GLENN LONEY'S ARTS RAMBLES
Caricature of Glenn Loney by Sam Norkin.
Please click on " * " to skip to each subject in this index:
The Bard’s ANTONY & CLEOPATRA [**] *
Quiara Alegría Hudes’ THE HAPPIEST SONG PLAYS LAST [*****] *
Henrik Ibsen’s A DOLL’S HOUSE [*****] *
Marsha Norman & Jason Robert Brown’s THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY [**] *
David Henry Hwang’s KUNG FU [***] *
Jean Paul Sartre’s NO EXIT [***] *
Sarah Ruhl’s STAGE KISS [**] *
Red China’s THE RED DRESS [*****] *
Robert Askin’s HAND TO GOD [*****] *
Will Eno’s THE OPEN HOUSE [**] *
Randy Sharp’s NOTHING ON EARTH CAN HOLD HOUDINI [***] *
Chris Marlowe or Will Shakespeare’s MEASURE FOR MEASURE [*****] *
Polly Pen & Victor Lodato’s ARLINGTON [****] *
Disney’s ALADDDIN [***] *
Robert Schenkkan’s ALL THE WAY [*****] *
LIFE INTERNATIONAL/ 19 FEBRUARY 1968/p. 36: *
GUEST COLUMN by Glenn Loney *
Another View of LBJ *
Sly Stallone, Tommy Meehan, Stephen Flaherty, & Lynn Ahrens’ ROCKY [****] *
Terrence McNalley’s MOTHERS & SONS [***] *
Victor Hugo’s Musicalized LES MISÉRABLES [*****] *
Casus’ KNEE DEEP [*****] *
Chris Marlowe, Ben Jonson, or Will Shakespeare’s KING LEAR [*****] *
Branden Jacobs Jenkins’ APPROPRIATE [****] *
Brian Richard Mori’s HELLMAN V. MCCARTHY [*****] *
Cirque du Soleil’s AMALUNA [*****] *
John Van Druten’s I REMEMBER MAMA [*****] *
Lorraine Hansberry’s A RAISIN IN THE SUN [*****] *
Scott Siegel’s BROADWAY BY THE YEAR: The Broadway Musicals of 1940-64 [*****] *
This Past March of 2014 must have been one of the Most Weather Challenged ever.
Talk about Global Warming.
Republican Lawmakers were laughing at this seemingly Idiotic Idea, even as they Froze Their Toes, their Hard Hearts having been Frozen years ago.
Epic Snowstorms followed All Engulfing Snowstorms.
Banks of Filthy Black Snow piled up along the Central Park Walls on Fifth Avenue, laced with Salt that failed to melt them.
Mini Snowplows came along to vault the Iced Drifts over the Walls into the Park, where the Salt will surely Poison the Earth where the Daffodils are supposed to spring up any minute now.
Mythically, Poetically, Rhetorically, & Optimistically, March is supposed to "Come in Like a Lion & Go Out Like a Lamb."
Well, that didn’t Work Out as hoped for.
Nonetheless, the Robust Irish Paddies marched Up Fifth Avenue on the Seventeenth of March--which is ordinarily One Way in the Other Direction.
Unfortunately, there is Only One Way for Irish Catholic Male Sexual Urges, so, once again, the Proud Paddies forbade Gay Irishmen to March alongside Real Men!
There may have been some Irish Priests marching--I didn’t watch, even though the Parade Route passes my Doorway: seen one Paddy Day Parade & you’ve Seen Them All--but then Pedophilia isn’t quite the same thing as Homophilia, is it?
In response to the Perceived Irish Homophobia, the Italianate Mayor & the Italian American Governor refused to March along.
Fortunately--at Higher Levels of Government--neither the Pentagon nor the State Department Drone Bombed Contested Crimea.
Nor did John Kerry attempt to replace Vlad the Impaler Putin with another Shah of Iran, as we have run out of Replacement Rulers. Hamid Karzai has proved a Multi Billion Dollar Disappointment.
Anyway, March was also a Disappointment, but "April Showers Bring May Flowers," followed by "Rough Winds Do Shake the Darling Buds of May."
Please, Poets & Weather Watchers! Give Us a Break!
Were it not for some All Star Broadway Productions, March would have been a Total Loss!
PASSING GLANCES AT SHOW SCENES SEEN:
Who could have guessed that--in the Frantic Run Up to the Major Drama Awards--there would be so many Outstanding Premiers & Impressive Revivals?
Here are just a Few of the Amazing Shows more fully discussed Below:
Henrik Ibsen’s A DOLL’S HOUSE [*****]
Robert Askin’s HAND TO GOD [*****]
Chris Marlowe or Will Shakespeare’s MEASURE FOR MEASURE [*****]
Robert Schenkkan’s ALL THE WAY [*****]
Victor Hugo’s Musicalized LES MISÉRABLES [*****]
Chris Marlowe, Ben Jonson, or Bill Shakespeare’s KING LEAR [*****]
Brian Richard Mori’s HELLMAN V. MCCARTHY [*****]
John Van Druten’s I REMEMBER MAMA [*****]
All of these Imaginative Productions had, as usual, Outstanding Casts.
But it must be said that even the Less Than Wonderful Ones generally had Excellent Actors who were desperately doing all they could to Save the Show.
No Matter What--it’s Better than Being in Philadelphia!
Or Anywhere in New Jersey.
- The Bard’s ANTONY & CLEOPATRA [**]
Cleopatra Was a Greek Ptolemy, Not an African Queen, Nor an Imperious Sexpot from Barbados.
Whether actually crafted by Will Shakespeare or Chris Marlowe, Antony & Cleopatra is ingeniously structured to achieve Maximum Dramatic Effect.
Although its Historical Basis is sound, it is a Romantic Tragedy, rather than a History Play.
John Dryden tried to improve on its Emotional Effects by rewriting it as All for Love, or, The World Well Lost.
The Language, the Rhetoric, the Poetic Imagery of Antony & Cleopatra are among the most Powerful & Moving in all the Bardic Canon.
So it is an Epic Disappointment that what once began--under Joe Papp--as fundamentally a Shakespeare Theatre is now more interested in offering Trendy Productions of both Classics & Modern Inventions, notably the current Caribbean Deconstruction of what was long, long ago a Doomed Love on an Epic Scale.
Of course, what the Aging Public now is seeing down at the Public Theatre is not exactly Antony & Cleopatra as originally imagined & written.
No Indeed! This A & C has been "Edited & Directed," as though Shakespeare/Marlowe’s Original needed some Restructuring to make it more Accessible to Dumbed Down Modern Audiences.
This Thoughtless Dismantling is augmented by the Perceived Need to integrate New World Ethnic Influences into what once could have been regarded as a Disastrous Passion in the midst of a Mediterranean Power Struggle.
So it is that Queen Cleopatra--supposedly enthroned in Alexandria [Egypt, not Virginia]--is surrounded by Haitian Voodoo & Bahamian Drumming.
Nonetheless, Octavius Caesar & His Roman Entourage are not Regally Garbed, as befits an Imperious Emperor--who was soon to declare himself Augustus.
No Indeed! They seem to be Refugees from some Regional Theatre Gilbert & Sullivan Production of HMS Pinafore.
This could have been intended as a Costume Suggestion of the former British Mandate over Egypt?
Or perhaps Eighteenth Century Brits lording it over Bermuda & the Bahamas?
It was not a Good Idea to have some Actors double in Other Roles, as A & C is sufficiently complex that it helps to be able to see Who is Who.
The Innate Majesty of some Regal Expressions & the Passionate Poetry of some Vibrant Exchanges between Cleo & Tony--not to overlook the Inimitable Phrasings of Enobarbus--are worthy of the Best Dramatic Diction that Metropolitan Mimes can muster.
Only some in this Cast passed muster in that regard, notably Chukwudi Iwuji, Ash Hunter, & Samuel Collings.
But then, they are on loan from British Actors Equity, as this Production was premiered in November at Stratford upon Avon, in the Swan Theatre of the Royal Shakespeare Company.
So also is the current Antony, Jonathan Cake, whose Pecs have also taken Center Stage in other productions at home & abroad.
If the Bard wrote Stage Directions in the Margins of his Scripts, we will never know, as no Shakespeare Play Manuscripts survive.
But some Staging Instructions are implicit in the Lines: When Caesar has to query which of the Three Ladies is the Egyptian Queen, it is clear that Cleo has asked one of her Handmaids to impersonate her.
This Intended Illusion was entirely ignored by the Stage Director/Editor.
For that matter, some of the originally Amusing Exchanges between Charmian & Iras are also lost in this Misguided Production.
So, finally Oskar Eustis--the Public’s Chief Honcho--is not entirely to blame for this Caribbean Transformation.
No, that must be laid at the Doorstep of the RSC & Whoever is now In Charge over there in Stratford, where the Corpse of Billy Shakespeare must surely be whirling in its Parish Church Tomb.
Long, long ago, Kenneth Tynan--one of the wittiest Drama Critics ever--said that Shakespeare’s Misfortune was that he was not only Dead, but he didn’t have an Agent to protect him either.
On a More Personal Note:
I am probably one of the very few US Based Drama Critics who has ever visited the Shores of the Bay of Actium, where Caesar’s Ships defeated the Forces of Antony, after Cleopatra’s Egyptian Sails deserted him.
This was an Accidental Dividend of my Journey to the Ancient City of Megalopolis, where I watched an Athenian Ensemble--dedicated to performance of Classic Dramas in Classic Greek Theatres--who were offering The Trojan Women to Local Peasants.
The Real Reason the Name of this Fatal Bay resonated in Memory was my Hands On Experience with Antony & Cleopatra--when I designed & executed the Stage Lighting for a University Theatre Production at UC/Berkeley way back in 1947.
Of course, I’d already read this Resonant Drama in High School, but following the Play Text in Rehearsals, I soon Knew It By Heart & so could also Prompt.
This is a Major Reason that I was so aghast at the "Editing" & Omissions of the Current Staging.
Another Berkeley Memory of our own Antony & Cleopatra was the Subtle Performance of the Eunuch Mardian.
This Intriguing Neuter was played by Anderson Cooper’s Father!
My Chum, Wyatt Cooper--who went on to marry Gloria Vanderbilt.
- Quiara Alegría Hudes’ THE HAPPIEST SONG PLAYS LAST [*****]
In Iraq, Death; In Jordan, Regret & Film Making; In Philly, Love in Old Age; Overall: Redemption!
Premiered at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre, this complex & fascinating Generational Drama is enriched by a Latino Cantina Musical Accompaniment.
But it is Not a Musical.
Instead, it dramatizes the drastic effects of Our Intervention in Iraq--in the Aftermath--on Two Families, one of them Iraqi, Refugees in Jordan; the other, Puerto Rican, surviving in Philadelphia.
Lefty, a Gung Ho Marine, is working on & in a film about that Middle East Crisis.
Ali, who has fled Iraq with his family to Jordan--trying to look & sound Jordanian--is assisting the Unseen Cinema Director.
Ordered to Iraq--ostensibly to win the Hearts & Minds of Iraqis--the Militant Lefty shot an Iraqi in the face, keeping his Passport.
Now, on set, working with a young Actress, Shar, to recreate scenes of Middle Eastern Mayhem, he is stricken with remorse & asks Ali to return the Passport to the Family of the Dead Man.
Meanwhile, back in Philly, Lefty’s sister, Yaz, is able to stay in contact thanks to Electronic Technology.
She has her Own Problems, not least of them being an Aged Suitor, Agustín--who lives next door with his Aged Wife--but who wants to Plant a Belated Seed in her Womb.
If this sounds a bit Strange, it certainly is, but its Working Out--thanks to the Genius of Playwright Hudes--is both Heart Wrenching & Heart Warming.
As is usual at 2econd Stage [yes, that’s the way they like to spell it], the Cast is excellent, with Anthony Chisholm especially forceful, yet naïve, as Lefty & Dariush Kashani wonderfully rueful & open as Ali.
Annapurna Riesco--although named for a formidable Himalayan Peak--is an East/West Wonder, with Lauren Vélez--holding the fort back in a Philadelphia Barrio--finally won by the Fervent Musical Entreaties of Tony Plana, as a charming Agustín.
