Two Broadway cast members provoked voluble reactions among theater lovers this past week, both of which feel like case studies with surprisingly complex implications.
Sara Porkalob, who is making her Broadway debut in “1776” as South Carolina Congressman Edward Rutledge, gave an interview to New York Magazine in which she expressed her opinion about the musical and its directors, not all of it positive. I recount the controversy, and the two camps of reactions, and then ask: Is it ok to criticize the show you’re in?
Lillias White, who is portraying Hermes in “Hadestown,” twice from the stage reprimanded an audience member who she thought was illegally recording the show. But as the theatergoer, Samantha Coleman recounted on social media, she is hard of hearing and was actually using a captioning device provided by the theater.
The first incident most directly involves such competing issues as freedom of speech and workplace comity. The second is wrapped up in disability rights, which includes a recognition of the needs and tools of access.
But some see other issues involved in these stories, especially in the adamant reactions, pointing out that both actors are women of color. Some wonder whether the reaction would have been so heated if the actors had been white men.
Sara Porkalob has been active in her own defense; she has claimed (among other things) that her interview was an attempt at “dismantling racist rhetoric, promoting accessibility in the theater, and fomenting institutional change…” Lillias White has been sildent, but her employer, the producer of Hadestown, and the Jujamcyn Theaters apologized, as Deadline reported. But then, in a follow-up article Deadline quotes the theatergoer Coleman as urging people to “please stop harassing” White, noting that her social media pages “have been flooded with ageist & racist comments.”
Deadline also quoted Broadway actor James Harkness as pointing out how different the reaction to Lillias White’s action than to that by Patti Lupone, famous for calling out audience members from the stage: “Enough with double standards for behavior. Lillias mistook the hearing aid device for a cell phone. From the stage that is an easy mistake so the catalyst for her actions were the same as Patti’s.”
This apparently prompted a Tweet from Patti LuPone herself:
which I suppose will set the theater world atwitter in and of itself. (LuPone elaborates to People Magazine. It doesn’t necessarily mean she won’t be back on Broadway: “the best kept secret is that you can perform without being a member of Equity”)
There is a lot here, and I do not mean to belittle people’s genuine and impassioned concerns by making an above-the-fray observation: The intensity feels a reflection of our uncivil, polarized national politics, exacerbated by the continuing tension we feel from a pandemic that hasn’t actually ended (see below in the week in theater news), although we’re supposed to behave as if it has.
The Week in Reviews
The first Broadway revival of August Wilson’s “The Piano Lesson” is full of stars and ghosts. The ghosts are what make it brilliant…It would be foolish to deny the appeal and the power of [Samuel L. Jackson, John David Washington and Danielle Brooks’] celebrity. But they work as an ensemble, portraying a family of storytellers in a play haunted by ghosts – literal, metaphoric, historic…above all, by August Wilson, who died in 2005, the year he completed his ten-play series that he had spent the last 26 years of his writing.
For Edward Hopper, theater was a passionate pastime, an inspiration, and also, from first to last, a subject of his paintings — enough of them to fill a gallery and then some in “Edward Hopper’s New York,” a new exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art, opening October 19th and running through March 5, 2023…. If his paintings of theater interiors are just a small number of the 200 art works showcased in the new exhibition, the theater arguably is ever-present in Hopper’s art. His best-known paintings are dramatically lit — like a stage set.
The Week in New York Theater News
“A Strange Loop,” the Tony and Pulitzer winning musical about a big, gay Black guy who is struggling to write a musical about a big, gay Black guy who is struggling…, will play its final Broadway performance on January 15, 2023, after 301 regular and 13 preview performances at the Lyceum Theatre. It opened April 26 after composer/lyricist/playwright Michael R. Jackson had worked on it for some two decades. As the Times points out, its run is unusually short for the winner of the Tony Award for best musical. (Fun Home,” which won the award in 2015 and closed after 609 total performances; “The Band’s Visit,” which won in 2018 and closed after 624 total performances; and “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder,” which won in 2014 and closed after 935 total performances.)
Due to COVID cases with the company, all performances tonight through Sunday of @PublicTheaterNY‘s production of A Raisin in the Sun have been cancelled. Next Wednesday opening will be postponed. (The show has been extended through Nov 13. )
Danielle Brooks has tested positive for COVID; he role will be played for the week by understudy Shirine Babb.
Complete cast of “Ohio State Murders”: Joining Audra McDonald, Bryce Pinkham and Lizan Mitchell: Mister Fitzgerald, Abigail Stephenson, Brett Diggs, Brooke Gardner, Christian Pedersen and Gayle Samuels. Ohio State Murders will be the first show to play at the newly renamed James Earl Jones Theatre beginning Friday, November 11, 2022 and opening on Thursday, December 8.
Sarah Benson and Meropi Peponides, two of Soho Rep’s three directors, will step down at the end of the current season, after 15 and 8 years with the Off Broadway theater. Remaining director Cynthia Flowers will partner with new leaders to be determined by a search committee
The lights of Broadway theaters in New York dimmed for one minute at exactly 7:45pm on Saturday, October 15, in honor of Dame Angela Lansbury
I’d assumed that aging and memory were vulnerabilities; she saw them as facts and addressed them confidently…Many actors — and many people — prefer to airbrush vulnerabilities away, whether on Instagram, at a college reunion or in a newspaper interview. But Ms. Lansbury brought a combination of dignity and forthrightness to her life and work. She may have lacked the classic good looks and voice of her era, as she openly acknowledged, but she found stardom and a legion of fans being who she was, through raw talent and risk-taking.