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Loney's Show Notes
By Glenn Loney, October 5, 2007
About Glenn Loney
Caricature of Glenn Loney by Sam Norkin.
Rebooting & Getting-Started for the NYC Season 2007-2008:
It has been a long hard summer for Your Scribe. During July & August--as has been his custom for many summers--he reported on major festivals, such as those at Bayreuth, Bregenz, Edinburgh, Munich, & Salzburg. In fact, this past summer was his 51st visit to these prestigious fests of Opera, Drama, & Dance.
Initially, way back in 1956, when he went off to EUCOM as a University of Maryland Overseas professor, he made a bee-line for Bayreuth & its historic Margräflisches-Opernhaus, designed by Galli-Bibiena, as well as for Richard Wagner's famed Festspielhaus.
[EUCOM was code for the US Army's European-Command: we were still an Army-of-Occupation in West Germany. In the Far East, the code-word was FECOM.]
As I had written a Thesis-report on Max Reinhardt at UC/Berkeley, I felt I also had to visit the Salzburg Festival, founded by Reinhardt & friends. Munich was a major center of University of Maryland classes, and I stumbled on Bregenz, passing through on a train, transfixed by the sight of an operetta-stage floating out in the waters of Lake Constance.
Having had not one, but two, Scots grandmothers, I discovered the Edinburgh Festival by default. In those long-gone days, the Dollar was King, so paying for festival-tickets--which were never sold-out, as so few tourists were around then--was painless.
At that time, I had no idea about Press-Offices & Press-Tickets. But I did notice, in reading the New York Herald-Tribune, the New York Times, & the Christian Science Monitor, that--in Cultural-Reportage, at least--Europe began with London & ended in Paris.
So I began sending some unsolicited reports to the Herald-Trib, the Monitor, & the now-defunct Theatre Arts Monthly. Only in 1960, newly returned stateside & now teaching in New York--when I began my annual summer-safaris to European Festivals--did I discover the Miracle of Free-Seats for Critics!
In those days, I had three entire summer months to cover major & minor European Festivals, such as those in Holland, Aarhus, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Flanders, Chichester, Stratford, Avingnon, York, Vienna, & Verona. This was the time when a three-month-long Eurail-Pass cost only $300! Second-Class, of course.
Over the course of four years teaching in Europe, North Africa, & the Middle-East--Sa'udi Arabia!, I had made many friends, so there were always sofas, spare-beds, or carpets on which to lay my performance-pixilated weary head. I also became expert on sleeping in railway & bus-stations, as well as taking night-flights & overnight rail-journeys.
What I soon discovered, however, was that some envious stateside colleagues & credulous readers assumed I must be very wealthy to be able to afford three months of five-star hotels & dining at the Tour d'Argent. For the record, when I was teaching in Europe, I was paid $2,500 per year, plus free BOQ accommodations on Army & Air-Force bases.
And I have never had a meal at the Tour d'Argent, although Pierre Cardin once had booked a table there for our Espace-Cardin interview. As I had to record our conversation, I had to pass, because they do not permit recording-devices in the ratatouille…
Returned the US, I was paid $5,000 per year at Hofstra College on Long Island--now Hofstra University. When I moved to Brooklyn College, the pay improved, but not by much. So, over many summers, I learned how to travel & survive on very little.
I was also able to see & to report on some absolutely splendid opera, dance, & drama productions. In addition, I was often privileged to interview major directors, performers, playwrights, conductors, musicians, designers, & theatre-technicians. All of these interviews have been recently digitized & will soon be available online.
When my father & then my mother became aged & senile--no one knew about Alzheimer's then--I had to reduce my three-month European-Summer to two. This I have now maintained for many years, but, as friends with sofas have passed-away, I have become dependent on inexpensive but friendly hotels & pensions.
Unfortunately, this past summer, almost the same itinerary as that for summer 2006, cost twice as much! European prices had gone up in the interim, of course, but the virtual doubling was owing to the precipitous fall of the Dollar against the Euro!
And the Dollar continues to fall. Americans who have not traveled outside the United States--and thus not been obliged to change their dollars for more stable currency--will not have noticed that this has happened. How & why it has happened is another story…
Your Scribe has never been paid travel-expenses by any of the publications for which he has written. As for non-paying academic-journals, you often even have to pay membership-dues so the organization can afford to publish its journal.
So, neither Paid nor Thanked for what he has written, he is debating whether he can any longer afford to travel abroad to report & review on the Performing Arts. An end-of-October Baltic-Theatre-Conference in St. Petersburg is thus out of the question.
