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For the last two decades, I could boast seven theaters located within three blocks of my front door. After the end of this coming season, however, that number will be considerably reduced.
A massive makeover of the Ettleson building at Broadway and Sheridan is displacing a pair of loft spaces housing two of Chicago's foremost pioneering companies: the 28-year-old Strawdog Theater Company will move to as-yet-undecided new quarters in the summer of 2016, while its neighbor around the corner, the Mary-Arrchie Theater Company, will strike its sets after 30 years of operation.
Sarasota's newest theater company, The Starlite Players, tries to prove “The Customer Is Always Right” as it stages five new comedies under that rubric. They play July 15-16 and July 17-18, 2015, 7-9PM, at The Starlite Room, 1001 Cocoanut Street. Sets and seats are upstairs of the restaurant that can turn the venue into a dinner theater with its discount for ticket holders on performance dates.
Post Pride Weekend, HBO will air Jean Carlomusto's “Larry Kramer in Love & Anger” on June 29, 2015 at 9 PM (Eastern). The 82-minute documentary features the trailblazing, often controversial and contentious gay-rights political firebrand and AIDS activist, author, and acclaimed playwright in "an intimate look at the inspiring and sometimes devastating measures taken by him that ultimately saved the lives of millions affected by HIV and AIDS." The telecast almost coincides with Kramer's June 25 80th birthday.
The Tony and Drama Desk Awards have come and gone; there've been winners and not-winners in the Musical categories. It was a season of great scores--one for the books with 10 musicals opening. Being avid theatergoers, you no doubt have seen all the shows. Now, you can take a few cast albums home to rekindle memories again and again. All are quite reasonably-priced, with a SRP of less than $20. In addition, there are Off Broadway cast albums and reissues of two long-out-print classics by two giants of the entertainment world - and news of more to come.
From time to time, my occasional work as a performing arts critic in Texas causes me to miss some important event here in New York. That was never truer than on last March 9, 2015 when Marc Baron, the leader of America’ oldest theatrical club, The Lambs, hosted a memorable Shepherd’s Luncheon at the Club to honor the esteemed President of SAG-AFTRA, actor Ken Howard. But all was not lost when I learned that Mr. Howard’s important union would make available a full internet video of his fascinating remarks on that gala occasion.
Sunday's 69th annual Tony Awards, presented by the Broadway League and the American Theater Wing, will be more of a social event than usual. As Kristin Chenoweth and Alan Cumming co-host the live three-hour telecast from Radio City Music Hall from 8 -11 P.M. (ET/PT time delay) on CBS, there'll be live tweeting during the ceremony.
A "revival" production, technically, is a show whose premiere run ended less than two years before its remount, the latter featuring all or most of the same cast. Nowadays, it can also refer to plays not yet old enough to be called "classics"—a term most often applied to plays over fifty years past their inception. What, then, are we to call new adaptations of venerable fixtures long assimilated into the dusty archives of "standard repertoire?"
Mandy Greenfield is in the midst of her first season as artistic director of the Williamstown Theater Festival. Sitting down to chat with her, I mentioned that, as a member of the American Theater Critics Association, I attended this summer’s Tennessee Williams Festival in New Orleans. I added that New Yorker critic John Lahr was a presenter there, since he’d recently authored the biography, “Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh.”
The word "classic" is tossed around pretty casually these days—indeed, it's not uncommon for Baby Boom geezers to affix that appellation to anything recalled from their youth, regardless of lasting historical significance ("Yellow Submarine" might qualify as "classic" pop, but should "Mellow Yellow" share that status?)
According to sages at Windy City Times, a play can be called a "classic" only if it's more than 100 years old—otherwise, it's a "revival." With that definition in mind, here are some of both to see this fall:
I've been saying that someone should write an article about what an outstanding month April has been for actors who are differently abled. No one did, so I will endeavor to do my best here. But the three main theater companies that work with this under-represented group all had projects that either ended, began, or continued in the month of April. Thus, giving a lot of differently abled actors like myself the rare opportunity to do what I love; perform.
