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Annie Baker, Taylor Mac win MacArthur Genius Awards. Is Acting Dangerous? Week in New York Theater

Playwright Annie Baker and multidimensional theater artist Taylor Mac are among the 24 winners of the 2017 Macarthur Foundation “Genius” Grants.

Baker, 36, whose “The Flick” won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize, was recognized for “mining the minutiae of how we speak, act, and relate to one another and the absurdity and tragedy that result from the limitations of language.”

Mac, 44, whose 24 Decade History of Popular Music  took place over a continuous 24 hours and was a Pulitzer finalist, was recognized for “engaging audiences as active participants in works that dramatize the power of theater as a space for building community.”

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Circle Mirror Transformation Review, 2009

“Circle Mirror Transformation” ran at Playwrights Horizons, opening on October 13, 2009 and closing after several extensions on January 31, 2010. It was a remarkable debut for playwright Annie Baker, who went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for her subsequent play, The Flick.  Indeed, so many members of the cast, the creative team and the design team have gone on to greater glory that I am moved to resurrect the review I wrote at the time, published opening night in a now-defunct online newspaper:

Almost halfway through “Circle Mirror Transformation,” the terrifically acted and improbably entertaining new play by Annie Baker about a summer acting class, the glum-looking 16-year-old student named Lauren nervously approaches the free-spirited teacher Marty, all head-band and bangles, with a question: “Are we going to do any real acting?”

It is a hilarious question to an audience that has just spent nearly an hour watching five people in a dance studio walking around each other in circles; lying on the floor, closing their eyes and counting slowly — very slowly — to ten; posing as a bed and a tree and a baseball glove. Later, we will see two of them face one another and have a conversation that begins:

“Ak Mak”

“Goulash”

“Ak Mak?”

“Ah…goulash. Goulash.”

and continues the same way. These are theater exercises, de rigueur for actors (circle mirror transformation is the name of one of these games), and if you are unfamiliar with them, hunt up “A Chorus Line” and play the song “Nothing”, about one dancer’s inability to “get” what they are about.*

The exercises are what seem to be going on in this play about a six-week summer acting class at a community center in the small town of Shirley, Vermont, and it is slow-going at first. But what is really happening is that we are learning about the five characters as they learn about one another.

The teacher Marty (Deirdre O’Connell) and her husband James (Peter Friedman), who is a student in the class, met at a hippie wedding years ago, he has a grown daughter from a previous marriage who doesn’t speak to him (but speaks to her stepmother); they live in a colorful house with a three-legged cat named Coltrane; their marriage seems about to fall apart.

The marriage of Schultz (Reed Birney) has already fallen apart, although he still wears his wedding ring. He is a furniture-maker, he had to give up gardening when he moved from the beautiful house he shared with his wife to a corporate-feeling condo. He is drawn to Theresa (Heidi Schreck,) a professional actress and recent transplant from New York, recovering from a break-up with a boyfriend and training to become a massage therapist specializing in acupressure and rolfing.

Then there is Lauren (Tracee Chimo), who is not sure whether she wants to be an actress or a vet. All this and more is revealed during the breaks between the exercises, and in the exercises themselves, a clever frame and, as it turns out, an effective one for showing the characters’ shifting relationships and emotions.

If the play could have been shorter — it is an hour and 50 minutes without an intermission — its unorthodox structure works. “Circle Mirror Transformation” is not just a series of exercises; it’s a story. Above all, “Circle Mirror Transformation” is a showcase for five wonderful actors, whose simplest of gestures and facial expressions — the way Reed Birney as Schultz sips from his bottled water while talking to Theresa (Heidi Schreck); the way that Tracee Chimo as Lauren watches while two of the adults kiss — bring us into entire worlds.

The actors make this play funny and moving in a way that I don’t think could be possible in any other medium besides live theater. So, yes, Lauren, you will be doing some real acting.

Circle Mirror Transformation by Annie Baker At the Peter Sharp Theater of Playwrights Horizons 416 West 42nd Street Directed by Sam Gold Scenic and Costume Design David Zinn Lighting Design Mark Barton Sound Design Leah Gelpe Production Stage Manager Alaina Taylor Cast: Deirdre O’Connell as Marty, Peter Friedman as James, Reed Birney as Schultz, Heidi Schreck as Theresa, Tracee Chimo as Lauren Running time: 1 hour 50 minutes without an intermission. Ticket prices: $50

*Excerpt of lyrics Nothing:
“Okay… we’re going to do improvisations. Now, you’re on a bobsled. It’s snowing out. And it’s cold…Okay…GO!” Ev’ry day for a week we would try to Feel the motion, feel the motion Down the hill. Ev’ry day for a week we would try to Hear the wind rush, hear the wind rush, Feel the chill. And I dug right down to the bottom of my soul To see what I had inside. Yes, I dug right down to the bottom of my soul And I tried, I tried. And everybody’s goin’ “Whooooosh, whooooosh … I feel the snow… I feel the cold… I feel the air.” And Mr. Karp turns to me and he says, “Okay, Morales. What did you feel?” And I said…”Nothing, I’m feeling nothing,” And he says “Nothing Could get a girl transferred.” They all felt something, But I felt nothing Except the feeling That this bullshit was absurd!

