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Loney's Show Notes
By Glenn Loney, June 2008.
About Glenn Loney
Caricature of Glenn Loney by Sam Norkin.
Please click on " * " to skip to each subject in this index:
American Theatre Critics Explore Metro-DC-Area Stages! *
Surveying the Theatre-Scene: *
Some Downtown-DC Background: *
Aside from That, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play? *
The Arlington Performing-Arts Initiative! *
The Washington Theatre Album:> *
The Metro-DC Bus & Truck Theatre-Tour: *
Metro-DC Movers & Shakers, Plus Celebrities & Critics:
Ubiquitous-Panels & Then Some: *
Freebies, Goodie-Bags, & Books! *
Shakespeare Way Down South from Washington: *
The Alabama Shakespeare Festival Lives! *
American Theatre Critics Explore Metro-DC-Area Stages!
Every year members of the American Theatre Critics Association descend on a different American City to sample & savor its Theatre-Productions. These ATCA reviewers this June spent a very busy week seeing shows in Washington DC, & in the DC-Arlington Area.
And what a surprise this was! There are now some fifty professional or semi-professional theatre-groups producing in the DC-Area. Some have impressive subscription-seasons. Others stage only a few seasonal shows. Including those groups that may offer only one or two productions a season, the Theatre-Count could rise to almost 80!
Over forty-five-years ago—when Your Scribe had just returned Stateside from four years' teaching in Europe for the University of Maryland—I made a point each weekend of driving out from Manhattan in my Blue-Beetle Volkswagen to explore the Theatre-Culture of the Eastern-Seaboard: from Maine to the Carolinas!
As I had friends & colleagues at UM's College-Park campus, as well as at George Washington University & Georgetown University, Washington DC was my Destination once a month. But there wasn't all that much theatre to see & review.
Fortunately, the many Monuments & Great Buildings of Our Nation's Capital more than made up for the lack of Vital-Theatre. Seeing Shakespeare in print in a Folger-Library Folio had to take the place of an impressive production of a Bardic-Masterpiece. [In DC, Capital is the City, while Capitol is that great White-Domed-Edifice at the top of the Mall…]
In fact, in the Early-Sixties, productions at the old Arena-Stage, the Washington Theatre Club, & the National-Theatre—which usually was hosting a touring-company of a play or musical already seen in New York—were almost all one could see, although a visit to Father Gilbert Hartke's Theatre-Program at Catholic University of America was always rewarding! [Jean & Walter Kerr got their start at Catholic U!]
At that time, the Kennedy-Center wasn't even in the Realm of Dreams, let alone in the planning-stages. Washington's Elite—its Congressmen, its Embassies, its Lobbyists—did their deals at Embassy-Receptions.
A Social-Evening at the Theatre usually meant a performance of Paint Your Wagon or Oklahoma! at the National-Theatre. Who could imagine that one day all the theatres in the J F Kennedy Center would be filled to capacity on most evenings?
Surveying the Theatre-Scene:
ATCA Theatre-Critics were usually able to see two DC-Area stagings each day—in addition to some stimulating panels & touring of theatre-facilities.
It was my original intention to write at some length about the various challenging productions we were shown. Unfortunately, Summer-Stresses of too many Unwritten Museum & Theatre Reports brought Your Scribe—via ambulance—to the Lenox Hill Hospital Emergency-Room, from which I have just returned, sadder but wiser. [Actually, the food there is rather good—for hospital-meals…]
So this Survey will have to be much more brief than I had planned. Fortunately, DC reviews of the shows are often available on local-websites. Not to overlook reports from ATCA colleagues on the Internet!
ATCA-member Brad Hathaway—presiding-genius of the website Potomac-Stages—proposed & organized our whirlwind-tour of Washington-Area theatres. His website will provide you with a wealth of theatre-news & information about current productions & future programs. Check-It-Out: www.potomacstages.com!
Brad provides almost everything you may need to know about theatre-activities in DC & its Surrounds. Taking advantage of web-links to various theatres, you could devise Your Own Theatre Tour of the DC-Area! You do not have to depend on booking-agencies or commercial-tours!
If you would like to chat with genial Brad Hathaway personally, do introduce yourself to him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Not only can he suggest new shows you might well want to see when you come to Metro-DC—as they now call it—but he can explain how you can easily set-up your DC Theatre-Experience.
The Professional-Quality & Wide-Variety of the productions we saw during our brief visit suggest that the Greater-Washington-Area is now the equal of such American-Theatre-Centers as Chicago, San Francisco, & LA.
Even as a New-York-based theatre-critic, Your Scribe now realizes that he must make more frequent Theatre-Expeditions to the Nation's Capital! As he regulary did, years ago…
Some Downtown-DC Background:
Even with the gradual-evolution of the Arena-Stage—which early-on performed in an abandoned-brewery, the Old-Vat, later adding the Kreeger to its famed four-square arena-stage—there was not much theatre-activity in Washington in the mid-1960s. Forget about the Suburbs!
When Roger Stevens & other Movers & Shakers proposed a major new Cultural-Center, overlooking the Potomac, some DC Old-Timers scoffed. How would Roger fill a huge Theatre, a large Concert-Hall, & a great Opera-House?
The Washington Opera—with nothing like a real Season—performed in Lisner-Auditorium, after all. You could hear concerts in the DAR's Constitution-Hall, unless, of course, you wanted to hear Marian Anderson, not a favorite of the then-racist Daughters of the American Revolution…
Your Scribe followed the planning & construction of what was to become the Kennedy-Center from its inception, reporting for Theatre-Crafts & Theatre-Design & Technology, among other publications. My fear was that it would stand largely empty: after all, DC was not a Theatre-Town…
What I had not realized was that the Insularity of Washington's Politico-Society was just waiting to be breached, to be opened-up into a Grand-Space like the new JFK Center for Ceremonies, Receptions, Functions, and even for Opera-performances!
What's more, few DC-Tourists had previously been interested in a Night at the Opera.
