Posted in adaptation, classic, Classic Stage Company, Conor McPherson, dark drama, domestic drama, drama, naturalistic, psychological drama, Shariffa Ali, Shariffa Chilemo Ali, Strindberg, Strindberg adaptation, Victoria Clark, Yael Farber

Cruel and fierce

Photo © Joan Marcus
Patrice Johnson Chevannes as Christine and James Udom, as John

Sometimes it’s the setting, the social fabric of a place, that reflects the context of a work. August Strindberg set his plays in his native Sweden; these settings are often remote and austere; Strindberg’s characters are motivated by a psychology both familiar and alienating, sometimes even chilling. 

Photo © Joan Marcus
Patrice Johnson Chevannes as Christine, Elise Kibler as Julie and James Udom, as John

Women scared Strindberg, it would seem. By today’s standards, his psychological viewpoint is positively regressive. His Julie is neurotic and a hysteric. Her wildness drove her fiancé away.

Yaël Farber roughly covers the same plot points. Her titular Mies Julie (Elise Kibler) is a wild child, distraught and adrift since her intended left her. She turns to John (James Udom), a servant in her father’s house for the strength she needs to exorcise her demons. Their love is fierce and cruel, and motivated by a dynamic different, but not alien to Strindberg’s.

Farber has placed Strindberg’s Miss Julie in a new context  by setting her adaptation in the veldt. South Africa and its racial divide make a poignant if stereotyped backdrop for Farber’s Mies Julie.

The story is sensationalized, with lurid brutality and explicit sex. To be honest, I do not recall the Strindberg original well enough to judge, but there is nothing subtle in this heavy handed adaptation.

As I do recall, in the Strindberg version, Christine represented another betrayal; she was Jean’s girlfriend whom he abandoned for Julie. Here, Christine (Patrice Johnson Chevannes) is John’s mother who raised Mies Julie. Farber, and her director, Shariffa Ali, have also added an element of the supernatural in the figure of Ukhokho (Vinie Burrows), an ancestor whom only Christine sees.

Mies Julie, directed by Shariffa Ali plays in repertory with Conor McPherson’s adaptation of Strindberg’s Dance of Death, directed by Victoria Clark at Classic Stage Company through March 10th.

Posted in #Roundabout, adaptation, adoption, Andrew Orkin, based on a play, based on Chekhov, Chekhov, Chekhov interpretations, classic, Classic Stage Company, Conor McPherson, drama, dysfunction, Emerging Directors, Ibsen, Ibsen adaptation, Jeff Blumenkranz, love, love story, melancholy, Norwegian playwright, play, Shariffa Ali, Shariffa Chilemo Ali, storytelling, Strindberg, Strindberg adaptation, Victoria Clark, Yael Farber

Modernist Classics

Tony-winner Victoria Clark (for Light In The Piazza) was in the short-lived Broadway run of Gigi

Like our friends Chekhov and Ibsen, August Strindberg invites reinvention, interpretation and re-interpretation. Strindberg’s brooding psychological themes have not had as much stage time as those of his contemporary.**

Ibsen, Chekhov and Strindberg are modern playwrights, in the sense that Freud is modern. Our preception of the inner workings of the soul and its desires have all been clarified in their work.

We are introduced to characters, conflicts and situations which have us wondering what if? We search for their outcomes and new resolutions for them. Hence the tendency for contemporary writers to rephrase and update Ibsen, or Anton Chekhov or, now especially, August Strindberg.

In the upcoming Classic Stage Company double-bill in repertory, Conor McPerson and Yaël Farber rework two Strindberg pieces, Dance of Death and Miss Julie. This Strindberg celebration runs from January 15th through March 10th at the CSC’s theatre on East 13th Street.

Farber’s Mies Julie resets the play to the Karoo of South Africa, adding a new dimension to the social conflicts in the original. Mies Julie is directed by Shariffa Ali who brings enlightened and empassioned humanitarian activism into the play’s broader themes.

