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GLENN LONEY'S SHOW NOTES
By Glenn Loney
 Changes on New 42
AND FROM THE GREAT PUBLICITY PHOTO DEPARTMENT: Lillian Ann Slugocki and Erin Cressida Wilson, authors of Cunning Stunts at Joe's Pub (see #10). Glenn thought the show was pretty good too. He didn't take this picture, but check out Glenn's own photo of "New 42" for the initial portion of this column.
 January Theatre Freeze
 Diana Rigg's Great Britannicus at BAM
 Anglican T. S. Eliot at Washington Square Methodist
 Chris Isherwood's Prater Violet
 Uta Hagen in Her Splendid Seniority
 Hagen in Collected Stories
 Richard Foreman's Paradise Hotel No Eden
 Josh Kornbluth—Jewish Ben Franklin
 Cunning Stunts at Joe's Pub
 Samuel Beckett Hosts Musical Lysistrata
 John Kelly Moondrunk at New Victory
You can use your browser's "find" function to skip to articles on any of these topics instead of scrolling down. Click the "FIND" button or drop down the "EDIT" menu and choose "FIND."
How to contact Glenn Loney: Please email invitations and personal correspondences to Mr. Loney via Editor, New York Theatre Wire. Do not send faxes regarding such matters to The Everett Collection, which is only responsible for making Loney's INFOTOGRAPHY photo-images available for commercial and editorial uses.
How to purchase rights to photos by Glenn Loney: For editorial and commercial uses of the Glenn Loney INFOTOGRAPHY/ArtsArchive of international photo-images, contact THE EVERETT COLLECTION, 104 West 27th Street, NYC 10010. Phone: 212-255-8610/FAX: 212-255-8612.
Coming Soon on New 42!
Keeping tabs on the amazingly rapid changes on the Theatre Block on 42nd Street is easier if you take snapshots regularly. And the Leica Z2X is my camera-of-choice for such assignments.
Promisory sign for proposed Entertainment Walk, now nearing completion on New 42. Photo: Glenn Loney 1999/The Everett Collection.
This Entertainment Walk sign has long since vanished in the current fury of construction. The contractors must really be trying to meet the inaugural date set on the sign: OPENING SPRING 1999.
The planners and builders may have been a bit too optimistic?
Behind the E-Walk logo is the Donna Karan New York mural which filled the letters with black-and-white images of Manhattan.
The building on which this was painted—at 43rd Street & Eighth Avenue—came down so fast I wasn't able to capture its demolition in stages.
In its place will soon rise a stunning new hotel, designed by Arcetectonica. It is supposed to suggest a high-rise struck by a meteor.
If you think you will have problems with that—seen Deep Impact yet?—the Milford-Plaza is only two blocks away.
The eastern side of the New Victory Theatre is now naked to the winds. What was once the Maxell or Oreo Tower on the corner of 42nd & Seventh Avenue vanished—along with the former Rialto Theatre and assorted shops and restaurants—in a few days.
On that site will rise the new Reuters Building. It will be separated only by what used to be the Times Tower from the skyscraper of another giant communications conglomerate on Times Square, the Condé-Nast Building.
These are astonishing changes in a block that sat decaying for thirty years in the heart of Manhattan. No one in all that time was able, or willing, to make any of the costly or imaginative plans for reviving the Theatre Block into realities.
In future installments, further developments in the Theatre District will be depicted and discussed in this column. As well as New York theatres long vanished. Or ones that have simply been neglected or forgotten.
[For editorial & commercial use of Glenn Loney's INFOTOGRAPHY photo-archive, contact The Everett Collection, 104 West 27th Street, NYC 10010. Phone: 212-255-8610. FAX: 212-255-8612.]
January Freeze in New York Theatre—For the poet, April may well be the Cruelest Month. But for the determined play-goer, January takes that dubious honor.
No producer in his or her right mind is going to open anything major between 24 December and Twelfth Night. Of course, no one in his or her right mind would be in the business of producing theatre events anyway.
The remainder of January is also something of a Theatrical Wasteland. Whether potential audiences are recovering from Holiday Blahs or skiing at Aspen, producers are wary of opening new shows.
True, some intriguing new shows, such as Fosse, are opening in the latter part of this month. But those unfortunates, like this scribe, who are Not On The League List must wait for the left-overs.
