GLENN LONEY'S ARTS RAMBLES
THIS WAS THE PLAY EXPOSURE THAT WAS…
Kent Thompson is a Genius!
Last season, he staged one of the best Midsummer Night's Dreams Your Arts Reporter has ever seen.
[I have seen a lot, having also edited the Official Royal Shakespeare Company Production Book of the Peter Brook Midsummer Night's Dream…]
This season--perhaps as a kind of Classical Prelude to the New Play Summit--Kent Thompson exceeded himself, with a 1950s Vision of The Taming of the Shrew!
Before coming to Denver--to Oversee & Program some four or five Performance Spaces of the Denver Theatre Center--he had already earned his Shakespearean Spurs at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival…
Not only is Kent a kind of Genius in what he has been able to cast & create in the vast Cultural Complex in Downtown Denver, but he also demonstrates repeatedly an Affinity for the Bard--or Chris Marlowe--that seems Unique.
He is not Peter Brook.
He is not Joe Papp--who, in any case, was not a very good Director, but an excellent Manager & Fund Raiser & All Purpose Visionary…
Frankly, after such Management Disasters at the Public Theatre as the Tenures of Joanne Akalaitis & Geo. C. Wolfe, it would be refreshing to have Kent Thompson infuse New Blood into the New York Shakespeare Festival.
But, for Starters, how about the MacArthur Foundation giving Kent one of those Genius Grants?
Last year--February 2011--Your Roving Arts Reporter did a Video Interview with Kent, discussing the Magic he invoked in his remarkable staging of Midsummer Night's Dream.
This year--February 2012--we spoke again.
But this time, not only about his delightful Shrew--Petruchio & Kate riding off on a Motorcycle!--but also about the Epic Demands of operating the Denver Theatre Center.
PASSING GLANCES AT SCENES SEEN:
•Poodle Skirts & Blue Jeans: A 1950s Shrew Taming That Should Be More Widely Seen!
When the Establishing Shot of the Denver Center's new Shrew turned up on its Website--an obviously Cowboy Petruchio with a Wild West Kate on his back--this image reminded Your Arts Reporter of the Wild West Shrew that Charles McCalley staged long, long ago, at the Globe of the Great Southwest, in Odessa, TX…
Since that Epic Adventure in Updating Shakespeare, Mantua & Padua have occasionally been relocated to Western American Sites in Utah, Arizona, & New Mexico.
But that's not quite what Kent Thompson had in mind for his 1950s Shrew.
In fact, he now believes it was a mistake to present a Photo Image of Kate & Petruchio in Western Garb, for that's not what his Shrew is really about.
Instead, this is a Shrew that takes place in a Post Art Deco, Post World War II, Rise of the Middle Class, White Picket Fence, Dick Powell/June Allyson All American World of Possibilities…
At either side of an All Purpose Unit Set--with a clever Interior Revolve!--are 1950s Billboards, featuring Ads in Arrow Collar Style for Products that bear the names of Characters & Places in Shakespeare's Plays!
Behind the Upper Level--an All Purpose Street--is an immense Map of what looks very much like The United States. But the Place Names are All Wrong!
Mantua & Padua are now in the Wrong Places.
Even odder, Rheims--which is only mentioned as the City in which a Putative Young Tutor studied--is sited on the map where Boston & Harvard should be…
Whenever any Italian City is named, the Letters Light Up on the Map!
In Thompson's Shakespeare for a New Generation production, Baptista Minola [Robert Sicular] is operating an Upscale Taverna in Padua. Kate [the vibrant, electric Kathleen McCall] is in the kitchen, cooking up a storm.
Her pretty, pouty, spoiled Younger Sister, Bianca [Christy McIntosh], is strolling about, Breaking Hearts, in a Poodle Skirt & not a care in the world, as they used to say…
[Centuries ago, when I was a Theatre Major at UC/Berkeley, a teen ager named Bob Sicular was a handsome young actor. Anderson Cooper's dad, Wyatt Cooper, was also one of our Band of Young Hopefuls… Wyatt is long dead. I am almost dead. Maybe this Sicular is Bob's son?]