The Show-Notes European-Reports which precede this New York City filing could be the last of this long series. Unless our President & our Congress can restore the Value & the Prestige of the US Dollar abroad…
Not only did Your Scribe see many remarkable--as well as some horrendous--Opera, Drama, & Dance productions this past summer, but he also snapped some 4,000 print-images, 700 slide-images, & 1,500 digital-images for his INFOTOGRAPHY™ photo-collection. The Trademark designation was finally awarded in late June!
All these images need to be captioned, artfully-arranged in real & virtual albums, & computer-indexed--before I forget if this or that shot was taken in Prague or in Kloster Neuburg…
This is a lot of hard work--for which I am also neither Paid nor Thanked--but it has to be done, as there are now more than 300,000 INFOTOGRAPHY™ images, all of which will eventually be digitized & made available online at INFOTOGRAPHY.biz
As I am the Chief Correspondent for New York Theatre-Wire's sister web-site, New York Museums.com as well, there is also an eight-inch-high stack of press-kits from September Openings of major museum-shows in Manhattan. These have to be listed & at least summarized as soon as Show-Notes is filed.
This will be followed closely by delayed reports of major museum & gallery shows seen while on the Grand Tour of European Festivals. The photo-images on the PR CDs for some of these exhibitions are too good to file away without sharing them.
For these reasons--and also because I am confronted by a towering-stack of theatre-programs for shows that opened while I was away in Europe & those that have bowed this past month--I want to clear-the-decks, so to speak, by surveying briefly the range of these productions by genre or subject, as I did for many years for the Educational Theatre Journal, Players, & other non-paying publications.
Perhaps--if I ever get caught-up on captioning & indexing INFOTOGRAPHY™ photo-images--I can return to my previous practice of giving each production a separate comment.
I do envy those Theatre-Award-Nominators & Awards-Voters who are not obliged to review the shows they see, in order to justify their free-tickets. Actually, as both the Historian & a member of the Executive-Board of the Outer Critics Circle & a Drama Desk Awards-Voter, I could, I suppose, claim Reviewing-Immunity.
On the other hand, as both a lover & historian of Theatre, Dance, & Opera--not to overlook some forty-years of teaching the History & Practice of the Performing Arts--it seems only fair to salute the achievements of the multitude of talented & hard-working people who bring us their performance-offerings.
If, however, they turn out to be Burnt-Offerings, it can be a Mitzvah to suggest how the roast or ratatouille might be reclaimed or recycled. So great an expenditure of thought, energy, preparation, time, money, & hope goes into many a New York City production--whether on Broadway or Off-off-Broadway--that this should be recognized & even honored, where earned.
New Plays Listed:
Horton Foote's DIVIDING THE ESTATE [****]
Lucy Thurber's SCARCITY [**]
Jane Martin's FLAGS [***]
Kate Fodor's 100 SAINTS YOU SHOULD KNOW [***]
Marie Jones' ROCK DOVES [**]
Thomas Kilroy's THE SHAPE OF METAL [**]
John B. Keane's SIVE [***]
Ilan Hatsor's MASKED [**]
Arthur Giron's THE COFFEE TREES [not rated]
Advice often given to novice-authors--whether they be novelists or playwrights--is to "Write what you know!" This has proved to be good advice indeed, provided the first-hand experiences are really interesting to others. A banal coming-of-age in Suburban Denver is a problematic subject.
[Of course, there are exceptions to this rule. Had Charles Lutwig Dodson followed it, we would have had no Through the Looking-glass Adventures in Wonderland…]
But a young woman's explicit account of having been repeatedly sexually-violated by her loving father is almost a sure ticket for the Best-Seller Express!
As for winning Tony Awards, who can predict the critical fate of Close-Encounters with Yourself as play-fodder? Seamy personal banalities, however, do attract Obies.
Family-Life among the Haves & Have-Nots:
Horton Foote's Dividing the Estate--as in most of the dramas by this venerable nonagenarian, now a National-Treasure--is certainly written about issues & people he knows well. What makes it especially appealing to audiences is that the experience of contentious siblings fighting over who is to get what from a family estate is an all-too-common theme in American Life.
Although the first act seems over-extended for what it needs to establish, the second act really focuses the contenders on what they believe is due them from the estate, even though grandmother [Elizabeth Ashley] is not yet dead.
Borrowing heavily against future expectations, a damaged & needful son & daughter have no real idea of the current worth of what was a once prosperous farming-estate, barely kept afloat--among farmland conversions into McMansion-Territories--by an honest & dutiful grandson, called "Son," who truly loves the land.
