Veterans and Theater. Slings and Arrows returns for real!? Van Hove’s West Side Story Not Feeling Pretty. #Stageworthy News of the Week

On Veterans Day, a reminder from Adam Driver, Broadway veteran  and military veteran, and the founder of Arts in the Armed Forces, a nonprofit that brings theater to the military: “The birth of theater was from a military environment. The Greeks — Aeschylus, Euripides, all these elected generals — wrote plays for a culture that was at war.”

Other non-profit groups that help veterans pursue  the arts either as a vocation or an avocation:

United States Veterans’ Artists Alliance (USVAA)

Veteran Artist Program (VAP)

Society of Artistic Veterans (SocArtVets)

Also:

TDF’s Veterans Theatergoing Program

TDF partners with veteran groups in the city to provide free tickets to veterans to Broadway shows on select days. Next up: Tootsie on November 12, Come From Away on November 13, Beetlejuice on November 19.

The Week in New York Theater Reviews

Broadbend, Arkansas

“Broadbend, Arkansas” is billed as a musical about three generations of an African-American family in the South grappling with injustice.  While technically accurate, that’s a misleading description of a show that falls so short of what it could be, that I prefer to view it as a work in progress.

The Black History Museum

“Whoo, that was some heavy shit,” our guide says after leading us through 400 years of African-American history. It was hard to disagree. Every inch of HERE Arts Center has been transformed into an immersive “theatrical museum” – part theater, part museum — an impressively ambitious collaborative effort by a veritable army of African-American artists. “The Black History Museum, According to the United States of America” is illuminating, depressing, enraging, amusing, inspiring. It is overwhelming, in both good ways and bad.

The 2020 Book Report

David Lawson made a personal sacrifice as a public service: He read 10 campaign books, all but one by current candidates for President of the United States. From his reading, he has fashioned an hour-long show that should get wider exposure than the one-shot performance last night as part of the 2019 Gotham Storytelling Festival at the Kraine Theater

The Michaels

If Richard Nelson, the writer and director of “The Michaels,” were hired to direct the next Marvel movie, would Iron Man, Thor and the Hulk sit around the kitchen table in Rhinebeck, New York for two hours talking in barely audible voices about art, death, politics, and their old fights with Loki, while Spider-man bakes a loaf of bread, and the Black Panther takes Wolverine for a walk? That’s been the formula for Nelson’s four Apple Family plays and then his three plays in The Gabrielsseries, and it’s back once again with “The Michaels,” subtitled “Conversations During Difficult Times,” a play about a family of dancers gathering around a kitchen table in Rhinebeck, New York, which I’m hoping will be a one-off, rather than the first of yet another series.

Cyrano

Peter Dinklage’s singing voice would not normally qualify him for a role in a musical, unless in a Disney animated movie as a singing rhinoceros. But Rex Harrison couldn’t really sing either, and he was just right for My Fair Lady. In several ways, the star of Game of Thrones is an inspired hire for a musical adaptation of Cyrano de Bergerac…Dinklage wears no fake nose. He doesn’t need to. He also proves once again to be a terrific actor… But ‘Cyrano’ is missing…panache.

Bella Bella

Bella Abzug spoke at my junior high school graduation, until Donna Florio’s mother told her to shut up. “This is my daughter’s graduation, not a political rally.”  Abzug paused, apologized….and kept on talking for ten more minutes, caught up in the vehemence of her argument against the latest political outrage.

That’s my most vivid memory of this fiery member of Congress, anti-war activist, influential feminist, and fearless advocate that Harry Fierstein is portraying Off-Broadway at MTC in his new solo play about her life.  Fierstein’s affection for his subject is abundantly evident in Bella Bella – so much so that he seems to have turned her into himself.

Dr. Ride’s American Beach House

The two ladies hanging out on the roof are lesbians; they just don’t know it yet. The title of Liza Birkenmeier’s play, which marks her Off-Broadway playwriting debut, may seem to promise something rollicking, but what unfolds is actually small, slow and seemingly random, existing almost entirely as subtext.  “Dr. Ride’s American Beach House” is largely about repressed desire.

The Week in New York Theater News

The first and biggest (and ok, only) scoop I’ve had on NewYorkTheater.me was when Bob Martin told me on Twitter that he and his two co-creators were contemplating a fourth season for “Slings and Arrows,” the cult Canadian TV series about a fictional theater suspiciously similar to the Stratford Festival.  The show is so wildly beloved that his Twitter remarks became international news, which I milked in a couple of subsequent posts, here and here.

