-cleaners, as Mark Kassen demonstrates, thanks to projections of Period-Ads.
Willie also wrote to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, offering his services against the Nazi Menace. And he did join-up and serve his new country. Ultimately, he married, siring three sons, who vowed never to have children, so the Hitler Blood-line would die out. William Patrick changed his last name; he died in 1987. The sons are supposedly still living on Long Island, but certainly not as Hitlers!
After World War II, Alois settled down in Hamburg with his legal wife, Hedwig Hitler. His foster-daughter recently told documentary film-makers that he cultivated a black moustache: das gleiche Bärtchen: just like Adolf Hitler's!
Yes, there is documentary-film evidence about Hitler's family.
His sister, Paula Hitler, was living on West German Social-Welfare checks in Bertschgdaden, in 1958. Not far off from her brother's Alpine Retreat: demolished in 1945, by American troops.
Some Germans were outraged that anyone associated with the Führer could be receiving tax-supported welfare. Ignoring the fact that the widows of Nazi Generals: including the wife of a famous Feldmarschall, who committed suicide at the Nuremberg Trials: Emmy Goering: were on state-pensions.
At this time, British documentary-filmmaker, Peter Morley, was able to interview Paula Hitler on film. She recalled her brother Adolf climbing a ladder as a two-year-old and terrifying their mother: "Bubi, come down!"
Paula died in 1960, but she always told people who asked her about Adolf Hitler: "In spite of everything, he was after all my brother."
She also wrote a memoir of Adolf, hidden for 40 years, only to be discovered by Florian Beierl and Timothy Ryback. This and other materials have been used for the new documentary-film, Familie Hitler: In the Shadow of the Dictator, shown on Germany's ZDF TV channel in 2005.
Unknown to her brother, Paula Hitler was engaged to marry an SS Doctor. He supervised a Nazi Euthanasia Clinic, involved with the extermination of "lebensunwertem Leben": that is: "Lives unworthy of being lived."
Hitler's own grand-niece, Aloisia Veit, was sent to the gas-chambers from this very clinic. When the Führer heard that Paula planned to marry the doctor, he broke the engagement and sent him off to the Russian Front, hoping for the worst.
The war-time Krankenschwester-wife of Hitler's favorite nephew: WW II Wehrmacht Officer, Heinz Hitler: Frau Erna Hitler also wrote a family-memoir of some 400 never-to-be-published pages. But she did make their very strong contents available to the contemporary film-documentarians, Oliver Halmburger and Thomas Staehler.
So there may still be some unknown Hitler-Kin and Führer-descendants out there…
Mark Kassen's efforts in research are admirable, but the actual resultant script doesn't work all that well. Perhaps if it were transformed into a powerful monologue: instead of trying to make it a kind of play: it would achieve the impact he hoped for.
Joe Roland's ON THE LINE [*]
There was great excitement prior to the opening of this flaccid three-man semi-drama. Mike Nichols has top-billing, over the title, as one of the Producers. Wow!
But why was he interested in Joe Roland's trio-logue of three young assembly-line workers and best teenage buddies? They aren't very interesting, either as real guys or as stereotypes.
In the second half: when one of them has become a Company-Man, rep between Management & the Union; the second, the Union Rep, and the third, a feisty Union Strike-Leader: their previous boyhood & assembly-line bonds are shattered. Playwright Joe Roland is one of the three buddies!
In fact, at the close, angry offstage Union Workers are trying to beat the Company Man to death, even as he has come to make peace with the Strike-agitator.
Workers are understandably furious that the Factory-Owner has been prolonging the strike until he can finalize the transfer of his assembly-line South of the Border. And sell the soon-to-be-empty factory-building to a Swiss company that will install an automated manufacturing-process.
Company-housing may also be an immediate casualty.
This is a potentially powerful story that needs to be told cinematically.
But Robert Altman: or Mike Nichols: had better hurry, as this Generic American Working-Class Tragedy is fast becoming Old News.
How about a movie showing the problems of opening a new assembly-line in Puebla or Vera Cruz?
Actually, that's now Old News as well. Mexican factories have been closed, with manufacturing moved to Bangalore and Bangladesh!
What's now needed is a Bollywood Musical Film, in which Former American Factory-Foremen try to teach Hindis and Untouchables how to make outboard-motors or Stair-Masters…
Joe Orton's ENTERTAINING MR. SLOANE [*]
Had Joe Orton's skull not been smashed like an egg-shell: by his crazed-with-jealousy room-mate, Ken Halliwell, wielding a hammer: he might still be alive to see the revival of his seminal Entertaining Mr. Sloane, at the Laura Pels Theatre.
If so, he'd die all over again: this time of embarrassment.
This is such a miscast, misguided, and misunderstood staging of Joe's hilarious Black Comedy that it's almost impossible to believe the usually ingenious Scott Ellis staged it.
Or that estimable performers such as Jan Maxwell and Alec Baldwin could so grotesquely misinterpret their demanding roles. Only Richard Easton hits the mark as a querulous old man who knows their new boarder, Mr. Sloane [Chris Carmack, exposed] to be a vicious killer.
Carmack: although he looks OK with his shirt off: has nothing of the really rough Rough Trade quality this baby-faced murderer should exude. Dudley Sutton, the original Sloane: named for London's Sloane Square: was the ideal, seldom matched in subsequent productions.
Alec Baldwin's impersonation of a prissy, buttoned-up & down, fuss-budget homosexual is certainly amusing, especially as he's well known for his Macho Powers. And quite justly so, for a man who has a town in Long Island named after him. Or is it the other way around?
But Orton's Ed is seemingly A Man's Man: an enthusiastic supporter of the YMCA and athletic young men, looking to get ahead in life. It is his very aggressive masculinity that makes his interest in Mr. Sloane so subtly amusing. This is not the Ed Baldwin is playing.
As for Ed's sister Kath: who has just rented a room to Mr. Sloane: she's a dumpy, frumpy, sexually & socially frustrated English working-class woman, stranded in a rotting old house in the middle of a garbage-dump.
As Jan Maxwell plays her: or has been instructed to play her by Scott Ellis: there's nothing of Orton's Kath about her. Instead, hands constantly fluttering, she seems like Blanche DuBois after ten cups of really black coffee! Or a Butterfly in Heat…
Although there's a murky montage framing the stage-picture, there's no sense of being in the middle of a gigantic rubbish-tip. That might have helped.
I make these regretful observations as something of a Joe Orton Expert. Joe came only once to Manhattan and the United States. He was here for the premiere of Sloane on Broadway, staged by my old buddy, Alan Schneider.
Alan asked me to interview Joe backstage at the theatre, after I'd watched a rehearsal. Joe was wearing a blue-striped sailor-jersey, his face gleaming, as though oiled. He obviously wanted to make a very good personal impression: which he did.
I'd already seen Dudley, in full-leather, in Sloane in London's West End. I'd also heard playwright Terence Rattigan rave about Orton's new, fresh talent. And I'd seen that famous newspaper photo of Joe on his narrow bed, backed by a pasted collage of muscle-men and other fetish-objects.
I was surprised only in that Joe wasn't wearing leather. We bonded immediately, and I told him I was a bit disappointed at some of the cheap gimmicks Alan was putting into the staging.
At one point, as Kath rummages in a drawer for a bandage for Mr. Sloane, she pulls out a vaginal-douche: or was it a turkey-baster? They do look alike… She smiles knowingly, as if meeting an old friend again.
I thought this a really vulgar visual-gag. "Oh no!" Joe exclaimed. "That's absolutely right! I wish I'd thought of it first. Alan's a genius director. I ought to put it into the script now!"
During the interview, Joe seemed uneasy about the fate of his then-innovative Black Comedy on Broadway. "I think they may hate it. Please, if you don't mind, will you send me all the reviews when I'm back in London? I don't think the producers will do that."
In the event, Mr. Sloane was almost universally hated: your scribe excepted. Norman Nadel called it a "spritely Medieval Cesspool." Walter Kerr despised it, dismissing the play as "not Black enough."
After Joe received the first batch of reviews, we began a correspondence that ended only with his death.
As I did not have a computer then, none of my letters to Joe have survived. I made no copies, and he destroyed mine, to keep Ken from finding them.
But all of Joe's carefully-typed letters to me are now in the Berg Manuscript Collection of the New York Public Library, at 42nd & Fifth. Their contents, however, belong to the Orton Estate, which would have to give permission for their publication.
