| return to what's new | more reviews | go to other departments |



By Glenn Loney, October 1998--Part Two

Kathleen Chalfant in
Kathleen Chalfant as Dr. Vivian Bearing, coping with terminal ovarian cancer, in Margaret Edson's "Wit." Photo by T. Charles Erickson. (See #13)
[10] Ken Starr's "Measure for Measure"
[11] Leonard Crofoot in "Nijinsky Speaks"
[12] Marco Polo Sings Again for John Guare
[13] Kathleen Chalfant in "Wit"
[14] Mother & Daughter/Von Horvath & Mishima
[15] Bertolt Brecht & His Women "Revising Germany"
[16] Zingaro "Eclipse" Zinger
[17] Fascist "Tosca" at NY City Opera
[18] Orff & Weill Teamed at City Opera
[19] Handel's Magical "Partenope"
[20] "Culture of Desire" or Andy Warhol in Hell
[21] "Secret History" on Seward HS Roof
[22] Guatemalan "Dream of Wealth"

You can use your browser's "find" function to skip to articles on any of these topics instead of scrolling down. Click the "FIND" button or drop down the "EDIT" menu and choose "FIND."
Copyright © 1998 Glenn Loney. Illustration by Sam Norkin.

For editorial and commercial uses of the Glenn Loney INFOTOGRAPHY/ArtsArchive of international photo-images, contact THE EVERETT COLLECTION, 104 West 27th Street, NYC 10010. Phone: 212-255-8610/FAX: 212-255-8612.

Kenneth Starr’s “Measure for Measure”—

Target Margin Equates Angelo with Bill &
Monica with the Virtuous Novice Nun Isabella

Ken Stazrr's
Andrew Dolan and Sheri Graubert in Target Margin's unusual version of "Measure for Measure." Photo by Jamey O'Quinn.
Trying to make various Shakespearean comedies and tragedies paradigms for—or parodies of—current celebrity hi-jinx or epic political mistakes is not one of the Great Ideas of Western Man.

Nor of New York avant-garde directors such as David Herskovits of Target Margin Theatre. Usually, Target Margin can be counted on delivering a strangely stylish, elegantly encoded, and powerfully played interpretation of known classics and neglected dramas.

This time out, however, they are not quite up to the mark—in style or in concentration—in presenting "Measure for Measure" as a White House Parable. The Bard's seemingly incorruptible Angelo is hardly Bill Clinton.

When the dark Duke of Vienna appoints him all-powerful Regent, Angelo has no Paula or Gennifer in his past. Nor is the object of his perverted lust another Monica.

Shakespeare's Isabella is an almost frigid virgin, longing for the sexual sanctuary of the cloister. She is even insistent that her beloved brother die for his pre-marital fling, rather than compromise her maidenhead to save his life.

Monica didn't move from Willamette College to Washington, DC, to enter a nunnery. Altoids are not Rosary Beads.

Ignoring all Herskovits' imagined parallels between M & M and the Oval Orifice, the performances were certainly satisfactory, some even impressive. What's more, the Bard's text could actually be clearly understood!

“Nijinsky Speaks” Through Leonard Crofoot

Nijinsky Speaks
Leonard Crofoot as the talented and tormented dancer-choreographer Nijinsky. Photo by Robin Palanker.
Leonard Crofoot could continue to evoke Nijinsky in his madness and in his prime for a very long time. His one-man dance-show, "Nijinsky Speaks," is so compelling, so fascinating, and so expertly performed that it should be very widely seen.

Crofoot should certainly plan to share this emotionally charged show at the major European Festivals. It seems a natural for a "Fringe First" award at the Edinburgh International Festival.

Although his audience meets his Nijinsky when he has already been confined in a mental-asylum for years, they are soon transported back to this remarkable dancer/choreographer's beginnings.

Crofoot proves himself to be a remarkable dancer as well, for he briefly recreates some of Nijinsky's starring roles at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg. And he also sketches the outlines of some of Nijinsky's own revolutionary choreographies for Serge Diaghilev's Ballets Russes.

This is all the more astonishing, for Crofoot is wearing what appear to be—but surely are not—soft black street-shoes. His Nijinsky is, in fact, wearing ordinary street-clothes, not faun-spotted ballet leotards.

