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GLENN LONEY'S SHOW NOTES
By Glenn Loney, April 1, 1999
 Broadway Buggy Repairs
CARRIAGE TRADE--Vanished Victorian sign on Broadway brickwork. Photo: Copyright © Glenn Loney 1999/The Everett Collection.
 "Red" & Chinese Cultural Revolution
 Fishburne's Lion [King] in Winter
 Williams' "Not About Nightingales"
 "Everybody's Ruby" & Zora Neale Hurston
 Durang's Time-Share from Hell
 'Night Must Fall" at the Lyceum
 A New "Turn of the Screw"
 Cocteau's "Caesar & Cleopatra"
 "Winterset" in the Bowery
 "Annie" Get Your Pink Slip
 "Pied Piper" at Manhattan School of Music
 "Band in Berlin" Closed in New York
 David Hare's "Via Dolorosa"
 Marcel Marceau at 76!
 Puppet Prince at Irish Rep
 Nicola Tesla at LaMaMa
 Del Tredici & Spike Jones at Ethical Culture
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For our archive of Glenn Loney's previous 1999 columns, click here.
Repair Your Buggy on Broadway!
Actually, this 19th century advertisement for carriage-manufacturing and buggy-repair is only marginally connected to the Broadway Theatre. It came to light—and very briefly—when the old Central Theatre on West 47th Street was demolished.
CARRIAGE TRADE--Vanished Victorian sign on Broadway brickwork. Photo: Copyright © Glenn Loney 1999/The Everett Collection.
It was on view across the street from the Times Square cut-rate ticket-booth.
Considering the towering skyscrapers in the area, it may be difficult to imagine this as once having been a center for horse-and-buggy rentals.
Instead of a Yellow Cab, theatre-patrons could find a carriage at the stables where the Winter Garden Theatre now stands!
The concrete frame of a new Planet Hollywood Hotel has now covered the old ad again. And the brick wall it is on will surely soon be demolished. Long before Planet Hollywood's hostelry.
Plays New & Old—
Sing Along with the Cultural Revolution:[****]
Destroying China's Ancient Arts in "Red"
The Mills of the Gods, we are told, grind slowly, but exceedingly fine.
SEEING "RED"--Jodi Long and Ric Young dig into the destruction of Peking Opera under China's Cultural Revolution. Photo: Joan Marcus.
Unfortunately, the Mills of Revolutionary Reformers grind rapidly, rabidly, and indiscriminately.
They all too often crush much of the Humanity whose lives they seek to improve. Not to overlook the wanton destruction of important cultural monuments of the dishonored Past they seek to replace.
And then, when their own brief moment in the Sun is over, their monuments are also swept away in the tides of time.
Try to find a statue of Stalin or even Lenin now in Eastern Europe!
Chairman Mao's Thought is not going to disappear so quickly. But the disastrous results of his Demon Wife's decrees during the Chinese Cultural Revolution are even now being repaired where possible.
Chay Yew's fascinating new play, "Red," concentrates on one brave artist who resisted the dictats of Chiang Ching, a film-actress of dubious talents but of undoubted appeal to Chairman Mao.
He is wonderfully interpreted by Ric Young in the current Manhattan Theatre Club staging of David Petrarca.
His name is Hua, and he is a highly trained actor/singer in the Shanghai version of what used to be known in the West as Peking Opera. Ling [Liana Pai], a young girl, follows him everywhere.
She wants to master the demanding athletic and performance regimen which is required to play the traditional opera roles.
Unfortunately, no women are permitted to act in traditional operas. Hua's specialty is elegant feminine roles—concubines, princesses, and virtuous village girls.
He absolutely refuses to accept Ling as an apprentice—at first. But her slavish attention to his needs as a performer finally win him over. With no thought—on his part—that she will ever be allowed to appear on stage.
She proves remarkably determined and adept. As with classical ballet, the often cruel and demanding training begins almost in infancy.
With the sudden advent of the Cultural Revolution—when Chinese artists and intellectuals are humiliated, tortured, and killed in public squares—Hua is immediately in danger.
Ling joins the Red Guards, participating in the fatal beating of his stage-manager and lover. It develops that she has done this to protect Hua, who is her father.
Chay Yew has told this complicated story in a series of time-bending fractured flashbacks. His narrator is the excessively self-confident best-selling Chinese-American novelist Sonja Pickford.
She has been invited to Shanghai by the Communist Authorities to attend a posthumous banquet to honor Hua. The defiant actor was beaten to death on the stage of his own theatre some time before.
He—or his daughter—have defied Chiang Ching's edicts, not only in trying to preserve traditional theatre techniques, but also in adapting Chekhov's alien "Uncle Vanya" for the Chinese stage.
As events fold into each other, it gradually emerges that Sonja has chosen her western name from this play. And that she is not just another refugee from Hong Kong as she insists.
But in fact she's an older, tougher, possibly wiser Ling. Trying to come to terms with the Past—and to tell Hua's story.
Chay Yew makes much of the fact that young audiences—whether in Shanghai or New York—aren't now interested in authentic productions of "Butterfly Dream."
Nor are they at all curious about Chiang Ching's favorite replacement for such reactionary theatre.
She ordered productions of "Red Detachment of Women" across China. A major film was even made of this epic, which was much admired by European Intellectuals. Naturally.
Once she and the notorious "Gang of Four" were arrested—and dealt with—people couldn't wait to trash their copies of her "Modern Revolutionary Peking Operas."
Not having lived under the brutal repressions which characterized the Cultural Revolution, I kept mine. So I must be one of the few kids on the block with handsomely illustrated texts for "The Red Lantern," "Taking the Bandits' Stronghold," "Raid on the White Tiger Regiment," "Azalea Mountain," "On the Docks," "Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy," "Shachiapang," and "Song of the Dragon River."
I also have Chiang Ching's own book on this theatre-reform: "On the Revolution of Peking Opera." The book has already outlived her reforms.
Peking and Cantonese and other forms of Chinese opera-theatre rapidly were reborn.
A news-item notes that the actual daughter of the Chinese Opera actor—on whom Chay Yew modeled Hua—is extremely annoyed with what he has done with the character. She appeared in "The Joy Luck Club" and is obviously anxious to protect her father's good name.
In "Red," it is clear that the long-widowed Hua lives for his art but lives with his male stage-manager. The actress is offended at this suggestion.
Even though her father performed female roles to perfection, he was not himself feminine or homosexual, she insists.
Chay Yew does make the point in his play that Hua is not a drag-queen—in the vulgar sense—onstage. And certainly not off. He is a man and artist of great dignity.
And he tells a rebellious Ling—who thinks, being a young woman, that women should know better than men how women should move and behave—that women exist to please men, so men must set the standards of what is most pleasing to them in a woman.
Nonetheless, there is evidence that one of the very greatest female-impersonators of Peking Opera, Mei Lan-fang, early in his long career was the kept-boy of a very rich patron of the opera.