As the Dowry Seeking Petruchio--Money Mends All Matters--John G. Preston has even more Magnetism than that other now almost mythic Preston, Robert. [Not to be confused with Preston Sturgis…]
In the Shrew Program, my old friend & colleague, Danny Sullivan [I was once a NYC Theatre "Stringer" for Dan, when he was Drama Critic for the LA Times…] suggests that we do not want to see the Comedy as a Study in Conflict Resolution.
"We want to see two crazy people going over the top…"
All the Principals are admirable, but what is especially appealing is the way in which Kent Thompson--working ingeniously with his actors--has helped them develop Major Mini Dramas, when describing an important Off Stage Event.
Instead of taking up valuable Stage Time with actually showing Kate & Petruchio on Horseback, a Minor Character turns this description into a Whirling Dervish of a Performance. Wow!
Because these Turns are not merely a matter of making the Lines Come to Life, but also of making the Actor's Face, Body, & Limbs provide a Non Verbal Re Enactment of what's just happened In The Wings--so to speak--these wonderfully amusing Cameos become Important, both to the Narrative & to the General Fake Italian Renaissance Ambiance…
While I much admire the Scenic Conceits of David M. Barber, I'm in even greater Admiration of the Colorful & Stylish Costumes of Susan Branche Towne.
This is a Shrew that ought to Tour!
Just as Kent Thompson's Dream deserved a Longer Life, even if On the Road…
How about a Revival, with Dream & Shrew in Rep?
Denver could even throw in a Chronicle Play, like Henry V, plus The Scottish Play…
•Obscenely Morbid Obesity & On Line Teaching: Whale of a Dad Tries To Re Connect w/Kid…
Tom Alan Robbins may not actually be playing Moby Dick, but he certainly looks like a Great White Whale in Samuel D. Hunter's Whale of a Play…
Last February, even in a Play Reading, Cast Members were near tears as the Dying Charlie tried to reconcile himself with his long unseen & determinedly difficult Daughter, Ellie [Nicole Rodenburg].
This time round--in a fully staged production--Robbins faced an even more difficult Reconciliation, for he was playing Charlie in a fat, fat, Fat Suit: One Hundred Pounds of Foamy Padding, complete with 12 Pockets for Ice Packs to cool the Thespian Body.
Although Charlie was once Married & had sired a Child, along the way, he discovered that he was Gay, abandoning an Angry Wife & Tiny Daughter for a Lover who has, long since, died of The Plague.
The Lover's Sister, Liz the Nurse [Angela Reed], now tries to keep Charlie alive, against all odds, especially the Oddball Charlie.
Since his Epic Loss, an already zaftig Charlie has grown immensely Fat, almost unable to move.
He supports himself by correcting On Line English Comp Essays.
This doesn't seem to be as Learning Effective as Proponents of Virtual Schooling--such as 43's Brothers, Jeb & Marvin Bush--would have you believe.
In addition to the Angry Ex Wife & the Take No Hostages Daughter, there's also a feckless young Unfrocked Mormon Missionary in the madly disjointed Emotional Mix.
Cory Michael Smith is strangely appealing & compassionate as an Outcast LDS, who still longs to help someone. His Elder Thomas wouldn't be out of place in The Book of Mormon: the Musical, not the actual Joseph Smith Revelation.
Even Mitt Romney could be moved by The Whale, if not by the Plight of a Dog Strapped to the Roof of the Romney Family Car.
If a Devout Latter Day Saint must Tithe a Biblical Tenth of his/her Annual Income, could Charlie tithe a Tenth of His Misery to the Church of Moroni's Golden Plates?
Hal Brooks staged.
The Whale will soon be seen in Manhattan, on Theatre Row.
•A SoCal Poolside Seder: Bitter Herbs for Israeli Passionate American Jews & an LA Muslim.
One of the Problems of staging a play that largely takes place around a long table--with a number of Place Settings--is how to permit the Audience to see the Facial Expressions of all the Characters, especially if some have their backs to the Viewers.