The play is set in Texas in 1987, but issues such who gets the dining-table & the South-Forty are still contentious questions out there in the Heartland, as well as in my native California. [Cousin Milton got the Loney Brothers summer cattle-pasture in the High Sierras. I got nothing…]
Horton Foote's daughter, Hallie Foote, is outstanding as the shrill, demanding Mary Jo, married to a blowhard failure, with two spoiled teen-age daughters. Devon Abner, as the long-suffering Son, is low-key but effective in a generally admirable cast, directed by Michael Wilson.
At least Foote's feckless Texans have a sense of who they are--or, rather, who the family once was--as nominal property-owners in a society in decline. That can hardly be said of some other families in the fall New Play lineup.
What is the special appeal for younger American playwrights of failed lives, lived out in trashy Trailer-Courts, cheap-motels, or even in sub-prime tract-homes? Are they really writing what they know--or what they imagine such lives to be, from the second-hand experience of watching such stereotypes on television?
Does Adam Rapp have a first-hand experience of such people? Was Finer Noble Gases--and, now, American Sligo--urgently written from intimate knowledge of such folks?
For that matter, do Lucy Thurber & Kate Fodor also share such experiences of the pathetic lives of Downscale-Americans?
Thurber's Scarcity seems written by-the-numbers, but her brawling, hard-drinking White-Trash don't live in a trailer-court. They seem, instead, to knock around in a cheap tract-home, nominally sited in Western Massachusetts.
Apparently, there are Red-Necks everywhere.
The parents are a Disaster-Area, but their two kids are bright. A well-intentioned but patronizing new teacher from Elitist-Boston is helping son Billy [Jessie Eisenberg] to enter Deerfield Academy. She also has "a thing for him." Billy's overwise younger sister reads the Tarot pack. Jason Gay staged.
At least Scarcity, Flags, & 100 Saints You Should Know avoid the sordid excesses of Bugs, a recent critical success, but really only another of the trailer-trash genre.
But Flags--also set in a tract-home--has visual excesses of a different kind. Playwright Jane Martin--aka Jon Jory--presents an unemployed working-class garbage-man hero [the Ajax-like Chris Mulkey], outraged that he has been lied-to about his adored soldier-son, violently killed in Iraq.
He hangs the mutilated & bloody American flag that his also mutilated & bloody son died defending Upside-Down on his house. This is not only a Signal of Distress, but also an offense to the neighbors, who employ various stratagems to make him take it down. Including the murder of his younger son: Democracy at Work!
A sort of Fox-TV/Greek-Chorus frames the action, but the bitterly satiric point about President Bush's Military-Adventures in Iraq is vividly made without this "cute" device. Henry Wishcamper directed.
Kate Fodor's 100 Saints You Should Know ranges from Parish-House to the equivalents of Trailer-Trash domesticity. Ethan McSweeny has staged a cast including Zoe Kazan & Lois Smith. Father Matthew [Jermey Shamos] first encounters Theresa [Janel Moloney], not as a Saint, but as an attractive young cleaning-woman, scrubbing his toilet.
He has been sent home to his crazy old Catholic mother because some male-nude art-photos he tore from a George Platt Lynes book in the Public--not the Pubic--Library have been found in his desk! The unmarried, desperate single-mother Theresa needs his help, but he is unable to help even himself…
In his time, the late Arthur Miller validated the idea of the Tragedy of the Common Man. Unfortunately, we are not dealing with Willy & Linda Loman here.
Are There Red-Necks in Ireland?
It's odd that the Off-Broadway season opens with a trio of Irish Family-Dramas. In John B. Keane's Sive--new to New York, but written in the 1950s--a sensitive young Irish girl, born a bastard, is driven to suicide rather than marry a lecherous but wealthy old farmer.
Her dead mother's bog-cutter brother--just this side of trailer-trash--& his termagant wife want to be rid of her & her ever-scolding grandmother, with some cash into the bargain. A painful & powerful Tragedy of the Common Man/Woman!
Ciarán O'Reilly directed an excellent cast in Charles Corcoran's claustrophobic Irish hut & hearth.
Rock Doves, by Marie Jones, features an Irish-Underclass beyond trailer-trash. In an abandoned old row-house marked for demolition, a blathering old homeless man [Marty Maguire] & and a fearful young Informer [Johnny Hopkins], on the run from the IRA, have taken shelter.
They are joined by the wise, feisty Prossie Bella [Natalie Brown] & her Trannie brother [Tim Ruddy], also known as Lillian. Things do not turn out well, despite the cooings of the rock-doves in the eaves.
Jones also wrote the admirable Stones in His Pockets, which made it to Broadway, no less! These doves, however, are not Broadway-Bound. Ian McElhinney directed.
In Thomas Kilroy's The Shape of Metal, the set may look like a barn with some trashy clutter. But this is not trailer-trash detritus: it is actually composed of artworks created by an iconoclastic & aged Irish sculptress, Nell Jeffrey [Roberta Maxwell], who has lived by her own rules, aesthetic & otherwise, & is now facing passing-over, as well as being enshrined in the National Gallery.