He later married and founded his own family. And was lionized in the West by leading theatre people such as Bertolt Brecht.
These details were revealed to me when my former student from Taiwan, film and TV actress Emily Liu, wrote her MA Thesis at Brooklyn College on Mei's life and art.
Return of The Lion [King] in Winter:[****]
Fishburne & Channing Wage Domestic War
Laurence Fishburne is a wonder as the Angevin King Henry II of England. He has the stature and the manner of one accustomed to command absolute obedience.
"LION IN WINTER"--Laurence Fishburne, as King Henry II, protects his beloved Alisa, played by Emily Bergl. Photo: Copyright ©—Joan Marcus.
He also has the ironic grasp of the realities of power which helps him maintain control over his own fractious and dangerous family. Of course, he has to keep his wife & queen, the fabled beauty, Eleanor of Aquitaine, in perpetual imprisonment to achieve this.
Even so, she is always plotting against him.
His candidate for succession to Crown and Throne is a sniveling lad who will become the evil King John, nemesis of Robin Hood. [But those events are in other plays and films!]
Eleanor wants Richard Lionheart as King. She also wants for him her rich domain of Aquitaine—a prime reason Henry married this widow of the saintly, wimpy King Louis.
As James Goldman has imagined Henry—and written lines to match—and as Fishburne plays him, this violent and wily King also has a mordant sense of humor. He of course prefers the joke to be on others.
Henry even has a bit of sweetness and tenderness underneath the real and metaphoric armor of a warrior-king. He can find, in an unguarded moment, fond memories of his former affection for Eleanor.
What's more, he can dote on a simple but pretty girl, Alais, almost to the point of endangering his throne.
Fishburne couldn't make all of this work on stage so effectively if he did not also have splendidly clear and forceful diction. His Henry II makes one want to see his Henry V—and Macbeth as well.
James Goldman is no Shakespeare, but he is [or once was] an exceedingly clever playwright. He is able to encompass Chronicle History, dynastic disaster, and family SitCom all in one exciting evening.
When this play premiered on Broadway, many moons ago—despite the dynamic performances of Robert Preston and Rosemary Harris as the fueding royals—it was attacked by some of the most important critics.
Walter Kerr—either missing or deliberately ignoring the intention of Goldman's ingenious plot-complications—complained of the play's faulty grasp on history. Kerr was annoyed that Eleanor would perceive: "It's 1183, and we're all barbarians!"
He also noted that Martin Luther invented the Christmas Tree much later—and in Germany, not in the Chateau of Chinon.
Goldman's political comedy is not a History Play, not a Romantic Drama. Its spirit is Shavian.
But Goldman knows better than to offer an evening of Social Comment, dressed up in royal robes and delivered with daggers.
What "Lion in Winter" really offers is a comedy of sudden and constant unexpected turns of plot. Everyone has a turn behind the arras, eavesdropping.
At the very moment when Richard seems to have trumped John's feeble hopes, brother Geoff brushes the cards off the table.
This play is a Festival of Plot-Reversals.
As staged—and presumably cast—by Michael Mayer, it moves along swiftly enough. But not all actors are up to the demands of their roles.
Stockard's Channing's Eleanor is grand and imperious, but she is too often strident. She lacks the sweet insidious charm Rosemary Harris displayed, while all steel and intrigue underneath.
Emily Bergl's Alais is sweet enough. But her concern for her kingly lover and her own expressions of love for him verge on whining at times.
In the text, it's clear that Goldman intends she shall have her own secret depths of ambition and intrigue. That she has the will to kill—to force the King to destroy all his sons so her child by him will be the only heir to the throne.
But the Killer-Instinct doesn't emerge—even subtly—in the playing.
This is a very effective and interesting drama. It's good the Roundabout Theatre has revived it.
Efficiently designed by David Gallo, Michael Krass, Kenneth Posner, and Mark Bennett, it could eventually be played in rep with all those other plays about Queen Eleanor, King Henry, St. Thomas à Becket, King John, and Richard the Lionhearted.
Why not a Lincoln Center Summer Festival of these plays?
There's Christopher Fry's "Curtmantle," titled for this French/English king's "Short Coat."
Not to overlook the Becket Plays—such as those by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, and Jean Anouilh. And the most celebrated, if seldom performed: T. S. Eliot's "Murder in the Cathedral."
Then there's Shakespeare's "King John," and a variety of dramatic texts touching Lionheart. There's even that musical about the troubadour Blondel's search for the imprisoned Crusader King Richard: "Chess."
For those modern defenders of the Civil Rights of others, who simply cannot understand why Henry II seemed so concerned about French real-estate, these plays may help explain his interests.
Even some latter-day admirers of the Bard wonder why Shakespeare's Henry V is cast as a hero, making war in France to conquer territory and seal his conquests by marrying the French Princess.
Do we need more history in the schools? England's Saxon King Harold was defeated at Hastings in 1066. And All That.
"Billy Conqueror" was Norman French. The Angevin Kings of England were a French Line. They were rooted in the Province of Anjou—and they desperately tried to retain their lands in France.
So the 1183 AD Christmas Party in "Lion in Winter" is taking place in France, not England, for a very good reason. The scheming young King of France does not effectively rule the Angevin territories.
Wait for all those plays & films about St. Joan and Crowning the Dauphin King of France in Rheims Cathedral! Even that late in the Middle Ages, English Kings were not about to give up their territorial rights in France!
Echoes of the Protesting Past:[***]
Tom Williams' "Not About Nightingales"
Most of the major Manhattan critics agree that Tennessee Williams' very early and previously unproduced melodrama, "Not About Nightingales," is a remarkable work for a novice.
ALL ABOUT BAD PRISONS--A grim scene from Tennessee Williams' "Not About Nightingales," now at Circle-in-the-Square. Photo: Copyright ©—Joan Marcus.
It is also the consensus that Trevor Nunn's mounting of the play in the difficult Half-Hippodrome conformation of the Circle-in-the-Square Theatre is both masterful and exciting.
The space is certainly a challenge. Ted Mann began semi-arena stagings down on Bleecker Street, but—when he moved his now-defunct operation to midtown—his elongated new auditorium looked like a Roman Chariot-Race Hippodrome sawed in half.
Richard Hoover's scenic solution in creating the clanking bars of an oppressive Chicago city prison is brilliant. And Chris Parry's lighting is instrumental in making it even more terrifying as a reality.
But, at the same time, it's also a visual metaphor.
As a longtime student of Depression Era theatre and films, however, I had the feeling that I was experiencing a Federal Theatre production of a Prison Edition of "The Living Newspaper."
The horrors of watching hunger-striking hard Cons roasted alive in "The Klondike" made such Fed Theatre exposés as "One Third of a Nation" and "Triple-A Plowed Under" seem like children's theatre.