He is exceptionally nimble in demonstrating the distinctive dances, but he is also passionate, stubborn, infuriated, and baffled by turns, as he relives the sad story of Nijinsky's descent into madness.

Although Crofoot wrote his own performance-text, it has been resourcefully staged by Dom Salinaro on a stage bare but for a single chair.

“Marco Polo Sings a Solo” Again for John Guare

Marco Polo Sings a Solo
Polly Holliday and Bruce Norris as Mother and Son in John Guare's absurdist fable, "Marco Polo Sings a Solo," at the Signature Theatre. Photo by Susan Johann.
Who can forget one of John Guare’s earliest Absurdist comedies—"To Wally Pantoni We Leave a Credenza” ?

Answer: Almost everyone but Guare and this reporter!

It’s the one point of reference we have whenever we meet. Which—fame being what it is for one of America's more ingenious playwrights—is not so often.

I saw Wally Pantoni, the thoughtful young waiter, and his favorite customers, a lonely elderly couple, years ago down at the Van Damm Theatre. This was in the heyday of the Playwrights Unit, sponsored by Edward Albee, Clinton Wilder, and Dick Barr.

Thanks to Albee's own initial efforts in the realm of Absurd Theatre—"Sandbox," "Zoo Story," and "The American Dream"—AlBarrWild were very interested in encouraging and developing imaginative young playwrights.

Guare's amusing conceits in his hilarious but touching one-acter included the problems of living in a pie-wedge-shaped studio-apartment in a new New York high-rise.

With walls so thin you could not only hear everything said or done next door, but you could also see shadows of the goings-on through the partitions.

"To Wally Pantoni We Leave a Credenza" was about the often desperate strategies for survival Manhattanites must devise. But it was also about the terrible loneliness which can afflict old people with no children or relatives.

In effect, despite some wonderful verbal craziness—which foreshadowed Guare's immensely popular "The House of Blue Leaves"—this short comedy was not quite so Absurd as the real lives of the New Yorkers it represented.

When Guare's "Rich and Famous" was later staged at the Public Theatre, it was hilariously clear that collaborating with Leonard Bernstein was an even more Absurd—even bizarre—experience.

The premiere of "Marco Polo Sings a Solo" at the Public also excited a lot of interest. Press-releases which promised a spectacle set on an ice-floe at the North Pole, during the filming of a bizarre motion-picture, suggested that Guare had outdone himself in the realm of the Absurd Theatre.

In the event, for many spectators the curiously crazed characters and peculiar situations were just too Absurd to fit into any frame of satiric reference. Why would anyone want to make a film about The Travels of Marco Polo at the North Pole?

Despite a handsomely designed and brilliantly performed production at the Signature Theatre, however, that still proves to be a problem.

But this ironic commentary on human egotism does have an added fascination now, for Guare years ago had set it in 1999, a split-second before the Millennium.

Like Jules Verne, the young Future-Imagining playwright looked too far ahead. He overshot his target. Some of his implicit predictions seem now almost quaint—products of a sensibility of a generation ago.

Frankly, I thought his original caricatures of self-obsessed Over-Achievers were immensely amusing years ago at the Public Theatre. And I still find them so today.

"Marco Polo Sings a Solo," in essence, is a comic kaleidoscope of Human Pretension. There is not a character in Guare's tart spoof who is not desperate for some kind of Self-Realization.

Though all of them obviously will never manage to obey the Oracle of Delphi's command—or was it Socrates?—to "Know Thyself!"

A colleague commented as we left the Signature: "This doesn't hang together. It doesn't make any sense!"

Well, that was the whole point of the Absurd—on the surface, at least.

But the best of Absurdist dramas and comedies permit their viewer or readers to make sense out of seeming nonsense. I still find "Krapp's Last Tape" pathetic and heart-breaking.

Ionesco's "Bald Soprano" long ago said the last word on the banalities of humans social conventions and polite conversations.

Mel Shapiro staged "Marco Polo" for the Signature, as he did years ago at the Public. He was ably abetted by E. David Cosier's set, Teresa Snider-Stein's costumes, and Brian Aldous' lighting.