TS Eliot once suggested that the Way the World Ends is Not with a Bang, but a Whimper.
Fortunately for Hudes’ Embattled Humans, the Happiest Song indeed does Play Last.
Lefty, thanks to Ali, also gets to see the Magic of Nabatean Petra, as well as fly off to Cairo to savor the Arab Spring & the Ouster of Mubarak.
The estimable Ruben Santiago Hudson--recently seen as August Wilson at Signature--lovingly staged this admirable Engagement of East & West.
- Henrik Ibsen’s A DOLL’S HOUSE [*****]
Nora’s Door Slam--Heard Round the World--Resounds Again Over at BAM!
Way back in 1879, North European Audiences were shocked by Nora Helmer deciding to Slam the Door on her Doll House Home, Patronizing Husband, & Nanny Cosseted Children.
"Women can’t think for themselves!"
"Women need the care & guidance of Loving Husbands!"
In these Times of Women’s Liberation, Ibsen’s once Hotly Disputed Domestic Drama could seem a Quaint Artifact of a Male Dominated World that no longer exists.
Thanks to the remarkable Young Vic Production briefly at BAM--especially to the Nora of Hattie Morahan--this Male/Female Conflict seems entirely Fresh & Real, even in its Ever Revolving Period Setting.
Skillfully supported by Director Carrie Cracknell, Hattie Morahan is radiant as the Flighty Young Wife of the Doting--but entirely Paternal--Bank Manager, Torvald Helmer, strongly embodied by Dominic Rowan.
Although Nora seems to both Family & Friends as something of a Pretty but Lightweight Wife & Mother--more like a Post Teen, who needs a Fatherly Husband, an Adult Admirer, the doomed Dr. Rank, a Maid, & a Nanny to survive in Small Town Norwegian Society--she has actually Saved Torvald’s Life.
Unbeknownst to him.
How she had the Courage to do this--even unto Breaking the Law--was a Cautionary Tale way back in 1879, but even now, it has its Resonances.
Not that we might equate the Egotistical Torvald Helmer with the Reality Challenged Donald Trump, but there are still Pig Headed Husbands out there, often outsmarted by their "Better Halves," who know how to conceal their Intelligence & Capabilities.
Were this Young Vic Astonishment not limited to relatively Few Performances over in Brooklyn, it would surely have a Real Run on Broadway, where Well Made Plays are in Short Supply.
Especially Admirable is the Revolving Doll House of Ian MacNeil, for it enables the BAM Audience to get to know the Daily Life of the Helmers as they are seen--often silently--moving from room to room, sitting quietly or in Flurries of Activity.
Ibsen broke with the Melodramatic Tradition of his Day by not introducing an Unprincipled Villain to threaten the Domestic Bliss of the Helmers.
Instead, Nils Krogstad [a stalwart Nick Fletcher] has had his Reputation Ruined but is trying to Restore his Social Credit.
When Helmer dismisses him from the Bank--to replace him with Kristine Linde [a strong Caroline Martin], Nora’s Childhood Friend, just arrived, Widowed, from a Loveless Marriage Up North--he fights back, threatening Nora with Exposure for Forging a Signature on the Loan that helped her save Torvald from Death.
If you missed Doll’s House in Brooklyn, you surely must have read it years ago? It is, after all, one of the Great Classics of the Modern Theatre.
Nonetheless, seeing this Young Vic Version--newly Englished by Simon Stephens--was like the Experience of The First Time!
London/Brooklyn Footnote: This is not the First Time that BAM has brought the Young Vic to New York.
Founded years ago by Director Frank Dunlop--just down the Avenue from London’s Old Vic--the Young Vic specialized in mounting New Visions of Theatre Classics for Young Audiences with Young Performers!
Years ago, BAM’s Harvey Lichtenstein brought the Young Vic over from London with Jim Dale in Frank Dunlop’s Innovative Production of Molière’s Scapino.
This was such a Huge Success that it had to move across the East River to Broadway!
It helped make Jim Dale a Broadway Star!
It also helped make the Glenn Loney Bank Account a bit more Secure.
I was commissioned by Dramatic Publishers to prepare an Official Young Vic Acting Edition of Scapino.
This is a Companion Piece to the Authorized Royal Shakespeare Acting Edition of Peter Brook’s Production of William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
This was also commissioned by Dramatic Publishers, whose Proprietor, the late Chris Sergel, had been tremendously impressed by Brook’s Staging when it came to BAM, also imported by Harvey Lichtenstein.
This Initial NYC Interaction with Peter Brook--whom I already knew from his Co Founding of the RSC with Peter Hall & Michel St. Denis--later led to an Opera News Cover Story when he brought his Innovative Carmen to Lincoln Center.
As well as a CUNY Grad Center Peter Brook Seminar, based on his BAM Production of The Mahabharata, but actually surveying Brook’s Entire Career, closing with a Two Hour Loney Brook Interview before a CUNY Audience much larger than the Seminar.
This, in turn, resulted in a Book Record of that Seminar: PETER BROOK: From Oxford to Orghast.
- Marsha Norman & Jason Robert Brown’s THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY [**]
Musical Chairs, Dancing Fences, Flying Architecture: Madison County Is In Trouble.
How can a Musical Adaptation of a Best Selling Novel--with more than 12 Million Copies in print, in more than 40 Languages--go so Wrong?
The Movie Version of Bridges starred Meryl Streep & Clint Eastwood!
Could they have Saved This Show had they been invited to replace Kelli O’Hara & Steven Pasquale?
Streep & Eastwood singing? Don’t be Ridiculous!
O’Hara & Pasquale sing just fine & they both have Attractive Physical Attributes: Pasquale often sheds his shirt so the Matinée Ladies can admire his Pecs.
A number of the Show’s Songs are OK, though there’s a Certain Sameness about Jason Robert Brown’s Musical Lines & Arrangements.
The Major Problem is Pulitzer Prize Winner Marsha Norman’s Book Adaptation of Robert James Waller’s Best Seller which begins in 1965 & follows the Heroine to the Graveyard, where they all have Black Umbrellas, just like that Scene in Thornton Wilder’s Our Town.
Thus is Focus destroyed & Songs are inserted here & there along the way, even if there is No Dramatic Need for them.
Playing Wife & Mother on a Flat Iowa Farm--in a Boring Landscape, with Boring, but Nosy Neighbors--Kelli O’Hara does her best to suggest an Ex Neapolitan Sexpot, whose True Love, one of Mussolini’s Soldiers, was killed in World War II.
So she marries a Genial GI, who is in Reality an Iowa Farmer--played by Sutton Foster’s Brother, Hunter--to raise a Contentious Son & Daughter & Cook & Sew way out in the Plains.
Far off from Naples.
Which has been recently Photographed--in its Post War Reconstruction--by a National Geographic Photographer, who has just come out to Iowa the Photograph the Covered Bridges of Madison County.
Kelli & Pasquale have a Brief Fling, but Life Goes On, with Songs Along the Way.
So the Audience gets, in a sense, Snap Shots of Engagements, Weddings, Baby Birthings, Anniversaries, & Funerals--with Thornton Wilder’s Black Umbrellas.
This is Less Than Riveting. I was not On the Edge of My Seat with Anticipation of the Next Random Plot Development.
Not having read Waller’s Best Seller, nor even having seen the Movie, I could see no Necessity for trying to turn this Material into a Broadway Musical.
Nonetheless, there is an Extended Interview in the Playbill Program with Norman & Brown, who gush about their Admiration for Bridges.
What was really Most Impressive about Bridges were not the Three Inverted U Frames which descended from the Flies from time to time, but that Great Tree upstage.
It deserves the Outer Critics Circle’s Special Achievement Arborial Award, if ever a Stage Tree did.
However, the Special Appeal of Waller, I suspect, has largely been to Middle Aged Women, who feel Unfulfilled in Their Lives & Loves.
Not My Problem.
But I do understand that Marriage to an Iowa Pig Farmer is preferable to Growing Old as a Prossie, looking for Lonely Americans along the Riviera de Chia in Naples.
- David Henry Hwang’s KUNG FU [***]
Chinese Opera & Kung Fu Combine To Provide a Bruce Lee Bio Dance Experience.
The Production Values & Martial Arts Choreography make this Signature Production visually engaging.
But I was never all that Curious about the Cinematic Career of Bruce Lee.
The Admirable Author of The Dance & The Railroad has told me much more than I ever wanted to know. But I am glad that Bruce finally agreed to Sell That House.
Kudos to the Cast for their Dynamic Synchronized Performances, staged by Leigh Silverman & drilled by Sonya Tayeh & Jamie Guan, who specializes in the Ritual Movements of the Peking Opera.
Seeing that Dream Scene of Bruce Lee’s Father as an elegant Chinese Opera Clown made me long for those wonderful Peking & Cantonese Opera productions that used to be offered at Fashion Institute of Technology, or FIT.
As the frenetic, driven Bruce Lee, Cole Horibe is a Powerhouse.
Obviously, Bruce Lee’s Talent was Too Big for Hong Kong, especially under the British Mandate.
Did you know that there’s not only a Bruce Lee Foundation, but also a Bruce Lee Museum?
Chartered as a California Public Benefit Corporation, the Foundation "seeks to preserve, perpetuate, & disseminate Bruce Lee’s Life Example, Philosophies, & Art of Jun Fan Jeet Kune Do©."
Thanks to David Henry Hwang & Signature Theatre, this Clockwork Precision Production certainly advances those Admirable Aims.
But Watch Out for Bruce’s Flying Feet!
- Jean Paul Sartre’s NO EXIT [***]
Exit Doors Are Clearly Marked at the Pearl Theatre, If Parisian Existentialism Is Not Your Thing.
"Hell is Other People."
Jean Paul Sartre may have got this Existentially Right, returning to Occupied Paris from German Imprisonment, when Swastika Flags were still flying in the City of Light.
Fortunately, Sartre did not have to deal with the Mormon Concept that Heaven is All Our Relatives, Forever & Ever, Amen!
For Sartre, Hell appears to be a Multi Floored Hotel, with Elevator & Bellboy & Claustrophobic Rooms, each equipped with a Modernist Sculpture, Chaises that do not permit Lying Down, & a Bell Rope that does not summon Anyone.
There are No Whips & Chains, No Instruments of Torture.
It is quite enough that there will Never Be Night or Day in this Odd Room, where the Doomed Dead can never Sleep nor Eat.
What they can do is to Talk. To Themselves: How did I get Here? What did I do Wrong?
They can also Argue with Each Other.
Or attempt Seduction, which proves a Problem, as the Pathetic Coward Cradeau [Brad Cover] really cannot get it up, although the Slutty & Voluptuous Estelle [Sameerah Luqmaan Harris] is ready for action, also inflaming the Lesbian Passions of Inez [Jolly Abraham].
So, is Hell really about Existentially Frustrated Sex Drives?
Or is there something Existentially Philosophical also at stake?
Only Simone de Beauvoir--Sartre’s Soul Mate--may have known the Answer, for it is far from Certain that Sartre himself knew.
Paul Bowles--who translated Sartre’s Huis clos from the French--may have had an Inkling.
Linda Ames Key staged No Exit for The Pearl Theatre Company Way Out West on Forty Second Street, but it is Harry Feiner who must be awarded The Laurels for Collecting & Collaging So Much Junk behind the increasingly Transparent Walls of Sartre’s Room of Doom.
This Random Detritus looked like Leftovers from the Set Decorations of the Pearl’s recent Terence McNalley Classic Drama Mash Up.
- Sarah Ruhl’s STAGE KISS [**]
Deliberately Coarse Acting in a Deliberately Disastrous Audition Rehearsal Performance Cycle.
There was a time when Sarah Ruhl was hailed as an Important Emerging Young Woman Playwright.
Now, she certainly has the Awards, Nominations, & Citations to Validate this Initial Estimation.
Ruhl is even one of those MacArthur Genius Grant Winners!
Women’s Concerns have engaged her Authorial Attention in such Dramas as The Clean House & The Vibrator Play.
But what was she thinking when she decided to Focus on a Ditzy Actress [Jessica Hecht, playing "She"] who arrives Late for an Audition for a Role in an Appalling Play by Three Unknown Authors, to be Directed by a frazzled Old Fuddy Duddy, whose Schlumpy Assistant was a Former Drama Student, but now his Main Squeeze?