Of course, they'd mean even more if I could provide some recall of what I wrote: in between them: that prompted Joe's always witty, tart responses. While I still can remember anything…
I have made repeated proposals to the NYPL and the Berg Collection curators to do something about this, with no response. Here, in essence, is my final suggestion:
By Glenn Loney/2001
JOE ORTON POSTS A LETTER
Lively Lines to Drama-Critic Glenn Loney
•Publication of the Joe Orton Correspondence now in the NYPL's Berg Manuscript Collection would be of distinct value to theatre-researchers, scholars, students, journalists, and critics.
•They provide a detailed and immediate experience of the wit and insight: and occasional acerbic malice: of Joe Orton's thoughts and observations, which can enhance understanding and appreciation of his plays.
•For the same reason, they should be of especial interest to dramaturgs, directors, and actors who plan to stage an Orton comedy.
•Theatre-fans and satire-lovers alike should find Joe Orton's Letters an interesting extension of the comic and sardonic delights they have discovered in reading and seeing his plays.
•Aside from Joe's regular letters to his sister and family, this correspondence is surely one of the few extensive ones Joe wrote to a personal friend.
•Obviously, although the letters were sent to me: and they are now physically the property of the New York Public Library: their often hilarious and insightful comments remain the literary property of the Joe Orton Estate. So permission would have to be obtained to publish them.
•Nonetheless, in isolation they cannot have the developing serial-significance they would gain if they were published together with my recollections of the circumstances of the inception of our Briefwechsel.
•Not only that: between each of the letters in sequence, there needs to be an explanation or comment as a link between letters. Unfortunately, at that time, I never made copies of letters I wrote, so none of my missives: as far as I know: has survived.
•I could be wrong about this, but I do not think John Lahr found any in his researches among Joe's papers. Joe, in fact, told me he destroyed them when he received them, for he did want his extremely jealous partner, Kenneth, to find them.
•John was even thoughtful enough to tell me that I was NOT mentioned in Joe's sexually-graphic diaries.
•It's just as well that my letters to Joe didn't survive. As with most of my correspondence at that time, they were written at fever-pace very late at night. With absolutely no attempt at style or wit to match Joe's.
•Today, however, I believe I could provide lively and possibly even witty summaries of what passed between us by post.
•As well as some evocations of our regular London-lunches at the Arts Club each summer on my annual festival-tours through Europe.
•It was Joe's custom to bring with him a current album of critical-reviews, both positive and negative. He had pasted them in with great care. Most of our time was spent with Joe reading me the best bits of the good ones and discussing the others with devastating disdain.
•Because our correspondence began when Joe asked me to send him the reviews of his first play on Broadway, ENTERTAINING MR. SLOANE, it would be absolutely necessary to include the most interesting of those reviews, some of which he mentions in his answering letter. All these are reproduced in that regular publication: New York Drama Critics Reviews, so finding them intact will be easy.
•But it would be also most interesting to contrast them with the London reviews of SLOANE from its initial showing and its later West End premiere.
•In fact, it would greatly enhance the value and usefulness of such a book if on-going reviews of Joe's plays: on both sides of the Atlantic: were included with the developing correspondence. Possibly as a kind of all-too-brief Critical Time-Line.
•As with my Peter Brook: From Oxford to Orghast [Routledge], it would be an important research-aid to include a Complete Chronology of Joe's plays and other writings. Even a production-history?
•At my age: now 73 [NOW 77!]: it is important that I make an effort to recall Joe, our postal-friendship, the content of my letters, and our annual meetings at the Arts. Before I have quite forgotten everything…
•Although I had hoped: shortly after Joe's tragic death: that I might be able to write a brief biography, using my letters, this was not to be. Peggy Ramsay: who had become a friend but NOT MY AGENT: told me frankly that the letters belonged to the Estate, for which she was the agent.
•Peggy was also John Lahr's agent. So she chose him to be the Official Orton Biographer. As I had known Joe, and John had not, I found this very disappointing.
•Peggy: who was nothing if not plain-spoken: pointed out that my father had not been Bert Lahr. And that John, not I, had written Notes on a Cowardly Lion. Next case!
•So I shared the contents of the letters with John, which began a friendly acquaintance which continues to this day. [I also shared the letters with my late great and good friend Newsweek's Senior Editor and Drama & Film-critic Jack Kroll: who insisted they must be published.]
•I believe it would greatly enhance the sales-appeal of this proposed book were John Lahr to contribute a Foreword to it. For the same reasons that Peggy contracted him to write the Official Biography!
•My interview tapes with Joe have vanished: possibly stolen: but I do have rough transcriptions, which can enrich the proposed text.
•I never made a photo of Joe, but I do have some strong black & white photos he gave me of which he was especially fond. Notably some with his shirt off…
•At my age: and with the tremendous pressures involved in organizing, labeling, and cataloguing my INFOTOGRAPHY PHOTO ARTS-ARCHIVE: I cannot undertake the assembling of the reviews and Orton Chronology. But I do have colleagues and former students who are expert in such scholarly details.
•Obviously, this proposed book cannot be published without the full co-operation of the New York Public Library and the Berg Collection. As I have no agent and no connections, I cannot undertake to shop the proposal around either, being notoriously inept and shy in such matters.
•So this project clearly will never come to fruition unless it is approved, blessed, and: best of all: issued under the imprint of the New York Public Library Research Collections. That seems to me the only way the letters will ever be widely available to all.
•NYC Contact: Dr. Glenn Loney, 3 East 71st St, NYC 10021.
Lisa Kron's WELL [*****]
I loved Lisa Kron, her stage-mother Jane Houdyshell, and her ingenious "This is not about my mother and me" exploration of Wellness and its Opposite, when it was premiered down at the Public Theatre. Now, I like it even more on Broadway at the Longacre, where it has settled in for what looks like a very Long Run.
What I do not like so much is the scenic-solution Tony Walton has dashed off. Mother Ann Kron's cluttered living-room corner is still just right, but the back-up see-through black-fabric panels look cheap and lacking in design-integrity. They detract: especially when deliberately crashed: from the rest of the fairly suggestive staging: by Leigh Silverman.
I've admiringly reviewed Well in a previous Show Notes. I'll not take back a word: except about the setting: but add now that both Lisa and Jane have matured in their roles. When Jane/Ann first wakes up in her Recliner and sees the audience, she instinctively greets them warmly and offers them something to drink!
We all fall in Love with her! Jane Houdyshell has already won awards Off-Broadway, but now she is eligible for a Tony: and her recreation of Ann Kron makes it certainly Her Turn!
As well as a Tony for Lisa Kron: Best Play, anyone?: who has found a wonderful way to tell her mother's story. In the 2.5 Minute Ride: also shown at the Public: she already showed her ingenuity in dramatizing her father's story. And, of course, segments of her own on-going story as well. She is a founding-member of the Five Lesbian Brothers, so hers is a complex story indeed.
[Speaking of Wellness: Also Worth Remembering: BRAIN-CANCER DOES NOT CAUSE CELL-PHONES!]
John Guare's LANDSCAPE OF THE BODY [***]
I have always been a Big Fan of the ingenuity & imagination of John Guare: and also of most of his plays. House of Blue Leaves and Bosoms and Neglect are very special.
I shall never forget the Credenza that poor old couple left to Wally Pantone, though I never seem to get the spellings right. That was one of John's earliest experiments in Theatre of the Absurd: which he has never really abandoned.
Landscape of the Body certainly conflates a variety of disparate realities that are initially difficult to digest. I think I understood: or appreciated: it more when I first saw it. That was when bodies were, in fact, floating in the Hudson, and teenage kids were mugging people for their watches.
But you'd have to be a really flakey mother to run off with a Sweet-talking Southerner: "I'm pushin' the Peach!: to his rural mansion & estate, when he's recently been released from an Institution and has a letter from his wife that it's OK with her for him to marry you!
You also should know better than to abandon your confused, resentful teenage son in an empty apartment with hundreds of dollars in bills. No wonder you are now being grilled by a Police Inspector, as the chief-suspect in the brutal murder and beheading of your Defunct Son.
Got the Picture? There's also an orchestra, playing songs created by Guare. Some are seductively, sadly sung by the ditzy mother's dead sister. It's that kind of Crazy Show!
Oddly enough: just like David Marshall Grant's Pen at Playwrights Horizon: a free printed interview with John Guare, available in Signature Theatre's lobby, really puts the entire script and its production-quirks into sharp focus. This should have been Required-Reading before the show!
Michael Greif staged an interesting cast, including Sherie Rene Scott, Lili Taylor, Paul Sparks, and Jonathan Fried.
IMPORTANT INFORMATION: All seats at Signature Theatre are now ONLY $15!