As the narrator/film-maker Stony McBride, Bruce Norris ran a wonderfully wide gamut of emotions—with an amazingly unflagging energy. As his aggressively unfaithful wife, Judith Hawking was a ferociously comic delight.

As was Jack Koenig as Tom Wintermouth, her smug lover and World-Class Diplomat. Having your lower extremities chomped off by pirhanas and not cry out—while you are hanging onto the edge of a slab of ice at the North Pole—requires real sang-froid!

Did John Guare's vision of strange doings in the Polar Regions inspire Tony Kushner when he created those icy Eskimo hallucinations in "Angels in America."

John Donne Revisited in Margaret Edson’s “Wit”

Kathleen Chalfant in
Kathleen Chalfant as Dr. Vivian Bearing, coping with terminal ovarian cancer, in Margaret Edson's "Wit." Photo by T. Charles Erickson. (See #13)
Even at the outset of the new season, it is safe to predict that Kathleen Chalfant will be nominated for all sorts of acting awards at its close. If not well before that!

Her performance as Professor Vivian Bearing—who dies of cancer before the eyes of the audience—is absolutely amazing.

This may not seem the kind of scenario many theatre-goers would stand in line to see. Especially older, more vulnerable potential spectators.

It would be a major mistake to miss Margaret Edson's deeply insightful play of "Wit," however.

How Dr. Bearing bears her pain—and her swift but painful review of her past life as a brilliant scholar of John Donne's religious poetry and an often remote and judgmental teacher—provide a kind of catharsis seldom to be found in modern theatre.

Wit, in the current sense, abounds in Edson's thoughtful drama.

Cancer is surely no laughing matter, but Dr. Vivian manages to find ironic amusement even in the hospital humiliations to which she is subjected by ambitious and indifferent doctors who know she cannot be healed.

Only a nurse [Paula Pizzi]—with no understanding of philosophical concerns—has the common humanity to soothe and protect Prof. Bearing.

In the Elizabethan era, Wit had more weight as a word. It referred to Conscience and to Understanding.

As a child and later as a literature student—enacted in brief but telling flashbacks—Dr. Bearing reached out for attention, love, and understanding. Which she was largely denied.

That denial, later flashbacks reveal, colored her own attitudes about her scholarship, teaching, and almost non-existent human relationships.

In her last days and hours in the hospital, Dr. Bearing is searching her conscience and coming to an understanding about how she has lived her life.

A healing moment comes at the end, when her old role-model English Lit professor [Helen Stenborg] comes to see her and finds her in deep sleep, bordering on death.

This now gray-haired grandmother lies down beside her on the hospital-bed and reads her a children's story she has with her. A story Vivian's own father should have read to her when she was a little girl.

This production was initially staged—with very brisk pacing—by Derek Anson Jones, for the Long Wharf Theatre. Robert LuPone's MCC Theatre brought it into Manhattan for a brief showcase run.

Transferred to either an Off-Broadway or a small Broadway theatre, it should have a long run. It needs and wants to be seen.

Moving and acerbic as Chalfant is in the role of Dr. Bearing, other actresses are sure to want to play this role. It has already been very effectively played in California at the South Coast Rep.

Most amazing is the fact that the ingenious author of this drama is an elementary school-teacher. Her knowledge and understanding of John Donne's poems dealing with death and its anticipation are very impressive.

But she has also been able to make that understanding dramatically effective—without turning her play into an Eng. Lit. Seminar.

And Margaret Edson has also been able to deal with the ordeal of dying in a frantic modern university research hospital with power, skill, pacing, and humor. Most important of all, she shows really great compassion and humanity in her definition of all her characters.

This is a drama which—like Jasmin Reza's "Art," but for rather different reasons—is sure to be very widely produced around the world.

Mother & Daughter Animate Von Horvath & Mishima!

Suzi Takahashi, Kim Ima, and Masa Sakamaki are in conflict in Yukio Mishima's "Hanjo," staged by Elizabeth Swain for Threshold Theatre's "Caught in the Act" Festival.
After an exhausting gamut of theatre-experiences on the Edinburgh International Festival Fringe, I returned home at summer's end to the last moments of Manhattan's own International Fringe Festival.

As I had been urging just such a local copy of the Edinburgh Fringe for years, I thought I at least ought to sample some of the fare.

