Shock and Solace. Trump and the Arts. The Week in New York Theater.



Kate McKinnon as Hillary Clinton performs the song “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen, who died at age 82 on the day before Election Day.

The terribly apt lyrics include the verse:

I did my best, it wasn’t much
I couldn’t feel, so I tried to touch
I’ve told the truth, I didn’t come to fool you
And even though it all went wrong
I’ll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah


In the immediate aftermath of the presidential election, many who hadn’t supported the winner publicly expressed their shock through anger and despair, with even normally thoughtful editorial writers judging it the Apocalypse.

Many sought solace.

It is no secret the theater community – including, by and large, theatergoers – were among the many people who did not support Donald Trump for president (there was a star-studded Broadway for Hillary concert; no similar fundraiser for the other side), and some were now touting the theater as a place of refuge.

It is a place, Howard Sherman wrote, that embraces a multiplicity of stories, with characters on stage, and people in the audience, reflecting all ages, genders, sexualities, races, ethnicities, disabilities. The shows currently on Broadway, Jennifer Tepper pointed out, embodies the inclusive, progressive values of America – Kinky celebrating the queer community, Fiddler on the Roof lamenting the history of violence against a minority,  On Your Feet standing up against anti-immigrant prejudice, with a monologue by immigrant Emilio Estefan ending “This is my home. And you should look very closely at my face, because whether you know it or not… this is what an American looks like.”

At a HowlRound Twitter chat, David Loehr suggest joining a newly formed Facebook group, Stronger Together, Linda Essig linked to an article on what cultural leaders can do , and several others pointed to a HowlRound article written back in April by Marshall Botvinick, Making Theater in the Season of Trump, with its admonition: “For the well-being of our country, we need a collective conversation about why Trump and why now, and if theatres remain absent from that conversation, then they are abdicating their civic responsibility and further consigning themselves to irrelevance.”


Donald Trump and the Arts

Donald Trump was a reality show host and a TV producer, with a star on the Hollywood walk of fame. Few realize he was also, briefly, a Broadway producer, backing a play by Richard Seff entitled “Paris is Out,” which ran a total of 96 performances in 1970. (Description: “An elderly Jewish couple’s plans for their first trip to Europe create mayhem within their family.”)

On the other hand, Trump destroyed a pair of Art Deco reliefs that were part of the facade of the Bonwit Teller Building, which Trump tore down to build Trump Tower. The Metropolitan Museum of Art wanted the reliefs for its collection.

Americans for the Arts developed a report on Trump’s positions on the arts, which are vaguely articulated.
Two questions and answers from the report:

Question: Does the federal government have a role to play in funding the creation and performance of art, or in making art accessible to all Americans? Federal funding for the National Endowment for the Arts currently stands at $148 million. Do you think that funding level is appropriate? What would you request in your first budget as president?

Answer: The Congress, as representatives of the people, make the determination as to what the spending priorities ought to be. I had the great fortune to receive a comprehensive liberal arts education from an Ivy League institution. What is most important is that we examine how one-size-fits-all approaches imposed by the federal government have corrupted the availability and efficacy of liberal arts education. Critical thinking skills, the ability to read, write and do basic math are still the keys to economic success. A holistic education that includes literature and the arts is just as critical to creating good citizens.

Question: One of the president’s roles is to host events that involve arts and entertainment. Who would you ask to sing the National Anthem at your Inauguration? Who would you choose to give a reading? Are there particular artists the First Family would invite to the White House, or arts you would draw attention to as president?

Answer: First, there is no Constitutional obligation for the President to do what your question implies. That said, supporting and advocating for appreciation of the arts is important to an informed and aware society. As President, I would take on that role. As for identifying people to sing, read or invite to the White House, I will not identify them to save them from the media storm that would surely come. It would not be fair to them.

Week in New York Theater Reviews

Notes from the Field 5

Notes from the Field

One of the first things we learn in “Notes from the Field” — in a projection on the curtain — is that nearly six million voting-age people can’t vote in the 2016 presidential election because of state felon disenfranchisement laws.

Anna Deavere Smith  portrays 17  disparate characters with her usual dazzling virtuosity. It is her most diffuse and digressive work so far, less of a subject than an argument—that in the United States there is a school to prison “pipeline” for poor people and people of color.

Roberta Maxwell and Maryann Plunkett in Women of a Certain Age, Play Three of The Gabriels: Election Year in the Life of One Family
Roberta Maxwell and Maryann Plunkett in Women of a Certain Age, Play Three of The Gabriels: Election Year in the Life of One Family

Women of a Certain Age

he Gabriels: Election Year in the Life of One Family, a trilogy of plays by Richard Nelson presented in real time at the Public Theater, ends the way it began eight months ago – with the Gabriel family talking little about the election and nothing about Donald Trump. This time around, the omission is exasperating.

I left feeling that the promise and process in which the plays were put together wound up at best a gimmick. This is unfortunate, because, if it weren’t taking place (and being written) on Election Day, I could better appreciate this third play, Women of a Certain Age, as a well-acted, gentle and insightful look at a family facing many struggles, emotionally and financially.


Master Harold….and the Boys

Had I seen the Signature’s fine revival of Athol Fugard’s most popular play just a few days earlier, I might have appreciated it primarily as a well-wrought work of theater, relegating its depiction of the brutal effects of state-approved racism to a safely distant time and place. Now the play feels more like an urgent warning.

The 84-year-old playwright directs the Signature production himself, and he does it with a masterful attention to details.




There is much I enjoyed about it, especially the performances of its exceptional seven-member cast….For all its willingness to present ambivalent, bickering characters in complicated relationships, “Falsettos” feels dated in many ways. It has been overtaken not just by plays like “Angels in America” and musicals like “Fun Home,” but even by TV series like “Modern Family” and “The Fosters.”

Week in New York Theater News

Alisha Spielmann and Ryan McCurdy will lead the first public reading of Ellie Pyle’s timely new play Sources, which takes place the night after the 2016 election, at Manhattan Theatre Club Studios on Sunday, November 13,


Memorial for playwright Edward Albee, who died in September, will be held at the August Wilson Theater December 6 at 1 pm. Open to the public

Sweat 2

Terrific “Sweat” by Lynn Nottage  extends through December 18 the Public Theater


Comic and compassionate “Vietgone” extended to December 4.

The Gabriels Election Year trilogy to tour DC,Australia, Hong Kong starting in January.

Author: New York Theater

Jonathan Mandell is a 3rd generation NYC journalist, who sees shows, reads plays, writes reviews and sometimes talks with people.

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