Lin-Manuel Miranda to College Grads: Hamilton, Burr and the Ticking Clock


Excerpts from Lin-Manuel Miranda’s commencement speech at Wesleyan College, where he graduated in 2002, in which he mentions the genesis of In The Heights, and quotes from Hamilton. The school awarded him an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters.

(Video below)

Graduating class of 2015, my dear, exhausted graduates, senior week is over. The people who love you are behind you taking pictures and ready to cheer for your name. The U-Haul is rented and waiting your things, because you didn’t pack. Your time here is up. If you feel like I felt on graduation day, right now your stomach is a volatile cocktail made of relief, regret, pride and coco-berry freeze.

I remember that.

Most of all, I remember the sound of two distinct clocks in my head. One is super fast, whirring. T-t-t-t-t-t-t-t-t-t-t-t-t.

That’s the sound of your four years at Wesleyan. With one day to go, all the packing you still have to do, all the people with whom you are still trying to find a moment to say the right goodbye. The other clock is in the distance, but it’s slower and it’s booming: that’s the sound of the rest of your life, and what you’re going to do with it in the time you have on this earth. Some of you hear this clock constantly. You wake up in cold sweats at the thought of it. Some of you are utterly oblivious to it, God bless you. Guess what? It’s ticking whether you hear it or not.

Dramatic right? I’m a theater major, I graduated with honors. It better be dramatic. But it’s also true.

I’ve written a new musical entitled Hamilton; it’s opening on Broadway this summer. There are lots of characters in the show, but I want to talk about two of them in particular, Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr. On the surface, these men had a lot in common: They were both orphaned at a young age, though Burr grew up in wealth and privilege in New England, Hamilton in poverty in the Caribbean. Both prodigious students, revered commanders in the Revolutionary War, expert lawyers, respected politicians, innovative businessmen, until 1804 when one kills another in a duel. This duel is their most famous act, linking them together forever.

The engine of my new musical is the fact that Hamilton and Burr both hear that ticking clock of mortality at a very young age, and the way in which they choose to live in the FACE of that knowledge puts them in a collision course from the moment they meet. I’m going to sing a little bit, so if you made a bet that I’d be rapping during the Commencement address, your friend owes you money. Or points.

Let’s start with Hamilton. He reaches New York with the clothes on his back, a small stipend to pursue his studies, and not much else. Except for the knowledge that he is meeting an unprecedented historical moment, colonies on the brink of revolution, and he wants to be there for all of it. He marches into Fraunce’s Tavern, the hotbed of revolution, and he sings.

I’m a get a scholarship to King’s College.
I probably shouldn’t brag, but dag, I amaze and astonish.
The problem is I got a lot of brains but no polish.
i gotta holler just to be heard
With every word, I drop knowledge!
I’m a diamond in the rough, a shiny piece of coal
Tryin to reach my goal, my power of speech is unimpeachable
I’m nineteen but my mind is older
These New York City streets get colder, I shoulder
Every burden, every disadvantage
I have learned to manage,I don’t have a gun to brandish
I walk these streets famished
The plan is to fan this spark into a flame
But damn it’s getting dark, so let me spell out the name.
I am the A-L-E-X-A-N-D-E-R—we are—meant to be
A colony that runs independently
Meanwhile Britain keeps shittin’ on us endlessly
Essentially, they tax us relentlessly
Then King George runs around on a spending spree
And he ain’t ever going to set his descendants free
So there will be a revolution in this century
Enter me!
He said in parentheses
Don’t be shocked when your history book mentions me
I will lay down my life if it sets us free
Eventually you’ll see my ascendency, and
I am not throwing away my shot.
I am not throwing away my shot.
Hey yo, I am just like my country
I am young, scrappy and hungry
And i’m not throwing away my shot

Contrast this with Aaron Burr. While Hamilton charges forward, Burr’s reaction to the ticking clock is to wait. Wait for the perfect moment to present itself, and act decisively in that moment. He is cool, collected. He sings in the first act:

My grandfather was a fire and brimstone preacher
But there are things that the homilies and hymns won’t teach ya
My mother was a genius
My father commanded respect
When they died they left no instructions.
Just a legacy to protect.
Death doesn’t
between the
and the saints
and it
and it
we keep living
We rise and we
and we
and we
And if there’s a
reason I’m still
When ev’ryone
who loves me has
I’m willing to
wait for it
I’m willing to
wait for it

I am not throwing away my shot
Wait for it wait for it wait for it

Two ways of facing death. two ways of approaching life. Two ways of approaching the tiny ticking clock marking your time at Wesleyan.