As for Late Auditions Dramas, Playwrights Horizons would have done well to bring back Nina Arianda, whose flustered Audition Late Arrival in Venus in Furs was a Portal to a Dynamic Performance.
As for Backstage Foul Ups in the Performance of a Disastrous Script by Inept Actors, how about a Revival of Michael Frayne’s Noises Off?
The Acting Style that Stage Director Rebecca Taichman has elected for her Ragtag Ensemble is called "Coarse Acting" by the Brits.
Coarse Acting in a Coarse Play is not easy to accomplish.
Good Actors trying to Act Badly can be amusing, as in Noises Off, but the Danger is that they may be mistaken by the Audience for Really Incompetent Actors.
The Dramatic Premise in the Play within the Play in Stage Kiss is that "She" was once Desperately Devoted to "He" [Dominic Fumusa], but they Split Up, with Her going on to marry an Investment Type [Daniel Jenkins as "The Husband"] & bear a Child.
Now, both Cast as Lovers in the Play within the Play, they must begin Making Love all over again, starting with a Stage Kiss.
This was somewhat Embarrassing to Watch, but some Audience Members--unfamiliar with How Plays Are Produced--may have been fascinated to watch the Stage Crew at Work.
- Red China’s THE RED DRESS [*****]
Under Chairman Mao, the Show To See Was The Red Detachment of Women--
Now, Under Chinese Communist Capitalism, It’s More Sartorial: The Red Dress.
If you have never heard of the Port City of Ningbo, in Southern China, you are not alone among Globe Trotting Americans.
If you already are familiar with the Performance Traditions of Peking Opera or Cantonese Opera, you still may have No Idea of the differences in Ningbo Area Production & Performance involved in mounting such a Splendid Spectacle as The Red Dress, recently seen at Lincoln Center, in the David Koch Memorial Theatre.
So, if you didn’t have Tickets for The Red Dress, you missed the Opportunity to learn more about the Folk Customs & Celebratory Rituals cherished in the Ningbo Area for Centuries.
But then there were only Four Performances, sponsored by CAEG, better known as the China Arts & Entertainment Group, a Creative Enterprise under the Administration of the Ministry of Culture for the People’s Republic of China.
The Red Dress is the Third Production that CAEG has brought to the Koch Theatre, developing an On Going Relationship, showcasing China’s Historical Contribution to World Theatre.
This is entirely Admirable as Chiang Ching--Madame Mao--did everything she could to stamp out Traditional Chinese Opera, replacing it with Stage Works such as Red Detachment of Women & The Taking of Tiger Mountain by Strategy.
More than 45 Skilled Dancers appeared in The Red Dress, clad in Periodic Changes of Traditional Costumes, all handsomely crafted of Beautiful Fabrics.
The Red Dress tells the ultimately Sad Story of a Young Maiden who falls in love with a Young Man who goes off to find Fame & Fortune, as was the Custom before the Thought of Chairman Mao taught Youngsters of The Red Guard more Constructive Forms of Discipline & Behavior.
Although they have been Formally Engaged, He eventually marries Someone Else, breaking her Heart.
But, at the close, She still Dreams of her Longed for Wedding Ceremony, the Red Sedan Chair & the Red Wedding Dress.
This Tale is told in Four Acts: Dream Love, Dream Farewell, Dream Return, & Dream Wedding.
The Dance Routines, wonderfully performed, have a Certain Sameness, but it is a Joy to see so many Petite Performers scurrying across the Stage with hundreds of Tiny Steps.
As well as to Admire the Athleticism of the Male Dancers.
The Set Changes are also magical, framing so many Handsomely Costumed Dancers.
But you really needed to read the Program Notes beforehand to understand the Significance of the Distinctive Southern Chinese Customs being celebrated in The Red Dress.
How about the Daughter’s Wine of Shaoxing, the Rolling Silkworms of Jiaxing, or the Descendants’ Bucket of Ningbo?
They raise Silkworms in Eastern Zhejiang Province, so it was long the Custom for Young Girls to put Papers containing Silkworm Seeds [sic] in their Bosoms, to warm them so they can grow better [sic].
In March of the Chinese Lunar Year, Boys & Girls come together to Stroke & Touch Each Other, so that makes the Girls’ Hearts beat faster, helping the Silkworm Seeds along. [Or so says the Press Release.]
Considering the Concentrated Efforts that were made during the so called Cultural Revolution to eradicate Old Ideas, Old Philosophies, Old Superstitions, Old Forms, Old Values, Old Rituals, & Old Customs, it is encouraging to discover that not Everything Old has been destroyed by Maoism.
Ancient Burial Grounds were destroyed so Crops could be Grown.
Ancient Temples were dismantled, to discourage Traditional Worship.
But Mao never demanded that The Red Guard tear down The Great Wall.
Now, his Heirs & Successors are wisely trying to Restore some Elements of What Was Lost.
- Robert Askin’s HAND TO GOD [*****]
Pornographic Puppetry in The House of God! Make That Yapping Puppet Shut Up!
The Holy Bible tells us Many Wise Things.
Isn’t there something about Not Letting Your Right Hand know what Your Left Hand is doing?
Seriously Troubled Jason--the remarkable Steven Boyer--has a Devilish Puppet welded to his Left Hand.
His Right Hand cannot control this Trash Talking Tyrone Hand Puppet.
This is Altogether Unfortunate, for Jason is supposed to be helping his Troubled & Sex Starved Mother [Geneva Carr] mount a Religious Puppet Show for the Congregation of Pastor Greg [Marc Kudisch] who Piously Lusts after this Unhappy Lady.
She seems to be running a Puppetry Workshop with Difficult Kids.
One of them, the Lusty Timothy [Michael Oberholtzer], is really Not Into Puppets, but, very soon, he is Into Jason’s Mom.
The Remaining Novice Puppeteer, Jessica [Sarah Stiles], would like to Connect with Jason, but he is Oblivious, completely Glued to Tyrone.
Jessica gets the Bright Idea of making a Girl Hand Puppet to engage with Jason’s Left Hand Occupant.
Jim Henson would probably be Astounded to see what Rogue Muppets can do.
The Holy Bible does not give us much Advice about Faces & Noses.
So it must have been Poor Richard--in his Almanac--who suggested: Don’t cut off your Nose to Spite your Face.
Poor Jason! Instead of his Nixing His Nose, he decides to Terminate Tyrone by smashing his Left Hand with a Claw Hammer.
Not a Good Idea!
If you don’t mind Dirty Talk from a Strong Minded Hand Puppet, Hand To God is the Show for You!
Moritz von Stuelpnagel staged in the Ingeniously Unfolding Settings of Beowulf Boritt.
- Will Eno’s THE OPEN HOUSE [**]
This Property Is Condemned: You Do Not Want To Buy Will Eno’s Play House--Very Bad Vibes!
Oliver Butler staged Will Eno’s The Open House for Signature Theatre with an Admirable Cast.
Unfortunately, the Play itself is a kind of Drama Stunt, in which the Actors all Switch Characters after the First Section.
It is also, apparently, intended as a Comedy, for almost all the Golden Agers around me were shaking with Guffaws.
In the First Section, we were introduced to an almost Schematically Designed Dysfunctional Family.
Dad is Dyspeptic & Wheelchair Bound, Indifferent & Cruel by turns.
Mom is a Mindless Ditz. She does not know that Dad is planning to Sell Their House.
The Psychologically Damaged Son & Daughter are home for the Parental Anniversary.
In the Second Section, Dad is still in his Rollstuhl, but the Rest of the Clan seem to be at or in the Hospital, where Dad is soon taken, after something like a Seizure.
The Super Dynamic Real Estate Agent was the Distraught Daughter in the First Section.
The Dim Son has now become a Home Improvement Contractor, who peels off the Bland Wallpaper to show the Design Glories behind it.
The Potential Home Buyers--well, you get the Idea.
Dad even returns as an entirely Different Kind of Person!
Nonetheless, this Signature Production is not without Production Values!
When the Front Door is open, you can see what look like Red Leafed Maples in the Yard.
A Real Live Dog then appears onstage, being the Dog that Ran Away in the First Section.
This Coup de Théâtre reminded me of that long ago Play, The Dog Ran Away, by the Late Brother Jonathan, a Franciscan Monk, with anything but Monkish Instincts.
This Play was produced by the Actors Studio, when it was busy, years ago, encouraging Young, Emerging Playwrights.
If you Rework the Name ENO, you will get NEO & ONE.
So, will Will Eno finally be recognized as One Neo Eno Playwright?
He certainly owes a Vote of Thanks to the Hard Working Actors who animated his Doomed Housing Project.
- Randy Sharp’s NOTHING ON EARTH CAN HOLD HOUDINI [***]
A Nice Jewish Boy Wants To Contact His Dead Mother, But Harry Houdini Is Out of Luck.
If you are too young to have seen Harry Houdini perform one of his famed Great Escapes, get down to the Axis Theatre on Sheridan Square where you can witness two of those Houdini Showpieces.
The stocky George Demas--robustly & loudly impersonating Harry--frees himself from Multiple Handcuffs & Leg Chains, as well as wiggling out from a Straight Jacket.
But Nothing on Earth Can Hold Houdini isn’t about his Celebrated Stunts.
It’s about Spiritualism, Mediums, Ectoplasm, Automatic Writing, Table Rapping, & Spirit Photography, among other Paranormal Crazes of the Late 19th & Early 20th Centuries.
Harry Houdini had Unresolved Issues with his Departed Mother, so he was always searching for some way to Contact Her Spirit.
But every Afterlife Avenue became closed to him as he Unfailingly Exposed a variety of Mediums & Spiritualists as Frauds & their Spirit Messaging as Hoaxes.
Houdini’s Incessant Search brought him into contact--not with his Defunct Mother--but with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, an Ardent Advocate of Various Spiritualists.
The fabled Creator of Sherlock Holmes was, himself, something of a Sherlock in his own Unrelenting Search for someone who could help him contact His Dead Son.
He even married a woman who could do Automatic Writing, her Hands guided by the Spirits!
Credulity, Thy Name is Mankind!
Since Primal Times, People have been desperate to Read The Omens: What do those Sacrificial Entrails Foretell?
If you cannot make Direct Contact with the Gods or the Spirits of Your Ancestors, why not have a Shaman or a Priest throw down the Sacred Bones or raise up a Chalice & Incense Censer?
Is it so very different when a Football Team prays to the Holy Virgin--also existing in an Invisible Domain--so that Notre Dame can have Victory over Holy Cross?
Or how about consulting an Astrologer to know the Outcome in order to Place a Bet?
So it is hardly surprising that even a Dour Scotsman like Sherlock’s Creator could have been so foolish, so driven.
When some Spirit Raisers are exposed--early on in this drama--their Excuse is that they Provide Assurances that Desperate People need to hear.
The same may well be said of Ordained & Professional "Spirit Raisers," who pray daily in Houses of Worship all over the World, passing on Their Divinely Inspired Insights to Hungry Believers.
But neither Harry Houdini nor Playwright Randy Sharp--who also directed--is trying to expose Historically Entrenched Spiritualism.
The Intimate Space of the Axis Theatre makes the Ferocity & Passion of her Cast--especially Demas, as Houdini, & Spencer Aste, as Conan Doyle--almost bounce off the walls.
The once Questing Friendship of Houdini & Doyle is ruptured when, in 1922, Scientific American offers a Cash Prize for the first Scientifically Vetted Clairvoyant.
No one wins in this Contest.
The Contesting Clairvoyants should have seen that coming.
The Major Problem with the Play is that there’s not enough Back Story about the Psychic Needs of both Houdini & Conan Doyle.
But the Kaleidoscope of their Extended Efforts to Speak To The Spirits is a bit confusing, as well.
Why are they both so desperately driven to Make Contact with a Dead Mother & a Dead Son?
Randy Sharp is the Artistic Director of Axis Theatre, receiving a Grant for this Show from the Peter Jay Sharp Foundation.
The Axis Theatre now occupies a Cellar Space that once welcomed Everett Quinton, keeping alive the Late Charles Ludlam’s Theatre of the Ridiculous.
