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The Undertaking Review: The Civilians Take on Death, Again

Death is well-suited to the stage, according to a philosopher quoted in “The Undertaking,” a play about death and dying written and directed by Steve Cosson, the artistic director of The Civilians. Actors playing Lear or Hamlet allow us to “practice” death, the philosopher explains; they are “ventriloquising” death for us. Death is such a common theme and occurrence in live dramas that theater might as well be called one of the fatal arts.

Given this prominence of death in theatrical life, and The Civilians’ own track record,  “The Undertaking” winds up an underwhelming undertaking.

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Hamilton, Waitress, Phantom Cast New Leads. Broadway’s Getting More Diverse. Week in NY Theater

Michael Luwoye takes over the title role of Hamilton on Broadway, on the same day that Sara Bareilles, the creator of Waitress, takes on the lead role as Jenna, Peter Jöback the title role of The Phantom of the Opera. All have performed these roles on Broadway before.

Two reports show a nudge towards more diversity on Broadway, and elsewhere in New York theater as well — more nonwhite theater artists on stage, younger theatergoers in the audience. Details below, along with news about Leslie Odom Jr., a video of the American Theatre magazine panel discussion with directors Anne Bogart, Rachel Chavkin, Liesl Tommy, and Anne Kauffman; news and a slideshow about “Angels in America” cast. We bid goodbye to Javier Munoz in Hamilton, and watch while Bernadette Peters says Hello, Dolly. And, while there’s news (yet again) about harassment and high ticket prices, as well as fear’s effect on creativity, we are happy to end with Sarah Ruhl explaining her preference for happy endings, even though they’re not in vogue.

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From the Arthur Miller Archives

The Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin has acquired the archives of Arthur Miller, from his first play “No Villain” (1936), written when Miller was at the University of Michigan, to “Finishing the Picture” (2004), produced just months before his death.

Here are some items from the 322 linear feet of material, with captions largely provided by the Center.

Martin Luther King Jr on The Three Sicknesses of U.S. Society: Racism, Poverty, and War

On Martin Luther King Day, many people read or listen once again to his most famous speech, from August, 1963,  I Have a Dream, But today, people are finding King’s speech below, delivered four years later, on August 31, 1967, especially apt. Speaking at the first and only National Conference on New Politics in Chicago, he focused on what he considered the “triple prong sickness” of “racism, excessive materialism and militarism,” and exhorted the listeners:

“Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world, declaring eternal opposition to poverty, racism and militarism.”

He said:

“…on some positions; cowardice asks the question, is it safe; expediency asks the question, is it politic; vanity asks the question, is it popular, but conscience asks the question, is it right?”

King was killed seven months later.

Transcribed excerpts of the speech, with some sentences highlighted, are below the audio of the complete speech.

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New York Theater and Diversity, Latest AAPAC Report

Thanks to such shows as Hamilton, The Color Purple, and Allegiance, the 2015-2016 New York theater season was the most diverse on record.

That is the conclusion  of the latest annual report from the Asian American Performers Action Coalition (AAPAC), Ethnic Representation on New York City Stages 2015-2016,  which has been conducting such studies for ten years. AAPAC found that 35 percent of all roles on Broadway and in the 16 largest non-profit theater companies in New York City went to actors of color and disabled actors.

That stands in contrast to the ten year average:

Over those years, the Public Theater and Signature have consistently been the most diverse in their hiring practices, while Roundabout and MCC Theater the least.

Below is a summary of their findings for the 2015-2016 season:

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John Lithgow Stories from the Heart: Pics, Review

John Lithgow, a Tony winner for his very first Broadway show in 1973, has decided to devote his 24th to the reading of two old short stories, Ring Lardner’s “Haircut” and “Uncle Fred Flits By” by P.G.Wodehouse. But “John Lithgow: Stories By Heart” differs from your basic library storytelling hour…Lithgow doesn’t just read the two stories; he performs them…Before each story, Lithgow also tells us at some length why they matter to him. These amount to something of a memoir of his father, and it is no denigration of the short stories to say that Lithgow’s well-told personal anecdotes are what provide much of the heart in Stories by Heart.

Full review on DC Theatre Scene

Pursuit of Happiness at Under the Radar: Hilarious Poke at Westerns, War Pics by Nature Theater of Oklahoma

What makes us happy? The clear if indirect answer in “Pursuit of Happiness” is a lot of laughs, since that’s what the Nature Theater of Oklahoma, a notoriously inventive downtown theater company, provides in their new theater piece. “Pursuit of Happiness” is a bizarre and hilarious hybrid of physical comedy and surreal Hollywood parody, which swings wildly from the Wild West to the Iraq War, and from wondrously slapstick to borderline offensive to surreptitiously insightful. It is running at the NYU Skirball Center only through January 14, as part of the Under the Radar Festival. Catch it if you can.

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