Victoria Clark is helming the production of McPherson’s interpretation of Dance of Death. You surely know her as a Broadway musical star, who won a Tony for her lead in The Light In the Piazza, and was a nominee for four of her other outings. Lately, Ms. Clark has been directing musicals and operas around the country. She brings her sense of the lyricism in words to Strindberg’s brutal vision of a marriage in decline.

** (Strindberg’s Miss Julie, for instance, was last seen at the Roundabout in 2007 with Jonny Miller and Sienna Miller, although an off-Broadway production of his lesser-known The Pelican was produced in 2016.)

Posted in adaptation, domestic drama, drama, dysfunction, Ibsen adaptation

Nora’s home

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Laurie Metcalf, Jayne Houdyshell, Condola Rashad and Chris Cooper in a scene from A Doll’s House, Part 2 (c) Brigitte Lacombe

In his dramas, Henrik Ibsen seldom sugarcoats his messages. His plays offer cures for the human condition, but they are served in bitter pills. His Enemy of the People, for instance, (see our reviews of both the recent Broadway production and David Harrower’s off-Broadway adaptation, Public Enemy) is about populism with more than a hint of dystopia. A personal favorite among Ibsen’s works, The Master Builder is a difficult play about monomania, among other things.

Ibsen’s characters are generally entrapped by circumstances from which they must extricate themselves.

Nora’s story is perhaps Ibsen’s best-known and most often interpreted (and sometimes reimagined) work.

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Laurie Metcalf and Condola Rashad in a scene from A Doll’s House, Part 2 (c) Brigitte Lacombe

In Lucas Hnath’s reconstruction, A Doll’s House, Part 2, at the Golden Theatre through July 23rd, Nora’s liberation is full-circle. The slamming of a door can be a bridges-burning, you can’t go home again moment. Ibsen’s Nora probably meant it that way. Hnath’s Nora has ample reasons to knock on it until it opens up again. If A Doll’s House, Part 2 is a sequel, the prequel is Ibsen’s. The questions he raises remain unanswered and mysterious. Victorian puritanism, Ibsen’s foil, bolsters Nora’s soap box.

Feminism is a frequent theme of Ibsen’s. Like A Doll’s House, and Lysistrata, for instance, this is a feminist play. Unlike A Doll’s House, Hnath’s …Part 2 hones in on the perspective of each of the principals involved. Each person in the Helmer household has a different reason to open or shut the door. Hnath is not offering an explication of Ibsen’s story. His is a totally new play.

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Chris Cooper and Laurie Metcalf in a scene fromA Doll’s House, Part 2 (c) Brigitte Lacombe

Sam Gold directs a star-studded Broadway cast, with Laurie Metcalf as Nora. Chris Cooper is Torvald, the husband Nora walked out on years ago and Condola Rashad plays Emmy, her now grown-up daughter. In a post-modern mode,  the Helmers’ daughter is played with not even a nod by a black actress. This is not the only prolepsis in …Part 2, which uses very contemporary ways of expression to tell Nora’s stoty. The redoubtable Jayne Houdyshell is the housekeeper, Anne Marie, who has held the family together in Nora’s absence, and who has as much to lose as anyone in the house.

The lighting design for A Doll’s House, Part 2 by Jennifer Tipton (a freqent collaborator of Paul Taylor, among other dancemakers) has received a Tony nod. Sam Gold, the play, the costume designer, and the entire cast are also all recipients of 2017 Tony nominations.

Make no mistake, while David Zinn’s costumes are brilliantly and beautifully period (Ibsen’s that is), the language and breadth of ideas is decidely anachronistic. That is to say, Hnath’s dialogue is furiously funny and utterly contemporary.

For more information and tickets for A Doll’s House, Part 2, please visit
http://dollshousepart2.com/.

Post script, dateline May 29, 2017: Also check out the review posted at The Wright Wreport, aka Vevlynspen.com of A Doll’s House, Part 2.