Initially, it had a Greek Theatre Conformation, having been created for revivals of Classic Greek Dramas.
Unfortunately, there weren’t that many Greenwich Villagers dying to see The Trojan Women.
- Chris Marlowe or Will Shakespeare’s MEASURE FOR MEASURE [*****]
Duke Leaves a Sexually Corrupt Vienna: Will Power Corrupt His Appointed Deputy?
Oscar Eustis is Joe Papp’s Current Stand in as Custodian of Shakespeare in the Park & Shakespeare down at the Public Theatre.
Why oh why oh did he import that Appalling Brit Staging of Antony & Cleopatra when he could have so easily brought the Hilarious & Ingenious Measure for Measure of those Talented Bardians from Trinity Square up in Providence?
Not only have the Six Geniuses of Fiasco Theatre reduced the Stage Settings to Six Doors, but they have also streamlined the marvelous Marlovian Text so that they can Play All the Roles, changing Character & Costume Props in an instant!
Of course, the Bedlam Ensemble has presented Hamlet down on Bleecker Street with only Four Actors, but Hamlet is not as much Fun as Fiasco’s Measure for Measure, which is by no means a Fiasco!
Curious that this Season we have had at least Four Stagings in which the Actors had to change Roles swiftly, showing Their Chops in Acting Varietals.
Will Eno’s The Open House required radical Character Switches, as did Caryl Churchill’s Love & Information.
The Big Difference between these Two Shows & Fiasco’s Measure for Measure is that the Role Changing seems more like an Acting Stunt or even a Method Exercise in the first two.
As with the Bedlam Ensemble, the Fiasco Players really Inhabit their Roles, even as they don a Head cloth, a Cap, or a Friar’s Hood in full view of the Audience, the Character Change is both easy & instaneous.
They also perform at Full Force of Energy & Intention. The Edited Action moves along swiftly, aided by the Rapid Fire Focused Diction of the Ensemble.
The Transformation of the seemingly Angelic Angelo--who proves a Sexual Predator--into the Rascally Elbow, a Raucous, Rough Police Officer, is amazing to behold.
Kudos to Paul L. Coffee for his Angelo/Elbow. But also to Emily Young, who easily transforms from the Saucy Bawd, Mistress Overdone, into the Saintly Isabella.
Jessie Austrian is also admirable as both the Honest Escalus & the Wronged Mariana.
Noah Brody is both Claudio, doomed to Die, & Pompey, a Shallow Fellow.
Most amazingly Flamboyant & Energy Charged, however, is Ben Steinfeld, who is both Light & a Delight as Froth, but Devastatingly Funny as the Braggart, Lucio.
Lucio should, by his name, be a Light Bringer, but this Lucio is anything but.
Andy Groteleuschen is the Absent Duke, who somehow has let Vienna descend into Immorality, but leaves Angelo to Restore Morals.
He returns, disguised as a Friar, to Observe & Monitor & at the end, Make All Right.
The Unfortunate Isabella has had her Virginity repeatedly threatened in all this Moral Topsy Turvy, but the Duke, impressed with her Virtue, offers Marriage.
The Drama ends with No Resolution: not a joyous Ducal Wedding.
In a memorable Ashland Oregon Shakespeare Production of Measure for Measure, Isabella seemed both appalled & offended by the Duke’s Proposal. How could she accept, after all he had put her & her Brother Claudio through.
- Polly Pen & Victor Lodato’s ARLINGTON [****]
New Musical Genre at The Vineyard Theatre:
Not a Monologue But an Innovative Singalogue--Even a Singalong Singalogue.
The Scene is a Conventional Living Room. We could be in Suburbia or in a Play by Will Eno.
Sara Jane has just put out some Fresh Flowers, but she fears Her Mother won’t like them.
She has a Pot of Soup on the Stove in the Kitchen.
Alexandra Silber, as Sara Jane, sings to us as she bustles about. She does not speak.
She is accompanied--behind a Permeable Scrim--by Ben Moss as Pianist.
From Time to Time, he Joins In so that Sara’s Singalogue becomes either a Singalong or a Duo Sinaglogue.
Although Sara initially seems Chatty & Matter of Fact, she has a Terrible Story to Tell.
As she does so, the Light on the Pianist becomes Brighter, so we can see the Devastated Room in which he sits.
This is not exactly Opera Nuova, but it is an Unusual Experience!
- Disney’s ALADDDIN [***]
Flo Ziegfeld! You Would Love This Show! The Ziegfeld Follies Alive & Well at the New Amsterdam!
Before Florenz Ziegfeld had his Art Deco Ziegfeld Theatre--designed by Vienna’s Joseph Urban--constructed on Sixth Avenue, the New Amsterdam on Forty Second Street was the World Famous Venue for his equally famed Ziegfeld Follies.
Now it once again swarms with Follies Girls in Flashy Costumes & Headwear: Thousands of Sequins, thanks to Costume Designer Gregg Barnes.
But these Lovely Chorus Girls are not Parading Around in some long forgotten Ziegfeld Revue!
No! They are working wonderfully & well as Costumed Backup to the Main Characters in this Stage Version of Disney’s Film Musical, Aladdin.
It used to be that Broadway Hits would become Major Motion Pictures, but Disney Theatrical Productions has reversed All That: Think Lion King & Mary Poppins!
Whether a Muslim Inspired Show--NSA, Are you Droning down on Aladdin?--can run as long as Singing Lions & Airborne Umbrellas remains to be seen. [Hey! Wasn’t that also a Movie: Remains To Be Seen?]
Certainly there is No Shortage of Elaborately Filigreed Middle Eastern & Asian Scenery & Elaborate Transformations, thanks to Design Genius Bob Crowley.
I thought I saw the Taj Mahal in the Middle Distance. Indian Agra is a long way off from War Torn Arabian Nights Territory.
At a Time when we are all being Very Careful to Report All People with Suspicious Names like Al a Din & Al Queda, one hopes that there won’t be any Incidents at the New Amsterdam Theatre.
Yes, Aladdin is a Lavishly Handsome Show, with lots of wonderful Stage Filling Choreography, devised by Director/Choreographer Casey Nicholaw.
Flo Ziegfeld would have been Proud!
What it Lacks is an Onstage Comic like the Laconic Will Rogers or Juggler W. C. Fields.
What it has is a Bulky Genie as its Effective Star in the Genial Person of James Monroe Iglehart.
Unfortunately, the Central Love Interest doesn’t Generate Any Sparks.
If the Joyous Closing of the Dramatic Sung & Danced Narrative is to be the Union of Street Rat Aladdin [Jonathan Freeman]& Princess Jasmine [Courtney Reed], I was not exactly On the Edge of My Seat to Find Out how it would Come Out.
Original Music is by that Old Disney Favorite, Alan Menken, with Original Lyrics by another Old Disney Favorite, Howard Ashman, abetted by Tim Rice, who once collaborated with Andrew Lloyd Webber on Superstar & Evita.
Don’t Get Me Wrong: This is certainly a Lavish Production, with lots of Lively Production Numbers & Distinctive Production Values.
But, had I Aladdin’s Magic Lamp, I’d rub it Three Times.
My First Wish would be for a Revival of Kismet, as choreographed by Jack Cole!
My Second Wish would be for a New Disney Musical based on Ali Baba & the Forty Thieves, Starring Ellen De Generes as a Cross Dressed Ali, with the Forty Thieves recruited from Dance Capable Prisoners on Riker’s Island.
How about a Reunion of Tim Rice & Andrew Lloyd Webber for the Score & Lyrics?
My Third Wish would be--well, that has to Remain a Secret.
- Robert Schenkkan’s ALL THE WAY [*****]
Hey! Hey! All The Way With LBJ! How To Be a Powerful President, Tell Tall Tales, Win Civil Rights
No Question! The Tony for Best Actor goes to Bryan Cranston!
He wins Hands Down for his Brilliant Performance as Lyndon Baines Johnson in Robert Schenkkan’s Brilliant Political Drama, All The Way.
Cranston even looks a bit like LBJ & he certainly can Cuss & Tell Tall Tales the way Lyndon loved to do, when winning over an Opponent or an On the Fence "Rail Bird," whose Vote he needed to get Legislation passed by a Notoriously Constipated House & Senate.
Barak Obama could take Lessons from Cranston’s LBJ in this regard: also in Lyndon’s Rousing Speechifying, which moved both Voters & Law Makers to Action!
John F. Kennedy was a Great Speaker & he had the Good Looks that Johnson lacked.
But he lacked Johnson’s Savvy in how to Get Things Done in Congress--where JFK was despised by Some & dismissed by Others as a Pretty Boy Son of a Very Rich Dynastic Father.
Lyndon Baines Johnson achieved all that Kennedy had dreamt of doing & very much more in trying to create a really Great Society.
Using the Backstage Details of Johnson’s efforts to achieve Passage of the much threatened Civil Rights Act--including the necessity of dumping the Voting Rights Amendment--Playwright Robert Schenkkan excitingly demonstrates what a Great President Lyndon Baines Johnson actually was.
Scenes are swiftly Intercut, with the Action rushing rapidly forward, in a Courtroom like Setting, designed by Christopher Acebo.
DC Photographic Backgrounds by Shawn Sagaday are so arresting that they sometimes take Attention away from the Downstage Action
Period Costumes are by Deborah M. Dryden; that is: if you think of the Mid 1960s as an Historical Period.
Not only does Cranston resemble LBJ, but others in this admirable Large Cast are also almost Look a Likes.
As the Ever Cautious Hubert Humphrey, Robert Petkoff’s HHH Impersonation certainly Rings a Bell!
As does John McMartin as the Segregationist/Conservative--but nonetheless Democrat--Senator Richard Russell, of Georgia.
Brandon J. Dirden certainly recreates Martin Luther King’s Passions & Problems, dogged as he was by the Phone Tappers of J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI, with Michael McKean playing the Closeted Homosexual who was Keeping Files on Everyone, including the President of the United States.
Nor is the Total Dedication of Presidential Top Aide Walter Jenkins--accommodatingly embodied by Christopher Liam Moore--allowed to escape Scot Free of the Morality Taint of being Entrapped in the DC YMCA Men’s Room, once a Popular Meeting Spot for those who enjoyed Oral Sex.
Thanksgiving approached just as Jenkins was caught, so the General DC Joke was:
"There’s going to be No Thanksgiving at the White House this year: Their Old Gobbler is Gone!"
Robert Schenkkan didn’t include that Detail, but he certainly has created a Richly Woven Fabric of Intricate Governmental Intrigues.
Director Bill Rauch--who so ingeniously interwove all of the many Mini Scenes, with no loss of Dynamics--obviously drew on his Previous Staging Experiments with Cornerstone Theatre--an Ensemble with an Agenda--which he ran for Twenty Years.
The Sequel to All The Way has been titled by Schenkkan as The Great Society, an Almost Forgotten Triumph of LBJ’s Political Manouvering.
It will premiere, as did All The Way, in Ashland, in July, again staged by the altogether remarkable Bill Rauch, now Artistic Director of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, one of America’s Oldest Bardic Fests.
Lyndon achieved what JFK only Aspired to Achieve, but could not, because he lacked the Political Chops to Work with Congress effectively.
But all LBJ’s Achievements in the Domestic Sphere were swallowed up in the National Memory by the Tragedy of Vietnam, in which he was only continuing a "Communist Containment" begun by Kennedy.
Unfortunately, both Johnson & the American People were lied to by Their Generals, especially General William "Light at the End of the Tunnel" Westmoreland, & misled by Robert McNamara, the Grand "Domino Theory" Architect of our Asian Disaster.
The Career of Robert Schenkkan--note the Doubled KKs--has also had an Interesting Trajectory.
Early on, he won the Pulitzer Prize, plus Tony, Drama Desk, & Outer Critics Circle Award Nominations for his Kentucky Cycle.
Other, perhaps Odder, Dramas have included By the Rivers of Babylon, Lewis & Clark Reach the Euphrates, Handler, Final Passages, & The Devil & Daniel Webster.
In 2013, Schenkkan won the ACTA/Steinberg Award for Best New Play--which was, of course, All The Way, initially produced in Ashland.
