What onstage theater looks like, five months in. #Stageworthy News

The Week in Theater Reviews.
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#Stageworthy News of the Week.
In the first Equity-approved professional musical production to open in America in the five months since the pandemic lockdown began, the Berkshire Theater Group’s literally sanitized and social distanced “Godspell” felt like a miracle, at least to the critics, who sound grateful to have attended.

Held in a tent in the parking lot with its 100 audience members required to wear masks and sit at least 14 feet apart, the show featured a cast of 10 who had quarantined together in a house for weeks. “For the artists, it’s a brave new world. (Full disclosure: My daughter is in the cast.),” writes Josh Getlin in the L.A. Times. “They perform six feet apart…flanked by plexiglass shields on wheels that protect them and the audience as they sing. For good measure, in their pockets they also have masks, which they put on periodically during the show.”

Lily Goldberg The Berkshire Eagle: Faith in each other and the importance of sharing live art is what drove these theater-makers to submit themselves to twice-weekly testing, what helped them adapt to plexiglass and temperature checks, what gave them the bravery to leave their friends and families to live with one another, and what allowed them the chance to share, with tears and triumph, their joyful noise with audiences once again. And that’s as sacred as anything.

Bob Verini, New York Stage Review: When Nicholas Edwards as Jesus sings hopefully (and beautifully) that “We will build / A beautiful city” you know he doesn’t mean one without face masks, but one without prejudice or injustice, one in which Black lives absolutely do matter and people can disagree without reviling each other. In 50 years I’ve yet to encounter a single Godspell, pro or am, that didn’t seek to address its historical moment. This one succeeds more than most..

Ben Brantley, New York Times: When the script calls for physical contact… action and reaction are delivered in separate, distanced places. As a metaphor for how so many of us have been living since March, this form of theatrical communication feels both heartbreaking and valiant. We adapt, we make do, even as we long to return to the age of the handshake and the hug” [After Nicholas Edwards as Jesus sings “Beautiful City”] “he looks both ravenously hopeful and devastated as he tries to envision a radiant future. I never thought I’d say this, but I know exactly how Jesus feels.”

(None of these critics were…uncritical, which is an answer to the panel discussion I talk about below entitled “Can Critics Criticize during a Pandemic.” Goldberg found such “COVID-conscious updates to the show” as “one-liners about stimulus checks, quarantine sourdough and mask acne” to “still feel too raw.” Verini: “I was eventually worn down (and worn out) by how much is lost on stage behind plexiglas.”)

Theater has reopened on other stages as well — such as Barrington Stage (outdoors), nearby in Massachusetts, for its production of the solo play “Harry Clarke,”  and Tokyo’s Kabuki-za Theater, where the performers one-up those in the Berkshires by wearing not just mandatory masks but the occasional face-guard.

But onstage theater is many months away for New York City, so the consensus goes, even as the city continues to reopen in other ways, such as the Bronx Zoo.  (That’s Abby, a resident giraffe, posing beside NYC Cultural Affairs Commissioner Gonzalo Casals.)


The Week in Reviews

Homebound Project 5: Homemade Benefit by Laurie Metcalf, plus Lena Dunham, Kelli O’Hara, Brian Cox, Austin Pendleton,
The Homebound Project has raised more than $100,000 for No Kid Hungry, but it’s been more than just a worthy endeavor. There has been enough that’s been artful and entertaining in each of the five editions to make them worthwhile

Howard on Disney Plus: The Broadway talent who rejected Broadway

“The last great place to do Broadway musicals is in animation,” says Howard Ashman, in “Howard,” a new documentary on Disney+ that offers a simultaneously sad and inspiring look at Ashman’s life, his work, and his death from AIDS at the age of 40 in 1991.
What it doesn’t offer is a very encouraging take on Broadway.

No Blue Memories: The Life of Gwendolyn Brooks
No Blue Memories: The Life of Gwendolyn Brooks,” was presented on a Chicago stage during the centennial of the birth of the noted poet, the first African-American to win a Pulitzer Prize in any category. Now, three years later, it is being presented as an hour-long video for free online at Manual Cinema from August 10 to 17, as part of the company’s tenth anniversary “Retrospectacular,” presenting four of its most popular shows.
What the video retains is the play’s delightful jazz and blues infused score, which helps bring forth the poet’s own jazzy rhythms…What the video of “No Blue Memories” doesn’t do well is show what Manual Cinema does at its best — or, indeed, what Manual Cinema does, period. The videos of their shows may look like animated features, but to call them animations is to miss the beauty and ingenuity of what the company creates.

Marion Gray-Hopkins: “Many people think that just the mother or the father is suffering, but it’s a domino effect. Many suffer, not just immediate family”

Critics Corner


Can Critics Criticise during a Pandemic?
A 90-minute video

“As the work of artists evolve with the restrictions of COVID-19, do critics also need to reassess how they look at performance? Four critics, Loo Zihan, Teo Xiao Ting, Jocelyn Chng and Germaine Cheng discuss their responses as more and more performances go online, and whether it has led to a recalibration or softening of their critical eye. What really is the role of the critic during a crisis? Do we put criticality on pause, in favour of a more empathic, care-centred approach as other pressing issues loom large?”

It’s worth noting two things here — first, despite the apparent slant of the description, a poll of the audience watching the discussion revealed that 82 percent of them find criticism to be an essential act during the pandemic. Second, none of the four panelists, nor the moderator, consider themselves primarily critics – they are artists first, which arguably skews the discussion at hand — but also reflects the state of criticism these days.

The death of Theatre Criticism
The great critics always began before they were forty. Who are their equivalents today?


The Week in Theater News

“Out Of Patience”: Actors’ Equity Joins Other Unions In Demanding HEROES Act Senate Passage

The #SaveOurStages bill would give $10 billion in grants to independent music, theater & comedy venues with 500 employees or less. The National Independent Venue Association estimates that 90 percent of its members will have to shutter their buildings for good in September without government funding.

For the first time in 87 years, Radio City Music Hall’s Christmas Spectacular starring the Rockettes is canceled due to concerns over the Coronavirus pandemic.

SpotCo, a leading Broadway advertising and marketing agency, filed suit in New York State Supreme Court against producer Scott Rudin, claiming that he left the company on the hook for $6.3 million in unpaid fees for their work on eight shows, including West Side Story ($2.8 million), King Lear ($1 million) and The Waverly Gallery ($352,000)

Can A Robot Write A Theater Play? The Unusual Collaboration Between AI, Robotics and Theater
the idea of a robot, including the word ‘robot’ itself, was invented by Karel Čapek and his brother Josef, who wrote the play “RUR” 100 years ago on January, 2021. Researchers hope by then to have produced a play with a script generated by “a pre-trained language model called GPT-2.”

Rest in Peace

Eric Bentley, 103, “an influential theater critic — as well as a scholar, author and playwright — who was an early champion of modern European drama and an unsparing antagonist of Broadway.”

The Week in Theater Videos

Broadway in Bryant Park videos, 2012 – 2019


from Guthrie Theater

Let the Sunshine In

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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