John review: Annie Baker’s maybe-mystical Gettysburg guesthouse

Christopher Abbott and Hong Chau in a darkened bed and breakfast in Gettysburg

Christopher Abbott as Elias Schreiber-Hoffman Hong Chau as Jenny Chung in “John”. Notice the dolls on every step.

A couple visits a dark, possibly haunted bed and breakfast in Gettysburg, Pa. in “John,” an exquisitely acted puzzle of a play that features some familiar TV faces — Georgia Engel (Georgette in The Mary Tyler Moore Show) and Christopher Abbott (Charlie, Allison Williams’ boyfriend, in HBO’s Girls.) But “John” also marks the sixth collaboration between playwright Annie Baker and director Sam Gold, and that’s the source of its star power for serious theatergoers. Their new play, which serves as opener for the Signature’s 25th season, shares some of the characteristics of Baker and Gold’s previous work together, beginning with “Circle Mirror Transformation” in 2009 and including last year’s Pulitzer-winning “The Flick.” An accumulation of seemingly random scenes — deceptively casual, slyly amusing, leisurely paced — yields precisely observed moments of clarity and insight. In an Annie Baker/Sam Gold production, texture trumps text, and vivid, fully credible characters slowly emerge before our eyes.

Unlike her previous work, however, “John” seems to be aiming to be some kind of ghost story, but winds up falling short of any kind of fully realized drama. It comes off instead like an exercise in theatrical pointillism – like George Seurat focusing on the small dots that make up such paintings as his “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte” – without as much concern that the dots add up to a clear and satisfying overall picture.

Elias (a first-rate Abbott) arrives late one night at the bed and breakfast with his girlfriend Jenny (Hong Chau, best-known for her role as Linh in HBO’s “Treme.”) They are greeted by Mertis (a wonderful Engel), the proprietor, who prefers to be called Kitty. Everybody is a bit awkward at first (Baker and Gold do awkwardness very well) as Kitty shows the historic house to the couple. Masterfully appointed by set designer Mimi Lien, the house is darkly lit, under-heated and full of…stuff – a grandfather clock, patterned stuffed furniture on overlapping patterned rugs, a fake Tiffany light, shelves covered with trinkets, the massive staircase in the middle of the set lined with old dolls sticking out from the bottom of the banister at every step. Gold takes advantage of the set with some nice touches: Kitty opens the curtain at the beginning of each act and closes them before the two intermissions, as if she is opening drapes at the beginning of the day, and closing them at the end of the day. She turns the hands of the grandfather clock in-between scenes, to indicate the passage of time.

Over the three plus hours of the play, we learn that Elias and Jenny are on the verge of breaking up – there is a terrific early scene at the breakfast table showing their petty squabbling because Jenny thinks Elias eats too loudly and Elias thinks she is passive-aggressively expressing her inner rage at him. Part of our pleasure in the unfolding of their relationship is how we are subtly encouraged to take sides with one of them, and then our allegiance shifts. We also peg Kitty initially as pleasant and helpful and not particularly deep, but then wonder whether something else is going on with her. She asks Elias whether he ever felt “watched” as a child, and whether he thought the Watcher was taking care of him.

Yes, he replies after some hesitation, and yes, and after some elaboration, he says:

“I sound like a religious—I mean, I’m not religious at all. I come from a family of Jewish atheists.” He asks her whether she’s a Christian.

“I’m a Neo-Platonist,” she replies.

It’s a funny line, because it’s so surprising, especially coming out of the mouth of Georgia Engel, whose dim beloved Georgette remains with us on DVDs and in memory. But it also feels like yet another clue (Neo-Platonism, the dictionary tells us, is “a philosophical and religious system mixing Platonic ideas and oriental mysticism.”) Moment after moment, line after line, we are led to suspect a mystical/ghostly dimension to the play. Jenny, for example, is haunted by one of the dolls on the staircase, Samantha, because it is an exact replica of a doll she had as a child, one that always seemed to be watching her, reprimanding her. There are some ominous questions – why do we never see Kitty’s husband George; why is Kitty so concerned with the empty Jackson room upstairs? At its best, all of this creates a vague but intriguing atmosphere of dread. But it doesn’t go anywhere. The lowest point involves the fourth character Genevieve, portrayed by the always-amazing Lois Smith. She is a friend of Kitty’s, blind, and, until recently self-declared as crazy, although it’s not completely clear that she’s fully returned to sanity. In near darkness, Kitty reads a long, long passage to Genevieve from H.P. Lovecraft’s short story “The Call of Cthulhu.” (One Lovecraft scholar has described this story as one of the author’s “bleakest fictional expressions of man’s insignificant place in the universe.”)

Taken as a series of character studies, and piecing together several other clues, one can extrapolate from “John” that Baker is trying to show how alone each of us is – and how the past that haunts us keeps us from making healthy connections with other people. Too much of the play, however, feels best suited for an assignment in a college literature course. I could explain why I think the play is called “John,” for example, but for my exegesis I would expect a grade.