And, at the close, when the warden's stoolie, Canary Jim [Finbar Lynch], began to wax poetic with the secretary he's come to love [Sherri Parker Lee], wisps of the wonderfully moving poetic imagery of Williams' later classics began to rise in the ether.
When Canary Jim jumped through the great window at the apex of the arena's U—clambering over an improbable stairway of filing-cabinets—it was a Flight to Freedom worthy of a Group Theatre opus by Clifford Odets.
In fact, this element of the stage-picture suggested Max Reinhardt's magnificent production of "Danton's Death." Or domestic design-triumphs by the likes of Robert Edmond Jones and Norman bel Geddes.
All that was needed at the end—to make the period illusion complete—would have been having Canary Jim shout to his lady-love: "Life shouldn't be printed on dollar bills!"
This, of course, is Vintage Odets. From "Awake and Sing," which also resonates with such comments as: "Brooklyn Bridge fell down!"
Most of the action and the dialogue, however, seemed borrowed from—or inspired by—one of those Death Row Jimmy Cagney films.
Brit Corin Redgrave—whose sister, Vanessa, is given credit for "discovering" this forgotten script—is by turns remarkably vicious and charming, and recognizably Midwestern American as the corrupt Prison Warden.
As the brutal and brutalized Convict Cock of the Walk, Butch, James Black is both violent and passionate.
Williams based this early play on a real prison scandal in Chicago. The Group Theatre gave him some prize-money, but not for this script. It may have been just too tough and negative for them.
The fact that Williams did not destroy it as a youthful playwriting indiscretion says something about his own ambiguity regarding its ultimate value.
But the fact that he also left all his manuscripts and rights in the control of the now deceased Demon Executrix, Maria, Lady St. Just, also says something about his befuddled judgment.
She effectively long delayed publication of definitive biographies and studies of Williams. My own Brooklyn College office-mate, William Prosser—who had staged Williams' late plays in Florida in close collaboration with him—was prevented by Lady St. Just from publishing his own fascinating account of their productions and his analysis of them.
Criminal Justice in Florida:[**]
Zora Neale Hurston in "Everybody's Ruby"
Ruby McCollum [Viola Davis] isn't treated as badly in prison as Tennessee Williams' jailbirds. But she certainly is denied Due Process in her trial for murder in a small Florida town in 1952.
BLACK WOMEN IN PAIN--Phylicia Rashad as Zora Neale Hurston [top] and Viola Davis as Ruby—on trial for killing a white doctor—in "Everybody's Ruby." Photo: Michael Daniel.
As depicted in Thulani Davis' deliberately fractured narrative, "Everybody's Ruby" isn't the only center-of-attention. And that creates a real problem of focus and dramatic action.
The play also seems concerned in a major way with the sad end of the writing career of the much admired African-American author, Zora Neale Hurston.
In Live Oak, Florida, to report on the crime and the trial, Hurston is played by Phylicia Rashad as a study in frustration and disappointment.
She simply cannot "Get That Story," in time-honored reportorial tradition. White folks won't talk to her.
Neither will black people, so afraid are they of endangering their own precarious positions in this prejudiced community.
Hurston does get some hints and leads. But she isn't being backed up financially by her paper, so she can't pay the bribes needed to loosen tongues.
So she calls on a colleague, the muckraking journalist, William Bradford Huie [Tuck Milligan]. It becomes his story.
And, because her latest book has just been rejected, she has no money and has to pawn her precious typewriter for throwaway change.
Why she didn't start over with pencils is not made clear.
Anyway, that is almost a different play from Ruby's. It gets in the way of what could have been a really taut courtroom drama.
Ruby McCollum really did kill the white doctor who repeatedly abused her sexually, medically, and spiritually. And fathered her daughter, Loretta—who is still alive.
Why she killed him needs more than a biased courtroom to provide the answers. Thulani Davis does use flashbacks to some effect. But Ruby's story really needs the expansion of cinematic treatment.
This production, as a result, is too visually and textually fractured. And too busy with prop and scenery changes.
For those who don't remember Huie's searing exposés, he was the man who told the story of the only American soldier in World War II to be executed by a firing-squad for desertion: "The Execution of Private Slovik."
The Time-Share from Durang Hell:[***]
"Betty's Summer Vacation" on the Jersey Shore
One of my colleagues was under the impression that Christopher Durang's latest sophomoric social satire takes place somewhere in the Hamptons. Or on Fire Island.
HORRORS ON THE JERSEY SHORE--Kellie Overbey and Julie Lund recoil in terror during "Betty's Summer Vacation." Photo: Copyright ©—Joan Marcus
Actually, it occurs on the Jersey Shore, where Durang and his parents spent beach-time some years ago. And it seems an hilarious response to this antic playwright's decision to leave the distractions of Manhattan and move to Darkest Connecticut for Peace & Quiet.
And inspiration, perhaps?
Unfortunately, all they seem to have up there is TV. So his newest Manners Manifesto takes on TV programming and audience stereotypes with a vengeance.
To say that Durang's satire is somewhat sophomoric is not a put-down. It was sophomoric when he was a grad student at the Yale School of Drama.
And all the more unbuttoned, uncontrolled, and unexpected for that.
His Prize-Fight Parody of that long-ago Friedrich Dürrenmatt avant-garde reduction of Strindberg's "The Dance of Death—known as "Play Strindberg"—was terminally raucous and hilarious.
As befits an eternally youthful satirist, Durang has never been a Respecter of Persons. His comic character-assassinations are killers.
Only recently—when he exposed his old friend Sigourney Weaver to critical ire on Broadway, in "Sex and Longing"—did his satiric powers seem to falter. He was just too Angry.
But justifiably so! In the light of the subsequent Kenneth Starr Blow-Job & Semen Extravaganza, he now seems positively prophetic.
But "Sex and Longing" was over the top. It was filled with almost tedious Outrage, instead of being outrageous.
Some of this has spilled over into "Betty's Summer Vacation." It is reinforced by the manic staging of Nicholas Martin.
And deliberately driven—like a wooden spike into a Vampire's Heart—into the audience's eyes, ears, and minds by the frenetic cast.
The only low-key performances come from the passive and horrified Betty [Kellie Overbey] and her summer beach-house co-sharer and Serial Killer, Keith [Nat de Wolf].
Trudy [Julie Lund] another sharer, is a hyper-manic, high-volume, non-stop talker. Her brain is never involved in the process, so the results are even more horrendous than when one is trapped by an Environmentalist.
Her mother, Mrs. Siezmagraff [Kristine Nielsen]—who owns the cottage—turns up to complicate matters endlessly. And Mindlessly, as well.
In addition to the requisite Violence, there is also Sex. There's a non-stop stud who even has an album with photos of his penis to show around.
And Trudy's mom brings home a Flasher she has found. Ignoring the terrible damage done to Trudy by her father's epic and repeated rapes in her childhood.
The Battling Babbitts are reprised as a penis is severed and put on the ice-cube tray.