I came to Wesleyan intending to double major in theater and film, but I fell in love with the instant gratification of student theater. You’re telling me I can write something in the fall, apply to Second Stage, get a budget and put it up in the spring?! I am not throwing away my shot!
By the end of freshman year, I’d been in two musicals, a play and directed my own 20-minute musical in the Westco Café. My future collaborator, Tommy Kail, is directing a series of one acts on the same weekend: He’s a senior and I’m a freshman. He graduates that year and we never meet. Wait for it wait for it wait…

Back home in New York, my father quits the not-for-profit Latino organization he founded to make money in the private sector. My mother, a psychologist, doubles down on her workload and begins seeing patients seven days a week. My education is their second mortgage. And they are killing themselves to afford it. I am keenly aware of their sacrifice and the tiny clock gets louder. Tick tick tick tick tick tick. I am not throwing away my shot….

Sophomore year, I move into La Casa with eight other “Latino community leaders,” and for the first time in my life, I have Latino friends my age who understand me. Whole sections of me open up to these friends, parts of me previously reserved only for my family, and I begin drawing on my Latino heritage in my writing for the first time. The result? An 80-minute one-act musical, right over there, called In the Heights. I share the weekend with the dance troupe Terp, and I am not throwing away my shot. Two seniors, John Mailer and Neil Stewart, see the production and tell me, “We love it. We’re forming a theater company when we get out of here. Will you call us in two years when you graduate?” I put In the Heights in a drawer for two years. Wait for it, wait for it, wait.

I do not study abroad my junior year. I have too many plays I have agreed to work on! I am not throwing away my shot!

On a Tuesday morning at the beginning of my senior year, I drive down to the now-defunct Colony Records in Middletown. It’s primary day in New York, and I want to buy the new Bob Dylan album, listen to it on my drive to the city, vote, and come back in time for my afternoon classes. The stoner behind the register says, “Hey, they’re sayin’ on the radio someone just tried to blow up the World Trade Center.” I say, “You’re crazy. Someone tried to do that in the ’90s.” This guy is out of his mind. He says, “Anyway, it’s a good day to buy a Bob Dylan album.”

I get back to our house on 84 Home Ave., and turn on the TV to see all of Manhattan covered in smoke. The Twin Towers have fallen, it’s not even 10 in the morning. I try to call my family but all the lines are jammed because everyone is trying to call their family. Over the course of the day, my housemates and I make drinks and food for dazed wanderers who stop in to watch the news on our TV. I meet one friend whose brother worked at the World Trade Center but called in sick that day. And another whose father went to work early and was not spared. Death doesn’t discriminate between the sinners and the saints. The big clock, the real clock, booms louder than the tiny, whirring one that marks your Wesleyan time. It’s impossible to drown it out, because it’s actually the sound of your own heart pounding in your ears.

Graduates, my sleepy graduates, my terrified graduates, I wish I could tell you that the key to life beyond Wesleyan was as simple as saying to yourself, I am not throwing away my shot. To be like Hamilton, to charge forward and chase what you want. But in reality, it took eight years of hard work to take that 80-minute one-act from Second Stage into the version that opened on Broadway. Eight years for the guy who fell in love with theater because of the instant gratification.

I wish I could tell you the key to life beyond Wesleyan is, Wait for it, wait for it, wait. To be like Burr, to wait for the perfect opportunity to present itself. But in reality, I wrote In the Heights my sophomore year because I NEEDED to write it. I was bursting with ideas, inspired by my housemates at La Casa, and I couldn’t set them to music fast enough. Because I was nearing the end of a four-year relationship that had begun in high school. When she left to study abroad, I found myself with all this time and angst, and I used it as rocket fuel to write that first Heights draft in about three weeks.

In reality, you’re always going to be rushing and waiting at the same time. You will pack your things to leave tomorrow while savoring every moment of today. You’ll chase down your friends to say goodbye, but know that the ones who matter the most will be in your life for the rest of your life. You picture where you’ll be in five years, but the world might change around you while you’re buying a Bob Dylan album. You take out a second mortgage and work seven days a week so four years later, you can cheer the loudest when they call your child’s name at graduation. You hold the present in your hand as tight as you can, while your other hand reaches out for more.

I’ll conclude with one more passage from Hamilton, but I want to thank you for allowing me to share this moment with you. I’m sorry I couldn’t be your freshman orientation speaker. But it has been the great honor of my life to be your real-life orientation speaker. Here’s Hamilton at age 19, on the verge of the American Revolution:

I imagine death so much it feels more like a memory
When it’s going to get me
In my sleep? Seven feet ahead of me?
If i see it coming, do I run or do I let it be?
Is it like a beat without a melody
See, I never thought I’d live past 20
Where I come from, some get half as many
Ask anybody why we livin’ fast and we
Laugh, reach for a flask
We have to make this moment last, that’s plenty
Scratch that
This is not a moment, it’s the movement
Where all the hungriest brothers with something
to prove went
Foes oppose us, we take an honest stand
We roll like Moses, claiming our promised land!
And? If we win our independence?
Zat a guarantee of freedom for our descendants?
Or will the blood we shed begin an endless
Cycle of vengeance and death with no defendants?
I know the action in the street is exciting/
But Jesu,s between all the bleedin’ ‘n’ fightin’ I’ve
been readin’ ‘n’ writin’
We need to handle our financial situation.
Are we a nation of states? What is the state of our nation?
I’m past patiently waitin’ I’m passionately smashin’
every expectation
Every action’s an act of creation!
I’m laughin’ in the face of casualties and sorrow
For the first time I’m thinking past tomorrow, and I am
I am not throwing away my shot
I am not throwing away my shot
Hey yo I’m just like my country
I’m young, scrappy and hungry
And I am not throwing away my shot

That clock you hear is the sound of your own heart. Sink your teeth into this life, and don’t get let go.

2015 Tony Award Winners — YOUR Pick


Make your pick for 15 of the 24 categories in the 69th annual Tony Awards, honoring Broadway’s best. The awards ceremony will take place on June 7 at Radio City Music Hall, and will be broadcast on CBS.
This is for who and what YOU want to win, not who you think the Tony voters will pick — preference, not prediction.

Watch: Robert De Niro’s Blunt, Inspiring Speech to 2015 Graduates of Tisch School of the Arts

“Tisch graduates, you made it,” actor Robert De Niro said Friday in his NYU Commencement address. “And you’re f—ed.”

But, as he makes clear in his 15-minute speech laced with humor, profanity and serious advice to the 2015 graduates of the Tisch School of the Arts,it couldn’t be any other way: “When it comes to the arts, passion should always trump common sense. You aren’t just following dreams, you’re reaching for your destiny. You’re a dancer, a singer, a choreographer, a musician, a filmmaker, a writer, a photographer, a director, a producer an actor — an artist. Yeah, you’re fucked. The good news is that’s not a bad place to start.”

A selection of De Niro’s advice:
Accept the “lifetime of rejection” that comes with the field. “There will be times when your best isn’t good enough. There can be many reasons for this, but as long as you give your best, it’s okay.” Say “Next” and move on.

Accept that you’re not in charge: “The way the director gets to be right is you help him or her be right. … You’ve been hired because the director saw something in your audition, your reading, in you that fit their concept. You may be given the opportunity to try it your way, but the final decision will be the director’s. … It’s best when you can work it out together.”

Collaborate. “As a director or a producer, you also have to be true to yourself and to the work. … The power doesn’t come from the title, the power comes from trust, respect, vision, work and again, collaboration. You’ll probably be harder on yourself than any director. I’m not telling you to go easy on yourselves, I assume you didn’t pick this life because you thought it would be easy. ”

Network. “Treasure the associations and friendships and working relationships,” he said, citing the nine films that he has made with director Martin Scorsese, with more to come. But De Niro, 71, is open to developing new working relationships: “I’m here to hand out my pictures and resumes to the directing and producing graduates.”

Theatre for One: The Smallest and Most Unsettling Theater in the World

TheatreforOneboothThe woman is speaking directly to me, an arm’s length away, as if we know each other: “I’m not blaming you for missing anything, I know it’s not your fault,” she says, looking right into my eyes, and she starts talking about her mother dying in the hospital, in intimate detail. “Aren’t you glad you asked?” she said, sardonically. (But I didn’t ask!) “Sorry I just ruined lunch.”

We are in downtown Manhattan, inside a small booth, whose walls are covered in a quilt-patterned red material, with a red seat, stage lights, a raised curtain; the performer (Marisol Miranda) is seated on one side of the curtain; I’m on the other. This is the interior of what is surely the smallest working theater in the world.

I’ve just seen “Lizzy,” written by Jose Rivera, one of seven short scripted plays by established playwrights in “I’m Not The Stranger You Think I Am,” all performed in a booth in the corner of the Winter Garden at Brookfield Place, the latest production of Theatre for One.

Theatre for One is the brainchild of Christine Jones, the award-winning set designer (American Idiot, Spring Awakening) and director (Queen of the Night), who’s been carting her custom-designed booth around to public spaces for years, overseeing free performances for the public, one by one. For each performance, there is one member of the cast, and one member of the audience.

Lynn Nottage, one of the seven playwrights of "Theatre for One: I'm Not the Stranger You Think I Am"

Lynn Nottage, one of the seven playwrights of “Theatre for One: I’m Not the Stranger You Think I Am”

I first attended Theatre for One in 2011 when Jones parked her booth on Father Duffy Square in the theater district, attracting long lines and repeat customers. You never knew what show you were waiting to see, but none lasted longer than a few minutes. While some of the performances were just songs or magic tricks, there were also emotional monologues by characters on the edge. It was the most unsettling experience I’d ever had as a theatergoer. And I am not alone.