John
Signature Center

By Annie Baker; directed by Sam Gold; sets by Mimi Lien; costumes by Ásta Bennie Hostetter; lighting by Mark Barton; sound by Bray Poor; production stage manager, Amanda Michaels

Cast: Christopher Abbott (Elias Schreiber-Hoffman), Hong Chau (Jenny Chung), Georgia Engel (Mertis Katherine Graven) and Lois Smith (Genevieve Marduk).
Running time: 3 hours 15 minutes including two intermissions.
Tickets: $25
“John” is set to run through September 6

August 2015 Theater Openings on Broadway (Hamilton!), Off-Broadway, Off-Off Broadway

Hamilton9

Hamilton-PlaybillHamilton is NOT the only show opening this month. There are new plays at the Signature by both Annie Baker, winner of last year’s Pulitzer Prize for The Flick, and the 84-year-old A.R. Gurney, experiencing a late-career resurgence. There are 200 shows at the Fringe festival, and another 63 at the lesser known Thespis festival. There are exciting FREE plays at the New Brooklyn Theatre, including one by Lynn Nottage.

But Hamilton is the only show opening on Broadway, and even people who rarely if ever go to the theater have been gushing over it since its debut at the Public Theater, where it swept nearly every Off-Broadway award.

Below is a selection of the shows opening in August, organized chronologically by opening date. Each title is linked to a relevant website.

Color key: Broadway: Red. Off Broadway: Purple or Blue. Off Off Broadway: Green.

August 2

Delirium’s Daughters (Triumvirate Artists at Theatre Row)

Four suitors, three daughters…what’s a father to do? A kind old gentleman believes his deceased wife has forbid their three daughters to marry, until one of the suitors plays a series of tricks that helps him deal with his loss and recover his sanity. A new take on Commedia Dell’Arte

August 3

What I Learned in Fallsburg (Stage 72 at the Triad)

Gary Waldman’s personal musical tribute to growing up in the Catskills

August 4

Crossing Verrazano (Hudson Guild)

Writer-director Anthony Fusco’s play tells the true story of a gay-bashing that took place in Greenwich Village in 2010.

Lynn Nottage

Lynn Nottage

This is one of 63 plays being presented as part of the Thespis Theater Festival.

August 5

Las Meninas (New Brooklyn Theatre)

A play by Pulitzer-winnig playwright Lynn Nottage that tells the story of “the love affair between Louis XIV’s wife Queen Marie-Therese and Nabo, her African servant as told through the imagination of their illegitimate daughter. This play is offered FOR FREE.

August 6

Hamilton (Richard Rodgers)

Daveed Diggs as Thomas Jefferson with ensemble of Hamilton

Daveed Diggs as Thomas Jefferson with ensemble of Hamilton

The story of Alexander Hamilton, told by Lin-Manuel Miranda (In The Heights) using a mix of rap, jazz, r&b, and even light opera. I saw this at the Public Theater, and loved it.

August 7

Rachel2

Rachel (New Brooklyn Theatre)

Angelina Weld Grimké, the first African-American woman to have a play publicly performed, wrote Rachel  at the request of W.E.B. DuBois, shortly after the debut of D.W. Griffith’s racist 1915 film The Birth of a Nation,  it was one of the first plays to protest lynching and racial violence. This play is offered FOR FREE, and is presented in repertoire with Las Meninas.

August 10

cymbeline

Cymbeline (Public Theater’s Shakespeare in the Park)

 Lily Rabe, Hamish Linklater, Patrick Page and Raul Esparza are featured In this Shakespearean fairy tale directed by Daniel Sullivan, described this way: ” Princess Imogen’s fidelity is put to the royal test when her disapproving father banishes her soul mate. Cross-dressing girls and cross-dressing boys, poisons and swordfights and dastardly villains all take the stage in this enchanting romp about the conquering power of love.” For FREE.

August 11

John (Signature Theater)

Signature Theatre presents “John” A New Play by Annie Baker; Directed by Sam Gold Pictured: Georgia Engel as Mertis Katherine Graven, Christopher Abbott as Elias Schreiber-Hoffman & Lois Smith as Genevieve Marduk

Signature Theatre presents “John”
A New Play by Annie Baker; Directed by Sam Gold
Pictured: Georgia Engel as Mertis Katherine Graven, Christopher Abbott as Elias Schreiber-Hoffman & Lois Smith as Genevieve Marduk

A play by Annie Baker (Pulitzer winner for The Flick), starring an impressive cast including Georgia Engel (from the Mary Tyler Moore Show), Christopher Abbott (who left Girls),Hong Chau (Treme) and Lois Smith (The Trip to Bountiful, Rebel Without A Cause, etc), and directed by long-time Baker collaborator Sam Gold. “The week after Thanksgiving. A Bed & Breakfast in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. A cheerful innkeeper. A young couple struggling to stay together. Thousands of inanimate objects, watching. “

August 14

Fringeteaser

The New York International Fringe Festival, which begins today and runs through August 30th, offers almost 200 different shows.