Emlyn Williams' hokey old murder-melodrama, "Night Must Fall," is also recycled. Keith has a hatbox, but he won't reveal its contents. Just like Matthew Broderick over on West 45th Street in the real play.
If these ingredients sound like Little-Bit-of-Everything Noodle Soup at Ollie's Noodle Shop, there's even more to thicken the dramatic stew.
Mysterious laughing comes from the ceiling. Betty and Trudy begin to realize they are being watched like a TV sitcom.
To silence the laughter, they try to please their unseen viewers by giving them scenes and dialogue they love.
Suddenly this crew of three drop from the ceiling. Courtroom Drama, Gameshows, and other TV staples ensue.
Christopher Durang has clearly been watching much too much television.
The frantic pace, the furious energies, the incredible and unpalatable plot-twists, the hilariously vicious character satires: it is all too much too soon.
Come on, Chris!
Give TV a chance! It's only in its infancy.
Just wait till they have 500 channels worldwide!
Before "Hold Back the Dawn,"[**]
There Was "Night Must Fall"
"Not the hatbox!"
When I first saw the film-version of Emlyn Williams' provincial repertory thriller-favorite, "Night Must Fall," I thought: "Oh mygawd! There's something horrible in that hatbox!"
BABY-FACED KILLER--Matthew Broderick chats up Judy Parfitt, playing a crochety old miser, in Emlyn Williams' "Night Must Fall." Photo: Copyright ©—Joan Marcus.
And when that Irish lassie first grasped the poker to shake up the fire in "Beauty Queen of Leenane," I was surely the only one who gasped audibly: "No! Not the poker!"
Nonetheless, this hokey modern revision of good old-time melodrama has been heralded as absorbing Rural Irish Genre Drama. On the order of John Millington Synge's "Riders to the Sea." Or "Playboy of the Western World," at the very least.
No one in his right mind—if he still has a head on his shoulders, you should pardon the expression!—thinks "Night Must Fall" is some kind of classic. It is a contrived, dated, even obvious and pokey Home Counties melodrama.
Matthew Broderick—as the baby-faced psychopathic murderer—looks rather like a young Tony Randall. Can this be accidental?
Randall is, after all, the Founder & Artistic Director of the National Actors Theatre. It—or they—take the credit or blame for the annual series of drama revivals at the Lyceum Theatre.
Randall certainly deserves credit—and a lot of thanks—for his dogged pursuit of his repertory goal. Despite recurring financial difficulties!
Broadway audiences have been able to see a number of forgotten plays in professional productions in recent seasons. Some of the plays, of course, were forgettable. Even some of the productions.
The current staging of "Night Must Fall" will not be easy to forget.
It is mainly memorable for the curious decision to render the set and most of the costumes in black, white, and shades of gray.
This Silent-Movie Color-Palette has been extended to facial makeup as well. Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff would be white with envy!
Did director John Tillinger and designers James Noone [sets], Jess Goldstein [costumes], and Brian McDevitt [lighting] consciously attempt to suggest something subliminally to the audience?
That they were actually seeing the original film, with Dame May Whitty and Robert Montgomery?
Broderick is no Montgomery, though he has worked very hard on his accent and his acting. Charm, however, seems to elude him.
That is essential to make this play work on any level. And Judy Parfitt's continual imperious whining makes the production even more leaden.
You wish her constantly humiliated niece and secretary/companion [J. Smith-Cameron] would stab her with a letter-opener at the outset. Then this could serve as a curtain-raiser for "Murder at the Vicarage," using the same set.
Henry James' "The Turn of the Screw"[****]
Newly Revisited and Rethreaded for Two
The Irony of It All! Edith Wharton and Henry James both tried—vainly say some critics—to write for the theatre. Nonetheless, Wharton and Clyde Fitch's dramatization of her novel, "The House of Mirth," is in fact effective in the stage-terms of their time.
DUET FOR HENRY JAMES--Rocco Sisto and Enid Graham are the entire cast of Jeffrey Hatcher's new version of "The Turn of the Screw." Photo: James Leynse.
And some of Henry James' plays have achieved recognition in productions in London. But it remained for playwright William Archibald to make James' haunting tale, "The Turn of the Screw," into a successful Broadway play.
With a different libretto and a remarkable score by Benjamin Britten, "Turn of the Screw" has also become a very powerful, suggestive opera. It is frequently revived and even maintained in some ensembles' repertories.
Why, then, would the talented dramatist, Jeffrey Hatcher, want to re-work the James fable as yet another play?
With such unusual works as "Scotland Road"—a mysterious survivor of the Titanic Sinking is found floating on an ice-floe—or "Mother Russia," why isn't Hatcher striding forward confidently into the Future Of Drama?
Just possibly because he is so talented, he thought it might be an unusual challenge to present "The Turn of the Screw" as a tour-de-force for only two actors.
This he has done with great skill and sensitivity.
But his own artistry is effectively enhanced by the remarkable performances of Enid Graham and Rocco Sisto at Primary Stages. She plays the impressionable young governess. Sisto plays all the other characters—quite convincingly!
As staged by Melia Benussen, in the very simple environment devised by Christine Jones—this is not only a thoroughly absorbing experience. But also one that could tour with a minimum of expense and a maximum of effect and audience pleasure.
Cocteau on the Bowery:
Hold the Spectacle, C. B.![***]
This is Shaw's "Caesar & Cleopatra"—
Not Gabriel Pascal's Movie Version!
Down in the depths of the Bowery, you don't expect to find Claude Rains, Vivian Leigh, Dame Flora Robson, and Stewart Grainger recreating Bernard Shaw's ironic comedy of Sex & Statecraft, "Caesar and Cleopatra."
In "Caesar and Cleopatra," the married couple of Craig Smith and Elise Stone take the title roles, which were performed by another married couple, Sir Johnston Forbes-Robinson and Gertrude Elliott, at London's Savoy Theater in 1907. (Jonathan Slaff photo)
If you want the grand spectacles and steamy passions of Gabriel Pascal's memorable film version of GBS's delightful satire on power and greatness, you'd better rent a video.
Shaw didn't look at history the way that Pascal and C. B. DeMille did. He was far more interested—a bit like Hamlet—in probing behind the splendid trappings of Chambers of State.
And, as in Shakespeare's great tragedy, there are some bodies behind the arras. And some pathetic screams as some die.
But "Caesar and Cleopatra" is not about High Tragedy. Shaw wisely left that to the Bard, whose "Antony and Cleopatra" is one of drama's most neglected and greatest masterpieces.
Shaw's lively clash of wills, cultures, and stratagems is, in fact, a wonderful curtain-raiser for Shakespeare's "A&C." They ought to be played in rep.
Many seasons ago, Olivier and Leigh did just that. It was boffo box-office.
You could even include in the rep program John Dryden's majestic rewrite of the story, the Heroic Tragedy, "All for Love, or, The World Well Lost." That could demonstrate why Shaw knew it wasn't a good idea for him to draft a sequel to "C&C."