“I found it to be an intense, a little frightening and absolutely amazing experience,” says Lynn Nottage, the Pulitzer-winning playwright. “It felt more like an intimate conversation with a stranger on the bus than a performance.  At first I struggled and resisted the experience,  but once I committed to making eye contact and exchanging energy with the actor, I found that the piece really came alive and touched me in unexpected ways.”

Nottage has gone from patron of Theatre for One to one of its playwrights in the current production, which (unlike the past) is all monologues. In “#Five,” a man (portrayed by Keith Randolph Smith) is talking to a job interviewer (i.e. the audience member), explaining the ten-year gap in his resume. His circumstances are “not for the reasons you probably imagine.”   He was the victim of a horrendous shooting.

“I decided that I wanted to create a piece that toyed with the audiences expectations,” Nottage says.

The other playwrights in the current production also do some toying with the disconcerting set-up. In “Late Days in the Era of Good Feelings,” a play by Will Eno that doesn’t last much longer than the title, the performer (Erin Gann) says: “Awkward, awkward, awkward… I’m not supposed to ask questions. …I guess the organizers don’t want people feeling, like, stressed out, or like they’re part of the show or something…Nerve-wracking, right? “

If it’s true that the performers are not supposed to ask questions, Thomas Bradshaw violates that rule in his untitled play. “What’s your name?” performer Andrew Garman asks, and waits for you to answer. “I’ve been in a lot of movies. Do you recognize me?” he asks later. But those questions are nowhere near as uncomfortable as when he starts talking about sex (“I came across this article that said that the average American has sex 118 times a year! And I was like, holy shit! That’s a lot of sex. Do you think that’s a lot or does that sound right to you?”)

Not all the plays press buttons. Zayd Zohm’s “Love Song” is a sweet and funny recollection of the character (Kevin Mambo) writing a song for a girl when he was 16.

“The Theatre for One really demands that the audience be an active participant, which at first can be jarring: By in large, audiences are used to passively sitting in darkness and watching the action from afar,” Nottage observes. “I like the tension of an intimate space set in an open public space. I love that people enter the booth with no idea of what they were going to encounter, and leave having had a visceral experience.”

Theatre for One: I’m Not The Stranger You Think I am, runs for free from noon to 7 p.m. at

Winter Garden at Brookfield Place (230 Vesey Street) until May 24

Zuccotti Park (Broadway and Liberty Street) May 27-31

Grace Building Plaza (1114 Avenue of the Americas), June 2-6.

The Art of Al Hirschfeld at the New-York Historical Society

Al Hirschfeld drew the stars of Hollywood and Broadway for more than eight decades. He drew Hollywood mogul David O Selznick in 1922, when Hirschfeld was 19 years old, and Broadway performer Tommy Tune in 2002, when Hirschfeld was 99.

A movie poster by Hirschfeld, 1940

A movie poster by Hirschfeld, 1940

He drew Long Day’s Journey into Night in 1956, when Jason Robards Jr. made his Broadway debut as the son James Tyrone, Jr., and in  the 1988 production, when Jason Robards Jr. played James Tyrone, the father.

He drew every week for 14 years for the New York Times, and every day for 30 years for MGM.

Hirschfeld’s longevity and his talent are celebrated in The Hirschfeld Century: The Art of Al Hirschfeld, an exhibition at the New-York Historical Society of more than 100 of his original drawings, which runs from May 22 to October 12, 2015.

Below a video preview of the exhibition with its curator David Leopold.

Click to see enlarged

Permission Review: Christians Spanking, by Hand to God Playwright

Permission2_Elizabeth_Reaser__Justin_Bartha__Lucas_Near-Verbrugghe__and_Nicole_Lowrance_(Photo_by_Jenny_Anderson)“Permission,” a play about “Christian Domestic Discipline” (i.e. spanking your wife) is written by Robert Askins, who is also the author of “Hand to God,” the Tony-nominated play about a Christian puppet ministry. On the surface, they have much in common – both take place among middle-class people in suburban Texas who are trying to use their Christian faith to supply what’s missing in their lives; both mix the playful and the serious; both get out of hand in theatrically crafty ways.  But the one that stars a puppet has been amusing, shocking, engaging, and moving audiences for a while now. The one that has just opened at the Lucille Lortel with well-known performers and a celebrated director (Alex Timbers) is more likely to befuddle them.

Justin Bartha portrays Eric, who has been friends with Zach (Lucas Near-Verbrugghe) since childhood. Eric is the acting chairman of the computer science department at a local college, and he is married to Cynthia (Elizabeth Reaser), who is writing a novel, or at least trying to. Zach owns a sporting goods store, and he is married to Michelle (Nicole Lowrance), who is a lawyer. All four are church-going Christians who regularly take time out to pray.