They came to DC to see the Capitol, the Washington-Monument, the Lincoln-Memorial, the Declaration of Independence, the White-House—especially at Christmas, & the Cherry-Trees—in Spring. And maybe even J. Edgar Hoover's FBI-HQ or the Library of Congress…
Soon after the Kennedy-Center opened, however, it rapidly became a favored Tourist-Destination, with gawking-groups being marched about the Great-Hall, with its marvelous view of the Potomac.
Some Gawkers even bought tickets for shows on view in the evening! Once, I surprised two female Souvenir-Hunters with scissors, cutting long strands of the brass-beads that served for curtains in the Great-Hall.
Roger Stevens—who had been a successful Broadway-producer—wanted to develop both Film-Programs & Repertory-Theatre at the Kennedy. He had a small theatre created upstairs for the often desperately avant-garde-stagings of the then-young director but eternal enfant-terrible, Peter Sellers, whose unusual conceptions did not win a Large-Following. [Ajax on trial before a Military-Court-Martial, standing in a glass Phone-Booth filling with blood: did DC need the Classics revived in this fashion?]
Even with the successful inauguration of the Kennedy Center, the Arena-Stage—made even more effective with the addition of its smaller Kreeger-Theatre—remained the most important producing-organization in Metro-DC.
Artistic-Director Zelda Fichandler—strongly-supported on the management-side by her husband, Tom Fichandler—was staging outstanding & award-winning productions in her now famed open-square stage-area, a more-effective version of Margo Jones' innovative Texas Theatre-in-the-Round.
When Zelda decided to produce Howard Sackler's Epic-Drama, The Great White Hope—with its potentially-explosive scenes of love between Black Boxing-Champion Jack Johnson & a white-woman, played by Jane Alexander—the director, Ed Sherin, invited me down from New York to observe the rehearsals, on which I reported for Theatre-Today, the now-defunct quarterly of the now-defunct AIDART.
At that time, my City-University colleague, Vera Mowrey Roberts, forcefully pointed-out to me that both she and her then-husband, the actor Pernell Roberts, had also been Arena-Founders. But Zelda had, over time, dropped them from the Arena-Narrative.
A Century from now, what will this Deliberate-Oversight matter?
Aside from That, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play?
Writing about the paucity of Theatres & Productions in the DC of the 1960s, I incorrectly theorized that the Assassination of President Abraham Lincoln in Ford's Theatre had put a definitive-damper on official-theatre-going—not only by subsequent Presidents, but also by other Dignitaries, such as Ambassadors & Senators, who may have feared they would be Over-Exposed-Targets in the all-too-public Boxes & Loges.
With Lincoln's Tragic-Death, Ford's Theatre was rapidly closed, eventually becoming a warehouse. Only when newly-aroused Tourist-Interest in theatre in Our Nation's Capital emerged was there a campaign to restore Ford's Theatre to its Former-Glories.
This was handsomely-achieved, but some thought it in Poor-Taste to arrange the Stars-&-Stripes banner on Lincoln's-Box as if it had just been torn by the spur of actor/assassin John Wilkes Booth, leaping to the stage after his dastardly-deed, shouting: Sic Semper Tyrannis!
Currently, Ford's Theatre is again closed, but only for some restorations. You can, however, visit the House in Which Lincoln Died, just across the street.
My misconceptions about Presidential-Theatre-Going—or the lack of it—after the Lincoln-Assassination have just been corrected by an excellent new book, gifted to the ATCA members by the author, Thomas A. Bogar.
Even if you have never been to DC, to Ford's Theatre, or the Kennedy-Center, you will surely find much of interest in this fact-packed & highly-readable report. It is titled: American Presidents Attend the Theatre: The Playgoing Experiences of Each Chief-Executive.
The colorful-cover features a photo of President Lyndon Johnson dancing with Carol Channing, dressed in her Hello, Dolly! costume! A stupefied Gerald Ford stands in the background, his eyes closed…
You could Keep Cool with Coolidge, but you wouldn't have seen "Silent Cal" often at the theatre. As for Warren G. Harding, even before he was President, he was taking his mistress, Nan Britton, to the theatre, something New York's recent ex-Governor Eliot Spitzer was careful not to do with Ashley Dupree…
Bogar's excellent book not only puts our Presidents in the Limelight, but it is also a very informative History of the American-Theatre, as well. It is an important reference for anyone interested in both Theatre & Politics!
For the Record: the ATCA DC 2008 Conference was hosted & organized by Arlington Cultural Affairs, with support from Potomac Stages, the League of Washington Theatres, the Shakespeare Company, the Helen Hayes Awards, & others.
The Arlington Performing-Arts Initiative!
Many of the challenging-events & compelling-performances scheduled for ATCA members were set in Arlington County, Virginia. With no disrespect to Maryland or Washington DC, the Arlington-Experience was an Amazement!
What is more, it is an Arts-Adventure that could be replicated in many counties across the United States!
Norma Kaplan & Jon Palmer Claridge of the Arlington Cultural-Affairs Division—creators of the Arlington-Arts-Incubator—explained the practical-reasons for this Initiative, as well as showing-off the Amazing-Results, as they bus-toured ATCA members about the County.
Such community-initiatives as the Oregon Shakespeare-Festival in Ashland, OR, have resoundingly demonstrated over the decades that Arts-Events not only enrich the lives of Americans beyond the boundaries of town, county, and state, but they also do wonders for the Local-Economy, with the famous Trickle-Down-Effect.
Arlington, of course, is best-known as the site of that immense National-Cemetery, featuring the endless rows of simple white tombstones of Our Glorious Dead, as well as the Tomb of the Unknown-Soldier & the Perpetual-Flame at the gravesite of Our Martyred-President, John Fitzgerald Kennedy.