So, by President's Day, it may be possible—if there is still a Sitting President—to report on the wonders of Bob Fosse revisited.
Revamping the Classics—
Diana Rigg's Britannicus at BAM [*****]Obviously this admired, but seldom performed, French Neoclassical Tragedy is Racine's. But, as adapted by the protean Robert David MacDonald and staged by Jonathan Kent, the unquestioned Mistress of the Revels is the indomitable Diana Rigg.
She is a splendidly smooth and imposing Social Matron. Her Agrippina puts most modern Leading Social Ladies in the shadow.
Hilary Clinton could take lessons. The elegant and ageless Brooke Astor doesn't need them.
Being the mother of the as yet uncertain young Emperor Nero—and the widow of another emperor—she is rather better equipped for the wars and intrigues necessary to hold on to power. Or at least to manipulate it, under the guise of a serpentine graciousness—which can, in an instant, turn into cold command.
As played by Toby Stephens, as an apprentice Psychotic in a Suit, Nero seems the heir of an International Conglomerate—the Roman Empire—which is actually run by rival CEO's. Their sycophancy toward the boss is only surpassed by their deftness in sinking metaphoric—or even real—daggers in the backs of their dupes.
Who would have thought this old play had so much blood in it?
In keeping with the concept of Decorum, all scenes of violence are kept offstage. But the furious rages of Nero, the steely confrontations of Agrippina with her foes, and the anxious excesses of Britannicus—robbed of his birthright by Nero—provide dynamics that Racine would never have dreamt of. And certainly not put on stage.
When Nero strikes the unfortunate Julia [Joanna Roth] so fiercely that she falls to the floor, all sense of Decorum is lost. Clearly, he is out of control.
The conception of this pre-TV sequel to I, Claudius is certainly Racine's. But the brilliant modern theatrical sensibility of translator/adapter Robert MacDonald has transformed the play into a contemporary political drama of very high stakes.
MacDonald—with director/designer Philip Prowse and actor/director Giles Havergal—is one of the triumvirate which has in recent years made the Citizens Theatre of Glasgow one of the most innovative in Europe.
He is not only skilled in adapting from the French, but also from the Italian of Goldoni, as well as from the German of Goethe and Schiller. His Schiller adaptations were a centerpiece of last summer's Edinburgh Festival—in Cits Theatre presentations.
Also outstanding in a uniformly strong cast were Barbara Jefford as Albina, Julian Glover as Narcissus, David Bradley as Burrus, and Kevin McKidd as the frantic, doomed Britannicus—who should have been Emperor,
Another star of the show was unquestionably Maria Björnson's Majestic & Imperial Anteroom to Nero's Private Chambers. Richly paneled in darkly glowing mahogany, with neo-classical architectural details, often highlighted in gold, this splendid L-shaped room was a magnificent visual metaphor of blockages in the Corridors of Power.
At stage-right a broad cascade of red-carpeted stairs led down to the reception-area. Angled upstage-left were great doors which opened at climatic moments to reveal the vertiginous flight of stairs into Nero's Audience Chamber.
More often, though, this skittish Emperor would be skulking behind a huge aquarium—there were four of them—to eavesdrop on his future victims.
Mark Henderson's subtle lighting made the most of this venue and its various areas of power or danger.
BAM's Racine double-bill of Britannicus and Phèdre—in a version by Poet Laureate Ted Hughes—was on view all too briefly. But, as they were both productions of London's extremely innovative Almeida Theatre, New Yorkers who missed them know where to go on their next visit to London.
Not that these stagings will still be on hand, but because anything new mounted by the Almeida Theatre will be worth the trip.
This Is the Way the World Ends"I have learnt playwriting at the public's expense."
At the Washington Square Methodist Church [?]
That got an appreciative response from T. S. Eliot's audience at the University of Wisconsin back in 1950.
We had just presented a Wisconsin Players staging of his Murder in the Cathedral. Which clearly, then as now, had structural problems, despite its compelling conception and poetic rhetoric.
His fascinating lecture was part of a series—which included the junior Senator from Wisconsin, Joseph R. McCarthy. Who clearly had learnt his Anti-Communist terrorist tactics from Adolf Hitler.
After Eliot's lecture—certainly not after McCarthy's—he proved most gracious and responsive to queries about his plays and major poems.
