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
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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 #dystopia, Baryshnikov Arts Center, Bonobo, Chilean experimental theater group, George Bernard Shaw, GTG Project Shaw, J.M. Barrie, new work, politically inspired, politics, Shakespeare, Theater Resources Unlimited, troubled times, Tu Amaras, turmoil

Theater for troubled times

This is not the first era in history that has found itself in one or another kind of turmoil. Trouble, as often as not, is the friend of art. It provides the inspiration for high drama or low comedy. But… it often takes a perspecive to really examine our own times.

Shakespeare used his history plays to comment about Elizabethan mores, as well as display them in the context of history, power and politics. Not his most famous quote, but one I like for our times, is from Measure for Measure:

“We must not make a scarecrow of the law, setting it up to fear the birds of prey, and let it keep one shape till custom make it their perch and not their terror.”

Or perhaps in the midst of the impeachment dramedy we might look to Julius Caesar‘s Brutus when he mulls Caesar’s rise “Th’ abuse of greatness is when it disjoins remorse from power.” Or, lastly, since our current emperor lives in such delusion, we can quote Kent from King Lear “Think’st thou that duty shall have dread to speak when power to flattery bows? To plainness honor’s bound when majesty falls to folly.”

May our playwrights continue to “speak truth to power” and let the voice of reason prevail for the 21st century. Or at least let that voice ring out clearly against all the “fake-news” conspiratorials that are invoked by those who seek to oppress and conceal truth. Amen.

Project Shaw, the Gingold Theatrical Group’s ongoing one-nighters looks to the works of George Bernard Shaw (and contemporaries) for a “montly guide to reason.” The theme for their 2020 season is “seeing clearly through art.” Next up on the schedule is the February 24th concert reading of J.M. Barrie’s What Every Woman Knows. On May 18th, they turn to Shaw’s Saint Joan for an inspiration of commonsense. For the full 2020 schedule, visit the GTG website.

Playwrights looking to develop their “voices” can turn to Theater Resources Unlimited (TRU) for their 21st Annual TRU Voices New Plays Reading Series . The call for submissions is by January 31, 2020.. TRU is a twenty-seven-year-old 501(c)(3) nonprofit network established for the purpose of helping those involved in the theater understand and navigate the business of the arts

For the 2020 TRU Voices New Plays Reading Series, which will take place in June 2020, TRU will help pay for the developmental reading of new plays, connect finalists with producers, and assist in finding venues.

Please note that all links to shows in this “review” of theater for the disaffected, for the dystopia of our times, for progressives are for past dates except for the GTG schedule of Project Shaw. The dates for and info on TRU New Voices is also current.


By way of postscript: Dystopia takes many forms. The state of depravation and oppression can be answered by the comic as well as the tragic. For the experimental theater troupe from Chile, Bonobo, it takes a sci-fi turn.

In Tú Amarás (You Shall Love), doctors attending a conference on Prejudice in Medicine find the subject of their program disrupted by a group of extraterrestials seeking asylum after a genocide against them.

Bonobo developed the play during its residency at Baryshnikov Arts Center, where it will get the U.S. premiere in Spanish with English supertitles, Thursday, February 13, through Saturday, February 15.

Posted in #benefit, political drama, politically inspired, politics

Theater of the Woke

In no way does humor (or a good beat) trivialize the necessity for a cognizant citizenry. Theater can use the power of laughter to foster and encourage us towards a better world. Ionesco was a most politically conscious satirist. Conscience leads the way to express the ideals a regressive government attempts to suppress.

Theater aspiring to inspire has always been with us. Many of us feel the need now more than ever for a side order of politically awareness with our drama. We can be grateful to the many theater artists who look to elucidate while they entertain.

This season, for instance, the New York Musical Theater Festival (NYMF) has several galvanizing works on offer. In Leaving Eden, for instnace, Jenny Waxman (Book and Lyrics) and Ben Page (Music) ask us to envision a more progressive creation (myth) than the strictly Biblical one.

Donald Rupe (Book and Music) and Cesar de la Rosa (Music) offer a historical perspective in Flying Lessons, in which their heroine, an eighth grader named Isabella finds a “recipe for greatness” by looking to the past.

George Bernard Shaw was a forward thinker, and Project Shaw which celebrates his legacy in one-night only productions is showing The Stepmother by Githa Sowerby, a protege of GBS, on July 22nd. The play will undoubtedly present a case for a more “woke” world from a 1920s stance.

This is a short list of a few upcoming shows that offer a vision for a better world. (Click on each to find out where/when to get tickets.) The number of allegories and presentations that have graced our stages over the years is long. Woke theater shows us how matters civic and social sh/could unfold.

Activist theater means someone is speaking for the 99%.

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 opinion, political drama, politically incorrect, politically inspired

Vox Populi

This election year is reality TV, or, perhaps, unreality theater, unscripted and unwelcome in so many ways. The circus atmosphere in no way diminishes the importance of the choice we make on November 8th:

(c) Tamara Beck
(c) Tamara Beck

The people have spoken. Who says no one listens to you. You said you did not want professional politicians running the country.  Congratulations. The tea party congress has consistently acted most …

Some of us are saying, this can’t be happening. Others are pleased to see it unfold as it has.

Source: Vox Populi

 

Posted in Bryan Cranston, George Wallace, JFK assassination, lady bird johnson, LBJ, lyndon baines johnson, politically inspired, politics

"All The Way" with LBJ: A Year in the Life

Is the fascination we have with politics and politicians all about power and those who wield it?