August 18

InformedConsentforTwitter

Informed Consent (Primary Stages at The Duke on 42nd St)

A play by Deborah Zoe Laufer “about one woman’s quest to answer the mysteries of science and her own life, inspired by a landmark court case between one of the country’s largest universities and a Native American tribe based in the Grand Canyon.”  The suit was against Arizona State University for doing unauthorized research on blood drawn from members of the Havasupai tribe

August 19

MercuryFurscriptcoerMercury Fur (New Group at Signature)

“In a society ravaged by warring gangs and a hallucinogenic-drug epidemic, Elliot and Darren, under the sway of the ruthless Spinx, throw parties for rich clients in abandoned apartment buildings – parties that help guests act out their darkest, most sinister fantasies.”

August 24

Love and Money (Signature)

AR Gurney By Gregory CostanzoA.R. Gurney, 84, has written close to 50 plays. He is best-known for “The Dinner Party,” but he is experiencing a career resurgence, which includes last fall’s Broadway revival of Love Letters, and this fall’s Broadway debut of Sylvia, as well as an entire season devoted to him at the Signature. Love and Money is a new play written as part of his residency year at Signature. “Determined to donate almost everything she owns before her life of grace and privilege ends, wealthy widow Cornelia Cunningham’s plan hits a snag when an ambitious and ingratiating young man arrives to claim his alleged inheritance.”

August 27

A Delicate Ship (Playwrights Realm at The Peter J Sharpe Theater)

A Delicate Shipcast

From the company, Playwrights Realm, that produced one of my favorite shows from last year, My Manana Comes, comes this play by Anna Ziegler. “It’s Christmas Eve, and Sarah and Sam are celebrating like New Yorkers: flirting over wine and debating the nature of existential suffering. Then there is a knock on the door, and Sarah’s childhood friend Nate stands at the threshold. And suddenly suffering becomes a whole lot less sexy.”

Whorl Inside a Loop (Second Stage)

WhorlInsideALooppic

Co-written and co-performed by Sherie Rene Scott (Everyday Rapture) A well-regarded actress agrees to teach six inmates how to tell their stories behind the bars of a men’s maximum security prison. Sharing intimate and sometimes hilarious details of their former lives, this unlikely group forms a bond — even as the actress’s life outside spins out of control.”

Lucky Guy. Kinky Boots. Broadway Beasts

Tom Hanks in Lucky Guy, Billy Porter in Kinky Boots, Porridge the dog in Pippin.

Tom Hanks in Lucky Guy, Billy Porter in Kinky Boots, Porridge the dog in Pippin.

BroadwayOpeningsApril2013Lucky Guy and Kinky Boots opened on Broadway last week, Matilda is opening this week — one of a dozen Broadway shows still to open this month, to finish the Broadway Spring 2013 season, a season marked by an unusual number of non-human cast members. Below: a poll to choose your favorite Broadway beast.

Orlando Bloom and Rachel Weisz will both be making their Broadway debuts — Weisz in a cast that includes her husband Daniel Craig.

New York theater is not just Broadway — not even in April.  Nominees for Lucille Lortel Off-Broadway were announced. The League of Independent Theater (aka Off-Off Broadway) held its first-ever political candidate forums to address the issues facing some 50,000 independent theater artists in New York.

All that was good news. This was also a week of bad news, if you care about arts criticism.

The Week in New York Theater

April 1, 2013

orlando-bloom-romeoOrlando Bloom and Condola Rashad will star on Broadway in “Romeo and Juliet.” The production, which will also feature Jayne Houdyshell and Joe Morton, opens September 19 at Richard Rodgers. Bloom (“Lord of the Rings,” “Pirates of the Caribbean”) will be making his Broadway debut. Rashad, the daughter of Phylicia Rashad, made a splash in “Stick Fly” and is about to performer in “The Trip to Bountiful”

Sutton Foster and Jesse Tyler Ferguson will announce the nominees for the Tony Awards on April 30th at 8 am from the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center. 

Lucky Guy 1 Broadhurst Theater

My review of Lucky Guy

“Journalists aren’t nearly as interesting as they think they are,” David Eisenhower once said, a quote that Nora Ephron cited favorably in her final media column for Esquire in 1977. This was before Ephron became a movie director and screenwriter, and long before she wrote “Lucky Guy,” her play about the late tabloid columnist Mike McAlary. “Lucky Guy” is now opening at the Broadhurst starring Tom Hanks in his Broadway debut.

Ephron, whose play is being produced posthumously,  obviously changed her mind about journalists, for “Lucky Guy” depicts New York City newspaper columnists and editors who find each other fascinating.  Theatergoers are likely to find them less so.

That is why “Lucky Guy” is luckiest in having snagged Tom Hanks to return to the stage after an absence of decades.  He is certainly the reason why this script made it to Broadway. The production is also lucky to have George C. Wolfe directing, for he almost redeems what is otherwise a largely thin, plodding endeavor full of boozy sentimentality. He does this by injecting some clever stage business and a few well-orchestrated moments — and by having hired a first-rate cast.