She has not Done Right by her two daughters, played by Molly Ward & Julia Gibson. The estimable Brian Murray directed. But Athol Fugard's The Road to Mecca is still my favorite play about female-sculptors.
From Ireland's "Troubles" Off To Family-Conflicts in Palestine & Guatemala!
From the centuries-long British Occupation & Subjugation of Ireland, through the recent conflicts between Protestants & Catholics, it has pleased the Irish to refer to outright acts of military & paramilitary violence as "The Troubles."
No such euphemism can apply to the confrontations between Arabs & Israelis in Palestine or over what the New York Times is pleased to call "Disputed-Lands."
But it is an Israeli playwright--not an Arab-dramatist--who has imagined, in Masked, a disastrous family-confrontation among three Palestinian-Arab brothers, one of whom has become an Israeli-Informer. Another brother is what Israelis commonly call an Arab-Terrorist, although he is seen as a Freedom-Fighter by Fellow-Arabs.
This does not end well for the Informer, especially as it is set in what seems to be a Halal butcher-shop.
Nor--despite the blather of President Bush & Condoleezza Rice about an Arab-Israeli "Peace-Process"--do the current confrontations in the Middle-East bode well for an eventual Happy-Ending.
Armageddon will be the more likely outcome, to the delight of those Born-Again Christians who will be instantly raised-up into Heaven in the Rapture. No funerals or grave-sites necessary!
Ami Dayan directed Masked, not the Rapture.
On Theatre Row, Anton Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard was paired, in revolving-rep, with Arthur Giron's Guatemalan family-drama, The Coffee Trees.
I did not see the Resonance Ensemble's matching production of Chekhov's [fruitless] Masterpiece, as I already knew how it comes out. Along with The Seagull & Uncle Vanya, it is one of those unquestioned modern-classics that one can see too often. Just as those earlier & royalty-free dramas, Midsummer Night's Dream & Macbeth, deserve a well-earned rest.
Arthur Giron is an old friend whom I do not see often enough. He is the estimable author of Edith Stein, the searching drama dealing with that famed & now Sainted Jewish-Intellectual who became a cloistered Roman-Catholic Nun, only to be gassed by the Gestapo as a Jew.
For some, the Question was: Did Edith Stein die as a Catholic or a Jew? Giron's thoughtful play seeks to resolve that dilemma. But the Past Pope had other ideas about her Final State of Mind…
Another interesting Giron drama is Becoming Memory, well worth a reading. Or even a new production!
Born in Guatemala, Arturo Giron knows the country & its varied peoples very well. There are still lots of Mayas, some Hispanics, Meztisos, & Creoles, as well as European immigrants who fled the Holocaust.
Your Scribe, on the other hand, knows Guatemala only from brief visits years ago, passing through Guatemala City on the way to the towering ancient Mayan-Temples in Tikal, or making an Easter-Pilgrimage to Chichicastenango--with the great volcano, Pocacatapetl, looming in the distance.
I was really unaware how torn the country has been by Revolutionary-Raids, as well as undergoing a kind of religious-transformation, as Evangelical-Missionaries replace the Catholic Church in the hearts & minds of many peasants.
It is these dramatic changes which inform the action of Giron's The Coffee Trees. But I fell into the trap that one often does when a new play has been inspired by an older classic.
I was so intent on noting which of the Guatemalan characters were cognates for Chekhov's originals--not at all easy to figure-out, as the actress playing Lyubov Ranyevskaya seemed more like Mme. Arkadina, in The Seagull--that I was not quite understanding who the Revolutionaries were [Maoists? Che Guevarists?] or what they were fighting for.
Not to mention the Evangelicals, although I do know that the Seventh-Day Adventists, Jehovah's Witnesses, & the Latter-Day Saints are very busy in Meso-America.
[The Missionary-character in Giron's drama seemed rather like Kilroy in Tennessee Williams' Camino Real, in that he has an Enlarged-Heart. This may foredoom him to sudden death, but it also implies he has a heart big enough for All of Jesus' Children!]
Dr. Marion Castleberry directed the dedicated cast.
Chekhov's Cherry-Trees no longer bore Good-Fruit, deserving therefore to be uprooted & replaced--also an edible-metaphor for the Ranyevski Family itself. But Giron's Coffee-Trees produce very good coffee-beans, although they take five years to mature. This was a Botanical-Curiosity I longed to learn more about.
Perhaps it is because we are now so familiar with Chekhov's characters, that the specifically Czarist-Russian nature of the great rural estates & the social hierarchies are almost incidental to the rather sad Family-Drama being played-out.
