Posted in #DanceTheatreOfHarlem, #Roundabout, comedy-drama, dance, Dance Theatre of Harlem, dark drama, domestic drama, drama, musicals and dramas, New York Theatre Workshop, Roundabout Theatre Company, theater, theater arts, theater folk, theater lovers, theater space, Uncategorized

FRONT ROW CENTER

We have given up a lot to the coronavirus. For our own safety and that of those around us, we voluntarily restricted our freedom of movement (#Stay_Home) and our love of congeniality (#SocialDistancing). We traded our daily routines of work and cocktail hour for being at home and meeting via Zoom. We have become shutins and anti-social. We don’t go out except to walk six feet apart from others, just for the sake of getting some air.

What we give up when we indulge in at-home theater viewing is

  • 1. the live-actors-in-real-time theater experience
  • 2. the 4th wall
  • 2a. “great seats”
  • 3. the chance to go out, dress up and make a night of it
  • 4. the spontaneity of a flubbed line and a good save
  • 5. the in-built feedback a live audience provides

Streaming a play on-line is a different experience.

  • 1. The action is pre-recorded, or, if contemporaneous, involves only one actor
  • 2. The distance between you and the stage is filtered through a screen.
  • 2a. You still have the best seats in the house.
  • 3. You may well be in your pjs, as so many of us are these days, or workout clothes.
  • 3a. Your dinner may have been oreos or a box of mini-wheats.
  • 4. If there is a flub or a falter, it ceases to be spontaneous once taped.
  • 5.. You are likely watching alone on a laptop or tablet.
  • 5a. At most, you are likely part of an audience of 2.

The privacy of your home is a sanctuary into which you are bringing a sacred event. Cool. But not the same as experiencing theatrical expressions in a theater space.

As I said in a recent post, theater artists also yearn to stay active, contribute and engage in what they love. Audiences are part and parcel of what they love to do. Broadway World is sharing updates about shutdowns and “Living Room Concerts” with me as well as “Songs from the Vault” and “157 Musicals and Shows You Can Watch Online.” Their “Broadway Rewind” took me down memory lane to some productions I really enjoyed over the years.

Roundabout Theatre Company sent an email with encouraging tidbits, including this montage from last season’s Kiss Me Kate:


Dance Theater of Harlem reached out with a newsletter on their 50 Forward which includes a video of a signature dance by Louis Johnson, who died in March, created by him for the company in 1972. Forces of Rhythm remained in the DTH repertory alongside works by Arthur Mitchell and George Balanchine.

New York Theatre Workshop’s email announced Virtual Programming; it is no great wonder that these companies are also looking for donations to help them tide over in these tough “shutdown” days. It is remarkable how much creativity is being put to alternative use!

Posted in actors, comedy-drama, costume designers, dark comedy drama, dark drama, directors, domestic drama, drama, musicals and dramas, radio drama, women directors

Virtually

NYSX – Photos Freestyle Lab Photos by Cristina Lundy

What does virtual theater look like?

We already turn to TV and film for our entertainment. Actors and directors, costumers and lighting-production designers are all employed in churning out plenty of drama, comedy, dramedy, comdremy etc.

We used to say that we can view these from the comfort of our homes. Now, we have to view them from the comfort of our homes.

It’s not live theater, nor is it multi-media, it’s just good old cinema.

The fourth wall is now my armchair.

Posted in comedy, comedy-drama, drama, Shakespeare

Comedy. Tonight?

By George Cruikshank – AwFKhI771c3bow at Google Cultural Institute maximum zoom level, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=22008301

The definition of comedy is that it ends well. The protagonists end up together.

Tragedy is something else altogether. Everything falls apart.

Happy today, happy tomorrow, together for now, together for always.

How often have happy endings ended tragically for the lead characters?


Is it a Shakespearean character who asks us to “lend me your ears?” It is also a Shakespearean trope to “never a borrower or lender be.”

Posted in #classism, #critique, #dystopia, #immersive-theater, #pointofview, activists, adaptation, Aditya Rawal, allegory, avant garde, Baruch Performing Arts Center, based on a novel, Brandon Walker, dark drama, drama, dysfunction, ensemble acting, equality, Erin Cronican, Ethan E. Litwin, experiments in theater, farce, George Bernard Shaw, Gingold Theatrical Group, Gwynn MacDonald, issue play, Jay O. Sanders, Kinding Sindaw Melayu, LaMama, Maryann Plunkett, off Broadway, opinion, play, political drama, politically inspired, politics, Potri Ranka Manis, premieres, refugees, riff, Siachen, storytelling, theater, theater for the common good, theatron or The Seeing Place, timely drama

All creatures, large and small

Theater can be distanced, ie by not breaking the fourth wall. It can be immersive, like Tamara at the Park Avenue Armory back in the day, or the McKittrick Hotel programs, Sleep No More or Woman in Black happening now. Audiences sit in the round, or follow the players from room to room, or sit in front of the proscenium, or on stage.