And there is also that monumental Flag-Raising at Iwo-Jima, plus the Mansion of defeated Confederate-General, Robert E. Lee. Not to forget the Pentagon! [But don't try to get up close to take archival-photos: the Commander-in-Chief won't like that…]
But Arlington, to many Washingtonians—as well as to tourists—was essentially DC‘s Bedroom. As the acerbic social-critic HL Mencken once notoriously described such places, it was a "Sahara of Boze-Arts."
But Norma Kaplan realized that Arlington was also densely-populated with well-educated people, many working in, with, or around the US Government. Didn't they deserve to have theatres, museums, arts-projects & events as fine as those across the Potomac?
Thus was the Cultural-Affairs Division born by metaphoric Caesarean-Section from Arlington's Parks & Recreation Department. No new theatres or galleries needed to be constructed as there were already a number of abandoned or dis-used shops, warehouses, & factories to be reclaimed for Arts-Uses.
What was needed initially was Seed-Money, some $80,000 of it.
From 1990 to 2001, the Cultural-Arts budget increased five-fold, from $400,000 to over $2 million! More fiscally-important: the Economic-Impact of the Arts on Arlington County increased from $ 1 million to more than $34 million!
Other Stats: Annual Arts-Events increased from 198 to 1,300. Arts-Groups tripled from 11 to 35-plus. Audiences increased from 98,000 to over 300,000!
Some Theatre-Ensembles have even been able to construct handsome new facilities or install them in semi-historic buildings.
At the Gunston Arts-Center—which also includes a Middle-School—a central Theatre-Shops facility has been developed to service any & all of the Arlington Arts Groups that may need its services.
There is a very large workshop for the construction & painting of Scenery & Props. There is also a state-of-the-art Costume-Shop, with a large collection of costumes from various periods & cultures which can be loaned-out for local productions.
When costumes are cut & constructed in this shop for specific stagings, the Deal is that they become part of the Costume-Archives when the show closes!
Theatre plays an important part in the Arts-Incubator initiatives, notably the Signature-Theatre—which has just mounted Kander & Ebb's Broadway-bound musical, The Visit. But it is hardly the only Performing-Art on view in Arlington-County.
Consider the range of Audience-Choices: the Opera-Theatre of Northern-Virginia, the Arlington Symphony, Jane Franklin Dance, Teatro de la Luna, the Potomac Harmony Chorus, the Classika Theatre for Youth, the Arlington Metropolitan Chorus, the Northern-Virginia Folk-Festival Association, & even Horizons Theatre from a Woman's Perspective! Plus many more ensembles & organizations…
For more information on programs of the Arts-Incubator & the operations of the Arlington Cultural-Affairs Division, there is a 24-hour Artsline: 703-358-6966!
Or try a Google-Search for websites of the various Arlington Performance-Groups…
The Washington Theatre Album:
If you are not an American Theatre Critic—or even if you are, but you did not attend the Metro-DC ATCA-Conference—you probably do not have a copy of The Washington Theatre Album.
This invaluable Theatre-Resource was compiled by Linda Grossmann & the Helen Hayes Awards & edited by Jon Palmer Claridge, of the Arlington Cultural-Affairs Office.
Not only does it list theatres by name, address, phone, & websites, but each of the DC-Area venues has its own colorful page, complete with powerful production-photos, Who We Are, Notable Prior-Productions, & Milestones!
For those Theatre-Buffs who are not critics but who would very much like to plan some Theatre-Tourism in Our Nation's Capitol—and its Suburbs—this could be of immense value!
Contact Jon Claridge—info-above—to discover if there are any extra copies for sale. Or does the Arlington Cultural-Affairs Office plan to make the Album available commercially?
Some intriguing theatre-names in the Album—not previously cited—include Natural Theatricals, Landless Theatre Company, Adventure Theatre, Didactic Theatre, Happenstance Theatre, Essential Theatre, MuseFire Productions, Catalyst Theatre, African Continuum Theatre, Histrio, a French Theatre, Quotidian Theatre, The Rude Mechanicals, Serenity Players, & the Rorschach Theatre!
The Metro-DC Bus & Truck Theatre-Tour:
Actually, Metro-DC includes parts of Maryland & Virginia. Below is a list of the outstanding shows Your Scribe & fellow-critics saw in June. To keep this brief—as promised—I will try to restrain my verbal-admiration for much that we have seen. Some of these productions were so interesting that, if you asked me, I could write a book… As the saying goes…
Suzanne Bertish and Andrew Long in the Shakespeare Theatre Company's 2008 production of "Anthony and Cleopatra," directed by Michael Kahn. Photo Carol Pratt.
Shakespeare's ANTONY & CLEOPATRA [***]
Although the Sydney Harman Hall stage's Unit-Set—suggesting Sir Tyrone Guthrie's Stratford/Canada quasi-Elizabethan-stage conformations—proves visually-effective, with various banners & set-props, for the rotations of scenes between the Coldness of Rome & the Warmth of Egypt, the implicit Doomed-Majesty of this great drama was somewhat diminished by the general-inability of the cast to project-powerfully.
Diaphragmatic-Breathing may be a Lost-Art.
Thus, even the major-players began somewhat restrained, saving themselves for the devastating Self-Induced Catastrophe at the close. Had they begun with power & vigor—which would have been valuable in arresting audience-attention—they would have had nowhere to go upward, only into exhaustion…
It was also surprising that so fine an actress as Suzanne Bertish visually & vocally belied the famed description Enobarbus offers of this Tragic Egyptian Queen. Even with Michael Kahn's resourceful staging for his Shakespeare Theatre Company…
There has to be a good-reason that so powerful & poetic a drama as Antony & Cleopatra is so seldom staged. Even the vainest of stage-directors may realize how daunting are its Challenges.
Casting players who did not discover in rehearsal how they could inhabit their roles seems to be the Culprit in the current DC production.
Even when Dame Judy Dench & Sir Anthony Hopkins starred in A&C at the Royal National Theatre in London, they were neither convincing nor powerful in these roles. The Effect was more like Personal-Appearances in Shakespeare…
[Consider the increased-difficulties posed by John Dryden's own version of Antony & Cleopatra, known as All for Love, or The World Well Lost. And almost never performed, for challenges similar to those posed by Shakespeare's most noble drama.]