Unfortunately, Edward Einhorn and Ian W. Hill are much too young to have had the opportunity to chat with Eliot about his dramaturgy. In any case, they might well have embarrassed him with queries about his earliest un-dramatic efforts to write dramas.
As directors of two Eliot-inspired stagings—for the Untitled Theatre Company #61—Einhorn and Hill have sought to override problems of virtually non-existent dramaturgy in Sweeney Agonistes and The Rock. This they have done with frantic post-Post-Modernist productions that would make both Robert Wilson and Richard Foreman blush.
Eliot once told his Sweeney readers that the nightingales were singing near the Convent of the Sacred Heart. They were nowhere in the vicinity of the Washington Square Methodist Church, however.
[At the actual Convent of the Sacred Heart—composed of both the Otto Kahn and the Burden Mansions on Upper Fifth Avenue—Wendy's Winter Antiques Show was in full swing. No nightingales there either, alas.]
To their credit, the not untalented and large cast of both these Eliot Collages—other poetic bits & pieces were added—had lots of energy, concentration, and basically clear diction. That should be a Big Plus in any modern performance of poetic texts, even if the emphasis falls on the wrong syllable.
Unfortunately, the church sanctuary is now an empty square space, ringed by a balcony and organ-loft. It is an excellent venue for one of Ralph Lee's Puppet Extravaganzas.
It was even acceptable for Jerzy Grotowski's manneristic avant-garde Polish theatre-exercises, way back when performance innovators of all stripes were busily re-inventing The Wheel.
But the reverberating sanctuary effectively swallows sound, muffles it, and returns it diminished, but with echoes. This is not good for Eliot or for audiences.
Nor are these twin stagings. If Eliot were alive, he'd die!
Not to mention the clean-up crews who have to remove every shred of the hundreds of pieces of toilet-paper which are rabidly strewn about at the finale of Hill's effort to outWilson Wilson and outForeman Foreman.
Einhorn is German for Unicorn. Could there be a Performance Piece in this?
From Page to Stage—
Chris Isherwood's Prater Violet [****]
Will Pomerantz, on the other hand, has brilliantly adapted and transformed Christopher Isherwood's Prater Violet for the modern stage. T. S. Eliot in Elysium could well wish to have Pomerantz do the same for him.
PRATER VIOLET -- Kameron Steele (L) and Dylan Green (R) in the new Off-Broadway play by Will Pomerantz based on Christopher Isherwood's autobiographical novella of Hollywood in 1933. (photo: David Quantic)
Although both Isherwood and Eliot were notable British literary figures, Isherwood was of a younger generation and his medium was the novel, rather than poetry. Though he certainly had an affinity for verse through his association with W. H. Auden and their efforts in the drama.
Isherwood was also an inheritor of those distinctive English inhibitions which the American-born Eliot had so earnestly striven to assimilate.
And it is much of Isherwood's "Englishness" that informs his serio-comic encounter with an almost mythic Viennese Jewish cinema-director on the eve of World War II.
The swift-moving and often hilarious production of Prater Violet at the Salon Theatre, on the Upper East Side, is a small masterpiece. It is wonderfully played by a cast of six—who impersonate over forty characters on stage.
Isherwood's novel—though it has a lot of lively, character-revealing dialogue—is also an affectionate memoir. The danger in adapting such a novel—far more formidable, for example, in the observation-rich works of Edith Wharton—is losing that personal touch, the author's private opinions and especially his growing self-awareness, if he is himself an actual character in the novel.
The real Isherwood of the short-stories and memoirs of Weimar Berlin almost got lost in I Am a Camera and totally so in Cabaret.
In Pomerantz' adaptation, Isherwood [Kameron Steele] is a charming and witty Master of Ceremonies, guiding his delighted audiences through the agonies of concocting a screenplay for a pre-war British movie-musical.
The musical, like Isherwood's novel, is to be titled Prater Violet. And, as in the Student Prince and countless other operettas from Mittel-Europa, a simple but pretty maid—in a restaurant in Vienna's Prater—falls in love with a disguised prince.
As Hitler's forces menace a still independent Austria, the famed Viennese director Friedrich Bergmann [Dylan Green] has been invited to London to make a witless film.
But the despairing efforts of Bergmann and Isherwood to draft the required script are as nothing to the hectic days of actual filming. That all of these scenes can be so deftly and clearly suggested with a few props in the arena-space of the Salon is a small miracle.