Last February, when Lisa Loomer's provocative play, Two Things You Don't Talk About at Dinner, was aired in a Play Summit Reading, this was not a Problem, as all the Players were more of less In Line at their respective Music Stands.
So, this Script seemed a Natural for New York Audiences: especially those who can Never Get Enough of Holocaust Drama & the Triumph of Israel, the Only Democracy & America's Only Ally in the Middle East.
Loomer's drama--which has as its Basic Contention the Potential Rift between two Very Old Friends, one an Israel Committed Liberal Los Angeleno Jewess [Mimi Lieber] & an Americanized Arab [Nasser Faris], who knows what it is to have been dispossessed by Post Holocaust Zionists.
His Parents were Palestinians who had to leave Haifa for Lebanon, to escape the encroachments of the Newly Developing State of Israel…
This--even in the original Play Reading--recalled another Politically Charged Dinner Table Drama: Omnium Gatherum, co authored by Theresa Rebeck, a New Play Summit Veteran, who, nonetheless, had O G produced at the Humana Festival in Louisville, by Actors Theatre.
In Rebeck's Fantasy Dinner, Loomer's Lebanese was, instead, speaking in the Fictive Person of, say, an Edward Saïd.
Rather like Bernard Shaw's Don Juan in Hell, with Semitic Cousins contesting Historical Rights.
Of course, the Other Thing you do not discuss at Dinner is Politics.
Or is it Religion? Or is Israel such a Convoluted Problem that it is both a Religious & a Political No No?
Of course, Loomer cannot be accused of imitating Rebeck, as she has enriched her Dialogues of the Non Carmelites with a Female Fundamentalist Protestant Fanatic who passionately believes that only She--not her Jewish Friends--is going to Heaven.
Her Spiritual Problems are complicated by a lumpy, dumpy Son, who has decided to Rebel by aping the Suras or the Aphorisms of The Buddha.
Then there's an angry Orthodox Auschwitz Rememberer, who has married a Japanese, who has Converted…
But there's also a loud, out of control Hollywood type Anti Jew, with both an Alcohol & a Foul Mouth Problem. His Daughter is a Bulemic Pot Head.
Or did the Pot come from the Buddha Lover?
So complicated a People Mix. So little time to sort them all out…
But there were--as far as I could understand the various Conversations & Rants--No Mormons on board!
For those in the Audience who had never experienced a Traditional Seder, Playwright Loomer & Stage Director Wendy C. Goldberg put us all through the Paces.
But no Bitter Herbs for the Spectators, unless they found the play on stage a bit confusing…
In a Reading, having a number of Dinner Guests is not a Visual Problem.
In an Actual Production--especially with so many Goblets, Plates, Cutlery, Wines, & Foods--some of the Character Confrontations & Dialogic Dissertations can, unfortunately, Get Lost in the Shuffle…
There's also the Problem--not present in an in line Reading--of characters silently interacting in other areas of the stage, while arguments are percolating at the Seder Table.
This year, in Brentwood! Next year, in Occupied Gaza?
Actually, Loomer's Title is a bit misleading. When Questions about Israel arise, Politics & Religion automatically become One Thing, not Two.
But Loomer does not shy away from dealing with Essential Issues.
When Palestinian Arabs are denounced as Terrorists, the Terrorist Tactics of the Stern Gang & the Irgun zvei Leumi in establishing the State of Israel are also cited. Notably, the Massacre of Deir Yassin…
Also, the fact that Israel has many more Atomic Warheads than Iran can even dream of.
When & if Two Things comes to Manhattan--not to mention a Theatre Near You--choosing the Right Venue is of Prime Importance.
The Audience needs to see who is talking, when they are talking. Not easy, with a dozen or so people seated around a Table…
This really killed Omnium Gatherum in New York, where it was produced on the tiny stage of the Now Vanished but Once Landmarked Variety Photo Plays Theatre.
In Louisville, it was staged so that the Audience looked down on the Table, the Characters, & the Action--such as it was--whereas, in New York, the Table could hardly fit on the small stage.