Also Worth Remembering: BRAIN-CANCER DOES NOT CAUSE CELL-PHONES!
Richard Greenberg's THREE DAYS OF RAIN [****]
Initially produced by Manhattan Theatre Club on its sub-basement stage at City Center, Three Days of Rain was instantly a powerful play, mingling sadness, longing, nostalgia, and failed hopes. In its new incarnation, at the Bernard Jacobs Theatre: formerly the John Golden: it seems even more nostalgic and sad.
Possibly because it now takes place in a Victorian cast-iron loft-building, rather than the almost clinically barren 20th century loft-space of the first staging. Santo Loquasto has designed both the setting and the costumes.
Architecture matters in this drama: and not only in its presentation. But also in the talents and achievements of the two best-friend young architects [Paul Rudd & Bradley Cooper] who share the loft, designing innovative office-buildings and impressive commissions as their practice develops.
An early commission comes from Ned's parents: an ultra-Modern glass dream-house in an open setting, paid for with their last penny. Like Philip Johnson's famed Glass House: or a Richard Neutra invention: the house becomes instantly famous, notably on the cover of LIFE magazine.
But who really designed this famous house? Ned or Theo?
The drama begins, effectually, at the end, in 1995: Ned's disaffected, wandering, aptly-named son, Walker [Paul Rudd] returns, missing his always distant father's funeral. His sister, Lina [an impressively gaunt Julia Roberts], berates him for disappearing for so long. She'd been unable to trace him. Now the Will must be read.
Walker wants only the Glass House, but, instead, his father has unaccountably left it to his late partner's son, Pip [Bradley Cooper]. In the now dusty loft: where' he's crashing: he finds his father's cryptic journal. The initial entry is solely: Three days of rain…
The second act is set in 1960, at the Beginning. The title is wonderfully, romantically explained at last. But the seeds of the disappointments, recriminations, and disaffections of the Future have been definitively planted. Julia Roberts is radiant and kooky as the Zelda Fitzgerald-type both men love.
I believe this is Richard Greenberg's finest play yet, although Take Me Out is also impressive. I except The Dazzle and The Violet Hour: both ingeniously staged at the Biltmore: from this Roster of Excellence. Joe Mantello staged with an ear for the sensitivity: and an eye for the occasionally comic: in the text.
After the rousing curtain-call, traffic was stopped outside the theatre on West 45th Street, as hundreds of fans waited for a sighting of Julia Roberts: and a possible autograph. Even way down the street, the applause for Roberts echoed!
Clifford Odets' AWAKE AND SING! [**]
This was a powerful play, in its time. And, as interpreted by the powerful talents of the Group Theatre, it had an almost insidious impact on New York Depression Era audiences, many of whom could see themselves in the dysfunctional Bronx Jewish family onstage.
Your scribe has a Special Relationship to Awake and Sing! But not because he ever lived in the Bronx or grew up in the midst of an oppressive Jewish family-situation, compounded by poverty.
Not at all! He grew up on a farm in the Sierra Foothills during the Great Depression. But, in the mid-1940s, at UC/Berkeley, he was asked to do the stage-lighting for a drama-department production of Odet's play, cast with students who had come West from Brooklyn and the Bronx, some from families rather like the Bergers.
In the process, I learned a lot about life in a cramped apartment like that of Bessie & Myron Berger. I also learned all the lines, so I could prompt from the light-board!
I still see Blossom Bean Jarvis, Gordon Keyes, and Stuart d'Adolf in Odets' roles. Nor would I forget working with Professor Arthur Luce Klein, who later created Spoken Arts Records.
This created a problem for me at the Belasco Theatre, watching the somewhat miscast characters attempt to re-live the drama. It was not a case of déjà vu all over again, alas.
The actors did not effectively create an ensemble, but the direction of Bartlett Sherr and the jumble of a set: designed by the usually ingenious Michael Yeargan: may have had something to do with the loss of dramatic impact in this seeming "pick-up" production. Zoë Wanamaker's obsessed Bessie Berger stood out, however.
Why elements of the scenery kept disappearing as the play progressed was unclear. Was this a Visual Metaphor for the gradual Opening of the Eyes of the Entire Berger Family to Harsh Realities?
Awake and Sing! is still one of the most powerful domestic-dramas of those Clurmanesque Fervent Years, evoking, as it does, the larger problems of American Society in the Depression beyond the Berger's shabby apartment-walls.
Later, when Clifford Odets had gone off to Hollywood: to sell his soul with slickly-produced screen-plays: the ironic query was: "Odets, where is thy sting?"
One thing is still certain: as even the current re-production reminds us: If you want to Be Somebody or Amount To Something, you have to get out of the Bronx!
Also Worth Remembering: BRAIN-CANCER DOES NOT CAUSE CELL-PHONES!
Sophocles' & Euripides' "Assembled" FRAGMENT [*]
If poverty-stricken Fedayeen and University Archeologists keep digging around in ancient Cairo or Alexandria kitchen-middens: or in dusty dry desert caves: there's no telling what lost plays of Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, and Aristophanes may turn up!
Not to mention more Dead Sea Scrolls, Gospels of Judas & Mary Magdalene, and other Future-Fodder for the novels of Dan Brown!
The problem about finding mere fragments, however, was recently exposed at the Classic Stage Company. Among the fibrous-shards of remnants from manuscripts of dramas by Sophocles and Euripides, there do not seem to have been enough texts to reconstruct all: or even scenes: of the lost Attic Dramas.
The Burning of the Library of Alexandria is often cited as the reason only Seven Tragedies of Aeschylus and Sophocles survived. Out of a far greater number, known because of surviving records of Athens' City Dionysia, at which these plays were initially performed.
Aeschylus is credited with some 80 titles; Sophocles, with more than 120, and Euripides with about 90, eighteen of which have somehow survived.
At some point in the development of Christianity, however, Church Fathers: fearing the powers of Pagan Beliefs & Superstitions: deliberately suppressed many texts from Antiquity, only allowing obviously seminal and Morally-Instructive works to be laboriously copied by monks in their Scriptorums.
Euripides was luckier than his two peers, for some of his dramas have subsequently been discovered. But not usually in Monastery Libraries…
[Way back in the 1930s, pulp-magazine ads for AMORC: the Ancient Mystic Order of the Rose-Cross: depicted a fearsome Clerical Conclave, with hooded monks decreeing: "This Knowledge Must Die!" These must have been the very priests & monks who suppressed Sophocles!
[This was in the Depths of the Depression. Fortunately, if you had a quarter, you could send it to AMORC, in San Jose, CA, and make this lost knowledge your own!
[I was only a dumb farm-boy, but I did wonder why: if the Secrets of The Ancients only cost 25 cents!: President Franklin Delano Roosevelt didn't send right off to San Jose for the Answers to Our National Crisis.
[Or, if AMORC really had all this hidden or Lost Knowledge, why they needed all our quarters anyway?]
Anyway, in a disappointing attempt to make some of the Sophoclean/Euripidean Fragments viable, Kelly Copper has crafted an Assemblage that is almost as banal as readings from Poor Richard's Almanac.
This was not made more effective by having the three performers of the text-fragments sit in the audience, or move back and forth between two buffet-tables at either end of the playing-area, bordered by tiered-seating.
Rip Torn's son, Tony Torn, has bulked up & out over the years, so he is not a Poster Boy for Low-Carbs. He did, however, have a very nicely-cut suit that did not entirely disguise his desire to share more of his physique with the audience.
Once, down at LaMaMa ETC, I seem to remember him in the All-Together in a Mario Fratti play about Federico Felllini. Or was this just a nightmare fantasy?
CAN THERE BE TOO MUCH IBSEN: Especially at BAM?
Happy Birthday! Happy Birthday, Henrik Ibsen! Happy Birthday to You!
Yes, Lovers of the Well-Made Play, Norway's greatest: but not its only: playwright, Henrik Ibsen, is this year 178 years old. Or 178 years-young, if you consider how timely some of his characters and situations still seem!
Or should we say, instead: Happy Deathday!
For this entire year, the Centenary of Ibsen's Death must be shared with the 2006 Mozart-Year Anniversary. In fact, the official Logos imitate Mozart's: IBSEN 2006 and Ibsen Year 2006.
Not only have New Yorkers: and not only those with Scandinavian Roots: already been exposed to Ibsen's Hedda Gabler, with Kate Blanchett as Hedda, at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. But they will also have the opportunity to compare this Sydney [Australia] Interpretation with that of Berlin's famed Schaubühne am Hallesch'n Ufer, when its distinctive Hedda Gabler production comes to BAM this Autumn!