What he did do was tack on a Prologue more than a decade after the play's premiere.
This was also not a good idea. Though at the time he may have thought having the God Horus-Ra hector his audiences about the meaning of his play and their own resemblance to these wrangling, selfish, stupid Egyptians and Romans may have seemed necessary.
It did not prevent them from plunging headlong into the senseless devastations of World War I—which he certainly sensed waiting in the wings.
So the Prologue now seems dated in its scolding rhetoric. Even though GBS is obviously still right about our personal and political stupidities.
The current Cocteau revival runs almost 3 hours, with intermission. So it could have been cut with no loss to the impact of the actual play—which was very swiftly paced indeed.
For followers of the fortunes of the Jean Cocteau Repertory, however, this Prologue was of special interest. It gave the ubiquitous Harris Berlinsky the opportunity to demonstrate his proficiency in presenting a Superreal Character of great mystery and majesty. And in a deep, booming register quite different from the lighter, softer tones of most of his roles.
He assumed his Ra role by ceremonially lifting a great Horus Mask from a golden staff with an Ankh, or Egyptian Cross, as its finial. Donning it, he was transformed.
Setting the stage effectively with a few props and the most vivid but elemental of images is a Cocteau tradition. Designer Robert Klingelhoefer does not disappoint in his vision of Ptolemaic Alexandria either.
When a ruminating Caesar—clad in British Mandate uniform and pith-helmet—approaches the Sphinx to share with it some elevating maxims, it is a great glowing eye, with some rectangular solids stacked off-center.
These boxes, some camp-chairs, a few panels, and some elegantly simple draperies serve well for all the scenes. And on an obviously low, low budget, costume-designer Margaret A. McKowen has been able suggest the majesty of Cleopatra and her Court.
But it's only a suggestion, as Roman officers seem a cross between Lord Nelson at the Battle of the Nile and those gambling for Christ's Robe. At one point, Cleopatra even looks more like a heroine in a Peking Opera than an African Queen.
These are amusing minutiae, compared with the power, excitement, and wit of Shaw's play.
It is difficult to believe that this parody of Powers at Play was written a century ago—premiering in 1898! It is so very Modern! The Wit still works!
What's more, Shaw has structured it as a live-or-die cliff-hanger. This I had quite forgotten.
"Caesar and Cleopatra" is not one of those talky Shavian comedies in which the cast sits in a parlor having tea and being oh so clever about Socialism, The Life Force, and The New Woman.
In this hundred-year-old script, Shaw sets up deadly conflicts. And they generate constantly changing complications.
Will Caesar be assassinated? Will he and his entire outnumbered army be murdered by the Egyptians? Can he master the situation and conquer? Can he even escape?
Will Cleopatra's childish younger brother [and husband] have her killed? Will she kill him first?
How can this kittenish little girl become both a woman and a queen in a matter of days? How can she conquer Great Caesar?
There are plenty of Major Dramatic Questions to absorb an audience's attention in this brilliant play.
Those who are able should make a major effort to get down to the Bowery and see this admirable production. It lacks the polish and pretension it would have were it mounted midtown by the Roundabout.
But this is no excuse not to see this engaging staging. What is more, Craig Smith and Elise Stone—while not exactly Rains/Olivier and Leigh—are wonderfully amusing and intelligent in their interpretations of the regal roles.
Caesar/Smith rather overdoes the praising of Lesbian Wine, however.
This play is, elementally, an exciting action-drama. But it is also a sharp, smart critique of human-nature, especially when men and women have power and use it.
Under the Brooklyn Bridge[**]
With Max Anderson's "Winterset"
Back in 1935, the injustice done to Sacco & Vanzetti—wrongfully accused and condemned for murder in a payroll robbery—still outraged liberal Americans.
Tim Deak and Elise Stone in "Winterset" (Jonathan Slaff photo)
When Maxwell Anderson reworked the story as "Winterset," he ensured the play's enthusiastic critical reception by writing it in a quasi-poetic rhetoric.
The Broadway production was also visually distinguished by the looming presence of the Brooklyn Bridge—designed by Jo Mielziner. Murderous gangsters lurked in its shadows.
This was in the depths of the Depression:Injustice, Gangsters, and Poetry for High Tragedy. But the Dead End Kids for comic relief!
Both the play and its premiere production rapidly took on the status of Modern Classics. Even a decade later—with the victorious end of World War II—college drama students still longed to play its doomed young hero and heroine, Mio and Miriamne.
Apparently, those remain Dream Roles at the Jean Cocteau.
Elise Stone in fact makes a wistful, waif-like Miriamne Esdras. It is a mitzvah that her theatre-partner, Craig Smith, plays the crazed old magistrate, Judge Gaunt, instead of Mio.
Tim Deak—Apollodorus on other evenings—is the passionate Mio.
And Chris Black is properly constrained as Garth Esdras—the one man who actually witnessed the payroll murder—whose testimony could have saved Mio's innocent father from the electric-chair.
The plot does have some twists and turns, but exposure to too much TV makes them now seem totally predictable.
And it is unbelievable that all the principals in this affair of miscarried justice should so conveniently arrive at the Esdras tenement apartment almost on cue.
There is even an abstract suggestion of the Brooklyn Bridge on the Cocteau's tiny stage. But there is no going back to 1935 and the theatre-sensibilities of that time.
Unfortunately, Max Anderson was no Shakespeare. Many of his "picturesque images" and poetic metaphors now seem self-conscious and labored.
At times, Anderson's high-flown rhetoric is embarrassing, even amusing. It is a tribute to the cast that they can infuse their lines with as much belief and passion as they do.
Director Eve Adamson apparently pruned a lot of verbiage. Judging from those who fled the small auditorium before the show was over—and from all the fidgeting around me—she could have cut a lot more.
I thought Old Esdras would never finish his boring ruminations about Life and Death at the close.
Next time the Cocteau is tempted to stage this pretentious demi-tragedy, they should invite Marcel Marceau to do a mime-version of "Winterset."
Or revive Max Anderson's "The Bad Seed" instead.
Musicals Old & New—
There's No Business Like Musical Revivals:[**]
Annie, Get Your Social Security Benefits!
Broadwayites who have never seen a bus & truck production of a former bigtime hit can satisfy their curiosity at the Marquis Theatre.
GUN CONTROL--Bernadette Peters impersonates Annie Oakley, with Tom Wopat as her intended mate, in "Annie Get Your Gun." Photo: Junichi Takahashi.
There, the revival of Irving Berlin's "Annie Get Your Gun"—though talented Tony Walton is credited with its design—looks very much like a tour-worn, budget-conscious parody of a Wild West Show.
Graciela Daniele is nominally credited with stage-direction and—with Jeff Calhoun—with the nominal and certainly unimaginative choreography.
It is almost insulting to open this shoddy show with "There's No Business Like Show Business."