My good fortune was to catch the last performance of Odon von Horvath's bitterly ironic social drama, "Faith, Hope, and Charity."

Produced by the Pittsburgh Classical Repertory Theatre, this intimate staging starred the lovely Kate Anthony. Even as the desperate young Elizabeth—trying unsuccessfully to survive in the Great Depression in Germany—she was radiantly appealing and darkly despondent by turns.

Von Horvath's title is, of course, deeply cynical. None of those qualities manifests itself in his drama of despair in Weimar Germany—with the National Socialists waiting in the wings to seize power.

Kate Anthony's affecting performance was complemented by an able cast, staged by Carl Forsman. Some role-doublings were confusing, however.

Soon after seeing Ms. Anthony interpret Von Horvath's Elizabeth, it was time to see Yukio Mishima's "Hanjo," staged by Elizabeth Swain, Anthony's talented actress/director/professor mother.

It was included in a program of four short dramas at Here, an interesting venue which has several performance spaces, a coffee-bar, and a large art-room where someone's potential garage-sale may be deployed as an art-installation.

The presenter was the Threshold Theatre Company, which calls its Obie Award annual festival, "Caught in the Act." The plays chosen are all "modern international one-act plays in English translation." Some of them seemed to have lost something in translation.

But not the Mishima. This interesting one-acter, translated by Donald Keene, pits the neglectful lover Yoshio [Masa Sakamaki] against the fiercely independent but lonely artist Jutsiko [Suzi Takahashi].

She has taken in the abandoned Geisha Hanako [Kim Ima], who has been desperately hoping the man she briefly met as an entertainer and fell in love with will come for her.

The interplay of need and desire was subtly suggested but not overemphasized. Dr. Swain is not only very sensitive in working with performers, but she has a special intuition about the inner lives of plays.

Her stagings when she was at Barnard College of Columbia University were outstanding. It was amazing the mature performances she could help student actors develop.

Not to overlook the overall design, pacing, and integration of theatrical elements in her Barnard productions. Especially memorable was Lael Tucker Wertenbaker's "Our Country's Good," a play of which I'm not very fond, in fact.

Ms. Swain's interpretation and staging made me reconsider the play. Now that she is teaching at Marymount College, I'm looking forward to a new Swain staging.

Bertolt Brecht and His Women in East Berlin—
“Revising Germany” at the Castillo Theatre

Revising Germany
Bertolt Brecht [David Nackman] and Heiner Müller [Roger Grunwald] in Fred Newman's "Revising Germany" at the Castillo Theatre. Photo by Guy Kloppenburg.
Before my pilgrimage to the Castillo Theatre Complex—on Greenwich Street, almost on the banks of the Hudson River—I had no idea that its Artistic Director Fred Newman is "America's Foremost Political Playwright."

At least that's what the Castillo brochures assert about the bossman. It's certainly a title that doesn't seem to be up for grabs at the moment. Neil Simon isn't about to challenge Newman's presumed pre-eminence.

But Newman's bio in the Brecht program cites a fairly long list of politically oriented play-titles. The fact that I'd never heard of, read, or seen any of them before my exposure to "Revising Germany" may well be a personal shortcoming.

Newman and his adherents and acolytes—working in the handsomely equipped Castillo premises—are "dedicated to multiculturalism, developmental theatre, and independence." His new Political Play was described in a press-blurb as dealing with the dreams Bertolt Brecht and his closest co-workers had of remaking [East] Germany when they returned from Santa Monica after World War II, to found the famed Berliner Ensemble.

In the event, though Brecht may certainly have hoped his plays would have some beneficial effects leading to Social Change behind the Iron Curtain and the Berlin Wall, that did not happen.

In fact, Brecht's Agit-Prop Alienation-Effect Teaching-Plays for the Proletariat were always more popular in the West, especially among the more affluent theatre-intellectuals of America and Britain.

West or East, tired Workers in the postwar era always preferred some beers, some smokes, some laughs, and maybe even some TV—rather than having to sit through propaganda plays by Brecht or anyone else.

Whenever I was in West Berlin—or touring in East Germany—I made a point of seeing productions at the Berliner Ensemble. And I often encountered theatre colleagues, not to mention numbers of theatre-students from the West.