Drama Spies report that the German Version is set in present-day Berlin, a Seething Post-post-Modernist Cauldron of rootless people from East & West. "Social Failure in Today's Society" is said to be the Thematic-Concept. Trust Germanic Regisseurs to search for New Looks for Old Classics!
And why not? Munich's new Flying Dutchman has all the Baltic Seacoast village-women in a Health-Club Spa on Exercise-Bikes, instead of whirring away on ancient spinning-wheels.
[Incidental Intelligence: Munich: not Bergen or Christiania/Oslo: was Henrik Ibsen's favored city for writing his passionate plays. He also summered in the Bavarian Alps. There is a plaque on a villa in Berteschgaden to note that Ibsen Slept Here!
[Oddly enough, Adolf Hitler slept not far off: though years later: in his own Obersalzburg Alpine Retreat. Today, a Luxury Tourist Hotel is being built on the site! Naturally, it will have some sort of museum-alcove, possibly spot-lighting Nazi Atrocities?]
Meanwhile, back in Manhattan, the Royal Norwegian Consulate-General has issued a handsome brochure listing Major Ibsen Events in New York City this year. It lists not only the Two Heddas and the wildly innovative & amusing robotic Heddatron at HERE, but also Nora at the ArcLight Theatre, Robert Wilson's Peer Gynt at BAM, and Little Eyolf at the Center for Remembering & Sharing, a venue on Fourth Avenue [a-venue, get it?] previously unknown to your peripatetic scribe.
Then there's The Death of Little Ibsen, with puppets by Kirjan Waage, produced by Wakka Wakka Productions, way over on Eleventh Avenue, from 25 April to 23 May. There are also some Evenings with Ibsen at the Norwegian Seamen's Church: 317 East 52nd: with play-readings in Norwegian & English.
In October, Ibsen's Peer Gynt will be performed again, not at BAM, but in Central Park's Delacorte Theatre. This is a Norwegian production, with the original Edvard Grieg score, performed by the American Symphony Orchestra.
But BAM still has Ibsen on its mind, as Norway's National Theatre brings its staging of The Wild Duck to the Harvey Theatre in October, followed, of course, by the Berlin Hedda!
And there are Ibsen tie-ins with the Blockbuster Edvard Munch Exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art as well! MoMA offered in March an Ibsen Film Series: How about Jane Fonda in A Doll's House?
You could become as sick of Norway as Ibsen was when he fled South to Munich and Rome…
Henrik Ibsen's HEDDA GABLER [*****]
You could easily understand why it was so important for George Tesman to win the Professorial Post on offer in his Norwegian town. From the look of the vast Proto-Industrial Space he had chosen as his proud bride's new home: apparently the finest villa on the block: the heating-bills alone would have devoured what little was left of his Aunt Julia's pitiful savings.
But then this was an Australian Vision of Henrik Ibsen's classic fable of a willful and beautiful woman, full of hopes and dreams, but trapped in the Victorian Morality of a Provincial Norwegian town, with no proper or socially-sanctioned outlets for her intelligence and energies.
Some critics were offended that Cate Blanchett seemed to embody this central Ibsenian Female Icon with a passionate, even glacial, regality that they found out of place: no room for development in Hedda's character, apparently.
I found it a most impressive interpretation, frightening, even. That Hedda is so deliberate in her indifferences and snubs: rather than subtle or "accidental" in giving offense: increased, rather than diminished, the impact of the disasters she provokes.
Although both critics and drama-students have been complaining for years about the "creaky-hinges" of Ibsen's plots, this Sydney Theatre Company staging: by Robyn Nevin: seemed real and immediate. Even with Victorian decors, furniture, and costumes, the sensation, at least for me, was that it was indeed Happening for the First Time. And I've seen a lot of Heddas, some terrifying, some snoozes…
Why "adaptor" Andrew Upton preferred to refer to Tesman as Jorgen, rather than George, is a small quibble. Perhaps it makes him seem more Norwegian? Nonetheless, Anthony Weigh brought the weight of a small-minded pedant effectively to the role.
The devious and demonic Judge Brack was sleekly played by Hugo Weaving, free of the bland mask he had to wear in Vendetta. Justine Clarke's Thea Elvsted was memorable for her hairdo, reminding the audience that Hedda used to love to tug on it in school. She even gave it a few tugs in her salon, to show she had not forgotten her school-girl urges for mischief and dominance.
Aden Young was a passionate: if finally dissolute and desperate: Ejlert Lovborg. Julie Hamilton was Aunt Julie.
Good as this production was, however, it did not erase my vivid memories of Ingmar Bergman's staging of Hedda Gabler for London's National Theatre, with Maggie Smith as an resentfully pregnant Hedda, and Robert Stephens as a profligately handsome Lovborg.
The Sydney Theatre Company, though almost unknown here, is in fact an impressive ensemble. Not so long ago: in the framework of the Sydney Opera Festival: I was able to see Neil LaBute's The Shape of Things in an innovative staging. I still did not like the play, but I was certainly won over by the handsome production and the subtle performances.
Henrik Ibsen's [& Robert Wilson's] PEER GYNT [*****]
Robert Wilson's visualization: and animation: of Ibsen's 'dramatic-poem," Peer Gynt, is a work of sheer genius. Much of it is played on a virtually bare stage, against a blazing white cyc, with cut-out silhouettes of Abstractions of Nature, static or in motion. Characters even move slowly before this snowy whiteness in silhouette from time to time.
Exaggerated costumes and white mask-like faces take the place of settings, aside from a Victorian wilderness backdrop or a neo-classic portal-drop. Jacques Reynaud designed the memorable makeup and the often unusual costumes: some of which should later take their proper place as works-of-art in a costume-museum!
Peer and his peers: as well as the Peerless Trolls: move with an often exaggerated slowness, arms, legs, bodies undulating, as in a slow-motion choreographed mime. Some especially powerful stage-pictures are frozen in place for long moments. Not a finger, not an arm moves.
As the drama is a picaresque journey of the boastful peasant-boy Peer from youth to the grave: or the Ladle of the Button-Molder: there are Three Peers: Henrik Rafaelsen, Endre Hellestveit, and Sverre Bentzen, all excellent.
Kjersti Sandal is the radiant Solveig: lifelong abandoned by the selfish, adventurous Peer: who saves him at last from an anonymous extinction by the Power of her Love alone.
Peer's baffled but loving mother, Åse, is warmly embodied in Wenche Medbøe. One of the most memorable moments: as it usually is in innovative Peer productions: is Åse's Death, as Peer turns her death-bed into an imaginary sleigh, to drive them both to the marvelous magical Soria-Moria Castle, "East of the Sun and West of the Moon." Or are the compass-settings reversed here? [This castle & destination is also a feature of some ancient Celtic Tales…]
Michael Galasso's haunting musical score was a definitive component of the production. Characters moved in synch with its strains. Solveig sang soulfully its melodies. Trolls, villagers, and speculators chanted, squawked, squeaked, and trilled to it. Galasso must have known that Anitra means a Duck, rather than a Moorish Harem Charmer.
This almost unbearably sad and beautiful Peer Gynt is a co-production of the National Theatre of Bergen and the Norwegian Theatre of Oslo: Christiania, in Ibsen's time, as it was named for King Christian of Denmark, Norway being a subject-territory. It should also be remembered that Ibsen began his career in the Bergen Theatre.
As a very early Fellow of the Scandinavian-American Foundation: and a New York-based arts-journalist: your scribe was invited to the 800th Birthday of the City of Bergen, where he had ample opportunity to explore the actual theatre and Ibsen Legends. The anniversary production mounted by the theatre was Mot Solen, a brilliant collage of the art of Edvard Munch and the music of Edvard Grieg.
[Incidental Intelligence: The late UC/Berkeley drama-theorist, Professor Alan Reynolds Thompson: The Dry Mock & The Anatomy of Drama: always insisted that Ibsen had only envisioned Peer Gynt as a dramatic-poem, to be read, rather than staged. This Thompson partly based on its epic span, on its philosophical disquisitions, on its often bizarre characters, and on what he believed to be the impossibility of setting some of Ibsen's scenes on stage.
[In the event: even while he was telling his classes that the play could not be staged: Berkeley's University Theatre did exactly that. And not even in a real theatre, but on the lecture-stage of Wheeler Hall Auditorium. Director Leslie J. Mahoney solved every production-problem with suggestive ingenuity, largely relying on mime and lighting-effects.