All this would be more than enough for an evening's lively and very comic entertainment. But Prater Violet is about much more than that.
Not only about the unseen fears of Nazism abroad, and in action, but also about the spontaneous bond formed on first meeting by Bergmann and Isherwood.
The Father finds his son, the Son his father. And without sentimentality or specific acknowledgment.
That's why it is so good that Pomerantz has preserved Isherwood's voice in commenting on the action and its significance.
Although it would be a shame to miss this production, the script is certainly one which should recommend itself to regional theatres, as well as to college and amateur groups.
Uta Hagen in Collected Stories—Prologue—
A Great Actress in Her Splendid Seniority [****]
It is one of the great losses of American Theatre—owing to its commercial demands—that many of our greatest performers will seldom be seen in major stage roles past the age of fifty.
And when they qualify for Social Security and Actors Equity pensions, it's often all over for them as actors.
It's all very well for Zoë Wanamaker to have a Limited Run on Broadway in Electra, but she is still a young, vital performer, yet to reach her zenith.
Nicole Kidman is even younger and less mature, but her star-turn in The Blue Room doesn't remotely suggest the dramatic/satiric powers of the modern classic, Riegen, written by Arthur Schnitzler in turn-of-the century Vienna.
And, yes, it is wonderful to be able to see a mature Diana Rigg way off Broadway at BAM, in Britannicus, in a mere handful of performances.
But the current Broadway audience is not lusting for a repertory of ancient and modern classics, featuring honored older performers in roles which are just right for them at this time in their lives and careers.
If the classics are to be box-office, they have to have popular performers. Stars are no longer made on Broadway, but on TV.
Even the so-called Repertory Theatre of Lincoln Center could not make a repertory of distinguished actors in important classics work.
As it is now reconstituted, even its handsome recent revival of Eugene O'Neill's Ah, Wilderness could not command a decent run. What will become of Hal Prince's new musical, Parade, remains problematic at the Vivian Beaumont.
The case of one of our greatest actresses, Uta Hagen, is certainly poignant. It is a very long time since she won her Tonys for The Country Girl and for Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
In spite of her impressive and important continuing contributions as a teacher of acting—notably at the H-B Studios but also in print: Respect for Acting—her career as an actress has not had a similar continuity.
Last week at a meeting of the Drama Desk, she told theatre journalists and critics how fulfilled she felt to be able to play Collected Stories eight times a week. Whatever the rewards of teaching acting, they pale in comparison with the joys of acting.
When Uta Hagen recently had the opportunity to appear in Mrs. Klein at the Lucille Lortel Theatre, she was overjoyed to have once again a rewarding role in a powerful play about human relationships.
And when it finally closed, she said, "I went into a year-and-a-half depression. My life seemed over. I thought I would never act again."
There are so few good roles for actresses in their senior years. And some of them are in plays which are not so good.
Nor do producers want to take financial risks on older actresses. This is even more of a problem in films.
Both Lillian Gish and Helen Hayes told me about the expensive insurance movie-producers had to take out, in case there was a Medical Emergency, and scenes had to be reshot with replacement performers.
At the Drama Desk, Uta Hagen shared her experiences with a panel including Kathleen Chalfant, Pat Carroll, Lea DeLaria, Marin Hinkle, Mary Testa, and Zoë Wanamaker.
Pat Carroll, who is the voice of the Chorus in Electra, firmly seconded Hagen. She had a similar joyous experience with a run in Gertrude Stein, Gertrude Stein. And felt devastated when it closed. Fortunately, there is talk of reviving it.
Charming and magnificent in her seniority, Hagen fairly glowed when she described the excitement of playing her role in Collected Stories. For Uta Hagen, each performance is like the First Time, true to the teachings of Konstantin Stanislavsky.
I must admit I have a special interest in Uta Hagen's career. Poring over issues of Theatre Arts, years ago in college, I admired photos of Hagen on Broadway with Paul Robeson and her then husband, José Ferrer, in Othello. In later, in Clifford Odets' The Country Girl.
I so wished I could have seen those landmark performances in the American Theatre.
When I went to the University of Wisconsin for an MA, I studied Art History of Theatre with her father, the great scholar Professor Dr. Oskar Hagen.