I take a Personal Interest in this Award, as I am a Board Member of FACTA, the Foundation of the American Theatre Critics Association, which Funds this Award, of which, in effect, I am a Substantial Donor.
Personal LBJ Note: I also take a Personal Interest in this Two Part Drama about Lyndon Baines Johnson.
My beloved Aunt Katherine Loney was Lyndon’s First Schoolteacher, in a One Room School on the Pedernales River in Texas.
When LBJ signed his famed Education Bill, he invited his Beloved "Miss Kate" to be with him in front of that Old Schoolhouse.
After he signed the Bill at the Bottom, he gave Miss Kate the Pen & went off for Press Interviews.
My Aunt Kate ran after him: "Lyndon, Lyndon, you forgot your Pen!"
Aunt Kate & her husband--my Uncle Chester Loney--were flown off to New York, where she was on I’ve Got a Secret, complete with a Month’s Free Stay in Manhattan.
I asked her if I could do an Interview with her about Young LBJ.
Aunt Kate was eager to talk about Those Olden Times.
But: "Don’t you ever tell Lyndon I didn’t vote for him!"
The Loneys--as well as those who Married into the Clan--were always Knee Jerk Republicans: "Fried Rats & Pickled Cats are good enough for Democrats!"
Here is the Text of the Interview, as published in 1968, in LIFE Magazine, for which I was an Occasional Correspondent:
- LIFE INTERNATIONAL/ 19 FEBRUARY 1968/p. 36:
- GUEST COLUMN by Glenn Loney
- Another View of LBJ
In recent months, President Lyndon Johnson has been called many things by many people. Few of the names have been complimentary. No doubt this has been painful to him and to his family. But there is someone else who has been hurt--out of love and sympathy for the President.
That person is Miss Kate, Mr. Johnson’s first schoolteacher.
Some months ago, as Kathryn Deadrich Loney lay in a hospital room, recovering from serious surgery, she thought back over the years she had known Lyndon Johnson. Near her bed was a large colorful spray of flowers from the White House. In her hand was a long telegram, urging her in typical Johnsonian phrases to make a speedy recovery. Later, regaining her strength in her California ranch home, she received a handsome portrait of the presidential grandchild, with a fond note from the proud grandfather. They were only the most recent in a long line of letters, photographs, autographed books and mementos from her former student.
And as Miss Kate, as the President still calls her, mused about the past and mulled over the present anti Johnson invective, she resolved to tell about the Lyndon Johnson she knows: a man who does not forget old friends, a man who honors his obligations, a man who, as a former teacher of impoverished Mexicans in Texas, believes in the value of education for building the future.
Back in 1912, Miss Kate recalls, nearly 30 children crowded into the little one room Junction School near Johnson City, Texas. They were scattered through all eight primary grades. A number came from German families in the area, so some classes had to be taught in German, which Miss Kate had learned from her German horn father.
School had been in session for about a month when Lyndon Baines Johnson, who was then 4 years old, ran away from home to join the classes and insisted on remaining. "Finally, his mother, Miss Rebekah, asked if I would take him as a regular student. I told her one more wouldn't make any difference." But because he was below school age, Miss Kate had to get the school board's approval. A friend of the Johnson family, she knew she had a bright child on her hands. "He knew his ARCs when he was only 2, and he could recite all the nursery rhymes," she says.
Miss Kate was already giving special attention to Hugo, a little boy who had just started the first grade. Since he was so small, Miss Kate always stopped at his house on her three mile walk to school. There Hugo and his sister would join her, Hugo insisting that he be allowed to carry teacher's lunch pail. His parents spoke German at home, so he had language problems. He was eager to learn English, however, and little Lyn don Baines was just as eager to master whatever Miss Kate would teach him.
"They always tried to outdo each other," she recal1s. "What a pair! Hugo could hardly talk English, and Lyndon had his own very special way of talking. It took me a few days to understand him." Soon each child was vying for Miss Kate's attention and affection. "After a while, Lyndon decided he would not read unless I held him on my lap. Then Hugo refused to read unless I did the same thing for him. So every day, when time for their lessons came, I had a little hoy on each knee!"
The Junction School was on the banks of the Pedernales River, across the stream from the Lutheran Church. A post office and a store completed the community. Although the Johnson family lived near the school, most of the children had to walk anywhere from one to three miles to reach it, and rains often turned the roads into mud.
Despite the difficulty of keeping clean, young Lyndon took a great pride in his appearance. "One day he would come to school in his little red Buster Brown suit. The next he might dress like a cowboy, wearing his father's Stet son," Miss Kate says.
Even at the age of 4, President Johnson seems to have impressed those around him. Miss Kate recalls, "All the children respected Lyndon's wishes, but he never took advantage of them. He was so eager to help with the chores. He wanted to bring in the wood and help carry the water." He was something of a tease, though. "Lyndon used to come up to me and look so shy and cute and then he’d say, "Miss Kate, I don't like you one bit!' I would be so shocked," Miss Kate says. "Then he would laugh and say, 'I just love you!'
"On Saturdays I would walk over to the Johnson house," Miss Kate continues, "to see Lyndon's mother and play with her two babies. Lyndon always had to sit on my lap and read to me."
President Johnson's father was at the state capital in Austin much of the time, so Miss Kate's memories of him are hazy. She does remember his habit of saying of the young Lyndon, "Miss: Kate, we're raising a Senator!" Johnson's mother, Miss Rebekah, and Miss Kate would laugh at this and insist he was setting his sights too low.
As a small child, President Johnson was fond of dolls, Miss Kate says. After a year at Junction School, Miss Kate moved to California and sent her favorite pupil a cowboy doll from there. His carefully printed thank you note was one of her most valued keepsakes until a hurricane in 1933 destroyed all her possessions.
Johnson never forgot her. He invited Miss Kate to attend his inauguration as Vice President in 1961, and when he was inaugurated after his 1964 election as President, she was invited again, with her husband Chester Loney and two of her grandsons, and all were President Johnson's special guests. Three times in the week preceding the festivities the White House called to make certain Miss Kate would he on hand, at the President's expense. At the Inaugural Gala, the Loneys sat with Governor and Mrs. John ConnalIy of Texas. Later in the week, they had a personal visit with the President. He put Miss Kate "on tape" for the Lyndon B. Johnson Library in Austin. Miss Kate was hardly home again before New York was calling. CBS TV wanted her to appear on I've Got a Secret.
"As soon as I left the stage (after the program) someone took hold of my arm, saying, 'The President wants to talk to you!' So many newsmen were there. When 1 just said, 'Hello, Lyndon,' they looked amazed. I suppose I should have said, 'Hello, Mr. President,’ Lyndon said I looked beautiful and seemed so poised, so at ease. He said he wished he could do as well. Then he said, 'Take care of I yourself, Miss Katie!'
"I am very proud--and humble at the same time," Miss Kate says, "to think that one of my pupils has become such a famous man. That he has remembered me over all these years makes me very happy.And yet, when I see him on TV, looking so very tired, I can still see the little boy who used to sit on my lap."
Author Glenn Loney, an associate pro fessor at Brooklyn College, is a nephew of Kathryn Deadrich Loney, President Johnson's first teacher.
The Editors of LIFE loved the Interview so much that it was published in the Asian Edition, the European Edition, & the South American Edition!
But it never appeared in the American Edition at all.
When I questioned my Editor at LIFE about this Omission, he explained that the Editorial Board believed that there was so much Anti American Sentiment abroad that my LBJ/Miss Kate Report would do much to defuse it--because it showed Lyndon as a Thoughtful, Caring Mensch.
But the Vision of Young Lyndon as an Eager Schoolboy & as a Struggling Schoolteacher--working with Spanish Speaking Kids--who never failed to ask his Beloved Schoolteacher for Advice; as a Man who never forgot Miss Kate & who cared very much about the General Welfare of All Americans?
The Editors of LIFE Magazine did not want this Lyndon to appear in their Popular & Influential Pages.
They feared that Miss Kate’s Memories might turn the tide in Popular Sentiment, helping Lyndon Baines Johnson to win Re Election.
Another Term of LBJ was something LIFE Magazine wanted to prevent, at all costs.
By suppressing Miss Kate’s Memories they may have helped defeat Johnson, but they also saved $4,000--which is what they usually paid me for the Loney Reports, titled The Scene.
Nonetheless, Miss Kate & I moved forward on a Project to Publish a Book of Her More Extended Memories of LBJ & their On Going Relationship over the years: Miss Kate Remembers LBJ.
Unfortunately, the Vietnam War Continued Unabated & Apparently Unwinnable, so there was No Market for Our Opus.
Now, Thanks to the Miracle of the Internet, this Memoir will soon be On Line on the Glenn Loney Bookshelf at Arts Archive.com.
Even if the Editors of the Now Defunct LIFE didn’t dare to publish My Short Report Stateside, President Johnson was grateful for its Appearance Abroad.
He sent me a Handsomely Mounted & Framed Personally Inscribed Portrait Photo.
His Personal Secretary, Juanita Roberts--Miss Kate’s Longtime Friend from Johnson City--sent an Accompanying Letter, informing me that this Left Side Shot was the President’s Best Side.
Considering what we now know of LBJ, you certainly didn’t want to get on His Bad Side.
- Sly Stallone, Tommy Meehan, Stephen Flaherty, & Lynn Ahrens’ ROCKY [****]
A Ringside Romance Almost Engulfed by Tons of Mechanized Scenery--But Rocky Wins!
No, Fight Fans, I did not see the original MGM/United Artists Talking Picture, Rocky, as watching Grown Men beat each other Senseless--for the Entertainment of the Likes of Donald Trump, sitting Ringside--seems to me only a Domestic Reduction of the Couch Potato Entertainment of watching Our Boys [on TV, of course] Beat Our Enemies Senseless with Weapons of Mass Destruction. Or with Unmanned Drones.
So, I cannot tell you, Point by Point, how the new Million Plus $$$$ Stage Production of the Musical Version of Rocky Differs From, Hews To, or Totally Exceeds in Wonders the Film which is said to have starred Sylvester Stallone, who is a Co Author of the Musical Book.
What is Wonderful to Behold is the Tons of Endlessly Moving Heavy Metal Scenic Constructions going Up & Down, Sideways, Revolving, Swiveling, & Jack Knifing--without any of the Large Cast getting Cut in Half or Losing a Leg.
Fortunately, this Production Concept was initially developed in Hamburg, in a Specially Equipped Theatre, where it is still running Full Stride!
The Videos are also Terrific. Live Action Interviews on stage instantly viewed on Multiple Monitors!
Production Values Galore! With Tons of State of the Art Stage Lighting, also Constantly in Motion.
Flashy Costumes, with No Sequins Spared, for World Champion Apollo Creed & His Sexy Entourage.
Neither Rocky Balboa [Andy Karl], the Unsure but Brave Hearted Challenger, nor Apollo [Terence Archie], the Cocksure Cocksman, seems to Pull Punches. You can hear some of them Land with a Thump or a Whomp!
If they are actually doing this Eight Times a week, there must be some Bruises here & there?
Fortunately, the supposedly fixed Championship Match--Apollo proposes to tease Rocky for Three Rounds, so the Fight Fans can get something for their Admission Money, then Drop Him Cold--has been Elaborately Choreographed by Stephen Hoggett & Kelly Devine.
Best of all, this Grand Sports Spectacle has been Imagined, Envisioned, & finally Staged & Traffic Managed by Alex Timbers, the Theatre Genius who gave us Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson, both at the Public Theatre & again On Broadway.
Alex also gave Broadway Peter & the Starcatcher, which began its Kooky Life down on East Fourth Street, at the NY Theatre Workshop.
Alex Timbers has Come a Long Way from the Ohio Theatre--down on Wooster Street--where he featured Rabbits, alive & stuffed, in Even Kookier Productions for Les Frères Corbusier.
Although Margo Seibert, as Adrian, is initially a Mousey, Timid, Shy Love Interest for the Equally Shy & Self Doubting Rocky, she eventually Blossoms & Sings really well!
But a Real Problem with the First Act is that it is Too Elongated, trying to Tease Out the Growth of Romance & Self Confidence. We Get The Message early on.
