Posted in #Macbeth, Classic Stage Company, dark drama, drama, Shakespeare

The Scottish Play

A portrait of William Shakespeare,

There is a superstition about one of Shakespear’s bloodiest dramas which bans theater folk from uttering its name. Let’s hope that telling you about the Classic Stage Company’s production of the Scottish play (in previews now, opening the evening of October 27th) will have no dire effects. The play is, of course, Macbeth, and in this production Corey Stoll plays the lead and Nadia Bowers his Lady. Some would say it is really her play, and I am inclined to agree that she has the more delicious evil to deliver.

John Doyle, CSC Artistic Director, directs and is responsible for the scenie design. The cast also features , along with Tony Award nominee Mary Beth Peil, Barzin Akhavan, 
Raffi Barsoumian, N’Jameh Camara, Erik Lochtefeld, Antonio Michael Woodard, Jade Wu.

Does the fact that Stoll and Bowers are married contribute to the dynamic between Lady Macbeth and her husband? They play the parts of plotters in a plot filled with machinations and double-dealing.

The intrigues that bind its characters are tinged with a touch of the mystical and more than just a soupçon  of the rough and tumble. Macbeth is about political ambition, revenge, and madness.

Macbeth is a personal favorite from the Bard’s canon, just behind King Lear, which I consider his best.

For tickets for Macbeth, go to the CSC website.

Posted in drama, mixed media genre bending show

One from column A

These intriguing press releases cross my in-box (old school: call it my desk). Theater going has become increasingly an aspirational rather than a real thing for me, so I sort through for the most interesting offers to share with you. This one proposes a kick-ass combination of style and content.

The Talmud is the name of the show directed by Jesse Friedman, and taking its cues not just from the Rabbinic text but also from Kung-Fu films. Intrigued?

Here’s what he says:  “The Talmud is a very exciting and important Jewish text, and, is incredibly difficult to understand. I was watching a Kung-Fu movie and thought “this Kung-Fu movie reminds me of the Talmud”.  I started to learn more Talmud and thought “this reminds me of Kung-Fu movies”.  I started to watch and learn more about Chinese Martial cinema, my appreciation for them deepened, and the world of the Talmud, which had previously been opaque to me, started to make sense.” He goes on to say, “The further I went down this rabbit-hole of Chinese martial arts cinema and Talmud, my picture of the world history started to radically change.”

The Talmud was developed through the Target Margin Artist Residence, and the Exponential Theater Festival. It will play at Target Margin for a three week limited run from September 12th through the 28th. Click here for information and tickets.

Posted in #immersive-theater, drama, drama based on real events, historical drama

Theater at the Park Avenue Armory

#BackInTheDay

Of late, I’ve had this urge to see theater at the Park Avenue Armory as if I had never been there. In fact, I did see a play there. And what an iconic one it was. The Park Avenue is a sterling setting for avant garde productions and this one was decidely ahead of its time.

Sotheby’s

My namesake multi-room drama, Tamara which landed here in November 1987 from Hollywood where it went after its debut in Toronto. At the time, the structure and approach were very novel. The play was an in-situ production, making use of the space, and having the audience confront it as they moved about from room to room. Immersive theater was a relatively unusual construction for the theater when John Krizanc wrote Tamara.

The award-winning play was performed wherever a large house could be converted to a villa, as at an American Legion post in LA where it lasted for a nine-year run by public petition for constant extensions, despite near weekly notices that it was on the verge of closing.

John Krizanc’s play is based on a historical moment when Gabriele d’Annunzio invited the painter Tamara de Lempicka to his villa in Lombardy, Il Vittoriale degli Italiani. The painter hoped for a commission to paint a portrait of the poet. He hoped she would lend her voice to his universalist political ideals; de Lempicka maintained her materialist stance.

To experience Tamara, one had many choices. Stay in one room and “overhear” the actors’ conversations as they enter. Follow an actor in and out of the rooms of Il Vittoriale. You may wish to switch and stay with a different character after a while. Or, after following an actor to a different room in the villa, you may choose to stay in that room and wait to see what transpires.

In New York, the fascinations of all these possibilities had it running for five years. When I saw it, I wandered through the rooms of the set to easedrop on the actors as they came and went. Trying to piece together the plot lines made the audience an “actor” in Tamara as well.

Its form as a puzzle proved to be an enduring and fascinating element in the play’s international success. It was revived in 2003 in Toronto on its 20th anniversary, and staged for a mere six weeks in 2004 at a landmarked synagogue in Pittsburgh.