On one memorable occasion—when a special Berliner Ensemble production was closed to the public—Brecht's widow and its director, Helene Weigel, grudgingly permitted me to sit in her loge and watch the performance.

The event was a celebration of Lenin's 100th Birthday. The dramatic fare consisted of scenes featuring Lenin from the Ensemble's repertory. These included such Socialist Literary Landmarks as "Kremlin Chimes."

The exclusive audience for this Political Theatre Treat were factory workers from a Berlin suburb. On the hottest day, there they were in their stuffy black suits.

If any fell asleep—and more than a few did—they were prodded roughly awake by cadre-members in the aisles.

When I talked with Weigel after the performance, she was stoic: "Herr Professor, I know these Germans!"

She wanted to know if the Culture Ministry had asked me for my opinion of what I was going to see at the Ensemble.

Had they asked me to tell them if I thought the Berliner Ensemble was becoming a Theatre Museum under her direction?

When they approved my critic's visa, they had in fact asked me for a report. Which I did not tender.

Very soon thereafter, Helene Weigel was given the fiercely innovative and politically committed director Ruth Berghaus as her "assistant." Six months later, Weigel was dead. And Berghaus took over the Ensemble for some years.

Fred Newman's play doesn't deal with any of this Post-Brecht aftermath. Nor does it deal in a major way with Brecht's postwar accommodation to the Soviets and the DDR Regime. Günther Grass did that long ago in "The Proletarians Rehearse the Uprising."

Newman does, however, make the point that Brecht—very soon after his flight from Nazi Germany—rapidly grasped the real nature of Stalin and Soviet Communism under his despotic rule.

In Newman's play, when in Russia—preparing for the journey across Siberia to sunny Santa Monica—Brecht often has to silence outbursts from his women against the Soviet Way of Life.

What "Revising Germany" is, in fact, is a collage of evocative songs—some from Brecht/Weill collaborations, biographical events, and recorded comments by Brecht and the women closest to him.

These help define him—both before and during World War II—as man, manipulator, lover, propagandist, and dramatist.

Newman notes that his play was influenced by John Fuegi's controversial Brecht biography, "Brecht & Co."

Brecht was a genius who was not ashamed to use the works of others, with or without credit. Without the creative writings and suggestions of the slavishly devoted Elizabeth Hauptmann, Newman's own drama implies, Brecht could not have been Brecht.

A very capable cast animated this bio-drama. It also included the late Heiner Müller, who for a time was a director of the Berliner Ensemble.

Newman and Dan Friedman shared directorial tasks on the tiny stage.

Newman regards himself and the Castillo Theatre as foremost in America in interpreting the works and theories of Müller. That may be a claim no one wants to challenge.

Müller's Bayreuth Festival staging of Wagner's "Tristan und Isolde," for instance, shows no special directorial genius. Were it not for the striking and highly unusual visualizations of designer Erich Wonder—and Wagner's music, of course—it would be optically and emotionally static.

Nonetheless, it is being revived this coming summer in Richard Wagner's historic Festspielhaus. It does have the advantage of seeming Post-Modernist, without a trace of Political Theatre to distress traditional Bayreuth audiences. As for German Revisionism, Müller's "Tristan" is more cosmetic than revelatory.

Horses Eclipse Korean Musical Horrors
And Arty Pretension in Zingaro Equus-Opera “Eclipse”

After the rave reviews and general excitement last season about the beauties of the Zingaro Equestrian Theatre—which I missed both in Edinburgh and Manhattan—I was looking forward to something quite remarkable down in the circus-tent in Battery Park.

That a quarter to a third of the seats were empty at show-time should have warned me that something was amiss. Perhaps the word was already out that Bartabas had made a fatal artistic miscalculation in setting his horse-fair to some very unusual traditional Korean Music.

Long accustomed to the musical modes of Peking and Cantonese Opera, I found the songs of the Pansori Singer, YooJin Chung, exotic and strange—but not easy on the ears. I hoped that the great moon—or was it a sun, about to be eclipsed?—behind her might mysteriously mute the music.

Although the audience was treated to the paces of a number of beautiful horses, the human postures upon and around them were both repetitive and unimaginative.

It was clear that Bartabas must have believed them artistically potent. Otherwise, why leave them in the show?