Form and presentation may contribute to the experimental nature of a play. Subject matters in making theater a relevant comment on our times.

These times need a healthy dose of cynical analysis and profound soul-searching. “All animals are equal,” George Orwell says in Animal Farm, “but some are more equal than others.” The Seeing Place, a ten year old theater collective, kicks off the season with a modern adaptation by Brandon Walker of Orwell’s novel.

The theme for this year is the Body Politic, and its Animal Farm focuses on drawing out the ways in which we are susceptible to the collective power of a group. The line between community and a folie à tous is subtle.

Executive Artistic Director, Erin Cronican says of TSP’s production; “By creating this play for just four actors playing 28 characters, we shine a spotlight on the malleability of people’s opinions and desires, which often depend upon who is in charge and what is promised to them.”

Another exploration of present day politics can be found in the works-in-process Siachen at Baruch Performing Arts Center, from April 30 through May 2. This anti-war play, written by Aditya Rawal, takes us to India’s disputed Kashmir region where a group of soldiers awaits rescue. Gwynn MacDonald directs.

George Bernard Shaw was a principled man, whose ideals of humanitarianism and universal human rights were a creed underpinning everything he wrote. His politics were always in evidence in his dramas. The Gingold Theatrical Group’s annual party, the Golden Shamrock Gala 2020, takes place on Monday, March 16th; they will be honoring Maryann Plunkett, Jay O. Sanders, and Ethan E. Litwin. The Gingold Theatrical Group creates theater in the activist spirit of GBS with regularly scheduled events through the year.

Kinding Sindaw – Photos by Josef Pinlac
.

LaMaMa, the mother of experimental theater, hosts a play appropriate for our time. Pananadem (Remembering) is about refugees brought to these shores by the Filipino troupe Kinding Sindaw. Potri Ranka Manis, the Founder and Artistic Director of Kinding Sindaw is the creative and choreographer behind this production, running from March 12th through March 15th in a New York premiere. The work uses the tradition of myth to capture the experience of the displaced.

Posted in comedy, dance, drama, theater

Articulated

ONE GREEN BOTTLE, photo by Kishin Shinoyama,

It is sometimes harder to put a concept better expressed in the physical, into words.

I admit that it can be difficult for a critic to articulate what s/he sees presented on the stage. Some things are visceral. This is particularly true of dance where emotion and meaning are conveyed in gestures, movement and context. It also often applies to experimental theatre which tends towards the cerebral.

Katie Workum and her collaborators want to communicate about their work, The Door’s Unlocked in exclusionary descriptives. This is how the work is described:
“Let’s be clear:
This is not a dance piece. 
This is a conjuring inside a temporariness. 
This is connecting the dancers with the dance. 
This is a negotiation of our togetherness.  
This is entering the unknown without demanding to know. “

She and her collective, the eponymously named Katie Workum Dance, will perform the multi-platformed piece at Foley Gallery at 59 Orchard Street; they expect that it will change with each iteration and audience to which it is presented, from February 3 through 9.

In speaking of the experimental in theater, I am always referencing LaMaMa as a touchstone. So, I am glad to be able to include in this posting a little something of what they will be up to in the new year.

La MaMa, in association with Tokyo Metropolitan Theatre and NODA・MAP, presents the U.S. Premiere of One Green Bottle from February 29 through March 8, 2020 at The Ellen Stewart Theatre, La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club. One Green Bottle is an absurdist work in which gender is bent, and our societal foibles, from consumerism to selfie-addiction, is explored.

LaMaMa may have been at the forefront of theatrical happenings, of course, but all theatre is about performance, sentiment and interaction. What is on stage is always a happening.

ABTC, Echoes in the Garden (reading) © Basil Rodericks 2019

The 1st Origin Irish Festival is in its 12th season of competition., beginning on January 7th and running through February 3rd. The festival is a highly curated event, devoted to producing the plays of contemporary Irish playwrights from around the world with a total of 15 productions being presented in venues all over NYC. During the Closing Night Ceremony on Monday, February 3rd, the Best of Festival Awards will be handed out.

A multi-generational drama, Echoes in the Garden, is on offer at The Chain Theatre this March 11th through 29th. The world premiere of Ross G. Hewitt’s new play about family, grief and obligation is producted by American Bard Theater Company and directed by Aimee Todoroff.

Also at The Chain, beginning on February 7th and running through the 22nd is another premiere, Chasing the River. Written by Jean Dobie Giebel and directed by Ella Jane New, Chasing the River depends on memory and its intersection with PTSD to tell its tale of second chances, survival and the healing power of love.

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.)