How about a double-bill of All for Love & Antony & Cleopatra in Rotating-Rep? Kahn offers Julius Caesar paired with A&C, which is also a good match.
[Personal-Disclosure: Once Upon a Time, I knew A&C by heart, so I wince whenever I hear those remarkable speeches "delivered," rather than gushing from both heart & head. I was Chief-of-Lighting at UC/Berkeley, where we produced this majestic-panorama on Wheeler-Hall Lecture-Stage in 1948. I sat through some 45 rehearsals & performances, so I could prompt from the dimmer-board.
[Thanks to the GI Bill, we had a mature & masterful cast: the experiences of Iwo-Jima, Guadalcanal, Bastogne, & Berlin had wonderfully concentrated their attention on some Basic-Truths about Mankind—as well as Man-Unkind…]
Molière's THE IMAGINARY INVALID [****]
The most memorable of my Metro-DC Theatre-Experiences was seeing the ingeniously-stylized productions of Molère's Invalid & David Grimm's Restoration-Pastiche, Measure for Pleasure, virtually back-to-back! Invalid is being presented by Michael Kahn's Merry-Pranksters at the Lansburgh-Theatre of the Harman Center.
The amazing scene-shifting devices of 18th Century Court-Theatres were cleverly & stylishly invoked to wonderfully Comic-Effect. Simon Higlett's ever-changing settings for Invalid—with their instantaneous-transformations—were a Theatre-Historian's Delight. They seemed inspired by the extant Period-settings at Stockholm's Drottningholm Court-Theatre.
Robert Perdziola's handsome costumes—echoing the Stereotypes of the Italian Commedia dell'Arte, to which Molière's comedies owed so much—helped define the roles, as well as to provide a lovely sense of a more Gracious & Socially-Stratified-Past, when most Physicians were Charlatans & their fearful Patients were helpless Dupes.
Although I have long been a fan of René Auberjonois, I sensed in his comedic-shtik as the Epic-Hypochondriac Argan that he was mugging too much, trying too hard to hold the audience's attention. Instead of just being Argan, without trying to tip-off the spectators that what he was doing was really funny!
Despite the fact that director Keith Baxter had decided to present Invalid as Molière himself had done—with all the dances, musical-moments, acrobatics, juggling, & other incidental-entertainments that so delighted his patron, King Louis, at Versailles—initially, I had difficulty paying-attention to the stage-action of the actual comedy.
Later, I focused more sharply. I may have been over-tired from the full round of ATCA activities & the astonishing matinée of Measure for Pleasure.
One thing did distract, however: Designer Higlett's centrality of Argan's great Canopied-Bed—which might, instead, have been set at an angle, or in a stage-left Alcove—was flanked, not by Noble-Furniture, but by Empty-Space.
This meant that major-characters such as the saucy servant-maid, Toinette [Nancy Robinette], had some difficulty in making exits from the bed to the right or to the left, without scampering-off. If they had finished arguing with Argan, then they had nothing to say or do, other than get across that vast space off into the wings.
[Personal-Disclosure: Years ago, I had interviewed Gillian Lynne, who devised the often-hilarious musical-staging for Invalid. I remain a big admirer of her genius. As I do of Keith Baxter, whom I first met at the Chichester-Festival, when he was playing opposite Maggie Smith—not yet a Dame—in that Restoration-Romp, The Recruiting-Officer. Later, I interviewed both Keith & Sir Anthony Quayle, when they premiered Tony Shaffer's Sleuth in London. When the show came to Broadway, Keith invited me to watch a performance from backstage, to see how the rapid-changes were made!]
David Grimm's MEASURE FOR PLEASURE [*****]
When I saw this curious sexual-comedy—a Restoration-Parody—at the New York Public Theatre, I really did not know what to make of it. I recognized that it was a pastiche of Characters, Plot-Situations, & Literary-Conceits of Restoration & 18th Century English Comedy.
But its Central-Concern—the strangely developing affection of a clever young Rake for a Molly-boy transvestite-prostitute—was baffling. Why focus on that in a new play, when so many things are Going-Wrong in Iraq?
Fortunately, in Wooly Mammoth's wonderful new quasi-Jacobean Cockpit-Theatre—similar to those at the Cottesloe in London & on Chicago's Navy-Pier—the audience-actor-intimacy, coupled with set-designer Robin Stapley's masterfully-amusing pastiche-evocation of yet another Court-Theatre, makes the comedy riotous, outrageous, sexy, & even touching!
Helen Q. Huang's overblown visions of Restoration-Period-Costumes & Wigs are also stylish, colorful, & hilarious. For its remarkable Design-Qualities alone, this charming production should be seen in New York, even without a Cockpit-Theatre to contain it.
But its varied-attractions go far beyond those of Visual-Stylization. Director Howard Shalwitz & his impressive cast finally make the play Work! Both as Outrageous Sexual-Farce & as a strange study of Human Affinities & Affections…
It casts a Wry-Eye on relations between Youth & Age, Innocence & Experience, Lust & Calculation, Men & Women… And upon Alternative-Possibilities…
When the comedy opens, Will Blunt [Joel Reuben Ganz] is having a Blow-Job from a handsome young black man, dressed as a woman. This is Molly Tawdry—remember Sukey Tawdry?—and she is a Molly-Boy, a street-lad who performs Sex-for-Money with Randy London Dandies, who would never have Sex with a Man!
Not so long ago, London's Royal National Theatre staged a new musical, Mother Clapp's Molly-House, in which the well-formed & handsome young men were all semi-dressed as women, awaiting Male-Clients! This unusual work of Music-Theatre has somehow been overlooked for Broadway… Wonder why?
Indeed, some ATCA members departed the Wooly Mammoth before Measure had stretched-out its Pleasure: Offended: "That was disgusting!" Baffled: "Why put on such a show?"