Zach and Michelle are having the other couple over for dinner when Michelle realizes that she forgot to put the rolls in the oven. “Michelle can I speak to you in the kitchen,” Zach says. Eric and Cynthia hear noises in the kitchen and open the door to discover that Michelle is bent over Zach’s knee, her dress up, a hairbrush in his hand.

Eric and Cynthia leave quickly, weirded out, but the next day Zach explains that what they were doing was not sexual; it was religious. They were engaging in Christian Domestic Discipline, or CDD. This is an actual thing – you can Google it; that is what Cynthia does when Eric tells her about his conversation with Zach. “In a CDD marriage the wife is submissive to her husband as if the Lord Himself was her husband,” she reads from a website on her computer. “The husband is to love his wife as himself. He is to be a servant, and lead by example.”

Eric and Cynthia spontaneously (and not very plausibly) take to the program, apparently turned on sexually by the spanking. They wind up embracing CDD enthusiastically – more so than Zach and Michelle. It changes their lives. Before CDD, Cynthia drank too much and wrote too little. Now Eric locks her in the “writing room” in their home until she gets her pages done for the day. Eric was disorganized and didn’t touch his wife. He collects action figures that his wife calls dolls and wants him to sell. Now, Eric has become more organized, although the other behaviors that his wife finds irksome haven’t changed.

It eventually becomes clear that both women see their husbands as losers; they’ve taken up CDD as a way of building up the men’s egos so that they’ll grow up and make positive changes in their lives and in their marriages.

There is a subplot involving Eric’s flirtatious relationship with his assistant at work, Jeannie (Talene Monahon), which leads to little more than added chaos in a climactic scene involving all the characters. The scene is meant to be farcical – literal slapstick — and includes some mild upending of heterosexual norms that might have been more surprising if I had not just seen much the same thing in two silly entertainments on Broadway. (Living on Love, and It Shoulda Been You.)

It’s tough to figure out the point of “Permission.”  It’s one big muddle, made up of little muddles. Are we supposed to understand it as insight into the CDD phenomenon that the women are actually the ones in charge; or is this just meant as a sly plot twist; or is it the playwright’s attempt to ward off attacks by feminists? Is the play satirical? Aren’t satires…funny? A sample of the humor in “Permission” is the Cynthia/Eric argument over whether he collects action figures or dolls, which is repeated like a running gag throughout the play. Is “Permission” supposed to be edgy? It feels no more so than those self-consciously naughty sex comedies that were standard fare for the early 1960’s Broadway crowd. Are we meant to learn for real about this fetish subculture, and accept that it can be beneficial? How else to explain the play’s veering at the very end into a tone of earnestness about spanking —

Cynthia: I like being spanked. Do you like spanking me?
Eric: I… but.. Jesus…
Cynthia: No. You. Do you like spanking me?
Eric: Yes.
Cynthia: Say it again.
Eric: YES.
 The actors are all competent, Timbers’ direction is brisk, David Korins’ set design is efficient and occasionally clever. The production is polished, but Askins’ script is crude – by which I mean insufficiently developed more than I mean foul-mouthed, although it is that too.  The cursing prompts another running gag that isn’t funny (Eric frequently calls out “Language!” when somebody else swears.) The characters often don’t sound like educated professionals, much less pious people. And their concerns  — trying to get a job promotion; expanding their business — are not the stuff of great drama nor of satisfying comedy (at least not here.)
 Who would have guessed that a play about middle class consenting adults would feel less authentic, and have less at stake, than one starring a Satanic sock puppet?



MCC Theater at the Lucille Lortel

By Robert Askins; directed by Alex Timbers; sets by David Korins; costumes by Paloma Young; lighting by David Weiner; sound by M. L. Dogg; fight director, J. David Brimmer

Cast: Justin Bartha (Eric), Nicole Lowrance (Michelle), Talene Monahon (Jeanie), Lucas Near-Verbrugghe (Zach) and Elizabeth Reaser (Cynthia).

Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes including one intermission

Permission is scheduled to run through June 14

Win Two Tickets to On The Town

On The Town

On The Town

Ticket giveaway: See On The Town on June 4th, 2015 for free.

The revival, which I love, does justice to a show that made history on Broadway — marking the Broadway debuts of Leonard Bernstein and the songwriting/book writing team of Betty Comden and Adolph Green. The current production has been nominated for four Tony Awards: Best Revival of a Musical, Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical (Tony Yazbeck), best choreography (Joshua Bergasse) and best direction of a musical (John Rando.)

To enter the contest for a free pair of tickets to the show on June 4th, answer this question:

What show had the best dancing you ever saw on Broadway?

