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 2017 Tony Nominations, DC politics, drama, drama based on real events, historical drama, historical musical drama, historically-based musical, Ibsen, Ibsen adaptation, Kristen Childs, Playwright, Musical drama, political drama, politically inspired, politics, Shakespeare, Shakespeare in the Park, The Tony Awards, Tony, Tony Awards

Tidbits, tall tales, and short truths

EnemyPeople_IMG_1355
From The Wheelhouse Theatre’s production of An Enemy of the People, playing through June 24th. Photo by Jeremy Daniel.

Theatricality is a fraught concept. It can just be dramatic and thought-provoking, or it can be over-the-top, dramatic and thought-provoking. Kristen Childs has written a musical that is theatrical to the nth degree. Bella: An American Tall Tale also gives us a little slice of African-American history mixed in with the fable.

In other theatrical news, not as dramatic, I believe that Cynthia Nixon and Laurie Metcalf ruined my perfect record of being wrong on the Tonys. Ah well, maybe next year.
 
Politics and theater are getting a bad rep. Actually politics and their practitioners have had a reputation for honesty meaning any means that is necessary, aka I’ll lie if I have to, and theater has always been a forum for exposing truths. Ms. Nixon stirred the political pot a tiny bit in her acceptance speech at the 2017 Tony Awards Ceremonies. Now, it is the mixing of politics into theater that has caused quite the controversy (see what is happening with The Public’s Julius Caesar for instance.) It is unwarranted. Art is meant to comment on our realities.
At any rate, one of those realities, Lost and Guided, a play by Irene Kapustina about Syrian refuges in their own words, is on view at Conrad Fischer and The Angle Project, at Under St Marks (94 St. Marks Place, from August 3 through 27th. For tickets, click here.
A similar but perhaps more intitmate project is The Play Company’s Oh My Sweet Land another look at the Syrian refuge crisis. The play is due to launch this fall in private homes and communal spaces where people have been invited to host this  multi-sensory experience. Those wishing to participate by providing a venue can do so by filling out the questionnaire here. Nadine Malouf stars, perhaps in your own kitchen, in Oh My Sweet Land, a play developed by Amir Nizar Zuabi with German-Syrian actor Corinne Jaber.
Shakespeare wrote plays reflecting timely events, for his time and all times. This may explain why The Public is in such hot water over their production of Julius Caesar. The brouhaha, perhaps like the staging, is way out of proportion. In Measure for Measure, Shakespeare also explores issues to do with power and justice. Theatre for a New Audience is presenting a new modernized staging by Simon Godwin from June 17th through July 16th. Tickets for this show which will be held at Polansky Shakespeare Center in Brooklyn are available at TFANA’s website.
Henrik Ibsen had his own take on both the personal and the political. For instnace, Ibsen’s drama, An Enemy of the People is a play about populism and its discontents.
An Enemy of the People comes to us from the Wheelhouse Theater Company under the direction of Jeff Wise, at the Gene Frankel Theater, beginning June 9th and running through June 24th is conceived as a meditation on the “tyranny of the majority.”
Following on the success of Ibsen’s feminist tale as revisited by Lucas Hnath in A Doll’s House, Part 2, see the US Premiere of Victoria Benedictsson’s 1887 Swedish original, The Enchantment in a  new English translation and adaptation by Tommy Lexen. Ducdame Ensemble introduces us to the woman behind Ibsen’s Nora; Benedictsson, who wrote under the pen name Ernst Ahlgren, was not only Ibsen’s inspiration but also Strindberg’s for Miss Julie. The Enchantment opens at HERE on July 6th, with previews beginning June 28th.
Dystopia is the normal atmosphere of an Ibsen play. It is poignantly a main event in the classic 1984. George Orwell’s novel in which Big Brother government controls its citizens has been turned into a play by the same name. The play by Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan was first performed in 2013 at England’s Nottingham Playhoouse.
1984 , a place where mind control involves convincing us that up is down, “freedom is slavery,” is now at Broadway’s newly renovated Hudson Theatre, with an opening on June 22nd, and starring Olivia Wilde and Tom Sturridge.
Posted in based on Chekhov, Chekhov, Chekhov interpretations, dysfunction, Ibsen, Ibsen adaptation, Lucas Hnath

Ibsen gets the full Chekhov

Source: Classics anew

Matt Harrington, Shayna Small, David Kenner, Chris Myers, Brendan Titley, Ben Mehl - Julius Caesar (Photo- Brittany Vasta) (1)
From a past Wheelhouse production: Matt Harrington, Shayna Small, David Kenner, Chris Myers, Brendan Titley, Ben Mehl – Julius Caesar (Photo: Brittany Vasta)

It is a minor obsession with me to note how many ways Ibsen and Chekhov can play for a modern audience. Chekhov gets many of our contemporary playwrights to rise to his challenge, and adapt his social commentary to our moderner times.

Of course, the comparatively dour Henrik Ibsen has also been a catalyst for imitation, adaptation, interpretation and exploration. Lucas Hnath has taken Nora’s escape from a stifling household as the point of departure, as it were, for his A Doll’s House Part 2, currently playing at the Golden Theatre (through July 23rd.)

Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People has proven to be an inspiration for our avant theaters, as well. It requires some heavy lifting, and in the past 10 years or so has had productions at MTC, and the Pearl (in a David Harrower adaptation.)