Most of the time, the also small Audience was looking at the Backs of the Characters…
So, how will Two Things fare in New York City?
If you cannot talk about Politics & Religion, what is there left to discuss anymore?
Reality TV? The Kim Kardashian Nuptials: Till Death Do Us Part?
Gay Marriages, followed by Caesarean Section Abortions?
Why doesn't Someone write a Play about the current Discussion Topic Epic Drought?
Guess Who's Coming To Dinner & What They'll Be Talking About…
•No Comment Denver Summit Play Readings: Fully Staged Productions Next Year?
Although it is sinfully tempting to share some Insights into the 5 New Scripts that were given polished Readings at the Denver Summit, all Critics were repeatedly reminded that Commentary was entirely Off Limits…
This saved Your Roving Arts Reporter from having to make a show of Jotting Down trenchant Notes.
But some Colleagues were frantically scribbling, as though their Presses--far beyond the Mighty Rockies--had been stopped, awaiting late breaking Drama News!
So I must apologize for praising The Whale & Two Things last year, solely on the basis of Readings.
Nonetheless, for the Record, here are the Shows that were Read this past month, looking forward, hopefully, to a possible Full Production:
Richard Dresser's Hand of God--Talk about Kim Whatshername! Planning a TV Reality Show isn't quite the same as actually being in one…
Lisa Loomer's Homefree--As some of this 99% Teen Age Young Adult Tsuris is set in Ashland, OR, it seems a Natural for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival to present as a Fully Staged New American Play!
Lauren Feldman's Grace, or The Art of Climbing--Didn't James Franco have to cut off his Leg in that Mountain Climbing Movie? This time, it's a Girl who climbs…
Michael Metnick's Ed, Downloaded--Steve Jobs would have loved this one: Will there be iPad Apps so you can see this show On Line? This Concept--if not the Actual Script--has Franchise Potential!
Jeffrey Haddow [Book & Lyrics] & Neal Hampton's [Score] Sense & Sensibility: The Musical--Hey! Who knew that Jane Austen could sing? Or has there already been a Pride & Prejudice Musical that I missed?
This Staged Reading was almost as good as a Fully Staged Broadway Production!
Look for it Next Year in the Rockies!
Followed, later, by a handsomely designed All Singing, All Dancing, All Emoting Production at one of those Broadway Shubert Theatres everyone is always talking about…
•Accidental Theatre in the Occident: Colorado's Very Own Garden & Home Show!
If Colorado Home Foreclosures continue, Denver can put the resultant Homeless in the Cavernous Colorado Convention Center!
This is an Immense Space, but Developers, Equipment Purveyors, & Interior & Exterior Decorators: Landscapers & Furnishers filled it during the New Play Summit, to the immense advantage of Fixer Uppers & Potential Home Buyers.
Among the Goods & Services were Custom Made Bird Houses, Salt Candles, Instant Salsa Makers, Thermal Windows with tiny Pet Doors, Fake Waterfalls, Wind Turbines, Solar Panels, & Pool Tables with colorful Floral Decorations…
Either Life in Denver is epically stressful, or it's so exhausting racing around the Convention Center--trying to see all the Booths & all the Products--that there were a number of Stress Relief Areas, where one could get Massages from Human Hands or from Machine Infested Upholstery…
Perhaps Theatre Critics live on Another Planet?
Although Your Arts Reporter was eager to discover what Denver had to offer the First Time Home Owner--no Mortgage Mavens seemed to be on hand--Fellow Critics preferred to drink Lattes at the Denver Theatre Center…
So they missed the Thrill of seeing real "Plantation Shutters" on display. Vivien Leigh would have loved them at Tara…
This Garden & Home Manifestation was the 53rd Incarnation of this annual show. Next Year? In Jerusalem?
STARS IN THEIR CROWNS:
This Festival's Rational Ratings--
Lisa Loomer's TWO THINGS YOU DON'T TALK ABOUT AT DINNER [★★★★]
Arts Rambles News & Notes:
The Up Coming Seawell Centennial!