1. Please put your answer in the comments at the bottom of this blog post, because the winner will be chosen through based on the order of your reply, not its content.
But you must answer the question, complete with explanation (such as at least one specific dance number) or your entry will not be approved for submission.
2. Please include in your answer your Twitter name and follow my Twitter feed at @NewYorkTheater so that I can send you a direct message. (If you don’t have a Twitter name, create one. It’s free.)
3. This contest ends Tuesday, May 26, 2015 at midnight Eastern Time, and I will make the drawing no later than noon the next day. You must respond to my direct message on Twitter within 24 hours or I will choose another winner.
(4. All submissions have to be approved, so you won’t necessarily see your entry right away: Please be patient, and don’t submit more than once.)

2015 Obie Awards: Hamilton, Ars Nova, Signature Theater’s James Houghton, Booty Candy, Ayad Akhtar, Suzan-Lori Parks, etc.

ObieAwardslogoHamilton won the best new American play Obie at the 60th annual Obie Award for achievement Off-Broadway and Off-Off Broadway. James Houghton, who’s departing next year as the artistic director of the Signature Theater, won the Sustained Achievement Award. Ars Nova won the Ross Wetzsteon Award for its strong commitment to innovative theater.

Complete list of winners:


Brooke Bloom, You Got Older (produced by Page 73 at HERE Arts Center)

Stephen McKinley Henderson, Between Riverside and Crazy (Atlantic Theater Company & Second Stage Theatre)

John Douglas Thompson, Tamburlaine (Theatre for a New Audience) & The Iceman Cometh (BAM)

Usman Ally, The Invisible Hand (New York Theatre Workshop)

April Matthis, Sustained Excellence of Performance

Ayad Akhtar

Ayad Akhtar


Ayad Akhtar, The Invisible Hand (New York Theatre Workshop)

Clare Barron, You Got Older (produced by Page 73 at HERE Arts Center)

Suzan-Lori Parks, Father Comes Home From the Wars Parts I, II, & III (The Public Theater)


Trip Cullman, Punk Rock (MCC Theater)

Anne Kauffman, Sustained Excellence of Direction


Abigail DeVille, Prophetika: An Oratorio (La MaMa)

Christine Jones, Sustained Excellence of Set Design

Ben Stanton, Sustained Excellence of Lighting Design

Japhy Weideman, Sustained Excellence of Lighting Design



Special Citations

Bootycandy, writer/director Robert O’Hara, actors Philip James Brannon, Jessica Frances Dukes, Jesse Pennington, Benja Kay Thomas, Lance Coadie Williams (Playwrights Horizons)

Bridget Everett, Rock Bottom (Public Theater)

Kate Benson (writer) and Lee Sunday Evans (director), A Beautiful Day in November on the Banks of the Greatest of the Great Lakes (New Georges)

Catch (performance series), Andrew Dinwiddie, Caleb Hammons, Jeff Larson

Bush Moukarzel and Dead Centre, Lippy (Abrons Arts Center)

Andrew Schneider, Youarenowhere (PS 122 / COIL Festival)

HamiltoncreativeteamBest New American Theatre Work (includes $1,000 check)

Hamilton by Lin-Manuel Miranda, choreography by Andy Blankenbuehler, direction by Thomas Kail, arrangements/orchestrations/music direction by Alex Lacamoire (The Public Theater)

Sustained Achievement Award

James Houghton (artistic director, Signature Theater)

OBIE Grants ($2,500 to each theater)

Horse Trade Theater Group / The Fire This Time Festival

JACK (Arts Center)

The Ross Wetzsteon Award (includes $2,500)

Ars Nova

2015 Obie Award winners on stage at Webster Hall

2015 Obie Award winners on stage at Webster Hall

What I Did Last Summer Review: A.R. Gurney’s Off-Beat Coming-of-Age as an Artist

What I Did Last Summer\When 14-year-old Charlie (Noah Galvin) starts doing odd jobs for the town’s scandalous art teacher Anna Trumbull (Kristine Nielsen), in “What I Did Last Summer,” she agrees to pay him 25 cents an hour, plus something far more valuable: “I will root out your talent, where it lies.”

That proves to be more difficult than she expected in A.R. Gurney’s knowing and affectionate coming-of-age comedy set during World War II, which is being given a deliciously acted production at the Signature.

Charlie is an obvious stand-in for the playwright (who was himself 14 years old during the summer of 1945), and Gurney’s particular talent was indeed rooted out, eventually.  It’s nice to see some long-overdue attention being paid to a playwright whose reputation may overlook how broad the scope of his work and how deep its craft. “What I Did Last Summer” is deliberately simple and old-fashioned, but it is also deceptively so.

This is the season of A.R. Gurney, age 84, who earlier this year saw a revival of “Love Letters” on Broadway, and continues as playwright in residence at the Signature, where “What I Did Last Summer” is the second of three productions. Signature revived “The Wayside Motor Inn,” and will later this summer feature a new Gurney play, “Love and Money.”