His own stylized preening with two large fans—on horseback—was almost embarrassing in its banal repetitions and apparent self-regard.

His wonderfully trained horses had good reason to bear themselves proudly. But his mute, slow-motion exercise in Ego was baffling.

For that matter, some of the bareback riding and rump-sliding seemed a bit sloppy. And seldom either breath-taking or beautiful.

This kind of riding is done routinely—and far more skillfully—by Ringling Bros. riders.

So Bartabas and his troupe were sadly eclipsed—not by a Korean sun or moon-disc—but by their own marvelous mounts.

This was definitely not Cirque du Soleil on horseback!

Nights at the City Opera—

Tosca" Under Il Duce!

Designer Michael Yeargan is a very busy artist these days. His vision of Tennessee Williams' "Streetcar Named Desire" was recently unveiled in San Francisco for the premiere of Andre Previn's new opera of the same name.

Despite Yeargan's reputation for ingenuity and innovation, his set was more an homage to the original Broadway production.

Not so his "Tosca" for New York City Opera! He and director Mark Lamos have re-imagined Puccini's opera occurring in Rome under Il Duce, Benito Mussolini.

References in the libretto to a Napoleonic defeat seem inconsequential in the larger scheme of illustrating the abuses of power and the unbridled sexual appetites of Fascist Overlords.

Considering the known lusts of Nazi Germany's all-powerful Minister of Propaganda, Dr. Joseph Goebbels, Lamos and Yeargan might have set this "Tosca" in Berlin. But there are too many local references which bind it to Rome.

Nonetheless, there is a thoroughly Nazi ambiance to some of the stage-pictures. Not least in the uniforms, for Black Shirts always look more powerful and menacing than Brown Shirts. As costume-designer Constance Hoffman well understands.

Most visually striking is the set for Scarpia's Commandatura. A wide diagonal slash of vivid red suggests an almost Expressionist doorway.

With a Bauhaus scaffold in front of it, to suggest the outlines of an imposing chamber, the scene looks like a Nazi Power Poster.

Unfortunately, this basic set-unit of scaffolding doesn't work so well in evoking the great Church of Santa Maria della Valle. That is always a problem with an all-purpose, elemental, and somewhat abstract architectural structure.

This kind of design-solution has long been favored by Lamos at the Hartford Stage, where he was Artistic Director until recently. It has also worked well for Glimmerglass Opera, which premiered this production before sending it off to its New York affiliate, the City Opera.

It would certainly be much admired in Central Europe, where designers and directors are in a ceaseless search for new ways to look at old operas.

And it is a refreshing change from the tons of verismo scenery "Tosca" productions usually require in more traditional houses than the New York State Theatre. It concentrates viewer-attention on the characters and confrontations, rather than on the lavishness—or faithfulness to historic models—of the opera's scenery.

It is also economical, and it obviously is easier to tour.

Isabelle Kabatu was a good, if not thrilling, Tosca. Mark Delavan was a devilish Scarpia, deserving the dagger-thrust she gave him. Deep Penetration—but not as he had planned!

As Mario Cavaradossi, Antonio Nagore seemed more earnest than artistic, more stolid than romantic, and more effortful than powerful.

Under George Manahan's steady baton, this was a fairly effective piece of theatre, without being vocally transcendent or emotionally very exciting.

Carl Orff & Kurt Weill—Moral Parallels?

“Carmina Burana” & “Seven Deadly Sins”

Carl Orff's Masterwork, "Carmina Burana," certainly has more in common with "The Seven Deadly Sins"—as imagined by Bert Brecht and Kurt Weill—than with Stravinsky's "Oedipus Rex." That was the short work with which it was previously paired at City Opera.

With its thundering invocation to the Goddess of Fortune, its songs of Courtly Love, and its riotous medieval songs of raw lust, naked hunger, and seamy debauchery, Orff's virtual oratorio has far more in common with the amoral adventures of Anna I and Anna II, crossing America to earn money to build their family's little house back home on the Mississippi.

The earlier linkage may have been remotely suggested by the fact that Fortune is said to be Blind. And, at the end of his tragedy, so is Oedipus.

But then so are Cupid/Amor and Justice, as well. Zeus really needed an eye-doctor on Olympus!