Full review of Lucky Guy, including photo gallery

2

March 2013 Theater Quiz

March 2013 theater quiz — test how well you were paying attention.

Sample question: Who are Smith and Clarke?

  •  A new song-writing team
  •  The law firm representing Julie Taymor in her continuing lawsuit against the producers and composers of Spider-Man Turn Off The Dark
  •  The producing team trying to get new investors for Rebecca
  •  18th century New World explorers who are the subject of a forthcoming musical
  •  The stars of Breakfast At Tiffany’s

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof Richard Rodgers TheatreStars are no guarantee:  “Cat On A Hot Tin Roof” starring Scarlett Johansson did not recoup its $3.6 million capitalization during its 15-week run.

Astoria is a growing center for the arts

Duet between Bernadette Peters and Megan Hilty in Smash

3

Milo O’Shea, classic Irish-born character actor, veteran of 10 Broadway shows, has died at age 86. (Loved him in The Verdict)

RichardGreenbergplaywrightBreakfast At Tiffany’s, Assembled Parties, Far From Heaven…all by Richard Greenberg

— and all opening within a few weeks of one another in New York.

4

Roger-red-seats

Roger Ebert, 6/8/1942 – 4/4/2013

Film critic Roger Ebert has died at age 70. ‪@ebertchicago is no more. His last film review was five days ago. His last Tweet was yesterday. He died on the day after his 46th anniversary as a film critic! Here’s what he wrote yesterday.  The optimism makes you cry.

LucilleLortelplaynominees

Nominees for 2013 Lucille Lortel Awards for Off-Broadway

Giant, just nominated for a Lucille Lortel award, is getting a cast album in May

Kinky Boots 8

My review of Kinky Boots

Is it a shock to say that “Kinky Boots” just isn’t kinky enough?

It could have been. Harvey Fierstein wrote the book, he who began his career as a 300-pound teenage drag queen on the Lower East Side. Cyndi Lauper is making her Broadway songwriting debut, she who began as the girl with the tie-dye colored hair who just wants to have fun…..

The stage version delivers a couple of stand-out performances; a few touching moments; several catchy melodies presented with verve and panache in a diverse score of genuine pop tunes — one of which, “Sex Is In The Heel” is already a certified hit in the clubs — flavored by funk, disco and even a tango.

“Kinky Boots” is professionally put together, it’s entertaining…and it’s both safe and familiar.

Full review of Kinky Boots

5

Rachel Weisz and Daniel CraigIt’s official: Daniel Craig will star with wife Rachel Weisz in Broadway revival of Harold Pinter’s Betrayal, at the Ethel Barrymore Barrymore opening November 3. Weisz (The Bourne Legacy, The Constant Gardener) will be making her Broadway debut.  Craig (best-known as James Bond) appeared on Broadway in 2009 in “A Steady Rain.”

Remember Rob McClure from Chaplin? He joins Tony Danza in Jason R Brown’s “Honeymoon in Vegas” at the Papermill Playhouse, aiming for Broadway

On American Songbook with Michael Feinstein on PBS, ‏Stephen Sondheim said his favorite composers are George Gershwin, Jerome Kern, and Harold Arlen.

A brief history of applause — Nobody is sure how applause began, or when — babies applaud; applause is mentioned in the Bible — but we all know where it wound up: In the theater.

Speaking Theater to Power

 

John Clancy, executive director of the League of Independent Theater, which conducted its first ever political candidate forums.

John Clancy

The League of Independent Theater held its first political candidate forums last month, and is planning to make endorsements in New York City political races. With some 50,000 independent theater artists in New York City, roughly 86 percent of them regular voters, the league’s executive director John Clancy says he is convinced that an organized voice can make a difference

Backstage is laying off its theater critic and eliminating all theater reviewing in the publication by the end of the month.

Howlround dedicated the week to essays on theater criticism.

Last words of Matilda author Roald Dahl. He was not afraid of dying: “It’s just that I will miss you all so much…Ow, fuck!”

6

New, wonderful-sounding series from New York City Center: “Encores! Off-Center.”  Great musicals for $25

The Beasts of Broadway

Best Broadway Beast Poll

How to keep old shows feeling like new:

“Hands down, when you’re in a long-run show, the best thing that happens is there’s turnover in cast,” says Wicked stage manager Meredith Abel. “….those influxes of difference make everybody, like, step up.”

7

All The Way by Robert Schenkkan , about LBJ,wins 2013 Steinberg/American Theatre Critics Association Award for Best New Play produced outside of NY

The New York Shakespeare Exchange’s Sonnet Project, Shakespeare’s 154 sonnets filmed in NYC locations, kick-off party April 26 at  The Drama Bookshop. 

Closing today: Annie Baker’s The Flick, at Playwrights Horizons, which sparked complaint and controversy

Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Hands On A Hardbody, Weirdness All Over Broadway

BreakfastHardbodySondheimWeirdnessBroadway’s been so weird lately that you don’t even have to mention Rebecca, or a cat getting fired, or Alec Baldwin to come up with ten questions in a Weird Theater Quiz Spring 2013.