Yet, little more than a decade ago, Gurney thought his playwriting career had died. He thanks the Off-Off Broadway theater, The Flea, and its artistic director Jim Simpson, for its rejuvenation. Simpson, who this month retires from the Flea, is the director of “What I Did Last Summer.” His production of this 1983 play is literally off-beat: Drummer Dan Weiner sits off to the side, adding an extra drum to the show’s recorded 1940’s music, supplying sound effects (such as a car door closing), and even providing rim shots for some of the punch lines.

It’s not the only unusual directorial additions: On an almost bare stage, save for a bench and a shopping bag or two, the stage directions are projected as if typed (we hear a typing sound) on the backdrop.

But these attention-getting oddities have a purpose, which becomes clearer by the end of the play.

“What I Did Last Summer” is about an adolescent who rebels against his mother and sister, while they are vacationing in the well-to-do summer colony on the Canadian shores of Lake Erie that they visit every summer. Their father is away at war in the Pacific, which adds extra strain on a family already dealing with the normal stresses of adolescence.  To assert his independence, he takes a job with the local outcast, whom everybody calls the Pig Woman, because her cottage is a former pigsty, bequeathed to her by a doctor who was her lover.

“I like the name,” she tells Charlie. “It sets me off. It makes me different. Does that frighten you?”


Part Native American, she is self-consciously bohemian — ranting on against grass lawns, and the attitudes and activities of the “leisure class” into which Charlie was born — and she teaches Charlie about art and about life.

“What I Did Last Summer” is also about the making of art…and an artist. One of those publicly typed stage directions spells it out: “Throughout this play, we should be aware of things in the process of being fabricated or made: the characters by actors; the setting by the manipulation of simple scenic elements; the play itself by its obviously traditional and presentational form.”

Each of the characters addresses the audience directly, telling us they think that the play is about them, or should be. And in one way, they are all correct, thanks in part to the performances. Kristine Nielsen was most recently on Broadway as the wacky mother in You Can’t Take It With You, and gave an equal parts hilarious and heartbreaking performance as Sonia in Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike. Her Anna offers a toned-down, credible eccentric. Noah Galvin, who gave an impressive performance as the goofy, wise-cracking Dusty in The Burnt Part Boys in 2010 at age 16, must be 21 now, but he plays a 14-year-old to perfection. Yes, he’s showy and self-dramatizing – but isn’t that precisely how many teenagers behave? Galvin is about to star as a gay teen on an ABC TV comedy created by Dan Savage called The Real O’Neals, so catch him live while you can.

Juliet Brett is terrific as Bonny, the object of Charlie’s affection, who sees herself as way more sophisticated than we do. Pico Alexander portrays Charlie’s friend Ted, who is the son of a groundskeeper, and is a rambunctious teen, but notices that he is already of an age where he’s being treated differently by the upper-class residents of the resort town. Kate McGonigle is the older sister, who starts off snooty and ends up close to heroic. Carolyn McCormick is spot-on as Grace, Charlie’s mother, struggling to stay on top of her world,  who turns out to be far more complex than we were expecting — she herself was once Anna’s student. In some ways, the play really is about her; she is also the stand-in for Gurney, a parent of adolescents looking back at his own childhood, and finding it exasperating, and cringe-worthy, and sweet and amusing.


What I Did Last Summer

At the Pershing Square Signature Center, 480 West 42nd Street

By A. R. Gurney; directed by Jim Simpson; sets by Michael Yeargan; costumes by Claudia Brown; lighting by Brian Aldous; sound by Janie Bullard; projections by John Narun; wig and hair design by Dave Bova

Cast: Pico Alexander (Ted), Juliet Brett (Bonny), Noah Galvin (Charlie), Carolyn McCormick (Grace), Kate McGonigle (Elsie) and Kristine Nielsen (Anna Trumbull).

Running time: 2 hours including one intermission.

Ticket price: $25

What I Did Last Summer is scheduled to run through June 7.

Mad Men vs Theater. Summer Festivals. Fugard’s Final Play? Week in NY Theater

série américaine (2007)

série américaine (2007)

“Even though success is a reality, its effects are temporary,” Don Draper tells Dow Chemical in season 5 of Mad Men, the TV series that is ending tonight in its seventh season. It’s a lesson the theater knows well (with the exception of Phantom of the Opera):  Shows come to an end. But theater does not, despite endless pronouncements to the contrary.  “The theater is the only institution in the world which has been dying for 4,000 years and has never succumbed,” John Steinbeck liked to say (and I like to quote him saying it.)

Elisabeth Moss

Elisabeth Moss

Elisabeth Moss (Peggy Olsen) who made her Broadway debut a year after Mad Men began, in Speed-the-Plow, starred this season in The Heidi Chronicles.