"Who ever heard of such things?"
When Keith Baxter was in the Chichester-Festival's The Recruiting-Officer, the plot required him to attempt to seduce a young officer, actually Maggie Smith disguised as a man, seeking her Army-bound boy-friend.
Still an Innocent, I thought the comic-plot-device was that Keith knew very well that he was romancing a lovely young woman in disguise. But with her being both fearful of being discovered to be a woman & also the possible Object of a Rape!
Keith explained that he had done some Period-Research for this role: "Restoration-Rakes would have sex with anything handy, even a dog!" Oh, well, so that's what it was all about?
As for Molly-Houses, when Oscar Wilde was on trial, a Postal-Delivery-Boy testified that Oscar had "touched him up" when the available-lad was wearing a skirt… From behind, at that…
David Hare's STUFF HAPPENS [Rating Interdicted]
As this was only the Second-Preview of Stuff Happens at the Olney Theatre-Center, we critics were ordered, commanded, requested, & begged Not To File Reviews!
Of course, I do want to honor their request, especially as they gave me a gray plastic Olney-Theatre coffee-container to take back to New York.
But I might just do a Joe Papp. When Joe was doing a Workshop on a new show—some of which never saw the Light of Day—he would invite me to come down to the Public-Theatre & have a Look.
"But you can't write about it, OK?'
A day or so later, Joe would call me to find out what I thought about the possibilities of the show. Was there anything I thought might improve the script or the staging?
If I was very enthusiastic, as I often was, Joe would say: "OK, you can write about it!"
I really liked the Olney production. Some of the performers not only looked like their characters, but they also had their speech & gestures down-pat.
What I could most wish for Olney & the Nation is that the Unindicted-War-Criminals—featured in this searing-selection of Actual-Quotes from these Merchants-of-Death—be bussed-out of DC to Maryland & Forced to Watch This Show!
The Civilians' THIS BEAUTIFUL CITY [****]
If you want to check-back in the New York Theatre-Wire Archive to Your Scribe's recent report on the Humana-Festival at Actors Theatre Louisville, you can find what I thought of The Civilians' production of This Beautiful City.
They seem to be schlepping it around Regional-Theatres. So it will surely come to New York, especially with the Pre-Election-Concerns about the Malign-Influences of the Religious-Right out in Colorado Springs!
But do we really need Endless-Replays of the Sexual-Disgrace of the Rev. Ted Haggard?
Of course, it's reassuring to know that Rev. Ted has turned his back on Homosexual forms of Sex—having been Outed by his longtime Male-Prostitute-Chum. This Civilians' Musical-Documentary show is careful to note the fact that Ted & Mrs. Ted are remaking their lives, but not in Colorado Springs…
Senator Larry Craig, please take note! The Rev. Jim Bakker got Over-It, more or less. The late Tammy Faye probably never got over it…
[At least, New York State's Reputation was partially saved when it was revealed that ex-Governor Eliot Spitzer patronized an attractive, if expensive, female—not male—Prossie. Now he is developing Vulture-Funds!]
Second-time-round, I must say I liked this show much more. That's partly because I am getting-used-to the Interviews-turned-into-Musical-Numbers format.
At Actors Theatre Louisville, I was some distance from the broad stage of the Pamela Brown Theatre, but at the far-more-intimate Studio-Theatre, I felt more connection to the production.
It is still too long. Cutting all the materials about the failed Religious-Guru would be very effective, as this is not interesting. Like Treading Con-Man Water…
For the Record: The Civilians recently showed their Paris Commune at the Public Theatre in Manhattan. This was also Not For Review—but I admired it anyway…
Their format seems to be telling a story, reviewing an era, with actual quotes & musical-numbers either generated-from or suggested-by the Conceptual-Materials.
Paata & Irina Tsikurishvili's CARMEN [*****]
This dynamic & devastating dance-vision of Prosper Mérimée's Carmen is so passionate & powerful, so graceful & grim, that it deserves a World-Tour. But this is not a choreographed-version of Bizet's celebrated Opera of the same-name.
Instead, it is an inspired re-reading of Mérimée's original short-story, exploring ideas of Freedom & Entrapment & their relations to the Obsessions of Love.
The set is a Multi-Sided-Cage, made out of construction-scaffold sections. There are so many that it seems almost round. It is like a Jungle-Gym into which marvelously-athletic young dancers slither & thrust, with its very Voids suggesting a Plaza, a Smugglers'-Lair, a Bull-Ring…
It has been devised by a duo of Georgian-geniuses, Paata & Irina Tsikurishvili, staged by Paata & choreographed by Irina. She also dances the fiery & fickle Carmen, with their son, Vato Tsikurishvili, as the Bull!
You won't hear Bizet's Habanera, for the original musical-score—emphasizing the haunting-wail of a violin & the drumming of a keyboard—has been composed especially for this dazzling work of Dance-Theatre by Konstantine Lortkipanidze, obviously yet another Georgian. From the former Soviet-Union, not from Down-South…
I was absolutely blown-away by this overwhelming Dance-Theatre Experience & by its remarkably gifted young dancers! Most of my critic-colleagues seemed to feel the same way. Some thought Carmen the best production of all that they had seen in Metro-DC!
Kander & Ebb & McNally's THE VISIT [****]
Die Besuch der Alten Dame is even more shattering a fable of Moral-Corruption & Implacable-Revenge in the Original German-Swiss of playwright Friedrich Dürrenmatt than it is in English-Translation.
Softened somewhat in Maurice Valency's "adaptation," The Visit is still a Blackly-Nihilistic-Vision of Mankind: not just of some backward Swiss-Villagers.
Transformed into a powerful work of Music-Theatre, it should take the form of an Opera.
But when you are Alfred Lunt & Lynn Fontanne on Broadway, starring as the betrayer Anton Schell & the now fabulously-rich Claire Zakanassian, even more softening is necessary. After all, you have to Sell-Seats, even if you are dedicated to High-Art.