[Your scribe was then Head of University Theatre Lighting-Staff, so this was quite a challenge. It was somewhat complicated by the fact that I was also Prof. Thompson's Reader! At UC, professors never read their students' papers or exams. That task was assigned to their favorite students. He refused to come to see our production, however, insisting that Peer could not be performed. Oh well, You Can't Win Them All!]
Since our early UC efforts, many brilliant, innovative directors & designers here and abroad: aided by outstanding acting-ensembles: have successfully produced Peer Gynt to international acclaim. It would have been wonderful had each of these been filmed or digitally preserved: as one hopes Robert Wilson's seminal staging will be: for study, comparison, and even a Peer Gynt Festival!
Music Theatre Old & New:
RING OF FIRE [****]
After the critical & popular success of the film, Walk the Line, was it a Cultural Crime for Richard Maltby, jr., to draft a stage-version of a veritable album of beloved songs by the tormented "Man in Black" balladeer, Johnny Cash? Some critics certainly seemed to think so.
Who could improve on the cinematic performances of Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon, after all? Roger Ebert is quoted on the Walk the Line DVD cover: "The music is great, the drama is great, the writing is great, the performances are great. I love it!"
Ebert obviously liked the movie a lot, and he didn't even have to exhaust his vocabulary to say so! How could a mere Broadway musical hope to compete?
Ring of Fire is subtitled: The Johnny Cash Musical Show, perhaps to difference it from the Lord of the Rings musical which may never see Broadway at all. Maltby has staged an unusual cast: evoking Rednecks and Crackers, among other Country & Western types: in what often prove to be acting-outs of the various songs.
This is not necessarily a bad idea, for the book doesn't work as a definitive biopic. Lisa Shriver has provided some C&W type choreography as well.
The main Scenic-Device is an upstage screen: also to be seen in other On & Off-Broadway shows currently, obviously to save money, rather than provide an Innovative Visual Experience: on which Country Images are projected. Some come again & again, like Hamlet's Father's Ghost…
The able Ensemble is headed by these Stars: Jeb Brown, Beth Malone, Lari White, Jason Edwards, Cass Morgan, & Jarrock Emick. At least they are listed as "starring," but some of their supporting-comrades are also effective & attractive.
Historical Perspectives: Your scribe's first experiences of Country Music were via Radio, as pious Methodists weren't allowed to slope off to the LaBarr Meadows Road-House & Dance-Hall. Now & then, however, there was a Square-Dance at the monthly meeting of the California Farm Bureau, in the local one-room schoolhouse.
Saturday Night was the Musical Big-time. After the Texaco Metropolitan Opera Broadcast in the afternoon, the evening featured the Alka-Seltzer/Miles-Nervine National Barn-Dance, followed by the Grand Ol' Opry, with Cousin Minnie Pearl, Roy Acuff & the Smoky Mountain Boys, and other Country Idols. Loretta Lynn, where are you, now that we need you?
Bayer Aspirin sponsored the American Album of Familiar Song, with Frank Munn: "The Golden Voice of Radio": and Jessica Dragonette. Sunday evenings we had The Manhattan Merry-Go-Round, dropping in on such fabled niteries as the Stork Club and the Copa! Sherman Billingsley, where are you, now that we need you?
Thursdays, we heard Bing Crosby on the Kraft Music Hall, with Bob Crosby's band. Then there was Kay Kayser's College of Musical Knowledge. Tuesdays, Fibber McGee & Molly, plus Bob Hope, with Vera Vague & Jerry Colonna!
Why did they ever bother to invent Television? Radio was Perfect: you didn't have to look at it while you were mending harness or crocheting…
GREY GARDENS [***]
If Grey Gardens is going to launch a trend: adapting Documentary-Films as theatre-musicals: your scribe can hardly wait for the musical-version of Why We Fight. Or one of those Burns Bros. documentaries on the Civil War or the Donner Party… That was some Party: Dinner with the Donners, anyone?
Leni Riefenstahl's Die Macht des Willens was one of the first documentaries that was also a propaganda-film. But, if you are thinking of turning The Triumph of the Will into a Broadway Musical, it has already effectually been done: How about Springtime for Hitler, in The Producers?
Before I saw Grey Gardens at Playwrights Horizons: but only dimly remembering the Maysles' documentary on the pathetic Bouvier Beale Women: I wondered how this could be made to work. I had myself had a glimpse of Grey Gardens when I was teaching at Old Sayville for Adelphi College and exploring Long Island in my Blue Beetle VW.
In the event, playwright Doug Wright has found an interesting way to tell the story of the domineering Edith Bouvier Beale and her sad, uselessly striving daughter, "Little" Edie. This is no I Am My Own Wife, though their odd reclusive story could have been a "Little" Edie Monodrama. Wright is very good at this format.
The production: with serviceable sets by Allen Moyer and costumes by the ingenious William Ivey Long: is mainly interesting for the performances of Christine Ebersole: as both Ediths: As Little Edie's mother in 1941, and as herself in 1973, a tour de force indeed! As is Mary Louise Wilson's Edith Bouvier Beale, in querulous old age.
The estimable John McMartin is seriously under-used, reduced now and then to the function of an aged Chorus-boy. Having Jackie O and Lee Radziwill on hand as girls Edie's age was less than riveting.
That Little Edie might have married Our Martyr President, John Fitzgerald Kennedy: had her glamorous but bizarre show-off mother not ruined the planned Engagement Party: how might she have redecorated the White House? Seeing the interiors of Grey Gardens, it doesn't bear thinking about.
Michael Korie's lyrics and Scott Frankel's score are serviceable, also effortful. But "Another Winter in a Summer Town" has a certain sad nostalgia to it: those thin-walled summer-rentals and week-enders weren't built for Long Island snowdrifts.
Michael Greif staged, abetted by Jeff Calhoun's "Musical Staging."
[Worth Remembering: BRAIN-CANCER DOES NOT CAUSE CELL-PHONES!]
[title of show] [****]
This is a cute little musical, staged by its creators down at the Vineyard Theatre on East 15th, where Avenue Q also debuted. The [title of show] title indicates the In-Process nature of the potential show.
Hunter Bell [book] and Jeff Bowen [music & lyrics] impersonate two gay guys with the very same names, who enlist two lesbian friends: played by Susan Blackwell and Heidi Blickenstaff: to devise a musical.
They have the novel idea of writing down everything they say: including phone-calls: as the actual book of the show, inventing songs along the way. Or exhuming items from the desk-drawer, or whatever…
When their work-shopping is completed, then they'll fill in the missing title!
Actually, this idea works very well: it is constantly amusing, and the quartet is very attractive & talented.
There's a lot of Insider Show-Biz chatter, with songs like Die, Vampire Die!, I Am Playing Me, Monkeys and Playbills, plus Montage/Photo Shoot.
Clearly, this is NOT a musical for High-School drama-groups or Community Theatres in the Red States.
Fundamentalist Ministers would surely fulminate once again against the Liberal Media Plot to Homosexualize Middle-America. Family-Values are Under Fire, they insist. The Liberal Media have already dissed Christmas & Christians, so they say, so what Social Horror is next?
There was a time when Oscar Wilde could only refer to it as The Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name. Now, however, it never stops talking: On stage, on TV, and up there on the Silver Screen! Is Gay finally really IN?
Not in the Red States, certainly…
SIDD: A New Musical [**]
If you loved that Bollywood Musical, Bombay Dreams, you should not have missed some of its charming players in Sidd, loosely based on Hermann Hesse's cult-novel, Siddhartha. At the Dodger Stages, the intimate acting-space was graced with a textured backing, with lovely Hindi costumes providing the real décor and much of the mysterious alien-flavor of the show.
If you have ever spent some time in Old Delhi or Agra, Doug Silver's music & lyrics may seem more pastiche than authentic. But this is a musical, after all! Andrew Frank staged his own book: certainly not really Hesse's: for which he'd also written some lyrics.
The Life & Times of the Buddha: in his Search for Enlightenment: are more picaresque than conflict-driven, at least as depicted in Sidd. The Buddha was portrayed by Manu Narayan. Natalie Cortez: as Mala and Others: is not only beautiful, she's also a talented actress and a glowing singer.
BERNARDA ALBA [*]
You have to give Michael John LaChiusa a lot of credit for not giving up on his dream: possibly Impossible: of writing & composing a memorable & successful musical. Bernarda Alba: in the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theatre: is his latest attempt. Garcia Lorca must be whirling in his grave…
The insufficiencies of The Wild Party on Broadway, the inconsequentialities of Marie Christine: also mounted by the Lincoln Center Theatre, the vapidities of See What I Wanna See: at the Public Theatre this very season: are now trumped by his misguided project of adapting Lorca's powerful House of Bernarda Alba for the musical-stage.