The cat was fired from “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” not the only weirdness coming from that play that opened this past week. Also opening: Hands on A Hardbody, marking the Broadway songwriting debut of Trey Anastasio. Links to reviews below.

Also below: Celebrations of the birthdays of three of the greatest living Broadway songwriters: John Kander, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Stephen Sondheim, with some videos of our favorite songs.

And: Alan Cumming takes a stand against the most famous theatrical superstition.

The Week in New York Theater

Monday March 18, 2013

Songwriter John Kander (Cabaret, Chicago, Scottsboro Boys) turns 86

Songwriter John Kander (Cabaret, Chicago, Scottsboro Boys) turns 86

After two years at the Beacon Theater, The Tony Awards return to Radio City Music Hall on June 9th (on CBS live starting 8 p.m. ET)

FREE ‏tickets available March 25th for a March 28th concert at Town Hall celebrating its landmark designation.

Playwright Annie Baker was awarded the $25,000 Susan Blackburn Prize for “The Flick” and has become the second recipient of the Horton Foote Legacy Project, “which includes a four-week writing residency, starting in May, at Foote’s preserved home in Wharton, Tex.”

Performer Dee Dee Bridgewater  will star as Billie Holiday in “Lady Day” at Off-Broadway’s Little Shubert opening September 26.

Today is John Kander’s 86th birthday. What is your favorite Kander and Ebb song?

What good is sitting alone In your room?/

Come hear the music play./

Life is a Cabaret, old chum,/

Come to the Cabaret.

Ann Wallace @aenordland  That’s like asking who is my favorite daughter. That being said, “All That Jazz.”

Come on, babe/

Why don’t we paint the town/

And all that jazz?/

..I’m no one’s wife/

I love my life/

And all that jazz.

‪Robert Falls @RobertFalls201

“Happiness comes in on tiptoe/

Well what do you know/

It’s  a quiet thing/

A very quiet thing…”

(A Quiet Thing from Flora The Red Menace)

Drew Blau‪ @drewlblau

Lying all alone, I’m thinkin’/

Staring at the stars, I wonder/

Since I been away, I’m lonely/

When I’m gonna go back home

(Go Back Home from Scottsboro Boys)

19

Lynn Redgrave

45 Bleecker Street Theater will be renamed after the late Lynn Redgrave

CultureProject’s 45 Bleecker Street Theater will be renamed the Lynn Redgrave Theater to honor the late actor and playwright.

Here Lies Love, Alex Timbers/David Byrne/Fatboy Slim musical at the Public Theater doesn’t begin until April 2nd, but is already extended to May 19th.

Finalists for Steinberg/ATCA new play award:Johnna Adams, Ayad Akhtar, Lucas Hnath, Mia McCullough, Dan O’Neil, Robert Schenkkan. Schenkkan, finalist or All The Way, on LBJ’s struggle to pass Civil Rights Act, won Pulitzer for Kentucky Cycle

Sign up for Company’s Marathon — the reading of ALL of Shakespeare’s canon April 16-20 from Facing Page Productions.  Shakespeare wrote a total of 101,919 lines. His longest play, at 32,241 words, is Hamlet, says Facing Page. His shortest: Comedy of Errors.

Meryl Wheeler ‏@MamaMeryl  This is so cool! And for the musical side of Shakespeare, Shakespeare Songbook at Lyrics & Lyricists at 92nd Street Y.

Broadway veteran Karen Olivo (Rent, Brooklyn, In The Heights, West Side Story) says she is quitting acting. “My abilities have always been bigger than my desire to share them”

Luther Mandrawz ‏‪@Kiarri_ NOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!

Peter Marks @PeterMarksDrama: Wow

Meg McSweeney ‏‪@megmcsweeney” oh please. So dramatic, announcing it like this. Why doesn’t she just take a break and see what happens?

Is it time for artists to get serious about unionizing?

Being a musician is a good job, but that doesn’t mean it’s okay to go broke doing it.”–David Byrne

“I Hope They Serve Beer on Broadway” aiming for Off-Broadway in June

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RedgraveEisenbergRevisionistThe Revisionist by Jesse Eisenberg, who is co-starring with Vanessa Redgrave, has been extended to April 27th. There is reportedly talk of a Broadway transfer

No,they didn’t settle, & now a federal judge has set a May 28 trial date for Julie Taymor vs. Spider-man producers and composers

New York Times: Cat understudy in Breakfast at Tiffany’s fired for being difficult

Should Actors Equity or the ASPCA intervene?  ‏

JoseSPiano ‏@JoseSPiano20 How about Mrs. Lovett?

Actors Equity ‏@ActorsEquity20 We’re without all the facts but we don’t condone catty behavior; sometimes you can’t help a sourpuss

There’s a rash of these animal actor firings: Helen Mirren got a corgi kicked off the cast of “The Audience” in the U.K.

Playwright Stephen Adly Giurgis (left) reads from one of his plays at the Labyrinth Theater's New York, New York Festival.