Fortunately, George Hearn is not quite the Matinée-Idol that Lunt was proud to be. So his impersonation of Schell—in Terrence McNally's prosaic-book for the Broadway-Musical-Version of The Visit—is more schlumpy, even Simpatico.
The songs—by John Kander & Fred Ebb—have a familiar K&E Klang to them, with designated show-stopping-specialties for the Stars.
What will make this show potentially-attractive to Broadway-Producers is the presence of the Dynamic & Beloved Chita Rivera as the elegant & remorseless Long-ago-Victim of Anton Schell's casual & faithless love.
He got her Pregnant. But he was planning to marry the Shop-Keeper's Daughter. He turned his back on the desperate, frightened Claire, a young woman with no friends in the village.
She left town in disgrace, only to return years later, now incredibly-rich—she owns the entire Village & all the Surrounding-Territory & Natural-Resources, secretly-acquired. Claire has engineered the Economic-Collapse of the entire-area.
But all the Greedy-Villagers have to do, in order to restore their Former-Prosperity—is to make an End of Anton Schell. Claire has even brought his Gleaming-Black-Coffin along with her…
This is not exactly Oklahoma! or even Carousel, but those were of Another-Time. And not Kander & Ebb shows anyway.
Somehow, even though their Cabaret deals with defects of Germanic-Character, The Visit has no sympathetic-resonances with this Broadway-Hit.
The Disaster of 9/11 brought Chicago rehearsals & performances of The Visit to a close. Now at the new Signature-Theatre venue, director Frank Galati has serviceably-staged the show in Derek McLane's stunning-setting. Ann Reinking has contributed the fairly-routine choreography.
Signature's Eric Schaeffer—at a Post-Performance discussion with Hearn, Rivera, & the cast—told the ATCA experts that Talks for a possible Transfer were underway. But nothing specific was revealed…
At least this Kander & Ebb show is not another Steel Pier or The Rink.
Russell Lees' NIXON'S NIXON [***]
Last time I saw Nixon's Nixon was in Melbourne, Australia. On the day, some thousands of Angry-Aussies had come out to Protest the War in Iraq, a Bombs & Oil Project that was being ardently supported by their Prime-Minister Howard, against the Mass-Will of the Electorate.
Understandably, Nixon's Nixon was very well received that evening! And the moment—as in the original New York production—when Nixon asks Henry Kissinger to get down on his knees in the Oval-Office & pray with him worked very well.
Why this was omitted from the Round-House staging I cannot imagine: Threats from Kissinger?
Amazing that this Architect of Death in Viet-Nam is still At-Large. Almost everyone else of importance in the Nixon White-House paid a Price, including the President Himself. But Henry K prospers! Go Figure!
This show is based on the Round-House's 1999-staging, using the same Cast: Edward Gero & Conrad Feininger. I had the uneasy-feeling at the outset that they were pushing the show toward some form of Political-Farce, rather than Playing It Straight.
Perhaps they feared audiences would no longer find this material as immediate as it must have been for both Henry & Dick way back in 1974?
Charles Ludlam's THE MYSTERY OF IRMA VEP [*****]
As a longtime-regular at the late Charles Ludlam's infamously-funny Ridiculous-Theatre productions, I found the current revival at Arena Stage's Jaleo Crystal City venue almost better than the Original, with Charles & Everett Quinton playing all the roles.
Charles never had any money for Production-Values, but that very tackiness was part of the charm of such parodies as Eunuchs of the Forbidden City & Galas.
At the Arena Stage Jaleo, no expense seems to have been spared, either on Lavish-Costumes [David Zinn] or Brooding-Interiors [James Noone]! Not to overlook hilarious Special-Effects & almost Instant-Transformations!
Brad Oscar & J. Fred Shiffman were outstanding as the ill-matched Lady Enid Hillcrest & Lord Edgar Hillcrest, both of them incipient Nut-Cases. Not to overlook their Substantial-Contributions as the other characters in the cast!
Rebecca Bayla Taichman staged with wit & verve. And why not? Charles would have loved this show, even if it was a bit over-budget, in Ridiculous-Terms.
Most of these shows were as good as anything one can see in Manhattan. In fact, some of them should make a Transfer—or at least loan their sets & costumes & concepts to able New York ensembles…
Synetic Theatre's Carmen—although small-scale & intimate—is World-Class & should be more widely-seen. Also their Hamlet?
There were some Critics'-Choices offered as well, but not enough time-slots to see them all. I especially regretted not being able to stay longer to see Augustín Lara: Boleros & Blues at the attractive Gala-Theatre-Complex.
Nor did I have time to see the Journeymen Theatre's staging of Neglect or Karen Zacarías' Mariela in the Desert at the Theatre of the First Amendment at George Mason University. Also missed: Goodnight Moon at the Atlas Performing-Arts Center & St. Mark's Gospel at Theatre-Alliance.
Having already seen Jewtopia in Manhattan, I didn't need to see this Nederlander touring-production at the Bethesda-Theatre in Maryland, although the theatre's management made us very welcome for an ATCA meetng.
ATCA critics had a backstage tour at the Kennedy-Center, but we did not get to see any productions in its great theatre-spaces.
In fact, a section was Cordoned-Off from the Public. The majestic hall at the Potomac-End of this Great White Kleenex-box of an Arts-Facility was mournfully occupied by sober black-clad Beltway-Bonzes, attending the virtual Canonization of St. Tim Russert, who had recently passed-on to a more Celestial Prime-Time-Sunday Talk-Show. [Although some of his On-camera-Victims may have wished him elsewhere. Fortunately, there is No TV in Heaven! Only in Hell! Russert Re-Runs, anyone?]
Metro-DC Movers & Shakers, Plus Celebrities & Critics:
One of the most prestigious awards given by the American Theatre Critics Association is the Francesca Ronnie Primus Prize, honoring an Emerging Woman-Theatre-Artist each year. Funded by actor Barry Primus & Family as a Memorial to a beloved & witty playwright & fellow-critic, it not only salutes new writers, directors, designers, & actresses—emerging, as it were, from the Cocoon of Non-Recognition—but it also serves as a fond-reminder of a dear colleague & friend.