John Slattery (Roger Sterling) is a three-time Broadway veteran. If he has no announced plans to perform on the stage, he will be playing a theater director in Netflix’s  “Wet Hot American Summer.”

Vincent Kartheiser (Pete Campbell) recently appeared Off-Broadway in Billy and Ray.

Jon Hamm, Christina Hendricks, January Jones? They’ll come around, eventually.

The Week in New York Theater: Looking Ahead


15 Summer Theater Festivals in New York


The Public Theater 2015-2016 Season

The New Group 2015-2016: Mercury Fur Steve, directed by Cynthia Nixon Sam Shepard’s Buried Child, with Ed Harris and Amy Madigan


2016 New York City Center Encores: Cabin in the Sky, Feb 10-14

1776, March 30 – April 3

Do I Hear a Waltz (Sondheim/Rodgers), May 11-15

Tuck Everlasting,  set for Broadway April 2016. Book by Claudia Shear (Dirty Blonde) direct Casey Nicholaw(Something Rotten, Book of Mormon.)

The Week in New York Theater Reviews

Painted Rocks at Revolver Creek.
In what he says may be his last play, South African playwright Athol Fugard explores his characters’ fear, humiliation and desperation, as he has in such well-known anti-apartheid works as Blood Knot and MASTER HAROLD … and the Boys. But this time, a white woman, post apartheid, shares those emotions.
The Painted Rocks at Revolver Creek, directed by Fugard at the Pershing Square Signature Center through June 7, is a modest, almost oblique but ultimately explosive look at the new South Africa. It begins as the story of real-life “outsider artist” Nukain Mabuza, who spent decades painting flowers on boulders on the farm on which he worked as a laborer. But Fugard’s play only borrows some elements from the actual life of Mabuza, who reportedly committed suicide in 1981. Fugard has told interviewers that he put the script in a bottom drawer a few years ago, until (prodded by a deadline from Signature), he realized recently how he could refashion it with a second act.

Full review of Painted Rocks at Revolver Creek


Queen of the Night review

“Queen of the Night” is marketed as “a decadent fusion of theater, cuisine, circus, and nightlife that welcomes guests into a wholly interactive entertainment experience.” But the only thing I found truly decadent about it were the ticket prices — as high as $475, no lower than $140 – and the modern caste system that it suggests…It is a stretch to call “Queen of the Night” a work of theater at all….“Queen of the Night” can work as a splendid night out for some people – best suited, perhaps, for a group of (flush) friends to celebrate a birthday.

Full review of Queen of the Night

Scene from The Civilians "The Way They Were" -- here considering Washington Crossing the Delaware, by Emanuel Leutze (1851)

Scene from The Civilians “The Way They Were” — here considering Washington Crossing the Delaware, by Emanuel Leutze (1851)

The Way They Live, The Civilians at the Met

What does it mean to be an American?

The Civilians, the first-ever theater-in-residence at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, finished their year-long residency with a flourish by addressing that question with their last show at the Met, “The Way They Live.”

The title comes from the first of more than a dozen works of art that the theater troupe selected from the Met’s American Wing,  projecting them one by one on the screen of the museum’s Grace Rainey Rogers Auditorium, and putting each cleverly at the center of its own scene or song.

Full review of The Way They Live

The Week in New York Theater News

Drama League Awards

Airline Highway, nominated for 4 Tony Awards, will close on June 7 (Tony Day!), a week earlier than planned

The Rebecca Saga continues. Legal strike against publicist who calls himself a whistleblower, in Broadway story

Two different heartthrobs host separate student fests one day apart Andy Karl presides over the Roundabout Theater’s Student Theatre Arts Festival May 18, Darren Criss  over Broadway Junior May 19. Both feature performances by students of New York City public schools.

What ups the odds of staying sharp? Mental stimulation, physical exercise, healthy eating…and making art
Protect Wireless Technology for the Performing Arts, Performing Arts Alliance urges

The $179 Million Picasso That Explains Global Inequality

Take note of these four musicals for a Tony, then vote for ‘Fun Home
By Charles McNulty

Crowdfunding reconsidered


Amiri Baraka’s Play About W. E. B. Du Bois, via Woodie King Jr.

Jerry Adler
Jerry Adler — in the cast of Fish in the Dark, and a regular on The Good Wife — has been in show business for 65 years – but didn’t start acting until he was retirement age

The Love and Struggle of Producing a Left-Wing Circus: Circus Amok

Falling asleep at the theater by Mark Shenton

Steve Guttenberg will do Shakespeare in Riverside Park this June

Tony Luncheon slideshow


Nine ways to survive as a theater artist with kids, by Melissa Hillman (1. Make sure your partner is wealthy)

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