It constitutes an on-going reproach to everything that follows, visually and vocally.
Of course Bernadette Peters is a darling girl, everybody's sweetheart. But, like the aging Mary Pickford—who was once "America's Sweetheart"—she should now accept the responsibilities of maturity.
Anyone who remembers Ethel Merman on stage—or Betty Hutton in the film version—will be disappointed with Peters' effortful impersonation of the fabulous sharpshooter, Annie Oakley.
Obviously, she cannot copy the performance or style of either of these high-powered stars. But Annie Oakley was high-powered, self-assured, and a crack markswoman.
In this show, Peters seems none of these. And her voice—which has always had a slight nasality and some breathiness—seems better suited to Betty Boop than to Annie Oakley.
I don't understand why I keep typing Wombat when I can see in the program that Frank Butler's alter-ego is named Tom Wopat. He's ingratiating but certainly no headliner.
Nor does he make much of his songs which are seldom solo.
Even the clever competitive duet, "Everything You Can Do I Can Do Better," doesn't work. Because no one here can do it better.
Peter Stone is credited with revising the script, supposedly to remove offensive Politically Incorrect references. The results are even more offensive, primarily to common-sense.
If this show must be revived—especially for its lively score—then it needs to be left alone. It is a kind of modern musical classic, a period-piece, if you will.
The senseless sensibilities of 1998 make a hash of what originally had some historical authenticity.
Has everyone forgotten that Buffalo Bill did indeed hire Sioux Indians—who wiped out Custer and his US Cavalry at Little Big Horn—to re-enact the event on a regular basis?
They even performed this at the old Hippodrome on Sixth Avenue and 43rd Street. Today, that historic site is a parking-garage.
But, hey, what if Custer had had a Jeep Cherokee to escape from the Sioux?
Making Music in & about Germany:
The Kids Come Back, Not the Rats!Nicolas Flagello's opera for children, "The Pied Piper of Hamelin," is both tuneful and charming. And it was recently charmingly revived with a cast of youths and children at the Manhattan School of Music.
Flagello's "Pied Piper of Hamelin"
The fact that Flagello really liked music that speaks to a popular audience saved him from imitating Webern, Berg, Schoenberg, and even Milton Babbitt.
But he also apparently had a kind heart, which prevented him from presenting the bitter moral lesson of the Old German Folk Tale.
As recorded by the Brothers Grimm and others, the Pied Piper successfully piped all the hordes of rats which plagued Hamlin-Town right into the watery depths of the River Weser.
When the shifty Burghers of the city were confronted by the Piper—demanding the agreed-upon fee for this Pest-Control Service—they refused to pay.
In retaliation, the Piper piped all the town's children away into a great mountain, the Koppelberg, which closed behind them. And they were never seen again.
This tale relates to an actual event in 1284, when a piper is supposed to have led away some of the town's children. It also became intertwined with stories of the infamous Children's Crusade of 1212. A German contingent was led by a boy named Nicolas!
Nicolas Flagello based his libretto on Robert Browning's famous poem. The "Piper" program noted that Browning suggested the children may have emerged in Transylvania. Which the program places in Bulgaria.
[Actually, Transylvania is today in Romania, though it belonged to Hungary before World War I.]
German fairytales often deal in senseless cruelty and vicious revenge.
The Wicked Old Witch—who bakes little boys and girls in her oven, turning them into gingerbread—may not explain the Ovens of Auschwitz. But the ultimate Moral Lesson of "Hansel & Gretel" is worth thinking about, in this connection.
The Witch herself—the eternal enemy of All Good German Boys & Girls—is roasted in her own oven! The Other, the Outsider, has to pay for its insidious plots.
Fortunately, Flagello adds a Happy Ending to his retelling of the tale. The Town Fathers relent and pay. And the children are returned.
Brace Negron was the Piper, supported by an able cast of Townsmen and Children. As well as mice.
Jonathan Strasser conducted, with staging by Gordon Ostrowski. Tom Hooper's ingenious if elemental sets and Nancy Beth Falloon's colorful period costumes made the production even more entertaining.
This Cynthia Auerbach Children's Opera Theatre production honored Dianne Flagello—for her long service at the Manhattan School, working with the Preparatory Division.
Feldman's "Band in Berlin"[*]
Closed—Not Banned—in Manhattan
Curious that anyone would want to produce a staged chronology of Germany's Comedian Harmonists, even though they were great favorites during the Weimar Republic.
BANNED IN BERLIN--The Five Comedian Harmonists in "Band in Berlin," briefly at the Helen Hayes. Photo: Carol Rosegg.
Especially when there is already a very interesting film, "The Harmonists," making the rounds.
That doesn't mean the sad story of this vocal quintet necessarily can be better told on film. But "The Harmonists" had done just that, however.
Susan Feldman's stage-version of their story, "Band in Berlin," itself leans heavily on a faked film-documentary to provide its narrative and make its political and personal points.
The fact that this appalling footage looks like unedited home-movies is bad enough. But that it is also fake, pretending to be a series of interviews the real Roman Cycowski [played by Herbert Rubens] is even more annoying.
Cycowski [sung by Peter Becker] was the baritone among the Harmonists. He was also an East European Jew.
This fact seems to give him special pleasure. He is making a very successful performance career in the West, in a group including two gentiles.
What's more, the entire ensemble seems universally beloved, not only in anti-Semitic Germany but worldwide. Even as the Nazis are on the rise, SS officers applaud them.
But Hitler's Race Policies and the Nuremberg Laws soon silenced the Comedian Harmonists.
It did not require measures so drastic to close the show swiftly at the Helen Hayes.
Stations of Pilgrimage in David Hare's[***]
Journey Through an Unquiet Holy Land
Someone has removed the stage-floor from the Booth Theatre!
HARE IN THE HOLY LAND--British playwright David Hare shares his experiences among Israelis and Arabs. Photo:Joan Marcus.
Jonathan Miller did that once for the Yale Rep Theatre, when he staged Robert Lowell's translation of "Prometheus." The Titan Fire-Bringer was marooned on a mountain-peak which rose up out of the bowels of the theatre.
The last time this happened to any effect on Broadway was when Ming Cho Lee designed a stage-version of the Himalayan mountain K2. It soared from the basement right up into the flies.
In David Hare's monumental summation of an Outsider's view of Arab and Jewish antagonisms and differences there is no visible mountain on stage. But Hare certainly takes his audience over mountain-ranges of misunderstandings, deceptions, angers, outrages, and betrayals.
He makes his entry—as the solo performer of his own text, "Via Dolorosa"—from a rear-stage exit-door. Hare gingerly traverses a narrow, crooked, unstable catwalk across the gaping open cells of the Booth's under-stage basement.
This is a visual metaphor obviously. A small central platform perches over the mock ruins. At either side are reader's tables, with useful glasses of water.