For audiences who know little of the Conquistador-Past of Central America, its varied 19th century class-systems, & its peoples, more background would be helpful. But then you would possibly have a three-part epic, not a Guatemalan Cherry Orchard in the shadow of a great volcano.
Josh Logan once had the idea of adapting The Cherry Orchard to a post-Civil-War American-Southland. He called it The Wisteria Trees. On its own terms, it worked well as an adaptation, but when I saw it, I was spending much of my time trying to compare Logan's characters with Chekhov's.
I now see from perusing the program that the Resonance Ensemble's matching production of Cherry Orchard is, in fact, also set in the American South, but in 1948, instead of the Post-Bellum former Confederacy.
What I would really look forward to would be an Arthur Giron drama about what life is really like in present-day Guatemala, activated by characters who owe nothing to Chekhov. As Giron taught playwriting for many years at Carnegie-Mellon in Pittsburgh, I know he can do this!
Old Plays Revived or Recycled:
Wm. Shakespeare's KING LEAR [***]
Moliere's THE MISANTHROPE [****]
Leo Tolstoy's THE POWER OF DARKNESS [**]
A.R. Gurney's THE DINING ROOM [****]
Charles L. Mee's IPHIGENIA 2.0 [***]
Over at BAM, the Royal Shakespeare Company was also playing Chekhov--The Seagull, not The Cherry Orchard--in rotating-rep with Shakespeare's King Lear: Two royalty-free classics!
The compelling reason to see yet another Lear--after just experiencing Kevin Kline in this actor's-summit role--was the opportunity to see Sir Ian McKellen embody this demanding character.
Lord Olivier noted--and not only to Your Scribe--that when an actor is young & vigorous, he doesn't have the Life-Experience to play Othello or Lear, but, when he is actually old, he lacks the vigor that is needed to play such roles even in repertory.
As he could play a minor Chekhovian character on alternate evenings, the aged Sir Ian could conserve his energy, so he focused it all on Lear's developing self-destructive tragedy. But even though fans were fighting for tickets, this was no Star-Turn.
McKellen inhabited the role, made it his own. Unfortunately, this could not be said of some of the other RSC actors, who seemed to be playing stereotypes, rather than real characters. Trevor Nunn directed, deploying his troops artfully about the stage.
It was duly noted that Sir Ian would at one point in Lear's Madness appear nude. And so he did, but I had already seen him nude in this very drama, but as "Poor Tom" Edgar, not Lear. This was many years ago with the Prospect Theatre in the Assembly Hall of the Church of Scotland in Edinburgh. This factoid does not appear in the BAM program-bio, but it was an impressive First!
Jonathan Bank's Mint Theatre has established itself as valuable theatre-resource for reviving forgotten or neglected early modern classics, notably of the British Theatre. These are always well-cast, effectively-staged, & ingeniously-designed.
This fall, he launched the Mint season with a revival of Count Leo Tolstoy's The Power of Darkness. The "New English Version" was crafted by Martin Platt, who also directed.
I do not have any earlier English Versions of this problematic-play at hand, but I suspect that even a stilted late 19th century translation might give this dire tale more of the Period-Feeling it needs to engage serious attention.
As played, the production felt more like an earnest semi-amateur event, with the admittedly-overblown melodramatic-elements defying the Willing Suspension of Disbelief.
Tolstoy's War & Peace is an entirely different kind of work, but it does lend itself to believable dramatization--even if presented as a Coast-of-Utopian Trilogy. Darkness could have been left in the closet or on the shelf.
Presented on East Fourth Street by the New York Theatre Workshop, in what could be regarded as an immense Post-Modernist Aquarium, sans aqua, Molière's The Misanthrope--staged by the post-post-Modernist European enfant-terrible stage-director, Ivo Van Hove--is an entirely dynamic & deafening Modern "take" on the Social-Hypocrisies of the Paris & Versailles of Louis XIV.
Of course, the elegant but brittle 17th century courtly façade of elaborate-etiquette, feigned-friendship & faked sympathetic-concern is central to the biting social-comedy of Molière's original, with the inconveniently Truth-telling Misanthrope, Alceste, at its center.
Van Hove has moved the characters & the action to Now. Guess what: although the good-manners are gone, all the hypocrisy & thinly-concealed malice is still there!
Plus ça change, as they say…
Tony Harrison's updated & cleverly rhymed translation has many amusing felicities, but--as most of the speeches are deafeningly shouted or furiously ranted--it is often difficult to discern what points have been made. Among the fine cast are Bill Camp, Joan MacIntosh, Thomas Jay Ryan, & Jeanine Serralles.