Robert Schenkkan’s “All The Way,” at the Neil Simon Theatre through June 29th, looks at one critical year in the life of one of  the great political practitioners.

Bryan Cranston and Betsy Aidem. Photo Credit: Evgenia Eliseeva

Lyndon Baines Johnson (Bryan Cranston) was one of the great negotiators in our country’s presidential history.  You know the famously effective politician whose arm twisting got legislation passed, but the author posits an LBJ who may have been a better man than his reputation suggests.  Lady Bird Johnson (Betsy Aidem) has a particularly poignant take on LBJ the man in one scene, making it clear that the man was the politician.

Robert Petkoff, Bryan Cranston.
Photo Credit: Evgenia Eliseeva

LBJ took office in November 1963 as “an accidental President” after the assassination of John F. Kennedy. He had just one year to establish his presidency and launch the campaign for the 1964 elections. That year hinged on LBJ’s role in the struggle for civil rights. He was left to polish his predecessor’s legacy, and create his own. The pressures he faced during that year are history, and as told by Schenkkan it is a compelling and dramatic story.

Bryan Cranston, Brandon J. Dirden  and
Richard Poe in the back.
Photo Credit: Evgenia Eliseeva

There were the rightfully disgruntled factions in the Negro caucus. He also had to deal with the recalcitrant segments of his own party’s Dixiecrats, most prominently represented  by LBJ’s mentor, “Uncle” Dick Russell (John McMartin), the Senator from Georgia. Hubert Humphrey (Robert Petkoff) of  Michigan was the Senator most sympathetic to the cause of equality for all Americans.

Among the groups of black leaders, Martin Luther King, Jr. (Brandon J. Dirden) is the acknowledged head. He lobbied the President, often through Humphrey, for the assorted black organizations, which included Stokely Carmichael’s (William Jackson Harper) radical SNCC and the much tamer NAACP lead by Roy Wilkins (Peter Jay Fernandez).  LBJ not only supported civil rights, but was instrumental in passing legislation to insure that fairness and equality were the law of the land.

Rob Campbell, Susannah Schulman on the desk. On left on floor:
James Eckhouse and on right on floor: Christopher Gurr
Photo Credit: Evgenia Eliseeva

The sets in “All The Way” often depend on projections to identify the locale of a scene. Credit Christopher Acebo for the simple multi-functional scenic design and Jane Cox for the lighting.

The acting, with Bryan Cranston embodying LBJ in an astonishing performance, and Brandon J. Dirden embodying MLK down to the cadences of his speech, is universally excellent. Under Bill Rauch’s well-paced directing, the nearly three hours of politics and power go by in a flash; there is not a wasted minute.

Among other standouts in the outstanding cast are William Jackson Harper, Rob Campbell as Governor George Wallace (and others), and Eric Lenox Abrams as Bob Moses (and others.) Michael McKean is a wry and formidable J. Edgar Hoover.

To find out more about “All The Way,” please visit http://allthewaybroadway.com/

Posted in AA, apolitical play, Jon Robin Baitz, Other Desert Cities, politically inspired, Tony winner Jon Robin Baitz

Saving Blemons in "The Film Society"

Sometimes a politically-inspired play turns out to be remarkably innocent of politics.

So it is with Jon Robin Baitz’ “The Film Society,” at least in its current Keen Company production.

“The Film Society” is unquestionably apolitical. Although there are some incendiary statements made by several of its characters, the lead, Jonathon Balton (Euon Morton) is strangely  unaffected by any of the turmoil in Durban, South Africa circa 1970.

Despite Terry Sinclair’s (David Barlow) avowed radicalism, and Hamish Fox’s (Richmond Hoxie) rabid aversion to the progressive, “The Film Society” is dispassionate. Given its setting, “The Film Society” is rife with possibilities for genuine conflict; instead it devolves into a tale of petty manipulation.

David Barlow as Terry and Euon Morton as Jonathon in “The Film Society” at the Keen. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

The survival of Neville Sutter’s (Gerry Bamman) derelict boys school is meant to be the meat of the drama.
In its resurrection, the generally unmoored Jonathon is to find purpose. Certianly that is his mother’s (Roberta Maxwell) fervent intention.

Mrs. Balton sees her son’s future clearly. Can Jonathon abandon his friendships with Nan (Mandy Siegfried) and Terry Sinclair?

There are a couple of exceedingly poetic passages in “The Film Society,” although both wax on about unappetizing decay. Surely a connection is to be made there. But neither revolutionary change, nor fettered recalcitrance has a clear win.

Euon Morton is appealingly naive as Jonathon. David Barlow stands out along with Roberta Maxwell in the ensemble because they offer consistent visions for their characters. They also not incidentally are able to hang on to their accents, a nagging problem for some of their fellows, if not for Morton to whom it comes more naturally.

“The Film Society” sets up an opportunity to explore the politics of South Africa that is squandered in the dullness of the first act. “The Film Society” is somewhat redeemed as we proceed to the second, but it continues to suffer from a lethargy.

A Tony win, like Jon Robin Baitz’ for “Other Desert Cities” will buoy a production of any of his works. Unfortunately, “The Film Society,” with its potential is unfocused, discolored by an apathy that seems unlikely for its place in time.

For more information about “The Film Society,” please visit http://www.keencompany.org/home/