Not only had he begun the modern revival of staging Handel's operas—in an experimental theatre in Göttingen, where he was a professor before Hitler came to power—but his interest in all forms of theatre remained insatiable even in remote Madison, Wisconsin.
He noted that the two greatest medieval sculptures in Germany are the Bamberger Reiter in Bamberg Cathedral and the magnificent statue of Ute in the Cathedral of Naumburg.
Ute Hagen is named for this masterpiece of sculpture. And she is herself now an icon of the theatre—which is her Cathedral.
Brimming with enthusiasm, Hagen told the Drama Desk that she feels Collected Stories gets better every time they play it. So she urged all of us to come down to the Lucille Lortel Theatre and see it again. Or for the first time, if we'd not already been.
So I accepted her invitation!
Stealing a Friend and Mentor's Life-Story—It was a revelation to live through Donald Margulies' Collected Stories with Uta Hagen. As Ruth, a respected short-story author and instructor-mentor to college students hoping to become writers, she was wonderfully alert and acerbic.
I had seen and admired both the play and the performances when this challenging drama was first presented at the Manhattan Theatre Club.
Newly experienced at the Lucille Lortel Theatre, it seemed a stronger, more complex exploration of this All-About-Eve relationship between an aging literary star and an overeager apprentice.
If Margulies did not revise and improve his script between productions—as well he might—then it is to the credit of both Hagen and Lorca Simons, as the hyperactive Lisa, that the fragile bond between the two characters is so sensitively and deeply explored.
Watching Hagen—as the crusty old writer who has seen it all—gradually open up to the talented young student—who is so eager to please—is a rare treat in the theatre. So much that Hagen's Ruth inadvertently does enriches the interchange of what the two women say.
What is more, at least with Hagen, one has the feeling that this really is happening tonight on stage for the first time. A careless movement of the hand, the flicker of an eyelid, a suddenly pursed mouth: these are not studied stage-business.
At least they certainly do not seem so. They seem completely natural and spontaneous.
And to watch Ruth open her secret heart to the former student who is now her friend—and on the verge of a first literary success—is a deeply moving experience.
That Lisa takes Ruth's sad little love-story and turns it into a flashy novel—especially without asking her for advice or permission—is heartbreaking both for Ruth and the audience.
Perhaps William Carden has directed Lorca Simons to play her character's various stages of development in the relationship with an almost unremitting energy. If he did not, then he should have restrained her own excesses.
From the first, even in her excessive awkwardness and adulation of Ruth, she seems a dangerous lady, barely in control. Ruth's antennae should have shot up after Lisa's first five minutes in her apartment.
But the truly lonely Ruth is delighted to meet a student with some real talent. And an apparent need for friendship herself.
Nonetheless, there is an occasional edge in Hagen's Ruth, as if she is hearing something different beneath what Lisa is telling her. But then she seems to shake this off, not wanting to believe it.
When she at last discovers how Lisa has betrayed her trust and friendship, she still tries to protect herself with verbal thrusts. But Lisa's furious, dishonest, and useless arguments to justify herself, add the final insult.
Ruth is a broken spirit at the close—a dedicated teacher, a gifted writer, and a loving human-being who has been destroyed by trusting and sharing too much.
One of Lisa's defenses of her appropriation of Ruth's secret narrative does seem to hit home. Ruth has urged her latch onto whatever materials or experiences will provide her with a story that must be written.
But, as Lisa cruelly says, this is a novel Ruth would never, perhaps could never, have written. So Lisa has made the story her own.
What the ambitious young novelist in this play does to her trusting mentor is certainly of dubious morality. But there are a number of powerful novels which have been based on "borrowed" narratives.
At least there is a literary pay-off for readers when the novel is effective. It's not quite the same kind of pay-off omniverous readers got as a result of Linda Tripp's taping her friend Monica Lewinsky, however.
Richard Foreman's Paradise HotelThose fans of the French sex-farces of Feydeau should be warned that the new Richard Foreman extravaganza is not another version of Hotel Paradiso. Nor, as it is sometimes called, A Little Hotel on the Side.
Is Actually a Living Hell with Trademark Props [*]
In fact, no sooner have the typically insane revels commenced, than the audience is advised that the announced title was just a trick. What Foreman's antic players really want to present is a sexual scandal called Hotel Fuck.