The ongoing production is simultaneously videoed, projected on three large plasma panels on the upstage-wall. There is even a very messy food-fight, leaving the stage strewn with debris, to which Alceste adds some trash he has just dragged in from East Fourth, the exterior-actions also shown on the TV panels! The Curse of Cell-Phones is also involved in the cause of hypocritical Social-Interaction!
The Keen Company's brisk revival of A.R. "Pete" Gurney's The Dining Room is admirable & a timely reminder of the now almost vanished Wasp-World. There may still be some Wasps up in Greenwich, but they are keeping a low-profile in the face of Political-Correctness, which itself should have run its course. Jonathan Silverstein staged.
[There was also a dining-room & fine dining-room table & chairs in Dividing the Estate, but Horton Foote's Texans are certifiably not Wasps!]
As for Charles Mee's free-associative updatings of Attic Greek Tragedies, my favorite is still Big Love, not to be confused with the TV series. Signature Theatre is having a Mee Season, with Iphigenia 2.0 as the premiere.
In addition to conflating some sage advice from George Washington with Euripides' original text, plus other alien-materials, Mee has changed the original reason for the necessity of Iphigenia's human-sacrifice.
Instead of being commanded by the Olympian Gods, it is now demanded by Agamemnon's Troops. Why should they risk their lives attacking Troy, if their Commander is not willing to make a similar sacrifice? As they are all attired in US combat-uniforms, it is as if President Bush were being forced to sacrifice his beloved daughter, Jenna Bush, to demonstrate his dedication to his war, as well as his fitness to command!
Tina Landau directed a fine cast that included Louisa Krause, Rocco Sisto, Kate Mulgrew, Tom Nelis, & Seth Numrich.
Once known as Charles L. Mee, Jr--which made one wonder what Mee Sr was doing with his life--this generous playwright has put his eclectic dramas online, offering them royalty-free for downloading & production!
New & Old Musicals:
GONE MISSING [***]
Xanadu's backstory as a movie made its future as a Broadway musical seem problematic. In the event, now at the Helen Hayes, it is great deliberately-over-acted tuneful fun-on-roller-skates. Seating some of the audience onstage in a mock Greek-Theatre conformation was also a stroke of design-genius, thanks to David Gallo.
Mary Testa shines as a Force-of-Evil Muse, with Kerry Butler, Cheyenne Jackson, & Tony Roberts starring. Christopher Ashley staged, with choreography by Dan Knechtges.
In Xanadu, Tony Roberts proves an outstanding musical-comedy star. What is more, Roberts looks a natural to play the President in the biopic, George W. Bush Builds His Heritage-Library in Waco!
Another jolly musical romp is Walmartopia, down at the Minetta Lane Theatre. Despite the liberal use of the ubiquitous yellow Smiley-Face logo--as well as the severed-head of founder Sam Walton--this production does not bear the blessing of Fay Walton or the other billionaire-heirs.
In fact, the program clearly states--but in very small type near the back: "Walmartopia is a satire and is not endorsed, sponsored, or otherwise affiliated with, in any way, Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. or any affiliates of Wal-Mart Stores, Inc."
So very rich, but no Sense of Humor at all!
The stylish & ingenious set-design of David Korins is almost worth the price of admission alone. Daniel Goldstein staged the charming cast, with choreography by Wendy Seyb.
Book, music, & lyrics are the inventions of Catherine Capellaro & Andrew Rohn. Among the amusing production-numbers are "American Dream," "March of the Executives," "The Future is Ours," & "One-Stop Salvation." Plus the theme-song: "Walmartopia."
Your Scribe is so busy with indexing the INFOTOGRAPHY™ photo-images that he has no time to watch TV or read the tabloids. So he didn't realize that the current revival of Grease was cast somewhat in American Idol fashion. Or perhaps like the old Major Bowes Amateur-Hour?
In any case, Max Crum & Laura Osnes are just fine as Danny & Sandy. In fact, the entire cast is attractive & energy-charged. My favorite songs from the Broadway original are wonderfully reprised: "Beauty School Dropout" & "It's Raining on Prom Night"!
The brilliantly talented Kathleen Marshall directed & choreographed, strongly assisted by the designs of Derek McLane, Martin Pakledinaz, & Kenneth Posner.
Down on Barrow Street, The Civilians are presenting Gone Missing, created by the company, from interviews made with very ordinary people, about various kinds of Lost Things--including a mummified-head. It's written & directed by Steven Cosson, with music & lyrics by Michael Friedman.
The gray-suit-clad cast recycles the generally banal interviews in character, moving with some sense of style. The songs inspired by things gone-missing are more interesting than the actual interviews.