This year's winner of the $10,000 stipend is playwright EM Lewis [Ellen to intimates] for her four-character drama, Heads. It is set in two prison-cells in Iraq, but the detainees are not Iraquis. A British woman & three male Americans…
Oregon-born Lewis has also written Song of Extinction, Reading to Vegetables, & Infinite Black Suitcase. ATCA members were impressed with her comments about her work.
Ubiquitous-Panels & Then Some:
Among the various ATCA Hosts, Presenters, & Panelists, there was an interesting mix of Performers, Stage-Directors, Critics, Artistic-Directors, Designers, Arts-Administrators, & Celebrities.
ATCA President Chris Rawson—Pittsburgh's own Brooks Atkinson—closely-allied with Host Brad Hathaway, kept things moving briskly. Perhaps the Highlight was the post-performance chat with Chita Rivera, George Hearn, & the cast of Kander & Ebb's The Visit.
Those who knew & admired drama-critic Peter Marx when he was No. 2 at the NY Times were interested to hear his appraisals of the Metro-DC Theatre-Scene. He left the Times for Washington, he noted, as no one who is second-string is ever advanced to Mr. First-Nighter…
Artistic-Director Michael Kahn hosted a lavish feast for ATCA members at his new Shakespeare-Theatre in the Harman Center for the Arts. A high-point was the presentation of a filmed-tribute to Kahn, with such Luminaries as Kevin Kline & the ever-wondrous Marian Seldes, who taught the Stars Of Tomorrow for years with Kahn at the Juilliard Drama-Department.
Prior to that appointment, Kahn had been Artistic-Director at the now-defunct American-Shakespeare-Festival in Stratford, CT. When he was invited to DC to show his skills at staging Shakespeare, he worked initially in the intimate—but highly-imaginative—reconstruction of an idea of Shakespeare's Globe-Theatre-Stage in the Folger Shakespeare Library. [Which was not on the ATCA-Agenda, as there was no time…]
Kahn did not seem the least-bit embarrassed by the Effulgent-Tributes of his colleagues in the quasi-documentary. I watched him, a table away, noting that he not only did not blush with modesty—surely he had seen it many times before?—but that he appeared actually interested in what was shown!
Conference-members were charmed by Artistic-Director Mollie Smith at the Crystal City Jaleo Arena Stage, a new venue while the old Arena Stage & the Kreeger are under reconstruction.
Also a delight & inspiration was Joy Zinoman, Artistic-Director of The Studio-Theatre, who made a most enthusiastic presentation of its work. She also gifted ATCA members with a handsome & strikingly-illustrated book: 30 Years of the Studio-Theatre.
The Foreword is written by her son, Jason Zinoman, who just happens to be a drama-critic for the New York Times!
Both charming & amusing was Eric Schaeffer of Signature-Theatre, who hosted a handsome banquet, complete with imposing & awesome Black-Candelabra, which looked like stage-props for a Feast at the remote Transylvania-Castle of Vlad, the Impaler!
A Panorama—or a Panoply—of Metro-DC Theatre-Personalities discussed their work in ensembles as various as Teatro de la Luna, Charter Theatre, GALA Hispanic-Theatre, Firebelly Productions, American Century, & the Washington Stage Guild. Not to overlook Donn Murphy of the historic National-Theatre!
Of Prime-Importance to many American Theatre-Critics—though some older-folks are either unaware-of, or daunted-by—is the Prospect of an On-Line Internet-Future for their Reviews & Critiques.
Not only are Newspapers & Magazines cutting-down or omitting Arts-Coverage entirely, but a number of them are already Dead or Dying by Degrees. Websites & Personal-Blogs are not the Wave of the Future, but the Reality of Now!
Three of ATCA's most active members helpfully focused on this topic, with actual demos & experiences: Theatre-Coverage in a Multi-Media Age.
Jay Handleman's Power-Point presentation was a Revelation. With your Laptop & a small Digital-Camera, you could create print-copy, radio-shows, & TV Documentaries! [You might just make an Indie-Film with your Cell-Phone, if you are Really-Reasourceful!]
Jay was strongly-supported by Christine Dolan, of the Miami-Herald, & Elizabeth Maupin, of the Orlando-Sentinel. ATCA had just had fascinating mid-winter-meeting in Orlando, organized by Liz, and Jay Handleman is now planning ATCA's next Annual-Conference for Sarasota, where he is The Critic at the Sarasota Herald-Tribune.
[Some seasons ago, Chris Dolan did her best for ATCA by organizing a splendid Conference-Exploration of the Theatre In Miami & South Florida.]
Freebies, Goodie-Bags, & Books!
None of the DC-Theatres gave us baseball-caps this time. Unless I missed-out… Nor did I discover a T-shirt in my bag.
But there were many other more-useful items, such as Tom Bogar's American Presidents Attend the Theatre, the Studio-Theatre's 30th Anniversary Album, as well as Signature, a Story in 3 Acts, the Washington Theatre Album, & The 24th Annual Helen Hayes Awards.
Especially interesting to an old Theatre-Crafts reporter is Architecture DC, with several features on new DC theatres such as Wooly Mammoth's handsome new home, the Shakespeare Theatre Company's Sydney Harman Hall, & the Art-Deco Atlas Performing-Arts Center!
Shakespeare Way Down South from Washington: The Alabama Shakespeare Festival Lives!
Washington DC & New York City are not the only important American centers of Shakespeare-Production. Nor does Ardent-Bardolatry have to be celebrated in Major-Metropolises: just think about the wonders of Shakespeare-staging in far-off Ashland, Oregon!
Montgomery, Alabama, may not spring to mind as Shakespeare-Country, but this handsome bastion of the Old-South does indeed provide year-round live-theatre at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival!