Of course, in these troubled times of Impotence, Bob Dole, and Viagra, not all of the men in this show are ready and able to perform. That doesn't prevent, however, various exposures of immense prop phalluses.
To moralists such as Henry Hyde, Trent Lott, and William Bennett, Richard Foreman could be a greater danger to Public Morals than the President of the United States.
Obviously, they are too busy right now to come to St. Mark's Church in the Bowery and denounce the proceedings. Nor can they legally Impeach Richard Foreman for High Crimes & Misdemeanors.
Not even New York's Porn-Fighting Mayor Rudolph Giuliani can do that!
What the ghost of Peter Stuyvesant—who is buried in St. Mark's Churchyard—may think of the show is another matter. It is certainly not a Knickerbocker Holiday—which featured the aging governor of Nieuw Amsterdam in "September Song."
For the highly agitated cast of Paradise Hotel, their greatest fear is not being closed down by an outraged City Hall. Not at all!
It is the visible threat that their performance of Hotel Fuck may be taken over by the third-rate and insipid show, Hotel Beautiful Roses.
For those innocents who have never even seen cutting-edge avant-garde theatre adventures at LaMaMa, a Richard Foreman production may prove either an enigma or a visual shock.
Foreman's intricate stage-decor of words, letters, numbers, flashing lights, odd images, taut-strung strings and lines, clashing patterns and colors in fabrics and costumes, bizarre constructions, and peculiar props—with the exception of the fake dicks—will surely prove an insoluble puzzle.
As for sexual titillation, Foreman's directorial strategies deliberately make that either problematic or laughable. Nor are most of the cast likely to arouse anyone's libido.
Tony Torn—who plays the frustrated, frantic fatty, Tony Turbo, in this production—was partially exposed only a week or so ago on stage at LaMaMa. There, in a Mario Fratti comedy of impotence, he played an overweight and unattractive Federico Fellini—under another name, of course.
In Paradise Hotel, at the close, Torn gets to rip it all off. Can he be any relation to Rip Torn?
It must be admitted that none of the players holds back. They all give their boisterous All to the proceedings.
There's none of that "I'm just doing this until I can get a real part in a real play" Attitude.
But, if you come to see this show, you won't come in place.
New Adventures in Music, Poetry, & Performance Art—
Josh Kornbluth: The Jewish Ben Franklin [****]P.S. 122 was, as the name suggests, once a New York City Public School. But theatre buffs can still learn a lot in its less than hallowed halls.
You can see the most avant of low-budget Performance Art at P.S. 122 before it surfaces at LaMaMa or at the Public Theatre. The more pricey performances tend to turn up at BAM. But only after they have been Internationally Certified as cutting-edge.
If you get word that Pat Oleska is going to appear at P.S. 122, do not miss this wonderful visual artist and social satirist. Her fantastic costumes, epic props, and highly original films are not to be missed.
This is a venue of choice for some of America's most experimental monologists. Recently, Spaulding Gray has been trying out a charming and moving account of a typical Day in October.
Josh Kornbluth has been defrosting P.S. 122 in a snowy January with his Ben Franklin: Unplugged.
The Berkeley-based Kornbluth had "run out of life," as he admits, in a previous series of hilariously satirical monologues about his conflicts as the son of unrepentant Communists.
His mother remained a Loyal Stalinist. Long after that Specter of Communism's epic Crimes Against Humanity were documented in detail.
Shaving one morning—as he notes in this performance piece—he sensed a resemblance to Benjamin Franklin in the mirror.
In the event, he even impersonated Founding Father Franklin on TV. This was for a series of amusing between-program quickies, showing Ben gadding around Manhattan today.
It gave him the opportunity to dress down some Citizens' Militia crazies, demonstrating in front of the United Nations.
But his initial interest in Franklin—after confronting his image in the mirror—was to discover what kind of a father Ben really was. That legendary business with the Kite, for example.
Did Franklin use his son William as a lightening-rod? What really happened on this momentous occasion when Our First Inventor captured electricity from the stormy skies?
What happened to make Franklin such a Revolutionary Patriot? And his son such a Firm Loyalist to the Crown of King George III?
How did Ben Franklin react to having a son who was Royal Governor of New Jersey?
What did Franklin do when his only son was arrested and imprisoned as an enemy of the American Revolution?