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 drama, drama reflecting current events, family, issue play, Lindsey Ferrentino, new work, Playwrights Horizons, timely drama

Circumnavigation

This Flat EarthMarch 16, 2018 – April 29, 2018 Mainstage Theater Written by Lindsey Ferrentino Directed by Rebecca Taichman
Photo © Joan Marcus. Ian Saint-German as Zander, Ella Kennedy Davis as Julie & Lucas Papaelias as Dan in This Flat Earth by Lindsey Ferrentino, directed by Rebecca Taichman at Playwrights Horixons through April 29th.

1.CodePHnycDiscountLearning from our mistakes seems to be humanly impossible.

Lindsey Ferrentino’s well-wrought This Flat Earth, on the mainstage at Playwrights Horizons through April 29th, looks at the aftermath of one of our greatest failures. We repeatedly, almost routinely, fail to protect our children from gun violence.

In the wake of Parkland, FL, This Flat Earth seems a mild, even tame response.

It is very timely without being what is called these days “an issue play.” This Flat Earth addresses the issue in its very humane, personal and intimate way. It is unsentimental and unflinching, even as it brings tears welling.

This Flat EarthMarch 16, 2018 – April 29, 2018 Mainstage Theater Written by Lindsey Ferrentino Directed by Rebecca Taichman
Full Cast on the two-level set, designed by Dane Laffrey. Photo © Joan Marcus. Lynda Gravátt as Cloris above; Ella Kennedy Davis as Julie with Ian Saint-Germain as Zander. Lucas Papaelias as Dan with Cassie Beck as Lisa (in doorway.)

In lieu of a curtain rising, a cello is tuned by cellist Christine H. Kim, whose playing will punctuate the transitions in This Flat Earth. The Sound Design by Mikhail Fiksel under the
Music Director, Christian Frederickson is integral to the production.

The cello has significance for Julie (Ella Kennedy Davis). Her and her dad Dan’s (Lucas Papaelias) upstairs neighbor, Cloris (Lynda Gravátt) was a cellist. Her music keeps Julie up, or it used to, before. Now she is spooked by all the ordinary sounds outside her window. Noone seems to know how to help her, or her friend Zander (Ian Saint-Germain) deal with the shooting at their school. Julie, sheltered by her dad, is shocked to hear that this sort of thing has happened to other kids. Julie is tactless as only a 13 year old in distress can be in her encounter with one of the grieving mothers, Lisa (Cassie Beck).

Lynda Gravátt’s Cloris puts everything into a perspective that suggests that Julie and everyone around her will move on. It is a coda to a disquieting story.

The first-rate ensemble in This Flat Earth is beautifully choreographed by director Rebecca Taichman. Ella Kennedy Davis gives a remarkable starring performance; the youngsters, Kennedy Davis and Ian Saint-Germain, are impressively natural.  Kennedy Davis gets wonderful support from everyone on stage.

Posted in based on Chekhov, drama, theater

Once again, a young playwright rises to the Chekhov challenge

EsperanceThis was true in 2016, when I first posted it, and it proves once again that Chekhov provides a model for new plays and spurs a playwright to use The Cherry Orchard as a starting point for startling new work:

Anton Chekhov, it seems, provides excellent inspiration for contemporary Americans in his line of work. As if the Chekhov challenge asks the modern playwright to match him wit for wit and build on his premises.

Chekhov teases imitators, adaptors, translators and audiences with themes of grandeur and loss. His plays are shown on stages large and small each year; his works are mimicked in pastiches, like Stupid F**king Bird at the Pearl, or  Minor Character— in Brooklyn from June 17-25, 2016. In the latter, multiple versions of Uncle Vanya merge in a mist of millenial angst.”

Breitwisch Farm cast and creative team
Breitwisch Farm cast and creative team at rehearsal

This March, The Cherry Orchard is the influence for Breitwisch Farm, a play by Jeremy J. Kamps at the Esperance Theater Company at the new Tribeca venue, Town Stages. Breitwisch Farm explores issues of displacement and immigration in the era of America First, giving Chekhov’s story a distinctly of the moment twist. The play runs from March 2nd through March 16th.

Breitwisch Farm author Jeremy J. Kamps is part of the Public’s Emerging Writers Group.  The play stars Danaya Esperanza, Joe Tapper, Katie Hartke, Will Manning, Charlie Murphy, Maria Peyramaure, Alejandro Rodriguez, and Katie Wieland, under Ryan Quinn‘s direction.