Ninety minutes of non-stop solo shock-and-afterthought eight times a week can make the most agile voices hoarse. But Hare is eminently a Man of the Theatre, and he knows what has to be done and how to do it.
His previous and continuing concern with Social Issues—however individualized into characters in his plays—is also at work here.
This first-person report of interviews with important and minor personalities in both Israel and what remains of Palestine is useful and provocative journalism.
But it is more than that: Hare also tries to make some kind of sense from what wildly disagreeing Israelis tell him about their own State and about the Arabs who have no state.
The very British Hare, whose wife is in fact Jewish, tries to avoid biases—especially those almost forced on him by some of the fascinating people he interviews on both sides.
He is very good at describing these often engaging personalities, even to recreating their speech and mannerisms. One trusts his transcriptions of their conversations are accurate: That he has not put words in anyone's mouth.
The infamous corruption of the Arafat Regime is denounced even by Arabs. Various Israeli politicians are denounced by Jews as well as Arabs.
Some of Hare's informants seem to regard American Jews with contempt. Cash-cows to be milked for Israel's benefit.
Obviously, such comments—and even more wounding ones—are not Hare's opinions, but judgments he's quoted from his interviewees.
Nonetheless, these cannot but be wounding to some audience-members, especially those who cherish a Zionist Zeal in their hearts.
So some stalk out angrily. And even noisily.
They miss an astonishing visual moment. The huge steel girder above the rear door rises—it is not structural but a form of curtain—to reveal a moonlit model of the Dome of the Rock and the ancient walls of Jerusalem.
Hare could have settled for publication of this report as a book or even a magazine feature in, say, "The New Yorker." He could have toured it as a lecture, illustrated with slides.
But he has chosen to go all the way: To bring it into the theatre-arena.
To perform it. Which does raise some questions about Journalistic Integrity.
But Hare isn't really functioning here as a journalist or reporter. He's trying to analyze the problems.
And share his conclusions with live audiences—who might not read this text all the way through if it were only printed.
He doesn't see any solutions. Nor do most of his subjects who seem to regard the so-called "Peace Process" as a bitter joke.
One set of images is especially unsettling for him.
He is driven on a modern four-lane highway out through barren wastelands into a Santa Barbara-type High Security Orthodox Settler community. The road leads only there.
When he is driven to an Arab community, the crude road hardly exists. The living-standards are minimal. And the people live on without hope.
Hare also mentions the continuing misery of those dispossessed Arabs who lost their homes and lands way back in 1948—to make possible the creation of the State of Israel.
Many of them have lived and died—and their children have been born—in UN Refugee Camps in Gaza. Hare acknowledges that the camps are still in existence. That's because these people have no place to go.
In Hare's view, however, the Israeli appetite for more of the "Biblical Lands" began with the victories of the Six-Days War.
Post-Scriptum:No mention of the Stern Gang, the Irgun Zvei Leumi, or the murder of ordinary British soldiers—who were ordered to prevent illegal immigrants from landing in the British Mandate. When Israel was only an idea, a dream.
Indeed, the Israeli military successes in the Six-Day adventure were so intoxicating in New York that posters appeared with Pyramids and Palm Trees.
The slogan beneath this scenery: "VISIT ISRAEL AND SEE THE PYRAMIDS!"
For Israel's Ultra Orthodox Settlers—though Hare certainly does not make this connection—the Peace Process may mean occupying Arab Lands, piece by piece. An Arab-American colleague offered me this formulation.
Everyone seems to have forgotten that the Christians—so diversely and acrimoniously divided—also have a territorial claim to what they persist in callingThe Holy Land. Though its recent history is anything but holy.
Once upon a time, the holiest of Christendom's shrines were under the protection of Christian Crusaders. But they lost out to the Saracens.
Why doesn't the Pope command a New Crusade to win back what was lost? That would make the Middle East an even more interesting disaster-area.
Small wonder American Fundamentalists like Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell are looking forward so eagerly to the final Battle of Armageddon!
Jews may behold their Messiah for the first time. But Christians will see Him in a glorious Second Coming!
And—as is promised in the New Testament—He will rule the World for a Thousand Years. After that: The Last Judgment! Payback Time!
ifty Years of Hard Work
Made To Look Almost Effortless:
"Marcel Marceau: 50 Years of Genius"[****]
Life not only "Begins at Forty." For Marcel Marceau, at least, it's still in full swing at 76!
This French National Treasure—the greatest living Classic Mime—is now on tour. Marceau spent the last two weeks of March performing in Manhattan. He was playing at the Sylvia & Danny Kaye Theatre to sold-out houses.
He was also conducting intensive Mime Classes. This may be seen as a dubious side-effect to his magisterial performances.
Do we really need more Mimes? If mime is not done well, it can be excruciating to watch.
Indeed, in several local interviews with Marceau during the run, he agreed that some street-mimes are an embarrassment. But they are, he insisted, preferable to muggers.
Whenever I see a vacant white face, attached to an anorexic wraith of a body—completely clad in black leotard—I flee. Whether I spot them on the steps of the New York Public Library, Lincoln Center Plaza, or Washington Square Park Fountain.
Most have mastered a few fundamental tricks of gesture and body-movement. Plus some juggling, to make up for what they lack in skills to interpret the Human Condition in movement alone.
Even some of America's most admired mimes, talents like Geoff Hoyle and Bill Irwin, are really closer to clowns than to mimes of the mold of Marceau.
In an era of noisy, jangling living and entertainments, the subtle delights of wordless mimed performance don't score many points. They also don't engage and hold the interest of audiences with TV-Attention-Span-Deficiency Syndrome.
I first saw Marceau way back in 1956, when he was on an American tour. I was astounded at his Mr. Bip trying to walk into a furious wind.
Over many years, both Marceau and I grew older. He remained the consummate master of his art & craft.
But I grew tired of Mr. Bip and his variations of mimed experience.
Again, at the Kaye Theatre, I was amazed at Marceau's brilliance in suggesting unseen objects, invisible interactions, and imaginary environments.
His precision is astonishing. His vocabulary of gestures and body-stances is a complete language in itself.
That he should be performing at all, let alone with such verve, vigor, and emotion at 76 is a wonder. And a joy!
It still seems effortless. And Marceau seems both energized and ageless.
The problem for me, however, remains the same. Without words, the situations and emotions must remain elemental, even banal.
After seeing Marceau brilliantly perform his "Seven Deadly Sins," one longs for one live argument. Possibly on the topic: Muggers vs. Mimes?
Take Time for Puppet-People:
Oscar Wilde's "Happy Prince" at Irish Rep[***] By the time you read this, Active Driveway probably will have packed up its Wilde puppets and departed the basement of the Irish Repertory Theatre.
But they will surely be back. Either with this charming multi-puppet Morality Play or with some intriguing new dramatic confection for doll-players.
As is the custom with some of Eastern Europe's most avant-puppetry, Active Driveway's puppeteers employ a wide variety of puppet-genres. There are the black-clad "invisible" handlers of Japan's ancient Bunraku.