The Songs of Flaherty & Ahrens are Typical & certainly Singable, even Danceable.
You will remember some like them from My Favorite Year, Once on This Island, A Man of No Importance--with Roger Rees, & most Award Winningly, Ragtime!
But the Real Reason to spend All That Money on Tickets for Rocky is the Final Coup de Théâtre, when the Boxing Ring--which has already Revolved, Turned Upside Down, & Served as a Projection Screen--Zooms Right Out Into The Audience!
Those Lucky Duckys in the Front Rows having already been Relocated up on the Stage, on the Other Side of the Boxing Ring.
Those on the Orchestra Side Aisles guarantee a Standing Ovation as they Spring To Their Feet for Better Viewing, as do many in the Wide, Wide Balcony.
The handsomely & elegantly decorated Winter Garden Theatre--constructed for Al Jolson’s Revues, on the former Site of a Horse & Carriage Rental Stables--was built both Wide & Shallow so that Everyone could have a Premium Views of the Stage Splendors.
Before Rocky, it also had a Conventional Stage, with an Overhead Fly System to change Conventional Scenery.
Obviously, the Entire Stage Area had to be rebuilt to accommodate the Mechanistic/Electronic Wonders of this Amazing Staging.
Unfortunately, for those who Love Historic Theatres, when the Winter Garden has a Long Running Hit--like its Recent Occupant, Mama, Mia!--they may not get to see those Elegant Interiors for Ten Long Years.
When was the Last Time you saw the inside of The Majestic, where Phantom has been running for How Many Decades?
If the Revival of Les Mis runs as long as it did Originally at The Imperial, it could also be Years before Members of the Theatre Historical Society will be able to view its Lovely Interior, unless they Purchase Show Tix!
- Terrence McNalley’s MOTHERS & SONS [***]
Tyne Daly Is an Angry Texas Mother Who Has Lost Her Son To AIDS & Feels Left With Nothing:
Yet She Discovers New Meaning in Her Life By Finding a New Family, Including a Grandchild!
Well, That About Covers It!
Tyne Daly is excellent as the Baffled Texas Mother whose Dead Son, André, was Everything to her, but who turned out to be Gay & left for New York, where he Died of the Plague.
If you are Gay, why would you want to hang around Dallas anyway?
Macho Texans are such Homophobes.
André’s Bereaved Mom turns up Unannounced at the Fifth Avenue Apartment of Cal Porter [Frederick Weller], André’s Bereaved Lover.
He gives her an Out the Window Tour of Nearby Landmarks, including the Met Museum & 1040 Fifth Avenue, where Jackie Onassis lived.
André’s Mom really Understands Nothing about being Gay, falling in Love with Another Man, contracting AIDS, & desperately Dying.
It is also difficult for her to Understand--if Cal loved André so very much--how he could have taken a New Lover [the winning Bobby Steggert], complete with a Small, Cute, Boy Child [Grayson Taylor], who needs a Grandmother.
She thinks it’s Impossible to Change, but--as she is really now All Alone in the World, André having been Her Entire World--she discovers that she can abandon all Those Old Gay Stereotypes & Move On!
Along the Way, Playwright Terrence McNalley has scattered a smattering of Insider Gay Jokes, at which a Knowing Broadway Audience can Easily Laugh.
Unthreatened as they are by Ingrained Religio Oriented Sexual Prejudices.
Sheryl Kaller staqed in John Lee Beatty’s spacious Pre War Apartment.
- Victor Hugo’s Musicalized LES MISÉRABLES [*****]
Ah, Those Periodic French Revolutions!
The Revolting French Cannot Seem To Win Any of Them Decisively, But This Show Is a Winner!
Yes, Les Misérables has been on Broadway before!
In fact, it’s Right Back Where It Belongs--at the Imperial Theatre, which has a Brass Plaque in the Frontal Sidewalk, featuring that World Famous Urchin Image & celebrating its seemingly Endless Original Broadway Run.
The Original Production--when I first saw it in London--was a bit like Story Theatre, with its Essential Central Clutter Construction on a Revolving Stage, so it could serve for Many Locales & even the Revolutionary Barricades.
It was also rather Brightly Lit, with Actors on the Sidelines, waiting for Cues or to Assume New Identities.
Now, in Fabulously Rich Producer Cameron Mackintosh’s Fabulous New Production, it is altogether Dark, Mysterious, & Threatening, even Magical.
But its Real Glories are its Wonderful Cast, headed by the Jean Valjean of an altogether Heroic Ramin Karimloo.
When he sings the Heartbreaking Plea, Bring Him Home, surely Every Heart in the House is breaking with Jean Valjean.
But this is not the only Show Stopper in Boubil & Schönberg’s Colorful Kaleidoscope of Musical Hits.
How about Master of the House, Lovely Ladies, Who Am I?, One Day More, Paris, or In My Life?
The Show’s Always in Motion Solid Squalid Underclass Paris is the Design Inspiration of Matt Kinley, who got his Haunting Projection Image Inspiration from the Paintings of Victor Hugo!
And here you thought that Vic Hugo was only a Best Selling French Novelist!
Initially, seeing Dark Smoking Factory Chimneys against a Night Sky, I though they had been inspired by Francisco Goya.
But then, a Night Along the Seine looked almost exactly like an Impressionist Abstraction by James McNeil Whistler.
Goya & Whistler were soon swallowed up in Piranesi Visions of the Side Streets of Medieval Paris, before Baron Haussmann destroyed them to build the Imperial Paris of Napoleon III.
So, Hugo’s Artworks could be mistaken for Goya, Whistler, or Piranesi?
If you want to know more about Victor Hugo’s Paintings--not to mention his Best Selling Novels--you had better Google Wikkipedia, for Hugo doesn’t even get a Program Bio in the Playbill!
There are, however, Bios for both Trevor Nunn & John Caird--whom I interviewed Years & Years ago in London, even before they had made this Stage Adaptation.
I never interviewed Fellow Theatre Critic Herbert Kretzmer--who devised the English Lyrics for this Initially French Language Musical--but I used to see him at Caprice & say Hello, when my Christian Science Monitor Colleague, Sir Harold Hobson, would give me Luncheon at this Most Fashionable Restaurant.
Cameron Macintosh has made Several Fortunes producing the Collected Works of Andrew Lloyd Webber, but his Initial Offering of Les Mis, in London, on Broadway, on Tour, & Around the World has surely made him Millions as well.
There is really No Point in attempting to describe how this Show works on Stage, nor to List all the Wonderful Cast Members, with all kinds of Acting, Singing, & Dancing Skills.
You can probably find all kinds of Video Clips on You Tube anyway. Not to mention Profiles on Facebook.
Hey, Wait a Minute! How about clicking onto the Les Misérables Website?
You could probably Order Tickets On Site as well, but Hurry, for the Show is Selling Out!
Oh! For those who are History Challenged--or who Cannot Keep Up with All Those French Revolutions--this is Not the Head Chopping Revolution of 1789.
Nor, again, the Failed Revolution of 1848.
Nor, yet again, the Failed Revolution of 1870--with the famed Paris Commune, about which Bertolt Brecht wrote an Agit Prop Play: Die Tage der Commune.
No, indeed! Les Mis concerns the Failed Revolution of 1832.
The On Going Problem--Historically Speaking--with French Revolutions is that they have never really changed anything Fundamental in the French Character.
This is hardly Anything to Sing About, but, nonetheless, Les Mis does make a Very Moving Musical Attempt.
Recent French Presidents of the likes of Nicolas Sarkozy & François Hollande seem rather Proper Subjects for Satirical Cabarets.
As for General Charles De Gaulle, there’s always Jean Anouilh’s Fighting Cock!
- Casus’ KNEE DEEP [*****]
Talk About Walking on Eggs! Cirque du Soleil: Take Notice!
Emma Serjeant is a Past Master at Egg Walking! Is Emma Also an Egg Whisperer?
Want to see some of the Best Circus Acrobatics & Amazing Aerial Feats ever?
Well, if you are reading this after 30 March, Knee Deep & the Astounding Casus Ensemble has already left 42nd Street’s New Victory Theatre to Continue Its National Tour.
These Super Strong Youths are from Aussie Brisbane, where they came together to create a Contemporary Circus Company.
Like Cirque du Soleil, they do not have any Elephants, Lions, or Tigers.
But--unlike Cirque du Soleil--they do not have any Distinctive Themes, Glittering Production Numbers, Colorful Costumes, Funny Hats, or Song & Dance Routines.
In fact, Casus doesn’t even have a Huge Ensemble & a Pit Orchestra.
There are just Four of Them: Samoan Natano Fa’anana, Lachlan McCaulay, Jesse Scott, & Emma Serjeant, who is the Egg Walker.
The Amazing Emma is also the Company Manager, but she really knows how to Buy a Dozen Eggs, because they do not Break when she puts her Full Weight on them!
Their Acrobatics are less Circus Stunts than Body Poetry in Motion.
On the Stage Floor, or Aloft, their Muscular Interactions are Athletically Astounding.
This is their First Touring Show, but surely not their Last, unless they are Contracted by Cirque du Soleil.
This, however, would be an Artistic Disaster for Casus, for what they can do Aloft or on Terra Firma can also be performed by Platoons of Artists with the many, many Ensembles of the Ever on Tour Cirque du Soleil.
Aside from some Mini Orgami Folding--enlarged by a Mini Video Camera--the Camus Routines do become a bit Routine after while in this Understandably Intermissonless Show.
Perhaps some Funny Hats from back home in Brisbane?
How about some Colorful Costumes from Melbourne?
Or some Aboriginal Dances from Alice Springs or Ayers Rock?
Surely there’s Something they could import from Adelaide or Perth?
In any case, Good Luck, You Plucky Aussie Kids!
- Chris Marlowe, Ben Jonson, or Will Shakespeare’s KING LEAR [*****]
Look Where It Comes Again! No, Not Hamlet’s Father’s Ghost, But Another Lear from England!
Hey! Great Idea for a New Theatre Awards Category!
How about Most Outstanding New Production of King Lear from Britain Over in Brooklyn Across the Street from Each Other?
Almost Yesterday, we had Frank Langella as Lear over at BAM.
Today, we have Michael Pennington as Lear at the nearby Polonsky Shakespeare Center, better known to Cognoscenti as the Theatre for a New Audience.
Performed in the Cockpit Style Theatre--which is inspired by, if not copied from--Stratford Upon Avon’s Swan Theatre & London’s Cottesloe Theatre, the New Audience sits around its Open Stage on Three Sides, with the Upper End of this Stage Rectangle featuring what appears to be a Looming Iron Wall, threateningly suspended over the Playing Space.
Initially--as staged by Arin Arbus--the Tall Figures & some Pawns, set out on a Bare Surface, with a Minimum of Props & Distinctive Costumes, look rather like Chess Men, being Moved Around, rather than Taking Action of Their Own Volition.
But that Image soon dissolves, as Pennington’s Magisterial but Quirky Lear decides to Divide His Kingdom into Thirds among His Three Daughters--with the Best Part reserved for His Beloved Cordelia.
Historically, Kings were supposed to Die with Their Boots on, but Lear--not having the Modern Option of Moving to Florida or Palm Springs--plans to spend a Retirement Month with each of his Spawn in Rotation.
Plus an Appropriate Suite of Armed Retainers, as befits a Monarch who is later described as "Every Inch a King."
Well, even in Elizabethan Times, Audiences could sense that this Plan Had Flaws.
This Drama was drafted long before American TV Quiz Contests, in which a Lucky Contestant might win a Buick or a Trip to Alaska or Stratford Upon Avon.
In King Lear, the Big Surprise is not for a Lucky Royal Contestant, but for Lear himself, as he furiously discovers that Cordelia has not been Properly Prepped by the Show Manager.
To the Major Question: Which of you does Love Us Most?, the Vain Old Lear is pleased to hear Formulary Responses from Gonerial & Regan.
But Plain Speaking Cordelia decides not to Flatter Her Father.
Well, All Hell breaks loose.
Freed of Painted or Built Scenery, this Challenging Production forces--or Invites--the Audience to concentrate on the Characters & their Interactions, as the Great Iron Wall slowly moves Downward.