Complete with badly-executed and totally out-of-place Flamenco! Leave that to Pilar Rioja, down at Repertorio Español. The late, great Carmen Amaya must also be whirling in her grave…
The House of Bernarda Alba is a great Modern Classic, not least because of its repressed sexual powers. In a dark house of mourning, the fiercely proud Matriarch, Bernarda, has confined her desperate daughters to black-garbed solitude. No one can marry until the eldest: and least attractive: daughter has a husband.
No men are seen on stage, but the Male Force is everywhere: including the stallion kicking its stall in Bernarda's stable.
For those Lincoln Center Theatre subscribers who have never read or seen Lorca's drama onstage, it is unfortunate that their first experience of it: and possibly their last: will be this musical-reduction of its powers.
Although Phylicia Rashad has triumphed in other roles on Broadway, Bernarda is not within her range. Daphne Rubin-Vega is also in the cast, but it does not work as an ensemble. The girls don't even seem related.
Graciela Daniele staged & choreographed to little effect.
And where is it written that great dramas have to be turned into stage-musicals? If anything, The House of Bernarda Alba is the stuff of opera! Hasn't some composer already done that? If not, why not?
GEORGE M. COHAN TONIGHT! [***]
There is a statue of George M. Cohan in Times Square, near the Ticket-booth. But how many theatre-goers now in action saw him in his heyday? Very few, alas.
When I asked several people if they'd like to see George M. Cohan Tonight! down at Charlotte Moore's Irish Rep, one actually said she was tired of one-man shows, especially about Jewish Performers!
Cohan was no Cohen. And he was no Al Jolson either. No blackface-routines to raise him to stardom…
But he was lovably Irish-American: full of fun, jokes, songs, and nimble taps & buck-and-wings! A street-wise kid with no formal education, but with lots of energy & optimism.
On stage almost in infancy with his beloved sister Josie: as part of the popular Cohan Family Vaudeville act: he soon took over and effectively created a distinctive new form: the American Musical Comedy. It soon supplanted the formerly popular Viennese Operetta.
Jon Peterson charmingly impersonates Cohan in this musical-bio, crammed with Cohan songs and plenty of tapping. At times, the tap-routines seemed repetitive, but when Taps are Tops, what can you do for variety? Fortunately, Peterson's ingratiating Cohan-personality helped sell his songs all over again and retell his life-story.
The show was written, arranged, and staged by Chip Deffaa, who is the Cohan Expert. His interesting script: replete with many Cohan Hits: is, in effect, a mini-history of the American Musical. Deffaa also reminds the audience that no less a talent than Eugene O'Neill wrote his only comedy, Ah, Wilderness, for Cohan.
The show offers over thirty Cohan Broadway songs, including, of course, Give My Regards To Broadway, All Aboard for Broadway, Forty-Five Minutes from Broadway, and Hello, Broadway. Cohan, the Yankee Doodle Boy, also devised Over There, You're a Grand Old Flag, Mary's a Grand Old Name, and Ireland: My Land of Dreams.
Among many, many others… This is a show that can: and should: tour the Grand Old Country that Cohan so loved.
[Worth Remembering: BRAIN-CANCER DOES NOT CAUSE CELL-PHONES!]
THE MUSIC TEACHER [*]
This work: both book & score: is 23 years old. At least that's the gossip-backgrounder. Only now has it seemed necessary to put it on stage.
Had not both Wally Shawn and his brother, composer Allen Shawn, been sons of the late & legendary Editor of The New Yorker: William Shawn: would they ever have been accorded the audience-attention and critical-respect that has thus far greeted them?
There has to be a good reason it took so long for The Music Teacher to come to life onstage. One reason may well be that it is just not possible to breathe Life into it.
Oddly enough, the best song in the entire show: "a play/opera": is a pleasant ballad, sung in a bar by a "Vocalist," Rebecca Robbins. Allen Shawn could have had this in his trunk for years, just waiting for a chance to find a niche for it.
Actually, it doesn't relate effectively to the picaresque plot, which largely deals with the sexual frustrations & privations of Smith, a male music-instructor at an exclusive private-school. Hence, the title: The Music Teacher.
Real opera-singers: two sets: were used for the roles of Young Smith and Young Jane, to no avail. Their fine voices and strong presences stood out from the rest of the actor-singers.
There was even a Greek Chorus, for the pastiche Neo-Classic: or was it Opera Seria: Greek opera which seemed at odds with the rest of Smith's story, as it rather Took Over. From its content & performance, it was not clear whether this was supposed to be a deliberate parody: or evidence of an artistic disaster
And there was an upstage-screen, on which could be projected fuzzy exteriors and interiors. When Smith left the school, there was even a plane aloft on the screen! Is this the Digital-Scenery of the Future?
Tom Cairns staged and was also credited with the sets. Mark Blum played a well-worn Smith and he seemed understandably glum in this thankless role. Jeffrey Picón was Young Smith. Sarah Wolfson was Young Jane.
Better to remember Wallace Shawn's Aunt Dan and Lemon, rather than The Music Teacher.
But there was even worse waiting-in-the-wings: Shawn's "new translation" of Bertolt Brecht's Dreigroschen Oper…
THE THREEPENNY OPERA [*]
If Lotte Lenya, Kurt Weill, and Bertolt Brecht were still alive, they'd all die of Cardiac-Arrest if they saw the disastrous "revival" of the Brecht/Weill Threepenny Opera at Studio 54.
What could the Kurt Weill Foundation have been thinking when they permitted Wallace Shawn to devise "a New Translation" of this Jazz-Age/Weimar Republic Classic? And what about Brecht's Heirs?
Of some well-intended adaptations into another language, we may regretfully say: "It loses a lot in translation."
Unfortunately, in Shawn's misguided, misbegotten version, Brecht's Texts Gain Entirely Too Much. The only song that really "works": in relation to its music: is largely left in the original German.
It is true that Threepenny Opera was definitively banned by the Nazis, as Entartete Musik: part of their campaign against Degenerate Art. But that was Light-Years before Shawn introduced a panoply of F-Words and other Obscenities into Brecht's lines and lyrics.
It was simply unbelievable: as well as incomprehensible: to hear such Anglo-Saxon Nouns as Fuck, Penis, Piss, Fart, Shit, Prick, Cunt, and Vagina: well, that's actually more Latinate, isn't it?: surging through the dialogue and the songs!
You won't find them: at least not that rawly iterated: in Brecht's original. Suggested, maybe… But the German text is itself rough and shocking enough not to need this kind of heavy-handed gratuitous verbal emphasis.
Unfortunately, stage-director Scott Elliott: usually admirable in his stagings: has chosen to add his own heavy-handed gratuitous Visual Emphasis to Shawn's images, urging the performers to Mime all sorts of Perverse Sexual-Activities.
Isaac Mizrahi obviously had a Fetishist Field-Day designing the revealing costumes: which left very little to the Imagination. Best of Images Award goes to the giant neon-signs that suggested otherwise generally imaginary locales.
Best of the performers was the wonderful Jim Dale: as Mr. Peachum: too long absent from the Broadway stage. Cyndi Lauper sang valiantly as Jenny: she deserved better of the staging. Ana Gasteyer was a rather different kind of Mrs. Peachum than the role calls for…
Alan Cumming was a curiously effete Macheath: originally conceived as a dangerous, even easily homicidal Brechtian character, who would never have hidden out as the MC of a Weimar Berlin lowlife Cabaret.
Brian Charles Rooney was amusing as a cross-dressing Lucy Brown. Although that casting-decision makes no sense, in terms of the Brechtian roles and plot.
Even though the original British creator of The Beggars Opera was named John Gay, there was nothing effete about him or his innovative Ballad-Musical. [It was a frontal-attack on Italian opera-seria on the London stage of its day.]
Taking another look at Wallace Shawn's sexual-imaginings in The Music Teacher, it may well be that some of what is now on stage at Studio 54 echoes his own dark fantasies. Or they are echoes of the Ghosts of Andy & Others when Studio 54 was The In-Place To Be for you-know-what…
As for "new translations" of Brecht's plays, poems, and lyrics, what's wrong with those admirable translations of Eric Bentley and Michael Feingold?
[Worth Remembering: BRAIN-CANCER DOES NOT CAUSE CELL-PHONES!]
As often noted previously, your scribe no longer is accorded the Press-Privilege by the Metropolitan Opera. So he no longer feels obligated to report on an outstanding production on its wonderfully-mechanized stage. But when he was regularly contributing to Opera News, Musical America, Opera Monthly, and other music-publications, he was still a welcomed-guest of the house.