Once again, it's time to Salute Donald Seawell, Denver Center Board Chairman Emeritus, who will be 100 Years Old this coming August!
Not only did Don have a Distinguished Career in the Broadway Theatre--before he came out to Denver to save the Denver Post & enable the Theatrical Ambitions of Helen Bonfils, for whom the Denver Center Complex is named--but he also was a Prime Mover in the Development of Performing Arts in Denver.
He was once very happily married to the late but entirely wonderful actress, Eugenia Rawls.
For whom the Eugenia Room at Sardi's is named. There is, of course, also a Eugenia Room in the Denver Center, as well as a handsome Portrait.
Greetings & Salutations are also in order for the dynamic & glamorous Judi Wolf, who ensures that Don Seawell is able to savor & participate in all the activities & presentations of the Denver Center.
There will soon be On Line a Video Interview I did with Don about his work in both New York & Denver Theatre.
At 83, I am Old Enough to know some of the Now Vanished Players & Producers with whom he once worked.
But Don Seawell is still a Board Member of Britain's Royal Shakespeare Company, founded decades ago by Peter Brook, Peter Hall, & Michel St Denis…
No Conservators for the Denver Center Acting Conservatory!
What is, however, Bad News is that the remarkable Conservatory for training young actors must close down after this season.
None of the Necessary Funding or Endowment Foundations have been forthcoming in these Desperate Times, when the Rich Get Richer, but do not donate to the Conservatory Cause…
Venue Rich Denver Hosts The Road!
Not only is there a variety of Stages & Audience Conformations in the Denver Center--The Jones, The
Ricketson, The Space, & The Stage Theatre--but, under the Great Glass Canopy that links them to the older Performance Venues such as the "Ellie" Opera house, the Temple Hoyne Buell Theatre, the Concert Hall, & a charming Cabaret Space, the Garner Galleria, each Denver Season can boast of Major Touring Shows.
How about Hair, West Side Story, American Idiot, Wicked, The Addams Family, Memphis, Jersey Boys, The Lion King, Les Mis, & the seemingly ageless George Hamilton in La Cage? [What his Dorian Grey Portrait in the Attic must now look like…]
Getting High in Mile High Denver!
For many years, when the Capital of Colorado was mentioned on the Radio, it was always identified as "The Mile High City!"
Way back in the Golden Years of the Great Depression, no one had Any Idea that one day there would be such a thing as Medical Marijuana.
Such Educational Films as Reefer Madness showed all Right Thinking, God Fearing, 100 Percent Americans that Smoking Pot could easily Destroy Your Life!
Of course, Smoking Camels, Lucky Strikes, or even Chesterfields could also kill you with Lung Cancer. But who knew…
[The Hokey Joke used to be: Smoking all that Chesterfield Upholstery would be Bad for Your Health.]
Now, however, Denver appears to be a World Capital of Pain Relief!
There are some 50 Eager Ads in Westword--a Rocky Mountain Village Voice--for Medicinal Marijuana!
At the Emergency Room, you can get a Walk In "Evaluation" by a "Licensed MD" for $59. But, if you mention the Westword Ad, it's only $55!
But they are on Facebook, for those of you who cannot fly out to Denver on the Spur of the Moment.
Pot Smoking, at least in Denver--is also Ergonomic!
How about: "Daily Deals just got GREENER"?
Then there's the Grow Depot, "Where Your Dreams Grow."
At the Medical Marijuana Doctors, Evaluations & Renewals are eagerly provided: "Get your paperwork done right the first time!"
If you do not believe Your Roving Arts Reporter, check out: www.TheMedicalMarijuanaDoctors.com…
Of course, what would the wild Wild West be without Pioneer Resourcefulness?
Grow Your Own!
You can get "All Your Hydroponic Indoor Growing Supplies" at Nick's Garden Center & Farm Market.
Nick may have had a Booth at the 53rd Annual Colorado Garden & Home Show, but I missed it…
So I chilled out with an Iced Sprite.
Caricature of Glenn Loney in header is by Sam Norkin.
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