Playwright Stephen Adly Giurgis (left) reads from one of his plays at the Labyrinth Theater’s New York, New York Festival.

New York, New York Festival at the Labyrinth Theater Company

Sigourney Weaver and Christopher Durang, friends for 40 years. “We bonded over our radar for crackpot things”

Cory Michael Smith and Emilia Clarke at 21 Club in Breakfast At Tiffany's

Cory Michael Smith and Emilia Clarke at 21 Club in Breakfast At Tiffany’s

My review of Breakfast At Tiffany’s

When Holly Golightly sits on the fire escape strumming a guitar and singing, those watching  “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” at the Cort Theater may temporarily feel in familiar territory, even though this Holly is not Audrey Hepburn and she isn’t singing “Moon River.” But for maximum appreciation of this stylish and intriguing stage version, written by Richard Greenberg and starring Emilia Clarke and Cory Michael Smith, it helps to forget the brightly romantic 1961 film. This of course is not possible, which is one reason why this “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” is ultimately unsatisfying.

Full review of Breakfast At Tiffany’s

21

HardbodyJoyoftheLord

My review of Hands on a Hardbody

“Hands on a Hardbody,” an odd but tuneful new musical based on a 1997 documentary film about a sadistic endurance contest to win a pickup truck in Texas, might as well be called “American Idle,” or “They Shoot Horsepower, Don’t They?” or “A Chorus Line, SUV.”  The contest was simple: The winner had to keep at least one hand on the truck, a Nissan Hardbody, longer than any of his competitors.  The musical is also simple:  Each of ten contestants gets at least one song to sing or monologue to speak about their hard-luck life before dropping out; they all also periodically dance around the truck…Its most striking aspect is all the talent poured into it….They deserve more memorable characters to portray

Full review of Hands on a Hardbody

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AlanCummingMacbethmarqueeAlan Cumming will say “Macbeth” even in the theater, despite The Curse Of The Scottish Play . Patti LuPone disagrees.

2013 lifetime achievement Tonys to go to Lincoln Center’s Bernard Gersten,set designer Ming Cho Lee, Jujamcyn Theater’s Paul Libin

“Turn your thoughts away from cold unfeeling light/ And listen to the music of the night”-Happy 65th Birthday,

Andrew Lloyd Webber

gmg1961 ‏@Aquarius196122  my favorite of all time…. Phantom is timeless!!! It’s NEVER over, the music of the night…


“Good times and bum times, I’ve seen them all/ And, my dear, I’m still here”~ Stephen Sondheim, 83 today

 

Somebody,make me come through

I’ll always be there

As frightened as you

To help us survive

Being alive

Being alive

Being alive!

Kathy Perry ‏@krperry222  Bobby, Bobby, Bobby Baby, Bobby Booby, Robert…:)

23

Take the Weird Theater Quiz

Take the Weird Theater Quiz

Take the Weird Theater Quiz Spring 2013. See how weird it’s gotten

Sample question:

Which plot is that of a show this season?

  •  Ten people try to keep one of their hands on a truck for four days.
  •  Three people work in an old movie theater over the summer, mostly sweeping the aisles
  •  A crazy, ill woman stalks a military hero and then he falls in love with her
  •  A group of archaeologists dig up artifacts in Illinois
  •  They all are
  •  None are

Miles Lott @mlottjr  Got a 100%. Truly a time when truth is stranger than…you know what.

Seven films based on the Bard: e.g. West Side Story (Romeo & Juliet),),My Own Private Idaho (Henry IV & V)  

Sonia Sotomayor, Fiona Shaw, Hilton Als in Pen’s World Voices Festival April 29-May 5

The Living Theater’s “Here We Are” at Clemente Soto Velez Cultural Center March 26-29

15hunksonBroadwayNow

15 Hunks on Broadway

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Complains about "The Flick" have led Playwrights Horizons artistic director Tim Sanford to send an e-mail to the theater's subscribers.

Complains about “The Flick” have led Playwrights Horizons artistic director Tim Sanford to send an e-mail to the theater’s subscribers.

So many theatergoers complained about The Flick that Playwrights Horizons artistic director Timothy Sanford has written a response –– and I respond to the response.

Julie Haverkate ‏‪@JulieHaverkate  “Did we know we had programmed a 3hour play when we chose it? No” Almost sounds like if he’d known, wouldn’t have picked it

Donna Hoke ‏‪@donnahoke  If the play actually accomplished what she said she wanted to it, I might have forgiven some of the endless silences.

The Flick Complaints: Playwrights Horizons Artistic Director Responds

Complains about "The Flick" have led Playwrights Horizons artistic director Tim Sanford to send an e-mail to the theater's subscribers.