Despite opposition from the local Actors’ Equity Association and Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle, the national leaders of AE have voted to impose a $9 hourly minimum wage for members who perform in L.A. County theaters with fewer than 99 seats.
Born October 3, 1950 and now middle aged and honored with a table-running Oscar, Tony and Pulitzer, John Patrick Shanley exudes the rough-edged persona of a Mick from the Bronx who can give and take a good punch. He grew up being pummeled with tough love by the Mom who shaped his aesthetic, as well as nuns and priests who knocked sense and atheism into him.
This year’s conference of the American Theater Critics Association overlapped and interacted with the 29th annual Tennessee Williams New Orleans Literary Festival. David Kaplan, curator of the ten-year-old Provincetown Tennessee Williams Theater Festival, was on hand to direct a co production of the Hotel Plays.
Organized by local member, Alan Smason, the annual general membership conference of the American Theater Critics Association met recently in New Orleans. The conference overlapped and interacted with the Tennessee Williams New Orleans Literary Festival, so there were many highlights and insights. This is our first of several planned reports of a lively encounter with The Big Easy.
Terence Boyle traces his ancestry to Protestant Northern Ireland, but he is, himself, Catholic and teaches at the Jesuit-affiliated Loyola University. The openly gay Boyle's play, allegedly based on the Biblical tale of Cain and Abel, is titled ”The Queen's Speech”—and that's "queen" as in "drag."
Playgoers impatient for destination summer festivals in Spring Green, Bloomington or Ontario's Stratford can get in practice at currently running double- or even triple-feature "marathon" events. These would include the nine-hour “Hammer Trinity”—House Theater of Chicago's compilation of its 2012 The Iron Stag King, 2013 The Crownless King and now-concluding The Excelsior King—or Steppenwolf's Garage Repertory Series, featuring a revolving roster of plays presented by a trio of companies reflecting Chicago's prolific storefront circuit.
It was a Monday morning following a grueling weekend of five performances of Satchmo at the Waldorf at Shakespeare & Company. Compared to a norm of six weeks, there had been only three weeks of rehearsal before opening night. John commented that he had been averaging three hours of sleep. Asked why, he described restless nights running new lines and constant changes in the first play by the Wall Street Journal’s Terry Teachout. It is also his first experience of performing a one-man show.
Chicago's Goodman Theater production of Eugene O'Neill's daunting The Iceman Cometh,directed by Robert Falls, has just opened to rave reviews at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Charles Isherwood in the New York Times states that "Mr. Falls’s magisterial staging of O’Neill’s harrowing drama, one of his very greatest, floored me when I first saw it at the Goodman Theater almost three years ago. Once again, at the conclusion of this blistering production, currently at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, I had to scrape myself up from my seat, with my innards churning."
Plays drawn from the repertoire of Western drama are usually dismissed as "safe options" for theaters—what could be more reliable, after all, than a script arriving with a decades-long track record of pleasing audiences? This popular impression renders all the more astonishing the degree of daring reflected in this winter's selection of (at least) twice-told tales.
Two FSU/Asolo Conservatory grads are co-founding and co-artistic directing a new Urbanite Theater, bringing “contemporary playgoing opportunities” to downtown Sarasota . What makes Summer Wallace and Brendan Ragan's venture so different? A real estate developer is constructing a theater for them to show actor-driven exciting, fresh work.
By April 2015, the building should be up. The black box theater has been rented for $1 a year for 5 years. Fund-raising will equip it in time, it is hoped, for a fall 2015 opening.
Even if the line of dialogue you couldn't wait to quote after Chris Hainsworth's adaptation of Monstrous Regiment for Lifeline Theater was "Things couldn't get any worse if it were raining arseholes," a more accurate summary of Chicago theater in 2014 might be ”ars victrix"—in English, "art endures."