Posted in adaptation, based on Chekhov, comedy-drama, drama, ensemble acting, favorites, friendship, girls, growing up, love story, loyalty, Playwritghts Horizons, romantic comedy, Roundabout Theatre Company, soccer, The Duke, The Mint Theatre

Short takes

Here are three shows playing “off-Broadway” but in the Times Square area you may find of interest: The Wolves at the Duke on 42nd, Yours Unfaithfully at the always brilliant Mint at Theatre Row’s Beckett Theatre, and Rancho Viejo at Playwrights Horizons.

Comeback Kids

Sports-themed stories are compelling because they are usually about fair play and, well, sportsmanship.

Sarah DeLappe’s The Wolves takes place during practice sessions of a suburban girls’ soccer team as they chat, gossip, and warm-up. Part of the appeal of this show is that  The Wolves is in a reprise production at The Duke on 42nd Street through December 29th; its last sold-out run was this past August and September. It made an impact then, and it looks to make one this holiday season as well.

If you love something, set it free

The Mint is staging  Yours Unfaithfully, the never before produced comedy by Miles Malleson. The play was published in 1933 but never staged until now, when it will get its world premiere beginning on December 27th and running through February 18th at Theatre Row’s Beckett.

Malleson, an actor, playwright, screenwriter, and freethinker seems to have written about the open marriage in Yours Unfaithfully from his life experience, but this production offers much more than voyeuristic interest. Bertrand Russell reviewed the published play as being full of “humor and kindness” and “free from any taint of propaganda.” The high standards of a Mint Theatre production should bring this “well-constructed” work to life.

Neighborly

At Playwrights Horizons, Dan LeFranc brings Rancho Viejo, a small-town and its relationships and interactions to the stage. If his earlier play, The Big Meal is any indication of where he’ll be taking us, this should be an interesting journey.

Rancho Viejo, through December 23rd at the Mainstage, explores how what we do affects our friends and neighbors, who may be total strangers to us. (Check out our review of this very entertaining new play.)


Over at the American Airlines Theatre, Stephen Karam tweaked Chekhov. The Cherry Orchard, which closed on December 4th, is a challenge, as is much of Chekhov. There is melancholy mixed with hilarity in the oeuvre and it does not always play as either funny or tragic. Diane Lane (Ranevskaya) and John Glover (Gaev). the plutocratic and impoverished owners of the property at the center of the play, achieve some level of mixed despair and hysteria.

The production had its faults, and some highlights which included the second act masquerade ball with musicians (Bryaqn Hernandez-Luch, Liam Burke, Chihiro Shibayam, coordinated by John Miller) on stage. There is original music by Nico Muhly.

And most interesting is the color-blind casting in which Chuck Cooper is Pischik, a landowner always looking for a handout, and Maurice Jones is Ranevskaya’s favorite Yasha. Harold Perrineau as Lopakhin, the son of a serf who wins the estate at auction, is a particular standout in the cast.


News from the annoyance front: Impolite theater-goers of the umpteenth degree spotted recently at a matinee of The Cherry Orchard were talking quite loudly. When asked to sush, the response was “Other people are talking.” The other people in question were the characters on stage, I swear.

Also in the Roundabout repertory for this season was the frothy and likeable Holiday Inn, at Studio 54 through January 15th.

Posted in adaptation, dark drama, David Harrower, Ibsen, Ibsen adaptation, renowned playwright, The Pearl Theatre Company

Majority rule

It rarely happens when I find myself speechless.

David Harrower’s adaptation of Public Enemy, at the Pearl Theater through November 6th, leaves me gob-smacked as our midwestern friends might say.

Populism has a way of drowning out reason, and majority rule can have unwelcome consequences. Ibsen knew this when he created An Enemy of the People, translated by Charlotte Barslund for Harrower’s re-imaging as Public Enemy.

Crowd mentality

The man of principle, Ibsen says, stands alone while the majority is lulled into serving the self-interests of the powerful. And that man, the individual, who stands alone is “the strongest man.”