Now the Met's new Music-Theatre mountings are seen usually from the oxygen-deprived higher-ranks of the Family Circle. Or when invited by former students who are doing considerably better in their daytime jobs than their old prof is in city-pension retirement…
As designed by Robert Israel, the dark, cruel prison of Beethoven's Fidelio could be Abu Ghraib. And its soldier-guards could be US troops: especially as they seem as concerned about all those wooden boxes of rifles as they do about abusing & humiliating the prisoners.
Karita Mattila: also in military fatigues: is a very manly, athletic Fidelio/Leonore. As well as a very powerful physical & vocal interpreter of Beethoven's vision of a very brave woman who disguises herself as a man to find and free her wrongly-imprisoned husband, Florestan: an obviously not-starving Ben Heppner.
The parallels between the monstrous prison supervised by the villainous Don Pizarro [Alan Held] and those currently operated by the US Government to incarcerate Terrorist Suspects are clearly drawn.
The multi-talented Jürgen Flimm: formerly of Hamburg's Thalia Theatre, but now Artistic Director of the Salzburg Festival: has tautly staged the Music-Drama, with special attention to movements of the chorus of prisoners. Gina Lapinski ensures that his direction is maintained in performance. Florence von Gerkan has designed modern military, prison, and civilian costumes to fit the concept. Paul Nadler conducted.
A program-brochure: just arrived from the Royal Opera, Covent Garden: shows photos of this very production, so, if you missed it at the Met, you may be able to see it in London!
A SAFE HARBOR FOR ELIZABETH BISHOP [***]
The much-admired: but less-often read & quoted: American Poet, Elizabeth Bishop, found her safe-haven in Brazil, of all places. Oddly enough, her onstage persona is now evoked by Amy Irving, who has also found a haven in Brazil. [But watch out for your wallet & camera in São Paulo!]
There was a time when Bishop was more often identified as an "American Woman Poet." But that is no longer necessary. Now, it is quite enough to have won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. And you do not actually have to read Bishop's poems to discuss her. Curiously, it is of more interest to some that Bishop was a Lesbian, rather than an extremely sensitive artist of rare vision.
As recreated by Amy Irving: in the monodrama by Marta Góes: Bishop's concerns are varied. Not only problems in crafting poems, but also in a certain sense of rootlessness, aimlessness, insecurity in her own body and feelings.
Fortunately, she finds not only a new home in South America, but a new lover, as well. Over time, there are problems: especially after the death of her lover/patron.
Unfortunately for the potential impact of the text and the performance, Director Richard Jay-Alexander and set-designer Jeff Cowie do not trust the character or her utterances: based on letters, diaries, & poems. Instead, they have opted to suggest every interior and exterior, even to projecting a map and other visuals on an upstage screen: which also upstages Irving.
A revolving-stage-ring scoots endless assortments of furniture-props on and off. This is Furniture On Parade, rather than an evolving introduction to Bishop: as both Woman and Poetess.
For the Record: Yes, the excellent actress Amy Irving was once married to a famous film-maker. What is less well known is that she was in the same grammar-school class in San Francisco as my cousin, Prof. Peter Busher, now Dean of Math & Science at Boston University. And her dad, Jules Irving, was my professorial colleague at San Francisco State College, as well as founder of Actors Workshop SF.
SANDRA BERNHARD: Everything Bad & Beautiful [***]
If I remember rightly, Sandra Bernhard says she's from Flint, Michigan? Isn't that Michael Moore's home-town as well? There must be Something in the Water…
But she also has childhood memories of Scottsdale, Arizona. Dumping all those Bob Dylan records because she thought Dylan was the cause of drug-abuse among her siblings.
Bernhard's enthusiastic fans greatly enjoyed her songs, satires, impersonations, parodies, and random recalls at the Daryl Roth Theatre. She's been here before: with Latino friends who just loved De La Guarda! She wisely stood close to the wall, to avoid getting splashed with water. It was the Only Line of Defense…
I feel somewhat incompetent to evaluate Stand-up Comics: many of which I don't find very funny. Or even wittily satirical. But that may be a Lot To Ask: Witty Satire? You must be joking…
Nonetheless, Bernhard's artful darts, thrown at such sitting-targets as Laura Bush, Condi Rice, and Lynn Cheney were bulls-eyes. But there could have been much more in this vein, considering how Things Are Coming Apart in America: not to mention Iraq.
Before the performance, someone said to me: "She's been losing her Edge."
As I had only seen Bernhard once before, I had no idea what this could mean. She certainly could have been sharper in her satires. And also target some VIP Men: not only women.
And be less concerned with sharing her Intense Personal Experiences. But that may be the essence of some Stand-ups: Talk about what you know best: Yourself!
Bernhard was backed by a very noisy combo, all eager to please. She belted out some songs that seemed to delight her fans. As I am celebrating an Intensely Private Mozart Year this season, I was less than entranced.
Mort Sahl never had to sing songs to get his satires across. Does Bill Maher or Jon Stewart have to have a backup band?
Or maybe I'm misunderstanding Cabaret entirely? If you are primarily a Cabaret-singer, then you tell a few jokes in between the musical-numbers?
If you are really a satirist, however, you really do not have to sing at all? Is that the way it works?
In any case, America now needs Pomposity-Puncturing Satire as never before!
[Worth Remembering: BRAIN-CANCER DOES NOT CAUSE CELL-PHONES!]
Lifelong Learning with MARTA EGGERTH: Famed Opera, Operetta, Musical, & Cinema-Star at 93!
New York University's Osher Lifelong Learning Institute programs a roster of notables, sharing their experience & expertise with interested Adults & Seniors. Obviously, it's important for oldsters to keep in touch with what younger artists, scientists, and professionals are achieving.
But it is something of a switch to have the distinguished guest even older than most of the audience. That was certainly the case in April when Marta Eggerth: now 93 years young: discussed her long career in musical-theatre and cinema-musicals at Scandinavia House.
Earlier in the year, Mme. Eggerth had given an impressive & inspiring Master Class at the Manhattan School of Music. Her charming, almost motherly, way in helping aspiring young tenors and sopranos develop their vocal & interpretative skills with vintage operetta-arias was a delight. What's more, she was able to demonstrate a musical phrase, or an entire stanza, in a voice of great clarity and purity: even at 93!
At Scandinavia House, Marta Eggerth also delighted her listeners, but not with mere phrases or stanzas. She sang a number of her most famous songs and arias from operettas and musical-films: which had been written especially for her!
As she noted, she doesn't now have the volume, the power, she enjoyed in her heyday, but the purity and clarity are still very much in evidence. And she was handsomely accompanied by the ever-attentive David Maiullo on the piano.
The format of the presentation reviewed her more than 80 years on the musical-stage. She was "interviewed" by her son, Marjan Kiepura, whose first-name is a compound of Marta and his famous father, the distinguished Polish tenor Jan Kiepura. He obviously: and understandably: adores his remarkable mother, but she frequently confounded his interview-outline by prefacing direct answers to his leading-questions with intriguing anecdotes.
Clearly, Marta Eggerth likes to keep things in context. If you want to know about operettas written for her and her brilliant talents, you need to know something about the celebrated composers who did that: Robert Stolz, Emmerich Kálmán, Franz Lehár, Oscar Straus, Paul Abraham, and others.
An impressive dividend of this context-keeping was the projection of film-clips from some of Mme. Eggerth's cinema-triumphs, 1931-1945. These were introduced by Jane Knox-Kiepura, who has had the great good fortune to discover some footages that were believed lost.
In the special program-book for the NYU presentation, film-posters and cinema-programs from major musical films were reproduced. These included Where Is This Lady?: Franz Lehár's first musical-film, which also featured Wendy Barrie: as well as Lehár's Es war einmal ein Walzer, with book by Billy Wilder, later famed for Some Like It Hot.
When Wilder proposed taking the young unmarried star out to dinner, she insisted her mother: "my best-friend": had to come along. No dice: no dinner…
Eggerth also starred in Ein Lied, ein Kuss, ein Mädel, with Robert Stolz conducting his own score. Das Hofkonzert was another popular film-vehicle, directed by Detlef Sierk, better-known later in Hollywood as Douglas Sirk!
Then there was Die blonde Carmen, with Leo Slezak: who also made a notable career in America. He joined Eggerth again in Die ganze Welt dreht sich um Liebe. And again in Der Frauendiplomat!
Also preserved on film-clips are Zauber der Bohème, Casta Diva, Teresa Krones, Leise Flehen meine Lieder, and Die Czardasfürstin.