With a nod to New York theater critic Charles Isherwood, the older you get, the sooner it seems you are faced with the prospect of listing the best productions of the year. This is an overwhelming task in New York, with literally hundreds of shows opening on Broadway, Off-Broadway and Off-Off. But doing the same is a challenge even in a city the size of Milwaukee. There is more theater happening in this culturally rich city than most people know. And when you are asked to rate the Top 5 productions instead of the Top 10 — well, one can imagine the anxiety this produces.
Elizabeth Ashley is one of the most acclaimed actresses of her generation. Born in Florida but raised in the deep South of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, once she made the decision to come to New York, her dazzling (and some have said seductive) beauty, gorgeous legs, an aura of mystique, and unique, rapid-fire voice dripping with Southern Comfort and mint juleps infused with magnolias, got her quickly noticed and cast in major roles.
Marian Seldes, who passed away after a three-year slide into darkness, told me once: "One of the most enthralling moments for me in every play I do is crossing from Stage Left to Stage Right, or vice versa, depending on where the stage door is, and ravishing a moment there – just me and the ghost light."
This summer at Williamstown Theater Festival, we saw emeritus artistic director, Jenny Gersten, only during opening night of the first production, June Moon. There was a hug signifying a relationship that evolved from tempestuous to respectful. There had been growing pains on both ends. Gersten would go on to become executive director of Friends of the High Line, an elevated park being built in Chelsea.
Some in the professional theater community view critics as their natural enemy out to destroy or trivialize the efforts of all theatrical companies. Over time, a tradition of sorts began – something akin to the bridegroom not seeing his bride before the ceremony; in other words, bad luck or a doomed marriage. Bull. I’ve never met a fellow critic who walked into a theater hoping the production would be bad, boring or worse in order to write a clever, witty review that denigrates the production as a way of elevating their own importance.
Hundreds of anti-Israeli – and, in some cases, anti-Semitic -- protestors have disrupted shows at both the International and Fringe festivals this year. Two shows at the Fringe have been shut down by the protestors: The City, a hip-hop opera from The Incubator, a Jerusalem-based theater company; La Karina, a dance recital by the Pola Dance company from Ben Gurion University; and a third show, The Jewish Chronicles, a solo songfest performed by Daniel Cainer, was singled out for public condemnation.
During an early phase of rehearsals for Dancing Lessons,a new play for Barrington Stage Company, we met with playwright Mark St. Germain at Dottie’s for breakfast. It has become an annual ritual to discuss the development of his plays. Mark has become a mentor and friend. He is a rich and knowledgeable primary resource both for understanding theater as well as many unique insights of the challenges of a life in the arts.
Brilliant, vicious, magnetic, dedicated, massively insecure, and bitterly competitive, Sir Laurence Olivier (1907-1989) was endowed with a talent and a jealousy unchallenged by his contemporaries. In the new biography, “Olivier” (Quercus Publishing, 460 pages), prize-winning author Phillip Ziegler virtually leaves no stone unturned as he examines not only what made one of our most famous – and occasionally infamous – actor/directors of the 20th Century tick but also the work that influenced generations of actors.
In a January 10, 2013 review in the New York Times Charles Isherwood wrote, “As you watch The Other Place,a slick, potently acted drama by Sharr White that opened on Broadway on Thursday night at the Samuel J. Friedman Theater, it may strike you now and then that your mind is playing tricks on you. Facts that seem firmly established in one scene melt into vapor a few scenes later, leaving you with a vague itch to press pause to sort things out, or maybe rewind. Or both.”
Creative Conversations about American Theater Take Place on Greenfield Prize Weekend in Sarasota, FL
Playwrights, a producing artistic director and an award-winning actress had “Creative Conversations” about theater and their work in it on April 12, 2014 during the annual Greenfield Prize Weekend in Sarasota, FL. This partnership between the Greenfield Foundation of Philadelphia and the Hermitage Artist Retreat in Englewood, FL, offers six week residencies to artists to work on creative projects. The Greenfield Prize, an annual $30,000 commission to create a new work of art, went to playwright Nilo Cruz.