Unlike the Langella Lear, this Arbus Lear lays Passions Bare & celebrates some of English Literature’s Greatest Philosophizing in Majestic Language.
Also, unlike the BAM Lear, this Searing Unfolding of Family Tragedy has a Goneril & Regan who are truly Evil Connivers, in Rachel Pickup & Bianca Amato.
Because Cordelia--as written--is a bit of a Regal Goody Goody, she is often Overshadowed by her Wicked Sisters.
Blonde Lily Englert is better than her BAM Counterpart, but she still seems only a Runner Up in the Royal Sweepstakes.
The Rest of the Cast--especially Major Chess Pieces--is/are Strong, with the Blinding of Gloucester properly Bloody.
King Lear has long been an Actorial Mountain which many Famed Thespians have been tempted to Climb to the Summit.
Few really reach the Peak, but Pennington comes close to Everest or K2.
- Branden Jacobs Jenkins’ APPROPRIATE [****]
Oh! Look! I Just Found Grandpa’s Old Ku Klux Klan Hood!
Quite aside from the Sensations produced when Three Siblings meet to divvy up their Ancient Sire’s Possessions, the Scampering Antics of the Stage Crew--rapidly Un Dressing the elaborate Plantation Manor House setting of Antje Ellermann--were a Show in Itself!
Naturally, the One Who Stayed to look after the Dying Father believes she has More Rights than her two Brothers: One, Feckless; the Other, Up Tight.
The Lafayette Inheritance includes the rotting Arkansas Mansion & its Dusty Drapes.
But there’s also a disturbing Scrapbook: It is crammed with Picture Postcards of Negro Lynchings.
In the Good Old Days, the Good Old Boys used to photograph these Extra Legal Events, selling the Ghastly Black & White Images on Regulation Size Post Cards that you could send through the US Mail to let Relatives & Friends know what you were up to way down in the Unreconstructed Southland.
Some of the Characterizations & Motives in the Appropriate Script need some fine tuning, but this rather Inappropriate Family Reunion should prove to be a Winner in Regional Theatre.
Well, that’s what I wrote way back in 2013, way down in Louisville, at the Humana Festival.
I never dreamt anyone would want to bring this show into Manhattan, but then SignatureTheatre [Yes! That’s the way they Style their Name--with no Space between!] has become a kind of Regional Theatre all by itself.
Branden Jacobs Jenkins’ APPROPRIATE [****]
They’ve Still Got the Hood & the Photo Album, But the Clint Ramos Cluttered Interior is New/Old.
One might argue that the Decaying OId Plantation Manor House is really the Star of this Production, staged by Liesl Tommy.
In what seem like False Starts, the Audience hears the chirping or scratching of Insects, but Light does not dawn immediately on the Stage.
We soon learn that the Noise is caused by Cicadas, who are said to come out of the Ground every 13 Years. Or some such Long Delay.
The Play proceeds much as it had down in "Looville." If Jacobs Jenkins had tinkered with his Script in the meantime, I have no way of knowing: not having copies of the Kentucky Version or the Signature Edition, Nor Photographic Hearing Recall.
The Manhattan Cast was generally excellent, considering the Characters that they are required to Impersonate. Maddie Corman & Michael Laurence were notable.
But that Old Manor House!
What an Attention Getter!
Initially discovered with every Surface & Nook & Cranny covered & crammed with a Lifetime of Hoarding by the Dead Patriarch--who owned the Photo Album of Lynching Photos, as well as the Klan Hood--the Grand Staircase Entry Hall commands Attention.
Sorting that Hoard for an Impending Auction keeps Actorly Hands busy, but Changing all that Stuff for Other Bundles at Intermission keeps the Stage Crew scuttling about the Ruined Room.
When all the Lafayette Siblings have at last Departed, then the Old House begins to Self Destruct in Several Quick Scenes, capped with the collapse of the Grand Crystal Chandelier.
If you are interested in Supremely Dysfunctional Southern Families, then This Is Your Play!
But if you are a Fan of those TV Shows where they Make Over or Restore Old Houses, Appropriate may be just the Ticket!
Oh! That Title?
It may refer to that Photo Album & its Contents: was it really Appropriate for Dad to collect Lynching Photos.
- Brian Richard Mori’s HELLMAN V. MCCARTHY [*****]
The Real Dick Cavett Stars as Dick Cavett on the Dick Cavett Show: War of the Wordy Women--
Was Lillian Hellman a Liar? Was Pentimento a Fraud? Mary McCarthy Attacks on Nation Wide TV!
The Aged, Acerbic, Unreformed Stalinist Playwright, Lillian Hellman, is pursuing a Devastating But Dumb Lawsuit down at the Abingdon Theatre.
Hellman is brilliantly personified by Roberta Maxwell--whose superb Makeup Job makes Lillian look Ancient as well as Terminally Angry & Vengeful.
The Super Intellectual Catholic Girlhood Scarred Mary McCarthy is tartly portrayed by Broadway’s Marcia Rodd.
But Jan Buttram’s Directorial Coup was to cast Dick Cavett as Himself!
Cavett appears in a Type Cast Role that he may be said to have Created in Real Life, had it not been for Playwright Brian Richard Mori having devised this Ingenious Confrontation of Wit & Women without Consulting Cavett!
To those Potential Theatre Goers who are Too Young to remember The Red Scare & the Senator Joe McCarthy Era Blacklists, it may well seem Arcane to Obsess over Hellman’s Libel Lawsuit, which could very well have wiped out McCarthy financially as well as Damaged Her Credibility.
After all, isn’t it Critical Overkill to say--on Nation Wide PBS--that every word that Lillian Hellman had ever written was a Lie, including "and" & "the"?
Well, Hell hath no fury like a Vengeful Woman, or Words To That Effect, so the Age Addled Hellman launched an Epic Legal Action which also included Cavett & PBS.
Mori’s Live Action Drama is not just a Visual & Verbal Reconstruction of that Infamous Broadcast.
He even imagines a McCarthy Hellman Conciliation turned into Crass Confrontation--which Never Happened, but Should Have, at least for Dramatic Resolution.
For The Record: When I was still in Grade School, somehow I found a copy of Lillian Hellman’s The Children’s Hour--in which a Private School Girl makes an Accusation that ruins the Two Women operating the School.
So, I followed Hellman’s Career as the Foremost American Woman Playwright.
Little did I know that one day I would get to know Lillian Hellman, although only slightly. She was a Witty Lady, always ready with a Nuclear Quip.
Somehow, I never managed to Interview Hellman: I don’t remember why, because I interviewed many, many Playwrights, Directors, Designers, & Actors over the years.
It may well have been that Hellman was Publication Poison for many Editors: She was a Known Stalinist & refused to Name Names when called before the House Un American–Activities Committee.
Kazan crumbled; Arthur Miller hid behind his Blonde Bride, Marilyn Monroe.
But many Famous Hollywood & Broadway Talents were Blacklisted.
Lillian Hellman stood up to HUAC, with a Memorable Statement about these McCarthy Inspired Witch Hunts that was & is so Courageous & Powerful that I included it in Documents of American Theatre History, 1945 1985.
This was a Publishing Project of Cambridge University Press that was designed to stretch from America’s First Theatres & Dramas to the Present. It foundered because most of the other American Theatre Professors did not provide the Documentation.
Soon, however, 1945 1985 will be On Line, on GlennLoneyArtsArchive.com.
My most Vivid Memory of Lillian Hellman is of her Holding Forth at a Publishing Party, wittily dismissing the Writings of Norman Mailer & Arthur Koestler, as her Cigarette Ashes continued to drop into her Drink.
Mary McCarthy wasn’t the only Literary Lady who could carve up the Competition!
As for the Charming & Witty Dick Cavett, I once sat next to him at a Broadway Show. The Production was Less Than Wonderful.
Whatever I said about this Dramatic Disaster made Cavett laugh. He jotted it down: I’ll use it!
- Cirque du Soleil’s AMALUNA [*****]
Hey! Kids! Want To Run Away & Join The Circus? Click on CirqueduSoleil.com/jobs.
Cirque du Soleil is Hiring!
No Guarantee that they will hire you as a Clown.
Nor will you get the chance to do what ART’s Diane Paulus has done: stage the Fantastically Spectacular Amaluna, now at Citifield, out on the Subway Seven Line.
Nonetheless, at every City in which Cirque du Soleil arrives with a Show like Amaluna, they hire at least l50 Locals.
If you really do want to Run Away--from a Dysfunctional Home or from the Catholic Orphanage, where they won’t teach you about Birth Control--some 68 Employees travel with each Cirque du Soleil Production, working in all kinds of jobs, but most importantly, Setting Up The Tents & Running The Show.
If you make your way up to Montreal or Québec, perhaps you can go to the Cirque du Soleil Circus School & become one of the Forty or Fifty Highly Trained Artists in each Traveling Cirque who Nightly Dazzle Thousands with their Amazing Juggling, Acrobatics, Balancing, Aerial Feats, Dancing, Singing, Clowning, & Parading Around the Semi Circular Stages in Glittering Costumes!
Think of the Possibilities!
There are now no less than Nineteen Cirque du Soleil Shows endlessly Touring Around the World!
When I arrived in Singapore, the first thing I saw was a Motorized Ad for Alegría, which I had recently seen in Berlin, but initially in Montreal.
Currently touring in Arenas are Varekai & Dralion.
Dug into the Sands of Las Vegas with Seeming Permanence are: Mystère, Ká, Zumanity, O, Criss Angel Believe, La Nouba, The Beatles Love, Michael Jackson’s One, & Zarkana, which recently played Radio City Music Hall.
Touring under the Blue & Yellow Striped Big Tops are: Quidam, Corteo, Kooza, Kurios, Totem, Ovo, Michael Jackson The Immortal, & Amaluna.
Seen Them All!
But--Would You Believe!--Amaluna played San José [CA] before Manhattan!
This is a Cross Country Tour & Amaluna had already played San Francisco.
Denver, yes. But San José?
Palo Alto may be the Heart of Silicon Valley, but San José has more Parking Spaces.
Oh! Time to Talk about Amaluna, which can be translated as Moon Love.
As with all of the Cirque du Soleil Spectaculars it has Outstanding Juggling, Acrobatics, Balancing, & Aerial Feats.
Yes, Indeed! It has All of the Above Circus Acts, but, of course, No Lions, Tigers, or Elephants.
For Amaluna, however, Director Diane Paulus’ Dramatic Organizing Principle--or Theme, as all these Shows have Special Themes--is an Adaptation of Chris Marlowe or Will Shakespeare’s The Tempest.
But this is Shakespeare with a Difference!
The King of the Magical Island in The Tempest has been De Throned--
The New Regime on that Isolated Island is Headed by Prospera, who is a Shaman with Magical Powers. She also plays a Magical Cello & Sings her way through the Show, as the Circular Stage Revolves & Stops & Revolves again.
Prospera is properly concerned for her Daughter Miranda, as there are really No Marriageable Males on the Island.
It is--as in the Classic Play--populated by Monsters, Fairies, Sprits, & What Have You.
Caliban is a Shakespearean Monster, of course, but here he has become the Lizard Tailed Cali, who is one of the most Amazing Jugglers I have ever seen!
In The Tempest, Miranda falls in Love with Ferdinand, but he must have drowned in that Sunken Ship that was sailing home from Claribel’s Marriage in Tunis.
Fortunately, Romeo has turned up as a Replacement Lover.
Both Romeo & Miranda are Expert & Athletic Performers, both Aloft & on the Stage.
The Moon Goddess--Not a Shakespearean--is, however, a Remarkable Aerialist!
Somehow, Richard Wagner’s Valkyries have flown over from Bayreuth to help Miranda liberate Romeo from Cali’s Vicious Clutches.
They Do Battle while flying around in Circles above the Astonished Audience at High Velocitiy through 360°. This is called the Aerial Straps.
Then there is this Central Prop, the Water Bowl, in which Miranda swims, discovering her Physicality & Sinuous Sexuality.
Romeo joins Miranda in the Water Bowl, where--according the Official Program--they "Innocently Play & Tentatively Kiss."
If Miranda is already Sexually Sinuous, how can she Pretend To Be Innocent?
Underwater, at that!
