Theater Blog Roundup: Praising theater activism, fighting despair, toasting “Corona lit”

“If you look at history of American theater, it has always—more perhaps than any other form in America—been activist at times of national trauma,” That’s a quote by former New York Times critic Frank Rich, unearthed in an interview conducted 15 years ago by Rob Kendt, who reprints it in his blog The Wicked Stage, to which he has returned after a long lull — as have Jill Dolan to The Feminist Spectator and Howard Sherman to his blog.  Is it because they have more time in lockdown, or because this is what happens in time of national trauma?  This month’s theater blog roundup also features Terry Teachout on despair, Janice Simpson on rare good news, and George Hunka’s ironic toast to “Corona lit”


In About Last Night, Terry Teachout has been citing inspirational quotes about despair, among them by Elie Wiesel (“Because I remember, I despair. Because I remember, I have the duty to reject despair.”) and Benjamin Disraeli (“Despair is the conclusion of fools.”)

Those who have been following his blog, understand why. For those who haven’t, he excerpts My Gallant Gal, his article about his wife Hillary, who died on March 31st.

In The Neighborhood Effect, he excerpts his article about the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on smaller arts organizations and the neighborhoods they serve:

“Yes, ABT and the Art Institute of Chicago are having a tough time, but they are fixed and familiar stars on the long horizon of American art, and their wealthy patrons will ensure that they stay in the sky. But what about Keen Company, to whose productions I have given nine rave reviews in the past 13 years? What happens if we lose them, and hundreds—maybe thousands—of other groups like them?”


Adam Szymkowicz interviews his 1086th playwright, Jeesun Choi

Q:  If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?

A:  Well, the pandemic will probably change MANY things about theatre, though we don’t know what its lasting impacts will be yet.

As it stands, I would personally would like to change many things about theatre (accessibility, structure, cultural and ethnic representations, etc), but if I HAD to pick ONE –
I would change the industry’s idea of artistic development for early-career artists. It’s very much, “get us a script, we’ll do the cheapest/least committal reading and see what it is.” Nothing wrong with that model, but it’s sad that it’s the most prevalent model….


In “Finally Some Good News” on Broadway & Me, Janice Simpson, who’s on the board of the Outer Critics Circle, explains its decision to present honorees rather than nominees, and is especially proud of its new approach to the John Gassner Award, “which is usually given to an American play by a new writer at the beginning of his or her career… This year, we’re cheering on four young writers: Will Arbery for Heroes of the Fourth Turning, Eboni Booth for Paris, Catya McMullen for Georgia Mertching Is Dead and Alexis Scheer for Our Dear Dead Drug Lord. And we’re giving each of them $500 as a token of our belief in their talent and their ability to help lead American theater into the future.”


In Broadway Journal, Philip Boroff’s two most recent news articles:

Actors Equity says members will be no-shows until pandemic is “under control”


Hamilton-endowed Public Theater delays furloughs with $4 million in U.S. aid

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After an absence of two years, Jill Dolan returned to her blog The Feminist Spectator to write a post entitled Losses and Returns, about the deaths of playwright Terrence McNally and producer Julia Miles.

George Hunka offers A Toast To Corona Lit

“While the light at the end of the tunnel still appears as a pinprick at the end of the near-bottomless abyss, some thoughts have been turning to the post-pandemic world — what its art will look like, particularly, how the theatre and the plastic arts and music will ultimately respond to this experience. Nothing fills me with more dread than this. Every creative writing MFA candidate has no doubt already started their novel or, more likely, their “thematically related cycle of short stories,” and I shudder at the thought of reading about wan, isolated individuals engaging in internal monologues or maudlin dialogues with spouses, family, and friends, perhaps with Central Park or western Connecticut in the background…”


JK Theatre Scene spotlights Jagged Little Pill’s Lauren Patten. “She literally stops the show nightly with her blistering take on “You Oughta Know” in the hit musical Jagged Little Pill. And being in quarantine hasn’t stopped her, either.”


Ken Davenport continues using his Producer’s Perspective blog to promote his  Producer’s Perspective Live page (which links to his Facebook page) – nightly interviews with celebrated Broadway composers, producers, performers, publicists

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Howard Sherman returns to his blog after an absence of more than a year to write a post about “Our Town” in Our Moment. “As we shelter in place…it’s hard not to think about Our Town, which speaks so directly to the futility of regret and the value and interconnectedness of every aspect of life…” At the bottom of the post, Sherman notes: My book, “Another Day’s Begun: Thornton Wilder’s Our Town in the 21st Century,” will be published in February 2021 by Methuen Drama.

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Rob Kendt returns to his blog The Wicked Stage after an absence of more than a year to reprint his 2005 interview with then-NY Times critic Frank Rich. He bolds one paragraph in Rich’s answers that Kendt sees as especially relevant:

“If you look at history of American theater, it has always—more perhaps than any other form in America—been activist at times of national trauma,” Rich said. “In the 1930s, during the Depression, the Group Theatre and Orson Welles’ Mercury Theatre did very political theatre, not only about the economic situation but about race and the rise and fascism. And way before Hollywood started doing it, issues like Vietnam were raised on Broadway. It happened again with the AIDS epidemic, which was particularly traumatic for the theatre. That was one of the things I noticed when I started reviewing theater: The people I covered were literally dying, and the theater responded.”

In another, more recent post, Kendt explores Sondheim’s dislike of Kurt Weill’s music, two composers he himself likes. “To know that Sondheim hates Weill is a bit like hearing your parents fight in the next room.”, my contribution: I’ve been adding to my Broadway Alphabet Series., which I started in April. I’ve gotten up to T is for Ten-time Tony-winning Tommy Tune

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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