That was seven years ago! Now, the TV critic of the L.A.Times casually  mentions in an interview with Martin’s two co-creators Susan Coyne and Mark McKinney the Slings and Arros “prequel they are currently shopping,”:

“Now you’ve written a prequel, “Amateurs.”

Mark McKinney: Yes. I’ve always loved that word, because of the Latin root, “to love.” There was kind of a lot of “Could you do a Season 4?” and we noodled around…We were driving down [to Stratford] and started talking about Cyril and Frank [gay, older members of the New Burbage company, played by Graham Harley and Michael Polley], because you were explaining to me how nice it was to drive down in the spring, and we thought, “Oh, my God, Cyril and Frank, what would it have been like in 1953 if they had been part of the original festival, not knowing that they were about to walk into the first society that would embrace who they were?”

The interview explains just what’s so terrific about the original three seasons of “Slings and Arrows

The Minutes will open at the Cort Theater on March 15, 2020 with Tracy Letts himself in the cast, along with  Ian Barford (currently in Letts’ “Linda Vista”), Blair Brown, Cliff Chamberlain, K. Todd Freeman, Armie Hammer, Danny Mccarthy, Jessie Mueller, Sally Murphy, Austin Pendleton, Jeff Still

Ivo Van Hove’s  West Side Story, which begins previews in December but doesn’t open until February, will be just one act (no intermission) — “I want to make a juggernaut,” Van Hove tells Adam Green in Vogue. To that end, he’s omitting the song “I Feel Pretty” and the Somewhere ballet — and adding videos!

Broadway’s Dirty Secret :Ivo Van Hove’s success shows how much American commercial theater relies on European state funding, as Helen Lewis details in The Atlantic.

The Trojan Women Project Festival at La MaMa ETC will feature a newly re-imagined version of La MaMa’s groundbreaking 1973 “The Trojan Women,” directed by Andrei Serban, with some original members of the cast and artists from  Guatemala, Cambodia and Kosovo. The two-week festival includes workshops, panel discussions, and performances. December 6-15th.

 

 

Jagged Musical’s lottery at JaggedLottery.com and rush at the Broadhurst box office are both $40.

She Persisted, the musical adaptation of Chelsea Clinton and Alexandra Boiger’s illustrated feminist picture book, “She Persisted: 13 American Women Who Changed the World, will play at Atlantic Theater in 2020.

 

 Composer Marc Shaiman (Hairspray, Catch Me If You can, Smash, etc.) will write original music for the revival of Plaza Suite, starring Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker, directed by John Benjamin Hickey, which opens on Broadway’s Hudson Theater on April 13, 2020.

Yes, you CAN make a living as a playwright: Playwright Lauren Yee has won over $400,000 in literary prizes in 2019

Critics Corner

Michael Billington is retiring as theater critic for The Guardian after 48 years. He will be succeeded by Arifa Akbar.  Billington began at the British newspaper in 1971 and has written roughly 10,000 reviews,.“I shall shortly be 80 and, with the years, the stress of writing to a deadline doesn’t get any easier”

 

The Power of the Critic: A Discussion

with Manohla Dargis (co-chief film critic for The New York Times), Antwaun Sargent (independent writer and critic and author of The New Black Vanguard: Photography between Art and Fashion), Jillian Steinhauer (art critic for The New York Times), and Daniel Mendelsohn (editor-at-large of The New York Review), moderated by Lucas Zwirner (head of content of David Zwirner).

On “thumbs up” criticism:

Manohla Dargis: Do you ever feel like a seller? Because there was an editor who used to always ask me to make sure I put a little word in the first sentence so everyone knew if I liked the movie or didn’t. But I just wanted them to read me. Maybe they’ll figure it out from my enthusiasm around writing, but I want them to know in my own sweet time.

Daniel Mendelsohn: What always gets eroded is any possibility of complexity. Thumbs up, thumbs down, five stars, one star—this is idiotic, right? Because most things are mixed. Don’t tell them everything in the first paragraph—because you liked certain things but not others, and that’s how most things are. If the whole discourse becomes “like/not like,” that’s not conducive to anything interesting.

 

Rest In Peace

Laurel Griggs, 13, Broadway veteran of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and Once.

 

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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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