Opera & Other Musical-Productions & Events:
New York City Opera's MARGARET GARNER [***]
LaMaMa's CARAVAGGIO CHIAROSCURO [**]
Willette Murphy Klausner's THREE MO' TENORS [***]
At The Met: A TRIBUTE TO BEVERLY SILLS [*****]
At Steinway Hall: Manhattan School of Music Preview
Many years ago, Your Scribe flew down to the Virginia Coast for the World Premiere of Thea Musgrave's opera based on the life of a famed escaped plantation-slave, Sojourner Truth. Denyse Graves valiantly acted & sang the title-role, even though she had broken her leg in rehearsals.
Since that time, I have never again encountered that opera, either in concert or in production. It's to be hoped that will not also be the fate of Toni Morrison & Richard Danielpour's Margaret Garner--also about an escaped slave.
[For that matter, whatever became of the Malcolm X opera? When it premiered at the New York City Opera, Beverly Sills was immensely gratified to see so many African-Americans in the audience. She asked me: "Do you think they will become subscribers?" I thought not.]
Fortunately, Margaret Garner is both dramatically & musically more effective than either Malcolm or Sojourner. Unlike some Black-themed plays & works of musical-theatre, it employs large forces of both white & black actor/singers, rather than having only a few token-whites.
This is a truly tragic tale, as the historical Margaret Garner killed her own child, rather than have it taken from her & returned to slavery. There was an extended Fugitive-Slave trial, which nonetheless returned Garner & her family to slavery.
But in the opera--based on Morrison's version of Garner's life in Beloved-- she is sentenced to hang. Reprieved at the last moment, she chooses to hang herself. This shocking climax, unfortunately, is not well-staged in the new NYCO production, so director Tazewell Thompson may want to rethink it.
Tracie Luck was powerful both visually & vocally as Margaret, strongly supported by Gregg Baker, as her slave-husband Robert. Timothy Mix was the overbearing, eminently-hissable plantation-owner villain Edward Gaines. George Manahan conducted with spirit & respect for the spirit & scope of this operatic-drama.
As Your Scribe left the New York State Theatre with a guest, she commented: "There aren't as many good songs as in Porgy & Bess."
Well, you can't win them all…
46th Anniversary at LaMaMa!
La MaMa Ellen Stewart, now 84, appeared on the balcony of her intimate theatre down on East Fourth Street to introduce--as has long been her custom--the first show of LaMaMa's 46th Season, Caravaggio Chiaroscuro. Most Off-off-Broadway ensembles expire of fund-raising exhaustion after a decade or two, but Ellen & LaMaMa forge ever onward!
Caravaggio Chiaroscuro is a curious work--half in Italian, half in English, sung & spoken. It was conceived by Gian Marco Lo Forte, who also provided the set & the libretto, with score by Duane Boutté, who also plays Caravaggio with a fierce passion.
If you really want to know about Caravaggio's strange genius & disastrous behavior, you would be well-advised to read an unsparing biography. Even if you already know something about this boastful, aggressive, combative painter of great religious themes, you may not quite understand from this show what happened to him in Rome, when he was under the protection & patronage of Cardinal Del Monte.
Some years ago, Michael Straight--then Nancy Hicks' second-in-command at the National Endowment for the Arts in DC--wrote a play titled Caravaggio. I went to Cincinnati's Playhouse-in-the-Park to see the World Premiere & talk about the play & the production with both Michael & his brilliant stage-designer, Jo Mielziener.
Those memories have stayed with me: especially the image of the abandoned Caravaggio desperately running along the beach, as the ship sails off, with his beloved paintings on board. This drama deserves a revival.
As for Caravaggio Chiaroscuro, I had the sensation that time had stood still down at LaMaMa. There was the same sense of Avant-garde--if somewhat amateurish--Adventure that pervaded its earliest productions.
And What Happened To The Three Sopranos?
The Laurels of Luciano, Placido, & José are safe & secure. Even with two teams of singers, Three Mo' Tenors is no match for the original Three Tenors. Given its Black or Ebonic-English title, you can guess that all of the vocalists are African-American
I saw/heard Cast A: the alternates are called Cast 1, so no one will feel he or she is getting second-best. If the other tenor-team is as good as Victor Robertson, Duane A. Moody, & James N. Berger, Jr, then alternate-audiences are being well-served.
But their concert-program--with some semi-choreographed staging by director Marion J. Caffey--is no opera-fest. They do begin with "La donna è mobile," "Nessun dorma," & "Ah mes amis," but are soon off & running with Soul, Gospel, Rhythm & Blues, & Showbiz, including "Bring Him Home" & "Being Alive."
My favorite was Victor Robertson, both for his stage-presence & his interpretation of his songs.