Complaints about “The Flick” have led Playwrights Horizons artistic director Tim Sanford to send an e-mail to the theater’s subscribers. “…I was not totally prepared for it to be such a polarizing show”

In response to reaction to Annie Baker’s The Flick, Playwrights Horizons artistic director Tim Sanford sent the following e-mail to the theater’s subscribers:

Dear Friend,

The Flick has stirred up so many emotions, both positive and negative, in audiences that I thought I would reach out to all of you and share my thoughts about it. I have to admit I was not totally prepared for it to be such a polarizing show. I love Annie’s work and thought this was just the play to introduce her to a wider audience. Here are three characters rarely portrayed on the stage these days and Annie imbues them with such humanity and integrity. Here is how she describes them in our artist interview: 

A female projectionist, on whom the men in the play projected their fears and fantasies…this like “unattainable” girl up there in the shadows who was dying for someone to get to know her “for real”… a 35-year-old Red Sox fan who was worried he’d be working there for life… and a young film buff who came from both a different race and class background than the other characters in the play. They all started emerging from the movie theater set in my mind. Also, the main characters in the play are a black guy, a woman, and a Jew (although I no longer make Sam’s Jewishness obvious). And that was important to me when I started writing the play. Three of the great “Others” of American cinema, all of them victim to extreme stereotypes. And yet what are Hollywood movies without blacks, Jews, and women? I wanted these people to be quietly (maybe even unconsciously) fighting against their respective pigeonholes. And I also grew up knowing lower-middle-class Jews, hyper-educated black people, and women who wear baggy clothes and no makeup, and yet it is so rare to encounter any of those people in plays and movies. It feels like those people are like forced to wander outside of and on the periphery of plays and movies. So I literalized that — they’re like cleaning up everyone else’s crap AFTER the movie is over. 

I hoped that Annie’s palpable love and compassion for her characters and the play’s fairly straightforward plot about a developing ethical workplace quandary would win you all over. 

Of course I had some trepidation about its length. Theatergoers rarely encounter three-hour plays these days even though most classic scripts from earlier ages routinely clock in well above that length. When performances began and some of you walked out at intermission, emphatically expressing your displeasure to our House Manager, we had lengthy discussions about what to do. Could we make internal cuts within the scenes or could whole scenes go? Were there places to pick up the pace? Each scene seemed to have important reasons for being there. And what about those long silences between lines? Here are Annie’s thoughts on this subject:

I’m just trying to accurately portray the people who live in the movie theater inside my head, and I guess there’s a lot of moments of not-talking in that movie theater inside my head. All the walking and sweeping and mopping and dustpan-banging — there’s a whole symphony happening that Sam and the actors orchestrated… But I wouldn’t call that silence. I think there’s actually very little ACTUAL silence in this play. But yeah, my favorite moments in all of my plays are usually moments when people aren’t talking. 

Did we know we had programmed a three-hour play when we chose it? No. I don’t think Sam Gold, the director, did either. But after our initial concern about walkouts, we began to pay attention to the other voices, the voices that urged Annie and Sam not to cut a second, the voices imbued with rapture for a theater experience unlike any they had experienced and for a production that stayed with them for days, even weeks afterwards. And it became clear to me that every moment of the play and production was steeped in purpose. Annie had a vision and this production beautifully executes that vision. And at the end of the day, we are a writer’s theater and my first responsibility is to that writer.

My goal is not to dissuade any of you who disliked the play. I would rather evince passionate dislike than a dispassionate shrug. I imagine that most of you have read the many good reviews about the play and then most recently the fact that the play won the prestigious Susan Smith Blackburn Prize. If you read these stories and continue to say to yourself, “I still don’t know what they see in it,” I applaud your independence of mind. Hopefully that free-thinking will swing to our favor in your response to other productions of ours.

Our hope is to cultivate an audience that trusts the underlying integrity of our decision-making process. We are the only theater in New York (and practically the country) devoted solely to the premiere of new American plays and musicals. We use our Subscriber Bulletin to share with you what excites us about an upcoming play and to convey the passion that went into its selection.

The business of putting on new plays is not empirical. We follow some rules and rely on experience, but we’re also following our hearts. And we appreciate that you are taking a risk and putting your faith in us when you sign up with us. We are dependent upon your willingness to take that ride with us. We need you.

So thank you for caring enough to complain or to praise. Perhaps we can all agree that whatever values we look for in the theater, we all stand on the common ground that it is a vital and important art form that we look to to illuminate the human experience with complexity and integrity.

Warm Regards,

Tim Sanford

Artistic Director

My reaction:

1. Playwrights Horizons is one of my favorite theaters in New York. They consistently do good work, and they treat theatergoers well. One play is not going to change my opinion of them.
2. As I wrote in my review, “The Flick” was too long for what it is. Its excessive length to me indicated something of a breakdown in the bond between these theater artists and their audience.
3. There are a couple of paragraphs in Tim Sanford’s letter I find unctuous, self-righteous, nearly passive-aggressive:

the “voices imbued with rapture” urged them “not to cut a second.” –– oh please.

If you don’t like the show despite all the awards and the great reviews, “I applaud your independence of mind.” —Yeah, yeah. 
Obviously, we are far from alone in our “independent” view — or he wouldn’t be writing this letter in the first place.
I do appreciate, though, the paragraphs in which he quotes Annie Baker and her thinking about the play, which make me glad he wrote it.