The trendy modernization in performance of the texts of the medieval lyrics Orff set so stunningly doesn't really relate to their content. Especially when the men all shoot up.

This updating does, however, echo the emotions and the music of the settings. And Donald Byrd's direction and choreography do seem to make a strong impression on younger opera-goers.

Virginia Grasso, John Daniecki, and John Hancock were effective as the "Carmina" soloists.

John Conklin—another veteran of Hartford Stage—designed the elemental settings for both works. His eminently functional and sturdy moderne tables can surely be used off-stage as well.

Emily Golden was splendid as Weill's Anna I—the one who sings, while Ellen Lauren was quite graceful as Brecht's Anna II—the one who dances. And they looked enough alike to indeed be twins—or halves of the same split-personality.

Anne Bogart—very sensitive to Women's Issues—staged their Sins. Which, interestingly enough, do have some relationship to the Mad Consumerism of her current NY Theatre Workshop "Culture of Desire," featuring Andy Warhol and Diana Vreeland.

Derrick Inouye conducted the Weill score, with Stewart Robertson interpreting Orff.

Handling Handel’s “Partenope”

Despite all the current hype about the previously unnoticed excellences of Georg Friedrich Händel's long neglected opera seria, "Partenope," it is not nearly as effective—as a work of music-theatre—as his "Xerse" or "Giulio Cesare."

Nonetheless, in its current wildly Post-Modernist Glimmerglass/City Opera revival, it does prove astonishingly stage-worthy, despite a cumbersome moralizing plot.

A very major reason for this is the outstanding young cast—which sings and acts "Partenope" with all their considerable energy and talents. As if they entirely believed in what they are doing on stage!

So audiences eagerly suspend their street-smart disbelief. Notable are Lisa Saffer, as Partenope, and the remarkable counter-tenor, Bejun Mehta, as Prince Armindo of Rhodes.

Others who also shine are David Walker, Jennifer Dudley, and Eduardo Chama. George Manahan conducts this ensemble as though he were a Siamese Twin to all of them.

John Conklin's remarkably mysterious Post-Modernist unit-set—a trick-box with big and little doors and sliding scenic-shutters—handsomely complements the actions and passions.

Though it is not clear what some of Conklin's various symbols—among them: trees, globes, and spheres—actually represent.

This production has been playing to sold-out houses. So it's to be hoped it will return to the City Opera repertory very soon!

Other Voices & Devices/Other Rooms & Stages—

Culture of Desire” at NY Theatre Workshop—
In Hell with Andy Warhol and Anne Bogart!

Revising Germany
Warholian can of Campbel's soup, redesigned for Anne Bogart's "Culture of Desire" at New York Theatre Workshop.
This amusing counter-consumer culture-satire was unfairly condemned by some critics—who obviously wished it had been conceived by Thorsten Veblen and choreographed by Wittgenstein.

It is really unfair to expect anything philosophically profound from Anne Bogart, who conceived and directed "Culture of Desire."

For that matter, it's unreal to expect profundity of any kind from such a free-for-all format. Or from a primarily visual satire which has Andy Warhol at its deliberately vacuous center.

If you have ever been upstate to Saratoga out of racing-season, you know how boring things can become.

Small wonder then that Bogart and her SITI performance-accomplices found that Saratoga supermarket shopping-carts make really neat vehicles for propelling their larger cultural vehicle around a fairly bare stage.

The high point of the performances on East 4th Street—at the New York Theatre Workshop—was in fact a wonderfully comic and taut choreography of carts and consumer-characters.

Bogart's motivating question is: "When did we transform from citizens of the United States of America to consumers of the United States of Amnesia?"

[This quote quite upset my theatre-guest, who last year sent me his new play, "The United States of Amnesia."]

Anne Bogart's astounding insight that Americans are now ravenous, unthinking consumers may be a bit of an overstatement. Not every one is getting Oral Sex on demand. Or on call!

She notes that her desire to buy everything in sight on entering an upstate K-Mart started her theatrical investigations about the nature of American Consumerism.

But Bogart's urge to buy, buy, buy may not extend across America.

Some of us are still darning our own socks. And pressing out the wrinkles in that old blue shopping-bag from Tiffany's.