Kornbluth's lecture-table is littered with the guesses and surmises of other writers who have explored the Mysteries of Ben Franklin—his inventions, his embassies, his mistresses.
He found the most intriguing of clues for his own search in what Franklin left out of his Autobiography.
In exploring the tragic story of this famous father and son, Kornbluth manages to exorcise some of his own demons regarding his own father.
What's more, at the urging of a Yale University scholar, he gets to discover "His Own Franklin." She locks him into the Franklin Papers Archive in the Stirling Library overnight.
True to his chaotic upbringing on Central Park West—as a "Red-Diaper Baby," the title of one of his monologues—he finds that Ben Franklin was America's First Communist!
Consider Franklin's concern about free public libraries, fire-protection, public schools, scientific experiment for public benefit, protection of the basic rights of citizens!
Kornbluth has perfected this show—in collaboration with David Dower—on the West Coast. It is a most enjoyable experience. And one which he will surely repeat many, many times across the nation.
More power to him—and to Ben!
A Sexy Evening at Joe's Pub—
Cunning Stunts by the Erotica Project [***]
It takes only a slip of the tongue—a Spoonerism, really—to transpose the initial sounds of this show's provocative title. And that act will reveal what this elegantly steamy entertainment is really about.
Lillian Ann Slugocki and Erin Cressida Wilson, authors of Cunning Stunts at Joe's Pub (see #10).
When a very attractive blonde announced that her Vagina Was Not Political, it rapidly became clear that this was not to be an I Hate Men Festival.
Not that the varieties of love were ignored. But, rather, that the Joys of Sex—about which Dr. Ruth Westheimer has told us so much—are just great.
And women without men to love them are missing something big—something of major importance.
The often astonishing and amusing monologues have been written by Lillian Ann Slugocki and Erin Cressida Wilson, with an assist from Laurie Stone.
They are not shy about calling a spade a spade, nor using a variety of explicit words for orgasm. So none of the text will be repeated here.
Nor will the excellent musical accompaniment, which has been tightly scored to complement and highlight the spoken texts.
A running-gag, or gig, involved a woman writing pornographic stories to stimulate herself, thanks to an inactive and uninteresting husband.
Most of the "action" was presented on a stage in a corner of Joe's Pub, but other moments were scattered about the room.
Named for the Public Theatre's founder, Joe Papp, the Pub is on the main-floor, but entered from the side of the building. It is a very comfortable and inviting ambiance, with food and drink before—and after—cabaret performances in the Pub and shows at the Public.
Staged by John Gould Rubin, the set-pieces were performed by eight lovely libidinous ladies in slinky black.
After a piece like "I'm Wet," it wouldn't be surprising to find a long line of Stage-door Johnnies waiting outside Joe's Pub. But there's not much room in the alleyway. And "snow and ice lay all about."
This show was previously performed at HERE, and some of it has been heard on WBAI—where anything goes.
Because of its subject-matter and its graphic descriptions in plain language, it is sure to be seen again soon in some metropolitan venue.
Their Vaginas Are Political—Classical comedies have long been sources for Broadway musicals. Thanks to Plautus, American musical theatre is richer for having The Boys from Syracuse and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.
Lysistrata Musically Recycled as Lyz [-*]
Aristophanes' Attic Greek comedies have proved more problematic, however. There is a musical version of The Frogs, with a score by Stephen Sondheim.
But that had its premiere and greatest success, performed in and around a Yale University swimming-pool.
Then there was that big-budget Broadway musicalization of Aristophanes' most popular comedy, Lysistrata.
Trying to cover all its bets with sure-fire materials, it borrowed its score from Jacques Offenbach. And featured the supercilious Cyril Ritchard as a vainglorious Heroic Greek Warrior.
Despite a lavish production, it didn't win favor. Many critics would rather have seen a revival of the original play itself. And Offenbach's Orpheus in the original version as well.
When Aristophanes conceived the idea of women putting an end to wars by denying their males sex, Athens was locked in a doomed and futile war with its sister Greek City-State Sparta.
And this was not the only comedy he wrote for the annual Athenian Festival of Dionysus to condemn this war by making it and its generals look ridiculous.
In the event, Athens—the city of arts and culture—lost to Sparta—which despised the arts and cultivated only fierce fighting-men. But the war so weakened both great city-states that they were prey for new overlords.