Although American audiences have long been accustomed to seeing foreign-films with sub-titles, or dubbed: even when the lip-movements on screen don't match what's being said or sung: Marta Eggerth in fact starred in two or three separate versions of some of her operetta films. This meant that she, the sets, and the costumes were the only constants.
English, German, French, and/or Italian versions of the same film had to be shot with different casts. Only Marta Eggerth was truly able to perform with confidence and undiminished artistry in all four languages. Also, of course, in Hungarian!
Counting the second or third remakes in different languages, Eggerth says she must have made some 38 movies!
And what a surprise to see Marta Eggerth singing to Gene Kelly in a film-clip of Busby Berkeley's For Me and My Gal! Judy Garland in 1942, plus Budapest-born Marta!
Although I had heard Eggerth and her equally talented husband, Jan Kiepura, on radio-broadcasts and recordings, I was too young: and too far Out West, with Theatre a Methodist No-No: to have seen him on stage. So seeing them together in a film-clip of The Charm of La Bohème was a special treat. He not only sang like a very manly angel, he was incredibly handsome as well. One of their most popular co-starring stage-musicals was The Merry Widow. It would be wonderful to have that on DVD.
The marriages of Stage & Screen Stars often implode. Not that of Eggerth & Kiepura: from her own accounts at the NYU session, it was a lifelong romance, amazingly free from jealousy or competition. Marjan Kiepura also noted that they had a really loving home-life, free from the childhood traumas that often afflict kids of famous fathers & mothers.
The quality of the film-clips: both the sound and the moving-images: is amazing. Jane Knox-Kiepura has just sent your scribe a non-commercial DVD of some of these film-segments. Surely operetta, musical-comedy, and vintage-film fans will want to have copies as well. The Charm of La Bohème is now available on a special Bel Canto DVD, as is the 2-CD Marta Eggerth album, My Life My Song. These song-recordings span almost her entire career.
[The Eggerth recordings are available at Tower Records, the Met Opera Shop, and www.amazon.com, as well as directly from the Kiepura's Patria Productions: Email: email@example.com or www.patriamusic.com; If you'd like to know more about Marta Eggerth and her remarkable career: even when it might be possible to see her again live onstage: you can phone the Kiepuras: 603-444-0290 or FAX: 603-444-3033-.]
For those who are fans of Continental film-musicals from the earliest days of sound-films, it will also be a treat to see such beloved comedians as Hans Moser and Theo Lingen in some of Eggerth's operetta-films.
Although the Nazis destroyed many pre-war films: and not only musicals: because they were Non-Aryan in their values and visions, trailers, clips, segments, and complete prints turn up in neglected archives from time to time. Some British and American films, long thought lost, were found in the Budapest film-archives, stashed away on a forgotten shelf.
So it is still possible that other Marta Eggerth films will come to light again! We fondly hope…
Incidental Information: Until the advent of George M. Cohan: who essentially sparked a distinctive American Musical format: Operetta was King in New York and across the United States. Indeed, Sigmund Romberg and Jerome Kern adapted the formulas and modalities of Viennese, Budapest, & Berlin operettas for the American stage. And Oscar Hammerstein was also profoundly influenced by these classics.
But, with the German Kaiser's Pre-emptive Attacks on France and Belgium in 1914, all things German and Austrian suddenly became suspect or taboo in the U. S. Wieners became hot-dogs: or Victory Sausages. Hamburgers had to be renamed as well! Weimareners were an endangered species.
With Americans singing Over There and It's a Grand Old Flag, the days of Gypsy-Barons and Student-Princes were over!
Marta Eggerth brings back memories of the greatest of them. And she also reminds your scribe of some of her famous operetta-composers. He knew Kalmán's widow, but not Emmerich himself.
He also knew Robert Stolz and his widow, the unforgettable "Einzi." She saved Stolz from certain Concentration-Camp imprisonment, when he was among the hundreds and hundreds of Jews rounded up: not by the Gestapo: but by the Paris Police, even before the Nazis asked them to do so.
The famed composer Robert Stolz was not Jewish, but he had always worked closely with Jewish artists in Central Europe. In fact, he was denounced by his own brother… Saved by Einzi, they came to America, where he conducted and created the musical, Mr. Strauss Goes To Boston!
Celebrating the Juilliard School's 50th Anniversary: CINEMA SERENADES: Hamlisch, Shire, Williams, Shore, & Orff
The Main Course of the film-composer-buffet recently set out by the Juilliard School in Alice Tully Hall was Carl Orff's Carmina Burana. The prefatory compositions: by the likes of Marvin Hamlisch: were all concert-works commissioned for the Juilliard's 50th Anniversary by the program's conductor, Judith Clurman.
Professor Orff certainly did not think of himself as a film-composer: nor was his overwhelming Carmina score created with movies in mind. Nonetheless, the Orff Estate has since profited from its use: whole, in part, or adapted: in films and even in advertising. Its throbbing, percussive beat and its repetitive modalities have also clearly influenced other composers, from semi-classic to Rock.
"O Fortuna" is the most often quoted section: it opens and closes this Medieval Song-Cycle. It certainly retained its power in the Juilliard concert, although it lacked the orchestral-forces: and especially the massed percussions: Orff preferred.
The program-notes indicate that the Nazis initially branded Carmina as "Degenerate Art" and "bayerische Neggermusik." Or Bavarian Negro-Music…
Your scribe came to know Carl Orff when he was teaching for the University of Maryland Overseas in Europe in the late 1950s. Although Dr. Orff has been regarded: especially in New York: as either a Nazi or a Nazi-sympathizer, this essentially Bavarian composer showed him how closely his music, his vision of theatre, his system of music-teaching, the Orff Schulwerk, is bound up in the history and traditions of his native Bavaria.
But, because he chose to remain in Germany, rather than emigrate to New York or Hollywood: as did so many other Central European composers, musicians, and conductors: this is often cited as evidence against him. His folk-opera, Astutuli, is an obvious Anti-Nazi Allegory. And, unlike Herbert von Karajan and the young Elizabeth Schwarzkopf, he was never a Party-Member or a favored artist. It all depends on who is writing the history-books.
Other works on the program included David Shire's Take Flight, Marvin Hamlisch's Let Me Go Where'er I Will, Laura Karpman's Heebie Jeebies, Howard Shore's The Garden, John Williams/Anderson&Roe's Star Wars Fantasy: Four Impressions for Two Pianos, and Marc Shaiman's A Seed of Grain.
A Seminal Program, indeed! And powerfully performed!
At the NYPL's Lincoln Center Library for the Performing Arts: 60 Years of Tony Excellence!
It's almost Tony-Time again, so up at Lincoln Center, the Performing Arts Library is celebrating Six Decades of Antoinette Perry Awards. As there are both Best Play and Best Musical Awards, that means some 120 prize-winning shows.
These are featured with their distinctive designs, preserved on display window-cards: or quarter-cards: all of them in excellent condition. In many cases, the photo, logo, sketch, image, or graphics on the cards are the visuals by which theatre-fans still remember individual shows.
Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman poster, for example, became almost Iconic. Other memorable shows & posters: Luther, Equus, All My Sons, Copenhagen, Da, Kiss Me Kate, Doubt, and Spamalot. The latter poster-card is the only one to depict an actual Tony Award©.
In fact, it did seem a bit odd that no Tony was on display. One of the organizers did admit that the Library certainly had at least one real Tony on hand. So, perhaps by the time the General Public flocks to this show: it will be on view?
In order to display window-cards for all of the plays and musicals honored over the years, the Library drew on its own holdings. But it had to borrow widely from galleries, poster-shops, and private collections, as well.
Hope was expressed that the newly mounted & framed window-cards can now be kept together as a permanent record.
As a longtime ArtsArchivist: and a former Tony Voter, as well: your scribe was rather astonished at this. You mean no one at the Library was systematically adding poster-cards for the Tony-Winners to the collection each season? It would seem such a simple: and obvious: thing to do.
But, way back in 1947, when the Awards began, there was no Performing Arts Library and almost no formal Theatre Collection, either. The late George Freedley kept production-photos, posters, programs, and other ephemera in manila-folders in filing-cabinets. Or on bookshelves in cardboard-boxes at the NYPL on 42nd Street.
So Theatre-researchers and fans should be grateful for the Lincoln Center facility and for Freedley's foundations of its currently extensive collections.
Copyright Glenn Loney, 2006. No re-publication or broadcast use without proper credit of authorship. Suggested credit line: "Glenn Loney, New York Theatre Wire." Reproduction rights please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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