Now, An Enemy of the People comes to us from the Wheelhouse Theater Company under the direction of Jeff Wise, at the Gene Frankel Theater, beginning June 9th and running through June 24th as a meditation on the “tyranny of the majority.” Just about a perfect assessment of where this story leads.

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 Aasif Mandvi, comedy, drama, Heidi Armbruster, Ibsen, Islan, painter and lawyer, terrorism

ENEMIES OF THE PEOPLE

Two very different civic-minded plays shed light on our societal woes. Both of them are more than slightly cynical about democracy and its discontents.

Actually there is a third, “Disgraced” but more on that later and below.


“Modern Terrorism, or They Who Want to Kill Us and How We Learn to Love Them,” at Second Stage Theatre through  November 4th, is a quirky and off-beat comedy tackling an extremely tricky subject.
“An Enemy of the People,” by Henrik Ibsen via adapter Rebecca Lenkiewicz, in a Manhattan Theater Club production at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre through November 11th, is a sincere diatribe.

Boyd Gaines as Dr. Thomas Stockmann and Richard Thomas as his brother, Mayor Peter Stockmann  in “An Enemy of the People.” Photo by Joan Marcus.
Unlike “Modern Terrorism,” which, despite its silly premise and over-the-top slapstick and banter, is coherent, “An Enemy of the People” is a total muddle. The civic dialogue  “An Enemy of the People”purports to hold teeters between anti-populism and democratic idealism. 
  Nitya Vidyasagar as Yalda with Steven Boyer as Jerome Photo by Joan Marcus. 
Terrorists, of course, are scare-mongers bent on destruction through fear.  In “Modern Terrorism,” the terrorists are merely people who see the world differently than we do. There is a danger of underestimating one’s enemy, of course. Or perhaps, it’s disarming to look at the feared, reviled and frightening as ordinary folk. The cell in “Modern Terrorism,”  run by Qala (William Jackson Harper) are the Keystone Kops of terror.  As Jerome, the American who lives upstairs asks  “Why are you so hell-bent on destroying the US, when it’s doing is so well on its own?  
William Jackson Harper as Qala with Utkarsh Ambudkar as Rahim
Photo by Joan Marcus from “Modern Terrorism.”
Rahim (Utkarsh Ambudkar), the designated martyr, is chosen for his boyish naïveté He wants to fit in, and be “chill.” Denied the chance to be just one of the gang in his college, he throws in with Qala and Yalda (Nitya Vidyasagar). Accustomed to not meeting expectations, Rahim accepts Qala’s and Yalda’s disappointment in him resignedly. 

While there is a clarity of vision and even some compassion in “Modern Terrorism,” “An Enemy of the People” lacks a compelling narrative. 

There is no subtlety in this “An Enemy of the People.” It’s all silk-hatted villainy

and shouting. Bombast and bluster further muddle an already muddled and somewhat uninteresting, if timely, plot. Hints of the current debate about fracking are peeking out of
Lenkiewicz’s adaptation. Mayor Peter Stockmann (Richard Thomas) has a perrenial smirk that stands in for mustache-twirling. The noise of its screaming is not the only thing that condenms  “An Enemy of the People.”

Producing this modernized version of Ibsen’s play seeks to capitalize on the political silly season.  Dr. Thomas Stockmann (Boyd Gaines) is at odds with his  brother the Mayor. His desire to save the town in which he was born is overwhelmed by a cynicism. He calls  liberals and populists, those who rule and the majority who allow themselves to be ruled to the carpet.   If the honest man is alone, as Dr. Stockmann seems to think, is  democracy also on the carpet?

Photo by Erin Baiano. Karen Pittman, Erik Jensen, Heidi Armbruster and Aasif Mandvi in “Disgraced.”


Unfortunately, even the usually superb Boyd Gaines is swallowed up in the noise and fury of 
“An Enemy of the People.” The stand out in the cast is Gerry Bamman as the printer, Aslaksen, whose bourgeois interests overwhelm his sense of right.

In “Modern Terrorism,” the geo-political is seriously funny and darkly sad. The small cast are all excellent. Stephen Boyer’s slacker Jerome, William Jackson Harper as Qala, the self-important leader are both wonderfully played. Utkarsh Ambudkar gives us a complicated and sweet Rahim. Nitya Vidyasagarplays Yalda as a young modern woman, whose disappointments fuel her anger.

Sometimes ethnic history is a minefield, and in “Disgraced,” a new play by Ayad Akhtar, at LCT3’s Claire Tow Theater  extended through December 2nd, the sensitive and even touchy matters of identity are explored in serious and unexpected ways. 

Amir (Aasif Mandvi) and Emily (Heidi Armbruster) are a happy and prosperous couple. He is a forceful and intelligent corporate attorney. He is uncomfortable with the fact that she paints intricate and delicate works based in the Islamic tradition.  In fact, Amir is uncomfortable with Islam. He is an apostate, bent on maintaining his place in the white man’s world.  His nephew, Abe (Omar Maskati.) a devout follower of the Muslim faith, is the sole reminder of his past.  By distancing himself from his traditions and family history, Amir has gone adrift and become disaffected. Is there a tribal identity that will out no matter who we try to become?  

“Disgraced” traverses the divide in understanding in a compelling and smart script. Its a well-wrought study of the complications that befall family and friendship.

For more information about MTC’s “An Enemy of the People,” please visit http://www.manhattantheatreclub.com/.

Visit  http://www.2st.com/ to learn more about “Modern Terrorism…”

For a schedule and information about “Disgraced,” visit http://www.lct.org/index_lct3.htm