Since joining the America Theater Critics Association, we have attended conferences in Chicago, Indianapolis, Shepherdstown, West Virginia and, most recently, the 38th Humana Festival of New American Plays in Louisville, Kentucky. Through ATCA we are getting an overview of regional American theater. The well-organized conferences comprise intense experiences with meetings, panel discussions and major keynote speakers. (This time: Steinberg Award winning playwright Lauren Gunderson, who was also the keynote speaker for the conference. Also, longtime New York critic Ira J.
"Dream what you want to dream, go where you want to go, be what you want to be," James Dean has been quoted as saying, "because you have only one life and one chance to do all the things you want to do." Another time, he stated, "The only success, the only greatness is immortality." By that standard, Dean has achieved immortality. Long after his untimely death in 1955, the fascination with Dean lives on. On February 8, 2014, the forever young Dean would have turned 83.
Janet Carl Smith, newly retired Deputy Commissioner of Chicago's Department of Cultural Affairs, advised leaders and members of the Arts and Cultural Alliance of Sarasota County to collaborate among themselves and others in an address on February 20, 2014. She shared experiences and ideas to the Alliance and is currently pushing for a renewal of a tax to benefit education in Sarasota, especially in the arts.
Beginning October 10, 2013, La Comedie Italienne, the sole Italian theater in France, began its 40th season of continuing the centuries-old tradition of Italian players and scripts appearing there on stage, especially in Paris. On Christmas Day, the troupe's founder and artistic director, Attillio Maggiulli, was arrested for protesting a devastating cut in national subvention of the theater by attempting to drive his car into an Elysee Palace gate. The most recent news I've learned is that Maggiulli was sent to Police Headquarters and then for psychiatric evaluation.
Tracy Letts has been known to get excited when honing and honing and honing his work “to make what I’m working on the very piece.” When things didn’t necessarily please him, there are rumors that he screamed, called people names, and wrote exhaustively long e-mails. In writing the screenplay for his Pulitzer Prize, Joseph Jefferson-, Tony-, and Drama Desk Award winning August: Osage County,which played Broadway in December 2007 for 18 months after premiering in his Chicago hometown’s Steppenwolf, he was probably just as vocal, but to himself.
“There couldn’t be a better holiday season,” says very busy director/choreographer Warren Carlyle. “I truly am blessed to be here and doing what I love. It’s the culmination of all my dreams.”
It’s been said that Margo Martindale has gone from being an actress whose face moviegoers and TV viewers know to one who now has a brand name. “It’s nice when people come up to me and actually know my name! Usually it’s ‘Aren’t you -- ?’ or ‘Weren’t you in -- ?’ or ‘Hi, you’re the lady at my bank!’” Now, thanks to capturing the coveted role of Mattie Fae in the film adaptation of Tracy Letts’ Pulitzer Prize-winning August: Osage County[The Weinstein Company] and her boisterous and blistering performance, everyone’ll know her name.
“Frozen,” the Walt Disney feature which just opened as the season’s big, animated holiday film, is a movie that almost didn't happen – in spite of years of trying to get an animated film done on Hans Christian Andersen's “The Snow Queen.” Four years in the making, the film arrives and is worth the wait. Critics are calling it the best Disney animated film and musical in years.
PBS Great Performances and THIRTEEN have classic treats in store to ring in the holidays. First, on Friday, November 29, 2013: “Barbra Streisand: Back to Brooklyn,” a telecast of the diva's historic Brooklyn homecoming to christen the 19,000-seat, $1-billion Barclays Center, which marked her "home" concert since her childhood (and her first concert in six years). She performs 27 tunes from her five-decade career, joined by guests Il Volo, Chris Botti, a 60-piece orchestra led by William Ross, and, in quite a touching segment, her son Jason Gould.