Although I have not been to its Festival-Theatre in some years—or even to Montgomery—two dynamic members of its able staff have just been to visit me in Manhattan, to bring me up-to-date on their production-programs.
Your Scribe used to be an Expert on such events. Over forty-years-ago, he made a Grand-Tour of all the US & Canadian Shakespeare-Festivals for the late, lamented Theatre-Crafts magazine.
There was so much to report that only a small part of the resulting interviews, reviews, & production-photographs filled an entire issue of this remarkable publication. For which I had been writing from its inception…
So I & my editor/publisher Patricia J. Mackay decided we had to make a book about these Shakespeare-Festivals. But who would publish this project?
I suggested my old friend Ralph Pine, of Drama Books Specialists. I introduced both Pat & Our-Shakespeare-Idea to Ralph. He was immediately taken with both, soon after marrying Pat!
Our book is titled The Shakespeare Complex. With a weighty sub-title: A Guide to Summer Festivals & Year-round Repertory in North America.
Shortly after its publication—in 1975—several new Shakespeare-Festivals made their respective debuts. Because we had divided the book into Individual-Surveys of the existing festivals & General-Principles of Creating & Sustaining such Festivals, we knew someone was reading our book!
The Shakespeare Complex has been out-of-print for some time, but neither Pat nor I have had the time to update it, unfortunately. That may soon be possible, however, as my digitally-ingenious colleagues at the not-for-profit Lightning New Media have scanned the original-text, permitting me to make contextual-corrections & current-comments.
This interactive-electronic-book will soon be available online in the Glenn Loney Bookshop, located at artsarchive.biz. There will be a form of Chat-Room provided so that Festivals featured in the 1975-edition can bring their entries up-to-date.
Not only that: Shakespeare-Festivals established after 1975 can also log-on & add their own stats & news, complete with links to their own websites!
It is possible that this book-site could become a kind of Clearing-House for information & program-schedules for Bardic-Festivals at home & abroad! With some help from Our-Shakespeare-Friends, we at Lightning New Media could conceivably publish online a completely updated Shakespeare Complex.
Thus, there would be no need for new print-editions every five years or so. This new digital-research-resource for theatre-professionals, critics, journalists, teachers, & students—not to overlook its potentials for Performing-Arts-Tourism!—could be updated monthly & annually!
But before that becomes an Internet-Reality, I want to share with Theatre-Wire readers what I have just learned about the Alabama Shakespeare Festival. I have to admit that the last time I was at the Festival-Theatre, it was the Christmas-Season, for which Shakespeare wrote only the season-specific Twelfth Night.
No Shakespeare was on-view. Instead, the Holiday-Treat was Kathy Rigby in Peter Pan!
This was certainly a much better seasonal-selection than a new production of King Lear or Timon of Athens. Even with a Lear dressed-up as Santa-Claus, it wouldn't have generated much Holiday-Spirit…
Providing a Year-Round Repertory for Montgomery—and, indeed, the entire State of Alabama—the Festival has long since added classics, both ancient & modern, as well as New Play Premieres to its challenging production-program.
As Alicia Johnson-Reid & Meg Lewis showed me the current schedule, I realized I'd been away from Montgomery much too long. Meg Lewis is the fest's Public-Relations-Manager, while Alicia is Director of Marketing & Communications.
With new partly-Spanish-language revival of West Side Story promised for Broadway, you might want to check out the original-version at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival this summer! The show opens on 18 July, running through 24 August!
If you are taking the kids along, they might like to take part in the ASF's Theatre-Summer-Camps!
There are no less than five of these summer-camps: Camp Shakespeare, Camp Shakespeare Extreme—formerly Teen-Camp, Weekend–Warrior: Intro to Stage-Combat, Teen Summer Shakespeare Intensive, & Broadway South: ASF Musical Theatre Camp!
The ASF's Season of Romance has just ended—though love lives on in Alabama. The three shows in this subscription-series were Romeo & Juliet, Cymbeline, & The Count of Monte Cristo, a favorite of Eugene O'Neill's actor-dad, although totally unknown to Shakespeare's audiences.
But the Really-Big-News is that the Festival will launch Three World-Premieres in the coming season! All three have evolved from the ASF's much-admired Southern Writers' Project.
One of these, Bear Country, was commissioned by the ASF, to honor "Bear" Bryant, the famed U of Alabama football-coach. Michael Vigilant is the playwright.
Robert Ford's new drama, The Fall of the House, is a time-space-shifting mystical-tale, covering some 150 years & involving Edgar Allen Poe, author of the Fall of the House of Usher!
Most interesting is apt to be Elyzabeth Gregory Wilder's new & challenging The Furniture of the Home. Wilder is the author of the widely-produced Gee's Bend, a drama about the famed Quilt-Makers of Gee's Bend, whose colorful quilts are now Collectors'-Items.
Wilder is also the winner of the prestigious Osborn Award, presented annually at the Humana-Festival by the American Theatre Critics Association. [Naturally, Your Scribe was on-hand for the ceremonies…]
Furniture of the House is concerned with the aftermath of Hurricane-Katrina, not in New Orleans, but in a small forgotten coastal-town in Alabama.
The rest of the season in Montgomery will include Three Mo' Divas, Charlotte's Web, A Christmas Carol: The Musical, The Three Musketeers, Othello, The Comedy of Errors, & Les Mis.
A Summer, Fall, or Winter Holiday in Montgomery can be organized around ASF shows, but it should also include some Down-Home Southern-Cooking, tours of Ante-Bellum Mansions, Historic Mobile, Seafood & the Breeze from the Gulf, & New Hope—founded by Agnes DeMille's dad, Single-Taxer Henry George.
Then there's also Birmingham, but Montgomery is really more interesting. And you can find consumer-bargains on the Florida-Border at Pensacola, as well!
For more information about Alabama Shakespeare Festival Theatre's programs—as well as tourist-advisories—log-on to www.asf.net. If you prefer to honor the memory of Alexander Graham Bell, try this: 1-800-841-4273!
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