Bogart's vision of Shoppers' Hell is, however, most amusing. Especially when she sends Andy Warhol to explore it, led by Diana Vreeland [in drag] as Dante's guide to the Underworld, a black-wigged Vergil.

Bogart did not take this device to the Depths of Hell—which could have been very acute satire indeed. But how many in the audience know "The Divine Comedy" so well that they'd realize how little use she made of the device?

As portrayed here—by a wistful bewigged cross-dresser—Andy Warhol seemed a lonely, empty, unhappy soul. Whose almost tearful effectlessness belied the nefarious power his art-replications of Campbell's Soup cans and US currency had on stimulating the Culture of Consumerism. At least as suggested by Bogart's satire.

On the Seward Park HS Roof with En Garde Arts—
A Raucous “Secret History of the Lower East Side”

Seward Park High School is not far from the Oldest Synagogue in the City—where several interesting shows were staged last season. It's also not far from Katz's Delicatessen and its fabled brisket.

This solidly-built yellow-brick schoolhouse has an extensive and playable roof-area. It's even divided into three wings, joined at one end by the front facade of the building.

So this daytime athletic venue must have seemed a natural for En Garde Arts latest on-site evocation of New York History. It is, in fact, a space with real potential—and a great view of some of Manhattan's illuminated skyscrapers.

Unfortunately, "The Secret History of the Lower East Side" raised the dubious art of Coarse Acting to new levels of Sound and Fury. Signifying almost nothing.

Separate groups of spectators were led around the roof by girl-guides with phony names and equally fake Lower East Side roots.

There were three extended monologues in specific spaces, the best of which was Alice Tuan's "New Culture for a New Country."

These were buffered by three shorter historical "vignettes." As in some Medieval Mystery Play Cycles, all six were repeated until all groups of spectators had seen them.

One of the vignettes sought to replicate the boisterous, even murderous, activities in a notorious Irish bar. My guest that evening was in the process of reading Luc Sante's book about the Lower East Side.

"This is almost word-for-word!" he said. But I couldn't find Sante listed in the program as one of the collaborators.

Guatemalan “Dream of Wealth”
Transplanted Below Canal Street

Dream of Wealth
Magaly Colimon and Gilberto Arribas in Arthur Giron's "A Dream of Wealth." Photo by Gerry Goodstein.
Arthur Giron—an experienced playwright and an able teacher of playwriting—has included such a wealth of incident and such a weight of historical significance in his new play, "Dream of Wealth," that only a film could do it justice in scope and power.

It certainly has all the elements to make a visually striking and emotionally involving motion-picture. Not to overlook the sex and violence!

Giron comes from Guatemala and well knows its history of exploitation at the hands of Americans. Its development as a Banana Republic is chronicled in this play, as is one man's dream of building a railroad across impossible terrains to make himself rich.

He also spawns a son on a native woman whom he refuses to marry. When this energetic and intelligent boy becomes a man, he discovers there is a racial barrier he cannot cross.

Rediscovering his native ties with Nature and his own people, he rebels against the American aliens. But he is brutally killed for his actions.

The southern novelist, William Faulkner, believed the earth of America was cursed by the blood that soaked into it from Native Indians and Black Slaves who died because of brutal exploitation and murder by white men.

There is something similar at work in Giron's Guatemalan Nightmare. But the white foreigners who raped this primal paradise were not emigrant settlers who wanted to make the country their own homeland.

They were crass, money-hungry exploiters with no love of the land nor its people. The heritage of their depredations remains.

As mounted by Urban Stages—and directed by Richard Harden—Giron's complicated script cries out for cinematic treatment and the deft visual action that can replace textual explanations and descriptions.

Derek Stenborg's colorful multi-purpose setting was evocative of the beauties of what was once a Domain of great Mayan Lords. [Loney]

Return to top of page.

Copyright © Glenn Loney 1998. No re-publication or broadcast use without proper credit of authorship. Suggested credit line: "Glenn Loney, New York Theatre Wire." Reproduction rights please contact: jslaff@nytheatre-wire.com.

Dining before or after theatre? Click here . . .

| home | listings | columnists | reviews | what's new? | cue-to-cue | people | welcome |
| museums | recordings | what's cool? | who's hot? | coupons | publications | classified |