The Glory That Was Greece was eclipsed through a stupid war, a Battle of Male Egos.
Now Joe Lauinger and Jim Cowdery have come forward with their own version of this epic comedy: Lyz.
Unfortunately, they have set it in the streets of modern Manhattan: We'll have cleaner & safer streets if the women make the men Beg For It. This, of course, has to include Gays & Lesbians!
To be totally trendy, they have included an exceedingly gross transvestite among the Militant Women. As well as a Wall Street-Suited Bull Dyke among the sexually exploitive men.
Politically Incorrect Stereotypes abound, not least the suggestion that Black Men in the project-ghettos are sex-hungry and shiftless drug-takers or peddlers and petty thieves.
The sad visual fulcrum of this precarious balancing-act between vaginas and penises is Aristophanes himself. In the person of a Greek push-cart snack-peddler, also an unfunny stereotype.
The ultimate irony was that the venue for these dubious proceedings was the Samuel Beckett Theatre on Theatre Row.
Unpleasant and unfunny as the events were, they nonetheless offered a kind of showcase for some very attractive and talented young performers. They deserve a much better show in which to demonstrate their abilities.
The production was staged by John Rue. He must wear his rue with a difference!
Only a Little Tipsy at Moondrunk—Because the ingenious and very talented performance artist John Kelly was advertised as the choreographer/director [and also a performer] of Moondrunk, this Lincoln Center Great Performers production seemed an absolute Must.
Great Performers in New Visions: Music [****]/Visual [**]
Not least because it would be shown only two evenings in January, at the New Victory Theatre on the New 42nd Street. The audience was a Who's Who of glitterati, culture-vultures, and New York intellectuals.
John Kelly had astonished audiences at BAM not long ago with a remarkable performance-piece in which he recreated the art and persona of Barbette.
Barbette began life as a Middle-Western farm-boy—with dreams of something better and finer Beyond the Horizon.
Ultimately, his ambition took him to Paris. There he dazzled audiences as Barbette, the transvestite high-wire and trapeze artiste. Connoisseurs of the arts such as Jean Cocteau made much of him.
Ever the perfectionist, Kelly mastered the skills of circus trapeze and slack-wire artists to perform Barbette's signature acts. And he created a compelling character of sensitivity, physical power, and femininity.
When John Kelly evoked the Austrian Expressionist painter, Egon Schiele, at the LaMaMa Annex—in Pass the Blutwürst, Bitte—his choreography and performance not only evoked the subjects and style of Schiele's paintings. But also a Lost World.
So it would be wonderful to report that John Kelly even exceeded himself, given the challenge of choreographing Arnold Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire.
This is a series of haunting, provocative poems by Albert Giraud, set to an equally haunting score by Schoenberg. It was powerfully and suggestively performed in the requisite Sprechgesang by Lucy Shelton.
Pianist and musicologist Sarah Rothenberg conceived the Moondrunk program, linking the Viennese musical sensibilties of Johann Strauss, Johannes Brahms, and Schoenberg.
Her vision of their relationships was most persuasive, not least because of her own artistry at the keyboard, aided by an excellent chamber ensemble.
It was also interesting to hear, via recording, the great Max Reinhardt actor, Alexander Moissi, reading Goethe's famous poem, Der Erlkönig, or The Elf-King. Kelly & Company provided some simplistic shadow-puppetry to suggest the horror of the poem.
Their initial stage-action—during the earlier musical performances—involved pushing and carrying some fluffy debris about the stage and past the first row of the orchestra. This was done in the character of janitors, but it wasn't apt, interesting, or even amusing after the first few moments.
Olsen & Johnson also pushed their way through the audience. As have Jim Dale, Bill Irwin, and David Shiner, to name only a few of the Usual Suspects.
As for Kelly's visualizations of the various moods and moments in Pierrot Lunaire, these seemed often lame and obvious, without being astonishing or transcendent.
It was finally good to see Kelly animate a traditional Pierrot costume, but this only recalled the greater passion of Jean-Louis Barrault in that honored garb.
Nonetheless, John Kelly is an authentic original, an innovator in performance art who often blends the powers of music, dance, acting, and graphic images to striking effect.
Moondrunk was, one hopes, just an off-evening for him and his dancers. Otherwise, the musical achievements were admirable.
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Copyright © Glenn Loney 1998. 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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