Remembering Beloved Beverly Sills
Even before the Met's Opening-Night Lucia, this august opera-house saluted another Lucia, the late & much lamented Beverly Sills. The every-seat-filled Tribute to Beverly Sills was more a Love-In than a tearful memorial.
As Beverly had begun her operatic career with the New York City Opera, over at the City Center, later becoming the Artistic-Director of the NYCO at Lincoln Center, the City Opera shared tribute-honors with the Met, where she became a star only after Sir Rudolf Bing was no longer there to bar her from its stage.
Opera-stars Placido Domingo, Anna Netrebko, John Relyea, & Natalie Dessay saluted Manhattan's favorite Diva in song. But, thanks to the miracle of Videotape, Beverly was seen & heard as well, especially in her TV special with Carol Burnett--who also appeared live on stage to remember her friend.
Despite unfriendly allegations that Mayor Bloomberg is stiff & awkward when he speaks, he was both charming & amusing in his remembrances of Beverly Sills, one of New York's biggest fund-raisers. He opened with: "Hi, I'm Mike Bloomberg!"
Best-friend Barbara Walters & former NYCO Intendant & GMD Julius Rudel also spoke feelingly of their love for Beverly. Close-friend Henry Kissinger was briefly interrupted by someone in the rear of the orchestra, shouting something about "War Criminals," but that dissatisfied dissident was ushered from his seat.
Most interesting of all, however, were the memories of Bev's brother, Stanley Sills. Many in the audience shared memories among themselves, as well.
I had interviewed Beverly on occasion--once backstage, between acts, as she was changing her costume!--but there was no reason to suppose such a great star would remember what used to be called an "ink-stained-wretch."
Nonetheless, whenever I chanced to meet her, she immediately remembered my name & asked how I was feeling health-wise, as well as what projects I was working-on! What's more, she was always smiling & supportive: I felt she was really interested in what I was doing.
When we were at conferences or panels, she would often ask me what I thought about the subjects under discussion. At the World Premiere of Dom Argento's Casanova's Homecoming, at the Minnesota Opera, in Saint Paul, she even asked me how I thought it would fare at Lincoln Center. Although it was being sung in English, I told her super-titles would be a real mitzvah.
Once Beverly even starred for me at a Drama Desk meeting at Sardi's. I had created a panel about the problems involved in playing a pair of famous Queens: Elizabeth & Mary of Scotland. Nancy Marchand & Salome Jens were in Schiller's Maria Stuart at the Vivian Beaumont, with Eileen Atkins & Claire Bloom on Broadway in Robert Bolt's Vivat! Vivat! Regina!
But Britain's Pauline Tinsley was making her Manhattan debut at the City Opera that very evening, opposite Beverly, also in a Bellini-inspired Royal-Confrontation of the Great Queens--who actually never met face-to-face.
Beverly immediately accepted my invitation to take part. Pauline was very reluctant, with so much at stake, debuting as a virtually unknown-quality in New York.
In the event, Pauline decided she could not be absent if Beverly was going to be on the panel. Soon after, Julius Rudel called me with some strong words about not taxing his two stars mere hours before the premiere. But they both appeared, to general cheers!
90th Anniversary for Manhattan School of Music!
The admirable Manhattan School of Music is only short walk from Grant's Tomb, up on Claremont Avenue. It occupies classrooms & theatres once dedicated to the musical-missions of the Juilliard School--now enlarging its quarters at Lincoln Center.
The Broadway & Claremont location is also near two Theological Seminaries, Columbia University, Barnard College, & Rockefeller's cathedral-like Riverside Church. But--even with its handsome new performance-spaces, lecture-halls, & residences--it is not exactly Central.
So it chose the historic Steinway Hall on West 57th Street as the venue for saluting its 90th Anniversary, presenting some of its outstanding students & its fall performance-program. Thomas Hampson's Manhattan Songbook concert is coming soon.
Every fall & spring, full-scale opera-productions are mounted! Lukas Foss' Griffelkin will be offered in December. But only for three performances! Kurt Weill's Street Scene is scheduled for spring.
And the public is also invited to Master Classes by such talents as Kurt Masur, Catherine Malfitano, & the ageless Marta Eggert.
Manhattan School's Opera-Theatre grads Brandon Jovanovich & Jennifer O'Loughlin both took the spotlight at major European Festivals this past summer: Brandon was one of the Cavaradossis in the Bregenz Festival's lake-stage Tosca. Jennifer enjoyed a success at the Salzburg Festival, stepping in as Susanna at the last minute for Diana Damrau, in the elegant Claus Guth production of Mozart's Marriage of Figaro!
Copyright Glenn Loney, 2007. 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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