But there are also totally visible puppeteer-actors. They not only animate doll-like figures in full view of the audience, but they may also play roles themselves.
Central to this production was an elegant statue of Oscar Wilde's Happy Prince. He stands high above his city. And he looks down daily on its surface wealth and its submerged misery,
Saddened by needless suffering, this magic figure enlists a bird—who should have flown South before the winds of winter. The Prince orders the bird to take his precious-stone adornments to help the helpless.
At the end, he is a poor, shabby piece of pot-metal. Ready for the scrapheap.
And the Poor are still poor & miserable.
Active Driveway could have improved on Wilde's ending by having the Prince's sad statue replaced with a Gilded Giuliani or a Platinum Pataki. Or a Golden Howard Golden and a Silver Stanley Silver?
That would have been in keeping with the avant-garde preference for making the old classics Relevant. But this group of puppeteers seem more interested in the power of the message itself, not in being trendy.
This is an energetic ensemble worth watching. One of its founders is the award-winning designer, Akira Yoshimura.
When I first met this very talented artist, he was working on a set-elevation in Ming Cho Lee's home-studio. Anyone who had been trained by Ming Cho Lee—and whom he thought well enough to engage as his assistant—already had my vote.
Post-Scriptum:Some ask: "Why do you insist in writing about shows which have already closed. Or which only ran one weekend?"
"What's the point?"
The point is that the productions may return. Or be seen elsewhere.
Even if the sets, costumes, and props have been burned for lack of storage-space, the shows can be reconstructed, or newly rethought, by other groups.
At the very least, the texts can be read and enjoyed. If they are available.
If they aren't in print, mentioning them favorably may inspire some publisher or desk-top whiz to get them into print. Even if only On-Line!
The effort, energy, ingenuity, technical skill, costly materials, and expensive processes required to produce even a small book of plays makes the elementally inexpensive publishing alternative of an On-Line Internet Website very attractive.
There should be much more of it. Especially to get New Plays immediately to readers, teachers, students, actors, directors, designers, and producers. Around the world!
Nicola Tesla's Coils & Troubles at LaMaMa:[**] Count Nicola Tesla, the brilliant inventor and theoretician, was robbed of his just royalties during his lifetime. And largely forgotten after his death.
Jane Catherine Shaw Animates "The Lone Runner"
His name is firmly fixed in my memory, however, because of experiments in High School Science with the Tesla Coil. And a bronze plaque on an imposing West 27th Street building reminds me twice weekly that he once lived there.
Before Tesla's experiments with electricity, Direct Current was a force to be reckoned with. No AC-DC power-surges then.
The great Thomas Alva Edison was hooked on DC circuitry. Tesla, however, recognized myriad technical advantages from using Alternating Current instead.
He was derided and scorned. Nonetheless, George Westinghouse and others soon metaphorically Saw the Light.
And Westinghouse profited hugely from Tesla's concentrated and largely unrewarded researches.
This has the makings of an interesting Documentary. Or even a provocative Robber Barons Outsmart Frankenstein cinematic exposé.
But, as a multi-media puppet-play, it doesn't quite work.
Jane Catherine Shaw has created some fantastic puppets and special-effects for her Tesla Pageant, "The Lone Runner."
Some of them, however, take too much time and fussing-about to set up and operate. They don't go with the flow.
Some visual metaphors aren't clear—what is Shaw trying to illustrate with them?
Shaw has worked with the ingenious Theodora Skipitares, so she's been exposed to some of the most unusual puppet-visions and environments on at least three continents.
But some of Skipitares' thematic ideas don't work out visually either.
Shaw believes she was extraordinarily fortunate to find some of Tesla's journals and press-materials relating to his discoveries and disappointments.
Not so. These belong in a book about Tesla. Or a documentary. Which her puppets and props cannot perform. The text-quotations, in themselves, are of interest.
But they are not dramatic, nor has Shaw made them so, either rhetorically or visually. They detract from the visual interest of the various puppets.
It is also unclear whether the texts are to explain what the puppets are doing. Or whether the puppets are supposed to be illustrating the texts.
Shaw obviously has an original vein of fantasy. If she can find a clearer focus for her next show, it should be worth waiting for.
"Out There" Music with EOS:[****] Those admirers of composer David Del Tredici who feared he'd never let go of his Alice in Wonderland fixation may have more sinister surprises in store for them.
Spike Jones & Dracula an Odd Match
Del Tredici at one time seemed even more smitten with the image of Alice Liddell than was her author/photographer Charles L. Dodson. More often remembered as the novelist Lewis Carroll.
This talented American composer's many variations on the Theme of Alice culminated in "Final Alice." Now he may have discovered a darker vein to mine.
It would be gross oversimplification to suggest he's moving on from Pedophilia to Necrophilia. But what, after all, is the continuing compulsion in the tale of Vlad the Impaler that makes Dracula such an Undead Theme?
At the Eos Orchestra's premiere of Del Tredici's "Dracula," at the Ethical Culture Society, he even wore a Black Velvet Cloak to receive the audience's generous applause.
Soprano Wendy Hill—standing on a mini-hill of Undertaker's Carpet—sensuously intoned Alfred Corn's Dracula-Infatuated text to Del Tredici's haunting, erotic score.
This sung monologue was complemented by a song from Hungarian composer György Ligeti's opera, "La Grande Macabre." Ilana Davidson intriguingly interpreted "Mysteries of the Macabre."
That makes one wonder why this strange work of Music Theatre hasn't had a major production in New York. Peter Sellars has created a memorable production of it for the Salzburg Festival.
EOS's ebullient conductor, Jonathan Sheffer, put Charles Ives "Out There" as well on this innovative offering.
But it was a stroke of manic genius to conclude the program with three "Derangements" by the late, great Spike Jones.
In the staid precincts of the Ethical Culture Society's venerable non-sectarian Humanist auditorium, it was a bit of a shock to hear the raucous sound of Klaxon-horns and other unusual instruments favored by Spike Jones.
Before there was television, there was radio. And over the airwaves of the Blue & the Red Networks millions of American families could listen to Fibber McGee & Molly, Edgar Bergen & Charlie McCarthy, and orchestras such as those of Spike Jones and His City Slickers. Not to forget Kay Kayser and His College of Musical Knowledge!
One of Spike Jones' most popular musical devices was jazzing up well known classics. The EOS program offered "A Goose to the Ballet Russe," "Car-men," and "Shh! Harry's Odd."
Not having heard any of these pre-Boomer quasi-classics for decades, I was delighted at their inventiveness. Judging from the enthusiastic response of the audience, the time may be right for a Spike Jones Revival! [Loney]
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Copyright © Glenn Loney 1999. No re-publication or broadcast use without proper credit of authorship. Suggested credit line: "Glenn Loney, New York Theatre Wire." Reproduction rights please contact: email@example.com.
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