Dr. Stockmann (Jimonn Cole) stands alone, of course. Stockmann’s insistence that he has discovered that the Baths which are a tourist attraction for their little burg are a health hazard threatens the town’s livelihood and prosperity. He’s alienated everyone, except his wife Katrine (Nilaja Sun) and daughter, Petra (Arielle Goldman) who both acknowledge his genius. The rest of the town, represented by his brother, Peter, the Mayor (Giuseppe Jones), the printer and small businessman, Aslasken (John Keating), the hypocritical newspaper men, Billing (Alex Purcell) and Hovstad (Robbie Tann), all turn against him.His father-in-law, Kiil (Dominic Cuskern) is especially angry since it looks like his tannery has caused the pollution.

Harrower (Good With People, Blackbird, A Slow Air) is no stranger to moral uncertainties and slippery slopes. His adaptation of Ibsen is lean and to the point. The text is thought-provoking, and anything but reassuring. Earlier productions of Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People, like the one at MTC several seasons back, were equally disheartening.

Standing out in this fine cast, Cole plays Stockmann’s as humbly arrogant with a fine subtlety. The Pearl’s Artistic Director, Hal Brooks directs the ensemble with a light touch, playing on both the tragedy and humor in Public Enemy.

For tickets and more information, please visit The Pearl website.

 

Posted in adaptation, anticipation, Chekhov, Chekhov interpretations, drama, feminism, Ibsen, Ibsen adaptation, Ophelia Theatre Group, Roundabout Theatre Company, The Pearl Theatre Company

Classics anew

opheliaMankind has had the urge to tell its stories since time immemorial. The stories told in different voices all have universal themes. Theatrical history has a long time-line.

Warping that time-line is also a stage-borne tradition. Retelling Antigone’s
tale, as Ivo Van Hove did at BAM last year, for instance, is one way to honor
theatre’s lineage.

Stephen Karam has been charged with recharging Chekhov’s classic Cherry
Orchard for the Roundabout this season. David Harrower is reworking Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People into Public Enemy, currently playing through November 6th over at the Pearl.

Drama poses a problem, offers solutions and catharsis. To that end, Kelly

McCready, an actress and director we recently saw at the Mint in The New Morality has taken on Hedda Gabler. Ms McCready, who has re-imagined this Ibsen and is directing, at the Ophelia Theatre Group , starting on October 27th and running through November 19th, feels that Hedda is too often maligned. She has cut the play to 80 intermission-less minutes, and taken Hedda’s side, as an advocate and a friend. And why not? Hedda should be a feminist hero.

To quote Ms McCready, “This production seeks to throw out preconceptions of the play and the character herself. This Hedda is just a woman who tries to make her new life and relationship with Tesman work, but she can’t combat her circumstances and the expectations placed on her because she’s a woman.

She can’t change any of that.”

BTW, the Ophelia Theatre Group is in Astoria, and Ms McCready also

advocates for the “growing arts community” in this outer borough location.

She says, “Astoria has even earned the nickname “Actoria” in recent years, but it’s obviously difficult to get audiences to venture far from Manhattan. And that means people are missing out.”

The tickets for Hedda Gabler are available here; they are gently priced at $18 which should drag some of you from Manhattan to the wilds of, we might point out, nearby Astoria.

In another vein of adaptation altogether is David Stallings’ Anais Nin Goes to Hell, at The Theater at the 14th Street Y from October 14th through the 29th, which takes a comedic turn but looks at feminist icons. Imagine Andromeda, Heloise, Joan of Arc, Cleopatra, Queen Victoria, Ophelia, Karen Carpenter and of course Anaïs Nin, all trapped together in the afterlife. The play was a hit in the 2008 Fringe Festival, and is being re-staged here under the direction of Antonio Miniño.

Posted in adaptation, comedy-drama, theater, Uncategorized

Picking up Chekhov’s Gauntlet Pt II

What is it about the work of Anton Chekhov that cries out for adaptations? There’s Stupid F**ing Bird, and The Seagull and Other Birds, and recently a country music version called Songbird, j…

Source: Picking up Chekhov’s Gauntlet

Stephen Karam (whose The Humans continues at the Helen Hayes on Broadway) is rising to the Chekhov challenge for Roundabout’s 2016-17 season. He has adapted Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard, in which Simon Godwin will direct Diane Lane and an as yet unnamed cast.