Other Outstanding Acts on the Enchanted Island--wonderfully imagined by Designer Scott Pask--include the Uneven Bars, the Teeterboard, the Chinese Pole, the Icarian Games, & the Watermeteors, not to overlook the Peacock Goddess, who flies aloft, with Broad Tailed Peacocks strutting about the Stage.
The Most Astonishing Act was, for me, the Balance Goddess.
One of the Fairy Creatures of the Magical Island came out to lay on stage what appeared to be Whale Bones of Increasing Lengths.
But No! They were actually Palm Leaf Ribs!
The Balance Goddess--a Deity unknown to the Greeks or Romans--began picking up the Palm Ribs, one by one, from Smallest to Largest, balancing each in turn until she was balancing what looked like an Immense Aerial Skeleton--with No Glue, Staples, or Scotch Tape to hold it together!
All these Wonders & the Union of Miranda & Romeo were Lavishly Costumed, Brilliantly Lighted & Imaginatively Environmented, especially with the Bamboo Like Branches that arched over the Stage, thanks to Scott Pask.
Not to Overlook Choreographer Karole Armitage, Costume Designer Mérédith Caron, Lighting Designer Matthieu Larrivée, Sound Designer Jacques Boucher, & the Composers, Bob et Bill!
So, when Amaluna arrives in your Town or City, Do Not Miss It!
But you don’t have to read Shakespeare’s The Tempest before you go.
- John Van Druten’s I REMEMBER MAMA [*****]
Bring a Box of Kleenex! Barbara Barrie Remembering Mamma Will Make the Tears Flow Freely.
I remember Steiner Street, but I never lived there, certainly not in the Wonderful Way that Kathryn Forbes did, with her Entire Norwegian Immigrant Family depending on Mama’s [Non Existent] Bank Account.
Most American Baby Boomers remember Haight Ashbury in San Francisco; I remember my Home Away from Home on Funston, high atop Craigmont, overlooking the Sunset District.
Much has been written about Haight Ashbury & the Summer of Love, but there was a Different Kind of Love on Steiner Street.
Young Katrin was determined to become an Author, but only after Mama had given Recipe Secrets to a Famous Lady Author, did she get the Homely Advice that made her also a Best Selling Author.
Write What you Know; What you have Seen; What you have Experienced; write about the People Around You: Who are they? What are Their Dreams? What have been Their Defeats.
Katrin--who had been under the Romantic Spell of Famous Authors, read to the Family every night by an Old Actor who boarded with them--abandoned Tale of Two Cities for her Tales of Steiner Street.
It became an Instant Best Seller, condensed by the Readers’ Digest, adapted as a Broadway Play, adapted as a Movie, adapted for Television, even turned into a Broadway Musical.
Famed Playwright John Van Druten--who seems to be having a Van Druten Festival this Season, with London Wall at the Mint & Others to come--was so moved by I Remember Mama that he was ingeniously able to blend all Kathryn Forbes’ individual Family Memoirs into a Memorable Family Drama.
Only now--after so many years of No Revivals, downstairs under Judson Memorial Church, in the Gym--a Company of Wonderful Women is lovingly bringing Mama, Katrin, Uncle Chris, Aunt Trina, Mr. Hyde, Nels, Dagmar, Mr. Thorkelsen, & Papa back to Vibrant Life.
When you enter the Gym--if you are lucky enough to get a Ticket, before this Potentially Award Winning Production closes on 20 April--you will find it filled with Dining Tables, some of them Set for Dinner.
There are Ten Tables--possibly symbolic of the Ten Tablets, or of Many Family Dinners--but when I saw them, I thought this would be a Dinner Theatre Version of I Remember Mama.
But the Table I had picked out was covered with Family Photos, not Dinner Plates, so I found a Wall Hugging Seat above the Sea of Tables.
What a Joy to see Barbara Barrie once again--although a Senior like me--now Transformed into an Eager Teen Ager, longing to be a Famous Writer.
I wish I had had a Mother like Barbara Andres’ Earth Mother Mama, but a Cranky Uncle Chris, like Lynn Cohen, would have been Difficult to Deal with.
This is an All Women Cast & they are All--Double Cast or not--very Impressive & very Human.
Here’s the Rest of this Role of Honor Steiner Streeters: Alice Cannon, Rita Gardner, Susan Lehman, Heather McRae, Phyllis Somerville, Louise Sorel, & Dale Soules.
Times were Tough in Depression Era San Francisco: Strikes & Lock Outs erased Pay Checks; Many had Little Food for the Table--some didn’t even have a Table, let alone Ten Tables; & there were those Star Boarders who paid with Checks written on Imagined Bank Accounts.
But Mama managed to Dole Out Enough Money to fund Each Week’s Needs for every Member of the Family.
Of course, all Pay Checks & Errand Money went into Mama’s Cash Box, but Not To Worry, for there was always Mama’s Bank Account to Fall Back On!
Even College could be Planned For, somehow. Mama didn’t have to go to the Bank or Write a Check.
The Astonishment in the Novel, the Play, the Movie, the TV Series, & the Musical, starring Liv Ullmann, was that there never was a Bank Account.
Mama had never even been Inside a Bank!
The Transport Company’s I Remember Mama--lovingly staged by Jack Cummings III--will certainly Transport you, not only to a Magical San Francisco & even to Northward Ukiah, but also to an Almost Forgotten Time when there were Mamas like Katrin’s.
- Lorraine Hansberry’s A RAISIN IN THE SUN [*****]
Denzel Washington Is Dynamic in Revived Raisin: Dreams Are Deferred--But Not Abandoned.
I had just wished for a Mama like Katrin’s Remembered Mama, when I went to the Ethel Barrymore Theatre to see Raisin in the Sun, ravishingly revived, with Latanya Richardson Jackson as Another Mother I wish I’d had.
The Initially Feckless Walter Lee Younger--passionately played by Denzel Washington--is Blessed to have the Wonderful Mother Younger that Latanya Richardson Jackson embodies: not only for him, but also for his Increasingly Neglected Wife, Ruth [Sophie Okoneda], his African Heritage & Medically Ambitious Sister, Beneatha [Anika Noni Rose], & his Sunny Son, Travis [Bryce Clyde Jenkins], all Outstanding Players.
I had forgotten what an Ingeniously Structured Drama Lorraine Hansberry gave us when she devised the Socially Complicated Confrontations in Raisin in the Sun.
Henrik Ibsen could not have done it more skillfully, but then he only had Neurotic Norwegians to work with & worry about.
When Raisin first opened on Broadway--with the All Black Younger Family preparing to move into the All White Clybourne Park in the Chicago Suburbs--who could have guessed that, Fifty Years Later, there would actually be a Play titled Clybourne Park? With the Black/White Equation reversed.
Lena Younger is definitely an Earth Mother, but her Daughter, Beneatha, aspires Higher: to Heal the Wounds of the Earthbound & Celebrate the Wonders of Mother Africa.
Odd that Hansberry gave her such a Name: Subtract an "a" & you have a Young Woman who is Beneath.
In a very real Sense, however, she is Beneath, because the Youngers are Dirt Poor, living in a Roach Infested Rental, with her Brother, Walter Lee, an impulsive Blowhard Dreamer, implicitly threatening her own Dreams.
But Beneatha is not only Smart: she is also Beautiful, attracting both the Rich George Murchison [Jason Dirden] & the Charming & Articulate Yoruban, Joseph Asagai [Sean Patrick Thomas].
Mama Younger receives a Five Figure Check: the Death Benefit from her Much Admired Late Husband’s Earthly Departure.
But she doesn’t have one of those Mama’s Bank Accounts.
After making a Down Payment on a Real Home in Whitey’s Clybourne Park, she gives the Remainder of the Thousands to Walter Lee, to Open an Account & to let him be the Head of the House at last.
Unfortunately, Obsessed with becoming an Entrepreneur, Walter Lee gives the Money to a Con Man, who runs off with it.
The Younger Family Fortunes could be Repaired by taking the Pay Off Money the White Welcoming Committee of Clybourne Park offer the Uppity African Americans who dare to take up Residence in an All White Enclave.
Walter Lee finally shows his Manhood & Courage by Refusing Their Offer.
The Moving Men enter to help the Youngers leave the Roaches behind.
What is left Unsaid & Unknown by Lorraine Hansberry is what Walter will become & do, once he is ensconced in Clybourne Park.
A Man like Walter--Black or White--does not really make Miraculous Character Changes, even though they may make Great Dramatic Finales.
Kenny Leon staged his Dream Cast in Mark Thompson’s properly Down Scale Rental.
- Scott Siegel’s BROADWAY BY THE YEAR©: The Broadway Musicals of 1940-64 [*****]
Once Again, A Star Studded Memory Lane Wends Its Way Across the Town Hall Stage!
Just Imagine! All the Tony Awards went to Music Man in 1957, but the Hit Song Scott Siegel chose for that year was Maria, from West Side Story, which the Critics somehow didn’t Get or Understand--all those Street Gangs & their Flashy Girls.
This Maria was hauntingly sung by Brian Charles Rooney, but it wasn’t the only Maria Invocation in this Section of Scott’s Hundred Year Broadway Musical Roundup.
How about They Call the Wind Maria, from the 1951 Paint Your Wagon?
This was also hauntingly sung, but this time by Aaron Lazar, fresh from The Wolf of Wall Street.
Paint Your Wagon, though not initially a Successful Show, is a Favorite of mine because it is based on Bret Harte’s Gold Rush Short Story, The Millionaire of Rough & Ready, which is where I come from, in the High Sierras of California.
What a Feast of Lucky Strike Hit Parade Songs: Melodies & Lyrics well known to the predominantly Senior Audience at Town Hall: Moi included.
I Grew Up & Matured with such Songs as Bewitched, Bothered, & Bewildered, If I Loved You, I Love Paris, If Ever I Would Leave You, & Climb Every Mountain.
What I did not Grow Up With was the Amazing Roster of Broadway Stars Scott Siegel always assembles. He has promised us 100 Years of Broadway Musicals with 100 Stars.
Of course, it’s wonderful to have Anita Gillette return--after Half a Century--to sing again Nightlife, from All American . Anita looks & sounds Just Great!
But My Childhood Memories date back considerably before then: I was Sixteen when we all first heard People Will Say We’re in Love--sung Lovingly in Town Hall by Marissa McGowan--but I had never yet even seen a Broadway Musical.
Although Oklahoma! opened in 1943 & soon began touring--if not to Rough & Ready & Grass Valley--we all knew something New had happened to the American Musical.
I hadn’t even seen a Broadway Musical on tour in San Francisco yet: Oklahoma! was my first, at the Historic Curran Theatre.
Thanks to the Golden Age of Radio, however, we knew all of the New Show Songs. You could still buy Sheet Music & learn to play them on your Piano, Guitar, or Harmonica.
How about Come Rain or Come Shine , When I’m Not Near the Girl I Love, from Finian’s Rainbow , or This Nearly Was Mine, from South Pacific ?
Even though the amazing Marilyn Maye sang on the Johnny Carson some 72 Times, she is still able to Belt Them Out today: She gave us both Before the Parade Passes By, from Hello, Dolly!  & Guess Who I Saw Today, from New Faces of 1952 [1952 of course!].
Among the Best Acts onstage in Town Hall were Patrick Page & Backup Chorus in Captain Hook’s Waltz, from Peter Pan  & Erin & Jeffry Denman demonstrating that Taps Is Still Tops, in Two Lost Souls, from Damn Yankees .
Among the Outstanding Broadway Stars & Lesser Luminaries on hand & on stage were Robert Cuccioli, William Michals, Amber Iman, Alexandra Silber, Lisa Howard, Nancy Anderson, Maxine Linehan, & Liz Larsen.
When Ben Davis sang If Ever I Would Leave You, I was reminded how badly Camelot was initially staged.
It seemed a really Lame Show, with some Hit Songs.
For What Do the Simple Folk Do?, Richard Burton sat at one side of the stage, with Guenevere [sp?] on the Opposite: Ho Hum, Truly Dumb!
Scott Siegel should do a Print Out of his Informative Narration: there’s a Lot of Fascinating Background there that we’d like to Remember.
Without having to take Notes while Listening!
Caricature of Glenn Loney in header is by Sam Norkin.
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